Good News

The day after the long-overdue termination of the U.S. program supporting Syrian rebels, a hawkish high-ranking Defense Department official (in the words of the headline “Trump’s top Middle East aide”) got the boot:

Harvey was viewed as one of Trump’s more hawkish foreign policy advisers—particularly on Iran, whose leadership he has studied closely and which he recommends confronting more aggressively. He has also been a staunch critic of the Iran nuclear deal. And Harvey has pushed for a strong U.S. military role against the Islamic State in Syria. Many military officials consider him the government’s most knowledgeable source on the Sunni insurgency in Iraq and Syria.

I consider this at least provisional evidence that there remains a degree of anti-intervention sentiment within the Trump Administration.

Posted in Afghanistan, Iran, Ronald Reagan, Saudi Arabia, War | Leave a comment

The Fine Line between Prediction and Paranoia

Ruins of the Forum in Rome, the classic example of a collapsed empire.


James Petras is a commenter with whom I find myself frequently agreeing.  In a good way, it’s something akin to how I feel about Paul Krugman (with whom I have plenty of disagreements, of course; but I’m generally on the same side).

Today I feel obliged to mull over his prediction of a coming breakdown in the federal government, which, again, I view pretty similarly as Petras does, as an institution running a global empire, and maintaining it by means of an endless war. I perform this exercise not as a critique of Mr Petras alone, but as a warning about how we can all go off the cliff of overconfidence.

The post begins with a valuable prefatory statement, saying that the ruling elite, the imperial power of the United States, has a variety of conflicting factions, and that the surprise election of Donald Trump has revealed, since his accession to power, an open struggle for power within these factions.

When I say I agree with this I am not only consenting to its plausibility but asserting that Mr Petras is simply examining our own government within a framework informed by the history of virtually all imperial regimes, bar none; they all suffer factional struggle for control among competing factions.  Roman, Holy Roman, Spanish, Russian, Austro-Hungarian histories — all of these could provide innumerable specific examples if the reader wished me to elaborate.

Then the column turns to a prediction of a coming struggle between factions.

The September Showdown

The big test of power will be focused on the raising of the public debt ceiling and the continued funding of the entire federal government. Without agreement there will be a massive governmental shutdown – a kind of ‘general strike’ paralyzing essential domestic and foreign programs – including the funding of Medicare, the payment of Social Security pensions and the salaries of millions of government and Armed Forces employees.

Well, what if there is  an agreement; what then?  Mr Petras is not simply suggesting what might happen if there’s no agreement (which might indeed take place, although we have reason to doubt it); he’s so certain that there will be no agreement that he draws horrific conclusions from this coming lack of agreement.  The next sentence speaks about the militarized bureaucracy and the Democratic Party which have been openly conspiring to overthrow the Trump Administration since it began.

The pro-‘regime-change’ forces (coup makers) have decided to go for broke in order to secure the programatic capitulation of the Trump regime or its ouster.

You see the verb use is in the perfect indicative tense: “have decided”.  No reason to believe that a fairly large group, with shifting allegiances and agendas, has come to a definite plan of decisive action, is given by Mr Petras.  He simply asserts it without any evidence.

The Presidential power elite may choose the option of ruling by decree – based on the ensuing economic crisis. They may capitalize on a hue and cry from a Wall Street collapse and claim an imminent threat to national security on our national borders and overseas bases to declare a military emergency. Without support from the intelligence services, their success is doubtful.

Were there to be a significant threat by (let us call it) the Deep State to the powers of the Trump Administration, the classic response would appear to be a declaration of an external threat.  We might go to war with North Korea, for instance.  We won’t see that, says Mr Petras, because the intelligence services won’t support it.

We just saw that the intelligence services did not support a strike against Syria. I put the recent summary of that incident in boldface:

Hersh’s article, “Trump’s Red Line,” based on US intelligence sources, documents that the US intelligence apparatus knew that the Syrian attack on Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 was a conventional weapons attack on a meeting of anti-regime Islamists. Plans for the attack were communicated to the US military-intelligence apparatus ahead of time by the Russian military.

“A Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) by the US military later determined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syrian bomb triggered a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement, its effect magnified by the dense morning air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground,” Hersh writes.

The Syrian bombing of Khan Sheikhoun was used as a pretext by the Trump administration for firing 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the al-Shayrat airbase, reportedly killing nine civilians. The Democratic Party, which has based its opposition to Trump on demands that it adopt a harder line against Syria and Russia, supported the strikes.

So we are expected to believe that the very same intelligence services which allowed Trump to bomb Syria and, a few days later, shoot down a Syrian air force jet, without objection, are going to intervene in some future adventure by Trump in some other theater.

Both sides will blame each other for the mounting breakdown. Temporary Treasury expedients will not save the situation. The mass media will go into a hysterical mode, from political criticism to demanding open regime change. The Presidential regime may assume dictatorial powers in order ‘to save the country’.

Congressional moderates will demand a temporary solution: A week-to-week trickle of federal spending.

However, the coup-makers and the ‘Bonapartists’ will block any ‘rotten compromise’.

The military will be mobilized along with the entire security and judicial apparatus to dictate the outcome.

The hysterical mode here is that of Mr Petras, not the putative mass media discussion of the circumstances of a failure to increase the debt ceiling.

Now, I could be wrong and Mr Petras right.  We will see in September.  What I am saying is, that he’s going out on a very long limb here, and I disagree, not only with this prediction, but even with the self-assurance with which he makes such an extraordinary statement.  Recall how shocked the Republicans were when Romney didn’t win, or the Democrats, when Hillary Clinton lost.  On such quicksands you cannot build a reliable conception of the way the world works (you can practice your Doublethink, if that’s what you’re choosing to do; but that’s exactly the opposite of what I am attempting here).

Factional struggle in Washington’s ruling circles is especially open these days, revealing a great deal of what is usually decided behind closed doors.  With that I think we all can agree.  With that Mr Petras begins, and I wish he had stayed there.

Posted in Afghanistan, Bradley Manning, Brian Willson, Dan Handelman, Empire, Fascism, Global, Inequality, John Schweibert, Pacific Green Party, Ronald Reagan, Spiritual life, U.S. Constitution, US Senate, War | Leave a comment

How to Address the Korea Problem

The President of the United States is threatening military action against North Korea, and the only response the Koreans have made, is to test a new long-range missile that can reach, potentially, Alaska.

Suppose the U.S. bombs Korea.  Their reply could be, to throw a nuclear weapon at Seoul, which is within artillery range of their border.

We Had To Destroy Seoul In Order To Save It

I would like to join ten thousand people marching through Portland tomorrow, protesting the threat by the United States potentially to begin a war that could kill a million Koreans within hours.  I don’t have the power to initiate that action, or anything even similar to it.

All I can do is articulate a reasonable way to address the present situation in Korea.  It is to the interests of China, Russia, Japan, and both North and South Korea, that the Korean peninsula be a single country.  As a first step toward building confidence in such a nonviolent solution to the unreasonable division of one country, long after the end of the Cold War, I suggest that the United States withdraw all its troops and weapons from South Korea.

South Korea is many times richer than North Korea, can defend itself, and can take its own steps to promote such a unification.  The task of the United States in that process should be to join Russia, China, and Japan in facilitating it, not threatening a member of the United Nations with unilateral aggressive military action, such as bombing.

We lost in Vietnam.  Afghanistan has lasted for a longer time and is no closer to solution.  We are returning to Iraq.  Our foreign policy is in shreds.  The most likely chance we have for success is to adopt a non-violent, multi-lateral promotion of the best interests of all involved.

All of our attempts, in greater and greater measure, have failed to accomplish our aim of policing the world according to our dictates.

Give peace a chance.

Posted in Afghanistan, Bradley Manning, Brian Willson, Dan Handelman, Empire, Gar Alperovitz, Global, John Schweibert, Pacific Green Party, Spiritual life, U.S. Constitution, War | Leave a comment

Another Dead Citizen — Cop Protects Himself

In Los Angeles today, another unarmed citizen was shot and killed by a police officer.  In this case there was a complaint at three o’clock in the morning that there was a too-loud party.  The police who arrived were attacked by a pit bull.  In protecting themselves against a pit bull, the police shot and killed a 17-year-old boy who was attempting to restrain the dog.

This is yet one more example of why I claim the police officers don’t need more training; they need automatically to be fired.  You do not shoot at a person who is trying to restrain the dog.  You do not shoot at the dog; rather you hit him with a club.  But why say that, in the first place?

The bottom line ought to be — someone who is not assaulting a police officer is dead, then the police officer is fired.  That would restore proportion to all kinds of situations.  We don’t have reasonable proportionate use of force, and it is basically because we give the police a free pass to use force.

Oh, by the way . . . the name of the 17-year-old victim of police homicidal use of force was named Armando Garcia.  Come on now, does it matter?  Does it matter, his name? Or whether or not he was black?

All lives matter.  Fire homicidal police officers.

Update 22 June 2017: This poor fellow’s name is Anthony Promgvongsa, a Loatian name. He is not assaulting the officer.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Deep State Publicized

There may be an unexpected silver lining to the ongoing train wreck that is the Trump Administration, now under fire from virtually all quarters for a variety of reasons, some of them well-based but many of them not.

Where, back a couple of months ago, only the tinfoil-hat conspiracy-mongers spoke about the “Deep State” at all, and bien-pensant commentators downplayed any such an entity, now it is the Trump Administration which openly accuses the Deep State, by name and title, of engaging in a campaign to unseat a democratically-elected leader of the Executive Branch.

Here is The Real News network on 17 May, less than a month ago:

The series, the daily scandals that we’re talking about — the Comey letter today, the leak to the Russians yesterday, on and on — are kind of distracting us from the bigger picture. Not only the question of, you know, what are our common interests, if any, with Russia, and can we seriously work towards them, but also, what are we going to do in the Middle East, and what are we doing in East Asia? These pivotal foreign policy strategic issues aren’t getting much attention because of the daily soap opera. You’re absolutely right.

Let me just add at the end here — I know we’re running out of time — I’ve noted the accidental clumsy careless leak that could’ve had tragic consequences of the first Bush president. We might also note that the second Bush presidency, that administration leaked like a sieve from, you know, exaggerated false intelligence on Iraq to the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative, when it suited their purposes. And the Obama administration wasn’t a lot better. People like McCain and others were furious at some of the leaks, whether it was the Stuxnet cyber war tactic that was used against Iran, to a whole series of other military facts that were leaked selectively by the Obama administration to serve their purposes. Let’s just remember this context. Mistaken leaks, strategic leaks, dishonest leaks go on all the time in Washington, and against that backdrop, let’s not fall off the cliff here over Trump sharing some intel about terror attacks with the Russians, about our common enemy, the Islamic State in Syria.

After, mind you, the Comey firing, and from a stoutly progressive source.  Naked Capitalism had the same angle of attack — the Deep State is a category error.

Today, however, the same source writes:

Lambert here: Putting legal and ethical issues aside, if a special counsel ends up taking Trump down, Comey will be credited with having performed a feat hitherto unknown in politics: Taking down the presumptive front-running candidate in a Presidential election (at least according to the dominant faction in the Democrat Party), and then taking down the candidate who was elected instead. In my view, that will give Comey (along with his faction in the “intelligence community) open veto power over any future Presidential candidate, should he choose to exercise it, a change in the Constitututional order. I mean, the story of the quadrennial trek to visit with The Last Honest Man in Washington on his front porch practically writes itself. Comey is only 56.

What has just happened is, the line-up is no longer a covert struggle but one which is declared and open.

From the point of view of those who realize the trappings of democratic control of the imperial levers of power are simply rhetorical nods in the direction of traditional symbols, performed for the purpose of making onlookers more comfortable with the  control which is anything but democratic, this openly-declared struggle is an, as I said, unexpected benefit of the generally sad interregnum that the Trump Administration increasingly appears to be.

Posted in Elections, Empire, Global, Pacific Green Party, Ronald Reagan, U.S. Constitution, US Senate, War | Leave a comment

Lessons from Colonialism

While my two teenaged sons, Michael Kepler and John Dominic, were attending the much-anticipated Free Speech pro-Trump rally in front of City Hall this last weekend, getting onto the front page of the British newspaper the Guardian, I went to a prisoner-support group which was holding its first-ever meeting in Portland.

First, let me add the click-bait by reproducing the picture the Brits went with:

— and point out that the wearer of the black t-shirt saying “Free Speech is more important than your feelings” is Michael Kepler Meo; and the head an inch or two of which is visible above and behind the helmet belongs to John Dominic Meo.

I think it fair to say that this is an unlikely venue to promote the change we want to see in the world. Rather, although it draws all the attention, it certainly seems more than likely to produce net negative results.

The group with whom I met, on the other hand, is quite shy of publicity: we realized, after some consideration, that the proposed activity in support of prisoners which we had at first considered would only terminate any effort to contact and support those members of our group who were still within the walls. So I am not going to provide pictures or names in this post, although, given the tools available to the Surveillance State, it is certain that the effort will do nothing to conceal whom i’m talking about from a government effort to find out.

What’s the problem we want to address? Well, as is already recognized, this country has gone off the deep end in incarcerating its citizens. One way of looking at it is to compare countries by crime rate versus incarceration rate. Here is a chart, with the incarceration in the vertical scale and number of victims of crime on the horizontal.

from the Washington Post of 7 July 2015

We are an outlier, orders of magnitude more likely to imprison our citizens.

Not only that, but we lock up brown and black people much more easily, and for longer periods of time, than those we see as white.

African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males,

says the current [22 June 2017] issue of the New York Review of Books, quoting a report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

How shall we address it? The prison authorities, here in the local state prison (one thing I wonder whether we might do is, consider expanding our charge to include people in local jails) have been okay with activities to help prisoners learn to read books. Organizing to protect their rights, support for their own efforts to improve their conditions of living and working, and anything that draws attention to their condition at all, is quashed — indeed, is prohibited in writing by the authorities of anyone requesting visiting privileges.

So we talked for a couple of hours about how to address the problem(s) confronting us. We listened to a video of national leaders of prison reform; the consensus was, that particular tactics could be adopted and changed, as the opportunity comes and goes, but that we would be undercutting our efforts to obtain real change if we were satisfied with attempts at co-operative efforts within the present obviously oppressive system. In the most general terms, we recognize that capitalism oppresses, and that locking people into cages oppresses, and that the two are connected, and that we’re engaged in a much broader effort than simply bringing books into prisons. Although, as we have so far seen, that’s a start.

A most suggestive parallel came this morning from an unlikely source, my old collection of the scholarly Journal of Modern History.  Its September 2012 issue has an article by an Oxford academic on the silence of the British press during the 1930s while British colonial response to Gandhi’s campaign of nonviolent resistance produced hundreds of victims of police brutality — including house burnings, arbitrary detentions, and killings.  The answer the author arrives at has a lot more to do with general world view than specific efforts by the colonial establishment.

“The metropolitan press certainly did not silence Indian voices in 1930s Britain,” writes Nicholas Owen of the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford University.

On the contrary, publishers and editors were probably keener than ever before to bring them forward as newsworthy native informants, providing insight into, though more rarely analysis of, Indian affairs. . . .  The case study presented here . . . questions the assumption that knowledge of the violence practiced by colonialism led naturally or easily to an anti-imperialist politics.  My account of the Raj suggests that an ethical case could be made for imperialism that was actually strengthened by exposure of its violence.

What had to happen for the British to relinquish control of India was for the citizenry in general to turn away from an imperial world view.  That came with the Second World War.  What has to happen for real change in the prison system in the U.S. is for us to change the attitudes of the whole country about incarceration.

Confirmation that the problem will not be addressed by bureaucratic tinkering (as the unrest in India was not) comes from the aforementioned New York Review article.  Changes in drug laws are not to blame, the author states.  Citing statistics collated by a professor at Fordham Law School, the National Legal Director of the ACLU indicates that

the vast majority of those in prison for drug-related offenses — by one measure almost 95 percent of this group in state prisons and 98 percent of this group in federal prisons — have also been convicted on more serious charges, including violent crimes.

If we released every prisoner who has been sentenced solely for a drug crime, we would still be the world leader in incarceration.

Consequently there must be some other driving reason for the increase in incarceration, he argues, and finds it in the decisions of thousands of country prosecutors to bring serious charges against those arrested.

Lots of indicators show that this author is not to be entrusted with setting our agenda, the agenda of those who are horrified at the incarceration of so many of our fellow citizens; just note, for example, the phrase above quoted, “have also been convicted on more serious charges. . .”  Drug offense are felonies, or at least the ones we’re talking about are, and as the article author himself admits

In the District of Columbia, for example, a first-time conviction for selling a small amount of cocaine can lead to a 30-year sentence; a second conviction can result in up to 60 years behind bars.

In those circumstances, the qualifier “more serious charges” seems meaningless — there are capital crimes, I suppose, but no one is trying to reduce the convictions of murderers. In fact, drug charges are very serious indeed, and that is part of the problem; but here is an argument asking us to set aside that fact while arguing that the drug offenses are not the crucial issue.  Similarly, all through the article, this David Cole is restricting our view to trimming around the edges.

A potentially more promising suggestion is either to insulate prosecutors from political control. . . or to change the politics of district attorney elections by supporting reform candidates in those contests.

Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, used to work as an attorney for the ACLU, and it is part of her experience that that kind of advocacy does very little, if anything, actually to address the core issues of mass incarceration.  We want to have clearly in mind that mass incarceration, which was adopted within our lifetimes, can be overturned, but not by arguing that the bureaucracy, which profits in manifold manner from it, ought to change.  Like colonialism, it needs to be opposed altogether.

Posted in Bradley Manning, Brian Willson, Dan Handelman, Economics, Education, Elections, Empire, Fascism, Free Speech, Inequality, John Schweibert, Lloyd Marbet, Police, Ronald Reagan, Spiritual life, U.S. Constitution, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Yet Another Unnecessary Death

So far we have only the police story, which goes as follows.

May 10, 2017 23:10
The Portland Police Bureau and East County Major Crimes Team are in the early stages of an officer-involved shooting investigation that occurred early Wednesday evening. No officers were injured in the encounter that left one person deceased.

On Wednesday May 10, 2017, at 7:03 p.m., a caller to 9-1-1 reported that a male in his 20s was threatening people on the TriMet Flavel Street Transit Station. Transit Police Division officers responded to the scene and shortly after arriving were involved in a foot pursuit with the suspect. During the foot pursuit, which led onto a bridge over Johnson Creek on the north side of Flavel Street, there was an encounter with the suspect and one officer discharged his firearm, striking the suspect who fell to the ground.

A cropped photograph of Terrell Johnson, whom the Portland police shot and killed, alleging he was armed with a knife. I do not know why my effort to cut-and-paste produced a cropped image. Sorry.

The Oregonian story repeats this (lack of) information, almost word for word.

Update 11 May 2017, 7:30 pm

From Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, we have the following, citing an update of a Portland Mercury story:

the Portland Mercury’s article which reports both on another shooting that happened this morning– of a pit bull, who lived– and the names of the officer (Samson Ajir #50621) and civilian (Terrell Kyreem Johnson) who were involved in last night’s shooting. Johnson was 24 years old and houseless, and was perhaps living with mental illness. Johnson allegedly “displayed” a utility knife, which does not sound threatening, and even if so, perhaps this is the kind of situation a Taser was created for? The number of people with mental illness and/or in crisis who’ve been shot by the PPB is too great to count, but here’s a short list of persons who were houseless shot and killed by the police and their alleged weapons since 2010:
–Jack Dale Collins, 58 3/22/10, art knife (Xacto blade)
–Thomas Higginbotham, 67, 1/2/11, knife
–Merle Hatch, 50, 2/17/13, broken receiver from a telephone
–Nicholas Davis, 23, 6/12/14, crowbar
–Christopher Healy, 36, 3/22/15, knife
–Terrell Kyreem Johnson, 24, 5/10/17, utility knife

The statement, as Mr Handleman points out, speaks of the display of a utility knife, which, Mr Handelman then personally regards as not sounding threatening.

That’s part of my irritation with Portland Copwatch and Mr Handelman — I really find the death of a homeless man armed with a utility knife to be totally unjustifiable rather than something the police should have used a taser for. I expect the police to surround, restrain, and disarm a mentally challenged suspect who is armed with a utility knife, and not kill him. The death of a suspect in such circumstances ought to result in the termination of the employment of the officer involved.

Posted in Dan Handelman, Fascism, Inequality, John Schweibert, Local government, Police, U.S. Constitution | Leave a comment