Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Pluto's Return


Among the ancient gods, Pluto was both necessary and unwelcome. Somebody had to rule the underworld, especially because of the precious metals buried there. But having Gloomy Gus Pluto remain out of sight was fine with everyone, including him. He took little interest in human affairs, could only snag a wife through kidnapping, and kept company with things humans preferred to suppress, all those distasteful, ugly, painful reminders that we humans are sometimes, often, not very nice.

Pluto was the god who ruled over death, transformation, and rebirth, and he is associated with the discovery (un-earthing) of unconscious, hidden elements—not the best portfolio for winning a popularity contest. Pluto stands by as things are dug up, exposed, viewed, and acknowledged as real, whether charming or repulsive. Today, Pluto would be the god of colonic irrigations.

This year, 2022, the U.S. of A. celebrates its Pluto Return because the dwarf planet takes 246 years to orbit the sun. It’s right back where it sat in our sky in 1776, so no wonder every he or she or theyx is thinking about the moment of our national creation and its associated myths. The Supreme Court’s Catholic majority has one version; the 1619 Project another; the neocons busily redrawing the map of Europe, theirs.

A Fourth of July random massacre, then, as occurred in Highland Park last week, is a fitting Pluto Return moment. Not only was the holiday not exempt from our nation’s relentless compulsion to engage in random shoot-ups, last week’s edition was a virtual sacralization of it—a mystical union between the political entity on its own birthday and the method by which it brought itself about.

We came into being through force, including the strategic use of slaughter; we expanded through more of the same; and we have now come up against the limits of our force capacity just in time for a returning Pluto to expose the sordid underpinnings of how we possess this subcontinent and the reach of our supposed suzerainty over the entire world.

Viewed most superficially, Pluto returns as a war unfolds in Ukraine; layered atop it is another war, economic in nature; the two nestle in the swaddling clothes of competing ideologies that stage their own gladiatorial tournaments in the propaganda battles raging through cable channels, uploaded videos, reportage (such as it is), and windy think thank articles.

Struck dumb and blind, our chosen authorities insist on making all three wars worse: the longer the shooting war continues, the less there will be left of Ukraine. The neutron bomb of sanctions has boomeranged and landed explosively into the wobbling debt-o-sphere of our financialized western economies; and even the propaganda war, so deftly conducted by our division-strength phalanx of persuaders, will backfire when the depth of their duplicity becomes impossible to ignore.

And yet, there are other buried aspects to be uncovered about the moment of our national fertilization. At that instant when our American zygote sprang forth from the wiggling fishies of the founding dads implanted into the moist soils of the colonies, the populace dared to throw off the shackles of monarchy. A republic, imperfect and hypocritical, was born, with dubious possibilities for survival. And yet, it did.

So, despite the nasty parts of our Pluto story, other, less sanguinary impulses are also part of our founding DNA. We made a unique claim of citizen equality—within limits, of course, but still. While the enslavement and/or elimination of those not born into the privileged clans belied the foundational principle, nonetheless it emerged in 1776, right here on this soil. It resurfaced periodically as the polity absorbed, reluctantly and imperfectly, some of those it had brutally excluded.

Another foundational principle was quickly articulated by the earliest Americans—to confine our bloody business to the New World and not “go abroad to slay dragons [we] do not understand,” in the rarely remembered words of John Quincy Adams. The wisdom of that sentiment has long been buried, and no one is less interested in acknowledging it than the neocons ruling at Washington, London, and Brussels, determined to do the exact opposite. Yet, there it lies buried, ready to be exposed to the light of day.

It is often alleged that the neocon cabal that has seized control of our foreign policy establishment originated in a core group of individuals inspired more by the ideas of Trotsky than those of Madison or Franklin. Whether or not the Nulands and Sullivans and Kagans and Blinkens call their ideology “permanent revolution” or "spreading democracy," they carry on their crusades with the unshakeable faith of a self-appointed vanguard convinced that one more blow to the enemy will transform the world. For them, no sacrifice is too great to bring on the Millenium. The war in Ukraine not going so well? Start a new one over Taiwan. Encourage the Israelis to launch an attack on Iran. Double down, never admit error, never admit defeat, and escalate.

In their bubble world, failure can never result from their playbook. Unlike Trotsky or indeed any rational being, they have no concept of strategic retreat. In the current case, the U.S. populace, shielded from dissenting views, accepts that the war is going tolerably well and, at worst, will descend into a lengthy stalemate. But the rosy predictions of our propagandists are more faithful to their fanciful ideals than to stubborn factoids. 

Sooner rather than later, IMNSHO, Russia will dictate the terms of surrender in Ukraine, and the “rules-based international order” (i.e., “we make the rules, and you follow the orders”) will implode. Back at home, the Republican autocrats will blame it all on Biden and install themselves more or less permanently in power as they rip up the rulebooks of 1776 and 1865.

We are on the cusp of a major rearrangement of our world. Pluto’s Return promises to be full of revelations—and perhaps death and rebirth as well.

Thursday, 9 June 2022

A Reckoning

 


The debacle the West has brought on itself over Ukraine is impossible to ignore any longer.  Of the three wars that began in February: the battlefield, the economic, and the propaganda—only the last, the “softest” and least tangible, can be called a victory of sorts though a Pyrrhic one at that.

The Russian invasion prompted the U.S. and its western allies to attempt to crush Russia’s economy in full confidence that the rickety old “gas station masquerading as a country” would quickly collapse and force Putin to beg for forgiveness. Bad Vlad would be overthrown or marginalized, and Russia reopened for business just like in the glory years of Yeltsin and the Harvard-boys, the neoliberal experts who auctioned off Russian resources to the oligarchs

Instead, the Russians turned out to be prepared for just such an eventuality. They now preside over a stable domestic scene, are selling all the oil and gas they wish, and are in the process of launching a radical reordering of a large chunk of world trade by hiving itself off from U.S. control. Russia has its own bank clearing system that smoothly took over after the Americans threw them out of SWIFT, uses its own currency with its trading partners, is finding alternatives for things it used to import from the EU, and has kept inflation at manageable levels. (No, Joe, the ruble is not "rubble.") Somehow, it will survive the loss of access to Louis Vuitton bags and Scotch whiskey, no doubt at great emotional cost.

On the other hand, the U.S. and Europe are frantically trying to rein in double-digit inflation at home while at a loss for what to do in case the recession-inducing interest rate hikes don’t work. Two EU/NATO governments already have cracked, and more will surely follow. Estonia’s 22% inflation rate knocked its coalition government, led by the free-market-liberal Reform Party, into a corner. Boris Johnson in the U.K. survived a no-confidence vote by such a slim margin that he’s now dead meat and currently standing by the door with his coat on. Face-saving commentators refuse to blame the Ukraine war for their losses and point instead to the economic messes directly caused by it. Okay, whatever. 

The Italian techno-government led by the eternal (though not, thankfully, immortal) Mario Draghi is tottering; Macron in France stands to lose his parliamentary majority; and the German Social Democrats, never strong since they took over just months ago, look set for an historic drubbing.  

And last and also least, our own dear Sleepy Joe has to be wondering where did this ass he’s holding in his hands come from. Food prices are shooting up, housing costs are galloping into the far distance (trailer parks are being seized by private equity, so that’s a disappearing option), and gas is so dear that Americans may suddenly discover that they have feet. According to Biden’s recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, everything is or soon will be just dandy, demonstrating that for our Democrat leaders, the only real problem is an inadequate public relations strategy and whiny citizens who don’t realize how great they’re doing.

Speaking of propaganda campaigns, casual observers deserve our sympathy for believing that the Ukraine war is going well and that triumph is near. Unfortunately, Mr Bernays had no real advertising suggestion for how to spin the destruction of one’s fighting forces by an enemy invader. Ukraine is tottering on the verge of total defeat, notwithstanding the cheery dispatches from the hotels of Kiev by a phalanx of loyal stenographers bottle-fed by western spook agencies.

The US/European dominance of the informational spaces has resulted, perversely, in a trap: given the relentless boosterism over every imagined Ukrainian battlefield advance—whether technically true, practically irrelevant, or completely made up—has left Biden, Johnson, and von der Leyen with nowhere to go once they realize that the Russians are eating their bountiful lunches.

With every passing day, Russia’s leadership has ever less reason to negotiate anything. What once could have been face-saving compromises (such as that outlined in the Minsk agreements that would have left the Donbass republics within Ukraine) are slowly disappearing from the realm of possibility. In a few more weeks, the hated Mr Putin will be dictating terms, and Russia will decide exactly how much of the former Ukraine it will absorb into its territory permanently.

When we, the citizens of the western countries who brought this about, realize that we’ve been fed a pack of lies, the reaction will be something to behold. IMNSHO, the aftermath of this war will not be merely a humiliating Afghanistan 2.0 but rather a cataclysm with existential consequences.

NATO’s continued credibility as a defense/offense alliance will be in serious doubt, and the much-ballyhooed entry of Sweden and Finland looks likely to be vetoed by Turkey’s president, who is highly attuned to the direction of the winds.

Europe, in the person of its undemocratic EU bureaucracy, remains strangely committed to its own disintegration as it faithfully toes the failed American neocon non-strategy of telling everyone what to do despite no longer having the power to make them do it.

More immediately, the economic war launched by Washington, which the Nulands and Sullivans and Blinkens were sure would bring about a quick and glorious triumph, has turned into a giant boomerang headed right for the necks of the Democrats facing the voters in a few months. The boycotts and sanctions and thefts have caused oil and food prices to spike, and there is no sign of relief from any quarter.

Failing to stave off recession and impoverishment while losing a war is not an attractive record of accomplishments for the campaign trail. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the maniac Republicans steamrolling to victory both now and in 2024, then finalizing its rigging of the system to remain in power permanently. We will be lucky to avoid electoral dictatorship with journalists imprisoned for sedition or ultra-right-wing biker gangs and gun clubs enforcing ideological purity. Those who sat by passively while Bush, Obama, and the courts destroyed habeas corpus may be shocked to see how precious that hoary old civil right actually is.

Unfortunately for the increasingly deranged figures arising from the Trumpian swamps, they also have no answers to the systemic weaknesses of our current social and economic arrangements and will find themselves equally discredited in the long run. What looked like a slow decline and gradual political crisis with neither party able to mount a coherent response is shifting into a much higher gear.

While the upheaval is not likely to be pretty, the possibilities for a rethinking of very basic assumptions—about our country, our habits, and in the end our very selves—increase proportionally. When the old ways no longer work, painful changes ensue.

Sunday, 29 May 2022

All hat, no cattle


American police, equipped with untold quantities of military-grade hardware, trained constantly, cheered endlessly, and almost always protected from accountability when they commit abusive errors, are expected to do one job with minimum dedication and skill: protect the innocent from deranged attackers even when at risk of harm to themselves.

It must come as a shock to many of our fellow citizens to see how the Uvalde cops rolled up in an armored car, kitted out in all sorts of weaponry, but couldn't stop a bumbling teenager from murdering children because they came upon a locked door and didn’t have the key.

That’s nothing compared to the cognitive dissonance that will descend upon us shortly when we realize the same phenomenon is taking place in Ukraine where US and NATO tough guys stand around in a variety of ethnic cowboy hats, egging on other guys to keep getting chewed up by the Russian military machine.

The bipartisan Washington duopoly that pours $700 billion worth of our resources annually into military preparedness lectures everyone on earth about what they had better do—or else because standing behind the threats is a vast array of high-tech weaponry. Oddly enough, that team is getting its ass handed to it by “a gas station masquerading as a country.” Just as on the domestic stage, we’re being told that all is well because our cops are lumbering through the streets with hundreds of pounds of Robocop fetish gear.

The latest breathless narrative is that M777 howitzers or the new batch of totally cool Javelin missiles or some other mystical sounding piece of equipment will turn the tide, just like in the war-porn movies we gobble up.

We’re promised that those trillion-dollar piles of weapons will keep disobedient foreigners from getting ideas and threatening “democracy.” Turns out even pesky sub-humans who haven’t discovered “freedom” and the “rules-based international order” can acquire a bit of agency.

The Uvalde cops and assorted Texas elected officials tried to answer questions about the elementary school debacle by emitting endlessstreams of word salad about the “terrible tragedy” and the valiant efforts of “officers on the scene” who “brought things under control.” They desperately attempt to deflect attention away from the utter and ignominious failure of the heroic cops to actually take a risk and stop the slaughter of children.

Similarly, Sullivan, Blinken, foggy Joe, the laughable Ursula von der Leyen, Boris Johnson, Scholz, Stoltenberg, and their clapping seals in the entire western media universe assume heroic poses on the battlements of their respective capitals. They survey the landscape and decide never to retreat an inch in the Donbass where some 10 thousand Ukrainian troops are about to face the choice between annihilation or surrender.

Victory is just around the corner, though, and the Zelenskiy government will soon be pushing back against the paper Russian tiger, whose demoralized troops are short of food, running out of ammo, and about to desert for a nice job in Barcelona. (I actually heard David Frum predict this on a webinar.)

Meanwhile, the Uvalde cops will be storming the child-assassin—as soon as they get snipers, armor, back-up, and their Starbucks orders. Don’t try to interfere, or we’ll tase you.

 

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Bankruptcy

 


Back at the time of the collapse of the USSR, some commentators claimed that the West had driven the Soviets into bankruptcy by escalating the arms race beyond their means while simultaneously making sure that the Afghan war continued to drain them. All that unsustainable spending, pundits insisted, had brought the rickety Soviet system crashing down into a heap.

It may be time to ask whether the tables have been turned upon us.

President Biden has asked Congress for additional monies for the DoD, the better to prepare ourselves for a stand-off with Russia in Europe. Congress, never particularly reticent when it comes to military pork for members’ districts, promptly insisted on giving him more than he asked for.

Biden’s proposed $813 billion Pentagon bill dwarfs all previous budgets for arms and warfare, and Republicans promptly attacked it as too little. While gummint programs often come in for the criticism that they simply throw money at a problem, there is a sudden 180 pivot when the same approach is used in this particular sphere.

I remember attending a Pentagon briefing in 1981 when the incoming Reagan Administration was boosting the budget numbers left behind by Carter. The briefing book literally had the Carter numbers crossed out and new percentage increases penciled in over each item, giving the strong impression that the only thought in anyone’s mind when they got the checkbook out was, “More!”

The never-never question of, “How are we to pay for all this?” remains off limits given that, by long-established custom, it is only asked of programs that improve people’s lives such as Social Security or transportation infrastructure. But under no circumstances must this query be put to those demanding new funds for weaponry.

However, it might be a relevant inquiry these days as we witness inflation reach double-digits and our trade deficit with China (tomorrow’s enemy!) explode.

Biden and his neocon war council seem confident that the United States can stage confrontations with large and small rival powers such as Russia, China, Iran (perhaps toss in India and Pakistan as well if need be), wage economic war upon them, and emerge unscathed.

Biden’s guys are happily ensconced in a virtual world dating to about 1992 (or perhaps 1946) in which the U.S. rules the four winds and the seven seas, dictates terms, and punishes renegades.

That world has come and gone, but if you believe that perceptions matter more than reality, the Golden Age can be summoned back with magical thinking and some good old Edward Bernays-style PR.

After all, Ronald Reagan made us “feel good about America” after the hardships of the 60s and 70s, and for four decades that has stood us in good stead. We recovered from the so-called Vietnam syndrome and returned to our rightful place as the beacon of freedom and democracy around the world, as witnessed by our efforts to promote both in Panama, El Salvador, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. As long as we feel good, everything will work out fine.

Like Napoleon, we—or least Messrs. Blinken and Sullivan—believe in the historical mission of advancing democracy and free-market capitalism on the point of our nuclear-tipped lances. The neocons, true to their original Trotskyist roots, have led an ideological battle inspired by their revolutionary beliefs and backed up with the vast coercive resources of the world’s costliest military machine.

Whether it’s the best prepared or most competent remains to be seen as the neocon zealots push us ever closer to open battle with Russia on the European front. War ideas that were once far-fetched edge ever closer to reality as the Biden leadership shows no signs of discovering a reverse gear despite the evidence that Plan A hasn’t gone so well. We now face the prospect of a direct face-off.

But notwithstanding their crushing triumph in the information war, the U.S. and its western allies haven’t found a winning formula to reverse Russian advances in the field. Meanwhile, the economic war launched with vast confidence that the Russian economy (“a gas station masquerading as a country”—John McCain) would promptly collapse and force Putin to his septuagenarian knees has generated a boomerang effect that has only just begun to be felt here at home.

Americans are currently enthusiastic about the nobility of the Ukrainian cause and happy to display blue and yellow face-paint and donate to the widows-and-orphans charities springing up.

Of course, a couple of years back people were clapping out their windows for the heroic nurses tending to Covid patients, the same nurses who are now the object of hostile comments at the grocery store for their role in the “fake” epidemic and its inconvenient restrictions.

How long will Ukraine solidarity survive in the face of seven-dollar-a-gallon gas? Or apples suddenly costing $3 a pound instead of $1.75?

No doubt all we’ll need is tighter restrictions on “pro-Russian” propaganda on Twitter and YouTube to revive that fighting spirit of sacrifice. After all, the defense of Ukrainian agency and the preservation of its options for NATO membership are certainly worth canceling that family vacation or moving into a two-room flat.

Given that the US of A is the greatest country on earth with an awesome fighting force and the best of everything, we’ll be up to the challenges facing us once they’re explained by credible leaders like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump. 

The American economy dwarfs most others and certainly will respond with resilience even though its captains of industry long ago packed up the nation’s factories and shipped them to Mexico, Bangladesh, and China. But we have Facebook, Google, and many iProducts and dozens of billionaires each worth ten times the net worth of ancient Mesopotamia. We are indestructible.

Nothing can go wrong, and all will be well.

Friday, 4 March 2022

Three Wars

 

Three simultaneous wars are underway in Ukraine.

The current score is: 1-1-1: one win, one loss, one stalemate.

The information war

The U.S. is winning the war for the narrative hands down. The entire western hemisphere sees Russia as an unprovoked aggressor invading a weak, sovereign neighbor and concurs that it is an outrageous act that jeopardizes world peace. The crushing repudiation of the Russians at the United Nations this week is an apt expression of that consensus.

It is no accident that the country that essentially invented advertising and public relations (the U.S.) should excel at shaping the terms of public debate and public emotion. The Russians are rank amateurs and have paid almost no attention to the art of convincing others of their case, probably assuming that it was a lost cause. They must therefore fall back upon facts on the ground.

The ground war

Which is exactly where everything is unfolding as Russia anticipated with some minor surprises of the sort that are inevitable in war. Tales of Ukrainian resistance and valor will be short-lived. The much-discussed delays in the Russian advance are likely more to do with their decision to destroy as little as possible of Ukraine so that the parts not to be absorbed into the Russian sphere can recover rapidly. The optimistic tales emanating from the informational apparatus [see above] are mostly wishful thinking. The Americans predicted that the war would occur and announced that NATO would not be able to stop it. They were right.

The economic war

This one is a stalemate, and we should not start filling in our scorecards for at least six months to a year. Russia is not Iran, which could be (and was) kicked around and driven into penury by economic warfare, boycotts, and direct and third-party sanctions. In this case, however, many tools are available to Russia for retaliation. The extraordinary move to sanction the Russian central bank and freeze (or seize) its assets will have consequences. As long as there is a chance of ratcheting down the hostilities and limiting the damage, Russia may hold off. On the other hand, if de-escalation is not on the horizon, that war—unlike the bombs and mortar shells—may hit us directly.  


Sunday, 6 February 2022

Calming Our Fears

 


Given our frailties as bipeds, we seek protection from harm. We go to considerable lengths to be reassured that we are secure in our persons, our streets, our homes. But as women generally know much better than men, the safety that we feel is based on a pretty big illusion, one that sets us up for psychological manipulation. Here’s what I mean:

I got mugged some years ago and sustained a rather harrowing injury. Once the initial shock had passed, my medical needs attended to, and the concerned friends sent away, I experienced a period of trauma that manifested as agoraphobia although no one called it that at the time. I could not leave home alone and was uncomfortable walking the half-block to my bus stop in the middle of the day. I could not stop thinking that around the next corner, there could be someone ready to come at me with a club.

I was right—there could. Yes, of course, there was no such person. I say “of course” because that’s the psychic contract we sign up to as participants in society during normal times—the comforting assumption that no one is out to get us. But it was precisely the “of course” that I could not grasp. I had seen through the veil of our consensual reality and understood that there is, in fact, nothing stopping our fellows from battering us to death and making off with our stuff. Nothing, that is, except the general agreement that we won’t. Cops exist to discourage aggression, but they arrive only after it has occurred in almost all cases and thus play a merely retributive and punitive role.

What really keeps us safe is the deep, unconscious commitment to play nice with others that most of us mostly observe most of the time.

As women know, this agreement only goes so far, and they live with the permanent threat that the contract doesn’t fully cover them in the minds of too many large, aggressive bipeds. But I digress.

Notorious, alarming crimes undermine our sense that this protective social fabric remains intact. In our case here in New York City, nothing violates our confidence in the safety of our dense, urban environment like the sudden platform shove that puts someone in the path of a speeding subway train (as occurred January 18). We circulate constantly amidst thousands of fellow riders and pedestrians and shudder when standing near those terrifying engines to think that we are only inches away from its death-dealing irons. We’re right—we are.

The publicity attached to a rash of subway-related crimes, along with an uptick in deadly shootings, resulted in the installation of an ex-cop as our new mayor. Although a dissident during his time in uniform—especially over the topic of racism in the force—Mayor Adams so far has the very selective support of the NYPD as manifested in his role at the week-long memorials and funerals of the two officers killed on Jan. 21 when responding to a domestic violence call.

I have come to know a number of DV officers who have a difficult job and, clearly, a dangerous one. In the best of cases, they defuse potentially violent situations and mobilize resources to alleviate their underlying causes. One of the deceased, Jason Rivera, 22, joined the force after witnessing what he considered inappropriate police behavior applied to Hispanic youth like himself and thought he could do better, which makes his demise even more lamentable.

That said, it is an irony and indeed a disrespect to his memory that many now use his death politically to clamor for an end to all criticism of the way policing is done in our city and country. Alvin Bragg, the new Manhattan borough district attorney, campaigned and got elected on the idea that the current bail system is overly punitive and locks people up because they’re poor. After the dual NYPD deaths, Bragg’s plans were immediately attacked by all and sundry, including the new governor, who waved the bloody shirt of the dead officers. The D.A., said one commentator, has to “march in lockstep” with the NYPD, a blatant call to eliminate what little civilian control now exists over our $6 billion-a-year police force.

Right-thinking liberals who find Trump appalling mostly concur with that line of thinking, the same way they forgot about the rule of law once the Twin Towers came tumbling down. When it comes to the plea to “keep us safe,” there is little daylight between the red and blue teams. Demagogues everywhere know this and rise to popularity with pledges to toss out the rulebook (Bolsonaro, Duterte). If their crime-fighting tactics include dropping bodies from helicopters, most of us, if frightened enough, won’t object.

However, the get-tough approach doesn’t include everyone either, and that is another aspect of our inner totalitarian that gets ignored. Consider the case of Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, found dead in her Bridgeport, Connecticut, apartment on Dec. 12. She had been with a man met online who reported her dead; the autopsy reported fentanyl, alcohol, and other substances as the cause of death. But no one phoned or visited the next of kin to inform them that the young lady was deceased. They found out by calling her building superintendent after she failed to respond to messages.

Even stranger, the Bridgeport police did not interview the man who was with her when she died, nor did they collect forensic evidence from the site. Family members who later arrived found a used condom, a pill, and other evidence that no detective had bothered to retrieve.

Would it surprise us to know that Ms. Smith-Fields was African-American and that her date was white? Would it surprise us to know that the white man was a friend of the detective assigned to the case? Would it surprise us that another African-American female was also found dead in Bridgeport on the same day and that her family was also not notified?

Would police have proceeded in the same way if Ms. Smith-Fields were a 23-year-old white woman, like, says, Gaby Petito, and if her online date had been a black dude 15 years her senior?

The get-tough-on-crime meme doesn’t really have an answer to these questions because leaving enforcement entirely to those in uniform inevitably empowers all the prejudices that they bring to the job or develop over time. But even while recognizing injustices and the historical roots of the over-policing/ under-policing of minority communities that persist to this day, most New Yorkers will cheer Mayor Adams’ tired menu of get-tough policies, which are almost guaranteed not to work—if indeed the goal is to reduce violent crime. They will work, however, to reassure people psychologically that they will be kept safe and that real tough guys are in charge.

For example, Adams has proposed to add the category of “dangerousness” to the criteria for granting or refusing bail to detained suspects. That sounds reasonable until we examine the research evidence that judges routinely think black defendants are dangerous and white ones are not even when their records and pending charges are comparable.

Sometimes, an accused offender out on bail will commit a horrific crime, and the Murdoch yellow press immediately trumpets the tragedy as cause to lock up everyone within 5 miles just for good measure. Meanwhile, the contribution of our punitive prison system to maintaining the levels of violence in our society never gets a second look.

Adams also wants to remove Fifth Amendment protections from 16- and 17-year-olds arrested on gun charges to coerce them to rat out whoever provided them with the weapon. Aside from the irony that our gun-worshipping culture refuses to recognize the very real dangers that minority youth experience and punishes them severely for doing what white Texans brag about openly, Adams’s plan opens the door for new abuses like the case of the Central Park 5 in which innocent kids were browbeaten into false confessions and sent away for over a decade. But New Yorkers then wanted a resolution of the fear-inducing rape case, and not much has changed today.

M. A. Kaishian writes in Slate:

Adams’ focus on illegal guns comes as New York State—and New York City particularly—makes legal gun ownership nearly impossible. There are many reasons why people, including minors, choose to carry guns. In 2018 and 2019, the Center for Court Innovation interviewed 330 young people in New York City about guns, violence, and proposed solutions to violence. Eighty-eight percent had a family member or friend who had been shot and 81% had been shot or shot at.

We can send these young people off to long stints in upstate prisons, but violence and particularly gun violence will not be affected. But people will feel safer, which is what we want. Subway riders interviewed in the media repeatedly insist that we need more patrol officers on the trains. But six officers were assigned to the station where the fatal shoving incident occurred.

Our public discourse around crime is emotionally charged and cannon fodder for politicians to swagger. But once fear get a grip on us, we are incapable of acting rationally or, as some would say, applying The Science™.

While we succumb with depressing regularity to appeals to our anxiety about personal safety at home, the neocon establishment in Washington is eagerly drumming up the international version. Despite no real changes on the ground, we are suddenly assured (and not permitted to doubt) that the Russians are on the verge of staging an invasion of Ukraine and that they have massed the famous “100,000 troops on the border” in preparation for doing so. While one could question whether troop movements thousands of miles away from our national borders truly place us in danger, the assumptions of our Cold War upbringing kick in smoothly and convince us that, yes, intra-European disputes are our business.

Though our ideological enemies are long departed, Russia remains, in the collective brain, the land of dangerous autocrats. Therefore, NATO must march relentlessly eastward, and Poland, Romania, and Hungary must bristle with the latest weapons systems pointing at scary Moscow. Otherwise, Russians are likely to disembark into Sarah Palin’s back yard or, alternatively, take over Vermont’s power supply with Donald Trump’s collusion.

The surreal madness at work in this latest round of propaganda would be amusing if it were not promptly swallowed by the thought leaders of the blue team and the bulk of the managerial-professional class who constitute the Democrat base. They continue to insist that Trump was a Kremlin stooge in the face of no evidence. (These are the same people eager to censor unofficial Covid statements from Spotify and elsewhere.)

Our fears have taken over; our emotions rule. We seek new scapegoats, depending on our colors, Trumpian meatheads for some, woke snowflakes for others. All join hands to “support our troops” and their commanding generals who now flail about in confusion trying to figure out what to do next.

It would take a social historian much cleverer than I to tease out what on earth is happening in our disturbed polity. But it is clear enough that we have real grounds for fears that go far beyond someone surprising us on the street with a bat. While we hate on Joe Rogan or books about the Holocaust or Vladimir Putin or the Chinese who may shellac American athletes in the Olympics, we pose no threat to those making our future dangerous as hell.

(If you wish to receive alerts of future posts here, write me at <tfrasca@yahoo.com>.)

Friday, 21 January 2022

U.S. heading for its “Suez” moment


— Both parties collude to drive the country into war(s) it cannot win. —

As we have learned nothing from the mass bamboozlement that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, everyone and her brothers are obediently mouthing the security state’s declarations that Russia wants to invade Ukraine. This faith in the mouthpieces of our armament industries’ monetary interests is touching; plus, the believers in this Revealed Truth from our masters can go to bed mocking the conspiracists and nutters of the [choose one] blue/red team, which no doubt is very calming.

Our president and his national security team say that Russia is on the verge of invading Ukraine. What happens in a few weeks if no such invasion occurs? Will Biden et al. claim that they faced down the weak-kneed Russkies successfully by a vigorous combination of finger-wagging, solemn assurances, and threats to cut off Vladimir Putin’s allowance? Perhaps an emergency measure to send another $50 billion over to the Pentagon will get hustled through a suddenly unified Congress.

Meanwhile, the Russians’ demand to revamp the security architecture in Europe, including a NATO retreat from its borders, goes unanswered. Perhaps that is the idea—distract with a non-existent threat and escape the pressure to get serious about negotiations.

If so, it won’t do much but postpone the inevitable, which is straight for a “Suez moment.”

The destruction unleashed by World War 2 ended European colonialism and the long primacy of Britain and France in world affairs. Their postwar decline became painfully clear to both the old bwana powers when Egyptian President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956.

Britain, France, and Israel thought they could march in and reverse Nasser’s decision to claim control over a piece of Egyptian territory. But Eisenhower, for a variety of reasons, told the invaders to go home and backed up his suggestion with threats of economic sanctions that none of the three could afford. They obeyed. It was a sign of who had emerged stronger from the war and which countries were barely intact.

Suez, as became clear later, was “the last fling of the imperial dice,” at least as far as Britain and France were concerned. (Israel, meanwhile, continues the tradition in a new form.) Britain’s prime minister Anthony Eden was forced out two months later as the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. relegated the rest of the world to the role of chorus.

Our current bosses are hurtling toward a similar rude awakening despite the array of shiny armaments at the disposal of our top-heavy military establishment. Aside from successful invasions of tiny Caribbean islands (Grenada) or devastating bombing runs over defenseless troops with no air cover (Iraq), it’s hard to identify any significant U.S. military success in decades with the possible exception of the smashing of the ISIS franchise in Iraq with the help of the hated Iranians and their local allies.

No one doubts that Americans can destroy cities and reduce whole countries to rubble, but direct combat of the sort being contemplated is another animal entirely. The parade of failed generals now hibernating comfortably on defense-contractor corporate boards might attest to that.

Whether in Ukraine on the Taiwan Straits, U.S. policymakers are in the grips of delusion.

Does anyone doubt that Russian troops fighting on their own frontiers would have a massive psychological motivation that might be lacking among NATO’s untested soldiers? Does anyone really mean to find out?

Should we doubt the nationalistic fervor that would drive however many millions of soldiers the Chinese might set to work on reclaiming Taiwan? Is it worth accumulating heroic war stories to learn the answer?

We have lived for many years under the assumption that neither of those countries would dare to confront the United States given the arsenals of nukes that stand ready to rain down upon them. If one listens to the statements coming out of Beijing and Moscow, however, one gets quite a different impression: that the two powers feel directly threatened NOW and are willing to call the Americans’ bluff.

Does Washington’s policy elite really want to get into a nuclear showdown over an island 10,000 miles away or a failed state in the middle of Europe?

(Incidentally, watch any mainstream news about Ukraine and ask yourself how often the Russians are quoted offering their views on what is happening, should happen, or how to defuse the situation. Of course, all U.S. news is fair and balanced—between Republican Americans and Democrat Americans.)

According to some of those, escalation up to and including World War III is just what we need. Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker said in early December the U.S. should consider “first-use nuclear action” staged from the Black Sea

In case we think such nutters are only found in the GOP, Wicker was joined by Evelyn N. Farkas, a Pentagon official during the Obama administration, who advocates “readying military forces to deter Putin and, if necessary, prepare for war.” Minor issues like attempts to undermine the outcome of a presidential election fade into irrelevancy when the two sides link arms, cast their gaze toward foreign enemies, and rattle nuclear sabers.

This is a dangerous game, and yet the assorted neocons that populate the U.S. foreign policy apparatus march in lockstep, confident that U.S. domination of the world over the last 75 years—and especially the last 30—is destined to continue indefinitely. They seem not to notice that our country is profoundly weakened by internal divisions, stripped of its industrial base, run by Sovietesque gerontocrats who rule a populace who believe in very little of what they say and even less of what they do.

Underlying the strategic myopia of what renegade CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls the MICIMATT (Military-Industrial-Counter-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think Tank Complex), sometimes called “The Blob,” is a philosophical view of geopolitics and indeed of humanity itself that rejects any possibility of cooperative coexistence among the peoples of the world. The concept that China and Russia might be allowed to pursue their interests in relative peace and that a modus vivendi might be reached among all the heavily armed world powers to tackle other urgent global problems makes no appearance in the encyclopedic textbooks of their incestuous think tanks.  

No doubt such zero-sum thinking has been the norm for millenia of human history, the motivation for its endless destructive wars and periodic bouts of pitiless slaughter. Therefore, with such encouraging outcomes, we should keep doing the same thing?

We, or at least they, seem to think that nothing has changed since ancient times when the Romans cast about constantly to see where the natives might be getting restless and sent out punitive patrols to rein them in, kill a few thousand, and restart the flow of tribute. They feared allowing their subjects any real independence or permitting encroachments into the empire’s far-flung territories by rivals. That’s how Washington thinks. They speak as if failure to dominate means being dominated as if the world were a vast international S&M dungeon with no room for “vanilla” behavior of any kind.

While rival blue and red camps brawl in Congress and soon will do so on the streets as well, a curious unanimity prevails between them when facing the prospect of disobedient foreign actors flexing their local muscles. Democrats and Republicans alike hasten to undermine presidents who fail to maintain a properly belligerent attitude toward our official enemies; this applies to both Trump and Biden and especially to the permanent foreign policy/ security apparatus that surrounds them.

The only danger to our blobiferous MICIMATT parallel state is the frightening idea that peace may break out and obviate the need for more trillions deposited at the Pentagon for distribution among friendly industries and lobbyists.

The incapacity of our leadership to contemplate any approach other than intimidation and demands for obedience is not merely a function of narrowness of vision or Beltway groupthink, though these are real enough. It is also the expression on the world stage of our 40-year surrender to the neoliberal article of faith that markets, and markets alone, must determine our course of action in all spheres of life.

Such ideological enslavement gave cover to the titans of financial power and their friends in elite circles such that when they acted to make themselves immensely rich at the expense of most everyone else, they could convince themselves they were being smart. Did the greed come first or the ideas justifying it? Does it matter?

Did Bill Clinton really believe his own rhetoric that inviting China into the World Trade Organisation and enabling the Chinese Communist Party to set millions of wage slaves in competition with the American industrial heartland would convert China into a democratic capitalist imitation of ourselves? Maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t. The industrialists and financiers drooling over the profit opportunities offered by crushing U.S. workers were all too happy to pretend to believe it whether they did or not. No one paused to consider the long-term consequences because the quarterly profit statements were rosy, and that is enough because Markets.

Do members of Congress really think the U.S. needs to escalate war fever against Russia and China, or do their role as recipients of legal bribes from the MICIMATT dictate their shared worldview? Northrup Grumman doesn’t care.

We have gone so far down this road that the system is incapable of righting itself. Biden, the product of a lifetime of toadying to these corporate cowboys and parroting their justifications, is the perfect expression of our decadent and paralyzed state.

It is my belief that the U.S. will continue down the confrontational precipice with its two rivals and, in one form or another, sooner or later, lose, either little by little or all at once. I expect this process will take no more than five to seven years and that we will wake up by the end of the decade as no longer the world’s preeminent power.

The shock of taking our new place as the chastised victims of our leaders’ hubristic overreach will be something to behold and to experience. Once accomplished, a stimulating discussion about where we want to go next will be possible for the first time in living memory.

[Let me know if you would like email alerts of new posts.] <tfrasca@yahoo.com>