Black Lives Matter Founder on Charlotte: We Need ‘Police-Free Communities’

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BY ANDREW WHITE

Editorial intern at Complex. Sharing life’s narratives from a passionate perspective for Complex Life.

SEP 23, 2016

Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images

Three days after the new broke that Keith Scott was killed by a police officer in Charlotte, Alicia Garza, one of three founders of the Black Lives Matter organization, says she hasn’t watched videos of the incident that have made the rounds through media and fueled intense protests.

“I’ve chosen not to,” Garza told Complex in an exclusive interview. “I think we know what it looks like when somebody is murdered.”

Instead, Garza says she’s has been paying attention to the protests that began Tuesday evening. Those protests turned violent Wednesday with the fatal shooting of one protester by another civilian. Despite the previous night’s shooting, protesters were back out Thursday and continued to demand justice for Scott.

Garza says, with so much media focus on the violent elements of the protests in Charlotte, many have lost sight on the injustice that sparked them.

“The thing that people get so concerned about is how do we stop the violence in Charlotte, but yet we’re not thinking about the fact that there’s been violence in Charlotte since way before whatever is happening there has happened,” Garza says. “The brother who was killed is a form of state violence. He was killed and the police will not release the video. The police are not taking accountability for the violence that they enact in our communities and yet there isn’t as much outrage about that as there is about some broken windows and lost property.”

According to Garza, those who are concerned with violent protests in Charlotte should focus instead on the conditions that create them. Indeed, studies find that not only is the city of Charlotte intensely segregated by race and income but as of 2014, 70 of Charlotte’s 79 high-poverty tracts were majority non-white. In fact, the median income for white families in the city is 86 percent higher than for black and Latino ones.

“How do we stop violence, looting, and riots? The way that we stop that is by making sure that people have the things that they need to thrive,” Garza says. “When people are systematically denied their right to adequate housing, adequate schools, to adequate food, to dignity—this is a response and a reaction that we should absolutely expect.”

Garza also proposes an unconventional solution to brutality by law enforcement in Charlotte and around the country: “police-free communities.”

“Ultimately, policing in and of itself is problematic,” Garza says. “I know that in this country we give a lot of veneration to police. In the ethos of this country, police can do no wrong. And if and when police do wrong, it’s a case of individual bad apples, as opposed to a corroded and corrupt system… Quite frankly, many of our [Black Lives Matter] members are continuing to investigate what it would mean to have police-free communities. I think what we’ve continued to see over time is that no moral appeal is actually stopping the deaths of black people, whether they be armed or unarmed.”

Finally, Garza told Complex that in the midst of so much attention paid to cases of black men killed by police, it’s important that those interested in the movement for black lives not lose sight of the black women who’ve also lost their lives to violence, like Korryn Gaines in Baltimore and Kayla Moore in Berkley.

“This is a perfect moment for us to have each other’s backs,” Garza says, “to call out the names of people who have been killed like the brother who was killed in Charlotte and the brother who was killed in Tulsa, but to also remember that this isn’t just a problem impacting black men, but it’s a problem that is impacting black people. For us to advance on this front, we have to bring everyone along with us.”

Complex

The dismal U.S. military record: Killing people, breaking things and America’s winless wars

“We have not shown an ability to achieve our stated political aims in a conclusive way at an acceptable cost”

Killing people, breaking things and America's winless wars: Details of the dismal U.S. military record
Nellis Air Force Base military police block the road at the intersection of North Las Vegas Boulevard and North Hollywood Boulevard after an aircraft crash near the area on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, in Las Vegas. An official says a veteran pilot had just completed an exercise with a military weapons school at an Air Force base near Las Vegas when he ejected as the plane went down. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)(Credit: AP)

This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Winning: it’s written into the DNA of the U.S.A. After all, what’s more American than football legend Vince Lombardi’s famous (if purloinedmaxim: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”?

Americans expect to be number one. First Lady Michelle Obama recently called the United States the “greatest country on Earth.” (Take that, world public opinion, and your choice of Germany!) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton went even further, touting America as “the greatest country that has ever been created.” Her rival, Donald Trump, who for political gain badmouths the country that made him rich and famous, does so in the hope of returning America to supposedly halcyon days of unparalleled greatness. He’s predicted that his presidency might lead to an actual winning overload. “We’re going to win so much,” he told supporters. “You’re going to get tired of winning. You’re going to say, ‘Please, Mr. President … don’t win so much’ … And I’m going to say, ‘No, we have to make America great again … We’re gonna keep winning.’”

As Trump well knows, Americans take winning very seriously. Look no further than the U.S. gold medal count at the recent Rio Olympics: 46. The next highest total? Great Britain’s 27, almost 20 fewer than those of the country whose upstart rebels bested them in the eighteenth century, the nation’s ur-victory. The young United States then beat back the Brits in the early 1800s, and twice bailed them out in victorious world wars during the twentieth century.

In the intervening years, the United States built up a gaudy military record — slaughtering native tribes, punishing Mexico, pummeling Spain — but the best was yet to come. “Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world,”boasted President Barack Obama in this year’s State of the Union address. In this he echoed his predecessor, George W. Bush, who, in May 2001, declared that “America today has the finest [military] the world has ever seen.”

In the years between those two moments of high-flown rhetoric, the U.S. military fought in nine conflicts, according to a 2015 briefing produced by U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the umbrella organization for America’s most elite forces including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets. The record of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, according to SOCOM: zero wins, two losses and seven ties.

This dismal record is catalogued in a briefing slide produced by SOCOM’s Intelligence Directorate last September and obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act. “A Century of War and Gray Zone Challenges” — a timeline of conflicts ranked as wins, losses and ties — examines the last 100 years of America’s wars and interventions.

“Gray zone” is an increasingly popular term of the trade for operations conducted somewhere on the continuum between war and peace. “Traditional war is the paradigm,” the briefing slide asserts. “Gray zone conflict is the norm.”

While he finds a great deal to fault in SOCOM’s analysis, retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, believes its assessment of post-9/11 conflicts “is quite accurate.” Although American politicians like Hillary Clinton regularly insist that the United States possesses “the greatest military” on the planet, they avoid addressing the question of what the country’s armed interventions have actually accomplished when it comes to policy goals — the true measure of success in war. “We have not shown an ability to achieve our stated political aims in a conclusive way at an acceptable cost,” Bacevich says. “That’s simply a fact.”

The greatest journeyman military in history?

Twelve wins and nine losses. In baseball, it’s the annual record of a journeyman pitcher like Bill Caudill of the Seattle Mariners in 1982, Dave LaPoint of the Saint Louis Cardinals in 1983, or Norm Charlton of the Cincinnati Reds in 1990, to mention just three examples. It’s certainly not the record of an ace.

Likewise, 12 victories and nine losses is a far-from-dazzling stat when it comes to warfare, especially for a nation that prides itself on its martial prowess. But that was the SOCOM Intelligence Directorate’s assessment of the last century of American war: 12 and nine with a mind-boggling 43 “ties.”

Among those 64 conflicts, the command counts just five full-fledged wars in which the United States has come up with three wins (World War I, World War II and Desert Storm), one loss (Vietnam) and one tie (Korea). In the gray zone — what SOCOM calls “the norm” when it comes to conflict — the record is far bleaker, the barest of winning percentages at nine victories, eight losses and 42 draws.

“If you accept the terms of analysis, that things can be reduced to win, loss and tie, then this record is not very good,” Bacevich says. “While there aren’t many losses — according to how they code — there’s a hell of a lot of ties, which would beg the question of why, based on these criteria, U.S. policy has seemingly been so ineffective.”

The assessments of, and in some instances the very inclusion of, numerous operations, missions and interventions by SOCOM are dubious. Bacevich, for example, questions its decision to include pre-World War II U.S. military missions in China (a draw according to the command). “I don’t know on what basis one would say ‘China, 1912 to 1941’ qualifies as a tie,” he adds, noting on the other hand that a good case could be made for classifying two of SOCOM’S gray zone “ties” — in Haiti and Nicaragua — during the same era as wins instead of draws based on the achievement of policy aims alone.

It’s even harder to imagine why, for example, limited assistance to Chad in its conflict with Libya and indigenous rebels in 1983 or military assistance in evacuating U.S. personnel from Albania in 1997 should make the list. Meanwhile, America’s so-calledlongest war, in Afghanistan, inexplicably ends in 2014 on SOCOM’S timeline. (That was, of course, the year that the Obama administration formally ended the “combat mission” in that country, but it would assuredly be news to the 8,400 troops, including special operators, still conducting missions there today.) Beyond that, for reasons unexplained, SOCOM doesn’t even classify Afghanistan as a “war.” Instead, it’s considered one of 59 gray-zone challenges, on a par with the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift or small-scale deployments to the restive Congo in the 1960s. No less bizarre, the command categorizes America’s 2003-2011 occupation of Iraq in a similar fashion. “It deserves to be in the same category as Korea and Vietnam,” says Bacevich, the author of “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.”

Killing people and breaking things

Can the post-9/11 U.S. military simultaneously be the finest fighting force in history and unable to win wars or quasi-wars? It may depend on our understanding of what exactly the Department of Defense and its military services are meant to do.

While the 1789 act that established its precursor, the Department of War, is sparse on details about its raison d’être, the very name suggests its purpose — presumably preparing for, fighting and winning wars. The 1947 legislation creating its successor, the “National Military Establishment” was similarly light on specifics concerning the ultimate aims of the organization, as were the amendments of 1949 that recast it as the Department of Defense (DoD).

During a Republican primary debate earlier this year, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee offered his own definition. He asserted that the “purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.” Some in the armed forces took umbrage at that, though the military has, in fact, done both to great effect in a great many places for a very long time. For its part, the DoD sees its purpose quite differently: “The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.”

If, in SOCOM’s accounting, the United States has engaged in relatively few actual wars, don’t credit “deterrence.” Instead, the command has done its best to simply redefine war out of existence, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, in favor of those “gray zone challenges.” If one accepts that quasi-wars are actually war, then the Defense Department has done little to deter conflict. The United States has, in fact, been involved in some kind of military action — by SOCOM’s definition — in every year since 1980.

Beyond its single sentence mission statement, a DoD directive delineating the “functions of the Department of Defense and its major components” provides slightly more details. The DoD, it states, “shall maintain and use armed forces to:

a. Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
b. Ensure, by timely and effective military action, the security of the United States, its possessions and areas vital to its interest.
c. Uphold and advance the national policies and interests of the United States.”

Since the Department of Defense came into existence, the United States has — as the SOCOM briefing slide notes  — carried out deployments, interventions and other undertakings in Lebanon (1958), Congo (1964 and 1967), the Dominican Republic (1965), Cambodia (1975), Iran (1980), El Salvador (1980-1992), Grenada (1983), Chad (1983), Libya (1986), the Persian Gulf (1987-1988), Honduras (1988), Panama (1989), Somalia (1992-1995), Haiti (1994-1995) and Albania (1997), among other countries.

You may have no memory of some (perhaps many) of these interventions, no less a sense of why they occurred or their results — and that might be the most salient take-away from SOCOM’s list. So many of these conflicts have, by now, disappeared into the gray zone of American memory.

Were these operations targeting enemies which actually posed a threat to the U.S. Constitution? Did ceaseless operations across the globe actually ensure the safety and security of the United States? Did they truly advance U.S. policy interests and if so, how?

From the above list, according to SOCOM, only El Salvador, Grenada, Libya and Panama were “wins,” but what, exactly, did America win? Did any of these quasi-wars fully meet the Defense Department’s own criteria? What about the Korean War (tie), the Bay of Pigs (loss), the Vietnam War (loss) or the not-so-secret “secret war” in Laos (loss)? And have any of SOCOM’s eight losses or ties in the post-9/11 era accomplished the Defense Department’s stated mission?

“I have killed people and broken things in war, but, as a military officer, that was never the end. There was a purpose, a reason, a goal,” wrote Major Matt Cavanaugh, a U.S. Army strategist, in response to Huckabee’s comment. He then drew attention to the fact that “Joint Publication 1: Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States” asserts that “military power is integrated with other instruments of national power to advance and defend U.S. values, interests and objectives.”

Did the wars in Vietnam or Laos defend those same values? What about the war waged in Iraq by the “finest fighting force” in world history?

In March 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld laid out U.S aims for that conflict. “Our goal is to defend the American people, and to eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and to liberate the Iraqi people,” he said, before offering even more specific objectives, such as having U.S. troops “search for, capture [and] drive out terrorists who have found safe harbor in Iraq.” Of course, the invasion and occupation of Iraq would turn that country into a terrorist magnet, leading to theultimate safe harbor; a terror caliphate extending over swaths of that country and neighboring Syria. The elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction would prove impossible for obvious reasons. The “liberation” of its people would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands; the forced displacement of millions; and a country divided along sectarian lines, where up to 50 percent of its 33 million inhabitants may suffer from the effects of trauma brought on by the last few decades of war. And what about the defense of the American people? They certainly don’t feel defended. According to recent polling, more Americans fear terrorism today than just after 9/11. And the particular threat Americans fear most? The terror group born and bredin America’s Iraqi prison camps: ISIS.

This record seems to matter little to the presidential candidate who, as a senator, voted for the invasion of Iraq. Regarding that war and other military missions, Hillary Clinton, as Bacevich notes, continues to avoid asking the most obvious question: “Is the use of the American military conclusively, and at reasonable costs, achieving our political objectives?”

Trump’s perspective seems to better fit SOCOM’s assessment when it comes to America’s warfighting prowess in these years. “We don’t win. We can’t beat ISIS. Can you imagine General Douglas MacArthur or General Patton? Can [you] imagine they are spinning in their grave right now when they see the way we fight,” he recentlytold FOX News’s Bill O’Reilly, invoking the names of those military luminaries who both served in a “draw” in Mexico in the 1910s and U.S. victories in World Wars I and II, and in the case of MacArthur a stalemate in Korea as well.

Neither the Clinton nor Trump campaigns responded to TomDispatch’s requests for comment. SOCOM similarly failed to respond before publication to questions about the conclusions to be drawn from its timeline, but its figures alone — especially regarding post-9/11 conflicts — speak volumes.

“In order to evaluate our recent military history and the gap between the rhetoric and the results,” says Bacevich, “the angle of analysis must be one that acknowledges our capacity to break things and kill people, indeed that acknowledges that U.S. forces have performed brilliantly at breaking things and killing people, whether it be breaking a building — by putting a precision missile through the window — or breaking countries by invading them and producing chaos as a consequence.”

SOCOM’s briefing slide seems to recognize this fact. The United States has carried out a century of conflict, killing people from Nicaragua and Haiti to Germany and Japan; battering countries from the Koreas and Vietnams to Iraq and Afghanistan; fighting on a constant basis since 1980. All that death and devastation, however, led to few victories. Worse yet for the armed forces, the win-loss record of this highly professionalized, technologically sophisticated and exceptionally well-funded military has, since assuming the mantle of the finest fighting force in the history of the world, plummeted precipitously, as SOCOM’s Intelligence Directorate points out.

An American century of carnage and combat has yielded many lessons learned, but not, it seems, the most important one when it comes to military conflict. “We can kill people, we can break things,” Bacevich observes, “but we don’t accomplish our political goals.”

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute.  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Timesthe Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author/editor of several books, including the newly published “Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, War and Survival in South Sudan.”

Tethered to Corporate Capitalism, Neither Party Willing to Eradicate Poverty

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If we have learned anything in recent years, it is that the interests of the wealthy almost always win out.

For the nation’s poor, neither major party has shown the necessary regard. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

After her loss to Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary, few predicted that Hillary Clinton would leave the world of presidential politics. On the contrary, it was widely believed that she would make another run for the White House.

Anticipating such a run, the renowned political scientist and activist Frances Fox Piven, along with sociologist Fred Block, penned an open letter calling on Clinton, who had just left the State Department, to “step forward” and “launch a national debate about poverty and welfare.”

“Specifically,” Piven and Block wrote, “we are asking for you to open a conversation about the shortcomings of the 1996 welfare legislation that was passed when you and Bill Clinton were in the White House.”

The letter was not unprovoked: In the years immediately following welfare reform’s implementation, Hillary Clinton was an ardent defender of its underlying logic, arguing that it was a “critical first step” in the broader move toward a more effective system.

And Clinton’s defenses of the law didn’t cease even as evidence of its harmful effects became increasingly prominent. Indeed, in 2008, the New York Times reported that, in an interview, “Clinton expressed no misgivings about the 1996 legislation.”

In 2016, circumstances changed. Faced with a primary opponent running far to her left, Clinton shifted: “Now we have to take a hard look at” welfare reform, Clinton said in April, citing the entirely predictable failure of the now almost non-existent safety net to catch those harmed by the financial crisis.

Fast-forward several months, however, and the issue has all but vanished from the scene; no such “hard look” appears to be forthcoming.

Welfare reform’s absence was especially conspicuous in Clinton’s recent Times op-ed, in which she outlined her “plan for helping America’s poor.”

Clinton highlighted her tenure as a lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund, where she was mentored by Marian Wright Edelman, the organization’s founder. But the issue that prompted a rather bitter split between the two was left unmentioned.

Prior to its passage, welfare reform garnered striking bipartisan support. But dissent was there, and it was forceful. Edelman’s voice was among the most powerful, the most insistent, and, to those reading her words today, the most prescient.

“It would be wrong to leave millions of voteless, voiceless children to the vagaries of 50 state bureaucracies and politics, as both the Senate and House bills will do,” she wrote in the Washington Post. “It would be wrong to strip children of or weaken current ensured help for their daily survival and during economic recessions and natural disasters, as both the Senate and House bills will do. It would be wrong to exacerbate rather than alleviate the current shameful and epidemic child poverty that no decent, rich nation should tolerate for even one child.”

Her pleas fell upon deaf ears; welfare reform passed and was implemented, and its successes in booting millions off of “the dole” and diverting money away from poor families and into the coffers of state governments—which were given tremendous latitude in how they could spend the money — were cheered by Democrats and Republicans alike.

But for the most vulnerable, there was little to celebrate.

Some found work, largely in low-wage jobs; those who didn’t, or couldn’t, slipped into deep poverty. The research of Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer, noted the Washington Post‘s Max Ehrenfreund in February, “shows that the number of people living on $2 a day or less in cash has increased more than twofold, to 1.6 million households” since welfare reform’s passage.

The impact on children has been profound. “Under TANF,” a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, “the number of children living in deep poverty—with incomes below half the poverty line, using a comprehensive poverty measure—has risen significantly, placing large numbers of children at risk for long-term negative academic, employment, and health outcomes.”

It is significant that Hillary Clinton has consistently downplayed this reality. In her Times piece, she acknowledges in passing that “extreme poverty has increased,” but she does little to explain how such destitution arose in the world’s wealthiest nation.

And, as Ryan Cooper explains, while many of the proposals Clinton puts forward are welcome and necessary—from her emphasis on affordable housing to her support for paid family and medical leave — her plan taken as a whole is “woefully inadequate.”

“The problem, at root, is the same one Paul Ryan has with his various anti-poverty ideas—a wildly disproportionate focus on work, and a corresponding lack of attention to the welfare policies that could seriously cut poverty,” Cooper argues.

Citing the research of Matt Bruenig, Cooper writes that Clinton’s work-centric approach would do little to alleviate poverty because a “huge majority of poor people are not employable.”

Bruenig calls this large group “the CEDS bloc“: It consists of children, the elderly, those with disabilities, and students. And, Bruenig notes, “no matter which common poverty measure you use,” 60 to 65 percent of the poor fall in one of these four categories. Add to that the 20 percent represented by “carers and those who faced a spell of involuntarily unemployment during the year,” and you have a picture of poverty that is entirely different than that painted by the nation’s two major political parties.

“So, all together,” Bruenig concludes, “the CEDS bloc plus carers and those who faced a spell of involuntarily unemployment make up around 80-85% of the poor in any given year.”

Given this context, Clinton’s assertion that “The best way to help families lift themselves out of poverty is to make it easier to find good-paying jobs” is, at best, disconnected, both from the lived experience of impoverished families and from statistical realities. Cooper notes that, of course, “more and better-paying jobs are a great policy objective, but it will have little purchase on the problem of poverty.”

That work is nonetheless at the center of Clinton’s anti-poverty strategy—as opposed to, say, the most effective approach to reducing poverty—is indicative of the ideological limitations not just of Hillary Clinton’s agenda, but of the Democratic Party more broadly. It is not merely, to use Adolph Reed’s phrase, an “atrophy of political imagination” that imposes such strictures; it is also the party’s active commitments, both to its donor base and to dominant economic and political ideas.

Perhaps the most apt description of the party’s ethos comes from former Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips, who once remarked that the Democratic Party is “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.”

“They do not interfere with capitalist momentum,” he added, “but wait for excesses and the inevitable popular reaction.”

Far from defying this tradition—one that consolidated power during the administration of Bill Clinton—Hillary Clinton is advancing it, embracing a political status quo in which big money dominates and celebrating the relationship between America’s dominant institutions and the nation’s economic direction.

“Hillary Clinton is a capitalist,” Emmett Rensin summarizes, “and even within a capitalist party, she is in both perception and in practice unusually comfortable with capitalism’s worst practices.”

Often characterized as clear-headed pragmatism, Clinton’s approach to poverty lays bare the deep conservatism of the party that claims for itself, despite contradictory evidence, the label “progressive.” But such conservatism is not surprising if one considers the significant changes that have taken place within the party over the last several decades.

Thomas Frank has documented the extent to which the Democratic Party has come to consist of professionals and technocrats, and this is reflected in voting patterns: As Lee Drutman has noted, as Democrats have moved rightward, theirs has increasingly become “the preferred party of the very wealthy.”

Hillary Clinton’s embrace of the anti-Trump members of the billionaire class provides only a superficial marker of this shift; the most consequential shifts have taken place just below this surface.

Clinton’s party, Thomas Edsall has observed, is largely made up of an “unruly coalition“: “upscale well-educated whites and, importantly, ethnic and racial minorities, many of them low income.”

If we have learned anything in recent years, it is that the interests of the wealthy almost always win out.

As such, Edsall concludes, “Instead of serving as the political arm of working and middle class voters seeking to move up the ladder, the Democratic Party faces the prospect of becoming the party of the winners, in collaboration with many of those in the top 20 percent who are determined to protect and secure their economic and social status.”

A party committed to securing the privileges of elite sectors of society cannot also push the aggressive (but remarkably simple) measures necessary to eradicate poverty; the party of Goldman Sachs, the party of ultra-rich professionals, and the party of oil lobbyists cannot also be the party of the poor.

In 2009, Peter Edelman—the husband of Marian Wright Edelman—and Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a scathing critique of the new anti-poverty discourse, whose adherents “consider poverty a voluntary condition, one curable with a quick kick in the pants and the opportunity to work for minimum wage.”

This view persists in the present, on both sides of the political aisle; it is, in effect, a way of omitting the systemic causes of destitution, invoking in their place a critique not of capitalism, but of those victimized by it.

If we are to wage a successful war on poverty, we cannot, in the words of Mathew Snow, “accept capital’s terms for addressing its own problems or purported moral imperatives that presuppose them. We can [we must] overturn those terms completely.”

Keep Calm and Vote Green: Fascism Is Not Coming

Posted on Sep 23, 2016

By Paul Street

  Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka—the Green Party’s presidential ticket—propose a Green New Deal, a “visionary agenda to tackle the interconnected problems of climate change and the economy.”(Dennis Van Tine / STAR MAX / AP)

Thinking about the upcoming United States presidential election contest between two of the most widely hated people in the nation, I am reminded of the old Aesop’s fable about “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The tale concerns a shepherd boy who repeatedly fools his village neighbors into thinking a wolf is attacking his flock.

The first few times he does this, the villagers come running to drive off the imaginary wolf. Finally, a real wolf actually appears, and the boy again calls for help. But the villagers believe it is another false alarm and stay put. The sheep are eaten by the wolf. In some later versions of the fable, the boy himself is devoured.

READ: Jill Stein’s Green New Deal Deserves to Heard by Widest Audience Possible

The moral of the story is stated at the end of the Greek version: This shows how liars are rewarded—even if they tell the truth, no one believes them. As Aristotle is supposed to have said, when those who tell lies “speak truth, they are not believed.”

Every four years, liberal-left politicos scream wolf about how the Republicans are going to wreak plutocratic, racist, ecocidal, sexist, repressive and war-mongering hell if they win “this, the most important election in American history.” The politicos conveniently ignore the plutocratic, racist, ecocidal, sexist, repressive and military-imperial havoc that Democrats inflict at home and abroad in dark, co-dependent alliance with the ever more radically reactionary Republicans. Democrats fail to acknowledge their preferred party’s responsibility for sustaining the Republicans’ continuing power, which feeds on the “dismal” Dems’ neoliberal abandonment of the nation’s working-class majority in service to transnational Wall Street and corporate America. They commonly exaggerate the danger posed by the right-most major party and (especially) the progressivism of the not-so-left-most one.

It’s not that the liberal and progressive politicos lie about the presence of wolves. The wolves are out there. But they include Democratic wolves in fake sheep’s clothing joined with Republicans in what Washington journalist Mark Leibovich calls “the ultimate Green Party.” The nation’s capital, Leibovich notes, has “become a determinedly bipartisan team when there is money to be made. … ‘No Democrats and Republicans in Washington anymore,’ goes the maxim, ‘only millionaires.’ ”

LISTEN: Robert Scheer Speaks With Jill Stein About the Green Party and 2016 Election

It’s nothing new, which is part of why I have third-party-protest-voted in all but one (2004) of the nine U.S. presidential elections for which I have been eligible. This includes two of the last three, the only ones in which I have voted in a “contested state” (Iowa)—a state where the major-party outcome is in play.

So why might a serious left progressive living in a contested state (someone like this writer) consider following the venerable left political scientist Adolph Reed Jr.’s advice this year to “vote for the lying neoliberal warmonger” Hillary Clinton? Part of it could be that lefty’s sense that it is better for “the U.S. Left” (insofar as it exists) and the development of the dedicated, day-to-day, grass-roots social movement we desperately need in place beneath and beyond the election cycle when a corporate Democrat occupies the White House. The presence of a Democrat in the nominal top U.S. job is usefully instructive. It helps demonstrate the richly bipartisan nature of the American plutocracy and empire. Young workers and students especially need to see and experience how the misery and oppression imposed by capitalism and its evil twin imperialism live on when Democrats hold the Oval Office.

At the same time, the presence of a Republican in the White House tends to fuel the sense among progressives and liberals that the main problem in the country is that the “wrong party” holds executive power and that all energy and activism must be directed at fixing that by putting the “right party” back in. Everything progressive gets sucked into a giant “Get Out the Vote” project for the next faux-progressive Democratic savior, brandishing the promises of “hope” and “change” (campaign keywords for the neoliberal imperialist Bill Clinton in 1992 and the neoliberal imperialist Barack Obama in 2008).

Hillary will be much less capable than the more charismatic Obama (under whom there has been more popular organizing and protest than some lefties like to acknowledge) of bamboozling progressives into thinking they’ve got a friend in the White House. Unlike Obama in 2008, she’s got a long corporatist and imperialist track record that connects her to the establishment and is hard to deny.

WATCH: What Makes Jill Stein Qualified to Be President

It is an urban myth that Republican presidents spark and energize progressive and left activism. True, they’ve done outrageous things that can put lots of folks in the streets for a bit. One thinks of Richard Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and Bush Jr.’s invasion of Iraq. But the waves of protest recede, followed by repression, and everything tends to get channeled into the holy electoral quest to put Democrats back in executive-branch power. The second George W. Bush term was no activist heyday, thanks in significant measure to the great co-optive and demobilizing impact of Democratic Party electoral politics and the deceptive, not-so “antiwar” Obama phenomenon.

But the main reason it is easy to understand why many intelligent lefties stuck behind contested state lines might follow Reed’s advice is that Trump is no ordinary Republican wolf. By some dire portside reckonings (including Reed’s), “the Donald” is something like a real fascist threat worthy of mention in the same breath as Hitler and Mussolini. He’s a really bad version of the wolf who finally appears to devour the sheep in the ancient fable. Look at the following semi-viral jeremiad recently posted across “social media” by the longtime left journalist Arun Gupta—a spine-chilling reflection on what he fears a Trump presidency would mean:

I know it’s the fifth anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, but there is little to celebrate at such a grim moment. That being the likelihood Trump may very well win.
Black Lives Matter will be declared a domestic terrorist outfit. … Trump and Attorney General [Rudy] Giuliani would relish using the National Guard to crush blockades of oil pipelines and trains, and indigenous people defending their lands.

An English-only law would likely be passed, DACA be withdrawn, and sanctuary cities outlawed. White supremacists, Neo-Nazis, the Klan, and the Alt-Right would all be welcome into his administration, overtly or covertly.

There would be an all-out assault on reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood. Significant gains made at the National Labor Relations Board in the last few years will be overturned.

Huge swaths of the West under federal control will be turned over to logging, ranching, mining, and oil and gas industries.

Tens of millions would go from inadequate healthcare to no healthcare.

… Massive voter suppression becomes the norm. There will be organized vigilante violence, perhaps even mini-pogroms, against Muslim and Mexican communities with the state turning a blind eye.

…As soon as a recession hits, Trump would immediately go hunting for scapegoats to distract his followers. This could include a ban on Muslim immigration, a registration program, and mass round-ups of immigrants, meaning concentration camps to hold them before they were ousted, overseen by his ‘deportation force’ of Brownshirts.

There is a quaint notion on the left that somehow Trump is hot air. This ignores the dynamics he’s set in motion that will make new types of state-sponsored racial violence all but inevitable. … all the recent organizing gains will wither as the left is forced to wage losing defensive struggles against violent white nationalists. …

… there is a bizarre faith on the left that the ruling class will somehow keep him in check, despite the fact he will have control over every branch of government. …No one will be able to stop his dictatorial, white supremacist agenda. Congress won’t stop him. He will have a majority on the Supreme Court, and while sections of the ruling class may be deeply unhappy, they will still be safe and obscenely wealthy and can always escape.

In warning about Trump and instructing lefties not to vote third-party this time, Reed reminds us of the German Community Party’s fateful error: choosing not to ally with the German Social Democrats against the Nazi Party during the early 1930s. The moral of the story is clear: All sane left progressives need to report to duty to protect the flock under the banner of the admittedly horrid (good of Reed to admit that) Hillary.

CONTINUED:

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/keep_calm_and_vote_green_fascism_is_not_coming_20160923

American playwright Edward Albee: The character of his opposition to the status quo

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By David Walsh
22 September 2016

Edward Albee, one of the most prominent figures in the postwar American theater, died at his home in Montauk, New York on September 16. He was 88 years old.

Albee is best remembered for works he wrote a half century ago or more, including The Zoo Story (1959), The Death of Bessie Smith (1960), The Sandbox (1960), The American Dream (1961), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962) and A Delicate Balance (1966). Out of critical and popular favor for decades, Albee experienced a degree of renewed success with Three Tall Women (1991) and The Goat or Who is Sylvia? (2000). During his lengthy career, Albee won numerous awards, including three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama and two Tony Awards for Best Play.

Albee was an immensely gifted and articulate writer, with a genuine feeling for the rhythm of language and an obvious flair for the dramatic. His early works, including The Zoo Story, a one-act play, and, most especially, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a full-length work, made a strong impression on the public when they were first performed. In these works, and others of the time, Albee launched fierce attacks on middle-class complacency and hypocrisy, and the moral failure of American society.

The playwright described himself on many occasions as an enemy of the status quo. This was entirely to his credit. However, if Albee’s conception of this enmity remained quite limited, as we shall discuss, this was bound up with the social-cultural environment in which he matured in Cold War America and the milieu in which he circulated.

Albee’s family background is a singular one. He was born in Washington, DC in March, 1928 to a woman who could not support a child. The father had “deserted and abandoned both the mother and child,” according to the subsequent adoption papers. When he was 18 days old, the child was adopted by Reed A. Albee and Frances C. Albee, a wealthy, childless couple. Reed Albee’s money came from his father, the head of the Keith-Albee chain of vaudeville theaters. The Albees lived in luxury in Larchmont, New York on the Long Island Sound.

The writer later claimed that he always felt like an interloper in the household. “They bought me. They paid $133.30”—i.e., the cost of the adoption services. His “outsider” status in his own family and his discovery of his homosexuality at an early age no doubt helped distance Albee from the American mainstream. He had a difficult time in school, being expelled or dismissed from several high schools and colleges. He left home for good in his late teens. Toward the end of his life, Albee told an interviewer he had been “thrown out” of the family home because he refused to become the “corporate thug” his parents desired him to be.

During the 1950s, Albee lived in Greenwich Village in New York City and worked at numerous odd jobs. He also received money from a trust fund. He wrote poems, plays and novels that were not published.

Albee wrote The Zoo Story in three weeks in 1958. It was first performed in West Berlin in 1959 on a double bill with Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape.

The short play takes place in Central Park in New York. There are two characters. Peter, a middle-aged man, an executive with a small publishing house, who “wears tweeds, smokes a pipe, carries horn-rimmed glasses.” We eventually learn that he has a wife, two daughters, two cats and two parakeets, the perfect, contented American family. Peter is peacefully reading his newspaper on a park bench on a Sunday afternoon when Jerry enters into conversation with him. The latter is younger, poorer and suffering, according to Albee’s description, from “great weariness.”

The conversation begins innocently, if oddly, enough, with Jerry’s now-famous line: “I’ve been to the zoo. (PETER doesn’t notice) I said, I’ve been to the zoo. MISTER, I’VE BEEN TO THE ZOO!” Peter responds politely enough, but Jerry becomes more and more intrusive, asking personal questions and revealing the character of his own lonely existence. When Peter has had enough and tries to leave, Jerry becomes aggressive and pulls out a knife. He drops it and tells Peter, “There you go. Pick it up.” The other man does so and Jerry eventually impales himself on the blade. In his final, dying words, he thanks Peter.

Something about the coldness and isolation, and inequality, of modern urban life emerges. Jerry lives in a rooming house, with a “few clothes, a hot plate that I’m not supposed to have, a can opener.” His neighbors are the marginalized. His closest relationship, aside from those with prostitutes, is with his landlady’s dog, about whom he speaks in a lengthy monologue.

Years later, Albee would explain, “Jerry is a man who has not closed down, … who during the course of the play is trying to persuade Peter that closing down is dangerous and that life for all its problems, all of its miseries, is worth participating in, absolutely fully.”

Albee was attacked for his play in establishment circles. On the floor of the US Senate, Prescott Bush (father and grandfather of two US presidents) denounced The Zoo Story as “filthy.”

The influence of Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and the “theater of the absurd” is evident in The Zoo Story, which is to say, Albee was under the influence of some of the same social and intellectual tendencies as those writers. British playwright Harold Pinter, born in 1930, was an almost exact contemporary. Pinter’s first play, The Room, was written and performed in 1957.

The intellectuals of the time, or the more sensitive ones, were appalled by contemporary society, by the giant corporations and institutions that had emerged in the aftermath of World War II, by the Cold War, by the threat of nuclear destruction, by the officially sponsored conformism and pursuit of material wealth.

On the other hand, for the most part they saw no way out of the situation. Stalinism and its crimes, widely identified with communism and socialism, seemed to many to have closed off the possibility of revolutionary change. The various counterrevolutionary “labor” bureaucracies suppressed the working class politically. Existentialism and other forms of irrationalism suggested that the human condition was absurd, but that one had to endure and find some meaning in what was perhaps a meaningless existence. Abstract expressionism in painting and the “Beat” movement emerged from these general ideological conditions.

In The Death of Bessie Smith Albee paid oblique tribute to the civil rights movement and the suffering of African Americans. The short play takes place in Memphis, Tennessee in 1937, in a hospital. An overworked white nurse, a white intern and a black orderly feature prominently. The premise of the play is that Bessie Smith, the great blues singer (who never appears in the play), dies following a car crash because she is refused admittance to a whites-only hospital. This was generally believed at the time. In fact, Smith was taken directly to a hospital in Clarksdale, Mississippi where she died seven hours after the accident. But Albee’s play concerns itself with race and class relations in America, and retains much of its power. The character of the Nurse stands out in particular.

Albee reserved much of his venom for the American upper-middle-class, nuclear family. In The American Dream, an absurdist satire, the central characters are Mommy, Daddy and Grandma. The couple, we discover, had once adopted a son. Unhappy with it, they mutilated the child and ultimately killed it. As Grandma, a sympathetic character, explains, “Well, for the last straw, it finally up and died; and you can imagine how that made them feel, their having paid for it and all. … They wanted satisfaction; they wanted their money back.”

A Young Man shows up, whom Grandma names “The American Dream,” who turns out to be the original boy’s twin. The old woman moves out and the psychologically damaged Young Man moves in. He will take the place of the original adopted child. The dialogue consists largely of a series of clichés and banalities. In typical Albee fashion, a well-to-do family conceals all the brutal realities.

Albee later asserted that the play “is an examination of the American Scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, cruelty, emasculation, and vacuity; it is a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen. Is the play offensive? I certainly hope so.”

The work for which Albee is best known, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (made into a film with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, released in 1966)opened in October 1962, only a few days before the eruption of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the confrontation between the US and the USSR over the deployment of Soviet missiles in Cuba. The often intangible and even unnamable psychological menace and paranoia generated by the threat of nuclear annihilation are woven into Albee’s early plays, as they are in many writers’ and filmmakers’ work of the time.

In its framework and episodes, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (borrowed from a bit of “intellectual’s” graffiti found on a wall) is more naturalistic than Albee’s previous efforts. George is a middle-aged associate professor of history at a small New England College; his wife, Martha, six years his senior, is the daughter of the college president. They return home late at night after a party, where they have already had a good deal to drink. Two guests arrive, a younger couple: Nick, a biology professor, and his wife, Honey.

For the rest of the night, George and Martha engage in furious, non-stop and occasionally amusing abuse of one another in front of the younger pair. Martha relentlessly taunts George and humiliates him. She dismisses her husband as “a FLOP! A great … big … fat FLOP!” In response, George breaks a bottle and holds the remains, like a weapon. Martha remarks, “I hope that was an empty bottle, George. You don’t want to waste good liquor … not on your salary.” It goes on like this.

At one point he pretends to shoot her. “GEORGE: Did you really think I was going to kill you, Martha? MARTHA (Dripping with contempt): You? … Kill me? … That’s a laugh. GEORGE: Well, now, I might … some day.”

The hosts play various vicious games, some on each other, some on their guests. When one of his games turns cruel, George explains calmly, “I hate hypocrisy.” George and Martha also claim to have a son, who is coming home that day. In the end, it turns out that they have no child and the fantasy that they do is one of the great lies sustaining their lives and marriage.

The play, above all, suggests America’s decline into something miserable, sick and full of self-deception. Again, the fear and selfishness under the surface of middle class existence come out, along with that social layer’s hypocrisy and servility. Success and stature, the jockeying for position, on this wretched, unimportant little campus absorb much of the time and thought of all four characters. Whatever was promising about America and the American Dream (and George and Martha, of course, are the names of the first president of the US and his wife) has somehow come down to this: stupid, petty and sterile infighting, an endless drunken, malicious quarrel in the middle of the night. All this expenditure of energy … for what?

The characters are not so much hateful, as pitiful. Toward the end of the play, Martha laments, “I do not wish to be happy, and yes I do wish to be happy. George and Martha, sad, sad, sad.”

In A Delicate Balance, a well-to-do couple, Agnes and Tobias live with Agnes’s alcoholic sister, Claire. Their daughter Julia is expected to arrive home soon, fleeing her fourth unsuccessful marriage. Friends of Agnes and Tobias’s, Harry and Edna, arrive and ask if they can stay. A terrible, intangible fear has overtaken them.

What to do with Harry and Edna, whether to ask them to leave or accept them and accept responsibility for them in their plight, becomes a central question in the play. The strongest element of A Delicate Balance, once again, is the contrast between the well-established rules of conduct of these polite, educated people and the painful, contradictory realities of life.

Albee wrote many other plays, including adaptations of works by Carson McCullers (The Ballad of the Sad Café) and Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita), but these early works contain the most compelling expression of his artistic ideas and social concerns.

Albee insisted until the end of his life that he was an enemy of existing conditions. In his introduction to Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (1968), Albee argued that one of the chief obligations of the playwright was to “try to alter his society,” since, as he explained, “very few serious plays are written to glorify the status quo.” In an interview in 2009, he told a journalist, along the same lines, that “A play should be an act of aggression against the status quo.”

Nor did Albee have much use for fashionable and marketable “identity politics.” Defending his decision to write about a host of characters, he told an interviewer, fellow playwright Craig Lucas, in 1992, “After all, there are a number of things we have not been, you and I. We’ve not been women, we’ve not been 80 years old, we’ve not been black. A lot of things we haven’t been. But its our responsibility to be able to be them, isn’t it?”

Albee attracted criticism for rejecting the term “gay writer.” In a May 2011 speech, he commented, “A writer who happens to be gay or lesbian must be able to transcend self. I am not a gay writer. I am a writer who happens to be gay. … Any definition which limits us is deplorable.” After his comments were attacked, he told National Public Radio, “Maybe I’m being a little troublesome about this, but so many writers who are gay are expected to behave like gay writers and I find that is such a limitation and such a prejudicial thing that I fight against it whenever I can.”

Albee’s criticism of the “status quo” could be quite fierce. He was quoted in 1980 as saying, “I think television is the destruction of the United States. I mean, that and the Republican Party … And the Democratic Party, for that matter, come to think of it.”

In Everything in the Garden (1967), Albee’s American adaptation of a black comedy by British playwright Giles Cooper, a group of respectable suburban housewives turn to prostitution en masse (although unbeknownst to one another) to supplement their husbands’ incomes. When one of the wives is caught out, she turns on her husband and decries the corrupt, even criminal manner in which each of the men earns a living. She sums it up: “You all stink, you’re all killers and whores.”

Albee’s sincerity was unquestionable. However, when the playwright spoke of opposition to the status quo, he meant primarily the moral, sexual and psychological status quo. To many intellectuals and artists in the US, and this view was encouraged by the various academic left tendencies (the Frankfurt School and so forth), capitalism had resolved its economic contradictions. What remained were the problems of alienation, aloneness, conformism and sexual repression.

Continuing to engage exclusively with these issues and ignoring the explosive questions that emerged in the 1970s and beyond, including the growing impoverishment of masses of Americans and the overall economic-cultural decline of the US, meant that Albee’s work failed to treat much of what was new and challenging, and urgently in need of artistic description, in American life.

Many of Albee’s later plays, and even some of the early ones, are not strong or convincing. Plays like Tiny Alice (1964), Malcolm (1966), Seascape (1975),Counting the Ways (1976), The Man Who Had Three Arms (1982) and others are not particularly engaging. The self-conscious “absurdism” often wears thin. There is a great deal of repetition, between and even within plays. The ideas are often murky and secondary, or commonplace.

Albee was at war with hostile critics for many years, and the critics were often obtuse, but the lack of success of many of his plays with the general public was not principally due to the reviewers’ shortcomings. He wrote numerous tedious and almost pointless plays. He seemed to have run out of important things to say at a relatively young age.

Albee returned time and time again to his early family relations. The ineffectual, “castrated” father, the domineering mother, the victimized son … There are only so many times one can cover the same ground. Did Albee have a childhood that was so excruciating, or that was of such world-historical significance that it needed to be treated over and over again, from different angles, during the course of 40 years?

No, that is not the case. It is rather that there are social and political conditions in which the artist’s individual psychological problems and traumas take on “world-historical” importance to him or her. There are periods when one’s family life dominates, when what one’s mother and father did or didn’t do years ago continues to be a central obsession in later life. This was the type of historical period in which Albee matured, when the class struggle apparently receded into the background.

Albee was no Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright, but some of the comments that Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov made on the subject of Ibsen in a 1908 essay (“Ibsen, Petty Bourgeois Revolutionist”) seem appropriate. Plekhanov noted that at the time when “Ibsen’s opinions and ideals were being formulated, a working class, in the present sense of the term, had not yet developed … and was, therefore, nowhere evident in public life.” This encouraged in Ibsen, “individual protests against the hypocrisy and vulgarity which surrounds him.” His was “the revolt of the modern spirit.”

Plekhanov goes on, “Now if a man teaches revolt simply because it is revolt, not knowing himself to what end it should lead, then his teaching will take on a rather nebulous character. If he is an artist, and thinks in terms of images and forms, then the vagueness of his thinking will necessarily result in vague artistic images. An abstract and schematic element will creep into his creative work. … The ‘revolution of the spirit of man’ leaves everything unchanged. The pregnant mountain has again given birth to a tiny mouse.”

Unhappily, for much of his later career, as a result of the nebulousness of his ideas and the formlessness of his opposition to the status quo, Albee gave birth to nothing but “tiny mice.”

Robert Brustein, the distinguished critic, producer and academic, once referred to Albee “as one who sympathized profoundly with the oppressed of the world.” One has no reason to doubt this, but it is not distinctly and sharply present in his work or public utterances. It is worth noting that in Mel Gussow’s biography,Edward Albee: A Singular Journey (1999), there is a single reference to the Vietnam War in the index. According to an August 1968 New York Timesarticle, Albee did lend his name as a sponsor of the anti-war “Summer of Support,” aimed at US servicemen, along with Pete Seeger, Dustin Hoffman, Phil Ochs and others.

Overall, however, as one commentator notes, Albee’s plays in the 1970s spoke to “personal” rather than “social” disillusionment.

One has to look to the general features of Albee’s time, the postwar economic expansion and the Cold War, for the conditions that shaped his thinking. He traveled to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and certainly distinguished himself from the extreme right confrontationists, but his comments on the USSR do not rise above the level of garden variety anticommunist liberalism. His facile use of selections from Mao’s “Little Red Book” in Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, either wooden truisms or Stalinist falsifications, gives some sense of his attitude toward what he took to be “Marxism” and “revolutionary theory.”

The “abstract and schematic element” in Albee’s work also manifests itself in the ahistorical character of his plays, and the often nameless characters: Mommy and Daddy, Young Man and Grandma, He and She, A B and C. He once told an interviewer, “Most of my plays are not tied to time, particularly.” He didn’t care for having the phrase “timeless” applied to his work, he explained, “but I don’t think they [the plays] are beholden to specific dates.”

Unfortunately, there is nothing that becomes dated more rapidly than the “dateless.” Abstract psychological characterizations and speculations and, frankly, the obsession with oneself do not generally lead to the most rewarding, enriching art. “We all wish to devour ourselves, enter ourselves, be the subject and object all at once,” asserts a character in Albee’s Listening (1976). But the artist seriously attuned to the world and life has more compelling things to do.

Albee’s great strength lay in his ability to represent his upper-middle-class figures, to reveal their inner lives. He helped demystify and discredit the affluent layers who thought themselves fully in control. Moreover, his rejection of corruption and cowardice, his insistence on unpleasant truths about American society in the late 1950s and early 1960s unquestionably contributed to the mood of radicalism and opposition that emerged later in the decade.

To paraphrase Plekhanov, drab, postwar American reality showed Albee what had to be opposed, but it could not by itself show him which road to pursue.

WSWS

U.S. Military Warns of Climate-Driven ‘Instability on an International Scale’

Posted on Sep 22, 2016

By Alex Kirby / Climate News Network

Naval Air Station Key West in Florida feels the forces of Hurricane Dennis in 2005. (Jim Brooks / US Navy via Wikimedia Commons)

LONDON—A group of senior defence experts in the US has warned that climate change is a threat to the country’s security, with the stark message that “the impacts of climate change present significant and direct risks to US military readiness, operations and strategy”.

They are members of the Climate Security Consensus Project, a bipartisan group of 25 senior military and national security experts—many of whom have served in previous Republican or Democratic administrations.

Meeting at a forum in Washington DC organised by the Centre for Climate and Security (CCS), the group said the effects of climate change “present a strategically-significant risk to US national security and international security”.

A statement from the members, who include retired senior officers from the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, expresses concern about risks to regions of the world of strategic significance to Washington—“risks that can contribute to political and financial instability on an international scale, as well as maritime insecurity”.

Likelihood of conflict

They say stresses resulting from climate change can increase the likelihood of conflict within and between countries, state failure, mass migration, and the creation of additional ungoverned spaces.

These could develop “across a range of strategically-significant regions, including but not limited to the Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia, the Indo-Asia-Pacific and the Arctic regions”.

They also fear that the impacts of climate change “will place significant strains on international financial stability through contributing to supply line disruptions for major global industries … disrupting the viability of the insurance industry, and generally increasing the political and financial risks of doing business in an increasingly unstable global environment”.

There’s absolutely nothing political about climate change. It’s a security risk, it makes other security risks worse, and we need to do something big about it”

Supporting their statement are two documents released at the forum, which the organisers said together urged “a robust new course on climate change”.

Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, co-presidents of the CCS, said: “These reports make it crystal clear. To national security and defence leaders, there’s absolutely nothing political about climate change. It’s a security risk, it makes other security risks worse, and we need to do something big about it.”

One of the reports—on sea level rise and the US military—says a growing number of studies exploring the actual and potential physical impacts of sea level rise on US military installations “show that the risks are increasing at a faster rate than expected”.

The stability of the 1,774 US military sites spread worldwide along 95,471 miles of coastline “is set to change dramatically due to sea level rise and storm surge. …

“We cannot wait for perfect information before assessing the risks and impacts. … Essentially, the very geostrategic landscape in which the US military operates is going to be different from what it is today.”

The second report, described as a briefing book for a new administration, recommends ways to address the security risks of a changing climate. The first of these urges the new president to appoint a cabinet-level official to lead on domestic climate change and security issues.

Concerns about security

This is not the first time that the CCS has voiced its concerns about the security risks posed to the US by climate change.

What is notable this time is the group’s emphasis, during a bitterly divisive presidential election campaign, on the bipartisan nature of its work. Its language is uncompromising, and its insistence that there is “absolutely nothing political about climate change” will antagonise many Americans and reassure many more.

The presidential election in less than two months from now will see two viscerally-opposed contenders for the White House pushing diametrically different views on climate change, as well as many other issues.

Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton has said the science is “crystal clear”, and that climate change is an “urgent threat”.

But Republican candidate Donald Trump wrote this month: “There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of ‘climate change’.” He has described it as a hoax invented by the Chinese, and earlier this year called it “bullshit”.

Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.

Our leading economists got the recovery wrong.

ECONOMY

The Economists Who Didn’t See the Big Crash of 2008 Coming Still Don’t Understand What Happened or How to Fix It

Photo Credit: Helge V. Keitel / Flickr Creative Commons

Last week marked the eighth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the huge Wall Street investment bank. This bankruptcy sent financial markets into a panic with the remaining investment banks, like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, set to soon topple. The largest commercial banks, like Citigroup and Bank of America, were not far behind on the death watch.

The cascade of collapses was halted when the Fed and Treasury went into full-scale bailout mode. They lent trillions of dollars to failing banks at below market interest rates. They also promised the markets that there would be “no more Lehmans” to use former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s term.

This promise was incredibly valuable in a time of crisis. It meant that investors could lend freely to Goldman and Citigroup without fear that their loans would not be repaid — they had the Treasury and the Fed standing behind them.

The public has every right to be furious about this set of events eight years ago, as well what has happened subsequently. First, everything about the crisis caught the country’s leading economists by surprise. Somehow, the country’s leading economists both could not see an $8 trillion housing bubble, nor could they understand how its collapse would seriously damage the economy. This bubble was clearly driving the economy prior to the crash, it is difficult to envision what these economists thought would replace the demand lost when the bubble burst.

The immediate fallout from the collapse of Lehman also caught the Fed and Treasury by surprise. Having made the decision to allow the market to work its magic on a major bank, they apparently did not anticipate the consequences. The Fed and the Treasury later cooked up the excuse that they lacked the legal authority to save Lehman, as though someone would have brought a lawsuit to stop them if they had tried.

Having failed to recognize both the risks of the bubble and the consequences of the Lehman collapse, the Fed and Treasury then pulled out all the stops to keep the big Wall Street banks in business. They said this was necessary to prevent another Great Depression.

It is difficult to see how letting the market work on Wall Street would have condemned us to a decade of double digit unemployment. Would fiscal and monetary stimulus no longer work?

To support the second Great Depression myth, a paper from Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi, two of the country’s most prominent economists, tried to show how we would have had a decade of double-digit unemployment without the Wall Street bailout.

In fact, the paper shows nothing of the sort. It shows that if we never took any steps to boost the economy we would have faced a decade of double-digit unemployment. That distinction may be too subtle for people who write on economics for a living, but most of the public understands the difference.

The record of failure continued into the recovery. Most economists believed that we would see a quick bounce back from the crash, even without any exceptional amounts of government stimulus. This was the excuse for the austerity that was imposed across the world in 2011. As a result, we have seen an incredibly slow recovery in the United States, and an even slower one in Europe.

Workers in the United States are just now getting back to their pre-recession levels of income. According to the Congressional Budget Office, potential GDP is now 10 percent less ($1.9 trillion) than the amount projected for 2016 before the downturn. This is a recurring loss of GDP that amounts to almost $6,000 a year for every person in the country. This is an incredible burden that the austerity crew has imposed on our children and grandchildren.

This brings us to the story of men who don’t work. There are many economists who argue that the economy is now fully employed and it is time for Federal Reserve Board to raise interest rates to slow the economy and the rate of job growth.

While the unemployment rate is relatively low, those of us who are opposed to Fed rate hikes point out that millions of prime-age workers (ages 25-54) have dropped out of the labor force and are not counted as unemployed. These people likely would be working if the economy created the jobs.

But the rate hike crew decided the problem is that millions of men are no longer suited for the labor market. One economist even argued that these men have opted for internet porn and video games over work.

It’s touching to see economists talking about the problems of men without jobs. However economists who pay attention to economic data know that there has been a sharp drop in employment rates among prime-age women also. In fact, the drop in employment among less-educated prime-age women has actually been larger than the drop among less-educated prime-age men.

In other words, our leading economists had no clue about what was going on in the economy at the time of the crash, they got the recovery completely wrong, and they still don’t seem to have a clue today. But they are good at making up stories about the lack of marketable skills of less-educated workers.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

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