Death: The Elephant in the Room

It is the one great certainty in life – the shared inevitability for all humanity, and yet death and dying is rarely discussed. In the west and Christian countries more broadly it’s largely feared, pushed away until the body falls into fragility, the urge to rest becomes overwhelming and we’re no longer bothered. Then death becomes a blessing, a ‘merciful release’ as a dear friend use to say.

Loss and Grief

There has recently been a death in the family. She had been ill with secondary lung cancer for over five years. It was said to be terminal and so it proved. The average life expectancy with that particular brand of death is five years, so it was expected, by friends and family and by her – although not accepted. She leaves a devastated husband, three grown-up children and three grandchildren, as well as a frustrated mother and forlorn father.

Two months or so before she died she was rushed into hospital crying with pain across her shoulders and back – areas harbouring cancerous cells, causing furious speculation that the cancer was active, and death was beckoning. A month later and further painful episodes saw her once again taken into hospital. There is nothing more we can do for you, said the oncologist.

A slight woman, narrow-minded with a fierce grip on life, a fear of death and bitter fury at ‘God’, and what she saw as the injustice of her illness. ‘Why me?’ ‘I’m a good person, it’s not fair,’ she shouted at the beginning and throughout her ordeal. As if anyone anywhere, deserves terminal cancer. God was banned from her funeral – angry to the last.

Her children, according to their grandmother, are shattered some four months on. The husband is back at work, but ‘in pieces’. They were an extremely close family unit, supportive, lives interwoven. All lived in the same rural town, saw one another virtually daily, were dependent, and had not faced the reality of death.

Desperate and determined to stay alive – “well, she’s got so much to live for” ­– she had endured nine courses of chemotherapy. Six is usually all the body can take before the vital organs break down. Hair came and went, immune system collapsed, concentration failed, memory slipped, but not her resolve to live, to beat it. In the end the hand of death gently raised her from her illness and freed her from her pain. Healed at last.

She would not discuss death, what it is, or might be, how to live with it, how best to prepare for it – psychologically and physically. The elephant in the room: talking about it would acknowledge its existence and invite the possibility, which has to be excluded at all costs; certainly she thought so.

Death is generally seen as the opposite of life; something hurtful that will tear us away from loved ones; from her husband and children, grandchildren and comfort. It is seen as separate from life, divorced from the daily process of living, is cast in the role of darkness.

Death and the Soul

Death – physical death, not psychological death – is viewed as the Great Unknown:  well, ‘nobody has ever come back to tell us about it, have they?’ runs the argument in defence of ignorance. Death is routinely feared, thought of as unfamiliar – darkness, total ending for the atheists, or eternal heavenly salvation for the orthodox believer – both images are as vague and abhorrent as one another.

But if, as is stated throughout the ancient and indeed more recent literature emanating largely from the East, it is true that we have lived countless lives (as both a man and a woman), and reincarnation, or the Law of Rebirth as it’s called, is a fact, a basic Law of Life, then the experience of death and the process of dying, whilst not remembered, is far from unknown, or unfamiliar, and need not be viewed with dread.

In order to understand a little of death it is necessary to establish the constitution of the human being, so we can determine who or what it is that dies.

According to a wide range of enlightened teachers and texts from the Upanishads to Maitreya and all points of wisdom in between, mankind is nothing less than a spark of the divine – we are the Self, “an immortal being,” Maitreya states. The Self is pure awareness and reflects itself as the soul. It is the soul, that through an act of service and sacrifice, takes incarnation again and again we are told, until matter is raised up as it were and reflects perfectly the will of the divine.

The nature of the soul is consciousness; the soul brings consciousness to the physical vehicle, which consists of three bodies: a mental body, an emotional body and a two-fold physical – dense physical and etheric physical. Ramana Maharshi describes consciousness as “the screen on which all the pictures come and go. The screen is real, the pictures are mere shadows on it.” The mistake we make is to believe in and identify with the pictures on the screen, whilst failing to recognize the reality of the screen itself. We are immersed in the illusion and suffer as a consequence: trapped in Plato’s cave, even when the shadow play is pointed out as such — as it repeatedly has been — we refuse to give it up. Making fear of death, which will tear us apart from all attachments, inevitable.

The soul comes into incarnation with various plans, which it seeks to work out through the personality. In order to do this, the lower vehicle – the personality of the man or woman in incarnation ­– needs to be negative to the soul, something it fiercely resists. The personality wants dominion over the life, and control has to be taken from it. The process is, as the Bhagavad Gita makes plain, a tremendous battle, and is fought out over aeons.

We identify ourselves with this body, with this particular life, or incarnation, but the soul, which is the divine intermediary, sees any one life simply as an expression of itself at a particular point in time, an expression that is more or less successful in demonstrating its – the soul’s – purpose or plan; a set of primary intentions that are consistent with the plan of evolution as creatively held within the mind of the ensouling deity (or God) of this planet.

What or Who Dies

The soul brings life to matter, animates form, and bestows consciousness. It is the soul that also withdraws life – consciously and deliberately. When this happens the physical vehicle decays and dies. The life, what we think of as our life, in this sense is not ours at all. It is certainly not ours to take; it is the soul’s. The incarnation is the activity of the soul and it is the soul that decides when it will end. Any attempt to intervene and impose our own will is a violation of the natural process of life and death.

The agency of death is generally disease and illness of some kind, together with accidents and violent incidents. These are the result of the action of the Law of Cause and Effect – a benign, non-personal, non-judgmental law, which has nothing to do with man-made notions of reward and punishment. A basic Law of Life, hard to comprehend but fundamental; despite what appears to us to be the injustice of illness and the randomness of tragedy, there is no punishment, nor is there reward; there is simply the inevitable working out of the law, the consequential energetic effects of specific actions or causes. One such effect is death; through the transition that we call death, certain energetic patterns are resolved and the person is free from the particular cause that resulted in, e.g., secondary lung cancer. The healing may well be the death itself.

Every day we experience death, or a mirroring of death, when we sleep. As Alice A. Bailey writes, people “fail to relate death and sleep. Death, after all, is only a longer interval in the life of physical plane functioning; one has only ‘gone abroad’ for a longer period.” Death cannot take life; life cannot be taken, life simply moves from one manifest form to another, from one state of consciousness to another, subtler, more intense state.

Dying is really a process of withdrawal from the physical plane, through the emotional and etheric bodies to the subtler planes of existence – one or other of the astral planes, or one of the mental planes. Then, after a period of rest free from the demands of the physical body, the soul once again is drawn into incarnation and a new life begins. This is repeated until one needs not incarnate anymore, one is free from the pull of matter – one is liberated. This process of incarnating and withdrawing, growing and learning, according to the teachers of mankind has happened to us literally hundreds of thousands of time. As the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 2 Verse 27) says, “certain is death for the born and certain is birth for the dead; therefore over the inevitable thou shouldst not grieve.”

If it were better understood dying would no longer be dreaded as it so often is. Death, Alice A. Bailey relates, “can best be regarded as the experience which frees us from the illusion of form.”

In the end she went quickly and quietly, a minor ailment triggered the final release; all tension and anger subsided, peace enveloped her and fear was washed away.

Labour’s Witch-hunt Against Ken Livingstone

The ongoing Ken Livingstone (“Get Corbyn!”) saga grows yet more preposterous. After outrage that the former London mayor had said Hitler was a Zionist (when he clearly hadn’t, as I pointed out at the time here and here), Labour suspended Livingstone amid accusations that he had made anti-semitic, offensive and false historical claims.

Now as Livingstone fights to avoid expulsion before a closed hearing of the party’s national constitutional committee, it emerges that Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, has written to Livingstone saying that the hearing is not interested in the historical accuracy of his statements or whether what he said was anti-semitic. Rather, it is about whether his conduct has been “grossly detrimental” to the party.

In other words, this is a kangaroo court. Because, of course, Livingstone’s comments have been detrimental to the party. Not least, they have angered the UK’s powerful Israel lobby. That is the same lobby – directed by the Israeli embassy and working through groups like the Jewish Labour Movement – that was recently exposed by an undercover Al Jazeera investigation as plotting to bring down a British government minister. Crossing people like that is undoubtedly detrimental to the party, because they are prepared to destroy Labour before they allow it, or its leader, to campaign on behalf of Palestinian rights.

That is why, as long as Livingstone or Corbyn are around, the JLM and its allies in the liberal media, like the Guardian’s Owen Jones and Jonathan Freedland, will keep helping to confect an “anti-semitism crisis” in Labour, acerbating the very problems they blame Corbyn for creating.

In this context, one can understand why McNicol is denying Livingstone the chance to air the historical facts in an open hearing. Because the better the case Livingstone makes for collaboration between the Nazis and Zionists, the more detriment the JLM and others will do to the Labour party. Certainly, JLM leader Jeremy Newmark, who testified against Livingstone on Thursday, will benefit from the lack of public scrutiny of his statements.

McNicol’s logic here is entirely circular, of course. As long as Labour indulges the JLM leadership, and continues to draw a veil over Israeli oppression of Palestinians, the party will have a quiet life. If Labour tries to do the right thing – promoting justice for the Palestinians, upholding international law and soothing a long-festering wound of British malfeasance in the Middle East – it will face a perfect storm from the JLM.

Remember as you watch this farce play out that Owen Jones is due to give a memorial lecture this Sunday (April 2) to the JLM, whose leaders barely bother to conceal the fact that they are more loyal to the Israeli government than the democratically elected leader of their own party. If Jones cared about Labour as much as he claims, he shouldn’t touch the JLM with a barge-pole. Instead it has him in a bear hug.

Ron Paul Rewind (1999): ‘Our Foolish Policy in Iraq Invites Terrorist Attacks Against US Territory’

Ron Paul went to the House Floor in 1999 to blast President Clinton's claim that a 1991 UN resolution gave him authority to launch an air war against Iraq. It could have been 2017, the president could be Trump, the claim of authority could be the 2001 authorization to use military force, and the air war could be against Yemen, Syria, Iraq, etc. The circumstances are identical. Rep. Paul also predicted that, "our foolish policy in Iraq invites terrorist attacks against US territory and incites the Islamic fundamentalists against us. As a consequence, our efforts to develop long-term, peaceful relations with Russia is now ending." Administrations come and go, but US foreign policy keeps making the same mistakes over and over. As Ron Paul predicted.

There Was No ‘Russian Hacking’ of the 2016 Election

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The “cyber-security” firm that everyone is depending on to make the case for Russia’s alleged “hacking” of the 2016 presidential election, CrowdStrike, has just retracted a key component of its analysis – but the “mainstream” media continues to chug along, ignoring any facts that contradict their preferred narrative.

As Voice of America – hardly an instrument of Russian propaganda! – reports:
US cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike has revised and retracted statements it used to buttress claims of Russian hacking during last year’s American presidential election campaign. The shift followed a VOA report that the company misrepresented data published by an influential British think tank.
This retraction pulls the rug out from under CrowdStrike’s identification of the hacking group that supposedly broke into the Democratic National Committee’s server. Last year, the company announced that “Fancy Bear” – the name they gave to the hackers – had used identical tools and methods to hack into software used by the Ukrainian military, an act they claimed led to the destruction of 80% of the Ukrainians’ howitzers in their war with rebel forces. Up until that point, CrowdStrike had merely “suspected” that the Russians were behind the DNC hack. However, given the Ukrainian “evidence,” combined with the assumption that the rebels are “Russian-backed,” CrowdStrike head honcho Dmitri Alpervovitch told the Washington Post: “Now we have high confidence it was a unit of the GRU,” i.e. Russian military intelligence.

Their retraction means that “high confidence” has been considerably lowered down to the level of a mere “suspicion.” Forced to backtrack in light of VOA’s definitive takedown, CrowdStrike’s whole case collapses. Despite dubbing the alleged hackers with the nom de guerre of “Fancy Bear” – as in the Russian bear – the evidence that supposedly identifies whoever broke into the DNC servers as GRU agents is virtually nonexistent. And the remaining “evidence” is hardly impressive. As cyber-security expert James Bamford pointed out:
Last summer, cyber investigators plowing through the thousands of leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee uncovered a clue.

A user named ‘Феликс Эдмундович’ modified one of the documents using settings in the Russian language. Translated, his name was Felix Edmundovich, a pseudonym referring to Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, the chief of the Soviet Union’s first secret-police organization, the Cheka.
So why would the nefarious albeit highly skilled Russians leave this glaring clue – in Cyrillic, no less! — for all to see? Or was this “clue” deliberate misdirection on the part of the real hackers? The latter seems highly likely – not that the geniuses over at CrowdStrike would want to understand this. After all, they were paid by the Democratic National Committee, which used the incident to drum up a narrative that the evil Russians were trying to damage Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. Follow the money, folks – and Alperovitch’s position with the Atlantic Council, an organization that is assiduously trying to launch another cold war with Moscow.

Remember, the FBI never looked at the DNC servers: they depended on CrowdStrike — which has a $150,000 a year no bid contract to perform “security” services for the agency — to analyze the forensic evidence. Shawn Henry, CrowdStrike’s CSO and head of CrowdStrike Services, is a former assistant executive director of the FBI.

Another leg of the Russian conspiracy theory is the “dirty dossier” compiled by “former” MI6 agent Christopher Steele, which alleges that the Kremlin has compromising information on Trump and is blackmailing him to sell his own country down the river. So who was Steele’s main source? He is one Serge Millian, who goes by at least two other names, and who even friends describe as:
[A] big-talking schmoozer than a globe-trotting interlocutor. They say he’s a self-promoter with a knack for getting himself on television … ‘He’s an opportunist. If he sees an opportunity, he would go after it,’ said Tatiana Osipova, who was a neighbor of Millian’s when he lived in Atlanta and who in 2006 helped him found a trade group, the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA.
And don’t forget: Steele paid his informants, hardly a way to incentive getting truthful intelligence. Millian denies being Steele’s source, and says the allegations in the dossier are without any basis in fact.

So if CrowdStrike’s analysis of the alleged hacking of the DNC is collapsing, why aren’t we reading about it in the “mainstream media”?

Because the media is no longer serving the interests of its readers: it has become the opposition party, intent on discrediting and overthrowing Trump’s presidency. It is, as Trump puts it, “fake news.”

And so we are forced to witness the fraud of the House Intelligence Committee conducting hearings, which are predicated on an assumption that has no basis in reality, and has already been debunked. Indeed, Democratic party politicians – and the anti-Trump wing of the GOP, represented by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham – have invested all their political capital in an obsessive anti-Russian campaign, the goal of which is to make any rapprochement between the United States and Russia impossible.

A fraud is being perpetrated in order to achieve certain geopolitical ends. There is historical precedent for this.

In the summer of 1964, the US media reported that North Vietnamese forces had attacked an American destroyer, the USS Maddox, in international waters off the coast of North Vietnam. On the front page of the Washington Post a headline screamed: “American Planes Hit North Vietnam After Second Attack on Our Destroyers; Move Taken to Halt New Aggression” – except it wasn’t true. There had been no attack: bad weather and inexperienced sonar technicians had mistaken phantom “targets” for North Vietnamese attackers. The Maddox had suffered no damage. The “attack” never occurred.

That didn’t stop Lyndon Baines Johnson from going on national television and citing the “attack” as a pretext for escalating the war, and then going to Congress asking for passage of a resolution authorizing “all necessary action to protect our Armed Forces and to assist nations covered by the SEATO Treaty.” What became known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed the Senate with only two dissenting votes: the vote was unanimous in the House.

Thus a nation was led down the path of escalating a disastrous war on the strength of a lie.

The Russian “hacking” narrative – which all too many Democrats (and a few Republicans) are calling an “act of war” – is just such a lie. It is a cyber-Gulf of Tonkin “incident,” i.e. a made up story that is being used as a pretext for two purposes: 1) To accuse the Trump administration of “collusion” with the Russians, and 2) to block any effort to short-circuit the developing cold war with Russia and repair relations with Moscow.

The media, which has lost all sense of proportion in their eagerness to topple Trump, is promoting a dangerous lie that could lead directly to a conflict with Russia. Do we have to wait for the truth to be declassified twenty years later, as in the case of the Gulf of Tonkin? Well, no, we don’t – because the phony “Russian hacking” narrative has already been debunked by no less than a source than the Voice of America.

So the truth is already out there. The question is, when will it be acknowledged? It may take a while for the facts to percolate out there – Glenn Garvin, writing in the Miami Herald, is one of the few who have reported the VOA scoop — but the truth will come out. It always does. My fear is that it won’t come out before irreparable damage is done – not only to our relations with Russia, but to the political discourse in this country, which is already being poisoned almost beyond repair.

Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.

Mosul: Where Obama’s Last Gambit Could Ruin Trump

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Here’s why the bombing has to stop and what US journalists are not telling you: hundreds are dying in Mosul, not at the hands of ISIS, but through a failed military strategy which no one, it seems, has the guts to tell President Trump cannot achieve its objectives.

Does Trump actually really know what he is doing in Mosul or is he wildly deluded? There is a military solution to killing ISIS there, but who will be the one to present it to him?

Hugh Hewitt is a card. The pro-Trump American radio host recently told the BBC a disturbing anecdote about the US president. Apparently, Hewitt interviewed him before the US elections, and Trump told him, “Obama created ISIS.” Hewitt tried to help the (then) Presidential candidate out with his messaging: “Surely you mean Obama allowed the vacuum to develop in the Middle East which created ISIS?” to which Trump defiantly replies: “No, I mean Obama actually created ISIS.”

This, perhaps, would have been disturbing enough. But immediately after the interview, days later, Hewitt amiably noted that Trump had told other US media that, “Obama had created the vacuum,” which allowed ISIS to flourish. Even as a staunch Trump supporter, Hewitt is stunned by how both misinformed the US president is, but more how easily his thoughts can be changed by just merely talking to anyone who has the nerve to challenge him.

Is this what we are witnessing in the Middle East? Is Trump surrounded by yes-men, none of whom will question the rationale behind some of his more ludicrous decisions? Take Mosul, for example. Doesn’t Trump’s Lebanese Middle East adviser – pro-Saudi academic Walid Phares – have the guts to tell the President that the bombing is counter-productive in that the high number of civilian deaths will sow the seeds for more insurgency in that part of the world for him and the Iraqi PM?

Anybody knows that in Syria and Iraq, the more civilians who get killed by bombing which targets Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), the greater the numbers of young men in those families sign up to the terrorist group. It’s a vicious circle. And someone needs to tell Trump. It’s almost as though Trump has told his people, “I wanna kill ISIS and I don’t want to hear any facts from anyone....just do it."

The strategy in Mosul though is fundamentally flawed. As Trump slips more US soldiers into Syria, which is not getting the press coverage it deserves, what we see in Mosul in neighboring Iraq is a Mission Impossible being played out. US journalists have been very slow to report on the colossal death count of civilians – who are trapped in Mosul as they cannot escape because they are being shot at by snipers from ISIS, but also by Iraqi forces. The same Iraqi troops which, months earlier, were being trained by the US, one might add.

The issue is body bags. Neither Prime Minister Abadi nor Trump can afford them. Even Iraqi army body bags will be enough to dampen Trumps plans to swell the number of US soldiers as the most loyal call-center journalists in Mosul would have to write about them. And then the game is up. Trump’s strategy seems to be to kill ISIS – but at any cost, not at the expense of one single US soldier. And so almost the same number of lives is lost in carpet bombing Mosul in one week than in the whole of the Aleppo campaign next door in Syria. 

But Western media pounded time and time again the Russians for their campaign in Aleppo, so why aren’t they doing the same in Mosul? Simply, it isn’t just the rank hypocrisy of most Western journalists stuck in a cold war mindset. It’s also that they are not left with much else to report on, finally. In the end, the grotesque horror stories of entire families being wiped out in one air raid ultimately became the only thing to write about – as no one wants to report on what is really happening in Mosul, which is a humanitarian disaster being crafted by poor military strategy, fake news, and powerful leaders driven by their political lust to create the news stories which portray them as contenders.

And this Dante's Inferno is probably scaring Trump’s advisers. What else, other than poor reporting on the ground, could explain him telling journalists and US senators just recently that US soldiers in Mosul are “fighting like never before in Iraq.” But there isn’t a shred of evidence to show even one US soldier firing a single round at an ISIS fighter. Even CNN, hardly a bastion of journalistic credibility, struggled to demystify Trump’s “upbeat” comment. “It wasn't clear what fighting Trump was referring to in his remarks, which appeared unscripted. The US combat mission in Iraq ended in 2010, and American troops are now in the country primarily to advise and assist Iraqi forces."

If Western media, even American giants, can’t work out what the US president is talking about, then what we are probably witnessing is dire delusion from Trump who is desperate to score a foreign policy victory to compensate for a failure of domestic policy pledges amounting to a handful of dust.

What is harder for both Western journalists to report on in Mosul and perhaps more difficult for Trump’s advisers to fathom is that the more innocent lives which are blithely lost in the chaos of Mosul’s carnage, the greater the fight will be in Raqqa and other places – as a real threat of more volunteers both locally and internationally emerges. What the Americans are doing in Mosul is not destroying a terrorist cell, but only helping build the auspices of a newer stronger one for the next US administration.

What is being played out in Mosul is part of both Obama’s and Trump’s grand experimenting which is unprecedented. In previous battles in Iraq which saw the downfall of ISIS – Fallujah and Ramadi – Iraq’s Iranian-trained Shiite militias were called in to do the gruesome close combat fighting.

But not so in Mosul. For the first time, much hope and great kudos were given to the training of a special anti-terror unit, as well as Iraqi police, to go into what is the greatest Islamic extremist stronghold – where Saddam Hussein had his greatest support – and do the killing which is required. Close up.

Unfortunately, as Mark Almond, an Oxford University professor told RT recently, these Iraqi units are not trained nor equipped to do the kind of fighting which is required of them in the narrow alleyways and souks of the old part of Mosul. Consequently, their role is largely one of manning mortars and heavy artillery and stepping back from basic infantry work.

The bombing has to stop, and the US “advisers” need to start to advise the Iraqi commanders as to how to go about creating a second front to the old city as well as sending in troops to fight. It’s either that or Trump and Abadi bite the bullet and call in the Shiite militias to go into the killing zone. The fact these Shia Iraqis are Iranian-trained might be something journalists might omit from their copy, hoping to win points from US generals there eager to take them to the real story.

But there’s another agenda in Mosul, which is more basic. Business. Trump’s newly improved relations with Prime Minister Abadi is not just about bringing Iraq back into the US fold, denying Iran the geopolitical credence. Trump’s cabal in Washington want to make money in Iraq and, according to a recent investigation by left-wing polemicist and academic Nafeez Ahmed, who dabbles in long-hand investigative journalism, there is a blueprint which the US president has agreed to, which essentially gives Western Iraq its autonomy. US firms close to Trump naturally get all the resources and big deals. Nice work if you can get it

In the meantime, for those who care about ISIS or even about those poor people in Mosul being saved from being human cannon fodder for the profit of powerful elites, we can only pray for a miracle that an “adviser” is having trouble sleeping at night in Washington and approaches Trump candidly. Perhaps the Lebanese.

Failing that, someone could always arrange another sycophantic interview with Hugh Hewitt.

Reprinted with permission from RT.

War Between US And China Brewing in South China Sea?

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Adding fuel to an already highly combustible situation in Southeast Asia, Reuters reported Tuesday that China has “largely completed major construction of military infrastructure on artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea,” and that the Asian superpower “can now deploy combat planes and other military hardware there at any time.”

Citing satellite imagery analyzed by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative, part of Washington, D.C.’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, the news agency writes that “work on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs in the Spratly Islands included naval, air, radar and defensive facilities.”

Sticking to the mainstream narrative that China is an aggressor in claiming sovereign rights to the majority of the South China Sea, Pentagon spokesman Commander Gary Ross says the new images confirm what the U.S. military already knows.

“China’s continued construction in the South China Sea is part of a growing body of evidence that they continue to take unilateral actions which are increasing tensions in the region and are counterproductive to the peaceful resolution of disputes,” he told Reuters.

China, as it has repeatedly, downplayed this notion and stuck to the position that it’s simply erecting defensive infrastructure within its own borders, as would any nation.

“As for China deploying or not deploying necessary territorial defensive facilities on its own territory, this is a matter that is within the scope of Chinese sovereignty,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a press briefing Tuesday.

Despite comments such as these — and the very real fact that China hasn’t actually invaded anyone — the corporate media jumped on the news of the new images.

Forbes, for instance, ran a piece that essentially listed all the reasons why China is a really bad actor in the region, and CNN talked to analysts who explained how the military buildup on the artificial islands will be gradual as China continues to exert its authoritarian influence over neighboring countries.

That’s the narrative. Believe as you will.

But the reality of the situation in the South China Sea — all geopolitical analysis aside — is that there’s about to be a hell of a lot of military hardware in those waters.

As Anti-Media has been reporting, US forces are already in the region, taking part in joint drills with ally South Korea that will last until the end of April. Then, at the beginning of May, Japan — another US ally — will sail its navy’s most powerful warship through the South China Sea on a three-month tour.

That means that just as the joint drills with South Korea end — which, incidentally, units from Delta Force, the Navy SEALS and Army Rangers are taking part in — Japan will shove off a warship aimed at waters claimed by China.

If that timing seems a little curious, also consider that the US just deployed its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system in South Korea, which both China and Russia cared none too much for.

With China showing no signs of backing away from its stance in the South China Sea — both ideologically and physically —  and with the corporate media willing and eager to push the “evil China” narrative that the US military appears hell-bent on capitalizing on, it appears the long-dreaded collision course with China may, indeed, be not far off on the horizon.

Reprinted with permission from The Anti-Media.

On Economic Patriotism: Capitalist Nationalism and the Making of American Political Identity

Photo by Metro Centric | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Metro Centric | CC BY 2.0

It is frequently said that Americans are the most patriotic population in the world. From childhood we are taught that we are the highest-minded, richest, most free, most democratic country, and therefore most fit to be the global hegemon. School kids don’t get ‘hegemon’, so they are taught that their country is the world’s sole superpower, and, for the safety of the world, must remain so. Surely something to be proud of. Since the end of the Second World War, a swollen media and entertainment establishment has drummed this message into our heads ceaselessly. The effectiveness of this kind of indoctrination is evident in a uniquely American phenomenon, the display of the flag everywhere – at checkout counters, on cars, on lawns, from home windows. Only in America. Even as Americans disapprove of this or that war, the flag is never taken down.

Most of us are inclined to call this an expression of super-patriotism. But nationalism is what is at work in America. Patriotism is an inexact term, connoting love of country. But do Americans “love their country”, however one construes that phrase, more than do the French or Brazilians? ‘Nationalism’ is not so vague. The phenomenon is a major political force, yet it no longer receives the attention from the Left that it did in the old days. Perhaps the broadest usage of the term was during the First World War, when (most) Marxian socialists opposed the war as a paradigm case of inter-imperialist rivalry, with colonial powers scrambling to carve up the world to the economic and political competitive advantage of their ruling classes.

Socialists, communists and anarchists urged their fellow nationals to oppose the war on the grounds that its only beneficiaries were the initiators of the war, the ruling classes. Support for the war entailed the perverse conviction that working people had more in common with their class rulers than with the other workers of the world. The “national interest” was in fact the interest of the ruling class, and support for the war, put forward as commitment to the nation, was in fact an identification with one’s class masters rather than with those with whom one shared one’s deepest interests, the global working class. In this controversy the meaning of nationalism was clear: it was a matter of identification. And that with which one identifies is, strange as it may initially seem, partially constitutive of one’s selfhood. The apparent strangeness of this idea vanishes when we reflect on the precise meaning of nationalism.

What is Nationalism? Think of Racism and Sexism

What everyone knows about racism and sexism is directly transferable to nationalism. Racist ideology teaches that e.g. the white race is superior to other races, and, equally importantly, the white racist sees himself as essentially white. His whiteness is an element of his very nature or selfhood, and an element of which he is magnificently proud. He is personally superior by virtue of the superiority of being white. Thus, he slips up badly when he says “If I were black, I wouldn’t support affirmative action.”  The statement is gibberish. The “I” who removes his skin color in order to put on a different skin color, presumably the way one changes shirts, removes also his life history and all the life experiences of his white self, and replaces them with the historical experiences of his non-existent black self. Yet the referent of ‘I’ is supposed to retain his identity through the change. Who can make sense of this? Talk of race is talk of personal identity; to lose your race is to lose your identity. (I am writing here of common usage and understanding, the appropriate subject matter for this discussion. I prescind from the scientific groundlessness of the concept of biological race.) And if your racial identity confers upon you a superior self, a challenge to racism is a blow to one’s personal pride and integrity. It’s a loss of prized status, a personal demotion. Of course it’s met with fierce resistance.

The point is perhaps most evident in the case of sexual identity. The male sexist talks nonsense, says something neither true nor false, when he proclaims “If I were a woman I would not support affirmative action.” If I am a man, that is no merely contingent feature of my selfhood, as is the color of my hair. I know what it would be like were my hair red rather than black (read: gray). I have no conception what it would be like were “I” a woman. We take our gender to be an essential component of our selfhood. Where manhood is taken to be superior to womanhood  -greater capacity to lead, superior analytical powers (the Lawrence Summers axiom), predominance of clear reason over blind emotion, etc.-  the man’s selfhood is exalted. To challenge sexism is not merely to reject a political ideology, it is, to the sexist, a diminution of his very personhood. He resists like crazy.

There is very much at stake in racism and sexism. There is as much at stake with respect to nationalism, and for the same reasons.

A person’s nationality is part of who she is. “If I were Chinese…” Huh? One’s incorporation into a linguistic and cultural community is no less powerful a contributor to one’s selfhood than is the history of one’s racial or gender experiences. To be acculturated as an American is to acquire an identity participating in the transcendent greatness of the country. “Proud to be an American” has a lot more built into it than “Proud to be Spanish.” As a trust fund heiress friend of mine recently pronounced, “Poor people here don’t complain because they know that if they were poor in Africa they wouldn’t have cars and TVs like poor people here do.” Set aside the matryoshka of falsehoods implicit in this remark. The spirit of the comment reflects Americanism: no matter how miserable you might be, you’re better off for being American. Because America is the greatest place in the world. And you, whether you know it or not, are a beneficiary of that greatness.

Absolute superiority is not the only distinguishing characteristic of America. It is probably the only country in the world where capitalism is incorporated into national identity.

Un-Americanism and Anti-communism

The distinguished political economist and economic historian Robert Heilbroner once commented that Americans were the only population that exhibits what he called “economic patriotism.” For the reasons elaborated above, I prefer the more precise ‘economic nationalism’. The postwar witch hunting of communists featured the preposterous House Committee on Un-American Activities. During the peak of anti-communist hysteria, being a communist, essentially a rejecter of capitalism, was defined as being Un-American. To be an American was by nature (but of course not exclusively) to wave the flag of capitalism. Rejecting capitalism was to reject, to renounce, America, to be “against America.” Same for denouncing American foreign policy, i.e. overthrows and wars, pursued in the name of anti-communism. In no other country is being a communist regarded as e.g. a renunciation of Italy, or of Sweden or… If one’s identity as an American is to include one’s commitment to capitalism, an American is a walking, talking incarnation of self-expanding exchange value. Communism is then a threat to Americans’ personal integrity the way calls for sexual and racial equality crucify the personal identity of the racist and the sexist. American communists were in effect self-hating Americans, much as Jewish anti-Zionists are called, by Zionists, self-hating Jews. Just as, for Zionists, commitment to Israel is part of what it means to be Jewish, so for Americans being anti-communist was supposed to be essential to being American. No wonder the stubbornness of anti-communism among Americans. Who wants to stop being who they are?

Very many Americans were successfully acculturated into this metaphysic. This must be an element of an answer to “Why is there no socialism in America.” It’s at least in part about Economic Nationalism.

Is American Identity Under Transformation?

There is a silver lining to this cloud. It is an outcome of great historical moment that the grip of economic nationalism has been loosened in recent times. Two historical developments have contributed.

The charge of communism was always associated with a corresponding accusation of treason. Anti-communist politics had in its formative Cold War years been associated with Washington’s archenemy the Soviet Union. Communists or “communist sympathers” were alleged to have pledged allegiance to a foreign enemy. “If you think communism is superior to capitalism, why don’t you move to Russia?” American anti-communism needed the Soviet Union to keep it alive and thriving. The dissolution of the Soviet republics dissolved much of the tangibility of anti-communism. The communist “threat” was gone. It came to be no longer threatening to think soberly about socialism. A major obstacle to reflecting on alternatives to capitalism had bitten the dust.

Americans have always conflated communism and socialism. That the most popular politician in America now, according to surveys done by Fox news and others, is a professed socialist is something none of us would have thought possible a few years ago. No matter that Sanders is no socialist. An American precedent has been broken: it is now possible in very many circles to raise the question of socialism’s superiority to capitalism without being dismissed as a crackpot. A 2009 Rasmussen Reports national poll revealed that “only a slight majority of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.” No matter that most surveyed probably had only the vaguest idea of what ‘socialism’ means. What matters is that many Americans are now capable of construing the economic system as a construction external to themselves and subject to change with no threat to their integrity as Americans. If this is the case, then Americans’ political identity is in the process of transformation. With this can come transformative social and political possibilities. It looks to me that we have entered a new era. In itself, it promises nothing. But with effective popular education and militant organization, it can contribute to making all the difference in the world.

Alan Nasser is professor emeritus of Political Economy and Philosophy at The Evergreen State College. His website is: http://www.alannasser.org.  His book, United States of Emergency  American Capitalism and Its Crises will be published by Pluto Press next year. If you would like to be notified when the book is released, please send a request to  nassera@evergreen.edu

Roaming Charges: A Pruitt Runs Through It

Photo by Live Once Live Wild | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Live Once Live Wild | CC BY 2.0

 

Steve Bannon, the Trump Whisperer, sees his mission as the destruction of the administrative state. At a metaphorical level, one might precisely describe this project as a kind of bureaucratic strip-mining, where the internal viscera of federal agencies are extracted and the remains are left to subside in a heap of off-gassing toxic debris to poison whatever other federal workers remain in close proximity.

Target number one on Bannon’s hit list is the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency midwifed into being in 1970 by the most progressive president of the last 45 years, Richard M. Nixon, largely as a way to camouflage his own villainous pursuits. Recall that Nixon seemed to launch a new liberal initiative after nearly every illicit bombing run over Cambodia.

The EPA has long been viewed by the corporate right as a kind of rogue cop, prone to making uninvited no-knock raids on the mephitic operations of oil, coal and chemical companies. Protecting the environment is fine, as long as it doesn’t take a bite out of the bottom line. By the late 1970s, environmental regulations were enforced, often feebly, yet the EPA began to constrain the profits of the petro-chemical industry. This modest interference in the toxic trade would not be tolerated. The Agency’s days have been numbered ever since.

Bannon’s approach is to gut federal agencies from the inside-out: starve them for money, exile troublesome employees and infest the top offices with loyalists who view their own departments with disdain. To excavate the EPA, Bannon and Trump picked Scott Pruitt, who in his former post as Attorney General of the petro-state of Oklahoma, sued the agency 13 times. The briefs for many of these lawsuits were cribbed from policy papers written by lobbyists for the oil and gas industry—to save time no doubt.

Trump picking Pruitt to run the EPA is the equivalent Queen Elizabeth selecting Richard Dawkins, the apostle of atheism, to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury. He is now responsible for running the thing he despises most. Under Pruitt, the death of the EPA is likely to be a case of administrator-assisted suicide.

Pruitt, who is now under investigation in Oklahoma for lying about his use of a private email server for government work, has already made an oily imprint on the Agency in a few short weeks on the job. First, Pruitt, speaking in the molten drone of an Old Testament prophet, announced to the non-believers on the EPA staff his determination that–contrary to the paganistic conclusions of agency scientists–atmospheric “carbon dioxide” is neither a threat to human health (30,000 deaths a year per each degree of Celsius rising) nor a driver of global warming, if there is such a thing. (At this rate, the Trump Administration may soon re-classify carbon dioxide as a vegetable.)

Pruitt’s eyes dilate greedily at the prospect of removing any impediments to the pursuit of profit, thus his unrestrained excitement as he announced the President’s budget proposal, slashing funding for the already emaciated Agency by 31 percent.  One veteran EPA staffer told me that the reaction to the grim news among long-time employees was “like the scene in ‘Paper Chase’ when the law professor tells his class: ‘Look to the left, then look to right: one of you will be gone by the end of the year.’” She told me that the mood of the Agency, where she has worked as an air quality scientist for 25 years, most of it in The Region (aka, the decaying industrial zone of the Great Lakes), has never been more tense. “Pruitt wants most of us gone and replaced by oil industry mercenaries,” she said. A sinister new orthodoxy is descending over the EPA which will tolerate no dissent.

On the campaign trail, Trump prattled on and on about cracking down on crime. Apparently, this applies only to the kinds of pills you pop or weed you smoke. Apex predators, such as the oil and mining companies, are being freed to engage in unrestrained corporate “wildings,” as one regulation after another protecting people from poisoned air, water and food is abolished.  The latest example is Pruitt’s decision to reject a petition to ban Chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide that has been identified as a brain-melting neurotoxin linked to learning disabilities and memory loss.

Of course, the big prize came earlier this week when Trump invaded the EPA building to announce the end of the alleged War on Coal, by signing executive orders that demolished President Obama’s rather timid and very tardy “clean power” agenda. Look at how big Trump’s signature was on those executive orders. It takes up half the page. The larger the scrawl, the more foul the con.

Trump surrounds himself with a mirthless crew, whose only jokes are made at the expense of others. On this day, the joke was on coal miners, that vanishing hard-working and cruelly-treated breed whose jobs Trump pledged to save. It was a bait-and-switch ploy, designed to feed the gluttonous tycoons of a dying industry that has abused the hills of Appalachia as savagely as it has its workers. These (increasingly non-union) miners, many of them battling black lung disease, and their families could be put to work for the next 10 generations remediating the damage from decades of unrestrained mining. Instead they are being offered a load of fool’s coal.

In trying to sell their sulfurous scheme, Trump and Pruitt wrapped themselves in one of the most pernicious oxymorons of our time: clean coal. But coal jobs aren’t coming back, no matter how easy Trump and Pruitt make it to blow up mountain-tops and bury hollows and valleys under piles of toxic detritus.

The age of coal is over. Trump’s cynical executive orders gutting relatively modest federal climate rules are merely a license to loot the wounded, maimed and dying.

***

Roaming Charges

+ Saudi Arabia has launched 90,000 airstrikes in Yemen since 26 March 2015. That’s 123 airstrikes every day, one every 12 minutes. (Weapons supplied by the US.)

+ The head of US Africa Command, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, is begging Trump to authorize offensive airstrikes on Somalia. Why more bang-bang against one of the poorest countries on the globe? If we don’t bomb now, Somalia may invade the US later…

+ The US State Dept. condemned the arrest of 100 protesters in Russia. I must have missed the department’s condemnation of the brutal treatment and arrest of Standing Rock protesters. Can someone please forward?

+ Anti-Iraq War President Trump, like his predecessor anti-Iraq War President Barack Obama, now brags about US forces “fighting in Iraq like never before.”

+ US airstrikes in Mosul killed more than 200 civilians. In its defense, the Pentagon claims, without a shred of evidence it must be admitted, that the women and children were being used as human shields by the bad hombres of ISIS. Maybe when Trump said he opposed the Iraq War, he was actually talking about “war.” Totally cool with killing 100s of civilians….

+ The Trump Administration is dropping human rights considerations as a precondition for arms sales to Bahrain. I can see the logic here. If you’re looking for a nation to bomb civilian targets on your behalf, why sell weapons to one that troubles itself about human rights?

+ Not so long Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg helped run a defense contractor called Cubic Global Defense, Inc, a company that Kellogg left in order to take the post of Trump’s chief of staff on the National Security Council. This week Kellogg’s former firm was awarded a $17.5 million contract to run a simulated war on North Korea.

+ Whenever there’s a “bi-partisan” investigation, you know there’s something really nefarious, usually involving an intelligence agency, that needs to be deeply buried.

+ It’s hard for the White House & GOP to whine with authenticity about privacy violations in the unmasking of names of Trump associates in NSA documents on the very same day they enacted a law giving away all of our browsing data…

+ Just how dumb is Rep. Devin “High” Nunes? He burned a highly sympathetic columnist, Eli Lake, by lying to him, a lie Nunes surely had to know was going to be unmasked within a few days. Lake shot back, fatally. (Lake, by the way, has raised important questions about domestic surveillance that few others are talking about.)

+ Just how dumb is Trump to want “High” Nunes leading his quickly unraveling cover-up?

+ Tim Kaine being Tim Kaine: “We can make health care better by lowering costs, improving the stability of the markets, & expanding access. GOP & Dems must work together.”  Sorry, Tim, “markets” and health care are antithetical…

+ Trump issued an executive order (which Obama waited until August 2016 to enact) this week abolishing federal anti-wage theft laws. Why? His blue-collar worker base begged him to?

+ Trump has spent 1 out of every 3 days since he’s been in office at one of his own properties: Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago or Trump International Golf Course in Virginia. This is how Trump goes to church.

+ Roger Daltry on HRC: “Let’s put it this way: when you say that middle America and the Democrats lost it, but Trump didn’t really win it — because Democrats threw it away by putting Hillary Clinton up. A dead dog would have won it against her.”

+ Roger Daltry on Trump: “His fucking haircut! He needs it cut and as my mother would say, ‘Wash your fucking mouth out.’”

+ Sen. Susan Collins, the mod Republican from Maine, inquired at the Senate Intelligence hearing on Thursday: “Were the Russians involved in Occupy Wall St.?” Of course they were, Susan, but in a less prominent way than their complete manipulation of the Standing Rock protests and Moonlight‘s shock win at the Oscars…

+ It looks like Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has been turned by the FBI. Wait until Tiffany snitches on Daddy…

+ Flynn in September 2016: “If you’re given immunity, it probably means you’ve committed a crime.”

+ I really feel deflated that Alexander Cockburn and Gore Vidal aren’t around to witness this singular moment in American politics. They would both be exultant at the prospects of both parties self-destructing simultaneously.

+ A report by the New America Foundation concludes that white Americans are the biggest domestic terrorist threat. This comes as no news to the Mohawk or Lakota, who know well that they always have been.

+ According to the FBI, white supremacists are infiltrating law enforcement agencies. Infiltrating? I thought law enforcement had been recruiting white supremacists since at least the days of the Slave Patrols?

+ Dick Cheney emerged from the shadows to pronounce his opinion that alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election might “be considered an act of war.” Clinton / Cheney 2020? Or perhaps Kamala Harris / Cheney 2020, since the new senator from California, a rising star in the dim firmament of the Democrats, favorably quoted Cheney’s “casus belli” remark during the Senate Intelligence hearings on the “Russian Connection©”…

+ I always read Justin Raimondo’s columns at Antiwar.com. This week Justin boldly asserted: “How stupid does the Birkenstock-wearing brain-dead bourgeois Democratic base have to be to fall for this Russian conspiracy crap? Pitiful.” Birkenstocks? More like Jimmy Choos….

+ Even the fanatically anti-Putin Masha Gessen thinks Dems & liberal media (MS-DNC) have gone off the Deep End….

+ Before he read Hegel, Engels or Marx, Lenin was radicalized by Goethe, Shakespeare and Pushkin. See Tariq Ali’s fascinating account of the young Volodya’s literary bookshelf.

+ Gallup, Presidential Favorability Ratings:

Nixon Watergate Hearings – 36%
GW Bush post Katrina – 40%
Reagan during Iran/Contra – 46%
Ford pardons Nixon – 50%
Trump today – 35%

+ Carly Fiorina is now calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the “Russia Connection TM”. Blowback for Trump saying “Look at that face!

+ The whale-killing season will begin in Norway on April 1st. Over the next few weeks, 900 whales will be killed, 90 percent of them female, most of those pregnant. If the slaughter of pregnant whales doesn’t curdle your conscience, what will?

+ Ezra Klein on the prospects for passing Trumpcare: “Paul Ryan is good at this kind of thing.” To be a world-class commentator, like his idol David Gergen, Ezra has to state the obvious over and over again without ever letting reality intrude.

+ Apparently more and more impoverished rural Americans, destitute and jobless, are filing disability claims to get them through the misery of long-term unemployment. Wait until Trump cuts off their disability checks to finance his border wall or makes them piss into a drug test tube to cash them…

+ For years, people have said that “Coke tastes like shit.” Finally we know why.

+ Still bitter over the fact that she lost her position as head of the DNC after she was exposed sabotaging Bernie Sanders’ campaign, Debbie Wasserman Schultz lashed out at Sanders this week, claiming ridiculously that “the Democrats are already a grassroots party.” Debbie, your roots are showing. Time for another dye-job.

+ In order to fulfill a Trump/Pence PR scam, the cash-strapped State of Indiana just forked over $7 million to Carrier, a reward for killing 1,500 jobs. That’s how corporate welfare works in God’s Country.

+ Forget Pizzagate, TSA is the real perpetrator of legalized child molestation

+ Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is now threatening to end all federal funds to police forces in sanctuary cities. This would a salutary move by Sessions, especially if it also ends funding for the Gestapo-like “Joint Terrorism Task Forces.”

+ The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental “Protection” is suing two small towns that banned the drilling of fracking water wells. The message: you either agree to poison yourselves or goddammit we’ll do it for you…

+ Speaking of child abuse, Huma Abedin is reportedly considering a reunion with her disgraced husband Anthony Weiner, who engaged in a sexting exchange with a young woman while his young son sat on the bed. Huma can’t help herself. She’s a Democrat. They always return to failed strategies, like this one: Democrats Double-Down on Suburban Mom Strategy that Doomed HRC Campaign…

+ Four out of five kids in Oklahoma City apparently can’t read time by the hands on analog clocks. Don’t fret. Betsy DeVos will fix this appalling situation by forcing all schools to use digital clocks! As my friend Geoff Kirk noted it’s all about keeping the kids safe. “Real bloodbath potential when you say, ‘Look out! Grizzly at 11 o’clock’ to a group of young students.”

+ Thomas Hodgson, Sheriff of Bristol County in Massachusetts, has called for the arrest of leaders of Sanctuary Cities. I feel conflicted about this. Certainly many mayors deserve to be arrested, but not for protecting undocumented immigrants.

+The anonymous punks of smear at ProporNot have now started throwing slanderous mud at Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, demanding that their stenographers at the Washington Post investigate whether Taibbi is “receiving Russian money.” If the Post wants to rehabilitate its own tattered credibility, it should instead reveal the source of PropOrNot’s funding.

+ Mike Pence has vowed never to dine alone with a woman other than his wife. That must explain the male-only meeting on the future of Planned Parenthood chaired by Pence. There is some speculation that Pence was placed on marital parole after attending a party in the FoxNews room

+ Sean Spicer’s press briefings are beginning to resemble gestalt sessions on the psych ward. Randle Patrick McMurphy where are you?

+ I was pleasantly reading a relatively informative piece on the legal definition of “Civil War” then skidded to a stop at this sentence: “David Armitage, the Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History at Harvard…”

+ Speaking of stopping in mid-sentence, there was a perfectly bland profile of Steve Bannon’s 25-year old mercenary Julia Hahn (now a special assistant to the President)  in the Washington Post, which contained this description of one the cruelest purveyors of global economic misery:  “It’s fair to say that nothing about Hahn’s time at Harvard-Westlake, a top prep school in Los Angeles, nor at the University of Chicago, one of higher ed’s great temples of liberalism…”

+ For the first time in 100 years, a wolf has been sighted in Nevada. Roam wild, buddy, but watch your ass, they’ll be gunning for you.

+ Stephen King’s It was one of the five scariest books I’ve ever read, along with Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Clive Barker’s Damnation Game, Tom Holland’s Lord of the Dead (featuring Byron as a very temperamental vampire) and, of course, In My Time by Dick Cheney. Whether the long-awaited film stacks up remains to be seen…

+ Gregory Corso:

I am a great American
I am almost nationalistic about it!
I love America like a madness!
But I am afraid to return to America
I’m even afraid to go into the American Express

—(From “The American Way”)

+ I’ve always loved the Texas blues queen Ruthie Foster. Now I love her even more….

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative by Florence Williams
Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Raworth
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Live in Paris  by Sleater-Kinney
Got Soul by Robert Randolph & the Family Band
Tipico by Miguel Zenon
My Foolish Heart by Ralph Towner
Northern Passages by The Sadies

How It Is

Jeanette Winterson: “So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is.”

Opioids Aren’t the Problem and Chris Christie Isn’t the Solution

On Wednesday, President Trump announced the establishment of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, to be headed up by noted public health addiction expert…New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

The commission has fairly minimal tasks, with overall aim to “make recommendations to the President for improving the Federal response to drug addiction and the opioid crisis.” In other words, produce yet another commission report few will read and fewer will take action on – like the 2016 surgeon general’s report which covered much the same ground.

In promotion of this, the White House convened a “listening session,” in which it became clear the point of the commission was less about finding reasonable solutions to the supposed opioid crisis and more about sustaining popular (and wrong) mythologies about drug use, abuse, addiction and opioids.

During the gathering, Trump, alongside Christie, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, heard stories by former addicts and family members, who told horror stories about their encounters with opioids. The stories were essentially the same: they took pain killers, became addicted and went on to become homeless and/or went to jail.

Throughout the session, various assertions were made, including that people become “immediately hooked” and that narcotics are “cheaper than candy,” the latter an assertion Trump has made in the past, without evidence.

But ultimately, as feel-good as the listening session may have been, the dominant narratives about the so-called opioid epidemic on display at listening session, and throughout the mainstream media, do more to obscure reality than to accurately describe it.

Opioid overdoses aren’t (just) opioid overdoses

There is no disputing that increasing numbers of people have lost their lives to opioid overdoses over the past several years. More than 33,000 Americans lost their lives to opioid overdoses in 2015, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, including 12,989 deaths involving heroin.

But there’s a missing element to these numbers. Opioid overdoses usually involve more than just opioids – and often entail the mixing of multiple drugs, like alcohol, benzodiazepines, cocaine and fentanyl, either by choice (as is typically true of the first three substances) or due to unscrupulous black market dealers tainting their product (with fentanyl). This occurs so often, “opioid overdose” is virtually a misnomer – and many, if not most opioid overdoses are better described as “polydrug toxicity,” as suggested by a 2003 paper in the Journal of Urban Health.

Based on an evaluation of privately insured patients in the United States, research published on March 14 by the British Medical Journal determined that concurrent benzodiazepine and opioid use increased by 80 percent between 2001 and 2013, from 9 percent of opioid users to 17 percent of opioid users over that time period.

Noting that 30 percent of fatal opioid overdoses involve benzodiazepines and that those who use both are at a tenfold greater risk of overdose than those who don’t, the researchers concluded that the rapid growth in concurrent benzodiazepine/opioid use “significantly contributed to the overall population risk of opioid overdose.”

This is consistent with prior research. According to a 2014 report, nearly 60 percent of long-term opioid users took a combination of drugs that could potentially be fatal – with benzodiazepines being particularly common.

But how often do we hear from politicians or pundits about the reality that opioid overdoses tend to involve more than just opioids? Or that greater emphasis must be made on warning doctors and patients about the risks of concurrent use?

Educating people about the risks of drug mixing is a simple but overlooked undertaking that could save lives. Perhaps education and communication are too subtle to grab headlines – and there’s no money to be made from it. Or perhaps this lack of emphasis on drug mixing is because politicians, anti-drug crusaders and do-gooders are less interested in encouraging safer drug-taking practices and more interested in fostering hysteria.

Opioids (probably) won’t destroy your life

While there are certainly people who develop addictions to opioids, becoming so addicted one turns to a life of crime and homelessness to support a drug habit because they happened to use Percocet is exceedingly rare.

While mainstream outlets like CNN trot out claims that “prescription and illegal opioids are commonly abused because they are so addictive,” abuse of and addiction to opioids is the exception, not the norm.

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 97 million Americans had used prescription pain relievers. Of them, nearly 12.5 million were estimated to have misused prescription pain relievers during the year, while about 3.8 million reported misusing them in the prior month. This alone tells us that the vast majority of users does not misuse pain relievers, and even among those who do, most don’t even do so long enough to have done it in the prior month.

This is consistent with research indicating rates of abuse or addiction among people prescribed opioids could be as little as 0.27 percent of people prescribed opioids to 4.5 percent.

Even among heroin users, the national survey estimated 5.1 million Americans had used the drug in their lifetimes, while just over 800,000 had used it in the past year and 329,000 had done so in the past month. Notably, though there were fewer past year and past month heroin users in 2015 than in 2014, the number of deaths attributed to heroin overdoses increased in 2015 over 2014. This likely has something to do with the dangers of drug prohibition pushing heroin underground and subject to the whims of the black market – causing wide variations in potency and the deliberate cutting of heroin by drug producers and dealers with potent drugs like fentanyl.

But the relatively low rate of misuse, abuse or addiction hardly makes for inspiring political rhetoric. It is much more convenient to use the stories of the relative few who destroyed their lives than it is to talk about opioids realistically. Likewise, as is the case with resistance to talking about drug mixing, politicians simply don’t want to acknowledge the fact that it is drug prohibition which has made heroin as dangerous as it is.

Doubling down on failed policies won’t work

Politicians have responded to increases in opioid use and misuse by restricting access to prescription pain relievers and punishing physicians and pharmacists. Overdose deaths have climbed despite these efforts, as abusers and those with legitimate needs, especially those who deal with chronic pain, find themselves criminalized, stigmatized and/or forced to either deal with the black market or suffer from what ails them.

Donald Trump has suggested his border wall will help solve the problem of accessibility to opioids. Jeff Sessions has stressed criminal enforcement and interdiction efforts. Chris Christie, meanwhile, stressed his view that addiction was a disease that can be treated.

Whatever the merits of the disease model of addiction – and there are plenty of reasons to find it an inadequate, incomplete understanding of addiction – Christie’s record reveals a mixed, if convoluted, record.

“We will end the failed war on drugs that believes that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse,” he said during his 2014 inauguration. “We will make drug treatment available to as many of our non-violent offenders as we can and we will partner with our citizens to create a society that understands that every life has value and no life is disposable.”

To his credit, as Governor of New Jersey his state enacted a Good Samaritan law protecting people from arrest if they report an overdose while using drugs themselves and made anti-overdose drug naloxone available.

But as recently as February, Christie signed into law a bill limiting prescriptions for acute pain to just five days. It’s the sort of overreach by government into what should be between a doctor and their patient that has contributed to the current state of affairs in the first place.

This was an insight even President Obama seemed to have – though his policies didn’t actually reflect his apparent ideas. “If we go to doctors right now and say ‘Don’t overprescribe’ without providing some mechanisms for people in these communities to deal with the pain that they have or the issues that they have, then we’re not going to solve the problem, because the pain is real, the mental illness is real,” Obama said during a meeting with state governors in 2016. “In some cases, addiction is already there.”

Christie has also been a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, believing it to be a gateway drug and taxes on it to be “blood money,” despite the fact that there’s growing evidence that marijuana and increased accessibility to it may help many with pain and help reduce deaths associated with prescription pain relievers.

Still, his talk of treatment presents some opportunities for reformers. However, as important as “treatment” in the abstract might be, it is hardly a cure-all to the problems of the opioid overdose problem. And as psychologist Stanton Peele recently observed, “no other country in the world provides as much disease-oriented addiction treatment (i.e.,12-step and vaguely biomedical treatment—‘vaguely’ since no treatments actually directly address supposed brain centers of addiction) as does the US. Yet North America, as a global harm reduction report notes, has the ‘highest drug-related mortality rate in the world.’”

The drug war is the problem, not opioids

Making clear the dangers of drug mixing, removing politicians from doctor-patient relationships, emphasizing harm reduction, supporting the expansion of medication-assisted treatment and permitting legal access to heroin and other drugs would do more to save lives than even the most soft-hearted drug prohibition.

Messages that opioids are especially likely to ruin peoples lives, that they are especially dangerous and that government intervention is needed to save people from themselves is just a rehashing of the same old prohibitionist attitudes that enabled the growth in prison populations, overdose deaths and discord all around the world in the first place.

Organize the White Working Class!

Photo by jareed | CC BY 2.0

Photo by jareed | CC BY 2.0

“ . . . their (the poor “whites”) own position, vis-a-vis the rich and powerful . . . was not improved, but weakened, by the white-skin privilege system.”

– Theodore W. Allen, Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race, 1975*

“The ‘white race’ is the historically most general form of ‘class collaboration.”

– Theodore W. Allen, taped Interview with Chad Pearson, SUNY-Albany, May 13, 2004*

The time is ripe.

At no time since the 1960s has social movement activism created such rich opportunities to oppose racism and engage white people in a struggle over what it means to be white and a worker in America. And that engagement will be most successful in the world’s best classroom: movement building, organizing and activism.

Like many times in our past, Americans of African descent have led the way. The new civil rights movement, the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore, the BlackLivesMatter movement, and the resistance to Trump’s reemergent racism, have given birth to an array of new organizations and political projects. Like no other single scholarly work, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in The Age of Colorblindness has rallied the troops and identified the enemy.

Over the past few decades the American people have created a vast militarized penal system that is now the most powerful institutionalized racism in the US. And like the forms of institutionalized racism that preceded it, the penal system functions as an effective form of social control. Discriminatory and militarized policing, on-the-spot executions, slave-like prison labor, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipeline, restriction of trial by jury, lengthy and mandatory sentencing, predatory fine, fee and debt traps, and its gigantic sweep and size constitutes nothing short of a preemptive war against the most potentially rebellious parts of the population: the young, people of color, the poor. If you favor social change then the vast militarized penal system must be confronted. It controls us all black and brown and white.

The new civil rights movement has challenged white activists to confront white racism at a time of economic and workplace conflict. The never ending recession of 2008 has intensified wealth inequality across the board with the upward redistribution of wealth falling hardest on Americans of color.1  Good full time jobs are going and in all likelihood they are not coming back.

There is a widespread understanding that the economy and political system are rigged.   One of the main rigs is the class line: corporate power now controls the economy and government wielding both great wealth and global political power.

Once the insatiable demand for power and profit drive government, representative democracy fails and can no longer deliver significant economic benefits to everyday people. Yet, Occupy and the Sanders campaign, the resistance to Trump and other social movements have revealed the discontent of millions of white people who have the capacity to create progressive social movements and even make history.

But the working class has deep flaws that have until now proven fatal: it is divided. Race, gender, sexuality, age cut us up in many ways. If history is a guide to action we can retell a crucial part of the tale by making a challenge to white supremacy central to our organizing efforts. To do that, white people must combat the system of white privileges that has long been the primary means by which racism has been nurtured and sustained.  Those white privileges are institutionalized in a complex web of arrangements in housing, education, health care, law enforcement, election procedures and voting that further rig the system against people of color.  But because white or male privileges have been so deeply entrenched for so long they often appear as seemingly neutral measures of merit, at least to white people.

How do we shine light on this blindspot? Resistance and action are the best paths to revelation.

Institutionalized racism is historic and collective and cannot be addressed through individual repudiation alone. You can’t just give it up, even if you want to, except through joining the social moments for change and organizing at the point of privilege. The purpose of these privileges is to keep us all in line.  White organizers and activists who challenge the system have taken the first crucial step in repudiating privilege.  Many organizing projects await and all of them are difficult and challenging. We can expect no easy victories.

Organize Our Own?

As the ’60s revolution came up against the wall of institutionalized and interlocking obstacles, civil rights organizers experimented with Black Power and Women’s liberation. Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Jo Freedman, Shulamith Firestone and others authors of “To the Women of the New Left” offered up some hard-won knowledge.2  They told a sometimes bitter but compelling truth: organizers were most effective working within their own communities.

Speaking to the Organization of Afro-American Unity, Malcolm X put it this way.

Now if white people want to help, they can help. But, they can’t join. They can help in the white community, but they can’t join. We accept their help….They can…work in the white community on white people and change their attitude toward us. (3)

“Organizing your own” was not a call to white separatism, but a way to lay the basis for coalition movements in which working class whites saw their own destiny bound up with that of black folks.

In Black Power and White Organizing, Anne Braden, a legendary southern white civil rights organizer, wrote:

Certainly the inherent needs of poor white people are reason enough to organize—they, like poor black people, are ill-fed, ill-housed and lacking in opportunities for education, medical care, political expression, and dignity. But I think what we are recognizing is that these white people will never be able to solve these problems unless they find ways to unite with the black movement seeking the same things.

My purpose is not to present false either/or choices. The organizational forms we create are up to the local situation and local actors. White organizers can make contributions in multi-racial groups, coalitions, unions, as well as in community groups among the white working class.  Check out the visionary work of Showing Up for Racial Justice for a recent example of white working class organizing. But one way or another, we white organizers must reconsider ways of talking and organizing around white supremacy and white privilege.

Luckily for us we can follow the work of the great white working class intellectual, Ted Allen, as our north star.

Next we will look at the strategic implications of his classic work: The Invention of the White Race.

Notes.

*Both quotes cited in Jeffrey B. Perry, The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight against White Supremacy  p. 2 and p. 5

1 Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter To Black Liberation, 27 and 28.

2 See Chapter 8, Sara Evans, Personal Politics. “Women of the New Left” cited by Evans p. 200.

3   Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary, 58.