Threatening China Over Korea: Grandstanding…Or Wise Diplomacy

Just days before President Trump is set to meet Chinese Premier Xi Jinping he let loose with a threat: either China "solves" North Korea or the US will do it. One way would be good for China, the other would not, he added. But how much sway does China really have over Kim Jong-Un and his nuclear policy? Could Trump be miscalculating? What's at stake? We look at the possibilities in today's Liberty Report:

Bloomberg’s Hit Job on Venezuela – and Me

Photo by Sarah Marshall | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Sarah Marshall | CC BY 2.0

I just had a disastrous and embarrassing interaction with Bloomberg, and feel that I was ambushed and sandbagged by having my comments taken out of context in a hit piece Bloomberg’s journalists wrote on Venezuela – evidently trying to distort my own views in a two-for-one job.

On Monday, March 27, I received a message from a Bloomberg reporter asking me about a very nice compliment that the President of Venezuela and Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement, Nicolás Maduro, had said about me:

I was reading one of the greatest American economists, Michael Hudson, I don’t know if you know him, I recommend reading his work. He is an economic thinker, worked as an economist for a long time on Wall Street, knows this world very well, and has been insisting on the need for construction of a real economy. He’s been alerting for a long time through conferences, writings, books and interviews of the danger that the world has, because he says in his research that of every $20, $19 arise from the speculative economy and only $1 arises from the real economy.

More than 90% of the country’s economic apparatus is in the hands of private companies.

The reporter, Christine Jenkins, asked if I knew President Maduro or could explain what he found of value in my writing. I said that I thought he probably was referring to my discussion in Killing the Host of a September 2014 Harvard Business Review article by William Lazonick, “Profits without Prosperity,” calculating that for the decade 2003-2012, the 449 companies publicly listed in the S&P 500 index spent only 9% of their earnings on new capital investment. They used 54% to buy back their own stock, and 37% to pay dividends. I told the reporter that I thought the President’s point was that the financial sector was not financing capital formation and employment to increase output.

I told her that I had not followed Venezuela’s economy closely in recent years. I did say that I had discussed how Argentina and Greece were subjected to austerity as a result of foreign debt, and my belief that no sovereign nation should be obliged to impose austerity on its population to pay foreign bondholders. That has indeed been the problem confronting Latin America for decades, and is a central theme of all my books since Super Imperialism in 1972.

And to cap matters, of course, U.S. foreign policy has mobilized the World Bank and IMF to back creditor interests, foreign investment and privatization – while isolating countries from Cuba through Venezuela (and now Greece) to demonstrate that neoliberal diplomacy will make such a country a pariah if it makes a serious attempt to oppose austerity and financialization.

Apart from that, we had no substantive discussion. The reporter ran down some recent economic facts about Venezuela’s economic crisis, and I replied to the effect that it sounded like a real quandary. She said that the country looked like it was straining to pay its foreign debts and might soon default. I replied with the same advice that I had given Greece: If you are inevitably going to default on sovereign jjunkecondebt, it’s best to stop paying now and keep what foreign exchange you have, and try to renegotiate the debt to bring it within the ability to be paid. Otherwise, you will end up suffering the legal tangle of default, but be stripped of funds needed by the domestic economy to survive.

I said that I didn’t have a solution to this problem. I haven’t studied the legal status of Venezuela’s foreign debt, or what alternatives the government might have had open to it in the face of strong opposition from its domestic oligarchy as well as foreign pressure.

The reporter, Christine Jenkins, said that she would read my books to see how they might have attracted the attention of President Maduro. On Wednesday, she got back to me, and said that she was going to write up an article for Bloomberg.

I asked for a copy, and she wrote back that “Hi – so we actually aren’t allowed to send articles before publication!” That’s what raised a red flag in my head. My impression is that every serious reporter checks back with his or her source to ascertain that the report is accurate. This seems to be basic journalistic ethics.

The article was to appear at 6 AM Thursday morning. She tried to allay my fears by telling me “a little bit about what it says … we make it very clear that you don’t consider yourself a Venezuelan expert, like you said, but that if the government sees that default is inevitable, that its better to get it over with. We mention your recent book, and also that Killing the Host is the one that probably got Maduro’s attention. And we talk about how you’ve gotten an international following, advising some governments, but the one thing I wanted to give you a heads up about is that we call you a somewhat obscure economist – and I hope you agree that’s fair, that you’re definitely not in the mainstream, not a household name, and like you talked about your area of coverage not being taught at the typical universities, etc.”

But by noon I still had not received a copy. I asked for it, and when I got it, it was nothing at all like what I had said. It made me appear to be criticizing Venezuela’s politicians and, by implication, President Maduro. But at no point had I criticized Venezuela’s attempts at reform. Rather, I had criticized the problem of neoliberal opposition to countries trying to uplift their populations along the lines that Venezuela had done, using debt leverage to force countries to impose austerity. It looks to me like Venezuela is getting the “Greek treatment.”

I was appalled to find the article a hit-piece on Venezuela, and to make me appear to criticize President Maduro by implying that the country is  not helpable. I never said that I was not “a fan of the socialist leader.” I applaud his attempts to maneuver as best he can within the corner into which Venezuela has been painted. I did indeed repeat the headlines of the day – that the country “has entered a period of anarchy.” There were riots going on, and a constitutional crisis led to the Supreme Court suspending its congress. That wasn’t a criticism, just my “umm-hmm” comment on what the reporter was telling me about the situation.

Venezuela has made herculean efforts to pay its bondholders in recent years. This has been a political decision to avoid the even deeper problems that default would cause. I’m in no position to second-guess President Maduro or other Venezuelan policy makers. They’ve probably steered the best course available to them – bad as all the choices are.

The article concluded that I would “be disinclined to add an advisory role to his busy schedule if asked to.” That’s not my language. I said that I hadn’t been following the situation and have hardly spent any time in Latin America. Of course I would help in any way that I could, if asked.

The real damage came from the right-wing paper Caracas Chronicles, which did a guilt-by-association attack piece by Jose Gonzales Vargas, “Hudson on the Guaire.” Asking rhetorically “Who the hell is he?” the article identified me with

“anti-establishment outlets across the political spectrum like CounterPunch —who not long ago was posting apologetic pieces on chavismo − and Zero Hedge, which … was called by a former contributor a cheerleader for “Hezbollah, Tehran, Beijing, and Trump.” Speaking of things that may be linked to Russia, he has also been on RT a couple of times.”

I have never written for Zero Hedge, although they sometimes reprint articles that I publish on Naked Capitalism and CounterPunch. The nasty quip about being “a cheerleader for “Hezbollah, Tehran, Beijing, and Trump” was not about me; it was written by a Zero Hedge member who was criticizing his own publication when he left it.

Neither publication noted that I’ve written numerous op-eds for the Financial Times, the New York Times, 3 cover articles for Harpers, and have been featured on the BBC and on Bloomberg radio.

The kicker of the article was its last sentence: “Well, at least they’ve still got Weisbrot and Ciccariello-Mahler and those Podemos guys. They would never turn against the Bolivarian revolution, right?… Right?

The implication is that I’ve broken ranks and that “the left” is turning against President Maduro. For my part, I can’t think of a better advisor than Mark Weisbrot. I have no advice to give Venezuela in its current economic straits that its leaders have not already thought of. But of course I would like to help if asked. As I wrote to the Bloomberg reporter after reading her story: “The problem is that I AM sympathetic with the AIMS of Chavez etc. The problem is the hostility all around him that is undercutting the economy. That’s what makes the problem insolvable.”

None of my beliefs are what Bloomberg and Caracas Chronicles implied.

“FBI’s Comey, not Russia, Tilted the Election Toward Trump:”  Interview with Dennis Kucinich  

MW: Should FBI Director James Comey be investigated for meddling in the 2016 presidential election?

Dennis Kucinich, Former Congressman: The Director of the FBI is not beyond accountability.  President Obama should have demanded Director Comey’s resignation immediately after Comey interfered in the 2016 Presidential election with  his October 28, 2016 pronouncement of the discovery of new emails in the Clinton case.   Comey breached protocol, bypassed channels, and tilted the outcome away from Clinton and toward Trump.

If Comey refused a presidential demand that he resign,  then President Obama should have dismissed him.  There is a precedent.  President Clinton dismissed FBI Director Session in 1993.  Also The FBI Director can also be subject to impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate.   Given his role in upending the 2016 President election, it is astonishing that Director Comey is being given a chance to prove it was ‘the Russians what did it.’

MW — In a recent Fox News article, you discussed Director Comey’s “unprecedented intrusion into presidential politics”, (that) “has damaged public confidence in the Bureau.” In an earlier article you mentioned that independent surveys have been conducted that strongly suggest that Comey’s meddling may have changed the outcome of the election. 

Here’s is an excerpt from an article about one of those surveys. The article clearly states that “Comey’s letter, 11 days before the election, was the precipitating event behind Clinton’s loss”, and that  “it was the single, most indispensable factor in the surprise election result.” Here is the entire except from the article:

“Most decisively, there was a sudden change in the net sentiment results that followed immediately after FBI Director James Comey released his Oct. 28 letter to Congress about a renewed investigation of Clinton emails. Immediately afterwards, there was a 17-point drop in net sentiment for Clinton, and an 11-point rise for Trump, enough for the two candidates to switch places in the rankings, with Clinton in more negative territory than Trump. At a time when opinion polling showed perhaps a 2-point decline in the margin for Clinton, this conversation data suggests a 28-point change in the word of mouth “standings.” The change in word of mouth favorability metric was stunning, and much greater than the traditional opinion polling revealed.

Based on this finding, it is our conclusion that the Comey letter, 11 days before the election, was the precipitating event behind Clinton’s loss, despite the letter being effectively retracted less than a week later. In such a close election, there may have been dozens of factors whose absence would have reversed the outcome, such as the influence campaign of the Russian government as detailed by US intelligence services. But the sudden change in the political conversation after the Comey letter suggest it was the single, most indispensable factor in the surprise election result.”  (Comey Letter Swung Election For Trump, Consumer Survey Suggests”, Brad Fay, Huffington Post)

How should Congress deal with this situation?

Dennis Kucinich: Congress could impeach Comey, but that will not happen for two reasons. (1) Democrats want to maintain the fiction that the Russians tipped the election to Trump.  (2) Republicans want to maintain the fiction that Trump won because voters preferred Republicans.

I believe it is essential to focus on Comey.  His interference was a miscarriage of justice, which must still be rectified.  Congress must pass a law which requires all FBI officials to refrain from an public or private comment, within four weeks of a primary or general election, on any case involving a candidate for public office, or executing any search warrant, or seeking charges against any candidate for elected office, under penalty of criminal charges.

The FBI must not be permitted to interfere in elections through supposition, rumor or stuffing the ballot box with allegations or indictments.  If  voters elect someone who is later proven to have committed a crime, there are plenty of legal procedures to force removal.

MW — Here’s a quote by Masha Gessen from an article titled “Russia: The Conspiracy Trap” at the New York Review of Books. Gessen thinks the Democrats are actually hurting themselves by pursuing the Russia hacking story.  Here’s what she says: 

“Trump is doing nothing less than destroying American democratic institutions and principles by turning the presidency into a profit-making machine for his family, by poisoning political culture with hateful, mendacious, and subliterate rhetoric, by undermining the public sphere with attacks on the press and protesters, and by beginning the real work of dismantling every part of the federal government that exists for any purpose other than waging war. Russiagate is helping him—both by distracting from real, documentable, and documented issues, and by promoting a xenophobic conspiracy theory in the cause of removing a xenophobic conspiracy theorist from office.”

Do you agree with Gessen, is Russiagate actually helping Trump?  Do you think the investigation could backfire on the Democrats and hurt them politically?

Dennis Kucinich: “RussiaGate” is not helping Trump, nor is it hurting him.  It is hurting the Democratic party as its minions in Congress perform weak imitations of Senator Joe McCarthy.  McCarthyism does not sound better spoken out of the left side of the system’s mouth than it did out of the right side.  The Democrats are losing valuable time trying to blame the 2016 election results on Moscow.   2020 will be not decided in Moscow, but in Cleveland,  Detroit,  Milwaukee and like cities in the US, which is why the party should be promoting an alternative economic vision with jobs for all, health care for all, education for all, retirement security for all, a clean environment, fair trade and an end to war.

Does it Matter Who Pulls the Trigger in the Drone Wars?

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We’re allowing a mindset of “anything Trump does is wrong” coupled with lightening-speed historical revisionism for the Obama era to sustain the same mistakes in the war on terror that have fueled Islamic terrorism for the past 15 years. However, there may be a window of opportunity to turn the anti-Trump rhetoric into a review of the failed policies of the last decade and a half.

A recent example of “anything Trump does is wrong” has to do with his changing the rules for drone kill decision making. In May 2013 President Obama self-imposed a dual-standard (known as the “playbook”) for remote killing. The White House, including Obama himself reviewing a kill list at regular meetings, would decide which individuals outside of the “traditional war zones” of Iraq and Afghanistan would be targeted.

Meanwhile, in America’s post-9/11 traditional war zones, military commanders then made, and now make, the kill decisions without civilian review, with the threshold for “acceptable civilian casualties” supposedly less strict. Of course the idea that any of this functions under “rules” is based on the bedrock fallacy that anything militarily done by the last three presidents has been legal under the never-updated 2001 authorization for war in Afghanistan. For perspective, remember Islamic State never existed, and Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen had stable governments at the time Congress passed that authorization.

In sum: since 2013 the military can kill from the air at will inside Iraq and Afghanistan (the status of Syria is unclear), as well as other areas designated unilaterally by the U.S. government as “traditional,” with allowances for less regard for the collateral damage of innocents slaughtered. It is the president himself who plays judge, jury, and executioner across the rest of the globe, including in several acknowledged cases, ordering the deaths of American citizens without due process.

Supporters of this policy set refer to the president’s role as oversight. And because the president is supposed to make his decisions with more regard than the military for civilian deaths (though there are no statistics to support that has been the outcome), the process represented, in the words of the New York Times, “restraint.”

Now there has been a change. Trump in mid-March granted a Pentagon request to designate certain areas of Yemen as “areas of active hostilities.” Trump is expected to approve the same new policy for parts of Somalia. That would shift more decision making for drone strikes from the Oval Office to the Pentagon.

The issue being raised by Trump’s opponents some is that the new policy will kill more civilians as it will be carried out by an unfettered military instead of a “restrained” executive, and that those deaths will lead to more radicalization of more Muslims, which will impede America’s strategic progress toward, it’s unclear, maybe a world without radicalized Muslims.

Such twisted logic is based on an almost insta-nostalgia that ignores President Obama approved 540 drone strikes killing 3,797 people in non-traditional war zones. No one knows how many of those bodies were civilian, although for the record the U.S. says it was precisely 324. The analytically conservative Council on Foreign Relations, however, assesses drone strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan killed 3,674 civilians as of 2014.

Those body counts do not include fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and do not include any unacknowledged strikes elsewhere globally (stories persist, confirmed to me by a former U.S. Special Forces operator, of drone kills in the Philippines, for example.)

Bottom line: There are already a lot of bodies out there under a policy of “restraint.”

It is important to note Trump’s change in policy focuses only on who makes the decision to pull the trigger in places already under American attack, him or generals in the Pentagon. The killing itself is ongoing, seamless, and happening today as it happened six months ago (in fact, civilian casualties rose during the last months of the Obama administration, suggesting changes in U.S. rules of engagement predate Trump.) It is unlikely the people on the ground know or care which official in Washington decided to blow away a vehicle with their brother in it. The idea that it matters a whit in terms of radicalization whether the thumbs up or down is rendered by Trump, Obama, or a general would be comical if it was not horrible.

An odd sense that all this killing globally is something new and damaging to America was captured in a lettersome three dozen former members of America’s national security establishment (including Bush and Obama-era staff) to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis stating “even small numbers of unintentional civilian deaths or injuries — whether or not legally permitted — can cause significant strategic setbacks,” increasing violence from militant groups and prompting others to reduce collaboration with the United States. The letter claims that pre-Trump, public confidence and belief in legitimacy were important facets of U.S. policy.

Even the American Civil Liberties Union appeared to wake from a long slumber, claiming with Trump’s decision to slide sideways the kill decision, “the limits of war as we know it could virtually dissolve. At stake is no less than the global legal framework that protects life and preserves international peace and security.”

At that point one must sit back and ask: Seriously? Who besides presidents Obama and Trump has endorsed that framework and under what set of laws is it legal?

Are the signatories unaware of the attacks on hospitals, the wedding parties in Afghanistan and elsewhere blown to pink mist by Hellfire missiles? Civilian casualties overall in America’s 2003-2011 Iraq War alone were anywhere from 140,000 dead to upwards of 500,000, many by artillery, cluster munitions, and depleted uranium, indiscriminate weapons unique to American forces.

As with the recent Navy SEAL raid in Yemen that took civilian lives, the new-found interest by the media and many Democrats in the costs of American war abroad is welcome. If it took the election of Trump to alert Americans what horrors are being done in their names, then that election has already served some larger purpose.

But the next step is the critical one — can the new found revulsion for civilian deaths drive action to stop them or will nostalgia for the “good killings” under the previous administration block focus on ending the 15 year cycle of violence and revenge that has set the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia on fire? Will we simply again settle on a domestically palpable process of killing under Trump as we did under Bush and Obama?

No matter who pulls the trigger — Bush, Obama or Trump — civilian deaths are not accidental, but a policy of preventable accident. The new drone rules under Trump are simply another example.

Reprinted with permission from WeMeantWell.com.

Yes, Let’s Allow The Syrian People To Decide For Themselves

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Is common sense beginning to creep into US policy in the Middle East? Last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the longer-term status of Syrian President Assad would be “decided by the Syrian people.” The media reported this as a radical shift in US foreign policy, but isn’t this just stating what should be obvious? What gives any country the right to determine who rules someone else? Washington is currently paralyzed by evidence-free rumors that the Russians somehow influenced our elections, but no one blinks an eye when Washington declares that one or another foreign leader “must go.”

It’s only too bad that President Obama hadn’t followed this back in 2011 instead of declaring that Assad had to go and then arming rebel groups who ended up being allies with al-Qaeda. Imagine how many thousands of lives and billions of dollars would have been saved by following this policy in the first place. Imagine the millions of refugees who could still be in their homes, running their businesses, living their lives.

Will the Trump Administration actually follow through on Tillerson’s Syria policy statement? It is too early to tell. The President has illegally sent hundreds of US troops to fight on the ground in Syria. Current US positions in eastern Syria suggest that Washington may be looking to carve out parts of oil-rich areas of the country for some kind of future federation.

The White House followed up on Tillerson’s comments by stating that getting rid of Assad was no longer a top priority for the US. This also sounds good. But does this mean that once the current top priority, destroying ISIS, is completed, Washington may return to its active measures to unseat the Syrian president? Neocons in Washington still insist that the rise of ISIS in Syria was due to President Assad, but in fact ISIS did not appear in Syria until the US began trying to overthrow Assad. They haven’t given up on their desire to overthrow the Syrian government and they do have influence in this Administration.

If the Trump Administration is serious about letting the people of Syria decide their fate he needs to take concrete steps. Rather than sending in more troops to fight an ISIS already on its last legs, he must bring US troops home and prohibit the CIA from further destabilizing the country.

It would also be nice if Congress would wake up from its long slumber and start following the Constitution. The President (and his predecessors) have taken this country to war repeatedly without proper Constitutionally-required authority to do so. The president has reportedly decided not to even bother announcing where next he plans to send the troops. Congress can rein him in with very little effort by saying no money can be spent to deploy US troops to areas where they may encounter hostilities unless a state of war is declared.

By all means, we should let the Syrian people decide who will be their president, even if they choose someone we don’t like. Syria was never a threat to the United States and the 2011 US intervention has destroyed the country. Interventionism has horrible consequences and no victories to show for itself. It is time for all the US troops to just march back home.

Dismal in Des Moines: Democrats are Part of What’s the Matter With Iowa

Photo by Phil Roeder | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Phil Roeder | CC BY 2.0


Iowa Nasty

In a recent Truthdig report, titled “What’s the Matter with Iowa?,” I reflected on how the now fully Republican-controlled state government of Iowa is involved in a vicious, multi-pronged assault on working people of all genders and sexual identities. This ferocious right-wing attack is not very “Iowa nice.” It includes legislation abolishing public sector workers’ collective bargaining rights (passed last month) and a measure (House File 295, now awaiting the state’s right wing governor’s imminent signature) that will nullify recent increases of the minimum wage in three Iowa counties. The second bill will also ban local and county governments from setting their own minimum wages (notwithstanding significant differences in the cost of living between the states’s rural and more urban counties) or requiring employers to provide workers with family leave. Another measure marching through the Iowa legislature will roll back workers’ compensation benefits. These bills are part of a broader package of virulent legislation aimed also at immigrants, women’s abortion rights, gun safety, and water safety.

If North Carolina can face a liberal boycott for violating transgendered peoples’ bathroom-choice civil rights, I argued, progressives might want to consider a boycott of Iowa for their offensive against working people of all genders and sexual identities.

A Shared Title

Three interesting things happened in the wake of my Truthdig report. First, I found out that a liberal University of Iowa history professor named Colin Gordon recently published an essay titled “What’s the Matter with Iowa?” in Dissent magazine. Gordon’s essay covered many of the same terrible Iowa bills I discussed in Truthdig.

I can’t say I was surprised. The title I inadvertently shared with Dr. Gordon is an obvious bit of clever word sport right now. It’s a play on the title of Thomas Frank’s widely read book What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004).

I would have caught the shared title and topic it if I paid any attention to Dissent, where I did some of earliest and most widely read non-academic essays.  But I haven’t looked at Dissent in many years, not since Noam Chomsky clued me in on its long history of supporting Israel and U.S. foreign policy

A Promise and Reminder

Second, I got the following e-mail from an angry white male Iowan: “tell anyone to ever boycott my state again and me and a couple good old boys are going to make sure you won’t be able to ever again. A promise.”

That’s also not very Iowa nice.  But, sadly, it’s fairly standard right-wing online terrorism here in the “heartland.” And another reminder to me to take advantage of Iowa’s lax gun laws (a right-wing “stand your ground” upgrade is currently in the legislative works) to arm for self-defense.

Boycotting Steve King

Third, Iowa is in fact facing some boycott blowback. The Iowa Tourism office has recently seen a dramatic uptick in online messages and phone calls from people who have vowed to cancel trips and vacations to Iowa. The cause of the boycott threat? It’s not the state’s onslaught on working people (or, I might add, its recently escalated strikes against clean water and a livable climate). It’s about Republican Steve King, Iowa’s westernmost U.S. Congressman. Two Sundays ago, the openly white nationalist King sparked public outrage when he praised the Dutch nationalist politician Geert Wilders for, in King’s words, “understand[ing] that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization,” King elaborated, “with somebody else’s babies.”  King later went on an Iowa radio station to say that his comment was about “our stock, our country, our culture, our civilization.”  He said that “we [white Amerikaans – P.S.] need to have enough babies to replace ourselves.”

Rep. King’s comments certainly merit condemnation and protest. But what, I wonder, are the prospects that the Iowa’s blitzkrieg against working people (of all genders, sexual identities, races, ethnicities, and religions) would Democratic Party liberals to cancel vacation and/or other trips and events in Iowa?  Slim to none.  It’s identity politics that agitates them the most. That’s a shame – and no small part of why their party is out of power in the White House, Congress, most state governorships, and in most state legislative assemblies in the nation.

A Nice Surprise

Which brings me to something interesting that didn’t happen after my Truthdig report. It didn’t elicit any emails or other online comments from any lefties criticizing me for failing to point out that the Democrats are also part of the problem.

That was a nice surprise.  One of the more irritating things in Left political writing these days is that if you dare launch a criticism of Donald Trump and/or other Republicans you open yourself up to the charge that you are soft on the Democrats.  It doesn’t seem to matter if you are like me and have published hundreds of essays and even whole books dedicated to Left criticism of the “dismal dollar Democrats” (a recurrent phrase in my writing) and to the notion that both leading U.S. political organizations are “two wings of the same bird of prey” (Upton Sinclair in 1904).  Pen a piece disparaging the rightmost major party politicians and office-holders and I can still expect a condescending message from some self-styled radical who is excessively proud of himself for having figured out that the Democrats are also a capitalist party.

“Liberalism Deserve a Huge Part of the Blame” (Tom Frank, 2004)

The irony here, though, is that, taken alone, my “What’s the Matter with Iowa” report deserves the criticism. So does Professor Gordon’s Dissent piece, by the way (even more so, since its author has no prior known history of calling out the Democrats as a corporate and imperial party). We deserve the censure particularly because we played off Tom Frank’s book title. Frank’s famous volume has long been cited by liberals mainly as a description of how clever and dastardly Republican strategists used social and cultural wedge issues like guns, religion gay marriage, and abortion to move white working class and rural voters off their supposed natural “pocketbook” interest in the Democratic Party.  But What’s the Matter with Kansas? went deeper than that.  Too near his book’s conclusion, perhaps, Frank noted that Democratic “liberalism deserves a huge part of the blame for the [right-wing white working-class] backlash phenomenon….Somewhere in the last four decades,” Frank wrote, “liberalism ceased to be relevant for huge portions of its traditional constituency, and we can say that liberalism lost places like Shawnee and Wichita [Kansas] with as much accuracy as we can point out that conservatives won them over.” It lost them because the Democratic Party took the working-class majority’s “lunch-pail” (economic) issues off the table in pursuit of elite corporate campaign donations and upper middle professional class votes.  It bought into “identity politics” every bit as much, if in a different way, as the Republicans.  As Frank reflected:

“The Republicans, meanwhile, were industriously fabricating their own class-based language of the right and while they made their populist appeal to blue-collar voters, Democrats were giving those same voters – their traditional base – the big brush-off, ousting their representatives from positions within the party and consigning their issues, with a laugh and a sneer.  A more ruinous strategy for Democrats would have been difficult to invent.  And the ruination just keeps on coming. However desperately they triangulate and accommodate, the losses keep mounting…The problem is not that Democrats are monolithically pro-choice or anti-school prayer; it’s that by dropping the class language that once distinguished them sharply from Republicans they have left themselves vulnerable to cultural wedge issue like guns and abortion whose hallucinatory appeal would ordinarily be far overshadowed by material concerns.  We are in an environment where Republicans talk constantly about class – in a coded way, to be sure – but where Democrats are afraid to bring it up.”

How relevant is that passage more than 12 years later, in the terrible wake of a presidential election that was not so much won by the noxious white nationalist Donald Trump as lost by the two-faced arch-corporate-neoliberal warmonger Hillary Clinton? The Democrats would likely have won had they run Bernie Sanders, who campaigned fiercely and precisely on what Frank called “the class language that once distinguished them sharply from Republicans.”  They went instead with a wooden, two-faced, Wall Street candidate who wrote off much of the nation’s white rural and working class population as “deplorables.”  The Democrats opted for an especially noxious neoliberal version of “hate and castrate” (white males) identity politics that cost them essential working class votes in key heartland states like Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio – this while the miserable economic performance of neoliberalism depressed much of the minority vote on which she was counting.

More than any Republican presidential candidate in memory, to be sure, Trump undertook an explicit appeal to “forgotten” white working class voters’ pocketbook interests, combined with declarations of economic nationalism and a critique of globalist “free trade.” But the Frank critique holds, with the Democrats’ yuppie-liberal corporatism creating a giant vacuum for the Republicans’ to exploit to win votes from the working-class folks who used to constitute the Democrats’ base. Trump also ran with the highly racialized white identity politics that pull in millions of white working class and rural voters when the Democrats abandon “the class language that once distinguished them sharply from Republicans.”

The Dismal Dems of Iowa

The dismal dollar Dems’ neoliberal disease is no less present in Iowa than on the national scale.  Iowa City and Des Moines liberals are rightly outraged at the racism of Steve King.  They look with understandable horror at the right-wing idiocy of the state’s two Republican U.S. Senators, the senile buffoon Charles Grassley and the pernicious Joni Ernst. They cringe with reason over the state’s vicious and bumbling corporate-evangelical governor Terry Branstad.  They naturally shudder at the state’s ever more corporate-captive legislature and at the seizure of three of the state’s four Congressional seats by the radically regressive, arch- reactionary GOP.

But who of remotely progressive and populist substance have the state’s Democrats put up to seriously, substantively, and charismatically champion the needs of the state’s rural and working class majority over and against Big Business and the Republicans? The last Iowa politician who could make any hint of a significant claim in that regard is the multimillionaire Tom Harkin, the longtime liberal U.S. Senator who retired 2014.

The last serious challenge Steve Herrenvolk King got was from Christie Vilsack, the dull neoliberal spouse of the former arch-corporate Iowa Governor and Obama Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Joni Ernst took Harkin’s open seat in 2014 from the dreary Democratic attorney Bruce Braley.  In a classic case of professional-classist political suicide, Braley got caught on cell phone video telling some Texas trial lawyers that Grassley was just “an Iowa farmer who never went to law school.” That was a real winner in the working class and rural heartland.

The last Democratic candidate to fall to the preposterous Grassley (last November) was the monumentally uninspiring Patty Judge, an open tool of Big Ag interests.  Ms. Judge is no friend of labor, workers, or the environment.

The Democrats’ failed candidate in the last election in Iowa’s 1st Congressional district last fall was Monica Vernon, a Republican for most of her life. With an MBA from the University of Iowa, Ms. Vernon owned and operated a private market research firm for decades. She has no known genuine attachment to working class issues.

A Betrayal to Remember

My favorite treasonous Iowa Democrat is the state’s last Democratic Governor, Chet Culver.  He was notorious for betraying workers and unions. We are approaching the nine- year anniversary of the fateful day when then-Governor Culver vetoed a bill that had passed the states’ two then Democratic-controlled legislative bodies. The strongly labor-backed measure would have significantly enhanced public-employee unions’ power in contract negotiations, expanding the scope of topics open for bargaining. But the “pro-labor” Culver shot the legislation down, sending shock waves through the party and labor movement. According to one report at the time:

“Ken Sagar, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, was stunned by the veto…’I think we heard in fairly deafening terms yesterday where we lie in the big picture of things,’ he said. …Sagar said the veto underscores his nagging feeling that elected Democrats have not done enough to help workers over the last two years. This is despite Democrats holding control of the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since the mid-1960s….Republicans greeted the veto with a level of praise that might make observers forget Culver is a Democrat….Nearly all House and Senate Democrats voted for the collective bargaining bill, and now they will have to defend themselves against the charge that they supported a bill that a governor from their own party refused to sign” (emphasis added).

Iowa labor historian and activist Jeneatte Gabriel recalls that “This measure was considered to be a significant inroad into empowering public-sector unions. The Democrats controlled the state legislature, both branches. As a result of the deep frustration and sense of betrayal, many Union chose to stay home on election day, helping Republican Terry Branstad retake the governorship in 2010.”

“Maybe We Need a White Working Class Caucus”

In a reflection on the party’s abject failure last fall, Iowa Democrat Rick Smith noted how “in recent years Democrats have gradually divided into a long list of individual factions, i.e., Women, African-American, Hispanic, College, LGBTQ, Disability and more.”  Further:

“The Iowa Democratic Party added five new constituency caucuses this year at their 2016 Convention. They are Progressives, Women, Rural, Senior/retiree and Labor. With these additions, the Iowa Democrats have now divided themselves into 13 separate factions. The motivation for establishing individual caucuses for each group is to recognize and promote their specific needs, interests and issues. The danger is that the party becomes more fragmented and each caucus becomes a separate silo disconnected from the party as a whole. The message becomes a chaotic cacophony of voices competing for attention rather than one or two easily understood messages appealing to everyone….”

“Clearly, Democrats failed to reach the white working-class voters that were most concerned about their future. Democrats talked about requiring schools to open bathrooms to transsexual students. Democrats talked about bringing in more immigrants, including Syrians. Here in Iowa, Democrats added legalizing all drugs to their state platform. Many Democrats cringed when progressives insisted on putting the legalization of all drugs in their platform. This handed Republicans a powerful negative ad that would be used against Democrats. Democrats were careless and arrogant in not recognizing these were frightening concepts to many working class and evangelical Americans.”

“Maybe,” Smith ruefully mused, “we need a white working-class caucus that we elevate to the same level as our other groups. The fact that Democrats lost one of their most loyal bases of support, union households, should shock us into change. We failed miserably in providing them with a credible solution to their economic anxiety. Democrats took the working-class voter for granted.”

The No Audit Caucus

And maybe the Iowa Democrats shouldn’t have rigged the pivotal Iowa presidential Caucus to make sure that the noxious neoliberal identity politico Hillary and not the fighting populist Sanders was registered as the official winner. The caucus tallies were razor-thin and cried out for a thorough inspection. “The results were too close not to do a complete audit,” said The Des Moines Register’s editors in a commentary titled “Something Smells in the Democratic Party.” Further: “Two-tenths of 1 percent separated Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. A caucus should not be confused with an election, but it’s worth noting that much larger margins trigger automatic recounts in other states.”

Iowa Democratic Party chair Dr. Andrea McGuire, the former president of a private health services firm (Meridian Health), resisted calls for a review.  She refused to release the raw vote totals, consistent with her history as a long-time Hillary supporter who donated to the politician’s various campaigns and who reportedly drove a car bearing the license plate “HRC 2016.”

Who knows? Sanders might have been the Democrats’ presidential candidate but for such neoliberal obstructionism.  The Iowa Caucus has a long history of picking the Democrats’ nominee.

Super Dave Loebsack

The state’s one Democratic Congressman, David Loebsack, responded to the 2016 elections by telling the Register that the Iowa Democrats need to concentrate less on identity politics and more on bread and butter concerns. “I just don’t think that enough focus was paid to economic issues,” said Loebsack. “Yes, we are a party that is for equality; yes, we are a party that wants comprehensive immigration reform; yes, we are a party that represents a lot of different, diverse groups. But we’re also a party that represents economic opportunity.”

It’s an ironic admonition coming from Loebsack. A mild-mannered, charisma-challenged former small-college political science instructor who fell into the U.S. Congress almost by accident (during the anti-Bush 2006 mid-term elections), Loebsack caucused hard for the doomed neoliberal warmonger Hillary over Sanders last year. Back in the 2007-2008 Iowa Caucus race, before his bizarre affair with Reille Hunter was exposed, John “Two Americas” Edwards was the clear pro-labor and populist candidate among the big three (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Edwards) contenders vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sincerely or not, Edwards truly ran on “the class language that once distinguished [Democrats] sharply from Republicans,” earning labor endorsements across the state.

After a long and creepy holdout, Loebsack endorsed the slippery Wall Street candidate Barack Obama.  A big financial contribution from the future neoliberal president’s campaign helped sway not-so super Dave in Obama’s direction.

Loebsack got a $5500 campaign donation from Energy Transfer Partners, the builder of the eco-cidal Dakota Access Pipeline (which runs through 18 Iowa’s Iowa counties with the approval of the state’s Republican-appointed utilities board), last year.  Along with his (quite nasty and mean-spirited) Hillary activism on Caucus night (which I beheld in person), that may be part of why he doesn’t seem to like show his face around his new (thanks to redistricting) hometown of Iowa City (which went strong for Sanders) all that much.

So, yes, fellow leftists, the dismal dollar Dems are no small part of the answer to the question “What’s the Matter with Iowa?” My educated guess is that the story is much the same in other red states where campus-town liberals are no doubt gnashing their teeth over the latest right-wing outrages of their Big Business-captive state governments.  They can grind their molars all they want, but it’s all for naught unless and until progressives to get out from under the control of pernicious identity-mongering neoliberals within and beyond the Democratic Party.

Commemorate This!

Photo by makhhai | CC BY 2.0

Photo by makhhai | CC BY 2.0

The VA in Maine recently partnered with the Pentagon to hold a “fiftieth anniversary observance of the Vietnam War.” I’d caught a brief notice about the event in the county weekly. Vietnam veterans would be recognized for their “valor and sacrifice,” and those in attendance would “receive a commemorative pin in recognition of their service.” Among the fifty states, Maine is 39th in size and 41st in population, or slightly larger than South Carolina, and slightly less populous than Hawaii. A disproportionately high number of Mainers served in the military.   The Veterans Administration here has its largest campus at Togus near the state capital of Augusta, and the parking lot that morning was crammed with the dusty pickups and SUVs of Nam vets who’d driven in for this gathering from every backwater of our rural state.

This is my health provider, so over the past few decades I’d been to Togus more times than I care to count. But until that morning, I’d never been aware of the two hundred seat theater behind a paneled wall in the corridor I pass through every time I come there. All those posters you’d see on the walls about events I had no interest in, this was the venue where they held them I figured. I walked in a half hour early and loitered in the aisle hoping to get a few guys to tell me bits of their stories, anyone wearing something – usually a ball cap – that says Vietnam. It’s a delicate business. I ask, hey who’d you serve with, and usually get back a few mumbled monosyllables in reply. My typical reflex to this brushoff is the unkind thought that perhaps their experiences in-country weren’t hairy enough to back up the tough war vet exterior they’re now projecting; but the formality of being an object of attention breeds caution in this population, and maybe they just want to get to their seats.

Anyway I was playing reporter on the fly with a short window, but I am convinced that the general outline of the story one guy told me could stand for lots of others in the room. Most veterans – certainly prior to their service – come from the non-college educated working class. I passed for gentry in this crowd. The vet I talked with grew up in an old mill town where his forebears had migrated from Quebec Province a few generations back. He was a senior in high school in the waning sixties when he got his draft notice. After graduation he enlisted in the Air Force, and was trained as a combat engineer. By 1969 he was laying steel mats for landing strips all over Vietnam. He didn’t want to be there, he said. He was in a bad state of mind. His girlfriend had broken up with him just before he went in the service. He was 22, and on a base in the Delta he supervised a Vietnamese man he described as a peasant, about 70. He was amazed at how a man that age could perform such heavy labor. On one occasion he was invited to visit the man’s thatched home. It contained “a couple of plates, a couple of knives and forks, everything he needed.”   That lesson wasn’t lost on him, he said. Still he “felt sorry” for the old papasan because “he had never known peace.” I asked him if the war was worth it, and he said no.

That’s not the message we would hear in this assembly. As a topic the war can’t be completely ignored by its apologists at the Pentagon who manage the Vietnam commemorative franchise. But discussion can be limited, ideally dispensed with, by reinforcing a false historical judgment that panders to the sensibilities of select audiences of veterans, like, I’m assuming, those drawn to this event. Not that most read it or needed to be reminded, but, just in case, the official thinking on how Vietnam should be remembered was laid out explicitly in the printed program we’d been handed on entering the theater. If we lost the war – just saying – it’s not because “the U.S. was defeated in battle;” our defeat was “political,” not military. Unfairly veterans were blamed for the loss, and when coming home, “treated poorly.”

When the audience finally settled in the formal program began. The half dozen men in suits who’d been milling around the front of the hall now spoke in turn from the podium. The invocation came from a chaplain, said to be a former combat medic, who thanked the lord that we’d all been able “to serve America in a time of conflict.” He then adlibbed a gushing aside in praise of the ranking dignitary who’d come to address us, Maine’s very own Tea Party governor, Paul LePage, whose face had been on high beam since the moment he’d arrived. Next the director of the Togus VA delivered rapid fire four or five different ways to thank us for our service, punctuated by as many god-bless-yous, then moved solemnly from the podium and intoned, “If you are able, stand, so we are able to thank you.” Applause all around.

Next the lights were dimed, and we were treated to a four minute film flaunting the Vietnam War’s most anachronistic theme, MIAs, the fallen soldiers left behind whose remains are missing. Entitled, Not Forgotten, the film tells the story of a woman whose marine husband was among the MIAs. In a brief opening scene a young Asian boy, his ball cap on backwards, floats on a dugout in a watery setting. He snags a wedding ring strung on a set of dog tags and shows them to his father, who wears a conical hat (hint: we’re in Vietnam). “They’re from your grandfather’s war, they belonged to an American marine,” he tells the boy with the self-assurance of a crime scene investigator. The action shifts to the interior of a comfortable home somewhere in the heartland, where, through one lace curtained window a POW/MIA flag is seen flapping proudly against the dwelling’s exterior siding. A bereavement team, one black man, one white, has come to return these sacred objects, which allows the widow “to find the closure she’s been seeking for more than forty years.”

One feels deep sympathy for such a victim, of course, even as the actress who portrays her is scripted to add her own wedding ring to the dog tag chain, then stare wistfully toward a distant past that fades into a final flashback. We are transported back to where the missing husband as a young marine faces the camera under the canopy of an ersatz jungle, and tenderly cradles the same dog dag chain in his hands. Then, kissing the ring, he turns abruptly and hurries off to his unhappy fate. Why this actor was not directed to actually look like a combat marine of the war or its time is this clip’s most absurd and glaring flaw. Dressed in jungle fatigues strung with web gear, the actor sports a millennial goatee and has a full and wavy head of hair. But forget the film’s wink-if-you-get-it clumsy symbolism, the hocus pocus forensics of the Asian man in the conical hat, the locations that look like glades of central Florida ferns far from the bamboo boarded rice paddies of South East Asia, the hirsute, whiskered marine whose image would surely disturb any jarhead purist who ever spouted semper fi, the film is a minor propaganda gem, and Governor LePage wants to tell the Pentagon exactly where it should be distributed.

“I want to show that film to every grade school student in the state,” LePage boomed as he stepped to the microphone. And I immediately shuddered thinking how this web of manipulation might ensnare my own rebel nine year old granddaughter trapped in her third grade classroom. I’ve put aside a history box to give her when she shows the first signs of maturity, so she’ll have a shot at sorting out the complexities of her grandfather’s war. As for her classmates, who can predict how a given individual will process indoctrination into the myth of the nation’s righteous trail of blood. Obviously the commemorators could give a shit about what these kids know or think about Vietnam; it’s all about the next war, that’s the one a patriotic scoundrel like LePage is always cheering for.

Half the voters in Maine love LePage, the man who was Trump’s Trump several dismal years before the 2016 presidential election. In that short span of years, politics in Maine has been transformed, and, if anyone was paying attention, foreshadowed the blue collar uprising in other regions where the Democrats had been traditionally strong, then handed the White House to a man who causes me to scratch my head each morning and imagine that I now inhabit some Alternative Reality. In Maine, LePage is in his second term, and there can be no doubt that, overwhelmingly, the veterans at Togus this morning are his strong supporters. You can read it in LePage’s body language. He’s so happy to be here he’s beside himself. I’d never witnessed LePage before in person, but this is not the bombastic persona he shares with the public on the nightly newscasts, when you might hear him shade an issue that infects the whole nation, like the epidemic rise in opiate addiction, in racial overtones. The drug pushers, you know, are “men of color” who come up from Massachusetts, rape and impregnate our white girls; he has proof, but it’s a secret.

A bit sheepishly, LePage – seemingly against type the only well-tailored male among the suits in the room – confesses that he did not serve because he was in college. “It was difficult to be on campus with people everywhere protesting the war,” he grimaces. That might have been his first clue. Not for LePage. He sidesteps the true object of campus unrest, and tells his veteran audience that the protesting students “were condemning you for defending your families while you were fighting to protect their freedoms.” Maybe LePage wasn’t in the foxhole next to you, but he had your back on campus by getting “into a few fist fights,” because he found the protesters so “embarrassing” he had to pound a few of them.

This had all the earmarks of the apocryphal and wishful memory of a congenital bully. LePage blows hard and missteps often, but for an instant he now stood shamefaced. Maybe it actually struck him that he’d just equated his brawling on campus with our wartime service in Vietnam. He’d muddied the waters. By giving prominence to the campus protest, he had strayed from the monolithic commemorative theme that there was nothing wrong with the Vietnam War. He quickly dialed back to the consoling message around which this spectacle had been organized, one, presumably, that those gathered had by now become accustomed to hearing. LePage found his exit line. Tch tching loud enough to be heard in the next building, he looked us over and delivered: “What a shame it was the way the American people treated you.”

In compensation for being burdened with this shameful indignity we were invited to come forward and receive a commemorative pin, a metal trinket stamped with the fierce visage of an eagle and inscribed in lettering few aging eyes could read without specs, “a grateful nation thanks and honors you.” To this was added a square of supermarket cake, iced with the words, ‘Welcome Home.’ I was determined to engage with more members of this audience, but the hall drained quickly. I went looking first in the cafeteria where an empty table with a single place setting memorializes American MIAs, the way a disembodied Elijah is honored at a Seder with an empty chair. No Nam hats, no other telltale regalia in sight. I walked along several corridors leading to medical services, entered the main waiting room. Their event was over. No VA related reason to linger? They were gone.

If I’d gotten the chance, I would have asked anyone of these veterans to tell me in his own words why he’d come today. I was curious if, outside the box of mind-deadening and infantilizing rhetoric in which we had been confined, I’d find an individual who had reflected beyond the woes of our alleged mistreatment on, say, what we had inflicted on the Vietnamese?   Surely this shallow recognition ritual hadn’t anesthetized the memories and sealed the tongues of every one of them? Would any of them think as I did that our betrayal came, not from how we were treated on coming home – a narrative that smacks of urban myth – but from being sent to Vietnam in the first place?

Settle Down

Photo by Shardayyy | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Shardayyy | CC BY 2.0

“Oh, I’ve plenty of time. My time is entirely my own.”

-Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

 What does it mean to “settle down”, in today’s political landscape? Let me be clear, I’m not referring to the way the term was used by our teachers in school, as a sneered, patronizing declaration to submit and obey: “Settle down, boys and girls!” Neither do I mean to “settle” in the sense of taking what one can get, selling out one’s values for some feeble, abstract compromise.

Rather, it occurs to me that settling down with oneself, and one’s community, is just about the most radical stance a person can take these days. Whatever do I mean by this? Part of what I’m referring to here is cultivating a healthy inner life. Having a sense of contentedness, equanimity, patience, inner peace, and wild-eyed wonder at the beauty our world has to offer.

Our society must learn to slow down, to be present in each moment. Only then can citizens parse through the immense piles of bullshit our political elites foist upon us each day. Instead of reacting (often with feigned surprise and outrage) at each and every tragedy and crisis the corporations and the government is behind, concerned citizens and protest movements must begin to go on the offensive.

This will require a unified front among Leftists and activists, and an understanding that the piecemeal approach which mainstream non-profits, social justice groups, and protesters operate under must be reevaluated, reconfigured, and new strategies must be invented.

A sense of duty, care, compassion, and collective responsibility for the planet and the meek of the Earth must be stoked among leaders in civil society. This may require radicals and activists to step back from the maelstrom of contemporary life in certain senses: to set examples by not jet-setting around the globe regularly, to give up luxury consumer items in solidarity with the working classes, etc.

Healthy food, continuing one’s education throughout life, being fulfilled in work and in play, learning to appreciate nature, and developing a spiritual practice are just a few basics. Mainstream American culture does everything it can to distract, obfuscate, and distort every conceivable path towards personal and collective enlightenment among its citizens. This culture of speed, of being unable to hold attention, this mindset of Amusing Ourselves to Death, must be confronted.

Computers, TV, cell phones, social media, video games, and now virtual reality technology are zombifying the average US citizen more and more as each day passes. Rather than providing a lens to understand and interpret current affairs, provide a way to engage and study world cultures, and develop critical thinking skills, our omnipresent screens have become our captors, distracting us with loads of useless information, lowest-common denominator pop culture, and vapid Hollywood movies.

How can citizens fight such an all-pervading degradation of values, art, and culture? Literally, part of what I refer to by settling means sitting on the ground, and being still. Also, walking barefoot on the soil, our mother Earth, will help people understand how to resist. It’s no surprise that many mental health professionals are now advising their patients to take walks in nature or working at tasks like gardening en lieu of prescribing pharmaceuticals. This burgeoning field has been dubbed ecotherapy.

(There are other things that can help. Here’s an abridged version of some personal experiences which have helped me settle down: meditation helps put my mind at ease. So does responsible use of cannabis and psilocybin. Good sex, of course. If you’re traveling in the US, getting away from civilization to recharge is a good place to start. Fishing by a stream worked wonders for me in the Great Smokies. Fasting in the Mojave was a revelation. Sitting and watching the fog roll into a redwood forest was a transcendental experience.)

What kind of advice did you expect from an eco-freak like me, a tree-hugging dirt-worshipper? It is possible to draw strength from the planet, as well as lovers and friends and plant and animal allies, after all. All indigenous societies and Earth-centered communities understand this instinctively, implicitly. For comatose Westerners, it will require stretching and reawakening their enfeebled imaginations. The Earth is alive, teeming with life, and always has been: small children know this, but mass culture has brainwashed us as we’ve grown up to believe otherwise.

Settling also means each of us has to learn how to become rooted in one’s community, state, and nation: growing a stable and harmonious identity, a sense of belongingness, and a meaningful culture. In this sense, settling in one’s community becomes taking a stand: if local resilience and environmental education is built up in your town or city, democratic consensus and citizen action can prevent corporations from buying up local businesses, bulldozing lots for huge real estate projects, and polluting with abandon.

Pacts within communities to promote some sort of egalitarian redistribution of wealth to decrease inequality will foster higher levels of trust, friendship, and reciprocity. Deconstructing capitalist multinationals and replacing them with worker-owned cooperatives is another necessary step, as workers living in the vicinity of factories are less likely to allow for environmentally-dangerous industrial practices. Providing a universal basic income, along with universal health care, even if at first only on a local or state level, would allow the rest of us in the US to see the benefits with a clear gaze, unfiltered by ideology and dogma.

Rules for increasing the percentages of women and minorities in government and the workforce would certainly promote a healthier public sphere. Switching to systems of proportional representation for elections would benefit third parties and allow for new ideas to take hold. Laws for conversion of agriculture to fully organic, non-GMO, pesticide and herbicide free food would uplift people’s spirits and drastically reduce preventable diseases and increase life spans.  Converting more people to eating less meat, especially red meat, will slow the razing of our tropical rainforests. Every town and city will have to convert to renewable energy to soften the impact of global warming, which is slated to raise temperatures about 3-4 degrees Celsius and raise the sea level about eight feet by 2100. These are relatively conservative estimates, by the way.

Personal transformation will have to go hand in hand with citizen-led, community based environmental and socially-oriented education. This will require teachers who will help us remember how to feel comfortable in our own skin, free from the dramas of judgment and victimhood that our culture imposes on us.

Our relationship to the land must change. European settlers who arrived in the New World assumed that land could be owned, and most descendents here in the US still agree. European colonists and later US pioneers had their very own urge for Lebensraum, which accelerated in 19th century America, and was dubbed Manifest Destiny. This destructive, inflexible European ethnocentric outlook has to be defeated. Please read a wonderful Russell Means speech about these issues here.

Most US citizens are sadly still strangers to the continent they live on. In general, the West and the US have become spiritually impoverished. Rather than owning land, we can learn to become stewards, caretakers of the planet, for the brief time each of us is here. For Americans, increasing ecological awareness is key, and to survive, we will have to learn from indigenous, Native American traditions, and Westerners must rediscover and embrace their lost indigenous souls.

We are living in a critical time to determine the planet’s future. As Fritjof Capra foretold, humanity has arrived at The Turning Point. Ecological thresholds are being approached as amounts of desertification, topsoil loss, deforestation, ocean acidification, and atmospheric CO₂ rise year after year. If China and India attempt to industrialize to the levels of Western Europe and the US, it’s essentially game over for continual, steady levels of food production as well as climate stability.

Here we are, at the crossroads. Restraint, humbleness, and compassion must reemerge as key values for our descendants to have a chance at a prosperous future. Global capitalism, a combination of gluttonous consumerism and breakneck speed energy and financial flows, must be thrown out the window. This will in some cases mean monkey-wrenching the machine, and destroying private property. So be it. The conversion to a steady-state, de-growth, equilibrium economy is long overdue.

 

Stressed, burnt out, with savings tapped out, and overworked from the hustle of corporate America, we are approaching a breaking point. There is a lot of work ahead of us, too. Citizens can find the time, if we make time. That is to say, if our society can dare to imagine a system where time itself does not enslave us. So, lose that wrist watch and cell phone for a day or a hundred, if you can. Take that camping trip with your family you talked about. Live simpler. Love harder. Stop for a minute, and stare into the abyss which is global capitalism, imperialism, and systematic habitat destruction. Listen to the wind, the rocks and soil, rushing water, a crackling fire. One can find answers by keeping still and listening. As a poor, pacifist carpenter once said: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Ratf*ck A Go Go! Atlanticists and MI5 Go After Trump!

Photo by Jake Cunningham | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Jake Cunningham | CC BY 2.0

I try to keep a certain distance from the anti-Trump circus.  But I do want to put some thoughts on record, given the obsession with Trump’s Russia connection and what I see is a determined effort to minimize the British/NATO angle in the attack on Trump.

My personal feeling is that there are significant swaths of the European establishment that derive their mission and meaning from serving as allies to the United States in an anti-Trump effort: the British government and intelligence services, NATO, various right-leaning European governments, their think tanks, in other words, the Atlanticists.

They didn’t like Trump because he was more interested in dealing directly and positively with Russia on matters of US strategic concern in the Middle East and Asia and much less interested in perfecting the Atlanticist Euro-centric anti-Russian containment/deterrence apparatus and backing crazy EU/NATO expansion stunts like the Ukraine operation.

Perhaps similar to Trump’s interest in dealing with China instead of doing pivot.  Difference is, Atlanticist lobby is much more entrenched in Washington, the NATO alliance is miles ahead of the “box of sand” Asian containment network, and Great Britain is America’s primary intelligence partner.

So I think people over the pond, particularly in Europe, were interested in feeding documentation on Trump’s murky Russia connections to his opponents, and especially on behalf of Hillary Clinton, who is very much an Atlanticist fave.  Effort was pretty low key at first because nobody expected Trump to get anywhere, but things picked up when he got the nomination, and then shifted into apesh*t crazytime when he got the presidency.

The British link is there for all to see in the notorious Steele dossier.  What people don’t want to see is the inference that Steele was either getting dirt from MI5/GCHQ or is simply a cut-out for a British effort.

I should say the possibility that the UK intelligence service may have been deeply involved in preparing the brief against Trump does not elicit an urge from me to spontaneously genuflect concerning the accuracy of the evidence.  I daresay psyops—packaging and releasing selective intel and innuendo at opportune times through deniable channels for maximum effect–is a core mission of British spookdom, as is making up utter crap, like the notorious “dodgy dossier” on Saddam Hussein.

An interesting datapoint is the Guardian leg-humping a story about Michael Flynn having conversations with a Russian-English historian causing “concern” to “US and UK officials”.   The only useful conclusion from this farrago, as far as I can tell, is that a) investigating Things Flynn was an official US-UK joint and not just Christopher Steele lunching Russian emigres in Grosvenor Square and b) the UK press is doing a similar tag teaming with US media to sell Trump/Russia like it pitched in with the US to sell Saddam/Iraq.

And the Guardian is doing it this time!  You’ve come a long way, baby!

The mega-uproar over the “GCHQ tapped Trump” story was, to me, quite interesting, for the massive full-court pushback it elicited and the grudging backdown from the Trump administration.

If the story proved out true, it would be a disaster for the UK.

On the institutional level, confirmation that US investigatory and intel outfits resorted to GCHQ to, shall we say, supplement collection related to US citizens and *ahem* circumvent US laws would lead to demands for that bane of all spook prerogatives, oversight and perhaps a committee to review requests for intel exchange between the US and GCHQ before they happened (I recall reading that currently the NSA can reach into Five Eyes servers and pull out whatever it wants whenever it wants; it would be fun to find out in open testimony if that actually happens!).

On the political level, it would be hard to escape the imputation that Great Britain was conducting politically-motivated collection/querying/handover of intel concerning disfavored US politicians and officials, and that the English bulldog was INTERFERING IN AMERICA’S SACRED ELECTIONS, you know, like a certain country, name begins with R ends with A led by a guy name begins with P ends with N is allegedly doing.

It would be interesting to see how the public relations fracas on terms of “Putin trolls pushed fake news on Facebook” vs. “GCHQ pushed fake news into the FBI” would play.

GCHQ/MI5’s powerful capabilities and their slavish eagerness to put them at the service of the US are the glittering jewels in the tattered collar of the British poodle.  If GCHQ becomes a “normal” intelligence interlocutor of the US—with the added stigma of having engaged in politicized active measures on behalf of US factions—then the UK risks dropping to parity with *gasp* Germany as another arm’s length partner.

Fox’s alacrity in yanking some guy called “Judge Nap” for publicizing the GCHQ surveillance allegations was interesting.  You might expect Fox would be keen to push this rather provocative and open-ended talking point to provide some aid and comfort to Trump and ride a ratings-boosting angle.  But Fox shut Nap down!

Wonder if Rupert Murdoch got the call from the UK government that any encouragement of this kind of tittle-tattle would call down the wrath of the British government on Rupert’s extensive media holdings in Britain.

Well, with Judge Nap in the cooler, I doubt any other Fox commentators will be too interested in pursuing that allegation.

And maybe the US intel community told Trump he’d be gone in a heartbeat if he threatened to compromise the US-GB special spook relationship to save his skin.  So he backed off.

If Trump falls on his ass I expect that will provide the political cover for some discrete “now it can be told” bragging about how the Atlanticist band of brothers joined hands to defeat the Russian menace.  If Trump hangs on, it just goes into the secret museum of US-UK ratf*cking operations.

The Filth of Lucre: Trump’s Presidency

The American people should rise in condemnation, scorn, ridicule, at what has happened to its government and leadership. Super-wealth has become a political factor in guiding and planning policy, carrying a vision of destruction to the pillars of a democratic society in fulfillment of class interests and selfish contempt for the needs of others. America has never witnessed barbarism of such proportions before, a single-minded obsession with riches, which has been translated into power in a self-enclosed process of capital accumulation via the nymphomaniacal pursuit of opportunity, profit, possessiveness.

Webster’s Ninth Collegiate defines filth as, among other things, moral corruption or defilement, and lucre, as monetary gain, a far better moral indictment of Trump’s transmogrification of the commonweal than anything offered thus far by the Democrats and the millions of Americans who elected and still praise him. Godliness and riches form an organic bond. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said it best: “I think one of the really interesting things that people are going to see today—and I think it is something that should be celebrated—is that the president has brought a lot of people into this administration, and this White House in particular, who have been very blessed and very successful.” It is blessed (Webster’s, to hallow or consecrate by religious rite or word; to invoke divine care for) to be successful, conversely, successful to be blessed—a Trumpian self-righteous bowdlerization of humanistic ethics, not to say that of religious values and social teachings.

There is no mathematical algorithm (unfortunately) for judging wealth excessive and injurious to society under a rampant capitalist order (one reason socialism and democratization still tug at the heartstrings of many people in the world), but surely America has set an example of pure evil, much of which had remained undetected until the advent of Trump’s presidency, for the individuals involved well after the head-start made. Trump had himself, family, associates, even those known only by reputation, ready-to-hand, to assemble a billionaire’s circle to run the government and society. Plutocracy doesn’t do it, not strong enough a term: government by the wealthy, a controlling class of the wealthy. We enter, instead, the realm of ECONOMIC FASCISM. Worse still is the ignorance and smugness, generically and literally, the desire to get away with murder, convinced they will never be prosecuted or suffer humiliation.

Economic fascism requires political fascism for its implementation, a structural negation of what governments are expected to do, preserve the transparency of government, ensure the fairness of the legal order, respect the principle of equality in all matters affecting the public—the foregoing merely a bare minimum of the bourgeois state and society, and not even raising the standard of socialism. In fact, long-antedating Trump, and as practiced by both major parties, proto-fascistic tendencies have been long in the making, internationally, evidenced by war, intervention, efforts at regime change, confrontation with Russia, China, and Third World socialism, and contemptuous treatment of climate-change dangers, and domestically, a long list in desecration and denigration of all things placing the needs of the public before and above the needs of capitalism. I include here violations of the right of privacy, a more-than-adequate system of medical care, the safeguarding of the environment, and the allocation of the nation’s resources and wealth to improvement of people’s well-being, rather than to a military machine insatiable in its demands and, not happenstance, soaking up the social surplus so as to prevent its being plowed back into the needs of society, especially that of the poor, the unemployed, the growing number of homeless.

That is fascism enough, or its excellent starting place, and now, Trump’s systemic escalation adds fuel to the fire of suffering while establishing the basis—itself also long in the making—of economic fascism, a floodgate of vested interests both on their own and taking command of government, appointees who are specialists in tearing down the regulations provided by the agencies and departments they administer: carte blanche for still greater capital accumulation and the spoliation of what they despise, as in the case of the coal industry and climate change. Economic fascism speaks here not simply to the organization of industrial and other fronts, as under Nazism, but, antitrust a dead letter in any case, particularly the financial sector, but the active dismantlement of government itself in its regulatory capacity. The State and Capitalism become one for purposes of mutual support and fending off opposition, a business polity or commonwealth all else of secondary concern. And now, the billionaires are coming out of the woodwork.

The New York Times (April 1), based on material released the night before, self-reported wealth of officeholders (the president apparently exempted) which I surmise has been consistently under-reported, and had the care and scrutiny of teams of topflight lawyers and accountants, reveals a picture disturbing enough as it stands. The reporters, Jesse Drucker, Eric Lipton, and Maggie Haberman, writing, “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner [Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, both now officially part of the administration] Still Benefiting From Business Empire, Filings Show,” begin by observing, the couple “will remain the beneficiaries of a sprawling real estate and investment business still worth as much as $740 million, despite their new government responsibilities,” and this fails to include Ivanka Trump’s other holdings, well in the millions, a stake in a hotel in Washington near the White House, fashion lines, etc. Divesture for them and the some 180 senior officials in the administration whose assets were reported (already in sheer numbers presumptive evidence of a plutocracy), is problematic and often shrouded in mystery.

Gary Cohn, former president of Goldman Sachs, and now head of the National Economic Council, has “assets valued between $253 million and $611 million [the enormous spread here is illustrative of the examples cited, which argues that self-reporting of assets is not to be trusted, being even greater than cited], and income last year as high as $77 million.” Kellyanne Conway, the pollster and counsel to Trump, “earned at least $842, 614 last year, and perhaps slightly more, the filings show. Her assets are valued at between $11 million and at least $44.2 million.” (Again, the obvious spread.) Her husband has taken an appointment with the administration. And then there is Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, who has more going for him financially in right-wing circles especially than I can enumerate, including support from Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, for his holdings in Breitbart News Network, Cambridge Analytica, and the Government Accountability Institute, all paying Bannon handsomely in salaries and consulting fees. His Bannon Strategic Advisers Inc. “was valued at between $5 million and $25 million.”

As one goes further, one sees a similar picture, names unknown to the general public, for example, “Reed Cordish, who heads up technology initiatives, accumulated assets as a Maryland developer valued as high as $424 million,” or Christopher Liddell, presidential assistant and director of strategic initiatives, who “had been the chief financial officer of companies including Microsoft, International Paper and General Motors before taking his White House job.” Liddell owned stock in GM, “among more than 750 other companies.” Thus, the dramatis personae of the Trump administration: it is not my purpose to incite to class riots, but surely this is a picture offensive to everything America claims to stand for, a society beneficent, habitable to ordinary people, a land of freedom and social justice. How explain the grossest maldistribution of wealth in American history, and, to my way of thinking, acquiescence to this on the part of large numbers of Americans and a Leader in command of the nuclear arsenal while conducting worldwide exercises in counterrevolution?

I am no longer young, or for that matter, well, but our fights a half-century and more ago for civil rights, peace, disarmament, international understanding, took place in a very different America, where protest, demonstrations, opposition, was expressed and openly honored by many, even in the political community, and where one felt causes were worth fighting for, joined by like-minded individuals. I cannot say as much today, an electorate that brought Trump into office, that watches as the most innocuous reforms, like Meals on Wheels, are being scrapped, a nation too satiated with false consciousness to be shocked any longer by what is happening. Perhaps Vietnam previewed the decline of the American spirit, yet the mindset has grown far worse since then, epitomized by a Trump, his loyal followers, an indifferent America, none appreciating what that mindset is leading to, or silently applauding because democracy is too difficult a strain to live up to or bear, a fascistization of structure, politics, culture, leaving little room for rebirth as a society dedicated to human freedom for all its people.