Archive | June 2nd, 2020

“You Loot; We Shoot”


Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Last Friday, the leader of the entity that expects my pledge of allegiance threatened to shoot—specifically—looters. Before we go into what happened last night and Saturday morning and is on track to continue through the week, let me remember some historic milestones in looting.

* In the seventies, African-American homeowners were dealing with a disturbing pattern in Houston, the world headquarters of Browning-Ferris, Inc. (BFI). Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management, Inc. took on Southwestern Waste Management and BFI. It was the first case to challenge the siting of waste dumps as racially unjust under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Section 1983), the federal law enabling lawsuits against the looting of peoples’ constitutional rights.

* In 1979, Hazel Johnson started People for Community Recovery to confront corporate looters and polluters on the South Side of Chicago, where the wounds of slow violence showed up in cancer and lung disease. Born in the section of New Orleans known as Cancer Alley, Johnson was a self-identified survivor—the only one of four siblings to survive past their first birthday.

* In 1982, more than 500 people were arrested for protesting the siting of (Governor) “Hunt’s Dump”—a disposal plan for polychlorinated biphenyls—in Warren County, North Carolina. Those arrested included the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. of the Commission for Racial Justice, the Rev. Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and other well-known leaders who refused to allow their communities’ health to be looted any more.

* In 1987, the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice showed that the pillaging of black communities by waste companies was a systematic practice. The term “environmental racism” entered our language.

* The majority African-American population of Convent, Louisiana sued to stop a $800-million polyvinyl chloride plant from robbing their town of environmental safety in 1991. Robert Bullard wrote: “The Black community is lured into accepting the industries with the promise of jobs, but in reality the jobs are not there for local residents.”

* The struggle continued in the early 90s as the West Dallas Coalition for Environmental Justice challenged lead poisoning as a racial fairness matter. Physical remnants of the battery disposal site are still surfacing from the place where annually some 269 tons of lead particles filled the air in the 80s, ravaging the environment and the children’s mental and physical health.

* In 1997, after a multiracial coalition waged a nine-year court struggle in Citizens Against Nuclear Trash v. Louisiana Energy Services, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Licensing Board barred construction of a uranium enrichment plant. Out of hundreds of sites Louisiana Energy Services scoped out, it chose to deface the lowest-income community with radioactive waste.

The Struggle Continues, and People Are Tired

In 2005, it was the environmental justice movement that effectively responded to Hurricane Katrina with mobile health clinics for New Orleans. And now we’re watching for climate disruption and related storms and floods to pose special hazards for people facing poverty, racism, or both—knowing it’ll be largely up to communities to try to help themselves. And right at this moment, racial disparities are shaping the impact of Covid-19. Accumulated economic, social, and bodily stress make entire communities more susceptible to the virus.

This week, Trevor Noah talked of looting black bodies, and how it happens in the most ordinary interactions—for example, the weaponizing of skin tone in a case of petty rage in Central Park. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported 125 arrests for social distancing and other Covid breaches from March through early May; how is it that 113 of the detained were black or Latinx?

Looting of black bodies also happens as corporate executives sit in fancy homes and take bonuses during the pandemic from the sweat and stress of these bodies and minds. Entire communities are looted when their spaces are treated as waste dumps and they’re redlined out of other spaces. And neoliberal policies loot when they sacrifice sustainable, humane economic development for international trade strategy.

If the virus interrupts daily life and stops traffic, then so should the suffocation and murder of a human being. George Floyd couldn’t breathe, and managed to say so while pressed down on the ground by three officers. One of them, with a known history of physical violence, kneed Floyd’s neck as the others enabled the horror. Nine minutes passed before Floyd’s last breath.

If a lockdown can’t stop people driving to the Delaware beach, today’s protests will. You must let suffering speak if you want to hear the truth, says Cornel West.

That’s not to praise protests unhinged from purposeful civil disobedience. Those become a police department’s excuse for using the bodies of hapless dogs and horses as city crowd control machines. Those excite an unhinged federal administration to regroup its force against ordinary people already long under siege.

As I write, pre-dawn on Saturday 30 May, I’m seeing images of small businesses in flames. In those spots, authentic grieving, desperation, cries for justice have been overtaken by a chaos so complete, it mirrors that of the Trump administration. Now, a teen was just killed by someone firing shots at protesters from a grey Dodge Durango.

A 19-year-old! It’s unbearable. You loot, we shoot! Jesus wept!, is that what just happened?

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The Second Longest War in the United States


Photograph Source: Lorie Shaull – CC BY-SA 2.0

Other than the fact I was born in Minneapolis, I have little connection to the place. My adult life never encouraged much interaction with my relatives who live in the area, so except for the rare visit, I don’t know much about it. However, I do understand police brutality and the nature of a police state. The current rebellion in the streets of the Twin Cities and around the United States—provoked by the blatant murder of a Black man by Minneapolis policeman who is also white and has a record of brutality—is a logical and emotional response to both.

The murdered man, George Floyd, was accused of trying to use a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill to purchase cigarettes. When confronted by a worker in the store where he made the transaction, Floyd apologized and gave back the cigarettes. Then, the police showed up, put him in handcuffs, and proceeded to kill Floyd. Videos of the murder show a big man in a police uniform pressing his knee on the side of Floyd’s neck for almost eight minutes until Floyd died. Despite the misleading reports that Floyd died later, the fact is that he was killed on that street by that cop. Three other cops did what cops usually do when one of theirs is engaged in brutal behavior—they blocked civilians from getting near the victim and threatened those who did come close demanding the policeman stop suffocating Floyd.

Now, I’ve unknowingly tried to pass counterfeit bills a few times at convenience stores when I lived in the Bay Area. Obviously, I’m not dead. Only once did the police get called. They asked me where I got the bill and let me go. Admittedly, this was back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when things were supposedly different. However, the crucial difference is not what time period the incidents occurred, but the color of my skin and the color of Mr. Floyd’s. The Minneapolis police know this and so do the rest of those who identify with the rulers in this country. This includes those politicians and officials who have spoken out against the police action. No one should be surprised at the rebellion in the streets. I doubt very many of the protesters are surprised at the reaction of the police to those protests. I know I’m not.

The tale behind the murder of Breonna Taylor is another too familiar representation of the US police state. Her murder from a fusillade of police bullets took place at the tawdry and often violent nexus where the never-ending war on drugs meets the US foundational racism. After another squad in the Louisville, Kentucky police department arrested an alleged drug dealer earlier in the day, another undercover police unit attacked Taylor’s home under cover of the night. Taylor was murdered in the attack. Her friend, Kenneth Walker, fired his weapon in self-defense. There was never any reason for the police to go near Taylor’s home and no drugs were found there. Although Walker was originally charged with attempted murder, no police have been charged, several weeks after the shooting. After public outcry from across the US, the charges were dropped against Walker. In my mind, Breonna Taylor was the victim of a drive-by shooting carried out by a gang of cops.

After trying to sweep the incident under the rug, various officials in Kentucky have taken minor actions against the cops involved because of public anger. That anger boiled over the night of May 28, 2020 when a protest turned violent. In fact, seven people were shot in the later hours of the protest. Police officials claim that no official police weapons were discharged at the scene. Given the current situation, that statement needs to be verified by objective sources. Although the public may never know, it seems quite possible that the shots were fired by white supremacists under cover of the night or by police provocateurs with unregistered weapons.

Speaking of white supremacists shooting Black people, this trifecta of racist murders began with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery by three white supremacists in Georgia. This lynching in a development in small town Georgia would probably have gone unnoticed by the public if it weren’t for the cellphone video taken by one of the murderers, Apparently, that video would never have gone beyond the local police department if one of the employees there had not leaked it. The three men charged are not merely garden-variety racists all too common in the USA. Instead, they are one pillowcase short of full-fledged Klan. The intent to murder is all too clear on the cellphone video. It will be interesting to see how their defense team wriggles out of a conviction. Yet I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

Likewise, I will not be surprised if the cops in Louisville and Minneapolis get away with these murders, despite the blatant nature of the crimes. Recent history tells us that there will be many twists and turns in the stories around these crimes. Some will be true and some will be false. Some will be published with the intent to confuse while others will be published with the intent to clarify. No matter what, the fact remains that these individuals were murdered by people who think they can get away with murder. Just like in war, very few murderers get convicted for their crimes and very few such crimes ever get reported. As for those politicians across the mainstream spectrum decrying the murders; unless they are ready to fundamentally change an economic and political system founded on the capture, trading and breeding of other human beings, they should be ignored. While police are certainly a big part of the problem, the system they are protecting is the fundamental problem.

I am not a Black man, but I certainly know there is a war against Black people in the USA. The only war that has gone on longer than this war is the one against the people who were here when the Europeans first arrived.

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Why the Neoliberal Agenda is a Failure at Fighting Coronavirus


Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The utter failure of private capitalism to prepare for the coronavirus should have surprised no one. Private capitalism, as business school graduates repeat, focuses on profit. The “profit incentive,” they learn, makes private capitalism the superior, “most efficient” economic system available. That is its “bottom line” and “chief goal.” The problem is that to produce adequate numbers of testing components, masks, gloves, ventilators, hospital beds, etc., and then to store, secure, monitor, maintain and demographically stockpile them were not and are not privately profitable businesses.

A private capitalist producer of those goods would have to wait, perhaps a long time, for them to become marketable. The risk is great, the future price unknowable, and profitability hard to count on. So private capitalists looked and found elsewhere to invest. They did not produce or stockpile the items needed to secure the public’s health by preventing or minimizing a viral pandemic.

Of course, private capitalism’s failures could have been offset if governments compensated for them. Governments might have purchased the necessary medical supplies from private capitalists as they emerged from production at prices yielding them good profits. Governments could then have stored, monitored, replenished, and stockpiled them, and absorbed the costs and risks involved. Indeed, governments in many countries did that. But few maintained stockpiles sufficient for “abnormal” or “serious” viral threats. Most stockpiled only smaller “normal flu” levels of the needed medical supplies.

Ideas and practices of government compensating for private capitalism’s failures and flaws are old. Business cycle downturns have brought repeated government economic interventions. They do so now. Another pertinent example is government intervention to procure military supplies. It is privately unprofitable to produce, store, secure, monitor, and strategically stockpile tanks, missiles, guns, airplanes, etc., needed for war or “defense.” Private capitalists would not likely produce or import them given the risks and uncertainties of future military conflict. So governments contract to buy them as they are produced at prices profitable for private producers of military supplies. Governments cover the costs and risks of storing, securing, and stockpiling. These immense government subsidies to private capitalists get justified as requirements of national security.

What governments do to prepare for military security they do not do (or do inadequately) for health security from, for example, dangerous microbes. Yet viruses have threatened human beings at least as long as military conflict has. Many more Americans were killed by the 1918 influenza pandemic than died in the 1914-1918 world war. Coronavirus has already killed many more Americans than died in the Vietnam War.

Why then do governments compensate for private capitalism’s failures in the military but compensate so much less in the medical industries? And when governments do compensate in the latter, why so differently, varying from much in some countries to little to almost nothing in others?

Neoliberalism’s ideological power, varying from country to country, provides an answer. Where it is strong, governments minimize economic interventions. They cultivate blindness to private capitalism’s failures and often simply deny them. Officials thus cannot publicly and explicitly undertake to “compensate for failures” in, say, the private medical industries. Trump expressed his neoliberalism by dissolving Obama’s White House pandemic preparedness organization.

Neoliberalism argues for laissez-faire. Private enterprises left alone to produce and market without governmental taxation, regulation, etc., will outperform systems where governments intervene. Neoliberalism celebrates the private over the governmental nearly everywhere. It is a kind of fundamentalism in economics: God is private, while the devil is government. The exceptions—the military, police, and judiciary—prove the rule: all other social institutions must be private to work best. Markets, like enterprises, should be “free,” i.e., not subject to government.

Neoliberal politicians decline to organize, endorse, or support governmental production, import, storage, securing, or stockpiling of virtually anything that private capitalists are or could be doing instead. Private profit, not bureaucratic fiat, should be the guiding goal of the production and distribution of all goods and services (more or less excepting military, police, and judiciary). Libertarianism is a more extreme version of neoliberalism.

Where neoliberalism is strong, governmental preparations for and copings with coronavirus were weak, too late, and too little: as in the U.S., the UK, and Italy, among others. In societies where neoliberalism is relatively weak, government is accorded considerable respect and deference. Its anti-viral initiatives and policies including economic interventions were welcomed or at least expected to play positive roles. Examples include China, South Korea, and New Zealand, among others. Where neoliberalism is weak, government economic interventions can receive ad hoc criticisms and oppositions, but they are not opposed in principle. Where neoliberalism is strong, opponents define government as always and necessarily an inefficient intruder into what private enterprise, if left alone, would do better.

Neoliberalism is a preferred ideology of private capitalist employers. This “special interest”—a very small social minority—embraces neoliberalism in self-interest. Its neoliberalism proclaims private capitalists’ utter superiority to any other social group that threatens or might threaten its economic dominance. It thus excoriates labor unions and government bureaucracies and, sometimes, the monopolization of big businesses for interfering in and distorting free markets.

Neoliberalism views some government economic interventions as distorting intrusions into private capitalism; it views others as comprising an evil alternative to private capitalism. The label “socialism” serves neoliberals nicely to capture both horrors. On the one hand, it designates government meddling in free-market capitalism. On the other, it signifies government-owned and operated enterprises and government-planned distribution of resources and products. As private capitalism’s chief theoretical champion, neoliberalism seeks to vanquish the enemy theories of Marx and Keynes.

Whatever we think of the theoretical jousting, coronavirus has sharply clarified neoliberalism’s profound social costs. Millions are sick and many thousands dead because of governments’ delayed and inadequate compensations for private capitalism’s failures to prepare for or cope with the virus. Dangerous viruses have attacked human society many times throughout history. Preparing for the next attack—thereby securing public health—has long been a basic duty of all social systems. Feudalism failed in that duty when many millions of Europeans succumbed to the Black Death in the 14th century. That failure weakened European feudalism. Capitalism is failing in that duty now with coronavirus, in part because of neoliberalism.

As that lesson sinks in to contemporary consciousness, major challenges confront and will likely also weaken both neoliberalism and capitalism.

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Racial Domestic Terrorism and the Legacy of State Violence


Photograph Source: the United States Library of Congress – Public Domain

The sheer brutality of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a viciously violent cop symbolizes not only the unadulterated racism of a culture that looks away in the face of police violence against Black people but also a society in which a form of racialized domestic terrorism has become normalized. Floyd’s murder has to be understood as part of wider systemic politics indebted to the long legacy of a culture of racist terror that extends from slavery and Jim Crow to the scourge of racial mass incarceration and a politics of disposability. How else to explain the senseless murders of Botham Jean, Treyvon Martin and more recently Ahmaud Aubrey and Breonna Taylor. Aubrey was killed by white vigilantes while out running. Taylor was shot in her bed by the police who literally broke into her house with no previous warning. The punishing apparatuses of the racial state have become more barbaric as power is concentrated more and more in the hands of the ultra-rich, white nationalists and white supremacists who now occupy the White House. Neoliberal fascism has taken off the gloves and now resorts to outright terror to keep people of color in check. Every space in the U.S. that people of color occupy is militarized.

The ongoing murder and exercise of state terrorism against Black people is part of a White House ideology that supports the false argument that white people are the real victims, bolstered in part by white supremacist fantasies regarding the alleged nightmare of what they call the threat of white genocide. White supremacist such as Stephen Miller now set immigration policy. In this world of racist fears and conspiracy theories, it is convenient for whites to hate people of color, and subscribe to the notion that the public sphere is a space only for whites. The racist grammars of suffering, state violence and disposability have become unspeakable and removed from any sense of moral and social responsibility. America has become an armed camp and the war on black and brown people a source of pride rather than alarm. Racism has morphed into a badge of honor for the current administration. This administration trades in racist taunts, encourages violence on the part of the police, and believes that Blacks are more dangerous than right-wing terrorists, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. People of color are viewed in the dominant discourse of white supremacy as being outside of the bounds of justice; their existence occupies a space between invisibility and terminal exclusion. Increasingly, under the Trump regime, people of color are “thugs” relegated to zones of social abandonment, lacking human rights, and unknowable as lives worthy of value.

Charles Pearce, writing in Esquire, gets it right when pointing to Trump, states: “Where there is hatred, he sows anger. Where there is injury, resentment. Where there is doubt, uncertainty. Where there is despair, poison. Where there is darkness, destruction. And where there is sadness, desperation. There’s something that feeds his soul in feeding the soul of the country to the flames. He has nothing else. He can’t conceive of another way to live. He belongs to another entirely different species of parasite.” Put differently, Trump’s administration has become a engine of social misery, a punitive machine that accelerates the death of those considered excess, valueless, and unwanted. Trump’s regime of wealth extraction, ecological violence, economic shock doctrines, ideological fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism, and government of hypocrisy has turned politics, and language into a racist weapon, and state sanctioned violence against black people a signposts for rationalizing a fascist politics.

What we are witnessing in real time is a fascist politics that believes in racial purity, social Darwinism, and supports the collapse of moral and political accountability. We see evidence of this in the viciousness of Trump’s everyday language, as for instance when he criticizes a reporter for wearing mask for being politically correct, when in actuality the journalist was being socially responsible–a notion Trump despises. We also see it in its more obvious toxic forms as when he states in the aftermath of the mass protests, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” All the while echoing a racist phrase by a former Miami Police Chief Walter Headley who liked to brag that he only hired white police officers and prided himself for using violence against Black people. There is nothing new about the police killing black people. Nor is there anything new about the United State engaging in state sponsored violence by way of a racially marked mass incarceration system.

What is new is that in the digital age, these killings are now more visible; yet they have done little to reform either the violent culture of policing or the terror imposed by the racial state. Americans watched a 12-year old child, Tamir Rice, killed by the police. They watched Eric Garner strangled to death by the police for allegedly selling cigarettes on a street corner. They watched Freddie Gray dragged into back of a Baltimore police van because he had a pocket knife, only to die soon afterwards; we watched Sandra Bland get stopped for a minor traffic violation, pulled from her car, only to later to be found hanging in a police station cell. We watched Philando Castille shot by the police in front of his girlfriend and her small child; we watched George Floyd die under the knee of a cop who appeared chillingly indifferent as George’s last breathe left his body. That knee in place for nine minutes, as if it wanted to make clear that it was more than willing to stand proudly as a symbol of what Robert Shetterly called “the blunt instrument of [a racist] history. We watched as the police in almost all of these crimes, except thus far for Floyd’s death, were exonerated. We watched as almost everyone with power looked away. We watched as the public tuned into their nightly game shows. We watched as the habits of public powerlessness, apparatuses of hopelessness, and collapse of civic courage once more dethroned a viable sense of social responsibility, politics, and democracy itself.

Now we watch as the media focuses less on the historical context for such killings and more on the alleged outside radical leftists/anarchists/ running through the streets committing the alleged real violence. People running into stores taking TVs are labeled a looters when in fact as James Baldwin once said captive populations don’t loot, hedge fund manages, bankers, pharmaceutical executives, big corporations, and the rest of the ultra-rich are the real looters. People who have been robbed of everything, including their very lives don’t loot, they strike back because their very lives depend upon some form of action that will be noticed. The fires burning in our cities are unfortunate, but the real fires go unnoticed. These are the fires burning the spirits of those who suffer daily traumas, fears, police violence, and policy driven hardships are what need to be noticed, addressed, and rouse mass anger. No one talks about the roots of these problems and I do not simply mean their origins in slavery, a culture of lynching, and a deeply ingrained institutional racism, however crucial these events are. I am talking about the roots of a fascist politics in which money counts more than people, and some people count more than others. I am talking about a savage form of capitalism that is incompatible with the slightest vestige of democracy and has to be destroyed, not changed, modified, or made more compassionate. I am talking about the resurgence of fascism in an updated form in the United States–a fascism without apology.

The rage and outbursts we are witnessing throughout the United States is an act of mass street resistance against a society that believes it can kill people of color with impunity; it is an act of resistance that refuses a future defined by racial violence, massive inequality and the descent into authoritarianism. It is everybody’s fight because it is a struggle for equality, justice, and a radical democracy.

The lethal force of systemic racism is now front and center in American society, visible in the visible, needless death of black people, in the smoldering enclaves of poverty in so many cities, in the images of black men and women terrorized by police who embrace the logic of a racialized militarized society. The force of a deadly racism now occupies the highest levels of political authority in the United States, symbolized in the presence of a Donald Trump and his syncophantic party of white supremacy. Trump is the endpoint of a capitalism on steroids. He revels in the intensification of racist violence and the ethos of a fascist politics. In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, Trump reveals his authoritarian and militarized instincts by threatening protesters with violence, the unleashing of “vicious dogs” and ominous weapons” if they breach the White House fence. As Harvey Wasserman argues he is “our Imperial Vulture come home to roost” and he is the contemporary symbol for legitimating and implementing the violence of racial cleansing and the plague of state terrorism. He is the face of fascist terror, but only the face. What is behind that ugly brutal veneer is much worse.

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It’s a Class War Now Too


Photo: Ronnie Mendoza.

Los Angeles, California

The scene along Melrose Avenue, one of L.A’s most renowned shopping districts, is now one of vengeance. Shards of glass litter the sidewalk. Storefronts are graffitied. The smell of smoke is still fresh in the early-morning air. Here was the epicenter of the looting that took place on Saturday night, shortly before Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a city-wide emergency and an 8 PM curfew. Garcetti later called on Governor Newsom to bring in the National Guard, marking the first time the Guard has roamed L.A.’s streets since 1992, when the Rodney King verdict was released. Today, Sunday, military humvees and troops protect what remains after the weekend’s display of mass anger and hurt.

Stoking public fear, Fox News called the destruction following Saturday’s protests “violent riots.” The hometown L.A. Times made sure to make the point that there were “divisions among the protesters,” and then went on to criminalize the looters. And on Sunday morning, Trump declared that his government would designate Antifa a terrorist organization. Indeed, the protestors who descended upon the streets of Los Angeles to voice their collective anger over the murder of George Floyd, were, like Los Angeles itself, a diverse crowd with diverse intentions. 

The people who became known as the looters were a fraction of those who stayed behind after the earlier protests dispersed. They are now deemed “thugs” and “thieves” by those who find it easy to write off their palpable frustration, which spread to Santa Monica and across Long Beach by Sunday evening. Writing it off, however, not only ignores America’s systemic racism, but also neglects to address our dire social stratification. As displayed this past weekend on the streets of L.A. and elsewhere, the upheaval taking place across the country is now as much about class as it is about racial injustice and police brutality.

Trump, in his own egotistical way, hoped for this outcome, stating that he desired to be a “wartime president”. Wish granted. The flames Trump has fanned since taking office have sparked America’s tinder box and the fire is burning on his doorstep. What we are now witnessing is full-fledged class warfare. No doubt, it’s been a perfect storm of events; the effects of Covid-19’s massive unemployment, some 40 million, the virus’s death disparity, the continued assault of black lives by a militarized police force along with a corporatized government that intentionally fails to protect its most vulnerable citizens.

The looting of stores is inherently a class issue, whether you look upon it favorably or not (there are always exceptions of course). The act of looting is a long-standing American tradition, dating back to the theft of Native lands and African enslavement. And today, while wealthy people don’t loot strip malls, they are adept at looting natural resources and labor, from the coalfields of West Virginia to Jeff Bezo’s Amazon warehouses. The poor, exerting their nominal power—even in a destructive and violent manner—display an entirely natural reaction to a continually powerless state of being. For them, looting is a cry for help, an expression of hopelessness.

We’ve all seen the hideous video. Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd in broad daylight; Floyd, suffocating, cried for his mother’s help. We’ve all watched the callous white vigilantes, one an ex-detective, hunt down the jogger Ahmaud Arbery in a pickup truck before killing him. We are all familiar with the long list of Black men shot to death by cops at a staggering rate—2.5 times greater than whites. We also know that 20% of the entire Black population, even before the Covid crisis, was living in severe poverty, some 9 million people. Conditions across the country are even worse today, and as a result, violence will continue to erupt.

Of course, both the seething acrimony among our country’s poor and the brutality perpetrated on Black people by government-sponsored gangsters predates the Trump Administration. Cornel West pointed this out Friday night on Anderson Cooper 360:

“You’ve got a neoliberal wing of the Democratic party that is now in the driver’s seat … and they really don’t know what to do because all they want to do is show more black faces—show more black faces. But often times those black faces are losing legitimacy too because the Black Lives Matter movement emerged under a black president, a black attorney general, and a black Homeland Security [Secretary] and they couldn’t deliver.”

Do you think this past weekend was dreadful? Just wait. If Derek Chauvin is let off the hook for the murder of George Floyd, the recent protests will seem minor. To be sure, some of these disruptions, like the looting of minority businesses, are counterproductive, which is why the left has an obligation to organize and direct this rage at the real perpetrators, the capitalist class and their defenders.

Economic and racial oppression in America has finally reached a boiling point. Systemic change will take a systemic realignment of the economic and political structure in the United States. Despair may be driving some of these acts, from the arsons to the broken windows. Yet, it is the underlying racial and class dynamics, the consequence of being a conquered population, that will continue to fuel the rebellion—a serious and extended uprising that no imposed curfew from a city mayor will be able to curtail for very long.

All photos by Ronnie Mendoza.

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US to send troops to Tunisia in support of Turkish forces and Islamist terrorists in neighbouring Libya

Trump and Erdogan
Nureddin Sabir, Editor, Redress Information & Analysis, writes:

The United States intends to dispatch a military brigade to Tunisia, the US Africa Command (Africom), the force dedicated to intervening in African countries, has announced. 

“As Russia continues to fan the flames of the Libyan conflict, regional security in North Africa is a heightened concern,” Africom said in a statement on 29 May. Two days earlier, Africom claimed that Russia had delivered 14 MiG-29 and Su-24 fighter jets to the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) Jufra air base, a claim that has been denied by the Russians and the LNA.

Since April 2019 the LNA has been fighting to liberate the Libyan capital Tripoli and the 15 per cent of the country still controlled by the unelected “Government of National Accord” (GNA). 

The GNA is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and myriad other Islamist terrorist groups, organised crime groups, notably people and oil smugglers, Qatar and Turkey. Turkey has been particularly active in its support of the GNA, bringing in at least 10,100 Syrian mercenaries and jihadists into Libya and participating directly in attack on LNA forces. 

On 28 May, David Schenker, an Israel lobbyist working as US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, gave an interview to France 24 in which he indicated that Washington is not averse to a takeover of Libya by the Muslim Brotherhood and its prodigies, Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda, and the other Islamist terrorists for which the GNA acts as an umbrella. He also strenuously avoided criticising the massive Turkish military intervention in aid of the Islamists in Libya. 

In light of this, Africom’s announcement that it intends to dispatch a so-called “Security Force Assistance Brigade” to Tunisia can therefore be seen as a move to secure supply lines from Tunisia to Turkish forces, Syrian mercenaries and the GNA’s Islamist terrorist and crime syndicate militias deployed west of Tripoli. 

In a statement, Tunisia’s Defence Ministry said the US was a main partner in the effort to build its army’s operational capability. This can only be laughed at given persistent reports that Tunisia had long been acting as a conduit for Turkish arms supplies to the GNA militias — a duplicitous role given its repeated pledges of neutrality in the Libyan conflict. 

US bleats for Islamic State group, Al-Qaeda and people smugglers in Libya

US bleats for Islamic State group, Al-Qaeda and people smugglers in Libya

In “Our Voice”

What next for Libya in the face of Turkish aggression and floundering Arab allies?

What next for Libya in the face of Turkish aggression and floundering Arab allies?

In “Home”

Interview with US official suggests American support for Turkish military intervention and Islamist terrorists in Libya

Interview with US official suggests American support for Turkish military intervention and Islamist terrorists in Libya

In “QuickPress”

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For America’s Wealthiest, the Pandemic is a Time to Profit


The American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Michael Strain wrote an op-ed in the New York Times recently explaining how “The American Dream Is Alive and Well,” and that in his opinion this nation has, “bigger issues than inequality.” Strain’s piece is part of the paper’s new pandemic-era series called “The America We Need” and engages in a set of impressive mental gymnastics to conclude that it ought to be of no concern that the rich are getting richer and that it would be better to focus instead on, “the relatively slow rate of productivity growth,” or “the long-term decline in male employment.”

Michael Strain is incredulous over our fixation on the concentration of wealth at the top, asking, “Do Americans really care as much about inequality as the attention by media and liberal politicians suggest?” He adds, “Given that income inequality has been stagnant or declining over the most recent decade, the timing… is odd” for a conversation “about whether inequality suggests that capitalism itself is broken.” However, inequality continues to steadily rise—a fact it seems the pro-free-market American Enterprise Institute is hoping we ignore.

In his op-ed, Strain chants a mantra that he and other proponents of capitalism want to realize through sheer repetition: “Capitalism isn’t broken. The game isn’t rigged. Hard work does pay off.” Most insultingly, he maintains that, “American workers are resilient and are accustomed to facing—and overcoming—economic challenges.” In other words, because American workers are used to being screwed over by the economy and most have seemingly managed to survive it, they will continue to do so in the face of ever-increasing hardship.

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) during a Senate hearing on May 19 questioned Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asking, “How many workers will die if we send people back to work without the protections they need, Mr. Secretary? How many workers should give their lives to increase our [gross domestic product] by half a percent?” Mnuchin responded, “I think your characterization is unfair,” but the Trump administration he attempted to defend has in fact forced people back to work, namely in the meatpacking industry. President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act—not to direct the commercial production of much-needed medical and protective equipment, but rather to provide cover to the meat industry as it seeks to force workers back into a dangerous environment.

Thousands of workers have become infected in recent months. But if meatpacking workers contract the disease and die, it is their fault as per Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who recently claimed that it was the “home and social” conditions in the lives of meatpacking plant workers that were responsible for their COVID-19 diagnoses. He even went as far as suggesting more law enforcement surveillance of those communities where meatpacking workers live in order to police social distancing.

Making clear just how little Republicans in particular care about workers, Trump has opposed extending unemployment insurance for laid-off workers. His Labor Department has encouraged companies to snitch on workers so that their unemployment benefits are cut off if they are too fearful of returning to work. And, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to protect corporations from liability in coronavirus-related lawsuits by workers.

Republicans have also refused to take up any more stimulus bills even as more than 38 million Americans have lost jobs in just nine weeks. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, showing just how blind he is to the pain of workers, said, “I don’t see the need right now.” Senator McConnell echoed this, saying, “I don’t think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately. That time could… [come], but I don’t think it has yet.” Time and again conservative politicians, in shilling for the rich, have indicated that American workers, rather than being essential, are simply expendable. This is their version of a class war.

The White House’s latest idea for helping workers is to cut corporate taxes in half as a way to incentivize overseas jobs to return to the U.S. Larry Kudlow, the White House’s top economic adviser, touted a payroll tax cut as a way to put more money into Americans’ pockets. He failed to mention that cutting payroll taxes meant a cut in payroll-tax-funded programs like Medicare and Social Security—programs many Americans rely on that the class warriors have wanted to cut for years.

Amazingly, the stock market appears to not care that there is record unemployment as week after week even with skyrocketing unemployment, the Dow Jones and Nasdaq indices remain buoyed. Indeed, the indicators that are announced with much fanfare every day on the popular radio program Marketplace have never had a real bearing on the well-being of American workers, no matter how much enthusiasm host Kai Ryssdal musters during his announcements. To his credit, he has admitted as much, explaining that the “wealthiest 10 percent of American households own 84 percent of all stocks.”

Before the pandemic, Trump bet his reelection on a low unemployment rate and the buoyancy of the stock market. Now, with official unemployment figures so incongruent with the stock market’s growth, he has a harder time making a claim of widespread economic prosperity. In fact, there was no prosperity even before the pandemic. The official unemployment rate was low, but that did not indicate how many people had quit looking for work or how poor quality those jobs were. The pandemic has exposed the fact that Trump’s claims of financial triumph were always more of a mirage than a miracle.

As the anguish of millions of American workers remains irrelevant to the corporate profiteers and their political benefactors, we are expected to rejoice in the fact that Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, could become the world’s first trillionaire in a few years. It would be convenient for Michael Strain and the American Enterprise Institute if we are convinced to ignore such obscenity and focus instead on workers remaining “resilient” as the rich wage their class war.

The only rational response to the absurd state of the U.S. economy is to insist that billionaires (and especially trillionaires) are simply not allowed to exist. After the first $100 million, there is no need to continue to amass any more wealth. Congress could easily enact laws to tax billionaires heavily enough that they remained more than comfortable for the rest of their lives while funding necessary services that huge numbers of Americans could benefit from: paid sick leave, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and so much more. There is no justification for individuals to hoard so much wealth compared to the rest of us. But they will never give up that wealth voluntarily. They will instead fight tooth and nail, lie and cheat, to preserve and expand their inconceivable riches. Against such a class war there is only one option.

Posted in USA, HealthComments Off on For America’s Wealthiest, the Pandemic is a Time to Profit

Bibles at the Barricades: How the Right Seized Power in Bolivia


Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Returning to La Paz, Bolivia after last November’s coup was like returning to the scene of a crime. Since Bolivian President Evo Morales was removed from power, right-wing interim President Jeanine Áñez has led the country with an iron fist.

State repression immediately following the coup left dozens dead and the government has been throwing political enemies behind bars. The Áñez administration, now using the pandemic as a pretext for further crackdowns on dissent, is part of a rising right across the Americas.

The fierce conflicts following the October 20 election had left their mark on the city when I visited in March. Intersections were scarred from barricade bonfires. Graffiti across La Paz denounced the “Murderer Áñez.” A general sense of fear hung in the air. Rumors of government surveillance and political arrests were rampant. Everyday life continued as usual in the downtown traffic and sun, while state violence was meted out in the shadows.

One morning, I took the city’s aerial cable car system to El Alto to meet with journalist Julio Mamani. I passed hundreds of miners marching into La Paz from El Alto, their helmets shining in the sun, their yells blending with bus horns. Above, participants in a women’s march gathered, wearing green bandanas and denouncing both Morales and Añez for rising feminicides.

Mamani compared the Áñez government to past Bolivian dictators. “I was a witness of the 1979 Massacre of Todos Santos of General Busch. Now [state repression] is more sophisticated. They won’t hunt you down in the same manner. They use other forms, and in this case, it is intimidation.”

“I call it a kind of revenge,” he said.

The country arrived at this moment because of the coordinated efforts of the right. But many different elements converged to oust one of the most popular presidents in Bolivian history.

President Morales and the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party governed the country for 14 years. During that time, the MAS dramatically reduced poverty, used funds from the Bolivia’s vast natural resource wealth for popular social programs, and exerted economic and political sovereignty in the face of US imperialism and global capitalism. The indigenous rural poor benefitted greatly from this political project, and it’s from this sector that the MAS enjoyed its base of support

But in the eyes of Bolivia’s racist right, this was a crime. They wanted their power and profits back.

Certain negative actions and policies of the MAS government over these years in power also contributed to its own crisis of legitimacy in the lead up to the October 2019 elections. Critiques from the left and various movements have been levelled against the MAS government for years for the rise in violence against women, the harmful aspects of deepening extractivism, the handling of last year’s mass fires in the country, and state corruption and abuses of power.

“To understand what’s happening right now in Bolivia, it’s key to also understand the process of increased division and degradation that the social movements suffered during the tenure of Evo Morales,” Bolivian sociologist and historian Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui wrote in November of last year. “The movements who were initially the president’s support base were divided and degraded by a left that would allow only one possibility and wouldn’t allow autonomy.”

Such critiques and issues accumulated over the years. A breaking point was when Morales ignored the results of a 2016 referendum in which a majority of the population voted against allowing him to run again for president in 2019. In the lead up to the October 20, 2019 election, the MAS and Morales were already mired in a crisis of legitimacy, making them an easier target for the right, which had been consolidating forces and capitalizing off of the errors of the MAS.

Meanwhile, the opposition promoted a narrative about the likelihood of fraud in the weeks leading up to the election. The issue of fraud during the October 20th elections, which indicated Morales won another term, has been widely debated and investigated. Many of the people I spoke with in La Paz in March did not believe “monumental” fraud had been committed by the MAS, as the opposition claimed, but that a “typical” low level of irregularities had taken place. Regardless of the extent or existence of fraud, the Organization of American States strategically threw gasoline on the fire during a critical moment of the October crisis with their early claims of fraud, pushing the country into violence.

Following the election, protesters against Morales allied with right-wing leader Fernando Camacho and other racist figures, fomenting destabilization and violence in the country in an effort to force Morales out of office. These efforts ultimately created the pretext for a police and military intervention in the name of order, which is exactly what happened. On November 8, police across the country mutinied against the government, and the military “suggested” Morales step down on November 10.

Within this climate of violence and threats, Morales and other MAS leaders were forced to flee or go into hiding. Fearing for his life, Morales left the country for Mexico on November 10. The right, having planned for a seizure of the government, took advantage of the power vacuum and entered office with the crucial blessing of the Bolivian armed forces and the US embassy.

Right-wing Senator Jeanine Áñez declared herself president in front of an empty Congress on November 12. She celebrated entering office holding a massive Bible. “The Bible has returned to the government palace,” she declared. “My commitment is to return democracy and tranquility to the country.” Days later, state repression left over a dozen unarmed protesters and bystanders dead in Senkata and Sacaba, key areas of resistance to the coup regime.

Various elements contributed to the coup, from the MAS’s crisis of legitimacy to the resurgence and orchestrations of the Bolivian right. Yet the coup would not have been successful without the support of the police, military, and US embassy.

Following Áñez’s seizure of power, Bolivia has endured the worst state violence and political persecution it has seen in decades.

“They’re criminalizing social protest and social leaders—all of them are under severe investigations,” Bolivian journalist Fernando Molina explained to me at a café in La Paz. “If they are found to be linked to Evo Morales, they are detained and investigated. This fascist society uses justice so that their lynchings are not so vulgar, but rather more institutional. It’s a disaster for human rights.”

“There’s a ‘Bolsonarization’ of Bolivia,” Molina explained, referring to Brazil’s far-right President Bolsonaro. “It’s the Latin American version of the alt-right in the US, Trumpism.”

The coup and Áñez’s government empowered this movement. In general,” he said, “I see a right-wing movement, anti-institutional, anti-party, pro-arms, pro-Trump, catholic or evangelicals, as in the case of Añez, also Camacho, the Santa Cruz leader. Anti-gay movements, anti-feminist – those groups are very powerful and they were consolidated by these actions.”

The Áñez government threatens to roll back major progressive policies of the MAS, as well as victories won in the streets by Bolivia’s broad social, labor, and indigenous movements.

“The coup d’état is not just against the state, the government, but also the social movement organizations,” Aymara feminist activist Adriana Guzmán explained last November.

“What we lose is the possibility of carrying forward this process of transformation alongside the state,” Guzmán said. “But we don’t lose hope. We don’t lose conviction, we don’t lose our dreams, we don’t lose the urgency of making another world possible. It is much more difficult in a fascistic state, but we will continue to do it.”

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In Search of a Lost Socialism


In May of 1914 — 107 years ago this month — a small, yet vibrant socialist colony on the edge of Los Angeles County took root that is worth revisiting. In the Age of Covid-19, and with the continued violent assault on black and brown people across the US, one must visualize a more peaceful, egalitarian future, where healthcare is free and police are non-existent. The seeds of revolution are all around us, they just need planting. – JF

Chelsea inside the old silo at Llano del Rio.

It’s a typical summer day in the desert of Southern California. Very little breeze and blazing, unforgiving heat. We’re in the Mojave on an excursion to find the ruins of Llano del Rio, a socialist colony that sprouted here in 1914. The temperature is well over 100 and it feels even hotter. As we drive past barren fields, a few groves of Joshua Trees and miles upon miles of scrub brush along Pearblossom Highway — that is, California State Route 138 — it’s hard to imagine an off-the-grid band of leftists calling this sunbaked land home over a century ago.

Job Harriman, the charismatic founder of this utopian community, ran as Eugene Debs’ Veep in 1900 and later for California governor and twice for mayor of Los Angeles, almost winning the thing in 1911 with 44% of the vote. He likely would have been victorious had he not lent his legal services to the infamous McNamara brothers, who blew up the Los Angeles Times building a year earlier. His association with the McNamaras was the death knell of his political aspirations.

The bombing, which killed 21 Times’ employees and injured another 100, was carried out by J.B. McNamara and organized by his older brother J.J., both Irish American Trade Unionists, who opted for violent coercion as efforts to organize unions in Los Angeles were proving futile. After carrying out numerous bombings of ironworks in the city, at least 110 from 1906-1911, J.J. decided it was time to go after the Times, whose editorial board was vehemently anti-union. An unwitting Job Harriman came to the brothers’ defense and allegedly knew nothing of their guilt when the McNamaras covertly copped a plea with the aid of Clarence Darrow, a renowned lawyer of the time.

After losing another mayoral race in 1913, Harriman decided to abandon city politics and put his Marxist ideals to the test. With the help of a group of like-minded investors, Harriman bought 9,000 acres with water rights in Antelope Valley on the western edge of the Mojave Desert in Los Angeles County. He sold shares to families for $500 cash. It was to be a hard-working, yet playful cooperative full of art and music, and by 1914 over 1,000 people had relocated to the community from L.A. and elsewhere. Their dreams were big but the conditions harsh.

“It became apparent to me that a people would never abandon their means of livelihood, good or bad, capitalistic or otherwise until other methods were developed which would promise advantages at least as good as those by which they were living,” declared Harriman.


Mark Ruwedel, our trusty guide, has been here many times before but assures Chelsea Mosher and me that it’s likely to still be an adventure. Our dog Joni agrees. She’s a rescue mut from the streets of Baja, and I’m certain she knows a thing or two about risky undertakings. She’s squirming to escape the car, anxiously awaiting our destination wherever that may be. As Mark takes a couple of wrong turns, he recognizes his mistake and backtracks until he spots an old silo.

“Here we are,” promises Mark, as he veers his vehicle to the left and hops over a few rocks down a bumpy dirt path, leading to what looks to me like the middle of nowhere. “How’s this for a communist paradise?”

Two hundred yards down the road and we finally arrive. Baja Joni is the first to leap out, she has to pee, but the ground is far too hot for her bare paws. She scurries for shade. The pee will have to wait. Chelsea and Mark circle around the back of the rig to retrieve their large format film cameras. Both are working artists, and whatever one may think of this merciless landscape, they find intrigue in its obscurity.

Baja Joni.

I’m sold. It is a wondrous place. The San Gabriel Mountains flank the horizon, and heavy rains last winter have kept the vegetation more lush than normal for late June. It’s also crystal clear, not a cloud in the sky, The smog of L.A. is a distant mirage. I close my eyes for a moment, trying to imagine a full-blown communist colony operating underfoot.

There was a nursery, So Cal’s first Montessori school, an extensive library, a kiln, a bakery, a cannery, a sawmill, a machine shop, fields full of alfalfa, a charming hotel, and a communal dining hall. Llano even had a damn orchestra. This wasn’t a New Age hippie commune with free love and acid-induced orgies (not that there is anything wrong with that). This is where a party of anti-capitalists tried to make a socialist life in the desert at the turn of the 20th century. You can almost feel their energy, at least what’s left of it. Despite Llano being designated as a California Historical Landmark, this unique place is all but forgotten.

There are no placards or signs. No markings on any maps and it isn’t written about in any guides or textbooks. There’s little indication at all that this place has such a rich history. A few of the remaining structures have been graffitied. Bottles and crushed cigarette butts litter the silo. No doubt this is a secret hideout for rebellious teenagers from nearby Palmdale, but I bet none are aware that if they lived here in 1915 they’d be part of an industrial school known as the Kid Kolony.

Obviously, there are reasons most Californians, even those that roll by this place now and then, don’t know what existed here. America, if anything, is good at burying its subversive past. Harriman was a visionary, even if his vision didn’t turn out quite the way he intended.


Settlers of the colony were initially promised a wage of $4 per day, a substantial amount for the time, but that was later abandoned and workers’ basic needs were met through labor and chores around the property. The outside world began to know of Llano through the pages of The Western Comrade, a feisty left-wing paper owned by Harriman that portrayed the community as a wonderful, family-friendly commune. The Los Angeles Times retaliated against this rosy depiction and mocked Harriman, calling him a fraud and Llano a fake socialist enclave.

Still, they came, leaving the comforts of city life behind. For the first year, most lived in tents, but later adobe structures were constructed, utilizing mostly local materials.

The local adobe clay formed the basic building block of Llano’s earliest residential architecture. A lime kiln was built … and utilized native rock to make cement for construction purposes … The Llano site was remarkably stony. This detriment was turned around by the colonists who built many foundations of stone, since it could be used at no further cost on the site. Circumstance also aided in the construction needs. One day a man was accepted into the colony despite his lack of cash. But he did have a complete sawmill outfit, which was pulled by four yokes of oxen. His equipment, set up in the San Gabriel Mountains above Llano, started producing lumber for the colony’s construction.


Chelsea is interested in tracking down the remains of Llano’s lime kiln, tucked away on the side of a rocky bluff. Mark knows the spot. Located along a curvy, paved road, it appears. I imagine the hundreds of people that drive by this relic have no idea what it is, or once was, but they must look on with curiosity. Around the bend, back down the hill, an old chimney pops up. This is where Llano’s hotel sat. By all accounts, it was the hub of activity at the colony. Weekend visitors who were interested in what Harriman and his community were up to would come out to see socialism in action. Members of the Young People’s Socialist League from L.A. would pile in to hear lectures and debate the politics of the day. It was also the meeting place for Llano’s governing body, The General Assembly.

Old lime kiln of Llano del Rio.

Despite its vibrancy, not all was well with Llano. A batch of dissident settlers known as the “brush gang” wanted to oust Harriman as head of the socialist collective Local ranchers were also peeved at Harriman’s antics, claiming his group was violating local water rights. Their utopian desires were under siege. After a few lawsuits were hurled at the colony, members of the anti-socialist commission began paying Llano a visit, as well as state commissioners with the intention of shutting Llano down. Just one year in and times were proving rough for the socialist. Fresh fruit and vegetables were hard to come by and in 1915, Deputy Commissioner H.W. Bowman issued a report lambasting the colony for poor hygiene and lack of fresh food. Bowman also claimed goods were not shared equally among all members.

Whether this was true or not is hard to prove, but it does seem that Harriman had a bit of a messiah complex and there is evidence the social structure of the village was stratified. Nonetheless, from 1916-1917 the colony was persevering despite the obstacles. By this time, over 60 departments in Llano were fully functioning, including; “agriculture, architecture and surveying, art studio, bakery, barber shop, bee-keeping, cabinet shop, cannery, cleaning and pressing, clearing, fencing and grading land, dairy, fish hatchery, general store, hay and grain, hogs, horses and teaming, the hotel, irrigation, laundry, lime kiln, library, machine shop, medical department, poultry, printing, post office, rabbits, rugs, sawmill, sanitation, shoe shop, soap factory, tannery, tractors, transportation, tin shop, wood and fuel.”

Even so, the utopian vision Harriman had for Llano was about to come to a bitter end. In the latter half of 1917, a lawsuit stripped away their water rights. Without access to fresh water, Llano’s fields could not be irrigated and its animals would not survive. Food would soon be non-existent. The ambitions of Llano del Rio was drying up faster than its cisterns.

As Mike Davis writes in City of Quartz:

After the loss of Llano’s water rights in a lawsuit–a devastating blow to its irrigation infrastructure–Harriman and a minority of colonists relocated in 1918 to Louisiana, where a hard-scrabble New Llano (a pale shadow of the original) hung on until 1939. Within twenty-four hours of the colonists’ departure, local ranchers began to demolish its dormitories and workshops, evidently with the intention of erasing any trace of the red menace. But Llano’s towering silo, cow byre, and the cobblestone foundation and twin fireplaces of its Assembly Hall, proved indestructible: as local patriotic fury subsided, they became romantic landmarks ascribed to increasingly mythic circumstances.


Mark and Chelsea in the Mojave.

Something must be done to protect what little remains of Llano del Rio.

Writer Aldous Huxley once lived in a former ranch house in Llano, just down the road from the dilapidated silo. Mark drives passed and tells us he’s met the friendly couple that resides in Huxley’s old farmhouse. In a way, these desert folks are the present stewards of Llano, even if unknowingly. From their front porch, they can glimpse the crumbling hotel chimney and the silo and rock wall that must have been part of the ranch’s feeding troughs. Huxley, who lived in the house in the 1940s, wrote the Llano settlers he met “had often talked to me nostalgically of that brass band, those mandolins and barber-shop ensembles.”

We climb back into Mark’s dusty vehicle after a short stop near Huxley’s old home. It’s finally starting to cool a bit and Joni finds a comfortable nap spot. I gaze out at Llano as we drive off into the dimming California light. It must have been a lively place for the short time Llano thrived — bustling with a hope that there was an alternative to the materialism that dominated city life just 90 miles away in a budding Los Angeles.

Job Harriman and his community had conviction. They also had the tenacity to explore what was possible outside the confines of capitalism. Perhaps even more than the surviving structures, this the Llano del Rio spirit we must embrace, preserve, and ultimately cultivate again, and a good start would be to hand this land back over to the inhabitants who predate Harriman’s socialist experiment — the desert coyote and Shoshone.

Photos by Joshua Frank.

Joshua and Joni, photo Chelsea Mosher.

Posted in USA, Human Rights, LiteratureComments Off on In Search of a Lost Socialism

A Few Good Sadists


Photograph Source: Sabrina Harman poses over the corpse of Manadel al-Jamadi, after he was tortured to death by CIA personnel – Public Domain

Here’s a flashback that may help to explain how we got to where we are: the day was April 302004. Alexander Cockburn and I were sitting by the pool having a gin and tonic at the old Richelieu Hotel in New Orleans’ French Quarter. The concierge, an elegant black man from Haiti named Jean-Claud, dropped a sheaf of papers on our table. “I hope I’m not disturbing you, Mr. Cockburn,” he said. “These just came through for you by fax with a note marked ‘Urgent.’”

Alex looked at the first page. It was the cover of The New Yorker magazine. He turned to me and said with a grin, “Can anything from the New Yorker ever truly be considered ‘urgent’?” He paused. “Unless, they’ve libeled you again.” He was referring to a story written by the late Michael Kelley a few years earlier which had accused me of consorting with eco-terrorists. “Let’s call a cab. Otherwise, we risk missing Allen Toussaint.” We were in New Orleans to attend JazzFest, one of the world’s greatest musical festival, especially for lovers of the blues. I walked backed to my room. As I opened the door, the phone began to ring. It was Alex. “Jeffrey, I don’t know if the fax qualifies as urgent, but I think it spells the end of the Bush administration. Perhaps we should have another drink and go over it.”

The fax was a copy of a 4,000 story by Seymour Hersh titled “Torture at Abu Ghraib.” Hersh’s exposé described in harrowing detailed the torture, humiliation and sadistic abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad by US prison guards and military police. Hersh’s story was based on a secret internal report made by the Army’s own investigator, Major General Anthony Taguba. The report described Iraqi prisoners being stripped naked, bound and gagged, beaten with clubs, confronted with guard dogs, sexually assaulted with wires, nightsticks and a phosphorous tube. Some detainees were dragged across the prison floor by a rope tied to their penises. Others had phosphoric acid poured over their bodies. The horrors of Abu Ghraib weren’t news. Reports of detainee abuse had been circulating in the press for nearly a year. Two lawsuits against the Army had already been filed. What was new in Hersh’s story, what both Alex and I believed would doom the Bush administration and probably land Donald Rumsfeld in prison, was the photos. The sadistic guards had taken selfies, one with the corpse of a man who they’d tortured to death. Others of bound naked men stacked into a pyramid. Others of hooded men with electrical wires rigged to their bodies. Photos that couldn’t be talked away.

We were wrong. Hersh’s story, and the damning photos that illustrated it, didn’t doom the Bush administration. Rumsfeld wasn’t indicted. The real architects of torture almost escaped any notice at all. The blame was laid on guards and low-level officers. A rogue operation we were told. In fact, it didn’t even stop the Bush administration’s torture program. The public was numb. Congress was impotent. The CIA and its murderous henchmen and shrinks continued their dirty work at black sites around the world with a sense of impunity: beating, prodding, stress-positioning, electro-shocking, starving, sleep-depriving and waterboarding detainees at will, for weeks and months at a time, regardless of whether they had any information at all to spill.

Flashforward to Trumptime: Trump may well be the first presidential candidate to publicly advocate torture on the campaign trail. He won’t be the last. Torture has finally found its demographic in the American electorate. It’s a wedge issue. And not just for the FoxNews crowd.

When it came time to replace Mike Pompeo (another holy roller torture advocate) at the CIA,  Trump knew just who to call: Gina Haspel, who had overseen the CIA’s torture operations at a black site in Thailand and later played a role in destroying 92 tapes relating to the agency’s torture program. Haspel is a grade-A war criminal and as such is the kind of woman who both excites and terrifies Trump.

Enter Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, known as “Blade” to his co-conspirators in Navy SEAL Team 7. During the Battle of Mosul in 2017, Gallagher noticed a heavily sedated teenage detainee, thought to be a member of ISIS, being treated by a medic. Gallagher radioed to his squad, “He’s mine.” Gallagher then walked over to the immobilized boy, repeatedly stabbed him in the throat with his hunting knife and then posed for a selfie with the child’s corpse, holding its head up by the hair. Blade then texted the photo to friends back in the states, noting: “Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.” When two other SEALs reported the murder to their superiors, Gallagher threatened to kill them. In the end, Gallagher escaped the most serious charges of murder, but was convicted of posing with a corpse. Then Trump intervened, ordering that Gallagher’s demotion be overturned and that he remain a member of the SEALs. Trump brayed that he had “defended a great warrior against the Deep State” and vowed to bring along Gallagher to his reelection campaign rallies.

The missing link between the depraved  crimes of Abu Ghraib and the depredations of Edward Gallagher is, of course, Barack Obama. Obama’s fatal decision not to fully expose and prosecute the torturers of the Bush administration transformed their crimes into US policy. With nothing to restrain him, Trump was free to turn torture and murder into a political spectacle, using the Oval Office to recruit a few good sadists to serve the thirsts of the empire.

Corona Dub

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God & Public Lands in the West
Betsy Gaines Quammen
(Torrey House Press)

Donald Trump and His Assault on Truth: the President’s Falsehoods, Misleading Claims and Flat-Out Lies
Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo & Meg Kelly

Extra Innings: My Life in Baseball
Max Schumacher
(Blue River Books)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Ghosts of West Virginia
Steve Earle and the Dukes
(New West)

The Piano Equation
Matthew Shipp
(Tao Forms)

John Balk

A Formula for Cruelty

“What I have said about Harlem is true of Chicago, Detroit, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco—is true of every Northern city with a large Negro population. And the police are simply the hired enemies of this population. They are present to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business interests, and they have no other function. They are, moreover—even in a country which makes the very grave error of equating ignorance with simplicity—quite stunningly ignorant; and, since they know that they are hated, they are always afraid. One cannot possibly arrive at a more surefire formula for cruelty.” (James Baldwin, A Report From Occupied Territory)

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI, C.I.A, Human RightsComments Off on A Few Good Sadists

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