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From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:53

In the immediate aftermath of what police are describing as a terrorist incident in and around Parliament, at least three facts stand out suggesting that the attacks are similar to those carried out over the last two years by Isis supporters in Paris, Nice, Brussels and Berlin.

The similarities with the events today are in the targets of the attacks which in all cases were ordinary civilians, but the means of trying to cause mass casualties differs. In Nice, Berlin and London no fire arms were used by the attackers, while in Paris and Brussels there was a coordinated assault in which guns and explosives were employed.

In Nice on 14 July 2016 a truck killed 86 people and injured hundreds, driving at speed through crowds watching a firework display on the Promenade des Anglais until the driver was shot dead by police. Isis claimed that he was answering their “calls to target citizens of coalition nations that fight the Islamic State”. Britain is a member of the coalition with aircraft and special forces troops in action against Isis in Iraq and Syria.

Isis claimed responsibility for a lorry which drove into a Christmas market in 19 December 2016, killing 12 and injuring dozens. As with Nice, this appears to resemble what happened on Westminster Bridge, going by first reports.

The overall location of the attacks today may be significant and would fit in with the way that Isis normally operates when carrying out such atrocities. This is to act in the centre of capital cities or in large provincial ones in order to ensure 24/7 publicity and maximise the effectiveness of the incident as a demonstration of Isis’s continuing reach and ability to project fear far from its rapidly shrinking core areas in Syria and Iraq.

Isis is sophisticated enough to know that such attacks carried out in news hubs like London or Paris will serve their purposes best. In cases of attack with a knife or a vehicle then Isis would not need to provide more than motivation, though individuals seldom turn out to have acted alone. It may no longer have cells in Europe capable of obtaining fire arms or making bombs.

It could be that the attacks were carried out by another group, the most obvious candidate being one of the affiliates of al-Qaeda in Yemen. Syria or elsewhere. On 11 March 2017 Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda, carried out two bombing attacks in Damascus, killing 59 people, mostly Shia pilgrims from Iraq visiting holy sites. But the Syrian arm of al-Qaeda, while carrying out suicide bombings against targets in Syria, has previously avoided doing so abroad in order to make itself more diplomatically palatable than Isis.

Could the attacks on Westminster Bridge and in Parliament be linked to the siege of Mosul where Isis has lost the east of the city and half the west since an Iraqi army offensive started on 17 October? Isis has traditionally tried to offset defeats on the battlefield, by terrorist attacks aimed civilians that show they are still very much a force to be feared. The same logic led to the ritual decapitation, drowning and burning of foreign journalists and domestic opponents.

The most likely speculation at this early stage is that the attacks in London are inspired or directed by Isis, but there is too little evidence to make the connection with any certainty. Isis often holds off claiming such atrocities for several days to increase speculation and intensify terror.

Reason and Justice Address Realities

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:53

It is not just Donald Trump whose rhetoric is chronically bereft of reality. Politicians, reporters, commentators and academics are often similarly untethered to hard facts, albeit not for narcissistic enjoyment. There are many patterns of fact, relevant to a subject being discussed, that are off the table—either consciously or because they are deemed inconvenient. Rarely are there omissions due to the facts being hard to get or inaccessible.

That in mind, here are a few examples that warrant our scrutiny:

Consider the immense public attention to health insurance and health care and the recent struggles over Obamacare and now Ryancare. Conspicuously absent from the dialogues that pundits, politicians and reporters carry on is that the third leading cause of death in the U.S. is “medical error.” According to a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine report last May, over 250,000 people lose their lives yearly in U.S. hospitals from “diagnostic errors, medical mistakes and the absence of safety nets” to stop hospital-induced infections, incompetent personnel, dangerous mixes of prescribed drugs and more. Yet in the debate surrounding the health care industry, this huge annual human casualty toll is unmentioned and, for many, intentionally “off the table.”

From a financial perspective, all the coverage of the costs of health insurance and health care excludes at least an estimated $340 billion (according to, among other sources, the leading expert, Professor Malcolm Sparrow of Harvard University) lost annually as a result of computerized billing fraud and abuses—expenses for which taxpayers and consumers must eventually pay. All of this is “off the table.”

Despite all the attention currently being paid to Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase to the military budget, media coverage nonetheless neglects to mention the immense waste, fraud and redundancies already embedded in the roughly $600 billion that account for the Pentagon’s direct annual budget.

A mass of Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports for the Congress, Pentagon audits, and reports by reliable citizen groups regularly document this immense waste. Specifically, the annual cost of the anti-ballistic missile defense program in the Pentagon is over $9 billion—about the same as the budget of the lifesaving Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that Trump wants to cut by almost a third.

The anti-missile defense technology taxpayers are paying Raytheon and other defense contractors to work on is unworkable. Who says anti-missile defense programs are ineffective? The American Physical Society—more than a few of whom consult with the Department of Defense—as well as the very knowledgeable MIT professor Theodore A. Postol in his Congressional testimony, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Along with numerous other infirmities of this boondoggle, it is too easy to decoy the ballistic missiles, not to mention alternative ways for adversaries to endanger our country without signaling a return address as ballistic missiles would. Yet year after year, starting with Ronald Reagan, the money is automatically doled out uncritically by the Congress, backed by its generous contractors’ lobby, deeply entrenched in a system of unaccountable corporate welfare. For the gigantic Pentagon budget is unauditable, according to the GAO.

The Israeli/Palestinian struggle, when hostilities burst forth, is reported routinely as being one started by Palestinian “terrorists” versus Israeli defenders and retaliators. Little emphasized is the reality that the Israeli government is the illegal occupier, colonizer, invader and resource exploiter of the remaining Palestinian lands. Almost never mentioned is that, since 2000, the overwhelming majority of fatalities and injuries in the conflict have been innocent Palestinian civilians, including many children, at the hands of the powerful Israeli military.

Of course, readers can come up with their own examples arising out of local, state, national and international issues. When constantly subjected to a media and political system driven by distraction, one can’t help but ask the question, “Why are they focusing on this instead of that?” One reliable answer is that the powers-that-be work overtime to exclude such embarrassing realities, to assure that, as with corporate crime waves, they’re often not even counted or measured.

If you want a continuing frenzy of reality-exclusion, look no further than the Republicans and their forked tongues. They’re always complaining about deficits, while cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, overlooking real problems they pay lip service to such as “government waste.”

But here is what takes the cake. For six years the Republican House of Representatives has been slicing off more and more of the Internal Revenue Service’s slim budget. With Republicans now controlling both houses of Congress, they want to drive it below $10 billion for next year. Apart from resulting in your waiting forever to get someone from the IRS on the phone to answer your questions, there is the modest result of over $400 billion in yearly uncollected taxes.

When you ration tax collectors, how can you fairly enforce the law, reduce the deficit or, heaven forbid, repair America’s streets, bridges, drinking water systems, public transit and schools?

John Adams said that, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” The verity of our second president’s words should serve as a call to action against the “alternative facts,” lies and myths, which have already come to define the current Trump administration and pose so grave a threat to our weakened democratic society and its level of freedom and justice.

‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:53

When Terry Holdbrooks Jr., converted to Islam in 2003, he was inundated with death threats and labeled a ‘race traitor.’

If a religious conversion ever deserves to be admired, Holdbrooks’ conversion does, and not because Islam has ‘won’ yet another convert, but because the new convert was assigned the very rule of subjugating his Muslim prisoners.

Yes, Terry Holdbrooks was a US army employee entrusted with guarding Guantanamo detainees.

The Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo, held for years and tortured without due process and in violation of the most basic tenants of human rights and international law, mostly subsisted on faith.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the freed prisoners in 2013 during a brief stay in Qatar. Torture had partially impaired his mental faculty, yet when he led a group of men in prayer, he recited verses from the Quran in impeccable language and melodic harmony.

The faith of these prisoners had awakened something in Holdbrooks, who has toured the country dressed in traditional Muslim garb, conveying to audiences the ‘truth about Gitmo.’

Of course, this is not about Islam as a religion, but the power of faith to cross fences, prison bars and unite people around ideas that are vastly more complex and meaningful than that of military domination.

Despite its profundity, the story of Holdbrooks’ conversion to the religion of his prisoners only received scant mention in the media and in Arabic media, in particular.

Lindsay Lohan’s interest in Islam, however, has been an obligatory media staple for months.

The actress of ‘The Mean Girls’, ‘Freaky Friday’ and a host of not-so-family-friendly movies is hailed by Arab and Muslim media and numerous social media users as if some kind of a cultural and religion savior.

Lohan’s interest and possible conversion to Islam has branched into all sorts of areas of discussion. Like Holdbrooks, she is also branded as if a ‘race traitor’, and has been, according to her own depiction, ‘racially profiled’ during a recent trip to the United States.

Conflating between race and religion is quite common in western, especially American, society. Let alone that one cannot change his race however hard he or she tries, Christianity itself was born in the Middle East region. But it seems that cultural appropriation has, at least in the minds of some, foolishly designated certain religions to be western and other religions to be ‘ethnic’, ‘colored’ and ‘foreign.’

While Lohan is still making up her mind about whether to join the Muslim faith or not, she recently announced that she will be launching a new fashion line.

The announcement on Instagram was accompanied by a photo in which the actress was covering her head and part of her face with a crystals-embellished scarf. Many, including some in the media, are deducing that the fashion line is that of the modest, Muslim variety.

Concurrently, a most recent death toll estimate of war-torn Syria has reached a new high (and a new moral low). According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 321,000 people are confirmed dead as a result of the war, while a further 145,000 are still missing.

While outside powers are responsible for many of these deaths, much of the carnage has been meted out by Muslims against their fellow Muslims.

The sense of false pride generated by the probable conversion of a Hollywood actress is, perhaps, an escape from the grand shame of a bloodbath being perpetuated by Muslims against their own brethren.

But it is more complex than this.

The issue is far more telling than that of Lohan’s faith and is a repeat of previous such collective jubilation similar to the sense of euphoria and unmistakable sense of validation wrought by the marriage of Arab-British lawyer, Amal Alamuddin to one Hollywood celebrity, George Clooney.

Although Amal Clooney refused to investigate Israeli war crimes in Gaza – likely so as not to create an uncomfortable situation for her husband considering his strong Hollywood ties – Arabs continued to celebrate her as if her marriage to the famous actor is a badge of honor and a validation for a whole culture.

Sadly, the opposite is true. Such hype over inane occurrences is an indication of a greater ailment, the continuing western cultural hegemony over Muslim nations.

The issue is not that of religion. Far from being a vanishing religion, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, the only religion growing faster than the world’s population, and one which is slated to be the largest in the world by 2070.

These are some of the outcomes of a thorough demographic analysis conducted recently by the US-based Pew Research Center.

So, the enthusiasm over Lohan’s possible conversion – like the intrigue created by Angelina Jolie wearing a Muslim headscarf (hijab) during a visit to a refugee camp – should be entirely removed from the religious component of the discussion.

Thousands of such conversions are reported in Africa, South America and Asia annually; numbers that receive little cultural and media attention in Arab and Muslim countries.

Neither is it an issue of celebrity Muslims per se, for there are many famous black entertainers who are also Muslims, some even devout Muslims. They rarely register on Arab and Muslim media radars as earth-shattering events.

While racism might play a role, it is not the dominant factor.

The possible conversion of a western, Hollywood celebrity, white actress is a whole different story. For these aspects – cultural, status and race – are the most manifest representation of western, cultural hegemony. A conversion of this caliber is celebrated as if a symbolic defeat of the very system that has demonized Arab and Muslim culture for generations.

In other words, the conversion of Lindsay Lohan would be measured against the resentment Muslims hold against western tools of military subjugation, political domination and cultural hegemony.

Yet in the process of conjuring up this false sense of cultural triumph, Muslims, in fact, further feed into their own unfortunate sense of inferiority, one that is rooted in hundreds of years of slavery, colonization, neocolonialism and military occupation intervention.

If Lohan, or anyone else, truly wants to appreciate the Islamic faith, a religion that has appealed to the poor, the slaves and disenfranchised throughout history, and has withstood hundreds of years of colonization and oppression, she ought to study the relationship between faith and resistance in Gaza, between faith and hope among Syrian refugees, and between faith and liberation in Algeria.

Finding a common ground between true Islam and Hollywood is certainly doomed to fail, for they both represent values that stand at the extreme opposites of one another.

As for Muslims who are feeling validated by mere celebrity interest of their religion, they ought to ‘decolonize their minds’, first by refusing to define themselves and relationships to the world through the west and its ever-sinister tools of cultural hegemony.

Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:53

Foreign capital is dictating the prevailing development agenda in India. There is a deliberate strategy to make agriculture financially non-viable for India’s small farms, to get most farmers out of farming and to impose a World Bank sanctioned model of food production. The aim is to replace current structures with a system of industrial (GM) agriculture suited to the needs of Western agribusiness, food processing and retail concerns.

The aim here is not to repeat what has been previously written on this. Suffice to say that the long-term plan is for an overwhelmingly urbanised India with a fraction of the population left in farming working on contracts for large suppliers and Walmart-type supermarkets that, going on current evidence (see 4th paragraph from the end here), will offer a largely monoculture diet of highly processed, denutrified, genetically altered food based on crops soaked with chemicals and grown in increasingly degraded soils according to an unsustainable model of agriculture that is less climate/drought resistant, less diverse and unable to achieve food security.

Thanks to its political influence, Monsanto already illegally dominates the cotton industry in India with its GMOs. It is increasingly shaping agricultural policy and the knowledge paradigm by funding agricultural research in public universities and institutes. Its practices and colonisation of institutions have led to it being called the ‘contemporary East India Company‘ and regulatory bodies are now compromised and riddled with conflicts of interest.

Monsanto is hard at work with its propaganda campaign to convince us all that GM food is necessary to feed the world’s burgeoning population. Its claims are hidden behind a flimsy and cynical veil of humanitarian intent (helping the poor and hungry), which is easily torn away to expose the self-interest that lies beneath.

With an obligation to maximise profits for shareholders, Monsanto seems less concerned with the impacts of its products on public health (whether in Argentina or the US) or the conditions of Indian farmers due to its failed GM cotton and more concerned with roll-outs of its highly profitable disease-associated weed-killer (Roundup) and its GM seeds.

To ensure it remains ‘business as usual’, part of the relentless message is that there is no alternative to the chemical-intensive/GMO treadmill model of farming (which by now, any informed person should know is nothing but a lie). Monsanto has done every foul thing possible (including bribery and fakery) to ensure its business model dominates and that critics are smeared or crushed. As a result, we have an increasingly dominant model of unsustainable industrialised food and agriculture dominated by green revolution ideology and technologies (and wedded to and fuelled and driven by powerful commercial and geopolitical interests), which involves massive social, environmental and health costs.

Rejecting Monsanto’s neocolonialism

In 2015, trade and agricultural policy analyst Devinder Sharma asked the following questions during a debate on Indian TV about rural population displacement and farming:

“Why do you want to move the population just because Western economists told us we should follow them? Why? Why can’t India have its own thinking? Why do we have to go with Harvard or Oxford economists who tell us this?”

His series of questions strike at the heart of the prevailing development paradigm in India. It is a model of development being dictated by the World Bank and powerful transnational agribusiness corporations like Monsanto and Cargill.

Monsanto’s mindset is based on the conquering and control of nature.

Let us turn briefly to Raj Patel:

“Modern farming turns fields into factories. Inorganic fertilizer adds nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous to the soil; pesticides kill anything that crawls; herbicides nuke anything green and unwanted—all to create an assembly line that spits out a single crop… .”

Contrast this with the ethos and principles of agroecological approaches to farming, which works with nature, as set out here.

Monsanto’s business model thrives within a system of capitalism and a system of agriculture propped up by the blood money of militarism (Ukraine and Iraq), ‘structural adjustment’ and strings-attached loans (Africa) or slanted trade deals (India) whereby transnational agribusiness drives a global agenda to suit its interests and eradicate impediments to profit. And it doesn’t matter how much devastation ensues or how unsustainable its model is, ‘crisis management’ and ‘innovation’ fuel the corporate-controlled treadmill it seeks to impose.

Devinder Sharma is thus right to ask why can’t India have its own thinking.

And India does have its own thinking. Environmental scientist Viva Kermani:

“It can quite easily be said that Hinduism is the world’s largest nature-based religion that recognises and seeks the Divine in nature and acknowledges everything as sacred. It views the earth as our Mother, and hence, advocates that it should not be exploited. A loss of this understanding that earth is our mother, or rather a deliberate ignorance of this, has resulted in the abuse, and the exploitation of the earth and its resources.”

Kermani notes that centuries before the appearance of the modern-day environmental movement and Greenpeace, the shruti (Vedas, Upanishads) and smruti (Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, other scriptures) instructed people that the animals and plants found in India are sacred; that like humans, our fellow creatures, including plants have consciousness; and, therefore, all aspects of nature are to be revered. She adds that this understanding of and reverence towards the environment is common to all Indic religious and spiritual systems: Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

According to Kermani, the Vedic deities have deep symbolism and many layers of existence. One such association is with ecology. Surya is associated with the sun, the source of heat and light that nourishes everyone; Indra is associated with rain, crops, and abundance; and Agni is the deity of fire and transformation and controls all changes. So much importance was given to trees, that there was also Vrikshayurveda – an ancient Sanskrit text on the science of plants and trees. It contains details about soil conservation, planting, sowing, treatment, propagating, how to deal with pests and diseases and a lot more.

On the other hand, Kermani notes that the Western religions, especially Christianity, viewed this nature worship as paganism, failing to recognise the scientific and spiritual basis of the relationship between man and nature and how this is the only way to sustain ecological balance. Christians were made to turn all their love and adoration for nature towards their one and only god, who was a jealous god. The elements of nature then became devoid of all divinity and were left to be conquered by man.

Whereas the Christian belief is that nature is destructive and therefore has to be conquered, according to Kermani, the Dharmic view propagates conservation of the nature and advices man to live in harmony with nature without indulging in exploitation. Hindus strongly believe that the world is one family and thus the divine is also seen in animals and are protected. The deification of animals, therefore, has led to the protection of many species of animal. The recognition that every animal played a role in creating an ecological balance, allowed people to live in harmony with animals.

Kermani concludes by saying:

“Today’s environmental crisis demands a response. The world is grappling to find solutions to multiple crises of the environment. Technology is considered the panacea. For Hindus, the environment is not protected because of the selfish urgency to save biodiversity and hence save human future, but because it is the Dharmic way of life and hence a righteous duty that all humans are obliged to perform.”

And before critics say this is all well and good, but how can India possibly feed itself without chemicals, without Monsanto or Bayer, without agritech inputs? Such people should know that India is self-sufficient in many staples and was traditionally more productive prior to the imposition of green revolution ideology and technology. Moreover, such ideology and technology has undermined an indigenous farming sector that once catered for the diverse dietary needs and climatic conditions of India and it has actually produced and fuelled drought, degraded soilsillnesses and malnutrition, farmer distress and many other issues.

Playing god

Similar processes that destroyed the essential link between humans and nature played out in the West long ago. Many of the ancient pagan rituals and celebrations (that early Christianity incorporated and co-opted) helped humans come to terms with some of the most basic issues of existence (death, fertility, good, evil, love, hate, etc.) and served to sanctify their practical relationship with the natural environment and its role in sustaining human life. The planting and harvesting of crops and various other seasonal activities associated with food production thus became central to various beliefs and customs.

For example, Freyfaxi marks the beginning of the harvest in Norse paganism, while Lammas or Lughnasadh is the celebration of the first harvest/grain harvest in Paganism and Wicca and by the ancient Celts.

Humans celebrated nature and the life it gave birth to. Ancient beliefs and rituals were imbued with hope and renewal, and people had a necessary and immediate relationship the sun, seeds, animals wind, soil and rain and the changing seasons that nourished and brought life.

Discussing Britain, Robert W Nicholls explains:

“The cults of Woden and Thor were superimposed on far older and better-rooted beliefs related to the sun and the earth, the crops and the animals, and the rotation of the seasons between the light and warmth of summer and the cold and dark of winter. These ancient beliefs were so well established that whatever the name of the great god who for the moment was favored by the state rulers, whether Mithras or Woden – or Christ – the old practices, so essential for the fertility of the crops and for good luck in life, were maintained in farming communities until Christian decrees and the feudal system led to their final attrition.”

Nicholls reaffirms the importance of agriculture in these beliefs by adding:

“Little is known about the religious beliefs that sustained the rural population of pre-Christian Britain… The range of pagan deities – earth, water, fire, the sun, stone, and wood – supported as they were by agrarian production, suggests a religion that had a sound practical base. Two illusive figures appear as a backdrop to rural beliefs and demonstrate a male-female, winter-summer bipolarity: an ancient Earth Mother, who preceded the rise of later goddesses and grain deities, and a horned god of the hunt, who was the pivotal focus of a totem cult of stag masqueraders.”

In the 1950s, Union Carbide produced a series of images that depicted the company as a ‘hand of god’ coming out of the sky to ‘solve’ some of the issues facing humanity. One of the most famous images is of the hand pouring agrochemicals on Indian soils. As Christianity co-opted traditional pagan beliefs to achieve hegemony, corporations steeped in the Western mindset that Kermani speaks of have also sought to depict themselves in a god-like, all-knowing fashion.

But in more modern times, instead of using spiritual/religious ideology to secure compliance, they have relied on neoliberal economic faith and dogma and have co-opted science and scientists whose appeals to authority (not logic) have turned them into the high priests of modern society.

Whether it is fuelled by Bill Gates, the World Bank’s neoliberal-based rhetoric about ‘enabling the business of agriculture’  or The World Economic Forum’s ‘Grow’ strategy, the implication is that the India’s and the world’s farmers must be ‘helped’ out of their awful ‘backwardness’ by the West and its powerful corporations – all facilitated of course by a globalised, corrupt system of capitalism.

The same farmers who Viva Kermani says have “legitimate claims to being scientists, innovators, natural resource stewards, seed savers and hybridisation experts. Instead, they were reduced to becoming recipients of technical fixes and consumers of the poisonous products of a growing agricultural inputs industry.”

The same farmers whose seeds and knowledge was stolen by corporations to be bred for proprietary chemical-dependent hybrids, now to be genetically engineered.

And what is the result of the war on nature, farmers, traditional agriculture and the environment?

We see the capturing of markets and global supply chains for the benefit of transnational corporations involved in food production. We see the destruction of natural habitat in Indonesia to produce palm oil. We see the use of cynical lies (linked to palm oil production) to corrupt India’s food system with genetically modified seeds. We witness the devastating impact on farmers and rural communities. We see the degradation of soils, health and water resources.

And we see Monsanto making huge annual profits, and its CEO Hugh Grant and VP Robb Fraley being amply rewarded. Grant brought in just under $12m in 2015. Fraley raked in just under $3.4m. In January 2015, Monsanto reported a profit of $243m (down from $368m the previous year). Greed and ego trump all else. Farmer suicides are little more than collateral damage. And environmental degradation is a price worth paying.

In India today, we have a BJP-led government that espouses politically expedient Hindu nationalist sentiments. And yet it is selling out the nation to foreign interests whose beliefs and actions are opposed to much of what traditional Hinduism stands for in terms of its ecological heritage. Where is the logic?

The logic is fairly easy to decipher: what is happening has little to do with Hinduism or nationalism, however defined, and everything to do with a Wall Street backed Indian political elite suffering a severe bout of Stockholm syndrome, in awe of its captors.

Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:52

Photo: National Park Service.

A few weeks ago, I offered my perspective on threats to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) under the Trump administration and our current Congress (link). The ESA is critically important, and the reason why we still have a number of species and populations that would otherwise be extinct or gravely imperiled, including grizzly bears in the Northern Rockies. 

There is consensus across the political and ideological spectrum that federal and state efforts under auspices of the ESA have benefited grizzly bears enormously.  No matter where the debate over status of Yellowstone and Glacier ecosystem grizzlies leads, their story is an ESA success.

The grizzly bear was listed as threatened throughout the lower-48 states in 1975 as a result of concerns about population status and habitat loss. This decision was driven in large measure by what was then happening in Yellowstone Park. Park Service managers had thrown pioneering grizzly bear researchers John and Frank Craighead out of Yellowstone in 1970 after a series of disagreements over management (link). The agency was determined to abruptly close open pit dumps in the Park, which is what they did as soon as the Craigheads left.

The results were tragic and predictable. Managers killed bears in droves when they sought food in campgrounds and communities.   Experts feared that extinction of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears was imminent.

But Yellowstone’s grizzlies survived and even flourished. Under the ESA, grizzly bear numbers in the Yellowstone region have probably doubled, from about 350 to 700 individuals, while Glacier grizzlies have probably increased by 50%, from roughly 680 to 900-1000. (link).  Without ESA protections, grizzly bears would likely have been relegated to just a few animals hanging on in or near national parks.

Under the ESA, managers were given the resources and incentives to tackle measures that would have otherwise been politically impossible, including stopping state-sponsored sport hunting, improving sanitation and other coexistence measures, eliminating domestic sheep on grazing allotments, and closing roads on public lands. These efforts would not have succeeded without the blood, sweat and tears of duly motivated public servants, prodded occasionally by watchdog environmentalists.

A Better Approach to Recovery

The ESA requires federal agencies to use the best available science in managing listed species and to avoid harm to protected plants and animals. Importantly, the ESA also provides citizens with recourse to litigation if managers are neglecting or distorting the ESA’s mandates.  This provision has allowed for major court-enforced improvements in how the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), US Forest Service, and National Park Service have interpreted and implemented the ESA, especially in the case of grizzly bears.

One benchmark case brought by conservationists challenged the lack of habitat-based recovery standards in the FWS’s 1992 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan. Federal Judge Paul Friedman concluded that it was not enough to define recovery on the sole basis of population numbers, especially since concerns about habitat loss had contributed to listing of all grizzlies left in lower-48 states.  In other words, you can’t have bears if they have nowhere to live.

The FWS was subsequently directed to develop a Conservation Strategies (CS) that would ensure there was adequate habitat for grizzlies. A first iteration of Yellowstone’s Strategy was finalized in 2003, and then revised again last year. Under this CS, an area the size of Yellowstone Lake has been restored to wilder conditions (link). The CS for Glacier-area grizzlies is currently being formulated.

Although neither plan is as strong as conservationists hoped, they have improved—or promise to improve—habitat protection. In the meantime, both populations remain listed under the ESA – and the debate over their protections is far from over.

Climate change has emerged as a central issue in these deliberations. In fact, the climate-driven collapse of a native bear food, whitebark pine, was a major reason that several courts reversed an earlier 2007 attempt by the FWS to remove ESA protections for Yellowstone’s grizzlies. The involved judges admonished the government to undertake a more thorough analysis of how losing whitebark pine had affected Yellowstone’s bear population. Even so, a decade of ensuing much-criticized research by government scientists has not settled the debate.

A Road Runs Through It

Conservationists used litigation under the ESA’s mandate to move an otherwise immovable Forest Service to adopt better standards for managing roads. A series of successful legal challenges brought against the Flathead, Targhee and Gallatin National Forests reduced the mileage of logging roads and restored extensive areas of previously degraded habitat in both the Yellowstone and Glacier ecosystems.

These cases leveraged irrefutable scientific evidence showing that roads were harmful to bears. On top of this, logging had been declining precipitously on the Targhee Forest because most of the timber killed by bark beetles—the putative driver of unsustainable cutting—had already been harvested, which reduced the economic impact of road closures.

For the most part, these road-related lawsuits were friendly in nature, meaning that many agency biologists welcomed pressure from outside the government to make needed changes otherwise thwarted by politicians in thrall to the logging industry.

The positive effects have been perhaps most clearly documented on the Targhee Forest, where, by the early 1990s, reproducing female grizzly bears had been extirpated in the wake of a massive clearcutting and roadbuilding program.  Today, female grizzly bears are once again surviving and producing offspring on the Targhee. They have also been recolonizing habitat in the Centennial Range, an important landscape for reconnecting the long-isolated Yellowstone population to more robust populations to the west and north.

Fortunately, efforts to improve on-the-ground coexistence between grizzly bears and people have been far less contentious, often involving collaboration between state and federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations.  Better husbandry practices, the use of electric fence, and livestock guardian dogs have helped reduce livestock-related conflicts. And, numerous communities have reduced the availability of garbage and human-related foods that attract bears.

The Special Case of the Selkirks, Cabinet Yaak and North Cascades Grizzlies

The ESA has been, and continues to be, vital for sustaining the few grizzly bears managing to hang on in Idaho’s Selkirk Mountains, northern Montana’s Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem, and Washington’s North Cascades. The Selkirk grizzly bear population numbers about 50 animals, the Cabinet-Yaak about 42, and the North Cascades, just a handful. The numbers are so small that some experts have dubbed these populations “the walking dead.”

The FWS has done little other than the bare necessities for grizzly bears in the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak ecosystems, and instead has chosen to focus on removing ESA protections for the larger Yellowstone and Glacier populations in an ill-conceived effort to appease regressive politicians in the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Still, without the ESA, there would be little hope for the future of these tiny populations.

But, grizzlies in the North Cascades may soon get a needed boost. The FWS recently released an Environmental Impact Statement in which they evaluated options for augmenting the grizzly bear population in this ecosystem, which is as large in size as Greater Yellowstone (link). Unlike in the Selkirks and Cabinet-Yaak, public support for recovery of grizzlies in the North Cascades is enthusiastic. Even so, don’t be shy about submitting comments in support of aggressive conservation measures, which will be accepted by the FWS as part of its formal comment process through April 28 (link).  

Recovery of the Selkirks and Cabinet-Yaak populations is hampered by their small size and by high levels of habitat fragmentation caused by past logging and related road-building. Poaching is also rampant, reflecting the local anti-government, anti-carnivore, redneck cultures.

Testimony to the potential benefits of population augmentation, grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem would have likely gone extinct but for the importation of 17 grizzly bears from the Glacier ecosystem by wildlife managers. Even with the addition of these bears, there is evidence that only two produced offspring, the majority of which were by one alone.

The handful of grizzlies in the Cabinet Mountains also owe their survival to litigation that has delayed construction of a proposed hard rock mine that would literally undermine the heart of the Cabinet Wilderness. Unfortunately, efforts to curb excessive road building on National Forests in the Selkirks and Cabinet-Yaak have been unsuccessful, despite the fact that road densities are far higher here than in the larger Yellowstone and Glacier ecosystems.

There is no doubt that these populations deserve the more stringent protections offered by an “endangered” rather than “threatened” designation, which is their current status.   Yet the FWS strenuously argues that such an “uplisting,” while warranted scientifically, is “precluded” by “other agency priorities.”

A legal battle is underway over a recent FWS finding that the Cabinet-Yaak population no longer warrants the “precluded” endangered status, despite little change in population numbers and mounting threats. A few weeks ago, a federal court in Missoula heard oral arguments on the matter. In a brief filed on behalf of Alliance for the Wild Rockies, attorney Rebecca Smith wrote: “The agency’s conduct…indicates that the agency has no intention to recover or provide critical habitat for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear, but instead intends to play administrative keep-away with the necessary protections for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear for as long as possible, possibly until the population simply goes extinct.”

Much remains to be done for the small grizzly bear populations along our border with Canada, including constant vigilance by environmentalists empowered by provisions of the ESA.

The Threat of Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Delisting, and the Problem of State Management

Even our two largest grizzly bear populations in the Yellowstone and Glacier ecosystems are at risk from craven politics. State wildlife managers in the Northern Rockies have long wanted to renew a grizzly bear trophy hunt, which can only happen if grizzly bears lose ESA protections. Although the Glacier grizzly bear population is substantially larger, the FWS has moved first to delist Yellowstone grizzlies, in large measure because of pressure from politicians in Wyoming. A final decision is expected in the summer of 2017.

The ESA is still needed to curb the excesses of state wildlife managers in the Northern Rockies. The unreformed political institutions in these and other western states continue to be organized around an ethos of domination and death that led to the initial widespread extirpation of grizzly bears in the lower-48 states during the 1800s and early 1900s (link and link). Such an ethos promises to spawn more of the same.

Management of grizzly bears after delisting is likely to resemble that of wolves in Montana and Idaho after they were delisted. State-sponsored hunting and other killing has destabilized wolf packs outside National Parks. The killing of alpha wolves has resulted in younger and smaller packs, including less experienced hunters. This has contributed to increased depredation on livestock. Scientists anticipate that killing older, well established male bears after delisting will similarly open a niche for younger males with a greater propensity to kill livestock.

The nub problem of wildlife management by state agencies is an archaic but lethal central premise that nature needs to be controlled and large carnivores killed to produce a “harvestable surplus” of elk, deer, and other large herbivores.  More to the point, wildlife managers in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana are locked down in service of a politically influential minority who place top priority on opportunities to hunt big game. The interests of outdoor enthusiasts who prize anything other than hunting are not represented on the commissions or among the leaders of the state wildlife management agencies.

State managers commonly see large carnivores as tacit competitors for big game hunting licenses, which are the cash cow of these agencies. This despite little evidence showing that carnivores harm big game populations — and plenty of evidence showing that excessive hunting, climate change, and drought do have major negative impacts.

Sport hunting will also likely prevent viable connections among grizzly bear populations in the northern Rockies, which most credible scientists believe is essential for long term recovery. This is especially true for grizzly bears given how difficult it is for them to colonize new habitats, primarily because females tend to stay in or near their mothers’ range. This lack of resilience contrasts with that of wolves and mountain lions, which reproduce at higher rates, and readily colonize areas hundreds of miles away.

For these and other reasons, grizzly bears will be acutely vulnerable to the effects of sport hunting. The first bears to be killed will be those on the periphery best positioned to connect with other bear populations, as well as the highly popular and tolerant bears that frequent roads inside National Parks and occasionally range into non-park jurisdictions.

But state wildlife management does not have to be this way. States such as Arkansas, Missouri, Minnesota, and California, have reformed their wildlife management systems–broadening their financial base beyond hunting and fishing license fees and expanding their constituencies to include more people who appreciate wildlife primarily or even solely for intrinsic reasons.

Until and unless management of wildlife by the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho is reformed, ESA protections for grizzly bears in Yellowstone and Glacier will continue to be vital. This holds doubly so for grizzlies in the Selkirks, Cabinet-Yaak, and North Cascades.

That means that the Act itself must be spared the attacks of corporations, conservative ideologues, and their lackeys. That means too that the public who care about endangered species, parks and public lands persist in demanding that government officials exercise caution and restraint, so that future generations may thrill at the sight of a grizzly in the wild.

Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:52

The United States is now moving from Fortress America to a Garrison State. By every conceivable measure, the Trump administration is tearing out the vitals, like an enraged tiger out for blood (for no other reason than destruction of what serves and benefits the citizenry), of a social-welfare and environmentally supportive society. The extent of the destruction is so widespread (never mind the use of a scalpel, we are also talking big time meat cleaver) that it sets the historical clock back decades on government’s solemn obligation to guard the interests of the people. But, without underestimating the harm he is doing and has done, the problem is partly just that: previous governments throughout American history, the New Deal largely excepted, have not served the people’s interest, and have been in the hands of ruling elites with continuities down to the present moment.

I refer to fascism advisedly. Structurally, we find the interpenetration of Capitalism and the State, or if you wish, more familiarly, business and government, the purpose to integrate parallel structures of power on behalf of profit maximization for the corporate sector at home, market-expansion and aspiration for global financial-industrial-military pre-eminence, basically through unilateral actions, abroad. Beyond structure, however, fascism, is inscribed in the American pattern of historical development since at least the late 19th century. It has meant a monoculture of capitalist saturation which has perpetuated an hierarchical social order aimed at stabilizing a ruling group, however varied over time (depending on the different sectors of the economy enjoying prominence) yet constant as part of the societal formation. Democracy, if by that we mean a central element of equality, is a farce, not even a solemn farce.

I won’t attempt here a review of that history, which beginning with the Open Door Policy in the late 19th century ushered in a period of expansion having geopolitical and military significance, followed by Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism (with special nods to the House of Morgan and the Battleship Navy), then Woodrow Wilson’s internationalism (both internally achieving the rationalization of banking coupled with expansion and counterrevolution), to Obama and what I would term an interventionist ethos, symbolized, for me, by the use of armed drones for purposes of assassination. All in all, America has always, in spite of periods of isolationism, been addicted to imperialism: markets, on a pragmatic basis, but also, ideological concerns for their own sake, as in support of dictators, adamant opposition to revolution, the need, as in Vietnam, mercilessly to crush The Enemy through napalm, defoliants, and carpet bombing, and no missed opportunity for confrontation with Russia and China.

We are speaking here of the postwar world, not one of Trump’s creation, which suggests that continuities exist with his predecessors, and that their taking of such faltering steps toward democratization (if at all) paved the way for his rise—harsh-sounding as that may be. America was ripe for Trump, granted in the sanitized form he presented at the election, but neither, once the picture is clear, has there been sufficient resistance to the minor qualitative leap he has made from the past: a liberalization of fascism (in which the rule of law has generally held, while, nonetheless, the concentration of wealth has rapidly moved forward, parallel to an already vastly oversized military budget and continued business-banking monopolization) to the straight-out militarization of fascism—the genuine article in countless ways, from stripping down the social safety net, to the liberation of the forces of pollution, and with that bringing of America to its knees, rounding up all the budgetary savings and channeling the funds into the military as a supreme, unquestioned good. Trump, the Prussian general, has catapulted over Weimer to become a second Adolph Hitler.

If what I say grates on the ears, I only speak to what I believe is true, namely, that he is a global menace, mobilizing the fascist sentiment that is out there (as in his Louisville speech on March 20, and, in fact, his continued mobilization of, and trying to expand, his base through going on the road to agitate crowds by spewing hate, aggression, and a charisma of caudillismo). To know Trump, regrettably, is to know a significant portion of America, and whether yesterday’s polls show declining support for him, the numbers in his favor are alarming and the questions asked do not always reflect underlying attitudes, as in what purports to be anticommunism as a reflex action involving contempt for the poor and other perverted views.

Here I should like to look briefly at Coral Davenport’s New York Times article, “Trump Lays Plans to Reverse Obama’s Climate Change Legacy” (March 22), nominally narrow-based, the single topic, yet revealing much of the whole in microcosm. She writes that Trump “intends to follow through on his campaign vows to rip apart every element of what the president has called Mr. Obama’s ‘stupid’ policies to address climate change.” (Webster’s: my reference to usurpation is, in part,to exercise authority wrongfully, especially now when the mobilization of the electorate in the campaign was grounded in his lies and its false consciousness.) Trump’s proposed budget “would eliminate climate change research and prevention programs across the federal government and slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31 percent, more than any other agency.” He also ordered Pruitt (who himself denies carbon dioxide has any relation to global warming), EPA administrator, “to revise the agency’s stringent standards on planet-warming tailpipe pollution from vehicles”—EPA itself, then Trump meticulously reaching down to complete the devastation. Only small-minded, venomous actions, so characteristic of Nazism, helps explain the totalitarian emphasis, as though a cleansing operation.

Trump is doing everything thus far to withdraw from the Paris Accords to limit global warming, except the formal announcement, torpedoing them, first, by denying the need, and second, by pursuing a host of policies individually and collectively poisoning the atmosphere and heating the planet. But he doesn’t care: humankind has no other connection with science, Nature, the environment than bleeding dry the nation and world through unrestrained capitalism and the exhibition of power. Then comes the rewriting and ultimate destruction of the Clean Power Plan, an Obama rule “devised to shut down hundreds of heavily-polluting coal-fired power plants and freeze construction of new coal plants, while replacing them with vast wind and solar farms.” The latter, of course, is pure sissified outreach to please the weak among us, and contrary to Trump’s manly aura of belligerence and thirst for conquest, while the former, as in the Louisville rally, is a sadistic demiurge to despoil everything in sight while eulogizing, and hiding behind the image of, the miner as though the only one involved—not the mega-companies—and on public lands at that. Here Davenport notes, implying the depths of Trump’s despoliation perspective, its gratuitousness, “Economists are skeptical that a rollback of the rules would restore lost coal jobs because the demand for coal has been steadily declining for years.”

Never mind, full speed ahead, even if only for the sake of further pollution. Pruitt, as noted, does not see carbon dioxide as a driver of climate change, but that, perhaps as a test of loyalty to The Leader, is par for the course, while Mulvaney, director of OMB, in justifying Trump’s “proposed cuts to climate change research programs,” had this to say: “’As to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward: We’re not spending money on that anymore’”—neat and tidy (consistent with sharp cuts elsewhere, categorical, the edict handed down, fascistic in spirit and execution). One can see what I mean by sabotaging the Paris Accords. And AG Sessions, by the draft order on eliminating the Clean Power Plan, has requested that “a federal court halt consideration of a 28-state lawsuit against [Trump’s] regulation.” This is typical of Trump’s mounting a full-court press to devastate the opposition and have his own way (my previous reference to “lift[ing] a moratorium on new coal leases on public lands.”

Trump wants the elimination, getting down to the nitty-gritty, of the “budgeting metric known as the social cost of carbon,” which “places a dollar cost on the economic impact of planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution … costs [which] would be outweighed by the economic benefits of preventing billions of tons of planet-warming pollution.” His order, as well, would rescind Obama’s, “that all federal agencies take climate change into account when considering any form of environmental permitting.” To move from the above discussion, easily extended to cover other sectors of America’s economy and society (eliminating Meals on Wheels, a small detail, sticks out for me of the obvious social cruelty motivating policy), to the militarization of American fascism is puddle-jumping, not a major leap, for the same mindset prevails, an orderly dystopian nightmare founded on base instincts of power, wealth, and status (to which I would add, cruelty for its own sake, and the desire to denigrate and humiliate those who oppose or disagree).

Fascism, here, business-government interpenetration, sharpens and articulates the instinct and glorification of violence within and reinforced by a framework of lethal force applied in furtherance of mutual Capitalism-State objectives. This short-circuits democratic processes and thereby enhances the power of The Leader, in this case, Trump, who is at home in both worlds, Capitalism and the State. I grant the definition is sophomoric, but it says what I want to call attention to, the unwarranted seizure of power (even, at the time, accomplished through election, the power now turned to monstrous ends). Webster’s definition for militarism, “exaltation of military virtues and ideals,” also “a policy of aggressive military preparedness,” both of which fit the Trump administration exactly, carries over directly from a parochial world view which corresponds to the hierarchy, falsification of purpose, essential atavism found in the domestic sphere, as a unitary projection made applicable to both the home-front and abroad.

The dwarfing of all else to the military budget speaks volumes about the true purposes of American society as presently (and it seems for perhaps an eternity to come) organized. The integration of domestic and foreign policy that occurs in Trump’s warped mind involves the negative linkage between the two spheres: when he knifes domestic programs and agencies he does so for the express purpose of engineering a military build-up. The obverse (principal surface) of every domestic move is a step toward greater militarism—and a possible step toward war. Similarly, every militaristic influence in society redounds back on domestic attitudes favoring, hierarchy, privilege, superiority, exemption from constraints, and valuing obedience down the social structure to ensure acquiescence and promote false consciousness. In one respect, we can admire Trump’s frankness, for instead of taking the Democratic line of guns and butter, to indicate that both can be operable, he straight-out makes the proposition, guns vs. butter, where the nation cannot have both, and the latter necessarily must defer to the former in social value and importance. And as for obedience, it logically and practically goes along with hierarchy.

Finally, I’d like to examine NYT’s major study, “Is America’s Military Big Enough?,” coauthored by Rebecca Lai, Troy Griggs, Max Fisher, and Audrey Carlsen (March 22), which provides at the top an overview of “major elements of the U.S. military.” We find 3,476 tactical aircraft, 760 attack helicopters, 93 cruisers, destroyers, and frigates, 10 aircraft carriers, 2, 831 tanks, 450 ICBM launchers, 157 bombers, and I’m sure the list can be expanded. More than enough, with the modernization of the nuclear arsenal, to make the remainder of the world take notice. The utter insanity here is, unlike increases in the past (Trump as we are tired of hearing, but do little about, “has proposed a $54 billion increase in defense spending,”) where specific allocations had a defined purpose, the reporters state, as though military increases are for the sake of intimidation at home and abroad, “Mr. Trump has not articulated a new mission that would require a military spending increase. This has left analysts wondering what goals he has in mind.”

Stop wondering, the goals are multipronged but center on using the threat of aggression to make America Strong Again. Trump knowingly plays with fire, as though conflict were a test of manhood (or confirmation of nihilism). US military spending totals $596B, exceeding that of the next seven countries combined. That buys a lot: 1.3 M active-duty troops, 865,000 in reserve; 200,000 active troops deployed in over 170 countries; an 11 percent increase in active duty army and marine corps personnel; “around 2,200 fighter jets,” with an additional “100 more fighter aircraft to the Air Force; as for fifth generation fighter aircraft, the US is alone in that department (the F-35 is in that classification, slated to receive $400B in expenditures); two new aircraft carriers (“more than half of the world’s 18 active aircraft carriers are in the United States Navy;” and on nuclear weapons, Trump told Mika Brzezinski, “let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” The salience of the buildup, as the reporters are aware, is that, “as with other spending plans, he [Trump] has not articulated a strategic goal.” Probably that is expected, because the purpose is the terrorization of the world to suit America’s ambitions.

North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:50

The National People’s Congress in Beijing made it clear that China in the 21st century as led by Xi Jinping now relies, as a state, on the “core” leader’s “four comprehensives” as the letter of the law.

The “four comprehensives” are to build a moderately prosperous society; deepen economic reform; advance the law-based governance of China; and strengthen the Communist Party’s self-governance.

No foreign-policy adventure/disaster should be allowed to interfere with the “four comprehensives,” which, extrapolated, are also linked to the imperative success of the New Silk Roads (One Belt, One Road), China’s ambitious outreach across Eurasia.

But then there’s supremely unpredictable North Korea. And the notorious Lenin line resurfaces: “What is to be done?”

Pyongyang has successfully tested land-based, mobile, solid-fueled intermediate-range ballistic missiles. When operational, this development translates into a North Korean first-strike capability difficult to track, as well as the means to absorb an initial foreign attack and retaliate with – nuclear-tipped? – missiles.

Four North Korean missiles recently – and deliberately – aimed at the Sea of Japan constitute a clear message: We are able to hit US military forces in Japan and we can defeat any missile defense deployed or to be deployed by the US, Japan and South Korea.

Patience or bust

US Secretary of State “T Rex” Tillerson has officially proclaimed that the era of US “strategic patience” concerning North Korea is over, and “all options are on the table.” Yet this does not necessarily mean a new war in the Korean Peninsula led by President Donald Trump, which would be an absolute folly with horrific consequences, and all for nothing. Pyongyang carefully protects its crack team of engineers, who would put a nuclear program back on track in no time.

Team Trump knows very well that Seoul – extremely vulnerable to the North’s military machine – would veto military strikes against North Korea, as would Beijing.

It’s significant that Chinese media have chosen to emphasize Tillerson’s “moderate” tone on North Korea – while duly signaling the
failure, once again, of trademark US sanctions policy.

Every major world actor knows that the abandonment of “strategic patience” plus a deluge of additional sanctions will inevitably lead to Pyongyang, in a flash, selling fissile material in the global black market for ready cash.

And overwhelming pressure on North Korea may lead to the lethal counterpunch of that country accumulating up to 50 nuclear weapons capable of hitting anywhere in South Korea and Japan by 2022.

So the only reasonable option is what for Washington, so far, has been anathema: to sit down at the negotiating table with Pyongyang and hammer out a definitive peace treaty to replace the current armistice that suspended, but did not officially end, the Korean War. That is what I heard over and over again when I visited North Korea for Asia Times.

And it should be crystal clear: peace treaty first; then the end of sanctions; then North Korea ending its nuclear-weapons program. That also happens to be what the Chinese government wants; Beijing is terrified of a war sooner or later disturbing the currently frozen – albeit dissolving – status quo.

The problem is that Team Trump – just like the previous US administration of Barack Obama – assumes that Pyongyang, under pressure, must relinquish its nuclear-weapons program before the negotiations start. Wishful thinking, as anyone who has been to North Korea knows. North Korea is for all practical purposes a nuclear power. The only way it might get on the road to becoming a “normal” nuclear power, like for instance Pakistan, is for the Korean War to be finally over.

The ‘invisible’ Tokyo-Beijing gamble

But then there’s a fascinating parallel development, as relayed by European Union diplomats directly dealing with Asia. Japanese industrialists mostly don’t buy Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative old-guard xenophobia concerning China. Japanese exports to China are actually rising compared with Japanese exports to the US.

Former minister Ichiro Ozawa, aka “Shadow Shogun,” president of the Liberal Party and former leader of several opposition parties, is plotting to unseat Abe in the next general election. He is calling for the merger of his Liberal Party, the Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party, saying, quite rightly, “We can’t win if we fight separately,” adding that the three parties “can unite on basic policies” as they all call for shutting down nuclear plants, scrapping the new national-security laws and rejecting the next increase in the consumption tax.

As important, the LP, DPJ and SDP strongly favor Tokyo-Beijing rapprochement, and Ozawa’s pedigree as a “friend of China” is well established.

In December 2009, when he was secretary general of the ruling DPJ, Ozawa famously led a group of 600 Democratic parliamentarians and businessmen to China. At the beginning of his political career as a Liberal Democratic Party member of parliament, Ozawa was the closest political ally of prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, who is most remembered for normalizing Japanese relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1972. It is from “Kaku-san” that Ozawa inherited the title of “Shadow Shogun,” and it is to this day that Ozawa believes that his mentor was scapegoated for the Lockheed scandal and driven out of office because he saw close China-Japan relations as as key to East Asian peace and prosperity.

Meanwhile in South Korea, after the debacle over the impeachment of conservative president Park Geun-hye, there are considerable forces warming up to Beijing. A political majority in South Korea favors economic cooperation with China – for instance, in the aeronautics industry – coupled with an Asian entente to solve the North Korea problem.

The most probable winner of the next presidential election to be held on May 9 is Moon Jae-in, a firm supporter of the Sunshine Policy of closer contacts and economic cooperation with Pyongyang and no revival of the military pressure inaugurated by former president Kim Dae-jung and pursued by Seoul from 1998 to 2008.

Facts on the geopolitical ground spell out massive unpopularity of the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile system possibly to be deployed by the end of next month in South Korea.

When Tillerson urged Beijing to refrain from creating economic policies that could hinder the deployment of THAAD, that could have been coded language acknowledging that Beijing has moved heavy electronic-warfare jammers up to positions where THAAD may be rendered useless against a possible North Korean response.

And that ties in perfectly with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently describing Beijing and Pyongyang as being as close as “lips and teeth” – though, of course, teeth can sometimes bloody lips, and China has also called on North Korea to suspend nuclear and missile activities in exchange for a halt in US and South Korean military exercises. “The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming towards each other,” Wang said on the sidelines of the recently concluded National People’s Congress in Beijing, defining it as China’s task to “apply brakes on both trains”.

Doing it the Asian way

Beijing could possibly deliver calibrated economic pressure on North Korea (suspension of coal imports) and at the same time imprint on Washington the necessity of dialogue, eventually bringing both parties to the table.

At the Obama-Xi Sunnylands summit in 2013, Xi stressed a “new type of relations between major powers,” based on “non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation”. It hasn’t happened – yet.

But absent a torrent of off-message late-night tweets, the Trump-Xi summit at Mar-a-Lago, Florida, next month might well deliver a compromise.

Meanwhile, the Tokyo-Beijing track, invisible to the Trump-Xi track, could be laid with Abe out of power.

The first major consequence of a Tokyo-Beijing rapprochement might be a negotiated solution for North Korea that would include a “soft” end of the Kim dynasty.

However it happens, South Korea would likely refuse a lightning-quick reunification, German-style. North Korea would remain as the same state for at least another decade, with Chinese cadres, including influential members/associates of the Politburo, helping remaining technocrats in the North to step beyond the Kim dynasty.

Under this optimistic scenario, after one century of hardcore conflict, Japan and China might aim for some sort of reconciliation – call it a historical compromise – very much aligned to Xi Jinping’s ideas, now that he’s finalizing being completely in charge of the People’s Liberation Army and totally in control of the Communist Party machine.

A mix of Japan’s high technology and China’s industrial solidity would mean a quick overtaking of the US, an economic-policy convergence beyond the short-term profitability of financial speculation, stressing economic balance, with the priority being job preservation and solidarity-based social policies.

Talk about a major intellectual advance of the East over the West. But first, gotta talk to Pyongyang.

This piece first appeared in Asia Times.

“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:50

As President Trump careers erratically and emotionally from tweet to tweet the world wonders what can possibly come next.  There seems to be no limit to his flights of polemic, of which one on March 4 concerned an assertion that he had been spied upon by his predecessor, Barack Obama, which he considered  “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”  He followed this by “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

Then White House spokesman Sean Spicer quoted a media pundit’s assertion that “President Obama didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the department of justice;  he used GCHQ” — Britain’s ‘Government Communications Headquarters’ spy agency that eavesdrops on private conversations all over the world.

International reaction was varied, and the Brits declared the allegation to be “utterly ridiculous” and “nonsense”, while the Germans kept quiet, because Chancellor Angela Merkel was paying her first visit to Trumpdom and wouldn’t want to talk about the sleazy business of her phone being tapped by Mr Obama’s National Security Agency, which no doubt gave what it recorded to GCHQ, as there is total cooperation between these two spook-dens and their equivalents in New Zealand, Canada and especially Australia, whose listening networks are particularly penetrating.

Der Spiegel reported the tapping of Merkel’s phone and noted that the US Embassy in Berlin “is a nest of espionage. From the roof, a special unit of the CIA and NSA can apparently monitor a large part of cellphone communication in the government quarter. And there is evidence that agents based there recently targeted the cellphone that Merkel uses the most.”

On March 17 the tweeting Trump referred to this duplicitous spying during his graceless meeting with Ms Merkel (arguably the world’s most sensible and honorable political leader), and in answer to a German reporter wittily retorted that “as far as wiretapping I guess by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps.”  Frau Merkel, who has nothing at all in common with her uncouth counterpart, did not reply.

The matter of GCHQ involvement in the Obama wire taps is now being swept aside, save by a few observers who wonder how much substance there might be to the original statement on Fox News by Judge Andrew Napolitano who said  “Sources have told me that the British foreign surveillance service, the Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, most likely provided Obama with transcripts of Trump’s calls. The NSA has given GCHQ full 24/7 access to its computers, so GCHQ — a foreign intelligence agency that, like the NSA, operates outside our constitutional norms — has the digital versions of all electronic communications made in America in 2016, including Trump’s.”

This seems pretty compelling stuff, but of course the British authorities could never say anything about it, because, as GCHQ declared in 2014, “It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters.”

Then on March 16 GCHQ commented on intelligence matters by announcing that “Recent allegations made by media commentator judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

It is unusual for a foreign intelligence agency to declare that the White House has retailed ridiculous nonsense, and it is most unlikely there will ever be any direct evidence that GCHQ did or did not listen to the phone calls of Mr Trump — but it’s obvious from WikiLeaks that there’s a lot of listening going on.

One of the usual official but anonymous sources told Reuters that under British law, GCHQ “can only gather intelligence for national security purposes” so one wonders why its techno-dweebs tapped the telephone calls of, for example, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

In 2004 the BBC reported that the Brits had been spying on Mr Annan for a long time. A former Cabinet Minister called Clare Short casually revealed that in the period before the US-UK invasion of Iraq “the UK was also spying on Kofi Annan’s office and getting reports from him about what was going on.”  She was pressed on the matter, presumably because the interviewer found it difficult to believe that a former member of government would admit that the country engaged in such skullduggery, and replied that “these things are done. And in the case of Kofi’s office it’s been done for some time.”

Her questioner said  “Let me repeat the question :  do you believe Britain has been involved in it?” to which she replied “Well I know;  I have seen transcripts of Kofi Annan’s conversations. Indeed, I had conversations with Kofi in the run-up to war thinking ‘Oh dear, there will be a transcript of this and people will see what he and I are saying’.”  To make it clear to the public that the British government had been acting illegally, her interlocutor said “so in other words British spies — let’s be very clear about this in case I’m misunderstanding you — British spies have been instructed to carry out operations inside the United Nations on people like Kofi Annan?”  To which Short replied “Yes, absolutely.”

Short was being interviewed about the prosecution of a GCHQ translator, Katharine Gun, who had been appalled about the Iraq War conspiracies and made public “a top-secret email which revealed US plans to bug delegates at the United Nations Security Council ahead of a crucial vote in the run-up to the conflict.” The charges against Ms Gun were dropped because the government feared its sleazy fandangos would be revealed in a court of law (almost the only place where it’s dangerous to tell lies), and the Prime Minister’s Office made the usual statement  that “We never comment on intelligence matters.”

Neither did GCHQ say anything about this exposure of Britain’s totally unlawful actions because of its “longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters,”  but it was obvious they had been caught with their fingers on the keys.

Then there is GCHQ’s wonderfully named Royal Concierge operation about which Der Spiegel reported that

“When diplomats travel to international summits, consultations and negotiations on behalf of governments, they generally tend to spend the night at high-end hotels. When they check-in, in addition to a comfortable room, they sometimes get a very unique form of room service that they did not order : a thorough monitoring by the British Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ in short . . .  GCHQ has had a system to automatically monitor hotel bookings of at least 350 upscale hotels around the world in order to target, search and analyze reservations to detect diplomats and government officials.”

In order to spread instruction about the best means of eavesdropping on diplomats and other representatives of foreign governments, be they friendly, allied or otherwise, GCHQ prepared a briefing on its hotel monitoring and surveillance program, and in a splendid flight of whimsical grubbiness titled one of its Royal Concierge presentations “Tales from the Wild, Wild West of GCHQ Operational Datamining.”

Given their longstanding involvement in datamining people’s hotel rooms, GCHQ’s audiophiles would be just the people to snoop on Trump Tower, but of course they say they didn’t. And it would be improper to suggest that GCHQ’s giggling little geeks listen to people’s private conversations all over the world, because the British government says they don’t, and as we know, the British government always tells the truth.

But it would be interesting to know just who does listen in to Trump. Remember Clare Short’s prosaic statement,  her throwaway line that “these things are done.”  Is it still the “Wild, Wild West” of datamining, out there?

You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:50

President Trump’s budget proposal would increase military spending $54 billion, not quite a 10 percent increase over the current level.  According to Quartz, the increase alone is more than all but two countries — China and Saudi Arabia — spend on their militaries. (China spends $145 billion, Saudi Arabia $57 billion, Russia $47, and Iran $16 billion, the International Institute for Strategic Studies reports.)

Meanwhile, Trump implies that NATO members take advantage of America by not paying enough for own defense. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Washington recently, Trump tweeted: “Germany owes … vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”

As we’ve come to expect, Trump gets it wrong. NATO members don’t pay dues to NATO, and they don’t pay the United States for defense. However, NATO requires members to budget at least 2 percent of their GDP for their own militaries. Some members haven’t spent that much, but that has changed in recent years.

Trump leaves the impression that Americans shoulder an unnecessarily large military burden because some NATO members underfund their military establishments. But that’s nonsense because that’s not how things work in Washington. Americans don’t pay more because Germans Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, and Norwegians pay less.

At other times Trump seems to acknowledge this. In his campaign he never said the U.S. military budget would be smaller if NATO members paid up. Rather, he said he wanted to make America “strong again” — so strong that no one would dare “mess with us.” His budget message said, “In these dangerous times, this public safety and national security Budget Blueprint is a message to the world—a message of American strength, security, and resolve.” His address to a joint session of Congress also did not justify greater military spending by pointing to how little the allies spend. It was all about making America “great again.”

In other words, Trump’s proposed increase is “signaling” — the American military is already powerful beyond imagination — and this signaling has little to do with NATO members’ spending. We have no reason to think his Pentagon budget would be smaller if suddenly other NATO members hiked their military budgets.

Signaling is not the only driver of military spending. The U.S. government maintains an empire, and empires are bloody expensive. They also generate their own need for greater resources. For example, the so-called war on terror, especially the repeated bombing of noncombatants, provokes a desire for vengeance against Americans, which in turn functions as a justification for greater military spending. And so it goes.

Moreover, the Pentagon, as a bureaucracy, exhibits the well-known internal dynamic for expansion. Civilian and military administrators have a natural desire to enlarge their domains and enhance their prestige. Similarly, those who wish to sell products and services to the government — The Complex — have an interest in the growth of the military budget and can be counted on to lobby for it. Finally, members of Congress can advance their careers by maintaining and bringing jobs and military facilities to their states and districts. When the budget sequester was pending, a leading Democratic and progressive member of Congress, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, opposed limits on the growth of military spending because they might reduce jobs in his district. We’ve all heard stories about legislators authorizing weapons that the Pentagon did not want because of the supposed economic stimulus in their states. Military Keynesian is as mistaken as other forms of Keynesianism: if the government doesn’t spend the money, private individuals will spend or invest it.

Trump may think that the American military is not powerful enough because its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have dragged on for more than a decade and other wars, such as those in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, show no signs of success. Trump’s mistake is in believing that such failure indicates weakness, but in fact it shows that those wars by nature are unwinnable, short of nuking the countries and killing everyone — in which case new conflicts would be provoked.

Instead of increasing the military budget, we ought to be debating the imperial mission the budget finances. We can’t afford the empire — both in terms of the money it costs and the enemies it creates.

Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:50

Many people, including members of Trump’s inner circle, have commented on his mental and emotional instability.  The following uses a professional point of view, where possible, to understand his psychology and way of operating, based, of course, on publicly available material.  I include a section at the end on how best to stop his march to unlimited power.

There is a “Goldwater” rule in the therapeutic community that one should not try to diagnose politicians.  This was broken in January 2017 with an article reportedly backed by almost 60,000 psychologists, announcing that Trump suffers from “malignant narcissism” (egotism, selfishness), and is a danger to the American people. The authors felt that “Goldwater” was overridden by a duty to warn, under the Tarasoff rule, which sets aside confidentiality if the person presents a threat to others.

I cannot claim objectivity when, in fact, I’m furious with Trump, and frightened of the direction he is taking.  I fear that he is working toward becoming a fascist dictator.    And he is destroying any chance of a reasonable future for our children and grandchildren.

I believe that his apparent instability is very calculated.  It gains attention, which his narcissistic personality craves, and which keeps his brand name selling, selling, selling.  It also keeps everyone around him off balance, so that he can amass control.  He even boasts about doing it.  And it works for him.

Trump has, against all expectations, succeeded in become the President of the United States, which also makes him the Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces.  It puts his finger on the nuclear button, so he can hold the whole world hostage.  Is he satisfied?  Will he settle down and serve the people?

Not so far.  Now that Trump has been in office for 2 months, we can see that the psychologists were correct with their diagnosis of malignant narcissism.  He is a threat to 99.9% of us.  His presidency is ego-driven and megalomaniacal.   His goal is personal power and profit rather than the welfare of the people who elected him. 

During Trump’s short time in office, his family has cost Americans extraordinary amounts of money while Trump lines his own pocket.  He refuses to divest from his businesses, which have gotten a boost since he’s taken office. This means Trump is literally pocketing profits made from taxpayer dollars.

He seems to believe he is above the law.  He has fits when judges block his immigration policies, and when he can, fires anyone who thwarts him.

I believe Bernie Sanders has it right.

Trump’s goal, Sanders said to the Guardian, “is to end up as leader of a nation which has moved in a significant degree toward authoritarianism where the president of the United States has extraordinary powers, far more so than our constitution has provided for or the values of the American people support.”

Timothy Snyder, author of  On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,  which studies the rise to power of Hitler and others, says fascism happens quickly, within a year or two, once a megalomaniac gets into power.  We only have a limited window of opportunity to stop Trump.  

Trump is attempting to control the public’s perception of reality by accusing the most respected news sources of promulgating or distributing “fake news”.  Of course, he is the master of this art.  As in Orwell’s prophetic noel, 1984, he turns truth on its head and does his best to confuse everyone.  A recent article by Todd Gitlin analyzes his modus operandi.

His proposal of a huge expansion of the military budget implies that he intends to conquer the world.  “The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out, OK? That’s what I do – I fix things,” Trump said in a speech on 2/2/17.

He has no concern for the future, gutting all regulations that protect the environment.  His Director of the Office of Management and Budget recently said “The EPA is a waste of money”.

Trump has grandchildren; will they thank him 50 years from now, when food is scarce and there are many more climate refugees?  Or will they be billionaires living underground, eating hydroponic food?  And how many of his beachfront hotels will be under water in 20 years when climate change has raised sea level to the point of flooding coastal cities?

Perhaps he is like Louis XVI just before the French Revolution: “Apres moi, le deluge”.

We have let a megalomaniacal predator, a man who has appointed a Cabinet full of predators, take over our government.  We are watching the Trump administration take a wrecking ball to everything we hold dear:  the rule of law, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the health of our environment, our national parks, the US leadership among nations, tolerance of people who are different from us, and worst of all,  the future of our children and grandchildren.

Yet almost half of the electorate voted for him, and his approval rating, though falling, is still 37%.  What is going on in this country?

Using professional diagnostic codes, this article will look at how Trump was able gain enough votes to win the Electoral College.  (Of course, he had lots of help, from Republican state rules that disqualify voters of color, from GOP manipulation of voting machines, from the divided and corrupt Democratic Party).  And he continues to have significant support.

First, let’s look at Trump from a medical point of view.  In 2016, he produced a letter which may be fake from his “doctor of 35 years” (Dr. Bornstein, a gastroenterologist) stating that he would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency”  – statement no MD could make in good conscience.

He does not exercise, eats junk food, consumes diet coke all day, gets only 3-4 hours of sleep/night, and needs to lose at least 20 pounds. This is not a healthy life style, even for a young person, and at 70, Trump is the oldest man ever to become president.

There have been questions raised about whether he has some brain dysfunction, because of some of his odd expressions, memory problems and impulsive behavior.  His father died of Alzheimer’s.

Diet coke contains an artificial sweetener, aspartame, which metabolizes to the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and methanol.  Excessive aspartic acid leads to neural degeneration, and over time, to Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, or Alzheimer’s.  Methanol is a deadly neurotoxin.  What has Diet Coke done to Trump’s brain?

There is also speculation that he has used amphetamine-like diet pills for years.  His constant sniffing during the presidential debates raised the question of cocaine use.  Trump firmly denies any illegal drug use.

Psychiatrically, Trump  fits into several categories under the general heading of Personality Disorders.  The following are taken from the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual- ICD-10.

F60.2 Dissocial (Antisocial) Personality Disorder

At least 3 of the following:

1 callous unconcern for the feelings of others;

2 gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules and obligations;

3 incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them;

4 very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence;

5 incapacity to experience guilt and to profit from experience, particularly punishment;

6 marked proneness to blame others, or to offer plausible rationalizations, for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society.

In other words, Antisocial Personality Disorder applies to criminals, con artists, and people without scruples.  Is it a form of insanity?

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the definition of criminal insanity is “a state of mental illness where a person is unable to determine between right and wrong and as a result will commit unlawful acts.”    Surely, Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies, right and wrong, and doesn’t care, which makes him criminally insane.

He wouldn’t be able to use the M’Naughton defense (not guilty by reason of insanity) to plead innocence in a court of law, since sociopaths are excluded from that defense.

However, his criminal insanity might provide ample justification to remove him from office under the Twenty- Fifth Amendment.

He also fits into the category of:

F60.4 Histrionic Personality Disorder

At least 3 of the following:

1 self-dramatization, theatricality, exaggerated expression of emotions;

2 suggestibility, easily influenced by others or by circumstances;

3 shallow and labile affectivity;

4 continual seeking for excitement, appreciation by others, and activities in which the person is the centre of attention;

5 inappropriate seductiveness in appearance or behaviour;

6 over-concern with physical attractiveness.

Associated features may include egocentricity, self-indulgence, continuous longing for appreciation, feelings that are easily hurt, and persistent manipulative behavior to achieve own needs.

In laymen’s terms, such people are often called “drama queens”.

Because of limited space, rather than give examples, I refer the reader to the paper referenced above, which gives many instances of Trump’s behaviors that fit these descriptions.    No doubt the reader can supply some as well.

People with these personality disorders are usually considered untreatable by psychiatry.  They tend to think they are above the law, and to be out of touch with reality.  They often become suicidal when their fantasies crash into reality, and  end up in a mental hospital.  Or their disregard of the law may land them in jail or prison.  How did this man end up in the White House instead?

Trump was born with a long silver spoon in his mouth, inheriting wealth and the real estate business from his father.  Money has always protected him from the consequences of his misbehavior, and gave him a huge head start on his business career.

Trump claims an IQ of 155.  He has been able to turn his usually maladaptive personality traits into success by a combination of ruthlessness, showmanship, and unlimited ambition.  Being sociopathic, he is a master manipulator.  Being histrionic, he knows how to keep himself in the spotlight, and get the constant attention he craves. Hosting the reality TV show Executive Apprentice for 14 years gave him lots of experience with the media, and got him name recognition.

The following quote is from an article in Vanity Fair.

Jeff Jenkins, Co-President of Entertainment and Development for Bunim/Murray: “Donald Trump has over a decade of experience delivering sound bites on his former game show that need to be very short, clear, and effective,” …I think that we sometimes forget the enormous reach of celebrity and fame.

A recent article in The Guardian makes the point that “Donald Trump won the election with the support of the majority of men against a highly-qualified female opponent, despite his reported behaviour. Or … because of it?”  It argues that the widespread indulgence in internet porn made male voters less concerned about ethics and more accepting of Trump’s blatant sexism.

To summarize:  Trump sold himself to the American people as a successful businessman.  He knows how to create and maintain conflicts that attract unending attention, and how to portray himself as a winner.  He titillates and attracts male voters with his slurs against women.  All of this works beautifully for a presidential campaign, which for most people is a form of entertainment.

Running a presidential campaign is not very different from running a reality TV show.  The executive has control over his staff, and his main job is to entertain and dazzle the public into electing him.  No wonder a man who knows how to provide endless entertainment was able to capture the attention and votes of so many people!   During the campaign, reality TV was more influential than the reality of climate change.

Manipulation of public perception doesn’t work so well once Trump has to actually deal with reality as POTUS, as we are seeing.  The real world is not a media audience.  He loses control, and has temper tantrums.  His administration is chaotic, with lots of infighting and poorly thought out initiatives.

He is running into massive opposition, and tolerating it badly.  The “deep state”, including the intelligence community, Democratic leaders, and much of the press are doing their best to paint him as allied to and influenced by Russia. The courts are blocking his immigration bans.  The Atlantic just ran a story on his ongoing ethical conflicts of interest.

The people are constantly marching, demonstrating, organizing against his policies.

Another Personality Disorder is emerging now.

F60.0 Paranoid Personality Disorder

Personality disorder characterized by at least 3 of the following:

1 excessive sensitiveness to setbacks and rebuffs;

2 tendency to bear grudges persistently, i.e. refusal to forgive insults and injuries or slights;

3 suspiciousness and a pervasive tendency to distort experience by misconstruing the neutral or friendly actions of others as hostile or contemptuous;

4 a combative and tenacious sense of personal rights out of keeping with the actual situation;

5 recurrent suspicions, without justification, regarding sexual fidelity of spouse or sexual partner;

6 tendency to experience excessive self-importance, manifest in a persistent self-referential attitude;

7 preoccupation with unsubstantiated “conspiratorial” explanations of events both immediate to the patient and in the world at large.

Trump’s accusations that Obama wiretapped his campaign, and that the press is purveying fake news are good illustrations.

Trump is maintaining support by projecting the image of a strong energetic leader, which appeals to people raised in authoritarian families.  (See George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant for an analysis of how the GOP has been deliberately fostering this family structure for several decades.)   Trump plays to the egotism and paranoia of a large segment of Americans, by appealing to racism, sexism, xenophobia and patriotism- the classic strategy of fascist leaders.  His rudeness and cruelty gives legitimacy to behaviors of people who like to express those qualities.

Climate denial is a major factor in his continued popularity.  Trump’s insistence on denying climate change appeals to many voters who don’t want to face the future, and would prefer to believe that science is not to be trusted.   A recent study shows that people tend to choose ignorance over possible bad news.

Hillary knew this too and the topic of climate change was carefully avoided in all three campaign debates.

Yet the attack on the environment is probably the worst of all of Trump’s hateful policies. While his targeting of racial and religious groups is reprehensible, and his assault on services to the poor such as MediCal and Social Security is appalling, the consequences of refusing to recognize climate change will be disastrous to the future of our children and grandchildren.

What do we do now, with a paranoid, histrionic, sociopathic megalomaniac in the White House?

Unfortunately, at this point we are not only dealing with Trump, but also with the likeminded billionaires he has put in key positions, as well as a gleeful Republican Congress that is hastening to implement his policies Corporate America may have been slow to warm up to Donald Trump, but once Trump secured the nomination, “the big money began to recognize an unprecedented opportunity,” Monbiot wrote. “His incoherence was not a liability, but an opening: his agenda could be shaped. And the dark money network already developed by some American corporations was perfectly positioned to shape it.” 

We are up against an administration that is getting rid of all the regulations that protected workers and the environment, and putting in laws that will curb dissent or make it illegal.  The local police are being formed into a national army by way of immigration raids.  Many states and the Congress are pushing forward on these policies, which are hastening the doom of the biosphere..

Yet, as Bernie Sanders says, “Despair is not an option”.

In a way, Trump has done us a huge favor, by waking us up to the difference between entertainment and reality.  His aggressive policies of hatred toward Muslims and Mexicans have aroused the best in our culture, as millions rally in support of targeted populations.  His appointment of one billionaire after another has alerted us to our true interests as people, which are being trampled on.

People are leaving their TV sets and laptop screens to go to the streets, to confront their Congresspeople at town hall meetings, to boycott banks and corporations that support Trump policies, and to gather with friends and neighbors and strategize on other responses.

The opposite of despair is faith.  Everyone now working for the future against all odds must be leaning on faith at some level- faith that the battle is still worthwhile, and that the tide can be reversed, even at this late hour.  Whether it is faith in a higher power, in the universe, in the Force, or in human creativity, it is necessary to keep going.  We are being pushed by our very DNA, which is using us as a vehicle to make sure it perpetuates itself.

This is a spiritual battle, a battle between the forces of life, love, peace, justice, caring for the future generations, against the forces of greed, selfishness, and ruthlessness toward the people and our children and grandchildren, not to mention all the other creatures on the planet.

Many people are responding to the situation with very appropriate thinking and actions.  The following suggestions are meant to be a helpful guide.

+ Be clear that we are in an emergency situation. We only have a few months to prevent fascism, and can’t wait until the next election.  We have to pace ourselves, but work as hard as we can right now.  We have to meet, lobby, write, demonstrate, – do everything we can and more.

+ Take care of ourselves. Breathe, don’t be overwhelmed by the shock and awe tactics, get enough sleep and exercise, eat well, take time to relax.

+ Ask everyone you know- family and friends, what they are doing to stop Trump. Point out that we can’t afford apathy any more.  Get them mobilized as much as you can.

+ Reach out to Trump supporters. Don’t waste time with hardcore right wingers.   Many people still feel it’s only fair to give him a chance, or that the President should be respected.    We all have relatives or friends in this category.  They might be open to looking at the reality of what he is doing  Explain how he and his policies are dangerous and must be resisted.

+ We can learn much from the Standing Rock Hunkpapa. This small tribe was able to  interrupt the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) for nearly a year.  Using only nonviolent methods, the Lakota have mobilized support from over 200 Native American tribes, were backed by  millions of people.   They call themselves Protectors, not protestors, protectors of their sacred land and water, which they hold in trust for future generations.   Though the pipeline is being completed under Trump, who is a major investor, the battle is continuing through the courts, and many other pipeline projects are being held up now.

Some of their lessons:   Restoring a sense of the sacred is effective.  Nonviolence works.  Courage and willingness to endure hardship are essential to success.  The enthusiasm of young people is crucial.  Perseverance furthers.  Social media forms an essential tool.  Believe in miracles.

+ Like sailors on a sinking ship, we need to pray for help. This may not seem like a practical suggestion, but it actually accomplishes many things.  It helps us to remain nonviolent in the face of provocation, and put our egos aside in the interest of the greater good.  It opens us to wisdom and inspiration.  We can pray for courage, stamina, calm- the qualities we need personally to sustain us during these hard times.

+ Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,  gives instructions for preventing tyranny from getting established: Don’t obey in advance. Believe in truth. Stand out. Defend institutions. Be calm but as courageous as you can be.

+ As so many are already doing, we need to leave our laptops and TV sets, and meet our neighbors. There is power in numbers.  We need each other.

+ Young people are the most important group to mobilize. They have the most energy, and their future is at stake.

A groundbreaking climate lawsuit, brought against the federal government by 21 children, has been hailed by environmentalists as a bold new strategy to press for climate action in the United States. It argues the federal government has violated the constitutional right of the 21 plaintiffs to a healthy climate system.  But the Trump administration, which has pledged to undo Barack Obama’s climate regulations, is doing its best to make sure the case doesn’t get far.

Brought by the Children’s Trust, this lawsuit may well be the most significant action taking place, and deserves our full support.  It addresses the central issue of our time- the loss of a habitable planet.  If we take caring for our grandchildren as our guide for action, we can’t go wrong.

Answer hate with love. It’s ironic that so many of Trump’s supporters claim to be Christian, yet they go along with his policies of hating Mexicans, Muslims, gay and trans people, etc. They forget what Jesus said.  “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  This is the greatest law of all.

Carol Wolman, MD is a graduate cum laude of Radcliffe College.  She received her medical degree from Harvard, and is a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.  She has been practicing psychiatry for 40 years. 

She has been an activist for peace and ecology for 60 years.  With her husband, Robert Clapsadle, she worked with the Bigfoot Riders on a film commemorating the centennial of the Wounded Knee massacre, and on several other films.   She organized a group to impeach GW Bush, and then ran for Congress 3 times on an impeachment platform. She also has written many op-ed pieces, which are archived at www.opednews.com  Recently she has been active in the Sanders campaign, and has been supporting the Lakota Water Protectors at Standing Rock.

The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:50

The Russian “hack” is sexy. It’s the kind of cabal that can surely draw left and right into a marriage of temporary convenience… perhaps even political warfare, albeit, for different petty reasons. Ultimately, it’s just so much fluff. If you think the so-called Russian hack will in itself drive Donald Trump from power, don’t hold your breath. It just isn’t going to happen.

That’s not to say that Trump’s days are not numbered, but simply to suggest that the pathway to the exit door of this administration is constructed not of digital chips, but rather old school overt acts such as perjury, obstruction of justice and, ultimately, conspiracy. Indeed, how often have you heard it said that the cover-ups are always far worse than the substantive offenses they seek to hide? Just ask Nixon.

For some on the right, the specter of their hero being dragged off simply because it appears he’s been caught stuffing his 401k with rubles… even before he had a chance to remortgage the White House… it’s a painful betrayal. No, not because of what he did, but because he was amateurish enough to get caught.  After all, Trump, the seasoned six- time bankrupt… a proven player at the game… was not just the one who was finally going to make America great again but the consummate hustler who would take us all along with him for the grand gilded ride. How he did it mattered not.

In Trump, the Elmer Gantry of our day, working and rural white poor, in particular, found a crafted populist savior… one who would rid us of all the brown folks and foreigners… the frail and unwell… the non-believers that have occupied so much of our collective space and economy for far too long… all the while, keeping the rest of us from enjoying penthouse views overlooking the river. Amen.

And what of Ya’ll Qaeda… you know our brave, stoic home-grown weapon toting militias? How heartbroken they must be after all these years of playing paintball in the woods while awaiting patiently the arrival of a real American man to take charge.

If there’s one thing Ya’ll Qaeda hates more than blacks, Jews, Muslims and Indians its “them dang commies”. In Trump, they thought at last they had found a secure red white and blue from which to wave their childish patriotism only now to learn that in his world of transcendent greed, flags are for the silly, anthems for the broke… multi-nationals are where it’s at. For loopy true believers, it just can’t get any worse. Can it be that nationalism is just another word for nothing left to lose?

Not to fear, in rides the secular left to save the day.  To some degree confused, if not lost, over Syria and Assad and what’s going on there and why… many among it see Putin coming to the rescue as so much a grand unselfish gesture to help rid us of the dread Islamists while, at the same time, punishing their “Deep State” sponsors at the CIA. You know… two for the price of one… Satan and his creation.

To some, a political or ethical challenge to Putin is the ultimate breach of faith, a dark sacrilege… an unforgivable ideological slap at the timeless purity of the Internationale reborn in the selfless shape of Vladimir Putin. Breaking news: Today, “Ten Days that Shook the World” is known not as a primer of revolution but rather an eco- chronology of recent earth quakes.

Some things just don’t change. Sadly, identity politics are one.

Not a day goes by without hearing activists and journalists trivialize legitimate concern about whether, or to what extent, entanglements between some Russian leaders or oligarchs and their US counterparts have crossed the line into, perhaps, serious breaches of American domestic law… the kind of criminal violations that send thousands of working women and men to US federal prisons every year.

Often reduced to mere “anti-Russian hysteria” or “political theater” the apologia appears to suggest that investigation of any Russian “criminal” misstep becomes a “dangerous distraction from wars and budget cuts.” In its best light, this argument is not only illogical in its reach, but openly welcomes, indeed, endorses a double standard of domestic criminal law…  one for the powerful and another for the rest.

Campaign rhetoric aside, by now it should be painfully clear that this is an administration that finds it every bit as profitable to wage war abroad with guns as it does to attack butter at home. Given its unmistakable commitment to military aggression and domestic oppression, it beggars the imagination that efforts to hold it accountable to law or show it the door, somehow empowers, rather than slows, its destructive march.

Indeed, the notion that an investigation into, possibly, the penultimate marriage of white collar crime and political corruption will somehow “distract” Congress from pursuing its other responsibilities is not just plain silly but credits both sides of the aisle with meaningful interests in the “people” that have long since lain dormant throughout its marble halls.

On the other hand, I guess the Department of Justice, FBI, and a half dozen other federal agencies involved in this investigation are just too busy chasing Russians to permit their prosecutors and investigators to join in demonstrations and raucous town hall meetings that are growing daily throughout this country. Talk about a conspiracy to maintain the deep state.

Indeed, elsewhere the double standard embraced on core domestic and international issues concerning civil liberties and human rights is, of late, often dramatic in its hypocrisy.

These days, it’s obvious many in the Russian camp are pleased with its defense of the Assad regime. Putting aside the long debated issue of whether his aim is gallant and selfless or invasive and colonial, Putin’s fans seem so enrapt with his role, as to give him a free pass wherever the Russian tri-color can be seen to fly. Of course his temporary and, for now, politically convenient asylum for Edward Snowden surely adds to his growing mystique.

Yet, there is very much a dark side to Vladimir Putin, the former KGB commander turned billionaire oligarch and, apparently, President for life that not only rejects the disguise of the shadows but seemingly exalts in the sunlight clear for us all to see.

While the political detention of Pussy Riot seemed, to some, to be but an aberrant moment where orthodoxy overcame common sense and free speech, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Today there are dozens of political prisoners, young and old, in Russia. They include journalists, opposition leaders, anarchists, professors, librarians, students, artists, businessmen and women and retired military pensioners. Their charges run the gamut from public speech to organize a referendum for a “responsible government”  to use of mass or electronic communication or social media to  violations for holding rallies demonstrations and pickets to dissemination of politically offensive publications to acts of non-violent assembly to organizing protest marches to showing a “propaganda” film to “insulting” publicly a representative of the “authorities” to  stocking “extremist” publications in a library to actions aimed at inciting “hatred or enmity”  to membership in a banned organization.

How easy it seems for some to challenge US and Israeli war crimes at home and abroad yet conveniently overlook those, every bit as odious, that lay directly at the feet of Putin.

Can it be that headstones of Palestinians, Iraqis, Blacks, Latinos and North American Indians are carved with the hardened steel chisels of imperialism but those of Russian dissidents, or the political opposition in Chechnya and Ukraine, shaped with mere misfortune?

Are freedom of speech, assembly, and press essential cornerstones of liberty where suppressed only by those we abhor, while identical restrictions are a necessary prophylactic to ensure that those who speak words we like to hear live to talk another day?

Are the oligarchs of Russia to be respected as egalitarians with a wide healthy world view while those of Wall Street are to be dragged through the avenues of lower Manhattan as predators who have at last achieved their well deserved fate?

How many dissidents must die, disappear, or lose their balance and fall mysteriously from window sills in Moscow or “overdose” from rare poisons in foreign venues, before we brand the Russian Deep State every bit as pernicious and lawless as those we properly condemn?

Right about now, I can sense the discomfort of some as they read these words. Indeed, I can hear the rumblings of “Russia-phobia” or the whispers that these are the brand of words that will somehow invite war. Ultimately it’s so much denial and sheer diversion and not much more.

Principled resistance is just that. It demands of us that we apply consistent opposition to oppression and international lawlessness whether carried out by autocrats named Netanyahu, Trump, Putin or el-Sisi.

Ultimately, this time it really doesn’t matter. At day’s end, while Russia appears very much to be the 800 pound gorilla in our domestic china shop, the arrogance and greed of Trump’s administration, alone, is such that more than a few domestic politicians will likely be carted off to prison… or impeachment…  while Putin and company remain largely untouched.

Should we expect the grand jury reach in this particular affair to extend as far as Russian, or other Far East oligarchs or politicians? Of course!  Ultimately, when it comes to such investigations, from a practical standpoint, it matters little whether indictments translate into arrest or extradition when there are billions for the taking at stake.

Legend is the cases where charged defendants live out their days in obese comfort abroad while their property and bank accounts here and elsewhere are seized pursuant to civil forfeiture laws. If nothing else, white collar prosecutions often provide a sound economic basis by which to underwrite broad international investigations… whether charges ensue or arrests result.

Indeed, at literally the very moment the Obama Administration was moving towards a successful détente with Iran, his Justice Department was closing in on the civil forfeiture of billions of dollars worth of its property in New York City and elsewhere as so much an added bonus for the price of peace.

At day’s end, there is little doubt that we will see a recast of Clinton II. To be sure, expect FBI Director Comey to take to his favored press pedestal to chastise the Russian government for impermissible encroachment into the US electoral process… while announcing an insufficient basis to formally charge and seek Russian actors, political or otherwise.

Nevertheless, overt acts attributed to foreign players will, in this posture, not only serve as a latch to seize foreign fortunes within our reach but provide the requisite nexus between conduct with roots abroad and crimes committed at home in furtherance of an obvious and frantic cover-up.

Years ago, what began as an amateur burglary to ensure the election of a different kind of demagogue ended with the collapse of an entire administration. To expect the same today is not simply an exercise built of wild hope or exaggerated hyperbole. Indeed, with each passing day it appears the same result awaits us, albeit through a very different kind of 21st century break-in.

Watergate began with the trial and conviction of its five perpetrators and, eventually, their two handlers who were aides to the Nixon campaign. With the help of largely media driven investigations and the cooperation of participants who cut deals to save themselves, ultimately, it ended with the resignation of a US president as the first unindicted co-conspirator to ever occupy the oval office.

Not long thereafter some of his closest aides and advisors, including his former Campaign Manager turned Attorney General, his Chief of Staff, top domestic advisor, two White House Counsels and an Assistant Attorney General, went to prison for charges ranging from perjury to obstruction of justice to conspiracy; all related not to the underlying break in itself, but the desperate cover-up that ensued.

Decades later, the names and means may have changed but the pursuit of political power and personal profit remain every bit as enticing to politicians and profiteers worldwide. For some, history books are rich predictors of what may yet come based upon paths that have long since been traveled. To others, they are better used as paper weights than repositories of knowledge. Donald Trump is one such advocate.

America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:50

Last year’s U.S. presidential election campaign was the most acrimonious in recent history. The debates were personal and bad-tempered. Some email leaks from the Democratic National Committee showed that the committee had been actively trying to undermine Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in favor of his rival Hillary Clinton, which deprived both of them of victory in the election.

On the Republican side, most candidates engaged in crude personal attacks against each other. Senator Marco Rubio hit an extreme low by referring to Donald Trump’s small hands, and Trump retorted that Rubio had “really large ears” and gave him the nickname of “Little Marco”.

Trump called Senator Ted Cruz “the single biggest liar” and threatened that “he would spill the beans” on his wife. Trump also constantly referred to his Democratic rival as “Crooked Hillary”, with the crowds chanting: “lock her up”.

The campaign manifested a level of vulgarity that has been unprecedented in American politics. Based on Trump’s comments about women, blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, etc. many American commentators have described him as racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and narcissistic.

However, alongside those controversial remarks, Trump also gave the impression that if he were elected his presidency would mark a major break with the past and would usher in a more peaceful world and a more constructive relationship with Russia.

Trump strongly criticized the invasion of Iraq, the trillions of dollars that were spent on it and the hundreds of thousands of lives lost. He hinted that his administration would not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and would concentrate on “making America great again”.

Donald Trump won the election on the basis of Electoral College votes, yet his victory was far from impressive. Some 40% of registered voters didn’t vote. Of the 60% who voted, Trump got a little more than 28% of the vote. His 62 million votes constituted 18% of America’s 340 million people, and Hillary Clinton received nearly three million more popular votes than Trump did.

So, although technically Trump won, he certainly has no decisive mandate. He is also the only president to have come to office with no previous elected post and no public or military service, even at a junior level, and not even having the support of leading Republicans.

An administration filled with generals and millionaires

President Trump formed a cabinet of generals and millionaires, basically to boost his own ego, because he feels strong in the company of generals and rich people. The American military is the biggest symbol of US strength and is normally well regarded by most Americans. He appointed Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster as the national security adviser to replace General Michael Flynn who was forced to resign after lying about his secret contacts with the Russian ambassador.

He chose Marine Corps General James Mattis as Defense Secretary, and Marine Corps General John F. Kelly as Homeland Security Secretary. This creates a team of generals all of whom have served in Iraq.

In addition, CIA Director Mike Pompeo is a West Point graduate and former Army tank officer. Even White House adviser Steve Bannon had served as a naval officer and piloted a destroyer in the Gulf of Oman trailing the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz that carried the helicopters used in the Carter administration’s botched 1980 attempt to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran.

As troubles mount for Trump there is every danger that he will use America’s powerful military to distract attention from his domestic woes and to prove his toughness as the commander-in-chief. Trump has made many warlike noises towards China, North Korea and Iran, and many American analysts have stipulated that a war with Iran is quite likely.

“American carnage” combined with increased militarism and “America First”

Many people were hoping that Trump’s more extreme statements were just campaign rhetoric and that when he assumed the responsibilities of office he would adopt a much more measured and moderate course. But his inaugural address was anything but conventional. He painted a very bleak picture of America, and in front of his Republican and Democratic predecessors he accused them of having enriched themselves at the expense of ordinary Americans.

He coined the term “American carnage” to describe the current situation in America. He portrayed a country afflicted by crime, drug addiction, poverty, unemployment, and a landscape of rusted factories like tombstones, adding, “politicians prospered, but the nation did not share in its wealth… The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.” He promised that “the American carnage stops right here, right now”, without explaining how he was going to implement that edict. (1)

He argued that America provided financial help to other countries while they plundered America (despite the fact that America has exploited the wealth of other countries, such as oil and mineral resources, more than any other country), that other countries have been responsible for the loss of jobs in America (which has been mainly due to automation and globalization and the fact that other developing countries have risen up and are now competing for jobs), etc.

On the military front, he complained that America had “subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military” (despite a military budget that is larger than that of the next 14 biggest military powers combined). The US military budget for the fiscal year 2017 is $773.5 billion. (2)

If we add the budgets of the CIA and 16 other intelligence agencies to the military budget, the United States spends close to one trillion dollars a year on military-related issues, nearly half of the total global military expenditure. In comparison, Russia’s total military spending is less than 14% of America’s military budget and less than 8% of NATO’s spending. Yet Trump seeks $54 billion increase in military spending to “rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America.”

Furthermore, America is by far the biggest exporter of military weapons and services to the rest of the world. According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, in 2015 the United States accounted for more than half of all arms transfers worldwide. America exported $89 billion worth of arms in 2014 and $80 billion in 2015. France finished 2015 a very distant second with agreements totaling $15.3 billion, followed by Russia at $7.2 billion. Sadly, most of those exports go to unstable regimes in the war-torn Middle East. During the past eight years the GCC countries have spent a record $350 billion on U.S. weaponry, killing hundreds of thousands of people in Yemen and Syria and causing massive destruction in those two countries.

Trump’s only solution for reversing the “American carnage” was: “From this day forward a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward it’s going to be only America first. America first.” This narrow vision of America is contrary to America’s claim to be a refuge for the needy and dispossessed throughout the world, as an advocate of democracy and human rights and as the leader of the free world.

Clearly most Americans, including many of those who voted for him, were not very impressed by that gloom-laden speech. As a result, he has had the lowest approval rating of any former American president at the beginning of his term, hovering between 35 and 40 per cent. Meanwhile, his administration has begun to unravel in the first few weeks of his term.

Muslim ban, Iran-hatred and the Deep State

In order to implement some of his campaign promises he issued a large number of executive orders, hastily revoking some of President Obama’s landmark achievements, including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (nicknamed Obamacare). He reversed the regulations aimed at protecting waterways, and the decisions on the construction of two controversial pipelines – the Keystone XL and Dakota Access. He cancelled U.S participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement, and pledged to build a “really beautiful wall” between the United States and Mexico. He has also promised to shred the landmark nuclear deal that six global powers reached with Iran.

He has moved very fast to implement his anti-Muslim policies. Those measures included suspension of the refugee programme for 120 days, an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, and a ban on anyone arriving from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Despite Trump’s assertion that his ban on Muslim immigrants was not based on religion, there is no doubt that it was a Muslim ban. On the campaign trail, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

After the election, a Trump surrogate, Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, led the cat out of the bag. On live TV he explained: “I’ll tell you the whole history of it: When he first announced it, he said ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up, he said, ‘Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.’”

Trump stressed that the only people allowed into the country from those seven nations would be religious minorities, such as Christians, but not Muslims. So, it is clear that it was a Muslim ban and thus it violated the US Constitution that prohibits discrimination on religious grounds.

American courts that are still valiantly safeguarding their independence, moved quickly to block Trump’s executive order. It is important to note that no one has ever been killed as the result of any terrorist act in the United States by anyone from any of those seven countries. Meanwhile, countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt whose citizens were involved in the worst terrorist atrocity on 9/11 have not been included in the ban. So the ban really has nothing to do with security, but with Trump’s intense hostility towards some Muslim countries.

Trump has issued a revised Executive Order taking Iraq out of the list of the seven countries and making some minor amendments regarding those who already hold US visas or green cards. However, it is clear that the new ban is also based on religion, and has again been blocked by U.S. courts.

It seems that the ban was especially aimed against Iran and the countries that Trump imagines to be aligned with Iran.

Iran has the largest population of any of the seven countries and sends the largest number of students and visitors to the United States. There are about one million US citizens of Iranian origin who lead peaceful lives and contribute to their adopted country as professors, doctors, engineers, artists, businessmen, etc. Above all, Iran negotiated a landmark deal with the United States and five other world powers and has carried out all her commitments under that deal.

During his short time in office, President Trump has fallen out with the American intelligence agencies, comparing them to the Nazis. He has attacked most of the media as “being the greatest enemy of the people” and producing fake news. He has attacked the “so-called judges” who blocked his unconstitutional executive orders banning Muslims from coming to America. He has rejected the views of the overwhelming majority of scientists on climate change and global warming.

Trump has also accused President Obama, without producing any evidence, of orchestrating the demonstrations against him, comparing it to a “silent coup”. In his other tweets, he has accused his predecessor, again without any evidence, of illegally wiretapping his phones prior to the election, adding: “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” FBI Director James B. Comey and the NSA Chief Michael S. Rogers, in their testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, emphatically rejected those claims as nonsense by. One also has to remember Trump’s earlier “birther myth” about President Obama that he rode as far as it would go.

There seems to be no end to the leaks about covert contacts between members of Trump’s team and Russian officials. For instance, it was revealed that Jeff Sessions, the new Attorney General, had two meetings with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, but had failed to disclose these to senators during his confirmation hearing. Democrats have called for his resignation for committing perjury, which he has described as a “total witch hunt”, but he has been forced to recuse himself from investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with US officials having contacts with their Russian counterparts or trying to mend relations with Russia. However, it is one thing to have legitimate relations with Russia and it is quite another to have covert relations with Russian officials before having assumed power, and then lying about it.

Why have there been so many covert meetings with Russian officials? What was the Russian ambassador doing visiting General Michael Flynn and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner in Trump Tower before Trump’s inauguration? At least six members of Mr Trump’s team – including Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Michael Cohen – have allegedly had undisclosed contacts with Russian officials. (3)

The U.S. today and Germany then – differences

Given the new President’s populist and authoritarian tendencies, many American politicians and activists have warned of alarming signs of fascism and have called for resistance. (4)

Many have even compared the current state in the United States with the rise of the Nazis in Germany, comparing Trump’s ban on Muslims to Hitler’s ban on Jews. Even Pope Francis has warned against populism and has cited Hitler. (5)

However, it is important to stress that present day America is not 1930s Germany, and besides, no two situations are identical.

There are at least six important factors that distinguish America from pre-war Germany and, for that matter, from many other countries.

The first one is a written constitution, with a clear separation of powers and checks and balances.

The second important distinction is freedom of expression, which is enshrined in the constitution as the First Amendment.

Thirdly, the United States has a strong and vibrant civil society.

Fourthly, there is a tradition of popular activism through demonstrating and protesting when some fundamental rights are endangered, as we have been witnessing during the past few weeks.

Fifthly, people’s access to social media and access to the latest news reports makes them much more informed of what is going on than was the case in the past.

May be, above all, the most important difference is the example of Nazi Germany and Communist totalitarianism that we can draw upon, and our experience of the dangers of chauvinistic nationalism as represented by pre-war Germany, Italy and Spain.

But then there are very good reasons to worry

Having said all that, there are some worrying signs that need to be watched.

Recently, I came across the translation of a speech Hitler delivered in February 1940 about the inferior qualities of former officials and how he was going to rescue the masses from that devastation. Hitler said: “Only inferior personalities were at the helm at that time. The German people had nothing to do with their failure. If at that time I as the representative of a new political idea appeared in this hall I did so as representative of these millions of individual Germans who had not broken down the old parties and the old political forms.”

This shows an uncanny resemblance to Trump’s “American carnage”, blaming others for all of America’s alleged ills, and portraying himself as the only person who can save America.

We should bear in mind that Germany was perhaps the most advanced literary, cultural, technological and scientific society in Europe. In literature, Germany had produced Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and many more great literary geniuses. In philosophy, Germany and Austria had produced some of the greatest European philosophers, including Leibniz, Christian Wolff, Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and many more.

In music, no other country could compare with Germany and Austria, with some of the greatest composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner, Mendelssohn, etc. Germany was also a leading industrial and technological power and had contributed many great scientists to the world.

Yet, despite this brilliant record, it fell victim to Nazism.

The mood in 1930s Germany was dark. It was emerging from the humiliating defeat of the First World War, similar to President Bush’s failed wars in the Middle East at the cost of trillions of dollars, and the burden of debt and reparation that victorious powers had imposed on her.

The country had been hit hard by a global economic recession, much worse than the economic crash of 2008-9. There was mass poverty and unemployment. In the midst of all these problems, people looked for a strong leader.

1/ Hitler was portrayed as a messiah-like figure who could offer strong authoritarian leadership.

2/ He appealed to the people to develop a unifying idea.

3/ He made use of German nationalism as a rallying call.

4/ He used Marxists and Jews as scapegoats for all the ills that Germany suffered.

Similarly, America is the world’s foremost technological country and also excels in arts and sciences. There are millions of decent, educated Americans who are great advocates of democracy and human rights.

Although Trump greatly exaggerates the extent of “American carnage”, nevertheless, he has sown the seeds of fear and dissatisfaction in the minds of many workers who have been left behind by globalisation.

It is interesting to note that Trump’s only foreign policy reference in many of his speeches has been to unite the civilized world against “radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the earth.” Islamist terrorism is certainly a major nuisance, mainly for people in the Middle East and Europe, but hardly an existential threat to the United States.

We should also not forget that the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the destruction of Iraqi civil society, the purging of all government employees who had been affiliated with the Ba’th Party that was necessary for employment under Saddam Hussein, and the disbanding of the army under the US Administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer, were some of the most important contributing factors to the rise of ISIS.

Without wishing to equate present-day America with pre-war Germany in any way, I believe that there are some worrying signs indicating that we are at the beginning of a slippery slope.

Self-deception and hate by fake news

It is time for Americans to make use of all the above-mentioned advantages that they possess to make sure that the slide towards authoritarianism, chauvinism, protectionism and militarism will be nipped in the bud.

Trump’s rise to power has been based on populism, scapegoating of foreigners and religious and ethnic minorities, and a tendency to deny facts. His press conferences are often described as surreal. Facts can be replaced by “alternative facts” when it suits his purpose. As a result, we live in a period of post-truth politics.

Despite Trump’s criticism of fake news in the media, nobody has invented more “alternative facts” than Trump’s Counsellor Kellyanne Conway, such as the invention of the “Bowling Green Massacre”, which she used as a justification for a travel and immigration ban from some Muslim countries. Such a massacre never occurred, and later she said that she meant to refer to the 2011 arrest of two Iraqi refugees for allegedly attempting to provide support to terrorists in Iraq.

On 29 January 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated that Islamic terrorists had perpetrated a terrorist attack in Atlanta, although there had been no such attack.

There had been two terrorist attacks in Atlanta, the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, which was carried out by domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph, and the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple bombing that occurred on October 12, 1958, which was allegedly carried out by the American Nazi Party.

The same applies to Trump’s story about having seen thousands of Muslims celebrating on 9/11, the terrible things that had happened in Sweden the day before he spoke, President Obama’s wiretapping his conversations, etc.

The problem with such “fake news” is that it incites the same hatred against minorities that was aroused against the Jews in Germany. There have already been many attacks on minority groups based on Trump’s hateful speech. Since Trump entered the White House, mosques have been vandalised and even set on fire, and Muslim university students have been attacked and subjected to physical and verbal assaults.

Two Indian engineers were shot down in Kansas by a far-right terrorist, who boasted that he had killed two Iranians. There was a shooting in a mosque in Quebec, killing six and injuring eight, by a far-right student who had expressed support for Trump and the French far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. (6) There has also been an unprecedented spike in anti-Jewish crimes.

Furthermore, Trump’s attacks on the media are dangerous not just because they undermine public trust in the establishment, but because they undermine relations between the majority of Americans and many law-abiding Muslims, blacks and Latinos by portraying them as terrorists, rapists, drug dealers, etc.

Therefore, Trump and his aides are not merely at war with the media, the intelligence services, the judiciary and the scientific community, but they are at war with truth and with the rule of law.

Europe must take new responsibilities and think on its own

Many Americans regard Trump as an aberration, but whether he will last long or not, the fact remains that America is passing through a very dark and dangerous period.

We have had many periods of upheavals and the rise of hateful ideologies in Europe, such as Nazism and Fascism, when America helped Europe to overcome those dark periods. It is time for Europe to wake up and realize that America under Trump is not the “leader of the free world”, but a real danger to Europe and to the rest of the world as was stated by the President of European Council Donald Tusk.

Americans will not put up with the current regime for long, but until they can restore their democracy there is a need for all the people of goodwill throughout the world to carry the burden of safeguarding democracy, human rights, international law and preventing unnecessary wars.

Brexit has unfortunately weakened European unity, and there are some dark clouds in the rest of Europe with the rise of some far-right and xenophobic movements, although the latest elections in Holland show that extremism may have peaked in Europe.

Nevertheless, the international situation is so grave at the moment that European leaders should set aside their minor squabbles and should try to rescue humanity from a dark and unpredictable future. They should engage in dialog with China, Russia and the rest of the world, especially the turbulent Middle East, and create a new basis for international cooperation and world peace.

At a time when some elected leaders are acting as despots and turning their democracies into elected dictatorships, it is more necessary than ever to stress the importance of the United Nations and Human Rights Charter as the bases for international relations.

There is an urgent need for blocking the path to war, building bridges instead of walls, and safeguarding the future of humanity in a multipolar world, based on mutual respect, equality, the rule of law, global security agreements, and the gradual elimination of nuclear weapons. We should no longer allow an unbalanced leader of any country to have the power to endanger international peace and security. It is time for sanity, collective action and cooperation for the common good.


1/ The Inaugural Address, January 20, 2017

2/ See Kimberly Amadeo, “U.S. Military Budget: Components, Challenges, Growth”, The Balance, October 26, 2016.

3/ Harriet Agerholm, “All Donald Trump’s team members are alleged to have had undisclosed contact with Russia officials”, Independent, 2 March 2017

4/ Jamil Smith, “Yes, Donald Trump is a fascist”, New Republic

Also see: Isaac Chotiner, “Is Donald Trump a Fascist: Yes and No”, Slate, February 10, 2017.

5/ “Pope Francis warns against populism, citing Hitler” Aljazeera, 22 January 2017

6/ “Quebec Mosque Shooting” The Telegraph.

March Madness Outside the Basketball Court

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:50

Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves.

— Herbert Marcuse

As this Midwestern university town gets set for NCAA March Madness, I find myself surrounded by canny analysts of the teams and the contests. They look at past performance, present conditions involving bench power, match up certainties and uncertainties of players and coaches. You could call this their analysis of the conditions of play, or what others outside the sports world might call “conditions on the ground.”

I also note as enthusiasts square off against each other that there is some interpretation of why each knows and believes as they do. “You think Duke will win because you went to Duke and you’re a brainwashed fan.” Or, “You don’t think South Dakota State can take it all because you’ve never seen them play.” An effort to know why your belligerent interlocutor thinks differently than you do is not aimed at bringing him or her to some understanding and awareness but rather only to dismiss judgments by questioning the legitimacy of their sources.

There is much of this off court contesting that goes on and, however heated it becomes, is unquestionably part of the exhilaration of the games themselves.

Conditions of the Game

While it may be true that Americans have not been as interested in politics as those countries who have historically suffered for not paying attention, it is true now that President Donald Trump has drawn Americans to the drama of the political scene, almost as completely and as cleverly as an addictive Reality-TV show.

Some are drawn because of a total visceral connection with Donald Trump as their anti-political avenger against an “administrative State” which they perceive has given their deserved status to the undeserving. Some are drawn because Donald Trump’s presidency is perceived to be a threat to an Enlightenment reasoning that has led to liberal and neo-liberal values of individual freedom and choice that complement the principles of capitalism.

The bench set against Trump/Bannon is deep, uniting both Liberals and Neo-liberals in their allegiance to a Reason- Freedom -Capitalism calculus that leads to personal satisfaction.

A Republican Congress holds on to the hope of unleashing market forces to pre-Great Recession levels without much damage done by President Trump to reason’s role in controlling a relationship between personal freedom and maximizing profits.

Liberals have since FDR mostly avoided facing the Reason-Freedom-Capitalism calculus, preferring to focus on social issues, which they now fear a Trump regime will harm.

This is not a fear that Neo-liberals share, and certainly not a matter that will separate them from Trump. Neo-liberal resistance will come when Trump threatens the cozy affiliation of personal freedom and market freedom as well as the reasoning, a focused instrument, directed to support both.

Trump and his minions have already fostered an attack upon a neutral reasoning, thus exposing its “instrumental” features. The road down the “alternative facts” and “your” reasoning and “my reasoning” has already brought to a grassroots’ level a suspicious awareness of reason itself as a political instrument. Here, we are dangerously close to questioning capitalism’s control of reasoning itself to construct ideas of consumer freedom and profit sovereignty,

If we transfer the experienced ways in which we analyze and interpret NCAA March Madness to the present political scene, we might illuminate this court from a familiar perspective.

The Referees

First, there are no longer any referees whose judgments are recognized by all players.

The game, as the philosopher would say in reference to chess, is now being played on a “bottomless chessboard.” No moves clearly are foul. No win cannot be represented as a loss, and vice versa. What immiserates The People can be represented as done in the interests of The People. No reference to The People can be traced to anything but The People, which can be traced back to innumerable references to The People.

Team play grounded on a mutual recognition of the authority of the rules of the game and a belief that team solidarity overrides individual preference would be, on the political court, recognition of authority that overrides personal opinion and creates solidarity beyond the determining power of personal “Likes.”

Right now, our conditions on this political court indicate that the opinionated are rule-resistant, unstoppable and are more liable to be seeking and finding online support for even the craziest beliefs than any challenge or refutation.

Thus, multiple, fractured societies now rival and undermine a real world societal solidarity that has historically been sought and preserved.  This is, you might say, a new set play on the political court that unravels an existing order of things, what Steve Bannon calls a “deconstruction of the administrative State.”

That deconstruction, however, will not stop at whatever regime of order he envisions. We are at the beginning of a Great Unraveling.

Present conditions on the ground also show us a prospering since President Reagan of a small percentage of the population benefiting from the globalization of a gone-wild economic system rewarding investment and not wages.

The resulting top 1% having as much combined income as the bottom 95% has led to a painful awareness of decline but only by those in that painful decline. And that awareness is both recent and at once distracted and misled. A discourse disclosing and interpreting this decline has a difficult time breaking through the relentless barrage of opinions from our online and offline worlds. We also see now that a top 20% professional class, serving the top 1%, has been in charge of the discourse, of the representation of the “conditions on the ground.” A long time separation of the professional class from the embittered class has led to the absence of a much needed disclosure of the sources of estrangement and bitterness.

There is an estrangement then also of the Liberal media from The Forgotten rallying to Trump which has much to do with Liberals setting their tent on the margins. This has left the multitude slated for extinction by a rabid form of globalized capitalism with no electoral choices they see as relevant to them.

They were asked in the 2016 Presidential election to put aside their plight and vote a Democratic ticket focusing on social issues, from abortion and gun control to racial equity and LGBTQ rights. Beyond being highly problematic and contentious issues among The Forgotten, they are first and foremost way outside the court of their interests. Liberals can argue that this should not be so but the fact, not an alternative one, remains. Facts now in our post-truth age weigh only as much as they are perceived to weigh.

Right-wing media places itself solidly in the court of The Forgotten’s phenomenal world, repeatedly pounding messages to the darkest and most twisted branches of our human nature, and doing so in order to preserve a plutocratic order that is yet dependent upon winning elections. This is a focused attack on any politics critical of market rule or seeking to constrain in any way its unregulated free play for profit. However, that same appeal to the worst angels of our nature is being made by the autocratic regime of Donald Trump who is personally and not ideologically invested. His protection of Neoliberal ideology will go no further than the borders of his own personal enrichment and his own hold on power.

How to defend against Trump’s autocratic game style is markedly different from defending against Neoliberal market rule.

A brief scan of history reveals that in the U.S., critique of Market Rule is loudly and repeatedly condemned as “socialist,” which, for some 43% of the population, always means an attempt to take away their personal freedom, starting with taking away their guns. No one in Scandinavia, in the view of this segment of the population, has any personal freedom and so live the listless, mind controlled lives engineered by a Socialist State.

What Adorno called “The Culture Industry,” now formidable online and offline, has so owned the hearts and minds of those ill served by Market Rule that its own Reality-TV creation, Donald Trump, is now the 45th president of the United States. The autocrat is now anxious to confine capitalism’s global ambitions to national borders and engage in the kind of social expenditure that will keep The Forgotten on his side. And “The Culture Industry” is as available to serve autocracy as plutocracy, although its expanse, notably in cyberspace, was once applauded as”democratization.”

Regardless of sufficient reason and cause for The Forgotten to seek an upturning of what is clearly a plutocratic order, they misread both reasons and causes and therefore reach for the wrong solution, in this case, the autocrat, Donald Trump. This mis-reading of The Forgotten as to the circumstances of their own plight is not a misreading that can be obliged by either the Fourth Estate or by the institutions, practices and laws of a government built on Enlightenment principles. Whereas Market Rule and the plutocracy it leads to can be tamed, autocratic rule presents vastly different problems.

In order for a republic grounded in a Western tradition of reason and its methods in establishing truth to survive it cannot make any concessions to a populist slide into the irrational, a societal retrogression into “alternative fact” based opinions, gut responses, cult and celebrity worship, and the darkness of all manner of discriminations and hatreds. From this perspective, of long, enduring tradition in the West, there is no order of things but only a vicious chaos, a descent into the maelstrom of the worst in human nature, if we give up our Enlightenment direction.

Free market principles, even those extended beyond domains where profit does not apply, can summon a rational defense. The kind of autocratic rule of a president clearly burdened with deep, unresolved psychological issues, cannot so summon reason. And that is the ground upon which he must be challenged.

However, an increasingly strong exception to this tradition of rationality and realism is observable in both the 20th century Modernism’s “tragic vision” and in the deconstructing postmodernists who launched us into the “post-truth” mindset.

The Modernists had pointed out that an instrumental reasoning had led to the successive warfare and atrocities of the 20th century, continuing now in the 21st century as perpetual warfare. Our avowed “reasoning and realism” have led to the underwriting of an economic system that axiomatically has scheduled many to extinction. These appear now as Trump’s Forgotten, aware of being written off but not aware as to how or why or by who or what. Trump gives all the answers that satisfy only because he has, among all his presidential primary challengers, recognized all the questions.

The vote for a man who demonstrates he recognizes The Forgotten, who gives them visibility and importance is not a mindless matter but one establishing a deep existential bond. Trump’s election is a sign and a result of the importance of those discarded on the “creatively destroyed” pile.

The “administrative State” which Steve Bannon wishes to deconstruct is a deconstruction of capitalism’s globalist adventures that have created The Forgotten. These adventures were themselves the offspring of a Western Tradition of Rationality and Realism. We have then an allegiance to an instrumental Reason-Freedom-Capitalism’s satisfaction of personal choice calculus, which is itself a calculus that has created the plight of The Forgotten. A failure to address that plight and communicate its causes led to the inevitable coalescing of the angry and embittered and a turn to Trump. In a culture that attends personalities and not ideas, a turn to a larger than life personality as a redeemer is no surprise. That celebrities are packaged with manias and quirks broadcast loudly is to be expected. No one becomes a fan of someone who looks, acts and talks like themselves.

We are in no way ready to sever our connection either with plutocracy or deranged autocracy, or, more significantly with our instrumentalized reasoning. We are not prepared to dismantle this dark allegiance, this rational calculus on behalf of The Forgotten or any semblance of an egalitarian democracy.

A globalist techno-capitalism with a financialized vanguard can brook no nationalist boundaries and therefore cannot allow our autocrat’s mission to succeed. Thus far, it is clear that both Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell believe they can hold back autocratic derangement long enough to further implant Market Rule.

Society also cannot put aside a rule of reason and realism and accept a misrule of “alternative facts,” even though we have “reasoned” our society into a plutocratic order in which more than the followers of Trump are The Forgotten. The present reasoning has created a 20% democracy order, or, more precisely, a plutocracy, which in turn has brought us into the arms of a deranged autocrat as our relief. Whatever Occupy Wall Street envisioned as relief it could not have been the autocratic rule of Donald Trump.

There is thus every reason to deconstruct a reasoning that has led us on a path to plutocracy and now autocracy. But there is also every reason to preserve it because a descent into the irrational, into “alternative facts” and so on has brought Trump into being and sustains his authority among The Forgotten. We are therefore within a culture that desperately needs a post-truth way of reasoning that is not an instrument of Market Rule or a descent into the chaos of “alternative facts.”

The Coaches

The Democrats have been poor coaches ever since Newt Gingrich in the 1994 Congressional elections mobilized conservatives behind the Contract with America and frightened President Clinton into a conservative presidency. Reagan’s red carpet, rolled out for those already flush from the Viet-nam war, benefited both Liberals and Neoliberals alike, both parties being heavily invested in the success of an economic system that increasingly benefited dividend recipients and not wage earners.

This complicity effectively removed the Democratic Party from all but disingenuous representation of those who would flock to Donald Trump. That party’s removal from the center to the margins, seeking whoever and whatever was a social equity issue, made it an unfit party for Bernie Sanders’ direct and persistent focusing on the economic system as the promulgator of gross inequities. Because only two coaches are allowed in our political game, Sanders had no real viable alternative to the Democratic Party. He was a danger to both parties and so both parties, along with the media, did all they could to deny his interpretation of conditions on the ground from being seriously considered.

The Republican Party has since Reagan bet on its financial winners, who they coddle and pamper as if they were thoroughbreds with the potential of winning in high stake races, while providing alibis such as “tough love,” “moral hazard,” “creative destruction,” “personal responsibility,” “Welfare Queens,” “Moochers,” and so on to detour attention from the looters to the looted, from the exploiters to the exploited. The problem as represented was not that the wealthy scrunch workers and planet for the sake of profit but that the laziness and cunning of the scrunched sapped the wealth of the nation.

With a manic drive to global profit and a mandate to seek new marketing frontiers,  the Ayn Rand school of Republicans double downed on a 20% Democracy game. Neither 9/11 and the Neo-conservative lunatic aggression into the wrong places in the Middle East nor the 2007 Great Recession which led to inescapable crises for the Forgotten and opportunity for investors blew the whistle on growing plutocratic rule.

Nevertheless, those at the bottom since Reagan have remained there, joined by those who had been at the middle, although meritocracy continues to bring to those with inherited intelligence, socially and educationally nurtured ambition, and opportunity to envision a future for themselves. Meritocracy presents testing hurdles for some 20% who can thus form the only social and economic mobility available.

The coach who put together the winning team was Donald Trump. He scoffed and mocked Republicans, not in any detail but such was not necessary. A Bernie Sanders’ indicting, point by point exposition was not what Trump’s followers were looking for nor did they have the interest, background or patience to deal with it. They wanted scoffing, mocking, belittling, exterminations, the kind of direct actions those who have been punched, abused and messed with want, those who have been denied the chance to retaliate. By the time Trump had knocked out his Republican rivals and was facing Hillary Clinton, he found himself with a readymade arsenal he could launch against Liberals, Obama, and Hillary.

Scapegoating Obama had been a major event for the past eight years, every allegation from not being an American by birth, an allegation that many held on to like a religious belief, to Obamacare, taking away guns and the Death Panels, were already in place in the American mass psyche. Tax and spend liberals, those who take a wage earners’ wages and give them to those who do not want to work, remained and continue to remain the Darth Vaders in that same psyche.

The Liberal affiliation with gentrification, or, the uprooting of the working class to make way for the Elite, with political correctness, a gag on an American’s right to speak out, with a soft prison life for criminals, with apologies for welfare fraud, with environmental regulations that close down jobs, with a growing Federal bureaucracy that takes away individual freedom and choice . . . Almost an endless litany of aggression, disloyalty, and injustice to personal and individual freedom and choice. Trump kept a fire under all these aggressions, not in the elegant way Stephen Curry plays B-ball but in a stunted, fractured, repetitive drumbeat style that got the win nevertheless, not to mention the tweets, the chosen discourse medium of the new Millennium.

How the game will end

“An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” A frequently quoted statement from Jefferson’s retirement papers. Survival meant the ability of those whose freedom is being threatened to interpret rationally how it is being threatened. Corollary to this is the ability to recognize bullshit and lies that deter an autocrat on the horizon from doing so.

What I call “rational” now has an “alternative” rational, which means, in short, we have lost our affiliation with “rational.” It is floating free of fact and evidence. Reason floats free the way capital does. We can expect, however, that like the blind man holding the tail of the elephant and insisting the elephant is shaped exactly like a snake, that at some point the elephant will disprove that, to the blind man’s regret.

This reliance on reality at some point upsetting our irrationality is not, however, totally soothing. Mother Nature cannot bring us to universally accepting the connection between human activity and global warming and if science has not already done that, it is not liable to.

And if President Trump’s unfitness, by all criteria, leads to or is revealed by some sort of crisis, such an event will not universally expose that unfitness. Crisis will most likely cement the autocratic rule as The Forgotten and everyone else rallies around the flag, held by Trump. The reality of crisis could be shipped from his unfitness to the judiciary, or the media, or the Liberals, or Obama or the gods or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

If survival is an extended event not fixed at any one moment, then we have time to educate a citizenry toward developing the tools of a common, communicative understanding, to a consensual validation of what is true and what is not as survival priorities present themselves.

If, however, the moment of survival is now, and the very pressing issue of global warming says it is, then we have already had our chance to educate and we have failed.

Not the first society to have failed in this manner but certainly the first in which the survival of the human species is at stake. Happily, the planet itself has the capacity to re-organize after catastrophic events, the human race, like a sudden asteroid, being one.

While President Trump remains the mountebank Donald Trump, now playing the part of president and not much invested in it beyond monetizing the office, he is an aberration that would dissolve if so many lackeys, bootlickers, Eichmann-like flunkies and enablers, so may ready to service apparatchiks and useful idiots had not so quickly gathered around him. These are not The Forgotten, the tragically duped but rather the opportunists who rally around a strong man anxious to do his will.

It is refreshing to return to the jubilant NCAA March Madness because whoever gets to the final two, the champion game and wins will be recognized by all as the winner. There will be no alternative winner, no alternative game, and no alternative baskets. There can be no deflecting of loss to winning or winning to loss. It is a refreshing madness, this NCAA March Madness.

Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:50

From the Guardian on Wednesday:

“An airstrike by the US-led coalition against Islamic State on a school west of the Syrian city of Raqqa has killed at least 33 people, many of whom had fled nearby fighting, sparking further concerns that new rules of engagements may be causing an increase in civilian casualties.

“The attack follows a separate US strike on a mosque complex in the north-west of the country last Saturday that killed at least 52 people. The incident triggered fears that a White House-ordered review of rules governing the use of drones had already given military planners more flexibility on ordering strikes.”

A thank you to the Guardian for covering this extraordinary story.

But the reaction by most of the Western media, including the New York Times?


The reaction to the London attack Wednesday in which, not counting the attacker, left three people dead?

Banner headlines and constant updates.

The death of civilians is a crime which should never be tolerated.

But apparently more for some than others.

I’ve spent 30 years in journalism, so I know the closer a story gets  — and “closer” includes the same type of people as opposed to foreigners in a supposedly distant land — the greater and longer the treatment.

And some may say that because the London attack happened outside Parliament, it merits even more outrage.

But why is Parliament more sacred than a haven for refugees or a mosque?

And where are all the world leaders offering condolences to the dead Syrian children and other civilians killed by their very own governments?

Sadly, as we all know, this is really nothing new.

But this disproportionate coverage of Europeans versus Arabs — pretty much inversely proportional to the actual death counts — hides a crucial lesson that we just can’t seem to learn.

These attacks are not unrelated.

I have no idea — and I suspect the Western experts don’t either yet — if the London attack was a direct response to the recent civilian slaughters by the West in its battle against the Islamic State.

But regardless of the direct motivation, the mass murders of innocents in the Middle East by the West go at least as far back as the first “Gulf War.”

(They go much further back, but let’s start with the battle against an Iraqi dictator we helped put in and then keep in power.)

Would there have been this most recent attack in London — or even an Islamic State for that matter — without all the endless Western war crimes against Muslims for almost three decades?

Until we — and that includes the media we in the West rely upon — mourn the deaths of the innocents our governments kill as much as the deaths of innocents killed by our enemies, the bloodshed will never end.

And all too likely only get worse.

Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:50

For decades, there had been mumblings about a mass grave bursting with the bones of children on the site of a religious run mother and baby home in the west of Ireland. Recently those age old mumblings were translated into fact.

Over the course of several decades, hundreds of deceased children had been discarded by nuns from the Bons Secours religious order in Tuam Co. Galway and only for the incessant and fearless work of local historian Catherine Corless who uncovered the truth, it would have remained buried.

These children who died from a variety of causes were the offspring of ‘fallen women’, a term which is alien to most people in today’s society. In the Ireland of the past, a woman who had a child ‘out of of wedlock’ was considered a wicked being, someone who brought shame on their family and parish. The catholic church which weilded an iron fist over Irish society would suggest the best place for these women was a mother and baby home where they could give birth to their ‘bastard’ child. Once the child was born it was tagged for adoption and more often than not it was given up for adoption to the highest bidder, usually in America. While many survived, many more did not, as is the case with the horror story which unfolded  in Tuam.

An inquiry will now be set up to dig deeper into the rotten core of these religious run homes which were scattered across the country. Now that the church has lost its powerful position in Irish society, we are free to question the dark deeds carried out by religious orders  in places such as the Tuam mother and baby home. We may think that people cowered under the cruel society the church lorded over but there are a few who did challenge the church and it’s harsh regime against ordinary Irish people.

The Irish Workers Voice was the newspaper of the Communist Party of Ireland in the 1930s and in its May 4th issue of 1935 it carried a report with the headline ‘We demand an open inquiry into the scandal of Artane tragedy.’ It detailed the killing of a teenager by a so called holy man in the Dublin Industrial school of Artane.

The church run mother and baby homes were set up to cage Irish women who stepped out of line while the purpose of the religious run industrial schools was to keep ‘wayward’ youngsters and ‘unwanted’ orphans out of Irish society.

The report was based on an interview the father of the dead youngster gave to the left wing publication. 55 year old Dubliner Patrick Byrne described how he saw the body of his 15 year old son laid out in the hospital mortuary: ” I saw my boy on Holy Thursday when he was lying dead at the Mater hospital. I lifted the shroud and his ribs and whole side were black and blue and his jaw was discloured.”

15 year old John Byrne had been playing football in the yard of the Artane industrial school when the ball accidentally hit the master, Brother Cornelius Lynch, who then turned on young Byrne and gave him an unmerciful beating. The boy lingered for days after his beating at the hands of the school master before succumbing to death.

A hasty inquest was carried out by the school medical officer Dr Murphy who concluded that the youths death could not be determined. Other boys in the school yard had  witnessed the master beat the life out of their friend and John Byrnes father was convinced his son had indeed died due to the harsh treatment he recieved at Artane but, nothing was ever done about it.

In the same report in the Irish Workers Voice newspaper, the father of the dead boy stated that the body of his son was taken away by the church authorities and buried. The grieving  father never saw his son in his coffin and remarked to the newspaper: ” there is something terrible and strange about it all, I’m not even sure if I buried my own son.”

The same report states that the death of 15 year old John Byrne was not the first death in the religious run school that occured under suspicious circumstances. The report ended with the call for an inquiry: ” no whitewashing but a free and full inquiry to reveal the facts.”

Those who challenged the church in such ways like this report in a left wing publication were considered enemies of the state, they were seen as a threat to the power held by the church in a society crippled by conservative hands.

Now we look back and consider that these ‘subversives’ were not the enemy, they were the brave few who did speak out against the authoritarian role of the church in Ireland. In today’s Irish society we should take inspiration from them because the Catholic church chained the soul of this country, now it’s up to this generation to break the last few links of those rusty chains.

The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:50

As the relationship between growing migrant Muslim populations and the western nations that host them grows increasingly complex, the controversy over the dress code for Muslim women has taken on an alarmingly central role.  The recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision, which has ruled that bans on headscarves (and other religious symbols) in the workplace can be legal, is only one in a series of judgements on this controversial matter.

While the ECJ has leaned towards religious neutrality and against the display of religious symbols in the workplace (including, for instance, the Christian cross), the United States Supreme Court, recently ruled to the contrary.  In the case of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v Abercrombie & Fitch (2015), the US Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favour of the hijab-clad employee, despite the employer’s claims that her headscarf clashed with the company’s dress policy.  Only the dissenting judge, Justice Thomas reasoned as the ECJ has, that the dress code was a neutral policy and could not be the basis for a discrimination lawsuit.  Even in the United States, however, the outcome of such cases is not always clear.  In 2012, for example, a hijab-wearing employee who had sued Disneyland, did not succeed against her employer.

Legal decisions aside, the issue of the hijab seems to have become a bone of contention between those in the West who see the increasing number of headscarves around them as a cultural invasion and those among the often young Muslim population who see it as a symbol of resistance.  Instead of an essential religious dictate, however, the hijab is more of a desperate attempt to forge an identity that has largely been displaced as a result of migration.

Women in Muslim-majority countries who veil or cover their hair often do so because of familial, or in the case of Saudi Arabia and Iran, state pressure.  Ironically, women who wear the hijab in the West often choose to do so.  While women in the Middle East may be wrapping themselves in additional garments to ward off the prying eyes of men dominating the bazaars and workplaces, some Muslim women in the West have told me that they find the hijab liberating and empowering.

As someone who grew up partially in Saudi Arabia and witnessed firsthand the oppression of women that comes through forcing the veil upon them, that is indeed a strange concept for me to digest.  The constant conflation of Muslim women and the headscarf in the western media is therefore something that I find quite disturbing.  There are countless observant and pious Muslim women who do not cover their hair.  On the other hand, there are also those who wear the hijab but aren’t particularly interested in following some of the more fundamental dictates of Islam.

For generations we have learned that in order to be true to the Muslim faith one must affirm that there is one God and that Muhammad is his messenger.  The Quran repeatedly stresses the importance of being steadfast in prayer and of giving alms to the poor, to feed the needy and to take care of orphans.  Not once does the Quran mention the hijab, or headscarf, explicitly as an Islamic necessity.

There are a few verses in the Quran that advise a modest dress code but to borrow a line from the renowned Pakistani film, Khuda ke liye(For God’s sake), “How can a religion that is meant for all time and all peoples insist on  one particular uniform?”

Certain Islamic scholars from countries as diverse as Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco have affirmed the view that what is modest is subject to interpretation and discretion and does not necessarily include a head-covering.

Paradoxically, at a time when significant numbers in the West are growing resentful of headscarves and most unfortunately some of this intolerance has manifested itself in the form of hostile Islamophobic attacks on hijab-clad women, the fashion industry is rushing to embrace the hijab.  Realising the monetary potential of marketing to brand-conscious hijabi millennials, Nike Pro Hijab, priced at $80, is the latest addition to jump on the “modest fashion” bandwagon.  Dolce and Gabbana have gone several steps further, with their ostentatious daisy print hijab and abaya collection, aimed undoubtedly at the residents of the oil-rich Gulf Arab states, they accessorise with statement handbags and sunglasses that could set you back thousands of dollars.  Modesty anyone?

Keeping the controversy alive, a few months ago, Playboy magazine featured its first hijab-wearing Muslim woman.  For her supporters, this was a “bold case for modesty” and perhaps another milestone in breaking barriers for those wearing headscarves.  But to me, this was akin to turning the entire concept of hijab on its head.  Though the Quran does not dictate a precise form of dress for men or women, it does ask both to be discreet and modest and not to draw unnecessary attention to oneself.  An often-quoted verse asks both men and women “to lower their gaze and guard their private parts”.  Playboy of course has historically been associated with the exact opposite of this philosophy.

The concept of Islamic modesty therefore is not meant to test boundaries or provoke identity clashes with a wider society but simply to maintain decorum, respect and harmony between men and women.  As Muslims in the West, we would be better off focusing on the more basic and uncontested tenets of our religion and finding common ground with other Abrahamic faiths based on shared principles, such as providing for the needy and helping the downtrodden.

Music is Love, Music is Politics

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:49

Odafe Antogon’s recently published novel Taduno’s Song is one of those stories that can only truthfully be classified as pure magic. Entrancingly and exquisitely composed, it is the story of a man—Taduno—who began making music with songs of love, then songs of protest, and ultimately a song of freedom. The story takes place in the present time in a Nigeria that is politically and culturally similar to that present. However, it could also take place in many other nations both past and present.

Taduno is a guitarist and singer whose songs became rallying cries for a people’s movement. Arrested, beaten and tortured he is ultimately forced into exile to save his life. It is there where the story begins; he receives a letter from his true love in Nigeria asking him to return to fight the dictator once again. She writes from a hellish prison, where she has been placed after being kidnapped by secret police. The similarities with the story of Orpheus, who spent much of his life trying to retrieve the love of his life Eurydice from Hades are intentional and meant to remind the reader of the power music holds on the human soul.

When he returns, Taduno discovers that he is forgotten by the multitudes he sang for: the poor, the workers and the people who dared to speak out against the dictator. Nobody recalls his face or his songs. His voice is broken because of beatings he received from the sticks and fists of the dictator’s police. A friend helps him get a guitar—not because his friend remembers him, but because he has faith in whom he knows him as in the present. His ability to play guitar returns but his voice does not. Still, once Taduno’s music begins to shake things up on the streets the dictator arrests him. He then tells Taduno he must sing songs praising the dictator if he ever wishes to have his true love back. Taduno accepts the deal because he loves her so much. He spends the rest of the tale wrestling with that decision.

Dave Randall is a rock guitarist who has toured with the band Faithless and Sin’ead O’Connor, among others. He has also been involved in a number of endeavors combining music and politics. It is these experiences that compelled him to examine the relationship between music and political change. This is the subject of his book titled Sound System: The Political Power of Music. The text is an insider’s look at the actual reality fictionalized in Antogon’s Taduno’s Song. It is simultaneously a history of music in movements for social justice and revolution, with a mention of its role propping up the powerful and elitist—from the Catholic Church to numerous regimes around the world.

As anyone who listens to popular music knows, there are certain periods when protest songs have made their way high up the charts. The period known as the Sixties is probably the best example of such a time. Most songs recorded then, whether they were intentionally pop-sounding like Barry McGuire’s 1965 hit single “Eve of Destruction,” or the unusual blend of rock and violin found in Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane,” were clearly meant to be understood as protest songs. It is Randall’s contention that a fair amount of today’s music is also subject to such an interpretation. As an example, he discusses Beyoncé’s 2106 Super Bowl performance of her tune “Formation.” If one recalls this performance, it included references to African-American radical groups and individuals like the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis. The struggle against police murders of Black men was also highlighted. Of course, right wing and pro-police organizations attacked the performance and police forces threatened to refuse to protect Beyoncé when she performed in their towns. Randall mentions that there were folks on the Left who also opposed the performance, criticizing it as an attempt to make money off of genuine political movements for social change. As he points out, Beyoncé ends the tune by essentially telling her audience that the way to beat the system is by getting rich; a concept that obviously worked for Beyoncé, but is ultimately not a real solution. Randall then brings up the story of the hip-hop artist Killer Mike, who as a fighter for social justice decided to endorse the social democrat Bernie Sanders in his campaign for president in 2016. Even if Killer Mike’s approach was more genuine, Randall points out that the reaction to Beyoncé’s performance moved the discussion about police brutality and racism further into the mainstream, thereby providing all sides in the debate (including that of the radical Left) a considerably larger forum.

As I noted above, the protagonist in Taduno’s Song wrestles mightily with his decision to sell out his political principles to save the love of his life. In what can only be described as the callousness of the dictator and his police, money is also offered to Taduno. Naturally, he rejects the money. I was reminded of this while reading Randall’s discussion of the repercussions of his support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel’s establishment of an apartheid regime in regards to the Palestinians. This is because some of his fellow musicians who originally supported BDS backed away when they were threatened with the loss of income. To be fair, losing one’s income is not the same as losing the love of one’s life, but the point is that both circumstances reveal that the powerful understand the power of music. When they have nothing to counteract that power to defend their injustice, their only solutions involve threats, censorship and death.

Sound System is a brief look at the potential role music can play in a movement for social change. In his brief telling, author Dave Randall notes the tragic story of Chilean revolutionary singer Victor Jara and the Nigerian guitarist and composer Fela Kuti; he mentions Beethoven and Schoenberg, Rage Against the Machine and Marvin Gaye. He discusses the nature of electronica and its roots in the early underground acid house scene of 1980s Britain; the roots of hip-hop and the corporatization of music festivals. He also looks at the atonal work of Schoenberg and the nature of the corporate star machine. Odafe Antogon’s novel Taduno’s Song tells a similar story via a poetically and delightful narrative about one musician and his struggle to be true to his people, his love and ultimately himself. The single message from both texts is that music can change the world when that is the intention of those who make it.

Prisoners as Captive Customers

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:48

Who knew they could be profit centers. Thanks to action emanating from the white House of Horrors or, as it was formerly more simply known, the White House, there’s good news for phone companies and private prisons.  This week the phone companies.

October 22, 2015, was the date on which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), proved itself to be the prisoners’ friend. It announced that it was taking a big step to reduce what it called “excessive rates and egregious fees” of up to $14 a minute that were being charged by phone companies providing phone service to inmates in state and federal prisons. In announcing the change, the commission observed that “high inmate call rates have made [phone] contact unaffordable for many families, who often live in poverty.” As Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC, said in a statement accompanying the rule revision,

“[F]ew issues have a more direct and meaningful impact on the lives of millions of Americans than inmate calling reform.  With today’s action we will provide material relief to nearly two million families with loved ones behind bars. . . . Inmate calling reform is not only the right thing to do, it is also good policy.  . . .By adopting tiered rate caps that apply to all interstate and intrastate Integrated Communication Services (ICS) calls, and limiting and capping runaway ancillary service charges, this item addresses unaffordable ICS rates . . . . Today’s actions . . . address a prime example of a market failure.  Where, as here, market forces have not been able to discipline costs to consumers, we must shoulder the responsibility of promoting communications services that do not leave the most vulnerable of our population behind.”

(Whether inmates qualify as “the most vulnerable of our population” others can decide.)  As a result of the FCC’s action, the price for prison calls went down to as low as $.11 a minute.

Phone companies providing prison service were, of course, upset with the ruling since prisoners were, at up to $14 a minute for in state calls, a profit center that the companies hated to lose.  Depriving phone companies of the opportunity to charge exorbitant rates to prisoners was just as bad as if some court had suddenly decided to shorten all the prisoners’ sentences, thus depriving phone companies of their highly desirable prison customers.  Not wanting to sit quietly by as this important source of revenue was taken from them, the companies filed suit in the D.C. Court of Appeals claiming that the FCC lacked the authority to put caps on what they were charging the inmates, and, even if it had the authority, it had abused its authority by setting caps that were too low.  (An intriguing argument in favor of higher rates, was put forth by Mithun Mansinghani, a deputy solicitor general from Oklahoma who got involved in the suit on behalf of Oklahoma.    His argument suggests he must have been one of the top students in his law school class.   He said phone companies should be able to charge higher rates than those that had been set by the FCC, because of the risk they assumed by furnishing phones to prisons.  The prisoners might, he suggested, use the phone to further criminal activity, and should that happen, the phone company might incur liability. The creativity of his theory cannot be overstated.  The possibility that any time a phone is used in furtherance of any criminal activity, whether a ransom demand, or a plan to rob a bank, the bad results flowing from the phone call may be charged to the phone company, is an intriguing one for lawyers and presents the creative lawyer with a whole new arena in which to conduct litigation

In 2017,  a funny thing happened on the way to the phone booth.  Republicans became a majority in, among other places, the FCC.  The Democrats, the authors of the cap when in the majority in the FCC, had left the FCC, and Republicans were then in the majority.  Among their early activities was to roll back the rules that capped the cost of prison phone calls.  The attorneys who had been representing the FCC in upholding the FCC’s 2015 actions, notified the court that they would no longer defend the lower rates that had been set by the democratic majority in 2015.  Since the Court had already set the matter for argument, and declined to postpone the argument, it is not clear as of this writing, where the case is headed.  Where phone rates for prisoners are headed is clear-they are going back up.  The offspring of the white House of Horrors know how to make prisons profit centers.  Phones are one.  Prisons another.  Prisons, however, are a matter for another day.

An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:48

To my classmates in the Class of 2007,

I remember Stephen Miller as a classmate, but my memories of him and of Duke differ from the depiction in your open letter, which praises Duke as home to a plurality of differences, indeed, as an institution so committed to diversity that it did not tolerate (to say nothing of how it might have enabled) the racism and sexism Stephen has articulated and authorized in the ten years since his (our) graduation, and especially as Donald Trump’s speechwriter-cum-advisor.

I recall his bi-weekly tantrums in column entries for our undergraduate student newspaper, The Chronicle, and especially the things Stephen wrote therein about Mexicans, about affirmative action, about Palestinian solidarity, and about black students’ response to former Education Secretary William J. Bennett’s statement that a black genocide (i.e., the abortion of “every black baby in this country”) would dramatically reduce national crime rates—to say nothing of the things he wrote about black women, or of his disdain for Durham’s mostly-black local residents.

Stephen’s opinions about black women, whom he condemned as liars, and about local residents, whom he caricatured as parasites—parasitic in his revisionist reading because Durham’s mostly-black locals exploit Duke’s most-white students—are particularly noteworthy; they converge in testimonials he penned (here, here, here, here, here, especially here, and here, and that’s only recounting his column entries) to redeem the white Lacrosse men who sexually assaulted Crystal Mangum, a single black mother from Durham, on March 13, 2006.

Stephen’s exaltation of the Lacrosse team’s toxic white masculinity was typical of his posture as a Duke student, as self-appointed champion of white supremacy—a strange allegiance, because his access to white privilege, as an ethnic Jew, was then, as it is now, tenuous—and high prince (err, peddler) of what he, instructed by David Horowitz and befriended by Richard Spencer, appropriated to mean “academic freedom”: the preference, in today’s jingoism, for ‘Alt Right’ perspectives in a liberal arts classroom, specifically, in the political makeup of Duke faculty.

In claim after hysterical claim Stephen made to bolster the reputations of the indicted men, this Stephen, like Trump’s Stephen, lamented the fate of white men who in an ostensibly ‘post-racial’ age feel themselves dislodged from atop their perch as vanguards of the social order. His was an appeal not just to the fragility of their white male egos but also to our (Duke’s) liberal need to uphold their rank and file, lest the entire edifice (liberalism itself) come crashing down.

Recall that in the inauguration speech Stephen scripted for him, Trump pledged to white Americans—white nationalists—”You will never be ignored again.” His was (is) a promise to right the alienation whereby they, the proper subjects of the American polity, no longer feel themselves hailed as the protagonists of its story. Stephen thus puppeteers today, on a world stage, what he rehearsed for us, his peers, in the four years we gave him an audience, at Duke.

Lest we forget (and it seems, you have) we were the first to indulge—to publish (The Chronicle is student-operated), read, and share, if only as a piece of salacious gossip—Stephen’s panicked rants about white vulnerability. Consequently, in the ten years since graduation and especially as our reunion looms, I have wondered not how Stephen “became such a horrible person” but about where your (our) outrage was at the moment he opened his mouth to speak, for the first (or the second, or the tenth) time, out loud, the hate by now definitive of his political brand.

I have wondered, too, if Duke’s administrators, who were complacent at the hour of Stephen’s becoming (as an undergraduate) and Richard Spencer’s, too (as a Ph.D. student in the Department of History), have paused in the last year to consider how it came to pass that Duke engendered the ideologues of Trump’s hate; that is, about how the animosity Stephen and Richard fomented as Duke students and which by now exasperates our national culture governs, as a matter of fact and not an inconvenience of circumstance, Duke’s campus culture.

Regrettably, it appears that the administration has not paused to reflect on how it might intentionally curate a different kind of campus culture: one committed to generating the ideas that can induce an/Other world. Instead, it continues to produce students who (at best) are politically apathetic, steeped in a privilege that goads them to entertain even the most vile and violent of ideologies under the liberal democratic guise of a free and open debate of ideas.

We might compare, for example, student reactions to eugenicist Charles Murray’s visit to Duke’s campus on March 21st with the reaction of Middlebury College students on March 2nd. While Middlebury students refused the ruse of a liberal exchange in which Murray’s ideas would, supposedly, be made available to scrutiny—an alibi that assents to the validity of scientific racism precisely because it accommodates a free exchange of ideas on the topic—to make their campus inhospitable to Murray, only four Duke students protested Murray’s appearance on their campus, if they can be said to be Duke students at all; according to some eye-witness testimonials, the protestors were in fact local Durham community members.

As Assistant Professor of History at SUNY Buffalo State and Duke alum Christienna D. Fryar points out, the premise of a “marketplace of ideas,” as that model that prompts us to accommodate Murray’s and Stephen’s biases, does not account for how “exclusionary ideas are seductive beyond their ‘objective’ (if there is such a thing) merits or faults.” Exclusionary ideas like theirs “provide something that is not easily debunked by appeal to reason and argument” because they appeal, instead (also), to our libidinal and affective registers, that is, to the protocols of our visceral, gut, and instinctive reactions—like disgust, which is sutured by the discursive knowledge that persons of color, especially black Others, are accumulable and fungible object-things and not human persons—and by the need for a rationale or logic (an argument) that justifies our unreasonable, stubborn reactions to persons-cum-things of color.

Fryar continues, “choosing not to give someone” like the Stephen Millers and Charles Murrays of the world “a platform,” more to the point, choosing to disrupt and/or make impossible the free exchange of their ideas, does not amount to “squashing their ability to share their ideas.” One “can find [their ideas] in countless forums. [Their] ideas are out there,” poisoning our minds and especially our hearts without the addition of a university’s or college’s endorsement.


If Duke is analogous to the nation that voted for Trump, then Stephen’s hate is our (Duke’s) shame. Perhaps, too, his ascent is the shame of liberal ideology, which as an egalitarian social theory engenders multiculturalism, including its neoliberal variant: colorblind ideology.

The condemnation in your open letter hinges on a disbelief that Stephen might share a campus with marginalized peoples, including “migrants and refugees…who sought American shores for the promise of safety and opportunity,” “young women [who] were the leading lights of seminars and discussions,” “members of the LGBTQ community, some of whom were proudly public [and] others of whom remained in the closet due to fear and stigma,” and “students of color […] from all manner of socioeconomic backgrounds and locales”—specifically, black students who grew up in what today’s Stephen caricatures as “crime-infested, drug-ridden neighborhoods”—and still find himself unmoved to empathize with difference.

By this logic, Stephen’s hate defies his socialization at Duke, more to the point, the language in your open letter suggests that the institution of Duke did not birth Stephen as a “horrible person” because it birthed you as a good liberal citizen-subject of the multiculturalist state. This gesture seems to me insufficient, not least of all because Stephen’s political commitments today are animated, as they were yesterday, in his own words, by a steadfast faith in “the cultural value of individualism and liberty.” His is not, to invoke Ta-Nehisi Coates’ formulation, a “uniquely villainous and morally deformed…ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs,” but the banality of our liberal evil, which accommodated his racism and sexism without the slightest trepidation, to say nothing of we (as a cohort, as a campus, and as a nation) expressly celebrated Stephen’s reprehensible comments about Crystal Mangum, a rape victim.

If multiculturalist liberalism is all Stephen has ever known—born in Santa Monica, California, he is a child of multiculturalist Los Angeles—then it is not exposure to a plurality of peoples that a young Stephen needed to learn how to emphasize with difference, but a kind of miseducation that explained to him how and why it has come to pass that peoples are not equally made. Such a miseducation would clarify that peoples are endowed with varying degrees and kinds of social capital (and that some, like Mangum, proscribed from access to even human recognition, are ineligible for social capital) because they are assigned to incongruous rungs on the social hierarchy Stephen has since high school vigilantly defended as the dominion of white men.

If black women like Mangum occupy, as Hortense Spillers elaborates in her essay “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” (1987) and as the Combahee River Collective before her argued in their Black Feminist Statement (1977), the lowest, most derelict rung of this social hierarchy, that is, if antiblack sexism is the paradigm on which racism and sexism as the structuring grammars of this world and its making wrest—stated another way, if the intersection of antiblack racism and sexism sutures the social-cum-pecking order of this world, including our libidinal energies, or our visceral, guts, and instinctive reactions to persons and things (and persons as things)—then perhaps it was precisely because Stephen’s most vile comments came at the expense of black women, specifically, at the expense of a black single mother, that we, the Class of 2007, were unmoved to stand in his way at Duke, empowering him to articulate the hate that has since given rise to the nation that voted for Trump.

Rather than applaud all the ways in which we are not Stephen Miller, we might interrogate now, especially because we owe our black peers this debt, why of all the ways we are able to empathize with difference, as evidenced by the parade of social groups you identify in the open letter, we still, as a cohort, hold steadfast to the belief that Mangum was not raped by the Lacrosse men who, we seem so conveniently to forget, penetrated (violated) her not with their body parts but with a broomstick—a fact obscured when we recount, in our defense of the indicted men (really, of Duke’s good name, in other words, of our own reputations), that no DNA was found in Mangum’s rape kit. We might additionally recall and repent for the fact that we stood idly by as the Lacrosse men further demanded Mangum be “skinned” and “killed”.

Perhaps the reason why so many of us where silent at the dawn of Stephen’s rise is because we, as good liberal citizen-subjects of the Duke-cum-American polity, like Stephen and his bedfellows in the Alt Right, felt our libidinal energies cathected by the objectification of Mangum’s vulnerable body, doubly sexualized precisely because she is black. We were happy to make the Lacrosse men our heroes if doing so would further marginalize black women (to say nothing of how it criminalized the black locals from whom we distinguished ourselves), in other words, because the violation of her person and psyche functioned to authorize our visceral, gut, and instinctive reactions (of disgust) vis-à-vis black persons and especially black women.

I could not sign your letter, which responds too late and without any self-reflection about your own response to Stephen’s nascent claims as a Duke student (as your peer) about the precarity of whiteness and the dereliction of blackness. I could not bring myself to trade Stephen’s fascist violence with your liberal violence, and I suspect that I am not the only one. We might instead take some accountability as a cohort and Duke might as an institution for providing Stephen with his first podium. Against the liberal democratic doctrine of free speech to which we uncritically subscribe, which as a theater or marketplace of ideas prompts use to entertain a breadth of valuations—a band, it seems, that only ever manages to stretch in one direction (the right’s), more to the point, which has not (cannot) accommodate(d) the radical call for a world that might be Otherwise—another reaction is possible: one approximating the reaction at Middlebury College, in which not every worldview (certainly, not those that embolden indignant white men to assault persons of color, like Stephen’s and Murray’s) is abided.

I am haunted by the knowledge that we could have shut Stephen down at the moment of his becoming, had we been more interested in the psychic and material health of the marginalized peoples with whom we shared our campus than in the doctrine of liberalism; that is, if we had momentarily stepped outside of our own privilege to hold space for those others. This and not the empty gesture in your open letter is what it means to be an ally, specifically, to commit oneself to the response-able use of one’s social capital for the making of an/Other world.

M. Shadee Malaklou is Assistant Professor of Critical Identity Studies at Beloit College.

The Mosque That Disappeared

Counterpunch - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:48

We committed a quiet little war crime the other day. Forty-plus people are dead, taken out with Hellfire missiles while they were praying.

Or maybe not. Maybe they were just insurgents. The women and children, if there were any, were . . . come on, you know the lingo, collateral damage. The Pentagon is going to “look into” allegations that what happened last March 16 in the village of al-Jinah in northern Syria was something more serious than a terrorist takeout operation, which, if you read the official commentary, seems like the geopolitical equivalent of rodent control.

The target was “assessed to be a meeting place for al-Qaeda, and we took the strike,” a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command explained. The strike involved two Reaper (as in Grim Reaper) drones and their payload of Hellfire missiles, plus a 500-pound bomb.

The target, at least according to human rights organizations and civilians on the ground, was a mosque during prayer hour.

“U.S. officials said the strikes . . . had killed ‘dozens’ of militants at a meeting of the terrorist group,” according to the Washington Post. “But local activists and a monitoring group reported that at least 46 people died, and more were trapped under rubble, when the attack struck a mosque during a religious gathering. . . . Photos from the area showed rescue workers pulling mangled bodies from a mound of rubble.”

One local resident told AgenceFrance-Presse: “I saw 15 bodies and lots of body parts in the debris when I arrived. We couldn’t even recognize some of the bodies.”

During the 30 seconds of attention the story garnered, the controversy was whether it was a mosque that was hit or a building across the street from a mosque. The Pentagon even declassified a photo of the bombing aftermath, showing that a small building near the ghastly bomb crater was still standing. However, according to The Intercept: “Activists and first responders say the building that was targeted was a part of the mosque complex — and that the charred rubble shown in the photo was where 300 people were praying when the bombs began to hit.”

Anyway, the news cycle moved on. My initial thought, as I read about the bombing, which was not described as a massacre or slaughter in the mainstream headlines, but remained an “incident,” is that the media have a default agreement on morality: Killing’s OK as long as it’s emotionless, coldly rational and strategic (even if mistakenly so). This is the American way. Coldly strategic murder can be reported in such a way that it fits into the global infrastructure of safety and the control of evil.

But killing is bad if there’s passion involved. Passion is easily linked to “extremism” and wrongthink. The man killed this month by police at Paris’ Orly Airport, for instance, had cried, “I am here to die for Allah — there will be deaths.”

This fits neatly into the moral certainty of the Western world. Compare this to military PR talk, also reported in The Intercept: “The area,” according to a U.S. Navy spokesperson, “was extensively surveilled prior to the strike in order to minimize civilian casualties.”

In both cases, the perpetrators foresaw dead bodies left in the wake of their action. Nevertheless, the American military machine carefully avoided the public’s, or the media’s, moral disapproval. And geopolitics remains a game of good vs. evil: as morally complex as 10-year-old boys playing cowboys and Indians.

What I had not foreseen was how quickly the story would disappear from the news cycle. It simply couldn’t compete with the Trump cacophony of tweets and lies and whatever else passes for the news that America consumes. This adds a whole new dimension of media indifference to the actual cost of war, but I guess no nation could wage endless war if its official media made a big deal out of every mosque or hospital it (mistakenly) bombed, or put human faces on all its collateral damage.

I write this with sarcasm and irony, but what I feel is a troubled despair too deep to fathom. Global humanity, led by the United States of America, the planet’s primo superpower, is devolving into a state of perpetual war. It has caged itself into unending self-hatred.

“The way in which U.S. militarism is taken for granted,” Maya Schenwar writes at Truthout, “mirrors the ways in which other forms of mass violence are deemed inevitable — policing, deportation, the genocide and erasure of Indigenous peoples, the exploitative market-driven health care system, the vastly inequitable education system and disastrous environmental policies. The generally accepted logic tells us that these things will remain with us: The best we can hope for, according to this narrative, is modest reform amid monstrous violence.

“We have to choose,” she says, “life-giving priorities over violent ones. We have to stop granting legitimacy to all forms of state violence.”

Yes, yes, but how? The necessity of war has not been challenged at official levels of power in this country in more than four decades. The corporate media grants legitimacy to state violence more by what it doesn’t say than by what it does. Bombed mosques simply disappear from the news and, voila, they never happened. Liars had a global forum to promote the invasion of Iraq, while those who questioned it had to loose their outrage from street corners. “Collateral damage” is a linguistic blur, a magician’s cape, hiding mass murder.

And Donald Trump is under the control of the militarized far right as well as his own clueless immaturity. Of course his new budget, released, as Schenwar points out, on the anniversary of the My Lai Massacre, ups the military allotment by $54 billion and gouges social spending. As we protest and write letters to Congress and express our shock and awe at what is happening, let us keep in mind that Trump merely puts a face on America’s out-of-control militarism. He didn’t create it.

For the protests against his budget cuts to be effective, for the roiling turmoil to matter, a new country must be in formation.