Archive | August 20th, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security: the Ideal Authoritarian Tool


President George W. Bush signs the Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2004 on October 1, 2003 – Public Domain

In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration made a series of blunders that have created havoc in U.S. governance.  The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the worst of these decisions, but not far behind was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  The DHS has turned out to be the perfect authoritarian tool in the hands of a corrupt administration, and there is ample evidence of the department’s role in degrading public life in America in the past several weeks.  The department has become Trump’s tool for targeting “anti-fascists,” the label that he has broadly applied to all protestors.

The DHS is a bureaucratic monstrosity that includes the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), and various unrelated departments.  It has over 240,000 employees, a $50 billion budget, and a reputation for excessive waste and ineffectiveness.  It is the third largest government agency, and its 60,000 law enforcement officers represent half of all federal law enforcement agents in the government.  DHS has too many subdivisions, operates in too many disparate fields, and lacks proper congressional oversight.  The creation of DHS meant that immigration enforcement and border protection were moved from the Departments of Treasury and Justice, respectively, and were then treated as national security issues.  Under Trump, demonstrators, dissidents, and protestors have become national security issues.

It took Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to teach us what a mess had been created at DHS.  Several years later, the office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection acknowledged that it “does open mail to U.S. citizens that originate from foreign countries whenever it’s deemed necessary.”  In 2012, a Senate Homeland Security report concluded that DHS intelligence was “irrelevant, useless, or inappropriate.” In 2017, a border patrol agent was investigated for obtaining confidential travel records of a Washington journalist and using them to press for her sources.

Events in Portland, Oregon have illuminated the DHS threat to governance and civil rights as the Federal Protective Service (FPS) has operated without any consultation, let alone permission, from state or local authorities.  The FPS  deployed its unidentified agents in camouflage uniforms without identifying insignia, used so-called “nonlethal” projectiles and tear gas against American citizens, and forced demonstrators into unmarked rental cars to be held in federal buildings without charges.  DHS agents were involved in the separation of children from their parents at the southern border, and agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have been labeled as “RoboCops” for their aggressive measures against immigrants.  A CBP drone monitored the protest activities in Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd.

Over the past week, the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) disseminated reports to various law enforcement agencies that summarized tweets by a reporter for the New York Times and the editor of the blog Lawfare.  The journalists had posted leaked DHS documents that revealed shortcomings in the department’s aggressive handling of events in Portland. According to the Washington Post, the DHS also tracked the communications of demonstrators, another violation of the First Amendment.  The acting director of DHS, Chad Wolf, immediately acknowledged the threat to the First Amendment, stopped the illegal activities of the office, and removed its director, Brian Murphy, but this was simply an act of damage limitation. Murphy, a former FBI agent, had a reputation for misapplying the authorities of I&A, and ignoring their intelligence assessments. In any event, the overall problems of DHS remain.

The illegal creation of dossiers on journalists is reminiscent of the unconstitutional activities of the intelligence community in the 1960s and 1970s during the Vietnam War.  The congressional investigations of the mid-1970s and the excellent reporting of Seymour Hersh exposed the illegal domestic spying operations of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency to disrupt the anti-war movement.  The FBI’s counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) actively disrupted lawful activities of numerous individuals and organizations, including Martin Luther King Jr.  FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s designation of the Black Panther Party as the “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” is reminiscent of Trump’s identification of “antifa” as a similar threat. (At least, there was a Black Panther Party; there is no “antifa” party.) The dossiers on political dissidents is reminiscent of DHS’ collection against U.S. journalists.

Just as the FBI’s COINTELPRO and CIA’s Operation Chaos hurt the reputation of these agencies, the actions of DHS on behalf of Donald Trump are drawing criticism from former Republican directors of the agency.  The first director of DHS, Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, stated that it would be a “cold day in hell before I would consent to an uninvited intervention into one of my cities.”  Former director Michael Chertoff pointed out that DHS is much too willing to carry out the president’s support for brutal and aggressive force, “especially in cities…governed by liberal Democratic mayors.”

The threat to American governance in an election year is dire.  There is an authoritarian president in the White House with no respect for the rule of law; a strong advocate for presidential power in William Barr as Attorney General; toadying and unconfirmed loyalists at the top of the Department of Homeland Security; and a Republican-led Senate that will offer no criticism of the outrageous actions of the president.  We know little about Barr’s Operation Legend, which is using agents from the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to prevent peaceful demonstrations.

At least, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley expressed regret for being present when federal police officers violently cleared Lafayette Square to enable Trump’s blasphemous display of power at the St. John’s Episcopal Church in June.  Chad Wolf, however, has been a willing tool of the White House, parroting the line about “violent antifa anarchists,” and blocking the Supreme Court’s order to restore protections and benefits to dreamers in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals  (DACA).

Barr and Wolf are enablers of the president’s excesses, and It is long past time for them to acknowledge the misuse of the DoJ and the DHS, respectively, on behalf of Trump’s reelection campaign.  It is also time for the Congress to conduct the kind of  oversight that exposed the illegal and unconstitutional activities of the intelligence community during the Vietnam War.  The city of Portland must not become a petri dish for studying the death of democracy.

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Trump’s Alternative


Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

It seems as if President Donald Trump is trying to sabotage the November election by publicly proposing postponing it and denigrating the untouchable democratic mainstay by repeatedly and forcefully arguing that it will be rigged.

That’s his way of preparing his hyper narcissistic self for what could be a huge loss. After all, he recently whined, “Nobody likes me.” Certainly tens of millions don’t.

“This is going to be the greatest election disaster in history,” Trump tweeted Friday. I thought that happened in 2016.

He’s his own worst enemy because of his offhanded dismissal of the coronavirus that causes CV19 as not his responsibility though it’s killed 153,000 Americans and infected 4.5 million others; his dispatch of a virtual private army to attack civilians demonstrating peacefully against police brutality toward minorities; his ignoring a shattered economy in which more than 44.2 Americans have filed jobless claims; his attempts to undermine faith in democracy by repeatedly claiming the election will be rigged so he will have something to blame if he loses; and his determination to deny money to the U.S. Postal Service to make mail-in voting more difficult. Republicans wind up losing in mail balloting, he has said.

Voting by mail would mean an election that would be “INACCURATE AND FRAUDULENT,” Trump has tweeted.

“The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change you have in a democratic society,” the late civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis wrote on his deathbed for an article that appeared in The New York Times. “You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

That’s precisely what Trump is trying to make happen.

Of course, he has an alternative, with polls and political analysts saying he will lose badly against Joe Biden: Resign and let Mike Pence run for president.

Do narcissists quit their jobs if they believe they will be fired and don’t want to face humiliation? Or are narcissists immune to humiliation?

It’s difficult to answer that question, but Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D, gave some insights into a narcissist’s “secret fears” in Psychology Today Nov. 18, 2018:

“Narcissists are unable to tolerate failure of any sort and public humiliation is considered the worst type of failure that could happen. A narcissist’s ego is an extremely fragile thing and when she feels she is being laughed at or is losing the respect of others, it can be tremendously upsetting. The narcissist’s ego is the only protection they have from the world and when their ego integrity is breached, narcissists often respond in ways that seem markedly out of proportion to the circumstances for average people.”

That would fit with Trump’s out-of-the blue suggestion that the election should be postponed. Wouldn’t shutting down democracy, the very essence of our being as a country, be way out of proportion? Congress fixed Election Day in 1845 as the second Tuesday after the first Monday. Inauguration Jan. 20 is set in the Constitution.

If Trump thinks he is a legend in his own mind, there are those who believe otherwise. They are working hard to prove that someone who is president and incorporates such a mindset, coupled with ignorance and incompetence, is a danger to the country, its values and, significantly, its democracy.

One of those is my friend in Santa Fe, N.M, Robert Morgart, 76, a former assistant professor at four universities, including currently as an adjunct professor at New Mexico Highlands University. He also was a onetime financial adviser at Merrill Lynch. He doesn’t give Trump high marks. I asked him his reaction to Trump trying to derail the election or prevent voting by mail.

“We have to start with a first premise: that he is both congenitally and willfully ignorant,” he replied. “And second, his default mode has always been to criminality and lying. So I will put this in Management 101 terms: There’s a whole Milky Way of examples of bad management out there but, in that galaxy, the bright shining star of dysfunction and malignancy is Donald Trump.”

In the political universe of Washington, D.C., the Lincoln Project, led by three anti-Trump Republicans, is no fan of Trump and wants him out.

“Trump is a narcissist and he cannot help but react to threats to his delicate psyche,” George Conway, the husband of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, told The Washington Post recently. The Lincoln Project airs ads aiming directly at Trump’s psychological weaknesses in hopes of driving him mad and defeating his reelection bid. “He is a very sensitive, weak human being who cannot take criticism.”

“You can’t take your foot off the gas, but he’s going to lose and he’s going to lose big,” Conway said. “The reason why I’m confident of that is not because of the polls, but because of his essential nature, his self-destructive nature. He doesn’t know how to handle the current situation. He can’t lie his way out of it anymore. And if we keep the pressure on, keep doing what we’re doing, he’s going to dig himself deeper.”

Resigning could be Trump’s easiest way out of the mess he has created.

After all, President Richard M. Nixon, shattered by Watergate and beset for years by anti-Vietnam war demonstrators, resigned Aug. 9, 1974, rather than face impeachment, though he was more prone to depression than narcissism. Studies note that many presidents had narcissistic streaks, but Trump gets first place  prize. That should make him happy, though he’s often pictured as scowling.

Nixon also lied, of course, but not on the Trump scale the Post counts as more than 20,000 times. We all tell white lies – maybe not so many as 20,000 even in a lifetime – but Trump’s are black because of the power he holds as president that can cause harm.

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U.S. Cold War China Policy Will Isolate the U.S, Not China


Tensions between the United States and China are rising as the U.S. election nears, with tit-for-tat consulate closures, new U.S. sanctions and no less than three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups prowling the seas around China. But it is the United States that has initiated each new escalation in U.S.-China relations. China’s responses have been careful and proportionate, with Chinese officials such as Foreign Minister Wang Yi publicly asking the U.S. to step back from its brinkmanship to find common ground for diplomacy.

Most of the U.S. complaints about China are long-standing, from the treatment of the Uighur minority and disputes over islands and maritime borders in the South China Sea to accusations of unfair trade practices and support for protests in Hong Kong. But the answer to the “Why now?” question seems obvious: the approaching U.S. election.

Danny Russel, who was Obama’s top East Asia expert in the National Security Council and then at the State Department, told the BBC that the new tensions with China are partly an effort to divert attention from Trump’s bungled response to the Covid-19 pandemic and his tanking poll numbers, and that this “has a wag the dog feel to it.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden has been going toe-to-toe with Trump and Secretary Pompeo in a potentially dangerous “tough on China” contest, which could prove difficult for the winner to walk back after the election.

Elections aside, there are two underlying forces at play in the current escalation of tensions, one economic and the other military. China’s economic miracle has lifted hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty, and, until recently, Western corporations were glad to make the most of its huge pool of cheap labor, weak workplace and environmental protections, and growing consumer market. Western leaders welcomed China into their club of wealthy, powerful countries with little fuss about human and civil rights or China’s domestic politics.

So what has changed? U.S.high-tech companies like Apple, which were once only too glad to outsource American jobs and train Chinese contractors and engineers to manufacture their products, are finally confronting the reality that they have not just outsourced jobs, but also skills and technology. Chinese companies and highly skilled workers are now leading some of the world’s latest technological advances.

The global rollout of 5G cellular technology has become a flashpoint, not because the increase and higher frequency of EMF radiation it involves may be dangerous to human health, which is a real concern, but because Chinese firms like Huawei and ZTE have developed and patented much of the critical infrastructure involved, leaving Silicon Valley in the unfamiliar position of having to play catch-up.

Also, if the U.S.’s 5G infrastructure is built by Huawei and ZTE instead of AT&T and Verizon, the U.S. government will no longer be able to require “back doors” that the NSA can use to spy on us all, so it is instead stoking fears that China could insert its own back doors in Chinese equipment to spy on us instead. Left out of the discussion is the real solution: repeal the Patriot Act and make sure that all the technology we use in our daily lives is secure from the prying eyes of both the U.S. and foreign governments.

China is investing in infrastructure all over the world. As of March 2020, a staggering 138 countries have joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive plan to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks. China’s international influence will only be enhanced by its success, and the U.S.’s failure, in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the military front, the Obama and Trump administrations have both tried to “pivot to Asia” to confront China, even as the U.S. military remains bogged down in the Middle East.  With a war-weary public demanding an end to the endless wars that have served to justify record military spending for nearly 20 years, the U.S. military-industrial complex has to find more substantial enemies to justify its continued existence and budget-busting costs. Lockheed Martin is not ready to switch from building billion-dollar warplanes on cost-plus contracts to making wind turbines and solar panels.

The only targets the U.S. can find to justify a $740-billion military budget and 800 overseas military bases are its familiar old Cold War enemies: Russia and China. They both expanded their modest military budgets after 2011, when the U.S. and its allies hi-jacked the Arab Spring to launch covert and proxy wars in Libya, where China had substantial oil interests, and Syria, a long-term Russian ally. But their increases in military spending were only relative. In 2019, China’s military budget was only $261 billion compared to the U.S.’s $732 billion, according to SIPRI. The U.S. still spends more on its military than the ten next largest military powers combined, including Russia and China.

Russian and Chinese military forces are almost entirely defensive, with an emphasis on advanced and effective anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems. Neither Russia nor China has invested in carrier strike groups to sail the seven seas or U.S.-style expeditionary forces to attack or invade countries on the other side of the planet. But they do have the forces and weapons they need to defend themselves and their people from any U.S. attack and both are nuclear powers, making a major war against either of them a more serious prospect than the U.S. military has faced anywhere since the Second World War.

China and Russia are both deadly serious about defending themselves, but we should not misinterpret that as enthusiasm for a new arms race or a sign of aggressive intentions on their part. It is U.S. imperialism and militarism that are driving the escalating tensions. The sad truth is that 30 years after the supposed end of the Cold War, the U.S. military-industrial complex has failed to reimagine itself in anything but Cold War terms, and its “New” Cold War is just a revival of the old Cold War that it spent the last three decades telling us it already won.

“China Is Not an Enemy”

The U.S. and China do not have to be enemies. Just a year ago, a hundred U.S. business, political and military leaders signed a public letter to President Trump in the Washington Post entitled “China Is Not an Enemy.” They wrote that China is not “an economic enemy or an existential national security threat,” and U.S opposition “will not prevent the continued expansion of the Chinese economy, a greater global market share for Chinese companies and an increase in China’s role in world affairs.”

They concluded that, “U.S. efforts to treat China as an enemy and decouple it from the global economy will damage the United States’ international role and reputation and undermine the economic interests of all nations,” and that the U.S. “could end up isolating itself rather than Beijing.”

That is precisely what is happening. Governments all over the world are collaborating with China to stop the spread of coronavirus and share the solutions with all who need them. The U.S. must stop pursuing its counterproductive effort to undermine China, and instead work with all our neighbors on this small planet. Only by cooperating with other nations and international organizations can we stop the pandemic—and address the coronavirus-sparked economic meltdown gripping the world economy and the many challenges we must all face together if we are to survive and thrive in the 21st century.

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Black Lives Matter: Resisting the Propaganda of Status Quo Defenders


Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

First came the new names—Breonna TaylorGeorge FloydRayshard Brooks, and others—all added one by one to the long list of tragic, unjustifiable police killings of Black Americans. Then came the batons, the pepper spray, the tear gas, the flash-grenades, the helicopters, the armored vehicles, and the rubber bullets wielded against nonviolent Black Lives Matter protesters across the United States, from Minneapolis to New York City to Portland. And then came the chorus of privileged beneficiaries of our country’s discriminatory status quo, denying and defending the reality of brutal, racist, militarized, and unaccountable over-policing.

This sequence—grievous harm and public outrage followed by false reassurances from self-serving voices—is a familiar pattern. It’s one that I’ve studied as a psychologist, focusing primarily on the manipulative “political mind games” that the rich and powerful use to preserve an oppressive and inequitable system, one that rewards the few at the expense of the many. I’ve found that these propaganda ploys often target five specific concerns in our daily lives—namely, issues of vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness. Each of these concerns is linked to a key question we regularly ask ourselves: Are we safe? Are we being treated fairly? Who should we trust? Are we good enough? Can we control what happens to us?

Because these questions are so central to how we make sense of the world, it’s not surprising that the so-called one-percent aren’t the only ones for whom disingenuous answers become rhetorical weapons. The same appeals are used by other status-quo defending authorities when their apparent wrongdoing and corruption are too obvious to ignore. This is clearly the case in the current national crisis over police brutality and institutional racism, where these mind games are promoted to create the doubt and division that undermine the solidarity necessary for achieving long overdue progress.

This essay describes ten of these pernicious mind games. First, however, it’s important to emphasize a crucial point: the evidence of racial injustice in our system of law enforcement is overwhelming. Areas in which scientific research has convincingly shown that Black Americans are treated much worse than their white counterparts include the issues of police violenceprofilingmisdemeanor arrestsdrug possession arrestsplea-bargainingjury selectionsentencingmass incarceration, and death penalty cases. The manipulative appeals I examine here are all designed to shield these indisputable inequities from both our awareness and our efforts at reform.

Vulnerability: Are we safe?

Whether as passing thoughts or haunting worries, we often wonder if the people we care about are in harm’s way, and if there might be danger on the horizon. Our judgments on these matters go a long way in determining the choices we make and the actions we take—it’s only when we think we’re safe that we comfortably turn our attention to other things. Unfortunately, we’re not very good at assessing risks or the effectiveness of possible responses to them. That’s why psychological appeals targeting these concerns are a frequent propaganda tactic of defenders of the status quo. Here are two examples.

Status quo defenders regularly use the “It’s A Dangerous World” mind game in their efforts to justify aggressive action or authoritarian control. By encouraging us to imagine fraught scenarios and catastrophic outcomes, we become more obedient when we’re instructed to follow commands and relinquish our rights. Similarly, claiming that they’re keeping everyone safe from ominous threats is how extreme law-and-order advocates defend bloated budgets and military-style weaponry for police departments, and even violent crackdowns against peaceful protesters. In the same way, police representatives defend the unwarranted use of force against unarmed civilians by insisting that they themselves feel threatened and under siege, and they exaggerate the dangers they actually face by falsely characterizing a group like Black Lives Matter as a terrorist organization. If we fall for these alarmist accounts, we’re more likely to conclude that outrageous transgressions by law enforcement are necessary to ensure the public’s welfare and security.

Defenders of the status quo turn to a second vulnerability mind game—“Change Is Dangerous”—whenever reforms proposed by others are likely to diminish their power or hamper their ambitions. At such times, they misleadingly argue that these new policies will place everyone in greater jeopardy. Unfortunately, this appeal often works because psychologically we tend to prefer what’s familiar to us over what’s different or new. It’s therefore no surprise that law enforcement representatives are now out in force warning us how dangerous it would be to adopt changes like reducing police budgets, or increasing community oversight of police operations, or removing the “qualified immunity” protections that prevent victims of police brutality from suing their perpetrators. When we’re persuaded by these and other unfounded claims of peril, we’re less likely to support urgently needed reforms.

Injustice: Are we being treated fairly?

Cases of real or perceived mistreatment frequently stir anger and resentment, as well as an urge to right wrongs and bring accountability to those we hold responsible. That can all be very good. But our perceptions about what’s just and what’s not are imperfect, which makes us potential targets for manipulation by those who have a selfish interest in shaping our views of right and wrong to their advantage. This is exactly what defenders of the status quo work hard to do. Consider these two examples.

Status quo defenders routinely use the “No Injustice Here” mind game to quell public outrage over their wrongdoing. They either deny that misconduct has occurred or insist that it’s been greatly exaggerated. This appeal frequently succeeds because we like to believe that we live in a just world, and that those in positions of power are fair-minded rather than driven by self-interest. So law enforcement officials will portray instances of police brutality as necessary acts of self-defense. And when the evidence of abuse is beyond dispute, they’ll then contend that there’s no systemic racism—the problem, they insist, is merely a few “bad apples.” At the same time, the “blue wall of silence” strongly discourages police officers from speaking out about the crimes of their colleagues. The public’s embrace of deceptive claims like these stands in the way of justice for those who’ve been victimized.

When their policies or actions are criticized, defenders of the status quo take advantage of a second injustice mind game: “We’re the Victims.” They brazenly complain that they’re the ones who are really being mistreated. This turning of the tables is designed to encourage confusion and disagreement among the public over who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s the victim, and who’s the perpetrator. That’s why law enforcement heads disingenuously insist that it’s the police who are actually being “oppressed” or “handcuffed” or “scapegoated” in doing their job; that “Blue Lives Matter” too yet the police don’t receive the respect they deserve from the public; and that they’re denied due process when claims of abuse arise. If these misleading appeals are successful, our concern is directed away from the actual victims of police misconduct and the institutional racism that encourages it.

Distrust: Who should we trust?

We tend to divide the world into those we find trustworthy and those we don’t. Where we draw that line matters a lot. If we get it right, we avoid harm from those who have hostile intentions, and we’re able to enjoy the rewards of fulfilling relationships. But we often make these judgments with only limited and uncertain information. As a result, our conclusions about the trustworthiness of particular people and groups are frequently flawed and problematic—especially when others with self-serving objectives influence our thinking. Here are two examples.

With the “They’re Devious and Dishonest” mind game, status quo defenders smear their opponents by portraying them as untrustworthy and lacking in integrity. In this way, they aim to undercut the public’s concern for those who are struggling by instead arguing that any claims of adversity or mistreatment are mere fabrications. This is the ploy that was used when the U.S. Attorney General dismissed protesters against police brutality as “outside radicals and agitators,” and when the President suggested that an elderly human rights activist injured by police is actually an “antifa provocateur,” and when a right-wing talk show host warned that Black Lives Matter is an extremist political party with ulterior motives to remake and control the United States. When this fraudulent mind game succeeds, our worries over misplacing our trust—and possible betrayal—lead us to disregard urgent voices of dissent.

“They’re Different from Us” is a second distrust mind game regularly employed by defenders of the status quo. By taking advantage of our tendency to be more suspicious and less generous toward people we perceive as outsiders, this appeal is designed to create psychological distance between the general public and those who are most disadvantaged by the current system. This is why spokespersons from law enforcement and conservative media move so quickly to tarnish the reputations of the Black victims of police violence by characterizing them as “thugs” and “super-predators” and by relying on racist dog whistles to promote negative stereotypes. Likewise, Black Lives Matter protesters are falsely depicted as anarchists with principles and priorities that diverge from the values of everyday Americans. If we fall for false narratives like these, our support for the abused and the outraged evaporates.

Superiority: Are we good enough?

We’re quick to compare ourselves to others, often in order to demonstrate that we’re worthy of respect. Sometimes this desire is even stronger: we want confirmation that we’re better in some important way—perhaps in our values, or in our contributions to society. But in these efforts to bolster our own self-appraisals, we’re sometimes encouraged to perceive others in as negative a light as possible, even to the point of dehumanizing them. And since the judgments we make about our own worth—and the qualities of others—are often quite subjective, these impressions are susceptible to manipulation. Consider these two examples.

With the “Pursuing A Higher Purpose” mind game, status quo defenders solicit the public’s support by claiming that their self-serving enterprises are actually aimed at enhancing the common good. We want to believe that our leaders are committed to causes with broad societal benefits, so this appeal can make us more tolerant of the outrages that they portray as merely unavoidable imperfections in the pursuit of collective greatness. In the context of police brutality, “law and order” is enshrined as the higher purpose that must be defended regardless of methods or consequences. It’s disingenuously exploited to justify not only bloated police budgets and military-grade weapons, but also the terrorizing of communities of color, the bullying of peaceful protesters, and the use of excessive force with near impunity. Too often the public is fooled when an authoritarian and racist agenda is disguised in this way.

Defenders of the status quo also use a second superiority mind game—“They’re Un-American”—in their efforts to marginalize critics. This appeal characterizes those who condemn current inequities as unappreciative of our country and the values and traditions that “real” Americans hold dear. It takes particular advantage of the public’s respect and deference toward anything framed as patriotic. When it comes to the battleground of racial injustice, we’ve seen demagogues falsely claim that taking a knee is an outrage against our flag and our soldiers, rather than a denunciation of police brutality. Likewise, Black Lives Matter is intentionally misrepresented as a violent movement controlled by terrorists out to harm the United States. And protesters outraged over monuments honoring the Confederacy and its slavery roots are depicted as seeking to destroy our “national heritage.” When these propaganda ploys are successful, reformers lose the public’s support and are also at greater personal peril from reactionary forces.

Helplessness: Can we control what happens to us?

Feelings of helplessness can sink any undertaking. That’s because believing we can’t control the important outcomes in our lives leads to resignation, which wrecks our motivation to work toward valuable personal or collective objectives. Social change efforts are severely hampered when people feel that working together won’t improve their circumstances. The belief that adversity can’t be overcome is therefore something we fight hard to resist. But if we reach that demoralizing conclusion, the effects can be difficult to reverse. Status quo defenders use this to their advantage. Here are two examples.

With the “We’ll All Be Helpless” mind game, defenders of the status quo warn that the reforms they oppose would make it impossible for us to control what happens in the future. If we fail to hold the line, they caution, we’ll all face dire circumstances without the capacity to protect ourselves or undo the damage. This deceptive appeal is used by law enforcement personnel to preserve bloated police budgets at the expense of other, under-funded community needs; to retain military-style weapons despite their role in escalating rather than curtailing violence; and to maintain “qualified immunity” from civil lawsuits for abusive police, which enables them to escape accountability for their actions. Unfortunately, the prospect of future helplessness is often frightening enough that even deeply flawed arguments against worthwhile reforms can prove persuasive to an apprehensive public.

“Resistance Is Futile” is a second helplessness mind game that powerful status quo defenders routinely use to discourage much-needed reforms. Their message is simple: We’re in charge and we always will be. When this appeal proves convincing, individuals and groups pushing for change are disempowered and they’re left demoralized, intimidated, and immobilized. That’s why we’re witnessing such fearful displays of law enforcement might—in uniformed numbers, protective battle equipment and gear, state-of-the-art weaponry, and a willingness to assault peaceful protesters. At the same time, police unions often show that they’ll defend even the worst abusers in their midst, and they readily use their political clout when it comes to local and national elections. If we believe that we can’t succeed against these seemingly invincible forces, then change efforts never get off the ground or quickly grind to a halt.

Resisting and Countering Their Mind Games

Because they’re designed to tap into our core psychological concerns, the ten mind games I’ve described here can often seem persuasive even though the arguments behind them are as flimsy as a conman’s promises. Unfortunately, as long as these manipulative appeals continue to be successful, our current criminal justice system—plagued by institutional racism and abusive law enforcement—will garner misguided support from the public.

Overturning this unjust status quo therefore depends, in part, on effectively resisting and countering these mind games. One way to accomplish this goal is through what psychologists call “attitude inoculation.” The basic idea comes from the familiar public health approach used to prevent contracting and spreading a dangerous virus. Consider the flu vaccine (or, hopefully someday in the future, a COVID-19 vaccine). When you get a flu shot, you’re receiving a modest dose of the actual influenza virus. Your body responds by building up antibodies, and this immunization is essential in fighting off the full-blown virus if it later attacks as you go about your daily life.

Status-quo-defending mind games are much like a “virus” that can “infect” us with false and destructive beliefs. So here too, inoculation may be our best defense. Having been warned that this virus is heading our way—often spread by the megaphones of powerful, right-wing, and racist law-and-order zealots—we can become more vigilant and prepare ourselves for the onslaught, not only by learning to recognize these deceptive appeals but also by being ready with counterarguments to them. Here are several examples.

In regard to their vulnerability mind games, research shows that larger police forces and aggressive tactics like stop-and-frisk do not lead to less crime and safer communities. Meanwhile, cutting massive police budgets can reduce crime by making more funding available to better address essential unmet security needs in lower-income neighborhoods, including improvements in housing, schools, jobs, and hospitals.

As for the injustice appeals, the evidence that Black Americans are victims of entrenched, systemic racism is overwhelming, from wages to wealth to healthcare to law enforcement and beyond. Likewise, it’s indisputable that people of color are disproportionately the targets of unfair and abusive policing—seen in shootings, profiling, arbitrary arrests, and more—while police officers only rarely face consequences for their misconduct.

Turning to their distrust mind games, the unarmed victims of police violence obviously aren’t the ones who misrepresent the circumstances surrounding deadly encounters—that dishonesty lies with the police officers and a code of silence that encourages cover-ups of their wrongdoing. At the same time, claims that Black Lives Matter is viewed as deceitful or deviant by the public are refuted by polls showing that the movement has broad and multi-racial support.

In regard to the superiority appeals, the idea that a “higher purpose” is served by protecting a law enforcement system that discriminates against Black Americans—at every step along the way—can only be the province of white supremacists. For much the same reason, opposing these harmful policies is far from “un-American”; the number and breadth of current protests remind us that nothing is more patriotic than standing up for democracy and equal rights.

Finally, as for their helplessness mind games, confronting police brutality and systemic racism makes our country stronger, not weaker, because it combats the inequalities that diminish a society’s cohesion, health, and security. Moreover, collective opposition to oppressive and unjust government is far from futile: non-violent civil resistance has a compelling history of producing real change around the world.

The bottom line is that we need to neutralize the manipulative messages of status quo defenders who aim to marginalize and disempower the nationwide protests against racial injustice. Counter-arguments like these are examples of the “antibodies” that can help do the trick. But just as importantly, we should recognize that there are many whose life experiences—as victims of systemic racism and targets of abusive policing—have already immunized them against the false allure of these mind games. They are particularly well-positioned to be “first responders” when it comes to inoculating others. Indeed, this is among the reasons that the voices of Black activists and community leaders deserve to be elevated above all others (including my own).

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Misleaders at a Funeral: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama Eulogizing Racial Justice in the Name of John Lewis


John Lewis lying in state at the United States Capitol – Public Domain

New Age Racists

Anyone who thinks it was fine and proper for the Jeffrey Epstein pal Bill Clinton to be a featured speaker at the funeral of John Lewis, a former Black Civil Rights icon, ought to read Elaine Brown’s brilliant 2002 book The Condemnation of Little B. In this classic radical Black text, Brown — a former chair of the Black Panther Party — tried to explain how the city of Atlanta, including its prominent Black citizens, had unjustly condemned a poor 14-year-old Black boy, Michael Lewis, for the murder of a white man visiting a well-known drug haven in one of that city’s Black ghettoes. Brown showed how Lewis’s conviction was “effectively predestined” by the “comfortable New Age racism of white liberals and middle-class blacks alike who have abandoned the cause of civil rights and equal opportunity.”

The most biting chapter in Brown’s bitter volume was titled “The Abandonment.” There Brown demonstrated how a host of Black bourgeois elites (her list included William Julius Wilson, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Colin Powell, Vernon Jordan, most members of the Congressional Black Caucus and, of course, Oprah Winfrey) aligned themselves with the insidious, “post-racial” neoliberal racism of the Clintons.

These Black misleaders, Brown showed, had joined the Clintons and other white elites in:

+ Smearing and trying to delete the Black radical tradition.

+ Backing Bill Clinton’s removal of millions of poor Black women and children from the welfare rolls.

+ Supporting the Clintons’ vicious corporatist hit job on efforts to provide national governmental health insurance as a human right to poor Black and other Americans.

+ Backing Bill Clinton’s racist mass-incarcerationist “three strikes” crime bill.

+ Blaming the Black poor for their own oppression. Black bourgeois elites applauded as President Clinton “audaciously admonished” Black Americans “for creating the deplorable state of Black America,” Brown wrote.

Sociopath Bill Clinton: “Too Far Towards Stokely”

How pathetic but predictable it was, then, to see the racist and rapist Bill Clinton invited to speak at the John Lewis funeral last week. True to his longstanding socio-pathological and lane-crossing form, Clinton (who seems to think of himself as a Black insider) thought the assignment gave him license to shit on the historical legacy of the great Black freedom fighter Kwame Ture (1941-1998), previously known as Stokely Carmichael. “There were two or three years there where the [mid-1960s Civil Rights] movement went a little bit too far towards Stokely,” Clinton opined, “but in the end, John Lewis prevailed.” For this remark, Clinton got and deserved an eloquent slap in the face from the Black historian Barbara Ransby:

“Who is Bill Clinton to weigh in on whether or not Ture went ‘too far’ when he was at the helm of SNCC? And how dare he poke jabs at a Black Freedom Movement leader who has been dead over 20 years, at a memorial service for another. Too far toward what, ‘freedom’?”

“Kwame Ture was a Trinidadian-born former Howard University student, powerful orator and brilliant intellectual. He drew inspiration from Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Fannie Lou Hamer, and by the late 1960s, he an unapologetic revolutionary.”

“Ture made enormous personal sacrifices toward his vision of liberation. He believed that the systems of capitalism, white supremacy, imperialism and paternalistic white liberalism had to be undone in order for true human freedom to flourish.”

“After he left SNCC, Ture worked briefly with the Black Panther Party, then moved to West Africa and founded the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party. He wrote, traveled, agitated and organized, never garnering much fame and never earning much money. He had been jailed, harassed and threatened during his work in the South. He had become close to some of the fiercest freedom fighters in Mississippi and Alabama, and later to heroic anti-colonial leaders throughout the African continent.”

“For some of those early years he fought alongside John Lewis, and then the two men took different paths.”

Bill Clinton’s presence on the Lewis funeral stage – and his despicable shot at Kwame Ture – was no less offensive than that other Epstein buddy Donald Trump’s failure even to pay his respects by visiting Lewis’s casket.

Equally inappropriate as a Lewis eulogizer last week was a George W. Bush – the man who let Black New Orleans drown while spending billions of dollars that needed to be invested in meeting the vast needs of the nation’s ghettoes on the arch-criminal, mass-murderous, and racist invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Barack Obama Failed a Black America Whose Existence He Denied

Rev. Wright Under the Bus

But what about the funeral’s most illustrious and highly advertised speaker, Barack Obama, famously and all too accurately described by the great Black revolutionary Dr. Cornel West as “a brown-faced Clinton”? As the nation’s first Black president, his featured role at the Lewis funeral was foreordained. But Obama too was ill-suited for the celebration of a onetime leader in the great 1960s struggle for Black equality. He was a deeply conservative Sixties-dissing president, after all, who saved his 2008 primary campaign candidacy by throwing his Black minister (Jeremiah Wright) under the bus for being too righteously angry over America’s deeply rooted racism (and its imperialism).

90/10 Percent: “Beyond” Race with Barack

The soft-McCarthyite abandonment of Reverend Jeremiah Wright was made official in a white-heralded, Israel-defending oration that treated American racial oppression as little more than a lingering overhang from the past. The speech came after interviews in which Obama had admonished Wright for “analyz[ing] public events in the context of race.” It came one year a speech in which Obama absurdly told a Black audience in Selma, Alabama, that Blacks had come 90 percent of the way to equality in the U.S.

After John Edwards accurately told a South Carolina debate audience in early 2008 that Black American families had “a net worth of 10 percent of what white families have,” “post-racial” Obama reprimanded the media for having “focused a lot on race as we moved down to South Carolina.” While “race is a factor [!] in our society,” the officially post-racial Obama deigned to concede, he was “convinced that white, Black, Latino, Asian, people want to move beyond our divisions…”

Blaming Black Victims, Not White Oppression

Obama’s tendency to downplay the role of systemic racism and to emphasize the role of Black personal and cultural responsibility in the creation of the nation’s stark racial inequalities lasted into his presidency. As the brilliant Black scholar William A. Darity, Jr. noted in an incisive December 2016 essay titled “How Barack Obama Failed Black Americans,” President Obama trafficked heavily in the white-supremacist claim that Blacks’ economic difficulties were the result of Blacks’ own “self-defeating or dysfunctional behavior.” In one of the many examples of this recurrent Obama narrative that Darity noted, Obama told the 2013 graduates of historically Black Morehouse College that young Black men had “no excuses,” and placed blame for Black difficulties in America at the feet of absentee fathers.

Darity wrote with barely concealed disgust about what he had seen and heard from a technically Black president who refused to advance policy solutions to the numerous and interrelated barriers to Black advancement and equality posed by the nation’s deeply embedded structural and institutional racism:

“It has been damaging to have Barack Obama, a black man speaking from the authoritative platform of the presidency, reinforce the widely held belief that racial inequality in the United States is, in large measure, the direct responsibility of black folk. This has been the deal breaker for me: not merely a silence on white physical and emotional violence directed against black Americans, but the denial of the centrality of American racism in explaining sustained black-white disparity.”

Darity noted the deep irony in the one and only Obama program designed specifically for Black Americans—a program rooted in the idea that racial disparity is largely about Black behavior:

“There is one major initiative that the Obama administration has inaugurated that is black-specific, but it is the exception that proves the rule. It exposes all the issues at play. My Brother’s Keeper is a program premised on the view that young black men constitute a social problem and need interventions that will alter their outlook and actions. The focus is on reforming young men rather than directly increasing the resources possessed by them and their families and removing the constraints they face. Again, the underlying ideological motivation is the belief in black cultural deficiency, and, again, this type of initiative is another expression of failure to pursue bold policies that confront the fundamental causes of racial disparity in American society” (emphasis added).

Setting Up People He Failed to Protect for Attack

Obama’s failure to fight meaningfully for Black equality and racial justice beyond the symbolic reality of his technically Black presence in the White House was all the more depressing in light of the unpleasant fact that his presence in the nation’s top job sparked a white racist backlash that could be counted on to target Black Americans who did not share the Obamas’ elevated economic status and protections. Obama did nothing or close to it to advance or protect Black Americans while setting them up for intensified hatred and assault from whites who sadly but predictably and absurdly took Obama’s presidency to mean that Blacks and other non-whites had moved ahead of Caucasians and were now “taking over the country.” That was a ridiculous belief that Donald Trump was more than happy to fan and exploit.

“The Most Powerful Tool We Have”

Obama’s funeral speech last week nothing to write home about from a social justice perspective. In a polished 40-minute oration eulogizing Lewis before a mostly Black audience, Obama spoke passionately against how “those in power…are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision – even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick.” Obama also spoke with anger and eloquence against how “we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.”

But Obama still could not bring himself to mention Donald Trump by name and failed to mention the Trump paramilitaries’ use of deadly rubber bullets and other “impact munitions.” Obama could not use the F-word – fascism – that he had rightly applied to Trump in his private conversation with Tim Kaine in October of 2016 (more on this below). Obama naturally said nothing about the remarkable popular anti-fascist uprising that seems to have forced a paramilitary retreat in Portland. Kwame Ture would not have been so timid.

Obama badly devalued the significance of social movements and protest beyond the election cycle – the very kind of political engagement that brought John Lewis on to the stage of history in the first place – by telling his audience that “the right to vote” is “the most powerful tool we have” and that voting is “the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy.” That is simply false, as the broad sweep of American history clearly shows (the best introductory primers on this are Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, Jeremy Brecher, Strike!, and Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, People People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail).

In the Year 2220

Obama’s speech ended with vapid references to the gradual and supposedly forward march of American history toward “a more perfect union.” Obama took gradualism to a new level when he suggested that it might take “two hundred years” before we get that “more perfect union.”

Two hundred years? Has the former president looked at any climate data lately? As the left historian and journalist Terry Thomas writes me, “The planet will be a smoldering archaeological project for aliens by then.”

Thanks, Obama.

“Private Chats” vs. Public Obama

The New York Times reported that “Mr. Obama lacerated his successor, though not by name” in his funeral oration. Lest mentioning Obama’s doggedly persistent failure to name Trump might make the former president sound too tame, Times reporters Maggie Astor and Shane Goldmacher added that “in recent private chats with Democratic donors, Mr. Obama has hit Mr. Trump more directly, accusing him of campaigning by stirring up ‘nativist, racist, sexist’ resentments…” Astor and Goldmacher had nothing to say about the continuing and telling difference between (a) the more candid, direct, and forceful things Obama says about Trump to wealthy elites in private and the milder and (b) the more indirect things he says about the unnamed (by Obama) forty-fifth president in public.

“Private chats” (with elites) indeed. Here’s what Obama said to the lame corporate Democrat Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine in the last month of the 2016 presidential campaign: “Tim, remember, this is no time to be a purist. You’ve got to keep a fascist out of the White House.” (Leaving aside the noxious advice not to be too leftish [that was the meaning of “no time to be a purist”],, Obama was correct to describe his successor as a fascist (something that an onrush of mainstream Democratic political commentators are belatedly grasping in the wake of Lafayette Square and Portland).Contrast that with what Obama said to the American people (with a smile across his face and a grinning Joe Biden over his right shoulder) less than a month later, one day after Trump was elected to the most dangerous office on Earth:

“Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country. That’s what I heard in Mr. Trump’s remarks last night. That’s what I heard when I spoke to him directly. And I was heartened by that. That’s what the country needs—a sense of unity; a sense of inclusion; a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law; and a respect for each other. I hope that he maintains that spirit throughout this transition, and I certainly hope that’s how his presidency has a chance to begin….The point, though, is, is that we all go forward, with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens—because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy. That’s how this country has moved forward for 240 years. It’s how we’ve pushed boundaries and promoted freedom around the world. That’s how we’ve expanded the rights of our founding to reach all of our citizens. It’s how we have come this far.”

“And that’s why I’m confident that this incredible journey that we’re on as Americans will go on. And I am looking forward to doing everything that I can to make sure that the next President is successful in that. I have said before, I think of this job as being a relay runner—you take the baton, you run your best race, and hopefully, by the time you hand it off you’re a little further ahead, you’ve made a little progress. And I can say that we’ve done that, and I want to make sure that handoff is well-executed, because ultimately we’re all on the same team.”

“America[ns] First”! These creepy and cringeworthy comments, horrifying to read three and a half years into Trump’s predictably apocalyptic and neofascistic presidency, epitomized Obama’s standard bromide-laden oratory ever since he rose to prominence with a Democratic National Convention speech (please review my real-time response, titled “Keynote Reflections”) which proclaimed that “There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.”

“It was as If…”

Obama’s Rose Garden speech the day after the orange fascist malignancy was elected hammered away at the purported “democratic” greatness of America and the shared visions and values of all Americans regardless of race, color, creed, gender, nationality, class, and party. These were the same tired nostrums Obama and many of his fans had been confusing with Lincolnesque eloquence ever since he arrived on the national political stage in the summer of 2004. Reflecting on Hillary Clinton’s equally accommodating 2016 concession speech, the splendid Russian expatriate Masha Gessen wrote a cutting critique that could be easily applied to Obama’s Rose Garden post-election oration:

It was as though Donald Trump had not, in the course of his campaign, promised to deport US citizens, promised to create a system of surveillance targeted specifically at Muslim Americans, promised to build a wall on the border with Mexico, advocated war crimes, endorsed torture, and repeatedly threatened to jail Hillary Clinton herself. It was as though those statements and many more could be written off as so much campaign hyperbole and now that the campaign was over, Trump would be eager to become a regular, rule-abiding politician of the pre-Trump era” (emphasis added).

Regarding Richard Hofstader’s First and Best Book

John Lewis was a lovely man. I ran into him (an unmistakable presence) once at an airport (either Reagan or Hartsfield) and asked him some questions about the history of the Civil Rights Movement. (I was teaching a class on post-WWII U.S. History at the time.) He kindly took time to answer and reflect and wished me and my students well.

It’s a shame John Lewis got all wrapped-up in the great corporate-imperialist ruling class crime syndicate that is the Democratic Party.

At one point in his John Lewis funeral oration, the sociopath Bill Clinton noted that as a young activist Lewis kept in his backpack a copy of the esteemed American historian Richard Hofstader’s classic 1948 text The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made ItAs Clinton may not know and certainly would not say if he did, that book – Hofstader’s first, best, and leftmost publication – argued that leading U.S. statesmen and presidents on both sides of the nation’s shifting binary party systems – Jeffersonians v. Hamiltonians, Whigs vs. Democrats, Republicans vs. Democrats – shared a vision of the good society and “democracy” that was strictly bounded by the narrow prerogatives of concentrated wealth, property, and power – in other words by rapacious, racially oppressive and expansionist (imperialist) capitalism. I read Hofstader’s magisterial (for its time) monograph as a 19-year old college freshman at the “little red schoolhouse on the prairie” (the once significantly Marxist history department of Northern Illinois University) in a U.S. History survey taught by the great New Left American colonial and revolutionary era historian Alfred Young. It was, for me, a radicalizing read (ironically enough, given Hofstader’s later conservative reaction to the rise of the New Left). It helped put me on the path towards respecting Kwame Ture’s path far more than John Lewis’s path.

The Clinton42 and Obama44 presidencies validated Hofstader’s 1948 thesis no less than the Reagan40, Bush41, Bush43, and Covid45 presidencies. They are no small part of the Weimar-like background for how we got in the deadly brownish-orange mess we are in right now.

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Unsung Heroes of Los Alamos: Rethinking Manhattan Project Spies and the Cold War


high southwest view aerial of Los Alamos Los Alamos National Laboratory (left) and Los Alamos townsite (middle and right)

75 years ago before dawn on July 16, 1945, a cataclysmic explosion shook the New Mexico desert as scientists from the top-secret Manhattan Project tested their nightmarish creation: the first atom bomb, called “the Gadget.”

This birth of the Nuclear Age, was quickly followed a few weeks later, first on August 6 by the dropping of a U-235 atom bomb on Hiroshima, a non-military city of 225,000, and then, three days after that on Aug. 9, by the dropping of a somewhat more powerful Plutonium atom bomb on Nagasaki, another non-military city of 195,000. The resulting slaughter of some 200,000 mostly civilian Japanese men, women and children naturally leads to talk of the horrors of those weapons and to discussions about whether they should have been used on Japan instead of being demonstrated on an uninhabited target.

What goes unmentioned, however, as we mark each important anniversary of these horrific events — the initial Trinity test in Alamogordo, the “Little Boy” bombing of Hiroshima and  the “Fat Man” plutonium bombing of Nagasaki — is that, incredibly, in a world where nine nations possess a total of nearly 14,000 nuclear weapons, not one has been used in war to kill human beings since the bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

And that’s not all. Over those same 75 years, despite seven and a half decades of intense hostility and rivalry, as well as some major proxy wars, between great powers like the US and USSR, and the US and China, no two superpower nations have gone to war against each other.

The reason for this phenomenal and almost incomprehensible absence of catastrophic conflict of the type so common throughout human history is the same in both cases:  No country dares to risk the use a nuclear weapon because of the fear it could lead other nuclear nations use theirs, and no major power dares to go to war against another major power because it is obvious that any war between two such nations would very quickly go nuclear.

Things could have gone very differently, however, with the dawn of the nuclear age.

At the end of WWII, the US was the world’s unchallenged superpower. It had emerged from war with its industrial base undamaged while Europe, the Soviet Union, Japan and much of China and were all smoking ruins, their dead numbering  in the tens of millions. The US also had a monopoly on a new super weapon — the atom bomb — a weapon capable of vaporizing a city. And the this country had demonstrated that it had no moral compunction about using its terrible new weapon of mass destruction.

Some important scientists involved in the creation of the bomb urged the sharing of its construction secrets with America’s ally in the war against the Axis powers, the Soviet Union. These scientists, many of them Nobel-winning physicists, said negotiations should begin immediately at that point to eliminate nuclear weapons for all time, just as germ and chemical weapons had already been banned (successfully as the history of WWII showed).

But military and civilian leaders in Washington balked at the idea of sharing the bombs’ secrets. In fact, after Bohr’s visit, President Roosevelt reportedly had the FBI monitor Nobelist Nils Bohr, one of the Los Alamos scientists who directly pleaded with him to bring the Russians into the bomb project, and even considered barring him from leaving the US. The Truman administration considered deporting Leo Szilard, and after Robert Oppenheimer proposed to Truman the sharing of the bomb with the Russians, his top-secret security clearance was revoked.

Instead of sharing the bomb with the USSR, which, remember, was America’s ally in World War II, and then working for its being banned, the US began producing dozens and eventually hundreds of Nagasaki-sized atom bombs, moving quickly from hand-made devices to mass produced ones. The US also quickly started pursuing the development of a vastly more powerful bomb — the thermonuclear Hydrogen bomb — a weapon that theoretically has no limits to how great its destructive power could be. (A one-megaton bomb typical of some of the larger warheads in the US arsenal today is 30 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.)

Why this obsession with creating a stockpile of atomic bombs big enough to destroy not just a country but the whole earth at such a time as the end of WWII?  The war was over and American scientists and intelligence analysts were predicting that the war-ravaged Soviet Union would need years and perhaps a decade to produce its own bomb, yet the US was going full tilt building an explosive arsenal that quickly dwarfed all the explosives used in the last two world wars combined.

What was the purpose of building so many bombs? One hint comes from the fact that the US also, right after the war, began mass producing the B-29 Super Fortress — planes like the Enola Gay that delivered the first atomic bomb to Hiroshima — and de-mothballing and refurbishing hundreds that had been built and declared surplussed right at the war’s end. A B-29 could only carry one plutonium or  two uranium bombs for any significant distance. But the US was building several thousand of them in peacetime. Why?

The answer, according to a 1987 book, To Win a Nuclear War authored by nuclear physicists Michio Kaku and Daniel Axelrod, is that the US was planning to launch a devastating nuclear first strike blitz on the Soviet Union as soon as it could build and deliver the 300 nuclear bombs that Pentagon strategists believed would be needed to destroy the Soviet Union as an industrial society and its Red Army as well, eliminating any possibility of the USSR responding by sweeping over war-ravaged western Europe. And the B-29 was at the time the only plane it had which could deliver the bombs.

This genocidal nightmare envisioned by Truman and the Pentagon’s nuclear madmen never happened because the initial slow pace of constructing the bombs meant that the 300 weapons and the planes to deliver them would not be ready until early 1950. Meanwhile, Russia’s first bomb, a plutonium device that was a virtual carbon copy of the “Fat Man” bomb dropped on Nagasaki, was successfully exploded on August 29, 1949, in a test that caught the US by complete surprise.  At that point the idea of a deadly first strike was dropped (or at least deferred indefinitely) by Truman and Pentagon strategists.

A new era of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) had arrived, and according to Kaku and Axelrod, just in time.

For that bit of good fortune, I suggest, we have to thank the spies who, for whatever  their individual motives, successfully obtained and delivered the secrets of the atomic bomb and its construction to the scientists in the Soviet Union who were struggling, with limited success, to quickly come up with their own atomic bomb.

To most Americans, those spies, especially the US citizens among them like Julius Rosenberg and notably Ted Hall, the youngest scientist at the Manhattan Project, hired out of Harvard as a junior physics major at 18, were modern day Benedict Arnolds. The truth is quite different.

Hall, who was never caught, and who was not recruited to be a spy but volunteered plans for the plutonium bomb on his own initiative after searching for and finally locating a Soviet agent, and another spy, the young German Communist physicist, Klaus Fuchs, working independently of each other, both delivering critical plans for the US plutonium bomb to Moscow, clearly prevented the US from launching a nuclear holocaust.

By decisively helping the USSR develop and test its own bomb quickly by mid-1949, half a year before the US could attain a stockpile of 300 bombs, they forced the US to have to consider the unacceptable risk of retaliation. Had the Soviets taken longer to create their own atomic bomb, the US could have gone through with its criminal plans, which would have dwarfed Hitler’s slaughter of the six million Jewish and Roma people. (Pentagon experts estimated that over 30-40 million Russians would be killed by a US nuclear blitz.)

Hall, in public statements made in the mid-1990s after de-encrypted  Soviet spy codes became public and his name was identified in them, explained that he had acted to share the plans for the plutonium bomb because he felt that the US, coming out of WWII with a nuclear monopoly, would have been a danger to not just the Soviet Union, but to the entire world. (The Russian bomb exploded in August, 1949 was a virtual carbon copy of the Nagasaki plutonium bomb Hall had worked on in his two years at Los Alamos.)

Looking back to the US decision to use its first nuclear weapon not as a demonstration on an empty island or military base, but on two undefended civilian cities, and to catastrophic US carpet bombings using non-nuclear bombs, of North Korea and later Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, it’s hard disagree with Hall’s thinking. His concern about US nuclear intentions is further borne out by how close the US came to using its nuclear bombs in crisis after crisis during the late ’40s and early ‘50s  —  against China and North Korea during the Korean Warin support of the French expeditionary force trapped at Dien Bien Phu, by JFK in the 1961 in the Berlin crisis, in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. and later when US Marines were trapped by Vietnamese troops in Khe Sanh. Each time, it was fear of the Soviets responding with their own bomb that saved the day and largely kept American bombs on the ground (actually in the Khe San case in 1968 atom bombs were actually delivered close to the Indochina front, but President Johnson called a halt to the military’s plans).

The truth is, if the Soviets had not had their own bomb during any of the above listed crises, it is hard to imagine that the US, with a monopoly on the bomb, would not have used it to full advantage. If we’re honest, The MAD reality enabled by Russia’s Los Alamos spies proved to be a lifesaver for tens or perhaps millions of people around the world.

Americans may (and should!) decry the hundreds of billions of dollars (trillions in today’s dollars) that have been poured into a massively wasteful arms race with the Soviet Union and later Russia and China — money that could have done incalculable good if spent on schools, health care, environmental issues etc. — need to consider what the alternative would have been to Cold War and MAD.  With MAD (and considerable good luck) we have had no world wars, and no nuclear bombs dropped on human beings. Without it, with the US having a monopoly on the bomb for perhaps as long as a decade following WWII, this country would have nuked cities all over the world, almost certainly destroying the Soviet Union entirely, and the US would today be known today as the ultimate genocidal monster of history, rather than having Germany left holding that eternal badge of shame.

In reconsidering the work of Soviet atomic spies, Americans also need  to know the truth about the goal of the Manhattan Project. While the push to develop the bomb began with a letter from Albert Einstein to Roosevelt warning that the Germans might develop such a weapon, by the time the program got underway, it was clear that the real target was America’s Ally in the fight against the Nazis:  The USSR.

Of course we must work to ban nuclear weapons and war. Such weapons are incomparably evil and if the world agrees that germ warfare and poison gas weapons should not exist, certainly nuclear weapons a million times worse should not!  But we should nonetheless, as we look back at the grim 75th anniversary of those three first nuclear bombs exploded by the US, admit a debt of gratitude to those spies at Los Alamos who kept the US from committing an atrocity that humanity would have never forgiven, and for giving us this amazing three-quarters of a century of no nuclear or world war.

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Another Hiroshima is Coming…Unless We Stop It Now


Photograph Source: Oilstreet – Own work – CC BY 2.5

When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open.

At a quarter past eight on the morning of August 6, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite.

I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, then I walked down to the river where the survivors still lived in shanties.

I met a man called Yukio, whose chest was etched with the pattern of the shirt he was wearing when the atomic bomb was dropped.

He described a huge flash over the city, “a bluish light, something like an electrical short”, after which wind blew like a tornado and black rain fell. “I was thrown on the ground and noticed only the stalks of my flowers were left. Everything was still and quiet, and when I got up, there were people naked, not saying anything. Some of them had no skin or hair. I was certain I was dead.”

Nine years later, I returned to look for him and he was dead from leukaemia.

“No radioactivity in Hiroshima ruin” said The New York Times front page on 13 September, 1945, a classic of planted disinformation. “General Farrell,” reported William H. Lawrence, “denied categorically that [the atomic bomb] produced a dangerous, lingering radioactivity.”

Only one reporter, Wilfred Burchett, an Australian, had braved the perilous journey to Hiroshima in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing, in defiance of the Allied occupation authorities, which controlled the “press pack”.

“I write this as a warning to the world,” reported Burchett in the London Daily Express  of September 5,1945. Sitting in the rubble with his Baby Hermes typewriter, he described hospital wards filled with people with no visible injuries who were dying from what he called “an atomic plague”.

For this, his press accreditation was withdrawn, he was pilloried and smeared. His witness to the truth was never forgiven.

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was an act of premeditated mass murder that unleashed a weapon of intrinsic criminality. It was justified by lies that form the bedrock of America’s war propaganda in the 21st century, casting a new enemy, and target – China.

During the 75 years since Hiroshima, the most enduring lie is that the atomic bomb was dropped to end the war in the Pacific and to save lives.

“Even without the atomic bombing attacks,” concluded the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, “air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion. “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that … Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war [against Japan] and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”

The National Archives in Washington contains documented Japanese peace overtures as early as 1943. None was pursued. A cable sent on May 5, 1945 by the German ambassador in Tokyo and intercepted by the US made clear the Japanese were desperate to sue for peace, including “capitulation even if the terms were hard”. Nothing was done.

The US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, told President Truman he was “fearful” that the US Air Force would have Japan so “bombed out” that the new weapon would not be able “to show its strength”. Stimson later admitted that “no effort was made, and none was seriously considered, to achieve surrender merely in order not to have to use the [atomic] bomb”.

Stimson’s foreign policy colleagues — looking ahead to the post-war era they were then shaping “in our image”, as Cold War planner George Kennan famously put it — made clear they were eager “to browbeat the Russians with the [atomic] bomb held rather ostentatiously on our hip”. General Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project that made the atomic bomb, testified: “There was never any illusion on my part that Russia was our enemy, and that the project was conducted on that basis.”

The day after Hiroshima was obliterated, President Harry Truman voiced his satisfaction with the “overwhelming success” of “the experiment”.

The “experiment” continued long after the war was over. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States exploded 67 nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific: the equivalent of more than one Hiroshima every day for 12 years.

The human and environmental consequences were catastrophic. During the filming of my documentary, The Coming War on China, I chartered a small aircraft and flew to Bikini Atoll in the Marshalls. It was here that the United States exploded the world’s first Hydrogen Bomb. It remains poisoned earth. My shoes registered “unsafe” on my Geiger counter. Palm trees stood in unworldly formations. There were no birds.

I trekked through the jungle to the concrete bunker where, at 6.45 on the morning of March 1, 1954, the button was pushed. The sun, which had risen, rose again and vaporised an entire island in the lagoon, leaving a vast black hole, which from the air is a menacing spectacle: a deathly void in a place of beauty.

The radioactive fall-out spread quickly and “unexpectedly”. The official history claims “the wind changed suddenly”. It was the first of many lies, as declassified documents and the victims’ testimony reveal.

Gene Curbow, a meteorologist assigned to monitor the test site, said, “They knew where the radioactive fall-out was going to go. Even on the day of the shot, they still had an opportunity to evacuate people, but [people] were not evacuated; I was not evacuated… The United States needed some guinea pigs to study what the effects of radiation would do.”

Like Hiroshima, the secret of the Marshall Islands was a calculated experiment on the lives of large numbers of people. This was Project 4.1, which began as a scientific study of mice and became an experiment on “human beings exposed to the radiation of a nuclear weapon”.

The Marshall Islanders I met in 2015 — like the survivors of Hiroshima I interviewed in the 1960s and 70s — suffered from a range of cancers, commonly thyroid cancer; thousands had already died. Miscarriages and stillbirths were common; those babies who lived were often deformed horribly.

Unlike Bikini, nearby Rongelap atoll had not been evacuated during the H-Bomb test. Directly downwind of Bikini, Rongelap’s skies darkened and it rained what first appeared to be snowflakes.  Food and water were contaminated; and the population fell victim to cancers. That is still true today.

I met Nerje Joseph, who showed me a photograph of herself as a child on Rongelap. She had terrible facial burns and much of her was hair missing. “We were bathing at the well on the day the bomb exploded,” she said. “White dust started falling from the sky. I reached to catch the powder. We used it as soap to wash our hair. A few days later, my hair started falling out.”

Lemoyo Abon said, “Some of us were in agony. Others had diarrhoea. We were terrified. We thought it must be the end of the world.”

US official archive film I included in my film refers to the islanders as “amenable savages”. In the wake of the explosion, a US Atomic Energy Agency official is seen boasting that Rongelap “is by far the most contaminated place on earth”, adding, “it will be interesting to get a measure of human uptake when people live in a contaminated environment.”

American scientists, including medical doctors, built distinguished careers studying the “human uptake’. There they are in flickering film, in their white coats, attentive with their clipboards. When an islander died in his teens, his family received a sympathy card from the scientist who studied him.

I have reported from five nuclear “ground zeros” throughout the world — in Japan, the Marshall Islands, Nevada, Polynesia and Maralinga in Australia. Even more than my experience as a war correspondent, this has taught me about the ruthlessness and immorality of great power: that is, imperial power, whose cynicism is the true enemy of humanity.

This struck me forcibly when I filmed at Taranaki Ground Zero at Maralinga in the Australian desert. In a dish-like crater was an obelisk on which was inscribed: “A British atomic weapon was test exploded here on 9 October 1957”. On the rim of the crater was this sign:


Radiation levels for a few hundred metres

around this point may be above those considered

safe for permanent occupation.

For as far as the eye could see, and beyond, the ground was irradiated. Raw plutonium lay about, scattered like talcum powder: plutonium is so dangerous to humans that a third of a milligram gives a 50 per cent chance of cancer.

The only people who might have seen the sign were Indigenous Australians, for whom there was no warning. According to an official account, if they were lucky “they were shooed off like rabbits”.

Today, an unprecedented campaign of propaganda is shooing us all off like rabbits. We are not meant to question the daily torrent of anti-Chinese rhetoric, which is rapidly overtaking the torrent of anti-Russia rhetoric. Anything Chinese is bad, anathema, a threat: Wuhan …. Huawei. How confusing it is when “our” most reviled leader says so.

The current phase of this campaign began not with Trump but with Barack Obama, who in 2011 flew to Australia to declare the greatest build-up of US naval forces in the Asia-Pacific region since World War Two. Suddenly, China was a “threat”. This was nonsense, of course. What was threatened was America’s unchallenged psychopathic view of itself as the richest, the most successful, the most “indispensable” nation.

What was never in dispute was its prowess as a bully — with more than 30 members of the United Nations suffering American sanctions of some kind and a trail of the blood running through defenceless countries bombed, their governments overthrown, their  elections interfered with, their resources plundered.

Obama’s declaration became known as the “pivot to Asia”. One of its principal advocates was his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who, as WikiLeaks revealed, wanted to rename the Pacific Ocean “the American Sea”.

Whereas Clinton never concealed her warmongering, Obama was a maestro of marketing.”I state clearly and with conviction,” said the new president in 2009, “that America’s commitment is to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Obama increased spending on nuclear warheads faster than any president since the end of the Cold War. A “usable” nuclear weapon was developed. Known as the B61 Model 12, it means, according to General James Cartwright, former vice-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that “going smaller [makes its use] more thinkable”.

The target is China. Today, more than 400 American military bases almost encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to South-East Asia, Japan and Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, as one US strategist told me, “the perfect noose”.

A study by the RAND Corporation – which, since Vietnam, has planned America’s wars – is entitled War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable. Commissioned by the US Army, the authors evoke the infamous catch cry of its chief Cold War strategist, Herman Kahn – “thinking the unthinkable”. Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War, elaborated a plan for a “winnable” nuclear war.

Kahn’s apocalyptic view is shared by Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an evangelical fanatic who believes in the “rapture of the End”. He is perhaps the most dangerous man alive. “I was CIA director,” he boasted, “We lied, we cheated, we stole. It was like we had entire training courses.”  Pompeo’s obsession is China.

The endgame of Pompeo’s extremism is rarely if ever discussed in the Anglo-American media, where the myths and fabrications about China are standard fare, as were the lies about Iraq. A virulent racism is the sub-text of this propaganda. Classified “yellow” even though they were white, the Chinese are the only ethnic group to have been banned by an “exclusion act” from entering the United States, because they were Chinese. Popular culture declared them sinister, untrustworthy, “sneaky”, depraved, diseased, immoral.

An Australian magazine, The Bulletin, was devoted to promoting fear of the “yellow peril” as if all of Asia was about to fall down on the whites-only colony by the force of gravity.

As the historian Martin Powers writes, acknowledging China’s  modernism, its secular morality and “contributions to liberal thought threatened European face, so it became necessary to suppress China’s role in the Enlightenment debate …. For centuries, China’s threat to the myth of Western superiority has made it an easy target for race-baiting.”

In the Sydney Morning Herald, tireless China-basher Peter Hartcher described those who spread Chinese influence in Australia as “rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows”. Hartcher, who favourably quotes the American demagogue Steve Bannon, likes to interpret the “dreams” of the current Chinese elite, to which he is apparently privy. These are inspired by yearnings for the “Mandate of Heaven” of 2,000 years ago. Ad nausea.

To combat this “mandate”, the Australian government of Scott Morrison has committed one of the most secure countries on earth, whose major trading partner is China, to hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American missiles that can be fired at China.

The trickledown is already evident. In a country historically scarred by violent racism towards Asians, Australians of Chinese descent have formed a vigilante group to protect delivery riders. Phone videos show a delivery rider punched in the face and a Chinese couple racially abused in a supermarket. Between April and June, there were almost 400 racist attacks on Asian-Australians. 

“We are not your enemy,” a high-ranking strategist in China told me, “but if you [in the West] decide we are, we must prepare without delay.” China’s arsenal is small compared with America’s, but it is growing fast, especially the development of maritime missiles designed to destroy fleets of ships.

“For the first time,” wrote Gregory Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “China is discussing putting its nuclear missiles on high alert so that they can be launched quickly on warning of an attack… This would be a significant and dangerous change in Chinese policy…”

In Washington, I met Amitai Etzioni, distinguished professor of international affairs at George Washington University, who wrote that a “blinding attack on China” was planned, “with strikes that could be mistakenly perceived [by the Chinese] as pre-emptive attempts to take out its nuclear weapons, thus cornering them into a terrible use-it-or-lose-it dilemma [that would] lead to nuclear war.”

In 2019, the US staged its biggest single military exercise since the Cold War, much of it in high secrecy. An armada of ships and long-range bombers rehearsed an “Air-Sea Battle Concept for China” – ASB – blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca and cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.

It is fear of such a blockade that has seen China develop its Belt and Road Initiative along the old Silk Road to Europe and urgently build strategic airstrips on disputed reefs and islets in the Spratly Islands.

In Shanghai, I met Lijia Zhang, a Beijing journalist and novelist, typical of a new class of outspoken mavericks. Her best-selling book has the ironic title Socialism Is Great! Having grown up in the chaotic, brutal Cultural Revolution, she has travelled and lived in the US and Europe. “Many Americans imagine,” she said, “that Chinese people live a miserable, repressed life with no freedom whatsoever. The [idea of] the yellow peril has never left them… They have no idea there are some 500 million people being lifted out of poverty, and some would say it’s 600 million.”

Modern China’s epic achievements, its defeat of mass poverty, and the pride and contentment of its people (measured forensically by American pollsters such as Pew) are wilfully unknown or misunderstood in the West. This alone is a commentary on the lamentable state of Western journalism and the abandonment of honest reporting.

China’s repressive dark side and what we like to call its “authoritarianism” are the facade we are allowed to see almost exclusively. It is as if we are fed unending tales of the evil super-villain Dr. Fu Manchu. And it is time we asked why: before it is too late to stop the next Hiroshima.

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The Resistible Rise of Nuclear Gangsters…and Their Downfall


Photograph Source: Davis-Besse NPP.jpg: Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Original uploader was Theanphibian at en.wikipedia – Public Domain

It would be tempting to describe last week’s nuclear scandals — in three states — as something out of the Wild West. But Al Capone’s Chicago would be a more accurate analogy.

While no actual shots were fired, some pretty powerful metaphorical ones were, warnings that engaging in criminal racketeering and fraud to fleece ratepayers over failing nuclear plants would not go unpunished.

Over the course of just a single week, politicians, lobbyists and nuclear industry executives in Illinois, Ohio and South Carolina were reeled in and, in some cases, charged with high crimes for covering up illegal schemes that bought power, votes, legislation and huge bailouts for foundering nuclear power plants while squeezing ratepayers for the bill.

First to be implicated, on July 17, was Illinois Speaker of the House, Michael Madigan, a Democrat accused of (but so far not criminally charged for) being at the center of a vast criminal enterprise. Federal prosecutors allege that Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison dished out jobs and contracts worth $1.3 million to associates of Madigan to ensure passage of a 2016 $2.35 billion nuclear bailout bill. Those costs are to be passed on to customers for ten years. Federal prosecutors have confirmed only that Madigan remains under criminal investigation.

So far, with no clear charges leveled at him, Madigan has refused to resign. ComEd, a subsidiary of Exelon, has agreed to pay a $200 million slap-on-the-hand fine to settle the bribery allegations against the company. It also faces a class-action lawsuit seeking $150 million in reimbursements for its defrauded customers.

On July 21, the drama moved to Ohio, where it was the Republican Speaker of the House, Larry Householder, who went down, along with four co-conspirators so far, arrested for his evident involvement in what amounts to the biggest criminal racketeering conspiracy in Ohio history.

That plot revolves around $61 million in dark money provided by a certain ‘Company A’ to Householder and his cronies, again to secure passage of a bailout bill that provided $1.5 billion to keep two aging and uneconomical nuclear power plants in the state open — Davis-Besse and Perry.

The bailout, which became law in October 2019, is, like the one in Illinois, to be funded via a surcharge on electricity customers. The bill also decimated renewable energy development and energy efficiency implementation.

Householder, who refused to resign, was dismissed from his position as Speaker on July 30 in a unanimous 90-0 vote in the Ohio House.

Two days after the Householder indictment, things went south in South Carolina, where Steve Byrne, the former CEO of SCANA, pled guilty in a massive nuclear conspiracy that defrauded ratepayers of at least $2 billion in costs, deceived regulators and misled shareholders.

Byrne is charged with lying about progress on two reactors under construction — and since abandoned — at the V.C. Summer site, where costs ballooned to $9 billion. The lies were necessary to make the case that the two new reactors would be finished on time, thereby qualifying the company for $1.4 billion in future federal tax credits.

Again, it was ratepayers who shouldered the financial burden as the project faltered and finally collapsed.

Byrne, who began cooperating with investigators about two years into their now three year-long investigation, could face jail time and a fine, but will likely testify against his co-conspirators to reduce his punishment.

All three stories have a lot of moving parts with likely many more shoes still to drop. But what remains abundantly clear is that a financially desperate nuclear power industry can neither maintain its existing fleet nor build new reactors without engaging in outlandish, criminal schemes.

The Ohio story is by far the most fascinating one of the three, sometimes descending to levels of almost laughable absurdity. Householder, a straight-from-central-casting villain, appeared menacing, camo-clad and wielding a large gun in television campaign ads. But what he apparently enjoyed wielding even more, according to investigators of his crimes, was power.

Householder’s scheme — which included a climb back up the political ladder to regain the House Speaker’s chair — is laid bare in an 81-page criminal complaint. It was busted open by a year-long, detailed and covert investigation by the US Attorney’s office and the FBI, looking into illegal activities leading up to and including the Ohio nuclear bailout bill, known as HB6.

FirstEnergy Solutions, the then owner of Davis-Besse and Perry, had threatened their closure if bailout money was not forthcoming.

The reactors are currently owned by Energy Harbor, which was spun off from FirstEnergy Solutions, itself a spinoff from FirstEnergy. ‘Company A’, cited in the criminal complaint as the source of the $61 million, is believed to be FirstEnergy itself, but if you sense a shell game here, you are probably on the right track.

The $61 million slush fund, according to the criminal complaint, was used to bankroll political elections to ensure the right people would be in office when it came time to pass HB6 in July 2019. It was also used to engage in the sometimes violent suppression of citizen efforts to overturn it via a petition seeking a November 2019 ballot initiative. And some of it was simply pocketed by Householder and others for their personal use.

The crimes with which Householder and four political advisors and lobbyists have been charged constitute “a shameful betrayal of public trust,” said FBI special agent, Chris Hoffman, during a July 21 press conference announcing the arrests and indictment.

It was also, “likely the largest bribery money-laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio,” said US Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, David DeVillers at the same press conference, whose department led the investigation alongside the FBI.

The racketeering scheme that the justice department uncovered found a money trail of $61 million flowing from ‘Company A’ into a 501(c)(4) fund named Generation Now. Generation Now has also been charged with racketeering conspiracy.

But while the money clearly came from some iteration of FirstEnergy, the US Attorney’s office and the FBI are not, so far, fingering the corporation as the instigator. As US Attorney DeVillers said of the web of conspirators, “this enterprise went looking for someone to bribe them”.

Generation Now, as a 501(c)(4), was not obliged to declare the source of its funding. If it had been, said DeVillers at the press conference, the criminal enterprise it operated could never have happened. Despite its name, DeVillers said, “make no mistake, this is Larry Householder’s 501(c)(4).”

And a Republican-led operation. Generation Now’s treasurer is D. Eric Lycan, a Lexington, KY attorney with ties to the Kentucky House Republican Leadership Caucus. In addition to the ad buys Generation Now made for FirstEnergy, it also made them for an entity called Strategic Media Placement, run by GOP operative, Rex Elass.

FBI special agent Hoffman lumped Householder and his cronies in with FBI usual suspects like “gangs, child sex trafficking and Chinese spies,” but said that “public corruption is actually the top criminal priority for the FBI.”

Chinese spies were in fact part of the Generation Now misinformation campaign, a scare tactic used to derail efforts by a citizen coalition called Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts (OACB), which launched a petition drive to repeal HB6.

As the OACB petitioners took to the streets, attempting to gather enough signatures to get a repeal of HB6 onto a November ballot, a “yellow peril-style” racist smear campaign suggested that, among other things, the petition gatherers were in the payroll of Chinese government operatives who were “quietly invading our American electric grid” and that if you signed the HB6 repeal petition, the Chinese government would be capturing “your name, your address, your signature”. National security would also be at risk. Although the ad made no mention of “stealing our precious bodily fluids” it played like something straight out of Dr. Strangelove.

Most ludicrously, the Chinese scare ad, put together by Ohioans for Energy Security (another front group) suggested China, and by definition the ballot petitioners, were “taking Ohio money,” which is precisely what the Householder racket was doing.

It worked. OACB eventually ran out of time and petition gatherers, some having been bought off with a portion of the $61 million. It had been an almost impossibly uphill task from the get-go, sounding a warning for other ballot initiatives in the future.

The OACB lost valuable time — 38 days out of the 90 allotted — to gather signatures after submitting the petition language for approval to Ohio Attorney General, David Yost, who sent it back for improvements.

This was not an unexpected development, says Rachael Belz, Executive Director of Ohio Citizen Action. “Everybody knows in Ohio, after a hundred years of this system, that the first time you submit a thousand signatures with the language, it is never approved the first time,” she said. “Everybody knows you will lose time.”

Nevertheless, the OACB sued for more time, eventually asking the Ohio Supreme Court to rule on whether the Ohio constitution guarantees citizens the full 90 days to gather signatures and whether restrictions by lawmakers were constitutional.

But in October 2019, OACB withdrew the initiative and its court appeal. The bigger problem, in the end, was not so much time, as money. A petition requires “at least $3 million just to get out of the gate,” Belz said. But the petition blockers who roamed the streets, bribing away OACB’s signature gatherers and even, in at least one case, roughing one of them up, were fueled by countless millions of dollars.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Belz said before the arrest of Householder. “And I’m afraid it will start happening elsewhere.”

While petition blockers are legal, their tactics in Ohio, as the criminal complaint now lays out, strayed outside the law. “It was a saturation of fear,” said Belz, who described one of her own directors, who was gathering signatures to repeal HB6, being offered a $1,000 bribe to ditch the petition and go home “on her very first day.” Others were offered, and took, upwards of $10,000 to $20,000 in bribes.

“Probably no one could have done it,” said Belz of the petition drive. “It was a question of who was going to spend more money and it was always going to be FirstEnergy.”

HB6 effectively became law. And it still is.

That’s the worst part of the news. Householder and others may pay a fine, or even see jail time, but the people of Ohio remain in danger. Davis-Besse and Perry are two of the most seriously degraded reactors in the country and should have been shut down long ago.

The $1.5 billion subsidy, says Toledo public interest attorney, Terry Lodge, “didn’t go to ensure safe nuclear plant operations for the next five years, but instead was paid to investors as dividends once the FirstEnergy bailout was over.”

Can HB6 be undone, given it was passed based on ill-gotten gains?

On July 30, Republican Ohio governor, Mike DeWine, a previous supporter of the bill, called for its repeal. Leaders in both the Ohio House and Senate are working on new legislation to undo it. However, it is not clear that any new version would strip out language that awards subsidies to nuclear power. The lawmakers simply want a “clean” bill, even if it still keeps dangerous nuclear reactors running.

On the Republican side, they could also be motivated by yet another dirty discovery. Prior to the vote on HB6, a Trump operative, Bob Paduchik, had pressured “at least five members of the Ohio House of Representatives,” to vote ‘yes’ on HR6, according to Politico.

“The message is that if we have these plants shut down we can’t get Trump reelected,” one senior legislative source told Politico.

Governor DeWine has reiterated his support for nuclear power in the state in recent days. Any new version of HB6 will almost certainly still include nuclear bailout money. But will citizens groups have the energy and resources, and even the democratic opportunity, to fight it once again?

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Ocean Heat: From the Tropics to the Poles


Warming Pacific from Yaquina Head, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The heat being captured by the increasing load of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is subsequently transferred into the oceans for storage. This process — global warming — has raised the temperature of the biosphere by 1°C (or more) since the late 19th century.

Heat introduced into any material body at a particular point will diffuse throughout its volume, seeking to smooth out the temperature gradient at the heating site. If heat loss from that body is slow or insignificant, then a new thermal equilibrium is eventually achieved at a higher average temperature.

Thermal equilibrium does not necessarily mean temperature homogeneity, because the body may have several points of contact with external environments at different temperatures that are held constant, or with other external thermal conditions that must be accommodated to. Equilibrium simply means stable over time.

The heat conveyed to the oceans by global warming is absorbed primarily in the Tropical and Subtropical latitudes, 57% of the Earth’s surface. The Sun’s rays are more nearly perpendicular to the Earth’s surface in those latitudes so they receive the highest fluxes of solar energy, and oceans cover a very large portion of them.

That tropical heat diffuses through the oceans and is also carried by ocean currents to spread warmth further north and south both in the Temperate zones (34% of the Earth’s surface) and the Polar Zones (8% of the Earth’s surface).

What follows is a description of a very idealized “toy model” of heat distribution in the oceans, to help visualize some of the basics of that complex physical phenomenon.

Heat Conduction in a Static Ocean

The model is of a stationary spherical globe entirely covered by a static ocean of uniform depth. The seafloor of that ocean is at a constant temperature of 4°C (39°F), the surface waters at the equator are at 30°C (86°F), and the surface waters at the poles are at -2°C (28°F). These temperature conditions are similar to those of Earth’s oceans. These temperature boundary conditions are held fixed, so an equilibrium temperature distribution is established throughout the volume in the model world-ocean. There is no variation across longitude in this model, only across latitude (pole-to-pole). (See the “Notes on the Technical Details”)

Figure 1, Isotherms Pole-to-Pole.

Figure 1 shows contours of constant temperature (isotherms) throughout the depth of the model ocean, from pole to pole. The temperature distribution is shown as a 3D surface plotted against depth, which is in a radial direction in a spherical geometry, and polar angle (from North Pole to South Pole).

Figure 2, Isotherms in Three Zones.

Figure 2 is a different view of the temperature distribution. Three regions are noted: The Tropical Zone (from 0° to 23° of latitude, north or south) combined with the Subtropical Zone (from 23° to 35° of latitude, north or south); the Temperate Zone (from 35° to 66° of latitude, north or south); and the Polar Zone (from 66° to 90° of latitude, north or south).

The model temperature distribution is perfectly stratified — isotherms uniform with depth — in the Tropical-Subtropical Zones, from 30°C at the surface at the equator, to 4°C at the seafloor. On entering the Temperate Zones, the isotherms arc up into a nearly radial (vertical) orientation. In the small portions of the planetary surface covered by the Polar Zones the isotherms are now more horizontally stratified because the surface waters are chillier that the those at the seafloor.

Figure 3, Heat Conduction Streamlines.

Figure 3 shows the streamlines of heat flow (the temperature gradient) for this temperature distribution. At the equator the heat is conducted down from the 30°C surface to the 4°C seafloor. As one moves further away from the equator the streamlines become increasingly lateral, until they are entirely so at 35° of latitude (north or south) where the model surface waters are at 19°C. The heat flow is entirely horizontal at this latitude, which separates the Subtropical and Temperate Zones; tropical heat is being conducted laterally toward the poles. In the Polar Zones the heat flow is up from the lower depths because the surface waters are chiller than those at depth, and because there is too little temperature variation with distance along the surface to drive a lateral heat flow.

Thermally Driven Surface Currents

Much oceanic heat is distributed by currents, and many of these occur along the surface.

The average speed of the Gulf Stream is 6.4km/hr (4mph), being maximally 9kph (5.6mph) at the surface but slowing to 1.6kph (1mph) in the North Atlantic, where it widens (information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA).

Heat-driven equator-to-poles surface currents on the model ocean were estimated from the combination of the pole-to-pole surface temperature distribution, and thermodynamic data on liquid water. (See the Notes on the Technical Details)

The pressure built up by tropical heat in the model ocean’s equatorial waters pushes surface flows northward (in the Northern Hemisphere) and southward (in the Southern Hemisphere): from a standstill at the 30°C equator; with increasing speed as they recede from the equator, being 2kph (1.3mph) where the surface waters are at 25°C (77°F); a continuing acceleration up to a speed of 2.8kph (1.7mph) at the 35° latitude (the boundary between the Subtropical and the Temperate Zones); and an ultimate speed of 3.6kph (2.2mph) at the poles.

The currents are converging geometrically as they approach the poles, so a speed-up is reasonable. Logically, these surface currents are legs of current loops that chill as they recede from the equator, plunge at the poles, run along the cold seafloor toward the equator, and then warm as they rise to the surface to repeat their cycles.

An equator-to-pole average speed for these model surface currents is 2.8kph (1.7mph). Their estimated travel times along the 10,008km surface arc (for a model world radius of 6,371km, like that of a sphericalized Earth) is 3,574 hours, which is equivalent to 149 days (0.41 year).

Greater Realities

The model world just described is very simple in comparison to our lovely Earth. Since it does not rotate, it does not skew the north-south flow of currents that — with the help of day-night, seasonal, and continental thermodynamic inhomogeneities — creates all of the cross-longitudinal air and ocean currents of our Earth.

The irregularity of seafloor depth on Earth also redirects cross-latitudinal (pole-to-pole) and cross-longitudinal bottom currents, as do the coastlines of the continents; and the very slight and subtle changes in seawater density with temperature and salinity — neither of which is distributed uniformly throughout the body of Earth’s oceans — also affect both the oceans’s volumetric temperature distributions, and the course of ocean currents.

Recall that the model ocean is bounded by constant imposed temperature conditions at its seafloor (4°C) and surface waters (a particular temperature distribution from 30°C at the equator, to -2°C at the poles). Since this model world is otherwise suspended in a void, if these boundary conditions were removed the oceanic heat concentrated at the equator would diffuse further into the watery volume, seeking to raise the temperatures of the poles and seafloor while simultaneously cooling the equatorial region. The ultimate equilibrium state would be an ocean with a constant temperature throughout its volume.

Additionally, if it is also assumed that the now “liberated” model ocean-world can radiate its body heat away — as infrared radiation into the void of space — then the entire planet with its oceanic outer shell slowly cools uniformly toward -273.16°C (-459.69°F), which is the “no heat at all” endpoint of objects in our physical Universe.

When our Earth was in its Post-Ice Age dynamic thermal equilibrium, the “heat gun” of maximal insolation to the Tropics and Subtropics warmed the oceans there; a portion of that heat was conducted and convected into the Temperate Zones and toward the Poles; where the “ice bags” of masses of ice absorbed seasonal oceanic heat by partially melting — which occurs at a constant temperature — and then refreezing. Also, the atmosphere did not trap the excess heat radiated into space. In this way cycles of warming and cooling in all of Earth’s environments were maintained in a dynamic balance that lasted for millennia.

What has been built up in the atmosphere since about 1750 is an increasing load of carbon dioxide gas and other greenhouse gases, which have the effect of throwing an increasingly heated “thermal blanket” over our planet. Now, both the heat conduction pathways and the heat convection currents, described with the use of the model, convey increasing amounts of heat energy over the course of time. As a result the masses of ice at the poles are steadily being eroded by melting despite their continuing of cycles of partial re-freezing during winter, and additional melting during summer.

Simple mathematical models can help focus the mind on the fundamental processes driving complex multi-entangled physical realities. From there, one can begin assembling more detailed well-organized quantitative descriptions of those realities, and then using those higher-order models to inform decisions regarding actions to be taken in response to those realities, if responses are necessary. This point of departure from physics plunges you into the world of psychology, sociology, economics, politics, and too often sheer madness. I leave it to another occasion to comment outside my field of expertise about all that.

Notes on the Technical Details

The cylindrically symmetric equilibrium temperature distribution for a static ocean of uniform depth, which entirely covers a spherical planet, was solved from Laplace’s equation. The temperature of the seafloor everywhere is 4°C, the surface waters at the Equator are at 30°C, and the surface waters at the poles are at -2°C. The variation of surface water temperature with respect to polar angle (latitude) is in a cosine squared distribution. Displays of the 3D surface T(r,ɵ) show isotherms down through the ocean depths at all polar angles (ɵ). The contour lines on the stream function associated with T(r,ɵ) are heat flow streamlines, the paths of the heat gradient (which are always perpendicular to the isotherms).

Bernoulli’s Theorem was applied to surface flow from the equator to the poles (no radial, nor cross-longitudinal motion) for incompressible liquid water with thermal pressure given by:


for R equal to the planetary radius to the ocean surface; Tp=-2°C; and using thermodynamic data for water between 32°F (0°C) and 100°F (37.8°C) that indicates a thermal pressure equal to 62.25kg/m-sec^2 in liquid water at 0°C; and that the density of water is essentially constant at 1000kg/m^3 (for the purposes of this model) within the temperature range of the data surveyed.

Inserting P(T°C) into the Bernoulli Theorem definition of equator-to-pole lateral (cross-latitudinal) velocity gives a formula for that velocity as a function of polar angle:



for Te=30°C, and ± for northward (in the Northern Hemisphere) or southward (in the Southern Hemisphere) surface flows.

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Why the Idea of Jobless Benefits Scares the Conservative Mind


When Congress passed the CARES Act earlier this year, lawmakers gave some low-wage Americans who lost their jobs an income they’ve been demanding for years: $600 a week, which works out to $15 an hour for a 40-hour workweek. Because the federal minimum wage is less than half that rate—stuck there due to the intransigence of conservatives waging a class war against the poor—the coronavirus pandemic ironically gave the bottom rung of the American workforce a taste of what they could have had all along. So popular was this $600 in jobless benefits that even some Republicans who had voted against that provision in the CARES Act boasted about it to their constituents and failed to mention that like most of their GOP colleagues, they had initially opposed the provision.

The main conservative argument against paying unemployed workers $600 a week is that employers who try to entice them back into the workforce—whether it is safe or not—will have to compete with the government payments. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said out loud, “we don’t want to make it more profitable to stay home than to go back to work.” Think about that: the yearly salary equivalent of this supposedly generous benefit works out to just over $31,000 a year. If employers are unable to compete with such a low salary, there is something deeply wrong with our economy. In Los Angeles where I live, the amount does not even cover rent for a two-bedroom apartment.

Still, so underpaid are American workers that the $600-a-week in benefits, in addition to the one-time stimulus checks of $1,200, buoyed the entire economy as people actually began spending the cash. By May of this year, spending was up by 8.2 percent after falling dramatically in the two months before. According to an Associated Press report in late June, “The federal money has pumped nearly $20 billion a week into the economy and enabled many of the unemployed to stay afloat.” According to one estimate, the benefits comprise 15 percent of all wages in the nation, and “unemployed people are spending more than they did before the pandemic, while those who have jobs are spending less.”

At about the same time, spending by the richest Americans fell. Credit card use declined dramatically in the first half of the year—a trend that was directly attributed to the nation’s wealthiest people. Those businesses most dependent on selling pre-pandemic-era luxury goods and services to rich folks suffered the most. One study tracked the correlation, concluding that, “Declines in high-income spending led to significant employment losses among low-income individuals working in the most affluent ZIP codes in the country.”

The broader conclusion from such a study is that the wages of the working poor are far too dependent on the luxury spending of the wealthiest—a clear sign of the deep rot in the American economy as wealth and income inequality have continued to increase year after year. Had conservative lawmakers not stood in the way of increasing the federal minimum wage beyond $7.25 an hour, it is likely that the COVID-19 crisis would have had a lesser economic impact on the poorest Americans.

Conservative talking points for years warned against an economic apocalypse resulting from a higher minimum wage, saying that corporations would cut jobs—as if under the current status quo they are keeping on more workers than they actually need. Such notions have done deep damage to the economy.

Perhaps what the economic elites are really terrified of is that Americans might get used to being paid at least $600 a week. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow admitted that, “We’re paying people not to work. It’s better than their salaries would get.” Kudlow seems far more willing to give Americans one-time checks to entice them to return to their low-paying jobs rather than provide steady and relatively decent incomes for the long term.

Kudlow and other wealthy elites have had an ever-increasing influence over the nation’s economic policy, and under Donald Trump’s administration, that influence has deepened. Trump had justified his choices of various billionaires for top cabinet posts saying, “I want people that made a fortune because now they’re negotiating with you.” It should come as no surprise then that Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is worth about $400 million, complained about jobless workers being overpaid. He said on Fox News, “It wouldn’t be fair to use taxpayer dollars to pay more people to sit home than they would get working and get a job.” Mnuchin has no standing to defend taxpayers considering that he has sheltered his own income in offshore tax havens.

In fact, Yale researchers found that the government assistance did not artificially depress employment rates and that it, “neither encouraged layoffs during the pandemic’s onset nor deterred people from returning to work once businesses began reopening.” What the relatively generous jobless benefits have done is to finally spark a national conversation about putting a floor on wages. Now that a portion of the workforce has experienced an income that amounts to $15 an hour, there will be a greater public appetite for boosting wages. Moreover, the pandemic has offered a chance for economists all over the world to study the effects of what has amounted to a large-scale experiment of the kind that proponents of a Universal Basic Income have wanted to conduct for years.

Supporters of an economy based on consumerism ought to embrace the idea. If tax dollars ensure that the poorest Americans have a basic income, it is likely to stabilize consumer spending. Even some billionaires see value in the idea. Tilman Fertitta, a restaurateur and owner of the Houston Rockets, said, “You’re going to see this economy go backwards when we cut out this $600 a week.”

One would imagine that President Trump, who has based his reelection strategy on a strong economy, would support such a policy. But the ideology that a basic income represents contradicts the relentless Republican attacks on government “socialism.” If the government were to rig the economy in favor of poor Americans instead of wealthy elites and corporations (as is now the case), it would open the door to popular programs such as Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and of course an increase in the federal minimum wage. And that appears to be the biggest concern for the capitalist ideologues who are setting current policy.

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