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

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

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

Nobody Sees Through the Boobery Like the Sage of Baltimore

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

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

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

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

Discrimination Even in Hell

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

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

Aron Macarow in ATTN.com

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

Death penalty statistics for African American men are equally distressing:

Add to all of this the burning reality of black Americans being regularly assassinated with impunity on the streets and in their homes by racist police officers, and you’ve got a world-class problem.

The Facile Justifications

The genteel mint-julep-sipping folks of the Old South justified their inhuman treatment of fellow human beings with passages from the Bible and a fabric of specious racial folklore. This rickety ideological underpinning permitted them to buy and sell black slaves, to flail and kill them, and to separate their families, something that many Americans considered unthinkable in those days, if not so much today. In the intervening centuries the Old South has exported its racist values along with its old-time religion to a large part of the rest of the country. Interestingly, miracle-based religion and racial inequality go hand in hand, perhaps because both are “faith based,” requiring no logical explanations and lacking validity in the fact-based world.

Today’s American racist and white-superiority denial sees “fine people on both sides,” anti-fascist and anti-racist demonstrators on one, Nazis and white supremacists on the other. That sort of value twisting is not surprising to impartial observers from around the world. What shocks them are the American government’s efforts to have anti-fascism deemed terrorism, while posing no objections to fascism itself. This inverted ideology belongs to Alice’s Wonderland, not the real world. It might well be considered the definitive gauge of 21st-century American intellectual and moral degradation. Does anyone really believe that if the illegal immigrants were white people their children would be ripped from their arms and locked in wire cages to become victims of sexual abuse by white jailers? Meanwhile, United States government officials–from top to bottom–turn a blind eye. These bare facts are not lost on the rest of the world, most of which has lost all respect for the US.

Chronicle of One Country That Conquered Racism

Susan Neiman is an American philosopher, academic, cultural commentator, essayist and author of the 2019 book, Learning from the Germans, Confronting Race and the Memory of Evil. Born in the American south, she has taught philosophy at Yale and the Tel Aviv University and lived in the US, Israel and Germany. Neiman made extended visits to the southern US while preparing this book, spending time at unexpectedly enriching places like the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation in Jackson, Mississippi.

For the past 19 years she has been director of the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany, a foundation created to “build intellectual and cultural institutions in the former East Germany, whose own institutions had been gutted through the removal of anyone considered close to the fallen communist regime.” (Learning from the Germans, p. 11) Neiman has some suggestions she thinks might be helpful to Americans struggling with their legacy of inequality and race hate.

What Might Be Done?

According to Neiman, the Germans have come to grips with their terrible history of a racism so virulent that it terminated in genocide. They have faced it squarely and honestly, both individually and as a society; sincerely repented, repaired and paid reparations.

Here’s what she says about the critical first step in the process:

What readmitted Germany to the family of civilized nations only decades after the Holocaust and allowed it to become the leading power in Europe was the recognition of its crimes. Having the will to face your shameful history can become a show of strength.

Susan Neiman in “Learning from the Germans

What might be done to atone for one of the gravest and longest-lasting human rights abuses in recorded history: American racism? What has to happen in order even to make it possible to try to rectify the hearts and minds of Americans, achieve authentic racial equality and fairly compensate black and brown people for their suffering and loss. We must begin from the ineffable fact that no compensation, however opulent, can ever be enough.

There’s another undeniable fact that complicates matters. One of the factors that permitted the Germans to address the problem of racism in their society was the cataclysmic humiliation they underwent at the hands of the Allies in World War II. From that they derived the humility that permitted them to turn their backs on past sins and start afresh from scratch. Had their country not been utterly leveled it is unlikely that they could have made such progress in so little time. Can the German experience be repeated elsewhere without that constructive devastation? It may be possible, but it’s not likely.

What is to be done in one of the world’s most sanctimoniously Christian country to neutralize its race hate and all the dystopia it engenders, especially in view of the fact that one of the greatest repositories of that hate is precisely the country’s largest Protestant denomination? If we follow the migration of the Southern Baptist Convention towards America’s north and west, we find that its racist ideology finds fertile ground there. Susan Neiman has an apt observation on the subjejct of Christianity and violence:

Christianity created Hell, where violence was eternal.

Learning from the Germans

No progress can be made in racial reconciliation without humility on the part of the oppressors. Could that kind of humility occur in the United States on a large-enough scale to produce systemic change? It wouldn’t be easy considering that in 1964, 96% of Mississippi voters opposed the Civil Rights Act, and old beliefs die hard. Neiman cites this observation from Bryan Stevenson, the African American lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative and wrote Just Mercy, a true story about a murder case re-opened–and won–by the Equal Justice Initiative, later adapted into a feature film:

The difference between the United States and Germany is leadership. In Germany there were people who said, “We can choose to be a Germany of the past or a Germany of the future. We cannot do it by trying to reconcile the Nazi era with what we want to be. Either we’re going to reject that and claim something better, or we’re going to be condemned by that for the rest of our existence. That was something that never happened in the United States.

Bryan Stevenson, cited by Susan Neiman in “Learning from the Germans

Michelle Alexander, civil rights advocate, academic and NY Times collaborator and author of the 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, said this on the subject:

“In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

The No Hope Option

Looked at with some perspective, without the Americans’ penchant for exceptionalism and feckless optimism, it is entirely possible that nothing short of country-wide cataclysmic change can ever happen to render racism null and void. In the end, perhaps it’s America’s own wacky Evangelicals and Pentecostals (those who “speak in tongues”) who have the only answer: the Apocalypse. And I would add, a thousand years afterwards, a repopulation by Norwegians and New Zealanders.

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Racism Is the Ongoing American Plague 1/2

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

It’s the Underlying Plot of the American Story

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

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

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

Black Slavery from Africa

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

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

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

Racial Progress or Business as Usual?

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

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

Fast Forward Two Centuries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mass Incarceration Is the New Slavery

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

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

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

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

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The Savant of Lowbrow US Politicians

President Trump making calculations on Fox News

Donald Trump Is a Very Stable Scumbag Genius

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

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

How Does the Kingfisher Manage It?

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

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

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

(Source: The Economist, April 16, 2009)

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

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

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

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

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

President Trump with his friend, Nigel Farage

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

Let’s Be Fair

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

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

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

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The Pipeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Republican Senators

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

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

Sounds Like Familiar Extraterritorial US Sanctions

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

This sounds more like Dodge City than Old Europe. Where does the mayor of Dodge derive the authority to ban legitimate commercial transactions on the other side of the Atlantic? Where does this American geopolitical arrogance originate? In overconfidence? Naivete? Greed? A historical self-perception of invulnerability? All of the above? Whatever the motives, with this extravagant pipeline stand the Americans are, by threatening the Germans and the Russians with sanctions, taking on two quite serious countries–and by extension the entire European Community.

As for “malign -influence projects,” what is that supposed to communicate, beyond self-serving gibberish? Secretary Pompeo studied at the US Military Academy at West Point. Didn’t he read the history of Napoleon Bonaparte? Shouldn’t he be aware of the way imperial arrogance lubricated the slippery slope from Austerlitz to Waterloo? As for Trump’s judgment, at times it’s so bizarre that we wonder if it is his own or it is dictated by the military-industrial complex or the Republican far-out right.

The American Free-Trade Farce

The US has already imposed some sanctions on the ships laying the Nord Stream 2 pipes and has threatened to expand them if the pipeline is completed. The EU stressed that such a move would be “unacceptable” and Germany insisted the project “gives no cause” for sanctions. Germany’s foreign affairs minister, Heiko Maas, defends the principal of free trade, insisting that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline issue is economic, not political. Russia has been the largest supplier of natural gas to the EU, both in 2018 and 2019, according to the European Commission.

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

What’s the End Game?

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

May you live in interesting times.

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

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Was 9/11 America’s Reichstag Fire?

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

On September 11, 2001, 19 Muslim activists, ostensibly trained in Afghanistan and at naive American flight schools, hijacked four airliners and flew two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and a third into the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, perhaps due to a passenger revolt aboard. The operation left behind almost 3000 dead and a lot of unanswered questions. 

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

The Reichstag Precedent

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

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

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

The American Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter the USA Patriot Act

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

According to VOX.com:

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

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

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

The ACLU writes in 2001,

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

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

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

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

(Congressional Record, 10/25/01)

The Final Link

The final link in the chain of events unleashed by the Reichstag Fire was World War 2. We have yet to see the ultimate results of the events of 9/11, both on the American domestic front and on foreign relations. Will the Patriot Act ultimately enable the US government to treat the Black Lives Matter demonstrators as terrorists? Will they permit Washington chicken hawks to launch unjustified attacks on sovereign countries such as Venezuela and Iran the way they did in Iraq and Afghanistan in early years of this century? Will future American agressions lead to another worldwide conflagration? The 2020 American presidential election is imminent and may be decisive in determining the final link in the series of events initiated by the attacks of September 11, 2001. Which is the candidate who will prevent the worst occurring at home and abroad? Your guess is as good as mine. And we don’t have long to wait.

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American Democracy Cries Out for Revitalization

The Remedies for Their Woes Are Straightforward and Everyone Would Benefit

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

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

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

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

The Pillars of a Viable Democracy

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

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

Here’s What the US Has Today

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

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

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

by Mike Booth

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NATO Is a Protection Racket, Among Other Things


Let’s Go Back Over the Story

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

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

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

What Benefits Does NATO Contribute to the United States? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Else Does the US Gain from NATO?

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

What Are the Benefits for European NATO Members?

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

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

And one frankly frightening disadvantage:

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

So Who Owes What to Whom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please Accept My Apology

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

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

by Mike Booth

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

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

Let’s Look at a Few Examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not That Far, Here’s Richard Nixon

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

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

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

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

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

John F. Kennedy

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

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

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

Donald J. Trump

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

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

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

by Mike Booth

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Educating the USA

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

Dr. Ken Robinson

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

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

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

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

Today the entire world is planted with Montessori and quasi-Montessori schools that have had a profound influence on their students and educational progress in general. Many innovators of today, like both founders of Google (Sergei Brin and Larry Page), the founder of Amazon (Jeff Bezos), the creator of Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales) and the designer of the ground-breaking video game Sim City (Will Wright) attended Montessori schools.

Parents Are the First Educators 

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

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

Criteria for a Good Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Higher Education Is a Different Story

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

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

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

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

A nice irony in this uniquely-American scenario is that the current American Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, an enthusiastic promoter of school privatazation, was obliged to admit in her pre-appointment ethics report her investment in LMF WF Portfolio, a company which helped finance a $147 million loan to a debt collection agency, called Performant Financial Co.,  that was a major investor in a student debt collection company. (Source: PRwatch.org, 2017). DeVos, a devotee of charter and religious schools, declared last August that it’s a “good thing” that the coronavirus pandemic will force the nation’s schools to make changes that should have “happened many years ago.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Granted, Norway Is a Rich Country

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

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

NORWAY

Most prosperous #1 (US #18)

Happiest country #1 (US #14)

Most gender equality #2 (US #49)

Most political freedom #1 (US #45)

Most press freedom #1 (US #43)

People there must be clamoring to come to America.

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