Trump Is Carpet-Bombing U.S. Foreign Policy

Already Trump is super-charging U.S. militarism, gutting diplomacy, and punishing the victims of wars Washington started.

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Reprinted from Foreign Policy in Focus, under a Creative Commons Attribution License

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(Image: AK Rockefeller / Flickr)

Very soon, Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order regarding refugees and entry to the U.S. for a whole swathe of people. In effect, the edict would be aimed at banning Muslims from the United States, demonizing people from Muslim-majority countries across the Middle East and North Africa.

It’s no accident that of the seven countries identified, the U.S. is bombing five (Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia), has troops deployed and military bases in another (Sudan), and imposes harsh sanctions and frequent threats against the last (Iran).

These military actions all reflect policies that fuel refugee flows in the first place. In a grim irony, the order bans refugees from wars that in many cases the U.S. itself started.

The order violates international law requiring countries to provide refuge to those in desperate need, and completely reverses the long history of the U.S. claim — however often that claim is actually denied — to be a country that welcomes refugees and immigrants.

We should also note that the list of Muslim-majority countries targeted in the new regulations all happen to be countries where the Trump business empire has no holdings. Exceptions just happen to be countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Muslim-majority states where Trump has major investments and business partnerships.

One might think that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two countries that nearly all the 9/11 hijackers came from — and which are currently known to be backing ISIS and other terrorists, in Saudi Arabia’s case, and facing serious terror attacks on their own soil largely in response to government repression, in Egypt’s — would be included in Trump’s twisted analysis as potential sources of terrorism.

But no, those countries were ignored. Conflicts of interest? Nah, just a coincidence.

The order goes on to call for the Pentagon to create a “safe zone in Syria and in the region” to absorb local refugees, to prevent them from heading to Europe and beyond to the U.S. Yet almost inevitably, that means launching more airstrikes on the country — a recipe for more war and more refugees.

This is the opposite of what we should be doing. If we’re serious about taking care of refugees and ending the conditions that give rise to their plight, we must welcome far more of the 65 million people currently displaced in the world. And crucially, we must provide real support — not with more war, but by working to end the wars that create refugees in the first place.

That means demanding that our government privilege diplomacy over war. The Obama administration’s successes in foreign policy — the Paris climate agreement, the moves towards normalization with Cuba, and most especially the nuclear deal with Iran — all emerged from hard-fought campaigns to choose diplomatic over military means.

And even if anyone near the top of the new administration were interested in diplomacy (though there’s no evidence of that!), it just got a whole lot harder.

The soon-to-be-signed executive order creates a lot more work for federal workers, especially in the Department of Homeland Security and in the State Department. Yet the entire top echelon of the State Department’s management just quit and walked out. There are conflicting stories about whether these leaders, who weren’t political appointees, were pushed out by new political leaders or left on their own after being presented with unacceptable demands. But either way, State is now severely understaffed in key areas such as consular services.

For those of us convinced that real internationalism should be the basis of U.S. foreign policy, the State Department has never been a full-fledged ally. U.S. diplomacy is too often deployed in the interest of military goals, U.S. corporate profits, and the undermining of governments deemed insufficiently submissive to U.S. strategic interests — and too rarely in compliance with international law.

But diplomacy and multilateralism, however flawed, are still the key alternatives to military force. Getting rid of the key civil servants who kept U.S. diplomacy functioning fits far too well into the opposite goal — privileging war over diplomacy.

The new president’s budget calls for the Pentagon to get a huge influx of new funds, beyond the $600 billion or so base budget it already has (a figure that doesn’t include the funds that support the nuclear arsenal, care for veterans, or even the war on terror, which run several hundred billion dollars more). The military forces are about to get a lot bigger. And the nuclear arsenal is about to get an enormous influx of money for “modernization.”

Combine that with a State Department more or less incapable of doing anything because they’ve lost all the people who actually know how to make diplomacy happen, and you have a perfect storm of war winning out over diplomacy.

It’s kind of like the way elites have carried out neoliberal policies of privatization and de-regulation: You de-fund and under-staff the public agencies, while shifting money to now deregulated private sector entities. Then you watch while the government agencies fail, thus “proving” that government can’t do anything nearly as well as the private sector.

Only in this case, it’s not the public that fails while the private succeeds. It’s diplomacy that fails while the military wins out. Which means everyone loses.


Middle East expert Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Hope In Dark Times

“Causes and effects assume history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later; sometimes a few passionate people change the world; sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do; sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal and change comes upon us like a change of weather. All that these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope. To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty are better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.”

From Rebecca Solnit’s “Hope In The Dark

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How Co-ops Can Make Infrastructure Great Again

If the Trump administration is serious about bringing jobs and pride back to rural America, they should take a lesson from cooperatives of the 1930s.

By 
Reprinted from Yes! Magazine under a Creative Commons License

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Hoover Dam. Photo by powerofforever / iStock.

Not many people I’ve known who lived through the Great Depression recall it fondly. I suspect most of them would be perplexed to hear how Donald Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, described the new administration’s trillion-dollar infrastructure plan: “It will be as exciting as the 1930s.”

Exciting or not, it’s true that Americans have accomplished some remarkable things, and created some inventive new options, in times of widespread economic disaster. Social Security, the Empire State Building, and the gorgeous stretch of California’s Highway 1 through Big Sur all date to that period. But one less-celebrated accomplishment might be particularly instructive if the Trump administration is serious about bringing jobs and pride back to left-behind parts of the country.

I’m referring to the rise of rural electrification—how we got the lights on in communities off the beaten path, from the Rocky Mountains to the Florida Everglades. At the start of the Great Depression, much of the U.S. countryside had no electricity, even after most cities and towns had been electrified for decades. Power companies refused to make the investment, which would furnish lower profits than urban projects; some even claimed, astonishingly, that rural communities were better off in the dark. I don’t think that my grandfather, who grew up on northern Colorado beet farms without electricity, would have agreed.

Rural Americans took the matter into their own hands. Well before the Great Depression, they started forming electric cooperatives—utilities built, owned, and governed by customers themselves. These efforts added to a long legacy of rural cooperation as a means of economic inclusion, including 19th-century organizations like the Grange and the Farmers’ Alliance, whose purchasing and marketing cooperatives enabled farmers to compete in markets increasingly controlled by urban capital. Electric co-ops started taking advantage of hydroelectric dams built under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to distribute cheap, renewable power, and the federal government finally recognized their success enough to invest in it. In 1936, the Rural Electrification Act provided low-interest loans and technical support; by the end of World War II, around half of U.S. farms had electricity, up from around 10 percent a decade earlier. It turned out that, without investors clamoring for profits, powering the countryside was a perfectly sensible business proposition.

Today, nearly a thousand local cooperatives provide electricity to the inhabitants of around three-quarters of the landmass of the United States. They have formed larger co-ops in order to build and manage their own power plants. They’ve formed cooperative banks to finance new projects, lessening the need for public loans. Together with the rural phone co-ops that emerged in the same period, some electric co-ops are now bringing broadband internet service to underserved areas. Some have also become leaders in transitioning to renewable energy sources.

And all along, the basic model hasn’t changed: The co-ops are still owned and governed by the people they serve. Members typically get ballots for board members with their bills. It’s not a perfect system, and far too many co-ops have tolerated low election turnouts, entrenched board members, and bylaws designed to make change difficult. Still, co-ops have strong incentives to keep rates affordable, and any excess earnings get reinvested in the communities from which they came.

Electric cooperatives have also garnered remarkably bipartisan support over the years. Although spurred and nurtured early on by Democratic presidents, for decades now, these fixtures of the red state economy have had GOP lawmakers among their chief advocates, including former Indiana governor and vice president-elect Mike Pence. And it’s easy to see why: Co-ops are practical businesses that foster strong communities and local control. Because they’re regulated by their member-owners, in most cases they require significantly less oversight from government bureaucracies, if any.

Co-ops are practical businesses that foster strong communities and local control.

This kind of investment in infrastructure—a kind that empowers huge swaths of people—doesn’t appear to be what the Trump administration has in mind. The current proposal relies heavily on targeted tax credits for private developers and their investors, encouraging the kind of profiteering businesses that preferred not to bring power-lines to my grandfather’s farm. The developers’ projects will create new jobs, at least for a while. But when the construction is done, they can take the profits away to their preferred tax havens. They might also retain control over the projects for decades to come, continuing to reap profits from local populations to which they have little accountability. The Trumps of the world benefit long-term, while the rest of us see just a temporary respite from systemic decline.

Any new opportunity for public investment is an opportunity for building shared, sustainable, public wealth. Co-ops and other kinds of democratic ownership models can help make sure that this happens. Co-ops place the initiative and control with communities trying to meet their needs. Developers and lenders can then line up to serve those needs—rather than the other way around.

Community ownership can take a variety of forms. In Italy, a new model of “social cooperatives” is spreading rapidly as an affordable, humane way of delivering care to aging populations. Our crumbling water systems might be better served by something resembling the electric co-ops or by public-benefit companies like the one that saved the Welsh water infrastructure from an ill-fated period of privatization. Co-ops have proven effective in enabling communities to build solar and wind farms when investor-owned utilities have refused to do so. And, alongside locally owned broadband networks, we could invest in platform cooperatives—alternatives to Silicon Valley’s online utilities that increasingly shape how we find work and do business.

Cooperative models ensure that public investment goes to projects with enough public support that people are willing to become co-owners, responsible for setting their own priorities and keeping the business sound. They just require a willingness to trust—not in the largess of big investors, but in ourselves.

 

A Moment of Genuine Sweetness

Acts of Hope: Challenging Empire on the World Stage

[Editor’s Note: An essay from 2003, with a  bit of history and a message more urgent today than ever]
Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch.com

By Tom Engelhardt at 3:47am, May 19, 2003.

hopeYou know how, out of the blue, someone can walk into your life? Sometimes, for a book editor, a manuscript walks in the same way. Sometimes, for a reader, a voice drifts in.

It happened to me recently, and it was the voice of Rebecca Solnit, arriving enfolded in an essay about hope. Hope and consequences, you might say. It seemed to have everything in it I’ve been wanting to say (but, for whatever reason, couldn’t) – or rather everything I’ve been feeling all of us needed to hear and hadn’t.

“Activism,” Solnit writes, “is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark.” Exactly. And history, she adds, “is like weather, not like checkers. A game of checkers ends. The weather never does.” At the end of a game, she might have added, it’s so simple. You tote up the score, sort out the winners and losers, close up the board, and go on to something else. At a pause in history, as at present, if you tote up the score, close up the board, and go home, you’re making a disastrous mistake.

A lot of the antiwar movement has done that in the wake of our second Iraq war. And I don’t blame them. All those people marching. All that opposition. And still a war — and look at the opinion polls now! But what’s so beautiful about Solnit’s piece, the gorgeous writing aside, is that she wants us to stop adding up the score in that game-like way. She wants us to acknowledge the darkness of our moment and our world, but also realize that the score isn’t in, that it can’t be known. Not ever. Not really. And then she wants us to make a wager, to take that leap into the dark, and bet on hope. She wants that because we simply can’t know the consequences of our acts, a point she makes with particular grace.

The pleasure of having a weblog is that — thanks, in this case, to the kindness of an author and a magazine — I can share with you the experience of that unexpected stranger entering the room. Solnit, an activist (environmental and antinuclear) as well as a writer, is the author most recently of River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. But as for myself, I’m now reading an older book of hers, a beauty called Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West about, among other things, our dress rehearsals for Armageddon, those atomic tests our government carried out above and then under the Nevada desert from the 1950s into the 1990s (tests the Bush administration wants to start up again).

Solnit is also a columnist for Orion, a twenty-one year old environmental magazine that describes its task as exploring “an emerging alternative worldview. Informed by a growing ecological awareness and the need for cultural change, it is a forum for thoughtful and creative ideas and practical examples of how we might live justly, wisely, and artfully on Earth.” Orion, which has already posted “Acts of Hope” at its site, and Solnit have together given me permission to publish it as well. It’s important. Please do read it and share it widely.Tom

Acts of Hope: Challenging Empire on the World Stage
By Rebecca Solnit

What We Hope For

On January 18, 1915, eighteen months into the first world war, the first terrible war in the modern sense — slaughter by the hundreds of thousands, poison gas, men living and dying in the open graves of trench warfare, tanks, barbed wire, machine guns, airplanes — Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal, “The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.” Dark, she seems to say, as in inscrutable, not as in terrible. We often mistake the one for the other. People imagine the end of the world is nigh because the future is unimaginable. Who twenty years ago would have pictured a world without the USSR and with the Internet? We talk about “what we hope for” in terms of what we hope will come to pass but we could think of it another way, as why we hope. We hope on principle, we hope tactically and strategically, we hope because the future is dark, we hope because it’s a more powerful and more joyful way to live. Despair presumes it knows what will happen next. But who, two decades ago, would have imagined that the Canadian government would give a huge swathe of the north back to its indigenous people, or that the imprisoned Nelson Mandela would become president of a free South Africa?

Twenty-one years ago this June, a million people gathered in Central Park to demand a nuclear freeze. They didn’t get it. The movement was full of people who believed they’d realize their goal in a few years and then go home. Many went home disappointed or burned out. But in less than a decade, major nuclear arms reductions were negotiated, helped along by European antinuclear movements and the impetus they gave Gorbachev. Since then, the issue has fallen off the map and we have lost much of what was gained. The US never ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the Bush administration is planning to resume the full-fledged nuclear testing halted in 1991, to resume manufacture, to expand the arsenal, and perhaps even to use it in once-proscribed ways.

It’s always too soon to go home. And it’s always too soon to calculate effect. I once read an anecdote by someone in Women Strike for Peace, the first great antinuclear movement in the United States in 1963, the one that did contribute to a major victory: the end of aboveground nuclear testing with its radioactive fallout that was showing up in mother’s milk and baby teeth. She told of how foolish and futile she felt standing in the rain one morning protesting at the Kennedy White House. Years later she heard Dr. Benjamin Spock — one of the most high-profile activists on the issue then — say that the turning point for him was seeing a small group of women standing in the rain, protesting at the White House. If they were so passionately committed, he thought, he should give the issue more consideration himself.

Unending Change

A lot of activists expect that for every action there is an equal and opposite and punctual reaction, and regard the lack of one as failure. After all, activism is often a reaction: Bush decides to invade Iraq, we create a global peace movement in which 10 to 30 million people march on seven continents on the same weekend. But history is shaped by the groundswells and common dreams that single acts and moments only represent. It’s a landscape more complicated than commensurate cause and effect. Politics is a surface in which transformation comes about as much because of pervasive changes in the depths of the collective imagination as because of visible acts, though both are necessary. And though huge causes sometimes have little effect, tiny ones occasionally have huge consequences.

Some years ago, scientists attempted to create a long-range weather forecasting program, assuming that the same initial conditions would generate the same weather down the road. It turned out that the minutest variations, even the undetectable things, things they could perhaps not yet even imagine as data, could cause entirely different weather to emerge from almost identical initial conditions. This was famously summed up as the saying about the flap of a butterfly’s wings on one continent that can change the weather on another.

History is like weather, not like checkers. A game of checkers ends. The weather never does. That’s why you can’t save anything. Saving is the wrong word. Jesus saves and so do banks: they set things aside from the flux of earthly change. We never did save the whales, though we might’ve prevented them from becoming extinct. We will have to continue to prevent that as long as they continue not to be extinct. Saving suggests a laying up where neither moth nor dust doth corrupt, and this model of salvation is perhaps why Americans are so good at crisis response and then going home to let another crisis brew. Problems seldom go home. Most nations agree to a ban on hunting endangered species of whale, but their oceans are compromised in other ways. DDT is banned in the US, but exported to the third world, and Monsanto moves on to the next atrocity.

The world gets better. It also gets worse. The time it will take you to address this is exactly equal to your lifetime, and if you’re lucky you don’t know how long that is. The future is dark. Like night. There are probabilities and likelihoods, but there are no guarantees.

As Adam Hochschild points out, from the time the English Quakers first took on the issue of slavery, three quarters of a century passed before it was abolished it in Europe and America. Few if any working on the issue at the beginning lived to see its conclusion, when what had once seemed impossible suddenly began to look, in retrospect, inevitable. And as the law of unintended consequences might lead you to expect, the abolition movement also sparked the first widespread women’s rights movement, which took about the same amount of time to secure the right to vote for American women, has achieved far more in the subsequent 83 years, and is by no means done. Activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark.

Writers understand that action is seldom direct. You write your books. You scatter your seeds. Rats might eat them, or they might just rot. In California, some seeds lie dormant for decades because they only germinate after fire. Sharon Salzberg, in her book Faith, recounts how she put together a book of teachings by the Buddhist monk U Pandita and consigned the project to the “minor-good-deed category.” Long afterward, she found out that when Burmese democracy movement’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was kept isolated under house arrest by that country’s dictators, the book and its instructions in meditation “became her main source of spiritual support during those intensely difficult years.” Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Walter Benjamin and Arthur Rimbaud, like Henry David Thoreau, achieved their greatest impact long after their deaths, long after weeds had grown over the graves of the bestsellers of their times. Gandhi’s Thoreau-influenced nonviolence was as important in the American South as it was in India, and what transpired with Martin Luther King’s sophisticated version of it has influenced civil disobedience movements around the world. Decades after their assassinations they are still with us.

At the port of Oakland, California, on April 7, several hundred peace activists came out at dawn to picket the gates of a company shipping arms to Iraq. The longshoreman’s union had vowed not to cross our picket. The police arrived in riot gear and, unprovoked and unthreatened, began shooting wooden bullets and beanbags of shot at the activists. Three members of the media, nine longshoremen, and fifty activists were injured. I saw the bloody welts the size of half grapefruits on the backs of some of the young men–they had been shot in the back — and a swelling the size of an egg on the jaw of a delicate yoga instructor. Told that way, violence won. But the violence inspired the union dock workers to form closer alliances with antiwar activists and underscored the connections between local and global issues. On May 12 we picketed again, with no violence. This time, the longshoremen acted in solidarity with the picketers and — for the first time in anyone’s memory — the shipping companies cancelled the work shift rather than face the protesters. Told that way, the story continues to unfold, and we have grown stronger. And there’s a third way to tell it. The picket stalled a lot of semi trucks. Some of the drivers were annoyed. Some sincerely believed that the war was a humanitarian effort. Some of them — notably a group of South Asian drivers standing around in the morning sun looking radiant — thought we were great. After the picket was broken up, one immigrant driver honked in support and pulled over to ask for a peace sign for his rig. I stepped forward to pierce holes into it so he could bungee-cord it to the chrome grille. We talked briefly, shook hands, and he stepped up into the cab. He was turned back at the gates –they weren’t accepting deliveries from antiwar truckers. When I saw him next he was sitting on a curb all alone behind police lines, looking cheerful and fearless. Who knows what will ultimately come of the spontaneous courage of this man with a job on the line?

Victories of the New Peace Movement

It was a setup for disappointment to expect that there would be an acknowledged cause and effect relationship between the antiwar actions and the Bush administration. On the other hand… • We will likely never know, but it seems that the Bush administration decided against the “Shock and Awe” saturation bombing of Baghdad because we made it clear that the cost in world opinion and civil unrest would be too high. We millions may have saved a few thousand or a few hundred thousand lives.

• The global peace movement was grossly underreported on February 15th. A million people marching in Barcelona was nice, but I also heard about the thousands in Chapel Hill, NC, the hundred and fifty people holding a peace vigil in the small town of Las Vegas, NM, the antiwar passion of people in even smaller villages from Bolivia to Thailand.

• Activists are often portrayed as an unrepresentative, marginal rabble, but something shifted in the media last fall. Since then, antiwar activists have mostly been represented as a diverse, legitimate, and representative body, a watershed victory for our representation and our long-term prospects.

• Many people who had never spoken out, never marched in the street, never joined groups, written to politicians, or donated to campaigns, did so; countless people became political as never before. That is, if nothing else, a vast aquifer of passion now stored up to feed the river of change. New networks and communities and websites and listserves and jail solidarity groups and coalitions arose.

• In the name of the so-called war on terror, which seems to inculcate terror at home and enact it abroad, we have been encouraged to fear our neighbors, each other, strangers, (particularly middle-eastern, Arab, and Moslem people), to spy on them, to lock ourselves up, to privatize ourselves. By living out our hope and resistance in public together with strangers of all kinds, we overcame this catechism of fear, we trusted each other; we forged a community that bridged all differences among the peace loving as we demonstrated our commitment to the people of Iraq.

• We achieved a global movement without leaders. There were many brilliant spokespeople, theorists and organizers, but when your fate rests on your leader, you are only as strong, as incorruptible, and as creative as he — or, occasionally, she — is. What could be more democratic than millions of people who, via the grapevine, the Internet, and various groups from churches to unions to direct-action affinity groups, can organize themselves? Of course leaderless actions and movements have been organized for the past couple of decades, but never on such a grand scale. The African writer Laurens Van Der Post once said that no great new leaders were emerging because it was time for us to cease to be followers. Perhaps we have.

• We succeeded in doing what the anti-Vietnam War movement infamously failed to do: to refuse the dichotomies. We were able to oppose a war on Iraq without endorsing Saddam Hussein. We were able to oppose a war with compassion for the troops who fought it. Most of us did not fall into the traps that our foreign policy so often does and that earlier generations of radicals did: the ones in which our enemy’s enemy is our friend, in which the opponent of an evil must be good, in which a nation and its figurehead, a general and his troops, become indistinguishable. We were not against the US and for Iraq; we were against the war, and many of us were against all war, all weapons of mass destruction — even ours — and all violence, everywhere. We are not just an antiwar movement. We are a peace movement.

• Questions the peace and anti-globalization movements have raised are now mainstream, though no mainstream source will say why, or perhaps even knows why. Activists targeted Bechtel, Halliburton, Chevron and Lockheed Martin, among others, as war profiteers with ties to the Bush administration. The actions worked not by shutting the places down in any significant way but by making their operations a public question. Direct action seldom works directly, but now the media scrutinizes those corporations as never before. Representative Henry Waxman publicly questioned Halliburton’s ties to terrorist states the other day, and the media is closely questioning the administration’s closed-door decision to award Halliburton, the company vice-president Cheney headed until he took office, a $7 billion contract to administer Iraqi oil. These are breakthroughs.

The Angel of Alternate History

American history is dialectical. What is best about it is called forth by what is worst. The abolitionists and the underground railroad, the feminist movement and the civil rights movement, the environmental and human rights movements were all called into being by threats and atrocities. There’s plenty of what’s worst afoot nowadays. But we need a progressive activism that is not one of reaction but of initiation, one in which people of good will everywhere set the agenda. We need to extend the passion the war brought forth into preventing the next one, and toward addressing all the forms of violence besides bombs. We need a movement that doesn’t just respond to the evils of the present but calls forth the possibilities of the future. We need a revolution of hope. And for that we need to understand how change works and how to count our victories.

While serving on the board of Citizen Alert, a Nevada nonprofit environmental and antinuclear group, I once wrote a fundraising letter modeled after “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Frank Capra’s movie is a model for radical history, because what the angel Clarence shows the suicidal George Bailey is what the town would look like if he hadn’t done his best for his neighbors. This angel of alternate history shows not what happened but what didn’t, and that’s what’s hardest to weigh. Citizen Alert’s victories were largely those of what hadn’t happened to the air, the water, the land, and the people of Nevada. And the history of what the larger movements have achieved is largely one of careers undestroyed, ideas uncensored, violence and intimidation uncommitted, injustices unperpetrated, rivers unpoisoned and undammed, bombs undropped, radiation unleaked, poisons unsprayed, wildernesses unviolated, countryside undeveloped, resources unextracted, species unexterminated.

I was born during the summer the Berlin Wall went up, into a country in which there weren’t even words, let alone redress, for many of the practices that kept women and people of color from free and equal citizenship, in which homosexuality was diagnosed as a disease and treated as a crime, in which the ecosystem was hardly even a concept, in which extinction and pollution were issues only a tiny minority heeded, in which “better living through chemistry” didn’t yet sound like black humor, in which the US and USSR were on hair-trigger alert for a nuclear Armageddon, in which most of the big questions about the culture had yet to be asked. It was a world with more rainforest, more wild habitat, more ozone layer, and more species; but few were defending those things then. An ecological imagination was born and became part of the common culture only in the past few decades, as did a broader and deeper understanding of human diversity and human rights.

The world gets worse. It also gets better. And the future stays dark.

Nobody knows the consequences of their actions, and history is full of small acts that changed the world in surprising ways. I was one of thousands of activists at the Nevada Test Site in the late 1980s, an important, forgotten history still unfolding out there where the US and UK have exploded more than a thousand nuclear bombs, with disastrous effects on the environment and human health, (and where the Bush Administration would like to resume testing, thereby sabotaging the unratified Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty). We didn’t shut down our test site, but our acts inspired the Kazakh poet Olzhas Suleimenov, on February 27, 1989, to read a manifesto instead of poetry on live Kazakh TV — a manifesto demanding a shutdown of the Soviet nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, and calling a meeting. Five thousand Kazakhs gathered at the Writer’s Union the next day and formed a movement to shut down the site. They named themselves the Nevada-Semipalatinsk Antinuclear Movement.

The Soviet Test Site was indeed shut down. Suleimenov was the catalyst, and though we in Nevada were his inspiration, what gave him his platform was his poetry in a country that loved poets. Perhaps Suleimenov wrote all his poems so that one day he could stand up in front of a TV camera and deliver not a poem but a manifesto. And perhaps Arundhati Roy wrote a ravishing novel that catapulted her to stardom so that when she stood up to oppose dams and destruction of the local for the benefit of the transnational, people would notice. Or perhaps these writers opposed the ravaging of the earth so that poetry too — poetry in the broadest sense — would survive in the world.

American poets became an antiwar movement themselves when Sam Hamill declined an invitation to Laura Bush’s “Poetry and the American Voice” symposium shortly after her husband’s administration announced their “Shock and Awe” plan, and he circulated his letter of outrage. His e-mail box filled up, he started www.poetsagainstthewar.org, to which about 11,000 poets have submitted poems to date. Hamill became a major spokesperson against the war and his website has become an organizing tool for the peace movement.

Not Left But Forward

The glum traditional left often seems intent upon finding the cloud around every silver lining. This January, when Governor Ryan of Illinois overturned a hundred and sixty-seven death sentences, there were left-wing commentators who found fault with the details, carped when we should have been pouring champagne over our heads like football champs. And joy is one of our weapons and one of our victories. Non-activists sometimes chide us for being joyous at demonstrations, for having fun while taking on the serious business of the world, but in a time when alienation, isolation, and powerlessness are among our principal afflictions, just being out in the streets en masse is not a demand for victory: it is a victory.

But there’s an increasing gap between this new movement with its capacity for joy and the old figureheads. Their grumpiness is often the grumpiness of perfectionists who hold that anything less than total victory is failure, a premise that makes it easy to give up at the start or to disparage the victories that are possible. This is earth. It will never be heaven. There will always be cruelty, always be violence, always be destruction. There is tremendous devastation now. In the time it takes you to read this, acres of rainforest will vanish, a species will go extinct, women will be raped, men shot, and far too many children will die of easily preventable causes. We cannot eliminate all devastation for all time, but we can reduce it, outlaw it, undermine its source and foundation: these are victories.

Nearly everyone felt, after September 11, 2001, along with grief and fear, a huge upwelling of idealism, of openness, of a readiness to question and to learn, a sense of being connected and a desire to live our lives for something more, even if it wasn’t familiar, safe, or easy. Nothing could have been more threatening to the current administration, and they have done everything they can to repress it.

But that desire is still out there. It’s the force behind a huge new movement we don’t even have a name for yet, a movement that’s not a left opposed to a right, but perhaps a below against above, little against big, local and decentralized against consolidated. If we could throw out the old definitions, we could recognize where the new alliances lie; and those alliances — of small farmers, of factory workers, of environmentalists, of the poor, of the indigenous, of the just, of the farseeing — could be extraordinarily powerful against the forces of corporate profit and institutional violence. Left and right are terms for where the radicals and conservatives sat in the French National Assembly after the French Revolution. We’re not in that world anymore, let alone that seating arrangement. We’re in one that for all its ruins and poisons and legacies is utterly new. Anti-globalization activists say, “Another world is possible.” It is not only possible, it is inevitable; and we need to participate in shaping it.

I’m hopeful, partly because we don’t know what is going to happen in that dark future and we might as well live according to our principles as long as we’re here. Hope, the opposite of fear, lets us do that. Imagine the world as a lifeboat: the corporations and the current administration are smashing holes in it as fast (or faster) than the rest of us can bail or patch the leaks. But it’s important to take account of the bailers as well as the smashers and to write epics in the present tense rather than elegies in the past tense. That’s part of what floats this boat. And if it sinks, we all sink, so why not bail? Why not row? The reckless Bush Administration seems to be generating what US administrations have so long held back: a world in which the old order is shattered and anything is possible.

Zapatista spokesman Subcommandante Marcos adds, “History written by Power taught us that we had lost…. We did not believe what Power taught us. We skipped class when they taught conformity and idiocy. We failed modernity. We are united by the imagination, by creativity, by tomorrow. In the past we not only met defeat but also found a desire for justice and the dream of being better. We left skepticism hanging from the hook of big capital and discovered that we could believe, that it was worth believing, that we should believe — in ourselves. Health to you, and don’t forget that flowers, like hope, are harvested.”

And they grow in the dark. “I believe,” adds Thoreau, “in the forest, and the meadow, and the night in which the corn grows.”


 

This article first appeared on OrionOnline.org. To see Orion magazine’s illustrated version of the piece click here.

Or if you would simply like to sample Orion’s website, go to www.oriononline.org.

The Sometimes Huge Power Of Small Acts of Resistance

small_actsWe were not among the millions of people who took to the streets of the world yesterday, in the most inspiring outburst of protest in my long lifetime … against everything vile that Donald Trump stands for.

If you were among the demonstrators, I’m inclined to ask you: Did you feel like a small part of a great movement, or a great part of a great movement?

Did it feel — from the inside — as powerful as it looked from the outside?

If you are in doubt — as I have sometimes been about my own activism — about the effectiveness of your small action, consider this beautiful bit of history by Rebecca Solnit, the best writer on hope at work in the world today, in her collection of essays, “Hope In The Dark“:

Twenty-one years ago this June, a million people gathered in Central Park to demand a nuclear freeze. They didn’t get it. The movement was full of people who believed they’d realize their goal in a few years and then go home. Many went home disappointed or burned out. But in less than a decade, major nuclear arms reductions were negotiated, helped along by European antinuclear movements and the impetus they gave Gorbachev. Since then, the issue has fallen off the map and we have lost much of what was gained. The US never ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the Bush administration is planning to resume the full-fledged nuclear testing halted in 1991, to resume manufacture, to expand the arsenal, and perhaps even to use it in once-proscribed ways.

It’s always too soon to go home. And it’s always too soon to calculate effect. I once read an anecdote by someone in Women Strike for Peace, the first great antinuclear movement in the United States in 1963, the one that did contribute to a major victory: the end of aboveground nuclear testing with its radioactive fallout that was showing up in mother’s milk and baby teeth. She told of how foolish and futile she felt standing in the rain one morning protesting at the Kennedy White House. Years later she heard Dr. Benjamin Spock — one of the most high-profile activists on the issue then — say that the turning point for him was seeing a small group of women standing in the rain, protesting at the White House. If they were so passionately committed, he thought, he should give the issue more consideration himself.

Never question your commitment, or the value of even your smallest acts and gestures in the service of your beliefs.

 

I Fine Myself $2 for Using The T-Word

Trump_SleepingI fined myself $2 this morning for using the T-word twice before I finished discussing Kelly Ann Conway’s argument with Chuck Todd yesterday, during which she tried to redefine the Administration’s lies as “alternative facts.” She was responding to Todd’s reference to them as “falsehoods.” (The fines accumulating in our T-Jar will eventually get donated to an organization doing good work, preferably an organization that launches lawsuits, such as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU or the NRDC).

“Alternative facts?” Did T call a cabinet meeting in order to come up with that laughable euphemism? Doesn’t the President have more pressing matters to concern himself with than his image? I think we all know the answer to that.

 
I’ve never seen T look more strained and stressed out, more besieged. It occurs to me that the ultimate torture for an obsessive compulsive narcissist like T is to be President of the United States with an unfavorability rating of 53% (net negative favorability), an historically aroused populace and an abused media growing more hostile to him by the hour.
 
The amount of ridicule coming at T is worse than the torture implied by Johnny Carson’s old gag: “Mmmmmay the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits.”
 
No wonder he looks strained.
 
And this only the beginning.
 
Only day three.

What Comes The Day After The Women’s March?

“Before Trump’s victory, it was widely assumed that a candidate without the backing of the establishment could not possibly win a presidential election. Good news: now we know that it is possible. It is finally conceivable that a revolutionary movement beholden to the people could take power in America by winning elections and without violence.

“I suspect the Women’s March on Washington has a role to play in this unfolding drama, but only if we cultivate a few moments of detachment from the thoughtless excitement to truly take time to consider this question: what happens on the day after the women march?

“Right now, in America, there is no pro-democracy anti-establishment party that is capable of stepping forward, seizing power and governing. America needs a protest movement like Spain’s Podemos, Iceland’s Pirate Party or Italy’s 5 Star Movement. These populist democratic movements are the prototype for the future of protest. Each has achieved surprising electoral victories in a short time, but what is more important is how they are changing the way power functions.”

From:
Without a path from protest to power, the Women’s March will end up like Occupy

 


 

For more information about other populist movements, see the latest John Judis book:

The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics by [Judis, John B.]

Click for Amazon Review

Trump Brags About Not Sleeping Much: Here Are 6 Catastrophes Caused by Sleep Deprivation

Bill Clinton once said America would be a lot better off if our leaders slept more.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.org

[Note: Sleep-deprived people sometimes have a more permeable boundary between the conscious and the unconscious states,Trump_Sleeping such that the nightmarish imagery most of us have only in deep sleep, they might experience as waking reality. This could be dangerous, especially if that person wields great power. Healthy people sometimes have a mild, non-pathological experience of this state while, say, reading a book in bed late at night and starting to hear soft voices from the encroaching unconscious. Is Trump a pathological case? [Editor, Sierra Voices]].

By Larry Schwartz

President-elect Donald J. Trump regularly boasts he’s the biggest winner, makes the biggest deals, and appoints the best people, and recently he claimed he’ll be the biggest job creator god ever created. He also brags that he does all these amazing things on next to no sleep. This 70-year-old pre-adolescent made numerous boasts on the campaign trail last year about his sleeping habits, saying he sometimes gets as little as an hour’s sleep a night. Most nights, Trump says he gets by on just three or four hours of sleep, which is half of the amount sleep experts recommend. “I have a great temperament for success,” he told the Chicago Tribune at an event in Illinois last November. “You know, I’m not a big sleeper, I like three hours, four hours, I toss, I turn, I beep-de-beep, I want to find out what’s going on.”

Some evidence of the rare truth of this particular brag is evident in the tweets he churns out, many with time signatures in the wee hours. In one case, after a GOP election debate moderated by Megyn Kelly, he tweeted out 30 messages between 2:30 and 4:30am, according to the Washington Post. Daniel Barron, a Yale University neurologist, even gives Trump’s nocturnal habit a name: Trump syndrome. The symptoms are, “a ravenous late-night craving for stimulation that results in a sometimes sporadic, often slender sleep schedule.”

Of course, Trump is not alone in being sleep-deprived. A report prepared by the Centers for Disease Control, based on the responses of nearly 75,000 people, found that 35 percent of them got less than the optimal seven hours of sleep a night, almost 30 percent got less than six hours and an astounding 38 percent reported that they unintentionally fell asleep during the day at least once in the past month. Only a tiny percentage, about 1 to 3 percent of all people, known as “short sleepers,” get by just fine on very few hours of sleep, with little health or cognitive consequence while awake.

The evidence might suggest, however, that Trump is no short sleeper, and the consequences of his sleeplessness are grave. Sleep deprivation has many symptoms, and the president-elect displays most of them. Sleep-deprived individuals, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, are impulsive, have difficulty adapting to new situations, are snappish, exhibit poor judgment, have trouble listening to and processing information, experience a lack of concentration and focus, are prone to imagining things, and get distracted easily. The sleep-deprived’s ability to learn new information can drop by up to 40 percent. Moreover, the lack of sufficient REM sleep can lead to the inability to recognize happiness or sadness in others—in other words, a lack of empathy. Sound familiar? That’s not all. A study in 2013 found that a lack of sleep results in increased activity in the part of the brain that prefers junk food over healthy foods, a description that fits the Big Mac-loving Trump. “The Quarter Pounder. It’s great stuff,” he once told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

There is also the fact that boasting about not sleeping is puerile in the extreme and potentially dangerously irresponsible. “Being able to hold your liquor and still drive used to be cool, but that’s not a badge of honor anymore,” sleep researcher Orfeu Buxton of Penn State University told Science of Us. “We’re still talking about how it makes you tougher if you sleep less. Drowsy driving is just as bad as drunk driving, and that cultural shift is lagging behind drinking and driving by a few decades.”

Steven Feinsilver of the Center for Sleep Medicine told Live Science, “Clearly, your brain doesn’t work very well when you’re sleep deprived,” and former President Bill Clinton would agree. Clinton told CNN most of the missteps he made throughout his career resulted from being tired. And he told Jon Stewart on the “Daily Show,” “Sleep deprivation has a lot to do with some of the edginess of Washington today,” and that “America would work better” if its political leaders got more sleep.

Meanwhile, one in six fatal car crashes is related to sleep deprivation, as are over 200,000 accidents at work. And some of the world’s worst disasters can be traced back to lack of sleep. Will our next president be at the helm of the next disaster? No doubt much of America will not sleep easier now that the man with the nuclear codes is the sleep-challenged Trump.

Here are six of the worst disasters sleep deprivation has wrought.

1. Exxon Valdez

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground on a reef in Alaska. The result was America’s second-largest oil spill. The backstory revealed that there had been layoffs of some of the crew, and other crew members were working extended shifts of 12-14 hours. The third mate, Gregory Cousins, allegedly fell asleep at the wheel. Over 11 million gallons of oil fouled the formerly pristine Prince William Sound, killing untold numbers of wild animals and birds. It took four summers and over $2 billion to clean up the spill.

2. Three Mile Island

In 1979, between 4 and 6 in the morning, the reactor core of Three Mile Island nuclear facility in Pennsylvania began to melt down, though warning signs of the impending disaster went unnoticed by tired workers. The worst nuclear accident on American soil caused widespread panic, as fears of a complete meltdown spread. Though finally brought under control after a partial meltdown, the cleanup cost a billion dollars and essentially halted, to this day, construction of any new nuclear facilities in the U.S. The official investigation pointed to sleep deprivation as a prime factor in the accident.

3. Chernobyl

Even worse than Three Mile Island, the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in what was then the Soviet Union is the worst nuclear disaster in human history. Sleep deprivation led to the explosion that caused the meltdown, as engineers at the plant had been working shifts of more than 13 hours. Radiation clouds covered much of Eastern Europe, 240 cases of radiation sickness were reported and a still-unknown number of deaths resulted.

4. The Challenger

In January 1986, the Challenger space shuttle took off to great excitement, and then proceeded to explode in front of horrified spectators, killing all seven astronauts aboard. A subsequent investigation found that the explosion was caused by an O-ring seal failure (essentially a rubber gasket) that allowed gas to escape and explode. The O-ring failed due to the freezing temperatures that morning, and engineers had recommended that the launch be delayed and the rings be tested for just such a failure, but launch managers, some of whom had slept only two hours before arriving at the launching at 1am that morning, rejected the testing. The Presidential Commission that investigated the disaster wrote, “The willingness of NASA employees in general to work excessive hours, while admirable, raises serious questions when it jeopardizes job performance, particularly when critical management decisions are at stake.”

5. Air France Flight 447

On May 31, 2009, Air France flight 447, traveling from Brazil to France, crashed, killing all 228 people aboard in one of the worst air disasters in aviation history. The pilot, Marc Dubois, had had only one hour of sleep the prior evening, and was sleeping during the flight when the plane hit a tropical storm.

6. Great Heck High-Speed Train

On Feb. 28, 2001, a high-speed train in the United Kingdom hit a Land Rover that was stuck on the track. The crash, at Great Heck, killed 10 people and seriously injured another 82 people. It was the worst UK train disaster of the 21st century thus far. The subsequent investigation found that the engineer was sleep-deprived and had failed to apply the brakes while going downhill, making him unable to stop in time.


Larry Schwartz is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with a focus on health, science and American history.

The Election was Stolen – Here’s How

Before a single vote was cast, the election was fixed by GOP and Trump operatives.

By Greg Palast

Starting in 2013 – just as the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act – a coterie of Trump operatives, under the direction of Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, created a system to purge 1.1 million Americans of color from the voter rolls of GOP–controlled states.

The system, called Crosscheck, is detailed in my Rolling Stone report,
The GOP’s Stealth War on Voters,” 8/24/2016.

Crosscheck in action:  
Trump victory margin in Michigan:                    13,107
Michigan Crosscheck purge list:                       449,922

Trump victory margin in Arizona:                       85,257
Arizona Crosscheck purge list:                           270,824

Trump victory margin in North Carolina:        177,008
North Carolina Crosscheck purge list:              589,393

Read the rest of the article here.

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