All posts by Gary Leupp

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.

WTF? Why Adulate This Warmonger?

For days we have been informed—indeed, relentlessly reminded, instructed, lectured, preached to, told matter-of-factly (as though the whole universe knows it), bestowed with the transcendent wisdom—that the late Sen. John McCain was a true American hero.

Wow! What a man! Suddenly, we learn that he was one of the Greatest Americans of All Time. “How to hold him in reverence?” asks an African-American Democratic congressman on CNN. It is (at least on cable news) an unchallenged truth. On CNN Sunday morning “America pays tribute to a hero”—-as his old friends Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman do so.

McCain served his country, we are taught. He was shot down over North Vietnam—just one of those sad things that happens to some people sometimes. So sad he had to parachute into a lake where the people he’d been bombing rescued him. Of course, he was imprisoned, as any bomber captured over any country would be imprisoned.

We are told (by his huge unpaid unthinking posthumous groupie corporate media staff) that this person (McCain), was tortured but never broke (except that one time he signed a statement about bombing civilians).

And he refused early release out of loyalty to his fellow POWs. Heroic!

He (for some reason less noticeable in other people) loved his family (although he divorced his long-suffering first wife, who’d been injured in an accident during his captivity, to marry a wealthy heiress). That is impressive.

Of course (we are told) he loved God, and even served as unit chaplain in Hanoi. He was an unquestioned paragon of virtue, we’re told, even as his quirks and temper tantrums are mentioned—in passing—as endearing minor flaws. He’s described as “hawkish” and often, as a responsible advocate for a powerful military and defender of U.S. “national interests” (versus Russia and Iran in particular).

The Establishment consensus on McCain is truly impressive. Everyone has queued up for the gangbang on humanity, intelligence and morality.

The public funeral featuring eulogies by George W. Bush and Barack Obama was designed to reflect the bipartisan celebration of a legacy—which, unconscionably—the “Democratic Socialist” Alexandria Ocasio-Chavez tweets “represents an unparalleled example of human decency and American service.”

WTF, Alexandria?

Bernie Sanders adds to the adulation. “John McCain,” he tells his supporters, “was an American hero, a man of decency and honor and a friend of mine. He will be missed not just in the US Senate but by all Americans who respect integrity and independence.” WTF, Bernie?

Joe Lieberman, teary-eyed, calls him a “national treasure.”  The CNN anchor has to add, “Well said!” as though we all surely agree on this, right?

The McCain funeral, like Caesar’s, became a political statement against the new political leadership. Mark Anthony praised the dead, while targeting the living Brutus. Meghan McCain praised her father, while targeting President Trump. “America has always been great” is her—and much of the whole system’s—response to Trump’s hollow pledge to “make America great again.”

Questioning the timeless greatness of America is heretical—as heretical as questioning the heroism of John McCain.

Among Trump’s more “controversial” remarks are his statement, “I like people who weren’t captured” and his declaration, “He’s not a war hero. He was a hero because he was captured.” Of all the comments Trump has made—racist, stupid, bigoted comments about women, African-Americans, Mexicans, Muslims, etc.—these on McCain constitute his greatest sin. At least, it has been seized on as such by his vast range of political enemies who want him down.

The dying McCain carefully planned his final rites. (Or those around him did. My father died of the same glioblastoma brain cancer that killed Edward Kennedy and John McCain; I know how rapidly it progresses and how little the human mind functions in the final few months. I find it hard to believe the senator composed some of the statements attributed to him towards the end.) The point was to shame Trump, so that the media coverage would focus on the contrast between the two men, one recklessly straying off course, the other a rock of integrity.

However moving this spectacle is, it is fundamentally sick. That this particular man, with his particular history, gets suddenly thrust into the public face and promoted as national icon even by the likes of Sanders and Ocasio-Chavez is a virtual declaration of national moral bankruptcy.

John McCain, son of an admiral, was a poor student at the U.S. Naval Academy who went on to bomb Vietnam during that war in the 1960s and 70s that—some of us recall—was a horrific, vicious ongoing atrocity that killed two million people.

I ask my amazing son, born 23 years after the end of the Vietnam War, if he understands how horrible that war was. (He knows the military family history, my dad’s involvement in Southeast Asia, my opposition from my teens). He does. Both my son and my daughter a few years older know this history and, of course, naturally revile this person.

McCain was shot down over Hanoi for the same reason you or me might shoot someone down: again, he was bombing people in their country for no good reason and with utterly no concern for “gook” lives. (This human actually stated in 2000, “I hate the gooks” responding to criticism by repeating the slur.) A Spanish psychiatrist, Fernando Barral, who met him in Hanoi in 1970, reported:

He (McCain) showed himself to be intellectually alert during the interview. From a morale point of view he is not in traumatic shock. He was able to be sarcastic, and even humorous, indicative of psychic equilibrium. From the moral and ideological point of view he showed us he is an insensitive individual without human depth, who does not show the slightest concern, who does not appear to have thought about the criminal acts he committed against a population from the absolute impunity of his airplane, and that nevertheless those people saved his life, fed him, and looked after his health and he is now healthy and strong. I believe that he has bombed densely populated places for sport. I noted that he was hardened, that he spoke of banal things as if he were at a cocktail party.

That’s your hero, CNN. That’s your hero, MSNBC. And Fox. All of you following your talking points assigned by your news editors.

The fact that Vietnam (specifically, bombing North Vietnam over 23 times, for over 10 hours) is never an issue—that it is indeed a positive, an instance of heroic “service” in which the future politician showed moral strength—should shock people. The fact that volunteering to bomb Vietnamese in an illegal, immoral war is being praised—-while Trump’s draft deferments  are mocked as reflecting lack of courage or patriotism—-should disturb conscious humans. (Shall we not honor the Luftwaffe pilots shot down on the Eastern Front in World War II? All they were doing was bombing Soviets, to conquer Russia, while serving their country, their German Fatherland, their Homeland. Patriots, right?)

McCain never saw a war he didn’t like. He regretted not winning the war in Vietnam—like some Nazi pilots no doubt regretted their failure to destroy Stalingrad in their 30,000 (heroic?) sorties over the city in 1942. He advocated U.S. intervention in any number of conflicts as a matter of imperialist entitlement; he shameless articulated American Exceptionalism—but then so did Obama and all this unified cohort rallying to glorify this thug.

After the U.S. engineered regime change in Georgia (in 2003) and sought to bring Georgia into NATO a few years later, emboldening the pathetic puppet president to provoke Russia by attaching South Ossetia, Russia briefly invaded Georgia. McCain was prepared to go to war with Russia over that. When neofascists plotted a coup in Ukraine in 2014, he had his photo taken with them. He advocated the bombing of Iran. (Remember how he with his famed sense of humor so charmingly recalled the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” altering the lyrics to “Bomb bomb bomb Iran”? Such a sense of humor! So delightful. So charming.)

This person supported and enthused about the bombings of Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Libya…and advocated it elsewhere (Nigeria?). Remember, this person’s early career after his proudly lackluster academic career was in doing what he was trained for: bombing!

The adulation of this mass-murdering unrepentant dead man is voiced by those who, just as they contrast the hero to the villain, ask whether the Vietnam War was a “noble cause” (as McCain believes)—or a “mistake” (as friend John Kerry believes)? Those are the only two options that can be publicly discussed. To say it was a colossal crime would be unpatriotically honest and doom any political campaign. But it’s easy to gather together those who agree to forgive and forget (due to a “mistake”). Gosh we all make mistakes…

But the whole point of the cult of St. John of Arizona (whom could I suppose be beatified if two miracles can be proved) is to say: He is the man, the responsible adult, the anti-Putin stalwart, the unapologetic warrior, the guy who has the balls to tell his colleagues “Give Netanyahu everything he wants.”

This is to counter-pose him to the unmanly, childlike, Putin-dupe, wimp (who also happens to give Netanyahu everything he wants, because that is standard practice for the U.S. polity—although his allegiance to Israel in itself does not insure his continued presidency).

The contradictions within the polity are obviously mounting; the mourning rituals for this praised monster show the division. The question posed is: Which do you prefer? McCain’s beautiful patriotic blood-smeared legacy? Or Trump’s continued status as the un-impeached U.S. president surrounded by semi-autonomous generals itching to bomb Iran?

My 32-year-old daughter, who happens to be a member of the Democratic Socialist Party and conditional Bernie supporter, responded to Ocasio-Chavez’s tribute to the happy bomber with an emphatic “Ugh.” May all her comrades confront Alexandria on this issue!

An idiot on CNN just now concludes his program: “As John McCain always reminded us, freedom is worth fighting for.” The day remains devoted at McCain, and his wonderful legacy, and to a new (tendentiously presented) poll showing Trump’s support declining. No mention of the heroic reconquest of more and more Syrian territory by the Syrian national forces, or apparent U.S. plans to support a false-flag operation in Idlib province involving chemical weapons that might justify another U.S. strike.

A strike that should not be supported by anybody in this country with any moral sense and critical reasoning capacity. But one that would be supported by Bomb-bomb-bomb-bomb-bomb St. John, surely. Where, as a people—-if , in fact, we are a people—heading?

Trump’s Global Impact (and What Russia Could Do)

TV news anchors typically describe Donald Trump’s poll numbers as low. But a 40 percent support figure in August of the second year is actually not so unusual. (Obama’s job approval rate was 44 at this point his first term; Bill Clinton was at 41; Ronald Reagan 42; Jimmy Carter at 41.) It’s not abnormal for a president to have this level of support at this point; the amazing thing is that Trump has been able to maintain it, given his degree of repulsiveness, from his election.

This shows the world something quite horrifying: that either this 40% actually agrees with that repulsiveness, doesn’t notice it, or tolerates it thinking at least he’s bringing jobs back.

However rocked by scandals, defections, pending legal issues, etc. Trump has retained his base. He said during his campaign that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Ave. and shoot somebody and not lose one voter. He has not shot anyone to my knowledge but he has torn babies from their moms and sent the moms out of the country and done things arguably worse than shooting somebody.

Domestically Trump remains strong, with the Republican Congress almost solidly behind him. In the mid-term election Republican candidates will mobilize the base by warning that if a Democrat wins, it might lead to Trump’s impeachment. (This at least is Steve Bannon’s recommendation.) Whatever happens, I think the 40/60 ratio of ardent fans and the nauseated and alarmed community will continue in this sad country.

But what is Trump’s standing internationally? He is generally seen by foreign leaders as a boorish, ignorant, self-obsessed buffoon, a narcissist who responds well to flattery (from Jordan’s king, South Korean envoys, Emmanuel Macron sometimes, the Saudis, Abe Shinzo), an erratic unpredictable leader often at odds with his own advisors. Every world leader knows that Trump’s former secretary of state Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron,” and former national security advisor H.R. McMaster and current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly have called him an “idiot.” Every national intelligence community has specialists who study the psychology of foreign leaders.

Surely every leader who meets Trump has been briefed in advance about his apparent malignant narcissism and coached to stoke his ego. Jordanian King Abdullah’s reference to Trump’s “grace” and “humility” in a White House press conference last June, and the Saudis’ inexplicable bestowal of the King Abdulaziz al Saud Collar on the Islamophobic Trump months after his election are a couple examples.

NATO allies note that, while not even engaging in discussion of NATO’s priorities and purposes, Trump demands that they increase their military spending. He depicts the failure of most to meet the 2% goal established several years ago as a kind of rip-off of the U.S., which has to step in to pick up the slack to keep NATO strong. The bullying pressure disturbed everyone at Brussels but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was obliged to say, “I would like to thank President Trump for his leadership on defense spending.” It’s not clear anything else happened at that meeting before Trump flew to Helsinki.

Trump: Alienating the World

Trump’s trade wars with Europe, China, Canada and other countries raise concern about his real business savvy, or at least his grasp of international economics. His threats against North Korea, followed by his rapprochement with Kim, gravely concern the South Koreans (not because they don’t want peace, but because they’ve sometimes been left out of the loop). He has of course alienated the Mexicans. He has offended a continent by referring to African nations as “shitty countries.” He has gone from praising Turkey’s Tayyib Erdogan to punishing him with sanctions driving down the Turkish lira, all on account of one detained Christian evangelist minister from the U.S. accused of supporting Kurdish separatism. He has completely alienated the Palestinians by demonstrating he doesn’t care about them and is a total Netanyahu stooge.

He offended Angela Merkel from the outset, courted Emmanuel Macron but then alienated him, annoyed Theresa May with his insults, befriended Jinping Xi but then slammed high tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum. He has personally offended the Australian and Canadian prime ministers. If he has not yet alienated Abe Shinzo, he has at least produced consternation. (See this photo from the last G-7 summit in Quebec, where the Japanese leader looms between a confrontational Angela and pouting boy Donald, arms folded, eyes showing worry and consternation.)

Trump’s friends in this world include the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and maybe Modi’s India (although U.S. demands that India stop importing Iranian oil are affecting the relationship). Maybe we could include the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte although he like Trump is a mercurial type and is trying to diversify military purchases and draw closer to both China and Russia. And Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who shares his anti-immigrant stance and wants to readmit Russia to the G7. But it is a small group of friends, and subject to change.

Trump increasingly isolates this country. First the withdrawal from the Paris Accord, announced with such defiance citing its unfairness to the U.S. Then the departure from UNESCO (because of its alleged anti-Israel bias). Then withdrawing from the Iran Deal, so painfully crafted by the U.S., Russia, France, U.K. and Germany. Then leaving the UN Human Rights Council (after again accusing a body of anti-Israel bias, and trying to block an investigation into Israeli use of force in Gaza). And of course the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the decision to move the U.S. embassy there.

The United Nations General Assembly vote condemning that U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last Dec. 21 was 128-9. All major U.S. allies including all other NATO members voted for the resolution or abstained (some in fear). Since the decision was opposed by some close advisors (but promoted by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a friend of Netanyahu’s since his teens when the Israeli politician once slept in his bed), this UNGA vote can be seen as a rejection of Trump personally.

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley made a very Trumpian statement after the vote:

The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation.  We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.

Earlier she had warned the world: “At the UN, we’re constantly asked to do more and give more — in the past we have. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American people, about where to locate OUR embassy, we don’t expect those we’ve helped to target us. On Thursday, there will be a vote at the UN criticizing our choice. And yes, the US will be taking names.”

We are taking names. Obey! Such language is not winning Trump more friends. He may feel it better to be feared than loved but he’s not scaring anybody but Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Nauru and Togo (the only countries except for the U.S. and Israel that opposed the resolution).

The photo shoots and body language in Charlevoix and Brussels suggest that Trump is a pariah, increasingly considered such, not just due to his policies but due to his manifestly unstable personality.

Putin: Courting the World

Meanwhile the other most powerful man in the world—Vladimir Putin—is busily strengthening ties with China, Japan, both Koreas, India, Iran, Turkey and even long-time foes (like Saudi Arabia). Despite EU sanctions imposed on Russia after its annexation of Crimea in response to the Maidan coup of February 2014, Vladimir Putin reaches out to European leaders, seeks to make deals (the Baltic oil pipeline to Germany), advances concrete proposals (implementation of the Minsk Agreement), engages in carefully diplomacy (the Iran Deal) and generally projects through Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a serious approach to world affairs. (Compare Mike Pompeo, who barks utterly unacceptable demands to Iran to allow implementation of the deal, threatens all nations who trade with Iran with economic punishment, and thereby asserts the U.S.’s right to dominate the world through its banking system.)

Washington pulls out of the Iran Deal; Merkel journeys to Sochi to talk with Putin about how to preserve it despite U.S. madness.

Trump heaps sanctions on Turkey; Erdogan calls Putin and talks about diversifying Turkey’s ties. (This may have long-term implications for NATO.)

Trump threatens Merkel over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; Merkel meets Putin in Berlin to discuss it, Iran, and other matters after the Russian leader meets the Austrian foreign minister as a guest at her wedding. They danced together; he perhaps thanked her again for her party’s opposition to EU Russian sanctions.

Putin is widely regarded as the adult on the world stage while the U.S. is led by a mischievous and unpredictable child. I don’t believe that Putin helped get Trump elected, but if he did he probably did so hoping Trump would halt NATO expansion, recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and remove the sanctions the U.S. has imposed on Russia since 2014. In fact NATO will likely expand to include Montenegro, Trump proclaims NATO “stronger than ever” (due to his bullying leadership), and sanctions have been added not removed under Trump.

But on the plus side for Russia (and I think for the world), Trump has hastened U.S. decline by weakening the Atlantic Alliance, including U.S.-Canada ties; damaging U.S.-Mexican relations;  wreaking havoc with trade wars; and conveying to African leaders a sense of racist contempt. He has inadvertently produced an atmosphere more conducive to multilateralism.

While the U.S. corporate press indulges in unprecedented Russophobia, Moscow’s stature in the world rises. That Russia annexed the Crimea Peninsula (Russian from 1783 to 1954) following a U.S.-backed regime change in Ukraine in 2014 bothers Germans and Italians less than the fact the U.S. invaded Iraq and sewed chaos throughout the Middle East resulting in Europe’s immigration crisis. Polls show Europeans trust Putin more than Trump.

It may be that world leaders, disgusted with the U.S. president and uncertain about who really makes decisions in Washington, will increasingly turn away from U.S. leadership. Merkel has said this; so has the EU president. For the first time in seven decades there is a real crisis within the U.S. imperialist bloc forged from 1945. What can Putin do to take advantage of this crisis, to encourage a more multilateral world?

Things to Do

Looking at it as a game, if I were assigned the Russia role I would during this window of opportunity, while this clown is in power, to take my cue from what Bill Clinton did when Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin led Russia. Yeltsin was another mercurial incompetent fool. Clinton took the opportunity to take over much of what had been Yugoslavia and expand NATO in a provocative betrayal of the Reagan-Gorbachev agreement. The leader of Russia could return the favor now by various measures.

Some ideas:

  1. Change the relationship between Russia and Japan, your neighbor that remains the world’s third largest economy. The U.S. has consistently discouraged Tokyo from signing a treaty with Moscow formally ending the Second World War since it would throw into question the rationale for maintaining 38,000 troops in Japan, mostly in Okinawa where they are largely unwelcome.

Settle the Northern Islands dispute; split the four and arrange for joint economic development. Sign a trade deal covering Siberian timber and crude oil exports. Long-term, encourage Tokyo to terminate the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty imposed on the country in 1952. Cater in resurgent Japanese nationalism by encouraging  Japan to become a normal country as opposed to a vassal one, and to embrace neutrality.

  1. Continue to deepen the relationship with China within the Shanghai Communique Organization, cooperating on Eurasian transport infrastructure to establish the common market Putin envisions extending “from Vladivostok to Lisbon.” Eurasia is most of the world, sixty percent of its population and a fourth of its land space. Japan just signed a treaty creating a common market with the EU; this was its response to Trump’s rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. East Asia is already connected to Europe and the trans-Pacific market will one day be rivaled by a Eurasian market.
  1. State clearly that NATO is unnecessary and indeed dangerous. Take advantage of the fact that candidate Trump questioned it. Use concrete examples. Ask Hungary: Why did you join in 1999—just as the U.S. and NATO were completing the destruction of Serbia—and what have you gotten from it other than economic damage when you’re forced to observe sanctions on Russia? Haven’t the sanctions cost the Hungarian economy over $ 10 billion? Hasn’t the Hungarian foreign minister protested the sanctions, saying they don’t work?

A recent poll in Hungary show 41 percent of the respondents felt NATO no longer important and a waste of money. The figures for Poland, the Czech Republic and Poland (which joined in a cluster in 1999, expanding the alliance after the Cold War) are similar.

67% of Hungarians agree that, “Current security threats are not serious enough to justify increased defense spending. The resources should instead be used for things like pensions, healthcare, and education.” Majorities in the Czech Republic and Slovakia agree. Encourage such rational sentiments during the time of Trump.

Merkel told Germans after the G-7 summit, “The era in which we could fully rely on others is over to some extent. That’s what I experienced over the past several days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands — naturally in friendship with the United States of America, in friendship with Great Britain, as good neighbors with whoever, also with Russia and other countries. But we have to know that we Europeans must fight for our own future and destiny.” Yes!

After Trump pulled out of the Iran Deal, European Council Donald Tusk condemned Trumps “capricious assertiveness” and declared: “Looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, someone could even think with friends like that who needs enemies. But frankly speaking, Europe should be grateful to President Trump, because thanks to him we have got rid of all illusions. He has made us realise that if you need a helping hand you will find one at the end of your arm.” Yes!

  1. Continue the international effort to suppress ISIL, al-Nusra (al-Sham) and their allies in Syria, insuring the survival of a secular state (as opposed to a Gulf-funded Sunni sharia state). Carefully handle the contradictions between Turks and Kurds, Turkish-backed opposition groups and the Syrian Arab Army, Iranian and Hizbollah forces and Syrian Arab Army; U.S. forces and the Syrian Arab Army etc. Urge the U.S. forces to leave the country, as they are illegally there in the first place. Tell the Saudis their side has lost and they need to back off. Enhance the existing security cooperation with Iraq and compete for influence the country where the U.S. is extremely unpopular for obvious reasons.
  1. Enhance ties with Iran, including through barter deals that evade U.S. secondary sanctions and the sale of military equipment. Emphasize the illegality and cruelty of the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA. Encourage Turkey’s stated determination to defy the U.S. embargo on trade with Iran, purchasing crude oil and natural gas. Encourage too India’s intention to do the same. Raise rhetorically in every international forum the arrogance of the U.S. in attempting to collapse the Iranian economy and induce regime change by marshaling all who can be cowed into cooperation—all of this being in violation of international law. Actively challenge the U.S. effort to repeat the coup of 1953.
  1. Take advantage of the fact that the U.S. has no lingering credibility on the Israel-Palestine conflict; it has been slavishly devoted to Israel for five decades and in its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has left Palestinians hopeless of any peaceful solution. Russia has cordial relations with the Palestine Authority, and has high-level ties with Hamas (which it does not consider terrorist, as the U.S. does), which it urges to cooperate with Fateh (PLO). It also has good relations with Israel, in part due to cultural connections (the large population in Israel of Russian origin), the history including the Stalin-era Soviet support for Israel at its inception, booming trade (up 25% last year, while the U.S. and Europe heaped on sanctions), and strategic cooperation in Syria to keep forces separate and avoid incidents as Israel seeks to maintain Golan Heights security and sometimes hit Hizbollah targets while Russia wants to aid the regime in defeating its mainly extreme Islamist opponents.

Russia supports a two-state solution, as almost everyone does in some vague sense. But while U.S. presidents since the 1967 War (Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump) have always been responsive to a Christian Evangelical political base that thinks Israel is the fulfillment of Bible prophecy and Jesus will return there soon; plus a well organized and funded Jewish Zionist community, they have taken pains to assert U.S. even-handedness on the issue of the Occupied Territories resulting from that war. Trump doesn’t do that.

Here’s Russia’s chance to make the resolution of the problem something other than a U.S.-dictated Dayton Accord. Or a U.S.-subsidized slow suffocation of the two-state concept, under load after load of housing block concrete. There were 150,000 settlers on the West Bank when the Second Oslo Accord was signed in 1995. There are 400,000 now. The U.S. has not succeeded in forcing the Israelis to change behavior. Maybe Russia is better placed to do that, especially given warm current relations with Turkey, Iran, Israel, the Palestinian factions, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt where since 2015 Russia has enjoyed access to airbases and airspace for its warplanes.

  1. Cultivate Latin American countries abused by Trump’s U.S.  Cozy up with Mexico. Just as you cooperate with Brazil within the BRICS association, providing financial assistance for infrastructure and various projects. Don’t do in Mexico what the U.S. did in Ukraine, just smother Mexico with affection as you once did Cuba and take advantage of the fact that Trump’s anti-Mexican rants, the Wall and the immigration terror are spreading anti-U.S. sentiment in Mexico. Maintain the existing warm relationship with Cuba. Take advantage of the fact that Trump reversed the Obama relaxation on travel and business and maintains the trade embargo. The EU and the whole world deplores the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Join with the nations of Latin America in helping Cuba develop despite it.
  1. Work with China, which also enjoys good relations with both Koreas, to promote and facilitate the reunification of Korea as a confederation of two states with different systems, rid of nuclear weapons. Encourage Trump to act on his stated inclination to withdraw troops from South Korea. Argue that they serve no purpose because both Koreas have massive armies, can defend themselves from invaders and have signed a peace agreement between themselves. It’s not like the South Korean people want those 28,000 soldiers in their country.

Again, I make these recommendations as someone observing a board game. I regard Russia as an oppressive capitalist country much like the one in which I live. I would not want it to replace the U.S. as lobal hegemon but see its agency in shaking up the world order now that Trump has initiated the process.

Russia, if you’re listening…. Success in these efforts could reshuffle the world in a positive way. Not just for Russia but for everybody. Dissolution of military alliances, beginning with NATO. Withdrawal of troops. Abandonment of economic sanctions. Peace agreements ending historical conflicts.

Exploit this Trump moment to produce some good.

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat, for sure.

Is Russia an Adversary?

The question is finally being asked, by the president himself: what’s wrong with collusion? Or at least his lawyer asks the question, while Trumps tweets:

Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion.

The problem, of course, is that of collusion with an alleged adversary. Russia, we are constantly informed, is one such adversary, indeed the main state adversary, with Putin is its head.

Adversary is a very strong term. The Hebrew word for adversary is Satan. Satan is the ultimate symbol of evil in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Satan tempted Eve at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, causing her to eat the fruit, and so evil entered the world.

Just like some want you to think that evil entered the (good, pristine) U.S. electoral process due to this Russian adversary in 2016.

(Sometimes listening to TV pundits vilifying Putin I find Luther’s famous hymn floating through my head:

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.

Luther’s referring to Satan, of course. But the current mythology around Putin — as someone who still, like Lenin and Stalin before him, and the tsars of old, wishes us harm; is an unbridled dictator with a powerful great nuclear arsenal; is the wealthiest man on earth; and hates democracy — resembles the mythology around the Adversary in the Bible.)

But let us problematize this vilification. When did Russia become a U.S. adversary? Some might say 1917 when in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution Moscow became the center of the global communist movement. But surely that period ended in 1991 with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the USSR.

Throughout the 1990s the U.S. cultivated Boris Yeltsin’s Russia as a friend and even aided the drunken buffoon in winning the 1996 election. Bill Clinton and Yeltsin signed the Start II treaty. Harvard professors advised Moscow on economic reform.

The Russians were not pleased by U.S.-NATO involvements in the former Yugoslavia, a traditional Russian ally, in 1995 and 1999, and the expansion of NATO in the latter year (to include Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary) in violation of the agreement between Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989 that in return for Russia’s acceptance of German reunification NATO would not spread “one inch” towards Russia. They protested meekly. But Russia was not an adversary then.

Nor was it an adversary when, in 2001, under its new president Vladimir Putin, it offered NATO a route through Russia to provision forces in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. The real change only came in 2004, when NATO suddenly expanded to include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. This brought alliances forces right to the Russian border.

It was a clear statement by the U.S. to a friendly country: We are your adversary. But, of course, the Pentagon and State Department always pooh-poohed Russian concerns, denying that NATO targeted any particular country.

Four years later (2008) NATO announced intentions to draw Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance. Meanwhile the U.S. recognized Kosovo as an independent state. Kosovo, the historical heart of Serbian civilization, had been wrenched from Serbia in 1999 under the pretext of a “humanitarian” intervention that included the first bombing (by NATO) of a European capital city since 1945. The province had been converted into a vast NATO base.

Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, emboldened by the prospect of NATO membership and western backing, attacked the capital of the separatist republic of South Ossetia, provoking (as the Russians explain it) a proper punitive response: the Russo-Georgian War of August 7-16. After this Moscow recognized South Ossetia and a second breakaway republic, Abkhazia, in a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s recognition of Kosovo.

Now Russia was labelled an aggressive power—by the power that had carved up Yugoslavia, and invaded and occupied Iraq on the basis of lies and killed half a million in the process. Plans to include Georgia in NATO had to be put on hold, in large part due to European allies’ opposition (why provoke Russia?) but the U.S. intensified efforts to draw in Ukraine. That meant toppling the anti-NATO elected president Viktor Yanukovych.

The U.S. State Department devoted enormous resources to the Maidan coup in Kiev on February 23, 2014. Its agents helped topple the government, ostensibly for its failure to negotiate an agreement for Ukrainian associate membership in the EU, but really to bring pro-NATO forces to power and expel the Russian Fleet from the Crimean Peninsula where it has been based since 1783. Moscow’s limited support for the Donbass ethnic-Russian separatists and re-annexation of Crimea were, of course, depicted by the U.S. as more aggression, more mischievous opposition to “U.S. global interests.”

But from Moscow’s point of view these moves have surely been defensive. The main problem is (obviously) NATO and its dangerous, unnecessary and provocative expansion. Throughout his presidential campaign Trump questioned the continued “relevance” of NATO. Characteristically he focused on budget issues and allies’ failure to meet the goal figure of 2% if GDP for military expenses (misleadingly depicting investment shortfalls as a betrayal and rip-off of the victimized U.S.). But he did—to the alarm of many, and probably to Moscow’s delight—express little enthusiasm for the alliance’s historical purpose.

The most rational proposition Trump voiced before his election that the U.S. should “get along” with Russia. That is, get along with the so-called adversary. Trump as we all know had been in Russia on business, hosting the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013, and maintains interest in building a Trump Tower in the city. He has met and befriended Russian oligarchs. He quite possibly sees Russia as just another country, like Germany or France.

If “the French” had had dirt on Hillary, would it have been okay to “collude” with them to influence the election result? France is, of course, a NATO ally. Would that make it different? Now that the president and his layers are openly questioning whether “collusion”, per se, is even illegal, the specific nature of the colluder becomes more relevant.

Russia is an adversary.

Russia is an adversary.

Putin in Helsinki acknowledged to a reporter that he had hoped Trump could win, because he had expressed hope for better relations. He might have added that he dreaded the prospect of a Hillary victory because of her warmongering and characterization of him as a Hitler. Naturally the Russian media favored Trump over Clinton at a certain point when he emerged as a credible candidate. So when Trump on July 27, 2016 called on Russia to release Hillary’s missing emails (“if you’ve got ’em”) the Russians probably felt invited to make contact through channels. And when informed that they had dirt, Don Jr. wrote: “If that’s what you say, I love it.” (Who can blame him?)

Let’s say there was some collusion after the June 6 Trump Tower meeting. Trump has suddenly acknowledged that the meeting with the Russians was indeed to “seek political dirt.” He adds that this is “totally legal,” and this may be true. Some are now saying that Don Jr. may have violated a federal statute (52 USC 30121, 36 USC 5210) forbidding any foreign person to  “make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.’ and for anyone to knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation prohibited by [this law].” But the language is vague. If a Canadian speechwriter works gratis for a U.S. political candidate, in order to help him or her win, is this not “a thing of value” intended to affect an election?

If Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner had met with Canadian agents in Trump Tower I doubt there would have been any controversy. The fact is, Trump won the election and many of those stunned by that wish to undermine him using revived Cold War-type Russophobia. They insist:  He worked with our adversary to undermine our election. And now they hope they’ve got him on this charge.

*****

Five years ago a young man named Edward Snowden (now living in forced exile in Russia) revealed to the world the extent of the U.S.’s global surveillance. He showed us how the NSA wiretaps EU meetings, popes’ conversations, Angela Merkel’s cell phone and maintains metadata on virtually all U.S. residents. He showed us what the contemporary advanced state can do in this respect. We should suppose that Moscow has, if not similar capacity, at least enough expertise to hack into the DNC emails or John Podesta’s g-mail account. Is that surprising?

What none of the TV anchors is allowed to say needs to be said again: The U.S. interferes in foreign elections all the time, including Russian ones. It should surprise no one if Russian intelligence responds in kind. The point is not the provenance of the leaked emails but their content.

Those horrified by the leaked material complain that their release was designed to “undermine faith in our democratic system.” Really? Don’t the workings of the system itself undermine one’s faith in it, once they are exposed? Was it adversarial of the leaker to inform us that the DNC had no intention of allowing Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination, and thus that the process was rigged? Was it unfriendly to reveal that Podesta was hoping the media would hype Trump, as an easy target for his candidate?

The question that will no doubt be debated in the coming days is whether seeking dirt on a political opponent from any foreigner is indeed illegal, or whether there are specific legal ramifications of meeting with someone from an “adversary” country. But it seems to me that Russia has not been defined as such officially. So we may have a discussion less about legality than the politics of Russophobia.

I am happy to see Trump besieged, rattled, possibly facing impeachment. But to bring him down on the basis of “Russian collusion,” on the assumption that Russia is an adversary, would only advantage the warmongers who want no-fly zones over Syria and military support for the Kiev regime against the Donbas separatists. Vice President Pence I believe favors both.

Trump has said that he cannot host Putin in Washington this year, or until the Russian Hoax witch hunt is over. But Putin has invited him to Moscow. One senses he wants some agreements with Trump before he is ousted by his gathering adversaries, including the press, courts, Democrats, select Republicans, turncoat aides and he himself sometimes in his unguarded tweets.

The “Russian Interference” Scandal, In a Nutshell

A few dozen GRU officers spent several thousand dollars to acquire fake U.S. identities and post fake news on U.S. social media, before and after the 2016 election. They hacked into some state and local electoral boards and for some reason (maybe just to see if they could do it) stole information on half a million voters in Illinois and Arizona. (Just like the NSA probably has information on lots of Russian voters.)

The impact of these posts has been exaggerated. They certainly did not shape the election. Those suggesting otherwise are either ignorant or driven by butt-headed Russophobia, or both.

The Russian officers hacked the DNC and (allegedly) gave the files to Wikileaks, which released them, revealing that FACT that the monstrously corrupt Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s DNC had rigged the (fake) Democratic primary for Hillary against Bernie.

The latter is really the big sin. How DARE the leaker leak the fact that the U.S. system is so undemocratic. How dare anybody look at the empire’s electoral process and say the emperor has no clothes.

Bernie Sanders was much more popular than Hillary Clinton throughout the Democratic primaries. Multiple polls showed him much better poised to defeat the republican candidate than Hillary. But Debbie told her staffers, “Don’t be silly, Bernie’s not going to win.” She made sure her candidate won. But as the Democrats arrived at their nominating convention in July 2016 Wikileaks published her scandalous emails and she and the whole DNC leadership were obliged to resign in shame.

Wasserman Schultz’s successor, CNN commentator and overt Hillary shill Donna Brazile has apologized to Sanders for her own inappropriate aid to Clinton (passing along debate questions to her during the campaign) and for the DNC’s inappropriate handling of campaign funds to advantage Clinton.

In its fixation on the question of “Russian interference” the media ignores the content of that interference—which was, more significantly than the production of disinformation, the revelation of inconvenient truth. The Democratic Party thwarted the highly promising candidacy of Bernie Sanders, bitterly disappointing (and one would hope, appropriately disillusioning) a generation.

The U.S. electoral system is not sacrosanct. It’s a particularly corrupt form of what Marxists call “bourgeois democracy,” meaning that it allows the voter a choice of at least two Wall Street-backed candidates for an office. The voter is supposed to appreciate this “right” to vote for one or the other offered. In 2016 this meant the precious right to vote for (1) a buffoon nominated as Republican candidate due to the corporate media’s relentless promotion of him through free air time (in Nov. 2015 The Nation reported that Trump was getting 23 times as much free media coverage as Sanders), or (2) a cold, warmongering establishment Democrat whose stolen coronation had been foreordained.

And the Russkies wanted to interfere in this pure democratic process! They wanted to actually EXPOSE the fact that the Americans themselves had rigged their own election! And what tool did the Russians most effectively use? Why (it is alleged), the exposure of the truth, in the form of undoubtedly authentic documents, historical primary sources documenting the corruption of U.S. “democracy.”

How DARE the Russians facilitate the U.S. electorate’s awareness of DNC antics! That’s private, in-house stuff, U.S. dirty laundry. Not Moscow’s business! For Moscow to reveal this stuff was total INTERFERENCE! Unforgivable!

And when Rand Paul blandly tells Jake Tapper on CNN that the U.S. has interfered in foreign elections many many times more than Russia in the last 70 years, Tapper bristles in patriotic indignation that Paul would posit “moral equivalency” between his holy country and any other, when it comes to such interference.

A country “exceptional” by definition, depicted as such to its subjects in their education process and ongoing political indoctrination, cannot be the moral equivalent of any other. The U.S. is GOOD, Russia is BAD, this ought to be OBVIOUS and since Trump is obviously a Putin puppet, he too is bad and ought to be impeached.

The alleged GRU intervention had minimal impact on the vote count in November 2016. Its main impact was—if the NSA’a attribution is correct—to facilitate voters’ (and non-voters’) awareness that the system does not, in fact, work. It does allow people like Bernie Sanders to become president.

Case closed. Not the case of Russia, but the case of the U.S. electoral system. That Russian hackers may (repeat may) have played a role in the exposure of reality, they helped make the case that the system is rotten. If that was “interference” it was surely a good thing.

A Zen priest will tell you: “See things as they really are.” Wake up. The reality is the system sucks, and now the system, moribund and in self-defense, lashes out at Russia leaving Trump in an awkward position.

Everybody knows most Russians preferred Trump to Hillary, for good reasons; Hillary had pushed NATO expansion, sought regime change in Russian ally Syria and armed terrorists to topple Assad, led in the destruction of Libya, sought to influence the 2011 Russian elections, compared Putin to Hitler and the annexation of Crimea to Hitler’s annexation of the Sudentenland in 1938, and pushed for regime change in Ukraine.

The U.S. media found a “Gotcha!” moment when Putin in Helsinki told reporters that he had hoped for a Trump victory. Now finally we know—yes, he liked Donald more than Hillary!

Well, duh. CNN obviously preferred Hillary. Is it abnormal to express a preference? Did “the Russians” interfere by having an apparent overwhelming preference, for some reason, for the guy saying he wanted good and normal relations with Russia to the known-quality woman who is an obvious, conscious, calculating adversary?

RT (as “all the U.S. intelligence agencies” famously agree, since this is a fixed talking point of cable anchors) favored Trump. So did Fox News. So? Did the U.S. news media treat the last French election, in which Emmanuel Macron ran against Marine Le Pen, even-handedly? How does RT reportage, accessed by very few people in this country, constitute “interference” in this country’s affairs?

The real election interference scandal is the scandal of corporate interference. So long as public knowledge and opinion is shaped by media constrained by advertisers’ preferences (to avoid certain topics and forms of criticism, and embrace others skewing reportage to serve the system’s interests), there can be no real “democracy,” no real rule of the people, here or in Russia or anywhere.

Bolton, MEK and Trump Iran Strategy

There are growing indications that the Trump administration plans to use the Mojahedin-e Khalq (People’s Mojahedin of Iran, or MEK) as a key element in its strategy to destabilize Iran preparatory to regime change.

On June 30 Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani told the group in Paris: “We are now realistically being able to see an end to the regime in Iran. Trump doesn’t turn his back on freedom fighters.”

On July 1, 2017 John Bolton, former State Department official and Trump supporter, addressed a large gathering of MEK supporters in Paris.

There is a viable opposition to the rule of the ayatollahs,” he told the enraptured crowd, “and that opposition is centered in this room today…I have said for over 10 years since coming to these events that the declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the regime in Tehran. The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change. And therefore the only solution is to change the regime itself. And that’s why before 2019 we here will celebrate in Tehran!

Yes, the man who has been U.S. National Security Advisor since April 9 predicted to MEK that he would celebrate with them the downfall of the Iranian regime by next year. On May 8 of this year Bolton’s boss withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

So it’s virtually official. MEK freedom fighters will be chief U.S. proxy in the coming confrontation, or rather the ongoing confrontation renewed when Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran deal, threatening all countries with sanctions if they so much as buy Iranian oil. They are comparable to the peshmerga of Syria, or the Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan, or the motley array of militia that overthrew Gaddafi in Libya with U.S.-NATO support—willing accomplices in a regime-change effort directed from Washington.

Who are these people? MEK was founded in Iran in 1965 as a revolutionary anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist organization dedicated to the violent overthrow of the U.S.-backed regime of the Shah. It sought to produce a synthesis of Shiite Islam and Marxism, an inherently problematic project that has been more or less abandoned, especially as MEK has in recent years courted U.S. officials like Bolton. (A huge number of prominent U.S. officials and former officials have spoken in recent years, often for large fees, at MEK events. They include Howard Dean. Gen. Wesley Clark, Rudolph Giuliani, Porter Goss, Gen. Michael Hayden, Gen. Richard Myers, Bill Richardson, and Gen. Anthony Zinni.)

Embracing urban guerrilla warfare tactics in the 1970s, MEK targeted the regime and the U.S. military presence, conducting many attacks on U.S. personnel and gunning down Lt. Col. Louis Lee Hawkins, a U.S. Army comptroller, in 1973. Its members trained with the PLO and al-Fateh and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman.

During the revolution of 1979 that toppled the Shah, MEK was the largest of the radical left parties (if we exclude the Tudeh or Communist Party founded in 1941, dismissed by MEK as “revisionist”). It worked with smaller communist groups, notably Sardedaran (Union of Iranian Communists) founded in the U.S. by Iranian students in 1976 under the strong influence of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.

Initially, MEK aligned itself with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose triumphant return from French exile had met with a rapturous response. They perceived him as a popular nationalist leader. But when he denied its leaders input into the writing of a constitution, and forbade them from running for political office, they revolted. Results of their uprising were disastrous; about 10,000 perished and thousands of its members including the leadership fled to Iraq or France. Hosted by Saddam Hussein, they fought alongside the Iraqi Army against their countrymen throughout the 1980s. This is one reason they are generally, according to plausible reports, despised in Iran even by those who chafe under the mullah’s rule.

Camp Ashraf in Iraq was created by the MEK to accommodate its 3500 soldiers in the country. This camp was taken over by the U.S. following the 2003 invasion. Indeed the U.S. protected MEK from the Iraqis’ intention to deport them and indeed housed them at Camp Fallujah and arranged for some to be relocated to Albania.

In 1975 MEK split into its component parts; that is, a faction arguing rather simply that Marxism, not Islam, is the revolutionary path, and the dominant faction arguing the opposite. This is the MEK that hosts the most reactionary U.S. officials and—after inveighing against Zionism for decades—now cultivates ties with Israeli intelligence. In 1997 it was listed as a “terrorist” organization by the U.S. State Department. The UK and EU soon followed suite. But MEK was delisted as terrorist by Britain in 2008, the EU in 2009, and the U.S. in 2012.

Why? Hillary Clinton determined that MEK had changed its ways and given up terrorism. Plus, MEK was so useful, cooperating as it was and is with U.S. and Israeli intelligence, smuggling intelligence out of Iran, abetting U.S.-Israeli disinformation schemes, maintaining an underground presence in Iran that will be useful (some suppose) when the regime-change moment comes.

Analysts agree that MEK is a very unusual organization. Led by a married couple, Massoud Rajavi and his wife Maryam Rajavi, it imposes strict discipline including life-long celibacy on its members. It forbids them to entertain sexual thoughts. It punishes rules infractions with public shaming and sleep deprivation. It is often termed a cult.

That this group should become a key U.S. ally—as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo virtually declares war on Iran—is truly perplexing. Surely U.S. officials know that MEK is hated in Iran, and that its tactics in Iran have not produced mass support. Other underground opposition parties, such as the National Front of Iran, founded by Mohammed Mossadegh (toppled by the CIA in 1953), will not likely cooperate with them in producing a second regime change. The idea is as wild as Bolton’s idea that Cuba’s pharmaceutical plants are producing biological weapons.

Can it be that Pompeo does not understand the enduring outrage felt among Iranians about that 1953 coup? The U.S. didn’t just “interfere” in somebody else’s election, it toppled a democratically elected prime minister because he had the temerity to try to nationalize the nation’s petroleum industry. The world knows the U.S. interferes in other nations’ politics and electoral processes habitually, and that the “bi-partisan” National Endowment for Democracy “NGO” funnels billions into pro-U.S. forces in countries targeted for “color revolutions.” Only the cable anchors on CNN, MSNBC and Fox seem clueless, wide-eyed, indignant and outraged at the thought that “Russia interfered in OUR election!” As though we, as a people, ever had a real election in 2016.)

Bolton resembles his boss in that he cares nothing for the truth; lies boldly with angry, smug confidence, daring his audience to differ; is a loud bully with an ego and an agenda to which he hopes to commit the president. His main project is the Iranian regime change, much as Iraqi regime was Paul Wolfowitz’s preoccupation from 9/11/2001 to March 2003 when the plot to conduct a war-based-on-lies was finally consummated. (Bolton continues to say: “I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct,” and that the U.S. has the right to overthrow sovereign states at will.)

Bolton has told reporters (who note his changing stance on war with North Korea) that anything he may have said in print or on television in the past is irrelevant now since he is in the service of the president and committed to his policies. But he happily realizes his boss is an air-head, ignorant and impressionable, generally Islamophobic, committed to a hawkish anti-Iran policy because (1) he wants to reverse any Obama policy; (2) he made a campaign promise; (3) he’s slavishly deferential to Binyamin Netanyahu, who wants the U.S. to bomb Iran; and (4) hostility towards Iran invites little opposition in Netanyahu’s fan club, Congress. Bolton has lots to work with there.

Congressional attitudes could change if U.S. secondary sanctions applied on European allied nations further strain the Atlantic Alliance already stressed by the trade wars Trump has unleashed. The EU, Russia and China all need to unite in demanding that the U.S. not only end its threats to attack Iran but respect other nations’ rights to trade with that great, large, relatively wealthy nation. (The IMF ranks Iran as 27th of 191 nations in terms of GDP; that is, it’s among the world’s top 15%. China, UAE, Germany and India are main trade partners.)

As U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provokes Iran with his arrogant demands—“preconditions” for a U.S. return to the deal, which essentially demand that it grovel at America’s feet—the U.S. provokes the rest of the world too, for multiple reasons. Its demand for allies’ cooperation in its efforts to undermine Tehran conflict with their efforts to improve both diplomatic and trade relations, to say nothing of their hopes for more stability in the region flooding Europe with refugees.

Thus Trump chooses the re-designated terrorist group MEK over Paris; Israel over Europe; Saudi Arabia and its anti-Iran Arab coalition against Russia and China. It demands that Japan (once Iran’s largest oil purchaser, now the sixth largest) and South Korea (currently the third largest, after China and India) end imports to abet regime-change efforts. These demands are outrageous, especially spouted by mouths that the whole world knows routinely spew lies without shame.

So it’s Trump, Bolton, Pompeo, Netanyahu, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the Rajavis—-versus Iran and the world which, while it may not be terribly fond of Iran, are becoming even less fond of Trump’s U.S.A.

Oh, and now Pompeo comes back from Pyongyang boasting of “progress” while the Koreans call the visit “regrettable.” The whole world is hoping that the U.S. work methodically with the DPRK to achieve the denuclearization goal. That will take time and require a schedule of coordinated steps, like the Iran deal that Pompeo has been trying to sabotage since 2015, as Kansas congressman, CIA director, and in his present post, required.

One should not suppose Pompeo more predisposed to promote peace with North Korea than peace with Iran. Imagine the DPRK rapprochement collapsing just as the joint U.S.-Saudi-U.S. missile barrage strikes Iran. There are sober people in Washington thinking carefully about multiple scenarios, amorally planning for all contingencies.

One of these might be a general Manichaean apocalypse in which the issue is not Good versus Evil (which would have been the case under George W. Bush) but Trump and His Base versus the World.

The latter he attacks by trade policy, a diplomacy of irrational insults, an almost impish desire to undermine existing international agreements and institutions (not so much to the objective advantage of U.S. imperialism so much as the advantage of his own frozen prepubescent ego), missile strikes at his generals’ discretion, and shameless voicing of racist, bigoted, uneducated views. The former he pleases by such policies and bombast. The U.S. mainstream media and the bulk of the political class deplore Trump in favor of the world, or at least criticize Trump’s “America First” populist nationalism as threatening to the postwar international order which has hitherto been very good to the imperialist U.S.A. They look askance at MEK and, to the extent they engage the issue, they question the wisdom an alliance with it.

Still, Trump proceeds on a confrontational course with Iran, and with any having deals with Iran, joining in the process with the most unsavory henchmen from the Saudis to the Likudists to these Iranian cultists. One hopes this strategy will only further isolate the U.S. from its allies and unintentionally help produce a more multi-polar world.

The Millstone around Trump’s Neck?

This Bible passage (Matthew 18:1-6) is getting a lot of attention recently. Let me use the King James Version so beloved by evangelicals:

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

This text has been used to criticize Trump’s grotesque child-abusing border policy by a range of Christian groups, pro- and anti-Trump and maybe some others. Anyway the passage occurred to me as I watched the news, and I’m not even Christian, just familiar from childhood with gospels. I can understand why it might have crossed a few million other minds simultaneously as this horror story unfolded.

Some of the most moving passages in the New Testament deal with the treatment of children. When the chief priests in the Temple in Jerusalem hear children cheering Jesus and complain, he cites Psalm 8:2 about how praise for the Lord comes out from the mouths of babes and sucklings (Matthew 21:16). In Mark 10:13-16 Jesus, in response to protests he is spending too much time with children, says famously, “Suffer the little children to come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Et cetera.

This is why Karl Marx told his daughter Eleanor (after, as she recounted, “patiently elucidating the story of the carpenter whom the rich men killed”): “We can forgive Christianity much because it taught us the worship of the child.” (Not once but often in her childhood, according to her account.) Marx was very pro-child.

In 1975 McGraw-Hill published a volume in its Karl Marx Library series entitled On Education, Women and Children. I don’t have it on hand and can’t readily cite it now but remember feeling impressed by Marx’s psychological insights about how children grow up.

Socialist societies, to the extent that societies deserving that designation have ever existed, have placed priority on the care of children. Certainly children’s housing, security, education, medical care. These efforts have been widely studied in this country and sometimes inspired “socialist” institutional changes. One could mention the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a federal assistance program begun during the New Deal in this country in 1935 (but ended during Bill Clinton’s tenure in 1996).

The International Year of the Child pronounced by UNESCO in 1979 led to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ten years later. (One must mention, however, that the U.S. withdrew from UNESCO last October—in protest of its bias against Israel, surprise, surprise—and the U.S. Congress has never ratified the Convention.)

In the U.S. groups like Focus on the Family depict themselves as protectors of children (or imagined children, including every human egg fertilized as we speak). One of the most horrible pieces of recent U.S. legislation is referred to as the “No Child Left Behind” act. Hillary Clinton ran twice as a mother—-so warmly maternal, did you notice?—who had told us it takes a village to raise a child.

The worship of the child, that is to say, passed from Christianity into Marxism and the socialist experiments that prompted in response global reforms. But in the 90s triumphant capitalism became crueler; most notably, the 1994 crime bill endorsed by Clinton virtually criminalized a generation of black youth. Still, there remained a thin veneer of humanitarianism. Clinton’s attorney general had the good sense to let Elian Gonzalez return to his dad in Cuba, for example, in 2000.

But now the world hears these reports and sees these images of the U.S.A. that had once said: “Give me your tired and your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Now the message is: You tired, poor people, hardly breathing after your 1000-mile trek, need to be detained as criminals, the children among you held separately and dispersed all over the country pending some possible reunion somewhere at some point, there being no guarantee parents won’t be deported while their children remain in confinement. That’s not as evil as stuff terrorists have done to children in Iraq and Syria. ICE is not ISIS. But it’s shockingly bad.

All of Latin America knows that Trump is a racist buffoon using anti-immigrant (especially anti-Hispanic immigrant) sentiment and the issue of the wall to maintain his appeal to his base. The “zero policy” is overwhelming supported by Republican Party voters.

But It’s one thing to inveigh against Mexican advantages within NAFTA or accuse Mexico of sending its rapists to the U.S. It’s one thing to insult leaders of neighboring nations. That’s just adults, acting childish.

It’s another to cruelly treat Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan families including those seeking asylum, ripping parents from their kids after their hazardous 1000-mile trek. It’s another thing to compound childhood trauma with more trauma, to show the state of the power to enforce obedience to its laws.

In a CIA study of world infant mortality rates, the U.S. stands at 170 out of 225—behind virtually all of Europe, and, of course, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Macao, Hong Kong. It is tied with Serbia. Trump’s stand on Planned Parenthood promises no improvement.

How can you more alienate normal humanity than inflicting pain on children, wrenching them from their mother’s arms? There are several millstones around Trump’s neck, but this could be the one that drags him down.

Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is urging obedience to the law requiring the separation of families of undocumented immigrants, separating 11,000 children from their parents so far, 2000 in the last month, by citing scripture. Christian scripture, specifically. He cites a passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in the New Testament, written probably in Corinth between 52 and 55 CE and addressed to “all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.” Let’s look at that text in context, just for fun.

Paul writes of wanting to visit the imperial capital, and to eventually proceed to Spain to preach the gospel there. (There were Jewish synagogues in Spain, and Paul always initially preached in these establishments, where Gentiles were often welcomed and who could be won over to the Christian gospel as Paul understood it. This just shows how ambitious Paul was as a world-traveler, and how important his role was in spreading the emerging cult of Jesus centered in Judea throughout the eastern Mediterranean, establishing a world religion.)

Paul was, of course, originally Saul of Tarsus, a Jew from the port city of Tarsus in Cilicia, which is to say what is now southeastern Turkey. He was a tent maker and initially a fierce opponent of Christianity after its inception around Jerusalem circa 30 CE. He supposedly “persecuted” Christians in Judea and was on the road to Damascus intending to do more harm in Syria when he had his vision of the risen Christ. This was sometime around 36 CE. Thereafter he began to proselytize his understanding of the message of Christ, focusing on the conversion not of Jews but of Gentiles. Peter and James saw him as the “apostle to the Gentiles.”

Part of his message, as any serious Christian knows, is that the “old law “(the Laws of Moses in the Old Testament, including the many dietary laws) no longer applies, even to Jews; the Christian redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice need only have faith to be united with God in Heaven. In that sense the Christian enjoys freedom from the law (Romans 7:1-6).

On the other hand, the nascent Christian movement was under attack by civil authorities as Paul wrote. (Paul himself may have perished in Nero’s persecution in 64.) Some members of the community were inviting unwanted attention by law-breaking or provoking authorities. Paul was writing to believers in the city where Roman law was authored, where the Senate met; the city that (not that he could anticipate it) would within three centuries become the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. It made sense for him addressing a Roman congregation to focus on observing the secular law.

His message was: obey the authorities to avoid trouble. It was a practical pastoral message. But for the current U.S. attorney general it has broader application, presumably to all government everywhere. Sessions actually said to critics of the child separation policy: “I would cite you to [sic] the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.”

Clear and wise, indeed! A command from God! That’s the attorney general speaking, two thousand years after Paul, after twenty centuries of obedience. Mr. Sessions surely knows as a devout Methodist and student of the Bible that Paul also told wives to obey their husbands, children to obey their parents in everything, and slaves to obey their masters (Colossians 3:18-22). More wise and clear commands that Sessions might cite in a legal opinion.

Trump meanwhile, in his clarity and wisdom, tells Fox and Friends that Kim Jung Un, his new friend, is “the head of a country. And I mean, he is the strong head. Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.” And he wants NFL players to stand up during the national anthem because he says so, or face fines or worse. He wants obedience and abject deference; recall the first Trump cabinet meeting in which each member expressed a personal admiration for Trump and gratitude for the opportunity to serve under him. He wants obedience from the Justice Department and Republicans in Congress and his hand full of media sycophants including Sean Hannity. And, of course, obedience from the moms and dads torn from their children at the border, and from the children who following the ordeal of migration are scattered around the country in detention centers unsure about the future.

People are sitting up at attention, for sure. (Trump wants his people to sit up for him; does he mean his 40%, or the people of the U.S.A.?) The knowledge that kids are being ripped from their moms, some indeed from their breasts, and traumatized makes people with a modicum of moral sense perk up. The idea that reports about the separations will discourage further illegal immigration do not make them seem more humane.

Sessions followed up with more Biblical exegesis, citing the Old Testament book of Nehemiah that describes the Israelites’ conquest of Jerusalem and their building of a wall around the city (because God told Nehemiah to do this). “There’s no scriptural basis for open borders,” he declared.

I would argue that the myth of Yahweh telling his chosen Abraham that his progeny would receive all the land between the Nile River of Egypt and the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia (as God’s gift to his Chosen People) in Genesis 15:18 is a reference to open borders. The myth of Joseph in Egypt includes the arrival of Hebrews welcomed in such numbers that they (supposedly) come to constitute a great nation in Egypt. The Sinai border, in the story, seems to be pretty open.

Biblical mytho-history includes themes of inclusion and exclusion. The Book of Ruth defends and romanticizes intermarriage between a Hebrew woman and a Moabite; Nehemiah in contrast condemns intermarriage. During the mythical conquest of Canaan by Joshua, whole peoples are wiped out, at the Lord’s command, including babies. Gentiles are generally treated negatively but Cyrus the Great, the Persian emperor who allowed the Judeans to return from their “Babylonian Captivity” to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, is actually depicted as a “man of God.” And, of course, St. Paul wrote that in Christ there was no Jew nor Gentile, nor male nor female, nor slave nor free. Jesus’s concept of the “kingdom of heaven” is thought by some New Testament scholars to reflect a concept of empire inspired by the Roman state; it was a concept of “God’s heavenly empire” far more powerful than any earthly institution. Rome was a multi-ethnic empire; the nascent Christian church as described in the Book of Acts begins with the Pentecost miracle while people from all of the world are possessed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:9-10). I submit Sessions doesn’t know much about the scriptural basis for border control. That he should even find value in the lack of one reveals a mind muddled by biblical literalism. He’s mentioned before that the Bible says nothing about global warming, condemns gay marriage and prohibits abortion as murder. Its story of Creation is more credible than the theory of evolution, for Sessions.

Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders (and preacher’s daughter) follows up Sessions’ remarks: “It is very Biblical to support the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.” Please, evangelicals, stick with us! The Bible’s actually on our side, don’t you see? St. Paul wants you to keep silent as Trump and the Congress work on a DACA compromise bill that would maybe end the family separations that the president (falsely as usual) blames on the Democrats. In this you show obedience, to Trump and God alike. As long as you continue to believe.