Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?

Israel has created a terrible problem which it is incapable of solving. That is why it has always been the case that the United States must pretty much dictate a solution, but it is unable to do so, paralyzed as it is by the heavy influence of Israel and America’s own apologists and lobbyists.

Trump’s suggestion of a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is welcomed by some because Israel’s settler policy is said to have made two states impossible, as it was most certainly intended to do. However, a little reflection on hard facts makes it clear that a one-state solution is just as impossible.

A single-state solution would be acceptable to all reasonable minds, but you only have to follow the news to know that Israel contains a good many unreasonable minds. Its early advocates and founders were, quite simply, fanatics, and its policies and attitudes were shaped by that fanaticism.

The Israeli establishment could simply not accept a Palestinian population with equal rights and the franchise as part of Israel. They could not do so because they have embraced an almost mystical concept of Israel as “the Jewish state.” Of course, the de facto reality of today’s combined population of Israel and its occupied territories is that Palestinians, who importantly include not just Muslims but many Christians, are already about half of the total.

And there are physical realities forming huge barriers against a single state, things of which many people are not aware. Very importantly, fertility rates in Arab populations are considerably higher than in the European Ashkenazi population which forms Israel’s elite. That has nothing to do with ethnic characteristics. It is a result of much lower levels of affluence influencing the behavior of people having children. It is a universal reality we see.

That’s why Arabic populations are such relatively young populations with a high proportion of children. When Israel bombs a place like Gaza or Lebanon, as it does periodically, it always kills many hundreds of children because they make a big share of the population. An advanced country like Japan has low fertility and traditionally is averse to much migration. It faces a future with an aging and declining population.

All older European and North American countries have fertility rates too low to replace their otherwise declining populations. America or France or Israel or similar states simply do not have enough babies to replace their populations. That’s a fundamental reality of advanced, affluent society. People with rich, demanding lives do not have large numbers of children, anywhere, knowing, as they do, that the few they do have will almost certainly survive and will better thrive with more concentrated resources.

That’s the real reason behind most countries’ immigration policies, not generosity or kindness. But, of course, Israel has a serious problem with immigration, too. As the “Jewish state” it is open to only one category of migrant, and that category of people makes a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Further, most of that tiny fraction live in comfortable, affluent places, far more desirable to live in than Israel – places like America, Canada, Australia, Britain, France, etc.

A single-state Israel would combine low fertility Europeans with higher fertility Arabic people, thus creating a long-term trajectory for a minority-Jewish state, a reality which would be repellent to all conservative Jews and many others, in light of the founding notion of Israel as a refuge from believed widespread anti-Semitism, plus the vaguely-defined but emotionally-loaded notion of a “Jewish state,” and, still further, the biblical myths of God’s having given the land exclusively to Jews.

You simply cannot make rational sense out of that bundle of attitudes and prejudices, yet you cannot get a rational solution to a massive problem otherwise, a problem, it should be noted, of Israel’s own deliberate making in the Six Day War. Likely, when Israel’s leadership started that war, they calculated that Palestinians would come to feel so miserable under occupation that they’d just pick up and leave over time. Moshe Dayan, one of the architects of the war, actually spoke along those very lines of keeping the Palestinians miserable so they would leave. But their calculations were wrong. Most people, anywhere, do not pick-up and leave their native place. Otherwise the world would a constant whirlwind of migrations.

Although Israel does not discuss the relative population growth rate situation in public, authorities and experts there are keenly aware of the reality. It is difficult to imagine them ever embracing a single state for this reason. When you found a state on ideology and myths, as Israel was founded, you very soon bump up against some unhappy realities.

So, if there is not to be a Palestinian state, what are Israel’s other options? There seem to be only two.

One is to deport all or most Palestinians, an ugly idea which is probably also unworkable, although it has very much seriously been discussed among educated Israelis periodically. Apart from the Nazi-like connotations around such an act, who, on earth, is going to take literally millions of people from Israel? In the past, Israeli ideologues have seriously suggested both the country of Jordan and parts of Egypt contiguous with Israel as possibilities.

Can any realistic person believe those states stand ready to take millions of people in? No, of course not, but that hasn’t stopped the ideologues of Israel from going back to the idea again and again. Of course, there is the pure ethical problem of moving millions against their wills and seizing all their property, but ethics have not never featured large in Israel’s policies from the beginning.

The other solution is to re-create apartheid South Africa’s Bantustans, little enclaves of land with often undesirable characteristics into which you crowd all the people that you don’t want and declare that these are their new countries. We see this already in Israel, notably in Gaza, which really is a giant refugee camp much resembling a concentration camp with high fences and automated machine-gun towers surrounding it, the residents being permitted almost no freedom of movement or even economic activity, as for example Gaza’s fishermen being fired on by Israeli gunboats if they stray even slightly beyond tight boundaries in the sea.

The world would not long tolerate that approach no matter how much influence the United States might unfairly exert. After all, for a long time, the United States protected and cooperated with apartheid South Africa, always regarding it as an important bulwark against communism, anti-communism being the fervent secular religion of the day in America. This was so much the case that it even overlooked what it absolutely had to know about, apartheid South Africa’s acquisition of a small arsenal of nuclear weapons with the assistance of Israel, Israel always being keen to keep good access to South Africa’s mineral wealth.

Clearly, those two options are not solutions. Realities absolutely demand either a legitimate two-state solution – which Israel’s leaders have never truly accepted while giving it time-buying lip-service – or a one-state solution which is probably even more unacceptable to Israel’s leaders and much of its population, guaranteeing, as it does, the eventual minority status of Jews.

Israel has itself created a terrible problem which it is incapable of solving. That is why it has always been the case that the United States must pretty much dictate a solution, but it is unable to do so, paralyzed as it is by the heavy influence of Israel and America’s own apologists and lobbyists.

So, in effect, the world just goes around and around on this terrible problem, never doing anything decisive. The macabre dance of Israel and the United States we’ve had for decades yields today’s de facto reality of Israel as nothing more but nothing less than a protected American colony in the Middle East, one in which all kinds of international norms and laws are completely suspended, one where millions live with nor rights and no citizenship. But, after all, colonies have never been places where the rule of law and human rights prevail, have they? Never.

The Parallax View of Donald Trump

Thanks to the president’s press conference last week—broadcast live from the bridge of USS Caine (“Ahh, but the strawberries that’s… that’s where I had them…”)—the only political topic of conversation that matters is when and how President Donald Trump will leave office.

Conventional thinking has the Republican majority in Congress rising up in indignation, pouring over purloined tax returns for princely emoluments from some suspect foreign power, and then joining the Democrats to remove Trump from the highest office.

Those who like their morning coffee with some conspiracy have Trump going down as a Manchurian president, done in by the revelation not just that Putin tilted the electoral wheels with the connivance of the disgraced General Michael Flynn, but that Trump’s entourage is a cell of fellow travellers, in office to pay off the venture capital that Putin spread around Trump Inc. when Donald had to turn to the Russian mob for a payday loan.

The problem with both paths from power is that they assume an orderly transition, based on precedent and succession clauses in the Constitution, not an assassination worthy of Cesarian Rome (“Et tu, Mitch?”) or some of the slow poisons mixed into the sacraments that have been known to speed change among the popes.

Alas, palace intrigue in Washington is as American as the Bill of Rights, which may explain why so many plotters come as if a well-armed militia.

* * *

According to the storyboards used in most high schools (not to mention by cable commentators), American democracy is the last, best-hope on earth—the munificent bequest of the founding fathers—and a paradise exempt from palace revolutions, coups, putsches, cabals, nights of the long knives, and seizures of the radio station. After all, we’re not Guatemala or Sierra Leone.

Consistent with the brochures passed out at Independence Hall, the United States only replaces its leaders after sober deliberations and presidential debates—with Wolf Blitzer moderating.

If Trump is to leave office before his term expires, it should only be according to the rules established in the Constitution, which has two sections dealing with the removal of the president from office. Article Two states:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Then there is the 25th Amendment, which, in part, reads:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Since 1789, when the Constitution was ratified, no president has been convicted of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Nor since 1967, when the 25th Amendment passed, has a president been deemed incompetent and removed by a cabinet camarilla (plus a doctor’s note).

That said, the United States has turned palace revolutions into a political art, so that many presidencies have been swept away, as if by Medici daggers. In the last 238 years, presidents—many as incompetent as Donald Trump, if not worse—have been shot, blackmailed, threatened, and bullied until they left office.

One in three presidencies have ended before their time, which explains how and why many of those who have risen to the highest office have done so on the back of illness, assassination, black ops, and other instruments of the putsch.

I know, I know, you want to believe that American democracy is among the oldest on the planet, and that our leaders are descended from Athenian idealism, not Bohemian defenestration.

The norm for much of American history, however, is that when some elements of the republic don’t like the choice made at the ballot box, they overthrow the president—by fair means or murder most foul.

By Trump’s reasoning, he’s serving on a four-year contract, as called for in the Constitution. In truth, he has the job security of an NFL cornerback, who can be cut anytime “to clear cap space” for the ruling class.

* * *

For those who don’t buy the theory that the United States is a gated, banana republic, let’s have a review of a few presidencies, starting with Abraham Lincoln’s, that came to premature endings:

—As everyone knows, Lincoln was assassinated, and the co-conspirators of gunman John Wilkes Booth could well have filled another Ford Theater, as they included not just fellow assassins (who also shot William Seward), but horse handlers, doctors, and proprietors of safe houses in rural Maryland and Virginia.

—Andrew Johnson, after Lincoln, served out his term, although he was impeached and only survived because his supporters set up a slush fund of $150,000 to buy swing votes at theSenate impeachment trial. (Not something you read about in Profiles in Courage.)

—The presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes was over almost as it began, as true ballot fraud (not those mythical buses rolling into New Hampshire) put him in office.

—James Garfield, who succeeded Hayes, was shot early in his term by Charles Guiteau, who (at least in his deranged fantasies) was closely allied with Vice-President Chester Arthur’s patronage party.

When he pulled the trigger at the Baltimore and Potomac railroad station in Washington, D.C., Guiteau shouted: “I am a Stalwart, and Arthur will be President!” And he was, to the delight of fix-it man Roscoe Conkling.

—An anarchist from the Midwest, Leon Czolgosz, murdered President William McKinley in 1901, allowing—in the words of political boss Mark Hanna—“that damned cowboy” (Teddy Roosevelt) to become president.

—Roosevelt, himself, while campaigning in 1912 against William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson, was shot but not killed.

—Warren Harding died in office in summer 1923, while barnstorming the country. His quackish doctor, Charles “Doc” Sawyer, at first thought he had eaten bad shellfish in Alaska. Others thought maybe he was poisoned, although later it became evident that Harding suffered from heart disease.

Conspiracists, however, do wonder why the ailing U.S. president got so little professional care in the last days of his life (he died in a San Francisco hotel suite), as was the case in 1945 when President Franklin Roosevelt became ill and died in Warm Springs.

—President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963. Even though his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, had connections to the FBI, CIA, Russia, and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (if not Ted Cruz’s father), he was consigned to the dustbin of history as a “lone gunman,” a species of agitation unique to American politics.

—In summer 1974, Richard Nixon resigned during his second term, the victim of his own paranoia and Watergate-related crimes, but with a shove out the door from unelected co-conspirators in the FBI (see Throat, Deep), CIA, the Washington Post, and other stalwarts in the capital.

—The Iranian hostage crisis cost Jimmy Carter his presidency, and in 1981 another assassin (also of the lone gunman persuasion) shot and seriously wounded President Ronald Reagan, although he survived and stayed in office.

—Technically a cabal did not remove President George W. Bush but lifted him to power, thanks to the good offices of a compliant Supreme Court, which did not trust Floridians to recount the contested ballots in the 2000 presidential election.

My point with all these examples is that, for a country that prides itself on the so-called “democratic process” and all that Inauguration Day, CNN hogwash about “the peaceful transfer of power,” many presidencies have begun or ended because of assassins, conspirators, plotters, stalwarts, witch doctors, or bureaucratic coups d’état, all of which ought to give Trump pause whenever bad shellfish are on the menu at Mar-a-Lago or an anarchist heads his way.

* * *

What are the chances that someone will shoot Trump? Let’s hope they are poor. In the bloodstream of democracy, assassinations are a toxin, more fit for Czarist Russia or some African country with a near-endless supply of ambitious colonels.

What is remarkable in American history is that the republic has survived so many gun attacks on its highest elected officials. Overall, there have been more than twenty attempts on the lives of American presidents.

The hope is that the president travels safely in the bubble of Secret Service protection. That said, I am sure Trump’s erratic behavior, in his first month of office, has given pause to his protectors, who no doubt have had to scramble whenever he decides to dump his press pool and, say, play golf or head to a local restaurant.

Nor can I imagine that the Secret Service is happy that his weekend residences are a Florida beach club (still raffling membership to anyone with two-hundred grand) and a New York apartment building, where it must be difficult to endlessly check visitors and their guests (as opposed, say, to Camp David on its own military reservation).

I could well imagine that a growing preoccupation among Trump’s security detail is how to keep him safe from armed drones, which presumably can find U.S. officials as easily as they can the ISIS or Taliban leadership. If Amazon or UPS can send a drone to your front door, so, too, presumably, can other retailers of anarchy.

* * *

More likely than a physical attack is that Trump will find himself at the sharp end of a silent coup, the kind of sting that the FBI and others in Washington ran against Richard Nixon. In that case, an embarrassing series of leaks were orchestrated to agitate the press and Congress to remove the President from office.

Who might organize such a plot against Donald Trump?

At the moment high on the list of potential conspirators would be the so-called Deep State of the intelligence agencies and corporate black holes around Washington that have a variety of grievances against Trump.

For starters, both the NSA and the CIA are now subject to criminal investigations over leaks that revealed compromising phones calls between General Flynn and the Russians.

Someone in one of the agencies leaked the contents of a phone call between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to Washington, revealing that the general had, in fact, discussed sanctions against Russia that the Obama administration had imposed after election tampering was confirmed in an FBI investigation.

I assume that nearly all of the intelligence agencies around Washington (there are some seventeen) are tapping the phone of the Russian ambassador (why else have bugs?), so that the search for the leaker will not be easy.

But when the usual suspects are rounded up and paraded to the stockade, you can be sure that the conflict will draw even sharper battle lines between Trump and the Parallax Corporation, the deadly front company at the center of the 1974 Alan Pakula political thriller.

More accomplices to the intrigue? Democrats in opposition—despairing that they don’t have the votes in the House to impeach (i.e., indict) or the votes in the Senate to convict—will no doubt turn to far-flung sources to find a “throw-down gun,” that is, “supplied” evidence that would make a conflict-of-interest conviction a lot easier.

For some conspirators the lowest-hanging dirt is probably the dealings of the Trump campaign in Russia, which is already the subject of an FBI investigation and various headline-chasing congressional committees. FBI Director Comey’s limousine, parked ominously in front of the capitol, cannot have been reassuring to the administration.

Some cabalists are hopeful that, by forcing the release of Trump’s taxes, other smoking guns might be found. Personally, I doubt anything in his taxes will bring down his presidency. Embarrass him? Sure, especially if he is not as rich as he boasted to those eager apprentices or if his taxes are a mountain of losses carried forward, from those moments when the “art of the deal” was to con shareholders, hedge funds, banks, et al. into paying for his many blunders.

The release of his tax forms would, however, give Trump’s opponents a road map to his fortune or to favors outstanding, especially if any foreign governments view the president as an in-the-money option.

More likely, there is be found among his many partners (his business model is to franchise the Trump brand name for a 30 percent stake in large projects) quasi-governmental pools of money from the Persian Gulf and Asia, so-called “sovereign” funds, which is how many emerging nations stash their money along Fifth Avenue.

What better place to hide money than in New York real estate, and who better to front the transaction than cable’s-own Donald Trump?

The emoluments clause in the Constitution, drafted in 1789, did not understand the essence of Russian flight capital in 2017 or how a New York real estate empire could be built on hot money from around world. But James Madison was well acquainted with earlier Donald Trumps, as when he wrote:

The stockjobbers will become the pretorian band of the Government, at once its tool and its tyrant; bribed by its largesses, and overawing it, by clamours and combinations.

Madison might have the explanation why the speculator is now betting on politics.

* * *

How does Trump go down?

For starters, expect to see street demonstrations continue to flourish (some may be spontaneous, others may have sponsors) and that many will target members of the House and Senate in vulnerable constituencies.

At the same time articles will circulate, mostly on the Internet, about Trump’s mental incapacities—his narcissism, fragmented speech patterns, paranoia, and detachment from reality. Get ready for a parade of online medical experts testifying about his dictatorial fantasies.

Aides will do their best to keep him from looking like Charles Foster (aka Citizen) Kane (“There’s only one person in the world who’s going to decide what I’m going to do and that’s me…”) or Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle (“Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets”), but the real Trump will never be offline for long.

Meanwhile, the White House will increasingly come to resemble Fort Apache or Little Bighorn, a lonely redoubt in Indian country. By that point, all those corporate CEOs in the cabinet will be taking long lunches and gossiping with their staff, while the government becomes a subsidiary of Trump, his immediate family, Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and the Steve Miller band of one true believer.

Every day in the press will come various leaks and documents all of which will be designed to make Trump look like a Russian dupe, swindler, inside trader, riverboat gambler, or confidence man.

Some of the leaks will become subject to congressional investigation at which point the many officials that Trump has fired (Flynn et al.) will take to the microphones with primetime anecdotes about his vanity, use of the Oval Office to peddle influence and condos, or sweethearts.

Just so the storyline is clear to a majority of Americans, Ben Affleck will direct a blockbuster movie about a president gone mad in office (Original Intent), and the country saved only by a crusading CIA agent (Ben Affleck), who has orders from shadowy bosses to take down the tyrant (Michael Douglas) and his mole of a Russian wife (Angelina Jolie, but without all the tatts).

Lacking a smoking gun indicating that the President actively conspired with Russia during the election or that he was personally aware of a Putin shell company with investments in a Trump development, Congress will cite numerous presidential aides for contempt of Congress until an independent prosecutor, Benjamin Civiletti, of Watergate fame, is appointed. (The revenge of the Democrats for Whitewater and Monica’s dress.)

On slow days for news, tearful women with Flashdance hairdos who now work as “personal trainers” will parade before the cameras and tell how Trump tried to entice them into the steam room at Mar-a-Lago.

Fed by every Trump-hating agency in Washington, the special prosecutor will have a field day picking apart the offal of Trump’s real estate speculations, not to mention the public company that fleeced investors of almost $1 billion.

Trump will refuse to allow either his family or senior staff to testify before Congress or the special prosecutor, citing executive privilege and even Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus to justify his refusal to cooperate, in what he deems to be “wartime”. To emphasize the point he will start wearing a uniform.

Although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be long gone, the Bannon praetorian guard will announce that Iran has concrete plans to attack Israel with long-range missiles, some of which—no one is quite sure—might be tipped with tactical nuclear weapons.

Several U.S. Navy fleets will be dispatched to the Persian Gulf while a Marine Corps brigade is flown into western Pakistan, between Quetta and the Iranian border. At the same time the CIA and several other intelligence agencies will leak to the press that the Trump administration has fabricated the readiness of Iranian missiles or that government’s rumors of war.

With the Supreme Court hearing evidence in the case Trump v. United States of America about the extent of executive privilege and how it applies to members of a president’s immediate family, the swing vote in the case will belong to the newest Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, who has made it known to his clerks that James Madison thought presidents “ought to be accountable” to the people (original intent?), through the Congress.

Before the Supreme Court gives its opinion, Trump will resign, blaming the Clintons, Barack Obama, CNN, the “failing” New York Times, the Washington Post, the CIA and NSA, the FBI, the Democratic leadership in Congress, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, “overrated actress” Meryl Streep, Jake Tapper, Oprah Winfrey, Paul Krugman, mullahs in Iran, and the Russians. It’s the mother of all rants.

In the last scene of the movie, after Ben Affleck has brought down the president (although for whom and why he’s unsure), the camera focuses on two men talking quietly about Trump at the bar of the Cosmos Club in Washington.

“You know,” one of them is heard to say, “he’s right.”

Matthew Stevenson, a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, is the author of many books including, most recently, Reading the Rails.

Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.

Donald Trump plans to dismantle America’s already weak climate policy, potentially dooming not only this country but the entire world to runaway greenhouse warming. The day after Election Day 2016, star climate scientist Michael Mann was already saying he feared that it was “game over” for the Earth’s climate.

But at the same time Trump is taking a blowtorch to climate action, he and his allies are taking a sledgehammer to our democracy. So what do we do when we face two simultaneous emergencies: a slide toward fascism and a descent into a greenhouse climate gone haywire?

Writing recently in Monthly Review, John Bellamy Foster argued that given the threat we face, the necessary ecological-social revolution will have to be carried out in two stages, and that “The first would involve the formation of a broad alliance, modeled after the Popular Front against fascism in the 1930s and ’40s. Today’s Popular Front would need to be aimed principally at confronting the fossil-fuel-financial complex and its avid right-wing supporters.” But then, “the ecological revolution will have to extend eventually to the roots of production itself, and will have to assume the form of a system of substantive equality for all . . .”

The struggle must be taken to every front. Many continue to see the immediate struggle for civil and human rights and against fascism, racism, and economic exploitation as having top priority, given the all-out assault coming down from Washington, many state capitals, and law enforcement. Others continue to argue that we have to lead with an all-consuming effort to eliminate greenhouse emissions and ecosystem destruction if we are even to have a chance at keeping the Earth livable.

Then there are those, including those of us at Green Social Thought, who have long insisted that the two struggles be given joint top priority, because if we succeed in either one but not the other, catastrophe is unavoidable. And importantly, there is no contradiction between the two struggles; in fact, they energize each other.

Capitalism: can’t live with it, might live without it

The dramatic swerve down the road to fascism in the United States, Europe, and Russia has further hobbled our chances of prevailing in today’s struggle for democracy, humanity, and the Earth. I say “further” because the odds were stacked against us long before 2016. The chief threat was then, and still is, capitalism. A well-functioning capitalist economy depends on maintaining large, competing pools of vulnerable labor and on the continuously increasing throughput of energy and resources that feeds the climate emergency.

A few months before America’s political sinkhole opened up, Paul Cox and I put it this way in our book How the World Breaks: “From the point of view of those with vast wealth at stake, the cure for climate catastrophe—deep, ongoing restraint in production and consumption to limit greenhouse gas emissions—would be far more devastating than the worst earthquake, flood, or hurricane.” The same applies to a realignment of economic power in favor of today’s beleaguered majority.

In an article published by Nature Climate Change just fifty days after the US presidential election, two scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research concluded that if America does nothing to cut greenhouse emissions for the next four years, it is still possible that the Earth can avoid runaway warming, but only if we do launch drastic actions immediately after that hiatus, and only if the rest of the world ignores our slacker example and starts meeting its climate obligations immediately. That means our chances of maintaining a livable planet are clearly very slim. But they’re not zero.

Also in December, Yale economist William Nordhaus published a paper in which he metamorphoses before our eyes from one of the world’s foremost climate optimists into a deep pessimist. Having updated his world economy/climate model with assumptions reflecting the new climatic reality, Nordhaus found that an “optimized” economy (one that, through cost-benefit analysis, carefully balances greenhouse emissions cuts with the need for economic growth) can now be expected to blow through the much-discussed 1.5-degree rise in world temperatures (a widely accepted threshold for global disaster) by 2030 and hit a cataclysmic 3.5 degrees by 2100. (Mann says we have already hit 1.5 degrees.)

More aggressive climate mitigation scenarios that could eliminate net greenhouse emissions by 2040 and keep the temperature rise down to a still-dangerous 2.5 degrees were characterized as “unrealistic” by Nordhaus. So in an eminent economist’s view, capitalism is incompatible even with climate strategies that would reduce emissions but still usher in runaway warming. (Economists would presumably view as worse than unrealistic a detailed, highly practical plan to keep the rise below 1.5 degrees that was modeled on the U.S. mobilization for World War II and published by The Climate Mobilization.)

Nordhaus’s conclusion is not the kind of thing climate optimists like to hear, especially now that they are under assault from retrograde climate deniers at the very top of the power structure. Back when technocrats were still in power, Paul and I characterized what we saw as optimists’ unrealistic view of climate catastrophe this way: “Disaster could be domesticated, soaked up by the economy, so we the people could all experience the event as something distant and manageable, canceled out on future balance sheets by its silver linings. . . . This type of optimism is, we believe, what we will have to worry about when we don’t have to worry about climate change denial anymore.”

What we didn’t know back then was that from 2017 onward, we’re still going to have to worry about climate denial and many more dangers all at once. For years to come, as seas rise and landscapes shrivel, America could remain immobilized within the iron triangle of climate denial, climate optimism, and economic “realism.”

Democracy: might not live with it, can’t live without it

It has been obvious for more than four decades that we can have either capitalism or a livable planet but not both. We’ve known even longer that we can have either capitalism or economic and social justice but not both. For most of us, there’s no dilemma there; only for capitalists themselves does the need to preserve capitalism warrant ruining the Earth for human habitation or having the majority of our fellow human beings live in misery. But in coming years we will have to face a question that should terrify us all: have we reached the point at which we can we have either effective climate action or representative democracy but not both?

With every updated run of global climate models, it becomes clearer that only an immediate, steep decline in greenhouse emissions can give us even a fighting chance to avoid catastrophic warming. That will require a hard ceiling on fossil-fuel burning and other emission-generating activities, a ceiling that must be ratcheted down year by year. In a further tightening of the belt, a big slice of that declining resource budget will have to be set aside for building renewable energy generation capacity and other emission-reducing infrastructure. These moves will constitute a rationing of production.

Struck by this one-two punch—the ceiling on resource use and the diversion of much of what’s left into green conversion—the economy will see an inevitable decline in production of consumer goods and services.

Most of the past year’s proposals for a World War II-style climate mobilization are based on a comparison involving only the second punch, that is, a parallel between the walling-off of resources and human power for war production in the 1940s and the necessary walling-off of resources for renewable energy development now. The consequences of that wartime mobilization—most prominently, conversion from civilian to military production and rationing of consumer goods—were broadly accepted by an electorate that was facing an existential threat. American democracy rose to the occasion. Presumably, we could handle a green conversion of similar scale today, were it to be attempted.

The parallel between climate and World War II mobilizations breaks down, however, back on the first punch, with the immediate, steep decline in fossil-fuel use that is necessary to prevent climatic calamity. In the 1940s, by contrast, America had enough resources and pent-up industrial capacity to boost total production and achieve full employment and higher wages. For the sake of fairness, civilian consumption had to be limited by rationing, and there were shortages of some imported items, but people knew that those conditions were temporary, and consumption soared once the war ended.

Now imagine an America of the 2020s that is weighing whether, better late than never, to declare a climate emergency that includes the necessary steep decline in emissions, production, and material consumption. If that succeeds, it will mean that (1) a majority of politicians have turned their backs on Big Business and have committed to severe limits on resource use and (2) American voters are willing to support them in that effort.

But in a society designed so that its basic working parts are individuals, each acting to their personal benefit, a candidate doesn’t get into office by telling voters what is essential for the common good. You get in by promising voters that they will be harmed personally if your opponent wins but that each voter will benefit personally if you are elected.

So if you’re a candidate wanting effective climate action, you might declare in a stump speech, “If you folks elect my opponent, the consequences will be terrible. Within a couple of decades, millions of people around the world will have lost their homes to flooding, and others will be going hungry because of crop failures.” So far, so good. Voters may think to themselves, “Oh, we wouldn’t want to see that.”

But then you continue: “On the other hand, if you elect me, there will be a much narrower range of goods available to you, and you will be buying a lot less. You will have a smaller house and will be tightly limited in how much you can drive and fly, and you can forget about that new boat. Don’t worry; the government will ensure that you have access to sufficient food, basic goods, a cleaner, healthier world, and your Constitutional rights, but a large share of the nation’s resources will have to go toward building up our renewable energy capacity and reworking our infrastructure—not into the consumer economy. And we’ll never go back to today’s levels of production and consumption.” At that point, you might as well step from behind the lectern, turn around, bend over, and moon the audience. You’re sunk.

Given that, given our history, and especially considering our recent experience, getting American voters to approve sweeping climate policies is a hard thing to imagine. That has led some (including me at times) to wonder if saving the climate is even possible in our electoral system. But we simply cannot afford to indulge in that sort of speculation. We have no choice but to reject and condemn any calls to jettison our democratic institutions, however inadequate they are. On the contrary; we must first defend democracy against the current authoritarian onslaught and then set about transfoming it.

Both our form of government and our economic system are throwing hurdles up between us and climate action, but while we can work to improve and transform politics, there is no possibility that capitalism can be made compatible with global climate mitigation and justice. We have to use what’s left of our democracy (inside and especially outside of electoral politics) to simultaneously fight the fascism that threatens humanity and the capitalism that threatens the Earth as a whole.

Stan Cox (@CoxStan) is an editor of Green Social Thought, where this article was first published, and author of Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing. Write to him at cox(at)howtheworldbreaks.com

The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself

The President of the United States can hardly be taken seriously, saying much but doing little. His words, often offensive, carry no substance, and it is impossible to summarize his complex political outlook about important issues.

This is precisely the type of American presidency that Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, prefers.

However, Donald Trump is not just a raving man, but a dangerous one as well. His unpredictability must worry Israel, which expects from its American benefactors complete clarity and consistency in terms of its political support.

At the age of 70, Trump is incapable of being the stalwart, pro-Zionist ideologue in a way that suits Israeli interests well.

Take, for example, the White House press conference following the much anticipated visit by Netanyahu to Washington on February 15.

The visit was scheduled immediately after Trump’s inauguration on January 20, and is considered the Trump Presidency’s answer to what Israel wrongly perceives as a hostile US administration under former President Barack Obama.

However, Obama has granted Israel 38 billion dollars over the course of ten years, estimated to be the most generous aid package in US history. He has supported all Israeli wars against Palestinians throughout his presidency, and unfailingly defended Israel before the international community, at the United Nations and every global forum in which Israel was justifiably criticized.

But Israel expects blind support. It needs a US administration that is as loyal as the US Congress, always praising Israel, degrading Palestinians, dismissing international law, calling to stop funding the UN for daring to demand accountability from Israel, feeding Israeli ‘security’ phobias with monetary and absolute political backing, demonizing Iran, undermining the Arabs and repeating all Israeli talking points fed to them by Tel Aviv and by the fifth column lobbyists in Washington.

Trump is striving to be that person, the messiah that Israel’s army of right-wing, ultranationalists and religious zealots have been calling for. But this appears beyond the man’s control, no matter how hard he tries.

“Looking at two-state or one-state, I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one both parties like. I can live with either one,” Trump said in answer to a journalist’s question, implying to Israel that the US will no longer impose solutions; instead, Trump pushed the ‘one-state solution’ idea to the very top of the discussion. It is not what Israel wanted – or expected.

In Washington, Netanyahu, with unmistakable pomposity, stood before the media and simply lied. He painted Israel as vulnerable, a prey for dark ‘radical Islam’ forces, ready to strike from every corner.

He presented Iran’s nuclear capabilities as if it is lined up to incinerate Israel, itself built atop the graves and villages of dispossessed Palestinians. No journalist had the courage to quiz the Israeli leader about his own country’s massive nuclear arsenal and other weapons of mass destruction. Listening to him preach fabricated history to the incurious American media, one would think that militarily powerful Israel is occupied by hostile Palestinian foreigners, and not vice versa.

Netanyahu claimed his people belonged to Palestine as the French belonged to France and the Chinese to China. But if European Jewish immigrants are the natives of Palestine, then what is one to make of Palestinians? How is one to explain their existence on land that has carried their collective name for millennia?

This is inconsequential to the US government and mainstream media. US media is as uninformed about the realities of the Middle East as Trump, who seems to have only two main talking points about the whole issue, both embarrassingly bizarre:

Israel has been treated ‘very, very badly’ by the US, and he has a ‘really great peace deal’ in store.

On the contrary, Palestinians have been treated ‘very, very badly’ by the US, the most generous supporter of Israel. Israel has used mostly American weapons in its wars against Palestinians and other Arab nations, with thousands of Palestinians losing their lives because of this blind American patronage.

As for his ‘really great peace deal,’ Trump has nothing. ‘Really great’ seems to be his answer to everything, to the point that his words are becoming ineffectual clichés, suitable for twitter jokes and comedy.

Furthermore, Netanyahu, urged on by – to quote former Secretary of State, John Kerry – the ‘most right-wing coalition in Israeli history’ – wants the US to unconditionally support Israel as the latter is finalizing its future ‘vision’.

Now, it seems that Israel is concluding that territorial quest. The ‘Regularization Law’ passed recently in Israel’s parliament – Knesset – will retroactively validate all Israeli illegal settlers’ claims over Palestinian land. Top Israel officials now openly speak of annexation of the West Bank, using language that was formerly reserved for Jewish extremists.

Israel’s president believes annexation is the answer. “I, Rubi Rivlin, believe that Zion is entirely ours. I believe the sovereignty of the State of Israel must be in all the blocs,” Rivlin said, emphasizing that he was referring to the entire West Bank, as quoted by the ‘Times of Israel’.

The consensus among Israel’s ruling class is that a Palestinian state should never be established. Trump, although incoherent, granted them just that.

So what does Netanyahu want? We know he does not want a Palestinian state and plans to annex all Jewish colonies, while continuing to expand over stolen Palestinian land. He wants Palestinians to exist, but without political will of their own, without sovereignty, forced to accept that Israel is a Jewish state (thus signing off on their historic right to their own land); to remain subdued, passive, disarmed, dehumanized.

Netanyahu’s end game is Apartheid, racist segregation where one party, Israeli Jews, dominates and exploits the other – Palestinian Arabs: Muslims and Christians.

But human dignity is not open for negotiation, no matter how a ‘good negotiator’ Netanyahu is – according to Trump’s assertion.

Palestinians have resisted Israel for nearly seventy years because they challenge their servitude. They will continue to resist.

Israel has the military means to punish Palestinians for their resistance, to push them behind military checkpoints and trap them behind walls. Yet, it is not a matter of firepower, and no wall can be high enough to stymie the echoes of oppressed people striving for freedom, human rights, equality and solidarity.

Netanyahu must feel triumphant because of Trump’s assuring words. The Israeli leader wants any victory, however illusive, to buy time and the allegiance of his camp of extremists, especially now that he is being investigated for fraud and is likely to be indicted.

He may even initiate a war against Gaza to create further distraction, and will readily spin facts so that his country is presented as a victim, to test American support and to ‘downgrade’ Hamas’ and other Palestinian groups’ defences.

However, none of this will change the reality that Netanyahu has unwisely constructed. His vision for Israel is the perpetual subjugation of Palestinians through a system of racial discrimination that will continue until the world unravels the lies and the propaganda.

Having Trump by his side, Netanyahu will work diligently to perfect the Palestinian prison in the name of Israel’s security.

Palestinians must now respond, without the irrelevant rhetoric of a ‘two-state solution’, but with a unified universal message to the rest of the world: expecting – in fact, demanding – freedom, equality, full rights in a society that is not predicated on racial order, but on equal citizenship.

Israel has laid out its dark vision. Palestinians must present the antithesis to that destructive vision: a road map towards justice, equality and peace for all.

Wall Street Hopes You’ve Forgotten the Crash Already

Remember October 2008 — the bank bailouts, the spiking unemployment rate, the stock market free fall?

Maybe you lost a job, got a pay cut, or saw your retirement savings or home value evaporate. Maybe you even lost your home altogether, or saw your small business wither and die.

It’s a hard thing to let go. But Wall Street is hoping you’ve already forgotten it.

That’s because their allies in Congress and the Trump administration are poised to scrap the reforms that lawmakers put in place to prevent another meltdown.

For starters, they’re trying to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the first independent agency with the sole mandate of protecting consumers against scam artists, predatory lenders, and bad actors in the financial sector.

The agency proved its mettle last year, when it caught Wells Fargo — the second biggest bank in the country — creating millions of bogus accounts without their customers’ permission. The bureau exposed that cheating and put an end to it.

Dodd-Frank, the law that created the bureau, also made rules to keep banks from making risky bets with your money.

For instance, it requires banks to keep some skin in the game by maintaining a 5 percent stake in loans they originate, so they have a stake in the success of the borrower and the loan. It also encourages banks to keep some cash on hand in case of emergencies, just like the rest of us try to do at home.

Yet lately, bankers have been complaining that financial regulation is hurting the economy. Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs president — and now a Trump economic adviser — whined recently that banks are being forced to “hoard capital.”

If maintaining a prudent reserve is hoarding, then yes. And that’s a good thing.

Bankers like Cohn say abolishing these rules will help ordinary consumers. When you hear things like that, hold tight to your wallets and purses.

The truth is, cheap credit is abundant. The commercial and industrial business industries are booming. Credit card and auto lending are at record highs, and mortgage loans are almost back to their pre-2008 crisis high.

If that’s not enough for Wall Street lenders who want to gamble, they should go to the casino. And if venture capitalists want to take great risks in search of great rewards, blessings upon them. But they shouldn’t expect the rest of us to bail them out after their next binge.

What about Donald Trump? Will he protect us?

Trump campaigned as a champion for the “little guy,” beholden to no one because of his independent wealth. He smeared opponents like Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton for being “puppets” of big banks like Goldman Sachs.

My advice? Watch what Trump does, not what he says.

After all, Trump just installed the most pro-Wall Street team our nation has ever seen. Three of his senior advisers — including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — have a combined 40 years at Goldman Sachs.

Now they’d like to remove the sheriff from the financial sector. If they get their way, I’ll give you better odds than Vegas that they’ll crash the economy again — and stick you and me with the bill.

Lock up your treasure. Call your lawmaker. Don’t go back to sleep.

Distributed by OtherWords.

The United States of Permanent War

As the foreign policy establishment continues to grapple with the consequences of Trump’s election, U.S. officials can still agree on one thing. The United States is a nation that is waging a permanent war.

In December 2016, President Obama reflected on the development in a speech that he delivered to U.S. soldiers at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. “By the time I took office, the United States had been at war for seven years,” Obama said. By continuing that war, “I will become the first president of the United States to serve two full terms during a time of war.”

Notably, Obama did not issue his remarks to criticize the United States. He only made his point to note that Congress had never provided him with authority to perpetuate the wars of the Bush administration. “Right now, we are waging war under authorities provided by Congress over 15 years ago—15 years ago,” Obama said. Consequently, he wanted Congress to craft new legislation that made it appear as if it had not permitted the United States to remain at war forever. “Democracies should not operate in a state of permanently authorized war,” Obama said.

The Bush Plan

Regardless of what Obama really felt about the matter, the Bush administration had always intended for the United States to wage a permanent war. In the days after 9/11, President Bush provided the guiding vision when he announced in a speech to the nation that the United States would be fighting an indefinite global war on terror. “Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes,” Bush explained. “Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.”

The following year, Director of Policy Planning Richard Haass provided additional confirmation of the administration’s intentions. “There can be no exit strategy in the war against terrorism,” Haass declared. “It is a war that will persist.” In other words, Haass announced that the United States would remain at war against terrorism forever. “There is unlikely to be an Antietam, a decisive battle in this war,” Haass stated. “An exit strategy, therefore, will do us no good. What we need is an endurance strategy.”

As U.S. officials developed their endurance strategy, they also settled on a few guiding principles. For starters, U.S. officials determined that they would have to maintain some kind of permanent presence in Afghanistan. “We’re not leaving Afghanistan prematurely,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates remarked during the early years of the Obama administration. “In fact, we’re not ever leaving at all.”

More recently, a number of officials in the Obama administration articulated a similar principle for the Middle East. In October 2016, for example, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper noted that the United States would remain in the region well into the future. Even if the Islamic State is defeated, “it is probably not going to go away, and it’ll morph into something else or other similar extremist groups will be spawned,” Clapper said. “And I believe we’re going to be in the business of suppressing these extremist movements for a long time to come.”

This past December, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made a similar point, arguing that coalition forces “must be ready for anything” and “must remain engaged militarily even after the inevitable expulsion of ISIL from Mosul and Raqqa.”

In essence, U.S. officials agree that the war against terrorism must remain permanent.

The Trump Turn

Officials in the Trump administration, who are now taking over the endurance strategy, have also remained determined to keep the nation at war. Although Trump promised during his campaign that “war and aggression will not be my first instinct,” both he and his cabinet members have displayed a clear preference for war.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who is perhaps most well known for once commenting that it was “a hell of a hoot” and “a hell of a lot of fun” to shoot enemy forces in Afghanistan, argued during his confirmation hearing that the United States should take advantage of its “power of intimidation.” In fact, Mattis pledged to increase the lethality of U.S. military forces. “Our armed forces in this world must remain the best led, the best equipped, and the most lethal in the world,” Mattis insisted.

Furthermore, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has positioned himself as an even stronger advocate of war. For example, Tillerson insisted during his confirmation hearing that the Obama administration should have helped Ukrainian military forces fight Russia after Putin had seized Crimea in early 2014. “My opinion is there should have been a show of force, a military response, in defensive posture,” Tillerson said. In addition, Tillerson insisted that the Trump administration will not permit China to continue building islands in the South China Sea. “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also not going to be allowed,” Tillerson said.

Altogether, Tillerson argued that the United States must display a greater willingness to go to war. In the years ahead, the United States will follow “the old tenet of Teddy Roosevelt, walk softly and carry a big stick,” he promised.

Finally, Trump has displayed an even stronger preference for war. In his many public statements, Trump has essentially branded himself as the new face of the permanent war against terrorism. “Radical Islamic terrorism” is something that “we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth,” Trump promised during his inaugural address.

In short, officials in Washington are committed to perpetual war. Although they regularly promise to end war and support peace, they have spent the past 16 years transforming the United States into a nation that is permanently at war.

In fact, “the fighting is wonderful,” Trump has said.

This column originally appeared on Lobelog.org.

The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships

This being the age of public relations, the genteel term “public-private partnership” is used instead of corporate plunder. A “partnership” such deals may be, but it isn’t the public who gets the benefits.

We’ll be hearing more about so-called “public-private partnerships” in coming weeks because the new U.S. president, Donald Trump, is promoting these as the basis for a promised $1 trillion in new infrastructure investments. But the new administration has also promised cuts to public spending. How to square this circle? It’s not difficult to discern when we recall the main policy of the Trump administration is to hand out massive tax cuts to big business and the wealthy, and provide them with subsidies.

Public-private partnerships are one of the surest ways of shoveling money into the gaping maws of corporate wallets, used, with varying names, by neoliberal governments around the world, particularly in Europe and North America. The result has been disastrous — public services and infrastructure maintenance is consistently more expensive after privatization. Cuts to wages for workers who remain on the job and increased use of low-wage subcontractors are additional features of these privatizations.

The rationale for these partnerships is, similar to other neoliberal prescriptions, ideological — the private sector is supposedly always more efficient than government. A private company’s profit incentive will supposedly see to it that costs are kept under control, thereby saving money for taxpayers and transferring risk to the contractor. In the real world, however, this works much differently. A government signs a long-term contract with a private enterprise to build and/or maintain infrastructure, under which the costs are borne by the contractor but the revenue goes to the contractor as well.

The contractor, of course, expects a profit from the arrangement. The government doesn’t — and thus corporate expectation of profits requires that revenues be increased and expenses must be cut. Less services and fewer employees means more profit for the contractor, and because the contractor is a private enterprise there’s no longer public accountability.

Public-private partnerships are nothing more than a variation on straightforward schemes to sell off public assets below cost, with working people having to pay more for reduced quality of service. A survey of these partnerships across Europe and North America will demonstrate this clearly, but first a quick look at the Trump administration’s plans.

Corporate subsidies, not $1 trillion in new spending

The use of the word “plans” is rather loose here. No more than the barest outline of a plan has been articulated. The only direct mention of his intentions to jump-start investment in infrastructure is found in President Trump’s campaign web site. In full, it states the plan “Leverages public-private partnerships, and private investments through tax incentives, to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over ten years. It is revenue neutral.” The administration’s official White House web site’s sole mention of infrastructure is an announcement approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines without environmental reviews, and an intention to expedite environmental reviews for “high priority infrastructure projects.”

Wilbur Ross, an investment banker who buys companies and then takes away pensions and medical benefits so he can flip his companies for a big short-term profit, and who is President Trump’s pick for commerce secretary, along with a conservative economics professor, Peter Navarro, have recommended the Trump administration allocate $137 billion in tax credits for private investors who underwrite infrastructure projects. The two estimate that over 10 years the credits could spur $1 trillion in investment. So the new administration won’t actually spend $1 trillion to fix the country’s badly decaying infrastructure; it hopes to encourage private capital to do so through tax cuts.

There is a catch here — private capital is only going to invest if a steady profit can be extracted. Writing in the New Republic, David Dayen put this plainly:

“Private operators will only undertake projects if they promise a revenue stream. You may end up with another bridge in New York City or another road in Los Angeles, which can be monetized. But someplace that actually needs infrastructure investment is more dicey without user fees. So the only way to entice private-sector actors into rebuilding Flint, Michigan’s water system, for example, is to give them a cut of the profits in perpetuity. That’s what Chicago did when it sold off 36,000 parking meters to a Wall Street-led investor group. Users now pay exorbitant fees to park in Chicago, and city government is helpless to alter the rates.”

The Trump plan appears to go beyond even the ordinary terms of public-private partnerships because it would transfer money to developers with no guarantee at all that net new investments are made, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis. The EPI report asks several questions:

“[I]t appears to be a plan to give tax credits to private financiers and developers, period. The lack of details here are daunting and incredibly important. For starters, we don’t know if the tax credit would be restricted to new investment, or if investors in already existing [public-private partnerships] are eligible for the credit. If private investors in already existing PPP arrangements are eligible, how do we ensure these tax credits actually induce net new investments rather than just transferring taxpayer largesse on operators of already-existing projects? Who decides which projects need to be built? How will the Trump administration provide needed infrastructure investments that are unlikely to be profitable for private providers (such as building lead-free water pipes in Flint, MI)? If we assume tax credits will be restricted (on paper, anyhow) to just new investment, how do we know the money is not just providing a windfall to already planned projects rather than inducing a net increase in how much infrastructure investment occurs?”

Critiques of this scheme can readily be found on the Right as well. For example, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former head of the Congressional Budget Office and economic adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, told The Associated Press, “I don’t think that is a model that is going be viewed as successful or that you can use it for all of the infrastructure needs that the U.S. has.”

Corporations plunder, people pay in Britain

Britain’s version of public-private partnerships are called “private finance initiatives.” A scheme concocted by the Conservative Party and enthusiastically adopted by the New Labour of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the results are disastrous. A 2015 report in The Independent reveals that the British government owes more than £222 billion to banks and businesses as a result of private finance initiatives. Jonathan Owen reports:

“The startling figure – described by experts as a ‘financial disaster’ – has been calculated as part of an Independent on Sunday analysis of Treasury data on more than 720 PFIs. The analysis has been verified by the National Audit Office. The headline debt is based on ‘unitary charges’ which start this month and will continue for 35 years. They include fees for services rendered, such as maintenance and cleaning, as well as the repayment of loans underwritten by banks and investment companies.

Responding to the findings, [British Trades Union Congress] General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Crippling PFI debts are exacerbating the funding crisis across our public services, most obviously in our National Health Service.’ ”

Under private finance initiatives, a consortium of private-sector banks and construction firms finance, own, operate and leasethe formerly public property back to the U.K. taxpayer over a period of 30 to 35 years. By no means do taxpayers receive value for these deals — and the total cost will likely rise far above the initial £222 billion cost. According to The Independent:

“The system has yielded assets valued at £56.5bn. But Britain will pay more than five times that amount under the terms of the PFIs used to create them, and in some cases be left with nothing to show for it, because the PFI agreed to is effectively a leasing agreement. Some £88bn has already been spent, and even if the projected cost between now and 2049/50 does not change, the total PFI bill will be in excess of £310bn. This is more than four times the budget deficit used to justify austerity cuts to government budgets and local services.”

The private firms can even flip their contracts for a faster payday. Four companies given 25-year contracts to build and maintain schools doubled their money by selling their shares in the schemes less than five years into the deals for a composite profit of £300 million. Clearly, these contracts were given at well below reasonable cost.

One of the most prominent privatization disasters was a £30 billion deal for Metronet to upgrade and maintain London’s subway system. The company failed, leaving taxpayers with a £2 billion bill because Transport for London, the government entity responsible for overseeing the subway, guaranteed 95 percent of the debt the private companies had taken out. Then there is the example of England’s water systems, directly sold off. The largest, Thames Water, was acquired by a consortium led by the Australian bank Macquarie Group. This has been disastrous for rate payers but most profitable to the bank. An Open University study found that, in four of the five years studied, the consortium took out more money from the company than it made in post-tax profits, while fees increased and service declined.

As for the original sale itself, the water companies were sold on the cheap. Although details of the business can be discussed by “stakeholders,” the authors conclude, the privatization itself remains outside political debate, placing a “ring-fence” around the issues surrounding the privatization, such as the “politics of packaging and selling households as a captive revenue stream.” The public has no choice when the water provider is a monopoly and thus no say in rates.

Incredibly, Prime Minister Theresa May and the Tories intend to sell off more public services to Macquarie-led consortiums.

Corporations plunder, people pay across Europe

Privatization of water systems has not gone better in continental Europe. Cities in Germany and France, including Paris, have taken back their water after selling systems to corporations. The city of Paris’ contracts with Veolia Environment and Suez Environment, expired in 2010; during the preceding 25 years water prices there had doubled, after accounting for inflation, according to a paper prepared by David Hall, a University of Greenwich researcher. Despite the costs of taking back the water system, the city saved €35 million in the first year and was able to reduce water charges by eight percent. Higher prices and reduced services have been the norm for privatized systems across France, according to Professor Hall’s study.

German cities have also “re-municipalized” basic utilities. One example is the German city of Bergkamen (population about 50,000), which reversed its privatization of energy, water and other services. As a result of returning those to the public sector, the city now earns €3 million a year from the municipal companies set up to provide services, while reducing costs by as much as 30 percent.

Water is big business. Suez and Veolia both reported profits of more than €400 million for 2015. Not unrelated to this is the increasing prominence of bottled water. Bottled water is dominated by three of the world’s biggest companies: Coca-Cola (Dasani), PepsiCo (Aquafina) and Nestlé (Poland Springs, Deer Park, Arrowhead and others). So it’s perhaps not surprising that Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe infamously issued a video in which he declared the idea that water is a human right “extreme” and that water should instead have a “market value.”

One privatization that has not been reversed, however, is Goldman Sachs’ takeover of Denmark’s state-owned energy company Dong Energy. Despite strong popular opposition, the Danish government sold an 18 percent share in Dong Energy to Goldman Sachs in 2014 while giving the investment bank a veto over strategic decisions, essentially handing it control. The bank was also given the right to sell back its shares for a guaranteed profit. Goldman Sachs has turned a huge profit already — two years after buying its share, Dong began selling shares on the stock market, and initial trading established a value for the company twice as high as it was valued for purposes of selling the shares to Goldman. In other words, Goldman’s shares doubled in value in just two years — a $1.7 billion gain.

Danes have paid for this partial privatization in other ways as well. Taking advantage of the control granted it, Goldman demanded lower payments to Danish subcontractors and replaced some subcontractors who refused to use lower-paid workers.

Corporations plunder, people pay in Canada

Canada’s version of public-private partnerships has followed the same script. A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives flatly declared that

“In every single project approved so far as a P3 in Ontario, the costs would have been lower through traditional procurement if they had not inflated by these calculations of the value of ‘risk.’ The calculations of risk could just as well have been pulled out of thin air — and they are not small amounts.”

Not that Ontario is alone here. Among the examples the Centre provides are a hospital, Brampton Civic, that cost the public $200 million more than if it had been publicly financed and built directly by Ontario; the Sea-to-Sky Highway in British Columbia that will cost taxpayers $220 million more than if it had been financed and operated publicly; bailouts of the companies operating the city of Ottawa’s recreational arenas; and a Université de Québec à Montréal project that doubled the cost to $400 million.

A separate study by University of Toronto researchers of 28 Ontario public-private partnerships found they cost an average of 16 percent more than conventional contracts.

Corporations plunder, people pay in the United States

In the United States, a long-time goal of the Republican Party has been to privatize the Postal Service. To facilitate this, a congressional bill signed into law in 2006 required the Postal Service to pre-fund its pension costs for the next 75 years in only 10 years. This is unheard of; certainly no private business would or could do such a thing. This preposterous requirement saddled the Postal Service with a $16 billion deficit. The goal here is to weaken the post office in order to manufacture a case that the government is incapable of running it.

The city of Chicago has found that there are many bad consequences of public-private partnerships beyond the monetary. In 2008, Chicago gave a 75-year lease on its parking meters to Morgan Stanley for $1 billion. Shortly afterward, the city’s inspector general concluded the value of the meter lease was $2 billion. Parking rates skyrocketed, and the terms of the lease protecting Morgan Stanley’s investment created new annual costs for the city, according to a Next City report.

That report noted that plans for express bus lanes, protected bike lanes and street changes to enhance pedestrian safety are complicated by the fact that each of these projects requires removing metered parking spaces. Removing meters requires the city to make penalty payments to Morgan Stanley. Even removals for street repairs requires compensation; the Next City report notes that the city lost a $61 million lawsuit filed by the investment bank because of street closures.

Nor have water systems been exempt from privatization schemes. A study by Food & Water Watch found that:

*Investor-owned utilities typically charge 33 percent more for water and 63 percent more for sewer service than local government utilities.

*After privatization, water rates increase at about three times the rate of inflation, with an average increase of 18 percent every other year.

*Corporate profits, dividends and income taxes can add 20 to 30 percent to operation and maintenance costs.

Pure ideology drives these privatization schemes. The Federal Reserve poured $4.1 trillion into buying bonds, which did little more than inflate a stock-market bubble, while the investment needs to rebuild U.S. water systems, schools and dams, plus cleaning up Superfund sites and eliminating student debt, are less at a combined $3.4 trillion. What if that Federal Reserve money had gone to those instead?

“Public investment to create private profit”

Given its billionaire leadership, the Trump administration’s plans for public-private partnerships will not lead to better results, and may well be even worse. Michael Hudson recently summarized what is likely coming in this way:

“Mr. Trump wants to turn the U.S. economy into the kind of real estate development that has made him so rich in New York. It will make his fellow developers rich, and it will make the banks that finance this infrastructure rich, but the people are going to have to pay for it in a much higher cost for transportation, much higher cost for all the infrastructure that he’s proposing. So I think you could call Trump’s plan ‘public investment to create private profit.’ That’s really his plan in a summary, it looks to me.”

This makes no sense as public policy. But it is consistent with the desire of capitalists to continually extract higher profits from any and all human activity. Similar to governments handing over their sovereignty to multi-national corporations in so-called “free trade” deals that facilitate the movement of production to locales with ever lower wages and weaker laws, public-private partnerships represent a plundering of the public sector for private profit, and government surrender of public goods. All this is a reflection of the imbalance of power in capitalist countries.

This is “the market” in action — and the market is nothing more than the aggregate interests of the most powerful industrialists and financiers. It also reflects that as capitalist markets mature and capital runs out of places into which to expand, ongoing competitive pressures will drive corporate leaderships to reduce expenses (particularly wages) and move into new lines of business. Taking over what had been the public sector is one way of achieving this, especially if public goods can be bought below fair market value and guarantees of profits extracted.

The ruthless logic of capitalism is that a commodity goes to those who can pay the most, regardless of whether it is something essential to human life.

 

Why Resistance is Insufficient

Derived from the Latin prefix re (against) and sistere (to stop, or take a stand/stand firm), to resist means to withstand, to keep something at bay. That is, to resist does not mean to act so much as to counteract. As such, it gives one’s opponent a significant advantage (as Bernal Diaz observed in his Conquest of New Spain, “the first attack is half the battle”).

Even if a resistance can contain one’s opponent, neutralizing them, this problematic aspect persists. And as Trump launches attacks on multiple fronts (shutting down the EPA, attacking women, workers, and Muslims, rounding up immigrants, building new detention centers and oil pipelines, pursuing his wall) even containing Trump is proving difficult. Of course, in launching so many attacks Trump risks spreading himself thin. But, even if substantially weakened, resistance alone never knocks anyone from power. That requires an offense.

As Trump weathers the attacks of the intelligence community and others who aim to restore the popularly reviled neoliberal situation, which gave rise to Trump in the first place, the Left ought to focus at least as much on pursuing an offense as on resistance. For the goal of the Left should not be the restoration of earlier forms of neoliberalism, nor the mere removal of Trump and other demagogues from power, but the advancement of a genuinely egalitarian society. And, contrary to the ideology of progress, which imagines this advancement occurring on its own, according to some Hegelian spirit of history, deviating from inertia requires a considerable degree of effort.

Because Trump and other functionaries of the state have highly militarized police forces and national security apparatuses protecting them, such an offense must proceed with great care. However, for an offense to be successful it needn’t necessarily physically engage its adversary at all. As the legendary strategist Sun Tzu put it in The Art of War: “The supreme art of war consists in subduing an enemy without fighting.” And this is precisely how beating Trump, and other despoilers of the world, should be approached. They can be slowed down, obstructed, weakened and ultimately removed from power by radical non-participation – e.g., by a general strike. Additionally, an opposition can prevail by attacking its opponents’ strategy, and by attacking alliances; the supreme strategy of warfare, according to Sun Tzu, and the second most supreme strategy, respectively – two strategies that work best in tandem.

Attacking Trump’s alliances, and those of the Right in general, pose considerable difficulties, yet many openings exist. While they may be less vocal than his more ardent supporters, most of those who voted for Trump, for instance, didn’t like him much during the campaign, and they like him less now. Many preferred Bernie Sanders, and only supported Trump out of disgust for the neoliberal system that impoverished them, hollowed out much of the country, and added classist insults to these injuries. Moreover, much of Trump’s own party only haltingly supports him. The effectiveness of an attack on Trump’s alliances, however, and other such alliances, will be limited to the degree that it is not integrated with what Sun Tzu described as the supreme strategy of warfare: attacking strategy itself – a strategy less concerned with issuing critiques of reactionary plans so much as with “winning hearts and minds” – winning people over to an altogether new way of thinking about organizing social life.

As few concepts are more central to this question than the concept of security, an attack on “strategy itself” should incorporate a critique of this. Although a universal concern, security is ambiguous and contradictory. As such, it provides ample material for criticism. Derived from the Latin se (which means free from) and cura (care), security literally means free from care – a freedom from care that leads as easily to carelessness as to being carefree. Reminiscent of the relation between liberty and license, implicit in security is a similar contradiction – between care (and a duty of care) and its neglect. Energy security, for instance, is vital. People need energy to heat their homes and cook their food. But when energy security is conceived of in a narrow way (as energy derived not only from fuels that pollute the planet but from fuels that are extracted according to the dictates of a political-economy that advances the economic security of one class at the expense of another), energy security leads to general human insecurity – the economic insecurity of an exploited class as well as the insecurity associated with ecological devastation and/or war, which accompanies the extraction and production of these energy forms.

In other words, discussions of security need to distinguish narrow types of security from broad notions of security – notions of security that are broader, for instance, than the national security of the national security state as well as more universal than the social security of the welfare state. Related more to care, and caring, than to carelessness and carefree-ness, a critical conception of security does not fail to recognize, for instance, that a crucial aspect of our security is not only our well-being, and the health of our communities, but the health and well-being of the general environment – i.e., the planet – as well. And since the nation-state is a construct designed not to produce human security in general but only security for a small class of people, and pits one nation-state against others, leading to war and ecological devastation among other threats to a critical conception of security, the nation-state and capitalism – two sides of the same historically-minted coin – turn out to both be structurally inimical to actual human security.

Indeed, while capitalism certainly produces narrow forms of security it only does so by producing broader types of insecurity. Regulating the world according to the dictates of profit, capitalism doesn’t just consistently fail to satisfy social needs, it actively undermines them. Not only does the prioritization of profit lead to the destruction of tons of food every day – to keep up prices, even while people are starving the world over – so long as exchange-value is prioritized over use-value, human insecurity preponderates. Rather than some marginal dimension, creating scarcity,  and thereby insecurity, is essential to capitalism. As Karl Polanyi pointed out in The Great Transformation, in Africa freely growing food was destroyed by colonial administrators in order to compel people to work – to earn money to pay for food that had until then been available for free. And, in such practices as planned obsolescence, this creation of insecurity continues to characterize capitalistic production.

A similar dynamic amplifies housing insecurity. Since capitalism is characterized by, in Immanuel Wallerstein’s words, “the privatization of everything, in the interest of generating profit,” like other public necessities housing is treated as a private good, a commodity. Produced to create profit, and only secondarily for its use (i.e., shelter/security) the commodification of housing creates insecurity. Again and again, the world over, so-called market forces deprive necessary housing from the poor, and other vulnerable groups, creating insecurity, in order to enrich land owners, bankers, and others who use housing as a means to make money.

This upside-down, scarcity-producing, exchange-value-prioritizing economy systemically degrades the natural environment as well. The privatization of forests, for example, leads to the conversion of so many trees into so many paper cups, among other disposable commodities, creating catastrophic environmental insecurity. And as the incessant drive for profit has destroyed forests, clean air, soil, and water throughout the world, it is not difficult to foresee clean air (like clean water) becoming privatized in the near future. If present trends continue, the commons of breathable air will be commodified, and people will be forced to work for or exploit others in order to simply breathe, raising human insecurity to unprecedented heights. And yet, even if some clean, green energy form were developed, and global warming and ecological degradation could be somehow reversed, the demand for profit would still create insecurity in some form or other in order to compel people to work beyond what is necessary for the production of use-values. Moreover, no matter how clean and green warfare becomes it will still sow death. In short, this society – ostensibly obsessed with security – not only fails to supply actual concrete security to most people, it is structurally pre-determined to undermine all but the most superficial aspects of security.

As religious-thinking (emotion, superstition, and faith) dominates political and economic discussions, and information technology exponentially distances political opponents into members of practically unbridgeable alternative realities, little these days is not embroiled in the religious war of contemporary politics. As such, many will not be able to agree on what constitutes evidence, let alone on the less concrete aspects of social reality. Consequently, many will continue to deny the existence of discrimination, global warming, and other phenomena, while steadfastly insisting upon the reality of myriad imaginary entities, even as the world floods and burns all around. As it stands, however, plenty of people the world over need no convincing that our very survival requires jettisoning capitalism and the nation-state, along with the culture of domination and exploitation that subtends these, and replacing them with a non-coercive, non-exploitative, form of social organization. If we are to develop a society that is not only not contingent on destruction and abuse, but allows us to realize an actually democratic, egalitarian, and fair society, we must abandon these barbaric organizational forms.

Although it is too soon to tell how the resistance to the general and particular arrangement of the world will develop, and whether Trump, among other demagogues, will be removed from power, it is only growing more clear that the racist, sexist, nationalistic governments assuming power the world over enjoy considerable yet limited popular support. And because, as history repeatedly demonstrates, such deeply unpopular regimes inevitably collapse, it is not difficult to imagine that, among others, Trump’s may too. Should this occur, however, it is crucial to recognize that an egalitarian movement will not only be undermined to the extent that it facilitates or otherwise contributes to a neoliberal restoration, such a restoration would certainly produce a more virulent strain of Trumpism. As such, both must be eliminated. Rather than Trump’s brand of reaction, which seems bent on rolling back neoliberalism to the 19th century, or even the relatively enlightened New Deal reaction of Bernie Sanders, we must not react to the current constitutional, economic, and ecological crises so much as develop a response that goes beyond the contradictions fundamental to our exploitative class-based society.

Although it is unlikely that new elections will be held this year, with the lack of popular support Trump and other demagogues enjoy it is not difficult to imagine that a radical political rupture could lead to such a thing in the near future. Moreover, fidelity to democratic norms, and to basic principles of justice and equality, demand that they should be held. If we are to avoid reinstating an equally reviled neoliberal government, however, new elections, as well as a constitution that is responsive to social and economic inequalities and ecological exigencies alike should be two of the key considerations of a critical opposition. Meanwhile, because our commercial press has demonstrated its inability, along with its commercially-generated conflict of interest, to report on substantive issues, the potential political campaigns and debates that new elections would entail – ignited, perhaps, by a radical general strike – would need to be reported upon and framed in a new, critical manner.

Among the security-related issues that these as of yet imaginary debates would foreseeably consider would be such issues as the security of women, people of color, the poor, the aged, refugees, and other vulnerable communities. Universal health care, environmental policy, radical debt forgiveness, the abolition of our extensive prison system and wage labor, the right to housing, the legalization of marijuana and other drugs, and other security-related issues would also foreseeably be discussed. And in addressing the manner in which to resolve our global insecurity, it is also very likely that a communalist movement (the radically democratic, egalitarian communalism discussed by Murray Bookchin, among others, which extends back in history to well before the Paris Commune) would be given voice.

Among other proposals, such a movement might argue that the democratization of society could proceed via a new, radical way of thinking about the community college. Approached from both the federal and the local/municipal level, a community college campus could be built in every neighborhood in the country. Rather than degree-granting institutions, however, these colleges would be publicly and locally controlled and operated loci of democratization. Among other resources, each of these public, neighborhood campuses could have medical and/or nursing schools, along with self-managed medical clinics – enabling each community to train health care providers and care for its own health care needs. Additionally, dispute resolution departments and other departments could be developed within these campuses, allowing each community to more or less resolve its own disputes. And since these would be part of and run by the community, they would be free.

In addition to departments devoted to math, history, biology, and other disciplines, engineering and design departments could flourish in each community college as well, allowing each community, in collaboration with others, to design, build and maintain their individual and/or interconnected infrastructure systems. Responsive to the needs of those who live in the community, and prioritizing broader over narrow notions of security, housing in the various colleges could be managed and cared for by the colleges (i.e., by the community), as well. Instead of receiving housing in exchange for rent, as members of the community people would have a right to this basic level of security.

Likewise, agricultural departments could enable each community, in collaboration with others, to raise its own food. And since these necessities would be produced for use, and each community’s self-care, as opposed to exchange, or profit, they would require far less work, affording people considerable leisure to pursue other activities.

Beyond providing nutritious food, health care, shelter, leisure, and other necessities, there is no reason that these community colleges would not also have sports, dance, music departments, art departments, libraries, film schools, and other resources necessary for well-being and broader notions of human security. And, of course, these campuses and departments would be associated in regional, and ultimately global, confederations more broadly, partnering, trading, caring for common resources, and collaborating in collective projects, scientific research, symposia, film festivals, sports competitions, and scholarly conferences – sharing developments in various disciplines, not out of the senseless, coerced competition and production characteristic of our commodified academia, but out of a genuine interest in and pursuit of knowledge, for its own sake.

Ultimately one could imagine not only the buildings of the neighborhoods but the public utilities and other resources of the neighborhoods merging with the colleges – i.e., with the community – and falling under public, democratic control. In this way the community college communes could develop into more or less autonomous, actually democratic, self-governing communities. A broad conception of human security, however, would require cooperation between these community college communes. And it is not difficult to imagine city-level and regional-level congresses developing from the myriad community colleges of the continents of the planet, eventually replacing not only the institutions of the nation-state, but the nation-state itself.

Some will no doubt dismiss this community college communalism as utopian. And insofar as it doesn’t exist, and is literally “no place,” it certainly is utopian in that respect. However, it addresses the ecological and social crises we are confronting in a far more practicable and realistic way than do proposals, for instance, of settling Mars – an inhospitable  place with a problematic 25 hour day, not to mention no air, and only the possibility of water. As we spin on a planet that is being destroyed before our very eyes by a fundamentally exploitative political-economy – a system gerrymandered and privatized to such a degree as to preclude meaningful reform – imagining radically new ways of organizing social life, beyond the self-cannibalization of capitalism and the state, is not only far more sensible than the inertial, suicidal alternative; as we advance toward ecological Holocaust, it’s the only sane response.

What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?

The erratic presidency of Mr Donald Trump is careering from policy to policy, mixing some up, cancelling others and inventing a few on the hoof while trying to cope with self-inflicted crises affecting important international affairs.  The recent debacle over the enforced exit of National Security Adviser, General Flynn, was more than just a PR calamity, because it seems that some important international matters then fell by the wayside.

Senator John McCain summed up the situation by publicly wondering “Who’s making the decisions in the White House? Is it the 31-year-old? Is it Mr. Bannon?  Is it the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? I don’t know! They need to clean up their act.”  And among other acts and places requiring clean-up is Afghanistan, that sewage-pit of corruption.

On February 15 Russia hosted discussions on Afghanistan aimed at encouraging the Taliban to negotiate with the shaky government in Kabul.  Representatives from Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan and Russia met to confer about further efforts in support of the country, and it is possible that their efforts could eventually pay dividends.  But the situation is so dire that it will require more immediate action to establish a measure of stability.  But what sort of action, Mr Trump?

***

India’s South Asia Terrorism Portal noted that on February 8 six members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were shot dead in Afghanistan by terrorists of the Islamic State (IS), and catalogued a depressing number of similar vile atrocities that have taken place this year.

Concurrently there came news that “as many as 18 civilians died in air strikes [on  February 10] in Helmand’s Sangin district, according to a statement released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.”

“The UN said the strikes had been conducted by ‘international military forces,’ but only US aircraft have been involved in recent coalition strikes, according to US military officials. Afghan officials and local residents told Al Jazeera that the death toll was higher than 18.”  The Los Angeles Times reported that “Abdul Ghafar Akhund, a 54-year-old supervisor of polio vaccination programs and prayer leader at a mosque in Sangin, said his wife, two daughters, a son and a daughter-in-law were killed when an airstrike hit his house. Akhund, who was away from home, returned to find his house destroyed. He denied that there were Taliban members in the area, saying US troops had visited his neighborhood days before the incident.”  He said “The Americans have been taking revenge on us. They don’t differentiate between civilians and non-civilians, women and children.”

Whether or not Abdul Ghafar is correct about “revenge” in his understandably distraught statement is neither here nor there, so far as truth is concerned, because his appalling tragedy will be used by Islamic State, the Taliban and every other loony extremist organization to make propaganda points that will spread throughout Afghanistan and the entire Muslim world.  It does not matter in the wider picture that the Western media play down this sort of calamity, because most people in the US and the western world in general could not give a fig for the inhabitants of Afghanistan, and even when the savages of IS murder six International Red Cross workers, there isn’t much reaction.

The new General managers in Washington — the combo of military intellectuals appointed by Mr Trump to guide and decide military and diplomatic policy —  are those who were involved in failure to win wars in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq and are intent on expanding US militarism to become even more deeply engaged in the Syria shambles and confront Russia to the point of war.  They are revered by the US and international media for their personal characteristics, but the fact remains that all the conflicts in which they were engaged have been disasters.

The situation in Afghanistan is verging on catastrophe.  It is, to trot out yet another well-worn description, a deep and horrible quagmire. And still there is no word of decision from the White House as to how the new Administration is going to deal with the situation in the context of ‘America First.’  One would think that Mr Trump, intense profit-seeker and dedicated preserver of wealth that he is, might at least say a few words about the waste of US money, even if he does not care about murdered Red Cross workers and bombed babies.  But he doesn’t seem to be engaging the gears of cost-effectiveness to try to lead the world’s third most corrupt country to social improvement.

Well before his election campaign began Mr Trump gave many television interviews, and in one of them touched on Afghan affairs.  Mr Bill O’Reilly of Fox News said to him questioningly : “Afghanistan, you’re out?” and received the disjointed reply that “Look. I am the strongest military person, and if I have Iran in one, I would be the strongest military president ever. I believe in having — I would not be cutting the budget. I’d be coming out with the best weapons ever, all right? But with Afghanistan, I want to build our country. You know, in Afghanistan, they build a school. They blow up the school. They blow up the road. We then start all over again. And in New Orleans and in Alabama, we can’t build schools.”

It seems he meant that the US is wasting money in Afghanistan that would be better spent building schools in New Orleans and Alabama.  That’s a fair point of view, and even if it is entirely negative concerning Afghanistan, Mr O’Reilly and his vast audience were meant to understand that Trump would probably pull the financial plug if he were to become the “strongest military person.”

So what is he going to do?

Afghanistan is to all intents a colony of the United States and its western allies.  Were they to cease their funding, there would be total collapse.  But the vast majority of aid money flooding into Afghanistan is siphoned off by criminals, many of whom are in government or the military.  As noted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace : “Corruption hardly topped the threat list when US military forces and civilians first entered Afghanistan in 2001. But recognition of its devastating potential to undermine US national security objectives is far higher today. Despite a myriad of US efforts, however, corruption remains deeply entrenched. It undermines the government’s legitimacy, enables an emboldened insurgency, and puts at risk the gains from US taxpayers’ nearly $115 billion investment in reconstruction.”

This should be a wake-up call for President Trump, but it appears his priorities lie elsewhere.  If he continues to ignore the calls for action, then Afghanistan will continue its downward plunge to anarchy which will not only be disastrous for its unfortunate citizens but could prove a massive problem for the US. For the moment the crazy Islamic State has a small presence in Afghanistan, but if unchecked will almost certainly expand in numbers and influence.  One of its main targets is the United States, whose President should make up his mind what course of action to take concerning the nation his country invaded fifteen years ago.

What advice might his new General managers give him?  Their solution, no matter their vaunted intellectual and war-fighting expertise, will probably be to expand the war. Would this make economic or strategic sense?

What are you going to do about Afghanistan, President Trump?

Warring in the Oncology Ward

 

Townsville General Hospital

The nurse from Kerala, with a smile nearing smugness, tests the temperature of her patient. “Give me that!” she says.  The plastic wonder is passed along to her.  Her fat fingers grab the thermometer.  The patient is there, wired, strapped, connected to a device that acts as a medical Global Positional System, tied into contraption that feeds him morsels through tubes.

“Telemetry,” he says, intrigued by the nature of the word.  The device lies cuddled in a pocket.  Any movement, any cardiac disruption, will be relayed to Central Command.  This is suitable terminology: everything about the nature of disease, including the most dangerous ones, suggests military struggle, internecine conflict.  We are told that the human race is in a war against cancer, one of the most remarkable of diseases. But we are only at war because, secretly, we all wish to be immortal.  Absent this moral dimension, we are either dead or alive.

This is not a war that humans can win for one simple reason: we are living too long. Our bodies eventually breed our downfall.  But the machinery is there to fight, to attempt, vainly, to cheat the wasting efforts of a condition that makes Attila the Hun look like a toddler in search of a spade.

Our refusal to die in quiet acceptance suggests an onset of other condition: cellular, depraved, the unseen inserting themselves like combatants into our skin, goring, gnawing, nibbling and incising. We are mortal, they seem to say, and remind us that there is no Holy Grail, no sweet water that will drag us, lingeringly, into another hundred years.  We are, in other words, being killed for our durability, our obsession to see the sun rise, have the next glass of wine, or sigh in post-coital bliss.

Cancer, and its lethally enthusiastic friends, is combated in the command centre known as the oncology ward.  That ward is located in the broader hospital apparatus, a detestable place where illness reigns as god king, and the maggot queen fronts up with disdain, striking at a moment’s notice. Everything here suggests battle, warfare, campaigns, fought in dry, near dehydrating conditions. There are struggles, and being in such a ward exhausts, deprives, drawing the heart beat.

The hospital, in short, mortgages your life, places you in a form of emotional, and sometimes economic bondage. It suspends life, it quarries resources of depression, and it suspends the routine of the living. Visitors to the oncology ward start looking like ventriloquists for the un-dead, gaunt, haggard.  They become mirrors of disease and enervation.

The theatre of operations in an oncology ward seem much like preparations before a gas attack at Ypres during the First World War: wipe, wash, clean hands before engagement.  (There, it was gas masks.)  “Germs kill!” goes the sign at the entrance point.  Enemies are unseen; they thrive in the subterranean field of invisibility – to our naked eye. They may strike, your unwashed hand being an unwitting carrier for the next assault, the next disabling attack.  You, in other words, may be responsible. Collaborators, recoil in guilt.

This moral dimension of disease is important, supplying needed ammunition for false causes. Mother Teresa of Calcutta (formerly of Skopje, Macedonia), saw the necessary good (for herself) in people crippled by terminal disease. For one, they deserved it, fallen creatures who had done something terrible in order to make others thrive.  She crowed religiously, and felt that riding them to the graves with her charity did good for both herself and the broader enterprise. Disease sells; disease, like greed, is a golden good, currency, a thriving industry. Pharmaceutical companies would agree.

If we are then to see the patient on the bed as both victim and warrior, we understand better the plight of the relative, the friend, or even acquaintance who has been attacked by the Disease.  The patient is not merely battling its ravaging affects, but the fluttering curers who bustle with enthusiasm, or treat the patient with disdain.

Nursers may fuss; doctors prognosticate with resigned inevitability.  “You have anywhere from one year to ten.”  Some do it better than others, sugar coating, brushing, lying.  Wars against cancer require deception, masking futility.  In this battle, there is only one ultimate winner: death.  Death on a skeletally constructed throne, with a grin so broad you could build upon it.

Cancer is itself a remarkable entity, the truest of insurgents, the most wondrously adapted of killers.  You can only admire it, even as you blink through the cascading tears and sob your way trough the latest biographical detail of its achievements. You can only admire it with a degree of terror: it will either kill you, your friends or a family member.

What, then, is the patient in an oncology ward (a mere example) supposed to do? For one, he protests. He demands. He wishes for the bed pan. He wishes to be cleaned after his bladder goes on holiday, unable to locate the edge of the toilet rim. (“Is he toxic?,” asks a pregnant nurse, fearing the post-chemotherapy effect on the patient.)  He wants head phones, and wishes that they be firm, even “psychedelic” in their properties.

He asks for the leather bag to be relocated from one side of the bed to the other. He requests a fresh pair of loud socks stocked in the hospital, but likes the intimacy of home.  Therefore, the pair is washed at home.  Who receives these requests? The wife, the lover, the partner, and, in some cases, the offspring, desperately hoping to note all the demands. (“You made an old man very happy today….”)

These requests reflect, perhaps, a throbbing sign of life, pulsating away in defiance: you demand, and so you live. You are stubborn, and so, you will be able to pull through, passing the barbed wire of the cancer demons, gaining victory. The signs, in that sense, are good.

Much of his behaviour, if it is irritating, is a reminder that he was doing that before.  Before we become ill, we were a composite of emotions, and tics, blithely continuing, unaware, towards a destination that features decomposition, worms or the oven of cremation. We had our demands, and our perversions.  Most of all, we had a certain number of treasured, or reviled eccentricities. These are the signatures that matter, the signs that count.

In illness, we replicate, if in more theatrical style sometimes, what we did in health.  It is fitting: he is looking firm, well on this day in February, though wishes to find the optimum point on the bed where sleep will arrive as a soothing servant, with a cooling drink.

That drink is noisily clear in his imagination: robust ice cubes from a set of Scandinavian ice trays, a slice of tart lemon, tonic water, and a decent – or indecent – surge of gin.  As the evening settles, the cold cuts, crackers, a busy dry red that teases the palate with flirtatious promise, then coffee and calvados. All the time, there is family chatter. And Goethe; and Kant.

Back in the oncology ward with a jolt.  Back to the sterility, the white sheets, the hospital clothing, the smell of caged hygiene.  His eyes are not milky, dissolving in a pool – they emit a grey calm today, though stubborn. There is only one thing to fear: will the tenacity kick in?  Will that brute force of will come charging through the ranks, a body deprived of red blood cells readying himself for the grand leukaemia knock out?  Nurse Kerala interrupts with abrupt authority to take the blood pressure. The war continues.