Catch and Kill: the Protection Racket Used by Trump, Weinstein, Epstein and Wall Street


When it comes to the crime families of New York, they literally do catch and kill people who can’t be trusted to keep the secrets of their criminal operations. When it comes to the superrich in New York, they’re more inclined to “catch and kill” the story, rather than the accuser. (Jeffrey Epstein’s untimely death last year may be an exception.)

On October 11, 2017, Jim Rutenberg, writing for the New York Times about the aiders and abettors to Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults, explained the catch and kill strategy as follows:

“There is also another dynamic at play, involving something akin to a protection racket. This is the network of aggressive public relations flacks and lawyers who guard the secrets of those who employ them and keep their misdeeds out of public view.”

Keeping the secrets out of public view can involve a payoff to the victim and an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) or it can involve a more twisted version: getting a news outlet or Hollywood studio to pay big bucks to buy the story rights from the victim, with the promise to release the story to the public, then killing the story and making sure it doesn’t see the light of day anywhere else. This happens to a far greater extent than Americans currently understand.

The mushrooming transmutations of catch and kill today involve not just public relations flacks, high-priced lawyers, publishers, mainstream media and Hollywood studios. Increasingly, catch and kill includes the U.S. Department of Justice, making this version of catch and kill exponentially more dangerous to American democracy.

We’ll start off with a few of the catch and kill operations that you may have heard something about and then move on to the insidious Wall Street operations that have not, heretofore, been looked upon as catch and kill operations.

Trump’s Woman Problem and the National Enquirer

In December 2018, Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to 3 years in jail for, among other things, two catch and kill operations that were meant to “influence the 2016 election and did so in coordination with one or more members of the campaign,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The catch and kill plots involved a payment of $150,000 to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who alleged an affair with Trump. The payment was made by American Media, Inc. (AMI), the parent of the National Enquirer. AMI bought McDougal’s story, killed it, and then assigned the rights to the story to Cohen’s LLC. In addition, Cohen paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump.

In AMI’s non-prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice, it admitted that its Chairman and CEO at the time, David Pecker, had met with Cohen and hatched a plan to “help deal with negative stories” about Trump’s relationships with women, by “assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.” AMI also admitted that in purchasing McDougal’s “limited life rights for $150,000,” it had no intention “to publish the story or disseminate information about it publicly.”

Ronan Farrow and the Harvey Weinstein Investigation

Ronan Farrow has cast a harsh light on NBC, suggesting that it may have been involved in a nuanced form of catch and kill during his investigation of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual assaults on women. NBC failed to broadcast Farrow’s story despite having filmed witness interviews. After NBC told Farrow that his story wasn’t reportable, Farrow took it to the New Yorker, where the article was published and won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2018. That article includes allegations of three rapes by Weinstein.

Farrow appeared on the MSNBC Rachel Maddow program shortly after his article ran in the New Yorker. Farrow was asked by Maddow why NBC did not air the story. Farrow responded:

“I walked into the door at the New Yorker with an explosively reportable piece that should have been public earlier. And immediately, obviously, the New Yorker recognized that and it is not accurate to say that it wasn’t reportable. In fact, there were multiple determinations that it was reportable at NBC.”

Jeffrey Epstein and the U.S. Attorney’s Office

Catch and kill is about the only logical way to view what happened to Jeffrey Epstein at the hands of Alex Acosta, then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida when Jeffrey Epstein got the sweetheart deal of a lifetime.

In July of 2006, the Palm Beach, Florida Police Chief, Michael Reiter, delivered a deeply investigated case against Epstein to the FBI, according to the November 2018 intrepid reporting of Julie Brown in the Miami Herald. Brown indicated that it took just eight months of FBI interviews for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Florida to have a 53-page Federal indictment ready to file against Epstein involving sexual assaults against dozens of underage girls.

But the indictment was never filed. A deal was worked out by then U.S. Attorney, Alex Acosta, and Epstein’s well-connected lawyers. Federal charges were dropped against Epstein and he was allowed to plead guilty to only Florida state charges: one count of soliciting sex from a minor and one count of soliciting sex from an adult woman. Epstein was able to serve just 13 months in jail while also given a work release program to sit in his well-appointed office 12 hours a day, and driven around by his chauffeured limo. The deal was so outrageously constructed that it even denied his dozens of victims knowledge of the terms of the deal.

Had Julie Brown not conducted that courageous investigation for the Miami Herald, had the Miami Herald declined to publish it, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York would not have been embarrassed into bringing the new charges against Epstein on July 8, 2019. Acosta, who had curiously become Trump’s U.S. Labor Secretary, was embarrassed into resigning as a result of the public uproar.

JPMorgan’s Catch and Kill Deal with the Department of Justice

On November 19, 2013, the Department of Justice and other regulators settled their mortgage securities fraud case against JPMorgan Chase for an unprecedented $13 billion. One year later, we would learn from Matt Taibbi’s reporting at Rolling Stone that the Justice Department had a highly reliable lawyer-whistleblower that had worked at JPMorgan Chase, Alayne Fleischmann, who had documentary evidence that she had warned the bank that it was peddling defective mortgages.

The Statement of Facts offered to the public along with the settlement strongly suggested a catch and kill operation. There were none of the typical smoking gun internal emails; there were none of the internal documents showing an intent to defraud; there were none of the documents that Alayne Fleischmann had provided to Justice Department investigators. And there were no names of employees that had engaged in the fraudulent practices.

Citigroup’s Catch and Kill Deal with the Department of Justice

On July 14, 2014, the Justice Department settled a similar mortgage securities fraud case against Citigroup for $7 billion. Loretta Lynch, then U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said this about the investigation:

“After nearly 50 subpoenas to Citigroup, Trustees, Servicers, Due Diligence providers and their employees, and after collecting nearly 25 million documents relating to every residential mortgage backed security issued or underwritten by Citigroup in 2006 and 2007, our teams found that the misconduct in Citigroup’s deals devastated the nation and the world’s economies, touching everyone.”

But just like a good ole National Enquirer catch and kill operation, those 25 million documents were locked tightly away from public view.

The preposterously skimpy details the Department of Justice released to the public in its 9-page Statement of Facts (SOF) was devoid of anything that could have allowed the public to connect the dots in the fraud. Instead of Appendix 1 being filled with incriminating emails or whistleblower letters proving Citigroup’s intent to defraud, it was a meaningless listing of deal names which told the public absolutely nothing about the nature of the fraud.

Fortunately for America, Citigroup had an internal whistleblower who wasn’t going to wait around for “justice” from the U.S. Department of Justice. Richard Bowen first testified to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC). According to Bowen’s testimony in FCIC archives, he shared the following with the Commission:

“In June 2006, Bowen discovered that as much as 60% of the loans that Citi was buying were defective. They did not meet Citigroup’s loan guidelines and thus endangered the company—if the borrowers were to default on their loans, the investors could force Citi to buy them back. Bowen told the Commission that he tried to alert top managers at the firm by ‘email, weekly reports, committee presentations, and discussions’; but though they expressed concern, it ‘never translated into any action.’ Instead, he said, ‘there was a considerable push to build volumes, to increase market share.’ ”

The FCIC document also reports that Bowen “finally took his warnings to the highest level he could reach—Robert Rubin, the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors and a former U.S. treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, and three other bank officials. He sent Rubin and the others a memo with the words ‘URGENT—READ IMMEDIATELY’ in the subject line. Sharing his concerns, he stressed to top managers that Citi faced billions of dollars in losses if investors were to demand that Citi repurchase the defective loans.”

Richard Bowen went even further, giving his documents and story to 60 Minutes. The program aired on December 4, 2011. It was ironically titled “Prosecuting Wall Street,” a dig at the U.S. Justice Department that was missing in action when it came to prosecuting any Wall Street executive for crimes that led to the financial crash of 2008.

To more fully reflect on what a catch and kill operation looks like when it’s run on behalf of a big Wall Street bank by the Justice Department, versus what a meaningful investigation on behalf of the American people looks like, consider the evidentiary recordreleased to the public by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations when it was Chaired by Democratic Senator Carl Levin in 2013. The investigation probed JPMorgan’s $6.2 billion in losses from its London Whale derivative bets gone bad using bank depositors’ money. The public was presented with a 306-page report, 98 pages of meaningful exhibits including internal emails with names, and two volumes of testimony under oath.

Unfortunately for the American people, that Subcommittee hasn’t conducted any meaningful investigations of Wall Street banks since Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015.

The only element of truth and facts that the American people have today when it comes to Wall Street crime is when a courageous whistleblower comes forward before they are nabbed in a catch and kill operation.

Posted in USA, Politics0 Comments

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Oil Money to Fund Public Lands


Oil wells on federal lands in Colorado. Photo: BLM.

What does it take to get the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the League of Conservation Voters in bed with anti-conservation Republicans like Cory Gardner of Colorado, the fossil fuel lobby group Western Energy Alliance, and President Trump, whose tenure has brought a wrecking ball to environmental law?

Behold the Great American Outdoors Act. The legislation passed the Senate in June and the House this week with ringing bipartisan support. Ballyhooed as providing many hundreds of millions of dollars for public land maintenance and acquisition, it has been lavished with adoring praise from enviro groups and progressive media. Mother Jones declared it “a resounding victory,” Outside magazine said it was a “remarkable breakthrough,” and Sierra magazine called it “good news for all Americans.”

Gardner, otherwise known for his execrable environmental record, championed the bill in the Senate, and Trump, as the legislation made its way to passage, repeatedly tweeted that the moment it hit his desk he would sign it. “We MUST protect our National Parks for our children and grandchildren,” said the great hater of public lands.

So what’s going on here?

The Great American Outdoors Act is a devil’s bargain, a sad oil-soaked compromise with politicians like Trump and Gardner who feed at the tit of fossil fuel interests. Mainstream greens, for the most part, went along because they are politically weak, lacking in bold visions, and so beaten down after years of taking losses that they assented to this obviously bad deal, a deal that will further entrench the fossil fuel industry and promote the interests of corporate recreation concerns – both of which are helping ruin the “great American outdoors.”

Read the bill closely and you’ll comprehend what’s at stake: it establishes a new pot of cash, the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, that directly ties rehabilitation of our dilapidated national parks and other federal parcels to industrial energy development. The new fund garnishes 50 percent of “revenues due and payable to the United States from oil, gas, coal, or alternative or renewable energy development on Federal land and water,” and uses that money specifically for public lands maintenance. In other words, maintenance funding for the Park Service, the Forest Service and other federal land management agencies will be increasingly dependent on drilling for oil and gas and mining of coal, the primary extractive activities on the public domain today and in the immediate future.

This explains the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s fulsome support for the legislation. The chamber tied its support to the continuation of fossil fuel exploitation at current levels, opposing “any efforts to establish moratoria on energy production” and averring that legislative amendments that would curb drilling and mining would be viewed as a “poison pill.”

Within the context of the climate and ecological catastrophe we face, green groups should regard the Great American Outdoors Act as an object of shame, not celebration. For greens to promote a rapid shift away from fossil fuels while accepting fossil fuel pay-outs as a financial basis of public land maintenance and management is bald hypocrisy – after all, the fossil fuel industry, with its monstrous sway over American society, stands at the forefront of climate-change denial, manufacturing lies and funding candidates like Cory Gardner who spread those lies. In a time of climate consciousness, divestment campaigns, and youth-led street protests, green supporters of the bill are implicitly telling the public to rely on oil, gas and coal production in order to restore and improve our parks.

Granted, there is a precedent for the linking of conservation and fossil fuel development: the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 (LWCF). The Great American Outdoors Act funds in full the LWCF for the first time at a total of $900 million. Subsidized by the federal receipts from off-shore oil and gas drilling, the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s worthy goals have included the purchasing of land to expand the public domain, which, done right, can protect landscape-scale habitat, wildlife and biodiversity.

Indeed, the fund has achieved many good things. On the other hand, much of the money in LWCF over the course of its history has been used not to protect habitat but to facilitate recreational infrastructure for the public to play in that habitat, play that by its very nature involves not only more burning of fossil fuels but endangerment of the very wildlife supposedly intended for conservation. It should be noted, too, that the LWCF, dependent on drilling activity uniquely destructive to ocean ecosystems, was established before the climate crisis was widely known. It is an outmoded model of public land funding.

But no matter: with the Great American Outdoors Act, green groups and their Democratic allies have gotten full permanent funding for LWCF, which they have long sought, in part because they see recreational infrastructure as an unalloyed good, regardless of how it’s financed. Republicans, meanwhile, get green cover in closely contested Montana and Colorado Senate races this year despite their loathsome conservation records. And fossil fuel interests get the honor of financing national parks, shoring up their tottering legitimacy. As the president of the Western Energy Alliance Kathleen Sgamma put it, “For too long our parks have suffered from eroded trails, crumbling roads and bridges, and other maintenance shortfalls” – and now it’s the worst climate polluters of our time to the rescue.

Bill proponents like Sgamma were joined in the run-up to the bill’s passage by a chorus of green groups highlighting the need for massive cash infusions to address the backlog of “deferred maintenance” in the parks. While the cost to fix the parks is now estimated at roughly $12 billion, half of that, $6 billion, is for maintaining paved roads. Some $389 million is for upkeep of infrastructure for the private businesses, known as concessionaires, that operate hotels, restaurants, and trinket shops in the parks. Less than $1 billion is for maintenance of trails and campgrounds. Under the Great American Outdoors Act, as much as 45 percent of the new fund will go to fix roads, bridges and tunnels, allowing more motorists to burn more fossil fuels on better, smoother, faster infrastructure. Among the beneficiaries: the private, for-profit concessionaires that depend on easy motorized access in parks.

The conservation movement did not need to support this ugly bill. If it had more courage and political influence it wouldn’t have.

Instead, greens would have pushed for full permanent public funding of the LWCF that divorces it from any dependence on energy industry royalties (and pushed to ensure that land and water, not human recreation, is what’s protected). They would have demanded that those royalties instead go toward a program that transitions our economy away from fossil fuels. They would have opposed any further entrenchment of the ill-conceived LWCF model of an industry-dependent financing scheme for public lands. They would have cried out that tying conservation priorities to fossil fuel developers and other energy interests is terrible folly in an era that demands drastic and immediate decarbonization and an end to industrial habitat destruction. They would have fought furiously to force Congress to deliver ample appropriations for public land health and regulation, just as Congress regularly doles out money for the military, banks, agribusiness, and the investor classes.

If there is enough to go around for huge tax breaks for the rich and generous subsidies for other favored parties, there ought to be enough to support the national parks and national forests. Conservationists can do much better than the Great American Outdoors Act, its pretty name notwithstanding. In this era of ecological crisis, they must.

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Bayer AG forced to pay over $10bn to settle cancer claims

A US court has unexpectedly agreed that Roundup does indeed cause cancer – and awarded unprecedented damages to victims.

Proletarian writers

Monsanto has managed to shuffle off its toxic liabilities onto German company Bayer, leaving the latter to carry the Roundup can as US courts are suddenly motivated to teach capitalism a lesson.

In June this year the German pharmaceutical and chemical giant Bayer AG agreed to pay out over $10bn (around £8bn) to settle almost 100,000 lawsuits brought against it in the USA.

This followed over a year of talks during which the agritech giant had attempted to wriggle out of accepting responsibility for its weedkiller Roundup causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in regular users.

“The deal, announced Wednesday, is among the largest settlements ever in US civil litigation. Negotiations were extraordinarily complex, producing separate agreements with 25 lead law firms whose clients will receive varying amounts.

“Individuals, depending on the strength of their cases, will receive payments of $5,000 to $250,000, according to two people involved in the negotiations.”

Of this massive sum, £1.25bn (£1bn) will be set aside for the 30,000 as yet unresolved claims. Part of the figure “will be used to establish an independent [!] expert [!] panel to resolve two critical questions about glyphosate: Does it cause cancer, and if so, what is the minimum dosage or exposure level that is dangerous?”

It will come as no surprise that Bayer itself has said that “the settlement included no admission of liability or wrongdoing”. (Roundup maker to pay $10bn to settle cancer suits by Patricia Cohen, New York Times, 24 June 2020)

Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide, is the most well-known product made by notorious US agritech multinational Monsanto. After Bayer acquired and merged with Monsanto in 2018, at a cost of around $63bn, it also acquired Monsanto’s enormous liabilities.

Although Bayer knew that legal action was being taken in connection with Roundup, it was presumed that this could not possibly be successful given ‘expert’ advice, including from the US’s Environmental Protection Agency, that there was insufficient evidence that Roundup caused cancer. (EPA reaffirms glyphosate safe for users as court cases grow by Ellen Knickmayer, Associated Press, 30 April 2019)

So Bayer was caught on the hop when, quite unexpectedly, not only did three separate US courts award damages to plaintiffs who claimed that their cancer was caused by Roundup but also awarded damages far in excess of anything that would have been entertained in a European court, whether the defendant were European or not.

Monsanto is a past master of dodging responsibility for the devastating social consequences of its activities. During the Vietnam war it manufactured Agent Orange for the US military – a notoriously toxic defoliant spray that is still causing birth defects amongst the population today.

Shrugging off all responsibility, Monsanto has boasted that “US courts have determined that wartime contractors … who produced Agent Orange for the government are not responsible for damage claims associated with the chemistry”. (Vietnam to seek compensation from Monsanto for Agent Orange victims after US court found co. liable in lawsuit over allegedly cancer-causing weedkiller, Business and Human Rights Centre, 26 August 2018)

This is how monopoly capitalism operates. Nothing is allowed to stand in the way of its mad desire to realise the absolute maximum profit, at whatever cost to the environment – or to the profitability of rival interests.

Now Monsanto has managed to shuffle off its toxic liabilities to the German company Bayer, leaving the latter to carry the Roundup can as US courts are suddenly motivated to teach capitalism a lesson – provided that it is not US capitalist concerns that are in the dock.

It is yet to be seen whether this decision will impact the attitude of Britain’s local councils and agribusinesses, most of whom routinely soak vast areas of Britain’s parks, pavements and fields in glyphosates, preferring to repeat the ‘expert’ mantra that this practice is ‘perfectly safe’ than to employ gardeners and farm labourers to do the work of removing weeds in a way that is demonstrably safe to the environment and the public.

Posted in USA, Uncategorized0 Comments

Trump’s attacks on ‘left-wing cultural revolution’ are an anti-Semitic dogwhistle

Trump projects incompetence in addressing COVID-19: Darcy cartoon ...

Joel Swanson

On Friday, President Trump rang in Fourth of July weekend with a speech and fireworks display at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, a stark contrast with the large number of fireworks displays that were canceled across the rest of the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. Though the Rushmore celebration attracted much attention for the lack of social distancing and masking required of attendees, commentators also noted the striking content of the president’s speech.

While most other presidents have used the occasion of the nation’s Independence Day to urge public unity and goodwill, Trump instead delivered a “dark and divisive speech” in which he warned about “a new far-left fascism” seeking to destroy the history and values of the United States, a “left-wing cultural revolution… designed to overthrow the American Revolution.” A far cry from “Yankee Doodle Dandy” indeed.

The president’s Rushmore address was not good news for the Jews. While Trump did not, of course, mention Jews explicitly during his speech, I could not help but hear in his warnings against “years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions,” echoes of the “cultural Marxism” conspiracy theory that has taken hold on the American far-right in recent years.

When Trump retweeted that “white power” video it was another opportunity for Scott to say enough, that he’s done making excuses for Trump’s racism. by the Forward

Tim Scott refuses to call out Trump’s racist behavior — again

Issac J. Bailey

The president’s defenders at Fox News certainly heard it that way, praising Trump’s attacks on “cancel culture and the rise of the Marxist ideology.” And this language of “cultural Marxism” can all too easily slide into anti-Semitism.

To understand why, we need to review a bit of history about this term, and the way it functions in American far-right mythologies. The right-wing Christian journalist William S. Lind, a key proponent of this particular conspiracy theory, defines “cultural Marxism” as “political correctness” or “Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms.” According to classical Marxist theory, when the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, workers all across Europe should have joined together to overthrow capitalism and create a new socialist society. But when the more heavily industrialized nations of Western Europe failed to join in the revolution, Marxist theorists needed an explanation for this failure. And so, they turned to popular culture.  TOP ARTICLES1/5READ MOREI Was Hesitant To Write About The Holocaust — UntilToni Morrison Lit The Path

As Lind would have it, whereas classical Marxist theory was wholly focused on economic relations between classes, seeing culture as no more than an outgrowth of economics, this new brand of “cultural Marxism” taught that “Western culture and the Christian religion had so ‘blinded’ the working class to its true (Marxist) class interests that Communism was impossible in the West until traditional culture and Christianity were destroyed.” Thus, Marxist theory after the Russian Revolution would have to seek cultural as well as economic transformation.

To a limited degree, Lind was correct: An array of diverse thinkers from different backgrounds were involved in this rethinking of Marxism after the Russian Revolution. And the most famous circle crystalized in Germany in the early 1920s around the newly-formed Institute for Social Research, more commonly known as the Frankfurt School. The Frankfurt School was instrumental in the development of critical theory, a school of thought that critiqued both cultural and economic structures in society with the explicitly political goal “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them.”

In practice, this often meant analyses of culture that integrated Marx with insights from that other great European Jewish intellectual, Freud. And significantly, nearly all of the thinkers associated with the Frankfurt School, including such famous luminaries as Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer, Erich Fromm, and Walter Benjamin, were Jewish.

Will Israel really annex the West Bank (and what happens next)? Watch the video of our June 17 Zoomversation with David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

You can see where this is going. In 1933, the rise of Nazism forced the Jewish anti-fascist intellectuals of the Frankfurt School to flee Germany for New York, where they set up shop at Columbia University. And from there, as the Southern Poverty Law Center explains, the conspiracy theory took hold of a hidden group of foreign émigré Jewish intellectuals who “devised an unorthodox form of Marxism that took aim at American society’s culture, rather than its economic system… to try to convince mainstream Americans that white ethnic pride is bad, that sexual liberation is good, and that supposedly traditional American values — Christianity, ‘family values,’ and so on — are reactionary and bigoted.”

The theory was so successful because it was so adaptable. Any rapid change in American cultural norms could be blamed on these Marxist Jews seeking to undermine white Christian culture from within. The theory became especially popular in the 1960s, when students associated with left-wing movements like the anti-Vietnam War movement and the movement for sexual liberation cited the Frankfurt School thinkers as an influence. David Neiwert, who has researched cultural Marxism, writes that for those who believe in this theory, “nearly all of the modern expressions of democratic culture — feminism, the civil rights movement, the ‘60s counterculture movement, the antiwar movement, rock and roll, and the gay rights movement — are eventually all products of the scheming of this cabal of Jewish elites.”

It’s a perfect conspiracy, really. According to Alana Lentin, cultural Marxism relies on long-time anti-Semitic tropes about a cabal of foreign Jews pulling strings behind the scenes, to advance the idea that “the West is subject to manipulation from foreign forces within.” And that, in turn, lets the far-right avoid confronting the real grievances driving movements for cultural change. Easier to blame the Jews for new standards of sexual morality that emerged in the 1960’s, as many right-wing voices did.

Easier for President Trump to blame schools that supposedly teach our children “to hate their own country” as the real motivation for the movement to tear down Confederate statues across the United States. That way, he doesn’t have to acknowledge the fact that most Americans in fact support removing these statues.

That’s the conspiratorial history that President Trump invokes when he blames schools and educational institutions for preaching a “left-wing cultural revolution” to destroy the nation’s history — just as those who spread the “cultural Marxism” conspiracy theory claim that this ideology “dominates both public and higher education.”

Woodrow Wilson by the Forward

Woodrow Wilson was a hero to Jews. What should we do with his racism?Jonathan D. Sarna

Of course, it’s entirely possible that Trump used these words without knowing their anti-Semitic history, and most Americans will no doubt hear this rhetoric without thinking about Jews at all. But for white supremacists, these words are a clear dog whistle. It isn’t coincidental that when William Lind first coined the term “cultural Marxism,” he did it in a speech to a Holocaust denial conference, in which he helpfully clarified that “these guys were all Jewish.”

And the rhetoric of cultural Marxism already has a body count. The far-right gunman who attacked a Chabad in Poway, California in April 2019 wrote before the shooting that he hated Jews for their “role in cultural Marxism.”

So when I hear the president of the United States go to Mount Rushmore, one of the great symbols of American culture, and warn in dark tones about a “left-wing cultural revolution,” I can’t help but worry that such words are bad for the Jews. Trump may not have explicitly mentioned Jews at Mount Rushmore. But for a certain segment of the far-right, he may as well have.

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI0 Comments

The New Cold War Heats Up


Photograph Source: lilivanili – CC BY 2.0

At this time of all times, when the world is staggering from the shattering effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, it would be sensible for nations to pull together in order to devise policies and practicalities to counter and defeat the devastation that is taking place and seems likely to increase.  Now is the time for cooperation, compromise and mutual assistance in all spheres of medical research and in devising protective measures which can be emplaced and enforced with the minimum of dislocation.  Internationalism should be the norm, and the best brains in the world should be in harness, from Beijing to Boston and beyond.

But they’re not, because there are some countries that are resolutely resisting cooperation in the fight against world disaster and choosing to focus on confrontation. And, naturally, they are the ones that are suffering most. As of July 23, the highest numbers of deaths in the Americas were the United States with 146,200 and Brazil scoring 82,890, while in Europe the United Kingdom had a depressing 45,501. These are the countries whose “leaders” (for want of a better word to describe erratic bunglers at the head of government) have failed utterly to cope with the national aspects of the pandemic crisis.

Not only this, but concurrent with their exhibitions of domestic ineptitude, Presidents Trump and Bolsonaro and Prime Minister Johnson have ignored or even insulted and aggressively confronted nations with whom they should be most energetically working to help their own citizens return to leading normal lives.

There are two main countries with which the US, Brazil and Britain should be energetically cooperating in the campaign to alleviate and eventually overcome the virus :  China and Russia.  But forget it, because, for example, one of America’s main priorities, as reported by Stars and Stripes, is the rebuilding and extension of the Campia Turzii air base in Romania for use by US strike aircraft.  This is to cost 130 million dollars for “the biggest overseas military construction project under the Pentagon’s European Deterrence Initiative, which was initiated in June 2014.”  The build up of US-Nato forces continues unabated around the Black Sea and along the length of Russia’s borders.

Admiral James Foggo, recently departed head of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, declared that the U.S. “bottom line” is “mutual interest” with Ukraine, which is “why we regularly operate in the Black Sea. Both U.S. and NATO forces routinely operate there to send a message that we will uphold international law and norms. Our collective efforts will lead to a better and safer Ukraine, which means a better and safer Black Sea for all of us.”  In the Pentagon’s playbook, US security is enhanced when it threatens other countries by indulging in massive military build-ups and confrontational military maneuvers round their borders.  Foggo’s replacement, Admiral Robert Burke, assumed command of Naval Forces Europe and NATO’s Joint Forces Command on July 17 and promptly declared that China and Russia pose “overt challenges to the free and open international order.”

The Coronavirus campaign takes a back seat, where US power-projection is concerned. The Pentagon has over 50,000 troops stationed in Japan, of whom half are in bases on the island of Okinawa which, as CBS News noted on July 16, “sits closer to Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, than it does to Tokyo. It’s a pivotal foothold for Washington, both to protect Asian allies including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, and to project U.S. power and be able to react to increasingly aggressive military moves by China in the region, and the ever-present threat from North Korea.”  But this pivotal foothold for US power projection is experiencing “the biggest coronavirus outbreak within the U.S. military anywhere in the world . . . [on July 16] U.S. Forces Japan confirmed another 36 infections among troops on Okinawa, bringing the total to at least 136 since the U.S. military reported its first cases there last week.”  The people of Okinawa are understandably extremely worried about the threat from the virus brought to their home by US military personnel — but the Pentagon and the Washington establishment are prioritizing their activities in the region by indulging in confrontational antics in the South China Sea, where they have been carrying out massive military maneuvers involving two aircraft carrier strike groups and nuclear bombers in order to continue threatening China.  (On July 17 a further two B-1 nuclear bombers were deployed to the U.S. colony of Guam in the western Pacific to carry out “strategic deterrence missions to reinforce the rules-based international order in the region.”)

In the eyes of the Trump Administration, confrontation with China is preferable to cooperation in trying to combat the pandemic,  and this was made abundantly clear during a bizarre Trump tirade in the Rose Garden on July 14 when he announced that “We hold China fully responsible for concealing the virus and unleashing it upon the world.  They could’ve stopped it.  They should’ve stopped it.  It would’ve been very easy to do at the source when it happened.”  This palpable nonsense is U.S. official policy, and a most troubling indicator of belligerence.

Britain’s Boris Johnson once described himself as a ‘Sinophile’ but has joined with Trump in trying to confront China over Hong Kong and obeyed his orders to ban the Chinese firm Huawei from business in the UK. Further, he is enthusiastically embracing the current propaganda campaign against Russia.  Instead of cooperating with Beijing and Moscow in trying to develop a counter-virus vaccine, London joined Washington in proclaiming, in spite of there being no evidence whatever, the bogus allegation that Russia was paying the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.  While this nonsense was being refuted, there came yet another accusation from London which at first seemed extremely serious.

It was claimed by the usual anonymous sources that, as reported by Reuters, “Britain, Canada and the United States said . . . that hackers backed by the Russian state were trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine and treatment research from academic and pharmaceutical institutions.” Britain’s foreign minister promptly declared that “Russian intelligence services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” but when this was realized to be an absurd claim, even the New York Times had to state on July 17 that “Russian drugmaker R-Pharm has signed a deal with AstraZeneca for it to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the British pharmaceuticals giant and Oxford University.”  AstraZeneca’s international headquarters in in Cambridge, England, and it has research laboratories in the U.S. State of Maryland and in Sweden.

This was a pretty amateur propaganda operation, but in spite of the fact that the allegations were demonstrably ridiculous there is no doubt the story had the intended outcome and that the anti-Russia fire was stoked effectively.  The rift between the West and Russia and China is being deliberately widened, and a New Cold War is breaking out, with the U.S. and Britain playing down their domestic calamities and choosing international confrontation in preference to cooperation.

Trump and Johnson are not serving the best interests of their own citizens and are harming the entire world by their belligerent posture.  There are rocks ahead.  Maybe nuclear ones.

Posted in USA, China, Politics, Russia0 Comments

Long Overdue for Latin America


U.S. policy towards Venezuela has been a fiasco. Try as it might, the Trump regime-change team has been unable to depose President Maduro and finds itself stuck with a self-proclaimed president, Juan Guaidó, who President Trump was reported to have called “a kid” who “doesn’t have what it takes.” The Venezuelan people have paid a heavy price for Trump’s debacle, which has included crippling economic sanctions and coup attempts. So has U.S. prestige internationally, as both the UN and the EU have urged lifting sanctions during the pandemic but the U.S. has refused.

This is only one example of a string of disastrous policies toward Latin America. The Trump administration has dusted off the 19th century Monroe Doctrine that subjugates the nations of the region to U.S. interests. But as in past centuries, U.S. attempts at domination are confronted at every turn by popular resistance.

Instead of continuing down this imperial path of endless confrontation, U.S. policymakers need to stop, recalibrate, and design an entirely new approach to inter-American relations. This is particularly urgent as the continent is in the throes of a coronavirus crisis and an economic recession that is compounded by low commodity prices, a belly-up tourist industry and the drying up of remittances from outside.

A good reference point for a policy makeover is Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” in the 1930s, which represented an abrupt break with the interventionism of that time. FDR abandoned “gunboat diplomacy” in which Marines were sent throughout the region to impose U.S. will. Though his policies were criticized for not going far enough, he did bring back U.S. Marines from Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and scrapped the Platt Amendment that allowed the U.S. to intervene unilaterally in Cuban affairs.

So what would a Good Neighbor Policy for the 21st Century look like? Here are some key planks:

An end to military intervention. The illegal use of military force has been a hallmark of U.S. policy in the region, as we see from the deployment of Marines in the Dominican Republic in 1965, Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989; involvement in military actions leading to the Guatemalan coup in 1954 and destabilization in Nicaragua in the 1980s; support for coups in Brazil in 1964, Chile in 1973 and elsewhere. A Good Neighbor Policy would not only renounce the use of military force, but even the threat of such force (as in “all options are on the table”), particularly because such threats are illegal under international law.

U.S. military intimidation also comes in the form of U.S. bases that dot the continent from Cuba to Colombia to further south. These installations are often resisted by local communities, as was the case of the Manta Base in Ecuador that was shut down in 2008 and the ongoing opposition against the Guantanamo Base in Cuba. U.S. bases in Latin America are a violation of local sovereignty and should be closed, with the lands cleaned up and returned to their rightful owners.

Another form of military intervention is the financing and training of local military and police forces. Most of the U.S. assistance sent to Latin America, particularly Central America, goes towards funding security forces, resulting in the militarization of police and borders, and leading to greater police brutality, extrajudicial killings and repression of migrants. The training school in Ft. Benning, Georgia, formerly called the “School of the Americas,” graduated some of the continent’s worst human rights abusers. Even today, U.S.-trained forces are involved in egregious abuses, including the assassination of activists like Berta Cáceres in Honduras. U.S. programs to confront drugs, from the Merida Initiative in Mexico to Plan Colombia, have not stopped the flow of drugs but have poured massive amounts of weapons into the region and led to more killings, torture and gang violence. Latin American governments need to clean up their own national police forces and link them to communities, a more effective way to combat drug trafficking than the militarization that Washington has promoted. The greatest contribution the U.S. can make to putting an end to the narcotics scourge in Latin America is to take measures to control the U.S. market for those drugs through responsible regulation and reforms,

No more political meddling. While the U.S. public has been shocked by charges of Russian interference in its elections, this kind of meddling is par for the course in Latin America. USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), created in 1983 as a neutral sounding alternative to the CIA, spend millions of tax-payer dollars to undermine progressive movements. Following the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998, for instance, NED ramped up its assistance to conservative groups in Venezuela (which became the foundation’s number one Latin American recipient) as a leadup to regime change attempts.

Unfortunately, the State Department’s definition of democracy includes free market capitalism, which gets translated into special relations with conservative governments that prioritize the interests of the elite and U.S. corporations. Under Trump, this has meant that Washington’s closest allies are governments on the extreme right of the political spectrum that have been accused of flagrant violations of human rights: Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Ivan Duque in Colombia, Jeanine Añez in Bolivia, Sebastián Piñera in Chile and Nayib Bukele in El Salvador. A New Good Neighbor Policy would follow the example of the United Nations in not letting ideology determine relations with other nations.

An end to the use of economic blackmail. The U.S. government uses economic pressure to impose its will. The Trump administration threatened to halt remittances to Mexico to extract concessions from the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador on immigration issues. A similar threat persuaded many voters in El Salvador’s 2004 presidential elections to refrain from voting for the candidate of the left-leaning Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).

The U.S. also uses economic coercion against the socialist governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. For the past 60 years, U.S. administrations have sanctioned Cuba—a policy that has not successfully led to regime change but has made living conditions harder for the Cuban people. The same is true in Venezuela, where one study says that in just 2017-2018, over 40,000 Venezuelans died as a result of sanctions. With coronavirus, these sanctions have become even more deadly. A Good Neighbor Policy would lift the economic sanctions against all three nations and help them recover economically.

Support trade policies that lift people out of poverty and protect the environment. U.S. free trade agreements with Latin America have been good for the elites and U.S. corporations, but have increased economic inequality, eroded labor rights, destroyed the livelihoods of small farmers, furthered the privatization of public services, and compromised national sovereignty. When indebted nations seek loans from international financial institutions, the loans have been conditioned on the imposition of neoliberal policies that exacerbate all of these trends.

In terms of the environment, too often the U.S. government has sided with global oil and mining interests when local communities in Latin America and the Caribbean have challenged resource-extracting projects that threaten their environment and endanger public health. We must launch a new era of energy and natural resource cooperation that prioritizes renewable sources of energy, green jobs, and good environmental stewardship.

With the economic crisis brought on by coronavirus, the protests that rocked Latin America before the pandemic will return with a vengeance unless countries are free to explore alternatives to neoliberal policies. A New Good Neighbor Policy would cease imposing economic conditions on Latin American governments and would call on the International Monetary Fund to do the same. An example of international cooperation is China’s “Belt and Road Initiative,” which, even with some downsides, has generated goodwill in the Global South by prioritizing investments in much-needed infrastructure projects without conditioning its funding on any aspect of government policy.

Humane immigration policy. Throughout history, U.S. administrations have refused to take responsibility for the ways the U.S. has spurred mass migration north, including unfair trade agreements, support for dictators, climate change, drug consumption and the export of gangs. Instead, immigrants have been used and abused as a source of cheap labor, and vilified according to the political winds. President Obama was the deporter-in-chief; President Trump has been caging children, building walls, and shutting off avenues for people to seek asylum. A Good Neighbor policy would dismantle ICE and the cruel deportation centers; it would provide the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States a path to citizenship; and it would respect the international right of people to seek asylum.

Recognition of Latin America’s cultural contributions. President Trump’s blatant disrespect towards Latin Americans and immigrants, including his call for building a wall “paid for by Mexico,” has intensified racist attitudes among his base. A new Latin America policy would not only counter racism but would uplift the region’s exceptional cultural richness. The recent controversy surrounding the extensive commercial promotion of the novel “American Dirt,” written by a U.S. author about the Mexican immigration experience, is an example of the underestimation of talent south of the border. The contributions of the continent’s indigenous population should also be appreciated and justly compensated, such as the centuries-old medicinal cures that are often exploited by U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies.

According to the Pew Research Center, in the two years prior to Trump’s assumption of the presidency, the percentage of Latin Americans who viewed the United States favorably dropped from 66% to 47%. These percentages continued their precipitous decline under the Trump presidency. A few economic concessions are not going to turn the trend around.

With the possibility of a change in the White House, CODEPINK, the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR), and other progressive organizations are drafting a letter to presidential candidate Joe Biden that begins: “We hope that your administration will adopt a New Good Neighbor Policy” based on the “principles of non-intervention and non-interference, mutual respect and acceptance of our differences.”

An all-encompassing expression of goodwill in the form of a New Good Neighbor Policy will meet resistance from vested economic and military interests, as well as those persuaded by racist arguments. But the vast majority of people in the United States have nothing to lose by it and, in fact, have much to gain. Universal threats, such as coronavirus and the climate crisis, have taught us the limits of borders and should act as incentives to construct a Good Neighbor Policy for the 21st century based on those principles of non-intervention and mutual respect.

Posted in USA, C.I.A, Venezuela0 Comments

Let the Banks Go Under and Put Money Into the Real Economy


Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Ellen Brown: My guest today is Dr. Michael Hudson, who we’re delighted to have on our Public Banking Institute Advisory Board, and who really should be advising the Federal Reserve and the Treasury, but BlackRock seems to have gotten the job. Paul Craig Roberts, who is former Assistant Treasury Secretary under Reagan, called Michael Hudson the greatest economist on the planet. He’s a Wall Street financial analyst, Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and author of over two dozen books, including Killing the Host and one called … and Forgive Them Their Debts, which are both particularly relevant today. So it’s great to be speaking with you, Michael.

Michael Hudson: It’s good to be back, Ellen.

Ellen Brown:  Thanks. So, you recently wrote in The Washington Post the Corona virus outbreak is serving as a mind expansion exercise, making hitherto unthinkable solutions thinkable. Debts that can’t be paid, won’t be. A debt jubilee may be the best way out. So, for anyone who hasn’t heard you explain this before, could you explain what you mean by a debt jubilee, and why it may be the best way out, and what the real crisis is that it’s the best way out of?

Michael Hudson: Well, there was the debt problem that’s been mounting up ever since World War II. Every economic recovery, every business cycle since 1945 has started from a higher level of debt. Most people thought they were getting rich off debt because most bank credit – 80 percent of bank loans – are mortgage loans. They’re made against real estate. Banks have sought to expand the market, and have lent more and more against real estate. In the 1960s when I first bought a house, you had to have debt service absorb not more than 25 percent of your income. You had to put down 30 percent of the price of the house. So basically, a house was worth whatever a bank would lend.

But by the time that the economy collapsed in 2008 – or rather, by the time the financial system collapsed – banks were making loans with zero down payment. You didn’t need 30 percent. The requirement that mortgage payment be affordable – 25 percent of your income – went out the window. Banks would lend any amount of money, regardless of what you were making. And even the interest didn’t have to be paid. Instead of having a self-amortizing mortgage where you’d own the house after 30 years of paying the bank, you’d pay the bank after 30 years and you wouldn’t own any more at all, because you wouldn’t be paying any amortization.

So basically, banks lent so much money against housing, inflating it up to such a high price, that after paying the mortgage costs – or, if you can’t afford a house, if you’re a renter – after paying the debt service and the credit card debt, the other debt, and after paying the insurance costs and taxes, you really don’t have much left for basic goods and services that you produce, except for the bare minimum of food, clothing and transportation.

So a point was reached already by the time the virus broke out of how the economy can continue to grow. For 95 percent of the population, the economy stopped growing in 2008, when Obama bailed out the banks and left all the bad debts in place. Since 2008, all the growth of GDP – all the increase in national income – has accrued just to the wealthiest five percent of the population. That means that for 95 percent of the population the economy hasn’t been growing at all. It’s been shrinking.

The question is, how are you going to grow if you leave all of the debt service in place, if you leave all of the debt pyramided housing in place? Bonds and stocks are so high-priced that they don’t yield an income for retirement anymore. The economy reached a point already by the beginning of this year that it had to choose either to pay all the debts, continue paying the growth in income to the five percent that basically are the creditor and financial class, or write down the debts and let the economy grow again.

The basic issue is, who is the economy going to be run for? Is it going to be run for the banks and Wall Street, or for Main Street? Well, you said I should be a adviser to the Federal Reserve and Treasury. They wouldn’t pay any attention to anything I say, because they run the economy for Wall Street. As you’ve just seen, the Federal Reserve has created a virus of quantitative easing since 2008. First, four and a half trillion dollars for the Obama bailout, and then another two trillion that is set to go up to 10 trillion, essentially just to buy stocks and bonds and push up the prices of assets that the five percent own.

So the Federal Reserve basically is working against Main Street. It’s working only for its constituency, which are the commercial banks, instead of trying to think how can the economy free itself from this debt overhead? It certainly can’t work its way out of debt because nobody’s earning enough money to amortize, that is to pay off the principal. All they can do is try to pay the current interest charges. So the economy has painted itself into a corner. And that’s the problem that I address in Killing the Host and all the books that I write and all the interviews that I do.

Ellen Brown: I totally agree with all that. You mentioned this four and a half trillion, which is levered up. I just wondered, how do they get away with that? I mean, it’s not a bank. Why did they figure ten to one? Tthey could do 100 to one. The Federal Reserve can issue whenever it wants. I guess one of my basic questions about the Federal Reserve is that people say they could actually go bankrupt, their balance sheet doesn’t balance, and all that. Do they actually have a balance sheet that counts?

Michael Hudson: Sure they have a balance sheet. The question is, what is a balance sheet? You have assets on the left-hand side and liabilities and net worth on the right-hand side. The Federal Reserve can create a credit / deposit, just like a bank does. If you go to a bank and want to borrow money, the bank will create an account for you just on the computer. “Here’s $100,000 we’re putting in your checking account. Go buy a house or do anything.” In exchange, the bank has an asset, a claim on you for repayment with interest. Well, the Federal Reserve also can do anything on its balance sheet. It can tell corporations and the banks, “We’re the Statue of Liberty: Give us your poor junk loans, give us your bad debts, give us all of the junk, and we will create a deposit – 100 cents on the dollar for it – and we will pick up all of your bad loans. And we know that the loans can’t be paid, because the economy can’t pay.”

On the asset side of the balance sheet, we’ll say we have the claim against you. And we will then give you the money for it. And we will try to make sure that we don’t have to lose money on these assets that we’ve let you pledge to us, because we’re going to keep bidding up the market higher and higher. We can do that not only by buying stocks, junk bonds and packaged mortgages, but we can do financial tricks.

You mentioned Paul Craig Roberts before, former Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs. He told me that what the Federal Reserve is doing these days is manipulating the forward market. It will go into Wall Street and it will say, “We promise to buy the Dow Jones average at 50 points higher than it is today, next week.” Well, once it makes a promise to buy, the speculators will see that and they will begin to bid up the prices to what the Federal Reserve promises to pay for the stocks. It can keep doing that, week after week and month after month and it can keep pushing up the stock market. That’s how it pushes up the bond market by promising to buy bonds at a higher and higher price. That means that an existing bond will yield less interest income. They can just continue to inflate the economy with credit, like a Ponzi scheme.

So the Federal Reserve is the official Ponzi scheme that keeps finance capitalism operating in the United States. Obviously, at some point every exponential growth scheme has to stop, because otherwise you’d have an infinite amount of debt. So at a certain point, the Fed will sit down with the main Wall Street firms and the main billionaires that are behind these firms, and say, “Well, you know, the game is over. We’ve got to let it go.” These investors will say, “OK, we’ll take the money and run.” That’s what a lot are all doing already. “We’re going to buy gold. We’re going to buy real estate in New Zealand, so we have somewhere to run to when the economy collapses.” They’re just going to drop everything, sell out and there will be a crash with the pension funds and the small savers who aren’t in on the game, losing whatever they have.

Ellen Brown:  This goes on over and over. My question about the Fed’s balance sheet, though, does their balance sheet have to balance?

Michael Hudson: Every balance sheet balances, because any transaction is a balance. If you’re a physicist talking about a man falling flat on his face, that’s equilibrium. Anything can be looked at as a duality of two sides of the same coin. The two sides are assets and liabilities. And if I promise to pay you $100,000 for a broken down car, I can say that I have an asset worth $100,000, and you have a $100,000 IOU from me. That balances. It’s just not a realistic balance. So balance sheets do have to balance, but they don’t have to be realistic.

Ellen Brown: Of course. I think we need a universal basic income. And you think we need a debt jubilee and we need to discuss what those are. But let’s say they’re paid by the Federal Reserve. The argument against that is that, like real helicopter money where you just drop money on the people, you can’t bring it back and therefore it would be inflationary, whereas what they do is supposedly reversible. So if you buy an asset, you’re putting money into the economy. And then if the economy overheats, as they say, then you can always sell the asset back and pull the money back and shrink the money supply. And you can’t do that with the UBI or writing off debts or all those various things. But it seems to me that they never can reverse their quantitative easing anyway. What do you say to that argument?

Michael Hudson: You’re quite right. Remember, the Federal Reserve helicopter only flies over Wall Street. It doesn’t fly over the economy. All this $4.5 trillion of quantitative easing, and all the $2 trillion that it’s created under the Trump by the CARES Act – all this could have been spent into the real economy. It could have been spent building infrastructure. It could have been spent supporting basic income. It could have been spent on the people and Main Street. Instead, it was only spent on Wall Street. The idea is that if you buy an asset, you can always make a profit. That created the middle class from 1945 to about 2008. The way that almost all the middle-class wealth in America was accumulated was through the rising price of housing. In other words, every family that bought a house had to pay more and more of its income, and a higher and higher price to get a house. That’s enriched the people who were fortunate enough to have been able to buy real estate in 1945: white people, not blacks, not Hispanics; they were red-lined. But if you were a white person with a job, you could get onto the middle-class debt treadmill, and actually make it work for you – for a while.

Everybody thought that they could just keep borrowing money to make an even larger asset-price gain. Remember, in 2006, 07 and 08, people thought that if you borrow as much as you can, forget the interest rate, you can pay back the banks out of the rising price of the housing. But then the housing price stopped and you had nine or 10 million families lose their homes in the great Obama foreclosures. He said, “Either I can support the banks or I can support my voters. Who am I going to support? Well, the banks are my campaign contributors and I’m going to support my donor class.” He invited them to the White House and said, “I’m the guy standing between you and the mob with pitchforks.” the voters for me, the people that Hillary called the deplorables. He said, “I’ll protect you,” and he did indeed. No banker went to jail. He gave the banks enormous amounts of money, at the cost of the 10 million families that he exploited. The cost was stopping industrialization in this country, stopping the domestic market and bringing on the Obama depression.

That’s the policy that Biden is committed to follow. He committed himself in the last few days, saying that his intention to get re-elected is not to appeal to Bernie Sanders or the left or the working class, but to try to get enough Republicans to vote for him that he can beat Trump. He’s supporting the position he pushed as vice president, supporting the banks, trying to write down Social Security, cut back Social Security, cut back Medicare, cut back social spending in order to give to the donor class on Wall Street. So we’re going to see Obama with an exclamation point with the Biden-Republican program likely to come to this country.

Ellen Brown: We’re in a sorry state, I think. So your proposal then would be that we have a debt jubilee. So can you describe what that is and where the term came from and how you would actually do it?

Michael Hudson:  The term jubilee came from the Bible. It was pronounced “yobel.” The J was pronounced Y, as in Spanish and Hebrew. “Yobel” was the term used in Leviticus 25, saying that every 50 years you will cancel the debts, and you will free the debt servants who’ve been subjected to bondage, and you’ll return all of the slaves that have been pledged to creditors as the main collateral to the debtor, and you’ll return the land that they also lost. The yobel was the horn that was blown on the jubilee to signal it. But the word that they used in addition to yobel was deror, which was a cognate to the Babylonian word andurarum. It had been used ever since the Hammurabi and the Babylonian dynasty back in 1750 BC. Hammurabi, like every other member of his dynasty, started his reign by claiming an anderarum, a clean slate, a debt cancellation. He did this because he realized that debts grew faster than the ability to pay. If you didn’t write down the debts, you would have much of the population falling into debt to the creditors, including wealthy members in the palace bureaucracy. Hammurabi and other Near Eastern rulers realized that if you let people fall into debt to the creditors, they would have to spend their labor working for the creditors on their land, and wouldn’t be able to work on the public corvée infrastructure work. They wouldn’t be able to build palaces or walls, and they wouldn’t be able to pay their crops as taxes, because they’d owe it as interest to their creditors.

The reason I mentioned Hammurabi and selected him is because in his laws. You have the first example of an Act of God clause. One of Hammurabi’s laws said that if there is an act of God, if the storm God Adad floods the fields with water and you can’t harvest the crop, or if there’s a drought, then you don’t have to pay the rents or tax debts. “You’re freed from the debts because we don’t want you to fall into bondage to the creditors, because then you’d pay them the surplus and we wouldn’t have it at the palace.” And in other parts of his laws he said if there’s an epidemic, if there is a sickness, or if there’s a military defeat, then debts are cancelled because the whole idea is we’re not going to let the money that people owe grow to such a large rate that the economy shrinks and people fall into bondage. He knew very well that if the population fell into bondage, then either they would defect. There was constant warfare. Either they’d go over to somebody else’s side, or there’d be a revolution and they would overthrow the ruler and cancel the debts.

Attempts to overthrow rulers who didn’t cancel the debts were made all through Greek and Roman antiquity, from the eighth century BC down to the time of the first century B.C. in Rome. There were constant debtor revolts. The question ever since Roman times has been, what do you do when the debts get too large to pay? Well, the debts were simply written down in the Near East. They were not written down in Rome. Instead, you had a small oligarchy taking over the economy and enslaving or reducing most of the population to bondage. The result was the Dark Age.

So to get back to your question, how do you cancel the debts? Look at what’s happening right now with the virus. A lot of people are unemployed – what’s the number 20 million or 40 million unemployed? They’re not able to pay their rents or, if they bought a house, they’re not able to pay their mortgage and other debts. So rents and mortgages are going unpaid. Beginning in July, and especially in August, there’s talk of large-scale evictions. Millions of Americans who’ve lost the job will not get any more money from the government. They’ve had to use the stimulus money just to buy food on the table and break even. So if you don’t write down the debts for these people, if you don’t cancel the rents and say, “OK, we know that you didn’t have a job, you can’t pay the rent.”

The same is true for businesses, especially for restaurants. If you don’t free them from the rents, then they’re going to go out of business and they’ll be unemployed. And, you’re going to have a gigantic homeless problem in the United States. You can just imagine the political results of all that. For one thing, now that the rents aren’t being paid, homeowners have been saying … and businesses, restaurants and stores … that they have insurance against the interruption of business. The insurance companies, which are just as crooked as the banks in this country, are saying, “Well, we can’t afford to pay you. It’s true, you got insurance, but if we paid you, then we’d go broke. So we’re not going to pay you.”

And the landlords, meanwhile, say, “Well, if we don’t get the rent, then we can’t pay the banks and the banks will foreclose.” That’s one reason why Wall Street is soaring. This is a bonanza for the really rich billionaires and multibillionaires and big companies like Blackstone. They think, “Oh, boy, there’s going to be another wave of foreclosures. Trump is doing as wonderful a job for us as Obama did.” Under Obama, homeownership fell from 57 percent to about 51 percent. And now there’s so many people who’ve been unable to pay their mortgages, that they’re going to lose their homes. The banks will sell the homes and office buildings in a convulsion of sell offs. Blackstone and other speculators are all going to be able to get rich and homeownership is going to plunge in the United States by another five points. We’ll be turning away from being a home-owning middle-class society into a rentier society that’s more and more impoverished. That is the result of what’s going to happen if the debts are not written down.

So the question is, is it really worth subjecting the economy to poverty, to homelessness, to close down businesses, to end the middle class in order to pay debts to the financial class that have made all the gains and growth since 2008? Or do we want to say, “OK, the debts can’t be paid.” That means that the mortgages won’t be paid, the loans won’t be paid, and some of these trillions of dollars that the financial sector and the Five Percent and the One Percent have made are going to be given back? Well, the One Percent says, “We’re not going to give back a penny. We are going to insist that the debts be paid. It’s worth it to us to impoverish the economy so we can get richer, even if by getting one dollar, we’re willing to make the economy lose a billion dollars because that’s all we care about.” That’s the point at which the American economy has reached today. Most of the discussions in the mainstream press don’t spell out the fact that if the economy does not write down the debts, we’re in for a chronic depression that will last until the debts are finally written down.

Ellen Brown: So if you were to write them down, it would have to be up to Congress, like you say. I mean, they’re the only one with the leverage to do it. They’ve got control.

Michael Hudson:  Or, it can be up to the people in a revolution. In Rome there were revolutions to do it.

Ellen Brown: That’s true. I think there are a few Congresspeople we could get to bring a bill or something. How would you do it? Would the banks just write off those mortgages or, you know, there are some landlords who … like little old ladies who have rented out some rooms and that’s their income, for example. I mean, there are some people that really probably don’t deserve to be in that position. But the banks, we definitely don’t seem to mind writing down their loans. I just wondered exactly, if you were to have the ability to implement such a law, how would you write it?

Michael Hudson: You have to let nature take its course. You have to let the banks go under. You had a wonderful chance in 2008 for the banks to go under. We’ve spoken before on this show about what the FDIC proposed under Sheila Bair. She said, “Look, the most incompetent, worst-managed bank in the worst trouble is Citibank.” She said, “We could have taken it over.” There was enough money in Citibank to pay all the insured depositors. The speculators, stockholders and some bondholders would have been wiped out. But the bondholders are the wealthiest One Percent. We could have taken it out. And then, Citibank could have been operated as a public bank, which is what you’re talking about.

The fact is that banking should be a public utility. Privatized banking has not really helped the economy, because it makes loans basically against collateral. When you make loans against collateral – the house, real estate, corporate stocks and bonds – the effect of bank lending is to increase the price of this collateral. You end up with a high-priced economy: high housing prices, high retirement-income prices, high insurance prices. And you can’t have a viable public banking system built on the wreckage of the commercial banking system that has almost committed suicide, as you’ve described. You’re not going to be able to go forward.

You can’t simply return to normalcy because normalcy was a situation that brought us to this problem to begin with. You can’t simply keep lending, bailing out the banks and giving them more and more money to increase the debt more and more, because at a certain point the debt can’t be sustained. There will be a write-down of debts, one way or another. The question is, how will the debts be written down when they can’t be paid? Either you’re going to have foreclosures, which was the Obama and the Biden Democratic Party solution, or you’ll have the creditors and the banking system lose. If you were to rewrite the laws to take away all of the special tax favoritism for the financial sector, all the special deregulation and favoritism for the banks, they’d go under and the government could easily take them over and operate them as public banks, more and more like savings banks used to be. They wouldn’t necessarily be able to create credit except for public-authorized purposes. They wouldn’t be able to make the takeover loans, the predatory payday loans, and the other kinds of predatory finance that the commercial banking system has become in this country. So the problem isn’t simply a debt write-down; it’s to restructure the financial system to make it into a public utility instead of a private monopoly.

Ellen Brown: Right. I totally endorse that. That sounds great. So, I saw you wrote recently about the question of whether it wouldn’t be inflationary doing all these bailouts. You said no, that we’re actually in an era of deflation, and basically the way the Fed has been doling out money to the financial sector makes the deflation issue worse. Can you explain that?

Michael Hudson:  There are two kinds of prices in the economy. One is prices for goods and services that people buy: the consumer price index for food, clothing, shelter; the other is the price of assets. What we have is asset-price inflation. The banks have been bailed out to lend more and more money against assets, that is, the collateral that they lend against. So banks have created this huge rise in housing prices. The basis of middle-class wealth has been created by banks increasing the price of real estate, the price of stocks and bonds. But increasing the price of real estate means that in order to buy a home of your own, or in order to rent a home, you have to pay more of your income to the financial sector, to the banks for the mortgage. Rent is for paying interest. Speculators, absentee owners, and real estate developers will borrow money from a bank in order to pay all of the rent basically for interest. What they’re after is the capital gain – the price rise. But as prices rise for real estate, stocks and bonds, the rest of the population has to pay more income, not only for housing but for a retirement income, and for monopoly goods and services. We turn into a rentier economy. More and more income is paid for economic rent, not for profits, not for wages, not for goods and services, but as a carrying charge for assets that are financed by bank credit. This is where the financial sector undercuts the economy.

This is not capitalism, in the sense that it is not industrial capitalism. It’s not what people expected in the 19th century. Finance capitalism can be thought of as the failure of industrial capitalism to free economies from rent and interest and from the legacy of feudalism. The finance capitalism that we have is the road back to feudalism. It’s neofeudalism. It’s neoserfdom. It’s turning the population into debt serfs, debt peons who have to pay all of the income that they have to the creditor, and don’t have enough money to buy goods and services. So of course, goods and services prices are actually falling, because people don’t have enough money to buy them. That’s because more and more of their income is paid for access to financialized housing, financialized public utilities and financialized monopoly services.

Ellen Brown: That’s my argument too. You could pour money into the real economy in the form of universal basic income or any other kind of helicopter money, relieving student debts, etc. And because that economy is actually short on money, it would fill that gap, the difference between debt and the money available to repay it. And the money that trickles up, that goes into the other … There are actually two economies and the money that goes into the financialized economy never comes back. I wish I could prove that, but it seems to me you can just see that that’s true. There’s only so many shoes you can buy. All the rest of your big money goes to big things like bribing politicians or buying Iowans their yachts or something like that.

Michael Hudson: There’s a simple explanation. The money doesn’t go back to the real economy, the production and consumption economy. The goes into the financial economy. It is recycled into bidding up the price of houses and stocks and bonds. And this price can go down and it can disappear. It can be eradicated, and always is in a financial collapse. So the question is, what is the economy? There are really two economies. There’s the production and consumption economy of workers producing goods and services, and buying what they produce. And there’s the financial economy. It’s really more than the financial economy. It’s the finance, insurance and real estate sector — the FIRE sector. When the money goes out of the goods and service economy into the rent and interest economy, it goes from the 99 Percent into the hands of the One Percent. So you can have the Main Street — the 95 or 99 percent of the population — and the financial economy that are becoming very much like the hereditary landlord class that ruled Europe off in the Middle Ages until the 19th century when industrial capitalism was supposed to free economies from this predatory class.

Industrial capitalism seemed to be taking off until World War I, but World War I changed everything. Since then, you have had a degeneration of industrial capitalism into its antithesis finance capitalism, which is really a fall back into neofeudalism and neoserfdom. Where will the Americans emigrate to when there are no jobs and they lost their houses?

Ellen Brown: Yeah, they’ll go to Mexico. I saw a joke about that, something about, “Are you coming in or going out?”

Michael Hudson: Well, they’d better learn Spanish.

Ellen Brown: Yeah. Yeah. Saw another joke it was the Statue of Liberty said, “Another year like this and gone back to France.” Yeah, well, it’s been great talking to you.

Michael Hudson: By the way, the Statue of Liberty holding the torch, that iconography occurs very early in civilization. When Hammurabi cancelled the debts, he raised the sacred torch. And the announcement “the ruler has raised the sacred torch” was a symbol in Babylonia for proclaiming a debt cancellation.

Ellen Brown:  Oh cool. We have that right in New York Harbor.

Michael Hudson: Yes.

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Moment of Supreme Danger: Trumpism-Fascism Rears its Head


Photograph Source: Mike Maguire – CC BY 2.0

“What He Wishes He Had: Total Power”

This is a supremely dangerous moment. The White House is occupied by a rogue fascist regime whose malignant leader Donald Trump has recently made it clear yet again that he will not honor the results of an election that does not go his way next November.

It is well understood within his administration that Trump is a wannabe dictator who is only half-joking when he talks about wanting to be “president for life.”

Whence Trump’s special love for despots and dictators of various ideological stripes around the world? “The president,” one top national security aide told the senior Trump administration official Anonymous, “sees in these guys what he wishes he had: total power, no term limits, enforced popularity, and the ability to silence critics for good.”

Of course this regime regularly violates the rule of law and has no respect for constitutional checks and balances. Its demented leader argues that Constitution gives him the power “to do whatever I want.”

Of course the president is absurdly claiming that mail-in ballots are fatally subject to fraud to set up his potential refusal to accept the electoral verdict this fall.

The indecent beast Trump has called for “tough guys” – bikers, cops, soldiers, right-wing extremists – to resist any effort to remove him from office with physical force, even “civil war.”

Virulent Racism

This rogue fascist regime is headed by a virulently racist Confederacy fan who would be happy to oversee the restoration of Black chattel slavery if he could bring that about. America was “great,” Trump thinks, when the ferocious Indian-killing slaver Andrew Jackson terrorized the nation’s Black and Native American subjects.

Trump offered praise and dog-whistle cover to the neo-Nazi white-supremacists who terrorized Charlottesville (chanting “Jews will not replace us, Blood and Soil!”) in the summer of 2017. He did the same for the armed white militia members who occupied state capitals to protest common sense public health measures earlier this year.

Trump’s mass-murderous failure to seriously address the nation’s greatest pandemic in a century has if anything been encouraged by the fact that COVID-19 disproportionately kills Black and brown people.

Herr Donald calls Haiti and African nations “shit-hole countries” and told his onetime personal lawyer Michael Cohen that “Black people are too stupid to vote for me.” He calls Black football players who take a knee to protest racist police brutality “bastards.” He refers to Black Lives Matter as a “symbol of hate.” He calls anti-racist civil and human rights protesters “terrorists.”

Virulent Racist Nativism

The Trump regime has torn children from their mothers’ arms and put them in cages at the southern border. Its demented leader opposes international asylum law and tells Border Patrol to shoot migrants.

In one of his many mass hate rallies, Herr Donald told his frothing Amerikaner base how much he enjoys the image of migrants being chased by German Shepherds. The was an obvious and loud neo-Nazi dog whistle.

Trump portrays Mexicans and Mexican Americans as rapists and murderers. He declares diseased meatpacking plants an “essential industry” to send predominantly Latinix workers back to lethal toil on infected killing floors.

The wannabe president-for-life has ordered numerous military-style Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids to snatch up and deport “illegal” migrant workers, tearing apart families and leaving children without parents. He has deployed ICE paramilitaries to round up illegal and destroy families in American cities.

Herr Donald absurdly claims that he can “end birthright citizenship” (the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship” to anyone born in the U.S.) with an executive order.

He wants to send hundreds of thousands of young Americans who have grown up in the U.S. to Mexico and Central America because their “illegal” parents brought them to the U.S. as children years ago. Such an action would be profoundly cruel.

The fascist president viciously told four progressive minority Congresswomen to “go back” to the “crime-infested countries” they supposedly “came from.” Three of those Congresswomen were born in the U.S. and the last one of them was of course a fully naturalized U.S. citizen.

And now we have Trump saying that he “wishes” Ghisaine Maxwell “well, frankly.” The recently arrested Maxwell is accused of being Epstein’s madam. By numerous reports, she worked to provide Jeffrey Epstein and his friends (very possibly including Trump) with under-age girls to rape.  Trump’s words “I wish [her or him] well” are code language for “don’t talk about me if you know what’s good for you.”

A Virulent Sexist

The rogue fascist Trump regime demeans women and threatens their right to control their own bodies. But of course – the virulent sexist Donald Trump is a former good friend of the disgraced child rapist Jeffrey Epstein, about whom Trump said this in 2002:

“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he like beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are the younger side. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

The chances are good that Trump raped a thirteen-year-old girl at one of Epstein’s parties in 1994.

At one of homeland hate rallies, the president entertained his demented Trumpenvolk by sadistically mocking a woman who reported that Trump’s vicious right-wing Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in his youth.

As president, the revolting male chauvinist Trump has repeatedly singled out “nasty” female public figures for special abuse.

Virulently Neo-McCarthyite

Along with being toxically racist, nativist, and sexist, this rogue fascist regime is virulently neo-McCarthyite. It absurdly calls establishment corporate and imperialists Democrats like Joe Biden “radical Leftists.”

Trump ordered his Treasury Secretary to review the tax-exempt status of colleges and universities because, he claims (falsely), American higher education is controlled by “the radical Left.” (I wish that were remotely true!). He says that the nation’s “beautiful” slaveholder monuments are under attack from “Marxists” who “hate our country.”

False conflation of liberal moderates with the actual Left and obsessive anti-radicalism, linked to the notion that the supposedly “great” Nation is threatened by a powerful “radical Left” – these are hallmark narratives in fascist ideology.

The War on Truth

Trump pardons sociopathic neo-Nazis and blood-soaked war criminals. He brazenly assassinates foreign leaders and threatens other nations with nuclear annihilation.

He calls the non-Trump media “the enemy of the people” and tells his Amerikaner backers “don’t believe what you see and hear” beyond what the president and his allies tell them. He brazenly approves the absolutist Saudi Arabian regime’s brutal vivisection and murder of a dissident Washington Post journalist.

The Trump regime encourages violence against its political enemies. Its leader praises a frenzied right-wing politician who body-slammed a reporter for asking the politician to clarify his health care policy agenda.

The Trump “administration” mimics Third Reich imagery in its symbols and public aesthetics. Its leader has only read two books in his life: his own ghost-written Art of the Deal and My New Order, a collection of speeches by Adolph Hitler.

Trump makes on average fifteen false statements a day. That must be a record.

The deceptions are not uncommonly beyond dystopian comedy. Trump had one of his pathetic underlings use a Sharpie pen to distort a weather projection map in accord with his false claim that a hurricane threatened Alabama.

During an interview on Trump Television (FOX/Fatherland News) last Sunday, he asked his Bad Barbie “press secretary” to give him a sheet of paper falsely said to prove his preposterous claim that America has the “best” COVID-19 mortality rate in the world. It has one of the worst.

The demented fascist Trump says that America is leading the world in handling COVID-19 even though the US accounts for a quarter of world coronavirus cases while it home to just a twentieth of the world’s population.

Trump says that 99% of COVID-99 cases are harmless. That is absurdly and sadistically false.

His Bad Barbie absurdly claims that the world is looking to the U.S. as a leader in the fight against the novel coronavirus. The truth is the opposite, as one might expect since the U.S. hosts more than a quarter of the world’s COVID-19 cases but is home to roughly a twentieth of the world’s population.

Trump absurdly claims that Europeans COVID-19 cases are dramatically lower than those of the United States because “they [the Europeans] don’t test.”

The relentless assault on truth is a hallmark characteristic of fascism.

To Kill Off the Poor and Sick

The Trump regime has gone to court to kick tens of millions of poor and working-class Americans off health insurance even as the coronavirus sets new daily U.S. infection records.

The demented fascist Trump wants to reinstate the health insurance mafia’s right to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. The pandemic is creating masses of Americans who will be branded by this costly and lethal insurance sector stigma.

This is evil on steroids. It is hard for people who are sociopaths (roughly 24 of every 25 Americans) to process malevolence on this scale.

Efforts to cull the human herd of its sickest and poorest members is a hallmark Social Darwinian characteristic of fascism.

“Destroying the Prospects for Organized Human Life”

The rogue fascist Trump-Pence regime shreds every environmental regulation and nuclear weapons treaty it can get its hands on. This marks Trump as, in Noam Chomsky’s words, “the most dangerous criminal in human history.” As Chomsky explained last February:

“Hitler had been perhaps the leading candidate for this honor. His goal was to rid the German-run world of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other ‘deviants,’ along with tens of millions of Slav ‘Untermenschen.’ But Hitler was not dedicated with fervor to destroying the prospects of organized human life on Earth in the not-distant future (along with millions of other species). Trump is.”

Indeed. I’ve been trying to amplify this shocking and accurate comparison for year by pointing out that Trump (along with Jair Bolsonaro and many other high-level eco-monsters) is doing everything he can to turn the entire planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber.

Trumpstapo Coming to Your Town Soon

I could go on — and on. Keeping track of Trump’s outrages and transgression is a full-time job. Covering this “administration” is like playing a never-ending whack-a-mole. Nail down one atrocity and two more pop up

But now things are running even deadlier than before. With an election nearing and his approval numbers in the tank thanks in large measure to his openly socio-pathological responses to the pandemic and the beautiful George Floyd people’s rebellion, King Covid is a dangerously wounded animal. Doubling down on his hard core “reactionary populist” (fascist) base’s lust for a “strong leader” who will humiliate “liberal” and “radical Left” elites who stand accused of letting supposedly undeserving Black and brown people get ahead of “real” white “Americans,” Trump is going to up the fascist ante.

Trump and his and his sick Trumpified party are going into Orwellian hyper-drive, linking the Democrats to the “radical Left,” “the Chinese Communist Party,” and the virus, supposedly hatched by China in order to undo the Trump regime and put “democratic socialists” like Joe Biden (!) in power. Ugly purges and hard-right October Surprises beckon as the election date draws closer. Expect false flags, acts of desperation, provocations, states of emergency and the specter of cancelled elections.

And now his rogue fascist regime is sending paramilitary storm troopers from Customs and Border Patrol to violently repress social justice and democracy protesters in American cities, including my own hometown of Chicago.

Think Trumpism is just a rural, small-town, ex-urban and suburban phenomenon? Think again. Big city white cops love Trump: he won the heavily white urban precincts where “blue lives” reside.

And just in case the urban police forces can’t sufficiently repress people of color and “radical Left” inclination sufficiently for his taste, Dear Leader Donald has got some Black Shirts of his own to send in to save “our great cities” from “radical Leftists” like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (a pro-cop big business mayor who absurdly says that an offensive statute of Christopher Columbus needs to stay up to “educate” Chicagoans about history) and Bill DeBlasio.

So here comes the Trumpstapo. Of course. What took him so long? Portland, where fascist paramilitaries from federal Customs and Border Protection critically wounded a peaceful protestor and have been sweeping up citizens into unmarked cars, was just the beginning – a fascist paramilitary dress rehearsal.

Yes, We Can – Call it Fascism, that is

A Michelle Goldberg New York Times column that I can’t read because of a “liberal” media paywall is titled “Trump’s Occupation of American Cities Has Begun.” A teaser I was briefly able to glimpse before my non-subscriber status kicked in read as follows: “Can we call it fascism yet?”

Many of us on the officially marginalized and actual Left have been correctly calling it fascism from the start.

Yes, Ms. Goldberg, we can certainly call it fascism now. (Sorry I can’t read your “radical Left” paper. I’m a little short on spending money these days).

182 Days?

This is a local and national emergency. The Trump administration is a clear and present danger to everyone and everything we hold dear. In the face of this emergency we must act on a mass and sustained scale, demanding the collapse of the Trump-Pence regime now. We cannot wait, the world cannot wait, 182 more days (I am writing on Tuesday, July 21st) for this indecent beast and his Christian fascist flying monkey of a V.P. to be removed from power (assuming that they’d agree to leave after losing a mere election). Think about how much more damage these fascist freaks can and will do if given 182 more days.

One hundred and eighty-two more days for these monsters to wreak havoc at home and abroad? Seriously?

Thanks for the Poisoned Spinach, Obama

People who tell you “oh, I participate in politics” because they go into a voting booth or a mail in ballot to make a mark next to the name of a lame corporate and imperial Democrat once every 4 years reminds me of somebody who says they’ve got a healthy diet because they eat a single bowl of pesticide-laden spinach once every 1,460 days (365 x 4).

Please. Corporate Democrats like Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama put Trump’s ass in power, passing on numerous deadly authoritarian tools to a man Obama knew privately to in October 2016 be a “fascist”(Obama’s own damn word). They word there is “privately.” Obama had quite different things to say about Trump in public the next month. They day after he apocalyptic white nationalist won, Obama told the American people to welcome, because, as Obama said to the American people the day after Trump’s victory:

“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.”

If you think I’m lying, Google it up yourself (search “Obama” and “Rose Garden” and “speech” and “day after Trump was elected”). You can’t make up shit like that.

A bunch of us did not listen to Obomber in Iowa City after the fascist was elected. The day after I walked up to the city’s leading old Obama-Clintonite Democrats at a big community meeting and said “congratulations, you corporate clowns, you just put a fascist in the White House.” A few days later, I joined 150 or so mostly young people in shutting down the Main Street of America, Interstate 80, just north of town.

How many liberals know or admit that Trump’s paramilitaries in Portland acted in accord with the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by Barack Obama, which legalized the detention of Americans suspected of being terrorists?

Thanks again, Barack.

“The Best Way to Protest”

Establishment elites like the nation’s most popular living Democrat, Obama, have a simple little magical fix for America’s flaws: vote for Democrats. “The best way to protest,” Obama told University of Illinois students in September of 2018, “is to vote. When you vote,” Obama said, “you’ve got the power.”

Really? We get to vote, yes, but mammon still reigns in the United States, where, as the mainstream political scientists Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens note in their important book Democracy in America?, “government policy … reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office”—candidates like Obama, who blew up the public presidential campaign finance system with record-setting contributions from the likes of Goldman Sachs and Citigroup in 2008.

Here’s a better way to protest than to vote: protest.

This fall, it seems distinctly possible that action in the streets will be required even to secure an election outcome supposedly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Trump has made it clear that he wants to be president for life and that he doesn’t think he can be fairly voted out of office. It may well take mass action and organized pressure — with millions in the streets — to force him out of the White House. Moderate, liberal, and progressive Democrats might as well start coming out now to develop skills they’ll need to secure their own limited electoral objectives after Election Day.

The Real Issue to be Faced

I can’t really blame people for voting for the ridiculous racist clown, corporate tool and warmongering blowhard Joe Biden in one of the few contested states where a presidential election is actually held under the absurd slaveowners’ Electoral College. But the Democrats will not fix this situation for you. They will not de-Trumpify the American racist police state. They will not undo the underlying regime of savage class-race inequality that gave rise to this rogue fascist regime.

A Joe Biden presidency (a distinct possibility) can be expected to follow the usual formula of the “Inauthentic Opposition” (the late Sheldon Wolin’s useful description of the Democratic Party): abject service to the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire followed by the electoral reinstatement of an ever more virulently right-wing and eliminationist Republican White House (Tom Cotton 2025?)

We must fight this rogue fascist regime in the streets, the workplaces, the fields, the public assemblies, the local and federal plazas, the parks, the financial districts, in every public and private space that matters. But that must only be our dress rehearsal. We must then graduate to take on the entire, richly bipartisan social order that produced this rogue fascist shit-hole presidency in the first place.

“The real issue to be faced,” wrote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his final essay, is “the radical reconstruction of society itself.” That was a call for popular democratic revolution, our only chance for survival going forward. The alternative, King knew in his time, was a fascist police state. Today, the alternative is even worse, strange as that sounds to say. It is extinction.

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Beyond John Muir’s Racism: The Sierra Club and the Changing Face of Environmentalism


Sierra Club outing, 1902.

It’s about 100 years too late, but the well-heeled Sierra Club is finally grappling with its founder’s racist past. John Muir, lauded by many as the grandfather of the modern conservation movement, saw the West as a bastion of untrammeled freedom. Not for Indigenous peoples or Black slaves, of course, but for white colonialists.

In 1868, Muir first visited Ahwahnee (Yosemite) and by then, as Muir knew full well, the area’s original inhabitants were being forced off their lands and onto reservations. Others were being shipped off to Christian internment camps for indoctrination, while many more were simply slaughtered to make way for European settlers. Muir openly despised the Miwoks from Ahwahnee, referring to them as “dirty,” “deadly,” and “lazy.” To Muir, they were savages – expendables in the quest for land dominance – a form of colonialism the Sierra Club would later capitalize upon. Muir’s views of Indigenous communities would soften in his older years, but by then much of the damage to their way of life had been done.

The founding of the Sierra Club, and the National Park System more broadly, were predicated on the removal and erasure of Indigenous tribes and their history. From changing Ahwahnee’s name to Yosemite Valley to promoting National Parks as playgrounds for white suburbanites as a way to escape mundane city life, the Sierra Club’s ethos was used as a tool for the organized domination of Indigenous ancestral lands, a continuation of American genocide through other means. It was this mentality, adopted and promoted by early conservationists, that is largely responsible for the notion that wilderness is for whites only – a notion that sadly persists today.

All of this is not to say Muir ought to be erased from history, for without Muir much more of the American West would be even more exploited by oil and gas developers, logging, cattle, roads, and sprawling development than it is today. Yet, it’s imperative for the environmental movement to take a sober assessment of its celebrated historical figures, no matter how complicated and messy it may be. Doing so won’t “cancel” Muir’s legacy, it will only ratify it. And if that means changing Yosemite’s name back to Ahwahnee, so be it.

The reckoning with the Sierra Club’s ugly past must include, not only the troubling aspects of Muir’s legacy but also the Sierra Club’s troubling anti-immigration positions and its early member support for forced sterilization. While they are at it, they must also tackle the vanquishing of various uprisings among its more left-wing members, including the removal of its most important, radical director, David Brower, who himself had a few nasty run-ins, particularly with the Navajo. Unlike Muir, however, Brower learned from his mistakes much faster than his predecessors.

It was Brower’s willingness to admit he was wrong and adapt that makes him an even more important figure to today’s environmental movement than John Muir’s classic preservationism. And while Muir may not have understood the importance of a fight like Standing Rock, there’s no doubt that David Brower, in his muddy boots and gleaming smile, would have been on the front lines with his fist raised high.


On May 3, 1969, after hours of bitter debate, the Sierra Club fired David Brower. The organization’s first paid staffer, Brower had transformed the Club from an exclusive, politically timid, white male hiking outfit of 2,000 members. But the old guard didn’t like the direction that Brower, its executive director, was taking the staid organization: toward political confrontation, grassroots organizing and attacks on industrial pollution, nuclear power and the Pentagon.

This kind of green aggressiveness in the face of entrenched power alienated funders, politicians and, eventually, the Internal Revenue Service, which, after Brower’s successful international campaign to halt the construction of two mega-dams in the Grand Canyon, moved to strip the group of its tax-deductible status. The IRS action proved to be the final straw and Brower was booted out.

Dave Brower was 56 when he was sacked by the Sierra Club. He could have retired to his home in the Berkeley Hills to write books, hike in the Sierras with his wife Anne (if anything, an even more uncompromising environmentalist), and travel the world doing what he loved most: running wild rivers.

But it turned out that Brower’s ouster from the Club was more of a beginning than an ending. In fact, many greens point to that frought moment as the start of what became known as the New Conservation Movement. Brower wasted no time. He went on to have a hand in forming Friends of the Earth, the League of Conservation Voters, Earth Island Institute, and the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment and many other groups big and small. Brower was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.

When militant Earth First! Movment sprang up from the rubble of the Carter era, many mainstream environmental leaders were quick to denounce them and their tactics of tree-sits and road blockades. Not Brower. “I thank God for the arrival of Earth First!,” Brower said. “They make me look moderate.”

It was, perhaps, this unflagging sense of optimism against all odds that defined Brower most. He was delighted at how the movement he helped to found and shape continued to grow in unpredictable and uncontrollable directions.

The evolution of environmentalism over the past fifty years has been spurred by any number of competing internal tensions: between national and grassroots, apolitical and partisan, international and domestic, lobbying strategies and direct action tactics. But more than anything else, the character of the American environmental movement has been forged by the unexpected threats it has had to confront: Three Mile Island, Love Canal, James Watt, the Exxon Valdez, strip mining, rainforest destruction, acid rain, the ozone hole, the decline of the spotted owl, oil drilling in the Arctic, global warming, globalization and the World Trade Organization.

Yet the environmental movement, by and large, has always been the most existential of social movements, willing to shift tactics on the fly, use what works and discard what doesn’t. “In our business, you’ve got to be fast on your feet,” said Brower, who died in November 2000. “When industry wins, they win forever. The most we can usually hope for is a stay of execution. It means we’ve got to stay eternally vigilant, be very creative and be willing to take risks.”

* * *

The modern grassroots environmental movement probably got its start in the citizen uprisings against nuclear power, beginning in the 1970s with the Clamshell Alliance, a decentralized coalition put together to fight the Seabrook reactor in New Hampshire and its rowdier counterpart on the West Coast, the Abalone Alliance, which targeted the Diablo Canyon plant in California. Indeed, in her book Political Protest and Cultural Revolution, Barbara Epstein argues that, aside from the civil rights movement, these groups were the “first effort in American history to base a mass movement on nonviolent direct action.”

The contentious debate over nuclear power also exposed one of the first great schisms inside the green movement, a rift that exists to this day. Many environmental groups, fixated on the looming energy shortage and obsessing on global warming, seized on the dream of nuclear power as a safe, clean alternative to coal-fired power plants. Indeed, Brower lost his job at the Sierra Club partly because of his lonely and unflinching opposition to the Diablo Canyon reactor, which was built on a major faultline.

But public attitudes toward the use of “atoms for peace” changed decisively on March 28, 1979, when the Number Two reactor at Three Mile Island experienced a partial meltdown, emitting radioactive gasses into the air near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and leaking contaminated water into the Susquehanna River. Most Americans first learned of the meltdown from the unimpeachable voice of Walter Cronkite, who opened the CBS Evening News by saying: “It was the first step in a nuclear nightmare. As far as we know at this hour, no worse than that. But a government official said that a breakdown in an atomic power plant in Pennsylvania today is probably the worst nuclear accident to date.” After four days of trying to keep details of the true extent of the accident under wraps, officials finally suggested that nearby schools should be closed and pregnant should evacuate the area. Public confidence in this supposedly safe and cheap form of power collapsed overnight.

But after the press left, people living near the TMI plant were left to deal with the aftermath. Within a few years, the inevitable respiratory illnesses, kidney ailments and cancers began to sprout up in the vicinity of the nuclear complex. Yet the media, wrapped up in the apocalyptic fervor of a meltdown scenario, seemed bored by these slow-motion tragedies and tended to side with the utilities and the nuclear industry in dismissing the link between the disease clusters and the release of radiation as the rantings of paranoids. (In fact, numerous scientific reports have revealed that merely living near a nuclear plant—where cancer clusters tend to occur and where there are higher rates of infant mortality, blood disorders and kidney problems—can be dangerous for your health.)

If the nuclear industry was hoping for a quick comeback in the United States once public anxiety over Three Mile Island calmed, those dreams were shattered on April 26, 1986 when the Chernobyl reactor, in Ukraine, blew its containment vessel during a test, bringing about the most serious industrial accident in history. The radiation released by the explosion wsa greater than from both the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs, contaminating farm and dairy lands, rivers and lakes and forcing the belated evacuation of more than 135,000 people from the city of Pripyat. Thirty-one people were killed in the initial blast and hundreds more fell ill to acute radiation sickness. Within five years of the blast there was a tenfold increase in thyroid cancers in the region.

After the accident, the Soviets delayed releasing any information to the public, grudgingly acting only after Sweden had revealed the disaster to the world. “The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant … has painfully affected the Soviet people and shocked the international community,” Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev said in a televised address.” For the first time, we confront the real force of nuclear energy, out of our control.” (Gorbachev would later claim that Chernobyl was a key event in giving momentum to glasnost and, along with the Afghan war, the fall of the Soviet Union itself.)

In the United States, the 1980 and 1990s saw numerous nuclear plants shuttered due to a combination of relentless citizen-organizing and their own financial extravagances: Marble Hill in Indiana, Clinch River Breeder Reactor in Tennessee, Shoreham in New York, Connecticut Yankee and Trojan in Oregon. In 1989, the Rancho Seco reactor in Herald, California became the first nuke plant shut down by popular vote.

There hasn’t been a nuclear plant opened in the United States since the Three Mile Island meltdown — though the Obama administration pushed hard to build at least three new reactors in Georgia and Trump followed suit. This doesn’t mean that the nuclear industry went into a state of hibernation. Instead of focusing on the United States, Westinghouse, General Electric, ABB and Bechtel set their sights on the developing world: India, Indonesia and Brazil. Their forays were often gladly backed by the US government with financing through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

An even more pressing problem in the United States is the challenge of how to deal with the accumulating mounds of spent fuel from the nation’s 104 commercial nuclear reactors. The nuclear industry, backed by politicians with nuclear plants in their states, wants desperately to truck the radioactive waste to the Nevada desert outside of Las Vegas and entomb it inside vaults in Yucca Mountain, a site on the traditional lands of the Western Shoshone.

The Shoshone have tirelessly fought the plan for more than two decades, joined by anti-nuke groups such as the Snake River Alliance and the Nuclear Information Research Service. They nicknamed the entire scheme the “Mobile Chernobyl” plan. It calls for more than 30 years of continuous shipping by train and semi-truck of 60,000 casks filled with radioactive reactor fuel. A single rail cask would harbor nearly 200 times as much cesium as was released by the Hiroshima bomb. One study predicts that more than 300 “accidents” can be expected involving the shipment of this high-level nuclear waste.

And Yucca Mountain itself is far from safe. For one thing, geologists say the site leaks, posing the real risk of nuclear waste hemorrhaging into groundwater. For another, it’s on unstable terrain. This area of Nevada has been rocked by more than 650 earthquakes in the last twenty years. Of course, the nuclear industry doesn’t want to be left holding the bag when something inevitably goes wrong, so they pushed through Congress a bill transferring the liability for spent reactor fuel to the U.S. government.

But where there’s risk, there’s also opportunity. In 1997, a strange amalgam of former Pentagon officials, CIA officers, venture capitalists and a couple of neoliberal environmentalists hatched a scheme to ship commercial radioactive waste to Russia, for disposal at a site in the Ural Mountains. The plan was fiercely opposed by many American and Russian environmental groups. Indeed, Russian greens mounted the largest campaign in the nation’s history, staging spectacular protests and gathering 2 million signatures to put the matter on the ballot in a public referendum. But the Kremlin rejected the signatures and the powerful Russian nuclear agency Minatom, which stands to make as much as $20 billion on the deal, persuaded the Russian parliament to give the go-ahead.

It’s the same old story: privatize the profits, socialize the costs.

* * *

Back in the spring of 1978, residents of the working-class community of Love Canal, New York discovered that a chemical dump site had been leaking toxins into their neighborhood, saturating their schools, playgrounds and homes with a poisonous stew of more than 200 chemicals. The prime culprit was Hooker Chemical Company, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum. One study showed that 56 percent of the children born in Love Canal between 1974 and 1978 had suffered some form of birth defect. Another study revealed that the rate of urinary-tract infections had increased by 300 percent over the same period. A disturbing spike in the rate of miscarriages was also reported.

The government was slow to react to protect the resident. This was, after all, a working-class neighborhood with little perceived political clout. Then a group of mothers and housewives, led by Lois Gibbs and calling themselves the Love Canal Homeowners Association, sprang into action, filing petitions to close contaminated schools, pressuring New York Governor Hugh Carey to order an evacuation of the area and even commanding the attention of President Jimmy Carter, who signed a bill funding the permanent relocation of 660 families. The Love Canal campaign became a model for a new kind of citizen action: a blue-collar environmentalism that was uncompromising, tactically innovative and community-based. “The words ‘Love Canal’ are now burned in our country’s history and in the memory of the public as being synonymous with chemical exposures and their adverse human health effects,” Gibbs reflected. “The events at Love Canal brought about a new understanding among the American people of the correlation between low-level chemical exposures and birth defects, miscarriages and incidences of cancer. The citizens of Love Canal provided an example of how a blue-collar community with few resources can win against great odds, using the power of the people in our democratic system.”

Since Love Canal, Gibbs has been a leader of one of the most exciting and powerful strains of conservationism: the environmental justice movement. It springs from a single, glaring truth: people who are poor, disenfranchised and dark-skinned are the most likely to be victimized by chemical plants, hazardous waste dumps and myriad other industrial effluvia.

Hazardous waste facilities continue to be constructed with a chilling regularity in poor areas, largely inhabited by minorities. This is not a dry statistical phenomenon, but a deliberate business and political strategy. A leaked memo from the California Waste Management Board spelled out the gameplan in stunningly cynical language: “All socioeconomic groups tend to resent the nearby siting of major [hazardous waste] facilities, but middle and upper socioeconomic strata possess better resources to effectuate their opposition. These neighborhoods should not fall within the one-mile and five-mile radius of proposed sites.”

An investigation by the National Law Journal unearthed another ugly dimension of environmental discrimination. From 1985 through 1992, the fines handed out by the Environmental Protection Agency for violations of federal environmental laws were 500 to 1,000 percent higher if the crimes were committed in white communities as opposed to black and Hispanic areas.

These incidents aren’t abstractions. They occur in real American communities: Navajo forcibly evicted from their homelands on Big Mountain to make way for the expansion of Peabody Coal’s strip mines, the largest on Earth; Mexican-American families in the southwestern Texas town of Sierra Blanca, who are forced to live next to a 70,000-acre ranch where New York City dumps its sewage sludge; the black community of Convent, Louisiana, in the heart of Cancer Alley, which is surrounded by three oil refineries, 17 chemical plants and eight hazardous waste facilities; the Appalachian hamlet of East Liverpool, Ohio, home to the world’s largest hazardous waste incinerator; Gary, Indiana, dumping ground for US Steel.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion, as long-time environmental justice campaigner Richard Moore says, that “people of color don’t have the complexion for protection.”

* * *

By the summer of 1992, the attention of the world was riveted on Rio de Janeiro, for the international confab known as the Earth Summit. The Rio affair was billed as the first major huddling of world leaders to grapple with some of the most intractable environmental crises: global warming, ozone depletion, species extinction, rainforest destruction, depleted fisheries and desertification. Representatives from more than 170 nations attended, but the US government almost didn’t show up. Eventually, President George H. W. Bush was embarrassed into sending a delegation, although Team America quickly left without signing the session’s most important protocols, including the International Convention on Biodiversity.

Much of the attention in Rio and in the press was focused on the fate of rainforests, the so-called lungs of the world. The Amazon was being plundered at an almost inconceivable rate: upward of 149 acres every minute, 214,000 acres each day. Much of the forest was simply going up in smoke, in a kind of modern slash-and-burn regime designed to rid the land of its forests and its indigenous tribes and clear the way for huge cattle ranches, mining operations and oil pipelines. The loss of primary forest cover has presaged a staggering loss of species. The extinction rate in tropical rainforests worldwide was compared by biologists at the Summit to that which jolted the Earth at the end of the Cretaceous Age. Biologist Edward O. Wilson estimated that 137 species were being extirpated every day—that’s 50,000 each year. Indigenous cultures too have been torn asunder, victims of forced dislocation, acculturation, government-sanctioned murder, enforced starvation and introduced diseases. The population of the Amazon basin prior to Western contact has been estimated to have been as high as 9 million. By 2000, less than 200,000 indigenous people remained. And the death rate seemed to be increasing. Take the Yanomani of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela. In the late seventies, more than 20,000 Yanomani lived in Brazil. By 1997, fewer than 9,000 still existed.

All of this spawned the proliferation of hundreds of new green groups battling for the rainforests—or at least fundraising on the promise to protect the Amazon. Three stand out: Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Project Underground and the International Rivers Network. These three groups share some key features: they are international, aggressive, confront corporations directly, engage in direct action and work side-by-side with indigenous groups.

RAN set the model. Their actions ranged from global boycotts of Mitshubishi (a prime destroyer of rainforest in Malaysia and Indonesia) to aiding the cause of the Penan of Borneo, the Kayapo of the Amazon and the Pygmies of the Ituri forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. RAN has worked with many of these tribes and rainforest ecologists to develop sustainable economic uses of intact rainforests.

In the popular imagination, the loss of tropical forests has mostly been linked to the rapacity of timber companies. But throughout much of the tropics the rainforests harbor other treasures the multinational corporations are eager to exploit: namely oil and gold. Project Underground was started as a way of helping local communities in the tropics and elsewhere fight off the depredations of the transnationals. Much of Project Underground’s early work focused on the Grasberg gold mine in Indonesia. One of the largest mines in world, with deposits of gold, silver and tin valued at more than $70 billion, Grasberg started as a joint venture between the New Orleans-based mining giant Freeport McMoRan and the regime of former Indonesian dictator Suharto.

The riches of that mine didn’t find their way to the Amungme tribe, who live next to the mining site and consider the it’s blasted out of sacred. Instead, the Amungme have been forcibly evicted from their homes and killed by Indonesian troops acting as security forces for the mining company. Over the past thirty years, more than 2,000 people have been murdered by security forces and Indonesian troops near the mine.

As horrifying as these acts are, the long-term environmental consequences from the mining operation may take an even greater toll. The mine generates 200,000 tons of contaminated mine waste every day, with much of this being dumped into the Aikwa River system, poisoning the Amungme’s drinking water and toxifying or killing the fish that are the staple of their diet. In 1996, the Amungme filed a $6 billion class action suit in US federal court against the company. “Freeport has killed us,” said Tom Beanal, an Amungme tribal leader. “They’ve taken our land and our grandparents’ land. They ruined the mountains. We can’t drink our water anymore.”

The Berkeley, California-based International Rivers Network was one of the first groups to confront the malign environmental role played by international finance institutions. IRN’s focus is on dams, which have proliferated across the developing world in the name of economic aid, too often destroying riverine ecosystems and indigenous communities for the sake of US corporations. IRN made its mark tackling the biggest dam of them all, China’s Three Gorges. This monstrosity rises 575 feet above the Yangtzee, the world’s third longest river, and created a reservoir more than 350 miles long, compelling the forced resettlement of nearly 1.9 million Chinese.

Construction on the $26 billion began in 1994, backed by financing from a myriad of Western institutions, including Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter, First Boston, Goldman Sachs and the World Bank, the largest financier of dams worldwide.

But IRN put together an international coalition of groups that targeted these funders and international construction firms. This was an entirely new kind of environmental campaign, which targeted and exposed the complex political economy of mega-construction projects. In 1996, IRN won a key opinion from the National Security Council, which determined that the US government should withdraw financial support for the project. A few months later, the Export-Import Bank announced it would not guarantee loans to US companies seeking contracts at the dam. Then, in the biggest victory of all, the World bank announced that it would not underwrite Three Gorges.

In the end, of course, the dam went up, the floodgates closed and the waters rose, flooding forests, marshes, shrines and villages. But a price had been exacted and the international funding agencies had been put on notice.

* * *

On a 1992 trip to NASA headquarters to examine the latest in geo-satellite technology, President George H. W. Bush was presented with two large satellite images. One depicted a million acres of forest in the Brazilian Amazon. The other showed the same amount of acreage on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. Bush shrugged his shoulders and wandered off. But the following day the photos landed on the front page of the New York Times. The contrasts in the images was striking. The Brazilians, so often the target of American condemnation, had logged off and burned about 10 percent of the Amazon’s primary forest. By contrast, the United States had logged off more than 95 percent of the Olympic rainforest. The ensuing battle over the fate of the remaining five percent of ancient forest in the United States would become one of the fiercest in the history of American environmentalism. The ecological symbol for this struggle became a diminutive and secretive bird that inhabited the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest: the northern spotted owl.

Traditionally, green groups such as the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society had tended to avoid battles over forest protection for easier targets: alpine wilderness or so-called “rocks and ice” terrain. As a consequence, through the 1960s and 1970s millions of acres of publicly-owned old-growth forest in Oregon, Washington, California and southeast Alaska were leveled with little organized opposition. All that began to change in the early 1980s, when a new, more militant generation of activists began blockading logging roads and hanging from giant trees slated for clearcutting.

Inspired by the writings of Edward Abbey and fed up with the timid and top-down nature of many big environmental groups, the Earth First!ers and their allies placed their bodies between big trees and chainsaws. The 1980s saw repeated confrontations between the Earth First!ers, the Forest Service and the timber giants: in the Siskiyou and Klamath Mountains, at Millennium Grove (where the oldest trees in Oregon were illegally logged on Easter Sunday), at Opal Creek and along the Brietenbush River. The battlegrounds evoke the same resonance for environmentalists that Shiloh, Vicksburg and Antietam do for the Civil War buff.

In the end, the fate of the spotted owl ended up in the hands of a Reagan-appointed federal judge named William Dwyer, who confounded his Republican allies by dealing the Bush administration a string of stinging setbacks, culminating in an injunction against any new timber sales in spotted owl habitat. In his landmark ruling, Judge Dwyer denounced the Forest Service for “a remarkable series of violations of environmental laws.”

The spotted owl injunctions, which effectively halted all new logging operations in old-growth forests, became a contested issue in the 1992 presidential election, with Bush pledgeing to over-turn the logging ban if re-elected. Bush lost, but Bill Clinton and Al Gore came to the timber industry’s rescue anyway. The betrayal was pure Clinton: convene a staged “town hall” meeting, put out a prefabricated plan and induce your liberal friends to swallow their principles and sign off on it. This shadow play was what happened at the April 1993 Forest Summit, a ridiculous display of consensus-mongering that saw some of the nation’s leading environmentalists play footsy with executives from Weyerhaeuser.

Shortly after the Portland summit, the political arm-twisting began. “The Clinton people told us that during the campaign they’d made commitments to the timber lobby that logging would be restarted before the end of 1993,” recalls Larry Tuttle, then executive director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, a plaintiff in the original spotted owl suit. “They said we had to agree to lift Judge Dwyer’s injunction or they’d get Congress to come up with something worse.”

Tuttle and many other grassroots greens objected, but the big national groups capitulated to the scare tactics of the Clinton crowd. By the fall of 1993, the ancient forests were once again being menaced by chainsaws. After five years of logging under the Clinton plan, the spotted owl’s population plunged more rapidly than the environmental impact statement for the plan predicted it would decline under a worst-case scenario over a period of 40 years. But the owl was always just a symbol, an indicator for an entire ecosystem on the verge of collapse. Among the other species caught in a tailspin toward extinction: marbled murrelets, coho salmon, cutthroat trout, Pacific fisher, pine marten, red tree voles, bull trout, dozens of salamanders, mollusks and hundreds of wildflowers, vascular plants and fungi. In all more than 1,800 species of plants and animals in the Pacific Northwest are at risk from old-growth logging.

* * *

Eight years of Bill Clinton and Al Gore yielded few rewards and many more bitter disappointments. During the early days of the administration, Clinton and Gore played a shrewd game. They tapped more than 30 environmentalists for key positions inside the new government, from Carol Browner as head of the EPA to Bruce Babbitt as Interior Secretary. That gave the mainstream greens the kind of political access they hadn’t enjoyed in more than a decade. But as it turned out, a little face-time with high-ranking bureaucrats was about all the enviro establishment got of Clinton and Gore. The 1993-4 congressional session, when Democrats controlled all branches of the government for the first time in 12 years, ended up as one of the least productive environmental legislatures since the Truman era. And the Republican takeover of congress in 1995 put greens back on the defensive, having to battle both a hostile congress and an indifferent executive office.

The failures of the Clinton years are perhaps best illustrated by the issue that Gore had made his calling card: global warming. By the mid-1990s had gone from a theory to a harshly experience fact of life. A wave of searingly hot summers and droughts scorched the Midwest, accompanied by fierce storms and prolonged El Niño conditions in the Pacific. The 1990s would be the hottest decade on record. The stage was set for the Kyoto convention in 1997. The meeting was conceived as a follow-up to the Rio summit and was supposed to put the brakes on this perilous warming trend. But the event itself would prove emblematic of the shifting alliances and competing interests in global environmental policy.

Kyoto was doomed from the start. Before the meetings even opened, the US Senate had voted 97-0 to reject any agreement that emerged from the session. And the US negotiators, under Gore’s orders, started furiously backpedaling from previous commitments almost the as soon as they stepped off the plane. In the end, the Kyoto accord was a feeble one, requiring the signatories from 37 industrialized nations to only reduce their carbon emissions by an average of 5 percent below 1990 benchmark levels by 2012. And there was plenty of loopholes to excuse not meeting even these modest reductions.

But as the clock closed on the Clinton administration, Congress still had not moved to ratify the Kyoto treaty, and at a meeting in The Hague, the US outraged the European community by attempting to scuttle the accords by pushing for even more “flexibility” in evaluating emission reductions. The US representatives, now thoroughly marinated in the language of neo-liberal, or market-based, environmentalism, pushed for the use of credits for carbon “sinks”—forests and other lands that absorb carbon dioxide pollution—and for emissions trading to help nations meet their goals. This was a particularly galling position considering the fact that although the United States contains only 5 percent of the world’s population, it is responsible for more than 23 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

After eight years of Clintonism, American environmentalists found themselves in a paradoxical fix: popular support for their causes had never been higher, but their political influence was steadily eroding. The 2000 presidential election saw the movement sharply divided, in conflict with itself. Pragmatists sided with Al Gore, despite his ineffectual record; idealists and radicals threw themselves behind the Green Party run of Ralph Nader. In the end, both camps would be disappointed.

George W. Bush, however, turned out to be the unwitting savior of the environmental movement—even as he and his oil-drenched cabinet plotted the plunder of what was left of the natural world. That’s because of a simple truism: environmentalists are better on the defensive, when they’re on the outside, with their backs against the wall. Like James Watt, Bush and Cheney became a mobilizing force. The green fundraising machines cranked into action and millions poured into the coffers of the green establishment.

On the frontlines of the war on the environment, Bush brought clarity. There was no mistaking his intentions, as so many did under Clinton.

* * *

Over the course of the last 30 years, US environmentalism has become a big business. Nine of the biggest green groups enjoy budgets of more than $30 million a year, while four have budgets in excess of $50 million. This newfound wealth inevitably has made Gang Green more cautious and politically timid. Thus the divisions between inside-the-Beltway groups, national organizations and more militant and grassroots have become ever more fractious. Even Earth First! Has been out-radicalized by the emergence of the Earth Liberation Front, which has torched ski resorts, luxury homes built in the wilderness and biotech operations.

Meanwhile, a new internationalist environmentalism is taking root. On matters such as global warming, ozone depletion, and pesticides, the European Union has enacted more protective policies than the US government. Greens have come to political power in Germany, amassing seats in parliament and forming part of the cabinet in 2002. In France, José Bové and his band of militant farmers gained international headlines for challenging corporations such as McDonald’s and Monsanto. Similar movements are taking hold in India, Russia, South Africa and across Latin America. When Subcomandante Marcos led his Zapatista army of Mayan rebels into Mexico City in 2001, the 150,000 people who packed Zocalo Plaza heard Marcos deliver a fiery speech that linked indigenous rights, economic justice and environmental protection.

All of these disparate strains of environmentalism converge on the streets of Seattle on November 30, 1999 protesting the World Trade Organization. Organic farmers stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Earth First!ers and human rights campaigners, trade unionists and animal rights advocates—all united in a common desire to shut down this coven of global finance ministers. The WTO was viewed by the street marchers as the mouthpiece of a global economic system that tramples indigenous people, exploits workers, circumvents national laws and ravages nature. Ironically, the consolidation of the corporate world had served the function of consolidating the opposition to it. The movement assembled on the streets of Seattle was a snapshot of the new face of environmentalism: internationalist in perspective, anti-corporate in tone and unified by a desire for social and ecological justice.

Dave Brower was in Seattle that week. Though weakened by cancer, there was the old fire in his eyes. His 88-year-old heart was with the street protesters. The arc of Brower’s life parallels the course of the environmental movement itself: from elitist hiking clubs to political players to militant confrontations with corporate power. Through decades of bitter battles, Brower never relinquished his optimism. The archdruid always spoke of the possibility of radical change and of the ability of popular movements to take on and defeat entrenched power.

On that misty day in Seattle, Brower pointed to the clouds of tears and said, “Our future is out there on the streets. It’s alive and well and fighting harder than ever.”

Posted in USA, Human Rights, Politics0 Comments

Cops and Constitutions


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Photo: Doug Brown/ACLU of Oregon.

The cops are violating the Constitution by attacking people exercising their basic rights — — that much is obvious.

The rounding up of random protestors because they “fit the description” is related to the discriminatory policing that has historically denied poor, Black, and Brown people their basic rights because they “fit the description.” It’s a form of collective punishment outside the rule of law.

The very existence of the new uniformed secret police violates our rights. But, there have been so many assaults and exceptions to the Constitution, it cannot seriously be called the “highest law of the land.” Instead, the use of secret police should reveal to us a deeply entrenched and systemic tyranny that is the political blowback from empire. In fact, we are now ruled by an system of principles and practices that are nothing short of a new imperial constitution.

Yes, the empire delivered the death blow against the Constitution and the republic it defined. But we cannot know how the murder was committed without inspecting the body. My years as a teacher made it clear that most people had never actually read the founding documents. How do we expect to transform something we do not know?

Great artists innovate new forms of art when the existing forms no longer express the times they live in or the visions they have for the future. But at the same time, the act of creation comes from knowing and mastering the older decaying forms. This is also true of the political innovations we call revolutions.

The Old Constitution

For us, the old decaying form is the US Constitution. The Constitution failed to grant “the people” any power beyond electing elites to represent them— a limited form of power now totally undermined by the two-party system never mentioned in the Constitution. The Constitution gave all power to the government and no real power to the people — compounded of course by the fact that Blacks, Women, Natives Mexicans who comprised a majority of the people were outside of the definition of ”we the people.”

In its original form, the proposed Constitution was still unacceptable to the minority white male electorate because nothing listed the rights of the people to protect them from the power of the state. The Bill of Rights was added by popular demand and without it the Constitution would not have been ratified.

Those rights were listed in the Bill of Rights — but not granted or created by it — since they were “natural rights” beyond the legitimate power of any government to either confer or revoke. It’s not that the Bill of Rights ever worked well, it didn’t. But it did work as contested terrain to struggle over.

The first Constitution created a republic in form but one that allowed very limited democratic power even for the newly enfranchised white artisans, small farmers, and workers. The “Three/fifths Compromise” of the original Constitution institutionalized slavery, conquest, and the white supremacy that had been taking shape since the first Europeans arrived.

The Imperial Constitution

For the last seventy years, even the remaining form of the republic has been irreversibly damaged by war and empire. And as with racism, institutional structures tell the real tale.

After 1950 or so Congress surrendered its constitutional power to declare war and the imperial presidency quickly took over. The people surrendered too — bullied or conned into obedience by the fear merchants of cold war anti-communism.

In short order, we had standing armies, secret police, and the military-industrial complex. All real power was quickly centralized into the executive branch. There were important milestones when that power was further consolidated: 9/11, the War on Terror, the Patriot Act, various NDAA’s, the militarization of the border, ICE attacks on immigrants, the attacks on Occupy and Standing Rock, to name a few. Mass incarceration and the militarization of police were the final jewels in the imperial crown.

The systematic tyranny of the imperial constitution was ready-made and waiting for a president like Trump. But, in fact, every President since 1950 has been a war criminal and a tyrant by definition: their power is in violation of the rule of law.

And, this monster executive branch includes the rapidly growing police forces — uniformed and secret — and the new form of secret but uniformed police that have appeared in DC, Portland, and Columbus. There are eighteen secret police forces in all. In the past cops often hid their badges before committing crimes — now we have entire police forces that both violate, and are immune from, the rule of law by their very nature. If not intent on committing crime why would police need immunity from the law they claim to enforce?

But the rubber bullets, sticks, and chemical weapons reveal weakness. Would they resort to violence if other forms of social control were working to maintain order? Or is this a domestic replay of the military’s strategy of “full-spectrum dominance?” Do they simply see all forms of dissent as a challenge to their power? All of the above?

We now face an interlocking crisis of existential proportions: climate change, extreme wealth and political inequality, perpetual war and empire, the merger of the corporation and the state, the collapse of democracy, and the ramping up of racism and patriarchy necessary to weaken the people. These crises cannot be faced let alone solved by the existing order because they are the existing order.

A New Constitution?

We now have no choice but to create a new democratic system or else the interlocking crisis will come crashing down on all of our heads. Democracy will take many forms but massive protest movements that reveal and challenge the illegitimate power of the state is a huge step in the right direction. And, the secret police and the militarized police forces are the front lines of unlawful and illegitimate state power. That is why we see the good cop/ bad cop efforts to co-opt the movement with one hand and to crush it with the other. That is why Trump and the executive branch he now personifies have no choice but to double down.

This crisis of empire is the cause of so much sound and fury but this time signifying everything: the old constitution is dead, the imperial constitution rules and the new constitution awaits. Let’s see now — how do new constitutions come to be?

Posted in USA, Human Rights0 Comments

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