Genetic study demonstrates that racial classification by skin color has no scientific basis

By Philip Guelpa
9 November 2017

A new study, published in the journal Science (“Loci associated with skin pigmentation identified in African populations,” 12 October 2017), elucidates the genetic mechanisms controlling human skin color and demonstrates that racial conceptions regarding skin color and its supposed marking of distinct groupings of human beings have no scientific foundation.

The traditional view has been that early humans had dark skin as an evolutionary adaptation to protect themselves from the dangerous ultraviolet radiation of the harsh African sun. As humans spread to other continents and higher latitudes, where solar input was less intense, lighter skin developed to permit greater production of vitamin D, an essential nutrient, which is produced in the skin using sunlight. However, the actual geographic distribution of populations with varying skin tones does not neatly fit this simple scenario. The new research, while not denying this mechanism, reveals a much more complicated picture.

Until recently, while the basic factor leading to variation in skin tone due to differing concentrations and kinds of the pigment melanin was known, there was very little understanding of the biological basis of how an individual’s skin color was determined, and most of that was based on studies of European populations, providing only a very narrow view of the total range of variation. As the birthplace of humanity, Africa has the most diverse human gene pool (populations there having had the longest time for genetic variation to develop) and is, therefore, likely to provide useful data on genetic variation, including that influencing skin color.

The data used in the new research, conducted by a team of nearly 50 co-authors from more than a dozen different institutions in the US and several African countries, was derived from a study of 2,092 volunteers in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Botswana, of diverse ethnic and genetic backgrounds. Their skin color was measured and the genomes of 1,570 people were analyzed in detail. This resulted in the identification of six genetic regions (genes) that are, in combination, significantly associated with determination of an individual’s skin color, collectively accounting for 29 percent of the observed variation. Each of the gene loci has variants (alleles) associated with different skin tones, ranging from relatively lighter to darker. The results were then compared with existing genetic data from West African, Eurasian, and Australo-Melanesian populations.

The fact that 71 percent of the variation is unaccounted for by the genes identified so far strongly suggests that the genetic determination of skin color is even more complicated than the current research has disclosed. Significantly, most of the variants, for both light and dark skin, were found to have originated in Africa. It is also important to note that the identified genes are located on several different chromosomes, indicating that their transmission is not closely linked in reproduction.

The actions of the various genes were tested by introducing them into lab mice and zebrafish, and observing the results.

The finding that skin color is controlled by multiple genes, each with a range of variants, demonstrates conclusively that any individual’s coloration is the result of a complex mix of multiple factors, dialectically interacting with each other. Each person’s exterior appearance (phenotype) is the expression of a balance resulting from the combination of this genetic color palate (genotype). Furthermore, this may not simply be an additive process. As with so many other biological characteristics, some gene variants, singly or in combination, may be dominant in their expression over others, known as recessive, making the outcome even more complex.

In addition to clarifying the genetic mechanisms controlling skin color, the analysis also provides insights into the evolutionary history of these mechanisms. According to the study, at least some of the variants are quite old, having evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago. With regard to variants associated with lighter skin color, seven are at least 270,000 years old and four are over 900,000 years old. One of the latter is found both in Europeans and San hunter-gathers of Botswana.

Among the significant implications of this finding is that these variants either coincide with or substantially predate the appearance of modern humans, which occurred 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. In other words, a complex variation in skin color has been part of human evolution for a very long time.

Another finding is that at least some skin color genes have changed significantly over time. Three of the variants that produce the darkest skin appear to have evolved from lighter color versions. Another variant, which originated relatively recently among people in Europe and the Middle East, has spread into Africa, possibly in association with migrations of early agriculturalists.

It is likely that the wide range of skin color variation originally evolved as small early human populations adapted to a myriad of local environments, influenced by many different selective factors. Subsequent population movements, spanning hundreds of thousands of years, including interbreeding between modern humans, Neanderthals and perhaps other local populations, mixed and remixed the genetic pool, creating an array of physical characters that often were only partly reflective of the environmental settings where they wound up.

As one of the study’s authors, Sarah Tishkoff, points out, chimpanzees, our closest living evolutionary relatives, are light-skinned below their body hair. So, it is likely that early hominins were similarly light-colored and that darker skin developed later, once they moved from forested areas onto the savannah.

The multiplicity of genetic controls over skin color means that there are no fixed categories based on this essentially superficial characteristic. The myriad array of skin tones that currently exists across the globe merely reflects a moment in the constantly changing variation that has typified human evolution over millions of years.

As with numerous other scientific studies, this latest research confirms, yet again, that the concept of race among humans is a social construct without any objective biological basis. Those who view skin color as a marker of distinct racial groupings, associated with other characteristics such as intelligence, choose, consciously or unconsciously, to ignore the vast range of variation that exists among contemporary humans. The study published in Sciencedemonstrates forcefully that the genetic control over the color of a person’s skin is extremely complex and, therefore, not susceptible to simplistic classification.

That is not to say, however, that racism has no objective basis, although it is social and not biological. In capitalist society, racial, ethnic, religious, and linguistic distinctions have been and continue to be a weapon in the hands of the ruling class to keep workers divided in the face of class-based oppression.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/09/skin-n09.html

Remembering Fats Domino

By Hiram Lee
4 November 2017

Singer-pianist Fats Domino died October 24 at the age of 89. He was one of the greats of early rock ‘n’ roll, and probably the best pianist among those early performers. He was also among the first of them to record. Domino’s records appeared just prior to the emergence of Little Richard and well before Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley or Jerry Lee Lewis.

Fats Domino in 1962

Fats was born Antoine Dominique Domino Jr. on February 26, 1928 in New Orleans. His grandmother, a former slave, served as midwife during his birth. His parents were Creoles with roots in Haiti. Just prior to Domino’s birth, they had relocated to the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans after working the sugarcane plantations around Vacherie, Louisiana. The family spoke French Creole at home and this was Domino’s first language.

Domino did not receive much formal education. He quit school by the fourth grade and immediately went to work as the helper of an ice delivery man. His minimal education and the poverty in which he lived prior to his success as a musician appear to have had a lasting impact on Domino. The future star was also teased a lot for his size and the poor clothes that he wore. A shyness and sense of inadequacy haunted him for much of his life. He perhaps felt himself unsophisticated, though he was an enormously talented artist. He was reluctant to speak his mind in interviews and was more reclusive than other rock ‘n’ rollers of his day.

Domino was working at the Crescent City Bed Factory when his lifelong love of music finally presented the possibility of a career behind the piano instead of the machine. While playing music locally in the evenings, Domino had the good fortune to encounter and form a lasting bond and musical partnership with Dave Bartholomew, the remarkable songwriter, producer and bandleader. Bartholomew wrote or co-wrote much of Domino’s music and provided him with a team of outstanding musicians, including saxophonist Herbert Hardesty and drummer Earl Palmer who brought New Orleans second-line and parade-style drumming to his sound.

Fats Domino is best known today for a string of hits recorded in the mid-to-late 1950s, including “Ain’t That a Shame,” “I’m Walkin’,” “Blueberry Hill,” “Blue Monday” and “Walking to New Orleans.” These songs were enormously popular. Domino sold an astonishing 65 million records during his career and had dozens of Top 40 hits. In terms of sales, airplay and audience size, he was second only to Elvis Presley among the early rock pioneers. Presley, it’s worth noting, was an ardent admirer of Domino’s work and spoke frequently of the latter’s influence on his own music. The two became friends when they were both performing in Las Vegas during the late 1960s.

Domino’s signature tune “Blueberry Hill” was the unlikeliest of rock ‘n’ roll hits. Written by Vincent Rose, Larry Stock and Al Lewis, it was first recorded by cowboy singer Gene Autry in 1940. It subsequently became a hit for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, which billed it as a Fox Trot. Louis Armstrong sang a version in 1949. But once Domino got his hands on it, the tune became “a Fats Domino song” and always will be that.

Fats Domino in 1956 on The Ed Sullivan Show

Apart from “I’m Walkin’” and the exciting “I’m Ready,” most of these late-50s hits were slow, easy going numbers with Domino pounding out his famous rolling triplets of chords at a fairly relaxed tempo. Domino sang his lyrics in a similarly easy-going manner, in a voice that recalls those one hears when people get a few drinks in them and start explaining life to one another. This was a stark contrast to the more energetic and “threatening” performers of early rock.

Domino’s earlier material, recorded from 1949 onward, too often goes unheard today. It is worth exploring. Domino is more exciting here, his piano playing even more impressive. In those days, Domino sang in a big bright voice and often used it to imitate harmonica solos. He proved himself to be a more versatile and inventive pianist than either Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis. Early songs like “Fat Man,” “Detroit City Blues” and “Domino Stomp” showcase his singing and exquisite piano playing in a way that his later, more famous songs never quite did.

Even now, these and other rock ‘n’ roll classics continue to inspire and excite with each listening, decades after they were first recorded. They have in them some of the confidence and energy of young people in postwar America, when it seemed as though a new generation of kids might actually have an easier life than their parents had. Things were changing. Living standards were improving. Racial barriers were also being challenged. Rock ‘n’ roll brought together “black” R&B and “white” country music and the audiences that went along with them.

Domino’s music captured some of the more relaxed moods of the period when there was, for a brief time at least, some room to stretch out. That looseness and openness is extremely appealing, along with the great forward thrust of so much of that music.

As rock ‘n’ roll became “rock music” and tastes changed in later years, one heard less and less from Fats Domino. His last song of note was probably a 1968 version of The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna,” which had been written by Paul McCartney as a kind of homage to Domino in the first place. While he was a bigger star than many of his contemporaries during the 1950s, Domino tends to be a bit overlooked today.

The 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster brought him back into the public eye. Domino was still living in the Lower Ninth Ward at the time. He remained in his home prior the storm’s arrival. Friends and relatives lost touch with him and assumed the worst. His home was flooded, and he lost many of his possessions, including a grand piano. But Domino survived, though initial reports had suggested otherwise. Someone even painted the words “RIP Fats. You will be missed” on the outside of his home sometime after the Coast Guard rescued him. The news that Domino had been a victim of the flood somehow epitomized the horror of the situation as the US government left the city of New Orleans to drown, along with its rich cultural heritage.

After this, Domino recorded a final album, Alive and Kickin’. Proceeds went to provide aid for other musicians affected by Katrina.

Fats Domino was a wonderful musician. He was forgotten for too many years, as he lived in relative obscurity in New Orleans, long after the heyday of rock ‘n’ roll. He deserves to be remembered… and listened to.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/04/fats-n04.html

Democratic Voters Are Done with Party Centrists—and the Progressives Are a Majority

NEWS & POLITICS
On the left, the voters are once again way ahead of the politicians.

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders speaking with supporters at the Phoenix Convention Center.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

A new poll shows most Democratic voters want their party to move left, with new people in charge. In other words, they want a political revolution.

They’ve got the right idea.

If the party establishment thinks Robert Mueller’s investigation will save it, it’s probably wrong. After President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew were both removed from office for malfeasance, Jimmy Carter barely eked out a win in 1976. Four years later, Ronald Reagan’s victory ushered in 12 years of Republican leadership in the White House.

That’s a lesson for today’s Democrats. High crimes and misdemeanors don’t automatically translate into enthusiasm for the other party, especially in today’s murky political environment. Corruption is more likely to lead to cynicism than to citizen involvement, unless voters are given something to believe in.

A Left Majority Led By Women and People of Color

Democratic voters apparently know what they believe in. In the latest Harvard-Harris poll, a sample of the party’s base voters was asked: “Do you support or oppose movements within the Democratic Party to take it even further to the left and oppose the current Democratic leaders?”

52 percent of those polled said they support those movements, while 48 percent said they oppose them. That’s a call to political insurrection. These voters want to change the party’s ideology. They “oppose” (that’s a strong word, “oppose”) the people who have been running it for decades.

If the implications for the party’s upcoming races seem clear, the long-term implications are even more stark: 69 percent of voters aged 18 to 34 said they support those insurrectionary movements.

Among other things, the Harvard-Harris poll disproves the “Bernie Bros” canard so beloved by the party’s establishment. Democratic insiders have repeatedly insisted that the party’s left is dominated by white males. The implication is that the left is somehow sexist and/or racist.

But the poll shows that support for the left is greater among female voters (55 percent), Hispanic voters (65 percent), and African-American voters (55 percent) than it is among whites (46 percent) or men (49 percent).

Identity and Economy

It shouldn’t be surprising that Democratic women and people of color are more left-leaning than their white, male counterparts. They’re more likely to suffer the economic consequences of racism and sexism – forms of oppression that are structural as well as social in nature. Some of those signs of structural oppression include:

African Americans are the only racial group in the country who are still worse off economically today than they were in 2000. Black people in this country are more likely to lack health insurance, and the black-white wage gap is worse today than it was in 1979.

Women working full-time in the United States last year earned only about 80 cents for every dollar a man made, according to the latest Census Bureau data. (The marginal decrease in the gender wage gap was due at least in part to falling wages among men.)

Black women working full-time earned only 63 cents for every dollar earned by a white male, Native women earned only 57 cents and Latinas earned only 54 cents. Households led by women were much more likely to be impoverished than male-led households.

While some Democratic leaders, along with their media backers, have tried to argue that the left’s agenda is antithetical to “identity politics,” that dichotomy would have been rejected by pioneers like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Margaret Sanger, both of whom were leftists.

As for younger voters, they’ve grown up under the most economically unequal conditions in more than one hundred years. Social mobility is down. Millions are burdened with staggering student debt. The entry-level job market has been poor since at least 2008, and their generation has been plagued with under-employment that’s likely to cripple their lifetime earning potential.

Is it any wonder they’re unimpressed with party leaders whose main claims to leadership are their lengthy résumés as members of the ruling elite?

Leftward Movement

Wisely, these voters are looking to “movements,” and not to the party itself, for answers. That’s where change is likely to be born – from the activism of those who understand that economics and identity are inseparable. It’s certainly not going to come from leaders who seem determined to purge the representatives of those movements, while at the same time trying to elevate corporate lobbyists to leadership positions.

Nothing could be more antithetical to the wishes of the party’s base, as expressed in this poll.

There are those who say the party’s base voters are wrong, as a hedge-funder turned Democratic operative did recently. They claim that a “left” agenda will lead the party to defeat. They’re wrong, for at least three reasons.

Working Class

First, many of the left’s ideas appeal to voters across the political spectrum. A number of polls – see herehere, and here, for example – have shown that most voters, including most Republicans, support expanding Social Security.

Donald Trump won the GOP nomination – and ultimately the presidency – in part because he adopted left-seeming positions on trade, job creation, and cracking down on Wall Street. A bitter irony, I know.

Despite improvement in the topline economic numbers, voters remain deeply uncertain about their economic prospects and the nation’s future. 60 percent of respondents to the Harvard-Harris poll said the country is “off on the wrong track.”

Economic uncertainty affects voting across racial and ethnic lines. Regarding Trump voters, pollsters Pete Brodnitz and Jill Normington told House Democrats earlier this year:

“We suffer from the lack of an identifiable positive agenda. Without it, voters will turn to Trump for progress. With it, we can make significant gains.”

That doesn’t mean Democrats should adopt a race-based approach. Turnout was down significantly for black and Hispanic voters last year, which may well have changed the race’s outcome. An “identifiable positive agenda” on the economy is likely to bring out more working-class people of color as well.

Democrats don’t need a “white” strategy. They need a “working class” strategy.

The Vanishing Persuadables

Second, establishment Democrats have spent far too long trying to appeal to that rapidly-vanishing creature known as the “persuadable” voter – perhaps because that approach suited their own ideology (or self-interest) very neatly. Survey datashows that fewer such voters exist with every passing year.

In this environment, turnout is a much more decisive factor than persuasion. Conservatives are more likely to vote than liberals, and early polling indicates that Republicans will outperform Democrats on turnout again in 2018.

To boost turnout, Democrats should look to candidates and policies that mobilize left-leaning voters.

A Movement is More Than a Party

The third point is the simplest one of all. it’s hard to argue that the leftward path leads to defeat when the party’s had so many losses under its current, more right-leaning ideology. Arguments about how to win are most persuasive when they come from people who win on a regular basis. Democrats are out of power in all three branches of the federal government and two-thirds of the states, which means the party’s current leaders don’t have much credibility on the subject.

With any luck, Mueller’s investigation will bring Donald Trump and his team the justice they so richly deserve. But that won’t save the Democrats.

The party’s voters are looking to movements to bring them new leaders and a leftward shift. That’s smart. Movements have energy, independence, and commitment. They can reshape a party’s leadership, infuse it with new ideas, and populate it with activists. That’s because a movement is more than a party. It’s something broader and deeper, something that infuses its members’ lives with purpose and meaning.

Party leaders will fight back, of course. In fact, they already are. But their record of failure shows that the tide of history is against them. On the left, at least, the voters are once again way ahead of the politicians.

 

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, a consultant, and a former musician.

https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/dems-want-ditch-leaders-and-move-left?akid=16310.265072.1SHY-3&rd=1&src=newsletter1084703&t=22

Newly released documents point to state cover-up and complicity in assassination of John F. Kennedy

By Barry Grey
28 October 2017

Information contained in nearly 2,900 previously classified documents released Thursday concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy further undermines the official narrative of a lone killer and points to a cover-up and complicity on the part of forces within the US intelligence agencies.

What are generally deemed the most sensitive—and potentially incriminating—documents were withheld, as President Donald Trump acceded to extraordinary pressure from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and delayed their release.

These 300 documents, consisting of thousands of pages of material, include an extensive file on the head of the CIA office in Dallas at the time of the November 22, 1963 killing; a dossier on a prominent Dallas businessman who conferred with nightclub owner Jack Ruby just before Ruby shot and killed the accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald; files on two anti-Castro Cuban terrorists involved in mass murder; documents concerning Oswald’s six-day trip to Mexico City and meetings with Russian and Cuban officials seven weeks before the Kennedy assassination; and information on Watergate burglars and longtime CIA operatives E. Howard Hunt and James McCord.

From the moment the 35th president was killed by a volley of shots as his caravan drove past Dealey Plaza in Dallas up to the present time, there has been a systematic effort to keep from public view critical facts pointing to political motives underlying the murder and to dismiss all questioning of the 1964 Warren Commission Report as “conspiracy theories.”

The commission, announced by Lyndon Johnson a week after Kennedy’s assassination and headed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren, concluded that Oswald, acting alone and using a mail order rifle, killed Kennedy by firing three shots from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building, which overlooks Dealey Plaza. The commission said Oswald had no connection to US intelligence agencies or other parties.

The American public, with good reason, has never accepted this narrative. A recent poll by FiveThirtyEight and SurveyMonkey found that only 33 percent of Americans believe the assassination was the work of only one person, while 61 percent believe others were involved. A 1979 report issued by the House Select Committee on Assassinations seconded this view, concluding that Kennedy “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.”

Kennedy’s assassination had a traumatic effect on the American public and continues to haunt the popular imagination. It came at a time of mounting crisis for US imperialism both at home and abroad, signaling the beginning of the end of the United States’ post-World War II global economic and geopolitical hegemony. Only weeks before his death, Kennedy sanctioned the coup that overthrew South Vietnamese President Diem, leading to his murder, an event that marked a nodal point in the escalation of the US intervention in Vietnam.

Washington’s mounting economic contradictions were reflected in a worsening balance of payments crisis and gold drain, which would lead eight years later to the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system and the ending of dollar-gold convertibility.

Domestically, the ruling class faced a growing civil rights insurgency and a militant working class determined to defend and extend its postwar economic gains. The elimination of Kennedy was an inflection point in the transition of US ruling class domestic policy from social reform and relative class compromise to class war and political reaction.

The documents released on Thursday make clear that both the FBI and the CIA were well aware of Oswald’s activities and were closely tracking him in the period leading up to the assassination. Yet they failed to warn the Secret Service, tasked with protecting the president, about the former Marine, turned expatriate living in the Soviet Union, turned active member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.

One of the more spectacular documents concerns 1975 testimony by Richard Helms, the CIA director under presidents Johnson and Nixon, to the President’s Commission on CIA Activities, which was headed by then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. A lawyer for the commission is quoted asking Helms: “Is there any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or agent…?” At that point the document breaks off, without Helms’ reply.

Other material documents the fact that the intelligence agencies were closely monitoring Oswald’s movements. One document shows that the CIA intercepted Oswald speaking to a Russian KGB agent in Mexico City on September 28, 1963. Another, dated October 25, a month before the assassination, is from the New Orleans office of the FBI. In it, the FBI notes Oswald’s involvement in the New Orleans chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and discusses the agency’s contacts with Cuban sources concerning Oswald.

A number of documents shed light on the systematic nature of the cover-up, which began virtually the moment the shots rang out on Dealey Plaza. One is a memo from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover dictated the evening of November 24, 1963, shortly after Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald, before live TV cameras, as the Dallas police were leading the handcuffed suspect down a corridor in the police headquarters building.

Hoover says, “Last night we received a call in our Dallas office from a man talking in a calm voice and saying he was a member of a committee organized to kill Oswald.” He notes that he informed the Dallas police of the call and insisted that they take precautions to prevent an attack on Oswald. Furious that the accused assassin was killed before a confession had been extracted from him, Hoover writes of the need for “something issued so that we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.” This was written, of course, before any serious investigation of the killing had begun.

Lyndon Johnson, who told Earl Warren that his commission had a “patriotic mission” to stamp out “dangerous rumors” of state involvement in the assassination, was himself convinced that Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy. One document in the trove released Thursday shows Richard Helms telling the Rockefeller Commission in 1975 that Johnson “used to go around saying that the reason President Kennedy was assassinated was that he had assassinated President Diem.”

In its account of the released documents, the Washington Post writes: “The CIA publicly acknowledged in 2014 that John McCone, its director at the time of the assassination, participated in a ‘benign cover-up,’ according to a paper by agency historian David Robarge. His article said McCone was ‘complicit in keeping incendiary and diversionary issues off the commission’s agenda.’ He wrote that McCone did not tell the commission about CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro, some of which had been planned at the Mexico City station.”

There is ample material in the newly released papers concerning the criminal activities of the US government in the period leading up to the assassination. A 1975 document from the Rockefeller Commission speaks of Attorney General Robert Kennedy telling the FBI that the CIA considered approaching Chicago mobster Sam Giancana to have the mafia go to Cuba and kill Fidel Castro for $150,000. Schemes to assassinate Castro included the use of gunmen, poison pills, a skin-diving suit contaminated with a disabling fungus and tuberculosis, and a “booby-trap spectacular seashell.”

Behind the public face of the Kennedy administration, marked by soaring rhetoric about the defense of democracy around the world, both John and Robert Kennedy had a particular fascination with assassination plots, particularly against Castro. It was less than three years since the Bay of Pigs debacle, in which President Kennedy signed off on the CIA scheme to use Cuban anti-Castro expatriates to invade the island, murder Castro and install a US puppet regime.

Despite the failure of the plot and Kennedy’s fury over the CIA’s false assurances and incompetence, his administration remained mired in the swamp of anticommunist adventurers and terrorists. Two of the CIA’s anti-Castro allies, Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch, were implicated in the blowing up of a Cuban commercial airliner and death of 73 innocent passengers in 1976. Posada escaped from prison in Venezuela with the aid of an anti-Castro group with close ties to the Reagan administration. He was subsequently implicated in terrorist bombings in Cuba in the late 1990s.

Other illegal activities described in the newly released documents include the FBI’s relentless wiretapping of Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Hoover considered to be part of a world communist conspiracy, and FBI spying on Mark Lane, a liberal lawyer and author of a number of books debunking the Warren Commission Report.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/28/kenn-o28.html

Trump and the GOP Fuel Fantasies of White Victimhood

A crowd of Trump supporters in Washington, D.C. (Susan Walsh / AP)

Fifty-five percent of white Americans believe there is discrimination against whites in the U.S., according to a recent NPR poll. But when asked about specific instances in which they personally experienced discrimination, less than 20 percent responded that their whiteness hurt them in job applications, pay equity and promotions and college applications. Reality does not match the perception of the poll respondents, but it does reflect an increasingly common belief—one that Donald Trump has promoted and exploited virulently—that white victimhood is a large-scale problem.

A recent email from a white listener of my radio program offers a perfect example of this type of dissonance. She complained that I focus too much on white supremacy in my news coverage and that in doing so I am “promoting the destruction of the middle class.” She went on to complain that at the McDonald’s she had visited that morning, all 12 employees were Hispanic, and not a single one Caucasian. She lamented the fact that everyone in the computer engineering department of her local university is “mostly Asian or foreign,” and that almost all of her local female leaders are Jewish or have Jewish husbands. She railed about the corporate media and banking industry being mostly run by Jews (“just a fact,” she offered almost apologetically). She also noted that while she is against allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country, she does support the Black Lives Matter movement and had voted for Barack Obama. Ultimately, she said, she isn’t seeking privilege or supremacy—she just wants a decent job to pay her bills.

Ignoring the racist themes of her email, I responded to her in the following manner:

What you are describing is what communities of color have suffered for decades while most whites remained silent because it was not impacting them. Now that the horrible state of the economy is spreading its malaise far and wide into white communities, you are feeling the terrible toll of capitalism. No one should have to suffer trying to make ends meet, trying to get a decent job with decent pay. Is your suffering the fault of people of color and Jews or is it the fault of the Donald Trumps and Hillary Clintons, and wealthy elites?

I think we are on the same side. Racism does not need to be the answer to capitalist failings. It’s too easy to scapegoat another person rather than point the finger at the wealthy people and corporations that are laughing all the way to the bank.

After digging into the listener’s background, I realized she is highly educated, with multiple degrees in technical fields. Still, like so many white Americans who are hurting financially, she blames communities of color for her struggles rather than finding common cause with them.

While this woman appeared to be critical of President Trump as well, her frustration with the state of the economy is real, and reminiscent of many voters’ reasons for supporting Trump. Indeed, her assertions about people of color appear to be informed by much of the disinformation and “fake news” that passes as fact these days and fuels Trump’s power. Trump has often promoted easily refutable lies on his Twitter account, feeding such propaganda. In November 2015, a year before his election win, he retweeted an infographic about violence in communities of color that contained not one single truth among its multiple assertions about whites, blacks and violence.

Yet this week, the president accused the press of publishing false stories, citing a Politico poll that found nearly half of all Americans think the media fabricate news about him. (Incidentally, Trump has railed against Politico several times in the past but had no problem promoting the results of its poll.)

Evidence and polls do not seem to alter the perceptions of some white Americans who consider their personal experiences indicative of the norm. This comes as no surprise, given the propaganda being flung around by conservative activists and politicians who want to assure white Americans that their racial resentment is valid, despite evidence to the contrary. Just last week, on his Twitter feed, Trump erroneously attributed Britain’s 13 percent rise in overall crime to “radical Islamic terror,” while staying silent on horrific gun violence in the United States. Sebastian Gorka, who briefly served as a White House adviser, said on a television panel Monday that “our big issue is black African gun crime against black Africans. … Black young men are murdering each other by the bushel.” Setting aside the casual and ignorant racism of the term “black Africans,” Gorka cited the standard right-wing, pro-gun trope about “black-on-black” violence that reinforces racist stereotypes.

Even the government’s specific actions serve to justify the fantasy that people of color are perpetrators and whites are victims: The FBI under Trump is focusing on “black identity extremist” organizations, which experts say is “fiction.”

News headlines are rife with instances of violence that dispute these racist stereotypes. Take one recent example: A white man’s mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, which led to nearly 60 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Or the lynching threat made against Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson after she boldly stood up to Trump and chief of staff John Kelly. There are many other recent examples of violence and threats of violence in our country, and there also are plenty of studies offering irrefutable evidence of systematic racism (a topic I covered in an earlier column).

Author Joan Williams identifies the phenomenon represented by the listener who emailed me, saying in a recent interview with The Washington Post, “White people who are not privileged feel belittled. They feel stereotyped. They feel openly ridiculed and they are really, really angry because of what elite white people are doing to them. … Now, because of this poisonous dynamic among white people, guess who’s paying the price?”

Others have summarized this idea in slightly different ways, but it is important to articulate: To those who have been used to privilege all their lives, equality may feel like oppression. The challenge facing progressive whites and people of color is to identify the mistaken assumptions about who the perpetrators of social and economic violence actually are, and address these perpetrators head on. Along with growing anti-fascist movements nationwide, we need to articulate and promote a vision of economic justice that will benefit the majority of struggling Americans. We need to simultaneously underscore that people of color are here to stay and that wishing them away will not solve anyone’s economic problems. If we don’t meet this challenge, we will find ourselves in the midst of a race war that obscures the class war the rich are waging against us all.

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…

Behind the opioid crisis: Republicans and Obama cleared the way for corporate murder

By Patrick Martin
16 October 2017

Leading Republican and Democratic members of Congress and top Obama administration officials collaborated to shut down efforts by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to stem the flow of prescription opioids that have killed 200,000 Americans over the past two decades, according to a devastating exposure published Sunday by the Washington Post and broadcast Sunday night on the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes.”

The joint investigation by the Post and “60 Minutes” made use of extensive whistleblower revelations by former officials of the DEA, which has the main responsibility for halting the flow of illegal narcotics, including prescription drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone diverted into the black market.

Three major companies, all in the top 20 of the Fortune 500 and hugely profitable, dominate the distribution of these opioids: McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen, with combined revenues of more than $450 billion. McKesson chairman and CEO John Hammergren has the largest pension fund of any US corporate boss, a $160 million personal nest egg.

These gigantic revenues and huge personal fortunes were accumulated by means of what can only be termed a massive social crime: the flooding of impoverished working-class neighborhoods with high volumes of opioids, narcotics that were being prescribed in vast quantities by doctors and pharmacists and illegal “pain centers” and “pill mills” that were a constant presence in the affected areas.

The consequences have been felt in a historic reversal in the long-term rise of life expectancy in the United States. For middle-aged whites, particularly those living in rural areas, life expectancy is declining and death rates soaring, in large part because of the impact of opioid abuse and addiction.

Appalachia is a center of the opioid crisis. The figures presented in the Post/”60 Minutes” report are staggering—and damning. To Mingo County, West Virginia, an impoverished former mining area on the state border with Kentucky, population 25,000, the mid-sized Ohio-based drug distributor Miami-Luken shipped 11 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone in a five-year period: enough to give two pills a week to every man, woman and child in the county.

In the county seat, Williamson, population 2,938, Miami-Luken shipped 258,000 hydrocodone pills in one month to a single pharmacy. The city of Williamson has filed suit against the company and other drug distributors, charging them with deliberately flooding the city with pain pills to supply the black market. A document filed in the suit charges, “Like sharks circling their prey, multi-billion dollar companies descended upon Appalachia for the sole purpose of profiting off of the prescription drug-fueled feeding frenzy.”

Post reporters Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein and “Sixty Minutes” reporter Bill Whitaker conducted dozens of interviews for their exposé, but the principal whistleblower is Joseph T. Rannazzisi, who headed the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control for a decade until he was forced out in 2015.

The Office of Diversion Control oversees the flow of prescription drugs produced by the major US pharmaceutical companies and shipped to hospitals and pharmacies and other prescribers by distributors, including the big three. By targeting unusually large and unexplained sales—for example, several Walgreen’s pharmacies in Florida sold more than one million opioid pills in a year, compared to a nationwide average of 74,000—the DEA unit could force companies to pay substantial fines.

These big three and smaller distributors paid more than $400 million in fines over the last decade as the result of the DEA, but this is a pittance compared to their gross revenues during that same period, well over $5 trillion. One former DEA official told the Post this sum simply represented “a cost of doing business.”

A more serious problem for the industry was the issuance of “freeze” orders, in which the DEA could use its authority to order a distributor to halt a shipment if there is “imminent danger” to the community. According to Rannazzisi, there was increasing resistance from top-level DEA officials, from 2011 on, to approving such “freeze” orders against opioid distributors. During this period, the drug distributors hired 46 DEA officials either directly or through law firms or lobbying groups representing them.

In 2014, industry lobbyists produced a bill, written by a former DEA lawyer, and introduced by Republican Representative Tom Marino, that substantially raised the threshold of proof for a DEA order to halt a shipment. Instead of “imminent danger,” such an order required proof of “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” a standard so strict that, once adopted, there were no further DEA orders to halt drug distribution.

Marino’s bill was initially blocked by DEA opposition, but it was reintroduced with Democratic cosponsors and passed the House of Representatives by a voice vote, without opposition, in April 2015. In October 2015, Rannazzisi was pushed into retirement at the DEA, after previously being removed as head of the Office of Diversion Control by means of heavy pressure from congressional Republicans on the Obama Justice Department. In March 2016, the Senate passed a modified version of the Marino bill, and the House accepted the changes the following month. The DEA was now handcuffed, and the drug distributors could proceed without any concern about federal oversight.

As Rannazzisi told “60 Minutes”: “The drug industry—the manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and chain drugstores—have an influence over Congress that has never been seen before. And these people came in with their influence and their money and got a whole statute changed because they didn’t like it.”

The protection of the giant drug distribution companies—amid a nationwide epidemic of drug overdose deaths caused by the products they were distributing—was a bipartisan affair. Congressional Democrats cosponsored the legislation, and a former top Clinton administration official, Jamie Gorelick, was a lead attorney and lobbyist for the distributors. Attorney General Loretta Lynch approved the legislation, and President Obama signed it into law, with the White House issuing a one-page press release to mark the occasion.

None of those involved, including Lynch and Obama, would comment to the Post or “60 Minutes.” According to the Post, “The DEA and Justice Department have denied or delayed more than a dozen requests filed by The Post and ‘60 Minutes’ under the Freedom of Information Act for public records that might shed additional light on the matter,” indicating that the Trump administration is continuing the stonewalling tactics begun under Obama.

When a “60 Minutes” camera crew came to Marino’s office, his aides called Capitol Hill police to have them removed.

Trump has rewarded the darling of the drug distributors, Representative Marino, by nominating him last month to become the next White House “drug czar,” in charge of coordinating federal efforts against the opioid crisis. Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the main cosponsor of the bill, is now favored to be the Republican nominee for US Senate in Tennessee in 2018. Both representatives come from districts ravaged by the opioid crisis. According to the Post account, 106 people have died in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, the largest in Marino’s district, since he first introduced his anti-enforcement legislation.

The following exchange from the “60 Minutes” program sums up the reality of corporate domination of American life, and the catastrophic impact on working people:

BILL WHITAKER: You know the implication of what you’re saying, that these big companies knew that they were pumping drugs into American communities that were killing people.

JOE RANNAZZISI: That’s not an implication, that’s a fact. That’s exactly what they did.

… These weren’t kids slinging crack on the corner. These were professionals who were doing it. They were just drug dealers in lab coats.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/16/drug-o16.html

Why is the US at war in West Africa?

By Eddie Haywood
14 October 2017

The October 4 killings of four US Green Berets in Niger has provided a rare glimpse into the far-reaching American military operations throughout the African continent which have been conducted almost entirely in secret.

Pentagon officials on Friday told reporters that the ambush was carried out by a self-radicalized group supposedly affiliated with ISIS. The Pentagon additionally admitted that at least 29 patrols similar to the one that was fatally ambushed have been carried out by American soldiers in Niger.

According to AFRICOM, the US military command based in Stuttgart, Germany, the US special forces deployed to Niger are tasked with providing training, logistics, and intelligence to assist the Nigerien military in fighting militants affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Mali and Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria. AFRICOM has officially stated that its forces interact with the Nigerien army in a “non-combat advisory” capacity.

The circumstances surrounding the ambush which resulted in the deaths of the four Green Berets expose AFRICOM’s claim of non-engagement as a lie. The killings occurred during a joint patrol of elite American soldiers and Nigerien forces in a remote hostile region on the border with Mali known for frequent raids conducted by Islamist militants. Some 800 US commandos are deployed to bases in Niamey and Agadez making quite clear the offensive role that the American military is playing in Niger.

Underlining the incident is Niger’s configuration in Washington’s imperialist offensive across Africa. The expanding levels of US military forces arrayed across the continent have increasingly taken on the character of an occupying army. According to the Pentagon, there are a total of 1,000 American troops in the vicinity of the Chad River Basin which includes northern Niger, Chad, and the Central African Republic. An additional 300 troops are stationed to the south in Cameroon.

After its establishment in 2008 as an independent command, AFRICOM has significantly expanded American military influence and troop deployments on the African continent. Measuring the breadth of US military expansion is the construction of a $100 million base in Agadez in central Niger, from which the US Air Force conducts regular surveillance drone flights across the Sahel region.

Augmenting the special forces contingent in the region are military personnel stationed at several dozen bases and outposts including a US base in Garoua, Cameroon.

The special operations units in Africa have their genesis in 1980, after the Pentagon created Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to conduct a raid on the US embassy in Tehran, Iran to rescue American hostages. Over the years, SOCOM has vastly broadened its scope, and currently has forces stationed on every continent around the globe.

Made up of various units of the US military, including Green Berets, Delta Force, and Navy Seals, SOCOM carry out a broad spectrum of offensive operations including assassinations, counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, psychological operations, and foreign troop training. Under AFRICOM, these forces form a subgroup of SOCOM designated as Special Operations Command in Africa (SOCAFRICA).

Between 2006 and 2010 the deployment of US special forces troops in Africa increased 300 per cent. However, from 2010 to 2017 the numbers of deployed troops exploded by nearly 2000 per cent, occupying more than 60 outposts tasked with carrying out over 100 missions at any given moment across the continent.

The scale of the military expansion which began in earnest under the Obama administration is part of a renewed “scramble for Africa”, comprised of a reckless drive for economic dominance over Africa’s vast economic resources which threatens to transform the entire continent into a battlefield.

The immediate roots of the Niger ambush can be traced to the 2011 US/NATO war in Libya which resulted in the removal and assassination of Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi. Under the Obama administration, Washington cultivated and armed various Islamist militant groups with ties to Al-Qaeda as a proxy force to carry out its aim of regime change. The resulting US/NATO bombardment left Libyan society in shambles, and the Islamist fighters spilled forth and out across North Africa and south to the Sahel.

In 2012, as a consequence of a US and French backed coup against the government in Bamako, Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali took advantage of the chaos resulting from the coup to stage a rebellion. After the Tuareg militants began taking control over cities and territory as it cut deeper into southern Mali, France with the Obama administrations backing deployed 4,000 troops to the country to neutralize the Tuareg rebels, eventually stabilizing the government it placed in Bamako.

While the Tuareg rebellion may have been halted by the US-backed French offensive, Islamist fighters from Libya were pouring into Mali, with many taking up arms against the Western backed puppet government. The Islamist fighters largely united into one large group, declaring allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). The military forces of Niger and Chad which participated in the US/French intervention in Mali have become frequent targets by the Islamist militants who began conducting cross-border raids and launched attacks on patrols and garrisons.

The rise of these warring Islamist militias which have transformed West Africa into a battlefield is the end result of Washington’s decades-long strategy in cultivating these forces as a proxy army in its wars for regime change, at first, in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and subsequently in Africa.

Underscoring France’s military deployment are the French economic interests it seeks to protect not only Mali, but throughout West Africa, the region which was once part of its colonial empire. In Niger, the French energy giant Arven has established mining operations extracting the country’s rich uranium resources.

For its part, Washington has enlisted the participation of the military forces of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Mali in its drive for dominance of the Sahel and West Africa, with all of these countries featuring US outposts or bases.

A key element of Washington’s military expansion in the region are the significant economic resources that it aims to secure for American corporate interests. On behalf of these interests, and complimentary to its military operation, Washington has constructed a $300 million embassy in Niamey.

Washington’s military interventions in Africa must also be seen as an effort to offset China’s growing economic influence on the continent. Beijing in recent years has secured investment deals with African governments in nearly every sector of Africa’s economy.

China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) purchased the permit for oil drilling in Niger’s Agadem Basin, and CNPC also constructed and operates the Soraz refinery near Zinder, Niger’s second largest city. Deals by Beijing for the construction of pipelines traversing through Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon are currently in the development stage, causing no small amount of consternation in Washington.

WSWS

Ai Weiwei’s Harrowing Film on the Refugee Crisis Is a Must-See

A still from Ai Weiwei’s new documentary, “Human Flow.” (Screen shot via YouTube)

Once called the “contemporary art world’s most powerful player,” Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei has turned his focus onto the most urgent humanitarian issue of our time: the global refugee crisis. In a new documentary called “Human Flow,” the artist—who has made political statements the core of his art—explores how war, violence and climate change have made refugees of 65 million people.

Ai, who traveled with his camera crew to 23 countries over the course of a year, captured intimate moments of desperation that have driven refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Palestine, Myanmar and elsewhere, risking their lives to escape violence. The film is sweeping and vast, with drone-camera shots utilizing aerial views to showcase the extent of the crisis, combined with intimate iPhone footage taken by Ai.

“Human Flow” is essential viewing for Americans, whose government has not only had a hand in creating many of the crises that drive migration, but is also actively closing the door to refugees. “The U.S. does have a responsibility,” Ai told me in an interview about his film. “Very often people in the United States think that something happening in different continents doesn’t really affect the U.S.” But, he says, “Look at U.S. policy and what’s happening today: the travel ban, or the building of this ‘beautiful’ fence or wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It all shows that the leadership has a very, very questionable position in dealing with migration and refugees.”

Indeed, President Donald Trump—with the help of the Supreme Court—has kept in place a de facto blanket ban on refugees entering the country. It is perhaps easy for most Americans, who live so far from where this misery is unfolding, to ignore the global refugee crisis, especially given the near-daily assaults on the Constitution and good sense emanating from the White House these days.

But by embedding himself for months in the flow of refugee life while making his film, Ai developed an understanding of what it is like to flee violence and danger. Through “Human Flow,” he takes viewers into intimate spaces: the heart-rending decisions as families weigh whether to stay or leave, the pain they feel from losing their loved ones in the choppy seas of the Mediterranean, and the frustration and rage that emerges from being blocked from reaching their destinations by barbed wire and armed police.

One moment in “Human Flow” is seared in my memory—a moment no Hollywood studio could reproduce. Two young brothers are sitting on the muddy ground outside their meager tent in the semi-darkness of a refugee camp. One is crying, promising to follow his brother anywhere, no matter what. Ai added context to that remarkable scene, which he and his crew witnessed. “They had no idea where they would be accepted,” he told me. “They had been refused. They had been stopped at the border and had spent all their money on the dangerous journey to come to a place which will block them and maybe send them back.”

In another harrowing scene, an Afghan woman agrees to speak with Ai, but only if her face is not on screen. She sits with her back to the camera and begins answering questions about her family’s torturous journey from Afghanistan. Minutes later, she loses control and throws up.

One middle-aged man takes the film crew to a makeshift graveyard, where multiple members of his family were buried after they drowned while trying to flee. He breaks down in tears as he sifts through the identity cards of the dead—all he has left of his kin.

At a time when Europe and the U.S. are rewriting their rules for entry in direct response to the massive demand by people looking for safe haven, Ai’s film puts faces to the numbers. “You see people really feel betrayed,” Ai says. “They think [of] Europe as a land that protects basic humanity.” The cruelty of European anti-refugee policies emerges as a central theme, as Ai explores the abandonment of lofty ideals of humanity on a continent that promised never again to turn away refugees after World War II (ironically, tens of thousands of European refugees fled the violence of World War II and found refuge in camps in the Middle East, including in Syria). It was, perhaps, easy to make pronouncements like “Never Again” in hindsight, but when the opportunity arises to prevent another human disaster, all the familiar political reasons re-emerge, like zombies from the grave.

Not content to showcase the fleeing refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, the film also includes the stories of refugees who are less popular in mainstream media: Palestinians displaced from their homes and languishing under Israeli siege in Gaza, Rohingya Muslims fleeing Buddhist Myanmar’s persecution, climate refugees from various African countries, and even Latin American migrants desperate to enter the United States.

Bizarrely, it is the story of a wild animal that best expresses Europe and America’s abandonment of humans. A tiger, having entered Gaza through an underground tunnel, is housed and fed by a local organization. “Human Flow” shows the extraordinary lengths to which local, regional and state authorities cooperate with one another to ensure the safe passage and relocation of the tiger—a privilege not afforded to the refugees stranded on the same lands. Unlike the “flow” of humans seen throughout the film, Palestinians living in Gaza are “stuck,” according to Ai. “It’s like jail for millions of people living in such unbelievable conditions,” he says of the unending Israeli siege of Gaza.

The artist-turned-filmmaker has broken a number of barriers in his film by focusing on the humanity of tens of millions of people that the world would rather forget about. But he has also broken some rules of filmmaking. There are few talking heads in the film and little discussion of politics and policy. News headlines from media outlets scroll along the bottom of the screen, filling in the blanks in terse text. And really, do we need any more films about the well-documented causes of human suffering in the global refugee crisis?

What Ai’s film offers is what is missing most from our discussions of the refugee crisis: the fact that those who are fleeing are real people who bleed when they are injured, who cry when they are hurt, among whom are innocent children and tired elders, who are all being abandoned in a moment we will collectively look back on in shame.

“Human Flow” opens in theaters nationwide in October. Learn more online at www.humanflow.com.

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…

Chomsky: Trump’s #1 Goal as President

Donald Trump’s policies will devastate future generations, but that’s of little concern to the Republicans.

Noam Chomsky discusses the recent climate agreement between the US and China, the rise of the Islamic State and the movement in Ferguson against racism and police violence. 
Photo Credit: screen grab via GRITtv

[This interview has been excerpted from Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, the new book by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian to be published this December.] 

David Barsamian: You have spoken about the difference between Trump’s buffoonery, which gets endlessly covered by the media, and the actual policies he is striving to enact, which receive less attention. Do you think he has any coherent economic, political, or international policy goals? What has Trump actually managed to accomplish in his first months in office? 

Noam Chomsky: There is a diversionary process under way, perhaps just a natural result of the propensities of the figure at center stage and those doing the work behind the curtains.

At one level, Trump’s antics ensure that attention is focused on him, and it makes little difference how. Who even remembers the charge that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Clinton, depriving the pathetic little man of his Grand Victory? Or the accusation that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower? The claims themselves don’t really matter. It’s enough that attention is diverted from what is happening in the background. There, out of the spotlight, the most savage fringe of the Republican Party is carefully advancing policies designed to enrich their true constituency: the Constituency of private power and wealth, “the masters of mankind,” to borrow Adam Smith’s phrase.

These policies will harm the irrelevant general population and devastate future generations, but that’s of little concern to the Republicans. They’ve been trying to push through similarly destructive legislation for years. Paul Ryan, for example, has long been advertising his ideal of virtually eliminating the federal government, apart from service to the Constituency — though in the past he’s wrapped his proposals in spreadsheets so they would look wonkish to commentators. Now, while attention is focused on Trump’s latest mad doings, the Ryan gang and the executive branch are ramming through legislation and orders that undermine workers’ rights, cripple consumer protections, and severely harm rural communities. They seek to devastate health programs, revoking the taxes that pay for them in order to further enrich their Constituency, and to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed some much-needed constraints on the predatory financial system that grew during the neoliberal period.

That’s just a sample of how the wrecking ball is being wielded by the newly empowered Republican Party. Indeed, it is no longer a political party in the traditional sense. Conservative political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have described it more accurately as a “radical insurgency,” one that has abandoned normal parliamentary politics.

Much of this is being carried out stealthily, in closed sessions, with as little public notice as possible. Other Republican policies are more open, such as pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, thereby isolating the U.S. as a pariah state that refuses to participate in international efforts to confront looming environmental disaster. Even worse, they are intent on maximizing the use of fossil fuels, including the most dangerous; dismantling regulations; and sharply cutting back on research and development of alternative energy sources, which will soon be necessary for decent survival.

The reasons behind the policies are a mix. Some are simply service to the Constituency. Others are of little concern to the “masters of mankind” but are designed to hold on to segments of the voting bloc that the Republicans have cobbled together, since Republican policies have shifted so far to the right that their actual proposals would not attract voters. For example, terminating support for family planning is not service to the Constituency. Indeed, that group may mostly support family planning. But terminating that support appeals to the evangelical Christian base — voters who close their eyes to the fact that they are effectively advocating more unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, increasing the frequency of resort to abortion, under harmful and even lethal conditions.

Not all of the damage can be blamed on the con man who is nominally in charge, on his outlandish appointments, or on the congressional forces he has unleashed. Some of the most dangerous developments under Trump trace back to Obama initiatives — initiatives passed, to be sure, under pressure from the Republican Congress.

The most dangerous of these has barely been reported. A very important study in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published in March 2017, reveals that the Obama nuclear weapons modernization program has increased “the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three — and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” As the analysts point out, this new capacity undermines the strategic stability on which human survival depends. And the chilling record of near disaster and reckless behavior of leaders in past years only shows how fragile our survival is. Now this program is being carried forward under Trump. These developments, along with the threat of environmental disaster, cast a dark shadow over everything else — and are barely discussed, while attention is claimed by the performances of the showman at center stage.

Whether Trump has any idea what he and his henchmen are up to is not clear. Perhaps he is completely authentic: an ignorant, thin-skinned megalomaniac whose only ideology is himself. But what is happening under the rule of the extremist wing of the Republican organization is all too plain.

DB: Do you see any encouraging activity on the Democrats’ side? Or is it time to begin thinking about a third party? 

NC: There is a lot to think about. The most remarkable feature of the 2016 election was the Bernie Sanders campaign, which broke the pattern set by over a century of U.S. political history. A substantial body of political science research convincingly establishes that elections are pretty much bought; campaign funding alone is a remarkably good predictor of electability, for Congress as well as for the presidency. It also predicts the decisions of elected officials. Correspondingly, a considerable majority of the electorate — those lower on the income scale — are effectively disenfranchised, in that their representatives disregard their preferences. In this light, there is little surprise in the victory of a billionaire TV star with substantial media backing: direct backing from the leading cable channel, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, and from highly influential right-wing talk radio; indirect but lavish backing from the rest of the major media, which was entranced by Trump’s antics and the advertising revenue that poured in.

The Sanders campaign, on the other hand, broke sharply from the prevailing model. Sanders was barely known. He had virtually no support from the main funding sources, was ignored or derided by the media, and labeled himself with the scare word “socialist.” Yet he is now the most popular political figure in the country by a large margin.

At the very least, the success of the Sanders campaign shows that many options can be pursued even within the stultifying two-party framework, with all of the institutional barriers to breaking free of it. During the Obama years, the Democratic Party disintegrated at the local and state levels. The party had largely abandoned the working class years earlier, even more so with Clinton trade and fiscal policies that undermined U.S. manufacturing and the fairly stable employment it provided.

There is no dearth of progressive policy proposals. The program developed by Robert Pollin in his book Greening the Global Economy is one very promising approach. Gar Alperovitz’s work on building an authentic democracy based on worker self-management is another. Practical implementations of these approaches and related ideas are taking shape in many different ways. Popular organizations, some of them outgrowths of the Sanders campaign, are actively engaged in taking advantage of the many opportunities that are available.

At the same time, the established two-party framework, though venerable, is by no means graven in stone. It’s no secret that in recent years, traditional political institutions have been declining in the industrial democracies, under the impact of what is called “populism.” That term is used rather loosely to refer to the wave of discontent, anger, and contempt for institutions that has accompanied the neoliberal assault of the past generation, which led to stagnation for the majority alongside a spectacular concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

Functioning democracy erodes as a natural effect of the concentration of economic power, which translates at once to political power by familiar means, but also for deeper and more principled reasons. The doctrinal pretense is that the transfer of decision-making from the public sector to the “market” contributes to individual freedom, but the reality is different. The transfer is from public institutions, in which voters have some say, insofar as democracy is functioning, to private tyrannies — the corporations that dominate the economy — in which voters have no say at all. In Europe, there is an even more direct method of undermining the threat of democracy: placing crucial decisions in the hands of the unelected troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission — which heeds the northern banks and the creditor community, not the voting population.

These policies are dedicated to making sure that society no longer exists, Margaret Thatcher’s famous description of the world she perceived — or, more accurately, hoped to create: one where there is no society, only individuals. This was Thatcher’s unwitting paraphrase of Marx’s bitter condemnation of repression in France, which left society as a “sack of potatoes,” an amorphous mass that cannot function. In the contemporary case, the tyrant is not an autocratic ruler — in the West, at least — but concentrations of private power.

The collapse of centrist governing institutions has been evident in elections: in France in mid-2017 and in the United States a few months earlier, where the two candidates who mobilized popular forces were Sanders and Trump — though Trump wasted no time in demonstrating the fraudulence of his “populism” by quickly ensuring that the harshest elements of the old establishment would be firmly ensconced in power in the luxuriating “swamp.”

These processes might lead to a breakdown of the rigid American system of one-party business rule with two competing factions, with varying voting blocs over time. They might provide an opportunity for a genuine “people’s party” to emerge, a party where the voting bloc is the actual constituency, and the guiding values merit respect.

DB: Trump’s first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia. What significance do you see in that, and what does it mean for broader Middle East policies? And what do you make of Trump’s animus toward Iran?

NC: Saudi Arabia is the kind of place where Trump feels right at home: a brutal dictatorship, miserably repressive (notoriously so for women’s rights, but in many other areas as well), the leading producer of oil (now being overtaken by the United States), and with plenty of money. The trip produced promises of massive weapons sales — greatly cheering the Constituency — and vague intimations of other Saudi gifts. One of the consequences was that Trump’s Saudi friends were given a green light to escalate their disgraceful atrocities in Yemen and to discipline Qatar, which has been a shade too independent of the Saudi masters. Iran is a factor there. Qatar shares a natural gas field with Iran and has commercial and cultural relations with it, frowned upon by the Saudis and their deeply reactionary associates.

Iran has long been regarded by U.S. leaders, and by U.S. media commentary, as extraordinarily dangerous, perhaps the most dangerous country on the planet. This goes back to well before Trump. In the doctrinal system, Iran is a dual menace: it is the leading supporter of terrorism, and its nuclear programs pose an existential threat to Israel, if not the whole world. It is so dangerous that Obama had to install an advanced air defense system near the Russian border to protect Europe from Iranian nuclear weapons — which don’t exist, and which, in any case, Iranian leaders would use only if possessed by a desire to be instantly incinerated in return.

That’s the doctrinal system. In the real world, Iranian support for terrorism translates to support for Hezbollah, whose major crime is that it is the sole deterrent to yet another destructive Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and for Hamas, which won a free election in the Gaza Strip — a crime that instantly elicited harsh sanctions and led the U.S. government to prepare a military coup. Both organizations, it is true, can be charged with terrorist acts, though not anywhere near the amount of terrorism that stems from Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the formation and actions of jihadi networks.

As for Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, U.S. intelligence has confirmed what anyone can easily figure out for themselves: if they exist, they are part of Iran’s deterrent strategy. There is also the unmentionable fact that any concern about Iranian weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) could be alleviated by the simple means of heeding Iran’s call to establish a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Such a zone is strongly supported by the Arab states and most of the rest of the world and is blocked primarily by the United States, which wishes to protect Israel’s WMD capabilities.

Since the doctrinal system falls apart on inspection, we are left with the task of finding the true reasons for U.S. animus toward Iran. Possibilities readily come to mind. The United States and Israel cannot tolerate an independent force in a region that they take to be theirs by right. An Iran with a nuclear deterrent is unacceptable to rogue states that want to rampage however they wish throughout the Middle East. But there is more to it than that. Iran cannot be forgiven for overthrowing the dictator installed by Washington in a military coup in 1953, a coup that destroyed Iran’s parliamentary regime and its unconscionable belief that Iran might have some claim on its own natural resources. The world is too complex for any simple description, but this seems to me the core of the tale.

It also wouldn’t hurt to recall that in the past six decades, scarcely a day has passed when Washington was not tormenting Iranians. After the 1953 military coup came U.S. support for a dictator described by Amnesty International as a leading violator of fundamental human rights. Immediately after his overthrow came the U.S.-backed invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein, no small matter. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed, many by chemical weapons. Reagan’s support for his friend Saddam was so extreme that when Iraq attacked a U.S. ship, the USS Stark, killing 37 American sailors, it received only a light tap on the wrist in response. Reagan also sought to blame Iran for Saddam’s horrendous chemical warfare attacks on Iraqi Kurds.

Eventually, the United States intervened directly in the Iran-Iraq War, leading to Iran’s bitter capitulation. Afterward, George H. W. Bush invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the United States for advanced training in nuclear weapons production — an extraordinary threat to Iran, quite apart from its other implications. And, of course, Washington has been the driving force behind harsh sanctions against Iran that continue to the present day.

Trump, for his part, has joined the harshest and most repressive dictators in shouting imprecations at Iran. As it happens, Iran held an election during his Middle East travel extravaganza — an election which, however flawed, would be unthinkable in the land of his Saudi hosts, who also happen to be the source of the radical Islamism that is poisoning the region. But U.S. animus against Iran goes far beyond Trump himself. It includes those regarded as the “adults” in the Trump administration, like James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the secretary of defense. And it stretches a long way into the past.

DB: What are the strategic issues where Korea is concerned? Can anything be done to defuse the growing conflict? 

NC: Korea has been a festering problem since the end of World War II, when the hopes of Koreans for unification of the peninsula were blocked by the intervention of the great powers, the United States bearing primary responsibility.

The North Korean dictatorship may well win the prize for brutality and repression, but it is seeking and to some extent carrying out economic development, despite the overwhelming burden of a huge military system. That system includes, of course, a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles, which pose a threat to the region and, in the longer term, to countries beyond — but its function is to be a deterrent, one that the North Korean regime is unlikely to abandon as long as it remains under threat of destruction.

Today, we are instructed that the great challenge faced by the world is how to compel North Korea to freeze these nuclear and missile programs. Perhaps we should resort to more sanctions, cyberwar, intimidation; to the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, which China regards as a serious threat to its own interests; perhaps even to direct attack on North Korea — which, it is understood, would elicit retaliation by massed artillery, devastating Seoul and much of South Korea even without the use of nuclear weapons.

But there is another option, one that seems to be ignored: we could simply accept North Korea’s offer to do what we are demanding. China and North Korea have already proposed that North Korea freeze its nuclear and missile programs. The proposal, though, was rejected at once by Washington, just as it had been two years earlier, because it includes a quid pro quo: it calls on the United States to halt its threatening military exercises on North Korea’s borders, including simulated nuclear-bombing attacks by B-52s.

The Chinese-North Korean proposal is hardly unreasonable. North Koreans remember well that their country was literally flattened by U.S. bombing, and many may recall how U.S. forces bombed major dams when there were no other targets left. There were gleeful reports in American military publications about the exciting spectacle of a huge flood of water wiping out the rice crops on which “the Asian” depends for survival. They are very much worth reading, a useful part of historical memory.

The offer to freeze North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in return for an end to highly provocative actions on North Korea’s border could be the basis for more far-reaching negotiations, which could radically reduce the nuclear threat and perhaps even bring the North Korea crisis to an end. Contrary to much inflamed commentary, there are good reasons to think such negotiations might succeed. Yet even though the North Korean programs are constantly described as perhaps the greatest threat we face, the Chinese-North Korean proposal is unacceptable to Washington, and is rejected by U.S. commentators with impressive unanimity. This is another entry in the shameful and depressing record of near-reflexive preference for force when peaceful options may well be available.

The 2017 South Korean elections may offer a ray of hope. Newly elected President Moon Jae-in seems intent on reversing the harsh confrontationist policies of his predecessor. He has called for exploring diplomatic options and taking steps toward reconciliation, which is surely an improvement over the angry fist-waving that might lead to real disaster.

DB: You have in the past expressed concern about the European Union. What do you think will happen as Europe becomes less tied to the U.S. and the U.K.? 

NC: The E.U. has fundamental problems, notably the single currency with no political union. It also has many positive features. There are some sensible ideas aimed at saving what is good and improving what is harmful. Yanis Varoufakis’s DiEM25 initiative for a democratic Europe is a promising approach.

The U.K. has often been a U.S. surrogate in European politics. Brexit might encourage Europe to take a more independent role in world affairs, a course that might be accelerated by Trump policies that increasingly isolate us from the world. While he is shouting loudly and waving an enormous stick, China could take the lead on global energy policies while extending its influence to the west and, ultimately, to Europe, based on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the New Silk Road.

That Europe might become an independent “third force” has been a matter of concern to U.S. planners since World War II. There have long been discussions of something like a Gaullist conception of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals or, in more recent years, Gorbachev’s vision of a common Europe from Brussels to Vladivostok.

Whatever happens, Germany is sure to retain a dominant role in European affairs. It is rather startling to hear a conservative German chancellor, Angela Merkel, lecturing her U.S. counterpart on human rights, and taking the lead, at least for a time, in confronting the refugee issue, Europe’s deep moral crisis. On the other hand, Germany’s insistence on austerity and paranoia about inflation and its policy of promoting exports by limiting domestic consumption have no slight responsibility for Europe’s economic distress, particularly the dire situation of the peripheral economies. In the best case, however, which is not beyond imagination, Germany could influence Europe to become a generally positive force in world affairs.

DB: What do you make of the conflict between the Trump administration and the U.S. intelligence communities? Do you believe in the “deep state”?

NC: There is a national security bureaucracy that has persisted since World War II. And national security analysts, in and out of government, have been appalled by many of Trump’s wild forays. Their concerns are shared by the highly credible experts who set the Doomsday Clock, advanced to two and a half minutes to midnight as soon as Trump took office — the closest it has been to terminal disaster since 1953, when the U.S. and USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons. But I see little sign that it goes beyond that, that there is any secret “deep state” conspiracy. 

DB: To conclude, as we look forward to your 89th birthday, I wonder: Do you have a theory of longevity? 

NC: Yes, it’s simple, really. If you’re riding a bicycle and you don’t want to fall off, you have to keep going — fast.

 

Noam Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent books are Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books, 2016) and Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power (Seven Stories Press, 2017). His website is www.chomsky.info.

David Barsamian, the director of the award-winning and widely syndicated Alternative Radio, is the winner of the Lannan Foundation’s 2006 Cultural Freedom Fellowship and the ACLU’s Upton Sinclair Award for independent journalism. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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5 of the Most Regressive Laws in Practice in the South

NEWS & POLITICS
In some states, progress is clearly not the most important priority.

Photo Credit: James Scott/Flickr

There are a lot of dumb laws in states throughout the U.S. State constitutions can be centuries old, so silly and archaic laws like those forbidding horses and donkeys from sleeping in bathtubs tend to be disregarded or overwritten by federal laws. But there are plenty of outrageous policies being implemented today, in the name of religious protection, or common decency, or whatever else proponents come up with to justify revoking civil and human rights. Silly laws certainly aren’t limited to the Southern states alone, but the supremacy of Christianity and fear of people of color are culturally pervasive in this region, despite blue cities and liberal pockets that have become havens for more progressive Southerners and out-of-towners.

Today we may view laws like one in Kentucky that forbids attorneys and government workers from dueling, as backwards. But they were taken quite seriously when they were first written. Here’s hoping these five are seen as equally insane one day.

1. Sex toy purchases are illegal in Alabama.

This rule has been embarrassing Alabamians ever since the Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act passed in 1998. You can receive a $10,000 fine and a year in jail if you’re caught buying or selling a vibrator the first time, and up to 10 years for a second offense. The ACLU tried to take the case up with the Supreme Court in 2005, but the court declined to hear the case.

2. Sharia law is officially condemned.

In Texas and Arkansas, where the Muslim population is 1% and 2% respectively, common sense suggests that Christian Southerners are not much in danger of being overtaken by hyper-conservative Islamic law. But both states recently approved legislation against it, and momentum seems to be building in other Southern states for similar policies. The declarations against Sharia law are based solely on fearmongering, meant to bully Muslims living in those states.

As the Southern Poverty Law Center explains, “the mass hysteria surrounding a so-called threat of Sharia law in the United States is largely the work of anti-Muslim groups such as the American Freedom Law Center and ACT for America, an SPLC-designated hate group.”

3. Voter ID laws across the region punish the poor for being poor.

States that require citizens to show ID at the poll station are rolling back the progress made on voting access since the end of Jim Crow. Obtaining an ID card can involve time, money, access, and mobility that many poor people of color lack, especially the elderly. “It’s all about the political will,” Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice told NBC. “If you look at a map where African-American populations are the largest, it’s basically all of the Southern states, and that’s where most of these new voting restrictions have been enacted.”

4. New anti-LGBT laws revoke the rights of gay, bi, trans citizens.

A breathtaking wave of over 100 bills slashing civil rights for gay, bi and trans people have been introduced to state legislatures since 2010 alone, as the Huffington Post rounds up, and many have passed. Here’s a small sample: “Mississippi lets any person or business deny services to same-sex couples because of religious objections. In North Carolina, the governor signed a law banning cities from passing LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances and barring transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity. Tennessee also has a ‘bathroom bill,’ plus a bill that lets mental health professionals refuse to treat LGBT patients.”

There have been many more attempts at these kinds of laws throughout the region, catalogued by the ACLU.

5. Alabama tried to chase out undocumented immigrants.

HB-56, set into motion in September 2011, cracked down on illegal immigration in what many believed at the time was the harshest measure of its kind in any state. It required Alabama schools to track and report the legal status of children enrolled there. As a result, Alabama schools saw a mass exodus of Hispanic students, whose parents in many cases fled to other states in fear that their immigration status would be shared with ICE. And that was largely the point: the law’s chief sponsor, State Rep. Micky Hammon, promised undocumented immigrants in Alabama that he would “make it difficult for them to live here, so they will deport themselves.” Challenges from Eric Holder’s Justice Department thankfully nullified much of the law by 2013, but if another state tried to pass a similar bill in Trump’s America, Jeff Sessions might not be inclined to fight it.

Liz Posner is an associate editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

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