The Chomsky Challenge for Americans

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It’s no wonder that most Americans are clueless about why “their” country is feared and hated the world over. It remains unthinkable to this day, for example, that any respectable “mainstream” U.S. media outlet would tell the truth about why the United States atom-bombed the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As Gar Alperovitz and other historians have shown, Washington knew that Japan was defeated and ready to surrender at the end of World War II. The ghastly atomic attacks were meant to send a signal to Soviet Russia about the post-WWII world: “We run the world. What we say goes.”

However, as far as most Americans who even care to remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki know, the Japanese cities were nuked to save American lives certain to be lost in a U.S. invasion required to force Japan’s surrender. This false rationalization was reproduced in the “The War,” the widely viewed 2007 PBS miniseries on World War II from celebrated liberal documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

An early challenge to Uncle Sam’s purported right to manage postwar world affairs from the banks of the Potomac came in 1950. Korean forces, joined by Chinese troops, pushed back against the United States’ invasion of North Korea. Washington responded with a merciless bombing campaign that flattened all of North Korea’s cities and towns. U.S. Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay boasted that “we burned down every town in North Korea” and proudly guessed that Uncle Sam’s gruesome air campaign, replete with napalm and chemical weapons, murdered 20 percent of North Korea’s population. This and more was recounted without a hint of shame—with pride, in fact—in the leading public U.S. military journals of the time. As Noam Chomsky, the world’s leading intellectual, explained five years ago, the U.S. was not content just to demolish the country’s urban zones:

Since everything in North Korea had been destroyed, the air force was then sent to destroy North Korea’s dams, huge dams that controlled the nation’s water supply—a war crime for which people had been hanged in Nuremberg. And these official journals … talk[ed] excitedly about how wonderful it was to see the water pouring down, digging out the valleys and the ‘Asians’ scurrying around trying to survive. The journals exulted in what this meant to those Asians—horrors beyond our imagination. It meant the destruction of their rice crop, which in turn meant starvation. How magnificent!

The United States’ monstrous massive crimes against North Korea during the early 1950s went down George Orwell’s “memory hole” even as they took place. To the American public they never occurred—and therefore hold no relevance to current U.S.-North Korean tensions and negotiations as far as most good Americans know.

Things are different in North Korea, where every schoolchild learns about the epic, mass-murderous wrongdoings of the U.S. “imperialist aggressor” from the early 1950s.

“Just imagine ourselves in their position,” Chomsky writes. “Imagine what it meant … for your country to be totally levelled—everything destroyed by a huge superpower, which furthermore was gloating about what it was doing. Imagine the imprint that would leave behind.”

That ugly history rarely makes its way into the “mainstream” U.S. understanding of why North Korea behaves in “bizarre” and “paranoid” ways toward the U.S.

Outside the “radical” margins where people read left critics and chroniclers of “U.S. foreign policy” (a mild euphemism for American imperialism), Americans still can’t grapple with the monumental and arch-imperialist crime that was “the U.S. crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (Chomsky’s term at the time) between 1962 and 1975.

Contrary to the conventional U.S. wisdom, there was no “Vietnam War.” What really occurred was a U.S. War on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia—a giant and prolonged, multi-pronged and imperial assault that murdered 5 million southeast Asians along with 58,000 U.S. soldiers. Just one U.S. torture program alone the CIA’s Operation Phoenix—killed more than two-thirds as many Vietnamese as the total U.S. body count. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the widely publicized My Lai atrocity was just one of countless mass racist killings of Vietnamese villagers carried out by U.S. troops during the crucifixion. Vietnam struggles with an epidemic of birth defects created by U.S. chemical warfare to this day.

America’s savage saturation bombing of Cambodia (meant to cut off supply lines to Vietnamese independence fighters) created the devastation out of which arose the mass-exterminating Khmer Rouge regime, which Washington later backed against Vietnam.

As far as most Americans who care to think about the “Vietnam War” know from “mainstream” U.S. media, however, the war’s real tragedy is about what it did to Americans, not Southeast Asians. With no small help from Burns and Novick’s instantly celebrated documentary on, well, “The Vietnam War” last year, we are still stuck in the ethical oblivion of then U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s morally idiotic 1977 statement that no U.S. reparations or apologies were due to Vietnam since “the destruction was mutual” in the “Vietnam War.” As if fearsome fleets of Vietnamese bombers had wreaked havoc on major U.S. cities and pulverized and poisoned U.S. fields and farms during the 1960s and 1970s. As if legions of Vietnamese killers had descended from attack helicopters to murder U.S. citizens in their homes while Vietnamese gunships destroyed U.S. schools and hospitals. Did the Vietnamese mine U.S. harbors? Did naked American children run down streets in flight from Vietnamese napalm attacks?

The colossal crimes committed run contrary to Cold War claims that Washington was fighting the spread of Soviet-directed communism. The U.S. wanted to prevent Vietnam from becoming a good example of Third World social revolution and national independence. The truth is remembered in Vietnam, where national museums exhibit artifacts from Uncle Sam’s noble effort to “bomb Vietnam back to the Stone Age” and tell stories of Vietnamese soldiers’ heroic resistance to the “imperialist aggressors.”

One American who made the moral decision to put himself in “our” supposed “enemy’s” position was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The people of Indochina, King mused in 1967, “must find Americans to be strange liberators” as we “destroy their families, villages, land” and send them “wander[ing] into the hospitals, with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one ‘Vietcong’-inflicted injury. So far we have killed a million of them—mostly children.” Further:

They languish under our bombs and consider us—not their fellow Vietnamese—the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers and into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. … They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their land. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. … They wander into the towns and see thousands of children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our solders as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our solders, soliciting for their mothers.

Observing that the U.S. had become the world’s “leading purveyor of violence,” King asked Americans to develop the maturity to “learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the [Vietnamese] brothers who are called the opposition.”

All good Americans were naturally horrified by the 9/11/2001 jetliner attacks—the first serious foreign attack on the U.S. since the War of 1812. Where was their humanitarian revulsion as U.S.-led economic sanctions killed 500,000 innocent Iraqi children (what Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright went on CBS to call “a price worth paying”) during the first half of the 1990s? “Mainstream” U.S. media had little to say about this terrible toll.

How many good Americans who understandably wept as they watched the World Trade Center towers collapse had ever heard about the grisly slaughter the U.S. armed forces arch-criminally inflicted on surrendered Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait in February 1991? Journalist Joyce Chediac testified that:

U.S. planes trapped the long convoys by disabling vehicles in the front, and at the rear, and then pounded the resulting traffic jams for hours. … On the sixty miles of coastal highway, Iraqi military units sit in gruesome repose, scorched skeletons of vehicles and men alike, black and awful under the sun … for 60 miles every vehicle was strafed or bombed, every windshield is shattered, every tank is burned, every truck is riddled with shell fragments. No survivors are known or likely. … U.S. forces continued to drop bombs on the convoys until all humans were killed. So many jets swarmed over the inland road that it created an aerial traffic jam, and combat air controllers feared midair collisions. … [I]t was simply a one-sided massacre. …

Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goring would have been impressed.

Imagine the imprint this senseless war crime must have left behind on Iraqis.

Thanks to its poor fit with American exceptionalist doctrine—according to which Uncle Sam always tries to do the morally right thing, even if it sometimes goes too far in overzealous pursuits of its consistently good intentions—this gruesome imperial crime was only a minor story in U.S. “mainstream” media. The same was true three years earlier when the American battleship USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655, killing 290 civilians on a clearly marked commercial jet in Iranian air space over the Persian Gulf. (Two years later, the Vincennes’ commander and his chief air-war artillery officer were given medals for “exceptionally meritorious conduct” during this heroic slaughter of harmless innocents.)

Imagine the U.S. response if, say, a Chinese navy ship had shot down an American Airlines flight in U.S. airspace over San Francisco Bay.

The U.S. shootdown of Flight 655 is well remembered in Iran. Not so in the United States of Imperial Amnesia, where official doctrine holds that, in Madeline Albright’s words, “The United States is good. We try to do our best everywhere.”

” ‘Tis too much proved,” William Shakespeare wrote in “Hamlet,” “that with devotion’s visage and pious action we do sugar o’er the devil himself.”

The tenacious hold of pious U.S.-exceptionalist dogma leads to soul-numbing two-facedness. In May 2009, a U.S. airstrike killed more than 10 dozen civilians in Bola Boluk, a village in western Afghanistan’s Farah Province. Ninety-three of the dead villagers torn apart by U.S. explosives were children. Just 22 were males 18 years or older. As The New York Times somewhat surprisingly reported: “In a phone call played on a loudspeaker on Wednesday to … the Afghan Parliament, the governor of Farah Province, Rohul Amin, said that as many as 130 civilians had been killed, according to a legislator, Mohammad Naim Farahi. … The governor said that the villagers have brought two tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred. … Everyone was crying … watching that shocking scene. Mr. Farahi said he had talked to someone he knew personally who had counted 113 bodies being buried, including … many women and children.”

The initial response of the Obama Pentagon to this horrific incident—one among many mass U.S. aerial civilian killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan beginning in the fall of 2001—was to blame the deaths on “Taliban grenades.” Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, expressed “regret,” but the administration refused to issue an apology or to acknowledge U.S. responsibility.

By telling contrast, Barack Obama had just offered a full apology and fired a White House official for scaring New Yorkers with an ill-advised Air Force One photo-shoot flyover of Manhattan that reminded people there of 9/11.

The disparity was remarkable: Frightening New Yorkers led to a full presidential apology and the discharge of a White House staffer. Killing more than 100 Afghan civilians required no apology. No one had to be fired. And the Pentagon was permitted to advance preposterous claims about how the civilians perished—stories U.S. corporate media took seriously.

“Why, oh why, do they hate us?” So runs the plaintive American cry, as if Washington hasn’t directly and indirectly (through blood-soaked proxies like the Indonesia dictator Suharto and the death-squad regimes of Central America during the 1970s and 1980s) killed untold millions and overthrown dozens of governments the world over since 1945. As if the U.S. doesn’t account for nearly 40 percent of the world’s military spending to maintain at least 800 military bases spread across more than 80 “sovereign” nations.

Maybe it has to do with a U.S. media that wrings its hands for months over the deaths of four U.S. soldiers trapped on an imperial mission in Niger but can’t muster so much as a tear for the thousands of innocents regularly killed (victims of what Chomsky has called “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times”) by U.S. drone attacks across the Middle East, Southwest Asia and North Africa. Imagine what it is like to live in constant dread of annihilation launched from invisible and unmanned aerial killing machines. The tens of thousands of Yemenis killed and maimed by U.S-backed and U.S.-equipped Saudi Arabian airs raids get no sympathy from most American media. Nor do the more than 1 million Iraqis who died prematurely thanks to Washington’s arch-criminal 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was sold on thoroughly and openly false pretexts and provided essential context for the rise of the Islamic State.

Maybe it’s also about the “good friends” that “we” (our “foreign policy” imperial masters) keep around the world in the names of “freedom” and “democracy.”

These partners in global virtue include:

● Thirty-six nations receiving U.S. military assistance despite being identified as “dictatorships” in 2016 by the right-wing U.S. organization Freedom House.

● The Saudi regime, the leading source and funder of extremist Sunni jihadism and the most reactionary government on earth, currently using U.S. military hardware and ordnance to bomb Yemen into an epic humanitarian crisis.

● The openly racist occupation and apartheid state of Israel, which has sickened the morally sentient world this spring by systemically sniper-killing dozens of young, unarmed Palestinians who have had the audacity to protest their sadistic U.S.-backed siege in the miserable open-air prison that is Gaza.

● Honduras, home to a violently repressive right-wing government installed through a U.S.-backed military coup in June 2009.

● The Philippines, headed by a thuggish brute who boasts of killing thousands of drug users and dealers with death squads.

● Rwanda, a semi-totalitarian state enlisted in the U.S.-backed multinational rape of the Congo, where 5 million people have been killed by imperially sponsored starvation, disease and civil war since 2008.

● Ukraine, where a right-wing government that includes and relies on paramilitary neo-Nazis was installed in a U.S.-assisted coup four years ago.

You don’t have to be a leftist to have the elementary moral decency to do the Chomsky exercise of imagining yourself in other nations’ shoes—on the wrong side of the Pax Americana and its dutiful, consent-manufacturing “mainstream” media. Four years ago, the University of Chicago’s “realist” U.S. foreign policy expert John Mearsheimer had the all-too-uncommon decency (at least among U.S. “foreign affairs” specialists) to reflect on the Ukraine crisis and the New Cold War as seen from Russian eyes.

“The taproot of the crisis,” Mearsheimer wrote in the nation’s top establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, “is [U.S.-led] NATO expansion and Washington’s commitment to move Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit and integrated into the West,” something Vladimir Putin quite naturally saw as “a direct threat to Russia’s core interests.” And “who can blame him?” Mearsheimer asked, adding that grasping the reasons for Putin’s hostility ought to have been easy since the “United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western hemisphere, much less on its borders.”

“We need not ask,” Chomsky reflects, “how the United States would have reacted had the countries of Latin America joined the Warsaw Pact, with plans for Mexico and Canada to join as well. The merest hints of the first tentative steps in that direction would have been ‘terminated with extreme prejudice,’ to adopt CIA lingo.”

You never heard about Mearsheimer’s take, much less Chomsky’s, even (or especially) in liberal media outposts like MSNBC and CNN, where progressives learn to love the CIA and the FBI.

The dominant U.S. media now is warning us about the great and resurgent danger of Iran developing a single nuclear weapon. U.S. talking heads and pundits also are leading the charge for the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula [of North Korea].”

It is unthinkable that anyone in the reigning American exceptionalist U.S. media-politics-and-culture complex would raise the question of the denuclearization of the United States. It’s no small matter. The world’s only superpower, the only nation to ever attack civilians with nuclear weapons, is embarking on a super-expensive top-to-bottom overhaul of a U.S. nuclear arsenal that already houses 5,500 weapons with enough menacing power between them to blow the world up five times over. This $1.7 trillion rebuild includes the creation of provocative new first-strike weapons systems likely to escalate the risks of nuclear exchanges with Russia and/or China. Everyday Americans could have opportunities to more-than-just imagine what the innocents of Nagasaki experienced in August 1945.

But don’t blame Donald Trump. Our current reality was initiated under Obama, leader of a party that is positioning itself as the real and anti-Russian and CIA-backed party of empire in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections.

This extraordinarily costly retooling heightens prospects for human self-extermination in a world in dire need of public investment to end poverty (half the world’s population “lives” on less than $2.50 a day), to replace fossil fuels with clean energy (we are marching to the fatal mark of 500 carbon parts per atmospheric million by 2050—if not sooner), and to clean up the titanic environmental mess we’ve made of our planet.

The perverted national priorities reflected in such appalling, Darth Vader-esque “public investment”—a giant windfall for the high-tech U.S. weapons-industrial-complex—are symptoms of the moral collapse that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned the United States about in the famous anti-war speech he gave one year to the day before his assassination (or execution). “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift,” King said, “is approaching spiritual death.”

That spiritual death is well underway. Material and physical death for the species is not far off on America’s eco-and nuclear-exterminating path, led in no small part by a dominant U.S. media that obsesses over everything Trump and Russia while the underlying bipartisan institutions of imperial U.S. oligarchy lead humanity over the cliff. Americans might want to learn how to take Chomsky’s challenge—imagine ourselves in others’ situation—before it’s too late to imagine anything at all.

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Needed Now: A Real and Radical Left

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Paul Street.

It’s “socialism or barbarism.” So wrote the brilliant German Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg in 1915. The 20th and 21st centuries have borne her out. The list of barbarian horrors that have disfigured the human record under the class rule of capital across the last century is daunting indeed.

Now, however, we have to say that Luxemburg put things too gently. Marx and Engels got closer to our contemporary reality in 1848. They wrote in “The Communist Manifesto” about how the long-standing class struggle between producers and appropriators always ends “either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

It’s socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky. To be more precise, its eco-socialism or annihilation as capital turns the planet into a giant greenhouse gas chamber. The earth science is perfectly clear. The “common ruin” of all is precisely where humanity is headed after half a millennium under the rule of a system that relies on permanent unsustainable expansion to avert collapse. “The rich,” the French ecological writer Herve Kempf observed 11 years ago, “are destroying the Earth.” Well, not the earth itself, just the chances for a decent and organized human future.

The 21st-century global bourgeoisie isn’t doing this because it is loaded with malevolent ecological Scrooges who need to be visited by ghosts of the environmental Christmas past, present and future. Capitalists are driven to pillage and poison and rape the common good, including the ecological commons, by systemic imperatives compelling them to relentlessly commodify everything under the sun and to drive infinite growth on a finite planet.

For Marx, and I think for any authentic left today, the moral predisposition of bourgeois “elites” was and is of little concern. It’s not about speaking truth to wealth and power. Beseeching our capitalist masters to be nicer and smarter for the common good of all is a fool’s errand. We’re not trying to write a Charles Dickens novel in which rich Mr. Brownlow saves the day for poor Oliver Twist or the bad capitalist Scrooge becomes the good capitalist Scrooge. We know there’s no appealing to capitalist chieftains’ better angels where money and profit are concerned.

Real leftists know that five people owning as much wealth as the bottom half of the species while millions starve and lack adequate health care and half the U.S. population is poor or near-poor is capitalism working.

We know that giant corporations buying up every last family farm, tapping every new reserve of cheap global labor, raping the Congo’s raw materials in alliance with warlords, purchasing the votes of nearly every elected official, extracting every last fossil fuel and driving the planet past the limits of environmental sustainability is capitalism working.

We know that a giant military-industrial complex, generating vast fortunes for the owners and managers of high-tech “defense” (war and empire) firms while schools and public parks and infrastructure and social safety nets are underfunded—we know that that too is capitalism working.

I could go on.

The only solution, a real left would know, along with Marx, is for workers and citizens to organize collectively to overthrow the amoral profits system and take control of what they produce and how society is organized.

Power to the people. Power to the workers. And power to the commons, whose enclosure was and remains among other things the making of modern capitalism and its wage-enslaved working class.

That is what I have always understood to be the basic irreducible bottom-line perspective of anything that deserves since the time of Marx to be called “the left.”

I’m always amused when I hear mainstream U.S. media reporters, talking heads or pundits refer to “the left” in statements like “the left won’t like Trump’s tax plan” or “the left is gearing up for the 2018 midterms.” What left are they talking about?

In the reigning U.S. media-politics culture, “the left” refers first and foremost to the Democratic Party and its many allies at places like The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, CBS, MSNBC, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, most of academia and a host of other elite sectors and actors. But for anyone who knows anything about the history and meaning of radical movements, calling the dismal dollar-drenched Democrats and their many media allies “the left” is like calling the National Pork Producers Association vegan. As the multimillionaire House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told a young CNN town hall questioner last year, “We’re capitalist and that’s just the way it is.”

The Robert Rubin-approved and Goldman Sachs- and Citigroup-backed presidential candidate Barack Obama wrote and spoke with gushing praise for the lords of capital and their supposedly glorious profits system, which he called the source of a “prosperity that’s unmatched in human history.” His policy record as a militantly pro-Wall Street and arch-neoliberal president consistently matched his words. He did more for the nation’s leading financial institutions and corporations than any Republican president could have in the wake of the Great Recession, caused by concentrated wealth.

And he was proud of it. “People call me a socialist sometimes,” Obama told some top corporate executives at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council with a laugh in late 2013. “But no,” the arch-neoliberal president, TransPacific Partnership advocate and drone war champion said, eliciting chuckles from his ruling-class friends, “you’ve got to meet the real socialists. You’ll have a sense of what a socialist is. I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.” The CEOs in attendance got a big chuckle out of what CounterPunch called that “tender ruling class moment.”

“Socialists”? The “lying neoliberal warmonger” and arch-corporatist Hillary Clinton recently added those nasty socialists in the Democratic Party to the list of people other than herself and her Wall Street bankrollers that she blames for her defeat in 2016. If socialists in the Iowa Democratic caucuses had properly understood and respected her commitment to what top Democrats oxymoronically called “inclusive capitalism,” Hillary thinks, Trump would not be president.

Leftish liberals call for the supposed “party of the people” to abandon its “corporate and cultural elitism” and “return” to its purported grand mission of “fighting for social justice and ensuring that workers get a fair deal.” When, the plaintive progressive cry goes, will they learn how to win? But for the dismal Dems it isn’t about winning; it’s about serving corporate masters. As William Kaufman told Barbara Ehrenreich last year, “The Democrats aren’t feckless, inept, or stupid, unable to ‘learn’ what it takes to win. They are corrupt. They do not want to win with an authentically progressive program because it would threaten the economic interests of their main corporate donor base. … The Democrats know exactly what they’re doing. They have a business model: sub-serving the interests of the corporate elite.”

The reigning corporate Democrats would rather lose to the right, even to a proto-fascistic white nationalist and eco-apocalyptic right, than lose to the left, even to a mildly progressive social democratic left within their own party. So what if Bernie Sanders, running (imagine!) in accord with majority progressive opinion would have been considerably more likely to defeat Trump than the incredibly unpopular and transparently elitist Hillary Clinton in the general election in 2016? The Democrats preferred handing the presidency and Congress to the Insane Clown President and the ever more radical right over letting a leftish neo-New Dealer into the White House. That was the “Inauthentic Opposition”—as the late Sheldon Wolin called the Democrats in 2008—doing its job.

Among other things, Russiagate is the Inauthentic Opposition following its business model and doing its job, working to cover its tracks by throwing the debacle of its corporatist politics down George Orwell’s memory hole and attributing their largely self-made defeat to Russia’s allegedly powerful interference in our supposed democracy. Russiagate is meant to provide corporate Democrats cover not only for 2016 but also for 2018 and 2020. It is meant to create a narrative that lets the Fake Resistance Party continue nominating corporate captive neoliberal shills and imperialists who pretend to be progressive while they are owned by the nation’s own homegrown oligarchs, the real masters of America’s oxymoronic “capitalist democracy.” This year’s crop of Democratic congressional candidates is disturbingly loaded with military and intelligence veterans, a reflection of the Democrats’ determination to run as the true party of empire.

As Jeremy Kuzmarov and John Marciano write in their book “The Russians are Coming, Again,” “The scapegoat of Russia functions as a distraction for a ruling class that has lost its legitimacy.”

What is the Democrats’ leading cry? That the terrible Trump is truly terrible. And, of course, that is all too terribly true. But after you’ve bemoaned the terribleness of the beastly, orange-tinted Trump for the 10,000th time, are you ready to get serious about the systemic and richly bipartisan, oligarchic context within which he has emerged? “The Trump administration,” my fellow Truthdigger Chris Hedges reminds us:

“did not rise … 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 hurtle 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.”

Corporate Democrats could well re-elect Trump in 2020. The smart money now is on their running the tepid neoliberal centrist Kamala Harris. Part of what could make her irresistible to the corporate and professional-class know-it-alls atop the party is that she would be a “progressive neoliberal”-bourgeois identity politics double whammy when it comes to keeping their own party’s portside wing at bay. With Obama as their standard bearer, the corporate-war Democrats got to call their progressive critics racists. With Hillary as their candidate, the corporate-war Democrats got to call their progressive critics sexists. With Kamala Harris atop the ticket they could call their disobedient left racists and sexists if progressives dare to publicly notice her captivity to Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the Council on Foreign Relations and the military-industrial complex.

Not that Sanders, who was the Democrats’ best chance to defeat Trump, is all that “left.” Bernie “F-35” Sanders’ occasional and carefully hedged claims to be a “democratic socialist” were contradicted by his dutiful if quiet embrace of the mass-murderous U.S. military empire. It takes real chutzpah to repeatedly mention Scandinavia as his social-democratic role model without once noting that Sweden, Denmark and Norway spend comparatively tiny percentages of their national budgets on militarism. Failure to tackle the giant U.S. war budget (a vast mechanism of upward wealth transfer) means that you can’t pay for poverty-ending progressive transformation at home.

Sanders has never seriously criticized capitalism, the profits system or modern class rule. He has never questioned the underlying and foundational institutional despotism of capital over labor and the commons that makes a mockery of the West’s democratic pretense while placing human life itself at grave peril. Along the way, Sanders has sustained progressives’ deadly attachment to the nation’s narrow and strictly time-staggered election- and candidate-centered politics. “The really critical thing,” the great American radical historian Howard Zinn once sagely wrote, “isn’t who’s sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in—in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating—those are the things that determine what happens.”

“The only thing that’s going to ever bring about any meaningful change,” Noam Chomsky told Abby Martin in the fall of 2015, “is ongoing, dedicated, popular movements that don’t pay attention to the election cycle.” Sanders was and remains about the masters’ election cycle, which is dedicated to the delusional notion that we the people get meaningful democratic input into policy by spending three minutes in a voting booth choosing from among a handful of candidates selected in advance for us by the nation’s unelected dictatorship of money once every two years.

The Democrats know that lots of citizens think like Zinn. That’s why they set up Astroturf outfits like Indivisible and Move On and the Town Hall Project. These fake resistance groups masquerade as extra-electoral grass-roots movements, but they’re all about channeling everything into a big get-out-the-vote campaign for candidates affiliated with the not-so-left-most of the two reigning corporate parties.

A number of Sanders supporters have migrated into DSA, the Democratic Socialists of America, whose popular online “Thanks Capitalism” video defines “socialism” as little more than collective bargaining and civil rights. It says nothing about capitalism’s destruction of livable ecology or about its evil twin, imperialism, whose vast military budgets cancels out social democracy in the “homeland.” The video says nothing about Marx’s and other authentic leftists’ long-standing understanding of socialism as workers’ control.

A panoply of outwardly and sometimes substantively progressive advocacy, policy and service organizations can be found across the U.S. But as Les Leopold has noted, they are badly crippled by single-issue-ism, related to do their budgetary dependence on private foundations. “For the last generation,” Leopold wrote last year, “progressives have organized themselves into issue silos, each with its own agenda. Survival depends on fundraising (largely from private foundations) based on the uniqueness of one’s own silo. The net result of this Darwinian struggle is a fractured landscape of activity. The creativity, talent and skill are there in abundance, but the coherence and common purpose among groups is not.”

There are multi-issue nonpartisan progressive policy, lobbying and protest groups in the Citizen Action tradition across the nation. Their 501c3 (nonprofit) status prevents them from openly identifying as Democratic Party-affiliated groups, but that is what they are. Real authentic root-and-branch radicals who want to keep their jobs know to tread carefully and watch their backs when they work in the “progressive” nonprofit sector. It’s the same in “higher education” and the so-called labor movement.

There are a number of groups that call themselves Marxist in the U.S.—an alphabet soup whose various names and sectarian tendencies can be reviewed on Wikipedia. None of them have anything close to a large membership. Many of them spend more time tearing each other apart in sectarian squabbling than in organizing or inspiring anyone to fight the many manifest evils of capital.

Left anarchism seems as fragmented, marginal and sectarian as the Marxist left.

We’ve seen hopeful seeds of rank-and-file people’s organizing over the years with developments like the Wisconsin Rebellion before it was electorally co-opted, Occupy, the Fight for $15, the Chicago and subsequent statewide teacher strikes, the Verizon strike, rebellions and the movement against racist police killings—a movement bigger than just the Ford Foundation-funded and Borealis Foundation-coordinated Black Lives Matter brand. There’s been the Malcom X Grassroots Movement, We Charge Genocide, the remarkable Standing Rock moment, the broader struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline, the successful struggle against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the remarkable alternative economy political developments led by black radicals in Jackson, Miss., something that strikes me as the most potentially radical and remarkable development of all so far.

Now we have the Poor People’s Campaign, just underway, under the leadership of the Rev. William Barber, who has criticized U.S. militarism and kept Democratic Party politicos off his speaking platforms. Perhaps the PPC can develop in ways that will help us build an authentic radical left—not just another leftish moment that gets folded into a Get Out the Vote for Democrats campaign. To do so, it will need to open its platforms to serious left anti-capitalists. It will have to step further away from the not-so left-most party of capital, the Democrats. It will need to speak less in terms of the immorality of poverty and more in terms of how poverty is rooted in the profits system of class rule and the racism and imperialism that go with capitalism “like white on rice.”

“For whatever reason,” a PPC supporter writes me from Pennsylvania, the campaign is “unwilling or unable to name the disease, capitalism. In the absence of this diagnosis,” he says, “I worry that the PPC might be nothing more than a sheepdog for the Democrats in 2018.”

For now—and this must change—“the [U.S.] left” is still far too scattered, excessively siloed, overdependent on corporate foundations, overly identity-politicized, excessively episodic, excessively metropolitan and bicoastal, excessively professional and middle-class, insufficiently radical, insufficiently working-class, insufficiently anti-capitalist and insufficiently distanced from the dismal, demobilizing, depressing and dollar-drenched Democratic Party.

Noam Chomsky’s judgment five years ago remains all too accurate today: “There is no real left now” in the United States, Chomsky told David Barsamian. “If you are just counting heads,” Chomsky elaborated, “there are probably more people involved than in the 1960s, but they … don’t coalesce into a movement that can really do things. We’re not supposed to say it,” he continued, “but the Communist Party was an organized and persistent element. It didn’t show up for a demonstration and then scatter so somebody else had to start something new. It was always there and it was there for the long haul. … That mentality is basically missing [now]. And it was during the 1960s, too,” Chomsky said.

The absence of a real, dedicated, persistent and serious, adult left is profoundly dangerous. People who are getting shafted and who know it are going to get behind militant and angry politicos seeking to channel their understandable rage. If there’s no effective, durable, organized, intelligent and durable through-thick-and-thin anti-capitalist left around, the job of channeling that popular anger falls by default to the white nationalist racist, nativist and sexist right—the Hitlers, Goebbels, Marine Le Pens, Geert Wilders, Matteo Salivinis, Nigel Farages, David Dukes, Steve Kings, Donald Trumps and Steve Bannons of the world. Resentment abhors a vacuum.

At the same time, without a functioning left able to fight and do things for ordinary working and poor people, we will have nothing to defend and sustain our households, families and communities when the next big capitalist meltdown comes—an event that is due in the very near future. Before the coming collapse, Hedges tell us, “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.”

Hedges’ list of institutions for parallel people’s power should be expanded to cooperative production, under the participatory and self-managed ownership, control and design of the “associated producers” themselves in harmony rather than at war with the natural environment.

It’s no small matter, given what we know now to be the essentially ecocidal nature of modern capitalism. “If there is not future for a radical mass movement in our time,” Istvan Meszaros rightly argued 15 years ago, “there can be no future for humanity itself.”

Truthdig is running a reader-funded project to document the Poor People’s Campaign. Please help us by making a donation.

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How the Left Can Gain Footing in White America

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Near the end of his life, the great civil rights and anti-war leader and democratic socialist Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that the “real issue to be faced” in the United States was “the radical reconstruction of society itself.” These words have never been truer than they are today, when the profits system threatens to end livable ecology in the historical near term.

It will be difficult, if not impossible, to carry out King’s reconstruction without backing from millions of white people in what is still very much the world’s most powerful state. While the U.S. population becomes less Caucasian with each decennial census, the nation is still supermajority—69 percent—non-Hispanic white. The nation’s physical and related political geography is whiter still, thanks to a political system that overrepresents America’s disproportionately white rural and exurban regions and states.

How might a U.S. left that mattered—currently nonexistent, thanks in part to its hyper identity-politicized alienation from everyday white people (not a new problem)—find a place in white America? How could it do that without dropping its principled and undebatable opposition to racism, ethnocentrism and nativism?

I am an anti-racist, leftist historian and journalist who grew up in an unusually integrated and liberal big-city neighborhood and has spent many years living in predominantly white and rural counties. Thanks to a retrospectively welcome failure to achieve lasting professional-class success, I have spent a good share of time employed alongside (and talking politics with) “white working-class” people in the “heartland.”

Here, for what it’s worth, are 12 recommendations for how my fellow leftist progressives might understand and communicate with “flyover zone” whites in ways that further our goals without sacrificing our commitment to racial, ethnic and gender equality and environmental sanity and without pushing middle-American and noncollege-educated white folks further to the right:

1. Drop the notion that you/we don’t need a lot of white allies to advance leftist goals. King knew better than that. So did the Black Panthers, who worked to help working-class whites, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans build organizations that would merge their specific ethnocultural identities with a “proletarian” people’s struggle against capitalism and imperialism. King placed a big emphasis in his last years on fighting with and for poor and working-class people of all colors against the economic injustices of capitalism. (He had no romantic illusions about people of color and a few white allies being able to transform America alone. He would have been horrified by the position of the blustering white “radical,” violence-fetishizing and infantile-leftist Weathermen, who decided in 1969 to write off pretty much the entire white U.S. population as reactionaries. The Panthers rightly rejected the “anti-white chauvinist” Weatherman standpoint as idiotic.)

2. Avoid blanket statements about “white people” and “white America.” People on the left rightly bristle at broad racialist and sexist generalizations about blacks, Latinos, Asians, Muslims, Arabs, females, immigrants, gays, lesbians and transgendered people. We should also avoid sweeping statements about all U.S. whites, who are torn by their own sharp socioeconomic, ethnic, partisan, political and ideological differences.

3. Avoid saying insulting and condescending things about nonmetropolitan and working-class whites—stuff like presidential candidate Barack Obama riffing on how rural whites “get bitter, cling to cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton telling rich New York City campaign donors that Donald Trump’s white, rural and noncollege-educated backers were “a basket” of racist, nativist, homophobic and sexist “deplorables.” Clinton’s sneering comment was vote-getting gold for the white nationalist Trump campaign, which printed up “Adorable Deplorable” T-shirts and bumper stickers to use in key battleground states. (Clinton recently doubled down on her progressive neoliberal contempt for stupid middle America by saying this to an elite, globalist gathering in Mumbai, India: “If you look at the map of the United States, there’s all that red in the middle where Trump won. I win the coasts. But what the map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward”… and lost to people who, “You know, didn’t like black people getting rights, don’t like women, you know, getting jobs, don’t want to, you know, see Indian-Americans succeeding more than you are.” That was a raised middle finger from a superwealthy, arch global corporatist to all the supposedly pessimistic, slow-witted, racist, sexist and generally retrograde white-hick losers stuck between those glorious enclaves—led by Wall Street, Yale and Harvard on the East Coast and Silicon Valley and Hollywood on the West Coast—of human progress and variety [and GDP!] on the imperial shorelines. Think right-wing media picked up on that elitist, multicultural, globalist insult to the white heartland? You betcha!)

4. Academic and other elite professional-class “progressives:” Please don’t brag about your advanced degrees, your next book publication, your next sabbatical, your latest European vacation, your small teaching load, your latest fine dining experience, your favorite French wines or the fancy and expensive college or university to which you are sending your children. Working-class people don’t like hearing about you enjoying your class privileges and related educational attainments. It’s the overeducated and know-it-all professional and managerial classes, not the capitalist 1 percent, who working-class people most commonly and regularly confront and see as the agents of class privilege and humiliation.

5. Take a low-paid and low-status job during this current tight-job market expansion. This will help you get a sense of the difficult and underappreciated work that tens of millions of supposedly privileged white Americans do every day: sweeping out parking garages, emptying bed pans, cleaning offices and bathrooms, driving trucks and buses, operating forklifts, waiting tables, making telemarketing calls, mowing parkways, laying foundations, extracting obstructions from production lines, filing medical documents and the like. (To make up for how you are adding to the wage-cheapening reserve army of labor, do your best to organize a union if one does not exist where you work, and make sure to pay union dues if you are in a union-protected job in a “right to work” state.)

6. Stop thinking or saying that all white America voted for the Trump. There were 156 million non-Hispanic whites eligible to vote in the 2016 elections. Trump got 63 million votes. Pretend that every single one of Trump’s voters was a non-Hispanic white. We know that’s not the case (Trump got 28 percent of the Latino vote, 27 percent of the Asian-American vote and 8 percent of the black vote, along with 57 percent of the white vote). But even if we imagine that every single one of Trump’s voters was a non-Hispanic white, it would mean that Trump was backed by just 40 percent of the white electorate. That’s hardly the whole “white tribe united” (to quote the noted black and neoliberal “Afro-pessimist” Ta-Nehisi Coates on Trump’s white supporters).

7. Don’t deny that candidate Trump’s economic populism (however disingenuous) was part of his attraction to rural and working-class and other whites who voted for him. Yes, as numerous leftist analysts (myself included) have noted, Trump’s appeal to those voters rested significantly on white nationalist racial identity. But it also relied on his economic-nationalist promise to honor the “forgotten” American heartland working-class by restoring the lost Golden Age of American manufacturing and economic “greatness.” Trump showed himself far more adept—to say the least—than the establishment neoliberal Clinton when it came to tapping the economically populist sentiments of the majority white and majority working-class electorate, most of which has less than $1,000 in its bank accounts while the top 10th of the upper U.S. 1 percent has as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Trump was no normal Republican 1 percent candidate. As Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen recently explained:

In 2016 the Republicans nominated yet another super-rich candidate—indeed, someone on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans. But pigeonholing him as a Romney-like Richie Rich was not easy. Like legions of conservative Republicans before him, he trash-talked Hispanics, immigrants, and women virtually non-stop, though with a verve uniquely his own. He laced his campaign with barely coded racial appeals and in the final days, ran an ad widely denounced as subtly anti-Semitic. But he supplemented these with other messages that qualified as true blockbusters: In striking contrast to every other Republican presidential nominee since 1936, he attacked globalization, free trade, international financiers, Wall Street, and even Goldman Sachs. “Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy. But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache. When subsidized foreign steel is dumped into our markets, threatening our factories, the politicians do nothing. For years, they watched on the sidelines as our jobs vanished and our communities were plunged into depression-level unemployment.” … In a frontal assault on the American establishment, the Republican standard bearer proclaimed “America First.” Mocking the Bush administration’s appeal to “weapons of mass destruction” as a pretext … He even criticized the “carried interest” tax break beloved by high finance.”

Such populist-sounding rhetoric was part of how and why Trump defeated Clinton, who, the authors note, “emphasized candidate and personal issues and avoided policy discussions to a degree without precedent in any previous election for which measurements exist.” At the same time, Trump would have lost of many of his white working-, lower- and middle-class votes to his Democratic opponent had the Democratic primaries and caucuses not been rigged against Bernie Sanders, who ran passionately against “the billionaire class” without the noxious racism, nativism and sexism that colored Trump’s campaign. Sanders might well have defeated Trump by mobilizing working-class voters of all colors, including white ones. (Whether a President Sanders could have done anything is another matter.)

8. Stop accusing U.S. white working-class people of “lacking class consciousness” just because the multibillionaire Trump did better than multimillionaire Clinton with noncollege-educated white voters. Many affluent and white, nonworking-class Trump voters lacked the allegedly class-defining college degree. Millions of working- and lower-class U.S. white citizens didn’t vote at all, as is common among lower-income Americans. The democratic socialist Sanders (currently and quietly the most popular politician in the country) would have done far better than both Clinton and Trump did with working-class white people in the general election. At the same, Trump tapped white working-class anger at the globalist financial and corporate elite (Goldman Sachs, et al.,) but also at the more liberally inclined and professional and managerial classes, whose position and meritocratic ideology is, according to historian Thomas Frank, the real face of class privilege and authority that working-class people grate under on a regular basis.

9. Don’t exaggerate the white privilege payoff in capitalist America. The income and especially the wealth gaps between non-Hispanic U.S. whites on one hand and U.S. blacks (whose median household net worth is 13 times lower than that of whites), Latinos and Native Americans are horrific. But those disparities do not change the fact that a vast swath of the U.S. white population lives below the threshold of a minimally adequate standard of living. The median white U.S. household income—$71,300 a year—is below the Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) rigorously calculated no-frills basic family budget—$ 74,004—for a family that comprises two parents and two children in the relatively cheap, 89 percent white Iowa jurisdiction of Muscatine County.

Things look much worse for white privilege when you drill down further in the census data. In the nearby university enclave of Iowa City, the EPI’s basic family budget for the same-sized household is $87,836. In the 93 percent white Muscatine County seat city of Muscatine, median white household income is $51,801, equivalent to just 70 percent of the EPI’s basic family budget for a family of four. Or take the 93 percent white upstate Michigan town of Sheboygan (5,000 people). Median household income there is $27,206, just 37 percent of the EPI’s basic family budget ($72,875) for Sheboygan County. The same basic story is evident across countless predominantly white towns and counties in the U.S heartland.

Three years ago, Harvard sociologist Robert D. Putnam’s rigorously researched book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” showed that social breakdown among low-income whites in the age of neoliberal capitalism was mimicking tendencies long said to characterize the black “underclass”: high rates of out-of-wedlock births, widespread male joblessness, endemic addiction, violence, elevated high school dropout rates, and more. Then came news of surging opiate addiction among working-class white Americans and of rising mortality rates fed by suicide and substance abuse among middle-aged white “surplus Americans.” The leading cause for these rising white “deaths of despair” cited by those who discovered them in the data is the collapse of the labor market for working-class people. Clearly the “wages of whiteness” are no ticket to the middle-class American dream for much of white America, a considerable portion of which has been rendered poor and replaceable by automation, de-unionization, globalization, the shredding of pensions and the poverty of the U.S. welfare state.

10. Appeal less (or not at all) to guilt over white privilege and more (or entirely) to white working-class people’s self-interest in interracial solidarity with black, Latino, Asian and Native American working-class people on behalf of the many against the nation’s wealthy few—the American oligarchy—in making the case for racial, ethnic and gender equality and civil, immigrant and gay rights. People with small savings accounts struggling to meet basic costs in a virulently unequal nation with a weak social safety net and a shortage of decent-paying jobs are not likely to respond warmly overall to outsiders who tell them how “privileged” they are by the color of their skin. Their bank accounts and more say different. They are getting shafted, and they know it. It’s better to talk about:

● How the real agents of their despair are not immigrants or urban people of color but the parasitic, exploitative and obscenely rich, class-privileged, capitalist 1 percent, the nation’s unelected dictatorship of money.

● How that capitalist employer and ruling class has long cultivated the racial and ethnic (and other) divisions within the working-class majority to maintain its immoral and now environmentally lethal profits and power.

● How white working-class people and working-class people of all colors and ethnicities have always done the best for themselves when they reach out across those divisions to form powerful unions and other grass-roots organization to fight the rich and powerful.

● How the “psychological wage” of whiteness—the sense that you are someone special and entitled just because you are white—is lame, self-defeating pseudo-compensation for economic exploitation by rich people.

● The many and remarkable moments when black and white North American workers joined in common struggle against capitalist exploiters, compelling the white ruling class to respond with strategies of racial divide-and-rule. “Since the 17th century,” Viewpoint Magazine editor Asad Haider has reminded us, “resistance to racial oppression and capitalist exploitation [in North America] have gone hand in hand,” led by militants and workers of all races who have understood that a racially divided working class cannot prevail over the wealthy few.

11. Drop any assumption that any but a small number of heartland whites have been given reasonable opportunities to know much if anything about the reality of racial oppression in 21st-century America. Beyond the appalling hyperconcentration of many millions of black Americans in communities that are shockingly devoid of resources and opportunities for advancement, contemporary racial segregation renders real black experience frightfully invisible to the nation’s white majority. Thanks to the quietly but deeply persistent problem of U.S. racial apartheid, much of white America’s image of black America is fed by wildly distorted and dichotomous media images of spectacular black success (the Obamas, Oprah and numerous superstar black athletes and entertainers) and black “underclass” criminality. To make matters worse, racist mass incarceration brings hundreds of thousands of young black urban felons into hundreds of rurally situated prisons, putting white prison personnel in highly unpleasant and conflictual contact with contemporary capitalist racial oppression’s most hardened victims—not a good mix for racial healing and understanding, to say the least.

12. Last but not least, the left should approach climate change—the biggest issue of our or any time—with empathetic sensitivity to “flyover zone” America’s desire for the creation of good-paying jobs. The right’s influential propaganda claiming that action against global warming destroys employment chances for working-class people should not simply be met with sneering invocations of the green maxims that “there are no jobs on a dead planet” and “no economy on a dead planet.” The adages are true enough, but the more politically strategic and astute point to make is that, as economist Robert Pollin showed in his 2014 book, “Greening the Global Economy,” “clean energy investment projects consistently generate more jobs for a given amount of spending than maintaining or expanding a country’s existing fossil fuel infrastructure. … The massive investments in energy efficiency and clean renewable energy necessary to stabilize the climate will also drive job expansion,” contrary to the “widely held view that protecting the environment and expanding job opportunities are necessarily in conflict.” Besides saving prospects for livable ecology and a decent future, the green conversion required for human survival is a job creator. Imagine that.

Here again, as with my recommendations on how to advance racial justice and gender equality in the name of working-class people’s solidarity, leftist progressives would be wise to elevate reasonable self-interest over guilt and shame in advancing the common good. If you grew up and lived in a mining or oil town, you’d probably be concerned about how the—yes, existentially necessary—transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy will affect job prospects for yourself and others in your community. Whether tenured liberal-leftish Obama fans like James Livingston, author of “No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea,” like it or not, working-class people still need and want to work, and not just for economic reasons. What could be more meaningful than working to save the world from its greatest scourge in this century: ecocide?

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Uncle Sam’s Glass House of Human Rights

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This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signed by the United States and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948, the document was a great and shining step forward in the articulation of how human beings might organize their social and political systems in accord with democratic and civilized ideals.

The U.S. has long wielded the Universal Declaration (UD) as a weapon to brandish selectively against officially designated enemies. But seven decades after its signing (and trumpeting) the document, American society stands in rarely noted gross violation of the declaration’s key principles.

Take the UD’s first’s article: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The United States falls far short here. Someone born into one of the 57 percent of U.S. households with less than $1,000 in savings will not enjoy remotely the same amount of “dignity and rights” as those enjoyed by someone born into the top 1 percent of households, which together possess as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of U.S. citizens. Access to basic means of comfort, dignity and freedom—like quality housing, quality education, strong legal representation, leisure, travel, health care, quality food and recreation—is filtered by the militantly disparate distribution of wealth and income in the U.S., the most savagely unequal nation among all Western “capitalist democracies.” Like the polarized and nasty political culture to which it is merged, the nation’s extreme socioeconomic imbalance is inconsistent with calls for conscience and brotherhood.

Article 2 of the UD proclaims, among other things, that everyone is entitled to human rights and freedoms without distinctions of “race, color” and “national or social origin.” Here again, the U.S. stands in stark contravention.

Median white wealth is 12 times higher than median black wealth in the U.S.—a reflection of persistent anti-black discrimination and segregation built into the nation’s social structures and institutions. Reflecting stark racial disparities in arrest, prosecution, legal representation and sentencing, black and Latinos make up 56 percent of the nation’s 2.2 million incarcerated people though they comprise roughly 32 percent of the U.S. population. One in three adult black males is saddled with the crippling lifelong mark of a felony record—a critical barrier to opportunity and full citizenship (even the right to vote in many U.S. states) on numerous levels. Thanks to the racially disparate waging of the so-called “War on Drugs,” one of every 10 U.S. black men in their thirties is in jail or prison on any given day. African-Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African-Americans for drug charges is almost six times that of whites.

Millions of undocumented immigrant workers and residents are unwilling to fight for their “universal human rights” in the U.S. because they reasonably fear arrest and deportation.

The UD’s fourth article declares that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.” Hundreds of thousands of U.S. prisoners—the modern-day and very disproportionately nonwhite human chattel that provides the essential raw material for the self-declared “Land of Freedom’s” curiously gigantic prison-industrial complex—perform labor tasks for tiny levels of compensation and often for no payment at all. The Global Slavery Index estimates that 57,000 people are victims of human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, with illegal smuggling and trading of people, for forced labor or sexual exploitation, in the United States.

Hundreds of millions of nominally free Americans are de facto slaves and servants to employers (upon whom a shocking number of Americans absurdly depend for health coverage), financial institutions, insurance corporations, retail corporations, credit agencies, property associations, government tax collectors, gambling agencies (including state lottery systems), health care providers, lawyers and drug dealers.

The UD’s fifth article says that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Torture and such treatment is endemic across the United States’ vast prison system, the largest in world history. One particularly widespread and egregious form of cruel and inhuman treatment inside that system is solitary confinement—a punishment well known to cause grave damage to its victims’ mental and physical health. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that:

Over the last two decades, the use of solitary confinement in U.S. correctional facilities has surged … 44 states and the federal government have supermax units, where prisoners are held in extreme isolation, often for years or even decades. On any given day in this country, it’s estimated that over 80,000 prisoners are held in isolated confinement. This massive increase in the use of solitary has happened despite criticism from legal and medical professionals, who have deemed the practice unconstitutional and inhumane.

Other forms of torture and cruel and inhumane treatment that are common in the nation’s vast archipelago of racially disparate mass incarceration include widespread beatings, rape, ignoring cries for help, overcrowding, under-funding, forcing inmates to fight, dehydration, starvation, denial of medical care, executions (including botched executions) and forced scalding showers.

Article 7 of the UD proclaims that “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”

This principle, too, is brazenly violated in the purported homeland and headquarters of global freedom and democracy. Many Americans are familiar with the old working-class aphorism that “money talks and bullshit walks”—meaning that the wealthy few hire high-priced lawyers to enhance their chances and power in the courts while everyday people do far less well with fewer resources to pay for legal representation. It’s no joke. As the Georgia gubernatorial candidate and former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams noted last February, people with money “artfully navigate the criminal justice system and maybe even avoid it altogether,” but those who are poor are overwhelmed.

Wall Street chieftains who threw millions of Americans out of work and destroyed billions of dollars in lost savings through their reckless and often criminal practices have escaped prosecution while the nation’s jails and prisons are loaded with disproportionately black, Latino and poor people serving long terms for comparative small-time drug offenses. Hundreds of thousands of Americans rot in jail prior to conviction for the simple reason that they lack the financial resources to “make bail.” Abrams reports that “The majority of Georgians incarcerated in local jails have never been convicted of crime. They are simply too poor to pay their bail.”

The UD’s ninth and tenth articles say that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” and that “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”

The eleventh article says that “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”

The “land of freedom” contravenes these core civil-libertarian principles without the slightest hint of embarrassment. The U.S. National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizes the indefinite military detention, without charge or trial, of any person labeled a “belligerent”—including an American citizen. The legislation overrides habeas corpus, the critical legal procedure that prevents the government from detaining you indefinitely without showing just cause.

In addition, the federal government has used the post 9/11 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) law to justify the direct killing (without a trial or verdict) of anyone proclaimed an “enemy combatant” in the global war on terrorism. The AUMF is unbound by geographic or time limitations. U.S. citizens are not exempted, nor is U.S. territory.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported last January that “For the third year in a row, [U.S. local and state] police nationwide shot and killed nearly 1,000 people. …” Police killings, disproportionately inflicted against poor people and people of color, amount to executions, without trial or verdict.

The presumption of innocence does not prevent hundreds of thousands of American from experiencing the torture of incarceration simply because they cannot pay bail while awaiting trial.

The UD’s twelfth article proclaims that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence.” So what? Americans are subject to a vast private and public surveillance apparatus that has essentially abolished privacy in the name of “national security.” As the ACLU reports:

Numerous government agencies—including the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, and state and local law enforcement agencies—intrude upon the private communications of innocent citizens, amass vast databases of who we call and when, and catalog “suspicious activities” based on the vaguest standards. … Innocuous data is fed into bloated watchlists, with severe consequences—innocent individuals have found themselves unable to board planes, barred from certain types of jobs, shut out of their bank accounts, and repeatedly questioned by authorities. Once information is in the government’s hands, it can be shared widely and retained for years, and the rules about access and use can be changed entirely in secret without the public ever knowing.

Article 15 of the UD says that “Everyone has the right to a nationality” and that “No one shall be deprived of the right to change his nationality.” Millions of “illegal” immigrants in flight from impoverished and repressive regimes supported by the United States are stateless people, too afraid of deportation to declare their foreign citizenship or to fight for decent conditions inside the U.S. They are not free to change their nationality by becoming U.S. citizens.

The UD’s nineteenth article declares that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference.” That’s nice. Millions of U.S. citizen-subjects know very well that they cannot write or say (or sing or post or march on behalf of) what they believe without putting their livelihoods at risk by offending or otherwise concerning their employers and other authorities. And in the United States, where health insurance is strongly and absurdly tied to place of employment, putting one’s job at risk also endangers a person’s and his or her family’s access to health care.

Freedom of expression is strictly qualified, to say the least, in the hidden and despotic abode of the capitalist workplace, where most working-age Americans spend most of their waking hours under managerial supervision.

Even tenured academics can be fired for expressing their opinions. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fired tenured professor Steven Salaita over his personal tweets criticizing Israel’s mass-murderous 2014 assault on Gaza. The prolific radical Native American author Ward Churchill was stripped of his tenured professorship on trumped-up grounds because of political comments he made on the 9/11 terror attacks.

Article 20 of the UD says that “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

These rights are strictly qualified in the U.S., where public assembly is controlled by onerous permitting processes and fees and peaceful protest gatherings commonly face militarized police forces that make random arrests, infiltrate marches and meetings, target organizers, give protesters petty charges (and deadly criminal records) and rough-up protesters. Numerous Republican-controlled states have passed bills that increase penalties for public protest in the wake of the many protests that accompanied Donald Trump’s election and inauguration.

Workers are fired for trying to organize unions in the U.S., where once union-friendly labor laws have been eviscerated.

The UD’s twenty-first article proclaims that “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

The reality of U.S. politics and policy stands in brazen defiance of this universal human right. As the distinguished liberal political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and Marin Gilens (Princeton) showed in their expertly researched book, “Democracy in America?” last year:

[T]he best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have little or no impact on the making of federal government policy. Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups—especially business corporations—have had much more political clout. When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless. … The will of majorities is often thwarted by the affluent and the well-organized, who block popular policy proposals and enact special favors for themselves. … Majorities of Americans favor … programs to help provide jobs, increase wages, help the unemployed, provide universal medical insurance, ensure decent retirement pensions, and pay for such programs with progressive taxes. Most Americans also want to cut “corporate welfare.” Yet the wealthy, business groups, and structural gridlock have mostly blocked such new policies [and programs].

“Elections alone,” Page and Gilens note, “do not guarantee democracy.” Majority U.S. opinion is regularly trumped by a deadly complex of forces in the nation’s politics, including:

  • The campaign finance, candidate-selection, lobbying and policy agenda-setting power of wealthy individuals, corporations and interest groups
  • The special primary election influence of full-time party activists
  • The disproportionately affluent, white and older composition of the active (voting) electorate
  • The manipulation and restriction of voter turnout
  • The widespread dissemination of distracting, confusing, misleading and just plain false information
  • Absurdly and explicitly unrepresentative political institutions like the Electoral College, the unelected Supreme Court, the over-representation of the predominantly white rural population in the U.S. Senate and the one-party rule in the House of “Representatives”
  • The fragmentation of authority in government
  • Corporate ownership of the reigning media, which frames current events in accord with the wishes and world view of the nation’s real owners—its “unelected dictatorship or money”
  • Americans get to vote but mammon reigns nonetheless in the United States, where, Page and Gilens find, “government policy … reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office.
  • You wouldn’t know a thing about these and other brazen violations of the UD (you can find supplemental text on U.S. “homeland” violations of UD articles 22, 23, 24, 25, 27 and 28 on my website) by reading the U.S. State Department’s recently released annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Abuses.” Beyond two disturbing novelties—the deletion of most prior reporting on women’s rights and reproductive rights and the redaction of the term “Occupied Territories” from the report’s description of Israel and its, well, occupied territories—the Trump-era rendering of the annual State Department document (this year’s is the first put together entirely by the Trump State Department) runs in four familiar grooves. Consistent with previous versions, it fails to acknowledge the United States’ longstanding political, economic and military backing of governments whose human rights abuses it mentions—as if Washington had nothing to do with them.

    We learn, for example, that Saudi Arabia kills civilians in Yemen and carries out “unlawful killings, including execution for other than the most serious offenses and without requisite due process; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of lawyers” in its own territory. The report says nothing about how Washington considers the Saudi regime one of its most prized allies. Or that it equips the absolutist Saudi state (whose Crown Prince was recently hosted by Donald Trump, who boasted during the royal’s visit of U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia) with tens of billions worth of lethal military equipment. Nor does it say anything about the United States’ own direct egregious abrogation of human rights through things like its horrific torture camp at Guantanamo Bay and its ongoing arch-criminal drone war program of “targeted assassination” (execution without trial) Noam Chomsky has called “the most extensive global terrorism campaign the world has yet seen.”

    The world has every reason to respond to the State Department’s report with another old maxim: “Don’t piss on my boots and tell me it’s raining.”

    The Country Reports document continues the United States’ longstanding practice of selective criticism, playing up violations in rival and enemy nations over those in allied nations. Relying on just the document’s country-level write-ups, one would think that human rights are no better in Iran and Cuba than they are in Saudi Arabia and Honduras. You’d never know that the Saudis make Iran look like a bastion of civil liberties, women’s rights and democracy by comparison. Or that ordinary Cubans enjoy remarkable guaranteed incomes and access to educational resources and health care services that are unrivaled across Latin America and especially in right-wing Latin American states like Honduras, where a vicious right-wing regime was installed with no small help from the U.S. nine years ago.

    The State Department report vastly understates the scale of the Saudis’ U.S.-backed and U.S.-equipped crimes in Yemen. It gives no sense that the U.S.-Saudi war on that small nation has created there one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes (replete with a mass outbreak of deadly cholera) in recent history.

    In rolling out the report, John Sullivan, Trump’s then-acting secretary of state, singled out Russia and China as leading “threats to global stability,” claiming that their poor human rights records put them in the same dastardly club as evil Iran and North Korea. Where, one might well ask, should we rank U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, Honduras, Egypt and Israel? The last country has recently and openly slaughtered unarmed Palestinians who were peacefully protesting along its border with Gaza, which is essentially an open-air Palestinian prison subjected to a vicious blockade by Israel and Egypt since 2007. What about other U.S.-allied states like the Philippines, whose strongman president Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the death-squad killings of drug dealers and drug users and been praised by Trump for doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem”?

    It has not been lost on properly critical observers that that the Trump administration has curiously designated the American Empire’s top strategic rivals—China, Russia, Iran and North Korea—as the world’s worst human rights violators.

    As per usual, the latest State Department global human rights report ignores positive human rights accomplishments of states on the wrong side of Uncle Sam’s division of the world into friend and enemy. It has nothing to say, for example, about Cuba’s remarkable achievements in reducing poverty, providing health care, educating its citizens and developing its economy and society with a low-carbon footprint that reduces its contribution to the greatest problem of our times, one whose advance is being led by the United States: anthropogenic climate change.

    Last, but not least, this year’s version of the report has, as usual, absolutely nothing to say against or about egregious and endemic human rights abuses carried out by (both at home and abroad) and inside the United States—the supposed “beacon to the world of the way life should be,” to quote former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (currently Trump’s Permanent Representative to NATO) in a fall 2002 speech in support of Congress authorizing George W. Bush to criminally invade Iraq if he wanted to (he did). The State Department’s “Country Reports on Human Rights Abuses” covers every country on the planet but one: The most powerful nation on earth, the headquarters of a historically unparalleled global empire that most of the world’s politically cognizant populace has long and with good reason identified as the leading threat to peace and stability on earth. Fully 194 countries are covered in the reports, just not the world’s only superpower, itself home to 4.4 percent of the world’s population but 22 percent of the world’s prisoners—quite an accomplishment for the self-declared homeland and headquarters of global freedom and democracy.

    As far as the State Department, Washington and the nation’s reigning corporate, financial, and imperial power elite is concerned, the violations of the UD outlined at the outset of this article (and in my linked supplemental text) belong down George Orwell’s memory hole, consistent with the principle that history is written by and for the winners and Big Bother’s maxim: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

    It’s nothing remotely new or distinctive to the Trump era. The United States sees itself as an inherently splendid and humanitarian City on a Hill, fit to judge other nations, particularly those it deems as rivals and enemies, while giving itself an “exceptionalist” free pass because, as Bill Clinton’s Secretary State Madeline Albright once explained, “The United States is good.” That’s no way to get its human rights reports taken seriously by world citizens familiar with the timeworn adage that “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

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Who Will Protect Elections From U.S. Oligarchs?

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Paul Street.

I recently heard on cable news that special counsel Robert Mueller wanted to interview some “Russian oligarchs” about their supposed influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Liberal talking heads at such organizations as MSNBC and CNN keep warning that nothing has been done yet to protect the integrity of our voting process against “Russian interference” as the 2018 midterm elections loom ever closer on the nation’s horizon.

What about the American oligarchs, I wondered, people like businessman Richard Uihlein, who regularly distort U.S. elections at every level—local, state and federal? Who will protect our “democracy” from the plutocratic “wealth primary” power of the American oligarchy?

If you are like most U.S citizens, you’ve never heard of Richard Uihlein. An heir to the Milwaukee-based Schlitz beer fortune, Uihlein is the billionaire CEO of Uline Inc., a private, family-owned Wisconsin company that sells shipping and packaging materials to the tune of $2 billion in annual revenue. He lives in a mansion in Lake Forest, a hyperopulent preserve north of Chicago.

He’s also way into right-wing politics. As one can learn from a quick trip to the Center for Responsive Politics’ (CRP) website, Uhlein invested $24 million—that’s right, $24 million—in the 2016 elections. His political contributions went to Republican candidates and Republican-affiliated and “conservative” (that is, radically regressive and reactionary groups such as the Club for Growth. A longtime supporter of right-wing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Uilhein is a major sponsor of hard-right Republican candidates—at both the state and federal levels—and organizations across the nation.

So far, Uihlein is the top political contributor in the 2018 federal U.S. election cycle, at $21 million. In 2016, however, he was just the nation’s ninth biggest investor. Above him on the plutocratic “wealth primary” scale stood the San Francisco hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer ($91 million, all to Democratic candidates and Democratic Party-affiliated “liberal outside groups”); Las Vegas billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson ($83 million to Republicans and the right); Florida billionaire financier Donald Sussman ($42 million to Democrats and “liberal” groups); Chicago multimillionaire media mogul Fred Eychaner ($38 million to Democrats and “liberal” groups); Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook and the “world’s youngest self-made billionaire” ($27 million to Democrats and “liberal” groups); billionaire mathematician and hedge fund manager James Simons ($27 million to Democrats and “liberal” groups); billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer ($26 million to Republicans and right-wing groups); and billionaire right-wing hedge fund manager Robert Mercer ($26 billion to Republicans and right-wing groups). Michael Bloomberg rounded out the top 10 list at a cool $23,786,083.

These megadonors are the superrich cream atop a deep plutocratic pitcher. The CRP’s list of the top 100 individual contributors to federal candidates during the 2016 election cycle ends with Karen Wright, CEO of a leading gas-compressor manufacturer. She gave a whopping $2.2 million to Republicans and the right.

How are such ridiculously astronomical political investments—far beyond the capacity of all but a superopulent minority of U.S. citizens—possible under U.S. law? Aren’t there limits on how much rich people can spend on U.S. elections?

Not really. Not for rich people whose agents know how get past the nation’s porous regulations. Federal law sets a $2,500 per-person, per-election limit on how much a donor can give to a federal candidate, a $30,800 per-person, per-year limit on donations to national party committees, and a $10,000 total limit on per-person contributions to state, district or local party committees.

But the rules change when it comes to technically “independent” nonparty and “outside” groups called political action committees, known as PACs. A person can give as much as $5,000 to a PAC that contributes directly to candidates. And there are no limits whatsoever on how much a person can give to a PAC that declares it will spend its money totally independently from a candidate’s campaign. These “independent expenditure” groups, which can receive unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations or unions, are commonly called super PACs.

Some nonprofit groups, called “social welfare” organizations or “501(c)(4) groups,” can also accept unlimited contributions. The primary purpose of these groups cannot technically be political, but they can spend substantial amounts on political activities, such as TV commercials.

Adding to the plutocratic muddle, the Supreme Court’s infamous 2010 Citizens United decision overthrew a federal ban on corporations and unions making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

This has opened the door to astonishing levels of private spending in the nation’s public elections. “During the 2016 election cycle,” CRP staffer Bob Biersack notes, “the top 20 individual donors (whose contributions were disclosed) gave more than $500 million combined to political organizations. The 20 largest organizational donors also gave a total of more than $500 million, and more than $1 billion came from the top 40 donors. … At a time when Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were confirming that large numbers of people donating small amounts could fund successful campaigns, the extraordinary role being played by the very few donors who give the most may be the most important element in this new era.”

Thanks to the problem of “dark money,” moreover, we don’t have a complete record of which rich people give how much to which candidates. While super PACS must disclose their donors, 501(c)(4)s are not required to do so. These nondisclosing organizations engage in numerous political activities: buying ads that advocate for or against a candidate, running phone banks, making contributions to super PACs (!) and more.

It’s reached the point where, as a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission told The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer last year, “a single billionaire can write an eight-figure check and put not just their thumb but their whole hand on the scale—and we often have no idea who they are. … [A] random billionaire can change politics and public policy—to sweep everything else off the table—even if they don’t speak publicly, and even if there’s almost no public awareness of his or her views.”

Their right to not disclose means that the campaign finance data listed above significantly underestimates total political investments made by the nation’s leading election donors. (And that was just federal data. It does not include campaign finance at the state level, where the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers focus a lot of their legendary election funding and policymaking power. The Kochs and their allies understand that, in the words of historian Nancy MacLean, “corporate and conservative interests can make their will felt most easily in state governments—and are more likely to be challenged successfully by the citizenry at the federal and local levels—partly because state affairs are less well monitored by the people the press”).

According to the CRP, outside spending by nondisclosing 501(c)(4) groups—so-called dark money—exceeded $160 million in 2016. “A [U.S. campaign finance] system founded on the principle of individuals giving limited, disclosed contributions directly to candidates, parties and PACs has morphed into a system that allows individuals and organizations to give hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars, to groups to spend in elections, some of whom are closely aligned with candidates and parties, without disclosure. …”

Under the high court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, the federal government can set no legal limits on a candidate’s total campaign expenditure except in cases in which public campaign funding is made available to candidates. The sky’s the limit.

All of this and more makes the United States’ ever more expensive electoral politics a wild West-like money chase in which candidates who want to be viable must endlessly court big-dollar, business-class donors who do not generally invest without profit-serving policy returns in mind.

No other “democracy” in the developed world comes close to the United States when it comes to giving big-money donors unregulated power in their national electoral processes. Along with other and related characteristics of its election and party system—winner-take all contests with no proportional representation, rampant partisan gerrymandering of election districts, voter registration problems, corporate media bias and the “federalist” decentralization and partisan control of U.S. election process—this plutocratic campaign finance free-for-all is why the Electoral Integrity Project (a research undertaking funded by the Australian Research Council with a team of researchers based at the University of Sydney and Harvard University) ranks the democratic election integrity of U.S. elections below that of all 19 North and Western European democracies and also below that of 10 other nations in the Americas (Costa Rica, Uruguay, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Jamaica, Grenada, Argentina, Barbados and Peru), 10 nations in Central and Eastern Europe, nine Asian-Pacific countries, two countries in the Middle East (Israel and Tunisia) and six African nations. The U.S. ranks dead last among “Western democracies.”

What does American campaign finance have to do with the 2016 election, whose outcome so much of the Democratic Party establishment and its many friends in the nation’s corporate media oligopoly blame on “Russian interference” and “Russian oligarchs”? A lot more than one might think from the media’s focus on “Russiagate” or from Biersack’s reflection on how “Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders [supposedly] confirm[ed] that large numbers of people donating small amounts could fund successful campaigns.”

An essential source here is the distinguished political scientist and money-politics analyst Thomas Ferguson’s recent study, co-authored with political scientist Paul Jorgensen and statistician Jie Chen, titled, “Industrial Structure and Party Competition in an Age of Hunger Games: Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Election.” Ferguson, Jorgensen and Chen mined the nation’s complex finance data to paint an extraordinary portrait of how the American oligarchy’s campaign funding put Trump in the Oval Office.

Perhaps their most remarkable finding is that the left-leaning “populist” Sanders came tantalizingly close to winning the Democratic presidential nomination with no support from Big Business. The small-donor Sanders’ campaign was “without precedent in American politics not just since the New Deal, but across virtually the whole of American history … a major presidential candidate waging a strong, highly competitive campaign whose support from big business is essentially zero.” In the end, though, Sanders was foiled by the big-money candidate Hillary Clinton’s advance control of the Democratic National Committee and convention delegates. He dutifully complied with her corrupt victory and campaigned on her behalf, as promised from the start. The Wall Street establishment kept its command over the not-so leftmost side of the American two-party system. Sanders failed.

Things were different on the Republican side. The right-leaning “populist” challenger—Trump—ran strangely outside the longstanding neoliberal Washington consensus, as an economic nationalist and isolationist. His raucous rallies were laced with dripping denunciations of Wall Street, Goldman Sachs and globalization; mockery of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq; rejection of the New Cold War with Russia; and pledges of allegiance to the “forgotten” American working class. “In striking contrast to every other Republican presidential nominee since 1936,” Ferguson, Jorgensen and Chen note, Trump “attacked globalization, free trade, international financiers, Wall Street, and even Goldman Sachs. … In a frontal assault on the American establishment,” Trump “proclaimed ‘America First.’ Mocking the Bush administration’s appeal to ‘weapons of mass destruction’ as a pretext for invading Iraq, he broke dramatically with two generations of GOP orthodoxy and spoke out in favor of more cooperation with Russia. He even criticized the ‘carried interest’ tax break beloved by high finance.”

This cost Trump much of the corporate and Wall Street financial support that Republican presidential candidates usually get. But however disingenuous and laced with racism and nativism it may have been, much of Trump’s rhetoric was popular with a considerable portion of the electorate, thanks to the widespread economic insecurity that had spread among the populace during the transparently bipartisan New Gilded Age and with special low-wage poignancy in the wake of the Great Recession. He would become the first Republican presidential nominee in memory to out-perform his Democratic opponent with small (middle-class and working-class) donors.

It’s a mistake, however, to see Trump as a sign of small-donor potency in the American system. The billionaire Trump’s personal fortune permitted him to tap popular anger while leaping insultingly over the heads of his less wealthy, albeit corporate and Wall Street-backed competitors (“low energy” Jeb Bush and “little Marco” Rubio most notably) in the crowded Republican primary race. A Republican candidate dependent on the usual elite bankrollers would never have been able to get away with Trump’s crowd-pleasing—and CNN and Fox News rating-boosting—antics.

Things were different after Trump won the Republican nomination, however. He could no longer go it alone after the primaries. During the Republican National Convention and “then again in the late summer of 2016,” Ferguson, Jorgensen and Chen show, Trump’s “solo campaign had to be rescued by major industries plainly hoping for tariff relief, waves of other billionaires from the far, far right of the already far right Republican Party, and the most disruption-exalting corners of Wall Street.” By the authors’ carefully researched account, the Trump general election campaign relied for its success on “a giant wave of dark money—one that towered over anything in 2016 or even Mitt Romney’s munificently financed 2012 effort—to say nothing of any Russian Facebook experiments.” Along with giant contributions from the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife ($11 million), Sands Casino employees ($20 million) and Silicon Valley executives, Trump garnered a giant wave of money that “turned into a torrent” from big hedge funds and “large private equity firms, the part of Wall Street which had long championed hostile takeovers. …”

The critical late wave of big right-wing money came after Trump moved to rescue his flagging campaign by handing its direction from the Russia-tainted Paul Manafort to the white-nationalist and American-as-Apple-Pie Breitbart executive Steve Bannon, who advocated what proved to be a winning, Koch brothers-approved strategy: appeal to economically and culturally frustrated working- and middle-class whites in key battleground states, where the bloodless neoliberal and professional class centrism and snooty metropolitan multiculturalism of the Barack Obama presidency and Clinton campaign was certain to depress the Democratic “base” vote.

Along with the racist voter suppression carried out by Koch-backed Republican state governments (Ferguson, Jorgensen and Chen rightly chide Russia-obsessed political reporters and commentators for absurdly ignoring this important factor) and (the authors intriguingly suggest) major anti-union offensives conducted by employers in some battleground states, this major late-season influx of big right-wing political money helped tilt the election Trump’s way.

The Clinton campaign might still have prevailed if it hadn’t made egregiously stupid mistakes. It failed to set foot in Wisconsin after the Democratic convention or to purchase campaign ads in Michigan. Clinton got caught telling wealthy New York City donors that half of Trump’s supporters were “a basket of [racist, white, working-class] deplorables”—a hideous mistake hauntingly akin to Mitt Romney’s gaffe in 2012, when he was videotaped telling elite donors that 47 percent of the population were a bunch of lazy welfare dependents. Above all, the Clinton team decided not to talk about policy. In an epic miscalculation, her team decided not to advance anything close to a standard, progressive-sounding, Democratic Party policy agenda. Clinton ran almost completely on the issue of candidate character and quality. This was a blunder of historic proportions, given Clinton’s own highly problematic character brand. Any campaign needs a reasonably strong policy platform to stand on in case of candidate difficulties.

What was her deafening policy silence about? Money—big American oligarchs’ money. Clinton’s campaign funding success went beyond her party’s usual corporate and financial backers to include normally Republican-affiliated capitalist sectors less disposed than their more liberal counterparts to abide the standard, progressive-sounding policy rhetoric of Democratic Party candidates. This was a curse. For “one fateful consequence of trying to appeal to so many conservative business interests,” Ferguson, Jorengensen and Chen note, “was strategic silence about most important matters of public policy. … Misgivings of major contributors who worried that the Clinton campaign message lacked real attractions for ordinary Americans were rebuffed. The campaign sought to capitalize on the angst within business by vigorously courting the doubtful and undecideds there, not in the electorate.”

As the authors show, there is little empirical evidence to support the Clinton and corporate Democrats’ self-interested and diversionary efforts to explain her epic fail and Trump’s jaw-dropping upset victory as the result of (1) Russian interference, (2) then-FBI Director James Comey’s October Surprise revelation that his agency was not done investigating Clinton’s emails, and/or (3) some imagined big wave of white, working-class racism, nativism and sexism brought to the surface by Trump. The impacts of both items 1 and 2 were infinitesimal in comparison with the role that big campaign money played both in silencing Clinton and funding Trump. The blame-the-deplorable-racist-white-working-class narrative is belied by basic underlying continuities in white, working-class voting patterns. As Ferguson, Jorgensen and Chen note, “Neither turnout nor the partisan division of the vote at any level looks all that different from other recent elections. … 2016’s alterations in voting behavior are so minute that the pattern is only barely differentiated from 2012.” It was about the money—the big establishment money that the Clinton campaign took (as the authors plausibly argue) to recommend policy silence and the different, right-wing big money that approved Trump’s comparative right-populist policy boisterousness.

Imagine if Sanders had snuck past Clinton in the primary race. Could he have defeated the billionaire and right-wing billionaire-backed Trump in the general election? Perhaps. Sanders consistently out-performed Clinton in one-on-one match-up polls vis-à-vis Trump during the primary season, but much of the big money (and corporate media) that backed Clinton would likely have gone over to Trump had the supposedly “radical” Sanders been the Democratic nominee.

Even if Sanders has been elected president, moreover, Noam Chomsky is certainly correct in his recent judgment that a President Sanders “couldn’t have done a thing” because he would have had “nobody [on his side] in Congress, no governors, no legislatures, none of the big economic powers, which have an enormous effect on policy.” A Sanders presidency would certainly have been undermined—if it had tried to do anything seriously progressive—by several factors, including a significant downturn in capitalist investment (with an attendant rise in joblessness) and the relentless hostility of the corporate media oligopoly. Right-wing media, including Fox News, talk radio and Breitbart News (which has received at least $10 million in backing from the arch-reactionary U.S. plutocrat Robert Mercer) would have gone ballistic, driving its followers to scary new levels of deadly disruption.

As Chomsky might have added, Sanders’ oligarchy-imposed “failures” would have been great fodder for the disparagement and smearing of progressive, left-leaning and majority-backed policy change. “See,” the reigning plutocratic media and politics culture would have said, “We tried all that and it was a disaster!”

That and more are reminders of something I made a special point of highlighting (with no special claim to originality) in my 2014 book, They Rule: The 1% vs. Democracy: Campaign finance is just the tip of the iceberg in how the American capitalist ruling class owns and runs the political and policy systems the United States. It’s got nothing to do with Russia.

Meanwhile, though, political money matters a great deal as we race into the 2018 midterm contests and the 2020 elections with U.S. “election integrity” still unprotected from the special plutocratic power of America’s wealthy masters. Nobody in Congress is talking seriously about passing bills to remove private cash from the public elections—or even to mandate reasonable “dark money” disclosure. Fuming about Moscow’s allegedly powerful conspiracy against our supposedly democratic elections looks more than a little ridiculous when considered alongside the deafening official silence on America’s own oligarchic electoral system.

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Russia Madness on the Eve of Destruction: Hegemony Trumps Survival

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Paul Street.

Noam Chomsky’s 2016 book “Who Rules the World?” contains a passage in which the great left thinker asks readers to “imagine you’re a historian a hundred years from now—assuming there are any historians a hundred years from now, which is not obvious—and you’re looking back on what’s happening today.” This reflection appears in a chapter titled “The Eve of Destruction.”

It’s a bracing thought. Given the current state and rate of environmental destruction, the continuing advance in the destructive power of nuclear weapons systems, and the likelihood of pandemics in a warmer and more globalized world, there are good reasons to wonder if a human civilization with historians will exist a century from today. We may well be standing near the “end of history,” and not the glorious bourgeois-democratic one that Francis Fukuyama imagined with the end of the Cold War.

Speaking of Cold Wars, United States neoconservative and liberals have in the last three decades teamed up to create a “new” one with still heavily nuclear-weaponized Russia. The risk of a nuclear war catastrophe is greater today than it was during the Cold War, when humanity came close to disaster on numerous occasions. This reflects the ongoing development of nuclear weapons technologies and a series of U.S. and U.S.-allied Western actions that have provoked Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire:

● President Bill Clinton’s decision to annul a 1990 agreement with Moscow not to push the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) further east after the reunification of Germany and not to recruit Eastern European states that had been part of the Soviet-ruled Warsaw Pact.

● NATO’s decision to renege on its 1997 pledge not to install “permanent” and “significant” military forces in former Soviet bloc nations.

● NATO’s decision two years ago to place four battalions on and near the Russian border.

● The 1999 U.S.-NATO military intervention in the Yugoslav civil war, leading to the dismemberment of Serbia and the building of a giant U.S. military base in the newly NATO-U.S.-created state of Kosovo. This remarkable development has hardly stopped Washington from shaming Russia for deploying its military to “forcibly redraw borders in Europe” by annexing Crimea.

● President George W. Bush’s unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

● President Barack Obama’s decision to deploy anti-missile systems (supposedly aimed at Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons and actually meant to intercept Russian missiles) in Romania and Poland.

● Obama’s decision to invest more than $1 trillion in an upgrade of the U.S nuclear weapons arsenal, which was already stocked to blow up the world 50 times over. The upgrade involves “strategic” bombs with smaller yields, something that dangerously blurs the lines between conventional and nuclear weapons. It has certainly helped spark a new nuclear arms race with Russia and, perhaps, China.

● U.S. provocation and endorsement of a 2014 right-wing coup against the pro-Russian government in Ukraine—on Russia’s western border—a development that predictably created war in eastern Ukraine and a crisis that has led to dozens of dangerous incidents between NATO and Russian forces.

● Washington’s self-righteous denunciation and slandering of Russia’s “very reasonable” annexation of Crimea (in the words of political writer Diana Johnstone), which was overwhelmingly supported by Crimeans as a natural response to the United States’ installation of a right-wing, pro-NATO government in Kiev.

Perilous as the nuclear situation may be, the environmental danger is arguably greater. This is thanks to the shrinking time window for averting a climate catastrophe that is unfolding before our very eyes. Nuclear weapons don’t kill off the human species just by existing. If we continue to miraculously escape launch (and even a first strike could start nuclear winter on its own) for a century, we can thank our lucky stars and proceed to dismantle nuclear weapons in 2118. There’ll be no such luck available to us if we avoid action to stop the carbon-gassing of life on earth. We have 20 to 30 years (to be generous) to get off fossil fuels and curb mass consumption or it’s curtains. We are currently on pace for 500 atmospheric carbon parts per million—a level of warming likely to melt much of the world’s life-supporting Antarctic ice sheet—within 50 years, if not sooner.

Every new year of increased carbon emissions in an ever-warmer and more climatologically volatile world speeds us toward fatal feedback loops (perhaps already underway), bringing the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock closer to midnight. The clock is currently at two minutes to doom, thanks to what leading scientists call “the failure of world leaders to … reduce the existential threat of nuclear war and unchecked climate change.”

As Andrew Glikson, the Australian earth and paleoclimate scientist, explained eight years ago: “Humans cannot argue with the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere. What is needed are urgent measures including: deep cuts in carbon emissions; parallel fast-track transformation to non-polluting energy utilities—solar, solar-thermal, wind, tide, geothermal, hot rocks; global reforestation and re-vegetation campaigns, including application of biochar. The alternative does not bear contemplation.”

“The alternative” is underway. There’s no mystery about the exterminist consequences of an open-ended increase in atmospheric carbon. The lethal results are richly evident in the planet’s geological record.

Can we survive and even maintain a decent or better existence into another and future centuries? Perhaps. But surviving will require massive, and combined, dialectically inseparable transformations in our relationships with each other and with nature, of which we are of course part. It will require a radical restructuring and revolutionary makeover. The British Marxist economist Michael Roberts is likely right to argue that we cannot undertake the collective planning and coordinated action required to save the commons under the bourgeois system of socioeconomic management and politics, with capital and profit at the chaotic and amoral commanding heights:

The potentially disastrous effects from higher temperature, rising sea levels, and extreme weather formations will be hugely damaging especially to the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet. But industrialization and human activity need not produce these effects if human beings organized their activities in a planned way with due regard for the protection of natural resources and the wider impact on the environment and public health. That seems impossible under capitalism. … What is really needed … require[s] public control and ownership of the energy and transport industries and public investment in the environment for the public good. …

It is important to note that the climate crisis hits disadvantaged populations first—and the rich and powerful last. One problem we face is that class rule (and capitalism is, among other things, a system of class rule) tends to delay a civilization’s capacity to perceive threats to its continued existence until the full consequences of the civilization’s deadly practices are felt by those who have been protected by class privilege from environmental harm. By the time the ruling class gets it, things have gone too far. This in one of the timeworn paths to societal ruin discussed in a paper published four years ago by mathematician Safa Motesharrei, atmospheric scientist Eugenia Kalnay and political scientist Jorge Rivas in the journal Ecological Economics. Reviewing past societal collapses, they reflected on a potential current global scenario in which:

[T]he Elites—due to their wealth—do not suffer the detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners. This buffer of wealth allows Elites to continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe. It … explain[s] how historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases). This buffer effect is further reinforced by the long, apparently sustainable trajectory prior to the beginning of the collapse. While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.

Is this not the current state of humanity today, with many millions of disproportionately poor and powerless people already suffering from climate disruption while the wealthy few continue to enjoy lives of unimaginable, environmentally shielded opulence atop a recklessly fossil-fueled planet so vastly unequal that the world’s eight richest people possess as much wealth between them as the bottom half of the species?

It’s not an easy topic. The profits system seems fatally preemptive for the radical alterations in energy and resource that are required to avert catastrophe. But environmental beggars can’t be choosers, and there is a reason to feel reluctant to make (eco-) socialist transformation a prerequisite for saving chances for a decent future. Our time window for green transformation may be shorter than the period required for conceiving and birthing a socialist transformation.

This dilemma aside, one would think that an issue as significant as Homo sapiens sitting at the precipice of self-inflicted extinction would be front-page news. Think again. The climate crisis holds little interest for the U.S. commercial corporate media. The fact that the world stands at the eve of ecological self-destruction, with the climate-denying, fossil-fuel-loving Donald Trump White House in the lead, elicits barely a whisper in the reigning U.S. news media.

As far as “mainstream” U.S. media is concerned, the greatest danger posed by Trump has nothing to do with his insane commitment to the accelerated greenhouse gassing to death of life on earth. It’s all about the preposterous notion that he owes his presence in the White House to Russia’s supposed subversion of our unmentionably nonexistent “democracy.” It’s all about Russia, Russia, Russia and Trump, Trump, Trump or what I sometimes call “TWITR,” an acronym for “This Week in Trump and Russia.” It’s been an explicit programming decision—something I’ve written about at some length on at least three prior occasions (see this, this and this). It’s a remarkable choice—to put the biggest issue of our or any time on the back burner of the news.

Which brings me, curiously enough, to a second passage that jumped out at me in Chomsky’s “Who Rules the World?” On page 113 of that volume, near the end of an essay in which he reflects on how close John F. Kennedy helped bring the world to annihilation by engaging in a reckless game of thermonuclear chicken with the Soviet Union in October 1962, Chomsky reflects on a “basic principle” long shared by U.S. foreign policy makers and the reigning “elite” U.S. “intellectual and moral culture.” This principle, Chomsky writes, reflexively assumes “without question … that the U.S. effectively owns the world by right, and is by definition a force for good despite occasional errors and misunderstandings, one in which it is plainly entirely proper for the U.S. to deploy massive offensive force all over the world while it is an outrage for others (allies and clients apart) to make even the slightest gesture in that direction or even to think of deterring the threatened use of violence by the benign global hegemon.”

Consistent with Chomsky’s observation, a Pentagon study released last summer laments the emergence of a planet on which the U.S. no longer controls events. Titled “At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World,” the study warns that competing powers “seek a new distribution of power and authority commensurate with their emergence as legitimate rivals to U.S. dominance” in an increasingly multipolar world. China, Russia and smaller players like Iran and North Korea have dared to “engage,” the Pentagon study reports, “in a deliberate program to demonstrate the limits of U.S. authority, will, reach, influence and impact.” What chutzpah! This is a problem, the report argues, because the endangered, U.S.-managed world order was “favorable” to the interests of U.S. and allied U.S. states and U.S.-based transnational corporations.

Any serious efforts to redesign the international status quo so that it favors any other states or people is portrayed in the report as a threat to U.S. interests. To prevent any terrible drifts of the world system away from U.S. control, the report argues, the U.S. and its imperial partners (chiefly its European NATO partners) must maintain and expand “unimpeded access to the air, sea, space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum in order to underwrite their security and prosperity.”

The report recommends a significant expansion of U.S. military power. The U.S. must maintain “military advantage” over all other states and actors to “preserve maximum freedom of action” and thereby “allow U.S. decision-makers the opportunity to dictate or hold significant sway over outcomes in international disputes,” with the “implied promise of unacceptable consequences” for those who defy U.S. wishes.

“America First” is an understatement here. The underlying premise is that Uncle Sam owns the world and reserves the right to bomb the hell out of anyone who doesn’t agree with that. To quote President George H.W. Bush after the first Gulf War in 1991: “What we say goes.”

What is Russia’s great sin in the age of Vladimir Putin? America’s New Cold War complaints have ranged far and wide, running from claims that it is concerned about Russia’s oligarchic and repressive internal power structure, its rigged elections, its weak environmental protections, its violence against ethnic and religious minorities, its murderous military actions in Chechnya and the Middle East, its cyberwarfare against other states, to its supposed key role in undermining “American democracy” by supposedly tilting the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Trump over the leading anti-Russian, New Cold War hawk Hillary Clinton.

This is all quite dubious, to say the least. The openly plutocratic and itself corporate-oligarchic and environmentally ruinous United States possesses no great “democracy” to subvert in the first place. As Thomas Ferguson and his colleagues have recently shown in an important study at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Russian interference was of tiny significance compared to the impact of big American money in helping Trump defeat Hillary Clinton (and in helping Clinton defeat herself).

At the same time, the U.S. and many of its close allies commit the same crimes attributed to Russia by American New Cold Warriors. The world’s and history’s only global superpower, the United States, regularly interferes in other nation’s politics and kills people en masse abroad. It does both these things on a much bigger scale and much farther beyond its own borders than does Russia. Russia’s great sin for the American power and foreign policy elite is that it has dared to resist Washington’s supposedly God- and/or history-ordained right to run the world as its own possession even on Russia’s borders.

One of the many dirty little secrets of the Cold War was that anti-communism functioned as a pretext and cover for Washington’s Wall Street-fueled ambition to force open and run the entire world system in accord with its multinational corporate elite’s globalist-“Open Door”-political-economic needs. From this imperial perspective, the real U.S. Cold War enemy was not so much “communism” as other peoples’ struggles for national, local and regional autonomy and independence. The enemy to the “open door” in Moscow remains after the statues of Marx, Lenin and Stalin have come down. It doesn’t matter that Russia is no longer socialist. Nationalist and regional pushback against Uncle “We Own the World” Sam has been more than sufficient to get Vladimir Putin designated as the next official Hitler and Russia targeted as a malevolent opponent by the U.S. elite political class and media.

The present moment is dire. We are witnessing the remarkable and dangerous continuation of a bizarre right-wing, prefascist U.S. presidency, subject to the weird whims and tweets of a malignant narcissist who doesn’t read memorandums or intelligence briefings. Unimpeded by a feckless “resistance” staged by a Russia-mad, inauthentic opposition party of elitist, anti-working-class “progressive” neoliberals (the dismal dollar Democrats), Trump poses grave environmental and nuclear risks to human survival. A consistent Trump belief is that climate change is not a problem and that it’s perfectly fine—“great” and “amazing,” in fact—for the White House to do everything it can to escalate the greenhouse gassing to death of life on earth.

The nuclear threat is rising now that Trump has appointed John Bolton—a frothing right-wing uber-warmonger and longtime advocate of bombing Iran and North Korea, who led the charge for the archcriminal U.S. invasion of Iraq—as his top “national security” adviser. As a candidate, Trump wondered aloud why the U.S. couldn’t use nuclear weapons and if the U.S. should equip Saudi Arabia—the most reactionary government on earth and the homeland for extreme Islamist Wahhabism—with nuclear weapons. Trump and Bolton hate Obama’s relatively sane nuclear agreement with Iran. Their determination to rip up that accord—another reflection of Trump’s wacky, white-supremacist obsession with destroying any and all accomplishments claimed by a first black president—threatens to generate a disastrous nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the crazy orange-tinted Donald—who does (make no mistake) have a strange and potentially compromising history of Russian business dealings and who has behaved in suspect ways regarding Putin’s regime—has been convinced to expel dozens of Russian diplomats, leading to predictable Russian counter-expulsions.

The Clinton-Obama neoliberal Democrats and their many allies in the corporate media that helped create the Trumpenstein have spent more than a year running with the allegation that Russia magically subverted our nonexistent “democracy” to put Trump in the White House. The climate crisis holds little interest for the Trump and Russia-obsessed corporate media. The fact that the world stands at the eve of ecological self-destruction, with the Trump White House in the lead, elicits barely a whisper in the commercial news media. Unlike Stormy Daniels, for example, that little story—the biggest issue of our or any time—is not good for television ratings and newspaper sales.

Trump’s lethally racist, sexist, nativist, nuclear-weapons-brandishing, ecocidal rise to the nominal CEO position atop the U.S.-imperial oligarchy is no less a reflection of the dominant role of big U.S. capitalist money and homegrown plutocracy in U.S. politics than a more classically establishment Hillary Clinton ascendancy would have been. It’s got little to do with Russia, Russia, Russia—the great diversion that fills U.S. political airwaves and newsprint as the world careens ever closer to oligarchy-imposed geocide (a project shared by petro-capitalist Russia and the petro-capitalist United States) and to a thermonuclear conflagration that the “Russiagate” gambit is recklessly encouraging.

What will historians say a century from now, if they still exist? That the most intelligent known species in the universe seemed to have lost its mind. We have come to the precipice of self-annihilation under the command of an imperial power committed like Herman Melville’s Ahab to the endless pursuit of hegemony even over and against basic imperatives of survival.

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