by Anarcho, via Anarchist Writers
Murray Bookchin (1921-2006) was for four decades a leading anarchist thinker and writer. His many articles and books – Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Toward an Ecological Society, The Ecology of Freedom and a host of others – are libertarian classics and influential in the wider green movement. However, in 1995 he became involved in a vicious polemic over various negative aspects of (primarily American) anarchism with the publication of his Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism which, in 1999, saw him break with anarchism completely, denouncing it as inherently individualist. Still considering himself a libertarian socialist, he now called his politics “Communalism” rather than “Social Ecology” or “Social Anarchism.”
This context is important in order to understand this often contradictory collection of essays, for the work combines articles written between 1992 and 2002 and so ones before and after his break with anarchism. This means he indicates the anarchist pedigree of his “Commune of communes” in some chapters (63, 95) while proclaiming anarchism as being against organisation in others. So following a preface by the late, great, Ursula Le Guin and an introduction by Debbie Bookchin and Blair Taylor, we have nine chapters by Bookchin on a range of subjects written over a range of times and this produces the key flaw in the work: denunciations of anarchism sit next to praise for it.
What of these denunciations? It is hard to take them seriously. It is depressing to read someone who has actually read anarchist thinkers come out with the same sort of nonsense as a hack of a Marxist party parroting claims made by others about people they have obviously never read. Just as sad is that every one of his claims against anarchism can be refuted by quoting from his early works. For his list of anarchist flaws – individualism, primitivism, etc. – were once directed at his own ideas by Marxists and he refuted them with flair.
Space precludes using Bookchin to refute Bookchin, so I will concentrate on a few issues.
Sadly, post-break Bookchin is not above selective quoting when it comes to anarchism – for example, he quotes Kropotkin on rejecting majority rule (10) when he surely knew that on the page in question Kropotkin was discussing “parliamentary rule, and representative government altogether.” Also, after decades of denouncing syndicalism for impoverishing anarchism, he turned around and proclaimed the superiority of the former as regards the latter – while also ignoring how he had shown that the first of the revolutionary anarchists had advocated syndicalism as a tactic. Likewise, Bookchin asserted post-break that “anarchists conceive of power essentially as a malignant evil that must be destroyed” (139) yet also quotes Bakunin on the need for the “development and organization of the nonpolitical or antipolitical social power of the working class in city and country.” (12) As he himself noted long ago, “power” can mean two things, power to do and power over, and for the former to flourish, it needs the latter to be destroyed. So power over – hierarchy – can be destroyed if we want power to manage our own lives.
Bookchin points to the Spanish Revolution as evidence of Anarchism’s failure here. Yet his discussion of this (“Anarchism and Power in the Spanish Revolution”) ignores the circumstances in which the CNT decided to postpone the social revolution in favour of caricatures on anarchist theory. He position is that anarchism is blind to the need for institutions to replace the State and this blindness lead the CNT not to “seize power.” Yet anarchism has anyways been clear on what to do in a revolution – replace the State by federations of workers’ organisations. The CNT obviously failed to do so in July 1936 with obvious negative results – but the question, as Bookchin surely knew, is why they failed to apply anarchist ideas. To understand that needs context – essentially fear of isolation and the real possibility of having to fight both the Republic and the Fascists if social revolution was pursued – which Bookchin fails to provide.
Instead, we get the same superficial analysis that embarrasses Marxist journals. The only difference is that Bookchin calls this new system a “government” rather than “state.” So Bookchin post-break was against the State but for government – “government” being used to describe collective decision making. Just as Engels equated agreement with authority, Bookchin came to equate governance with government. This is hardly convincing.
So the post-break articles present a travesty of anarchism by someone who knew better. Given Bookchin’s revisionism, it is unsurprising that the authors of the introduction assert that popular assemblies were “viewed with suspicion by anarchists.” (xviii) This in spite of Proudhon praising the popular clubs of the 1848 revolution, Bakunin urging federation by quartier (neighbourhood) and Kropotkin pointing to the popular assemblies of the Great French Revolution -- just as Bookchin did!
Ironically, many of the traits of “anarchism” Bookchin came to deplore and which caused his break with anarchism could be traced to certain elements of his 1960s works – even if these were selectively used and exaggerated to the point of travesty by others, they were there as his critics in the 1990s reminded Bookchin in their polemics against him. Bookchin seems like someone who found it hard to admit being wrong – and so broke with anarchism rather than admit this. Yes, some self-proclaimed anarchists have silly notions (primitivism obviously springs to mind) and some tendencies can have little in common with the main current of social anarchism. Likewise, some anarchist have little time for long term strategy and involve themselves in small-scale, insular projects. Yet this is not anarchism as such. Rather than expect all anarchists to come together it is far better to organise with like-minded people and ignore those whose politics and activities are a dead-end. Instead, Bookchin rejected anarchism – talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!
So what of any substantive points between his new politics and anarchism? This are just a few. One is the question of “majority rule.” As he put it in a particularly overheated passage:
‘It is primarily by giving priority to an ideologically petrified notion of an “autonomous individual” that anarchists justify their opposition not only to the state but to any form of constraint, law, and often organization and democratic decision-making based on majority voting. All such constraints are dismissed in principle as forms of “coercion,” “domination,” “government,” and even “tyranny”—often as though these terms were coequal and interchangeable.’ (160-1)
Ignoring the awkward fact – which Bookchin was once aware – that the likes of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, etc. not only did not speak in those terms but also explicitly attacked such notions, we should note that majority decision making within freely joined associations is hardly the same as majority rule. In addition, anyone acting in the manner Bookchin describes within an anarchist group would be asked to leave, and rightly so. Nor, for that matter, is “consensus” an “authentic” anarchist principle (25) – you would be hard pressed to find any classical anarchist thinker – “authentic” or otherwise! – discussing it. Kropotkin mentions it in passing, when discussing the Russian mir and that is about it.
Why are anarchists concerned about talk of majority rule? It is quite simple: majorities have often oppressed minorities – we need only think of sectarianism, sexism, racism, homophobia and such like to see that the majority need not always be right. Ironically, Bookchin admits this (94) but does not attempt to square it with his fetishization of “majority rule.” And this is an issue. For example, he proclaims that a community which joins a confederation “may withdraw only with the approval of the confederation as a whole.” (15) So Bookchin’s “libertarian” confederation provides less rights than the UK (with regards the referendum on Scottish independence) and the European Union (with regards Brexit). Yet why is it just at a confederal level? If this is a good and democratic principle, why does it not apply to every association? So a worker can only leave their job if the majority of the workplace agrees? So a family can only leave a community if the majority of the local citizenry approve? A wife or husband from a family? Simple: for it would clearly be unfree.
Similarly, his “libertarian” democracy appears less than that guaranteed by our statist ones for he argues that after losing the debate “the minority must have patience and allow a majority decision to be put into practice” (61) and there would be “the commitment of municipal minorities to defer to the majority wishes of participating communities.” (88) Yet, today, the right of minorities to protest exists (if always under threat by the State, always ready to proclaim its “undemocratic” nature). Would libertarian municipalism really not allow minorities to protest, to use direct action, when the majority acts in ways which we cannot wait addressing or simply cannot be undone?
A more flexible perspective is needed, particularly given Bookchin admits that there is no “guarantee” that “a majority decision will be a correct one.” (88) What if the majority make racist, sexist, homophobic or ecologically destructive decisions? Can an “unswerving opposition to racism, gender oppression, and domination as such” (135) be limited to mere words or can minorities protest against them by direct action? If so, then his fetishisation of majority rule needs to be reviewed. True, Bookchin stressed the importance of minority rights (25) – but to do so automatically means admitting (implicitly at least) the flaws of his position and the validity of anarchist concerns over terms like “majority rule.”
Still, this has little bearing on the day-to-day decisions of freely joined associations in which majority-decision making will, undoubtedly, be the norm – with even a written constitution, when appropriate – in the struggle against oppression today and any future free society. Those who fetishise consensus (and there are a few, I am sure) can associate with those who feel the same -- and leave the others to get on with changing the world rather than just discussing.
Yet does Bookchin actually advocate majority rule? The answer is no, for he indicates (52-3) that all revolutions are the work of active minorities and that he does not expect the majority of a population to take part in his neighbourhood assemblies. So we have decisions being made by a majority of a minority, in other words minority rule. So for all his bluster, his “democratic” politics ends up recognising the key role minorities play in social change and that they often have to push forward in the face of the indifference of the majority: as Kropotkin, Goldman and many other anarchists indicated.
So we are left with Bookchin agreeing that the majority cannot, say, ban women from leaving the house without being accompanied by a man nor that neighbourhood assembly decisions are invalid unless a majority of people in the community attend. Which makes you wonder why he was so focused on majority rule to the extent of destroying his own legacy.
As for “libertarian municipalism,” it is clear why few anarchists embraced it: “Communalists do not hesitate to run candidates in municipal elections who, if elected, would use what real power their offices confer to legislate popular assemblies into existence.” (30) The notion of standing in local elections as a means of creating popular assemblies and then federating them was always unconvincing. Particularly given the all-to-correct predictions of anarchists on the effects of electioneering. Indeed, Bookchin himself repeats these and provides examples of it (83-4) – but seems to think this only happens at a national level. He also seems unaware that the national State can and does control the autonomy of local municipal councils and this strategy could easily mutate into national electioneering in the mistaken view of ensuring needed reforms for the local strategy. Electioneering is indeed a slippery slope which even the repeated experience of history does not seem to affect.
Anarchists, regardless of Bookchin’s revisionism, are well aware of the need for federations of community assemblies in both the struggle for liberation and as part of the structure for the post-capitalist society. Kropotkin, for example, discussed their role in his book The Great French Revolution and indicated that “the libertarians would no doubt do the same today.” However, these were viewed as a genuine dual-power created in opposition to the State – a community syndicalism, as it were – rather than something bestowed by a suitably enlightened local municipal council. Nor was this considered the only means – Kropotkin also advocated a syndicalist strategy as both a means of winning reforms now and for providing the framework of managing workplaces during and after a social revolution. Bookchin knew all this and so it is depressing to read him pretend otherwise.
Rejecting Bookchin’s electioneering does not mean rejecting building federations of community assemblies, especially within the context of building other federations of associations (such as radical unions). Likewise, his notion of dissolving all associations into a single communal one does not take into account the complexities of modern life. Such community assemblies would be the forum for overseeing the others – to protect against, say, workplaces becoming proprietary as Bookchin rightly warns (19, 72) – but they can hardly be called upon to actually manage them on a day-to-day basis.
Kropotkin and other anarchists bemoaned the State and its attempts to centralise all aspects of social life and place them in the hands of a few representatives who had no real notion of what they were deciding upon. Doing the same but at the base of society may not be as problematic but it does have issues – not least, the volume of issues that would need to be discussed. So there is a pressing need for a functional federalism as well as a communal federalism. This suggests a diverse associational life embracing all aspects of the world – so if Kropotkin and Malatesta argued that syndicalists focused on one aspect of society (the economic) and ignored the other two (community and leisure), Bookchin likewise focused on one (the community) at the expense of the others.
So, to conclude. This is a mixed selection of articles – with the pre-break ones being by far the best. The post-break ones often just repeat what Bookchin previously – rightly! – called anarchism but with snide anti-anarchist remarks added.
Where does that leave Bookchin’s legacy?
I still remember the joy I experienced reading Post-Scarcity Anarchism thirty years ago – here was someone who both understood anarchism and built upon it. Yet in the last decade of his life he produced works which were marred by anti-anarchist tirades which he surely knew were nonsense. Which leaves us with a conundrum: if you utilise his earlier works, could not his later works be quoted to show that even a leading anarchist eventually saw its deep flaws? If you embrace his later anti-anarchist works, how could you reference in good-faith his earlier contributions?
Yes, Bookchin did do the latter but then he also sought to rewrite his past to suggest he had seen through anarchism at a very early stage or had never “really” been an anarchist at all. This was all very unbecoming – particularly given the numerous quotes from the early 1990s proclaiming his long-standing and continuing commitment to anarchism.
Ultimately, Bookchin left a wealth of books and articles between the 1960s and 1990s which anarchists today can draw upon, even if his strategy of “libertarian municipalism” is deeply flawed. So while The Next Revolution does contain important pieces which activists today would benefit from reading, it pales against his earlier works. These should be read first, simply to ensure that when reading the anti-anarchist remarks in this book the pre-break Bookchin will be fresh in your memory to refute them.
The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy
Edited by Debbie Bookchin and Blair Taylor
Preface by Ursula K. Le Guin
December 2014Tags: murray bookchinbook reviewcategory: Essays
After a tense week-long standoff between city bureaucrats, local journalists, and police, it seems anarchism has finally been cleared of being a hate crime in the city of Hamilton. On Thursday, Mayor Fred Eisenberger issued a statement indicating that he had been misinformed after equivocating anarchists and the circle-a symbol with white supremacists and the swastika - this coming two months after he referred to a group of anarchists as "terrorists" for their part in a Locke Street anti-gentrification demonstration.
Sure, it seems a bit amiss that the mayor should have worked himself into such a hissy-fit over a few Lexuses having their windows smashed, yknow, especially while remaining mum on actual white supremacists marching in his city, but whatever - it's over, right?
Well, it seems this isn't the first time the city's wealthy and their defenders have been a bit confused about the whole hate crime thing. As the drama unfolded over the past week, I couldn't help but be reminded of a little piece of Hamilton history that never really got the press it deserved.
Back in 2009 the anarchist and radical scene in town was in a bit of a flux, as new and old circles of people experimented with different tactics and made efforts to connect with each other to increase our capacity. It was during a social event where some of us had the very harsh realization that not only were we increasingly on the radar of other politically engaged folks in the city, but we were also being sized up by the Hamilton Police Service.
The "HPS Swarming incident" at Mex-I-Can Restaurant, as it would later be dubbed, happened the night of January 22nd, 2009. A bunch of people from a few different friend circles gathered at the Mex-I-Can restaurant (rip) near Wilson and James for a radical folk-punk show (I know, I know - it was 2009). Music was underway and the anarchist zine table set up when there was a commotion just outside the front doors.
Some burly dudes on the street had started grabbing at our friends out having a smoke. People sprang into action, pulling our pals out of the grasp of said dudes. When a dozen police cruisers and a couple paddy wagons rushed in seconds later, it became apparent that the grabby guys weren't just any assholes - they were plainclothes HPS officers.
After a few arrests, some tussling, and the only non-hot sauce related pain compliance techniques seen in Mex-I-Can's history, we were all still licking our wounds when an email started to spread around. Though it hadn't met CHCH's hug-a-cop threshold of news when it had occurred, the story of the night was finally getting some circulation - in the HPS' annual Hate Crime Year-End Report.
You see, it seems that officially until at least 2009 the Hamilton police understood themselves to be victims of hate crimes.
That's right, for several years, amongst the queer-bashings, attacks on Jews and Muslims, and racist violence that got reported to the Hamilton Police Service's Hate Crimes Unit, Hamilton cops would take the time to slip in hate reports of their own whenever they saw some anti-cop graffiti. In that 2008 report, for example, along with the 17 hate incidents against Black people, and seven against people from the LGBTQ community, some cop decided it was important to type out, presumably through tears, a reference to three anti-police crimes. The result can be seen in the above pie graph, where amongst the various groups of people marginalized by society and targeted by hate we have people of East Indian and Hispanic descent, people targeted for their sexual orientation and....police! One can only assume that the six-figure salaries and ability to murder with impunity hasn't totally cushioned the blow of having everyone think you're kind of a piece of shit.
While the average person might need to do some mental gymnastics to regard a folk show as a hate crime, the Hamilton police, armed with a very special kind of victim complex, listed the incident at Mex-I-Can in that report.
But this fresh spin on hate criminology, defined in their own freaking report as "a criminal offence committed against a person which is motivated...by the suspect's hate/bias against a person's race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, age or gender", was far more than just a footnote. In both the 2008 and 2009 reports' "Future Outlook" sections - areas to discuss trends and upcoming events to monitor - the cops *exclusively* write about the local anarchist movement, as well as just about anyone who might have even the vaguest sympathies toward social justice. Along with the movements against the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the G20 in Toronto, other villains in their rogue gallery of hate include people working on "homelessness issues", those boycotting sponsors of the 2015 Pan Am Games, as well as Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, who were visiting Winnipeg at a countersummit in 2010 opposed to the G20.
Remember: this is the Hamilton Police Service's Hate Crime Unit. This isn't just some dumbass beat cop spouting this shit, this is the segment of the police force with the sensitivity, training, and insight to specifically deal with hate crimes. These reports were presented to the Police Services Board by two consecutive chiefs of police. And what do they commit their immense monetary and personnel resources to, in hopes of making life easier for the people affected by hate in this town? Not some white supremacist groups they're monitoring, or some anti-Muslim events being organized, or the "men's rights" crybabies that were antagonizing feminist events at that time and have since killed dozens of people; no, they committed investigative resources to local anarchist and activist movements.
Let's be real about what this all means: police in this city *OFFICIALLY* believed, up until 2009, that being against police officers was the same thing as being against Black people. Police in this city believed it was more important to dedicate resources that could have gone toward education or breaking up organized hatred to keeping tabs on folk shows and preparing for the arrival of an elderly Buddhist monk in a city twenty hours away.
The mayor in this city and the city's bylaw bureaucracy, until last Thursday, *OFFICIALLY* believed that being an anti-capitalist activist, that being against rich people, puts you in the same category as Nazis (and he still hasn't retracted the "terrorist" thing).
Now, I proudly count myself among the anarchists in town, and so I'm not trying to plead for the cops or politicians to do their jobs better, or with more sensitivity. And I'm not surprised to find that they consider me their enemy - the feeling is mutual.
I know that whatever progressive gay-pride diversity-cheering mask they put on, cops serve a function in society: to maintain capitalism, colonization, and all the oppressive systems that keep this shit train running. And I think the HPS and Mayor Freddy are great examples of how anti-hate mechanisms, when taken out of our hands and put into those of the same people who fuck us over, can be used as weapons by the powerful.
We have every right to resist, dismantle, and attack the vision of this city that these pricks are trying to force down our throats. While doing so, let's work together with our friends, family, and neighbours to stomp out racism, sexism, and homophobia ourselves, and let us never let those same people who attack and exploit us tell us we're not allowed to hate them for it.
Oh, and no need to rein in those circle-a's or the disdain for cops - let's keep those statistics a-comin'!
Northshore note: These PDF's were received anonymously and presumably have their origins with Hamilton Police Services. We have no reason to expect them to be unsafe to open, but it could be worth taking precautions, like opening them in a guest account or a virtual machine
Tags: canadahamiltonhatepolicetacoscategory: International
Man struck by flying lava amid warning Hawaii volcano eruption could cover island in noxious plume | 20 May 2018 | A man injured by flying lava as he sat on his third floor balcony has become the first casualty of the eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano. The unnamed man is in a serious condition after his leg was smashed by the volcanic debris, which can hit temperatures of over 1000 degrees Celsius at the point of eruption, in the town of Pahoa on Saturday... Lava spatters "can weigh as much as a refrigerator and even small pieces of spatter can kill," said Janet Snyder, a spokesperson for the Office of the Mayor, County of Hawaii. The incident came as lava streams threatened to cut off evacuation routes and authorities warned a noxious plume could cover the island as lava began to reach the sea.
Nicolas Maduro wins Venezuela presidential election | 21 May 2018 | Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected to a second six-year term. Rival candidates have rejected the electoral process and called for new elections. The vote was marked by low turnout. Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) announced on Sunday the re-election of President Nicolas Maduro with 67.7 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, Henri Falcon, came in second with 21.2 percent, while Javier Bertucci was third with 10 percent. CNE President Tibisay Lucena announced the results with 92.6 percent reporting and said the turnout was 46.1 percent.
Experimental Ebola vaccine to be distributed in Congo | 21 May 2018 | Health authorities will begin distributing an experimental Ebola vaccine in Mbandaka, a major city in the Democratic Republic of Congo this week, to try to stop the spread of the deadly virus. The confirmation of the first case in Mbandaka, a city of 1.2 million people, has raised concerns that the virus could spread faster than expected. So far, 25 people have died in the outbreak, and of 45 suspected cases, 14 have been confirmed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, will likely be distributed to some 8,000 to 10,000 people in its first phase, Peter Salama, deputy director-general of emergency preparedness and response at the WHO, said Friday.
Ebola outbreak in DR Congo spreads to Mbandaka, a city of one million people | 17 May 2018 | The Ebola outbreak in DR Congo has spread from the countryside into a city, prompting fears that the disease will be increasingly hard to control. Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga confirmed a case in Mbandaka, a city of a million about 130km (80 miles) from where the first cases were confirmed. The city is a major transportation hub with routes to the capital Kinshasa. At least 44 people are thought to have been infected with ebola and 23 deaths are being investigated. [Now WHO can 'justify' the roll-out of its experimental vaccine - which will likely explode the outbreak. See how that works?]
Hawaii volcano poses a new threat: Acid from Kilauea's lava, called 'laze,' pouring into the ocean | 20 April 2018 | After destroying dozens of houses, lava from the Kilauea volcano has now reached the ocean, presenting a new health threat to Hawaii residents. Civil defense authorities on Hawaii posted a warning to stay clear of any lava stream that is flowing into the ocean. When the super hot lava hits the cooler sea water, it produces what is called "laze," hydrochloric acid steam that pours into the air along with fine particles of glass. A dispatch Sunday from Civil Defense said two lava flows have reached the ocean, including at least one near MacKenzie State Park.
One of the 10 victims in the Santa Fe High School shooting was Sabika Sheikh, an exchange student from Pakistan. She was due to return to her home country in June after participating in an exchange program sponsored by the State Department. CNN reporter Saeed Ahmed compared the shooting of Sheikh to that of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman who boarded her school bus in 2012. Ahmed wrote, "Both are Pakistani girls: One, Malala, was shot on her way to school by a militant in Swat, near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. She survived. The other, Sabika, was shot by a fellow student inside a school in Santa Fe, Texas. She died. But, as many ruefully pointed out, that's where the comparison ends." He went on to quote blogger Asfandyar Bhittani, who tweeted that, unlike Malala, "Sabika Sheikh will be forgotten before next weekend." We're joined by Murtaza Hussain, a reporter at The Intercept focusing on national security, foreign policy and human rights.
Please check back later for full transcript.
As details surface about the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, Friday that left 10 dead, a familiar pattern has emerged: The shooter was a white male who had been rejected by a female classmate. The mother of Shana Fisher, one of the victims in the art classroom where police say 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis entered and opened fire, told the Los Angeles Times that her 16-year-old daughter "had 4 months of problems from this boy.… He kept making advances on her and she repeatedly told him no." Sadie Rodriguez said her daughter recently stood up to Pagourtzis in class, and "a week later he opens fire on everyone he didn't like." The Santa Fe shooting could be the second school shooting in recent months driven by such rejection. In March, 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey was shot in the head at Great Mills High School by 17-year-old Austin Wyatt Rollins after she had ended their relationship. Her injuries left her brain dead. She later died after she was taken off life support by her family. We are joined by Soraya Chemaly, a journalist who covers the intersection of gender and politics. She is the director of the Women's Media Center Speech Project.
Please check back later for full transcript.
A man walks past a television news screen at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump on May 16, 2018. (Photo: Jung Yeon / AFP / Getty Images)Truthout exists to sift fact from fiction and rhetoric from reality. Can you help us continue this critical work? Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.
When, in early March, Donald Trump agreed to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Washington foreign policy elite nearly suffered a collective heart attack.
For one thing, the announcement came as a complete surprise. Trump had telegraphed his other foreign policy bombshells well in advance: leaving the Paris climate accord, ripping up the Iran nuclear deal, reversing détente with Cuba. North Korea was another matter. Trump had repeatedly insulted Kim Jong Un in his trademark style, calling him "Little Rocket Man" on Twitter and threatening at the UN in September 2017 to "totally destroy North Korea." Official Washington was braced for war, not peace.
You'd think, then, that an announcement of jaw-jaw, not war-war, would have met with universal acclaim in the nation's capital. Instead, observers across the ideological spectrum found fault with Trump and his attempt to denuclearize North Korea through negotiations. They criticized his timing, his impulsiveness, even the fact that the announcement came from South Korean representatives visiting Washington and not the president himself.
Experts on Korea promptly decried the president's move because he hadn't demanded any North Korean concessions first. "We'd expect such a highly symbolic meeting to happen after some concrete deliverables were in hand, not before," tweeted New America Foundation fellow Suzanne DiMaggio. (In fact, the North Koreans had declared a moratorium on further testing of their nukes and missiles, but that apparently didn't count.)
Worse yet, the North Koreans were getting the summit of their dreams for nothing. "Kim will accomplish the dream of his father and grandfather by making North Korea a nuclear state," tweeted Abraham Denmark, head of Asia programs at the Wilson Center, "and gain tremendous prestige and legitimacy by meeting with an American president as an equal. All without giving up a single warhead or missile."
Although some foreign policy professionals did express cautious optimism that something good could still come from the first summit between an American president and a North Korean leader -- now officially scheduled for June 12th in Singapore -- the overall verdict was one of barely concealed dismay. "The US has been getting played and outmaneuvered the past three months... and it's happening again, right now," tweeted former Pentagon official Van Jackson.
Skepticism is, of course, the default position of the foreign policy community. Bad things happen all the time in geopolitics; peace is an extraordinarily difficult feat to pull off; and most diplomatic outcomes are, at best, glass-half-full affairs. So, for pundits eager to maintain their gigs on network TV and a steady stream of interview requests from print journalists, it was a far better bet to put their chips on double zero.
And it's true, the history of US-North Korean relations has been a graveyard of defunct initiatives: the Agreed Framework of 1994, the Six Party Talks from 2003 to 2007, the Leap Day Agreement of 2012. If North Korea were to cancel the summit because of US-South Korean military exercises or the inflammatory statements of John Bolton, it would become just another headstone. Far more competent negotiators than Donald Trump tried their hands at preventing the North from going nuclear and suffered epic fails. More troubling still, Trump was preparing for negotiations without even an ambassador in South Korea, lacking a special representative for North Korean policy, and with a new secretary of state barely confirmed by the Senate. In other words, at that key moment, "understaffed" would have been an understatement when it came to the US diplomatic corps and the Koreas.
Finally, both Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump have posted some of the highest negatives since Attila the Hun. The notion that two such wrongs could make a right certainly tests the credulity of the most dispassionate observer. You wouldn't normally want to buy a used car, much less a complex diplomatic deal, from either of them.
And yet, don't fool yourself (even if most of Washington does): the upcoming Trump-Kim summit, if it happens, will represent an extraordinarily important step forward, whether it actually produces an agreement of substance or not. It may not end the longest ongoing conflict in US history, but that's really not the point. The summit's importance lies largely in its symbolic encouragement of another process entirely, one already underway between the two Koreas. US observers remain focused on nuclear weapons, but nukes aren't actually the key issue here. In fact, for all the talk about Donald Trump getting a Nobel Prize, to put events in perspective you need to remember that the American president is, at best, a third wheel in what's developing.
The leaders of the two Koreas have effectively manipulated him into supporting a genuinely hopeful, potentially history-changing process of reconciliation on their peninsula. It's been a brilliant tactic and if US observers of Korea could put aside their kneejerk skepticism, as well as their America First biases, they would be applauding the best chance in decades for Koreans themselves to defuse the most dangerous situation in Asia.Playing the President
In keeping with his particular brand of narcissism, Donald Trump is convinced that he alone is responsible for bringing about change on the Korean peninsula. He believes that his threats against the North, his push for tougher sanctions, and his pressure on China to tighten the screws on its erstwhile ally were the key factors in Kim Jong Un's decision at the beginning of 2018 to reach out to his southern neighbor and extend an olive branch to Washington.
In truth, the initial impetus for the changes in Korea had little to do with President Trump.
After his country conducted its sixth nuclear test in September 2017 and its first ICBM test that November, the North Korean leader must have come to believe that his nuclear weapons program was the sufficiently solid deterrent and valuable bargaining chip he had been seeking. By then, too, he had consolidated his political control in Pyongyang by purging the party, the military, and even his own family, leaving him confident that he could negotiate agreements outside the country without worrying about a palace coup back home. Finally, the North Korean economy was actually managing modest growth, despite the fierce American sanctions campaign against it. This was in part because so many countries were willing to look the other way in the face of widespread violations of the global sanctions regime.
Undoubtedly, Kim was aware of warning signs as well: a dangerous economic dependence on China, a lack of capital for investment, and a declining growth rate. When it came to all three, the logical place to turn was South Korea. Since taking office in March 2017, South Korean President Moon Jae-in had pushed hard for a new engagement policy with the North.
For many months, Pyongyang did not respond, so Moon mended fences where he could. He launched a "New Northern Policy," focusing on fostering further cooperation with Russia. That November, he reached a compromise with China, promising not to expand a new US missile defense system placed in South Korea earlier in the year in exchange for Beijing lifting restrictions on trade and investment.
In a New Year's speech in January 2018, however, Kim Jong Un suddenly and very publicly reversed his position. Moon was already well primed -- some might say desperate -- to take advantage of such a gesture. As a result, in the full glare of international media attention, the two Koreas suddenly launched a policy of cooperation at the 2018 Winter Olympics being held at the time in the south. Then, at the end of April, Kim and Moon actually met in the first inter-Korean summit to take place on South Korean soil.
This was, admittedly, not the first time the two Koreas had attempted a détente, but previous efforts had been stymied, at least in part, by American opposition. Congressional hostility toward North Korea during the latter years of the Clinton era and George W. Bush's inclusion of North Korea in his ominous "axis of evil" in 2002 put a distinct damper on the possibility of inter-Korean cooperation.
This time, however, the two leaders adopted a new strategy for roping the United States into the process. Instead of appealing to the Korea policy community in Washington -- an unimaginative gaggle of Cassandras -- each of them decided to "turn" the US president.
Initially, both were undoubtedly as bemused by Donald Trump's erratic foreign policy tweets as the rest of the world. Still, Kim and his officials reached out to Republican-linked analysts in Washington and soon grasped that the new president valued personal relationships, discounted the advice of policy professionals, dismissed the importance of human rights, and measured his successes largely by the failures of his predecessors, especially Barack Obama.
Keep in mind as well that, for all the hostility Trump had directed toward Pyongyang during the 2016 presidential campaign, he had also signaled -- though at the time it was treated as a throwaway line -- that he'd be pleased to meet Kim Jong Un and serve him "a hamburger on a conference table." As president, in May 2017, months before he started threatening to deliver "fire and fury like the world has never seen" to the North, he even called Kim a "smart cookie" and reiterated his willingness to sit down with him. In both instances, he received mockery, not support, from America's Korea watchers who considered him "naïve" (which was true but beside the point).
Most critically, the North Koreans evidently realized that they could appeal to Trump's desire to destroy the legacy of Barack Obama. The president had fervently promised to unravel anything and everything his predecessor had ever done, from health care to climate change. But on the Korean peninsula, Obama had never achieved a thing. His policy of "strategic patience" had amounted to little more than eight years of hoping that North Korea would relocate to another planet. In such a situation, the North's appalling human rights record, its spotty negotiating history, and its very real nuclear weapons program mattered little in Trump's quest to once again one-up Obama.
South Korea faced a similar set of challenges. In the fall of 2017, Trump accused Moon Jae-in of the "appeasement" of North Korea, though he provided no specifics. Normally, such a charge would have been poison in Washington. Moon could certainly have upped the ante by retaliating in kind. Instead, he cannily held his tongue -- and when the tone suddenly shifted in inter-Korean relations in early 2018, the South Korean president pursued a psychologically even smarter tactic: he began heaping compliments on President Trump for making it all happen.
True, Moon's over-the-top praise flew in the face of what really lay behind the transformation in relations, but he, too, had been well briefed on the president's personality and predilections. He, too, grasped that the American narcissist-in-chief would incline toward praise like a plant toward the sun. When asked if he should get a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, Moon immediately insisted that it was Trump, and Trump alone, who deserved such an honor. (Only later did Trump's base begin chanting "Nobel! Nobel! Nobel!")
The leaders of both Koreas grasped a reality that eluded Washington's pundits: that Donald Trump was their best chance of disarming a skeptical American foreign policy elite. In gaining Trump's support, the two Koreas have indeed, however paradoxically, neutralized the United States as an actor in the drama of inter-Korean relations.Confronting the Impossible
Think of the story of the two Koreas as a parable of two "impossibles."
The first impossible is denuclearization. Now that North Korea has a nuclear weapons program, it's difficult to imagine that it will surrender such weaponry. After all, given the relative decline of its conventional forces, nukes provide a genuine insurance policy against any outside effort at regime change. They're also the main reason the United States pays any attention to the country. Without nuclear weapons, North Korea would become as vulnerable as Iraq was in 2003 and as irrelevant as Laos after 1975. Nuclear weapons are Pyongyang's ticket to international respect. Why on Earth would Kim Jong Un give them up in exchange for a non-aggression "guarantee" from the United States, a pledge that a subsequent administration might simply tear up (just as Trump recently shredded Obama's nuclear deal with Iran)?
The second impossible is reunification. The Koreas are about as far apart as two countries coexisting in the same century could be, as economically disparate as Germany and Ghana, as politically different as Athens and Sparta. One country is thoroughly connected to the world community; the other maintains an isolation policy comparable to eighteenth-century Japan's. Like matter and anti-matter, the two Koreas risk catastrophe if suddenly brought together.
There are three imaginable ways of dealing with these two impossibles. The first, of course, is the regime-change approach of National Security Advisor John Bolton and his fan club. The idea would be to accelerate the demise of Kim's regime either indirectly through covert means or even directly through war. In the wake of a North Korean collapse, according to this crackpot scenario, the US Army would sweep into that country, gathering up the loose nukes, while South Korea absorbed the north just as West Germany swallowed East Germany in 1990. No one with an ounce of sense, from academics to Pentagon officials, considers this a viable approach, given the heightened risk of a war with mass casualties, possibly tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands dead and wounded, and the potential use of some of the North's nukes in South Korea and beyond. And that's not even taking into consideration the South's unwillingness to contemplate the immense costs of an overnight reunification.
Despite Trump's embrace of a summit with Kim Jong Un, Bolton hasn't given up on this regime-change approach. He initially sought to load the summit agenda with enough non-nuclear issues (missiles, abductions of Japanese and South Koreans) to make it unwieldy and bound to fail. More critically, he insisted that the "Libya" model would serve as the example the United States would follow with North Korea -- an ominous signal, given that the regime of Muammar Gaddafi collapsed under the pressure of a US-NATO intervention several years after it gave up its nuclear program. In explaining why North Korea might cancel the summit with Trump, a government spokesman singled out Bolton and his Libya references. And in truth, the North Korean reaction was not a "tantrum," as the Washington Post editorialized, but a reasonable objection to Bolton's tactics.
The second approach, the default position for several decades, has been to wait for North Korea to "come to its senses" and beg for an agreement with the United States. Tighter sanctions and an inflexible negotiating position, the adherents of this theory believe, will eventually inflict so much pain on the North that, sooner or later, even the autocratic leadership of Pyongyang will realize its people can't eat nukes and trade them in for a ticket to the global economy. However attractive this strategy may look, it obviously hasn't worked over many years. Here, Trump's critique of the Obama administration has for once been accurate.
The third approach, slow-motion reunification, finally seems to be emerging as the plan of choice for both Koreas. It treats each of the impossibles as resolvable over time.
Moon Jae-in adopted this approach to reunification from his mentor, former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. Cooperative economic projects are to be designed to gradually bridge the income gap between the two countries. Negotiations over a rail link and fishing rights in adjoining waters are meant to begin the process of harmonizing the political approaches of the two countries. According to a plan Moon delivered to Kim via USB drive at the April summit, South Korea would help its northern neighbor enter the global community by degrees so that, like a diver surfacing from a great depth, it wouldn't suffer the bends.
Denuclearization is equally tricky. But a slow-motion process might also square the circle. If North Korea and the United States agree to a staged reduction of the North's nuclear weapons in exchange for a gradually increasing set of incentives, Kim Jong Un could potentially have his nukes (for a while) and give them up as well (eventually).
Although the elimination of nuclear weapons may be the ultimate goal -- for North Korea as well as all other nuclear states -- denuclearization as such could prove a distraction in the medium term. After all, Kim Jong Un could decide to reverse such a commitment or continue to pursue the objective secretly. So the goal should really be to ensure that North Korea doesn't want to use those weapons -- or any other weapons -- because to do so would jeopardize its newfound position in the global economy. That was the US strategy toward China in the 1970s after it, too, had become a nuclear power and it worked without either denuclearization or regime change.
In other words, the worst position Trump could take in Singapore would be to demand that North Korea completely and immediately abandon its nuclear weaponry before it receives any benefits from a reduction in global economic sanctions. By contrast, a more gradual timeline for denuclearization could well dovetail with slow-motion reunification. What many Korea watchers insist is a fatal flaw in the Trump-Kim summit -- a completely different understanding of what denuclearization entails -- might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Such strategic ambiguity could allow both sides to make interim compromises and embrace an interim reduction in tensions even though they were incapable of really agreeing on the end game.
Which brings us back to all the skepticism surrounding the upcoming summit. Sure, it might end up more show than substance, but that would be fine. What the two Koreas really need is the equivalent of a papal benediction from Trump. Let the American president claim the credit, all of it, for processes of denuclearization and reunification meant to intersect at some distant horizon. Let him preen about his contributions to world peace (while he ratchets up war tensions against Iran). Let his fans chant and his Republican backers in Congress nominate him for a Nobel Prize. Let him cling to his misconceptions about North Korea, nukes, and the nature of geopolitics.
And then let him get out of the way so that the Koreans can do the real work, the historic work, the breakthrough work, of knitting the peninsula back together.
Amid congressional primary races and ahead of the November 6 election, new survey results indicate that a large majority of Democratic voters believe that promoting a "progressive agenda" should be the top priority of any Democrat running for Congress.
A CBS News/YouGov poll (pdf) asked Democrats, Independents, and those who lean toward voting for Democrats to choose between two options for what Democratic candidates' "first priority" should be. A full 72 percent said they want to see party candidates prioritize a progressive political agenda. The remaining 28 percent opted for merely opposing President Donald Trump's agenda.
Strong support for a progressive agenda was also reflected in responses to a question asked of everyone surveyed -- including Republicans and Republican-leaning voters -- that aimed to gauge the potential impact of endorsements: The largest amount of respondents, 29 percent, said they would be "more likely" to vote for a candidate endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), more than double that of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Although 29 percent also said they would be more likely to vote for someone backed by Trump, the president and Pelosi tied at 44 percent of respondents who said an endorsement would make them "less likely" to support a candidate. Asked about their views of Trump, the largest portion -- 41 percent -- said, "I am against Trump, period."
However, as the results indicate, Democratic voters want to see more than just opposition to the president; they want candidates for Congress who actually advocate for progressive policies. That momentum to propel progressives into political office has been seen in primary races throughout the nation -- even as the Democratic Party establishment plots against them.
Just last week alone, as In These Times reported, "at least eight candidates running on explicitly progressive platforms won out, including open socialists and political newcomers who took out longtime incumbents." Earlier this year, Marie Newman nearly ousted Rep. Bill Lipinski (Ill.), a Blue Dog Democrat who has come under fire for his record on reproductive and LGBTQ rights, healthcare, and immigration.
The rising support for progressive policies is even present in state and local races. Staunchly positioning herself as a progressive, education activist and actress Cynthia Nixon has mounted a fierce challenge from the left to New York's Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo.
"The 2018 midterm elections will be long remembered as a pivotal moment in American history because, if we are successful, we can put an end to the disastrous Trump agenda," Sanders said in March. "But we cannot defeat Trump and the Republican Party with the same playbook, or by supporting the same kind of candidates long favored by the political establishment and financial elite."
The only way to win back the states that swung toward Trump, and push the Democratic Party away from centrist policies, Sanders concluded, "is by supporting progressive candidates who have the guts to defend working-class families -- white, black, Latino, Asian American, Native American -- and take on the power and greed of the billionaire class."
Increased monopsony in labor markets has allowed corporations to gain outsized power over individuals, leaving workers with less agency over the choices in their lives. Labor market monopsony refers to the concentration of employers and the resulting power they have to shape labor markets to their advantage. More concentration leads to fewer employers who offer fewer jobs, which gives employers the power to set wages and working conditions on their own terms. As a result, many Americans have less leverage over employers on issues that define their economic security, including compensation and benefits.
This is bad news for workers, but even more so for those already facing structural barriers in the labor market. Women, people of color, and in particular, women of color, face extensive limits on their freedoms and choices due to pervasive structural discrimination. Consequently, these individuals and communities bear compounded negative effects from this economic trend.
First, labor market monopsony can increase the likelihood of discrimination in hiring. When there are fewer jobs, as happens under labor market monopsony, firms have a greater ability to be biased in their hiring choices. For example, take a company that has a preference for a specific demographic and needs to fill five jobs. If only three individuals of that preferred demographic apply, then they must choose from the rest of the applicant pool for the remaining two positions. However, monopsony power in the labor market gives firms more control to dictate their demand for labor. If the company decides to only offer three jobs, they could simply hire the three preferred applicants and disregard everyone else.
Monopsony power also depresses wages, while structural discrimination funnels women and people of color into low-wage jobs. Increased concentration of companies in the past few years led to a 14 percent decrease in wages for posted job listings. Meanwhile, women, people of color, and in particular, women of color are often directed into the lowest paying professions. This means that when increased monopsony leads to lower wages, women and people of color are most hurt. For those earning at the bottom of the income distribution, this can mean that necessities like food and housing become more difficult to afford month to month.
Increased monopsony also affects the ability of workers to move between jobs, especially for Americans who are held back in the economy by their gender, race, or both. When there are fewer job options in the labor market, workers have reduced power to leave work environments where they may face harassment from customers or be vulnerable to employer abuses. A clear example of this is food service workers in the restaurant industry. Restaurant workers, particularly women and women of color, often endure inappropriate behavior from customers, often with no recourse. Decreased job mobility increases the incentive to stay at such a job due to the lack of alternative employment options. Without job mobility, workers can become trapped in hostile workplaces.
Lastly, though recent debate on monopsony in the labor market suggests that workers are less likely to move between local labor markets than economists may predict, it's important to note that those who do move are those most likely to have the resources to. People and women of color hold substantially less wealth and have less community or family wealth. These individuals also earn some of the lowest incomes. Relocation involves many upfront costs that require savings or assistance from community supports and may simply be prohibitively expensive. With fewer workers unable to consider relocating for work, competition in local labor markets that are available to these groups decreases further.
Increased monopsony power of firms in labor markets is a problem for the bulk of the workforce, but it's important to consider how demographic groups are differentially affected by this trend. Women, people of color, and women of color are disproportionately in low-wage work and face less competitive labor markets overall. When increased monopsony decreases available jobs, lowers wages, and reduces job mobility for everyone, women, people of color, and women of color face disproportionate constraints in their lives.Truthout is funded by readers, not by corporations, lobbyists or government interests. Help us publish more stories like this one: Click here to make a tax-deductible donation!
Donald Trump and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images; Win McNamee / Getty Images)Truthout won't back down from taking Trump and his cronies to task. Click here to support journalism that holds those in power accountable!
Last week we found out that Michael Cohen, President Trump's now-notorious fixer, had been working on that Trump Tower Moscow deal much longer than was previously known. According to Yahoo News, congressional investigators and prosecutors have emails and text messages showing that Cohen was still working the deal with Trump associate and government informant Felix Sater well into 2016, even as Trump was sewing up the Republican nomination. Sater is the one who famously sent Cohen the email in 2015 that said "I will get Putin on this program, and we will get Donald elected." Cohen had insisted that the deal was scrapped at the end of 2015 and that turns out to be a lie. Shocking, I know.
Then there was the byzantine story of Michael Cohen and some Qatari investors in a basketball league, who were offering bribes and who may be involved in one of the Steele dossier's most intriguing rumors: the one about a quid pro quo involving the Trump campaign and the multibillion-dollar sale of one-fifth of the Russian fossil fuel giant Rosneft to the Swiss trading firm Glencore and Qatar’s sovereign investment fund. Did I mention that it was byzantine? You can read all about it in this Slate article by Jeremy Stahl.
On Saturday the New York Times dropped a bombshell about yet another meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and some foreign agents offering to "help" with his dad's presidential campaign, this one in August of 2016, three months before the election. The group that met at Trump Tower included George Nader, an emissary for two wealthy princes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Israeli social media specialist Joel Zamel and former Blackwater owner Erik Prince. (Nader and Prince also attended that suspicious Seychelles meeting with Russian and UAE officials a week before the inauguration)
The Times reported that Donald Jr. "responded approvingly," and Nader became a Trump intimate who subsequently met frequently with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn, the future (if short-lived) national security adviser. After the election, a company associated with Zamel gave Nader an "elaborate" presentation about how important social media had been to Trump's win and Nader, for unclear reasons, paid Zamel "a large sum of money, described by one associate as up to $2 million."
Everyone denies there was anything untoward about any of it, of course. They're all as innocent as newborn babes. But all these overlapping chess moves might lead one to take a second look at Trump's astonishing decision last summer to take sides against Qatar, a longtime US ally, in the dispute between that country and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Those were just three big new stories that hit last week, opening up a whole different line of inquiry about foreign interference in the 2016 election. And yet, despite all the guilty pleas, indictments, interviews and subpoenas, two (admittedly tainted) congressional investigations and mountains of press reports that indicate something extremely unusual happened in the Trump presidential campaign, the conservative media has embarked on a crusade from an alternate universe.
In the right wing's alternative version of reality, none of these stories about Trump and his associates meeting with foreign actors eager to help him sabotage his rival's campaign, or large sums of unaccounted-for foreign money being funneled to his personal fixer, or even the obvious conflicts of interest suggesting that flat-out corruption is the most reasonable explanation for Trump's unpredictable foreign policy, even exist. In their reality, federal law enforcement intervened in the election to deny Donald Trump the presidency on behalf of Hillary Clinton. You may think they had a funny way of showing it, since they kept their investigation top secret while the FBI director went out of his way to sully Hillary Clinton's reputation at the last minute. But that's the conservative media's story and they are sticking to it -- at least for now.
The details in actual reality are pretty straightforward. The FBI had been keeping tabs on Paul Manafort and Carter Page for some time, well before they signed on to the 2016 Trump campaign, because of their suspicious ties to the Kremlin and other high-level politicians in Moscow's orbit. In Page's case, he had been approached by Russian agents some years back, while Manafort was known to be engaging in financial crimes involved with Ukrainian oligarchs. It is not surprising that law enforcement antennae went up when people such as that joined a presidential campaign.
Then there was the hacking, the social media manipulation and the hiring of retired Gen. Michael Flynn, formerly the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who had been fired by President Obama and had a huge ax to grind. Then a young foreign policy guy, George Papadopoulos, got drunk in London and spilled to an Australian diplomat that he'd been approached by Russians who told him they had all kinds of dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The New York Times and the Washington Post reported over the weekend that all of this led the FBI in the summer of 2016 to engage a longtime Republican foreign policy expert who had operated as an informant in the past to approach Papadopoulos, Page and Flynn to see what he could find out. We don't know whether this source he turned up anything, but investigating the possibility that campaign officials were being set up by foreign actors for blackmail or undue influence would be a standard counter-intelligence operation. Having an informant check it out is more discreet than sending in some G-men to interrogate the officials and, as I mentioned, the fact that the FBI never breathed a word of any of this during the campaign makes the suggestion that they were trying to help Hillary Clinton entirely absurd.
You will recall that Rudy Giuliani blabbed a while back that Team Trump was planning to "make a fuss" on the one-year anniversary of the Mueller investigation. This seems to be part of their coordinated extravaganza, with the president himself leading the charge:
Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI “SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.” Andrew McCarthy says, “There’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.” If so, this is bigger than Watergate!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018
Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president. It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a “hot” Fake News story. If true - all time biggest political scandal!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2018
This has been percolating for some time on the right, courtesy of House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who has been demanding that the name of this informant be released to him, and even threatening Attorney General Jeff Sessions with a contempt citation. The FBI and the Justice Department have refused, citing the usual danger to "sources and methods," but the name has been circulating in right-wing media for days anyway and is now public. The stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post are likely heavily sourced by this coordinated "fuss."
I'm not sure what was accomplished by this, or by the weird insistence among Trump supporters that this somehow proves the Mueller investigation is tainted. This argument by law professor Jonathan Turley seems to rest on the premise that the FBI was being unfair to the Trump campaign because, in keeping the investigation secret, it didn't give the campaign the opportunity to let the public know that it was under investigation for possible conspiracy with a foreign adversary. Does that make sense?
On Sunday, Trump made his next move:
I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018
The Justice Department responded obediently that it had asked the inspector general to "expand the ongoing review ... to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation" launched in 2016. Trump must feel very powerful.
This tweet on Sunday night by HUD official Lynne Patton perfectly illustrates how reality is perceived in the Trumpian alternate universe:
Dear Fellow Americans:
Forget Russian interference. There is now DEFINITIVE PROOF that the @FBI infiltrated one American campaign for the benefit of another American campaign. @realDonaldTrump was right all along. #VindicationIsComing#AndSheStillLost#HesYourPresident pic.twitter.com/bYVd2mcvjU
Someone needs to remind these people that they won the election. They seem to have forgotten.
Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), not pictured, in the Cabinet Room of the White House May 17, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Andrew Harrer-Pool / Getty Images)
After handing huge tax cuts to the country's richest people and taking away health care insurance for millions, Donald Trump took another giant step toward abandoning his populist agenda last week. Instead of having Medicare negotiate to bring drug prices down, Trump put out a plan that is focused on making foreign countries pay more for drugs.
The most immediate and direct effect of this effort, insofar as it succeeds, will be to increase the profits of the major US drug manufacturers. This is a high priority for all those people who own lots of stock in Pfizer and Merck, but it is not a real goal for the other 99 percent of the country.
It's true that higher profits could lead to some additional spending on innovation in future years. But just like the claim that the corporate tax cut will lead to a huge flood of investment, good luck trying to find it in the data.
It is also wrong to imagine that the other 99 percent benefit when Pfizer and Merck can get more profits by making our trading partners pay higher prices. First, insofar as foreigners pay Pfizer and Merck more for drugs, they will have less money to buy US car parts or Boeing planes. Other things equal, insofar as Trump's crusade for higher drug prices succeeds, we can anticipate a larger trade deficit in manufactured goods. This ought to cheer up his supporters in the industrial states.
It gets even worse. As people familiar with negotiations know, if you get more concessions in one area, you get less in other areas. This means that if Trump can pressure our trading partner into paying our drug companies higher prices, he will be less able to use pressure to open doors for US exports. This is yet another way in which he is abandoning US manufacturing workers to increase drug company profits.
While Trump is making his Big Pharma First agenda clear, we should be thinking more carefully about a reasonable agenda for drug prices. In this context, we have unfortunately allowed reality to be turned on its head.
Most of the discussion proceeds as though we want the government to intervene in the market to bring drug prices down. In fact, the reason drug prices are high is the government has intervened by giving drug companies patent monopolies and related forms of protection.
Without these government-granted monopolies, drugs would almost invariably be cheap. Few drugs are expensive to manufacture. In some cases, high-quality generic versions in India cost less than one percent of the price of the patent-protected drug in the United States. In the free market, drugs are cheap. It is government-imposed patent monopolies that make them expensive.
Patents do serve the purpose of providing an incentive to innovate and develop new drugs, but the question is whether they are the best mechanism for this purpose. Patent monopolies mean that we are asking people who are sick and dying to pay for research that has already been done. It's like having the people whose house is on fire cough up the money to finance the fire department.
It doesn't help that the payers are often third parties, like private insurance companies or the government. In this case, we are expecting people facing serious health problems, and/or their families, to devote their efforts to lobbying to have the cost of their drugs covered.
There are alternatives, most obviously just paying for the research upfront. The federal government already spends more than $30 billion a year on biomedical research, mostly through the National Institutes of Health. While most of this money supports basic research, the government could double or triple this funding to finance the development and testing of new drugs. With this policy, all new drugs could be sold as generics.
Not only would this policy give us cheap drugs, it would likely give us better and more honest research. While the private sector could still do the bulk of the research, a condition of getting a government contract would be that all findings are made public as soon as practical.
This means that it would be possible to determine which drugs are best for specific patients. For example, some drugs might be better for men than women or be more likely to have serious side effects for some types of people. If the test results were fully public it would be easier for doctors to pick the best drug for their patients. It would also provide important information to other researchers about where gaps in treatment exist, which may not currently be recognized.
Ending patent monopoly financing would also end the incentives drug companies now have to misrepresent the safety and effectiveness of their products. As every Econ 101 student knows, when a government monopoly allows a company to sell a product at a markup of 10,000 percent, it gives the company enormous incentive to push its product, even if it means being dishonest.
Getting beyond the patent system of financing drug research is not an impossible leap. A bill introduced last year that was cosponsored by 17 senators, would have included funding for clinical trials, with successful drugs then sold as generics.
The pharmaceutical industry will fight like crazy to block any efforts to modernize the system of financing drug research. They are undoubtedly feeling very confident now that they have a lackey in the White House, but if people understand what is at stake, that could change quickly.Stories like this are more important than ever! To make sure Truthout can keep publishing them, please give a tax-deductible donation today.
Last week, Vermont passed a law that would facilitate the state's importation of prescription drugs wholesale from Canada, which would represent the state's effort to tackle head-on the issue of constantly climbing drug prices. However, there are some challenges that lie ahead for importation champions, and what that shows about the future of the drug pricing fight.
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Last week, Vermont passed a first-in-the-nation law that would facilitate the state's importation of prescription drugs wholesale from Canada. It represents the state's effort to tackle head-on the issue of constantly climbing drug prices.
Other states, including Louisiana and Utah, have debated similar legislation and are watching Vermont's progress closely.
After all, the issue of drug importation polls well across the political spectrum and has been endorsed by politicians ranging from candidate Donald Trump, before he became president, to liberal firebrand Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
So how much impact might a state law like this actually have?
Trump has since stepped back from his campaign position, and the White House did not include drug importation in its proposal this month to bring down drug prices.
And cautions abound that importation may not actually save that much money as questions swirl about whether the policy undermines drug safety standards.
Kaiser Health News breaks down the challenges that lie ahead for importation champions, and what it shows about the future of the drug pricing fight.States Needs Approval to Launch Any Kind of Importation Program
Just having a law like Vermont's on the books is not enough to legalize importation. The next step is for the state to craft a proposal outlining how its initiative would save money without jeopardizing public health. The proposal, in turn, is then subject to approval by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
HHS has had yea-or-nay power over state importation programs since at least 2003, because of a provision included in the law creating Medicare Part D. But it's never actually approved such a plan. And -- despite mounting political pressure -- there's little reason to think it will do so now.
In the past weeks, HHS Secretary Alex Azar has come out strongly against importation, calling it a "gimmick" that wouldn't meaningfully bring down prices.
He also has argued that the US government cannot adequately certify the safety of imported drugs.
HHS declined to comment beyond Azar's public remarks.
Importation backers -- including the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP), which helped craft Vermont's bill and has worked with state lawmakers -- hope he'll reverse these positions. But few are optimistic that this will happen.
"I don't expect that Vermont alone will be able to bring sufficient pressure to bear on Secretary Azar to convince him to change his mind," said Rachel Sachs, an associate law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who tracks drug-pricing laws.A State's Importation Program Would Also Require Buy-In From Canadian Wholesalers. What's in It for Them?
Perhaps not much. Canadian wholesalers might stand to lose financially.
After all, pharmaceutical companies that market drugs in the United States might limit how much they sell to companies that have supply chains across the border. They could also raise their Canadian list prices.
"Almost inevitably, Canadians would cease getting better prices," said Michael Law, a pharmaceutical policy expert and associate professor at the University of British Columbia's Center for Health Services and Policy Research. "If I were a [Canadian] company, I wouldn't want that to occur -- and [drugmakers] could take steps to limit the supply coming north. … It probably results in [Canadians] getting higher prices."
Trish Riley, NASHP's executive director, dismissed this concern, saying some Canadian wholesalers have indicated interest in contracting with Vermont.
Vermont would still have to prove to HHS that its proposal would yield "substantial" savings. This won't be easy.
In fact, some analysts suggest savings would be limited to a narrow slice of the market.
Importation could bring down the price of some generics and off-patent drugs by increasing competition, suggested Ameet Sarpatwari, a lawyer and epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School who studies drug pricing.
Many generic drugs have also seen substantial price hikes in recent years -- but curbing these costs is only part of the equation.
"It's not a panacea for the drug-pricing reform or high drug prices as a whole," Sarpatwari said.
Branded drugs, which drive much of the American problem with prescription price tags, are distributed by a single company and, therefore, that company has greater control over supply and pricing pressure.Drug Saferty Looms Over the Debate
The worry, according to critics, is that American regulators can't effectively determine whether imported drugs meet the same safety standards as those sold directly in the United States. A year ago, a bipartisan group of former Food and Drug Administration commissioners made that very argument in a letter to Congress.
Azar has argued this same point, as has the influential pharmaceutical industry, represented by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
"Lawmakers cannot guarantee the authenticity and safety of prescription medicines when they bypass the FDA approval process," said Caitlin Carroll, a PhRMA spokeswoman, in a statement released on Vermont's law.
This position, though, draws skepticism.
In cases of drug shortages or public health emergencies, the United States has imported drugs. And many Canadian and American drugs are made and approved under similar standards, Law noted.
"In terms of general safety, it is kind of nonsense. … We share plants," he said. "The idea that Canadian drugs are somehow unsafe is a red herring."
An argument in favor of plans like Vermont's focuses on the idea that because the state would import drugs wholesale -- rather than enabling individuals to shop internationally -- it would be able to address concerns about safety or quality, Riley said.
Plus, Sarpatwari suggested, the government has resources to track drugs that come from Canada, especially if a drug were recalled or ultimately found to have problems.
"Our technology is catching up with our ability to do effective monitoring," he said. "Particularly when it's coming from a well-regulated country, I think there is less fear over safety."States Have Been Leading the Charge on Addressing the Drug Price Issue, but Their Efforts Reach Only so Far
The federal government has taken little action to curb rising drug prices -- though HHS now says it plans to change that.
So far, state legislatures have been pushing for laws to penalize price gouging, promote price transparency or limit what the state will pay.
But state initiatives often require federal permission.
Vermont's law, which is arguably meaningless without HHS' say-so, is just one example.
Sarpatwari pointed to a request from Massachusetts to develop a drug formulary for its Medicaid insurance program -- theoretically giving the state more leverage to negotiate cheaper prices by reducing how many drugs it's required to cover.
Meanwhile, Sachs said Vermont's law, and others like it, will challenge the White House to show its mettle in taking on drug costs.
"We're seeing explicit actions by the states to put pressure back on the federal government," Sachs said. "The administration is publicly committed to lowering drug prices. It is being asked to make decisions which will, in some ways, show how much it really is attempting to accomplish that goal."
KHN's coverage of prescription drug development, costs and pricing is supported by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
In recent months, much has been written and discussed in the US mainstream media about the possibility of all-our war between Israel and its adversaries in the region. In reality, Israel has been ratcheting up tensions in the region for years, conducting largely one-sided acts of aggression against Syria, Lebanon and Iran in the name of "deterrence."
Israeli Merkava tanks are deployed near the Israeli-Syrian border on May 10, 2018, in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. (Photo: Lior Mizrahi / Getty Images)Want to see more coverage of the issues that matter? Make a donation to Truthout to ensure that we can publish more original stories like this one.
In recent months, writers have poured sweat and ink over the pages of The New York Times and other leading Western journals about the possibility of war between Israel and its adversaries in the region; but the truth is that Israel has been at war in Syria for years. The fight has been almost entirely one-sided, with Israel striking its enemies whenever it pleases, receiving little to no backlash from Hezbollah, Assad, Iran or Syria's emerging hegemon, Russia. Although US media outlets have paid more attention to Israel's role in Syria since Assad downed an Israeli fighter jet in February, mainstream journals have largely blacked out Israeli airstrikes in Syria in recent years (a prime example being Thomas Friedman's recent falsification of history in the Sunday Times). Hence, in order to even begin an intelligent discussion on these issues, we must start by reviewing the record of Israel's conduct in Syria and Lebanon since the outbreak of the civil war.
Over the past six years, Israel has launched at least 100 attacks against convoys in Syria that were allegedly carrying weapons (perhaps advanced missiles) to Hezbollah and other Shi'ite militias. In February, the Guardian reported that Israel had been conducting near weekly strikes in Syria for the past 18 months, and there's little reason to think that the rate of attacks has since ebbed. These attacks, which escalated under Trump, target Syrian government forces, Hezbollah and, as of late, Iran.
Israel often launches these strikes, as well as reconnaissance missions, from the sky over Lebanon, violating sovereign Lebanese airspace on a daily basis. Lebanon has proved powerless to deter Israel. Last September, Israeli jets buzzed so low over southern Lebanon that they broke windows, causing a panic. Syria sometimes fires at Israeli jets flying over Lebanon near the Syrian-Lebanese border, but Assad's anti-aircraft fire always misses, with the noted single exception. Nonetheless, Israel retaliates massively against Assad for even attempting self-defense, often destroying Syrian anti-aircraft batteries. After Syria shot down the Israeli jet in February -- a major offense since it put a small blemish on the otherwise almighty image of the Israeli military -- Israel took out nearly half of Assad's anti-aircraft missile defenses, thus giving Israel nearly unfettered access to the Syrian and Lebanese skies. The latest reports suggest that Russia will soon supply the Syrian government with new S-300 anti-aircraft defense systems. Israel has promised to strike Syria if these batteries were obtained and deployed by Assad, showing once again that the enemy's attempts at deterrence and defense, however feeble, are red lines for the Israeli military.
The one check on Israeli air power has apparently been Russia. Jerusalem and Moscow maintain open lines of communication in order to avoid any friction between the two nuclear-armed powers. Reportedly, had Russian President Vladimir Putin not called Netanyahu and told him to rein in the airstrikes, Israel would have bombed even more targets in Syria in retaliation for the downing of its jet. However, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently told Israeli news site Walla, "We will maintain total freedom of action [in Syria]. We will not accept any limitation when it comes to the defense of our security interests," not from Russia or any other country. Thus far, Israel's strikes against Russian allies in Syria (namely, Assad and Iran) have apparently elicited little more than firm rhetoric from the Kremlin. Given the lack of Russian military response to Israel, we can infer that Putin isn't willing to risk a direct, all-out war with Israel, and consequently the United States, in order to protect its Middle Eastern partners from Israeli bombing. This tactical decision may result from a conclusion by Putin that the United States no longer aims to oust Assad, and so he chooses to tolerate Israel's aggression in service of his larger goal of keeping his Syrian client in power.
In recent years, the border between Israel and Lebanon has remained mostly quiet except for occasional minor skirmishes, which Israel then escalates as a matter of policy. For example, in 2015, after Israel assassinated an Iranian colonel and a high-ranking Hezbollah officer in the Syrian Golan Heights, Hezbollah launched six guided missiles into Israel, killing two Israeli soldiers and injuring several civilians. In response, Israel fired heavy artillery and mortar shells filled with the chemical weapon white phosphorus across the Israel-Lebanon border, killing a UN peacekeeper. (The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon has documented repeated use of white phosphorus by the Israeli military in Lebanon, an especially ugly munition that Israel admitted to using during the Second Lebanon War.) Occasionally, we hear hardliners on both sides calling for the annihilation of the other country -- led by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on the Lebanese side and Education Minister Naftali Bennett on the Israeli side -- but most agree that neither Hezbollah nor Israel are presently eager to act on these genocidal threats.
Lastly, we have to acknowledge accounts of Israel continuing to support various Sunni rebel groups in the Syrian Golan Heights. Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon admitted in 2015 that Israel had been sending medical and humanitarian aid to jihadist groups in southern Syria. According to a paper published by the Institute for National Security Studies (Tel Aviv), there have been widespread reports of understandings and coordination between Israel and al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria. Back in 2014, the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), alongside al-Nusra, seized control of most of the Syrian Golan Heights using the weapons, cash and ammunition supplied by the CIA via the Military Operations Command (MOC) based in Amman, Jordan; since Donald Trump shut down the CIA-led MOC base, it appears that Israel has replaced the United States as the supplier of weapons, ammunition and money to non-jihadist Sunni groups in southwest Syria (although, of course, this supply chain reaches back to the United States, directly or indirectly). Furthermore, Israeli journalist Elizabeth Tsurkov reports that rebels have said that Israel sometimes provides these Sunni groups with direct military assistance against southern Syria's local ISIS (also known as Daesh) affiliate, launching drone strikes and arming them with high-precision and anti-tank missiles. Tragically, these rebels have been hoping that Israel would help them overthrow Assad, but with 70 percent of the country now back in his hands, that is no longer on the table.A Bull in a China Shop
So, with the near history in clear view, how do we interpret Israel's present aims in Syria?
Late last year, Major Gen. Amir Eshel, then the outgoing commander of the Israeli Air Force, spoke about current Israeli military doctrine rather honestly. He described the Israel Defense Forces' approach as that of "a bull in a china shop." Eshel told Haaretz, "When Israel has a vested interest, it acts irrespective of the risks. I think that in the view of our enemies, as I understand things, this language is clear here and also understood beyond the Middle East." In other words, the Israeli military is playing the "madman" of President Richard Nixon's (in)famous "madman theory," which says that if your adversary thinks that you are a loose cannon, that you are willing to do anything (e.g., drop a nuclear bomb, resort to the use of chemical weapons, inflict massive destruction in response to minor provocations, etc.), then the adversary might be willing to stand down. (This theory actually dates back to Machiavelli.)
This method of "peace through deterrence" fits well within Israel's core expansionist, militarist doctrine of the Iron Wall, not to mention US neoconservatism. But we have to be careful about our language, because "deterrence" is a polite-sounding, policy-planning term that often obscures outright aggression and brutality. Hence, when Israeli snipers kill dozens of Palestinian protesters in Gaza and injure thousands, Israel is said to be deterring Palestinians from crossing its border. It is deterrence, yes, but that term alone fails to capture the larger picture of Israel incarcerating almost 2 million Palestinians in Gaza for over a decade. Similarly, one could say that the Trump administration is deterring migrants from crossing the US/Mexico border by kidnapping their children upon arrival in the United States, or that a mafia don is deterring a shopkeeper from pledging allegiance to a rival don by breaking her nose; but the liberal-hearted would probably cringe at such a milquetoast characterization of these analogous scenarios, revealing how progressive some people are, except on the issue of Palestine.
Israel claims to be acting in the name of defense and national security. However, to my knowledge, few people have tried to seriously argue that Israel's attacks against Assad, Iran and Hezbollah really constitute preemptive self-defense under international law, seeing as these arguments collapse upon even cursory analysis. No UN Security Council resolution has sanctioned the attacks and hardly anyone pretends that Israel faces an imminent attack from Assad and company. (Even if we assume for the sake of argument that the drone that penetrated Israel's airspace in February was armed and Iranian, this attack would've come after Israel had already repeatedly attacked Iran in Syria.) On the other hand, Assad could much more plausibly make the case for preemptively attacking Israel, seeing as Israel has already aggressed against his regime repeatedly for decades, including the most recent intensification of hostilities.
Among Israel's stated "vested interests" in Lebanon and Syria are the following: blocking Hezbollah from acquiring advanced weaponry (e.g., guided missiles) and building a factory to produce the same; keeping Shi'ite militias away from its northern border; and preventing Iran from establishing a military foothold. Additionally, Israel had threatened to attack Lebanon if its citizens choose wrongly in the country's recent parliamentary elections. In late January, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis told Haaretz that if Hezbollah manages to "elbow out the Sunni camp in the upcoming May 2018 elections," then the Israeli army "is ready and prepared ... and will be improving its readiness this year." So, according to the general, the self-proclaimed "only democracy in the Middle East" considers democracy in Lebanon a red line if it goes against Israel's vested interests, just as Israel and the United States found the outcome of the free and fair Palestinian elections of 2006 intolerable (Hamas won) and then tried to stage a coup.
We can uncover further objectives from Israeli/US actions. The United States, with its attack dog Israel, definitely wants to weaken Assad as much as possible before the dictator re-establishes full control of the country. Israel has accepted Bashar al-Assad at its northern border for most of his tenure. When the Bush Jr. administration approached then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his input on the prospect of toppling Assad, Sharon said that Israel preferred the devil it knows. Whether or not this same preference still exists in Jerusalem today, the United States no longer appears to be offering regime change in Syria as an option, likely wanting to avoid direct confrontation with Assad's main backer, Russia. However, under the cloud of the ongoing civil war, the US-led coalition is succeeding in undermining their enemy Assad, so that when the dust settles, there will be a weak regime on Israel's northern border.
The conventional analysis says that the last major war between Israel and Hezbollah began because each side miscalculated how the other would respond to provocation. In an atmosphere today where all parties are armed to the teeth, a similar miscalculation could lead to a very bloody all-out war in which civilians (Israeli, Syrian and Lebanese) would likely perish in great numbers. While Hezbollah possesses a significant arsenal of missiles, it is clearly no match for Israel, which has one of the mightiest militaries on the planet. It would be grossly irrational for Hezbollah to start a war now or in the near future. However, if Hezbollah felt backed into a corner -- say, by Israel assassinating more of its leaders in the wake of Hezbollah's success in these past elections -- Hezbollah might lash out thinking that it's fighting for its survival, potentially triggering Assad and Iran to come to its defense. Again, the great powers Russia and the United States loom large in this scary array of alliances.
On the other hand, we could see Israel and the United States consciously initiate war with Iran et al. Warmongering rhetoric has been emanating from the Trump administration for months. In February, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump's former national security adviser, said, "the time is now ... to act against Iran." Trump has since replaced McMaster with ultra-hawk John Bolton, who has been calling for regime change in Tehran for years, most recently in front of a conference of Iranian defectors in late March. Not to be outdone by the White House, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has laid the groundwork for war herself, speaking belligerently while standing in front of a hunk of an Iranian-supplied Houthi missile a few months ago. Haley very likely coordinated her PR stunt with Netanyahu, who performed with a hunk of alleged Iranian hardware at a security conference in Munich. Netanyahu's presentation, along with the announcement by the Israeli military that the downed Iranian drone was armed (contrary to its initial statement), suggest that the Israeli government may be preparing its public for a major war with Iran. Indeed, Israel's major strike against Iran in Syria last month, which killed another senior Iranian officer, and Israel's seismic strike against Assad and Iran on April 30 are both major provocations that succeeded in eliciting a restrained military response from Iran. So, it would appear that Israel, with the backing of the new Trump war cabinet, aimed and succeeded in inciting its enemies into attacking Israel on its own soil. Not satisfied with the low-grade hostilities thus far, in response to Iran's restrained retaliation, Israel launched another massive attack on Assad and Iran, yet another dangerous provocation.
Meanwhile, diplomatic options remain on the table. The Iran nuclear deal, which Netanyahu and the Israel lobby in the United States staunchly opposed, has now been acknowledged as an overwhelming success by virtually the entire world, including the Israeli military. The US and Israel have now nixed that particular diplomatic route for the time being, again revealing their desire for war, not peace. Nonetheless, at a later date, this multinational agreement could be reinstated by the United States. And we have even more opportunities for peace through negotiation available to us. For example, almost all the countries of the Middle East support making the region free of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; unfortunately, two countries remain notably absent from this consensus -- Syria and Israel. Israel would almost definitely refuse to give up its nuclear and chemical weapons arsenal of its own volition, but its boss, the United States, could pressure Israel into joining this agreement in a deal that would see Russia compelling its client, Syria, into doing the same. Lastly, ending the occupation, including immediately and unconditionally lifting the brutal, decade-long siege of Gaza in accordance with international demands, would remove one huge cause of contempt for Israel in the Arab world.
Unfortunately, the present regimes in Washington and Jerusalem have little to no appetite for diplomacy. Instead, present trends will probably continue, bringing us closer and closer to the precipice of sustained, high-key war between very well-armed regional powers.
Mt. Rainier. (Photo: George Artwood; Edited: LW / TO)
The speed of planetary warming and all of its subsequent consequences continues to outpace previous worst-case scientific predictions. While some people are already exploring adaptation measures, such as towing Antarctic icebergs to Cape Town, South Africa, as a solution to an ongoing water crisis, the denialist movement in the US continues to reach new lows.
Mt. Rainier. (Photo: George Artwood; Edited: LW / TO)This Truthout original was only possible because of our readers' ongoing support. Can you make a monthly donation to ensure we can publish more like it? Click here to give.
"One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise." -- Aldo Leopold
Mountaineering, which has become more of a balm and solace for me than ever before, is an increasingly bittersweet experience. While the internal freedoms experienced continue to match the external while up in the high country, being on and amongst glaciers today entails being on one of the most dramatic front lines of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).
A small team of us worked our way across icy slopes of Mount Rainier in Washington State en route to a satellite peak recently, weaving our way through and around crevasses, only to find our route ultimately made impassible. According to route photos and information from just a few years ago, the third glacier we were to traverse had melted and broken up dramatically, leaving us with no choice but to turn around and plan another route, for another day.
Despite Mount Rainier being the most glaciated peak in the contiguous 48 US states, it is losing its ice rapidly now. Like most glaciers around the world, we are watching them vanish before our very eyes. At current rates of planetary warming, we will almost assuredly be hard pressed to find an active glacier in the 48 US states by 2100.
But it becomes obvious that these dramatic changes should be expected when we look at the bigger picture of ACD today.
Earth's worst-case warming scenarios are probably the most likely now. Ice and glaciers around the world are melting far more quickly than believed possible even just a short while ago -- the Greenland Ice Sheet is threatening to collapse, and is already slowing ocean currents, which could collapse far faster than expected as well.We are losing potentially dozens of species every day.
Sea levels are rising at an increasingly rapid pace, and projections have already doubled for this century alone, not even to speak of what the next century will bring. The seas are warming as well, with each of the last five years having set a new record for the warmest they have ever been since humans have been on the planet. Widespread death of marine life is at a record pace, and we are likely already on the edge of an anoxic event as oceans are depleted of oxygen. Half of all the marine life on the planet has already been lost since just 1970.
Already in the Sixth Mass Extinction Event Earth has known, this one triggered by humans, we are losing potentially dozens of species every day already.
The Great Barrier Reef, the single largest reef system on Earth, has been changed "forever," according to scientists, who have described the bleaching events that are wiping out the reef as "unprecedented" and "catastrophic."
Freshwater from melting glaciers is likely already shifting the circulation of the oceans, causing scientists to warn that one of the worst-case predictions about ACD could already be happening. This circulation shift will ultimately lead to faster-rising seas and superstorms, along with shifting of entire climates for vast swaths of the planet.
Esteemed 86-year-old social scientist Mayer Hillman recently told the Guardian, humans are "doomed" due to what we have done to the planet. "The outcome is death, and it's the end of most life on the planet because we're so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so."
While people like Hillman and dispatches like this continue to show us how very far along we already are regarding ACD, the time to savor our relationship to the planet -- and each other -- has never been more pressing than it is right now.
We must take this information in if we are to have an accurate map of reality, so as to better navigate the time we have left on Earth.Earth
While it's long been known that nations emitting the least carbon around the world are those most damaged by ACD, a recent study showed another layer to this effect: "tropical inequality," is how the study puts their finding, which shows that the countries emitting the least carbon are also typically those which experience the greatest temperature swings from ACD, along with their respective impacts like droughts, floods, wildfires and extreme weather events.
While the UN has projected, conservatively, 200 million ACD refugees by 2050, even within the US, thousands of people are already facing displacement, and the number is sure to grow.Marine salvage experts are hoping to use ships to tug icebergs from the Antarctic to Cape Town in order to help create a temporary solution to that city's ongoing drought.
Yet another study has shown how ACD is shifting the times nature is able to eat, this time focusing in on 88 specific species that are being impacted. The study showed that these species' biological feeding times are moving out of sync an average of six days every decade. For example, nearby where I live, Lake Washington's plant plankton are blooming 34 days earlier than the zooplankton that eat them, which means the entire base of that ecosystem's food chain is being deleteriously impacted.
Another report showed that as the planet continues to warm apace, energy demand for air conditioners and refrigeration are projected to jump 90 percent over 2017 levels. This also, of course, brings about a corresponding increase in CO2 emissions from the increased use of such devices.
Lastly in this section, as glacier melting around the planet continues to increase, the melting is destabilizing mountain slopes and literally causing mountainsides to collapse, sometimes falling into the sea.Water
Rising sea levels are now threatening to burst a more than $1 trillion real estate bubble, as a recent study has shown a "pricing signal from climate change." The study revealed how in Miami, housing values of homes located at lower elevations have not kept apace with rates of appreciation of homes located at higher elevations along the coastal areas. Another even broader study, "Disaster on the Horizon: The Price Effect of Sea Level Rise," showed that homes which are exposed to sea level rise are already being priced 7 percent lower than homes the same distance from the coast but which are less exposed to flooding.
Given that most people's savings are tied up in their home, when the home loses all of its value from sea level rise causing an economic bubble to burst, one can imagine the myriad problems this will generate across South Florida.Large portions of the Western US are expected to have "above-average" potential for "significant" wildfire activity this year.
Almost needless to say, Florida's Everglades National Park is under threat not just from sea level rise (the highest point in the park is four feet), but from the fact that the mangroves there are facing death also from the rising seas, according to a recent study.
The mangroves are literally being drowned by rising seas, and consequently, the land they hold steady from the sea is being washed away, allowing the seas to encroach upon more land even faster. "They are done," Randall Parkinson, affiliated with the study, told the Guardian of the mangroves. "The sea will continue to rise and the question now is whether they will be replaced by open water. I think they will. The outlook is pretty grim. What's mind boggling is that we are facing the inundation of south Florida this century."
Up the coast from Florida in North Carolina, "sunny day flooding" (caused by sea level rise) is happening decades sooner than previously predicted, according to a recent report. "Sunny day flooding" is tidal flooding, which is a (for now) temporary inundation of low-lying areas during high tides.
Another recent study showed how Galveston, Texas, is under increasing threat from sea level rise, as this will make the island that much more vulnerable to more extreme hurricanes in the future. The study showed how hurricanes of the future will cause 65 percent more people there to become displaced, and five times as many buildings to be damaged. The study also showed how, already, more than 60 percent of the Gulf Coast and most of the bay shorelines are already retreating in those areas where 25 percent of the entire population of Texas lives.The NOAA recently confirmed a sharp rise in methane -- a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than CO2 -- in the atmosphere over a 10-year time frame.
Meanwhile, the US military paid for a study on sea level rise, and the results are sobering. The study showed that thousands of these low-lying tropical islands' populations will become rootless; and their water supplies are already threatened "in the very near future" -- an issue that will, of course, bring security concerns of its own.
The other side of the coin of ACD's impacts in the watery realms is drought.
A recent report showed that droughts across the Southwestern US will continue and prolong the threat of wildfires in that region. With mountain snowpacks already low in many of those states, such as Colorado and New Mexico, this summer will likely prove to be yet another exceptional wildfire season.
Another recent study showed how farmers along the arid-humid boundary that runs along the 100th meridian in the US will most likely be hit by dramatic ACD impacts like drought. The arid-humid boundary has shifted 100 miles eastward, bringing arid conditions further into what was formerly farmland.
Ongoing drought across Kansas has set the stage for what could be that state's smallest wheat crop since 1989, likely a harbinger of things to come as that region continues to dry further.
In California, another study has underscored what we've known for years now, which is that extreme droughts and floods there are set to worsen as ACD progresses. The frequency of what the study refers to as "precipitation whiplash events" of shifting from droughts to floods will worsen across the state, but in Southern California, will double by 2100.
Over in Afghanistan, the lowest snowfall and rain in years over this last winter has led to the onset of a major drought that is already sounding alarms across that US-occupied war-torn country. Twenty of the 34 provinces of that country are already "suffering badly," according to a report.
An overheated atmosphere is able to hold more moisture, hence the ongoing increase of dramatic rainfall events like the recent one in India, where a rainstorm killed at least 91 people, and injured more than 160 as houses collapsed and trees were toppled.
Meanwhile, up in Alaska, this winter saw a record low in sea ice coverage. Winter sea ice cover across the Bering Sea was literally half that of the previous record low. "There's never ever been anything remotely like this for sea ice," Rick Thoman, an Alaska-based climatologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told Scientific American about the new record-low.
Signs of the times of extremity we are living in abound, like in South Africa, where marine salvage experts are hoping to realize a plan to use ships to tug icebergs from the Antarctic all the way to Cape Town in order to help create a temporary solution to that city's ongoing drought and water crisis.Oslo, Norway, has moved forward with banning all cars from the city by 2019.
Lastly in this section, scientists recently discovered yet another ACD-related feedback loop: This one is a result of warming temperatures around the globe contributing to increasing growth in freshwater plants within the world's lakes in recent decades, which will cause the amount of methane emitted from lakes to double.Fire
The National Interagency Fire Center with the USDA Forest Service has predicted that this year will be a "challenging" wildfire year across the country. Large portions of the Western US are expected to have "above-average" potential for "significant" wildfire activity this year, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington.
Not included in that list of states was Florida, where by early May, wildfires in Big Cypress National Park had burned more than 38,000 acres, and a fire in the Texas panhandle had burned more than 30,000 acres.Air
In Pakistan, recent temperatures are reported to have cracked 50.2 degrees Celsius (122.3 degrees Fahrenheit) in Nawabshah, located about 127 miles northeast of Karachi. A regional newspaper there reported that the heat was so intense it caused people to pass out and that "business activities came to a halt" in a district of 1.1 million people. That area saw a record of 45.5° C (113.9° F) in March, setting an all-time March record for the entire country.
Warmer than normal temperatures in the US are afflicting places like Miami, where it is now warmer and wetter for far more of the year than it used to be. This sets the stage for that region to become more friendly to mosquitoes, hence increasing the likelihood that the Zika virus could return to Miami. Meanwhile, tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease are rapidly spreading across the US, with some fearing that Lyme disease could already be the first epidemic related to ACD.
The NOAA recently confirmed a sharp rise in methane -- a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than CO2 -- in the atmosphere over a 10-year time frame. The atmosphere already has two and a half times more methane than it did before the industrial revolution began, and now scientists are working to understand how in just the past decade, methane levels have increased as rapidly as they have.Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have, for the first time ever recorded, surpassed 410 parts per million (ppm), and sustained that increase for more than a month.
Another interesting unintended consequence of ACD is how it is likely to cut down on the amount of dust being blown into the atmosphere from the Sahara Desert by up to 100 million tons every year. This would act to starve the Amazon rainforest of much-needed nutrients, in addition to causing temperatures to rise across the North Atlantic. The amount of dust will decrease because warmer temperatures mean less wind, and hence less dust. The lack of dust means the rainforest will not get as much iron and phosphorous in the dust for its plants and marine life.Denial and Reality
In April, the US Senate confirmed ACD-denying Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine from Oklahoma as the head of NASA. Bridenstine has no scientific credentials and does not believe humans are to blame for ACD.
Wasting no time, by early May, the agency, under Bridenstine, had ended NASA's Carbon Monitoring System, which had been, at least up until then, a $10 million annual effort to fund programs intended to improve the monitoring of carbon emissions around the world.
While this is just the latest in ACD-denial antics from the Trump administration that are having catastrophic impacts on the environment and climate, the denialism is thankfully grossly outweighed by reality.
The city of Oslo, Norway, has moved forward with banning all cars from the city by 2019.
Meanwhile, deeply troubling signs of how far along the planet is regarding ACD continue apace.
Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have, for the first time ever recorded, surpassed 410 parts per million (ppm), and sustained that increase for more than a month.
It is worth noting that human beings did not exist on the planet the last time there was this much CO2 in the air. CO2 is now over 100 ppm higher than any of the direct measurements that have been taken from Antarctic ice cores over the last 800,000 years, and most likely substantially higher than anything Earth has experienced for at least 15 million years, including eras when the planet was mostly ice-free.
DOJ asks watchdog to probe Trump campaign surveillance claims | 20 May 2018 | The Department of Justice (DOJ) has asked its inspector general to look into whether or not the FBI surveilled President Trump's campaign for "inappropriate purposes." "If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement... The DOJ announcement comes just hours after Trump tweeted that he planned to demand on Monday that the department look into whether federal agents spied on his campaign for "political purposes." The original probe into alleged FBI surveillance abuse was announced in late March, and was focused on whether the department abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) when it obtained a warrant to surveil former Trump campaign associate Carter Page. That investigation sprung from claims among some House Republicans that federal officials inappropriately used the so-called Steele Dossier to obtain a warrant to surveil former Trump campaign associate Carter Page.
Trump demands DOJ probe claims of campaign surveillance | 20 May 2018 | President Trump on Sunday said he’ll ask the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether the FBI surveilled his campaign. "I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!" Trump tweeted. Trump has spent the last few days sounding the alarm on Twitter about claims that an FBI informant was embedded within his campaign.
Trump to 'demand' Justice probe whether FBI, Obama administration spied on campaign for political purposes
Trump to 'demand' Justice probe whether FBI, Obama administration spied on campaign for political purposes | 20 May 2018 | President Trump said Sunday that he will officially demand that the Justice Department investigate whether federal agents infiltrated or surveilled his 2016 presidential campaign for political purposes and whether the preceding Obama administration was behind such action. "I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes -- and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!" the president tweeted.