Category Archives: Politics

Translating Neoliberal-Speak: Your 2020 Democratic Candidates

Presented here is a short list of some of the most ridiculous statements, absolute gems really, from some of the hopefuls for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President. These are all either verbatim quotes from speeches, interviews, or official Twitter posts from the candidates. After I was initially rendered catatonic by examining the collective ignorance, I got it together to provide some clarity and rough translations to try and tease out the not-so-hidden agendas of each politician.

There was a lot to choose from, but I specifically picked each of these remarks because they are all exquisite examples of each candidate’s specific brand of delusional ideology and idiosyncrasy distilled down to their bare essences.

Unlike most campaign double-plus-good speech and blather where nothing of any significance is uttered, most of these instances unintentionally display veiled truths as well as display astounding naiveté and immorality, and shine an extra bit of light on each candidate’s personal quirks, beliefs, and foibles. These quotes unintentionally illuminate each candidate’s depravity and the modus operandi of neoliberal economics, and capitalism more broadly. They reveal how every vice is paraded as virtue, how class is never addressed meaningfully, how rhetoric is used to cover up the immorality, the endemic rot and corruption, the omissions, distortions, and obfuscations, basically the general Weltanschauung of late-capitalist culture.

Each quote here either unconsciously or deliberately attempts to obscure deeper issues and cover up the failures of our economic and political systems, yet backfires spectacularly, because it is so painfully obvious what the deeper implications are. My interpretations here are simply the brutally honest versions of their own words, taking the logic of their arguments, life choices, policies, and ideological beliefs to their final conclusions. Let’s dive in.

Kamala Harris: “Yesterday I announced that, as President, I’ll establish a student loan debt forgiveness program for Pell Grant recipients who start a business that operates for three years in disadvantaged communities.”

Translation: “How can I maximize the appearance of doing something good while in actuality helping the least amount of people without anyone noticing? No one’s actually going to crunch the numbers on this, right? My billionaire donors are totally not OK with canceling student debt or really anything that won’t line their own pockets, but I need to appeal to pseudo-progressives who can’t be bothered to research for two minutes and realize this program would help about ten whole people in the entire country.”

Pete Buttigieg: “I did not carry an assault weapon around a foreign country so I could come home and see them used to massacre my countrymen.”

Translation: “It’s totally OK to massacre innocent people halfway around the world, but please, just don’t do it here. I literally see no connection between our foreign policy and mass shooters in the United States. U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”

Elizabeth Warren: “We don’t have to choose between a green military and an effective one. My plan will improve our service members’ readiness and safety, and achieve cost savings for American taxpayers. Together-we can fight climate change-and win.”

Translation: “Have you always wanted to see a solar-powered drone rain death upon those scary terrorists? I’m your gal for a sustainably genocidal globe-spanning 21st century military! Ever wondered what a biodiesel tank would look like? I have all the best plans. Pick me in 2020 and help us build an eco-friendly empire!”

Andrew Yang: “I understand the spirit and appeal of a wealth tax. It makes sense that those who enjoy vast fortunes should pay back into the system, particularly given the concentrations of wealth in our winner-take-all economy. But the implementation would be impractical and problematic.”

Translation: “My only friends are venture capitalists and wealthy business owners, so it would be impractical and problematic for me to piss them off: I really don’t want my three billionaire friends to stop liking me and donating to my campaign. I am smart enough to know better, but I just can’t bring myself to back a common-sense solution as it goes against my own class interests. Plus, do you know how many jobs entrepreneurs create? Nothing gets me going more than being a total wonk with fellow entrepreneurs to discuss how to create new business opportunities and grow the pie for American families. Entrepreneurs are the backbone of our economy, don’t you know. I have lots of fake statistics that prove it. Have I mentioned how much I love entrepreneurs? I may have a few progressive ideas and good intentions, but I’m basically a slightly left of center, techno-libertarian version of Milton Friedman, who also supported UBI.”

Beto O’Rourke: “Man, I’m just born to be in it.” (Referring to the 2020 election race.)

Translation: “There is no reason for me to be in the race anymore as I have no chance of winning, no original ideas of my own, and my whole campaign is predicated on vapid PR centrist bullshit. I was well off before marrying into money, but now I can really let my sense of privilege shine and spread my wings of entitlement. I can’t just be a normal rich asshole having a mid-life crisis who buys a third home or gets a mistress, I don’t have the self-awareness to just go away, so I’ll have to bore you all to death with my insipid blatherings in the media. I’m kind of a poster-boy for a bougie generic type of gen-X slacker, except not even the semi-interesting kind who joined the Peace Corps or lived in Europe for a bit; I’m more of an aimless dilettante with delusions of grandeur. Before I was a Congressman I attempted to sell-off parts of El Paso to gentrify the city for my sleazy real-estate developer father-in-law. Actually, I’m a lot like George W. Bush, another rich Texan with daddy issues and past problems with alcohol. Did you know I was in a punk band? Punk rock is a lot like politics, actually, you have to be authentic to succeed, and my DIY credentials are unparalleled, man.”

Joe Biden: “I remember when we had a president our children could look up to.”

Translation: “I’m not referring to children of undocumented immigrants who saw their parents unjustly deported under the Obama administration. I’m not referring to children whose parents have been locked away and immorally jailed for non-violent crimes all so I can pander to a regressive center-left and center-right and placate my elite reactionary, authoritarian donors. Nor am I referring to the countless children killed and even more who’ve been terrorized by endless wars and constant drone bombing stretching from North Africa through the Middle East to Central Asia. Brown kids are just as bright as white kids, but they’re going to grow up to either steal our jobs or become terrorists or both and we can’t have that. Even though I’m a doddering fossil, my handlers will ensure I’m able to fake the appearance of competence and pander to a return to the good old times when America was united. Make America Normal Again, am I right?!”

Amy Klobuchar: “When you’re out there on the world stage and dealing with people like Vladimir Putin, yeah, you want someone who’s tough…you want someone that demands the answers and that’s going to get things done, and that’s what I’ve done my whole life.”

Translation: “The rumors you’ve heard about me are true. I may be a stone-cold psycho who throws office supplies at my staff, berates, takes advantage of, and verbally abuses them, but America, you’re going to need me to deal with all those big Boogeymen and scary threats we are facing as a nation. See, unlike Trump, when I treat people like dirt it’s because I earned the right to do so by getting things done. That’s how our meritocracy works after all, right? I was exploited and abused when I climbed the corporate and political ladders, which helped me learn to demand answers and made me tough, so this justifies the hurt I now inflict on others, which I derive a sick form of pleasure from.  My insane and sociopathic use of using leverage on the less powerful, my coercive behavior and bullying my employees in my campaign office will work great for dealing with fellow world leaders…that’s what makes America exceptional, after all, humiliating and forcing others to do your bidding against their will.”

Tulsi Gabbard: “In short, when it comes to war against terrorists, I’m a hawk. When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove.”

Translation: “First, notice the counterproductive. See, I want our nation to get back to launching productive wars of regime change. Despite my professed anti-interventionism, I’m not intelligent enough to understand that regime change was always predicated on and justified by the appeal to a ‘war on terror’, and that the military-industrial-intelligence complex will always label foreign leaders or groups who they want destroyed as ‘terrorists’, whether they pose an actual threat or not. There is no indication from my background that I would have the backbone or strong anti-war belief system to stand up to the national-security state. This is why many moderates and ‘independents’, as well as liberals, find my superficial isolationism appealing: it covers for the same noxious nationalism and malignant imperialism endemic to our politics. When it comes to Islamic religion and culture which I’ve regularly demeaned and slandered as promoting ‘radical extremism’, I’m a hawk. When it comes to my wonderful friend Narendra Modi, I’m a dove. There’s nothing weird about that, right? No contradictions to see here.”

Cory Booker: “When discouraged, choose hope. When criticized, choose humility. When hurt, choose forgiveness. When dreams are dashed, dream again.”

Translation: “Let me be clear: yeah, I really do talk like this all the time. I’m your very earnest, cheesy, woke slam-poetry candidate. Look, I know many of you see me a pompous windbag full of platitudes and oozing pablum, but let me dissuade you of that notion. I know you’re discouraged because we chose ‘hope’ in 2008 and it didn’t work out so well, but trust me, this time it’ll be different. When I’m criticized for being a sellout, I always think back to my billionaire donors on Wall Street and in the pharmaceutical industry, and it humbles me because I know I couldn’t be where I am today without them. I may have gotten hurt by taking too many shots to the head playing college football, because I often quote W.E.B. Du Bois and MLK Jr. without any deep understanding of their actual political beliefs, but I know you’ll all forgive me for Disney-fying their legacy. I know many people’s dreams have been dashed by our economic system, but my dreams, like the dreams of my ruling class buddies, are so completely enveloped by our affluence and vainglorious drive for power that we are ready and willing to dash your dreams again.”

Bernie Sanders: “The Maduro government has waged a violent crackdown on civil society, violated the constitution by dissolving the National Assembly and was re-elected last year in an election many observers said was fraudulent. The economy is a disaster and millions are migrating.”

Translation: “Here lies proof that neoliberal thought infects everyone and everything, and it’s no surprise that this includes reformist social democrats like me. I supported the Sandinistas, Cuba and Castro, but I parrot State Department propaganda on Venezuela to a T. It would be so easy for me to gain genuine, stalwart socialist allies if I reached out to people, and they could help me see through the disinformation swirling around Maduro’s government and various foreign policy issues, but I am either too stubborn or prideful to acknowledge their existence and learn from them.”

The Obscured Horror Show

Karl Marx used a metaphor about a camera obscura to describe the contortions in the interpretations of ideology, and it’s also an interesting metaphor to think about how information is delivered to us from power. A camera obscura receives an image from a tiny hole where the image is then projected in a state that is inverted and reversed, such is the perspective given to us by the powers that be where we are fed a myopic view and what is shown to the people is the opposite of what is really going on. The pictures taken from the camera obscura of the ruling class are then captioned for the people by the corporate media and government PR providing obscured narration around the already obscured images which are carefully curated so that nothing is ever perceived by the people other than what is intended by the propagandist photographers.

The actions taken by elites must be obscured because if they were done right in front of you sans the gaslighting it would strike anyone in a mindset outside of an indoctrinated culture to be horrified. And when the events that occur every day in our society are thought of on a small scale without the socially applied labels, it’s clear to see the type of people we are truly dealing with, and why ousting their system from power is likely the only option if the story of humanity is to have a next chapter. Because these are not people acting in good faith; rather these are people who rule over us and are addicted to power and will do or say anything to get another hit to satisfy their addiction, which includes obliterating the natural environment that every living thing on the planet depends on and is only done so that a few people can have greater ego status and some meaningless luxuries.

Continuing to trust the US government to not start another war based on false pretenses or trusting politicians and the corporate state to stop the environmental destruction is akin to trusting Freddy Krueger to babysit your kids and expect it’s going to end up in something other than a horror show…

Well, Mr Krueger, let’s take a quick look at your babysitter qualifications before the wife and I head out for the evening. I see here you have no references and have some rather gruesome scars, how did that happen? Oh, some parents burned you alive after you diddled and murdered their kids? I see. Still, I’m not going to jump to any conclusions and disqualify you on that alone, I do believe in second chances. Sooo what are those knives on your hand for? You say they’re just decorative? Ok, but they look awfully sharp. And that’s a rather creepy maniacal laugh you have there, that doesn’t seem quite right, but still, I think it’s going to be fine. We’ll be back at 10, call us if you need anything and there’s money to order a pizza on the kitchen counter.

The American people are equally as naive, trusting their government, banks, and corporations who are just as crazy as a horror movie slasher and the evidence is directly in front of us. Acting as if we need a military this large which is ostensibly for defending the US is like Freddy telling you his glove with knives is only for easy access to kitchen utensils. They are both obviously for murdering people.

These corporatists and politicians are well dressed raging narcissists who speak with a specific nomenclature and a twisted tongue directly for the purpose of deceiving the masses. People like those in power now have been running these power games for a very long time and they have no intent of ever changing. They lure the masses in with carefully crafted words every election season and the people gab and gossip over which one of these lying psychopaths is better than the other. Sure Michael Myers has an excellent foreign policy, but Leatherface seems to have good domestic fiscal policy, but then again, I really like what Jason Voorhees has been grunting about immigration.

Right now the people still remain unconvinced a Freddy Krueger-ish ruling elite are bad guys, and perhaps it’s not as obvious when they lack a maniacal guffaw, don’t openly look hideous, or wear blood stained knives on their hands. But let’s think about what is being done by those in power through a clear lens and hopefully reach a point of socioeconomic enlightenment. To illustrate the point of their insanities it’s best to think of their actions on a smaller scale and ask yourself if these people and their social construct are something we can ever trust given their history and present state. And will this system somehow turn things around and become the altruistic thing they pretend to be in photographs crafted by the camera obscura.

So it is pertinent to ask what kind of people are these that would make others homeless out of nothing but greed. Let’s hypothetically ask an ethical question here. If there were only two people in the world and five homes available, would it not be the height of selfishness to claim all the homes for yourself and keep the other person out of the available homes by threat of violence while the existing structures sat and rotted away unused? Yet banks, corporations, and government policy allow this kind of behavior to happen ubiquitously in every area afflicted with capitalism, and they call it freedom for moneyed elites to be allowed to do so in the vaunted “free” market system. They say it’s not greed you see, it’s freedom for the powerful to do as they please. It’s like saying Ted Bundy has a god given right to murder women and proclaiming it liberty for the serial killer.

Here’s another. If people were starving and you had a warehouse full of groceries in your backyard and you threw out the fruits and veggies with a spot or two and refused to even let the starving people use the garbage you threw out what kind of person would you be? Yet this is exactly what capitalist grocers routinely do and worse, as it’s a special kind of awful to have buildings full of food and that sits unused while others go without proper nourishment. And again to excuse this behavior of hoarding because people in power tell you that you’re not working hard enough for them, and even after a lifetime of work it’s still not enough to qualify you to have a right to food if you don’t have enough of their money which they can, and do, create out of thin air in computers and handout in large amounts to cover the imbalances in their financial and banking systems. To those in charge, it’s more just that a person starve than a banking system go unbalanced, or god forbid, take a financial loss.

Or consider this.  If you were to throw a party and you caught someone smoking a joint in your house would a rational reaction to this be to strip search them, lock them in your closet, and then force them to pay you a fine for smoking? Then after keeping them as punishment in your closet from several months to a couple years you proceed to track them and make them report back to you that they found a job you approve of, while also demanding they come by and piss in a cup so that you can be sure they haven’t decided to smoke pot again, and if they don’t abide by your rules you threaten to throw them back into the closet. And you do all this while telling them it’s for their own good and the good of the greater society. Is this sane behavior? Yet again, we accept a nation state that does this and worse on a massive scale.

Or what if a group of your neighbors, who happen to have the most weapons, stopped by one evening to tell you that you can no longer grow vegetables on open unused land and can no longer fish out of a local lake, and that all these resources would now be managed by them. They will give you an allowance if you do their work in a manner fitting to them so you can now buy food only from their approved sources. And if you work hard enough and pay tribute to them with the allowance they have given you then they may even let you stay in your home. Remember, if you don’t obey what they say and refuse to live by their laws, they will be forced to kidnap you and incarcerate you, and if you run from them when they try and kidnap you then they will get their guns and shoot at you simply because you ran. Sounds nuts, right? Yet, here we are with a very similar way of being only applied to billions.

Or what if your neighbor next-door started investing heavily in tanks and missiles and they shoot at your kids whenever they come close to the property line. And when questioned why they are doing such things they claim it’s for their own protection when almost no one else in the neighborhood has a single gun. Then one day your crazy neighbor knocks on your door and tells you the guy down the street is a danger to everyone, this supposed threat down the street also happens to have a large RV camper you’ve seen your neighbor eyeing repeatedly, and now they want your kids to take some of their guns over there and murder them even though you have no idea what those people down the street actually did or if the situation could be resolved through a dialectical conversation instead of resorting to violence. Regardless, they refuse to have a conversation and inform you that if your child doesn’t want to murder someone for them they’ll lock them in their basement for punishment. It doesn’t seem rational, does it? But it seems rational for the US to do these things and continue to have a military many times the size of any other nation while they make claims they are the ones being threatened.

And it’s worth pointing out again, these psychopathic behaviors are everywhere and people will still treat this system and its election theater with utmost seriousness. Many of the problems we face are solvable, yet they persist, and it never seems to cross the mind of the common voter that these injustices persist precisely because those in power are doing something awful, the people simply cannot fathom that those they elect to rule would act with such disregard for the well being for others. The people buy into a society that has the worst kind of morals built into it and continue to pretend like there is something here worth saving. To the blind masses it still seems rational to cast votes for people to rule over us while these psychos ramp up their discipline, surveil, and punishment tactics and spread endless warfare and pain across the planet.

All these first world nation-states are eager to tell you how free you are. Essentially free to pay their taxes, work their jobs, and contribute to their capitalist growth in some manner. But if you’re so free then try to get a group of people and attempt to escape their system. Try to secede from their rule at any size and you’ll be met with instant opposition. Leaving their system isn’t an option. You can perhaps live in another nation-state they recognize, but you cannot start your own, and even the ones they recognize who don’t behave in an economic manner that pays proper tribute to the ruling classes will be put under threat. The planet is owned by a cartel of mafiosos with important sounding titles, where sovereignty is granted not by the will of a people to be free, but from the existing powers that be.

Everything nation-states, capitalists, or any social structure in a hierarchical form does is horrific and iniquitous while being normalized by way of semantics. Only when their actions are reframed under an objective lens without the titles, badges, and uniforms does the picture become clear and sanity returns. We are collectively captured by mavens in the art of cruelty, and not only do the collective people openly fight against their rule, but we can’t accept or even be brought to discuss the true intent of their actions.

An electronic umbilical cord

The lifeblood of alternative radio is sometimes the celebrity that they create among themselves. And on Monday, October 7, Lincoln County’s KYAQ radio station will welcome one of the biggest stars from the bottom of the dial as David Barsamian visits Newport, Oregon on his Rise Up and Resist tour.

Barsamian grew up in New York, the son of Armenian refugees who fled the genocide unleashed in Turkey by the Ottoman government from 1915 to 1917. More than 1.5 million people were murdered.

191004_oct_David-Barsamian-speaking-at-SLO-Grange-Hall.jpg

The 74 year old will be at Oregon Coast Community College talking to the Central Coast as part of his contribution to an evening of “inspiration.”

I will be drawing on not only my experiences, but those historical examples of people fighting back with sometimes dangerous and deadly consequences.

Barsamian and I talked via phone while he finished his regular bike ride and settled into one of his favorite Boulder, Colorado, coffee shops, Beleza, which in Portuguese means beautiful.

From growing up in the neighborhoods of New York, where he tells me he ditched school and barely graduated from high school, Barsamian enrolled in San Francisco State before dropping out after a year and then signing up to crew a Norwegian freighter out of San Francisco. He ended up in East and Southeast Asia for two years and then three years in India.

He learned the sitar, and embedded himself in the cultural cornucopia of India.  “I was surrounded by some of that country’s greatest musicians and poets”, he said. “I learned so much, including Urdu, Hindi and Bengali. It was like getting a graduate education in South Asian Studies.”

He got back to the US in 1970, finding work in Pakistani and Indian restaurants playing sitar, as well as teaching English to private students first in Rockefeller Center and later in the World Trade Center.

While David Barsamian is not a household name, his Alternative Radio out of KGNU-Boulder is syndicated to more than 250 stations in the country. He has interviewed heavy hitters of the intellectual, writer, scholarly variety, again, many not household names.

Barsamian is a touchstone for most supporters of alternative radio — sort of like IF Stone for some, or Studs Terkel for others, and really more like a cross between Edward R. Murrow and Gore Vidal.

Mile High With a Sitar and Eastern Sensibility

We are talking 1978, when he ended up in Boulder just after the radio station opened. Barsamian volunteered at the public station, making a living teaching ESL, Hindi and performing music. His first show was a music program, “Ganges to the Nile.” His sitar playing and knowledge of India and Eastern music helped.

Alas, when I ask Barsamian if there was a moment in his life when he realized he would be following a path less traveled in the US, he tells me there isn’t.

I’ve been a rebel since I can remember. I’ve always questioned authority, beginning with my parents. With the shadow of genocide hanging over our family, I wanted to learn more.

That included reading books at a young age, and listening to talk shows on the radio coming from his hometown, New York City.

Radio back then was quite a sober affair. Nothing like what we have now with all this shouting and screaming.

He has stated many times that founding Alternative Radio was his personal attempt to meet the goals of public broadcasting:

To serve as a forum for controversy and debate. To provide a voice for groups that may otherwise be unheard.

As an activist myself, I am always challenged with bringing voices like Barsamian’s to my communities – homeless veterans, just-released prisoners, students in military compounds, adults in night school at the many community colleges where I have taught.

In a kind of parallel universe, David Barsamian states the same rational I have used to bring great voices and minds – many times very alternative, outside the box – to my clients and students as he too purports his battle is against mainstream media oversimplifying debate and shutting out so many important voices. “It was unacceptable that many of this country’s greatest and most articulate radical voices had no forum on public radio”, Barsamian said. “Alternative Radio was created to be the vehicle for progressive perspectives that are otherwise ignored or given short shrift.”

Radio Waves on the Pacific

For Franki Trujillo-Dalbey, board president of KYAQ-91.7 FM and sponsor of Barsamian’s trip to Newport, there are not enough alternative voices out there giving listeners a sense of other countries’ perspectives and the unfiltered history of our own country.

Trujillo-Dalbey proudly states this is the third trip to the Central Coast for this radio personality who also has more than 20 books and a few documentary credits to his name.

A regular contributor to Sun Magazine, Barsamian just finished an interview of Bill McKibben, author of the 1989 book, The End of Nature, and one of the co-founders of 350.org.

Drawing from that October Sun Magazine interview of McKibben on the heels of the release of this environmentalist’s new book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? Barsamian poses a rhetorical point sure to be broached liberally at his October 7 talk in Newport:

In your new book, Falter, you talk about how scientists at both Exxon and NASA confirmed that climate change was occurring back in the 1980s.

The radio personality declares he has limited time for a telephone interview, as he is working on an essay by an Iranian writer for a new book of essays ReTargeting Iran — interviews with Ervand Abrahamian, Christopher de Bellaigue, Noam Chomsky, Nader Hashemi, Trita Parsi and Laura Secor. “At the Newport event I hope to be drawing on the energy and strength from voices like these and others questioning authority and the status quo”, he said.

An electronic umbilical cord

I had just listened to Vijay Prashad, director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and chief editor of LeftWord Books, on Democracy Now, aired daily on KYAQ. His latest article for Salon is headlined, “World leaders gather at the UN in the face of war, climate catastrophe & global worker exploitation.”

That was a 10-minute interview. David Barsamian just completed a two-hour interview with Prashad, talking about Kashmir, the eco-crisis, neoliberalism’s attack on all sectors of the world, “and a whole range of international issues.”

We talk about Vijay being one of the amazing contemporary voices with deep intellectual acumen and knowledge of a vast range of issues.

“Vijay is in the same mold as Tariq Ali and Edward Said.” Tariq is a British political activist, writer, journalist, historian, filmmaker and public intellectual. He is a member of the editorial committee of the New Left Review and Sin Permiso. Said (1935-2003) was a professor of literature at Columbia University, a public intellectual, and a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies. A Palestinian American born in Palestine, he was a citizen of the US by way of his father, a US Army veteran.

There is no mincing words when one broaches the Donald Trump presidency and chaos to Barsamian:  “Trump is taking up too much oxygen in the room,” he said. “I am more concerned with Christian radical Mike Pence (Vice President) waiting in the wings.

For several decades, 90-year-old Noam Chomsky — author of more than a hundred books, MIT linguistics scholar and considered the left’s go-to public intellectual – has been featured on Barsamian’s shows and in the related books of collected Chomsky-Barsamian interviews.

I was just with him in Tucson, and Noam didn’t miss a beat. He was razor sharp in 80 minutes.

The Chomsky-Barsamian radio relationship started more than 33 years ago, with Barsamian’s show, “Hemispheres,” a political program. It was a two-and-a-half-hour program with Noam Chomsky which Barsamian uplinked to the public radio satellite. Back then, most radio stations preferred half-hour or one-hour segments, although a few stations picked up the program. It was that long conversation with Chomsky that birthed Alternative Radio.

For many followers of Barsamian, they know he has accolades for Bernie Sanders, presidential candidate and senator from Vermont. “I interviewed him when he was first elected to the House of Representatives, when he was still mayor of Burlington.” Barsaminan, however, doesn’t spend much time interviewing politicians because, in his words, they already have a platform and bully pulpit.

Country Roads, He Calls Home

Boulder, Colorado, has been more than a radio station location for Barsamian. He calls it home, and is seeing more locals developing socialist collectives, community supported agriculture and farmers markets, co-housing, or collective housing.

For Barsamian, it may be two steps forward and three steps backward for progressives. However, he sees righteousness in the struggle. He quoted American statesman Daniel Webster:

Justice, sir, is the great interest of man on Earth. It is the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together.

The list of people on Barsamian’s radio show is impressive – Vandana Shiva, Arundhati Roy, Ralph Nader, Edward Said and so many others. Interviewing his mother, Araxie, and other witnesses of the Armenian Genocide was a pivotal moment.

The genocide trauma his mother expressed was what Barsamian calls the most difficult interview of his life. However, that discomfort helped him heal and his mother deal with difficult personal and political history.

From that day forward, Barsamian dedicated his life to listening to unheard voices. While those voices are definitely important to true democracy, as Howard Zinn wrote in the Peoples’ History of the United States and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes in  An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, this retelling gives the narrator holistic healing through the very conduit of communication. “I have been lucky to have connected with a whole galaxy of social activists and authors”, Barsamian tells me. “It is a kind of a gift of an electronic umbilical cord.”

For anyone interested in a deeper look at the construction and deconstruction of American democracy, David Barsamian has had a front row seat with history makers. He has been one of the clearer voices critiquing American media, also known as the press:

Corporate media are largely weapons of mass distraction. Language is manipulated to manufacture consent and to limit the bounds of permissible thought. A golden Rolodex of so-called experts produces a mono-chromatic one-note samba of drivel. That’s one reason I started Alternative Radio out of my house many years ago. You can’t simply whine and complain. You need to come up with positive alternatives that give people hope.

Note: For anyone willing to take a ride on the alternative side, and push aside American exceptionalist mythology, curb blind patriotism and listen to someone who has been with history’s great minds, coming out to the Newport, Oregon, event, 7 p.m. on Monday, October 7, at Oregon Coast Community College, 400 SE College Way, will be well worth the suggested $10 donation at the door.

Hell Yes, Take Them Away!

“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47!”  With that unequivocal statement, Beto O’Rourke ignited right wing gun pundits who’ve kept some powder dry for just such a remark:

“Who is this “we” he speaks of? Democrats? Liberals? Bring it, fools. Come and try to take my legally purchased guns. I double-dog dare you to come to my house and attempt to violate my Constitutional rights. It’s won’t be nearly as easy as Beta O’Dork thinks. (Def-Con News)

“My AR is ready for you Robert Francis.” (Texas State Rep. Briscoe Cain)

“Why do you oppose federal licensing?” Because leading Democrats are threatening confiscation. “Why do you oppose ‘universal’ background checks?” Because they would create a registry. “And why do you oppose a registry?” Because leading Democrats are threatening confiscation. Unwittingly or not, O’Rourke and his acolytes have stuck a dagger into the exquisitely calibrated gun-control messaging on which their party has worked for the better part of 20 years. (National Review)

It’s not just on the right; Beto O’Rourke also seems to have agitated many on the Left.  On Meet The Press, fellow presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg implied Beto’s comments played into the hands of the NRA (though he himself favors the banning of new assault rifles). Morning Joe Scarborough exaggerated O’Rourke’s buy-back proposal, painting it as a “kick in the door” confiscation policy that could never happen. He derided Beto’s words as just more red meat for gun owners.  Senator Chris Coons said O’Rourke’s proposal was “unwise and feeds into the right-wing refrain that Democrats are seeking to take all guns away from Americans”.

The timidity goes on and on: tread softly, or you’ll upset them. It’s like an abused housewife’s non-confrontational stance taken towards a drunken, violent-prone husband. At least in her moment, the reaction is understandable; it allows for her survival. The same can’t be said for those who really want gun reform. Treading softly has neither placated the abuser nor decreased the violence. Fifty years of pandering to the NRA’s problem child has only made him more belligerent and dangerous.  Politically measured “reasonable” proposals keep his toys in place and maybe his threatened tantrum at bay, but little else. We still have nearly 13,000 murder-by-gun deaths every year. The safe, “not-to-extreme” approach maintains status-quo variations of toothless regulation while gun violence continues.

O’Rourke doesn’t really propose “busting down doors” to confiscate assault weapons, but why shouldn’t he? Why shouldn’t anyone? It’s condoned for other recognized dangers and legal concerns. Police are given warrants to enter homes for drug busts and child porn searches.  Authorities knock on doors searching for fugitives or immigrants without papers. “Door busting” warrants are often obtained for even violent free situations (ex. Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort).  So why not rap on the door that hides a killing machine?

The weapons are legal, but shouldn’t be; military assault style rifles provide for what their name implies: an efficient means to assault. Their design is for warfare and the killing of human beings. If you really have a need to kill animals (or even just like to) there are plenty of guns designed and readily available for that purpose. If you really have a need to kill human beings (or even just want to) there are plenty of guns designed and available for that purpose, too. Most of them are referred to as assault weapons, and they’re perfectly legal. Imagine that: they’re perfectly legal. Manufacturers are allowed to sell weapons to civilians that are specifically designed to kill human beings, yet hold no legal responsibility when used for that purpose. OxyContin anyone?

Does the thought of an AK-47 in your husband’s hands make you a little uncomfortable? How about if your young son acquired one? Would you be at least a little concerned? You probably should be; some vivid red flags are fluttering. Statistically, males are prone to violent outbursts.  They commit 70% to 90% of all murders.  en perpetrate about 98% of all mass killings and constitute at least 90% of all modern day serial killers. In domestic settings, 80% of spousal murders are committed by men, and in the workplace, males account for 97% of all rampage style killings. Think about this: your son or spouse with an AR-15 has fantasies of killing a human being; not just in a passing pique of anger, but coolly in a measured way. Yes, that thought is really there; he has an image in his mind.  Before he buys a car, a guitar, a game, or anything else, he imagines using it; it’s what people do.  AK-47’s are machines specifically designed for the potent killing of human beings; their intended use is imagined when the purchase is contemplated. It might not mean he immediately intends to kill scores of school children, innocent co-workers, or that a meltdown of some kind is imminent. But it does mean this: he’s at least pictured himself using that weapon to kill a human being; that for some psychological reason, he has a need to imagine and posses that kind of power; to project that kind of threat. Do you see the red flags flapping? If acquired, three things have come together: a male, a fantasy, and the tool that can make it happen.

It’s illegal to knowingly download images of child pornography, even if alone and in your home.  Even in fantasy mode, it’s recognized as dangerous and a threat to innocent children. It’s perfectly legal to load an AR-15; you can even do it in the presence of a child; you can expose him to the beauty of holding a weapon that’s capable of killing forty people in less than a minute.  Is it real, or is it fantasy?

The child pornographer is sexually perverted. His downloads serve no healthy, useful purpose; they feed obscene fantasies and encourage purveyors. At some point he might act upon those fantasies and harm a living child; he’s weird and dangerous; something’s not right in his head.  It’s why we fear, loath, and distrust him. If discovered by authorities, his perversion would be dealt with quickly (unless he’s a well-connected Caucasian billionaire). There would be a warrant, a knock, and if necessary, a “door busting” entrance to seize his computer and arrest him.

The civilian owner of an assault weapon is mentally perverted. His military style firearm serves no healthy, legal purpose.  It simply feeds obscene fantasies. At some point he might even act upon those fantasies and kill real people (a lot of people in a short amount of time). To have the psychological need to possess such a killing device means something is not right in his head; he’s weird and dangerous. It’s why we should fear, loath, and distrust him. Perhaps we do, but we enable his perversion anyway. We respectfully tread softly while 13,000 men, women and children are murdered every year.

We don’t need AR-15’s, etc. for “sport” or subsistence hunting. We don’t need them for target shooting.  We don’t need them for protection. They’re only really “needed” by those who clearly shouldn’t have them; gang members, criminals, and those with the psychological need to project an air of deadly power. Is there a reliable way to recognize those who shouldn’t have an assault weapon? Sure, it’s easy; it’s any civilian who wants to have one (and it’s most likely a male).

So, hell yes, we should knock on doors and get them off the street. It’s the guns; the assault weapons. Their owners and purveyors are moral perverts with unhealthy needs. Like child porn addicts, their gratification is found in violent fantasy. Maybe it remains just that: a bit of fantasy with perhaps some violent underpinnings; maybe it’s only a fluttering passing thought and nothing more; unless it…well…you know… you’ve probably seen the headlines a few times.

It’s the gun, an assault weapon that animates the fantasy and arms the reality. It’s the gun, an assault rifle that provided a means to kill 58 people in less than ten minutes; it’s the gun used in so many mass shootings; the gun solely designed for the efficient killing of human beings; the gun with no essential legal purpose; it’s a supremely lethal gun and it’s still in the hands of three million adolescent adults with comic book fantasies.

So, hell yes, again.  Make them illegal. Take away the AR-15’s. Take away the AK-47’s.  Recognize and call out the perversion. Stop treading softly. Knock on doors. Get rid of them. Beto O’rourke’s plan would make a decent start: a buy-back program. Propose sixty days for amnesty and compensation; cut the compensation in half through the next sixty days; after that, no compensation and no amnesty. Anyone still in possession of an assault weapon would then be subject to arrest and gun confiscation. It’s not so draconian a proposal; the assault weapon holder is offered compensation, amnesty, and most importantly this: a chance to renew his life.  He should feel fortunate; consider how other perverts are treated. The child porn addict gets only this: an immediate arrest and a scarlet letter.

Hell yes, take them away!

Israelis Have Made their Verdict Clear: Benjamin Netanyahu’s Time is Up

For most Israelis, the general election on Tuesday was about one thing and one thing only. Not the economy, nor the occupation, nor even corruption scandals. It was about Benjamin Netanyahu. Should he head yet another far-right government, or should his 10-year divisive rule come to an end?

Barring a last-minute upset as the final ballot papers are counted, Israelis have made their verdict clear: Netanyahu’s time is up.

In April’s inconclusive election, which led to this re-run, Netanyahu’s Likud party tied with its main opponent in the Blue and White party, led by retired general Benny Gantz. This time Gantz appears to have nudged ahead, with 32 seats to Netanyahu’s 31 in the 120-member parliament. Both parties fared worse than they did in April, when they each secured 35 seats.

But much more significantly, Netanyahu appears to have fallen short of the 61-seat majority he needs to form yet another far-right government comprising settler and religious parties.

His failure is all the more glaring, given that he conducted by far the ugliest – and most reckless – campaign in Israeli history. That was because the stakes were sky-high.

Only a government of the far-right – one entirely beholden to Netanyahu – could be relied on to pass legislation guaranteeing him immunity from a legal process due to begin next month. Without it, he is likely to be indicted on multiple charges of fraud and breach of trust.

So desperate was Netanyahu to avoid that fate, according to reports published in the Israeli media on election day, that he was only a hair’s breadth away from launching a war on Gaza last week as a way to postpone the election.

Israel’s chief law officer, attorney general Avichai Mendelblit, stepped in to halt the attack when he discovered the security cabinet had approved it only after Netanyahu concealed the army command’s major reservations.

Netanyahu also tried to bribe right-wing voters by promising last week that he would annex much of the West Bank immediately after the election – a stunt that blatantly violated campaigning laws, according to Mendelblit.

Facebook was forced to shut down Netanyahu’s page on two occasions for hate speech – in one case after it sent out a message that “Arabs want to annihilate us all – women, children and men”. That sentiment appeared to include the 20 per cent of the Israeli population who are Palestinian citizens.

Netanyahu incited against the country’s Palestinian minority in other ways, not least by constantly suggesting that their votes constituted fraud and that they were trying to “steal the election”.

He even tried to force through a law allowing his Likud party activists to film in Arab polling stations – as they covertly did in April’s election – in an unconcealed attempt at voter intimidation.

The move appeared to have backfired, with Palestinian citizens turning out in larger numbers than they did in April.

US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, intervened on Netanyahu’s behalf by announcing the possibility of a defence pact requiring the US to come to Israel’s aid in the event of a regional confrontation.

None of it helped.

Netanayhu’s only hope of political survival – and possible avoidance of jail time – depends on his working the political magic he is famed for.

That may prove a tall order. To pass the 61-seat threshold, he must persuade Avigdor Lieberman and his ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party to support him.

Netanyahu and Lieberman, who is a settler, are normally ideological allies. But these are not normal times. Netanyahu had to restage the election this week after Lieberman, sensing the prime minister’s weakness, refused in April to sit alongside religious parties in a Netanyahu-led government.

Netanyahu might try to lure the fickle Lieberman back with an irresistible offer, such as the two of them rotating the prime ministership.

But Lieberman risks huge public opprobrium if, after putting the country through a deeply unpopular re-run election, he now does what he refused on principle to do five months ago.

Lieberman has nearly doubled his party’s seats to nine, by insisting that he is the champion of the secular Israeli public.

Most importantly for Lieberman, he finds himself once again in the role of kingmaker. It is almost certain he will shape the character of the next government. And whoever he anoints as prime minister will be indebted to him.

The deadlock that blocked the formation of a government in April still stands. Israel faces the likelihood of weeks of frantic horse-trading and even the possibility of a third election.

Nonetheless, from the perspective of Palestinians – whether those under occupation or those living in Israel as third-class citizens – the next Israeli government is going to be a hardline right one.

On paper, Gantz is best placed to form a government of what is preposterously labelled the “centre-left”. But given that its backbone will comprise Blue and White, led by a bevy of hawkish generals, and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, it would, in practice, be nearly as right wing as Netanyahu’s.

Gantz even accused Netanyahu of stealing his idea in announcing last week that he would annex large parts of the West Bank.

The difficulty is that such a coalition would depend on the support of the 13 Joint List legislators representing Israel’s large Palestinian minority. That is something Lieberman has rejected out of hand, calling the idea “absurd” early on Wednesday as results were filtering in. Gantz appears only a little more accommodating.

The solution could be a national unity government comprising much of the right: Gantz’s Blue and White teamed up with Likud and Lieberman. Both Gantz and Lieberman indicated that was their preferred choice on Wednesday.

The question then would be whether Netanyahu can worm his way into such a government, or whether Gantz demands his ousting as a price for Likud’s inclusion.

Netanyahu’s hand in such circumstances would not be strong, especially if he is immersed in a protracted legal battle on corruption charges. There are already rumblings of an uprising in Likud to depose him.

One interesting outcome of a unity government is that it could provoke a constitutional crisis by making the Joint List, the third-largest party, the official opposition. That is the same Joint List described by Netanyahu as a “dangerous anti-Zionist” party.

Ayman Odeh would become the first leader of the Palestinian minority to attend regular briefings by the prime minister and security chiefs.

Netanyahu will continue as caretaker prime minister for several more weeks – until a new government is formed. If he stays true to form, there is plenty of mischief he can instigate in the meantime.

• First published in The National

The Danger of Inspiration

Naomi Klein’s new book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, has one crippling flaw—it’s inspiring. At this moment in history, inspiring talk about solutions to multiple, cascading ecological crises is dangerous.

At the conclusion of these 18 essays that bluntly outline the crises and explain a Green New Deal response, Klein bolsters readers searching for hope: “[W]hen the future of life is at stake, there is nothing we cannot achieve.” It is tempting to embrace that claim, especially after nearly 300 pages of Klein’s eloquent writing that weaves insightful analysis together with honest personal reflection.

The problem, of course, is that the statement is not even close to being true. With nearly 8 billion people living within a severely degraded ecosphere, there are many things we cannot, and will not, achieve. A decent human future—perhaps any human future at all—depends on our ability to come to terms with these limits. That is not a celebration of cynicism or a rationalization for nihilism, but rather the starting point for rational planning that takes seriously not only our potential but also the planet’s biophysical constraints.

Klein’s essays in this volume make it clear that she is well aware of those limits, but the book’s subtitle suggests that she is writing not only to inform but also to mobilize support for Green New Deal proposals. This tension runs throughout the book—when Klein reports on and analyzes the state of the world, the prose challenges readers to face difficult realities, but when making the case for those policy proposals, she sounds more like an organizer rallying supporters.

That’s not a dig—Klein is a writer who doesn’t sit on the sidelines but gets involved with movements and political projects. Her commitment to activism and organizing is admirable, but it can pull a writer in conflicting directions.

This critique should not lead anyone to ignore On Fire, which is an excellent book that should be read cover to cover, without skipping chapters that had been previously published. Collections of essays can fall flat because of faded timeliness or unnecessary repetition, but neither is a problem here. As always, Klein’s sharp eye for detail makes her reporting on events compelling, whether she’s describing disasters (natural and unnatural) or assessing political trends. And, despite the grim realities we face, the book is a pleasure to read.

Before explaining concerns with the book’s inspirational tone, I want to emphasize key points Klein makes that I agree are essential to a left/progressive analysis of the ecological crises:

  • First-World levels of consumption are unsustainable;
  • capitalism is incompatible with a livable human future;
  • the modern industrial world has undermined people’s connections to each other and the non-human world; and
  • we face not only climate disruption but a host of other crises, including, but not limited to, species extinction, chemical contamination, and soil erosion and degradation.

In other words, business-as-usual is a dead end, which Klein states forthrightly:

I feel confident in saying that a climate-disrupted future is a bleak and an austere future, one capable of turning all our material possessions into rubble or ash with terrifying speed. We can pretend that extending the status quo into the future, unchanged, is one of the options available to us. But that is a fantasy. Change is coming one way or another. Our choice is whether we try to shape that change to the maximum benefit of all or wait passively as the forces of climate disaster, scarcity, and fear of the “other” fundamentally reshape us.

On Fire focuses primarily on the climate crisis and the Green New Deal’s vision, which is widely assailed as too radical by the two different kinds of climate-change deniers in the United States today—one that denies the conclusions of climate science and another that denies the implications of that science. The first, based in the Republican Party, is committed to a full-throated defense of our pathological economic system. The second, articulated by the few remaining moderate Republicans and most mainstream Democrats, imagines that market-based tinkering to mitigate the pathology is adequate.

Thankfully, other approaches exist. The most prominent in the United States is the Green New Deal’s call for legislation that recognizes the severity of the ecological crises while advocating economic equality and social justice. Supporters come from varied backgrounds, but all are happy to critique and modify, or even scrap, capitalism. Avoiding dogmatic slogans or revolutionary rhetoric, Klein writes realistically about moving toward a socialist (or, perhaps, socialist-like) future, using available tools involving “public infrastructure, economic planning, corporate regulation, international trade, consumption, and taxation” to steer out of the existing debacle.

One of the strengths of Klein’s blunt talk about the social and ecological problems in the context of real-world policy proposals is that she speaks of motion forward in a long struggle rather than pretending the Green New Deal is the solution for all our problems. On Fire makes it clear that there are no magic wands to wave, no magic bullets to fire.

The problem is that the Green New Deal does rely on one bit of magical thinking—the techno-optimism that emerges from the modern world’s underlying technological fundamentalism, defined as the faith that the use of evermore advanced technology is always a good thing. Extreme technological fundamentalists argue that any problems caused by the unintended consequences of such technology eventually can be remedied by more technology. (If anyone thinks this definition a caricature, read “An Ecomodernist Manifesto.”)

Klein does not advocate such fundamentalism, but that faith hides just below the surface of the Green New Deal, jumping out in “A Message from the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” which Klein champions in On Fire. Written by U.S. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (the most prominent legislator advancing the Green New Deal) and Avi Lewis (Klein’s husband and collaborator), the seven-and-a-half minute video elegantly combines political analysis with engaging storytelling and beautiful visuals. But one sentence in that video reveals the fatal flaw of the analysis: “We knew that we needed to save the planet and that we had all the technology to do it [in 2019].”

First, talk of saving the planet is misguided. As many have pointed out in response to that rhetoric, the Earth will continue with or without humans. Charitably, we can interpret that phrase to mean, “reducing the damage that humans do to the ecosphere and creating a livable future for humans.” The problem is, we don’t have all technology to do that, and if we insist that better gadgets can accomplish that, we are guaranteed to fail.

Reasonable people can, and do, disagree about this claim. (For example, “The science is in,” proclaims the Nature Conservancy, and we can have a “future in which catastrophic climate change is kept at bay while we still power our developing world” and “feed 10 billion people.”) But even accepting overly optimistic assessments of renewable energy and energy-saving technologies, we have to face that we don’t have the means to maintain the lifestyle that “A Message from the Future” promises for the United States, let alone the entire world. The problem is not just that the concentration of wealth leads to so much wasteful consumption and wasted resources, but that the infrastructure of our world was built by the dense energy of fossil fuels that renewables cannot replace. Without that dense energy, a smaller human population is going to live in dramatically different fashion.

Welcome to the third rail of contemporary political life. The question that the multiple, cascading ecological crises put squarely in front of us is, “What is a sustainable human population?” That question has to be split in two: “How many people? Consuming how much?”

It’s no surprise that political candidates ignore these questions, but progressive writers and activists should not back away. Honestly engaging these issues takes us well beyond the Green New Deal.

On the second of those questions—“consuming how much?”—Klein frequently highlights the problem, but with a focus on “profligate consumption.” She stresses the need to:

  • “scale back overconsumption”;
  • identify categories in which we must contract, “including air travel, meat consumption, and profligate energy use”;
  • end “the high-carbon lifestyle of suburban sprawl and disposable consumption”;
  • reject capitalism’s faith in “limitless consumption” that locks us in “the endless consumption cycle”; and
  • make deep changes “not just to our energy consumption but to the underlying logic of our economic system.”

No argument with any of those statements, especially because Klein rejects the notion that simply improving efficiency will solve our problems, a common assumption of the techno-optimists. But challenging “overconsumption by the comparatively wealthy” focuses on the easy target: “The bottom line is that an ecological crisis that has its roots in the overconsumption of natural resources must be addressed not just by improving the efficiency of our economies, but also by reducing the amount of material stuff that the wealthiest 20 percent of people on the planet consume.”

My goal is not to defend rich people or their consumption habits. However, constraining the lifestyles of the rich and famous is a necessary but not sufficient condition for sustainability. Here we have to deal with the sticky question of human nature. Klein rightly rejects capitalism’s ideological claim that people’s capacity to act out of greed and short-term self-interest (which all of us certainly are capable of doing) is the dominant human trait. Human nature also includes the capacity to act out of compassion in solidarity with others, of course, and different systems reward different parts of our nature. Capitalism encourages the greed and discourages the compassion, to the detriment of people and planet.

But we are organic creatures, and that means there is a human nature, or what we might more accurately call our human-carbon nature. As Wes Jackson of The Land Institute puts it, life on Earth is “the scramble for energy-rich carbon,” and humans have gotten exceedingly good at grabbing lots of carbon. Not all cultures go after it with the same intensity, of course, but that scramble predates capitalism and will continue after capitalism. This doesn’t mean we are condemned to make the planet unlivable for ourselves and other creatures, but public policy has to recognize that we not only need carbon to survive but that most people—including most environmentalists—like the work that carbon can do for us when we burn those fossil fuels. And once we get a taste of what that carbon can do, it’s not easy to give it up.

As Klein points out, curbing our carbon-seeking is not merely a test of will power and matter of individual virtue; collective action through public policy is needed. I believe that requires a hard cap on carbon—limits that we can encourage people to accept through cultural advocacy but in the end must be imposed through law. A sensible approach, called “cap and adapt,” has been proposed by Larry Edwards and Stan Cox. In a forthcoming book, Cox will expand on a cap-and-ration strategy that could help in “drawing the human economy back within necessary ecological limits,” a follow-up to, and expansion of, his earlier book that made a compelling case for a rationing.

There’s no simple answer to how much energy and material resources we can consume without undermining the ecosystems on which our own lives depend, but I’m confident in saying that it’s dramatically less that we consume today, and that reducing aggregate consumption—even if we could create equitable societies—will be difficult. But that’s the easy part. Much more difficult is the first question—“how many people?”

On the question of population, On Fire is silent, and it’s not hard to understand, for several reasons. First, the Earth has a carrying capacity for any species but it’s impossible to predict when we will reach it (or did reach it), and failed attempts at prediction in the past have made people wary. Second, some of the most vocal supporters of population control also espouse white supremacy, which has tainted even asking the question. Third, while we know that raising the status of women and educating girls reduces birth rates, it’s difficult to imagine a non-coercive strategy for serious population reduction on the scale necessary. Still, we should acknowledge ecological carrying capacity while pursuing social justice and rejecting anti-immigration projects. Progressives’ unwillingness to address the issue cedes the terrain to “eco-fascists,” those who want to use ecological crises to pursue a reactionary agenda.

There’s no specific number to offer for a sustainable human population, but I’m confident in saying that it’s fewer than 8 billion and that finding a humane and democratic path to that lower number is difficult to imagine.

The fact that these questions are troubling and/or impossible to answer does not mean the questions do not matter. For now, my answer—a lot fewer people and a lot less stuff—is adequate to start a conversation: “A sustainable human presence on the planet will mean fewer people consuming less.” Agree or disagree? Why or why not?

Two responses are possible from Green New Deal supporters: (1) I’m nuts, or (2) I’m not nuts, but what I’m suggesting is politically impossible because people can’t handle all this bad news.

If I am nuts, critics have to demonstrate what is unsound about the argument, without resorting to the cliché that “necessity is the mother of invention” and the faith-based claims of the technological fundamentalists.

If I am not, then those Green supporters face a quandary. When mainstream Democrats tell progressive folks that the Green New Deal is doomed to fail because it is not politically viable at this moment, supporters counter, appropriately, by saying that anything less is inadequate in the face of the crises. Those supporters argue, appropriately, that the real failure is supporting policies that don’t do enough to create sustainable human societies and that we need to build a movement for the needed change. I agree, but by that logic, if the Green New Deal itself is inadequate to create sustainability, then we must push further.

The Green New Deal is a start, insufficiently radical but with the potential to move the conversation forward—if we can be clear about the initiative’s limitations. That presents a problem for organizers, who seek to rally support without uncomfortable caveats—“Support this plan! But remember that it’s just a start, and it gets a lot rougher up ahead, and whatever we do may not be enough to stave off unimaginable suffering” is, admittedly, not a winning slogan.

Back to what I think Klein is right about, and eloquent in expressing:

Because while it is true that climate change is a crisis produced by an excess of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it is also, in a more profound sense, a crisis produced by an extractive mind-set, by a way of viewing both the natural world and the majority of its inhabitants as resources to use up and then discard. I call it the “gig and dig” economy and firmly believe that we will not emerge from this crisis without a shift in worldview at every level, a transformation to an ethos of care and repair.

The domination/subordination dynamic that creates so much suffering within the human family also defines the modern world’s destructive relationship to the larger living world. Throughout the book, Klein presses the importance of telling a new story about all those relationships. Scientific data and policy proposals matter, but they don’t get us far without a story for people to embrace. Klein is right, and On Fire helps us imagine a new story for a human future.

I offer a friendly amendment to the story she is constructing: Our challenge is to highlight not only what we can but also what we cannot accomplish, to build our moral capacity to face a frightening future but continue to fight for what can be achieved, even when we know that won’t be enough.

One story I would tell is of the growing gatherings of people, admittedly small in number today, who take comfort in saying forthrightly what they believe, no matter how painful—people who do not want to suppress their grief, yet do not let their grief overwhelm them.

What kind of person wants to live like that? I can offer a real-life example, my late friend Jim Koplin. He once told me, in a conversation about those multiple, cascading ecological crises (a term I stole from him, with his blessing), “I wake up every morning in a state of profound grief.” He was neither depressed nor irrational but simply honest. Jim, a Depression-era farm boy who had been permanently radicalized in the 1960s, felt that grief more deeply than anyone I have known, yet every day he got up to work in his garden and then offer his time and energy to a variety of political, community, and arts groups that were fighting for a better world.

Klein speaks of this grief in On Fire, in what for me were the most moving passages, often involving her young son’s future in the face of this “planetary death spiral”:

There is no question that the strongest emotions I have about the climate crisis have to do with [Toma] and his generation—the tremendous intergenerational theft under way. I have flashes of sheer panic about the extreme weather we have already locked in for these kids. Even more intense than this fear is the sadness about what they won’t ever know. They are growing up in a mass extinction, robbed of the cacophonous company of so many fast-disappearing life forms. It feels so desperately lonely.

The escape from loneliness, for me, starts with recognizing that Jim’s “state of profound grief” was not only wholly rational but also emotionally healthy. When told that even if this harsh assessment is correct, people can’t handle it, I agree. No one can handle all this. Jim couldn’t handle it every waking minute. I don’t handle it as well as he did. At best, we struggle to come to terms with a “bleak and austere” future.

But that’s exactly why we need to engage rather than avoid the distressing realities of our time. If we are afraid to speak honestly, we suffer alone. Better that we tell the truth and accept the consequences, together.

Death by a Thousand Trumps: The Logical End Point of Capitalism

The fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly (and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered): Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?

— Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Ant-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1972

There is a fairly typical and recurrent notion among many Americans that Donald Trump and his administration is some sort of aberration. As if his brutal, venal, racist, and bullying nature is something new, or different from previous leaders. For those not inclined to look at the historical record; one only has to look beyond our borders to view the authoritarian personality type that Trump represents in power all over the world: Modi, Orban, Erdogan, Jinping, Duterte, and Bolsonaro being the most obvious comparisons.

Our president is not an exception but the logical culmination of a nation built on genocide, slavery, empire, and capitalism. His virulent nationalism, his racist and sexist attitudes, and unbelievably fragile ego are all undisputable proof that millions of people enjoy, tolerate, or acquiesce to his behavior. Liberal pieties and paeans towards restoring normalcy don’t move the needle for most center-left voters either, as it is at least tacitly/subconsciously understood that after Trump and Brexit there is no going back towards “liberal democratic” rule. A threshold has been crossed.

Trump and his billionaire cronies are simply doing what capitalists do best: doling out more death and destruction, which many US citizens are all too comfortable eliding; except for the understandable shock and anger over the most outrageous travesties, such as the burning of the Amazon or children in concentration camps on our southern border. Even then, there is no programmatic analysis of what caused the problem (capitalism and empire) and very little visionary leadership with any social power or pop-cultural relevancy to propose realistic solutions.

It’s crucial to look outside the borders of the US to see how capital really operates. Western multinationals pay foreign governments to murder, ethnically cleanse, pillage, rape, and despoil entire nations and natural habitats. US transnational corporations as well as federal funding for various authoritarian regimes (notably Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.) pay for their militaries, private security forces, death squads, proxy terrorists and spies, as well as corporate espionage.

For these reasons and many more it cannot be considered hyperbole to call the USA a fascist state. For those unconvinced, I suggest reading Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay  “Ur-Fascism” to understand why. Henry Giroux uses the term “neoliberal fascism” and his recent book American Nightmare, which I reviewed for New York Journal of Books, spells out in detail the deepening spirals of violence and ignorance American society is succumbing to.

The near total focus on purely domestic policies in mainstream media and by our politicians is excruciating, maddening, and cringe-inducing. The constant domestic policy myopia contradicts any statements that liberals and conservatives actually understand, or have genuine interest or empathy for foreign causes or solidarity with those in need around the globe.

One only has to find old news programs, for example, from the fifties through the eighties to remember that news media for all its flaws then was much more informed and nuanced about international relations compared to today. Dissidents, counterculture figures, communists, and radicals appeared regularly on TV talk shows and were generally encouraged or at least tolerated by liberal establishment journalists, whereas today there is a huge zero. Foreign wars and overseas events were covered more extensively.

There’s no doubt many liberals earnestly want Trump gone for his racist border policy and global warming denialism, among other issues. Yet, of course, much of the outrage revolves around the pseudo-moralizing, a way of saying: “He doesn’t represent us, the good-hearted progressive people in the USA.”

A petty, corrupt, racist, chauvinistic, violent grifter is exactly the type of person to represent the United States. It needs to be said, and repeated, over and over.

There are tens of millions of mini-Trumps all over the nation, exploiting, killing, jailing, and materially and mentally impoverishing working people. Here’s something to ponder. How many US citizens would support kicking out all undocumented immigrants in our country? Almost certainly the number is in the millions, if not tens of millions of people.

Where do US citizens think this is all leading towards? Have we not been locked in a death spiral, circling the drain for centuries, and have our leaders not plundered, murdered, enslaved, and ruthlessly exploited fellow humans, nature, and resources at a horrifying and increasing rate? Even further back, isn’t this where Western civilization has been headed towards for 6,000 years: a system based on brutal and authoritarian hierarchies propped up by organized religion, barbaric racism and tribalism, imperial delusions of grandeur, and myths about a world full of limitless resources?

Also, the ruling classes have been getting more ignorant, more venal, less philanthropic, and less empathetic. There are studies that can confirm this: for instance, through measuring emotional intelligence (EQ), it has been found that in corporate firms, positions above middle management show a dramatic drop in EQ. Of course, we know most CEOs and corporate owners are borderline if not full-blown psychopathic or sociopathic. The ownership of our nation are perfectly willing and able to exploit workers, cut benefits, destroy public programs, ignore the poor and minorities, and breed mass alienation at a level unseen since the Gilded Age.

There are about 585 billionaires in the US, about 175,000 people with over 25 million in total (0.05% of the population), 1.4 million individuals with wealth over 5 million (0.42% of the population), and it’s estimated there are about 12 million millionaires in the US (about 3.6% of the population). They are on the other side of a class divide that is widening more every year.

The 2016 election clearly showed white voters turned out in droves for Trump, but what mostly went unmentioned is that for all voters making over 50k a year, the edge also went to Trump, 49% to Clinton’s 47%. So much for the idea that those with wealth are part of a enlightened and tolerant “meritocracy” as our corporate overlords and their media puppets like to constantly remind us: rather, those with just a little bit of money, unconsciously or not, use their vote to crush the lower classes through Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy, tariffs and trade wars, etc.

Umberto Eco also points this out: he correctly demonstrates that one of the features of fascism is an “appeal to the frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups”. Erich Fromm also mentions this phenomenon at length in his classic Escape from Freedom.

The insatiable desires of the elites and the economic leverage the “Global North” holds further absolutely dirt-cheap prices for all manners of consumer goods, by externalizing the costs onto faraway nations, the environment, and the poor who inhabit nearby industrial or manufacturing sites, and other “sacrifice zones”.

This accounts for the burgeoning phenomena of the worker as an “independent contractor”, a model touted by Silicon Valley and venture capitalists. The new model is to cut as many benefits as possible and use low-wage service work or the threat of falling into this precariat as leverage to squeeze as much work and productivity as possible out of what remains of the middle class.

Small businesses which serviced the rich in previous eras are now forced to compete more fiercely or die, and thus compelled into deflationary business models with price wars, etc.; while the large-sector service corporations effectively have monopolies and can force workers to accept low pay due to the reserve army of labor.

Perhaps soon, the majority of the rich will be forced to acquiesce due to popular demand on issues such as free college or universal health care. Yet, they will never, ever choose voluntarily to surrender their basic model of economic power or to restructure corporate America. Freedom without economic equality is impossible. The majority of us are relegated to a form of serfdom, with no prospects for democracy in the economy and the workplace.

Another point worth mentioning is that reform is never going to happen in time through legislative and judicial means. The amount of hoops to jump through, in our constitution and in the legislature, to structurally change the system will take way too long, sap momentum, and destroy any movement based in electoral politics however good the intent.

Requiring any mass movement to follow every legalistic framework for change is just another form of elitism: forcing the multitude to advance at the glacial pace of the legal system is simply an authoritarian call for law and order to cement unjust property rights. Any form of reformist policies will be denied by appealing to the status quo of existing laws, and their deluded obsession with following corrupt legal procedures and bureaucratic red-tape written by corporations and lobbyists. Rather, citizen assemblies, general strikes, direct action, and public referenda should be used as much as possible to counter the dirty tricks of the elites.

The main strivings of the members of our government, Democrat or Republican, are for power, money, and fame: they are not any substantially or qualitatively different from Trump in this respect. Their warped, huge, and fragile egos have convinced themselves that they really are the right people for the job, regardless of their obvious corrupt nature, lack of knowledge, and moral failings. Rather than being devoted to public service, their actions imply that they view themselves as doing the public a favor by simply existing and choosing to run for office to provide us with an “enlightened” political class, rather than those scary “populists”.

There is an unacknowledged anti-democratic strain in US society which insists every public policy position must be run by an expert, a technocrat, despite all evidence suggesting these professional-managerial class types (personified by Obama, his reign marking the apotheosis, the high-water mark of meritocratic and liberal democratic ideology) are craven, corrupt sycophants beholden to the power elite.

Apparently there are about 5 million people in the US who hold clearance to view classified material. There are about 1.3 million military and about 700,000 police officers. So that’s 7 million right there which constitute the national security state. The 21st century Praetorian Guard, if you will. If you count the defense corporations, fossil fuel multinationals, and various conglomerates which profit off the destruction and exploitation of workers and the environment, and all the sub-contractors which rely on the largesse (trough) of defense, fossil fuel, and other anti-life industries, that’s a few more million easily.

What I’m getting at is dislodging Trump, or any figurehead president, is small potatoes, because there are at least 10-30 million Americans with a shitload of guns and money who do not want to see any — and I mean any — fundamental progressive changes. Without a mass base advocating for socialist and revolutionary democratic policies, there is nothing the ruling classes won’t do to protect their privileges.

Forget an imbecile like Trump. The power elite would rather re-animate the corpse of Genghis Khan than have Bernie Sanders or anyone left of him in charge. Believe that. They would rather use the power of capital flight and take their money to Swiss bank accounts or the Cayman Islands and bankrupt our entire country than see any socialist in power. Bank on it. Forget elections as the exclusive means towards dismantling the power structure. Only mass movements in the streets can fight the barbarism we are confronted with.

How Israel’s Religious Right is Now in the Driving Seat

The real fight in Israel’s re-run election next month is not between the right wing and a so-called “centre-left” but between two rival camps within the nationalist right, according to analysts.

The outcome may prove a moment of truth for the shrinking secular right as it comes up once again against an ever-more powerful camp that fuses religion with ultra-nationalism.

Will the secular right emerge with enough political weight to act as a power-broker in the post-election negotiations, or can the religious right form a government without any support from the secular parties? That is what the election will determine.

An earlier election in April, which failed to produce a decisive result between these two camps, nonetheless confirmed the right’s absolute dominance. The Zionist centre-left parties, including the founding Labor party, were routed, securing between them just 10 seats in the 120-member parliament.

Netanyahu, the interim prime minister, was forced to stage new elections, on 17 September, after April’s ballot left him unable to rope together secular and religious parties on the right.

To secure a majority in parliament, he needed to include the five seats of the anti-religious Yisrael Beiteinu party, led by Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman eventually pulled out of coalition talks, saying he was not prepared to sit in a government with two parties effectively run by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate. This time, he has indicated he won’t sit with any of the religious parties.

Vehicle for protest

Much of the rest of the secular right has deserted Netanyahu’s Likud party. At the last election, they mostly found a political home in the new Blue and White party, led by a former military chief of staff, Benny Gantz.

Polls suggest Lieberman may also attract a larger share of these voters after his recent stand-off with Netanyahu. He has demanded an exclusively secular right-wing government, comprising Likud, Blue and White, and his own Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Blue and White has presented itself chiefly as a vehicle for protest against Netanyahu. They oppose a decade of governments in which he has allowed the religious right to play an increasingly assertive role, and the ever-deepening corruption scandals he has been embroiled in. Netanyahu is expected to be charged with fraud and breach of trust in the immediate wake of next month’s election.

Blue and White has been misleadingly labelled as centrist by some observers. But it tied with Netanyahu’s Likud, at 35 seats each, in April by appealing to a largely secular strain of right-wing nationalism that three decades ago was the domain of the Likud party.

Now Netanyahu and the religious right hope to work in tandem to secure between them a narrow majority of seats to form a government without relying on the secular right-wing parties of either Lieberman or Gantz.

A more polarised Israel

Yossi Gurvitz, an Israeli journalist and researcher on religious extremism, said the rise of the religious right was an indication of wider shifts in Israeli society.

“Israel is getting more religious, and its religious parties are getting more extreme, while much of what’s left of Israeli society is becoming more militantly secular in response,” he told Middle East Eye. “Israel is polarising, and each side is increasingly intolerant of the other.”

The secular camp, however, has been playing a less significant role with each passing government.

Menachem Klein, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, said he doubted whether it was still possible for a secular government to be established without including some of the religious parties.

“It would be a nightmare,” he told MEE. “Any move, whether allowing transport on Shabbat, dismantling settlements or talking to the Palestinian leadership would face an enormous social backlash if it was made without the sanction of the religious factions.”

‘Chosen people’

A poll of Israeli Jews last year by the liberal Haaretz newspaper highlighted Israeli society’s growing religiosity, which closely aligns with the rise of ultra-nationalism.

Some 54 percent of the Jewish public expressed a belief in God, with that figure rising to 78 percent among those describing themselves as on the right.

An overwhelming majority of right-wing Israelis – 79 percent – view Jews as the chosen people, and a similar number, 74 percent, believe Israel exists by divine promise.

Younger voters are markedly more religious than their grandparents – 64 percent compared to 22 percent. Exactly half of young Israelis reject the scientific theory of evolution, and 58 percent believe in life after death. Haaretz noted a clear correlation between Israeli youth’s growing religiosity and their embrace of right-wing views.

“If you think Israel is religious, conservative and hawkish enough as it is, wait for the fundamentalist theocracy that’s lurking around the corner,” the paper’s analyst Chemi Shalev concluded.

Rallying the right

How Israel’s coming election plays out will depend on how successful Netanyahu is in rallying religious voters to the polling booth, either for Likud or for a handful of more overtly religious parties.

The religious right itself is characterised by three main blocs. All believe that the occupied territories belong exclusively to the Jewish people, and are united in their unabashed support for the settlements and the entrenchment of the occupation.

Political differences relate chiefly to matters of how quickly and brazenly the occupied territories should be annexed and how the Palestinian population there should be dealt with.

More significant than ideological differences, however, are the varied religious constituencies that each bloc represents.

Netanyahu’s Likud party is the largest, and draws primarily on the support of religious traditionalists – Israeli Jews who are generally observant and socially conservative.

Likud, Gurvitz noted, has moved more firmly into the religious camp since 2005 when its then-leader, Ariel Sharon, pulled the last remaining settlers out of Gaza. A backlash from the settlers effectively forced Sharon and his supporters out of Likud to create a short-lived secular faction called Kadima.

“What was left behind in Likud was the hard right,” he said. “The party has been moving ever further to the right under Netanyahu.”

Since then, the settlers and their allies have come to dominate Likud’s internal committees, meaning none of its parliamentary candidates wish to risk alienating them, according to Gurvitz.

Politics of the rabbis

The second bloc comprises two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, which look to their respective chief rabbis for political direction. Between them they won 16 seats in April.

The main difference between the two relates to ethnicity. United Torah Judaism represents the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community, whose recent ancestry is traced to Europe. Shas, meanwhile, represents the Mizrahim, Jews whose families hailed mostly from the Arab world.

Shas, observed Gurvitz, has blended its rigid belief in divine law with nationalism more easily than UTJ because of its long-held anti-Arab positions. A section of its followers serve in the army. Some also work, unlike most Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox men, who devote themselves to studying the Torah.

The UTJ, by contrast, has adapted more slowly. Historically, it was anti-Zionist, rejecting the secular institutions of an Israeli state – including the army and the courts – until the Messiah arrived to build God’s kingdom.

But over the past two decades, its leaders too have gradually, though more reluctantly, moved into the nationalist fold.

That change, according to Gurvitz, has happened because, given the ultra-Orthodox public’s high birth rates, many have been forced to seek cheap housing solutions in the settlements.

“As they move into the settlements, their politics shift further rightwards,” said Gurvitz. “Nowadays they give their leaders hell if they don’t stick fast to ultra-nationalistic positions, or if they try to cut deals with parties outside the right.”

Gurvitz added: “This means the ultra-Orthodox parties are today effectively in the bag for Netanyahu.”

Orders from God

The third bloc comprises various small far-right parties representing what are known in Israel as the national-religious camp – those who subscribe to the ideology of the settler community.

Gurvitz estimates the camp numbers close to one million – or about one in seven of Israel’s Jewish population. About half live in the settlements of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The majority are religious, but not all of them.

The camp has proved fractious, but its three main parties established an electoral coalition last week called United Right, which polls currently suggest may win up to 14 seats.

The oldest of the parties is Jewish Home, whose new leader is Rafael Peretz, a former chief rabbi of the Israeli army and currently serving as Netanyahu’s interim education minister.

Peretz has caused controversy recently by referring to a trend of American Jews marrying non-Jews as a “second Holocaust” and by speaking out in favour of gay conversion therapy, claiming to have performed it himself successfully in the past.

The second party, Tkuma, is led by Bezalel Smotrich, currently the transport minister. After being appointed, he declared that he took his orders from God, not Netanyahu.

Smotrich has in the past called for a shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinian children who throw stones, and demanded segregated maternity wards to prevent Israeli and Palestinian citizens mixing. He has also described himself as a “proud homophobe”.

Both Peretz and Smotrich were due to deliver speeches this week at a ceremony honouring Yitzchak Ginsburgh. The controversial rabbi has praised the King’s Torah, a notorious handbook that sanctions the murder of Palestinian children, and has previously lauded Baruch Goldstein, who massacred dozens of Palestinians in a Hebron mosque in 1994.

Gaza’s ‘little snakes’

The third party in the coalition, New Right, which broke from Jewish Home late last year, narrowly failed to pass the electoral threshold in April, costing Netanyahu his victory.

Now led by Ayelet Shaked, a secular politician, New Right downplays the role of Jewish religious law. It has tried to appeal to secular, nationalistic Jews by adopting a more tolerant stance on identity issues, such as gay rights and feminism.

Shaked, who previously served as justice minister, has been outspoken in rejecting liberal democratic values, however, calling them “utopian”. She has said: “Zionism should not – and will not – bow before a system of individual rights interpreted universally.”

During Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, she also declared that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy”, and appeared to approve of the slaughter of Gaza’s civilians, calling for Palestinian mothers to be killed to stop them giving birth to “little snakes”.

Three smaller national-religious parties are outside the United Right coalition and, barring last-minute changes, are not expected to make it into the parliament.

Noam is a backlash party from within the national-religious camp to the social liberalism of Shaked’s New Right, demanding a “normative” Jewish family life.

Jewish Power comprises the unrepentant remnants of the virulently anti-Arab Kach party, led by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, that was outlawed in Israel in the 1990s.

And the libertarian-nationalist Zehut party, led by Moshe Feiglin, an exile from Likud, demands full annexation of the West Bank.

State agencies infiltrated

Gurvitz observed that the three main national-religious factions all place a strong emphasis on military service, and have focused on getting settlers into senior roles inside the army.

Rather than rejecting the state’s secular institutions, as the ultra-Orthodox tend to do, the settler parties have been working hard to infiltrate and gradually take them over, with some success in the case of the police, the courts, the education system and even the ruling Likud party.

They view themselves as in a culture war, trying to infuse Israel with a stronger Jewish identity.

The three parties have minor differences over their approaches to annexation of the West Bank, likely the biggest issue facing the next parliament.

Shaked’s New Right and Peretz’s Jewish Home demand formal annexation of most of the West Bank, denying Palestinians there equal rights and imposing apartheid-style rule over them.

Since Donald Trump became US President, Likud has moved closer to openly adopting this as its policy.

Smotrich, meanwhile, would prefer to annex the entire West Bank and has been more explicit in suggesting it would be necessary to ethnic cleanse Palestinians as part of that annexation process.

Courts intimidated

Paradoxically, two of the three religious-dominated blocs are led by secular politicians: Likud by Netanyahu, and the coalition of settler parties by Shaked.

Shaked’s leadership role is the more surprising given that national-religious rabbis have pushed to remove women from public life.

However, Shaked has won support from influential figures such as Avichai Rontski, a former army chief rabbi. He has approved partnerships with nationalist secular politicians, calling them “religious in the broad sense of the word”.

Analysts noted that Shaked has won a dominant role in the political leadership of the national-religious public, over the rabbis’ objections, for two reasons.

First, she proved to be a very effective justice minister for the settlers in Netanyahu’s last government. She intimidated the courts and promoted a large number of conservative religious judges, including to the supreme court.

Equally importantly, noted Gurvitz, she changed the justice ministry’s position on settlement “outposts”, built in violation of a settlement freeze agreed by Israel in the Oslo accords of the mid-1990s.

Traditionally, justice ministry officials accepted – at least in public – that these 100 or so outposts were illegal and that they should be dismantled when the army or the government viewed the time as right.

But officials under Shaked changed tack, arguing to the courts that the outposts were in essence legal, but had been created with administrative irregularities that needed correcting. The Regularisation Law formalised this approach, clearing the way to future annexation of much of the West Bank.

Nationalism as ‘a bridge’

Second, Klein pointed out, Shaked was seen as a bridge between the religious and secular nationalist right that could maximise its electoral vote.

The complexity on the right, he said, was caused by the fact that “Jewish” identity had both religious and ethnic components.

“For some people their Jewish nationalism is based on theology and religious observance. For others, like Shaked and Netanyahu, their nationalism derives from an idea of Jewish peoplehood, without a religious element. You can find both types supporting Likud and the national-religious bloc.

“The ‘peoplehood nationalists’ are not interested in universal values. They think the Jewish people are special, and that they have extra rights as Jews. Any religious sentiments they harbour are subservient to this idea of peoplehood,” he said.

Polls have shown Shaked to be remarkably popular among religious nationalists, coming out way ahead of her rivals.

For all three parties to pass the electoral threshold and avoid wasting votes, Klein observed, they needed to unite.

In fact, to maximise votes for the religious right and avoid needing Lieberman’s seats, Netanyahu pushed hard to get the openly anti-Arab party Jewish Power into the United Right coalition – without success.

Klein noted that Netanyahu preferred working with the religious over the secular right. In the run-up to the election, all the religious parties have been keen to pledge allegiance to a Netanyahu government.

“They are very easy partners for Netanyahu,” he said. “Give them a few ministries and some budgets for their community and they will get behind whatever he wants to do.”

‘Difficult dance’ for votes

Shaked and Netanyahu are politically similar. Shaked worked as Netanyahu’s bureau chief back in 2006, and a short time later brought in Naftali Bennett, her current partner in New Right. Both left four years later after a personal falling out with Netanyahu.

The Israeli media widely reported Shaked’s efforts to return to Likud before the September election. Netanyahu rebuffed her. That may be in part because he fears she could be a major challenger for his Likud crown were she to gain a foothold.

Gurvitz observed that Netanyahu was involved in a “difficult dance” with the settler parties for votes.

“He needs their votes to ensure he can form a government, but he doesn’t want them so strong that they can dictate terms to him,” he said.

Gurvitz believed that, with the United Right now certain to pass the threshold, Netanyahu would seek to steal votes from them in the final stages of the election, as he has done before.

The fact that Likud and the United Right compete for largely the same pool of voters had fuelled even more extremist positions on the right, he added.

“The national-religious parties need to offer more extreme policies to distinguish themselves from Likud, otherwise they will lose votes to Netanyahu,” he said.

“But that then encourages Netanyahu to take more extreme positions to ensure he doesn’t look less nationalist than his rivals. It ends up creating a spiral of extremism.”

• First published in Middle East Eye

Liberals use RCMP in Attempt to Silence Critics of their Foreign Policy

On Tuesday two RCMP agents came to my house. Two large men in suits asked for me and when my partner said I wasn’t there they asked who she was.

Why didn’t they email or call me to talk or set up a meeting? If they have my address, the RCMP certainly has my email, Facebook, Skype or phone number. My partner asked for their badges, took their photo and asked them to leave the hallway they had entered.

They returned the next day. Not wanting to interact, my partner ignored them. They rang the doorbell multiple times over many minutes. After she saw people at the restaurant across the street wondering what was going on – from the ground you can see into the front of our place – she poked her head down the stairway where they caught her eye. They asked why I didn’t call even though they didn’t leave a number.

The visits are a transparent effort to intimidate me from directly challenging the government’s pro-corporate and pro-empire international policies.

The day before their first visit to my house two RCMP officers physically removed me from a press conference when I asked Transportation Minister Marc Garneau about Canadian arm sales to Saudi Arabia. When I sat down at an event that was already underway an officer took the seat next to me. When I began to ask a question at the end of the press conference he used the cover of private property to try to block me. On this video one can see the RCMP agent asking the building security twice if I’m welcome in the space. Deferring to police, the security guard tells him I’m not welcome. The RCMP agent, who doesn’t have the right to remove me from the room without a directive, then uses the authority derived from a representative of the building to physically eject me and threaten arrest.

Last Wednesday lawyer Dimitri Lascaris and I were blocked from a talk by the prime minister at the Bonaventure Hotel in a similar way. In my case an RCMP agent called out my name as I entered the hotel and then accompanied me in the elevator, through a long lobby and down an escalator to ‘introduce’ me to hotel security. The representative of the hotel then said I wasn’t welcome, which gave the officer the legal authority to ask me to leave. Lascaris details the incident in “The RCMP’s Speech Police Block Yves Engler and Me From Attending A Speech By Justin Trudeau.”

After starting to write this story, I was targeted by the RCMP for removal from a press conference by Justice Minister David Lametti. On Thursday, a Concordia University security guard, who I walked past to enter the room, came up to me 15 minutes later and asked for my press credentials. There were two dozen people in the room who didn’t have press credentials and the release for the event said nothing about needing them. The RCMP agent admitted that he asked Concordia security to approach me. He also said he was only there for the physical — not political — protection of the minister, but refused my suggestion that he and the Concordia security agents sit next/in front of me to ensure the minister’s physical safety.

(Here is the question I planned to ask the Justice Minister: “Minister Lametti, you have an important decision to make in the coming days about whether you believe in international law and consumer rights. As you know the Federal Court recently ruled against your government’s decision to allow wines produced on illegal settlements in the West Bank to be labeled as ‘Products of Israel’. While anti-Palestinian groups are pressuring your government to appeal the decision, the NDP and Greens want you to stop wasting taxpayer money on this anti-Palestinian agenda. Will you commit to accepting the court’s sensible ruling that respects consumers, international law and Palestinian rights?”)

Over the past six months Lascaris, I and other members of Solidarité Québec-Haiti and Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix have interrupted a dozen speeches/press conferences by Liberal ministers/prime minister to question their anti-Palestinian positions, efforts to topple Venezuela’s government, support for a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president, etc. We are open about our actions and intentions, as you can read in this commentary. We film the interruptions and post them online. (If any illegal act were committed the RCMP could easily find all they need to charge me on my Facebook page!) The interruptions usually last no more than a couple of minutes. No politician has been stopped from speaking, let alone threatened or touched.

Did the RCMP receive a directive from a minister to put a stop to our challenging their policies? The federal election is on the horizon and government officials will increasingly be in public. The Trudeau government is playing up its ‘progressive’ credentials, but the interventions highlight how on one international policy after another the Liberals have sided with corporations and empire.

From the government’s perspective, having their PR announcements disrupted is a headache, but that’s democracy. The right to protest, to question, to challenge policies outweighs politicians’ comfort.

They Don’t Make Republicans Like the Great Paul Findley Anymore!

In his 22 years in Congress (1960-1982), Paul Findley achieved a sterling record for fundamental positions, proposals and breakthroughs that revealed a great man, pure and simple. He never stopped learning and applying his knowledge to advance the right course of action, regardless of political party, ideology or pressure from various groups.

Findley, a courteous, kindly, ex-World War II navy veteran passed away earlier this month at the age of 98 in his home town of Jacksonville, Illinois. The District he represented was the one Abraham Lincoln was elected from for his one term in the House of Representatives. Findley was a student of Lincoln’s life, and embraced Lincoln’s view that “a politician should be willing to reject outmoded ways of thinking that no longer fit the times.”

Findley was a thoughtful, studious legislator with a superb sense of justice. He was an early civil rights champion. His opposition to runaway Presidential war-making was reflected in his leading support for the War Powers Act of 1973, though he wanted stronger curbs on the White House’s unilateral militarism.

Having been a journalist and owner of a small-town newspaper – the Pike Press, before going to Congress in 1960, Findley used his writing skills to explain issues regarding agricultural policies, a foreign policy of diplomacy and peace, and nuclear arms controls. He was an outspoken early opponent of the Vietnam War and a critic of the Pentagon’s chronically wasteful spending. He was not a “press-release” legislator, staking out his opinions and leaving it at that. He worked hard and smart to lead, to persuade, to get down to the minute details of coalition-building, lawmaking and legislating.

Back in Jacksonville, after his Congressional career ended in 1982, Findley wrote books and articles and lectured around the country. He courageously defended Americans of the Islamic faith, after 9/11, from bias, exclusion and intimidation. He did his civic duties with local associations. He also started the Lucille Findley Educational Foundation, in memory of his beloved wife – an Army nurse – he met in war-time Guam. They had two children. He always found time to be helpful, to serve others both locally and nationally. He also played tennis daily into his mid-eighties.

Findley possessed more than a streak of mid-west populism. Agricultural subsidies disproportionately going to a few wealthy landowners upset him greatly. He got through the House, after years of rejection, and over the objections of the Republican leadership, a $20,000 yearly limit of such subsidies per farm. The measure failed in the Senate.

Once again, in 1973, he bucked his Party and introduced an impeachment resolution against Nixon’s vice president Spiro Agnew, who later resigned in disgrace over a bribery scandal.

It was Findley’s interest in U.S. policies and operations in the Middle East, following his 1973 successful effort to obtain the release of a constituent from South Yemen that showed his moral courage, his belief in dialogue between adversaries and his commitment to the treatment of all people with dignity and respect. It also led to his defeat by Democrat Richard J. Durbin, now Illinois’s senior Senator.

Findley learned that the dispossessed and occupied Palestinian people were being treated unfairly and deprived of their human rights and self-determination. He visited refugee camps in the region. He met with Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and he urged peaceful diplomatic resolution of that conflict. For this sensible, though rare outreach by a Congressional lawmaker, he earned the immense enmity of U.S. partisans of the Israeli government. How dare he speak out on behalf of Palestinians, even though, he continued to vote for foreign aid to a prosperous militarily advanced Israeli superpower?

As the New York Times reported: “He became convinced that the influential pro-Israel lobby known as Aipac, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, had a stranglehold on American politicians that prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state and prevented rational dealings with Arab leaders in general.”

AIPAC activists, nationally and with their local affiliates, openly mobilized to defeat Findley in the 1980 election. They failed to do so. In 1982, they tried again, helping his Democratic opponent, Richard Durbin, to end Findley’s Congressional career by a margin of less than 1500 votes. AIPAC took credit for the win, raising over 80 percent of Durbin’s $750,000 in campaign funds from around the country. AIPAC’s executive director told a gathering in Texas: “We beat the odds and defeated Findley.”

Three years later, in 1985, Findley wrote and published his bold book They Dare to Speak Out, that described his efforts at peaceful advocacy for a two-state solution, which is now supported by many Israelis and Jewish Americans. In his book, he profiled other Americans who dared to speak out, and who endured intimidating slander and ostracism. Findley’s documentation of the suppression of their freedom of speech was an early precursor of what is going on now.

It was acceptable for the early patriots to boycott British tea, for civil rights leaders to boycott certain businesses in the South, for opponents of South Africa’s apartheid to launch a worldwide economic boycott. But some state governments impose sanctions on their contractors if they merely speak out in favor of the call to boycott, divest and sanction Israel’s illegal and brutal occupation of Palestine and its millions of Palestinians. (Today, Palestine is only twenty two percent the size of the original Palestine).

Findley wrote his autobiography in 2011. But it will take a fuller biography to place this modest lawmaker/public citizen, and wager of peace over unlawful wars and rampant militarism, in the conforming context of his times. His career contrasts with the present big business, Wall Street over Main Street, militaristic GOP and shows that the Republican Party didn’t always demand rigid unanimity.

To his credit, Senator Durbin eulogized Paul Findley, as “An exceptional public servant and friend.” He added that the man he defeated was “an elected official who showed exceptional courage in tackling the age old controversies in the Middle East.”

Senator Durbin could not say this about a single Republican in either the Senate or the House today, nor of over 95 percent of the Democrats.