So, How’s That Major-Party Election Madness Working for Us?

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Paul Street’s column will appear in Truthdig each Sunday through Aug. 12. Its regular schedule will resume when Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges returns from vacation.

The United States is full of personally decent and caring, often highly intelligent people mired in political ignorance and delusion.

A smart and liberally inclined family doctor I know recently expressed concern over her high-income husband’s support for the malignant narcissist and pathological liar currently occupying the White House. “I can understand him being a Republican,” the doctor says, “but I just don’t get him backing Donald Trump.”

The problem here—what the doctor doesn’t get—is that Trump’s malicious persona and politics are darkly consistent with the white-supremacist and arch-reactionary heart and dog-whistling racism of the Republican Party going back five decades. It was just a matter of time until something like Trump happened: a Republican candidate who really meant the racism. Along the way, the Republican Party has become what Noam Chomsky credibly calls “the most dangerous organization in human history” because of its total disregard for livable ecology and its dedication to destruction and dismantlement of any institutions in place to address global warming. The Greenhouse Gassing to Death of Life on Earth is a crime that promises to make even the Nazi Party look like a small-time crime syndicate.

A smart and funny retired mental health professional I know is a proud liberal Democrat. She cites reports and stories showing that Trump is a bully, an authoritarian, a cheater, a parasite and a liar, among other terrible things. She gets it that both Trump and the Republican Party are supremely dangerous enemies of the people.

But she, too, is mired in delusions—mistakes and hallucinations common on the other side of America’s tribal and binary major-party partisan divide. For all her savviness and smarts, she can’t or won’t process the simple fact that the dismal, dollar-drenched Democratic Party put Trump in the White House and handed Congress and most of the nation’s state governments over to Trump and the Republican Party by functioning as a corporate-captive Inauthentic Opposition Party that refuses to fight for working people, the poor, minorities and the causes of peace, social justice and environmental sanity.

Tell her that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were “Wall Street presidents” (an easily and widely documented assertion) and she screws her face up. She doesn’t want to hear it. She wants to believe something that stopped being even remotely true at least four decades ago: that the Democratic Party is the party of the people.

If the Democrats take back Congress in 2018 and the White House in 2020, all will be well in her political world view: democracy and decency restored. You betcha!

She blames Trump’s presence in the White House on … you guessed it, Russia. Like millions of other MSDNC (sorry, I meant MSNBC) and Rachel Maddow devotees, she has let the obsessive CNN-MSNBC Russia-Trump narrative take over her understanding of current events. The “Russiagate” story has trumped her concern with other things that one might think matter a great deal to self-described liberals: racial oppression, sexism, poverty, low wages, plutocracy and—last but not least—livable ecology.

(She isn’t aware that racist Republican voter suppression at the state level was a big part of how Trump won—certainly a far bigger matter than any real or alleged Russian influence on the election. Isn’t that precisely the kind of thing that liberals are supposed to be angry about?)

But I know plenty of Americans well to her left—people who know very well that Obama and the Clintons and Nancy Pelosi are neoliberal corporate and Wall Street politicos and tools—who cling to their own major-party electoral-political delusions. With Sen. Bernie Sanders as their standard-bearer, they are all about boring from within an organization that Kevin P. Phillips once called “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.” Their fallacy is that left progressives can steal the Democratic Party out from under its corporate and imperial masters, turn it to decent and social-democratic purposes and democratically transform America in proper accord with majority-progressive U.S. opinion.

A Newsweek article last fall was titled “Most Americans Desperate for a Third Major Party in the Trump Era.” It cited a Gallup Poll showing that 61 percent, more U.S. citizens than ever, find the Democratic and Republican parties inadequate and think that the U.S. should have a third major political party. Support for a competitive third party had been above 57 percent since at least 2012, but Gallup’s 2017 poll marked a new high. Nobody should be surprised by that finding given the fact that both of the parties have drifted well to the Big Business right of majority public opinion, with the Democrats joining Republicans in the creation of a New Gilded Age so savagely unequal that, as Bernie Sanders, “I”-Vt., said repeatedly (and accurately) in 2016, the top 10th of the upper U.S. 1 percent possesses as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent.

The fake “Independent” Sanders couldn’t care less about the strong majority sentiment on behalf of a third party. He has rejected all calls for him to jump major-party ship and tells progressives to pour their energies into electing candidates within the Democratic Party primary process. “Do what Alexandria did,” Bernie says to young Americans angry about the vicious ecocidal white nationalists in power today. Sanders is referring to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the inspiring young Sanders-style Democratic Socialists of America member who took down longtime establishment Democratic Party incumbent House member Joe Crowley in a New York City district primary last June.

So, to ask the Dr. Phil question, how’s that working out for “the left”?

Not so hot. The preponderant majority of progressive Democrats’ primary victories this year have been won in strongly Republican (“red”) districts, where progressives have not been heavily contested by the Democratic Party establishment. Only a very small number of progressive candidates have won in dependably “blue” (Democratic) districts and are likely to defeat Republicans in the general elections in November.

Crowley is the sole congressional incumbent to have lost a Democratic primary this year. His defeat by Ocasio-Cortez has been over-celebrated on “the left” and over-publicized in the media. She won with incredibly low turnout (13 percent), something that falls quite short of a leftist landslide and reflects local peculiarities in the operation of the New York City Democratic machine.

At the same time, as veteran left urban political strategist, activist and commentator Bruce A. Dixon noted on Black Agenda Report, “Crowley pretty much gave up the seat: After 10 terms in Congress and with lots of corporate friends, Joe Crowley knows he can start at seven figures, at least six to twelve times his congressional salary plus bonuses as a lobbyist. That had to be a powerful motivation not to campaign too damn hard.”

Last but not least, the victory of Ocasio-Cortez, of Puerto Rican heritage, reflected a combined demographic (racial and ethnocultural) and party anomaly: the over-long presence of a white Democratic machine politician atop a recently racially and ethnically redistricted and now majority nonwhite and nearly majority Latinx district where the Democratic Party had failed to cultivate a neoliberal candidate of color—the kind of safe Latinx or black politico the nation’s second corporate and imperial party has developed across most of the nation’s urban minority-majority congressional districts. As Danny Haiphong observed in the American Herald Tribune, “New York District 14 is one of the few [urban minority congressional districts] left where neoliberal Black and Brown politicians do not dominate the political landscape. It will be difficult to replicate Ocasio-Cortez’s victory across the country because neoliberal, Black [and Latino] politicians in other districts are protected by the politics of representation” (emphasis added).

Other districts like Missouri’s predominantly black 1st Congressional District in St. Louis, where the establishment incumbent Congressman Lacy Clay handily crushed the progressive insurgent Cori Bush five days ago.

Our Revolution, Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress, and the Democratic Socialists of America—the leading progressive organizations attempting to reform the Democratic Party—have endorsed 60 congressional candidates in states that have held their Democratic primaries through last week. Twenty-three of them have won their races. But 18 of these victors have won in red districts where there are entrenched Republican incumbents.

Only five progressive congressional primary winners—Ro Khanna (California 17th), Jamie Raskin (Maryland 8th), Chuy Garcia (Illinois 4th), Ocasio-Cortez, and the rousing Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib (Michigan 13th)—have won in Democratic districts and are likely to win in November. Two of those five (Khanna and Raskin) were already in office and were uncontested by the Democratic establishment. One of the five (Garcia) cut a corrupt deal with the Chicago Democratic machine and so ran unopposed by the establishment. Nebraska’s Kara Eastman is the one and only single-payer supporter to get nominated for a competitive House race in America’s heartland “breadbasket” this year.

Especially depressing for progressives hoping to reform the Democratic Party was the crushing defeat of Abdul El-Sayed in the Michigan gubernatorial primary. El-Sayed was hoping to ride the coattails of visits and endorsements from the (in the absurd language of the corporate media) “radical leftists” Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez.

“The Democratic Party,” Politico’s centrist commentator Bill Scher writes, “is more liberal than it was 15 years ago, and there’s no question that shift is partly due to an increasingly vocal, confident, confrontational democratic socialist faction. But,” Scher creepily but accurately crowed, “it is still only a faction. Most Democratic nominees in competitive House races—not to mention incumbent Senate Democrats fighting for their political lives in red states—are not embracing single-payer or calling for the abolishment of ICE. They are mostly calling for improvements of the Affordable Care Act and a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.”

This overall weak performance by left-leaning Sanders-style Democrats reflects elite business and professional-class manipulation within the party to which so many progressives remain attached. As the pro-third-party Movement for a People’s Party (headed by former Sanders staffers) noted two weeks ago:

The DNC [Democratic National Committee] and the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] have systematically cheated and blocked progressive candidates by flooding races with corporate cash, knocking progressives off the ballot, feeding opposition research to the media, forcing candidates to spend three quarters of their fundraising on consultants and ads, changing the rules required to get party support, denying access to crucial voter data, endorsing establishment Democrats, setting party affiliation deadlines months before the primaries, blocking independents from voting, and even giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates. For more than a year after the 2016 election, the Democratic Party denied rigging primary elections against progressives. The party has now abandoned that pretense as it openly rigs midterm primaries across the country and normalizes election rigging. …While the media focuses on a handful of exceptions, the Democratic Party establishment is getting its way in the 2018 midterm primaries.

As the primaries have taken place this year, the left historian and journalist Terry Thomas writes me, “the establishment Dems are stridently going after the progressives. Just watch MSNBC’s coverage of elections. They’re advancing the ‘out of the mainstream’ line, implying that the few progressive-types who won are ruining the party and setting the stage for the Republicans to retain the House in the fall.”

It is true that the progressive Democrat Sanders came tantalizingly close to defeating the ultimate corporate Democrat, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 presidential primaries—an amazing accomplishment for a small-donor candidate who received no funding from the corporate and financial establishment.

But imagine if Sanders had sneaked past Clinton in the primary race. Could he have defeated the billionaire and right-wing billionaire-backed Trump in the general election? There’s no way to know. Sanders consistently outperformed Clinton in one-on-one matchup polls vis-à-vis Trump during the primary season, but much of the big money (and corporate media) that backed Clinton would probably have gone over to Trump had the supposedly “radical” Sanders been the Democratic nominee.

Even if Sanders had been elected president, moreover, Noam Chomsky is certainly correct in his 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. All opposed to him. In order for him to do anything,” Chomsky adds, “he would have [needed] a substantial, functioning party apparatus, which would have to grow from the grass roots. It would have to be locally organized, it would have to operate at local levels, state levels, Congress, the bureaucracy—you have to build the whole system from the bottom.” None of those things would be remotely forthcoming from the Inauthentic Opposition Party.

It might well have been worse than not being able to “do anything,” actually. Even as he loaded his administration with corporate and imperial centrists—as he certainly would have been compelled to do to mollify the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire—a President Sanders would have been faced with a capital strike: with severe “market instability” and “declining business confidence” raising the specter of a financial meltdown.

“With little prospect of the economic tumult subsiding during his 11-week transition period,” the political scientists William Grover and Joseph Peschek wrote in the summer of 2015, a Sanders presidency:

… would face enormous pressure to calm the fears of the market by announcing the appointment of moderates to hold Cabinet positions—non-confrontational, non-ideological people who would be “acceptable” to political and economic power holders. No radicals for the Treasury Department, no thoughts of Ben and Jerry as Co-Secretaries of Commerce, no union firebrand to head the Labor Department, no Bill McKibben leading the Interior Department. Only nice, “safe” choices would suffice—personnel decisions that would undermine the progressive vision of his campaign. In short, the economics of “capital strike” would threaten to trump the verdict of democracy.

A President Sanders would also have been compelled to engage in an aggressively imperial foreign policy. He would have faced what Bruce Dixon calls “immense pressure to demonstrate his unwavering hostility toward the Russians and his fealty to empire”—pressure to which “Bernie the Bomber” would certainly have caved. (Dixon adds that “he’s notoriously squishy on empire as it is … as are pretty much all the Berniecrats.”)

Meanwhile, many of the Dems’ corporate and professional class “elites” would have attributed Sanders’ victory to “Russian interference” while joining hands with ruling-class Republican brothers in undermining Sanders’ supposedly “far left” (mildly progressive) agenda—and his political viability in 2020. The nation’s paranoid, white Christian and proto-fascistic right would have gone ballistic, its underlying anti-Semitism on appalling display with an ethnoculturally Jewish “democratic socialist” (and purported atheist) from Brooklyn in the White House.

Sanders’ oligarchy-imposed “failures” would have been great fodder for the right-wing and neoliberal 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!” It might well have been a real train wreck for everything and anything progressive.

None of which is to mean that third-party politics hold the keys to progressive change. Its status as corporate media notwithstanding, Newsweek isn’t lying when it notes that “the structure of America’s electoral system—especially campaign finance regulations”—makes it “extremely hard for third party candidates to run and win.”

It’s not just about campaign finance. It’s also about winner-take-all, “first-past-the-post” elections and the absence of proportional-representation rules that would allot representation in accord with vote shares for parties that can’t yet field candidates capable of winning pluralities in contests with the long-established major parties’ contenders.

It goes way back. Theodore Roosevelt is the only third-party candidate who ever came remotely close to winning a presidential election. In 1912, he came in second with 27 percent of the vote atop the Progressive Party.

The biggest political delusion of all is in the U.S. electoral politics itself—the “Election Madness” that tells us that (in the <a href=”https://progressive.org/magazine/election-madness/”>sardonic words</a> of the late radical historian Howard Zinn) “the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the [small number of ] mediocrities who have already been chosen for us.” Real progressive change requires popular organization and great social movements beneath and beyond the empty promises of the nation’s ruthlessly time-staggered major-party, major-media, big-money-candidate-centered ballot box extravaganzas (please see Chomsky’s classic 2004 essay on “<a href=”https://chomsky.info/20041029/”>The Disconnect in U.S. Democracy</a>”). The people’s movements we desperately need to form—perhaps it is <i>my delusion</i> that rank-and-file citizens can and will ever do so—should include in their list of demands the creation of a party and elections system that deserves passionate citizen engagement. The <a href=”https://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/35ket6km9780252041273.html”>oligarchic <i>system</i> (beyond mere plutocracy)</a> now in place in the U.S. is worthy of no such thing.

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The American Sea of Deception

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

Paul Street’s column will appear in Truthdig each Sunday through Aug. 12. Its regular schedule will resume when Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges returns from vacation.

Four days ago, The Washington Post reported that the epic pathological liar Donald Trump made 4,229 false statements during his first 558 days as United States president. Trump spoke or tweeted falsely, on average, an astonishing 7.6 times per day during that time.

We have no historical database of presidential untruth on which to rely to make detailed comparisons, but it is certain that Trump’s rate of falsehood is beyond anything ever seen in the White House. Armed with Twitter and a mad and malignantly narcissistic penchant for twisting facts and truth in accord with his own ever-shifting sense of what serves his interests and hurts his perceived foes, this monstrosity is gaslighting the last flickering embers of civic democracy at a velocity that would make Goebbels green with envy.

Keeping up with Trump’s erroneous and duplicitous statements is exhausting work, hazardous to one’s own sanity. Just as depressing as Trump’s serial fabrication and invention is the apparent willingness of tens of millions of ostensibly decent and honest ordinary Americans to tolerate, dismiss or even believe the endless stream of nonsense and bullshit. 

Still, if much of the populace has become inured to presidential lying and misstatement, it’s hardly all the current president’s fault.

Deception and misstatement are “as American as Cherry Pie” (to quote H. Rap Brown on violence)—though here perhaps I should say “as American as George Washington’s childhood cherry tree fable.”

While we’ve never seen anything on Trump’s psychotic scale, the problem of U.S. presidential deception goes way back in American history.

Eager for a back-door pretext to enter the war against German fascism (a good thing in the opinion of many), for example, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt lied to Congress and the American people when he claimed that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was “unprovoked” by the U.S. and a complete “surprise” to the U.S. military.

President Dwight Eisenhower flatly lied to the American people and the world when he denied the existence of American U-2 spy plane flights over Russia.

President John F. Kennedy lied about the supposed missile gap between the United States and the Soviet Union. And Kennedy lied when he claimed that the United States sought democracy in Latin America, Southeast Asia and around the world.

President Lyndon Johnson lied on Aug. 4, 1965, when he claimed that North Vietnam attacked U.S. Navy destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. This provided a false pretext for a massive escalation of the U.S. war on Vietnam, resulting in the deaths of more than 50,000 U.S. military personnel and millions of Southeast Asians.

Regarding Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg recalled 17 years ago that his 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers exposed U.S. military and intelligence documents “proving that the government had long lied to the country. Indeed, the papers revealed a policy of concealment and quite deliberate deception from the Truman administration onward. … A generation of presidents,” Ellsberg noted, “chose to conceal from Congress and the public what the real policy was. …”

President Richard Nixon lied about wanting peace in Vietnam (his agent, Henry Kissinger, actively undermined a peace accord with Hanoi before the 1968 election) and about respecting the neutrality of Cambodia. He lied through secrecy and omission about the criminal and fateful U.S. bombing of Cambodia—a far bigger crime than the burglarizing of the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex, about which he of course famously lied.

The serial fabricator Ronald Reagan made a special address to the nation in which he lied by saying, “We did not—repeat—we did not trade weapons or anything else [to Iran] for hostages, nor will we.”

President George H.W. Bush falsely claimed on at least five occasions in the run-up to the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War that Iraqi forces, after invading Kuwait, had pulled babies from incubators and left them to die.

President Bill Clinton shamelessly lied about his White House sexual shenanigans with Monica Lewinsky. He falsely claimed to be upholding international law and to be opposing genocide when he bombed Serbia for more than two months in early 1999.

The serial liar George W. Bush and his administration infamously, openly and elaborately lied about Saddam Hussein’s alleged Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” and about Iraq’s purported links to al Qaida and the 9/11 jetliner attacks. After the WMD fabrication was exposed, Bush falsely claimed to have invaded Iraq to spread liberty and democracy.

Bill Clinton (subject of a useful Christopher Hitchens book titled “No One Left to Lie To”) and Barack Obama were both silver-tongued corporate-neoliberal Wall Street and Pentagon Democrats who falsely claimed to be progressive friends of working people and the poor. President Obama lied repeatedly, as when he falsely claimed that he would have his Department of Justice investigate and prosecute abusive lenders for cheating and defrauding ordinary homeowners. Obama misrepresented the facts badly when he repeatedly claimed (in what PolitiFact determined to be “The Lie of the Year” in 2013) that, under his Affordable Care Act, “If Americans like their doctor, they will keep their doctor. And if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it.”

In a grotesque lie early in his presidency, Obama’s White House claimed that the carnage caused by its bombing of the Afghan village of Bola Boluk (where dozens of children were blown to pieces by U.S. ordnance) had really been inflicted by “Taliban grenades.”

But presidential lies are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to an American political, media, intellectual and educational culture that has long been drenched in a vast sea of fable, deception, ideological selection and flat-out propagandistic falsification. The biggest and most relevant lies of our time don’t just issue from the mouths, press releases and now, sadly, Twitter feeds of presidents. They are major historical and societal myths and grand narratives of broad falsehood widely shared across the major party spectrum by “responsible” and “respectable” authorities in politics, business, education, literature, religion, media and public affairs.

I recently asked a dozen or so online associates and friends for their top five nominations under the category of the Big Lies of Our Time in the United States. We came up with fully 50 great national fairy tales and untruths (one for each U.S. state). Here are my nominations for the Top 10 Big National Lies:

 1. We live in a democracy. This core myth cries out for demolition with special urgency at present thanks to constant media and political class repetition of the claim that Russia “undermined our democracy” during the 2016 presidential election. I have written at length against this claim so many times that it has become difficult to do so again without excessive self-repetition. Here are just three among a large number of reports and commentaries in which I have carefully explained why the U.S. is a corporate and imperial plutocracy and even an oligarchy, not a democracy:

“Time Is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy From the American Oligarchy?” CounterPunch, March 21, 2018

American Money, Not Russia, Put Trump in the White House: Reflections on a Recent Report,” CounterPunch, March 30, 2018

Who Will Protect U.S. Election Integrity From American Oligarchs?” Truthdig, April 18, 2018</a>

Putin’s War on America Is Nothing Compared With America’s War on Democracy,” Truthdig, July 22, 2018</a>

Also see my book “They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy” (2014).

 2. Capitalism is about democracy. No, it isn’t—and one need not be an anti-capitalist “radical” like myself to know better. My old copy of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary defines capitalism as “the economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution … are privately owned and operated for profit, originally under fully competitive conditions: it has been generally characterized by a tendency toward concentration of wealth and, [in] its latter phase, by the growth of great corporations, increased government controls, etc.”

There’s nothing—nada, zero, zip—about popular self-rule (democracy) in that definition. And there shouldn’t be. “Democracy and capitalism have very different beliefs about the proper distribution of power,” liberal economist Lester Thurow noted in the mid-1990s: “One [democracy] believes in a completely equal distribution of political power, ‘one man, one vote,’ while the other [capitalism] believes that it is the duty of the economically fit to drive the unfit out of business and into extinction. … To put it in its starkest form, capitalism is perfectly compatible with slavery. Democracy is not.” More than being compatible with slavery and incompatible with democracy, U.S. capitalism arose largely on the basis of black slavery in the cotton-growing states (as historian Edward Baptist has shown in his prize-winning study “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism”) and is, in fact, quite militantly opposed to democracy.

“We must make our choice,” onetime Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis is reputed to have said or written</a>: “We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” This statement was unintentionally but fundamentally anti-capitalist. Consistent with the dictionary definition presented above, the brilliant French economist Thomas Piketty has shown that capitalism has always been inexorably pulled toward the concentration of wealth into ever fewer hands.

 3. Capitalism is about the free market. Nope, it’s about the rich seizing control of the state and using it to make themselves richer and to thereby—since wealth is power and pull—deepen their grip on politics and policy. The profits system is so dependent on, and enmeshed with, governmental protection, subsidy and giveaways that one might even question the accuracy of calling it capitalism. (For elaboration, please see my recent Truthdig essay “Our ‘Rentier Capitalism’ Is One More Nail in Earth’s Coffin”). It is at the very least state capitalism, and always has been. A truly “free market,” that is fully laissez-faire capitalism, has never actually existed. At the same time, state-capitalist market forces in all forms, including their most government-free ones, have always brought widely different levels of freedom and un-freedom (including even literal slavery) for people depending on what class they belong to and how many resources they bring to influence and profit from market processes.

4. Big business and its political agents are freedom-loving libertarians who hate “big government.” False. They only hate big government that’s not under their control and doesn’t serve their interests. The contemporary capitalist elite and its many agents and servants hate only what the left French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called “the left hand of the state”—the parts of the public sector that serve the social and democratic needs of the non-affluent majority. They want to starve and crush those branches of government that reflect past popular victories in struggles for social justice and democracy. But the portions of the state that serve the opulent minority and dole out punishment for the poor are not the subject of their ire. The regressive and repressive “right hand of the state,” comprising the big sections of “big government” that distribute wealth upward and attack those who resist empire and inequality, is not its enemy. It grows in accordance with the slashing of left-handed social protections, as the increased insecurity that results drives ever more disadvantaged people into the clutches of the military and the criminal injustice system.

5. The United States is a great land of liberty. Really? It depends on what part of the class-race structure you inhabit. With a massive and highly militarized police and prosecutorial state that has used the so-called war on drugs and related cooked crime crazes as pretexts for racially hyper-disparate mass arrest and imprisonment, the U.S. is home to the highest rate of mass incarceration in the world (and in world history). Social movements are regularly infiltrated, surveilled and crushed by the high-tech U.S. police state.

Hundreds of millions of U.S. citizens depend on employers not just for their incomes but also for their and their families’ health insurance, something that militates strongly against their willingness to speak freely within or beyond the workplace.

Americans suffer the longest working hours in the “developed” (rich nation) world; they spend inordinate and crippling amounts of time under the despotic supervision of bosses and lack the time and energy and information to participate meaningfully in the nation’s supposed “democracy.”

Freedom to do what one wants with one’s life depends on the possession of money and wealth, which is more unevenly distributed and harshly concentrated in the U.S. than in any other wealthy capitalist nation. Liberty is certainly enjoyed in great proportions by the top 10th of the upper U.S. 1 percent, which owns as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent. Liberty is far less prevalent among the 57 percent of Americans who, as CNBC reported last fall, have less than $1,000 in savings; 39 percent have no savings at all. Last January, the same network reported that more than a third (36 percent) of Americans would have to go into debt to pay for a major unexpected expense like a trip to the hospital or a car repair.

Wall Street chieftains who threw millions of Americans out of work and destroyed billions of dollars in 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. In a report titled “The Price of Justice,” The Nation reported last year that “roughly 500,000 people are in jails across the country simply because they are poor”—that is, because they can’t make bail payments or pay fines and/or court fees.

In the words of the title of one report on the poverty and bail jail problem, “Freedom Isn’t Free.”

 6. The United States is a great monument to classlessness. No, it isn’t. The U.S. is a great monument to savage class inequality, marked by an extreme concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands (Louis Brandeis’ death knell for democracy) and the lowest rates of upward mobility from the lower and working classes into the middle and upper classes in the “advanced” world. Three absurdly wealthy Americans (Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates) now possess among them as much wealth as the poorest half of the United States. As one of those three, Buffett, noted 12 years ago: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” As wealth and income congeal ever upward in New Gilded Age America, even the professional middle class now experiences ubiquitous “precariousness,” lost security and status, and downward mobility. As the cultural theorist Lynn Parramore writes in a recent review of journalist Alissa Quart’s new book, “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America”:

<blockquote>Today, with their incomes flat or falling, [young middle-class] Americans scramble to maintain a semblance of what their parents enjoyed. They are moving from being dominant to being dominated. From acting to acted upon. Trained to be educators, lawyers, librarians, and accountants, they do work they can’t stand to support families they rarely see. … Their new reality: You will not do as well as your parents. Life is a struggle to keep up. Even if you achieve something, you will live in fear of losing it. America is not your land: it belongs to the ultra-rich. …

They are somebodies turning into nobodies … the Chicago adjunct professor with the disabled child who makes less than $24,000 a year; and the California business reporter who once focused on the financial hardships of others and now faces unemployment herself. … Uber-driving teachers and law school grads reviewing documents for $20 an hour—or less. Ivy Leaguers who live on food stamps. … Their labor has sputtered into sporadic contingency: they make do with short-term contracts or shift work. … Once upon a time, only the working poor took second jobs to stay afloat. Now the Middle Precariat has joined them. … Deep down, they know that they probably can’t pass down the cultural and social class they once took for granted.</blockquote>

It sounds like something out of, well, Marx.

 7. Hard work and individual brilliance is the key to individual wealth, and the lack of such work and brains is the source of individual poverty. Nonsense. In the U.S. as across the capitalist world, private oligarchic fortunes rest on the parasitic collection of multiple forms of rent obtained through the ownership of multiple forms of inherited property and the wildly inordinate influence that the wealthy Few exercise over the oxymoronically named “capitalist democracies.” The preponderant majority of the wealth “earned” (appropriated) by the ever more obscenely opulent is produced by countless less privileged others and by a set of societal and institutional arrangements designed to serve those fortunate enough to be born into affluence. (See the brilliant left geographer Richard A. Walker’s masterful discussion of the real source of Silicon Valley’s spectacular profits in his recent book “Pictures of a Gone City: Tech and Dark Side of Prosperity in the San Francisco Bay Area.”) Millions of Americans work absurdly long, smart and hard hours for an ever-shrinking share of total income and wealth and face economic precarity for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their own personal effort and smarts. Rising labor productivity has not remotely been matched by rising wages or benefits in a globalized labor market structured by and for the employer class.

8. Growth is good. U.S. and Western state capitalist ideology has long proclaimed that growth—not redistribution and sociopolitical democratization—is the solution to poverty and joblessness. But contemporary capitalist expansion is largely predicated on low wages, weak benefits, a fading left-handed social welfare state, generalized precarity for the Many, and relentless destruction of the earth on which we all depend. Economic growth under the heedless, commons-plundering command of the unelected dictatorship of capital is now clearly environmentally exterminist—a grave threat to livable ecology. There are no jobs, no economy, on a dead planet, and there’s no Planet B.

 9. We have an “independent” and “mainstream” media. False. We have neither. For elaboration (I am running of word count), please see my 2015 ZNet essay “On the Nature and Mission of U.S. Corporate Mass Media.” 

 10. The U.S. is a force for good and peace in the world. It is no such thing. For some ugly details (word count again, dear reader), please see my recent Truthdig essays “The World Will Not Mourn the Decline of U.S. Hegemony” and “The Chomsky Challenge for Americans.”

Trump deserves a special place in the Totalitarian Hall of Shame’s special Lying Head of State exhibit, but all these grand national deceptions were in place under Obama, Bush 43, Clinton, Bush 41 and Ronald Reagan. Most of them have been operational under most of modern U.S. history. Impeaching or un-electing the uber-dissembler who now occupies the Oval Office will not magically make them go away. Only a great people’s rebellion on behalf of liberty, equality, solidarity, the common(s) good—and truth—can do that.

For the full list of Fifty Big National Lies, go to my website, paulstreet. org.

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Our ‘Rentier Capitalism’ Is One More Nail in Earth’s Coffin

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Paul Street’s column will appear in Truthdig each Sunday through Aug. 12. Its regular schedule will resume when Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges returns from vacation.

“Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.” This famous socialist slogan, adapted from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ “The Communist Manifesto,” struck Noam Chomsky as a poor fit for most people in the world’s rich nations almost half a century ago.

“There is no doubt,” Chomsky wrote in August 1969 (when I was a sixth-grader mourning the Chicago Cubs’ collapse before the onrushing New York “Miracle Mets”), “that we can learn from the achievements and failures of revolutionary struggles in the less-developed countries. …” But, Chomsky added, “In an advanced industrial society, it is, obviously, far from true that the mass of population have nothing to lose but their chains … [since] they have a considerable stake in preserving the existing social order.”

Chomsky’s statement came at the peak of the post-WWII “golden age” of U.S.-led Western capitalism. As the liberal U.S. economist Paul Krugman has noted:

[Post-World War II America] was a middle-class society, to a far greater extent than it had been in the 1920s—or than it is today. … Ordinary workers and their families had good reason to feel that they were sharing in the nation’s prosperity as never before. And, on the other side, the rich were a lot less rich than they had been a generation earlier. … The postwar generation was a time when almost everyone in America felt that living standards were rising rapidly, a time in which ordinary Americans felt that they were achieving a level of prosperity beyond their parents’ wildest dreams.

Similar developments occurred in Western Europe, where les trentes glorieuses (the “30 golden years” of 1945 to 1975) brought unprecedented middle-class expansion and prosperity combined with a significant reduction in inequality and poverty. Things have changed. Inequality has resurged significantly in the “advanced” nations (what one academic calls “the affluent capitalist democracies”), bringing depressing expansions of poverty.

After four-plus decades of neoliberalism, we now live under the rule of a rentier capitalism, in which the top 10th of the upper U.S. 1 percent owns as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent. CNBC reported last fall that 57 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings; 39 percent have no savings at all. Last January, the same network reported that more than a third (36 percent) of Americans would have to go into debt to pay for a major unexpected expense like a trip to the hospital or a car repair.

Four basic underpinnings of the more broadly shared prosperity in the post-World War II years have been undone inside the “advanced” nations, helping to create such shocking inequality and poverty in the U.S.

First, rising productivity used to be matched by rising wages. However, beginning in the 1980s, U.S. wages stagnated while productivity continued to soar.

Second, rising employment used to generate corresponding wage hikes. This is no longer the case. Today, when employment rises, wages stay stagnant or fall because the new jobs pay worse than the old jobs. The long Obama-Trump “recovery” is biased toward—one might even say contingent upon—the expansion of low-paid jobs, as has been most job growth in the long neoliberal era.

Third, rising employment used to produce more tax revenue for the public sector. Again, this isn’t true today, because so many new jobs pay too little and governments have raised the threshold for paying income tax.

Fourth, rising company profits used to lead to higher average pay. That, too, has gone away. As the British economist Guy Standing noted in his indispensable 2016 book, “The Corruption of Capitalism: Why Rentiers Thrive and Work Does Not Pay”: “Profits are more concentrated in [largely high-tech] firms that don’t employ many workers. Employment has grown mainly in low-tech sectors, weakening the link between profits, employment, and wages.”

These four reversals are most evident in the U.S. and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Britain, but they are global in nature and hold across most if not all the world’s rich nations.

The renascent disparity and want in the “advanced” world is direr than the standard economic data indicate. It’s also about the decline of “social income”—the totality of social and environmental resources we rely upon—and the rising insecurity of that income. As Standing observed:

Social income includes non-wage company benefits and perks such as paid holidays and sick leave, maternity and paternity benefits, company pension schemes and subsidized transport. And it includes community benefits—informal support from family, neighbors, and friends, and access to public services and the commons … an important source of income for those lacking other resources. … Conventional income statistics also fail to reflect the fact that the same money income is worth more to the recipient if predictable and certain than if unpredictable and uncertain. For example, guaranteed access to state benefits is worth more than access to benefits of equivalent amount that depend on means testing, behavior testing or the discretion of bureaucratic officials. Income security has a value in itself.

Beyond economic discrepancies, the population is sorted also by related inequalities of health and life quality. The well-off live in better neighborhoods and experience far less exposure to crime and pollution than do the nonaffluent majority in “developed” as well as in “developing” nations. They and their children attend better schools and have more access to greenspace, quality food and good medical care. They travel and exercise more, enjoy cultural resources on a greater scale, marry better-off spouses (“selective mating”) and pass on pronounced inherited advantages to their progeny.

As the author and philosopher Matthew Stewart recently reported in an essay in The Atlantic, the “winners” are getting healthier while “people in the lower deciles are actually getting less healthy in many respects.” White U.S. working-class life expectancy has declined in recent years—an unprecedented development outside wartime—largely due to the collapse of the labor market and social safety net for lesser-skilled workers.

As the Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam showed in his chilling book “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” (2016), the white lower and working (and ex-working) classes are increasingly plagued by many of the same characteristics that 20th-century social scientists identified with the nation’s black urban “underclass”: addiction, high rates of school dropout, fragile and single-parent families, rampant mental illness, domestic and child abuse, and high crime and violence rates.

It isn’t about the dualistic division between “the 1 percent” and everyone else that the Occupy Movement turned into a populist catchphrase—or between Marx’s “bourgeoisie” and “proletariat.” Those dichotomous categories don’t do justice to the multiple lines of class stratification found in contemporary capitalism.

Across the “rich” nations, Standing found, a new “global class structure” has been “superimposed on preceding class structures.” It consists of six core constituent elements defined largely by their ability or inability to garner income from the ownership of property and from the political power and policy influence that flow from that possession: “a tiny plutocracy (perhaps 0.001 percent) atop a bigger elite, a ‘salariat’ (in relatively secure salaried jobs), ‘proficians’ (freelance professionals), a core working class, a precariat, and a ‘lumpen-precariat’ at the bottom.”

The top three groups, Standing determined, “gain most (or an increasing part) of their income from capital and rental income” while the bottom three “gain nothing in rent” and “increasingly … pay rent in some form to the classes above them” (emphasis added). As wealth concentrates primarily in the hands of the rentier plutocracy (the United States’ richest three people—Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett—now possess as much net worth among them as the bottom half of the U.S. populace) and the better-off sections of the salariat and professional class (a “9.9 percent” that Stewart in his Atlantic piece finds to have at least “kept pace” with “the top 0.1 percent”), it is the “precariat” and the “lumpen-precariat” that have most dramatically expanded both in the “advanced” (rich) nations and across the world.

The precariat is composed of “millions of people obliged to accept a life of unstable labor and living, without an occupational identity or corporate narrative to give to their lives,” Standing said. “Their employers come and go, or are expected to do so. Many in the precariat are over-qualified for the jobs they must accept. They rely on money wages, which are often inadequate, volatile, and unpredictable.”

The “remorselessly” growing “lumpen-precariat” is “the underclass”: destitute, often homeless and reliant on charity, “suffering from social illnesses including drug addiction and depression,” and especially subject to mass incarceration and criminal marking in the United States.

The classic working class, or proletariat—people working in stable, full-time wage positions usually with schooling that matches the skills their jobs require—is fading, except in China and India. It has been shrinking dramatically in the “developed” world throughout the neoliberal era, a period of savage deindustrialization in the rich nations. That’s because big capital and the better-off salaried and professional “elites” have increasingly relied less on the production of goods and services for their wealth and income as they make more money on the parasitic extraction of rents rooted in the monopolistic ownership of assets.

This rentier extraction reflects and furthers a panoply of corrupt and oligarchic state-capitalist government policies that reflect a revolving door between politics and big business that is ubiquitous across world governments. These include patent, trademark and copyright laws that monopolize profitable knowledge; multiple and many-sided direct and indirect subsidies; ubiquitous regressive tax breaks, credit shelters and loopholes; regressive austerity measures; multiple and often complex debt mechanisms; economic, environmental and social deregulation, and ubiquitous privatization.

Along the way, traditional “Fordist”-era labor markets have been swept into history’s dustbin by outsourcing, automation and the “flexible,” “on-demand” industry trailblazed by such new regional, national and global “labor brokers” as Uber, Lyft and the aptly named company PeoplePerHour.

Rents have not declined in modern society with the disappearance of feudal landlordism. They are more central to ruling-class incomes than ever before. As Standing explains:

[A] tiny minority … across the world are accumulating vast wealth and power from rental income, not only from housing and land but from a range of other assets, natural and created. “Rentiers” of all kinds are in unparalleled ascendancy and the neo-liberal state is only too keen to oblige their greed. … Rentiers derive income from ownership, possession or control of assets that are scarce or artificially made scarce. … They include the income lenders gain from debt interest; income from ownership of “intellectual property” (such as patents, copyright, brands and trademarks); capital gains on investments; “above normal” company profits (when a firm has a dominant market position that allows it to charge high prices or dictate terms); income from government subsidies; and income of financial and other intermediaries derived from third-party transactions.

Especially disturbing is Standing’s discussion of how advanced- and developing-nation governments have been induced to escalate “the plunder of the commons”—the “giving away” (policy-mediated plutocratic taking) of what was once publicly owned and commonly shared to private owners, who garner rental income streams from natural and social resources formerly owned by whole societies on behalf of all, regardless of wealth and other invidious distinctions. Examples of this ongoing enclosure and dispossession include “the confiscation and usurpation of native land, for mining”; the selling off of formerly public oil reserves to multinational corporations at “fire-sale prices”; the handing over of national parks and other public lands to fracking firms; the relentless governmental privatization and commodification of water, city streets, town squares, community and public gardens (and garden allotments), public transport, public housing, social services, health care, the arts, public libraries, museums, concert halls, the educational system and even fresh air and the criminal justice system.

It has nothing to do with the mythical “free market” capitalism that neoliberal politicians claim to uphold. It’s about the rich using the state to make themselves richer and to thereby—since wealth is power and pull—deepen their grip on politics and policy.

This plutocratic, even now oligarchic rentier capitalism’s concentration of wealth and power into ever fewer hands has plunged ever more of us into the precariat and lumpen-precariat (this writer has spent the bulk of his adult life in the neoliberal U.S. shifting among the proficiat, the proletariat and precariat). It saddles us with unsustainable and nerve-wracking multiple debt and rental payments that drain and negate our wages. It heightens violence, racism, anxiety, depression, desperation, scapegoating, illness, addiction, irrationality and suicide. It turns millions of upended people into confused and angry fodder for dangerous demagogues who focus working people’s ire on immigrants fleeing social, political and environmental nightmares created in poor (“developing”) nations by the same global system that engenders widespread insecurity within rich (“advanced”) nations.

And these are not even neoliberal capitalism’s worst sins. The “plunder of the commons” has put humanity on the path to ecological self-extinction as we march to the plainly fatal mark of 500 carbon parts per atmospheric million by 2050, if not sooner. As a young opponent of the planet-cooking Dakota Access pipeline screamed in futility through the glass walls separating environmental activists from the Iowa Utilities Board in the late summer of 2016, “We’ve got nothing to lose but a livable planet.” The walled-off protester cried out in Des Moines, Iowa, situated in the agricultural heartland of the world’s richest and most powerful nation.

While those most vulnerable and exposed to the climate and broader environmental crises today are found in the poorest parts of the world, the “advanced” states ultimately have no special exemption from the lethal consequences of the melting of Greenland and Antarctica’s ice sheets and the permafrost layers of Alaska and Siberia. There’s “no planet B,” even for Bezos and his four children.

In light of the ecological peril, it is interesting to note a change of sorts since Chomsky’s take on what the wealthy world has to learn from what used to be called the Third World. As he noted five years ago, “Trying to mitigate or overcome these threats [to the planet] are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them, tribal societies and first nations in Canada,” Chomsky wrote. “So, at one extreme, you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster. At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible. Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed.”

These are the most important questions of the current historical moment: economic hyper-disparity, rentier-capitalist plutocracy and, last but not least, the biggest issue of our or any time, environmental ruin. It has been the role of the Twitter-addicted monstrosity President Donald Trump and the Trump-addicted corporate media to (among other things) keep the eyes of citizens and the news cycle off these and other critical matters (see Chomsky’s brilliant reflections last March on Trump’s central role of constant distraction) and recurrently focused instead on his latest insane outrage.

The irony is that the leading climate change denier, Trump himself, is an epitome of precisely the parasitic, aristocratic and plutocratic rentier capitalism that Standing described in his book, published before Trump’s election. The Fortune 400 billionaire Trump is the ultimate bloodsucking rentier. He’s never contributed to the production of any useful goods or services. The vast personal wealth he relied on to leapfrog over the more traditional Wall Street Republicans he defeated in the 2016 presidential primaries by absurdly posing as a champion of the “forgotten” blue-collar working class (especially its white members) was rooted in inherited wealth, landlordism, epic debt manipulation, public subsidy and branding gone wild. Regarding the last rentier attribute, the Chicago Tribune reported three months ago:

Before he ran for office, Donald Trump made millions by selling his name to adorn other people’s products. There was Trump deodorant. Trump ties. Trump steaks. Trump underwear. Trump furniture. … In 2015, Trump listed 19 companies that were paying him to produce or distribute Trump-branded consumer goods. … “It’s ties, shirts, cufflinks, everything sold at Macy’s. And they’re doing great,” Trump told David Letterman in 2012, during an interview in which he’d also complained that China was overtaking the United States as an economic power. “Number-one-selling tie anywhere in the world. …” “The ties are made in China,” Letterman said. Then Trump ran for president.

It was the wealth garnered from anti-worker rentier and global capitalism—including the brazen trademarking of ties manufactured in China and real estate deals made with corrupt investors, politicos and policymakers the world over—and his related extreme media visibility that ironically put Trump in position to mockingly masquerade as a hero of the fading American proletariat in its ongoing struggle with parasitic global and neoliberal capitalism. Even after he spearheaded a massive tax cut for the already absurdly rich 0.1 percent last Christmas, Trump clings to this pose effectively enough to maintain an approval rating in the low 40s, including support from 90 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of union members.

How much longer Trump can keep his distance from the parasitic rentier capitalism that has made his fortune—and whose aristocratic wealth he has expanded with tax cuts and deregulation advanced in the deceptive name of free market capitalism? Probably as long as the U.S. job market continues to grow, pushing the official unemployment rate down closer to 3 percent.

But it’s not about the endless distraction Trump provides. He’s just a symptom—a noxious and maddening one, to be sure, but a symptom nonetheless. It is the class and profits system on which his and other rentier capitalists’ wealth and power rest that we must ultimately fight against and overcome. Millions upon millions of Americans for decades have been losing middle- and even working-class status, income and security and getting knocked down into the precariat, or having to work twice as hard to avoid falling. And it’s all so the already super-rich can get more absurdly prosperous, not through the production of goods and services, but through rents garnered from their monopolistic ownership of artificially scarce assets and their related control of politics and government.

The main thing we have to lose under the current system is a livable earth. As Marx (a great devotee of science) would certainly recognize if he were granted a posthumous research trip into the 21st century, capitalism has not produced its own working-class “gravediggers” (the “revolutionary” industrial proletariat he thought he saw coming into being in his time). The profits system is not the “dialectical” midwife of socialism. It is an environmental as well as social, political and spiritual cancer—an exterminist endgame wired to take us beyond mere precarity to full-on extinction. If all of us—from the bottom up and top down—don’t figure out how to become the undertakers of this commons-plundering rentier regime, the insight of onetime leading neoconservative philosopher Francis Fukuyama will be borne out, though not in the sense he meant: Capitalism will indeed mark “the end of history and the last man,” through literal extinction.

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‘Putin’s War on America’ Is Nothing Compared With America’s War on Democracy

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Paul Street’s column will appear in Truthdig each Sunday through Aug. 12. Its regular schedule will resume when Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges returns from vacation.

The noted North Korean political commentator Kim Jong Un got it right last year: Donald Trump is a “mentally deranged dotard.”

Consider the U.S. president’s bizarre performance next to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

Asked about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, President Trump said this: “I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

He continued: “So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Talk about walking into your enemy’s wheelhouse. Trump looked, acted and sounded like a big floppy and supine plaything of his smirking Russian master. It was surreal.

I’m no fan of “Russiagate” and never have been. But it was as if Trump had let Russia-mad MSNBC and CNN craft the Helsinki news conference and write his lines for him.

The response from the U.S. corporate media minus Fox News was swift, harsh and unremitting. Cable news went wild. Its talking heads (except for Trump State Television/Fox) were unanimous: A “treasonous” Trump had “thrown his own country”—with “country” understood to mean the U.S. “intelligence” (spying and subversion) apparatus—“under the bus” and “sided with the enemy instead.”

A sour POTUS had to reluctantly walk his comments back the next day, awkwardly claiming that he’d really meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be.”

Right. I lied more convincingly than that in second grade.

Does Putin have the dirty photos after all? Does Trump have a late-life schoolboy crush on “strong and powerful” Vlad? Or on the related binding powers of head-of-state authoritarianism and senior white maleness? Political power envy? Bicep envy? Trump’s knee-jerk revulsion at any suggestion that his “great victory” in the 2016 Electoral College was tainted? All or some of the above?

We can only guess about the real source(s) of Trump’s peculiar Putin jones at this point.

By contrast, I can say with full confidence that nothing Trump said Monday or Tuesday was as ridiculous as something I heard leading Democrat and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., tell CNN the night of Trump’s Helsinki debacle.

“It is the role of the U.S. intelligence community,” Warner said to Anderson Cooper, “to speak truth to power.”

Read that again: “It is the role of the U.S. intelligence community to speak truth to power.”

Never mind that the FBI has long surveilled, hounded, harassed, oppressed, slandered, maimed and even murdered U.S. labor, civil rights, peace, social justice and environmental activists and leaders—people fighting concentrated wealth, privilege and power. The FBI’s long record of domestic police-state repression has continued to the present day, up through Occupy, the Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock.

Never mind the CIA’s longstanding central role in the crushing and subversion of national independence and social justice movements, popular revolutions and democratically elected governments the world over. Or the CIA and FBI’s central role (current Russiagate investigator Robert Mueller’s having been a top player) in the creation of false intelligence pretexts for George W. Bush’s monumentally criminal, mass-murderous invasion of Iraq.

There was nothing close to the hint of a pushback against Warner’s idiotic statement from Cooper (a former CIA intern) or anyone else in the “mainstream media.” It doesn’t enter cable news’ talking heads’ minds to see the nation’s spying, surveillance and police state for what it is at its core: an instrument of class, racial and imperial oppression.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper could be heard on CNN using the same phrase—“speaking truth to power”—to describe the mission of “the intelligence community.”

Clapper was just one among dozens of former U.S. military and intelligence officials and experts—all proud agents and defenders of the American global empire and so-called capitalist democracy—paraded across the CNN and MSNBC sets to express horror at Trump and Russia.

The more Russia- and Trump-obsessed cable news I watched last week, the crazier it got. Things went really off the rails Wednesday night. That’s when MSNBC’s Russia-mad talk-show host Rachel Maddow leaped from reporting a ridiculous Sarah Huckabee Sanders comment on how the Trump White House was discussing whether to honor Putin’s request to hand over a former U.S. diplomat (Barack Obama’s Russian ambassador, Michael McFaul) for questioning in Russia (which would be a bizarre and astonishing development and was obviously never going to happen) to telling ordinary individual Americans that they could soon be at risk of being picked up by the White House and handed over to Russia to be killed by Putin (or “other foreign dictators”). Who was more wacky—White House press secretary Huckabee Sanders, for saying the White House was considering handing over a former U.S. ambassador to Russian authorities (something that was never going to occur), or Maddow, for telling everyday Americans that Trump may one day mark them for rendition to Russia at the behest of the Kremlin (also never going to occur)?

Cable news commentators also expressed concern for another “American” sought for questioning (and torture and murder, purportedly) by Putin: financial mogul Bill Browder, who happens, hilariously enough, to be the grandson of the former Soviet-captive U.S. Communist Party head Earl Browder. Putin’s interest has to do with tax disputes related to Browder’s onetime investments and “human rights” activism in Russia. Here’s a fun little fact about Bill Browder that wasn’t highlighted by MSNBC and CNN: The multimillionaire “American” renounced his U.S. citizenship and “re-domiciled” to England in 1998 to avoid paying U.S. taxes on foreign investments. It’s hard to imagine the Boston patriots of 1773 forming a Tea Party in defense of the “great American” Bill Browder.

Speaking on behalf of power—imperial power in this case—nothing Trump said Monday and Tuesday was quite as absurd as the undisputed condemnation U.S. corporate news talking heads and pundits heaped on Trump for saying in Helsinki that he held “both countries responsible” for the decline in U.S.-Russia relations. “I think we’re all to blame,” Trump said.

Outraged U.S. media authorities fell over themselves to express shock and horror at this “Orwellian” statement of “false equivalency.” CNN and MSDNC (I mean MSNBC) likened it to the white-supremacist Trump’s deservedly infamous comments likening so-called “alt-left” civil rights protesters to neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., last August.

In historical reality, as the “mainstream” U.S. media would never acknowledge, Trump’s “both countries responsible” comment understated Washington’s primary culpability in the rise of the “new,” that is, post-Soviet, U.S.-Russia Cold War. The record of imperial U.S. aggression and provocation is clear to anyone who pays remotely serious attention to the record of the recent past:

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

● Widespread U.S. interference in Russian electoral politics and civil society—including brazen U.S. intervention in Russia’s pivotal 1996 presidential election—before, during and ever since the collapse of Soviet socialism.

● U.S.-led NATO’s decisions to renege on its 1997 pledge not to install “permanent” and “significant” military forces in former Soviet bloc nations and 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 NATO- and U.S.-created state of Kosovo. (That recent history has hardly prevented Washington from shaming Russia for “forcibly redrawing borders in Europe” by annexing Crimea.)

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

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

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

● Longstanding U.S. efforts “to move Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit and integrate it into the West” (to quote U.S. foreign relations scholar John Mearsheimer).

● U.S. provocation and endorsement of a right-wing 2014 coup against the pro-Russian government in Ukraine, on Russia’s repeatedly invaded western border—a development that constituted a severe national security threat to Russia and predictably created war in eastern Ukraine and a crisis that led to numerous dangerous incidents between NATO and Russian forces.

● Washington’s constant self-righteous denunciation of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, a thoroughly predictable Russian response to the United States’ installation of a right-wing and heavily neo-Nazi-affiliated, pro-NATO and anti-Russian government in Kiev, Ukraine.

“NATO leaders,” American political writer Diana Johnstone stated in June 2014, “feign surprise at events they planned months in advance. Events that they deliberately triggered are being misrepresented as sudden, astonishing, unjustified ‘Russian aggression.’ The United States and the European Union undertook an aggressive provocation in Ukraine that they knew would force Russia to react defensively, one way or another.”

One does not have to be a fan of Vladimir Putin or a left critic of U.S. imperialism (guilty here) to understand the nationalist logic behind the Russian president’s concerns with U.S. and Western aggression—and the popularity of Putin’s resistance to that aggression among millions of Russians fed up with decades of national humiliation by the West.

As the mainstream “realist” Mearsheimer argued in a 2014 article—“Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault”—published in the establishment Council on Foreign Relations’ journal Foreign Affairs, Putin reasonably viewed Washington’s commitment to NATO expansion and NATO’s U.S.-led recruitment of Ukraine as “a direct threat to Russia’s core interests … [and] who can blame him?” Mearsheimer asked, adding that “the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying forces anywhere in the Western hemisphere, much less on its borders.”

“We need not ask,” Noam Chomsky wrote two years ago, “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 hint of the first tentative steps in that direction would have been ‘terminated with extreme prejudice,’ to adopt the CIA lingo.”

An honest look at the history of U.S. and Western aggression in Eastern Europe and, well, meddling in Russia itself, suggests plenty of reasons why Russia would have wanted some say in the 2016 U.S. election—and why it would have preferred a bizarre “isolationist” NATO critic with a long and strange personal and financial history with Russia (Trump) over a committed Russia-hating, NATO-expansionist and global imperialist like Hillary Clinton.

If you don’t want other countries messing, or trying to mess, with your nation’s internal politics, then don’t mess with theirs—and don’t set up armies and hostile regimes on their borders. The United States, which maintains more than 800 military bases spread across more than 100 “sovereign” nations, regularly interferes in the internal affairs—including elections—of the other states and societies.

A final preposterous thing that “mainstream” U.S. news media has been repeating over and over in the last several days is the charge that “Russia tried to undermine our democracy.” In three days of informal but regular monitoring of CNN and MSNBC, I heard that phrase or some variation of it (including “Russia waged war on our democracy”) at least 30 times.

To what “American democracy” are they referring? University of Kentucky history department chair Ronald Formisano’s latest book is titled “American Oligarchy: The Permanence of the Political Class” (University of Illinois, 2017). By Formisano’s detailed account, U.S. politics and policy are under the control of a “permanent political class”—a “networked layer of high-income people,” including congressional representatives (half of whom are millionaires), elected officials, campaign funders, lobbyists, consultants, appointed bureaucrats, pollsters, television celebrity journalists, university presidents and executives at well-funded nonprofit institutions. This “permanent political class,” Formisano finds, is taking the nation “beyond [mere] plutocracy” to “the hegemony of an aristocracy of inherited wealth.” The super-opulent moneyed elite it minds and apes is a product of U.S. history and has nothing to do with Russia.

Formisano is just one of many distinguished and mainstream American thinkers who understands that the U.S. is simply not a democracy. (Even some conservative elites like the veteran federal jurist and economist Richard Posner concede this basic reality.) As the distinguished liberal political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and Martin 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 had 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].

We get to vote? Big deal. An “unelected dictatorship of money” (Edward S. Herman and David Peterson) 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.”

But, OK, so how significant was “Russian interference” in tipping the 2016 election to one of the money-vetted capitalist candidates (Trump) over the other one (Clinton)? Russia’s impact on the outcome was negligible. An important source here is the brilliant political scientist and money and politics analyst Thomas Ferguson’s study (co-authored with Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen), “Industrial Structure and Party Competition in an Age of Hunger Games: Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Election” (Institute for New Economic Thinking, January 2018). Ferguson finds that Russia’s sway over the contest was (no surprise for serious analysts) tiny compared with that of the homegrown U.S. corporate and financial oligarchs who sit atop “America, the Best Democracy Money Can Buy.”

The billionaire rentier-capitalist Trump used his own personal fortune to leap over his more traditional Wall Street Republican competitors—absurdly posing as a champion of the forgotten “heartland” working class—in the 2016 presidential primaries. To win the general election, however, he depended on a remarkable influx of big campaign cash from dodgy right-wing U.S. billionaires and equity capitalists in the late summer and fall of 2016. Even more significant, perhaps, was Clinton’s remarkable, record-setting funding by big financial and other business interests (including corporate sectors that normally supported Republicans but came over to the Democrats’ side thanks largely to candidate Trump’s declared protectionism and isolationism) that helped create the dismal centrist awfulness and deafening policy silence of Clinton’s miserable campaign.

“Putin’s war on America” was nothing compared with the American ruling class’ war on America when it comes to the inside story of how “American democracy” was pre-empted as usual by big money (among other and related vectors of concentrated wealth) during the last great quadrennial electoral extravaganza.

Russia did not make Hillary Clinton into one of the worst political candidates ever to disgrace the campaign podium. (I saw her quite a few times in Iowa in 2007. She had less charisma and inspiration than any other politician I’d ever seen.)

Russia didn’t turn her into an elitist, right-wing, Walmart-and-Wall Street neoliberal corporatist. Yale Law, the corporate and financial “elite,” the plutocratic U.S. party and elections system, the Democratic Leadership Council, and Clinton’s own craven wealth- and power-worship did that all on their homegrown own, no help from Moscow required, long before 2016.

Russia didn’t make the “lying, neoliberal warmonger” Clinton avoid real policy issues to an astonishing degree (more than any major party presidential candidate in recent history) during the 2016 general election campaign.

Russia didn’t make the Clinton campaign decide to run almost solely on candidate quality and character when its own unpopular candidate was highly vulnerable on precisely those “issues.”

Russia did not make Clinton fail to buy ads in Michigan and fail to set foot in Wisconsin after the Democratic National Convention.

Russia didn’t create the massive economic inequality and insecurity and bipartisan corporatism and parasitic state-capitalist globalism that Trump was able to exploit—with no small help from Steve Bannon, Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers and the Mercer family—in 2016.

Russia didn’t make the Clinton machine and the Democratic National Committee collude to rig the 2016 primaries and Democratic National Convention against Bernie Sanders, who likely would have defeated Trump in the general election.

Should there be an investigation of Hillary Clinton as a Russia asset?

After Trump’s pathetic Helsinki debacle, U.S. cable news talking heads were agog with claims that “malign Russia”—“America’s ruthless adversary”—has been waiting for the conclusion of the World Cup to unleash new assaults on Western and U.S. “democracy,” understood to mean upcoming Western and U.S. elections. What, they ask, are federal, state and local governments doing to “protect our elections and democracy” from the “malign influence of Russia”?

Strangely, yet predictably—since corporate media personalities are themselves parts of Formisano’s American oligarchy—missing from this media hysteria is the question of who will protect U.S. elections and purported “democracy” from the unmentionable malign influence of U.S. oligarchs. They sit atop a New Gilded Age in which the top 10th of the upper 1 percent owns as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent, and three absurdly rich people (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett) possess among them the same net worth as the nation’s poorest half. “We must make our choice,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said in 1941: “We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”

That’s a timeworn problem in the United States and indeed across the supposedly democratic capitalist world. If you want to blame the horrible authoritarian consequences of that core contradiction on Russia and its supposed “asset” Donald Trump, then you are an even bigger idiot or cynic than the dotard’s own dumb self.

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Scott Pruitt Got Off Easy: Ecocide Is No Small Matter

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

Scott Pruitt, the now-former, scandal-plagued Environmental Protection Agency chief in the Trump administration, got off easy.

The spoliation of the commons by those who pursue private profit and what Western economists call “development” in is no small matter.

Consider the case of the white “settler” William  Davis in northern Illinois in the spring of 1832. Two years earlier, Davis, a blacksmith from West Virginia, had moved his wife and six children to Big Indian Creek, 20 miles north of the town of Ottawa. Davis built a house, a blacksmith shop and sawmill six miles downstream from a large village of Potawatomi Indians.

The white newcomers considered the Potawatomi peaceful. Their chief, Shaubena, traveled by horse to warn the white “settlers” about potential attacks from the Sauks, who had been sparked by the old warrior Black Hawk to resist the white invasion of northern Illinois. This included the occupation of Sauk villages and otherwise proved most unsettling to the indigenous people who called the region home.

But Davis spoiled his relations with the local Potawatomi by building a dam to power his sawmill. The dam, it turned out, hampered the upstream migration of fish, on which the native population depended for food and fertilizer.

When the Potawatomi asked him to stop blocking their fish supply, Davis brusquely refused and turned them away. Then, in April 1832, Davis came upon a Potawatomi villager named Keewassee trying to destroy the much-reviled dam. “Davis caught him in the act,” writes historian Kelly Trask, “and gave him a severe thrashing with a hickory rod. Keewassee went away bruised and angry, but he was far from finished with Davis.”

On the unusually hot afternoon of May 21, 1832, more than 60 Potawatomis and three Sauks attacked the Davis homestead, where the Davis family was gathered with two other “settler” clans. The Indians killed 15 whites. “All were scalped. The men and women were chopped to pieces,” Trask notes, “After that, the war party burned down the house and all the outbuildings and wantonly slaughtered the livestock.”

Sparked by a white invader’s arrogant response to indigenous people asking him to cease and desist from spoiling the commons on which they relied for sustenance, the Indian Creek Massacre quickly became part of a white-nationalist narrative justifying the launching of the U.S. Black Hawk War. This one-sided slaughter by the U.S. military resulted in the white ethnic cleansing of northern Illinois and the rapid destruction of Illinois prairie.

Davis (who personally survived the massacre) was just one of many tens of thousands of white un-settlers who “contributed,” in the words of Harry Podschwit in the College of DuPage’s Essai, “to the destruction of the tallgrass grass prairies and other ecological features of Northern Illinois”—including remarkable biodiversity—well before the turn of the 20th century. As Podschwit observes:

Much of the damage to the Northern Illinois ecology was sustained during the period early settlement [the 1830s-1850s], as the rapid spread of urban centers and agriculture dominated the tallgrass prairie and also decimated the remaining woodlands of the region. Thus, to the dismay of many modern naturalists, much of the ecology of the Northern Illinois was disturbed before its nuances could be fully understood. … By 1900 the landscape of Northern Illinois had been abused and defeated, lamenting its fantastic, yet brief reign in North America.

Nearly two centuries after the Indian removal, much, if not most, of the region’s once-luxuriant prairie farmland is ruled by toxic corporate mega-farmers. They apply poisonous chemical fertilizers fence post to fence post to grow giant corn and soybean crops destined for the digestive tracts of industrially penned and slaughtered cows and pigs. The once richly fertile and black earth of the Illinois plains feeds a giant, methane-spewing animal agriculture industry that contributes massively to the destructive overheating of the planet.

Still, William Davis should have listened to the Potawatomis, who at first politely beseeched him to stop endangering their food supply through his selfish distortion of the commons.

White “settler” descendant Scott Pruitt’s crimes against the commons far surpass anything Davis ever did.

Pruitt is a fundamentalist Southern Baptist who thinks that evolution and global warming are scientific hoaxes and that “God” wants human beings to use natural gas and oil, not leave it in the ground. He first made a name for himself as a state attorney general bankrolled by big oil and gas who battled the EPA during the Obama years.

An enemy of environmental regulation from the oil and gas state of Oklahoma, Pruitt was backed for his job as EPA chief by leading right-wing petro-plutocrats, including the billionaire petro-oligarchs David and Charles Koch. Other top Pruitt boosters and allies included the oil and fracking tycoon Harold Hamm (the world’s 90th richest person) and billionaire coal executive Joseph W. Craft III.

In exchange for such deep-pocketed, big-carbon support, Pruitt worked to systematically dismantle federal regulatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. He led the effort to pull the United States out of the Paris agreement, making the U.S. the only country out of 193 nations to declare its intention to withdraw from a modest global effort to curb the ever-growing world climate crisis.

Pruitt might as well have renamed the EPA the “Environmental Destruction Agency.” His career has been dedicated to two things: filling his own family bank account and bending energy policy toward the extraction and burning of every last hydrocarbon on Earth.

That is no small criminal record. The collapse of livable ecology planetwide by anthropogenic (really capitalogenic) climate change in the name of development and “jobs” is a transgression unparalleled in history. All bets are off on prospects for a decent future unless Homo sapiens wake up and act quickly to move off fossil fuels and on to renewable energy—a technically viable project. Curiously enough, the world’s leading intellectual, Noam Chomsky, has noted that “those [most urgently] trying to mitigate and overcome” [the climate crisis]” are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them; tribal societies; and first nations in Canada.”

To be sure, the environmental crisis is nothing new. Earth scientists have been warning us for many years about the imminent risk of environmental downfall, identifying the reckless extraction and burning of fossil fuels as the leading driver behind the approaching calamity. Under the commons-plundering command of capital, we are careening to the fatal mark of 500 carbon parts per million by 2067, if not sooner. That’s goodbye Greenland ice sheet and so long Antarctica (which recently lost an ice chunk so large that National Geographic had to reconfigure its world atlas), both critical life support systems.

The World Bank warns that millions of Latin Americans are endangered by the loss of their continent’s giant natural water towers for irrigation, drinking and hydropower as the Andean glaciers disappear. Among the most ominous recent developments, environmental writer Robert Hunzinker explains that:

Permafrost thrives on global warming, like bees to honey, as it releases massive quantities of methane. The Siberian region may be on the verge of collapse, which will heat up the planet by several degrees; agriculture couldn’t possibly survive. Russian scientists have identified 7,000 ‘pingos’—mounds of earth pushed upwards by melting permafrost and erupting methane gas, often imploding into huge craters (there may be as many as 100,000 pingos). … Alaskan permafrost is mimicking Siberia as global warming strikes hard, and a tipping point is being triggered. A two-year scientific expedition registered 220 million tons of carbon emissions spewing out of Alaska’s permafrost, equivalent to all U.S. commercial emissions per year.

Billionaire climate-denying and planet-cooking savages like Donald Trump, the Kochs and Harold Hamm and their servants like Scott Pruitt hardly invented our “ecological rift,” which is rooted in what John Bellamy Foster rightly calls “capitalism’s [longstanding] war on Earth.” With the U.S. in the oil-coal-and-gas-addicted, commons-plundering and poisoning lead, humanity has been steering madly toward the cliff of environmental self-extermination for decades. But with his determination to “deregulate energy”—to go full bore with the greenhouse gassing to death of life on Earth (a crime destined to the make the Nazis look like small-time criminals)—Trump represents what Chomsky has called “almost a death knell for the species.” The Trump presidency’s extreme commitment to fossil fuels is no small part of why the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock ahead by 30 seconds to two minutes to midnight.

A young mother with her baby in her arms confronted Pruitt at a Washington restaurant just days before his resignation. “Hi” she said, “I just wanted to urge you to resign because of what you’re doing to the environment and our country. This is my son. He loves animals. He loves clean air. He loves clean water. Meanwhile, you’re slashing strong fuel standards for cars and trucks, for the benefit of big corporations.”

Pruitt took his two bodyguards and left in shame before the mother and her child could return to their seats.

He got off easy. The loss of a government job and public humiliation is a small price to pay for playing a leading role in the eco-exterminist destruction of livable ecology.

People like Pruitt should feel lucky to be able to walk freely and breathe fresh air, or what’s left of it on a planet he’s been trying to destroy.

Four terrible things are darkly noteworthy about Pruitt’s forced resignation last week. First, it was absurdly belated. The fact that he lasted as long as he did atop the EPA makes one wonder just how far one of Trump’s favorite petro-plutocratic swamp creatures has to sink before he can lose his job in Washington. Pruitt’s departure came after months of seemingly endless controversy surrounding his personal corruption. The Pruitt scandal timeline includes the following:

● April 12, 2017: The Washington Post revealed Pruitt requested and received an around-the-clock security detail at huge cost to taxpayers (nearly $3.5 million during his first year in office).

● Sept. 26, 2017: The Post reported the EPA illegally built Pruitt a $25,000 (later revised to $43,000) soundproof phone booth.

● March 21, 2018: Politico reported Pruitt spent $105,000 on first-class flights.

● March 29, 2018: ABC News reported Pruitt had rented a Capitol Hill condo co-owned by the wife of an influential energy lobbyist during his first year in office. Bloomberg News later reported Pruitt paid just $50 for each night he stayed there.

● April 3, 2018: The Atlantic reported Pruitt gave large pay raises to two close aides after the White House rejected requests for the increases.

● May 1, 2018: The Post reported an influential energy industry lobbyist helped plan a trip to Morocco for Pruitt. It was later reported a Washington energy industry consultant sought to plan a Pruitt jaunt to Australia.

● June 4, 2018: Democratic congresspeople revealed a close Pruitt aide told House Oversight Committee staffers that Pruitt enlisted her help in personal tasks, including a search for housing, shopping for skin moisturizer, picking up dry cleaning and trying “to secure a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington.”

● June 5, 2018: The Post reported Pruitt used his position to seek a Chick-fil-A franchise job for his wife.

● June 24, 2018: Politico reported the U.S. Office of Special Counsel was examining charges Pruitt retaliated against EPA staffers who had questioned his management and spending decisions. Six staffers were either fired or reassigned within the agency.

● July 2, 2018: The New York Times reported a former senior aide at the EPA told lawmakers Pruitt had asked her to help his wife obtain a job as a fundraiser for the Republican Attorneys General Association. When the aide warned Pruitt he would have to report his wife’s income on financial disclosures, he told her he would establish a limited liability corporation to hide the “earnings.”

Throughout all this and almost to the very end, Trump defended his “great EPA chief” against criticism from the “Fake News” media. Trump praised Pruitt as a champion of working people who was helping “create jobs” by slashing supposedly dysfunctional and anti-growth environmental regulations. Never mind that (as environmentalists rightly point out) “there’s no jobs on a dead planet” and that (as the economist Robert Pollin has shown) alternative energy investments create more and better jobs than those ones connected to the extraction of fossil fuels.

Second, Pruitt has been forced out with remarkably little pressure from the Republican-led Congress. The hard-right, white-nationalist and eco-exterminist GOP is ready to tolerate almost any level of petroleum-drenched corruption in the Trump White House. This does not bode well for the future if, as seems distinctly possible (thanks in no small measure to the openly reactionary and authoritarian atrocity that is congressional gerrymandering), the Democrats are unable to regain control of the House and Senate during the upcoming midterm elections.

A third disturbing thing to reflect upon about Pruitt’s demise is that it was driven almost completely by his personal corruption, not the vastly more significant crime of ecocide—the ruination of livable ecology, with exterminist consequences that promise to make even the Nazis’ crimes pale by comparison.

One of the most alarming things about the Trump presidency so far is the chilling fact that the single most grave threat it poses, the acceleration of the climate crisis, has been a shockingly invisible non-story in the dominant Trump-obsessed U.S. news media. That media has been even more fixated than usual on the misbehavior of the current U.S. president, but it has refused to focus seriously on the most important danger Trump presents: the escalation of the march to environmental calamity.

As Chomsky told political scientist C.J. Polychroniou last April: “It is hard to find words to describe the fact that the most powerful country in world history is not only withdrawing from global efforts to address a truly existential threat but is also dedicating itself to accelerating the race to disaster, all to put more dollars in overstuffed pockets. No less astounding is the limited attention paid to the phenomenon.”

Global warming, the left philosopher John Sanbonmatsu once wrote me, is “the biggest issue of our or any time.” You wouldn’t know it from U.S. news reporting and commentary, even with the ascendancy of a president dedicated to increasing the dire peril.

Fourth, Pruitt’s replacement as EPA chief for at least the next few months is Scott Wheeler, a veteran coal lobbyist who is no less committed to climate denial and “energy deregulation” than Pruitt, Trump and the Koch brothers. Wheeler is likely to be a slicker and more effective agent of big carbon than his predecessor. As the New York Times reported:

Andrew Wheeler [is] a former coal lobbyist who shares Mr. Pruitt’s zeal to undo environmental regulations. … But unlike Mr. Pruitt—-who had come to Washington as an outsider and aspiring politician, only to get caught up in a swirl of controversy over his costly first-class travel and security spending—Mr. Wheeler is viewed as a consummate Washington insider who avoids the limelight and has spent years effectively navigating the rules. …. For that reason, Mr. Wheeler’s friends and critics alike say, he could ultimately prove to be more adept than his controversial former boss in the job.

… Mr. Wheeler[‘s] … career was built around quietly and incrementally advancing the interests of the fossil-fuel industry, chiefly by weakening or delaying federal regulations. … Mr. Wheeler has worked in Washington for more than 20 years. He is a former chief of staff to Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the conservative Republican who has become known as Washington’s most prominent denialist of the established science of human-caused climate change. … Mr. Wheeler also worked at the E.P.A. during the administration of the first President George Bush. More recently, he lobbied for the coal company Murray Energy, whose chief executive, Robert E. Murray, has been a supporter and adviser of Mr. Trump’s.

The exchange of Wheeler’s “steady hand” for Pruitt’s messy, moisturized ones is probably “trading up” as far as the chieftains of big oil, gas and coal are concerned. Wheeler will be a more valuable vehicle of environmental catastrophe. As journalist and historian Terry Thomas told me, “Pruitt was an egomaniacal criminal who couldn’t help flouting his power. The next guy will do his business of destroying the planet in a very matter-of-fact way. The planet will be that much more destroyed but with no distracting sideshow.”

This is yet another of many reminders that we need revolutions of policy and (more deeply) power structure, not merely changes of personnel (new faces in high places) if we are going to have any chance of sustaining prospects for a decent future.

For his part, Pruitt should thank his lucky stars. He still has his scalp, his family and no doubt a sizeable bank account, though nothing remotely on the wealth scale of the billionaire gas, oil and coal oligarchs he’s been serving all these years.

Read more

Scott Pruitt Got Off Easy: Ecocide Is No Small Matter

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

Scott Pruitt, the now-former, scandal-plagued Environmental Protection Agency chief in the Trump administration, got off easy.

The spoliation of the commons by those who pursue private profit and what Western economists call “development” in is no small matter.

Consider the case of the white “settler” William  Davis in northern Illinois in the spring of 1832. Two years earlier, Davis, a blacksmith from West Virginia, had moved his wife and six children to Big Indian Creek, 20 miles north of the town of Ottawa. Davis built a house, a blacksmith shop and sawmill six miles downstream from a large village of Potawatomi Indians.

The white newcomers considered the Potawatomi peaceful. Their chief, Shaubena, traveled by horse to warn the white “settlers” about potential attacks from the Sauks, who had been sparked by the old warrior Black Hawk to resist the white invasion of northern Illinois. This included the occupation of Sauk villages and otherwise proved most unsettling to the indigenous people who called the region home.

But Davis spoiled his relations with the local Potawatomi by building a dam to power his sawmill. The dam, it turned out, hampered the upstream migration of fish, on which the native population depended for food and fertilizer.

When the Potawatomi asked him to stop blocking their fish supply, Davis brusquely refused and turned them away. Then, in April 1832, Davis came upon a Potawatomi villager named Keewassee trying to destroy the much-reviled dam. “Davis caught him in the act,” writes historian Kelly Trask, “and gave him a severe thrashing with a hickory rod. Keewassee went away bruised and angry, but he was far from finished with Davis.”

On the unusually hot afternoon of May 21, 1832, more than 60 Potawatomis and three Sauks attacked the Davis homestead, where the Davis family was gathered with two other “settler” clans. The Indians killed 15 whites. “All were scalped. The men and women were chopped to pieces,” Trask notes, “After that, the war party burned down the house and all the outbuildings and wantonly slaughtered the livestock.”

Sparked by a white invader’s arrogant response to indigenous people asking him to cease and desist from spoiling the commons on which they relied for sustenance, the Indian Creek Massacre quickly became part of a white-nationalist narrative justifying the launching of the U.S. Black Hawk War. This one-sided slaughter by the U.S. military resulted in the white ethnic cleansing of northern Illinois and the rapid destruction of Illinois prairie.

Davis (who personally survived the massacre) was just one of many tens of thousands of white un-settlers who “contributed,” in the words of Harry Podschwit in the College of DuPage’s Essai, “to the destruction of the tallgrass grass prairies and other ecological features of Northern Illinois”—including remarkable biodiversity—well before the turn of the 20th century. As Podschwit observes:

Much of the damage to the Northern Illinois ecology was sustained during the period early settlement [the 1830s-1850s], as the rapid spread of urban centers and agriculture dominated the tallgrass prairie and also decimated the remaining woodlands of the region. Thus, to the dismay of many modern naturalists, much of the ecology of the Northern Illinois was disturbed before its nuances could be fully understood. … By 1900 the landscape of Northern Illinois had been abused and defeated, lamenting its fantastic, yet brief reign in North America.

Nearly two centuries after the Indian removal, much, if not most, of the region’s once-luxuriant prairie farmland is ruled by toxic corporate mega-farmers. They apply poisonous chemical fertilizers fence post to fence post to grow giant corn and soybean crops destined for the digestive tracts of industrially penned and slaughtered cows and pigs. The once richly fertile and black earth of the Illinois plains feeds a giant, methane-spewing animal agriculture industry that contributes massively to the destructive overheating of the planet.

Still, William Davis should have listened to the Potawatomis, who at first politely beseeched him to stop endangering their food supply through his selfish distortion of the commons.

White “settler” descendant Scott Pruitt’s crimes against the commons far surpass anything Davis ever did.

Pruitt is a fundamentalist Southern Baptist who thinks that evolution and global warming are scientific hoaxes and that “God” wants human beings to use natural gas and oil, not leave it in the ground. He first made a name for himself as a state attorney general bankrolled by big oil and gas who battled the EPA during the Obama years.

An enemy of environmental regulation from the oil and gas state of Oklahoma, Pruitt was backed for his job as EPA chief by leading right-wing petro-plutocrats, including the billionaire petro-oligarchs David and Charles Koch. Other top Pruitt boosters and allies included the oil and fracking tycoon Harold Hamm (the world’s 90th richest person) and billionaire coal executive Joseph W. Craft III.

In exchange for such deep-pocketed, big-carbon support, Pruitt worked to systematically dismantle federal regulatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. He led the effort to pull the United States out of the Paris agreement, making the U.S. the only country out of 193 nations to declare its intention to withdraw from a modest global effort to curb the ever-growing world climate crisis.

Pruitt might as well have renamed the EPA the “Environmental Destruction Agency.” His career has been dedicated to two things: filling his own family bank account and bending energy policy toward the extraction and burning of every last hydrocarbon on Earth.

That is no small criminal record. The collapse of livable ecology planetwide by anthropogenic (really capitalogenic) climate change in the name of development and “jobs” is a transgression unparalleled in history. All bets are off on prospects for a decent future unless Homo sapiens wake up and act quickly to move off fossil fuels and on to renewable energy—a technically viable project. Curiously enough, the world’s leading intellectual, Noam Chomsky, has noted that “those [most urgently] trying to mitigate and overcome” [the climate crisis]” are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them; tribal societies; and first nations in Canada.”

To be sure, the environmental crisis is nothing new. Earth scientists have been warning us for many years about the imminent risk of environmental downfall, identifying the reckless extraction and burning of fossil fuels as the leading driver behind the approaching calamity. Under the commons-plundering command of capital, we are careening to the fatal mark of 500 carbon parts per million by 2067, if not sooner. That’s goodbye Greenland ice sheet and so long Antarctica (which recently lost an ice chunk so large that National Geographic had to reconfigure its world atlas), both critical life support systems.

The World Bank warns that millions of Latin Americans are endangered by the loss of their continent’s giant natural water towers for irrigation, drinking and hydropower as the Andean glaciers disappear. Among the most ominous recent developments, environmental writer Robert Hunzinker explains that:

Permafrost thrives on global warming, like bees to honey, as it releases massive quantities of methane. The Siberian region may be on the verge of collapse, which will heat up the planet by several degrees; agriculture couldn’t possibly survive. Russian scientists have identified 7,000 ‘pingos’—mounds of earth pushed upwards by melting permafrost and erupting methane gas, often imploding into huge craters (there may be as many as 100,000 pingos). … Alaskan permafrost is mimicking Siberia as global warming strikes hard, and a tipping point is being triggered. A two-year scientific expedition registered 220 million tons of carbon emissions spewing out of Alaska’s permafrost, equivalent to all U.S. commercial emissions per year.

Billionaire climate-denying and planet-cooking savages like Donald Trump, the Kochs and Harold Hamm and their servants like Scott Pruitt hardly invented our “ecological rift,” which is rooted in what John Bellamy Foster rightly calls “capitalism’s [longstanding] war on Earth.” With the U.S. in the oil-coal-and-gas-addicted, commons-plundering and poisoning lead, humanity has been steering madly toward the cliff of environmental self-extermination for decades. But with his determination to “deregulate energy”—to go full bore with the greenhouse gassing to death of life on Earth (a crime destined to the make the Nazis look like small-time criminals)—Trump represents what Chomsky has called “almost a death knell for the species.” The Trump presidency’s extreme commitment to fossil fuels is no small part of why the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock ahead by 30 seconds to two minutes to midnight.

A young mother with her baby in her arms confronted Pruitt at a Washington restaurant just days before his resignation. “Hi” she said, “I just wanted to urge you to resign because of what you’re doing to the environment and our country. This is my son. He loves animals. He loves clean air. He loves clean water. Meanwhile, you’re slashing strong fuel standards for cars and trucks, for the benefit of big corporations.”

Pruitt took his two bodyguards and left in shame before the mother and her child could return to their seats.

He got off easy. The loss of a government job and public humiliation is a small price to pay for playing a leading role in the eco-exterminist destruction of livable ecology.

People like Pruitt should feel lucky to be able to walk freely and breathe fresh air, or what’s left of it on a planet he’s been trying to destroy.

Four terrible things are darkly noteworthy about Pruitt’s forced resignation last week. First, it was absurdly belated. The fact that he lasted as long as he did atop the EPA makes one wonder just how far one of Trump’s favorite petro-plutocratic swamp creatures has to sink before he can lose his job in Washington. Pruitt’s departure came after months of seemingly endless controversy surrounding his personal corruption. The Pruitt scandal timeline includes the following:

● April 12, 2017: The Washington Post revealed Pruitt requested and received an around-the-clock security detail at huge cost to taxpayers (nearly $3.5 million during his first year in office).

● Sept. 26, 2017: The Post reported the EPA illegally built Pruitt a $25,000 (later revised to $43,000) soundproof phone booth.

● March 21, 2018: Politico reported Pruitt spent $105,000 on first-class flights.

● March 29, 2018: ABC News reported Pruitt had rented a Capitol Hill condo co-owned by the wife of an influential energy lobbyist during his first year in office. Bloomberg News later reported Pruitt paid just $50 for each night he stayed there.

● April 3, 2018: The Atlantic reported Pruitt gave large pay raises to two close aides after the White House rejected requests for the increases.

● May 1, 2018: The Post reported an influential energy industry lobbyist helped plan a trip to Morocco for Pruitt. It was later reported a Washington energy industry consultant sought to plan a Pruitt jaunt to Australia.

● June 4, 2018: Democratic congresspeople revealed a close Pruitt aide told House Oversight Committee staffers that Pruitt enlisted her help in personal tasks, including a search for housing, shopping for skin moisturizer, picking up dry cleaning and trying “to secure a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington.”

● June 5, 2018: The Post reported Pruitt used his position to seek a Chick-fil-A franchise job for his wife.

● June 24, 2018: Politico reported the U.S. Office of Special Counsel was examining charges Pruitt retaliated against EPA staffers who had questioned his management and spending decisions. Six staffers were either fired or reassigned within the agency.

● July 2, 2018: The New York Times reported a former senior aide at the EPA told lawmakers Pruitt had asked her to help his wife obtain a job as a fundraiser for the Republican Attorneys General Association. When the aide warned Pruitt he would have to report his wife’s income on financial disclosures, he told her he would establish a limited liability corporation to hide the “earnings.”

Throughout all this and almost to the very end, Trump defended his “great EPA chief” against criticism from the “Fake News” media. Trump praised Pruitt as a champion of working people who was helping “create jobs” by slashing supposedly dysfunctional and anti-growth environmental regulations. Never mind that (as environmentalists rightly point out) “there’s no jobs on a dead planet” and that (as the economist Robert Pollin has shown) alternative energy investments create more and better jobs than those ones connected to the extraction of fossil fuels.

Second, Pruitt has been forced out with remarkably little pressure from the Republican-led Congress. The hard-right, white-nationalist and eco-exterminist GOP is ready to tolerate almost any level of petroleum-drenched corruption in the Trump White House. This does not bode well for the future if, as seems distinctly possible (thanks in no small measure to the openly reactionary and authoritarian atrocity that is congressional gerrymandering), the Democrats are unable to regain control of the House and Senate during the upcoming midterm elections.

A third disturbing thing to reflect upon about Pruitt’s demise is that it was driven almost completely by his personal corruption, not the vastly more significant crime of ecocide—the ruination of livable ecology, with exterminist consequences that promise to make even the Nazis’ crimes pale by comparison.

One of the most alarming things about the Trump presidency so far is the chilling fact that the single most grave threat it poses, the acceleration of the climate crisis, has been a shockingly invisible non-story in the dominant Trump-obsessed U.S. news media. That media has been even more fixated than usual on the misbehavior of the current U.S. president, but it has refused to focus seriously on the most important danger Trump presents: the escalation of the march to environmental calamity.

As Chomsky told political scientist C.J. Polychroniou last April: “It is hard to find words to describe the fact that the most powerful country in world history is not only withdrawing from global efforts to address a truly existential threat but is also dedicating itself to accelerating the race to disaster, all to put more dollars in overstuffed pockets. No less astounding is the limited attention paid to the phenomenon.”

Global warming, the left philosopher John Sanbonmatsu once wrote me, is “the biggest issue of our or any time.” You wouldn’t know it from U.S. news reporting and commentary, even with the ascendancy of a president dedicated to increasing the dire peril.

Fourth, Pruitt’s replacement as EPA chief for at least the next few months is Scott Wheeler, a veteran coal lobbyist who is no less committed to climate denial and “energy deregulation” than Pruitt, Trump and the Koch brothers. Wheeler is likely to be a slicker and more effective agent of big carbon than his predecessor. As the New York Times reported:

Andrew Wheeler [is] a former coal lobbyist who shares Mr. Pruitt’s zeal to undo environmental regulations. … But unlike Mr. Pruitt—-who had come to Washington as an outsider and aspiring politician, only to get caught up in a swirl of controversy over his costly first-class travel and security spending—Mr. Wheeler is viewed as a consummate Washington insider who avoids the limelight and has spent years effectively navigating the rules. …. For that reason, Mr. Wheeler’s friends and critics alike say, he could ultimately prove to be more adept than his controversial former boss in the job.

… Mr. Wheeler[‘s] … career was built around quietly and incrementally advancing the interests of the fossil-fuel industry, chiefly by weakening or delaying federal regulations. … Mr. Wheeler has worked in Washington for more than 20 years. He is a former chief of staff to Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the conservative Republican who has become known as Washington’s most prominent denialist of the established science of human-caused climate change. … Mr. Wheeler also worked at the E.P.A. during the administration of the first President George Bush. More recently, he lobbied for the coal company Murray Energy, whose chief executive, Robert E. Murray, has been a supporter and adviser of Mr. Trump’s.

The exchange of Wheeler’s “steady hand” for Pruitt’s messy, moisturized ones is probably “trading up” as far as the chieftains of big oil, gas and coal are concerned. Wheeler will be a more valuable vehicle of environmental catastrophe. As journalist and historian Terry Thomas told me, “Pruitt was an egomaniacal criminal who couldn’t help flouting his power. The next guy will do his business of destroying the planet in a very matter-of-fact way. The planet will be that much more destroyed but with no distracting sideshow.”

This is yet another of many reminders that we need revolutions of policy and (more deeply) power structure, not merely changes of personnel (new faces in high places) if we are going to have any chance of sustaining prospects for a decent future.

For his part, Pruitt should thank his lucky stars. He still has his scalp, his family and no doubt a sizeable bank account, though nothing remotely on the wealth scale of the billionaire gas, oil and coal oligarchs he’s been serving all these years.

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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

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

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

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

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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