Saturday, December 24, 2016

From Lifeboat Ethics to Global Consciousness

By Greg Guma

For more than half a century humanity has been learning the lesson that "everything is connected." The realization of physical limits to human and material growth, the impact of development and pollution on ecological systems and the atmosphere, the integration of economic systems – no matter what ideology or religion dominates – and the tragic consequences of massive mal-distribution of resources make it obvious that the planet is one organism. 
     But many proposed solutions to such problems aim to "minimize" the losses rather than acknowledge the responsibilities of interdependence. When faced with famines in under-developed nations, Philip Handler, President of the National Academy of Sciences in the 1970s, publicly proposed that we "give them up as hopeless." Assistance that would "barely manage to keep people alive and hungry" could only lead to tragedy later, he advised.
     Although not often voiced so clearly, expressions of "lifeboat ethics" have become more common as humanity grapples with the harsh realities of spaceship earth. Garrett Harden, who coined the term, also provided the basic argument for its implementation.
     "We are all the descendants of thieves," he wrote, "and the world's resources are inequitably distributed. But we must begin the journey to tomorrow from the point where we are today. We cannot remake the past. We cannot safely divide the wealth equitably among all peoples so long as people reproduce at different rates. To do so would guarantee that our grandchildren, and everyone else's grandchildren would have only a ruined world to inhabit."

The Trilateral Commission's EC meets with President Ford in 1974;
to Ford's immediate left, David Rockefeller and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

     Until an effective world government is established, Harden argued, a harsh ethic is unavoidable. And the first step? Control of reproduction. To ensure compliance, Paul Erhlich linked population to food in his controversial book The Population Bomb. "We may have to announce," he wrote, "that we will no longer ship food to countries unwilling or unable to bring their population increases under control." Other schemes since then have involved exchanges of needed technology and resources in return for commitments to limit reproduction.
     The thing is, green plants form the basis of food chains, and it takes more green plant production to support citizens of developed countries. In 1980 North Americans used about six times the green plant production of the average Indian. India has begun to catch up since then, but the math remains pretty simple: 500 million more people in developed countries will use up the same amount of green plants as up to three billion in underdeveloped countries.
     Advocating population control in less developed regions without radically changing habits of consumption in highly industrialized countries wouldn't just be unfair. It would be futile.
     Such considerations have nevertheless failed to deter various open conspiracies to create world order from pursuing their grandiose plans. Beginning in the 1970s two of the most prominent were the Trilateral Commission, representing the "new breed" of corporate internationalists, and the Club of Rome. The Commission, which played a prominent role during the Carter presidency and re-emerged in Age of Obama, generated a series of policy proposals based on global power sharing between three poles of economic power – the US, Western Europe, and Asia. According to Samuel Huntington, a prominent trilateral theorist, limits would have to be placed on political democracy, a goal that would require lower public expectations and greater executive power.
     The Club of Rome returned to Plato's ethical aristocracy as a model for its solution to world crises. According to founder Aurelio Peccei, politicians and businessmen are too nearsighted to take a long view of global management. What is needed instead, he argued, is the "civilized traditions of a ruling class," implemented by technocrats, diplomats and government officials, "men of influence" able to see the shape of a post-industrial world. At least he was candid.
     In the early 1990s, President George H.W. Bush inadvertently helped stimulate public discussion about global management by calling for a "new world order." The term was an unfortunate translation of the Nazi call for "Nie Ordnung," which had set the tone for German expansionism. As the US was staging Gulf War I — then the largest military campaign since World War II – Bush promised that, once Iraq was defeated, the world could turn its attention to peaceful approaches, world law and human rights. But even his "points of light" version of world order depended on a military stick, and it was really just a soft-sell of "one superpower order."
     Some theorists and thinkers suggest that the US can no longer impose its will by economic means, that it is evolving into a mercenary state, underwritten and restrained by economic partners and overseers. If so, the next world order could be an updated version of the Trilateral or Kissinger vision. All such variations serve the interests of political and economic elites, while compressing the individual into the mass.
     Whether power is centered in one superpower or shared by several, it amounts to the same thing: a global State, increasing its domain and mechanizing more aspects of life as it reduces individual sovereignty.
     One slender hope is the slow birth of a new global consciousness, a shift in thinking already underway. The Gaia theory, which grew out of research on the geophysiology of the planet, suggests an alternative, non-mechanistic vision of what it means to be part of a living whole. According to James Lovelock, who was instrumental in developing the idea, the evolution of the material environment and various organisms are part of a single and indivisible process. If that is so, a major task ahead is to recognize, as Elisabet Sahtouris put it, that we are "a body of humanity embedded in, and with much to learn from, our living parent planet, which is all we have to sustain us."
     Or, as William Thompson explained in Passages About Earth, we have reached the end of the line for industrial society. Looking over the edge of history, we are discovering that "it's a spiral and that we have turned and are now facing back in the direction of cosmic mythology." Our old maps "take on a new meaning as they warn us, Here be dragons," he warned. "Ecstasy or economics, madness or sanity, mysticism or science: where ancient dragons live modern categories die."

This is an excerpt from Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey. Greg Guma's second novel, Dons of Time, was published in October 2013 by Fomite Press.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Partners, Standards and Climate Change: Burlington's Winding Road

As Bernie Sanders flirted with the possibility of running for president in 2012, residents of Burlington, the city where he made his first electoral breakthrough, questioned the approach he and a local successor were taking to military contractor Lockheed Martin. Mayor Bob Kiss had signed an agreement with Lockheed for a local partnership to work on climate change, while Sanders arranged for Sandia Labs, a Lockheed subsidiary, to open an energy research lab at the university.

Then suddenly, on Sept. 2, 2011, the defense contractor backed out of the deal signed with Kiss in an e-mail message to the Burlington Free Press. Why the change? A few weeks earlier, after months of local debate, Burlington’s City Council had voted in favor of community standards for proposed climate-change partnerships, prompted by the agreement Kiss had signed. The resolution called for standards which, if followed, could limit or exclude working agreements with weapons manufacturers and polluters.

Rob Fuller, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, said in a statement, "While several projects showed promise initially and we have learned a tremendous amount from each other, we were unable to develop a mutually beneficial implementation plan. Therefore Lockheed Martin has decided to conclude the current collaboration."

It read a bit like a Dear John, and a silent nod to public pressure. Dozens of residents had testified during public meetings, all but a few opposing the deal. Kiss nevertheless called the standards "bad public policy” and a “restrictive and regressive approach.” In a veto message, he said the policy may even have contributed to Lockheed’s decision to pull out of the Burlington agreement.

A Progressive recruited to run for mayor in 2006, Kiss found support for his opposition to community standards from Republicans and Democrats on the council, including future mayoral candidate Kurt Wright, who questioned whether such standards represented local opinion. In the end, the vote was  8-6, more than a majority but not enough to override the mayor's veto. The question of setting standards or criteria for public-private partnerships remains open.

Since then, greenhouse gas emissions have increased in Burlington by around 7 percent.  Emissions traceable to city government activity rose 15 percent in three years, while the community’s emissions went up 6 percent. The city's official goal is a 20 percent decrease overall by 2020.

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas. Local emissions from that source increased by almost 25 percent between 2007 and 2010. Of total community emissions about half come from transportation. Thus, a reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by residents and commuters would have the biggest impact on meeting the city's emissions reduction target.

Burlington’s City Council formed a Climate Protection Task Force more than 15 years ago. A resolution passed in 1998 proposed to reduce emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels. An 18-month process subsequently led to the city’s first Climate Action Plan, adopted in May 2000.

A 2007 inventory showed that Burlington generated 397,272.4 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). Based on that, local goals were set -- a 20 percent reduction by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. This would require an annual 2 percent decrease. Unfortunately, the "action" since then has been in the opposite direction.

In 2009 Burlington used American Recovery Act funds to hire Spring Hill Solutions, a clean energy consulting firm, to prioritize more than 200 “mitigation actions” generated by a community process. The resulting plan was supposed to be a framework for measuring and reducing greenhouse emissions and other climate change impacts. There is no evidence that idea has been implemented.

According to the plan, three approaches offer the greatest potential for both carbon reductions and cost savings:

- Requiring any new commercial construction to follow performance guidelines that reduce energy use by at least 20 percent

- The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which provides property owners with help making energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements

-- Reducing the number of miles driven by residents by combining trips, telecommuting, carpooling and using alternatives to the automobile

Originally posted on December 10, 2014 

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Trump Effect: Excuses for Bad Behavior

Falling for Successful Psychopaths

(tap photo for 2016 video satire: Trump vs. Sanders) 
Also Check Out: The Paranoid Style: From Reagan to Trump
It CAN Happen Here: Meet Friendly Fascism

Why are millions fascinated, often even seduced, by people whose behavior actually points to pathology? Perhaps we are wired to be attracted by narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths, people so focused on their own central role in whatever takes place that the rest of us are sucked into their reality.

Think about entering a portal and emerging into the head of Donald Trump. What could that level of self-absorption be like? Begin by imagining a complete lack of empathy, one of the tell-tale signs of the psychopath.

Is Trump a psychopath? Well, he does score well on a 20 item checklist. And are there more around us than we think? Not just serial killers and the violent type, but successful, powerful psychopaths who will do anything to win and affect our lives in profound ways?

The checklist, a way to help identify potential psychopaths among us, was developed by Bob Hare, a prison psychologist who conducted remarkable experiments and eventually codified his findings. Jon Ronson provides an excellent history and analysis in his book, The Psychopath Test.

November, 2015: Forecasting the Trump Era
On Burlington Radio

Here’s the basic list, a collection of tendencies and an analytical tool to spot those who might be functioning psychopaths. The last two items relate specifically to criminals, but you don't have to be caught to have "criminal versatility." Keep in mind that having mild tendencies doesn’t make you a psychopath. But a high score – more than 30 on Hare’s 40 point scale – should be a warning sign. Personally, I give Trump high marks:
1.Glibness, superficial charm
2.Grandiose sense of self-worth
3.Need for stimulation, proneness to boredom
4.Pathological lying
5.Conning, manipulative
6.Lack of remorse or guilt
7.Shallow affect
8.Callous, lack of empathy
9.Parasitic lifestyle
10.Poor behavioral control
11.Promiscuous sexual behavior
12.Early behavior problems
13.Lack of realistic long-term goals
16.Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
17.Many short-term marital relationships
18.Juvenile delinquency
19.Revocation of conditional release
20.Criminal versatility

In his book, Ronson follows the trail of research about psychopaths, gets to know a few, and sees how they have affected society. For example, he tracks down Toto Constant, former leader of Haitian death squads backed by the CIA, who was given asylum in the US but restricted to Queens. Although the guy was basically in hiding, he still thought he was beloved in Haiti (#2), took no responsibility for his crimes (#16), and badly imitated strong emotions. Since psychopaths don’t experience emotions the same as other people (#7), they often compensate through imitation. But not all are excellent actors. Constant even thought he would someday be called back to “help” Haiti again (#13).

Psychopaths could be the reason the world seems so screwed up. If so, humanity’s tragic flaw may be that a few bad apples – people whose amygdalas don’t fire the right signals to their central nervous systems – really can spoil the whole barrel. Prime examples include the corporate psychopaths who trashed capitalism a few years back. To dig into that group check out Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, by Bob Hare and Paul Babiak. Examining these financial terrorists, you might well conclude that the conspiracy theory about shape-shifting lizards who secretly rule the world isn’t so far off. After all, psychopaths are often social shape-shifters.

So, the question is: Do psychopaths run the country and maybe the world? Among recent presidents Nixon, Bush 2 and Clinton could qualify. The masters of the universe at places like Goldman Sachs are solid choices. And it only takes a few to destabilize a financial system, poison a community or destroy a business. Yet some studies suggest that, percentage-wise, there are more potential psychopaths among CEOs, directors and supervisors than in the general population, or even in prisons.

Who hasn’t known a business type who was borderline, a mercurial tyrant subject to fits of rage and impulsive acts? Or followed a public figure who was charming but also irresponsible, manipulative and self-aggrandizing? The tell-tale signs of the psychopath are often ignored or excused.

In his book, Ronson recalls a meeting with businessman Al Dunlop, a ruthless executive famous for his apparent joy in firing people. Together they go through Hare's psychopath checklist and Dunlop simply redefines many of the traits as aspects of leadership. Impulsiveness becomes quick analysis. Grandiose sense of self-worth? Absolutely, you have to believe in yourself, says Dunlop. Manipulative? Hey, that’s just leadership. Inability to feel deep emotions? Emotions are mostly nonsense, he says. And not feeling remorse frees you up to do great things.

Donald Trump would likely have a similar response if confronted with his own psychopathic tendencies. And they don't disqualify him from becoming president. 

Warren Harding, the Ohio senator who became president in 1920, carried on a 15-year affair both before and during his presidency. The "other woman," Nan Britton, gave birth to a son. This was shortly after the end of World War I. People were disillusioned with Woodrow Wilson, and Democrats deserted the party to give Harding the biggest landslide in US history, 60 percent of the vote. 

That year Eugene Debs, who was in federal prison at the time, got his best turnout. Less than three years later, in the middle of a “goodwill” tour,” Harding dropped dead suddenly in San Francisco. He was replaced in August 1923 by Calvin Coolidge, a native Vermonter and Massachusetts governor who had been picked for vice-president in the original smoke-filled room. Not a big improvement.

Harding provided his own epitaph in advance. “I am not fit for this office and never should have been here,” he once admitted. That self-awareness suggests, despite his shortcomings, that at least he wasn’t a psychopath.

The point: if Harding could become president, why not Trump? Just think of the huge, "sensational" controversies and pathological behavior we will get to witness. Bad behavior, after all, is pure catnip for millions of "infotainment" consumers. When will we get enough?

Updated from an original radio broadcast in May 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Cults of Personality: Power, Narcissism & Delusions

They come in all sizes.
Christie's big tell: "I'm the victim."
We are living through a chronically tense and, in affluent parts of the world, a desperately self-indulgent era. Advertising teaches that fulfillment comes with compulsive consumption. News media trivialize history and turn current events into a competition of spectacles and personality cults. Addicted to fads and the quick fix, frightened of the future and cut adrift from the past, millions of people flee from imagination and look for meaning in pre-digested realities.
The very sense that we are part of real families and communities is threatened. Virtual images that dominate our days begin to look more real than we do. Experts meanwhile have a field day providing clever evaluations of the psychic assault on humanity and the breakdown of culture, while conveniently omitting that they are some of the culprits.
Societal narcissism has reached the epidemic level. Traditionally, a narcissist was often described as some "beautiful person" who can relate only to his or her own image or problems. But the definition has expanded to include traits like exploitation of the warmth provided by others, combined with fear of dependence, a sense of inner emptiness, boundless repressed rage, and unsatisfied cravings. Narcissists can be pseudo-intellectuals or calculating seducers. Usually, they are afraid of old age and death, and fascinated with celebrities. These callous, superficial climbers seek out the famous, and yet are also compelled to destroy their fantasy figures.
If this merely described a few "sick" individuals we might find comfort. But patterns of narcissistic behavior afflict millions and are reinforced daily. And perhaps most disquieting, the narcissistic personality is ideally suited for positions of power, the type of leader who sells himself to win at any price.
Capitalism has turned self promotion into a growth industry, with success often resting on the ability to project a "winning personality" and often false image. Relentless self-promotion, whether by conservative demagogues or their radical counterparts, meshes neatly with an idealization of powerful people who represent what the narcissist seeks.
Narcissists identify with winners out of a fear of being losers. Objects of hero worship give meaning to the frequently unfocused or direction-deprived lives of society's many emotional casualties. Yet mixed with this idealization is an urge to degrade the object of one's admiration, sparked when the "hero" ultimately disappoints. This desperate need, intensified by the machinery of mass promotion, can turn even assassination, political or physical, into a form of spectacle.
Among the influences that reinforce narcissism, mass media have the most pervasive impact. They tend to create both a sense of chronic tension and a cynical detachment from reality. But detachment does not have to express itself as cynicism. It can also lead to intelligent skepticism. This raises a political question, since media and other powerful institutions could help to reduce dependence and support individuals in solving their own problems. In recent years, however, being detached has mainly meant a crippling negativism about the entire political process, a nihilistic and escapist conclusion that no constructive change is possible.
The abdication of responsibility to various bureaucracies has meanwhile promoted character traits consistent with a corrupted culture, and this in turn has accelerated the excesses of corporate capitalism. The result is a kind of mass neurosis. Images of a "good" and a "bad" parent, objects of love and hatred, are formed early, internalized, and become part of the self-image of children. But rather than fusing into a super-ego that also contains social values and self-confidence, these early images often melt into a harsh, punishing super-ego. The emerging adult is torn between repressed rage and the desire for some all-powerful other. Sexual needs are also distorted, barriers are erected against strong emotions, and fear of death and old age becomes intense.
The decay of older traditions of self-help has eroded competence in one area after another, leaving the individual dependent on the state, corporations, and other bureaucratic structures. Narcissism is the psychological dimension of this dependence. Popular culture feeds on narcissistic fantasies, encouraging delusions of omnipotence while simultaneously reinforcing feelings of dependence and discouraging strong emotions.
Ultimately, the bland and empty facade of mass existence can become overwhelming. Yet within millions of people there remains enormous rage, resentment, and potential for which bureaucratic society provides few outlets. In truth, few people are actually satisfied with the facade. Some do nothing yet know the system doesn't work, others actively look for ways to limit the damage. Some strike out violently, others tap cultural resources like cooperative work, art, and spirituality to counteract the effects.
With the belief in individual responsibility undermined in so many ways, moral impulses help to keep alive a sense that people are responsible for what they do. If such a view spread widely enough, it could change an entire society. Another remedy, in response to professional imperialism, is to reclaim responsibilities we have ceded to the experts. Call it a program of conscious self-rule, one that could also protect us from discriminatory or authoritarian tendencies.
Such changes carry risks. For example, reactionary impulses in the family or church may be exploited. But given the state of society – moral bankruptcy, political corruption, economic inequality, and ecological decay – a few risks are preferable to playing it safe. The goal is to restore humanity's basic dignity through compassion, engagement, and mutual aid. Along with healthy skepticism and intelligently directed anger, these could be keys to a new, freer and more natural culture.
This is Chapter 34 of Prisoners of the Real. To read more, go to Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey

Monday, November 7, 2016

No Winner: What Happens If the Election is Close

It was 1:30 a.m. and CBS still wasn't ready to call Ohio's 20 electoral votes, or the presidential election, for George W. Bush. In Washington, Karl Rove was already declaring victory. But unlike 2000, when Al Gore almost conceded before it was clear that Florida deserved a recount, the Democrats were not rolling over this time.

For a while in November 2004, it looked like the counting could go on for weeks. As expected, Bush had swept the southern and mountain states, while John Kerry carried most of the two coasts. The President was leading in the popular vote, but neither candidate could claim the required electoral college majority.

As it emerged that Ohio might be the new Florida, ABC's Cokie Roberts complained, "This could be the worst of all possible worlds." She meant the prospect of extended litigation. Bush was ahead, but the Democrat were challenging Republican tactics and holding out for the counting of provisional ballots, a process that could take at least a week. Republican operatives called the tactic "bizarre, absurd, and ludicrous." This year they may copy it.

Commenting on the high 2004 turnout, George Will offered a disquieting Vietnam analogy. "When we have high turnout we tend to be an unhappy country," he argued, then adding that 1968 "was one of the worst years in US history. It ran up turnout, but I don't think we want to do that constantly."

State ballot initiatives were also influential, mainly bringing out social conservatives who tended to back Bush. Items calling for the rejection of same-sex marriage passed convincingly in 11 states; of these, nine went for Bush. In this sense, 2016 will be very different. The marriage debate is basically over, but five states will vote on recreational marijuana; another four will choose whether to permit its medical use. Four states are also voting to raise the minimum wage, and three will decide on background checks for gun buyers.

Still, one dynamic has stayed very much the same. It remains a closely divided electorate. As Chris Matthews put it in 2004, "It's an election between north and south that will be decided by the Midwest."

Using CNN's new high-tech wall of graphics, Jeff Greenfield posed various scenarios, including the possibility of a 269-269 tie. That prospect, an irresistible storyline that has emerged again this year, lingered into the night. Would the House of Representatives end up choosing the President? And if something like that happened now, who would the GOP-dominated House choose?

As the night wore on, speculation began to pass for fact. Shortly after 1 a.m., MSNBC announced that Bush was only one electoral vote shy of victory, while Kerry would have to win every remaining state to reach a tie. Actually, Bush had substantially fewer electors tied up at that point. The desire for an exciting story had eclipsed pre-election promises of caution.

By dawn the next morning, Bush actually had 254 electoral votes to Kerry's 252. That left Iowa and New Mexico, two states where Bush was clinging to a slim lead, and Ohio, where the likelihood of a Kerry victory looked slim. Kerry conceded by early afternoon. If something similar happens this time, no one expects either candidate to say uncle.

Whatever the outcome, there will be deep suspicions and lingering claims of fraud and manipulation. That certainly happened in 2004, when claims of cyber-warfare surfaced after the vote. The difference now is Trump, who will use any opening or legal option to win, or else challenge the legitimacy of the election.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Battling Bernie Has Never Been Easy

Thirty years ago Sanders also challenged a woman  
"Win Some, Lose Some," Chapter 20 
The People's Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution 
By Greg Guma

Madeleine Kunin was offended. She was being judged unfairly, she told the reporter from the Village Voice. Along with dozens of other writers, James Ridgeway was looking for insights into the race between Bernie Sanders, the Vermont "neosocialist," and Kunin, the "neoliberal."

The governor protested this classification. "You can't have the strategies that were true in the 60s or even 70s: simply spending money," she explained. "You've got to be accountable for every cent. You have to leverage the private sector and get them involved... I consider myself to be in the mold of governors like Dukakis, Cuomo, and to some extent Robb who is more conservative."

It was vintage Kunin -- cautious and firmly in the middle of the road. For years already she had lived with the nickname Straddlin' Madeleine and had learned to make the best of it. Elected a state representative, she proved herself as a strong chairperson of the House Appropriations Committee and defeated Peter Smith, Vermont's preppy Republican version of Robert Redford, to become lieutenant governor. After four years in Governor Richard Snelling's shadow, she challenged him in 1982 in her first gubernatorial run and lost. 

But Kunin didn't straddle when it came to setting goals or building a personal organization. In the 1984 election, with Snelling temporarily retired, she squeaked into office over Attorney General John Easton, becoming Vermont's first female chief executive, and began to set her own agenda.

In many ways, Kunin was an archetypal moderate: she favored social programs but fiscal conservatism. To progressives, her support of feminist and labor issues seemed weak and equivocal, yet she used her first term to bring women into state government and to prove, just as Sanders had done in Burlington, that being different -- in her case, female -- didn't mean she was incompetent. When it came to keeping the state in sound financial shape or protecting water quality, she could be as strong as Sanders and Snelling.

But Kunin was no world-shaker. She shied away from raising the minimum wage or demanding that corporations give notice before closing down plants. She wanted nuclear plants to be safe, but she didn't think they should be shut down "overnight." In the estimation of Sanders and his Rainbow backers, Kunin was just another "lesser evil"; supporting her would not be worth losing the chance to expand the Progressive base. If a Sanders run meant that Smith would be elected, so be it -- he would be only marginally different from her.

"If you ask her where she stands," said Sanders of Kunin, "she'd say, in the middle of the Democratic party. She's never said she'd do anything. The confusion lies in the fact that many people are excited because she's the first woman governor. But after that there ain't much."

Kunin was not much kinder to her socialist opponent. "I think he has messianic tendencies," she told Ridgeway. "That's not uncommon in politicians. But it does mean he dismisses everyone else's alternative solutions... His approach is always to tear down. But I think you can make progress and change for the better by working within the structure... A lot of what he says is rhetoric and undoable... He has to create a distinction between us, and to do that he has to push me more to the right, where I really don't think I am. I don't think it's fair. He's not running against evil, you know."

The third player, Smith, had some kind words for Kunin. "She's a good person," he said, "she's got some commitment." But he also felt that she was a case of "vision without substance." In Sanders, Smith saw passion, confusion, and noise. "If Bernie were as gutsy and honest as he says he is, he'd run as a Socialist," charged the Republican. "He is a socialist! That's why he went to Nicaragua.That's why he goes to Berkeley."

But if Sanders was a noisy neosocialist and Kunin was an empty vessel, what did that make Smith? He had begun his career as an educational reformer, launching Community College of Vermont. But his liberal leanings didn't prevent him from joining the Republicans; he supported first Bush, then Reagan, in 1980. He was intelligent and a creative thinker, and yet willing to play the compliant foot-soldier in Reagan's conservative revolution.

Kunin didn't view either of her opponents as devils, but she was concerned about how to survive the campaign, particularly the series of public debates that would give Sanders his best opportunity to win more votes. On the podium, she realized, nobody in Vermont did it better than the mayor.

Her press secretary, Bob Sherman, contacted me early in the summer. He knew I wasn't in Sanders' camp this time, and he wondered whether I would be available to help Kunin prepare for her debate ordeal with a rehearsal. The idea was to stage a mock debate between the governor and stand-ins for her two challengers. Would I be able to "play" Bernie? The offer was irresistible.

We met in a Montpelier "safe house," accompanied by key staff members. Democratic legislator Peter Youngbaer had prepared himself to be Smith; I had reviewed recent Sanders speeches and tried to unravel the magic of his style. With a video camera recording our face-off, we tackled environmental, tax, and development issues. Kunin's problem, I discovered, was her preoccupation with details. She often answered questions by trying to explain the thinking that led to her policy choice rather than by simply taking a strong stand. Bernie's strength, in contrast, was his ability to turn any question to his own advantage -- even if that meant ignoring it -- in order to get his point across.

In the end I summed up with some classic Sanderisms. "In my view, the Reagan administration has been a disaster for Americans," I barked. "We are planning to spend a trillion dollars on Star Wars and hundreds of millions to overthrow the government of Nicaragua while, in Vermont, we don't have enough money to adequately fund education or social services. That has to change.

"The other candidates think we can just say a lot of nice things and tinker here and there to make everything okay. I don't. I believe we need fundamental change, and that the governor of Vermont should be leading the fight. We can be the conscience of the nation. We don't have to settle for Reagan's insanity or the indecision of the Democrats."

Afterward, when Kunin saw her image on the screen, she was a bit shaken. "Sanders" and "Smith" had won some points, while she had been tedious and indecisive. Yet she balked at the suggestion that she challenge Sanders if he went on the attack, arguing, "He's not the enemy."

To support Kunin over Sanders was, of course, progressive heresy. Even  those who felt he was authoritarian could see no reason to support his Democratic opponent. As labor organizer Ellen David-Friedman put it, "Challenging the system is considered a better goal than maintaining the status quo." 

Queen Madeleine, Preppie Peter, and Lord Bernie -- the nicknames created by columnist Peter Freyne were apt descriptions of Vermont's new political royalty. Each was an established star with a proven popular base. But Sanders' early boast that he was "running to win" was soon revised by his campaign organizers. A July poll put the Lord of Burlington at a mere 11 percent statewide, while the Queen, also a Burlingtonian, had 53, well outdistancing Preppie.

By October, the Sanders campaign, if not the candidate himself, had lowered its sights to seeking a respectable 20 percent. Within his organization, feelings were frayed and hopes disappointed. Writing in the Guardian, a radical newsweekly, Kevin Kelley explained that even David-Friedman, who had managed the campaign for several months, felt it hadn't become a grassroots movement. "Bernie had trouble," she said, "recruiting activists and contributors who had been involved in his previous campaigns. Some of them felt it was the wrong race to be running, and others thought it was more important that he stay in Burlington to consolidate the gains we had made there."

She also noted that "middle-class progressives" weren't enthusiastic since Sanders wasn't organizing but simply running. "Bernie acts in a way that's similar to [Jesse] Jackson in terms of focusing more on a candidacy and less on an organization," she felt. She was still committed to his campaign, but she acknowledged his limitations. In a public letter to the left two weeks before the election, she praised Sanders' leadership but scored his resistance to accountability or organization.

Murray Bookchin, a libertarian socialist thinker and leader of the emerging Green movement, was more blunt. "Bernie's running a one-man show," he said. "The only justification for a socialist campaign at this point is to try to educate people, and Sanders isn't doing that at all. Instead, he's running on the preposterous notion that he can get elected as governor this year."

In truth, however, Sanders was running on issues as well: reducing reliance on the property tax, a more progressive income and corporate tax system, lowering utility bills, raising the minimum wage, and phasing out Vermont Yankee, among others. It was basically the same thrust he had always pushed -- redistribution of income and wealth. But neither his reform program nor his powerful speaking style were enough to overcome the barriers in his way. His opponents could still outspend him, and his own ranks were split.

Working with Patrick Leahy, who was fighting Snelling to keep his US Senate seat, Kunin staged an impressive get-out-the-vote effort. It was the most sophisticated voter-identification program in state history. With unemployment at a record low and no state deficit, she had economics on her side. On Election Day, Kunin failed to win 50 percent of the vote, but she left both her opponents well behind and was dutifully confirmed by the legislature.

Sanders came away with 15 percent -- far less than he had been hoping for, but nevertheless remarkable. Running as an Independent, he had established a solid base, and his percentage was far too big to be simply a protest vote. But it wasn't just the total that was significant, noted Chris Graff, Vermont's Associated Press bureau chief. "It is the fact that it came from the conservative hilltowns, the Republican strongholds, the farm communities." Sanders had, in fact, won his highest percentage in the conservative Northeast Kingdom. Once again he had touched a chord and transcended traditional lines.

(Originally published in 1989)

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Presidency Problem: High Crimes

If staging coups, waging secret wars, suspending civil liberties, or torturing people were merely aberrations pursued by a handful of zealots, Congress could simply punish the offenders and get back to "business as usual." But the obvious, and yet unspoken, truth is that destabilizing other governments, unnecessary (and sometimes covert) wars, and abuses of power – at home and abroad – are standard tactics of the modern presidency

After first denying such "initiatives," the Reagan and Bush II administrations turned ultimately to a more credible (though not more creditable) response: they had decided that the presidency isn’t bound by the normal rule of law, especially congressionally-imposed limits, when pursuing its "higher" goals. The defense was both the "necessity" of combating evil (aka communism and more recently terrorism) by any means, and the inviolability of presidential authority in most matters of foreign policy and anything defined as a question of "national security." 

Yet, the real culprits weren’t Reagan or Bush, although they clearly encouraged a "survival of the fittest" approach to governance. Even in the wake of scandals, no one charged that the president personally ordered torture or collaboration with arms dealers and drug merchants. On the other hand, neither did anyone deny that this has happened regularly in the past. At the root, the problem isn’t a particular group of conspirators but rather an executive structure that supports and condones wanton disregard for the sovereignty of nations and rights of individuals. 

The continuing transfer of power to the executive branch is a largely untold story of the last half century, abetted by the cult of commander-in-chief authority, a global network of military outposts, a vast intelligence apparatus, the withholding of information on spurious grounds, and a permanent state of emergency. The process continues in the Obama administration. As John Podesta, Obama's transition chief, explained shortly after the 2008 election, "There's a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we'll see the president do that.” This time around, conservatives are worried and most liberals cheer him on.

Presidential sovereignty stems from the widely accepted notion that only a single executive can manage US foreign affairs. At the urging of various private interests, this has led to hundreds of US interventions around the world, often with Congress partially, wholly or willingly kept in the dark. The pattern, which began with President James Polk's 1846 calculated provocation of war with Mexico, ultimately went public in the 1980s with the exposure of a worldwide crusade to arm, train and direct various Contra forces. It wasn't "approved" public policy, yet it nevertheless served as the centerpiece of presidential foreign policy during the Reagan years.

Such activities are difficult to manage and control, however, since they require the mobilization of elite, often underground networks and a conscious effort to mislead other parts of the government (not to mention allies and the general public). In the case of the Contra wars, the connection between arms shipments, drug smuggling and assassinations was an organic development, but one the administration could not fully "manage."

Once the "enterprise" was outted, the old alliances no longer held firm but the "initiatives" couldn’t be aborted by presidential decree. And, in truth, there was really no sincere attempt to change course. The Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations continued to promise military aid or backing in exchange for concessions, promote coups in countries whose policies threatened US interests, arm mercenaries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, manipulate elections in "fragile democracies,” distribute disinformation, and harass the opponents of US policies.

In Costa Rica, journalists Tony Avrigan and Martha Honey uncovered the private network behind much of the Reagan-era mayhem long before the Tower Commission and Iran-Contra Committee launched their investigations. Working with the Christic Institute, they eventually filed a lawsuit charging 29 US citizens with conspiracy. The specific instance spurring the suit was the 1984 bombing of a press conference held by Contra leader Eden Pastora. The "Secret Team" making that attempted assassination possible, and ultimately causing the deaths of eight people, had roots that stretched back over 25 years. Featuring Contragate figures such as Richard Secord, Thomas Clines, Theodore Shackley and an assortment of Cuban exiles and ex-military men, the “team" had handled numerous sensitive, often illegal operations at the behest of the US government. In fact, it had been an instrument of US policy from the early days of Castro (when some members helped plot the leader's death), in Laos and Vietnam, in the overthrow of Salvadore Allende in Chile, in propping up the Shah of Iran, and throughout Central America.

Various researchers and investigations ultimately established the following executive branch participation in the “alleged” Contra conspiracy: Vice President George Bush and his national security advisers had close ties with a secret air-re-supply operation in El Salvador. The State Department, in particular Elliott Abrams, was involved in coordinating Contra activities, bringing together State, the National Security Council, and the CIA. But this was only part of a massive inter-agency program masterminded by CIA Director William Casey. The Defense Department planned airdrops over Nicaragua and provided troops to build the Contra infrastructure. A private aid network, including John Singlaub's World Anti-Communist League, various non-profit fronts, mercenary groups and CAUSA, the political wing of the Moonies, provided cover for an operation that led back to the Oval office.

The Secret Team, eventually headed by Richard Secord, used money from Iran arms sales and other sources to acquire weapons and channel them to Central America, South Africa, and Angola. The Team and the aid network worked with both the Ilopango Airlift in El Salvador and the South Front, coordinated from John Hull's Costa Rican ranch. Drugs and guns moved back and forth. One beneficiary of these efforts was the Nicaraguan Democratic Force led by Adolfo Calero and former Somocistas. Over 80 people, in and out of government, actively worked in this network, with additional financial support from Saudi Arabia and Brunei. The President was aware of and approved most phases of this covert foreign policy.

Still, this was only one episode in a much longer and more convoluted tale. An earlier "Contra" war had been mounted against Cuba under the direction of Richard Nixon, then vice president, beginning in the late 50s. With the cooperation of Mafia don Santo Trafficante, a private "sub-operation" had been developed to assassinate Cuban leaders. Members of the "shooter team" included Rafael "Chi Chi" Quintero, who later coordinated arms shipments to the Contras with Secord; Felix Rodriguez, a CIA operative who headed the Ilopango operation during the 80s and met several times with Bush; and several of the future Watergate burglars. The Cuban operation was supervised by Secord associates Shackley and Clines.

The Team's activities stretched around the world. In Australia, they used opium money and weapons profits to help destabilize the Labour government in 1975. In Nicaragua, they assisted Somoza after Carter and Congress had banned further aid; after the dictator's fall, they armed and advised ex-National Guardsmen until the CIA assumed control of the Contra war. When Congress cut off aid in 1984, Oliver North, who had worked under Singlaub in Laos, reached out to the Team to illegally recommence funding and re-supply the Contras. During the 1980s operations in Central America, they established major supply bases in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica. In the meantime, CIA Director Casey developed other Contra operations in Africa. In return for South African assistance in ferrying arms to Central America, for example, he arranged with Saudi Arabian King Fahd to provide aid to the South African-backed UNITA rebels fighting the Angolan government.

After the White House connections to the Secret Team were exposed, three material witnesses died mysteriously. Others were threatened, and groups involved in bringing the administration and its partners to justice were burglarized and harassed. Christic Institute attorney Dan Sheehan charged that ultra-right elements threatened key witnesses and that, in its embassies in Central America, the US had "a series of fascist and hitlerite cells" controlled by the CIA.

Not all of this emanated directly from the President's office, National Security Council, or even the Company. But the presidential system makes such policies commonplace and, unless exposed in an unfavorable way, acceptable US "policy initiatives." Reagan's assertion that the Boland Amendment didn't apply to him or his staff was merely another attempt to assert unilateral executive power, which in turn could be delegated to associates in and out of government. By extension, attempts to "protect the initiative" became part of the authority flowing from the sovereign. The Bush administration clearly took a page from this text in designing its defense of torture and other abuses.

When Barack Obama became president, many of his supporters assumed that he would reverse the unilateral and authoritarian policies of his predecessor. Yet his CIA chief Leon Panetta soon made it clear that extraordinary rendition wouldn’t end, his Attorney General used “state secrets” as the rationale to block a trial, and Obama personally refused to release photos of enhanced interrogation. He also said that detainees could still be tried in “military tribunals” and that past official crimes would not be prosecuted. It was audacious, but not an auspicious beginning.

The Bush regime left Obama with broad latitude for executive intervention, both domestically and in countries with which the US isn’t at war. Using that power, Team Obama’s new overseas strategy became rollback, which, according to researcher James Petras, means reversing any gains made by opposition governments and movements during the Bush years. Rollback, explains Petras, involves a combination of open military intervention, seductive diplomatic rhetoric, and deniable covert operations. The most transparent manifestation was the buildup of military forces in Afghanistan, defined by Obama as a “necessary” war. The most covert, on the other hand, could be the ouster of Honduran President Zelaya.

There was no admission of US involvement in the Honduran coup. But US policy clearly shifted after Zelaya decided to improve relations with Venezuela in hopes of securing petro-subsidies and aid. Then he joined ALBA, a regional organization sponsored by Venezuelan President Chavez to promote trade and investment among its member countries, rather than a US-promoted regional free trade pact.

The Honduran military, whose officer corps has been US-trained and cultivated over several decades, seized Zelaya and “exiled” him to Costa Rica; the local oligarchy meanwhile appointed one of their own as interim President. Latin American governments condemned the coup and called for Zelaya’s reinstatement. But Obama and Secretary of State Clinton opted to condemn only unspecified “violence” and called for “negotiations” between the coup-plotters and exiled President.

Even after the UN General Assembly demanded Zelaya’s reinstatement, Obama refused to call it a coup. After all, that classification would have led to a suspension of $80 million in annual US military and economic aid. Every country in the OAS – except the US – withdrew its Ambassador. Instead, the US embassy began to negotiate with the Junta. Whether Zelaya returned to office or not, the coup served as a lesson to any other country that considered joining Venezuelan-led economic programs. The blunt message, Petras concludes, is that any such moves would result in presidentially-approved sabotage and retaliation. Don’t expect hearings,  or public oversight of any kind.

Two centuries after the US constitutional system was created, it has unraveled under the explosive force of the imperial presidency. The framers, though they could not predict the global dominance of the US, were certainly aware of the dangers of a drift toward monarchy. Unfortunately, their handiwork no longer meets the test. Even though the president needs congressional approval for expenditures and declarations of war, almost anything is permissible if the appropriate "national security" rationale can be manufactured.

Impeachment won’t counter the long-term drift toward executive sovereignty, since a president can only be impeached for "high crimes and misdemeanors" while most of the covert or “illegal” actions condoned or promoted by presidents are tried-and-true policies that Congress dare not condemn, criminal as they may be. According to historian Barbara Tuchman, the office itself "has become too complex and its reach too extended to be trusted to the fallible judgment of one individual." Thus, she and others have suggested restructuring ideas; for example, a directorate or a Council of State to which the executive would be accountable. Ironically, such ideas were discussed and rejected at the Constitutional Convention.

Basic changes are obviously needed. Presidents will continue to seek expanded power until clear limits are imposed and public pressure reverses the trend. In the end, the US may need another Constitutional Convention. As during the original, a stated, narrow purpose may be eclipsed by some “revolutionary” move to revamp the entire document. There is clearly a risk that something worse might be imposed, along with draconian restrictions on basic rights and freedoms. But more positive outcomes are also possible, and, given the way things are going, the risk may turn out to be preferable to the inexorable drift toward presidential tyranny.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Surrendering Freedom

Casualties of 9/11: Part Four
By Greg Guma

As the US entered World War I in 1917, Hiram Johnson, a US senator from California, issued a warning that went to the heart of the country’s predicament. "The first casualty when war comes is truth," he explained. Although he didn't mention it, the second casualty is just as obvious: freedom. After 9/11, both were offered up eagerly as the national media stoked primal fears, setting the stage for the most dangerous rollback in basic rights since the 1950s.

Consider what followed in the first few months of this "new kind of war": massive secret detentions, curbs on privacy and dissent, media outlets self-censoring their coverage. More than 1100 people were held without criminal charges, often on the basis of weak evidence. Under the hastily-passed USA Patriot Act, investigators were empowered to monitor talks between detainees -- whose names and alleged crimes were classified -- and their lawyers. Wire-tapping, e-mail surveillance, and secret searches all became easier. Solitary confinement and restrictions on visitors could now be imposed for a year, rather than the previous 120 days.

In Arkansas, an Uzbekistani woman was jailed for 40 days for being in a car with someone whose name was similar to someone on the FBI watch list. A young Egyptian who supposedly had a radio transmitter in his hotel room across from the World Trade Center was held for weeks. He turned out to be innocent, but before his release, he was "persuaded" to confess. Had he been tortured? It was a non-issue, news-wise. Meanwhile, the FBI publicly considered using a "truth serum" to crack recalcitrant suspects, and threatened to deport detained foreigners to countries that used torture.

Tom Ridge, the new Homeland Security Director, talked tough, calling all this "a permanent condition to which Americans must adjust." Equally disquieting, many of the ideas came from ultraconservative groups like the Federalist Society, which seized the chance to turn old wish lists into policy. Basically, the limits placed on the FBI and CIA 25 years earlier were being reversed. Beyond that, the wall between the two agencies was being broken down. Henceforth, the CIA would have an official role in deciding who was targeted inside the US and what information was collected. Other law enforcement agencies were obliged to give the Agency access to their information. Basically, the Bureau and the Agency could now work together on operations, including some against domestic political groups and individuals.

What groups? Officially, they were supposed to have connections to terrorists of foreign intelligence agencies. But Attorney General John Ashcroft clarified that. In December 2001, he explained: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists. They give ammunition to America's enemies." It was clearly a warning: this new security regime could easily be turned against almost any critic of the government.

Despite the signs, debate over how much freedom to sacrifice was little more than a sidebar to the war in Afghanistan, one small part of round the clock disaster coverage. TV shows telegraphed the main message: The War Room, America at War, Region in Conflict. Polls meanwhile reinforced the argument that most people accepted the situation, and trusted government to handle things. There was also the usual excuse: we'd better be safe -- that is, just accept the creeping implementation of police state tactics -- than sorry.

Many of these developments were mentioned by the press corps. But at the same time, they were explained away as part of a minimal and absolutely necessary response to the new terrorist threat. More to the point, major news outlets openly debated whether the public was being told too much.

Taking the cue, CNN Chair Walter Isaacson ordered his staff to "balance images of civilian devastation in Afghan cities with reminders that the Taliban harbors murderous terrorists," saying it "seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan." In a memo, he admonished reporters covering civilian deaths not to "forget it is that country's leaders who are responsible for the situation Afghanistan is now in," suggesting that journalists lay responsibility at the Taliban's door, not the US military's.

As Fairness and Accuracy in Media put it, if anything was perverse, "it's that one of the world's most powerful news outlets has instructed its journalists not to report Afghan civilian casualties without attempting to justify those deaths." CNN had essentially mandated that pro-US propaganda be included in the news, while rationalizing its decision to ignore excesses. The story was the same at Fox News, where news anchor Brit Hume wondered why journalists bothered covering civilian deaths. "The question I have," he said, "is civilian casualties are historically, by definition, a part of war, really. Should they be as big news as they've been?"

NPR's Mara Liasson and US News & World Report's Michael Barone went further, arguing that civilian deaths weren't news at all. What was? Apparently, rampant speculation on every imaginable catastrophe, keeping viewers in a permanent state of anxiety -- and hopefully, glued to the tube for the next live disaster.

An epidemic of self-censorship and convenient reality distortion spread across the country. In Panama City, Florida, a News Herald memo warned editors: "DO NOT USE photos on Page 1A showing civilian casualties from the US war on Afghanistan. Our sister paper in Fort Walton Beach has done so and received hundreds and hundreds of threatening e-mails and the like. DO NOT USE wire stories which lead with civilian casualties from the US war on Afghanistan. They should be mentioned further down in the story. If the story needs rewriting to play down the civilian casualties, DO IT. The only exception is if the US hits an orphanage, school or similar facility and kills scores or hundreds of children."

The fact that truth had taken a back seat was not even disguised. As Hume told the New York Times, "Look, neutrality as a general principle is an appropriate concept for journalists who are covering institutions of some comparable quality." But, he added, "This is a conflict between the United States and murdering barbarians."

Hollywood also jumped on the bandwagon. Stars and heads of production companies conferred with government officials on how best to spread the official line. At the Institute for Creative Studies at the University of Southern California, Hollywood talent consulted with military brass to speculate about future attack scenarios.

At the same time, "inappropriate" comments brought a reprimand or worse. When Bill Maher, then host of TV's Politically Incorrect, said the World Trade Center terrorists might be more brave than the US military, several affiliates dropped the show and ABC boss Michael Eisner threatened to fire him. Eight months later, his show was abruptly canceled. As Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer warned, in times like these, "people have to watch what they say and watch what they do."

A new McCarthyism – call it fascism-lite – was on the rise. Following several incidents in which academics were reprimanded for expressing allegedly unpatriotic views, the American Association of University Professors pleaded for an end to an atmosphere where thinking out loud was considered subversive. But who was even listening? Well, clearly the government, which invoked the "national emergency" to violate even one of the most basic legal rights – attorney-client confidentiality. "If we can't speak with a client confidentially," warned Irwin Schwartz, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, "we might not speak with him at all."

The new anti-terrorism law gave the government sweeping new powers to conduct searches and tap phones with only a suspicion of crime, rather than the old standard, probable cause. Government agents could now seize medical and student records, or track credit-card purchases and large cash transactions. Military tribunals could be used to try and sentence suspects without a jury or public access to the process. Any US attorney could get the FBI to launch its Carnivore Internet surveillance system to monitor a suspect's Internet surfing. "It's a very serious shift in policy and in American culture," noted Ken Gude, an analyst with the Center for National Security Studies. "We're getting to the point where it's guilt by association."                 

"If we give up our freedom, the terrorists have already won." That became the cliché of the moment. But the reality was much more unsettling: People were surrendering much of their freedom without seriously taking note -- and, as usual, the early winners were the US national security elite and their media enablers.

This is the conclusion of an essay adapted from Greg Guma’s 2003 book, Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization and What We Can Do.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Nexus of Infamy

Casualties of 9/11: Part Two
By Greg Guma

On September 10, 2001, it looked like there was more than enough time to prepare for whatever came next. The next day, of course, many things changed. Like a volcanic eruption, predictable and yet inevitable, murderous assaults on symbols of US military and economic power shattered the landscape, rocked institutions, and altered how we would live for years to come. Some compared the September 11 attacks to Pearl Harbor, a day that would "live in infamy." Others pointed to the date itself -- 9/11 -- and called it an emergency wake-up call.

In less than an hour, on a sunny Tuesday, two commercial airline flights were hijacked, diverted, and crashed into the World Trade Center in the heart of New York's financial district. A third slammed into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed before reaching its target, most likely the White House. Hundreds died immediately, and thousands more were killed in the fires and destruction that followed. As TV networks beamed images around the world, political leaders expressed outrage, pledging to track down the perpetrators and "bring them to justice." 

That night, the world mourned, and million prayed for salvation from the cycle of violence. No one took "credit" for the carnage, but the initial evidence pointed to the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden. The urge to go after so-called "rogue states" and their accomplices around the world was irresistible. The Bush administration expressed outrage and shock, claiming the attack could not have been predicted. 

Though not much noticed at the time, this was not the first September 11 that had left its mark on world history. In fact, the date marks crucial and revealing turning points in several US military engagements, as well as Islamic history and the development of Israel. That provided little consolation, but did suggest a curious historical nexus.

September 11, 1814, for example, was the day the US effectively secured its northern border by defeating the British in the Battle of Plattsburgh. Twenty-eight years later, it also marked a turning point in the US campaign to annex part of Mexico: San Antonio was captured by Mexican forces (they later retreated). In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt picked the same date to issue an attack order directed at German and Italian ships in US waters, one more step toward World War II.

The 1973 Chilean military coup, welcomed and secretly backed by the US, also climaxed on September 11. And, in 1990, President George Bush I chose the date to tell Congress that Iraq was threatening Saudi Arabia, thus expanding support for his decision to go to war in the Persian Gulf.

In more recent times, 9/11 played a role in the Middle East conflict. Exactly a year before the suicide attacks on the US, Jordanian authorities selected the date to bar the mayor of Um El Fahem, a Palestinian village, from entering Jordan, despite a valid entry visa. A member of the Palestinian Legislative Council was also banned, for no apparent reason. Meanwhile, the Saudi Ministry of Pilgrimage issued restrictions on visits by overseas groups to Mecca and Medina, important sites for followers of Muhammad.

If that isn't enough, the date also pops up in relation to nuclear weapons. September 11, 1996, was the day the UN approved the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, ending test explosions. Exactly 51 years earlier, Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote a fateful letter to President Harry Truman. Noting that the atomic bomb, which had been used for the first time a month before, represented a dangerous "first step in a new control by man over the forces of nature," he warned that US superiority might not last. "If so," he wrote in 1945, "our method of approach to the Russians is a question of the most vital importance in the evolution of human progress." The Cold War was straight ahead.

Tomorrow: Warning Signs
This essay is adapted from Greg Guma’s 2003 book, Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization and What We Can Do.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Casualties of 9/11: Truth and Freedom

When the powerful feel they are under an effective attack and can find a convincing pretext, they rarely hesitate to use virtually any tactic to recapture hearts and minds.
Part One

By Greg Guma

Late in the last century, those in charge of the "new world order" faced a mounting challenge to their planetary management. Whether it began with the disruption of a World Trade Organization summit in Seattle in late 1999, with the Zapatista rebellion -- launched on the very day the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994, or with the numerous local uprisings in bloom around the world, the message was obvious: The corporate-dominated Pax Americana promoted with the end of the Cold War was not "the end of history" or anything else. Superpower rivalry might be a thing of the past, but that did not mean the US would have an open-ended term as global CEO.
   By early 2001, the struggle had entered a new stage. Uprisings challenging privatization, low wages, structural adjustment, and other "globalization" policies were mounting throughout Central and South America. When leaders from the Western Hemisphere gathered in Quebec City to iron out details for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), massive protests on the street combined with widespread dissent inside the summit to derail the negotiations. Meanwhile, back in the US, doubts grew that President-select George W. Bush would soon succeed in winning "fast track" -- recently renamed "trade promotion authority."
     Unable to continue ignoring demands for change, the establishment was forced to respond. In June, at a G8 Summit of industrialized nations in Genoa, Italy, leaders professed concern -- or at least shed crocodile tears -- about poverty, debt, and environmental threats. Even Bush, still shopping for a mandate in the wake of his contested election, urged rich nations to give more grants to poorer ones. 
     At the same time, however, Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and other nervous cheerleaders for one world under free market capitalism went on the offense. Blair called the protesters who converged in Genoa "an anarchist traveling circus." Bush added that their anti-globalization crusade was actually hurting the poor. The predictable clash between activists and police also escalated to a new level: a direct assault on the Italian city's Independent Media Center, and the movement's first fatality. 
     Still, both responses -- the carrot and the stick -- betrayed a growing apprehension in the corridors of power. Well-laid plans were being placed in jeopardy. Regional cracks were also deepening, especially once Bush took office. In the first six months of his term, Europe broke with the US on missile defense, trade rules, the "war on drugs" in Colombia, and global warming. After shooting down a US spy plane -- and getting away with it -- China signed a treaty of friendship with Russia, including agreement on military policies that directly challenged the new administration. In the UN, the US was ejected from the Human Rights Commission. Global trade deals were going nowhere and NATO's future was up for discussion again.
     As summer waned, events suggested that the next months would be critical. In late September, for example, the anti-globalization movement was planning to converge again, this time on Washington, DC for meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. But as history illustrates, when the powerful feel they are under an effective attack and can find a convincing pretext, they rarely hesitate to use virtually any tactic, from disinformation and agents provocateur to repression and premeditated violence, in order to recapture hearts and minds. 

Tomorrow: Nexus of Infamy
This article is adapted from Greg Guma’s 2003 book, Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization and What We Can Do.