This week, Joe Biden summoned 49 African presidents to D.C. for an international conference.
In doing so, the administration offered assurances (through National Security spokesperson, Jake Sullivan) that in contrast to previous gatherings, it would not scold or lecture Africa’s leaders about not obeying U.S. demands, e.g., in the United Nations. (There, by the way, just recently African leaders had to endure something like a schoolboy’s dressing-down when many abstained from supporting American resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.)
Rather, Sullivan claimed that this time the purpose of the conference would be to listen respectfully to the leaders in question and to help them work out solutions to the continent’s problems on their own terms. Participants would be treated, Sullivan pledged, with respect and as equals.
The reason for the change in attitude? It’s that the United States finds itself currently locked in mortal competition for global influence with its chief rival, China. And, of course, that includes Africa.
There, the U.S. seeks not just access to the continent’s vast mineral and other resources, but also to Africa’s strategic geographical position and its market of over 1 billion consumers. The United States also wants to prevent spread of Chinese influence into what it and its European partners continue to understand as their inviolable post-colonial domain. For those reasons, it’s important to enter into agreements with nations such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with South Africa, Libya, Egypt, and Kenya.
But if that’s its goal, the United States has a problem that renders it virtually incapable of competition with China in Africa – or anywhere else for that matter.
I’m referring to U.S. ideology and its history.
As the world’s chief proponent of economic neoliberalism, the ideology of the United States makes it all but constitutionally unwilling to accommodate anything that smacks of socialism.
Relatedly, the U.S. track record shows that wherever there’s a whiff of leftist state ownership, market control, or increased taxes on the elite, Americans will predictably apply sanctions, engage in regime change, or even assassinate, or invade. Think of Egypt’s coup that stopped the Arab spring in its tracks. Think of Ghaddafi’s ignominious fate and of Mrs. Clinton’s epitaph on his behalf, “We came, we saw, he died. Ha, ha!”
All of Africa – all the Global South – remembers such disgraceful interference with their national aspirations.
On the other hand, the People’s Republic of China is hampered by no such limitations. After all, it is run by a party that calls itself “communist.” That party describes its own economy as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Its mixed economy has a huge section owned and controlled by the government. Its private sector is tightly regulated. China therefore has no quarrel with public ownership, market regulation, or with taxing the rich. It loves socialism.
Additionally, China’s track record has it freely cooperating with neo-liberal regimes, with despot kingdoms, and with other states aspiring to socialism. Compared with similar arrangements with the United States, China’s loan contracts, Belt-and-Road projects, and other agreements generally come with far fewer if any strings attached.
So, if an African country wants to follow China’s suit of socialism, its leaders will not have to fear sanctions or regime change, much less assassination or invasion from its international economic partner.
To repeat: that’s not the case in dealing with the United States. And that’s why the latter will never triumph in its Global South competition with China!
I just finished reading Jonathan Katz’s Gangsters of Capitalism. It helped me understand what’s really going on in Ukraine, where they’re at it again. I mean they’re fighting yet another White People’s inter-capitalist war between Mafia dons. I’m talking about Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden.
Let me explain the connections by first identifying those involved as no better than blood thirsty mafiosi, then linking them to Katz’s book, and finally suggesting the shocking conclusion thoughtful people might draw after considering the gangland realities of the Ukraine fiasco.
White People’s Inter-capitalist War
To begin with, like everyone else, I’m appalled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nothing can justify such blatant transgression of the UN Charter. Putin’s a thug.
However, I’m even more dismayed by our nation’s part in provoking the conflict, and its apparent reluctance to help bring it to conclusion. Biden’s a thug too.
[On that latter point about wanting to prolong the war, Hillary Clinton’s recent pronouncements are telling. She apparently wants to turn the Ukraine war into a decades-long disaster modeled on Afghanistan’s. Think about that. Clearly, from the safety of her mansion in Chappaqua New York, her faux heroism provides courage to continue the fight (6000 miles away) to the very last Ukrainian.]
Most outrageous of all however, is both sides’ entertainment of the possibility of nuclear war — over Ukraine, a place most Americans can’t find on the map! Mr. Putin’s explicit threats and and Zelenskyy’s appeals for a suicidal “no fly zone” should scare the hell out of anyone.
All of that should also make us doubt the sanity and validity of “leadership” on both sides. That’s my main point here. These people are insane!
And I’m not just talking about Putin and Biden. The real powers in question are the deeper, darker forces that the two front men represent. In Russia we refer to the latter as “the oligarchs.” Over here, we call them the “deep state” – you know, the military industrial complex, fossil fuel magnates, bankers, financiers, the CIA, FBI, NSA — the whole disaster.
Like the Mafia, those forces and the sock puppets just mentioned are accountable to no one – only to their own personal and class welfare including most prominently their bank accounts. They’re like Cosa Nostra bosses – willing to kill bystanders as they’ve “gone to the mattresses” fighting over protection money, gun running, “territory,” “credibility,” “reputation” and “respect” on behalf of conflicting “families.”
Let me say it again: neither Putin nor Biden represent anyone resembling you or me or ordinary Ukrainians and Russians. For instance, Biden and his henchmen can find billions and billions for war, but nothing for infrastructure, universal health care, guaranteed incomes, or free university education.
No doubt, we should feel for these godfathers’ victims. But allegiance to either side and what they represent is entirely misplaced.
Gangsters of Capitalism
Such realizations have come home to me starkly as I finished reading Katz’s eye opening Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire. It’s one of the saddest books I’ve ever read.
It has made me realize how despite my supposed sophistication, I’ve been completely duped over the last month of conflict in Ukraine into taking the sides of capitalist gangsters fighting over those traditional Mafia concerns I just mentioned.
The book’s title says it all. Gangsters of Capitalism is a biography of General Smedley Butler (1881-1940), the most famous military figure of his era who after devastating countries all over the world ended up authoring the famous book-length mea culpa, War Is a Racket.
There, towards the end of his life he famously confessed:
“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”
The racket Butler described involved his Marines in massacres, looting, slavery, outright robbery of national treasuries, and support for dictators and tyrants. It all took a severe toll on Butler’s body and mind. But it also awakened him towards the end of his life to the criminality of the U.S. capitalist system itself. He came to understand that its overlords care nothing for the lives of workers lost as a result of their fights, especially if the laborers are not white.
Mafiosi in Ukraine
Now, think about Butler’s revelations in view of the current inter-capitalist conflict between the mafia bosses, Vlad “the Czar” Putin on the one hand, and “Sleepy” Joe Biden on the other – with “Pretty Boy” Volodymyr Zelenskyy thrown in for good measure.
As noted earlier, these guys are thugs one an all. They care nothing for democracy, law, or even genocide. An overriding concern is “credibility” understood as instilling fear by a demonstrated willingness to kill the disobedient without a second thought.
In the current political climate, there’s no need to convince anyone that Vlad the Czar is a thug.
But Zelenskyy? And Biden ?
Think about “Pretty Boy” first. He’s head of the ninth most corrupt country in the world. Its leadership (including him) is deeply involved with self-identified Nazis. They’ve been incorporated into the army. Moreover, just last week, the Boy outlawed 11 opposition parties and forbade airing of any accounts of the Ukraine war that differ from the state’s official narrative. These, of course, are the very policies for which Zelenskyy’s (and our) press criticize Vlad the Czar.
As for Sleepy Joe . . .. One minute in defense of “democracy” and “international law” he’s denouncing and sanctioning Vlad as a “war criminal.” Then the next minute the American godfather considers a trip to Saudi Arabia to “restore relationships” with another mafioso kingpin, Moe “the butcher” bin Salman.
The Butcher is the mafia boss who over the last seven years has been bombing a neighboring country (Yemen) into rubble. In the process he’s created what the UN calls the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis with an overwhelming number of its victims, children. As a Saudi royal, the Butcher is a sworn enemy of democracy.
He’s also the one who just this week beheaded 81 men in a single day – many of them for thought crimes. And by the way, the he got his nickname from instructing his hit men to use bone saws to dismember a Washington Post journalist. I mean, this man’s got real credibility; you better not cross him.
But he’s okay with the Sleeper who not only supports the Yemen slaughter, but wants to kiss the Butcher’s ring in order to persuade him (in the midst of climate catastrophe) to pump more oil. (That oil by the way, won’t go online till next winter. Think of the progress against climate change that would happen if instead of using the coming year to prepare for pumping more oil, the time were used to go all out to replace fossil fuels with renewable green energy.)
I’m sure you see what I mean about criminality, insanity, and general disregard of human welfare. That’s the Mafia for you.
I do not mean to make light of the war in Ukraine. No, I’m as serious about my characterization of Putin, Zelenskiyy, and Biden as Mafiosi as Smedley Butler was about his own war crimes. My point is that none of them – not Putin, not Biden, not Zelenskyy, not MBS – enjoy a scintilla of credibility in the sense of responsible statecraft.
None of them gives the slightest damn about the rest of us, our health care, education, debts, or jobs – and much less about democracy, freedom, justice, or the continuity of human life on a planet facing the imminent threats of climate change and nuclear war. The record speaks for itself. Simply put, every one of them is certifiably insane.
And the certification? Let me put it this way: Anyone, and I mean ANYONE, who talks about using nuclear weapons is ipso facto nuts.
No one has that right? Why do we give it to them? And why are we not outraged at the mere mention of employing nuclear weapons?
And for what? To defend ultimately imaginary entities like “Ukraine,” “Russia,” “The United States,” and NATO.” That’s what they are, you know – imaginary constructs. History shows that like all such entities, they inevitably emerge and disappear and have no lasting reality.
So-called “leaders” who stand ready to commit collective suicide on behalf of such constructs either belong in an asylum at best or in a maximum security prison – simply for threatening the rest of us on behalf of their venality, stupidity, and incompetence.
So, let me say it even more starkly although it will offend many. Here it is: The Sandinistas were right. In their anthem, they identified the Yankee as “the enemy of humanity.” As Katz shows, “our” government roams the world stirring up trouble everywhere, exploiting differences, dividing and conquering. As Dr.King put it, we’re the world’s “greatest purveyor of violence.”
One can hardly resist endorsing such conclusions after reading Gangsters of Capitalism. It rehearses so well the planetary devastation brought on by the United States government and its military which allied so easily with mafias everywhere, as well as with dictators, fascists, Nazis, drug dealers, terrorists, and (it seems) with the devil himself.
It’s time to stop being “Good Americans” and to realize instead that our real enemy resides in DC.
The present rift between establishment Democrats represented by Joe Biden on the one hand and progressive insurgents led by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (A.O.C.) on the other, focuses on the Green New Deal. The debate seems to reprise a similar divide in the Black community between W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington. Their issue at the turn of the 20th century was education and whether African Americans were better served by a vocational curriculum or by the liberal arts. Dubois favored the latter approach, Washington, the former. In 1969 Dudley Randall wrote a famous poem encapsulating the controversy between cautious conservatives and more revolutionary leaders. It was entitled “W.E.B. and Booker T.” Here, I borrow heavily from Mr. Randall to similarly encapsulate the current debate between the Biden and AOC forces.
“It seems to me,” said Joey B. “It shows a mighty lot of cheek “For someone young like you to speak “Of Green New Deals and rising wage “When all big donors shout with rage “At Marxist thoughts of equal share “Of voting rights and Medicare. “That’s not the way to win the vote “We’re better served to go by rote. “And simply do what we’ve done before.”
“I don’t agree,” said A.O.C. “We need new vision, words and plan “Remember our loss when Hillary ran “Saying words like yours so ‘tried and true.’ “She lost to Donald and so would you. “And besides, Mother Earth has raised her voice “To tell us all we have no choice. “Time’s running short the experts say. “My Green New Deal will save the day.”
“It seems to me,” said Joey B. “That folks like you have missed the point “Who tell us ‘Times are out of joint’ “And spend vain days and sleepless “In uproar over workers’ rights “Let’s keep mouths shut, and do not grouse, “Be content to know you’ve won the House.”
“I don’t agree,” said A.O.C. “For what can winning votes avail “If all earth’s systems drown and fail? “Unless we join to change our way, “Your grandkids and mine will surely pay “For the near-sight vision of pols like you. “But as for me I’ll choose the New. “I’ll take my chances that people know “The Green New Deal’s is the way to go
“It seems to me,” said Joey B. – “I don’t agree,” said AOC.
Readings for 1st Sunday ofAdvent: Jer. 33:14-16; Ps. 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14; 1 Thes. 3: 12-4:2; Lk. 21:25-28, 34-35
We’re standing on the brink of Apocalypse. I don’t mean the end of the world. I’m talking about the end of empire.
That’s the point I tried to make here two weeks ago, when our Sunday liturgies began featuring apocalyptic readings from both the Jewish and Christian Testaments. That’s what the biblical literary form “Apocalypse” is about– not the end of the world, but the end of empire.
Apocalypse is resistance literature, written in code during times of extreme persecution by powerful imperial forces like Greece and Rome. The code was understandable to “insiders” familiar with Jewish scripture. It was impenetrable to “outsiders” like the persecutors of the authors’ people.
In our own case, all the provocations of apocalyptic rebellion are there. Our country is following faithfully in the footsteps of the biblical empires against which apocalypse was written: Egypt, Assyria, the Medes and Persians, Babylon, Greece, and Rome.
To say it unambiguously: Our government is headed by gangsters pure and simple. It’s as if Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Nero, Caligula, Domitian –or Al Capone – were in charge. All of them (Trump, Obama, the Clintons, and the Bushes) should be in jail. In fact, as Chomsky has pointed out every single post-WWII U.S. president from Truman and Eisenhower to Carter, Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton, Obama, and Donald Trump has been guilty of crimes that contradict the Nuremberg Principles. The only policy difference between Donald Trump and his immediate predecessors is that he’s blatantly shameless in owning his criminalities.
Here’s what Chomsky has said:
To clarify Chomsky’s point, here’s a short list of our current president’s most recent atrocities. He has the country:
Fighting perpetual and internationally illegal wars against at least five sovereign nations. Count them: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen . . . without any sign of ending. (The genocidal war in Yemen has caused a cholera epidemic and will soon have 14 million people starving to death. Can anyone tell me why we’re in Yemen??)
Refusing to recognize the validity of a CIA report identifying Mohammed bin Salman as the Mafia Don who ordered the beheading and dismembering of a correspondent for a major U.S. newspaper.
Similarly soft-pedaling the climate-change findings of the government’s own scientific panel predicting the devastating effects of climate change for our economy, country, and species including, of course, our children and grandchildren.
Spending billions modernizing a nuclear weapons arsenal, while our cities’ bridges, roads, and other infrastructure disintegrate before our eyes.
Insisting on wasting billions building a wall along our southern border instead of sea-walls, dykes and levies along our country’s coasts.
Following Obama and Hillary Clinton by backing a narco-government in Honduras that has become a street gang making huge profits from the addictions of U.S. citizens while directly producing the immigrants and refugees Trump identifies as our enemies.
Using chemical weapons against the resulting caravan of women and children seeking refuge at our southern border and justifying it in a way that would be trumpeted as a casusbelli were the perpetrator’s name Bashar al-Assad instead of Donald J. Trump.
All of that is relevant to today’s liturgical reading, because (as I’ve said) this is the third week in a row that the lectionary has given us readings from apocalyptic literature.
As I indicated, apocalypse differs from ordinary prophecy in that it addresses periods of deep crisis, when the whole world appears to be falling apart. Neither prophets nor apocalyptics were fortunetellers. Instead, they were their days’ social critics. They warned of the disastrous consequences that inevitably follow from national policies that deviate from God’s will – i.e. from policies that harm God’s favorites: widows, orphans, immigrants, the poor – and (we might add) the planet itself.
When Luke was writing his gospel around the year 85 of the Common Era, Jerusalem had been completely destroyed by the Romans in the Jewish War (64-70 CE). The Romans had brutally razed the city and the temple that had been rebuilt after the Babylonian Exile. For Jews that was something like the Death of God, for the Holy City and its Temple were considered God’s dwelling place. The event was apocalyptic.
In today’s gospel, Luke has Jesus predicting that destruction using specifically apocalyptic language. Luke’s Jesus says “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
What can such apocalyptic message mean in our own day faced as we are with a false crisis stemming from U.S. policies in Central America in general and in Honduras in particular that identify the poorest people in the world as the causes of our problems instead of climate chaos and narco-kleptocrats?
Yes, the immigrant crisis is a mere distraction – a completely human and remediable fabrication caused by U.S. policy. Meanwhile, the real threat to our planet is the threat of nuclear war and the environmental cliff that our “leaders” refuse to address. And who’s responsible for that crisis?
Prominent religious leaders would have us believe it’s God. He (sic) is punishing us for opening borders to the poor, for Roe v. Wade, for legalizing same sex marriages, or for allowing women access to contraception. Let’s face it: that’s nonsense. It turns Jesus’ embodiment of the God of love on its head. It turns God into a pathological killer – a cruel punishing father like too many of our own dads.
The real culprit preventing us from addressing climate change is our government. Our elected politicians are truly in the pockets of Big Oil, the Banksters, narco-criminals and other fiscal behemoths whose eyes are fixed firmly on short-term gains, even if it means their own children and grandchildren will experience environmental apocalypse.
What I’m saying is that this government has no validity. How dare a small group of climate-change Philistines take it upon themselves to decide the fate of the entire planet in the face of overwhelming evidence contradicting their stupidity?
It all has me wondering when our fellow peasants who don’t share Jesus’ commitment to non-violence will get out their pitchforks and storm the White House and other seats of government.
Remember: It was Thomas Jefferson who advised periodic revolution. He said: “What country before ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. . . The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
Did you know that the U.S. Constitution still allows African Americans to be legally enslaved?
That’s one of the many reasons I found 13,th, Ava DuVernay’s new and explosive Netflix documentary, so enlightening and shocking.
Following up on her civil rights drama, Selma, DuVernay’s film dissects the prison-industrial complex and shows how this profit-from-prison system results directly from a little-known clause in the 13th Amendment of the Constitution ratified in 1865. The amendment states:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (Emphasis added)
Through a series of brilliantly juxtaposed interviews, bold graphics and hip-hop lyrics, the film demonstrates how the 14 words highlighted above led to a chain of events that provided former slave owners with the legal justification they required to retain the tremendously profitable free labor slaves provided the ante bellum South. The events in question:
Saw former African chattel convicted of “crimes” such a loitering and vagrancy.
Led to their imprisonment and return to chain-gang servitude.
Expanded such practice through the passage of modern crime bills that now serve a highly privatized prison-industrial system that massively re-criminalizes and disproportionately incarcerates black and brown-skinned Americans.
Reactivated the exception clause of the 13th Amendment to provide free labor for Walmart, Victoria’s Secret, and many other firms.
However, 13th goes much further than exposing past and present forms of legal slavery. It also traces the shocking expansion of the U.S. prison population itself. Forty-five years ago, there were about 200,000 inmates in U.S. prisons. Today inmates number more than 2 million. Although the U.S. has just 5% of the world’s population, it has about 25% of the world’s prisoners. One in three behind bars is black.
Going even further, 13th connects the general criminalization of African Americans with political strategies that disenfranchise people of color. The connection highlights Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the militarization of police forces, and voter-suppression measures in general.
In Kentucky those strategies end up robbing 22% of African Americans of their right to vote. That’s because law in this state insists on depriving convicted felons of voting rights even after they have paid their “debts to society.”
All of this serves the purposes of right wing racists who admit in the words of conservative ideologue, Paul Weyrich, that they don’t want everyone to vote. High voter turnout, Weyrich has argued, works against the G.O.P.’s chances of winning. So besides disenfranchising former felons, Republicans implement voter I.D. laws, under-supply voting machines to African American communities, and otherwise make it difficult for people of color to vote.
However, Republicans are not the only ones indicted in 13th. The documentary also identifies Bill and Hillary Clinton’s 1990s Crime Bill as responsible for the explosion of prison populations.
Most chillingly, though, 13th fingers the rhetoric of Donald Trump repeatedly presented as referencing “the good old days” when protestors against the measures criticized in the film would be “punched in the face,” and “carried out on stretchers.”
I highly recommend 13th to counter such uninformed nostalgia for the segregated past. I also hope DuVernay’s work will be duly recognized this year at the Academy Awards. (She’s on the short list for best-documentary nomination.)
Since last weekend and F.B.I. director, James Comey’s decision to intervene in the presidential election, I’ve been depressed. It struck me as yet another coup by the powerful to nullify democracy. It’s like the Supreme Court’s selection of George W. Bush back in 2000. This time the F.B.I. is the intervening agency. Its maneuver, like what happened 16 years ago, embodies the corruption of a system that needs to come down.
After all, American Imperialism is responsible for most of the world’s problems: unending wars, oppression of poor people everywhere, planetary destruction by way of human-induced global warming, and reversion to pre-Magna Carta torture and imprisonment without charge or trial. The U.S. system has the world controlled by a relative handful of the obscenely rich capitalists whose economic theories and practice provide no hope of alleviating the poverty afflicting most of the planet.
All of that demands that in the name of humanity, in the name of Mother Earth, the system just described must be destroyed.
But how would such destruction occur? It all seems so entrenched and is controlled by overwhelming military and law enforcement powers – not to mention a network of propaganda and miseducation that keeps citizens asleep and rebellion at bay.
It’s like the Soviet Union before 1989. Ours is a weary, completely dysfunctional Old Order supported by politicians such as Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, and yes, by Hillary Clinton and her husband. All of them (and especially the Clintons in today’s electoral context) represent the very embodiment of the ancien regime. They all endorse unending war, restrictions on human rights at home and abroad, constant surveillance of our communications and persons, low wages and cut-backs on the government services previously funded by taxing the rich. None of our politicians is willing to address criminal wealth disparities, climate change, the threat of nuclear war, falling living standards prohibitive health care costs or student debt.
In such dire straits, and as Michael Moore has suggested, most of us intuitively see that the system just described needs to be blown up. It needs someone to throw a Molotov Cocktail at the whole thing. But who?
Enter Donald Trump! Enter the U.S. electorate!
Voting for Trump represents the bomb the desperate subconsciously require to destroy arrangements that no longer serve. It’s like the Brits and Brexit. There ordinary people refused to be led by the “experts.” They knew the system had to be destroyed. So they gave the middle finger to their “betters.”
Yes, Trump’s an absolute lout, and a know-nothing. He’s a climate-change denying sexist and racist xenophobe. But as such he makes clear to the entire world what “America” has become – what it in fact is – a country controlled by the greedy, uneducated, anti-scientific, religiously fundamentalist, racist, sexist, domineering, undemocratic, and xenophobic. With his election, it will no longer be possible to pretend otherwise.
In other words, Donald Trump represents what’s needed to spark and catalyze the revolution against everything he and our country have come to embody. His election may be what’s required to destroy the system as we know it and to catalyze the revolution roiling just below the surface of contemporary American life.
So following his election just watch the agents of revolution come together. I’m talking about:
The civilized world
Women tired of being objectified and harassed and underpaid
Well, I watched the final debate last night. Once again, it pointed up the debate format’s limitation and the absence of alternatives to the duopoly of Democrats vs. Republicans.
Specifically, it made me miss the voice of Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.
Her absence on the debate stage prevented voters from hearing her viewpoint on vital issues virtually excluded from the three personality-focused brawls between Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton. I’m referring to income inequality, student debt, climate change, public transportation, disease prevention, and the continuing need for 9/11 transparency to blunt its rationale for insane military expenditures and endless war.
Liberal funnyman, John Oliver, recently endorsed such exclusion in a strained barely-comic monologue that merits comment not only because of its shallowness, but because it discouraged expanding the narrow parameters of current political debate. (See Stein’s own response to Oliver here.) In his routine, Oliver attempted to disqualify Dr. Stein because she raised the very issues just indicated. More specifically:
She looks too nerdy.
Her plan for relieving student debt lacks specific detail.
She chose not to explain the intricacies of “quantitative easing” in a press conference.
Even as a physician with 27 years’ experience, she (like everyone else btw) is not completely certain about possible connections between vaccines and autism.
She agrees that the recently declassified pages from the government’s 9/11 report justify further investigation into that signal event that even Official Inquiry leaders, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, say was “incomplete and flawed.”
She was part of a 1990s folk rock band whose lyrics contain a poetic device (paradox) that Mr. Oliver apparently doesn’t grasp – specifically, the apparent contradiction, “silent thunder.”
She is not a perfect candidate.
Ignored in all of this is the fact that Jill Stein’s positions are identical with those of Bernie Sanders who (now that he is no longer a candidate) has been nearly canonized by people like Oliver. In fact, Dr. Stein invited Sanders to join her on the Green Party ticket; she would run, she offered, as his V.P.
Ignored too were the actual lyrics of candidate Stein’s songs that (unlike Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton) dared to raise the issue of climate change – as well as specifics about child and maternal health. Instead, Oliver focused on Stein’s voice [which turns out to be about as (dis)pleasing as Bill Clinton’s saxophone on Johnny Carson or Michelle Obama’s dancing with Jimmy Fallon.]
However, the most significant omission from Oliver’s denunciation was the importance of voting for Dr. Stein in red states. If Stein garners only 5% of the national vote, her name can appear on presidential ballots in many states in the next election cycle, Even more importantly, the Green Party will receive millions of dollars in campaign funds in 2020.
So, red state Democrats (like me in Kentucky) concerned about overcoming the dominance of the duopoly, and about continuing the Bernie Revolution should discount Oliver’s shallow criticisms and recognize their vote for Jill Stein as a small, but significant step towards reaching the Green Party’s important 2020 goals.
I was afraid this would happen. Donald Trump actually out-performed Hillary last night. Admittedly, given the sex-tape disaster that had broken two days earlier, the man had nowhere to go but up. But in our media-driven horse-race approach to politics, where issues are ignored, memories and shockingly short and facts don’t matter, he probably did much last night to pick himself up off the floor.
Meanwhile, Hillary was left simply flailing. She seemed nonplussed throughout the whole affair having foolishly chosen (as she put it) to “go high” rather than deliver a knockout blow to an opponent who entered the debate reeling, bloody and battered. She couldn’t put him away.
Trump’s performance truly surprised me. Although he’s clearly an ethical moron, he has proven to be a brilliant debater. As in his spheres of business and taxes, he apparently knows how to manipulate broken systems and their rules. And these debate clown-shows play to that strength. They present him with (1) parameters entirely controlled by the parties of the debate’s participants, (2) an opponent who largely agrees with him on the most important issues, (3) opposing (third party) viewpoints systematically excluded, (4) weak-kneed “celebrity” newscasters who concerned about their own images are easily bullied, and (5) just two minutes to answer each question.
In other words, the whole thing is rigged. And, if nothing else, Donald Trump is a master at gaming rigged systems. By comparison, and despite all her vaunted experience, Hillary Clinton comes off as a rank amateur.
Trump has actually figured out that given the debate format, all he has to do is bob and weave, jab and jive, rope and dope. That means physically dwarfing his female opponent by strutting around the stage in barely-concealed threatening postures, complaining about the bias of is incompetent interrogators, and simply trotting out the old CIA spookstrategy: (1) admit nothing, (2) deny everything, (3) make counter accusations.
Last night it all worked like a charm.
As a result, the whole affair ended up completely mystifying. Candidates were allowed to ignore the actual questions, to answer other ones instead, and to ramble on, talk over each other, and ignore commands to stop their ranting. Most of the time, I was left scratching my head wondering, “Now what was the original question?” And then if I remembered, my follow-up was “What does this ‘answer’ have to do with that?”
Meanwhile our country’s and world’s most important issues were all but ignored. There was nothing about climate change until the last minute and a half (literally). And as usual the phrase itself and “global warming” remained unuttered. There was nothing about student loans, police murders of black people, Black Lives Matter, or voter suppression. And Clinton and Trump basically appeared to agree on “clean coal,” fracking, the need for Muslims to report on each other, privatized health care, military spending, the renewed nuclear arms race, and on how much they like each other.
As for the war in Syria, Trump made much more sense there than Hillary. He did! She’s actually willing to risk nuclear war with Russia to institute an impossible “no fly zone” there. (She practically spit out the phrase “THE RUSSIANS” while discussing the issue.) Trump, on the other hand recognizes that ISIS, not THE RUSSIANS is the real enemy in the Middle East. He advocates dialog with the Kremlin. It made me wonder, is he the peace candidate?
I was also left wondering about Hillary’s ethics compared with Trump’s. Both of these characters are unsavory to say the least. I wonder who’s worse?
Trump’s actions border on rape. That’s serious. His offense was not “just words” – locker room banter – compared with Bill Clinton’s actions. The sex tape showed Trump bragging about unwanted kissing and groping. Anyone else but a rich white billionaire would at the very least lose his job over an expose like that. Even Roger Ailes had to step down. (But, of course, Ailes had less money than Trump.)
But Hillary’s problem is lying and warmongering. Except for the justified furor over Trump’s sex tapes, last weekend’s publication of her long-hidden Wall Street speeches by Wikileaks might have mortally wounded her campaign. The leaks have her defending a practice of publicly advocating populist positions and then in private pushing more business-friendly policies. That’s what the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party had warned of all along. Her strategy in dealing with the revelations is to blame THE RUSSIANS – to ramp up the paranoia that melds seamlessly with her willingness to risk nuclear war.
But then, of course, Trump appears totally clueless about nuclear war himself. Isn’t he the one who asked repeatedly, “If we have nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?”
It’s depressing. Candidates bickering over who’s more corrupt, ignoring the real issues, and despite the public’s yearning for change, both promising business as usual – or worse.
In the face of all this, I’d vote for Jill Stein and the Green Party, were it not for the issue of Supreme Court justices. Instead, I find faint hope in Bernie Sanders’ strategy of voting for Hillary this time around and then working hard for Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, Dr. Stein or whoever steps up over the next four years to help a now depressed and angry populist movement coalesce against the nonsense these two establishment candidates represent.
We also must work to return these debates to control by the League of Women Voters.
Like everyone else I know, I watched the first presidential debate last night. I tuned in to “Democracy Now” (DN) to witness the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Afterwards I kept my dial set right there for the après debate discussion.
Then just this morning, I returned to DN to view debate highlights and the space host, Amy Goodman, gave to Jill Stein to answer the questions posed the night before by NBC News anchor, Lester Holt. Ms. Goodman had also invited Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, to participate in her two hour “Expanding the Debate” special. However, Mr. Johnson claimed he was otherwise occupied.
Despite polls that show most Americans would like their participation, both Dr. Stein and Mr. Johnson had been excluded from the previous evening’s debate by the Commission on Presidential Debates entirely controlled by the Democrat and Republican parties.
This morning I was relieved to find the Washington Post supporting my own judgment. It detailed a nearly unanimous verdict that Secretary Clinton had trounced Mr. Trump even according to conservative media outlets.
For me, the debate’s most important question addressed to both candidates was “If you happen to lose the election on November 8th, will you support your opponent as President of the United States?” Of course, both candidates answered in the affirmative.
If the question were posed to me – will I support either candidate? – my answer would be negative.
As many have pointed out, Donald Trump is entirely unqualified to be POTUS. Last night he came off like some guy you’d meet in a bar – or your nutty uncle at Thanksgiving dinner, who after one too many, rants on in broad generalizations without any rational argument or factual support. At times he seemed completely incoherent. He definitely generated more heat than light.
Meanwhile, Ms. Clinton had the opposite problem. Yes, she was coherent. And yes, she had done her homework.
But she promises nothing more than continuation of the status quo. That in turn means perpetual war, more bombing, drone attacks, and regime change fueled by nostalgia for the 1990 Clinton years where “My husband did a pretty good job.”
What I’m saying is that Mrs. Clinton represents a depressing continuation of the status quo that millennials and other progressives have largely repudiated.
Forgotten in all of this is the fact that the alternative to business as usual was stymied by Hillary and her minion, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Under Shultz, the Democratic National Committee worked in concert with the Clinton campaign to discredit Bernie Sanders and, it seems, to prevent accurate vote tallies. In other words, Hillary is very likely where she is because of election fraud – one of the causes of voter apathy in relation to this Democratic candidate – and to elections in general.
With all of this in mind, I’m voting for Jill Stein, just as I did in the last election. That’s because as a citizen of Kentucky, I’m disenfranchised by our current dysfunctional electoral system. So in my irredeemably Red State, my vote carries no weight at all, except as a protest. My protest vote then will be for the Green Party candidate.
As she showed this morning on DN and in other interviews I’ve seen, Dr. Stein is on top of issues and offers a truly progressive agenda largely ignored last night. That agenda includes:
A Green New Deal that amounts to a huge jobs program that will turn the tide on climate change.
For debt-ridden students (43 million of them), a bail-out analogous to the Bush-Obama 2008 $1.3 trillion Wall Street bail-out.
Tax increases on the 1% and on corporations to fund such programs.
The end of foreign policies whose guiding principle entails global dominance, imperialism, and regime change. (That policy, in turn, generates and feeds the problem of terrorism.)
Corresponding and substantial cut-backs in military spending that currently consumes nearly half of the U.S. budget.
Community-controlled policing with Citizen Review Boards for U.S. police departments. These boards would have investigative and subpoena power and authority to fire and hire police chiefs.
The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address racism, its causes and remedies including reparations for slavery.
Halting the Obama $1 trillion plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and replacing it with world-wide nuclear disarmament negotiations.
Dismantling nuclear power plants which with the likelihood of a 9-foot rise in sea levels by 2050 are in line to “go Fukushima” by then.
Absent the Electoral College nonsense, I’d hold my nose and vote for Hillary. But that would only be a “damage control” measure on my part. This time around we have no choice – just two highly defective corporate candidates. And Trump is clearly unqualified for Dog Catcher.
Between now and 2020, we have to work with Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and others to implement a program with features like the ones just listed.
On September 6th, the Washington Post published a report called “White Catholics Struggle to Get on Board the Trump Train.” The article’s assumption was that obviously Caucasian Catholics are expected to vote Republican. However, the report noted, some are having second thoughts in the light of the Trump candidacy – presumably because of his waffling on the issue of abortion.
Unexplainably, the Post article completely ignored the overall progressive thrust of Pope Francis’ teaching and the un-Republican influence it might be having on Catholic voters. Instead, it bolstered its “of course” assumption about Catholics voting Republican by puzzling over the fact that four years ago Catholics who attended Mass at least once a month favored Mitt Romney by 38 points. This year, Donald Trump’s lead among such Catholics has shrunk to 17 points..
True, the WaPo article did suggest that Pope Francis might have something to do with the trends it described. After all, Francis had explicitly intimated that Mr. Trump was unchristian for intending to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Followers of Jesus, Francis said, build bridges, not walls. In response Trump dismissed the pope as “very political.”
However, the Post completely ignored the issues of climate change, a world economy based on arms manufacture, capital punishment, and world-wide income disparities – Pope Francis’ signature issues that he himself highlighted in his speech last year to the U.S. Congress.
The Post carried on as if that speech and the pope’s landmark encyclical on climate change had never occurred. It was as though the Church were still mired in the reactionary era of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, when Catholics seemed obsessed with one issue alone: abortion without connecting it (as Francis has done) to problems of poverty, war, environmental destruction, and an overwhelmingly punitive “justice” system.
So how should Catholics vote who are tuned into Pope Francis’ more comprehensive moral concerns? According to the pope’s eco-encyclical, his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, and his address to the U.S. Congress, Catholics should vote:
Against climate change deniers and for those who share the pope’s climate concerns.
Against champions of dirty fossil fuels and in favor of those supporting alternative, renewable energy sources.
Against those who would exclude refugees from finding shelter in the United States and in favor of those advocating sanctuary.
Against those who favor arms sales abroad and in favor of proponents of divestment from the arms industry.
Against champions of capital punishment and in favor of those calling for its abolition.
Against those proposing tax cuts for the wealthy and in favor of increased redistributive taxes on their incomes.
Against those whose answers to global terrorism are war, bombing, and drone assassinations, and in favor of those who offer legal and diplomatic solutions to the problem of national security.
Against those who are selective in their “pro-life” advocacy, and for those who connect respect for life not just with abortion, but with providing care for unwanted children brought to term, with clean energy, environmental protection, universal health care, investment in public education, and opposition to capital punishment and war.
In the run-up to the elections, these are the issues Catholics should quiz Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump about – as well as candidates for other public offices.