Roaming Charges: Tales From the Democratic Crypt

Mountain View settler cemetery in the pre-dawn hours of late October, Oregon City. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

“We live in a rich society with poor children and that should be intolerable.”

– Mike Davis

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Thankfully one of our longtime supporters has stepped up this week and promised to match every donation of $50 or more through next week. The matching grant is landing right on time, but it will only make a dent in our modest goal if our readers pitch in. C’mon, let’s end this thing and get on to the very important matters at hand.

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The Democrats have become so adept at the art of the political quickie that you’re often not quite sure how thoroughly you’ve just been screwed. By the time I learned that the Progressive Caucus had issued a letter calling on Biden to pursue negotiations with Putin for a path toward ending the Ukraine war, the letter had already been withdrawn, retracted and renounced. There wasn’t even a momentary endorphin rush that at last someone in Congress had shown a little fortitude. Like a V-2 rocket, the Ukraine letter had exploded in the Democrats’ faces before most people had even heard the sound of its flight.

It got worse–or at least more absurd–when Progressive Caucus head Pramila Jayapal came forward to explain the inexplicable. Jayapal promptly turned the Caucus’s about-face into a faceplant when she graciously “accepted responsibility” for the near instantaneous retreat and then promptly blamed the entire episode on the Caucus’s staff. Talk about displaying the cowardice behind the lack of your convictions!

Then along came Bernie Sanders to lend his sanctimonious imprimatur to this bizarre charade. Asked about the Progressive Caucus’s Ukraine letter, Sanders snorted: “I don’t agree with that, and they don’t agree with it, apparently. It was withdrawn today, so it becomes a non-issue.” A non-issue!

There’s a lot to like about Bernie. But he is to the core a Cold War progressive. As I chart in my book on Sanders, since the beginning of his political career he’s been a reliable hawkish vote for Democratic Party-sponsored wars and interventions: Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and now Ukraine.

What’s this really all about? It’s hard to imagine a more cautiously worded letter. It was in no way an indictment of US policy toward Ukraine. It didn’t raise questions about NATO provocation or Ukrainian corruption. It pins the blame for the war squarely on what it starkly calls Putin’s “outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine.” The peace plan it outlines calls for a “free and independent Ukraine,” which would require near total capitulation from Russia. It would oblige NATO to militarily defend Ukraine against any future territorial incursions from Russia. The letter also cautioned against any coercion of Ukraine to come to the table, saying (ludicrously) “it is not America’s place to pressure Ukraine’s government regarding sovereign decisions.” Where’s the controversy? This is as tame as it gets.

The tripwire, of course, was Putin. The Progressive Caucus had the temerity to urge Biden to engage in direct talks with the Russian leader, sidestepping the combustible Zelensky. What was standard diplomatic practice during the Cold War is now apparently verboten. Putin is just too toxic to ring up on the hot line to Moscow.

Let’s be frank, this isn’t the way Eugene McCarthy, standing up to one of the most politically brutish presidents in American history, announced his opposition to the Vietnam War.  This isn’t Barbara Lee casting her lone vote against the war on Afghanistan. Frankly, I don’t know what the hell this is…

But there’s the whiff of Pelosi at the scene of the crime. If the war goes badly this winter and spring, as it inevitably will, she wants to blame the Republicans for the debacle, some of whom have vowed (whether they’ll follow through on it is another matter entirely) to cut off weapon sales to Ukraine when they regain control of the House. She certainly didn’t want to risk the Progressive Caucus making common cause with anti-war (or at least anti-Ukraine-war) voices in the GOP.

Just how demented is this strategy, if you can call it that? Take a listen to Senator Chris Murphy, the Democrat from Connecticut, sounding very much like his old mentor Joe Lieberman: “There is moral and strategic peril in sitting down with Putin too early.” It would seem to me the moral peril is in waiting until a sufficient number of civilians die before negotiating. Would you like to set a number, Senator? 150,000? 200,000? 500,000? How high are you willing to go before your sense of “moral peril” is ameliorated?

There may be reasons to want the Democrats to maintain control of at least one chamber of Congress, but the justifications are dwindling fast and the Democrats themselves seem intent on clearcutting the few justifications that remain.

At least poor Liz Truss is feeling a little better now, knowing that she outlasted the Democrats’ Progressive Caucus by 43.5 days.

+ New videotape just in to CounterPunch of the Progressive Caucus in action…

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+ It’s hard to imagine people are still quoting Donald Rumsfeld approvingly, but in Rummy’s  bestiary was Powell the chicken and George W. the monkey?

+ After decades of fervent public denials that the US has contemplated regime change in North Korea, John Bolton has now casually admitted that the US has indeed contemplated regime in North Korea. “There have been a lot of discussions about regime change in North Korea…I have participated in some of them, others have participated in others.”

+ But it’s not just Bolton, of course. He merely let a very fat cat out of a much tattered bag. Just a provocatively, the Biden administration is changing the primary mission of US ground forces in South Korea in case a war breaks. In the past, thee core mission was to repel any North Korean aggression alongside South Korean troops. Now, US troop will be tasked with eliminating weapons of mass destruction in North Korea.

+ “Unwavered” even by the murders of two American citizens in the last few months by an Army partially funded–and totally indemnified–by the US government…

+ In 2004, three years after a planeload of Saudis knocked down the World Trade Towers and smashed into the Pentagon, Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador to the US, was confident of Saudi impunity that he openly bragged about the regime’s control over the levers of political power in the US: “The kingdom’s oil decisions can influence the election or non-election of the president of the United States, the largest and strongest country in the world.”

+ Is there a more evocative profile of a Trump supporter than a guy who poses as an ANTIFA assassin of other Trump supporters?

+ Last week, the NHS in England warned of a worst case scenario in which half of all hospital beds could be occupied by patients with respiratory infections, a more severe capacity crisis than at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

+ Since 2020, COVID-19 pandemic has killed more people than the other top three causes of death in 2/3 of all countries on the planet.

+ Globally, there have been SIX MILLION excess deaths in the last 12 months.

+ According to a new Congressional report, 25% of maternal deaths in the first two years of the pandemic, with Black pregnant women experiencing a mortality rate nearly 3 times higher than white women.

+ In 2012, only 50% of Americans thought same-sex marriages should be valid under the law. Today, 71% do, up from 63% in 2019. (Warning: Distribution of this poll may violate Florida state law.)

+ OK, you trans-fearing Libs of TikTok, now take your steady-cam to Owsley County, Kentucky–poorest county in the US with the highest cancer rates. It’s 98.7 percent white and solidly MAGAfied.

+ How the worm of empire turns: Under current British law, even though Rishi Sunak is a practicing Hindu, he will be able to advise Charles Windsor on all major appointments to the Church of England, because the current law only bans Roman Catholics and Jews from having such a role–likely because British politicians never contemplated the possibility of a Hindu becoming PM. I wonder how this restriction applied to Benjamin Disraeli? Could he freely whisper his nomination for Archbishop of Canterbury to Victoria? Disraeli had converted to Christianity but was still considered so “Jewish” by the British public that his parents declined to send him to the elite Winchester College (where Rishi later studied at 52,000 pounds sterling a year) for fear of him being abused by other students. Jews were only “emancipated” in England in 1858.

+ Sunak (or Sanook, in Biden-speak) has another claim to fame. He’s probably the first Prime Minister to be richer than the sitting British monarch. Sunak and his wife, tech heiress Akshata Narayan Murty, are worth something in the neighborhood of a billion dollars, a good chunk of it amassed during the frenzy of financial speculation on the eve of the 2008 economic collapse. At the time, Sunak was a hedge fund pirate at a firm called TCI, where he led a gang of corporate raiders in an assault on the Dutch bank ABN Amro, forcing its sale to the Royal Bank of Scotland–a disastrous acquisition that eventually sparked the bank’s crash in January 2009, when its shares fell by 67%. As British taxpayers bailed out the RBS, Rishi and cohorts walked away with more than £100 million.

+ Farah Ahmed: “Fingers crossed for Rishi today. I love seeing my fellow brown people succeed. It reminds me that I too could be PM if only I was born rich, stole from the working classes, embraced fascism, and delighted in deporting people. Truly inspirational stuff.”

+ Longtime Tory backer Guy Hands, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker and founder of Terra Firma Capital, unloaded on the ruinous state of his party and country to the BBC this week: “Mistakes made in the last six years have put this country on the path to be the Sick Man of Europe.” Hands declared Johnson’s Brexit deal “completely hopeless” and warned that it needs to be renegotiated soon or the UK will have to beg the IMF for a bailout.

+ But don’t expect Labor to do much about it. Asked about a call by Labour MP Richard Burgon for new wealth taxes on Britain’s super rich, Keir Starmer’s office replied that while those with the “broadest shoulders” should pay their share, “this sort of language around wealth taxes is not where we are”. Mark my words. Starmer will stamp out any economic policy to the Left Theresa May’s old budget as aggressively as he did Jeremy Corbyn’s sensible views on the Middle East…(By the way, Starmer also said this week he would oppose any plans for the UK to rejoin the European Union.)

+ Say this much for Liz Truss, she did provide an object lesson in the free market…

+ Arriving back in Portsmouth after 4.5 years at sea on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin wrote in his journal: “The first sight of the shores of England inspired me with no warmer feelings than if it had been a miserable Portuguese settlement.” Imagine his response now…

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+ Any time your state university names itself after a Native American Tribe, it’s prima facie evidence that you’ve stolen their land…

+ In Florida, the US Army fought a protracted and brutal war against the Seminoles and forcibly removing those they didn’t kill to Indian Territory of Oklahoma.

+ The student demonstrations against Ben Sasse’s candidacy to become the next president of the University of Florida–largely over his opposition to gay marriage–have so unnerved the administration that the University moved to ban indoor protests. Can any Originalist point me toward the Indoor/Outdoor Exception to the First Amendment?

+ Since January 2021, 84% of the changes in the Consumer Price Index have been driven by gas prices.

+ After Biden’s Child Tax Credits elapsed in January 15, 2022, food insufficiency increased by more than 25 percent among families with children from January in the following six months.

+ According to an analysis by Adam Tooze, what we might consider the “middle class” in the US (defined as households earning between 66% and 200% of the median income) has shrunk from 62% of American households in 1970 to only 49% in 2020.

+ The billboard from our MAGA Oregon state senator, Bill Kennemer, blares: “Stop Crime!” But he’s not referring to the price gouging at this Shell station, which is charging 35 cents more per gallon than the Safeway two blocks away…

Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ Elon Musk’s fortune fell by 35% in less than a year and is down by $28 billion in October alone.

+ From a National Review story profiling women in Pennsylvania who plan to vote for Mehmet Oz:

Sara Holand, 52, a registered Republican, echoed Kyler’s concerns. She said she is voting for Oz, but is upset with Republicans for not allowing rape victims to get abortions. She said she likes Oz, however, because he is “true and down to Earth.”

Registered Republican Kathy Lauch also said she plans to vote for Oz and cited crime as her top concern. National Review’s discussion with Lauch was cut short when a man she was with began ranting that January 6 was not an insurrection and that 7 million Americans will eventually rise up and kill Democrats.

+ There was nothing recent stroke victim John Fetterman sputtered in the Pennsylvania senate debate as confounding as Mehmet Oz’s contention that abortion should be left to “a woman, her doctor and local politicians.” With three you get eggroll!

+ Herschel Walker: “What the heck is a pronoun? .. These pronouns gonna get our men and women in the service killed.” If the pronouns don’t kill them, then the gerunds and dangling participles will.

+ Emily Horne, the former Biden White House spokesperson, has just taken a position at WestExec Advisors, the “strategic consultancy” firm. Horne is the 30th senior official associated with Bidenworld, in less than 2 years, to go work for the boutique firm that has advises Big Tech, banks, and military tech upstarts in how to get the most out of the Biden presidency. Ken Silverstein, John Stauber and I made a (kind of) living writing about this kind of corruption in the 90s. But usually we had to actually dig out the stories. Now the press releases just land in your in-box along with an invitation to meet the new partners with complimentary champagne and foie gras.

+ I guess we can credit Ye with vicariously re-exposing the Nazi past of his former business partner Adidas and its founders–friends of Hitler, supplier of the Hitler Youth, exploiter of prison camp labor. While Adidas kept its fortune after the war to become a global behemoth, Ye will likely lose his. Another lesson learned.

+ Andrea More: “Adidas’s founders were Nazis which is why I wear Nike. No Nazi ties and they also provide children with jobs.”

+ The weirdest battle cry of our (or any other) time…

+ The new Italian Defense Minister, Guido Crosetto, was once hospitalized after smoking 150 cigarettes in a single day, roughly one a minute from 9 AM to midnight.

+ Old times there are not forgotten…

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+ It’s official. The UN’s latest environment report concludes that there’s “no credible path to 1.5C warming.”

+ The benchmark price of European natural gas has fallen to a level that is more than 70 percent below its record high in August. A key main reason for the retreat in prices is that Europe appears to have filled its stockpiles of natural gas for the winter months.

+ More than 80 percent of the continental U.S. is experiencing abnormally dry conditions or full-on drought, which is the largest proportion since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began tracking drought conditions 20 years ago. The forecast for the winter looks even bleaker.

+Of the 193 countries that agreed in 2021 to increase their climate measure, only 26 of have implemented more aggressive plans.

+ Since 2015, one out of every three barrels of new oil discovered have been in Guyana, where ExxonMobil just announced a major new find.

+ Over the next two years, new coal-fired power projects in China with total capacity of 80 gigawatts are expected to start annually–a level that will surpass the peak during the 11th Five-Year Plan from 2006 to 2010.

+ Still, in the first half of 2022 sales of Electric Vehicles in China, despite its slowing economy, eclipsed those in the rest of the world combined.

+ Meanwhile, India is set to expand its solar power generation capacity by more than 25gw this year–ten times more than any other country.

+ A Lancet study found that “vulnerable populations” –that is, the elderly and children under 1 year of age – confronted 3.7 billion more life-threatening heatwave days in 2021 than annually in 1986-2005.

+ According to a new report by UNICEF by 2050 nearly all of the planet’s 2-plus billion children will be exposed to extreme heat episodes each year.

+ Extreme climate events in Kashmir–floods and early cold snaps–set new records for livestock losses, with nearly 50 percent of the livestock belonging to nomads being killed.

+ Is it really progress that bicycles, which are now outselling electric cars, have become “electrified”? They are certainly more efficient and less toxic than cars and motorcycles but they’re not green. Bikes run on leg and lung power, which tends to keep the population healthy. Electric bikes run on lithium, uranium, coal, natural gas, oil, endangered salmon or a combination of the above, while displacing traditional bikes and pedestrians.

+ The Greenbush lithium mine in western Australia is 4.8 kilometers long, a kilometer wide and 450 meters deep. The lithium itself is leached out in “chemical processing” plants of astounding toxicity. The overburden is left behind in giant heaps the company quaintly calls “Waste Rock Landforms.”

+ We’ve already had one Lithium coup. Mining corps are scouring the melting glaciers of Greenland for new deposits and Native activists in southern Oregon and northern Nevada are fiercely fighting the 6,000 acre open pit lithium mine planned for Thacker Pass, sacred land to the Shoshone.

+ American liberals are all for indigenous rights until they need their water or land to mine lithium and uranium from or to build sprawling industrial solar “farms”–then rights are trumped by self-righteousness. It’s how the Columbia River dams went up with Woody Friggin’ Guthrie as their troubadour.

+ Marlon Brando (1973): “Everything we are taught about the American Indian is wrong…When we hear that we are a country that stands for freedom and justice for everyone – it simply doesn’t apply to those who are not white.”

+ One way to study declines in insect populations is to chart windshield splatters on road trips. This niche science was pioneered in the 1990s by a Dutch ecologist named Anders Pape Moller. From 1996 to 2017, insect splatters fell by 80 percent on one of the routes Moller regularly travels. On the other, a longer stretch of highway, they fell by 97 percent.

+ More than 35% of the largest meat and dairy companies in the EU and US have yet to publish their sustainability targets.

+ A new report in Nature found that that 58% of the known infectious diseases (218 out of 375) confronted by humanity worldwide have been exacerbated by climatic change, while 16% were to some extent lessened.

+ Over the last five years, Indian farmers alone have suffered more than $3.75 billion in crop losses attributable to climate change with crop damage from extreme heat and floods taking place on over 36 million hectares of land.

+ Five of the six largest wildfires in California history have ignited in the last two years. the largest, the August Complex, scorched more than a million acres. The  second biggest, Dixie fire, burned 963,000. In 2003, the Cedar fire became the largest in modern California history to that point. It burned 273,000 acres. Twenty years later, it now ranks ninth.

+ The good news: Emperor Penguins finally got listed as a threatened species. The bad news: Emperor Penguins are threatened with extinction because of climate change.

+ Don’t put away that N-95 mask just yet….scientists have detected the presence of 15,000-year-old viruses waiting to be released in Tibet’s melting glaciers.

+ The UN has just published a projection of future birth rates (based on fertility rates, age structures, migration patterns, et al.) and is forecasting significant population declines 2022 to 2100 in some of the world’s industrial countries with the steepest reductions expected in:

South Korea –53%
Ukraine –49%

China –46%

Cuba –42%

Poland –42%

Japan –41%

Greece –39%

Italy –38%

Thailand –38%

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+ According to an obsequious piece (is there any other kind these days?) in the New York Times, Bono is still trying to “figure himself out.” Well, when you stare into the void…

+ In his memoir, Bono the Banal claims that the IRA put him on a kill list. Gerry Adams said that was news to him (though it may have been an oversight): “Some of your commentary on the conflict here was shrill, ill-informed and unhelpful. However, you weren’t on your own. You echoed the Irish establishment line. It was the wrong line for decades. A failure of governance and the abandonment of responsibility to lead a process of peace and justice. Thankfully that changed. But it took a long time. Despite this some of us got through it all. With or without you.”

+ Apparently, The Who’s Pete Townshend desperately wanted Wonder to play the Pinball Wizard in the film of Tommy, which would have infused the part with layers of irony and funk. But Ken Russell preferred the high camp and pop of Elton John…

+ Thus was Vincent avenged by Lil Nas X…

+ The latest from the Hippie Pope: “Even nuns watch porn.” Are we talking Ken Russell’s The Devils, Jacques Rivette’s The Nun, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Decameron or Paul Verhoeven’s Bernadette?

+ Marx famously sent Darwin a copy of the English translation of Capital, inscribed “To Charles Darwin from a true admirer, from Karl Marx.” He should have sent it Alfred Russel Wallace. Although they arrived independently at the theory of evolution by natural selection, Wallace and Darwin were very different people. The intrepid Wallace was one of the greatest field naturalists ever. Darwin barely left his estate in Down after the voyage of the Beagle. A lifelong socialist, Wallace had to work his entire life. Darwin, a starchy Whig, was a trust-funder who never held a job. Imagine the strength of character it took for Wallace to recover after watching 4 years of his grueling work in the Amazon go up in smoke during a ship fire on the voyage home–not only all of his meticulously documented specimens but hundreds of pages of his field journals–then several years later while deep in the Malay Archipelago have Joseph Hooker and Charles Lyell connive to delay publication of his theory of natural selection so as not to pre-empt Darwin. I don’t know who was greater. Darwin had the advantages in class, wealth, education and connections, of which Wallace had none. But Wallace was more fun, more engaged in the political struggles around him and much more at home in the natural world. So why did Marx send Darwin that copy of Capital and not Wallace? It may have been the influence of Engels, who had taken a profound dislike to the upstart Welshman on account of his interest in spiritualism. One might also infer that Engels’ own class affinity aligned with Darwin and not a working-class, autodidact with dirt under his fingernails like Wallace. I find the notion of Wallace bringing a “mesmerist” into the snobbish confines of the Royal Society amusing. Guy Debord would have smiled.

+ Yes, Nick, alpha males will be just fine…as long as they keep their balls deflated.

+ How absolutely (and disgracefully) has Major League Baseball turned its back on black America in favor of developing talent in the Caribbean and Central American countries? For the first time since 1950, three years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, there will be no U.S.-born Black players on either roster in this year’s World Series.

+ Marcus Rediker: “When I spoke on my book The Slave Ship at the Ford’s Theater Society in 2008, I was seated at dinner next to former senator Trent Lott of Mississippi. His father, he said, was a union worker in the Pascagoula shipyards. “So you always support unions?” He smiled and changed the subject.”

+ Lester Bangs was in prime form during this 1973 encounter with Lou Reed…

“Hey Lou, then doncha think David Bowie’s a no-talent asshole?”

“No! He’s a genius! He’s brilliant!”

(It makes sense that Lou would say that, since he allegedly made an ass of himself by falling in love with Bowie when he went to England last summer.)

“Ahh, c’mon, what about all that outer Space Oddity shit? That’s just Paul Kantner garbage!”

“It is not! It’s a brilliant masterpiece! Oh, you are so full of shit!”

“It was dogshit. Why don’t you get off all this crap and just try being banal for a change? Why doncha write a song like Sugar, Sugar? That’d be something worthwhile!”

+ Here’s a strange New Deal-era mural by the Italian neorealist Umberto Romano called “Mr Pynchon and the Settling of Springfield.” The 1937 painting has recently drawn scrutiny because the curious selfie-like pose of a member of the Pocumtuc tribe.

+ The William Pynchon in the painting is, of course, the novelist Thomas Pynchon’s blasphemous ancestor, author of The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption (1650), the first book to be banned and burned on American soil. To his credit, what got William Pynchon in even more trouble than his heretical book was his relatively humane position on the treatment of the indigenous populations of Connecticut and Massachusetts, though I doubt it extended to giving them i-Phone prototypes as trade goods…

He’s Not Licked Yet (Down There)…

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

The War in Court: Inside the Long Fight Against Torture
Lisa Hajjar
(California)

Readme.txt: a Memoir
Chelsea Manning
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Elderflora: a Modern History of Ancient Trees
Jared Farmer
(Basic Books)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Linger Awhile
Samara Joy
(Verve)

Feels So Real: the Complete Elektra Recordings, 1978-1984
Patrice Rushen
(Strut)

The Claudettes Go Out
The Claudettes
(Forty Below Records)

The Rights of Machines

“Human rights pale beside the rights of machines. In more and more cities, especially in the great metropolises of the South, people have been banned. Automobiles usurp human space, poison the air, and frequently murder the interlopers who invade their conquered territory–and no one lifts a finger to stop them. Is there a difference between violence that kills by car and that which kills by knife or bullet?” (Eduardo Galeano, Upside Down: a Primer for the Looking Glass World)

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3