The Non-Intervention Principle

by SHELDON RICHMAN

Photograph Source: VasenkaPhotography – CC BY 2.0

Anyone old enough to think about “America’s” role in the world ought to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. For example, one ought to be able to argue firmly against U.S. intervention in other countries without feeling obliged to downplay or deny the real crimes that the tyrant du jour has committed. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees.

I can see the temptation here. Many people believe that all one needs to do to establish a case for intervention is to portray the target as egregiously bad. Consequently, a noninterventionist may think that the easiest way to rebut the interventionist is to deny the claim that the target is as bad as “they say.” But this is a lousy, shortsighted, and ultimately self-defeating move. For one thing, it implies that intervention would be acceptable if the target were that bad. Unsurprisingly, it’s better to stick to principle.

The principle of foreign nonintervention has nothing to do with the record of the foreign government in question. It is perfectly coherent to identify Ruler as a brutal dictator and to oppose a U.S. government action aimed at regime-change and nation-building. Thus the noninterventionist has no need to blunt the move toward intervention by misstating or obscuring facts to make the targeted ruler appear less bad than he really is. If someone is puzzled by the statement “The ruler is as horrible as you say, but that is no justification for intervention,” it’s the noninterventionist’s job to straighten that person out because he clearly misunderstands the nature of noninterventionism.

The world is full of egregiously bad rulers — as distinguished from merely garden-variety bad ones — but when the matter turns to U.S. foreign and military policy, the appropriate question is, “So what?” As I say, the case for nonintervention doesn’t rest on the target’s record. So noninterventionists should have no trouble identifying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (among many others) as egregiously bad guys while also opposing U.S. government action against them.

Noninterventionists should also be able to state, assuming of course it is true, that a particular bad ruler is not as bad in every respect as the interventionists say without being smeared as an apologist for that ruler. For example, we can note that Assad, although a brutal dictator, has protected religious minorities, such as Christians, from the fanatical Sunni Muslims, such as al Qaeda and the late Islamic State. (Assad himself is a member of a religious minority, the Alawites, which is in the Shia branch of Islam.) Acknowledging Assad’s record of protecting minorities does not make one a fan, much less a tool, of the Syrian ruler. Similarly, one ought to be able to point out that U.S. sanctions are partly responsible for Venezuela’s problems without being accused of defending or overlooking Maduro’s authoritarian state socialism, which by nature will always harm the very people it is perhaps intended to benefit.

Thus the case for nonintervention is independent of Assad’s policy toward minorities and the consequences of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela. (Those sanctions should end.) Nonintervention stands on its own merits.

I find it necessary to discuss what ought to be obvious because recently I’ve seen people committing these fallacies: a few noninterventionists have appeared to suggest that a potential target of U.S. intervention, Maduro, isn’t really so bad, while some interventionists have accused noninterventionists of being soft on some demonstrably horrible rulers.

Another fallacy I’ve encountered is the equation of noninterventionism with nationalism, specifically with a belief that national borders are sacrosanct. The fallacy here is in thinking that the libertarian case for nonintervention rests on a reverence for national boundaries. Nothing could be further from the truth. Noninterventionism and open (i.e., essentially abolished) borders go hand in hand.

So why the iron rule against nonintervention if borders are not sacrosanct? Albert Jay Nock and Murray Rothbard both answered this question: as long as we live in a world of states, to minimize the harm, we are obliged to keep the state we labor under on, as Nock put it, as short a leash as possible. This is true in domestic policy, but it is even more urgent in foreign affairs since presidents have frightening and acutely lethal autonomy in that realm. We should need no reminder that when the U.S. government intervenes in a foreign conflict, it makes things worse — much worse — especially for noncombatants. So nonintervention is motivated not only by a wish to keep the state as small as possible, but also to minimize bloodshed by abstaining from exacerbating other people’s conflicts. Bluntly put, we must keep states from clashing. It’s got nothing to do with a reverence for borders.

In the harsh light of 21st-century American foreign policy, we can see that the cause of nonintervention has never been more urgent. Let’s not burden it with irrelevant considerations.

(For a statement of libertarian noninterventionism, see my “Libertarianism Means Noninterventionism.”)

Posted in USA, World0 Comments

The “Liberal” Media’s Propaganda War on Bernie Sanders

by PAUL STREET

Photograph Source: Steve Bott – CC BY 2.0

The “liberal” top-down class and propaganda war on the progressive populist Bernie Sanders is something to behold. It advances at least four master narratives.

Red Baiting

The first such narrative boils down to Red baiting. The Atlantic, recently gave space for the right-wing pundit David Frump to call Sanders a “Marxist of the old school of dialectical materialism” for whom “class relations are foundational” and “everything else is epiphenomenon.”

At ”liberal” broadcast media’s central Stop Sanders headquarters MSNBC (hereafter “MSDNC”), veteran political talk-show host Chris Matthews channeled Joe McCarthy before the New Hampshire Democratic Primary in a bizarre tirade linking the “socialist Sanders” to the supposed threat of “executions in Central Park” if “Castro and the Reds” had “won the Cold War.”

Last week, three days before the Nevada Caucus, MSDNC’s Stephanie Ruhle had on an old friend, former Diamond Resorts CEO Stephen Cloobeck, a major Democratic Party funder, to speak from Las Vegas. Asked about one of Ruhle’s favorite topics, the menace of “socialist Bernie Sanders,” Cloobeck called Sanders “an anarchist” who “would love to burn down the United States” ” (When asked if he would support Trump if Sanders is the nominee, Cloobeck growled “anyone but Bernie, anyone but Bernie.”). She later gleamed while one or her many Republican guests, Jeb Bush’s former campaign manager, called for Michael Bloomberg to pour $100 million in negative campaign ads to stop the socialist Sanders.

This is how “left-wing” MSDNC rolls. Last year, advertising executive and MSDNC pundit Donny Deutsch went on the network’s “Morning Joe” show to semi-coherently say the following: “a socialist candidate [Sanders] is more dangerous to this company, country …than Donald Trump.  I would vote for Donald Trump, a despicable human being…if we have a socialist…because that will take our country so down… that’s not who we are. And if you love who we are and all the great things that we still have to have binders put on the side. Please step away from the socialism.

The dangerous Red Bernie storyline is promoted by competing Democratic candidates. During MSDNC’s presidential debate in Las Vegas last week, the mega-billionaire and longtime Republican Michael Bloomberg identified Sanders with “communism” while the billionaire-backed McKinsey Company veteran Pete Buttigieg claimed that the “radical” Sanders “wants to burn down the house.” Elizabeth “Capitalist to My Bones” Warren absurdly said that Sanders wants Democrats to “gambl[e] on a narrow vision that doesn’t address the fears of millions of Americans… who…want real change…[and] on a revolution that won’t bring along a majority of this country.”

After Sanders won Nevada running away, Chris Matthews agonized further on the “socialist” specter and analogized Sanders’ victory to the fall of France to Hitler’s Third Reich in 1940(forgetting perhaps that that Nazis were fascists, not socialists, though Matthews may not understand the difference.). Equally unhinged was MSDNC host Nicole Wallace, a White House Communications Director during the presidency of George W. Bush and a senior advisor for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. She expressed her wish for billionaire Tom Steyer to spend millions of dollars on stopping the socialist.

Former Chicago Mayor and ongoing corporate Democrat Rahm Emanuel and former Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie went on former Bill Clinton staffer George Stephanopolous’s “This Week” to lecture Democrats on their need to unite behind a single candidate to attack Sanders’ “socialist agenda” (Christie) “mano a man’ (Emanuel).

Buttigieg told Democrats to “take a sober look” at the radical threat posed by Sanders. He claimed that the Vermont senator “believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention as most Americans.”

These are telling perspectives on Sanders’ call for elementary, urgently needed reforms like Medicare for All, free public college, progressive taxation, the doubling of the nation’s inadequate minimum wage, the re-legalization of union organizing, and big federal green jobs programs.

Neo-McCarthyite class fears – bourgeois panic – lurks behind the insistent “liberal” Democratic calls (constant on MSDNC) for the “moderate” (corporate and neoliberal) Democrats to coalesce around a viable non-/stop-Sanders candidate “before it’s too late” and a dreaded radical “hijacks the nomination” on the model of Trump grasping the Republican nomination (more on the Sanders-Trump analogy below) in 2016.

“Values” vs. “Electability”

A second form of “liberal” anti-Sanders media and political bias is the constant narrative that Democratic primary voters must choose between a candidate like Sanders who embodies their values and policy preferences and a candidate who can beat Trump. At CNN last Saturday, morning host Michael Smerconish trumpeted the Democratic Party’s “superdelegates” – the nearly 15% of Democratic National Convention presidential candidate and platform selection delegates who represent the party’s establishment. Smerconish praised the unelected superdelegates for ensuring “candidate quality control through a form of peer review” and representing “the wisdom of party elders to hold back the masses” from “a populist surge” that would nominate a “disastrous” candidate who can’t “survive a general election.” The Democrats, Smerconish suggests, need to prevent Sanders from winning a majority of the delegates in the primaries and caucuses so that the superdelegates can help the sage “elders” check the deluded populist rabble (the voters) during the convention’s second ballot. (At least he didn’t call Sanders a communist).

This narrative pitting values and policy against electoral viability reflects a backhanded media acknowledgement that voters, especially younger ones, have moved to the progressive social-democratic and environmentalist left under the inegalitarian and eco-cidal ravages of neoliberal capitalism. It also advances a false dichotomy. Sanders’ leftish positions and persona actually make him the most electable Democratic candidate (ask the Democratic voters of Nevada) – the one most able to energize vast swaths of the electorate that have been demobilized by the corporate-neoliberal Democrats’ transparently fake progressivism and inauthentic opposition to concentrated wealth and power. Without a significant lurch to the portside, the Democrats cannot hope to remain viable.

It is difficult to imagine the number of voters required to defeat Trump backing an arrogant classist, racist, and sexist oligarch like Bloomberg (who has already spent $450 million blanketing the nation with commercials even before entering a single primary) – or getting behind a dismal. dollar-drenched centrist like the stale, old gaffe-machine Biden or the “fresh,” young and silver-tongued Buttigieg. If the self-financing titan Bloomberg snuffs out Sanders’ historic grassroots campaign (powerfully funded with an average individual contribution of $18), buying the nomination out from under the Sanders movement with the help of the “super-delegates,” millions upon millions of potential Democratic voters will sit the election out or vote for a third-party candidate. There will be “hell to pay” for the Democratic Party as Trump coasts coast to a second term.

Trashing Medicare for All

A third variant of anti-Sanders “liberal” media conduct is the constant claim that Medicare for All will destroy peoples’ existing health insurance and bankrupt the nation. The fear-prompting soundbite – ubiquitous across the “liberal” media landscape and in the campaign rhetoric of Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Bloomberg – is primitive in its reptilian simplicity: big bad Bernie wants to take your medical coverage away and tax us all to death.

This is transparent bourgeois nonsense. Sanders’s plan makes quality health care a human right by replacing a burdensome, expensive, and poorly performing for-profit health coverage racket with a streamlined system that abolishes the administratively burdensome and cost-inflating parasitism of corporate health insurance. In a recent study published by the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, leading epidemiologists from the Yale School of Public Health, University of Florida, and University of Maryland School of Medicine find that a Single Payer system would slash national health expenditures by 13 percent – more than $450 billion a year – and save 68,000 lives a year. By replacing premiums, deductibles, co-payments and out-of-pocket costs with a progressive tax system, the researchers determined, Medicare for All will save the average U.S. family $2,400 a year and give lower-income household new access to medical services they need. Republican and corporate-Democratic objections to Single Payer based on the prediction of rising costs are not based on empirical reality. Economics and actuarial outcomes aside, the authors believe that it is a “moral imperative to provide health care as a human right, not dependent on employment or affluence.”

The “liberal” mantra that Sanders’ programs are “fiscally irresponsible” and “too radical” for the American people are false. Sanders pays for his popular programs (hardly radical or all that “socialist” when compared to policies in place in numerous other rich nations) with increased taxes on the absurdly under-taxed American rich and their absurdly under-taxed corporations and financial institutions – and by rolling back massive public subsidies (accurately described by Sanders as “socialism for the rich”) government grants Big Business.

False Equivalence with Neofascist Trump

A fourth form of “liberal” Democratic bias against Sanders is the recurrent media suggestion of basic underlying similarity between Trump and Sanders, with the latter portrayed as the Democrats’ “own Donald Trump.” That description comes from Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, who recently attacked “Sanders and his fleet of Bernie Bros who slash and burn, attack and smear other Democrats” in a column ripping on the “disaster” that is Sanders’ “Trump-like campaign .”

“Liberal” politicos and media operatives now habitually make snobbish parallels between the two, portraying both as blunt and tough “populists” with authoritarian instincts and “bitter” and “angry” white-guy followers. Never mind that Trump and his base are neo-fascistic racist, Nativist, sexist and eco-cidal, and authoritarian fake-populists whose essence is hatred and division in service to the wealthy Few while Sanders and his backers are progressive populists, social democrats, and environmentalists who oppose racism, nativism, sexism in the name of popular, working-class solidarity against the reigning capitalist “billionaire class.”

Every Trump rally I have watched (at least ten by now) has been a prolonged racist, nativist, sexist, and authoritarian hate session dedicated to advancing a sick cult of personality and dividing up the country to more effectively rule it from the top down. By contrast, every Sanders rally I have attended (five by now) has conveyed an egalitarian message of love and solidarity combined with the notion that everyday working-class people need to reach across their differences to unite in a movement opposed to corporate and financial plutocracy.)

The equation of Sanders and Trump and their respective campaigns and bases is ruling class gaslighting whereby “elite” (neo)liberals identity progressive and democratic values with precisely their opposites.

Russia-Linkage and Other Stories

Besides these four master narratives in the “liberal” corporate media’s propaganda war on Sanders, other storylines and modes of bias deserve mention: the evidence-free suggestion that Bernie is also (like Trump) a “Russian asset;” the under-coverage of Sanders’ rallies, platform, and victories; the repetition of other candidates’ claims that Sanders is personally responsible for every incident of online abuse committed by those purporting to be his supporters; the false claim that Sanders is a friend of the National Rifle Association; the claim that Sanders has a big race problem (ironic since he’s the top-level candidate with by far the strongest anti-racist record and the best platform to meet the needs of the nation’s non-white citizens); the claim that Sanders isn’t a Democrat (he’s Caucused with Democrats in Congress since the 1990s and he’s run for president as a Democrats for the last five-plus years); sniping at Sanders for “not getting much done in Congress” (hardly surprising given the role of corporate lobbyists and campaign contributions in stifling progressive policy proposals in Washington); false claims that Sanders would be a “down-ticket” disaster for Democrats running for Congress; pretend shock over Sanders’ acknowledgement that there’s a Democratic Party establishment opposed to him; and weak analogies between Sanders and the failed British Labour Party candidate Jeremy Corbyn.

Do not be surprised if the Russia angle becomes a master narrative in coming weeks. In a hint of things to come, perhaps, MSDNC responded to early signs of Sanders’ Nevada victory by bringing on the self-described Democratic campaign “hack” James Carville, who calls Sanders “a communist,” to claim that Sanders’ triumph was pleasing to Vladimir Putin.

Posted in USA, Campaigns0 Comments

Why we can’t beat our addiction to war

By Andrew J. Bacevich

Addressing the graduating cadets at West Point in May 1942, General George C. Marshall, then the Army chief of staff, reduced the nation’s purpose in the global war it had recently joined to a single emphatic sentence. “We are determined,” he remarked, “that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.”

The Last Flag (Dedicated to Howard Zinn), a charcoal drawing by Robert Longo Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York City

The Last Flag (Dedicated to Howard Zinn), a charcoal drawing by Robert Longo
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York City

At the time Marshall spoke, mere months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. forces had sustained a string of painful setbacks and had yet to win a major battle. Eventual victory over Japan and Germany seemed anything but assured. Yet Marshall was already looking beyond the immediate challenges to define what that victory, when ultimately—and, in his view, inevitably—achieved, was going to signify.

This second world war of the twentieth century, Marshall understood, was going to be immense and immensely destructive. But if vast in scope, it would be limited in duration. The sun would set; the war would end. Today no such expectation exists. Marshall’s successors have come to view armed conflict as an open-ended proposition. The alarming turn in U.S.–Iranian relations is another reminder that war has become normal for the United States.

The address at West Point was not some frothy stump speech by a hack politician. Marshall was a deliberate man who chose his words carefully. His intent was to make a specific point: the United States was fighting not to restore peace—a word notably absent from his remarks—nor merely to eliminate an isolated threat. The overarching American aim was preeminence, both ideological and military: as a consequence of the ongoing war, America was henceforth to represent freedom and power—not in any particular region or hemisphere but throughout the world. Here, conveyed with crisp military candor, was an authoritative reframing of the nation’s strategic ambitions.*

* Although Marshall was speaking that day to a fairly small group, his words eventually reached millions. Each segment of the film series Why We Fight, the masterpiece of propaganda that Frank Capra created under the auspices of the War Department, displays a quotation from Marshall’s West Point speech.

Marshall’s statement captured the essence of what was to remain America’s purpose for decades to come, until the presidential election of 2016 signaled its rejection. That year an eminently qualified candidate who embodied a notably bellicose variant of the Marshall tradition lost to an opponent who openly mocked that tradition while possessing no qualifications for high office whatsoever.

Determined to treat Donald Trump as an unfortunate but correctable aberration, the foreign-policy establishment remains intent on salvaging the tradition that Marshall inaugurated back in 1942. The effort is misguided and will likely prove futile. For anyone concerned about American statecraft in recent years, the more pressing questions are these: first, whether an establishment deeply imbued with Marshall’s maxim can even acknowledge the magnitude of the repudiation it sustained at the hands of Trump and those who voted him into office (a repudiation that is not lessened by Trump’s failure to meet his promises to those voters); and second, whether this establishment can muster the imagination to devise an alternative tradition better suited to existing conditions while commanding the support of the American people. On neither score does the outlook appear promising.

General Marshall delivered his remarks at West Point in a singular context. Marshall gingerly referred to a “nationwide debate” that was complicating his efforts to raise what he called “a great citizen-army.” The debate was the controversy over whether the United States should intervene in the ongoing European war. To proponents of intervention, the issue at hand during the period of 1939 to 1941 was the need to confront the evil of Nazism. Opponents of intervention argued in the terms of a quite different question: whether or not to resume an expansionist project dating from the founding of the Republic. This dispute and its apparent resolution, misunderstood and misconstrued at the time, have been sources of confusion ever since.

An explosion on the U.S.S. Shaw during the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Courtesy the George Eastman Museum

An explosion on the U.S.S. Shaw during the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Courtesy the George Eastman Museum

Even today, most Americans are only dimly aware of the scope—one might even say the grandeur—of our expansionist project, which stands alongside racial oppression as an abiding theme of the American story. As far back as the 1780s, the Northwest Ordinances, which created the mechanism to incorporate the present-day Midwest into the Union, had made it clear that the United States had no intention of confining its reach to the territory encompassed within the boundaries of the original thirteen states. And while nineteenth-century presidents did not adhere to a consistent grand plan, they did pursue a de facto strategy of opportunistic expansion. Although the United States encountered resistance during the course of this remarkable ascent, virtually all of it was defeated. With the notable exception of the failed attempt to annex Canada during the War of 1812, expansionist efforts succeeded spectacularly and at a remarkably modest cost to the nation. By midcentury, the United States stretched from sea to shining sea.

Generations of Americans chose to enshrine this story of westward expansion as a heroic tale of advancing liberty, democracy, and civilization. Although that story certainly did include heroism, it also featured brute force, crafty maneuvering, and a knack for striking a bargain when the occasion presented itself.

In the popular imagination, the narrative of “how the West was won” to which I was introduced as a youngster has today lost much of its moral luster. Yet the country’s belated pangs of conscience have not induced any inclination to reapportion the spoils. While the idea of offering reparations to the offspring of former slaves may receive polite attention, no one proposes returning Florida to Spain, Tennessee and Georgia to the Cherokees, or California to Mexico. Properties seized, finagled, extorted, or paid for with cold, hard cash remain American in perpetuity.

Back in 1899, the naturalist, historian, politician, sometime soldier, and future president Theodore Roosevelt neatly summarized the events of the century then drawing to a close: “Of course our whole national history has been one of expansion.” When T.R. uttered this truth, a fresh round of expansionism was under way, this time reaching beyond the fastness of North America into the surrounding seas and oceans. The United States was joining with Europeans in a profit-motivated intercontinental imperialism.

The previous year, U.S. forces had invaded and occupied Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Pacific island of Luzon, and annexed Hawaii as an official territory. Within the next two years, the Stars and Stripes was flying over the entire Philippine archipelago. Within four years, with Roosevelt now in the White House, American troops arrived to garrison the Isthmus of Panama, where the United States, employing considerable chicanery, was setting out to build a canal. Thereafter, to preempt any threats to that canal and other American business interests, successive U.S. administrations embarked on a series of interventions throughout the Caribbean. Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson had no desire to annex Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic; they merely wanted the United States to control what happened in those small countries, as it already did in nearby Cuba. Though President Trump’s recent bid to purchase Greenland from Denmark may have failed, Wilson—perhaps demonstrating greater skill in the art of the deal—did persuade the Danes in 1917 to part with the Danish West Indies (now the U.S. Virgin Islands) for the bargain price of $25 million. At least until Trump moved into the White House, Wilson’s purchase of the Virgin Islands appeared to have sated the American appetite for territorial acquisition. With that purchase, the epic narrative of a small republic becoming an imperial behemoth concluded and was promptly filed away under the heading of Destiny, manifest or otherwise—a useful turn, since Americans were and still are disinclined to question those dictates of God or Providence that work to their benefit.

Battlefield memorial for a dead U.S. soldier, Normandy, France, 1944 (detail)

Battlefield memorial for a dead U.S. soldier, Normandy, France, 1944 (detail)

Yet rather than accept the nation’s fate as achieved, President Wilson radically reconfigured American ambitions. Expansion was to continue but was henceforth to emphasize hegemony rather than formal empire. This shift included a seldom-noticed racial dimension. Prior to 1917, the United States had mostly contented itself with flexing its muscles among non-white peoples. Wilson sought to encroach into an arena where the principal competitors were white. Pacifying “little brown brothers” (Taft’s disparaging term for Filipinos) was like playing baseball in Rochester or Pawtucket. Now the United States was ready to break into the big leagues.

For Americans today, it is next to impossible to appreciate the immensity of the departure from tradition that President Wilson engineered in 1917. Until that year, steering clear of foreign rivalries had constituted a sacred precept of American statecraft. The barrier of the Atlantic was sacrosanct, to be breached by merchants but not by soldiers.

“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations,” George Washington had counseled in his Farewell Address, “is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.” This dictum had applied in particular to U.S. relations with Europe. Washington had explicitly warned against allowing the United States to be dragged into “the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.”

The Great War persuaded President Wilson to disregard Washington’s advice. At the war’s outset, in 1914, Wilson had declared that the United States would be “neutral in fact, as well as in name.” In reality, as the conflict settled into a bloody stalemate, his administration tilted in favor of the Allies. By the spring of 1917, with Germany having renewed U-boat attacks on U.S. shipping, he tilted further, petitioning Congress to declare war on the Reich. Congress complied, and in short order over a million doughboys were headed to the Western Front. In terms of sheer roll-the-dice boldness, Wilson’s decision to go to war against Germany dwarfs Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 escalation of the Vietnam War and George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. It was an action utterly without precedent.

And as with Vietnam and Iraq, the results were costly and disillusioning. Although U.S. forces entered the fight in large numbers only weeks before the armistice in November 1918, American deaths exceeded 116,000—this when the total U.S. population was less than one third what it is today. Happy to accept American help in defeating the Hun, British and French leaders wasted little time once the fighting had stopped in rejecting Wilson’s grandiose vision of a peaceful world order based on his famous Fourteen Points. By the time the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the Versailles Treaty, in November 1919 and again in March 1920, it had become evident that Wilson’s stated war aims would remain unfulfilled. In return for rallying to the Allies in their hour of need, the United States had gained precious little. In Europe itself, meanwhile, the seeds of further conflict were already being planted.

A deeply disenchanted American public concluded, not without reason, that the U.S. entry into the war had been a mistake, an assessment that found powerful expression in the fiction of Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, and other interwar writers. The man who followed Wilson in the White House, Warren G. Harding, agreed. The principal lesson to be drawn from the war, “ringing” in his ears, “like an admonition eternal, an insistent call,” Harding declared, was, “It must not be again!” His was not a controversial judgment. During the 1920s, therefore, George Washington’s charge to give Europe wide berth found renewed favor. According to legend, the United States then succumbed to two decades of unmitigated isolationism.

U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, 2004 © Moises Saman/Magnum Photos

U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, 2004 © Moises Saman/Magnum Photos

The truth, as George Marshall and his military contemporaries knew, was more complicated. From 1924 to 1927, Colonel Marshall was stationed in Tianjin, China, where he commanded the 15th Infantry Regiment. The year 1924 found Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur presiding over the U.S. Army’s Philippine Division, with headquarters at Manila’s Fort Santiago. Around the same time, Dwight D. Eisenhower was serving in Panama while George S. Patton was assigned to the Hawaiian Division, at Schofield Barracks. Matthew Ridgway’s duty stations between the world wars included stints in China, Nicaragua, and the Philippines. In 1935, MacArthur returned to Manila for another tour, this time bringing Ike along as a member of his staff.

The pattern of assignments of these soon-to-be-famous officers was not atypical. During the period between the two world wars, the Army kept busy policing outposts of the American empire. The Navy and Marine Corps shouldered similar obligations: to maintain its “Open Door” policy, the United States deployed a small flotilla of warships at its “China Station,” headquartered in Shanghai, for example, while contingents of U.S. Marines enforced order across the Caribbean. Marine Major General Smedley Butler achieved immortality by confessing that he had spent his career as “a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers.” While hyperbolic, Butler’s assessment was not altogether wrong.

It isn’t possible to square the deployment of U.S. forces everywhere from the Yangtze and Manila to Guantánamo and Managua with any plausible definition of isolationism. While the United States did pull its troops out of Europe after 1918, it maintained its empire. So the abiding defect of U.S. policy during the interwar period was not a head-in-the-sand penchant for ignoring the world. The actual problem was overstretch compounded by indolence. Decision-makers had abdicated their responsibility to align means and ends, even as the world drifted toward the precipice of another horrific conflict.

Nonetheless, those who advocated going to war against Germany in the “nationwide debate” to which Marshall alluded in his West Point speech charged their adversaries with being “isolationists.” The tag resonated—though, in point of fact, isolationism no more accurately described U.S. foreign policy at the time than it does that of the Trump Administration today. (And President Trump is no more an isolationist than he is a Presbyterian.)

Proponents of intervention between 1939 and 1941 were diverting attention from the real issue, which was a debate on whether to remember or to forget. To go to war with Germany a second time meant swallowing the bitter disappointments wrought by having done so just two decades before.

The interventionist case came down to this: given the enormity of the Nazi threat, it was incumbent on Americans to get over their vexations with the recent past. It was time to get back to work. For their part, the anti-interventionists were disinclined to forget. They believed that the Allies had taken the United States to the cleaners—as indeed they had—and they did not intend to repeat the experience. Anti-interventionists insisted that fulfilling the American appetite for liberty and abundance did not require further expansion. They believed that the domain the United States had already carved out in the Western Hemisphere was sufficient to satisfy the aspirations specified in the Preamble to the Constitution. Expansion, in their view, had gone far enough. In December 1941, Adolf Hitler settled this issue, seemingly for good, when he declared war on the United States after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Nazi dictator effectively wiped the slate clean, rendering irrelevant all that had occurred since 1917, including Marshall’s own prior service on the Western Front and in the outer provinces of the American imperium. Thanks to Hitler, the path forward seemed clear. Only one thing was needed: the mobilization of Marshall’s “great citizen-army” as an expression of both freedom and power.

This is the path that the United States has followed, with only occasional deviations and backslides, ever since. As if by default, therefore, Marshall’s dictum of preeminence has remained the implicit premise of the American grand strategy: a stubborn insistence that freedom is ours to define and that America’s possession of (and willingness to use) overwhelming force offers the best way to ensure freedom’s triumph, if only so-called isolationists would get out of the way. So nearly eighty years later, we are still stuck in Marshall’s world, with Marshall himself the unacknowledged architect of all that was to follow.

Donald Trump at a rally in Lake Charles, Louisiana, 2019 © Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump at a rally in Lake Charles, Louisiana, 2019 © Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

In our so-called Trump Era, freedom and power aren’t what they used to be. Both are undergoing radical conceptual transformations. Marshall assumed a mutual compatibility between the two. No such assumption can be made today.

Although the strategy of accruing overwhelming military might to advance the cause of liberty persisted throughout the period misleadingly enshrined as the Cold War, it did so in attenuated form. The size and capabilities of the Red Army, exaggerated by both Washington and the Kremlin, along with the danger of nuclear Armageddon, by no means exaggerated, suggested the need for the United States to exercise a modicum of restraint. Even so, Marshall’s pithy statement of intent more accurately represented the overarching intent of U.S. policy from the late 1940s through the 1980s than any number of presidential pronouncements or government-issued manifestos. Even in a divided world, policymakers continued to nurse hopes that the United States could embody freedom while wielding unparalleled power, admitting to no contradictions between the two.

With the end of the Cold War, Marshall’s axiom came roaring back in full force. In Washington, many concluded that it was time to pull out the stops. Writing in Foreign Affairs in 1992, General Colin Powell, arguably the nation’s most highly respected soldier since Marshall, anointed America “the sole superpower” and, quoting Lincoln, “the last best hope of earth.” Civilian officials went further, designating the United States as history’s “indispensable nation.” Supposedly uniquely positioned to glimpse the future, America took it upon itself to bring that future into being, using whatever means it deemed necessary. During the ensuing decade, U.S. troops were called upon to make good on such claims in the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, and East Africa, among other venues. Indispensability imposed obligations, which for the moment at least seemed tolerable.

After 9/11, this post–Cold War posturing reached its apotheosis. Exactly sixty years after Marshall’s West Point address, President George W. Bush took his own turn in speaking to a class of graduating cadets. With splendid symmetry, Bush echoed and expanded on Marshall’s doctrine, declaring, “Wherever we carry it, the American flag will stand not only for our power, but for freedom.” Yet something essential had changed. No longer content merely to defend against threats to freedom—America’s advertised purpose in World War II and during the Cold War—the United States was now going on the offensive. “In the world we have entered,” Bush declared, “the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act.” The president thereby embraced a policy of preventive war, as the Japanese and Germans had, and for which they landed in the dock following World War II. It was, in effect, Marshall’s injunction on steroids.

We are today in a position to assess the results of following this “path of action.” Since 2001, the United States has spent approximately $6.5 trillion on several wars, while sustaining some sixty thousand casualties. Post-9/11 interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere have also contributed directly or indirectly to an estimated 750,000 “other” deaths. During this same period, attempts to export American values triggered a pronounced backlash, especially among Muslims abroad. Clinging to Marshall’s formula as a basis for policy has allowed the global balance of power to shift in ways unfavorable to the United States.

At the same time, Americans no longer agree among themselves on what freedom requires, excludes, or prohibits. When Marshall spoke at West Point back in 1942, freedom had a fixed definition. The year before, President Franklin Roosevelt had provided that definition when he described “four essential human freedoms”: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. That was it. Freedom did not include equality or individual empowerment or radical autonomy.

As Army chief of staff, Marshall had focused on winning the war, not upending the social and cultural status quo (hence his acceptance of a Jim Crow army). The immediate objective was to defeat Nazi Germany and Japan, not to subvert the white patriarchy, endorse sexual revolutions, or promote diversity.

Further complicating this ever-expanding freedom agenda is another factor just now beginning to intrude into American politics: whether it is possible to preserve the habits of consumption, hypermobility, and self-indulgence that most Americans see as essential to daily existence while simultaneously tackling the threat posed by human-induced climate change. For Americans, freedom always carries with it expectations of more. It did in 1942, and it still does today. Whether more can be reconciled with the preservation of the planet is a looming question with immense implications.

When Marshall headed the U.S. Army, he was oblivious to such concerns in ways that his latter-day successors atop the U.S. military hierarchy cannot afford to be. National security and the well-being of the planet have become inextricably intertwined. In 2010, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared that the national debt, the prime expression of American profligacy, had become “the most significant threat to our national security.” In 2017, General Paul Selva, Joint Chiefs vice chair, stated bluntly that “the dynamics that are happening in our climate will drive uncertainty and will drive conflict.”

As for translating objectives into outcomes, Marshall’s “great citizen-army” is long gone, probably for good. The tradition of the citizen-soldier that Marshall considered the foundation of the American military collapsed as a consequence of the Vietnam War. Today the Pentagon relies instead on a relatively small number of overworked regulars reinforced by paid mercenaries, aka contractors. The so-called all-volunteer force (AVF) is volunteer only in the sense that the National Football League is. Terminate the bonuses that the Pentagon offers to induce high school graduates to enlist and serving soldiers to re-up, and the AVF would vanish.

Furthermore, the tasks assigned to these soldiers go well beyond simply forcing our adversaries to submit, which was what we asked of soldiers in World War II. Since 9/11, those tasks include something akin to conversion: bringing our adversaries to embrace our own conception of what freedom entails, endorse liberal democracy, and respect women’s rights. Yet to judge by recent wars in Iraq (originally styled Operation Iraqi Freedom) and Afghanistan (for years called Operation Enduring Freedom), U.S. forces are not equipped to accomplish such demanding work.

This record of non-success testifies to the bind in which the United States finds itself. Saddled with outsized ambitions dating from the end of the Cold War, confronted by dramatic and unanticipated challenges, and stuck with instruments of power ill-suited to existing and emerging requirements, and led by a foreign-policy establishment that suffers from terminal inertia, the United States has lost its strategic bearings.

Deep in denial, that establishment nonetheless has a ready-made explanation for what’s gone wrong: as in the years from 1939 to 1941, so too today a putative penchant for isolationism is crippling U.S. policy. Isolationists are ostensibly preventing the United States from getting on with the business of amassing power to spread freedom, as specified in Marshall’s doctrine. Consider, if you will, the following headlines dating from before Trump took office: “Isolationism Soars Among Americans” (2009); “American isolationism just hit a fifty-year high” (2013); “America’s New Isolationism” (2013, twice) “Our New Isolationism” (2013); “The New American Isolationism” (2014); “American Isolationism Is Destabilizing the World,” (2014); “The Revival of American Isolationism” (2016). And let us not overlook “America’s New Isolationists Are Endangering the West,” penned in 2013 by none other than John Bolton, Trump’s recently cashiered national security adviser.

Note that when these essays appeared U.S. military forces were deployed in well over one hundred countries around the world and were actively engaged in multiple foreign wars. The Pentagon’s budget easily dwarfed that of any plausible combination of rivals. If this fits your definition of isolationism, then you might well believe that President Trump is, as he claims, “the master of the deal.” All the evidence proves otherwise.

Isolationism is a fiction, bandied about to divert attention from other issues. It is a scare word, an egregious form of establishment-sanctioned fake news. It serves as a type of straitjacket, constraining debate on possible alternatives to militarized American globalism, which has long since become a source of self-inflicted wounds.

Only when foreign-policy elites cease to cite isolationism to explain why the “sole superpower” has stumbled of late will they be able to confront the issues that matter. Ranking high among those issues is an egregious misuse of American military power and an equally egregious abuse of American soldiers. Confronting the vast disparity between U.S. military ambitions since 9/11 and the results actually achieved is a necessary first step toward devising a serious response to Donald Trump’s reckless assault on even the possibility of principled statecraft.

Marshall’s 1942 formula has become an impediment to sound policy. My guess is that, faced with the facts at hand, the general would have been the first to agree. He was known to tell subordinates, “Don’t fight the problem, decide it.” Yet before deciding, it’s necessary to see the problem for what it is and, in this instance, perhaps also to see ourselves as we actually are.

For the United States today, the problem turns out to be similar to the one that beset the nation during the period leading up to World War II: not isolationism but overstretch, compounded by indolence. The present-day disparities between our aspirations, commitments, and capacities to act are enormous.

The core questions, submerged today as they were on the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, are these: What does freedom require? How much will it cost? And who will pay?

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We Shouldn’t Have to Beg Mark Zuckerberg to Respect Democracy

by DEAN BAKER

Photograph Source: Maurizio Pesce – CC BY 2.0

Last month George Soros had a New York Times column arguing that Mark Zuckerberg should not be running Facebook. (Does the NYT reserve space on its opinion page for billionaires?) The gist of Soros’ piece is that Zuckerberg has made a deal with Trump. He will allow all manner of outrageous lies to be spread on Facebook to benefit Trump’s re-election campaign. In exchange, Trump will defend Zuckerberg from efforts to regulate Facebook.

Soros is of course right. Zuckerberg has said that Facebook will not attempt to verify the accuracy of the political ads that it runs. This is a greenlight for any sleazebag to push the most outrageous claims that they want in order to further the election of their favored candidate.

This will almost certainly benefit Donald Trump’s re-election, since the one area where he can legitimately take credit is in pushing outlandish lies. No one has pushed more lies more effectively than Donald Trump. The free rein promised by Zuckerberg is a re-election campaign contribution of enormous value.

While Soros is right on the substance of the issue, he is wrong to focus on the personality of Mark Zuckerberg. It would be good if we had a responsible forward-thinking person, who cared about the future of democracy, running Facebook, but that is not the normal course of things in a capitalist economy.

Businesses are run to make money. And, the bottom line here is that Facebook stands to make much more money spreading outlandish lies that help Trump’s campaign, than screening ads for their veracity. In this context, we should not be surprised that Facebook is taking the lie-spreading route. The problem is not that Zuckerberg is acting like a normal businessperson, the problem is that we made the lie-spreading route profitable.

In this respect it is worth pointing out that we don’t have the same problem with other media outlets. We don’t have to beg CNN, the New York Times, and other major news outlets to not take ads that they know to be false. They won’t do it, perhaps in part out of principle, but also because they could be sued for libel if they spread claims that were false and damaging.

For example, if I wanted to take out an ad asserting that Donald Trump is a rapist (which is likely true), most major news outlets would refuse to run it. Donald Trump could not only sue me for libel, he could also sue any news outlet that carried the ad. If I could not show that the claim was true, the news outlet that published the ad could be forced to pay substantial damages. For this reason, traditional news outlets do try to screen political ads for accuracy, and will not run an ad that they know to be false.

Facebook does not feel the same need to protect against libel because a law passed by Congress exempts it from the same sort of liability faced by traditional media outlets. Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, protects Internet intermediaries from the liability rules that apply to traditional media outlets.

The logic that was used to justify this provision is that Internet intermediaries should be treated the same way as common carriers, like a phone company or the mail service. A common carrier does not have control over the content it carries, nor does it profit from specific content, except insofar as it increases demand for its service.

This was arguably an accurate description of Internet intermediaries in the early years of the web. For example, we would not have expected AOL to be responsible for whatever people chose to post in its chatrooms. But the web in general, and Facebook in particular, have evolved hugely in the years since Section 230 was put into law.

Facebook has complete control over content. It allows people to pay to have their posts sent to as many people as they choose. It allows them to target the recipients, based on location, age, education, gender, and any number of other characteristics. It is very hard to see how an outlet like CNN or the NYT can be held responsible for spreading libelous material, but Facebook should be exempt.

Whether or not Section 230 made sense in 1996, it clearly does not in era of Facebook. In effect it gives Facebook, and other Internet outlets, a special privilege that is not available to their broadcast or print competitors.

Of course, Zuckerberg will claim that it is not possible for Facebook to monitor the hundreds of millions of items that get posted every day. But the standard need not be that Facebook prevents libelous material from being posted. Rather, Facebook can be required to remove libelous material after it has been called to its attention. Furthermore, since Facebook’s system allows it to know exactly who has opened a post, it can be required to send a correction to anyone who originally received the libelous material.

Zuckerberg has also argued that they cannot be responsible for preventing false material from being spread through Facebook because they shouldn’t be in the position of determining what is true. Determining truth may seem hard for Zuckerberg, but this is precisely what every traditional media outlet does all the time, both when deciding on editorial content and when making decisions about accepting ads. If Zuckerberg’s team is that much less competent than those at traditional media outlets they can look to hire competent people away from these other outlets.

There really is nothing terribly complicated about Facebook’s situation, nor any grand questions of freedom of speech and freedom of the press that don’t come up all the time with traditional media. The basic story is that Facebook is now gaming a provision of a quarter-century old law to pretend it is a common carrier when that is clearly not the case.

If Facebook wants to be treated like a common carrier, then it should become one. That would mean not profiting from ads and boosted posts. It would also mean not selling personal information from its users. If it wants to be a common carrier then it can simply allow people to post as they please and not try to profit from content or personal information.

However, this is obviously not Facebook in its current form. Facebook is no more a common carrier than any major media outlet. As such it has to be subject to the same rules as other media outlets. That will require much more spending to police its network for false and libelous information, which will mean that Facebook will be much less profitable and Mark Zuckerberg will be much less rich.

But that is Mr. Zuckerberg’s problem. We should not be in the position of begging Zuckerberg to do the right thing as the CEO of Facebook or hoping that a more socially responsible person takes over the company. The law must be adjusted to take away Facebook’s special status. It is a media outlet and it is long past time that it be treated like one.

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Donald Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences

President Donald Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of 11 mostly white-collar criminals, including Michael Milken, the “junk-bond king” at the center of the savings and loan crisis; Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor who attempted to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat and later appeared on a series of reality shows, including The Celebrity Apprentice; Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who was convicted of tax fraud and once took control of an apartment intended for first responders so that he could continue an extramarital affair; and Edward DeBartolo Jr., the ex-owner of the San Francisco 49ers who was convicted of failing to report a felony after he paid the governor of Louisiana a $400,000 bribe to secure a riverboat gambling license. “I’m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country,” said Trump. After the attorney general, William Barr, intervened to have Roger Stone’s sentencing recommendation drastically reduced, Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison, whereupon Trump himself suggested that the “bad jury” was “tainted,” and that Stone ought to be “exonerated.” Trump appointed Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany and a former public-relations professional whom a Reuters reporter once called “the most dishonest and deceptive press person I ever worked with,” to the position of acting director of national intelligence, despite having no background in intelligence.

Trump made his first official visit to India, where ahead of his arrival a brick wall was constructed to conceal a slum, and police armed with locally produced slingshots were deployed to prevent Trump from being attacked by monkeys at the Taj Mahal. Trump addressed a crowd of 100,000 in Ahmedabad, where he was introduced to the tune of the Village People’s “Macho Man.” Trump gave a speech in which he mispronounced the names of top Indian cricket stars, an Indian philosopher, and the city in which he was speaking, and called the Vedas “Vestas.” A parliamentary working group in Russia proposed constitutional reforms that would make ex-presidents immune from legal prosecution.

Senator Bernie Sanders won the Nevada Democratic caucuses with 47 percent of the county convention delegates. Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, who lost by 33 percentage points, requested a recount and complained that the Sanders campaign, which in Nevada won a plurality of white and Latino voters and came in second among black voters, “leaves out most Democrats,” and the MSNBC host Chris Matthews compared Sanders’s victory to Nazi Germany’s successful invasion of France. The coronavirus outbreak spread to Italy, Iran, and South Korea. The virus caused U.S. stock markets to tumble, China’s greenhouse gas emissions to decline by a quarter, and requests for private jets in China to soar.

In South Korea, roughly half of new coronavirus cases were linked to the Shincheonji, a religious sect whose leader claims to be the second coming of Christ. A Kentucky man whose request for a license plate reading IM GOD had initially been denied was awarded $150,000 to cover his legal fees. The United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment warned of the rise of cybertorture, and an Iraqi man complaining on live television about the country’s health services died on air.

A Cedar Rapids, Iowa, man was accused of kidnapping a woman and forcing her to watch the 1977 television miniseries Roots so that she would “understand her racism.” Virginia’s state legislature voted down a ban on assault weapons and bump stocks, voted to repeal bans on public cursing and private fornication, and voted to maintain a ban on spitting in public. “I work in the world of spit,” said one representative, who works as a dentist, “and I think it should be sucked out, not spit out.” The Boy Scouts of America, facing at least 300 sexual-abuse lawsuits, filed for bankruptcy.

More than 30 migrants to the United Kingdom were apprehended in Calais, France, after trying to leave the country for fear of a post-Brexit backlash against immigrants; Greece was pressing for the return of the Elgin Marbles to be a requirement of a European Union trade deal with the United Kingdom; and archaeologists speculated that an empty tomb discovered in a Roman temple belonged to Romulus. It was reported that a Cambridge don who quit in 2015 during a sexual-harassment investigation had, that same year, self-published an erotic campus novel called First Time: Ooh-la-la! “It needs to be emphasised that an author rarely thinks the same way as his main character,” he said. A real estate developer turning Philadelphia’s Beury Building into a Marriott hotel promised that its redesign would pay tribute to the building’s iconic “BONER 4EVER” graffiti. “We have had ‘Boner Forever’ on every presentation we make,” said the CEO of the interior-design firm working on the project.

Psychologists discovered that Western-style diets high in fat and sugar can diminish brain function; researchers found that a French helmet design from World War I provides better protection from explosive blasts than contemporary American army helmets; and doctors warned that a new viral phenomenon on TikTok called the “Skull Breaker Challenge” could prove fatal. A California man was killed when he tried to launch himself into space in a homemade rocket to verify that the world is round. “I don’t want to take anyone else’s word for it,” he said.

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Mayor Mike, Worse Than Mayor Pete

by ANDREW LEVINE

Photograph Source: Gage Skidmore – CC BY 2.0

The good news out of New Hampshire was, of course, that Bernie Sanders won – not by much, but by enough to leave no doubt as to who the winner was. There was more good news as well: Joe Biden, the former king of the moderates, is on his way to becoming toast.

The bad news is that the campaign of the only candidate besides Bernie worth taking seriously, Elizabeth Warren, is now on life support. Worse still, Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy shows no signs of tanking.

If there must be moderates nipping at Sanders’ heels, better Amy Klobushar than Mayor Pete. Her politics may even be worse than his, but she has more experience, more gravitas, more of the common touch, and, best of all, she is a she.

Hard as they are to stomach, it is probably a good thing that moderates are still in the running and also that they are divided among themselves. As long as one or another of them could still take over the role formerly played by Biden, and as long as it remains unclear which one it will be, the worse Mike Bloomberg’s prospects become. Better division than unity in the moderate camp, and, of the moderates still in contention, better any of them than he.

Their politics is mainstream Democratic; Bloomberg is essentially an old school Republican.

He hates Trump, the worst American president ever, but he loved George W. Bush, the second worst president in modern times. He may honestly think that black and brown lives matter, but, as mayor of New York City, he showed, time and again, that, for him gentrification – and its concomitants, mass incarceration of young black and Latino men, and brutal “law and order” policing — matter more.

Were he to become the Democratic nominee, it would be bad for democracy and bad for the Democratic Party; and unless his politics has lately taken a hundred and eighty degree turn, bad for the poor, bad for African Americans, and bad for less well-off persons of color generally.

All that is on him. That his candidacy would also be bad for Jews is mainly on Trump.

Remarkably, and to their shame, alarmingly many African Americans now seem to be jumping off the Biden bandwagon and onto Bloomberg’s. The word, from the commentariat, is that they think that they have no choice, if they want the Democrats to nominate someone whom they can count on to send Trump packing.

They are dead wrong, of course; anybody this side of Hillary Clinton, running on the Democratic line, could do that as well. But just to be sure, mainstream media, eager to stop Bernie’s rise, and functioning for all intents and purposes as the DNC’s propaganda arm, are now falling all over themselves, making excuses for the racism inherent in what Bloomberg has said and done in the past.

The stain left by “stop and frisk” will not go away, no matter how vehemently Bloomberg opportunistically apologizes; and there is so much more than that. And yet, many African Americans, especially ones who are getting long in the tooth, seem willing to give him a pass. But this cannot last as the spotlight turns Bloomberg’s way. With his birthday just past, we can take comfort in the fact that, as our greatest president famously put it: “you can’t fool all the people all the time.”

In addition to all the reasons to oppose Bloomberg that he has brought upon himself, there is another reason for which he cannot be blamed, but that ought to be factored in nevertheless.

Through no fault of his own, a Bloomberg candidacy would likely exacerbate the rising tide of anti-Semitism that Trump’s presidency has conjured back into being. Bloomberg can hardly be blamed for this, but it is yet another reason why it would be well to quash his candidacy.

His billions could do a lot of good if used to purchase anti-Trump ads on television and elsewhere in support of Sanders or Warren or of no one in particular, or if used to fund down-ticket national and state races.

However, if used to promote his own presidential ambitions, they would do no good at all – not least because of all the moderates still in the running, he is the worst, the most pre-Trump Republican-lite, in the bunch.

In this electoral season, with an aroused public demanding change, the very idea of a Bloomberg candidacy would be a total and complete non-starter but for one reason alone: that, for all practical purposes, his campaign has no budget constraint.

The sad fact is that, in the Land of the Free, money, if there is enough of it, can turn a non-starter into a front-runner in the wink of a news cycle. There is no need, however, to despair; at least, not yet. If progressives mobilize against him, he can be stopped

***

To hear their media toadies tell it, “moderates” and “progressives” are essentially on the same page; the moderates, however, are wiser – more practical, more “pragmatic,” more aware of the myriad ways that public opinion and financial realities constrain political possibilities. Progressives, on the other hand, are pie-in-the-sky dreamers.

Some commentators, Paul Krugman is an example, conclude from this that it hardly matters whether a progressive or a moderate runs against Trump, because, even with a Democratic House and Senate, those constraints will still be in place – thanks partly to the “realities” moderates invoke, and partly thanks to the continuing predominance, even if the next election goes as well as it possibly could, of Democratic House members and Senators who are confirmed stalwarts of moderation.

It would be less civil but more accurate to say that a lot of the Democrats on Capitol Hill are bought and paid for, and that there are therefore limits to how far their venality will allow them to stray from the mainstream fold.

One might also mention the deleterious effects on public opinion of the current surfeit of drivel about the virtues of “bipartisanship.” Republicans are a lost cause, but that doesn’t stop Democrats, especially the more moderate ones, from pulling their already feeble punches, the better to facilitate “working across the aisle.”

Sometimes, as they go on about this, I cannot help but think of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1568 masterpiece “The Blind Leading the Blind.” Nowadays, it is the Right, the GOP, leading the Right or, as they call it on NPR, MSNBC and CNN, the Center Left.

The one is for Trump, the other for the conditions that made Trump and Trumpism inevitable. The former is the greater evil, of course, but the other side is evil too. The “pragmatism” they promote is a snare and a delusion. They may be all for sweetness and light. But the last thing they want is to set a new course; one that would make the Democratic Party something other than the perennial lesser evil it has been for roughly the past hundred years.

As a recovering academic philosopher, I feel compelled to take umbrage at the way mainstream Democrats praise the moderates’ “pragmatism.”

That currently abused and degraded word denotes a school of thought that was one of the glories of nineteenth and twentieth century American philosophy. From the likes of Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, George Herbert Meade, John Dewey, and later Willard Van Orman Quine and many other distinguished thinkers to – Hillary Clinton. Or to the moderates running for the Democratic nomination; Biden is the worst of the lot, but they are all bad news. When they and others like them are called “pragmatists,” I feel that the earth should shake with convulsions.

But let that pass. In a political universe in which House and Senate Republicans, and Trump himself and his base and servile cronies, are called “conservatives,” this is only par for the course.

Many, maybe most, potential voters who revile Trump, and who desperately want to see him defeated in November, sincerely believe that moderation is the way to go. I think they are dead wrong; that they ignore pertinent evidence, including evidence arising out of the 2016 election, and that they fail to grasp the importance, in the election ahead, of voter turnout and therefore of voter enthusiasm.

Subjectively, as Marxists and others used to say, the motives of those who defend moderation for electability’s sake can be and often are laudable. Objectively, though, they are on the wrong side of the most consequential political – indeed, class — struggle immediately ahead.

Unlike their intra-party rivals, moderates defend the interests not of the several constituencies that Democrats mainly depend upon for votes, but of the Democratic and broader anti-Trump wing of the ruling class.

With the Sanders campaign flourishing and growing bigger day by day, Democratic Party donors and political elites, along with the media that serve them, are becoming desperate. The fact that they are still unable to settle on who their Great Moderate Hope will be adds to their distress.

Witness how after just a few bad days – a botched Iowa caucus, Trump’s inevitable Senate acquittal, and poll results that suggest that the more transparently odious Trump is, the more popular he becomes — it is front page news in The New York Times and Washington Post that Trump is on a roll, and that there will be no stopping him unless and until a moderate savior emerges from the fray.

It is not clear why the other billionaire in the race, Tom Steyer, isn’t, by now, the Chosen One. Inasmuch as our “democratic” elections are basically sales campaigns, and inasmuch as good sales campaigns take money, lots of it, to run, one would expect people to be talking about him in the same way that so many now are talking about Bloomberg. And yet his campaign has yet to gain any significant traction at all.

Could it be because his express views are too liberal to relieve the anxiety of the Democratic Party establishment and its “donor class?”

Bloomberg could buy and sell a garden variety billionaire like Steyer ten times over. Could that be why, if the pieces fall into place in just the right way, he could end up his party’s nominee while, come what may, Steyer doesn’t seem to have a chance?

This seems unlikely, but in the Trump era, so does nearly everything else.

A more pressing question is how did it come to this – how is a Bloomberg versus Trump election, a contest in which a mega-billionaire and whatever Trump is, vie for control over the Imperium, be anything more than a theoretical possibility in a functioning democracy, much less a self-proclaimed “City on a Hill?”

Even if Vladimir Putin’s attacks on our purportedly democratic institutions are as far-reaching as Cold War revivalists contend – or, rather, since there is no evidence of anything of significance actually having happened in 2016 or subsequently, worse than anything they insinuate – he could hardly do worse than our own plutocrats have already done and are continuing to do.

A Bloomberg candidacy would, in effect, proclaim to the world that democracy in America is finished; that, “we, the people” have lost out entirely to the Almighty Dollar.

We are not there yet, however. If all goes well, we never will be. To that end, the time to squelch Bloomberg’s efforts to buy his way in was yesterday; but today will have to do.

Bloomberg has more money than God, but he comes with a lot more baggage than Klobuchar or Buttigieg or any of the others. It isn’t just “stop and frisk”; thanks to some reporting by the Intercept, it even seems that he could even be called to account for what undid Plagiarism Joe’s run for the White House in 1988. What a lovely irony that would be!

**

Trump starts nothing, but he does make everything worse; sometimes much worse.

Also, “the darker angels of our nature” are always there. Prosperity, decent governance, and sound liberal institutions are generally enough to keep them at bay or, better yet, to cause them to lie dormant for long periods of time. But vigilance is necessary, even when times are good, because shocks to the system can and sometimes will draw them out.

The Great Recession was experienced as a severe shock by many, the most vulnerable among us taking the severest hits. Its cause, ultimately, was what Marx called “the laws of motion of capitalist society.” Three decades of neoliberal economic policies were a more immediate and more easily avoidable cause.

The Clintons, both of them, have much to answer for in that regard. Their support for liberal imperialist foreign policy initiatives helped roust the darker angels as well.

For her overall cluelessness and ineptitude, her role in the Obama administration’s continuing implementation of the Bush-Cheney Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, her regime change machinations in Libya, and her botched reactions to the Arab Spring in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere, Hillary is especially culpable.

Western support for politicized religious fanaticism in the Muslim world didn’t start with the Clintons. Blame Zbigniew Brzezinski for that, and Jimmy Carter for not reining him in. But the Clintons were not beyond adding their own two cents.

These were all factors of great importance for getting the refugee crisis in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa going. Hillary was less responsible for the refugee crisis along our southern border, but her support for the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras, one of her first nefarious machinations as Secretary of State, didn’t help.

Refugee crises generate humanitarian crises – typically, of monumental proportions. They are also politically destabilizing. These latest examples have made xenophobic nationalism and rightwing populism a blot across the political landscape of the entire planet.

For this, of the two major candidates contending for the presidency in 2016, Clinton was by far the more culpable. It was she, not Trump himself, who made the onset of Trumpism in America and of similar phenomena in Europe and elsewhere all but inevitable.

This is why it would be ridiculously foolish for Democrats to nominate a Clintonite – a neoliberal, liberal imperialist, “moderate” – again.

Thanks to Trump’s increasingly manifest odiousness, even a moderate should be able to send him packing in November. But then insofar as she or he will go on to recreate the conditions that caused Trumpism to afflict us in the first place, we will only have bought time. The point is not just to defeat Trump, important as that surely is; it is also to vanquish Trumpism as definitively as can be, by setting the country on a different and better path.

***

Of all the demons that crawled out from under the rocks Trump overturned, anti-Semitism had been perhaps the most profoundly dormant. It remained a problem in central and eastern Europe, but in the United States and other Western countries, it had long been little more than a historical memory.

Then came Trump. He may not be good for much, but his foul embrace awakens the dead.

Under his aegis, suddenly, “Jews will not replace us” became a slogan some of “the good people on both sides” would rally around, hate crimes directed at Jews multiplied, and, in Pittsburgh, eleven people were killed and six more wounded at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill. In the United States, nothing anywhere near that lethal had ever happened to Jews before.

Latinos, regardless of citizenship status, were at risk in Trump’s America, except perhaps for those with lots of money. So too were Muslims and black and brown people generally. Jews, however, seemed as safe as the he whitest of the white.

Ironically, there was, or seemed to be, protection in the transparently spurious notion that Zionists have spent decades promoting — that opposition to the Zionist project and even to some of the egregious injustices Israel imposes on Palestinians, and to all but the most trivial misdeeds of Israeli governments, is anti-Semitic. Ironically, “Anti-Semitism,” still has a bad press in Western countries, even in anti-Semitic circles.

By “the Zionist project,” I mean the effort to establish a Jewish state – Benjamin Netanyahu calls it “the nation state of the Jewish people” — in all or most of mandate Palestine. A Jewish state could be secular or religious, but only Jews can enjoy full citizenship rights in it. For historical and political reasons, the situation is complicated and not always clear, but, in the end, “Jew,” in this context, has more of an ethnic than a theological connotation.

It is generally and rightly agreed that nations and ethnic groups are what Benedict Anderson called “imagined communities.” Because the Jews Zionists had in mind did not share a common land or language or culture, and because claims of common descent are, at best, tendentiously exaggerated – because the main or perhaps the only factor that joins the Jews of the world together is an historical connection to the Jewish religion — Jewish nationality or ethnicity is a good deal more imagined than most.

For a variety of historical and theological reasons, practitioners of the Jewish religion have occupied subaltern positions in both the Christian and Muslim worlds for as long as Christianity and Islam have been present on the world stage. For most of that period, roughly from the fifth and sixth centuries up to the time when the first secular, liberal societies arose in Western Europe and North America, Jews generally fared far better in the Muslim world than in Christendom.

Nevertheless, it was in modern secular Europe that anti-Semitism, hatred of “ethnic” Jews as such, as opposed to theologically driven anti-Judaism, emerged.

For more than half a century after the historic defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, it seemed that true anti-Semitism — as distinct from anti-Zionism, which, for obvious reasons, continued to appeal to subaltern Muslim populations around the world — had burned itself out. This was nowhere more true than in the United States.

Even Trump, it seemed, would not and probably could not undo that. That notions was more than just an idle hope; there were good reasons to think that Jews would remain immune from the afflictions Trump visited upon Muslims, Hispanics, and others.

For one, the hard-Right loves Israel precisely for its ethnocentrism, and because, for many years but especially after 9/11, Islamophobia had come to fill the role that anti-Semitism once played in their thinking.

Inasmuch as the neo-fascists of the twenty-first century are as inclined as mainstream Democrats – and their counterparts in the UK, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand — to buy into the pernicious and obviously false idea that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism, the hard Right’s Zionism functioned as a shield against the true anti-Semitism that had, for so long, been emblematic of rightwing politics in Europe and the Americas.

Christian Evangelicals comprise a very large segment of the Trump base, and they love Israel too; they think that its existence fulfills Biblical prophecies and that its role in the End Times is indispensable. Israel, in their view, is where world Jewry will be in-gathered before the Second Coming, when Jews will either accept Christ or be consigned to suffer the torments of Hell for all eternity.

It would be hard to deny that there is more than a whiff of real anti-Semitism in their madness. It is also hard to deny that it puts evangelicals and Hard Right anti-anti-Semites in the same camp.

And then, of course, there are the Jewish Zionist plutocrats, the Trump and Kushner families’ friends and soulmates, whose money Trump loves most of all.

None of these shields have been quite enough to rein in the demons Trump let loose. And so, real anti-Semitism has once again become a factor in American life.

As the likelihood of a Sanders victory in the contest to become the Democratic Party’s nominee, and the far greater likelihood, if he is the nominee, that he will send Trump packing, becomes increasingly clear to the Democratic Party’s grandees, donors, and media hacks, the anti-Sanders onslaught that is already underway will likely grow to monstrous proportions. The knives are even now being drawn.

Expect too to see a homegrown version of the anti-Corbyn smear campaign that defiled the last UK election, even though Sanders’ liberal Zionist views on Israel-Palestine are hardly as far-reaching or principled as Corbyn’s anti-imperialist take on this and all other comparably vexed situations.

It will be spearheaded by the mainstream Democratic Party and their media flunkies, even though Sanders’ views on Israel-Palestine and Corbyn’s hardly compare. Sanders is a liberal Zionist with a strong sense of justice, not an anti-imperialist. But this is about as good as it gets in American politics at the national level, and it is more than enough to rattle the cages of AIPAC and other core institutions of the Israel lobby. Aided and abetted by rightwing (“centrist”) Democrats, expect them to go after Bernie with all they’ve got.

Thus, he will be the target of a Pincer movement, besieged from both sides – by anti-Semites and pro-Zionists alike.

Zionist stalwarts will attack him for speaking out for justice for Palestinians, not just for Israeli Jews, calling Sanders a self-hating Jew, and his non-Jewish supporters “anti-Semites,” even as real anti-Semites, will crawl out into the open, spreading vileness wherever they go.

That vileness will multiply many times over, as the yahoos in the Trump base come to realize that the alternative to Sanders is another Jew, one who is richer than Croesus and who really does want to take their guns away.

Mayor Pete may be a feckless twit, but at least he doesn’t set those demons off.

And to think – the line on Bloomberg is that, if Joe can’t do it, as he plainly cannot, and if Pete and Amy falter, as they likely will, then the world needs Mike to restore equanimity to the political scene. Really? Through no fault of his own, but inexorably even so, equanimity is the last thing Bloomberg would restore in a political universe defiled by Trump and his cronies and set adrift.

A month or so from now, the choice will be even clearer than it already is: Democrats can move forward with Sanders or, if the moderates can’t do better than Bloomberg, backwards to a place where no one in their right mind would want to be.

Posted in USA0 Comments

“Sublime Madness”: Anarchists, Psychiatric Survivors, Emma Goldman & Harriet Tubman

by BRUCE E. LEVINE

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

When the state becomes chillingly evil—enacting a Fugitive Slave Act to criminalize those helping to free slaves, or financing prisons and wars for the benefit of sociopathic profiteers—and when dissent is impotent and defiance is required, we need the sublimely mad. For his 2013 piece “A Time for ‘Sublime Madness’” (and his 2015 book Wages of Rebellion), Chris Hedges invokes William Shakespeare, William Faulkner, James Baldwin, James Cone, Black Elk, and Crazy Horse. Hedges cites Reinhold Niebuhr, who explained why “a sublime madness in the soul” is essential when the forces of repression are so powerful that liberal intellectualism results in capitulation.

I am personally familiar with two different groups whose members instinctively grasp the power of madness to both destroy and create, and these two groups appear to me so similar that when I speak to one, I try to acquaint them with the other.

I recently addressed one of these groups at the 10th Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair on December 14, 2019, organized by Humboldt Grassroots in the Arcata/Eureka area of Northern California. What was striking to me was how similar these anarchists attendees were in temperament and values to another group that I have greater personal familiarity with—self-identified “psychiatric survivor” activists who I’ve gotten to know at conferences organized by the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy, the National Empowerment Center, the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry, and MindFreedom.

Anarchists generally agree that externally imposed government and the state are illegitimate authorities; and psychiatric survivor activists generally agree that the externally imposed institution of psychiatry is an illegitimate authority. Both groups vehemently oppose coercion and hierarchy, and both passionately advocate for freedom of choice and mutual aid. Beyond these ideological agreements, my experience is that many members in each of these groups have not only achieved the sublime state of not giving a damn about convention and authorities but, at times, have acted on that sensibility.

Members of both groups have anger over oppression and injustices forced on them and their friends. Among the anarchist attendees at my last talk, some have been beaten by cops, interrogated by the FBI, and jailed. Among psychiatric survivors I’ve known, it is common to have had coerced “treatments” that include drugs, electroshock, and lengthy psychiatric hospitalizations forced on them against their wishes.

With both groups, I routinely talk about the anarchist Emma Goldman ((1869–1940), who lived a cinematic life that included international travel, public speaking fame, multiple imprisonments, and deportation; as she built an enviable resumé of enemies that included J. Edgar Hoover and Vladimir Lenin. At psychiatric survivor activist conferences, I routinely meet women who—though not self-identifying as anarchists—remind me of Goldman in terms of personality, grit, and intelligence; they, unlike Goldman, have been previously stigmatized with mental illness labels such as oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and bipolar disorder.

Given that Goldman, as a teenager and young woman, had the “symptoms” for all the above so-called “disorders,” anarchists and psychiatric survivors immediately recognize that in today’s world—rather than becoming the most famous anarchist woman in US history—she would likely have become a psychiatric patient (and then a survivor activist). Nowadays, many anti-authoritarian women, for their anger and rebellious behaviors—almost always far less violent than Emma’s—are labeled with various serious psychiatric disorders and heavily medicated. Similar to Goldman, their “symptoms” have often been fueled by the physical and emotional abuse of various authorities—experiences which taught them to distrust authorities.

Growing up in the Russian Empire, Emma’s father would regularly beat her and her siblings for disobeying him, and the rebellious Emma would get beaten the most. Emma’s interest in boys provoked rage in her father, and she recounted, “He pounded me with his fists, shouted that he would not tolerate a loose daughter,” but Emma disregarded him. School teachers also abused Emma. Her geography instructor sexually molested her, and Emma fought back and got him fired. A religious instructor beat the palms of students’ hands with a ruler; in response, Goldman recounted, “I used to organize schemes to annoy him: stick pins in his upholstered chair . . . anything I could think of to pay him back for the pain of this ruler. He knew I was the ringleader and he beat me the more for it.”

When Emma was 16, she desperately wanted to join her sister who had made plans to immigrate to the United States, but Emma’s father refused to allow her to do so. Emma threatened to throw herself into the Neva River and commit suicide—a ploy that today could well get a U.S. teenage girl not only a couple of the above diagnoses, but admission to a psychiatric hospital. Instead, her strategy worked.

Soon after arriving in the United States, Goldman became a passionate anarchist. As a young woman, Emma was not averse to violence. In her late teens, she threw a pitcher of water at the face of a woman who was happy with the 1887 execution of the Haymarket martyrs. In her early twenties in 1892, Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and his cousin planned an assassination of steel plant manager Henry Clay Frick during the steelworkers strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania. When Goldman’s anarchist mentor, Johann Most, condemned Berkman’s assassination attempt, Goldman used a horsewhip to publicly lash Most. In 1893, then 24, after a speech got her arrested for “inciting a riot,” the police offered to drop charges and pay her a “substantial sum of money” if she would become an informer, to which Goldman recounted, “I gulped down some ice-water from my glass and threw what was left into the detective’s face.”

While Goldman’s passionate radicalism never waned, her violent actions diminished and ultimately disappeared. Without any psychiatric “treatment” but rather through life experience, she gained wisdom that authoritarians relish violence to justify their authoritarianism.

A third group where one can find the sublimely mad is a group that I have had little personal familiarity with—the devoutly religious who have acquired fearlessness through a belief that they have God’s protection. There is no better example than Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) who, even more assuredly than Emma Goldman, would today be labeled with serious mental illness—at best, “organic psychosis” caused by temporal lobe epilepsy resulting from being struck in the head by a heavy object thrown by an overseer; or more likely, being an African American woman, “paranoid schizophrenia.”

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Tubman “seemed wholly devoid of personal fear,” was the observation of William Still, an African American abolitionist who chronicled the Underground Railroad. Tubman often spoke about “consulting with God” and had complete confidence that God would keep her safe. Abolitionist Thomas Garrett reported that he “never met with any person, of any color, who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul.”

In today’s world, what would happen to an African American woman who announced that she heard God’s voice, spoke to God, and believed that she was her era’s Moses? What would happen if she camped outside an office in New York City asking for donations (as Tubman did outside the NYC anti-slavery office)? What would happen if she packed a revolver, claiming she needed it for both protection against slave catchers as well as to threaten those who she was rescuing if they tried to turn back? Given such “symptoms,” in today’s world, instead of having to be ever vigilant for slave catchers, she would have to be ever vigilant for psychiatrists—most of whom are clueless to the reality that when we experience extreme oppression, visions and voices may well be our only antidotes to psychological powerlessness.

In “A Time for ‘Sublime Madness,’” Hedges reports:

Niebuhr wrote that “nothing but madness will do battle with malignant power and ‘spiritual wickedness in high places.’” This sublime madness, as Niebuhr understood, is dangerous, but it is vital. Without it, “truth is obscured.” And Niebuhr also knew that traditional liberalism was a useless force in moments of extremity. Liberalism, Niebuhr said, “lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say fanaticism, which is so necessary to move the world out of its beaten tracks. It is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history.”

Tubman was a brilliant strategist, as her sublime madness was a powerful fuel that provided her with courage but which did not subvert her astute judgement about the consequences of her actions. However, madness can be dangerously debilitating. While anger over injustice can be a useful fuel, humiliations that create rage and ego trips can subvert judgment, fueling a violence that is welcomed by authoritarians as justification for greater authoritarianism. There are many examples in U.S. history of madness that is not sublime at all.

In 1969, a group later called the Weather Underground splintered off from the nonviolent Students for a Democratic Society. The 2002 film documentary The Weather Underground portrays how their rage over the injustice of the Vietnam War along with powerlessness in stopping the war through peaceful means made them “crazy,” as acknowledged later by a former Weather Underground member. Their madness was not at all sublime, as they resorted to violence, including multiple bombings. The rage-impotency combination acted like a disinhibiting drug enabling moral and strategic justifications for violent actions that, as some former Weather Underground members ultimately acknowledged, did not later seem moral or strategic at all. The greatest beneficiaries of the Weather Underground violence were U.S. authoritarians, particularly Richard Nixon, as it provided him with ammunition for his “law-and-order” presidential re-election campaign and aided his 1972 landslide victory.

We human beings have the capacity for denial and cowardice, and we also have the capacity for madness, both sublime and dangerous. If we are unashamed of the totality of our humanity, we can dialogue with the passionately mad. My experience is that when our madness is loved, we are better able to discern between sublime and dangerous madness.

To be clear, I don’t romanticize madness, but without sublime madness, there is no Harriet Tubman crazy enough to return some thirteen times to slave territory to free more slaves. Without sublime madness, we will accept the reality that capital trumps life, and we will go extinct.

Posted in USA0 Comments

Roaming Charges: Leader of the Pack

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Arctic Wolf. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+It’s amusing as hell to see Nate Silver forced to eat his numbers and grudgingly declare Bernie the frontrunner. But if you’re a Sandernista you have to wrestle with the fact that it’s February and Nate Silver, one of the few people on the planet who has been wrong about more things than Bill Kristol, just said your guy’s the frontrunner.

+ The former Supremo of Goldman Sachs was handling the prospect of a Sanders presidency very well. This just in from the person who made billions off of ruining the American economy and looting the homeless, wounded and dying.

+ Here’s the MSDNC crew “discussing” whether or not the Sanders movement resembles Nazi brownshirts. This is after Matthews screaming about how Fidel & Che would have executive people in Central Park…

29 U.S.C. § 157@OrganizingPower

This is disgusting. Chuck Todd just called Bernie supporters his “brown shirt brigade.” Bernie Sanders’ family members were murdered in the Holocaust. @chucktodd must apologize immediately. 13.3K10:28 PM – Feb 10, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy3,856 people are talking about this

+ Yet, according to a Washington Post exit poll: 6-in-10 New Hampshire Democratic primary voters support eliminating all private health insurance in favor of a single-payer plan for everyone. 57 percent agreed with that position in Iowa, too.

+ In 2016, Sanders crushed HRC in New Hampshire, winning 60.1% to Clinton’s 37.7%. In what may be warning sign for what’s to come, four years later the so-called progressive bloc was only able to muster 43% of the vote combined.

+ Percentage of the popular vote in New Hampshire…

Sanders + Warren + Gabbard + Steyer = 43%
PeteBot + Klobocop + Biden = 52%

I’m confounded about where to pin Yang’s three percent on the ideological spectrum. He’s essentially a technocrat, like PeteBot, with some quirky socialistic ideas, like the Universal Basic Income.

+ Despite the hoopla and hysterics, the primary turned out to be pretty much of a wash, except for Warren and Biden who spent millions and go to Nevada empty-handed. Delegates won in New Hampshire…

Sanders 9
PeteBot 9
Klobocop 6

+ I’ll leave it to hardcore Sandernistas to explain how beating PeteBot by 2% points is a more decisive victory than crushing HRC by 23% 4 years ago. I take solace in seeing just how deeply HRC was despised by those who knew her best–white NH liberals. Her loss to Trump was foretold in the Democratic primaries…

+ Has anyone spoken less inspirationally about how inspired he is than PeteBot?

+ Listening to Petebot is like hearing an Obama speech read by a beta version of Siri….

+ Joe Biden has never finished higher than 4th in any primary or caucus in 32 years of running for president.

+ The most Buttigieg thing of the day: “James Mueller ran for mayor to ‘Keep South Bend Moving Forward’; touted work of friend & boss, Pete Buttigieg. Was hand-picked successor. But endorse in presidential race? Not sure, Mueller says; wants fresh start, and ‘number of great candidates’ running…”

+ From Pete Seeger to PeteBot, the arc of the American left…

+ During Stop-and-Frisk’s peak in 2011, nearly 90 percent of those stopped were black and Latino, and nearly 90 percent were innocent, according to date from the ACLU of New York.

+ Stop and Frisk stats over the course of Mike Bloomberg’s 12 years as NYC mayor:

2002: 97,296
2003: 160,851
2004: 313,523
2005: 352,348
2006: 506,491
2007: 472,096
2008: 540,302
2009: 581,168
2010: 601,285
2011: 685,724
2012: 532,911
2013: 191,851

+ Watching Mayor Stop-and-Frisk be forced to interact with the angry plebes will be one of the true pleasures of this otherwise dreary campaign season…

+ Michael Bloomberg’s guide to success: “Make sure you’re the first one in there every day and the last one to leave. Don’t ever take a lunch break or go to the bathroom. You keep working.” And, kids, don’t forget to BYOC (Bring Your Own Catheter) to work!

+ Michael Bloomberg, the people’s mayor…the people who own Manhattan, that is: “Bloomberg wanted to fingerprint more than 600,000 NYC public housing residents to make them prove they really lived there.”

+ As recently as 2018, Bloomberg, who continues to oppose minimum wage laws, defended his policy of fingerprinting welfare and food stamp recipients. By 2012, New York City was one of only two places to fingerprint food-stamp applicants.

+ Bloomberg says he doesn’t regret backing Iraq war: “I think the people that made the mistake did it honestly.” Just an honest mistake, that they keep making over and over again….Bloomberg/Rumsfeld 2020!

+ MSDNC’s Joy Reid making the case for Bloomberg: “If you wanna beat a Republican you have to know how to fight like a Republican. And he IS a Republican.”

+ The late, great Wayne Barrett, who exposed Trump as a malignant fraud, gave the same merciless dissection of Bloomberg in this piece in The Village Voice, published a few weeks before he became mayor of NYC…

+ How the game is played…In 2018, Bloomberg donated $5 million to Stacy Abrams’ non-profit group, Fair Fight, in Atlanta. Abrams, who has openly marketed herself as a vice-presidential candidate, returned the favor by inviting Bloomberg to address her largely black organization, another whistlestop in his campaign to whitewash his appalling civil rights record as mayor o NYC.

+ Still, Bloomberg doesn’t have many buyers for what he’s selling…yet.

National Democratic Primary, Head-to-Head:
Sanders 53% (+15)
Bloomberg 38%
.
Warren 52% (+14)
Bloomberg 38%

Biden 47% (+13)
Bloomberg 34%
.
Buttigieg 44% (+7)
Bloomberg 37%
.
Klobuchar 43% (+5)
Bloomberg 38%

Economist/YouGov poll.

+ I wish I could have gotten away this in High School algebra and calculus classes…“The incorrect math on the Caucus Math Worksheets must not be changed to ensure the integrity of the process,” wrote the Iowa Democratic Party’s lawyer, Shayla McCormally, to its central committee members. McCormally said correcting the math would introduce “personal opinion” into the official record of results.

+ South Carolina Democratic Joe Cunningham warned Bernie Sanders to stay out of his state, saying “South Carolina doesn’t want socialism!” Maybe Sanders can “reframe” his message in SC to “Socialism … If You Want It” and see how many takers there are. Quite a few more than Rep. Cunningham (D) suspects, I’d wager.

+ Klobocop: “We must have Order at the Border!”

Walker Bragman@WalkerBragman

Here’s Amy Klobuchar in 2006 talking taking a hardline stance on immigration, supporting a border fence and even criticizing the Bush administration for not cracking down on companies hiring illegal immigrants.

“We need to get order at the border.”18.7K6:55 AM – Feb 12, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy11.1K people are talking about this

+ In 1964, the Democrats got 61.1 percent of the presidential popular vote. In ’68, its support fell to 42.7 percent. By ’72, the Democratic vote shrank to a mere 37.5 percent. What drove the collapse? The war, the assassinations, Nixon’s Southern Strategy & the DNC’s sabotage of the McGovern campaign. Are we about to see history repeat itself, again?

+ Arun Gupta: “An organizer for a large union told me recently they asked their manager why they union didn’t support M4A, and the manager said, ‘What else could we offer the workers?’ Most unions see no role beyond being a health insurance provider.”

+ In 2016, Rep. Chris Stewart, the Republican from Utah, compared Trump to Mussolini. Now he wants a gig with the secret police

+ It’s pretty clear after the unceremonious ouster of Col. Alexander Vindman and his twin brother from the White House that the only “men in uniform” Trump has any respect for are the ones who dress up on Saturday mornings to re-enact the Second Battle of Manassas…

+ There are few real heroes in Congress. Betty McCollum, who just put out a statement that refers to AIPAC as a “hate group,” is one of them. Her comments come just days after AIPAC pulled ads that targeted pro-Palestine lawmakers and implied they were worse than the terrorist group ISIS.

+ Some countries not only meddle in US domestic politics but are openly celebrated for doing so…

+ US Air Force suicides rose to their highest level in 30 years in 2019…a grim consequence of three decades of wars that start but don’t end.

+ US is the supplier for 79% of the world’s weapons trade, 4 times more than the next 9 countries combined…

+ Lou Dobbs should host SNL…

Andrew Lawrence@ndrew_lawrence

Lou Dobbs attacks Bill Barr, suggests he’s part of the “deep state,” calls the Justice Department “rancid, corrupt”4,72112:21 AM – Feb 14, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy5,019 people are talking about this

+ If Trump is our comic book version of Tiberius, decreeing that all future government buildings will be constructed in the classic imperial style, that must make Bill Barr his Sejanus, the praetorian guard who led the reprisals in Rome against the Emperor’s rivals and critics, including the Roman historian, Cremutius Cordus, who was forced to watch all of his books burned in the forum before he killed himself. But soon Tiberius, isolated and gripped by paranoia in his version of Trump Tower (the Villa Jovis up on the high cliffs of Capri), came for his hatchet man as well. Sejanus was grabbed off the street by his own cadre of secret police, garroted and his body tossed down the Gemonian Steps, where it was kicked, stoned and mutilated by the families of his many victims over the next three days.

+ Tukkker Carlson’s lynch mob saddles up to intimidate and harass the foreperson of the Roger Stone jury…

+ Our latest Medal of Freedom winner is back at work, ridiculing Mayor Pete: “Gay guy, 37 years old, loves kissing his husband on debate stages. Can you see Trump have fun with that?..they’re saying, OK, how’s this going to look, 37-year-old gay guy kissing his husband on stage next to Mr. Man Donald Trump?”

+ From Public Citizen’s analysis of Trump’s budget cuts

Medicare, Medicaid & Social Security: $1,000,000,000,000+

SNAP: $182,000,000,000

K-12 education: $85,000,000,000

Section 8 rental assistance: $79,000,000,000

NIH funding: $77,000,000,000

26% cut to EPA

Eliminates HUD affordable housing program

$ 1.4  trillion in new tax cuts

+ Why payday usury outlets are one of the US’s only growth industries…One in three Americans run out of money before their next paycheck, including people who make more than $100,000 per year.

+ US households more indebted than ever (over $14 trillion).

+ Job openings are down by more than 1 million from last December…

+ A county in Kansas is jailing over unpaid medical debt:  “You wouldn’t think you’d go to jail over medical bills”.

+ Bong Joon Ho pretty much sums up our predicament…

+ Bloomberg (Net worth $60 billion): “No program to reduce the deficit makes any sense whatsoever unless you address the issue of entitlements, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, interest payment on the debt…and defense spending. Everything else is tiny compared to that.”

+ His campaign hired promoters of the Frye Festival scam to make memes for his campaign. Bloomberg appears to think we’re a nation of suckers. Is he wrong?

+ PeteBot, deficit hawk: “The time has come for my party to get a lot more comfortable owning this issue… It’s not fashionable in progressive circles to talk too much about the debt.”

+ Trump used his State of the Union to award a scholarship to black 4th grader  to get out of a “failing government school”. But it turns out she wasn’t in one

+ Biden: “You’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier.” The most revealing part of this episode is that Biden not only watches John Wayne movies but knows them well enough that he can misquote (or even make up) slurs from them…

Steve Guest@SteveGuest

Joe Biden to New Hampshire voter asking about why he lost in Iowa “you’re a lying dog-faced pony solider” 4,9726:49 PM – Feb 9, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy3,888 people are talking about this

+ The slur, which Biden has invoked several times on the campaign trail, seems to be a misquote from a Tyrone Power movie called “Pony Soldier“…

+ Wally Shawn: “If we look at reality for more than an instant, if we look at the human beings passing us on the street, it’s not bearable. It’s not bearable to watch while the talents and the abilities of infants and children are crushed and destroyed.”

+ The police chief in Egypt, Arkansas forged his high school diploma and training certificate, then arrested the man who expose the fraud, charging him with “harassment.” The chief resigned, but the prosecutor who pushed the bogus charges remains on the job.

+ Trump wants summary executions for drug dealers: “Countries with a powerful death penalty, with a fair but quick trial, they have very little if any drug problem. That includes China.”

+ The New York Times reported this week that one-percenters are now paying people to “style” their houseplants. For some reason, stories like this really bring out the inner Robespierre in me and I have to spend the next half-hour whacking the heads off of broccoli with the chefs knife before I’m calm enough to get back to the keyboard…

+ How bad will the Covid-19 outbreak get? A leading epidemiologist has claimed it could infect 60% of the world’s population. It seems to be more contagious than 2009 swine flu, which it is estimated infected 24% of the world’s population.

+ On February 10, the Mauna Loa observatory detected the highest level of atmospheric carbon dioxide ever recorded…

+ Texas is No. 1…in billion-dollar climate and weather disasters since 1980.

+ Eve Ottenberg: “This week a Malta-sized iceberg broke off Antarctica and floated away; temperatures there hit 65 degrees. Australia burned for months. The oceans have absorbed anthropogenic warming equivalent to the heat from over 3.6 billion Hiroshima-sized bombs. We humans better fix this.”

+ In a leaked audio from a meeting held by Robert Rice, a former consultant for the Dakota Access Pipeline security company TigerSwan, he suggests locals start an org called Moms Against Violent Activists.

Who could fund it?

“Cough – oil – cough,” Rice replies.

+ Here’s film of DHS contractors blasting holes into sacred land, near an Apache burial site, on Monument Hill in Organ Pipe National Monument. Where’s Earth First! when you need them?

Russ McSpadden@PeccaryNotPig

Footage of @DHSgov contractors blast hole drilling into Monument Hill to pack explosives. This is a sacred site to multiple tribes and is a Native American burial site in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. How is blasting cultural sites not a crime?4485:40 PM – Feb 12, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy453 people are talking about this

+ They’re our ancestors,” said Ned Norris Jr., tribal chair of the Tohono O’odham Nation. “They’re our remnants of who we are as a people, throughout this whole area. And it’s our obligation, it’s our duty to do what is necessary to protect that.”

+ Trump wants to create a “uranium reserve,” where the feds would spend $150 million a year for the next 10 years to buy “domestically” mined uranium, most of it from Utah, where they still haven’t “cleaned up” the uranium tailings pile outside of Moab left behind from the last “uranium boom.” The cost of the cleanup for Moab alone:  a cool (or I guess HOT) billion dollars.

+ Meanwhile, Trump is drastically slashing funding for the cleanup of the world’s most toxic site, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation…

+ The temperature in Antarctica rose above 20C (68F) for first time on record this week. The Brazilian scientists, who registered the new high of 20.75C on Seymour Island, describe warming as “incredible and abnormal”.

+ s climate change makes cities warmer, low-income neighborhoods of color can be up to 13°F hotter than their wealthier, whiter counterparts.

Car-devouring rats are doing more to fight climate change than the past four presidential administrations and the World Wildlife Fund combined…

+ An attorney for a BLM whistleblower in Nevada says, “the laws of the United States are being disregarded for the professional expediency of his superiors and the benefit of private parties, and that a culture of lawlessness has been engendered.”

+ In Texas, it’s now illegal to photograph cattle feedlots from a drone.

+ Now the “green consumer” icons are talking about sustainable “harvesting” of gold and diamonds. How long will it take for them to grow back, Jane?

+ Maybe they harvest it from the teeth of the dead (vegans only). There’s always a fresh supply…

+ In Bismarck, ND, oil & gas workers threatened to vandalize a local bakery if landlord went ahead with plans for a Greta Thunberg mural on the buillding.

+ A few years ago Ralph Nader wrote a utopian novel titled Only the Super Rich Can Save Us. With the prospect of two racist, sexually harassing billionaires from NYC facing off for the presidency, I hope Ralph is furiously writing a dystopian sequel.

+ My friend Nicky Smith, who writes about film for Splice, has found that Fassbinder’s incredible 1978 film In a Year of 13 Moons is now up on Youtube, though who knows for how long. You should stop what you’re doing and watch it before the censors strip it off. As someone who’d rush around DC and NYC watching 2 or 3 films a day on Fri, Sat & Suns in the late 70s, I gradually lost interest in “cinema” after Fassbinder died. Few films (or film-makers) have seemed as fresh, as provoking, as confounding, as feverish, as alive, as relevant since….

+ I know it’s uncouth to say so, but is any filmmaker more emblematic of the infantilization of high-brow American culture than Wes Anderson, the man who drained all of the toxic sting from Stefan Zweig and replaced it with a depoliticized dollhouse of twee jokes & personal fetishes?

+ Watching the excellent Netflix documentary Who Killed Malcolm X, I was struck by this statement by Malcolm about Elijah Muhammad and it elicited certain resonances with the current predicament of our nation in the hands of a man, who at the time Malcolm spoke these words was living not all that far away from him in Queens: “It [the Nation] has gotten into the possession of a man who’s become senile in his old age and perhaps doesn’t realize it. And then he has surrounded himself by his children, who are now in power and want nothing but luxury and will do anything to safeguard their own interests.”

+ As the Malcolm X documentary demonstrates once again, William Kunstler was the real “Perry Mason” of the American defense bar. How many “liberal” defense lawyers would have had the guts to represent one of the admitted conspirators in the assassination of Malcom X and in doing so discover the innocence of two wrongfully convicted men, the identity of the other killers and the complicity of the NYPD and FBI?

+ How convenient for Cory Booker that he ended his sputtering presidential bid before it was revealed that he knew the probable assassin of Malcolm X and featured him in a TV ad for his re-election campaign as mayor of Newark…

+ Here’s the image of Malcolm X’s probable assassin, William Bradley, shaking hands with a cop in a Cory Booker reelection campaign ad, where Booker brags about how he added 300 police to the streets of Newark…

Still from Who Killed Malcolm X? (Netflix)

+ Jimmy Cobb is one of the greatest drummers who ever lived. He kept the time on one of the greatest recordings ever made, Kind of Blue, for which he was paid a total of $66. Now he has to crowdsource his medical expenses…American shame.

+ I had blast on Monday night at the Doug Fir lounge on Portland’s newly swankified near eastside watching our friends in Luna play their trenchant album Penthouse (the “Deluxe” version, including a killer cover of Serge Gainsbourg’s Bonnie and Clyde). Here are a few pix of Dean, Sean, Britta and Lee at work and play…

+ Was James Brown murdered?

+ Trump koan of the week: “A lot of people think that it [coronavirus] goes away in April with the heat. As the heat comes in. Typically that will go away in April. We’re in great shape, though.”

Working All Day and the Sun Don’t Shine…

Booked Up
What I’m reading to this week…

Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump and an Epic Trail of Destruction
David Enrich
(Custom House)

Why You Should be a Socialist
Nathan J. Robinson
(All Points Books)

Erosion: Essays of Undoing
Terry Tempest Williams
(Sarah Crichton Books)


Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Texas Sun
Leon Bridges & Khruangbin
(Dead Oceans)

We’re New Again: a Reimagining
Makaya McCraven / Gil Scott-Heron
(XL)

Never Not Together
Nada Surf
(Barsuk)

Of Butchers and Grocers

“There may be a logical or historical reason why mid-Victorian English butchers should have been predominantly Conservative (a link with agriculture?) and grocers overwhelmingly Liberal (a link with overseas trade?), but none has been established, and perhaps what needs explaining is not this, but why these two omnipresent types of shopkeeper refused to share the same opinions, whatever they were.” (Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital)

Posted in USA0 Comments

The Doomsday Cuckoo Clock

by JENNIFER MATSUI

Photograph Source: Robin Davies – CC BY 2.0

Even when he’s losing, Donald Trump wins (and bigly!) every time. His secret? He knows how to tap into our nihilism with the same technique he used to milk investors of his real estate schemes. If greed is the stated ideology of capitalism, then nihilism is its less overt philosophical underpinning. A system of mass murder will eventually turn its blood lust inward, having expended itself in the endless pursuit of prey. Unlike his more technocratic cohorts across the aisle, Trump has the charisma to turn a collective death wish into a raucous, bloody spectator sport. No gradual march off the proverbial cliff, but a gleeful nosedive into the abyss. His high rise mausoleums across a mostly submerged Manhattan skyline will someday stand testament to yet another victory.

The dream that a slain civil rights leader had in 1963 was supplanted in 2001 by the radical vision of his assassins. Inequality and unchecked state power are its underlying doctrine, and privatization the means of transitioning from a nation state into a “borderless” National Security apparatus. The undead architects of the national nightmare wasted no time dismantling the institutional frameworks of Dr King’s legacy, replacing them with a televised spectacle. Donald Trump rose from the ashes of the World Trade Center like a Macy’s parade balloon, an airborne disease headed for the White House, guided by the same forces that launch Republican airstrikes and Democrat drones. It’s there he serves as an exalted ribbon cutter at the epicenter of a nation-wide Ground Zero.

Today, he functions as the explosive device that our overlords implanted into the electoral system to ensure the destruction of its last remaining democratic relics. For proof, look no further than Bernie Sanders at the Iowa Caucus. Once again, deliberate fiasco as a well-honed political tool wielded by the popular candidate’s own party to secure defeat in November. This deliberate strategy of failure is a win/win for future DNC fundraising efforts. Why cure cancer when you can rake in the cash by pretending that you are trying to eradicate it? Why bother, in fact, adhere to any democratic principals when you can gerrymander an outcome with a calculator that does the alternative math?

We grow to accept these assaults on our reasoning, eventually normalizing all the atrocities of the ruling class. We justify them, often cynically, as the price we have to pay for gas. No use pondering those “charred Panda bears in Austria” while you are filling up the tank. Now that reasoning has been supplanted by “intelligence” and knowledge replaced with information, our time here on earth is done. The Slumlord-in-Chief has served us all an eviction notice to make way for a retail/prison/casino complex, manned by automatons equipped with surveillance cameras seeking out faces in a void, and recording devices picking up only static.

Trump is the last human stand against continuing life on the planet. What he can’t singlehandedly rubbish and burn with the sheer force of his Trumpness, the autonomous systems in place to print money and wage endless war will ensure its eventual destruction. Capitalism makes it impossible to imagine an alternative to a kleptocracy on autopilot. Our neoliberal overlords have seen to that by installing us into their networks and making us all data providers for its expanding matrix.

There is no Trump, only Trumpness; a dense, sulfurous fog that hangs over the earth and eats at our sanity like it was a bowl of pretzels to snack on during Super Bowl. He is capitalism as it gnaws at its own flesh, having devoured everything external to it. His tweets are the cuckoo sounds of the Doomsday clock striking midnight at every hour. Trumpness itself is the unmentionable gas released from the corpse of Empire. Its colored contours no longer a map but a blinking grid that traces a transnational supply route through melted ice caps encircled by war ships. The world is his plague ground.

Freedom, he understands, is being unshackled from life itself. It takes a scorched earth policy at home to maintain his own pristine Astroturf lawns and golf courses around the world. What bombs can’t obliterate, the weather can. He is the match lit under it, ignited by the arsonists tools of the bipartisan establishment that launched him into the White House.

With the sheer force of his Trumpness, he raises global temperatures and sea levels, rallies Wall Street and hurricanes with the same oafish glee that he conducts a Super Bowl national anthem. He maintains the chaos necessary for new markets to emerge from the ashes and rubble of soon-to-be-buried continents.

This is his swamp, and these are his people, the buried millions beneath a morass of debt, addiction and the sort of despair that unleashes Armageddon while keeping the pitchforks aimed squarely at themselves. His acolytes see their own doom as deliverance outside the fixed parameters of a predatory state, and into a rapturous realm fortified against it with a physical wall, separating themselves from others like them. This enclosure fence isn’t high enough yet to contain their rage, but ‘smart’ enough to electronically harvest it.

Meanwhile, his ‘real’ people are raising their champagne flutes at their annual gathering of inter-terrestrial replicants known colloquially as the National Prayer Breakfast. Here they praise the infernal engines of growth and capital, exhorting the now exhausted Beast Machine to continue belching out its blessings to the class that created it in their own image.

Elites on the other side of the aisle seek refuge within the State apparatus that serves and protects their class against internal threats to its own survival, upholding these spook agencies and military brass as protective barriers against Trump and the fungal spread of Trumpness into their yachts and vineyards. They conspire in their wine caves – not against Trump but against the only candidate in their own party who can unseat him. With the same bug-ridden app they used to plug a failed Venezuelan coup leader into their “backyard” power grid, they reverse the process to disconnect the Sanders’ campaign from the DNC, and impose a nation wide blackout on its media coverage.

Trump has sown the seeds of our own self-destruction whether we vote for him or don’t vote for him. For the first time in his life, his business is succeeding – the business of harvesting outrage, the single most valuable currency of the oligarchy – and spinning it into the kind of confusion that allows a blood-spattered perpetrator with a smoking gun in her hand to stand over a crime scene and declare herself “above suspicion”. We applaud as she tears up the arrest warrant. We celebrate each pre-determined outcome in political productions staged every four years by masked plutocrats.

In this particular one, understudy Pete Buttigieg enters stage right as the finale approaches. He serves as its Deus ex Machina – literally a God from a machine – reimposing the neoliberal order to the chaos engendered by the ham lead playing the tyrant. The curtain comes down, and the players take center stage. The ham takes a bow, and the curtain delineating the spectacle from the crowd once again descends, this time forever.

Posted in USA0 Comments

An Epic Act of Resistance and Trial of Our Times

By: Lauren Smith

The four members of the Embassy Protectors Collective, which will be tried before  a United States court on On Feb.11.
  • The four members of the Embassy Protectors Collective, which will be tried before a United States court on On Feb.11. | Photo: Embassy Protection Collective

On Feb. 11, four American peace activists, known as the Embassy Protectors Collective, will be tried before the U.S. empire for “interfering with certain protective functions” of its Federal government for their occupation of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, D.C. to prevent it from being handed over to coup leaders sponsored by the Trump administration.

RELATED:
Maduro Personally Thanks Embassy Protection Collective From US

Their occupation ended on May 16, 2019, when federal agents broke into the sealed embassy, against international law, and arrested them in a swat style raid. The government’s accusation against them is merely a pretext used for their arrest and prosecution since they haven’t broken any laws. Matter of fact, their true crime in the minds of the Trump administration is just the opposite – it’s their brilliant defense of international law, and Venezuela’s sovereign right to self-determination against Yankee imperialism.

Although the Trump administration didn’t want President Maduro to win a second term, 67 percent of Venezuelans did. This stands in stark contrast with President Donald Trump’s own experience since he lost the popular vote in 2017 to Former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a candidate despised by her own democratic party’s base – who only managed to secure her place as a presidential nominee due to the fraud perpetrated by the party’s elite.

Even the Republican party’s use of targeted racist and classist voter suppression and purge techniques could not secure Trump winning numbers at the polls. In the United States of America, as demonstrated by Trump, a loser can win the presidency. Compare this with Former President Jimmy Carter’s 2012 declaration that “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.

Nonetheless, the Trump administration set its heart on Juan Guaido, a man that was not even a candidate in the 2018 election. Yet, with the superpower’s backing, what would be a farce in any other context still remains a threat  – as Guaido, left to his own device, is merely a self-appointed president as well as being a self-appointed leader of a self-appointed assembly.

What elevates this trial in our collective consciousness is the fact that these brave activists struck a successful blow against imperialist aggression from inside the belly of the beast – literally from within Washington, D.C.  For 37 days, the Trump administration was powerless against the guile & guts of the pediatrician, Margaret Flowers; medical anthropologist, Adrienne Pine; attorney, Kevin Zeese; and activist, David Paul as they bravely upheld Article 22 of the 1961 Vienna Convention. The four were aided by a strong coalition of activist groups.

In solidarity, 70 members of the various groups, including journalists, took turns staying inside the embassy with them. As conditions worsened, or for personal reasons, they disbursed prior to the raid. However, many remained outside the embassy protesting the siege conditions faced by their comrades inside and delivered food despite facing assault and arrest. Even the aged civil rights defender, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, personally took part in food delivery to the Embassy Protectors. Fortunately, unlike the 72-year-old president of Veterans for Peace, Gerry Cordon, he was not assaulted by police and arrested in this process.

It is this grassroots collective that protected the Venezuelan embassy from seizure by Trump’s federal agents, local police, and an Astroturf fascist, racist & sexist mob – making their united act of resistance epic and their prosecution a trial of our times.

Despite the best efforts of the biased judge who ruled on Dec. 13 against their right to critical information needed for their defense, their acts of bravery cannot be silenced – as activists will ensure their story is told.  On Jan. 29, Judge Beryl Howell will hear pre-trial arguments concerning a recent motion filed by government lawyers that even more severely restricts what can be discussed during their Feb. 11 trial.

If Judge Howell grants the government’s motion, it will leave the Embassy Protectors virtually defenseless. The government wants the prosecution to be limited exclusively to three things (1) the four were in the embassy, (2) they were given a notice of eviction by the police, and (3) they refused to leave. Essentially, they want the jury that decides their fate to be blindfolded. This will ensure the Trump administration’s desired outcome – which is to convict the Embassy Protectors and make them a model for how it intends to deal with challenges to its illegal foreign and domestic policies.

The fact that Howell is assigned the case is no accident as she is the chief judge of the U.S. District Court and co-author of the unconstitutional Patriot Act. Under the Patriot Act, protections against unreasonable search & seizure are waived, and incarceration can be indeterminate and without charge. So, it’s no surprise, with her Intelligence Community background, that Judge Howell referred to the embassy protectors as a “gang”, stated facts in a way that supported their guilt and made it clear that a trial will result in their conviction.

Among the issues the Trump administration is asking to not be discussed in the Embassy Protectors’ trial are the following:

– That Nicolas Maduro is the democratically elected president of Venezuela. More than 300 election observers for the 2018 election agreed that the election met international standards. Additionally, more than 150 governments around the world recognize him as the President of Venezuela as does the United Nations.

– That Juan Guaido has no legitimacy to represent the Venezuelan government. Also, he is under investigation for his role in the “humanitarian aid” corruption scandal.

– That Carlos Vecchio, whose demand that the Embassy Protectors leave the embassy and was the basis of their eviction, is not an ambassador from Venezuela but part of Guaido’s failed coup. Additionally, Vecchio, a former Exxon oil executive, is charged with fraud, embezzlement and money laundering to the tune of US $70 million through CITGO, Venezuela’s US-based subsidiary of the state oil company PDVSA.

– That they were in the embassy with the permission of the elected government of Venezuela.

– That they received advice that they were in the embassy legally.

– That negotiations were ongoing between the US and Venezuela for a mutual protecting power agreement which would have resulted in Switzerland protecting the US embassy in Caracas and Turkey protecting the Venezuelan embassy in DC. And that the Embassy Protectors had stated that they would leave voluntarily when that agreement was reached. Additionally, The day before the four were arrested, Samuel Moncada, the Venezuelan ambassador to the UN, held a press conference where he discussed the negotiation for a protecting power agreement and reconfirmed that the Embassy Protectors were in the embassy with Venezuela’s permission.

– That they were surrounded by a coup mob that was blocking food from coming into the embassy.

– That the electricity and water were turned off on them.

– That the Vienna Convention was violated by federal agents, who had no legitimate right to enter the embassy to arrest them.

– That the Embassy Protectors were acting within their First Amendment rights.

The Embassy Protectors face federal charges punishable by up to one year in prison, a US$100,000 fine each, and restitution to the government for police time & damages, which is considerable given the duration of their occupation and the absurd amount of armed forces used in the embassy raid – as they remain four unarmed senior and middle-aged peace activists. Since their charges are unjust and anything can happen in prison, especially to dissidents, people of consciousness must ensure all charges are dropped. So, let us stand on the right side of history with the Embassy Protectors and show solidarity by attending their trial in Washington, D.C., which begins on Feb. 11, donating to their legal fund, and spreading the truth of what’s really happening widely.

Posted in USA, Venezuela0 Comments

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