Fukushima on My Mind

For the past several years I’ve averted my eyes from Fukushima.  (Who doesn’t want to make it disappear?)  Then, as the sixth anniversary loomed, I wonder, what could one possibly say?  Hadn’t it all been said?

I ponder – and then make a shocking discovery: In my mind’s eye I’d temporarily misplaced Fukushima.

In fact, I’d moved it!

At some unremembered moment, I’d relocated the nuclear reactors, shifting them from Japan’s east coast to Japan’s west coast.  I’d actually imagined the radioactive elements that are still pouring from the crippled plants as washing towards North and South Korea and thence down toward the coast of China.

We all have tendencies to warp reality to suit our particular preferences.  Members of the grand jury that failed to convict Eric Garner, apparently, did not see the police tackling Garner and choke-holding him to the pavement.  Obama enthusiasts missed his feckless policies in Afghanistan.  Meat-eaters neatly step around the slaughterhouse and lettuce lovers forget the aching back of some underpaid farm hand.

But move Fukushima?  This was full-bore creepy.

Was this a case of succumbing to the near-constant, American drum-beat of propaganda versus North Korea?  Had I unconsciously fixated on a way to undermine Kim Jong-un and his 950,000-strong army? Had I just proved myself deeply racist – preferring to allot harm to the Far East, thereby sparing the US?

Or was this a matter of magical thinking?  After all, if the toxic brew spewing out of the reactors could be re-directed, it would solve some nasty problems.

One could forget about the North Pacific Gyre – that’s the conveyor belt of ocean currents drifting from Japan up towards the Bering Strait, arcing towards Alaska, and then sweeping down the West Coast.  Ditto the toxins moving, not only with the current, but up the food chain from crab larvae, to squid, to flying fish, to tuna, to frozen fish at the nearest Costco.

One could think about the coast of California and not worry about cesium.  One could eat sushi again.  One could dream.  What about kayaking in the Pacific, enjoying the view of one of those iconic Alaskan glaciers glinting in the sun – with nary a concern about seals with strange diseases or sea otters dying?

Yes, it was convenient to move Fukushima.  But, in fact, the crippled reactors really are on the east coast of Japan.  And therefore the North Pacific Gyre is something we all need to think about.  Besides, the bottom line: the health, the dreams, the lives of millions of Koreans, Chinese, Russians, and all other nations are just as important as any American’s.  Furthermore, the radiation in the ocean will travel everywhere.  And nobody in Pyongyang, Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo or anywhere on the planet should have to ask is this piece of fish safe for me or my child to eat?

My geographic blunder is past.  Alas, my temporary mental glitch reminds me of Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan.  Pretend Fukushima is over.  Well, yes, we do not yet know exactly where the melted nuclear cores are….have they burned down into the dirt beneath the reactors?  mixed with ground-water?…never mind, the 2020 Summer Olympics full steam ahead!

Such blindness is also reminiscent of the nuclear industry.  It’s devotees continue to insist nuclear power is safe.  (There’s lots of money to be made in the over 60 new reactors now under construction world-wide.)  Eighteen of these reactors are planned for China and there’s the abiding hope – among some climate-change activists – that more nukes equal less coal.  Ergo less global warming.  (That trade-off ignores key safety issues and the virtual impossibility of dodging catastrophic accidents.  It also pooh-poohs the fiendish – and unsolved problem of what to do with the deadly poisons of nuclear waste.)

Fukushima-denial also has its adherents deep in the belly of the US war establishment. Who in the Pentagon ever raises the specter: an attack on one nuclear power plant anywhere in the world puts the rest of the world at risk?

This voyage into geographic la-la land was sobering:  We never know when we might subterfuge our own thoughts, our own better judgment.

I’m guilty.  Sometimes I hate reality.  Quick, press delete.   Kill the unspeakable, erase the unbearable.

Yet, deep in my heart, I know.  I know we must unflinchingly stare these disasters right in the face.  Only then will we be able to move swiftly and resolutely towards a better world.  And that is the world of safe and renewable energy, a world of millions of clean jobs, a world of economic justice and human rights, a world NOT-on-the-brink of yet another Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima.

Governing Smaller Americas

As a long-in-the-tooth, organizational psychologist, I have noticed that my field generally knows little about the organization of government or the art of governing, concentrating as it does on the other part of the corpocracy, corporate America. In this short essay I define governing, list its various forms throughout the ages and in America, and then close by proposing a model for governing in America that is definitely different from the way she has always been governed.

What Does Governing a Nation Mean?

Governing a nation means whatever “relevant” people define it to be and however it is practiced. Relevant people, I suppose, would include political scientists, an oxymoron, because both politics and governing are forms of art, not science. To me the most relevant definition of governing is not a single one but the many as seen in how it is practiced in its myriad forms, but that is begging the question. So here is my simple definition; governing is the act of managing publically funded organizations that may or may not help the common good of the public being governed.

It is about as dry a definition as one can get but it does cover the waterfront. What animates it are the diverse forms of governing actually practiced down through the ages. I will list only the earliest and the more prominent ones. Two common denominators of most if not all forms are their creation by the power elite and their warfare, two features that are very detrimental to the common good.

Governing Down Through the Ages

Kinship. Families may have been the earliest form by which people governed themselves collectively. Extended families converged into tribes with tribal lords and councils.

Absolute and Constitutional Monarchies. In the former a monarch’s rule is ironclad. In the latter the monarch’s power is constrained by law and a political body.

Empires. The people of a land are conquered by a superpower and thereafter ruled by an Emperor. There have been nearly 200 empires throughout history. Egypt’s empire lasted the longest, 3,000 years. No new ones have arisen for quite some time.

Early City/Nation States. Ancient Greeks, who were fixated on how to govern and by whom, were governed by city/state governments and taxed by them. Perhaps the earliest precursor to America’s tallest hierarchically structured government was China at least two millennia ago when Ch’in, the “First Exhalted Emperor” established a hierarchical bureaucracy to control the newly unified China.

Pre-America Land. Many thousands of years before the land later called “America” was stolen by rapacious, fanatical, and savage European settlers, that land was inhabited by successive waves of what became known generically as “Indians.” Over time they developed more sophisticated forms of governing themselves. Perhaps the most often cited is the Iroquois League of Nations, a confederacy model copied from the mid-15th century. Chiefs were chosen by the senior women of their tribe. Tribal decisions were made by consensus, not by voting.

Corpocracies. An outgrowth of the industrial revolution was the corporation. Benito Mussolini, the founder of Italian Fascism, reportedly said at the height of his dictatorship that “fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” Hitler honed corporatism into the Third Reich, then the pinnacle of fascism. My name for “corporatism” is “corpocracy,” and in America it is the unequal merger of coporations and subservient government. Ipso facto, America is a fascist state and has been from its beginning.

That concludes the list, but before moving on to the proposed model I want to ask readers this question, “Do you notice what is missing from the list?”

Democracy is what is missing because it is pure myth, a hoax perpetrated and sustained by the power elite. America’s “democracy” is said to have been inspired by the putative “crucible of democracy,” Greece. Bunkum! Not even during the so-called “halcyon era of democracy” when Pericles ruled Greece did she have a democracy. Only about one-tenth of Athens’ populace was officially designated citizens. Slaves, women, and men who had not served in the military were all non-citizens. Military service was an absolute necessity since Pericles presided over the remaining years of the war with Persia and the first few years of the 30 year war between Athens and Sparta. What ancient Greece inspired, it seems, is the habit of getting things through war.

America’s power elite and its lackeys proclaim democracy while practicing corpocracy. They know it is not a democracy. Only three groups of Americans, the deceived, the deluded and the deniers believe it to be so. Americans who know and detest the corpocracy for what it is and does are outnumbered but also subjugated as are those three groups. That being so, is not any proposed alternative for governing useless and having only a short shelf life? My answer has to be “probably yes,” but we live in desperate times and desperately need to start building a livable future if there are to be any future generations much longer other than for microorganisms.

Governing Smaller Americas: The Model’s Four Principles

The model is guided by four mutually compatible principles:

1. The Principle of Individual Self Governance
The Individual + Circumstances = Individual Health, Happiness and Prosperity

2. The Principle of the Larger Liberty Quotient
More Individual Self Determination/Less Corpocracy Determination

3. The Principle of Size
Smaller is More Governable than Bigger

4. The Principle of Good Governance
The Nation + Good Governance = National Health, Happiness and Prosperity

1. The Principle of Individual Self Governance. There can be no people without persons. The person is the indivisible unit in a nation of people. Diminishment of individual self governance diminishes national self governance, or to put it in the vernacular, “all for one, and one for all.”

2. The Principle of the Larger Liberty Quotient. What distinguishes this principle from the first one is that the corpocracy enters into the second one. The smaller the quotient the larger is corpocracy determination and as the ratio gets smaller and smaller the determination turns into subjugation. The ideal ratio would be one where the denominator is just small enough to be right and missing the corporate component.

3. Smaller is better than larger. Should doomsday come, only microorganisms will survive. Larger organizations are less manageable than smaller ones. The largest organization in the world, the U.S. Federal government, knows it’s unmanageable but won’t admit it. Smaller numbers are also more useful than larger ones. America has absolutely too many governments: city, county, regional, state, and national. America is over governed and under served.

Had the colonists not slaughtered the Natives there could have been a much different nation. Had President Lincoln not sacrificed 175,000 countrymen for the sake of unifying the nation for defense and expansion, there would have been two smaller Americas, and much less opportunity for endless warring by the mightiest war force ever known and the power elite’s appetite for global exploitation.

4. The Principle of Good Governance. This principle is a derivative of the first three. Good governance optimizes self governance, yields larger liberty quotients throughout the governed, and is optimally small in size and number organizationally.

Governing Smaller America’s According to the Principles

Not one of the four principles has seen the light of day in practice in America’s history. If they were to be followed, what would good government look like throughout the land stolen from the Natives?

Smaller and Fewer Governments. Four regional governments called the Four Americas. One central council to protect the entire land’s common valuables: Native Americans; air; and peace among the four Americas and with global neighbors. Municipal governments.

The Governments’ Ultimate Goals. They are to be found in the first, second, and forth principles: individual and general public health, happiness, and prosperity; elimination of the corporate role in governing; and the shrinking corporate presence in the four Americas’ economies.

Change and Maintenance Agents. All people in the four regions following the lead of those who are selected by consensus to be the principals.

Deference to the First “Americans.” There are scores of Native American tribes located throughout the land that should be called Stolen America. The central council would mandate that tribal members be among those selected to be principals.

In Closing

There is no point in my trying to add the details that “are in the Devil” of how the model might actually be implemented. I served my purpose already by just sharing the model’s outline. If it ignites the imagination and actions of any readers, that is enough gratification for me. Moreover, many times before I have labored over the details of ideas that came to naught.

Only the Israeli Dead Matter

At a glance, Israel appears a true democracy. Take a closer look, and that facade of democracy will soon dissipate, turning into something else entirely.

Tuesday, February 28 was one of those moments. The chain of events was as follows:

An official Israeli State Comptroller issued another report on the Israeli government’s handling of the July 2014 war on Gaza; it chastised Israeli Prime Minister, Banjamin Netanyahu, and then-Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon –  among others – for the lack of preparedness and for their mishandling of the subsequent 50-day conflict; Netanyahu reacted angrily; Ya’alon took to Facebook to defend his record; the opposition in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) went on the offensive; politicians lined up, taking sides; a media frenzy followed; the country was in an uproar.

This is not a precedent. It is a repeat of a recurring scenario that often follows Israel’s military plunders.

When such reports are issued, Israelis sort out their differences in fierce parliamentary and media battles.

While Israelis begin to examine their failures, demanding accountability from their government, western mainstream media finds the perfect opportunity to whitewash its own record of failing to criticize Israel’s military onslaught at the time.

(Over 2,200 – of whom over 70 percent were Palestinian civilians – were killed and thousands more wounded in Israel’s so-called ‘Operation Protective Edge’ in 2014.)

According to US media logic, for example, Israel’s investigation of its own action is a tribute to its thriving democracy, often juxtaposed with Arab governments’ lack of self-examination.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, instigating a war that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians, culminating in the Sabra and Shatilla Massacres, a familiar scenario ensued: The United States did its utmost to prevent any international intervention or meaningful investigation, while Israel was allowed to investigate itself.

The outcome was the Kahan Commission Report, the conclusion of which was summarized by international law expert, Professor Richard Falk, as such: “The full measure of Israel’s victory is rather its vindication, despite all, as a moral force in the region—as a superior state, especially as compared to its Arab rivals.”

The US media touted Israel’s ‘moral victory’, which, somehow, made everything okay, and with a magic wand, wiped the record clean.

The Washington Post editorial led the congratulatory chorus: “The whole process of the Israeli reaction to the Beirut massacre is a tribute to the vitality of democracy in Israel and to the country’s moral character.”

This sorry state of affairs has been in constant replay for nearly 70 years, ever since Israel declared its independence in 1948.

International law is clear regarding the legal responsibility of Occupying Powers but since Israel is rarely an enthusiast of international law, Israel has forbidden any attempt at being investigated for its actions.

In fact, Israel abhors the very idea of being ‘investigated’. Every attempt by the United Nations, or any other organization dedicated to upholding international law, has either been rejected or failed.

By Israeli logic, Israel is a democracy and democratic countries cannot be investigated over their army’s involvement in the death of civilians.

This was, in fact, the gist of the statement produced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin’s Netanyahu’s office in June 2010, soon after Israeli army commandos intercepted a humanitarian aid flotilla on its way to Gaza and killed ten unarmed activists in international waters.

Israel is an Occupying Power under international law and is held accountable to the Fourth Geneva Convention. The international community is legally obliged to examine Israel’s conduct against Palestinian civilians and, needless to say, against unarmed civilians in international waters.

Israel’s record of investigating itself, aside from being spun to praise Israel’s moral superiority, has never been of any help for Palestinians.

In fact, the entire Israeli justice system is systematically unjust to occupied Palestinians.

The Israeli rights group Yesh Din reported that out “of the 186 criminal investigations opened by the Israeli army into suspected offenses against Palestinians in 2015, just four yielded indictments.” Such indictments rarely yield prison sentences.

The recent indictment of Israeli army medic, Elor Azarya, sentencing him to (now postponed) a term of 18 months in prison for the killing in cold blood of an alleged Palestinian attacker is an exception, not the norm. It has been years since an Israeli soldier was sentenced. In fact, several thousand Palestinian civilians have been killed between the last time a ‘manslaughter’ conviction of an Israeli soldier in 2005 and Azarya’s indictment.

Azarya, now perceived by many Israelis as a hero, has received such a light punishment that it is less than that of a Palestinian child throwing rocks at an Israeli occupation soldier.

Some United Nations officials, although powerless before the US backing of Israel, are furious.

The 18-month verdict “also stands in contrast to the sentences handed down by other Israeli courts for  other less serious offenses, notably the sentencing of Palestinian children to more than three years’ imprisonment for throwing stones at cars,” UN human rights spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, said in response to the Israeli court decision.

While pro-Israel social media activists and media pundits went on to praise the supposedly unmatched Israeli democracy, a campaign in Israel to pardon Azarya continues to garner momentum. Prime Minister Netanyahu is already on board.

Not only is the Israeli justice system unjust to Palestinians, it was never intended to be so. A careful reading of the recent comptroller’s remarks and findings would clarify that the intent was never to examine war against a besieged nation as a moral concept, but the government’s inability to win the war more effectively: the breakdown of intelligence; Netanyahu’s lack of political inclusiveness; the death of an unprecedented number of Israeli soldiers.

Israel’s appetite for war is, in fact, at an all-time high. Some commentators are arguing that Israel might launch yet another war so as to redeem its ‘mistakes’ in the previous one, as stated in the report.

But war itself is a staple for Israel. Hard-hitting Israeli journalist Gideon Levy’s reaction to the comptroller’s report says it best. He argued that the report is almost a plagiarized copy of the ‘Winograd Commission Report’ which followed the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

All wars since 1948 “could have been avoided”, Levy wrote in Haaretz, but they were not, frankly, because “Israel loves wars. Needs them. Does nothing to prevent them and, sometimes, instigates them.”

This is the only way to read the latest report, but also all such reports, when war is used as a tool of control, to ‘downgrade’ the defenses of a besieged enemy, to create distraction from political corruption, to help politicians win popular support, to play, time and again, the role of the embattled victim, and many other pretenses.

As for Palestinians, who are neither capable of instigated or sustaining a war, they can only put up a fight, real or symbolic, whenever Israel decides to go for yet another bloody, avoidable war.

No matter the outcome, Israel will boast of its military superiority, unmatched intelligence, transparent democracy and moral ascendancy; the US, Britain, France and other Europeans will enthusiastically agree, issuing Israel another blank check to ‘defend itself’ by any means.

Meanwhile, any attempt at investigating Israeli conduct will be thwarted, for Israel is a ‘democracy’ and, for some reason, self-proclaimed democracies cannot be investigated. Only their sham investigations matter; only their dead count.

Truman Was Right About the CIA

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Say what you will about President Harry Truman, but at least he didn't leave the White House a suspiciously rich man. He also actuallywent home, to Independence Missouri, and moved into a modest house he didn't own. It was the same house belonging to his wife's family where he had lived with Bess (and his mother-in-law!) decades earlier.

Flat broke, and unwilling to accept corporate board positions or commercial endorsements, Truman sought a much-needed loan from a local Missouri bank. For several years his only income was a $113 monthly Army pension, and only the sale of a parcel of land he inherited with his siblings prevented him from nearly "being on relief," as Truman allegedly stated. In the 1950s, perhaps almost entirely to alleviate Truman's embarrassing financial situation, Congress authorized a $25,000 yearly pension for ex-presidents Truman and the much-wealthier Herbert Hoover. 

Contrast this with the luxe post-presidential life of the Reagans in Bel Air, or the still-unfolding saga of the Obama's jet-setting life between Kalorama, Palm Springs, and Oahu!

But even if Truman's homespun honesty and common man persona sometime wore thin, he deserves credit for the startling admission that he regretted creating the CIA. Speaking to a biographer in the 1960s, less than 20 years after signing the National Security Act of 1947, Truman expressed a sense of foreboding about what the agency had become, and would become:
Merle Miller: Mr. President, I know that you were responsible as President for setting up the CIA. How do you feel about it now?
Truman: I think it was a mistake. And if I'd know what was going to happen, I never would have done it.
This is decidedly not the kind of thing ex-presidents usually say. We won't expect George W. Bush to announce his regrets over invading Iraq anytime soon. But Truman's instincts were right, even if he couldn't have imagined what the CIA and the entire Deep State nexus would become. In Truman's era, spying and subterfuge were physical endeavors, involving skilled agents and analog technology. Today the covert arts don't require James Bond, but instead a trained technician who can pull information from a server farm.

The digital revolution gives modern intelligence agencies vastly more power than they had during the Cold War spy days: they simply access existing metadata, from whatever source, rather than collect it in real time. And intelligence gathering is not just a supplementary form of warfare waged against hostile foreign governments, but also a domestic political tool that allows Deep State actors to strike at civilian and political targets. As Mr. Trump has discovered, the "strike" can consist of a coordinated media attacks, leaks from trusted officials, and even bizarre triangulations aimed at pinning his election on Vladimir Putin. 

One justification Truman provides for his action is the old bureaucratic unicorn known as "consolidation," which is often promised by politicians but never delivered. When then-congressman Ron Paul and his staff furiously argued against the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, GOP congressional leaders assured us that an entirely new department would actually consolidate several different agencies and functions. "It will save money!", they told us, to bring all of these disparate federal employees under one efficient umbrella. Fast forward to 2017, and DHS is just another failed department with a thousand-page, $42 billion annual budget.

But Truman apparently bought into the consolidation argument: 
Truman: the President needed at that time a central organization that would bring all the various intelligence reports we were getting in those days, and there must have been a dozen of them, maybe more, bring them all into one organization so that the President would get one report on what was going on in various parts of the world. Now that made sense, and that's why I went ahead and set up what they called the Central Intelligence Agency.
Unfortunately it is only in hindsight that Truman came to see the "Iron Law of Oligarchy" at work, which posits that all organizations-- particularly government bureaucracies-- eventually fall under the control of an elite few. That elite, he came to understand, did not include the president or his cabinet:
Truman: But it got out of hand. The fella ... the one that was in the White House after me never paid any attention to it, and it got out of hand. Why, they've got an organization over there in Virginia now that is practically the equal of the Pentagon in many ways. And I think I've told you, one Pentagon is one too many.

Now, as nearly as I can make out, those fellows in the CIA don't just report on wars and the like, they go out and make their own, and there's nobody to keep track of what they're up to. They spend billions of dollars on stirring up trouble so they'll have something to report on. They've become ... it's become a government all of its own and all secret. They don't have to account to anybody.

That's a very dangerous thing in a democratic society, and it's got to be put a stop to. The people have got a right to know what those birds are up to. And if I was back in the White House, people would know. You see, the way a free government works, there's got to be a housecleaning every now and again, and I don't care what branch of the government is involved. Somebody has to keep an eye on things.

And when you can't do any housecleaning because everything that goes on is a damn secret, why, then we're on our way to something the Founding Fathers didn't have in mind. Secrecy and a free, democratic government don't mix. And if what happened at the Bay of Pigs doesn't prove that, I don't know what does. You have got to keep an eye on the military at all times, and it doesn't matter whether it's the birds in the Pentagon or the birds in the CIA.
This is a remarkable statement by Truman, even if delivered during a relatively unguarded moment with a trusted biographer. It shows a humility and willingness to admit grave error that is lacking in public life today. It also stands on its own as a inadvertent libertarian argument against state power itself. 

Did Truman stand by his statements about the CIA? Yes and no. Speaking to Esquire in 1971, he continued to praise the agency as a needed consolidation:
When I took over the Presidency he received information from just about everywhere, from the Secretary of State and the State Department, the Treasury Department, the Department of Agriculture. Just everybody. And sometimes they didn't agree as to what was happening in various parts of the world. So I got couple of admirals together, and they formed the Central Intelligence Agency for the benefit and convenience of the President of the United States . . . So instead of the President having to look through a bunch of papers two feet high, the information was coordinated so that the President could arrive at the facts. It's still going, and it's going very well.
Hypocritical backpedaling on Truman's part? Perhaps. But his biographer Merle Miller calls the Esquire quote "pretty faint praise," and more importantly Truman never ordered the removal of his brief chapter on the CIA from the Plain Speaking biography. His mea culpa still stands, in print. So while he could not have fully imagined what the CIA would become, he knew in his gut he had made a terrible mistake-- a mistake we are only beginning to understand today thanks to WikiLeaks.

Reprinted with permission from the Mises Institute.

Trump’s Global Hot Spots – Is He Losing Control?

What is the libertarian response to the Trump era? Is it about building a "movement" or about fighting in the battle of ideas? Have the neocons been put on their back heel by the new Administration or are they still riding high? What's our next move? Mises Institute President Jeff Deist joins today's Liberty Report to discuss where we are in relation to the new US Administration -- and to invite our viewers to continue the conversation with us at our symposium on War and Peace in the Age of Trump taking place next month in Lake Jackson, TX:

The First Hundred Days

The “grace period” of the new administration’s proverbial first 100 days in office is far from over, but there is no relenting in the controversy, acrimony and political turmoil. Events are unfolding fast, and some observations might be in order.

Let’s cut to the chase and repeat an important axiom – not necessarily original here, but often overlooked: Trump is not the problem, but merely the symptom of a (deeper) problem.  Sure (and apart from the obvious reality-show antics) – there are plenty of easy targets: the ridiculous wall proposal, dismantling Obamacare safety net provisions, ineffective passport profiling, sundry “alternative facts”…  But US immigration policy – along with trade and foreign policies it stems from – have long been broken. American health care even under ACA remains the most inefficient among developed nations, and lack of both government transparency and honesty has been an American staple even long before Wikileaks or the infamous Clinton perjury. Put another way – in a society where (no pun intended) the adjective “social” is just as likely to be completed with the noun “media” as with “justice”, where collective amnesia all too often obscures the connection between nouveau constructs like “fake news” and traditional brain-washing propaganda, and where infatuation with quasi-artificial intelligence comes at the expense of the natural – it is rather easy for elites to manufacture consent or ever so slightly guide the rage of the system’s discontents, who will thus miss the proverbial forest for the trees.

As the nonsensical math of the administration’s neo-“voodoo economics” becomes clearer –  so will the search for debtors, scapegoats and a broader state of exception accelerate. Once the current War on Terror runs its course and with most liberal gazes fixed on traditionally oppressed groups – there is always room for finding the Subaltern Other. Many troubling indications of old tropes resurrecting from the mothballs are already evident – most notably, the “Red Russian” scare of decades past – except this time, with much of the red gone, leaving mostly pure racist stereotypes.

Above all, mortgaging livelihoods outside of the narrow space-time zone of corporate quarterly profits has always been a standard play. The present exuberance of Wall Street is plainly based on the promised unholy trinity of lower corporate taxes, emaciated regulation and increased military spending. Even mainstream commentators (NYT’s D. Brooks) have astutely observed this trend of “privatizing compassion and nationalizing repression”.  But this is just an extension of the bipartisan “privatizing profit and socializing risk” that characterized the previous government’s Great Recession response. Knee-jerk reactions to the most egregious excesses of this regime – sometimes topped with inane attempts to trump Trump in his own game – blunt a clear understanding of the deleterious trends this administration is merely ratcheting up.

Therefore, thinking outside the elite-mandated boxes is always good advice for a progressive movement. For one thing, waiting for the Democratic Party to internally reform into an agent of real change is a non-starter – as the recent DNC chair (s)election amply confirmed. The persistent popularity of Sen. Sanders’ message continuously clashes with his puzzling attempts to reform a party he is not even affiliated with, leaving him vulnerable to cheap but discrediting goading by the likes of Giuliani and Trump. There has not been a better time in decades to get outside of the damaging straight jacket of one-dimensional two-party American politics.  The next US election cycle is never too far away, and ground for it is prepared now.

“Big data analytics” has recently claimed a surge in public interest for Orwell’s classic ‘1984’. Quite encouraging, if true – all the more so as this time the paradigm is no longer singularly associated with communist excesses. But many other worthy tomes in recent years (often very serious non-fiction – e.g. Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st century”) have also allegedly topped bestseller charts, with little visible effect.  Real progress will require a real awareness by the “99%” of broader historical realities, in order to avoid the continuous traps set by the “1%”.  For starters – remembering the lessons of  Jack London’s mostly forgotten, but arguably most relevant today, “The Iron Heel”.

Spygate: America’s Political Police vs. Donald J. Trump

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Everyone is suddenly talking about the Deep State – the configuration of spy agencies, career bureaucrats, and overseas spooks whose murky omnipresence has been brought to light by President Trump’s contention that he was “wiretapped” by his predecessor.

With his usual imprecision, Trump managed to confuse the issue by ascribing the surveillance to Barack Obama, and so naturally spokesmen for the former President had no trouble batting this charge away. But as a former Obama speechwriter put it:  “I’d be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. Statement just said that neither he nor the [White House] ordered it.”

And then there’s the word “wiretapping”: this brings to mind the old-fashioned physical “bug” that our spooks used to plant on their target’s phone lines, installed in the dead of night. But that isn’t how it’s done anymore. As Edward Snowden revealed, the National Security Agency (NSA) scoops up everyone’s communications, and stores them in a database for later retrieval. Loosely-observed “rules” are supposed to make it hard (but not impossible) for the spooks to spy on American citizens, but the reality is that there are plenty of times when such information is scooped up “incidentally,” and in those cases the identities of those spied on must be redacted.

Except not anymore.

As the New York Times reported on January 12:
In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data…
And it looks like Obama administration officials made good use of this loosening of the rules after Trump’s victory. As the Times reported on March 1, after Trump won they were combing through the unredacted raw data looking for evidence of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign:
In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election – and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians – across the government.
Their goal: “to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.” And they apparently didn’t wait for the investigators, as a stream of reportage about “intercepts” involving Trump associates, such as former National Security Council advisor Michael Flynn communicating with Russian officials, found its way onto the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. The source of this intelligence is the key to understanding what happened. The Times tells us:
American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials – and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin – and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence.

Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.
Forget about looking for a FISA court application to spy on Trump & Co.: it wasn’t necessary. Such archaic remnants of a free society as a warrant were blithely bypassed: “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant,” warned American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Patrick Toomey at the time the NSA rules were thrown out.

But nobody was listening – including Trump and his supporters, who generally approve of government spying in the name of “national security.”And so the way was cleared for the anti-Trump coup plotters to do their dirty work. As the January 12Times story reported:
Under the new system, agencies will ask the N.S.A. for access to specific surveillance feeds, making the case that they contain information relevant and useful to their missions. The N.S.A. will grant requests it deems reasonable after considering factors like whether large amounts of Americans’ private information might be included and, if so, how damaging or embarrassing it would be if that information were ‘improperly used or disclosed.’
All the leakers had to do was comb through the material gathered by the NSA and cherry-pick what looked incriminating – although, to be sure, if they had a smoking gun we would surely have known about it by now. But the lack of such was no obstacle to their goal, which was to give the #NeverTrump cause a banner around which to rally post-election – “The Russians did it!” – and create a dark cloud of suspicion over Trump’s presidency as being somehow illegitimate.

The new rules on disseminating raw NSA intercepts went into effect on January 3, after then Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed on: the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had previously signed on December 12. And if we look at the reportage coming out of the media, that’s when the stories detailing the content of intercepts and other intelligence started hitting the front pages.

It’s difficult to see how anyone could deny that the Surveillance State did a number on Trump. Two days after the loosened NSA rules went into effect, the Washington Postran a story headlined “US Intercepts Capture Senior Russian Officials Celebrating Trump Win”:
Senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow, according to U.S. officials who said that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election in which Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome.
Citing "intercepted messages and conversations among senior Russian officials in Putin’s inner circle" a January 6 Reuters report informed us that:
The CIA has identified Russian officials who fed material hacked from the Democratic National Committee and party leaders to WikiLeaks at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin through third parties, according to a new US intelligence report, senior US officials said on Thursday.
On January 20, the day Trump took power, the New York Times ran a front page story headlined: “Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides”:
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.
On February 9, the New York Times reported on the conversations between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kisylak:
Weeks before President Trump’s inauguration, his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, discussed American sanctions against Russia, as well as areas of possible cooperation, with that country’s ambassador to the United States, according to current and former American officials.
The story cites the transcript of the conversation. How did the Times reporters get hold of this information? They cite “Federal officials who have read the transcript of the call.” How did those officials get hold of the transcript of a private conversation of an American citizen who was not yet a government employee? The new rules governing raw unredacted NSA intercepts made possible an interagency effort to disseminate and examine intercepts and other material, and there was a concerted effort to uncover anything that could be used against Trump.

On January 19, the McClatchy news service reported on the “get Trump” campaign launched by US law enforcement agencies:
The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump, two people familiar with the matter said.

The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said.
To be clear: during the election, six law enforcement agencies were engaged in a systematic attempt to undermine the Trump campaign, at a certain point utilizing unredacted raw intelligence collected by the NSA and other agencies, all the while leaking like a sieve to their media camarilla.

And this campaign was international in scope, as pro-Clinton nutbag Kurt Eichenwald reported on February 15 in a story headlined: “US Allies Conduct Intelligence Operation Against Trump Staff, Intercepted Communications”:
The Western European intelligence operations began in August, after the British government obtained information that people acting on behalf of Russia were in contact with members of the Trump campaign. Those details from the British were widely shared among the NATO allies in Europe. The Baltic nation has been gathering intelligence for at least that long, and has conducted surveillance of executives from the Trump Organization who were traveling in Europe.
In a panic that their free ride would be over if Trump’s “America First” agenda was implemented, our European NATO “allies” worked in close coordination with the Washington cabal to subvert the US election process far more effectively than any Russian effort. And they didn’t need a FISA court to approve their spying on the Trump campaign.

Which brings up an important issue: there has been much ado about reports of a FISA court application, supposedly denied, and one that was narrowed and allegedly approved: the BBC, the Guardian, and the lunatic “reporter” Louise Mensch have all maintained that this was the case. Yet, as I have shown above, no such approval by the FISA court was ever required, although it would have a) made it much easier for the coup plotters to do their dirty work, and b) would have shielded them from any legal consequences. However, the fly in the ointment is that this would leave a paper trail that, once elected, Trump could simply declassify.

So the FISA issue is, I believe, a false trail, a distraction away from what really happened. They didn’t need the FISA court. They didn’t need a warrant. They simply opened a “back door” that, contrary to reports, had not been closed by the “USA Freedom Act,” and – unleashed by the relaxation of the rules previously governing dissemination of NSA intercepts – simply went through it.

Finally, we have another interesting “coincidence”: the brouhaha over NSA chief Admiral Michael Rogers, who top Obama administration officials wanted to fire, which started because Rogers traveled to Trump Tower to meet with the President-elect. The ostensible reasons given – various breaches of security – were odd: after all, why fire him just as Obama was leaving office? In short, the intensity of the campaign to fire him was out of all proportion to his alleged misdeeds. Aside from the security issue, the very fact that he was visiting Trump was supposedly a major issue: we were told “There’s only one President at a time.” But why shouldn’t someone who might be asked to continue to serve meet with the President-elect?

In retrospect, the visit – and the disproportionate anger it provoked from the Obama crowd – makes perfect sense. If the NSA was being used as a source for the campaign to delegitimize Trump, and build a case that the President-elect is a “Russian puppet,” as Hillary Clinton put it, then Rogers’ may have been trying to distance himself from the effort: “It wasn’t me, Boss!”

The campaign to frame up and discredit Trump and his associates is characteristic of how a police state routinely operates. A national security apparatus that vacuums up all our communications and stores them for later retrieval has been utilized by political operatives to go after their enemies – and not even the President of the United States is immune. This is something that one might expect to occur in, say, Turkey, or China: that it is happening here, to the cheers of much of the media and the Democratic party, is beyond frightening.

The irony is that the existence of this dangerous apparatus – which civil libertarians have warned could and probably would be used for political purposes – has been hailed by Trump and his team as a necessary and proper function of government. Indeed, Trump has called for the execution of the person who revealed the existence of this sinister engine of oppression – Edward Snowden. Absent Snowden’s revelations, we would still be in the dark as to the existence and vast scope of the NSA’s surveillance.

And now the monster Trump embraced in the name of “national security” has come back to bite him.

We hear all the time that what’s needed is an open and impartial “investigation” of Trump’s alleged “ties” to Russia. This is dangerous nonsense: does every wild-eyed accusation from embittered losers deserve a congressional committee armed with subpoena power bent on conducting an inquisition? Certainly not.

What must be investigated is the incubation of a clandestine political police force inside the national security apparatus, one that has been unleashed against Trump – and could be deployed against anyone.

This isn’t about Donald Trump. It’s about preserving what’s left of our old republic. I don’t want to live in a country where anonymous spooks with access to my most personal information can collect it and release it to their friends in our despicable media – do you?

Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.

Trump Attacks America the Beautiful

Trump is the first president to take on America the Beautiful. He’s at war with America. This is not new news. Yet, it is worthy of further discussion.

Trump’s anti-establishmentarian credentials flaunted during the campaign to woo voters fed up with America’s decline, except for filthy rich, has lost its shine. He’s an establishment creature, not anti-establishment, in the neoliberal sense of supply-side economics, force-feeding the upper class so they’ll drop crumbs down below to the vast Middle/Poor Class, a new socio-economic class in America, the newest, largest class, supplanting the vast middle class of the 1950s-60s-70s.

Now that Trump has hoodwinked America’s Middle/Poor Class voters, he has turned his attention to a much larger issue, the destruction of America the Beautiful. With the exception of perfectly groomed golf courses, Trump hates environmental protectionism. He’s out to get it.

According to the Ocean Conservancy, as of March 5th: “Over the weekend, we learned that the Trump administration plans to gut NOAA’s budget by nearly $1 billion. These budget cuts aren’t just ‘trimming the fat’ they’re cutting straight to the bone.” Thus cutting back crucial communication between the health of the planet and the public, as satellite data, climate research, and coastal management are thrown into jeopardy.

Twenty-four hours earlier, massive cuts to the EPA were announced. Before the era of the EPA, magazines like Time ran stories about Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River on fire. It was 1969 and the Cuyahoga River was declared a fire hazard because of its oil-slickened feculent, grimy surface. It caught fire 13 times and thus served as a real life-real time sub-natural lobby for creation of the EPA in 1970 and then passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. Today, the Cuyahoga is clean.

Metaphorically, the EPA is “Mr. Clean” America.

The Potomac, Lake Erie, cesspools, Chesapeake Bay, and Hudson River to name a few carried disease, filth, and reprehensible odors, a legacy of industry without restrictions within recent lifetimes.

Today, the EPA estimates that one-half of the country’s rivers and streams are “impaired waters,” which means no swimming, no fishing. The EPA’s 40-years remains a work-in-progress.

In the 1970s, downtown LA was a haze as smog smeared the entire city. Once again the EPA, aka Mr. Clean, saved the day, putting teeth into the Clean Air Act in the late 1970s, adding regulatory weight to mandate reduction of polluting cars, factories, mills, and utilities. Nobody else stood up to the chemical plants or steel mills or auto manufactures declaring: “We can’t breathe.” Back then America flirted with dystopia, hanging in the balance, until EPA stood up to polluters. Imagine the dystopian mess if the EPA never existed, no mandates, no regulations, no singular force with regulatory authority to monitor and enforce clean air. After all, back then it grew worse and worse until forced to clean up.

EPA made America great as the country was headed for darkness. Further to the point, the EPA’s record, in the face of horrendous industrial damage, is downright remarkable: “The EPA has facts to back it up. Since 1970, the agency has reduced the six most common air pollutants by more than 50 percent, reduced air toxins from large industrial sources by almost 70 percent, and eliminated the use of ozone-depleting chemicals And this progress was accomplished even as the country’s GDP tripled, energy consumption increased by 50 percent, and vehicle use nearly doubled”.1 No agency, nobody else has such a strong record of achievement.

Mr. Trump is horribly ill informed. He should increase the EPA’s budget, maybe double. The EPA saved America and made America Great! He will not remake America Great again without a strong, viable EPA. Rather, he’ll fall on his own sword if he implements deep cuts.

Additionally, the EPA was singularly instrumental in saving Americans $362 billion on utility bills since 1992 in partnership with the Dept. of Energy’s Energy Star Program, promoting creation of efficient product development. That’s amazing and worthy of tripling the EPA budget, not cutting back. It’s precisely programs like Energy Star that make America great!

It is still early, maybe too early, to fully understand what Trump’s administration will do, but early indicators are not positive, as anticipated by Richard L. Revesz, Lawrence King Professor of Law and dean emeritus, New York University School of Law:

President Donald Trump and newly confirmed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt appear poised to make sweeping environmental policy changes. But strong environmental regulations remain widely popular. Perhaps as a result, the Trump administration may take a subtle approach in attacking environmental rules. Pruitt and other administration officials appear interested in rewriting guidelines for regulatory analysis and they could cook the books so that environmental protections appear to have few or no benefits and exaggerated costs. The results would be sinister…2

A sinister attack on America the Beautiful is the likeliest course of action, easily accomplished, behind the scenes, a deathtrap for so much that is held so dear, presupposed, like breathable air and noncombustible waterways.

Making America Beautiful is what the EPA is all about, and it has earned its spurs. Demonizing its wonderful legacy will cast a very long very dark shadow.

  1. Andrew Small, “Before the EPA, Our Cities Looked Like This”, Climate Desk, Grist, March 4, 2017.
  2. Richard L. Revesz, A Subtle Attack on the Environment, US News March 2, 2017.

The Last Stand for Yellowstone’s Bison

 Photos By David Mattson 

Last Tuesday, in the shadow of Yellowstone’s Electric Peak, I watched National Park Service employees herd, prod, shock, immobilize, poke, and corral bison that had only shortly before spent their lives roaming wild. That day, 45 animals were shipped for slaughter and 62 “processed” in preparation for being sent to death next week. So far this winter, almost 1,000 out of a total of roughly 5,500 bison have been sentenced to death by government agents or dispatched by hunters.

The killing of Yellowstone’s buffalo is far from over. The carnage is escalating as winter drags on and buffalo, desperate for food, leave Yellowstone Park for lower elevation grasslands north in Montana’s Gardiner basin.  Hundreds more buffalo could be sent to slaughter by the time spring green-up occurs, when buffalo return to graze in the protected core of the Park. A total of 1,400 or more Yellowstone bison could be killed, not including the animals (possibly hundreds) that otherwise do not survive harsh late-winter conditions.

It is important to note that these are not just any bison, but members of the largest free-ranging bison herd in the country, and the most genetically pure of any left in the world. In most other places buffalo have been interbred with domestic cattle. Perhaps most importantly, Yellowstone has the only herd left that still serves something akin to the ecological role that it played when Europeans first arrived and 30-88 million bison thundered across the plains of what is now the western United States.

How is it that this harassment and torture of bison is happening inside a national park, which is presumably all about preservation?  The extent to which Park Service personnel work to keep their violence towards buffalo out of the public eye is perhaps emblematic of a conflicted conscience and cognizance that something is morally wrong. But a lawsuit brought last year by journalist Christopher Ketcham and Stephany Seay, Communications Director of the Buffalo Field Campaign, (BFC) requires the agency to now show the media what it is doing. I can say that witnessing the Park Service-administered treatment of buffalo is not for the faint of heart.

With the help of poles and electric cattle prods, bison after bison was forced from a small pen into a hydraulic squeeze chute, where it bucked and thrashed and bellowed, in a crazed panic. Each bison was squeezed so hard inside the metal cage that most finally stopped bucking, at which point a metal bar pinned its head up to the side of the chute.  Through the slats in the chute, you could see their tongues hanging out, and their eyes bulging. Their hoarse breathing was audible, even from 20 yards away. Many had blood on their coats as a result of injuries from the horns of other distressed bison—a direct consequence of being stampeded, slammed up against each other, and pushed between pens along a maze of metal-reinforced alleys.  Some of the younger bison literally tore their own horns off against the cages and bars. If there is a hell in the bison world, this must be it.

While pinned in the chute, Park technicians drew blood and checked teeth, weighed them, then released them into holding pens.

A few yearling calves escaped the ordeal because the chute was too big to effectively contain and immobilize them. These were waved through. Still, none of the bison we saw will likely escape slaughter.

The chute’s brand name, “The Silencer,” had been deliberately painted over with an inane reminder of the year, “2016-2017,” perhaps in case we journalists were to attempt substituting photos of atrocities perpetrated during previous years for the atrocities perpetrated while we were there.

From a catwalk above the pens, I could see a group of yearling calves, all with smears of blood on their bodies from rubbing up against one calf whose horn had been torn off. They looked up at me in terror and alarm.  I was helpless to do anything except bear witness.   I felt that these youngsters were owed a profound apology.

In a matter of days, these calves will be gutted, dressed and hung in White’s Meat Processing in Ronan, Montana. According to the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the process entails literally sending animals to a gas chamber, after which they are “stunned, shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut.”

 Bison Cowboys: Shipping Yellowstone Bison to Slaughter. Note Electric Cattle Prod

The meat will be distributed to Indian people, which is better than most alternatives, but hardly the point. These wild beings, the product of millions of years of evolution, uniquely adapted to the harsh conditions of Yellowstone, and members of a close-knit herd, will be killed for no reason except to placate tough-minded stockmen and their ideologue allies (read: Trump’s core supporters).

As in the case of grizzly bears and wolves, management of buffalo caters primarily to a minority of well-heeled and politically well-connected agriculture interests at the expense of the broader public, who flock to Yellowstone to see these rare and iconic animals in the flesh. More on this later.

There seems to be no regard for the fact that bison have been on this landscape since the Ice Age, or that they survived the worst that the forces of nature could throw at them – except Europeans and our guns. Their ancestors evolved with giant short-faced bears, sabre tooth cats, dire wolves, woolly mammoths and ice-age camels. All these animals are gone now, but a remnant of bison is still with us.

Yellowstone bison are descendants of just 23 animals that had survived the slaughters of the 1800s. All this begs the question: why are we persecuting these animals again? And why is the Park Service, which helped bring them back from the brink, so intimately involved in their deaths?

Atrocities in Yellowstone Park

It baffles me that the National Park Service is leading current efforts to capture and send to slaughter buffalo that are simply poised to roam north into the Gardiner Basin – as bighorn sheep, elk, deer, pronghorn, wolves and bears do. This behavior is natural. Even though buffalo are well-equipped with huge heads for shoveling deep snow to uncover grass, roaming downhill to more clement climes is the path of least resistance when snow is deep, or when thick ice prevents bison from reaching the grass below.

With the Park Service’s help, the state of Montana will probably reach its goal of killing 1,400 Yellowstone’s buffalo. Although the Park Service estimates that forage in Yellowstone could support 5,000-7,000 buffalo, an outdated bison management plan uses an antiquated target of 3,000 animals. Further, a 2000 court-mediated settlement agreement of a lawsuit filed by Montana’s Department of Livestock against the Park Service gives the state and its powerful livestock industry inordinate influence over bison management, even it appears, inside a national park.

It was noteworthy that no one from Montana’s livestock industry or State Department of Livestock participated in the tour I was on. Why bother, when Park Service employees seemed more than happy to do their dirty work and field the tough questions from reporters — despite the fact that this work is antithetical to the Park Service’s mission of protecting natural resources.

Having worked as a wildlife advocate for over 30 years in the political pressure cooker that is Greater Yellowstone, I can only imagine the conversations among Park officials. “Maybe our willingness to kill so many will buy good will from the state in the revision of the bison plan.” Or: “our hands are tied, especially under the new Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke,” a former Montana Congressman with strong ties to industry. Or: “if we kill 1,400 bison this year, we might buy a reprieve of several years before a similar out-migration of bison would necessitate significant killing again.”

All humans share the unique ability to rationalize activities that feel inherently wrong. I doubt that many of the Park employees engaged in this debacle had imagined that their job description could include sending to death wildlife that they had been entrusted to protect.

Last year, Yellowstone Park proposed shipping some animals that would have been otherwise killed to a quarantine facility on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northern Montana. There is presently only one such facility authorized to take Yellowstone bison, located 30 miles north of Yellowstone near the hamlet of Corwin Springs.  There, USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) kills 50% or so of the captive buffalo that test positive for the disease brucellosis—which is the putative cause for the entire capture, containment, and slaughter program. (More on this later).

Over time, the caged sub-population is “cleansed” of the disease, but there is no chance of returning home. Nor will this — or any other method proposed so far — purge the entire population of the disease.

Needless-to-say, the Park’s proposal to send bison to Fort Peck’s facility is stridently opposed by livestock organizations, but supported by some conservationists and Tribes. Two weeks ago, Republican state legislators killed a bill that would have authorized the shipping of Yellowstone buffalo to Fort Peck. There is no doubt that regressives in the livestock industry have the upper hand, and will not make even modest concessions to those who have more altruistic and public-minded values.

Buffalo Management: The Ruse of Cleansing the Land of Disease

You commonly hear that the killing and expensive quarantine of buffalo is to protect cattle from the disease brucellosis, which is carried by buffalo. (Paradoxically, bison originally contracted the disease from European cows). But this rationale turns out to be bogus. Although buffalo do carry brucellosis and could theoretically transmit the disease to cattle, they have never been known to do so in the wild. In fact, there are only a handful of cattle near where the buffalo migrate in winter – and none of these cows are on public lands.

By contrast, elk, which are 25 times more numerous than buffalo and interact with cattle far more often, have transmitted brucellosis to cows on at least 6 documented occasions, most recently in November, 2015 (link). Yet nothing is being done about the elk “problem”, in part because elk are sportmens’ darlings and generate at least $11 million annually in state hunting revenues in Montana. Something deeper, even pathologic, lies beneath disparities between how bison and elk are treated.

If brucellosis were a real problem, the livestock industry would be advocating more consistent policies and taking the elk disease threat seriously. But such is not the case, which suggests that the hype about brucellosis in bison is really cover for something else.

In fact, what we have is a cabal of stockmen, state veterinarians, legislators, and employees of the Board of Livestock using paranoia over “disease ridden” buffalo to perpetuate political control and an archaic, regressive mindset obsessed with dominating the natural world. These bad actors aim at nothing less than keeping the West under their thumb, perpetuating a regime that was instituted under the banner of Manifest Destiny. This despite the fact that the region’s economic and cultural health depends increasingly upon amenities rooted in wildlife and public lands.

Mary Meagher, longtime bison biologist in Yellowstone Park, put it this way: ”Brucellosis is a smoke screen. The real issue is that ranchers do not want bison out on the land.” (link)

In furtherance of their agenda, the livestock industry has adopted the bizarre and extreme position of tolerating “no risk” of brucellosis in the case of buffalo, no matter what the cost, which is borne mainly by taxpayers—a classic case of subsidies for a coddled special interest. Dare we call them welfare ranchers?

The Park Service’s Cowboy Culture?

In keeping with the narrative of bison as diseased livestock, it was interesting to see that most of the 12 involved Park Service employees (including only one woman) played the part of cowboy in this week’s bison “processing.” They could have passed as cowhands anywhere in the West, with their silk scarves and chaps. Four galloped their horses, all in a row, waving their right arms in unison as if on a movie set, to run bison from a larger holding area into smaller pens. It struck me they may have been watching too many Hollywood westerns.

But this is the National Park Service, not the Department of Livestock. Is it easier to distance yourself from the nasty business of sending wild buffalo to slaughter if done in the persona of a cowboy?  Does the task somehow become more romantic, less brutal?

Only the head of the operation, Brian Helm, who bore the military-style title of “Incident Commander,” seemed to be truly enjoying himself. Of all the techs, Brian was most cowboy in his dress and demeanor. His chaps had fancy leather fringe. He stood on top of the catwalk above “the Silencer” and gestured dramatically with white-gloved hands, signaling to the other techs how much tighter the neck bar needed to be; whether it was time to draw blood, check teeth, or lift the animal to get a weight; what gender the animal was and in which pen they should be herded. He seemed the conductor of an orchestra that played a sort of buffalo requiem.

 Brian Helm of NPS on the catwalk 

Every operation has one who seems to relish the job of its commander, even if the work is brutal and cruel. In the course of human history, we have demonstrated time and again, how easy it is for humans to normalize the unthinkable—especially if you include a fancy-dress outfit.

The Killing Fields: No End In Sight

The current killing program is authorized by the 2000 Interagency Bison Management Plan. Although outdated, government agencies are far from revising the plan. Yellowstone Park’s bison biologist Rick Wallen reported that the agencies cannot agree on objectives, let alone a range of alternatives for analysis. A planning process started in 2015 appears, for now, dead in the water. Wallen thinks the plan might take 10 years or so to complete. This means that the Park Service would need to strive in the meantime to maintain the current population target of 3,000 bison and to continue the cycle of killing.

Of all the intractable wildlife debates in Yellowstone, including wolves and grizzlies, perhaps the most stuck and regressive surrounds buffalo. Yes, things may be incrementally improving, as we were told, since the days when bison numbers hovered near zero. But this is the 21st century, and Yellowstone’s buffalo deserve better.

Fortunately, there are a few examples of where buffalo are being better treated when they step outside the Park into Montana’s non-park lands.

Progress at Horse Butte

As of last year, wild bison are being accommodated to the west of the Park on Horse Butte, a peninsula in Hebgen Lake. Bison can now roam on Horse Butte year round, and have their babies in peace.

Here a majority of landowners made it clear to Montana Governor Steve Bullock that they wanted wild bison to be able to roam on their private land. They expressly opposed armed Department of Livestock thugs on horseback trespassing and harassing animals on land they own.  Moreover, there are no cows there after a grazing allotment had been retired.

This is a shining example of what can be done to co-exist with bison elsewhere in Greater Yellowstone. There are a number of residents of the Gardiner and the Taylor Fork area, who also embrace a kinder, gentler approach to managing bison, and would welcome them on their land.

The good folks at the Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) need to be credited with much of the hard work reaching out to and helping organize landowners on Horse Butte.

Buffalo Field Campaign: Defending Buffalo 24-7

My friends at BFC (link) have been on the ground fighting for buffalo and documenting the mistreatment of these animals since 1997. BFC Founder and film-maker extraordinaire, Mike Mease, has shot more footage of buffalo in all seasons and conditions, happy and tragic, than anyone alive. Co-founder Dan Brister has written a scholarly book on buffalo. Darrell Geist is a walking encyclopedia of bison management.  

BFC’s strategies and tactics are extraordinary — certainly different than any other environmental organization in the region. First, they work closely with Native Americans who also see buffalo as sacred yet maligned creatures.

Second, they rely heavily on volunteers who are out on the ground every day observing buffalo and the activities of hunters and managers.  Over 5,000 volunteers have cut their teeth in conservation working with BFC.  Numerous of these campaigners have moved on to positions of leadership in other conservation groups.

Third, BFC is one of the few groups that signs on young people, who are critical to shaping the future of wildlife and wildlands conservation, which is rapidly greying. By contrast, most other organizations tend to rely almost exclusively on professional staff. These staff tend to cycle between groups, which perpetuates a kind of “group think.”

Few other groups share BFC’s commitment to documenting what is happening in the field. Over the years, I have seen a sad trend in conservation that increasingly emphasizes a kind of “professionalism” that prioritizes political cleverness and certain in-office technical skills over observation and deep immersion in the natural world.

I honestly cannot imagine how the hardy warriors who volunteer with BFC survive bearing witness to the atrocities perpetrated on buffalo, and counting the dead – over 8,000 since the group was founded.  The BFC community lives communally and frugally in cabins near West Yellowstone and Gardiner, where they keep an eye on the buffalo every day, no matter how bitter the cold. Maybe they do so well because they are a bit like buffalo themselves: tough and stubborn.

On the day of the tour, Stephany Seay, a BFC stalwart, seemed to mirror the turmoil of the buffalo. (Listen to a great interview on Grizzly Times with Stephany here). Uncharacteristically quiet, her weathered face showed pain, grief, outrage.  She had seen so many more buffalo dead, or dispatched to death, than I ever will – or hope to. Even as she snapped photos, part of her seemed to be dying with the buffalo.

Up on the catwalk, above the din of a buffalo heaving herself against the metallic cage, Brian Helm with white gloves flashing, stands as Stephany’s opposite.  As Mike Wright wrote in the Bozeman Chronicle story on the tour, “it was just another day in the Park at the Stephens Creek Capture Facility,” (link) implying that the “processing” of the buffalo had become routine.

But routinizing brutal behavior desensitizes people to the import of their actions. Have those involved in processing bison for the Park Service become inured to the practice of killing? How can the broader public hope for kinder treatment of buffalo if agency personnel see killing as an acceptable solution to “the problem,” as defined by the livestock organizations that do not want “diseased” buffalo to leave the Park?