After decades of quibbling, the vast majority of the countries of the world finally acknowledged the seriousness of global warming and sat down in Paris on December 12, 2015, to sign a legally binding climate accord, the Paris Agreement. Not only did they sign it but the majority took it home and got it ratified by their governments. The agreement entered into effect on November 4, 2016.
Everybody agreed it was a significant advance for humankind. People toasted with champagne. But the celebrations were premature, as the United States had included a pre-existing condition–a threat, if you will–in the agreement, and they swore their colleagues to secrecy. They advised the delegates gathered together in Paris that they would not sign the document unless the air pollution generated by their military forces around the world was exempted from the tabulation of the American carbon footprint.
The sensible delegates of the rest of the world acceded, acutely aware that the American military forces not only generate air pollution, but they could also create death and destruction on a massive scale. Just how much pollution were they looking at, anyway? As it turned out the US armed forces are the world’s single greatest polluter, to the tune of more than 25,000 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide, created by burning fossile fuels at a rate of 269,230 barrels a day, according to theconversation.com.
In a revealing article originally published by the International Action Center in 2014, Sara Flounders wrote :
There is an elephant in the climate debate that by US demand cannot be discussed or even seen. This agreement to ignore the elephant is now the accepted basis of all international negotiations on climate change.
It is well understood by every possible measurement that the Pentagon, the US military machine, is the world’s biggest institutional consumer of petroleum products and the world’s worst polluter of greenhouse gas emissions and many other toxic pollutants. Yet the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements.
ResearchGate.org is a British research and database organization headed by the Universities of Lancaster and Durham. They have applied their minds and resources to following the petroleum–which, when burned, turns into air pollution. They uncovered a little known but massively important agency tucked into a corner of the US Defense Department. It’s the US Defense Logistics Agency – Energy (DLA‐E) and it’s the primary purchase point for hydrocarbon‐based fuels for the US military, as well as a powerful actor in the global oil market.
The Researech Gate investigaters followed the DLA‐E’s oil trail, its supply chain, bureaucratic practices, and the infrastructure that facilitates the US military’s consumption of hydro‐based carbons on a global scale. Using Freedom of Information Act requests they were able to trace much of the US military’s oil use and consequent generation of pollution. They concluded that the US military is a “major climate actor,” if not THE major climate actor. (Source: researchgate.org)
… the US military is one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries. If the US military were a country, its fuel usage alone would make it the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.
The Washington D.C.-based Transnational Institute has been active for more than 30 years documenting social movements around the world, and fighting for economic, social and environmental justice. According to these American researchers there is one word conspicuously missing from the draft of the Paris Agreement: “military.” They think that’s strange, insofar as “the US military alone is the single largest user of petroleum in the world and has been the main enforcer of the global oil economy for decades.”
Since the US military is such a major player, obscuring their role in the game makes a mockery of the whole accord. As it turned out, the Americans had a second card to play, President Donald Trump’s announced withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement a scarce seven months after its ratification. Though Trump announced the move in June 2017, UN regulations delayed the execution of his decision until November 4, 2020. It remains to be seen what new President Joe Biden will do with this warm potato with the world’s largest carbon polluter hidden inside.
Yesterday’s Follies at the US Capitol Confirm Everything We Suspected
Like a deranged Pentecostal preacher foretelling the Rapture, I’ve predicted the American End Times in writing for years. But when I saw it happening yesterday, January 6, the day of the Epiphany, in real time and living color, I had to rub my eyes. Is this it? Yes, it seems it was and, screened by the familiar It-can’t-happen-here myth, nobody in America’s high-tech, high-security government had thought to provide a proper security detail for the United States Senate. But why should they have thought of it? What happened at the Capitol yesterday was unthinkable.
January 6, 2020, is a day that will live in infamy, the day that marked the before and after of the inviolability of the universally-revered American democracy. It can happen there, and did. In all fairness, a few people on the ragged edges of American journalism saw it coming and warned the country repeatedly, but they were preaching to the choir. The rest of the distracted, largely-unlettered, exceptionally-patriotic country considered them cranks at best, socialists at worst. These thinkers on the margins are thoughtful, concerned, well-educated citizens of conscience who have been rowing upstream in the American river of hypocrisy and re-engineered truth for decades. Today–the day after–people like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Paul Jay, Amy Goodman, and a few others, can hold their heads high. They did their best to prevent America’s ongoing democratic debacle.
Who’s to Blame?
There will be a problem of assigning responsibility. Some people will try to pin it on the small army of decerebrated rednecks that assaulted the Capitol building–and not only the building; the United States Senate was in session. But they have neither the wit nor the comprehension to orchestrate the genial sucker punch that connected with the heart of American democracy. That required a shrewder, more experienced Redneck in Chief, lurking like Lazarus at the threshold of his sepulchre waiting to be brought back from the dead. Will he make it back. It’s the USA. Anything can happen.
This is not to say that we did not see any miracles yesterday. We saw Mitch McConnell metamorphose from a corporate lackey and consummate legislative manipulator into a paladin of modern democracy. All is forgotten, including his decades-long personal blockade of any form of progressive legislation, down to an emergency survival fund that would have permitted desperate Americans to feed their families and pay last month’s rent. He no longer recalls the four years he spent as Donald Trump’s slavering sycophant, enthusiastically girding the President’s loins against all forms of reason or decency. He is now suddenly the one who saved America from perishing at the hands of a sociopathic President. The rancid old pol saw an opportunity in the siege of the Capitol and hitched his wagon to that star. The Senate Majority Leader is back. Thank God.
What Can We Expect of What’s Left of America
Now is when it gets interesting. The colorful tribe of American überpatriots has had its first taste of live action and it didn’t work out too badly. A few of the duller ones were arrested and four people were killed but, aside from that, it was quite a successful operation. The front doors of the Capitol were breached, the security guards were intimidated into inaction, the attackers took over the Senate chamber and held it while the senators fled. When the bold boys had made their point they left at leisure. The majority of them didn’t even have their names taken down. President Trump told them he loved them. Yes, quite a successful operation. It should embolden them to come back soon.
Their greatest achievement was to dismantle any semblance of American credibility across the world. Absolutely everybody was watching, from the humblest rickshaw driver to every head of government. Few of those who saw the show will ever be tempted to take the US seriously again. The bubble has burst in a dramatic manner. After more than 200 years of cultivating the myth of heroic America, winner two world wars, savior of the world from communism, mother of moon walkers and creator of the Big Mac, the whole edifice was taken down by an unarmed group of mentally-disadvantaged role players. That motley crew achieved in a couple of hours what the Iroquois, the Sioux, the British, the Russians and the Guatemaltecos had not managed in two centuries: to take a once-great country from world dominatrix to laughing stock in the time it takes Kim Kardashian to apply her makeup.
As for America’s adversaries around the world, all they have to do for now is to stand back and let it happen. “But in a couple of weeks everything will be different,” you say. “There will be a new President.” No doubt things will be different, but will they be different enough to make a difference? Is Joe Biden the dynamic, charismatic leader the Americans need to snap them out of the denial mode that is their default setting whenever they fail?
President Trump and his comical minions are America’s first deniers, having convinced themselves that the fearless leader did not lose the election. Though it’s now amply clear that he did, he may have won something equally important. Like a magician who has mastered misdirection Trump has distracted the country’s attention from what is undeniably his gravest offense, the mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic to the tune of some 330,000 American dead. This alone is enough–in a country of equal justice for all its citizens–to convict him of criminal negligence and sentence him to a hefty prison term. Will that happen? It would in a proper country.
Nobody is as aware of US brutality in world affairs across the last century and beyond as are the American leaders themselves. They have hurt so many people in so many countries, and so gratuitously, that they are entitled to fear the logical reprisals.
If Not, Why Do They Spend So Much of the Nation’s Vital Wealth on National Defense?
What possible motivation can the American defense establishment have for squandering their country’s very life’s blood in order to upgrade annually their already formidable military capabilities? Is it due to their fascination with deadly new toys or to their need to impress their adversaries and allies? There may be some of that, but it is likely that there’s another factor that doesn’t get mentioned: fear. Nobody is as aware of US brutality in world affairs across the last century and beyond as are the American leaders themselves. They have hurt so many people in so many countries, and so gratuitously, that they are entitled to fear the logical reprisals. Their offenses range from eavesdropping on German chancellor, Angela Merkel’s phone calls–a grave and stupid breach of confidence with an important ally–to mass murder and regime change which they either carried out or sponsored in Latin America, Greece, Vietnam, Afghanistan Iraq, to name just a few. Now they need go to extreme lengths to ward off the world’s revenge.
These extreme lengths inevitably include sophisticated weaponry that comes at astronomical costs paid for by US taxpayers (and their unborn generations), not by the members of America’s high-rolling military-industrial-congressional elite. Far from paying for the expensive war materiel, they extract massive profits. There is a parallel to this faith in high-tech weaponry in Germany’s illusory resort to exotic weapons, wunderwaffen, in a last-ditch effort to elude defeat in World War II. Their V2 rockets were first launched against England in late September, 1944. Over the next few months, nearly 1,400 struck London. Some 2,700 Londoners were killed but the V2s did not alter the outcome of the war.
Fritz X – This guided anti-ship glide torpedo (above) was one of Hitler’s most secret bombs. Not only was it the first precision-guided bomb to ever be deployed in combat, but on 9 September 1943 it also became the first such bomb to sink a ship – the Italian battleship Roma. Again, it arrived too late to deter the victory of the Allies. (Source: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk)
Goliath – This remote-controlled mine carrier had caterpillar tracks and resembled a mini tank. It was designed to carry up to 100 kilograms of high explosives and was first deployed in early 1942. Though it looked like a radio-controlled toy, it was capable of everything from destroying tanks to demolishing buildings and bridges.
The Horten Ho 229 “flying wing” bomber (above) was considered “Hitler’s secret weapon.” It was designed to carry 2,000 pounds of armaments while flying at 49,000 feet at speeds of more than 600 mph. In the end, none of these wunderwaffen made any significant difference in the outcome of the war. (Source: https://www.historyhit.com/secret-weapons-of-the-nazis/)
What Is the Cost of “National Defense” in Real Terms?
The cost of America’s defense spending evaluated by the usual yardsticks hits middle and lower-class citizens hard. They lack most of the services and protections provided by other first-world countries. The data that follow come from reliable international sources, many of them from the United States. Let’s start with overall health. According to the 2019 edition of the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, Spain is the healthiest country in the world, followed by Iceland, Japan, and Switzerland. The US is number 35 in the ranking. Life expectancy is also indicative of overall wellbeing. According to Worldography.info, who average the age for both sexes, the United States clocks in at number 46, with 78.11 years of life expectancy, just below Cuba and 44 other countries. At the top is Hong Kong with 89.29 years.
How does the US do in literacy? Andorra, Greenland, North Korea, and Uzbekistan enjoy 100% literacy rates as of 2015-16, according to the German site, citypopulation.de. One wonders if the Americans will ever catch up with Uzbekistan in literacy. The Washington Post (Mar. 8, 2016) says under the headline Most literate nation in the world? Not the US, that the US has advanced from 11th to seventh place. That is a remarkably positive result for a country whose president refuses to read and is incapable of speaking or writing a proper sentence.
What about infant mortality? According to CIA.gov, the US ranks 36th (estimated data 2017) with 5.7 deaths per 1000 live births. These numbers are significantly bettered by countries such as Hungary (4.90), Poland (4.40), Portugal (4.30), Slovenia (3.90), Spain (3.30) along with a couple of dozen more. Neither do the American results for electoral integrity fare very well in the world. “U.S. Elections Ran Last Among All Western Democracies,” reads the January 7, 2017, headline on the ElectoralIintegrityProject.com site (an electoral monitoring project run by Harvard and Sydney Universities). The only ones, among western democracies, who held freer and fairer elections than the United States were everyone else.
Despite their interwoven networks of supposed allies, the Americans are increasingly alone. Leaders of countries around the world have eyes to see and are understandably reluctant to throw in their lot with an increasingly erratic United States. The allies they do retain are largely products of expert promising, bribing and arm twisting. American John Perkins has written a few books on the subject, the most revealing of which was the first one, published in 2004, Confessions of an Economic Hitman. In it Perkins, the whistleblower, describes his work as an American agent charged with changing the minds of foreign decision makers. His toolkit consisted of a rising scale of ideological arguments, bribes and threats. If none of those worked he passed the problem to his higher-ups.
Old arguments –anti-communism, the domino theory, 9/11 reprisals–are wearing thin for the populations of other countries, many of them American targets. They have felt the brunt of US realpolitik and that makes them less susceptible to propaganda. As time goes by more and more people around the world are capable of googling “US military bases map.” That alone offers a revealing picture of American imperial intentions. As for the citizens of the unfortunate countries the US has humiliated, alienated, smothered with economic sanctions, or simply obliterated, American foreign-policy makers are hoping they have forgotten. They haven’t. Nor have their friends. We need look no further than Chinese trade deals with Venezuela and Iran. China doesn’t need foreign bases to exercise their power. Simple economic clout is enough for now. As for the future, they’re working on it.
Underlying all of these questions is an important issue. Can Uncle Sam be trusted? The American’s Kurdish allies who, attacked in northern Syria by Islamic State forces in 2013, heroically went on to turn the tables on ISIL, virtually eliminating them as a fighting force, at a cost more than 800 Kurdish dead. This neutralizing of ISIL was recognized as a valuable contribution to the American cause in the Middle East. Nevertheless, when the time came to throw Turkish president Erdogan a bone, President Trump dropped them like a nicked golfball, leaving them at the mercy of the largest army in NATO. In an article in October 15, 2019, The Atlantic entitled Trump Betrayed the Kurds. Who’s Next? The author, Peter Wehner, points out:
Kurdish forces played a central role in aiding the United States in fighting the Islamic State. But in a phone call a week ago Sunday, Trump gave the green light to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to invade northern Syria—and, in the process, to engage in what even one of Trump’s most loyal supporters, Senator Lindsey Graham, describes as the “ethnic cleansing” of the Kurds.
The Atlantic, Oct. 15, 2019
<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Now that the Brexit is consummated (thanks in large part to American big-data technology provided by <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-40423629">Cambridge Analytica</a>) the Brits are on their own, they are going to experience American solidarity–known in popular American and British mythology as "The Special Relationship." We shall see.Now that the Brexit is consummated (thanks in large part to American big-data technology provided by Cambridge Analytica) the Brits are on their own, they are going to experience American solidarity–known in popular American and British mythology as “The Special Relationship.” We shall see.
While the American Emperor looks and acts more like a sinister carnival barker, and is wearing fewer and fewer clothes each day, people around the world are asking themselves what he will be up to next. Has he set the world up for the Endgame? What are the implications of his curious US-Saudi-Israeli-Moroccan axis in the Middle East and the Magreb? What is the role of the President’s son-in-law, who seems to have a hand in the deal as his father-in-law’s “peace envoy?”
Where do the American Evangelical, Pentecostal and Fundamentalist Christians fit into the puzzle? Most of the members of these Christian sects support Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud regime in Israel, many with personal visits and cash donations. Allegedly their objective is to see Israel enter into a war with the Muslims, thus precipitating the Apocalypse which, according to holy scripture, will launch the born-again true believers straight into heaven. The rest of humanity, including their good friends, the Israelis, according to this lugubrious narrative, will be left behind, supposedly to burn in hell with the rest of us.
The Trump foreign policy has been based on insults and broken promises, boutades, tariffs and economic sanctions, and naval blocades, these latter considered an act of war under international law. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s thuggish, rapture-struck Secretary of State, more of an enforcer than a diplomat, was the ideal pick for the job from President Trump’s point of view. But the outside world percieves Pompeo as a warning beacon, illuminating unpleasant things to come.
This article from The Nation, “What America Really Spends on Making War,” should be required reading for every American taxpayer. It explains in exquisite detail the difference between what the Defense Department says it spends on making war, and what the US government really spends on war, in all of its intricate aspects. Authors William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger take a didactic approach, explaining how the Trump administration asked Congress in 2019 for $750 billion for the Pentagton and related defense activities. But that sum is only part of the actual cost of all proposed national defense-related spending, according to Hartung and Smithberger. They maintain:
In its latest budget request, the Trump administration is asking for a near-record $750 billion for the Pentagon and related defense activities—an astonishing figure by any measure. If passed by Congress, it will be one of the largest military budgets in American history, topping peak levels reached during the Korean and Vietnam wars. That three-quarters of a trillion dollars represents only part of the actual annual cost of our national-security state.
There are at least 10 separate pots of money dedicated to fighting wars, preparing for yet more wars, and dealing with the consequences of wars already fought. So the next time a president, a general, a secretary of defense, or a hawkish member of Congress insists that the US military is woefully underfunded, think twice. A careful look at US defense expenditures offers a healthy corrective to such wildly inaccurate claims.
According to these authors’ itemized estimate, the total sum of American “defense” spending is closer to more than $1.25 trillion, almost double the Pentagon’s base budget. Meanwhile, there has been an important change in the United States, a new President. Over the course of the next four years we’ll see how important that change will have been. An excellent barometer of the fear level in the American power elite over that period will be the amount the defense-budget increases each year.
A Reminder: Budget Isn’t Everything
The Americans think money wins wars, and they’re right, but only partially. They seem to forget their enemies whose victories were achieved with little money but lots of courage, conviction and sacrifice. Look at Vietnam, and Afghanistan, and Iraq–yes, Iraq, where the Americans are still casting about for a way out. There were still about 5,000 US troops in Iraq, as of Sept. 9, 2020. Will the Americans ever learn not to underestimate their adversaries? They should have learned that lesson from the Lakota, the Northern Cheyenne, and the Arapaho tribes at the Little Big Horn River in June of 1876 .
Two hundred thirty one years of radical, sometimes violent, events at home and abroad have taken their toll on the US Constitution.
American Democracy Becomes a Reality
On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh square. These are the first lines of his speech: “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” If these words sound familiar it is because they are the much-quoted second lines of the United States’ Declaration of Independence. Ho Chi Minh was a profound admirer of the United States and their democracy. He had repeatedly beseeched President Franklin D. Roosevelt to support Vietnam’s struggle for independence from France but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Vietnam did not become free and independent until the Vietnamese people, under Ho Chi Minh’s leadership, defeated the United States and ended the American military occupation of their country in 1975. Thus, the promise of American democracy became a reality, but not in America.
The Durable, Long-Lasting Republic
American democracy was born in hopeful times. The country had just won its independence from Britain and was led by brilliant team of political thinkers, the revered “Founding Fathers,” Washington, Jefferson, Madison, et al. The constitution they drafted and ratified, with its separation of powers, checks and balances, freedom of religion, and the guarantees of civil rights enunciated in the Bill of Rights, promised a durable, long-lasting republic.
It wasn’t perfect, mind you. Most of the Founding Fathers were rich and many of them were slave owners. They prudently–and anti-democratically–dialed into their constitution measures to preclude an uprising and takeover by of the underclasses. These measures limited the franchise to white male citizens over the age of 21 and included the electoral college, which negated the possibility of a one-man-one-vote democracy. Women weren’t granted the vote until 1920, with the ratification of the 19th amendment, and racial minorities had to wait till 1965 for full, effective voting rights, when the Voting Rights Act directed the US Attorney General to enforce the right to vote for African Americans. That was a 176-year wait and black voting rights are still far from perfect. The highly-contested results of the 2016 and 2020 elections suggest that elections remain an open sore on the American polity. Even so, they permit themselves the luxury a refereeing those in other people’s countries.
What Denatured American Democracy?
Two hundred thirty one years of radical, sometimes violent, events at home and abroad have taken their toll on the US Constitution. Over time the democratic republic that the founders foresaw has been battered and diluted by powerful vested interests and American “democracy” has been subverted to the point that it survives more as a useful myth than solid reality. Little by little it has been reduced to a slogan, then a lie and, lately, a scam. But we still use the same word–democracy–for a system of government that has morphed beyond recognition. That’s normal with political theories. They tend to differ in practice, and when they evolve they don’t always do so in a good way.
The deterioration of American democracy is due to three principal factors, beginning with the growth of executive power snatching. Democratic government loses authority with each succeeding president. Sometimes power is snatched during wars or pre-war situations when it’s easier to grease the way with fear and patriotism. Sometimes it’s after national emergencies, of which 9/11 is the most glaring example. Other times it’s just because they can. President Donald Trump is the best example of that egomaniacal accumulation of personal power, like a three-year-old sticking knives into electrical sockets and surviving.
Big business control of government, thanks to the power of lobbying and grotesque changes in campaign financing law, is responsible for another series of grave attacks on democracy. The 2010 Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision turned corporations into persons–Shazzam!– with virtually unlimited rights to donate to political campaigns. Later rulings by the reactionary Roberts Court, including McCutcheon v. FEC (2014), would strike down other campaign finance restrictions, to the benefit of the Republican Party in subsequent elections.
The third force degrading the American democracy is the infiltration of extravagant miracle religion at the highest levels of government. If a person wants to believe he’s about to be “raptured” up into heaven by Jesus Christ, that’s his or her business, but not if he or she is Secretary of State. This phenomenon is all the more dangerous because it’s driven by opportunistic motives for pandering to a massive religious voting base, one of President Donald Trump’s specialties. And he’s not the only one. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) was created in 2001 by President George W. Bush.
Sticky Are the Seats of Power
The growth of business influence in government is driven by members of congress’s extreme devotion to re-election. They will resort to extravagant lengths to retain their seats. This incumbency/re-election phenomenon is more serious that it seems. How much waste of valuable time and resources has been generated in the White House over the years by presidents devoting themselves to their re-election projects? Running the country is a big job, one that should take absolute priority over political questions.
Seymour Hersh broaches this subject in his book, The Dark Side of Camelot, when he relates an informal conversation in the White House between President John F. Kennedy and an old friend from school. Kennedy confessed to his friend that he was witholding an important initiative so he could use it as an election issue. The friend told Hersh that he immediately thought it might be a good idea to limit presidencies to a single six-year term, thereby obviating the necessity of re-election campaigns. If that’s a good idea for presidents, might it not also be a good plan for legislators, whose case is even graver, as they are permitted to present themselves for re-election during their entire lives? Between them and the Supreme Court, America guarantees itself that many of it’s highest government offices are populated by zombies.
The single measure of limiting duration in office to a single term would eliminate the waste and abuse created by the massive re-election business. This might be included in the same Constitutional amendment that would eliminate the Electoral College. What are the chances of such an amendment prospering? Nil would be an optimistic guess.
Some Qualified Criticisms
Mike Lofgren worked in Washington as a political operative during most of his adult life, principally as a Republican Congressional aid. Though he retired in May, 2011, after 28 years on the inside, he hadn’t forgotten what he had learned from that privileged point of view. Quite the contrary, he was anxious to tell it. The result was his 2012 book, The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, characterized by the Washington Post as “forceful, covincing and seductive.” In his preface to the paperback edition he gives us a clear idea of what to expect from his book. To the right reader, it is a banquet. This is just the first paragraph:
As with many religions, political parties have a tendency to start as movements, transform into businesses, and finally degenerate into rackets designed to fleece the yokels. One organization that has embraced this evolution is the Republican Party. And it has done so with a national scope and fundraising apparatus that would have made Jimmy Swaggart or Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker mute with awe.
Mike Lofgren in “The Party is Over“
Lofgren then proceeds in the following 200 pages to rip through decades of the Republicans’ misdeeds and absurdities like Napoleon’s dragoons on horses forged in Hell. This was four full years before Donald J. Trump was even a candidate, making Lofgren a 21st-century Old Testament prophet. Here’s another of his Apocalyptic declarations:
From my perch on the budget committee I watched with a mixture of fascination and foreboding as my party was hijacked by a new crop of opportunists and true believers hell-bent on dragging the country into their jerry-built New Jerusalem: an upside-down utopia where corporations rule, the Constitution, like science, is faith-based, and war is the first, not the last, resort in foreign policy.
Mike Lofgren in “The Party is Over“
With this rich text published in 2012 no honest Washington insider can affirm that they didn’t foresee the gotterdamerung that Trump’s presidency would bring. The only ones free from this criticism are those who do not or cannot read.
Author and academic, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska, David Forsythe is the creator of the OpenGlobalRights.org website and author, with Patrice McMahon, of American Exceptionalism Reconsidered: U.S. Foreign Policy, Human Rights, and World Order. Forsythe has this to say on failed American democracy:
In the abstract, Americans may express liberal and cosmopolitan views supportive of universal human rights. But this country that sees itself as a beacon of moral progress for all the world to see, the engine for global good, is the same country with a demonstrable history of ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, slavery and lynching, Jim Crow laws to exploit and repress African Americans, anti-Semitism, periodic isolationism and xenophobia, grinding poverty under a harsh form of capitalism, gender discrimination and intolerance for the LGBT community, and a host of other defects.
David Forsythe on OpenGlobalRights.org
America Distracted, Corrupted and Down for the Count
America has been so distracted over the past century by hedonism, consumerism, capitalism and every other ism that promises instant satisfaction that thoughtfulness, mutual respect and concern for the common good have been relegated to the dustbin of history.
Today, December 26, Boxing Day, President Donald Trump, having vetoed the Covid relief plan that should have been passed months ago, left millions of Americans destitute of food and a roof over their heads. The President spent Christmas day playing golf. To an impartial if skeptical observer from abroad this seems like a bad sign.
President Donald Trump has brought back the wholesale use of unilateral international sanctions as a mechanism for punishing and hampering any country that displeases him and his motley crew. Sanctions are handy resources for an aspiring world ruler because all they require to put in place is a belligerent declaration from the White House and a series of threats to enforce them. That may be why President Trump has resorted to this ploy so gaily. His gratuitous economic sanctions on oil-and-mineral-rich Venezuela prompted these observations by US economists:
In Venezuela, economic sanctions that Trump first imposed in 2017 and then vastly expanded in 2019, have resulted in increased disease and mortality and are estimated to have led to tens of thousands of excess deaths, according to a 2019 study by economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs.
A recent Cambridge University forum further delimits the playing field:
… this essay examines unilateral coercive measures… While there are no incontrovertible data on the extent of these measures, one can safely say that they target in some way a full quarter of humanity. In addition to being a major attack on the principle of self-determination, unilateral measures not only adversely affect the rights to international trade and to navigation but also the basic human rights of innocent civilians. The current deterioration of the situation, with the mutation of embargoes into blockades and impositions on third parties, is a threat to peace that needs to be upgraded in strategic concern.
Cambridge.org, 6 September, 2019
Are They Conscious of the Tragedy They Sow?
Before wading into the Okeefenokee that American foreign policy experts have made of the sanctions issue, let’s look at the most critical aspect, which is regularly overlooked. Are Americans aware of the the lethal repercussions for innocent citizens inside the countries they punish with sanctions? What was Madeleine Albright’s answer when she was asked about the 500,000 children under the age of five who died due to the Amerian-organized blockade of Iraq? “This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”
Since that memorable declaration as US Secretary of State, Albright has been recycled in American folklore as a human-rights and peace activist, much the same as President Richard Nixon was polished up and resold as a respected elder statesman. American promoted UN Security Council sanctions against Iraq, first imposed in 1990 and later extended, were a near-total financial and trade embargo which gave the US and UK control over Iraq’s oil revenue. They were not removed until December 2010.
It took UN Secretary General Kofi Annan until 2004 to decide that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. According to The Guardian:
“Mr Annan said that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter. In an interview with the BBC World Service broadcast last night, he was asked outright if the war was illegal. He replied: ‘Yes, if you wish.'” He then added unequivocally: ‘I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.'” (Source: The Guardian, 16 Sep 2004)
A 1996 report by International Progress Organization (IPO) criticized sanctions as “an illegitimate form of collective punishment of the weakest and poorest members of society, the infants, the children, the chronically ill, and the elderly”.
According to the IPO, the sanctions imposed around the world by the United States government include:
bans on arms-related exports
controls over dual-use technology exports
restrictions on economic assistance
requiring the United States to oppose loans by the World Bank and other international financial institutions
diplomatic immunity waived, to allow families of terrorist victims to file for civil damages in U.S. courts
tax credits for companies and individuals denied, for income earned in listed countries
duty-free goods exemption suspended for imports from those countries
authority to prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in financial transactions with the government on the list, except by license from the U.S. government
prohibition of U.S. Defense Department contracts above $100,000 with companies controlled by countries on the list.
According to Aaron Arnold of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, a research center located within the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University,
While the United States must be in a state of war for the president to regulate trade and commerce under the Trading With the Enemy Act, the President has complete discretion to declare a national emergency under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). From a legal perspective, there have been few successful challenges of IEEPA. So far, conducting US foreign policy through a broad interpretation of national security powers has always been the prerogative of US presidents. But as European leaders scramble to save what is left of the Iran deal, many are left wondering whether a president that wields IEEPA like a hammer will see every problem like a nail.
Alexander Main, Director of International Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC, is more specific on the subject:
But one particularly brutal set of White House measures that has already caused tens of thousands of casualties abroad has been ignored by most of Trump’s critics. Since taking office, the president has unilaterally imposed a number of deadly, sweeping economic sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. These sanctions have not, by any reasonable measure, advanced the president’s stated foreign policy goals. They have, however, wreaked havoc and destruction in the lives of countless innocent human beings.
Are the US Sanctions Legal Under International Law?
According to the United Nations, only the UN Security Council has a mandate by the international community to apply sanctions that must be complied with by all UN member states. They serve as the international community’s most powerful peaceful means to prevent threats to international peace and security or to settle them. (Source: Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter)
That is to say, according to international law all of the the US’s exquisite legislative pussyfooting around the question of sanctions is irrelevant, and the unilateral imposition of sanctions by any country is out of order. Not that the Americans are much dissuaded by legalities. They have the unique tenet of their foreign policy: “We do exactly as we please.” That works for them, even though the rest of the world may not agree.
Trump Plays the Rogue Sanctions Card
Whenever President Donald Trump gets bettered in a deal he gets miffed. His favorite response is to play the sanctions card whether it’s aimed at one of America’s competitors in the international “free market” or a country that’s straying beyond US-imposed ideological limits. The case that immediately comes to mind is the crippling US embargo on Cuba, in place since March 14, 1958 and renewed ever since, the most-brutal, longest-lasting foreign policy coercion of the 20th century that is still festering in the 21st.
A more recent example is the Huawei ban, a classic case of castigating a superior competitor for building better mousetrap. President Trump declares a US boycott on the Chinese communications technology company and immediately extends the ban to Britain, his most reliable running ally. These stings are occurring more frequently lately as American technology lags further and further behind foreign competition.
Whether it’s Chinese G-5 communications installations or the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, Trump’s kneejerk response is sanctions. Turkey, after being turned down by the US in an effort to purchase American Patriot anti-aircraft missiles, turned to Russia and signed a multi-billion-dollar deal. Despite U.S. efforts to undo that agreement, President Erdogan proceeded to acquire the S-400 system in July 2019.The first batch of S-400s were deployed in Turkey in July of 2019. Note: The S-400 missiles are superior to the Patriots and allegedly at half the price.
Just over a week ago, on December 14, 2020, Washington belatedly announced their sanctions on Turkey for the S-400 operation. This is how the California-based law firm, Gibson-Dunn characterized the event:
On December 14, 2020, the United States imposed sanctionss on the Republic of Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries (“SSB”), the country’s defense procurement agency, and four senior officials at the agency, for knowingly engaging in a “significant transaction” with Rosoboronexport (“ROE”), Russia’s main arms export entity, in procuring the S-400 surface-to-air missile system. These measures were a long-time coming—under Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (“CAATSA”) of 2017, the President has been required to impose sanctions on any person determined to have knowingly “engage[d] in a significant transaction with a person that is part of, or operates for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation.”
Sanctions as Acts of War
Can US unilateral sanctions be considered acts of war? The jury is still out on this question but many qualified observers think the case can be made. Briefly, when unilateral sanctions result in dead and maimed civilians, mass destruction, regime change or other interruption of the life of a country, they should naturally be considered as acts of war.
Nonetheless, economic sanctions are the foreign policy option of choice for the US. While often portrayed as a softer option than outright war, they can result in equally devastating blows to the health and well-being of vulnerable countries.
Madre.org reminds us of US use of sanctions:
On January 8, 2020, Trump announced additional “punishing” sanctions on the Iranian government, framing these as a peaceful alternative to military action. But these sanctions are far from a de-escalation of this crisis. In fact, they are simply warfare under another name.
The US has applied more economic sanctions than any other country. Sanctions have been imposed on Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Myanmar, Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela — among others.
The Future of American Sanctions
Sanctions are subject to international law, no clause of which authorizes the US to apply their belligerent realpolitic to other people’s countries. So how is it possible that the US should be circling the world with a sinister web of unilateral sanctions? American trans-world coercion is based on the same ugly reality as other cases of historical bullying. Without the US preponderance of military might it would not be possible.
But that dubious license bestowed by massive force may not last forever. In view of the United States’ critical situation, both at home and abroad–trapped midst a killer virus, a deteriorating technological superiority and rising stars on the horizon–their worldwide suzerainty may be entering its last days. If not, why would the lame-duck Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, be bustling around the world Mafia style, fervently delivering the Trump administration’s last threats?
How much time and energy and how many resources have been senselessly squandered by the United States over the past half century? And what has the rest of the world been up to in the meantime? The answers to these questions are determining the short, medium and long-term future of the world.
While the rest of the world has advanced on many fronts, and continues to do so, the US flails hopelessly in a fishbowl of erroneous ideology, drowning in exceptionalism and entitlement. Americans are convinced they are not like other people around the world, they’re special. And that specialness entitles them to rights and privileges that people of other countries do not enjoy. American pre-eminence since the Second World War would seemed to confirm this worldview. They live, after all, in the richest, most productive country in the world. They are blessed with an exemplar democratic government. And their dollar is the currency of world trade.
It seemed only natural to them to take the next logical step: world domination. Convinced that their system had rightly triumphed over all others it was their obligation to extend it to the rest of the world. There would, of course, be dissenters in less-enlightened foreign countries, but they could be brought to see the light.
The cornerstone of this aspiring world empire was laid in 1944 at the Mount Washington Hotel, a ski resort in Bretton Woods, in Carroll, New Hampshire. There, during 22 days of meetings, 730 delegates from 44 Allied countries hammered out the shape of the world to come. This was the meeting that determined the regulation of the international monetary and financial order after World War II. With the outcome of the war in view and American predominance clearly in evidence, the results of the conference were a foregone conclusion. After the approval of the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the forerunner of the World Bank, the playing field was definitively tilted in favor of the US, a fact that has benefited them until today. Tomorrow is another matter.
Imperial Intelligence to the Rescue
The American “intelligence services,” whose clandestine activity in Europe was initiated during WWII under the auspices of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the direction of Colonel (later Major General) William J. (Wild Bill) Donovan (1942-45), were the first piece in the imperial puzzle. Donovan united and coordinated the efforts of several US intelligence units, a project that gave rise to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1949. In 1952 the National Security Agency was created to handle signals intelligence. The NSA is today the United States’ largest and best-funded intelligence operation.
With this information and clandestine-intervention infrastructure leading the way, the US embarked upon an industrial-scale overt and covert campaign of interference in the affairs of other peoples’ countries. The recurring theme of all of this information gathering, black ops and proxy wars, was anti-communism. This Swiss army knife of world domination apologetics arose from the existential terror that Western capitalists experienced when confronted with Soviet successes with their collective societal solutions in the early 1930s. The Soviet industrial and economic surge happened to coincide with the depths of the Great Depression in the West. It’s not clear whether the subsequent blossoming of anti-communism in the US was the cause or effect of the Cold War, but since then it has been the determining factor in American foreign policy. After the fall of the Soviet Union it only required a slight twist to morph into anti-Russianism.
In our living memory anti-communism has been the gossamer pretext that provided ideological cover for non-stop wars, regime-changes, unsavory allies and false-flag operations around the world. They included the Korean War, the Vietnam War, coups d’etat in Greece, Iran, Guatemala, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Iraq, South Yemen, and many more. They’re going on still in Afghanistan, Syria, and Venezuela, to mention just a few. William Blum in his book, Rogue State, A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, published in 2000, provides a more complete list from the early days.
While the Americans were sowing mayhem around the world the Soviet Union–later Russia–was faced with an eventual encirclement of some 1,000 US military bases. The recent addition of NATO missile installations among the 12 Eastern European nations that have joined NATO since 1999, further complicated the Russian position. During this period of American threats they dubbed the Cold War, Russia was obliged to maintain an adequate defense. It is ironic that a country whose GDP ranks 11th in the world, should be the principal bulwark against the imperial pretensions of the United States with the world’s greatest GDP, 12 times that of the Russians (2017 data from Worldometers.org).
Pretending Nobody Is Looking
The rest of the world has not been oblivious to the last century of American imperial ascendence. Those who didn’t notice were the Americans themselves, who were blinded by a steady diet of myths and lies drilled into their minds over decades of relentless brainwashing. The mind-bending procedures were rudimentary, with the intellectual level of a Captain America comic, but they were pervasive. Americans were subjected to anti-communist rhetoric distributed by churches, schools, the media, Hollywood, the water they drank and the very air they breathed.
The progressive dumbing down of the American public was also a factor. Their country was the shining democracy on the hill, not the world’s principal predator. And, since the machinations of their country’s clandestine services were by their very nature, secret, most Americans had no idea that their government was guilty of harassing the Soviet regime in Siberia in 1918 or toppling Iran’s democratically-elected Mossadegh government in 1953, or training torturers for the Guatemalan dictatorship from the 1960s through the 1980s. And there is so much more they don’t know–and don’t want to know.
An American mother loses a son in one of the country’s senseless wars and she is awarded a gold star, the same gold star we used to receive in second grade for completing our homework. “No,” you say, “this one is different. It’s for patriotism.” Ah, patriotism, the snake that bites its own tail by glorifying gratuitous deaths while attributing false value to those gold stars. The truth, Mom, is that your son died for no good reason or worse, to keep the wheels of the American war machine turning and its sinister profits rolling in. Companies like Lockheed Martin ($59.81 billion in revenues, 2019), Raytheon ($27.1 billion in revenues, 2018) and and hundreds of others are reaping obscene profits off the lives of young Americans.
That is what your gold star comemorates. At the same time it legitimizes America’s endless wars, and by extension the degradation and abandonment of the country’s own necessities, its infrastructures, health care, education, and cultural and social support systems. Coincidentally, President-elect Biden’s choice for Secretary of Defense is on the Raytheon payroll. Will he be renouncing that sinecure before he is sworn in?
Before we move on, let’s not forget the “enemy” soldiers and civilians (as in innocent infants, adolescents, parents and grandparents…) who are killed and mutilated for the same worthy imperial cause. Pentagon statistics don’t count them. Does that mean their suffering is irrelevant?
Then there’s the question of retribution. It doesn’t occur to Americans to acknowledge the human cost of their permanent wars. It’s not that they lack thinkers. They have hundreds of them penned up in hives on Think Tank Row, an area around Massachusetts Avenue NW in Washington DC populated by septic think tanks. Hasn’t it occurred to the American geniuses that these deadly manifestations of American patriotism might be creating enemies among the survivors? Don’t they realize that there is no more effective way of turning a normal Iraqi youth into a “terrorist?” Do the American thinkers need half their families fried by MQ-9 Reaper drones to awaken them to that possibility? Why are they so reluctant to admit that America requires a constant input of fresh terrorists to fuel their principal growth industry: permanent war?
The American necesssity for war is also a question of internal economics. It fulfills a macabre role in the distribution of wealth in the US, by transferring money from people who pay up to 37% in income taxes–salaried workers–to people who pay far less–big corporations. The United States imposes a tax on the profits of US resident corporations at a rate of 21 percent (reduced from 35 percent by Trump’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act). The corporate income tax raised $230.2 billion in fiscal 2019, accounting for 6.6 percent of total federal revenue, down from 9 percent in 2017. (Source: taxpolicycenter.org)
The never-ending expenditure on war materiel, led by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at $100 million a pop, and the new Ford-Class nuclear aircraft carrier that cost $12.8 billion in materials and labor. Add to that the $4.7 billion spent in research and development of the new Ford-Class carrier line. There are plans for three more, despite growing opinion that, in view of new Russian and Chinese hypersonic missiles, the big carriers may be increasingly vulnerable in battle. Now add the costs of all the rest of the toys and trinkets the Pentagon purchases for the armed forces. This astronomical rate of expenditure supposes mega-profits for US arms manufacturers, and it’s the American taxpayer who pays the bills. How is such a sinister hamster-wheel justified? Blame it on the terrorists. During the final days of the Franco dictatorship in Spain left-wing demonstrators used to chant: “¡Vosotros, facistas, sois los terroristas!” “You, fascists, are the terrorists.”
“As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal.”
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
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.
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)
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.
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:
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?
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.