Archive | August 4th, 2020

The New Cold War Heats Up


Photograph Source: lilivanili – CC BY 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Long Overdue for Latin America


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Coronavirus-Climate-Air Conditioning Nexus


Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

A wave of persistent, intense heat and humidity has enveloped the Midwest, South, and Northeast in this second half of July. By the time it subsides, more than half of the U.S. population will have been hit with heat indexes above 100; for many, the heat wave will last for several days.

The severe heat is driving almost all social gatherings and group activities into enclosed, air-conditioned spaces. That’s been the American way for more than fifty summers now, but this summer is different. Getting together these days in the cool indoor world can dramatically raise the risk of coronavirus infection.

For the duration of this pandemic, it will always be riskier to gather indoors than outdoors. In a paper published by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases last month, more than 240 scientists warned that in an enclosed space, airborne, virus-laden “microdroplets” exhaled by an infected person can easily travel the length of a room and be inhaled by another person. Social distancing of six feet between people, they wrote, offers little protection in such a situation.

One of the scientists’ chief recommendations was to keep occupied rooms well ventilated with outdoor air, most effectively by keeping windows open. But air-conditioned spaces have to be zipped up tight, allowing airborne droplets to accumulate.

Air conditioning raises the risk further by lowering the indoor relative humidity. Studies show that coronaviruses in general, including those that cause the common cold, SARS, and MERS, remain viable and infective longer when humidity is low, whether they’re in the air or on surfaces.

There’s more. When humidity is high, exhaled virus particles are carried inside bulky droplets that fall to the floor or other surfaces within seconds. But with low humidity, they are in much smaller droplets called aerosols that can stay aloft in an enclosed space for as long as 9 minutes, waiting to be inhaled.

Some types of cooling systems also serve to circulate aerosols very efficiently and infect large numbers of people. A widely cited case study found that in January, one customer at a restaurant in Guangzhou, China infected nine other diners at three different tables with coronavirus. The breeze from an air conditioner near one of the tables had efficiently distributed virus-laden droplets along a twenty-foot-long path.

Air conditioning also can aggravate more routine maladies, including nasal congestion, asthma, and allergies. Studies in North and South America and Europe have found that people employed in air-conditioned workplaces have more health problems than those who work in non-cooled spaces.

Despite such impacts, air conditioning is customarily viewed as a net health benefit, because it can help prevent deaths during heat waves. However, research shows that heat deaths occur predominantly in marginalized, economically stressed urban areas with too much concrete and too little vegetation, often in communities of color who have inadequate access to services, especially health care.

Those who die in heat waves also are often elderly and/or have preexisting health problems, and they may be unable to afford the electricity to run an air conditioner. Not coincidentally, these communities and individuals who are most vulnerable to heat waves are also the most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

To be clear, air conditioning can indeed help keep people alive under harsh conditions, and that is no small thing. Nevertheless, it is important for us to acknowledge that in that role, the air conditioner is an in-case-of-emergency-break-glass tool. It’s not designed to fix the underlying social and economic injustices from which people need to be rescued, whether it’s from extreme heat or a viral pandemic.

Air conditioning is increasingly viewed as a key technology for adaptation to climate change, which is ironic because it also accelerates greenhouse warming. It accounts for 17 percent of year-round home electricity consumption and the resulting emissions; furthermore, the Energy Information Agency predicts that U.S. energy use for air conditioning will grow faster than any other use of energy in buildings of all kinds in coming decades.

The chain of causation forms a perfect circle. Greenhouse emissions from past decades (including billions of tons of carbon dioxide emitted by air conditioning, aircraft, and other technologies that also happen to be implicated in the pandemic) have made summers hotter than ever, prompting even more air conditioning use, which will further increase greenhouse emissions. Those emissions will help ensure that future summers are even hotter and future air-conditioning systems are pushed even harder.

Ending the climate emergency will require the rapid, mandatory reduction of fossil fuel use to zero and a complete overhaul of our built environment—including good, affordable housing and a healthy environment for all.

Meanwhile, we can at least curb the short-term damage. Home air conditioning should be turned off on those many days of the year when shade and fans can provide sufficient comfort. Offices should never be so frigid that workers resort to wearing sweaters or keeping space heaters under their desks in July. Every building should have windows that can be opened and that stay open as much as possible.

And, at least for the rest of this summer, let’s all get together outdoors.

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


Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Hudson: Yes.

Posted in USAComments Off on Let the Banks Go Under and Put Money Into the Real Economy

Moment of Supreme Danger: Trumpism-Fascism Rears its Head


Photograph Source: Mike Maguire – CC BY 2.0

“What He Wishes He Had: Total Power”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virulent Racism

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

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

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

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

Virulent Racist Nativism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Virulent Sexist

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

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

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

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

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

Virulently Neo-McCarthyite

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

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

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

The War on Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Kill Off the Poor and Sick

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

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

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

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

“Destroying the Prospects for Organized Human Life”

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

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

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

Trumpstapo Coming to Your Town Soon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, We Can – Call it Fascism, that is

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

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

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

182 Days?

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

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

Thanks for the Poisoned Spinach, Obama

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

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

“Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country. That’s what I heard in Mr. Trump’s remarks last night. That’s what I heard when I spoke to him directly. And I was heartened by that. That’s what the country needs—a sense of unity; a sense of inclusion; a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law; and a respect for each other.”

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

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

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

Thanks again, Barack.

“The Best Way to Protest”

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

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

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

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

The Real Issue to be Faced

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

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

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

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

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


Sierra Club outing, 1902.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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Cops and Constitutions


A picture containing outdoor, fire, smoke, roadDescription automatically generated

Photo: Doug Brown/ACLU of Oregon.

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

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

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

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

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

The Old Constitution

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

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

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

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

The Imperial Constitution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Constitution?

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

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

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Tear Gas, Beatings and Projectiles in Portland


The last couple of nights I have been heavily involved in demonstrations in Portland, Oregon. ( July 18-19, 2020.) As most of you probably know these demonstrations have been going on in front of the Federal Justice  Center for over 50 straight nights. Since Trump called in the Feds, the  turmoil and violence has escalated. We all know what Trump is doing, the Feds are baiting the demonstrators, and when they react to the  police violence, Fox News is there to convince the American people that the demonstrators are the bad guys, and the police are the good guys. This is a political recipe that is as old as lying itself. The Feds and  the News want to shape public opinion that these violent protests are being committed by mobs of anarchists and thugs. Now, if the American people really want to know about mobs and thugs, they can go back in  history and examine the U.S. Empire, when their military is sent all over the world to steal and murder for corporate profits. But, I am getting ahead of myself, as the U.S. swarming locust have come to Portland to convince people all over the nation that the Federal Government is protecting us  from violent descent. The murder of George Floyd, and so many other  Black Americans has set off a powerful Rebellion. Black Lives Matter  has awakened, and it has become the consciousness of a sleeping giant.

The last couple of nights have been very intense, as I have been tear gassed  and shot at with a projectile round while carrying 2 Nikon cameras shooting  as fast as I can take pictures. I am 75, but when the adrenaline is pumping and   you are running from the cops, my engine body is 35. It’s either that, or you fall  flat on your face and inhale mass quantities of CS gas. If you are close to the cops, you never know what they will launch. In this article, I am including two photographs.

The  first photo was taken on July 18, 2020. I was very fortunate to get this image, because shortly after I took it, I got consumed by CS gas. That gas makes you very  humble, as you just turn and get the hell out of that space. Shortly after that I got my eyes washed out by a medic. This picture, as you might recognize, is now a video   that has gone viral with over nine million hits. The protester in the picture is a   Navy vet, Christopher David, who is 53, and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.

This was his first demonstration, and he made a huge introduction into the world  of bearing witness. If you look at the picture closely, his right hand is trying to  block the cop’s hand as the cop is hitting him with pepper spray, which you can see. While this is going on, another cop his hitting Christopher David on the legs  with a long baton. That cop also hit him in the hand and broke two bones. And,  while this is all going on CS gas is everywhere. Seconds after I took this picture, this Navy vet turns the opposite direction and flips the cops off with both fingers. This  is a remarkable story, as this protester stood his fucking ground.

The bottom phot is an image I took on July 19, 2020. On this  particular night, the cops chased us a couple of blocks. They then started firing projectiles at us from a couple of different weapons, to include more tear gas. As you can see in  this picture, the cop on the far right has just fired a munition round. One round  set off a fire, which the protesters quickly put out. I took a few more pictures of the cops firing what they like to call less than lethal riot munitions. As the cops  backed away from the intersection, one of them fired a round at me, as I saw it coming and hurriedly stepped out of the way, as it missed me by a few feet. I  can’t imagine taking a direct hit from one of these rounds, because it can kill  you if it hits you in the head. This is exactly what almost happened to a 26-year-old  man last week who was hit in the head by a projectile across the street from the Federal Justice Center. His name is Donavan La Bella. He was knocked  unconscious, and you can still see his blood on the sidewalk. He was sent to  the hospital where emergency reconstructive surgery was performed. He  will survive.

It is hard to tell where this stand-off with the police is going. The Feds don’t  know this town, so they think they can control the tens of thousands of activists who live in Portland, Oregon, which George H.W. Bush labeled, ” Little Beirut.”

The Feds are playing a chess game with Portland. If there is more overwhelming  violence against protesters, and more people get injured, or possibly killed, the  call from social media will bring out 50 thousand people to the streets. I have  been around these black belt protesters a lot, they are fearless, and I might say, they have become professional. As John Lewis once said: ” Find a way to get in the way.” His legacy is now in Portland, Oregon. I need to close, as John Lewis is calling me to prepare for another night.

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Trumpfen Sturmabteilung (Trump’s Stormtroopers)


Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

It is not hard to see the forces kidnapping individuals and teargassing Portland’s streets as the Trump administration’s private stormtroopers. Although they are operating under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the truth is it is the Executive Branch that issued their orders. If that branch is headed by someone who believes in the rule of law, the likelihood of the current operation in Portland occurring would be considerably less. However, this is the Trump administration we are talking about. This administration has proven over and over that it does not believe the law applies to anyone in it.

It was Trump’s almost complete abuse of the impeachment process that allowed him to get away with his crimes to that point. The ongoing misuse of his ability to pardon criminals has let his cronies back on the streets (or mansions). His use of the military to clear Lafayette Park during recent protests is but one more example of the Trumpist abuse of power. If nothing else, Trump’s White House has proven that the president is above the law if and when he chooses to be.

The establishment of DHS after 9-11 essentially created the foundation for this. That agency centralized many federal police functions, equated their role with “fighting terrorism” and created a force of national stormtroopers. Neither George W. Bush or Obama opposed the direction DHS was heading and even encouraged the trend. The NDAA legislation signed by Obama in 2011, but under consideration since Bush’s time in office, made these types of operations legal. Although they might not be constitutional under certain court understandings, it seems likely they will ultimately be declared legal given the quiet takeover of the courts by Federalists and others who consider the executive branch above the law. If Nixon had such a mechanism, we would have gone fascist in the early 1970s.

However, his attempt to establish such an agency under the so-called Huston plan (authored primarily by presidential aide Tom Huston) was cut down by J Edgar Hoover who saw it as an attempt to take away some of his unwarranted power. The Huston Plan would have centralized most federal police, surveillance and investigative functions under the direction of the White House. As I noted above, the PATRIOT Act and the creation of the DHS in the early days and weeks after 9-11 made this Nixon dream a reality. All federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies were put under a single command. In the years that followed, that command has reflected the interests and politics of the Executive Branch. With Donald Trump as president—and his ongoing Gleichschaltung (replacement of bureaucrats with political appointees who share his fascist tendencies)—the federal government has become a tool of the white supremacist criminal gang Trump represents.

When I lived on the streets of Berkeley back in the mid-1970s, there were a couple cops who were known to force street people they didn’t like into their cruisers for a little “ride” up into the woods in the Berkeley Hills. Occasionally, these rides ended with a beating by these officers; other times they ended with being told to get out and walk home. The latter situation happened to me once. I still don’t know the specific reason for the kidnapping, although I was part of a collective trying to organize the houseless at the time and the newspaper, we published was quite critical of the Berkeley and University of California police.

Anyhow, my point is that these kidnappings are not new to policing. Indeed, ICE has been doing this for decades (even before it was known as ICS). In addition, non-white residents of the United States exist at the whim of the police, especially those who live in working-class neighborhoods. However, their apparent adoption as a regular part of DHS policing is particularly ominous. Furthermore, now that these policies have been initiated against US citizens, it seems unlikely future presidents will want to stop their use. After all, it’s always handy to be able to go after those you consider a threat and use whatever powers you want.

Reading the press releases from Homeland Security illustrates a few things about the Trumpists. If the consequences weren’t so serious and potentially deadly, one could even find them funny. Let me quote verbatim from the release:


* Violent anarchists graffitied the BPA Building.

* Violent anarchists graffitied the Hatfield Courthouse.

* Violent anarchists graffitied the Edith Green-Wenell Wyatt Building.

* Violent anarchists graffitied the Terry Schrunk Plaza.

* Violent anarchists graffitied the 911 Federal Building.

* Violent anarchists graffitied the Pioneer Courthouse.

* Violent anarchists graffitied the Gus J. Solomon Courthouse.


* Violent anarchists graffitied the Hatfield Courthouse.

* Violent anarchists graffitied Terry Schrunk Plaza.

* Violent anarchists graffitied The Pioneer Courthouse.

* Violent anarchists graffitied The Gus J Solomon Courthouse.


* Violent anarchists graffitied the U.S. Custom House.


* Violent anarchists destroyed fencing surrounding federal property.


* Violent anarchists damaged and breached the fence around the Hatfield Courthouse.

* Portland Police were forced to deploy crowd control spray to disperse a crowd that was throwing animal seed at officers.


* Violent anarchists broke a window at the Hatfield Courthouse while pelting the building with objects.

* Violent anarchists cut a hole in the fence surrounding Hatfield Courthouse.


* Violent anarchists removed the entire fence around Hatfield Courthouse and graffitied its front columns.

* Violent anarchists attempted to remove wooden barriers from a window on the Hatfield Courthouse.


* Violent anarchists dismantled a section of the fence protecting the Edith Green-Wenell Wyatt Federal Building.


* Violent anarchists destroyed the card reader at the Hatfield Courthouse by ripping it off its mount.

* Violent anarchists destroyed the fence at the Hatfield Courthouse.

* Violent anarchists threw metal pipes at the Hatfield Courthouse, causing Portland Police to issue a disbursal warning for unlawful assembly.


* Violent anarchists graffitied the Hatfield Courthouse.


* Among a group of over 400 protesters marching in front of the Pioneer Courthouse, violent anarchists attempted to cause eye damage to officers with commercial grade lasers.

* Violent anarchists graffitied the Gus J. Solomon Courthouse.


* Violent anarchists vandalized an FPS camera at the Hatfield Courthouse.

* Violent anarchists breached the fence of the Justice Center, adjacent to the courthouse.


* Violent anarchists ripped down plywood covering the windows at the Edith Green-Wenell Wyatt Building, before breaking the windows.


* Violent anarchists graffitied new plywood covering the windows at the Hatfield Courthouse and ripped down plywood on the other side of the building.

* A group of over 200 violent anarchists blocked access to the building and proceeded to launch aerial fireworks at federal property.


* Violent anarchists broke a front window to the Hatfield Courthouse and attempted to enter the building.

* Violent anarchists refused orders to vacate the Hatfield Courthouse area, and instead launched fireworks and threw objects at officers, while attempting to cause eye damage with lasers. One explosive firework was shot into the courthouse.

* FPS law enforcement officers were forced to utilized crowd control measures for safety.


* After ongoing riots around the Hatfield Courthouse, crowds were dispersed only to make a return later into the night.

* Violent Anarchists broke the front window of the Hatfield U.S. Courthouse and shot fireworks into the building.

* Violent anarchists firebombed the building. Federal law enforcement extinguished the fire.


* Around 1,000 violent anarchists spray painted, threw rocks, and shot fireworks (including mortar style fireworks) at the Hatfield Courthouse. They also destroyed a security camera at the facility.

* A CBP team supporting FPS at the courthouse arrested suspects from the graffiti and camera vandalism incidents.

* The mob continued to throw rocks and paint-filled balloons, while attempting to breach the doors.

* Teams were forced to utilize crowd control measures for safety.

* Multiple individuals were seen carrying rifles, including the driver of a vehicle who attempted to strike a Portland Police Bureau officer with his car in front of the Hatfield Courthouse.


* A hostile crowd of about 250 violent anarchists returned to the vicinity of Hatfield Courthouse to vandalize and attack numerous facilities and police, while failing to comply with dispersal order.

* Violent anarchists surrounded and blocked law enforcement from the area as extremists proceeded to attack police with thrown projectiles and large mortar style fireworks.

* Two Portland Police Bureau officers were injured by the crowd (possible concussion).

* Portland Police Bureau took five into custody for directing lasers against aircraft.

* Violent anarchists set fires in front of Hatfield Courthouse and Chapman park.

* At the entrance of Hatfield Courthouse, Violent Anarchists fired large fireworks and threw other dangerous objects toward the entrance and the personnel protecting it.

* The mob was pushed completely out of the area of Hatfield Courthouse; FPS made two arrests during push.

* Portland Police made multiple arrests and found a loaded weapon on one subject.

* Two more violent anarchists were arrested, and one was found to be carrying what appears to be a pipe bomb.

* Violent anarchists assaulted construction crews by targeting them with fireworks while they repaired Hatfield Building.

* A joint team had to be deployed to create buffer between violent anarchists and construction crew to protect construction workers.


* Violent anarchists attempted to cause vision damage to personnel with lasers. Five arrests were made for assaulting law enforcement.


* Violent anarchists held a “Night of Rage,” in which a 400-500-person protest devolved into riots, assaulting law enforcement officers and federal property.

* Approximately 200 violent anarchists began pursuing law enforcement officers to disrupt enforcement actions, assaulting them with rocks and bottles.

* Around 150 violent anarchists in front of the Justice Center began attacking personnel with lasers and peppered the area with fireworks.

* Three violent anarchists were arrested for attacking law enforcement.


* Approximately 200 violent anarchists attacked DHS law enforcement officers while apprehending a subject who was wanted for property damage.

* One arrest was made after three law enforcement officers were injured.

* Law enforcement officers’ personal information was publicly exposed, including FPS, ICE, and CBP personnel.

* Violent anarchists continued to attack officers with lasers.


* Violent anarchists attacked DHS law enforcement officers while apprehending a subject who was wanted for property damage.

* A violent anarchist graffitied the Hatfield courthouse.

* An unidentified subject fired several shots from a gun into the air from the rear seat of a passing white SUV.


* Crowds of approximately 300 violent anarchists vandalized federal property and cameras with spray paint, blocked roadways, and assaulted law enforcement officers.

* Three were arrested for Assault on a Federal Officer.

* Violent anarchists attempted to ambush Portland Police Department PD during their shift change, but a DHS team was deployed and able to prevent any attacks.


* DHS law enforcement officers supported local police to help a violent anarchist who overdosed.

* Four violent anarchists were arrested, including one who attempted to assault an officer with a hammer.

* Violent anarchists sieged the barricade of the courthouse and tried to damage it with a large hammer.

* A law enforcement officer was assaulted with blows from a hammer. Violent anarchists fought officers while they were arresting those responsible.


* Six violent anarchists were detained and cited.

* A mob of 300 refused to comply with directions not to trespass on federal property.

* Another mob of 200 individuals armed with sledgehammers, tasers and/or stun guns, gathered in Chapman Park across from the Hatfield Courthouse.

* Violent anarchists launched fireworks, threw fecal matter and large objects, and pointed lasers at federal law enforcement officers.

* Violent anarchists deployed a plywood blockade while graffitiing the Edith Green-Wenell Wyatt Federal Building, before firing wrist rockets at the facility.

* When an arrest team was deployed to apprehend a rioter who encroached on a police barrier and refused to leave, they were assaulted by violent anarchists.

* A rioter trespassed on the steps of the Hatfield Courthouse and was confronted by federal law enforcement Officers, then swallowed a large amount of narcotics. Law enforcement called medical services after the individual started to convulse.

* Despite more orders to stay off of federal property and to cease unlawful activity, FPS was forced to push back violent anarchists. The Portland Police Bureau declared the mob an unlawful assembly.


* Violent anarchists released personal information of federal law enforcement officers to the public, publishing names of those in Portland.

* Violent anarchists continued to assault law enforcement officers with lasers, slingshots and fireworks. Others were armed with sledge hammers, tasers, and stun guns, and dragged flaming debris into the scene.


* Violent anarchists set a container of liquid on fire at the Terry Schrunk Plaza.

* Violent anarchists jumped a fence and attempted to breach the Edith Green Federal Building.

* Violent anarchists assaulted federal law enforcement officers with cans and other hard objects while they attempted to unblock the entrance of the Edith Green Federal Building.


* Violent anarchists doxed members of federal law enforcement.

* Violent anarchists attempted to damage the Hatfield Courthouse by throwing objects at it and spray painting it. Numerous fireworks were also lit.

* Violent anarchists trespassed on federal property and destroyed a card reader at the Justice Center.

These are from a press release dated July 16, 2020 and posted on a page of the DHS website. The author of the memo is the acting secretary of DHS, Chad Wolf. You have to admit, it is somewhat comical. The constant repetition of the phrase violent anarchist tends to pale when one reads the supposed reasoning that makes them such—graffiti, doxing, and protesting hardly require the storm trooper tactics being used by DHS. It’s clear from this release, though, that its intention is to create fear amongst the ordinary citizen of the United States, much like the characterization of all Wobblies as violent anarchists and terrorists did in the early twentieth century. Once this unwarranted fear is established, even greater violations of the targeted population’s rights and liberties will be tolerated. There are members of the Black Panther Party who are in prison to this day because of a similar campaign against them by the FBI, the White House and other law enforcement agencies.

People who have been following this story are probably aware of at least two lawsuits challenging the actions and presence of the federal forces in Portland. One suit is from the state of Oregon and the other is from the ACLU. While it is important to support these challenges to the federal troopers, I will be surprised if the lawsuits succeed in preventing the DHS and White House from carrying out similar operations in the future. As Vermont attorney and New York Prisoner legal advocate Michael Cassidy pointed out in an email to me, “The judge in the ACLU case already issued an order against the local cops, and they have apparently complied (Portland police joined the federal cops in their sweep the night of July 18, 2020-Ron).

Will the feds comply with the same order that this same judge is highly likely to issue?  We’ll see. But if they don’t it is just one further step for everyone to see how authoritarian and fascist these agencies are.  As to the State AG’s case, I think it’s really important for them to stand up to Trump and his thugs, on the record.  If they had not, it would have emboldened them to continue.  Maybe this will give them some pause on these particular outrageous tactics anyway.  They may not pull out and leave, but hopefully they’ll stop the abductions.  And if they don’t and if the court censors them and they still don’t, then again it is a flouting of the rule of law that most everyone can see is wrong.  It presses the issue, and hopefully will anger people and turn more public opinion against their actions.  Any legal appeals will go to the Ninth Circuit too, and that is one of the best Circuits in the country so it is more likely of favorable holdings there too.”

The federal forces involved in the Portland actions are using powers given to them by the PATRIOT Act and other legislative and administrative actions over the years, including the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 (NDAA). It would require an extremely long and fortuitous legal process to nullify the elements of these laws that allow for the deployment of DHS police in this manner. Given the ongoing takeover of the federal court system referred to earlier in this piece, the odds are with the White House and not the ACLU or the state of Oregon. Indeed, if DHS Deputy Director Cuccinelli’s words in a recent interview are any indication, other US cities will also be occupied by these forces of fascism.

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The UK’s Sinking Brexit Ship


Photograph Source: David Howard – CC BY 2.0

Boris Johnson and his Tory colleagues are playing a game that is doomed to fail where the twin threats of the Covid pandemic and Brexit are concerned. As the UK careens towards a No Deal Brexit, the “message” is that the economic and social disaster caused by a No Deal Brexit is really to be attributed to the pandemic, while another “message” is that the country will be “back to normal” by Christmas with regard to the pandemic, leaving the decks miraculously clear for a mighty effort to stem the calamitous No Deal Brexit.

“It is my strong and sincere hope”, BoJo Johnson told a Downing Street press conference, that the virus will be under such strong control that the country could see “a significant return to normality” from November.

Both messages are a con, which must surely be apparent even to a self-deceiver like to BoJo. It certainly is to EU leaders.

The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte added this twist to the Brexiter’s mantra “Brexit means Brexit” by adding “and hard Brexit means hard Brexit”. As has been clear all along, the EU is not going to give an inch to perfidious Albion in its divorce from the EU.

It soon became obvious that BoJo’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Chris Whitty did not get BoJo’s message. Within hours both men were telling the House of Lords science committee that social distancing is here to stay.

Whitty said: “[The virus] has not gone away. [The measures] need to continue for a long period of time”. Vallance added that “social distancing and hygiene measures will be necessary” given it was “highly likely” the virus would return, stressing that it was just a matter of when, not if, Covid “comes back in force” in several waves.

The truth is that there will be no return to a “pre-Covid normality” without levels of contact tracing that have never been achieved in the UK, as well as effective Covid security on public transport, and so on.

The current testing system, outsourced to the private companies Serco and G4S, fails to contact nearly a quarter of people who test positive. In one town in the north of England now dealing with a major outbreak of the virus, the testing app, touted as “world-beating” by BoJo, is failing to reach half of its close contacts.

The UK economy was in poor shape even before Covid struck, but the economy is now on the verge of flat lining.

National output dropped by a dismal 20.4% in April, and although economic forecasters predicted growth of 5.5% in May the actual figure turned out to be an insipid 1.8%. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says another major coronavirus outbreak in the UK could result in an unemployment rate of 15%.

The Office for National Statistics reports that 650,000 people have lost their jobs since lockdown began, and vacancies are at their lowest level since records began two decades ago. Up to 3 million UK jobs are now thought to be at risk because of unsustainable corporate-debt levels, and these firms are pleading for government bailouts.

The coronavirus crisis has left many UK businesses in a worse position to cope with a no-deal Brexit, according to the independent think-tank the Institute for Government. The Institute says that 3 out of 5 firms have not even begun to prepare for the finalization of the EU-UK separation on 31st December 2020 due to continued indecision about the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The minister for Brexit, Michael Gove, has confirmed that up to 5 sites in Kent (in the south of England abutting the English Channel) will be used as Brexit border facilities, with another 7 situated elsewhere in the country. Gove has already confirmed the purchase of a £705m/$942m site for a “Brexit border” centred on a vast lorry park in Ashford, Kent, where transport operators will have to fork out money on an hourly basis while they wait for customs clearance.

The profound irony is that Ashford is solidly pro-Tory and pro-Brexit— in the 2016 EU referendum it voted Leave 59.4% (with Remain at 40.6%). Property values in Ashford are expected to crash with the construction of the vehicle park, with its ensuing traffic bottlenecks and the stress it will place on local infrastructure and services.

The Brexiters of Ashford are already turning NIMBY, though understandably many Remainers have little sympathy for them.

So much for the Brexiter “taking back control” slogan.

BoJo suffered a major political defeat this week.

He had been sitting on a parliamentary report since before the December 2019 election which investigated Russian interference in the 2016 EU referendum and the 2019 general election.

Releasing the Russian report is the task of the House Committee on Intelligence and Security, but BoJo had prevented it from meeting for 7 months. When he could no longer do this, BoJo tried to influence the committee’s leadership. In an act of egregious executive over-reach, he directed that the committee be headed by one of his flunkies, the error-prone former minister Chris “Failing” Grayling.

The committee has 9 members, 5 Tory and 4 belonging to opposition parties. In something of a coup, one of the 5 Tories, the independent-minded Julian Lewis, stood against “Failing” Grayling, and persuaded the 4 opposition-party members to vote for him.

BoJo’s hope was that Grayling would somehow be able to prevent the release of the Russian report, but Lewis, now the committee’s chair, has already chaired his first committee meeting and obtained unanimous agreement to publish the report within a week.

BoJo retaliated by having Julian Lewis kicked out of the parliamentary Conservative party.

Such is the state of democracy in Ukania.

So, what can lie ahead for Ukania?

The Thatcherite neoliberal “settlement” from 1979 onwards was a failed attempt to deal with the breakdown of the 1945 social-democratic settlement, premised as it was on a “managed capitalism”.

The current convergence of the consequences, mostly impossible to anticipate, of the continuing pandemic (and especially a projected Covid second wave), with an economic upheaval brought out by a No Deal Brexit, could create conditions for the overturning of the 1979 “give capitalism free rein” Thatcherite consensus.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves.

Labour’s current Blairite leadership, under Keir Starmer, having eschewed Corbyn’s experiment in social democracy, is committed in so doing to the maintenance of Thatcherism, give or take a few palliatives not so far in evidence.

If the sting of a No Deal Brexit is not felt deeply by those who believe the EU is to blame for the UK’s decades-long economic and social decline (and this anti-EU refrain is the constant Tory message), the overturning of the Thatcherite consensus can be deferred.

For how long though?

History shows that events tend to proceed at their own pace, though sometimes with great rapidity.

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