The world watches as the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) invades homes, destroys property and lives, and shoots protesters to maim or kill them as if it were a sport. Earlier, July 23, 2021, I learned of the murder of Mohammed Muneer Al-Tamimi, 17 years old. He was shot by Israeli soldiers invading his village of Nabi Saleh to suppress an unarmed demonstration against Israel stealing their land. He was shot in the stomach, one of the Israeli Defense Force favored tactics. His family and sister have been very active resistors and thus targets.
He is but one the latest examples of what I think of as Israeli Army sport killing. This behavior reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film, Shindler’s List, in which the Nazi Commandant, Amon Goeth, played by Ralph Fiennes, makes a sport of randomly selecting and murdering camp inmates on a whim. The Israeli’s are far more intentional and murder with purpose.
We watch with indifference as Gaza is turned into a pile of rubble. The killing of innocents is ignored. We have been taught to believe it is right and just for the people of one particular nation to steal another people’s land and slaughter them while claiming the right of self-defense and self-preservation. This is the story Palestinians know well and is part of the hell they live and have endured since the 1948 Nakba. That was the day the State of Israel was created, and 750,000 Palestinians were made homeless, and more than 500 villages were destroyed. We pretend to believe that was right and just.
The Nakba would never have happened except for the Holocaust and guilt Western nations felt because of centuries of persecution, oppression, ethnic cleansing, and genocide against Jews.
To appease their consciences for the two millennia of persecution, Palestine was given to Zionist Jews. In so doing, they ignored it was occupied by Palestinians and had been for 2000 or more years, but is not that the legacy of the European conquest of the Americas? Is not that the American experience?
I visited Palestine, the West Bank, and Israel in 2016 with the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace. It took less than a day to see the complexity of how these people are intertwined to realize the two-state solution was a cruel fantasy promoted to distract us from reality. I saw first-hand the vilest form of racism the world has witnessed since the Holocaust in an atmosphere of arrogance, condescension, and an overwhelming sense of entitlement.
One morning as our group gathered outside the old city of Jerusalem at the Jaffe Gate to meet our tour bus, a school bus stopped to pick up Israeli elementary students. While I conversed with our group, I happened to look up to see a wide-eyed 7-8-year-old girl staring at me. My looking up failed to break her intent gaze. In her eyes, I saw fear, hate, distrust, concern, condescension, and terror. As I looked at her, I realized she revealed what a government possessed by a poisonous settler colonialist and racist ideology has promoted and taught its children and citizens. Instilling distrust, fear, and hatred of those defined as different is the tried-and-true way to maintain control and manipulate its citizens.
This observation was reinforced by visits to the Israel Museum, Jerusalem where groups of soldiers were guided to specific exhibits that amplified selected patriotic themes.
The same was true of the Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum. At its entrance is a quote by German journalist Kurt Tucholsky. It reads: “A country is not only what it does but what it tolerates.” I could not help but recognize the cynicism. It was a cynicism that also resonated as I thought about my country.
The design of the Yad Vashem takes you from the light and descends downward into darkness. Its low point is the high point of the Third Reich, then it ascends back into the light. At the exit, there is a large window that looks out onto a lush green garden. What you don’t know is that the green garden was once a Palestinian village massacred by radical Zionists in 1948. Tucholsky’s words and the garden built on the rubble of a village covering the bones of people whose crime was that they lived on land coveted by others reveals more than it hides.
What is happening in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza is possible because the United States government, whether led by Democrats or Republicans, is complicit by providing billions of dollars to finance and support this regime and its racist apartheid policies.
Giving billions of dollars in aid without restrictions allows Israel to provide its people benefits we only dream of having. They benefit from the third-best free public healthcare system. They have access to free education and new settlers filling the illegal settlements in the Palestinian West Bank are provided free housing and other benefits.
The rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades used to control, oppress, maim, and kill unarmed Palestinian protesters are provided by the United States. On May 18, 2021, in the middle of deliberate unrestrained violence against Palestinians, President Biden announced Israel would receive more than $735 million in weapons to replenish its arsenal. The munitions were used not to protect Israel from foreign aggression but to oppress and kill illegally occupied Palestinians. The United States supports Israeli attacks on unarmed Palestinians. Palestinians are armed only to the extent of Hamas having flimsy rockets it can launch into Israel. We repeat the absurd excuse of Israel’s right to protect itself, ignoring international law that obligates the occupying power to protect and preserve the people under its control and the people’s right to resist an oppressive occupation by any means available.
By its example, the United States promotes and believes the slaughter of women, children, and the aged is justified while uttering mild complaints expressing concern for the safety of journalists. This meek protest caused Reverend Graylan Hagler at the Plymouth UCC in Washington, D. C. to suggest it was like the Biden-Harris administration going to the Grand Wizard of the Klan during a lynching and asking them to “show a little restraint.”
The theft of Palestinian lands, the destruction of housing and communities, the denial of human rights, and the maintenance of total control over their lives are made possible by U.S. support of these Israeli war crimes.
Israeli government policies are cancer-destroying democracy everywhere. It has used 73 years of Palestinian occupation to develop sophisticated means of oppression, control, repression, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, racism, and genocide it exports indiscriminately to any regime interested. Israeli writer and activist, Jeff Halper’s War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification describes in detail Israel’s “securocratic” war. That war includes helping militarize American police forces turning them into armies of occupation rather than agencies providing service and protection of citizens. It is no surprise seeing the rising number of cases such as George Floyd, Michael Brown, Brianna Taylor, and a host of others.
On July 20, 2021, Ethan Paul published a report in Responsible Statecraft titled “Israeli—not Chinese—firm caught exporting its ‘authoritarian model.’ It revealed how an Israeli company with close state ties sold hacking software called “Pegasus” to China that was later used to hack Microsoft and other companies. The Biden Administration joined with the European Union less than 24 hours after this story broke to attack China for organizing a global cyber hacking campaign. Curiously, the Israeli source for providing this technology to China was never mentioned. It also raises the question of U.S. support for promoting authoritarian technology and means of control to what purpose.
America is an example of the tail wagging the dog. Our politics and foreign policy are influenced and controlled by a powerful lobby and a foreign power that interferes in our electoral and political process at will without consequences.
When I think about that little girl on the bus that morning staring at me, I am reminded of what happens when we allow our fears, ignorance, bigotry, and tribal mentality to drive us to embrace our worst instincts and behaviors. When you hate, you become what you hate.
Israel, regardless of the future outcome in Palestine, will never recover from what it has made itself into. It has been destroyed by its own hate. When I think of this tragedy, I am reminded of another quote by Kurt Tucholsky. “Those who hate most fervently must have once loved deeply; those who want to deny the world must have once embraced what they now set on fire.” Sadly, we must acknowledge the final tragic consequence of Nazism and the Holocaust was passed down to the descendants of those who survived that hell. Their embrace of Zionist ideology exhibiting racism and hate exposed by its policies in Palestine is now being spread. It is cancer we must remove to preserve democracy.
More troubling is the United States playing a pivotal role in being comfortably complicit with the slaughter of innocents who protest peacefully against their oppressors. Our support reveals and reflects our history believing murder, ethnic cleansing, denying people their human rights, and genocide are justified and just. Americans would do well to think about Tucholsky’s words that “a country is not only what it does but what it tolerates.” Obviously, six million Jews and at least five million others died without learning one of history’s primary lessons expressed by German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” And so, it goes. Love and Serve
Also on Medium: Jerrymlawson.medium.com & Data Driven Investor: https://www.datadriveninvestor.com/2021/08/17/we-believe-the-slaughter-of-innocents-is-just/
The Afghanistan government fled into the night, taking the last plane to a safe haven, abandoning the people they were allegedly elected to serve and protect. America’s longest war is over. The farce we created disappeared into the night.
The United States has spent at least $6.4 trillion since 2001 on wars in the Middle East. According to a report published by The Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, those wars have killed 801,000 people. The report says of those dead, more than 335,000 have been civilians. Another 21 million people have been displaced due to the violence.
In Afghanistan, 2,448 American service members have died along with 3,846 American contractors, bringing the total to 6,202 American dead plus another 1,145 dead from NATO allies. The acknowledged dead stands at 7,247, a number that no doubt understates the reality.
We spent 20 years on a fool’s errand in our Middle Eastern adventures, wasting and squandering more than $6.4 trillion of our treasure to be defeated and run out of Dodge by an opponent lacking any of our weaponry or sophisticated technology. What did the American people get in return?
We did not spend money on repairing and replacing our aging infrastructure. Our bridges, highways, and other services all require massive reinvestment. We have allowed our education system to deteriorate. We deny the validity of science. We have reduced vital social services, and health care is on life support. We did this for the sake of empire.
The question before us as we see pictures of the Taliban sitting in the presidential office in Kabul, Afghanistan, is what and who do we want to be? We can be an empire or a democracy, but we cannot be both. We are an economic empire that uses over a hundred military bases and outposts in over 100 countries spread around the world to protect, project, and spread our influence and control. We do this at tremendous cost in every respect: economically, environmentally, socially, politically, psychologically, and otherwise.
The Pentagon is a virtual black hole where money is sucked in, no accounting is done, and the value is disproportionately small compared to the money spent. The military-industrial complex is the primary beneficiary. When we see what Russia and China can accomplish with much less investment, we should be concerned.
The question today as we absorb the loss of another war is what we want to do. Who and what do we want to be? The present course of empire is dead-end. At home, our democracy is under attack and in peril of being destroyed by those who desire its demise.
Our defeat in Afghanistan can serve as a wake-up to change our direction and abandon the quest for empire and control, or we can descend into the darkness of authoritarianism, fascism, autocracy, and superstition. The choice is ours.
Like most of us, I grew up believing the United States was peace-loving and we were people who avoided war. After all, for a large part of our history, the military establishment and its emulation was kept very small. It was intentional. We didn’t want a large military that might become a threat to our government and institutions. Our founders were wise.
What changed us? What changed our view and our course?
Perhaps the only thing that has changed is our awareness. It seems what we teach in school leaves out some essential details, facts, and information. Let’s take a look at our record. Here is a list of the US military and surreptitious operations in foreign countries from 1798 to 2005. World Wars I & II are omitted.
1969-1975 Cambodia CIA supports military coup against Prince Sihanouk, bringing Lon Nol
to power. Intensive bombing for seven years along border with
1970 Oman Counter-insurgency operation, including coordination with Iranian
1971-1973 Laos Invasion by US and South Vietnamese forces
1973 Chile CIA-backed military coup ousts government of President Salvador
Allende. Gen Augusto Pinochet comes to power.
1975 Cambodia Marines land, engage in combat with government forces
1976-1992 Angola Military and CIA operations
1980 Iran Special operations units land in Iranian desert. Helicopter malfunction
leads to aborting of planned raid.
1981 Libya Naval jets shoot down two Libyan jets in maneuvers over the
1981-1982 El Salvador CIA and special forces begin a long counter-insurgency campaign
1981-1990 Nicaragua CIA directs exile “Contra” operations. US air units drop sea mines in
1982-1984 Lebanon Marines land and naval forces fire on local combatants.
1983 Grenada Military forces invade Grenada
1983-1989 Honduras Large program of military assistance aimed at conflict in Nicaragua
1984 Iran Two Iranian jets shot down over the Persian Gulf
1958 Panama Clashes between US forces in Canal Zone and local citizens
1986 Libya US aircraft bomb the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, including direct
strikes at official residence of President Muamar al Qadaffi
1986 Bolivia Special Forces units engage in counter-insurgency
1987-1988 Iran Naval forces block Iranian shipping. Civilian airliner shot down by
1989 Libya Naval aircraft shoot down two Libyan jets over Gulf of Sidra
1989 Philippines CIA and Special Forces involved in counterinsurgency.
1989-1990 Panama 27,000 troops as well as naval and air power use to overthrow
government of President Noriega.
1990 Liberia Troops deployed
1990-1991 Iraq Major military operation, including naval blockade, air strikes; large
number of troops attack Iraqi forces in occupied Kuwait
1991-2003 Iraq Control of Iraqi airspace in north and south of the country with periodic
attacks on air and ground targets.
1991 Haiti CIA-backed military coup ousts President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
1992-1994 Somalia Special operations forces intervene
1992-1994 Yugoslavia Major role in NATO blockade of Serbia and Montenegro
1993-1995 Bosnia Active military involvement with air and ground forces.
1994-1996 Haiti Troops depose military rulers and restore President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide to office
1995 Croatia Krajina Serb airfields attacked
1996-1997 Zaire (Congo) Marines involved in operations in eastern region of the country
1997 Liberia Troops deployed
1998 Sudan Air strikes destroy country’s major pharmaceutical plant
1998 Afghanistan Attack on targets in the country
1998 Iraq Four days of intensive air and missile strikes
1999 Yugoslavia Major involvement in NATO air strikes
2001 Macedonia NATO troops shift and partially disarm Albanian rebels
2001 Afghanistan Air attacks and ground operations oust Taliban government and install
a new regime.
2003 Iraq Invasion with large ground, air and naval forces ousts government of
Saddam Hussein and establishes new government.
2003-Present Iraq Occupation force of 150,000 troops in protracted counter-insurgency
2004 Haiti Marines land. CIA-backed forces overthrow President Jean-Bertrand
There have been many more interventions and operations since 2005. Here are a few notables:
Unrestricted use of drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. 2011 military intervention in Libya. The raid and killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. 2011-Present, US combat troops in Uganda sent to advise. 2012, troops deployed to Jordan to help it contain the Syrian Civil War. Americans have been and are involved in Somalia, Chad, Syria, Iraq, Cameroon, and elsewhere. The US has been involved in numerous coups and attempted coups, including: 2007-Iran, 2009-Honduras, 2011-Libya, 2015-present, Yemen, 2019-present, Venezuela, and most recently the coup that overthrew Bolivian President Evo Morales in 2019 that has now been reversed and has blown up in our face.
It would seem we have had no qualms about flexing our military muscle and meddling in other countries whenever it suited our purposes and interests. It would appear the roots of an empire run deep in our family tree. During my more than 75 years of life, we have been actively involved in military operations, wars, and other actions almost without interruption. The US maintains more than 800 bases in at least 80 countries. It is the largest arms dealer on the planet and spends more annually on defense than the next dozen countries combined. It is one reason our democracy is in such peril.
Some of our bellicose behavior, I realize, is a reflection of the time they occurred. Nations with the ability to do so have rarely restrained themselves from flaunting their military superiority to obtain their objectives. That should not be interpreted and accepted as an excuse for behavior in any era.
Our ancestors arrived on this continent with the intention of conquest, colonization, and removal of any obstacle to their designs by whatever means necessary. This behavior is embedded in our DNA. We are programmed to eliminate any who are perceived as competition for access to resources.
War and conflict have been a part of our heritage. Conflicts with indigenous tribes commenced as soon as our European ancestors stepped foot on these shores in 1607. It continued until the Wounded Knee Massacre near the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota on December 29, 1890. Major conflicts during the colonial period connected to events elsewhere included: Queen Anne’s War-1702-1713, King George’s War-1744-1748, and The French and Indian War-1756-1763. To this list, we can also add instances of slave rebellions in the South.
We were not predestined to be a warrior nation. History, circumstance, and perhaps something peculiar in our national makeup may have made it more likely. Was England’s sending of more than 50,000 convicted felons to the colonies before the Revolution a factor? Was it convicted felons plus thousands more of the poor and unwanted sent to the colonies as indentured servants? Did Evangelical Christianity that fed abundantly off emotion and ignorance play a part? Was it a chance outcome fueled by personalities willing to take high risks that came to the colonies and uninhibited by society norms? These are questions others with more understanding and expertise will have to ponder. The result, however, is evident. We are not shy about asserting ourselves and using force to get what we want.
For most of our history, we have downplayed and hidden our behavior and activities from view. Our many intrusions and adventures around the world and especially in Latin America were never discussed or acknowledged. These things were never talked about or mentioned in any history class. The portrayal of our conflict with Native Americans was almost always a reaction to aggression and barbaric acts. Our massacring villages were recorded as ‘battles.’ My college classes in diplomatic history never mentioned any but the most famous instances listed above. We portrayed ourselves as exceptional, believing repeating this lie will cleanse us of sin.
Two world wars, the Cold War, and the endless preparation for war pushed us past a tipping point. What these events did was to expose what has been shielded from view. Embracing empire, militarism, and glorifying soldiers as warriors allowed us to see behind the curtain. We got a glimpse of who we are. We may try to ignore it. We may try to hide it, but it is what it is, and we are who we are.
Acknowledging these things allows us to look at and view our history from a different perspective. The toxic mixture of right-wing zealotry, paranoid fears of communism, and the Cold War, changed our attitudes toward war. Seduced by material abundance served up by a booming postwar economy and fueled by the release of pent-up energy of millions of returning veterans threw open the door to a growing militarization of society. Public attention was distracted, intoxicated, and addicted to the acquisition of things.
I remember the early 1950s when we practiced duck and cover drills in elementary school. We had no idea what we are doing, but we did as we were instructed by teachers who were as confused as we were. I remember rumors in my small midwestern town promoting fears of Russian bombers. It was whispered there were plane spotters with binoculars in the tower at the junior high school every night to keep watch.
The gluttonous annual defense budgets, the peacetime draft supporting the bulging military establishment infiltrated our thoughts and took over our thinking. The way current events were presented heightened the fears and hysteria ensuring the defense department would be well funded. There was the Korean War, the Suez Canal crisis in 1956, the shock of Sputnik in 1957, the intervention to prevent China from invading Taiwan in 1958, culminating with the Cuban Missile Crisis during October 1962.
President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the dangers posed by the growth of the military-industrial complex. No one listened. The page had been turned, and our conversion, not just to empire, but a highly militarized one that protected its interests, not necessarily the people’s.
An Empire is what we’ve been since Thomas Jefferson encouraged Congress to take advantage of Napoleon’s offer and purchased the vast center of the continent known as Louisiana Territory. It set a tone that has continued. We practiced ethnic cleansing and genocide on the indigenous peoples to clear the land. A manufactured war with Mexico gave us control over the continent, war with Spain freed us from North American containment. World War II ended with us in command. We controlled most of the world’s wealth, we had a large military, and we led in making the rules for the world that was to follow.
The Cold War facilitated the growing empire and particularly the military force required to enforce and control it. The Soviet Union became an unwilling but necessary partner in helping us achieve the militarization of society. They were the convenient boogieman used as an excuse for an ever-increasing military establishment.
The Soviet Union disappeared in 1991. The strain of trying to keep up with the US caused the Soviet Empire to collapse and disintegrate. The American Empire was unrestrained and able to impose its will for a time. But narrow thinking comes at a price, and we still have not acknowledged the terrible price we have paid. Nor have we experienced the impact of policies and activities that now threaten to come home and overwhelm us.
The rise of militarism was paralleled by the growth of the gun culture accompanied by pseudo-militias and other extremist groups. The culture was inundated by a fascination with violence. Our movies, TV screens, video games, and the evening news were filled with displays and portrayals of violence, particularly with a wild west shoot’em up attitude.
The constant threat of war and engaging in conflicts destroy a democracy. The Cold War caused a slow erosion and strangling of American democracy. Our transformation into a fascist empire was gradual. The change was subtle and almost invisible, revealed in small ways. Our servicemen and women were rechristened as warriors. There were constant references to those in uniform, thanking them for their service. Our leaders ended every speech with “God bless our troops.” Advertisements glorifying our armed forces filled the airways. However, the material support that would make their lives better or take care of them or their families in the event they were killed or injured was absent.
We spread our military tentacles of control around the planet. They are our means of influence and sway. Our goal is to maintain access to critical raw materials for Americans and our allies in poor and developing countries at prices we set. They have to adhere to the rules we made. The IMF, WTO, World Bank, and other international institutions are the enforcers.
Americans are confounded discovering how much we are distrusted and hated in the world. They are confused when the rest of the world watches the Star Wars saga and see the US identified with the evil empire. “Why do they hate us?”
What you send out into the world eventually comes home, and the policies and activities we developed and used in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere are returning to haunt us. It was inevitable that the means we use to influence and control other countries would be used for the same purpose at home. The temptation to use the tools you have developed to achieve the desired end on others is not going to be restricted “for foreign use only.”
Where do we go from here? Having an empire abroad leads inevitably to autocracy and dictatorship at home. History provides ample examples. A culture’s values are expressed by what it promotes and presents to others. When I was in the Middle East in 2016, I observed American movies flooding the TV screens. They were examples of the vilest and most violent films Hollywood has produced. It made me sad. We are better than this.
Our fascination with war and addiction to violence leads to death and extinction. We are not the first to tread this path. The historical graveyard is filled with other examples. We must decide if this is how we want the American experiment to end?
Note: This list does not pretend to be definitive or absolutely complete. Nor does it seek to explain or interpret the interventions. Information and interpretation on selected interventions will be later included as links. Note that US operations in World Wars I and II have been excluded.
See also at: Jerrymlawson.medium.com
See also at: https://www.datadriveninvestor.com/2021/02/23/when-did-we-begin-worshiping-war/
Ascension Island is a tiny volcanic rock south of the equator in the middle of the South Atlantic. Located almost midway between Brazil and Africa, it may provide the key to changing the hostile environments we will encounter when we venture to other worlds. It may also be the key to restoring the Earth.
Ascension is an island of only 34 square miles (88 square kilometers). The British Overseas Territory was essentially a barren rock pile when Charles Darwin visited there at the end of his second voyage aboard the HMS Beagle in 1836.
The Spanish explorer, Joao da Nova, discovered Ascension Island in 1501. It attracted no interest due to its dry climate and little freshwater. Passing ships continued to stop so sailors could catch seabirds and turtles for a change-of-diet, but no permanent habitation.
Settlement of Ascension did not arrive until the British Navy placed a garrison in 1815 as insurance against Napoleon, exiled on Saint Helena some 800 miles to the southeast, attempting to escape. It became an imperial outpost and a rest stop for scientific explorers like Darwin and his friend botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker.
Darwin was on his way home after his five-year exploration mission on the HMS Beagle when it stopped at Ascension Island in 1836. He had visited Saint Helena first and came to Ascension out of curiosity and a desire to compare the two islands. He found little on Ascension about which to be excited. It was an arid island buffeted by dry trade winds from Southern Africa with sparse vegetation and few animals or insects. There were no trees and the little rain that fell quickly evaporated. The Scarcity of freshwater impeded the growth or expansion of the imperial outpost.
Despite its shortcomings, Darwin was intrigued by this island. A few years later when Joseph Hooker embarked upon his scientific adventure and stopped at this barren island outpost on his way home. After returning to London in 1843 and with encouragement from Darwin, Hooker, the botanist, devised a plan to alter its environment.
Hooker’s father was the Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. Hooker, assisted by his father, arranged for trees to be shipped to Ascension to use them to capture the rain. They hoped that using trees to capture moisture from the rain would help make the soil fertile and change the barren island into a lush garden. It was hope without any evidence or example suggesting the plan might work.
Over the years that followed, new shipments of trees of many varieties were shipped annually from botanical gardens in Europe, South Africa, and Argentina. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the island was home to Norfolk pines, eucalyptus, bamboo, and banana trees. The 2,817 foot Green Mountain, highest on the island, was transformed into a cloud forest characterized by a persistent low-level cloud cover.
The trees drew moisture from the clouds, enriching the soil and allowing other vegetation to thrive as hoped. Darwin and Hooker assisted by the Royal Navy turned the barren island landscape into a lush oasis. The success of this experiment was far beyond their expectations.
What Darwin, Hooker, and the Royal Navy created was the first self-sustaining and self-reproducing ecosystem. What might we learn from this first attempt in terraforming? The environment they created is artificial. It has a mixture of plants and trees that do not belong together in nature, but they are growing side-by-side. Such ecosystems as this should take over a million years to develop through a slow process of co-evolution. This ecosystem was built over a few decades by the Royal Navy. The lessons learned here are of immense future importance. It tells us we can create a fully functioning ecosystem through careful planning, trial-and-error, and aided by a few chance accidents.
The process is now known as ecological fitting. The plants on Ascension were collected from locations around-the-world and have self-organized into a thriving artificial system. The success Darwin, Hooker, and the Royal Navy accomplished on Ascension Island remains relatively unknown and largely ignored by the scientific community. Its implications have immense potential importance both in our need to restore the Earth and in the future when we try to reshape environments on other worlds.
Combatting climate change and mitigating global warming, we must change our thinking and behavior. Rather than taking from it by drilling, extracting, stripping, and pumping resources from the Earth, we must invest in restoring the environment and ecosystems to protect its health and welfare. Creating artificial ecosystems by planting large-scale planned forests may not be our first choice, but it may become the only choice. The knowledge and expertise we acquire have implications and impact on what we do later elsewhere on the Earth and in outer space. We may learn how to turn deserts and other barren areas we have created by our rush to extract, drill, and pump Earth’s bounty to support our greed and lust green again.
Green mountain shows us much about how ecosystems form and function in ways we never imagined. It may help us understand how an ecosystem can be constructed and used for carbon sequestration to combat global warming and climate change. Planned forests may be lacking in diversity and the regional peculiarities we find in nature, but they are a small price to pay given what we have lost in our currently warming world.
History and experience suggest humans do not want to face hard realities. We try our best to avoid difficult choices and making painful decisions, even when our very survival is at risk. We seem unable to defer on pleasure even knowing continuing a behavior leads to death. Consequently, acknowledging we must learn to live within the sustainable limits of the Earth’s capacity to regenerate is a requirement and not a choice for becoming a spacefaring species.
Why? Because wherever we go into the cosmos, we take Earth with us. But before we go elsewhere, we have to have a healthy Earth to draw from and return. We have to recreate Earth wherever we go. Any life we find elsewhere will undoubtedly be toxic to us. Bringing the Earth with us wherever we go is not a choice. It is a necessity.
Global warming and climate change make studying what happened on Ascension Island imperative to help us restore the Earth. Here lies a gift for us, hidden on a small forgotten island in the middle of nowhere. We only need to see and take advantage of what we have inherited. It may provide how we may soon need to save ourselves.
The decline of American democracy has a long history with many actors. There are multiple domains, one of which is getting news and information to the public by sources independent of government control. It is the vital link in the health and welfare of any democracy. It is one reason why our founders enshrined freedom of the press in the constitution.
No discussion about reporting the news can ignore how news outlets have been gobbled up by a few large conglomerates. Comcast, Disney, ViacomCBS, Fox, AT&T, and Charter Communications are among the largest in the U.S. There used to be a local spin or angle to the news that came off the wires. Today there is sameness and uniformity in coverage and presentation that reminds me of how we once viewed Pravda in the former Soviet Union. All corporate news comes essentially from the same sources. Our alternative is to look at and read the many alternative news sites that have appeared and are continuing to grow. Some are practicing real journalism.
One who has written extensively about the problems of American media is Robert McChesney. He states,“Democratic theory posits that society needs journalism to perform three main duties: to act as a rigorous watchdog of the powerful and those who wish to be powerful; to ferret out truth from lies, and to present a wide range of informed positions on key issues.” Our media fails at all these tasks.
The decline in our getting the news and information we need and the rise of fake news, alternative facts, and post-truth can be traced back to the early 1970s. That is when the news became the news show. Up to that point, the evening news focused on providing the major news events and information to the public. There, were commercials, but they took a backseat. It was not the primary focus. True there were omissions, but news organizations did try to inform. That changed in the early 1970s when ratings became dominant and news became just another network profit center. The evening news ceased to about what was happening in the world, or often what was paramount, and transformed into an overpaid personality parade whose prime purpose was to hold the audience’s attention between commercials.
Blanket, non-stop news coverage of celebrity woes and high profile crime while ignoring or downplaying issues such as racism, inequality of wealth and opportunity, Medicare reform, healthcare costs and coverage, climate change and global warming, corporate crime, and a long list of other issues amounts to providing the public a lollipop in place of a meal of substance. It may satisfy your immediate desire to eat something sweet but does nothing to relieve your hunger. The media act in concert with government acts and corporate dictates by providing mental masturbation to distract us from our problems. Alas, it is no surprise their credibility has fallen faster than the stock market in the great crash.
Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency would never have happened without his celebrity TV program, The Apprentice, fueled by $1 billion in free advertising and television exposure supplied generously by all the major television and other news outlets.
The vulgar over coverage of celebrity shenanigans and bizarre crimes trivializes our institutions and their processes. Nowhere is this more evident than in what happens in high-profile criminal cases. What the public needs and deserves to know should not overshadow the accused’s right to a fair and just trial, including the presumption of innocence until otherwise proven by a preponderance of the evidence or beyond reasonable doubt presented at trial. Frankly, the public has no automatic right to know “anything” before its presentation at trial. That is the proper forum for the release of most information. The fact it floods the press shows us how corrupted we have allowed the process to become in the interest of achieving public relations and media rating objectives. I seriously doubt any of these high profile trials are in any way fair. It’s all about money, exposure, timing, appearances, and the 24/7 news feed. How sad this is for all of us.
The second and more profound change that impacted receiving the news and being informed was the bi-partisan act of repealing the fairness doctrine during the Reagan presidency that had required TV and radio news outlets to allow equal time for opposing views. Its elimination led to opening the doors and windows to talk radio. Fox News, Sinclair Media, and others moved in to flood the airways accentuating one highly biased point-of-view with nothing to contest it. It opened the door to fake news, half-truths, innuendo, lies, and more.
It cleared the way for a number of online sites and broadcast media to promote hate and lies that ultimately led to the assault on the U.S. Capitol and the Congress by an enraged mob egged on by the Liar in chief on January 6, 2021.
There was an important reason freedom of the press was enshrined in the constitution by our founders. They understood the importance of the public having access to accurate information about the actions, behaviors, policies, and character of those who held the levers of power. What has occurred over the last several decades is the erosion and suppressing of that function. Six media conglomerates control more than 90% of media in America. The people who are employed by these six media giants are paid lots of money. Money is, it’s not rocket science, very intoxicating and enticing. You do not have to spend a lot of time watching the commercial network media news to discover their boundaries. They know their limits; it is self-censorship. They have a higher priority to adhere to. It is a personal priority. The network news organizations will never allow an expose’ of their conglomerate employer. ABC is not going to investigate Disney. CBS is not going to reveal dirty laundry from VIACOM. NBC is not going to disclose anything derogatory, Fox, well, it is Fox. As Sinclair Lewis noted long ago, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding.” The quote applies to far more than he originally intended.
I find watching the evening news more interesting for all they ignore to report rather than what is covered. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, I knew they were there 24 hours before the American media announced the invasion. How did I know? I was monitoring the Times of India at the time and saw their report. It pays to cast your net for news far and wide. Today that means looking at several online independent news outlets where the motivation is providing the public information unimpeded by concerns for a bloated salary.
It is no surprise American media are held in such low esteem. On some level, we know we are not being provided the information we need. We know crucial information is being either ignored or withheld. It is instinctive. The public does not trust the messenger, and for a democracy that cannot be. If we want our democracy to prosper, we must change how we are provided the news and information we need to be responsible and participating citizens. That means we must find a way to decouple the delivery of the news from profit-driven corporate conglomerates. We need some kind of independent funding of news providers.
Print media is in peril in America. I do not know if it is the same elsewhere. Our peculiar focus on profits skewers our approach. The newspapers I am familiar with first eliminated the composing room and gave the editorial staff the responsibility for pagination. That meant most of a reporter’s time was consumed with putting pages together, not digging for news. It meant calling contacts on the phone rather than seeing them and eyeballing their responses to questions. It meant developing relationships and seeing idiosyncrasies that reveal far more than words.
My local newspaper is slowly evaporating. The daily paper comes in four sections. The sections once were composed of many pages and multiple sheets. Today these sections are often no more than four pages. The Sunday paper is today the size of the daily paper of decades past. It also has changed from an eight-column to a seven-column format. Less is less.
As the size diminished did the coverage. Maybe if there was a focus on providing news readers were interested and cared about, they would find more readers. But, no, instead they cut more staff and deliver a shoddier product at a higher price. Such is the road to extinction.
The most dramatic change in media has been the emergence of the talking heads, or should I say thought shapers. Thought shapers are what they are. Fox News is the perfect example. Fox has a loyal cultish following. Its viewers believe without question the presentation they are getting is fair and balanced because Fox says so. This loyal cultish following can only repeat what they are told. They glued to or have Fox News on their TVs throughout the day. Fox is the only view they see, hear and believe. They become entranced. They repeat what they are told to think. It is as if they no longer have a mind of their own. I have many former friends to draw from. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels would be ecstatic
These thought shapers come in all political stripes. They are on the left as well as on the right. Our most dramatic failure as a society and nation is our failure to adequately prepare our public to develop the critical thinking skills needed to identify bias, fake news, lies, and half-truths. Doing so, we arm them and immunize us all to the inevitable effects of the relentless repeating of the big lie. We must learn to seek out diverse views from a diverse number of sources, domestic and foreign. Of course, corporate America might then find using some popular forms of advertising ineffective. The government might have a more difficult time misleading all of us about its activities and intentions. Some preachers might find their ability to fleece followers more difficult. Things might actually have to work, and wealth might be more equitably shared. Imagine that.
The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communications Politics in the 21st Century, NYU Press, Monthly Review Press, 2004, page 57.
Roadrunner cartoons were among my favorites growing up. When my sons were young, I enjoyed watching and sharing these classic funnies with them. It was a cherished Saturday morning ritual for a few short years. Cartoons in the early 1980s were primarily for entertainment and not the not-so-cleverly contrived animations we see now that seek to do far more than entertain. I watched them with my sons because it was something they enjoyed. Watching, I discovered the Road Runner cartoon seemed to put our approach to problem-solving into clear perspective
The roadrunner is a dumb bird possessing only one asset, incredible speed. On the other hand, the wily coyote seems to have everything going for him. He is a regular genius. So how does this dumb bird keep from ending up in the jaws of the intelligent predator?
We soon learn the coyote has a peculiar flaw. The predator, with all his advantages, still cannot catch the dumb little roadrunner. Here, in metaphor, is how we, like the wily coyote, have learned to approach problem-solving situations. The coyote, rather than devising a straightforward plan, continually escalates his approach. After each failure, it adds more inputs. It expends more energy, time, capital, technology, and resources expecting to satisfy his obsession. It wants the stupid bird for dinner. Of course, what we see, and what makes the cartoon funny and work are the luckless carnivore’s progressively more spectacular failures. His genius is repeatedly thwarted by the dumb bird’s simple defense.
Our approach to solving problems bears a striking resemblance to that of the wily coyote. We keep using more energy, capital, time, technology, and scarce resources to solve problems, yet things keep getting worse. We are mired in muck, trying to solve our problems using the same thinking that created them. The climate crisis looms. The health crisis grows more overwhelming. A financial collapse waits only for the right moment, and terrorists threaten us at home as well as abroad. Like the coyote, we still are no closer to solving our problems than before. All we seem to have accomplished is the squandering of vast quantities of energy and resources on more elaborate schemes resulting in more frustration and failure.
Consider our experience from the Vietnam War. We had vast advantages in technology, armaments, firepower, and logistics but could not defeat a determined enemy using simple tools and solutions to combat us. Our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has some similar qualities. Our solution? Use drones that cost millions of dollars to shoot missiles that cost thousands of dollars each to destroy mud huts and kill people who make less than a dollar a day.
Americans, in particular, are apt to fall into this trap. We have two flaws that make this outcome probable. One, we often believe we have the solution to whatever the problem is. All that needs to happen is for others to get out of our way and let us show how wonderful we are. The second is our twisted belief that acquiring great wealth bestows knowledge and wisdom providing an almost god-like adoration by the envious masses.
On another front, the pontifications of the billionaire elite are received almost as gospel. Their pronouncements receive plenty of attention from the press and electronic media. They are experts because they are rich. They are listened to even when what they propose or write is balderdash. The Gates Foundation has funded geoengineering schemes to address climate change and global warming while speaking against measures to discourage and halt the use of fossil fuels. Jeff Bezos wants to build cylinder habitats in space to move humans off-planet. It might be a useful idea in the future for us to learn how to create sustainable environments in outer space. First, we need to learn how to live sustainably within the habitat we know as earth. If we fail here, what happens there will not matter. Elon Musk plans to send people, not himself naturally, to Mars without us having the technologies and capabilities to support such an endeavor. It would be a one-way death trip for whoever signs up to bolster an over-sized ego.
No entity on earth spends more money developing increasing numbers of sophisticated equipment, gadgets, and weapons than the U.S. Department of Defense. Our nation’s treasure is pouring into this wealth devouring creation in ever-increasing amounts. The benefits versus the costs are rarely or never asked. Like the coyote cartoon, we believe spending more brings more benefits and solves problems.
The scheming coyote never sees or suspects the glaring error of its approach. Despite its intelligence and skill, the canine never sees or suspects the mistake. It is incapable of sitting down and re-conceptualizing and redefining the problem. Men often have the same difficulty. We believe more information or more resources, more equipment or more of everything will solve the problem—whatever it is. However, adding more only serves to lock us more deeply in the same approach to problem-solving. Albert Einstein said it best, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” His words define insanity.
In other words, the solution to a problem is most often not achieved by applying more of anything! The answer is found in approaching our problems differently, to see them from new perspectives and angles. Solving twenty-first Century problems beginning with climate change and global warming will not be accomplished locked into our current mode of thinking and problem-solving. Solutions will be determined by how effectively we can teach ourselves to see our problems in new ways. We need to reopen the doors of our minds and let in new approaches and ideas. In doing this, we move beyond merely acquiring more information and more knowledge toward applying wisdom.
I am part of a group of gentlemen who meet once a week to discuss various topics that capture our interest at the moment. We are mostly white, retired, male professionals, who consider ourselves progressive, but that does not mean we are all of one mind and view. Meeting the morning after the storming of the Capitol, we engaged in a lively discussion. As our Zoom meeting went on a couple comments caught my attention. Some in the group referred to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party as the extreme left and far-left. Another of our group later called Bernie Sanders and the program he advocates as being radical.
What is most revealing to me in these comments is how it highlights the overwhelming success of the right in defining the opposition and putting it into the most negative context. More disturbing is seeing how their successful labeling infiltrated the center and liberal moderates in the Democratic Party. The evidence is made manifest by their perception of the most progressive portion of the Democratic Party coalition as being too radical, extreme, and far-left.
Republicans see the Democratic Party, no matter how conservative it becomes, as radical, socialist, and a bunch of communists. The success of the right in their labeling efforts is evident in the rightward movement of the Democratic Party since at least LBJ. Its embracing neoliberal policies and ideas are an abandonment of labor, the working poor, the poor, and indigent. It is an abandonment of all the reasons I embraced this party in my youth.
The assertions by more conservative Democrats that Bernie Sanders, his ideas, and followers are radical or extreme demonstrates how successful the right has been in defining the Democratic Party. Viewed globally, Bernie Sanders is maybe, at best, a liberal moderate. For perspective, it is worth remembering the proposed Second Bill of Rights Franklin Roosevelt laid out during his State of the Union address on January 11, 1944. It included:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
When you compare FDR’s Second Bill of Rights with Sanders’ proposals, you might notice the similarities. Sanders added environmental and climate change issues and updated or restated much of what Roosevelt proposed 76 years ago. Was FDR a radical? Were Democrats radicals in 1944? Of course, Republicans thought so. They always do, so why do we care? Should not we instead be asking what happened? Why have we Americans not enacted the protections and programs that have been embraced by every other advanced country on the planet? Our failure to do these things has led us to this moment.
Following Mitch McConnell’s successful guidance of the Amy Coney Barrett nomination to the Supreme Court through the Senate, a joke emerged. It went like this: Democrats had been locked in a room and given paints of many colors. McConnell did this, knowing they would argue endlessly over the color to use and never bother working to unlock the door. It is a scathing commentary on the current Democratic Party leadership..
At this moment, Democrats are unable to agree on getting rid of the slave era filibuster rule and are being bullied by McConnell and Republicans to back off from much-needed programs. They ponder while Republicans are swiftly turning a disaster caused by the attempted coup into a rallying cry. They are redefining what happened before our eyes as Democrats sit dumbfounded.
It presents an astute observation and makes an important point. Democrats spend a lot of time fighting each other. And more importantly, they do so by allowing Republicans to define who and what they are.
The mob of insurrectionists, wannabe revolutionaries, and crowd followers that assaulted the Capitol exhibiting their anger, frustration, and woeful ignorance, present us with a problem not easily fixed. After what we have witnessed, the current Republican Party cannot be entrusted to govern. Democrats must find the courage to take command and not to be dominated and defined by the right.
Tragically, recent reports and comments suggest McConnell is still in charge of the Senate and manipulating Democrats to have his way. The failure to get rid of the filibuster first used by John C Calhoun in the 1840s to protect the slave interest does not bode well for enacting meaningful change.
Power is of no value if you fail to use it. Democrats need to take command and control of the message. They need to define themselves and not allow themselves to be labeled by Republicans and right-wing media outlets. Timidity is not an option for this moment when so much is at risk. Our future is at peril, and lives threatened by extremists in our midst hang in the balance.
The words, “A republic if you can keep it” are credited to Benjamin Franklin after the Constitutional Convention when someone allegedly asked whether we had created a republic or a kingdom. It speaks to the question about having established a republic, what happens next? A democratic polity requires widespread acceptance, a commitment to its health, and a willingness to adhere to its principles and values. When that is no longer the case, we are witness to what can happen.
November 3, 2020, was the third presidential election since 2000, where the Electoral College became a central issue in determining the outcome. I am referring to the elections of 2000, 2016, and 2020. Although the Democratic candidate received the most votes, the Republican candidate was declared the winner in two by the Electoral College. Joe Biden won the Election of 2020 by more than 7 million popular votes and 306 electoral votes. The outcome should not have been an issue except for Donald Trump, supported by his loyal minions attempting to steal the election by every means conceivable. This bid to become god-emperor was a coup d’état attempt in plain sight with many complicit actors.
I remember the moment in early fall 1951 when I first encountered the word majority. I had just entered first grade at East Ward School in Wabash, Indiana, and on the playground for our weekly physical education class. Being over 80 years old, East Ward did not have a gym. All we had was a gravel-covered playground that surrounded the school and even covered the basketball court. Have you ever tried playing basketball on gravel? This was an old school in a poor neighborhood in a non-descript small Indiana town.
As part of our lesson that day, our traveling PE teacher, Mr. Smith, had us choose between two alternative activities. We did so by joining one side or the other by making two lines. After expressing our preferences, Mr. Smith announced our class activity was determined by what most of us had chosen. He explained finding out what most people wanted was how decisions are made in a democracy and that the United States was a democracy. We believe in the majority rule, he said with emphasis.
This was my first civics lesson, and I passionately believed what I learned then about how we govern ourselves. I still do, but I am no longer as optimistic. After the election campaigns of 2000, 2016, and 2020, it does not take a lot of intelligence to see we Americans have problems electing (if that is the right word) those who will represent us. The issues, unless fixed, are destined to grow and destroy what remains of our democratic republic. The corporate media constantly churning, endlessly repeating, regurgitating fact, pseudo fact, and lies to fill the 24/7 news cycle exacerbates the problem. The 2012 election results were still being counted when they began promoting their continuous political campaign cycle by speculating about who will run in 2016. Frankly, most of us are just trying to survive. We want our government to work and our elected representatives to solve problems we elected them to fix. Frankly, most did not give a damn at that moment about who would run in the next cycle. We cared about today. The interminable drivel continually served up by talking heads that serve corporate media bottom lines, not us, the American people, only compounds finding a solution to these problems.
It is also true unless compelling threats of our doom obstruct our way, nothing significant gets done. So, in that spirit, I offer a few ideas and suggestions. Perhaps they will provoke thought and comment and encourage discussion of our electoral processes I feel long overdue.
To begin, our public officials, media, and educators need to quit lying or misrepresenting the truth to us about our history and political processes, particularly presidential elections. For example: first, we do not have a national election day, we have elections in 50 states plus the District of Columbia held on the same day. It has not always been that way. Early in the 19th century, the election for president took place in different states throughout the year. Second, the national popular vote for president is a meaningless sham. A slave era relic, The Electoral College was intended to appease slaveholding states by controlling and thwarting the popular will. It allows a minority to control the levers of government. Third, is it too much to expect of media and public officials providing us expert information on election issues to know about the functions of government they speak about? Fourth, why are we, the public, never made aware of the millions of votes that are, for one reason or another, not counted? In 2012, it was reported that about 5.5 million votes would never be tallied due to error. It was because they were absentee or were provisional ballots that were systematically disqualified. Because it was believed counting them made no difference in the electoral outcome, they were discarded.
In 2020 Biden received 81,283,098 votes winning 51.3% of votes cast. Trump received 74,222,957 votes or 46.8% of votes cast. We had the largest voter turnout ever. There were 159,633,396 votes cast, representing 66.7% of the voting-eligible population. It was the highest voter turnout since 1900 when 73.7% voted, but only males voted in 1900. The greater numbers notwithstanding varied attempts by Republicans in the Red States to limit turnout of minority voters is due in part to early voting and especially voting by mail or absentee due to the COVID19 pandemic
In contrast, in 2016, about 138 million citizens voted of the approximately 242.5 million eligible, representing one of the lowest citizen participation levels of any democracy on this planet. Why? This low number stems from voter apathy, voter registration procedures, including voter photo ID cards, which discourage registration, particularly among the old, the poor, and minorities. We are the only democracy in which Election Day is a workday weekday instead of being either a national holiday or held on the weekend. Election Day is held in November during a time of the year weather often is a definite factor in turnouts. The time polls are open vary from state-to-state, with places like Indiana having voting hours that actually discourage working people from voting. Our two major political parties are both oriented toward servicing the same middle to upper-middle-class bias. No one is speaking to the lower 80% of the social-economic ladder. Neither party listens to or cares about the poor. Finally, The Supreme Court added nothing to this process in its 2000 Bush v. Gore decision but took away much. The Court, in effect, selected its own president. It set a bad precedent of having the Court interfering directly in the electoral process in a very partisan manner, issuing rulings that were, at best, confusing and contradictory. Then to make a mockery and turn democracy into absurdity, the Court, in Citizens United v. FEC, expanded the concept of the corporate person to have more rights than actual living persons. The more money you have, the more citizen you are and vice versa.
A defender of the Electoral College recently began his defense of this institution with a quote from the poet Robert Frost. Frost wrote, “Don’t ever take down a fence until you know why it was put up.” Good advice. So, we should look deeper beyond the usual reasons and excuses for the Electoral College and see what stands behind it. We were all indoctrinated about our founders wanting to protect us from majority tyranny. The rights of the minority must be safeguarded. It all sounded good, but we never examined what tyranny of the majority our founders actually were referring to? We never delved into whose minority rights were they really protecting? Oh, it was claimed there was the danger of the domination by big states over the small. The states with the largest populations would dominate and discriminate against the rest. This is the reasoning for the creation of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College we were taught. Looking deeper, we know it was all a cover for their real intent.
The authors of this document represented a fine example of late 18th century thought influenced by the Enlightenment. The tyranny of the majority the founders feared was the mass of citizens of this country who wanted more democracy and more voice in their government. The new elite feared the people, as the elites always do, seeing them as a mob. The poor and the masses are what the elites refer to today condescendingly as “You little people.” They fear the participation of all our citizens. It threatens their privileges, and they do all in their power to limit the poor masses from voting or having a voice.
When we were taught about government and the Constitution, the protection of minority rights was emphasized. They had to be protected from the tyranny of the majority. Translated, what they really meant was that the elites needed protection from the masses. They wanted provisions inserted to ensure their position, power, and privilege in the new government. They were very successful. We live with their legacy in all its inequalities.
I grew up during the height of the Cold War. We were inundated with the virtues of American democracy. We stood every morning facing the flag to recite the pledge of allegiance to our civic god. We were continually drilled about the evils of communism. We were told how cruel it was but denied any attempt to discover why and understand what it was.
Our government promoted the idea of democracy around the world as well as at home during that time. We never realized while we promoted democracy to others, we denied and did all that was possible to keep from practicing it ourselves. If a country did create a democratic government, it had better not be in conflict with American aims and interests. There is a long list of countries that can attest to what would happen. The list is long and includes Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Honduras in 1963, 2009, Chile in 1973, or the Dirty War in Argentina, Brazil in 1964, Greece in 1967, and numerous other places.
Is it any wonder that when we try to sell our democratic ideal, we are met with blank stares and suppressed laughter? Who would believe anything we are selling when we do not practice it ourselves?
Donald Trump and a substantial part of the Republican Party tried to subvert and overthrow the duly elected government. He used a plethora of underhanded and unconstitutional means that culminated with the violent assault on Congress. They simply revealed who they really are and what their vision for our country and society is. The Congress, after all, is composed primarily of the wealthy or soon to be rich. They have no interest in serving those who sent them there. They only think of protecting themselves and promoting their personal agendas as was evident in the last-ditch effort to overturn the 2020 election. Further, throughout this unprecedented assault of American democracy, did you once hear an utterance in opposition or condemnation to Trump from the wealthy and the corporate elites?
We survived an attempted coup by one who was cunning but ignorant. We were lucky Trump did not have more support. Our problems have been exposed. We have the choice and opportunity to make changes and fix what needs to be addressed to prevent a repeat. The second impeachment of Trump is a fact. His trial must lead to a conviction for the sake of our future.
If we do not punish someone for attempting a coup against our elected government. If we fail to punish those who gave their support. If we fail to learn from our failure after the civil war to make systemic changes to punish and shun those responsible, we have no future. Rest assured, the next aspiring autocrat will be far more intelligent and adept. He/she will use the system to destroy what is left and plunge us into an authoritarian or quite possibly a totalitarian black abyss.
The scenes were horrific. Watching the mob swarm and desecrate the U. S. Capitol, I sat mesmerized. I did not want to believe what I was seeing. I was enraged by images of hate being paraded, the Klan, Nazis, militia wannabes, Holocaust deniers, and particularly seeing the ultimate symbol of treason, the Confederate battle flag. I was dumbfounded by the lack of preparation for this attack. It seems obvious the mob had complicit help from those who are entrusted with protecting the building and all of us?
While what I saw was horrifying, I was not surprised. My use of the term “flyover country” in the title was intentional. I recently read Sarah Kendzior’s incredibly insightful books Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America and The View From Flyover Country: Dispatches From the Forgotten America. More importantly, I was born and have lived in flyover country all my life.
I grew up in a north-central Indiana community of around 12,000 during the 1950s and 1960s. The town had three Black families, all of whom lived in my neighborhood. Racism was not displayed overtly. It was more subtle. There were no problems as long as they stayed in their place. They understood this very well.
The 1950s were boom years across my area of Indiana. The shortage of labor resulted in businesses seeking workers, especially low-paid workers from elsewhere. My town experienced a large influx of families seeking work from impoverished areas of Eastern Kentucky coal country. They were poor, white, and their view of the world fit with local beliefs and attitudes.
It is no mystery or surprise this area of Indiana possessed a rural outlook. Most of the population was one generation removed from the farm, very conservative in outlook and holding prejudices against anyone different. Jews, Catholics, and Blacks were at the top of the hate list, but it did not end there. The Mexican field workers who came every summer to pick tomatoes at area farms were referred to in several uncomplimentary ways. I grew up hearing every dog whistle and derogatory characterization imaginable in referring to or identifying them from relatives, friends, and neighbors.
After my older brother joined the United States Air Force and was investigated for a security clearance, we learned an uncle by marriage had been a member of the KKK. In the 1930s, the Klan was powerful in Indiana and controlled the state and the governorship.
I remember family political discussions centered around the Russians and the communist menace. My relatives and neighbors seemed to believe godless commies were everywhere, and we had to be vigilant. I heard them say the commies were meeting secretly at some rural location to plot their overthrow of our government. I overheard some of my relatives say that the barber who cut my hair was one of them, probably because he was a Democrat.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because what happened on January 6, 2021, has a past. It did not suddenly appear. We should pay close attention to the issues, pain, and frustration that lead them to follow a demagogue and seek to undo an election, defile the Capitol, and overthrow our government.
As a city dweller, it is easy to overlook what is happening just outside our doors, beyond the sprawl of suburbs and the appearance of plentitude. Owning a lake cottage in rural Indiana for some time, I became reacquainted with the America that exists, hiding in plain sight. If more of us took time to see, we would be taken aback by what we discover a short distance from our backyards.
The counties in northern Indiana are known for their lakes and large Amish populations. It has also been home to some interesting religious groups. The fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday built and preached at a Tabernacle on Winona Lake by Warsaw, Indiana. Ultra-conservative Grace College occupies that space today. Evangelist and faith healer Hobart Freeman, a graduate Grace College and founder of the Faith Assembly, a cult that refused drugs and medications and met in a barn called the Glory Barn near North Webster, Indiana. Another cultish religious group, the Way International, was once headquartered in nearby Rome City. These Northern Indiana counties were at the center of the Meth Lab culture. It was and is a hotbed for the Tea Party movement. Extreme conservative religious and political beliefs are two of the region’s identifying characteristics.
This is the heart of Trump country. He won this area of the state by 30-40 percentage points in 2016, and it was pretty much the same in 2020. The reasons are all too evident. Take a trip down backcountry roads where a reality you do not see on the evening news is revealed. I was shocked and mortified witnessing the deteriorating conditions of lives. The squalor and poverty are evident. It continues to grow like cancer spreading and infecting everything in its path. The desperation is apparent and visible from pickup trucks sporting twin flags of either an American flag and a Trump 2020 banner or an American flag flanked by the Confederate one. I saw levels of poverty I had not seen since my youth visiting my father in South Central Kentucky, in the early 1960s. Here you see society literally decaying and disintegrating from the inside out. It exposes what has taken place all over the U.S. as jobs left followed by the slow strangulation of services that support lives.
One thing that captured my attention exploring these communities was their jails. The County courthouse was always the dominant structure. It was the largest building in town, usually dominating the main square in every county seat. Today things have changed. The prominence of the courthouse has been replaced the county jail. It seems every county has a big, new jail and Sheriff Department headquarters. You cannot help but feel we have our priorities confused and headed in the wrong direction.
Another insight I have taken away from these explorations into rural Indiana is disconcerting. For one, people are warm, friendly, and helpful. Life here is at a slower pace. The stars are visible in the night sky. They relish viewing the beauty of a sunrise or sunset. Conversely, many suffer from ignorance, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, religious fundamentalism, and bigotry. Their behavior reveals an underlying fear and distrust for people of color or of another ethnicity. Their form of conservatism incorporates extreme intolerance. Whipped up, they are capable of committing the most terrible and horrific acts against those who dare to be at variance or antithetical. This is the reality in this part of the heartland. This is the danger we face as we meet the future.
My wife was confronted and threatened by a farmer after she stopped on a county road to take a picture of a country scene that caught her attention. The farmer came out of his house and yelled at her not to take a picture of his property.
A couple years ago, I took the time to watch the corporate network news and log the location of the stories they aired. As time passed, what emerged was predictable. With rare exception, all the stories were from the coasts. The exceptions included a few scattered stories from Chicago, Denver, or elsewhere with importance or significance. Many of the stories were done in New York City or its immediate environs. It hints at the bias and blindness of corporate media and why Sarah Kendzior’s book, The View From Flyover Country, is so apt.
If the corporate media elite left their comfortable office towers and ventured inland, they might discover why the mob storming the Capitol was no surprise. Their anger and rage have been building for decades, fueled by both political parties’ abandonment of the working and rural poor. Their pain has been ignored. The millions who live in the so-called rust belt where industries vanished, jobs melted away, and vital and essential services dwindled, evaporated, and disappeared were forgotten and ignored.
In October 2019, I joined my sons in California to chase the Union Pacific Railroad’s restored “Big Boy” steam locomotive 4044. It came to Los Angeles as part of a system-wide excursion celebrating its restoration to service. We went out to the Yermo, California UP rail yard east of Barstow where it had stopped overnight on its journey. We ventured there to get close to this magnificent example of steam locomotion technology, but that is not all that attracted my attention. The road taking us to the locomotive took us down a desert highway through areas reminding me of a Mad Max movie set. We passed dilapidated homes sporting scrap sheet metal fences. The hulks of abandoned vehicles served as crude monuments or sculptures gracing barren yards. We stopped to eat at Peggy Sue’s famous 50s Diner for dinner before driving through Daggett, a town divided in two by the railroad. Half the homes seemed to be occupied, and the remainder appeared abandoned and deteriorating. This is the other America that has been and is being ignored. This is America where Donald Trump did very well. This is where the anger seethes and builds just below the surface, waiting to explode like a dormant volcano.
I read the title of the article this morning in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (23 Feb 2015), “Shadowy police spy devices stir fears for liberty” by Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post, describing a secret device that in some way simulates a cell phone tower and allows the police, or whomever has the device, to gather information not just about the potential perpetrator of a crime or other illegal activity, but anyone else in range of the device’s information gathering capabilities.
The device is so secret that the FBI has placed a gag order on discussing it on the grounds that such revelations would compromise its effectiveness. The device, dubbed “StingRay,” is a box about the size of a small suitcase, according to Nakashima. For added flexibility, there is also a hand-held version.
What the device does is simulate a cellphone tower and makes possible for those controlling it to extract signals from not just a particular phone, but also all mobile phones within range, including potentially hundreds of law-abiding innocent citizens going about trying to live their lives without Big Brother looking over their shoulder.
This is a clear example of what happened to America once we started down the slippery post 9-11 slope driven by our fears. Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “He who gives up a little freedom for security deserves neither” may seem out-of-date to some in our technologically driven time, but believing that only illustrates how pervasive our collective ignorance of our own ideals and institutions is.
The truth is that once the federal government in the guise of the FBI, NSA, the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and others started opening the door to make illicit tools such as “StingRay” available to local law enforcement we should have been able to see that more harm would be caused than good. It is an iron law of bureaucratic behavior that such enhanced capabilities provided to the myriad number and variety of local and state law enforcement agencies throws the door wide open to misuse and abuse on scales we can’t currently imagine. Human behavior is predictable.
Is this not what James Madison and other of our founders took so many pains to guard us against? Does this not speak to the very core of what “limited government” truly means? Our founders were far more insightful and aware of the dangers of government at all levels not to have realized the necessity of keeping the beast in chains.
Now we have let loose the beast and there is no way short of great catastrophe of putting it back. It’s ironic how a few men living in caves and relying on horses for transport in a remote backwater of the planet whose great desire was to turn the world back to the seventh century accomplished what 50 years of cold war with the Soviet Union failed to do. In almost a heartbeat we gave away our most cherished rights and freedoms for the illusion of security. Who would have thought it would be so easy?
When we created this government 239 years ago, it was created to be our (the American people) agent, not our master and definitely not our jailer. I don’t know how we put the beast back in its cage, but to do nothing only insures soon we will be put in one of our own.