Archive | January 8th, 2020

Biden and Buttigieg

Biden and Buttigieg Are Showing How Corporatism and ‘the Madness of Militarism’ Go Together


There’s nothing like an illegal and utterly reckless U.S. act of war to illuminate the political character of presidential candidates. In the days since the assassination of Iran’s top military official, two of the highest-polling Democratic contenders have displayed the kind of moral cowardice that got the United States into — and kept it in — horrific wars from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Eager to hedge their bets, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg have offered merely tactical critiques of President Trump’s decision to kill Qassim Suleimani. In sharp contrast to Elizabeth Warren and especially Bernie Sanders, the gist of the responses from Biden and Buttigieg amounted to criticizing the absence of a game plan for an atrocious game that should never be played in the first place.

Many journalists have noted that only in recent days has foreign policy become prominent in the race for the 2020 nomination. But what remains to be addressed is the confluence of how Biden and Buttigieg approach the roles of the U.S. government in class war at home and military war abroad — both for the benefit of corporate elites.

Let’s be clear: More than 50 years ago, when Martin Luther King Jr. bravely condemned “the madness of militarism,” he was directly challenging those who included the political ancestors of the likes of Buttigieg and Biden — Democratic politicians willing to wink and nod at vast death and destruction, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, equivocating while claiming that the war machinery would operate better in their hands.

On war-related issues, Buttigieg’s rhetorical mix offers something for just about anyone. “Mr. Buttigieg is campaigning as an antiwar veteran,” the New York Times oddly reported in a Jan. 5 news article. Yet on the same day, during a CNN interview about the drone killing, Buttigieg functioned more as a war enabler than opponent.

In response to anchor Jake Tapper’s first question — “Are you saying that President Trump deserves some credit for the strike?” — Buttigieg equivocated: “No, not until we know whether this was a good decision and how this decision was made, and the president has failed to demonstrate that.” His elaborations were littered with statements like “we need answers on whether this is part of a meaningful strategy.”

As for Biden, in recent months his shameful war-enabling history has drawn more attention while he continues to lie about it. And — given how hugely profitable endless wars have been for military contractors — Biden’s chronic enabling should be put in a wider context of his longtime service to corporate profiteering on a massive scale.

Biden has no interest in discussing his actual five-decade history of serving corporate power, which can only discredit the renewed “Lunch Bucket Joe” pretenses of his campaign. Meanwhile, as Buttigieg gained in the polls amid a widening flood of donations from Wall Street and other bastions of wealth, he moved away from initial claims of supporting such progressive measures as Medicare for All.

The military-industrial complex, inherently corporate, needs politicians like Biden and Buttigieg. One generation after another, they claim special geopolitical (Biden) or technocratic (Buttigieg) expertise while striving to project warm personas in front of cameras. The equivalents, one might say, of happy-face stickers on corpses.

Such dedicated political services to militarism are also political services to the corporate power of oligarchy.

Political positions on class warfare don’t always run parallel to positions on military warfare. But they have now clearly aligned in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Days ago, Bernie Sanders summed up: “I know that it is rarely the children of the billionaire class who face the agony of reckless foreign policy, it is the children of working families.”

One of the many reasons I’m actively supporting Sanders for president is that (although hardly flawless) his track record on military spending, war and foreign policy is much better than the records of his opponents.

Devastating impacts of nonstop war are all around us in the United States, from deadly federal budget priorities to traumatic effects of normalized violence. And it’s difficult to grasp the magnitude of harm to so many millions of human beings in other countries. Sometimes, while trying to clear away the fog of the USA’s political and media abstractions, I think of people I met in Baghdad and Kabul and Tehran, their lives no less precious than yours or mine.

Posted in Middle East, USA, Iran, IraqComments Off on Biden and Buttigieg

A Report Card on the American Project


Thirty years ago this month, President George H.W. Bush appeared before a joint session of Congress to deliver his first State of the Union Address, the first post-Cold War observance of this annual ritual. Just weeks before, the Berlin Wall had fallen. That event, the president declared, “marks the beginning of a new era in the world’s affairs.” The Cold War, that “long twilight struggle” (as President John F. Kennedy so famously described it), had just come to an abrupt end. A new day was dawning. President Bush seized the opportunity to explain just what that dawning signified.

“There are singular moments in history, dates that divide all that goes before from all that comes after,” the president said. The end of World War II had been just such a moment. In the decades that followed, 1945 provided “the common frame of reference, the compass points of the postwar era we’ve relied upon to understand ourselves.” Yet the hopeful developments of the year just concluded — Bush referred to them collectively as “the Revolution of ’89” — had initiated “a new era in the world’s affairs.”

While many things were certain to change, the president felt sure that one element of continuity would persist: the United States would determine history’s onward course. “America, not just the nation but an idea,” he emphasized, is and was sure to remain “alive in the minds of people everywhere.”

“As this new world takes shape, America stands at the center of a widening circle of freedom — today, tomorrow, and into the next century. Our nation is the enduring dream of every immigrant who ever set foot on these shores and the millions still struggling to be free. This nation, this idea called America, was and always will be a new world — our new world.”

Bush had never shown himself to be a particularly original or imaginative thinker. Even so, during a long career in public service, he had at least mastered the art of packaging sentiments deemed appropriate for just about any occasion. The imagery he employed in this instance — America occupying the center of freedom’s widening circle — did not stake out a new claim devised for fresh circumstances. That history centered on what Americans professed or did expressed a hallowed proposition, one with which his listeners were both familiar and comfortable. Indeed, Bush’s description of America as a perpetually self-renewing enterprise engaged in perfecting freedom summarized the essence of the nation’s self-assigned purpose.

In his remarks to Congress, the president was asserting a prerogative that his predecessors had long ago appropriated: interpreting the zeitgeist in such a way as to merge past, present, and future into a seamless, self-congratulatory, and reassuring narrative of American power. He was describing history precisely as Americans — or at least privileged Americans — wished to see it. He was, in other words, speaking a language in which he was fluent: the idiom of the ruling class.

As the year 1990 began, duty — destiny, even — was summoning members of that ruling class to lead not just this country, but the planet itself and not just for a decade or two, or even for an “era,” but forever and a day. In January 1990, the way ahead for the last superpower on planet Earth — the Soviet Union would officially implode in 1991 but its fate already seemed obvious enough — was clear indeed.

So, How’d We Do?

Thirty years later, perhaps it’s time to assess just how well the United States has fulfilled the expectations President Bush articulated in 1990. Personally, I would rate the results somewhere between deeply disappointing and flat-out abysmal.

Bush’s “circle of freedom” invoked a planet divided between the free and the unfree. During the Cold War, this distinction had proven useful even if it was never particularly accurate. Today, it retains no value whatsoever as a description of the actually existing world, even though in Washington it persists, as does the conviction that the U.S. has a unique responsibility to expand that circle.

Encouraged by ambitious politicians and ideologically driven commentators, many (though not all) Americans bought into a militarized, Manichean, vastly oversimplified conception of the Cold War. Having misconstrued its meaning, they misconstrued the implications of its passing, leaving them ill-prepared to see through the claptrap in President Bush’s 1990 State of the Union Address.

Bush depicted the “Revolution of ‘89” as a transformative moment in world history. In fact, the legacy of that moment has proven far more modest than he imagined. As a turning point in the history of the modern world, the end of the Cold War ranks slightly above the invention of the machine gun (1884), but well below the fall of Russia’s Romanov dynasty (1917) or the discovery of penicillin (1928). Among the factors shaping the world in which we now live, the outcome of the Cold War barely registers.

Fairness obliges me to acknowledge two exceptions to that broad claim, one pertaining to Europe and the other to the United States.

First, the end of the Cold War led almost immediately to a Europe made “whole and free” thanks to the collapse of the Soviet empire. Yet while Poles, Lithuanians, the former citizens of the German Democratic Republic, and other Eastern Europeans are certainly better off today than they were under the Kremlin’s boot, Europe itself plays a significantly diminished role in world affairs. In healing its divisions, it shrank, losing political clout. Meanwhile, in very short order, new cleavages erupted in the Balkans, Spain, and even the United Kingdom, with the emergence of a populist right calling into question Europe’s assumed commitment to multicultural liberalism.

In many respects, the Cold War began as an argument over who would determine Europe’s destiny. In 1989, our side won that argument. Yet, by then, the payoff to which the United States laid claim had largely been depleted. Europe’s traditional great powers were no longer especially great. After several centuries in which global politics had centered on that continent, Europe had suddenly slipped to the periphery. In practice, “whole and free” turned out to mean “preoccupied and anemic,” with Europeans now engaging in their own acts of folly. Three decades after the “Revolution of ’89,” Europe remains an attractive tourist destination. Yet, from a geopolitical perspective, the action has long since moved elsewhere.

The second exception to the Cold War’s less than momentous results relates to U.S. attitudes toward military power. For the first time in its history, the onset of the Cold War had prompted the United States to create and maintain a powerful peacetime military establishment. The principal mission of that military was to defend, deter, and contain. While it would fight bitter wars in Korea and Vietnam, its advertised aim was to avert armed conflicts or, at least, keep them from getting out of hand. In that spirit, the billboard at the entrance to the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command, the Pentagon’s principal Cold War nuclear strike force (which possessed the means to extinguish humankind), reassuringly announced that “peace is our profession.”

When the Cold War ended, however, despite the absence of any real threats to U.S. security, Washington policymakers decided to maintain the mightiest armed forces on the planet in perpetuity. Negligible debate preceded this decision, which even today remains minimally controversial. That the United States should retain military capabilities far greater than those of any other nation or even combination of numerous other nations seemed eminently sensible.

In appearance or configuration, the post-Cold War military differed little from what it had looked like between the 1950s and 1989. Yet the armed forces of the United States now took on a radically different, far more ambitious mission: to impose order and spread American values globally, while eliminating obstacles deemed to impede those efforts. During the Cold War, policymakers had placed a premium on holding U.S. forces in readiness. Now, the idea was to put “the troops” to work. Power projection became the name of the game.

Just a month prior to his State of the Union Address, President Bush himself had given this approach a test run, ordering U.S. forces to intervene in Panama, overthrow the existing government there, and install in its place one expected to be more compliant. The president now neatly summarized the outcome of that action in three crisp sentences. “One year ago,” he announced, “the people of Panama lived in fear, under the thumb of a dictator. Today democracy is restored; Panama is free. Operation Just Cause has achieved its objective.”

Mission accomplished: end of story. Here, it seemed, was a template for further application globally.

As it happened, however, Operation Just Cause proved to be the exception rather than the rule. Intervention in Panama did inaugurate a period of unprecedented American military activism. In the years that followed, U.S. forces invaded, occupied, bombed, or raided an astonishing array of countries. Rarely, however, was the outcome as tidy as it had been in Panama, where the fighting lasted a mere five days. Untidy and protracted conflicts proved more typical of the post-Cold War U.S. experience, with the Afghanistan War, a futile undertaking now in its 19th year, a notable example. The present-day U.S. military qualifies by any measure as highly professional, much more so than its Cold War predecessor. Yet the purpose of today’s professionals is not to preserve peace but to fight unending wars in distant places.

Intoxicated by a post-Cold War belief in its own omnipotence, the United States allowed itself to be drawn into a long series of armed conflicts, almost all of them yielding unintended consequences and imposing greater than anticipated costs. Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. forces have destroyed many targets and killed many people. Only rarely, however, have they succeeded in accomplishing their assigned political purposes. From a military perspective — except perhaps in the eyes of the military-industrial complex — the legacy of the “Revolution of ‘89” turned out to be almost entirely negative.

A Broken Compass

So, contrary to President Bush’s prediction, the fall of the Berlin Wall did not inaugurate a “new era in world affairs” governed by “this idea called America.” It did, however, accelerate Europe’s drift toward geopolitical insignificance and induced in Washington a sharp turn toward reckless militarism — neither of which qualifies as cause for celebration.

Yet today, 30 years after Bush’s 1990 State of the Union, a “new era of world affairs” is indeed upon us, even if it bears scant resemblance to the order Bush expected to emerge. If his “idea called America” did not shape the contours of this new age, then what has?

Answer: all the things post-Cold War Washington policy elites misunderstood or relegated to the status of afterthought. Here are three examples of key factors that actually shaped the present era. Notably, each had its point of origin prior to the end of the Cold War. Each came to maturity while U.S. policymakers, hypnotized by the “Revolution of ’89,” were busily trying to reap the benefits they fancied to be this country’s for the taking. Each far surpasses in significance the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The “Rise” of China: The China that we know today emerged from reformsinstituted by Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping, which transformed the People’s Republic into an economic powerhouse. No nation in history, including the United States, has ever come close to matching China’s spectacular ascent. In just three decades, its per capita gross domestic product skyrocketed from $156 in 1978 to $9,771 in 2017.

The post-Cold War assumption common among American elites that economic development would necessarily prompt political liberalization turned out to be wishful thinking. In Beijing today, the Communist Party remains firmly in control. Meanwhile, as illustrated by its “Belt and Road” initiative, China has begun to assert itself globally, while simultaneously enhancing the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army. In all of this, the United States — apart from borrowing from China to pay for an abundance of its imported products (now well over a half-trillion dollars of them annually) — has figured as little more than a bystander. As China radically alters the balance of power in twenty-first-century East Asia, the outcome of the Cold War has no more relevance than does Napoleon’s late-eighteenth-century expedition to Egypt.

A Resurgence of Religious Extremism: Like the poor, religious fanatics will always be with us. They come in all stripes: Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims. Yet implicit in the American idea that lay at the heart of Bush’s State of the Union Address was an expectation of modernity removing religion from politics. That the global advance of secularization would lead to the privatization of faith was accepted as a given in elite circles. After all, the end of the Cold War ostensibly left little to fight about. With the collapse of communism and the triumph of democratic capitalism, all the really big questions had been settled. That religiously inspired political violence would become a crucial factor in global politics therefore seemed inconceivable.

Yet a full decade before the “Revolution of ’89,” events were already shredding that expectation. In November 1979, radical Islamists shocked the House of Saud by seizing the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Although local security forces regained control after a bloody gun battle, the Saudi royal family resolved to prevent any recurrence of such a disaster by demonstrating beyond the shadow of a doubt its own fealty to the teachings of Allah. It did so by expending staggering sums throughout the Ummah to promote a puritanical form of Islam known as Wahhabism.

In effect, Saudi Arabia became the principal underwriter of what would morph into Islamist terror. For Osama bin Laden and his militant followers, the American idea to which President Bush paid tribute that January in 1990 was blasphemous, intolerable, and a justification for war. Lulled by a belief that the end of the Cold War had yielded a definitive victory, the entire U.S. national security apparatus would be caught unawares in September 2001 when religious warriors assaulted New York and Washington. Nor was the political establishment prepared for the appearance of violence perpetrated by domestic religious extremists. During the Cold War, it had become fashionable to declare God dead. That verdict turned out to be premature.

The Assault on Nature: From its inception, the American idea so lavishly praised by President Bush in 1990 had allowed, even fostered, the exploitation of the natural world based on a belief in Planet Earth’s infinite capacity to absorb punishment. During the Cold War, critics like Rachel Carson, author of the pioneering environmental book Silent Spring, had warned against just such an assumption. While their warnings received respectful hearings, they elicited only modest corrective action.

Then, in 1988, a year prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, in testimony before Congress, NASA scientist James Hansen issued a far more alarming warning: human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, was inducing profound changes in the global climate with potentially catastrophic consequences. (Of course, a prestigious scientific advisory committee had offered just such a warning to President Lyndon Johnson more than two decades earlier, predicting the early twenty-first-century effects of climate change, to no effect whatsoever.)

To put it mildly, President Bush and other members of the political establishment did not welcome Hansen’s analysis. After all, to take him seriously meant admitting to the necessity of modifying a way of life centered on self-indulgence, rather than self-restraint. At some level, perpetuating the American penchant for material consumption and personal mobility had described the ultimate purpose of the Cold War. Bush could no more tell Americans to settle for less than he could imagine a world order in which the United States no longer occupied “the center of a widening circle of freedom.”

Some things were sacrosanct. As he put it on another occasion, “The American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period.”

So while President Bush was not an outright climate-change denier, he temporized. Talk took precedence over action. He thereby set a pattern to which his successors would adhere, at least until the Trump years. To thwart communism during the Cold War, Americans might have been willing to “pay any price, bear any burden.” Not so when it came to climate change. The Cold War itself had seemingly exhausted the nation’s capacity for collective sacrifice. So, on several fronts, the assault on nature continues and is even gaining greater momentum.

In sum, from our present vantage point, it becomes apparent that the “Revolution of ‘89” did not initiate a new era of history. At most, the events of that year fostered various unhelpful illusions that impeded our capacity to recognize and respond to the forces of change that actually matter.

Restoring the American compass to working order won’t occur until we recognize those illusions for what they are. Step one might be to revise what “this idea called America” truly signifies.

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Meet the CEOs Cashing In on Trump’s Aggression Against Iran


CEOs of major U.S. military contractors stand to reap huge windfalls from the escalation of conflict with Iran. This was evident in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. assassination of a top Iranian military official last week. As soon as the news reached financial markets, these companies’ share prices spiked, inflating the value of their executives’ stock-based pay.

I took a look at how the CEOs at the top five Pentagon contractors were affected by this surge, using the most recent SEC information on their stock holdings.

Northrop Grumman executives saw the biggest increase in the value of their stocks after the U.S. airstrike that killed Qasem Suleimani on January 2. Shares in the B-2 bomber maker rose 5.43 percent by the end of trading the following day.

Wesley Bush, who turned Northrop Grumman’s reins over to Kathy Warden last year, held 251,947 shares of company stock in various trusts as of his final SEC Form 4 filing in May 2019. (Companies must submit these reports when top executives and directors buy and sell company stock.) Assuming Bush is still sitting on that stockpile, he saw the value grow by $4.9 million to a total of $94.5 million last Friday.

New Northrop Grumman CEO Warden saw the 92,894 shares she’d accumulated as the firm’s COO expand in value by more than $2.7 million in just one day of post-assassination trading.

Lockheed Martin, whose Hellfire missiles were reportedly used in the attack at the Baghdad airport, saw a 3.6 percent increase in price per share on January 3. Marillyn Hewson, CEO of the world’s largest weapon maker, may be kicking herself for selling off a considerable chunk of stock last year when it was trading at around $307. Nevertheless, by the time Lockheed shares reached $413 at the closing bell, her remaining stash had increased in value by about $646,000.

What about the manufacturer of the MQ-9 Reaper that carried the Hellfire missiles? That would be General Atomics. Despite raking in $2.8 billion in taxpayer-funded contracts in 2018, the drone maker is not required to disclose executive compensation information because it is a privately held corporation.

We do know General Atomics CEO Neal Blue is worth an estimated $4.1 billion — and he’s a major investor in oil production, a sector that also stands to profit from conflict with a major oil-producing country like Iran.

*Resigned 12/22/19. **Resigned 1/1/19 while staying on as chairman until 7/19. New CEO Kathy Warden accumulated 92,894 shares in her previous position as Northrop Grumman COO.

Suleimani’s killing also inflated the value of General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic’s fortune. As the weapon maker’s share price rose about 1 percentage point on January 3, the former CIA official saw her stock holdings increase by more than $1.2 million.

Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy saw a single-day increase in his stock of more than half a million dollars, as the missile and bomb manufacturer’s share price increased nearly 1.5 percent. Boeing stock remained flat on Friday. But Dennis Muilenberg, recently ousted as CEO over the 737 aircraft scandal, appears to be well-positioned to benefit from any continued upward drift of the defense sector.

As of his final Form 4 report, Muilenburg was sitting on stock worth about $47.7 million. In his yet to be finalized exit package, the disgraced former executive could also pocket huge sums of currently unvested stock grants.

Hopefully sanity will soon prevail and the terrifyingly high tensions between the Trump administration and Iran will de-escalate. But even if the military stock surge of this past Friday turns out to be a market blip, it’s a sobering reminder of who stands to gain the most from a war that could put millions of lives at risk.

We can put an end to dangerous war profiteering by denying federal contracts to corporations that pay their top executives excessively. In 2008, John McCain, then a Republican presidential candidate, proposed capping CEO pay at companies receiving taxpayer bailouts at no more than $400,000 (the salary of the U.S. president). That notion should be extended to companies that receive massive taxpayer-funded contracts.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, for instance, has a plan to deny federal contracts to companies that pay CEOs more than 150 times what their typical worker makes.

As long as we allow the top executives of our privatized war economy to reap unlimited rewards, the profit motive for war in Iran — or anywhere — will persist.

Posted in USA, IranComments Off on Meet the CEOs Cashing In on Trump’s Aggression Against Iran

The Incoherence of U.S. Policy in the Middle East


Donald Trump’s decision to kill Qassim Suleimani, the most influential figure in Iran other than the Ayatollah Khamenei, will increase the terrorist threat to the United States and the global community.  Suleimani’s death has already provoked widespread outrage in Iraq and Iran among the Shiia populations.  Prior to the killing, Iraqi leaders were campaigning against Iran’s military presence in their country.  Now, the Iraqi Parliament has called for the removal of the U.S. military presence.  The decision has created more tactical and terrorist opportunities for the Islamic State as the United States has decided to cease operations against the Islamic State.

Trump’s decision has undermined fundamental U.S. decisions in every way, particularly the need to forestall terrorist threats; protect friends and allies; and prevent Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  The Trump administration has enhanced Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to improve relations with Iraq and Iran; caused controversy and even dissent within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; and further exposed the instability and ignorance of Trump’s national security team.  Since the decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear accord, the European co-signers of that agreement along with Russia and China, have questioned the wisdom of Washington’s international actions.

Trump’s interest in withdrawing U.S. forces from the region has created problems for Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish populations and has made Iraq’s Shiia population more vulnerable to Iran’s influence.  Iraq has a legitimate fear of becoming the central battleground in a military confrontation between Iran and the United States.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. administrations have compromised the strategic stability of the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and Southwest Asia.  The invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 quickly removed the al Qaeda presence in that country, but our prolonged stay there has been a strategic nightmare.  The Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, which was doomed from the start, targeted the wrong enemy and created the conditions for the current instability throughout the region.  The ignorance and deceit of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney has been trumped.

Less than a year after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asked his senior military commanders whether the United States was creating terrorists faster than it could eliminate them.  By then, Rumsfeld and other senior officials of the Bush administration knew that there would be no discovery of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the war’s human and financial costs would be immense, and that anti-American attitudes would strengthen in the Arab world and elsewhere.

Over the past two decades, U.S. policies have contributed to the metastasizing of al Qaeda into a diffuse global movement and propaganda organization that inspires terrorists of all stripes, and intensified anti-Americanism and radical militancy in the Moslem world.  The huge costs of the “global war on terror” have compromised our ability to fund key domestic programs at home.  Meanwhile, the Taliban appear poised to resume power in Afghanistan, and the  constitutional and electoral challenges that confronted Iraq in the wake of the death of Saddam Hussein are no closer to resolution.

Ironically, the United States is primarily responsible for the significant increase in Iran’s geopolitical influence in the region.  The immediate elimination of the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001 removed the greatest challenge to Tehran on its eastern border.  The removal of Saddam Hussein ended Tehran’s greatest problem on its western border.  U.S. use of force presented Iran with freedom of maneuver that it has exploited throughout the region, particularly in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.

Iran was working secretly with the United States to resolve problems in Afghanistan and elsewhere until George Bush incomprehensibly branded Iran as part of the “axis of evil.”  Bush’s speech was written by Michael Gerson, a leading oped writer for the Washington Post, who now believes that the killing of Suleimani “could be a useful turning point in the containment of Iran.”

Gerson credits Trump with the creation of a “red line” that creates a “new strategic reality” that forms the basis for useful diplomatic talks involving Iran” and our “Arab allies.”  In other words, the President of the United States who favors the targeting of Iran’s most important cultural sites in Persepolis and Isfahan, and the Secretary of State who favors regime change in Iran are credited with creating a new policy that offers the “hope of deterrence.”  Gerson blithely concludes that “even if it results in some difficult consequences, we should hope it succeeds.”

Meanwhile, the United States is building up its force presence in the region with the deployment of B-52 strategic bombers and thousands of soldiers and marines.  Nevertheless, Dana Priest, the Washington Post’s intelligence reporter, believes that the U.S. military “would revolt and there would be no pilots to fly these missions,” if war was launched against Iran.  And she isn’t alone in taking this position.  Former CIA director and retired Air Force general Michael Hayden believes there is a “legitimate possibility that the U.S. military would refuse to follow orders in violation of international laws of armed conflict.”

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has pushed back against the idea of targeting Iran’s cultural sites but, unlike his predecessor James Mattis, there is no reason to believe that Esper, like Pompeo, will try to counter Trump’s use of military power.  Pompeo and Esper, classmates at West Point in the 1980s, have formed a dangerous partnership in the Trump administration. Two other classmates, Ulrich Brechbuhl and Brian Bulato, are senior advisors to Pompeo at the State Department.

Since Iran has not attacked the United States and the UN Security Council has not authorized the use of force against Iran, any U.S. attack would be considered a violation of international law.  Like the attack on Iraq in 2003, it would create more enemies and terrorists than could ever be eliminated.

Trump’s call for additional sanctions against Iraq in the wake of its parliamentary vote to expel U.S. forces from Iraqi territory indicates that his administration has no intention to resort to diplomacy to repair the situation with Baghdad, let alone with Tehran.  The Department of Defense has become the major institutional mover in the implementation of U.S. national security policy; the institutional role of the Department of State has largely faded from view.

The declaration of a “global war on terror” may have been appreciated by certain domestic audiences in the United States, but it has been an overwhelming failure throughout the global community.  The policy has preoccupied the American national security process; compromised the needed debate on policy toward Russia and China; and created the impression that U.S. use of military power is a first, and not a last, resort.  There are important questions to be raised regarding U.S. policy toward the Middle East and the utility of U.S. power in the region, but Trump’s egregious decision to target Suleimani is the latest obstacle to such a deliberation.

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Tax Amazon: Strike While the Iron is Hot


Photograph Source: Backbone Campaign – CC BY 2.0

The history of American capitalism is full of corporate bullying, threats and even violence against working people when we stand up for our rights.

Yet in spite of Amazon’s all-out, attempted hostile corporate takeover of Seattle City Hall this year, working people just beat the richest man in the world by running perhaps the strongest grassroots campaign ever in our city. When we fight, we can win.

Going into next year, we should take another page from the book of successful working class struggle: we need to strike while the iron is hot.

Most of the time, the institutions of capitalism ensure that the balance of political power is on the side of the super rich, because they own industry, much of the media, and most politicians.

So when working people have momentum on our side, we need to fully seize on it.

We have both an opportunity and a responsibility. According to the Regional Affordable Housing Task Force, King County needs 244,000 additional affordable homes by 2040 to address the Seattle area’s deep housing crisis.

We cannot afford to accept the broken status quo.

That is why on January 13th, Socialist Alternative and I, along with other progressive, renters’ rights, labor, and socialist organizations and activists, will be kicking off the 2020 Tax Amazon struggle with a rally at Washington Hall. This will be combined with my inauguration to my third term on the City Council, where Sara Nelson, International President of the American Flight Attendants Association, will be swearing me in.

At that event, we will be re-launching Tax Amazon as a grassroots organization to fight for a strong tax on Seattle’s biggest businesses to fund social housing.

Sara Nelson played a leading role in defeating President Trump’s anti-immigrant government shutdown at the start of 2019. By preparing the ground for a general strike, organized flight attendants and air traffic controllers scared Trump and the GOP into submission.

In her must-read article in Jacobin earlier this year, Sara Nelson notes, “People think power is a limited resource, but using power builds power. Once workers get a taste of our power, we will not settle for a bad deal. And we won’t stand by while someone else gets screwed, either.”

I believe this speaks directly to the kind of solidarity and fighting strategy that will be needed this year in our struggle to tax big business.

Lessons from 2018

In 2018, our movement had a modest and well-founded mission when it initiated the Amazon Tax on our city’s biggest businesses: to urgently begin to address one of the nation’s worst affordable housing and homlessness crises.

Our state and city also have the nation’s most regressive tax system, where working and middle class people carry the overwhelming burden while the corporate elite enjoy a virtual tax haven.

Yet this didn’t stop Jeff Bezos from threatening to move 7,000 jobs out of our city and going all out to avoid paying even a small part of Amazon’s fair share in taxes.

Over the same period, Amazon executives met with City governments all over the country trying to extract the maximum in corporate blood money in exchange for HQ2, while working people and activists fought back. Alongside this, Amazon workers have moved into struggle, from joining the Climate Strikes to warehouse workers fighting to unionize in the face of horrific conditions to tech worker struggles like #TechWontBuildIt.

I fully agree with what Bernie Sanders said earlier this year: “If there is going to be class warfare in this country, it’s about time the working class won that war.”

The Amazon Tax is a historic opportunity to win a battle in that war, but first we need to get organized. And we must recognize up front: Amazon and the real estate lobby will fight us tooth and nail every step of the way.

A Mandate for Progressive Taxation

Seattle’s election results represent a mandate for taxing big business for vital services. Amazon’s candidates were roundly defeated and voters instead chose to elect a more progressive Council. A recent poll showed that an overwhelming majority of Seattle voters — 75% — now support taxing big business.

People are increasingly rejecting the snake oil of Reaganesque supply-side arguments and looking for real solutions. Our movement must emphasise the need for a strong Amazon Tax to fund a major expansion of social housing — publicly-owned, high-quality, permanently affordable rental homes. Like rent control, social housing has played a key role in providing a lifeline of housing stability and affordability where it has been won.

But big business will fiercely oppose our efforts.

Some newly elected or re-elected Councilmembers are already signalling their reluctance to lead on this issue, including Andrew Lewis and Alex Pederson, who have indicated they do not support the tax.

Even progressive Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who was re-elected over her Amazon-backed opponent, said she wasn’t necessarily prepared to support the tax “out of the gate in 2020” and that perhaps it should be put on the ballot. While a ballot initiative may well be exactly what happens, I don’t think Councilmembers elected on a progressive mandate should pass the buck, and my office has already begun preparing an Amazon Tax ordinance.

Our movement can’t afford to put its faith in the political establishment. Working people need to prepare to take the lead ourselves.

How the $15 Minimum Wage Was Won

We can look to the example of the $15 minimum wage fight in Seattle for how we can win this year.

After the labor movement’s victory in SeaTac in 2013 and my grassroots election campaign’s fight for a $15 minimum wage in Seattle, the issue had been put squarely on the table.

But it took a movement to win it.

In January of 2014, when I first took office as Seattle’s socialist City Councilmember, Socialist Alternative and I launched 15 Now.

We started with a rally at Seattle’s Labor Temple, then held a series of organizing conferences, built neighborhood action groups, and marched for $15/hr. We ramped up toward our 15 Now activist conference while we prepared a ballot measure to take to the November election, if necessary.

We said clearly that our ballot measure was an “insurance policy” so that the City Council would be less likely to shirk its responsibility under pressure from big business. If the Council did pass a strong $15 ordinance, we would not turn in the signatures we had gathered to trigger our ballot measure. But if it didn’t, 15 Now was prepared to take $15/hr directly to voters in November.

It worked. And the rest is history, as they say.

On June 5th, under pressure the Council passed the historic citywide ordinance on $15/hr. Big business had formally agreed to a proposal negotiated in the minimum wage committee (IACC) setup by then Mayor Murray, under the threat of our ballot initiative. In fact, business leaders later commented that they would never have agreed to the ordinance had it not been for fear of a stronger $15 being passed by voters.

A New Decade, a New Era of Class Struggle

I believe there is a similar momentum now for the Amazon Tax as there was for $15, following elections where each became the defining issue.

However, we should have no illusions that any promises from big business will hold. Our movement again needs to be prepared to go all the way to the November ballot.

Since Seattle passed the $15 minimum wage, workers and young people have been further empowered by other tremendous examples of organizing and class struggle, as we saw with the historic victories of teachers in West Virginia and in the other Red State strikes in 2018. We should look to those lessons also — militant organizing is what gets the goods.

If you’re in Seattle, I hope you will join us at our Tax Amazon launch rally on January 13. We will be holding a second event on January 25th, an activist conference like the one we organized for 15 Now, so that our movement can come together to democratically discuss and decide strategy, including the potential ballot initiative, what it should look like, and how the tax can best be used.

Our goal should be to build the broadest possible grassroots struggle to win a strong Amazon Tax, without limiting ourselves to what is acceptable to the political establishment.

Let’s start 2020 with a bang and help begin a new decade of working class power.

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The Amazon at a Tipping Point


Photograph Source: Anna & Michal – CC BY 2.0

The Amazon rainforest is a crucial life-support ecosystem. Without its wondrous strength and power to generate hydrologic systems across the sky (as far north as Iowa), absorb and store carbon (CO2), and its miraculous life-giving endless supply of oxygen, civilization would cease to exist beyond scattered tribes, here and there.

Sad to say, a recent scientific analysis of the health of the Amazon rainforest is downright dismal. The world’s two leading Amazon scientists, Thomas Lovejoy (George Mason University) and Carlos Nobre (University of Sao Paulo) recently reported: “Today, we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now.” (Source: Amazon Tipping Point: Last Chance for Action, Science Advances, Vol. 5, no. 12, December 20, 2019).

That’s one of the most devastating news stories in all of human history. Ergo, the persistent climate change headache morphs into a head-splitting pounding migraine of monstrous proportions.

It’s lamentable that world leadership does not take seriously the potential of major ecosystems dying in plain sight. This story should have world leaders shaking in their boots. But, by all appearances, no one is chagrined, other than the scientists who conducted the research.

Tipping points are final acts in nature, points of no return for ecosystems, as functionality turns sour. Regarding the vastness of the Amazonian rainforest, its functionality is so worldly powerful that loss is incomprehensible and likely a final act for civilized, as well as uncivilized, life on the planet. The mighty Amazon is a principal source of oxygen as well as the main driver of hemispheric hydrologic systems (rivers in the sky), impacting rainfall patterns as far away as the cornfields of Iowa.

The Amazon at a tipping point is equivalent to: Nobody knows for sure because it’s never happened before, but there are no positives.

In fact, it’s unimaginable, literally beyond comprehension. Yet, it’s started right before an eyes wide shut world community. And, it’s entirely the result of stupid humans doing really stupid things, like stripping away “the majestic rainforests of all ages” in exchange for “fleeting human needs.” Honestly, it’s true!

According to the scientists, current trends threaten (1) to turn parts of the rainforest into savanna, (2) devastate wildlife, and (3) release billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. As it is starting to happen, the Amazon is becoming an “emitter of carbon”; same as coal power plants.

Lovejoy and Nobre decided to ring the trusty carillon on the public square: “Witnessing the acceleration of troubling trends. The combination of (1) warming temperatures, (2) crippling wildfires, and (3) ongoing land clearing for cattle ranching and crops has extended dry seasons, killed off water-sensitive vegetation and created conditions for more fire.”

Not only that, global warming induces severe bouts of drought that repeatedly hit the Amazon hard, actually weakening its powerful core. Three 100-year droughts have hit in just 10 years! According to NASA, serious episodes of drought in 2005, 2010, and 2015 have literally “changed the Amazon,” losing its special “carbon sink” status. That’s global warming hard at work.

“The old paradigm was that whatever carbon dioxide we put up in (human-caused) emissions, the Amazon would help absorb a major part of it.” (Source: Sassan Saatchi of NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, NASA Finds Amazon Drought Leaves Long Legacy of Damage, NASA Earth Science News Team, August 9, 2018)

Nowadays, that old paradigm is giving way to: “The ecosystem has become so vulnerable to these warming and episodic drought events that it can switch from sink to source… This is our new paradigm.” (NASA)

Further aggravating post-drought crumbling, the timing between drought sequences has impeded rapid regrowth. It just doesn’t react like it used to. The rainforest does not have enough time between droughts to heal itself and regrow. That’s a first in all of human history, and the implications are downright dreadful.

It is no exaggeration to say the foregoing analysis is about as bad as it gets prior to the onset of blatantly obvious ecosystem collapses accompanied by hard-hitting repercussions for all of society. That’s when people will finally start to pressure their leadership to “do something” to relieve the dangers and disasters and stop the massive flow of hordes of eco migrants lumbering across the countryside, searching for sustenance.

Meantime, rare agriculturally productive land becomes the most valued asset of all time.

Postscript: “Starting with the drought year of 2005 and running through 2008 … the Amazon basin lost an average of 0.27 petagrams of carbon (270 million metric tons) per year, with no sign of regaining its function as a carbon sink.” (NASA, August 2018)

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CO2 and Climate Change, Old and New


Pulp Mill, Longview, Washington. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

How long has science known about CO2-induced climate change, and are we clever enough today to geo-engineer our way out of cooking ourselves to extinction?

In brief: a long time, and most likely no.

Clive Thompson has written engagingly about the 19th century scientists — Joseph Fourier (1768-1830), Eunice Newton Foote (1819-1888), John Tyndall (1820-1893), Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927), Arvid Högbom (1857-1940), and Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906) — whose work in aggregate pieced together the essential facts about CO2-induced global warming. [1]

In 1856 Eunice Newton Foote, an American woman, suffragette and amateur scientist, conducted the first known experiment in CO2-induced climate change science, which proved carbon dioxide and water vapor were radiant-heat trapping and retaining gases, and not thermally transparent as generally believed. In the scientific paper she submitted to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which had to be presented by a man) she prophetically observed: “An atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature.”

Between 1859 and 1860 Irish physicist John Tyndall conducted many elaborate experiments that confirmed Eunice Newton Foote’s results with great precision (without acknowledging her, whether intentionally or out of ignorance is unknown). He found that CO2 could trap 1,000 times as much heat (infrared radiation) as dry air.

In 1896, after an arduous yearlong effort, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius created the first model of CO2-induced climate change, aided theoretically by geologist Arvid Högbom’s findings on the carbon cycle, and aided experimentally by Samuel Pierpont Langley’s thermal detector invention.

Quoting from Clive Thompson’s article:

When [Arrhenius] was done, he made a striking prediction: If you doubled the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, it would raise the world’s temperature by 5 to 6 degrees Celsius. Remarkably, that analysis holds up pretty well today, even in an age where climate analysis involves far more information and variables and are crunched by cloud supercomputers. Despite having done his work by hand, using data that even he regarded as woefully inadequate, Arrhenius reached “a conclusion that millions of dollars worth of research over the ensuing century hardly changed at all,” as Isabel Hilton wrote in 2008. The era of modern climate modeling was born. …[Arrhenius] expected it would take 3,000 years — fully 30 centuries — for CO2 levels in the atmosphere rise by 50%. Instead, [they] shot up by 30% in only one century.

In the century since Arrhenius (the 20th century), the scientific awareness of CO2-induced global warming skipped along to Guy Stewart Callendar in 1938, Hans Seuss in 1955, Roger Revelle in 1957, the computational three-dimensional Global Climate Model by Syukuro Manabe and Richard T. Wetherald in 1975 (where doubling CO2 in the model’s atmosphere gave a roughly 2°C rise in global temperature), and then to James E. Hansen’s striking Congressional testimony in 1988 that changes in the atmosphere due to human pollution “represent a major threat to international security and are already having harmful consequences over many parts of the globe.” [2]

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations was established in 1988, and since them we have all known or denied the truth of the matter, to variously fret gloomily or agitate frantically over it, and to governmentally ignore responding usefully to it.

Well, our food, wealth, comfort, entertainment and daydreams are all disgorged (or destroyed if you’re among the sacrificed) by fossil-fueled capitalism, so cook ourselves we must because we can’t bring ourselves to trim any of those economically fungible desirables. Can our clever technologists geo-engineer an atmospheric CO2 retrieval and sequestration technique? Today, many such ideas are being proposed and explored experimentally, which their promoters hope if developed successfully into patented salvations will shower them ceaselessly with torrents of gold.

One such project that has shown technical feasibility is the Carbfix Project in Iceland, where CO2 gas is mixed into and retained by a large quantity of water (salt or fresh) that is then injected under pressure deep underground (800 to 2000 meters) into formations of vesicular or porous basalt rock. Basalt is a mafic extrusive igneous rock formed from the rapid cooling of magnesium-rich and iron-rich lava exposed at or very near the surface of a terrestrial planet or a moon; for example at spreading centers between tectonic plates. Iceland sits athwart the Mid-Atlantic Spreading Center and is an island mountain of volcanic and geothermal activity. The Carbfix scientists and engineers have demonstrated the petrification of aqueous CO2 into carbonate rock nodules within basalt vesicles (pores). Basalt does not wash away under pressurized aqueous injection, as softer sedimentary rocks do, and the metals in basalt are needed to react with the carbonated water (ideally the CO2-water mixture having been pushed entirely into carbonic acid) to petrify it. [3]

The pumping of CO2 into deep basalt formations, for petrified sequestration, has been known scientifically since 1976 (first proposed by Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti) [4], [5]. In 2012, as a satirical hypothetical example of fossil-fueled fanaticism, I proposed that the United States capture all the CO2 released by burning the expected liquid fuel to be processed out of the Athabasca Oil Sands of Alberta, Canada (to be imported to the U.S. via the proposed Keystone Pipeline), by piping that CO2 300 kilometers (186 miles) west of the Oregon coast into the Pacific Ocean and then under extreme pressure down 2,700 meters (8,900 feet) into the basalt formations of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate. [6]

The difficulty with any carbon sequestration technique is demonstrating that it has a positive Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI).

Basically, is the amount of energy expended per unit mass of CO2 sequestered (the energy to capture, store, transport, pump and contain the CO2 underground) LESS THAN the energy liberated (with perhaps only 30% of it converted to useful work — mechanical/electrical energy/power/torque) from the combustion of whatever amount of fossil fuel produces that same unit mass of CO2?

If not (which has always been the case so far) then it is MORE EFFICIENT, and LESS CO2 releasing to- and accumulating in- the atmosphere, to not burn the fossil fuel in the first place. Consequently, it would be unnecessary to bother with the proposed geo-engineering scheme of CO2 retrieval and sequestration.

But even if such a sequestration scheme has a negative EROEI, wouldn’t it at least slow the overall rate of CO2 emissions from our fossil-fueled civilization?, and so slow the ever-increasing rate of global warming?

A better investment of the energy required for negative EROEI sequestration schemes would be to apply that fossil fuel-derived energy to the construction of reliable (well-known, old in concept advanced in construction) robust for the long-term ‘green’ energy technologies that REPLACE (not add to) an equivalent capacity (in Watts) of existing fossil-fueled power-generating and power-using infrastructure: a fossil-fueled conversion to a green energy future. This in fact is the only realistic and practical Green New Deal (GND) that we could have. We are locked into cooking ourselves disastrously but we could do it at a slower rate — and that is what a real GND would be.

To my mind the fact that terrible climatic things are unavoidably scheduled to happen does not mean that we — humanity — are physically helpless to prevent the worst of all possible fates, by vigorously responding with intelligent and cooperative social adaptations (lifestyle simplification and energy efficiency) and clever engineering for an ongoing and permanent transition from fossil fuels to green energy.

The state of the natural world is a mirror to our civilization in the same way that Dorian Gray’s poisonously false beauty was reflected by his hideously magical portrait picture.

Thanks to Katje Erickson for pointing me to items [1] and [3].


[1] How 19th Century Scientists Predicted Global Warming by Clive Thompson (Today’s headlines make climate change seem like a recent discovery. But Eunice Newton Foote and others have been piecing it together for centuries.) 17 December 2019

[2] Climate Change Denial is Murder

[3] Researchers In Iceland Can Turn CO2 Into Rock. Could It Solve The Climate Crisis?, by Robin Young and Karyn Miller-Medzon, 10 December 2019

[4] Carbon sequestration

[5] Ocean storage of carbon dioxide

[6] Energy for Society in Balance with Nature

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Postcard From Paris


Photograph Source: Palácio do Planalto – CC BY 2.0

That was the week that was.

“For over two years we’ve been hearing about this pension reform! Two years of ‘consultations,’ which, cross our hearts, were to be full to the brim with transparency, intelligibility and instruction. Two years enshrouded in a haze – not to say a dense fog – of a strategy which, playing for time with contradictions, altered estimates and impossible-to- reconcile positions, end up with a strike that looks set to last. Two years supposed to reassure us but which, au contraire, have only caused anguish and sent diverse age groups and trades not among the first concerned with the reform down to the street.” That’s Erik Emptaz in Le Canard Enchaîné on December 11.

But that week was mere prelude. This week is when things exploded.

In short order, talks between the government and the transport unions broke down, the Prime Minister managed to turn everyone against him, government messaging went haywire in a welter of contradictory announcements about ‘progress’, the intensity of Tuesday’s countrywide demos caused the government to recoil and the president to flee to Africa. Last but not least over this tumultuous week, the High Commissioner of Retirement, the man at the table every morning, Jean-Paul Delevoye, was forced into early retirement because of disagreeable little omissions on his financial declarations. Also known as the Haute Autorité pour la transparence de la vie publique, Delevoye lasted a mere three months before his ritualized public seppeku and must pay back 140,000 €, making him one of the first victims of pension reform.

The disappeared President, who many French regard as a King-in-waiting, is maybe not enamoured of the criticism he’s getting for his strategic blunder. Even the insiders are taking swipes: Julien Dray, an intimate from the Hollande days, writes that Macron “finds himself naked in the face of a social protest which he, if you ask me, imagined he could stifle without understanding either its scope or its depth.” With friends like that.

Discussion of the government’s latest version of its Point-Based System is enough to make anyone’s eyes roll. Better if we stay on safe ground, as the American and English press do with their copy and paste articles about French labor law and the famous 42. “ The government argues that unifying the French pensions system – and getting rid of the 42 ‘special’ regimes for sectors ranging from rail and energy workers to lawyers and Paris Opera staff – is crucial to keep the system financially viable as the French population ages.” I’m sure I read that paragraph at least three times in the last ten days in the Guardian. Never a thought that a complex, technological society demands detailed consideration for different professions in its pension arrangements. Better a points-based system in which we’re all in competition and everyone is in the dark.

Poor Edouard Philippe, abandoned by his boss – off to greener fields in Africa – the Prime Minister is left to wander the halls of the Palais Elysée and Matignon and dig himself in a little deeper every day. His chic beard is rapidly turning white in odd patches while his hair retreats faster than a government negotiator. The latest gag making the rounds about the technocrats is the Simulator, the on-line machine that will calculate any French person’s pension, a delicate question given that predicting the total is subject to fluctuation in parameters such as the person’s metier, economic forecasts, health or hardship. Apparently Philippe really did demand to have the machine up and running by the 18th.

Things have become so unhinged that Laurent Joffrin at Libération called the tall, elegant Prime Minister a meathead. “What a tour de force. Edouard Philippe gives a great speech in an attempt to appease the movement against pension reform: he succeeds in mounting everyone against him. He wants to lower the tension at the SNCF, he increases its intensity. He wants to divide the métro drivers, they are more united than ever. He wants to reassure teachers, they become even more worried. He wants to deal with hospital staff separately, so they join the movement. He needs the liberal professions on his side so they join Tuesday’s demonstrations. He excludes the police from the reform, they want to ‘harden the movement’.” And so on. Joffrin concludes that the Prime Minister has exchanged his white flag for a torero’s red cape. (Edito, Libération, December 12.)

For the moment any chance of a breakthrough in talks are out of the question. Tout bloqué. A real Mexican stand-off, the kind of ‘existential’ crisis the French do so well and Americans, used to blustery executives getting their way, find a little too messy. You have to like a bit of chaos and appreciate age-old antagonisms to enjoy it. The plan to merge the current 42 pension plans into a universal points system is overwhelmingly rejected by the unions, and the ‘pivot age’ – the magic number for full benefits – is still a fantasy, unacceptable to unions like the CGT and Force Ouvrière.

The talks are going nowhere, traffic is a nightmare, tourists have fled and the Seine is rising precipitously. Everybody’s tuning up the bike and turnout at demos is breaking box-office. It’s a social occasion : even the ballerinas from the Opéra are getting in on the act. Every morning on my way to work I pass the CGT workers blaring their horns at the strike breakers and stop for a coffee. If I’m lucky there’s a bit of wine left when I cycle back in the afternoon. Of all the posters in the various manifs, my favorite is the simplest: Manu Ciao. Don’t get your hopes up just yet.

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On Hijacking History


Here’s the question at hand — and I guarantee you that you’ll read it here first: Is Donald Trump the second or even possibly the third 9/11? Because truly, he has to be one or the other.

Let me explain, and while I do, keep this in mind: as 2019 ends, thanks to Brexit and the victory of Boris Johnson in Britain’s recent election, the greatest previous imperial power on this planet is clearly headed for the sub-basement of history. Meanwhile, that other superpower of the Cold War era, the Soviet Union, now Russia, remains a well-sauced Putinesca shadow of its former self. And then, of course, there’s the country that, not so long ago, every major American politician but Donald Trump proclaimed the most exceptionalindispensable nation ever.

As it happens, the United States — if you didn’t catch the reference above — has been looking a bit peaked lately itself. You can’t say that it’s the end of the road for a land of such wealth and staggering military power, enough to finish off several Earth-sized planets. However, it’s clearly a country in decline on a planet in the same condition and its present leader, Tariff Man, however uniquely orange-faced he may be, is just the symptom of the long path to hell in a handbasket its leadership embarked on almost three decades ago as the Cold War ended.

Admittedly, President Trump has proved to be the symptom from hell. To give him full credit, he’s now remarkably hard-at-tweet dismantling the various alliances, agreements, and organizations that U.S. leaders had assembled, since 1945, to make this country the Great Britain (and beyond) of the second half of the twentieth century and that’s an accomplishment of the first order.

And keep in mind the context for so much of this: it’s happening in a country that may be experiencing an unprecedented kind of inequality. It’s producing billionaires at a staggering clip with just three men already possessing wealth equivalent to that of half the rest of the population; this, mind you, at a moment when the globe’s 26 richest people reportedly are worth as much as half of everyone else, or 3.8 billion people. And this in a world in which, as the income of that poorest half of humanity continues to decline, the wealth of billionaires increases by $2.5 billion a day and a new billionaire is minted every two days.

Had all of this not already been so and had a sense of decline not been in the air, it’s inconceivable that those heartland white Americans who had come to feel themselves on the losing end of developments in this country would have sent a charlatan billionaire into the White House to represent them (or at least to give the finger to the Washington establishment). And all this on a planet that itself, in climate terms, appears to be in unprecedented decline.

Think of the above as part of what’s come down, metaphorically speaking, since those towers in New York fell more than 18 years ago.

Looking Back on 9/11

It’s in this context that we should all look back on what truly did come down that Tuesday morning in September 2001, an all-American day of the grimmest sort. That was, of course, the day when this country was attacked by 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudi, using American commercial jets as their four-plane air force. They, in turn, were inspired by a man, Osama bin Laden, and his organization, al-Qaeda, part of a crew of radical Islamists that Washington had backed years earlier in an Afghan War against the Soviet Union. In response to the events of that day — though it seems unimaginable now — we could have joined a world already in pain, one that had experienced horrors largely unimaginable in this country until that moment, in a kind of global solidarity.

Instead, responding to the destruction of those towers in Manhattan and part of the Pentagon, the Bush administration essentially launched a war against much of the planet. They soon dubbed it a “Global War on Terror,” or GWOT, and key officials almost instantly claimed it would have more than 60 countries (or terror groups in them) in its sights. Eighteen years later, the U.S. is still at war across a vast swath of the globe, involved in conflict after conflict from the Philippines to AfghanistanIran and Iraq to northern Africa and beyond. In the process, that GWOT has produced failed state after failed state and terror group after terror group, enough to make the original al-Qaeda (still going) look like nothing at all. And of course, in all these years, the U.S. military, hailed here as “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known” (and similar formulations), lacks a single decisive (or even modest) victory. Meanwhile, everywhere, yet more towers, real or metaphorical, continue to fall; in fact, whole cities in the Middle East now lie in rubble.

The top officials of President George W. Bush’s administration would, at the time, mistake 9/11 for a kind of upside-down stroke of luck, the perfect excuse for launching military operations, including invasions, geared to the ultimate domination of the planet (and its key oil supplies). Via drones armed with missiles and bombs, they would turn any president into an assassin-in-chief. They would, in the end, help spread terror groups in a fashion beyond imagining on September 12, 2001, while their never-ending wars would displace vast numbers of innocent people, creating a refugee crisis of a kind not seen since the end of World War II when significant parts of the planet stood in ruins. And all of that, in turn, would help spark, on a global scale, what came to be known as the “populist right,” in part thanks to the very refugees created by that GWOT. The response to what came down on 9/11, in other words, would create its own hell on Earth.

Who knew back then? Not me, that’s for sure. Not when I started what became TomDispatch18 years ago, feeling, in the wake of 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, that something was truly wrong with our world, that something more than the World Trade Center might be in the process of coming down around all our ears. I can still remember the feeling in those weeks, as I saw the mainstream media’s focus narrow drastically amid nationwide self-congratulatory celebrations of this country as the greatest survivor, dominator, and victim on the planet. I watched with trepidation as we began to close down to the world, while essentially attempting to take all the roles in the global drama for ourselves except greatest evil doer, which was, of course, left to Osama bin Laden.

I still remember thinking then that the Vietnam years had been the worst and most embattled in my lifetime, but that somehow this — whatever it turned out to be — would be so much worse. And yet whatever I was sensing, whatever I was imagining, wouldn’t prove to be the half of it, not the quarter of it.

If you had told me then that we were heading for Donald Trump’s version of American decline and a corrupt global gilded age of unprecedented proportions, one in which showmanship, scam, and self-serving corruption would become the essence of everything, while god knows what kinds of nightmares — like those subprime mortgages of the 2007 economic meltdown — were quietly piling up somewhere just beyond our view, I would have thought you mad.

The Second 9/11

All these years later, it’s strange to feel something like that moment recurring. Of course, in this elongated Trumpian version of it, no obvious equivalent to those towers in New York has come down. And yet, over the three years of The Donald’s presidency, can’t you just feel that something has indeed been coming down, even as the media’s coverage once again narrowed, this time not to a single self-congratulatory story of greatness and sadness, but to one strange man and his doings.

If you think about it, I suspect you can feel it, too. Looking back to 2016, mightn’t you agree that Donald Trump rather literally embodied a second 9/11? He certainly was, after a fashion, the hijacker-in-chief of that moment, not sent by al-Qaeda, of course, but… well, by whom? That is, indeed, the question, isn’t it? Whom exactly did he represent? Not his famed “base,” those red-hatted MAGA enthusiasts at his endless rallies who felt they had gotten lost in the shuffle of wealth and politics and corruption in this country. Perhaps, of course, the al-Qaeda of that moment was actually another kind of terrorist crew entirely, the one-percenters who had mistaken this country’s wealth for their own and preferred a billionaire of any sort in the White House for the first time in history. Or maybe, as a presidential hijacker first class, Donald Trump simply represented himself and no one else at all. Perhaps he was ready to bring a whole system to its knees (just as he had once bankrupted those five casinos of his in Atlantic City), as long as he could jump ship in the nick of time with the loot.

On that first 9/11, those towers came down. The second time around, the only thing that came down, at least in the literal sense, was, of course, The Donald himself.  He famously descended that Trump Tower escalator into the presidential race in June 2015, promoting a “great wall” (still unbuilt years later and now, like everything The Donald touches, a cesspool of corruption) and getting rid of Mexican “rapists.”

From that moment on, Donald Trump essentially hijacked our world. I mean, try to tell me that, in the years since, he hasn’t provided living evidence that the greatest power in human history, the one capable of destroying the planet six different ways, has no brain, no real coordination at all. It’s fogged in by a mushroom cloud of largely senseless media coverage and, though still the leading force on the planet, in some rather literal fashion has lost its mind.

No wonder it’s almost impossible to tell what we’re actually living through. Certainly, in a slo-mo version of 9/11, Donald Trump has been taking down the nation as we’ve known it. Admittedly, unlike Bolivia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and other such places on this increasingly unsettled planet of ours, true civil strife has (yet) to break out here (though individual mass shootings certainly have). Still, the president and some of his supporters have begun talking about, even threatening, “civil war” for our unsettled future.

On the first 9/11, the greatest power in history struck out at the planet. The second time around, it seems to be preparing to strike out at itself.

Was 11/9 the original 9/11?

Perhaps this is the time to bring up the possibility that September 11, 2001, might not really have been the first 9/11 and that Donald Trump might actually be the third, not the second 9/11.

In a sense, the first 9/11 might really have been 11/9. I’m thinking, of course, of November 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall, that symbol of the Cold War, a divided Europe, and a deeply divided world, suddenly began to be torn down by East and West Germans. Believe me, in our nation’s capital, it was an event no less unexpected or shocking than September 11, 2001. Until that moment, Washington’s political class and the crew who ran the national security state had continued to imagine a future dominated by a never-ending Cold War with the Soviet Union. The shock of that moment is still hard to grasp.

Looked at a certain way, that November the people had hijacked history and Washington’s response to it would be no less monumentally misplaced than to the 2001 moment. Once the key officials of George H.W. Bush’s administration had taken in what happened, they essentially declared ultimate victory. Over everything. For all time.

With the U.S., the last standing superpower, ultimately victorious in a way never before imagined, history itself seemed to be at an end. The future was ours, forever, and we had every right to grab it for ourselves. The world in which so many of us had grown up was declared over and done with in a wave of self-congratulatory backslapping in Washington. The planet, it seemed, was now our oyster and ours alone. (And if you want to know how that turned out, just think of Donald Trump in the White House and then read Andrew Bacevich’s new book, The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory.)

It’s in this context that Trump’s could be considered the third hijacking of our era. Given his sense of self, his might even be thought of not as the 1% hijacking moment, but as the .000000001% moment.

And be prepared: the next version of 9/11, however defined, is guaranteed to make Osama bin Laden and his 19 hijackers look like so many pikers. Depending on what tipping points are reached and what happens after that on our rapidly warming planet, so much could come down around humanity’s ears. And if so, that moment in 2015 when Donald Trump rode an escalator down into the presidential contest to the tune of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” will look very different — because it will be far clearer than it is even now that he was carrying a blowtorch with him.

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Exonerate the Innocent; Incarcerate the Guilty


Photograph Source: 826 PARANORMAL – CC BY 2.0

Three innocent men — Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart – were recently fully exonerated and released from a Maryland prison after spending 36 years in jail for a murder they did not commit.

On Thanksgiving, 1983, the-then teenagers were accused of killing a 14-year-old boy in the hallway of a Baltimore junior high school over his jacket.  The incident was part of what was then known in Baltimore as “clothing murders” because city youth were being attached over sneakers or sports apparel.

When the now-grown men were released, Baltimore States’ Attorney Marilyn Mosby admitted, “These three men were convicted, as children, because of police and prosecutorial misconduct. What the state, my office, did to them is wrong. There is no way we can ever repair the damage done to them. We can’t be scared of that and we must confront it.”

Mosby added, “I want to thank these men from the bottom of my heart for persevering for decades to prove their innocence. They deserve so much more than an apology.” Mosby says she will push for state legislation that would require the state to provide compensation for exonerees.

The unasked – and unanswered – question is what about the police and prosecutor who conspired in the “misconduct” that ended with Chestnut, Watkins and Stewart spending essentially two-thirds of the lives in prison for a crime they did not commit?


The role of exoneration takes on greater reality in light of Supreme Court Judge Learned Hand’s remarkable admission in his 1923 decision, United States v Garrison: “Our [criminal] procedure has always been haunted by the ghost of the innocent man convicted. It is an unreal dream.”

The “unreal dream” is, sadly, a very real nightmare.  A 2014 study the National Academy of Sciences, “Rate of False Conviction of Criminal Defendants Who Are Sentenced to Death,” brings Hand’s nearly century-old insight to the present.  It reports the following:

False convictions, by definition, are unobserved when they occur: If we know that a defendant is innocent, he is not convicted in the first place. They are also extremely difficult to detect after the fact. As a result, the great majority of innocent defendants remain undetected.

Going further, it notes that “in the United States, however, a high proportion of false convictions that do come to light and produce exonerations are concentrated among the tiny minority of cases in which defendants are sentenced to death.” And as to all the rest who have been falsely tried and convicted, most of their cases go unaddressed.

The Innocence Project provides the following alarming statistics as of 2018 exonerations based on DNA information:

+  367 DNA exonerees to date;

+  28 percent of those exonerated were convicted based on false confessions;

+  37 states where exonerations have been won;

+  14 is average number of years served;

+  5,097.5 years is thetotal of years served;

+  26.5 years is theaverage age at the time of wrongful conviction;

+  21 of the 367 people exonerated served time on death row;

+ 41 of 367 people exonerated pled guilty to crimes they did not commit.

Looking broader than those exonerated based on DNA information, the National Registry of Exonerations identifies some 90-plus men and a few women who have been exonerated so far this year.  It also reports that since 1983, 2,522 people have been exonerated.  And the Death Penalty Information Center reports that between 1973 and 2018, 164 people have been exonerated from death row.

In a 1998 study, two legal scholars, Richard Leo and Richard Ofshe, argued, “In a criminal justice system whose formal rules are designed to minimize the frequency of unwarranted arrest, unjustified prosecution, and wrongful conviction, police-induced false confessions rank amongst the most fateful of allofficial errors.”  They go on to remind readers, “police elicit false confessions so frequently that social science researchers, legal scholars, and journalists have discovered and documented numerous case examples in this decade alone.”  The most troubling words are “so frequently.”


Among the most famous cases involving the exoneration and prison release of people falsely charged and convicted is the “Central Park Jogger” case.  In a spring night in 1989, a 28-year-old white woman was brutally raped and left in a coma while jogging in Central Park. Moving aggressively, the New York Police Department (NYPD) quickly arrested five teenagers of color – Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise – who were ultimately tried and convicted of the crime.  Their story has been beautifully told by Ava DuVernay in her four-part series, When They See Us.

As DuVernay shows, the police – led by an African American officer, Eric Reynolds — aggressively interrogated the five for up to 30 hours and got all to confess to taking part in the crime.  The case was prosecuted by Linda Fairstein, head of the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office from 1976 until 2002.

Then NYC mayor Ed Koch called the attack the “crime of the century” and future president Donald Trump ran full-page ads in many newspapers that read:

Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer … Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. … How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!

Trump called for the five to get the death penalty.

In 2002, convicted rapist and murder, Mathias Reyes, admitted to the attack of the jogger and DNA evidence confirmed that he was the rapist. The convictions of the Central Park Five were vacated.  To this day, Reynolds and Fairstein continue to claim that Reyes didn’t act alone and, in all likelihood, acted with some or all of the Central Park Five.  More troubling, Trump continues to refuse to apologize for his ad and acknowledge the men’s innocents.

The U.S. “justice” system, first and foremost, protects police and prosecutors.  The Supreme Court has held that while cops have only limited immunity from lawsuits, prosecutors enjoy what’s known as absolute immunity for their conduct under most circumstances.  Only in the most extreme cases of abuse — including killings and with bodycam videos as evidence – do police get arrested and prosecuted.  Still less are prosecutors prosecuted for questionable, if not illegal, practices.

In New York, the most scandalous example of misconduct by a NYPD officer involvesDetective Louis Scarcella, a once-renowned officer who in recent years has faced numerous allegations of misconduct. He is now retired at full pension.  However, most recently, a Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice ordered the release of Shawn Williams, the14th conviction based on Scarcella police investigation that’s been overturned.

It’s harder to find incidents in which a prosecutor is prosecuted for misconduct; Fairstein wasn’t.  The Guardian reported on a 2016 case in which a Texas prosecutor, Charles Sebesta, was found guilty of extracting “false confessions and withheld testimony to convict Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years in prison before he was exonerated.”  The Texas supreme court-appointed board of disciplinary appeals said Sebesta’s behavior in the case was “egregious”.

Trump is not alone among today’s leading politicians who has supported questionable arrests and prosecutions.  In 2015, when former presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) was California Attorney General, she defended a state prosecutor, Robert Murray, who the Fifth Appellate District, the California Court of Appeal, accused of committing “outrageous government misconduct.” He was found to have falsified a transcript of a defendant’s confession.  In the works of The Observer, he “added two lines of transcript to ‘evidence’” to the defendant confessed that threaten the defendant with charges that carried a term of life in prison.

In admitting to the miscarriage of justice in the case of Chestnut, Watkins and Stewart, States’ Attorney Mosby said she will seek compensation for exonerees. This is an often-overlooked aspect of the legal process, what happens after the exonerated is released.

Maurice Caldwell served 7,494 days — 20-plus years — for second-degree murder that he did not commit.  In 2011, he was released from a California prison after another man confessed to the crime. As The Los Angeles Times reports, “at 43, he was released to the streets of San Francisco with only the prison-issued clothes he wore and a belief that good times were coming.”  For the last eight years, he’s suffered from health problems, PTSD and “the stigma of a conviction that makes it hard to find a job and a place to live.”  There’s justice and then there is justice.

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