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Why Democrats lost the House: An interview with Ralph Nader


The Chris Hedges Report: Why Democrats lost the midterm election with Ralph Nader youtu.be

The midterm elections are over, and two more years of Congressional gridlock are likely in store. Republicans have taken a narrow majority in the House, while Democrats have held the Senate. What do we make of the current political landscape, where rhetoric runs so hot but so little gets done? And what can we expect from the 2024 presidential elections? Ralph Nader joins The Chris Hedges Report for a post-mortem on the 2022 midterm elections, and to discuss how the people can retake Congress from corporate influence.

Studio: Adam Coley, Cameron Granadino

Post-Production: Cameron Granadino

TRANSCRIPT

Chris Hedges: The total cost of the 2022 federal midterm elections is projected to exceed $9.3 billion. But what do we get from what must surely be the most expensive electoral system on the planet? There’s little real choice. The dismantling of our democracy which took place over the last few decades on behalf of corporations and the rich has been a bipartisan project, leaving only the outward shell of democracy. The courts, legislative bodies, the executive branch, and the media, including public broadcasting, are captive to corporate power. There is no institution left that can be considered authentically democratic. The corporate coup d’etat is over. They won. We lost.

The wreckage of this corporate coup is appalling, endless and futile wars to enrich a military-industrial complex that bleeds the US Treasury of half of all discretionary spending, de-industrialization that has turned US cities into decayed ruins, the slashing and privatization of social programs including education, utility services, and healthcare, which so over one million Americans account for one-fifth of global deaths from COVID, although we are 4% of the world’s population.

Draconian forms of social control embodied in militarized police functioning as lethal armies of occupation in poor urban areas, the largest prison system in the world, a virtual tax boycott by the richest individuals and corporations, mone- saturated elections that perpetuate our system of legalized bribery, and the most intrusive state surveillance of the citizenry in our history.

How are we to interpret these elections which will create even more political paralysis with Republican control of the House, and what should we expect in the next presidential election? Joining me to discuss the political landscape and the wake of the midterm elections is former presidential candidate and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. You can find him at ralphnader.substack.com.

Ralph, let’s begin with the midterms. It wasn’t the blowout of the Democratic Party that many expected. How do you interpret what happened?

Ralph Nader: Well, coming off the list that you just described about the situation in this country and its impact on the world, my first reaction was there are 535 people in the Congress who could change it all, and they don’t all have to be unanimous. It could just be a plurality or a majority of members. So what are we waiting for? Check off your entire list, Chris, and we got the votes. The corporations don’t have the votes. They have money, but the members of Congress want the money to get the votes against their primary or general election opponents.

So it just is very intriguing that people thrash around groaning, moaning, being sickened, injured, blocked, discriminated against, deprived, and they don’t focus on the Khyber Pass, which is Congress. Whether we like it or not, that’s the institution that has the greatest authority to take on these big corporations and take on the predators and to drive peace in the world instead of war and empire. We’re listening to all these recountings of the ills, ailments, and injustices and the brutish scenarios coming up in the future with climate disruption and reneging on any kind of compact with posterity, and we don’t focus on Congress.

So in the midterm election, they’re running around the campaigns like they’re ward bosses. We’re going to fix this pothole here and we’re going to make sure that there’s a public service there. Instead of looking at the big picture of the concentration of power, they’re doing this piecemeal retail assurances of the public, which of course drives the expectation of the people even lower. When you drive the expectation lower as to what members of Congress are running for election, or challengers running to defeat them, when you control those expectations at such a low level, the members of Congress get away with their responsibility for the country under the Constitution, we the people.

They’re the ones who get to tax new power in Congress, the spending power, the confirmation of judges and officials in power, the right not to go to war. There’s no end to it. So I keep saying if all of these efforts for justice around the country, small, large, national, local, do not focus on Congress and the state legislatures and the town councils, they’re going to be spinning their wheels forever as this country is driven into the ground.

Chris Hedges: I want to talk about the impediments, though. First of all, you have redistricting. So most races are not actually competitive. The Democratic Party redistricted the seat that Dennis Kucinich had to drive him out. Number two, if you aren’t awash in money and you saw this in your own campaign, you were drawing crowds. I think you filled Madison Square Garden. Everybody had to pay $5 to get in. So I don’t know how many thousands of people, but you didn’t have access to television, which would’ve given you an audience of millions. So there are serious impediments to essentially breaking the power of this duopoly.

Ralph Nader: Yeah. But the impediments melt away if people organize in every congressional district to reflect the congruence of left-right opinion in this country, which is deleted from the news accounts who like to talk about polarization, red state, blue state, conservative, liberal. We know that on the fundamental necessities of life, there’s a huge convergence, 70, 80, 90% in the polls. There was one poll a few years ago, Chris, 90% of people wanted to break up the big banks. 90%.

You got 75% or so want universal healthcare even without a major party pushing for it. It just goes on and on. Whether it’s cracking down on corporate crooks, whether it’s changing the campaign finance system, whether it’s controlling what people own, like pension funds and mutual funds which together own three-quarters of the stock of the companies on the New York and Nasdaq Stock Exchanges. So the people have the power, but they’ve allowed it to be seized because they don’t do their homework back home.

They don’t spend time on their civic responsibilities. They don’t say to the members of Congress, hey, we’re the ones who have the sovereign power. You’ve got it from us and you’re using it against us, and we’re not going to tolerate it anymore. So the only place where democracy comes before work is in a dictionary. So we have to stop spinning our wheels and recounting disaster after disaster when we can control the legislative bodies, local, state, and national. Look at the initiatives in Nebraska and right-wing states. They have passed minimum wage increases against massive corporate opposition, saturating the television, Florida, Arkansas.

In one conservative state, South Dakota, the Republican dominated legislature, the governor, and the corporations all opposed an initiative to constitutionalize Medicaid, not just to send a statute, but to put the Constitution of South Dakota. Who won? The people won. Because they started working. They rolled up their sleeves. Otherwise, all we’re doing is documenting despair, perdition, pessimism, which discourages people and turns them into cynics, which leads to withdrawal from the political arena and which makes the corporation’s life all the way to the bank.

Chris Hedges: I want to talk about fear because I think Matt Taibbi wrote that most Americans don’t vote for what they want, they vote against the political figure they hate. The divisions largely, as you point out, there’s a majoritarian opinion on many of the issues you just cited. But there is this cultural divide, and people employ fear. Biden’s own record in the Senate and even as vice president is pretty appalling, from supporting Anita Hill to I think five years before the invasion of Iraq he talked about taking Saddam down. He, of course, as rehabilitated Mohammed bin Salman, a fervent supporter of the apartheid state in Israel. He fought school busing.

Aggressively, he sponsored the 1994 crime bill and three strikes you’re out, third violent penalty law where you can’t get parole, NAFTA, Glass-Steagall. So these are not issues that we look back on and support, but the Democrats, like the Republicans, play on this fear, the fear of – And I do see, as you do, a figure like Trump to be frightening and these fringe candidates to be frightening, but it seems that that is the primary currency at this point of our political system.

Ralph Nader: Yeah. Well, there are millions of people who don’t buy it. We need tens of millions of people who don’t buy it. We need people talking to one another in the neighborhoods. We need people to turn out for town meetings. There are all kinds of jurisdictions in this country that allow for the referendum to be stocked with all kinds of progressive legislation at the state and local level. Most people don’t even know about it. They don’t even use it. Why? Because our schools don’t begin teaching these children civic knowledge, civic skills, and civic experience. Learn by doing.

All of this comes down to how much time do people spend to produce a deliberative democracy that wages peace and justice, equality and foreseeing and forestalling the perils for our posterity like climate disruption. That’s what it comes down to. If we don’t address it at that level, if we don’t highlight the victories of the people over powerful interests that occur from time to time in this country, we’re just documenting despair, producing discouragement, producing withdrawal from the political system, and people then just dive into their own discouraging lives and watch entertainment, bet on sports. We gotta turn it around.

The nice thing about this approach is you only have to turn around a supermajority of 535 people. You know what they want more than anything else. They want to win, and that means votes. So you focus votes to nullify the effect of money. I mean, look at the victory of Summer Lee coming out of Pittsburgh. She’s 32 years old and she’s going to be the next representative in the House from an area around Pittsburgh. She was opposed by corporations. She took on the dark side of the United Steelworkers. They opposed her.

APAC put $1 million to $2 million just before the election to defeat her. She beat them all. How? She developed a grassroots coalition based on the principle that they all bleed the same color. It doesn’t matter what labels they put on themselves. She forged this coalition and beat them all. It’s a spectacular story, which The New York Times is not spending much time reporting on. They’re too obsessed with Taylor Greene, the madcap representative from Georgia, putting her on the cover of The New York Times Magazine.

They give all kinds of attention to crazy right-wing groups and institutes. They give people the impression nothing’s happened on the progressive side during the election period. So Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is not Ann Arbor, it’s not Cambridge. It has a lot of conservatives, and she beat them all. Energy. Civic energy is what’s needed. You have 82% of Republicans against Citizens United, which is a Supreme Court decision over a decade ago that said corporations could give unlimited money for or against candidates in elections. Unlimited. A lot of it dark money.

You got over 80% of Republicans, when they’re polled that, are against. It has to be organized. Otherwise, the divide and rule strategy of the two-party duopoly fronting for giant corporations will forever control the people who are the only people who have the votes. I mean, bad as corporates are, Chris, they don’t yet have the vote. Not yet, at least.

Chris Hedges: Let’s talk about the inevitable paralysis with the Republican control of the House. Biden’s already been stymied by Manchin and Democrats who essentially vote as Republicans. What is that going to mean for going ahead?

Ralph Nader: Well, it’s going to mean that nothing’s going to be done other than the routine stuff of just passing budgets for government agencies. The Republicans have such a narrow margin. They’re not going to get anything done, and they’ll be blocked in the Senate. So it’s two years of very little being done. And it’s the Democrat’s own fault. I mean, it’s the worst Republican Party in history. You cannot find a Republican Party since 1854 that has so many positions that are against the health, safety, and economic interests of children, of women, of workers, of small taxpayers, of communities all over the country, of consumers, of patients.

This is a vicious, callous, inbred, ignorant, corporate indentured, corrupt party. What are the Democrats? They lose to them, and then they say, hey, look at the pundits. They said it was going to be a red wave and it wasn’t a red wave. So it’s a victory. That’s how they fooled the people. Victory? What would happen if there were no polls and no pundits? Would the Democrats have pleaded victory? They lost the House of Representatives, for heaven’s sake.

Chris Hedges: Right. Well, they lost because, on all of the issues they just cited, they have surrendered.

Ralph Nader: Yeah, they lost because it starts with the nomination process. They exclude third parties, okay. Who’s they? Who’s they? It’s the state legislatures. They have these ballot access barriers and allow this to happen. They lost for reasons of their own making. For example, John Larson of Connecticut wanted to increase the benefits of social security. It hasn’t been increased, he said, in 40 years. So he puts in a bill and it’s very comprehensive, and he’s sweet-talked by Nancy Pelosi and his chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the crypto Republican, but Democrat in name only, Richard Neal from Western Massachusetts.

He starts pressing. He says, why aren’t you passing this through the House? He says, well, it’s not the right time. We don’t want to be accused of excessive spending. So he drafts the letter, which he wants his Democrats in the House to co-sign. He drafts the letter accusing the Senate of sabotaging the whole process, the Democrats in the Senate using the filibuster as an excuse. He says, let the Republicans filibuster. Let them go on the floor hour after hour after hour on natural television against increasing the benefits of social security for millions of elderly Americans. He was blocked and stymied.

Now, any active citizenry, Chris, would’ve dug into that and made it a major issue inside the Democratic Party. That’s the way you start upending these indentured senior Democrats who have concentrated power in the hands of three members: Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and the third one. And they control the subcommittees and the committees and all this started with Newt Gingrich, who did this when he was speaker in 1995, and the Democrats never changed it.

He cut budgets of committees, cut staff, cut the GAO, the monitor of spending, executive branch, waste, fraud, and abuse, eliminated the Office of Technology Assessment, which would’ve exposed some of these massive weapon and civilian technology boondoggles, and the Democrats inherited it. So you always have to go back to the people. What do they think? What do they know? What do they want for their families? You got to organize it. Look, labor never became unionized without rank and file people. Co-ops were never established without rank and file people. It never was top-down. It’s all bottom-up. So we got to focus on the people here.

Chris Hedges: Let’s talk about Trump, who’s just announced. What’s your read on the Trump candidacy and the future tactics of the Republican Party?

Ralph Nader: Well, first of all, under section 3 of the 14th Amendment, any state can ban him from running for election based on this Jan. 6 findings of insurrection. That’s the insurrection section of section 3 of the 14th Amendment. The Jan. 6 committee report is going to be out soon and they could recommend that to the states and say, start enforcing section 3 of the 14th Amendment. If he is banned from running for reelection in four or five states, he can’t possibly compete even at the primary level.

The second thing is, Jack Smith, the new special counsel, people have said that you couldn’t pick someone better for the Attorney General to pursue two criminal violations against Trump which could end in his indictment, and it’s very unlikely that he’s going to have much course to the primary victory if he’s under indictment from those two violations, not to mention the one that’s being prepared in New York state against him. One was stealing classified documents, that’s one that Garland is handing over to the special counsel to pursue. The other, of course, is the insurrection on Jan. 6.

Of course, Garland left out about 10 other violations of federal statutes, including the Hatch Act, which was designed to prevent presidents from using the power of the federal government and property against their opponents. He had campaign events on the White House lawn. He signed millions of checks, twisting arms over at the treasury for the pandemic relief programs. Garland just is giving him a free pass on one violation after another. Bruce Fein and I have written Garland listing all these violations more than once. Never get an answer.

However, two criminal statute violations are more than enough to retire Trump. Now, if that doesn’t occur, Trump is going to want a lot of competition at the primary level. That’s how he wins. He had 16 Republican opponents in the primary in 2016, and he is the best known. He’s the most egregious attention getter, and he would like that. He’d split it 10 ways. He’d say, okay, Youngkin, Virginia, come on board. Primary me. Okay, DeSantis, come on board, primary me. But I don’t think he’s going to get that far.

Chris Hedges: So what do you see happening?

Ralph Nader: I see he’s going to be indicted. There are civil suits against him, obviously, from assaulted women and other people that he’s fleeced. I think there may be a coordinated rebellion in the Republican Party itself. You just don’t get anywhere with other Republican candidates, senators, governors, if the head of the ticket is not only under indictment, but may have actually been convicted.

Chris Hedges: But the Republican Party, which has essentially become this proto-fascist entity, and certainly while Trump held sway, cultish, isn’t going to change its stripes, is it?

Ralph Nader: No, it changes its camouflage. They really pursue everything Trump has pursued, whether it’s immigration on the border. Wall Street, Trump and them are on the same page. The whole plutocratic system, the anti-union system, the tax cuts at an all time low for the super rich and the big corporations. But it’s the camouflage. He embarrasses them. He uses bad language. He attacks people specifically. He doesn’t have their style of control. But that’s serious. That’s a serious problem among politicians. That’s just not a matter of cosmetics. They know they can lose a lot of traction with his kind of blunderbuss and his lying and his mischaracterizing people and accusing people of homicides without a single bit of evidence like he has done in the past.

They’re also afraid of the violence of his audiences that he can unleash, and that can make you lose an election. That could scare a lot of conservative Republicans around the Midwest and elsewhere when they see the eruption of violence. He’s said there are going to be riots in the street if he’s denied the nomination. So there is a real deep conflict, not over economic issues, but over how the party presents itself to a public that it doesn’t want to scare. He scares people.

Chris Hedges: Does the inevitable paralysis now within Congress empower the Republican Party for the presidential elections?

Ralph Nader: No, because they’ll be viewed as the do-nothing House, can’t get anything done. If the Democrats are smart, they’d go on the floor of the House, as the Republicans did against them years ago, and throw the gauntlet down. Why aren’t you supporting Medicare, Medicaid, social security? Why are you against kids? Why don’t you extend the $300 a month child tax credit that went to 58 million kids from conservative and liberal families and you blocked the extension in January? Why are you freezing the minimum wage at a paltry $7.25 cents an hour when you’re making huge money in terms of what the taxpayer is paying you and all the benefits?

They could just throw one gauntlet: Why are you soft on corporate crime? Why are you letting these corporate crooks get away with ripping off the people and endangering their health and safety? That’s what they got to do. If they don’t do that, we’ll just have another very, very close election. Any kind of idiosyncratic event can tip it one way or another regardless of the left-right polls supporting basic change in this country coming in at 70, 75, 80, 80, 85%. I mean, you can’t stop that. That’s an unstoppable coalition.

If the Democrats will get rid of their corporate political media consultants who are losing race after race for the Democrats because they have corporate clients throughout the year and they’re conflicted and because they don’t want to do a ground game, which is what democracy is all about, and they want the 15% huge television buys. Right now in Georgia, there’s this runoff, Chris, between Senator Warnock and Herschel Walker. Warnock has spent $20 million already, charging that Walker is neither competent nor knowledgeable nor fit to be a US senator. Well, they’re going to put $200 million between them from Nov. 8 to Dec. 6.

Just imagine $200 million coming in there. How much of it is the ground game? Well, as little as possible, if the consultants have a say, which is what they do, they want the 15% commission. So Warnock should go around the state of Georgia and change his heavy focus on Walker, everybody knows about Walker now, and start saying, go vote for a raise. Go vote for universal health insurance. Go vote for cracking down on the corporate crooks that are on your back and in your pocketbook every day. Go vote for freedom to vote. Go vote for freedom for women, equal pay for equal work. Go vote for the children. Get that $300 back into poor families’ pocketbooks.

I mean, that’s the way you win an election. But the corporate consultants who should be the subject of major exposes by The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, they got the reporters. They’re the ones who are destroying the Democratic Party, and they’ve been doing it for years.

Chris Hedges: Well, if Walker or Warnock went around and called for those kinds of programs, that corporate money would dry up, wouldn’t it, Ralph?

Ralph Nader: There’s no time for it to dry up. They already got it. Dec. 6 is the runoff. By the way, the more you can get people on your side by your message and your policies, the less money you need. I mean, the money wasted on these TV and social media ads is just staggering. Not only is it wasted, it’s the same ad, it’s dull, it’s repetitious, it’s not authentic, and it irritates people. In other words, it boomerangs against itself. Summer Lee was tremendously outspent, but she had a ground game.

Chris Hedges: Right. That was former presidential candidate and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. You can find him at ralphnader.substack.com. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team: Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.

Reading Marcel Proust in war

During the war in Bosnia, I worked my way through the seven volumes of Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.” The novel, populated with 400 characters, was not an escape from the war. The specter of death and the expiring world of La Belle Époque haunts Proust’s work. He wrote it as he was dying; in fact, Proust was making corrections to the manuscript the night before his death in his hermetically sealed, cork-lined bedroom in Paris.

The novel was a lens that allowed me to reflect on the disintegration, delusions and mortality around me. Proust gave me the words to describe aspects of the human condition I knew instinctively, but had trouble articulating. He elucidates the conflicting ways we perceive reality, exacerbated in war, and how each of us comes to our own peculiar and self-serving truths. He explores the fragility of human goodness, the seduction and hollowness of power and social status, the inconstancy of the human heart and racism, especially antisemitism.

Those who see in his work a retreat from the world are poor readers of Proust. His power is his Freudian understanding of the subterranean forces that shape human existence. The novel is grounded in the bitter wisdom of Ecclesiastes: The beauty of youth, the allure of fame, wealth, success, power, along with literary and artistic brilliance, reap a horrendous toll on those beguiled by them, for they are transitory, and perish.

I was in Croatia as Serb villages were being ethnically cleansed by the Croatian army. I watched an elderly veteran of the partisan war being pushed out of his home, which he would never again inhabit, in a wheelchair, bedecked with his World War II medals on his chest. The rise of ethnic nationalism had extinguished the old Yugoslavia and with it his status and place in society.

The last volume of “In Search of Lost Time” is populated with the aged shells of once-great actors, writers and aristocrats, forgotten as the crowd flocked to new luminaries. The celebrated actor La Berma, a thinly disguised Sarah Bernhardt, too infirm to take to the stage, is ignored. The courtesan Odette de Crécy, the passion of Charles Swann, one of the central characters in the novel, was once a great beauty who entranced Paris but in senility is relegated to a corner of her daughter’s fashionable salon where she is a figure of ridicule.

She had become “infinitely pathetic; she, who had been unfaithful to Swann and to everybody, found now that the entire universe was unfaithful to her,” Proust writes of Odette.

The pedestals the powerful and the famous stand upon — and believe are immovable — disintegrate, leaving them like King Lear, naked on the heath. When Swann denounces the persecution of the Jewish army Captain Alfred Dreyfus, wrongly accused of treason, he becomes a nonperson and, along with other “Dreyfusards,” is blacklisted. Émile Zola, France’s most famous novelist at the time, was forced into exile because he defended Dreyfus.

“For the instinct of imitation and absence of courage govern society and the mob alike,” Proust notes. “And we all of us laugh as a person whom we see being made fun of, though it does not prevent us from venerating him ten years later in a circle where he is admired.”

War elucidates these Proustian truths. Death, as in the novel, permeated my existence in Sarajevo, a besieged city being hit with hundreds of shells a day and under constant sniper fire. Four to five people were dying daily, and perhaps another dozen or so were wounded. But even with death all around us, those desperately clinging to life sought to obscure its reality. Death was something that happened to someone else.

This denial of death, and our impending mortality, is captured by Proust when Swann informs the Duke and Duchesse de Guermantes that he is ill and has only three or four months to live. On their way to a dinner party and not wanting to cope with the finality of death, the Duke and Duchesse dismiss the prognosis as fiction. Swann warily accepts that “their own social obligations took precedence over the death of a friend.”

“You, now, don’t let yourself be alarmed by the nonsense of those damned doctors,” the Duke tells him. “They’re fools. You’re as sound as a bell. You’ll bury us all!”

The death of the narrator’s grandmother, as well as the death of his lover Albertine, a version of Proust’s lover and chauffeur Alfred Agostinelli, who was killed in a plane crash in 1914, exposes the mutations of the self. Marcel, the narrator, does not lament grief, for it retains the connections to those we have lost. He laments the day he no longer grieves, the day the self that was in love no longer exists. He writes:

I too still wept when I became once again for a moment the former friend of Albertine. But it was into a new personality that I was tending to change altogether. It is not because other people are dead that our affection for them fades; it is because we ourselves are dying. Albertine had no cause to reproach her friend. The man who was usurping his name was merely his heir. We can only be faithful to what we remember, and we remember only what we have known. My new self, while it grew up in the shadow of the old, had often heard the other speak of Albertine; through that other self, through the stories it gathered from it, it thought that it knew her, it found her lovable, it loved her; but it was only a love at second hand.

Inanimate objects carry within them a mystical force that can awaken these lost feelings of grief, joy and love. They return not by an act of will, but through involuntary memory. A smell, sight or a sound suddenly ignites what is buried and otherwise inaccessible, the most famous example being the dipping of the petite madeleine into the tea that evokes a sudden memory of Marcel’s childhood at Combray.

“I find the Celtic belief very reasonable, that the souls of those we have lost are held captive in some inferior creature, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate thing, effectively lost to us until the day, which for many never comes, when we happen to pass close to the tree, come into possession of the object that is their prison,” Proust writes. “Then they quiver, they call out to us, and as soon as we have recognized them, the spell is broken. Delivered by us, they have overcome death and they return to live with us.”

Art – literature, poetry, dance, theater, music, architecture, painting, sculpture – give the fragments of our lives coherence. Art gives expression to the intangible, nonrational forces of love, beauty, grief, mortality and the search for meaning. Without art, without imagination, our collective and individual pasts are disparate, devoid of context. Art opens us to awe and mystery. Art is not, as the painter Elstir says in the novel, a reproduction of nature. It is the impression nature has on the artist. It wrestles with the transcendent.

Imagination, however, is a blessing and a curse. It can be self-destructive when we mistake what we imagine for reality. Swann’s infatuation with Odette, for example, is driven by her resemblance to the women painted in the Florentine Renaissance by Sandro Botticelli. It is the painting, the image, not Odette that Swann worships, a fact he eventually faces, amazed that he has courted a woman “who was not my type.” Marcel will come to a similar conclusion at the end of the novel, seeing the aristocratic elites who dazzled him in his youth as mediocrities, elevated to the status of demigods by his imagination.

At the same time, imagination is the fuel of art. Art, Proust reminds us, takes work — as in the fictional piece of music, the “Vinteuil Sonata,” which Swann associates with Odette.

“Often one hears nothing when one listens for the first time to a piece of music that is at all complicated,” he writes. “For our memory, relatively to the complexity of the impressions which it has to face while we are listening, is infinitesimal, as brief as the memory of a man who in his sleep thinks of a thousand things and at once forgets them, or as that of a man in his second childhood who cannot recall a minute afterwards what one has just said to him.”

It is, he writes, “the least precious parts that one at first perceives.” He goes on, “But, less disappointing than life, great works of art do not begin by giving us the best of themselves […] But when those first impressions have receded, there remains for our enjoyment some passage whose structure, too new and strange to offer anything but confusion to our mind, had made it indistinguishable and so preserved intact; and this, which we had passed every day without knowing it, which had held itself in reserve for us, which by the sheer power of its beauty had become invisible and remained unknown, this comes to us last of all. But we shall also relinquish it last. And we shall love it longer than the rest because we have taken longer to get to love it.”

The external world of the five senses in Proust is always defeated by the inner world constructed by imagination. Nothing could be truer in war. Those in war work incessantly to make sense of the senseless. They form stories out of chaos. They seek meaning in meaninglessness. In a firefight you are only aware of what is happening a few feet around you. But once that firefight is over, two things happen. Those who emerge victorious from the firefight rifle through the pockets of the dead, examining the photos and documents on the bodies of those they killed. At the same time, they piece together a narrative of what happened. This narrative is largely a fiction, for only bits and pieces are available to be cobbled together to make a coherent whole. But without that narrative, the experience, like life itself, is not bearable.

Proust chronicles the poisonous effects of World War I on French society, embodied by the hostess Mme. Verdurin, who uses the war to elevate her social prestige while the suicidal tactics of French generals leads to six million casualties, including 1.4 million dead and 4.2 million wounded, along with numerous army mutinies. Generals and war ministers are celebrities. Artists are reviled or ignored, unless they produce wartime kitsch. Women adorn themselves in “rings or bracelets made out of fragments of exploded shells or copper bands from 75 millimeter ammunition.” The rich, bursting with patriotism, while sacrificing little, busy themselves with charities for the soldiers at the front, benefit performances and afternoon tea parties. Wartime clichés, amplified by the press, are mindlessly parroted by the public. “For the idiocy of the times caused people to pride themselves on using the expressions of the times,” Proust notes. The war eradicates the demarcation between civilians and the military. It degrades language and culture. It fuels a toxic nationalism. It ushers in the modern era of industrial war where nations turn their resources over to the military and, with it, outsized political and social power. The war, the backdrop of the final chapter, signals the end of La Belle Époque.

The public fell into line with the modernists of war, “after resisting the modernists of literature and art,” Proust writes, because it is “an accepted fashion to think like this and also because little minds are crushed, not by beauty, but by the hugeness of the action.”

Proust captures the disparity between the sensory world of war and the mythic version of war that plagues all conflicts, leading to a bitter alienation between those who experience war on the battlefield and those who celebrate it in safety. Those who imbibe the myth of war engage in an orgy of self-exaltation, not only because they believe they belong to a superior nation but because as members of that nation they are convinced that they are endowed with superior virtues.

The flip side of nationalism is racism and chauvinism, for as we elevate ourselves we denigrate others, especially the enemy. Proust, when he writes about antisemitism, makes an important distinction between vice and crime, a distinction quoted at length by Hannah Arendt in “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” In the decadence of La Belle Époque, Jews were admitted to the great salons, until the Dreyfus affair. They were seen as exotic, albeit tainted with the vice of Jewishness. Vice is not an act of will but an inherent, psychological quality that cannot be chosen or rejected. “Punishment,” Proust writes, “is the right of the criminal” of which he is deprived if “judges assume and are more inclined to pardon murder in inverts [homosexuals] and treason in Jews for reasons derived from…racial predestination.”

The difference between vice, which can never be removed, and crime, defines war, as it defined fascism a few years after the publication of Proust’s novel. Enemies embody evil not solely because of the acts they commit but because of their intrinsic nature. Eradicating evil, therefore, requires the eradication of all those infected with vice. The only way to survive is to renounce and hide your essence.

Jews in France converted to Christianity. Homosexuals pretended to be heterosexual. Muslims and Croats in Serb-held Bosnia pretended to be Serbs. Serbs and Muslims in Croatia pretended to be Croats. These mutations, Proust warned, turn the blessed and the damned into caricatures easily manipulated by demagogues and the mob. The hostility to difference is an ominous step toward tyranny, either the petty tyranny of the ruling class or the larger tyranny of totalitarianism.

Proust has a dark view of human nature. Those who carry out acts of charity and kindness in the novel almost always have ulterior or, at best, mixed motives. We betray people for bagatelles. We surrender our professed morality for self-advancement. We are indifferent to human suffering. We attack the faults of others but succumb to the same faults if “sufficiently intoxicated by circumstances.”

But because Proust expects so little from us, he extends pity, compassion and forgiveness to even the most loathsome of his characters, as they fade away at the end of the novel in a danse macabre. Our inner life, he concludes, is finally unfathomable, for it is always in flux. As we age we become shells, faded masks identifiable only by our names. Human folly, however, is redeemed because of our childlike yearning for the impossibility of the eternal and the absolute in the face of the destructive maw of time.

Proust reminds us of who we are and who we are to become. Lifting the veil on our pretensions, he calls us to see ourselves in our neighbor. By immortalizing his vanished world, Proust exposes, and makes sacred, the vanishing world around us. His perceptions were a balm, a deep comfort, in the madness of war, where the mob bays for blood, death strikes at random, delusion is mistaken for reality and the impermanence of existence is terrifyingly palpable.

The good priest who called greed 'venomous'

During the two years the cartoonist Joe Sacco and I spent on our book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, written out of the poorest pockets of America, we invariably encountered heroic men and women who — against overwhelming odds — rose up to fight lonely and often losing battles on behalf of the oppressed. Bill Means, Charlie Abourezk and Leonard Crow Dog in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Larry Gibson and Judy Bonds in the coal fields of West Virginia. Lucas Benitez, Laura Germano and Greg Abbot in the produce fields of Florida. The men and women in Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall Street movement.

When set against the crushing poverty, environmental degradation, corporate abuse and despair they opposed, the victories they amassed were often miniscule. And yet, to them, and to the people they were able to support, these victories were immense. They kept alive kindness, community, decency, hope and justice. They provided another way to speak about the world. They reminded us that our primary task in life is to care for others. These moral giants, by their very presence and steadfast refusal to surrender, damned the avarice, lust for power, hedonism and violence that define corporate culture.

Joe and I met Father Michael Doyle in Camden, New Jersey, one of the poorest cities and most dangerous in the United States. Father Doyle, an Irish priest and poet with ruddy cheeks and snow white hair, ran the Sacred Heart Church in one of the city’s bleakest corners. He died at the age of 88 on November 4th in the church’s parish house.

“I haven’t heard God speak in a burning bush, but I hear Him speak from the burning issues of the day, and they are all in Camden,” he told us.

Camden is desolate, with gutted and abandoned row houses, boarded-up storefronts, the empty shells of windowless brick factories and the skeletal remains of old gas stations. Weed-choked vacant lots are filled with garbage, old tires and rusted appliances. Cemeteries are overgrown. Open-air drug markets are divided up among gangs such as the Bloods, the Latin Kings, Los Nietos and MS-13 or Mara Salvatrucha. Knots of young Hispanic or African-American men dressed in black leather jackets and occasionally seen flipping through wads of cash, sell weed, dope and crack to clients, many of whom drive in from the suburbs. The drug trade is perhaps the city’s only thriving business. A weapon, usually stashed behind a trash can, in the grass or on a porch, is never more than a few feet away from the dealers. Camden is awash in guns.

Camden sits on the edge of the Delaware River facing the Philadelphia skyline, with scrap yards and a vast sewage treatment plant that fouls the air. An elevated multilane highway slices through the heart of the city allowing commuters to pass in and out of Philadelphia without seeing the misery below.

“At Ferry and Sixth, we stopped at one of Camden’s 150 open air drug markets,” Father Doyle wrote in one of his newsletters. “Then down Sixth to Viola where Kevin Walls was shot a few months ago. Where his mother bent beside her bleeding son and tried to say the 23rd Psalm in his ear. Though I walk in the valley of death, I fear not evil. There’s plenty of fear at 6th and Viola. There now the most pathetic of urban shrines. His name scrawled on an abandoned wall. Dozens of beer bottles arranged for the glint and glow of a burnt out candle. A teddy bear soiled and wet on an abandoned step. Soft wishes in a hard hearted-place.”

“Sometimes I see men and women hardened by time and all washed out like the hills of Appalachia and I wonder what were their first few years of life and what happened in the little places where they played,” he wrote in another letter. “Right here on Broadway, on the blocks above and below Sacred Heart, the prostitutes adorn every corner in all weather. They are like hardy fishermen casting their lines in the constant stream of traffic. The windowless walls of gutted houses gape down like skeletons with holes for eyes on a tragic human scene. At 3:15 PM, Anna May carefully guides little children with Sacred Heart uniforms across the street when the light changes. May God’s holy angels always get them safely across the street and off it before they harden and crack like the pavements and the prostitutes and the failed plans for urban renewal.”

You can listen to Martin Sheen read from Father Doyle’s letters in the documentary “Poet of Poverty.”

Father Doyle raised the funds to restore Sacred Heart Church, built at the end of the 19th century, and its murals illustrating the Ascension, the baptism of Jesus by John, the marriage of Mary and Joseph, and the return of the prodigal son. In 1984, he founded Heart of Camden, a nonprofit community development corporation that has renovated 250 homes for local families. He sustained the parish’s K-8 school, which the diocese tried to shut down, getting thousands of donors and supporters to provide $1 million a year. He was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Waterfront South Theatre, the Nick Virgilio Writers House, the Camden FireWorks arts center and the Camden Shipyard & Maritime Museum. Every year, he held a service for the victims of gun violence in the city, reading aloud from the pulpit the names of those killed and the type of weapons used to cut short their lives, as weeping family members, the name of those they lost displayed on a sign around their necks, came forward to light a memorial candle. He started community gardens and opened a medical clinic. He arranged for Mother Teresa to visit the city. He relentlessly defied the destructive forces around him, determined to nurture life, even if it was only a “fragile blade of grass poking up between the cracked cement.”

“When I look at all of Camden, I am paralyzed,” he said during one of my many visits to the rectory. “But it’s like a child at the beach. You give them a shovel. They’ll make a hole and a hill and work at it all day. They’ll have a grand time. And then the tide comes in and the waves bring down the little hill. The little thing is trampled on. But the tide doesn’t take what happened, what they were doing, what’s inside. That’s preserved forever.”

Father Doyle was a member of the Camden 28, a group of left-wing Catholics and anti-war activists who, in 1971, planned and executed a raid to destroy draft files on the Camden draft board. The defendants were arrested but acquitted when it was found that the FBI, which had an informant in the group, had provided tools for the break-in and facilitated the logistics.

“What do you do when a child is on fire in a war that was a mistake and you can’t extinguish the flame — the napalm flame — with water or anything else?” he said in his closing statement at the trial. “What do you do about that? What do you do with an old man whose bones are splintered by anti-personnel weapons in a war that was a mistake? We have no answer to that. There is no answer in the law for a child on fire in a war that was a mistake.”

He organized a memorial service for 300 young men from South Jersey killed in the Vietnam war. Years later, he would still carry a card with the name of one of those killed, Lawrence J. Virgilio from Camden.

The bishops were not pleased. He was fired from Holy Spirit High School near Atlantic City where he taught and transferred to Sacred Heart, a run-down and neglected parish, in 1974. He had to chop firewood to heat the church. It was meant to be a punishment, a demotion, but Father Doyle saw it as the greatest blessing of his life.

“I’ve failed…nicely,” he joked.

He called Camden “a concentration camp for the poor” and saw the city as a template for all that had gone wrong in America. He likened the suffering around him to the crucified Christ, nailed to “the cross of awfully polluted air” and “the broken sidewalks, the broken lives, the ugly scenes that wail for beautification, the dilapidated houses that must be restored for the children.”

“Camden is a casualty of capitalism,” he said as we sat drinking tea one afternoon. “It’s what falls off the truck and can’t get back on the truck. It is a sad stage we are in. There is a meanness that has raised its ugly head in the soul of America. Bobby Kennedy, even Lyndon Johnson, spoke about the poor. Now you can’t say the word poor and get elected. Let the poor suffer. They’re not important. Let the train roll over them.”

“Today’s a very hard time to be poor,” he went on. “Because you know you’re poor. You hear people my age get up and say, ‘We were poor. We put cardboard in our shoes’. But we didn’t know we were poor. Today you do. And how do you know you’re poor? Your television shows you you’re poor. So it’s very easy to build up anger in, say, a high-voltage kid of 17. He knows he’s poor. He looks at the TV. ‘All these people have everything. I have nothing’. And so he’s very angry. This is violence. I’m not talking about a violent show. I’m talking about the violence that rises out of the marketing that shows the kid what he could have. This creates a huge anger that explodes, easily. That I discovered very quickly when I came to Camden. The anger is so near the surface. You rub it and it explodes. There’s no respect for you if you have no money. The constant assault of the marketers is never-ending.”

“I grew up in Ireland,” he went on. “We had the songs of our struggle. It was clear who we were struggling against. It was the money crowd. But people here can’t see the enemy. You can’t challenge what you can’t see. Greed, prejudice and injustice, you can’t get at it. There’s no head. There’s no clarity. So you take it out on your neighbor. It’s horrendous what people do.”

He saw the United States as cursed by the war industry and American militarism, a curse that would doom it. The billions diverted to endless wars meant those around him went hungry. He prayed with his congregation that America will one day “come to the front lines of our cities to protect our children, not with guns, but hammers and saws and jobs and tools of transformation.”

“A child in Camden could teach the proud missile makers a lesson,” he said. “‘Take my hand,’ the little Camden child says, ‘and walk with me. Walk my streets to school. Will your bombs save me? If you want to defend me, come and live on my block.’”

He knew this was the end of the American empire, but he did not understand why it had to go out with such cruelty. What kind of a country, he asked, allowed people to die or go bankrupt because they were unable to pay for medical care?

“Capitalists shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the medical industry,” he said. “What they do is evil. Greed is venomous.”

“The history books are littered with the ruins of fallen empires,” he said. “A fellow I knew, a blue-collar fellow, he worked with the navy, had to go over with some work crew to Italy. He sent me a card with a picture of the Colosseum. He wrote, ‘I went to the Colosseum, but all I saw were two cats fighting in the weeds.’ It was, when you think about the mighty Caesars, what ancient Rome had been, quite profound.”

Father Doyle loved literature, especially Irish literature, and poetry, which he wrote and included in his letters. He was close friends with the local poet Nick Virgilio, whose brother he had memorialized years earlier and whose haikus captured the desperation of Camden: the prostituted women knitting baby booties on the bus; sitting alone as he ordered eggs and toast in an undertone on Thanksgiving; the latch key children “exploring the wild on public television”; the frozen body of a drunk found on a winter morning in a cardboard box labeled “Fragile: Do Not Crush”; as well as his lamentations for his older brother killed in Vietnam. Nick wrote what could be the city’s epithet:

the sack of kittens

sinking in the icy creek

increases the cold

In 1989, Nick died of a heart attack in Washington, D.C., at the taping of an interview for CBS Nightwatch. Father Doyle rode in the hearse that brought Nick’s body back to Camden, the head of his deceased friend thumping softly against the back partition. He built him a gravestone in the shape of a slender granite podium in Harleigh cemetery, where Walt Whitman, who Father Doyle could quote from memory, is also buried. He had one of Nick’s haiku poems carved on it:

lily:

out of the water…

out of itself

Father Doyle organized and attended a soup kitchen every Saturday where he would sit at the tables with about a hundred people, many of whom were destitute and homeless. He recruited volunteers from the suburbs, most of whom were white, to cook and serve his guests. “You have dignity at a table when you’re sharing food,” he said.

He spoke frequently about death, perhaps because in Camden, it is a daily reality. He loved the story of two old men in Ireland who spent their lives together until one fell deathly ill and told his friend he didn’t think he would be getting up, that he had always known when he started out where he was going, but now he didn’t. “But John,” his friend replied, “when you were coming, you didn’t know where you’re going and didn’t it turn out alright?”

“The same God that was there when you slithered into this world will be there when you slither out of it,” Father Doyle told me.

And yet, no matter how bleak, there were always unexpected flashes of joy and hope, gifts of grace.

“One day God sent a message from of all places Arlington Street, and it brightened up the doorway of my mind,” he wrote. “On Arlington, in the awful heat, on that Godforsaken street without light or life, ugly, urban decay at levels straining the imagination, seven children were splashing in cascading water like shining wet dolphins in the sun. Somehow, they had hauled a discarded hot tub from Adventure Spas on Chelton Avenue, opened a fire hydrant and the powerful pressure sent the water upward on an old sheet of plywood into the tub and sent the children into ecstasies of delight in spite of all the awful misery around them…Nothing could daunt the wild surge of their young lives and hopes. What is it about hope? Does its real inspiration only rise out of the tragic emptiness to take its pure and unsupported stand against all odds?”

These moments of grace sustained him even as he acknowledged that everything he had spent his life fighting for had gotten worse. They affirmed that no matter how bleak the world around us, death and despair do not have the final word. Time will slowly erode the memory of this priest, as it erodes all memory, until he becomes a ghostly remnant of another era, a name adorned on a plaque. But what will endure is what mattered to him most, the life force to which he dedicated his existence.

The politicians who destroyed our democracy want our votes so they can save it

The bipartisan project of dismantling our democracy, which took place over the last few decades on behalf of corporations and the rich, has left only the outward shell of democracy. The courts, legislative bodies, the executive branch and the media, including public broadcasting, are captive to corporate power. There is no institution left that can be considered authentically democratic. The corporate coup d’état is over. They won. We lost.

The wreckage of this neoliberal project is appalling: endless and futile wars to enrich a military-industrial-complex that bleeds the U.S. Treasury of half of all discretionary spending; deindustrialization that has turned U.S. cities into decayed ruins; the slashing and privatization of social programs, including education, utility services and health care – which saw over one million Americans account for one-fifth of global deaths from Covid, although we are 4 percent of the world’s population; draconian forms of social control embodied in militarized police, functioning as lethal armies of occupation in poor urban areas; the largest prison system in the world; a virtual tax boycott by the richest individuals and corporations; money-saturated elections that perpetuate our system of legalized bribery; and the most intrusive state surveillance of the citizenry in our history.

In “The United States of Amnesia,” to quote Gore Vidal, the corporate press and the ruling class create fictional feel-good personas for candidates, treat all political campaigns as if it is a day at the races and gloss over the fact that on every major issue, from trade deals to war, there is very little difference between Democrats and Republicans. The Democratic Party and Joe Biden are not the lesser evil, but rather, as Glen Ford pointed out, “the more effective evil.”

Biden supported the campaign to discredit and humiliate Anita Hill to appoint Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. He was one of the principal architects of the endless wars in the Middle East, calling for “taking Saddam down” five years before the invasion of Iraq. He rehabilitated the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after vowing to make the country a pariah because of the assassination of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Biden is a fervent supporter of Israel, calling the apartheid state “the single greatest strength America has in the Middle East” and declaring “I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.” His campaigns have been lavishly funded by the Israel lobby for at least two decades.

In the 1970s, he fought school busing, arguing that segregation was beneficial for Blacks. He and South Carolina’s racist senator, Strom Thurmond, sponsored the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, which eliminated parole for federal prisoners and limited the amount of time sentences could be reduced for good behavior. Biden sponsored and aggressively pushed the 1994 crime bill, which he also helped draft, calling for its passage because “We have predators on our streets that society has in fact, in part because of its neglect, created.” The bill expanded the death penalty for dozens of existing and new federal crimes and mandated life imprisonment for a third violent felony, also known as the “three strikes and you’re out” rule, more than doubling the nation’s prison population. The bill provided funds to add 100,000 new police officers and build new prisons, on the condition that prisoners serve their entire sentences. He pushed through the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which gutted the federal writ of habeas corpus, abolished the rights of death row prisoners and mandated harsh federal sentencing rules.

Biden takes credit for writing the 2001 Patriot Act, which expanded the government’s ability to monitor anyone’s phone and email communications, collect bank and credit reporting records, and track activity on the Internet. He backed austerity programs, including the destruction of welfare and cuts to Social Security. He fought for NAFTA and other “free trade” deals which fueled inequality, deindustrialization, a significant drop in wages and the offshoring of millions of manufacturing jobs to underpaid workers who toil in sweatshops in countries like Mexico, Malaysia, China or Vietnam.

He also backed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act that, as Human Rights Watch writes, “eliminated key defenses against deportation and subjected many more immigrants, including legal permanent residents, to detention and deportation.”

Biden long opposed abortion, writing in a letter to a constituent: “Those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them. As you may know, I have consistently — on no fewer than 50 occasions — voted against federal funding of abortions.”

He was at the forefront of deregulating the banking industry and the abolition of Glass-Steagall, which contributed to the global financial meltdown, including the collapse of nearly 500 banks, in 2007 and 2008. He is a favorite of the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical industry, which contributed $6.3 million to his 2020 presidential campaign, almost four times more money than they channeled to Donald Trump’s campaign. Biden and the Democrats annually increase the military budget, approving $813 billion for fiscal year 2023. He and the Democrats have provided over $60 billion in military aid and assistance to the war in Ukraine, with no end in sight. In the Senate, Biden abjectly served the interests of MBNA, the largest independent credit card company headquartered in Delaware, which also employed Biden’s son Hunter.

The decisions of politicians like Biden have a staggering human cost, not only for the poor, workers and the shrinking middle class but for millions of people in the Middle East, millions of families ripped apart by mass incarceration, millions more forced into bankruptcy by our mercenary for-profit medical system where corporations are legally permitted to hold sick children hostage while their frantic parents bankrupt themselves to save them, millions who became addicted to opioids and hundreds of thousands who died from them, millions denied welfare assistance, and all of us barreling toward extinction because of a refusal to curb the greed and destructive power of the fossil fuel industry, which has raked in $2.8 billion a day in profit over the last 50 years.

Biden, morally vacuous and of limited intelligence, is responsible for more suffering and death at home and abroad than Donald Trump. But the victims in our Punch-and-Judy media shows are rendered invisible. And that is why the victims despise the whole superstructure and want to tear it down.

These establishment politicians and their appointed judges promulgated laws that permitted the top 1 percent to loot $54 trillion from the bottom 90 percent, from 1975 to 2022, at a rate of $2.5 trillion a year, according to a study by the RAND corporation. The fertile ground of our political, economic, cultural and social wreckage spawned an array of neo-fascists, con artists, racists, criminals, charlatans, conspiracy theorists, right-wing militias and demagogues that will soon take power.

Decayed societies, such as Weimar Germany or the former Yugoslavia, which I covered for The New York Times, always vomit up political deformities who express the hatred a betrayed public feel for a corrupt ruling class and bankrupt liberalism. The twilight of the Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Habsburg and Russian empires were no different.

These political deformities play the role of the Snopes clan in William Faulkner’s trilogy “The Hamlet,” “The Town” and “The Mansion.” The Snopeses wrested control in the South from a degenerate aristocratic elite. Flem Snopes and his extended family — which includes a killer, a pedophile, a bigamist, an arsonist, a mentally disabled man who copulates with a cow, and a relative who sells tickets to witness the bestiality — are fictional representations of the scum that hijacked the Republican Party.

“The usual reference to ‘amorality,’ while accurate, is not sufficiently distinctive and by itself does not allow us to place them, as they should be placed, in a historical moment,” the critic Irving Howe wrote of the Snopeses. “Perhaps the most important thing to be said is that they are what comes afterwards: the creatures that emerge from the devastation, with the slime still upon their lips.”

“Let a world collapse, in the South or Russia, and there appear figures of coarse ambition driving their way up from beneath the social bottom, men to whom moral claims are not so much absurd as incomprehensible, sons of bushwhackers or muzhiks drifting in from nowhere and taking over through the sheer outrageousness of their monolithic force,” Howe wrote. “They become presidents of local banks and chairmen of party regional committees, and later, a trifle slicked up, they muscle their way into Congress or the Politburo. Scavengers without inhibition, they need not believe in the crumbling official code of their society; they need only learn to mimic its sounds.”

Biden and other establishment politicians are not actually calling for democracy. They are calling for civility. They have no intention of extracting the knife thrust into our backs. They hope to paper over the rot and the pain with the decorum of the polite, measured talk they used to sell us the con of neoliberalism. The political correctness and inclusivity imposed by college-educated elites, unfortunately, has now become associated with the corporate assault, as if a woman CEO or a Black police officer is going to mitigate the exploitation and abuse. Minorities are always welcome, as they were in other species of colonialism, if they serve the dictates of the masters. This is how Barack Obama, whom Cornel West called “a Black mascot for Wall Street,” became President.

Freedom for millions of enraged Americans has become the freedom to hate, the freedom to use words like “nigger,” “kike,” “spic,” “chink,” “raghead” and “fag;” the freedom to physically assault Muslims, undocumented workers, women, African-Americans, homosexuals and anyone who dares criticize their Christian fascism; the freedom to celebrate historical movements and figures that the college-educated elites condemn, including the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederacy; the freedom to ridicule and dismiss intellectuals, ideas, science and culture; the freedom to silence those who have been telling them how to behave; the freedom to revel in hypermasculinity, racism, sexism, violence and patriarchy.

These crypto-fascists have always been part of the American landscape, but the disenfranchisement of millions of Americans, especially white Americans, has inflamed these hatreds. Voting for the architects of what political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls our system of “inverted totalitarianism” will not make them go away; in fact, it will further discredit liberal ideas and liberal democracy. This puts liberals in a terrible bind. They have every right to fear the far right. All the dark scenarios are correct. But by backing Biden and the ruling corporate party, they ensure their political irrelevance.

The Democratic Party has spent millions funding far-right “pied piper” candidates assuming they would be easier to defeat, a tactic foolishly copied from the Clinton campaign, which secretly “elevated” Trump in the hopes that he would win the Republican nomination. They have worked to censor critics from the left and the right on social media. They claim they are the last bulwark against tyranny. None of these subterfuges will work. America will descend into a Viktor Orbán-type of authoritarianism without profound political, social and economic reform.

After the Iraq war went sour, I, as someone who publicly opposed the invasion and had been the Middle East Bureau Chief for The New York Times, was often asked what we should do now. I answered that Iraq could no longer be put back together. It was broken. We broke it. Those who ask if we should support the Democrats as a tactic to halt our descent into tyranny are in a similar dilemma. My answer is no different. We should have walked out on the Democratic Party while we still had a chance.

Stop worrying and love the bomb

The longer the proxy war in Ukraine continues, the closer we come to a direct confrontation with Russia. Once that happens, the Dr. Strangeloves running the show will reach for the nukes.

I have covered enough wars to know that once you open that Pandora’s box, the many evils that pour out are beyond anyone’s control. War accelerates the whirlwind of industrial killing. The longer any war continues, the closer and closer each side comes to self-annihilation. Unless it is stopped, the proxy war between Russia and the U.S. in Ukraine all but guarantees direct confrontation with Russia and, with it, the very real possibility of nuclear war.

Joe Biden, who doesn’t always seem to be quite sure where he is or what he is supposed to be saying, is being propped up in the I-am-a-bigger-man-than-you contest with Vladimir Putin by a coterie of rabid warmongers who have orchestrated over 20 years of military fiascos. They are salivating at the prospect of taking on Russia, and then, if there is any habitation left on the globe, China. Trapped in the polarizing mindset of the Cold War — where any effort to de-escalate conflicts through diplomacy is considered appeasement, a perfidious Munich moment — they smugly push the human species closer and closer toward obliteration. Unfortunately for us, one of these true believers is Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“Putin is saying he is not bluffing. Well, he cannot afford bluffing, and it has to be clear that the people supporting Ukraine and the European Union and the Member States, and the United States and NATO are not bluffing neither,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned. “Any nuclear attack against Ukraine will create an answer, not a nuclear answer but such a powerful answer from the military side that the Russian Army will be annihilated.”

Annihilated. Are these people insane?

You know we are in trouble when Donald Trump is the voice of reason.

“We must demand the immediate negotiation of a peaceful end to the war in Ukraine, or we will end up in world war three” the former president said. “And there will be nothing left of our planet — all because stupid people didn’t have a clue … They don’t understand what they’re dealing with, the power of nuclear.”

I dealt with many of these ideologues — David Petraeus, Elliot Abrams, Robert Kagan, Victoria Nuland — as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. Once you strip away their chest full of medals or fancy degrees, you find shallow men and women, craven careerists who obsequiously serve the war industry that ensures their promotions, pays the budgets of their think tanks and showers them with money as board members of military contractors. They are the pimps of war. If you reported on them, as I did, you would not sleep well at night. They are vain enough and stupid enough to blow up the world long before we go extinct because of the climate crisis, which they have also dutifully accelerated.

If, as Joe Biden says, Putin is “not joking” about using nuclear weapons and we risk nuclear “Armageddon,” why isn’t Biden on the phone to Putin? Why doesn’t he follow the example of John F. Kennedy, who repeatedly communicated with Nikita Khrushchev to negotiate an end to the Cuban missile crisis? Kennedy, who unlike Biden served in the military, knew the obtuseness of generals. He had the good sense to ignore Curtis LeMay, the Air Force Chief of Staff and head of the Strategic Air Command, as well as the model for General Jack D. Ripper in “Dr. Strangelove,” who urged Kennedy to bomb the Cuban missile bases, an act that would have probably ignited a nuclear war. Biden is not made of the same stuff.

Why is Washington sending $50 billion in arms and assistance to sustain the conflict in Ukraine and promising billions more for “as long as it takes”? Why did Washington and Whitehall dissuade Vladimir Zelensky, a former stand-up comic who has been magically transformed by these war lovers into the new Winston Churchill, from pursuing negotiations with Moscow, set up by Turkey? Why do they believe that militarily humiliating Putin, whom they are also determined to remove from power, won’t lead him to do the unthinkable in a final act of desperation?

Moscow strongly implied it would use nuclear weapons in response to a “threat” to its “territorial integrity,” and the pimps of war shouted down anyone who expressed concern that we all might go up in mushroom clouds, labeling them traitors who are weakening Ukrainian and Western resolve. Giddy at the battlefield losses suffered by Russia, they poke the Russian bear with ever greater ferocity. The Pentagon helped plan Ukraine’s latest counteroffensive, and the CIA passes on battlefield intelligence. We are slipping, as we did in Vietnam, from advising, arming, funding and supporting, into fighting.

None of this is helped by Zelensky’s suggestion that, to deter the use of nuclear weapons by Russia, NATO should launch “preventive strikes.”

“Waiting for the nuclear strikes first and then to say ‘what’s going to happen to them.’ No! There is a need to review the way the pressure is being exerted. So there is a need to review this procedure,” he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the remarks, which Zelensky tried to roll back, were “nothing else than a call to start a world war.”

The West has been baiting Moscow for decades. I reported from Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War. I watched these militarists set out to build what they called a unipolar world — a world where they alone ruled. First, they broke promises not to expand NATO beyond the borders of a unified Germany. Then they broke promises not to “permanently station substantial combat forces” in the new NATO member countries in Eastern and Central Europe. Then they broke promises not to station missile systems along Russia’s border. Then they broke promises not to interfere in the internal affairs of border states such as Ukraine, orchestrating the 2014 coup that ousted the elected government of Victor Yanukovich, replacing it with an anti-Russian — fascist aligned — government, which, in turn, led to an 8-year-long civil war, as the Russian populated regions in the east sought independence from Kyiv. They armed Ukraine with NATO weapons and trained 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers after the coup. Then they recruited neutral Finland and Sweden into NATO. Now the U.S. is being asked to send advanced long-range missile systems to Ukraine, which Russia says would make the U.S. “a direct party to the conflict.” But blinded by hubris and lacking any understanding of geopolitics, they push us, like the hapless generals in the Austro-Hungarian empire, towards catastrophe.

We call for total victory. Russia annexes four Ukrainian provinces. We help Ukraine bomb the Kerch Bridge. Russia rains missiles down on Ukrainian cities. We give Ukraine sophisticated air defense systems. We gloat over Russian losses. Russia introduces conscription. Now Russia carries out drone and cruise missile attacks on power, sewage and water treatment plants. Where does it end?

“Is the United States, for example, trying to help bring an end to this conflict, through a settlement that would allow for a sovereign Ukraine and some kind of relationship between the United States and Russia?” a New York Times editorial asks. “Or is the United States now trying to weaken Russia permanently? Has the administration’s goal shifted to destabilizing Putin or having him removed? Does the United States intend to hold Putin accountable as a war criminal? Or is the goal to try to avoid a wider war — and if so, how does crowing about providing U.S. intelligence to kill Russians and sink one of their ships achieve this?”

No one has any answers.

The Times editorial ridicules the folly of attempting to recapture all of Ukrainian territory, especially those territories populated by ethnic Russians.

“A decisive military victory for Ukraine over Russia, in which Ukraine regains all the territory Russia has seized since 2014, is not a realistic goal,” it reads. “Though Russia’s planning and fighting have been surprisingly sloppy, Russia remains too strong, and Mr. Putin has invested too much personal prestige in the invasion to back down.”

But common sense, along with realistic military objectives and an equitable peace, is overpowered by the intoxication of war.

On October 17, NATO countries began a two-week-long exercise in Europe, called Steadfast Noon, in which 60 aircraft, including fighter jets and long-range bombers flown in from Minot Air Base in North Dakota are simulating dropping thermonuclear bombs on European targets. This exercise happens annually. But the timing is nevertheless ominous. The U.S. has some 150 “tactical” nuclear warheads stationed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.

Ukraine will be a long and costly war of attrition, one that will leave much of Ukraine in ruins and hundreds of thousands of families convulsed by lifelong grief. If NATO prevails and Putin feels his hold on power is in jeopardy, what will stop him from lashing out in desperation? Russia has the world’s largest arsenal of tactical nukes, weapons that can kill tens of thousands if used on a city. It also possesses nearly 6,000 nuclear warheads. Putin does not want to end up, like his Serbian allies Slobodan Milošević and Ratko Mladić, as a convicted war criminal in the Hague. Nor does he want to go the way of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. What will stop him from upping the ante if he feels cornered?

There is something grimly cavalier about how political, military and intelligence chiefs, including CIA Director William Burns, a former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, agree about the danger of humiliating and defeating Putin and the specter of nuclear war.

“Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons,” Burns said in remarks at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Former CIA Director Leon Panetta, who also served as Defense Secretary under President Barack Obama, wrote this month that U.S. intelligence agencies believe the odds of the war in Ukraine spiraling into a nuclear war are as high as one in four.

The Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, echoed this warning, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee in May that if Putin believed there was an existential threat to Russia, he could resort to nuclear weapons.

“We do think that [Putin’s perception of an existential threat] could be the case in the event that he perceives that he is losing the war in Ukraine, and that NATO in effect is either intervening or about to intervene in that context, which would obviously contribute to a perception that he is about to lose the war in Ukraine,” Haines said.

“As this war and its consequences slowly weaken Russian conventional strength…Russia likely will increasingly rely on its nuclear deterrent to signal the West and project strength to its internal and external audiences,” Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier wrote in the Defense Intelligence Agency’s threat assessment submitted to the same Armed Services Committee at the end of April.

Given these assessments, why don’t Burns, Panetta, Haines and Berrier, urgently advocate diplomacy with Russia to de-escalate the nuclear threat?

This war should never have happened. The U.S. was well aware it was provoking Russia. But it was drunk on its own power, especially as it emerged as the world’s sole superpower at the end of the Cold War, and besides, there were billions in profits to be made in arms sales to new NATO members.

In 2008, when Burns was serving as the Ambassador to Moscow, he wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin). In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.”

Sixty-six U.N. members, most from the global south, have called for diplomacy to end the war in Ukraine, as required by the U.N. Charter. But few of the big power players are listening.

If you think nuclear war can’t happen, pay a visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These Japanese cities had no military value. They were wiped out because most of the rest of Japan’s urban centers had already been destroyed by saturation bombing campaigns directed by LeMay. The U.S. knew Japan was crippled and ready to surrender, but it wanted to send a message to the Soviet Union that with its new atomic weapons it was going to dominate the world.

We saw how that turned out.

They crush our song for a reason: How the ruling class snuffs out the individual spirit

The powerful keep those they exploit from knowing who they are, where they came from and the crimes of the ruling class. As social inequality mounts, so does the campaign to keep us in darkness.

August Wilson wrote 10 plays chronicling Black life in the 20th century. His favorite, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, is set in 1911 in a boarding house in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. The play’s title comes from “Joe Turner’s Blues,” written in 1915 by W. C. Handy. That song refers to a man named Joe Turney, the brother of Peter Turney, who was the governor of Tennessee from 1893 to 1897. Joe Turney transported Black prisoners, chained in a coffle, along the roads from Memphis to the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville. While en route, he handed over some of the convicts, for a commission, to white farmers. The prisoners he leased to the farmers worked for years in a system of convict leasing — slavery by another name.

In Wilson’s play, Herald Loomis, a convict who worked on Turner’s farm, arrives in Pittsburgh after seven years of bondage with his 11-year-old daughter, Zonia, in search of his wife. He struggles to cope with his trauma. At a boarding house, he meets a conjurer named Bynum Walker, who tells him that, to face and overcome the demons that torment him, he must find his song.

It is your song, your voice, your history, Walker tells him, which gives you your identity and your freedom. And your song, Walker tells him, is what the white ruling class seeks to eradicate.

This denial of one’s song is instrumental to bondage. Black illiteracy was essential to white domination of the South. It was a criminal offense to teach enslaved people to read and write.

The poor, especially poor people of color , remain rigidly segregated within educational systems. The backlash against critical race theory (CRT), explorations of LGBTQ+ identities and the banning of books by historians such as Howard Zinn and writers such as Toni Morrison, are extensions of this attempt to deny the oppressed their song.

PEN America reports that proposed educational gag orders have increased 250 percent compared with those issued in 2021. Teachers and professors who violate these gag orders can be subject to fines, loss of state funding for their institutions, termination and even criminal charges. Ellen Schrecker, the leading historian of the McCarthy era’s widespread purging of the U.S. education system, calls these gag bills “worse than McCarthyism.” Schrecker, who authored No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America and The Lost Promise: American Universities in the 1960s, writes:

The current campaign to limit what can be taught in high school and college classrooms is clearly designed to divert angry voters from the deeper structural problems that cloud their own personal futures. Yet it is also a new chapter in the decades-long campaign to roll back the changes that have brought the real world into those classrooms. In one state after another, reactionary and opportunistic politicians are joining that broader campaign to overturn the 1960s’ democratization of American life. By attacking the CRT bogeyman and demonizing contemporary academic culture and the critical perspectives that it can produce, the current limitations on what can be taught endanger teachers at every level, while the know-nothingism these measures encourage endangers us all.

The more social inequality grows, the more the ruling class seeks to keep the bulk of the population within the narrow confines of the American myth: the fantasy that we live in a democratic meritocracy and are a beacon of liberty and enlightenment to the rest of the world. Their goal is to keep the underclass illiterate, or barely literate, and feed them the junk food of mass culture and the virtues of white supremacy, including the deification of the white male slaveholders who founded this country.

When books that give a voice to oppressed groups are banned, it adds to the sense of shame and unworthiness the dominant culture seeks to impart, especially toward marginalized children. At the same time, bans mask the crimes carried out by the ruling class. The ruling class does not want us to know who we are. It does not want us to know of the struggles carried out by those who came before us, struggles that saw many people blacklisted, incarcerated, injured and killed to open democratic space and achieve basic civil liberties from the right to vote to union organizing. They know that the less we know about what has been done to us, the more malleable we become. If we are kept ignorant of what is happening beyond the narrow confines of our communities and trapped in an eternal present, if we lack access to our own history, let alone that of other societies and cultures, we are less able to critique and understand our own society and culture.

W.E.B. Du Bois argued that white society feared educated Blacks far more than they feared Black criminals.

“They can deal with crime by chain-gang and lynch law, or at least they think they can, but the South can conceive neither machinery nor place for the educated, self-reliant, self-assertive black man,” he wrote.

Those, like Du Bois, who was blacklisted and driven into exile, who pull the veil from our eyes are especially targeted by the state. Rosa Luxemberg. Eugene V. Debs. Malcolm X. Martin Luther King. Noam Chomsky. Ralph Nader. Cornel West. Julian Assange. Alice Walker. They speak a truth the powerful and the rich do not want heard. They, like Bynum, help us find our song.

In the U.S., 21 percent of adults are illiterate and a staggering 54 percent have a literacy level below sixth grade. These numbers jump dramatically in the U.S. prison system, the largest in the world with an estimated 20 percent of the globe’s prison population, although we are less than five percent of the global population. In prison, 70 percent percent of inmates cannot read above a fourth-grade level, leaving them able to work at only the lowest paying and most menial jobs upon their release.

You can watch a two-part discussion of my book Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison, and the importance of prison education, here and here.

Like Loomis, those freed from bondage become pariahs, members of a criminal caste. They are unable to access public housing, barred from hundreds of jobs, especially any job that requires a license, and denied social services. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates in a new report that 60 percent of the formerly incarcerated are jobless. Of more than 50,000 people released from federal prisons in 2010, the report found, 33 percent found no employment at all over four years, and at any given time, no more than 40 percent of the cohort was employed. This is by design. More than two-thirds are rearrested within three years of their release and at least half are reincarcerated.

You can see a two-part discussion on the numerous obstacles placed before those released from prison with five of my former students from the NJ-STEP college degree program here and here.

White members of the working class, although often used as shock troops against minorities and the left, are equally manipulated and for the same reasons. They, too, are denied their song, fed myths of white exceptionalism and white supremacy to keep their antagonisms directed at other oppressed groups, rather than the corporate forces and the billionaire class that have orchestrated their own misery.

Du Bois pointed out that poor whites, politically allied with rich southern plantation owners, were complicit in their disenfranchisement. They received few material or political benefits from the alliance, but they reveled in the “psychological” feelings of superiority that came with being white. Race, he wrote, “drove such a wedge between white and black workers that there probably are not today in the world two groups of workers with practically identical interests who hate and fear each other so deeply and persistently and who are kept so far apart that neither sees anything of common interest.”

Little has changed.

The poor do not attend college, or, if they do, they incur massive student debt, which can take a lifetime to pay off. U.S. Student loan debt, totalling nearly $1.75 trillion, is the second-largest source of consumer debt behind mortgages. Some 50 million people are in debt peonage to student loan companies. This debt peonage forces graduates to major in subjects useful to corporations and is part of the reason why the humanities are withering away. It limits career options because graduates must seek jobs that allow them to meet their hefty monthly loan payments. The average law school student debt of $130,000 intentionally sends most law school graduates into the arms of corporate law firms.

Meanwhile, fees to attend colleges and universities have skyrocketed. The average tuition and fees at private national universities have jumped 134 percent since 2002. Out-of-state tuition and fees at public national universities have risen 141 percent while in-state tuition and fees at public national universities have risen 175 percent.

The forces of repression, backed by corporate money, are challenging in courts Biden’s executive order to cancel some student debt. A federal judge in Missouri heard arguments from six states attempting to block the plan. To qualify for the debt relief, individuals must make less than $125,000 a year or $250,000 for married couples and families. Eligible borrowers can receive up to $20,000 if they are Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 if they haven’t received a Pell Grant.

Education should be subversive. It should give us the intellectual tools and vocabulary to question the reigning ideas and structures that buttress the powerful. It should make us autonomous and independent beings, capable of making our own judgments, capable of understanding and defying the “cultural hegemony,” to quote Antonio Gramsci, that keeps us in bondage. In Wilson’s play, Bynum teaches Loomis how to discover his song, and once Loomis finds his song, he is free.

Overthrowing the imperial corporate state and its puppets

This is the speech given by Chris Hedges outside the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, October 8 at a rally that called on the U.S. to revoke its extradition request for Julian Assange.

Chris Hedges speaks out for Julian Assange at DOJ - Full Speech youtu.be

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Merrick Garland and those who work in the Department of Justice are the puppets, not the puppet masters. They are the façade, the fiction, that the longstanding persecution of Julian Assange has something to do with justice. Like the High Court in London, they carry out an elaborate judicial pantomime. They debate arcane legal nuances to distract from the Dickensian farce where a man who has not committed a crime, who is not a U.S. citizen, can be extradited under the Espionage Act and sentenced to life in prison for the most courageous and consequential journalism of our generation.

The engine driving the lynching of Julian is not here on Pennsylvania Avenue. It is in Langley, Virginia, located at a complex we will never be allowed to surround – the Central Intelligence Agency. It is driven by a secretive inner state, one where we do not count in the mad pursuit of empire and ruthless exploitation. Because the machine of this modern leviathan was exposed by Julian and WikiLeaks, the machine demands revenge.

The United States has undergone a corporate coup d’etat in slow motion. It is no longer a functioning democracy. The real centers of power, in the corporate, military and national security sectors, were humiliated and embarrassed by WikiLeaks. Their war crimes, lies, conspiracies to crush the democratic aspirations of the vulnerable and the poor, and rampant corruption, here and around the globe, were laid bare in troves of leaked documents.

We cannot fight on behalf of Julian unless we are clear about whom we are fighting against. It is far worse than a corrupt judiciary. The global billionaire class, who have orchestrated a social inequality rivaled by pharaonic Egypt, has internally seized all of the levers of power and made us the most spied upon, monitored, watched and photographed population in human history. When the government watches you 24-hours a day, you cannot use the word liberty. This is the relationship between a master and a slave. Julian was long a target, of course, but when WikiLeaks published the documents known as Vault 7, which exposed the hacking tools the CIA uses to monitor our phones, televisions and even cars, he — and journalism itself — was condemned to crucifixion. The object is to shut down any investigations into the inner workings of power that might hold the ruling class accountable for its crimes, eradicate public opinion and replace it with the cant fed to the mob.

I spent two decades as a foreign correspondent on the outer reaches of empire in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans. I am acutely aware of the savagery of empire, how the brutal tools of repression are first tested on those Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth.” Wholesale surveillance. Torture. Coups. Black sites. Black propaganda. Militarized police. Militarized drones. Assassinations. Wars. Once perfected on people of color overseas, these tools migrate back to the homeland. By hollowing out our country from the inside through deindustrialization, austerity, deregulation, wage stagnation, the abolition of unions, massive expenditures on war and intelligence, a refusal to address the climate emergency and a virtual tax boycott for the richest individuals and corporations, these predators intend to keep us in bondage, victims of a corporate neo-feudalism. And they have perfected their instruments of Orwellian control. The tyranny imposed on others is imposed on us.

From its inception, the CIA carried out assassinations, coups, torture, and illegal spying and abuse, including that of U.S. citizens, activities exposed in 1975 by the Church Committee hearings in the Senate and the Pike Committee hearings in the House. All these crimes, especially after the attacks of 9/11, have returned with a vengeance. The CIA is a rogue and unaccountable paramilitary organization with its own armed units and drone program, death squads and a vast archipelago of global black sites where kidnapped victims are tortured and disappeared.

The U.S. allocates a secret black budget of about $50 billion a year to hide multiple types of clandestine projects carried out by the National Security Agency, the CIA and other intelligence agencies, usually beyond the scrutiny of Congress. The CIA has a well-oiled apparatus to kidnap, torture and assassinate targets around the globe, which is why, since it had already set up a system of 24-hour video surveillance of Julian in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, it quite naturally discussed kidnapping and assassinating him. That is its business. Senator Frank Church — after examining the heavily redacted CIA documents released to his committee — defined the CIA’s “covert activity” as “a semantic disguise for murder, coercion, blackmail, bribery, the spreading of lies and consorting with known torturers and international terrorists.”

Armed and Dangerous – by Mr. Fish

All despotisms mask state persecution with sham court proceedings. The show trials and troikas in Stalin’s Soviet Union. The raving Nazi judges in fascist Germany. The Denunciation rallies in Mao’s China. State crime is cloaked in a faux legality, a judicial farce.

If Julian is extradited and sentenced and, given the Lubyanka-like proclivities of the Eastern District of Virginia, this is a near certainty, it means that those of us who have published classified material, as I did when I worked for The New York Times, will become criminals. It means that an iron curtain will be pulled down to mask abuses of power. It means that the state, which, through Special Administrative Measures, or SAMs, anti-terrorism laws and the Espionage Act that have created our homegrown version of Stalin’s Article 58, can imprison anyone anywhere in the world who dares commit the crime of telling the truth.

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to fight against powerful subterranean forces that, in demanding Julian’s extradition and life imprisonment, have declared war on journalism.

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to fight for the restoration of the rule of law and democracy.

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to dismantle the wholesale Stasi-like state surveillance erected across the West.

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to overthrow — and let me repeat that word for the benefit of those in the FBI and Homeland Security who have come here to monitor us — overthrow the corporate state and create a government of the people, by the people and for the people, that will cherish, rather than persecute, the best among us.

You can see my interview with Julian’s father, John Shipton, here.

How bankrupt liberalism is empowering fascist movements in Europe and the US

Energy and food bills are soaring. Under the onslaught of inflation and prolonged wage stagnation, wages are in free fall. Billions of dollars are diverted by Western nations at a time of economic crisis and staggering income inequality to fund a proxy war in Ukraine. The liberal class, terrified by the rise of neo-fascism and demagogues such as Donald Trump, have thrown in their lot with discredited and reviled establishment politicians who slavishly do the bidding of the war industry, oligarchs and corporations.

The bankruptcy of the liberal class means that those who decry the folly of permanent war and NATO expansion, mercenary trade deals, exploitation of workers by globalization, austerity and neoliberalism come increasingly from the far-right. This right-wing rage, dressed up in the United States as Christian fascism, has already made huge gains in Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Italy, Bulgaria and France and may take power in the Czech Republic, where inflation and rising energy costs have seen the number of Czechs falling below the poverty line double.

By next spring, following a punishing winter of rolling blackouts and months when families struggle to pay for food and heat, what is left of our anemic western democracy could be largely extinguished.

Extremism is the political cost of pronounced social inequality and political stagnation. Demagogues, who promise moral and economic renewal, vengeance against phantom enemies and a return to lost glory, rise out of the morass. Hatred and violence, already at the boiling point, are legitimized. A reviled ruling class, and the supposed civility and democratic norms it espouses, are ridiculed.

It is not, as the philosopher Gabriel Rockhill points out, as if fascism ever went away. “The U.S. did not defeat fascism in WWII,” he writes, “it discretely internationalized it.” After World War II the U.S., U.K. and other Western governments collaborated with hundreds of former Nazis and Japanese war criminals, who they integrated into western intelligence services, as well as fascist regimes such as those in Spain and Portugal. They supported right-wing anti-communist forces in Greece during its civil war in 1946 to 1949, and then backed a right-wing military coup in 1967. NATO also had a secret policy of operating fascist terrorist groups. Operation Gladio, as the BBC detailed in a now-forgotten investigative series, created “secret armies,” networks of illegal stay-behind soldiers, who would remain behind enemy lines if the Soviet Union made a military move into Europe. In actuality, the “secret armies” carried-out assassinations, bombings, massacres and false flag terror attacks against leftists, trade unionists and others throughout Europe.

See my interview with Stephen Kinzer about the post-war activities of the CIA, including its recruitment of Nazi and Japanese war criminals and its creation of black sites where former Nazis were hired to interrogate, torture and murder suspected leftists, labor leaders and communists, detailed in his book Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control, here.

Fascism, which has always been with us, is again ascendant. The far-right politician Giorgia Meloni is expected to become Italy’s first female prime minister after elections on Sunday. In a coalition with two other far-right parties, Meloni is forecast to win more than 60 percent of the seats in Parliament, though the left-leaning 5-Star Movement may put a dent in those expectations.

Meloni got her start in politics as a 15-year-old activist for the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement, founded after the World War II by supporters of Benito Mussolini. She calls EU bureaucrats agents of “nihilistic global elites driven by international finance.” She peddles the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory that non-white immigrants are being permitted to enter Western nations as part of a plot to undermine or “replace” the political power and culture of white people. She has called on the Italian navy to turn back boats with immigrants, which the far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini did in 2018. Her Fratelli d’Italia, Brothers of Italy, party is a close ally of Hungary’s President, Viktor Orban. A European Parliament resolution recently declared that Hungary can no longer be defined as a democracy.

Meloni and Orban are not alone. Sweden Democrats, which took over 20 percent of the vote in Sweden’s general election last week to become the country’s second largest political party, was formed in 1988 from a neo-Nazi group called B.S.S., or Keep Sweden Swedish. It has deep fascist roots. Of the party’s 30 founders, 18 had Nazi affiliations, including several who served in the Waffen SS, according to Tony Gustaffson a historian and former Sweden Democrat member. France’s Marine Le Pen took over 41 percent of the vote in April against Emmanuel Macron. In Spain, the hard-right Vox party is the third largest party in Spain’s Parliament. The far-right German AfD or Alternative for Germany party took over 12 percent in federal elections in 2017, making it the third largest party, though it lost a couple percentage points in the 2021 elections. The U.S. has its own version of fascism embodied in a Republican party that coalesces in cult-like fashion around Donald Trump, embraces the magical thinking, misogyny, homophobia and white supremacy of the Christian Right and actively subverts the election process.

Economic collapse was indispensable to the Nazis’ rise to power. In the 1928 elections in Germany, the Nazi party received less than 3 percent of the vote. Then came the global financial crash of 1929. By early 1932, 40 percent of the German insured workforce, six million people, were unemployed. That same year, the Nazis became the largest political party in the German parliament. The Weimar government, tone deaf and hostage to the big industrialists, prioritized paying bank loans and austerity rather than feeding and employing a desperate population. It foolishly imposed severe restrictions on who was eligible for unemployment insurance. Millions of Germans went hungry. Desperation and rage rippled through the population. Mass rallies, led by a collection of buffoonish Nazis in brown uniforms who would have felt at home at Mar-a-Lago, denounced Jews, Communists, intellectuals, artists and the ruling class, as internal enemies. Hate was their main currency. It sold well.

The evisceration of democratic procedures and institutions, however, preceded the Nazis’ ascension to power in 1933. The Reichstag, the German Parliament, was as dysfunctional as the U.S. Congress. The Socialist leader Friedrich Ebert, president from 1919 until 1925, and later Heinrich Brüning, chancellor from 1930 to 1932, relied on Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution to largely rule by decree to bypass the fractious Parliament. Article 48, which granted the president the right in an emergency to issue decrees, was “a trapdoor through which Germany could fall into dictatorship,” historian Benjamin Carter Hett writes.

Article 48 was the Weimar equivalent of the executive orders liberally used by Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, to bypass our own legislative impasses. As in 1930s Germany, our courts — especially the Supreme Court — have been seized by extremists. The press has bifurcated into antagonistic tribes where lies and truth are indistinguishable, and opposing sides are demonized. There is little dialogue or compromise, the twin pillars of a democratic system.

The two ruling parties slavishly serve the dictates of the war industry, global corporations and the oligarchy, to which it has given huge tax cuts. It has established the most pervasive and intrusive system of government surveillance in human history. It runs the largest prison system in the world. It has militarized the police.

Democrats are as culpable as Republicans. The Obama administration interpreted the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force as giving the executive branch the right to erase due process and act as judge, jury and executioner in assassinating U.S. citizens, starting with radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Two weeks later, a U.S. drone strike killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Anwar’s 16-year-old son, who was never linked to terrorism, along with 9 other teenagers at a cafe in Yemen. It was the Obama administration that signed into law Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, overturning the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the use of the military as a domestic police force. It was the Obama administration that bailed out Wall Street and abandoned Wall Street’s victims. It was the Obama administration that repeatedly used the Espionage Act to criminalize those, such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, who exposed government lies, crimes and fraud. And it was the Obama administration that massively expanded the use of militarized drones.

The Nazis responded to the February 1933 burning of the Reichstag, which they likely staged, by employing Article 48 to push through the Decree for the Protection of the People and the State. The fascists instantly snuffed out the pretense of Weimar democracy. They legalized imprisonment without trial for anyone considered a national security threat. They abolished independent labor unions, freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of the press, along with the privacy of postal and telephone communications.

The step from dysfunctional democracy to full blown fascism was, and will again be, a small one. The hatred for the ruling class, embodied by the establishment Republican and Democratic parties, which have merged into one ruling party, is nearly universal. The public, battling inflation that is at a 40-year high and cost the average U.S. household an additional $717 a month in July alone, will increasingly see any political figure or political party willing to attack the traditional ruling elites as an ally. The more crude, irrational or vulgar the attack, the more the disenfranchised rejoice. These sentiments are true here and in Europe, where energy costs are expected to rise by as much as 80 percent this winter and an inflation rate of 10 percent is eating away at incomes.

The reconfiguration of society under neoliberalism to exclusively benefit the billionaire class, the slashing and privatization of public services, including schools, hospitals and utilities, along with deindustrialization, the profligate pouring of state funds and resources into the war industry, at the expense of the nation’s infrastructure and social services, and the building of the world’s largest prison system and militarization of police, have predictable results.

At the heart of the problem is a loss of faith in traditional forms of government and democratic solutions. Fascism in the 1930s succeeded, as Peter Drucker observed, not because people believed its conspiracy theories and lies but in spite of the fact that they saw through them. Fascism thrived in the face of “a hostile press, a hostile radio, a hostile cinema, a hostile church, and a hostile government which untiringly pointed out the Nazi lies, the Nazi inconsistency, the unattainability of their promises, and the dangers and folly of their course.” He added, “nobody would have been a Nazi if rational belief in the Nazi promises had been a prerequisite.”

As in the past, these new fascist parties cater to emotional yearnings. They give vent to feelings of abandonment, worthlessness, despair and alienation. They promise unattainable miracles. They too peddle bizarre conspiracy theories including QAnon. But most of all, they promise vengeance against a ruling class that betrayed the nation.

Hett defines the Nazis as “a nationalist protest movement against globalization.” The rise of the new fascism has its roots in a similar exploitation by global corporations and oligarchs. More than anything else, people want to regain control over their lives, if only to punish those blamed and scapegoated for their misery.

We have seen this movie before.

Monarchs belong in the dustbin of history

No institution helps obscure the crimes of empire and buttress class rule and white supremacy as effectively as the British monarchy.

The fawning adulation of Queen Elizabeth in the United States, which fought a revolution to get rid of the monarchy, and in Great Britain, is in direct proportion to the fear gripping a discredited, incompetent and corrupt global ruling elite.

The global oligarchs are not sure the next generation of royal sock puppets – mediocrities that include a pedophile prince and his brother, a cranky and eccentric king who accepted suitcases and bags stuffed with $3.2 million in cash from the former prime minister of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, and who has millions stashed in offshore accounts – are up to the job. Let’s hope they are right.

“Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbor who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories,” Patrick Freyne wrote last year in The Irish Times. “More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbor who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.”

Monarchy obscures the crimes of empire and wraps them in nostalgia. It exalts white supremacy and racial hierarchy. It justifies class rule. It buttresses an economic and social system that callously discards and often consigns to death those considered the lesser breeds, most of whom are people of color. The queen’s husband Prince Phillip, who died in 2021, was notorious for making racist and sexist remarks, politely explained away in the British press as “gaffes.” He described Beijing, for example, as “ghastly” during a 1986 visit and told British students: “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.

The cries of the millions of victims of empire; the thousands killed, tortured, raped and imprisoned during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya; the 13 Irish civilians gunned down in “Bloody Sunday;” the more than 4,100 First Nations children who died or went missing in Canada’s residential schools, government-sponsored institutions established to “assimilate” indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture, and the hundreds of thousands killed during the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan are drowned out by cheers for royal processions and the sacral aura an obsequious press weaves around the aristocracy. The coverage of the queen’s death is so mind-numbingly vapid — the BBC sent out a news alert on Saturday when Prince Harry and Prince William, accompanied by their wives, surveyed the floral tributes to their grandmother displayed outside Windsor Castle — that the press might as well turn over the coverage to the mythmakers and publicists employed by the royal family.

The royals are oligarchs. They are guardians of their class. The world’s largest landowners include King Mohammed VI of Morocco with 176 million acres, the Holy Roman Catholic Church with 177 million acres, the heirs of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia with 531 million acres and now, King Charles III with 6.6 billion acres of land. British monarchs are worth almost $28 billion. The British public will provide a $33 million subsidy to the Royal Family over the next two years, although the average household in the U.K. saw its income fall for the longest period since records began in 1955 and 227,000 households experience homelessness in Britain.

Royals, to the ruling class, are worth the expense. They are effective tools of subjugation. British postal and rail workers canceled planned strikes over pay and working conditions after the queen’s death. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) postponed its congress. Labour Party members poured out heartfelt tributes. Even Extinction Rebellion, which should know better, indefinitely canceled its planned “Festival of Resistance.” The BBC’s Clive Myrie dismissed Britain’s energy crisis — caused by the war in Ukraine — that has thrown millions of people into severe financial distress as “insignificant” compared with concerns over the queen’s health. The climate emergency, pandemic, the deadly folly of the U.S. and NATO’s proxy war in Ukraine, soaring inflation, the rise of neo-fascist movements and deepening social inequality will be ignored as the press spews florid encomiums to class rule. There will be 10 days of official mourning.

In 1953, Her Majesty’s Government sent three warships, along with 700 troops, to its colony British Guiana, suspended the constitution and overthrew the democratically elected government of Cheddi Jagan. Her Majesty’s Government helped to build and long supported the apartheid government in South Africa. Her Majesty’s Government savagely crushed the Mau Mau independence movement in Kenya from 1952 to 1960, herding 1.5 million Kenyans into concentration camps where many were tortured. British soldiers castrated suspected rebels and sympathizers, often with pliers, and raped girls and women. Her Majesty’s Government inherited staggering wealth from the $ 45 trillion Great Britain looted from India, wealth accumulated by violently crushing a series of uprisings, including the First War of Independence in 1857. Her Majesty’s Government carried out a dirty war to break the Greek Cypriot War of Independence from 1955 to 1959 and later in Yemen from 1962 to 1969. Torture, extrajudicial assassinations, public hangings and mass executions by the British were routine. Following a protracted lawsuit, the British government agreed to pay nearly £20 million in damages to over 5,000 victims of British abuse during war in Kenya, and in 2019 another payout was made to survivors of torture from the conflict in Cyprus. The British state attempts to obstruct lawsuits stemming from its colonial history. Its settlements are a tiny fraction of the compensation paid to British slave owners in 1835, once it — at least formally — abolished slavery.

During her 70-year reign, the queen never offered an apology or called for reparations.

The point of social hierarchy and aristocracy is to sustain a class system that makes the rest of us feel inferior. Those at the top of the social hierarchy hand out tokens for loyal service, including the Order of the British Empire (OBE). The monarchy is the bedrock of hereditary rule and inherited wealth. This caste system filters down from the Nazi-loving House of Windsor to the organs of state security and the military. It regiments society and keeps people, especially the poor and the working class, in their “proper” place.

The British ruling class clings to the mystique of royalty and fading cultural icons as James Bond, the Beatles and the BBC, along with television shows such as “Downton Abbey” — where in the 2019 film version the aristocrats and servants are convulsed in fevered anticipation when King George V and Queen Mary schedule a visit — to project a global presence. Winston Churchill’s bust remains on loan to the White House. These myth machines sustain Great Britain’s “special” relationship with the United States. Watch the satirical film “In the Loop” to get a sense of what this “special” relationship looks like on the inside.

It was not until the 1960s that “colored immigrants or foreigners” were permitted to work in clerical roles in the royal household, although they had been hired as domestic servants. The royal household and its heads are legally exempt from laws that prevent race and sex discrimination, what Jonathan Cook calls “an apartheid system benefitting the Royal Family alone.” Meghan Markle, who is of mixed race and who contemplated suicide during her time as a working royal, said that an unnamed royal expressed concern about the skin color of her unborn son.

I got a taste of this suffocating snobbery in 2014 when I participated in an Oxford Union debate asking whether Edward Snowden was a hero or a traitor. I went a day early to be prepped for the debate by Julian Assange, then seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy and currently in His Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh. At a lugubrious black-tie dinner preceding the event, I sat next to a former MP who asked me two questions I had never been asked before in succession. “When did your family come to America?” he said, followed by “What schools did you attend?” My ancestors, on both sides of my family, arrived from England in the 1630s. My graduate degree is from Harvard. If I had failed to meet his litmus test, he would have acted as if I did not exist.

Those who took part in the debate – my side arguing that Snowden was a hero narrowly won – signed a leather-bound guest book. Taking the pen, I scrawled in large letters that filled an entire page: “Never Forget that your greatest political philosopher, Thomas Paine, never went to Oxford or Cambridge.”

Paine, the author of the most widely read political essays of the 18th century, Rights of Man, The Age of Reason and Common Sense, blasted the monarchy as a con. “A French bastard landing with an armed banditti and establishing himself as King of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original…The plain truth is that the antiquity of the English monarchy will not bear looking into,” he wrote of William the Conqueror. He ridiculed hereditary rule. “Of more worth is one honest man to society, and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.” He went on: “One of the strangest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings is that nature disproves it, otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule, by giving mankind an ass for a lion.” He called the monarch “the royal brute of England.”

When the British ruling class tried to arrest Paine, he fled to France where he was one of two foreigners elected to serve as a delegate in the National Convention set up after the French Revolution. He denounced the calls to execute Louis XVI. “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression,” Paine said. “For if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” Unchecked legislatures, he warned, could be as despotic as unchecked monarchs. When he returned to America from France, he condemned slavery and the wealth and privilege accumulated by the new ruling class, including George Washington, who had become the richest man in the country. Even though Paine had done more than any single figure to rouse the country to overthrow the British monarchy, he was turned into a pariah, especially by the press, and forgotten. He had served his usefulness. Six mourners attended his funeral, two of whom were Black.

You can watch my talk with Cornel West and Richard Wolff on Thomas Paine here.

There is a pathetic yearning among many in the U.S. and Britain to be linked in some tangential way to royalty. White British friends often have stories about ancestors that tie them to some obscure aristocrat. Donald Trump, who fashioned his own heraldic coat of arms, was obsessed with obtaining a state visit with the queen. This desire to be part of the club, or validated by the club, is a potent force the ruling class has no intention of giving up, even if hapless King Charles III, who along with his family treated his first wife Diana with contempt, makes a mess of it.

America is not a functioning democracy

There is a fatal disconnect between a political system that promises democratic equality and freedom while carrying out socioeconomic injustices that result in grotesque income inequality and political stagnation.

Decades in the making, this disconnect has extinguished American democracy. The steady stripping away of economic and political power was ignored by a hyperventilating press that thundered against the barbarians at the gate — Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, ISIS, Vladimir Putin — while ignoring the barbarians in our midst. The slow-motion coup is over. Corporations and the billionaire class have won. There are no institutions, including the press, an electoral system that is little more than legalized bribery, the imperial presidency, the courts or the penal system, that can be defined as democratic. Only the fiction of democracy remains.

The political philosopher Sheldon Wolin in Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism calls our system “inverted totalitarianism.” The façade of democratic institutions and the rhetoric, symbols and iconography of state power have not changed. The Constitution remains a sacred document. The U.S. continues to posit itself as a champion of opportunity, freedom, human rights and civil liberties, even as half the country struggles at subsistence level, militarized police gun down and imprison the poor with impunity, and the primary business of the state is war.

This collective self-delusion masks who we have become — a nation where the citizenry has been stripped of economic and political power and where the brutal militarism we practice overseas is practiced at home.

In classical totalitarian regimes, such as Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union, economics was subordinate to politics. But under inverted totalitarianism, the reverse is true. There is no attempt, unlike fascism and state socialism, to address the needs of the poor. Rather, the poorer and more vulnerable you are, the more you are exploited, thrust into a hellish debt peonage from which there is no escape. Social services, from education to health care, are anemic, nonexistent or privatized to gouge the impoverished. Further ravaged by 8.5 percent inflation, wages have decelerated sharply since 1979. Jobs often do not offer benefits or security.

You can watch an interview I conducted in 2014 with Sheldon Wolin here.

In my book America: The Farewell Tour, I examined the social indicators of a nation in serious trouble. Life expectancy in the U.S. fell in 2021, for the second year in a row. There have been over 300 mass shootings this year. Close to a million people have died from drug overdoses since 1999. There are an average of 132 suicides every day. Nearly 42 percent of the country is classified as obese, with one in 11 adults considered severely obese.

These diseases of despair are rooted in the disconnect between a society’s expectations of a better future and the reality of a system that does not provide a meaningful place for its citizens. Loss of a sustainable income and social stagnation causes more than financial distress. As Émile Durkheim points out in The Division of Labor in Society, it severs the social bonds that give us meaning. A decline in status and power, an inability to advance, a lack of education and adequate health care, and a loss of hope result in crippling forms of humiliation. This humiliation fuels loneliness, frustration, anger and feelings of worthlessness.

In Hitler and the Germans, the political philosopher Eric Voegelin dismisses the idea that Hitler — gifted in oratory and political opportunism but poorly educated and vulgar — mesmerized and seduced the German people. The Germans, he writes, supported Hitler and the “grotesque, marginal figures” surrounding him because he embodied the pathologies of a diseased society, one beset by economic collapse and hopelessness. Voegelin defines stupidity as a “loss of reality.” The loss of reality means a “stupid” person cannot “rightly orient his action in the world, in which he lives.” The demagogue, who is always an idiote, is not a freak or social mutation. The demagogue expresses the society’s zeitgeist.

The acceleration of deindustrialization by the 1970s, as I write in America, The Farewell Tour, created a crisis that forced the ruling elites to devise a new political paradigm, as Stuart Hall explains in Policing the Crisis Trumpeted by a compliant media, this paradigm shifted its focus from the common good to race, crime and law and order. It told those undergoing profound economic and political change that their suffering stemmed not from rampant militarism and corporate greed but from a threat to national integrity. The old consensus that buttressed New Deal programs and the welfare state was attacked as enabling criminal Black youth, “welfare queens” and other alleged social parasites. This opened the door to a faux populism, begun by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, which supposedly championed family values, traditional morality, individual autonomy, law and order, the Christian faith and the return to a mythical past, at least for white Americans. The Democratic Party, especially under Bill Clinton, moved steadily to the right until it became largely indistinguishable from the establishment Republican Party to which it is now allied. Donald Trump, and the 74 million people who voted for him in 2020, were the result.

It will do no good, as Biden did on Thursday in Philadelphia, to demonize Trump and his supporters in the way they demonize Biden and the Democrats. Biden, raising clenched fists, backlit by Stygian red lights and flanked by two U.S. Marines in dress uniforms, announced from his Dantesque stage set that “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.”

Donald Trump called the speech the most “vicious, hateful and divisive speech ever delivered by an American president” and attacked Biden as “an enemy of the state.”

Biden’s frontal assault widens the divide. It solidifies a system where voters do not vote for what they want, since neither side delivers anything of substance, but against what they despise. Biden did not address our socioeconomic crisis or offer solutions. It was political theater.

Anti-politics masquerades as politics. No sooner does one money-drenched election cycle end, the next one begins, perpetuating what Wolin callspolitics without politics.” These elections do not permit citizens to participate in power. The public is allowed to voice opinions to scripted questions, which are repackaged by publicists, pollsters, political consultants and advertisers and fed back to them. Few races, including only 14 percent of congres­sional districts, are considered competitive. Politicians do not campaign on substantial issues but on skillfully manufactured political personalities and emotionally charged culture wars.

The militarists, who have created a state within a state and who plunge us into one military debacle after another, consuming half of all discretionary spending, are omnipotent. The corporations and billionaires, which orchestrated a virtual tax boycott and gutted regulation and oversight, are omnipotent. The industrialists who wrote trade deals to profit from unemployment and underemployment of U.S. workers and sweatshop labor overseas are omnipotent. The insurance and pharmaceutical industries that run the healthcare system, whose primary concern is profit not health and who are responsible for 16 percent of the worldwide reported deaths from COVID-19 although we are less than 5 percent of the global population, are omnipotent. The intelligence agencies that carry out wholesale surveillance of the public are omnipotent. The courts that reinterpret laws to strip them of their original meaning to ensure corporate control and excuse corporate crimes, are omnipotent. The courts gave us Citizens United, for example, which permits unlimited corporate financing of elections by claiming it upholds the right to petition the government and is a form of free speech.

Politics is spectacle, a tawdry carnival act where the constant jockeying for power by the ruling class dominates the news cycles, as if politics were a race to the Superbowl. The real business of ruling is hidden, carried out by corporate lobbyists who write the legislation, banks that loot the Treasury, the war industry and an oligarchy that determines who gets elected and who does not. It is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, the fossil fuel industry or Raytheon, no matter which party is in office.

The moment any segment of the population, left or right, refuses to participate in this illusion, the face of inverted totalitarianism resembles the face of classical totalitarianism, as Julian Assange is experiencing.

Our corporate overlords and militarists prefer the decorum of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. But they worked closely with Donald Trump and are willing to do so again. What they will not allow are reformers such as Bernie Sanders, who might challenge, however tepidly, their obscene accumulation of wealth and power. This inability to reform, to restore democratic participation and address social inequality, means the inevitable death of the republic. Biden and the Democrats rail against the cultish Republican Party and their threat to democracy, but they too are the problem.

'It frog-marches us towards tyranny': Ukraine and the politics of permanent war

No one, including the most bullish supporters of Ukraine, expects the nation’s war with Russia to end soon. The fighting has been reduced to artillery duels across hundreds of miles of front lines and creeping advances and retreats. Ukraine, like Afghanistan, will bleed for a very long time. This is by design.

On August 24, the Biden administration announced yet another massive military aid package to Ukraine worth nearly $3 billion. It will take months, and in some cases years, for this military equipment to reach Ukraine. In another sign that Washington assumes the conflict will be a long war of attrition it will give a name to the U.S. military assistance mission in Ukraine and make it a separate command overseen by a two- or three-star general. Since August 2021, Biden has approved more than $8 billion in weapons transfers from existing stockpiles, known as drawdowns, to be shipped to Ukraine, which do not require Congressional approval.

Including humanitarian assistance, replenishing depleting U.S. weapons stocks and expanding U.S. troop presence in Europe, Congress has approved over $53.6 billion ($13.6 billion in March and a further $40.1 billion in May) since Russia’s February 24 invasion. War takes precedence over the most serious existential threats we face. The proposed budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in fiscal year 2023 is $10.675 billion while the proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is $11.881 billion. Our approved assistance to Ukraine is more than twice these amounts.

The militarists who have waged permanent war costing trillions of dollars over the past two decades have invested heavily in controlling the public narrative. The enemy, whether Saddam Hussein or Vladimir Putin, is always the epitome of evil, the new Hitler. Those we support are always heroic defenders of liberty and democracy. Anyone who questions the righteousness of the cause is accused of being an agent of a foreign power and a traitor.

The mass media cravenly disseminates these binary absurdities in 24-hour news cycles. Its news celebrities and experts, universally drawn from the intelligence community and military, rarely deviate from the approved script. Day and night, the drums of war never stop beating. Its goal: to keep billions of dollars flowing into the hands of the war industry and prevent the public from asking inconvenient questions.

In the face of this barrage, no dissent is permitted. CBS News caved to pressure and retracted its documentary which charged that only 30 percent of arms shipped to Ukraine were making it to the front lines, with the rest siphoned off to the black market, a finding that was separately reported upon by U.S. journalist Lindsey Snell. CNN has acknowledged there is no oversight of weapons once they arrive in Ukraine, long considered the most corrupt country in Europe. According to a poll of executives responsible for tackling fraud, completed by Ernst & Young in 2018, Ukraine was ranked the ninth-most corrupt nation from 53 surveyed.

There is little ostensible reason for censoring critics of the war in Ukraine. The U.S. is not at war with Russia. No U.S. troops are fighting in Ukraine. Criticism of the war in Ukraine does not jeopardize our national security. There are no long-standing cultural and historical ties to Ukraine, as there are to Great Britain. But if permanent war, with potentially tenuous public support, is the primary objective, censorship makes sense.

War is the primary business of the U.S. empire and the bedrock of the U.S. economy. The two ruling political parties slavishly perpetuate permanent war, as they do austerity programs, trade deals, the virtual tax boycott for corporations and the rich, wholesale government surveillance, the militarization of the police and the maintenance of the largest prison system in the world. They bow before the dictates of the militarists, who have created a state within a state. This militarism, as Seymour Melman writes in The Permanent War Economy: American Capitalism in Decline, “is fundamentally contradictory to the formation of a new political economy based upon democracy, instead of hierarchy, in the workplace and the rest of society.”

“The idea that war economy brings prosperity has become more than an American illusion,” Melman writes. “When converted, as it has been, into ideology that justifies the militarization of society and moral debasement, as in Vietnam, then critical reassessment of that illusion is a matter of urgency. It is a primary responsibility of thoughtful people who are committed to humane values to confront and respond to the prospect that deterioration of American economy and society, owing to the ravages of war economy, can become irreversible.”

If permanent war is to be halted, as Melman writes, the ideological control of the war industry must be shattered. The war industry’s funding of politicians, research centers and think tanks, as well as its domination of the media monopolies, must end. The public must be made aware, Melman writes, of how the federal government “sustains itself as the directorate of the largest industrial corporate empire in the world; how the war economy is organized and operated in parallel with centralized political power — often contradicting the laws of Congress and the Constitution itself; how the directorate of the war economy converts pro-peace sentiment in the population into pro-militarist majorities in the Congress; how ideology and fears of job losses are manipulated to marshal support in Congress and the general public for war economy; how the directorate of the war economy uses its power to prevent planning for orderly conversion to an economy of peace.”

Rampant, unchecked militarism, as historian Arnold Toynbee notes, “has been by far the commonest cause of the breakdown of civilizations.”

This breakdown is accelerated by the rigid standardization and uniformity of public discourse. The manipulation of public opinion, what Walter Lippman calls “the manufacture of consent,” is imperative as the militarists gut social programs; let the nation’s crumbling infrastructure decay; refuse to raise the minimum wage; sustain an inept, mercenary for-profit health care system that resulted in 25 percent of global Covid deaths — although we are less than 5 percent of the world’s population — to gouge the public; carries out deindustrialization; do nothing to curb the predatory behavior of banks and corporations or invest in substantial programs to combat the climate crisis.

Critics, already shut out from the corporate media, are relentlessly attacked, discredited and silenced for speaking a truth that threatens the public’s quiescence while the U.S. Treasury is pillaged by the war industry and the nation disemboweled.

You can watch my discussion with Matt Taibbi about the rot that infects journalism here and here.

The war industry, deified by the mass media, including the entertainment industry, is never held accountable for the military fiascos, cost overruns, dud weapons systems and profligate waste. No matter how many disasters — from Vietnam to Afghanistan — it orchestrates, it is showered with larger and larger amounts of federal funds, nearly half of all the government’s discretionary spending. The monopolization of capital by the military has driven the U.S. debt to over $30 trillion, $6 trillion more than the U.S. GDP of $24 trillion. Servicing this debt costs $300 billion a year. We spend more on the military, $813 billion for fiscal year 2023, than the next nine countries, including China and Russia, combined.

An organization like NewsGuard, which has been rating what it says are trustworthy and untrustworthy sites based on their reporting on Ukraine, is one of the many indoctrination tools of the war industry. Sites that raise what are deemed “false” assertions about Ukraine, including that there was a U.S.-backed coup in 2014 and neo-Nazi forces are part of Ukraine’s military and power structure, are tagged as unreliable. Consortium News, Daily Kos, Mint Press and Grayzone have been given a red warning label. Sites that do not raise these issues, such as CNN, receive the “green” rating” for truth and credibility. (NewsGuard, after being heavily criticized for giving Fox News a green rating of approval in July revised its rating for Fox News and MSNBC, giving them red labels.)

The ratings are arbitrary. The Daily Caller, which published fake naked pictures of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was given a green rating, along with a media outlet owned and operated by The Heritage Foundation. NewsGuard gives WikiLeaks a red label for “failing” to publish retractions despite admitting that all of the information WikiLeaks has published thus far is accurate. What WikiLeaks was supposed to retract remains a mystery. The New York Times and The Washington Post, which shared a Pulitzer in 2018 for reporting that Donald Trump colluded with Vladimir Putin to help sway the 2016 election, a conspiracy theory the Mueller investigation imploded, are awarded perfect scores. These ratings are not about vetting journalism. They are about enforcing conformity.

NewsGuard, established in 2018, “partners” with the State Department and the Pentagon, as well as corporations such as Microsoft. Its advisory board includes the former Director of the CIA and NSA, Gen. Michael Hayden; the first U.S. Homeland Security director Tom Ridge and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former secretary general of NATO.

Readers who regularly go to targeted sites could probably care less if they are tagged with a red label. But that is not the point. The point is to rate these sites so that anyone who has a NewsGuard extension installed on their devices will be warned away from visiting them. NewsGuard is being installed in libraries and schools and on the computers of active-duty troops. A warning pops up on targeted sites that reads: “Proceed with caution: This website generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability.”

Negative ratings will drive away advertisers, which is the intent. It is also a very short step from blacklisting these sites to censoring them, as happened when YouTube erased six years of my show On Contact that was broadcast on RT America and RT International. Not one show was about Russia. And not one violated the guidelines for content imposed by YouTube. But many did examine the evils of U.S. militarism.

In an exhaustive rebuttal to NewsGuard, which is worth reading, Joe Lauria, the editor-in-chief of Consortium News, ends with this observation:

NewsGuard’s accusations against Consortium News that could potentially limit its readership and financial support must be seen in the context of the West’s war mania over Ukraine, about which dissenting voices are being suppressed. Three CN writers have been kicked off Twitter.
PayPal’s cancellation of Consortium News’ account is an evident attempt to defund it for what is almost certainly the company’s view that CN violated its restrictions on “providing false or misleading information.” It cannot be known with 100 percent certainty because PayPal is hiding behind its reasons, but CN trades in information and nothing else.
CN supports no side in the Ukraine war but seeks to examine the causes of the conflict within its recent historical context, all of which are being whitewashed from mainstream Western media.
Those causes are: NATO’s expansion eastward despite its promise not to do so; the coup and eight-year war on Donbass against coup resisters; the lack of implementation of the Minsk Accords to end that conflict; and the outright rejection of treaty proposals by Moscow to create a new security architecture in Europe taking Russia’s security concerns into account.
Historians who point out the onerous Versailles conditions imposed on Germany after World War I as a cause of Nazism and World War II are neither excusing Nazi Germany nor are they smeared as its defenders.

The frantic effort to corral viewers and readers into the embrace of the establishment media — only 16 percent of Americans have a great deal/quite a lot of confidence in newspapers and only 11 percent have some degree of confidence in television news — is a sign of desperation.

As the persecution of Julian Assange illustrates, the throttling of press freedom is bipartisan. This assault on truth leaves a population unmoored. It feeds wild conspiracy theories. It shreds the credibility of the ruling class. It empowers demagogues. It creates an information desert, one where truth and lies are indistinguishable. It frog-marches us towards tyranny. This censorship only serves the interests of the militarists who, as Karl Liebknecht reminded his fellow Germans in World War I, are the enemy within.

'No exit': Signs are pointing to 'a civilization in terminal decline'

CAHOKIA MOUNDS, Illinois: I am standing atop a 100-foot-high temple mound, the largest known earthwork in the Americas built by prehistoric peoples. The temperatures, in the high 80s, along with the oppressive humidity, have emptied the park of all but a handful of visitors. My shirt is matted with sweat.

I look out from the structure—known as Monks Mound — at the flatlands below, with smaller mounds dotting the distance. These earthen mounds, built at a confluence of the Illinois, Mississippi and Missouri rivers, are all that remain of one of the largest pre-Columbian settlements north of Mexico, occupied from around 800 to 1,400 AD by perhaps as many as 20,000 people.

This great city, perhaps the greatest in North America, rose, flourished, fell into decline and was ultimately abandoned. Civilizations die in familiar patterns. They exhaust natural resources. They spawn parasitic elites who plunder and loot the institutions and systems that make a complex society possible. They engage in futile and self-defeating wars. And then the rot sets in. The great urban centers die first, falling into irreversible decay. Central authority unravels. Artistic expression and intellectual inquiry are replaced by a new dark age, the triumph of tawdry spectacle and the celebration of crowd-pleasing imbecility.

“Collapse occurs, and can only occur, in a power vacuum,” anthropologist Joseph Tainter writes in The Collapse of Complex Societies. “Collapse is possible only where there is no competitor strong enough to fill the political vacuum of disintegration.”

Several centuries ago, the rulers of this vast city complex, which covered some 4,000 acres, including a 40-acre central plaza, stood where I stood. They no doubt saw below in the teeming settlements an unassailable power, with at least 120 temple mounds used as residences, sacred ceremonial sites, tombs, meeting centers and ball courts. Cahokia warriors dominated a vast territory from which they exacted tribute to enrich the ruling class of this highly stratified society. Reading the heavens, these mound builders constructed several circular astronomical observatories — wooden versions of Stonehenge.

The city’s hereditary rulers were venerated in life and death. A half mile from Monks Mound is the seven-foot-high Mound 72, in which archeologists found the remains of a man on a platform covered with 20,000 conch-shell disc beads from the Gulf of Mexico. The beads were arranged in the shape of a falcon, with the falcon’s head beneath and beside the man’s head. Its wings and tail were placed underneath the man’s arms and legs. Below this layer of shells was the body of another man, buried face downward. Around these two men were six more human remains, possibly retainers, who may have been put to death to accompany the entombed man in the afterlife. Nearby were buried the remains of 53 girls and women ranging in age from 15 to 30, laid out in rows in two layers separated by matting. They appeared to have been strangled to death.

The poet Paul Valéry noted, “a civilization has the same fragility as a life.”

Across the Mississippi River from Monks Mound, the city skyline of St. Louis is visible. It is hard not to see our own collapse in that of Cahokia. In 1950, St. Louis was the eighth-largest city in the United States, with a population of 856,796. Today, that number has fallen to below 300,000, a drop of some 65 percent. Major employers — Anheuser-Busch, McDonnell-Douglas, TWA, Southwestern Bell and Ralston Purina —have dramatically reduced their presence or left altogether. St. Louis is consistently ranked one of the most dangerous cities in the country. One in five people live in poverty. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has the highest rate of police killings per capita, of the 100 largest police departments in the nation, according to a 2021 report. Prisoners in the city’s squalid jails, where 47 people died in custody between 2009 and 2019, complain of water being shut off from their cells for hours and guards routinely pepper spraying inmates, including those on suicide watch. The city’s crumbling infrastructure, hundreds of gutted and abandoned buildings, empty factories, vacant warehouses and impoverished neighborhoods replicate the ruins of other post-industrial American cities, the classic signposts of a civilization in terminal decline.

“Just as in the past, countries that are environmentally stressed, overpopulated, or both, become at risk of getting politically stressed, and of their governments collapsing,” Jared Diamond argues in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. “When people are desperate, undernourished and without hope, they blame their governments, which they see as responsible for or unable to solve their problems. They try to emigrate at any cost. They fight each other over land. They kill each other. They start civil wars. They figure that they have nothing to lose, so they become terrorists, or they support or tolerate terrorism.”

Pre-industrial civilizations were dependent on the limits of solar energy and constrained by roads and waterways, impediments that were obliterated when fossil fuel became an energy source. As industrial empires became global, their increase in size meant an increase in complexity. Ironically, this complexity makes us more vulnerable to catastrophic collapse, not less. Soaring temperatures (Iraq is enduring 120 degree heat that has fried the country’s electrical grid), the depletion of natural resources, flooding, droughts, (the worst drought in 500 years is devastating Western, Central and Southern Europe and is expected to see a decline in crop yields of 8 or 9 percent), power outages, wars, pandemics, a rise in zoonotic diseases and breakdowns in supply chains combine to shake the foundations of industrial society. The Arctic has been heating up four times faster than the global average, resulting in an accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet and freakish weather patterns. The Barents Sea north of Norway and Russia are warming up to seven times faster. Climate scientists did not expect this extreme weather until 2050.

“Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up,” the anthropologist Ronald Wright warns, calling industrial society “a suicide machine.”

In A Short History of Progress, he writes:

Civilization is an experiment, a very recent way of life in the human career, and it has a habit of walking into what I am calling progress traps. A small village on good land beside a river is a good idea; but when the village grows into a city and paves over the good land, it becomes a bad idea. While prevention might have been easy, a cure may be impossible: a city isn’t easily moved. This human inability to foresee — or to watch out for — long-range consequences may be inherent to our kind, shaped by the millions of years when we lived from hand to mouth by hunting and gathering. It may also be little more than a mix of inertia, greed, and foolishness encouraged by the shape of the social pyramid. The concentration of power at the top of large-scale societies gives the elite a vested interest in the status quo; they continue to prosper in darkening times long after the environment and general populace begin to suffer.

Wright also reflects upon what will be left behind:

The archaeologists who dig us up will need to wear hazmat suits. Humankind will leave a telltale layer in the fossil record composed of everything we produce, from mounds of chicken bones, wet-wipes, tires, mattresses and other household waste to metals, concrete, plastics, industrial chemicals, and the nuclear residue of power plants and weaponry. We are cheating our children, handing them tawdry luxuries and addictive gadgets while we take away what’s left of the wealth, wonder and possibility of the pristine Earth.
Calculations of humanity’s footprint suggest we have been in ‘ecological deficit,’ taking more than Earth’s biological systems can withstand, for at least 30 years. Topsoil is being lost far faster than nature can replenish it; 30 percent of arable land has been exhausted since the mid-20th century.
We have financed this monstrous debt by colonizing both past and future, drawing energy, chemical fertilizer and pesticides from the planet’s fossil carbon, and throwing the consequences onto coming generations of our species and all others. Some of those species have already been bankrupted: they are extinct. Others will follow.

As Cahokia declined, violence dramatically increased. Surrounding towns were burned to the ground. Groups, numbering in the hundreds, were slaughtered and buried in mass graves. At the end, “the enemy killed all people indiscriminately. The intent was not merely prestige, but an early form of ethnic cleansing” writes anthropologist Timothy R. Pauketat, in Ancient Cahokia and the Mississippians. He notes that, in one fifteenth-century cemetery in central Illinois, one-third of all adults had been killed by blows to the head, arrow wounds or scalping. Many showed evidence of fractures on their arms from vain attempts to fight off their attackers.

Such descent into internecine violence is compounded by a weakened and discredited central authority. In the later stages of Cahokia, the ruling class surrounded themselves with fortified wooden stockades, including a two-mile-long wall that enclosed Monks Mound. Similar fortifications dotted the vast territory the Cahokia controlled, segregating gated communities where the wealthy and powerful, protected by armed guards, sought safety from the increasing lawlessness and hoarded dwindling food supplies and resources.

Overcrowding inside these stockades saw the spread of tuberculosis and blastomycosis, caused by a soil-borne fungus, along with iron deficiency anemia. Infant mortality rates rose, and life spans declined, a result of social disintegration, poor diet and disease.

By the 1400s Cahokia had been abandoned. In 1541, when Hernando de Soto’s invading army descended on what is today Missouri, looking for gold, nothing but the great mounds remained, relics of a forgotten past.

This time the collapse will be global. It will not be possible, as in ancient societies, to migrate to new ecosystems rich in natural resources. The steady rise in heat will devastate crop yields and make much of the planet uninhabitable. Climate scientists warn that once temperatures rise by 4℃, the earth, at best, will be able to sustain a billion people.

The more insurmountable the crisis becomes, the more we, like our prehistoric ancestors, will retreat into self-defeating responses, violence, magical thinking and denial.

The historian Arnold Toynbee, who singled out unchecked militarism as the fatal blow to past empires, argued that civilizations are not murdered, but commit suicide. They fail to adapt to a crisis, ensuring their own obliteration. Our civilization’s collapse will be unique in size, magnified by the destructive force of our fossil fuel-driven industrial society. But it will replicate the familiar patterns of collapse that toppled civilizations of the past. The difference will be in scale, and this time there will be no exit.

The Anthropocene apocalypse is upon us

The past week has seen record-breaking heat waves across Europe. Wildfires have ripped through Spain, Portugal and France. London’s fire brigade experienced its busiest day since World War II. The U.K. saw its hottest day on record of 104.54 Fahrenheit. In China, more than a dozen cities issued the “highest possible heat warning” this weekend with over 900 million people in China enduring a scorching heat wave along with severe flooding and landslides across large swathes of southern China. Dozens of people have died. Millions of Chinese have been displaced. Economic losses run into the billions of yuan. Droughts, which have destroyed crops, killed livestock and forced many to flee their homes, are creating a potential famine in the Horn of Africa. More than 100 million people in the United States are under heat alerts in more than two dozen states from temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90s and low 100s. Wildfires have destroyed thousands of acres in California. More than 73 percent of New Mexico is suffering from an “extreme” or “severe” drought. Thousands of people had to flee from a fast-moving brush fire near Yosemite National Park on Saturday and 2,000 homes and businesses lost power.

It is not as if we were not warned. It is not as if we lacked scientific evidence. It is not as if we could not see the steady ecological degeneration and species extinction. And yet, we did not act. The result will be mass death with victims dwarfing the murderous rampages of fascism, Stalinism and Mao Zedong’s China combined. The desperate response is to burn more coal, especially with the soaring cost of natural gas and oil, and extend the life of nuclear power plants to sustain the economy and produce cool air. It is a self-defeating response. Joe Biden has approved more new oil drilling permits than Donald Trump. Once the power outages begin, as in India, the heat waves will exact a grim toll.

“Half of humanity is in the danger zone, from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires,” U.N Secretary-General António Guterres told ministers from 40 countries meeting to discuss the climate crisis on July 18. “No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction.”

“We have a choice,” he added. “Collective action or collective suicide.”

The Anthropocene Age – the age of humans, which has caused extinctions of plant and animal species and the pollution of the soil, air and oceans – is accelerating. Sea levels are rising three times faster than predicted. The arctic ice is vanishing at rates that were unforeseen. Even if we stop carbon emissions today – we have already reached 419 parts per million – carbon dioxide concentrations will continue to climb to as high as 550 ppm because of heat trapped in the oceans. Global temperatures, even in the most optimistic of scenarios, will rise for at least another century. This assumes we confront this crisis. The earth is becoming inhospitable to most life.

The average global temperature has risen by about 1.1 Celsius (1.9 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. We are approaching a tipping point of 2 degrees Celsius when the biosphere will become so degraded nothing can save us.

The ruling class for decades denied the reality of the climate crisis or acknowledged the crisis and did nothing. We sleepwalked into catastrophe. Record heat waves. Monster droughts. Shifts in rainfall patterns. Declining crop yields. The melting of the polar ice caps and glaciers resulting in sea level rise. Flooding. Wildfires. Pandemics. The breakdown of supply chains. Mass migrations. Expanding deserts. The acidification of the oceans that extinguishes sea life, the food source for billions of people. Feedback loops will see one environmental catastrophe worsen another environmental catastrophe. The breakdown will be nonlinear. These are the harbingers of the future.

Social coercion and the rule of law will disintegrate. This is taking place in many parts of the global south. A ruthless security and surveillance apparatus, along with heavily militarized police, will turn industrial nations into climate fortresses to keep out refugees and prevent uprisings by an increasingly desperate public. The ruling oligarchs will retreat to protected compounds where they will have access to services and amenities, including food, water and medical care, denied to the rest of us.

Voting, lobbying, petitioning, donating to environmental lobby groups, divestment campaigns and protesting to force the global ruling class to address the climate catastrophe proved no more effective than scrofula victims’ superstitious appeals to Henry VIII to cure them with a royal touch. In 1900 the burning of fossil fuel – mostly coal – produced about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year. That number had risen threefold by 1950. Today the level is 20 times higher than the 1900 figure. During the last 60 years the increase in CO2 was an estimated 100 times faster than what the earth experienced during the transition from the last ice age.

The last time the earth’s temperature rose 4 degrees Celsius, the polar ice caps did not exist and the seas were hundreds of feet above their current levels.

You can watch my two-part interview with Roger Hallam, the co-founder of the resistance group Extinction Rebellion, on the climate emergency here and here.

There are three mathematical models for the future: a massive die-off of perhaps 70 percent of the human population and then an uneasy stabilization; extinction of humans and most other species; an immediate and radical reconfiguration of human society to protect the biosphere. This third scenario is dependent on an immediate halt to the production and consumption of fossil fuels, converting to a plant-based diet to end the animal agriculture industry – almost as large a contributor to greenhouse gasses as the fossil fuel industry – greening the deserts and restoring rainforests.

We knew for decades what harnessing a hundred million years of sunlight stored in the form of coal and petroleum would do to the climate. As early as the 1930s British engineer Guy Stewart Callendar suggested that increased CO2 was warming the planet. In the late 1970s into the 1980s, scientists at companies such as Exxon and Shell determined that the burning of fossil fuels was contributing to rising global temperature.

“[T]here is concern among some scientific groups that once the effects are measurable, they might not be reversible and little could be done to correct the situation in the short term,” a 1982 internal briefing for Exxon’s management noted.

NASA’s Dr. James Hansen told the U.S. Senate in 1988 that the buildup of CO2 and other gasses were behind the rise in heat.

But by 1989 Exxon, Shell and other fossil fuel corporations decided the risks to their profits from major curbs in fossil fuel extraction and consumption was unacceptable. They invested in heavy lobbying and funding of faux research and propaganda campaigns to discredit the science on the climate emergency.

Christian Parenti in his book Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence quotes from “The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change,” a 2007 report produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security. R. James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, writes in the report’s final section:

In a world that sees two meter sea level rise, with continued flooding ahead, it will take extraordinary effort for the United States, or indeed any country, to look beyond its own salvation. All of the ways in which human beings have dealt with natural disasters in the past…could come together in one conflagration: rage at government’s inability to deal with the abrupt and unpredictable crises; religious fervor, perhaps even a dramatic rise in millennial end-of-day cults; hostility and violence towards migrants and minority groups, at a time of demographic change and increased global migration; intra-and interstate conflict over resources, particularly food and fresh water. Altruism and generosity would likely be blunted.

The profits from fossil fuels, and the lifestyle the burning of fossil fuels afforded to the privileged on the planet, overrode a rational response. The failure is homicidal.

Clive Hamilton in his Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that “catastrophic climate change is virtually certain.”

“But accepting intellectually is not the same as accepting emotionally the possibility that the world as we know it is headed for a horrible end,” Hamilton writes. “It’s the same with our own deaths; we all ‘accept’ that we will die, but it is only when death is imminent that we confront the true meaning of our mortality.”

Environmental campaigners, from The Sierra Club to 350.org, woefully misread the global ruling class, believing they could be pressured or convinced to carry out the seismic reconfigurations to halt the descent into a climate hell. These environmental organizations believed in empowering people through hope, even if the hope was based on a lie. They were unable or unwilling to speak the truth. These climate “Pollyannas,” as Hamilton calls them, “adopt the same tactic as doom-mongers, but in reverse. Instead of taking a very small risk of disaster and exaggerating it, they take a very high risk of disaster and minimize it.”

Humans have inhabited cities and states for 6,000 years, “a mere 0.2 percent of the two and a half million years since our first ancestor sharpened a stone,” the anthropologist Ronald Wright notes in A Short History of Progress. The myriad of civilizations built over these 6,000 years have all decayed and collapsed, most through a thoughtless depletion of the natural resources that sustained them.

The latest iteration of global civilization was dominated by Europeans, who used industrial warfare and genocide to control much of the planet. Europeans and Euro-Americans launched a 500-year-long global rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the earth – as well as killing the indigenous communities, the caretakers of the environment for thousands of years – that stood in the way. The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation, accelerated by the Industrial Revolution two and a half centuries ago, has become a curse, a death sentence.

Anthropologists, including Joseph Tainter in The Collapse of Complex Societies, Charles L. Redman in Human Impact on Ancient Environments and Ronald Wright in A Short History of Progress, have laid out the familiar patterns that lead to systems breakdown. Civilizations, as Tainter writes, are “fragile, impermanent things.” Collapse, he writes, “is a recurrent feature of human societies.”

This time the whole planet will go down. There will, with this final collapse, be no new lands left to exploit, no new peoples to subjugate or new civilizations to replace the old. We will have used up the world’s resources, leaving the planet as desolate as the final days of a denuded Easter Island.

Collapse comes throughout human history to complex societies not long after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity.

“One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun,” the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr writes in Beyond Tragedy: Essays on the Christian Interpretation of Tragedy.

The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation or use of fossil fuels, lead to disaster in the long run. This is what Wright calls the “progress trap.”

“We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion,” Wright notes, “that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature.”

The U.S. military, intent on dominating the globe, is the single largest institutional emitter of greenhouse gasses, according to a report from Brown University. This is the same military that has designated global warming a “threat multiplier” and “an accelerant of instability or conflict.”

The powerlessness many will feel in the face of ecological and economic chaos will unleash further collective delusions, such as fundamentalist beliefs in a god or gods who will come back to earth and save us. The Christian right provides a haven for this magical thinking. Crisis cults spread rapidly among Native American societies in the later part of the 19th century as the buffalo herds and the remaining tribes faced extermination. The Ghost Dance held out the hope that all the horrors of white civilization — the railroads, the murderous cavalry units, the timber merchants, the mine speculators, the hated tribal agencies, the barbed wire, the machine guns, even the white man himself — would disappear. Our psychological hard wiring is no different.

The greatest existential crisis of our time is to at once be willing to accept the bleakness before us and resist. The global ruling class has forfeited its legitimacy and credibility. It must be replaced. This will require sustained mass civil disobedience, such as those mounted by Extinction Rebellion, to drive the global rulers from power. Once the rulers see us as a real threat they will become vicious, even barbaric, in their efforts to cling to their positions of privilege and power. We may not succeed in halting the death march, but let those who come after us, especially our children, say we tried.

NATO: The most dangerous military alliance on Earth

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the arms industry that depends on it for billions in profits, has become the most aggressive and dangerous military alliance on the planet. Created in 1949 to thwart Soviet expansion into Eastern and Central Europe, it has evolved into a global war machine in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and Asia.

NATO expanded its footprint, violating promises to Moscow, once the Cold War ended, to incorporate 14 countries in Eastern and Central Europe into the alliance. It will soon add Finland and Sweden. It bombed Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo. It launched wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, resulting in close to a million deaths and some 38 million people driven from their homes. It is building a military footprint in Africa and Asia. It invited Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, the so-called “Asia Pacific Four,” to its recent summit in Madrid at the end of June. It has expanded its reach into the Southern Hemisphere, signing a military training partnership agreement with Colombia, in December 2021. It has backed Turkey, with NATO’s second-largest military, which has illegally invaded and occupied parts of Syria as well as Iraq. Turkish-backed militias are engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Syrian Kurds and other inhabitants of north and east Syria. The Turkish military has been accused of war crimes – including multiple airstrikes against a refugee camp and chemical weapons use – in northern Iraq. In exchange for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s permission for Finland and Sweden to join the alliance, the two Nordic countries have agreed to expand✎ EditSign their domestic terror laws making it easier to crack down on Kurdish and other activists, lift their restrictions on selling arms to Turkey and deny support to the Kurdish-led movement for democratic autonomy in Syria.

It is quite a record for a military alliance that with the collapse of the Soviet Union was rendered obsolete and should have been dismantled. NATO and the militarists had no intention of embracing the “peace dividend,” fostering a world based on diplomacy, a respect of spheres of influence and mutual cooperation. It was determined to stay in business. Its business is war. That meant expanding its war machine far beyond the border of Europe and engaging in ceaseless antagonism toward China and Russia.

NATO sees the future, as detailed in its “NATO 2030: Unified for a New Era,” as a battle for hegemony with rival states, especially China, and calls for the preparation of prolonged global conflict.

“China has an increasingly global strategic agenda, supported by its economic and military heft,” the NATO 2030 initiative warned. “It has proven its willingness to use force against its neighbors, as well as economic coercion and intimidatory diplomacy well beyond the Indo-Pacific region. Over the coming decade, China will likely also challenge NATO’s ability to build collective resilience, safeguard critical infrastructure, address new and emerging technologies such as 5G and protect sensitive sectors of the economy including supply chains. Longer term, China is increasingly likely to project military power globally, including potentially in the Euro-Atlantic area.”

The alliance has spurned the Cold War strategy that made sure Washington was closer to Moscow and Beijing than Moscow and Beijing were to each other. U.S. and NATO antagonism have turned Russia and China into close allies. Russia, rich in natural resources, including energy, minerals and grains, and China, a manufacturing and technological behemoth, are a potent combination. NATO no longer distinguishes between the two, announcing in its most recent mission statement that the “deepening strategic partnership” between Russian and China has resulted in “mutually reinforcing attempts to undercut the rules-based international order that run counter to our values and interests.”

On July 6, Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, and Ken McCallum, director general of Britain’s MI5, held a joint news conference in London to announce that China was the “biggest long-term threat to our economic and national security.” They accused China, like Russia, of interfering in U.S. and U.K. elections. Wray warned the business leaders they addressed that the Chinese government was “set on stealing your technology, whatever it is that makes your industry tick, and using it to undercut your business and dominate your market.”

This inflammatory rhetoric presages an ominous future.

One cannot talk about war without talking about markets. The political and social turmoil in the U.S., coupled with its diminishing economic power, has led it to embrace NATO and its war machine as the antidote to its decline.

Washington and its European allies are terrified of China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) meant to connect an economic bloc of roughly 70 nations outside U.S. control. The initiative includes the construction of rail lines, roads and gas pipelines that will be integrated with Russia. Beijing is expected to commit $1.3 trillion to the BRI by 2027. China, which is on track to become the world’s largest economy within a decade, has organized the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the world’s largest trade pact of 15 East Asian and Pacific nations representing 30 percent of global trade. It already accounts for 28.7 percent of the Global Manufacturing Output, nearly double the 16.8 percent of the U.S.

China’s rate of growth last year was an impressive 8.1 percent, although slowing to around 5 percent this year. By contrast, the U.S.’s growth rate in 2021 was 5.7 percent — its highest since 1984 — but is predicted to fall below 1 percent this year, by the New York Federal Reserve.

If China, Russia, Iran, India and other nations free themselves from the tyranny of the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency and the international Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a messaging network financial institutions use to send and receive information such as money transfer instructions, it will trigger a dramatic decline in the value of the dollar and a financial collapse in the U.S. The huge military expenditures, which have driven the U.S. debt to $30 trillion, $ 6 trillion more than the U.S.’s entire GDP, will become untenable. Servicing this debt costs $300 billion a year. We spent more on the military in 2021, $ 801 billion which amounted to 38 percent of total world expenditure on the military, than the next nine countries, including China and Russia, combined. The loss of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency will force the U.S. to slash spending, shutter many of its 800 military bases overseas and cope with the inevitable social and political upheavals triggered by economic collapse. It is darkly ironic that NATO has accelerated this possibility.

Russia, in the eyes of NATO and U.S. strategists, is the appetizer. Its military, NATO hopes, will get bogged down and degraded in Ukraine. Sanctions and diplomatic isolation, the plan goes, will thrust Vladimir Putin from power. A client regime that will do U.S. bidding will be installed in Moscow.

NATO has provided more than $8 billion in military aid to Ukraine, while the US has committed nearly $54 billion in military and humanitarian assistance to the country.

China, however, is the main course. Unable to compete economically, the U.S. and NATO have turned to the blunt instrument of war to cripple their global competitor.

The provocation of China replicates the NATO baiting of Russia.

NATO expansion and the 2014 US-backed coup in Kyiv led Russia to first occupy Crimea, in eastern Ukraine, with its large ethnic Russian population, and then to invade all of Ukraine to thwart the country’s efforts to join NATO.

The same dance of death is being played with China over Taiwan, which China considers part of Chinese territory, and with NATO expansion in the Asia Pacific. China flies warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense zone and the U.S. sends naval ships through the Taiwan Strait which connects the South and East China seas. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in May called China the most serious long-term challenge to the international order, citing its claims to Taiwan and efforts to dominate the South China Sea. Taiwan’s president, in a Zelensky-like publicity stunt, recently posed with an anti-tank rocket launcher in a government handout photo.

The conflict in Ukraine has been a bonanza for the arms industry, which, given the humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, needed a new conflict. Lockheed Martin’s stock prices are up 12 percent. Northrop Grumman is up 20 percent. The war is being used by NATO to increase its military presence in Eastern and Central Europe. The U.S. is building a permanent military base in Poland. The 40,000-strong NATO reaction force is being expanded to 300,000 troops. Billions of dollars in weapons are pouring into the region.

The conflict with Russia, however, is already backfiring. The ruble has soared to a seven-year high against the dollar. Europe is barreling towards a recession because of rising oil and gas prices and the fear that Russia could terminate supplies completely. The loss of Russian wheat, fertilizer, gas and oil, due to Western sanctions, is creating havoc in world markets and a humanitarian crisis in Africa and the Middle East. Soaring food and energy prices, along with shortages and crippling inflation, bring with them not only deprivation and hunger, but social upheaval and political instability. The climate emergency, the real existential threat, is being ignored to appease the gods of war.

The war makers are frighteningly cavalier about the threat of nuclear war. Putin warned NATO countries that they “will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history” if they intervened directly in Ukraine and ordered Russian nuclear forces to be put on heightened alert status. The proximity to Russia of U.S. nuclear weapons based in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Turkey mean that any nuclear conflict would obliterate much of Europe. Russia and the United States control about 90 percent of the world’s nuclear warheads, with around 4,000 warheads each in their military stockpiles, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

President Joe Biden warned that the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine would be “completely unacceptable” and “entail severe consequences,” without spelling out what those consequences would be. This is what U.S. strategists refer to as “deliberate ambiguity.”

The U.S. military, following its fiascos in the Middle East, has shifted its focus from fighting terrorism and asymmetrical warfare to confronting China and Russia. President Barack Obama’s national-security team in 2016 carried out a war game in which Russia invaded a NATO country in the Baltics and used a low-yield tactical nuclear weapon against NATO forces. Obama officials were split about how to respond.

“The National Security Council’s so-called Principals Committee—including Cabinet officers and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—decided that the United States had no choice but to retaliate with nuclear weapons,” Eric Schlosser writes in The Atlantic. “Any other type of response, the committee argued, would show a lack of resolve, damage American credibility, and weaken the NATO alliance. Choosing a suitable nuclear target proved difficult, however. Hitting Russia’s invading force would kill innocent civilians in a NATO country. Striking targets inside Russia might escalate the conflict to an all-out nuclear war. In the end, the NSC Principals Committee recommended a nuclear attack on Belarus—a nation that had played no role whatsoever in the invasion of the NATO ally but had the misfortune of being a Russian ally.”

The Biden administration has formed a Tiger Team of national security officials to run war games on what to do if Russia uses a nuclear weapon, according to The New York Times. The threat of nuclear war is minimized with discussions of “tactical nuclear weapons,” as if less powerful nuclear explosions are somehow more acceptable and won’t lead to the use of bigger bombs.

At no time, including the Cuban missile crisis, have we stood closer to the precipice of nuclear war.

“A simulation devised by experts at Princeton University starts with Moscow firing a nuclear warning shot; NATO responds with a small strike, and the ensuing war yields more than 90 million casualties in its first few hours,” The New York Times reported.

The longer the war in Ukraine continues — and the U.S. and NATO seem determined to funnel billions of dollars of weapons into the conflict for months if not years — the more the unthinkable becomes thinkable. Flirting with Armageddon to profit the arms industry and carry out the futile quest to reclaim U.S. global hegemony is at best extremely reckless and at worst genocidal.

'Mass death will sweep across the planet' if the corporate gentry remains in power

It is hard to be sanguine about the future. The breakdown of the ecosystem is well documented. So is the refusal of the global ruling elite to pursue measures that might mitigate the devastation. We accelerate the extraction of fossil fuels, wallow in profligate consumption, including our consumption of livestock, and make new wars as if we are gripped by a Freudian death wish. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—Conquest, War, Famine and Death—gallop into the 21rst century.

Those who rule, servants of corporations and the global billionaire class, accompany the suicidal folly by cementing into place corporate tyranny. The plan is not to reform. It is to perpetuate the corporate pillage. This pillage, more and more onerous for the global population, necessitates a new totalitarianism, one where the billionaire class lives in opulence, workers are serfs, rights such as privacy and due process are abolished, Big Brother watches us all the time, war is the chief business of the state, dissent is criminalized and those displaced by conflicts and climate breakdown are barred entry into the climate fortresses in the global north. Portions of the human species, the most privileged, will, in theory, hold out a little longer before they succumb to the great die off.

The persecuted and the abandoned, now in the tens of millions, know the future. For them, the future has already arrived. Julian Assange, the most important publisher of our generation, whose extradition to the US was approved on Friday by the British Home Secretary Priti Patel, is an example of what will befall all publishers and journalists that expose the inner workings of power. His imprisonment for revealing the war crimes, mendacity, cynicism, and corruption of the ruling class, including the Democratic Party, heralds a new era. Investigations into the centers of power, the life blood of journalism, will be a criminal offense.

It does not matter that Assange, who suffered a stroke and is in poor physical and psychological health, is not a U.S. citizen or that WikiLeaks is not a US-based publication. It does not matter that all of Assange's meetings with his attorneys were recorded by UC Global, the Spanish security firm at the Ecuadorian Embassy where Assange lived for seven years, and turned over to the US, obliterating attorney-client privilege. The campaign against Assange, and I have sat in on hearings in London, is a Dickensian farce, the persecution of an innocent and heroic man, far more reminiscent of the Lubyanka than the best of British jurisprudence. He is being used to send a message— if you expose what we do we will destroy you.

Workers, whether in the vast sweatshops in China or the decayed ruins of the rust belt, struggle on subsistence wages without job protection or unions. They are cursed by trade deals, deindustrialization, austerity, rising interest rates and rising prices. They, too, know the future.

The decision to raise interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point, with new rate hikes on the way, will further depress wages, which have stagnated for decades, increase unemployment and personal debt and make food and other basic necessities more expensive. Raising interest rates usually induces a recession. But the oligarchs are more than willing to extract blood from the working class. Inflation reduces investment returns. It disrupts leveraged financial strategies.

Prices are not rising because of wages. They are rising because of supply shortages and price gouging by corporations and oil conglomerates. US corporations posted their biggest profit growth in decades by raising prices during the pandemic. Corporate pretax profits rose last year by 25 percent to $2.81 trillion, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis

✎ EditSign. That's the largest annual increase since 1976, according to the Federal Reserve. When taxes are included, last year's corporate profit rose to 37 percent, more than any other time since the Fed began tracking profits in 1948.

Antitrust laws and breaking up monopolies would ease the strain of inflation and lower prices. Rationing would break inflation. So would a wage-price freeze. Nationalization, reversing the capture of public utilities, the health care system, banking, and other services by corporations, would also blunt price rises. But the billionaire class is not about to impose measures that diminish their profits. They will keep their monopolies. They will keep their grip on what were once public assets. The message from the billionaire class is this: the economy is run for our benefit, not yours.

Ukrainians, enduring a war of attrition with the infusion of tens of billions of dollars of weapons from the US and Europe, know the future. War is the chief business of the state. It enriches the arms industry. It expands the military budget. The US now sends $130 million a day in military aid and assistance to Ukraine, part of the $55 billion in aid promised by Washington.

The US, struggling with societal breakdown and an ailing economy, sees its military as the only mechanism left to destroy global competitors, especially Russia and China. Russia, hemmed in by an expanding NATO in Central and Eastern Europe, and China harassed by a succession of carrier groups in the South China Sea, which Washington has called a "national interest," have been united as US adversaries. China sees the waterways of Asia and the Pacific as part of its sphere of influence, as Russia sees Ukraine and other neighboring states. The aggressive military posturing of the US on the borders of China and Russia has provoked an unnecessary cold war, one many Washington policy makers nonchalantly expect may evolve into a hot war amongst nuclear armed nations that would potentially obliterate life on the planet.

There is an intensifying scramble for control, with Russia's invasion of Ukraine and China's building of air bases from Japan to Australia along the Asian littoral, giving it the ability to attack warships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific. The refusal of the U.S. to accommodate itself to a multipolar world and to chase the chimera of unrivaled global hegemony has seen Russia and China solidify an alliance, an alliance cold warriors worked hard to prevent. The hostilities, a self-fulfilling prophecy by U.S. warmongers, delights the Washington establishment whose goal is to perpetuate endless war.

You know you are in trouble when Henry Kissinger, who has called for Ukraine to cede territory to Russia and open negotiations with Moscow "in the next two months before it creates upheavals and tensions that will not be easily overcome," is a voice of sanity.

Despotic governments need an enemy to justify the repression of dissidents, the reduction and cancellation of social programs and the iron control of information. Wars justify the unjustifiable—black sites, kidnapping, torture, targeted assassinations, censorship, and arbitrary detention—off-the-book war crimes. War induces a state of perpetual paranoia and fear. It demands mass obedience.

"The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous," George Orwell writes in 1984. "Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact."

The message of endless war is—if you defy the ruling class, the militarists and the government, you are a traitor.

The 140 million people across the globe suffering from acute hunger, a result of the pandemic, the climate crisis and the war in Ukraine, know the future, along with the families of the 15 million people who died from the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of whom with proper prevention and medical care could have been saved. The refugees fleeing failed states and climate disasters—there could be 1.2 billion climate refugees by 2050 – in the global south know the future.

The message imparted to the poor, the vulnerable, the sick and the weak is this: your lives and the lives of your children do not matter.

The oligarchs in the Democratic Party and the establishment wing of the Republican Party are aware they are in political trouble. Is it due to Russian meddling? Is it due to Donald Trump and his proto-fascist minions? Is it caused by journalists and publishers like Assange who give them a bad name? Is it a failure of messaging? Is it a lack of rigorous censorship of the far-right and leftist critics?

The Democratic Party, now united with the establishment Republican Party, is flailing around for a solution. They are bankrolling far-right candidates in the Republican primaries, a tactic that backfired on Hillary Clinton when her campaign worked during the primaries to promote Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. Retrograde Republicans, de facto members of the Democratic Party because they voted to impeach Trump, are being lionized as true patriots, as if they can lure people away from Trump and Trump-like clones. Robert Reich, along with other Democratic leaders, argues that Rep. Cheney—who voted for Trump policies 93 percent of the time as a member of the House but now looks set to lose her bid for reelection in Wyoming—has "demonstrated more courage and integrity than any other politician in America" and might just be "the best president of the United States for the perilous time we're entering." Jonathan V. Last, in an article headlined "Mike Pence is an American Hero" in The Atlantic, writes that Pence "did more to protect democracy—both on January 6 and since—than any other person inside the Trump administration."

Perhaps the expected Supreme Court ruling that will overturn Roe v. Wade will work in their favor. Perhaps the televised hearings on the January 6th assault on the Capitol, an extended campaign commercial, will convince voters to support them. Perhaps the promise of more stringent gun laws will excite the electorate.

What can we expect from a party leadership that believed Michael Bloomberg, who has switched allegiance between the Democratic and Republican parties several times, would save them from progressives such as Bernie Sanders? What can we expect from a party leadership that anointed Joe Biden, who spent his political career dispossessing working men and women, building the world's largest prison system, militarizing police, destroying the welfare system and funding military fiascos in the Middle East, as president?

The Biden administration is defined by failed expectations, from its stymied Build Back Better Plan to its refusal to raise the minimum wage. It is running on fumes, using gimmicks, empty rhetoric, spectacle and fear to intimidate the electorate.

The descent is pathetic to watch, reminiscent of the moment Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu tried desperately to placate an unruly crowd from the Balcony of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Romania building by offering to raise pension and family allowance by $2 a month. He and his wife were executed four days later. The discredited East German Communist Party, which like the Romanian revolution I also covered as a reporter, made similar empty gestures, promising to open its closed party headquarters to the public long after anyone cared.

The billionaire class, or at least many of them, would prefer to loot and pillage under the cover of the old political decorum and rhetoric. They like the fiction of paying homage to an emasculated democracy. It gives them the veneer of respectability.

But this is not to be. The rage of the betrayed is articulated by imbecilic demagogues vomited up from the social and political swamp. Corporations and the billionaire class will continue to exploit, but under a cruder and crueler authoritarianism. The social, political, economic, and environmental breakdown will accelerate. Reality, increasingly unpalatable, will cease to exist in public discourse. It will be replaced by Millenarian cults, such as the Christian fascists, and bizarre conspiracy theories, a retreat into magical thinking where evil is embodied in demonized individuals and groups that must be eradicated. Truth and lies will be indistinguishable. The vulnerable will be cast aside, blamed for their own misery, as well as ours. Those who resist will be criminals. Mass death will sweep across the planet. This is the world our children will inherit unless those who control us are wrenched from power.

Society of spectacle: Why the January 6th hearings may not be enough to save American democracy

The televised spectacle of the January 6th hearings will not restore democracy or halt the rise of the far-right. The hearings are a desperate ploy by a doomed political class.

The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, whose first of six televised hearings began last Thursday, is spectacle replacing politics. There is nothing substantially new in the accusations. The committee lacks prosecutorial power. No charges have been filed by Attorney General Merrick Garland against former President Donald Trump and none are expected. The choreographed hearings, like the two impeachment trials of Trump, will have no effect on Trump voters, other than to make them feel persecuted, especially with more than 860 people already charged (including 306 guilty pleas) for their role in storming the Capitol. The committee echoes back to Trump opponents what they already believe. It is designed to present inaction as action and substitute role-playing for politics. It perpetuates, as Guy Debord writes, our “empire of modern passivity.”

The committee, which most Republicans boycotted, hired James Goldston, a documentary producer and former president of ABC News, to turn the hearings into engaging television with slick packaging and an array of pithy sound bites. The result is, and was meant to be, politics as reality television, a media diversion that will change nothing in the dismal American landscape. What should have been a serious bipartisan inquiry into an array of constitutional violations by the Trump administration has been turned into a prime-time campaign commercial for a Democratic Party running on fumes. The epistemology of television is complete. So is its artifice.

The two established wings of the oligarchy, the old Republican Party represented by politicians such as Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the committee, and the Bush family, are now united with the Democratic Party elite into one ruling political entity. The ruling parties were already in lock step for decades on the major issues, including: war, trade deals, austerity, the militarization of police, prisons, government surveillance and assaults on civil liberties. They worked in tandem to pervert and destroy democratic institutions on behalf of the rich and corporations. They desperately work together now to stave off the revolt by enraged and betrayed white working men and women who support Donald Trump and the far right.

Committee members cloyingly seek to sanctify themselves and their hearings by holding up the Constitution, democracy, the Founding Fathers, due process, the consent of the governed and the electoral process.

Bennie Thompson, chairman of the committee, talked about “domestic enemies of the Constitution who stormed the Capitol and occupied the Capitol, who sought to thwart the will of the people, to stop the transfer of power.” Liz Cheney called the Capitol “a sacred space in our constitutional republic.”

There was no acknowledgement by committee members that the “will of the people” has been subverted by the three branches of government to serve the dictates of the billionaire class. No one brought up the armies of lobbyists who are daily permitted to storm the Capitol to fund the legalized bribery of our elections and write the pro-corporate legislation that it passes. No one spoke about the loss of constitutional rights, including the right to privacy, because of wholesale government surveillance. No one mentioned the disastrous trade deals that have deindustrialized the country and impoverished the working class. No one spoke of the military fiascos in the Middle East that cost taxpayers over $8 trillion, the for-profit health care system that gouges the public and prevents a rational response to the pandemic, already resulting in over a million deaths, or the privatization of institutions of government, including schools, prisons, water treatment, trash collection, parking meters, utilities and even intelligence gathering, to enrich the billionaire class at our expense.

The gaping hole between the reality of what we have become, and the fiction of who we are supposed to be, is why spectacle is all the ruling class has left. Spectacle takes the place of politics. It is a tacit admission that all social programs, whether the Build Back Better Plan, a ban on assault weapons, raising the minimum wage, ameliorating the ravages of inflation or instituting environmental reforms to stave off the climate emergency, will never be implemented. Those who occupy the “sacred space” of “our constitutional republic” are capable only of pouring money into war, allocating $54 billion to Ukraine, and passing ever higher military budgets to enrich the arms industry.

The wider the gap becomes between the ideal and the real, the more the proto fascists, who look set to take back the Congress in the fall, will be empowered. If the rational, factual world does not work, why not try one of the many conspiracy theories? If this is what democracy means, why support democracy?

The right-wing also communicates through spectacle. What were the four years of the Trump presidency but one vast spectacle? Spectacle versus spectacle. The aesthetic of spectacle, as in the dying days of the Roman Empire or Tsarist Russia, is all that is left. “Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business,” Neil Postman writes in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. The current ruling class, blinded by their hubris and pomposity, however, is not very good at it.

The far right, which believes vaccines cause autism, angels exist, a cabal of satanic, cannibalistic sexual abusers of children that run a global child sex trafficking ring are trying to destroy Trump, and the inerrancy of the Bible, is far more entertaining, even as it accelerates the solidification of corporate tyranny. If the republic is dead, do you want to watch Joe Biden mumble his way through another press conference or the burlesque of Rand Paul chain-sawing the tax code in half and Ted Cruz accusing Barack Obama of trying to provide “expanded Medicaid” to ISIS? Do you want to wake up to the newest rhetorical outrage by Trump, who when he campaigned for president accused Obama of founding ISIS, suggested Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, argued that noise from windmills cause cancer and recommended ingesting disinfectant to fight Covid, or pay homage to a set of values long ago discarded by the ruling class for lies, corruption and greed?

In short, since the system has betrayed and fleeced you, why not take it down with the vulgarity and crudity it deserves? Why not be entertained by political arsonists? Why engage in the polite civility and political decorum demanded by those who destroyed our communities, wrecked the nation, looted the US Treasury, oversaw a series of costly military debacles and took away our ability to make an adequate living, as well as our childrens’ future?

In 1924, the government of Weimar Germany decided to get rid of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazis, by trying Hitler for high treason in the People’s Court. Hitler was clearly guilty. He had tried to overthrow the elected government in the botched 1923 “Beer Hall Putsch,” which, like the January 6 riot, was as much farce as insurrection. It was an open and shut case. The trial, however, backfired, turning Hitler into a national martyr and boosting the political fortunes of the Nazis.

The reason should have been apparent. Germany, convulsed by widespread unemployment, food riots, street violence and hyperinflation, was a mess. The ruling elites, like our own, had no credibility. The appeal to the rule of law and democratic values was a joke.

There was a revealing moment in the hearings when Capitol police officer Caroline Edwards, who suffered a concussion during the storming of the Capitol, related an exchange she had with Joseph Biggs, a leader of The Proud Boys who was indicted, along with four other Proud Boy leaders, for seditious conspiracy in connection with the storming of the Capitol.

The tables started turning, once the — what is now that — the Arizona group — that’s what you said — the crowd with orange hats, they came up chanting “F-U-C-K antifa!” Edwards told the committee. “And they joined that group. And once they joined that group, Joseph Biggs’ rhetoric turned to the Capitol Police. He started asking us questions like, “You’ve — you didn’t miss a paycheck during the pandemic,” mentioning stuff about — our pay scale was mentioned, and, you know, started turning the tables on us.”

The brief exchange highlighted the yawning gap between the haves and the have nots, which, if not addressed, will turn Trump, his supporters, Biggs, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers into martyrs.

Congress is a cesspool. Corrupt politicians whore for the rich and get rich in return. This reality, which the hearings ignore, is apparent to most of the nation, which is why the hearings will not bolster the flagging fortunes of the ruling political class, desperate to prevent displacement.

The old ruling class is slated for extinction, not that what follows will be better. It won’t. But the game of pillage and corruption in the name of sacred democratic values no longer works. A new game is taking its place, one where narcissistic buffoons, who stoke the fires of hate and only know how to destroy, entertain us to death.

'Permanent war has cannibalized the country' and is a 'nail in the coffin of Pax Americana': Chris Hedges

Permanent war has cannibalized the country. It has created a social, political, and economic morass. Each new military debacle is another nail in the coffin of Pax Americana.

The United States, as the near-unanimous vote to provide nearly $40 billion in aid to Ukraine illustrates, is trapped in the death spiral of unchecked militarism. No high-speed trains. No universal health care. No viable Covid relief program. No respite from 8.3 percent inflation. No infrastructure programs to repair decaying roads and bridges, which require $41.8 billion to fix the 43,586 structurally deficient bridges, on average 68 years old. No forgiveness of $1.7 trillion in student debt. No addressing income inequality. No program to feed the 17 million children who go to bed each night hungry. No rational gun control or curbing of the epidemic of nihilistic violence and mass shootings. No help for the 100,000 Americans who die each year of drug overdoses. No minimum wage of $15 an hour to counter 44 years of wage stagnation. No respite from gas prices that are projected to hit $6 a gallon.

The permanent war economy, implanted since the end of World War II, has destroyed the private economy, bankrupted the nation, and squandered trillions of dollars of taxpayer money. The monopolization of capital by the military has driven the US debt to $30 trillion, $ 6 trillion more than the US GDP of $ 24 trillion. Servicing this debt costs $300 billion a year. We spent more on the military, $ 813 billion for fiscal year 2023, than the next nine countries, including China and Russia, combined.

We are paying a heavy social, political, and economic cost for our militarism. Washington watches passively as the U.S. rots, morally, politically, economically, and physically, while China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, and other countries extract themselves from the tyranny of the U.S. dollar and the international Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a messaging network banks and other financial institutions use to send and receive information, such as money transfer instructions. Once the U.S. dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency, once there is an alternative to SWIFT, it will precipitate an internal economic collapse. It will force the immediate contraction of the U.S. empire shuttering most of its nearly 800 overseas military installations. It will signal the death of Pax Americana.

Democrat or Republican. It does not matter. War is the raison d’état of the state. Extravagant military expenditures are justified in the name of “national security.” The nearly $40 billion allocated for Ukraine, most of it going into the hands of weapons manufacturers such as Raytheon Technologies, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing, is only the beginning. Military strategists, who say the war will be long and protracted, are talking about infusions of $4 or $5 billion in military aid a month to Ukraine. We face existential threats. But these do not count. The proposed budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in fiscal year 2023 is $10.675 billion. The proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is $11.881 billion. Ukraine alone gets more than double that amount. Pandemics and the climate emergency are afterthoughts. War is all that matters. This is a recipe for collective suicide.

There were three restraints to the avarice and bloodlust of the permanent war economy that no longer exist. The first was the old liberal wing of the Democratic Party, led by politicians such as Senator George McGovern, Senator Eugene McCarthy, and Senator J. William Fulbright, who wrote The Pentagon Propaganda Machine. The self-identified progressives, a pitiful minority, in Congress today, from Barbara Lee, who was the single vote in the House and the Senate opposing a broad, open-ended authorization allowing the president to wage war in Afghanistan or anywhere else, to Ilhan Omar now dutifully line up to fund the latest proxy war. The second restraint was an independent media and academia, including journalists such as I.F Stone and Neil Sheehan along with scholars such as Seymour Melman, author of The Permanent War Economy and Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War. Third, and perhaps most important, was an organized anti-war movement, led by religious leaders such as Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr. and Phil and Dan Berrigan as well as groups such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). They understood that unchecked militarism was a fatal disease.

None of these opposition forces, which did not reverse the permanent war economy but curbed its excesses, now exist. The two ruling parties have been bought by corporations, especially military contractors. The press is anemic and obsequious to the war industry. Propagandists for permanent war, largely from right-wing think tanks lavishly funded by the war industry, along with former military and intelligence officials, are exclusively quoted or interviewed as military experts. NBC’s “Meet the Press” aired a segment May 13 where officials from Center for a New American Security (CNAS) simulated what a war with China over Taiwan might look like. The co-founder of CNAS, Michèle Flournoy, who appeared in the “Meet the Press” war games segment and was considered by Biden to run the Pentagon, wrote in 2020 in Foreign Affairs that the U.S. needs to develop “the capability to credibly threaten to sink all of China’s military vessels, submarines and merchant ships in the South China Sea within 72 hours.”

The handful of anti-militarists and critics of empire from the left, such as Noam Chomsky, and the right, such as Ron Paul, have been declared persona non grata by a compliant media. The liberal class has retreated into boutique activism where issues of class, capitalism and militarism are jettisoned for “cancel culture,” multiculturalism and identity politics. Liberals are cheerleading the war in Ukraine. At least the inception of the war with Iraq saw them join significant street protests. Ukraine is embraced as the latest crusade for freedom and democracy against the new Hitler. There is little hope, I fear, of rolling back or restraining the disasters being orchestrated on a national and global level. The neoconservatives and liberal interventionists chant in unison for war. Biden has appointed these warmongers, whose attitude to nuclear war is terrifyingly cavalier, to run the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and the State Department.

Since all we do is war, all proposed solutions are military. This military adventurism accelerates the decline, as the defeat in Vietnam and the squandering of $8 trillion in the futile wars in the Middle East illustrate. War and sanctions, it is believed, will cripple Russia, rich in gas and natural resources. War, or the threat of war, will curb the growing economic and military clout of China.

These are demented and dangerous fantasies, perpetrated by a ruling class that has severed itself from reality. No longer able to salvage their own society and economy, they seek to destroy those of their global competitors, especially Russia and China. Once the militarists cripple Russia, the plan goes, they will focus military aggression on the Indo-Pacific, dominating what Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, referring to the Pacific, called “the American Sea.”

You cannot talk about war without talking about markets. The U.S., whose growth rate has fallen to below 2 percent, while China’s growth rate is 8.1 percent, has turned to military aggression to bolster its sagging economy. If the U.S. can sever Russian gas supplies to Europe, it will force Europeans to buy from the United States. U.S. firms, at the same time, would be happy to replace the Chinese Communist Party, even if they must do it through the threat of war, to open unfettered access to Chinese markets. War, if it did break out with China, would devastate the Chinese, American, and global economies, destroying free trade between countries as in World War I. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Washington is desperately trying to build military and economic alliances to ward off a rising China, whose economy is expected by 2028 to overtake that of the United States, according to the UK’s Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). The White House has said Biden’s current visit to Asia is about sending a “powerful message” to Beijing and others about what the world could look like if democracies “stand together to shape the rules of the road.” The Biden administration has invited South Korea and Japan to attend the NATO summit in Madrid.

But fewer and fewer nations, even among European allies, are willing to be dominated by the United States. Washington’s veneer of democracy and supposed respect for human rights and civil liberties is so badly tarnished as to be irrecoverable. Its economic decline, with China’s manufacturing 70 percent higher than that of the U.S., is irreversible. War is a desperate Hail Mary, one employed by dying empires throughout history with catastrophic consequences. “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable,” Thucydides noted in the History of the Peloponnesian War.

A key component to the sustenance of the permanent war state was the creation of the All-Volunteer Force. Without conscripts, the burden of fighting wars falls to the poor, the working class, and military families. This All-Volunteer Force allows the children of the middle class, who led the Vietnam anti-war movement, to avoid service. It protects the military from internal revolts, carried out by troops during the Vietnam War, which jeopardized the cohesion of the armed forces.

The All-Volunteer Force, by limiting the pool of available troops, also makes the global ambitions of the militarists impossible. Desperate to maintain or increase troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military instituted the stop-loss policy that arbitrarily extended active-duty contracts. Its slang term was the backdoor draft. The effort to bolster the number of troops by hiring private military contractors, as well, had a negligible effect. Increased troop levels would not have won the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but the tiny percentage of those willing to serve in the military (only 7 percent of the U.S. population are veterans) is an unacknowledged Achilles heel for the militarists.

“As a consequence, the problem of too much war and too few soldiers eludes serious scrutiny,” writes historian and retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich in After the Apocalypse: America’s Role in a World Transformed. “Expectations of technology bridging that gap provide an excuse to avoid asking the most fundamental questions: Does the United States possess the military wherewithal to oblige adversaries to endorse its claim of being history’s indispensable nation? And if the answer is no, as the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq suggest, wouldn’t it make sense for Washington to temper its ambitions accordingly?”

This question, as Bacevich points out, is “anathema.” The military strategists work from the supposition that the coming wars won’t look anything like past wars. They invest in imaginary theories of future wars that ignore the lessons of the past, ensuring more fiascos.

The political class is as self-deluded as the generals. It refuses to accept the emergence of a multi-polar world and the palpable decline of American power. It speaks in the outdated language of American exceptionalism and triumphalism, believing it has the right to impose its will as the leader of the “free world.” In his 1992 Defense Planning Guidance memorandum, U.S. Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz argued that the U.S. must ensure no rival superpower again arises. The U.S. should project its military strength to dominate a unipolar world in perpetuity. On February 19, 1998, on NBC’s “Today Show”, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave the Democratic version of this doctrine of unipolarity. “If we have to use force it is because we are Americans; we are the indispensable nation,” she said. “We stand tall, and we see further than other countries into the future.”

This demented vision of unrivaled U.S. global supremacy, not to mention unrivaled goodness and virtue, blinds the establishment Republicans and Democrats. The military strikes they casually used to assert the doctrine of unipolarity, especially in the Middle East, swiftly spawned jihadist terror and prolonged warfare. None of them saw it coming until the hijacked jets slammed into the World Trade Center twin towers. That they cling to this absurd hallucination is the triumph of hope over experience.

There is a deep loathing among the public for these elitist Ivy League architects of American imperialism. Imperialism was tolerated when it was able to project power abroad and produce rising living standards at home. It was tolerated when it restrained itself to covert interventions in countries such as Iran, Guatemala, and Indonesia. It went off the rails in Vietnam. The military defeats that followed accompanied a steady decline in living standards, wage stagnation, a crumbling infrastructure and eventually a series of economic policies and trade deals, orchestrated by the same ruling class, which deindustrialized and impoverished the country.

The establishment oligarchs, now united in the Democratic Party, distrust Donald Trump. He commits the heresy of questioning the sanctity of the American empire. Trump derided the invasion of Iraq as a “big, fat mistake.” He promised “to keep us out of endless war.” Trump was repeatedly questioned about his relationship with Vladimir Putin. Putin was “a killer,” one interviewer told him. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump retorted. “You think our country’s so innocent?” Trump dared to speak a truth that was to be forever unspoken, the militarists had sold out the American people.

Noam Chomsky took some heat for pointing out, correctly, that Trump is the “one statesman” who has laid out a “sensible” proposition to resolve the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The proposed solution included “facilitating negotiations instead of undermining them and moving toward establishing some kind of accommodation in Europe…in which there are no military alliances but just mutual accommodation.”

Trump is too unfocused and mercurial to offer serious policy solutions. He did set a timetable to withdraw from Afghanistan, but he also ratcheted up the economic war against Venezuela and reinstituted crushing sanctions against Cuba and Iran, which the Obama administration had ended. He increased the military budget. He apparently flirted with carrying out a missile strike on Mexico to “destroy the drug labs.” But he acknowledges a distaste for imperial mismanagement that resonates with the public, one that has every right to loath the smug mandarins that plunge us into one war after another. Trump lies like he breathes. But so do they.

The 57 Republicans who refused to support the $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, along with many of the 19 bills that included an earlier $13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine, come out of the kooky conspiratorial world of Trump. They, like Trump, repeat this heresy. They too are attacked and censored. But the longer Biden and the ruling class continue to pour resources into war at our expense, the more these proto-fascists, already set to wipe out Democratic gains in the House and the Senate this fall, will be ascendant. Marjorie Taylor Greene, during the debate on the aid package to Ukraine, which most members were not given time to closely examine, said: “$40 billion dollars but there’s no baby formula for American mothers and babies.”

“An unknown amount of money to the CIA and Ukraine supplemental bill but there’s no formula for American babies,” she added. “Stop funding regime change and money laundering scams. A US politician covers up their crimes in countries like Ukraine.”

Democrat Jamie Raskin immediately attacked Greene for parroting the propaganda of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Greene, like Trump, spoke a truth that resonates with a beleaguered public. The opposition to permanent war should have come from the tiny progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which unfortunately sold out to the craven Democratic Party leadership to save their political careers. Greene is demented, but Raskin and the Democrats peddle their own brand of lunacy. We are going to pay a very steep price for this burlesque.

The Democratic Party's 'repeated failure to secure the right to abortion' may have sown its fate

The Democratic Party is hoping to thwart an election rout by running against the expected Supreme Court decision on abortion. This is depressingly all that is left of its political capital.

The Democratic Party – which had 50 years to write Roe v Wade into law with Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama in full control of the White House and Congress at the inception of their presidencies – is banking its electoral strategy around the expected Supreme Court decision to lift the judicial prohibition on the ability of states to enact laws restricting or banning abortions.

I doubt it will work.

The Democratic Party’s hypocrisy and duplicity is the fertilizer for Christian fascism. Its exclusive focus on the culture wars and identity politics at the expense of economic, political, and social justice fueled a right-wing backlash and stoked the bigotry, racism, and sexism it sought to curtail. Its opting for image over substance, including its repeated failure to secure the right to abortion, left the Democrats distrusted and reviled.

The Biden administration invited Amazon Labor Union president Christian Smalls and union workers from Starbucks and other organizations to the White House at the same time it re-awarded a $10 billion contract to the union-busting Amazon and the National Security Agency (NSA) for cloud computing. The NSA contract is one of 26 federal cloud computing contracts Amazon has with the U.S. Army and Air Force, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Interior, and the Census Bureau. Withholding the federal contracts until Amazon permitted free and open union organizing would be a powerful stand on behalf of workers, still waiting for the $15 minimum wage Joe Biden promised as a candidate. But behind the walls of the Democratic Party’s Potemkin village stands the billionaire class. Democrats have failed to address the structural injustices that turned America into an oligarchic state, where the obscenely rich squabble like children in a sandbox over multibillion-dollar toys. The longer this game of political theater continues, the worse things will get.

The Christian fascists have coalesced in cult-like fashion around Donald Trump. They are bankrolled by the most retrograde forces of capitalism. The capitalists permit the stupidities of the Christian fascists and their self-destructive social and cultural wars. In exchange, the billionaire class gets corporate monopolies, union-busting, privatized state, and municipal services, including public education, revoked government regulations, especially environmental regulation, and can engage in a virtual tax boycott.

The war industry loves the Christian fascists who turn every conflict from Iraq to Ukraine into a holy crusade to crush the latest iteration of Satan. The Christian fascists believe military power, and the “manly” virtues that come with it, are blessed by God, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary. No military budget is too big. No war waged by America is evil.

These Christian fascists make up perhaps 30 percent of the electorate, roughly equivalent to the percentage of Americans who believe abortion is murder. They are organized, committed to a vision, however perverse, and awash in money. John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, mediocre jurists and Federalist Society ideologues who carry the banner of Christian fascism, control the Supreme Court.

Establishment Republicans and Democrats, like George Armstrong Custer on Last Stand Hill, have circled the wagons around the Democratic Party in a desperate bid to prevent Trump, or a Trump mini-me, from returning to the White House. They, and their allies in Silicon Valley, are using algorithms and overt de-platforming to censor critics from the left and the right, foolishly turning figures like Trump, Alex Jones, and Marjorie Taylor Greene into martyrs. This is not a battle over democracy, but the spoils of power waged by billionaires against billionaires. No one intends to dismantle the corporate state.

The ruling class in both parties told lies about NAFTA, trade deals, “reforming” welfare, abolishing financial regulations, austerity, the Iraq war, and neoliberalism that did far more damage to the American public than any lie told by Trump. The reptilian slime oozes out of every pore of these politicians, from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to Biden, who backed the 1976 Hyde Amendment banning federal funding of abortions and in 1982 voted to support a constitutional amendment that would allow states to overturn Roe v Wade. Their hypocrisy is not lost on the public, even with their armies of consultants, pollsters, courtiers in the press, public relations teams and advertising agencies.

Marjorie Taylor Greene is clueless and unhinged. She claims Hillary Clinton was involved in a child mutilation and pedophilia ring and several high-profile school shootings were staged. But weaponized, like Trump, she is a political cruise missile aimed straight at the heart of the discredited centers of traditional power.

Hate is the fuel of American politics. No one votes for who they want. They vote against those they hate. Black and brown marginal communities have suffered worse assaults than the white working class, but they have been defanged politically with militarized police that function as internal armies of occupation. The erosion of due process, the world’s largest prison system and the stripping away of all rights, including often voting rights because of felony convictions, as well as a loss of access to most social services and jobs, reduced them to a subsistence level on the lowest rung of America’s caste system. They are also the primary targets of Republican-sponsored voter suppression and redistricting.

The glue holding this Christianized fascism together is not prayer, although we will get a lot of that, but war. War is the raison d’être of all systems of totalitarianism. War justifies a constant search for internal enemies. It is used to revoke basic civil liberties and impose censorship. War demonizes those in the Middle East, Russia, or China, who are blamed for the economic and social debacles that inevitably get worse. War diverts the rage engendered by a dysfunctional state towards immigrants, people of color, feminists, liberals, artists, anyone who does not identify as a heterosexual, the press, Antifa, Jews, Muslims, Russians, or Asians. Take your pick. It is a bigot’s smorgasbord. Every item on the menu is fair game.

I spent two years with the Christian right reporting and researching my book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. These Christian fascists have never hidden their agenda or their desire to create a “Christian” nation, any more than Adolf Hitler hid his demented vision for Germany in Mein Kampf. They prey, like all fascists, on the despair of their followers. They paint gruesome portraits of the end times when the longed-for obliteration of non-believers presages the glorious return of Jesus Christ. The battle at Armageddon, they believe, will be launched from the Antichrist’s worldwide headquarters in Babylon once the Jews again have control of Israel. The closer we get to Armageddon, the giddier they become.

These people believe this stuff, as they believe in QAnon or the election fraud that supposedly put Biden in office. They are convinced that a demonic, secular-humanist ideology propagated by the media, the United Nations, elite universities, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, the Trilateral Commission along with the US State Department and major foundations are seeking to destroy them.

Violence is embraced as a cleansing agent, a key component of any fascist movement. The Christian fascists do not fear nuclear war. They welcome it. The insane provocations of Russia by the Biden administration, including the decision to provide $33 billion in assistance to Ukraine, target ten Russian generals for assassination and pass on to Ukraine the intelligence to sink the Moskva, the guided-missile cruiser that was the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet, supercharges the ideology of the Christian right. The marriage of the war industry, determined to make war forever, with the Christian fascists yearning for the apocalypse is terrifying. Biden is sleepwalking us into a war with Russia and perhaps China. The Christian fascists will accelerate the bloodlust.

The political deformities we have spawned are not unique. They are the product of a society and government that no longer functions on behalf of the citizenry, one that has been seized by a tiny cabal, in our case corporate, to serve its exclusive interests. The airy promises politicians make, including the announcement by candidate Barack Obama that the first thing he would do in office was sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which during his eight years as president he never got around to doing, are worthless. The scheduled vote next week in the Senate on a bill asserting that abortions are legal in the United States, which is expected to be blocked by the Republican’s use of the filibuster, a Senate procedural rule that requires 60 votes to advance most legislation in the 100-member chamber, is another empty gesture.

We saw the consequences of this dysfunction in Weimar Germany and Yugoslavia, a conflict I covered for The New York Times. Political stagnation and economic misery breed rage, despair, and cynicism. It gives rise to demagogues, charlatans, and con artists. Hatred drives political discourse. Violence is the primary form of communication. Vengeance is the highest good. War is the chief occupation of the state. It is the vulnerable and weak who pay.

How the war in Ukraine underscores the 'terminal decline' of the United States and Russia

The US and Russia, faded relics of the Cold War, unable to accept their terminal decline, launch futile and self-defeating wars to reclaim their lost imperial power.

Blinded by what Barbara Tuchman calls “the bellicose frivolity of senile empires,” we are marching ominously towards war with Russia. How else might we explain Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s public declaration that the US goal is to “weaken Russia” and Joe Biden’s request for another $33 billion in “emergency” military and economic aid (half of what Russia spent on its military in 2021) for Ukraine?

The same cabal of generals and politicians that drained the state of trillions of dollars in the debacles in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Somalia and learned nothing from the nightmare of Vietnam, revel in the illusion of their omnipotence. They have no interest in a diplomatic solution. There are billions in profits to be made in arms sales. There is political posturing to be done. There are generals itching to pull the trigger. Why have all these high-priced and technologically advanced weapons systems if you can’t use them? Why not show the world this time around that the US still dominates the globe?

The masters of war require an enemy. When an enemy cannot be found, as George Orwell understood in Nineteen Eighty-Four, an enemy is manufactured. That enemy can become an ally overnight – we allied ourselves with Iran in the Middle East to fight the Taliban and later the Caliphate – before instantly reinstated Iran as the incarnation of evil. The enemy is not about logic or geopolitical necessity. It is about stoking the fear and hatred that fuels perpetual war.

In 1989, I covered the revolutions that toppled the communist dictatorships in Central and Eastern Europe. President Mikhail Gorbachev, like his successor Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin in the early stages of his rule, hoped to integrate Russia into the western alliance. But the war industry places profits before national defense. It needed an antagonistic Russia to push the expansion of NATO beyond the borders of a unified Germany in violation of a promise made to Moscow. There were billions of dollars to be made from a Russian enemy, as there are billions more to be made from the proxy war in Ukraine. There would be no “peace dividend” at the end of the Cold War. The war industry was determined to continue to bleed the US dry and amass its obscene profits. They provoked and antagonized Russia until Russia filled its preordained role.

The humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan and two decades of military disasters in the Middle East have magically been atoned for in Ukraine, although we have yet to place any troops on Ukrainian soil. We have taken ownership of the Ukrainians, as we did with the mujahideen we funded to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

“For the first time in decades, an American president is showing that he, and only he, can lead the free world,” wrote George Packer, one of the most ardent cheerleaders for the invasion of Iraq, in The Atlantic magazine.

“NATO has been revitalized, the United States has reclaimed a mantle of leadership that some feared had vanished in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the European Union has found a unity and purpose that eluded it for most of its existence,” The New York Times crowed.

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, The New York Times wrote, carries around a map of Ukraine, marked with tactical details. “With aides, he drills down for details about the location and combat readiness of specific Russian ground units and ship movements,” the paper noted.

Former NATO commander Richard Shirreff told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program the West should prepare to fight Russia.

“The worst case is war with Russia,” he said. “By gearing itself up for the worst case, it is most likely to deter Putin because ultimately Putin respects strength.”

War is a drug. It cripples your body. It fogs your brain. It reduces you to poverty. But each new hit sends you back to the euphoric heights where you began.

More weapons mean more fighting. More fighting means more death and destruction. More death and destruction mean more antagonization of Moscow. More antagonization of Moscow means we circle closer and closer to open warfare with Russia. Following Ukraine’s strikes on Russian military and energy facilities, Moscow threatened to attack incoming NATO weapons shipments. Reeling from sanctions, Moscow halted gas supplies to two European countries. It warned that the risk of a nuclear war is very “real” and that any direct foreign intervention in Ukraine would provoke a “lightning fast” response. As Finland and Sweden debate joining NATO, Russia has called further expansion of NATO another dangerous act of aggression, which of course it is. There is mounting pressure for a no-fly zone, a move that would trigger direct confrontation between Russia and NATO, as would a Russian attack on a NATO arms convoy in a Ukrainian neighbor country. Putin’s revanchism is matched by our own.

The disorganization, ineptitude, and low morale of the Russian army conscripts, along with the repeated intelligence failures by the Russian high command, apparently convinced Russia would roll over Ukraine in a few days, exposes the lie that Russia is a global menace. Russia’s forty-mile long convoy of stalled tanks and trucks, broken down and out of fuel, on the muddy road to Kyiv was not an image of cutting-edge military prowess. Russia has been unable to overwhelm a poorly equipped and numerically inferior force in Ukraine, many of whose troops have little or no military training. Russia poses no threat to the NATO alliance or the United States, barring a nuclear attack.

“The Russian bear has effectively defanged itself,” historian Andrew Bacevich writes.

But this is not a truth the war makers impart to the public. Russia must be inflated to become a global menace, despite nine weeks of humiliating military failures. A Russian monster is the raison d’être for increased military spending and the further projection of American power abroad, especially against China. Militarists need a mortal enemy. That enemy may be a chimera, but it will always be led by the new Hitler. The new Hitler was once Saddam Hussein. Today it is Vladimir Putin. Tomorrow it will be Xi Jinping. You can’t drain and impoverish the nation to feed an insatiable military machine unless you make its people afraid, even of phantoms.

The war in Ukraine is intimately linked to the real existential crisis we face – the climate crisis. The latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns that greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025, and be nearly halved this decade, to thwart global catastrophe. UN Secretary General António Guterres characterized the report as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.” Triggered by war in Ukraine, soaring energy prices have pushed the US and other countries to call on domestic oil producers to increase fossil fuel extraction and exacerbate the climate crisis. Oil and gas lobbyists are demanding the Biden administration lift prohibitions on offshore drilling and on federal lands.

Black and brown people, who suffered in the brutal wars in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria, without the western support and sympathy shown white Ukrainians, will again be targeted. The Indian subcontinent is currently plagued with temperatures as high as 116.6 degrees, power outages of 10 to 14 hours a day and dying fields of crops. An estimated 143 million people will be displaced over the next thirty years, nearly all from Africa, South Asia and Latin America, the IPCC writes.

These endless conflicts will inevitably militarize our response to the climate breakdown. Absent measures and resources to halt the rise in global temperatures, curtail our reliance on fossil fuels, foster a plant-based diet and curb profligate consumption, nations will increasingly use their militaries to hoard diminishing natural resources, including food and water. Russia and Ukraine account for 30 per cent of all wheat traded on world markets. Since the invasion, the price of wheat has gone up by between 50 and 65 per cent in commodities exchanges. This is a hint of what is to come.

The Ukraine war is part of a world order where the rule of law has been jettisoned for aggressive, preemptive war, a criminal act of aggression. These wars bring with them black sites, kidnapping, torture, targeted assassinations, censorship, and arbitrary detention. Rogue private contractors, along with covert intelligence paramilitary units, carry out off-the-book-war crimes. Russia’s Wagner Group (The name Wagner is supposedly the call sign of its founder and commander, an ex-GRU officer called Dmitry Utkin, who reportedly has Waffen-SS insignia tattooed on his collarbones) or the US mercenary group Academi, founded by the Christian Right leader Erik Prince, function as little more than death squads.

War is a spectacular form of social control. It secures a blind, unquestioning mass consent propped up by what Pankaj Mishra calls an “infotainment media” that “works up citizens into a state of paranoid patriotism,” while “a service class of intellectuals talks up the American Revolution and the international liberal order.”

In The London Review of Books, Mishra wrote:

Humiliation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at home by Trump, demoralised the exporters of democracy and capitalism. But Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine have now given them an opportunity to make America seem great again. The Russian bear has long guaranteed, more reliably than ‘Islamofascism’ or China, income, and identity to many in the military-industrial and intellectual-industrial complex. An aging centrist establishment – battered by the far right, harangued by post-Occupy and post-BLM young leftists, frustrated by legislative stalemate in Washington – seems suddenly galvanised by the prospect of defining themselves through a new cold war.

This world of fantasy is sustained by myths – the myth that the people of Afghanistan and Iraq would welcome us as liberators, that Ukraine is not a real nation, that Ukrainians see themselves as pan-Russians, that all that stands between Iraqis, Afghans, Syrians, Somalis, Yemenis and Libyans and ourselves are terrorists, that all that stands between Putin and Ukrainians are neo-Nazis and their supporters in the West.

Those that challenge these fantasies, whether in Russia or the US, are attacked, marginalized, and censored. Few notice. The dream is more appealing than reality. Step-by-step these blinded, bloodied cyclops of war stumble forward leaving mounds of corpses in their wake.

'Boycott the Bay Area Book Festival' over its Alice Walker ban

Alice Walker was disinvited to the Bay Area Book Festival after Zionist groups threatened to carry out protests. The public and presenters are complicit in her blacklisting if they attend.

There is a steep price to pay for having a conscience and more importantly the courage to act on it. The hounds of hell pin you to the cross, hammering nails into your hands and feet as they grin like the Cheshire cat and mouth bromides about respect for human rights, freedom of expression and diversity. I have watched this happen for some time to Alice Walker, one of the most gifted and courageous writers in America. Walker, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel The Color Purple, has felt the bitter sting of racism. She refuses to be silent about the plight of the oppressed, including the Palestinians.

“Whenever I come out with a book, or anything that will take me before the public, the world, I am assailed as this person I don’t recognize,” she said when I reached her by phone. “If I tried to keep track of all the attacks over the decades, I wouldn’t be able to keep working. I am happy people are standing up. It is all of us. Not just me. They are trying to shut us down, shut us up, erase us. That reality is what is important.”

The Bay Area Book festival delivered the latest salvo against Walker. The organizers disinvited her from the event because she praised the writings of the New Age author David Icke and called his book And the Truth Shall Set You Free “brave.” Icke has denied critics’ charges of anti-Semitism. The festival organizers twisted themselves into contortions to say they were not charging Walker with anti-Semitism. She was banned because she lauded a controversial writer, who I suspect few members of the committee have read. The poet and writer Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, who Walker was to interview, withdrew from the festival in protest.

Walker, a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, has been a very public advocate for Palestinian rights and a critic of Israel for many years. Her friendship with Icke has long been part of the public record. She hid nothing. It is not as if the festival organizers suddenly discovered a dark secret about Walker. They sought to capitalize on her celebrity and then, when they felt the heat from the Israel lobby, capitulated to the mob to humiliate her.

“I don’t know these people,” Walker said of the festival organizers who disinvited her. “It feels like the south. You know they are out there in the community, and they have their positions, but all you see are sheets. That’s what this is. It’s like being back in the south.”

Banning writers because of books they like or find interesting nullifies the whole point of a book festival. Should I be banned because I admire Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s masterpieces Journey to the End of the Night, Death on the Installment Plan, and Castle to Castle, despite his virulent anti-Semitism, which even after World War II he refused to relinquish? Should I be banned for liking Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, which I recently reread, and which is rabidly misogynistic? Should I be banned for loving William Butler Yeats, who, like Ezra Pound, many of whose poems I have also committed to memory, was a fascist collaborator? Should I be banned because I revere Hannah Arendt, whose attitudes towards African-Americans were paternalistic, at best, and arguably racist? Should I be banned because I cherish books by C.S. Lewis, Norman Mailer and D.H. Lawrence, who were homophobic?

We might as well sweep clean library shelves if the attitudes of writers we read mean we are denied a right to speak.

And let’s not even get started with the Bible, which I studied as a seminarian at Harvard Divinity School. God repeatedly demands righteous acts of genocide, transforming the Nile into blood so the Egyptians will suffer from thirst. God sends swarms of locusts and flies to torture the Egyptians, along with hail, fire and thunder to destroy all plants and trees. God orders the firstborn in every Egyptian household killed so all will know “that the Lord makes a distinction between Egyptians and Israel.” The killing goes on until “there was not a house where one was not dead.”

The Bible contains much of this divinely sanctioned slaughtering of non-believers. It endorses slavery and the beating of enslaved people. It condones the execution of homosexuals and women who commit adultery. It views women as property and approves the right of fathers to sell their daughters. But the Bible also remains, with all these contradictions and moral failings, a great religious, ethical and moral document. Even the most flawed books often have something to teach us.

Organizers of the festival attacked Walker for her poem “It is Our Frightful Duty.” They accuse Walker of channeling Icke’s alleged anti-Semitism into her writing, as if Walker is unable to think for herself. The attack on the poem, which is a gross misreading of its intent, exposes the lie that Walker’s position on Israel and Palestine had nothing to do with her being disinvited.

“Unfortunately, Ms. Walker has not only promoted Icke’s ideas widely on her own blog and in interviews, but they may have influenced her own writing,” the festival wrote in a statement. “Ms. Walker’s 2017 poem “It is our (Frightful) Duty to Study the Talmud” encourages people to use Google and Youtube to “follow the trail of “The / Talmud” as its poison belatedly winds its way / Into our collective consciousness. // Some of what you find will sound / Too crazy to be true. Unfortunately those bits are likely / To be true.” A New York Magazine essay by writer Nylah Burton (who identifies as Black and Jewish) describes her reaction to Walker’s support of Icke and this poem.”

The poem calls out these hate-filled religious texts. “All of it: The Christian, the Jewish, The Muslim; even the Buddhist. All of it, without exception, At the root.” Walker reminds us in the poem that these texts have been used throughout millennia to sanctify subjugation, dehumanization and murder. Slaveholders defended the enslavement of Blacks by citing numerous passages in the Old and the New Testament, including Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians where, equating slaveholders with God, Paul writes: “Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ.”

Israel seeks, in the same way, to legitimize its colonial-settler project by citing the Old Testament and the Talmud, the primary source of Jewish law. Never mind that Palestine was a Muslim country from the 7th century until it was seized by military force in 1948. The Old Testament, in the hands of Zionists, is a deed to Palestinian land.

Walker excoriates this religious chauvinism and mythology. She warns that theocracies, which sacralize state power, are dangerous. In the poem, she highlights passages in the Talmud used to condemn those outside the faith. Jews must repudiate these sections in the Talmud and the Old Testament, as those of us who are Christians must repudiate the hateful passages in the Bible. When these religious screeds are weaponized by zealots —Christian, Muslim or Jewish — they propagate evil.

Walker writes:

Is Jesus boiling eternally in hot excrement,
For his 'crime' of throwing the bankers
Out of the Temple? For loving, standing with,
And defending
The poor? Was his mother, Mary,
A whore?
Are Goyim (us) meant to be slaves of Jews, and not only
That, but to enjoy it?
Are three year old (and a day) girls eligible for marriage and intercourse?
Are young boys fair game for rape?
Must even the best of the Goyim (us, again) be killed?
Pause a moment and think what this could mean
Or already has meant
In our own lifetime.

Walker was invited to the festival to interview Honorée Fanonne Jeffers about her work, not to give a lecture on Icke or Palestine — but no matter. She ran afoul of the thought police, who are always vigilant about catering to smear campaigns against Israeli critics but blithely ignore the virulent and overt racism of Israeli politicians, military commanders, writers and intellectuals.

Walker is not the first writer targeted by Israel. Israel banned the author Gunter Grass and demanded the rescindment of his Nobel prize after he wrote a poem denouncing Germany’s decision to provide Israel with nuclear submarines, warning that Israel “could wipe out the Iranian people” if it attacked Iran. Former Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who calls for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to create a “Greater” Israel, described the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish as “someone who has written texts against Zionism — which are still used as fuel for terror attacks against Israel.” He said honoring Darwish was the equivalent to honoring Adolf Hitler for “Mein Kampf.” Israeli bookstores Steimatzky and Tzomet Sefarim purged Sally Rooney’s novels from some 200 branches and online sites because of her support for BDS. Israeli writer Yehonatan Geffen was beaten outside his home for calling the Israeli prime minister a racist.

Bay Area Book Festival founder and director Cherilyn Parsons defended the board’s decision to disinvite Walker when I requested a comment:

Our decision to disinvite Ms. Walker had nothing to do with her position on Palestine, her voice as a Black woman writer, or her right to speak her mind freely. We honor all those things. We also do not hold that she is anti-Semitic. (To be pro-Palestinian does not mean a person is anti-Semitic, just as to be Jewish does not mean that one is anti-Palestine.) Our decision was based purely on Ms. Walker’s inexplicable, ongoing endorsement of David Icke, a conspiracy theorist who dangerously promulgates such beliefs as that Jewish people bankrolled Hitler, caused the 2008 global financial crisis, staged the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and more. (See his book “And the Truth Shall Set You Free,” available full-text on the Internet Archive.) Icke also regularly promotes “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a fabricated, uber-anti-Semitic text that was widely read during the time of social upheaval in pre-WWII Germany and turned public sentiment against Jews–a truly dangerous document for a populace to embrace. Finally, we note that Ms. Walker provided financial support for, and participation in, a documentary celebrating Icke and his work.

“I do not believe he is anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish,” Walker posted on her website. “I do believe he is brave enough to ask the questions others fear to ask, and to speak his own understanding of the truth wherever it might lead. Many attempts have been made to censor and silence him. As a woman, and a person of color, as a writer who has been criticized and banned myself, I support his right to share his own thoughts.”

“I maintain that I can be friends with whoever I like,” Walker told me. “The attachment to this belief that this person is evil is strange. He’s not.”

I worked for two years as a reporter in Jerusalem. I listened to the daily filth spewed out by Israelis about Arabs and Palestinians, who used racist tropes to sanctify Israeli apartheid and gratuitous violence against Palestinians. Israel routinely orders airstrikes, targeted assassinations, drone attacks, artillery strikes, tank assaults and naval bombardments on the largely defenseless population in Gaza. Israel blithely dismisses those it murders, including children, as unworthy of life, drawing on poisonous religious edicts. It is risible that Israel and its US supporters can posit themselves as anti-racists, abrogating the right to cancel Walker. It is the equivalent of allowing the Klan to vet speakers lists.

Torat Ha’Melech by Rabbi Yitzhak and Rabbi Yosef Elitzur is one of innumerable examples of the deep racism embedded in Israeli culture. The book provides rabbinical advice to Israeli soldiers and officers in the occupied Palestinian territories. It describes non-Jews as “uncompassionate by nature” and justifiably exterminated to “curb their evil inclinations.” “If we kill a gentile who has violated one of the seven commandments of [Noah]…there is nothing wrong with the murder.” It assures troops that it is morally legitimate to kill Palestinian children, writing, “There is justification for killing babies if it is clear they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.” The Biblical prohibition on murder, Yitzhak and Elitzur write, “refers only to a Jew who kills a Jew, and not to a Jew who kills a gentile, even if that gentile is one of the righteous among the nations.” They even say it is “permissible” to kill Jewish dissidents. A Jewish dissident, the rabbis write, is a rodef. A rodef, according to traditional Jewish law, is someone who is “pursuing” another person to murder him or her. It is the duty of a Jew to kill a rodef if the rodef is told to cease the threatening behavior and does not. Yigal Amir, who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, argued that the din rodef, or “law of the pursuer,” justified Rabin’s murder.

Walker is the best among us. She is one of our most gifted and lyrical writers. She stands unequivocally with the crucified of the earth. She sees her own pain in the pain of others. She demands justice. She pays the price.

Boycott the Bay Area Book Festival.

That is the least we owe a literary and moral titan.

Censorship: the 'last resort of desperate and unpopular regimes' that creates a 'world of make-believe'

Social media platforms are aggressively censoring all who challenge the dominant narrative on Ukraine, the ruling Democratic Party, the wars in the Middle East and the corporate state.

The ruling class, made up of the traditional elites that run the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, is employing draconian forms of censorship on its right-wing and left-wing critics in a desperate effort to cling to power. The traditional elites were discredited for pushing through a series of corporate assaults on workers, from deindustrialization to trade deals. They were unable to stem rising inflation, the looming economic crisis and the ecological emergency. They were incapable of carrying out significant social and political reform to ameliorate widespread suffering and refused to accept responsibility for two decades of military fiascos in the Middle East. And now they have launched a new and sophisticated McCarthyism. Character assassination. Algorithms. Shadowbanning. De-platforming.

Censorship is the last resort of desperate and unpopular regimes. It magically appears to make a crisis go away. It comforts the powerful with the narrative they want to hear, one fed back to them by courtiers in the media, government agencies, think tanks and academia. The problem of Donald Trump is solved by censoring Donald Trump. The problem of left-wing critics, such as myself, is solved by censoring us. The result is a world of make-believe.

YouTube disappeared six years of my RT show, “On Contact,” although not one episode dealt with Russia. It is not a secret as to why my show vanished. It gave a voice to writers and dissidents, including Noam Chomsky and Cornel West, as well as activists from Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter, third parties and the prison abolitionist movement. It called out the Democratic Party for its subservience to corporate power. It excoriated the crimes of the apartheid state of Israel. It covered Julian Assange in numerous episodes. It gave a voice to military critics, many of them combat veterans, who condemned US war crimes.

It no longer matters how prominent you are or how big a following you have. If you challenge power, you are at risk of being censored. Former British MP George Galloway detailed a similar experience during an April 15 panel organized by Consortium News in which I took part:

I have been threatened with travel restrictions were I to continue the television broadcast I had been doing for almost an entire decade. I have been stamped by the false label ‘Russian State Media,’ which I never had, by the way, when I was presenting a show on Russian state media. It was only given after I ceased to have a show on Russian state media, ceased because the government made it a crime for me to do so.
My 417,000 Twitter followers had been gaining a thousand a day, going like a runaway train, then suddenly it hit the buffers when the Elon Musk story emerged. I expressed the view that oligarch that he no doubt is, I prefer Elon Musk to the kings of Saudi Arabia, who it turns out are presently major shareholders in the Twitter company. As soon as I joined that fight, my numbers literally crashed to a halt, with shadow bans and all the rest of it…
All of this is happening before the consequences of the economic crash brought about by western policy and our misnamed leaders has really hit yet. When economies begin to not just slow down, not just hiccup, not just experience levels of inflation not seen for years, or decades, but becomes a crash, as well it might, there will be even more for the state to suppress, especially any alternative analysis as to how we got here and what we must do to get out of it.

Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq and Marine Corp intelligence officer, called out the lie about weapons of mass destruction prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Recently, he was banned from Twitter for offering a counter-narrative about dozens of killings in the Kyiv western suburb of Bucha. Many of the victims in Bucha were found with gunshot wounds to the head and with their hands tied behind their back. International observers and eyewitnesses have blamed Russia for the killings. Ritter’s alternative analysis, right or wrong, saw him silenced.

Ritter lamented the Twitter ban at the forum:

It took me three years to get 4,000 followers on Twitter. I thought that was a big deal. Then this Ukraine thing comes up. It exploded. When I got suspended for the first time for questioning the narrative in Bucha my account had just gotten over 14,000. By the time my suspension was lifted I was up to 60,000. By the time they suspended me again I was close to 100,000. It was out of control, which is why I am convinced the algorithm said: You must delete. You must delete. And they did. The excuse they gave was absurd. I was abusive and I was harassing by telling what I thought was the truth.
I don’t have the same insight in the Ukraine I had in Iraq. Iraq, I was on the ground doing the job. But the techniques of observation and evaluation that you are trained as an intelligence officer to apply to any given set apply to Ukraine today. Simply looking at the available data set, you cannot help but draw the conclusion that it was Ukrainian national police, mainly because you have all the elements. You have motive. They don’t like Russian collaborators. How do I know? They said so on their website. You have the commander of the national police ordering his people to shoot people in Bucha on the day in question. You have the evidence. The dead bodies on the street with white armbands carrying Russian food packets. Could I be wrong? Absolutely. Could there be data out there I am not aware of? Absolutely. But it is not there. As an intelligence officer I take the available data. I access the available data. I provide assessments based on that available data. And Twitter found that objectionable.

Two pivotal incidents contributed to this censorship. The first was the publication of classified documents by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. The second was the election of Donald Trump. The ruling class was unprepared. The exposure of their war crimes, corruption, callous indifference to the plight of those they ruled and extreme concentration of wealth shredded their credibility. The election of Trump, which they did not expect, made them afraid they would be supplanted. The Republican Party establishment and the Democratic Party establishment joined forces to demand greater and greater censorship from social media.

Even marginal critics suddenly became dangerous. They had to be silenced. Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate in 2016, lost about half her social media following after mysteriously going offline for 12 hours during the campaign. The discredited Steele dossier, paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign, charged Stein, along with Trump, with being a Russian asset. The Senate Intelligence Committee spent three years investigating Stein, issuing five different reports before exonerating her.

Stein spoke of the threat to freedom of speech during the forum:

We are in an incredibly perilous moment.It’s not only freedom of the press and freedom of speech, but it is really democracy in all its dimensions that is under threat. There are all these draconian laws now against protest. There are 36 that have been passed that are as bad as a 10-year prison sentence for demonstrating on a sidewalk without a permit. They differ state by state. You need to know the laws in your state if you protest. Drivers have been given license to kill you if you are out in the street in some states as part of a protest.

The first indication that we were not only being marginalized – one accepts that if you defy established power and practice independent journalism, you will be marginalized – but censored came in November 2016. Craig Timberg, a technology reporter for the Washington Post, published a story headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say.” It referred to some 200 websites, including Truthdig where I wrote a weekly column, as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.”

Unnamed analysts, described as “a collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds” from the anonymous “organization” PropOrNot, made the charges in the story. PropOrNot’s report drew up “the list” of 200 offending sites that included WikiLeaks, Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Naked Capitalism, Counterpunch, AntiWar.com, LewRockwell.com and the Ron Paul Institute. All these sites, they said, either wittingly or unwittingly functioned as Russian assets. No evidence was offered for the charges, since of course there was none. The only common denominator was that all were critics of the Democratic Party leadership.

When we challenged the story, PropOrNot tweeted out: “Awww, wook at all the angwy Putinists, trying to change the subject – they’re so vewwy angwy!!”

We were blacklisted by anonymous trolls who sent out Twitter messages, later deleted, that sounded as if they were written by a gamer living in his parent’s basement.

Timberg did not contact any of us beforehand. He and the paper refused to reveal the identity of those behind PropOrNot. I taught at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. If one of my students had turned in Timberg’s story as a class assignment, he or she would have failed.

The established elites desperately needed a narrative to explain the defeat of Hillary Clinton and their own growing unpopularity. Russia fit. Fake news stories, they said, had been planted by Russians in social media to elect Trump. All critics, on the left and the right, became Russian Assets. Then the fun began.

The outliers many of us find repugnant began to disappear. In 2018, Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify deleted the podcasts, pages and channels of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars website from their platforms. The precedent was set. Once they could do it to Jones, they could do it to anyone.

Twitter, Google, Facebook and Youtube used the charge of foreign influence to start employing algorithms and shadow banning to silence critics. Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal Al Saud, chair of the Kingdom Holding Company, which dismissed Elon Musk’s recent offer to buy the social media platform, has a large stake in Twitter. It is hard to find a more despotic regime than Saudi Arabia, or one more hostile to the press, but I digress.

Sites that once attracted tens or hundreds of thousands of followers suddenly saw their numbers nosedive. Google’s “Project Owl,” designed to eradicate “fake news,” employed “algorithmic updates to surface more authoritative content” and downgrade “offensive” material. Traffic fell for sites such as Alternet by 63%, Democracy Now by 36 %, Common Dreams by 37 %, Truthout by 25 %, The Intercept by 19% and Counterpunch by 21%. The World Socialist Website saw its traffic fall by two-thirds. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks were all but erased. Mother Jones editors in 2019 wrote that they suffered a sharp decline in its Facebook audience, which translated to an estimated loss of $600,000 over 18 months.

The IT people at Truthdig, where I had a weekly column at the time, found that impressions – specific words such as “imperialism” typed into Google that bring up recent stories including mine – now did not include my stories. Referrals to the site from impressions for my stories fell from over 700,000 to below 200,000 in a 12-month period.

But pushing us to the sidelines was not enough, especially with Democrats’ looming loss of Congress in the midterm elections and Joe Biden’s abysmal poll numbers. Now we must be erased. Dozens of lesser-known sites, writers and videographers are disappearing. Facebook, for example, removed a “No Unite The Right 2-DC” event connected to a page called “Resisters,” appearing to advertise a counter-rally on the anniversary of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Paul Jay, who runs a site called The Analysis, ran a video essay on February 7, 2021 called, “A Failed Coup Inside a Failed Coup.” YouTube banned the piece, saying it was “content that advances false claims that widespread fraud, errors, or glitches changed the outcome of the U.S presidential election is not allowed on YouTube.” Tulsi Gabbard, after posting on March 13 that the US-funded bio labs in Ukraine and blaming the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Biden’s foreign policy, said she was shadowbanned on Twitter. The “Russians with Attitude” podcast account was suspended on Twitter. It covered the information war in Ukraine and “cried foul” on the Ghost of Kyiv. Social media platforms have been especially harsh on those questioning Covid policy, blocking websites and forcing users, social media platforms, or online outlets to delete posts.

These sites make billions of dollars by selling our personal information to corporations, advertising agencies and political public relations firms. They know everything about us. We know nothing about them. They cater to our proclivities, fears, habits and prejudices. And they will silence our voices if we do not conform.

Censorship will not halt America’s march toward Christian fascism. Weimar Germany attempted to thwart Nazi fascism by enforcing rigorous hate-speech laws. In the 1920s, it banned the Nazi party. Nazi leaders, including Joseph Goebbels, were prosecuted for hate speech. Julius Streicher, who ran the virulently antisemitic tabloid The Stormer (Der Stürmer), was fired from his teaching post, repeatedly fined and had his newspapers confiscated. He was taken to court numerous times for libel and served a series of jail sentences.

But like those serving sentences for the assault on the Capitol on January 6, or like Trump, the persecution of Nazi leaders only enhanced their stature the longer the German ruling class failed to address the economic and social misery.

There are many similarities to the 1930s, including the power of predatory international banks to consolidate wealth into the hands of a few oligarchs and impose punishing austerity measures on the global working class.

“More than anything else, the Nazis were a nationalist protest movement against globalization,” notes Benjamin Carter Hett in “The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and The Downfall of the Weimar Republic.”

Shutting down critics in a decayed and corrupt society is equivalent to turning off the oxygen on a seriously ill patient. It hastens mortality rather than delaying or preventing it. The convergence of a looming economic crisis, fear by a bankrupt ruling class that they will soon be banished from power, the growing ecological catastrophe and the inability to thwart self-destructive military adventurism against Russia and China, have set the stage for an American implosion.

Those of us who see it coming, and who desperately seek to prevent it, have become the enemy.

Chris Hedges blasts YouTube for 'wholesale censorship' after it erased his show without warning

The entire archive of On Contact, the Emmy-nominated show I hosted for six years for RT America and RT International, has been disappeared from YouTube. Gone is the interview with Nathaniel Philbrick on his book about George Washington. Gone is the discussion with Kai Bird on his biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Gone is my exploration with Professor Sam Slote from Trinity College Dublin of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Gone is the show with Benjamin Moser on his biography of Susan Sontag. Gone is the show with Stephen Kinzer on his book on John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles. Gone are the interviews with the social critics Cornel West, Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky, Gerald Horne, Wendy Brown, Paul Street, Gabriel Rockwell, Naomi Wolff and Slavoj Zizek. Gone are the interviews with the novelists Russell Banks and Salar Abdoh. Gone is the interview with Kevin Sharp, a former federal judge, on the case of Leonard Peltier. Gone are the interviews with economists David Harvey and Richard Wolff. Gone are the interviews with the combat veterans and West Point graduates Danny Sjursen and Eric Edstrom about our wars in the Middle East. Gone are the discussions with the journalists Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi. Gone are the voices of those who are being persecuted and marginalized, including the human rights attorney Steven Donziger and the political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal. None of the shows I did on mass incarceration, where I interviewed those released from our prisons, are any longer on YouTube. Gone are the shows with the cartoonists Joe Sacco and Dwayne Booth. Melted into thin air, leaving not a rack behind.

I received no inquiry or notice from YouTube. I vanished. In totalitarian systems you exist, then you don’t. I suppose this was done in the name of censoring Russian propaganda, although I have a hard time seeing how a detailed discussion of “Ulysses” or the biographies of Susan Sontag and J. Robert Oppenheimer had any connection in the eyes of the most obtuse censors in Silicon Valley with Vladimir Putin. Indeed, there is not one show that dealt with Russia. I was on RT because, as a vocal critic of US imperialism, militarism, the corporate control of the two ruling parties, and especially because I support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, I was blacklisted. I was on RT for the same reason the dissident Vaclav Havel, who I knew, was on Voice of America during the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. It was that or not be heard. Havel had no more love for the policies of Washington than I have for those of Moscow.

Are we a more informed and better society because of this wholesale censorship? Is this a world we want to inhabit where those who know everything about us and about whom we know nothing can instantly erase us? If this happens to me, it can happen to you, to any critic anywhere who challenges the dominant narrative. And that is where we are headed as the ruling elites refuse to respond to the disenfranchisement and suffering of the working class, opting not for social and political change or the curbing of the rapacious power and obscene wealth of our oligarchic rulers, but instead imposing iron control over information, as if that will solve the mounting social unrest and vast political and social divides.

The most vocal cheerleaders for this censorship are the liberal class. Terrified of the enraged crowds of QAnon conspiracy theorists, Christian fascists, gun-toting militias, and cult-like Trump supporters that grew out of the distortions of neoliberalism, austerity, deindustrialization, and the collapse of social programs, they plead with the digital monopolies to make it all go away. They blame anyone but themselves. Democrats in Congress have held hearings with the CEOs of social media companies pressuring them to do more to censor content. Banish the troglodytes. Then we will have social cohesion. Then life will go back to normal. Fake news. Harm reduction model. Information pollution. Information disorder. They have all sorts of Orwellian phrases to justify censorship. Meanwhile, they peddle their own fantasy that Russia was responsible for the election of Donald Trump. It is a stunning inability to be remotely self-reflective or self-critical, and it is ominous as we move deeper and deeper into a state of political and social dysfunction.

What were my sins? I did not, like my former employer, The New York Times, sell you the lie of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, peddle conspiracy theories about Donald Trump being a Russian asset, put out a 10-part podcast called the Caliphate that was a hoax, or tell you that the information on Hunter Biden’s laptop was “disinformation.” I did not prophesize that Joe Biden was the next FDR or that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election.

This censorship is about supporting what, as I.F Stone reminded us, governments always do – lie. Challenge the official lie, as I often did, and you will soon become a nonperson on digital media. Julian Assange and Edward Snowden exposed the truth about the criminal inner workings of power. Look where they are now. This censorship is one step removed from Joseph Stalin’s airbrushing of nonpersons such as Leon Trotsky out of official photographs. It is a destruction of our collective memory. It removes those moments in the media when we attempted to examine our reality in ways the ruling class did not appreciate. The goal is to foster historical amnesia. If we don’t know what happened in the past, we cannot make sense of the present.

“The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen,” Hannah Arendt warned. “What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie—a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days—but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.”

I am not alone. YouTube regularly removes or demonetizes channels, which happened to Progressive Soapbox, without warning, usually by arguing that the content contained videos that violated YouTube’s community guidelines. Status Coup, which filmed the January 6 storming of the Capitol, was suspended from YouTube for “advancing the false claims of election fraud.” My video content, by the way, primarily consisted of book covers, quotes from passages of books and author photos, but it got disappeared anyway.

The deplatforming of voices like mine, already blocked by commercial media and marginalized with algorithms, is coupled with the pernicious campaign to funnel people back into the arms of the “establishment” media such as CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. In the US, as Dorothy Parker once said about Katharine Hepburn’s emotional range as an actress, any policy discussion ranges from A to B. Step outside those lines and you are an outcast.

The Ukraine war, which I denounced as a “criminal war of aggression” when it began, is a sterling example. Any effort to put it into historical context, to suggest that the betrayal of agreements by the West with Moscow, which I covered as a reporter in Eastern Europe during the collapse of the Soviet Union, along with the expansion of NATO might have baited Russia into the conflict, is dismissed. Nuance. Complexity. Ambiguity. Historical context. Self-criticism. All are banished.

My show, dedicated primarily to authors and their books, should have been, if we had a functioning system of public broadcasting, on PBS or NPR. But public broadcasting is as captive to corporations and the wealthy as the commercial media, indeed PBS and NPR run commercials in the guise of sponsorship acknowledgments. The last show on public broadcasting that examined power was Moyers & Company. Once Bill Moyers went off the air in 2015, no one took his place.

A few decades ago, you could hear independent voices on public broadcasting, including Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Howard Zinn, Ralph Nader, Angela Davis, James Baldwin, and Noam Chomsky. No more. A few decades ago, there were a variety of alternative weeklies and magazines. A few decades ago, we still had a press that, however flawed, had not rendered whole segments of the population, especially the poor and social critics, invisible. It is perhaps telling that our greatest investigative journalist, Sy Hersh, who exposed the massacre of 500 unarmed Vietnamese civilians by US soldiers at My Lai and the torture at Abu Ghraib, has trouble publishing in the United States. I would direct you to the interview I did with Sy about the decayed state of the American media, but it no longer exists on YouTube.

The West has 'become captives to our machines of industrial death': Chris Hedges admonishes war crimes hypocrisy

The branding of Vladimir Putin as a war criminal by Joe Biden, who lobbied for the Iraq war and staunchly supported the 20 years of carnage in the Middle East, is one more example of the hypocritical moral posturing sweeping across the United States. It is unclear how anyone would try Putin for war crimes since Russia, like the United States, does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But justice is not the point. Politicians like Biden, who do not accept responsibility for our well-documented war crimes, bolster their moral credentials by demonizing their adversaries. They know the chance of Putin facing justice is zero. And they know their chance of facing justice is the same.

We know who our most recent war criminals are, among others: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, General Ricardo Sanchez, former CIA Director George Tenet, former Asst. Atty. Gen. Jay Bybee, former Dep. Asst. Atty. Gen. John Yoo, who set up the legal framework to authorize torture; the helicopter pilots who gunned down civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in the “Collateral Murder” video released by WikiLeaks. We have evidence of the crimes they committed.

But, like Putin’s Russia, those who expose these crimes are silenced and persecuted. Julian Assange, even though he is not a US citizen and his WikiLeaks site is not a US-based publication, is charged under the US Espionage Act for making public numerous US war crimes. Assange, currently housed in a high-security prison in London, is fighting a losing battle in the British courts to block his extradition to the United States, where he faces 175 years in prison. One set of rules for Russia, another set of rules for the United States. Weeping crocodile tears for the Russian media, which is being heavily censored by Putin, while ignoring the plight of the most important publisher of our generation speaks volumes about how much the ruling class cares about press freedom and truth.

If we demand justice for Ukrainians, as we should, we must also demand justice for the one million people killed — 400,000 of whom were non-combatants — by our invasions, occupations and aerial assaults in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan. We must demand justice for those who were wounded, became sick or died because we destroyed hospitals and infrastructure. We must demand justice for the thousands of soldiers and marines who were killed, and many more who were wounded and are living with lifelong disabilities, in wars launched and sustained on lies. We must demand justice for the 38 million people who have been displaced or become refugees in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria, a number that exceeds the total of all those displaced in all wars since 1900, apart from World War II, according to the Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs at Brown University. Tens of millions of people, who had no connection with the attacks of 9/11, were killed, wounded, lost their homes, and saw their lives and their families destroyed because of our war crimes. Who will cry out for them?

Every effort to hold our war criminals accountable has been rebuffed by Congress, by the courts, by the media and by the two ruling political parties. The Center for Constitutional Rights, blocked from bringing cases in US courts against the architects of these preemptive wars, which are defined by post-Nuremberg laws as “criminal wars of aggression,” filed motions in German courts to hold US leaders to account for gross violations of the Geneva Convention, including the sanctioning of torture in black sites such as Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib.

Those who have the power to enforce the rule of law, to hold our war criminals to account, to atone for our war crimes, direct their moral outrage exclusively at Putin’s Russia. “Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said, condemning Russia for attacking civilian sites, including a hospital, three schools and a boarding school for visually impaired children in the Luhansk region of Ukraine. “These incidents join a long list of attacks on civilian, not military locations, across Ukraine,” he said. Beth Van Schaack, an ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, will direct the effort at the State Department, Blinkin said, to “help international efforts to investigate war crimes and hold those responsible accountable.”

This collective hypocrisy, based on the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves, is accompanied by massive arms shipments to Ukraine. Fueling proxy wars was a specialty of the Cold War. We have returned to the script. If Ukrainians are heroic resistance fighters, what about Iraqis and Afghans, who fought as valiantly and as doggedly against a foreign power that was every bit as savage as Russia? Why weren’t they lionized? Why weren’t sanctions imposed on the United States? Why weren’t those who defended their countries from foreign invasion in the Middle East, including Palestinians under Israeli occupation, also provided with thousands of anti-tank weapons, anti-armor weapons, anti-aircraft weapons, helicopters, Switchblade or “Kamikaze” drones, hundreds of Stinger anti-aircraft systems, Javelin anti-tank missiles, machine guns and millions of rounds of ammunition? Why didn’t Congress rush through a $13.6 billion package to provide military and humanitarian assistance, on top of the $1.2 billion already provided to the Ukrainian military, for them?

Well, we know why. Our war crimes don’t count, and neither do the victims of our war crimes. And this hypocrisy makes a rules-based world, one that abides by international law, impossible.

This hypocrisy is not new. There is no moral difference between the saturation bombing the US carried out on civilian populations since World War II, including in Vietnam and Iraq, and the targeting of urban centers by Russia in Ukraine or the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Mass death and fireballs on a city skyline are the calling cards we have left across the globe for decades. Our adversaries do the same.

The deliberate targeting of civilians, whether in Baghdad, Kyiv, Gaza, or New York City, are all war crimes. The killing of at least 112 Ukranian children, as of March 19, is an atrocity, but so is the killing of 551 Palestinian children during Israel’s 2014 military assault on Gaza. So is the killing of 230,000 people over the past seven years in Yemen from Saudi bombing campaigns and blockades that have resulted in mass starvation and cholera epidemics. Where were the calls for a no-fly zone over Gaza and Yemen? Imagine how many lives could have been saved.

War crimes demand the same moral judgment and accountability. But they don’t get them. And they don’t get them because we have one set of standards for white Europeans, and another for non-white people around the globe. The western media has turned European and American volunteers flocking to fight in Ukraine into heroes, while Muslims in the west who join resistance groups battling foreign occupiers in the Middle East are criminalized as terrorists. Putin has been ruthless with the press. But so has our ally the de facto Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman, who ordered the murder and dismemberment of my friend and colleague Jamal Khashoggi, and who this month oversaw a mass execution of 81 people convicted of criminal offenses. The coverage of Ukraine, especially after spending seven years reporting on Israel’s murderous assaults against the Palestinians, is another example of the racist divide that defines most of the western media.

World War II began with an understanding, at least by the allies, that employing industrial weapons against civilian populations was a war crime. But within 18 months of the start of the war, the Germans, Americans and British were relentlessly bombing cities. By the end of the war, one-fifth of German homes had been destroyed. One million German civilians were killed or wounded in bombing raids. Seven-and-a-half million Germans were made homeless. The tactic of saturation bombing, or area bombing, which included the firebombing of Dresden, Hamburg and Tokyo, which killed more than 90,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo and left a million people homeless, and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which took the lives of between 129,000 and 226,000 people, most of whom were civilians, had the sole purpose of breaking the morale of the population through mass death and terror. Cities such as Leningrad, Stalingrad, Warsaw, Coventry, Royan, Nanjing and Rotterdam were obliterated.

It turned the architects of modern war, all of them, into war criminals.

Civilians in every war since have been considered legitimate targets. In the summer of 1965, then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara called the bombing raids north of Saigon that left hundreds of thousands of dead an effective means of communication with the government in Hanoi. McNamara, six years before he died, unlike most war criminals, had the capacity for self-reflection. Interviewed in the documentary, “The Fog of War,” he was repentant, not only about targeting Vietnamese civilians but about the aerial targeting of civilians in Japan in World War II, overseen by Air Force General Curtis LeMay.

“LeMay said if we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals,” McNamara said in the film. “And I think he’s right…LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose, and not immoral if you win?”

LeMay, later head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, would go on to drop tons of napalm and firebombs on civilian targets in Korea which, by his own estimate, killed 20 percent of the population over a three-year period.
Industrial killing defines modern warfare. It is impersonal mass slaughter. It is administered by vast bureaucratic structures that perpetuate the killing over months and years. It is sustained by heavy industry that produces a steady flow of weapons, munitions, tanks, planes, helicopters, battleships, submarines, missiles, and mass-produced supplies, along with mechanized transports that ferry troops and armaments by rail, ship, cargo planes and trucks to the battlefield. It mobilizes industrial, governmental and organizational structures for total war. It centralizes systems of information and internal control. It is rationalized for the public by specialists and experts, drawn from the military establishment, along with pliant academics and the media.

Industrial war destroys existing value systems that protect and nurture life, replacing them with fear, hatred, and dehumanization of those who we are made to believe deserve to be exterminated. It is driven by emotions, not truth or fact. It obliterates nuance, replacing it with an infantile binary universe of us and them. It drives competing narratives, ideas and values underground and vilifies all who do not speak in the national cant that replaces civil discourse and debate. It is touted as an example of the inevitable march of human progress, when in fact it brings us closer and closer to mass obliteration in a nuclear holocaust. It mocks the concept of individual heroism, despite the feverish efforts of the military and the mass media to sell this myth to naïve young recruits and a gullible public. It is the Frankenstein of industrialized societies. War, as Alfred Kazin warned, is “the ultimate purpose of technological society.” Our real enemy is within.

Historically, those who are prosecuted for war crimes, whether the Nazi hierarchy at Nuremberg or the leaders of Liberia, Chad, Serbia, and Bosnia, are prosecuted because they lost the war and because they are adversaries of the United States.

There will be no prosecution of Saudi Arabian rulers for the war crimes committed in Yemen or for the US military and political leadership for the war crimes they carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, or a generation earlier in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The atrocities we commit, such as My Lai, where 500 unarmed Vietnamese civilians were gunned down by US soldiers, which are made public, are dealt with by finding a scapegoat, usually a low-ranking officer who is given a symbolic sentence. Lt. William Calley served three years under house arrest for the killings at My Lai. Eleven US soldiers, none of whom were officers, were convicted of torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But the architects and overlords of our industrial slaughter, including Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Gen. Curtis LeMay, Harry S. Truman, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Lyndon Johnson, Gen. William Westmoreland, George W. Bush, Gen. David Petraeus, Barack Obama and Joe Biden are never held to account. They leave power to become venerated elder statesmen.

The mass slaughter of industrial warfare, the failure to hold ourselves to account, to see our own face in the war criminals we condemn, will have ominous consequences. Author and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi understood that the annihilation of the humanity of others is a prerequisite for their physical annihilation. We have become captives to our machines of industrial death. Politicians and generals wield their destructive fury as if they were toys. Those who decry the madness, who demand the rule of law, are attacked and condemned. These industrial weapons systems are our modern idols. We worship their deadly prowess. But all idols, the Bible tells us, begin by demanding the sacrifice of others and end in apocalyptic self-sacrifice.

'The rank hypocrisy is stunning': did the world forget what the United States did to Iraq?

Rulers divide the world into worthy and unworthy victims, those we are allowed to pity, such as Ukrainians enduring the hell of modern warfare, and those whose suffering is minimized, dismissed, or ignored. The terror we and our allies carry out against Iraqi, Palestinian, Syrian, Libyan, Somali and Yemeni civilians is part of the regrettable cost of war. We, echoing the empty promises from Moscow, claim we do not target civilians. Rulers always paint their militaries as humane, there to serve and protect. Collateral damage happens, but it is regrettable.

This lie can only be sustained among those who are unfamiliar with the explosive ordinance and large kill zones of missiles, iron fragmentation bombs, mortar, artillery and tank shells, and belt-fed machine guns. This bifurcation into worthy and unworthy victims, as Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky point out in “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” is a key component of propaganda, especially in war. The Russian-speaking population in Ukraine, to Moscow, are worthy victims. Russia is their savior: The 1.5 million refugees and the millions of Ukrainian families cowering in basements, car parks and subway stations, are unworthy “Nazis.”

Worthy victims allow citizens to see themselves as empathetic, compassionate, and just. Worthy victims are an effective tool to demonize the aggressor. They are used to obliterate nuance and ambiguity. Mention the provocations carried out by the western alliance with the expansion of NATO beyond the borders of a unified Germany, a violation of promises made to Moscow in 1990; the stationing of of NATO troops and missile batteries in Eastern Europe; the U.S. involvement in the ouster in 2014 of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, which led to the civil war in the east of Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukraine’s army, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, and you are dismissed as a Putin apologist.

It is to taint the sainthood of the worthy victims, and by extension ourselves. We are good. They are evil. Worthy victims are used not only to express sanctimonious outrage, but to stoke self-adulation and a poisonous nationalism. The cause becomes sacred, a religious crusade. Fact-based evidence is abandoned, as it was during the calls to invade Iraq. Charlatans, liars, con artists, fake defectors, and opportunists become experts, used to fuel the conflict.

Celebrities, who, like the powerful, carefully orchestrate their public image, pour out their hearts to worthy victims. Hollywood stars such as George Clooney made trips to Darfur to denounce the war crimes being committed by Khartoum at the same time the US was killing scores of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war in Iraq was as savage as the slaughter in Darfur, but to express outrage at what was happening to unworthy victims was to become branded as the enemy, who of course, like Putin or Saddam Hussein, is always the new Hitler.

Saddam Hussein’s attacks on the Kurds, considered worthy victims, saw an international outcry while Israeli persecution of the Palestinians, subjected to relentless bombing campaigns by the Israeli air force and its artillery and tank units, with hundreds of dead and wounded, was, at best, an afterthought. At the height of Stalin’s purges in the 1930s, worthy victims were the Republicans battling the fascists in the Spanish civil war. Soviet citizens were mobilized to send aid and assistance. Unworthy victims were the millions of people Stalin executed, sometimes after tawdry show trials, and sent to the gulags.

While I was reporting from El Salvador in 1984, the Catholic priest Jerzy Popiełuszko was murdered by the regime in Poland. His death was used to excoriate the Polish communist government, a stark contrast to the response of the Reagan administration to the rape and murder of four Catholic missionaries in 1980 in El Salvador by the Salvadorean National Guard. President Ronald Reagan’s administration sought to blame the three nuns and a lay worker for their own deaths. Jeane Kirkpatrick, Reagan’s Ambassador to the United Nations, said, “The nuns were not just nuns. The nuns were also political activists.” Secretary of State Alexander Haig speculated that “perhaps they ran a roadblock.”

For the Reagan administration, the murdered churchwomen were unworthy victims. The right-wing government in El Salvador, armed and backed by the United States, joked at the time, Haz patria, mata un cura (Be a patriot, kill a priest). Archbishop Óscar Romero had been assassinated in March of 1980. Nine years later it would gun down six Jesuits and two others at their residence on the campus of Central American University in San Salvador. Between 1977 and 1989, death squads and soldiers killed 13 priests in El Salvador.

It is not that worthy victims do not suffer, nor that they are not deserving of our support and compassion, it is that worthy victims alone are rendered human, people like us, and unworthy victims are not. It helps, of course, when, as in Ukraine, they are white. But the missionaries murdered in El Salvador were also white and American and yet it was not enough to shake US support for the country’s military dictatorship.

“The mass media never explain why Andrei Sakharov is worthy and Jose Luis Massera, in Uruguay, is unworthy,” Herman and Chomsky write. “The attention and general dichotomization occur ‘naturally’ as a result of the working of the filters, but the result is the same as if a commissar had instructed the media: ‘Concentrate on the victims of enemy powers and forget about the victims of friends.’ Reports of the abuses of worthy victims not only pass through the filters; they may also become the basis of sustained propaganda campaigns. If the government or corporate community and the media feel that a story is useful as well as dramatic, they focus on it intensively and use it to enlighten the public.”

“This was true, for example, of the shooting down by the Soviets of the Korean airliner KAL 007 in early September 1983, which permitted an extended campaign of denigration of an official enemy and greatly advanced Reagan administration arms plans,” Herman and Chomsky write. “As Bernard Gwertzman noted complacently in the New York Times of August 31, 1984, US officials ‘assert that worldwide criticism of the Soviet handling of the crisis has strengthened the United States in its relations with Moscow.’ In sharp contrast, the shooting down by Israel of a Libyan civilian airliner in February I973 led to no outcry in the West, no denunciations for ‘cold-blooded murder,’ and no boycott. This difference in treatment was explained by the New York Times precisely on the grounds of utility in a 1973 editorial: ‘No useful purpose is served by an acrimonious debate over the assignment of blame for the downing of a Libyan airliner in the Sinai Peninsula last week.’ There was a very ‘useful purpose’ served by focusing on the Soviet act, and a massive propaganda campaign ensued.”

It is impossible to hold those responsible for war crimes accountable if worthy victims are deserving of justice and unworthy victims are not. If Russia should be crippled with sanctions for invading Ukraine, which I believe it should, the United States should have been crippled with sanctions for invading Iraq, a war launched on the basis of lies and fabricated evidence.

Imagine if America’s largest banks, J.P Morgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo were cut off from the international banking system. Imagine if our oligarchs, Jeff Bezos, Jamie Diamond, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk, as venal as Russian oligarchs, had their assets frozen and estates and luxury yachts seized. (Bezos’ yacht is the largest in the world, cost an estimated $500 million and is about 57 feet longer than a football field.) Imagine if leading political figures, such as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and US “oligarchs” were blocked from traveling under visa restrictions. Imagine if the world’s biggest shipping lines suspended shipments to and from the United States. Imagine if US international media news outlets were forced off the air. Imagine if we were blocked from purchasing spare parts for our commercial airlines and our airliners were banned from European air space. Imagine if our athletes were barred from hosting or participating in international sporting events. Imagine if our symphony conductors and opera stars were forbidden from performing unless they denounced the Iraq war and, in a kind of perverted loyalty oath, condemned George W. Bush.

The rank hypocrisy is stunning. Some of the same officials that orchestrated the invasion of Iraq, who under international law are war criminals for carrying out a preemptive war, are now chastising Russia for its violation of international law. The US bombing campaign of Iraqi urban centers, called “Shock and Awe,” saw the dropping of 3,000 bombs on civilian areas that killed over 7,000 noncombatants in the first two months of the war. Russia has yet to go to this extreme.

“I have argued that when you invade a sovereign nation, that is a war crime,” a FOX News host said (with a straight face) recently to Condoleezza Rice, who served as Bush’s National Security adviser during the Iraq War.

“It is certainly against every principle of international law and international order and that is why throwing the book at them now in terms of economic sanctions and punishments is also a part of it,” Rice said. “And I think the world is there. Certainly, NATO is there. He’s managed to unite NATO in ways that I didn’t think I would ever see after the end of the Cold War.”

Rice inadvertently made a case for why she should be put on trial with the rest of Bush’s enablers. She famously justified the invasion of Iraq by stating: “The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Her rationale for preemptive war, which under post-Nuremberg laws is a criminal war of aggression, is no different than that peddled by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who says the Russia invasion is being carried out to prevent Ukraine from obtaining nuclear weapons.

And this brings me to RT America, where I had a show called “On Contact.” RT America is now off the air after being deplatformed and unable to disseminate its content. This was long the plan of the US government. The invasion of Ukraine gave Washington the opening to shut RT down. The network had a tiny media footprint. But it gave a platform to American dissidents who challenged corporate capitalism, imperialism, war, and the American oligarchy.

My public denunciation of the invasion of Ukraine was treated very differently by RT America than my public denunciation of the Iraq war was treated by my former employer, The New York Times. RT America made no comment, publicly or privately, about my condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine in my ScheerPost column. Nor did RT comment about statements by Jesse Ventura, a Vietnam veteran and former Minnesota governor, who also had a show on RT America, and who wrote: “20 years ago, I lost my job because I opposed the Iraq War and the invasion of Iraq. Today, I still stand for peace. As I’ve said previously, I oppose this war, this invasion, and if standing up for peace costs me another job, so be it. I will always speak out against war.”

RT America was shut down six days after I denounced the invasion of Ukraine. If the network had continued, Ventura and I might have paid with our jobs, but at least for those six days they kept us on air.

The New York Times issued a formal written reprimand in 2003 that forbade me to speak about the war in Iraq, although I had been the newspaper’s Middle East Bureau Chief, had spent seven years in the Middle East and was an Arabic speaker. This reprimand set me up to be fired. If I violated the prohibition, under guild rules, the paper had grounds to terminate my employment. John Burns, another foreign correspondent at the paper, publicly supported the invasion of Iraq. He did not receive a reprimand.

My repeated warnings in public forums about the chaos and bloodbath the invasion of Iraq would trigger, which turned out to be correct, was not an opinion. It was an analysis based on years of experience in the region, including in Iraq, and an intimate understanding of the instrument of war those in the Bush White House lacked. But it challenged the dominant narrative and was silenced. This same censorship of anti-war sentiment is happening now in Russia, but we should remember it happened here during the inception and initial stages of the invasion of Iraq.

Those of us who opposed the Iraq war, no matter how much experience we had in the region, were attacked and vilified. Ventura, who had a three-year contract with MSNBC, saw his show canceled.

Those who were cheerleaders for the war, such as George Packer, Thomas Friedman, Paul Berman, Michael Ignatieff, Leon Wieseltier and Nick Kristof, who Tony Judt called “Bush’s useful idiots,” dominated the media landscape. They painted the Iraqis as oppressed, worthy victims, who the US military would set free. The plight of women under the Taliban was a rallying cry to bomb and occupy the country. These courtiers to power served the interests of the power elite and the war industry. They differentiated between worthy and unworthy victims. It was a good career move. And they knew it.

There was very little dispute about the folly of invading Iraq among reporters in the Middle East, but most did not want to jeopardize their positions by speaking publicly. They did not want my fate to become their own, especially after I was booed off a commencement stage in Rockford, Illinois for delivering an antiwar speech and became a punching bag for right-wing media. I would walk through the newsroom and reporters I had known for years looked down or turned their heads, as if I had leprosy. My career was finished. And not just at The New York Times but any major media organization, which is where I was, orphaned, when Robert Scheer recruited me to write for Truthdig, which he then edited.

What Russia is doing militarily in Ukraine, at least up to now, was more than matched by our own savagery in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Vietnam. This is an inconvenient fact the press, awash in moral posturing, will not address.

No one has mastered the art of technowar and wholesale slaughter like the US military. When atrocities leak out, such as the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians or the prisoners in Abu Ghraib, the press does its duty by branding them aberrations. The truth is that these killings and abuse are deliberate. They are orchestrated at the senior levels of the military. Infantry units, assisted by long ranger artillery, fighter jets, heavy bombers, missiles, drones, and helicopters level vast swaths of “enemy” territory killing most of the inhabitants. The US military during the invasion of Iraq from Kuwait created a six-mile-wide free-fire zone that killed hundreds if not thousands of Iraqis. The indiscriminate killing ignited the Iraqi insurgency.

When I entered southern Iraq in the first Gulf War it was flattened. Villages and towns were smoldering ruins. Bodies, including women and children, lay scattered on the ground. Water purification systems had been bombed. Power stations had been bombed. Schools and hospitals had been bombed. Bridges had been bombed. The United States military always wages war by “overkill,” which is why it dropped the equivalent of 640 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs on Vietnam, most actually falling on the south where our purported Vietnamese allies resided. It unloaded in Vietnam more than 70 million tons of herbicidal agents, three million white phosphorus rockets — white phosphorus will burn its way entirely through a body — and an estimated 400,000 tons of jellied incendiary napalm.

“Thirty-five percent of the victims,” Nick Turse writes of the war in Vietnam, “died within 15 to 20 minutes.” Death from the skies, like death on the ground, was often unleashed capriciously. “It was not out of the ordinary for US troops in Vietnam to blast a whole village or bombard a wide area in an effort to kill a single sniper.”

Vietnamese villagers, including women, children, and the elderly, were often herded into tiny, barbed wire enclosures known as “cow cages.” They were subjected to electric shocks, gang raped and tortured by being hung upside down and beaten, euphemistically called “the plane ride,” until unconscious. Fingernails were ripped out. Fingers were dismembered. Detainees were slashed with knives. They were beaten senseless with baseball bats and waterboarded. Targeted assassinations, orchestrated by CIA death squads, were ubiquitous.

Wholesale destruction, including of human beings, to the US military, perhaps any military, is orgiastic. The ability to unleash sheets of automatic rifle fire, hundreds of rounds of belt-fed machine-gun fire, 90 mm tank rounds, endless grenades, mortars, and artillery shells on a village, sometimes supplemented by gigantic 2,700-pound explosive projectiles fired from battleships along the coast, was a perverted form of entertainment in Vietnam, as it became later in the Middle East. US troops litter the countryside with claymore mines. Canisters of napalm, daisy-cutter bombs, anti-personnel rockets, high-explosive rockets, incendiary rockets, cluster bombs, high-explosive shells, and iron fragmentation bombs — including the 40,000-pound bomb loads dropped by giant B-52 Strarofortress bombers — along with chemical defoliants and chemical gases dropped from the sky are our calling cards. Vast areas are designated free fire zones — a term later changed by the military to the more neutral sounding “specified strike zone” — where everyone in those zones is considered the enemy, even the elderly, women, and children.

Soldiers and marines who attempt to report the war crimes they witness can face a fate worse than being pressured, discredited, or ignored. On Sept. 12, 1969, Nick Turse writes in his book “Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam,” George Chunko sent a letter to his parents explaining how his unit had entered a home that had a young Vietnamese woman, four young children, an elderly man, and a military-age male. It appeared the younger man was AWOL from the South Vietnamese army. The young man was stripped naked and tied to a tree. His wife fell to her knees and begged the soldiers for mercy. The prisoner, Chunko wrote, was “ridiculed, slapped around and [had] mud rubbed into this face.” He was then executed.

A day after he wrote the letter, Chunko was killed. Chunko’s parents, Turse writes, “suspected that their son had been murdered to cover up the crime.”

All of this remains unspoken as we express our anguish for the people of Ukraine and revel in our moral superiority. The life of a Palestinian or an Iraqi child is as precious as the life of a Ukrainian child. No one should live in fear and terror. No one should be sacrificed on the altar of Mars. But until all victims are worthy, until all who wage war are held accountable and brought to justice, this hypocritical game of life and death will continue. Some human beings will be worthy of life. Others will not. Drag Putin off to the International Criminal Court and put him on trial. But make sure George W. Bush is in the cell next to him. If we can’t see ourselves, we can’t see anyone else. And this blindness leads to catastrophe.

Chris Hedges: I was there for the end of the Cold War — and we all knew how peace could collapse. We didn't stop it

I was in Eastern Europe in 1989, reporting on the revolutions that overthrew the ossified communist dictatorships that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was a time of hope. NATO, with the breakup of the Soviet empire, became obsolete. President Mikhail Gorbachev reached out to Washington and Europe to build a new security pact that would include Russia. Secretary of State James Baker, along with West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, assured the Soviet leader that if Germany were unified NATO would not be extended beyond the new borders. The commitment not to expand NATO, also made by Britain and France, appeared to herald a new global order. We saw the peace dividend dangled before us, the promise that the massive expenditures on weapons that had characterized the Cold War would be converted into expenditures on social programs and infrastructures that had long been neglected to feed the insatiable appetite of the military.

This article originally appeared at ScheerPost.

There was a near universal understanding among diplomats and political leaders at the time that any attempt to expand NATO was foolish, an unwarranted provocation against Russia that would obliterate the ties and bonds that happily emerged at the end of the Cold War.

How naive we were. The war industry did not intend to shrink its power or its profits. It set out almost immediately to recruit the former Communist bloc countries into the European Union and NATO. Countries that joined NATO, which now include Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia, were forced to reconfigure their militaries, often through hefty loans, to become compatible with NATO military hardware.

There would be no peace dividend. The expansion of NATO swiftly became a multi-billion-dollar bonanza for the corporations that had profited from the Cold War. (Poland, for example, just agreed to spend $6 billion on M1 Abrams tanks and other U.S. military equipment.) If Russia would not acquiesce to again being the enemy, then Russia would be pressured into becoming the enemy. And here we are: On the brink of another Cold War, one from which only the war industry will profit while, as W.H. Auden wrote, the little children die in the streets.

The consequences of pushing NATO up to Russia's western borders — there is now a NATO missile base in Poland, 100 miles from the Russian frontier — were well known to policy makers. Yet they did it anyway. It made no geopolitical sense. But it made commercial sense. War, after all, is a business, a very lucrative one. It is why we spent two decades in Afghanistan although there was near universal consensus after a few years of fruitless fighting that we had waded into a quagmire we could never win.

In a classified diplomatic cable obtained and released by WikiLeaks, dated Feb. 1, 2008, which was written from Moscow and addressed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the NATO-European Union Cooperative, the National Security Council, the Russia Moscow Political Collective, the secretary of defense and the secretary of state, there was an unequivocal understanding that expanding NATO risked an eventual conflict with Russia, especially over Ukraine:

Not only does Russia perceive encirclement [by NATO], and efforts to undermine Russia's influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests. Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face. ... Dmitri Trenin, Deputy Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, expressed concern that Ukraine was, in the long-term, the most potentially destabilizing factor in U.S.-Russian relations, given the level of emotion and neuralgia triggered by its quest for NATO membership. ... Because membership remained divisive in Ukrainian domestic politics, it created an opening for Russian intervention. Trenin expressed concern that elements within the Russian establishment would be encouraged to meddle, stimulating U.S. overt encouragement of opposing political forces, and leaving the U.S. and Russia in a classic confrontational posture.

The Obama administration, not wanting to further inflame tensions with Russia, blocked arms sales to Kyiv. But this act of prudence was abandoned by the Trump and Biden administrations. Weapons from the U.S. and U.K. have poured into Ukraine, part of the $1.5 billion in promised military aid. The equipment includes hundreds of sophisticated Javelins and NLAW anti-tank weapons despite repeated protests by Moscow.

The U.S. and its NATO allies have no intention of sending troops to Ukraine. Rather, they will flood the country with weapons, which is what they did in the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia.

The conflict in Ukraine echoes the novel "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" by Gabriel García Márquez. In the novel it is acknowledged by the narrator that "there had never been a death more foretold" and yet no one was able or willing to stop it. All of us who reported from Eastern Europe in 1989 knew the consequences of provoking Russia, and yet few have raised their voices to halt the madness. The methodical steps toward war took on a life of their own, moving us like sleepwalkers towards disaster.

Once NATO expanded into Eastern Europe, the Clinton administration promised Moscow that NATO combat troops would not be stationed in Eastern Europe, the defining issue of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations. This promise again turned out to be a lie. Then, in 2014, the U.S. backed a coup against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who sought to build an economic alliance with Russia rather than the European Union. Of course, once integrated into the EU, as seen in the rest of Eastern Europe, the next step is integration into NATO. Russia, spooked by the coup, alarmed at the overtures by the EU and NATO, then annexed Crimea, largely populated by Russian speakers. And the death spiral that led us to the conflict currently underway in Ukraine became unstoppable.

The war state needs enemies to sustain itself. When an enemy can't be found, an enemy is manufactured. Putin has become, in the words of Sen. Angus King of Maine, the new Hitler, out to grab Ukraine and the rest of Eastern Europe. The full-throated cries for war, echoed shamelessly by the press, are justified by draining the conflict of historical context, by elevating ourselves as the saviors and depicting whomever we oppose, from Saddam Hussein to Putin, as the new Nazi leader.

I don't know where this will end up. We must remember, as Putin reminded us, that Russia is a nuclear power. We must remember that once you open the Pandora's box of war it unleashes dark and murderous forces no one can control. I know this from personal experience. The match has been lit. The tragedy is that there was never any dispute about how the conflagration would start.

How 'especially insidious' violence against women is a tool of corporate domination and capitalism: Chris Hedges

The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell which began this week in Manhattan will not hold to account the powerful and wealthy men who are also complicit in the sexual assaults of girls as young as twelve Maxwell allegedly procured for billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.

Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, hedge-fund billionaire Glenn Dubin, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Secretary of the Treasury and former president of Harvard Larry Summers, Stephen Pinker, Prince Andrew, Alan Dershowitz, billionaire Victoria’s Secret CEO Les Wexner, the J.P Morgan banker Jes Staley, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barack, real estate mogul Mort Zuckerman, former Maine senator George Mitchell, Harvey Weinstein and many others who were at least present and most likely participated in Epstein’s perpetual Bacchanalia, are not in court. The law firms and high-priced attorneys, federal and state prosecutors, private investigators, personal assistants, publicists, servants, drivers and numerous other procurers, sometimes women, who made Epstein’s crimes possible are not being investigated. Those in the media, the political arena and the entertainment industry who aggressively and often viciously shut down and discredited the few voices, including those of a handful of intrepid reporters, who sought to shine a light on the crimes committed by Epstein and his circle of accomplices are not on trial. The videos that Epstein apparently collected of his guests engaged in their sexual escapades with teenage and underage girls from the cameras he had installed in his opulent residences and on his private island have mysteriously disappeared, most probably into the black hole of the FBI, along with other crucial evidence. Epstein’s death in a New York jail cell, while officially ruled a suicide, is in the eyes of many credible investigators a murder. With Epstein dead, and Maxwell sacrificed, the ruling oligarchs will once again escape justice.

The Epstein case is important because, however much is being covered up, it is a window into the scourge of male violence that explodes in decayed cultures, fueled by widening income disparities, the collapse of the social contract and the grotesque entitlement that comes with celebrity, political power, and wealth. When a ruling elite perverts all institutions, including the courts, into instruments that serve the exclusive interests of the entitled, when it willfully neglects and abandons larger and larger segments of the population, girls and women always suffer disproportionally. The struggle for equal pay, equal distribution of wealth and resources, access to welfare, legal aid that offers adequate protection under the law, social services, job training, healthcare, and education services, have been so degraded they barely exist for the poor, especially poor girls and women.

Women, traditionally burdened with the care of children, the elderly and the sick, stripped of control over their own bodies in states that seek to deny reproductive rights, are cornered, unable to make a living and secure legal protection. This is always the goal of patriarchy. And in this degraded world girls and women are easy prey for pimps, pedophiles, and rapists such as Epstein and his accomplices. These men look at their victims not as children or young women in distress but as human trash, no more worthy of consideration than a slave, which in fact many of these girls and women become.

A licentious, money-drenched, morally bankrupt and intellectually vacuous ruling class, accountable to no one and free to plunder and prey on the weak like human vultures, rise to power in societies in terminal decline. This class of parasites was savagely parodied in the first-century satirical novel “Satyricon” by Gaius Petronius, written during the reign of Nero. Epstein and his cohorts for years engaged in sexual perversions of Petronian proportions, as Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie Brown, whose dogged reporting was largely responsible for reopening the federal investigation in Epstein and Maxwell, documents in her book “Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story.”

As Brown writes, in 2016 an anonymous woman, using the pseudonym “Kate Johnson,” filed a civil complaint in federal court in California alleging she was raped by Trump and Epstein when she was thirteen over a four-month period from June to September 1994. “I loudly pleaded with Trump to stop,” she said in the lawsuit about being raped by Trump. “Trump responded to my pleas by violently striking me in the face with his open hand and screaming that he could do whatever he wanted.” Brown writes:

Johnson said that Epstein invited her to a series of “underage sex parties” at his New York mansion where she met Trump. Enticed by promises of money and modeling opportunities, Johnson said she was forced to have sex with Trump several times, including once with another girl, twelve years old, whom she labeled “Marie Doe.”

Trump demanded oral sex, the lawsuit said, and afterward he “pushed both minors away while angrily berating them for the ‘poor’ quality of the sexual performance,” according to the lawsuit, filed April 26 in U.S. District Court in Central California.

Afterward, when Epstein learned that Trump had taken Johnson’s virginity, Epstein allegedly “attempted to strike her about the head with his closed fists,” angry he had not been the one to take her virginity. Johnson claimed that both men threatened to harm her, and her family if she ever revealed what had happened.

The lawsuit states that Trump did not take part in Epstein’s orgies but liked to watch, often while the thirteen-year-old “Kate Johnson” gave him a hand job. It appears Trump was able to quash the lawsuit by buying her silence. She has since disappeared.

These mediocrities, drunk with their own self-importance, equate celebrity, power and wealth with wisdom. Petronius’ Trimalchio, the archetypal self-made millionaire whose vulgarity and stupidity make him one of great comic buffoons of literature, was more than matched by Epstein who organized pretentious dinners for those in his secret billionaires club, which included Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Salar Kamangar and Jeff Bezos. Epstein and his guests, as in Petronius’s chapter “Dinner with Trimalchio,” dreamed up bizarre schemes of social engineering, including Epstein’s plan to seed the human species with his own DNA by creating a baby compound at his sprawling estate in New Mexico. “Epstein was also obsessed with cryonics, the transhumanist philosophy whose followers believe that people can be replicated or brought back to life after they are frozen,” Brown writes. “Epstein apparently told some of the members of his scientific circle that he wanted to inseminate women with his sperm for them to give birth to his babies, and that he wanted his head and his penis frozen.”

Epstein, who regularly entertained and funded the work of Harvard faculty, was made a visiting fellow in Harvard’s Department of Psychology, although he had no academic qualifications that made him eligible for the position. He was given a key card and pass code, as well as an office, in the building that housed Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. He referred to himself in his press releases as “Science Philanthropist Jeffrey Epstein,” “Education activist Jeffrey Epstein,” “Evolutionary Jeffrey Epstein,” “Science patron Jeffrey Epstein” and “Maverick hedge funder Jeffrey Epstein.”

The judicial system, for years, worked to protect Epstein. The legal anomalies, including the disappearance of massive amounts of evidence incriminating Epstein, saw Epstein avoid federal sex-trafficking charges in 2007 when his attorneys negotiated a secret deal with Alex Acosta in the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami to plead guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution.

The prominent men accused of also engaging in Epstein’s carnival of pedophilia, including the attorney and former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, brazenly lie and threaten anyone daring to call them out. Dershowitz, for example, claims that an investigation, which he has refused to make public, by the former FBI director Louis Freeh proves he had never had sex with one of Epstein’s victims, Virginia Giuffre. He has sent repeated threats to Brown and her editors at the Miami Herald. Brown continues:

[Dershowitz] kept referring to information that was contained in sealed documents. He accused the newspaper of not reporting “facts” that he said were in those sealed documents. The truth is, I tried to explain, newspapers just can’t write about things because Alan Dershowitz says they exist. We need to see them. We need to verify them. Then, because I said “show me the material,” he publicly accused me of committing a criminal act by asking him to produce documents that were under court seal.

This is the way Dershowitz operates.

What disturbs me the most about Dershowitz is the way that the media, with few exceptions, fails to critically challenge him. Journalists fact-checked Donald Trump and others in his administration almost every day, yet, for the most part, the media seems to give Dershowitz a pass on the Epstein story.

In 2015, when Giuffre’s allegations first became public, Dershowitz went on every television program imaginable swearing, among other things, that Epstein’s plane logs would exonerate him. “How do you know that?” he was asked.

He replied that he was never on Epstein’s plane during the time that Virginia was involved with Epstein.
But if the media had checked, they could have learned that he was indeed a passenger on the plane during that time period, according to the logs.

Then he testified, in a sworn deposition, that he never went on any plane trips without his wife. But he was listed on those passage manifests as traveling multiple times without his wife. During at least one trip, he was on the plane with a model named Tatiana.

The ability of the powerful to ignore the law raises important and different questions for girls and women about the role of government, police and the law. Defunding the police is not a solution. Demilitarizing the police is. Women need legal protection and need police that function as police, as a sanction with severe consequences against male violence. They need social support. They need robust institutions, including the courts, which prevent them from being blackmailed, bullied, and abused. To challenge sexual violence, to challenge objectification, to challenge the cultural hypersexualization of women, is to be subject to vicious character assassination, threatened, including the threat of rape, and at times killed. To stand up to protect water, to assist a truth-teller, if you are a woman, is to face potential economic destitution. To stand up and name your abuser, as many of the courageous women who have come forward in the Epstein case have done, is to have high-priced teams of attorneys and private investigators pursue every avenue to demonize, discredit and destroy you financially and psychologically. The resources available to the powerful, and the dearth of resources available to the powerless, skews this fight in favor of the predators. This is by design.

The struggle for liberation and justice by women is central to the struggle for liberation and justice for everyone. We will not resist the radical evil before us without women, if we are denied access to the ideas and leadership of women, and in particular women of color. So, while we must decry violence and exploitation against all of the oppressed, we must also recognize that male violence against women – including prostitution and its promoter, pornography – is an especially insidious form of violence. It is a tool of corporate domination and capitalism. It is engrained in the racism and exploitation of imperialism and colonialism. But it also exists outside the structures of capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism. More women have been killed by their domestic partners since 2001 than all the Americans killed on September 11, and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Predatory male power infects the left as well as the right, the anti-capitalists as well as the capitalists, the anti-imperialists as well as the imperialists and the anti-racists as well as the racists. It is its own evil. And if it is not defeated there will be no justice for women or for anyone else.

The predators know that desperation forces girls and women, with no alternatives left, to trade sex for the most basic staples of life, including food and shelter. In every conflict I covered as a war correspondent there was an explosion of prostituted girls and women. And as we are burdened with greater and greater numbers of environmental migrants — over a billion by 2050, by one prediction — fleeing droughts, rising sea levels, flooding, wildfires and declining crop yields these exchanges of sex for the most basic elements need to survive will become more common. The scourge of male violence is growing, not decreasing.

George Bernard Shaw got it right. Poverty is:

“[T]he worst of crimes. All the other crimes are virtues beside it; all the other dishonors are chivalry itself by comparison. Poverty blights whole cities, spreads horrible pestilences, strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound, or smell of it. What you call crime is nothing: a murder here and a theft there, a blow now and a curse then. What do they matter? They are only the accidents and illnesses of life; there are not fifty genuine professional criminals in London. But there are millions of poor people, abject people, dirty people, ill-fed, ill-clothed people. They poison us morally and physically; they kill the happiness of society; they force us to do away with our own liberties and to organize unnatural cruelties for fear they should rise against us and drag us down into their abyss. Only fools fear crime; we all fear poverty.”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said of society that “some are guilty, but all are responsible.” The crime of poverty is a communal crime. Our failure, as the richest nation on earth, to provide safe and healthy communities, ones where all children have enough to eat and a future, is a communal crime. Our failure to provide everyone, and especially the poor, with a good education and housing is a communal crime. Our failure to make health care a human right, forcing parents, burdened with astronomical medical bills, to bankrupt themselves to save their sick sons or daughters, is a communal crime. Our failure to provide meaningful work — in short, the possibility of hope — is a communal crime. Our decision to militarize police forces and build prisons, rather than invest in people, is a communal crime. Our failure to protect girls and women is a communal crime. The misguided belief in charity and philanthropy rather than justice is a communal crime. “You Christians have a vested interest in unjust structures which produce victims to whom you then can pour out your hearts in charity,” Karl Marx said, chastising a group of church leaders.

If we do not work to eliminate the causes of poverty, the greatest of all crimes, the institutional structures that keep the poor poor, then we are responsible. There are issues of personal morality, and they are important, but they mean nothing without a commitment to social morality. Only those who have been there truly understand. Only those with integrity and courage speak the truth. And at the forefront of this fight are women.

Sexual sadism is fed by the entitlement of the powerful and a pornography industry that eroticizes images of girls and women being physically abused. It is not accidental that many of the Abu Ghraib images resemble stills from porn films. There is a shot of a naked man kneeling in front of another man as if performing oral sex. There is a photo of a naked man on a leash held by a female American soldier. There are photos of naked men in chains. There are photos of naked men stacked one on top of the other in a pile on the floor. And there are hundreds more classified photos that purportedly show forced masturbation by Iraqi prisoners and the rape of prisoners, including young boys, by U.S. soldiers, many of whom were schooled in these torture techniques in our vast system of mass incarceration.

The list of suspected abusers around Epstein was not segregated by the left or the right. It included Republicans, like Trump, and Democrats such as Clinton. It included philanthropists such as Gates, the former prime minister of Israel, and Harvard academics. It included celebrities, such as David Copperfield, and the titans of finance and business. The common denominator was not politics or ideology, but that they were powerful and wealthy men.

The feminist Andrea Dworkin understood. She excoriated the left, who railed against the excesses of capitalism, while ignoring the capitalist exploitation of girls and women. She wrote:

Capitalism is not wicked or cruel when the commodity is the whore; profit is not wicked or cruel when the alienated worker is a female piece of meat; corporate bloodsucking is not wicked or cruel when the corporations in question, organized crime syndicates, sell cunt; racism is not wicked or cruel when the black cunt or yellow cunt or red cunt or Hispanic cunt or Jewish cunt has her legs splayed for any man’s pleasure; poverty is not wicked or cruel when it is the poverty of dispossessed women who have only themselves to sell; violence by the powerful against the powerless is not wicked or cruel when it is called sex; slavery is not wicked or cruel when it is sexual slavery; torture is not wicked or cruel when the tormented are women, whores, cunts. The new pornography is left-wing; and the new pornography is a vast graveyard where the Left has gone to die. The Left cannot have its whores and its politics too.

The Earth, and all forms of life on this planet, must be revered, and protected if we are to endure as a species. This means inculcating a different vision of human society. It means building a world where domination and ceaseless exploitation, in all its forms, are condemned, where empathy, especially for the weak and for the vulnerable is held up as the highest virtue. It means recovering the capacity for awe and reverence for the sacred sources that sustain life. It means that girls and women must be empowered to control their own fates. Once we stand up for this ethic of life, once we include all people, including girls and women, as an integral part of this ethic, we can build a successful resistance movement that can challenge the radical evil before us. But we can’t do it unless half of the human population, girls and women, are at our side. Their fight is our fight. Their justice is our justice. Once they are free, we can all be free.

The most important battle for press freedom in our time

This piece was first published at ScheerPost.

WASHINGTON, D.C – For the past two days, I have been watching the extradition hearing for Julian Assange via video link from London. The United States is appealing a lower court ruling that denied the US request to extradite Assange not, unfortunately, because in the eyes of the court he is innocent of a crime, but because, as Judge Vanessa Baraitser in January concluded, Assange's precarious psychological state would deteriorate given the "harsh conditions" of the inhumane US prison system, "causing him to commit suicide." The United States has charged Assange with 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count of trying to hack into a government computer, charges that could see him imprisoned for 175 years.

Assange, with long white hair, appeared on screen the first day from the video conference room in HM Prison Belmarsh. He was wearing a white shirt with an untied tie around his neck. He looked gaunt and tired. He did not appear in court, the judges explained, because he was receiving a "high dose of medication." On the second day he was apparently not present in the prison's video conference room.

Assange is being extradited because his organization WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs in October 2010, which documented numerous US war crimes — including video images of the gunning down of two Reuters journalists and 10 other unarmed civilians in the Collateral murder video, the routine torture of Iraqi prisoners, the covering up of thousands of civilian deaths and the killing of nearly 700 civilians that had approached too closely to US checkpoints. He is also being targeted by US authorities for other leaks, especially those that exposed the hacking tools used by the CIA known as Vault 7, which enables the spy agency to compromise cars, smart TVs, web browsers and the operating systems of most smart phones, as well as operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, macOS and Linux.

If Assange is extradited and found guilty of publishing classified material, it will set a legal precedent that will effectively end national security reporting, allowing the government to use the Espionage Act to charge any reporter who possesses classified documents, and any whistleblower who leaks classified information.

If the appeal by the United States is accepted Assange will be retried in London. The ruling on the appeal is not expected until at least January.

Assange's September 2020 trial painfully exposed how vulnerable he has become after 12 years of detention, including seven in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He has in the past attempted suicide by slashing his wrists. He suffers from hallucinations and depression, takes antidepressant medication and the antipsychotic quetiapine. After he was observed pacing his cell until he collapsed, punching himself in the face and banging his head against the wall he was transferred for several months to the medical wing of the Belmarsh prison. Prison authorities found "half of a razor blade" hidden under his socks. He has repeatedly called the suicide hotline run by the Samaritans because he thought about killing himself "hundreds of times a day."

James Lewis, the lawyer for the United States, attempted to discredit the detailed and disturbing medical and psychological reports on Assange presented to the court in September 2020, painting him instead as a liar and malingerer. He excoriated the decision of Judge Baraitser to bar extradition, questioned her competence, and breezily dismissed the mountains of evidence that high-security prisoners in the United Sates, like Assange, subjected to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), and held in virtual isolation in supermax prisons, suffer psychological distress. He charged Dr. Michael Kopelman, emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, who examined Assange and testified for the defense, with deception for "concealing" that Assange fathered two children with his fiancée Stella Morris while in refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He said that, should the Australian government request Assange, he could serve his prison time in Australia, his home country, after his appeals had been exhausted, but stopped short of promising that Assange would not be held in isolation or subject to SAMs.

The authority repeatedly cited by Lewis to describe the conditions under which Assange will be held and tried in the United States was Gordon Kromberg, the Assistant United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Kromberg is the government's grand inquisitor in cases of terrorism and national security. He has expressed open contempt for Muslims and Islam and decried what he calls "the Islamization of the American justice system." He oversaw the 9-year persecution of the Palestinian activist and academic Dr. Sami Al-Arian and at one point refused his request to postpone a court date during the religious holiday of Ramadan. "They can kill each other during Ramadan, they can appear before the grand jury. All they can't do is eat before sunset," Kromberg said in a 2006 conversation, according to an affidavit filed by one of Arian's attorneys, Jack Fernandez.

Kromberg criticized Daniel Hale, the former Air Force analyst who recently was sentenced to 45 months in a supermax prison for leaking information about the indiscriminate killings of civilians by drones, saying Hale had not contributed to public debate, but had "endanger[ed] the people doing the fight." He ordered Chelsea Manning jailed after she refused to testify in front of a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Manning attempted to commit suicide in March 2020 while being held in the Virginia jail.

Having covered the case of Syed Fahad Hashmi, who was arrested in London in 2006, I have a good idea of what waits Assange if he is extradited. Hashmi also was held in Belmarsh and extradited in 2007 to the United States where he spent three years in solitary confinement under SAMs. His "crime" was that an acquaintance who stayed in his apartment with him while he was a graduate student in London had raincoats, ponchos and waterproof socks in luggage at the apartment. The acquaintance planned to deliver the items to al-Qaida. But I doubt the government was concerned with waterproof socks being shipped to Pakistan. The reason, I suspect, Hashmi was targeted was because, like the Palestinian activist Dr. Sami Al-Arian, and like Assange, he was fearless and zealous in his defense of those being bombed, shot, terrorized and killed throughout the Muslim world while he was a student at Brooklyn College.

Hashmi was deeply religious, and some of his views, including his praise of the Afghan resistance, were controversial, but he had a right to express these sentiments. More important, he had a right to expect freedom from persecution and imprisonment because of his opinions, just as Assange should have the freedom, like any publisher, to inform the public about the inner workings of power. Facing the possibility of a 70-year sentence in prison and having already spent four years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement, Hashmi accepted a plea bargain on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism. Judge Loretta Preska, who sentenced the hacker Jeremy Hammond and human rights attorney Steven Donziger, gave him the maximum 15-year sentence. Hashmi was held for nine years in Guantanamo-like conditions in the supermax ADX [Administrative Maximum] facility in Florence, Colorado, where Assange, if found guilty in an American court, will almost certainly be imprisoned. Hashmi was released in 2019.

The pre-trial detention conditions Hashmi endured were designed to break him. He was electronically monitored 24-hours a day. He could only receive or send mail with his immediate family. He was prohibited from speaking with other prisoners through the walls. He was forbidden from taking part in group prayer. He was permitted one hour of exercise a day, in a solitary cage without fresh air. He has unable to see most of the evidence used to indict him which was classified under the Classified Information Procedures Act, enacted to prevent US intelligence officers under prosecution from threatening to reveal state secrets to manipulate the legal proceedings. The harsh conditions eroded his physical and psychological health. When he appeared in the final court proceeding to accept a guilty plea he was in a near catatonic state, clearly unable to follow the proceedings around him.

If the government will go to this length to persecute someone who was alleged to have been involved in sending waterproof socks to al-Qaida, what can we expect the government to do to Assange?

A society that prohibits the capacity to speak in truth extinguishes the capacity to live in justice. The battle for Assange's liberty has always been much more than the persecution of a publisher. It is the most important battle for press freedom of our era. And if we lose this battle, it will be devastating, not only for Assange and his family, but for us.

Tyrannies invert the rule of law. They turn the law into an instrument of injustice. They cloak their crimes in a faux legality. They use the decorum of the courts and trials, to mask their criminality. Those, such as Assange, who expose that criminality to the public are dangerous, for without the pretext of legitimacy the tyranny loses credibility and has nothing left in its arsenal but fear, coercion and violence. The long campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks is a window into the collapse of the rule of law, the rise of what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls our system of inverted totalitarianism, a form of totalitarianism that maintains the fictions of the old capitalist democracy, including its institutions, iconography, patriotic symbols and rhetoric, but internally has surrendered total control to the dictates of global corporations and the security and surveillance state.

There is no legal basis to hold Assange in prison. There is no legal basis to try him, an Australian citizen, under the US Espionage Act. The CIA spied on Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide embassy security. This spying included recording the privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers as they discussed his defense. This fact alone invalidated the trial. Assange is being held in a high security prison so the state can, as Nils Melzer, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, has testified, continue the degrading abuse and torture it hopes will lead to his psychological if not physical disintegration.The architects of imperialism, the masters of war, the corporate-controlled legislative, judicial and executive branches of government and their obsequious courtiers in the media, are guilty of egregious crimes. Say this simple truth and you are banished, as many of us have been, to the margins of the media landscape. Prove this truth, as Assange, Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond and Edward Snowden have by allowing us to peer into the inner workings of power, and you are hunted down and persecuted.

Assange's "crime" is that he exposed the more than 15,000 unreported deaths of Iraqi civilians. He exposed the torture and abuse of some 800 men and boys, aged between 14 and 89, at Guantánamo. He exposed that Hillary Clinton in 2009 ordered US diplomats to spy on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other U.N. representatives from China, France, Russia, and the UK, spying that included obtaining DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and personal passwords, part of the long pattern of illegal surveillance that included the eavesdropping on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the weeks before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He exposed that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the CIA orchestrated the June 2009 military coup in Honduras that overthrew the democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya, replacing it with a murderous and corrupt military regime. He exposed that George W. Bush, Barack Obama and General David Petraeus prosecuted a war in Iraq that under post-Nuremberg laws is defined as a criminal war of aggression, a war crime, which authorized hundreds of targeted assassinations, including those of US citizens in Yemen. He exposed that the United States secretly launched missile, bomb, and drone attacks on Yemen, killing scores of civilians. He exposed that Goldman Sachs paid Hillary Clinton $657,000 to give talks, a sum so large it can only be considered a bribe, and that she privately assured corporate leaders she would do their bidding while promising the public financial regulation and reform. He exposed the internal campaign to discredit and destroy British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by members of his own party. He exposed how the hacking tools used by the CIA and the National Security Agency permits the wholesale government surveillance of our televisions, computers, smartphones and anti-virus software, allowing the government to record and store our conversations, images and private text messages, even from encrypted apps.

He exposed the truth. He exposed it over and over and over until there was no question of the endemic illegality, corruption and mendacity that defines the global ruling elite. And for these truths alone he is guilty.

Chris Hedges: The US judiciary is now engineered to favor the interests of capital above all else

Judge Loretta Preska, an advisor to the conservative Federalist Society, to which Chevron is a major donor, sentenced human rights attorney and Chevron nemesis Steven Donziger to six months in prison Friday for misdemeanor contempt of court after he had already spent 787 days under house arrest in New York.

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.

Preska's caustic outbursts — she said at the sentencing, "It seems that only the proverbial two-by-four between the eyes will instill in him any respect for the law" — capped a judicial farce worthy of the antics of Vasiliy Vasilievich, the presiding judge at the major show trials of the Great Purges in the Soviet Union, and the Nazi judge Roland Freisler who once shouted at a defendant,"You really are a lousy piece of trash!"

Donziger, a graduate of Harvard Law School, has been fighting against polluting American oil companies for nearly three decades on behalf of indigenous communities and peasant farmers in Ecuador. His only "crime" was winning a $9.5 billion judgment in 2011 against Chevron for thousands of plaintiffs. The oil giant had bought Texaco oil company holdings in Ecuador, inheriting a lawsuit alleging it deliberately discharged 16 billion gallons of toxic waste from its oil sites into rivers, groundwater, and farmland. Since the verdict, Chevron has come after him, weaponizing litigation to destroy him economically, professionally, and personally.

The sentencing came a day after Donziger petitioned the court to consider an opinion by the United Nations human rights council that found his house arrest a violation of international human rights law. The U.N human rights council said his house arrest counted as detention under international law and it was therefore illegal for Judge Preska to demand an additional six months in jail. Amnesty International also called for Donziger's immediate release.

Donziger and his lawyers have two weeks to appeal the judge's order that Donziger be sent immediately to jail. Preska denied Donziger bail claiming he is a flight risk. If the Federal Court of Appeals turns down Donziger's appeal he will go to jail for six months. The irony, not lost on Donziger and his lawyers, is that the higher court may overturn Preska's ruling against him, but by the time that decision is made he will potentially have already spent six months in jail.

"What Judge Preska is trying to do is force me to serve the entirety of my sentence before the appellate court can rule," Donziger told me by phone on Monday. "If the appellate court rules in my favor, I will still have served my sentence, although I am innocent in the eyes of the law."

Donziger, his lawyers have pointed out, is the first person under U.S. law charged with a "B" misdemeanor to be placed on home confinement, prior to trial, with an ankle monitor. He is the first person charged with any misdemeanor to be held under home confinement for over two years. He is the first attorney ever to be charged with criminal contempt over a discovery dispute in a civil case where the attorney went into voluntary contempt to pursue an appeal. He is the first person to be prosecuted under Rule 42 (criminal contempt) by a private prosecutor with financial ties to the entity and industry that was a litigant in the underlying civil dispute that gave rise to the orders. He is the first person tried by a private prosecutor who had ex parte communications with the charging judge while that judge remained (and remains) unrecused on the criminal case.

"No lawyer in New York for my level of offense ever has served more than 90 days and that was in home confinement," Donziger told the court. "I have now been in home confinement eight times that period of time. I have been disbarred without a hearing where I have been unable to present factual evidence; thus, I am unable to earn an income in my profession. I have no passport. I can't travel; can't do human rights work the normal way which I believe I am reasonably good at; can't see my clients in Ecuador; can't visit the affected communities to hear the latest news of cancer deaths or struggles to maintain life in face of constant exposure to oil pollution. In addition, and this is little known, Judge [Lewis A.] Kaplan has imposed millions and millions of dollars of fines and courts costs on me. [Kaplan is the judge for Chevron's lawsuit against Donziger; Preska is his handpicked judge for the contempt charges.] He has ordered me to pay millions to Chevron to cover their legal fees in attacking me, and then he let Chevron go into my bank accounts and take all my life's savings because I did not have the funds to cover these costs. Chevron still has a pending motion to order me to pay them an additional $32 [million] in legal fees. That's where things stand today. I ask you humbly: might that be enough punishment already for a Class B misdemeanor?"

Judge Preska was unmoved.

"Mr. Donziger has spent the last seven years thumbing his nose at the U.S. judicial system," Preska said at his sentencing hearing. "Now it's time to pay the piper."

The six-month sentence was the maximum the judge was allowed to impose; she ruled that his house arrest cannot be counted as part of his detention. From start to finish, this has been a burlesque. It is emblematic of a court system that has been turned over to lackies of corporate power, who use the veneer of jurisprudence, decorum, and civility to make a mockery of the rule of law.

When the law is neutered, judges become the enforcers of injustice. These corporate judges, who epitomize what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil, now routinely make war on workers, civil liberties, unions, and environmental regulations.

Preska sent Jeremy Hammond to prison for a decade for hacking into the computers of a private security firm that works on behalf of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, and corporations such as Dow Chemical. In 2011, Hammond released to the website WikiLeaks and Rolling Stone and other publications some three million emails from the Texas-based company Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor. The sentence was one of the longest in U.S. history for hacking and the maximum Preska could impose under a plea agreement in the case. I sat through the Hammond trial. I watched Preska spew her bile and contempt at Hammond from the bench with the same vitriol she used to attack Donziger.

Preska is also infamous for her long judicial crusade to force New York public schools to provide tax-subsidized free space for evangelical churches based on blatantly illogical readings of the Constitution.

The persecution of Donziger fits a pattern familiar to millions of poor Americans who are coerced into accepting plea deals, many for crimes they did not commit, and sent to prison for decades. It fits the pattern of the judicial lynching and prolonged psychological torture of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. It fits the pattern of those denied habeas corpus and due process at Guantánamo Bay or in CIA black sites. It fits the pattern of those charged under terrorism laws, many held at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan, who cannot see the evidence used to indict them. It fits the pattern of the widespread use of Special Administrative Measures, known as SAMs, imposed to prevent or severely restrict communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media, and people outside the jail. It fits the pattern of the extreme sensory deprivation and prolonged isolation used on those in our black sites and prisons, a form of psychological torture, the refinement of torture as science. By the time a "terrorist" is dragged into our secretive courts the bewildered suspect no longer has the mental and psychological capability to defend themselves. If they can do this legally to the demonized they can, and one day will, do it to the rest of us. The Donziger case is an ominous warning that the American legal system is broken.

Ralph Nader, who graduated from Harvard Law School, has long decried the capture of the courts and law schools by corporate power, calling the nation's attorneys and judges "lucrative cogs in the corporate wheel." He notes that law school curriculums are "built around corporate law, and corporate power, and corporate perpetration, and corporate defense."

Victor Klemperer, who was dismissed from his post as a professor of Romance languages at the University of Dresden in 1935 because of his Jewish ancestry, astutely noted how at first the Nazis "changed the values, the frequency of words, [and] made them into common property, words that had previously been used by individuals or tiny troupes. They confiscated words for the party, saturated words and phrases and sentence forms with their poison. They made language serve their terrible system. They conquered words and made them into their strongest advertising tools [Werebemittle], at once the most public and most secret." And, Klemperer noted, as the redefinition of old concepts took place the public was oblivious.

This redefinition of words and concepts has, as Klemperer witnessed during the rise of fascism, allowed the courts to twist the law into an instrument of injustice, revoking our rights by judicial fiat. It has seen the courts permit unlimited dark money into political campaigns under Citizens United, defending our money-saturated elections as the right to petition the government and a form of free speech. The courts have revoked our right to privacy and legalized wholesale government surveillance in the name of national security. The courts grant corporations the rights of individuals, while rarely holding the individuals who run the corporations accountable for corporate crimes.

Very few of the legal rulings that benefit corporate power have popular support. The corporate disemboweling of the country, therefore, is increasingly given cover by Christian fascists, who energize their base around abortion, prayer in schools, guns and breaking down the separation of church and state. These issues are rarely addressed in cases before federal courts. But they distract the base from the slew of pro-corporate rulings that dominate most court dockets.

Corporations such as Tyson Foods, Purdue, Walmart, and Sam's Warehouse have poured millions into institutions that indoctrinate these Christian fascists, including Liberty University and Patrick Henry Law School. They fund the Judicial Crisis Network and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which campaigned for Amy Coney Barrett's appointment to the Supreme Court. Barrett opposes abortion and belongs to People of Praise, a far-right Catholic cult that practices "speaking in tongues." She and the other far-right ideologues are hostile to LGBTQ rights. But this is not why she is so beloved by corporations, who are not interested in abortion, LGBTQ equality or gun rights.

Barrett and the Christian fascists embrace an ideology that believes that God will take care of the righteous. Those who are poor, those who are sick, those who go to prison, those who are unemployed, those who cannot succeed in society do so because they have failed to please God. In this worldview there is no need for unions, universal health care, a social safety net or prison reform. Barrett has ruled consistently in favor of corporations to cheat gig workers out of overtime, green-light fossil fuel extraction and pollution and strip consumers of protection from corporate fraud. The watchdog group Accountable.US found that as a circuit court judge, Barrett "faced at least 55 cases in which citizens took on corporate entities in front of her court and 76% of the time she sided with the corporations."

The Christian fascists, allied with organizations such as the Federalist Society, under the Trump administration gave lifetime appointments to nearly 200 judges, roughly 23 percent of all federal judgeships. That included 53 to the nation's appellate courts, the court immediately under the Supreme Court. The American Bar Association, the country's largest nonpartisan coalition of lawyers, has rated many of these appointments as unqualified. There are currently six Federalist Society Supreme Court justices, including Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh, who Nader calls "a corporation masquerading as a human being." Two Federalist Society Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia, who was an original faculty advisor to the organization founded by conservative law students in 1982, were supported in the nomination process by Joe Biden.

The stacking of the courts with corporate puppets, however, began long before Trump. It was carried out by both Republican and Democratic administrations. Preska was appointed by Republican President G.W. Bush. However, the judge who preceded Preska in the Donziger case, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, a former lawyer for the tobacco industry who had undisclosed investments in funds with Chevron holdings, according to his public financial disclosure statement, was appointed by Democratic President Clinton.

The targeting of the courts was one of the key goals of Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer later elevated to the Supreme Court by President Nixon. In Powell's 1971 memo to the Chamber of Commerce, a blueprint for the slow-motion corporate coup that has taken place, he called on business interests to pack the judiciary with corporate-friendly judges.

The courts in all tyrannies are dominated by mediocrities and buffoons. They make up for their intellectual and moral vacuity with a zealous subservience to power. They turn courtroom trials into opera buffa, at least until the victim is shackled and pushed out the door to a prison cell. They fulminate in caustic tirades at the condemned, whose sentence is never in doubt and whose guilt is never in question.

"It started when Texaco went into Ecuador in the Amazon in the 1960s and cut a sweetheart deal with the military government then ruling Ecuador," Donziger told me for a column I wrote about his case a year ago. "Over the next 25 years, Texaco was the exclusive operator of a very large area of the Amazon that had several oil fields within this area, 1500 square miles. They drilled hundreds of wells. They created thousands of open-air, unlined toxic waste pits where they dumped the heavy metals and toxins that came up from the ground when they drilled. They ran pipes from the pits into rivers and streams that local people relied on for their drinking water, their fishing, and their sustenance. They poisoned this pristine ecosystem, in which lived five indigenous peoples, as well as a lot of other nonindigenous rural communities. There was a mass industrial poisoning."

"The verdict came down, about $18 billion in favor of the affected communities, which is what it would take at a minimum to clean up the actual damage and compensate the people for some of their injuries," Donziger told me. "That eventually got reduced on appeal in Ecuador to $9.5 billion, but it was affirmed by three appellate courts, including the highest court of Ecuador. It was affirmed by the Canadian Supreme Court, where the Ecuadorians went to enforce their judgment in a unanimous opinion in 2015."

Chevron promptly sold its assets and left Ecuador. It refused to pay the fees to clean up its environmental damage. It invested an estimated $2 million to destroy Danziger. Chevron sued him, using a civil courts portion of the federal law famous for breaking the New York Mafia in the 1970s, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO Act. Chevron, which has more than $260 billion in assets, hired an estimated 2,000 lawyers from 60 law firms to carry out its campaign, according to court documents. But the oil giant, which did not want a jury to hear the case, dropped its demand for financial damages, which would have allowed Donziger to request a jury trial. This allowed Judge Kaplan to decide the RICO case against Donziger alone. He found credible a witness named Alberto Guerra, an Ecuadorian judge, relocated to the US by Chevron at a cost of some $2 million, who claimed the verdict in Ecuador was the product of a bribe. Kaplan used Guerra's testimony as primary evidence for the racketeering charge, although Guerra, a former judge, later admitted to an international tribunal that he had falsified his testimony.

John Keker of San Francisco, one of Donziger's lawyers on that case, said he was up against 160 lawyers for Chevron and during the trial he felt "like a goat tethered to a stake." He called the court proceedings under Kaplan "a Dickensian farce" and a "show trial."

In the end, Kaplan ruled that the judgment in the Ecuadorean court against Chevron was the result of fraud. He also ordered Donziger to turn over decades of all client communication to Chevron, in effect eradicating attorney-client privilege, a backbone of the Anglo-American legal system with roots dating to ancient Rome. Donziger appealed what was, according to legal experts following the case, an unprecedented and illegal order. While Donziger's appeal was pending, Kaplan charged him with misdemeanor criminal contempt for this principled stance — carrying a maximum sentence of six months — as well as his refusal to turn over his passport, his personal electronics and to refrain from seeking the collection of the original award against Chevron. When the U.S. attorney's office declined for five years to prosecute his criminal contempt charges against the environmental lawyer, Kaplan, using an exceedingly rare judicial maneuver, appointed the private law firm of Seward & Kissel, to act in the name of the government to prosecute Donziger. Neither the judge nor the law firm disclosed that Chevron has been a client of Seward & Kissel.

Kaplan also violated the established random case assignment protocol to personally assign Preska, who had served on an advisory board of the Federalist Society, a group to which Chevron has been a lavish donor, to hear the case. Kaplan had Preska demand Donziger post an $800,000 bond on the misdemeanor charge. Preska placed him under house arrest and confiscated his passport, which he has used to meet with attorneys around the world attempting to enforce the judgment against Chevron. Kaplan managed to have Donziger disbarred. He allowed Chevron to freeze Donziger's bank accounts, slapped Donziger with millions in fines without allowing him a jury, forced him to wear an ankle monitor 24 hours a day and effectively shut down his ability to earn a living. Kaplan allowed Chevron to impose a lien on Donziger's apartment in Manhattan where he lives with his wife and teenage son.

None of this would surprise those targeted by the tyrannies of the past. What would be surprising, perhaps, to many Americans is how advanced our own corporate tyranny has become. Donziger never stood a chance. Neither does Julian Assange. These judges are not, in the end, focused on Donziger or Assange, but on us. The show trials they preside over are meant to be transparently biased. They are designed to send a message. All who defy corporate power and the national security state will be lynched. There will be no reprieve because there is no justice.

The bleak American battle between the oligarchs and autocrats increases the chance of violent conflict

This story was originally published at ScheerPost.

The competing systems of power in the United States are divided between oligarchy and autocracy. There are no other alternatives. Neither are pleasant. Each have peculiar and distasteful characteristics. Each pays lip service to the fictions of democracy and constitutional rights. And each exacerbates the widening social and political divide and the potential for violent conflict.

The oligarchs from the establishment Republican Party, figures such as Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, George and Jeb Bush and Bill Kristol, have joined forces with the oligarchs in the Democratic Party to defy the autocrats in the new Republican Party who have coalesced in cult-like fashion around Donald Trump or, if he does not run again for president, his inevitable Frankensteinian doppelgänger.

The alliance of Republican and Democratic oligarchs exposes the burlesque that characterized the old two-party system, where the ruling parties fought over what Sigmund Freud called the "narcissism of minor differences" but were united on all the major structural issues including massive defense spending, free trade deals, tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, the endless wars, government surveillance, the money-saturated election process, neoliberalism, austerity, deindustrialization, militarized police and the world's largest prison system.

The liberal class, fearing autocracy, has thrown in its lot with the oligarchs, discrediting and rendering impotent the causes and issues it claims to champion. The bankruptcy of the liberal class is important, for it effectively turns liberal democratic values into the empty platitudes those who embrace autocracy condemn and despise. So, for example, censorship is wrong, unless the contents of Hunter Biden's laptop are censored, or Donald Trump is banished from social media. Conspiracy theories are wrong, unless those theories, such as the Steele dossier and Russiagate, can be used to damage the autocrat. The misuse of the legal system and law enforcement agencies to carry out personal vendettas are wrong, unless those vendettas are directed at the autocrat and those who support him. Giant tech monopolies and their monolithic social media platforms are wrong, unless those monopolies use their algorithms, control of information and campaign contributions to ensure the election of the oligarch's anointed presidential candidate, Joe Biden.

The perfidy of the oligarchs, masked by the calls for civility, tolerance, and respect for human rights, often outdoes that of the autocracy. The Trump administration, for example, expelled 444,000 asylum seekers under Title 42, a law that permits the immediate expulsion of those who potentially pose a public health risk and denies the expelled migrants the right to make a case to stay in the U.S. before an immigration judge. The Biden administration not only embraced the Trump order in the name of fighting the pandemic, but has thrown out more than 690,000 asylum seekers since taking office in January. The Biden administration, on the heels of another monster hurricane triggered at least in part by climate change, has opened up 80 million acres for oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and boasted that the sale will produce 1.12 billion barrels of oil over the next 50 years. It has bombed Syria and Iraq, and on the way out the door in Afghanistan murdered 10 civilians, including seven children, in a drone strike. It has ended three pandemic relief programs, cutting off benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance that were given to 5.1 million people who worked as freelancers, in the gig economy or as caregivers. An additional 3.8 million people who received assistance from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation for the long-term unemployed have also lost access to their benefits. They join the 2.6 million people who no longer receive the $300 weekly supplement and are struggling to cope with a $1,200 drop in their monthly earnings. Biden's campaign talk of raising the minimum wage, forgiving student debt, immigration reform, and making housing a human right has been forgotten. At the same time, the Democratic leadership, proponents of a new cold war with China and Russia, has authorized provocative military maneuvers along Russia's borders and in the South China Sea and speeded up production of the long-range B-21 Raider stealth bomber.

Oligarchs come from the traditional nexus of elite schools, inherited money, the military and corporations, those C. Wright Mills calls the "power elite." "Material success," Mills notes, "is their sole basis of authority." The word oligarchy is derived from the Greek word "oligos" meaning "a few" and it is the oligos who sees power and wealth as its birthright, which they pass on to their family and children, as exemplified by George W. Bush or Mitt Romney. The word "autocracy" is derived from the Greek word "auto" meaning "self," as in one who rules by himself.

In decayed democracies the battle for power is always, as Aristotle points out, between these two despotic forces, although if there is a serious threat of socialism or left-wing radicalism, as was true in the Weimar Republic, the oligarchs forge an uncomfortable alliance with the autocrat and his henchmen to crush it. This is why the donor class and hierarchy of the Democratic Party sabotaged the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, although on the political spectrum Sanders is not a radical, and publicly stated, as the former CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein did, that should Sanders be the nominee they would support Trump. The alliance between the oligarchs and the autocrats gives birth to fascism, in our case a Christianized fascism.

The oligarchs embrace a faux morality of woke culture and identity politics, which is anti-politics, to give themselves the veneer of liberalism, or at least the veneer of an enlightened oligarchy. The oligarchs have no genuine ideology. Their single-minded goal is the amassing of wealth, hence the obscene amounts of money accrued by oligarchs such as Bill Gates, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos and the staggering sums of profit made by corporations that have, essentially, orchestrated a legal tax boycott, forcing the state to raise most of its revenues from massive government deficits, now totaling $3 trillion, and disproportionately taxing the working and middle classes.

Oligarchies, which spew saccharine pieties and platitudes, engage in lies that are often far more destructive to the public than the lies of a narcissist autocrat. Yet, the absence of an ideology among the oligarchs gives to oligarchic rule a flexibility lacking in autocratic forms of power. Because there is no blind loyalty to an ideology or a leader there is room in an oligarchy for limited reform, moderation and those who seek to slow or put a brake on the most egregious forms of injustice and inequality.

An autocracy, however, is not pliable. It burns out these last remnants of humanism. It is based solely on adulation of the autocrat, no matter how absurd, and the fear of offending him. This is why politicians such as Lindsey Graham and Mike Pence, at least until he refused to invalidate the election results, humiliated themselves abjectly and repeatedly at the feet of Trump. Pence's unforgivable sin of certifying the election results instantly turned him into a traitor. One sin against an autocrat is one sin too many. Trump supporters stormed the capital on Jan. 6 shouting "Hang Mike Pence." As Cosimo de' Medici remarked, "We are nowhere commanded to forgive our friends."

The political and economic disempowerment that is the consequence of oligarchy infantilizes a population, which in desperation gravitates to a demagogue who promises prosperity and a restoration of a lost golden age, moral renewal based on "traditional" values and vengeance against those scapegoated for the nation's decline.

The Biden administration's refusal to address the deep structural inequities that plague the country is already ominous. In the latest Harvard/Harris poll Trump has overtaken Biden in approval ratings, with Biden falling to 46 percent and Trump rising to 48 percent. Add to this the report by the University of Chicago Project on Security & Threats that found that 9 percent of Americans believe the "use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency." More than one-fourth of adults agree, to varying degrees, the study found, that, "the 2020 election was stolen, and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president." The polling indicates that 8.1 percent — 21 million Americans — share both these beliefs. Anywhere from 15 million to 28 million adults would apparently support the violent overthrow of the Biden administration to restore Trump to the presidency.

"The insurrectionist movement is more mainstream, cross-party, and more complex than many people might like to think, which does not bode well for the 2022 mid-term elections, or for that matter, the 2024 Presidential election," the authors of the Chicago report write.

Fear is the glue that holds an autocratic regime in place. Convictions can change. Fear does not. The more despotic an autocratic regime becomes, the more it resorts to censorship, coercion, force, and terror to cope with its endemic and often irrational paranoia. Autocracies, for this reason, inevitably embrace fanaticism. Those who serve the autocracy engage in ever more extreme acts against those the autocrat demonizes, seeking the autocrat's approval and the advancement of their careers.

Revenge against real or perceived enemies is the autocrat's single-minded goal. The autocrat takes sadistic pleasure in the torment and humiliation of his enemies, as Trump did when he watched the mob storm the capital on Jan. 6, or, in a more extreme form, as Joseph Stalin did when he doubled over in laughter as his underlings acted out the desperate pleading for his life by the condemned Grigori Zinoviev, once one of the most influential figures in the Soviet leadership and the chairman of the Communist International, on the way to his execution in 1926.

Autocratic leaders, as Joachim Fest writes, are often "demonic nonentities."

"Rather than the qualities which raised him from the masses, it was those qualities he shared with them and of which he was a representative example that laid the foundation for his success," Fest wrote of Adolf Hitler, words that could apply to Trump. "He was the incarnation of the average, 'the man who lent the masses his voice and through whom the masses spoke.' In him the masses encountered themselves."

The autocrat, who celebrates a grotesque hyper-masculinity, projects an aura of omnipotence. He demands obsequious fawning and total obedience. Loyalty is more important than competence. Lies and truth are irrelevant. The statements of the autocrat, which can in short spaces of time be contradictory, cater exclusively to the transient emotional needs of his followers. There is no attempt to be logical or consistent. There is no attempt to reach out to opponents. Rather, there is a constant stoking of antagonisms that steadily widens the social, political, and cultural divides. Reality is sacrificed for fantasy. Those who question the fantasy are branded as irredeemable enemies.

"Anyone who wants to rule men first tries to humiliate them, to trick them out of their rights and their capacity for resistance, until they are as powerless before him as animals," wrote Elias Canetti in "Crowds and Power" of the autocrat:

"He uses them like animals and, even if he does not tell them so, in himself he always knows quite clearly that they mean just as little to him; when he speaks to his intimates, he will call them sheep or cattle. His ultimate aim is to incorporate them into himself and to suck the substance out of them. What remains of them afterwards does not matter to him. The worse he has treated them, the more he despises them. When they are no more use at all, he disposes of them as he does excrement, simply seeing to it that they do not poison the air of his house."

It is, ironically, the oligarchs who build the institutions of oppression, the militarized police, the dysfunctional courts, the raft of anti-terrorism laws used against dissidents, ruling through executive orders rather than the legislative process, wholesale surveillance and the promulgation of laws that overturn the most basic constitutional rights by judicial fiat. Thus, the Supreme Court rules that corporations have the right to pump unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns because it is a form of free speech, and because corporations have the constitutional right to petition the government. The oligarchs do not use these mechanisms of oppression with the same ferocity as the autocrats. They employ them fitfully and therefore often ineffectually. But they create the physical and legal systems of oppression so that an autocrat, with the flick of a switch, can establish a de facto dictatorship.

The autocrat oversees a naked kleptocracy in place of the hidden kleptocracy of the oligarchs. But it is debatable whether the more refined kleptocracy of the oligarchs is any better than the crude and open kleptocracy of the autocrat. The autocrat's attraction is that as he fleeces the public, he entertains the crowd. He orchestrates engaging spectacles. He gives vent, often through vulgarity, to the widespread hatred of the ruling elites. He provides a host of phantom enemies, usually the weak and the vulnerable, who are rendered nonpersons. His followers are given license to attack these enemies, including the feckless liberals and intellectuals who are a pathetic appendage to the oligarchic class. Autocracies, unlike oligarchies, make for engaging political theater.

We must defy the oligarchs as well as the autocrats. If we replicate the cowardice of the liberal class, if we sell out to the oligarchs as a way to blunt the rise of autocracy, we will discredit the core values of a civil society and fuel the very autocracy we seek to defeat. Despotism, in all its forms, is dangerous. If we achieve nothing else in the fight against the oligarchs and the autocrats, we will at least salvage our dignity and integrity.

Chris Hedges writes a regular original column for ScheerPost. Click here to sign up for email alerts.

Moral fragmentation: How a psychological escape hatch begets the nation’s gravest ills

I was in Times Square in New York City shortly after the second plane banked and plowed into the South Tower. The crowd looking up at the Jumbotron gasped in dismay at the billowing black smoke and the fireball that erupted from the tower. There was no question now that the two attacks on the twin towers were acts of terrorism. The earlier supposition, that perhaps the pilot had a heart attack or lost control of the plane when it struck the North Tower seventeen minutes earlier, vanished with the second attack. The city fell into a collective state of shock. Fear palpitated throughout the streets. Would they strike again? Where? Was my family safe? Should I go to work? Should I go home? What did it mean? Who would do this? Why?

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.

The explosions and collapse of the towers, however, were, to me, intimately familiar. I had seen it before. This was the familiar language of empire. I had watched these incendiary messages dropped on southern Kuwait and Iraq during the first Persian Gulf War and descend with thundering concussions in Gaza and Bosnia. The calling card of empire, as was true in Vietnam, is tons of lethal ordnance dropped from the sky. The hijackers spoke to America in the idiom we taught them.

The ignorance, masquerading as innocence, of Americans, mostly white Americans, was nauseating. It was the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. It was the greatest act of terrorism in American history. It was an incomprehensible act of barbarity. The stunningly naïve rhetoric, which saturated the media, saw the blues artist Willie King sit up all night and write his song "Terrorized".

"Now you talk 'bout terror," he sang. "I been terrorized all my days."

But it was not only Black Americans who were familiar with the endemic terror built into the machinery of white supremacy, capitalism, and empire, but those overseas who the empire for decades sought to subdue, dominate, and destroy. They knew there is no moral difference between those who fire Hellfire and cruise missiles or pilot militarized drones, obliterating wedding parties, village gatherings or families, and suicide bombers. They knew there is no moral difference between those who carpet-bomb North Vietnam or southern Iraq and those who fly planes into buildings. In short, they knew the evil that spawned evil. America was not attacked because the hijackers hated us for our values. America was not attacked because the hijackers followed the Quran — which forbids suicide and the murder of women and children. American was not attacked because of a clash of civilizations. America was attacked because the virtues we espouse are a lie. We were attacked for our hypocrisy. We were attacked for the campaigns of industrial slaughter that are our primary way of speaking with the rest of the planet. Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense in the summer of 1965, called the bombing raids, which would eventually kill hundreds of thousands of civilians north of Saigon, a form of communication with the communist government in Hanoi.

We did not, and do not, grasp that we are the mirror image of those we seek to destroy. We too kill with an inchoate fury.

The lives of Iraqis, Afghanis, Syrians, Libyans, and Yemenis are as precious as the lives of those killed in the twin towers. But this understanding, this ability to see the world as the world saw us, eluded Americans who, refusing to acknowledge the blood on their own hands, instantly bifurcated the world into good and evil, us and them, the blessed and the damned. The country drank deep of the dark elixir of nationalism, the heady elevation of us as a noble and wronged people. The flip side of nationalism is always racism. And the poisons of racism and hate infected the American nation to propel it into the greatest strategic blunder in its history, one from which it will never recover.

We did not, and do not, grasp that we are the mirror image of those we seek to destroy. We too kill with an inchoate fury. Over the past two decades we have extinguished the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who never sought to harm the United States or were involved in the attacks on American soil. We too use religion, in our case the Christian faith, to mount a jihad or crusade. We too go to war to fight phantoms of our own creation.

I walked down the West Side Highway that morning to the moonscape the twin towers had become after they collapsed. Climbing over the rubble, hacking, and coughing because of the toxic fumes from the burning asbestos, jet fuel, lead, mercury, cellulose, and construction debris, I saw the tiny bits of human flesh and body parts that was all that remained from the towers' nearly 3,000 victims. It was obvious no one in the towers when they collapsed survived.

The manipulation of the images, however, had already begun. The scores of "jumpers," those who leapt to their deaths before the collapses, were censored from the live broadcasts. They seemed to wait for turns. They often fell singly or in pairs, sometimes with improvised parachutes made from drapes, sometimes replicating the motions of swimmers. They reached speeds of 150 miles an hour during the ten seconds it took before they hit the pavement. The bodies made a sickening thud on impact. All who saw them fall spoke of this sound.

The mass suicide was one of the pivotal events of 9/11. But it was immediately expunged from public consciousness. The jumpers did not fit into the myth the nation demanded. The hopelessness and despair were too disturbing. It exposed our smallness and fragility. It illustrated that there are levels of suffering and fear that lead us to willingly embrace death. The "jumpers" reminded us that one day we will all face only one choice and that is how we will die, not how we will live.

The story being fabricated out of the ashes of the twin towers was a story of resilience, heroism, courage and self-sacrifice, not collective suicide. So, the mass murder and mass suicide were replaced with an encomium to the virtues and prowess of the American spirit.

The nation, fed this narrative, soon parroted back the clichés about terror. We became what we abhorred. The 9/11 deaths were used to justify the invasion of Afghanistan, "Shock and Awe", targeted assassinations, torture, offshore penal colonies, gunning down families at checkpoints, air strikes, drone attacks, missile strikes and the killing of dozens and soon hundreds and then thousands and later tens of thousands and finally hundreds of thousands of innocent people. The corpses piled up in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan, justified by our beatified dead. Twenty years later these dead haunt us like Banquo's ghost.

The intoxication of violence, the anodyne of war, is a poison. It condemns critical thought as treason. Its call to patriotism is little more than collective self-worship. It imparts a god-like power and license to destroy, not only things, but other human beings. But war is, ultimately, about betrayal, as the defeat in Afghanistan elucidates. Betrayal of the young by the old. Betrayal of idealists by cynics. Betrayal of soldiers and marines by war profiteers and politicians.

The defeat in Afghanistan has not forced a reckoning. The media coverage does not acknowledge the defeat, replacing it with the absurd idea that, by withdrawing, we defeated ourselves.

War, like all idols, begins by demanding the sacrifice of others but ends with the demand for self-sacrifice. The Greeks, like Sigmund Freud, grasped that war is the purist expression of the death instinct, the desire to exterminate all systems of life, including, ultimately, our own. Ares, the Greek god of war, was frequently drunk, quarrelsome, impetuous, and a lover of violence for its own sake. He was hated by nearly all the other gods, except the god of the underworld, Hades, to whom he delivered a steady stream of new souls. Ares's sister, Eris, the goddess of chaos and strife, spread rumor and jealousy to fan the flames of war.

The defeat in Afghanistan has not forced a reckoning. The media coverage does not acknowledge the defeat, replacing it with the absurd idea that, by withdrawing, we defeated ourselves. The plight of women under Taliban rule and the frantic effort of the elites and those who collaborated with the foreign occupation forces to flee are myopically used to ignore the two decades of unmitigated terror and death we perpetrated on the Afghan people.

This moral fragmentation, where we define ourselves by tangential and often fictitious acts of goodness, is a psychological escape hatch. It allows us to avoid looking at who we are and what we have done. This willful blindness is what the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton calls "doubling," the "division of the self into two functioning wholes, so that the part-self acts as an entire self." This doubling, Lifton noted, is often done "outside of awareness." And it is an essential ingredient to carrying out evil. If we refuse to see ourselves as we are, if we cannot shatter the lie perpetuated by our moral fragmentation, there is no hope of redemption. The gravest danger we face is the danger of alienation, not only from the world around us, but from ourselves.

Chris Hedges: How the American empire dug its own grave

The Carthaginian general Hannibal, who came close to defeating the Roman Republic in the Second Punic War, committed suicide in 181 BC in exile as Roman soldiers closed in on his residence in the Bithynian village of Libyssa, now modern-day Turkey. It had been more than thirty years since he led his army across the alps and annihilated Roman legions at the Battle of Trebia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae, considered one of the most brilliant tactical victories in warfare which centuries later inspired the plans of the German Army Command in World War I when they invaded Belgium and France. Rome was only able to finally save itself from defeat by replicating Hannibal's military tactics.

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.

It did not matter in 181 BC that there had been over 20 Roman emperors since Hannibal's invasion. It did not matter that Hannibal had been hunted for decades and forced to perpetually flee, always just beyond the reach of Roman authorities. He had humiliated Rome. He had punctured its myth of omnipotence. And he would pay. With his life. Years after Hannibal was gone, the Romans were still not satisfied. They finished their work of apocalyptic vengeance in 146 BC by razing Carthage to the ground and selling its remaining population into slavery. Cato the Censor summed up the sentiments of empire: Carthāgō dēlenda est (Carthage must be destroyed). Nothing about empire, from then until now, has changed.

Imperial powers do not forgive those who expose their weaknesses or make public the sordid and immoral inner workings of empire. Empires are fragile constructions. Their power is as much one of perception as of military strength. The virtues they claim to uphold and defend, usually in the name of their superior civilization, are a mask for pillage, the exploitation of cheap labor, indiscriminate violence, and state terror.

The current American empire, damaged and humiliated by the troves of internal documents published by WikiLeaks, will, for this reason, persecute Julian Assange for the rest of his life. It does not matter who is president or which political party is in power. Imperialists speak with one voice. The killing of thirteen U.S. troops by a suicide bomber at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday evoked from Joe Biden the full-throated cry of all imperialists: "To those who carried out this attack … we will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay." This was swiftly followed by two drone strikes in Kabul against suspected members of the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), which took credit for the suicide bombing that left some 170 dead, including 28 members of the Taliban.

The Taliban, which defeated U.S. and coalition forces in a 20-year war, is about to be confronted with the wrath of a wounded empire. The Cuban, Vietnamese, Iranian, Venezuelan and Haitian governments know what comes next. The ghosts of Toussaint Louverture, Emilio Aguinaldo, Mohammad Mossadegh, Jacobo Arbenz, Omar Torrijos, Gamal Abdul Nasser, Juan Velasco, Salvador Allende, Andreas Papandreou, Juan Bosh, Patrice Lumumba, and Hugo Chavez know what comes next. It isn't pretty. It will be paid for by the poorest and most vulnerable Afghans.

The faux pity for the Afghan people, which has defined the coverage of the desperate collaborators with the U.S. and coalition occupying forces and educated elites fleeing to the Kabul airport, begins and ends with the plight of the evacuees. There were few tears shed for the families routinely terrorized by coalition forces or the some 70,000 civilians who were obliterated by U.S. air strikes, drone attacks, missiles, and artillery, or gunned down by nervous occupying forces who saw every Afghan, with some justification, as the enemy during the war. And there will be few tears for the humanitarian catastrophe the empire is orchestrating on the 38 million Afghans, who live in one of the poorest and most aid-dependent countries in the world.

Since the 2001 invasion the United States deployed about 775,000 military personnel to subdue Afghanistan and poured $143 billion into the country, with 60 percent of the money going to prop up the corrupt Afghan military and the rest devoted to funding economic development projects, aid programs and anti-drug initiatives, with the bulk of those funds being siphoned off by foreign aid groups, private contractors, and outside consultants.

Grants from the United States and other countries accounted for 75 percent of the Afghan government budget. That assistance has evaporated. Afghanistan's reserves and other financial accounts have been frozen, meaning the new government cannot access some $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank. Shipments of cash to Afghanistan have been stopped. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that Afghanistan will no longer be able to access the lender's resources.

Things are already dire. There are some 14 million Afghans, one in three, who lack sufficient food. There are two million Afghan children who are malnourished. There are 3.5 million people in Afghanistan who have been displaced from their homes. The war has wrecked infrastructure. A drought destroyed 40 percent of the nation's crops last year. The assault on the Afghan economy is already seeing food prices skyrocket. The sanctions and severance of aid will force civil servants to go without salaries and the health service, already chronically short of medicine and equipment, will collapse. The suffering orchestrated by the empire will be of Biblical proportions. And this is what the empire wants.

UNICEF estimates that 500,000 children were killed as a direct result of sanctions on Iraq. Expect child deaths in Afghanistan to soar above that horrifying figure. And expect the same imperial heartlessness Madeline Albright, then the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, exhibited when she told "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children because of the sanctions was "worth it." Or the heartlessness of Hillary Clinton who joked "We came, we saw, he died," when informed of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's brutal death. Or the demand by Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georgia who after the attacks of 9/11 declared, "I say, bomb the hell out of them. If there's collateral damage, so be it." No matter that the empire has since turned Libya along with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen into cauldrons of violence, chaos, and misery. The power to destroy is an intoxicating drug that is its own justification.

Like Cato the Censor, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies are, if history is any guide, at this moment planning to destabilize Afghanistan by funding, arming, and backing any militia, warlord or terrorist organization willing to strike at the Taliban. The CIA, which should exclusively gather intelligence, is a rogue paramilitary organization that oversees secret kidnappings, interrogation at black sites, torture, manhunts, and targeted assassinations across the globe. It carried out commando raids in Afghanistan that killed a large number of Afghan civilians, which repeatedly sent enraged family members and villagers into the arms of the Taliban. It is, I expect, reaching out to Amrullah Saleh, who was Ashraf Ghani's vice president and who has declared himself "the legitimate caretaker president" of Afghanistan. Saleh is holed up in the Panjashir Valley. He, along with warlords Afgand Massoud, Mohammad Atta Noor and Abdul Rashid Dostum, are clamoring to be armed and supported to perpetuate conflict in Afghanistan.

"I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father's footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban," Ahmad Massoud wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post. "The United States and its allies have left the battlefield, but America can still be a 'great arsenal of democracy,' as Franklin D. Roosevelt said when coming to the aid of the beleaguered British before the U.S. entry into World War II," he went on, adding that he and his fighters need "more weapons, more ammunition and more supplies."

These warlords have done the bidding of the Americans before. They will do the bidding of the Americans again. And since the hubris of empire is unaffected by reality, the empire will continue to sow dragon's teeth in Afghanistan as it has since it spent $9 billion—some estimates double that figure—to back the mujahedeen that fought the Soviets, leading to a bloody civil war between rival warlords once the Soviets withdrew in 1989 and the ascendancy in 1996 of the Taliban.

The cynicism of arming and funding the mujahedeen against the Soviets exposes the lie of America's humanitarian concerns in Afghanistan. One million Afghan civilians were killed in the nine-year conflict with the Soviets, along with 90,000 mujahedeen fighters, 18,000 Afghan troops, and 14,500 Soviet soldiers. But these deaths, along with the destruction of Afghanistan, were "worth it" to cripple the Soviets.

Jimmy Carter's national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, along with the Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, oversaw the arming of the most radical Islamic mujahedeen groups fighting the Soviet occupation forces, leading to the extinguishing of the secular, democratic Afghan opposition. Brzezinski detailed the strategy, designed as he said to give the Soviet Union its Vietnam, taken by the Carter administration following the 1979 Soviet invasion to prop up the Marxist regime of Hafizullah Amin in Kabul:

We immediately launched a twofold process when we heard that the Soviets had entered Afghanistan. The first involved direct reactions and sanctions focused on the Soviet Union, and both the State Department and the National Security Agency prepared long lists of sanctions to be adopted, of steps to be taken to increase the international costs to the Soviet Union of their actions. And the second course of action led to my going to Pakistan a month or so after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for the purpose of coordinating with the Pakistanis a joint response, the purpose of which would be to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible; and we engaged in that effort in a collaborative sense with the Saudis, the Egyptians, the British, the Chinese, and we started providing weapons to the Mujaheddin, from various sources again — for example, some Soviet arms from the Egyptians and the Chinese. We even got Soviet arms from the Czechoslovak communist government, since it was obviously susceptible to material incentives; and at some point we started buying arms for the Mujahedeen from the Soviet army in Afghanistan, because that army was increasingly corrupt.

The clandestine campaign to destabilize the Soviet Union by making it "bleed for as much and as long as is possible" was carried out, like the arming of the contra forces in Nicaragua, largely off the books. It did not, as far as official Washington was concerned, exist, a way to avoid the unwelcome scrutiny of covert operations carried out by the Church Committee hearings in the 1970s that made public the three decades of CIA-backed coups, assassinations, blackmail, intimidation, dark propaganda, and torture. The Saudi government agreed to match the U.S. funding for the Afghan insurgents. The Saudi involvement gave rise to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, which fought with the mujahedeen. The rogue operation, led by Brzezinski, organized secret units of assassination teams and paramilitary squads that carried out lethal attacks on perceived enemies around the globe. It trained Afghan mujahedeen in Pakistan and China's Xinjiang province. It shifted the heroin trade, used to fund the insurgency, from southeast Asia to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This pattern of behavior, which destabilized Afghanistan and the region, is reflexive in the military and the intelligence community. It will, without doubt, be repeated now in Afghanistan, with the same catastrophic results. The chaos these intelligence agencies create becomes the chaos that justifies their existence and the chaos that sees them demand more resources and ever greater levels of violence.

All empires die. The end is usually unpleasant. The American empire, humiliated in Afghanistan, as it was in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, as it was at the Bay of Pigs and in Vietnam, is blind to its own declining strength, ineptitude, and savagery. Its entire economy, a "military Keynesianism," revolves around the war industry. Military spending and war are the engine behind the nation's economic survival and identity. It does not matter that with each new debacle the United States turns larger and larger parts of the globe against it and all it claims to represent. It has no mechanism to stop itself, despite its numerous defeats, fiascos, blunders and diminishing power, from striking out irrationally like a wounded animal. The mandarins who oversee our collective suicide, despite repeated failure, doggedly insist we can reshape the world in our own image. This myopia creates the very conditions that accelerate the empire's demise.

The Soviet Union collapsed, like all empires, because of its ossified, out-of-touch rulers, its imperial overreach, and its inability to critique and reform itself. We are not immune from these fatal diseases. We silence our most prescient critics of empire, such as Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Andrew Bacevich, Alfred McCoy, and Ralph Nader, and persecute those who expose the truths about empire, including Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Daniel Hale, and John Kiriakou. At the same time a bankrupt media, whether on MSNBC, CNN or FOX, lionizes and amplifies the voices of the inept and corrupt political, military and intelligence class including John Bolton, Leon Panetta, Karl Rove, H.R. McMaster and David Petraeus, which blindly drives the nation into the morass.

Chalmers Johnson in his trilogy on the fall of the American empire – "Blowback," "The Sorrows of Empire" and "Nemesis" – reminds readers that the Greek goddess Nemesis is "the spirit of retribution, a corrective to the greed and stupidity that sometimes governs relations among people." She stands for "righteous anger," a deity who "punishes human transgression of the natural, right order of things and the arrogance that causes it." He warns that if we continue to cling to our empire, as the Roman Republic did, "we will certainly lose our democracy and grimly await the eventual blowback that imperialism generates."

"I believe that to maintain our empire abroad requires resources and commitments that will inevitably undercut our domestic democracy and, in the end, produce a military dictatorship or its civilian equivalent," Johnson writes. "The founders of our nation understood this well and tried to create a form of government – a republic – that would prevent this from occurring. But the combination of huge standing armies, almost continuous wars, military Keynesianism, and ruinous military expenses have destroyed our republican structure in favor of an imperial presidency. We are on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation is started down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play – isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed to imperialism, and bankruptcy. Nemesis stalks our life as a free nation."

If the empire was capable of introspection and forgiveness, it could free itself from its death spiral. If the empire disbanded, much as the British empire did, and retreated to focus on the ills that beset the United States it could free itself from its death spiral. But those who manipulate the levers of empire are unaccountable. They are hidden from public view and beyond public scrutiny. They are determined to keep playing the great game, rolling the dice with lives and national treasure. They will, I expect, preside gleefully over the deaths of even more Afghans, assuring themselves it is worth it, without realizing that the gallows they erect are for themselves.

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