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Overprivilege is Bankrupting America 2/2

Uncle Sam is looking a bit down at heel these days.

Good Clean Fun Becomes a Crime

In order to commence mass incarceration, first you have to criminalize some behavior patterns. Harry J. Anslinger, longtime director of America’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, took a giant step in that respect with his pioneering criminalization and persecution of marihuana in the early 1930s. A contemporary version of a similar phenomenon is the Patriot Act, which set civil liberties back centuries. Never have America’s proud citizens been so perfectly surveilled and bereft of essential civil liberties. What a serendipitous set of circumstances were conjoined on September 11, 2001, just when George W. Bush urgently needed an overseas war and a domestic crackdown on dissent, what a fortuitous coincidence.

What About the Better Class of People?

So much for the underprivileged; what about the overprivileged? Their maintenance incurs costs, too. Let’s look first at the most overprivileged sector of the entire US uber-capitalist zoo, the military-industrial-government complex. It starts with the incestuous relationships between government officials and the lobbyists for all the business behemoths: energy, big pharma, insurance, banking and financial services, the tech whiz kids and, of course, the arms business. The tools of the trade in these sectors are revolving doors, cost-plus contracts, scare propaganda, astronomically overpriced goods and services, a captive mass media and, perhaps the most egregious element, the utter impunity under which they operate.

The government writes its own laws, interprets them and enforces them. If Al Capone had worked under those conditions he would today dominate the bathtub gin market in the entire Milky Way Galaxy. Then there’s military spending. According to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections, if the plans described in the 2020 Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) were implemented, defense costs would increase from the $718 billion for 2020 to $776 billion (in 2020 dollars) by 2034, not that anyone–including the authors themselves–actually believes those modest figures.

The other sectors of big business aren’t too bad off, either. Their top executives are entitled to benefits unheard of in human history, approaching the Sultan of Brunei with his collection of 5,000 cars, including 600 Rolls-Royces. These benefits are the product of decades of rule under Republican ideology. (Yes, the Republicans continued to rule during the Obama years.) That impoverished ideology is straight out of the standard American right-wing (which would be the far right wing in any other place in the world) playbook: lower taxes, so-called “free-market” capitalism, severe immigration policies, virtually-unlimited military spending, insane gun rights, abortion restriction, deregulated business and strictly-regulated unions.

At this rate and with these rules of the game the United States will never again be able to lift its head as a world leader, nor will its citizens live decent lives. Its leadership is already being contested by honest competitors on all sides. It’s clear that the principal cause of American decline is the price Americans pay to maintain their advantaged classes. What to do with the rich? To do to them what they have done to the underprivileged might be considered too extreme. That is, to persecute them, to criminalize their country clubs and private jets, to surveil their extravagant habits and vices, to imprison them and, in extreme cases, shoot them down in the street with total impunity. The solution is much less dramatic that all that, and it’s perfectly obvious and do-able: tax them.

A Few Relevant Facts

Just a few scraps from a recent piece in TheBalance.com should suffice to illustrate how ex-President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) is affecting Americans:

  • The top individual tax rate dropped from 39.6% to 37%, and numerous itemized deductions were eliminated. (For comparison purposes, the top federal income tax rate in 1952 and 1953, was 92 percent.)
  • The TCJA also cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% effective in 2018. The corporate cuts are permanent. The individual changes expire at the end of 2025.
  • The Tax Foundation has indicated that those who earn more than 95% of the population will receive a 2.2% increase in after-tax income. Those in the 20% to 80% range would receive a 1.7% increase.
  • Rejoice if you have an important property portfolio. The TCJA doubled the estate tax exemption from $5.6 million in 2017 to $11.2 million in 2018.
  • The TCJA act will add $1 trillion to the debt over the 10 years it’s in effect.

That last item on the list poses an obligatory question: What would that $1,000,000.000000 have contributed to the wellbeing of Americans? How many schools and hospitals would it have built, how many bridges and highways? How much medical care would it have meant, and how many college educations? How much public housing, how many social programs? By extension, how many lives would have been uplifted? All of these lost benefits and much more are the cost of coddling the rich.

The cost of overprivilege to America is not only economic. It’s also costly in terms of credibility on the world stage. Comparisons are inevitable and the United States doesn’t fare well. No sane person in the real world can understand the justification of massive tax cuts for the rich in these times, nor in the prosecution of unending wars under false pretenses. The Iraqis and Afghans cry out to heaven for justice.

And this is not to mention the “defense” budgets cooked up in hell. Their principal purposes are two:

  • To enrich the American arms industry, its investors and running dogs.
  • To create myriad dangerous enemies for the US and divide the world into enemies and allies, thus assuring a thriving arms market.

The elimination of merely half of this obscene military spending and the application of that wealth to America’s real problems would relax tensions worldwide and further increment the Americans’ quality of life. Everybody wins at home and abroad except America’s army of war mongers. And they have won too much already.

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Overprivilege is Bankrupting America 1/2

It’s Not the Poor, It’s the Rich

We hear a lot about how the underprivileged are costing the American taxpayer too much. The poor and the handicapped, the aged, the homeless, the damaged veterans, the unemployed and the uninsured masses contribute nothing to the GDP and represent a considerable drain on the national treasure. The symptoms are evident: poverty, illiteracy, crime, drug abuse and trafficking, dystopian families, fatherless homes, prison populations soaring… A disproportionate number of these unfortunate citizens are from racial minorities, many of them with deprivation in their family trees, having grown up with their fathers and grandfathers in prison, raised by heroic mothers fighting a losing battle.

Richest Country or One of the Poorest?

The American way of dealing with the homeless as post-industrial refuse is symptomatic. Instead of help they get harassment, instead of understanding, scorn. The disingenuous question arises inevitably: “Why don’t those single mothers raising families in cars in Walmart parking lots get jobs?” Some of them manage to do just that but with a $7.25 minimum wage they will never lift their families out of that station wagon.

Why isn’t the richest country in the world among the leaders in questions of humanity? The answer is not as complicated as it might seem. The roots of the problem are sunk deeply into a misfit ideology so rancid that it passes for scripture and spawns injustice, inequality and grotesque national priorities. The system was skewed from the beginning, based as it was on Darwinian struggle, ruthless self interest and pie-in-the-sky religion. Over the past three or four decades things have only gotten worse, aggravated by the inequality generated by high-tech windfall wealth and increasingly right-wing, lower-taxes-remove-regulations governments. The Covid-19 pandemic was the frosting on the cake, baring all the deficiencies and their catastrophic results. How many billions more does Jeff Bezos need to be able to give his employees living wages and healthy working conditions at Amazon?

The Greatest Irony

The greatest irony is that, when the the country and its people are most in need of well-run, effective government programs and services, the country’s leaders busy themselves with classic DC schoolyard infighting. You only need to go over the past year of headlines to see the fruitlessness of it all. Those headlines also comprise a textbook on how not to manage America’s most serious domestic emergency in a century and, incidently, how to engineer gratuitously the deaths of more than half a million Americans. If we set aside the Democrats’ decades of bumbling, they can plead innocence, as the Republicans were holding the reins of power during the emergency. As for the Republicans, their almost unanimous rallying around a clearly-deficient president and his atypical collaborators places the responsibility squarely on their shoulders. We’re not sure if they are insane or merely incompetent, but it’s all the same.

Meanwhile, the emergency is far from over and most of ex-President Trump’s card-carrying Republican accomplices are still comfortably ensconced in the US Congress. Aren’t they aware that they are sitting on the wrong side of history? Nobody who can tie his or her shoes could be so stupid. Clearly their first priority has nothing to do with the wellbeing of the American people, who have never been so abandoned by their leaders. Could it be that those right-wing congressional leaders are concerned first and foremost with their own re-election? Is it possible that they’re neither that stupid nor that distracted, but merely cynical. Five-hundred-thousand American lives worth of cynicism?

They Write Their Own Ticket

It’s all too easy for members of the American government to tilt the playing field in their own favor. They are the ones who make the laws in the legislative branch, interpret them in the judicial and execute them in the executive. Add to that the revolving doors, gerrymandering and other election perversions, big-bucks lobbying, and the cascade of abuses legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and it’s no wonder the country is their oyster. Among the worst of their self-serving practices is the indecent collusion with the arms industry. Though they would have you believe otherwise, those permanent wars and that unnatural cozying up to Saudi Arabia are not due to bad people envying America’s freedom.

“Freedom,” for the I’m-all-right-Jack caste of Americans has more to do with free markets than free people. While underprivilege in other industrialized countries elicits compassionate responses in their governing classes, in the United States it generates disgust and disdain. Why doesn’t that old wino sleeping on the bench get a job? It might have to do with losing his resumé on a muddy hillside at Khe Sanh while your father was lying low at Princeton.

American Style Solutions

This is not to say that the American system doesn’t have solutions for the problems posed by homeless people camping out on the streets of otherwise pleasant neighborhoods. Police regularly upturn and carry off the tents of the street people and force them to “move on.” In some of the more progressive places the city council will buy them a ticket to get out of town. Where proper countries have social housing, the richest country in the world has police brutality and internal deportation handed out generously to its own citizens. These measures cost American cities some money, but not as much as they would have to spend to house the poor. The bottom line is that the privileged are envied and fawned upon, the underprivileged despised and jailed, considered too-expensive excess ballast in the hold of the ship of state.

The most common measure that Americans use for dealing with their “undesirables” is prison, in spite of the fact that it’s the costliest solution of all. Could it be plain racism, fringed with sadism? Are the American prison authorities enamoured of the punitive aspects of incarceration. Could white supremacy be a factor? Whatever the case, there they are building ever-more-sophisticated and costly lockups and honing the legal aspects. You can’t just throw people in jail willy nilly, at least in the numbers the Americans think they require.

See Part 2 next Monday, March 22, 2021
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The Butterfly and the Bastard

Dr. Edward Norton Lorenz, father of the Chaos Theory, the Butterfly Effect and tonight’s weather report.

Perhaps the Most Important Scientist Since Sir Isaac Newton

Edward Norton Lorenz was a chess player and mathematician with an avid curiosity and the intelligence and perseverance to put it to work. It is largely thanks to Dr. Lorenz that today’s weather forecasts are expressed in probability percentages, or numerical weather prediction. But that’s not all. After an impeccable intellectual formation, passing through Dartmouth and Harvard, he earned master’s and doctoral degrees in meteorolgy at MIT, where he was to spend his entire career as a research scientist.

Lorenz’s weather studies led him by a fascinating mathematical route to Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect, the gist of which is that minute changes in conditions of a process can randomly produce massive variations in the outcome. The best-known expression of this phenomenon is a short story by science-fiction writer, Ray Bradbury. In Bradbury’s story, “A Sound of Thunder,” a time traveler visiting the Late Cretaceous Period steps on a butterfly. When he returns to his own time he discovers that major historical shifts have resulted from that seemingly insignificant incident. The irony in this case is that Bradbury’s story was published in 1952, 11 years before Lorenz announced his Chaos Theory discovery in a scientific paper in 1963.

Did You Ever Ask Yourself Why the US Has the Largest Prison Population in the World?

America is a country largely dedicated to conspicuous consumption. But to consume you need money. And you do what you have to do to get it. Unable to make big money quickly in hedge fund operations, the American underclasses resort to drug peddling and petty–or not so petty–crime. From there it’s a short hop to jail. This superhighway to the penal system wasn’t always that way. There was a point in the country’s history when they had to choose whether to treat illegal drug usage as a health problem or a matter for the criminal courts. They opted for the hard line and planted the seeds of dramatic changes in American society that have borne strange fruit.

If a Butterfly Can Change History, What Can a Hard-Core Misanthrope Achieve?

Harry J. Anslinger, director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (1930-1962)

This random historical decision fell to a particularly brutal, self-serving Washington bureaucrat, Harry J. Anslinger, who was appointed by President Herbert Hoover in 1930 to run the new Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He was to hold that post for 32 years, during the presidencies of Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. He spent the last two years of his career as U.S. Representative to the United Nations Narcotics Commission, where he exported his retrograde racist doctrine around the world.

Anslinger is a prime example of how a single misanthrope can place his stamp on future generations. His anti-marihuana campaign was created in large part in order to criminalize musicians and people of color as well as to expand his own diminishing authority after the end of Prohibition. Whatever the motivation, that decision criminalized an innocuous substance and ruined countless lives.

If the United States today boasts the largest prison population in the world it’s thanks to Anslinger, who began his career in law enforcement as a humble railway cop. His legacy as a ruthless racist addicted to power, lives on today in the justice and penal systems. It was Harry J. Anslinger who advocated mandatory sentences for drug offenders and handcuffed Billy Holiday to her deathbed. There is no doubt that it cost the system a fortune over the years to build the world’s largest prison complex and maintain all those newly-coined felons, but it had to be done in order to keep Anslinger’s star on the rise. He is also on record for uttering these illuminating thoughts:

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.” “You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.” And “There are 100,000 total marihuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marihuana use. This marihuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

CBS News

The Enemy is Music

In a revealing article on Timeline.com entitled How a racist hate-monger masterminded America’s War on Drugs, Laura Smith writes that, shortly after Billy Holiday’s death in 1939:

Anslinger went after musicians again by trying to block the union membership of those with drug convictions. The lives of jazzmen, he said, “reek of filth.” “Arrests involving a certain type of musician in marihuana cases are on the increase,” he wrote in a draft letter to the president of the American Federation of Musicians. In a hearing with the Ways and Means Committee, Anslinger repeated this refrain: “I am not talking about the good musicians, but the Jazz type.”

Timeline.com

Over the years, Anslinger became recognized as the country’s preeminent authority on drugs and had a hand in all of the country’s repressive drug legislation. Though he was retired from his position by President Kennedy in 1962, his retrograde racist policies were passed on to successive administrations. In 1971, President Richard Nixon picked up the ball, declaring his own “war on drugs.” His aide and Watergate co-conspirator John Ehrlichman later revealed that war’s motivations in Harpers:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people … We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.

The Butterfly Strikes Back

According to the National Institute of Corrections, of the 9.25 million people currently held in detention the world over, 50 percent are in the United States. Counting only the adult population, about one in 90 people are behind bars, a large proportion of them for drug offenses, many of them unjustly.

But times are changing. Here’s a map of current cannabis legalization progress in the US:

Marijuana Moment.net, affirms that eight more states are considering legalizing marihuana en 2021. US Senator Chuck Schumer (Dem. NY) says Federal Marihuana Legalization Is A Priority In Democrats’ ‘Big, Bold Agenda:’ “It’s past time to work to undo the harm done by misplaced priorities… It’s time to decriminalize marihuana nationally.”

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American Religion Went Hog Wild

We have made ourselves the New Jerusalem, the shining light on the hill, the hope for humanity, incapable of doing evil, our thoughtless cruelties irrelevant, our selfish immaturities unnoticed, our war dead cleansed of sin and escorted into the presence of the Almighty, our history written in whitewash, our God dressed in red, white and blue.

DA Fletcher, 2007

Haven’t Americans Noticed?

Haven’t Americans noticed that a revamped fundamentalist Christianity has run amok in their country, occupying parcels of power that have traditionally been vetoed to sectarian religion? Political America, with its underlying ideology and institutions, was conceived by the founders to be rigorously separate from religion. Their concept of religious freedom, expressed in the very first amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteed freedom for all religions, except for the freedom to govern. Both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison felt that state support for any religion was improper. They argued that compelling citizens to support through taxation a faith they did not follow violated their natural right to religious liberty.

Just as Jefferson and Madison, the principal authors of the Declaration of Inedpendence and the US Constitution, respectively, considered religion a personal matter, not one to be imposed upon the citizenry as a whole. Religion has no legitimate role in the executive nor the legislative, nor the judicial branches of government. Adding religious components to American democracy runs the risk of converting the country into an Iranian-style theocracy. In fact, the first steps in that direction have already been taken, both with President Obama’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership and President Trump’s White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative.

You Have to See It to Believe It

The most extravagant writer of fiction could not have invented the grotesque metamorphosis that Americans have imposed on their religion. Not all of them, mind you, but enough of them to assure that the humble, humane Christian gospel will never be the same again in America. And the intrusion of this hyped-up-and-dumbed-down religious movement is having an equally damaging effect on the American government and the country as a whole. This intrusion of semi-literate televangelists into the government at its highest levels may or may not be in accordance with the Constitution, but it certainly merits some serious debate, and that debate isn’t happening.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the Americans have metamorphosed Christianity, to their own use, but the direction and extent of that Americanization is alarming. One of the immediate results should preoccupy Christian congregations. The behavior of a large segment of American Christians reflects the same dangerous characteristics they love to blame on fanatical versions of other religions around the world: integrist fundamentalism, homicidal bellicosity and God-is-on-our-side militancy, among other perversions. Meanwhile, traditional Christians from abroad look at the sideshow cavortings of their American co-religionaries and can’t believe what they see.

Dwight Eisenhower and Billy Graham Got Their Heads Together

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s relationship with evangelist, Billy Graham, who went on to become “spirtual counsel” to a dozen presidents, probably should have been questioned on day one. But it was the 1950s, a decade of extraordinary religious revival, and both Eisenhower and Graham played important roles in encouraging this movement. Eisenhower was a war hero and popular president and his partnership with Graham set the stage for decades of mutually beneficial collaboration between politicians and religious leaders.

This cozy relationship that has prospered over the years represents one of history’s most successful symbiotic unions between religious influence peddling and political opportunism. It was the influence of the American Evangelical Christians that inspired President Trump to authorize the transfer of the Israeli capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ostensibly in order to fulfill the biblical prophesies regarding the end times. The born-again folks are convinced that such maneuvers will help rapture them into heaven sooner. That’s not a wholly illegitimate aspiration, unless one of them happens to be responsible for American foreign policy. P.S. What empowers an American president to “authorize” the displacement of the capital of a sovereign country from one place within that country to another?

US sui generis Christians took Jesus Christ and pressed him into the American mold. They hyped him up, turning a simple shepherd of souls into an arch ally of semi-literate televangelists preaching the “prosperity gospel” to a gullible–and massive–American congregation. “Prosperity gospel”=”Send me money and I’ll tell God to make you rich.” They know the formula works, at least for them. Most of them live in millionaire’s mansions and fly around in private jets. Some of them have already graduated to a second, bigger one.

There Have Been Some Changes Made

The American remake of traditional Christianity made it more imminent: “The end times are upon us…” American religions hucksters resolve the problem of “closing the deal” quite elegantly: “The end of the world is coming.” The American remake is more ubiquitous: It takes advantage of the mass media to be constantly in America’s face. It’s clearly more profitable. And it’s more accessible. Anybody can play, especially if they’ve got money.

This variety of American Christianity reached the turning point when southern politicians discovered the polling power of hillbilly Christianity of the Southern Baptist Convention persuasion (with 47,530 [2019 data] congregations in its fold). It was a partnership made in heaven. Both enterprises benefitted. Fundamentalist Evangelical and Pentecostal religion (the difference between the two, in layman’s terms, seems to be that the latter are blessed with the ability to speak in tongues) started moving into north and western parts of the country and southern politicians began to acquire new-found power in the US Congress. Trump’s election was the cherry on top.

A New Element in the Mix–The Bug’s Ear

After simmering on a slow burner for a few decades this curious stew gave America, among other marvels, Paula White, another big-house, hot-jet televangelist and President Donald Trump’s personal spiritual advisor. White is undeniably coarse and intellectually limited but she connects with millions of like-minded American Christians–and voters–and brings a new quality to high-flying, low-brow American religious discourse: sex appeal. She’s as cute as a bug’s ear. This novelty further increments her gross.

DA Fletcher is gravely concerned about this kind of shenanigans in what he and many others feel should to be serious and solemn territory. He writes in his 2007 book, One Nation Over God, The Americanization of Christianity, this white-hot denunciation of the American way of religion:

Throughout American history, from the earliest moments until the present, American Christians have been more American than they have been Christian… Not only have the basic tenets of the Christian faith been compromised and violated, in the interest of protecting our right to practice our faith along with our basic American freedoms, we have been guilty of denying the rights and freedoms of any who is seen to oppose. The conceit that being American warps being Christian is at the center of American Exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny, the Revolutionary War, the Indian wars, the endless debate over immigration, racism and slavery, poverty and homelessness, consumerism and materialism, and ultimately the way Christianity gets defined and lived out.

DA Fletcher, One Nation Over God, The Americanization of Christianity
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Who Will Sanction the United States?

How would history have changed if it had occurred to President Kennedy to send a couple of boatloads of powdered milk and process cheese to Cuba in their time of need?

War by Other Means

According to the Council on Foreign Relations website (cfr.org) “economic sanctions” are the withdrawal of customary trade and financial relations for foreign- and security-policy purposes.” Sanctions may prohibit commercial activity with an entire country, like the U.S. embargo of Cuba, or they may be targeted, blocking transactions by and with particular businesses, groups, or individuals. They include travel bans, asset freezes, arms embargoes, capital restraints, foreign aid reductions, and trade restrictions. Economic sanctions are not necessarily imposed because of economic circumstances—they may also be imposed for a variety of political, military, and social issues. They can also be overused:

Economic sanctions are increasingly being used to promote the full range of American foreign policy objectives. Yet all too often sanctions turn out to be little more than expressions of U.S. preferences that hurt American economic interests without changing the target’s behavior for the better. As a rule, sanctions need to be less unilateral and more focused on the problem at hand. Congress and the executive branch need to institute far more rigorous oversight of sanctions, both prior to adopting them and regularly thereafter, to ensure that the expected benefits outweigh likely costs and that sanctions accomplish more than alternative foreign policy tools.

Brookings.edu

President Donald Trump Found Sanctions Handy

American use of punitive sanctions against other countries was relatively unusual until Trump ratcheted up their frequency. The Trump administration imposed sanctions at a record-shattering pace of about three times a day during the president’s time in office, a total of  more than 3,900 distinct sanctions actions, according to data collected by Los Angeles international law firm, Gibson Dunn. These measures targeted companies, individuals and even oil tankers tied to Iran, North Korea, China, Venezuela and Russia. The beauty of sanctions from the Trump government’s point of view was that they were easy to implement. All that was required for the president to set in motion their damaging–sometimes lethal–proceedings was to proclaim them. Many of these sanctions actions amount to war by other means, entailing the same damage to the society, the same victims, the same disorder, and the same suffering. Just less paperwork.

The legality of sanctions as means of enforcement traditionally provided incentives for obedience with the law. A judge may sanction a party during a legal proceeding, thus imposing penalties. The key concepts here are “the law,” “a judge” and “legal proceeding,” factors conspicuously lacking in many of Trump’s sanctions, which often seem more like simple gratuitous harrassment. The new President Biden has hinted that he will review the Trump sanctions, but it remains to be seen what that review will amount to.

What’s with America’s Iran Mania?

The countries that have suffered most in recent years from American sanctions are Iran, Venezuela and Cuba. As for Iran, why do successive American governments harbor so much rancour vis a vis Iran when, in reality, the shoe should be on the other foot. And for cogent reasons:

  1. In 1953 the US orchestrated a gratuitous regime-change operation of a popular, democratically-elected Iranian government.
  2. Then they ushered in a 25-year-long dictatorial regime under the Shah, whose SAVAK secret police, created with the help of the CIA, were legendary for their creative interrogation, torture and execution techniques. This regime ruled from 1957 until it was disolved by the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
  3. Still not satisfied, the CIA enouraged Iraq’s dictator, Sadam Hussein, and his army of Sunni Muslim troops to start a war with Iran. The Americans supported them with materiel, targetting information, in-air refueling and other intelligence work for the duration of that war which ended in a UN-brokered stalemate in 1988.
  4. That war had a fascinating aftermath, one which cast a shadow of doubt on American strategy. When they handed the government of Iraq to the Iraqi Shiite Muslims they seemingly forgot that Iran was also a Shiite country . The Iraqi leaders and their Iranian brothers in the faith took less than the blink of an eye to make common cause against the Americans, who are still in the process of backing out of Iraq–where they wrought so much destruction and human tragedy. There is a lesson in this tragic series of events: You probably shouldn’t go into the business of hearts and minds if you’re heartless and mindless
  5. The frosting on this strange cake didn’t appear until January, 2020, with the Trump-ordered drone assassination of Iran’s preeminent old soldier, Qasem Soleimani, while enroute to a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Other forms of American sanctions, while damaging and reprehensible, can be responded to through diplomatic or legal channels. But the murder of Soleimani while on a diplomatic mission amounts to an authentic casus belli. The equivalent in the United States would be to assassinate General Colin Powell and his collaborators while they are being driven to work.

Very Unstable, Very Erratic

It’s common knowledge that Donald Trump has an unstable, erratic character and that he was advised at the time of Soleimani’s assassination by some of America’s most bloodthirsty neo-con strategtists. After the 2020 election citizens of good faith around the world were looking forward to a fresh approach from the White House, occupied by a person who would have the courage and magnanimity to reset US/Iranian relations on a less bellicose basis. keeping in mind actions like the US sequestering of an Iranian petroleum tanker en route to Venezuela and selling its cargo. What was that about? To an impartial observer it makes no sense, enjoys no legtitimacy. In no way can it be considered diplomacy. It was just baseless Trumpish bullying and this distinction is not lost on the world.

At last a new “normal” president was elected and began to make long-overdue corrections. But President Biden’s decisions on Iran were anything but correct. Instead of a rapid rectification of the American naval blockade of Venezuela (another act of war), and an apology for the killing of Soleimani, as well as a mutual reconsideration of the Iran nuclear agreement that Trump had senselessly breached, America’s new president lurches forward with the same old unreasonable demands and crass threats. Considering the context of American abuses and boutades, not only was that dubious diplomacy; but bad manners. Has the new American president been Zooming too much with Prime Minister Netanyahu?

From Iran to Cuba Is a Short Hop

The case of Iran is reminiscent of that of Cuba. After Fidel Castro’s ragtag revolutionary forces deposed American-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista, in 1959, President John F. Kennedy and his pack of best and brightest foreign-policy advisors (the ones who brought you Vietnam) took particular pleasure in turning their backs on the Cuban people during the times of scarcity that followed Batista’s downfall. They also launched the clumsy and unsuccessful CIA-organized Bay of Pigs invasion by counter-revolutionary Cubans based in 1961. The humiliation that accompanied that resounding failure reverberated for decades. Miami still has a Bay of Pigs Memorial in Little Havana.

Fidel Castro, meanwhile, turned to the Russians to sell Cuba’s sugar, and before long they were partners. How would history have changed if it had occurred to President Kennedy to send a couple of boatloads of powdered milk and process cheese to Cuba in their time of need? But no, the Kennedy brothers, John and Bobby, not only doubled down on their Cuban sanctions, but initiated a decades-long CIA campaign (dubbed The Cuban Project or Operation Mongoose) to try to assassinate El Comandante. Castro died in his bed in 2016 at the age of 90.

Today the Cuban people remain victims of the American punitive embargo, the longest in modern history. For everything they have endured during 60 years of iron-clad resistance to American punishment the Cuban people have earned the civilized world’s admiration. Under the circumstances Cuba’s achievements have been monumental. The impoverished little Caribbean country today has a 100% literacy rate and one of the finest public health systems in the world. Their medical scientists have just announced their own Covid 19 vaccine. Will 11 million Cubans ever be liberated from the curse that befell them essentially because the Kennedys got miffed in 1961?

Venezuela’s experience of American sanctions has been and remains particularly heinous, based on petroleum lust and knee-jerk anti-socialism. It’s summed up nicely on this Timeline of of Half a Decade of US Economic War Against Venezuela published by Telesur English on 22 May 2019.

Keeping the US Safe from Socialism

American schoolchildren are taught that one of the gravest dangers their country faces is socialism, particularly in its most virulent variety, communism. These collectivist ideologies are not only dangerous for their subversive content but also for their tendency to spread from one country to another, domino fashion. Most of America’s wars over the past century have been to contain communism, with the exception of the Second World War in which the Soviet Union was America’s most valuable ally. Nevertheless, America’s implacable wars against communism have taken a terrible toll in lives and property both among foreign citizens categorized as socialists, and American patriots themselves.

Young Americans are also taught that there are two key institutions that maintain a constant vigil against communist and socialist encroachment, thus keeping America safe. These are the US Congress and Armed Forces, which are on constant alert worldwide to detect, engage and defeat socialist regimes wherever they arise, or even threaten to arise. Their concerns extend to the home front, where communist and socialist sympathizers are surveilled and controlled by ever-vigilant authorities, the FBI in particular. They are aware that socialism is insidious and can take root anywhere.

That’s why the US Congress and the military maintain a constant anti-socialist and anti-communist awareness. They are trained to identify and eliminate leftist trends in American society. That said, some cynics have pointed out that these conscientious controllers have overlooked two semi-clandestine socialist groups in their own country. Ironically, these are precisely the US Congress and the Armed Services, the only collectives in America who enjoy socialist-style health services. Fortunately, this minor anomaly doesn’t prevent them from crushing socialism in other people’s countries.

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Trumpism Is Just Republicanism with a Shot of Poisonous Kool-Aid

Kool_Aid_map

First Things First

President Donald J. Trump may have been impeached twice and defeated at the polls after his first term, but that doesn’t mean that Trumpism is over. Far from it. Look no further than January 6, 2021, a day that shall live in Trumpish infamy. The outgoing president wanted to make history and he did, but not in a nice way. Add to this the rest of his legacy: the demolishing of essential federal agencies, the children imprisoned in cages without their parents, the rape of the land, the insanely expensive and illegally financed border wall, and all the rest. Nor should we forget the fact that the 45th President of the United States of America is only marginally literate. But he’s gone now, you say. Yes, he’s practically gone, but that is now a moot point. He has lit the fire in the forest and America the beautiful will never be the same again.

That fire didn’t take long to become a conflagration of white supremacism, neo-nazism, lynchmob values, unjust justice, and dangerous levels of hyper-patriotism. The Trumpists gamed the system to maintain lifetime power, securing three Supreme Court justices, hundreds of federal judgeships and massive tax cuts for the rich. Exceptionalism and lowbrow sacralization became common currency in American government. Trump’s personal pandering to extravagant, born-again rapture sects has converted them into a formidable electoral bloc.

His use of this religious phenomenon to advance his personal agenda is a historically ugly example of political opportunism, cynicism and hypocrisy. All of this reflects ill on the already tarnished image of the United States worldwide. Serious leaders of important countrys around the world–both allies and adversaries– don’t know whether to laugh or cry. This perception of the United States as a laughing stock, a dangerously unstable enemy and a less-than-reliable partner did not go away altogether when a new, “normal,” president was elected.

Trump’s Malfeasance Presidency

The United States government has had mediocre presidents before, misguided legislatures, fanatical figures, and serious spates of corruption. Not many of those anomalies, however, went far beyond passing aberrations. But never has an American regime been so self-consciously aware as that of Donald Trump that its mission was to demolish government and all its agencies, to shatter the very foundations of the country’s normality in order to transfer political power to business interests. These captains of industry have already bought up much of the government piece by piece through lobbyists and the financing of legislators. This corporate money is easy to turn into votes, and those votes into re-election, something that no congressperson can resist. So the United States Congress is severely compromised.

This deference to big business has long been the objective of the American right. President Calvin Coolidge set the benchmark in an address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, D.C. on January 17, 1925: “The business of Americans is business.” Though the library of Congress dresses it up as: “After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world.

Almost three decades later, in 1953, General Motors president, Charles E. Wilson, followed up with “What’s good for General Motors is good for America, and vice versa.” Again, the Library of Congress offers a more cosmetic version. In the context of a Senate confirmation hearing in which Wilson’s appointment as Secretary of Defense was being considered, Republican Senator Robert C. Hendrickson of New Jersey asked Wilson if he thought he would be capable of taking a decision that would be beneficial to the interests of the United States government, if detrimental to those of General Motors. Wilson replied:

Yes, sir; I could. I cannot conceive of one because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa. The difference did not exist. Our company is too big. It goes with the welfare of the country. Our contribution to the Nation is quite considerable.

Bog-Standard Republican Values

The values of Trump’s America were and largely remain standard Republican conservatism characterized by support for lower taxes, free-market capitalism, a strong national defense, gun rights, deregulation, capital punishment, restrictions on labor unions, and thinly-disguised racism. They oppose abortion and feel comfortable in bed with televangelists speaking in tongues. Today’s republicans don’t talk much about education, environmental protection, social services, equality in all of its aspects, nor good faith in international dealings. Did they forget these concepts? No, they simply omit them as irrelevant.

America’s “strong national defense” sounds dandy in theory but, when the gloves are off, can be clearly seen as simple bare-knuckled militarism and good-for-business imperialism. If it weren’t for their blind trust in the dubious ethos of America first, permanent war and snatch-and-grab economics, they might be able to get away with their bulwark-of-democracy pretensions. But that America-first bias, coupled with the astuteness and cynicism of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), seldom fails when it comes to bribing and threatening the greed-driven governing minorities of resource-rich countries into ceding their natural resources to Uncle Sam.

If diplomacy should stumble the CIA has its own specialist army, the Special Activities Division, a covert paramilitary operations unit founded in 1995 and rebaptized “Special Activities Center” in 2016. It is made up of a selection of crack troops from across the American special forces galaxy. They are not only particularly persuasive but also totally unaccountable, a hermetic cylinder of plausible denial. When politicians affirm that all American troops area being withdrawn from a given country which they haven’t been able to defeat in combat, these are the dudes who stay behind. Being covert and unaccountable they’re ideal for that role.

Here’s a link to a quick overall view of SAD from the Operation Military Kids website. This is essentially a recruiting site for military offspring but it covers the basics in language you can use in Sunday school.

You must never forget, darling, that the World Bank is a bank.

World Bank mandarin to his daughter

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are renowned for cleverly tipping the natural resources of underdeveloped countries into the American funnel. Their maneuverings provide the underpinnings for maintaining US economic dominance, as well as indirectly helping to fuel Chinese expansion around the world. The World Bank is an American bank with headquarters at 1818 H Street, N.W. Washington, DC. Its pretext of giving while taking has a lot in common with another charitable American Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

One Overriding Question Remains

Trumpism has set the benchmark for greed, mendacity, onanistic narcissism, nepotism, and the worship of the rich. In order for the United States to return to the real world someone has to reverse all those pernicious values. America has a new president. Joe Biden is a product of the normal Democratic party infrastructure. He doesn’t seem to be insane or severely mentally and morally handicapped. His appointments thus far indicate that he wants to be all things to all people. Good luck to him. The concern of Americans–and the rest of the world–is: Will President Biden be capable of burying the perverse values of Donald Trump and his Trumpish hordes and bringing the United States back to normal? Not necessarily great; we’ll settle for just normal.

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America–The Bad Guys Won

What is the most lucrative business of all? War, of course, the only industry in which the products are systematically blown up creating, ipso fact, more demand.

Anyone Who Tells You Otherwise Is a Snake Oil Salesman

America has been from the very beginning a country of marks, swindled by sidewinders and claim jumpers. What were the Puritan priests of the Plymouth Colony if not a caste of sanctimonious, mind-stifling con men whose divinely-inspired, witch-burning mentality has perdured down to our own times? They were–and remain–America’s Spanish Inquisition and their strangle hold on a vast swath of the country’s population remains intact and is not about to be thwarted in our lifetime.

What Happened Then?

Flash forward 400 years. Sure, the country is bigger and has more labor-saving devices but a priestly caste remains in the business of cultivating voodoo and inequality. Now it has new practitioners, the asset managers, a powerful branch of the accounting sect, which rose to prominence in the mid-20th century. The asset managers are just another iteration of America’s time-honored inequality creators, this time on a galactic scale. They are the other pandemic of the industrial age. Every time a well-meaning American government thinks it has defeated these economic imbalances, whether it be with the enactment of the Wagner Act or the Glass Stegall Act, the epidemic morphs into another guise and marches boldly on. Ironically it’s this uber-capitalistic virus that always discovers more creative ways to protect itself from democratic control, whether it’s lobbyists pushing trade liberalization, a Citizens United Supreme Court decision, the rest of the country’s high courts stuffed with Neanderthal judges appointed for life or legislators bought, sold and rented under the table.

What happened in the period between New England theocracy and the New York-Washington-West Coast influence corridor? How could four centuries of struggle leave Americans in the same unfortunate situation in which they found themselves shortly after landing at Plymouth Rock? The answer to this question is the key to America’s past–and future. At no time or place in history has there existed such a population of hapless suckers at the disposal of an elite of clever bad guys–ruthless, self-serving, power-grabbing, manipulating flimflammers and bamboozlers. Does that too-long list of adjectives sound like an inventory of requirements for candidates to the United States Congress?

Did any member of that august body ever come out poorer than when they went in? If their first priority was ever that of managing the country to the benefit of its citizens, that anomaly didn’t last long. It was soon usurped by the compelling necessity to be re-elected. From that flip of priorities sprang a whole Pandora’s Box of governmental ills, from gerrymandering and voter suppression to today’s big-league game of crony capitalistic footsy between corporate movers and shakers and elected Washington officials. And let’s not delve into what happens when a psychopath is elected President.

Scamming in the Free World

The country took a great leap backward when its politicians started hobnobbing with its con men. After a couple of centuries of pseudo-democratic maneuvering by America’s ruling classes–legislators-on-the-make, the clans of the railroad and oil barons, farmaceutical magnates, insurance scammers, armament killers, big-data bandits, private-airliner preachers, internet bright boys and the rest of the whole granfalloon–they now have the playing field pretty well groomed to their liking. Not only that, they dictate the rules of the game. This falls to Congress members, who write ever-more misdirected laws, or even better, have those laws written for them by lobbying agencies. There are more lobbyists than legislators in Washington. Indirectly, of course, they’re written by rich corporate sponsors who subsidize worthy congress members. How many of American members of Congress consider themselves worthy of re-election? That number approaches 100%. By the time all these “special interest” thugs take their share of the pork there’s not much left in the barrel for incidental details like schools and public health.

Unlike presidents, members of congress are subject to no term limits. They can be re-elected to unlimited six-year terms of office and the permutations of this rule can yield bizarre results. With more than 59 years in the House of Representatives, John Dingell, Jr., of Michigan, who finally died in 2019 at the age of 92, holds the record for longest consecutive service. Dingell, Jr. is a special case. Not only was he a nearly-six-decade incumbent, but he was elected in a special election to take his deceased father, John Dingell, Sr.’s place in the House. Dingell, Sr. had occupied that office for 22 years before his son took over. The saga continues. Dingell’s wife, Debbie, ran for her husband’s seat and won it in 2014, becoming the first U.S. non-widowed woman in Congress to succeed her husband. The dynasty might not be over yet. Dingell, Jr. is survived by three of his four children from his first marriage, all of them well prepared to take a seat in the House of Representatives. Some observers think that this extravagant quasi royal line might have been obviated with a simple two-term limit to House membership.

The American Way of Life: Greed, Hypocrisy and Lynch Mob Values

America has always been a rich breeding ground for extravagant entrepreneurism, a fabulously well-endowed place to cultivate greed in all its grotesque guises. What is the most lucrative business of all? War, of course, the only industry in which the products are systematically blown up creating, ipso fact, more demand. America has developed the biggest and most-profitable form of war of all: perpetual war. In the 76 years since the end of World War II, the war that permitted America to put the pieces in place to dominate the world, the country has been been at war during all but just under 20 years.

Arthur Charpentier writes in freakonometrics.hypotheses.org/

“America Has Been At War 93% of the Time – 222 out of 239 years since 1776. The U.S. has only been at peace for less than 20 years total since its birth.  Since 1945, the United States has very rarely achieved meaningful victory. The United States has fought five major wars — Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan — and only the Gulf War in 1991 can really be classified as a clear success.”

Freakonometrics

Charpentier is perhaps being a bit naive in his analysis. In order to acertain the “success” of America’s wars one must define success. If by success we mean “victory over an enemy on the battlefield,” then he’s correct. But if we measure success by the profits generated for America’s massive arms manufacturers, the Americas victories in all these wars have been overwhelming. And this is the yardstick employed by the American oligarchy. The military victories, strictly speaking, and the loss of lives are largely irrelevant.

Like any other vigorous American growth enterprise, the war business lends itself to diversification. They have wars both cold and hot. When the activities of pulverizing other people’s countries slow down, they have other outlets for their belicose trade. There’s the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the War on Literacy, the War on Domestic Liberalism, the War on the Environment… There’s even the War on Poverty but that one has the lowest priority.  

Is There a Cure?

There is a cure for America’s maladies and it’s close at hand, but nobody has any time for it. Americans are so distracted by ever-more-ingenious geegaws that they are coasting bovinely through the gates of hell. Just out of curiosity, what is that cure? Is it still available? It is and it’s so obvious you shouldn’t have to ask. Books are America’s last hope. The last promising author, perhaps capable of lifting America out of it’s hell-bent confusion and complacence, was a young man called David Foster Wallace. Born in Ithica, NY in 1962, he had heart and wit perhaps sufficient to awaken America’s dazed and doped-up populace and set it on the road to recovery. But it was not to be. Wallace looked into the heart of the beast and hanged himself from a rafter in his house at the age of 46. He had a lovely singing voice. Was he crazy? Probably, but some observers think that, if he had moved to Europe, he would still be alive today.

As for “Making America Great Again,” was there ever a time when Americans were endowed with greatness? There was, actually, but it was a long time ago. Luckily for us, that greatness was brilliantly portrayed in Cheyenne Warrior, a movie released in 1994. You can see it on YouTube for free. You’ll like it. It’s a western. Kelly Preston is very pretty and you will meet a great American, one of many. The film comes recommended by David Foster Wallace.

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How and Why the US Foments Dictatorships Abroad

Hypocrisy is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another or the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform. In moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one’s own expressed moral rules and principles. 

Putting Intense Pressure on Honest Men

Once an honest leader with healthy aspirations for his country and its people starts to make Washington nervous, either for supposed leftist tendencies or for control of his country’s natural resources, the American regime-change Godzilla is set in motion. Godzilla’s first step is to paint the leader as an autocrat through an intense disinformation campaign, both in the media and on the ground. Once the critical mass of public opinion at home and abroad is convinced that he’s the Bad Guy–and this can take 20 years or more–the CIA can remove him in order to protect the oppressed citizens of his country. There are other methods in the CIA playbook, but this is the most insidious way of twisting our perception of other countries’ leaders, thus “justifying” their elimination and that of their governments.

The most egregious example of this sinister takeover ploy is the long-festering case of Cuba. (Not to worry. They somehow managed not to succeed.) Fulgencio Batista, the brutal dictator of Cuba for decades, ran the country directly or indirectly from the Revolt of the Sergeants in 1933, in which he named himself a colonel, appointed himself chief of the armed forces, and directed the five-man junta that ruled the country. After losing an election in 1952 he annulled the vote, assumed the presidency and ruled the country personally until he was unseated by force in 1959. During the Batista regime a series of American governments at first turned a blind eye and then actively supported the dictator. They had no objection to his turning Cuba into America’s casino and brothel. He was their man.

A Young Cuban Changed the Game

The young Cuban who led the revolutionary movement that deposed Batista was the son of a wealthy Spanish farmer of Cuba´s Oriente Province. He studied at a Jesuit high school and adopted its moral teachings, if not its theology. In 1945, he began studying law at the University of Havana and, though “politically illiterate” in the beginning, was soon a student activist, then a revolutionary. Fidel Castro’s first attempt to overthrow the Batista regime, mounting an attack by 135 revolutionaries on the Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953, was a failure. After the debacle Castro presented himself in the Batista court voluntarily, was convicted of insurrection and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served less than two, thanks to an amnesty. Though the Moncada battle was lost, it was the first step in a revolution that was to triumph just six years later in 1959.

When John F. Kennedy became president in January of 1961, he took umbrage at what he considered the grave impertinence of the young Cuban revolutionary–Castro was 35 years old in 1961–and soon turned loose the old CIA spymaster, Allen Dulles, with orders to eliminate him. This was the first US plot against Castro’s life and more would follow. A member of his security team estimated that 634 attempts had been made on el comandante’s life. Many of them were amateurish but many of them were not.

In an article in the June 26, 2015 issue of Politico.com, Philip Shenon, a former Washington and foreign correspondent for the New York Times, affirms:

The most important information that McCone withheld from the [Warren] commission in its 1964 investigation, the report found, was the existence, for years, of CIA plots to assassinate Castro, some of which put the CIA in cahoots with the Mafia. Without this information, the commission never even knew to ask the question of whether Oswald had accomplices in Cuba or elsewhere who wanted Kennedy dead in retaliation for the Castro plots.

Politico.com

The Bay of Pigs and Other Kerfuffles

Midst the unending flurry of assassination attempts came the July, 1961, Bay of Pigs Invasion, in which the CIA armed, trained and transported a group of Cuban exiles and American mercenaries to invade the southwest coast of Cuba and, with the help of local dissidents, overthrow the Castro government. American cooperation went so far as the bombing of Cuban airports a couple of days previously with B26 bombers.

Unfortunately for the invaders and American prestige around the world the “local dissidents” never materialized and the operation was a fiasco. Castro later offered to exchange all the prisoners for 500 tractors, but the Americans did not appreciate his sense of humor.

Cuba has lived under the shadow of an American trade embargo since 1960 making it the longest embargo of its kind in modern history. Its terms were reinforced in 1992 with the Cuban Democracy Act. The United States has gone so far as threatening to stop financial aid to other countries if they trade non-food items with Cuba. Another even-more-grotesque factor in the embargo drama is the perceived necessity by members of the US Congress to pander to pro-embargo Cuban-American exiles, whose votes are crucial in Florida.

The Americans’ insistence on their 60-year embargo is doubly remarkable, considering Cuba’s offenses, which are limited to deposing a US-supported dictator, thwarting a series of American assassination attempts and repelling an American-engineered invasion. That is to say, by outsmarting and outplaying Uncle Sam for six decades, something Sam resents intensely. Along the way the Cubans, under Castro’s autocratic leadership, have set world standards both in education and health care. Cuba exports doctors around the world.

Beyond Cuba

In that extreme context of constant harassment and under the Americans’ eternal embargo, how was Castro, incesssantly slandered and driven into corners, supposed to adhere to democratic purity and not resort to authoritarian measures? Like any other living organism on the planet, his first obligation was to survive.

Nor is the case of Cuba unique. There’s Venezuela, submitted for at least the last 20 years to a gratuitous barrage of cruel and unusual threats and “sanctions” that Uncle Sam has pulled out of his sleeve. Hugo Chavez was a savior for his pueblo and his elections were considered models of freedom and fairness for all of Latin America. Those of the 1998 and 2000 elections were certified by by President Jimmy Carter’s election monitoring foundation. Just what is Venezuela guilty of, anyway? It has been a soverign nation since Simon Bolivar led it to independence from Spain in 1821 after a war which killed half its white population. Its crimes since the 1920s are limited to discovering what its all-powerful northern neighbor covets lasciviously: vast oil deposits, perhaps the world’s largest.

One only needs to read the lead of The Making of Juan Guaidó: US Regime-Change Laboratory, Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal’s article on TheGrayzone.com (January 29, 2019), to come to grips with Juan Guaidó, selected and groomed by the National Endowment for Democracy, a CIA front organization that functions as the US government’s main arm for promoting regime change, as a surrogate for Venezuela’s duly elected president, Nicolas Maduro:

Before the fateful date of Jan. 22, fewer than one in five Venezuelans had heard of Juan Guaidó… Even in his own party, Guaidó had been a mid-level figure in the opposition-dominated National Assembly, which is now held under contempt according to Venezuela’s constitution. But after a single phone call from from U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Guaidó proclaimed himself as president of Venezuela. Anointed as the leader of his country by Washington, a previously unknown political bottom dweller was vaulted onto the international stage as the U.S.-selected leader of the nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.

TheGrayzone.com

How Many More?

Bill Blum lists in his 2000 book, Rogue State, A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, 65 countries that have been victims of US meddling of one sort or another between 1945 and 2000 when the book came out. Cuba figures high on his list. Venezuela just misses the cut. Even so, there is no shortage of beneficiaries of American pretended largesse. Some cases are more devastating than others. The cases of the CIA’s Iran regime change (1953), Chile’s coup d’etat 1973 and the Guatemalan genocide of its native people  (1960–1996) come immediately to mind. And there are many more. Today’s question is, how many more are there to come?

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Trump Took America into the Dark Ages

Let’s Look at the Record

As Trump leaves office we can begin to place his presidency in historical perspective. What made the conditions propitious for Trumpism’s appearance and rapid growth? How do we account for its precipitous decline? What are the historical parallels? Is there anything that can be done to soften the landing?

The fall of the Roman empire culminated in 476 CE after centuries of growing decadence. It finally fell to the germanic king, Odoacer, to defeat and depose the Emperor Romulus. This coincided with the Early Middle Ages, known also as the “Dark Ages,” when tribes from the north, whom the Romans considered barbarians, were taking over the Western Empire. It was a time, roughly from 500 to 1000 CE, of lawlessness and struggle marked by unending wars and the disruption of normal Roman life.

This sounds remotely familiar. A super power that dominates the known world falls into decadence at home and permanent wars abroad and finds itself taken over by primitive tribes that the ruling elite considers barbarians. In the current case the adversaries don’t come from the north, they come from within. The lords of today’s manor are not products of feudalism, but capitalism. In essence the situation is the same.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

What caused the ancient world’s greatest empire to wilt and disappear? Where did the Greek and Roman civilizations go? According to historians they were victims of an abrupt inversion of societal values. What had been the most advanced civilization in the known world reverted to a primitive agrarian society populated by peasant serfs and feudal lords whose rule was absolute, excepting the intrusions of the medieval church. Science and learning were derrogated, women were demonized and Christian orthodoxy became the imposed norm.

With Rome gone, a chain of unstoppable events was unleashed. Libraries fell into disrepair. With Rome no longer producing a safe environment for learning, philosophy, and science… The architecture and learning and thoughts of the Empire were completely forgotten in the wake of its fall from greatness, plunging the world into darkness.

historythings.com

There were other factors that further complicated life in the early medieval world. Some modern climate researchers are convinced that the gigantic eruption of the Indonesian volcano, Krakatoa, in 535 CE, cast a veil of airborne ash that covered the world and partially veiled the sun for as much as a decade, bringing temperatures down significantly. This theory is supported by findings of dendochronology, the scientific method of dating ancient tree rings to the exact year they were formed.

Our Old Friends, Plague and Climate Change

Then there was the strain and disorder caused by the Justinian Plague (541–549 CE), the first Old World plague pandemic. This is not the Black Death which occurred 800 years later and killed a third to one half of Europe’s population, though both were likely due to the bacteria Yersinia pestis, bubonic plague.

Besides their existing woes, the Europeans of the early Middle Ages were suddenly afflicted by climate change and a virulent epidemic, with no clear ideas regarding what to do about either problem. This is the inflection point. If medieval Europeans could have devised ways of dealing with grave climate and health issues they might have slowed the deterioration of world civilization. But it was not to be. They lacked the necessary knowledge and the tools and the world descended into half a millenium of Dark Ages.

Modern science does have viable hypotheses and credible proposals for dealing with today’s pandemic, but it’s as if they didn’t, insofar as the world’s leading country has turned its back on the scientific method, in favor of the dark arts of crude capitalism and magical religion. They are paying a frightful price in human lives for this recalcitrance, but they insist. Meanwhile, countries with more scientific approaches, effectively a control group, are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic with rational methods and dramatically different results. According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center, the comparative statistics for Covid impact in the United States and China (as of Jan. 15, 2021) are eloquent:

COUNTRYCONFIRMEDDEATHSCASE-FATALITYDEATHS/100K POP.
United States23,307,232388,5331.7%118.76
China97,4484,7964.9%0.34

These numbers tell an impartial observer that the US, with one quarter of the population of China, has more than 80 times de number of Covid deaths at a rate of 118.76 deaths per 100,000 population while China has 0.34. The factors contributing to this mega-disparity seem clear: China’s scientific approach is based on masks and social distancing, implemented in a society with notable civic awareness, as opposed to public-health anarchy in the United States, a country that, in its current political guise, shuns utterly science, order and the common good.

What possible explanation can there be for such an unenlightened response to a real existential crisis in a supposed first-world country? Are Americans accustomed to living midst such unconscionable levels of violence that they don’t notice that something is catastrophically wrong with their society? Are they victims of a gravely defective cultural and moral upbringing? Don’t they fervently desire normal human lives for their children and grandchildren? What is going on over there? Can’t they see it’s getting dark?

Another Historical Coincidence

At the same time that the world of the Western Empire was succumbing to the ills of the Dark Ages, on the other side of the world, China, reunified under the Sui and Tang dynasties was entering into the light, initiating a period of prosperity, trade relations, and far-reaching influence. Chang’an, the capital, was one of the largest and richest cities in the world. Art and literature were flourishing, reflecting influences from the different cultures with which China maintained diplomatic and trade relations. Ironically, it was a great American, Mark Twain who said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

Just as the rejection of reason was the principal cause of the Dark Ages, with barbarians destroying written knowledge and the church outlawing reason in favor of revelation, it was the return to principles of reason that ended the Dark Ages: Aquinas’s rediscovery of Aristotle in the 13th century, the spread of books after Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the 15th and Luther’s disrupting the Church in the 16th. If history is a reliable predictor and great men can put a derailed world back on track, there is hope for America’s future. If they’re lucky their wait won’t last longer than five or six-hundred years.

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Trump’s Legacy: Lowering the Bar

Trump & Co. Have Set Pernicious Precedents for Everything

Donald Trump Cabinet meeting 2017-03-13 02
There’s a unique requirement for appearing in this family photo: blind loyalty to Donald Trump.

As President Donald Trump fades, kicking and screaming, into history Americans are wondering what to expect of a post-Trump world. Today the United States looks nothing like the country he took over in 2017. It’s more cynical and more dumber than ever before. It lags behind its most important world adversaries in education, infrastructures, manufacturing, and morals. In fact, it’s behind in virtually everything but its war contraptions and predatory mindset, it’s steel circle of military bases around the world and it’s penchant for interfering in the affairs of other people’s countries. The United States has even slipped behind in leading-edge technology, its traditional strong suit.

Yes, those who follow Trump can undo some of the damage he and his cohorts have done over the past four years, but much of it is irrecoverable. We must not forget his campaign promise–to dismantle the backbone of the United States government, placing all its competencies and vital decisions in the hands of private enterprise and faith-based organizations. Otherwise, how does one explain the choice of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education? Or his naming of the colorful prosperity-gospel televangelist, his personal spirtual advisor, Paula White, as chair of his “evangelical advisory board.”

Trump Goes, Trumpism Stays

The seriousness of Trump’s privatize-and-degrade dynamic is such that, once installed in governmental protocols, it’s hard to get rid of. What starts out seeming scandalous and disproportionate to normal citizens , with time becomes traditional, accepted by large swaths of the population. For coming generations much of Trump & Co.’s tawdry ideology will assume the guise of precedents with the apparent legitimacy that entails.

It’s important to distinguish between Trump and Trumpism. Trump may go (though it’s not clear when) but the sordid seeds he has planted in the American body politic have put vigorous roots down into a substrate of dishonesty, ignorance and arrogance, unlimited opportunism, inhumane values, and government in league with voodoo religion. They will not be easy to uproot, especially if another right-wing populist president comes along who’s even smarter than Donald Trump.

By that time the Trump way of doing things will be considered business as usual in Washington, just as targeted drone assassinations, once considered too horrendous even to consider, have become commonplace today. Americans–excepting the most persnickety of them–will not be shocked by holders of high office who murder, lie, contract unqualified family members, embrace America’s seediest adversaries, cheerlead assaults on the nation’s Capitol and take advantage of high office to feather their nests. Future generations of Americans may come to consider those aberrations simply innovative governance or genial shortcuts to hillbilly heaven.

It Depends on Where You Stand

There are widely-varying standpoints on the subject of Donald Trump’s atypical presidency; the indulgent, ultra-patriotic view from his simple-minded followers; the rage of the rest of Americans, who let him get away with it all; and the cooler, more objective approach when seen from abroad. The unconditional loyalty of Trump’s hardcore followers is hard to explain to non-initiates. It hits the same buttons as miracle religion and the serial-killer’s mother’s love. It’s faith based, a valuable asset in a country where faith works wierd wonders.

Not all members of the Trump tribe are morons. Then how do you explain the Trumpeteers who are practically normal? It might have to do with their profound dissatisfaction with the unfair, tilted field that most Americans are obliged to play on. They’ve been told for their whole lives that this is the exceptional, individualist “American way of life,” the envy of the world. But not many of them have ever been anyplace else so as to be able to compare. In any case, though the quasi-normal Trump followers may not know how to explain their malaise, they’re sure they’re tired of it.

The Trump Follies Seen from Abroad

Foreigners are not emotionally involved in America’s problems. Most of them live in countries where everyone’s children attend good public schools and receive quality free or inexpensive education through university. They’re relatively certain their kids are not going to be caught in a crossfire at school or while coming and going. Virtually all of these foreigners work and receive fair pay in humane conditions and are supported by labor unions. If they have illness or accidents they just go to the hospital, knowing they won’t have to mortgage their houses to pay the bills. In fact, there are no bills.

If they are afflicted with serious chronic illness or disability they know they will be taken care of. They trust their elected representatives to do their best to keep their campaign promises. All countries of the European Union, and many others, enjoy a minimum month’s annual vacation. Americans get 10 days.

These citizens are not directly affected by the goings on in the United States, but they could be–at the press of a button. For now, more than anything else they are profoundly perplexed. America is nothing like their own countries and they have trouble relating to its brash facade and cruel and unusual customs. They lack the advantage of lifelong conditioning and Kool-Aid consumption. They will probably never understand America’s seemingly alien society.

The Recuperation of the Republican Party

At the beginning of the Trump presidency the vast majority of Republican Party members rallied round him, even if a few of them had to hold their noses. There were some exceptions, such as Mike Pence who at first shunned the crass New York real-estate operator as the Republican presidential candidate but later figured out which side his bread was buttered on and slipped back into the fold. He was to become one of President Trump’s most loyal followers till the bitter end on January 6, 2021, when he again thought about his future in politics.

Now that Trump’s ship is on the rocks, particularly after his enthusiastic horde assaulted the US Capitol, many Republicans are abandoning ship. After Trump’s invaders had left the Capitol or been carted off, his deceitful backout speech dripped with hypocritical slime, lacking any hint of regret or decency, just more self-serving, sociopathic cant. His capture-the-Congress gambit had failed and he needed to cover his retreat with counterfeit sincerity.

The Only Way Out of the Swamp

Though the idea is much bandied about, Washington DC is no longer a swamp. A swamp has a harmony about it. There’s a natural cycle of birth and death, beauty and balance. The location of the new nation’s capital in the Washington swamp was chosen by the United States’s first President in 1790. Little by little that natural habitat was perverted by politicians ruling for themselves. Today opportunism and bad faith rule. Hypocrisy has replaced beauty in the swamp and privilege has trumped balance. The only way out of that degenerate ecosystem is through an educated electorate but, given Americas’s ever-declining education system, that will probably not happen.

President Donald Trump’s great luck was that the mediocrity of his own mind and values meshed nicely with that of enough of his countrymen to get him elected President. Once in office he limited himself to promoting a retrograde agenda that pandered to a simple-minded electorate. His legislative henchmen razed the American government like devilish wrecking balls while he thrived on junk food and golf. It’s remarkable how far back the Trump government took the country in four short years. Nor are his critics free of responsibility. They never should have lost sight of the fact that Donald Trump didn’t create America. America created Donald Trump, and just getting rid of him doesn’t cure the rest.

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The Secret Elephant in the Paris Climate Accord Room

There’s an elephant in the room. It’s a war elephant. We can see him but they can’t.

The Paris Climate Accord Was Born Crippled

After decades of quibbling, the vast majority of the countries of the world finally acknowledged the seriousness of global warming and sat down in Paris on December 12, 2015, to sign a legally binding climate accord, the Paris Agreement. Not only did they sign it but the majority took it home and got it ratified by their governments. The agreement entered into effect on November 4, 2016.

Everybody agreed it was a significant advance for humankind. People toasted with champagne. But the celebrations were premature, as the United States had included a pre-existing condition–a threat, if you will–in the agreement, and they swore their colleagues to secrecy. They advised the delegates gathered together in Paris that they would not sign the document unless the air pollution generated by their military forces around the world was exempted from the tabulation of the American carbon footprint.

The sensible delegates of the rest of the world acceded, acutely aware that the American military forces not only generate air pollution, but they could also create death and destruction on a massive scale. Just how much pollution were they looking at, anyway? As it turned out the US armed forces are the world’s single greatest polluter, to the tune of more than 25,000 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide, created by burning fossile fuels at a rate of 269,230 barrels a day, according to theconversation.com.

In a revealing article originally published by the International Action Center in 2014, Sara Flounders wrote : 

There is an elephant in the climate debate that by US demand cannot be discussed or even seen. This agreement to ignore the elephant is now the accepted basis of all international negotiations on climate change.

It is well understood by every possible measurement that the Pentagon, the US military machine, is the world’s biggest institutional consumer of petroleum products and the world’s worst polluter of greenhouse gas emissions and many other toxic pollutants. Yet the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements.

ResearchGate.org is a British research and database organization headed by the Universities of Lancaster and Durham. They have applied their minds and resources to following the petroleum–which, when burned, turns into air pollution. They uncovered a little known but massively important agency tucked into a corner of the US Defense Department. It’s the US Defense Logistics Agency – Energy (DLA‐E) and it’s the primary purchase point for hydrocarbon‐based fuels for the US military, as well as a powerful actor in the global oil market.

The Researech Gate investigaters followed the DLA‐E’s oil trail, its supply chain, bureaucratic practices, and the infrastructure that facilitates the US military’s consumption of hydro‐based carbons on a global scale. Using Freedom of Information Act requests they were able to trace much of the US military’s oil use and consequent generation of pollution. They concluded that the US military is a “major climate actor,” if not THE major climate actor. (Source: researchgate.org)

The Single Largest User of Petroleum in the World

The results of an extensive 2019 study by theconversation.com affirm that:

… the US military is one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries. If the US military were a country, its fuel usage alone would make it the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

theconversation.com

The Washington D.C.-based Transnational Institute has been active for more than 30 years documenting social movements around the world, and fighting for economic, social and environmental justice. According to these American researchers there is one word conspicuously missing from the draft of the Paris Agreement: “military.” They think that’s strange, insofar as “the US military alone is the single largest user of petroleum in the world and has been the main enforcer of the global oil economy for decades.”

Since the US military is such a major player, obscuring their role in the game makes a mockery of the whole accord. As it turned out, the Americans had a second card to play, President Donald Trump’s announced withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement a scarce seven months after its ratification. Though Trump announced the move in June 2017, UN regulations delayed the execution of his decision until November 4, 2020. It remains to be seen what new President Joe Biden will do with this warm potato with the world’s largest carbon polluter hidden inside.

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Very Very Awesome in DC

These dudes will definitely make America great again.

Yesterday’s Follies at the US Capitol Confirm Everything We Suspected

Like a deranged Pentecostal preacher foretelling the Rapture, I’ve predicted the American End Times in writing for years. But when I saw it happening yesterday, January 6, the day of the Epiphany, in real time and living color, I had to rub my eyes. Is this it? Yes, it seems it was and, screened by the familiar It-can’t-happen-here myth, nobody in America’s high-tech, high-security government had thought to provide a proper security detail for the United States Senate. But why should they have thought of it? What happened at the Capitol yesterday was unthinkable.

January 6, 2020, is a day that will live in infamy, the day that marked the before and after of the inviolability of the universally-revered American democracy. It can happen there, and did. In all fairness, a few people on the ragged edges of American journalism saw it coming and warned the country repeatedly, but they were preaching to the choir. The rest of the distracted, largely-unlettered, exceptionally-patriotic country considered them cranks at best, socialists at worst. These thinkers on the margins are thoughtful, concerned, well-educated citizens of conscience who have been rowing upstream in the American river of hypocrisy and re-engineered truth for decades. Today–the day after–people like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Paul Jay, Amy Goodman, and a few others, can hold their heads high. They did their best to prevent America’s ongoing democratic debacle.

DC police and congressional security team didn’t have their best day.

Who’s to Blame?

There will be a problem of assigning responsibility. Some people will try to pin it on the small army of decerebrated rednecks that assaulted the Capitol building–and not only the building; the United States Senate was in session. But they have neither the wit nor the comprehension to orchestrate the genial sucker punch that connected with the heart of American democracy. That required a shrewder, more experienced Redneck in Chief, lurking like Lazarus at the threshold of his sepulchre waiting to be brought back from the dead. Will he make it back. It’s the USA. Anything can happen.

This is not to say that we did not see any miracles yesterday. We saw Mitch McConnell metamorphose from a corporate lackey and consummate legislative manipulator into a paladin of modern democracy. All is forgotten, including his decades-long personal blockade of any form of progressive legislation, down to an emergency survival fund that would have permitted desperate Americans to feed their families and pay last month’s rent. He no longer recalls the four years he spent as Donald Trump’s slavering sycophant, enthusiastically girding the President’s loins against all forms of reason or decency. He is now suddenly the one who saved America from perishing at the hands of a sociopathic President. The rancid old pol saw an opportunity in the siege of the Capitol and hitched his wagon to that star. The Senate Majority Leader is back. Thank God.

What Can We Expect of What’s Left of America

Now is when it gets interesting. The colorful tribe of American überpatriots has had its first taste of live action and it didn’t work out too badly. A few of the duller ones were arrested and four people were killed but, aside from that, it was quite a successful operation. The front doors of the Capitol were breached, the security guards were intimidated into inaction, the attackers took over the Senate chamber and held it while the senators fled. When the bold boys had made their point they left at leisure. The majority of them didn’t even have their names taken down. President Trump told them he loved them. Yes, quite a successful operation. It should embolden them to come back soon.

Their greatest achievement was to dismantle any semblance of American credibility across the world. Absolutely everybody was watching, from the humblest rickshaw driver to every head of government. Few of those who saw the show will ever be tempted to take the US seriously again. The bubble has burst in a dramatic manner. After more than 200 years of cultivating the myth of heroic America, winner two world wars, savior of the world from communism, mother of moon walkers and creator of the Big Mac, the whole edifice was taken down by an unarmed group of mentally-disadvantaged role players. That motley crew achieved in a couple of hours what the Iroquois, the Sioux, the British, the Russians and the Guatemaltecos had not managed in two centuries: to take a once-great country from world dominatrix to laughing stock in the time it takes Kim Kardashian to apply her makeup.

As for America’s adversaries around the world, all they have to do for now is to stand back and let it happen. “But in a couple of weeks everything will be different,” you say. “There will be a new President.” No doubt things will be different, but will they be different enough to make a difference? Is Joe Biden the dynamic, charismatic leader the Americans need to snap them out of the denial mode that is their default setting whenever they fail?

President Trump and his comical minions are America’s first deniers, having convinced themselves that the fearless leader did not lose the election. Though it’s now amply clear that he did, he may have won something equally important. Like a magician who has mastered misdirection Trump has distracted the country’s attention from what is undeniably his gravest offense, the mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic to the tune of some 330,000 American dead. This alone is enough–in a country of equal justice for all its citizens–to convict him of criminal negligence and sentence him to a hefty prison term. Will that happen? It would in a proper country.

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Is The United States Running Scared?

Nobody is as aware of US brutality in world affairs across the last century and beyond as are the American leaders themselves. They have hurt so many people in so many countries, and so gratuitously, that they are entitled to fear the logical reprisals.

If Not, Why Do They Spend So Much of the Nation’s Vital Wealth on National Defense?

What possible motivation can the American defense establishment have for squandering their country’s very life’s blood in order to upgrade annually their already formidable military capabilities? Is it due to their fascination with deadly new toys or to their need to impress their adversaries and allies? There may be some of that, but it is likely that there’s another factor that doesn’t get mentioned: fear. Nobody is as aware of US brutality in world affairs across the last century and beyond as are the American leaders themselves. They have hurt so many people in so many countries, and so gratuitously, that they are entitled to fear the logical reprisals. Their offenses range from eavesdropping on German chancellor, Angela Merkel’s phone calls–a grave and stupid breach of confidence with an important ally–to mass murder and regime change which they either carried out or sponsored in Latin America, Greece, Vietnam, Afghanistan Iraq, to name just a few. Now they need go to extreme lengths to ward off the world’s revenge.

These extreme lengths inevitably include sophisticated weaponry that comes at astronomical costs paid for by US taxpayers (and their unborn generations), not by the members of America’s high-rolling military-industrial-congressional elite. Far from paying for the expensive war materiel, they extract massive profits. There is a parallel to this faith in high-tech weaponry in Germany’s illusory resort to exotic weapons, wunderwaffen, in a last-ditch effort to elude defeat in World War II. Their V2 rockets were first launched against England in late September, 1944. Over the next few months, nearly 1,400 struck London. Some 2,700 Londoners were killed but the V2s did not alter the outcome of the war. 

Fritz X – This guided anti-ship glide torpedo (above) was one of Hitler’s most secret bombs. Not only was it the first precision-guided bomb to ever be deployed in combat, but on 9 September 1943 it also became the first such bomb to sink a ship – the Italian battleship Roma. Again, it arrived too late to deter the victory of the Allies. (Source: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk)

Goliath – This remote-controlled mine carrier had caterpillar tracks and resembled a mini tank. It was designed to carry up to 100 kilograms of high explosives and was first deployed in early 1942. Though it looked like a radio-controlled toy, it was capable of everything from destroying tanks to demolishing buildings and bridges.

The Horten Ho 229 “flying wing” bomber (above) was considered “Hitler’s secret weapon.” It was designed to carry 2,000 pounds of armaments while flying at 49,000 feet at speeds of more than 600 mph. In the end, none of these wunderwaffen made any significant difference in the outcome of the war. (Source: https://www.historyhit.com/secret-weapons-of-the-nazis/)

What Is the Cost of “National Defense” in Real Terms?

The cost of America’s defense spending evaluated by the usual yardsticks hits middle and lower-class citizens hard. They lack most of the services and protections provided by other first-world countries. The data that follow come from reliable international sources, many of them from the United States. Let’s start with overall health. According to the 2019 edition of the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, Spain is the healthiest country in the world, followed by Iceland, Japan, and Switzerland. The US is number 35 in the ranking. Life expectancy is also indicative of overall wellbeing. According to Worldography.info, who average the age for both sexes, the United States clocks in at number 46, with 78.11 years of life expectancy, just below Cuba and 44 other countries. At the top is Hong Kong with 89.29 years. 

How does the US do in literacy? Andorra, Greenland, North Korea, and Uzbekistan enjoy 100% literacy rates as of 2015-16, according to the German site, citypopulation.de.  One wonders if the Americans will ever catch up with Uzbekistan in literacy. The Washington Post (Mar. 8, 2016) says under the headline Most literate nation in the world? Not the US, that the US has advanced from 11th to seventh place. That is a remarkably positive result for a country whose president refuses to read and is incapable of speaking or writing a proper sentence.

What about infant mortality? According to CIA.gov, the US ranks 36th (estimated data 2017) with 5.7 deaths per 1000 live births. These numbers are significantly bettered by countries such as Hungary (4.90), Poland (4.40), Portugal (4.30), Slovenia  (3.90), Spain (3.30) along with a couple of dozen more. Neither do the American results for electoral integrity fare very well in the world. “U.S. Elections Ran Last Among All Western Democracies,” reads the January 7, 2017, headline on the ElectoralIintegrityProject.com site (an electoral monitoring project run by Harvard and Sydney Universities). The only ones, among western democracies, who held freer and fairer elections than the United States were everyone else.

See more on this subject on my June 1, 2020 post.

Luckily the Americans Can Count on Their Allies

Despite their interwoven networks of supposed allies, the Americans are increasingly alone. Leaders of countries around the world have eyes to see and are understandably reluctant to throw in their lot with an increasingly erratic United States. The allies they do retain are largely products of expert promising, bribing and arm twisting. American John Perkins has written a few books on the subject, the most revealing of which was the first one, published in 2004, Confessions of an Economic Hitman. In it Perkins, the whistleblower, describes his work as an American agent charged with changing the minds of foreign decision makers. His toolkit consisted of a rising scale of ideological arguments, bribes and threats. If none of those worked he passed the problem to his higher-ups.

Old arguments –anti-communism, the domino theory, 9/11 reprisals–are wearing thin for the populations of other countries, many of them American targets. They have felt the brunt of US realpolitik and that makes them less susceptible to propaganda. As time goes by more and more people around the world are capable of googling “US military bases map.” That alone offers a revealing picture of American imperial intentions. As for the citizens of the unfortunate countries the US has humiliated, alienated, smothered with economic sanctions, or simply obliterated, American foreign-policy makers are hoping they have forgotten. They haven’t. Nor have their friends. We need look no further than Chinese trade deals with Venezuela and Iran. China doesn’t need foreign bases to exercise their power. Simple economic clout is enough for now. As for the future, they’re working on it.

Underlying all of these questions is an important issue. Can Uncle Sam be trusted? The American’s Kurdish allies who, attacked in northern Syria by Islamic State forces in 2013, heroically went on to turn the tables on ISIL, virtually eliminating them as a fighting force, at a cost more than 800 Kurdish dead. This neutralizing of ISIL was recognized as a valuable contribution to the American cause in the Middle East. Nevertheless, when the time came to throw Turkish president Erdogan a bone, President Trump dropped them like a nicked golfball, leaving them at the mercy of the largest army in NATO. In an article in October 15, 2019, The Atlantic entitled Trump Betrayed the Kurds. Who’s Next? The author, Peter Wehner, points out:

Kurdish forces played a central role in aiding the United States in fighting the Islamic State. But in a phone call a week ago Sunday, Trump gave the green light to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to invade northern Syria—and, in the process, to engage in what even one of Trump’s most loyal supporters, Senator Lindsey Graham, describes as the “ethnic cleansing” of the Kurds.

The Atlantic, Oct. 15, 2019
<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Now that the Brexit is consummated (thanks in large part to American big-data technology provided by <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-40423629">Cambridge Analytica</a>) the Brits are on their own, they are going to experience American solidarity–known in popular American and British mythology as "The Special Relationship." We shall see.Now that the Brexit is consummated (thanks in large part to American big-data technology provided by Cambridge Analytica) the Brits are on their own, they are going to experience American solidarity–known in popular American and British mythology as “The Special Relationship.” We shall see.

While the American Emperor looks and acts more like a sinister carnival barker, and is wearing fewer and fewer clothes each day, people around the world are asking themselves what he will be up to next. Has he set the world up for the Endgame? What are the implications of his curious US-Saudi-Israeli-Moroccan axis in the Middle East and the Magreb? What is the role of the President’s son-in-law, who seems to have a hand in the deal as his father-in-law’s “peace envoy?”

Where do the American Evangelical, Pentecostal and Fundamentalist Christians fit into the puzzle? Most of the members of these Christian sects support Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud regime in Israel, many with personal visits and cash donations. Allegedly their objective is to see Israel enter into a war with the Muslims, thus precipitating the Apocalypse which, according to holy scripture, will launch the born-again true believers straight into heaven. The rest of humanity, including their good friends, the Israelis, according to this lugubrious narrative, will be left behind, supposedly to burn in hell with the rest of us.

The Trump foreign policy has been based on insults and broken promises, boutades, tariffs and economic sanctions, and naval blocades, these latter considered an act of war under international law. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s thuggish, rapture-struck Secretary of State, more of an enforcer than a diplomat, was the ideal pick for the job from President Trump’s point of view. But the outside world percieves Pompeo as a warning beacon, illuminating unpleasant things to come.

This article from The Nation, “What America Really Spends on Making War,” should be required reading for every American taxpayer. It explains in exquisite detail the difference between what the Defense Department says it spends on making war, and what the US government really spends on war, in all of its intricate aspects. Authors William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger take a didactic approach, explaining how the Trump administration asked Congress in 2019 for $750 billion for the Pentagton and related defense activities. But that sum is only part of the actual cost of all proposed national defense-related spending, according to Hartung and Smithberger. They maintain:

In its latest budget request, the Trump administration is asking for a near-record $750 billion for the Pentagon and related defense activities—an astonishing figure by any measure. If passed by Congress, it will be one of the largest military budgets in American history, topping peak levels reached during the Korean and Vietnam wars. That three-quarters of a trillion dollars represents only part of the actual annual cost of our national-security state.

There are at least 10 separate pots of money dedicated to fighting wars, preparing for yet more wars, and dealing with the consequences of wars already fought. So the next time a president, a general, a secretary of defense, or a hawkish member of Congress insists that the US military is woefully underfunded, think twice. A careful look at US defense expenditures offers a healthy corrective to such wildly inaccurate claims.

The Nation

According to these authors’ itemized estimate, the total sum of American “defense” spending is closer to more than $1.25 trillion, almost double the Pentagon’s base budget. Meanwhile, there has been an important change in the United States, a new President. Over the course of the next four years we’ll see how important that change will have been. An excellent barometer of the fear level in the American power elite over that period will be the amount the defense-budget increases each year.

A Reminder: Budget Isn’t Everything

The Americans think money wins wars, and they’re right, but only partially. They seem to forget their enemies whose victories were achieved with little money but lots of courage, conviction and sacrifice. Look at Vietnam, and Afghanistan, and Iraq–yes, Iraq, where the Americans are still casting about for a way out. There were still about 5,000 US troops in Iraq, as of Sept. 9, 2020. Will the Americans ever learn not to underestimate their adversaries? They should have learned that lesson from the Lakota, the Northern Cheyenne, and the Arapaho tribes at the Little Big Horn River in June of 1876 .

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Who Are You to Impose Sanctions?

Sanctions Are All the Rage

President Donald Trump has brought back the wholesale use of unilateral international sanctions as a mechanism for punishing and hampering any country that displeases him and his motley crew. Sanctions are handy resources for an aspiring world ruler because all they require to put in place is a belligerent declaration from the White House and a series of threats to enforce them. That may be why President Trump has resorted to this ploy so gaily. His gratuitous economic sanctions on oil-and-mineral-rich Venezuela prompted these observations by US economists:

In Venezuela, economic sanctions that Trump first imposed in 2017 and then vastly expanded in 2019, have resulted in increased disease and mortality and are estimated to have led to tens of thousands of excess deaths, according to a 2019 study by economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs.

https://www.aljazeera.com/

A recent Cambridge University forum further delimits the playing field:

… this essay examines unilateral coercive measures… While there are no incontrovertible data on the extent of these measures, one can safely say that they target in some way a full quarter of humanity. In addition to being a major attack on the principle of self-determination, unilateral measures not only adversely affect the rights to international trade and to navigation but also the basic human rights of innocent civilians. The current deterioration of the situation, with the mutation of embargoes into blockades and impositions on third parties, is a threat to peace that needs to be upgraded in strategic concern.

Cambridge.org, 6 September, 2019

Are They Conscious of the Tragedy They Sow?

Before wading into the Okeefenokee that American foreign policy experts have made of the sanctions issue, let’s look at the most critical aspect, which is regularly overlooked. Are Americans aware of the the lethal repercussions for innocent citizens inside the countries they punish with sanctions? What was Madeleine Albright’s answer when she was asked about the 500,000 children under the age of five who died due to the Amerian-organized blockade of Iraq? “This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”

Since that memorable declaration as US Secretary of State, Albright has been recycled in American folklore as a human-rights and peace activist, much the same as President Richard Nixon was polished up and resold as a respected elder statesman. American promoted UN Security Council sanctions against Iraq, first imposed in 1990 and later extended, were a near-total financial and trade embargo which gave the US and UK control over Iraq’s oil revenue. They were not removed until December 2010.

It took UN Secretary General Kofi Annan until 2004 to decide that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. According to The Guardian:

“Mr Annan said that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter. In an interview with the BBC World Service broadcast last night, he was asked outright if the war was illegal. He replied: ‘Yes, if you wish.'” He then added unequivocally: ‘I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.'” (Source: The Guardian, 16 Sep 2004)

A 1996 report by International Progress Organization (IPO) criticized sanctions as “an illegitimate form of collective punishment of the weakest and poorest members of society, the infants, the children, the chronically ill, and the elderly”.

According to the IPO, the sanctions imposed around the world by the United States government include:

  • bans on arms-related exports
  • controls over dual-use technology exports
  • restrictions on economic assistance
  • financial restrictions:
    • requiring the United States to oppose loans by the World Bank and other international financial institutions
    • diplomatic immunity waived, to allow families of terrorist victims to file for civil damages in U.S. courts
    • tax credits for companies and individuals denied, for income earned in listed countries
    • duty-free goods exemption suspended for imports from those countries
    • authority to prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in financial transactions with the government on the list, except by license from the U.S. government
    • prohibition of U.S. Defense Department contracts above $100,000 with companies controlled by countries on the list.

According to Aaron Arnold of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, a research center located within the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University,

While the United States must be in a state of war for the president to regulate trade and commerce under the Trading With the Enemy Act, the President has complete discretion to declare a national emergency under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). From a legal perspective, there have been few successful challenges of IEEPA. So far, conducting US foreign policy through a broad interpretation of national security powers has always been the prerogative of US presidents. But as European leaders scramble to save what is left of the Iran deal, many are left wondering whether a president that wields IEEPA like a hammer will see every problem like a nail. 

belfercenter.org

Alexander Main, Director of International Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC, is more specific on the subject:

But one particularly brutal set of White House measures that has already caused tens of thousands of casualties abroad has been ignored by most of Trump’s critics. Since taking office, the president has unilaterally imposed a number of deadly, sweeping economic sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. These sanctions have not, by any reasonable measure, advanced the president’s stated foreign policy goals. They have, however, wreaked havoc and destruction in the lives of countless innocent human beings. 

Are the US Sanctions Legal Under International Law?

According to the United Nations, only the UN Security Council has a mandate by the international community to apply sanctions that must be complied with by all UN member states. They serve as the international community’s most powerful peaceful means to prevent threats to international peace and security or to settle them. (Source: Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter)

That is to say, according to international law all of the the US’s exquisite legislative pussyfooting around the question of sanctions is irrelevant, and the unilateral imposition of sanctions by any country is out of order. Not that the Americans are much dissuaded by legalities. They have the unique tenet of their foreign policy: “We do exactly as we please.” That works for them, even though the rest of the world may not agree.

Trump Plays the Rogue Sanctions Card

Whenever President Donald Trump gets bettered in a deal he gets miffed. His favorite response is to play the sanctions card whether it’s aimed at one of America’s competitors in the international “free market” or a country that’s straying beyond US-imposed ideological limits. The case that immediately comes to mind is the crippling US embargo on Cuba, in place since March 14, 1958 and renewed ever since, the most-brutal, longest-lasting foreign policy coercion of the 20th century that is still festering in the 21st.

A more recent example is the Huawei ban, a classic case of castigating a superior competitor for building better mousetrap. President Trump declares a US boycott on the Chinese communications technology company and immediately extends the ban to Britain, his most reliable running ally. These stings are occurring more frequently lately as American technology lags further and further behind foreign competition.

Whether it’s Chinese G-5 communications installations or the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, Trump’s kneejerk response is sanctions. Turkey, after being turned down by the US in an effort to purchase American Patriot anti-aircraft missiles, turned to Russia and signed a multi-billion-dollar deal. Despite U.S. efforts to undo that agreement, President Erdogan proceeded to acquire the S-400 system in July 2019.The first batch of S-400s were deployed in Turkey in July of 2019. Note: The S-400 missiles are superior to the Patriots and allegedly at half the price.

Not to mention the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, currently under US sanctions…

Just over a week ago, on December 14, 2020, Washington belatedly announced their sanctions on Turkey for the S-400 operation. This is how the California-based law firm, Gibson-Dunn characterized the event:

On December 14, 2020, the United States imposed sanctionss on the Republic of Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries (“SSB”), the country’s defense procurement agency, and four senior officials at the agency, for knowingly engaging in a “significant transaction” with Rosoboronexport (“ROE”), Russia’s main arms export entity, in procuring the S-400 surface-to-air missile system. These measures were a long-time coming—under Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (“CAATSA”) of 2017, the President has been required to impose sanctions on any person determined to have knowingly “engage[d] in a significant transaction with a person that is part of, or operates for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation.”

Source: gibsondunn.com

Sanctions as Acts of War

Can US unilateral sanctions be considered acts of war? The jury is still out on this question but many qualified observers think the case can be made. Briefly, when unilateral sanctions result in dead and maimed civilians, mass destruction, regime change or other interruption of the life of a country, they should naturally be considered as acts of war.

Nonetheless, economic sanctions are the foreign policy option of choice for the US. While often portrayed as a softer option than outright war, they can result in equally devastating blows to the health and well-being of vulnerable countries.

Madre.org reminds us of US use of sanctions:

On January 8, 2020, Trump announced additional “punishing” sanctions on the Iranian government, framing these as a peaceful alternative to military action. But these sanctions are far from a de-escalation of this crisis. In fact, they are simply warfare under another name.

The US has applied more economic sanctions than any other country. Sanctions have been imposed on Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Myanmar, Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela — among others.

The Future of American Sanctions

–trapped midst a killer virus, a deteriorating technological superiority and rising stars on the horizon–

Sanctions are subject to international law, no clause of which authorizes the US to apply their belligerent realpolitic to other people’s countries. So how is it possible that the US should be circling the world with a sinister web of unilateral sanctions? American trans-world coercion is based on the same ugly reality as other cases of historical bullying. Without the US preponderance of military might it would not be possible.

But that dubious license bestowed by massive force may not last forever. In view of the United States’ critical situation, both at home and abroad–trapped midst a killer virus, a deteriorating technological superiority and rising stars on the horizon–their worldwide suzerainty may be entering its last days. If not, why would the lame-duck Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, be bustling around the world Mafia style, fervently delivering the Trump administration’s last threats?

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Gold Star America

“We Were the Greatest…”

How much time and energy and how many resources have been senselessly squandered by the United States over the past half century? And what has the rest of the world been up to in the meantime? The answers to these questions are determining the short, medium and long-term future of the world.

Note: Of the past 20 centuries China has dominated eighteen.

While the rest of the world has advanced on many fronts, and continues to do so, the US flails hopelessly in a fishbowl of erroneous ideology, drowning in exceptionalism and entitlement. Americans are convinced they are not like other people around the world, they’re special. And that specialness entitles them to rights and privileges that people of other countries do not enjoy. American pre-eminence since the Second World War would seemed to confirm this worldview. They live, after all, in the richest, most productive country in the world. They are blessed with an exemplar democratic government. And their dollar is the currency of world trade.

It seemed only natural to them to take the next logical step: world domination. Convinced that their system had rightly triumphed over all others it was their obligation to extend it to the rest of the world. There would, of course, be dissenters in less-enlightened foreign countries, but they could be brought to see the light.

The cornerstone of this aspiring world empire was laid in 1944 at the Mount Washington Hotel, a ski resort in Bretton Woods, in Carroll, New Hampshire. There, during 22 days of meetings, 730 delegates from 44 Allied countries hammered out the shape of the world to come. This was the meeting that determined the regulation of the international monetary and financial order after World War II. With the outcome of the war in view and American predominance clearly in evidence, the results of the conference were a foregone conclusion. After the approval of the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the forerunner of the World Bank, the playing field was definitively tilted in favor of the US, a fact that has benefited them until today. Tomorrow is another matter.

Imperial Intelligence to the Rescue

The American “intelligence services,” whose clandestine activity in Europe was initiated during WWII under the auspices of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the direction of Colonel (later Major General) William J. (Wild Bill) Donovan (1942-45), were the first piece in the imperial puzzle. Donovan united and coordinated the efforts of several US intelligence units, a project that gave rise to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1949. In 1952 the National Security Agency was created to handle signals intelligence. The NSA is today the United States’ largest and best-funded intelligence operation.

With this information and clandestine-intervention infrastructure leading the way, the US embarked upon an industrial-scale overt and covert campaign of interference in the affairs of other peoples’ countries. The recurring theme of all of this information gathering, black ops and proxy wars, was anti-communism. This Swiss army knife of world domination apologetics arose from the existential terror that Western capitalists experienced when confronted with Soviet successes with their collective societal solutions in the early 1930s. The Soviet industrial and economic surge happened to coincide with the depths of the Great Depression in the West. It’s not clear whether the subsequent blossoming of anti-communism in the US was the cause or effect of the Cold War, but since then it has been the determining factor in American foreign policy. After the fall of the Soviet Union it only required a slight twist to morph into anti-Russianism.

In our living memory anti-communism has been the gossamer pretext that provided ideological cover for non-stop wars, regime-changes, unsavory allies and false-flag operations around the world. They included the Korean War, the Vietnam War, coups d’etat in Greece, Iran, Guatemala, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Iraq, South Yemen, and many more. They’re going on still in Afghanistan, Syria, and Venezuela, to mention just a few. William Blum in his book, Rogue State, A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, published in 2000, provides a more complete list from the early days.

While the Americans were sowing mayhem around the world the Soviet Union–later Russia–was faced with an eventual encirclement of some 1,000 US military bases. The recent addition of NATO missile installations among the 12 Eastern European nations that have joined NATO since 1999, further complicated the Russian position. During this period of American threats they dubbed the Cold War, Russia was obliged to maintain an adequate defense. It is ironic that a country whose GDP ranks 11th in the world, should be the principal bulwark against the imperial pretensions of the United States with the world’s greatest GDP, 12 times that of the Russians (2017 data from Worldometers.org).

Pretending Nobody Is Looking

The rest of the world has not been oblivious to the last century of American imperial ascendence. Those who didn’t notice were the Americans themselves, who were blinded by a steady diet of myths and lies drilled into their minds over decades of relentless brainwashing. The mind-bending procedures were rudimentary, with the intellectual level of a Captain America comic, but they were pervasive. Americans were subjected to anti-communist rhetoric distributed by churches, schools, the media, Hollywood, the water they drank and the very air they breathed.

The progressive dumbing down of the American public was also a factor. Their country was the shining democracy on the hill, not the world’s principal predator. And, since the machinations of their country’s clandestine services were by their very nature, secret, most Americans had no idea that their government was guilty of harassing the Soviet regime in Siberia in 1918 or toppling Iran’s democratically-elected Mossadegh government in 1953, or training torturers for the Guatemalan dictatorship from the 1960s through the 1980s. And there is so much more they don’t know–and don’t want to know.

Sinecure: a position requiring little or no
work but giving the holder status or financial benefit.

An American mother loses a son in one of the country’s senseless wars and she is awarded a gold star, the same gold star we used to receive in second grade for completing our homework. “No,” you say, “this one is different. It’s for patriotism.” Ah, patriotism, the snake that bites its own tail by glorifying gratuitous deaths while attributing false value to those gold stars. The truth, Mom, is that your son died for no good reason or worse, to keep the wheels of the American war machine turning and its sinister profits rolling in. Companies like Lockheed Martin ($59.81 billion in revenues, 2019), Raytheon ($27.1 billion in revenues, 2018) and and hundreds of others are reaping obscene profits off the lives of young Americans.

That is what your gold star comemorates. At the same time it legitimizes America’s endless wars, and by extension the degradation and abandonment of the country’s own necessities, its infrastructures, health care, education, and cultural and social support systems. Coincidentally, President-elect Biden’s choice for Secretary of Defense is on the Raytheon payroll. Will he be renouncing that sinecure before he is sworn in?

Before we move on, let’s not forget the “enemy” soldiers and civilians (as in innocent infants, adolescents, parents and grandparents…) who are killed and mutilated for the same worthy imperial cause. Pentagon statistics don’t count them. Does that mean their suffering is irrelevant?

Then there’s the question of retribution. It doesn’t occur to Americans to acknowledge the human cost of their permanent wars. It’s not that they lack thinkers. They have hundreds of them penned up in hives on Think Tank Row, an area around Massachusetts Avenue NW in Washington DC populated by septic think tanks. Hasn’t it occurred to the American geniuses that these deadly manifestations of American patriotism might be creating enemies among the survivors? Don’t they realize that there is no more effective way of turning a normal Iraqi youth into a “terrorist?” Do the American thinkers need half their families fried by MQ-9 Reaper drones to awaken them to that possibility? Why are they so reluctant to admit that America requires a constant input of fresh terrorists to fuel their principal growth industry: permanent war?

The American necesssity for war is also a question of internal economics. It fulfills a macabre role in the distribution of wealth in the US, by transferring money from people who pay up to 37% in income taxes–salaried workers–to people who pay far less–big corporations. The United States imposes a tax on the profits of US resident corporations at a rate of 21 percent (reduced from 35 percent by Trump’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act). The corporate income tax raised $230.2 billion in fiscal 2019, accounting for 6.6 percent of total federal revenue, down from 9 percent in 2017. (Source: taxpolicycenter.org)

The never-ending expenditure on war materiel, led by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at $100 million a pop, and the new Ford-Class nuclear aircraft carrier that cost $12.8 billion in materials and labor. Add to that the $4.7 billion spent in research and development of the new Ford-Class carrier line. There are plans for three more, despite growing opinion that, in view of new Russian and Chinese hypersonic missiles, the big carriers may be increasingly vulnerable in battle. Now add the costs of all the rest of the toys and trinkets the Pentagon purchases for the armed forces. This astronomical rate of expenditure supposes mega-profits for US arms manufacturers, and it’s the American taxpayer who pays the bills. How is such a sinister hamster-wheel justified? Blame it on the terrorists. During the final days of the Franco dictatorship in Spain left-wing demonstrators used to chant: “¡Vosotros, facistas, sois los terroristas!” “You, fascists, are the terrorists.”

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Where Is H.L. Mencken When We Really Need Him?

“As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal.”

H.L. Mencken at his desk at the Baltimore Evening Sun

Nobody Sees Through the Boobery Like the Sage of Baltimore

Mencken wasn’t always right. He was frequently wrong. But he pronounced these prophetic words on the state of American democracy in 1920, which for me exonerates him from all the rest:

The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

Mencken, H. L. (July 26, 1920). “Bayard vs. Lionheart,” Baltimore Evening Sun
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Racism Is the Ongoing American Plague 2/2

“His entourage had checked in to the only hotel that would accept blacks…”–The Mirror

Discrimination Even in Hell

California writer and activist, Aron “Moe” Macarow, re-states the case of young black men who are discriminated against even in hell in his article “Our Prison System Is Even More Racist Than You Think” on ATTN.com (follow link to see his bullet points elaborated):

1. Race is likely to affect who receives the death penalty.
2. All states have disproportionately black prison populations, but states with the largest white majorities are also the worst.
3. Even before sentencing, people of color are at a disadvantage. They are are less likely to make bail than their white counterparts, spending more time in jail before they are even convicted of a crime.
4. Black offenders are more likely to receive harsher sentences for the same crimes as white convicts.
5. Key decision makers in death penalty cases are almost exclusively white.
6. Once in jail, black inmates are more likely to be in solitary confinement, and are less likely to receive the same mental healthcare as whites.
7. Black people are also more likely to die while in custody, and are more likely to experience violence at the hands of prison staff.
8. Even for those who are released, people of color still get the raw end of the deal.

Aron Macarow in ATTN.com

According to a recent Pew Research report, though black Americans’ imprisonment rate is at its lowest level in more than two decades, having decreased 34% since 2006, they are far more likely than their Hispanic and white counterparts to be in prison. The black imprisonment rate at the end of 2018 was nearly twice the rate among Hispanics (797 per 100,000) and more than five times the rate among whites (268 per 100,000). (PewResearch.org)

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Racism Is the Ongoing American Plague 1/2

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lynching-1.png
They’re proud of themselves. Not much has changed.

It’s the Underlying Plot of the American Story

If there’s a plot line that runs through the American story from its earliest history to our own day it’s inhuman, homicidal racism. That issue, which has been solved or significantly improved in most of the world, remains a tragic ballast in the progress of the United States of America. It’s there that governments and citizens have been pussyfooting around murderous racial injustice for the past 400 years and the end is not in sight. Lynching, in one form or another, remains as American as apple pie.

The origin of European race-based slavery in the New World are not to be found on the American mainland, however. It occurred on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, site of today’s Haiti and El Salvador, and the perpetrators were Christopher Columbus (yes the same man celebrated so lavishly every year on October 12 in all but seven of the United States), his brothers and their followers. Their brutality and rapine set the benchmark from the outset for genocidal practices in the Americas. In just a few decades they eliminated 100% of the native Taino Indian population on the island, either through contagious diseases or plain murder.

A favorite mode was coursing the Indians with horses and hunting hounds, killing them and feeding their bodies to the dogs. Today not a drop of Taino blood remains in either Haiti nor El Salvador. How did the Spanish justify this enslavement, murder and mayhem in the West Indies? It was easy. Insofar as the red-skinned primitive people of the islands did not know God, did not fear him and were not even baptized, they were considered commodities, not human beings. Besides, they were needed as slaves to dig their coveted gold out of the ground for the Spaniards. (Source: A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas)

Black Slavery from Africa

The divine approval of this sort of barbarous practices arrived as early as 1455 when Pope Nicholas V issued the Romanus Pontifex, affirming Portugal’s exclusive rights along the West African coast to territories it claimed there and the trade from those areas, as well as the right to invade, plunder and “reduce their persons to perpetual slavery.” (NY Times.com) The Holy Father’s timing was uncanny, as Columbus “discovered” America less than four decades later and Queen Isabella of Spain promptly authorized the enslavement of the native people of the West Indies.

The conditions imposed in the shipping of black slaves from Africa were unthinkable, which may be why white Americans have done their best not to think about them ever since. This trans-Atlantic slave trade represented a new form of race-based slavery. Endorsed by the Europeans, it resulted in the largest forced migration in history with some 12.5 million Africans shipped to the New World like livestock until the early part of the 19th century. The conditions on the slave ships were severe and unhygienic in the extreme. The victims, who were chained to plank racks, suffered dehydration, dysentery and scurvywhich bred mortality rates as high as 30% among men, women and especially children. (Source: Wikipedia)

It is not an exaggeration to affirm that the product of black-slave labor laid the principal foundations for America’s prosperity up until the Civil War, and continued after Emancipation and Reconstruction in other, locally cooked-up guises. Seven of the eight wealthiest states in the union in 1860 were slave states. This is not to say the north didn’t benefit, as well. Southern-grown tobacco and cotton travelled north to be processed and sold, producing large profits for the Yankees.

Racial Progress or Business as Usual?

In 1808, the last year of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, the US banned the importation of slaves from Africa and the West Indies. This sounds like a noble gesture, but it was just business as usual. At the time the increase of the black slave population in America was due to what history books call “natural increase.” What they don’t tell you is that this increase was anything but natural. It was the mass production from slave-breeding farms scattered around the south. These highly lucrative businesses were akin to livestock breeding operations. In its heyday the port of Richmond alone shipped some 10-20,000 slaves a month into the southern slave market.  Slaves delivered on ships arrived in better condition and drew better prices. This profitable local production of slaves motivated many of the proponents of the importation prohibition, including Thomas Jefferson, to back a move intended to eliminate foreign competition, thus shoring up slave prices.

Slavery was more than man’s inhumanity towards man. It was always about economics. Cheap labor that allowed America to compete with other nations. Much of America was literally built on slavery. Texas schoolbooks are now trying to make it sound not quite so bad. The breeding farms receive no mention at all.William Spivey on Medium, Mar 21, 2019, America’s Breeding Farms: What History Books Never Told You

Fast Forward Two Centuries

Let’s fast forward two centuries–skipping over a period that includes the Civil War and Emancipation, Reconstruction, the Black Codes, Separate but Equal, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Act, and the Obama presidency; all of which brought with them varying degrees of point and counterpoint and deserve treating in detail on other occasions. Today we have the privilege of reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ monumental 19,000-word article, The Black Family In The Age Of Mass Incarceration, published in The Atlantic in October, 2015, which sums up the present-day outcome of those centuries of inequality and oppression.

In this definitive elaboration of America’s latest catalog of racial injustice, Coates’ cites sociologist, advisor to President Lydon Johnson and later US senator, Daniel Moynihan’s book, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” (known as the Moynihan Report and distributed inside the government without the author’s name), which argued in 1965 that the federal government was underestimating the damage done to black families by “three centuries of sometimes unimaginable mistreatment” as well as a “racist virus in the American blood stream,” which would continue to plague blacks in his future, which is our present.

Moynihan’s proposed solution, that included provisions to rewrite the child protection laws to put fathers back into black homes (as having a man in the house exempted a family from government assistance) and to provide families with guaranteed minimum incomes, was too radical to be accepted by the legislators of mid-60s America–and today’s America, for that matter– but the report remains as a reminder of what might have been–and might still be possible someday.

Coates reminds us that America’s debt to African Americans remains unpaid:

That the Negro American has survived at all is extraordinary—a lesser people might simply have died out, as indeed others have … But it may not be supposed that the Negro American community has not paid a fearful price for the incredible mistreatment to which it has been subjected over the past three centuries.

(Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Black Family In The Age Of Mass Incarceration)

Mass Incarceration Is the New Slavery

Not only does the US boast alarming incarceration statistics–the highest in the world–but the way in which they’re racially skewed is even more absurd. Here’s the incredible prison infrastructure that permits the United States to process almost 2.3 million alleged wrongdoers–“alleged” because nearly half of them have not been convicted of the charges they’re accused of: 1,833 state prisons, 110 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,134 local jails, 218 immigration detention facilities, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers and psychiatric facilities.

More than a third of people executed under the death penalty within the last 40 years have been Black, even though African Americans represent only 13% of the general population. African Americans are pursued, convicted, and sent to death at a disproportionally higher rate than any other race.

In early 2000, the percentage of Black people on death row were as follows for the states below:

  • Maryland 72%
  • Pennsylvania 63%
  • Illinois 63%
  • Alabama 46%
  • Texas 41%
  • Virginia 39%
  • California 36%
  • Florida 36%

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The Savant of Lowbrow US Politicians

President Trump making calculations on Fox News

Donald Trump Is a Very Stable Scumbag Genius

Now that soon-to-be ex President Donald Trump no longer represents such a clear and present danger, perhaps we can look at him with some equanimity. Maybe we can try to understand what made him such an extravagantly atypical President of the United States. From the beginning of his incredible five-year run he seemed grossly unsuitable, and he still does. He lacks formation, intelligence, honesty, humility, aplomb, tact, humanity, generosity, elegance, class, social skills, diplomacy, discretion, wit, grace… Feel free to add your own terms to the description. Ironically, for one of the country’s most (self) acclaimed businessmen, he even lacks business acumen, having accumulated a long rap sheet of bankrupcies. Some well-informed White House observers have suggested that he lacks even sanity.

Is this to say that he’s good for nothing? Certainly not. He’s extremely good at what he’s good at. It took him successfully to the White House for four years and a near reelection, against very long odds. We have to give him credit for that. How did he manage it?

How Does the Kingfisher Manage It?

How does a kingfisher so effortlessly manage to drop from a branch like an arrow, enter the water and emerge with a fish in his beak? You don’t know? He doesn’t either. He was just born to fish. Can he ride a bicycle, compose a poem, command a platoon or run a meeting in the White House situation room? No, of course not. He can only do what kingfishers do: catch fish with amazing grace, build nests in cavities, impregnate queenfishers and feed the little ones. Is he intelligent? No, of course not. His brain weighs less than a microchip. He doesn’t do more because he’s incapable of conscious thought, but what little he does, he does astonishingly well, almost to perfection. In his way he’s a very limited genius, an avian savant.

Dr. A. Snyder described some tentative aspects of the savant mind in 2009:

No widely accepted cognitive theory explains savants’ combination of talent and deficit. It has been suggested that individuals with autism are biased towards detail-focused processing and that this cognitive style predisposes individuals either with or without autism to savant talents. Another hypothesis is that savants hyper-systemize, thereby giving an impression of talent… Also, the attention to detail of savants is a consequence of enhanced perception or sensory hypersensitivity in these unique individuals. 

(Source: The Economist, April 16, 2009)

I’m not going to suggest that Donald Trump is a birdbrain, but he does share some remarkable traits with the kingfisher and the savants. He has one astonishing talent. The rest is deficit. Though he lacks the intelligence and the attention span necessary for rational thought, normal social relations or running a White House, he is a genius when it comes to appealing to unlettered Americans in a presidential election campaign. For that mission he has it all: the bravado, the arrogance, the swagger, the down-home knee-slapping coarseness, the elusive adaptability of the camaleon, the je ne sais quoi of lying and boasting effortlessly, of insulting intelligence, evading the point, changing the subject and, of course, insulting his opponents.

No other president in American history has brought the presidency so low, reducing the discourse to cheeseburgers and reality shows, and converting his country into a laughing stock on the world stage, feared not for its awesome power but for the perilous ineptitude of its commander in chief. Nonetheless, he is the undisputed sociopath thought leader of almost half of American voters. He is the lowbrow savant of American politics. He can convert his fraudulent christianity into a political power base. He can lead the American lemmings to the gaping sea. Can he also memorize 600 telephone numbers?

Aside from what he’s undeniably good at, do we need to be reminded of the rest, of the unmistakable signs of ineptitude and mental deficiency? What to say of a public figure who stands behind a lectern and proclaims to the entire country: “Throughout my life my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” Is it possible that he’s, like, far from really smart?

Trump’s performances in the White House press room and lawn alone are enough to suggest that he should perhaps be institutionalized. This is the President of the United States speaking: “(Adriana Huffington) is unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man–he made a good decision.”

Trump’s choice of friends and allies is another indicator of his questionable judgment, starting with his bosom buddy, Vladimir Putin. The choice of this friend to cherish and protect makes at least half of the American population ask themselves, “What has Putin got on Trump?” Vladimir Putin is a former director of the KGB and a chess player. He’s not going to have the wit to bug the luxurious hotel suites where he invites Trump to stay?

President Trump with his friend, Nigel Farage

Then there’s Nigel Farage, perhaps something of a savant himself. Farage is the indifferently-educated, right-wing British politician who orchestrated–along with other UK reactionaries and the help of the American big-data firm, Cambridge Analytics–the Brexit campaign that untimely jerked the British out of the European Community, leaving them at the mercy of their American friends, led by President Donald Trump. One wonders if Farage ever bothered to check the attrition rate among Trump’s White House staff.

Let’s Be Fair

President Trump is not solely responsible for his smash-and-grab world view. He’s had a lot of help. He came from a dystopian family that sent him to military school and instilled in him crass real-estate-operator values and a bloated sense of his own worth. That alone is enough to create a ruthless, unprincipled adult, but the American social milieu wasn’t much better. His young manhood transpired during the Johnson/Nixon/Reagan era, times of consummate American opportunism, predation and mediocrity. Let’s not pretend that Trump created America. America created Trump.

Now he is on his way out, but America marches on. There will be a new president, the product of a “less bad” dynamic. Will he–will anybody–be able to clean up the monumental mess President Trump has deliberately left in his wake? It’s too late for the 240,000 Covid-19 dead (four times the American lives lost in the Vietnam war), and environmental recovery has been set back four critical years. Fundamental government agencies have been effectively dismantled and whatever good will was left in America is long gone. No, Donald Trump is not solely responsible for all this , but he assuredly did his ignominious part.

While we’re being fair, let’s pose the vital remaining question: Will President Donald J. Trump be held responsible–before a court of law–for his most egregiously damaging actions while in the White House. The court might start by looking at the ongoing series of homicidal lies that Trump employed to play down the Coronavirus pandemic in order to favor his own reelection possibilities.

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The Pipeline

Nord Stream 2 Oil Pipeline: Business or Politics? Competition or Blackmail?

Germany is Europe’s principal industrial power. That’s their first problem. They are also the motor of the European economy. That’s a second strike against them. Angela Merkel, their prime minister, is one of a half dozen most respected world leaders. Added to all that, they’re cordial trading partners with Russia. Now they’re just months off activating an important natural-gas deal with the Russians via a new pipeline that runs beneath the Baltic sea from Ust-Luga in Russia to to Lubmin in Germany. It’s called Nord Stream 2.

President Trump has suggested that American liquified shale gas, which he calls “freedom gas,” might be a better alternative.

The Nord Stream project is a deal between two sovereign nations, beneficial to both. The Germans need a secure energy source to drive their industry long term and the Russians have massive natural gas fields within pipeline distance. The work of laying the undersea pipeline that began 10 years ago is 94% finished with just the final 144 kilometers remaining. The Germans stand to have their energy needs covered for decades and for the Russians it’s a plum sale. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is also designed to link with ramifications that will extend to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Italy.

“The gas pipeline is advantageous for end consumers in Germany due to a procurement advantage of around five percent,” according to Global Risk Insights.com. The economic policy spokesman for Germany’s Union parliamentary group, Joachim Pfeiffer (CDU), argued that the second Baltic Sea pipeline would provide “another transport route for gas and thus improve our energy security”.  (Source: Global Risk Insights.com)

But there’s a problem. The American government disapproves, alleging that the project would increase Russia’s influence in the region. American opposition to Nord Stream 2 may also be related to competition that Russian gas represents to their own liquified shale gas in the EU market, which they would ship to Europe aboard tanker ships. Meanwhile, American rhetoric is ratcheting up and they are rallying their allies and sympathetic media around the world to oppose the Nord Stream 2 operation.

Three Republican Senators

Three Republican senators–Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin–have sent a belligerent letter to the municipal authorities of Murkan Port on the island of Rugen demanding that they cease their technical assistance to the Russian vessels constructing the final sections of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Ted Cruz calls the Russian-German natural gas deal “a direct assault on US national security.”

According to Deutsche Welle (DW), the German news agency, the senators are “threatening” the operators of this small German port with “crushing legal and economic sanctions.” In their letter the US senators accuse port operator, Faehrhafen Sassnitz, of “knowingly providing significant goods, services, and support” for the project and demanding that they “cease activities” supporting the construction of the pipeline or face “potentially fatal measures.” German Minister of State, Niels Annen, took umbrage at what he considered the senators’ bad manners, saying that he considered the tone and content of the senators’ letter “completely outrageous.” He added, “Threatening a close friend and ally with sanctions, and using that kind of language, will not work.” Annen told German public broadcaster ZDF, “European energy policy will be decided in Brussels, and not in Washington DC.”

Sounds Like Familiar Extraterritorial US Sanctions

According to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, the Nord Stream 2 project is considered an activity related to Russian export pipelines and therefore “at risk of US sanctions.” Pompeo considers his statement as “a clear warning to companies aiding and abetting Russia’s malign-influence projects that will not be tolerated. Get out now or risk the consequences.”

This sounds more like Dodge City than Old Europe. Where does the mayor of Dodge derive the authority to ban legitimate commercial transactions on the other side of the Atlantic? Where does this American geopolitical arrogance originate? In overconfidence? Naivete? Greed? A historical self-perception of invulnerability? All of the above? Whatever the motives, with this extravagant pipeline stand the Americans are, by threatening the Germans and the Russians with sanctions, taking on two quite serious countries–and by extension the entire European Community. That prominent American politicians should proffer those threats, and in that language, serves mainly to reaffirm the world’s suspicions just how far off the rails the Americans have veered.

As for “malign -influence projects,” what is that supposed to communicate, beyond self-serving, preach-to-the-choir gibberish? Secretary Pompeo studied at the US Military Academy at West Point. Didn’t he read the history of Napoleon Bonaparte? Shouldn’t he be aware of the way imperial arrogance lubricated the slippery slope from Austerlitz to Waterloo?

The American Free-Trade Farce

The US has already imposed some sanctions on the ships laying the Nord Stream 2 pipes and has threatened to expand them if the pipeline is completed. The EU stressed that such a move would be “unacceptable” and Germany insisted the project “gives no cause” for sanctions. The German foreign affairs minister, Heiko Maas, defends the principal of free trade, insisting that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline issue is economic, not political. Russia has been the largest supplier of natural gas to the EU since 2018, according to the European Commission.

The free-trade argument is one that the fiercely-free-trading Americans should understand, but they appear not to. They go so far as to suggest that Germany would be better served by importing American liquified shale gas, transporting it thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean. It’s almost as if their desire to peddle their own gas influenced their thinking in a grotesque way. President Trump had his own take on American natural gas. He calls it “freedom gas.” This might be a cogent argument in Mississippi but anywhere else in the world it sounds simply inane.

What’s the End Game?

German authorities have expressed their firm intentions to finish the pipeline and start receiving Russian natural gas. Secretary of State Pompeo has countered with a Hollywood old-west-style ultimatum: “Get out now or face the consequences.” What happens now if the Germans and the Russians decide not to “get out?” Will the President give the order to bomb the Russian town of Ust-Luga, the source of the problem? Or Berlin? Or both?

May you live in interesting times.

P.S. That said, will the President still be President?

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Was 9/11 America’s Reichstag Fire?

It’s Not Quite Clear Yet, But It Smells Like It

On September 11, 2001, 19 Muslim activists, ostensibly trained in Afghanistan and at naive American flight schools, hijacked four airliners and flew two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and a third into the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, perhaps due to a passenger revolt aboard. The operation left behind almost 3,000 dead and a lot of unanswered questions. 

Subsequent deaths related to the 9/11 attacks are about to surpass the number who died on the day. According to Dr. Michael Crane, director of the World Trade Center Health Program Clinical Center of Excellence at the Mount Sinai Hospital, nearly 10,000 first responders and others who were in the World Trade Center area have been diagnosed with cancer. More than 2,000 deaths have been attributed to 9/11 illnesses thus far. And it will get worse.

The Reichstag Precedent

In 1933, the German Reichstag (parliament building) was torched by a supposed left-wing arsonist, just a month after Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor. This event, considered an inside job by some informed observers, set the scene for his total takeover of the German state and, over the next 12 years, the rest of Europe. His first step, immediately after the fire, was to announce the Reichstag Fire Decree, permitting the police to detain people indefinitely without a court order; and then the Enabling Act that gave him broad legal powers over all aspects of German society, powers that he never relenquished and employed to wreak historic havoc in Europe.

If this sounds reminiscent of the Patriot Acts I and II after 9/11, it’s because they have a lot in common:

  • The ongoing doubt regarding who engineered the attack and how
  • The rapid and ongoing promulgation of emergency anti-terrorist legislation that simultaneously curtailed citizens’ civil rights
  • The supposed legitimazation of military action against sovereign countries that seemed to be chosen for other reasons
  • The tolerance of armed right-wing militias and commandos on the streets of his own country
  • The affirmation of a policy of belligerence and über-nationalism in foreign relations

The American Experience

In concrete terms the American response to 9/11 manifested itself in gratuitous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq with disastrous long-term consequences for both of those essentially innocent countries. No cogent evidence was ever produced connecting either of them to the September 11 attacks. Years later the Americans themselves confessed that the Iraqi-weapons-of-mass-destruction justification was false.

Coincidentally, the 9/11 attacks seem eerily to have been predicted by the neocon Project for the New American Century (PNAC) when their Rebuilding America’s Defenses paper, written a year before before the September 11 attacks said: “Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” The neocons fortuitously got their “new Pearl Harbor” on September 11, 2001. Veteran Australian journalist and documentary film maker, John Pilger, points to this passage when arguing that the Bush administration used the events of September 11 as an opportunity to capitalize on long-desired plans.

Meanwhile, the motivation for the attacks was never made clear, though it seems evident that any ranking Muslim terrorist with a mínimum of geopolitical savvy would have immediately foreseen the untold disasters that would befall his people in the aftermath of a 9/11-style event. By the same token, any neocon would immediately perceive the benefits of that same attack when it came to frightening American citizens, stripping them of their constitutional rights and herding them willy-nilly down the path to perpetual war.  

We had never seen the conspiracy-theory card played so fast and loose as in the case of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Building 7 and the Pentagon, each of which poses its own set of serious anomalies. Congressional proposals in response to the 9/11 attacks were introduced less than a week after the event and President George W. Bush signed the USA Patriot Act bill into law just over a month later, on October 26, 2001. The bill passed with a single dissenter, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Is Your Story Leaky? Just Label Your Doubters “Conspiracy Theorists”

The lapses and inconsistencies in the oficial version of the events of 9/11, aggravated by the clumsy investigation, soon gave rise to groups of doubters from around the world, many of them highly qualified, who came to be called the 911 Truth Movement. The architects and engineers among these doubters launched elaborate technical investigations into the anomalous circumstances of the buildings’ collapse. They allege that there is no rational explanation for their straight-down near free fall , especially in the case of the 47-story Building Seven, which was not struck by any airplane yet dropped as true as a plumb bob. Further research on the case is complicated by the fact that the debri was hauled away and exported almost immediately after the attacks and very shortly nothing remainedI of the crime scenes.

The response from the American establishment and media to the questions posed by the doubters was an effective stone wall expressed in one brief phrase: “conspiracy theories.” That was enough to settle the question for the majority of the American people, terrified or ignorant enough to accept simple, flag-wrapped explanations for events that were clearly much more complicated. Who is telling the truth? Who stands to benefit? The oficial investigation forgot even to follow the money. If it had they might have noticed that the big winners were Larry Silverstein’s Silverstein Properties which enjoyed a $4.55 billion insurance settlement and, of course, the military-industrial complex that has been bloated ever since by the sale—all over the world—of ever-more-sophisticated, fabulously-expensive arms and anti-terrorist materiel.

The trouble with “emergency legislation” like Hitler’s Enabling Act and the Patriot Act in the US is the difficulty in revoking it when the emergency has passed. Due mainly to the executive branches’greed for competencies, some of the most repressive aspects of these laws survive as toxic legacies until their most pernicious parts are eventually accepted as routine.

Enter the USA Patriot Act

The USA Patriot Act, enacted on October 26, 2001, modified many major U.S. intelligence, communications, and privacy laws, including: The Electronic Communications Privacy Act,  the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, and the Communications Act of 1934. (Source: it.ojp.gov) The parts of the Patriot Act that cause most concern have to do with provisions that facilitated the governments right to collect Americans’ communications records.

According to VOX.com:

The Patriot Act covered a lot of ground. Some of its provisions have since been struck down by the courts (the Supreme Court has ruled that it’s illegal to indefinitely detain immigrants who aren’t charged with crimes, for example); others have become part of the mission of the Department of Homeland Security, which didn’t exist when the law was passed. Others have stuck around and aren’t the subject of a lot of controversy: the law created a slew of new federal crimes related to terrorism, created federal funds to assist victims of terrorism, and gave the federal government a range of new powers to track and seize money being used by organizations connected to terrorism.

Though the introductory notes to the USA Patriot Act try to emphasize the protection of the civil rights of Americans, subsequent editions of the act have tightened many of those loopholes:

  • the 2001 Act,
  • the 2005 reauthorizing act,
  • the 2006 amending and reauthorizing act, and
  • the 2011 four-year extension of the “lone wolf” definition, authorization of “roving wiretaps” and “request for production business records” search authority.

The ACLU writes in 2001,

Less than two years after Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, giving new, sweeping powers to the federal government to conduct investigations and surveillance inside the United States, the Justice Department is contemplating another chilling grab of authority and further diminution of constitutional checks and balances on law enforcement. 

With the Domestic Security Enhancement Act the Administration took the Patriot Act’s antiterror powers several steps further.  Dubbed “Patriot Act 2,” the legislation granted additional sweeping powers to the government, eliminating or weakening remaining limits on government surveillance, wiretapping, detention and prosecution. 

In subsequent years the government amended the Patriot Act three more times. The government’s response to allegations of civil rights abuse, published on Justice.gov, reads like a patronizing explanation for the most rigorous provisions of the USA Patriot Act 2, almost as if they were ashamed of it:

The Patriot Act allows investigators to use the tools that were already available to investigate organized crime and drug trafficking. Many of the tools the Act provides to law enforcement to fight terrorism have been used for decades to fight organized crime and drug dealers, and have been reviewed and approved by the courts.

(Congressional Record, 10/25/01)

The Final Link

The final link in the chain of events unleashed by the Reichstag Fire was World War II. We have yet to see the ultimate results of the events of 9/11, both on the American domestic front and on foreign relations. Will the Patriot Act ultimately enable the US government to treat the Black Lives Matter demonstrators as terrorists? Will they permit Washington chicken hawks to launch unjustified attacks on sovereign countries such as Venezuela and Iran the way they did in Iraq and Afghanistan in early years of this century? Will future American agressions lead to another worldwide conflagration? The 2020 American presidential election is imminent and may be decisive in determining the final link in the series of events initiated by the attacks of September 11, 2001. Which is the candidate who will prevent the worst occurring at home and abroad? Your guess is as good as mine. And we don’t have long to wait.

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American Democracy Cries Out for Revitalization

The Remedies for Their Woes Are Straightforward and Everyone Would Benefit

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, as Aretha so eloquently put it, is everything, between rich and poor, between black, brown and white; between left and right.

I left the States in 1968 when I was 25 years old, recently discharged from the army. That’s more than 50 years ago and I only went back a few times to visit my mother. Yet I’ve never stopped thinking about America. About the wonderful country they have, their abundant resources, their industrial and intellectual potential, their bright and creative people, their authentic bluegrass, blues and soul traditions… I write “they” because ever since I became a Spanish citizen 37 years ago I somehow stopped feeling that I fitted into the American mosaic. My view of the United States has become that of the consummate outsider who was once on the inside, looking out.

These days Americans have to ask, how did everything go so wrong? What might be done to set the country straight?

Frankly, this is something I’ve been ruminating on since before Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, and I think I have some tentative answers. First we have to agree on the necessities of a proper democracy, one that serves its citizens and the world at large. Yesterday I sat down with a pencil and made a list. If you love pencils and lists you’ll understand my elation in that moment at having America’s problems in my hands. Everything is possible. Here’s the list, by the numbers, in the order they came into my head:

The Pillars of a Viable Democracy

  1. Universal mutual respect, regardless of individual differences.
  2. A sense of shared destiny.
  3. Equality before the law, due process.
  4. Free and fair elections.
  5. A mixed economy incorporating the incentives of capitalism and the securities of socialism.
  6. Good will.
  7. Solidarity that trumps opportunism.
  8. Rigorous racial, sexual and social equality. See 7.
  9. Free and equal public education.
  10. Basic decency, tolerance, generosity and honesty.
  11. Acknowledgement of fact-based reality.
  12. A humane foreign policy.
  13. A population capable of critical thinking.
  14. Leadership committed to all of these values.

After all, two of America’s most revered collectives are already thoroughly socialized: the US military and the Congress of the United States.

Here’s What the US Has Today

  1. A polarized society with virulent disrespect of each side for the other.
    R-E-S-P-E-C-T, as Aretha so eloquently put it, is everything, between rich and poor, between black, brown and white; between the left and the right. It’s the lubricant and the shock absorber for everything that takes place in a well-ordered , egalitarian society.
  2. A overriding sense of “every man for himself.” When the acknowledgment that you’re all in this together is the best glue for holding society together.
  3. Massive inequality through law enforcement, courts and penal institutions. This is the infirm American justice system and without reforming it nothing is possible. For gross abuse of separation of powers, look no further than the President’s constitutional right to appoint Supreme Court justices for life, just to mention the most obvious. After a period of renewed democracy a constitutional amendment and other judicial reforms would be in order.
  4. Murky, untrustworthy elections due to the Electoral College, gerrymandering, rigged polling practices, and distrust fomented by a candidate with an eye to manipulating election results by impugning the election and then loosing a Proud-Boys-style army of right-wing goons on the nation. Free and fair elections are the heart of true democracy.
  5. A predatory capitalistic economy. Capitalism is deeply rooted and needs tempering, controlling its excesses. As for socialism, it shouldn’t be too hard to sell European-style socialism to Americans, notwithstanding a century of anti-socialist brainscrubbing. After all, two of America’s most revered collectives are already thoroughly socialized: the US military and the Congress of the United States. Both enjoy socialized medicine, including dentistry. Both are entitled to a living wage–admittedly the latter live better than the former–and a dignified retirement. All that is lacking is to extend those benefits to the whole of American society. Meanwhile, isn’t it a nice irony that those who benefit most from American socialism are the same politicians who most vehemently denounce any collective solution as “Bolshevik.”
  6. Ill will. This is more complicated to remedy but it should come as a result of all the other advances in a renovated American democracy.
  7. Opportunism that trumps solidarity. Also tricky and it won’t be immediate but it will come of its own accord in time, once the conditions are propitious and honesty reigns.
  8. Crushing racial, sexual and social inequality at all levels. This is perhaps the Americans’ most acute problem. Homicidal racism in the US is business as usual. The streets-to-prison conveyor belt for minorities is working flawlessly and prisons are a growth industry. But the problem is much broader and much more subtle. An entire sector of a country’s population distinguished by skin tone cannot be expected to surivive without respect. African Americans are the second largest racial/ethnic minority in the US, comprising an estimated 13.4% of the population, after Hispanic and Latino Americans’ 18%. (Source: Wikipedia article, “Race and ethnicity in the United States,” figures from 2016.) Can a profound revamping of America’s nominally democratic society rectify these injustices? Only time will tell but the United States will not be a truly civilized country until this issue is faced squarely and dealt with equitably. Again, universal progressive public education will help.
  9. Prohibitively expensive and unequal education, well below the level of more civilized countries. American education through 12th grade is free, but not equal. Since it’s generally financed by property taxes and they vary widely from neighborhood to neighborhood and state to state, some schools are lavishly rich and others far too poor. Higher education must also be free or inexpensive. These inequalities between the rich and everyone else should sort themselves out with advances in other aspects of society.
  10. General indecency, intolerance, greed and dishonesty. They could try beginning with effective, Nordic-style schools and pre-schools where decency is taught the same as readin’, writin’ and rithmatic.
  11. Miracle-based reality. This is one of the hardest ills to combat as religious belief, no matter how absurd or commerce based, doesn’t admit of logical rebuttal. This is an area where the only hope–and it’s not a guaranteed cure–is via a proper public, lay education of children from an early age.
  12. US foreign policy consists almost entirely of sanctions and bare-knuckled militarism. Despite not having won a proper war in seven and a half decades (and that one was largely won by the Russians), the Americans still strut their bellicose stuff proudly. They maintain between 800 and 1,000 menacing military bases around the world. Hundreds of foreign bases, besides creating dozens of enemies around the world, also means billions of dollars annually in business just building, stocking and maintaining them. The US military is also the world’s largest polluter.
  13. A large sector of the population is incapable of reasonable thinking on any question. This is about the lamentable “dumbing down” of America in recent–and not so recent–decades. Whether coincidentally or by design, it functioned wonderfully well to create a semi-literate brotherhood with no criteria of its own that thrives on pure toxic ideology and magical religion. This problem will require intensive, long-term cultivation of the American lumpenproletariat. The first requirement is literacy. The second is books that aren’t the Bible.
  14. No leadership whatsoever. The election of an honest, capable, hard-working, Franklin-D.-Roosevelt-style president would work wonders. There is no shortage of such people in the United States, but today they’re too honest to get involved in national politics.

It Might Be a Long Uphill Trudge But It’s Possible, and Necessary

We’re talking here, of course, about hearts and minds. In America they urgently require some serious changing. And that’s not an easy task, as the Americans discovered in Vietnam. The essential first step in any case is for a decent, humanitarian American candidate to win an election, and not just one. This kind of change requires a whole series of disinterested commanders in chief dedicated to healing and rebuilding the country. They don’t need to worry about making it “great” which is just a hollow campaign slogan. It would be enough just to make it a just country where every newborn child had an equal chance in life.

by Mike Booth

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NATO Is a Protection Racket, Among Other Things


Let’s Go Back Over the Story

The rationale for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been based on a genial lie from the beginning: that the United States set up and essentially runs NATO in order to protect Europe from potential Russian aggression. It seems to make perfect sense when interpreted in the context of the Cold War, in which we were obliged by Big Brother to perceive almost everything as a Russian plot. The best defense against this looming danger, the story goes, was a military alliance led by the greatest power in the history of the world, the United States.

In the immediate post-World War II period the US, which took more than its share of the credit for the liberation of Europe from the Nazis, saw an opportunity to consolidate its influence over the continent. Given the poverty and disarray of other countries after the war, the Americans saw an opportunity for the United States to advance their world-domination agenda. Their first step in tutoring their European allies, and it was a masterstroke, was to create NATO in Washington on April 14, 1949, and headquarter it in Brussels. This grouping of the Europeans in a single organization made them much more manageable. Casting the organization as a military mutual defense project with the all-powerful US at the head left Europe as a virtual American protectorate. Any significant deviation from the American agenda entailed the threat of American withdrawl of their protection. Of course, that protection had to be paid for. Does this business model sound familiar? It should. It made Francis Ford Coppola rich making movies about it.

The creation of the National Security Council (NSC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1949 laid the foundation of the American neo-colonial infrastructure, along with the Bretton Woods agreements founding the World Bank and the IMF, which guaranteed American economic and monetary dominance. Then, in 1952, came the creation of the National Security Agency (NSA), the greatest electronic eavesdropping agency in the world. With these measures in place the deck was nicely stacked to assure three quarters of a century of American world ascendency. That domination was not seriously questioned until the rise of Chinese industrial, economic and military power in the early 21st century. Today the United States has a new set of defense priorities and the prospect of Russian tanks rolling into Poland is not high on that list.

What Benefits Does NATO Contribute to the United States? 

President Donald Trump whinges a lot about European NATO members not contributing enough to the NATO budget. After all, he alleges, NATO exists to protect Europe. It’s only fair that Europeans should pay their fair share. And from his point of view they don’t seem to be doing that.

The President’s point of view, however, doesn’t hold much water. Is the principal mission of NATO really to protect Europe? President  Trump and his peripatetic Secretary of State, Mike (El Pompi) Pompeo, pretend to be unaware of the benefits that NATO provides the United States. Here’s what the Atlantic Council’s Magnus Nordenman and the Center for Transatlantic Relations’ Hans Binnendijk write in their issue brief, NATO’s Value to the United States: By the Numbers:

“NATO promotes peace within Europe and deters major US adversaries from launching large-scale conventional wars.

  • World War II cost the United States more than 400,000 lives and an estimated $4.1 trillion (in 2011 dollars). NATO has been key to preserving peace within the European continent and preventing other adversaries from launching a major conventional war.

  • According to credible sources, a major conventional war today could cost the United States upwards of $2.5 trillion per year.

    NATO is a force multiplier that gives the United States access to military tools in greater numbers than it can achieve by itself.

  • Non-US NATO members have 1,857,000 active duty service members and 1,232,290 reservists. The seven largest non-US NATO member armies have the same number of active duty troops as the United States (1.3 million).

  • Non-US NATO members can deploy 6,983 battle tanks, 34,000 armored vehicles, 2,600 combat aircraft, 382 attack helicopters, 252 major naval craft (including submarines), and 1,582 patrol and surface combatants.

  • France and the United Kingdom alone provide 30 percent of the Alliance’s ballistic-missile-submarine fleet.

  • NATO’s European members are beginning to host the first stages of the Alliance’s new ballistic-missile-defense system aimed at preventing long-range attacks by rogue states on the United States and Europe.

  • NATO members frequently share intelligence across the Alliance, aiding US operations and intelligence-gathering. The United Kingdom, France, and Germany alone add 40,000 intelligence personnel to the Alliance’s intelligence capabilities.

  • Non-US NATO members host twenty-eight US main operating bases in Europe, which cut down on the time needed for the United States to respond to a crisis and are critical for US missions in the Middle East and North Africa.

  • In 2009, for example, Germany contributed $800 million to offset and improve its US bases.

NATO undertakes numerous missions to protect member states and promote security around the globe.

  • NATO has five active missions around the world deploying 18,000 troops.

  • Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has completed thirteen missions including two in the United States (Hurricane Katrina relief and post-9/11 air reconnaissance patrol).

  • NATO allies contributed thousands of troops to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, including 38,000 in 2011, saving the United States an estimated $49 billion that year. The operation in Afghanistan was the first and only time NATO’s mutual defense commitment was invoked.

  • Non-US members sustained more than 1,000 combat deaths in Afghanistan, with an additional one hundred lost by NATO partners.

  • Non-US NATO members contributed more than 60 percent of assets for Operation Unified Protector in Libya.

  • Non-US Coalition members flew one-third of all coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Operation Inherent Resolve.

  • NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield against piracy in the Gulf of Aden has been led at different times by Denmark, Spain, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Portugal.

NATO supports and protects the economies of Europe, which are critical to the health of the US economy.

  • US trade with the European Union reached $699 billion in 2015, only made possible because of the security and stability provided by NATO.

  • US exports to the former Communist NATO member states (not including East Germany) grew from $0.9 billion in 1989 to $9.4 billion in 2016.

  • Troops and Equipment. NATO benefits from being able to draw on the military expertise and capabilities of its members. This includes tanks, submarines and fighter jets.
  • Non-US NATO members contribute massively to the US defense industry to supply their forces. Currently, European members are planning to purchase as many as 500 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters  from the United States.” The life-of-the-product cost of those 500 aircraft and their maintenance is in the trillions of dollars, which drop straight into the US Treasury.

What Else Does the US Gain from NATO?

  1. Collaborative bases all over Europe (in 21 countries) at the expense of the European taxpayer. While it is true that the Department of Defence has to pay more for stationing troops in Europe at a higher cost of living, the host nations pay this back and an extra surplus to the US Treasury (something most American spokespeople forget to mention). On top of that, all infrastructure of these US bases is paid for by the host nation, including maintenance.
  2. Access to European defense technology. A lot of ‘American’ technology originates elsewhere.
  3. The proximity necessary to lobby European politicians to buy American weapons systems. All of this without any firm commitment as the NATO Treaty states that an attack on one member state must be considered to be an attack on all member states … it specifically doesn’t state that military action is required … this at the request of the US back in 1949.
  4. A unified military, political, and economic influence over virtually all of Europe, including constant aerial surveillance.
  5. A ring of bases and missile emplacements around southern and western Russia.
  6. A reinforcement of the myth of the US as “protector” of Europe.
  7. Strategically placed allies prepared to be invited or coerced into joining any American “preemptive”aggression anywhere in the world.

What Are the Benefits for European NATO Members?

On the other side of the ledger, NATO membership also benefits the Europeans. Here’s how one of the NATO websites (nato.int) explains the advantages for European members:

  • An International Security Hub. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a political and military Alliance of 28 member countries from Europe and North America. Member states are committed to individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. These values are at the heart of NATO’s transatlantic bond.
  • Collective Defense. The greatest responsibility of the Alliance is to protect and defend NATO territory and populations. 
  • NATO’s Command Structure. NATO has a permanent, integrated military command structure where military and civilian personnel from all member states work together. 
  • Standing forces. NATO has a number of standing forces on active duty that contribute to the Alliance’s collective defence on a permanent basis. These include NATO’s four standing maritime group fleets, which are ready to act when called upon. Additionally NATO has an integrated air defence system that links national air defence capabilities together and includes the Alliance’s ballistic missile defence capabilities. 
  • Deterrence. The Alliance’s deterrence is based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, which remain a core element of NATO’s strategy.
  • Crisis Management. The Alliance has frequently acted to uphold international peace and security.

And one frankly frightening disadvantage:

By joining the NATO alliance European countries assume the risk and responsibility of alienating all of the United States’ enemies. In the worst cases, where NATO members permit the emplacement of American nuclear missiles on their territories, they convert their countries into nuclear targets of new enemies they might never before have considered adversaries.

So Who Owes What to Whom?

This quick comparative summary of benefits accruing from NATO membership for both Americans and Europeans  does not indicate a net debt of the Europeans in favor of the Americans, rather the contrary. Most of what the Americans deliver are promises, and American promises are not enjoying a bull market these days.

A quick look at the map below also belies the supposed defensive nature of NATO, especially now that newer NATO members, equipped and trained in part by the United States, have completed the semi-circle of bases and missiles that potentially threaten Russia from the west. So European NATO members become accomplices in the American virtual siege of Russia. One wonders, are those bases really necessary? In fact, the whole raison d’etre of the NATO project hinges upon the possibility of a Russian blitzkrieg stomping across western Europe. Is it probable? How probable, 90%? 10%? Is it reality based or a figment of the traditional American anti-communist neurosis, the same malady that has “legitimized” bloody military interventions around the world from Korea and Vietnam to Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Is the phantasmagoric statistical probability of the dread Russian bear pouncing on Europe kept in penumbra in order to justify the ongoing American “defensive” presence there? A similar strategy worked in the 1950s. Now it is being dusted off and expected to work again in the 21st century.

The Frosting on the Cake: The Americans’ Secret Terrorist Army in Western Europe

It was Winston Churchill’s idea to create secret “stay-behind” military units in European countries as resistance fighters against the possibility of Russian invasion. Never mind that the Russians had just lost more than 20 million citizens while winning the war for the Allies on the eastern front. So Churchill sent MI6 agents all over Europe to recruit experienced, right-minded fighters, equip them and train them in guerilla techniques. The agents were looking for battle-seasoned troops.

As it happened the Germans had also prepared a stay-behind presence in Western Europe and one of their units had just been rounded up and jailed by allied troops. When the OSS (forerunner of the CIA) found them, instead of treating them as particularly nasty prisoners of war, they offered them a job. That’s how “Operation Gladio,” as the project came to be known, became a swarm of extreme right-wing goons.

After six years of warfare the UK wasn’t really in shape to run a Europe-wide paramilitary network, so their sometime collaborators, the American CIA, took over until 1952 when the management of Operation Gladio passed to NATO. The much-touted Marshall Plan notwithstanding, American and British concerns after the war were not so much about reconstruction in Europe as containment of the Russians and their collectivist ideology, especially in countries like Italy, France and Greece where communists were actually being elected to democratic governments, based on their exemplary resistance to the Germans during the war. 

Not to worry, NATO had a plan. They would activate the Gladio units in those countries whose elections needed “correcting” to carry out seemingly random terrorist attacks and blame them on the communists, thus swinging voters to the right. These terrifying false-flag operations–a bomb that killed 85 people and wounded more than 200 in the 1980 Bologna Centrale station, shotgun killings of whole families in supermarkets in Belgium’s Brabant region, and many others–determined the election results against leftist candidates and saved the day for democracy in the Free World. The truth didn’t come out until 1990 when right-wing militant and Gladio operator, Vincenzo Vinciguerra, testified in an Italian court on another case and the whole Gladio story came to light, both in Belgium and across Europe. Vinciguerra is still serving a life sentence for his–and NATO’s– crimes.

This spine-chilling history didn’t receive much coverage nor follow-up in the American press, though the Washington Post did have this to say on Nov. 13, 1990:

 A secret army created by the Central Intelligence Agency during the 1950s to organize resistance in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe has finally come in from the cold, and the disclosures of its past actions are producing a political flap that stretches across the continent.

The existence of a clandestine paramilitary network code-named “Operation Gladio” was disclosed last Thursday by Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti in a speech to his nation’s Senate. Since then, European officials have described similar operations in most of the other NATO countries.

The CIA-backed paramilitary network included units in Belgium, France, Greece, West Germany and the Netherlands, according to European newspaper and news-service reports.

(Source: The Washington Post, November 14, 1990)

Please Accept My Apology

If you were already aware of these sensational events and the outrages perpetrated by NATO and the CIA in Europe in the second half of the 20th century, please accept my apologies for wasting your time. If you weren’t aware, I’m delighted to have introduced you to this ongoing sordid story. NATO is still on the march, still selling its repugnant bulwark-of-democracy bill of goods, still providing troops and infrastructure for American skullduggery around the world. So, the next time you see on the news a seemingly senseless terrorist attack that smells like a false-flag operation, remember NATO and Gladio.

Why do those attacks have to be so senseless? Murdering a whole family of five in the aisles of a supermarket is so unthinkably unreasonable. Vincenzo Vinciguerra has answered this question from his prison cell. He said, “That’s what scares them most.”

by Mike Booth

Author’s note: Here’s a link to a three-part article I wrote on Operation Gladio earlier this year.

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“How Many People Must Die to Get Me Elected President?”

Let’s Look at a Few Examples

All candidates like to be elected, and the presidency of the United States is the ultimate election. They work long and hard at it and sometimes play dirty. And that unfair play can end in the deaths of innocent bystanders, as we shall see.

There’s only one rung on the American election ladder that’s higher than being elected president. That is being re-elected, and all but a few American presidents have made it their top priority while in office. For many of them it has been a permanent fixation and they have gone to extreme lengths to achieve it. And we’re not just talking about the mentally and morally deficient like President Trump. It’s pretty much all of them. One wonders, what are the causes of this deadly–for others–White House infirmity?

If you ask them they will, of course, all allege the same thing: “I need four more years to complete the project I promised the American people when I was elected.” Well, yes, but what else? Power hunger? There’s always a dash of that in the mix. It comes with the territory, and the higher you rise on the totem pole the more acute it becomes. Economic motives? Has there ever been an American president who left the White House poorer than when he went in?

The additional four more years of a second term give him time to distribute more favors among influential people–or better yet, corporations– and prepare himself a nice featherbed for when he leaves office. He can be more effective at this during his second term. First-term presidents must walk on eggshells to some extent, lest they garner powerful enemies, back failing initiatives, misjudge a war, or get reputations as self-interested, do-nothing chief executives.

Since re-election is constitutionally prohibited after their second term, they are free to move fast and loose in pursuit of whatever their hearts desire: some plump defense contracts for the military-industrial-technological-congressional complex, some pardons for their convicted cronies, some lucrative seats on boards of directors, a nice fund for a presidential library… The possibilities are endless, but they require time. Four more years.

“All of that may be true,” you say, “but from there to getting people killed in order to be re-elected is a far cry.”

Not That Far, Here’s Richard Nixon

Perhaps the 20th century’s most egregious instance of –What shall we call it?–“cognizant active or passive homicide for electoral purposes”– was the decision cooked up by candidate Richard Nixon & friends, regarding Nixon’s strategy for sabotaging President Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 election strategy.

Nixon’s Presidental campaign needed the war to continue, since he was running on a platform that opposed the war. According to the BBC:

Nixon feared a breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks designed to find a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam war, and he knew this would derail his campaign. In late October 1968 there were major concessions from Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris – concessions that would justify Johnson calling for a complete bombing halt of North Vietnam. This was exactly what Nixon feared.

Henry Kissinger, who was working on the Johnson camapaign at the time, alerted Nixon to the Democrats’ imminent peace initiative and Nixon commissioned one of his aids, Anna Chennault, to propose a deal to the South Vietnamese embassy: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal.” The Atlantic Wire.

This nifty bit of treason permitted Nixon to win the 1968 presidential election by just 1 percent of the popular vote. “Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American (and a million Vietnamese) lives, before finally settling in 1973 for a peace agreement  that had been within grasp in 1968.” (Source: Smithsonianmag.com, 2013)

John F. Kennedy

Six days into the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962, President Kennedy’s first public announcement included this: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States…” Seymour Hersh comments in his 1997 book, The Dark Side of Camelot, “Kennedy’s audience, of course, was not only Moscow but his political critics in the Republican Party. ‘Who lost Cuba?’ would not be a theme of the 1962 congressional elections.”

As president, John Kennedy was not above dialing party politics into an international crisis. This became more evident in his handling of the early stages of the Vietnam War. Hersh, in the same book, cites Kennedy’s lifelong friend, Charles Bartlett, quoting Kennedy as saying, “Charlie, I can’t let Vietnam go to the Communists and then go and ask these people–the voters of America–to re-elect me. Somehow we’ve got to hold that territory through the 1964 election. We’ve already given up Laos to the communists, and if I give up Vietnam I won’t really be able to go to the people.” Unfortunately Kennedy never got the opportunity to “go to the people.”

In a footnote Hersh describes Bartlett as “distressed,” at Kennedy’s linking the war in South Vietnam to his political fortunes. Kennedy’s old friend adds, “This made me a champion of the single six-year presidential term.”

Donald J. Trump

Trump takes America into a black hole.
Does it look as if President Trump is leading his followers into a black hole, or is it just me?

Sometimes it’s amusing to have a buffoon at the helm, but more often not. The Trump presidency thus far has given us a bit of everything. Now, smitten with classic re-election fever, President Trump is trying to activate his electorate, degrade his opponent, sidestep his court cases and, while he’s at it, defuse America’s greatest-ever passive election homicide: nearly 200,000 Covid-19 deaths. He might have gotten away with it by employing  his usual look-in-your-eyes, lie-and-shrug routine, but Bob Woodward’s revelation–in his new book, Rage, has probably cooked Trump’s election goose. According to Woodward’s account, the President admitted to being fully aware of the grave dangers posed by the epidemic on February 7, 2020, yet Donald Trump neither said nor did anything about it for months. He alleged that he played down the risks of Covid-19 in order not to cause panic across the country. Perhaps he also thought that an admission of that nature would be detrimental to his election hopes.

At this stage in the game President Trump has few mysteries left to unravel, but the most recent one has Trumpologists around the world  losing sleep. (And there’s a bit of amateur Trumpologist in most all of us who can read.) Why on earth did Donald Trump willingly submit himself to a series of 18 recorded interview sessions with Bob Woodward, a reporter with well-earned fame for his part in bringing down one unworthy United States president already?

by Mike Booth

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Educating the USA

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn …and change.” 

Dr. Ken Robinson

Education Is Not Just Your Best Hope, It’s Your Only Hope

Learning begins as soon as we come into the world. And when I say “we” I mean everybody: you, your neighbors, your country, your world. Because we’re all in this together.

The education of babies and young children is critical because it’s the foundation for everything else, and not just reading, writing and arithmetic. The first vital element of the education of small children is socialization, the art of living among other human beings. Why “small” children? Because, according to education specialists, the first three–some say six or seven–years of a child’s life is the most formative period for the adult that he or she will become. Aristotle is credited with saying, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.”

One of the best known and most successful manifestations of this reality is the legacy of the Italian doctor, teacher and educator of educators, Maria Montessori. Like many makers of history, Montessori came from an atypical tradition with an steep path before her. Born in a small town in Italy in 1870, as a woman she was discouraged at every step of the way from studying, becoming a doctor, lecturer, author and worldwide eminence in progressive education. The essence of her approach was to shun the mechanized industrial or rote mode of education in favor of a more agricultural model: plant the seeds and provide them with the necessities to grow.

Today the entire world is planted with Montessori and quasi-Montessori schools that have had a profound influence on their students and educational progress in general. Many innovators of today, like Jimmy Wales, the creator of Wikipedia; Julia Child, American doyenne of cookery, author and television personality; Gabriel García Márquez, Colombian Nobel prize novelist; Steve Wozniac, co-founder with Steve Jobs of Apple, Inc.; and Taylor Swift, singer-songwriter; all attended Montessori schools.

Parents Are the First Educators 

Before most children meet their first teacher, between the ages of three and six, all of their learning experiences and character formation are dependent upon their families. And a child’s family is a lottery. The ideal is loving, supportive parents with sufficient resources, time to devote to their early years, and an awareness of early learning necessities. These parents will recognize the importance of play, reading, freedom, creativity and animals, and will foment generosity, consideration and empathy. These children are the lucky ones, and they are more likely to live fruitful lives.

Sadly, the parents of underprivileged, off-the-rails young people are, themselves, products of the same self-fulfilling prophesy. They usually have neither the resources, the knowledge nor the skills to devote to educating their children during the critical early years, and the results are young citizens formed with the same crooked cookie cutter as their parents. This is obvious and demands programs for educating parents and equipping them with the means to raise their children to be constructive, fulfilled citizens and parents themselves. The circle must be broken. But that would be expensive, no? Yes, but Dr. Robinson puts that cost in perspective: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Criteria for a Good Education

“Good education” is public, egalitarian, well-funded, free and complete from elementary school through university or advanced vocational training. In addition, some countries have innovative pre-school programs like the Forest Schools pioneered in Scandinavia in the 1950s in which children under seven spend most of their time outdoors in nature, rain or shine. The experience of leading countries in education indicates that emphasis should be placed on training expert, motivated teachers and remunerating them well. Curiously, the countries that successfully educate their young to be first, good people, and second, good citizens, find that their students also attain academic results among the highest in the world.

We’re talking about benchmark Scandinavia, of course, but also Japan, Estonia, Canada, New Zealand and South Korea, along with several other countries in Asia and other places. The United States is not among the top 20 countries in this ranking.

What Does a Failing Primary Education System Yield? The American Example

Quality education is expensive but forward-looking countries don’t hesitate to budget all that is needed to provide first-rate teachers and administrators, installations and equipment. Contrast that with education financing in the United States, where it’s usually paid for by local property taxes. This means that zones with high property values have plenty of money for fine schools, whereas those with low property values have far less money, leading to netly inferior schools and education levels. Poor housing goes hand in hand with lower cultural levels, so inner-city kids have two strikes against them–economic and cultural–the day they start kindergarten. Unless they have extraordinary luck, their school experience is destined to be deficient. By the time they are turned out on the street, with or without a high-school diploma, they are fodder for the penal system.

With no further education aspirations nor job skills they turn, in the great American tradition, to fast, easy money. As they don’t have access to the markets of Wall Street, they deal in drugs. This scenario, where black and other minority young people predominate, leads inevitably to the courts, where the deck is stacked against them, and to prison, where they earn master’s degrees in crime and violence. When they eventually leave prison they have children of their own, reproducing the deadly cycle of inequality, hopelessness and bitterness. Add to all of this the reality of being constantly harassed and occasionally murdered with impunity by white police officers, and you have a volatile cocktail. How much human potential is lost with the marginalization of black and brown America?

This lifestyle of underprivileged young Americans, whether inner city or rural is a tragedy by design, but it needn’t be that way. In a country inspired by the human values that prevail in the rest of the advanced world, education would be free and equal for all. Soft drugs like marijuana, would be legal and regulated, and draconian mandatory sentencing would be a thing of the past. How complicated would it be for the country to invert national priorities and build schools instead of prisons and wage education instead of war? Why isn’t that happening? These are measures that would truly make America great again for all citizens except for the few who are currently profiting obesely from permanent war and private prisons.

American Higher Education Is a Different Story

Where the US does excel is in its higher education. Its elite universities, with their advanced degree programs and elaborate research facilities are the best in the world, attracting select foreign students. Many of these graduates return home to form the mandarin classes in their own countries. Others remain in the US to join the American intellectual and scientific elites.

High costs are the flaw in the American university system, serving to exclude students from humble origins. Even those who manage to finance their university educations with loans are heavily burdened by the obligation to pay them back. Total student loan debt in the US, as of 2020, is about $1.56 trillion. Students pay off that debt at an average of $393/month.

Anthropologist David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5000 Years, argues that student debt is “destroying the imagination of youth:”

If there’s a way of a society committing mass suicide, what better way than to take all the youngest, most energetic, creative, joyous people in your society and saddle them with, like $50,000 of debt so they have to be slaves? There goes your music. There goes your culture. There goes everything new that would pop out. And in a way, this is what’s happened to our society. We’re a society that has lost any ability to incorporate the interesting, creative and eccentric people.

A nice irony in this uniquely-American scenario is that the American Secretary of Education in the Trump administration, Betsy DeVos, an enthusiastic promoter of school privatazation, was obliged to admit in her pre-appointment ethics report her investment in LMF WF Portfolio, a company which helped finance a $147 million loan to a debt collection agency, called Performant Financial Co., that was a major investor in a student debt collection company. (Source: PRwatch.org, 2017).

A Country’s Education System Conditions Its Society and Vice Versa–The Norwegian Example

If you look at leading countries around the world you will find that their levels of prosperity and wellbeing coincide nicely with their educational philosophies and school systems. The first striking factor is that most of them are designed to inculcate human values, intellectual curiosity, creativity and teamwork as opposed to competition and individualism. The exceptions, besides the United States, are Singapore and some other Asian countries where academic achievement is emphasized. Even in those places, achievement is oriented more toward collective than individual objectives.

Norway is a exemplary case. In recent years, it has repeatedly been ranked as ‘the best country to live in’ by the United Nations Human Development Report. This annual ranking is based largely on average levels of education and income, combined with life expectancy, but also factors such as human rights and cultural freedom. (Source: StudyinNorway.no)

This is how Norway started at the beginning of the 20th century.

Norway’s wealth and high standard of living is based in large part, since the 1970s, on its offshore oil wealth, aptly administered to the benefit of the entire society. Clever investment of the excess has made Norway’s soverign wealth one of the highest in the world with an influential presence in international stock markets. Norwegians earn on average more than Americans, which determines their high standard of living and permits them advanced education systems, a complete social security system and universal health care.

According to edsys.in, Norway has the sixth-best elementary education system in the world. (The first five are Finland, Japan, South Korea, Denmark and Russia.) In 2020 Norway jumped ten positions to sixth in this ranking. One of its schools’ underlying tenets is the importance of play. It’s student-to-teacher ration is 10/1. That’s one expert, highly-paid teacher for every 10 students. Education in Norway is free. Public universities in Norway do not charge students tuition fees, regardless of the student’s country of origin.

Norwegian schools maintain the same high standards as everything else in the country.

Granted, Norway Is a Rich Country

But so is the United States, potentially much richer. How is it possible that Norwegian society is so far ahead of the US in most every parameter you want to examine, from personal qualities to national priorities? They are gentler, more other-centered folk, better educated and better citizens. They’re less nationalistic, less militaristic, more altruistic and polite, more generous and more travelled.

This revealing tweet is from Ian Bremmer, posted on the occasion of President Trump’s “shithole countries” remark on January 12, 2018, when Trump also said that he preferred immigrants from Norway :

NORWAY

Most prosperous #1 (US #18)

Happiest country #1 (US #14)

Most gender equality #2 (US #49)

Most political freedom #1 (US #45)

Most press freedom #1 (US #43)

People there must be clamoring to come to America.

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What Sort of Survival Awaits the US, If Any?

Graveyard_thin

I Never Should Have Left Them Alone

Three years ago, when I started writing about the American decline, I was determined to talk straight and to share with the Americans–and the rest of the world–my “native transatlantic” point of view. That is, though I was born and educated, worked and served in the US Army in the States, six months after I was discharged from the army in April of 1968 I gave away all my worldly goods and bought a one-way ticket to Europe, where I have lived ever since. Does that make me an “ex-pat?” No, actually I’m Spanish. In 1983 I renounced my American citizenship before a Spanish judge and was granted Spanish nationality. I never looked back, except to observe the fascinating political and military goings-on in the country of my birth.

I thought the US was on an ill-fated trajectory then with its lingering Vietnam war and dubious leadership, but the presidential election of 2016 brought new  lows. America found itself with a new clown President and a stale Congress–on both sides of the aisle–though the Republicans, who had signed on to President Trump’s ship of fools, were the ones wielding the institutional wrecking ball. I did not expect the tailspin that was to ensue over the next four years. Seeing right-wing fervor gathering momentum like a train hurtling down a mountain with a dead engineer, I expected the worst. And, sure enough, it’s here, upon the American people right now. It’s over.

Neither the dummy in the White House nor his far-right followers in the Congress and the courts, foresaw the maelstrom of coincidences that was about to fall upon their country with Old Testament virulence. It was beyond their competence even to suspect the possible conflation of the sudden technological and economic superiority of a giant Asian country, a deadly virus pandemia that is taking advantage of optimum conditions in the US to savage mercilessly both the population and the economy, and the sudden widespread citizen reactions to racial injustice in the country. The Trump administration’s response to these crises ranged from dead wrong to nil. The Trumpeteers’ negligence was such that they even discarded the pandemic contingency plans that the Obama transition team left them in writing.

US Experiencing a Deadstick Landing on Rough Ground

Led by President Trump’s oafish incompetence and blatant pandering to reactionary big-money interests, the undisputed greatest country in the world has become a laughing stock, more to be pitied than respected. Just as seriously, the world’s most reliable partner nation has become unworthy of anyone’s trust. And President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “arsenal of democracy” became the world’s number one perceived threat to peace. (Sources: https://www.indepthnews.net/, indy100.com, mothership.sg)

world-peace-threat-ranking

It was during this process that the American degradation was so severe that, in order to cloak all the indecency, they had to revive a derogatory coverall phrase popularized in 1964, the year in which the Warren Commission shared its implausible Kennedy assassination findings. Those who questioned the conclusions of the Warren Commision were “conspiracy theorists.” Just sticking that label on them disqualified their opinions immediately and utterly. Subsequently, any questioning of controversial matters such as the 9/11 attacks, Global Warming,  G-5 and electromagnetic pollution, the Moon landings and more was labeled “conspiracy theories” and discarded out of hand. In the end, whom do we credit for America’s landing men on the moon, Werner von Braun and his team of German rocket scientists or Stanley Kubrick?

Exceptional Canadian Takes Down American Exceptionalism

Canadian anthropologist, Wade Davis, in a recent Rolling Stone article titled “The Unraveling of America,” took a concerned look at how Covid-19 signals the end both of the American era and American exceptionalism. He affirms that, of all the disruption provoked by the pandemic, what most stands out is “the absolutely devastating impact” on the reputation and international standing of the United States of America. Davis writes:

In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.

For the first time, the international community felt compelled to send disaster relief to Washington. For more than two centuries, reported the Irish Times, “the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the U.S. until now: pity.” As American doctors and nurses eagerly awaited emergency airlifts of basic supplies from China, the hinge of history opened to the Asian century.

As if America didn’t have enough problems already, the Trump administration’s inept responses to this uniquely dangerous set of circumstances have dragged the US into the definitive status of a rogue country with a dubious future:

  • Slapping senseless tariffs willy nilly on countries around the world, from Canada to China, seemingly oblivious to the inevitable repercussions.
  • Militarizing everything, from the streets of American cities to the waters of the Strait of Hormuz, the Caribbean, and the South China Sea.
  • Dispatching one of the most loutish “diplomats” in living memory to bully America’s allies and adversaries into toeing the arbitrary American line. Under what imaginable legitimacy can the US order Iran not to trade oil with Venezuela, or oblige Russia not to build a gas pipeline to Germany?

What Are the Chances of United States Survival?

Since the end of the Second World War the United States has relied on just a few factors to insure their predominance in world affairs:

  • Their economic and manufacturing superiority… Given recent geostrategic realities, this factor now lacks virtually all reasonable validity.
  • Their overwhelming military might… The Americans have spent themselves into poverty attempting to maintain their highly-touted military superiority. But as long as that favorable balance depends upon nuclear weapons–and lots of countries have them–the most the Pentagon can hope for is not an American victory, rather a lose-lose endgame.
  • Their ability to convince the world that “American democracy” and “the American way of life,” are superior to all others… These myths, doubtful at best for decades, have come tumbling down with a loud crash during the 2020 triple emergency.

So, can the United States survive? That question takes us into a guessing game, of course, but we can speculate to some extent in view of recent history. If “survive” means to amble blissfully on in business-as-usual mode, I think it’s reasonable to predict that they cannot survive. They have lost the script and the ability to sell it.

Can they survive by any stretch of the imagination under the leadership of the Trump administration? I think they clearly cannot. Trump is staring into his own lose-lose abyss. If he wins the election it will be up to him to right the country’s trajectory, something that he has shown us he’s incapable of achieving. If he loses in November and tries to employ truculent or other unscrupulous measures to hang on to power, his imminent political demise and that of his country, as we know it, are assured.

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Mail Order Coup d’Etat

Post Office Slowdown

President Trump Blocks Post Office Funding in Order to Foil Mail-in Voting–And Admits It

What could look at first glance like a routine budgetary measure at the United States Postal Service might well be Phase Three–or Four or Seven–depending upon when you start counting–of a fascist-style takeover of the United States government. By the President’s own admission, the object of cutting back funding is to debilitate and slow down the mail service to the point where it is incapable of processing mail-in votes in time to be counted. Insofar as the taproot of American democracy is free and fair elections, any form of tampering with those elections is an attack on the United States as a democratic country as we know it. In greater or lesser decree it’s treason, a coup d’etat.

And Trump’s post-office ploy is just that. What’s left of his White House brain trust suspects that permitting mail-in voting would be detrimental to his re-election, as it would encourage the votes of the the minorities, the disadvantaged, the elderly and other demographics who suspect that he may not be “making American great again.” Trump, or someone who thinks for him, actually prepared the ground for subverting the postal service and, by extension, the 2020 presidential election. In a move that insiders consider contrary to political etiquette–that’s what they have in Washington instead of ethics, “etiquette”–the Trump-inspired USPS Board of Governors appointed one of his substantial campaign contributors/fund raisers (to the tune of $2 million) to run the United States Postal Service. Continue reading “Mail Order Coup d’Etat”

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The Race Is on for Coronavirus Vaccine Profits

Biotech_race_for_vaccine

Health and Business, or Vice Versa

It’s potentially the greatest opportunity ever presented to the world of business. Coincidentally it’s also the greatest opportunity for massive fraud. It’s the elusive Covid-19 vaccine. One wonders what is going through the heads of the pharmaceutical executives competing for the biggest prize ever, a vaccine that every person in the world urgently needs, and for which the producers can virtually name their own price, just as they do with the medicines they sell to the American Social Security administration.

It also presents the greatest opportunity to save lives, reactivate economies, and bring the world back to life. But, given the American pharmaceutical industry’s track record, one suspects that the economic incentive is their first priority. Let’s take a look at how they’re doing thus far.

Operation Warp Speed, the Trump Administration’s Six-Billion-Dollar Vaccine Betting Shop

As of early July this program of massive Trump administration cash handouts extends to eight pharmaceutical companies for expediting development and preparation for the clinical trials necessary for the manufacturing of their respective vaccine candidates: Johnson & Johnson (Janssen Pharmaceutical), AstraZeneca-University of Oxford, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Merck, Vaxart, Inovio, and Novavax. According to Science magazine, Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said a group of vaccine experts his agency convened to work with Warp Speed did a scientific review of 50 candidate COVID-19 vaccines. Members of that group have expressed surprise at some of Warp Speed’s choices. Continue reading “The Race Is on for Coronavirus Vaccine Profits”

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You Can Stop Worrying About a Civil War

Military Takeover2

And Start Thinking about a Military Takeover

Two years ago I posted here a two-part article about the possibility of a second civil war in the US that I called The Next American Civil War. The opinions reflected in that article were not mainly mine. They were expressed by qualified experts whose overall conclusions were that the probability of civil war in the US over the next 10-15 years ranged from 5% to 95%, with an average of 35%. But after seeing recent events in Portland, I’m inclined to think that America’s most imminent threat is not a civil war. Considering the likely distribution of forces in the country it’s more apt to be a quick-and-dirty military takeover.

Most Americans are not radical Trump supporters. Polls reveal that half of them reject President Trump’s ultra-nationalistic, white-supremacist, right-libertarian views and lowbrow stage presence. They don’t want to live in a dog-eat-dog society, nor get too “involved” in politics, much less street altercations. They just want to muddle through, from election to election. They live hoping that the government will somehow sort itself out and life in their country will return to normal, much as President Trump hopes that the coronavirus pandemic will one day just “disappear.”

Can’t we reliably suppose that the country is in the clear when it comes to domestic military melodrama, thanks to the majority of “moderate” voters? No, we cannot, as a majority of moderates is seldom decisive for the very fact of being moderate and having to weigh in against a minority of hard-core militants. That is not to say that civilians can be expected to play a major role in deciding the fate of America if it were to come down to a cataclysmic, anti-democratic situation. Continue reading “You Can Stop Worrying About a Civil War”