The War on Assange Is a War on Press Freedom

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The failure on the part of establishment media to defend Julian Assange, who has been trapped in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012, has been denied communication with the outside world since March and appears to be facing imminent expulsion and arrest, is astonishing. The extradition of the publisher—the maniacal goal of the U.S. government—would set a legal precedent that would criminalize any journalistic oversight or investigation of the corporate state. It would turn leaks and whistleblowing into treason. It would shroud in total secrecy the actions of the ruling global elites. If Assange is extradited to the United States and sentenced, The New York Times, The Washington Post and every other media organization, no matter how tepid their coverage of the corporate state, would be subject to the same draconian censorship. Under the precedent set, Donald Trump’s Supreme Court would enthusiastically uphold the arrest and imprisonment of any publisher, editor or reporter in the name of national security.

There are growing signs that the Ecuadorean government of Lenín Moreno is preparing to evict Assange and turn him over to British police. Moreno and his foreign minister, José Valencia, have confirmed they are in negotiations with the British government to “resolve” the fate of Assange. Moreno, who will visit Britain in a few weeks, calls Assange an “inherited problem” and “a stone in the shoe” and has referred to him as a “hacker.” It appears that under a Moreno government Assange is no longer welcome in Ecuador. His only hope now is safe passage to his native Australia or another country willing to give him asylum.

“Ecuador has been looking for a solution to this problem,” Valencia commented on television. “The refuge is not forever, you cannot expect it to last for years without us reviewing this situation, including because this violates the rights of the refugee.”

Moreno’s predecessor as president, Rafael Correa, who granted Assange asylum in the embassy and made him an Ecuadorean citizen last year, warned that Assange’s “days were numbered.” He charged that Moreno—who cut off Assange’s communications the day after Moreno welcomed a delegation from the U.S. Southern Command—would “throw him out of the embassy at the first pressure from the United States.”

Assange, who reportedly is in ill health, took asylum in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sexual offense charges. He feared that once in Swedish custody for these charges, which he said were false, he would be extradited to the United States. The Swedish prosecutors’ office ended its “investigation” and extradition request to Britain in May 2017 and did not file sexual offense charges against Assange. But the British government said Assange would nevertheless be arrested and jailed for breaching his bail conditions.

The persecution of Assange is part of a broad assault against anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist news organizations. The ruling elites, who refuse to accept responsibility for profound social inequality or the crimes of empire, have no ideological veneer left to justify their greed, ineptitude and pillage. Global capitalism and its ideological justification, neoliberalism, are discredited as forces for democracy and the equitable distribution of wealth. The corporate-controlled economic and political system is as hated by right-wing populists as it is by the rest of the population. This makes the critics of corporatism and imperialism—journalists, writers, dissidents and intellectuals already pushed to the margins of the media landscape—dangerous and it makes them prime targets. Assange is at the top of the list.

I took part with dozens of others, including Daniel Ellsberg, William Binney, Craig Murray, Peter Van Buren, Slavoj Zizek, George Galloway and Cian Westmoreland, a week ago in a 36-hour international online vigil demanding freedom for the WikiLeaks publisher. The vigil was organized by the New Zealand Internet Party leader Suzie Dawson. It was the third Unity4J vigil since all of Assange’s communication with the outside world was severed by the Ecuadorean authorities and visits with him were suspended in March, part of the increased pressure the United States has brought on the Ecuadorean government. Assange has since March been allowed to meet only with his attorneys and consular officials from the Australian Embassy.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled Friday that those seeking political asylum have the right to take refuge in embassies and diplomatic compounds. The court stated that governments are obliged to provide safe passage out of the country to those granted asylum. The ruling did not name Assange, but it was a powerful rebuke to the British government, which has refused to allow the WikiLeaks co-founder safe passage to the airport.

The ruling elites no longer have a counterargument to their critics. They have resorted to cruder forms of control. These include censorship, slander and character assassination (which in the case of Assange has sadly been successful), blacklisting, financial strangulation, intimidation, imprisonment under the Espionage Act and branding critics and dissidents as agents of a foreign power and purveyors of fake news. The corporate media amplifies these charges, which have no credibility but which become part of the common vernacular through constant repetition. The blacklisting, imprisonment and deportation of tens of thousands of people of conscience during the Red Scares of the 1920s and 1950s are back with a vengeance. It is a New McCarthyism.

Did Russia attempt to influence the election? Undoubtedly. This is what governments do. The United States interfered in 81 elections between 1945 and 2000, according to professor Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University. His statistics do not include the numerous coups we orchestrated in countries such as Greece, Iran, Guatemala and Chile or the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. We indirectly bankrolled the re-election campaign of Russia’s buffoonish Boris Yeltsin to the tune of $2.5 billion.

But did Russia, as the Democratic Party establishment claims, swing the election to Trump? No. Trump is not Vladimir Putin’s puppet. He is part of the wave of right-wing populists, from Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson in Britain to Viktor Orbán in Hungary, who have harnessed the rage and frustration born of an economic and political system dominated by global capitalism and under which the rights and aspirations of working men and women do not matter.

The Democratic Party establishment, like the liberal elites in most of the rest of the industrialized world, would be swept from power in an open political process devoid of corporate money. The party elite, including Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, is a creation of the corporate state. Campaign finance and electoral reform are the last things the party hierarchy intends to champion. It will not call for social and political programs that will alienate its corporate masters. This myopia and naked self-interest may ensure a second term for Donald Trump; it may further empower the lunatic fringe that is loyal to Trump; it may continue to erode the credibility of the political system. But the choice before the Democratic Party elites is clear: political oblivion or enduring the rule of a demagogue. They have chosen the latter. They are not interested in reform. They are determined to silence anyone, like Assange, who exposes the rot within the ruling class.

The Democratic Party establishment benefits from our system of legalized bribery. It benefits from deregulating Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry. It benefits from the endless wars. It benefits from the curtailment of civil liberties including the right to privacy and due process. It benefits from militarized police. It benefits from austerity programs. It benefits from mass incarceration. It is an enabler of tyranny, not an impediment.

Demagogues like Trump, Farage and Johnson, of course, have no intention of altering the system of corporate pillage. Rather, they accelerate the pillage, which is what happened with the passage of the massive U.S. tax cut for corporations. They divert the public’s anger toward demonized groups such as Muslims, undocumented workers, people of color, liberals, intellectuals, artists, feminists, the LGBT community and the press. The demonized are blamed for the social and economic dysfunction, much as Jews were falsely blamed for Germany’s defeat in World War I and the economic collapse that followed. Corporations such as Goldman Sachs, in the midst of the decay, continue to make a financial killing.

The corporate titans, who often come out of elite universities and are groomed in institutions like Harvard Business School, find these demagogues crude and vulgar. They are embarrassed by their imbecility, megalomania and incompetence. But they endure their presence rather than permit socialists or leftist politicians to impede their profits and divert government spending to social programs and away from weapons manufacturers, the military, private prisons, big banks and hedge funds, the fossil fuel industry, charter schools, private paramilitary forces, private intelligence companies and other pet programs designed to allow corporations to cannibalize the state.

The irony is that there was serious meddling in the presidential election, but it did not come from Russia. The Democratic Party, outdoing any of the dirty tricks employed by Richard Nixon, purged hundreds of thousands of primary voters from the rolls, denied those registered as independents the right to vote in primaries, used superdelegates to swing the vote to Hillary Clinton, hijacked the Democratic National Committee to serve the Clinton campaign, controlled the message of media outlets such as MSNBC and The New York Times, stole the Nevada caucus, spent hundreds of millions of dollars of “dark” corporate money on the Clinton campaign and fixed the primary debates. This meddling, which stole the nomination from Bernie Sanders, who probably could have defeated Trump, is unmentioned. The party hierarchy will do nothing to reform its corrupt nominating process.

WikiLeaks exposed much of this corruption when it published tens of thousands of messages hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account. The messages brought to light the efforts by the Democratic Party leadership to thwart the nomination of Sanders, and they disclosed Clinton’s close ties with Wall Street, including her lucrative Wall Street speeches. They also raised serious questions about conflicts of interest with the Clinton Foundation and whether Clinton received advance information on primary-debate questions.

The Democratic National Committee, for this reason, is leading the Russia hysteria and the persecution of Assange. It filed a lawsuit that names WikiLeaks and Assange as co-conspirators with Russia and the Trump campaign in an alleged effort to steal the presidential election.

But it is not only Assange and WikiLeaks that are being attacked as Russian pawns. For example, The Washington Post, which has sided with the Democratic Party in the war against Trump, without critical analysis published a report on a blacklist posted by the anonymous website PropOrNot. The blacklist was composed of 199 sites that PropOrNot alleged, with no evidence, “reliably echo Russian propaganda.” More than half of those sites were far-right, conspiracy-driven ones. But about 20 of the sites were major progressive outlets including AlterNet, Black Agenda Report, Democracy Now!, Naked Capitalism, Truthdig, Truthout, CounterPunch and the World Socialist Web Site. PropOrNot, short for Propaganda or Not, accused these sites of disseminating “fake news” on behalf of Russia. The Post’s headline was unequivocal: “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during the election, experts say.”

In addition to offering no evidence, PropOrNot never even disclosed who ran the website. Even so, its charge was used to justify the imposition of algorithms by Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon to direct traffic away from the targeted sites. These algorithms, or filters, overseen by thousands of “evaluators,” many hired from the military and security and surveillance apparatus, hunt for keywords such as “U.S. military,” “inequality” and “socialism,” along with personal names such as Julian Assange and Laura Poitras. These keywords are known as “impressions.” Before the imposition of the algorithms, a reader could type in the name Julian Assange and be directed to an article on one of these targeted sites. After the algorithms were put in place, these impressions directed readers only to mainstream sites such as The Washington Post. Referral traffic from these impressions at most of the targeted sites has plummeted, often by more than half. Challenged by these algorithms and the abolition of net neutrality, these sites will be pushed further and further to the outer reaches of the media.

Any news or media outlet that addresses the reality of our failed democracy and exposes the crimes of empire will be targeted. The January 2017 Director of National Intelligence Report spent seven pages on RT America, where I have a show, “On Contact.” The report does not accuse RT America of disseminating Russian propaganda, but it does allege the network exploits divisions within American society by giving airtime to dissidents and critics including whistleblowers, anti-imperialists, anti-capitalists, Black Lives Matter activists, anti-fracking campaigners and the third-party candidates the establishment is seeking to mute.

If the United States had a public broadcasting system free from corporate money or a commercial press that was not under corporate control, these dissident voices would be included in the mainstream discourse. But we don’t. Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Malcolm X, Sheldon Wolin, Ralph Nader, James Baldwin, Susan Sontag, Angela Davis and Edward Said once appeared regularly on public broadcasting. Now critics like these are banned, replaced with vapid courtiers such as columnist David Brooks. RT America was forced to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). This act requires Americans who work for a foreign party to register as foreign agents. The FARA registration is part of the broader assault on all independent media, including the effort to silence Assange.

WikiLeak’s publication in 2017 of 8,761 CIA files, known as Vault 7, appeared to be the final indignity. Vault 7 included a description of the cyber tools used by the CIA to hack into computer systems and devices such as smartphones. Former CIA software engineer Joshua Adam Schulte was indicted on charges of violating the Espionage Act by allegedly leaking the documents.

The publication of Vault 7 saw the United States significantly increase its pressure on the Ecuadorean government to isolate and eject Assange from the embassy. Mike Pompeo, then the CIA director, said in response to the leaks that the U.S. government “can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Assange’s arrest was a “priority.”

It is up to us to mobilize to protect Assange. His life is in jeopardy. The Ecuadorean government, violating his fundamental rights, has transformed his asylum into a form of incarceration. By cutting off his access to the internet, it has deprived him of the ability to communicate and follow world events. The aim of this isolation is to pressure Assange out of the embassy so he can be seized by London police, thrown into a British jail and then delivered into the hands of Pompeo, John Bolton and the CIA’s torturer in chief, Gina Haspel.

Assange is a courageous and fearless publisher who is being persecuted for exposing the atrocities of the corporate state and imperialism. His defense is the cutting edge of the fight against government suppression of our most important and fundamental democratic rights. The government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, where Assange was born, must be pressured to provide him with the protection to which he is entitled as a citizen. It must intercede to stop the illegal persecution of the journalist by the British, American and Ecuadorean governments. It must secure his safe return to Australia. If we fail to protect Assange, we fail to protect ourselves.

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The Con of Diversity

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In 1970, when black students occupied the dean’s office at Harvard Divinity School to protest against the absence of African-American scholars on the school’s faculty, the white administration was forced to respond and interview black candidates. It asked James Cone, the greatest theologian of his generation, to come to Cambridge, Mass., for a meeting. But the white power structure had no intention of offering Cone a job. To be black, in its eyes, was bad enough. To be black, brilliant and fiercely independent was unpalatable. And so the job was given to a pliable African-American candidate who had never written a book, a condition that would remain unchanged for the more than three decades he taught at Harvard.

Harvard got what it wanted. Mediocrity in the name of diversity. It was a classic example of how the white power structure plays people of color. It decides whom to promote and whom to silence. When then-Maj. Colin Powell helped cover up the 1968 massacre of some 500 civilians at My Lai in Vietnam he was assured a glittering career in the Army. When Barack Obama proved obedient to the Chicago political machine, Wall Street and the Democratic Party establishment he was promoted to the U.S. Senate and the presidency.

Diversity in the hands of the white power elites—political and corporate—is an advertising gimmick. A new face, a brand, gets pushed out front, accompanied by the lavish financial rewards that come with serving the white power structure, as long as the game is played. There is no shortage of women (Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Donna Brazile), Latinos (Tom Perez and Marco Rubio) or blacks (Vernon Jordan, Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson) who sell their souls for a taste of power.

Ta-Nehisi Coates in his book “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy” writes that “Barack Obama is directly responsible for the rise of a crop of black writers and journalists who achieved prominence during his two terms.” But this was true only for those black writers like Coates and Michael Eric Dyson who were obsequious cheerleaders for Obama. If, like Cornel West, you were black and criticized Obama you were isolated and attacked by Obama surrogates as a race traitor.

“For those who didn’t support Obama it was the lonely time,” said Glen Ford, the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, when we spoke recently. “It’s like A.D. and B.C. Before Obama time, my politics reflected that of a black commentator, probably within a respectable black political spectrum. I’m looking at a fax, ‘NAACP September 8, 2007. NAACP regional leader.’ I got this after giving a keynote speech in Little Rock, Ark., in commemoration of the events in Little Rock in ’57. You see what I’m saying? I could do that, even as late as 2007. Then Obama happened. It was a wonderful time for people who endorsed Obama. If you didn’t endorse Obama, you were verboten in the community. All of a sudden you were ostracized.”

The absence of genuine political content in our national discourse has degraded it to one between racists and people who don’t want to be identified as racists. The only winners in this self-destructive cat fight are corporations such as Goldman Sachs, whose interests no American can vote against, along with elite institutions dedicated to perpetuating the plutocracy. Drew G. Faust, the first woman president of Harvard University, whose appointment represented a triumph for diversity, upon her retirement was appointed to the board of Goldman Sachs, a role for which she will receive compensation totaling over half a million dollars a year. A new and “diverse” group of Democratic Party candidates, over half of whom have been recruited from the military, the CIA, the National Security Council and the State Department, is hoping to rise to political power based on the old con.

“It’s an insult to the organized movements of people these institutions claim to want to include,” Ford said. “These institutions write the script. It’s their drama. They choose the actors, whatever black, brown, yellow, red faces they want.”

“I don’t think a black left should be investing any political capital or energy into getting Barack Obamas into a Harvard,” Ford said, “or believing it can transform Harvard or any of these ruling-class universities from the inside out, any more than it can transform the Democratic Party from the inside out.”

Ford points out that “diversity” has been substituted by the white power elites for “affirmative action.” And, he argues, diversity and affirmative action are radically different. The replacement of affirmative action with diversity, he says, effectively “negates African-American history as a legal basis for redress.”

Once the Supreme Court in its 1978 Bakke decision outlawed “quotas” for racial minorities, ruling institutions were freed from having to establish affirmative action programs that would have guaranteed a space for those traditionally excluded. The Trump administration’s recent reversal of an Obama-era policy that called on universities to consider race as a factor in admissions is an attempt to eradicate even diversity. President Trump and his racist enablers, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, are resegregating America.

“You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe you have been completely fair … ,” President Lyndon Johnson said in 1965 to the graduating class of Howard University. “This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity—not just legal equity but human ability—not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.”

Johnson’s call, along with that of Martin Luther King Jr., was swiftly sabotaged by white, liberal elites, who divorced racial justice from economic justice. White liberals could live with laws prohibiting desegregation but not with giving up some of their financial and social privilege.

“White liberals are not seeking justice,” Ford said. “They’re seeking absolution. Anything that absolves them of responsibility for what this society has done, they welcome it. They’re hungry for it.”

“The legal, as well as moral, basis for affirmative action lay in the culpability of the United States and all of its layers of government in the enslavement and Jim Crow ‘hobbling’ of African-Americans—a unique history of oppression of a specific people that requires institutional redress,” Ford has written. “Otherwise, the legacies of these crimes will reproduce themselves, in mutating forms, into infinity. Once the specificity of the Black American grievance was abandoned, affirmative action became a general catch-all of various historical wrongs. Stripped of its core, affirmative action morphed into ‘diversity,’ a vessel for various aggrieved groups that was politically versatile (and especially useful to the emerging Black deal makers of electoral and corporate politics), but no longer rooted in Black realities. The affirmative action of Dr. King and President Johnson was a species of reparations, a form of redress for specific and eminently documentable harms done to African Americans, <i>as a people</i>. It was understood as a social debt <i>owed to a defined class</i>.”

“ ‘Diversity,’ ” Ford wrote, “recognizes no such debt to a particular people, or to any people at all. Rather, its legal basis is the ‘compelling interest’ of public institutions in a diversified student body (or faculty).”

Diversity does not force the white power structure to address racial injustice or produce results within the black underclass. This feint to diversity was abetted, Ford points out, by black elitists who found positions for themselves in the power structure in exchange for walking away from the poor and marginalized.

Ford calls these black elitists “representationalists” who “want to see some black people represented in all sectors of leadership, in all sectors of society. They want black scientists. They want black movie stars. They want black scholars at Harvard. They want blacks on Wall Street. But it’s just representation. That’s it.”

The plague of diversity lies at the core of our political dysfunction. The Democratic Party embraces it. Donald Trump’s Republican Party repudiates it. But as a policy it is a diversion. Diversity has done little to ameliorate the suffering of the black underclass. Most blacks are worse off than when King marched in Selma. African-Americans have lost over half of their wealth since the financial collapse of 2008 because of falling homeownership rates and job loss. They have the highest rate of poverty at 27.4 percent, followed by Hispanics at 26.6 percent and whites at 9.9 percent. And 45.8 percent of black children under 6 live in poverty, compared with 14.5 percent of white children in that age group. Forty percent of the nation’s homeless are African-Americans although blacks make up only 13 percent of our population. African-Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites.

Diversity does not halt the stripping away of our civil liberties, the assault on our ecosystem or the punishing effects of mandated austerity and deindustrialization. It does not confront imperialism. Diversity is part of the mechanics of colonialism. A genuine revolutionary, Patrice Lumumba, was replaced with the pliant and corrupt Mobutu Sese Seko. Both were black. But one fought the colonial tyrants and the other served them. A political agenda built solely around “diversity” is a smokescreen for injustice.

The victory by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over the powerful Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in a Democratic primary in Brooklyn last month is not a victory for diversity, although Ocasio-Cortez is a woman of color. It is a victory of political substance over the empty rhetoric of the Democratic Party. Ocasio-Cortez defied the party establishment as an avowed member of the Democratic Socialists of America. She could not even get a pre-election endorsement from Bernie Sanders, her mentor. She calls for Medicare for all, the abolishment of ICE, a federal jobs program and an end to the wars in the Middle East and has denounced Israel’s massacre of unarmed Palestinians. She stands for something. And it is only when we stand for something, including reparations for African-Americans, that we have a chance to dismantle corporate tyranny.

“I’ve always felt, in the early ’60s when I was just a kid, that the silent partner, sometimes reluctant although still a partner, in the civil rights movement were the corporations who wanted a unified market,” Ford said. “Jim Crow was a big anomaly in terms of creating a more unified market in the United States. You can’t have an Atlanta skyline, with its magnificent elevators, with Jim Crow. Not only would Atlanta not be an international city, it couldn’t be a national city with Jim Crow. The corporate forces wanted to break down Jim Crow and explicit color discrimination. It standardized the market. This is what capitalists do. The Democratic Party is not behaving any differently than the corporations over the past 50 years.”

“I’m not worried by the Trump phenomenon,” Ford said. “That doesn’t scare me. It’s disconcerting. But it doesn’t scare me. I’m far more afraid of the space that it gives to the corporatists. It’s to their advantage. Trump defines the white man’s party’s space. It’s big. It’s no joke. It can win presidential elections. It can win again. It needs money from corporate Republicans, but it doesn’t need anything else from them. The white man’s party more clearly defines the space the Democrats claim. It’s everybody who is not an overt racist.”

“I don’t think Trump will ever beat Obama’s records in terms of deportation,” Ford went on. “We should be fighting U.S. immigration policy. But that isn’t Trump. We should be organizing against Amazon taking over a whole city. But that isn’t Trump. Will Trump’s next pick for the Supreme Court be different from any pick that a Republican would make? In fact, because he’s crazy, he might fuck up and make a bad pick for himself. He ain’t deep enough to pick the worst guy. He hasn’t read the Federalist Papers.”

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America the Failed State

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

TORONTO—Our “corporate coup d’état in slow motion,” as the writer John Ralston Saul calls it, has opened a Pandora’s box of evils that is transforming America into a failed state. The “unholy trinity of corruption, impunity and violence,” he said, can no longer be checked. The ruling elites abjectly serve corporate power to exploit and impoverish the citizenry. Democratic institutions, including the courts, are mechanisms of corporate repression. Financial fraud and corporate crime are carried out with impunity. The decay is exacerbated by the state’s indiscriminate use of violence abroad and at home, where rouge law enforcement agencies harass and arrest citizens and the undocumented and often kill the unarmed. A depressed and enraged population, trapped by chronic unemployment and underemployment, is overdosing on opioids and beset by rising suicide rates. It engages in acts of nihilistic violence, including mass shootings. Hate groups proliferate. The savagery, mayhem and grotesque distortions familiar to those on the outer reaches of empire increasingly characterize American existence. And presiding over it all is the American version of Ubu Roi, playwright Alfred Jarry’s gluttonous, idiotic, vulgar, narcissistic and infantile king, who turned politics into burlesque.

“Congress works through corruption,” Saul, the author of books such as “Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West” and “The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World,” said when we spoke in Toronto. “I look at Congress and I see the British Parliament in the late 18th century, the rotten boroughs. Did they have elections? Yes. Were the elections exciting? Yes. They were extremely exciting.”

Rotten boroughs were the 19th-century version of gerrymandering. The British oligarchs created electoral maps through which depopulated boroughs—50 of them had fewer than 50 voters—were easily dominated by the rich to maintain control of the House of Commons. In the United States, our ruling class has done much the same, creating districts where incumbents, who often run unchallenged, return to Congress election after election. Only about 40 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are actually contested. And given the composition of the Supreme Court, especially with Donald Trump poised to install another justice, it will get worse.

The corruption of the British system was amended in what Saul called “a wave upwards.” The 1832 Reform Act abolished a practice in which oligarchs, such as Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk, controlled the election results in 11 boroughs. The opening up of the British parliamentary system took nearly a century. In the United States, Saul said, the destruction of democracy is part of “a wave downwards.”

The two political parties are one party—the corporate party. They do not debate substantive issues. They each support the expansion of imperial wars, the bloated military budget, the dictates of global capitalism, the bailing out of Wall Street, punishing austerity measures, assaulting basic civil liberties through wholesale government surveillance and the abolition of due process, and an electoral process that has cemented into place a system of legalized bribery. They battle over cultural tropes such as abortion, gay rights and prayer in schools. We elect politicians based on how we are made to feel about them by the public relations industry. Politics is anti-politics.

The Republican Party built its political base in these culture wars around Christian fascists, nativists and white supremacists. The Democratic Party built its base around those who supported workers’ rights, multiculturalism, diversity and gender equality. The base of each party was used and manipulated by elites. The Republican Party elites had no intention of banning abortion or turning America into a “Christian nation.” The Democratic Party elites had no intention of protecting workers from predatory corporatism. Everyone was sold out. The ascendancy of a populist right, dominated by racists and bigots, is the inevitable product of the corporate coup d’état, Saul said. He warned we should not be complacent because of President Trump’s imbecility. Trump is immensely dangerous. “The insipid,” Thomas Mann wrote in “The Magic Mountain,” “is not synonymous with the harmless.”

“How could a civilization devoted to structure, expertise and answers evolve into other than a coalition of professional groups?” Saul asked in “Voltaire’s Bastards.” “How, then, could the individual citizen not be seen as a serious impediment to getting on with business? This has been obscured by the proposition of painfully simplified abstract notions which are divorced from any social reality and presented as values.”

“The rational elites, obsessed by structure, have become increasingly authoritarian in a modern, administrative way,” he wrote in another section of the book. “The citizens feel insulted and isolated. They look for someone to throw stones on their behalf. Any old stone will do. The cruder the better to crush the self-assurance of the obscure men and their obscure methods. The New Right, with its parody of democratic values, has been a crude but devastating stone with which to punish the modern elites.”

All despotic regimes, Saul said, carry out their final battle for control with public officials and government bureaucrats, the so-called deep state, which views the rise to power of demagogues and their sleazy enablers with alarm. These traditional courtiers, often cynical, ambitious, amoral and subservient to corporate power, nevertheless engage in the decorum and language of democracy. A few with a conscience win minor skirmishes to slow the rise of tyranny. Despots see these courtiers and democratic institutions, no matter how anemic, as a threat. This explains the assaults on the State Department, the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and the courts. Despots use their appointees to undermine and destroy these institutions, mocking their existence and questioning the loyalty of the professionals who staff them. The reviled and neutered public employee surrenders or walks away in despair. Last year, the entire senior level of management officials resigned at the State Department. Resignations continue to bleed the diplomatic core, as they do at other agencies and departments, and last week included James D. Melville Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Estonia, and Susan Thornton, the nominee to be assistant secretary for East Asian affairs.

“For the President to say the EU was ‘set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,’ or that ‘NATO is as bad as NAFTA’ is not only factually wrong, but proves to me that it’s time to go,” Melville said in the post that announced his resignation.

Once a process of deconstruction is complete, the system calcifies into tyranny. There remain no internal mechanisms, even in name, to carry out reform. This corrosive process is being played out daily in Trump’s Twitter rages, lies, smears and the barrage of insults he levels against public servants, including some of his own appointees, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as institutions such as the FBI.

Witnessing this, Saul berates the American press, too, which he said willingly plays its part in the charade for ratings and advertising dollars.

“Trump gives these astonishingly Mussolini-ish press conferences,” he said. “He says to the press, ‘Shut up. Stop!’ The press screams at him like a mob, a bunch of cattle. How can they be taken seriously? It is like the end of the Roman Republic. Important political leaders from the Senate, along with their rivals, would move around Rome with 50 people to protect them. Scenes, exactly like Trump’s interactions with the press, defined the end of the Roman Republic. Nobody knew what was going on. There was no dignity. You can’t have a democracy without a level of respect and dignity. You only have chaos. This chaos eventually leads to a call for autocratic order. Trump benefits from the confusion, even though he resembles a cartoonish figure out of a funny novel, a character from Jean Genet’s ‘The Balcony,’ although without the self-awareness.”

Trump’s decision to launch a trade war—Canada will impose punitive measures on $12.63 billion worth of imported American goods in response—is an example of the damage a despot who has little understanding of the economy, politics, international relations or law can do. These self-inflicted wounds, Saul warned, see despots intensify attacks on the demonized and the vulnerable, such as Muslims and the undocumented. Despots frantically scapegoat others for their mess, often inciting violence among their supporters to placate an inchoate rage.

“I’ve always opposed trade deals not because I oppose trade,” Saul said, “or because I thought they were about getting a fair balance in the trade, but because the trade deals were about something else. They were about deregulation. They were about handing power to corporations and banks. They weren’t about trade. Trump has again and again attacked the Canadian dairy system. Nobody has stopped to ask him, ‘Why are you opposing this instead of adopting it for yourself?’ A lot of American dairy farmers would like to have the Canadian system.”

“The free market approach to agriculture produces a surplus that drives prices down and destroys the income of farmers,” Saul said. “There are two ways of responding to this. One of them is subsidizing. Europe, following the old social democratic approach, subsidizes their agricultural sector. This drives down the income of farmers, so [the governments] subsidize [agriculture] more. They have enormous surpluses. Periodically, they’re throwing millions of tomatoes on the streets.”

“The United States claims it embraces the free market, but it does the same thing as the Europeans,” Saul said. “It too heavily subsidizes the agricultural industry. This leads to American dairy farmers producing too much milk. This economic argument says the way to win is to mass-produce cheap goods. This is the Walmart argument. You’re not selling your milk or cheese for enough to make a living. The end result is, even though you subsidize them, the farmers go bankrupt. They commit suicide. You have terrible unhappiness in the [U.S.] dairy community.”

“We have a very efficient management system in Canada that keeps the prices up, not so high that working-class people can’t buy milk and cheese, but it keeps the prices up high enough that farmers can make a proper living,” Saul said. “Because farmers can make a proper living they’re not committing suicide. What Trump is saying to Canadians is that they should give up a system that works so Canadian farmers can commit suicide with American farmers.”

“The problem with the Western world is surplus production,” Saul said. “We’re in surplus production in almost every area. But there is a terrible distribution system where people around the globe suffer and die from starvation. This is a distribution problem, not a production problem.”

Saul said the imposition of tariffs and the crude insults Trump uses against American allies—he called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “dishonest and weak”—are rapidly destroying America’s clout and standing in the global hierarchy. This behavior is having very negative political, economic and social consequences for the United States.

“The whole world, the Western world in particular, invested enormously in the idea that the United States is the leader,” Saul said. “The idea that the United States is to be admired. What’s sad about it is Americans take it for granted that the world loves them. They’ve never analyzed the responsibilities that come with being the leader. It’s what you expect from a good parent. You act in a certain way. People want to identify with the United States. It’s been that way since the Second World War. All this is being thrown away. Like or dislike Obama, he rebuilt a great part of the world’s admiration for the United States. I know what his failures were. But I also know his strengths. He was a president who was capable of acting and talking like the intelligent, civilized American that everyone wants to admire.”

“But there’s always a shadow to the bright tower,” Saul went on. “Trump’s feeding that shadow. ‘Americans are stupid. Americans are corrupt. Americans are not educated. Americans can’t be trusted.’ The whole list. The longer the chaos goes on, the worse it gets.”

The collapse of the legislative and executive branches of government has now been accompanied by the collapse of the judiciary. The loss of an independent judiciary, Saul warned, is especially ominous.

“The biggest problem in the United States is a very powerful and deeply corrupted Supreme Court,” Saul said. “This will set patterns for decades. It will be hard to undo the evil being put into place.”

Saul despaired, at the same time, over the Trump administration’s attack on public education, which he called “the most fundamental service of government when it comes to a democracy.”

“What holds democracy up?” Saul asked. “What makes democracy work? Public education is number one. A well-educated citizen. [Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos is undoing that. There is a special place for her in hell.”

U.S. trading partners and allies such as Canada and European states will, he said, reduce their dependence on the American market. The traditional strategic and political ties to Washington will be steadily weakened. And when the next financial crash comes, and Saul expects one to come, the United States will be bereft of partners when it needs them most.

“If you treat your closest allies as a threat, who is going to stand with you?” he asked.

Read more

The Soldier’s Tale

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

The troops live under
The cannon’s thunder
From Sind to Cooch Behar
Moving from place to place
When they come face to face
With a different breed of fellow
Whose skins are black or yellow
They quick as winking chop him into
Beefsteak tartar

—“The Cannon Song” from “The Threepenny Opera”

The soldier’s tale is as old as war. It is told and then forgotten. There are always young men and women ardent for glory, seduced by the power to inflict violence and naive enough to die for the merchants of death. The soldier’s tale is the same, war after war, generation after generation. It is Spenser Rapone’s turn now. The second lieutenant was given an “other than honorable” discharge June 18 after an Army investigation determined that he “went online to promote a socialist revolution and disparage high-ranking officers” and thereby had engaged in “conduct unbecoming an officer.” Rapone laid bare the lie, although the lie often seems unassailable. We must honor those like him who have the moral courage to speak the truth about war, even if the tidal waves of patriotic propaganda that flood the culture overwhelm the voices of the just.

Rapone enlisted in the Army in 2010. He attended basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. He graduated from airborne school in February 2011 and became an Army Ranger. He watched as those around him swiftly fetishized their weapons.

“The rifle is the reification of what it means to be infantrymen,” he said when I reached him by phone in Watertown, N.Y. “You’re taught that the rifle is an extension of you. It is your life. You have to carry it at all times. The rifle made us warriors dedicated to destroying the enemy in close personal combat. At first, it was almost gleeful. We were a bunch of 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds. We had this instrument of death in our hands. We had power. We could do what 99 percent of our countrymen could not. The weapon changes you. You want to prove yourself. You want to be tested in combat. You want to deliver death. It draws you in, as much as life in the Army sucks. You start executing tactical maneuvers and battle drills. You get a certain high. It’s seductive. The military beats empathy out of you. It makes you callous.”

He was disturbed by what was happening around him and to him.

“When you get to RASP [the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program], you’re told you not only have to understand Ranger culture and history, you have to adopt what’s called an airborne Ranger in the sky,” he said. “They make you go online and look at Rangers who were killed in action. You have to learn about this person and print out a copy of their obituary. It’s really unsettling, the whole process. This was a class leader acting on behalf of the cadre, he said something to the effect of ‘I’ll give you a hint, don’t pick Pat Tillman.’ ”

Rapone began to read about Pat Tillman, the professional football player who joined the Rangers and was killed in 2004 in Afghanistan by friendly fire, a fact that senior military officials, including Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who at the time was the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, covered up and replaced with a fictitious Hollywood version of death in combat with the enemy. Rapone watched the 2010 documentary “The Tillman Story” and would later read the 2006 Truthdig essay “After Pat’s Birthday,” written by Pat’s brother Kevin, who was in the Rangers with Pat. Pat Tillman, who had been in contact with Noam Chomsky, had become a critic of the war. In addition to lying to the Tillman family about Pat’s death, the Army did not return, and probably destroyed, Pat’s papers and diary.

“Pat Tillman showed me I could resist the indoctrination,” he said. “I did not have to let the military dehumanize me and turn me into something monstrous. When I learned how his death was covered up to sell the war, it was shocking. The military wasn’t interested in preserving freedom or democracy. It was only interested in protecting the profits of those in power and expanding the U.S. hegemony. I was not a Hollywood freedom fighter. I was a cog in the imperialist machine. I preyed on the poorest, most exploited people on the planet.”

“We were told to ‘shoot, move, and communicate,’ ” he said of his Ranger training. “This became our entire existence. We did not need to understand why or the larger implications. These things did not concern us.”

By July 2011 he was in Khost province in Afghanistan. He was 19 years old. He was an assistant machine gunner on an Mk-48, an 18-pound weapon that is mounted on a tripod and has a fire rate of 500 to 625 rounds per minute. He carried the spare barrel, along with the ammunition, which he fed into the gun. When his fellow Rangers cleared dwellings at night he set up a blocking position. He watched as the Rangers separated terrified men, women and children, treating them “as if they were animals.” The Rangers spoke of the Afghans as subhumans, dismissing them as “hajjis” and “ragheads.”

“A lot of the guys would say, ‘I want to go out every night and kill people,’ ” he told me. “The Rangers are about hyper-masculinity, misogyny, racism, and a hatred of other cultures.”

His platoon sergeant had the hammer of Thor, a popular symbol among white supremacists, tattooed on his arm. The sergeant told new Rangers that if they saw something that upset them and wanted to speak out about it they were “in the wrong fucking place.”

Rapone left the Rangers to attend West Point in 2012. Maybe, as an officer, he could make a difference, infuse some humanity into his squads of killers. But he had his doubts.

“When I started West Point in July 2012 I encountered a lot of similar themes I noticed in the Ranger regiment,” he said. “Officers and NCOs relished the idea of being able to kill people with impunity. It’s Rudyard Kipling. It’s the young British soldier mentality we’ve seen for hundreds of years. Its hyper-masculine. Even female cadets have to assimilate themselves. Any display of femininity is considered weakness. This is combined with the structural racism. They still honor [Confederate Gen.] Robert E. Lee at West Point. There’s a barracks named after him. There’s a portrait of him in the library in his Confederate uniform. In the bottom right of the portrait, in the background, is a slave.”

Rapone watched with growing anger as black cadets were kicked out for infractions that did not lead to the expulsion of white cadets.

He majored in history. But he read outside of the curriculum, including authors such as Howard Zinn and Stan Goff, a former Special Forces master sergeant who had been in Vietnam, Haiti, Panama, Colombia and Somalia and who wrote “Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti.”

“I realized we are the muscle for those with wealth and status,” Rapone said. “I also realized I was a socialist. It was jarring.”

His outspokenness and criticism saw him reprimanded.

“I almost got kicked out my senior year at West Point,” he said. “At that point, I was a socialist. When you study political economy, when you study critical theory, it informs your analysis and your work. It started off as an academic position. But I thought there has to be more to this. There has to be some kind of an action to back up my theories.”

He was derided as the “communist cadet.” He sought out those at the military academy who suffered from discrimination there, including people of color, women and Muslims. He joined the Muslim Cadet Association, although he is not Muslim.

“I wanted to help Muslim cadets find a platform,” he said. “I wanted them to know they were not forgotten. At West Point, there weren’t too many people who understood or appreciated Islam or how the U.S. has ripped Islamic countries to shreds.”

He helped organize an effort to provide Muslims at the academy with a proper prayer space, something that led him into heated arguments with senior administrative officials.

One professor confronted him: “I’ve been watching you for the past three, four years—you think you can do whatever you want.” “Yes, sir,” Rapone answered, a response that resulted in his being written up for speaking back to an officer.

The professor examined his social media accounts and found Rapone was posting articles from socialist publications and criticizing U.S. policy on Syrian refugees. The teacher sent a file on Rapone to the Criminal Investigations Division and G2, or military intelligence. Rapone was interrogated by senior officers. He was issued a “punishment tour” lasting 100 hours. He was forced to walk back and forth in the central square at West Point in his full dress uniform each week until the required hours were fulfilled. “It looked like something out of a Monty Python sketch,” he said.

He was stripped of his privileges for 60 days. His spring break was canceled. He spent spring break doing landscaping and other menial tasks to “pay off” his punishment debt. He was required to train cadets who had not passed a required event.

“At West Point, they’ll maintain that hazing doesn’t exist,” he said, “at least the kind that was around in the ’50s or ’60s. But it’s still hazing. You’re considered a plebe when you first get to West Point. You take out upper classmen’s trash every night. You’re not allowed to talk when you’re outside as a plebe. You have to keep your hands balled up and walk in position of attention. If you’re caught talking to a classmate, you’ll get in trouble. The worst part is that those who move on from their plebe year enforce the same dehumanizing behavior, which they despised, on the new plebes.”

He had experienced hazing in the Rangers, too. New Rangers were forced to fight each other and do numerous push-ups or were hogtied and their stomachs were smacked repeatedly.

“The hazing weeds out people who won’t embrace it,” he said. “To resist total assimilation, a lot of people create an ironic detachment. But this ironic detachment is really another form of assimilation. It runs pretty deep. There was a guy in a leadership position who tried to kill himself when I was overseas. There were cadets who committed suicide when I was at West Point and others who tried to commit suicide. I spent eight years in the Army. Suicide was a very tangible reality. A lot of suicides were the result of the combination of hazing and military culture, which in a sense is a form of hazing. Your drill instructor can’t beat the shit out of you the way he used to, but the military still has methods to torture you emotionally.”

When he graduated from West Point he was sent back to Fort Benning, where he had been a young recruit six years earlier.

“Every other Friday a basic training class graduates,” he said. “I would see these buzzed-cut teenaged boys, who had barely progressed out of puberty, being sent into the meat grinder. It was unsettling. I was being trained to lead these guys, to tell them the mission we were doing was just and right. I could not in good conscience do that. I searched for an opening. I looked for ways to leave or speak out. When the whole national anthem thing was starting up with Colin Kaepernick, putting his skin in the game, risking himself to fight against systemic racism, I thought I could at least do my part.”

He posted a picture of himself in uniform with the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick.

“Everything snowballed from there,” he said. “Colin Kaepernick, for me, was linked to Pat Tillman. He too was willing to risk himself and his status to speak truth to power.”

His public support of Kaepernick—along with his social media posts of photos of himself at his 2016 graduation at West Point wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt under his uniform and holding up his fist as he showed the words “Communism will win” on the inside of his cap—led to an investigation. Afterward, the Army’s 10th Mountain Division accept his resignation.

“The United States is almost religious about its patriotism,” he said. “Military personnel are seen as infallible. You have someone like [Secretary of Defense] James Mattis, who is a bona fide war criminal. He dropped bombs on a wedding ceremony in Iraq. He’s responsible for overseeing many different massacres in Iraq. Or [general and former national security adviser] H.R. McMaster. These people can’t do any wrong because they’ve served. This reverence for the military is priming the population to accept military rule and a form of fascism or protofascism. That’s why I felt even more compelled to get out.”

“The public doesn’t understand how regressive and toxic military culture is,” he went on. “The military’s inherent function is the abuse and degradation of other people. It is designed to be a vehicle of destruction. It’s fundamental to the system. Without that, it would collapse. You can’t convert the military into a humanitarian force even when you use the military in humanitarian ways, such as in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. The military trains soldiers to see other human beings, particularly brown and black human beings, as an imminent threat.”

“Of course, the military prides itself on being apolitical, which is oxymoronic,” he said. “The military is the political muscle of the state. There are few things more dangerous than a soldier who thinks he or she doesn’t have a political function.”

“I want to implore other soldiers and military personnel, there’s more to being a soldier than knowing how to fire a weapon,” Rapone said. “You can take a lot of what you’ve learned into society and actually help. At West Point, they say they teach you to be a leader of character. They talk to you about moral fortitude. But what do we see in the military? I was blindly following orders. I was inflicting violence on the poorest people on earth. How is there any morality in that?”

Read more

The Soldier’s Tale

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

The troops live under
The cannon’s thunder
From Sind to Cooch Behar
Moving from place to place
When they come face to face
With a different breed of fellow
Whose skins are black or yellow
They quick as winking chop him into
Beefsteak tartar

—“The Cannon Song” from “The Threepenny Opera”

The soldier’s tale is as old as war. It is told and then forgotten. There are always young men and women ardent for glory, seduced by the power to inflict violence and naive enough to die for the merchants of death. The soldier’s tale is the same, war after war, generation after generation. It is Spenser Rapone’s turn now. The second lieutenant was given an “other than honorable” discharge June 18 after an Army investigation determined that he “went online to promote a socialist revolution and disparage high-ranking officers” and thereby had engaged in “conduct unbecoming an officer.” Rapone laid bare the lie, although the lie often seems unassailable. We must honor those like him who have the moral courage to speak the truth about war, even if the tidal waves of patriotic propaganda that flood the culture overwhelm the voices of the just.

Rapone enlisted in the Army in 2010. He attended basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. He graduated from airborne school in February 2011 and became an Army Ranger. He watched as those around him swiftly fetishized their weapons.

“The rifle is the reification of what it means to be infantrymen,” he said when I reached him by phone in Watertown, N.Y. “You’re taught that the rifle is an extension of you. It is your life. You have to carry it at all times. The rifle made us warriors dedicated to destroying the enemy in close personal combat. At first, it was almost gleeful. We were a bunch of 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds. We had this instrument of death in our hands. We had power. We could do what 99 percent of our countrymen could not. The weapon changes you. You want to prove yourself. You want to be tested in combat. You want to deliver death. It draws you in, as much as life in the Army sucks. You start executing tactical maneuvers and battle drills. You get a certain high. It’s seductive. The military beats empathy out of you. It makes you callous.”

He was disturbed by what was happening around him and to him.

“When you get to RASP [the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program], you’re told you not only have to understand Ranger culture and history, you have to adopt what’s called an airborne Ranger in the sky,” he said. “They make you go online and look at Rangers who were killed in action. You have to learn about this person and print out a copy of their obituary. It’s really unsettling, the whole process. This was a class leader acting on behalf of the cadre, he said something to the effect of ‘I’ll give you a hint, don’t pick Pat Tillman.’ ”

Rapone began to read about Pat Tillman, the professional football player who joined the Rangers and was killed in 2004 in Afghanistan by friendly fire, a fact that senior military officials, including Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who at the time was the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, covered up and replaced with a fictitious Hollywood version of death in combat with the enemy. Rapone watched the 2010 documentary “The Tillman Story” and would later read the 2006 Truthdig essay “After Pat’s Birthday,” written by Pat’s brother Kevin, who was in the Rangers with Pat. Pat Tillman, who had been in contact with Noam Chomsky, had become a critic of the war. In addition to lying to the Tillman family about Pat’s death, the Army did not return, and probably destroyed, Pat’s papers and diary.

“Pat Tillman showed me I could resist the indoctrination,” he said. “I did not have to let the military dehumanize me and turn me into something monstrous. When I learned how his death was covered up to sell the war, it was shocking. The military wasn’t interested in preserving freedom or democracy. It was only interested in protecting the profits of those in power and expanding the U.S. hegemony. I was not a Hollywood freedom fighter. I was a cog in the imperialist machine. I preyed on the poorest, most exploited people on the planet.”

“We were told to ‘shoot, move, and communicate,’ ” he said of his Ranger training. “This became our entire existence. We did not need to understand why or the larger implications. These things did not concern us.”

By July 2011 he was in Khost province in Afghanistan. He was 19 years old. He was an assistant machine gunner on an Mk-48, an 18-pound weapon that is mounted on a tripod and has a fire rate of 500 to 625 rounds per minute. He carried the spare barrel, along with the ammunition, which he fed into the gun. When his fellow Rangers cleared dwellings at night he set up a blocking position. He watched as the Rangers separated terrified men, women and children, treating them “as if they were animals.” The Rangers spoke of the Afghans as subhumans, dismissing them as “hajjis” and “ragheads.”

“A lot of the guys would say, ‘I want to go out every night and kill people,’ ” he told me. “The Rangers are about hyper-masculinity, misogyny, racism, and a hatred of other cultures.”

His platoon sergeant had the hammer of Thor, a popular symbol among white supremacists, tattooed on his arm. The sergeant told new Rangers that if they saw something that upset them and wanted to speak out about it they were “in the wrong fucking place.”

Rapone left the Rangers to attend West Point in 2012. Maybe, as an officer, he could make a difference, infuse some humanity into his squads of killers. But he had his doubts.

“When I started West Point in July 2012 I encountered a lot of similar themes I noticed in the Ranger regiment,” he said. “Officers and NCOs relished the idea of being able to kill people with impunity. It’s Rudyard Kipling. It’s the young British soldier mentality we’ve seen for hundreds of years. Its hyper-masculine. Even female cadets have to assimilate themselves. Any display of femininity is considered weakness. This is combined with the structural racism. They still honor [Confederate Gen.] Robert E. Lee at West Point. There’s a barracks named after him. There’s a portrait of him in the library in his Confederate uniform. In the bottom right of the portrait, in the background, is a slave.”

Rapone watched with growing anger as black cadets were kicked out for infractions that did not lead to the expulsion of white cadets.

He majored in history. But he read outside of the curriculum, including authors such as Howard Zinn and Stan Goff, a former Special Forces master sergeant who had been in Vietnam, Haiti, Panama, Colombia and Somalia and who wrote “Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti.”

“I realized we are the muscle for those with wealth and status,” Rapone said. “I also realized I was a socialist. It was jarring.”

His outspokenness and criticism saw him reprimanded.

“I almost got kicked out my senior year at West Point,” he said. “At that point, I was a socialist. When you study political economy, when you study critical theory, it informs your analysis and your work. It started off as an academic position. But I thought there has to be more to this. There has to be some kind of an action to back up my theories.”

He was derided as the “communist cadet.” He sought out those at the military academy who suffered from discrimination there, including people of color, women and Muslims. He joined the Muslim Cadet Association, although he is not Muslim.

“I wanted to help Muslim cadets find a platform,” he said. “I wanted them to know they were not forgotten. At West Point, there weren’t too many people who understood or appreciated Islam or how the U.S. has ripped Islamic countries to shreds.”

He helped organize an effort to provide Muslims at the academy with a proper prayer space, something that led him into heated arguments with senior administrative officials.

One professor confronted him: “I’ve been watching you for the past three, four years—you think you can do whatever you want.” “Yes, sir,” Rapone answered, a response that resulted in his being written up for speaking back to an officer.

The professor examined his social media accounts and found Rapone was posting articles from socialist publications and criticizing U.S. policy on Syrian refugees. The teacher sent a file on Rapone to the Criminal Investigations Division and G2, or military intelligence. Rapone was interrogated by senior officers. He was issued a “punishment tour” lasting 100 hours. He was forced to walk back and forth in the central square at West Point in his full dress uniform each week until the required hours were fulfilled. “It looked like something out of a Monty Python sketch,” he said.

He was stripped of his privileges for 60 days. His spring break was canceled. He spent spring break doing landscaping and other menial tasks to “pay off” his punishment debt. He was required to train cadets who had not passed a required event.

“At West Point, they’ll maintain that hazing doesn’t exist,” he said, “at least the kind that was around in the ’50s or ’60s. But it’s still hazing. You’re considered a plebe when you first get to West Point. You take out upper classmen’s trash every night. You’re not allowed to talk when you’re outside as a plebe. You have to keep your hands balled up and walk in position of attention. If you’re caught talking to a classmate, you’ll get in trouble. The worst part is that those who move on from their plebe year enforce the same dehumanizing behavior, which they despised, on the new plebes.”

He had experienced hazing in the Rangers, too. New Rangers were forced to fight each other and do numerous push-ups or were hogtied and their stomachs were smacked repeatedly.

“The hazing weeds out people who won’t embrace it,” he said. “To resist total assimilation, a lot of people create an ironic detachment. But this ironic detachment is really another form of assimilation. It runs pretty deep. There was a guy in a leadership position who tried to kill himself when I was overseas. There were cadets who committed suicide when I was at West Point and others who tried to commit suicide. I spent eight years in the Army. Suicide was a very tangible reality. A lot of suicides were the result of the combination of hazing and military culture, which in a sense is a form of hazing. Your drill instructor can’t beat the shit out of you the way he used to, but the military still has methods to torture you emotionally.”

When he graduated from West Point he was sent back to Fort Benning, where he had been a young recruit six years earlier.

“Every other Friday a basic training class graduates,” he said. “I would see these buzzed-cut teenaged boys, who had barely progressed out of puberty, being sent into the meat grinder. It was unsettling. I was being trained to lead these guys, to tell them the mission we were doing was just and right. I could not in good conscience do that. I searched for an opening. I looked for ways to leave or speak out. When the whole national anthem thing was starting up with Colin Kaepernick, putting his skin in the game, risking himself to fight against systemic racism, I thought I could at least do my part.”

He posted a picture of himself in uniform with the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick.

“Everything snowballed from there,” he said. “Colin Kaepernick, for me, was linked to Pat Tillman. He too was willing to risk himself and his status to speak truth to power.”

His public support of Kaepernick—along with his social media posts of photos of himself at his 2016 graduation at West Point wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt under his uniform and holding up his fist as he showed the words “Communism will win” on the inside of his cap—led to an investigation. Afterward, the Army’s 10th Mountain Division accept his resignation.

“The United States is almost religious about its patriotism,” he said. “Military personnel are seen as infallible. You have someone like [Secretary of Defense] James Mattis, who is a bona fide war criminal. He dropped bombs on a wedding ceremony in Iraq. He’s responsible for overseeing many different massacres in Iraq. Or [general and former national security adviser] H.R. McMaster. These people can’t do any wrong because they’ve served. This reverence for the military is priming the population to accept military rule and a form of fascism or protofascism. That’s why I felt even more compelled to get out.”

“The public doesn’t understand how regressive and toxic military culture is,” he went on. “The military’s inherent function is the abuse and degradation of other people. It is designed to be a vehicle of destruction. It’s fundamental to the system. Without that, it would collapse. You can’t convert the military into a humanitarian force even when you use the military in humanitarian ways, such as in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. The military trains soldiers to see other human beings, particularly brown and black human beings, as an imminent threat.”

“Of course, the military prides itself on being apolitical, which is oxymoronic,” he said. “The military is the political muscle of the state. There are few things more dangerous than a soldier who thinks he or she doesn’t have a political function.”

“I want to implore other soldiers and military personnel, there’s more to being a soldier than knowing how to fire a weapon,” Rapone said. “You can take a lot of what you’ve learned into society and actually help. At West Point, they say they teach you to be a leader of character. They talk to you about moral fortitude. But what do we see in the military? I was blindly following orders. I was inflicting violence on the poorest people on earth. How is there any morality in that?”

Read more

Et Tu, Bernie?

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

There are two versions of Bernie Sanders. There is the old Bernie Sanders, who mounted a quixotic campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination as a democratic socialist who refused corporate cash and excoriated corporate Democrats. And there is the new Bernie Sanders, who dutifully plays by the party’s rules, courts billionaires, refused to speak out in support of the lawsuit brought against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for rigging the primaries against him and endorses Democratic candidates who espouse the economic and political positions he once denounced.

Sanders’ metamorphosis began in December 2015 when he saw the groundswell of support for his candidacy and thought he could win the nomination. He dropped the fiery, socialist rhetoric that first characterized his campaign—he had given whole speeches on democratic socialism shortly after he announced his candidacy in May 2015. He hired establishment Democratic Party consultants such as Ted Devine, who, ironically, played a role in the creation of the superdelegates that helped fix the nomination victory of Hillary Clinton. He would spent tens of millions of the some $230 million he raised during the campaign on professional consultants. When it was clear he would lose, Sanders and his influential campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, began coordinating closely with the Clinton campaign. By May of 2016, Sanders had muted his criticisms of Clinton and surrendered to the Democratic Party machine. He has been an obedient servant of the party establishment ever since.

Sanders was always problematic. His refusal to condemn imperialism and the war industry—a condemnation central to the message of the socialist leader Eugene V. Debs—meant his socialism was stillborn. It is impossible to be a socialist without being an anti-imperialist. But at least Sanders addressed the reality of social inequality, which the Republican and Democratic establishment pretended did not exist. He returned political discourse to reality. And he restored the good name of socialism.

Weaver and Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, built a de facto alliance in the weeks leading up to the convention. As the convention was about to begin, WikiLeaks exposed the Clinton campaign’s nonaggression pact with the Sanders campaign. Many Sanders delegates, by the time they arrived in Philadelphia in July 2016 for the convention, were enraged at the theft and fraud orchestrated by the DNC. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair and the architect of the theft, stepped down. Some DNC staff members were fired.

Sanders delegates were deluged on the eve of the convention with messages from the Sanders campaign to be respectful, not to disrupt the nominating process and to support Clinton, messages that often turned out to have been written by Clinton staffers such as Mook and then sent out under Sanders’ name. Sanders was a dutiful sheepdog, herding his disgruntled supporters into the embrace of the Democratic Party machine.

The scope of fraud in the primaries was breathtaking. Donna Brazile, who took over the DNC after Wasserman Schultz was removed, later revealed the existence of a joint fund-raising agreement among the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America.

“The agreement—signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias—specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Clinton would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised,” Brazile wrote. “Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.”

Sanders, although he knew by September 2016 that the process was rigged, said nothing to his supporters. He was tacitly complicit in the cover-up. It was left to one of the architects of the fraud, Brazile, to reveal the scam. But by then it was too late.

Sanders’ capitulation in the face of the overwhelming evidence of the rigging of the nomination process was political and moral cowardice. He missed his historical moment, one that should have seen him denounce a corrupt, corporate-dominated party elite and walk away to build a third-party candidacy. Sanders will never recover politically. To see the future, he has only to look at the campaign events he held on behalf of Clinton after her nomination. His crowds dwindled from thousands to a few hundred after he endorsed Clinton. Data collected by Harvard Harris Poll charted the downward spiral of his favorability ratings as he became more and more obsequious to the Democratic Party establishment. His 2020 campaign for the presidency will be a pale reflection of 2016. His “political revolution” slogan has been exposed as another empty public relations gimmick.

If we are to defy corporate power, which is vicious when it feels threatened, we need leaders with the fortitude to withstand the onslaught. Debs never sold out. He was sent to prison in 1919 and ran for president in 1920 from his prison cell. If we are not willing to pay this price we better not play the game.

“There is but one thing you have to be concerned about, and that is that you keep foursquare with the principles of the international Socialist movement,” Debs said in a June 16, 1918, speech in Canton, Ohio, that led to his being sentenced to 10 years in prison on a charge of violating the Espionage Act. “It is only when you begin to compromise that trouble begins. So far as I am concerned, it does not matter what others may say, or think, or do, as long as I am sure that I am right with myself and the cause. There are so many who seek refuge in the popular side of a great question. As a Socialist, I have long since learned how to stand alone.”

Those who support Sanders’ capitulation, including his high-priced establishment consultants, will argue that politics is about compromise and the practical. This is true. But playing politics in a system that is not democratic is about becoming part of the charade. We need to overthrow this system, not placate it. Revolution is almost always a doomed enterprise, one that succeeds only because its leaders eschew the practical and are endowed with what the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr calls “sublime madness.” Sanders lacks this sublime madness. The quality defined Debs. And for this reason Sanders is morally and temperamentally unfit to lead this fight.

“I never had much faith in leaders,” Debs said. “I am willing to be charged with almost anything, rather than to be charged with being a leader. I am suspicious of leaders, and especially of the intellectual variety. Give me the rank and file every day in the week. If you go to the city of Washington, and you examine the pages of the Congressional Directory, you will find that almost all of those corporation lawyers and cowardly politicians, members of Congress, and misrepresentatives of the masses—you will find that almost all of them claim, in glowing terms, that they have risen from the ranks to places of eminence and distinction. I am very glad I cannot make that claim for myself. I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks.”

Heather Gautney, the author of “Crashing the Party: From the Bernie Sanders Campaign to a Progressive Movement” and an associate professor of sociology at Fordham University, has detailed the numerous ploys used by the Democratic Party establishment to deny Sanders the nomination. These tactics included the party elites’ appointment of 718 superdelegates—Democratic senators, governors and members of Congress, party officials, dozens of registered lobbyists or “shadow lobbyists” and wealthy corporate donors. More than 400 were pledged to Clinton before Sanders announced his campaign. The party also banned those who were registered as independent voters from voting in many primaries, although the taxpayers pay for the primaries. It orchestrated the theft of the vote in caucuses such as Nevada’s. And it limited the number of debates to deny exposure to Sanders. Brazile passed on the CNN debate questions in advance to the Clinton campaign.

“Over a third of under-30 voters—Sanders’s core constituency—weren’t registered to any political party,” Gautney writes in an article in The Guardian. And when they got to the polls they were turned away. In the New York primary, she notes, “between 3 and 4 million ‘unaffiliated’ voters were disenfranchised due to a statute that required changing one’s party affiliation 25 days prior to the previous general election.”

The Democratic Party in New York in the upcoming primary requires unaffiliated voters to register as Democrats 11 months before the primary, a condition that will cripple the progressive candidacy of Cynthia Nixon for governor. Sanders, bowing to the demands of the party elite, has refused to endorse Nixon’s bid against Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Gautney calls the system broken, but it works exactly as it is designed to work. The Democratic Party elites have been refining the mechanisms and exclusionary rules since the presidential election, along with purging the party of progressives, to ensure that an insurgent candidate like Sanders will never get close to the nomination. Sanders, no doubt, thinks he can overcome these obstacles by being obedient to the party hierarchy. This is a terrible miscalculation.

In state after state, as Gautney details, Sanders was systematically robbed. And he and any other insurgent can expect the same treatment in 2020. Yes, the party formed a tripartite Unity Reform Commission with representatives from the Clinton campaign and the Sanders campaign to review the rules. But the Unity Reform Commission is cosmetic. It cannot make changes to DNC rules, only recommendations, which have to be approved by the rules and bylaws committee and the DNC members. The rules and bylaws committee and the DNC are stacked with lobbyists, consultants, establishment and Clinton loyalists, and people, like Brazile, who rigged the election against Sanders. They retain control over any changes to the rules. The public has no say. There is not one Sanders supporter on the committee. The final recommendations submitted by the commission said nothing about the chief source of corruption that grips the Democratic Party—corporate and billionaire money. It didn’t mention campaign finance reform. Any attempt at reform is meaningless until corporations and billionaires stop bankrolling the party.

The Democratic Party is neither democratic nor in any real sense a political party. It is a corporate mirage. The members of its base can, at best, select preapproved candidates and act as props in a choreographed party convention. Voters have zero influence on party politics.

“I’ll never forget watching the primary votes being counted for Michigan, one of the key states that decided the 2016 election,” Gautney wrote in The Guardian. “Sanders’ ‘pledged delegate count’—which reflected the number of votes he received from rank-and-file Democrats—exceeded Clinton’s by four. But after the superdelegates cast their ballots, the roll call registered ‘Clinton 76, Sanders 67.’ ”

“In Indiana, Sanders won the vote 44 to 39, but, after the super delegates had their say, Clinton was granted 46 delegates, versus Sanders’ 44,” she wrote. “In New Hampshire, where Sanders won the vote by a gaping margin (60% to 38%) and set a record for the largest number of votes ever, the screen read ‘16 Sanders, 16 Clinton.’ ”

Sanders, who calls himself an independent, caucuses as a Democrat. The Democratic Party determines his assignments in the Senate. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who oversees Wall Street campaign donations to Democratic candidates, offered to make Sanders the head of the Senate Budget Committee if the Democrats won control of the Senate, in exchange for the Vermont senator’s support of Clinton and the hawkish, corporate neoliberal Democratic candidates running for the House and Senate. Sanders, swallowing whatever pride he has left, is now a loyal party apparatchik, squandering his legacy and his integrity. He routinely sends out appeals to raise money for party-selected candidates, including the 2016 Democratic senatorial candidates Katie McGinty in Pennsylvania, Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, Ted Strickland in Ohio and Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada. Sanders made a blanket endorsement of every Democrat running in the 2017 election, including the worst corporate Democrats.

There was about $6 million left from the Sanders campaign, and it was used to form an organization called Our Revolution in August 2016. The organization was set up ostensibly to fund and support progressive candidates. It was soon taken over by Weaver, who ensured that it was not registered as a political action committee (PAC), a group that can give money directly to campaigns. It was set up as a 501(c)(4), a group prohibited from having direct contact with candidates and giving donations directly to candidates. The 501(c)(4) status allowed it to take and mask donations from wealthy donors such as Tom Steyer. Sanders’ decision to quietly solicit contributions from the billionaire oligarchs who funded the Hillary Clinton campaign and control the Democratic Party betrayed the core promise of his campaign. Yet, even as he created a mechanism to take money from wealthy donors he continued to write at the bottom of his emails “Paid for by Bernie Sanders, not the billionaires.”

Eight of the 13 staffers of Our Revolution resigned in protest. The organization is now adding a PAC.

Meanwhile, the DNC rules and bylaws committee has recommended a rule that any candidate in a primary be required to demonstrate he or she is a “faithful” Democrat. This loyalty test, intentionally vague, gives the DNC, which will consider the rule change in August, the power to disqualify candidates and block them from appearing on the ballot. If the party elites feel threatened, they can nuke any candidacy, including one mounted by Sanders, before it even begins.

The Democratic Party elites in an open process and without corporate backing would not be in power. They are creations of the corporate state. They are not about to permit reforms that will see themselves toppled. Yes, this tactic of fixing elections and serving corporate power may ensure a second term for Donald Trump and election of fringe candidates who pledge their loyalty to Trump, but the Democratic elites would rather sink the ship of state than give up their first-class cabins.

The Democratic Party is as much to blame for Trump as the Republicans. It is a full partner in the perpetuation of our political system of legalized bribery, along with the deindustrialization of the country, austerity programs, social inequality, mass incarceration and the assault on basic civil liberties. It deregulates Wall Street. It prosecutes the endless and futile wars that are draining the federal budget. We must mount independent political movements and form our own parties to sweep the Democratic and Republican elites aside or be complicit in cementing into place a corporate tyranny. Sanders won’t help us. He has made that clear. We must do it without him.

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Scapegoating Iran

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

NEW YORK—Seventeen years of war in the Middle East and what do we have to show for it? Iraq after our 2003 invasion and occupation is no longer a unified country. Its once modern infrastructure is largely destroyed, and the nation has fractured into warring enclaves. We have lost the war in Afghanistan. The Taliban is resurgent and has a presence in over 70 percent of the country. Libya is a failed state. Yemen after three years of relentless airstrikes and a blockade is enduring one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. The 500 “moderate” rebels we funded and armed in Syria at a cost of $500 million are in retreat after instigating a lawless reign of terror. The military adventurism has cost a staggering $5.6 trillion as our infrastructure crumbles, austerity guts basic services and half the population of the United States lives at or near poverty levels. The endless wars in the Middle East are the biggest strategic blunder in American history and herald the death of the empire.

Someone has to be blamed for debacles that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead, including at least 200,000 civilians, and millions driven from their homes. Someone has to be blamed for the proliferation of radical jihadist groups throughout the Middle East, the continued worldwide terrorist attacks, the wholesale destruction of cities and towns under relentless airstrikes and the abject failure of U.S. and U.S.-backed forces to stanch the insurgencies. You can be sure it won’t be the generals, the politicians such as George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the rabid neocons such as Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton who sold us the wars, the Central Intelligence Agency, the arms contractors who profit from perpetual war or the celebrity pundits on the airwaves and in newspapers who serve as cheerleaders for the mayhem.

“The failed policies, or lack of policies, of the United States, which violate international law, have left the Middle East in total chaos,” the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Gholamali Khoshroo, told me when we met in New York City. “The United States, to cover up these aggressive, reckless and costly policies, blames Iran. Iran is blamed for their failures in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Lebanon.”

The Trump administration “is very naive about the Middle East and Iran,” the ambassador said. “It can only speak in the language of threats—pressure, sanctions, intervention. These policies have failed in the region. They are very risky and costly. Let the Americans deal with the problems of the countries they have already invaded and attacked. America lacks constructive power in the Middle East. It is unable to govern even a village in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen or Syria. All it can do is use force and destructive power. This U.S. administration wants the Middle East and the whole world to bow to it. This is not a policy conducive to sound relationships with sovereign states, especially those countries that have resisted American influence.”

“The plan to arm ‘moderate’ rebels in Syria was a cover to topple [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad,” the ambassador went on. “The Americans knew there were no ‘moderate’ rebels. They knew these weapons would get into the hands of terrorist groups like Daesh [Islamic State], Al-Nusra and their affiliates. Once again, the American policy failed. The Americans succeeded in destroying a country. They succeeded in creating bloodbaths. They succeeded in displacing millions of people. But they gained nothing. The sovereignty of Syria is expanding by the day. It is hard to imagine what President Trump is offering as a strategy in Syria. One day, he says, ‘I will move out of Syria very soon, very quickly.’ The next day he says, ‘If Iran is there, we should stay.’ I wonder if the American taxpayers know how much of their money has been wasted in Iraq, Syria and Yemen?”

Trump’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, although Iran was in compliance with the agreement, was the first salvo in this effort to divert attention from these failures to Iran. Bolton, the new national security adviser, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, advocate the overthrow of the Iranian government, with Giuliani saying last month that Trump is “as committed to regime change as we [an inner circle of presidential advisers] are.”

“The Iran nuclear deal was possible following several letters by Ppresident Barack Obama assuring the Iranian leadership that America had no intention of violating Iranian sovereignty,” Ambassador Khoshroo said. “America said it wanted to engage in a serious dialogue on equal footing and mutual interests and concerns. These assurances led to the negotiations that concluded with the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. From the beginning, however, America was not forthcoming in its dealings with us on the JCPOA. President Obama wanted the agreement to be implemented, but he did not want it implemented in its full capacity. Congress, on the day JCPOA was implemented, passed a law warning Europeans that were doing business with Iran. The staffs of companies had to apply for a visa to the United States if they had traveled to Iran for business purposes. This began on the first day. The Americans were not always very forthcoming. OFAC [Office of Foreign Funds Control] gave ambiguous answers to many of the questions that companies had about sanctions, but at least in words the Obama administration supported the JCPOA and saw the agreement as the basis for our interactions.”

“President Trump, however, even as a candidate, called the agreement ‘the worst deal America ever made,’ ” the ambassador said. “He called this deal a source of embarrassment for America. Indeed, it was not the deal but America’s unilateral decision to walk away from an agreement that was supported by the United Nations Security Council, and in fact co-sponsored and drafted by the United States, that is the source of embarrassment for America. To walk away from an international agreement and then threaten a sovereign country is the real source of embarrassment since Iran was in full compliance while the U.S. never was.”

“In 2008, the Israelis told the world that Iran was only some days away from acquiring an atomic bomb,” he said. “The Israelis said there had to be a military strike to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. What has happened since? During the last two years, there have been 11 reports by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] clearly confirming and demonstrating Iran’s full compliance with the JCPOA. All of the accusations [about] Iran using nuclear facilities for military purposes were refuted by the IAEA as well as by Europe, Russia, China, along with many other countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa. America is concerned about Iranian influence in the region and seeks to contain Iran because the U.S. administration realizes that America’s policies in the Middle East have failed. Their own statements about Iran repeatedly contradict each other. One day they say, ‘Iran is so weak it will collapse,’ and the next day they say, ‘Iran is governing several Arab capitals in the Middle East.’ ”

Iran announced recently that it has tentative plans to produce the feedstock for centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium, if the nuclear deal is not salvaged by European members of the JCPOA. European countries, dismayed by Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement, are attempting to renegotiate the deal, which imposes restrictions on Iran’s nuclear development in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

Why go to war with a country that abides by an agreement it has signed with the United States? Why attack a government that is the mortal enemy of the Taliban, along with other jihadist groups, including al-Qaida and Islamic State, that now threaten us after we created and armed them? Why shatter the de facto alliance we have with Iran in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why further destabilize a region already dangerously volatile?

The architects of these wars are in trouble. They have watched helplessly as the instability and political vacuum they caused, especially in Iraq, left Iran as the dominant power in the region. Washington, in essence, elevated its nemesis. It has no idea how to reverse its mistake, beyond attacking Iran. Those both in the U.S. and abroad who began or promoted these wars see a conflict with Iran as a solution to their foreign and increasingly domestic dilemmas.

For example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, mired in corruption scandals, hopes that by fostering a conflict with Iran he can divert attention away from investigations into his abuse of power and the massacres Israel carries out against Palestinians, along with Israel’s accelerated seizure of Palestinian land.

“The most brutal regime is now in power in Israel,” the Iranian ambassador said. “It has no regard for international law or humanitarian law. It violates Security Council resolutions regarding settlements, its capital and occupation. Look at what Israel has done in Gaza in the last 30 days. On the same day America was unlawfully transferring its embassy to Jerusalem, 60 unarmed Palestinian protesters were killed by Israeli snipers. [Israelis] were dancing in Jerusalem while the blood of unarmed Palestinians was running in Gaza. The Trump administration gives total support and impunity to Israel. This angers many people in the Middle East, including many in Saudi Arabia. It is a Zionist project to portray Iran as the main threat to peace in the Middle East. Israel introducing Iran as a threat is an attempt to divert attention from the crimes this regime is committing, but these too are failed policies that will backfire. They are policies designed to cover weakness.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, facing internal unrest, launched the war in Yemen as a vanity project to bolster his credentials as a military leader. Now he desperately needs to deflect attention from the quagmire and humanitarian disaster he created.

“Saudi Arabia, as part of [the civil war in Yemen], has a tactical and strategic cooperation with Israel against Iran,” the ambassador said. “But the Saudi regime is defying the sentiments of its own people. How long will this be possible? For three years now, Saudi Arabia, assisted by the United States, has bombed the Yemeni people and imposed a total blockade that includes food and medicine. Nothing has been resolved. Once again, Iran is blamed for this failure by Saudi Arabia and the United States in Yemen. Even if Iran wanted to help the Yemenis, it is not possible due to the total blockade. The Yemeni people asked for peace negotiations from the first day of the war. But Saudi military adventurism and its desire to test its military resolve made any peaceful solution impossible. The U.S. and the U.K. provide military and logistical support, including cluster bombs to be used by the Saudis in Yemen. The Emiratis are bombing Yemen. All such actions are doomed to failure since there is no military solution in Yemen. There is only a political solution. Look at the targets of Saudi airstrikes in Yemen: funerals. Wedding ceremonies. Agricultural fields. Houses. Civilians. How do the Saudis expect the Yemeni people to greet those who bomb them? With hugs? The war has cost a lot of money, and Trump responds by saying [to Saudi Arabia,], ‘Oh you have money. [Paraphrasing here.] Please buy our ‘beautiful weapons.’ They are killing beautiful children with these ‘beautiful’ weapons. It is a disaster. It is tragic.”

And then there is President Donald Trump, desperate for a global crusade he can use to mask his ineptitude, the rampant corruption of his administration and his status as an international pariah when he runs for re-election in 2020.

“Of course, blaming and threatening Iran is not new,” the ambassador said. “This has been going on for 40 years. The Iranian people and the Iranian government are accustomed to this nonsense. United States intervention in the internal affairs of Iran goes back a long time, including the [Iranian] war with Iraq, when the United States supported Saddam Hussein. Then America invaded Iraq in 2003 in their so-called ‘intervention for democracy and elimination of WMDs.’ Iran has always resisted and will always resist U.S. threats.”

“America was in Iran 40 years ago,” the ambassador said. “About 100,000 U.S. advisers were in Iran during the rule of the shah, who was among the closest allies of America. America was unable to keep this regime in power because the Iranian people revolted against such dependency and suppression. Since the fall of the shah in 1979, for 40 years, America continued to violate international law, especially the Algeria agreements it signed with Iran in 1981.”

The Algeria Declaration was a set of agreements between the United States and Iran that resolved the Iranian hostage crisis. It was brokered by the Algerian government. The U.S. committed itself in the Algeria Declaration to refrain from interference in Iranian internal affairs and to lift trade sanctions on Iran and a freeze on Iranian assets.

The warmongers have no more of a plan for “regime change” in Iran than they had in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or Syria. European allies, whom Trump alienated when he walked away from the Iranian nuclear agreement, are in no mood to cooperate with Washington. The Pentagon, even if it wanted to, does not have the hundreds of thousands of troops it would need to attack and occupy Iran. And the idea—pushed by lunatic fringe figures like Bolton and Giuliani—that the marginal and discredited Iranian resistance group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), which fought alongside Saddam Hussein in the war against Iran and is viewed by most Iranians as composed of traitors, is a viable counterforce to the Iranian government is ludicrous. In all these equations the 80 million people in Iran are ignored just as the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria were ignored. Perhaps they would not welcome a war with the United States. Perhaps if attacked they would resist. Perhaps they don’t want to be occupied. Perhaps a war with Iran would be interpreted throughout the region as a war against Shiism. But these are calculations that the ideologues, who know little about the instrument of war and even less about the cultures or peoples they seek to dominate, are unable to fathom.

“The Middle East has many problems: insecurity, instability, problems with natural resources such as water, etc.,” Khoshroo said. “All of these problems have been made worse by foreign intervention as well as Israel’s lawlessness. The issue of Palestine is at the heart of turmoil in the Middle East for Muslims. Any delay in finding solutions to these wounds in the Middle East exposes this region to more dangerous threats. Americans say they want the Middle East to be free from violent extremism, but this will only happen when the Middle East is free from occupation and foreign intervention. The Americans are selling their weapons throughout the Middle East. They calculate how much money they can earn from destruction. They don’t care about human beings. They don’t care about security or democratic process or political process. This is worrisome.”

“What are the results of American policies in the Middle East?” he asked. “All of the American allies in the region are in turmoil. Only Iran is secure and stable. Why is this the case? Why, during the last 40 years, has Iran been stable? Is it because Iran has no relationship with America? Why is there hostility between Iran and America? Can’t the Americans see that Iran’s stability is important for the region? We are surrounded by Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen. What good would come from destabilizing Iran? What would America get out of that?”

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The Second Sight of W.E.B. Du Bois

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

Chris Hedges gave this talk Friday at the Left Forum in New York City.

W.E.B. Du Bois, more than any intellectual this nation produced in the first half of the 20th century, explained America to itself. He did this not only through what he called the “color line” but by exposing the intertwining of empire, capitalism and white supremacy. He deftly fused academic disciplines. He possessed unwavering integrity, a deep commitment to the truth, and the courage to speak it. That he was brilliant and a radical was bad enough. That he was brilliant, radical and black terrified the ruling elites. He was swiftly blacklisted, denied the professorships and public platforms that went to those who were more obsequious and compliant. Du Bois had very few intellectual rivals—John Dewey perhaps being one, but Dewey failed, like nearly all white intellectuals, to grasp the innate violence and savagery of the American character and how it was given its natural expression in empire.

Regeneration and purification through violence is the credo of the American empire. D.H. Lawrence, like Du Bois, saw it, and said, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.” The pillars of American capitalism are genocide and slavery. America was not blessed by God. It was blessed, if that is the right word, by producing the most efficient killing machines and trained killers on the planet. It unleashed industrial violence on its enemies abroad and empowered armed white vigilante groups and gun thugs—the slave patrols, the Ku Klux Klan, the White Leagues (the armed wing of the Democratic Party), the Baldwin Felts and Pinkertons—to perpetrate a domestic reign of terror against blacks, Native Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, abolitionists, Catholics, radicals, workers and labor organizers. The ideological descendants of these killers have mutated into white hate groups and militarized law enforcement that terrorize immigrants and undocumented workers, Muslims and people of color trapped in our internal colonies. This bloody visage is the true face of America.

“Once in a while through all of us there flashes some clairvoyance, some clear idea, of what America really is,” Du Bois wrote. “We who are dark can see America in a way that white Americans cannot.”

Du Bois warned that in times of widespread unrest, this indiscriminate violence, familiar to poor people of color and those we subjugate abroad today in the Middle East, becomes the primary mechanism for internal social control. As the empire disintegrates under unfettered corporate capitalism, futile and costly military adventurism, political stagnation and despotism, we will learn the truth Du Bois elucidated.

Du Bois, early in his career and already recognized as one of the foremost sociologists in the country, attacked Booker T. Washington’s odious accommodation with the white segregationists in the South and industrial elites in the North. He derided Washington’s advocacy of vocational training for blacks at the expense of intellectual pursuits. The white capitalist Molochs, who funded and promoted Washington and his collaborationist scheme to train blacks to take their spots on the lowest rung of industrial society, turned on Du Bois with a vengeance. The underclass, then and now, was to be taught what to think, not how to think. They would be endowed with just enough numerical literacy to serve as serfs in the capitalist system. The capitalists were determined to maintain what Du Bois called “enforced ignorance,” an enforced ignorance now being visited on a dispossessed working class with the degrading of public education, funding of vocational charter schools, and withering away of the humanities.

“Either America will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States,” he warned, an eerie forecast of the age of Trump.

He would always remain a double outsider. And this status as an outsider, coupled with his prodigious intellectual gifts and uncompromising honesty, allowed him to expose the hypocrisy of the country’s most revered institutions and beliefs.

“The history of the world is the history, not of individuals, but of groups, not of nations, but of races,” he wrote, “and he who ignores or seeks to override the race idea in human history ignores and overrides the central thought of all history.”

Du Bois was amazingly prolific. He authored 16 seminal texts of sociology, history, politics and race relations including “The Philadelphia Negro,” his revolutionary study that established the field of urban sociology; “Souls of Black Folk” that laid the foundations for modern African-American literature and history; and his 1935 classic, “Reconstruction,” that portrayed American democracy through the eyes of disenfranchised Southern blacks. He was the editor from 1910 to 1934 of Crisis, one of the country’s leading intellectual and civil rights journal. Cornel West calls him the “American Gibbon,” after the British historian Edward Gibbon, who chronicled the fall of the Roman Empire and used it as a warning to all empires.

But I want to begin today by looking at one of his often overlooked essays, “The Souls of White Folk,” from his book “Darkwater: Voices From Within the Veil.” He wrote this essay in 1920. White Europeans and Americans were struggling to cope with the suicidal slaughter and barbarity of World War I. Yet, as Du Bois pointed out, none of this savagery was a surprise to blacks in the United States or the victims of colonialism—10 to 12 million blacks died under the brutal colonial rule of the Belgian King Leopold in the Congo.

It was Belgium, not the Congo, however, that was held up as the victim of horrible atrocities due to German occupation after the war. “Behold little Belgium and her pitiable plight, but has the world forgotten Congo?” Du Bois asked. Racism, he saw, was not only endemic to capitalism and imperialism but deformed historical narratives, the stories that got told and those that did not. In the United States, the year before the essay was published, 66 black men and women, mostly in the rural South, were lynched. Another 250 died in urban riots, usually instigated by white vigilante mobs, in the North and in the Arkansas Delta. They could have told you, if they were asked, what America was.

“As we saw the dead dimly through the rifts of battle smoke and heard faintly the cursings and accusations of blood brothers, we darker men said: This is not Europe gone mad; this is not aberration nor insanity; this is Europe; this seeming Terrible is the real soul of white culture,” Du Bois wrote in the essay.

Du Bois attended the Versailles Conference that imposed punitive reparations on Germany, crippling its economy and setting the stage for fascism. But to Du Bois the decision by the victorious European powers to blithely carve up Africa, Indochina and the Middle East in open disregard for those who lived there was far more criminal. Self-determination, he saw, was only for white Europeans and Euro-Americans. He would help convene a Pan-African Congress to protest the renewed subjugation of people of color. The war, Du Bois argued, had nothing to do with democracy and freedom. It was a struggle between imperial powers for the ability to plunder the “dark world’s wealth and toil,” which is also, of course, what our wars in the Middle East are about.

Du Bois knew, like Karl Marx, whom he greatly admired, that the market economy was designed to make the weak weaker and the strong stronger. The idea that a class of black capitalists and entrepreneurs, or black politicians such as Barack Obama, would somehow rectify social and racial inequality within capitalism was absurd. These tokens would serve the capitalist and imperialist system, which, he said, had to be overthrown and replaced with socialism.

Outcasts are gifted, Du Bois wrote, with a “second-sight” or what he called a “double-consciousness.” It was, he wrote in “The Souls of Black Folk,” the sensation “of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” This gives to outcasts, as it did to many Jewish intellectuals in Nazi Germany, the ability to see behind what Du Bois called the veil. This sight is imperative not only for the outcasts, but for the nation. Those blinded by privilege and the myth of whiteness cannot fathom reality, or understand themselves, without these outcasts. The more the voices of these outcasts are shut out, the more collective insanity grips the country. By silencing the voices of the oppressed, we ensure our own oppression.

“I have been in the world,” Du Bois said, “but not of it. I have seen the human drama from a veiled corner, where all the outer tragedy and comedy have reproduced themselves in microcosm within. From this inner torment of souls the human scene without has interpreted itself to me in unusual and even illuminating ways.”

The endemic violence that plagues the country stuns many white elites, but this violence is a daily reality to Iraqis, Afghans, Yemenis and, of course, poor Americans of color.

“But what on earth is whiteness that one should so desire it?” Du Bois asked. “Then always, somehow, some way, silently but clearly, I am given to understand that whiteness is the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen!”

“It is curious to see America, the United States, looking on herself, first, as a sort of natural peacemaker, then as a moral protagonist in this terrible time,” he wrote. “No nation is less fitted for this role. For two or more centuries America has marched proudly in the van of human hatred—making bonfires of human flesh and laughing at them hideously, and making the insulting of millions more than a matter of dislike—rather a great religion, a world-war cry: Up white, down black; to your tents, O white folk, and world war with black and parti-colored mongrel beasts.”

Du Bois saw redemption, certainly at the end of his life, not within the bowels of the empire but in liberation movements outside the empire struggling for freedom. He was arrested for “subversive” activities in 1951 and had his passport revoked for years. His books were removed from library shelves and eliminated from course curriculums. He remained steadfastly defiant. On Dec. 1, 1961, he formally joined the Communist Party. Soon after he left the United States to spend the rest of his life in Ghana.

Du Bois had a particular characteristic I especially admire. He was rooted in the reality of those he wrote about. He listened. He methodically interviewed poor blacks, whether in “The Souls of Black Folk” or “The Philadelphia Negro,” where historian Herbert Aptheker has estimated that Du Bois spent some 835 hours interviewing some 2,500 households. This gave his work a reportorial authenticity and freshness that eluded most other sociologists and philosophers who pondered the great questions ensconced in their academic enclaves.

There comes a time, Du Bois wrote, when the oppressed erupt in paroxysms of rage, much like jihadists in the Middle East. Those who never took the time to investigate the long, slow drip of collective humiliation and suffering are shocked. The rage, because it appears to have no context or rationality, is seen as incomprehensible, the product of racial or religious mutations. We see this with the Israeli reaction to the nonviolent protests in Gaza. The press, little more than courtiers to the elites, dutifully certifies the rage as incomprehensible. Because it is incomprehensible it must be violently crushed. Du Bois writes:

It is difficult to let others see the full psychological meaning of caste segregation. It is as though one, looking out from a dark cave in a side of an impending mountain, sees the world passing and speaks to it; speaks courteously and persuasively, showing them how these entombed souls are hindered in their natural movement, expression, and development. … It gradually penetrates the minds of the prisoners that the people passing do not hear; that some thick sheet of invisible but horribly tangible plate glass is between them and the world. They get excited; they talk louder; they gesticulate. … They may scream and hurl themselves against the barriers, hardly realizing in their bewilderment that they are screaming in a vacuum unheard and that their antics may actually seem funny to those outside looking in. They may even, here and there, break through in blood and disfigurement, and find themselves faced by a horrified, implacable, and quite overwhelming mob of people frightened for their own very existence.

Du Bois would hardly fare better today. His radical critique of empire and capitalism would make him even more of a pariah in the academy and on the airwaves. The corporate state, assured they can keep us entranced with their electronic hallucinations and spectacles, along with the inane trivia and gossip masquerading as news, do not see him or other radical theorists as a threat. They orchestrated the post-literate society, the “enforced ignorance,” that perpetuates their power. We have his books. Read them while you still can.

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Teaching ‘Les Misérables’ in Prison

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

I spent the last four months teaching Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel “Les Misérables” at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey. My students—like Hugo’s main character, Jean Valjean, who served 19 years in prison—struggle with shame, guilt, injustice, poverty and discrimination, and yearn for redemption and transformation. The novel gave them a lens to view their lives and a ruling system every bit as cruel as Hugo’s 19th-century France.

Les Misérables” was wildly successful when it was published, including among Civil War soldiers in the United States, although Hugo’s condemnation of slavery was censored from Confederate copies. It was American socialist leader Eugene V. Debs’ favorite book—he read it in French. The socialist British Prime Minister Lloyd George said “Les Misérables” taught him more about poverty and the human condition than anything else he had ever read and instilled in him a lifelong ambition “to alleviate the distress and the suffering of the poor.” Hugo’s novel, however, enraged the ruling elites. It was panned by French critics. Copies were burned in Spain. Pope Pius IX put it on the church’s list of banned books, along with “Madame Bovary” and all the novels of Stendhal and Honoré de Balzac.

“While through the working laws of customs there continues to exist a condition of social condemnation which artificially creates a human hell within civilization, and complicates with human fatality a destiny that is divine; while the three great problems of this century, the degradation of man in the proletariat, the subjugation of women through hunger, the atrophy of the child in darkness, continue unresolved; while in some regions social asphyxia remains, while ignorance and poverty persist on earth, books such as this cannot fail to be of value,” Hugo wrote in the preface.

My students interpreted the novel through the peculiar reality of prison, something that would have pleased Hugo, who relentlessly chronicled the injustices meted out to the poor by ruling institutions and agents of the law. The heroes in his book are the outcasts, the demonized and the impoverished—les misérables—as well as the rebels, usually doomed, who rise up in their defense. The theme that runs through the novel can be summed up in Leo Tolstoy’s dictum: “The only certain happiness in life is to live for others.”

Jean Valjean, after 19 years in prison—five for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s hungry children and 14 more as punishment for attempts at escape—is released with no home, no occupation and little money. He tramps through the French countryside, ending up in the town of Digne. He is required to present to local authorities his yellow identity card, a document that brands him for life as an ex-convict. He is refused a room at several inns, despite having the money to pay for lodgings. Finally, after Valjean is found sleeping outside, Monseigneur Bienvenu, the local bishop, gives him a place to rest in his modest house. Valjean arises early and, leaving before the bishop wakes, steals the household silver—platters, forks, knives and spoons—the cleric’s last and only extravagance after having given away most of his possessions to the poor. The gendarmes spy Valjean on the road with his plunder. They haul him before Monseigneur Bienvenu. The bishop lies to the gendarmes, saying he gave the silver to Valjean. After the police leave, he turns to Valjean: “Do not forget, do not ever forget, that you have promised me to use the money to make yourself an honest man. … Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

Valjean, shaken, nevertheless commits one final crime. He robs a boy of a coin, almost instinctively, but it was “an act of which he was no longer capable.” The theft plunges him into despair. He desperately searches for the boy to return the coin. He cannot find him. The boy has run away in terror. Valjean vows to become a different man.

The decision by the bishop to lie on behalf of Valjean triggered an intense debate in my classroom.

“Who would do this?” a student asked.

“No one,” another student answered.

Several students dismissed the scene as improbable.

And then from the back of the room a student, speaking in emotional undertones, told this story.

“I came back to my bunk one day,” he said. “There was a new Bible on it. Inside was a letter. It was from my victim’s sister. She wrote, ‘I forgive you. Now you must forgive yourself.’ I broke down. I could be more than a criminal. I could change. She made that possible.”

My students will spend their lives condemned as felons. They, like Valjean, will never completely wash away the mark of Cain. Transformation, even when it occurs, will not free them from the criminal caste system. Transformation must be carried out not for what it will achieve, for often it will achieve nothing, or how it will be perceived, for most of the wider society will not perceive it. Transformation is about making peace with yourself. It is about obeying your conscience, which Hugo equates with the divine. It is about never living at the expense of another. Transformation is about rising above the hatred many feel, with justification, for a society that has betrayed them.

“If you are persecuted for virtue, why be virtuous?” a student asked.

“Those who have nothing need other people,” another student said. “We can’t survive alone. The more we sacrifice for those around us, the more we reduce our collective suffering; the more we recover our humanity, the more people reach out to us when we need help, and we all need help. Goodness is contagious.”

And yet, as my students know, this internal battle is hard and fierce within a society that denies the poor dignity and respect.

“Obscurely he perceived that the priest’s forgiveness was the most formidable assault he had ever sustained,” Hugo wrote of Valjean, “that if he resisted it his heart would be hardened once and for all, and that if he yielded he must renounce the hatred which the acts of man had implanted in him during so many years, and to which he clung. He saw dimly that this time he must either conquer or be conquered, and that the battle was not joined, a momentous and decisive battle between the evil in himself and the goodness in the other man.”

Hugo was aware that there are some who cannot be redeemed. They are incapable of empathy or remorse. They are driven by greed and ambition. They take a perverse joy in inflicting suffering on others. They are capable only of deceit. These people must be kept at bay. In the novel they are represented by Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, “human creatures which, like crayfish, always retreat into shadow, going backwards rather than forwards through life, gaining in deformity with experience, going from bad to worse and sinking into even deeper darkness.”

This cold reality, nevertheless, proved to be a painful one to digest in the classroom. Several students argued passionately that everyone, no matter how depraved, could ultimately be redeemed, and yet the reality of prison, my students conceded, amply illustrates that there are human predators to whom one can never show vulnerability or expect mercy. Fyodor Dostoyevsky described hell as the inability to love. These predators inhabit this hell. This internal hell, a barrenness of the soul, is exemplified in the police inspector Javert, who hounds Valjean throughout the novel. Hugo wrote, “The Austrian peasants believe that in every wolf-litter there is a dog-whelp which the mother kills, because otherwise when it grows larger it will devour the rest of her young. Endow this dog with a human face, and you have Javert.”

Javert, born in a prison to a mother who was a fortune teller and a father who was a convict, came from the underclass he persecuted. The social backgrounds of corrections officers, police and prisoners were then, and are today, often the same; indeed it is not uncommon for prisoners and corrections officers to have familial ties. Javert embraced the rigid code of the law and absolute state authority, which absolved him from moral responsibility. “His duties were his religion,” Hugo wrote. Javert’s iron fealty to the letter of the law is juxtaposed with Valjean’s fealty to empathy and justice, which is repeatedly criminalized by those in power.

There is a moment in the novel when a man named Champmathieu is hauled into court and accused of being Valjean, who has broken parole and is living under the assumed name of Monsieur Madeleine. Javert and three witnesses who were in prison with Valjean insist the man is Valjean. Valjean, under his pseudonym, has become the prosperous mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. If he remains silent, allowing the innocent Champmathieu to go to prison in his place, he will throw the police off his trail permanently. During a night of anguished indecision, he burns his last personal effects from his life as a convict, but then sees the coin he stole from the boy when he left the bishop’s house—a coin that represents his last crime and his transformation. He goes to the courtroom. He announces to the stunned court that he is Valjean. He condemns himself, but recovers his name. He saves his soul.

The importance of a name, and the idea that carrying out a moral act means you will be crucified by the ruling elites, intrigued my students, most of whom, like Valjean, are known by their prison numbers. Valjean, Hugo wrote, sacrificed “his personal security to his moral principles” and “had, it seems, concluded after the manner of saints and sages, that his first duty was not to himself.” Jean Valjean, through this act of self-sacrifice, emerged from the court “even more honored and secure than before.” He had, in Hugo’s words, taken up the cross. Hugo went on:

Certainly his life had a purpose, but was it simply to hide himself, to outwit the police? Had everything he had done been for no better reason than this? Had he not had a greater purpose, the saving not of his life but of his soul, the resolve to become a good and honorable and upright man as the bishop required of him—had not that been his true and deepest intention? How he talked of closing the door on the past when, God help him, he would be reopening the door by committing an infamous act, not merely that of a thief but of the most odious of thieves. He would be robbing a man of his life, his peace, his place in the sun, morally murdering him by condemning him to the living death that is called a convict prison. But if, on the other hand, he saved the man by repairing the blunder, by proclaiming himself Jean Valjean the felon, this would be to achieve his own true resurrection and firmly close the door on the hell from which he sought to escape. To return to it in appearance would be to escape from it in reality. This was what he must do, and without it he would have accomplished nothing, his life would be wasted, his repentance meaningless, and there would be nothing left for him to say except, “Who cares?”

Hugo added: “It was his most melancholy destiny that he could achieve sanctity in the eyes of God only by returning to degradation in the eyes of men.” He is filled with terror, yet proceeds. “Whichever way he looked,” Hugo wrote, “the course of duty glared at him as though the words were written in letters of fire—‘Stand up and say your name!’ ” He could “cling to his paradise and become a devil, or become a saint by going back to hell.”

To save Champmathieu, Valjean gives up his freedom. In this singular act of justice and heroic self-sacrifice he exposes the bankruptcy and corruption of the courts, including the lie of authority. He elevates a convict, Jean Valjean, to a higher morality. He redeems his name and the names of all convicts. The price is catastrophic. But the price for moral acts is usually catastrophic. No one is rewarded for virtue. In my class this chapter triggered a discussion of Immanuel Kant’s “categorical imperative,” the idea that there are things we must do no matter what the consequences. The moral life, as Hugo pointed out, is not pragmatic or rational. It does not guarantee that we as distinct individuals survive. And yet, it permits us, by living for others, to become our best selves. It allows us a bittersweet happiness.

Valjean finds his ultimate fulfillment in raising the orphan Cosette. Most of my students have children. They struggle in prison to hold on to their role as fathers. Their children are often the only way left for them to have influence on the outside. But, as in the novel, these children grow up and drift away.

One of my students, serving a life sentence without parole and unable to be with his small daughter, structured his day as if she was in the cell with him. He woke her up in the morning. He cooked for her. He spoke to her. He read books to her. He wrote long letters. Every night he said goodnight to her as if she were in the next bunk. This ritual was not only about loss. It preserved his identity as something other than a prisoner. It allowed him to retain the title of father. It kept alive the virtues of nurturing, tenderness and love that prison can often crush. Hugo’s understanding of the titanic internal struggle to be human in an inhuman environment was intimately familiar to my 26 students.

Valjean, at 80, is consumed by the isolation that grips many in prison, dying alone, condemned as one of les misérables with no friends or family. Cosette has married. He feels forgotten. In the final scene his beloved Cosette appears as he dies.

We began each class with a student summarizing the main points in the week’s reading. On the day of the final class a student, Joel, rose to speak, holding two pages of notes.

“I think about the final interaction between Valjean, Cosette and Marius [her husband],” he said. “I think about the strength in [Valjean] for all he had suffered, all he had sacrificed, all he had endured just for the beauty and simplicity of love. I think about those last moments between them, the thankfulness for the opportunity to love; the opportunity to not be alone in his last moments; the opportunity to live. I thank Hugo for the picture he painted for me here. … I think about the man who became my father and how much pain and suffering I have caused him. I think about the things he sacrificed for me. I think about all the challenges he took on for the sake of me. Yet despite it all I think about how much love I have had the opportunity to share with him, how much life he has given me. I pray that on his last day he may be able to rest his hand on my head, to feel a sense of accomplishment when it comes to his son, to be free of this world with a sense of happiness. That I too can one day say [quoting lines penciled onto Valjean’s gravestone]:

He sleeps. Although so much he was denied,
He lived; and when his dear love left him, died.
It happened of itself, in the calm way
That in the evening the night-time follows day.

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The Coming Collapse

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

The Trump administration did not rise, prima facie, like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurdle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don’t count. We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience, like that demonstrated by teachers around the country this year. If we do not stand up we will enter a new dark age.

The Democratic Party, which helped build our system of inverted totalitarianism, is once again held up by many on the left as the savior. Yet the party steadfastly refuses to address the social inequality that led to the election of Trump and the insurgency by Bernie Sanders. It is deaf, dumb and blind to the very real economic suffering that plagues over half the country. It will not fight to pay workers a living wage. It will not defy the pharmaceutical and insurance industries to provide Medicare for all. It will not curb the voracious appetite of the military that is disemboweling the country and promoting the prosecution of futile and costly foreign wars. It will not restore our lost civil liberties, including the right to privacy, freedom from government surveillance, and due process. It will not get corporate and dark money out of politics. It will not demilitarize our police and reform a prison system that has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners although the United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population. It plays to the margins, especially in election seasons, refusing to address substantive political and social problems and instead focusing on narrow cultural issues like gay rights, abortion and gun control in our peculiar species of anti-politics.

This is a doomed tactic, but one that is understandable. The leadership of the party, the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Perez, are creations of corporate America. In an open and democratic political process, one not dominated by party elites and corporate money, these people would not hold political power. They know this. They would rather implode the entire system than give up their positions of privilege. And that, I fear, is what will happen. The idea that the Democratic Party is in any way a bulwark against despotism defies the last three decades of its political activity. It is the guarantor of despotism.

Trump has tapped into the hatred that huge segments of the American public have for a political and economic system that has betrayed them. He may be inept, degenerate, dishonest and a narcissist, but he adeptly ridicules the system they despise. His cruel and demeaning taunts directed at government agencies, laws and the established elites resonate with people for whom these agencies, laws and elites have become hostile forces. And for many who see no shift in the political landscape to alleviate their suffering, Trump’s cruelty and invective are at least cathartic.

Trump, like all despots, has no ethical core. He chooses his allies and appointees based on their personal loyalty and fawning obsequiousness to him. He will sell anyone out. He is corrupt, amassing money for himself—he made $40 million from his Washington, D.C., hotel alone last year—and his corporate allies. He is dismantling government institutions that once provided some regulation and oversight. He is an enemy of the open society. This makes him dangerous. His turbocharged assault on the last vestiges of democratic institutions and norms means there will soon be nothing, even in name, to protect us from corporate totalitarianism.

But the warnings from the architects of our failed democracy against creeping fascism, Madeleine Albright among them, are risible. They show how disconnected the elites have become from the zeitgeist. None of these elites have credibility. They built the edifice of lies, deceit and corporate pillage that made Trump possible. And the more Trump demeans these elites, and the more they cry out like Cassandras, the more he salvages his disastrous presidency and enables the kleptocrats pillaging the country as it swiftly disintegrates.

The press is one of the principal pillars of Trump’s despotism. It chatters endlessly like 17th-century courtiers at the court of Versailles about the foibles of the monarch while the peasants lack bread. It drones on and on and on about empty topics such as Russian meddling and a payoff to a porn actress that have nothing to do with the daily hell that, for many, defines life in America. It refuses to critique or investigate the abuses by corporate power, which has destroyed our democracy and economy and orchestrated the largest transfer of wealth upward in American history. The corporate press is a decayed relic that, in exchange for money and access, committed cultural suicide. And when Trump attacks it over “fake news,” he expresses, once again, the deep hatred of all those the press ignores. The press worships the idol of Mammon as slavishly as Trump does. It loves the reality-show presidency. The press, especially the cable news shows, keeps the lights on and the cameras rolling so viewers will be glued to a 21st-century version of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” It is good for ratings. It is good for profits. But it accelerates the decline.

All this will soon be compounded by financial collapse. Wall Street banks have been handed $16 trillion in bailouts and other subsidies by the Federal Reserve and Congress at nearly zero percent interest since the 2008 financial collapse. They have used this money, as well as the money saved through the huge tax cuts imposed last year, to buy back their own stock, raising the compensation and bonuses of their managers and thrusting the society deeper into untenable debt peonage. Sheldon Adelson’s casino operations alone got a $670 million tax break under the 2017 legislation. The ratio of CEO to worker pay now averages 339 to 1, with the highest gap approaching 5,000 to 1. This circular use of money to make and hoard money is what Karl Marx called “fictitious capital.” The steady increase in public debt, corporate debt, credit card debt and student loan debt will ultimately lead, as Nomi Prins writes, to “a tipping point—when money coming in to furnish that debt, or available to borrow, simply won’t cover the interest payments. Then debt bubbles will pop, beginning with higher yielding bonds.”

An economy reliant on debt for its growth causes our interest rate to jump to 28 percent when we are late on a credit card payment. It is why our wages are stagnant or have declined in real terms—if we earned a sustainable income we would not have to borrow money to survive. It is why a university education, houses, medical bills and utilities cost so much. The system is designed so we can never free ourselves from debt.

However, the next financial crash, as Prins points out in her book “Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World,” won’t be like the last one. This is because, as she says, “there is no Plan B.” Interest rates can’t go any lower. There has been no growth in the real economy. The next time, there will be no way out. Once the economy crashes and the rage across the country explodes into a firestorm, the political freaks will appear, ones that will make Trump look sagacious and benign.

And so, to quote Vladimir Lenin, what must be done?

We must invest our energy in building parallel, popular institutions to protect ourselves and to pit power against power. These parallel institutions, including unions, community development organizations, local currencies, alternative political parties and food cooperatives, will have to be constructed town by town. The elites in a time of distress will retreat to their gated compounds and leave us to fend for ourselves. Basic services, from garbage collection to public transportation, food distribution and health care, will collapse. Massive unemployment and underemployment, triggering social unrest, will be dealt with not through government job creation but the brutality of militarized police and a complete suspension of civil liberties. Critics of the system, already pushed to the margins, will be silenced and attacked as enemies of the state. The last vestiges of labor unions will be targeted for abolition, a process that will soon be accelerated given the expected ruling in a case before the Supreme Court that will cripple the ability of public-sector unions to represent workers. The dollar will stop being the world’s reserve currency, causing a steep devaluation. Banks will close. Global warming will extract heavier and heavier costs, especially on the coastal populations, farming and the infrastructure, costs that the depleted state will be unable to address. The corporate press, like the ruling elites, will go from burlesque to absurdism, its rhetoric so patently fictitious it will, as in all totalitarian states, be unmoored from reality. The media outlets will all sound as fatuous as Trump. And, to quote W.H. Auden, “the little children will die in the streets.”

As a foreign correspondent I covered collapsed societies, including the former Yugoslavia. It is impossible for any doomed population to grasp how fragile the decayed financial, social and political system is on the eve of implosion. All the harbingers of collapse are visible: crumbling infrastructure; chronic underemployment and unemployment; the indiscriminate use of lethal force by police; political paralysis and stagnation; an economy built on the scaffolding of debt; nihilistic mass shootings in schools, universities, workplaces, malls, concert venues and movie theaters; opioid overdoses that kill some 64,000 people a year; an epidemic of suicides; unsustainable military expansion; gambling as a desperate tool of economic development and government revenue; the capture of power by a tiny, corrupt clique; censorship; the physical diminishing of public institutions ranging from schools and libraries to courts and medical facilities; the incessant bombardment by electronic hallucinations to divert us from the depressing sight that has become America and keep us trapped in illusions. We suffer the usual pathologies of impending death. I would be happy to be wrong. But I have seen this before. I know the warning signs. All I can say is get ready.

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