Archive | November 12th, 2020

Chile’s New Constitution, Wiping Away the Last Stains of Pinochet

BY ARIEL DORFMAN

It is not often that a country gets to decide its destiny in one momentous election. I am thinking, of course, of the United States. But I am also thinking of the referendum in Chile, where, this past Sunday, the people of that country decided by a landslide—78.27 percent of those who voted—to give themselves a new Constitution and thereby drastically redefine the way they wished to be governed.

Though a change in its founding document is not on the ballot in the United States, we should, here in America, pay close attention to what just happened in that distant land at the end of the earth. Heartened and inspired by the sight of ordinary people forcing a small ruling elite to accept, against all odds, the need for radical reforms, we would do well to learn some valuable lessons from that Chilean experience.

Sunday’s victory in Chile did not come easily or swiftly.

The Constitution that Chileans have just voted to supplant was installed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet in a fraudulent plebiscite in 1980, seven years after a lethal coup overthrew the democratically elected Socialist president, Salvador Allende. Pinochet’s Ley Fundamental—as it was called by those who drafted it—ostensibly established an itinerary for a transition to a restricted form of democracy, as there was to be another plebiscite in 1988 to ask citizens if they wished the general to remain in office for another eight (endlessly renewable) years. In reality, that Constitution guaranteed that, no matter who was in charge of the country, there would be no possibility of questioning the oppressive system that the dictator and his allies had built, particularly the neoliberal economic model of exploitation that had been imposed on workers with unprecedented violence.

And, in effect, when Pinochet lost that 1988 plebiscite and was forced to retire as president (retaining control of the armed forces, of course), the Magna Carta he left behind acted as a straitjacket that, for the next 30 years, blocked all key efforts to create a more just and equitable society. The center-left coalition that has governed Chile for most of that period was able to negotiate a number of amendments to Pinochet’s fascist Constitution—and, significantly, lift a large section of the country’s destitute population out of poverty—but none of those amendments altered the ability of a minority of right-wing legislators to undermine any attempt to alter the way in which wealth and power were distributed. And it was presumed that a populace traumatized by torture, executions, disappearances, exile, and incessant censorship and persecution would not dare to rebel against such an immoral situation.

And that is how things would still be today if a startling revolt had not exploded in mid-October of last year. Sparked initially by groups of students jumping subway turnstiles to protest a small hike in the fares, it soon grew into a nationwide uprising by millions of Chileans who threatened to bring down President Sebastián Piñera’s conservative and unpopular government. Though the demands were wide-ranging—for better salaries, health care, education, housing, environmental protection, clean water; for Indigenous, LGBTQ and women’s rights; for reforms to the miserable pension plans and the untrammeled ferocity with which the police operated—the one issue that united all those who had taken over the streets was the urgent need to get rid of Pinochet’s Constitution and its stranglehold on Chilean society.

Alarmed at what such an upheaval might unleash, right-wing leaders who had till then adamantly vetoed any changes to the status quo made up their mind to decompress the situation and avert a full-scale revolution by agreeing to hold a referendum in which voters would decide if they wanted a new Constitution, either choosing Apruebo (approval) or Rechazo (rejection).

Many of those hard-core Pinochetistas believed they would be able, as time went by, to derail that referendum. They insisted that the current Congress was perfectly capable, with much less effort and cost, of instituting some of the most salient transformations being called for. They used the pandemic to claim that it was too dangerous to carry out an election in those conditions (though they had no such qualms about opening malls!). And when that delaying tactic failed, they ran a vicious campaign of terror against “socialism,” warning that those in favor of a new Magna Carta were extremists intent on turning Chile into Venezuela.

The people repudiated them. The right-wing proponents of the Rechazo option have garnered a scant 21.73 percent of the vote. It is true that several major figures on the right, sensing where the wind was blowing, came out in favor of a new Constitution, but the verdict is inescapable. The Pinochet era is finally over.

As a native of Chile, I had planned to fly to Santiago with my wife to participate in this historic event, but we were unable to do so due to the perils posed by Covid-19.  I would have liked to witness the rebirth of a nation that seemed to have died when the coup destroyed our democracy all those decades ago. I was 28 years old when Salvador Allende became president and such a fervent enthusiast that, three years later, when he was overthrown, I was working at La Moneda, the building where he died, and was only saved from sharing his fate by a chain of incredible circumstances. Along with so many who believed in Allende’s dreams of a liberated Chile, I have spent most of my life since then hoping for a moment when those dreams of his would be echoed by future generations. That has now come to pass. The road to justice has been opened and, by the middle of 2022, Chileans will be governed by a Constitution that embodies the wishes and needs of the vast majority.

If I was unable to travel to Chile to celebrate this triumph of memory and courage over silence and death, I have been struck, as I celebrated this redemptive process from afar, by its significance for the United States, a country where I am also a citizen.

Indeed, along with my fellow countrymen and women, I am voting under a Constitution that severely curtails the will of the people. It is a travesty that we must choose our next president through a seriously flawed and antiquated system, with an Electoral College that does not reflect the preference of the majority. And it is just as much a scandal that we have a profoundly undemocratic Senate, where small states like Rhode Island or Wyoming carry as much weight as gigantic California or Texas. This is the legislative body that is responsible for approving Supreme Court justices, who have disenfranchised large sections of the population and allowed corporations to influence electoral outcome with an endless flow of unaccountable dollars. It is a Constitution, as Alex Keyssar has demonstrated in his remarkable book, Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?, that is tainted by the compromise reached by the Founders with Southern slave-owners and has remained a staunch bulwark of minority, white supremacist interests. It is a Constitution that has been unable to stop a psychopathic, serially mendacious demagogue like Trump from storming the executive office and trashing democracy, its norms, its institutions, its supposedly irreversible restraints of checks and balances. It has established a shameful system where profits matter more than people, where discrimination and racism are rampant, where the very rich can accumulate more wealth than the rest of the country combined.

There are, of course, many splendid features enshrined in that Constitution. Its defenders, including many who notice its limitations, point to the ways in which it has often served to expand freedom, maintain stability, and ensure prosperity, and therefore deem it possible to overcome the glaring inadequacies of that 18th-century document with more amendments and stopgap remedies, such as abolishing the Electoral College, introducing radical changes to the justice system, passing legislation that guarantees voting rights, giving statehood to Puerto Rico and senatorial representation to Washington DC.

For my part, I wonder if the current crisis of authority, the sense that the United States has fallen into disarray and madness, could not open the door to a more drastic solution. Would it not make more sense to engage in a process like the one that Chile has just gone through, where the people have taken upon themselves the right and obligation to determine the fundamental tenets and principles of the system and rules that govern their existence? Should we not at least start to envisage the possibility of calling for a constitutional convention as a way of addressing the failure of our country to live up to its promise of a more perfect union? Do the problems that beset us, so similar to those that plague our Chilean brothers and sisters—the systemic racism, the police brutality, the ecological disasters, the offensive disparity of income, the increased polarization of our public—not cry out for a radical reimagining of who we are? Has not the pestilence of Covid-19 revealed that we are woefully unprepared for the challenges ahead?

It could be argued that the economic, political, and historical conditions in Chile and the United States are so different that any comparison between the two is pointless. The US Constitution, for all its shortcomings, did not originate in a fraud like the one perpetrated by General Pinochet. And it is unlikely that enough citizens in the 50 states are so dissatisfied with their lot that they would be willing to undergo the sort of intense re-examination of their identity that Chileans are about to embark upon. I do not doubt, in fact, that most Americans, fearful of disruption, terrified that their country might crumble under yet more divisiveness, would prefer that alterations to their fundamental laws and institutions be carried out, if at all, by their elected representatives.

That was precisely how Chileans were told change would happen.

What they finally decided, after 30 years of waiting and increasing despair, was to use their extraordinary power as a mobilized people to demand action. What they understood is that the Constitution affected every aspect of their daily existence, even if they had no say in shaping it. The only way that it could cease to be an abstract, faraway document, unrepresentative and unresponsive to their concerns— the only way it could fully belong to them—was to fight for it, risk having their bodies bruised and their eyes blinded by police pellets, risk their jobs and their tranquility to create an order that they could recognize as their own and not imposed from above. What has been most amazing about the year since insubordinate Chileans forced a referendum to take place—and what will be yet more amazing in the year and a half ahead—is the vast educational value of discussing and gauging, measuring and weighing, the pros and cons of all manner of questions that are so often left to a select group of remote experts. The process itself of a joyful, collective reckoning with the past anticipates the sort of country that is envisioned, transforms and makes better those who are part of that communal exploration.

It is a process that, once begun, can be thrilling and emancipatory.

However long it takes for the American people to move in that direction—and the protests of the last months and the tradition of struggle for peace and justice that has always been beating in the epic heart of Martin Luther King Jr.’s country gives me hope that it will be sooner rather than later—there is one message from Chile that should always be borne in mind.

My family in Santiago sent me a photo of some words a young man had scribbled on a placard that he was parading around the city on his bike:

“Lo impensable se volvió posible porque salimos a exigirlo y el país no se vino abajo.”

The unthinkable became possible because we went out to demand it and the country did not crumble.

Or, as Salvador Allende—so alive today!—said, just minutes before dying in defense of democracy and dignity: The future is ours and it is made by the people.

La historia es nuestra y la hacen los pueblos.

This column first appeared in The Nation.

Posted in ChileComments Off on Chile’s New Constitution, Wiping Away the Last Stains of Pinochet

Trump’s Nuclear Weapons are Standing Up And Standing By

BY BRIAN CLOUGHLEY

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

The President of the United States has the power to fire off thousands of nuclear weapons and destroy the world.  As succinctly explained by William Perry and Tom Collina in the New York Times, “Mr. Trump has the absolute authority to start a nuclear war. Within minutes, the president could unleash the equivalent of more than 10,000 Hiroshima bombs. He does not need a second opinion. The defense secretary has no say. Congress has no role.”

This is the Trump who contracted the Covid 19 virus and on October 2 was taken to hospital where he was drugged to the eyeballs, referred to the infliction as “a blessing from God”, and declared “I’m a perfect physical specimen.” He then was flown to a massive election rally in Florida on October 12, joining his supporters in shoulder-rubbing maskless happiness and announced “Now they say I’m immune. I feel so powerful. I’ll walk in there. I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women, just give you a big fat kiss.”

The mental instability evident in these and many other utterances of that “perfect physical specimen” is disturbing.  And the fact that it exists in a man who could destroy the world is terrifying.

The immediacy of nuclear danger is evident in Trump’s attitude to the presidential election itself. As the Financial Times noted, he “has refused to commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power if he were to lose on November 3, citing unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud. He told one rightwing group, the Proud Boys, to ‘stand back and standby’ during last month’s presidential debate.”  His ‘Proud Boys’ supporters constitute one of the armed and deeply bigoted militias that have recently surfaced in the U.S., and nobody knows how they will react in the event of a Trump defeat.  It is of some concern that “Facebook has taken down at least 6,500 pages and groups linked to more than 300 US militias [emphasis added] after it announced in mid-August that it was culling groups that host ‘discussions of potential violence’ on its platform, including ‘when they use veiled language and symbols’.”

If Trump refuses to stand down and get out of the White House in January in the event of a Biden victory, what happens to the nuclear football carried by the military aide who is always the president’s closest shadow?  Would Trump insist on retaining possession of the case containing the essentials required for ordering nuclear war?  Would the military officer carrying the football obey such an order?  What would the rifle-toting ‘Proud Boys’ or other armed militias do about it?

Trump told CNN that “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if this election is rigged” and tweeted “This will be the most corrupt Election in American History!” but did not elaborate on what he will do if in his own judgement he loses the election by alleged fraud. In any event the period between announcement of the result and Inauguration of the 46th President on January 20 will be fraught with uncertainty because Trump will still have the power to issue executive orders that do not require Congressional approval and, above all, the power to commit his country to war.

Given Trump’s mental condition and likely reaction to electoral defeat, the immediate future looks dark indeed, but the one certain thing is that Trump will not lift a finger to help the poor and unemployed who are struggling against the effects of the pandemic.  It is recorded that in 2019 there were 34 million Americans living in poverty.  There were countless millions of children going hungry in the world’s richest country and their lives have got immeasurably worse since the virus struck, but the bankers haven’t been suffering, any more than suppliers of nuclear weapons and associated gadgetry.

On October 14 the New York Times reported that the Goldman Sachs “had a significantly more profitable quarter than expected, lifted by continued strength in the trading of stocks and bonds and gains from certain investments. The bank reported earnings of $3.62 billion, far higher than Wall Street analysts had projected, and revenue of $10.78 billion for the third quarter.”  Just along the road, JPMorgan Chase enjoyed third-quarter profits of $9.44 billion which was a mighty increase on its $4.76 billion last quarter and even better than the $9.08 billion it raked in the same quarter a year ago.

This year in the United States, while children starve and banks are making vast profits, the nuclear arms’ industry is being given $28.9 billion for “modernization” of its vast assets, including $7 billion for command, control and communications, $4.4 billion for Columbus Class nuclear submarines, and $2.8 billion for B-21 long range strike bombers.

So Trump is assured of much support from the money kings and the military of which he is Commander-in-Chief.  In September Fox News reported that 235 retired generals and admirals had signed an open letter saying among other things that “Donald J. Trump has been tested as few other presidents have and is the proven leader to confront these dangers” which is an intriguing claim to make about a man whose heartless crackdown on would-be immigrants resulted in a thousand children being taken from their parents. NBC reported that Trump “instituted a ‘zero tolerance’ policy that separated migrant children and parents at the southern U.S. border” and officials “have yet to track down the parents of 545 children.”

These kids were torn away from their parents and are unlikely to ever see them again. And the irony is that Trump has the backing of hundreds of retired generals who believe “the 2020 election affords the American people an urgently needed opportunity to affirm their devotion to the Constitution of the United States and to the American way of life.”

The Generals are right up there with the Proud Boys with the American Way of Life.

Realism does exist among some of the right wing, as in the case of Mitt Romney who is a longtime Republican and was the party’s selection to run for president against Barack Obama in 2012.  Now a Senator, he is ferociously opposed to such humanitarian schemes as Social Security and Medicare, is committed to increasing military spending, and opposes reform of the financial sector of the economy. In short, he is a card-carrying, authoritarian near-copy of President Trump.

But Romney has realized what is happening in America and unlike other Republicans who have similar sentiments has spoken out against its current state. On October 13 he tweeted that the country “has moved away from spirited debate to a vile, vituperative, hate-filled morass that is unbecoming of any free nation. The world is watching America with abject horror.”  He now admits that Trump has spent four years confronting and insulting fellow-Americans as well as nations that have even mildly opposed his disjointed foreign policy.

America is suffering from instability in the White House and carnage on its streets. While poverty is rife and the pandemic is killing thousands in the richest country in the world its nuclear weapons are under jurisdiction of an unhinged egotistical sociopath.  Given Trump’s public pronouncements it is likely he will not accept defeat in the November 3 election.  The country will then descend even further into what Romney calls a “hate-filled morass” —  but the main international anxiety concerns control of nuclear weapons.  Is this unstable man in the White House going to be allowed to continue to wield his present authority to start a nuclear war?

It is not surprising that the world is “watching America with abject horror”, because Trump’s nuclear weapons are standing up and standing by in a period of major international tension. Is anyone in Washington prepared and able to control him?

Posted in USA, PoliticsComments Off on Trump’s Nuclear Weapons are Standing Up And Standing By

Ballots Defeat Bullets: MAS Wins Historic Mandate in Post-Coup Bolivian Election

BY BENJAMIN DANGL

MAS supporters celebrate in La Paz following electoral victory. Photo credit: Thomas Becker.

Against all odds, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party won the October 18th elections in Bolivia with 55.1% of the vote. This is better than even Evo Morales did in 2005 with 53.75% support. It gives MAS President-elect Lucho Arce one of the biggest mandates in Bolivian history, and is in part a major endorsement of MAS policies and its 14 years in power.

The election took place a year after a coup overthrew former MAS President Evo Morales and installed right wing Senator Jeanine Áñez in power. Under Áñez and her notorious Government Minister Arturo Murillo, the government repressed dissidents and anti-coup activists, killing dozens and wounding hundreds of people in massacres in Sacaba and Senkata, Bolivia last November. They politically persecuted MAS figures, allies, and leftist activists over a tumultuous year leading up to the recent election.

The MAS victory is a rejection of the racist coup government. Áñez pushed the MAS down, but the party and its diverse base of supporters rose up and won.

The movements that defended democracy over this past year brought Bolivia to this historic moment. For weeks in August, massive road blockade protests organized by MAS-allied campesino, indigenous, and labor groups successfully pressured authorities to hold elections after months of delays.

Following its resounding victory at the polls, the MAS will enter government next month, raising many crucial questions.

How much will the party leadership change? The crisis of the past year has resulted in a diversity of new leadership rising up through the party ranks. For example, young MAS cocalero leaders Andrónico Rodríguez and Leonardo Loza were just elected as Senators in Cochabamba.

How will the MAS address critiques from the left? Vice President-elect David Choquehuanca is largely considered a representative of the more critical left-wing of the MAS party, which is oriented more directly by the grassroots base of labor, campesino, and indigenous organizations. This is a sign that the MAS leadership may strengthen its relationship with its bases, and further democratize the party’s ties to social movements.

What will Evo Morales’ role be? Following the electoral victory, President-elect Arce said Morales will not have a role in the new government, but is welcome to return to Bolivia from Argentina, where he took refuge following last year’s coup.

Will the right accept political defeat in the government and streets? Presidential candidate Carlos Mesa, Áñez, and the Organization of American States all notably accepted the MAS victory. However, the right-wing Comité Cívico pro Santa Cruz, coup leader Fernando Camacho, and other anti-MAS groups have rejected the MAS victory. Considering the actions of racist, paramilitary groups in the country over the past year, it is likely they will continue to foment unrest in Bolivia.

These are major questions guiding the coming months. The fact that they will be addressed with the MAS in power makes all the difference.

The MAS has adapted to and overcome incredible challenges this year. Now they will have to navigate the disastrous pandemic, rising fascism in the country, and an economic downtown. They have a historic mandate to carry out this work on behalf of all Bolivians, not just the oligarchy and racists who were just defeated at the ballot box.

Posted in BoliviaComments Off on Ballots Defeat Bullets: MAS Wins Historic Mandate in Post-Coup Bolivian Election

What the Election Should Have Been About

BY STEVEN DANDANEAU

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Consult Roger Cohen in the Times on the “shrinking American mind” or Max Boot in the Post on the “sleaziest presidential campaign ever,” or any number of kindred spirits, and it is clear that the pundit class is dissatisfied with the depth of political debate in the run up to the 2020 national plebiscite. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, they are correct: political discourse is superficial, drug-down by scandal mongering, juvenile slurs, and, even in the best of times, stale “liberal” and “conservative” talking points. What is done is done. Let me suggest three ways that we might improve going forward.

The U.S. suffers from state-sponsored opacity surplus. In their own ways and at different times, Bill Moyers and Daniel Patrick Moynihan bemoaned excessive governmental secrecy, security state secrecy particularly, and were right to do so. Whether in protection of sources-&-methods or “national security” itself, we know that the Church Commission and Freedom of Information Act have been largely thrown on the ash heap of history. For every Panama Deception and Hazel O’Leary, there are untold instances of mum’s the word, nothing to see here. For every Pentagon Papers and Extraordinary Rendition, there is a movie starring Tom Hanks or Adam Driver instead of a real-live public reckoning. The effect is to increase business for the “true crime” section at Barnes & Noble, and, as noted, fuel a subgenre of Hollywood films (safely produced well after the shooting). But secrecy also undermines public confidence in public veracity and with it the legitimacy of public institutions. They may be wacko, but at least QANON followers exhibit a deep-seated desire to know the truth. If they are not getting it from the White House or Capitol Hill or Pentagon briefing room, then they will look elsewhere.

Let us be clear that this problem is structural. The growth of the U.S. state during the Great Depression and Second World War gave us a form of national state unprecedented in human history. In terms of scale and integration with economy and culture, in terms of its command over nuclear weapons, in terms of its Cold War machinations, the post-war American state is the root source of our opacity surplus, and, in some ways, its chief beneficiary. We can read Charles Beard, C. Wright Mills, Sheldon Wolin, or even Gary Wills, and come away with a good sense of it. But my undergraduate mentor, Robert A. Solo (he the economist author of the little known The Positive State), drummed into me and I have never forgotten, the need for a systems-oriented, structuralist perspective to understand the full dimensions of what FDR et al. bequeathed to their progeny.

Speaking of economics, the superficiality of public discourse on matters economic is no less a problem, the brilliance of Krugman, Stiglitz, Piketty, and Sachs notwithstanding. Call this core issue myopia. What we have here is not a failure to communicate: to communicate mathematically complex analyses, communicate germane historical lessons, or to communicate multidimensional, dynamic policy prescriptions; what we are experiencing, I believe, is a failure to question basic assumptions, and to grapple, not with the last war, but the war we are fighting currently. In a word, economists are like almost everyone else: they are myopic with respect to the implications of climate change.

Economists, and I stress, most people, even me, have not quite admitted to themselves, nor fully gamed out, that the global economy, in broad strokes, is unsustainable. More to the point, it is killing us. Capitalism is an inherently growth-oriented economic system, but infinite “growth” was bound to end up a problem on a finite planet. Sure, we might eliminate use of fossil fuels, eventually. We might even regulate the pursuit of self-interest, reigning in corporate power and mercantile state policies and bolstering worker rights and environmental protection in all four corners. But the core issue would remain unscathed: the continual expansion of production and consumption worldwide, as currently organized and protected by law and vested interests, is detrimental to sustainable human existence, and for “surplus populations” especially (but don’t tell them, whoever they are, lest they get restless).

Instead of debating what to do about this dire predicament, pols, pundits, genuine economic experts, and charlatans alike skate past the core issue in favor of well-worn ideological debates born at the dawn of modern times and given their current shape by the Great Depression. Joe Biden wants to increase home ownership. Donald Trump wants to protect the oil and gas industry. Joe Biden wants to address “the existential threat” of climate change by rejoining the Paris Accords. Donald Trump wants to rake forests. It is mind-numbing, and worse, beside the point. Meanwhile, intellectual surrogates tout policies agendas that, if they worked perfectly, would restore a measure of perhaps less unacceptable class inequality alongside a measure of perhaps not completely unhelpful entrepreneurial freedom, disturbing the basic set-up that is modern global capitalism not one iota. Even the self-labelled democratic socialist from Vermont, if he had full run of the house, would deliver little more than a new New Deal. Compared to FDR’s early rhetoric and policy agenda, let alone Norman Thomas’, Sanders’ democratic socialism is, I am afraid, weak brew and nothing like what is needed in postmodern times.

I do not want to leave an impression that politics concerns only state and economy, however preponderant they and the issues rooted in them are. We might add a third essential sphere to the analysis, the sphere of culture, and here we might identify that which underlies debates on abortion, racism, and sexuality as surface manifestations of what is really a debate about enlightenment. Call it w[h]ither enlightenment? Those fortunate enough to have access to accumulated knowledge about nature and humanity are in relatively superior position to weigh and assess the very meaning of our existence. Those less fortunate may be ignorant, or, more likely, immersed in irrational alternatives. As quantity and quality of education rise, so, too, does the citizenry’s inclination toward “progressive” political positions. In the opposite direction we find what Marx and Engels derided as “rural idiocy.”

But if it were only that easy, then we would have a clarity about what needs doing: more modern western education, more urbanization, and, voila, we have lessened if not eliminated socio-cultural backwardness and intellectual immaturity. The problem, however, is deeper, and is suggested by the fact that France gave the world “race,” Germany the Holocaust, and the United States of America the atomic bomb. The paragons of “rationality,” the societies and peoples regarded as locus classicus of science, technology, and cultural edification, have loosed destruction and mayhem upon the world and are no less responsible for McDonalds, Planned Residential Neighborhoods, and Planned Parenthood. Might there be fundamental problems with “science,” “enlightenment,” core Modern Western values? Should we continue to view Earth as for humanity? Should we view ourselves as bereft of spirit? Should our lives begin and end in hospital, with lots “General Hospital” viewing in between? For a moment, do not take a position on these questions. Just give yourself permission to imagine the vitality of the public conversation. Our politics might be less superficial and more engaging if we listened to, maybe not Marianne Williamson per se, but her learned sisters around this mishappened planet-based world.

So there you have it. To deepen political discourse for several hundred million voting-age adults in the United States (perhaps elsewhere too), we might try lifting stifling state secrecy (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, anyone?), talking seriously about how we can make a living in the twenty-first century (maybe start with the food system?), but save room for self-critical reflection on life and learning themselves (Francis and the Dali Lama may be willing to moderate a helpful discussion). Yes, with youth suicide rates through the roof, maybe we could spare time for talk about life worth living.

Posted in USA, PoliticsComments Off on What the Election Should Have Been About

NPR and the Corporate Criminal Element

BY RUSSELL MOKHIBER

John Lansing, CEO, NPR.

Ever wonder why you rarely hear serious discussion on National Public Radio (NPR) about corporate crime and violence?

For a hint as to why, pick up the most recent NPR annual report, and flip through the listing of corporate criminals and other major recidivist law violators on the corporate sponsor page.

ExxonMobil (guilty plea Exxon Valdez oil spill), Lumber Liquidators (guilty plea environmental crimes), Panasonic (guilty pleas antitrust crimes) and Tyson Foods (guilty plea clean water violations).

ExxonMobil, Lumber Liquidators, Panasonic, Tyson Foods — those are just some of the major corporate donors to NPR that have pled guilty to crimes.

And then there are many more major corporations on the NPR sponsors list that settle serious criminal charges with the watered down deferred and non prosecution agreements.

And then there are those major companies that settle major False Claims Act and other charges of major law violations with multi-million civil settlements.

Suffice it to say that the corporate criminal element has infused NPR with millions of dollars of donations.

And what does NPR have to say about this?

NPR did not return calls seeking comment.

Nor did NPR CEO respond to a letter from Ralph Nader.

Nader last month wrote to NPR CEO John Lansing wanting to know about NPR’s guidelines for taking money from recidivist corporations.

Nader took to Twitter to try and get an answer from Lansing.

“The head of NPR @johnlansing is not responding to our request for criteria applied to misbehaving corporate donors like Raymond James. We’re asking @NPR when such corporate donors deserve a ‘no thanks,’” Nader wrote.

With just a quick scan of the list of NPR corporate sponsors, it becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly that NPR either doesn’t have such guidelines or doesn’t enforce them.

“Raymond James is a major sponsor of National Public Radio,” Nader wrote to Lansing. “One sponsorship promotion on NPR, Raymond James says: ‘Since our beginning, our business has been people and their financial well-being.’”

“Raymond James’ business has also been about regularly settling charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and other regulators alleging that Raymond James violated the law,” Nader wrote.

Nader listed a number of recent Raymond James settlements, including last year when Raymond James paid $15 million to settle SEC charges alleging that it improperly charged advisory fees on inactive retail client accounts and charged excess commissions for brokerage customer investments in certain unit investment trusts (UITs).

“A quick search of the Internet finds no NPR reporting of these and other instances of Raymond James alleged law violations,” Nader wrote. “In case I missed it, could you please send me some NPR reporting on these and other instances where Raymond James has strayed from its commitment to ‘people and their financial well-being’? In addition, could you please send me your guidelines for taking money from recidivist corporations?”

Posted in USA, Media, PoliticsComments Off on NPR and the Corporate Criminal Element

Trump Out Now

BY PAUL STREET

Photograph Source: Fibonacci Blue – CC BY 2.0

I am an author, political commentator, teacher, and historian who prefers in “normal times” to spend most of my time researching, writing, and teaching. This summer and fall, however, I’ve been out protesting with Refuse Fascism raising the demand “Trump-Pence Out Now” – out immediately.

That’s because these are not “normal” times. The deadly coronavirus that has been spread by the pandemo-fascist Trump administration has already killed 220,000-plus Americans and will likely 200,000 to 300,000 more by Inauguration Day (January 20th) next year. The United States is in the middle of a related and attempted rolling coup being carried out by a White House that knows it cannot win a second term in conventional fashion. With a long list of enemies and groups on its hit list, the Trump administration seeks unchallenged dominance but lacks enough voter support to prevail without subverting what’s left of democracy in the elections system. It is therefore undertaking a multi-level assault on the American electoral process.

The cable news talking heads keep scratching their heads on how Trump is talking only to his base and not trying to broaden his voter support beyond his 43-45%. They might want to reflect that Trump and the GOP’s main plan this summer and fall has been to cripple and steal the election, not to win it in a “normal”/conventional fashion.

This attack is what ought to be expected from a regime whose relentless pathological criminality (see point # 2, below) has defied our capacity for belief and processing malevolent evil. “The enormity and variety of Mr. Trump’s misdeeds,” The New York Times’ Editorial Board observed two Sundays ago, “can feel overwhelming. Repetition has dulled the sense of outrage, and the accumulation of new outrages leaves little time to dwell on the particulars.” (“A Man Unworthy of His Office,” New York Times, October 17, 2020, Sunday Review, p.2).

Why have there not been millions in the streets engaged in non-violent protest every day this fall to demand the immediate removal of a vicious regime that has violated numerous civilizational and democratic norms and is doing its best to sabotage an election?

We are up against seven narratives that stand in the way of the mass action required. In what follows I briefly counter of each of these anti-mobilizing story lines.

+1. “There’s an election coming up, so chill.” Yes, we know about the election. The polling data looks promising for Joe Biden (like it did for Hillary Clinton this time in 2016). Most of the electorate rejects this evil president. But voting to remove Trump, while necessary, is insufficient. The incumbent president, vice-president, and attorney general have made it clear that they intend to use both constitutional and extra-constitutional means to cripple and steal the contest. The methods include racist and partisan voter suppression in key battleground states, replete with the sending of armed “poll-watchers” into minority precincts; attacking the legitimacy of the mail-in ballots that are required by the very pandemic that Trump has multiplied across the nation; deploying an army of right-wing lawyers to contest the Electoral College slates in states that go for Biden; jamming through a far-right Supreme Court nominee (Amy Coney-Barrett) who can be expected to join 4 or 5 other Republican-appointed judges to in signing off on the at once constitutional and extra-constitutional theft of the contest; preparing violent mobs to suppress anti-coup protests; preparing to declare martial law and putting in the streets paramilitary forces (from the Department of Homeland Security, especially ICE and Border Patrol) accountable only to Trump. As Salon’s Chauncy de Vega recently observed:

“Donald Trump continues to make it clear that he does not intend to leave office peacefully if he is defeated… Trump considers any election in which he is not the ‘winner’ to be null and void. Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court is an obvious quid pro quo to secure his ‘reelection’ if his attorneys and other agents can sufficiently sabotage the vote on Election Day and beyond….During his debate with Biden, Trump…commanded white supremacist paramilitaries to be prepared to attack his and their ‘enemies’ if he loses on Election Day or is otherwise removed from office…Trump also wants Joe Biden and other leading Democrats imprisoned and perhaps even executed because he deems them to be guilty of ‘treason’ and a ‘coup’ attempt against him. Trump and his Attorney General William Barr have also threatened to use the United States military against the American people if they dare to protest the outcome of the 2020 Election if Trump somehow finds some extra-legal (if not outright illegal) way to stay in office.”

Meanwhile, the openly anti-democratic Electoral College continues to overrepresent the nation’s most white, rural, reactionary, and “red” (Republican) regions in ways that work to Trump’s advantage. Captive to an archaic 18th Century national charter drafted and passed by and for slaveowners, merchant capitalists, and publicists for whom democracy was the ultimate nightmare, we still don’t elect American presidents by a national popular tally based on the elementary democratic principle of one person, one vote.

Even in the unlikely event that Trump is defeated by popular and Electoral College margins so large that he can’t semi-credibly contest the outcome, the wannabe fascistic dictator will remain in position to do unthinkable damage for eleven more weeks. The world can’t wait until January 20th, 2021 for the defenestration of this lethal lunatic, who has called for the imprisonment of his political opponents, including Joe Biden. Trump recently led his frothing Michigan backers in hate rally chants of “Lock Her Up” directed at a state governor who some of his armed neofascist backers were plotting to kidnap and murder. Trump has recently called the nation’s leading infectious disease health expert a “disaster,” and described people who advocate public protections against COVID-19 as “idiots.”

The death toll of the pandemic that Trump has fanned and continues to lie about (“it’s going away”) may well reach half a million (nearing America’s body count during World War II) by next February. This regime must go now.

+2. “A sitting American president wouldn’t actually steal an election. That’s just too much. That wouldn’t happen here.” Really? This is a neofascistic lawless “law and order” presidency that respects few if any constitutional and social conventions. From sadistic child separations and concentration camps at the border to the deployment of paramilitaries to sweep up civil rights protesters designated as “terrorists,” the encouragement of violence on the part of neofascist militias (the Proud Boys and the like), setting new Orwellian falsehood records, and the fanning of a deadly pandemic whose lethality Trump clearly understood from the beginning even as he publicly downplayed it, and so much more, the Trump regime has demonstrated a malignant and pathological willingness to subvert longstanding rules of civilized and democratic conduct. This is a man who praises neo-Nazis, calls “Black Lives Matter” a hate slogan, applauds the paramilitary street execution of an antifascist activist (Michael Reinoehl), and defends a teen fascist (Kyle Rittenhouse) for murdering two civil rights marchers in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The orange-brushed wannabe fascist strongman has now used one of his patented super-spreader hate-rallies to lead chants calling for the “locking up” of Michigan’s governor – this in the wake of the arrest of “Michigan Militia” members who were inspired by a Trump Tweet to plot that governor’s assassination. Trump’s recurrent paranoid-style rants about the supposed menace posed to the nation by “the radical Left,” replete with bizarre claims that Joe Biden is a “trojan horse for socialism” and that Kamala Harris is a “communist” (actual Leftists laugh darkly at these preposterous “charges”) are clear fascist-style plays meant to suspend what’s left of democracy and impose ruthless “law and order” from the top down.

Along the way, the tangerine-tinted tyrant has used his own infection by the coronavirus as an opportunity to downplay the pandemic while assaulting the nation’s top infectious disease expert (Dr. Anthony Fauci) and touting a hack radiologist (Dr. Scott Atlas) who advocates ruinous “herd immunity” as the top disease authority. The hack’s strategy could kill as many 3 million Americans. The preening Antichrist Trump’s devil-dances on the stages of his super-spready hate rallies to demonstrate his supposed “youthful” and Darwinian vitality while proclaiming that his virus “affects virtually nobody.” COVID-45’s proclamation is a sadistic insult hurled at those who loved and miss people among the 220,000-plus felled by the Trump Virus

Donald “There Won’t Be a Transfer of Power” Trump is not hiding his campaign to extinguish what’s left of electoral democracy. His claim that the only way he can lose is “if the election is rigged” is a not-so-veiled call for civil war and martial law if the tally appears to be going against him. He openly declares that he may not honor the outcome. This would be a good time to remember the Russian dissident Masha Gessen’s first rule on dealing with authoritarian heads of state:

“Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture.”

The notion that Trump wouldn’t try to pilfer an election takes naivete and childish enablement of abuse to new levels. The real question about Trump is not what would he do to stay in power but rather what wouldn’t he do?

Sadly, this naivete is fed daily by a corporate cable news media whose talking heads continue even now to act like there’s something surprising about Trump’s latest barbarian transgressions.

+3. The people, the Democrats, and the government will rise up to remove Trump if and when he tries to steal the election.” That’s good to know, if true, but there’s not much “if” about it and it may be too late to stop the crime if we wait until after Election Day. As the distinguished historian Timothy Snyder recently told Chauncy de Vega, “we are in a slow-motion Reichstag Fire right now.” The attempted coup is already underway and Trump has considerable institutional and extra-legal power to carry it out, including white-nationalist (Republifascist) partisan control of state legislatures in key battleground states, the allegiance of many white state, county, and local police and National Guardsmen, the loyalty of untold thousands of armed far-right extremists (including many military and ex-military cadre and commonly coordinating with police), and a Supreme Court about to become super-majority right-wing thanks to the imminent approval of the “Christian” Republifascist Coney-Barrett by the Republifascist -controlled U.S. Senate. It is important to organize on a mass scale now, not just after the formal election day. The sooner we organize and demonstrate in large numbers to counter the rolling coup, the better.

The Democrats’ track record on resisting stolen elections in this century is not good. They laid down in face of the right-wing assault on the decisive Florida ballot count in 2000-2001 and did nothing to challenge the theft of the 2004 election. Consistent with late Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin’s description of them as “the Inauthentic Opposition,” the dismal, dollar-drenched Democrats have been actively aiding and abetting Trump’s presidency from the dreary Hillary Clinton campaign through the prolonged RussiaGate drama. The Russia-Trump-Mueller drama deflected national attention away from Trump’s worst crimes while congressional Democrats continued to grant giant military budgets and surveillance powers and (this year) corrupt corporate bailout funds to a president they all-too-accurately described as insane and dangerous. The Democrats are the party of Hollow Resistance.

Hopes for the U.S. military command acting to remove Trump and smash his violent forces if he defies the election seem far-fetched. It could happen if Trump refuses to honor a Supreme Court ruling against his likely challenge to the election, one is free to imagine, but relying on the imperial Pentagon to save “democracy,” or what little is left of it, by removing its commander-in-chief feels to me like desperate barking up a very wrong tree.

+4. “Trump is a symptom of an authoritarian, corporate-dominated, and bipartisan system that went off the rails of democracy long ago.” That is 100% correct[1]. But Trump and Trumpism are malignant fascistic tumors that must be cut out for a gravely sick patient, American democracy, to be re-born. One does not endorse cancer or the conditions that give rise to it by removing a deadly tumor that threatens to kill the patient in short order. And a mass movement to remove the Trump-Pence-Barr regime could become a great popular precedent for a deeper and broader movement to transform America in politically and socially democratic ways.

+5. We’ll face violent repression if we protest the attempted coup.” Perhaps, but we will face even more repression in a second (and third?) white-nationalist Trump term.

+6. “I am too focused on my specific cause to get focused on the distant matter of who is sitting in the White House.” Your cause matters a great deal but, yes, comrade, you are indeed overly focused on your specific cause. In a second Trump term, something certain to be much worse than the first one, Black lives won’t matter, LatinX and immigrant lives won’t matter, women’s lives won’t matter, gay and transgendered lives won’t matter, livable ecology won’t matter, public health won’t matter, consumer rights won’t matter, civil and human rights won’t matter, health insurance be shredded, won’t matter, workers and economic justice won’t matter, and – this is the threat most specific to Trump – efforts to fight to make all these just and beautiful causes will face unprecedented repression.

+7. “I can’t be bothered with all this; I need to stay focused on my private affairs.” We all certainly must watch out for ourselves and our loved ones, yes, but the political system that results from widespread citizen demobilization, privatism, and atomization ends up negatively impacting supposedly private and family experience. Look at how Trump’s fanning of the pandemic has invaded our daily lives. Wait until he and his neoliberal fascist allies go full bore after Social Security and tears up health insurance protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. Politics has a way of coming back and haunting us when we don’t join with our fellow citizens to make a better world

Millions of Americans may have to get in the streets and stay there to compel the nation’s power elite to force Trump out. Then we will struggle to compel post-Trump Washington to address the misery, sickness, oppression, poverty, meaninglessness, and absurdity faced by hundreds of millions of Americans with real solutions. Since both of the dominant political parties are owned by concentrated wealth and power structures who have are inherently opposed to such solutions, that struggle must carry us into a confrontation with the whole damn interrelated evils of class rule, racial oppression, patriarchy, police-statism, empire, and ecocide – the unelected and intertwined dictatorships that gave rise to the Trump regime and its inauthentic opposition among other atrocities. The sooner we start mobilizing in a serious way against the “slow motion Reichstag Fire” currently underway, the stronger our movement will be. November could be too late. The attempted coup. A real popular resistance needs to be underway too. The establishment centrists in charge of the Democratic Party do not have anything remotely close to what it takes to undertake such a resistance. They can be counted on to behave in accord with their core institutional mission: keeping the citizenry passive, crippling popular resistance, wrecking bottom-up class struggle, and taking the risk out of democracy.

Endnote

1. I think in retrospect Trump may be seen as like a rock that takes out half your teeth in a mouth that was already so rotted, with gums so diseased and teeth so wobbly that you could hardly chew food even before the stone hit; like a roof so weakened by water leakage and termites that a big snowfall collapsed it all of a sudden in November. I always thought that the opposition between (a) Sheldon Wolin’s “inverted totalitarianism” (“corporate-managed ‘democracy’’’) and (b) more aggressive hate-rallying and gun-toting Amerikaner white nationalism/neofascism was something of a potentially false dichotomy. Wolin’s soft authoritarianism softens people up for the harder authoritarianism of real and wannabe fascist strongmen.

Posted in USA, PoliticsComments Off on Trump Out Now

Ex-President Obama: Ten Ironies

BY PAUL STREET

Photograph Source: Jakehonig – CC BY-SA 3.0

The irony on Thursday morning cable news was too delicious not to savor. MSDNC anchor Halle Jackson could barely contain her glee over how former president Barack Obama had finally “taken the gloves off” and gone after Donald Trump by name while campaigning for Joe Biden the previous day.

I have no idea if Obama really did “take the gloves off” on Wednesday. I have my doubts. But whatever he did, he may have answered the bell too late. Earlier in her broadcast, however, Jackson noted in passing that the Senate Judiciary Committee had just recommended Sente confirmation of the far-right Christian cultist Amy Coney-Barrett for the U.S. Supreme Court. The Handmaid jurist will be voted on to the appointed-for-life high court by the majority Republican Senate tomorrow.

Donald Trump and his allies have jammed Coney-Barrett through in near-record speed so that she can cast a deciding vote when the court rules on Trump’s final challenge to Biden’s likely Electoral College victory early next year. Five of the nine voters will vote for Donald Trump in the 2020-21 presidential election: Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito, Neal Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney-Barrett.

All hail the Great American Democracy.

Consistent with Obama’s all-too-private October 2016 characterization of Trump as “a fascist,” the incumbent president, vice-president, and attorney general have demonstrated beyond serious doubt that they intend to use both constitutional and extra-constitutional means to cripple and steal the contest. The methods include racist and partisan voter suppression in key battleground states, replete with the sending of armed “poll-watchers” into minority precincts; attacking the legitimacy of the mail-in ballots that are required by the very pandemic that Trump has multiplied across the nation; deploying an army of right-wing lawyers to contest the Electoral College slates in states that go for Biden; jamming through a far-right Supreme Court nominee (Coney-Barrett) who can be expected to join 4 or 5 other Republican-appointed judges to in signing off on the at once constitutional and extra-constitutional theft of the contest; preparing violent mobs to suppress anti-coup protests; preparing to declare martial law and putting in the streets paramilitary forces (from the Department of Homeland Security, especially ICE and Border Patrol) accountable only to Trump. As Salon’s Chauncy de Vega recently observed:

“Donald Trump continues to make it clear that he does not intend to leave office peacefully if he is defeated… Trump considers any election in which he is not the ‘winner’ to be null and void. Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court is an obvious quid pro quo to secure his ‘reelection’ if his attorneys and other agents can sufficiently sabotage the vote on Election Day and beyond….During his debate with Biden, Trump…commanded white supremacist paramilitaries to be prepared to attack his and their ‘enemies’ if he loses on Election Day or is otherwise removed from office…Trump also wants Joe Biden and other leading Democrats imprisoned and perhaps even executed because he deems them to be guilty of ‘treason’ and a ‘coup’ attempt against him. Trump and his Attorney General William Barr have also threatened to use the United States military against the American people if they dare to protest the outcome of the 2020 Election if Trump somehow finds some extra-legal (if not outright illegal) way to stay in office.

Hey, Obama: you were right about Trump four years ago. It’s a little bit late and a little bit Weimar to be stepping into the ring against the “fascist” just now.

Thinking about this irony, I realized that my new book Hollow Resistance: Trump, Obama, and the Politics of Appeasement (CounterPunch Books, October 2020) is, among other things, a study in the rich ironies of ex-president and president Obama. Nine ironies, to be exact (to add to the one just mentioned):

+1. Popularity Burnished by the Monster He Helped Hatch.

Ex-president Obama’s high-popularity has been driven largely by the almost unimaginable real-lite dystopian awfulness of the Trumpenstein, which Obama helped create and usher into power, Weimar-like. How ironic: Obama’s image is burnished by the monster he did a lot to hatch. For more on how and why Obama’s vapid and neoliberal presidency (consistent with vapid neoliberal pre-presidency) gave rise to the Trump nightmare, see ironies number 4, 5, and 7 below.

+2. “America[ns] First”

Obama told Tim Kaine in October of 2016 that the Hillary Clinton campaign had to “keep a fascist out of the White House.” The 44th President of the United States had an accurate understanding[1] of Trump as a malignant, authoritarian, and far-right existential menace to the republic and the world. Less than a month later, Obama ironically and perversely said this to the American people after Trump defeated Obama’s dismal, dollar-drenched Goldman Sachs and Council on Foreign Relations candidate:

“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… we all go forward, with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens [that] is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy…. I’m confident that this incredible journey that we’re on as Americans will go on…. I think of this job as being a relay runner — you take the baton, you run your best race, and hopefully, by the time you hand it off you’re a little further ahead, you’ve made a little progress…ultimately we’re all on the same team (emphasis added).

The last three years and ten months have shown beyond the shadow of any serious doubt that Obama’s private assessment four years ago was correct. The Trump administration has been a proto-fascistic nightmare. After the child separations at the border, the concentration camps, the kids in cages, Charlottesville, the forced sterilizations of detained immigrants, the pardoning of racist war criminals, the El Paso slaughter, the Tree of Life massacre, Soleimani, calls for “civil war” and “tough guys,” non-jokes about being “president for life,” the insane genocidal-racist fanning of the coronavirus, “Free Michigan,” the Khashoggi vivisection, the Dershowitz defense, Lafayette Square, Trump calling Black Lives Matter protesters “terrorists” and hate-mongers, Portland, the “white power” tweet, Kenosha, “Stand By,” calling Kamala Harris a “communist,” the presidentially sparked and approved fascist plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan, the unfolding rolling coup that Trump and his personal attorney general are executing against the 2020 election, and so much more (the list goes on and on[2]), it’s absurd and embarrassing (shameful in fact) to deny the malignant proto-fascism of Trump and much of his base[3]. Obama has of course never gone public with his privately expressed and all-too accurate October 2016 understanding of Trump.

+3. Is it “the Apocalypse” Yet?

Check out Obama’s statements to younger White House personnel and The New Yorker’s editor David Remnick after Trump won: “this is not the apocalypse…I don’t believe in the apocalyptic – until the apocalypse comes. I think nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world.

Hey, Barry: with 220,000 plus dead from the Trump Virus; with the death count heading to half a million by next January; with tens of millions without jobs or health care; with a Christian fascist Handmaid jurist about to round out a 6-3 hard right Supreme Court; with long lines of masked and frightened people outside food pantries, testing sites, and polling places; with nuclear weapons and environmental regulations torn to shreds; with mass evictions on the horizon; with no new financial supports coming for people out of work; with even your neoliberal corporate Affordable Care Act on the chopping block; with little green Trump militia men gunning down civil rights protesters in the streets; and with a rolling coup being waged by the Trump administration on the nation’s highly flawed “electoral democracy”….hey, Obama, is it “the apocalypse” yet? What do you say, 44? And isn’t it a bit late to “believe in the apocalyptic” only when “the apocalypse” comes? Wouldn’t we try to make efforts to avert the apocalypse before it arrives?

+4. “It Doesn’t Take a Lot of Courage to Aid Those Who are Already Comfortable”

Fewer than five months after “handing the baton” of “democracy” to a sub-human, demented, and arch-authoritarian oligarch (a “feral wild animal” in the words of David Cay Johnstone, one of Trump’s most distinguished biographers) he (privately) knew to be a “fascist,” Obama received a “Profiles in Courage” award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in Boston. “We live,” Obama said in his acceptance speech at the Kennedy Library, “in a time of great cynicism about our institutions…It’s a cynicism that’s most corrosive when it comes to our system of self-government, that clouds our history of jagged, sometimes tentative but ultimately forward progress, that impedes our children’s ability to see in the noisy and often too trivial pursuits of politics the possibility of our democracy doing big things…It actually doesn’t take a lot of courage,” Obama observed, “to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential.”

Nobody in the tuxedo- and evening gown-wearing crowd stood up to tell “Wall Street Barry” that the U.S. had no “system of self-government,” no real “functioning democracy” to speak of. Nobody rose to observe that, as the mainstream political scientists Martine Gilens and Benjamin Page had shown six years into Obama’s presidency, the nation had for decades been “an oligarchy” where wealthy “elites” and their corporations “rule” and “ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does.” Nobody stood up to note that “Wall Street Barry” Obama’s Citigroup presidency had been dedicated to serving and lining the pockets of “those who [were] already powerful, already influential.” Or that his service to the rich and powerful fed the very cynicism he claimed to denounce, helping thereby to pave the way for Trump.

+5. “You Have to Tend to This Garden of Democracy”

In December of 2017, Obama gave his first major public address since Trump’s election at the posh and corporate Economic Club of Chicago—a fitting setting, given how his political rise had depended on his connections with Chicago’s wealthy elite. “You have,” Obama told his well-heeled business class audience during a Q&A after the talk, “to tend to this garden of democracy. Otherwise,” Obama warned, “things can fall apart fairly quickly.” By “fall apart fairly quickly,” Obama meant that the country could descend into authoritarianism and even, though he did not use the word, fascism. The former president made a somewhat awkward and indirect but unmistakable reference to the rise of Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich. “We’ve seen societies where that happens,” Obama said, adding this: “Now, presumably there was a ballroom here in Vienna in the late 1920s or ’30s that looked pretty sophisticated and seemed as if it, filled with the music and art and literature that was emerging, would continue into perpetuity. And then 60 million people died. An entire world was plunged into chaos…So you got to pay attention—and vote!” It was quite an historical reference, rendered more ominous by Obama saying, “here in Vienna.”

Nobody in the audience stood up to point out the obvious: the corporate neoliberal globalist Barack Trans-Pacific Partnership Obama had spent his eight years in the White House poisoning the so-called garden of democracy, helping render his party’s progressive and democratic pretense transparently inauthentic in ways that demobilized Democratic voters and thereby paved the way for the virulently racist fake-populist Trump.

+6. Phantom Counterpunch

During Obama’s presidency, the former South Side Chicago “community organizer’s” Oval Office was adorned with a portrait of young Muhammad Ali standing over the prone body of Sonny Liston, who Ali (then Cassius Clay) had supposedly just knocked out (the punch seems to have been a phantom). During Obama’s ex-presidency, as during his presidency, “No Drama” Obama has had no real counterpunch when it comes to responding to the right. He has stuck to the historical norms of post-presidential behavior, saying incredibly little about or against his fascist successor even as Trump has plunged the nation into ever deeper madness and misery.

Until Wednesday, with two weeks to go before the election, ex-president Obama has almost never mentioned or directly criticized Trump by name. He has never called out Trump’s fascism or (even) authoritarian white nationalism. Meanwhile, Trump has broken countless presidential norms, including the convention of not trashing one’s predecessor. Trump has spent his years in the White House obsessively condemning Obama, blaming Obama for every national malady under the sun, and attacking Obama’s signature programs (the Affordable Care Act, the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran Nuclear Deal and more) with constant obsessive and racialized glee. I document Obama’s astonishing failure to fight back in Hollow Resistance’s third chapter, titled “Where’s Obama?” Muhammad Ali he is not.

There’s a curious parallel with young Ali’s “phantom punch” against Liston: American journalists repeatedly exaggerating the extent to which Obama has punched back. Again, and again, in researching this book, I found reporters, pundits, and talking heads engaged in wishful thinking, imaging that Obama had launched a counter-offensive when he really hadn’t.

+7. A Disaster for Black Equality

Sadly, but predictably, Obama triggered a white-nationalist Amerikaner backlash (starting with the Tea Party and morphing into Trumpism) simply by virtue of his skin color. At the same time, his ascendancy to the White House proved to be the last nail in the coffin of many white Americans’ already weak willingness to acknowledge that racism still posed serious obstacles to Black advancement and equality. It was all very ironic. Also as predicted, the “vacuous to repressive neoliberal” Obama did nothing as president to substantively advance the struggle for Black equality during his presidency, which saw Black net worth decline and an epidemic of murders of Black people by white police officers. Obama’s technical Blackness made him less likely than a white Democratic neoliberal (Hillary Clinton) or semi-progressive (John Edwards) president would have been to launch pro-Black initiatives since Obama and his advisers determined that they’d already antagonized white voters already triggered by the simple fact of a Black man’s presence in the White House. Prone to giving Black people lectures on their own supposed personal and cultural responsibility for their disproportionate poverty and incarceration, the white-pleasing Obama’s refusal to attack institutional and systemic racism in any significant measure helped demobilize Black voters in battleground cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Miami in 2016. Obama’s tepidness and silence on racial and social justice has continued under Trump, whose constant attacks on Obama’s record have been fueled by barely hidden racism. Ironically enough, Obama did little to advance the status of Black Americans, something that helped Trump become what Obama’s clownish presidential nominee Joe Biden (a man with a deeply racist political recordabsurdly calls “America’s first racist president”).

The ascendancy of a Black man to the White House in the land of cotton slavery was arguably a disaster for the struggle for Black equality, in ways that helped bring a virulent racist into power. How ironic

+8. “Progressive” Obama Enters the Plutocracy

The corporate centrist Eisenhower Democrat Obama’s branding as a “progressive” friend of the poor and working-class Many in their struggle with the wealthy Few was always deeply deceptive. The fraudulent marketing of Obama as a progressive has become even more ironic as he has cashed in on his many years of dedicated not-so public service to the corporate and financial ruling class by entering the American Oligarchy himself. As I detail in Chapter 4 of Hollow Resistance, titled “Cashing In,” Obama’s deferred payment (in the form of book contracts, speaking fees, a Netflix deal and more) from the nation’s unelected dictatorship of money has catapulted him into the upper reaches of the One Percent. The newly minted oligarch and longtime sports nut Obama is angling to become a part owner of a National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise, some context perhaps for him recently convincing LeBron James and other NBA players to call off a threatened strike in solidarity with the George Floyd-Breonna Taylor-Jacob Blake Black Lives Matter protests.

9. “Vote, Vote, Vote” …for Whom?

Obama is a high priest of electoralism. Further highlighting the ironic absurdity of Obama’s “progressive” branding, Obama as ex-president has trashed his (all too brief) “community organizer” past by continuing to absurdly tell people that “the best way to protest is to vote” (Urbana, Illinois, September 2018) and that “voting is the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy” (Obama’s funeral oration for John Lewis this summer). He couldn’t praise the remarkable George Floyd Rebellion without getting in his claim that voting is the real way to change things or without taking another one of his longstanding shots at the supposedly excessively radical 1960s.

Obama’s advice is bullshit. As Howard Zinn explained in an April 2008 Progressive essay titled “Election Madness,” penned as Obamania spread across America:

“The election frenzy…seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. It is a multiple-choice test so narrow, so specious, that no self-respecting teacher would give it to students…Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war. Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens” (emphasis added).

Who, by the way, does “progressive” Obama want Americans to vote for, specifically? For actually progressive Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who run in accord with majority progressive public opinion for desperately needed and widely supported programs like Single Payer national health insurance, currently supported by 7 in 10 Americans? Not at all. Of course not. As I show in Chapter 5, titled “Vote! – For Who?,” ex-president Obama’s biennial candidate endorsement lists are heavily centrist, consistent with his longstanding “Eisenhower Republican” identity as a Third Way Democrat in the neoliberal Clinton-Tony Blair-Emanuel Macron mode. Obama has worked “behind the scenes” to undermine Sanders in the last two election cycles. We owe corporate clown and warmonger Biden’s presence on the center of stage of history in the current perilous moment to Barack Obama.

Whence the ironies and absurdities of Obama? In his prodigiously researched 1078-page biography of Obama Rising Star (1460 pages with endnotes included), the Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Garrow attributes Obama’s failures to confront concentrated wealth and power to the 44th president’s “hollow” narcissism and psychological weakness. Without completely discounting Garrow’s analysis, the final chapter of Hollow Resistance advances a less psycho-historical and more Gramscian interpretation emphasizing young Obama’s indoctrination and socialization at Columbia University and Harvard Law. Obama was an eloquent, fully minted Clintonite with “special qualities” that equipped him for remarkable ruling class service (full-on American System re-branding after the George W. Bush disaster) when he rolled off the elite professional class assembly line at Harvard Law in the early 1990s. If ex-president Obama is a “hollow” man (Garrow, apologies to T.S. Eliot), he’s a hollow man full of deeply conservative ruling class and imperial ideas. He’s the same imperialist Obama I tried and failed to warn liberal and progressives about starting in (strangely enough) the summer of 2004 and up through December of 2008, when I got canceled/de-platformed from Democracy Now! with half an hour to go from a scheduled interview on my book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Routledge: March 2008) in lower Manhattan[4].

Endnote

[1] The best early description of Trump as a fascist by far is Adam Gopnik, “Going There With Donald Trump,” The New Yorker, May 1l, 2016: “ ‘How the hell do I know what I find incredible?’ a bemused philosopher asks in Tom Stoppard’s play ‘Jumpers.’ ‘Credibility is an expanding field … and sheer disbelief hardly registers on the face before the head is nodding with all the wisdom of instant hindsight.’ This is a now familiar emotion, a recognizable expansion. The unimaginable happens—Donald Trump, fool, oaf, and sociopathic liar, becomes the nominee of a major American political party—and within minutes what ought to be a shock beyond understanding becomes an event to savor, accept, and analyze. The desperate efforts to normalize the aberrant begin: he’s actually a Rockefeller Republican with orange hair; he wasn’t humiliated by President Obama’s mockery at that dinner in 2011 but responded as a lovable, gregarious good guy; even his birtherism wasn’t the vile racist sewage anyone could see it to be—he was genuinely unsure about where exactly it was the President was born. Trump tells one wild ranting lie after another on Sunday-morning television—we are the most heavily taxed nation in the world; he always opposed the Iraq war—and Chuck Todd can’t do much more than nod and say ‘Gotcha!’…This is the kind of desperate response to the rise of fascism one might expect to find in a decadent media culture. Neocons have made a fetish of 1938; in retrospect they would have done better looking hard at 1933. There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump: add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word ‘fascist.’ The sum may be crypto-fascist, neo-fascist, latent fascist, proto-fascist, or American-variety fascist—one of that kind, all the same. Future political scientists will analyze (let us hope in amused retrospect, rather than in exile in New Zealand or Alberta) the precise elements of Poujadisme, Peronism and Huck Finn’s Pap that compound in Trump’s ‘ideology.’ But his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government, whether Léon Blum’s or Barack Obama’s, is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and ‘success.’ It is always alike, and always leads inexorably to the same place: failure, met not by self-correction but by an inflation of the original program of grievances, and so then on to catastrophe. The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history.” This was and remains a brilliant passage.

[2]. “The enormity and variety of Mr. Trump’s misdeeds,” The New York Times’ Editorial Board observed last Sunday, “can feel overwhelming. Repetition has dulled the sense of outrage, and the accumulation of new outrages leaves little time to dwell on the particulars.” (“A Man Unworthy of His Office,” New York Times, October 17, 2020, Sunday Review, p.2).

[3] For an empirical and ideological analysis of Trump’s base, see Paul Street, “The Trumpenvolk,” pp. 48-65 in Christopher Ketcham, ed., Unflattering Photos of Fascists: Authoritarianism in Trump’s America (Chico, CA: AK Press, September 2020).

[4] True story. But for progressive “cancel culture” (literally – lol), I would have gone on “the American Left’s” top television show in a key moment – between the first Obama election and inauguration – to predict the entire trajectory of the Obama presidency and its likely aftermath, including a far-right white-nationalist backlash that would bring to power viciously racist politicians who would assault a populace that Obama had set up for attack and done nothing to protect. Not that this would have made the slightest bit of difference. (I got a very frosty response to my left criticism of Obama from a different left talk show host in Manhattan New York City the day before. I headed back to a snowed-in Second City with my tail between my legs after an epic flu survived in Montclair, New Jersey). Nearly four years later, I did go on Al Jazeera television with the great radical-democratic humanist, socialist, and anti-fascist Dr. Cornel West to make a critical assessment of the corporatist, imperialist, and objectively white-supremacist Obama presidency I had predicted five years earlier.

Posted in USA, PoliticsComments Off on Ex-President Obama: Ten Ironies

How Trump Killed 220,000 Americans: the First Three Months of Covid

BY T.J. COLES

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

In my new book, Capitalism and Coronavirus: How Institutionalized Greed Turned a Crisis into a Catastrophe, I argue that neoliberalism exacerbated COVID-related deaths in six steps, one of which was infecting political thinking and government structures with a for-profit, cost-cutting ideology.

Epidemiologists agree that early intervention is crucial for curbing the worst effects of pandemics. America’s decentralized, state-level, bureaucratic response systems needed a President willing and able to take charge. Trump did the opposite. In order to keep market confidence as high as possible, Trump kept telling the public that all was well, leaving underfunded and privatized bureaucracies to navigate through the chaos.

JANUARY: “IT WILL ALL WORK OUT WELL”

On January 5th 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that an apparent virus had been detected in China. A day later, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning to America. Ten days after the CDC established the Coronavirus Incident Management System, the organization collaborated with just three U.S. airports to screen passengers arriving from Wuhan, China (from which the virus supposedly originated): Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

On 21st, the U.S. announced its first case of coronavirus. Trump said: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China … It’s going to be just fine.” Three days later, Trump tweeted: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well.” Later, Trump blamed China for the outbreak.

On 29th, the Coronavirus Task Force was established and chaired by Alex Azar, a former Republican donor and ex-senior executive of Eli Lilly pharmaceuticals, a company that benefitted from Trump’s public endorsements of their products.

Dr. Rick Bright, Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency, warned that the U.S. lacked personal protective equipment (PPE) and other vital materials. His warnings were ignored and, as a result, according to his testimony: “lives were endangered, and I believe lives were lost.” Later, Bright was fired, apparently under pressure from Trump, for questioning the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine: a drug unproven for coronavirus treatment. On 31st, as Azar’s Health and Human Services department declared a public health emergency, Trump banned travel to the U.S. from China, effective two days later.

FEBRUARY: “VERY MUCH UNDER CONTROL”

On February 6th, the first person to die from/with COVID-19 in the U.S. perished in Santa Clara. Their cause of death was not confirmed until late-April. Two days later, regional labs learned that the CDC test-kits didn’t work. Trump’s regulatory wrecking ball had been swung at barriers to corporate profits, not at the regulations that hinder emergency responses. As a result, business found it easier to make money as scientists’ hands were bound in red tape.

Washington Post investigation suggests that the CDC asked various university labs across the nation to develop test kits, as opposed to centralizing the operation. Neither the CDC nor the regional labs had adequate funding or capacity. Once the tests were ready, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had to approve them. The FDA’s rules on Emergency Use Authorization limited tests to the labs, such as university hospitals in which they were incorporated. Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner, approved one of the tests on 4th February.

Four days later, public health officials in Colorado, Nebraska, New York (NY), and elsewhere, found that the reagents (chemicals that isolate and amplify genetic material for ease of detection) needed to be modified, as NY and other labs reported serious flaws. But FDA regulations prevented this. For example, Dr. Alex Greninger, Assistant Director of Washington University’s clinical virology lab, spent 100 hours filling in FDA paperwork only to be told that his test results had been sent through the wrong channels. To give one example, Greninger was told: “[W]e have not received the official submission through DCC.” He later learned that the bureaucrats were referring to an entity called the Document Control Center.

FDA rules also demanded that digital copies be posted to them on a disk. Numerous test developers scattered across the U.S. complained in emails about the restrictions imposed upon them, but none raised the issue with HHS Secretary, Azar. A third of the staff at the Mayo Clinic’s so-called rapid response team were assigned to FDA paperwork. Joanne Bartkus, Director of a lab in Minnesota, described the CDC’s silence as “deafening.” By then, the WHO, working with German scientists, had produced 250,000 functioning tests for global distribution. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn dithered, blustering that the CDC and FDA worked closely, adding the usual pabulum about needing trustworthy tests.

These matters could have been overcome, had Trump declared a national emergency and fast-tracked executive orders or legislation. Instead, on February10th, Trump said: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that’s true.” Two weeks later, Trump tweeted: “Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA … Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” The CDC, meanwhile, declared its preparation for emergency.

On the same day, the Association of Public Health Laboratories wrote to the FDA, stating: “We are now many weeks into the response with still no diagnostic or surveillance test available outside of the CDC for the vast majority of our member laboratories.” Nancy Messonnier, Director of National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, confirmed publicly that the CDC was preparing for a pandemic. This coincided with, or perhaps caused, a dip in the stock market. Trump threatened to fire Messonnier.

On 26th, Trump put the Evangelical, Creationist, ex-lawyer, VP Mike Pence, in charge of the Coronavirus Task Force. On the same day, the FDA finally approved a test, but it was limited to CDC distribution, which had at last ironed out the wrinkles. As the CDC confirmed that the virus was spreading in communities, Trump lied and told the public: “We’re testing everybody that we need to test … [W]e’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner … [W]ithin a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”

Two days later, Trump said of COVID and the Democrats: “They’re politicizing it … [T]his is their new hoax.” At the end of February, a CDC-FDA memo prompted by the intervention of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was working under Azar, acknowledged that “a much broader interagency approach is needed to fill the greater need for diagnostics by commercial manufacturers and laboratories capable of developing their own tests.” On 28th, Dr. Greninger and colleagues wrote to Congress pleading for a relaxation of FDA rules. Finally, a day later, the restrictions were eased, allowing Greninger and others to begin widespread testing with functioning kits on March 2nd. Brett P. Girior became head of the administration’s testing effort. He conceded that regulatory easing “might have been useful earlier.”

MARCH: “JUST STAY CALM. IT WILL GO AWAY”

On March 2nd, Trump claimed that vaccines would soon be ready, prompting an intervention from Fauci, who said that actually they would take at least one year, “no matter how fast you go.” Within a week, as Trump was telling a Town Hall that “[i]t’s all going to work out. Everybody has to be calm,” Taskforce head and VP, Mike Pence, acknowledged: “We don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.” A day later, Trump signed an $8.3bn COVID bill, lying that: “Anybody that needs a test gets a test. They’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.” In another lie on March 8th, Trump said: “We have a perfectly coordinated and fine-tuned plan at the White House for our attack on Coronavirus” (sic).

As it became clear that a pandemic was emerging and the U.S. was not prepared, Trump tweeted a false equivalence on 9th, likening coronavirus to influenza. When tens of thousands of Americans die each flu season, “[n]othing is shut down, life & the economy go on.” A day later, Trump told Republican Senators: “Just stay calm. It will go away.” Within 24 hours, as the market continued to drop, Trump issued a statement that imported goods would be banned. This false statement appeared to cause more market fluctuations until he tweeted a clarification that people, not goods, would be banned from entering the U.S.

Finally, on 13th, Trump declared a national emergency. When a reporter raised the issue of Trump’s previous dissolution of the National Security Council’s pandemic response unit, Trump replied: “I just think it’s a nasty question.” Three days later, Trump issued a recommendation, not an enforceable order or decree, that Americans stay away from public places. Trump lied again and said that “[w]ith several weeks of focused action, we can turn the corner and turn it quickly.” On the same day, the stock market dropped a record 3,000 points. Twenty-four hours later, Trump boasted of his sagacity: “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” He then started to refer to it as the “Chinese virus.”

On 18th, Trump signed the $100bn Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Passed by the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate, the Act did not cover America’s 1.6 million or so gig-economy or laid off part-time workers, unless they could prove that they are looking for work, nor did it centralize the U.S.’s state-level social security crisis, whose variability means that some states make it easier to claim than others. The corporate, Democrat-supporting mainstream media covered for their favorite Party, referring to the flawed bill as “Trump’s Act.”

On 18th, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to compel 3M, General Electric, General Motors, Hill-Rom, Medtronic, ResMed, Royal Philips, and Vyaire Medical to produce PPE, hand sanitizer, ventilators, etc. Trump falsely claimed that the FDA had approved the use of hydroxychloroquine. A couple of days later, echoing the tweets of the multibillionaire Elon Musk, Trump tweeted in upper-case, “Hydroxychloroquine & Azithromycin, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine. The FDA has moved mountains – Thank You!”

Within a week, the share price of Sanofi, the company that manufactures hydroxychloroquine under the brand name Plaquenil, rose from a low of $38 on 20th to a high of $43. Later, Sanofi announced its intention to award the U.S. government first dibs on a future COVID-19 vaccine. CEO Paul Hudson said: “The U.S. government has the right to the largest pre-order because it’s invested in taking the risk.”

CONCLUSION

Democratic and Republican Governors are also to blame for in-fighting and vacillating over lockdowns. But, as President, Trump takes the ultimate responsibility for not only refusing to act, but lying and giving the impression that all was well. The early inactions, lies, dithering, and denial set the U.S. on a path to where the nation has 4.2 percent of the world’s population and, by mid-2020, had nearly a quarter of its COVID-related deaths.

In countries and states with far fewer financial resources but community-level thinking, like Kerala in India and Vietnam, which borders China, COVID-related deaths are small by comparison.

Posted in USA, PoliticsComments Off on How Trump Killed 220,000 Americans: the First Three Months of Covid

The Scourge of Herd Immunity

BY EVE OTTENBERG

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Covid-19 kills, and its kill rate is significantly higher than the flu. Some who recover develop insufficient immunity to prevent getting infected again. Some don’t appear to recover. They are stuck with debilities that last months, maybe longer. And it’s possible that this disease is chronic and lingers in some people, like herpes, a virus that can reactivate – that possibility is unknown. All of these aspects of covid bode poorly for a vaccine. But they are utterly fatal to the notion of herd immunity achieved not through vaccination, as responsible doctors would do, but through letting a population contract the disease.

This novel approach to herd immunity is a pipe dream currently entertained by fanatics in the white house – regarding which, William Haseltine of ACCESS Health International recently said, “herd immunity is another word for mass murder.” If covid spreads widely, which this type of herd immunity advocates, “we’re looking at two to six million American dead not just this year, but every year,” Haseltine added. This is the policy of the Trump regime: millions of dead Americans.

Dr. Scott Atlas is Trump’s herd immunity guy. He’s not an epidemiologist, he’s a neuroradiologist and so knows little about infectious disease. He’s also an ideologue from the radical right-wing Hoover Institution. Apparently, he has had a most malign effect on Trump’s thinking. Trump may have decided not to protect himself from covid because he agrees with Atlas that everyone will get covid, so why fight it? Trump calls exposing himself to the plague leadership, but other forms of leadership are on display in places like China, Vietnam, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan. There the leaders focused on one thing: killing the virus. And they have, by and large, succeeded, saving hundreds of thousands of their citizens’ lives. Meanwhile Americans die from covid by the thousands, over 221,000 so far.

Sweden famously opted for herd immunity. Death statistics for Scandinavian countries are instructive here. As of October 6, Denmark had 663 covid deaths, Finland 346, Norway 275 and Sweden 5892, according to Statista. Sweden also had by far the most covid cases, 96,677. Sweden didn’t lock down as other Scandinavian countries did, nor did it impose a mask mandate. It relied on people to use their judgment. While this succeeded in crashing the economy, as cautious citizens stayed home, it still resulted in many more dead than neighboring countries, which systematically locked down and mandated masks.

In early June, Turkey chose herd immunity. According to the World Socialist Website, cases and deaths are on the rise. The government, however, has continued promoting keeping people at work and in school. According to one medical association official, “as of last month, a total of 900 health care workers had resigned from their jobs during the pandemic.” President Recep Erdogan’s determination to avoid lockdowns is not popular, but he is a strongman, reportedly admired by Trump, and he has decided to let the virus tear through the Turkish population.

Another place where covid rages out of control is Moscow. Restaurants and bars have been open and there’s been little social distancing. One could say Russia has experimented with de facto herd immunity. However, conservative President Vladimir Putin has never advocated it. On the contrary, according to Tass, Russia will try to use vaccination to achieve herd immunity this autumn, not through letting the disease run rampant. Meanwhile the mayor of Moscow clamps down with measures to promote contact tracing and to limit hours for restaurants and bars.

At the beginning of the outbreak, the UK also briefly opted for herd immunity. But the results were so disastrous that even a radical right-winger like Boris Johnson had to renounce it. Then he contracted the disease and had a horrible time with it, thus doubtless dooming any more talk of herd immunity as a policy in the U.K.

Thanks to a “miracle cure” derived from aborted fetuses, which will, one presumes, be hushed up so as not to offend evangelicals, though remaining available sub rosa to select oligarchs, Trump’s bout with covid was not as ghastly as Boris Johnson’s. And now the Trump regime tilts toward herd immunity. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar denies this, as well he might, given that herd immunity would cause mass death. One expert, Dr. Chris Murray recently confirmed to CNN that yes, that would be the result. And on October 13, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, called using herd immunity – when achieved by a policy of deliberate exposure to the disease – “unethical.”

In addition to causing mass death, such herd immunity to covid would leave millions disabled. And again, herd immunity might never be reached with an illness that can reinfect people or which becomes chronic. So herd immunity is a fool’s errand. But don’t tell that to Scott Atlas or others in the Trump regime. Indeed, last month the CDC drafted an order for all public and commercial transportation passengers and employees to wear masks. The white house blocked it.

Then on October 6, Politico reported that Atlas met with three infectious disease doctors: Harvard medical professor Martin Kulldorff, Stanford medical professor Jay Bhattacharya, and Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta. This trio – who give a professional gloss to Atlas’ herd immunity quackery – “favors moving aggressively to reopen the economy while sidelining broad testing and other fundamental public health measures.”

Gupta later told radical right-wing Fox propagandist Laura Ingraham that “three months, maybe six is sufficient time for enough immunity to accumulate…that the vulnerable could resume normal lives.” Politico also reported that fewer than 10 percent of Americans had covid antibodies. Herd immunity requires 60 to 70 percent to stop the disease. With 10 percent we have 221,000 dead and climbing. Some experts say we really have closer to 300,000. Do the math. There aren’t as many corpses as Haseltine predicts, but there are still plenty.

Then on October 13, Ghebreyesus made a video, specifically pointing out that historically herd immunity has always referred to a population’s immunity to a virus achieved THROUGH VACCINATION. This idea of deliberately exposing people to a potentially lethal, chronic and disabling disease is new. It’s also a fringe idea, the QAnon of epidemiology. And as Ghebreyesus said, ethically questionable.

This WHO statement came the same day that the white house endorsed herd immunity. The New York Times reported that the Trump regime embraces “The Great Barrington Declaration,” something signed by Atlas’ three infectious disease experts and also by numerous practical jokers, such as I. P. Freely and other concocted signatures. This declaration calls for letting the pandemic run rampant among millions of Americans.

It should come as no surprise that right-wing, neoliberal leaders who worship at the altar of a ruthless capitalist religion have been unable to cope with covid. Hatred of public health is encoded in their DNA. Indeed, public health in these countries – the U.S., Brazil, India, the U.K., Russia – is stunted or non-existent, because health care is treated as a commodity only available to the affluent. Countries with more mixed economies and more respect for the efficacy of government, like New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, have dealt with this pestilence much better. They have tried to extirpate it. That approach, the opposite of herd immunity, has succeeded. It has saved multitudes of lives.

If the Trump regime continues down the path favored by neoliberalism – rampant exposure to the disease to achieve herd immunity – there will be millions of excess deaths. This is not unexpected for those who regard unfettered capitalism as a death cult and herd immunity in the face of a wildly contagious, lethal disease as its favored response. Right-wing neoliberal governments will not invest in public health. They want economies open regardless of how many people that kills. This is the logical conclusion of their extreme capitalist religion.

It is also the logical conclusion of a political-economic system of organized banditry that has plundered the globe for 500 years, enslaving millions and in the process unleashing a planet-killing climate catastrophe. Its ideologues gravitate to herd immunity like flies to excrement. They will countenance mass death to keep their corporations profitable. Herd immunity fits with lethal capitalism like a hand in a glove. Therefore the Trump regime, openly or covertly, will continue to pursue herd immunity, which will allow aristocrats like Trump and Chris Christie to get top-of-the-line medical care, including the scarce, aforementioned miracle cures, while the average covid-stricken American, gasping for breath, is lucky even to snag a hospital bed.

Posted in USA, HealthComments Off on The Scourge of Herd Immunity

Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lawbreaking and Lies Betray All

BY RALPH NADER

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Political analysts of all stripes have concluded that President Trump has a base of supporters who are credulous, immovable, and unpersuadable. Allow us to briefly test that hypothesis, but to ignore the skins-shirts labels — Left-Right, Democrat-Republican — that often though not always determine how a person votes.

Instead, we’d like to ask sincere Trump voters whether they’d have a neighbor over for a family dinner who did any or all of the following?

* He has admitted on tape to routinely abusing women as several dozen have publicly accused him of sexual assaults. And he paid substantial hush money to buy the silence of at least two mistresses.

* He has cheated his workers, vendors, customers, and wives, and even cheated on his college entrance exam. Indeed, his only sister and niece have denounced his “dishonesty” and “phony” character. He says he used bankruptcy for his companies as a strategy — one that allows him to run away with responsibility.

* He has paid large civil fines after unlawful conduct, is prohibited from sitting on a charitable board in New York State, and is currently the subject of a grand jury investigation for financial fraud.

* He has been caught in 20,000+ falsehoods or lies in the past four years alone — telling an average of 22 a day — including several that led to thousands of deaths.

* He favors allowing toxic polluters to contaminate your neighborhood’s air and your family’s food because he believes “in the free market.”

* He brags that he is very religious, but doesn’t go to church or show any awareness of the Bible while violating most of the Ten Commandments.

* He frequently makes cruel, dehumanizing remarks about people of color, legal immigrants, and the disabled in your community and never retracts them.

* He rejects public health warnings designed to protect your neighborhood during an ongoing lethal epidemic, substituting his amateur hunches and reckless behavior for those of epidemiologists.

* He often ignores the by-laws of the neighborhood association, saying “so sue me” when challenged. The rules don’t apply to him.

* And he has never apologized for anything above, actually telling a group of 6th-graders, “apologies are for losers.”

Were all this true of a Democrat, say Barack Obama, you wouldn’t hesitate refusing any relationship with him. But if you don’t want such a person as your neighbor, why would you want him as your President where he’d have exponentially more power to harm you and your family?

One answer really can’t be that you heard about someone in another town — or years ago — who is/was supposedly even worse. On the other hand, a respectable response would be to reconsider your vote for President since, as you tell your children and grandchildren, “Honesty is the best policy.” Or as President Kennedy once put it, “sometimes party loyalty demands too much.”

Mark Green and Ralph Nader are consumer advocates and authors of many public policy books, including their just published, Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lawbreaking and Lies Betray AllUnlike other books on Trump, this is a book to be used, not just read, for the coming months.

Posted in USA, PoliticsComments Off on Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lawbreaking and Lies Betray All


Shoah’s pages

www.shoah.org.uk