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What Went Wrong, America? 1/2

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Most Everything, Actually

Why is the United States, allegedly the richest, most-advanced country on earth, so out of step with the rest of the first world? Why does a significant part of its citizens live on the streets in cars, tents or cardboard hovels? Why are prisons occupied by an unnatural preponderance of people of color? Why are its gun homicides off the chart? Why are its elections so dubious and its religions so militant and mercantile? Why is such a wide swath of the population without health care? Why is the economic inequality so grotesquely pronounced there? What gives the American behemoth the right to impose–or try to impose–its will on any sovereign nation it pleases? Why does the United States need 800-1,000 military bases around the world? Why is the country controlled by a fiendish cohort of industrialists and financiers, headed up by a lowbrow President who was actually elected? Why doesn’t somebody do something about all of these glaring anomalies? They’ve done it in the rest of the First World. What went wrong with you, America? Continue reading “What Went Wrong, America? 1/2”

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USA: Surveillance, Denial and the Apocalypse

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There’s a Man Going Round Taking Names

(This subhead is a link to a commentary by Johnny Cash.)

The list of people and agencies who are scrutinizing your personal data and Internet habits is a long one. There’s the FBI, ICE, the CIA, the NSA, the GCHQ, the KGB, Cambridge Analytica, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and a whole raft of politically rabid American billionaires. And me. I’m studying your comportment on Facebook to see if there’s anything I can learn about you and your fellow Americans. Sure enough, there is.

I’ve had a Facebook account for more than a decade. Mostly I’ve used it to look up old schoolmates, post curiosities, share human interest stories and music videos, relate to other dog-and-cat people, and generally waste time. When I started writing my geopolitical blog (Trump and All the Rest) a few years ago I began publishing my political posts simultaneously on Facebook. I also shared articles that I considered valuable on the subjects of American domestic and foreign policy, stories by excellent critical thinkers like John Pilger, Robert Fisk, Noam Chomsky, Seymour Hersh, William Blum, and lately, Umair Haque.

What’s Important, Puppy Dogs or Total War?

It seemed to me that my fellow Facebookers were ignoring the posts that I considered important. Fair enough, most of what I write is critical of the United States government’s wickedness at home and abroad. So I wasn’t surprised to find that responses to the dog-and-cat videos generated more feedback than the political articles. What did surprise me, however, was to what extent my Facebook friends ignored any content critical of the United States. There are exceptions, of course. But the vast majority of the English-speaking Facebook universe, which I consider a fairly representative cross-section of American society, flatly doesn’t want to know.  It’s as if they were in amnesia mode, anesthetized, indifferent to every day’s vitally-urgent realities, or worse, in denial, at the top of a slippery slope.

What’s behind this amnesia/denial phenomenon? Have most Americans simply given up? Has the dramatic right-wing shift in their country taken all the wind out of their sails? Are they convinced that their future is limited to permanent war, caged children, miraculous end-times religion, and the dismantling of the American government as we know it? It would seem so.

Blame It on “Southernization?”

Or maybe not. There’s another possibility. Maybe the American majority has switched its loyalty to what Kevin Phillips refers to in his 2006 book, American Theocracy, as the “southernization” of American politics, the adoption by a desperate, undereducated electorate of simple good-ol-boy southern values, magical fundamentalist-religious solutions, and silly logic like advocating all-out war in the Middle East in order to bring about the Apocalypse. This is where leading American politicians like Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and Mike Pompeo originate, the Rapture crowd, and there’s a lot more where they came from.

It’s not quite clear where President Donald Trump fits into this scheme of things but he’s at least opportunistic enough to hitch his wagon to a movement that includes many millions of true-believing voters. According to a piece published on Vox.com on November 2018, 81% of white, born-again evangelical Christians voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential elections. That same article affirms, “White evangelicals continue to be one of the most reliable voting groups in the country. Even as their numbers are shrinking in the general population, their affinity with and enthusiasm for President Trump has so far allowed them to hold their numbers steady at the ballot box.”

This End Game Is Not a Game

A 2014 Pew study categorized 25.4% of the American population, which stood then at 318.6 million people, as white evangelical protestants. So do the math. These numbers are not to be taken lightly. This link between fundamentalist religión and presidential politics goes a long way to explain President Trump’s fawning allegiance to Bibi Netanyahu’s ruthless right-wing Israeli party which millions of American evangelical and pentecostal voters are counting on to initiate the long-awaited end-times war. This massive swamp of ultra-religious voters is too important to President Trump’s political future to be ignored.

So here we are, all of us, kneeling on the biblical brink.

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Jimmy Carter on American Militarism and China’s Incredible Progress

“For old men to be taken seriously they must resort to telling the truth.” Bart Sedgebear

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Trump’s Phonecall Prompts Jimmy Carter to Reply Candidly

When President Donald Trump phoned Jimmy Carter earlier this month to talk about China he didn’t expect the result to be a damning declaration of American militarism. But that’s what he got, pronounced the following Sunday by the former President during his regular Sunday School lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.

President Carter’s remarks were recorded and transcribed by Emma Hurt, a reporter for National Public Radio affiliate WABE and published on NPR.com. The President said, among other things, that the United States is “the most warlike nation in the history of the world…” This is not a jihadi terrorist speaking, nor a hot-headed young anti-war demonstrator. This is America’s most-respected and best-loved elder statesman, a Nobel Peace Prize laurate and veteran campaigner for free and fair elections and human rights worldwide.

Is it possible that President Carter’s compass is failing him as he reaches 94 years of age?Is he off the mark with this perception of the United States as history’s prime killer? He certainly doesn’t seem addled. Let’s see what he had to say and how he expressed himself in an interview last year when he was 93 years old:

The implications of President Carter’s most-warlike-nation evaluation are massive, perhaps even biblical. It was no coincidence that these thoughts should have been presented in a Sunday school class. “The history of the world…” is a long time, and there have been many warlike nations, extending down to our own lifetimes. It is true, however, that only one of those nations saw fit to drop two atomic bombs on  innocent, unsuspecting civilian populations; men, women and children.

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Little Boy and Fat Man

Why two bombs? Wouldn’t one have been enough? Yes, probably, but America’s nuclear scientists had two models prepared, Little Boy (Blast yield‎: ‎15 kilotons of TNT) and Fat Man (Blast yield: 21 kilotons), and President Truman and his advisors wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to test the destructive results of both. Hence Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked a lugubrious before and after in world history.

President Carter’s remarks extended to the domestic implications of American militarism. Aptly comparing the progress of China and the United States since relations between the two countries were  normalized during his administration in 1979, the President Emeritus pointed out, “Since 1979, do you know how many times China has been at war with anybody? None. And we have stayed at war.”  What Carter was too modest to say was that the only five-year period that America was free from war during the 20th century was the last year of the Ford presidency and all four years of his own.

Defense_spending_2017According to President Carter, China has made giant strides forward in every aspect of their society while the United States has stagnated gravely due to its outlandish spending on “national defense.” What possible justification can there be for the US maintaining nearly 1,000 military bases abroad (compared to Russia’s 21 which include mainly former Soviet republics), or military spending that is the equivalent of the sum of the next seven countries combined? Economic experts predict that China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s strongest economy by  2030.

“How many miles of high-speed railway do we have in this country?” Carter asked the congregation.

“Zero,” they answered unanimously. According to Wikipedia China has the largest network of high-speed passenger trains in the world extending over 18,000 miles.

“We have wasted, I think, $3 trillion,” Carter said, referring to American military spending. “China has not wasted a single penny on war, and that’s why they’re ahead of us. In almost every way.”

President Carter’s summary was devastating:

And I think the difference is if you take $3 trillion and put it in American infrastructure, you’d probably have $2 trillion left over. We’d have high-speed railroad. We’d have bridges that aren’t collapsing. We’d have roads that are maintained properly. Our education system would be as good as that of, say, South Korea or Hong Kong.

Many Americans might be shocked to read that the United States can only aspire to education standards as high as those of South Korea. They might also be envious of South Korea’s automobile production of 4 million vehicles, compared to US’s 2.8 million–not to mention China’s 23.5 million. If these figures shock you it’s because you’re still living in the glossy past of the United States. In more recent times America has made mainly war while the rest of the world has made progress.

It’s an apt time to thank President Carter for this frank and valiant reminder and for his years of service, both during and after his time in office. If the American people had enjoyed half a dozen presidents of Carter’s stature at critical junctures in the history of their country today’s United States would be a far, far better place.

most warlike country
Just in case you were doubting the magnitude of the problem.
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US-UK Empires, Parallel Decline

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“The mightiest adversary that snaps great empires like twigs isn’t chimerical
“globalization” — it’s glittering hubris, bedecked in the finery of denial.”
Umair Haque, Harvard Business Review (HBR.org)

by Mike Booth

The Biology of Empires

No empire is eternal. The lives of empires correspond to biological models. They are born, grow old and die. That process has not varied from the times of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire around 550 B.C. It took the Byzantine Empire more than eight centuries to wind down to zero, and the Holy Roman Empire lasted roughly the same amount of time. In terms of longevity the British Empire doesn’t even make the list of the top 15. It survived for less than 400 years, though it was the largest. In 1922 the “empire on which the sun never set” ruled 458 million people spread over almost a quarter of the earth’s surface. As for the American Empire, it’s a mere upstart. If we look at it from the end of the Spanish American war, the United States already controlled part of Mexico thanks to the “Mexican Cession” land grab at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, including today’s states of California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of New Mexico and Arizona. In 1898 they added Puerto Rico, the Philippines and the Island of Guam. These latter two aquisitions were the jumping off points for American establishment in the Pacific.

What has varied in these imperial processes is the speed at which they deteriorate. Far back in history everything was slower, including decline. Today, with everything functioning at electromagnetic speed, the duration of empires tends towards zero. That’s why United States imperialism which, if we include the undeniably imperialistic treatment of native Americans, has only been around since the 17th century, doesn’t look terribly promising. After all, the Ottomans conquered and held Mesopotamia (Iraq) from the 16th century till the end of World War I. Afghanistan was conquered and ruled successfully by the Persian Empire (Iran) from 539 until 331 BC. These primitive successes don’t say much for recent American efforts in those places. “But we’ve got the greatest military power the world has ever seen!” you say. That ‘s true, but it’s not winning many wars, and the the expenditure it requires is impoverishing your country unduly.

How Are Today’s Empires Faring?

Today’s patent reality is that Great Britain’s empire terminated in 1997 witht the return of Hong Kong to China and is now submerged in a disastrous post-imperial Brexit process. The headline on today’s (April 6, 2019) Brexit story in The Guardian:

“A shambles on which the sun never sets: how the world sees Brexit”

Here’s their lead to that story:

A New York Times columnist believes the UK “has gone mad”. How, asks a Russian TV host, can Britain fail so spectacularly “to correlate its capabilities with reality”? For Australia, it’s like “watching a loved grandparent in physical and mental decline”.

From China to Israel and Russia to Brazil, a world well beyond Europe is watching Britain’s Brexit bedlam with sorrow, bafflement and amusement – and, in those parts of the globe once told that Rule Britannia meant order, stability and shared long-term prosperity, not a little schadenfreude.

Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria says in an article entitled: “Brexit will mark the end of Britain’s role as a great power” that:

The UK, famous for its prudence, propriety and punctuality, is suddenly looking like a banana republic” – and its implosion might even be the beginning of the end of “the west, as a political and strategic entity.

On the Other Side of the Atlantic

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At the same time the United States is beset by a know-nothing regime, dangerous to its own country and to the rest of of the world. We must never lose sight of the fact that, given today’s rates of change in everything, the last chapter of the American decline could be rapid, not to mention cataclysmic, and its scope would not be limited to the United States. I won’t bother citing examples to substantiate the danger that President Donald Trump and his team represent. Just pick up any newspaper, any day, and look at the front page.

In both cases these uncomfortable post-imperial situations were brought on by the cynical manipulation of the myths of their histories. Both countries are paying the price today for centuries of government-induced mass delusion regarding their glorious pasts.  We’re talking about the great tradition of American political folklore: nationalism and jingoism, exceptionalism, my-country-right-or-wrong patriotism, racism,  militarism, and, of course, heroism in the defense of freedom for markets.

History sees George Washington indifferently, from a mediocre to merely competent military commander whose primary mission was to buy time for the French to intervene to turn the tide in the Revolutionary War. The truth is that Washington’s ragtag army incurred some brutal losses on the battlefield. Yet Americans have been taught to revere him as an exemplary lad who fessed up to chopping down a cherry tree and went on to become a war hero and “the father of our country.” Washington had no children. 

All the rest of American history, as told to high-school students, is similarly rose tinted/tainted, a fact which is well documented in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, a 1995 book by James W. Loewen, a sociologigy professor. The Goodreads.com blob says:

After surveying eighteen leading high school American history texts, he has concluded that not one does a decent job of making history interesting or memorable. Marred by an embarrassing combination of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and outright lies, these books omit almost all the ambiguity, passion, conflict, and drama from our past.

Britannia Rules the Waves

May_736The British are similarly addicted to their Rule Britannia traditions, and their neurosis has had more time to simmer. Their very name, “Great Britain,” is pretentious and overbearing. After all, we don’t refer to Great United States, Great Germany or Great China. Fair enough, Britain could have been construed as great until quite recently, but today it’s just a damp little island abandoned in the North Atlantic. But the Great British are having none of that. The last vestige of imperial Britain was Hong Kong, returned to China in 1977, in the living memory of older Brits–and the older they are the more they cling to their country’s imperial greatness. The area in square miles of Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) is roughly the same size as the state of Indiana. Only 12 of the 50 states are smaller than the whole of Great Britain.

British greatness today, in the light of the current Brexit debacle, is based almost exclusively on imperial hauteur, the main ingredients of which are ignorance and arrogance. Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership has been shown by methodical European negotiators to be intellectually, politically and morally deficient, incapable of navigating the complicated waters of a European divorce between sovereign nations. EU insiders affirm that May and her inexperienced negotiating team are driving them around the bend. The mediocrity of the Brits shines even brighter in the light of May’s arrogance on her way into the negotiations in 2016, declaring herself, “a bloody difficult woman.”

That might qualify her for a pub brawl, but certainly not for negotiating one of the most complex and delicate deals in British history against the best that 26 EU countries could set against her. Her now-resigned chief negotiator, David Davis, the self-styled “charming bastard” of Brexit, was seen entering into negotiating sessions without a single piece of paper. It’s not clear whether or not he was carrying a pencil or a pen. Whatever the case, European negotiators were amazed, and not in a good way. (The complete list of British Brexit negotiators’ boutades would fill a volume you wouldn’t want to carrry in your briefcase.)

Today, Saturday, April 6, 2019, with Great Britain teetering on the very brink of EU auto-exclusion, BBC News quotes British Chancellor Philip Hammond, affirming that he’s “optimistic” that Brexit discussions between the government and Labour can reach “some form of agreement”.

But, according to the same BBC.com story, Labour’s Diane Abbott says the government has made “no movement” in the talks on the political declaration, which outlines future UK-EU relations. Three days of talks ended on Friday without agreement and Labour said no more talks were planned this weekend.

In the interest of fairness, I’ll share with you a couple of pithy quotes from a recent article (Dec. 14, 2018) in the Washington Post:

“She was given a mandate beyond her control and did not have any leverage on her side.”

“In the last two decades, Britain has left much of that work to Brussels, which meant it didn’t have a team of seasoned experts ready to swoop in.”

It seems that the Great British, long accustomed to rule, are going to have to get used to occupying a humbler place in the world, either that or sinking into deep denial, which seems to be their current state.

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Meanwhile Back in the USSA

Let’s include in our definition of “imperialism” not just countries taken over and ruled by viceroys, but also soverign nations that are “corrected” from time to time by means of invasions by imperial powers. This has been the modus operandi of the United States in Central and South America for more than a century in places like Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada… Nor are they above organizing local reactionary elements to do the dirty work form them as in Chile and Argentina.

If you’re interested in seeing more details regarding the yanqui’s high-handedness south of the border here’s  a link to a recently-updated Associated Press article: Before Venezuela, US Had Long involvement in Latin America

Since Imperial America was humiliated in Vietnam 44 years ago they have limped forward at a surprisingly slow pace despite their impressive high-tech military-industrial complex and their 1,000 military bases around the world, surrounding almost everybody. Though they had little trouble subjecting tiny countries like Panama and Grenada, they had a harder time digesting more substantial places like Afghanistan, Irak and Cuba.

The imperial mindset inevitably extends into domestic affairs. Great Britain’s own Lord Acton reminded us: “Power corrupts…” A prima facie case for this is evident today throughout the American government. The US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decisión was clearly corrupt, cynically tailored to the advantage of big industrial and financial institutions. Today’s American government has been virtually bought and paid for by special interests, a fact which logically disauthorizes any of its initiatives whether at home or abroad.

The handling of the firearms situation in the US is so egregious that is without paragon anywhere else in the world. That a thuggish interest group like the National Rifle Association should call the shots on such a vital question is seen as beyond the pale in all minimally civilized countries. As for the authority of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, it’s as irrelevant today as phrenology and the Supreme Court of any advanced country would interpret it as such.

If the máximum corruption is government power beyond democratic control, then the United States, with the Pentagon’s unaccounted-for $2-trillion, takes the prize. It’s not that the sinister dwarves at the Pentagon don’t know where that money went. They’re just not telling. It’s too, well, sinister. As for illegitimate power how’s about President Donald Trump boasting aloud that, if push comes to shove, he has the police and the military on his side?

Who Will Win the Trans-Atlantic Race to the Bottom?

Keeping in mind that it’s an unfair race, since the Great British had a head start, and is currently undergoing a serious setback with Brexit, it would seem that the UK is most likely to hit bottom first. However, considering the wild and anti-natural swings of the American pendulum, one could make a case for a probable American victory. They need a victory. But we can’t relax. Their imperial downfall would most likely affect us all, and not in a good way.

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Sunday Morning, Old Book, Sheet of Contacts, Nostalgia

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A Book in Bed, Ahhh…

“Let’s have a lie-in tomorrow morning. It’s Sunday,” says Maureen. But I’m an incorrigible early riser so yesterday morning I was up at 5:30, lighting a fire in the bedroom fireplace and looking for a book. The first one to come to hand was Richard Hugo’s Selected Poems. I read it quite a few years ago but I was ready to give it another go. Books don’t change, but we do. The best example of that phenomenon that I can recall is my experience with Arthur Miller’s 1952 play, The Crucible, set in the 17th-century Salem witch trials, but universal in scope. The Crucible was required reading when I was in college but it  made no impression on me. Then, when I was 30, I had to spend a month in bed with hepatitis. Toward the end of that time The Crucible was the only book left in the house that I hadn’t read. I was poleaxed by it. It’s one of the most intelligent and moving books, theater or otherwise, that I have ever read and my discovery that it was a commentary on McCarthyism only enhanced its value. It contains this line, for me, and in context, one of the most moving in literature:

Elizabeth, gently: “They press himJohn.

 

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Richard Hugo, the Personification of Bleakness

Maureen became friends with Richard Hugo in the mid-sixties when she was running a little hotel and restaurant in Nerja, a fishing village on the Mediterranean coast of Málaga province. The town was bucolic then and an eight-liter carafe of passable red wine cost less than a dollar. Barefoot children ruled the cobblestone streets. The village was ideally placed between the coastal mountains and the sea, with kilometers of beaches and 300 days of sunshine a year. Since then it has been devoured by industrial tourism. So it goes.

The poet was in his early 40’s during his three-month stay in Nerja. It was time enough for him to fall in love with a much-younger English girl. He bought her a ring. Her parents obliged her to return it. That was a typical Hugo ending. He was already a well-known American poet at the time and later went on to edit the Yale Younger Poets series, to have two of his books nominated for the National Book awards and to direct the creative writing program at the University of Montana.

A good poet can rearrange your chromosomes and Hugo is undeniably a good poet. But he’s a poet of constant sadness and unfulfilled lives. According to Maureen’s account Hugo fought in the Italian campaign during the Second World War. Several times while she was waiting to close the bar he recounted for her his grueling experiences in the 123-day siege of Monte Cassino where the Allies lost 55,000 troops. “He never looked up from his beer while he was telling the story,” she said. Could the origins of Hugo’s world view include a case of PTSD? Who knows. In any case, there’s very little glamorous Big Sky Country in his writings. What he perceives in Montana are its numbing cold and damp, its mining-town poverty and an irretrievable love affair. And he notes that there were people in Butte named “Grubski.”

Though Hugo grew up in Seattle and studied at the University of Washington he is more associated with Montana, perhaps the place he should have been born due to its unforgiving bleakness. You can’t grow many cash crops up there, but Hugo makes it look like a perfect place to cultivate despair.

Saved by the Contacts

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I was on the verge of despair myself when a 4×6-inch sheet of glossy paper fell out of Hugo’s book. It was a sheet of what we used to call “contact proofs.” These were digital copies of black and white negatives and quite a bit smaller than standard 35mm contacts. So they were harder to read and for that perhaps more intriguing. So I got out the great magnifying glass that came with my condensed versión of the Oxford English Dictionary, 16 volumes shrunken down to two, still hard to read, even with that  magnifying glass. Judging from the age of our dog, Pachi, in the pictures they must have been taken in the mid-80’s, about 35 years ago. It was a different world then and we and our friends, though still the same people, were younger. In the meantime everything has changed. The Spanish have a phrase for this: “Ha llovido.” “It has rained.”

The first three frames at the top left are images of the Gentle Young Poet (GYP), sitting at the base of the fig tree with Pachi lying placidly in the background. GYP had already won a national poetry prize by then and would go on to write many more books of poetry and to teach literatura at university level. One of his first collections of poems was entirely about his girlfriend’s anatomy, which he considered unique, as all young men do. Today he’s the director of one of Spain’s principal international cultural projects.

Next on this glossy little sheet of nostalgia come a few shots of my best friend (MBF) and his wife in bed with their newborn baby girl. She’s precious in the pictures, as all babies are, but as she grew up she began to show symptoms of instability such as screaming her way around the house, “Leave me alone!” Today she’s a perfectly normal Canadian engineer, married and with a family of her own. You never know.

I first met MBF when he was 17. Someone told me there was an American teenager living in Málaga who was writing articles for an English-language magazine there. I went down to do a story on him for a General Motors magazine called American Youth. He was a delightful, precocious kid and we hit it off immediately. Written on the front of his guitar was a quote from a Spanish poet (Antonio Machado?). It said (my translation):  “Don’t identify yourself with the ‘you’ of my song, friend. That ‘you’ is me.”’American Youth paid $500 for the story, a small fortune in those days.

How Can I Be a Godfather?

When their second child, a boy, was born MBF asked me to be the godfather. I replied, “How can I be a godfather? I’m an atheist.” “That’s why we want you to be the godfather,” he said. So Maureen and I drove the 130 kilometers down to the ceremony on a 250cc Ducati 24 Hours. It was a great little bike but it was also the month of February and the thing I remember best from the whole experience of that day was stopping at the side of the road every 20 or 30 kilometers and flapping our arms to restore our circulation. MBF was a saint of a father and a friend. He died of lung cáncer at the age of 45. A lot of people miss him. Many of them will tell you he was their best friend.

The next three frames are photos of the Young Painter Who Wanted to Be Famous (YPWWTBF). He was the youngest of a talented and idealistic group of people, most of whom belonged to the Cultural Cell of the Granada Communist Party. A lot of them were well on their way to fame, GYP among them, as writers or musicians and he, not a bad painter, half expected to be joining them soon. It never really happened but his consolation prize is a lot of famous friends, all of whom esteem him.

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Then come eight frames of our Great Dane, Pachi, the best dog we ever had. Why does he have more pictures than anybody else? Because he deserves them. He was big and beautiful, noble and as gentle as a lamb—except for one occasion when a rough English couple came down our entrance stairs shouting demands. Pachi accompanied Maureen out to see what the ruckus was, his right shoulder pressed against her left leg. The ingleses never made it to the bottom of the stairs because Pachi emitted a deep-throated growl that inspired them to turn around and scramble up the way they came. We never saw them again.

Tragic Poet, Girlfriend Two, Petite Bavarian Painter

Then three frames of Granada’s most talented poet since Federico García Lorca. Unfortunately he, the son of a prominent Granada doctor, drank and led a disorderly life and committed suicide at 35. Maureen had painted a near-life-size double portrait of him and his girlfriend at the time and given it to him as a gift. It was one of her best. One of his subsequent girlfriends—he had a few—shredded it with a knife in a fit of jealousy.

Next  comes a single headshot of Maureen, wearing her painter’s squint, and then three shots of the suicidal poet’s former girlfriend, the subject of the ill-fated portrait. She wasn’t beautiful in a conventional way but she had a head of pitch-black hair like a stork’s nest, and beautiful breasts. She was nude in the double portrait. Perhaps that’s what motivated Girlfriend Two’s destructive rage.

The next three frames are identical bracketed (one on, one over, one under) photos of the bronze monument to Mariana Pineda—Granada’s Betsy Ross—in the plaza named after her in a quiet corner of the city. Bracketing is what photographers do when the light is tricky or when they’re insecure or just too lazy to expose carefully.

The last three photos are of the Petite Bavarian Painter (PBP) sitting in the extravagant wicker chair that figures in the aforementioned portrait, looking like a miniature Polynesian princess. The PBP has lived in Granada for some years now, running a bed and breakfast in the Sacromonte Gypsy caves, and is one of our favorite people. Before that she lived in a Bavarian town south of Munich surrounded by delightful gasthauses in the countryside where they served sausages with wonderful potatoes simmered ever-so-slowly in farmhouse-fresh butter. At one of them we could see deer bounding around the meadow below. And of course there was the beer, brewed according to the 1516 Reinheitsgebot rules, which permit only three ingredients: water, hops and malt.

We used to visit PBP and her Japanese mate almost annually during the 70’s and 80’s. PBP’s cooking—always the finest ingredients—was so good and occasionally her husband would prepare a Japanese meal. One time we stayed with them for two weeks. When they arrived in Granada to stay Maureen taught her etching.  Those were the years when I covered most of Europe and North Africa for an American hotel guide. People always ask if that was an interesting job. Yes and no. The first time you see Belgrade and Skopje they’re interesting, but by the fifth visit you start to get the feeling that you’ve been there before. Yugoslavia had its charms, though. There were no advertising signs along the road, and people were so refreshingly naive. I asked the manager of a lovely little 40-room hotel on a lake if it was private or publicly owned. He looked at me pityingly and replied, “Public, of course. Nobody has enough money to own a hotel like this.” Also, I loved Ćevapčići and Yugoslave speeding tickets which, in those days, were like a dollar and a half. The war in Bosnia-Herzogovina changed everything there for me. Sarajevo used to be one of my favorite places. But I can never go back.

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The End or a Fresh Start?

Utopia, Dystopia
Utopia / Dystopia?

Where Do We Go from Here?

Let’s suppose–and it’s supposing a lot–that humankind manages to come up with a solution for its climate issues, what comes next? Apocalyptic overpopulation solutions? Ballooning prison populations? The collapse of public education? Civil war? Global war? The end of civilized society as we know it? All of the above?

Who is going to run the world, and how? That doesn’t depend upon us directly. We’ll be gone, some of us to Heaven, others to garden mulch. Only one thing is certain, the future will depend upon our children and grandchildren. Will they be as greedy, selfish and inept as we have been, with results just as grotesque as those we have attained? Yes, of course they will. Unless–and this is a big unless–we change the ways we educate them.

We are all victims of the lies we were told as children, lies about racial differences, lies about magical religions, about national superiority and exceptionalism, about patriotism, about “success” and the meaning of life. What’s more important in the long run, a limousine or the wrens nesting in your fruit trees? Your portfolio of investments or health care for all? Are our grandchildren going to be able to answer–or even  ask–these questions and others like them? This is the critical junction where our teaching comes in, because most of those children will believe–and act on those beliefs–throughout the rest of their lives what we are teaching them today and tomorrow.

Does It Sound Terribly Complicated?

Montessori classroom

Don’t despair. We can count on the valuable help of an expert. Her name is Maria Montessori and, though she died in 1952, her legacy still vibrates and provides us with a roadmap for raising competent, compassionate and creative children, the sort of people who just might be capable of putting the world right. Will we have the wisdom and conviction to follow her lessons and act on them? That’s up to each and every one of us. History is indifferent. Its choice between utopia and dystopia is as random as the flip of a coin.

What Do Katherine Graham and Beyonce Have in Common with George Clooney and Gabriel García Márquez?

What they all have in common is that they had life-changing experiences when they were small children. Their personal development was profoundly affected by the influence of a remarkable woman of historic importance both as a teacher of teachers and a tireless activist in the cause of helping children to evolve positively in their earliest stages of development.  Thanks to María Montessori’s legacy many of these children will become better adults who will go on to create a better world. Many of them have done so already.

All of the outstanding people mentioned above, and many more, attended Montessori schools. Doctor Montessori, it seems, was a century ahead of her time. Her extraordinary person and her discoveries in the field of nurturing and teaching children from early ages were remarkable during her active life in the first half of the 20th century and remain critically relevant today, nearly 70 years after her death.

With the passage of time Dr. Montessori’s teachings and her example of dedication and perseverence have become increasingly important to the world. Today’s children face complicated scenarios in which to grow up, settings that are becoming more complicated over time in a geometric progression. Do you doubt doubt this? Compare your own childhood with that of your children or grandchildren. Try to gauge the importance of Internet and the smart phone on young people today, the confusion sown by self-seeking dishonest politicians or the effects of astronomic consumerism. Our world is a frightening place grow up in today. Does anybody know how to help children deal with this  sensory armageddon? Yes, Maria Montessori does. Thanks to her influence that goes far beyond her own schools into institutions of public and private education around the world, we have a formula for forming capable, compassionate and committed young people who will make the world a better place.

 

maria_montessori_work

How Did the Maria Montessori Phenomenon Come About?

Maria Montessori was born in 1870 the little town of Chiaravalle, in the Province of Ancona in the Italian region of Marche. It was a sleepy town whose inhabitants, shoemakers, olive farmers and herders, lived tranquil rural lives, an unlikely place for the principal educational innovator of the 20th century to have been born. Not satisfied with the lot of women in her society, Maria studied science and engineering at a boys’ school in Rome and went on, against her father’s will, to study medicine, becoming the first woman to obtain a medical degree from the University of Rome.

In 1896, at the age of 26, Doctor Montessori was chosen to represent Italy at the International Women’s Congress in Berlin where she delivered an address on rights of working women, including equal pay for equal work.  Until that time her world view had been that of a young medical doctor, but her trajectory began to change. For the following three years she audited courses in pedagogy at the University of Rome and read all major works in educational philosophy from the previous 200 years. In 1899 she attended the women’s congress in London and was received by Queen Victoria. The bright young woman from Chiaravalle was beginning to make her mark in the world.

In the preface to Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, she elaborates on the inspiration behind Helen Keller and her revolutionary teacher:

It’s not words, but human figures to illustrate this little book intended to enter families where children are growing up. I therefore recall here, as an eloquent symbol, Helen Keller and Mrs. Anne Sullivan Macy, who are, by their example, both teachers to myself – and, before the world, living adornments of the miracle in education.

The admiration was mutual. Helen Keller referred to herself more than once as, “a product of Montessori.”

Montessori Blazed Her Own Trajectory

She dedicated the first decade of the 20th century to research and preparation for what would be her life’s work, from lecturing at Rome’s teacher training college for women, working at the Rome psychiatric clinic, and experimenting at their model school with materials for stimulating the senses of children with developmental disabilities. She took a second degree in education and experimental psychology, eventually lecturing at the University of Rome school of education. These lectures were to become the basis of her book, Pedagogical Anthropology.

Between 1907 and 1908 she opened two first “Montessori schools,” the Casa dei Bambini San Lorenzo ITChildren’s House (Casa dei Bambini) in Rome and then the Children’s House in Milan, run by Anna Maria Maccheroni. In 1909 she gave her first training course in her methods to some 100 students in Rome. There she wrote her first book, Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica applicato all’educazione infantile nelle Case dei Bambini. This book, written in one month, has been translated into more than 20 languages. The English version is called, The Montessori Method. After the publication of this landmark book she resigned her teaching post in Rome and closed her medical practice in order to dedicate herself entirely to education. By the end of 1911 the Montessori method was being used in schools in England and Argentina, and quickly extended to Italy, Switzerland, Paris, New York and Boston. The worldwide Montessori revolution had begun.

A Life of International Travels, Training Courses and Contacts

Montessori love

Maria Montessori contributed to her education project not only the concepts and  the creation of the courses, but also their worldwide dissemination, thanks to her incessant travel and training courses all around the globe. In 1916 she moved to Barcelona at the invitation of the city government and was based there for 20 years until Generalísimo Francisco Franco’s 1936 fascist coup d’etat, when she went to England, then later Holland. During and after the Spanish Civil War Montessori extended her curriculum to include peace, as well as education campaigning. She lived in Holland until the Nazi invasion.

In 1940, after Italy entered the war on the side of the Nazis, Montessori went to India to impart some courses. She was accompanied by her son, Mario. He was 42 years old at the time and was promptly confined in India as an enemy alien. But he was soon released by Viscount Wavellthe British viceroy, as a present for his mother’s 70th birthday. (The little-known story of Maria Montessori’s son is fascinating.) Nevertheless, they were not permitted to leave India until the end of the Second World War, a twist of fate that permitted her to do extensive education work in that country. She returned to Holland after the war and lived there for the rest of her life, dying there in 1952 at the age of 82. Today there are more than 200 Montessori schools in the Netherlands. One wonders what their contribution must have been to that remarkable society.

What Was Maria Montessori’s Pedagogical Secret?

Maria Montessori had many secrets for dealing with little people but they seem to revolve around a single premise: permit children to develop their own innate talents and inclinations at their own paces, respect them, in short, as people. This approach is reflected in many of her quotes that have come down to us:

“Children’s greatest instinct is precisely that of liberating themselves from adults.”

“Any unnecesary help is an obstacle to development.”

“Help me to do it myself.”

“If salvation and help are to come, it is through the child ; for the child is the constructor of man.”

“Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.”

“The greatest development is achieved during the first years of life, and therefore it is then that the greatest care should be taken. If this is done, then the child does not become a burden; he will reveal himself as the greatest marvel of nature.

“Personal health is related to self-control and to the worship of life in all its natural beauty — self-control bringing with it happiness, renewed youth, and long life.”

“We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being.”

“The child is not an empty being who owes whatever he knows to us who have filled him up with it. No, the child is the builder of man. There is no man existing who has not been formed by the child he once was.”

“Now, what really makes a teacher is love for the human child; for it is love that transforms the social duty of the educator into the higher consciousness of a mission.”

“Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.”

Thank you, Maria.

Do you consider this a world view worth fighting for? What are you waiting for?

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The US Is Not a Democracy, Never Was

US_Constitution

Nor Is It a Secret, Never Has Been

Consider this, from the March, 2018 issue of The Atlantic:

The United States was founded as a republic, not a democracy. As Alexander Hamilton and James Madison made clear in the Federalist Papers, the essence of this republic would consist—their emphasis—“IN THE TOTAL EXCLUSION OF THE PEOPLE, IN THEIR COLLECTIVE CAPACITY, from any share” in the government. Instead, popular views would be translated into public policy through the election of representatives “whose wisdom may,” in Madison’s words, “best discern the true interest of their country.” That this radically curtailed the degree to which the people could directly influence the government was no accident.

This denial of democracy carries awesome weight, considering that it was published in The Federalist Papers by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in the period 1787-88 and formed part of 85 essays encouraging the ratification of the United States Constitution, of which Madison was the principal author. One would be hard pressed to find an opinion with a finer American pedigree.

How is it, then, that the United States sells itself today as the model democracy, a model to be revered, emulated and exported?

A statue of the Goddess of Democracy is seen before the start of candlelight vigil to mark the 28th anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy movement at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, at Victoria Park in Hong Kong

First things first. The word “democracy” does not appear in the Constitution. How then  did the US calling card flip from “republic” (a state which is governed by an elected head of state) to “democracy” (a system of government by the people, exercised either directly or through directly-elected representatives)? This distinction, like all the rest of political philosophy is open to discussion. Some people withold that, in a direct democracy, authority pertains to the people; while in a republic it lies with the government, rendering the government the master, and the people its servant. On that seemingly-clear but distinctly-murky field the battle rages. After more than two centuries of ideological struggle not much has been clarified but the aftermath has left the field strewn with ideological scraps that can be recovered, polished up and marketed.

As the social and political realities of the country evolved, so did it’s professed political philosophy. With the arrival of masses of immigrants, the conquest of the American west, industrialization, and Andrew Jackson’s pitch to the “common man,” all of which culminated in the 1860s with the Civil War, the country’s politicians found it expedient to veer towards the more-egalitarian-sounding “democracy.” Nothing had actually changed very much except for the sales presentation.

Some Advances and Impediments

It was not until after the Civil War that some significant Democratic advances were achieved. In 1913, the 17th Amendment stipulated that senators had to be elected directly by the people, not by state legislatures. In 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women the vote. Perhaps most importantly in 1965, the Voting Rights Act set out to assure the voting rights of black Americans.

Gore_Vidal on Democracy

Those advances notwithstanding, the United States was still burdened with the heavy ballast of the distinctly anti-democratic Electoral College, a “safety barrier” between citizens’ choices as expressed in elections and the candidates ultimately elected by others. American citizens still do not vote directly for presidential candidates in national elections. They vote for 538 “electors,” who then decide who will be President. A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the President. A state’s allotment of electors equals the number of members in its Congressional delegation: one for each member in the House of Representatives plus two for its Senators. Occasionally the results in the Electoral College are at variance with the “popular” vote. In those cases the votes of the 538 electors trump those of the entire voting population of the United States. One wonders how many American voters are aware of this situation and its far-reaching implications.

Thom Hartmann sums it up soccinctly on CommonDreams.org:

“The Electoral College has brought us two presidents (George W. Bush, who lost the popular vote by 500,000 and Trump, who lost by 3,000,000) who were rejected by a majority of Americans. This is fundamentally undemocratic.”

How Did the American People Become Victims of Such a Roccoco Voting System?

Electoral College distortion

They shouldn’t be suprised. Voting systems that instert buffers between voters and the candidates who are ultimately elected have a long history and are still the preferred option in some advanced countries such as Holland. The undeclared philosophy that underlies all of them is the conviction that the untutored and unwashed mob should not be trusted to elect its own governors. The different variations on electoral colleges guaranteed–and continue to guarantee–just that. Even the Pope is elected by the College of Cardinals.

The Electoral College inserted into the American constitution by the founding fathers is a special case. It was  included there to solve the spiny problem of a slave population that was not entitled to vote. After careful consideration, the framers of the Constitution decided that the votes of all free citizens would be counted plus three fifths of the number of the unfree–black slave–population. The mechanism for implementing this system was the Electoral College. Voting rights, by the way, were limited to white male property owners.

A Few Flaws in American “Democracy”

The much-touted “separation of powers,” supposedly a mechanism built into the Constitution to assure that no single branch of government (Legislative, Executive and Judicial) could assume unfettered control of the country, is perfect in theory, but less so in practice. Theoretically, only Congress can declare war. In practice, the last time the US declared war was in 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Since then the country has been virtually continuously at war without declaring anything. A series of US Presidents simply attacked and/or invaded countries around the world capriciously, a grave lapse of democratic procedure, not to mention international law.

A series of “emergencies”–most notably 911, but there are others–have been instrumentalized in order to erode democracy by providing pretexts for the executive branch to decree constrictions on civil rights at home and human rights abroad. The Congress was actually complicit in this exercise in curtailing its own Constitutional powers.

The separation-of-powers provision of the Constitution was flawed from the outset, as the President was given a medium and long-term stranglehold on the judiciary. According to the Constitution it is he/she who appoints Supreme Court justices to lifetime terms. This can be construed as a too-generous privilege for Presidents with twisted ideological convictions or limited understanding of the historic reach of their appointments.

This is the Court That Ruined the Country

Citizens United Court
The justices who decided the Citizens United Supreme Court case.

The most garish recent example of this was the Court’s 2010 decision to uphold the Citizens United contention that corporations and other organizations were persons for the purposes of election campaign donations. Enough time has passed since then for us to discern that, thanks to Citizens United, members of the US Congress can effectively be bought by uber-powerful economic interests, precisely at a time when congressional oversight and regulation in many areas is increasingly important. This Supreme-Court-declared cesion of sovereignty to big-money private interests may prove to loom as large in American history as the Civil War or Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Thanks in part to the Electoral College but also to regular misuse of election procedures and voter qualifications the American pseudo-democracy has been further damaged. President Donald Trump tried to put a patch on this state of affairs with his post-2016 Presidential Commission for Election Integrity. To head this high-sounding investigating body he chose a well-known election meddler, rendering the whole project a farce (Flawedfromthestart.org.)

One wonders how American elections would fare under the scrutiny of the Carter Center. Since its foundation in 1982 President Jimmy Carter’s foundation has undertaken the impartial expert monitoring of 107 elections in 39 countries. The objective of this monitoring process, according to their website, is “to help establish and strengthen democracies.” (CarterCenter.org). Unfortunately the United States does not figure on this list of countries scrupulously monitored for free and fair elections.

And They Export This Half-Baked Democracy?

Amazingly, yes. But then, the Americans can export anything. Their biggest success is sugar water. After that comes jet fighters that do everything badly and regime change that will set your country back three generations. The export version of American democracy is so versatile that it can be delivered by drone.

To expect the world to accept their moth-eaten version of democracy is a bridge too far. Perhaps that’s why they’re having trouble peddling it around the world. Seen from the point of view of an impartial observer,  it looks more like a smokescreen more useful for concealing their regime-change program. We have seen the democracies they have achieved in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libia… There’s a term for a person–or a country–that preaches one thing and practices another: hypocrite.

Is There a Way Out?

There may be. Have a look at this: https://youtu.be/TfQij4aQq1k.

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How the Israeli Tail Wags the American Dog 2/2

Israel Lobby 1

AIPAC, the Motor of the Israel Lobby

The driving force within the Israel Lobby is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), founded in 1951 by Isaiah L. Kenen, a former employee of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs who headed the organization until his retirement in 1974. AIPAC declares that it has more than 100,000 members, seventeen regional offices, and “a vast pool of donors.” Congressman Brad Sherman of California has called AIPAC “the single most important organization in promoting the U.S.-Israel alliance.” It has also been called one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States.

The group does not raise funds for political candidates itself, but its members and sympathizers raise money for candidates through political action committees and other means. Though AIPAC declared more than $77 million in revenues (2014), the amount of money it funnels indirectly through like-minded informal organizations into its lobbying efforts in the US Congress and executive branch is much greater. A popular accusation against AIPAC is that it virtually buys American legislators. Otherwise, how could it have gained such powerful clout in Congress? In 2005, Lawrence Franklin, a Pentagon analyst pleaded guilty to espionage charges of passing US government secrets to AIPAC policy director Steven Rosen and AIPAC senior Iran analyst Keith Weissman, in what is known as the “AIPAC espionage scandal.” Rosen and Weissman were later fired by AIPAC but in 2009 the charges against the former AIPAC employees were dropped. (Source: Wikipedia).

For more detailed information on AIPAC’s influence on the US Congress, have a look at this excellent interview on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal with John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the authors of the Israel Lobby article that blew the lid off the issue in 2006.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Paladin of the US Israel Lobby

Benjamin Netanyahu (“Bibi” to his friends) was a bright, personable lad who enjoyed a stroke of extraordinary luck early in life.  So lucky was Bibi in his childhood that, if you wanted to create the ideal interlocutor between Israel and the United States, you could not come up with a better model  with a better preparation than Bibi Netanyahu.

His parents were secular Jewish immigrants to Israel, his father a historian and promoter of the Jewish homeland in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration, which opened the door to Jewish settlement in Palestine, took the form of a letter, dated Nov. 2, 1917, from Arthur Balfour, foreign secretary of the British government, to Lord Walter Rothschild, head of the organization of British Zionists. This letter promised that the British government would work to bring about “a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.”

Bibi Absorbs America

Between 1956 and 1958, and again from 1963 to 1967, Netanyahu’s family lived in the United States in Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, where his father held an academic post and Bibi graduated from Cheltenham High School. His participation in a debate club there has stood him in good stead. That and the rest of his high-school and university experience gave him both a solid understanding of Americans and the capacity to communicate with them in their own idiom.

After returning to Israel to participate in an elite unit in the Six Day War in 1967 he returned to the States to take bachelors and masters degrees in science at MIT. He then worked for as an economic advisor at the Boston Consulting Group before returning to Israel in 1978 to found the Yonatan Netanyahu Anti-Terror Institute, named after his older brother Yonatan, who died leading the Entebbe hostage-rescue operation in Uganda in 1976. Bibi served as the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988. (Source: Wikipedia)

Elected Israeli prime minister in 2009 (after serving earlier as PM from 1996-99), Bibi never looked back. Despite his promising beginnings, Benjamin Netanyahu, has devoted himself to hatching and executing hard-line policies that are seen around the world as human-rights abominations. The scenario is aggravated by the absolute acquiesence of a series of American administrations and under the umbrella of Israel’s own nuclear arsenal. Bibi bombs and slaughters wherever he pleases, either with his own Israeli Defense Force (IDF) or by means of proxy armies, a strategy used by the Israelis at least as far back as the massacre of Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in September, 1982.

More Partners, More Motives

The ideological congruence between the Israeli right and the American neo-cons and Trumpeteers facilitates their mutual collaboration. All have a vivid interest in disrupting Arab Middle East cohesion by smashing it into smaller, weaker units unable to pose a threat either to Israel or to US pretensions to the region’s oil resources. And both are determined to neutralize if not annex Iran. The US is motivated, at least in part, to take revenge for the Muslim clerics’ overthrowing the Shah and taking the American embassy hostages in 1979. Israel’s interest forms part of their traditional  Lebensraum ambitions. The supposed Iranian nuclear threat is just a cruel joke. The only country in the Middle East with nuclear arms is Israel, and they are formidable, though the Israelis don’t acknowledge them and the Americans pretend not to notice.

UNITED CHRISTIANS FOR ISRAEL

The power of American Evangelical and Christian Zionist sects is also a  factor in the Middle East mix. There are several sects of varying stripes that consider themselves “dispensationalists,”  ranging from those who believe that the establishment of the modern state of Israel in the Holy Land is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, to all-out loonies working to bring about the Apocalypse by promoting a war in the Holy Land. Most of them are tacit or explicit allies of the Israel Lobby and their influence on all aspects of American Israel policy is massive, due both to their numbers and their fanaticism, hence their ability to decide American presidential elections with their votes. More information on dispensationalism here, if you’re interested.

The Netanyahu Endgame

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s murky past has finally caught up with him. The headline of Nehemia Shtrasler’s article in yesterday’s (March 5, 2019) Israeli newspaper Haaretz reads, “The Die Is Cast. Netanyahu Is History.” The article goes on:

The prime minister’s political career of nothing but himself is over and it doesn’t matter whether it happens in the coming election or immediately afterwards. The Israeli Attorney General, Avichai Mendelblit, executed him the moment he presented the three harsh indictments. True, there is still a hearing to be held – but it will be impossible after the 57 difficult pages that contain a very detailed and exceptional description of the crimes of fraud, breach of trust and bribery – for all this to be overturned in a hearing. Mendelblit has been working on this for years, and he knows each and every detail.

Does the expected end of Netanyahu’s political career mean that the Israel Lobby in the United States will be hindered in any way? Not at all. AIPAC never pretended to represent Netanyahu nor his Likud Party. It will be easy for them to simply brush his dust off their shoulders and continue to march. Have no fear. The United States government will be marching with them in lockstep.

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How the Israel Tail Wags the American Dog–1/2

The Israel Lobby’s Sway Over the US Agenda Is About Expert Lobbying, Politicking, and Tricky Payoffs to Members of Congress

Israel Trump

How Much Power Does the Israel Lobby Wield in Washington?

Lots. They can count on the unconditional backing of the US Congress economically–to the tune of some $3 billion annually, making them the US’s most-favored aid recipients both militarily and diplomatically. The State of Israel’s excesses in the Middle East have been protected by US vetoes in the United Nations Security Council 43 times (a UN veto record) since 1972, most recently  a draft UN Security Council resolution on June 1, 2018, that rejected President Donald Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (Source: middleeasteye.net) Here’s a link to the full list of vetoes compiled by Jewish Virtual Library.org.

A flagrant example of the Israeli government’s clout in Washington was the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2015 speech before a joint meeting of Congress. The speech, essentially a harangue against the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, lasted 43 and a half minutes. It would have been shorter had it not been repeatedly interrupted–by standing ovations. That meeting was convened between House Speaker at the time, John Boehner, and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, to arrange a speech before Congress for Netanyahu, in defiance of President Obama and without his knowledge. Obama only found out about Netanyahu’s scheduled speech to Congress after it was accorded.

See the Washington Post‘s transcript of the full speech, along w ith a video version.

Support for Israel in the United States Congress is overwhelming. Only 50 members of both houses of Congress boycotted Netanyahu’s 2015 speech. The US and Israel clearly have shared interests–in their pretensions to co-dominance in the Middle East, their virulent allergy to Iran, and their decades-long efforts to conceal Israel’s nuclear arsenal, for example, but are those common interests so powerful as to justify slavish American adherence to all the Israeli extreme-right-wing Likud party’s policy and junkyard-dog defense of all Israeli human-rights abuses?

Outside of Congress there are grave doubts on these questions, including within the American Jewish community. The subject, which had been simmering for a long time, gained notoriety in 2006 when university professors, John Mearsheimer (University of Chicago) and Stephen Walt (Harvard University), wrote an article entitled The Israel Lobby that was finally published on the other side of the Atlantic in The London Review of Books (Vol. 28, No. 6, March 23, 2006) after being rejected by all the relevant American media. Why was it so universally shunned in the US? The most convincing answer to this question reinforces the main theme of the article: the Israel Lobby’s power was so great that nobody in the US dared to publish an article that criticized Israel.

The Most Powerful Card in the Israeli Deck?

The most powerful card in the deck where US-Israeli relations are concerned, the one that trumps all the others, is and has been for many years the “anti-semitism” card. It’s the Israel Lobby’s ace in the hole. Whenever any American, whether journalist, academic,  notable private citizen or politician objects to any of the policies or actions of Israel’s far-right Likud Party government, the Israel Lobby in the United States whips out the anti-semitism card, whingeing vociferously, “This is anti-semitism!” Actually it usually isn’t. Usually it has to do with clear and present issues of human rights or international law, subjects like the massive building of illegal settlements on Palestinian land–what little is left of it–or deploying snipers to maim and kill unarmed Palestinian demonstrators–men, women and children–on the other side of the Israeli fence/wall.

Ironically, the very word “semitic” doesn’t even belong exclusively to the Israelis, though they have appropriated it for their own use, much in the way the Americans have appropriated “America” and “American,” terms that rightly refer to all the lands and peoples of two entire continents. According to Britannica.com “semitic” refers to:

Semite, person speaking one of a group of related languages, presumably derived from a common language, Semitic (see Semitic languages). The term came to include Arabs, Akkadians, Canaanites, some Ethiopians, and Aramaean tribes including Hebrews.

US Representative Ilhan Omar, the Most Recent “Offender”

The citizens of Minnesota have recently seen fit to elect Ilhan Omar, a young Somali-American woman, to the United States House of Representatives. She’s outspoken, and had the impertinence the other day to suggest that the Israel Lobby was able to use “Benjamins” to get their chosen candidates for the United States Congress elected. (“Benjamin” is slang for a hundred-dollar bill.) A summary look at successful congressional election results, collating them with candidates’ stands on issues that the Israeli Likud Party considers sensitive, would seem to corroborate Omar’s veiled allegation that sympathizers of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other members of the Israel Lobby were buying elections. But truth is scarcely an issue here, any more than it is in so many other questions on the current American agenda. Besides, who isn’t buying elections in the United States these days?

The immediate pro-Israel backlash was led by President Donald Trump himself who said he thought Omar should resign. Both the newly-elected representative from Minnesota and the House’s other new Muslim representative, Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian- American, have criticized the Israeli government for its grotesque treatment of the Palestinian people.  The mere mention of the Israeli apartheid system is politically dangerous for American elected officials. In 2016, when presidential candidate Bernie Sanders dared to say that “We are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity,” it became a major media event.

Ben Ehrenreich, writing for The New Republic on Feb. 15, 2019, sums up the back story of Ilhan Omar’s alleged faux pas in a single eloquent paragraph:

By the time Ilhan Omar walked onto the national stage, a lot had changed, and not much at all. Since 2006, we’ve seen three devastating and overwhelmingly one-sided Israeli assaults on Gaza, the massive expansion of settlements in a brutal and seemingly endless occupation, the collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations and anything that could be called an Israeli “left,” a widening gulf between Israeli and American Jews, and an Israeli prime minister who went out of his way to embarrass a popular Democratic president and to embrace the neo-fascist right. Ever-larger cracks are appearing in the defensive wall the U.S. media has for years erected around Israel: Critical voices—even Palestinian ones—are increasingly making it into the op-ed pages. Space for debate is finally opening up. And the controversy that blew up around Omar is a foretaste of how bitterly that space will be contested.

Money Talks

According to Alex Kotch, writing in The Guardian on Feb. 13, 2019:

Aipac played a role in forming separate pro-Israel Pacs and has encouraged its members to donate to its favorite candidates for decades; it spends more money than any other pro-Israel group every year to lobby the federal government; it holds annual conventions featuring sympathetic members of Congress; and it’s spent nearly $16m since 2000 to send groups of congresspeople to Israel to learn about the two countries’ relationship through the Aipac lens.

In part because of AIPAC’s political efforts, the US has remained Israel’s strongest ally, funding its military and selling it weapons, siding with Israel on UN resolutions, and hardly slapping Israel on the wrist when it expands its illegal West Bank settlements or its soldiers kill hundreds of unarmed Palestinians, Including children, medics and journalists.

Kotch adds in his Guardian article:

The furor over the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has led more than half of US states to pass laws attacking BDS. These laws clearly trample on the constitutional right to free speech and expression, but that didn’t stop the US Senate from passing the very first piece of legislation this session, which forbids Congress from pre-empting such state laws.

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Veteran Truth Teller John Pilger Takes a Critical Look at the Venezuelan Crisis

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I thought I had said what I had to say about the situation in Venezuela but yesterday I received an email from an old friend with an article by John Pilger attached.

Australian journalist and documentary film maker, John Pilger, is one of the world’s essential old-pro, big-C communicators, along with the likes of Sy Hersh, Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and very few others. Based in the UK for most of his life he worked all over the world for the Daily Mirror from 1963 until shortly after the Murdoch takeover in 1985. He never looked back, writing for quality publications worldwide and making 60 documentary films for ITV, always from the point of view of a professional and compassionate observer, always prepared to speak truth to power. He said this on Twitter yesterday:

Like a page from Alice’s tea party, the Trump administration has presented Guaido, a pop-up creation of the CIA-front National Endowment for Democracy, as “legitimate President of Venezuela”. Unheard of by 81% of the people (source: ), Guaido has been elected by no one.

Martha Gellhorn, the American novelist, journalist and war correspondent, has said:

John Pilger has taken on the great theme of justice and injustice… He documents and proclaims the official lies that we are told and that most people accept or don’t bother to think about. He belongs to an old and unending worldwide company, the men and women of conscience. Some are as famous as Tom Paine and William Wilberforce, some as unknown as a tiny group calling itself Grandmothers Against The Bomb…. If they win, it is slowly; but they never entirely lose. To my mind, they are the blessed proof of the dignity of man. John has an assured place among them. I’d say he is a charter member for his generation. (Source: Wikipedia)

Given the rapidly-evolving crisis in Venezuela I feel obliged to pass his article on to you:

The War on Venezuela Is Built on Lies

Thanks, Tariq

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Consider Disregarding Everything You’ve Been Told about Venezuela–2/2

This Feb. 15 report from The Real News affirms that recognition of  Guidó’s “government” violates international law.

American Diplomatic and Military Firepower Has Brought About Regime Change in Several Latin American Countries and Venezuela Is Next on Their List

Admittedly, the Americans did achieve regime change in Chile, El Salvador, Argentina, Guatemala and other smaller places, though they failed notably in Cuba despite decades of furibund efforts. The case of Guatemala is fascinating. After financing, training and arming an army of thugs to wipe out tens of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans they found that their most effective weapon was old-time religion in the form of American fundamentalist Pentecostal and Evangelical missionaries. Today the latest in a series of born-again Guatemalan presidents, Jimmy Morales, seems to be cut from Trumpian cloth with a checkered history of economic, political and sexual irregularities.

So, according to the usual Washington wisdom, the government of twice-elected President Nicolas Madero–with one of those elections certified free and fair by America’s own Jimmy Carter–is on its last legs. If events follow the script he will soon be replaced, in a curious excercise of auto-appointment, by a young man who recently stepped into the Venezuelan political limelite out of nowhere. Where do these right-wing nowhere men come from, anyway?  Contrary to what the mainline media would have us believe, he did not show up by accident or coincidence.

The National Security Council’s most-recent pop-up nowhere man is Juan Guaidó and the following account of his overnight rise to notoriety is based on a long article by investigative journalists, Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal, published on the latter’s Grayzone Project website. It’s entitled: The Making of Juan Guaidó: How the US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader. (I heartily recommend reading the full article. Here’s the link.)

Here’s Where “President” Guaidó Comes From

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According to Cohen and Blumenthal, “Juan Guaidó is the product of a decade-long project overseen by Washington’s elite regime change trainers. While posing as a champion of democracy, he has spent years at the forefront of a violent campaign of destabilization.”

Here are just a few of the points that Blumenthal and Cohen make in their article, details that the sanitized media has not seen fit to publish:

  • Only a few months ago, the 35-year-old was an obscure character in a politically marginal far-right group closely associated with gruesome acts of street violence. But after a single phone call from from US Vice President Mike Pence, Guaidó proclaimed himself 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 US-selected leader of the nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.
  • While Guaidó seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, he was, in fact, the product of more than a decade of assiduous grooming by the US government’s elite regime change factories. Alongside a cadre of right-wing student activists, Guaidó was cultivated to undermine Venezuela’s socialist-oriented government, destabilize the country, and one day seize power.
  • In 2002, Venezuela’s right-wing opposition briefly ousted Chávez with US support and recognition, before the military restored his presidency following a mass popular mobilization. Throughout the administrations of US Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Chávez survived numerous assassination plots, before succumbing to cancer in 2013. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, has survived three attempts on his life.
  • On October 5, 2005, with Chávez’s popularity at its peak and his government planning sweeping socialist programs, five Venezuelan “student leaders” arrived in Belgrade, Serbia to begin training for an insurrection. The students had arrived from Venezuela courtesy of the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies, or CANVAS. This group is funded largely through the National Endowment for Democracy, a CIA cut-out that functions as the US government’s main arm of promoting regime change; and offshoots like the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.
  • And there are 32 richly-illustrated pages more, here..

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The Economic Route to Regime Change

In an article by Marjorie Cohn published in Truthout.com on February 2, 2019, she says:

From engineering coups in Chile and Guatemala, to choreographing a troop landing at the Bay of Pigs intended to establish an exile government in Cuba, to training Latin American strongmen at the School of the Americas in torture techniques to control their people, the United States has meddled, interfered, intervened and undermined the democracies it claims to protect. Now, Vice President Mike Pence, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and the infamous Elliott Abrams are working with opposition groups in Venezuela to carry out a coup d’état.

She adds:

In addition to the oil sanctions, the US State Department turned over control of Venezuela’s property and bank accounts in the United States to Guaidó, in what The New York Times called “one of Washington’s most overt attempts in decades to carry out regime change in Latin America.”

According to Cohn, the former UN Special Rapporteur, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, says the United States is waging “economic warfare” against Venezuela. In his report to the Human Rights Council, de Zayas recommends that the International Criminal Court investigate whether “economic war, embargoes, financial blockades and sanctions regimes amount to geopolitical crimes and crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute.”

The Not-So-Inevitable Endgame

Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, and the United States, lying just 2,799  miles across the Caribbean to the north, is its biggest customer. Wouldn’t it be convenient if American petroleum interests could somehow “annex” all that Venezuelan oil by installing a “cooperative” government in its southern neighbor?

The legal and moral implications of such a move are irrelevant as far as the Trump administration is concerned. But, “somehow,” remains the question.

Go back to Part 1
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Consider Disregarding Everything You’ve Been Told about Venezuela–1/2

Let’s Look Beyond the Sterilized Media for the Truth about US Efforts to Destabilize Venezuela

After more than 20 years of overt and covert hostile actions in Venezuela the US and its allies are finally ready to close the deal on another vanquished Latin American country. It looks to them like a slam-dunk, but it might not be so simple, despite the national-security dream team appointed by President Donald Trump to run the show. Before we go any further, let’s take a brief look at their rap sheets:

  • Retired State Department veteran, Eliot Abrams–Abrams, President Trump’s recently-appointed “Special Envoy to Venezuela” and chief of the team, has a history that dates back to the Reagan presidency when, according to Eric Alterman writing in The Nation on 2 February, 2017, he spent his time “abetting genocide” and was actually convicted in court of lying to Congress regarding his role in the Iran-Contra affair. (He was later pardoned by George H.W. Bush.) In a world-class show of irony Abrams, just before he was named Ronald Reagan’s “assistant secretary of state for human rights,” aided  Guatemala’s dictator–and mass murderer–General Efraín Ríos Montt in planning and executing “acts of genocide” against the indigenous people in the Ixil region of the department of Quiché.
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    Abrams_testifying
    But Abram’s most egregious performance as a State Department agent during the Reagan administration was his skillful coverup of the El Mozote massacre that occured in El Salvador in December of 1981, a barbarous incident he was reminded of just the other day by Rep. Ilhan Omar in questioning  during  the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on Venezuela. In that little Salvadorean town members of the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army, allegedly during a hunt for leftist guerrillas, slaughtered at least 800 civilians as part of its brutal counterinsurgency.

    This graphic witness account of the atrocity appears in the Washington Post: “We could hear the women being raped on the hills,” one witness told journalist Mark Danner, author of The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War. “And then, you know, the soldiers would pass by, coming from there, and they’d talk about it. You know, they were talking and joking, saying how much they liked the 12-year-olds.”

    On Wednesday, Abrams balked at Omar’s line of questioning, deeming it “ridiculous,” and ultimately refused to answer her questions.Nearly four decades after the El Mozote massacre, as a member of George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff, Abrams aided and abetted a military coup against the democratically-elected government of Venezuela. Though that 2002 golpe de estado was only briefly successful before being reversed by the Venezuelan military, it did succeed in souring the US relationship with Venezuela to this day. As Eric Alterman concludes in his article in The Nation, “If Abrams had abetted genocide against Jews instead of Guatemalans, it might not have disqualified him from a top diplomatic position in the Trump administration, but he would at least have been treated as a pariah in the media, the establishment, and, one certainly hopes, the world of professional Jews. These days, however, it’s hard to be certain of anything.”
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  • Secretary of State and ex-CIA Director Mike Pompeo–Pompeo is a member of the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement. After six years as a US Representative from Kansas, President Trump named him Secretary of State. In 2014 Pompeo, commenting on the inclusion of a telecast by  Edward Snowden at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, requested that it be cancelled, predicting that it would encourage “lawless behavior” among attendees. (Andrea Drusch in Politico,  9 March, 2014). Two years later Pompeo was quoted as saying that Snowden “should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence” (Pete Kasperowicz, Washington Examiner, 11 February, 2016).
    .Pompeo
    Pompeo is a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church since 2000 and serves as a church deacon as well as teaching Sunday school (Katherine Burgess in the Wichita Eagle, 19 April, 2018). In 2015 in a talk at a church, Pompeo said that “politics is a never-ending struggle … until the Rapture.” One wonders if Pompeo’s Evangelical religious convictions extend to advocating all-out war in the Holy Land in order to precipitate the Apocalypse and propel his people–and himself–directly into Heaven. His posturing on the Iran issue would seem to suggest that.
  • National Security Advisor, John Bolton–According to Wikipedia, Bolton has a formidable far-right pedigree. He is a former senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, senior advisor for Freedom Capital Investment Management, and a Fox News Channel commentator. He is also involved with a number of right-wing  think tanks, policy institutes and special interest groups, including the Institute of East-West Dynamics, the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Project for the New American Century, the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf, the Council for National Policy, and the Gatestone Institute. Google any one of these groups to see how it fits neatly into one of the most retrograde slots in the American political jigsaw puzzle.
    .Bolton_Troops_Threat
    Moreover, Bolton’s consistent personal policy of advocating war around the world makes him a dangerous person to be sitting in the seat of President Trump’s National Security Advisor. It is an ironic position for a person who kept his head down during the Vietnam War, first in the Maryland Army National Guard and later in the U.S. Army Reserve. From 2013 until March 2018, this warmongering terrier was chairman of the Gatestone Institute, a nonprofit organization that has been criticized for disseminating false anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim information, where Bolton published articles on Iran and other topics.
  • Senator Marco Rubio (R. Florida)–Marco Rubio’s claim to fame appears to be based on his rating of 98.67 by the American Conservative Union, based on his lifetime voting record in the Senate. If that’s not recommendation enough, according to the National Journal, in 2013 Rubio was the 17th most conservative senator.
    .Marco_Rubio

Why the Persecution of Venezuela?

What motivates the Trump government to take such a truculent stance on Venezuela, anyway? First and foremost there are Venezuela’s oil reserves–the richest confirmed deposits in the world. Though they’re seldom mentioned in the polite company of the American media, they are certainly objectives of public and private American avarice. The Venezuelans are also blessed–or cursed–with fabulous veins of gold and diamonds. Another factor in the American badgering of Venezuela is its left-wing government, something no American politician of whatever stripe can countenance. Nevertheless, no member of President Trump’s Venezuela-regime-change team will ever mention these prima facie factors. They all maintain that their objective is to “defend the Venezuelan constitution.” Do you believe in the Tooth Fairy?

What are their chances of success in toppling the Maduro government? In the words of William Arkin, author of Top Secret America and a cogent critique of the American policy of perpetual war, “Whenever the US bumbles into those countries, it fuels and galvanizes the opposition.” That’s what they discovered in Afghanistan and Iraq and what might well happen in Venezuela if push comes to shove. The ironic thing about the Americans’ armed visits to resource-rich countries is that, after decades of working off the same playbook, they still can’t get it right. In Iraq, for example, after winning the war by massive use of superior air power and bribing the commanding officers of Saddam’s elite Republican Guard, they ineptly paved the way for an elected Shiite government. They apparently forgot that Iran, adjacent to Iraq and the Americans’ principal enemy in the Middle East by their own estimation, was a solidly Shiite country with just a smattering of Sunni Moslems and Jews. Thus, by virtually delivering the Iraqi government to the Shiites, the American strategists succeeded in spectacularly strengthing the Iranians in the region. (Yes, thousands of Jews–the largest community in the Middle East outside of Israel– live peacefully in Iran.)

Go to Part 2
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Toxic American Billionaires

Mike Booth looks at the political role of American billionaires’ money, both at home and abroad.

Are They Entitled to Determine Who Governs?

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As Things Stand Right Now It Seems They Are

The power of money in the United States is nothing new. There have always been powerful monied interests and they have always wanted to feather their nests. But in recent times–coinciding roughly with the rise of the Internet–the number of the super-rich and their companies and their level of wealth has grown so dramatically that it’s no longer a question of quantitative change. We’re looking at qualitative issues. It’s a whole new world. Continue reading “Toxic American Billionaires”

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Neo-Nazis, Police and Prosecutors: Strange American Bedfellows

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It’s a Revolutionary Morning

I feel like Paul Revere this morning and I haven’t even had my coffee yet. It’s not that the British are coming. It’s way worse. The Nazis are coming. I mean they’re here. That is, there. In California. Home-grown American Nazis have been on the march for some time in California and other places across the country, infiltrating police departments, but I just discovered it yesterday morning in an article in The Guardian and I urgently need to alert the citizens. Continue reading “Neo-Nazis, Police and Prosecutors: Strange American Bedfellows”

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What I Remember from the States 2/2

This is Part 2 of Mike Booth’s rapid account of his own “short pants, romance” story.

Quiet Places for Reflection and Regrouping

New Aspen library
The new, enlarged Aspen library. The old one was more “Aspen.”

I always loved American libraries, first the one in my hometown, even though the 175-year-old spinster librarian prohibited high-school kids from reading Hemingway or Steinbeck or Faulkner. The ones she should have censored were Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken, America’s most surgical truth seers and tellers. In that same town I lent my girlfriend my prized collection of books by contemporary American authors and later found that her mother had burned them all because they were “paperbacks.” Continue reading “What I Remember from the States 2/2”

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What I Remember from the States 1/2

Mike Booth remembers the US after half a century of life abroad.

 

Silverton, Colorado
Silverton, Colorado

In a Spanish Polish Restaurant

Quite a few years ago my best friend, Mark Little, took me to a Polish restaurant near Fuengirola, just off the Mediterranean coast of Málaga. I was anxious to go because he had told me that the owner had grown up in Siberia when her parents were exiled there, and I wanted to meet her. Her appearance didn’t disappoint. She looked like a kindly grandmother with a ruffled apron, her grey hair in a bun. She wanted to know about me. I told her I wrote feature stories for a magazine down the road, nodding at Mark. Then I got to pop the question. “Mark says you were exiled to Siberia when you were young. Would I be intruding if I asked what it was like?” “Nooo,” she replied with a big smile, “not at all. It was wonderful. Anyplace is wonderful when you’re 15 years old.”

My experience with the States was a bit like that. It was wonderful. Continue reading “What I Remember from the States 1/2”

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There’s an Algorithm Going Round Taking Names

Mike Booth discusses the scarier implications of modern electronic surveillance in America.

Analysts prepare for the Cyber Storm III at the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) in Arlington Virginia

Meet Covert Big-Data Warrantless Surveillance of Americans

Don’t Say Johnny Cash Didn’t Warn You

Johnny_Cash_The_Man

There’s a man going around taking names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won’t be treated all the same
There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down
When the Man comes around Continue reading “There’s an Algorithm Going Round Taking Names”

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Trump and Disrespect, What Went Wrong?

President Donald Trump’s coarse manners and egotistical attitudes are rooted in traditional American values. This articles explains how.

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American Individuality Off the Rails

Fifteen months ago, in my first post for this blog, I wrote, “…what you will read here in the coming weeks and months won’t be mainly about Donald Trump.” Unfortunately, I have not been able to keep that promise. President Trump incessantly requires replies, now more than ever. His recent spate of boutades on both sides of the Atlantic obliges me to direct our attention to him once again. For the President of the United States of America to skip his planned visit on Saturday, November 11, to the Aisne-Marne Take_a_KneeAmerican Cemetery and Memorial in homage to the Americans killed in World War I–allegedly because it was going to rain–marked a new low-water mark in President Trump’s trajectory. To have repeated the same gesture on the following Monday, skipping the Veterans’ Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, for the same reason, was equally unseemly for America’s first patriot. He is, after all, an expert on disrespect. Continue reading “Trump and Disrespect, What Went Wrong?”

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False Flags–Whodunnit?

What Are False-Flag Ops, and Why?

False flag operations are covert operations conducted by governments, corporations, or other organizations, which are designed to deceive the public in such a way that the operations appear as if they are being carried out by someone else. The name is derived from the military concept of flying false colors; that is, flying the flag of a country other than one’s own.

The term comes from the days of wooden ships, when a ship would fly the flag of its enemy before attacking one of its own navy’s vessels, with the aim of creating a provocation to justify a false counterattack. Because the enemy’s flag was displayed it was called a “false flag” attack. Continue reading “False Flags–Whodunnit?”

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Are Whistleblowers Good for the Country?

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A whistleblower is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within a private or public organization.
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The Prometheus of American Truth Tellers

Note: Most of the biographical information in this article is from Biography.com

Daniel Ellsberg was born on April 7, 1931, in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in Highland Park, Michigan the son of a civil engineer and a homemaker. His parents were Jewish who had converted to Christian Science. When he was 15 years old his mother and sister were killed in an automobile accident on a family outing. Given these antecedents it is no surprise that his classmates remember Danny Ellsberg as an introverted and unusual child. He was an excellent student, however, and won a scholarship to the prestigious Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, outside of Detroit. He graduated first in his class in 1948 and was awarded another full scholarship to attend Harvard. There he majored in economics and wrote a senior honors thesis entitled “Theories of Decision-making Under Uncertainty: The Contributions of von Neumann and Morgenstern.”

Continue reading “Are Whistleblowers Good for the Country?”

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Regime Change Thugs Loosed Again

Rudy Giuliani crys havoc.
Rudy Giuliani giving his Regime-Change-In-Iran Pitch

Is Iran Looking for Trouble Again?

Some “defense” experts in the White House have decided that it would be a good idea to produce regime change in Iran, for the usual specious reasons. This is the second time that the Americans have decided to sabotage Iran’s government. The first was a classic example of US American regime-change thuggery, one that was “successful” but has left a bitter legacy and unclosed wounds on both sides. In 1954 Iran’s democratically-elected president, Mohammed Mossadegh, came under siege by the usual suspects largely because of his government’s nationalization of British oil interests in his country. The British-engineered international boycott of Iran failed and in 1952 they turned to the Americans for help. Using a predictable “Soviet threat” as a pretext, President Truman encouraged Iran’s ousted monarch, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, to issue decrees dismissing Mossadegh and replacing him with a general who had been imprisoned by the British during World War II for his collaboration with the Nazis. Continue reading “Regime Change Thugs Loosed Again”

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American Inequality is the Whistleblower

The United States has always been a country marred by the inequality of its citizens but never to the degree that exists today when the poles are more concentrated and farther apart. There are more rich Americans and they are richer than ever before. The poor are not only poorer but more numerous. What is more alarming is that people from the middle classes are slipping into poverty. Having a job is not always a solution. Many families in which the breadwinners are employed full time still can’t afford to have a home or a decent life.
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At the other end of the scale of inequality are the American rich, whose wealth and flashy lifestyles are unprecedented. The classic millionaire has slipped into the middle class; now it’s the billionaires who make the news. And it’s not just the Internet whizkids. Now even garden-variety bankers, accountants and company CEO’s–virtually anyone who can adjudicate his or her own salary–can also aspire to the vacuous elite.
According to a 2017 report on CEO pay from the Economic Policy Institute, chief executives at 350 top companies made $15.6 million on average in 2016—271 times what the typical worker earns. The CEO of Marathon Petroleum, Gary Heminger, took home an astonishing 935 times more pay than his typical employee in 2017.
Even Americans with “good jobs” are overworked and lack first-world working conditions. Any European worker is entitled to a month’s paid vacation in his or her first year of work. How long does it take the average American worker to merit a month’s vacation? Maternity leave in Spain has just been extended by their socialist government to 16 weeks, with an additional five weeks of paternity leave for the father.

Most of these statistics are from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality:
Wage Inequality
Over the last 30 years, wage inequality in the United States has increased substantially, with the overall level of inequality now approaching the extreme level that prevailed prior to the Great Depression.

Education Wage Premium
Only college graduates have experienced growth in median weekly earnings since 1979 (in real terms). High school dropouts have, by contrast, seen their real median weekly earnings decline by about 22 percent.

Gender Pay Gaps
Throughout much of the 20th century, the average woman earned about 60% of what the average man earned. Starting in the late 1970s, there was a substantial increase in women’s relative earnings, with women coming to earn about 80% of what men earned.
This historic rise plateaued in 2005 and, since then, the pay gap has remained roughly unchanged.

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Women’s pay as a percentage of that of men

Child Poverty
The United States boasts fifth position in the world ranking of the percentage of poor children with 21 percent of its children in poverty,

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Health Insurance
In 2007, 8.1 million American children under 18 years old were without health insurance. Children in poverty and Hispanic children were more likely to be uninsured.

Bad Jobs
“Bad jobs” are typically considered those that pay low wages and do not include access to health insurance and pension benefits. As shown here, about 10% of full-time workers are in low-wage jobs, about 30% don’t have health insurance, and about 40% don’t have
pensions. The graph also shows that the likelihood of being in a bad job is much worse for part-time workers, for on-call and day laborers, and for those working for temporary help agencies.

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Incarceration
The incarceration rate in the United States has grown so dramatically since the 1970s that the U.S. now has one of the highest rates in the world. The rise in incarceration has been especially prominent among young Black males and high school dropouts. As shown in this graph, a full 37% of those who are both young black males and high school dropouts are now in prison or jail, a rate that’s more than three times higher than what prevailed in 1980.

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Percent of 20-34-year-old men in prison or jail, by race, ethnicity,
and educational attainment, 1980 and 2008

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Homelessness is as American as Apple Pie

Scenes of homelessness such as are seen on the streets of the United States today are unthinkable in any other country in the first world.

Homelessness

According to The Week, March 11, 2018, about 554,000 people in the U.S. were homeless on any given night in 2017 — including nearly 58,000 families with children — meaning they didn’t have a safe, permanent place to sleep. That figure represents a 1 percent rise since 2016 — the first time the nation’s homeless population has increased in seven years. But the country’s biggest cities, especially those on the West Coast, have seen a far bigger rise in homelessness. New York City, which has the nation’s largest homeless population, reported a 4 percent increase since 2016 to about 76,500 people, San Diego a 5 percent increase to 9,160, and Los Angeles a 26 percent increase to nearly 55,200.

Consider This Testimony Posted on Quora.com by an Open-eyed American Retiree

I am American. I am married to a French woman. I have worked for years in the United States and for years in Europe. Americans, including myself (as a working-class boy who became a university professor and Dean), are culturally molded (brainwashed) into believing that work is everything. Our lives revolve around the work we do.

I’m retired now, but in my final years as a top-level administrator I was working so hard— 10 hours a day, 6 days a week—that I did not take the vacations due me. At the end, my employer owed me more than 6 months vacation time. And, oh yes, a former employer fired me because at 55 years of age I was being paid too much in their view and they could hire a 30-year-old for much less. That is normal in America. There is no such thing as loyalty to a long time and valued worker. Workers are “inputs” into the process, not people. Americans have been raised to think this is the way it is and the way it should be.

I think it likely that the United States has been controlled by the elites at the economic top for a very long time—probably since the time of the famous “Robber Barons” of the late 19th century. Today the United States is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world. The “wealth gap” is enormous. The top 1% are billionaires. There is literally nothing they cannot buy: law, tax codes, regulations, media outlets, controlling interests in big corporations, the entire healthcare and medical industry, the infamous “military industrial complex,” political campaigns, etc. In short, the government in the USA exists to serve the super wealthy.

In much of Europe governments (incredibly) seem to be truly inclined to see themselves as serving the people and their welfare. So, the government provides high quality and free (or very inexpensive) education—including at university level, as well as high-quality universal healthcare for everyone. And workers are given protections and rights that are unheard of in the USA, including at least 4 weeks vacation a year. Of course, the people pay higher taxes for these services, but it seems well worth it. And, Chief Officers of companies are not paid ludicrously high salaries and bonuses. In fact few companies in Europe are public corporations, and so the chief executives do not have the power to raise their own salaries and bonuses as do the American chief executives of the infamous public corporations (run by “agents” not by the owners).

In short: The American workplace is brutal and the European workplace is much more humane. Americans are trained to respond to this by saying “But American companies are more successful, they generate more wealth.” Not only is this untrue (the GDP of the EU is very close to that of the USA), but so much of the wealth created in the USA just goes straight up to the billionaires at the top. That’s why one out of seven families in the USA lives in poverty, and why the American working class has not progressed economically since the late 70s.

As long as Americans are willing to be brutalized in the workplace and accept a government dedicated to the oligarchs, nothing will change for them.

Greatness?

President Donald Trump says that his goal is to “make America great again,” and there’s nothing to keep him from doing just that. But he should be mindful that true greatness is not about invading Iran, nor bigger limousines, nor tax breaks for fat cats. It’s about taking care of your people–all of them.

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Read more rantings in my ebook, The Turncoat Chronicles.
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Un-Brainwashing America

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Lorenz’s Goose Eggs

Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989), the Austrian physician and zoologist who shared the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973, hatched a clutch of greylag goose eggs as a young man and found that the newly-hatched goslings “imprinted” on him and would follow him wherever he went as if he were their mother. He later found that they would imprint on whatever they saw moving during a “critical period” after they emerged from the eggs. In goslings that period is from 13 to 16 hours after hatching. That’s how Lorenz became “mother” to a series of baby geese and ducks in subsequent years. He also found that this surrogate motherhood was indelible. Once the little birds had “learned” that the naturalist was their mother there was no “un-learning” it. That might explain why Lorenz often appears in photographs followed by a gaggle of geese. Continue reading “Un-Brainwashing America”

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Who Needs Conspiracy Theories?

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“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. ”
The Sagan Standard, Carl Sagan

It’s a Conspiracy Theory; Over and Out

“Conspiracy theory” has become a term for virtually a single use: to label an uncomfortable proposition or an argument as silly, specious or untenable, wholly unworthy of further consideration. A conspiracy theory in current usage is something to be reflexively discredited, dismissed, discarded… Nowadays it is enough to label a proposition a “conspiracy theory” to short-circuit any further conversation on the subject. Continue reading “Who Needs Conspiracy Theories?”

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Criminalize-Prosecute-Incarcerate, the American Way

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Are Americans Just More Depraved?

In reality, they probably aren’t but it would seem so. According to Drug Policy.org, with less than five percent of the world’s population, the United States houses almost 25% of the world’s prison inhabitants. In relation to their populations the US is the country with the most prisoners in the world. That’s more than Russia, more than China, more than Iran…

But if Americans are not five times as evil as the rest of humanity, why are so many of them in jail? It’s a long story, a veritable trail of tears, with its roots in some of the country’s most hallowed traditions: ultra-conservatism, racism, religion and the lust for power and profit. The MacGuffin has always been drugs. Continue reading “Criminalize-Prosecute-Incarcerate, the American Way”

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Democracy Ain’t What It Used to Be

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Wikipedia: The shell game (also known as thimblerig, three shells and a pea, the old army game) is portrayed as a gambling game, but in reality, when a wager for money is made, it is almost always a confidence trick used to perpetrate fraud.

A Burning Bush on the Way to the Dentist’s Office

One day I’m walking to the dentist’s office  and I notice the bold bronze letters glowing over the door of a Granada University building: “Facultad de Sociología y Ciencias Políticas.” That was when it finally hit me. The traditional base elements of democratic politics–idealism, honesty, goodwill, life, liberty and the pursuit of the happiness of the citizenry–have been substituted for sociologized “political science.” The essence of western democracy has been downgraded to pandering to the lowest common voter, by means of numbers, statistics and opinion polls. The modern political model, which the United States has exported all over the world, calling it “democracy,” is no longer about noble ideas and the struggle for human rights, equality and citizen well-being.  It’s about opportunism, not idealism, as the leaders of the Free World would have you believe.

Abraham Lincoln would not recognize his country’s governors today. Continue reading “Democracy Ain’t What It Used to Be”

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We Were Wondering…

President Trump's Cabinet
These are the hollow men. They are the stuffed men. Leaning together. Headpieces filled with straw.

How Do American Governments Justify Their Questionable Actions?

Although the Americans in charge regularly resort to “American exceptionalism” and other familiar formulas to justify their belligerent solutions both at home and abroad, Europeans and other people from the world outside the United States have a lot of questions for the government and the people of the world’s only superpower regarding those “solutions.” Thanks largely to that exemplary American hero, Superman, we all agree that superpowers should be used for good, and that evil should be left to the likes of super-villain, Lex Luthor, and other characters of his ilk. At least that’s the theory. As usual, the reality is somewhat different… Let’s take a look together.

How Do Americans Live with Their Own Government?

How does one of the world’s greatest countries–historically, economically, technologically and militarily–the home of some of the world’s most prestigious seats of higher learning, manage to elect a government made up of its worst elements semi-literate accountants, speculators and rednecks, ultra Christian zealots, racists, militarists, hypocrites and other assorted sociopaths, headed by an uncouth, unlettered and unprincipled President and backed by packs of extreme right-wing billionaires and industrialists promoting their own sinister agendas?

Virtually none of these eminent American leaders have any consideration for the wellbeing of the people who elected them, preferring to favor with all their government initiatives a cynical, opportunistic and affluent sector of American society–the notorious “one per-cent,” not to be confused with the 1% sector of unruly motor-cycle club members who might actually be considered a better class of people insofar as they only rough up their fellow citizens individually or in small groups. And they have yet
to provoke a mortgage crisis or major bank bailout. Continue reading “We Were Wondering…”

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Schizophrenogenic America

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How the United States Drives Its Citizens Crazy

“Schizophrenogenic”=”Schizophreno” from “schizophrenia” and “genic” from “genesis.” Meaning: Tending to produce schizophrenia. When applied to a country it refers to a place that is so unfair and destructive for vast sectors of its population that it will drive them crazy, with all the logical consequences. There are many countries like that around the world, but the most egregious is the United States of America, due to the disparity between the image of affluence and wellbeing it attempts to project and its sordid reality. Powerful interests and popular traditions in the US like to portray it as a model Democracy but in reality it’s a model Schizophrenogenocracy. Continue reading “Schizophrenogenic America”

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The Economist from Hell

James Buchanan
James Buchanan (1919-2013)

The Mastermind Behind the Rising American Dystopia

Normal Americans who watch the news and read the paper could easily get the impression that today’s radical political and economic changes in their country are determined by arbitrary–almost random–ideas and events promoted in large part by crazies of different stripes: American Nazis, white supremacists and other assorted hate groups on one hand, and anarchists, socialists and radical feminists on the other. It looks to Mr. and Mrs. America like a lunatic fringe that amuses itself on weekends carrying banners and bashing heads. When all is said and done it’s nothing that can’t be handled by well-trained riot police and a few justices of the peace.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. What Mr. and Mrs. America are unwittingly looking at is, in reality, a sinister, well-organized-and-financed extreme-right-wing campaign to undermine plural American democracy as we have always conceived it. You remember, separation of powers, free and fair elections, majority rule, respect for minorities, the rule of law, due process… Continue reading “The Economist from Hell”

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The Next American Civil War? 2/2

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Straight Up to Heaven

For readers who are fascinated or horrified by this virulent interpretation of the Book of Revelations, here’s more information from the glossary provided by RaptureReady.com:

Rapture:
At an unknown hour and day the Lord Jesus will descend from heaven, while remaining in the air, he will snatch his Bride, the Church, out from among this sinful world. Christ then takes the Church to heaven for the 7 year wedding feast. The earthly reason for the removal of the Church is to make way for the rise of Antichrist and to fulfill Daniel’s final 70th week.

President Trump has many of these radical Christians participating in his White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative which, according to the Religious News Service, “will ensure that the faith-based and community organizations that form the bedrock of our society have strong advocates in the White House and throughout the Federal Government.” Continue reading “The Next American Civil War? 2/2”

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The Next American Civil War? 1/2

White Supremacist Militia

Charlottesville, VA, white supremacist rally

It Couldn’t Happen in America

Americans are living turbulent times, times when the last things you need are half the citizenry armed to the teeth and an unstable, egomaniacal, possibly psychotic at the helm. Is there the possibility of a 21st-century civil war breaking out in the USA? We have always confidently assumed that it couldn’t happen in the world’s greatest democracy. Or could it? The mighty Mississippi doesn’t start out as a great river. It begins as tiny rivulets struggling towards Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota, from whose headwaters it flows 2,340 miles southwards, entering the Gulf of Mexico as a triumphant giant. It’s the same with social movements, both benign and malevolent. They start with just a few people concerned enough to do something. Formerly they would die out or grow vegetatively into mass movements. Today, with the Internet, they can propagate like flash fires. This fact, coupled with the hundreds of rivulets of intolerance, racial hatred, inequality, individualistic greed, and armed militants, rife in the country, does not bode well. Could they all join together in a very short time to form a mighty river of civil disobedience and martial solutions? That is to say, a civil war. Continue reading “The Next American Civil War? 1/2”

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Trump’s NATO Ploy in Brussels is Baseless

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Another Foundation Lie Exposed

At the same time the world’s media are expressing outrage at President Donald Trump’s gangster-style presentation at the NATO annual summit meeting in Brussels last Wednesday, they are also missing the point. As usual, Trump’s headline-grabbing antics smoked screened the most important issue. Everything the American President said at the meeting was grounded in a single great lie, that the principal objective of NATO is to “protect Europe.”

In fact, the principal purpose of NATO is first to control Europe and secondly to embroil the European countries in all of the United States’s nefarious military adventures. This involvement also lends a veneer of international legitimacy to any American aggression, no matter how heinous it may be. A third result for NATO members, one that is seldom mentioned, is the fact that NATO’s mutual defense obligations make them nuclear targets for any enemy of the United States. Continue reading “Trump’s NATO Ploy in Brussels is Baseless”

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The Great F-35 Lightning II Boondoggle–3/3

 

The Case of the Half-Million-Dollar Hat

One example of such a revolutionary system is the F-35 pilot’s helmet, for which different sources allege a price tag of between $400 and $600 thousand. It’s a marvel of technology that was created specifically for the F-35. It integrates information from the plane’s many sensors, and even receives, analyzes and creates a visual summary of input from the other planes in the flight, projected on the helmet’s visor. All the information is right in front of the pilot at all times. It even has a rear-view-mirror feature that permits him actually to see to the rear, something that was previously impossible due to the plane’s massive headrest. Continue reading “The Great F-35 Lightning II Boondoggle–3/3”

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The Great F-35 Lightning II Boondoggle–2/3

F-35_Assembly2

International Partners Come and Go

Canada, which has had a checkered relationship with the F-35 program, looked towards Holland, who were ahead of them in the process. This clip from the August 29, 2017 issue of the Ottowa Citizen gives an insight into the incentives the F-35 program offers its partners.

Every F-35 contains components manufactured by Dutch companies, Lockheed Martin has noted. On Aug. 16, the U.S. Department of Defense announced the overseas warehouse and distribution centre for parts for F-35s in Europe would be located in the Netherlands.

Luyt said one of the other main attractions of the F-35 is that it will be constantly upgraded. “It will be state of the art for decades,” he added.

“Constantly upgraded…” does that mean they’ll constantly be tinkering with it in an effort to get it right? That’s the situation currently. Continue reading “The Great F-35 Lightning II Boondoggle–2/3”