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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Let’s Talk About Evil, America

American Evil3

We Must Make Some Value Judgments

When I was a sophomore in college we used to sit up all night in the mezzanine lounge at Case Hall (MSU) and talk about life. It was probably because we had time and what the Spanish call “inquietud,” roughly “restlessness,” but more extensive. I thrived on those conversations but also found them frustrating thanks to a smart student from New York who was a bit older than the rest of us and was a folk singer. He commanded some respect.

Whenever I would arrive at what I thought was an acceptable conclusion on any subject he would say, “Ah, Mike, you can’t affirm that. That’s a value judgment.” And he was always right. This went on for the better part of the school year. Then, one night in the spring of 1963, around four in the morning, he had me cornered again and it occurred to me to reply, “Jesus Christ, Harvey, that’s what we’re here for, to learn to make valid value judgments.” Since then I’ve been free.

The dictionary says of evil: “profound immorality and wickedness, especially when regarded as a supernatural force,”citing this example: “his struggle against the forces of evil.” It goes on: “morally reprehensible, bad, wrong, sin, immorality, vice, iniquity, baseness, perversion, corruption, depravity, villainy, atrocity, malevolence…” I would add my own personal flavors of evil: “hypocrisy, aggression, embargos and sanctions, genocide, falsity, dishonesty, opportunism, ruthlessness, greed, dirty tricks, black ops, exceptionalism, lies and euphemisms, false flags, regime change, free world, economic crimes, manifest destiny, militarism, and utter lack of human values…” Continue reading “Let’s Talk About Evil, America”

Teaching Your Children Solid Lies –1/2

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This book, published almost 25 years ago and republished twice since, drew the curtain back on how young Americans were–and are–systematically lied to about their country’s history and its role in the world.

American High School History Classes Teach Mythology

In 1995 American sociologist James W. Loewen published Lies My Teacher Told Me, an essential book that illuminates the indoctrination that passes for education in American high school history classes. The book was so important that updated versions have been published twice since then.

Loewen’s methodology was simple enough: buy a dozen of the most popular textbooks of American history for 11th-grade high-school students, meticulously analyse each one of the books, compare them, evaluate them, and place them on the history-mythology continuum.

The results of this analysis reveal that mythology wins. The first priority of all these seminal books in the formation of young American minds is to foment “traditional American values,” not to teach the unvarnished facts of history.

Goodreads.com has this to say:

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.

Racism, for example, is not mentioned in any of them. Slavery, in particular, was the driving force behind major events like the Louisiana Purchase and the Civil War. Loewen points out that, “as long as history textbooks make white racism invisible, neither they nor their students who use them will be able to analyze race relations intelligently.”

No Warts on America

Why do textbooks promote wartless stereotypes?” asks Loewen. “The authors’ omissions and errors can hardly be accidental.” He then chooses two paradigmatic figures from American history to illustrate his point: President  Woodrow Wilson, the 28th US commander in chief, and the remarkable blind and deaf humanitarian, Helen Keller. Wilson is known, and enters into high-school history books, as the altruistic promotor of the post World War I League of Nations and for his 14-points declaration which included  proposals to ensure world peace in the future, open agreements, arms reductions, freedom of the seas, free trade, and self-determination for oppressed minorities. Wilson even suggested that there would be another world war within a generation should the U.S. fail to join the League. Woodrow was quite the statesman and diplomat.

President Wilson’s Sinister Side

What few US high school history books mention is that Wilson was authoritarian and racist at home, having promoted the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition act of 1918, which Loewen refers to as “probably the most serious attacks on the civil liberties of Americans since the short-lived Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.” Wilson, with his persecution of progressive causes–he promoted the notorious Palmer Raids against left-wing unions–and foreign interventions, paved the way for McCarthyism, the Patriot Acts,  and the disastrous invasions of Iraq. Under Wilson the US intervened in Latin America more often than at any other time in American history. Loewen cites an article published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1919, “After World War I, the Wilson administration’s attacks on civil liberties increased, now with anti-communism as the excuse. Neither before nor since these campaigns has the United States come closer to being a police state.” That was in 1919. Much “progress” has been made in the advancement of the American police state since then and we’re seeing the results of that progress on American streets today.

Helen Keller Was Much More

Helen Keller, Loewen’s other example, is portrayed in the history books as an admirable case of individual victory against tremendous odds, an American success story. Her activities recorded for American high-school students are limited to her remarkable educational achievements and her charitable work. But Keller’s life was much more remarkable than that. Loewen recounts:

She was a radical socialist. She joined the Socialist Party of Massachusetts in 1909. She had become a social radical even before she graduated from Radcliffe and not, she emphasized, because of any teachings available there. After the Russian Revolution she sang the praises of the new communist nation. ‘In the East a new star is risen!’ Gradually she moved to the left of the Socialist party and became a Wobbly, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the syndicalist union persecuted by Woodrow Wilson.

Inexplicably, none of this information made it into any history texts for American students.

The Shining City on the Hill,Champions of Self Deception

“The land of the free and the home of the brave…” begins to sound a little shopworn after watching children, forcefully separated from their families, imprisoned in wire cages on the evening news. As for “bravery,” that’s hard to detect in killer operations conceived in the White House, launched from underground bunkers in the Nevada desert by expert computer gamers and destined to take out terrorists, along with their mothers and children, their cousins, neighbors and the milk man on dusty streets of impoverished Middle Eastern countries. Emma Lazarus’ poetic fragment from the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” sounds like empty claptrap in a country that is more concerned with “free” markets than free people. But those distinctions elude most Americans today. To them “fraydom is fraydom,” whether delivered by lies or by drones.

The United States Armed Forces are there to safeguard those fraydoms. But there are some anomalies in that, too. Recently there was some talk inside the Trump administration of renting out American military units to the Saudis. Seen from a shrewd businessman’s point of view the deal would permit the US to recover some of their investments in “national security,” but they might have trouble explaining it to the mothers of American military personnel killed and maimed over there. In former times those deaths could be explained away as “in defense of American democracy” or “protecting the American homeland” but what American mother would sell her son’s or daughter’s life in defense of Saudi oil wells, war on Yemen, and bone saws?

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Trumpless Fridays, Anyone?

I Propose an International Boycott of Donald Trump

If you are sick to death of seeing President Donald Trump’s scrambled-eggs face and listening to his ever-present voice on whatever device you turn on, raise your hand. You are not alone. The rest of us feel just as frustrated as you do. The bitterest pill is that there seems to be nothing we can do about it. What would you give to enjoy a break from Donald Trump, a rest from his face, his tiresome, lowbrow discourse, his lies, blunders and hollow sales pitches?

Maybe there is something we can do. Though we can’t shut him up nor oblige the media to limit their coverage, permit me to suggest that there is something we’re empowered to enact. We can boycott him. We can dedicate at least one day a week to turning our backs on him, not watching, not listening, not discussing, not mentioning, not even protesting President Donald J. Trump. Admittedly it would be only one day a week and just a testimonial gesture but it would give us–and the world–the feeling that we are aware of his toxic presence and prepared to resist it.

Just Pass on Trump

One day a week without Trump. It would be absolutely therapeutic. We can already breathe a little easier. How to go about it? It needn’t be complicated, nor expensive. We have the Internet and social media on our side. So, there’s no need to form an association, pay dues, nor fill out any forms. We don’t even have to surrender our email addresses nor remember any passwords. We just turn our backs on him collectively. This is not to imply that we can’t print up some T-shirts or leave some comments on social media, but you don’t even have to do that if you don’t want to. And the whole world can play. Just pass on Trump.

To that end I hereby proclaim this Friday, May 8, 2020, and every Friday thereafter as days without Trump–Trumpless Fridays. (Who am I? I’m nobody, just like you.) Care to join me? Just pass on Trump.

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US Sponsored Terrorism in Western Europe 1/3

Book1

Author’s Note

I wrote a four-part article on Operation Gladio, NATO’s secret stay-behind/terrorists armies in Western Europe in April of 2018. So what’s the point of writing another one? I need to enlarge and improve it. To research the first story I used Daniele Ganser’s book merely as a reference work, picking data out of the index. By limiting myself in that way I missed what I now consider to be the main thrust of Ganser’s excellent work. The stay-behind/terrorist project that was “Operation Gladio” (the Italian code name for the organization which became the generic term for operations in the rest of Europe) was the origin of an ongoing American project of world domination that relied on classic terrorist false-flag strategies and virulent anti-communism to undermine the sovereignty and democracies of Western European countries.

The NATO/CIA playbook for these operations established the modus operandi for later secret wars in other parts of the world, notably Central and South America and the Middle East. A summary analysis of these operations is enough to convince an unbiased observer that the United States will stop at nothing to impose their unjust model of “free-market,” predatory capitalism around the world. The least-valued element in their game plan, as demonstrated in all these places, is the value of human life. I realize these are strong words and I will do my best to support them here with ample evidence.

In short, the supposed objective of Operation Gladio, designed, financed and implemented by NATO and the CIA, was to create an organization to combat communist terrorism in Western Europe. The truth is that Gladio was, itself, an American-run terrorist group set up to simulate supposed communist terrorism in order to discredit the European left wing’s credibility at the polls, where  they were having some success based on their effective opposition to the Nazis in World War II. The ideological motor of the whole operation was the Americans’ hysterically exaggerated fear of communism. As this strategy has worked itself out to this day not much has changed. American Cold War- vintage anti-communism has always been based more on self-interest, hypocrisy and opportunism than anything else. Let’s take a closer look at it.

If you’re interested in seeing my original article, here’s a link.

Swiss Graduate Student’s Book Reveals US Post-WWII Secret Agenda

In July of 1940, 10 months after World War II broke out in Europe and a year and a half before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the American entry into the war, British prime minister Winston Churchill had an idea. It occurred to him to establish secret armies all over Europe against the possibility of a Soviet invasion when the war was over. So he got MI6, Britain’s clandestine intelligence service, to work on it. Thus began the story of a sinister secret operation that got out of hand and lingers on till today.

With his 2005 book, NATO’s Secret Armies, Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe, Daniele Ganser, a Swiss doctoral candidate, wrote the inside story of this ill-fated initiative. Almost incidentally he also created the Rosetta Stone for the interpretation of 20th-century American foreign policy. This seemingly inconsequential by-product of a doctoral thesis turned out to be an essential guide of our time for tracing the beginnings in Europe of the United States’s misdirected muscle flexing after the Second World War.

In the early 2000s, when Ganser set out to write his thesis–later to become this book–his humble objective was to elucidate the origins of Europe’s post-World War II stay-behind armies. But his research took him much further, into the sinister Cold War labyrinth. Like Cerberus, the fearsome multi-headed dog of Greek mythology that guarded the gates of Hell to prevent the dead from escaping, Churchill’s stay-behind armies promised to defend Europe from Soviet aggression. It’s not clear what inspired Churchill to concoct an elaborate plan for betraying Britain’s principal ally against the NAZIs (the US didn’t enter the war for another year and a half, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor). Perhaps it had to do with a son of British aristocracy’s aversion to a Russian experiment in collectivism. In any case, this cranky, hard drinking, cigar smoking British prime minister became the grandfather of American Cold War anticommunism.

Churchill Leads the Way into the Dark Labyrinth

Churchill’s plan was to recruit, equip and train secret armies and conceal arms caches all over Western Europe. These clandestine forces would go into action in the event of a Soviet invasion. The theory wasn’t entirely outlandish, but as it  played out it became the nightmare that Daniele Ganser recounts–and lavishly documents–country by country in NATO’s Secret Armies. If you manage to find a copy of the book, published 15 years ago with little resonance, after reading it you will ask yourself, “How is it possible that I have never heard of this massive scandal nor this seminal book on the subject? Why has it been ignored by the American, British, European and world press? Shouldn’t it be the first reference work for anyone seriously interested in the Cold War in Europe?”

Yes, of course it should be, but it isn’t. At best it is a glaring example of how effectively American censorship can bury even the most important information if they consider it to be a threat to their voracious geopolitical agenda. The cold warriors of the American intelligence community were not stupid. They knew that, if Ganser’s information were disseminated in the way it deserved, it would open an iceberg-sized breach in the Americans’ ongoing campaign of world domination, camuflaged until then under the guise of workaday anti-communism.

The stay-behind program didn’t remain British for long, as the Brits had their hands full fighting the war, but the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was happy to take over the nascent anti-communist project, which dovetailed neatly with their own purposes. It was the pioneering cold warrior, William J. (Wild Bill) Donovan, who suggested to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 the creation of a secret service to carry out covert actions against the communists, socialists and their followers in Europe. Donovan became the director of the OSS which financed and ran the operation from 1942 until 1947 when the CIA–more specifically their covert action department, the Directorate of Operations (DO)–under the leadership of legendary dirty-war operators like William Colby, who went on to become  the CIA director; Frank Wisner, who was so revolted by his CIA missions that he finally shot himself in 1965; and Richard Helms who was to lie to Congress regarding the US role in the September, 1973, Chilean military coup.

In 1949, the recently-created North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) took over the stay-behind program definitively. NATO provided a friendly new face, cast as it was as an allied organization that was going to “protect” Europe. But the CIA and the British MI6, as well as the military secret  services of the countries that hosted stay-behind armies, each had a say in the running of the operation. The way Ganser’s book discredits in a scholarly manner the notion that NATO was a beneficent society, only serves to make it more credible. The content of his book suggests implicitly that the United States has been actively pursuing world domination since the Second World War and they will stop at nothing to achieve it.

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America, The Slip Before the Quake

Strike_Slip_Fault2

Like Any Great Change It Started Little by Little

It’s undeniable that the United States is a right-wing country. It has long been the land of the robber baron. Then the issue was complicated by  their relentless tectonic slipping to the right. The geological analogy is apt because it occurred in an imperceptibly slow manner, like the slip fault before the earthquake. After a few brief eons the European continent drifted east, leaving North America stranded on the wrong side of the Atlantic. That’s where the US sits today, both geologically and ideologically, estranged from the civilized world.

After more than a century of ongoing slow creep American society finds itself at the end of its tether, remotely controlled by demented billionaires and reptilian politicians wielding frightening high-tech bludgeons. There is no justice, no equality, no decency, no hope. Giant American companies have more than enough money to go around, and it’s dished out liberally to pliant politicians via lobbyists and septic think tanks. The situation became evident in the seventies with the sinister Nixon/Kissinger regime. (See Seymour Hersh’s 1983 600-page book, Kissinger, the Price of Power which elegantly documents Kissinger’s years as Nixon’s National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Not for the faint hearted.)  Events were turbocharged by 9/11 and from then on American governments have been busily curtailing citizens’ rights at home and devastating soverign countries abroad. This is especially the case in the Middle East. Though the Americans have yet to win a war there, they have wreaked biblical havoc on the people and set countries like Iraq and Afghanistan back a century. And the end is not in sight. What is in sight is Iran and Venezuela. 

The Benefits of Posturing

From the days of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC, 1997-2006) when the Republican right finally showed its jingoist face, this scorched-earth policy was in the hands of Republicans. Democrats pretended to be different but most of them weren’t very different at all. Today, in a country that reveres wealth, most of them are wealthy. (Here’s the Wikipedia list of United States members of Congress by wealth. It’s headed by Republican representative, Kelly Loeffler who, along with her husband,  chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, Jeffrey Sprecher, is currently under scrutiny for insider trading.) That makes perfect sense. The essence of American professional politics is to be in it for yourself but to pretend convincingly that you’re in it for others.

It’s not an easy assignment. The successful candidates must be bereft of scruples, morality, and simple decency–while projecting all the contrary. Like all liars they must be endowed with rich imaginations and prodigious memories. They must create their stories, live their lies and cover their tracks. Some manage it better than others. We can all recall the ones whose former slipups are coming back to haunt them: sexual harassment, racism, financial fraud, war mongering, gerrymandering, strange bedfellows. Some of the shrewder ones slather themselves in religion like predator species in the African savanna that roll in their would-be victims’ excrement to pass themselves off as friends. Anything goes.

What about the Honest Politicians?

Is this to suggest that there are no honest politicians. Of course not, to affirm that would be silly. There certainly remain some disinterested American politicians but they would all fit in a phone booth. Besides, they’re essentially boycotted by their right-wing colleagues of both parties. We must not forget that those who were once Democratic “moderates” by staying in the same place have been dragged inexorably to the right.

The rest can be bought. And the proof is there for anyone who has eyes to see. Look at the rock-solid support the state of Israel–the world’s smallest colonial country–enjoys in the US Congress. Is that based on solidarity or idealism? Don’t dream. Google it. It’s based on a complex honeycomb of backhanders and campaign donations engineered by the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and others of their ilk. What about the numbingly repetitive re-election of incumbent US Congress members. Sitting members of the House of Representatives, in the congressional elections between the years 1988 and 2018, were re-elected between 80 and 90% of the time. The figures for the Senate are substantially higher. (Source: OpenSecrets.org) Is that due to legislative excellence? Or does it have to do with a bag of electoral shell games and campaign financing generously provided by big-bucks interests?

It wasn’t quite so cut and dried before the Supreme Court’s 2010 finding in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case. That landmark decision concerning campaign finance freed corporations and labor unions to spend money on electioneering communications and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates. The inclusion of labor unions in that decision was a public relations masterstroke. It suggests equanimity between owners and workers. But just try imagining the unions’ buying power compared to that of big industry. Now, 10 years later, the results are there for all to see. Big business has taken over the government and sucked it dry.

What little was left of American democracy has been gutted by powerful interests that want it all, without realizing that by impoverishing their base they’re shooting themselves in the foot. Capitalism without customers is doomed. Suddenly the rate of decline in everything starts multiplying by geometric progressions. American politics has been cannibalized. American manufacturing became rust. That left financial services, an inherently incestuous business, destined to reduce the United States to that little country where the citizens manage to eke out meager livings by taking in one another’s laundry.

Along Comes the Quake

The culmination of this fascinating process took almost everyone by surprise and that stupor is growing daily by graceful gazelle leaps. With half the country wondering how to get rid of Trump and trumpism, and the other half revelling in hillbilly heaven, along comes the quake, the coronavirus, “COVID-19.” This microscopic killer that found its happy home in New York, and the Trump administration’s pathetic response to it, may ultimately take trumpism to its end. Just when the country vitally needs a unified, coherent universal health system–anathema to the reigning Republican right–the American people wake up to find any kind of coherence conspicuously lacking.

It occurs to the most perceptive among them that a battle against a highly-contagious virus cannot be waged piecemeal. As long as pockets of the virus remain active among the substantial untreated, uninsured population of the country, no one is safe from contagion. It follows logically that the whole trumpian laissez-faire edifice will come tumbling down. Just as public health emergencies require coordinated public responses so do the rest of the critical issues faced by any American government: education, the environment, climate change, foreign policy, defense, the economy and all the rest. This is laid out in his usual informative and affable fashion by Michael Lewis in his 2018 book, The Fifth Risk. Lewis, after crossing the country interviewing affected high-level public servants from the previous administration, recounts their versions of how the Trump government systematically dismantled vital federal agencies and programs with untold damage to education, the environment, nuclear management, etc.

Does this mean that America is about to abjure President Donald J. Trump and his army of wreckers? After all is said and done it may well mean that. Even if it were to happen it would be a bitter victory for reality-based America. Because it would come at a cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives, according to President Trump’s own most-optimistic estimate. Definitely not one of his best deals.

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What’s Wrong with America?

US Body Politicv
The US Body Politic

Only Everything

That “What’s wrong” question is popular lately and the answer, in a word, is Everything. The US body politic is today like the body of a person who is afflicted by a whole series of mortal illnesses. It’s got everything and it’s all terminal:

  • underlying egotism and narcisism
  • obscene predatory capitalism
  • debilitating individualism
  • pervasive lying and misrepresentation everywhere
  • corruption as the order of the day on all fronts
  • deadly inequality and unfairness
  • abiding greed and cynicism
  • ruthlessly exporting dystopia
  • creeping inhumanity
  • loss of credibility abroad
  • repugnant hypocrisy
  • money and bling worship
  • alarming anti-intellectualism
  • rampant militarism and permanent war
  • sick nationalism
  • deterioration of the rule of law
  • toxic religions, opportunistic preachers speaking in tongues
  • unlettered, infirm, immoral leadership

What to Do About It?

What is to be done to remedy this cumulus of mortal ills? If this question had been asked a few decades ago and drastic steps had been taken to cure or even improve somewhat these dysfunctions, something might have been done. But now it’s too late for patches.

The Americans have pointed the pistol at their own temple and pulled the trigger. The round is now proceeding down the barrel at the standard muzzle velocity. Who’s going to stop it now?

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You Made Your Bed, America…

Bed of Nails2

Who’s Responsible for the Mess the US Is In? It’s Possible That You Are.

Were you born into a single-parent family that hovered for long periods around the poverty line? Have you or members of your family had brushes with the law or even been to prison? Do you belong to a racial minority: black, Hispanic or Native American? Have you lived in more than one bad neighborhood? Did  you drop out of school so you could go to work and earn some money?  Do you belong to organizations advocating white supremacy or violent overthrow of the government? Do you read the newspaper? Do you read anything? Do you do drugs regularly? Do you sell them? Do you live in a tent or in a car? If many or most of these statements describe your life, you probably don’t carry much of the blame for the shape your country is in. You’re too busy just trying to get by to cause any serious problems at the national level. You couldn’t even if  you wanted to. You lack the technical knowledge, communications and organizational skills. You lack the contacts and the financing. So you can just keep on doing what you’re doing and you’ll probably never make a blip on your country’s big-issue radar. In all likelihood you remain just another victim of 21st century America.

Or are you from a solid middle-class family with a university education and a well-paying job? Did you go to a good school? Do you own your house? Can you boast never having been in prison? Do you travel abroad? Do you have the best health insurance money can buy? Are you a sharp dresser? Are you well read? Have you thus far avoided serious mental illness? Do you drive a prestige car, or more? Or do you travel by limousine? Do you have friends in high places? Are you horrified by the repugnant state of your nation and the people who are running it? Even so, do you shun “getting involved in politics?” Would you rather spend your spare time on your boat or playing golf, traveling abroad or just trying not to think about it? If you answered “yes” to enough of these questions it’s highly likely that you are to blame for America’s lamentable state of affairs, or at least your corresponding share of it.

President Donald Trump’s Responsibility

Not even Donald Trump is principally responsible for today’s America’s woes. He can only be blamed for aggravating them to a formerly-undreamed-of degree. Those woes have long roots. They were planted hundreds of years ago with the Pilgrims and their intolerant religion, genocidal racism and voracious territorial pretensions. And those “values” have been perversely extended, admired and cultivated ever since by their descendents. Donald Trump was just randomly cast ashore a few centuries down the line with other American floatsam like Billy Graham and the Unabomber. He won the presidency against all odds in a grotesque lottery propelled by circumstances seemingly tailored to his limited qualifications.

He was just lucky, though it’s still not clear whether his luck was good or bad, both for him and for you. What does seem to be clear is that he’s in way over his head. But none of this makes him unique. It makes him a normal American like so many others, just a product of a traditional American upbringing that, by the time he arrived, was fatally flawed. It was the classic me-first, get-rich-quick American way of life, already atypical on the world stage, already pathologically narcissistic (ultra-nationalism is just narcissism on a grand scale), tragically unequal, and homicidally competitive. President Donald J. Trump should be no surprise to anyone. He’s your bog-standard American boy: over sexed and under read, unintelligent and unlettered though shrewd, but certainly too incompetent to have mounted the social, political and economic brouhaha the Americans have on their hands today.

Trump Needed Some Help and He Got It

Donald Trump needed some help in becoming President of the United States. He got it from legally tilted campaign financing norms via Citizens United. He got it from an overreaching Republican Party. They were hoping against hope that they could control a totally new rogue phenomenon in American politics. He got it from manipulating America’s unusual and anti-democratic Electoral College election process. He got it from high-tech, big-data, big-bucks,  low-brow billionaires like Robert Mercer. Mercer, a big-data pioneer, founded Cambridge Analytics and sent teams of media meddlers and data analysts to tilt the Brexit referendum in Britain in favor of abandoning Europe. Last–and far from least–he got it from the American people on both sides, those who voted for him and those who abstained. It is entirely possible that one of those people was you and there were a lot of others like you.

Why Didn’t Some of You Do Something?

Ironically, there was a point where the Donald Trump initiative could have been stopped, peacefully and easily. Simply by voting. Why didn’t that happen? In the first place, the big half of America that should have blocked Trump’s ascension was blindsided. They weren’t expecting a lowbrow real-estate speculator/reality show host to have a ghost of a chance at becoming President of the United States. In the minds of sane Americans–and there are lots of them–a presidential candidate requires special qualities which are usually boiled down to “a presidential air.” He needs to be conspicuously intelligent and well-balanced, an excellent communicator, with some expertise and a certain gravitas. Barak Obama was a good example of this. You can’t have any old used-car salesman governing the greatest country in the world. (Conversely, a country with any old used-car salesman for president cannot be the greatest in the world.)

Those traditional high standards were smashed by George W. Bush in the 2000 elections. Bush, who was a lamentable candidate, went on to become a lamentable President, largely managed by his own personal Svengali, National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. (See Seymour Hersh’s 1984 book: The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House.) It would seem that sane Americans should have seen Bush as a warning sign for the future, but not enough of them did.

Why not? This, I think, has to do with the continental divide between the two Americas, the ultra-nationalist, brainwashed, corporate duped, southernized half and the other half, which I refer to as “sane America.” The latter couldn’t perceive the former–or if they did they couldn’t believe it. Sane Americans couldn’t believe the numbers they were up against, nor the depth of ignorance, nor the vehemence. By the time they realized it fully it was too late.

Why Is This Geopolitical Juncture So Vital?

It’s vital because of the extraordinary instability of the moment, when the American vision of the future of the world, as defined baldly by the neoconservative think tank the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in the late 1990s, in terms of “”American leadership is good both for America and for the world,” The 2001 attack on the World Trade Center gave wings to PNAC’s and the Pentagon’s “full-spectrum-dominance” solutions. But that was nearly 20 years ago and those “solutions” have proven to be less effective–and more expensive–than expected.

Today the United States finds itself reeling, a victim of its unfulfilled promises at home and abroad, a waning confidence of its own citizens and signs of distrust from its traditionally loyal allies and client states. That is, for example, all of Europe. Even Britain, a little country with seemingly all its eggs in America’s basket, has just expressed exasperation with President Trump’s threat to bomb 52 cultural sites in Iran. It’s not clear whether or not American foreign policy mavens have noticed, but Russia and China are gaining new friends and partners around the world. At least two of America’s traditional hard-core allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are chatting with the Russians on the subject of their S-400 anti-aircraft missiles.

Of course, President Trump’s unilateral, apparently gratuitous murder of Iran’s iconic–to Iranians–Major General Qassem Soleimani has brought issues to a head. Coupled with Trump’s so-called “economic sanctions,” themselves another  act of war, that assassination has opened the door to a host of unforeseeable responses, ranging from merely testimonial to cataclysmic. It’s unclear whether the US deserves to be situated in this uncomfortable position, but there you are, sitting pretty. What comes next seems to depend upon President Trump’s next indigestion.

Where Do You Go From Here, America?

That is the geopolitical question of the moment–and perhaps the century. While the evolution of many of these momentous situations are foreseeable, at least to some degree, this one is shrouded in obscurity. Historically, critical geopolitical moments like this lend themselves to some sort of logical analysis based on historical antecedents, international agreements, studies of countries’ long-term policies, even game-theory analysis, but this case responds to none of these approaches. Thanks to one unpredictable factor that obeys none of the logical variables, we are left entirely in the dark. And that factor is as capricious as the flight of a butterfly on a windless day. President Donald J. Trump, the first American president to govern via Twitter, the narcissist in chief, and the first to explicitly discard all forms of truth and logic, is the most abnormal player in international relations since Hitler or Idi Amin.

Having dismissed or been abandoned by his best advisors (see Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig’s just-published book, A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America), Trump is on his own with very light baggage. It’s as if he were setting off on an Antarctic expediton with just his golf bag, which, by the way, happens to contain the nuclear button. Unfortunately, America–and the rest of the world–is setting off with him. Will he now opt for another extreme move against the Iranians? Or someone else? There’s only one given when it comes to President Trump’s modus operandi: it’s erratic. The authors of A Very Stable Genius describe him as a “chaotic, undisciplined, impulsive leader.” So we don’t know what he will do at this point in American–and world–history, and we won’t know until it’s too late.

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American Anti-Communism: Fear and Opportunism

Captain_America
This 10-cent pitch to 10-year-olds exemplifies the crude campaign that conditioned more than a century of American foreign policy. And the end is not in sight.

Anti-Communism as Toxic American Apple Pie

Full disclosure: In the early fifties, when I was eight or ten years old I had a recurring fantasy that, if I could only meet and talk with a Russian boy, I could convince him that I didn’t hate him, and that might be the beginning of the end of the Cold War. My take on the subject today is essentially still the same.

As I was growing up in rural Michigan I never stopped wondering how the all-powerful American anti-communist obsession came about, what drove it and where was it taking us. One thing was clear to me: the whole issue was seriously instrumentalized by the American establishment, who converted the threat of communism into a blunt instrument for dominating the minds of the American people and physically bludgeoning the people of other lands utterly to death. It seemed then that everything evil or simply negative in the world could conveniently be explained away by blaming it on the “commies,” and not much has changed in that respect today. Even after the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union “the Russians” are still perceived as enemies, threats to the “free world” and are still held responsible for everything from those subversive little nested dolls to influencing American elections. Having heard that cry of “Wolf!” so many times already, I think I’m entitled to be a bit skeptical.

When I arrived in Spain in 1968 one of the first friends I made was Pablo, a Spanish TV correspondent who was a communist, the first one I ever met. They called them “Eurocomunistas” in those days to distinguish them from Soviet communists.Their program was just about constructing a more decent society in their own country, something they helped to do in the intervening years. During that time they were the only organization on the Spanish political scene to take any real risks in opposing the murderous Franco military regime. Franco, who was a smart, ruthless dictator, ultimately died in bed in 1975. In the meantime my friendship with Pablo developed and he introduced me to his friends, all committed, altruistic young people working towards a Spanish democracy. Today the majority of our Spanish friends are ex-eurocommunists, Spain’s finest folk. The geopolitical wisdom of Captain America was long forgotten until I ran across him on the web the other day.

Allies to Enemies, an Assisted Metamorphosis

A US Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing was already at work in early 1919 presenting “Bolshevik horror stories” which were picked up by the sensationalist press–including the New York Times–adorned with lurid headlines like “Reds Seek War With America” and sold to the American public. This introductory education on Russian communism lasted throughout the 20s and set the tone of what was to come during the rest of the century.

Ironically, America’s mortal enemies since the Second World War were their most-important allies during the war, not Britain and certainly not France. It was the Russians who defeated the most Nazis and paid the highest price in destruction and lives of both soldiers and civilians–more than 20 million. President Roosevelt was convinced that he could work with the Russians after the war. But Roosevelt died and the American right–including President Harry Truman, the know-nothing Democrat, turned on the Soviets. He famously said on the day after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union: “If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible…” He and his British allies then proceeded to sit on their hands for three years, leaving the Russians to take on the Germans by themselves.

After the war the expert American propaganda machine saw to it that those Russians were metamorphosed from allies into adversaries and from there into enemies. The advantage of enemies is that you don’t have to play fair against them and you can kill them if you need to.

For decades the question lurked in the back of my mind: How the hell did that happen? Then I ran across a book by William Blum entitled, The CIA, a forgotten history. Released in 1986 by Zed, an independent non-fiction publishing company based in London, UK, the book’s introduction presents a brief and cogent history of American anticommunism. It occupies a scant 14 pages but it immediately cleared away all the cobwebs in my head on the subject of American anticommunism. Most of the facts in this article come from that introduction to Blum’s book.

Here’s How America’s Geopolitical Blood Feud Began

Soviet communism resulted from the Bolshevik revolution, the derrogation of the Tsar of all the Russias, which coincided with the end of the First World War. Communism experienced its greatest growth during the 1930s. While Western economies were muddling their way through the Great Depression, Russian industry boomed and technology advanced. One of Stalin’s pet projects was the formation of engineers. Communism was admired by working people from around the world, but not so much by the owners of the means of production. Thanks mainly to Stalin’s purges and gulags, that utopian mirage didn’t last long but it was long enough to throw a powerful scare into the world’s capitalist oligarchs, one they never recovered from. It didn’t take them long to mobilize.

As early as 1918 the United States launched two military attacks on Russia from the north, one (the Polar Bear Expedition) at Arkhangelsk  and another (the American Expeditionary Force, Siberia) at Vladivostak, Russia’s important Pacific port near the Chinese border. These initiatives, which coincided with the Russian civil war, were ill conceived and executed and allegedly gave rise to a mutiny among the 5,000 troops at Arkhangelsk–two thirds of which were from Michigan. The principal results of these senseless military missions were to terrorize the population of north Russia and cast a lasting shadow over relations between the US and the Soviet Union.

The inspiration for this attempt “to strangle at its birth” the Bolshevik state came from the British Minister for Air and War, the young Winston Churchill, who remained throughout his life a bitter enemy of Russia and one of the principal animators of the Cold War.

Blum asks, “What was there about this Bolshevik Revolution that so alarmed the most powerful nations in the world?” He relates how the Russians had dared to make a separate peace with Germany, abandoning the First World War after three years of bloody fighting. Graver still, they overthrew a capitalist-feudal regime and proclaimed the world’s first socialist state. Says Blum, “This was the crime the Allies had to punish, the virus which had to be eradicated lest it spread to their own people.”

The Dreaded Enemy Becomes a Useful Pawn in the Game

For years, numerous Americans, in high positions and obscure, sullenly harbored the conviction that World War II was “the wrong war against the wrong enemies.” Communism, they knew, was the only genuine enemy on America’s historical agenda. Was that not why Hitler had been ignoired/tolerated/appeased? So that the Nazi war machine would turn East and wipe Bolshevism off the face of the earth once and for all? It was just unfortunate that Adolf turned out be be such a megalomaniac and turned West as well. (William Blum, The CIA: A Forgotten History)

The shrewd American foreign-policy team, headed by Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, figured out by the 50s how to turn Soviet Communism to their advantage by casting the Russians as the quintessential enemy, responsible for misdeeds all over the world. There was nothing so far off nor so tenuous that it couldn’t be attributed to “the Russkies.” According to Wisconsin Senator Eugene McCarthy they had even deeply infiltrated the US government . The Americans continued beating the same tired drum during President Ronald Reagan’s Crusade Against the Evil Empire in the 80s.

One hundred years of  overt and covert hammering on the American subconscious has had a devastating effect on their perception of the world outside their own borders. Today the average American’s reaction to any mention of communists or communism is wholly Pavolvian. They immediately start to salivate.

William Blum, sums it up:

The American people have been subjected to a relentless anti-communist indoctrination. It is imbibed with their mother’s milk, pictured in their comic books, spelled out in their school books; their daily paper offfers them headlines that tell them all they need to know; ministers find sermons in it; politicians are elected with it and Reader’s Digest becomes rich on it.

Blum then goes on to elucidate in elaborate detail the pecadilloes of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United States’s principal agency in the fight against communism (which incidentally can include socialism, liberalism and, at times, simple nationalism or self determination.) As Blum makes clear over more than 400 pages, the cure has been vastly more serious than the illness.

Meanwhile, the reality of US-Soviet relations since World War II was much more nuanced than Captain America would have us believe. The most outstanding example was during and after the Cuban missile crisis, 13 days in October, 1962, which was the closest humankind has ever come to total extermination. Both President Kennedy and Chairman Krushchev were acutely aware of the extreme gravity of what almost happened in Cuba and both were convinced that it was up to them to take measures to obviate the possibility of a catastrophic, world-ending “misunderstanding.” Both leaders faced bitter opposition to peace initiatives in their respective military establishments but Krushchev was determined and Kennedy seemed to be inclined. He was encouraged by Norman Cousins, his private envoy to Krushchev, who informed him that the Soviet leader sincerely sought “a new relationship with the United States…” Cousins suggested that Kennedy deliver an address offering “a breathtaking new approach toward the Russian people, calling for an end to the cold war and a fresh start in American-Russian relations.”

This new departure was suggested in Kennedy’s June, 1963, American University address, prepared by the President and his staff without the intervention of the Joint Chiefs, the CIA or the State Department. Stone and Kuznick, authors of The Untold History of the United States, consider this talk “the most enlightened speech made by any president in the twentieth century.” This is the version published in that history book. The President said:

I have…chosen this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived–yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace. What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war… I am talking about genuine peace–the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living–the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children–not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women–not merely peace in our time but peace for all time. I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and largely invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all of the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by the wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations unborn… Second: Let us re-examine our attitude toward the Soviet Union…it is sad to…realize the extent of the gulf between us. But it is also…a warning to the American people not to…see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict as inevitable, accommodations as impossible and communication as nothing more than an exchange of threats… Today, should total war ever break out again…all we have built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours… In short, both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race… And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal. Third: Let us re-examine our attitude toward the Cold War…we shall also do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just. We are not helpless before that task or hopeless of its success. Confident and unafraid, we labor on–not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.

Five short months later, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was murdered. Premier Krushchev was deposed in October of the following year, and the world returned to the status quo ante.

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Born-Again America and the White House

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Church and State in America, a Toxic Cocktail

Some American Evangelical Christians see through President Donald Trump’s pandering to the Christian right as an effort to win their votes. Others no. According to Wikipedia.com, the United States has the largest concentration of evangelicals in the world. The results of a recent PEW Research poll indicate that American evangelicals are a quarter of the nation’s population and its single largest religious group. The results of the 2016 presidential election, according to a PEW poll, saw Trump winning 81% of the evangelical vote while just 16% voted for Clinton. Trump’s margin of victory among voters in this group was 65-percentage-points.

These numbers also help to explain the importance of President Trump’s iron-clad pro-Israeli agenda, perceived by Evangelical Christians as coinciding with the their own vision of the Biblical end-of-days story. They need a war in the Holy Land to jump-start the Apocalypse, which will in turn precipitate the Rapture. According to supposedly inerrant biblical prophesy, the Rapture will propel the born-again believers directly into Heaven. The President knows, despite his notoriously dissolute lifestyle, that he can count on their votes as long as he maintains his policy of harassing and provoking Iran, and supporting Israel’s right-wing government’s belicose policies. The militarist Likud party, personified in Israeli President Benjamin (aka Bibi) Netanyahu, is perceived by the uber-Christians the one most likely to take the world to Armageddon. This narrative isn’t difficult for President Trump to accept, for two cogent reasons:

  1. He doesn’t believe in the Apocalypse any more than you and I do.
  2. There are many millions of votes in it for him.

Besides, Trump and Netanyahu are cut from the same cloth. Both are ruthless and unscrupulous in pursuit of their own ends, no matter how illegitimate, immoral or illegal they may be, or what macabre consequences they may bring. Both of them see the rule of law–both domestic and international–as something that can be hammered into any shape they desire.

The latest news on President Trump’s provocation of Iran, according to today’s Wall Street Journal, is his “considering” a significant expansion of the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East to counter Iran, including dozens more ships, other military hardware and as many as 14,000 additional troops, thus doubling the number of U.S. military personnel since the troop buildup began last May. One wonders, have any of the Pentagon geniuses considered the possible repercussions in Saudi Arabia itself of a growing presence of American troops on sacred Arabian ground. This was the issue that propelled Osama bin Laden to worldwide fame.

Where Will Presidential Pandering Take the US?

President Trump’s pandering to religious institutions dramatically lowers the level of political discourse in the United States. The constant rise of magical religious sects as one of the most powerful electoral blocs in the country. only enhances their appeal to cynical, opportunistic, dubiously-Christian candidates.  This fact is not lost on Donald Trump and he bends over backwards–and forwards–to cater to the most radical Christian fundamentalist elements in American society. He actually tailors his Middle East foreign policy to their perceived needs. Concidentally, these “needs” for moving the Israeli capital to Jerusalem, condoning the ongoing establishment of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and, ultimately, war in the region, have become President Trump’s standard Middle East policy. In all it amounts to an exceedingly complicated–and dangerous–kettle of fish.

If the Evangelical strategy were to work, while they are being wafted into heaven, everybody in the non-born-again world, including President Trump himself, all the Jews and, incidently, you and I, will go straight to hell. I sincerely think I’m rendering this story line correctly. Though it sounds like the script of a B-rated sci-fi movie, they believe it, and President Trump believes that their votes will get him re-elected in 2020. Seen with a cold eye, it’s a classic symbiotic relationship, like that of the shark and the remora, the little fish who cleans the parasites off the shark’s teeth. The Evangelicals are using Trump and he’s using them, despite the fact that they have nothing else in common. It’s just not quite clear which of the two is the shark.

Beside their curious end-times beliefs, most of these born-again Christians subscribe to the standard right-wing cant: racism, nationalism, predatory capitalism, deregulation, rapture culture, anti-science stances, along with retrograde views of women and attitudes towards LGBGT people. They’re essentially the classic American right with a theological twist.

Televangelism to the Front

A recent addition to President Trump’s White House juju team as the new head of his Faith and Opportunity Initiative is his “longtime prayer partner,” televangelist Paula White, also known as a successful practitioner of the Pentacostal “prosperity gospel.” This shrewd “ministry” has netted her a private jet and a $3.5 million crib in Trump Tower in New York, among other goodies. According to thegospelcoalition.org, White, who delivered the invocation at Trump’s presidential inauguration, claims to be the “convener and de facto head” of the president’s evangelical advisory board. The group of about 35 evangelical pastors includes the four men who endorsed her latest book: Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Jack Graham, and Robert Jeffress. This is how christianitytoday.com describes the prosperity scam.

It is an aberrant theology that teaches God rewards faith—and hefty tithing—with financial blessings, the prosperity gospel was closely associated with prominent 1980s televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Bakker, and is part and parcel of many of today’s charismatic movements in the Global South. Orthodox Christians wary of prosperity doctrine found a friend in Senator Chuck Grassley, who in 2008 began a thorough vetting of the tax-exempt status of six prominent “health and wealth” leaders, including Kenneth Copeland, Bishop Eddie Long, and Paula White.

With her unabashedly sexy stage presence and mock-pious pitch, Paula comes across as an uniquely kinky con-woman. Her church -– which once boasted a membership of 20,000 people — declared bankruptcy in 2012. (Source: ministrywatch.com).

Perhaps You Would Like to Meet Her

The Constitution Speaks; Is Anyone Listening?

The first amendment to the US Constitution clearly states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That should settle the question of separation of church and state but, as in everything else, particular interests can find a little wiggle room in any text.

That’s how religion crept into the government during the second Bush administration. It was he who established by executive order on January 29, 2001, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) which, ostensibly sought to strengthen faith-based and community organizations and expand their capacity to provide federally funded social services. For fiscal year 2005, more than $2.2 billion in competitive social service grants were awarded to faith-based organizations. This pouring of federal funds into religious initiatives was promptly challenged by critics including Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union. When President Obama assumed the office he changed the name of the OFBCI to President’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, though he did not substantially change its functions. (Source: Wikipedia)

The phrase “separation of church and state” can be traced to a January 1, 1802, letter by Thomas Jefferson, addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper. Jefferson wrote:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

It was the second President Bush’s cozying up to the country’s right-wing Christians, that eventually led up to–or down to–the appointment of Paula White as President Trump’s spiritual advisor. Her otherwise routine presidential appointment had, according to thegospelcoalition.org, an immediate cruel and unusual sequel:

A day after the announcement was made, White’s ministry emailed supporters under her name asking them to donate $3,600 to achieve “opportunity and favor” from God. As Nicola A. Menzie reports, the email states: “During this season something so supernatural will take place and it will literally shift your life in a very positive way, IF you have ears to hear and connect to the prophetic moment. Friend, YOU MUST STAY CONNECTED TO ME DURING THIS PROPHETIC SEASON!” 

If this doesn’t smack of conflict of interest, the Pope ain’t a Catholic.

Pandering to the Religious Right Is Good Electoral Business 

There is a campaign being promoted by Evangelicals to support President Trump on issues such as religious liberty exemptions for wedding vendors, who object to offering services for same-sex wedding ceremonies. The CS Monitor cites Attorney General Jeff Sessions as saying “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore.” This certainly sounds like a stalwart defense of government support for right-wing Christianity in America and adherence to their ideology. Coming from one of Trump’s most accomplished sycophants, it also smacks of vote-stroking electoral opportunism.

The incursion of right-wing religion in the heart of American politics, whether motivated by over-zealous Christians in the government or by sheer electoral opportunism, represents just another crack in the edifice of normal democratic government. Normal government in today’s world depends upon rational, reasonable criteria to permit it to function properly for all of its citizens, not magical thinking nor “biblical correctness.” A right-wing Christian/Trump coalition would certainly lead to a loss of credibility with American allies, most of whom are guided by humane, rational criteria, with some notable exceptions, including President Trump’s favorites: Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

With the Trump administration headed up by bible-thumping, Rapture-smitten politicians, aided by televangelist “religious advisors” like Paula White, the threat to separation between church and state–and democratic government as we know it–is evident. Included in the basic tenets of the Evangelical religión are a belief that the Bible contains the literal truth about everything, and the necessity of being “born again.” The Pentacostal Evangelicals add to this the essential importance of the “gift of tongues.” The obvious question that arises is: What happens when these strict theological principles clash with the Constitution of the United States, a clash that is inevitable? Are the citizens of the United States facing a critical turning point at which they must choose between their traditional a-religious government and a Taliban-style theocracy? The clock is running.

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