All posts by Gary Leupp

Germany, Japan, Iran and Trump: Will Reason and Harmony Triumph in the World?

Japan used to be the number one foreign consumer of Iranian oil, slipping to number two as China increased its purchases. Now, obliged to defer to the U.S., Japan purchases none. Germany has been Iran’s largest European trade partner, and was hoping for major deals following the conclusion of the Iran Deal in 2015. These plans have been sabotaged by the U.S. using its control over the international banking system, one of its main weapons to use against free market principles and free trade, to inflict pain on people who do not submit, and to (try to) assert its global hegemony.

Both Japan and Germany (whom you recall were the U.S. two greatest adversaries in World War II and who emerged soon after the war as close U.S. allies, the third and fourth largest economies, after the U.S. and USSR.  Both not coincidentally were occupied by tens of thousands of U.S. troops from their defeat in 1945, politically controlled by the U.S. and incorporated into its military alliance network, as they remain 74 years later.

(Notice by the way how the Soviets, who defeated the Nazis on the all-important Eastern Front, losing as many as 30 million in that effort, and who occupied what had been Nazi-occupied parts of eastern Europe, withdrew from Finland and Austria while the U.S. consolidated its grip on postwar western Europe, while shaping the emergence of pro-Soviet client states in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany (after the U.S. unilaterally declared West Germany an independent state), and Bulgaria. Other ostensibly socialist states (Albania, Yugoslavia, Romania) always retained a high degree of independence vis-à-vis the Soviets. The U.S. meanwhile pronounced the Truman Doctrine (justifying any means necessary to defeat communism, from electoral interference to assassination to coups and wars) and in 1949 created NATO as a ferocious anti-Soviet military alliance. The Soviets responded seven years later with their own much smaller Warsaw Pact alliance that, of course, was dissolved in 1991, when NATO should have been. The U.S. remains tied by expensive military alliances with the now-reunited Germany and Japan, and continues to station more soldiers in those two countries than anywhere else. They are followed by South Korea (part of the Japanese Empire during the Second World War) and Italy, showing that the U.S. is still in a perverse deluded way fighting that war.

Both Japan and Germany—the third and fourth largest economies in the world, whose combined GDPs equal about half the U.S. figure—oppose the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from, and seek to destroy, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed with Iran four years ago. They want normal ties with Iran. They fear the real prospect that crazies around the U.S. president—known, rapid war-mongering, fanatically Zionist, pathological liars, bible-toting nutcases, smug psychos and wild-eyed brutes like Jared Kushner, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo—will arrange a war to bring on the apocalypse they so crave.

They are surely indignant that a man as obviously as moronic as Tillerson intimated is ordering them, in their maturity, and their nations, in their dignity, to obey U.S. orders to isolate and provoke Iran. And worried about the possible consequences of Trump’s madness and vulnerability to the arguments of evil advisors. They will surely be trying through flattery and patient argument to promote talks with the Iranians.

Trump says he doesn’t want war. He says he wants to talk, but leaves it to the Iranians to call him, to show their respect. He says he doesn’t want regime change (although Bolton surely does and says so continuously). He says President Rouhani is probably a “lovely man.” He just doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons.

The Germans and Japanese know Trump likes others to come to him. So they will get on the phone and urge Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif to stoke Trump’s ego and call him. And they will say, just repeat what you have many times, guarantee him that Iran does not want and will not build nuclear weapons. Give him a way to back down, like the Mexicans just did. Let him claim a better deal, if that allows trade to get going…

Trump is a profoundly ignorant if not stupid human. He genuinely might not know that U.S. intelligence services have been saying since 2003 that Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program. The IAEA has ascertained this. The Iranian supreme leader has issued a fatwa banning the production or use of nuclear weapons. The leading western authority on Iran’s nuclear program, Gareth Porter, has exhaustively documented the fact that Iran has never had a serious program to produce nuclear weapons, at least not since the Islamic Revolution.

Anyway, by suggesting that his only demand is that Iran not acquire nukes, Trump allows the Iranians to say, “Fine. We agree. What more assurances do you want?” And then, if his advisors are in the room, Trump will say, actually, we want more than no nukes, we need to you to obey us in all these other areas Pompeo has announced. You have to stop missile tests, and end aid to Hizbollah, Hamas, Iraqi Shiite militias, Houthis and the Syrian government. Only then will we let Japan, Germany and all the countries we indirectly control trade with you.

The German foreign minister Heiko Maas has visited Tehran to meet with his dignified, level-headed counterpart. Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is heading to Iran Wednesday to attempt to mediate between his U.S. bosses and the Iranian leadership. He is perhaps in a good position to do so. Abe has been Japanese prime minister since 2012—a very long time for a Japanese leader. He is an extremely reactionary figure, proud grandson of an accused war criminal who also served as prime minister (1957-60), advocate of constitutional revision (to legalize the huge Japanese military), promoter of a view of history in which Japan once led Asia in sloughing off colonialism. He has deliberately provoked the Koreas and China by statements, actions and threats involving contested claims over islands. His tax hikes and austerity measures have produced much pain for the Japanese. I have no fondness for the man.

But I would like to suggest what he might, speaking from his own point of view perhaps, say to the Iranian president.

He could begin by pointing out that Japan, as a close U.S. ally due to its post-war fate, must follow its leadership on foreign policy. However, he might add that for years Japan was Iran’s number one oil purchaser nation, before it was overtaken by China. Now it buys no oil from Iran; it is not allowed to, due to U.S. secondary sanctions. But for a time Japan, which has towed the U.S. line on virtually all global matters from the time of the Occupation to the present, did have a strong trade relationship with Iran, receiving special permission from the boss-nation to do so due to its complete dependence on foreign oil. (South Korea received this too.) So there is precedent for Japan playing a slightly independent role.

Moreover, there are reports that in the current situation Abe wants to play less the role of messenger than mediator, which makes sense from the point of view of his nationalist agenda.

Abe could further note that Japan and Iran (Persia) have had a trading relationship (since at least the eighth century CE, actually); have until recently enjoyed scholarly exchanges (such as Japanese archeologists’ work with their Iranian counterparts in exploring likely ancient Buddhist sites); and share a history of avoiding western colonization. Both cultures value etiquette, patience, calm and reason.

Abe and Rouhani no doubt share a common contempt for Trump as an ignorant, rude, unpredictable, dangerous, posturing buffoon. This would be how most world leaders see him. But they also no doubt grasp that his vanity can be used to defuse him. So Abe will say, as friend to friend, why not call him? Say that you are contacting him in response to his public invitation and whatever private communications there have surely been, because you have made statements that suggest you want to ease the “tensions” the U.S. claims have gotten higher recently. These statements include a perhaps facetious statement that you, Rouhani, are a “lovely man;” that he is not calling for regime change in Iran; that he wants to make a deal with the present government; even that he wants Iran to thrive under the present regime. All he wants, he insists, is that Iran not get nuclear weapons.

Call him and call his bluff. Remind him that the Iran Deal virtually prevents Iran from getting nuclear weapons any time soon, and that the IAEA knows that, and the UN knows that, and the signatory nations except for Trump’s know that. Offer him even more iron clad assurances; he won’t know what you’re talking about. Dangle before him the prospect of the Nobel Peace Prize. Let him announce that trust has been achieved and the U.S. now looks forward to investing in Iran, which like North Korea, has awesome prospects.

The current head of the IAEA happens to be a Japanese flunky of the U.S.  (He was elected in July 2009 to succeed the Egyptian, Mohammad ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in part due to his refusal to bow to U.S. disinformation about Iran’s nuclear program provided by the likes of Bolton. There were six rounds of voting, the U.S. each time opposing the favored South African candidate. Amano was more suitable because a diplomatic cable released by the invaluable Wikileaks indicated that Amano “was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”)

The other day as he opened a meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors, Amano stated blandly, “I… hope that ways can be found to reduce current tensions through dialogue.”  In other words, he faults both sides for such “tensions” and is probably saying: “Meet with Trump, President Rouhani, to reduce these tensions!” May the Iranians respond to Trump’s clueless provocations with a mix of calculated taqiyya and principled insistence on established international law, putting the bullying Wizard of Oz in his place, daring him to please Natanyahu, Jared and MbS by provoking war. And may Trump back down, agreeing on some formula allowing him to claim some victory that had eluded Obama.

An “Emergency” to Send Billions in Weapons to the Saudis

So Trump has declared an “emergency” to circumvent Congressional oversight of arms shipments to other countries. By law Congress by law is given 30 days advance before before such sales are completed, and it can obstruct them. But a loophole in the Arms Control Act allows the president to authorize sales in an emergency.

One must ask what emergency causes the president to allow sale of $ 8 billion in arms manufactured by Boeing, Lockhead, Raytheon, and GE to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan. (Britain’s BAE and Europe’s Airbus will also profit handsomely from this decision.)

What emergency confronts any of these recipient countries? The murderous regime of Jared Kushner pal Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, savagely murders journalists who criticize it, crushes dissent in neighboring Bahrain, kidnaps the Lebanese prime minister, applies the strictest interpretations of Sharia law within the kingdom and wages war on Yemen, killing tens of thousands of civilians with U.S. support. Where’s the problem? Is the criminal Saudi effort in Yemen failing so badly the Saudis need more arms to kill more Yemenis to stave off defeat?

What is the emergency in the UAE? They are allied with the Saudis in the effort to crush the Houthis of Yemen, who because of their Shiite Islam in a generally Sunni region are both despised for religious reasons by Gulf monarchs, and consequently smeared with Iranian associations, not because substantial political and military ties exist between Iran and the Houthis (as they do between Lebanon’s Hizbollah and Iran) but because they hate Shiites in general. Perhaps in this emergency situation they need more U.S. bombs to drop the Arab world’s poorest, most miserable country?

What emergency does the Kingdom of Jordan face?

Presumably the State Department and Pentagon will suggest that “recent Iranian threats” to U.S. forces in the Middle East–which were justified as the Pentagon indicated that 120,000 troops would be sent, adjusted down to 10,000, then 1,200-1,500 for some reason (I suspect because the Pentagon balked at the larger figures, noting that there was in fact no new real Iranian threat to U.S. forces in the region)–constitute an “emergency” justifying the sales. (The British and Germans perceive no elevated threat from Iran and have pooh-poohed U.S. saber-rattling.) Fake news is being deployed to rationalize sending more forces to the region, thus ratcheting up tensions with an Iran that has in fact been cautiously defensive.

Trump himself may rationalize it as he always has: arms sales to Saudi Arabia create jobs! (Trump has repeatedly said that the $ 110 billion in arms deals he’s signed with Saudi Arabia means “500,000 jobs.” This is more Fake News; the number is a tiny fraction of that. But clearly Trump is a prime example of Marx’s dictum that “The soul of the capitalist is capital.” It’s not so much about creating jobs anyway but creating obscene profits from arms sales for the captains of the military-industrial complex.)

We can’t allow the hack-saw murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Istanbul consulate to affect our strong ties to the Saudi arms market! U.S. national security is at stake!

Kushner reportedly told MbS that this crisis about the Khashoggi murder in Oct. 2018 would “blow over.” (The prince has told intimates that he has Jared “in my pocket.” It appears that Jared supplied him with the names of Saudi dissidents, subsequently detained, in return for something.) Indeed, the cordial U.S.-Saudi relationship seems unaffected by the murder.

Meanwhile UNCHR, the UN Refugee Agency, has proclaimed a “Yemen Emergency”—which is to say, a real emergency in the real world. This is due principally to the U.S./U.K.-backed Saudi-led campaign to subdue Yemen and turn it into a Saudi satrapy. The civilian casualties, the refugee figures, the deaths from war-related famine alone are horrific. And the Saudis block aid.

We have an emergency in this country, this imperialist country–an urgent need to stop Trump, Pompeo and Bolton from starting another war-based-on-lies egged on by the beastly SbM and the murderous Binyamin Netanyahu, family friend of the Kushners. (Surely you know he once borrowed Jared’s bed in a sleepover at the Kusher home? They’re that close. Google search it. And then realize that the 38-year-old Kushner is Trump’s “senior advisor” on the Israel-Palestinian problem, facilitator of the corrupt Israeli-Saudi anti-Iranian alignment.)

*****

Final thought: One real offense that should be truly impeachable is authorizing the sale of fighter jets and bombs used to kill children to a regime led by a prince U.S. intelligence services hold responsible for a journalist’s murder, sidelining Congress in doing so.

The Constitutional Crisis, Impeachment and Russophobia

I think this is what you call a constitutional crisis.

The president says the Mueller Report exonerates him of Russian collusion and obstruction of justice. Democrats in Congress insist it does show evidence for obstruction, that needs further investigation through hearings. Trump has ordered his officials, lawyers and aides to refuse to testify, citing executive privilege, obliging the seven House committees investigating Trump to subpoena witnesses, who may still refuse to appear. Such people, if cited by Congress, with contempt could be forced by courts to pay fines or even be imprisoned. But it is not clear what will happen; hence, a crisis.

Trump now indicates that he will not cooperate with the Democratic majority in the House on key issues such as infrastructure until they conclude their annoying investigations of his alleged obstruction, as well as his finances. His puerile tantrum at the Wednesday White House meeting with the Democratic leadership was occasioned by a remark by the Democratic Speaker of the House that Trump was guilty of a “cover-up.” He essentially told Nancy Pelosi that if she was going to speak rudely of him, he would takes his toys and go home.

One can understand his feelings, of course. Why work with people who are (falsely, in your own mind) accusing you of misbehavior? Pundits are noting that Nixon and Clinton during their impeachment proceedings could stay focused on government business and compartmentalize their minds. But Trump may be unable or unwilling to do that. And it may well be that he is positively courting impeachment, assuming the Republican-dominated Senate would acquit him and that the proceedings might actually consolidate his base for the 2020 election.

The constitutional crisis pits Congressional oversight against executive privilege. The parliament against the king. It’s an exciting spectacle to watch, but there are no heroes in it. The Democrats hoped to bring Trump down (and discredit the result of the 2016 election) by using Cold War-type Russophobia. They are bitterly disappointed they could not wed their effort to drive Trump from office to that Russophobia, and that the Mueller probe found no evidence for Russian collusion with the Trump campaign much less the full-fledged conspiracy imagined by many. Now the goal is to bring him down through the investigation of his finances. (Of course, allegations of a mysteriously cordial relationship between Trump and Putin will also continue, and nascent plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow, where Trump hosted a Miss Universe pageant in 2013, will be adduced as evidence for somehow inappropriate ties with an “adversary” nation.)

Documents subpoenaed by the Congress from Deutsche Bank and Capital One might well show illicit financial transactions. Trump has called the investigation of his finances a red line; in his view they are none of the people’s business. One reason (we now know, thanks to New York Times reporting) Trump lost billions in the 1990s; he is not a very good businessman after all, and it’s embarrassing to him for the world to know it. But soon we know much more about his finances, and may discover scandals sufficient to turn more Republicans against the president and allow for impeachment in both houses. Who knows, we may even discover evidence for illegal Russian loans to Trump, which would make the Democrats’ dream come true.

Pelosi has been cautious about seeking impeachment, pending more investigations that could produce a bipartisan effort. To see that, as many Dems do, as excessively careful would be a mistake, since the move would allow the Democrats to vent but fail in the end. And any move towards impeachment now would dwell on alleged obstruction of a probe into his Russian ties, and necessarily center around the premise that Russia is an adversary with whom all contact is suspicious. More promotion of Russophobia, just as Trump and Putin are finally talking, would be unfortunate.

Now that a federal judge has ruled against Trump’s effort to prevent the Congress from obtaining his bank records, we can expect some details about the two billion loans made to him by Deutsche Bank before the 2016 election. But can he be impeached for white-collar crimes committed before taking office? There are a number of constitutional issues here. But more important than these, and the fate of this particularly odious president, are the problem of corporate control over the political process in this country, and the problem of capitalist imperialism which requires the positing of adversaries, chief among them Russia.

The Treasury Department and Moves Towards War on Iran

As Patrick Cockburn has observed in a recent Counterpunch column, “At the end of the day, the US Treasury is a more powerful instrument of foreign policy than the Pentagon for all its aircraft carriers and drones.” He refers, of course, to the success of U.S. sanctions on Iran and secondary sanctions on any corporations conducting trade with Iran. These have cut Iranian oil exports in half. They are, in fact, a form of undeclared warfare designed to inflict pain on the Iranian people, such that they rise up against the mullahs and topple the regime.

Cockburn notes that the European Union, while earnestly striving to sustain the Iran Deal by developing normal trade relations with Japan, has been thwarted by the U.S. Treasury Department.  The U.S. is demanding in effect that all nations including China and Russia join with it in torturing Iran until it capitulates to U.S. demands and U.S.-Israeli-Saudi plans for a reconfigured Middle East.

The arrogance of Trump, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton as they bark their demands, not only to the Iranians but to everyone, disgusts the world. It invites angry protests, from the European Commission to the Chinese foreign ministry. It is a clear violation of the principles of free trade and the sovereign rights of nations. It is the ultimate U.S. attack, because its target is the entire world.

If you are a foe and you trade with Iran, we punish you.

If you are a friend and you trade with Iran, we punish you.

All must obey the U.S.A. as it strives to hurt Iran. All must become complicit in the deliberate destruction of the Iranian economy, while the U.S. openly advertises plans to send 120,000 troops to the region to intimidate Iran.

Trump’s almost equally moronic presidential predecessor George W. Bush once declared, “You’re either for us, or against us.” He referred to the original War on Terror as waged mostly in Afghanistan, which received general approval from governments world-wide. (The Iraq War was another matter; even key allies were not “for” the U.S. and were briefly vilified as “enemies.”)

The current administration says, “You’re either on board our project of regime change in Iran, and willing to forgo lucrative investment opportunities in that country, or you’re against us. And if you’re against us, we will not allow you to operate in the U.S. marketplace or finance your operations using U.S. banks.”

In the history of U.S. arrogance, this is a peak. I struggle to find any historical parallel, in which a country not only announced its intention to destroy a regime—by organizing an international economic boycott enforced through its banks—but demanded universal compliance in its efforts.

It is not only damaging economically. It is insulting. As the world becomes increasingly multipolar, and the U.S. position in it steadily declines, it throws down the gauntlet. Pompeo’s gate-crashing appearance at the last EU meet (on Iran) says it all. The uninvited and un-respected U.S. Secretary of State barged uninvited into a meeting to demand from an unsympathetic audience cooperation in its regime-change effort. All he achieved apparently was to convince the Europeans that the U.S. is pushing to another Iraq-style war based on lies. (Surely any European diplomat is aware of the character of John Bolton, and is appalled that the moron-president would choose such a thug as his national security advisor.)

The mustachioed monster lusts for war on Iran, with probable backing from Apocalypse Mike, the bible-toting secretary of state, and Boeing exec turned acting war secretary Patrick Shanahan. Can Trump, despite his declared opposition to overseas military adventures, resist their arguments for war?

The media is widely reporting that statements from top-ranking British officers in Iraq and elsewhere that there has been no acceleration of a threat from Iran, contradicting Bolton’s sensationalistic claims. Their “unusual” statements contradicting U.S. State Department bullshit indicate a high level of tension even between the U.S. and U.K. on the Iran question. This suggests the threat of a U.S. strike is receding; you wouldn’t think they’d proceed without even London’s support. But on the other hand the U.S. is evacuating non-essential personnel from Iraq, suggesting it wants to whisk them out of harm’s way before some immanent action in that country.

There is a madman in power, who controls both the Pentagon and the Treasury Department. He is pressing less for war than for capitulation under economic torture. But he does not understand the Shiite passion for self-sacrifice. The Iranian people are not so stupid as to think that, whatever pocketbook misery the U.S. inflicts on their country, they are better off submitting (again) to U.S. imperialism. The Iranian people have positive feelings for the people of this country, in part due to the history of academic exchanges: the Iranian Foreign Minister studied at San Francisco State University and University of Denver. But they view the U.S. government with contempt (as we all should).

So as Trump tightens the screws, and the Europeans prove incapable of holding up their end of the deal due to U.S. sabotage, the Iranians will stubbornly hold out, praying for regime change in the U.S. while the murderous Netanyahu and Prince MsB trade high-fives about how swimmingly this is all going.

Can a Socialist Win in the U.S.A.?

It’s a stretch to assume, the way all cable news anchors do, that a self-avowed socialist cannot become U.S. president, due to a supposedly inherent, gut-level American antipathy to socialism. The talking heads posit this in an attempt to convince the viewers that any hopes they have for fundamental change are hopeless if they challenge the omnipotent capitalist system. Don’t even think about it!

The fact is, Bernie Sanders was the most popular politician in the country in 2016; he would likely have won the Democratic nomination had the Democratic National Committee not skewed the primaries in Hillary’s favor. (Committee chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz herself declared in a leaked memo to staff that it would be “silly” to think Sanders would ever become president. Recall how she had to resign in disgrace when the rigging was revealed, at the Democratic National Convention, once the sabotage had been done. Her punishment? She’s a Representative of Florida in the Congress.)

But since Bernie has again declared his candidacy, taking off with a fundraising roar, the talking heads agree that Bernie’s time is past. Okay, we’ll grant that he put up a good effort last time, and can be credited with placing certain issues like health care for all, student debt relief, tuition-free colleges, and income inequality on the table. But last time there was a narrow Democratic field, and this time it’s crowded with “progressive” candidates who will steal some of Sanders’ fire. He is thus unnecessary and redundant.  The good parts of his message are echoed by his rivals, who meanwhile repeat the loyalty oath: “I’m a capitalist.”

Elizabeth Warren boasts: “I’m a capitalist.” Echoes Beto O’Rourke: “I am a capitalist.” “I am not a democratic socialist,” says Kamala Harris, “I believe that capitalism has great strengths when it works for all people equally well.” “I’m a capitalist,” says soon-to-declare Joe Biden. These are the safe candidates who could win the next presidential election against Trump.

So socialism is a big Sanders negative. Senior correspondents and analysts agree that association with socialism is “toxic” in America, that it’s Kryptonite for the Democratic Party.

Then there’s his age. He appears in good health and has stamina. He is not a typical 77-year-old U.S. male, as his socialist identity shows, and indeed he has admirable, understated history of anti-racist activism that contributes to his appeal among youth. But his critics listing his problems include this one.

Worse than being old, Sanders is white; and “experts” on cable news say that being white may be a negative in the race. And he’s male–an old white male whose staff last time included some men who sexually harassed women. (So he’s possibly a secret sexist?) Worse, he’s Jewish–and not the religious sort beloved of the Zionist Christian Evangelicals but probably an atheist.

So, obviously a hopeless cause. Not because of his age, really: the establishment’s favored candidate Biden is 76. Nor because of his whiteness, really; again, the media fawns on Biden and O’Rourke. Nor because of Sanders’ Jewishness (and his progressive politics which are rooted in New York City Jewish activism). No, it’s his (supposed) socialism that makes him a necessary target.

As Counterpuncher Paul Street noted in his excellent piece March 13, MSNBC has in particular raged against the prospect of a socialist running for president (again). The network is as a matter of policy promoting capitalism as the national creed, the key to American prosperity (such as it is), the socio-economic embodiment of Freedom. Joe Biden positively demands from his guests their endorsement of the system; when Joe Scarborough asked Col. Governor John Hickenlupper, who co-founded a Denver brewing company, if he was a capitalist, and Hickenlupper hedged on the matter, Scarborough was horrified. The clip of Hickenlupper declining to boast about being a capitalist was repeated endlessly on MSNBC to underscore the seriousness of the problem of anti-capitalist sentiment.

To such a state have we fallen! When over half of young people see socialism positively, and capitalism negatively. And some presidential candidates might calculate that they’re better off not advertising themselves in what many see as negative terms.

Last week MSNBC commentator and advertising executive Danny Deutsch fumed on Morning Joe: “I find Donald Trump reprehensible as a human being, but a socialist candidate is more dangerous to this company, country, as far as the strength and well-being of the country, than Donald Trump.  I would vote for Donald Trump, a despicable human being… I will be so distraught to the point that that could even come out of my mouth, if we have a socialist [Democratic presidential candidate or president] because that will take our country so down, and we are not Denmark.”

Wow. As a capitalist, Deutsch’s lot is with despicable Trump, versus Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib (and Denmark). He wants to draw the line there.

This is in a way an enlightening time to live, when things that were not discussed clearly before now come out into full sight. During my childhood, we were taught that the big struggle in the world was Communism versus Democracy, it being understood that democracy includes free market principles. (The term “capitalism” was avoided, associated as it was with Marxist discourse.) But with the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the USSR, the triumph of capitalism was shouted from bourgeois rooftops. What a revolutionary force in the world, so superior to the discredited, defeated socialism!

But since 1991 global capitalism has not succeeded very well, at least not in producing the positive changes people want. Certainly in this country today, young people live less affluently than their parents’ generation did; things are not getting better in many ways. It makes sense for youth to feel attracted to socialism, in the broadest sense, and ideally, to study some theory and engage in activism. The youth have not been successfully brainwashed to associate socialism automatically with  gulags, ideological conformity, and political oppression.

It is precisely because capitalism is in deep crisis that its high priests must insist on its inherent, eternal superiority and chide the youth for their foolish idealism.

I’m reminded of how, in 1925, just as the voting franchise in Japan was expanded suddenly to include all adult males, the existing law forbidding any questioning of the doctrine of the kokutai (the “national essence” of Japan as a country created by the gods, led by an unbroken line of emperors “coeval with Heaven and Earth” descended from the Sun Goddess) was augmented with a ban on criticism of the “system of private property.”  Of course it was already impermissible to criticize the emperor, or the Meiji Constitution he had given the people out of his benevolence. Now criticism of capitalism itself

was also firmly banned and harshly punished with prison terms.

Think of that. The emperor had been viewed as sacred, beyond criticism. Now capitalism was placed on a par with the kokutai, as something to revere.

Danny Deutsch wants us all to love capitalism. MSNBC does in general. CNN too, and Fox. They are, after all, capitalist networks whose advertisers impact the content of what they sponsor. Joe and Mika should alert the viewer each morning: “This is a capitalist network, paid for by capitalists who use 15 minutes per hour to sell their products and services. We accordingly report the news from a pro-capitalist, American point of view.” But that would be too blatant.

It’s good in any case that lines are being drawn, vaguely though they are; the commentators agree that young voters’ perceptions of socialism are unsophisticated. Sanders’ socialism is not that envisioned by Lenin but the type of welfare-state capitalism that has succeeded best in Scandinavia. Those who support socialism have many different ideas about what it is or should be, but they are clear on the fact that capitalism is one mode of production, very creative historically but not eternal, not the “end of history” but a mere stage beyond which humans can progress.

That’s really the key point of Marxist thought: the understanding that socio-economic structures are historically transitory. They come and go. There is still slavery in the world, but it has diminished over centuries. There are still millions chained to the soil and controlled like serfs, but wage-labor is more and more the global norm. The relationship between the worker and the capitalist employer, on the rise in Europe from the sixteenth century, constitutes capitalism. It had a birth in time, and will die in time.

What follows will probably be called socialism.  It will draw upon the Soviet and Chinese experiences of centralized planning, learning from successes and failures, but with a much deeper understanding of how markets work. Capitalism will be recalled as the dominant system in an era of  several hundred years, during which as Marx observed, the bourgeoisie played a revolutionary role. But today’s Danny Deutsches are no revolutionaries but reactionaries horrified that Capital is being questioned. “The soul of the capitalist is capital,” Marx observed. Threatened at the soul-level, the bourgeois commentariat takes aim at the Democratic Socialists, socialism in general, tuition-free college, medicaid for all.

Good, good. Let them attack. Let there be discussion. May capitalism and socialism become household words and debate rage. It’s high time.

Paul Manafort and the Crime of Not Provoking Russia

Paul Manafort has been convicted and sentenced to four years in prison for what the judge calls “white collar crimes” unrelated to “Russian collusion.” The mainstream press is in a state of shock. Surely, the morning cable anchors protest, he should have gotten 20 years!

He was friends with (“pro-Russian”) Ukrainian businessmen and politicians! He took fees for political consulting work with foreigners—that he never reported to the IRS! He committed bank fraud and tax fraud! And he may have had a role in the decision of the Republican National Committee at the Republican convention in July 2016, to modify a section of the program to remove reference to the provision of U.S. lethal military aid to Ukraine!

For two years that last accusation has been treated by the press as the truly damning one, the clear proof of a conspiracy to help Russia. There’s been a deliberate effort to generate outrage, where none really smolders in the masses’ breasts. How many people in this country feel strongly about the issue of Ukraine, could find the country on the map, have any knowledge in its history or any strong feelings about the matter of who should have sovereignty over Crimea?

The implicit argument is that not to give offensive weapons to the government in Ukraine at the time (then headed by Arseniy Yastenyuk, who had attained power through a U.S.-supported violent coup and the documented sponsorship of grotesque neocon beast Victoria Nuland) was anything other than the height of irresponsibility, if not treason. (“What more do we need than that?” demands the angry CNN “foreign policy analyst” or “national security analyst” while the hosts nod in agreement.), But this new regime in Kiev was riddled with fascists, was engaged in an effort to impose its armed authority over a rebellious ethnic Russian Donbas region, and might potentially be at war with Russia at any moment.

One could interpret the platform change as a rational retreat from an unnecessary provocation of Moscow. Why should that be so controversial or mysterious?

But to the talking heads of MSNBC and CNN, and maybe some on Fox, the minor move was sure, clear proof of Russian collusion. The party committee couldn’t have been applying mere common sense, and deference to a presidential nominee who’d expressed hope for normal relations with Russia. No, it had to have been hijacked by Russian agents.

In the real world, it’s just possible that Manafort (for whatever reasons) had educated Trump to some basic facts: Ukraine has long been ethnically divided between Ukrainians and (ethnic) Russians. The regime that seized power in February 2014 (toppling the democratically elected if highly corrupt one that Manafort had served) had completely alienated the Donbas region from the outset by its anti-Russian discriminatory measures, provoking the rebellion. As for the Crimean Peninsula, it had been Russian from 1785 to 1954, and the base of the Russian Black Sea Naval Fleet since the 1780s, so it wasn’t surprising that Moscow would want to re-assert sovereignty to prevent the very real prospect of losing its base to the relentlessly expanding NATO.

(It would have made sense for Bernie Sanders, had he won the Democratic nomination—that is, had we had a fair, not rigged, Democratic primary process—-to have stricken out any such language from a Democratic Party platform.)

I wrote a number of columns about Ukraine after the 2014 putsch opposing U.S. intervention in Ukraine and the U.S. effort, involving about $ 5 billion invested in what Victoria Nuland and Madeleine Albright both referred to publicly as “support for the Ukrainian people’s European aspirations.” (This was code for the drive of right-wing politicians in Ukraine to join EU after following the well-established pattern of former east bloc countries first joining NATO, then the European trade bloc.) Some of these were re-posted on Russian media. Am I thus guilty of collusion?

This matter of the non-support for military involvement in Ukraine, as a bad thing, is at the heart of the collusion case. The Manafort judge T.S. Ellis has been right to be skeptical, and to suspect that the prosecutors have been trying too hard to pin on Manafort a conspiracy charge implicating Trump and Russia. (Or a Trump staffer and a Russian businessman. Or a Trump aide and a Ukrainian businessman, or Russian-Ukrainian businessman, or Russian-American businessman.)

The fact of the matter is, as Graham Stack, a Fusion GPS researcher once hired to gather dirt on Manafort, pointed out last year: “Manafort was nothing like a pro-Kremlin influence on the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych… Instead, Manafort was one of the driving forces pushing Yanukovich towards signing the agreement with the EU. The Kremlin has every reason to hate him.”

That is, Manafort for his own business reasons wanted Ukraine to join the European Union, just like Victoria Nuland wanted to use the Ukrainian people’s (supposed) yearning to join the organization—that was then squeezing the life out of the Greeks and was subsequently rejected by the British—-as part and parcel of Ukraine’s planned entry into the anti-Russian military alliance. (This had been announced in 2008, the same year as NATO unveiled plans to welcome Georgia as well in the near term. That plan is on hold after the Russo-Georgia War of that year, just as plans to admit Ukraine are permanently on hold for fear—by the Germans, if not the U.S.—of provoking Russia.)

The motives of Nuland and Manafort were very different. She wanted a cause that would unite the opposition and facilitate regime change; he wanted a deal that would personally aggrandize him, given his investments in EU countries and in Ukraine. But  Russia was as of February 2014 opposed, for reasons Moscow stated clearly. (Basically, the cross-border economies are so deeply integrated, the cultures so similar and movement between the two countries so free that EU goods once in Ukraine would flow uncontrollably into Russia, damaging the Russian economy. Was the Russian stance unreasonable? Moscow offered Kiev a generous aid package, which Yanukovych accepted; meanwhile, Russia indicated it had no problem with Ukraine’s eventual EU membership once certain issues were resolved, and reiterated Putin’s aspiration for a Eurasia-wide free market to extend from Vladivostock to Lisbon. (Was this reasonable? Or does it “threaten our national interests” somehow?)

The Russians perhaps convinced Yanukovych that the austerity measures Ukraine would have to accept even for associate NATO membership would be destabilizing. So he withdrew from the provisional deal that had been pushed by Manafort.The  U.S.-backed  opposition declared Yanukovych a traitor loyal to Russia, and the government fell giving way to the current dysfunctional regime that lionizes fascists like Stephan Bandera.

One should definitely condemn Manafort for his past “consulting work”—with the likes of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, Gerald Ford, Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Jonas Savimbi. (This list of clients includes at least five mass murderers.) But why single him out for assisting the former, democratically elected Ukrainian president in his negotiations with the EU? (Oh, because he didn’t report the income…the tax fraud thing…  Terrible indeed.)

The fact is, Manafort would not have been on trial had there not been an effort to seize on any kind of link between anyone around Trump and any one or thing Russian to substantiate the charge of “Russian interference” in the U.S. election. The thinly researched and argued January 2017 “Assessing Russian Activities”intelligence report on that “interference” was followed by a drive to investigate Trump campaign collusion with Russia, with a clear political mission to explain Hillary’s loss by attributing it to Trump’s (treasonous, secret) relationship with Putin.

It hasn’t led to anything yet but a meeting in a Manhattan cigar bar Aug. 2, 2016 between Manafort, his deputy Mike Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian business partner of Manfort’s since 2005 (“thought to be linked to Russian intelligence”) that might have involved  the sharing of some polling data that by law should have been kept secret (or only shared with U.S. political operatives seeking to legitimately influence the outcome of the U.S. election).

Maybe some Russians used the information to influence targeted U.S. minds, using Facebook to throw the election result in Wisconsin. That would see horrible, would it not? An attack by other people on our democracy?! (While we never interfere, anywhere!)

The message is in any case clear. We should be outraged that “the Russians” “interfered” in “our election” tainting its result. We should view “our” elections as sacrosanct affairs, and be outraged that Trump staffers were willing to talk to Russian officials or private citizens, about the election or lots of other things, neglecting to report any contact with nationals of a country that (for some reason) we’re supposed to regard as an “adversary.”   Indeed, the overriding historical import of the movement to drive Trump from office is its re-enforcement of Russophobia in this country.

Trump is depicted as evil less due to his bigotry, misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, or corrupt business practices than due to his failure to do the right thing: take a hard line on Russia.

That means denouncing Putin, the way Hillary did. (Clinton as top U.S. diplomat called Putin a new Hitler, for re-annexing Crimea.) It means continuing to demand, as Obama did, that Russia withdraw from Crimea and cease whatever material support it provides to the separatists in the Donbas region or face continuing U.S. (and EU) sanctions. (These are hopeless demands, and are hurting Europe as well as Russia. Yet their maintenance is depicted as the only responsible route forward, and suggestions they be lifted portrayed as capitulation to evil.)

And it means howling in indignation when Paul Manafort, the closest thing to a “smoking gun” about collusion between Russia and Trump, only gets four years behind bars. It means disparaging Judge Ellis, noting his expressed concern about special prosecutors’ overreach and the possibility of the case becoming a “political weapon.”

News anchors visibly consternated by the sentence length seem troubled too by the likelihood that the Mueller probe will conclude with no real evidence. The dream of Trump being exposed as a Russian agent—promising sanctions relief after his victory in return for advance Russian notice about Wikileaks’ hacked emails publication schedule—-is fading.

In its place is the dream of replacing Trump in 2020 with an (appropriately) anti-Russian leader. This would mean one committed to NATO (which is still officially on track to include Georgia and Ukraine, to better encircle and provoke Russia); committed to the sanctions designed to hobble the Russian economy and prevent other countries from trading with it; committed to challenging Russia’s influence in the Middle East and depicting any such influence as “foreign interference” in a region that ought by rights be dominated by the U.S. as the world’s “exceptional” nation; and the insistence on the myth that the U.S. has “national interests” transcending class interests that need to be protected from Russia pursuing its own.

The appropriately anti-Russian leader the mainstream media seeks must of course be, preeminently, a proud capitalist. The restoration of normality must combine the new Russophobia (which has nothing to do immediately with anticommunism—since the Russian state is thoroughly capitalist and Putin’s party is both pro-market and pro-Orthodox religion—but draws on Cold War specifically anti-Russian tropes) with a clear repudiation of socialism.

*****

Saturday: Dave Gura on MSNBC expressing puzzlement that John Hinckenluper in a Joe Scarborough interview refused to call himself a capitalist (recognizing the negative connotations of that word among many young people).

Shame! the bipartisan panelists all agree; he should have proudly broadcast his capitalist status, and promoted the market as the key to creating jobs. If the Dems go with a “socialist” message, Trump will win! The very word socialism is Kryptonite!

These two phenomena—the mainstream ruling-class disappointment that the “Russian collusion” case is collapsing, and alarm at the soaring popularity of “socialism”—are related. To bring him down, one accuses the president of collusion with a country vilified throughout the Cold War; the USSR was targeted for its “socialism” but also attacked on the basis of ethnic stereotypes that remain useful to the anti-Russian propagandist. To make sure his successor is committed to the post-Cold War strategy of maintaining global hegemony and preventing the emergence of any rival, one must insure that someone who accepts capitalist imperialism takes office.

The morning TV news anchors, makers of public opinion, unite in agreement that it is unacceptable to question the motives of legislators who always vote in favor of Israel. (In this they in fact unite with Trump, who’s opportunistically charging the Democrats with antisemitism.) They also unite in agreeing it’s good the Hanoi summit between Kim and Trump failed, because it would be against U.S. interests to reduce sanctions until Pyongyang gets rid of it’s nukes (which it’s not going to do without sanctions relief, so the anti-Trump position is a virtual demand for war). These are some of the responsible positions of the anti-Trump mainstream.

My, what an awful, awful man! Such a Russian stooge! Jeopardizing our national security, serving Russian interests, by pulling out of Syria! (When did insistence on indefinite deployment of U.S. forced illegally in Syria become so mainstreamed?) And by talking about an Afghan pullout!

And his campaign chairman was meeting Russians! (Let us recall Manafort was chairman all of three months.) And Manafort was secretly meeting Russians, our adversaries!

Such outrage. Such unanimity. Such slavish devotion to capitalism, imperialism, “our heroes” in the U.S. military, sterile political correctness plus unquestioned devotion to Israel, and of course the systematic vilification of Russia. The trashing of both socialism and Russia, the latter having nothing to do with the former anymore, but what difference does it make?  We’re supposed to believe that both of them are Kryptonite, and that the choice before us is between the responsible capitalist and Russophobe (such as Joe Biden) and the capitalist and imagined Russophile traitor Donald Trump.

The Chickens Come Home to Roost

The fact is, the U.S. interventions in the Middle East since 9/11–especially the illegal, immoral war on Iraq based on lies—has, as regional leaders predicted it would, generally “destabilized” the area, and nearby regions.

The ruination of the Baathist Iraqi state has by this point produced a Sadrist-led regime that must maintain a degree of friendship with the U.S. that ushered in its ascent to power but is closer to Iran and will, defying the U.S., maintain that relationship based in part on religious commonality. This is an awkward situation, in that a regime produced by U.S. imperialist aggression chooses to ally itself with a regime that the U.S. (by bipartisan consensus) wants to topple.

U.S. military aggression in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya has flooded Europe with refugees, provoking multiple political crises and producing gains for the anti-immigrant right. Europeans properly blame the refugee problem on the U.S. and its arrogant imperialist adventures.

Each invasion has produced spinoffs. Al-Zarqawi, driven from Afghanistan, relocated in Iraq, forming a new Al-Qaeda franchise (that became ISIL). The occupation of Iraq led directly to ISIL’s spread into Syria (and the U.S. military’s pursuit). One thing leads to another. The destruction of Libya spread chaos into Niger and Mali and gains for local al-Qaeda and ISIL forces now chased by French and U.S. special forces.

Meanwhile U.S. pressure on Middle East allies to embrace (at least show-window) “democracy”—really a neocon afterthought to lend some bogus moral content to the effort to control the region, to justify the war-based-on-lies—led to electoral victories by Hamas in Palestine (2006), Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (2012), and Hizbollah in Lebanon (2018). These were followed by U.S. efforts to topple the (annoyingly victorious) parties in those democratic exercises (and of course further instability).

U.S. (rhetorical) allegiance to democratic principles may have encouraged the mass rebellions of the “Arab Spring” (2011), during which the Obama administration gave erstwhile allies (like Ali Saleh in Yemen and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt) their marching orders, and (with NATO) destroyed the Libyan state facilitating the grotesque murder of (recent friend) Muammar Gaddafi. And U.S. support for Saudi Arabia—possibly the world’s very worst violator of human rights, although the U.S. corporate press treats it with kid gloves—allowed for the crushing of the Bahraini Shiite mass protests by Saudi-led Sunni forces, and the ongoing Saudi destruction of Yemen.

The U.S. has done absolutely no good in the so-called “Greater Middle East” since its imbecilic leadership in 2001 proclaimed a vague “War on Terror” aimed mainly at Islamist forces seen as terrorists—but open-ended enough to include North Korea (in the stupidly conceptualized “Axis of Evil”), Filipino Maoists, or units of the Iranian military. (By the way, note that the author of that stupid term, Bush speechwriter—now a respected CNN “political news analyst”—David Frum, is a Canadian interfering in the U.S. political process. But nobody cares. Imagine if he were Russian.)

Repeat: absolutely no good. No more good than the Nazis did when they launched their comparable immoral, unjustifiable imperialist invasions. (We should never thank the purveyors of mass murder for their “service” as is the norm, indeed required etiquette on corporate cable news.) All the war on terror and its spin-offs has produced is human misery.

The “War on Terror” label was dropped under Obama, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s latest pronouncements in Cairo indicate that the U.S. retains its drive to destroy “radical Islamism” in the Middle East. He even warned the Lebanese people about voting for Hizbollah, which has many members in parliament and holds posts in the Lebanese cabinet, lest they raise the U.S.’s wrath. Quite likely his crude efforts to meddle in foreign elections will backfire.

And of course in Pompeo’s list of terrorists to destroy is the Iranian leadership, and the Islamic Republic as currently structured. This puts the U.S. in conflict with Europe and the world in general, which wants to have normal relations with Iran and mutually beneficial trade.

Turkey, a close U.S. ally and NATO member—indeed the NATO member with the second largest army within the alliance—is one of these countries wanting normal relations with Iran. The two countries have differences, including in Syria, but are working (with Russia) to reduce those differences through the “Astana Process.” And now Turkey’s differences with its old ally Washington are strained as never before.

The problem is the Kurds and the prospect of an independent Kurdish nation. This was the Turkish concern (that is, the concern of the Turkish ruling class) all along. The current president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, supported the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 (while the Turkish parliament failed to support it)—but only if it allowed for the deployment of Turkish forces in northern Iraq to suppress any prospect of Kurdish independence (that might encourage Turkish Kurds in their drive to acquire independence). He feared that the toppling of Saddam Hussein would, if not coupled with the suppression of any Kurdish independence hopes, threaten Turkey.

The U.S. State Department, to say nothing of the political class in general, was clueless about the distinction between Kurds and Arabs, as it was of the distinction between Shiites and Sunnis, or Turks and Iranians. Now the inevitable has happened. The U.S. in an effort to “destroy” ISIL (Obama’s language) made common cause with the only people in Syria willing to join with its (discredited, hated, exposed, imperialist) self: the Kurdish Peshmergas. It has used them to whittle down the ISIL forces, whose existence is a painful embarrassment to the U.S. since its actions obviously produced it in the first place. But it has wanted to use them ultimately to bring down the Assad government and replace it with a pro-U.S., Israel-friendly puppet regime.

Trump (for whatever reasons, which will probably involve no moral reflection) seems to have given up on the latter ambition. He sounds content to accept an independent Syria enjoying cordial ties to Russia, Iran, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, China, etc. (The U.S. always depicts states targeted for regime change as “isolated” from what they call “the international community” which somehow routinely excludes major countries not subject to U.S. hegemony.)

Still, there’s that problem of the 2000 Special Forces there in Syria, operating alongside Kurds that Turkey sees as “terrorists.” And since Trump wants to withdraw them, Erdogan wants to move in to eradicate what he sees as a national security threat. Which is to say: the U.S. imperialist orgy in the Greater Middle East has finally reached the crisis-point in which its interests conflict with those of a close ally, and there may be war between its NATO pal and its Syrian Kurdish clients.

This is very, very embarrassing. And since the president is an unstable, unpredictable fool—alternately stubborn and malleable—his national security advisor John Bolton (the very worst man imaginable in the current situation—a lying, amoral, opportunistic, crazed thug) has to go off to Israel to promise Benjamin Netanyahu that Trump, having announced a Syrian withdrawal, won’t in fact withdraw troops unless Turkey and Israel agree on the specifics.

Meanwhile the Kurds themselves, with long experience of U.S. betrayal, have reached out to the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, which is willing to negotiate with the Peshmerga for an autonomous Rojava region. It is possible that the horrific Syrian tragedy will end with the re-consolidation of the secular state, including that plan for autonomy, with security assurances to Turkey and support from Russia and Iran, leaving the U.S. aside (as an unhelpful, indeed toxic, partner).

It’s also possible that the Turkish leader, who has had an on-again, off-again friendship with the mad president and who pointedly snubbed Bolton during his visit the other day, will break with Washington, realign with Russia (from whom he has already agreed to purchase billions in armaments, to the consternation of NATO leaders) and make it finally clear to the world that the criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq produces some very heavy karma.

In attempting to reconfigure and dominate the Middle East, the neocon-led George W. Bush administration triggered a process that now leads—perhaps inevitably—to division within the U.S.’s own camp. The obvious, embarrassing division between idiot Bolton’s iterations in Cairo and Tel Aviv, and his boss’s idle blabbering about pulling out of Syria, results from the illogic of the whole U.S. enterprise in the first place.

You cannot simply announce that you—as the world’s “exceptional” nation—are entitled to impose your (myth of) “democracy” (= smiling submission to capitalist-imperialist domination) on all other nations, in which effort your nurtured allies since the 1940s are supposed to collude.

But no, dumb-ass! You cannot reconcile the differences between Turkey and the Kurds, or any of the other fundamental conflicts in the Middle East, on the basis of your warped consciousness of “national interests” and contemptuous ignorance of history. You cannot prevent the vicious assault of the Bush-Cheney regime on the Middle East—continued by the cowardly continuance of Bush-Cheney policy by Barack Obama and his bloodthirsty secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, throughout the region culminating in the absolute wreckage of North Africa’s most advanced, affluent state—from leading the chickens home to roost.

You cannot prevent your unforgivable, savage interventions in the Middle East from shattering your own long-cherished alliances with client states whose interests actually now oppose your own. Welcome to imperial decline, you dumb-ass Bolton, you moronic sociopath Donald Trump. Chickens are jumping up and down in the chicken-coop, agitated, reorienting. The sky is falling, this time, really.

Good!

Whitewashing Murder is Simply Wrong

Last Tuesday, within about an hour of his announcement on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, in the heat of the moment, I commented on the president’s acceptance of the Riyadh royals’ explanation of the Istanbul consulate incident. I called his statement “crude” and “buttheadedly amoral.”  I should have stated the obvious broader point: It was wrong.

Marxists have historically inveighed (appropriately) against capitalism, imperialism, semi-feudalism etc.—neutral moral categories—using such terms as “reactionary” and “opportunist” when desiring to add a moral edge. And certainly capitalist profit and imperialist hegemony factor into Trump’s response to the cold-blooded crime. But sometimes it’s best to go back to the basics, and draw upon primordial human vocabulary. The murder of the dissident Saudi journalist was pure evil.

The prohibition on killing occurs in the earliest law codes and taboo lists. It’s understood to have limited application; rulers can use military force to maintain power and “preserve order.” But generally speaking humans concur that it’s wrong to kill someone. It’s wrong. This is basic. For those arriving from outer space it is Humanity 101. It is, of course the Sixth Commandment in the Bible. It is fundamental to the contrat social of Rousseau.

Killing means something different to those who believe in an afterlife and those who believe we die and disappear. Those of us who believe the latter perhaps value life more since it’s all we expect. The taking of another’s life seems especially presumptuous when you cannot, for example, pray for the soul of the person you’ve slain encouraging its rebirth somewhere, like in the Pure Land of Amida. The warrior Kumagae supposedly prayed for Atsumori after killing him during the Genpei War in Japan in the 1180s, to alleviate his sorrow and guilt.

But I don’t believe in afterlives. I don’t believe in Amida’s Paradise, or the Christian one, or the Paradise (Garden of Eden) described in the Quran as one of “gardens under which rivers flow…and beautiful mansions in gardens of everlasting bliss” (9:72). Here there  “will be thrones raised high, and cups set at hand. And cushions set in rows, and rich carpets (all) spread out” (88:10-16). I wonder in Muhammad bin Salman believes this, or whether he thinks it important to observe Muslim burial practices that include washing the body as soon as possible after death, enshrouding it in white linen, praying over it, and burying it without a coffin. (The Turkish police speculate that the Saudis dissolved Khashoggi’s body parts, which would be a terrible violation of Muslim law, but they might have been transported to Saudi Arabia.)

What they did in that consulate was final. I think again of Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem “People,” a wistful appeal for people’s right to exist.

In any man who dies there dies with him
his first snow and kiss and fight.
It goes with him.

There are left books and bridges
and painted canvas and machinery.
Whose fate is to survive.

But what has gone is also not nothing:
by the rule of the game something has gone.
Not people die but worlds die in them.

Such savages, those who kill thus crushing worlds. Worse savages, those who empower them.

Killing in wars has historically been tolerated so long as the war can be justified in order to preserve the above mentioned “order.” So, for example, the Saudis and their U.S. backers depict the ongoing war in Yemen as an effort to thwart Iranian proxies, the Houthis, from imposing a Shiite dictatorship over the country. (This depiction of the situation would be laughable were it not so accepted by the gullible talking heads on cable news.) There has been little popular outrage in the U.S. at the war crimes of Saudi Crime Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

No, the focus is on his responsibility for Jamal Khashoggi’s death. It feels more wrong than the mega-death theater raging on the Saudi border—because there’s a face on it and the relentless reminders from the writer’s Washington Post peers that their colleague was brutally murdered by the Saudi state.

The drama of it, if we can believe the Turkish press reports! The Crown Prince and his brother, the ambassador to the U.S., discussed luring Khashoggi to the Istanbul consulate. Indeed, the brother, Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Prince Khalid called Khashoggi telling him to report to the consulate to get his documents to marry his Turkish fiance. Someone in the court in Riyadh ordered the dispatch of a team (“hit-squad,” the Turkish police call it) of 15 identified Saudis, including several members of the prince’s security detail and the kingdom’s top forensic doctor armed with a bone saw, to apprehend his body and smuggle out his parts while a doppelgänger dressed in his stolen clothes walked to a nearby mosque to discard the clothing. All that’s just basically wrong.

It’s wrong in such detail you’d think anyone would recoil in horror at those responsible. Anyone with a modicum of morality.

And think about this. As in the days after Khashoggi’s disappearance October 5, the Saudi ambassador in Washington (again, a brother of the Crown Prince, who had been on the phone to Khashoggi) told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Khashoggi had left the consulate but the surveillance cameras had been turned off. We know the Saudis spent a special team to sanitize the consulate and consul-general’s home before Turkish police were allowed to investigate. The Saudi explanation has repeatedly changed and the Europeans have so far rejected it. The Saudis have given no explanation for the missing body.

This is wrong at so many levels, not the least in its very obviousness. The Saudis are lying. And yet Trump said Thanksgiving Day at his golf course in Florida: “I hate the crime, I hate what’s done, I hate the cover-up. I will tell you this: the crown prince hates it more than I do.”

What? Trump wants the people of the world to think the Crown Prince hates the murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi more than he himself does? What is the point of saying that, while continuing to admit that maybe the prince did it? That’s both wrong and stupid. The worst possible combination. “Who should be held accountable?” he was asked at Key Largo.  “Well,” he replied, as though addressing small children, “maybe the world should be held accountable, because the world is a vicious place. The world is a very, very vicious place.” he added, raising his eyebrows and rolling his eyes as if to suggest this viciousness is beyond mortal ken.

Yes, Trump said that Thursday. This too is just wrong. Feigning ignorance is morally wrong. Any small child knows this is wrong. It’s wrong to whitewash murder, especially when it’s designed to protect billions in arms contracts that spell death to tens of thousands of civilians. If Trump can get away with this, and the Saudis emerge unscathed, then morals mean nothing in this world, anything goes, brute force guided by hate and resentment should prevail. Sheer lies should compete with empirical reality, on an equal basis; reportage of fascism should recognize good on both sides.

More Trump: “…and we have 100s of 1000s of of [sic] jobs [from Saudi Arabia] and frankly if we went by this standard [of punishing calculated state-sponsored murder] we would not have any allies because look at what happens all over the world.” In his inarticulate, semi-comprehensible comments he pronounces the truth unknowable, acknowledges that his interest in the case is low, notes matter-of-factly that Saudi Arabia is not unusual as a brutal, murderous U.S. ally and that continued arms sales to the murderous kingdom is this nation’s (“nationalist”) primary aim.

America first! Standing boldly at the head of the world, or trying to, it embraces Saudi Arabia and Israel, covering up their many crimes, while vilifying Iran and openly planning for its destruction.

One CNN consultant (Joel Rubin) refers to the “anti-intelligence mentality of this administration.” Why beat around the bush? It’s an anti-truth mentality. It’s a cover up truth mentality. The administration is wrong in virtually all it does. It lies as matter of course. It is fundamentally evil. And now it has come as close one can imagine to celebrating a Black Mass on the White House lawn: it is lavishing praise on murderers for cutting the price of oil.

On Wednesday, as if to trumpet his success in placating Saudis upset about the fuss about Khashoggi,  Trump tweeted gleefully: “Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82. Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!” Let’s put all that unpleasantness behind us, while America tries to regain its greatness—like the Wizard of Oz team, without a brain, heart or courage—while the whole world recoils at its increasingly naked amorality.

Far from the moral compass it has postered as for two hundred years, the U.S. has become a pariah. In particular, the U.S. rejection of the “Iran Deal” and effort to proactively sabotage it to provoke a war, based on lies (like the Iraq War, the destruction of Libya, the ongoing Syrian intervention) in order to establish hegemony over all of Southwest Asia ) is unqualified evil. The nice thing about Washington’s virtual nod to the Crown Prince to continue at his post is that it bares the evil so plainly.

The U.S. is a rogue state supporting a myriad of rogue states “all over the world” as Trump frankly notes. What’s right has nothing to do with it. Trump is proudly mired in moral wrong, so as to actually boast about it. He seeks to pull his fan base into that wrong, whipping up the inner fascism there just under the surface. May visceral disgust mount all over the world, among those of differing values and ideologies. Because if this can pass, and the Yemeni carnage can pass, then concentration camps and World War Three. Idiocy and evil are in power, the worst possible combination, but maybe the best possible to prompt the revolution that must come.

The Jeff Sessions Matter

(This is intended as a study-aid to anyone trying to make sense out of the unfolding scandal. I proceed from the premise that the study of history is fundamentally the study of causal relationships over time. What leads to what? Scrolling up and down this timeline, expanding it, clarifying, repeating until it’s memorized, maybe we can get some small insights into the reasons for the imminent constitutional crisis.)

Note 1: The Attorney-General of the United States is the chief legal advisor of the U.S. government. Since 1789 this officer’s duties have been defined as “to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments.” Especially since the formation of the Justice Department in 1870 the functions of this official resemble those of Ministers of Justice elsewhere in the world. The Justice Department ranks with State, Defense and Treasury as among the four top power-centers in the regime.

Note 2: Past Attorney-Generals have included John Mitchell of Watergate fame (who served 19 months in federal prison for covering up for Nixon); and Elliott Richardson, who resigned rather than heed Nixon’s demand that he fire special Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox. They have included Robert Kennedy, Ramsey Clark, Robert Bork, Edwin Meese, Janet Reno, Eric Holder, John Ashcroft–a mixed bag of liberal opportunists, slowly evolving progressives, total reactionaries, weird religious fanatics.

That someone like Matt Whitaker, who three years ago was threatening a victim ripped off by his bogus firm with “criminal consequences”–positively boasting of his own status as “a former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa,” adding: “and I also serve on World Patent Marketing’s Advisory Board” should not shock those of us familiar with history. (But I fear we are a small minority.)

It should surely not shock anyone who remains unshocked by Trump’s pussy-grabbing talk, his support for Roy Moore, the Kavenaugh confirmation, his apparent satisfaction with Prince MbS’s explanation for the Khashoggi murder, etc., that he would appoint (as “a great guy”) this person he says he doesn’t really know except by reputation as Minister of Justice of this benighted country.

Note 3: Understanding the power and significance of the position, and the fact that it is sometimes held by a total thug who manipulates and avoids the law at will as their power allows, we should encourage anyone entangled in the legal system in the U.S. to soberly consider the possibility that the whole damned thing is presently under constitutionally illegitimate leadership. May doubt and disillusionment reign. They make sense.

Timeline

2015

June 16, 2015: Donald Trump announces his candidacy for president.

August: Matthew Whitaker, on behalf of World Patent Marketing, in an email threatens a bilked customer asking for refund: “I am a former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa and I also serve on World Patent Marketing’s Advisory Board. Your emails and message from today seem to be an apparent attempt at possible blackmail or extortion. You also mentioned filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and to smear World Patent Marketing’s reputation online. I am assuming you understand that there could be serious civil and criminal consequences for you if that is in fact what you and your ‘group’ are doing.”

(In May 2018 a federal judge dissolves World Patent Marketing and fines it $26 million for fraud.)

2016

Feb. 18, 2016: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) surprises the political world by becoming the first senator to endorse Trump for president.

March: Sessions attends campaign meeting with Trump in which aide George Papadopoulos mentions a Russian connection that could produce campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. His reaction unclear.

July: Campaign staffer Carter Page tells Sessions about his Russian business and other ties later revealed by the Mueller investigation and press reports.

Oct. 7: CIA director James Clapper accuses Russia of election interference.

Nov. 8: Trump unexpectedly elected president.

Nov. 18: newly-elected president Trump announces pick of Sessions as his attorney-general.

2017

Jan. 6, 2017: U.S. intelligence community releases report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,” asserts with high confidence that Russia attempted to interfere in U.S. elections.

Jan. 10: Sessions under questioning in Congress is asked if Trump campaign had any Russian contacts; says he was unaware of any.

Feb. 8: Congress confirms Sessions as Attorney-General, voting 52-47.

March 1: Washington Post reports Sessions had met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyk at least twice during campaign, one privately in his Senate office.

March 2, 2017: Sessions recuses himself from Russia probe, admits to having had contacts (brief conversations) with Kislyak during campaign. Trump immediately castigates him for this recusal.

May 9: Trump fires FBI director James Comey, stating this is at Sessions’ recommendation. (Deputy director Rod Rosenstein may have written up the argument.) Rosenstein appoints Paul Mueller to direct investigation of Russia election interference.

May: Washington Post reports that Rosenstein threatened to resign if held responsible for Comey’s firing.

May 17: Rosenstein appoints Paul Mueller special counsel to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

May 18 (4:20 AM EST): Trump tweets, ”This is the greatest witch hunt of any president in American history!”

June 21: As executive director of the (soon discredited) Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, Matthew Whittaker (former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, 2004-9)) appears on the Wilkow Majority show and declares, “The truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign. There was interference by the Russians into the election, but that was not collusion with the campaign. That’s where the left seems to be combining those two issues. The last thing they want right now is for the truth to come out, and for the fact that there’s not a single piece of evidence that demonstrates that the Trump campaign had any illegal or any improper relationships with the Russians. It’s that simple.”

August 6, 2017: Whitaker writes an opinion column for CNN entitled “Mueller’s Investigation of Trump is Going Too Far.” On same day highlights on Twitter a Philly.com opinion article “Note to Trump’s Lawyer: Do Not Cooperate With Mueller Lynch Mob.” Says it’s “worth a read.” Catches Trump’s attention.

April: On tweet Trump denies plan to dismiss Sessions and replace with EPA Chief Scott Pruitt.

Sept. 22: Sessions appoints Whitaker as his chief-of-staff.

2018

Feb. 21: Trump tweets that people should ask Jeff Sessions why Clinton’s crimes are not being investigated. Calls Justice Department “disgraceful.”

Feb. 28: Washington Post says Mueller investigating Trump-Sessions relationship in relation to possible obstruction of justice.

April: Rosenberg personally orders raid on the home and office of Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, in a spin-off investigation from the Mueller probe. Trump infuriated.

May: Trump blames Mueller investigation on Sessions’ recusal, accuses him of disloyalty (according to NYT.)

June 5: Trump tweets, “The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself…I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined…and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion!”

July 19: Trump tells NYT that Sessions should have told him when he nominated him for AG that he would recuse himself on the Russia thing. The same month he tells the Wall Street Journal that he feels no special appreciation for Session due to his astonishingly early and risky endorsement in July 2015. In his articulate way, Trump says: “It’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement. I’m very disappointed in Jeff Sessions.”

July 25: Trump tweets: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!”

Aug. 23: Trump demands, by tweet, that Sessions “look into all of the corruption on the ‘other side’ including deleted Emails, Comey lies & leaks, Mueller conflicts, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr.”

Aug. 25 tweet: “Jeff Sessions said he wouldn’t allow politics to influence him only because he doesn’t understand what is happening underneath his command position. Highly conflicted Bob Mueller and his gang of 17 Angry Dems are having a field day as real corruption goes untouched. No Collusion.”

Sept. 3: Blames Sessions for indicting Republican candidates. “Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen [California Rep. Duncan Hunter and New York Rep. Chris Collin] were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff……”

Sept. 21: NYT reports that in Spring 2017 soon after Comey dismissal Rosenstein discussed with John Kelly the prospect of recording the president’s conversations and using them to employ Article 25 of the constitution.

Sept. 24: At White House Rosenstein offers resignation to Kelly; not accepted.

Oct. 11 (on Fox): Trump: “I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.”

Nov. 6: Democrats sweep the House of Representatives in mid-term elections.

Nov. 7, 2018: Sessions submits undated resignation at Trump’s request after 6 months of criticism. Replaced by his chief-of-staff Matthew Whitaker.

Nov. 9: Trump tarmac interview: “I don’t know Matt Whitaker.”

*****

Pundits suggest that the various statements Whitaker made in August 2017 were a campaign to get hired as a Justice Department lawyer, and that Trump directed Sessions to hire him (thinking he could take over when needed, to defend him against congressional inquiries). Think, people, is that really plausible?

And is it really true–what some people are saying–that the attorney-general even an acting one needs Congressional approval, and that this power transfer without that approval is invalid? Again, may doubt and disillusionment reign, because they make sense in these troubled times.

All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)

There is much good news in this world. But the U.S. mass media barely reports it.

Have you noticed? Syria is on the brink of defeating the U.S.-backed opposition forces now corralled into Idlib Province. The successes of the Syrian Arab Army and its allies have decisively stymied Washington’s 17-year-long year effort to dominate the Middle East through aggressive, illegal regime change operations justified by lies.

Meanwhile the Sadrists in Iraq in alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party are steering an independent national path that includes cordial ties and security cooperation with Iran, Syria and Russia. The Bush/Cheney dream (of securing Iraq as a U.S. and Israel ally) hasn’t materialized.

The Europeans, Chinese, Indians and Russians persist in expanding trade with Iran in defiance of arrogant U.S. threats. This too is good; an affirmation of international law in the face of U.S. violations. The very departure of the U.S. from the Iran deal, to say nothing of efforts to sabotage it through secondary sanctions, is illegal.

This too–have you noticed? A remarkable warming of relations between North and South Korea is underway! The North and South Korean heads of state have met three times in rapid succession and signed a host of significant agreements. This is an unqualified good, but the U.S. media pooh-poohs it, questioning whether any progress has really been made on denuclearization, wondering whether Trump sold out the store in Singapore. The desire to attack Trump trumps any natural inclination to share the joy of the Korean people at this dramatic relaxation of tensions. Instead of smiling about it, they glare, and express alarm that Trump might actually pull U.S. troops out of South Korea. Like that would be an irresponsible thing.

More good news: Sino-Russian relations are at an all-time high as reflected in the recent massive joint military operations in East Siberia and numerous trade agreements. Cooperation between the two nations through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Eurasian infrastructure projects bodes well for the global economy. (Chinese purchases of Russian jets and missiles has resulted in U.S. sanctions, in the context of the ongoing trade war. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov notes that this will simply lead to closer military cooperation between Russia and China, and further decline in the status of the dollar as default global currency.)

In July—surely you heard?—Japan suddenly signed with the European Union an economic partnership agreement establishing the largest trading bloc in the world. In effect, Japan has become the EU’s 29th member. This was after Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and initiated trade wars with practically everybody, including the Europeans and Japanese. Trump drove Japan into the arms of the Europeans; arguably a fine thing.

These are real news stories, perhaps deserving some attention.

But no. Our news anchors report on the Kavanaugh hearings, Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation, the Mueller probe, Stormy Daniels’ book describing Trump’s prepuce, Bob Woodward’s book describing White House chaos and Trump’s closest advisors’ contempt for him, Trump’s tweets versus his attorney general Jeff Sessions, Trump’s (scandalous!) declassification of Russia investigation documents, Trump’s trade wars, the U.S. mid-term elections, and new data about the Puerto Rico disaster (challenging Trump’s assessment). Hurricane Florence is covered extensively, with attention to Trump’s reaction; and “active shootings” are reported excitedly as they occur. Police murders and issues of sexual abuse are, of course, covered as breaking news.

Joe and Mika and Chris Cuomo spend much time interviewing the authors of newspaper articles or editorials and books critical of Trump (or promoting their own books). They devote extensive attention to historical analogies, citing the Anita Hill episode of 1991, comparing her to Ford and noting how Sen. Orrin Hatch who dismissed Hill’s claims now similarly rejects Ford’s. Shame!

The CNN and MSNBC anchors promote a sense of impending, inevitable doom for the administration. “The walls are closing in on the White House,” they say. Yes, the economy is doing well. (This is almost grudgingly conceded, and the fragility of the recovery stressed). But Trump’s supposed Russia ties (and possible vulnerability to blackmail); his confrontational attitude to U.S. allies; his ostensible instinctive sympathy for autocrats; his erratic statements and behavior; his irrational trade policies; his history of abusing women and supporting other men who’ve done so—all are supposed to lead to some proper closure to this sad administration.

And the Democrats will win the November elections. And then there will likely be impeachment proceedings. The tone is boldly contemptuous. The mainstream media aside from Fox has become a set of organs for Trump ridicule. “Senior correspondents” and miscellaneous talking heads sneer at Trump, laugh at him, roll their eyes. They daily call him a liar and list the latest official number of lies (as tabulated by the New York Times). It is a highly unusual situation. The world knows the U.S. media and the majority of the people truly despise Donald Trump and see him as a national embarrassment.

But in projecting that national shame the media downplays almost everything else. A few minutes are spent from time to time on Yemen, and how awful it is for the Saudis to bomb all those kids. But the Israeli attack on Syria the other day, that caused the Syrians to mistakenly shoot down a Russian jet killing 15, was ignored. European politics are generally ignored. The priorities of the CNN news editor are very different than those of their BBC or RT counterpart.

The big vast world out there is largely ignored, referenced when necessary to trash Trump but not validated as a thing-in-itself. If Trump is solipsistic, the U.S. news directorate is equally so. The American Exceptionalism which Barack Obama like presidents before him openly averred is the media’s unofficial ideology.

Top of the hour news, CNN, 11:00 a.m. EST, Sept. 20. Kate Bolduan starts with the Kavanaugh issue. Then the breaking Maryland mass shooting. Finally something on Korea!

But hm… The pundit Max Boot (Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations)  dismisses yesterday’s summit between Moon and Kim in Pyongyang while clueless Kate nods in agreement that a peace agreement between the U.S. and North Korea would be “dangerous” because it would mean U.S. military withdrawal of the peninsula. They chuckle together, “Oh Max,” she laughs. “You’ve been critical of Trump’s approach to North Korea. Do you see the point in another summit [between Kim and Trump]?” No, of course. Segment over.

Back to the active shooting in Maryland, after a commercial break, very briefly. Then more Kavanaugh. Then back to Baltimore. Three people dead. We’ll be right back. More on Puerto Rico now, emphasizing how Trump downplayed the death toll. An interview with the scholar who compiled the report. (Is this more urgent than covering today’s news from Yemen?) Trump all the time, all day long.

U.S. imperialism and its consequences? Why bother? The sponsors are tired of foreign wars, and it’s depressing to see reports that they’ve killed so many innocent people and created so many refugee crises and produced so many new terrorist groups and generated so much hatred and contempt for the U.S. in Europe and everywhere.

Better to spare the viewers exposure to all of that and instead focus on bringing down Trump and restoring normalcy to U.S. foreign policy. That at least seems to be the thinking.