A Visit From Phillip

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A Visit From Phillip

“I have come to reassure you.”

I looked up from my reverie, looking out into the sun-drenched forest behind my house after three days of rain, sparkling with a net-of-gems of droplets meshed through the green foliage, and steam still rising slowly from hot blotches of light on bark, timbers and brown earth.

He was tall, elegantly poised and dressed in a long, smooth grey coat, more like a gown with suggestions of an English raincoat and buttoned at the neck, and smooth brown boots or shoes, of which I could only see the lower parts below his black pant legs. He had a longish face, smooth-shaven, and straight dark hair, well-trimmed and laying back without sharp delineation.

Oddly, I was not startled by his sudden appearance, even though I had not heard his footfalls coming down the long stairs to my house, and then across the deck-work to my chair. I was much struck by this later.

“I have come to reassure you,” he said again, “my name is Phillip, and I have come to speak with you. May I sit here?” he asked motioning with with his hand to the chair next to mine.

“Yes, of course,” I said, “I’m Manuel.”

As he settled himself into the chair my mind began to fill wordlessly with questions. And then our conversation began.

Phillip: “I know that you have had many questions about the course of life in your times, and of how the future for it will unfold. This springs naturally from the concerns a father will have over the well-being of his family. It is through our concerns for our families that we are then tied to concerns for our kind, is it not? Like this forest, all the lives in it are woven together so finely that when you and I look into it we do not see its individual threads but only the smooth and deep totality of what we call ‘forest.’ And for those who let themselves wander far into such thoughts, like you, they find their concerns for the lives they know well and beyond them those they can know about and see, has expanded to a concerned sensing of all life. You have been troubled by such concern for all life, so I have come to reassure you.”

Manuel: “What you say is true, but how did you know about me? And why come see me about this? There must be millions, billions of people who feel this way. What about them? I’m confused, and beyond all that, what do you mean by reassurance? And first of all, who are you?! Where do you come from?!”

Phillip: “Yes, I understand, let me explain.”

Phillip took a moment looking out into the day to gather his thoughts, or perhaps really to construct the sequence of his subsequent words to me because on reflection I am sure his thoughts on all this had long been very well organized. Despite the surprise and oddness of this encounter, I felt a timeless tranquility as if the sun’s warmth had infused me with an expansive calmness, like the looking out onto the summer sea or a receding panorama of green hills bathed in light.

Phillip: “First, you must know that life infuses our universe. It is a potentiality everywhere, and it expresses itself where the conditions for such expression are welcoming. Over time and across space those conditions may change, and so the expressions of life can vary, change or ‘evolve’ as the great Charles Darwin put it, and such change can even mean that some of those scattered expressions of life flicker out. But life itself remains, because it also flickers on in unexpected ways, at unexpected times, in unexpected places. And that is the great reassurance.”

Manuel: “Expected by whom?”

Phillip: “That is the second thing you should know. Part of that life is a spectrum of consciousness. The most primitive particles of what might be called proto-life are viruses. They have what we might call proto-thought, which are instructions coded chemically in chained molecules of genetic fragments, for the replication of their kind by their infection of more complex organisms. They are parasites, seeking to attach themselves to more complex expressions of life, to continue their kind in their haphazard mechanical fashion. The spectrum of consciousness extends from the psychic absolute zero of viral proto-thought, through the very low frequency yet very long range meshed interconnectivity of plant life, and on through the ever more involved consciousness of animal life forms, which include us. That spectrum of consciousness is like a living ocean, or this forest, a very deep and very wide and very entwined reality of psychic dimension. We think because we are. And we are connected both physically and psychically because we are. All of us, individually, express the entire universe, and because of that we are as irrevocably bonded as are the water molecules that mesh into the oceans, and even into the rivers that flow through our bodies as sap or blood.”

Manuel: “Yes, I believe that. But, still, by whom?”

Phillip: (After a momentary smile) “Through the diffuse psychic ocean that permeates all space and time, life in its totality senses itself. It senses across the physical voids between its many expressions.”

Manuel: “You mean like psychics, seances, the afterlife?”

Phillip: “No, nothing so crude and simplistic. Because life is a potentiality of the universe, life senses itself from below through that primordial root. Think of it like quantum entanglement, where that entanglement was established with the birth — if we can use that word — of space, time and energy itself. That entanglement is the diffused unity of everything. It is through that primordial root that I have come to know your thoughts. So I have come to reassure you about that unity. It will continue.”

Manuel: “I suppose I can see all this, as allegory. But the logic of it escapes me. I mean, here you are, where do you come from? How do you know me? Do you read my mind? What are the concrete facts?”

Phillip: “That is the third thing you should know. I realize that from a concrete, logical point of view, what we have here today between us seems like science fiction, a fantasy movie like the kind so popular around the world today, and which has swept you into itself — like an abduction by aliens into a Flying Saucer!”

Phillip added this last with a laugh.

Manuel: “I mean, are you a figment of my imagination? Am I losing my mind? Are you some kind of imaginary hologram kicked out like static by some electro-chemical imbalance in my brain?”

Phillip: “No, Manuel, I am very real. As real as you are. What you have to understand is that the reality of your being, like the reality of my being, is beyond what a conscious logical mind can encompass. It is beyond understanding in that way, but it is the essence of understanding in its full unknowable dimension. It can be very stressful to try to encompass it logically, though with the right attitude it can be delightful to make the effort to do so. Such efforts can lead to deep emotional satisfaction for having fashioned a physical cosmological theory, or exquisite poetry.”

Manuel: “It sounds like self-realization.”

Phillip: “Yes, that is a reasonable term. But, really, no word is sufficient.”

Manuel: “So, the third thing I should know?”

Phillip: “The thoughts you have had, and very often and carefully considered, have deep, deep roots. Those roots connect to me and others like me, and others like you. I am better able than you are right now at tracing those roots back to other minds. Why? Because they are the more sensitive and alert pinpoints of all-mind, what we are all immersed in and express. I am just less constrained by the organic boundaries that most others are confined by.”

Manuel: “Confined by who?”

Phillip: “Themselves.”

Manuel: “Well, I can see that you’re real. That you breathe, you have mass, you sink into the chair cushion. But still, I mean, you could just be a very amiable, and I must say elegant and pleasant and obviously well-educated mental patient who is on the loose and just wandered down my stairs. If I were a simple-minded religious person I might say you are an enigmatic angel. Now that I think of it, I hope you’re not some sly demon.”

Phillip: “Ha! Hahahahaha!”

Phillip pealed with delighted and congenial laughter. I sensed he was laughing with me and not at all at me.

Phillip: “Oh, Manuel! I am enjoying speaking with you. I am glad I came. Angel, devil, hologram, phantasm, brain fever, or amusing insane person! You and I are all of these for any number of people who even notice us. Just know that I am as real as this hummingbird.”

As Phillip said this last he gestured with his hand up toward the hummingbird feeder hanging overhead just to the side close by us, and at that moment a hummingbird, flashing iridescent purplish-red and green as it wheeled through the sunbeams bathing the scene swooped out of the unseen into our presence and onto the perch attached to the feeder, to draw his fill from one of its small portals.

Manuel: “Phillip: lover of horses. So, did you name yourself?”

Phillip: “Well…, why not? Horses are such graceful expressions of life. And I love life. Tell me, what did you do last night?”

Manuel: “I had been busy all day, doing this and that, the kind of everyday things that absorb all your time and wipe your mind clean as you churn along keeping the affairs of the household moving. And then I sat here to relax watching the evening light, listening to music, a soprano voice undulating through a slow, haunting flamenco song, which seemed to fit the mood of calmness I sought as evening was fading. The hummingbirds, too, seemed to relish the time, for they came to lap nectar from the feeder, overhead, before they flitted off to sleep. Then as darkness was overcoming light, and the night sky was opening up, that voice flowed into the comforting melody and rhythm of a soulful Mexican ballad. It takes me back to my childhood. After a while, I wanted to listen to more music for under the stars, so I put on one of my favorite symphonies for such times, the Brahms second. And my thoughts went out, as you’ve described.”

Phillip: “And that is when I decided to come see you.”

Manuel: “You heard?”

Phillip: “The totality of all is completely amoral, of that you can be sure. We live in perilous times because all times are perilous, and those perils are always so randomly, and thus unfairly, distributed. You and I are fortunate at this time in our lives, we have secure retreats from which we can ponder the elusiveness of meaning within the grittiness of existence, and feel grateful for not being overwhelmed by tragedy.”

Manuel: “So, can you see into the future, and know when you can be happy and when you will be sad?”

Phillip: “Of course not. All you can do is feel grateful when you are living through a time of relative peacefulness, as we are here now; and exert yourself onto the fullest perhaps even onto death when you have to channel the hot pulse of life and its piercing frigid daggers of fear when you are confronting an onrushing, implacable and heartless threat. We can never know what fate has in store for us. The best we can do is live decently and with awareness in unwitting preparation for the future. We each have to navigate ourselves through this bewildering existence, bedeviled as it is by the many artificial evils and calamities that we confused social creatures have added to it. For navigating through all that we rely on the instincts that evolution has brought to us in our many species, and the upbringing we have been variously gifted with. Call it luck. Our engagement with the future is not random, but neither is it determined nor mechanical in any way. In that sense it is rogue, a mystery, even though we have so many ways in which we can shape it while never ever being able to control it.”

Manuel: “So you came to visit me to reassure me that life will continue, despite whatever happens, because you sensed my thoughts about it.”

Phillip: “Yes, that is the simplest explanation. I am who am, neither higher nor lower; just like you, though a little more aware of it. And so I gravitated to you through the primordial to reassure you that the primordial is everything eternity can mean for us, and it has life within it. Not conscious structured personality, but life, the all-life of which you and I, this forest and all the creatures and forms we see as ‘living,’ emanate out of.”

Manuel: “I can see reassurance in that, but people want more than reassurance, they want hope.”

Phillip: “Hope is desire, and desire is fear and selfishness. And selfishness is being lost from all-life while being inescapably embedded in it. We are all connected, and it is only through willful ignorance that many blind themselves from seeing that. You may experience the joy of seeing some of the life-forms you cherish continue happily during your human lifetime, and you may also experience grief and sadness at seeing some of them suffer and die before your consciousness blinks off, and you may or may not be able to influence the courses of those fates either way by your own actions. That is life, the great self-tangling mystery and revelation and energy. The peace and certainty in the core of the heart that we all want is to be had by understanding this, viscerally, despite all experiences of happiness or sadness however deep and prolonged. That is life. That is the great reassurance. It is beyond purpose. So you are free to be fully conscious of being alive. That is life, that is freedom, that is reality, and that is you when you awaken to it.”

Manuel: “And then what?”

Phillip: “And then you live like a primordial being. Like the hummingbirds that fearlessly zip their sparkling selves through the air and into our presences; like the cats that are always attuned to the shifts of their environments to sustain themselves and to grace themselves elegantly with the satisfactions of being alive; like the native peoples, which the myopic industrialized world has labeled ‘primitive,’ but who rightly should be termed ‘primordial’ because their kind live as interwoven threads within the meshes of life known as ‘the outback’, ‘the desert’, ‘the islands’, ‘the jungles and forests’, ‘the tundras and polar seas’, and who give as much to the environments that sustain them as they receive in recompense. Species of primordial beings come as close as any life-forms can to having everlasting life. But nothing is truly eternal except the forces of change.”

Manuel: “So the possession of true equanimity must be independent of both lively existence and oblivion, happiness and sadness?”

Phillip: “Precisely.”

Manuel: “And understanding how it all comes about, how it is all structured…”

Phillip: “…Is endlessly fascinating, so mentally stimulating, and completely empty. Marvelous, isn’t it?”

Manuel: “Listening to you I feel I have understood much, but have learned nothing. It all seems so clear, and yet there is no logic that I can grab on to. I mean, is it all just to feel as good as one can despite being fundamentally helpless to control, or influence, or prevent the capriciousness of the future? Is it all meaningless but we can console ourselves by thinking we individually are meaningful, and that understanding the totality means to stop punishing ourselves by releasing the illusion that we can understand it?”

Phillip: “The fourth thing that you should know is that I have come out of you, and that all such human and life-to-life connection is how we can each experience the fullest joy of being alive. Do that and all understanding comes to you beyond any mental filtration. It is like having a sun within you that shines a warmth onto you. That is life, that is the universe, it is so entangled, it is you. To know that is to then really be alive. Beyond that it is all just simple chores; washing dishes after you eat. Nothing complicated.”

Night had descended, and we both sat looking out into it for a while; then Phillip spoke again.

Phillip: “The fifth thing that you should know is that the great freedom we have is in being able to transmit this to others.”

Manuel: “Reassurance?”

Phillip: “Yes, reassurance.”

Manuel: “It sounds like love.”

Phillip: “One could use that word…without sentimentality. One could also say ‘solidarity,’ but with a bit more affection. We just call it reassurance. Agh! all our words are such flat monochrome shadows cast by a reality with so much depth and color and dimension! All our desires and focus on forms are such blinders. Forms come and go, but the upwelling from the primordial is enduring.”

Again, we passed some time in silence before Phillip continued.

Phillip: “I was once like you, but was changed by receiving a transmission.”

Manuel: “By a visit?”

Phillip: “Yes, yes, they can take many forms. And like me, you too will transmit the great reassurance to others, in you own way.”

Manuel: “Me, how?

Phillip: “There are so many ways for a person to infuse their talents and hone their skills through the most sublime expressions of interconnected life, by immersing themselves completely in the works and experiences that give them their greatest sense of fulfillment. And it is through such all-enveloping fulfillment that most such transmissions of reassurance are made. Einstein did it with his mind-expanding equations, Harriet Tubman with her ferocious struggle to enlarge human freedom, Mozart with his timelessly captivating music, Rachel Carson with her deep compassionate scientific intellect, Dostoevsky with his prose, Santa Teresa with her poetry, Miriam with her motherhood, and on and on and on. You’ll come upon your way, appropriate to whom you are addressing, and the circumstances. Who can say? This is life.”

We each looked off into the night.

After some time wandering through the many thoughts that Phillip had stirred in my mind, I began to feel a slight chill in the air as the moon crested the hill on the opposite side of my wooded canyon, and I looked over to Phillip’s chair. He was gone, only the depression in the seat cushion remained, illuminated by the moonlight. I got up and walked around the corner of the house to look for Phillip, but only saw the stairs leading away from the house and into the night beyond.

Was Phillip real?, was he a phantom of my mind, a hallucination?, a mental projection of the many intense times I have spent pondering existential questions that are so clearly beyond my powers of analysis or articulate expression? I realize I will never know, and that ultimately it doesn’t matter. Phillip is real in that his words are lodged indelibly and gemlike in my consciousness, and that is real to me. All that is left for me now is to continue, finding fulfillment as I am able, being a link in the transmission of reassurance — at the very least potentially.

And so I came inside and fell asleep, I think for the first time that day.

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From Fractiousness to Sustainability, Is It Possible?

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From Fractiousness to Sustainability, Is It Possible?

I think the essential story of the United States of America is a weave of 5 historical currents:

— the struggle of Native Americans against their genocide;

— the struggle of African-Americans against their enslavement, and to find their own unrestrained identity;

— the struggle of immigrants to establish decent lives for themselves and their families;

— the struggle of labor against its exploitation by capital;

— the struggle of the Natural World to withstand the assaults by capitalism.

The struggle of women almost everywhere in the world including the United States to overcome the many forms of abuse, depreciation, exploitation and inequality that they can be subjected to could also be added as a sixth historical current of the American story.

All these struggles continue to this day.

I do not think the triumphalist story of capitalism’s ascendancy and of the personal successes of notables gaining wealth and attention, as well as the glorification of American wars and imperialism, is a historical current with any depth of meaning for the definition of “America,” even though it is the predominant ideological myth promoted by the official scribes and propagandists of the American ruling class.

It took me many years to crystalize this realization, which has long been known and expressed by many alert people. So, then I was asked by a friend:

Q: “What happens to societies when people only care about themselves?…”

A: They become very cruel and disunited, and nationalistically weak.

Thucydides describes this as a danger to the Athenian society of his time, during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC):

“Some legislators only wish to vengeance against a particular enemy. Others only look out for themselves. They devote very little time on the consideration of any public issue. They think that no harm will come from their neglect. They act as if it is always the business of somebody else to look after this or that. When this selfish notion is entertained by all, the commonwealth slowly begins to decay. ”

It was the leading cause of the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in the middle of the 5th Century, which devolved into feudalism. It is a feature of the moral corruption weakening societies that are subsequently conquered, as was France by Prussia in 1871 (read Guy de Maupassant’s short story “Boule de Suif,” for an evisceration of that class society) and then again by Germany in 1940 (read W. Somerset Maugham’s book “Strictly Personal,” about his travails in France during 1939-1940, and how the French capitalists would have to back postwar socialist policies for the working class, who would do all fighting and dying to liberate France).

Q: “… and unless compelled to act otherwise by some authoritarian or autocratic government.”

A: Revolutions, like the French (1789 and 1871), Russian (1917), Spanish Anarchist (1936), Chinese (1922-1949), Vietnamese (1945), and Cuban (1959), erupt in reaction to endemic societal corruption, cruelty and top-down injustice, and foreign invasion, and they all-too-soon harden from populist-socialism to authoritarian command societies.

While the socialism of the Cuban Revolution is incredibly admirable, and the type of thing needed everywhere (especially in the U.S.A.), it is nevertheless unfortunate that a part of that Cuban socialist solidarity had to be compelled in order to assure the survival of the revolution and the independence of the country from the Colossus of the North. [1], [2]

The French Revolution ended with Napoleon (in 1800); the Russian Revolution ended with Stalin (by 1934); the Spanish Anarchist Revolution ended with the Stalinists gaining primary influence over the Republican Government (in May 1937); the Chinese Revolution ended with Mao Zedong; and the Cuban Revolution was spearheaded by Fidel Castro and still struggles to free itself from authoritarian measures imposed because of two political forces:

— the unrelenting military, economic, diplomatic and propaganda war waged against Cuba by the U.S. (since 1902!!),

— and by the all-too-human motivation of the Cuban political leadership to stay in control of the Cuban government.

Some kind of force (“Security,” “the Army,” “the Police,” “Intelligence”) is always necessary to defend socialist societies and restrain those who would seek to dominate them, and yet the existence of such forces are themselves breeding grounds for such would-be supervisory dominators.

Q: “I think my question is unanswerable, but I periodically voice it when I feel despair over people’s inability to learn from the past, to go beyond their tribalism, and to fail seeing their intrinsic connections to the rest of humanity. I rail against all that after once again being subjected to other people’s benighted opinions that are examples of those failures.”

A: I see that many people seek to address your basic question with:

— elaborate political ideologies and theorizing (my Marxist friends);

— appeals to religious do-gooderism (traditional soft-Christian fluff, largely delusional);

— commitments to charitable social work in hopes that that ethic spreads by their example (real do-gooderism with hopes for the future, perhaps in vain; as done by exceedingly admirable people like Dorothy Day);

— progressive political activism, (mucking in the tedious turgid nitty-gritty of party politics, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, extremely admirable people trying to be pragmatic in advancing progressive policies — or as some would say “lesser evils” — that seem to have some finite chance of reaching fruition; such efforts are derided by Marxist and Anarchist theorists, who consider them ideologically ‘imperfect’ and incrementalist: pipe dreams);

— all out revolutionary action in hopes of sparking a general uprising (being a violent outlaw like Fidel Castro at the Moncada Barracks in 1953 and in the Sierra Maestra in 1956-1958; a delusional and destructive alternative most of the time, but on rare occasions it works);

— giving up and sinking into hedonistic dissipation or self-terminating depression (a very sad and yet too popular option, which in the extreme can lead some to emulate the Marquis de Sade or become suicide bombers).

The options and resources available for solving a difficult problem depend very intimately and strongly on the attitude you bring to the situation confronting you, and the attitude you are prepared to live with in order to obtain a solution. This is very clearly seen when contemplating the problem of the sustainability crisis characterized by global warming climate change and biodiversity loss, faced by our fractious capitalist world.

My own rather Fabian-Utopian approach (in answer to the question) is to urge action in response to global warming climate change, because I know that to really solve that problem (the sustainability crisis) will require:

— social unity (the problem is planetary, there are no local nor piecemeal solutions);

— a leveling of standards-of-living (worldwide!);

— massive demilitarization (resources reallocated for broad social benefit);

— a heavy reliance on intelligent planning and Earth-focused scientific research and engineering (technology for human and social benefit, including those for nutrition, drugs and medical care worldwide);

— and de-growth de-capitalization (economics as if people mattered — a.k.a. socialism — and resource reallocation and employment for broad social benefit).

The compulsion for advancing such global initiatives would come from Nature itself in the form of the rapid erosion of the sustainability and climatic conditions of the many environments provided by Planet Earth to its human tenants. In this analogy, Nature becomes the autocrat dictating our conformity into World Socialism. I suppose this is a grimly utopian view.

Nature’s sustainability-crisis push on our bitterly fractious self-focused human world society seems quite capable of producing the same kind of effect on us as the German invasions of Rome during the 4th and 5th Centuries had on the bitterly fractious self-focused society of the Western Roman Empire: the collapse of a rotten structure into impoverished chaos out of which violent strongmen would carve out fiefdoms in a new Dark Age, and perhaps this time the last one.

On the other hand, maybe Nature’s sustainability-crisis push will spark a world revolution in human thinking and humanistic identification, and from that a totally new world socialist paradigm will come to define organized human life on Planet Earth. It is all a matter of choice. Only time will tell.

Thanks to Ann Harmless for prodding my thinking with her questions.

[1] Cuba and the Cameraman
https://youtu.be/lsZ8hDutkeM

[2] Cuba Libre
https://youtu.be/LmKgDxQHnfA

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COVID-19 vs. WWII

Drawing by Babak Kateb, MD

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COVID-19 vs. WWII

The Trump Administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was a murderous crime committed against the American people. [1] The perpetrators of that crime should be prosecuted for it.

Let us compare the sacrifices in lives paid by the American people during WWII, and during YEAR ONE of COVID-19.

WWII (for the U.S.A.): 7 December 1941 to 15 August 1945: 1347 days, (3 years, 8 months, 1 week, 1 day).

YEAR ONE of COVID-19 (for the U.S.A.): 20 January 2020 to 20 January 2021: 366 days, (1 leap year).

The United States lost 0.308% of its 1940 population, as fatalities during WWII: 405,000 fatalities out of 131,669,275 people.

The U.S. population has grown by a factor of 2.513x, from 1940 to early January 2021: 131,669,275 in 1940, to 330,831,759 on 18 January 2021.

The fraction 0.308% of the current population corresponds to 1,018,962 people. That number of people is 2.516x the number of WWII American dead.

So, when the number of COVID-19 American dead reaches 405,000 (in about 1.6 days from January 18, as there are currently 398,000 dead, and over 4,400 deaths/day), the country will have lost 0.1224% of its population to the pandemic.

ALL THIS LOSS has occurred since 20 January 2020, the third anniversary of the day Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States (366 days from 20 January 2020 to 20 January 2021), for:

— a LINEAR AVERAGED ABSOLUTE loss rate of 1,106.6 deaths/day (405,000 dead/366 days),

— which rate is 3.68x HIGHER than the LINEAR AVERAGED ABSOLUTE loss rate during WWII, of 300.7 deaths/day (405,000 dead/1347 days).

The LINEAR AVERAGED RELATIVE (to the population) loss rate per day was 2.229×10^-4 PERCENT during the 1347 days of WWII.

The LINEAR AVERAGED RELATIVE (to the population) loss rate per day was 3.344×10^-4 PERCENT during the 366 days of the year between 20 January 2020 and 20 January 2021.

The linear averaged relative (to the population) loss rate per day (PERCENTS) was 1.5x HIGHER during YEAR ONE of COVID-19 than during WWII.

Between the very end of 1941 and the late summer of 1945, the United States sacrificed 1 out of every 324 of its 1940 population, to win WWII militarily.

During YEAR ONE of COVID-19, the United States will have lost 1 out of every 817 of its 2020 population to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic — despite the intelligent, frantic, selfless and heroic efforts of many thousands of health care professionals and workers — because of the intentionally malevolent, criminally exploited, and psychotically negligent management of every aspect of the Federal response to the pandemic. This is nothing less than a war crime by the Trump Administration against the American people.

That war during 2020 was more than just the traditional and perennial American civil war of capital against labor and democracy; it was a hate-crime war by rabid bigotry against humanity itself, and against objective truth and reality.

The perpetrators of this crime — who besides government officials includes their political, and financial, and vociferous societal enablers — should be prosecuted by a National Tribunal. Remember that the foremost responsibility of any U.S. government administration and congress and judiciary is to protect the American people and defend the Constitution.

The Trump Administration’s management of the national COVID-19 response was an intentional violation of that obligation, and thus a direct assault on the well-being of the American population, and their socio-political collectivity (“the country”).

The perpetrators’s post-facto excuses: of being ignorant (“how could we possibly know it would be this bad?”); of acting legally (“we were just following orders”); and their blatant appeals to fantasy for a dismissal of any concern (“it’s not that bad”, “few get it”, “so few die from it”, “we did a great job getting rid of it”); are as entirely worthless today as they were before the Nürnberg Tribunals over 70 years ago.

To argue that a tribunal to prosecute the perpetrators of the U.S. COVID-19 catastrophe is impractical and politically impossible in no way invalidates the fact that it would be an action of justice to do so. How can any government that fails to offer its people justice rightly expect to retain their allegiance?

[1] ‘An unmitigated disaster’: America’s year of Covid
18 January 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/18/america-year-of-covid-coronavirus-deaths-cases

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Is Trump Worse Than Nixon?

My friend, Eric Andrew Gebert asked:

“I’ve only read and studied about the Nixon era, and the Watergate scandal (1972 to 1974) that led to Nixon’s resignation. To those that lived through it: is our current state of political scandal worse? The G.W. Bush era was definitely worse than Nixon. Even John Dean called it: WORSE THAN WATERGATE. That was followed up by Obama continuing the War On Terror; putting drone warfare into hyperdrive and going after whistleblowers. And placating capitalist-banksters who should have been prosecuted and put on trial. I feel like we are setting so many bad precedents that our Republic may never recover. This country needs a full-on Democratic reckoning and that doesn’t mean if we just elect Democrats that our Republic will begin healing. Needs to be more than that. It starts with civics and the rule of law.”

Eric, Here is how I remember it.

I lived through the Nixon Administration:

– being 18 in 1968 (and actively sought by the Draft Board for being mulched in the Vietnam War);

– when the Tet Offensive erupted (and the U.S. actually lost the Vietnam War);

– when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated (on 4 April);

– when Bobby Kennedy (who started out working with Roy Cohn for Joe McCarthy, and then for his older brother President John Kennedy, running the covert ‘assassinate Fidel’ CIA program) was assassinated on 5-6 June;

– when horrendous urban riots, outbursts fueled by multi-generational despair, broke out in many cities after King’s assassination;

– when the corrupt Mayor Daley administration in Chicago sent the cops out on the bloody attack on young, peaceful and unarmed demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention (which veered to the Johnson Administration’s man, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and away from the antiwar egghead Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy having been removed a month earlier);

– and when Dick Nixon invented and used the “southern strategy,” which is the standard Republican strategy of today (consolidate the bigot vote), to win the 1968 election as the “law and order” (White Supremacy) candidate.

Nixon, with Henry Kissinger (National Security Advisor, and later Secretary of State), had sabotaged Johnson’s peace initiative with the Communist Party of Vietnam (the “North Vietnamese”) in 1968, with about 30,000 American soldiers already dead from the Vietnam War at that point; by having Madam Chennault (a Chinese woman associated with the Chiang Kai-shek Nationalist Chinese regime-dictatorship in Formosa) make secret contact with the North Vietnamese government leaders and tell them not to accept Johnson’s peace terms, so Nixon could get elected (because Johnson would be seen as a failure), and Nixon would give them better terms.

Five years later, and with over 20,000 more Americans dead (and millions of Asian dead), the North Vietnamese accepted the exact same peace terms from Nixon that Johnson had offered them. The U.S. military pulled out in 1973, prisoners were repatriated, and Nixon poured money into the corrupt South Vietnamese regime for arms, but so much was funneled into pure graft, and that regime collapsed in 1975 from the combination of rampant corruption, lack of popular support, and cowardice in the field (and the Communist forces were very good militarily).

From 1969, Nixon and Kissinger secretly expanded the war into neutral Cambodia. The U.S. bombing of Laos and Cambodia (along their eastern border areas adjacent to Vietnam: the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail) had been so massive and genocidal to Laotian and Cambodian peasant societies that the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime resulted in Cambodia: an insane nihilistic death cult. The “Secret War in Cambodia” was exposed in 1970, and that ignited ferocious protests in the U.S., one of which led to the killing of unarmed students by National Guard troops at Ohio’s Kent State University.

Nixon won a landslide reelection in 1972, over anti-war Democrat (and decent guy) George McGovern (a WWII B-17 pilot and combat veteran). Part of Tricky Dick’s M.O. was covert “dirty tricks,” like the Watergate Break-in to the offices of the Democratic National Committee, in June 1972, to spy on the Democrats’ plans. I graduated college that year. A similar dirty trick had been the break-in to the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to look for blackmail material against one of the men who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 (Anthony Russo was the other leaker, and it was he who recruited Ellsberg to the effort).

The Watergate caper unravelled in 1973, and led to televised Congressional impeachment hearings in 1974. I was then in graduate school, and we grad students would pass much time every day watching the hearings (on TVs in graduate housing common rooms), and the months-long cascade of damning revelations. Now, and this is a key point: there were vigorous Republican investigators in both the Senate committee (like Senator Howard Baker) and House Committee, and they focussed on crimes against the Constitution of the United States, which in the case of Nixon were direct violations of laws passed by Congress, of which the invasion of Cambodia was the most egregious example (a military invasion of a neutral country, without a congressional declaration of war).

While there were certainly many Republicans anxious to avoid electoral losses because of the deterioration of the Nixon Administration, and who soft-pedaled Nixon’s crimes, there were enough of them faithful to the idea of “defending the Constitution” to make it inevitable Nixon would be impeached if it came to a vote — as Barry Goldwater personally told Nixon it would. That is why Nixon resigned (his VP, Spiro Agnew, had resigned earlier because he was caught in a corruption scandal; Gerald Ford was the new VP, and ascended to the presidency when Nixon resigned, and soon enough after pardoned Nixon, which is why Ford was soundly defeated in the election of 1976 by Jimmy Carter).

The first half of the Carter Administration, 1977-1979 (or 1976-1978), was the peak of American political decency combined with freedom from foreign wars (what is conventionally called “peace”), at least since the late Eisenhower Administration (after the Korean War and McCarthyism). After that, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s NSA Director, took the Carter Administration back into Cold War nastiness, by setting the Afghan trap that sucked in the Soviet Army, and was the major disaster that led to the downfall of the U.S.S.R, from 1989-1991.

The year 1979 is when the UK inflicted the world with Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan’s campaign to ‘make America great again’ took off, and he won the presidency in the 1980 election. Carter was undone by the external circumstances of austerities imposed on Americans by the energy crisis (Arab Oil Embargo) and stagflation, and by the embarrassment to national pride of failing to negotiate the extraction of American hostages from Islamic Revolutionary Iran (and also having a military rescue raid fail), since Reagan had made a Nixon-type deal for post-election hostage release with the Iranian theocracy (what a guy). Reagan’s win in November, and then the murder of John Lennon in December, marked the coup de grace of postwar (WWII) American liberalism.

The “conservatives” had been gathering strength through think-tanks (for policy formulation and capital accumulation) since at least 1971 (after the “Nixon Shock” of dropping the gold standard, the Bretton Woods Agreement on currencies); to conservatives during 1968 to 1971, it had looked like a left-wing “revolution” might succeed in the U.S.

Trump is just the latest manifestation of that Reaganite neoliberalism that erupted and gained ascendancy during 1979-1981. Along the way we’ve had a string of neoliberal presidential tools: G.W.H. Bush, W. Clinton, G.W. Bush, B. Obama, and finally the Maddest Hatter of them all: Donald J. Trump.

So, is Trump worse than Nixon? Is 2020-2021 worse and more dangerous than 1968?

What was worse in 1968 was the magnitude of the foreign slaughter inflicted by the U.S. military, and that operation’s huge suction of young American men into psychological and physical destruction (about 58,000 of them got their names chiseled on a Black Wall as a consolation prize), and the massive loss of public trust in government, which was exposed as being manned by too many callous lying careerists. This rupture of public trust has never been repaired and is a direct cause of the ongoing degradation of American public life. The American people as a whole have paid a terrible price for the self-induced bloody catastrophe of the Vietnam War (not to negate the genocidal magnitude of its cost to the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians), and compounded that tragedy by never having internalized the lessons of that war, by a transformation of American society in the same way that Germany (as an example) has transformatively and truthfully faced its Nazi past. Americans chose denial, and let themselves open to repeating similar catastrophes; though for a time there was a strong resistance to mounting subsequent foreign military adventures until Reagan and subsequent neoliberal presidents (all of them) rehabilitated militarized American imperialism with the now (from 1973 on) “volunteer” (or, economic draft) military.

What was better in 1968 (to about 1971 really, and at most to about 1977) were the economic conditions for working people. Up to the recession of 1971, jobs could be gotten, a man could work as a janitor in a school or office building and support a stay-at-home wife with children in a house with a front lawn! Recession and inflation came in 1971 and after, because of government waste-spending on years of war on top of trying to maintain Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and the implementation of the Civil Rights Laws (of 1964-1968): “affirmative action,” and the social concerns of the Office of Equal Opportunity (EEOC).

So the economic situation deteriorated significantly and quickly for many people, and the neoliberal movement (non-liberal Republicans, social and economic conservatives, and hardened corporatists) pushed on those economic conditions with initiatives of austerity: dump the little wage-slave guy to preserve the gain expectations of the bigger capitalists, and demonize the welfare-needing poor to redirect the anger of the increasingly impoverished wage-slavers onto the welfare-needing, and away from the exploiting corporatists and stock speculators. This remains Republican Party orthodoxy. And, as already mentioned, back then there were still liberal Republicans (people like Jacob Javits) and “defend the Constitution” Republicans capable of turning on Nixon. But all that liberalism was decaying along with the economic conditions — lots of good jobs — that were necessary to support it.

What is worse today is the complete putrification of the Republican Party into a completely anti-democratic organized conspiracy for gaining political power for purely factional aims of plunder to the benefit of high-end classists (the rich) and an overtly White Supremacist tribalism. Certainly such people existed back in 1968 and worked for the same ends as such people pursue today, but the broader extent of the relative prosperity offered by the economic system back then meant that there was less atrocious squeezing of the poor by the rich in order for those rich to lard themselves to their satisfaction at the national expense.

The whole idea today of giving workers, in or out of work, $2000 survival checks from the government during the pandemic, and extended unemployment insurance, is a specific indicator of the vastly impoverished national economy and economic management of today as compared with 50 years ago. The resistance to providing that economic relief today is because of a fear by the economic gatekeepers employed by the 1%, of reigniting memories of broader systems of economic equity and prosperity that obviated the need for such piecemeal and episodic economic survival crumbs-to-the-masses, like one-time $2000 checks. This realization is what Bernie Sanders tapped into, a return to FDR’s 1944 proposals of essentially expanding Social Security, with job and healthcare security for all. So far, such “socialism” is rationed to the U.S. military (and not all that generously for the rank-and-file), the political elite, and the corporate insiders.

Another clear degradation since 1968 is in the intellectual quality of much of American society and certainly of the American political classes; all coincident with the withering of educational quality over the decades, but ameliorated by a broadening of educational access to underserved communities (but again, not nearly enough of that, and over time increasing closed off by increasing costs-to-participate). So “leaders” like Trump and George W. Bush are clearly stupider than earlier generation leaders like Kennedy and even Lyndon Johnson. Leaders back then were hardly moral, so one can’t say that today’s political actors are vastly more immoral, though Trump does seem hellbent on pushing the envelope negatively in that regard. However, it is important to remember that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were/is truly evil because they were/are so intelligent and thus extremely capable of really well-thought out malevolence. Trump is closer to being a very maladjusted 3-year-old of 74 years of age and with no functional intellectual machinery, nor impulse control nor conscious moral ethics: he is just a destructive incompetent.

So from my perspective, the improved technocratic systems and technological machinery of government and the American industrialized civilization of today would be better able to address the physical and political challenges of today — primarily global warming climate change and the gross inequalities of standard-of-living (wealth, income, education, economic opportunity, job and health security) — IF we had both better government people to manage public affairs AND such politicians and technocrats (which includes the corporate sector) along with the majority of the American public had the desire and intention to implement a wholistic approach to managing the country for the benefit of all, rather than classistly (just for the 1%), tribally (just for White Supremacy) and factionally (competitively between narrowly defined special interests).

I see the failures of the management of American public life today as being primarily due to the poor moral, ethical and intellectual quality of the people doing that management, and the utter pettiness of their motivations and visions, rather than because of an overwhelming intractability of external circumstances, or technical deficiencies in the machinery of political management. Fifty years ago there was probably a greater fraction of better people in those roles (even though still with many, many horrible ones in place) but the magnitude of the military and financial disasters they had gotten themselves into (the Vietnam War, 1970s stagflation) were so great that they undid their more valiant efforts (like the War On Poverty, and Affirmative Action).

The neoliberal program, from 1979 onward, gained more control over of the catastrophe-prone external circumstances — like war, economics and welfare — by using improvements in technological knowledge and economic systems management to relentlessly impoverish an increasing proportion of the American public, from the bottom up economically, in order to preserve and grow the wealth of the wealthy. In a sense, the societal chaos that erupted in 1968 was natural and spontaneous, but today American society is so tightly controlled by being so thoroughly micro-managed to its impoverishment, that societal chaos is now an entirely managed effect, like the flow of a river throttled by the programmed releases of impounded water by hydroelectric dam engineers. The Trumpist Putsch of January 6, 2021, was just such an incompetently (thankfully) managed ejaculation.

So, which was/is worse: Nixon’s 1968 or Trump’s 2021?; or perhaps G.W. Bush’s exploitation of 2001’s 9-11, and his Iraq (and Afghanistan) War?

From the perspective of foreigners, Nixon was worse than Bush who was worse than Trump: 3 to 4 million dead in Indochina (plus all the bombing, land-mining and chemical defoliation); versus many hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq and with millions made refugees; versus thousands droned to death under Trump. But Trump gains many extra negative points for his tireless efforts to destroy the climate and ecosystems of Planet Earth, which ecocide directly cause fatalities.

From the purely selfish perspective of the American people, things have gotten steadily worse since Nixon because of the unrelenting vampirism by the 1% on the American economy, with its attendant impoverishment of wage-slaves (who too often contribute to their own enslavement by their myopic bigotry, anti-intellectualism and anti-environmentalism).

So in the grossest possible characterization:

– back in 1968-1971 the external circumstances of war and economics were worse and better, respectively, than today while the quality of the political class was better intellectually and professionally; in general society was freer because the economy was more expansive and supportive of popular aspirations despite still having many specific inequities (e.g., racist and sexist practices); also Earth’s climate and ecosystems were far healthier than today;

– today the external circumstances of war and economics are better and worse, respectively, than 50 years ago because the political class, despite being so much worse intellectually and professionally and so much more a captive appendage of corporate marketing departments, has a much tighter grip on external circumstances through a greater understanding of the levers of economic control; and society is more controlled and restrictive for “the working class” because their economic confinement and impoverishment is the mechanism by which the political class manages national affairs to further the enrichment of capitalist wealth, their patrons; and that intentionally worsened and worsening economic situation for “the working class” (the 99%) in order to exponentially enrich the wealthy is paid for by the now little-reversible ecocide and global warming destruction of the climate system.

In any case, we can’t go back. The best we could do — if we dropped the totality of capitalist neoliberalism (“fascism”) and its foundation of White Supremacy, and developed the moral character required for fashioning a wholistic “all in” national society — is to learn from the history of our national mistakes, and then apply those painfully gained insights to implement a societal transformation that adequately and equitably meets the existential challenges of today: the sustainability crisis with its global warming climate change, and nuclear disarmament.

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SCIENCE

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SCIENCE awes many, repels many, saves many, is claimed by many, and is practiced by few: because it is hard, hard on the mind, and hard on dishonesty. The poetry of science is in the experience of discovery; the tragedy for science is in its prostitution, pimped for money and power. The promise of science is the dream of humanism: a dream still enslaved by the corruption of men’s souls, the atavistic timorousness of racist fear, of obdurate ignorance. Science is a mode of consciousness, a reflection of a scientist’s attitude toward life, an indicator of the degree of human solidarity. Science is the great unknown to the undiscovered self.

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