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Can Anarchism Be A “Peace Corps” for Human Reconciliation?

Fri, 2019-05-10 15:44

In order to win membership in the human race, we are asked to pay a “small” price: everything. We are asked to give up our basic and most trustworthy way of knowing the world in favor of a phony charade of polite agreement. This is a colossal mutilation, and it accounts for much of the rage and pain that all of us carry and that erupts periodically in orgies of war and barbarism. – Morris Berman, Coming to Our Senses

…call it whatever you like [i.e., soul, abyss, void, collective unconscious, crossroads,etc.]! Ir isn’t nice, it doesn’t fit, it shouldn’t be allowed, and it doesn’t belong; it is Otherness—and the language of Otherness is myth.
– Daniel Deardorff, The Other Within

The greatest oppression on earth is the suffering of meaningless wounds. The life of the Other Within –nobility at odds with circumstance—is madness, it is crazy, torturous, insane and inane, and the only help, the only medicine, is down here precisely where we have fallen: in the…Mythic Reality. Ibid.

For many years, since I was in Divinity school, I’ve received the Catholic Worker paper (CW turned 86 May 1) in the (now old-fashioned) mail, its unassuming, black-and-white newsprint format so unflashy and glitzless that it is easy to overlook it, compared, say, to the powerfully attractive pull of the latest New York Times, or the New Yorker magazines my brother has been dropping off for us. Having remained firmly planted in their anarchist, Catholic viewpoint, CW isn’t interested in covering “all the news;” their intelligent radical critique always is centered in the heart. The people whose obituaries they publish are not society people, or guys who made millions in computers or advertising or showbiz, but ordinary people, sometimes people the rest of us would call bums, junkies, crazies, felons, etc., in other words, emphatically, “others.” While strongly attracted to CW’s politics, its communitarianism, it’s beautiful black and white graphic art (never photos!), to the ideas and integrity of founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, I never imagined I would one day find myself as “otherized” as they, unfashionably committed to building community outside the spectacle of capitalism, and rooted, like CW, in imaginal myth-based reality that ensures centrality of heart and marginalization in society.

The small groups that meet in our Cafe and the next-door nonprofit The Other Side to mutually confirm our individual contrarian, non-conformist sanity, to discuss books about anarchism, share potluck meals, feel the warmth of genuine community, are reaching a new point in their evolution. For the first time, Orin and I are joined by significant numbers of young people, who seem content, for now, to keep our activist goals loosely defined. By mostly unspoken consensus, our discussion at this stage is our activism. We have never said in so many words that this community of outsiders (i.e., outside neoliberal consensus reality), might become a core (corps?) committed to work together as activists in facing the worst that may be coming, due to rising fascism, climate collapse, etc. (like the CW people diligently caring for those worst-off under capitalism), or that our activism might take some other form as yet undefined.

Might it, I wonder, be time we made our unity explicit, perhaps formalizing our mutual commitment? I hesitate at the thought; though its possible people are waiting to be asked, the asking feels extreme in our circumstances. Liberal reality instructs us to ask nothing more of our comrades than showing up, if – and only as long as – they feel attraction to the group – no compulsion, no guilt-tripping, no manipulation!!

Of course, precisely because that liberal definition of freedom is now unconscious dogma, unity’s cause is supremely challenged in our society. The freedom guaranteed by my rights, freedom to do anything I want, or to do what is logically best for the interests I am considering, is unassailable. It may be that the new reality of climate collapse we collectively face (ie., it’s too late! )– can at last bring us to facing the point (the abyss) that has been true for imperiled human culture for centuries, or millennia: we are at the edge of the roof, and there never were a smorgasbord of options for people committed to remaining human. In fact,, in order to keep functioning humanly (cooperatively) and not neurotically or barbarically, and to restore a non-coercive basis for unity, some kind of imaginative leap will be necessary. How this will happen here in Utica cannot now be foretold; our anarchist groups are engaged in something that has never before been; we have no choice but to improvise.

So far, my fantasied ideal for our anarchist aims, “post-hope,” is not communitarian and activist along the CW model, but staying with the power of conversation to lead us where we’re going. I would like for us to become weirder and weirder which I take to mean, in the current insane context, to become saner, more lucid, more coherent in the face of a mass world clearly off its rocker. Politically astute and savvy people would not agree with me. They’re saying there’s no time for conversation. We need to hit the streets en masse. The outrages are too many, too awful, where is our protest, our shutdowns of business-as-usual, etc. On the other hand no one is asking, do we have a society worth saving? The fact that people do not hit the streets in order to save our worthless necks may not be the wrong it seems. It might be wiser now to cultivate our humanity, and the conditions for remaining human, as these are not being widely considered; a marginal place like Utica makes an excellent locus for such deeply subversive activity.

Objection: But what about those others living in the geographical regions that will be hit first by climate collapse? Well, what about them? Is mass global suffering at the hands of the free market system, of exploitative plunder and imperialist conquest, a new thing? Where have we been in not hitting the streets on behalf of all those others for the last several hundred years? This is a fair question, for if we had not been dribbling away our humanity piece by piece in the western “developed” world, riding the great eagle of progress and forsaking “the inferior ones” at the bottom, we would have stood against the atrocities committed against other people and cultures, against the earth, against Nature, that has been ongoing for a very long time.

Never have we been able, as a society, to stand up for all the “others” against the barbarisms and the insatiability of exploitative capitalism, and still cannot because of one underlying cause: the absolute intolerance in liberal consciousness for “the other within.” Terror of the interior reality has so crippled the motive of compassion, that, outside of wartime and natural disasters, sacrificial action on behalf of inter-related others isn’t possible except for small, marginal organizations like CW (which may well make it our most appropriate model for humanizing action).

In effect, terror of the interior (soul) has intensified as the world destabilizes; it feeds the current divisive insanity being experienced here on the ground in localities in America, ensuring that goodness will not prevail. In place of the healthier and still available (though far likelier to be ridiculed than admired) option of each connecting with the reality of her/his creative soul, instead of doing all in our power to promote healing and reconciliation wherever breaches occur, we now simply stay, marooned and defensive, in our isolated selves. Politically, we seek lesser-evil heroes to save us and fight liberal identity battles, the energy for which comes from buried rage, not love. To not rock the liberal boat becomes the “positive” social goal, staying away from any standpoint or opinion that would disturb our real, i.e. face-to-face social groups among friends who’ve made their “peace” with the dominant liberal media-informed reality which is, in effect, to no longer believe in the reality of peace.

Adopting such a safe, elephant-in-the-living-room-denying position, in turn, drives us nuttier. For the fact is, we white bourgeois liberals are surrounded by – and are ourselves, in varying degrees – people whose psychoses have been normalized. Due to the exile of “the other within,” we are not there; we are allowed to continue unchallenged in our fear of and disdain for the abyss, the soul, the prima materia of our interior. Decisions coming out of this fear-based irrationality, though justified with plausible-sounding liberally-sanctioned reasons, can only be divisive, violent and destructive. We who advocate the return to local and face-to-face must be aware of how much damage has been sustained to our humanity by freedom-as-dogma, how few are the shared values or loyalties left to which to appeal for disputing estrangements and divisiveness against sacrosanct individuals’ rights! We must acknowledge that the righteous defense of “rights” may or may not justify the violence to family and the community caused not just by vengeful identity politics, but by divorce, infidelity and the single-parenting option; to our relation to the earth by ceaseless support of car rights and the suburban option; to our city by a ceaseless diaspora of talented “footloose and free” people; to our having a humanity worth defending against the likelihood of mass extinction.

From my perspective, the topmost goals for human beings seeking unity amidst this chaotic and frightening time of multiple crises, are 1) the reclamation of the other within (i.e., individuality) by means of devotion to one’s art, intensive psychotherapy, or both, and 2) reconciliation between “others,” that is, to behaving as if we need each other and can afford neither liberal-style divisiveness, nor the ubiquitous, apathetic nihilism (shit happens). My concern, more than survival, is our survival as human beings. To that end, I point to two agencies particularly accountable for keeping us unhinged in liberal reality.

First, is the failure of those at the top to publish the truth: our liberal print media mouthpieces, unlike the “plain Jane” CW, uphold the kind of perfection of image, intelligence and wit of the educated, cultured liberal world that is so seductive to readers like me, living as I do in sadsack Utica. But, when referring in their “news reports” to real human-caused disasters, like climate collapse, or mass immigration they avoid the risk of including humanly connective words like: “this is the fault of capitalism, American militarism, etc.” Smarter lefties than I would simply say, Of course, this is intentional propaganda, etc., they are doing just what they intend. I speak from a less secure place. Down here in Utica, unprotected by an edifice of logic, the unassailable authority of the Times or New Yorker magazine – that never comes down to my level and admits the elephant – has the power to crush my soul. They would win my conformity were I not able to “deconstruct” by means of the imaginative “trickster” perception, the other within, who makes me question where I picked up the self hate just making itself at home in my soul. Without that skeptical other, the contrast between those published representations of perfection – seamlessly upheld – and the reality before my eyes, will successfully con me into inferiority in relation to that glossy, polished, liberal Wall Street world. I can only imagine this is what goes on in microcosm among everyone I know, a subtle seduction to live against our own (pathetic, discountable) interest, and thus also against the common good, against which we are helpless without the inner means to counter the consummately well-articulated lie.

Liberal reality, in which we function here at the bottom, calls equally for subversive cunning against its tendencies both to divisiveness and conformity. If at the tippy-top of projected power, the kleptocrats are not interested in unity, but rather, pleased to profit from our divisiveness, raking in the enormous salaries no one ever sees in Utica, is not our way clear? Might not the tricksterish commitment of our outsider anarchist groups in Utica be to reconciliation as archetype and as process, open to anyone who applies, including to insider liberals who assume divisiveness is someone else’s issue? This way may be “madness,” may be “crazy, torturous, insane and inane,” but we may have to go for it. We outsiders with our anarchist critique are well-situated to pledge ourselves to “nobility over circumstance,” to providing justice for endangered relatedness, here in “our small and most private of territories,” where we live, and where“an injury to one is an injury to all.”

Meritocracy is a Lie

Fri, 2019-05-10 15:44

In 2017, Sociology Professor Rachel Sherman wrote “Uneasy Street: The Anxiety of Affluence” a book which drew upon 50 in-depth interviews with Uber-wealthy New Yorkers in order to obtain a picture of just how they perceived their status.

Sherman found that her interviewees, all in the top 1-2 percent of income or wealth or both, had thoroughly imbibed the narrative of meritocracy to rationalize their affluence and immense privileges. That is, they believed they deserved all their money because of hard work and individual effort. Most identified themselves as socially and political liberal and took pains to distinguish themselves from “bad” rich people who flaunt their wealth. Although one unselfconsciously acknowledged “I used to say I was going to be a revolutionary but then I had my first massage.”

One striking characteristic was that these folks never talk about money and obsess over the “stigma of privilege.” One typical respondent whose wealth exceeded $50 million told Sherman, “There’s nobody who knows how much money we spend. You’re the only person I’ve ever said the numbers to out-loud.” Another couple who had inherited $50 million and lived in a penthouse had the post office change their mailing address to the floor number because PH sounded “elite and snobby.” Another common trait was removing the price tags from items entering the house so the housekeeper and and staff didn’t see them. As if the nanny didn’t know…

Her subjects (who remained anonymous) readily acknowledged being extremely advantaged but remained “good people, normal people,” who work hard, are careful about ostentatious consumption, and above all, “give back.” They spend considerable time trying to legitimate inequality and Sherman concludes they’ve largely succeeded in feeling “morally worthy.”

As a follow-up to this study, Prof. Sherman has been conducting similar in-depth interviews with young people whose parents or ancestors accumulated sizable fortunes, wealth they now have or will soon inherit. Sherman’s recent piece, “The Rich Kid Revolution,” (The New York Times, 4/28/19) reveals a stark contrast in self-perception from her earlier findings.

First, her interviewees totally “get” the lie of meritocracy as they ruefully skewer family myths about individual effort, scrimping and saving and the origins of wealth. One young woman who’s in line to inherit a considerable fortune told Sherman, “My dad has always been a CEO, and it was clear to me that he spent a lot of time at work, but it has never been clear to me that he worked a lot harder than a domestic worker, for example. I will never believe that.”

Sherman discovered that whether the immense fortunes came from “the direct dispossession of indigenous people, enslavement of African-Americans, production of fossil fuels or obvious exploitation of workers, they often express especially acute guilt.” One response has been that some wealthy people under age 35 have formed organizations to fund social justice initiatives.

Second, many of her respondents have read about racialized capitalism and harbor no illusions about their own success. From access to the “right” schools and acquiring cultural capital to social networking and good, high paying jobs, they readily acknowledged that it’s all derived from their class (and race) privilege. Third, they are convinced the economic system is “immoral,” equality of opportunity does not exist and their wealth and privileges are absolutely “unearned.” Finally, they grasp, often from personal observation, that traditional philanthropy is primarily about keeping those at the top in place, obtaining generous tax breaks and treating symptoms while ignoring the causes rooted in the very social structures from which they benefit.

Beyond the article’s hyperbolic title and a certain vagueness about where this new consciousness may lead, the piece — whether intentionally or not — does raise issues that demand much wider public discussion.

First, a note about philanthro-capitalism or as Peter Buffet (Warren Buffet’s son) terms it, “conscience laundering.” In Chris Rock’s pithy phrase, “Behind every fortune is a great crime” and given what we know about the sources of great wealth —the collectivity— these monies should be supporting public needs that are democratically determined not the cherry-picked, pet projects of billionaires. And this reveals another motive behind private charity: the desire to stifle any enthusiasm for an activist government responsible to the public will.

I should add that whenever I hear a philanthropist piously proclaim, “I just wanted to give something back,” my first impulse is to shout “Why not give it all back?” That is, I’ve always been partial to the moral injunction, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.” (Luke 12:48) And although I won’t attempt to improve on scripture, I might suggest “From whom much is taken, much is owed.”

Second, one might ask about the case where a person of modest means succeeds at something and accumulates a fortune? We’ve all heard or read ad infinitum, someone exclaim, “Damn it! Nobody even handed me anything. I did it all on my own. I’m entirely self-made.” Isn’t that evidence of individual merit? No. For starters, as Chuck Collins, heir to the Oscar Mayer fortune, once put it, “Where would wealthy entrepreneurs be without taxpayer investments in the Internet, transportation, public education, the legal system, the human genome project and so on?” Herbert Simon, a Nobel Prize winner in Economics, has calculated the societal contribution at ninety percent of what people earn in Northwest Europe and the United States.

In addition to the sources mentioned above, just off the top of my head I can list many other factors that belie this powerfully seductive but wholly fictional narrative, one that’s also touted to and embraced by many members of the working class: Child labor, Chinese and Irish immigrant labor (railroads), eminent domain, massacres of striking workers, state repression of unions, Immigration Act of 1864, public land grabs, corporate welfare, installing foreign dictators to guarantee cheap labor and resources, inheritance laws, public schools and universities, public expense mail systems, property and contract laws, government tax breaks incentives to business, Securities and Exchange Commission to ensure trust in the stock market, the U.S. military, and a police state to keep the rabble from picking up pitchforks. Another factor that almost merits its own paragraphs is pure luck. By any objective criteria, we can conclude that absent this arrangement there would be no accumulation of private wealth.

Finally, meritocracy is the classic American foundation myth and provides the basis for an entire array of other fairy tales. Foremost, this illusion serves to justify policies that foster economic inequality and hinder the development of social movements. After so many decades of neoliberal ideology, this lie is now firmly lodged in the public’s collective consciousness but I’m convinced that with effort and relying on the evidence, it can be expunged.

Is the UK Being Hard Wired to the Fourth Reich?

Fri, 2019-05-10 15:43

Are We Witnessing the End of the United Kingdom as an Independent Nation State?

Ever since ‘the wrong result’ occurred at the referendum launched by then Prime Minister David Cameron, a fiasco of unprecedented proportions has been taking place in British politics. It is a depressing and, owing to the pathos, a tragi-comical spectacle.

However, there is nothing comical about the direction things are moving in, but there is something tragic. The UK is being hijacked from within and without, simultaneously. The pretext for this dissolution of everything that holds the country together as an Independent Nation State is the collusion between leading figures in the British Civil Service and leading figures in the European Commission. That collusion is symptomatic of the technocratic march towards an ever more centralised European Super State.

Because of the complexity of the surface Brexit story, which plays-out its contortions on the front pages of UK press day after day, I’m going to concentrate only on the key issues that remain largely hidden due to this orchestrated media smoke screen.

Britain’s civil service once held the reputation of being largely true to its traditional role of transcribing into law the decrees of State. British Civil Servants acted out of a long established tradition to make their priority ‘the representation of the people’. The institution, which essentially acts as the first call in public administration, is historically structured to be independent of government.

However, in recent decades, as the pressure of the ‘corporate will’ has gained an ever stronger influence over government policy, the civil service also fell victim to internal slippage – and a tendency to keep a covert ear open to the corporate cabal. As most of us know, the interests of Big Money and Big Banking are essentially united in wanting to expand their empires into ever more powerful dictatorships – and this makes them central to driving the ambitions of A New World Order in which purely material power gives those at the helm the authority to act as despots. Certain civil service operatives have recently started believing that they also have a right to a stake in a position at the top of this authoritarian pyramid.

After Prime Minister Cameron’s political demise, Theresa May placed herself as the chief architect in negotiating a Brexit deal with the EU. She had behind her the 17.2 million UK citizens who had called for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, demanding an exit strategy to be settled and put in place without delay. May was not new to the politics of power, as head of The Home Office she was also in charge of national security and familiar with the workings of MI5 and MI6. Now, as Prime Minister, she inclined to listen to the voices of those dealing with international relations and foreign strategy, rather than the elected members of parliament to whom she is expected to report and consult.

Those ‘remainers’ who see the key power base of the future as an expanding centralisation programme centred around a supranational body of technocrats based in Brussels, put out a heavily financed call – that to quit the EU would be a disaster. Particularly for the economy, they claimed. Who are these figures? No doubt the likes of George Soros and fellow big-time financial henchmen who back the technocratic institutional road to power as the surest way to achieve their hegemonic goals.

Brussels had already produced the perfect template for technocrats to assume absolute authority. The EU has, since its inception, been a project to covertly create a federation run by unelected civil servant-style bureaucrats, cleverly disguised as an economic instrument for uniting Europe around common financial interests. Its early leaders include Walter Hallstein a leading ex Nazi who envisioned the European Union as a direct extension of the Third Reich: A Fourth Reich. The Bilderbergers were then responsible for concocting the poisoned formula that is intended to eventually do-away with nation states altogether, putting in their place a supranational authoritative body with total control over all aspects of civilian and military life.
With ‘Stay’ (remainer) voices shrilly supported by the majority of the mainstream British press – owned by just one or two well known media magnates – the dream of the UK being hard wired to the heart of the Fourth Reich was given enough impetus to present a direct challenge to the will of the British people, who had voted 52% to 48% to quit the European Union. A project conferred upon them by Prime Minister Edward heath back in 1973, with no consultation process being involved.

Theresa May has become a kind of mesmerized zombie within this high stakes battle for the fate of the British Isles. Her heavy reliance on the Cabinet committee and closed ears to parliament, has isolated her from the supposed ‘democratic process’ which is meant to be relied upon to resolve such a situation. Furthermore, she has shown a clear deficit in patriotism in her dealings with Donald Tusk (President of the European Council) and Jean-Claude Juncker (President of the European Commission), who have made it clear that the UK will not be allowed out of fortress Brussels except on terms that suit the grandiose plans of the federal superstate.

Since these terms already involve the UK being (by treaty) locked into all regulatory controls emanating from Brussels, both before and after any ‘withdrawal’, it looks like game, set and match to Brussels regardless of what gets ‘agreed’ and signed up to on paper.
Whoever is pulling the strings that see Theresa May constantly pinging to and fro’ between London and Brussels on her supposed ‘negotiations’ with Tusk and Juncker, has got a plan which, if enacted, will play a critical role in bringing about the end of the UK as an independent Nation State’. That plan is called ‘EU Military Unification’.

Military Unification follows the edicts of the New World Order script by establishing a ‘One European Army’ able to exert its military influence at the behest of the technocrats in charge of EU home and foreign policy. Its stated aim is to bolster NATO in counterbalancing the ‘aggressive’ powers of Russia and China – which are always conveniently painted as ‘aggressors’ in spite of the fact that no evidence is available to validate this label.
But the under-text of this ‘military unification programme’ is considerably more sinister than the by now standard vilification of the Eastern super powers. It is coldly designed to strip the UK of its military strength by subsuming its army, navy and air force into a ‘One European Army’ under the command of foreign military personnel. And, at the time of writing, it looks as though the high command of this army will be headed by German Generals; although France is also pushing hard for the number one spot.

The sheer travesty of this EU heist for technocratic control of another Country’s military defence capabilities, is electrifying. It is at once both deeply sinister and alarming and suggests that the Fourth Reich is indeed close to becoming operational in Europe. Yet it cannot become so without the UK military – since the UK has the largest and best trained army in Europe.

Suddenly the whole game freezes into one starkly strategic ambition: to render the UK – and it will be true of other nations too once the precedent is set – a vassal state under the dictatorship of a despotic centralised regime moving ever closer to the totalitarian New World Order model planned by secret societies and carefully disguised elite clubs of hegemonic 21st century empire builders.

Already the forerunner of full ‘EU military unification’ is to be seen in action. In France, there have been many claims that foreign military police have been drafted in by Macron in order to take a strong line with Yellow Vest protesters. The reasoning is that, being outsiders, they will be able to be more brutal with French nationals without feeling bad about it. What a sick idea. But in taking such a line one can see how a European military/police unification process can be used to suppress individuals – in any part of Europe – attempting to kick back against oppressive leadership.

Back in London, Mark Sedwell, head of the British Civil Service, sits in an ornate regal chair in Westminster – and with a wry smile declares himself to be ‘King of the United Kingdom’. The Prime Minister recently authorised Sedwell’s present position as head National Security Advisor, head of the Cabinet Office and head of the Civil Service. If one ever needed proof that civil service boffins are shedding their traditional roles as ‘answering to the will of the people’ and are instead occupying the front line of UK policy makers – this is surely conclusive evidence. Civil Servants, according to Brian Guerrish, lead presenter of UK Column News “are the new oligarchs.”

The United Kingdom is in deep trouble. Brexit is a sham. A deception of the highest order. The Country’s very own Prime Minister is involved in an act of treason, selling the nation she was elected to defend and to direct according to the will of the people. While down the road at Buckingham Palace, the Queen of England, titular head of ‘Her Majesty’s Armed Forces’ and sworn defender of the United Kingdom as an Independent Nation State – sits passively on the side lines – seemingly unmoved by the fact that her kingdom is being auctioned-off and rendered impotent, right in front of her eyes. Rendered impotent and defenceless.

You might imagine that The Queen of England would, by now, have called the Prime Minister to the Palace and told her – in no uncertain terms – that this is a bridge too far. But no. All is silent. Eerily so.

Back in parliament, MP’s of both the ruling Conservative party and the opposition Labour Party, also remain tight lipped when questioned if they are aware that the nation’s military defence is being disbanded in favour of a realignment with an EU military unification programme. Are they playing ignorant – or are they actually ignorant?

Using the infamous technique of divide and conquer, citizens of the United Kingdom are being goaded into ‘taking sides’. Neither ‘solution’ (to leave or to stay) reflect much clarity of thought. This is due to the fact that a significant majority cannot comprehend the details of the spurious arguments the national press put forward. Not surprisingly, since there is a great pall of obfuscation being deliberately injected into the whole process in order to produce the sort of chaos which will allow the the hidden government or ‘deep state’ as it is known in the USA – to sneak through its strategic agenda for achieving a further turning of the screw in the direction of a One World dictatorship.

As if to compound the Huxleyan agenda, the very same cabal is pushing 5G WiFi forward as the ‘solution’ for a one world electromagnetic microwave grid to survey and influence the behaviour and health of every single person on the planet. This ubiquitous ‘silent weapon’ is to be the power source for ‘the smart internet of everything’ and precursor of a robotic age in which microwaving and mind controlling of populations is callously and indiscriminately performed in the name of the maintenance of ‘law and order’.

However, there is resistance to universal despotism. Growing resistance. Growing in direct response to all attempts being made to snuff it out. The great Brexit deception is being exposed for what it is as more and more people witness the hard-edged controlling hand of the EU at work against any non-conformist elements making a stand for another way of doing things. Witness the EU at work in support of Macron’s imperialist leadership of France; in the suppression of of an independent Basque State; in the cold economic suffocation of Greece and the blocking of the new government of Italy and its reassertion of the values of Nation Statehood. Witness also continuing EU support for US led military invasions of foreign countries and the backing of US troop and armament installations in Poland and other Eastern European Countries.

Those who can think are increasingly on the side of a ‘peoples resistance movement’ and initiatives that expose the top down heavy-handed militarisation of once democratic countries. We are witnessing a remarkable global upsurge of humanitarian calls for a completely new paradigm of socio-economic and environmental reform – a revolution in the way that the wealth of the planet is shared and distributed, including an end to brutal imperialistic wars that are destroying everything of value and sanctity on this precious planet. The top down New World Order design model envisaged by Bush, Cheney, Blair et al. with its post 9/11 hegemonic charge into the Middle East and beyond, is teetering on the brink. While the emergence of a diametrically opposing ‘new world order’ is fermenting a bottom up resurgence of people power that, once it reaches critical mass, will depose the old criminal order once and for all. It comes down to a race against time.

As regards the UK’s future in or outside the European Union, I’ll leave you with the telling words of professor Gwythian Prins “The people have chosen the outer world. The officials and the May cell gave chosen military EU. This is absolutely the wrong choice. It is therefore an inescapable fact that the Orwellian non withdrawal documents pose a real and present threat to UK national security in the most fundamental way possible.”
Brexit is undoubtedly a huge wake up call for a very large number of individuals in the UK, in Europe and beyond. What is playing-out is highly significant in all respects. It comes down to a case of accepting indefinite slavery to an empire building totalitarian technocracy or finding the strength of imagination and purpose to create and uphold a society of responsible, community conscious, independent and freedom loving individuals, able to set a just and sane course for humanity as a whole. Let us make sure that our voices and actions are fully aligned with the latter outcome.

You Don’t Get to Discriminate Just Because You’re Religious

Fri, 2019-05-10 15:43

A bill in Texas would allow professionals of all kinds — doctors, pharmacists, electricians — to deny services to LGBTQ customers on religious grounds.

This comes alongside the Trump administration’s rollout of a rule that would allow health care providers to actually deny service to LGBTQ people on religious grounds.

I’m sorry, but I don’t care if you have a strongly held religious conviction that says I’m going to hell, or I’m not worthy of being treated like a human being, because I’m gay.

If that’s the case, you can go ahead and stay far away from me, and you can hate me all you want. Or you can love me and hate my “sin” of being myself and loving who I love, and then you have the right to tell yourself that’s not hateful.

But you don’t have a right to legally discriminate against me or anyone like me. At least, not outside of your own church — though even there, is it really necessary?

First off, several sources say the passages in the Bible that condemn homosexuality have been mistranslated and misinterpreted. A more accurate reading, they argue, finds that homosexuality isn’t an “abomination” after all.

Even if the Bible is the literal word of God, God didn’t give that word to humans in English. Humans translated it into English. Humans are fallible.

Second, even the most devout Jews and Christians don’t literally follow every single word in the Bible. They pick and choose.  If one followed every commandment in the Leviticus to the letter, the result would be gruesome murders (a theme the book The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo explored in grisly detail).

For instance, Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says that children who disrespect their parents should be stoned to death. If anyone actually followed that, few children would live long enough to get their driver’s licenses.

But you know what? Nobody follows that. Because they shouldn’t.

And although our Constitution protects religious liberty, if someone stoned their disrespectful child to death out of sincerely held religious conviction, they would still go to prison for murder — rightfully.

I support religious freedom. But when religious people pick and choose which (possibly mistranslated) commandments they want to follow — and they choose the ones that discriminate against a group of people for the “sin” of loving — I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that their right to discriminate is more important than an LGBTQ person’s civil rights.

Go ahead and do what you want inside your own church. You have that right.

LGBTQ support groups are filled with the fallout of anti-gay church teachings — people who’ve lost their entire families, their friends, and their faith. Plenty believe they’re going to hell for being LGBTQ, while others even entered into doomed heterosexual marriages that fell apart when they couldn’t hide their true selves any longer.

Our community has a lot of trauma in it, but I suppose you have the religious freedom to keep heaping more of that trauma on us — within your own home and your own church.

I support religious freedom, which I guess means I support the right of any faith to exclude LGBTQ people based on a cherry-picked misinterpretation of scripture if they wish. But that right does not extend to discriminate in a non-religious workplace, emergency room, or anywhere else.

Half a century ago, some people claimed they had a deeply held religious conviction supporting racial segregation. Our government passed civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race anyway, even if it’s based on religious conviction. It shouldn’t allow them to deny services to LGBTQ people either.

 

Twinkle Little Star

Fri, 2019-05-10 15:43

The possibility of more than a handful of humans, if any, ever residing on Mars or anywhere in outer space are zero. Pronouncements to the contrary irresponsibly create false hope and subconsciousy or otherwise are designed to obviate the fix the awful mess that humans have created on Earth.

The technical challenges are too great, the atmospheres too hostile and the distances too monstrous to allow any human being to travel very far from the Earth. The concept of migrations or colonizations of massible numbers of people is ludicrous. Should it ever beecome possible, it will be far too late to save our home planet. In any event, how do you feel about leaving behind a trashed out garbage dump?

More importantly, there is nothing in space that is worth anything in terms meaningful to human existence. Minerals and metals do exist, but we already have the same in abundance. There is no water, there is no air, there is no vegetation, there is no warmth, there are no animals. There are only conditions violently hostile to human habitation. Other than the thrill of travel and the opportunity to take some fancy pictures, what else is there?

Scientific spin offs from space travel do produce benefits. But they should not be confused with the illusion that human life can exist in space in meaningful numbers.

These concepts must be separated.

Humans have brought the Earth very close to the point of landfill status. The causes are complex and inter related , but the monster explanation is virulent overpopulation due to out of control human reproduction. There is almost no ecological predicament, as well as a host of other societal problems,  that would not be solved by having saved by having an earth population of 4 billion rather than the current 8 billion. Contributing causes to the witches’brew  are unmodulated capitalism and endless, ceaseless habitat destruction.

Humans have been given a paradise, a true blue green wonderland. The objective should be to rescue what we have before moving on to defile new worlds. There are very powerful organizational interests who endlessly promote the illusion of humans living in space. Their motive is cynical: to continue doing things as they are.

Death to the Stump Speech

Fri, 2019-05-10 15:42

Throughout 2016 the presidential candidates who were not Donald Trump complained to Jeffrey Zucker.

“You showed hours upon hours of unfiltered, unscrutinized coverage of Trump!” Todd Harris, an advisor to Senator Marco Rubio, shouted at the head of CNN during a panel discussion after the election. “CNN helped make [Trump] by carrying every speech he made in the primary season,” added Larry King, the former CNN anchorman. “It was almost like the other guys didn’t exist.”

In the general election accusations of pro-Trump favoritism at CNN continued from Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

“If we made any mistake last year, it’s that we probably did put too many of his campaign rallies in those early months and let them run,” Zucker ultimately confessed. “Listen, because you never knew what he would say, there was an attraction to put those on the air.” Hell, Trump probably didn’t know what he was going to say before he arrived at each podium.

He winged it, riffed off his audience, ran off at the mouth and scrammed before the country knew what hit it.

Trump rallies are freeform jazz. Anything can happen. Quality varies but give the president this: no two performances are the same. “Trump was simply more entertaining and generating more passion,” recalled David Sillito, media reporter for the BBC.

While Trump delivered the extemporaneous devil-may-care thrills of a candidate who doesn’t expect to win, Clinton and Trump’s primary opponents dutifully trudged the land delivering that deadliest of ought-to-be-deceased propaganda formats: the stump speech.

There was Hillary reading from a Teleprompter in Columbus, every word scrupulously stripped of life by her army of staffers, consultants and attorneys. There she was again in Atlanta: same words, same cadences, same gestures and facial expressions. Tune in, tune off. You can hardly blame CNN for skipping some of those cut-and-pasters—to do otherwise would have violated viewers’ human rights.

Stump speeches go back to the early 1800s. Politicians made their way from town to town, first on horseback and then by train, where they delivered the same speech while standing atop a sawed-off tree stump because many areas were freshly cleared forests.

Radio, television and the Internet have revolutionized communication. The last presidential election, in which ad lib shockingly defeated inevitability, demonstrated the obsolescence of the stump speech. Yet this boring tradition endures.

On April 29th former vice president and presidential wannabe-come-lately Joe Biden unleashed his stump speech in Pittsburgh. “There was a $2 trillion tax cut last year. Did you feel it?” Biden asked a group of unionists. “No!” the unionists replied.

“Of course not!” Biden said.

Repetition in Des Moines and Akron and Buffalo and Knoxville will not make this exchange more exciting.

All the major Democratic presidential candidates rely on stump speeches. Introductions are modified to acknowledge local officials in attendance. Sections are dropped to adjust to tight schedules. Location determines the insertion or deletion of certain lines. But the basic structure is the same whether you’re in Dubuque or Decatur. It’s easy to see the appeal of the stump speech. Why pay for a hundred speeches when you can make do with one? Why risk gaffes when you can massage and road-test a veteran rallier?

The Associated Press described the drill in 2016: “Day after day, the candidates for president wake up, brush their teeth and pump themselves up to say the same thing they did yesterday. Most of what they say won’t make the evening news, or get tweeted or repeated. But that spiel they repeat, with variations, to audience after audience in state after state, is a campaign essential.”

What they’re missing is why it won’t make the news. By definition, repetition is not news.

Trump repeatedly made the news by repeatedly saying something new.

Campaigns that still rely on stump speeches are pretending that technology doesn’t exist. It’s impressive when Bernie Sanders talks to 20,000 people. But his real audience isn’t there. A limitless crowd, millions of voters perhaps—is watching on cable news and/or online. But networks won’t carry his rally unless it might break news. A stump speech can’t do that. Even diehard Berners won’t bother to livestream if they see pretty much the same event each time. Been there, saw that, next.

Today’s Democratic stumpers might want to take a cue from the stump speeches of the 19th century, which were actually vibrant and spontaneous expressions of frontier life.

“Refined politicians in the cities may have looked down on stump speeches,” writes history writer Robert McNamara. “But out in the countryside, and especially along the frontier, stump speeches appreciated for their rough and rustic character. They were free-wheeling performances that were different in content and tone from the more polite and sophisticated political discourse heard in the cities.” America’s first politicians shot brutal insults; audiences rewarded the most outrageous slurs with their votes.

There’s a reason Trump looks uncomfortable reading from a script. He prefers to rock it old school.

Fight Climate Change With Good Union Jobs

Fri, 2019-05-10 15:42

Across the country, you’ll find millions of working families whose wages haven’t budged in a generation, even as the cost of living has skyrocketed.

Many of these same communities are now getting hit hardest by floods, droughts, storms, and other climate disasters. How are workers going to withstand rising climate risks if their paychecks don’t even cover the bills, while corporate polluters rake in profits?

Our communities don’t experience climate change and inequality as two isolated issues, but as interlinked crises.

A Green New Deal offers an immense opportunity to tackle both crises at the speed and scale that justice and science demand. It’s a bold, essential plan to transition to a clean energy economy built on good, union jobs that leaves no worker — or community — behind.

It’s a roadmap rooted in solid, realistic changes that are already happening. From the Midwest to the South to the coasts, communities are retrofitting buildings to save energy, replacing lead pipes to ensure clean water, and restoring green spaces to reduce climate-related flooding.

Meanwhile, broad local coalitions are pushing for investments in local wind and solar manufacturing, clean and affordable light rail, wetlands restoration, smart electric grids, and sustainable family farming.

These programs are models for a national Green New Deal. They’re already creating high-paying jobs, slashing pollution as well as energy bills, and supporting community-led efforts to prevent climate disasters. Our generational task of bringing wages up and climate pollution down is both doable and indispensable — and it starts with massively scaling up these local solutions.

Some politicians try to divide us by saying we have to choose between good jobs and healthy communities. This is a false choice.

In fact, a Green New Deal is an opportunity to create millions of good union jobs, clean up our air and water, and become more resilient in the face of the climate crisis. It’s an opportunity to cut energy costs by providing cheaper, more efficient choices for clean energy and transportation. And it’s an opportunity to build a more just economy — and society — by investing directly in the workers and communities who got the worst deal in the economic status quo.

For far too long, the wealthiest corporations have profited from a system that allows workers and communities — especially low-income families, immigrants, and people of color — to bear the brunt of toxic pollution, climate disasters, and economic insecurity.

We can change this.

We don’t lack ideas — frontline communities are already generating realistic solutions. And we don’t lack funding sources — the corporations profiting from low wages and climate pollution have the funds to support a transition to a new economy.

What we really need to make the Green New Deal real is for people of conscience to work together, grow our movement, and push our representatives to invest in a just transition for our communities.

Right now, political will is mounting. More than 100 members of Congress have already endorsed a Green New Deal, and that number continues to grow. So does the panoply of environmental, labor, and justice groups backing the idea — including our own.

As that movement gains momentum, so does our resolve to lay the groundwork for a new economy — one powered by family-sustaining wages and clean energy.

If that goal seems big, it’s no bigger than the problems our communities face. That, after all, is what this Green New Deal moment is all about: an invitation to all of us to name solutions that match the scale of our problems.

John Bolton Inadvertently Quotes Hitler

Fri, 2019-05-10 15:42

As the political situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate, there are growing calls in Washington from both sides of the aisle for the Trump administration to provide greater American support for acting Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently telling ABC News that the United States was preparing for potential military action against Venezuela.

Perhaps one of the most prominent Washington insiders calling for greater American action against the Venezuelan government of Nicholas Maduro, is National Security Advisor John Bolton, who was made famous for accidentally showing his notepad to media during a press conference with the words “5,000 U.S troops to Columbia” in plain sight for the world to see.

In a recent interview with CNN regarding the future of the Maduro government, Bolton said “..sometimes one kick at the door and the whole rotten edifice falls down”. Bolton’s words clearly illustrated that he believed it was likely that the days of the Maduro government were numbered should sufficient force be applied.

There was another man who once said a remarkably similar thing before beginning one of the bloodiest and costliest conflicts in the history of mankind, that man was Adolf Hitler. Shortly before Operation Barbarossa (the German invasion of the Soviet Union) Hitler was convinced that the U.S.S.R would quickly collapse under the weight of German arms, telling his generals “You only have to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down,”

Bolton believes that the Maduro government can be quickly and easily swept aside without serious long term costs, with the U.S friendly government of Juan Guaidó ready to step in and take power, but like the German invasion of the Soviet Union any sort of American military action against Venezuela will likely have a series of unintended consequences.

While the case for action against the Maduro government may seem like an open and shut affair, there is a series of likely complications that could seriously impact the global geopolitical landscape and undermine the stability of not only Venezuela, but potentially neighbouring countries.

Unlike past American led efforts against nations like Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, the Maduro government has some extremely powerful friends in the form of Russia and China, both of whom have major strategic and economic interests intertwined with the future of the Maduro government.

For Moscow, Venezuela represents one of its most important allies both militarily and economically, with Russian companies owning large interests in the Venezuelan oil industry and the Russian armed forces using Venezuelan air and naval bases for their visiting troops. Russian military action to support an ally is also not unprecedented in recent history, as illustrated by the Russian military’s ongoing deployment in Syria in defence of the government of President Bashar Al-Assad.

Meanwhile for Beijing, Venezuela is seen as a “natural extension” of its multi-billion dollar ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, with China pumping $63 billion into Venezuela over the past decade in an attempt to expand Chinese influence and gain an important ally in the Western Hemisphere. Predicting China’s response to any attempt to “kick in” Venezuela’s door is at best problematic, as the U.S – China relationship continue to be strained by the ongoing trade war.

In neighbouring Columbia, Marxist guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN) have pledged to fight alongside the Maduro government against any American military action, with Columbian revolutionary group FARC and other leftist groups already working to arm civilian paramilitaries in area’s near the Columbian border.

While some of the more hawkish members of the nation’s leadership may believe they can simply “kick the door in” and have the Maduro government collapse without further costs for the United States, there is a high likelihood that any attempt to use force against Venezuela could have a series of unintended consequences that could have serious effects for years to come.

John Bolton and the hawkish members of Washington’s leadership may see short military campaigns as a prime option to secure and further the interests of the United States, but if America continues to wage wars with poorly planned long term strategies for their aftermath, the United States may once again find itself in another Afghanistan or Iraq like quagmire it cannot easily escape.

 

Why Dancing is Good for Your Health

Fri, 2019-05-10 15:40

It has been known for a long time that physical activity –including dancing and exercises- can have several positive effects on people’s bodies and minds, leading to better cardiovascular health, fewer migraine headaches, and a sharper brain.

The Einstein Aging Study carried out in the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, found that dancing helps prevent both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, which is the next most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. Joseph Verghese, the lead researcher of the Einstein Aging Study said, “Dance is not purely physical in many ways, it also requires a lot of mental effort.” Among the people who participated in the Einstein Aging Study, those who danced frequently –three or four times a week- showed 76 percent less incidence of dementia than those who danced only once a week or didn’t dance at all.

In the Middle East, one of the most popular styles of dancing is belly dancing, which utilizes muscles in the abdomen, pelvis, trunk, spine, and neck. The most sensual belly dancer of all times was “Princess Banu” who danced in a London restaurant called Gallipoli. Many dancers tried to copy her style, with no success. The Turkish Ministry of Culture proclaimed Princess Banu as “The National Dancer of Turkey”

Although dancing can be done as a competitive activity, as in ballroom dancing, most people practice it as a way of being more physically active and of staying fit. In addition, dancing has social and emotional elements that are advantageous for all people, but particularly for those older without many social connections but who want to lead long and healthy lives.

Many people who dread exercising are more prone to use dancing as a way of overall physical improvement. While most exercises tend to use repetitive motions that many find boring, dancing uses a wide variety of movements and has the additional advantage of social interaction with different people. As a result, it can provide greater self-confidence and self-esteem, enhance a general sense of well-being, and lead to more active social relationships.

Researchers found that after age 40, people who had been actively dancing throughout their lives have younger-looking skin, similar to that of people in their 20s or 30s, even if those participating in the study were older than 65. Dancing can improve the condition of heart and lungs, make bones stronger and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and increase muscular strength, physical endurance, and motor fitness.

Dancing can have some additional health benefits. Listening to tango at Taller Latinoamericano, one of New York’s premier language and dance schools, reminded me of an incident in Buenos Aires. I was having a late lunch at a downtown restaurant, just a sandwich and a salad, when I noticed a man in his middle seventies having a hearty soup and then a huge steak with French fries and a salad. As a dessert, he had a caramel pudding. Since he was a very thin man I couldn’t but ask him how it was possible that he was having such a huge lunch and still be in good shape. His answer took me by surprise. “Years ago,” he said, “I was a very sick man with arthritis so severe that I couldn’t cross a wide street without some concern. I stayed mostly at home, feeling miserable since I was always a very active person. One day, at a friend’s suggestion, I decided to start dancing the tango. With some trepidation at the beginning, soon I was becoming more and more at ease until I reached a point when I practically went dancing the tango almost every night. Soon I recovered my strength and the freedom of my movements and what you see is the new man that I became.”

Agnieszka Burzynska, an assistant professor in Colorado State University’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies published a study showing the effect of dancing in the “white matter” in the brain.

Although the brain’s “gray matter” is better known because it is the tissue of the brain that contains the neurons, “white matter” can be considered as the brain’s wiring, similar to cables connecting discs in a computer. As people age, the quality of the brain’s wiring deteriorates, provoking disruptions in the transmissions of the electrical messages in the brain. This communication is critical for any brain function.

Burzynska and her team carried out the study in 174 healthy adults between the ages of 60 and 79 who met three times a week for six months in a gym at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Burzynska found that dancing has a very positive effect on the “fornix”, an area of white matter that carries a bundle of those “wires” and that plays an important role in memory.

Although the deterioration of the fornix has been linked to progression from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease, Burzynska’s team found that the integrity of the fornix increased in the dance group. A control group that only exercised didn’t show the same benefits. Given all these health benefits, we can all use a bit more dancing in our lives.

All I Want for Mother’s Day is Equity for My Child

Fri, 2019-05-10 15:39

What mother on earth doesn’t want equality and health for her child? I certainly do.

I gave birth nearly two decades ago to a healthy, beautiful, intelligent child, who cried more than I thought she would and whose tutu-wearing terrible twos persisted into her tiara-wearing terrible threes. This willful nature turned out to be both her most challenging and her finest quality.

She skipped kindergarten because her mind was so sharp. She built fairy houses during recess and enlisted the whole school in creating a moss-covered, magical twig town. She wrote poems about springtime and belted out preteen pops songs about cute boys. She was popular among her girlfriends.

But she wasn’t allowed to use the girls’ bathroom. She had shoes thrown at her head when she wore leggings and lacy tops. She endured public school teachers making the sign of the cross and running off when she walked between classes.

All because my daughter was born transgender.

In high school she became part of the solution. She became an advocate for transgender youth, who suffer discrimination and violence at alarming rates.

With the help of her mentors, she eventually brought her advocacy to Obama White House, where she helped Education Secretary Arne Duncan craft guidance making sure Title IX included nondiscrimination against transgender and gender nonconforming students.

Then came the Trump administration — and the equality that she and so many had fought for was cruelly ripped away. Almost immediately, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded the very guidance protecting her that my daughter had helped to craft.

My willful child was able to meet with DeVos. She explained what this would mean for children like her who would again be denied the use of the bathroom — and who would continue to be hit, suspended, and bullied by students and teachers alike.

But DeVos and Trump don’t care about my daughter’s welfare. They want her very human and civil right to exist in public spaces to disappear.

At the National Prayer Breakfast on May 2, Trump told an audience of right-wing religious leaders about a sweeping new rule that will allow medical professionals and employers to deny health care to transgender children and adults for so-called “religious reasons.”

He’s already banned transgender soldiers from serving in the military. He’s already rescinded protections for transgender students in schools. And he’s already stricken the very word “transgender” from any publication by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, a beacon in the storm came a day before the ominous Prayer Breakfast announcement: The House Judiciary Committee passed The Equality Act, and it’s expected to pass the full House.

This could be a historic victory — not only for my child and the LGBTQIA community, women, and people of color, but for principle of equality for all that must stand in any democratic society.

The Equality Act amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and many subsequent civil rights-related acts so that they will explicitly and consistently, across all states, provide equal protection against discrimination for the categories of gender identity and sexual orientation.

So that my child can have the same health care as your child. So that my child can have the same right to education, housing, transportation, credit, employment, and existence as your child. So that my child may live freely and equally to others.

My child continues to use her voice loudly and effectively. She is not bowed. But her very right to exist is threatened even more now than when people were throwing shoes at her head.

All I want for Mother’s Day is equality for my child — and for other children and adults like her. Is this any different from what every mother wants?

Boredom and Suffering and Safety and Liberty

Fri, 2019-05-10 15:33

I’m not going to lie to you, dearest motherfuckers. My life is kind of a dumpster fire right now. In fact, it’s been kind of a dumpster fire for the last few years. Even aside from my clinical crosses to bare: anxiety, depression, OCD, ADD, IBS, Lyme disease, dysphoria, bubonic plague, etc: The last few years have felt like a Macy’s Day Parade of Ballardian car crashes. My grandmother gets dementia and has to be moved through fifty different fucking homes because none of them can be bothered to treat her like a goddamn human being unless their paid in speed boats. My cat and loyal companion of nearly twenty years loses both thyroids, shits everywhere and slowly dies on me. Then my best humanoid friend since high school up and moves to a different goddamn continent. Then my father gets run over by a sleep deprived paper-man and finds out he has cancer in the emergency room. Then some sick fuck shoots a geezer and blows his brains out next door to my loony Nana’s latest nursing home. Then the cops murder another friend in cold blood for being autistic while black. And then and then and then and then….

It’s gotten to the point where I’ve begun having weekly panic attacks reducing me to sobbing jello thrashing violently on my bathroom floor. It didn’t use to be this way. Its times like these I actually miss being a shut-in. During the agoraphobic half of my twenties my days were typically structured around doing whatever the fuck I felt like whenever the fuck I felt like it. I could binge watch a half dozen French horror movies or completely lose myself killing cops on Grand Theft Auto and sink a week into researching the finer points of Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Therapy. I had no friends, no blog, no job, no obligations whatsoever. When the outside world got too menacing I could just make myself disappear like a ghost in my parents basement where they’d never find me. I had nothing to fear and that was the point. The universe had grown too goddamn big for me to cope with, so I chose to make the universe go away and become a hermit with no worries. No worries, that is, except my crippling loneliness, my total disgust with my biological sex, my fear of dying alone in that goddamn basement and my downright terminal boredom. And that’s the trade off.

Madame de Stael once mused that, in life, one must choose between boredom and suffering, and I’ve spent the better part of the more stressful half of my twenties learning this lesson the hard way. My life in isolation may have been safe but it was also totally unfulfilling. As terrifying and painful as the last few years of my life have been I have fucking lived them and I’ve lived them my way. I’ve turned my little blog into a genuine menace to society. I have embraced the Lokian spiritual chaos of my fluid gender identity. I have made friends with everyone from single-black mothers to neofascist wack-jobs, the two most dangerous kinds of people on earth. I’ve also become a contributing editor to the worlds most dangerous website, Attack the System, not to mention a regular contributor to the vanguard of the Fifth Estate, CounterPunch. I’ve found my place in a tribe that I’ve been searching for my whole life and I volunteer handling diseased piss and blood for my people at a free AIDS clinic. Not only have I embraced my participation in the joyful suffering of the world but I’ve embraced outright danger. I have embraced anarchy, not just as a philosophy but as a lifestyle, and those things are very much related.

In life, one must chose between boredom and suffering. Similarly, I’ve come to believe that in politics, one must choose between safety and liberty. As a shut-in, I embraced safety, not just as a lifestyle but as a philosophy. I was a dutiful state socialist and the idea of a well regulated egalitarian society was as appealing to me as the shelter of my parent’s basement. As a recovering hermit in the mad world I’ve come to find my past affection for benevolent statism to be almost as stifling as the mask of my former gender identity. The truth is, that a world of strict gun control, Scandinavian style welfare and the prohibition of victimless crimes probably would be safer. But it would be as boring as living in a human zoo. Sure, we’d all be well fed and taken care of, but we wouldn’t be free. Like my former existence as a shut-in, it would be safe but totally unfulfilling. And for some people maybe that’s enough, but I simply can’t bare to live that way anymore. I didn’t choose the terrifying liberty of the outside world to be a part of a society that’s just as safe as my parent’s basement.

So I’ve decided to embrace suffering, even with all its heartbreaks and panic attacks. And I’ve decided to embrace the liberty of anarchism even with all it’s overdoses, border jumpers and active shooters, because, like another quotable corpse named Zapata once quipped, I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees. Come hell, dearest motherfuckers. Come hell.

Shall We Gather at the River?

Fri, 2019-05-10 14:07

An article in the leading scientific journal Nature surveying the damming—and therefore the destruction—of the world’s rivers was reported on widely this week. The authors’ found that only a third of the globe’s 246 rivers longer than 1,000 kilometers flow uninterrupted from source to sea. These human interventions exert a devastating effects on ecosystems, drinking water, wildlife, and human populations, especially those living on sinking deltas starved of sediments previously brought by the unimpeded river. The oceans rise while the ground recedes.

That many of these dams produce “clean” energy puts the lie to prevailing ideologies of sustainability. The Tesla drivers of the Pacific Northwest states so rich in “renewable” hydroelectric power will learn again from the Naturearticle that what really needs renewing are the region’s rivers.

My father spent his entire professional career with the EPA, serving as a scientist in the agency from its founding in 1970 until his retirement in 2006. (He was hired by the EPA’s predecessor, the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration.) Over his last decade at EPA, he worked on a major study of the Columbia River that concluded that its dams’ impact on water quality (especially temperature) violated the terms of the Clean Water Act. His team recommended the breaching of several dams. For all the data collected and elaborate mathematical models he developed, my father would be the first to admit that you didn’t need all the science to argue for an unobstructed river. Of course, the study’s proposals for starting on the long path to restoring the Columbia’s health have not been adopted.

As a kid canoeing on Washington’s rivers—especially the mighty Skagit—and in the Puget Sound my father would often quiz my brother and me on the names of the succession of dams on the Columbia (Bonneville, The Dalles, John Day … all the way to Grand Coulee), with those on the Snake thrown in for the bonus round (Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Lower Granite …).  As a kid I did not think of that game as the litany of shame that it was. Even though I’d visited some of these dams with my father, the names sounded mythic, like monuments from antiquity—which is indeed what they were.

The annual run of salmon in the Columbia in the nineteenth century has been estimated at around 16 millions.  The forecast for 2019 is just under 160,000.

Countless have been the songs about rivers.  From written and phonographically recorded history, one could single out Palestrina’s exquisite evocation of the lament of the Jewish people by the Rivers of Babylon or Paul Robeson longing for the Shenandoah or Don McLean’s unwittingly prescient American Pie with its dry levee (though it’s an image I’ve never quite understood).

One of the most profound stretch of river music comes from J. S. Bach: the opening movement of his cantata “Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam” (Jesus Christ our Lord came to the Jordan) BWV 7.  It was in this river that Jesus was baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist.

Marking St. John’s June birthday on the liturgical year, Bach’s cantata is based on Martin Lutheran’s then nearly-two-hundred-year-old chorale about baptism.

Bach begins the work with a portentous, minor mode orchestral introduction, the violins and oboes d’amore making sudden leaps up then down, with quick hissing figures in between, like spray off rocks. The cello and bass have churning arpeggios pulled down successfully by step in a well-worn harmonic progression must often symbolic of death and mourning. However treacherous, the churning waters above promise new life: but it will take courage to plunge in.

After this forceful, dizzying two-measure opening, Bach asks the orchestra to play softly. A solo violin emerges from the turbid texture with a rocking figure that seems to evoke quick riffling waters. This respite is interrupted by a return of the opening motto and another stretch of rough water. The solo violin remerges with still more wildly turbulent material. This taxing work with the bow is all frenetic action—as if struggling against the current.

From our of this maelstrom,the austere, antique melody resounds in the tenor, as from the river bed, pulling the three other, more active, vocal parts along, the solo violin swirling  and eddying above:

Christ our Lord came to the Jordan
According to His Father’s will,
He received baptism from Saint John,
To fulfill his work and destiny;
Thus He wishes to give us a bath,
So as to cleanse us from sin,
To drown bitter death as well
Through His own blood and wounds;
It was nothing less than a new life.

The unbound, life-giving river keeps rolling, sweeping the voices downstream. One doesn’t have to subscribe to the religious doctrines Bach epouses to hear in this music the message that we need the river to sustain life.

The Jordan is now among the most impaired rivers on the planet. 95% of its waters taken for agriculture, it is now a sewage clogged trickle.  The Jordan’s source, the Sea Galilee, is at historic lows after five years of drought, holiday homes stranded 100 meters above water’s edge, clumps of land emerging from the surface below. If Jesus were at last to make his return he wouldn’t have to walk on water as he is purported to have done during his First Coming: instead he’d simply be able to get to his dinghy and disciples with some miracle-free island hopping.

When the last of the free-flowing rivers on earth is dammed and canalized, one will have to turn to archival footage and virtual reality theme parks for a dry facsimile of the experience of being near, on, or such a living, life-giving aqueous entity. Bach never went to the Jordan, but he knew the free-flowing rivers of Germany. The Great Thuringia Flood of early seventeenth century was still remembered and preached about during his lifetime. Even for the non-religious, his Jordan music can summon something deep inside of us about the real, sustaining power of rivers.

Beware AI-Loving CEOs

Fri, 2019-05-10 14:02

Corporate bosses don’t talk about it in public, but among themselves — psssst — they whisper excitedly about implementing a transformative “AI agenda” across our economy.

AI stands for artificial intelligence, the rapidly advancing digital technology of creating thinking robots that program themselves, act on their own, and even reproduce themselves. These automatons are coming soon to a workplace near you.

Not wanting to stir a preemptive rebellion by human workers, corporate chieftains avoid terms like automation of jobs, instead substituting euphemisms like “digital transformation” of work.

Privately, however, top executives see AI as their path to windfall profits and personal enrichment by replacing whole swaths of their workforce with an automated army of cheap machines that don’t demand raises, take time off, or form unions.

As tech exec Kai-Fu Lee confided to the New York Times, he expects AI to “eliminate 40 percent of the world’s jobs within 15 years.”

Some CEOs are so giddy about AI’s profiteering potential that they openly admit their intentions.

Take Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics giant hailed as a job creating savior last year by Donald Trump. It was given $3 billion in public subsidies to open a huge manufacturing plant in Wisconsin, but it’s now reneging and declaring that it intends to replace 80 percent of its global workforce with robots within 10 years.

Corporate apologists say displaced humans can be “reskilled” to do something else. But what? Where? When? No response.

Executives try to skate by the human toll by saying that the machine takeover is the inevitable march of technological progress. Hogwash! There’s nothing “natural” about the AI agenda — it’s a choice being made by an elite group of corporate and political powers trying to impose their selfish interests over us.

The Militarization of Empathy

Thu, 2019-05-09 16:06

Photograph by Joshua Frank

ABC News carried an “America Strong”-type segment of a boy, about to celebrate his 9thbirthday, opening a large gift, with his mother, out of sight of the camera, asking him, “Who sent you this special package?”  Referring to his deployed soldier- father, he replies, “The best daddy in the whole wide world.”  He opens the big package, and finds a smaller package inside – and a note. He stares at the note, then exclaims, “He actually wrote this!”  He begins to read his father’s message:  “I am so sorry but there have been quite a few problems happening here, and it looks like I will not be able to be home for your birthday this year.”  The boy starts to choke up, and slowly and sadly continues to read his father’s note: “I am so sorry.  I hope you understand.  I would have done anything to be with you.  I was able to get you a special surprise.  So I hope it makes up for me not coming home.  I love you with all my heart.  I miss you very much.  Daddy.”  Then he holds the letter to his face and burst into tears. (“Deployed dad surprises son on his birthday,”ABC News, May 6, 2018)

The boy’s mother encourages him to open the smaller box – as if what he had read had not affected her.  He reacts angrily, “You were about to cry, too!”  But he takes her advice, and opens the small package.  Inside was a note that read, “Surprise.”  He looks around, bewildered.  He then looks up and sees his father, who suddenly appears from a hallway, He throws aside the big box, runs across the room and flies into his father’s arms, crying, “Daddy!  Daddy!  I miss you! I miss you!” (Ibid)  It was enough to melt one’s heart, and lead one to not think about what “daddy” might have been doing overseas.

The militarizing of empathy is repeatedly employed by mainstream media in their airing of heartstring-pulling stories of soldiers’ surprise homecomings. There are the soldiers dressed in disguises: like the father, after a year in Afghanistan, arriving home in a fire truck, decked out in firefighting gear and gas mask.  Kneeling before his two daughters, he took off his gas mask, and the surprised daughters cried out, “Daddy!,” and hugged him, “with tears of joy,” much to the delight of a gathered crowd.

Another is a blindfolded son in a martial arts class, sparring with his instructor.  Then his father, dressed in fatigues, replaces the instructor, and as they spar — with an American flag in the background — the father says with a smile, “Keep it going.”  The son spars more slowly, and his father comments, “Come on!  Is that all you got?.”  Knowing that voice, the son quickly pulls off the blindfold and sees his father right in front of him.  He says, “Daddy!,” and leaps into his father’s arms, as the class bursts into applause.

Santa Claus is a common disguise returning soldiers use to surprise their loved ones. But one soldier engaged Santa himself to surprise his two daughters.  The daughters, along with their mother, sat next to Santa in a Tennessee mall.  Santa asked the two girls, “Do you guys know what you want for Christmas?”  The narrator answered: “All Jordan wants for Christmas was for her daddy, who was in the Army and deployed for nine months, to come home for the holidays.”  Jordan and her little sister were unaware that their father was hiding behind Santa Claus.  Suddenly he appeared with outstretched arms, and Jordan cried out, “Daddy!” and ran into his arms, with her little sister following.  A large crowd had gathered, and the narrator said, “There was not a dry eye in the mall.”

The militarizing of empathy is extensive indeed.   A soldier coming home to surprise his wife, who is in a hospital’s NICU Unit, holding one of her two premature twin daughters — with their two other young children at home.  She looks up at him and breaks down, sobbing.

A second grade girl speaks at a school assembly about the importance of supporting military men and woman overseas, as her father, in Army fatigues, appears behind her on the stage and walks up and surprises her, with the whole assemble applauding.  An army mother, away from home for over a year, returns to her fourth and second grade daughters’ school, and, during an assembly, “gives them the surprise of a lifetime.”

A son’s high school graduation takes on even more special meaning as his soldier-father surprises him on that special day.  A chief petty officer-father deployed overseas returns to surprise and hug his son on the football field, as the son plays in his final home high school football game.   A Navy mother, deployed five months, surprises her nine-year-old daughter at her school’s Veterans Day ceremony, the auditorium filled with children waving American flags, and veterans of past wars as guests – and, “in a touching moment,” all clapping when the mother appears on stage and her unsuspecting daughter sees her, moves quickly to the stage, and they embrace.

These examples are the tip of mainstream media’s militarizing of empathy. Military families, separated by America’s so-called “global war on terrorism,” are suddenly reunited – briefly — in surprise  homecomings. These emotionally charged reunions lead viewers to tearfully identify strongly with the families — and by extension with our government’s global warring .  Or, viewers’ joyful identification with reuniting military families serves to lead them not to think about America’s endless warring.  The result is the reinforcement of patriotic allegiance and amnesia.  Here empathy is militarized in the service of America’s pursuit of world domination.

The surprise military homecomings stir viewers’ hearts, deflecting their attention from contrary realities created by the U.S. military.  The soldier-father who surprises his second grade daughter at a school assembly, and brings cheers and tears to everyone’s eyes, distances attention from the horrors created by former president George W., Bush’s falsely-based, bipartisan-supported, criminal invasion of Iraq.

A January 2004 survey by the Iraq Ministry of Education, assisted by UNICEF, reveals the reality kept hidden by soldiers’ surprise school homecomings.  UNICEF Iraq Representative Roger Wright stated the survey’s findings: “Today millions of children in Iraq are attending schools that lack even basic water and sanitation facilities, have crumbing walls, broken windows and leaky roofs.”  The causes include a decade of U.S. sanctions that created neglect and underfunding, and the March 2003 U.S. invasion and bombing of “over 700 primary schools – “a third of those in Baghdad  — with more than 200 burned and over 3,000 looted.”  Wright reveals a common unreported reality: “‘Iraq used to have one of the finest school systems in the Middle East,’” (“Iraq’s Schools Suffer From Neglect and War,”www.unicef.org)

Television viewers repeatedly see American school children crying for joy over their military fathers’ surprise homecoming school visits, but not Iraqi school children crying for grief over the loss of their schools –and especially sobbing over the countless deaths of, and injuring to, their fathers and mothers and other family members.  The very empathy that transcends differences and enables all people to identify with each other is tribalized, i.e., transformed in the service of American imperialism, blotting out the humanness and rights of those our government identifies  – and our media dutifully reports — as enemies.

The reality is far more than an American soldier returning home to surprise and comfort his wife and two premature daughters in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) .  In 2015 in Afghanistan, a U.S. warplane bombed a Doctors Without Borders/Sans Frontieres (MSF)  trauma hospital, repeatedly hitting “the main central hospital building, housing the intensive care unit, emergency rooms, and physiotherapy ward,” killing “12 staff members and 10 patients, including three children.”  The MSF had provided identification of its location to avoid being bombed; and afterwards “condemned the attack as a war crime,” and “demand[ed] a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body.” (“Afghanistan: Kunduz Trauma Center Bombing,”www.doctorswithoutborders, Oct. 7, 2017)

Television viewers can see the relief in the exhausted face of the premature twins-birth-giving mother as her husband suddenly appears and touches her shoulder, and she looks up at him and begins sobbing.  But viewers won’t see the horror of American-bombed patients screaming as they burn to death in their hospital beds. (Ibid)

The reality is much more than about a mother and her two young daughters visiting Santa Claus at a shopping mall, and Santa “granting” the older daughter’s wish: their father suddenly appears for the holidays, his daughters joyfully hug him, and all the shoppers who had gathered clap and are moved to tears.

The reality is also about another shopping center: a bustling market in Syria that was suddenly devastated by U.S. bombs.  According to a new Human Rights Watch report, “U.S. military aircraft bombed a crowded marketplace” and “a school housing displaced people.”  HRW investigators “visited the sites … and collected the names of at least 84 civilians who died in the bombings, including 30 children.” (‘DOZENS OF CIVILIANS KILLED WHEN U.S. BOMBED A SCHOOL AND A MARKET IN SYRIA,’ By Murtaza Hussain, The Intercept, Sept. 25, 2017)

Also, “the independent monitoring group AirWars” reported that “coalition strikes in Iraq and Syria have killed between 5,343 and 8,223 civilians since the bombs began falling in August 2014.”(Ibid)  AirWars provides a service by countering the Pentagon’s repeated undercount of civilian victims in America’s wars.  But these are still numbers without the names of the victims, facts without the faces of the dead and their anguished loved ones and neighbors.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of U. S. military operations, seemed to be speaking out of three sides of his mouth in explaining the civilian causalities. As reported, he said, “The Coalition will continue to take great care in our targeting to protect civilians from harm but we must maintain our course.”  He added that “responsibility for any civilian deaths lay solely with ISIS.”  And he “praised the Trump administration for having ‘freed us up a bit to prosecute the war in a more aggressive manner.’” (Ibid)  Meanwhile, at all of America’s bustling malls, President Trump promised that shoppers will be able to “say merry Christmas again.”

The contrasting realities are numerous.  Sgt. Joseph P. Collette, A soldier killed in combat in Afghanistan, is memorialized at a church, after a motorcade carries his remains to his hometown, as “onlookers lined the streets to honor” him.  In Afghanistan, memorializing a deceased loved one carries grave risk.  A U.S. warplane was reported to have bombed a house, killing “four women and 10 children . . . as well as two men.” According to “Mohammad Hashim Alokzai, a member of Parliament from Helmond, The next day, Friday, male relatives of the victims gathered for a mass funeral, and as they were burying their dead, they were caught by another American airstrike, Alokzai said, killing 13 men.”  He wondered, “’We don’t know what happened to NATO that they are targeting innocent civilians.’” (“American Airstrikes in Taliban Area Kill 29 Afghans Despite Peace Talks,” By Taimoor Shah and Fahim Abed, The New York Times, Jan, 26, 2019)

It’s the same horror story with weddings, in Afghanistan and Iraq – and Yemen.  Tom Engelhardt, creator and editor of tomdispatch.com, provides a record of American air power bombing Afghan, Iraq and Yemen weddings.  He cites wedding massacres, including “seven . . . gathered by TomDispatch’s Erika Eichelberger.”  One massacre is of “more than 100 revelers [who] die in a village in Eastern Afghanistan after an attack by B-52 and B-1B bombers.”  In Iraq, another wedding is bombed, with “at least 42 dead, ‘including 27 members of the [family hosting the wedding ceremony], their wedding guests, and even the band of musicians hired to play at the ceremony’ in an attack by American jets.” (“Tomgram: Engelhardt, Washington’s Wedding Album from Hell,” By Tom Engelhardt, www.tomdispatch.com)

Tom Engelhardt’s point: “If the Taliban or Iranians or the North Koreans piled up such figures . . . we would classify them as barbarians, savages, evildoers.  You might imagine that such a traffic jam of death and destruction would at least merit some longer-term attention,” Engelhardt continues.  “But with the rarest of exceptions, it is nowhere to be found, right, left, or center, in Washington or Topeka, in everyday conversations, or think-tank speak.” (Ibid) Here is an example of the complicity of mainstream media in promoting America’s unnecessary global wars.

Almost 3,000 people were killed and over 6000 injured during the horrific 9/11 attacks against America.  Rather than any national self-examination to determine the cause of the attacks, former president George W. Bush used the attacks as a pretext to launch a global war on terrorism, and unnecessarily invaded Afghanistan, and then Iraq, falsely claiming that President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Recent figures on the number of civilians killed by the U. S. military since the 9/11 attacks?  A survey by the Cost of War Project at Brown University, referenced by The Interceptwriter Murtaza Hussain, discloses the total death toll “numbers from the U.S. wars in . . . . Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan . . . while conservatively estimated, are staggering.”  Brown’s survey “estimate[s] that at least 480,000 people have been directly killed by direct acts of violence over the course of these conflicts, more than 244,000 of them civilians.” And “the number of indirect deaths – those resulting from disease, displacement, and the loss of critical infrastructure – is believed to be several times higher, running into the millions.”  The survey does not include “the conflicts in Libya, Yemen, Somalia or Syria – where the U.S. has conducted major military operations in recent years.” (“America Needs to Reckon with the Death Toll on Post-9/11 Wars,” By Murtaza Hussain,The Intercept, Nov. 19, 2018)

Murtaza Hussain points out: “The initial confrontation with Al Qaeda , a clandestine organization numbering perhaps a few hundred people at the time of the 9/11 attacks, has somehow metamorphosed into an endless war against an expanding universe of even more extreme terrorist groups, many of which did not even exist on September 11, 2001” at the time of the 9/11 attacks. Hussain continues to pursue U.S. reckoning:  “Entire cities have been left in ruins, with the United States offering no coherent strategy for a return to stability, or even normalcy, in the places it has been at war.” (Ibid)  The aim appears to be that of creating endless enemies to guarantee normalizing endless war – and endless corporate profit and political power.

Journalist Hussain then quotes Daphne Eviatar, director of the Security With Human Rights program at Amnesty International USA, who asks a question that should be on the minds of all Americans.  She says, “’Hundreds of thousands of people have now been killed in the name of fighting terrorism,’” and adds, “We need to ask who benefits from this, who has suffered, and what the cumulative effects are.’” (Ibid)

Our government keeps telling us citizens that we are benefiting because America’s military is protecting our security.  Tell that to anxious and depressed children whose military fathers and mothers are deployed and separated from them for many months or a year or more at a time.  Children whose emotional fragility is seen when their father sudden returns and surprises them and they hug him, crying, “Daddy, I miss you!  I miss you!”

A reported “large body of research  . . . shows the negative impact on children, youth and families of U.S. military personnel,” with “children of military families often experience[ing] multiple stressors before and during their parent’s deployment and when they come home.” In addition, “according to the Department of Veterans Affairs . . . One in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, roughly 300,000 individuals, suffer from PTSD or major depression.”  And “veterans with PTSD commit acts of domestic violence at rates greater than veterans without PTSD, and at rates greater than the general population.” (“Trauma Faced by Children of Military Families,” By Fianna Sogomonyan and Janice L. Cooper, National Center for Children in Poverty, May 2010) America’s wars are creating insecurity, not security.

Who benefits from America’s war on terrorism, which has morphed into an endless armed global conflict?  Certainly the military/industrial/intelligence complex profits – with unending war, a golden goose that keeps on giving.  Former president George W. Bush, who started the unnecessary wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, benefited, as the wars helped him and members of his administration to gain a second term.

There are nearly 800 U.S. military bases in some 70 countries around the globe. They are not about protecting Americans, but about turning a profit on producing weaponry and protecting capitalism’s pursuit of world domination. (See“America’s Global Military Bases Actually Undermine National Security.  Here’s How,” By David Nine, Foreign Policy in Focus, Originally published in TomDispatch, Sept. 26, 2015)

Obviously most Americans don’t benefit from the war on terrorism.  Some 7,000 have been sacrificed on the altar of America’s imperialistic pursuits, with hundreds of thousands more injured. The government’s priority is reducing the taxes of corporations and the wealthy and raising the Pentagon’s budget, not providing adequate education, job opportunities and health care for citizens. The lack of opportunities forces disadvantaged people of color and white persons to join the military, as it is the only option that offers work, training housing, food, travel, perks and future educational benefits.  Tragically, young men and young of limited means are manipulated into providing the bodies for America’s endless imperialistic wars.  And, ironically, the medical care provided for returning veterans does not match the heroes’ sendoff they receive as recruits from politicians and sportscasters at public events. (See “Lack of access to mental health services contributing to high suicide rates among veterans,” By Ronald D. Hester, ijmhs.biomedcentral.com, Aug. 18, 2017)  Tragically, they serve as pawns in the patriotic promotion of imperial wars.

America’s global war on terrorism should be a major moral concern of people of faith.  The victims of this now normalized, unending immoral war are the countless human beings killed, injured and uprooted by America’s military.  Its victims are also the men and women in the U.S. armed forces and their families – and other Americans prevented, by a bloated Pentagon budget, from receiving an adequate education, job opportunities and health care.

Morally outraging also to people of faith should be the militarizing of empathy: the high-jacking and nationalizing of a universal religious ethic that inspires people to transcend tribalism and identify with each other.  That ethic is shared by most religions.  In Christianity: “In everything, do to others as you would have them due to you: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)  In Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.  This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary.  Go and learn it.” (Hillel, Talmud, Shabbath 31a)  In Islam: “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.” (The Prophet, Muhammad, Hadith)  In  Jainism: “One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.” (Mahavira, Sutrakritanga 1.11.33)

All children everywhere fly into their father’s arms and cry out, “Daddy I miss you.!  I miss you!”

Yelp and the Myth of Consumer Power

Thu, 2019-05-09 16:00


If you wait tables for a living, chances are that the website Yelp has affected how you think about and even perform your work. Restaurant managers and owners regularly, sometimes daily, pore over their Yelp reviews and – depending on the content of those reviews – praise, reprimand, and even fire servers who can be identified from customers’ online comments.

In conducting research for my book Consumer Management in the Internet Age, I interviewed dozens of service workers (as well as managers and reviewers), the majority of whom have been confronted about Yelp reviews by their managers and know of at least one server who has been fired due to being criticized on Yelp. As one server noted, “We all read the reviews, good and bad, (as) it was quite easy to figure out who was being talked about. Most of my working associates hated Yelp. I know of two servers that lost their positions because of the reviews.”

Similarly, a server at Luke’s Bar and Grill in Manhattan described a case in which a coworker had been reprimanded because of a Yelp review that complained that the employee had not been paying adequate attention on the job. In addition to the reprimand, management demanded that the coworker carefully read and “think about” the five paragraph, reportedly hurtful, review.

And an assistant manager at a bar and restaurant told me that a bartender was fired after a Yelp review complained that the employee had been preoccupied with her smartphone. In this case, the assistant manager asserted that management corroborated the review with footage from the security camera before firing the employee.

However, not all managers are so careful. One server I spoke with reported that she “was once yelped about in a terrible and completely untrue way…. Reviewer had no history, no followers, one single review (about me) and their name was quite nearly that of a known enemy. I was suspended for five days.” And another server told me that his coworker was fired from their Brooklyn restaurant after a vindictive ex-boyfriend had posted a vicious review of her.

While servers are employed at-will and could therefore be terminated for nearly anything, the significance of online consumer management lies less in the fact that some service workers are being fired due to Yelp than in what frequently happens to those workers who remain on the job. One hostess at a midtown Manhattan restaurant told me that Yelp “makes you work harder.” Describing Yelp as an “invisible guiding hand,” she observed that employees’ awareness of Yelp means that “You were going to perform your best. You don’t want something written about you.”

Other workers noted that the fear of a bad review produces “more pressure to perform” and “makes you more considerate.” Max, a longtime server at a Los Angeles deli, told me that customers have requested to be seated in his section because they have seen him praised on Yelp. While appreciating the compliments of customers, Max notes that his online popularity has introduced pressure to live up to expectations. Remarking that other servers resent his popularity, Max also observed that Yelp has changed the restaurant industry through either making servers work harder or making them embittered.

In a manner that resembles but goes far beyond restaurants’ conventional use of so-called Mystery Shoppers, the ubiquitous and intrusive surveillance performed by anonymous Yelp reviewers has increased workers’ anxiety while turning customers into managers. It would be a mistake, however, to interpret this phenomenon as a manifestation of consumer power. On the contrary, online reviewing in some ways illustrates the overall weakness of consumers within contemporary capitalism, as management is highly selective in which customer criticisms they choose to address.

Take, for example, an average Yelp review, which undergoes a metamorphosis once it is in the hands of management. When reviewers criticize prices, food quality, or ambience, management’s typical response is a variation of, in the words of an owner of a small Italian restaurant, “Maybe they ought to go to another restaurant.”

One server I talked to even told me that he had been lectured by his manager after a Yelp reviewer complimented him on his extensive knowledge of opera. Although this customer enjoyed his conversation with the server, the manager was upset that the server was not turning over the table fast enough or “chasing” the customer – chasing is notably the one service complaint that management consistently ignores. Yelp helps show us that, invocations of the “sovereign consumer” aside, it is management who is ultimately “always right.”

Who then might we say are the winners of online consumer management? It is unambiguously not workers, who have found themselves in a digital Panopticon that intensifies their anxiety and undermines their autonomy.

It is also not consumers, whose power is ultimately contingent on the discretion of management. While it is tempting to imagine that Yelp encourages a “race to the top” in which restaurants exponentially improve their quality, real world structural constraints – including the costs of ingredients, rent, and labor as well as the relentless pressure of competition that leads to “chasing” and other unpopular policies – encourage restaurants to not only provide “good service” but also “bad service.”

It is not even clear that employers come out ahead, as management has a decidedly ambivalent relationship with Yelp. Numerous owners and managers, particularly at smaller establishments, angrily condemn the perceived encroachment of uninformed customers into their areas of expertise – while nonetheless selectively invoking reviews to discipline workers.

In fact, the only unambiguous winner here is Yelp itself, as its and other consumer-driven websites’ business model is based on providing a platform on which users provide useful and unpaid content that increases visitor traffic and, with it, advertising revenue and profit for the owners of the sites. In this regard, consumer reviewing represents a form of unpaid labor.

To be sure, reviewers – many of whom write prolifically, if not obsessively – enjoy writing reviews, which they view as a fun and meaningful hobby in which they can “help” fellow consumers and “pay forward” the tips that they have received. In so doing, reviewers, inspired by a sense of cooperation, have cultivated large online communities dedicated to, as they see it, benefiting all consumers.

And yet it is notable that this form of cooperation, before it can even come into existence, must first ensure that there exists a privately owned intermediary that can profit from it. Moreover, such cooperation is neither designed nor intended to improve society’s well-being in general but instead achieves its alleged gains first and foremost at the expense of workers.

Portions of this essay have been excerpted from Consumer Management in the Internet Age: How Customers Became Managers in the Modern Workplace (Lexington Books, 2019).

A version of this essay first appeared on Salon.

Stuck in Yellowstone With the Grizzly Sardine Can Blues Again

Thu, 2019-05-09 15:57

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

We can’t support any more bears. We’ve got bears coming out of our ears. We’ve reached carrying capacity. Such is the purported state of grizzly bears in Yellowstone.

Sound familiar? It should. For those of you who have been paying attention to the rhetoric relentlessly voiced by agency spokespeople for the last 6 years, you will have heard the refrain about too many bears in too little space over and over again. In fact, this claim undergirds much of the argument made by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and state wildlife managers for removing ESA protections from Yellowstone’s grizzlies (which is to say, “delist” them).

This rhetoric emerged with a vengeance during 2015 when, in a conversation with environmentalists, then-FWS Director Dan Ashe emphasized that “the Yellowstone ecosystem just can’t hold any more bears.” Frank van Manen, leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) soon followed with the quip: “we are packing more sardines in the sardine can.” The monotonous refrain has continued since then, most recently voiced (again) by van Manen at an April 2019 meeting of bear managers: “…I think we might have now reached the point where 100 percent [of suitable habitat] is occupied.”

If you were inclined to defer to the agency experts, you would probably heave a sigh and say, “well, I guess we just need to move ahead with delisting Yellowstone’s grizzly bears. We’ve reached carrying capacity.” In fact, that is the outcome that the agency experts probably hope for and expect.

But I would argue that there is cause to question the experts. In fact, there is an increasing and, to my mind, wholly justified tendency for the public to question experts, especially when there is reason to suspect that they are politically motivated. And there is ample evidence for political motivations behind what we are hearing from spokespeople for all of the agencies involved in managing Yellowstone’s grizzly bears, including the government’s scientists (for more see this webpagethis blog, and its sequel).

Unpacking the Sardine Can

To start, it is worth unpacking the concept of “carrying capacity” given that this term is being bandied about with such abandon by government scientists and managers. To listen to van Manen you would think that the number of grizzlies able to live in the Yellowstone ecosystem (i.e., “carrying capacity”) is a static food-related attribute of the land contained within a fixed box. In fact, this notion was codified in the since-overturned rule issued by the FWS during 2018 that removed ESA protections for Yellowstone grizzlies. In this document you can find a simple-minded figure showing a theoretical population of bears reaching a flat fixed line denoting “carrying capacity”—the kind of figure that would only pass muster during an introductory lecture of Wildlife Management 101 or with an impressionable public audience. Hence the sardine metaphor.

The truth could hardly be more different. Even accepting the notion of fixed boundaries, within those bounds the food-related capacity of any given acre varies from month to month and year to year. In fact, we’ve seen a long-term and sustained decline in the availability of high-quality foods that has almost certainly caused a decline in the intrinsic food-related capacity of Yellowstone’s core habitat to sustain grizzlies. Cutthroat trout have nearly disappeared; whitebark pine has been substantially reduced; and elk herds have declined, some dramatically. That’s three of the four legs of the food stool that has supported Yellowstone’s grizzly bears (the fourth leg is army cutworm moths). All of the evidence belies any claims, implicit or otherwise, that food-related carrying capacity is static. If anything, the sardine can has shrunk in size.

More importantly, carrying capacity is determined not only by the food-driven rate at which females produce cubs, but also by the rate at which grizzly bears of all description die. So, mortality is a major part of the equation. And guess what causes most deaths of adult grizzlies in Yellowstone? People do. So our lethality to bears is a big part of the carrying capacity equation, which comes down to our collective attitudes and behaviors and the extent to which they translate into dead bears. More on this a little later.

And the rate at which young bears (i.e., cubs and yearlings) die also matters. As it turns out, death rates of cubs and yearlings have increased substantially of late, primarily due to “natural” causes—including bears killing bears. Again, to listening to van Manen you would think that young bears in Yellowstone are dying in increasing numbers simply because of increasing densities of adult grizzlies, likening these adults to a bunch of equally lethal pinballs bouncing around according to some random Brownian motion in a fixed space. Too many damn sardines. More on this a little later as well.

The notion of fixed boundaries to an immutable box is a final major fallacy in the government’s “carrying capacity” argument. The capacity of Yellowstone’s ecosystem to support grizzlies is determined not only by the per acre abundance of foods and the unit area lethality of the landscape, but also by the extent of the area within which bears can live and contribute to the larger population. And clearly, this extent has increased substantially over time. We have grizzlies living in roughly twice the area we had them in the 1970s. Moreover, there have been multiple analyses, by government and independent scientists alike, showing that there is ample habitat with natural foods sufficient to support grizzly bears in places where grizzlies have not yet established themselves: the southern Wind River Range, the Palisades area, the Centennials, and more.

A Social Sardine Can?

And, yet, the FWS and its allies and minions claim that the box is fixed, invoking yet another pseudo-idea, that of “social carrying capacity.” More to the point, the FWS claims that there is no more space for grizzlies in Yellowstone because “people” will not accept them anywhere else. So now we have gone from the simplistic static, food-based, box of van Manen’s to a concept fielded by the FWS that begins to grapple, at least on the face of it, with the aspect of carrying capacity that relates to human attitudes and lethality.

But who are these “people” anyway, and who queried them, how? As it turns out, “people” amount to ranchers, outfitters, and others with enough political clout to bully not only state wildlife managers, but also the FWS. As a result, “social carrying capacity” has been defined by a few regressive energy executives as well as some sheep and cattle ranchers who don’t want to live with grizzlies, not by the people whom the agencies are supposed to be serving under the rubric of the public trust. “Social carrying capacity” turns out to be a convenient political ruse, not any sort of on-the-ground reality determined by the attitudes, choices, and behaviors of a wide range of relevant people. In fact, the sardine can could be a whole lot bigger.

The Density Ruse

So, let’s return briefly to the density issue, which is closely tied to the notion of carrying capacity and blithely invoked to explain rising deaths of young bears. Have grizzly bear densities actually increased, as van Manen claims? And, if so, are high densities the reason for increasing death rates among young bears? Well, the answers are No, and Probably Not.

As it turns out, the Yellowstone grizzly bear population has not increased to any extent during the last 17 years. It may have even been declining since 2007 (see some info on all of this here and here). At the same time, the distribution of this population has increased by over 40%. Ergo, density axiomatically decreased, not increased, which debars a connection between deaths of cubs and yearlings and densities of adults, as such. More likely, cubs and yearlings are dying in greater numbers because their moms have turned increasingly to eating meat (including livestock) to compensate for losses of whitebark pine and cutthroat trout. And meat-eating is an incredibly hazardous undertaking for any bear, especially those with vulnerable young (for more information, see this blog).

Putting this all together, we have a narrative being promoted by our government officials that is based on a simple-minded, poorly conceived, and highly-politicized notion of this thing called carrying capacity. Moreover, the government narrative is at odds with the best available evidence. All of this politicized spin being billed under the rubric of “science” is clearly designed to support the agenda of delisting Yellowstone’s grizzly bears.

Interestingly, this tradition of scientized politics and politicized science dates back decades among IGBST scientists. Richard Knight, then-Leader of the IGBST, co-authored a paper published during 1996 in which he claimed that the mid-1990s population of 350 grizzly bears “…may be approaching carrying capacity.” Notice that this is half the current estimated population size. Not coincidentally, this 1996 paper was published during the first attempted run-up to removing ESA protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears. There is a clear political logic behind the history of claims regarding carrying capacity—but not a scientific one. Scientifically, there is no more reason now to think that we’ve reached “carrying capacity” with roughly 700 grizzlies than there was when we had nearer 350 bears.

Out of the Sardine Can

In fact, what we have is a picture altogether different from that being painted by government managers and scientists. We have a box with highly fungible and potentially much expandable boundaries within which we have experienced major declines in food-related carrying capacity, but within which, also, we’ve increased carrying capacity due to major beneficial changes in human attitudes and behaviors—related to increased law enforcement, increased sanitation, other controls on human foods, and reductions in livestock, especially sheep. Bear densities have declined, at the same time that distributions have expanded and grizzlies have turned to eating alternative foods, many of which are concentrated on the peripheries of the current ecosystem. This is not a sardine can being crowded by ever greater numbers of sardines.

But perhaps the most important point is one that features us—and what goes on between our ears. History has shown that perhaps the most important determinant of the numbers of grizzly bears that can live in any given area is our behaviors, in turn rooted in our worldviews—how we see ourselves in relation to the world and to the creatures in it. There is no doubt that our European ancestors saw no place for grizzlies in the world. And they proved it by killing 99% of all grizzlies in 98% of all the places they once lived. But we are not our ancestors.

We have the chance to create a world where grizzlies and people coexist in places where we probably can’t even imagine it is possible. But, it is possible. Grizzlies have proven that they can tolerate us and live among humans with few problems. The famous mother grizzly of Pilgrim Creek, bear #399, is one among many that has proven the point (for some more information on her, see this web page). It comes down to us, and the grace and compassion we can bring to coexisting with grizzly bears.

Dr. van Manen, ex-Director Ashe, and all who invoke the over-tired metaphors of sardine cans and other hard-edged boxes and boundaries are wrong. We can have more grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem—and beyond. And we should have.

The Melting of the Fortress of Solitude

Thu, 2019-05-09 15:56

Americanization of California (1932) by Dean Cornwell

The American dream is the eternal one: wealth by luck, power by wealth, and freedom from responsibility by power. The American nightmare is our most democratized experience: impoverishment by design, powerlessness by impoverishment, and the shackling of the powerless to responsibility for the crimes of wealth.

We live in a mediocracy, the mark of failure is success. To be fully human is to fail at being a successfully commodified robot.

The orgy of gun violence we live with daily is the product of a complete failure to craft and make universally available systems of genuine education. It is because minds are depreciated and discarded en masse to facilitate the obsession for accumulation that our mass consumption and massive violence are so pervasively mindless. We are drowning in the blood of our own unacknowledged denial, our own decapitated awareness of responsibility.

Genius for social uplift and human enlightenment are quarantined as diseased, as deadly infectious threats to the barbaric insanity of our approved nationalist ideology — as they rightly are. Ours is a society of blithe mad mediocrity, which is only confused by the continuing urge of the excluded to resist their impoverishment and disappearance. The ploughing under from public visibility of the exploited disfavored and the powerless meritorious is our greatest and most assiduously censored tragedy; but the coincident creeping destruction of a species that lusts for its viral affliction to sociopathic degeneracy, and its own ultimate extinction, is not. Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. Character is fate.

Some would say it has always been so throughout human history, and others would say that today’s American societal rot is of recent origin: since Trump?, since Bush?, since Reagan?, since Nixon?, since the defeat of Henry Wallace?, since the end of World War I and the death of Eugene V. Debs?, since the betrayal of Lincoln’s last hopes by the tawdry Grant administration and in the fatal corruption of Reconstruction after the Civil War? Regardless, it is our tolerance for that rot today and our obliviousness to history before yesterday that is our fundamental civic sin. The scrawny weed poking through the cracks in that blanketing obliviousness is hope.

Hope is a delusion that makes it possible to get through life day by day, and so it is immensely valuable. Perhaps by the unpredictable quantum fluctuations of the physical universe, and the unknowable future emergent variants of genetic succession, hope will percolate through the obstacles of our times to decisively kill off the obdurate fearful bigotries that collectively imprison us, and to miraculously deliver us — more likely our descendants, should we have any — into a humane form of advanced civilization.

And while the despairingly idealistic and fearfully materialistic will mock the popular yearnings for liberation as stupid millennialist naïveté, those yearnings will persist as long as they are denied realization, whether that end-of-history is the improbable and transcendent enlightenment of our species, or the implacable iron socialism of extinction brought about by Nature’s indifferent abandonment of us all. 

Our compulsions are willed, not pre-ordained. Our particular isolations are the triumph of mediocrity over the potential of humanity. It is our coldness of heart that is melting our finest dreams.

Imagination and Nuclear Weapons

Thu, 2019-05-09 15:56

Einstein believed that knowledge is limited, but imagination is infinite.

Imagine the soul-crushing reality of a nuclear war, with billions of humans dead; in essence, a global Hiroshima, with soot from the destruction of cities blocking warming sunlight. There would be darkness everywhere, temperatures falling into a new ice age, with crop failures and mass starvation.

With nuclear weapons poised on hair-trigger alert and justified by the ever-shaky hypothesis that nuclear deterrence will be effective indefinitely, this should not be difficult to imagine.

In this sense, our imaginations can be great engines for change.

In our current world, bristling with nuclear weapons and continuous nuclear threat, we stand at the brink of the nuclear precipice. The best case scenario from the precipice, short of beginning a process of abolishing nuclear arms, is that we have the great good fortune to avoid crossing the line into nuclear war and blindly continue to pour obscene amounts of money into modernizing nuclear arsenals, while failing to meet the basic human needs of a large portion of the world’s population.

The only way out of this dilemma is for the leaders of the world to come to their senses and agree that nuclear weapons must be abolished in order to assure that these weapons will never again be used. Given the state of the world we live in, this is more difficult to imagine.

What steps would need to be taken to realize the goal of nuclear abolition?

First, we would need a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Such a treaty was agreed to in 2017 by a majority of countries in the United Nations, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The treaty is now in the process of being ratified and will enter into force when ratified by 50 countries. Unfortunately and predictably, none of the nine nuclear-armed countries have supported the TPNW, and many have been overtly hostile to the treaty.

Second, negotiations would need to commence on nuclear disarmament by the nations of the world, including all nine of the nuclear-armed countries. The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) already obliges its parties to undertake such negotiations in good faith. Specifically, it calls for negotiations to end the nuclear arms race at an early date and to achieve complete nuclear disarmament. The nuclear-armed states parties to the NPT have failed to fulfill these obligations since 1970 when the treaty entered into force.

Third, the negotiations would need to be expanded to encompass issues of general and complete disarmament, in order not to allow nuclear abolition to lead to conventional arms races and wars. Again, the states parties to the NPT are obligated to undertake such negotiations in good faith, but have not even begun to fulfill this obligation.

If we can use our imaginations to foresee the horrors of nuclear war, we should be able to take the necessary steps to assure that such a tragedy doesn’t occur. Those steps have been set forth in the two treaties mentioned above.

What remains missing is the political will to implement the treaties. Without this political will, our imaginations notwithstanding, we will stay stuck in this place of potential nuclear catastrophe, where nuclear war can ensue due to malice, madness, miscalculation, mistake or manipulation (hacking). Imagination is necessary, but not sufficient, to overcome political will. Even treaties are not sufficient unless there is the political will to assure their provisions are implemented. To do this, imagination must be linked to action to demand a change in political will.

The time is short, the task is great, and terrible consequences are foreseeable if we continue to be stuck at the nuclear precipice.

To do nothing is simply unimaginable.

Boondoggle, Inc.: Making Sense of the $1.25 Trillion National Security State Budget

Thu, 2019-05-09 15:56

In its latest budget request, the Trump administration is asking for a near-record $750 billion for the Pentagon and related defense activities, an astonishing figure by any measure. If passed by Congress, it will, in fact, be one of the largest military budgets in American history, topping peak levels reached during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. And keep one thing in mind: that $750 billion represents only part of the actual annual cost of our national security state.

There are at least 10 separate pots of money dedicated to fighting wars, preparing for yet more wars, and dealing with the consequences of wars already fought. So the next time a president, a general, a secretary of defense, or a hawkish member of Congress insists that the U.S. military is woefully underfunded, think twice. A careful look at U.S. defense expenditures offers a healthy corrective to such wildly inaccurate claims.

Now, let’s take a brief dollar-by-dollar tour of the U.S. national security state of 2019, tallying the sums up as we go, and see just where we finally land (or perhaps the word should be “soar”), financially speaking.

The Pentagon’s “Base” Budget: The Pentagon’s regular, or “base,” budget is slated to be $544.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2020, a healthy sum but only a modest down payment on total military spending.

As you might imagine, that base budget provides basic operating funds for the Department of Defense, much of which will actually be squandered on preparations for ongoing wars never authorized by Congress, overpriced weapons systems that aren’t actually needed, or outright waste, an expansive category that includes everything from cost overruns to unnecessary bureaucracy. That $544.5 billion is the amount publicly reported by the Pentagon for its essential expenses and includes as well $9.6 billion in mandatory spending that goes toward items like military retirement.

Among those basic expenses, let’s start with waste, a category even the biggest boosters of Pentagon spending can’t defend. The Pentagon’s own Defense Business Board found that cutting unnecessary overhead, including a bloated bureaucracy and a startlingly large shadow workforce of private contractors, would save $125 billion over five years. Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that the board’s proposal has done little to quiet calls for more money. Instead, from the highest reaches of the Pentagon (and thepresident himself) came a proposal to create a Space Force, a sixth military service that’s all but guaranteed to further bloat its bureaucracy and duplicatework already being done by the other services. Even Pentagon planners estimate that the future Space Force will cost $13 billion over the next five years (and that’s undoubtedly a low-ball figure).

In addition, the Defense Department employs an army of private contractors — more than 600,000 of them — many doing jobs that could be done far more cheaply by civilian government employees. Cutting the private contractor work force by 15% to a mere half-million people would promptly save more than $20 billion per year. And don’t forget the cost overruns on major weapons programs like the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent — the Pentagon’s unwieldy name for the Air Force’s new intercontinental ballistic missile — and routine overpayments for even minor spare parts (like $8,000for a helicopter gear worth less than $500, a markup of more than 1,500%).

Then there are the overpriced weapons systems the military can’t even afford to operate like the $13-billion aircraft carrier, 200 nuclear bombers at $564 million a pop, and the F-35 combat aircraft, the most expensive weapons system in history, at a price tag of at least $1.4 trillion over the lifetime of the program. The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has found — and the Government Accountability Office recently substantiated — that, despite years of work and staggering costs, the F-35 may never perform as advertised.

And don’t forget the Pentagon’s recent push for long-range strike weapons and new reconnaissance systems designed for future wars with a nuclear-armed Russia or China, the kind of conflicts that could easily escalate into World War III, where such weaponry would be beside the point. Imagine if any of that money were devoted to figuring out how to prevent such conflicts, rather than hatching yet more schemes for how to fight them.

Base Budget total: $554.1 billion

The War Budget: As if its regular budget weren’t enough, the Pentagon also maintains its very own slush fund, formally known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO. In theory, the fund is meant to pay for the war on terror — that is, the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and elsewhere across the Middle East and Africa. In practice, it does that and so much more.

After a fight over shutting down the government led to the formation of a bipartisan commission on deficit reduction — known as Simpson-Bowles after its co-chairs, former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson — Congress passed the Budget Control Actof 2011. It officially put caps on both military and domestic spending that were supposed to save a total of $2 trillion over 10 years. Half of that figure was to come from the Pentagon, as well as from nuclear weapons spending at the Department of Energy. As it happened, though, there was a huge loophole: that war budget was exempt from the caps. The Pentagon promptly began to put tens of billions of dollars into it for pet projects that had nothing whatsoever to do with current wars (and the process has never stopped). The level of abuse of this fund remained largely secret for years, with the Pentagon admitting only in 2016 that just half of the money in the OCO went to actual wars, prompting critics and numerous members of Congress — including then-Congressman Mick Mulvaney, now President Trump’s latest chief of staff — to dub it a “slush fund.”

This year’s budget proposal supersizes the slush in that fund to a figure that would likely be considered absurd if it weren’t part of the Pentagon budget. Of the nearly $174 billion proposed for the war budget and “emergency” funding, only a little more than $25 billion is meant to directly pay for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The rest will be set aside for what’s termed “enduring” activities that would continue even if those wars ended, or to pay for routine Pentagon activities that couldn’t be funded within the constraints of the budget caps. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is expected to work to alter this arrangement. Even if the House leadership were to have its way, however, most of its reductions in the war budget would be offset by lifting caps on the regular Pentagon budget by corresponding amounts. (It’s worth noting that President Trump’s budget calls for someday eliminating the slush fund.)

The 2020 OCO also includes $9.2 billion in “emergency” spending for building Trump’s beloved wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, among other things. Talk about a slush fund! There is no emergency, of course. The executive branch is just seizing taxpayer dollars that Congress refused to provide. Even supporters of the president’s wall should be troubled by this money grab. As 36 former Republican members of Congress recently argued, “What powers are ceded to a president whose policies you support may also be used by presidents whose policies you abhor.” Of all of Trump’s “security”-related proposals, this is undoubtedly the most likely to be eliminated, or at least scaled back, given the congressional Democrats against it.

War Budget total: $173.8 billion

Running tally: $727.9 billion

The Department of Energy/Nuclear Budget: It may surprise you to know that work on the deadliest weapons in the U.S. arsenal, nuclear warheads, ishoused in the Department of Energy (DOE), not the Pentagon. The DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration runs a nationwide research, development, and production network for nuclear warheads and naval nuclear reactors that stretches from Livermore, California, to Albuquerque and Los Alamos, New Mexico, to Kansas City, Missouri, to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to Savannah River, South Carolina. Its laboratories also have a long history of program mismanagement, with some projects coming in at nearly eight times the initial estimates.

Nuclear Budget total: $24.8 billion

Running tally: $752.7 billion

“Defense Related Activities”: This category covers the $9 billion that annually goes to agencies other than the Pentagon, the bulk of it to the FBI for homeland security-related activities.

Defense Related Activities total: $9 billion

Running tally: $761.7 billion

The five categories outlined above make up the budget of what’s officially known as “national defense.” Under the Budget Control Act, this spending should have been capped at $630 billion. The $761.7 billion proposed for the 2020 budget is, however, only the beginning of the story.

The Veterans Affairs Budget: The wars of this century have created a new generation of veterans. In all, over 2.7 million U.S. military personnel have cycled through the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Many of them remain in need of substantial support to deal with the physical and mental wounds of war. As a result, the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs has gone through the roof, more than tripling in this century to a proposed $216 billion. And this massive figure may not even prove enough to provide the necessary services.

More than 6,900 U.S. military personnel have died in Washington’s post-9/11 wars, with more than 30,000 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. These casualties are, however, just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of thousands of returning troops suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), illnesses created by exposure to toxic burn pits, or traumatic brain injuries. The U.S. government is committed to providing care for these veterans for the rest of their lives. An analysis by the Costs of War Project at Brown University has determined that obligations to veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars alone will total more than $1 trillion in the years to come. This cost of war is rarely considered when leaders in Washington decide to send U.S. troops into combat.

Veterans Affairs total: $216 billion

Running tally: $977.7 billion

The Homeland Security Budget: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a mega-agency created after the 9/11 attacks. At the time, it swallowed 22 then-existing government organizations, creating a massive department that currently has nearly a quarter of a million employees. Agencies that are now part of DHS include the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Secret Service, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

While some of DHS’s activities — such as airport security and defense against the smuggling of a nuclear weapon or “dirty bomb” into our midst — have a clear security rationale, many others do not. ICE — America’s deportation force — has done far more to cause suffering among innocent people than to thwart criminals or terrorists. Other questionable DHS activities include grants to local law enforcement agencies to help them buy military-gradeequipment.

Homeland Security total: $69.2 billion

Running tally: $1.0469 trillion

The International Affairs Budget: This includes the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Diplomacy is one of the most effective ways to make the United States and the world more secure, but it has been under assault in the Trump years. The Fiscal Year 2020 budget calls for a one-third cut in international affairs spending, leaving it at about one-fifteenth of the amount allocated for the Pentagon and related agencies grouped under the category of “national defense.” And that doesn’t even account for the fact that more than 10% of the international affairs budget supports military aid efforts, most notably the $5.4 billion Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. The bulk of FMF goes to Israel and Egypt, but in all over a dozen countries receive funding under it, including Jordan, Lebanon, Djibouti, Tunisia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

International Affairs total: $51 billion

Running tally: $1.0979 trillion

The Intelligence Budget: The United States has 17 separate intelligence agencies. In addition to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis and the FBI, mentioned above, they are the CIA; the National Security Agency; the Defense Intelligence Agency; the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research; the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Office of National Security Intelligence; the Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis; the Department of Energy’s Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; the National Reconnaissance Office; the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command; the Office of Naval Intelligence; Marine Corps Intelligence; and Coast Guard Intelligence. And then there’s that 17th one, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, set up to coordinate the activities of the other 16.

We know remarkably little about the nature of the nation’s intelligence spending, other than its supposed total, released in a report every year. By now, it’s more than $80 billion. The bulk of this funding, including for the CIA and NSA, is believed to be hidden under obscure line items in the Pentagon budget. Since intelligence spending is not a separate funding stream, it’s not counted in our tally below (though, for all we know, some of it should be).

Intelligence Budget total: $80 billion

Running tally (still): $1.0979 trillion

Defense Share of Interest on the National Debt: The interest on the national debt is well on its way to becoming one of the most expensive items in the federal budget. Within a decade, it is projected to exceed the Pentagon’s regular budget in size. For now, of the more than $500 billion in interest taxpayers fork over to service the government’s debt each year, about $156 billion can be attributed to Pentagon spending.

Defense Share of National Debt total: $156.3 billion

Final tally: $1.2542 trillion

So, our final annual tally for war, preparations for war, and the impact of war comes to more than $1.25 trillion — more than double the Pentagon’s base budget. If the average taxpayer were aware that this amount was being spent in the name of national defense — with much of it wasted, misguided, or simply counterproductive — it might be far harder for the national security state to consume ever-growing sums with minimal public pushback. For now, however, the gravy train is running full speed ahead and its main beneficiaries — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and their cohorts — are laughing all the way to the bank.

This article first appeared on TomDispatch.

Biden Likes Republicans So Much Because He’s So Much Like Them

Thu, 2019-05-09 15:56

Recent criticism of Joe Biden for praising Dick Cheney as “a decent man” and Mike Pence as “a decent guy” merely scratches the surface of what’s wrong with the current frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. His compulsion to vouch for the decency of Republican leaders — while calling Donald Trump an “aberration” — is consistent with Biden’s political record. It sheds light on why he’s probably the worst Democrat running for president.

After several decades of cutting corporate-friendly deals with GOP legislators — often betraying the interests of core Democratic constituencies in the process — Biden has a big psychological and political stake in denying that the entire GOP agenda is repugnant.

At the outset of his Senate career, Biden lost no time appealing to racism and running interference for huge corporate interests. He went on to play a historic role in helping to move the Supreme Court rightward and serving such predatory businesses as credit card companies, big banks and hedge funds.

Biden’s role as vice president included a near-miss at cutting a deal with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill to slash Medicare and Social Security. While his record on labor and trade has been mediocre, Biden has enjoyed tight mutual alliances with moneyed elites.

The nickname that corporate media have bestowed on him, “Lunch Bucket Joe,” is wide of the mark. A bull’s-eye is “Wall Street Joe.”

With avuncular style, Biden has reflexively used pleasant rhetoric to grease the shaft given to millions of vulnerable people, suffering the consequences of his conciliatory approach to right-wing forces. Campaigning in Iowa a few days ago, Biden declared that “the other side is not my enemy, it’s my opposition.” But his notable kinship with Republican politicians has made him more of an enabler than an opponent. Results have often been disastrous.

“In more than four decades of public service, Biden has enthusiastically championed policies favored by financial elites, forging alliances with Wall Street and the political right to notch legislative victories that ran counter to the populist ideas that now animate his party,” HuffPost senior reporter Zach Carter recounts. Biden often teamed up with Senate Republicans to pass bills at the top of corporate wish lists and to block measures for economic fairness.

In the mid-1970s, during his first Senate term, Biden repeatedly clashed with Sen. Edward Kennedy, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, who wanted to rein in runaway corporate power. “Biden became an advocate for corporate interests that had previously been associated with the Republican Party,” Carter reports. As he gained seniority, Biden kept lining up with GOP senators against antitrust legislation and for bills to give corporations more leverage over consumers and workers. “By 1978, Americans for Democratic Action, the preeminent liberal watchdog group of the time, gave Biden a score of just 50, lower than its ratings for some Republicans.”

Opposing measures for racial equity and economic justice, Biden’s operational bonds with GOP leaders continued. Carter reports that “on domestic policy — from school integration to tax policy — he was functionally allied with the Reagan administration. He voted for a landmark Reagan tax bill that slashed the top income tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent and exempted many wealthy families from the estate tax on unearned inheritances, a measure that cost the federal government an estimated $83 billion in annual revenue. He then called for a spending freeze on Social Security in order to reduce the deficits that tax law helped to create.”

Biden came through for corporate power again in November 1993 when he joined with 26 other Democrats and 34 Republicans to win Senate passage of NAFTA, the trade agreement strongly opposed by labor unions and environmental groups. In mid-1996, when Congress approved President Clinton’s “welfare reform” bill, Biden helped to vote the draconian measure into law. It predictably had devastating effects on women and children.

Throughout the 1990s — from tax-rate changes that enriched the already-rich to deregulating banks with repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act to loosening government curbs on credit default swaps — Biden stood with the Senate’s Republicans and the most corporate-aligned Democrats. Carter sums up: “Biden was a steadfast supporter of an economic agenda that caused economic inequality to skyrocket during the Clinton years. . . . Biden voted for all of it.”

Biden led the successful push to pass the milestone 1994 crime bill, engaging in racist tropes on the Senate floor along the way. By then, he had become a powerful lawmaker on criminal-justice issues.

In 1991, midway through his eight years as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden ran the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas that excluded witnesses who were prepared to corroborate Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment. “Much of what Democrats blame Republicans for was enabled, quite literally, by Biden: Justices whose confirmation to the Supreme Court he rubber-stamped worked to disembowel affirmative action, collective bargaining rights, reproductive rights, voting rights,” feminist author Rebecca Traister writes.

Early in the new century, Biden wielded another weighty gavel, with momentous results, as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 2002, congressional Democrats were closely divided on whether to greenlight the invasion of Iraq, while Republicans overwhelmingly backed President George W. Bush’s mendacious case for invading. Biden didn’t only vote for the Iraq invasion on the Senate floor in October 2002. Months earlier, he methodically excluded dissenting voices about the looming invasion at key hearings of the Foreign Relations Committee.

While his impact on foreign policy grew larger, Biden’s avid service to financial giants never flagged. One of his top priorities was a crusade for legislation to undermine bankruptcy protections. Biden was a mover and shaker behind the landmark 2005 bankruptcy bill. Before President Bush signed it into law, Biden was one of just 14 out of 45 Democratic senators to vote for the legislation.

The bankruptcy law was a monumental victory for credit-card firms — and a huge blow to consumers, including students saddled with debt. As happened so often during Biden’s 36 years in the Senate, he eagerly aligned himself with Republicans and a minority of Democrats to get the job done.

Now, running for president, Biden has no use for candor about his actual record. Instead, he keeps pretending that he has always been a champion of people he actually used his power to grievously harm.

In ideology and record on corporate power, the farthest from Biden among his competitors is Bernie Sanders. No wonder Biden has gone out of his way to distance himself from Sanderswhile voicing high regard for the wealthy. (I was a Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and continue to actively support him.)

Biden’s ongoing zeal to defend and accommodate Republicans in Congress is undiminished, as though they should not be held accountable for President Trump even while they aid and abet him. Days ago on the campaign trail — while referring to Trump — Biden asserted: “This is not the Republican Party.” And he spoke warmly of “my Republican friends in the House and Senate.”

All in all, it’s preposterous yet fitting for Joe Biden to claim that Republicans like Dick Cheney and Mike Pence are “decent.” He’s not only defending them. He’s also defending himself.

 

 

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