Uncle Sam: The Ultimate Gun Nut

The murky motive behind the Las Vegas massacre – carried out by a heavily armed “gun nut” – parallels the incomprehensible rationales for the global wars waged by the ultimate “gun nut,” Uncle Sam, writes JP Sottile.

By JP Sottile

It’s beginning to look like we may never fully understand Stephen Paddock’s “military-grade” assault on the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. Law enforcement keeps looking in vain for some sort of motive in the dark abyss of Paddock’s odd life. Alt-Right conspiracists are churning out click-baited concoctions that often border on the comical. And the rest of us are left to ponder how and why a wealthy cipher amassed a huge arsenal of weapons that allowed him to become a one-man army.

Frankly, what would motivate anyone to buy 33 guns in 12 months if it wasn’t to plot a spectacular, action movie-style attack on human beings? To wit, much of Paddock’s year-long spending spree ended-up in the 23-gun “armory” he assembled in the fully-comped Mandalay Bay suite that served as his ghoulish sniper’s nest. And that wasn’t all. Police found additional caches of weapons, ammunition and explosives in Paddock’s car and in his homes in both Reno and Mesquite, Nevada. By the time Paddock murdered 58 non-combatants in his inexplicable war, he’d stockpiled 47 guns and many thousands of bullets.

Stephen Paddock is not alone. His high-powered hoarding made him one of America’s 7.7 million “super-owners” who on average possess 17 firearms. That’s 3 percent of Americans loaded for bear with half of America’s approximately 265 million guns, according to a report in Newsweek. And the Pew Research Center found that another 42 percent of Americans either “own a gun themselves or live in a household” with at least one gun.

Taken together, that means America is by far the world’s leading gun-toting country, with nearly 90 firearms per 100 residents. But it’s those “super-owners” like Paddock who truly stand out as the troubling exemplars of America’s well-documented “gun culture.” As Newsweek succinctly put it, Paddock was a “gun nut.”

The Biggest ‘Gun Nut’

But when it comes to gun nuts, can any one individual super-owner ever compare to the gargantuan gun-nut known as “Uncle Sam”? Just like the disproportionate arsenal held by America’s corps of one-man armies, super-owning Uncle Sam represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population but accounts for over one-third of the planet’s total military spending. And like Paddock during his pre-attack buying binge, Uncle Sam keeps adding to his already ample collection.

In 2017, Uncle Sam is slated to lavish $700 billion-plus on just the defense budget alone. There will also be more defense-related spending on “upgrading” America’s 6,800 nuclear weapons, on funding the opaquely-named “Overseas Contingency Operations” account that fuels various wars, on floating the titanic Department of Homeland Security and on the militarization of law enforcement. That’s a gun-buying bonanza that’d make Rambo blush. But unlike the murderous “lone wolves” who pass through the news cycle with alarming regularity, Uncle Sam and his taxpayer-funded gun-nuttery — along with the civilian casualties those weapons often produce doesn’t seem to garner anything close to the level of media scrutiny, political hand-wringing or somber opinioneering that accompanies each new All-American slaughter.

In fact, the Fourth Estate completely ignored a made-to-order chance to examine the broader contextual implications of Uncle Sam’s gun obsession just four days after Paddock used a bump-stock to hit the bullet-spraying “happy spot” that deluged almost 600 people in roughly ten minutes. That opportunity came from the gun-friendly Heritage Foundation. It is perhaps the most aptly-named think tank to ever weigh-in on Uncle Sam’s unabashed, yet widely unacknowledged, gun addiction.

Super-Duper Gun Owner

On Oct. 5, Heritage issued its annual assessment of the world’s largest, most powerful and most widely-deployed military. But just like last year, this year’s “Index of U.S. Military Strength” described an “unsettling trend” that, according to Heritage’s Center for National Defense, “leaves no room for interpretation — America’s military has undoubtedly grown weaker.” That’s right. The head-knockers at Heritage believe Uncle Sam desperately needs more guns … and more bullets, more bombs, more missiles and ever-more powerful nuclear weapons.

That also means more pilots to fly more sorties and, logic dictates, to drop all those new bombs. Like Paddock’s 12-month shopping spree, it stands to reason that buying more weapons will ultimately lead to using more weapons. That’s certainly how it’s gone since Uncle Sam designated the entire planet as a de facto (but not de jure) battlefield back in 2001.

But you don’t have to take Heritage’s word for it. Right before Paddock unleashed his arsenal, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson went to the Air Force Association’s annual gabfest to cry poverty over America’s recently-passed $700 billion splurge. Secretary Mattis bemoaned the existential threat posed by the “caps” on defense spending and Secretary Wilson lamented the fact that Uncle Sam was depleting his stockpile of “modern” and “mature” Tomahawk Missiles (Stock Tip: buy Raytheon).

That’s because Uncle Sam is actively using his prodigious arsenal of weapons, drones, missiles, fighter jets and bunker-busters … and he has done so on a continual basis for years. One might even say that Uncle Sam is an “active shooter” in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and Somalia and Yemen and, it was revealed the same week Paddock went ballistic, in Niger. The four Green Berets who died in the little-known African nation are just one small part of the often-overlooked deployment of 1.3 million well-armed Americans around the world.

Civilians are dying overseas, too … and at an alarming rate since President Donald “Non-Interventionist” Trump loosened the Rules of Engagement to make killing innocent bystanders more acceptable. In Las Vegas, 58 died (plus Paddock) and over 500 more were injured. In one airstrike in Mosul last March, more than 200 men, women and children were killed in one fell swoop by what is essentially a flying gun.

Rising Casualties

Over in Afghanistan, the United Nations found a “50% increase” in civilian casualties this year. The last nine months of Uncle Sam’s longest war killed 205 civilians and wounded another 261 non-combatants … and “more than two thirds of the civilian victims were women and children,” according to Reuters.

And then there’s Somalia, where a horrific terrorist truck bombing that killed over 300 people was likely in response to a “botched” U.S.-led raid last August that killed 10 civilians, including three children. It would seem that “botched” is in the eye of the beholder.

However, one thing is certain … all of this shooting is taking a toll on Uncle Sam’s stockpile. And that’s really what Heritage is driving at with their warning about “weakness.”

The world is, in fact, getting more dangerous as America uses more weapons that generate more enemies. Heritage thinks that danger requires even more weapons, which, in turn, will make the world more dangerous as they are used in new and exciting places. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, but, of course, the Heritage think-tankers don’t make that obvious connection.

For Heritage, this is all part of a supposed “readiness crisis” resulting from an overstretched military that is, some say, particularly strained after engaging in multiple relief efforts after a series of hurricane-wrought disasters. But Mattis, Wilson and the Heritage Foundation are not suggesting that Uncle Sam stock-up on packaged meals, bottled water and “beautiful” paper towels that President Trump will no doubt gladly distribute himself.

Instead, the thrust of these assessments — like many of those churned-out by the Beltway’s bevy of defense-interested war-partiers — is that Uncle Sam needs more weapons and more ways to deliver those weapons to more places around the globe. That’s sometimes called “peace through strength,” but it’s really just hoarding on an epic scale.

Not surprisingly, the reality show-like excessiveness of the hoarding doesn’t even enter the thinking of Heritage’s analysts or the Pentagon’s public-facing representatives or the denizens of Capitol Hill. It is simply taken as a given that more weapons is the answer to every question.

And why not? Hoarding guns is a logical response when the globe looks like a great big movie set just waiting for Uncle Sam’s action heroics to come save the day from a world stage teeming with villainy. The only real question left to answer is: How much firepower is needed to do the job?

Size Matters

First, let’s recall that the United States, a.k.a. Uncle Sam, is home to around 4.4 percent of the world’s population, yet somehow accounts for over one-third of all military spending. That spending may have something to do with how 4.4 percent of the world’s population is able to consume, on average, about a quarter of the world’s various resources, but that’s another issue.

Instead, let’s look at China. Considered to be something between a cordial competitor and a full-blown adversary, China is home to approximately 20 percent of the world’s population (about five times America’s share), but it only spends about one-quarter of what the U.S. does on its arsenal. Still, that makes China the world’s second biggest spender with a budget of $151.43 billion for 2017. Frankly, that’s dwarfed by America’s $700+ billion. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Compare the two side-by-side (thanks to globalfirepower.com) and you might start thinking of Uncle Sam as a committed gun nut.

For example, Uncle Sam has 20 aircraft carriers … and China has one, with one on the way.  Uncle Sam has 41,062 armored fighting vehicles … and China has 4,788. Uncle Sam has 6,065 helicopters … and China has 912. Uncle Sam has 2,785 attack aircraft and 2,296 fighters. China has about half of that with 1,385 attack aircraft, 1,271 fighters.

The Chinese do have about 600 more tanks and a bunch more small naval craft, but that’s more a function of their geographical challenges than some willy-nilly binge by the world’s third-strongest military. After all, they do have land borders with historically hostile powers. And Uncle Sam does continue to pressure them at sea. Apparently, it’s Uncle Sam’s job to control what the Chinese do in the South China Sea.

Russia’s Piddling Sums

It’s also quite telling to make these same comparisons to Russia. It is the world’s “second-strongest” military and, according to the drumbeat of conventional wisdom-makers, it is Uncle Sam’s main global competitor. Home to less than 2 percent of the world’s population, Russia is “now the world’s third largest military spender,” according to a grabby headline by CNNMoney.

Sounds ominous … that is, until you see that it only takes $69.2 billion for Russia to secure the third spot. For perspective, that’s less than the amount ($80 billion) Uncle Sam’s added to this year’s budget over last year’s budget. That’s also less than the amount of money ($75.9 billion) Uncle Sam made for the defense industry this year by selling weapons to other countries.

Still, Russia is fairly well-armed. Unlike Uncle Sam, Russia is not surrounded by two oceans and two friendly, militarily weak allies. Quite to the contrary. In fact, Uncle Sam and his proxies have crowded Russia with forces to its West, South and East. U.S. forces also encircle China, but let’s stay on target.

As a result of their geography and history, Russia is heavier on tanks (20,216) and armored fighting vehicles (31,298) than Uncle Sam. Yet, the Russian Bear lags on attack aircraft (1,428), on fighter aircraft (806), on helicopters (1,389) and it is way behind on power-projecting aircraft carriers with just one “notoriously rickety” ship.

Russia does have 7,300 nuclear warheads, but it is nowhere near America’s capability to deploy forces through its vast network of approximately 800 bases and facilities in more than 70 countries. On the other hand, scholar David Vine estimates that “Britain, France and Russia … have about 30 foreign bases combined.”

These significant imbalances probably account for Russia’s recent move into “non-violent” forms of hybrid and asymmetrical warfare. It’s one way to close current and future gaps. And both Russia and China are making inroads on drones, but neither has the reach of Uncle Sam’s fleet … which is advancing and growing all the time. So far, neither China nor Russia has demonstrated a willingness to use drones as roving kill machines in other people’s countries. That remains Uncle Sam’s gun-slinging claim to fame … as does the unchallenged ability to dwarf the next eight biggest military spenders combined.

Gun Showmanship Of Fools

Let’s face it, Uncle Sam is, globally speaking, an armament “super-owner.” Like many of America’s civilian “super-owners,” it could be said that Uncle Sam just likes guns … or that he’s just an avid collector … or that guns are not just his hobby, but also his business. And that’s true, too.

As a matter of fact, Uncle Sam has turned foreign policy into a great big, rolling gun show. He often attends actual, government-sponsored military “trade shows” like the bi-annual Special Operations Forces Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi. Each year there are dozens of these military-themed events and air shows around the world. These glorified gun shows are golden opportunities for the State and Defense Departments to attract buyers to America’s growing supermarket of weaponry.

America used to be “the Arsenal of Democracy.” Now it is the “World’s Gun Shop,” and Uncle Sam is selling everything from THAAD missile defense systems (Stock Tip: buy Lockheed Martin) to boondoggled F-35 jets (still buy Lockheed). And in an amazing bit of gun nut symmetry, the “Trump administration is preparing to make it easier for American gun makers to sell small arms, including assault rifles and ammunition, to foreign buyers,” according to Reuters.

That final bit of salesmanship is probably a response to the sharp decline in domestic small arms sales after Trump replaced President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. Under President Obama, federal gun background checks increased for 19 straight months. By the end of Obama’s tenure the gun industry had grown by a staggering 158 percent and the “total economic impact of the firearms and ammunition industry in the U.S. increased from $19.1 billion in 2008 to $49.3 billion in 2015,” reported Forbes. It rose to $51.3 billion in Obama’s final year.

This buying binge was stoked by gunmakers’ de facto sales reps in the National Rifle Association and in the Right-Wing media … who told gun-loving Americans that the first Black President was coming to take their firearms. So, they went out and stocked-up before Obama and George Soros could deploy an army of U.N. gun-grabbers in powder blue helmets deep into the blood-red heart of America. The grabbers never came, but the profits spiked handsomely for Sturm Ruger, Remington Outdoor, Smith & Wesson and seven more of America’s leading gunmakers.

Ironically, the party ended when the NRA’s most beloved candidate of all-time took the oath of office. Trump purposefully and quite effectively ran as a defiant gun nut. He repeatedly touted his love of guns and his admiration of his sons’ love of killing animals with guns. And when he won, gun-lovers stopped hoarding guns at a record pace. For them, the prophesied “gunpocalypse” had been avoided, so they relaxed a bit. But the collateral damage of America’s exceptional gun-nuttery keeps on mounting, both at home and abroad.

Uncle Sam Is A Gun Nut

The Independent (UK) found that “nearly 1,400” people were shot around America in the week following the Las Vegas massacre. That’s just one week’s worth of shooting. Even more daunting, they determined that “24,862 [Americans] have been injured and 12,208 have been killed as a result of gun violence” so far this year. It’s a bloody, but sadly unsurprising addendum to the ponderous aftermath of the “worst mass shooting” in U.S. history.

At the same time, Americans remain largely ignorant of the “mass casualty event” that’s unfolded around the world over the last 16 years. Fortunately, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University has done the thankless job of keeping tabs on Uncle Sam’s Global War on Terror. Their “Costs of War” project estimates that Uncle Sam’s wars are directly responsible for 370,000 deaths, responsible for another 800,000 indirect deaths and that some 200,000 civilians died “at the hands of all parties to the conflict” America instigated.

And like those solitary super-owners who spend freely on guns without batting an eye, Uncle Sam seems decidedly nonplussed by the $4.8 trillion “price tag” for his post-9/11 wars.

Even more telling, this prolonged, costly slaughter has done little to slake Uncle Sam’s thirst for more guns. In fact, one of the hallmarks of Donald Trump’s candidacy was not just his full-throated praise for the NRA, but his constant claim that America’s military had been “depleted.” Of course, he promised a Paddock-like spending spree to make it bigger than ever before. Trump essentially presaged Heritage’s lament about Uncle Sam’s supposed military weakness. And it set up a spike in defense spending that will ensure that America stands alone as the world’s sole “super-owner.”

All of which points to some obvious, if seldom asked, questions: Is the Heritage Foundation’s report on the U.S. military really that different from the NRA’s repeated exhortations to individual gun owners? Don’t the makers of weapons big and small both profit from the thinly veiled salesmanship of Heritage and the NRA, the collateral damage be damned? Really, what’s the difference between Smith & Wesson and Lockheed Martin? Or between bystanders being shot with lead bullets or struck by a high-tech Tomahawk?

Aren’t we as a military power much like those 7.7 million super-owners who stockpile arms like a paranoid survivalist who sees boogeymen and gun-grabbers around every corner? And don’t we as a globe-trotting nation differ little from the individual Americans who “open-carry” guns into a Wendy’s or Walmart … as if they are not just looking for a chance to flaunt them, but also for a reason to use them?

Sadly, though, that’s not where it ends because just like Stephen Paddock had his outsized arsenal of weapons stashed in his homes and his car, so too does Uncle Sam have his arsenal dispersed in caches strewn around the world. And the only logical reason to build up an arsenal well beyond what’s needed to protect your personal safety or national security … is because you intend on using that arsenal to kill people. That much is clear about Stephen Paddock. Isn’t it also clear about Uncle Sam? It is certainly clear to millions of people around the Muslim world.

Ultimately, is Uncle Sam really that different from Stephen Paddock? More to the point, if we are looking for answers to the Las Vegas shooting, perhaps we should ask if Stephen Paddock is really that different from Uncle Sam?  Because the truth is that Uncle Sam — the collective “we” also known as America — is the world’s paragon of gun-nuttery. He is the author of many senseless slaughters with inexplicable motives and unclear ends. And it seems unlikely that we’ll ever be able to explain Stephen Paddock’s gun-craziness until we finally make some effort to look in the mirror and examine Uncle Sam’s exceptional role as the world’s leading gun nut.

JP Sottile is a freelance journalist, radio co-host, documentary filmmaker and former broadcast news producer in Washington, D.C. He blogs at Newsvandal.com or you can follow him on Twitter, http://twitter/newsvandal.




Trump’s Nihilism on Healthcare

Petulant bombast is a dangerous approach to governance – what the Founders associated with the British crown – but now President Trump has brought that style to U.S. policymaking on healthcare, as Michael Winship observes.

By Michael Winship

A couple of things observed after successful surgery and a week in the hospital: For reasons seemingly unrelated to your operation, you will find bits of surgical tape attached to odd parts of your body for days after your return home. While confined to your hospital bed, you will hear and say the words “urine” and “urinate” more than you have in your entire previous life.

Most important, time and again you will be amazed and comforted by the dedication, competence and patience of virtually every doctor, nurse, nursing assistant, physical therapist and cleaner you meet — especially the nurses and nursing assistants, who clearly are in charge of the joint.

Which is why it’s so infuriating to compare the true public service of these men and women to the man who is supposed to be our public-servant-in-chief — he who insists on trying to torpedo Obamacare and on running our country and government into the ground by fomenting policies fueled not by duty or patriotism but by incompetence, ego and petty vindictiveness.

It’s a given that our health care system, one-sixth of our nation’s economy, is a nightmare. And that despite my encomiums of praise for the medical profession stated above, there also are stinkers out there quick to abuse the system and make a big fast buck, especially in the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries.

Yet while Obamacare is a deeply flawed program — ultimately, single-payer is the way we must go or face economic and social ruin — it still has been a step in the right direction (“the end of the beginning of the reform we need,” in the words of advocate Wendell Potter), and could in some ways be patched until we yield to the obvious and make universal health care a right for every one of us.

But no. Dear Leader, frustrated by the Republican congressional majority’s repeated inability to repeal and replace Obamacare, decided to take matters into his own hands and issue executive orders that make a mockery of medicine’s guiding principle: First, do no harm. And all to take revenge on his predecessor, whose name he believes must be expunged and thrown down the memory hole.

One executive order allowed cheaper policies but fewer protections and benefits. The other cut subsidies to health insurers that help cover the costs of medical insurance for low-income individuals and families, resulting in projected premium increases of up to 25 percent by 2020 and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, costing the government $194 billion over the next 10 years. Genius.

Helping Nobody

As Sarah Kliff at Vox observed, “This is a policy that helps nobody and hurts millions.”

But at his Monday Cabinet meeting, Trump brayed, “Obamacare is finished. It’s dead. It’s gone. You shouldn’t even mention it. It’s gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore.

Yet like so much of Trump’s bragging, it wasn’t so. Or so we thought. Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander came forward with a bipartisan compromise that restores the subsidies for a couple of years but also yields to conservatives and gives states more leeway in regulating health plans. Trump seemed to say he supported it. And then he didn’t. What’s more, many conservatives, especially in the House, are opposed. So… more mayhem.

All of this is reflective of what commentator Andrew Sullivan calls “nihilist, mindless reactionism.” The President, Sullivan writes, is “a reactionary fantasist, whose policies stir the emotions but are stalled in the headwinds of reality. He can’t abolish Obamacare because huge majorities prefer it to any Republican alternative, so he is sabotaging it.”

On the campaign trail, Trump bragged how he would immediately “terminate” Obamacare and replace it with something “really, really great that works.” But if for some reason you don’t know by now, he’s all radio talk show bombast and no substance. To fix our health care system requires hard work, study and a solid determination to create something that serves the collective need and protects each of us at our most vulnerable. There’s no evidence of that hard work happening in the White House or on Capitol Hill.

As I’m recovering from my time under the knife, I’ve been reading Keeping On Keeping On, the latest volume of diaries and other ephemera from the English playwright and essayist Alan Bennett. Now in his 80s, one of his bête noires is conservative attacks on Britain’s National Health Service.

“The word patient means a sufferer,” Bennett writes, “and when someone comes to the doctor they are coming not because they want to buy something but because they want help. Structure and restructure the Health Service how you will doctors are not shopkeepers, patients are not customers and medicine is not a product.”

A hospital stay has a way of making you focus and realize things about yourself and the structures that keep us alive and well. Proper medical care for all should be a boon to our society, a miracle of public policy that sustains and protects. Mindless cant and empty braggadocio are not policy. They’re a disease that threaten the health of the nation. And Mr. Trump, you’re the Typhoid Mary spreading the contagion.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship. [This article first appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/obamacare-trump-sickness-and-health/]




Busting Upward the Military Budget

The Trump administration and Congress are in accord on one thing: the budget constraints on military spending must be busted to sustain overseas bases and to fund local pork projects, writes Ivan Eland.

By Ivan Eland

Although the Senate and House of Representatives have both passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018 at the gargantuan sum of $700 billion, most of the largesse has little to do with defending the United States and much to do with policing the informal American overseas empire. Thus, at least some trimming to the huge amount is possible.

Of the $700 billion, about $640 billion is the Pentagon’s base budget and another $60 billion dollars is allocated to fight simultaneous wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. This whopping amount exceeds last year’s $619 billion, thus flouting the “sequestration” spending caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Trump and the Republicans want to use budget savings from domestic spending to finance the defense spending increases. However, they will need Democratic votes to break the sequestration caps; the Democrats’ price for doing so is a logrolling that would also require increases in domestic spending.

Yet the Budget Control Act has helped control federal spending, budget deficits, and debt accumulation and should be retained. Apparently, when conservatives tout slimming down government, they don’t seem to think the Defense Department is part of the federal bureaucracy.

The idea is preposterous that a country which alone accounts for about half the world’s defense budget needs more money to keep the readiness of its forces high and to rebuild a military that has been depleted by long, senseless wars in the Middle East and South Asia. The Defense Department is already slathered with over $600 billion a year and just needs to reallocate some of its funds to improve readiness and conduct rebuilding.

Yet members of Congress always propose amendments adding extra weapons systems, such as ships and aircraft, to the budget that the Defense Department doesn’t request. Not coincidentally, all this wasteful and unneeded pork spending just happens to be in these members’ home states. Such pork is a regular occurrence in defense budgeting and explains why the Defense budget is so massive, yet force readiness and equipment depletion remain problems.

Other wasteful spending perennially occurs on stateside military bases that even DoD would like to close, but members of Congress like to keep open because it subsidizes local economies they represent. The Pentagon offered a useful proposal that would have opened another round of base closures to save money. These savings could have been put toward readiness and rebuilding. Both the House and Senate rejected it for the aforementioned parochial reason.

Overseas Bases

To save even more money, the United States should close some overseas bases and decommission military units at those bases. Essentially, the military is like a fleet of expensive sports cars that is short on money for gas, repair, and maintenance. The overseas bases and forces need to be pruned so that the remaining forces at home have enough money for operations and support. With a $20 trillion debt, the United States is overextended in the world; the U.S. half of global defense spending is paid for out less than a quarter of the world’s GDP. Pruning the U.S. overseas footprint will help reduce the overextension.

Another way to save money would be to end unneeded and counterproductive wars in the Middle East and South Asia, which lead to increased blowback anti-U.S. terrorism. Sen. Rand Paul, R- Kentucky, laudably proposed repealing outdated congressional authorizations for the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, passed in 2001 and 2002. Congress was so scared of the proposal that it didn’t even get a vote.

These two authorizations for the use of force should have been terminated. Going even further, one could question counterproductive (for the same reason as the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars), congressionally unapproved, and therefore unconstitutional air and drone wars in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, and Libya. Lives and even more money could be saved if they were also ended.

Therefore, eliminating pork spending, unneeded and counterproductive wars overseas, and excessive bases and forces at home and around the world could free up more money for military readiness and any post-war rebuilding necessary without ending the sequestration limits on defense spending needed to control budget deficits and debt accumulation, which are dragging the U.S. economy and preventing higher economic growth rates.

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. [This article also appeared as a blog post at HuffingtonPost.]




Human Anxiety in Late-Stage Capitalism

Superficial explanations for today’s social anxiety and political discontent miss the underlying reality: the crisis of late-stage capitalism in its frantic death throes, explains poet Phil Rockstroh.

By Phil Rockstroh

A number of recent press articles, including an over 8,000-word feature piece in The New York Times have asked, to quote the Times’ headline, “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?”

Although the question was proffered, the reporters and editors responsible for the articles remain resolutely obtuse to the obvious: The bughouse crazy environment of late-stage capitalist culture evokes classic fight-or-flight responses attendant to episodes of severe anxiety and panic attacks.

The word panic has its derivation in reference to Pan, the Greek god of wilderness and wildness, of the animal body encoded within human beings and its attendant animalistic imperatives. To wit, deracinate an animal from its natural habitat and it will evince, on an instinctual basis, a fight-or-flight response.

If caged, the unfortunate creature will pace the confines of its imprisonment, chew and tear at its fur and flesh, become irritable, enervated, languish and even die from the deprivation of the environment it was born to inhabit. A caged animal, even if the unfortunate creature endures captivity, is not the entity nature conceived; the living being has been reduced to A Thing That Waits For Lunch.

Human beings, animals that we are, respond in a similar fashion. Experiencing anxiety is among the ways our innate animal spirits react to the capitalist cage. Inundate a teenager with the soul-defying criteria of the corporate/consumer state, with its overbearing, pre-careerist pressures, its paucity of communal eros, its demands, overt and implicit, to conform to a shallow, manic, nebulously defined yet oppressive societal order, and insist that those who cannot adapt, much less excel, are “losers” who are fated to become “basement dwellers” in their parents’ homes or, for those who lack the privilege, be cast into homelessness, then the minds of the young or old alike are apt to be inundated with feelings of angst and dread.

Worse, if teenagers are culturally conditioned to believe said feelings and responses are exclusively experienced by weaklings, parasites, and losers then their suffering might fester to the point of emotional paralysis and suicidal inclinations.

No Real Remedies

What does the capitalist state offer as remedy? Obscenely profitable, corporately manufactured and widely prescribed psychoactive medications. Treatment, which, at best, merely masks symptoms and bestows the illusion of recovery.

As R. D. Laing observed: “What we call ‘normal’ is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience. It is radically estranged from the structure of being.”

In short, it is insanity to be expected to adapt to socially acceptable insanity. Yet we are pressured to adapt to, thus internalize odious, groupthink concepts and tenets. To cite one such groupthink example: homelessness is natural to the human condition and is a communally acceptable situation.

Closer to fact: The problem of homelessness is the result of a societal-wide perception problem — the phenomenon is the very emblem of the scrambling, twisting, dissociating, and displacing of perception that capitalist propagandists specialize in. Homelessness would be considered a relic of a barbaric past if this very simple principle was applied: Having access to permanent shelter is a human right and not a privilege.

What kind of a vile, vicious people would deny that simple proposition? Those conditioned by a lingering Puritan/Calvinist mindset to believe: Punishment for resisting the usurpation of the fleeting hours of one’s finite life must be severe. If the over-class can no longer get away with, as was once common practice in the Puritan/Calvinist tradition, public floggings to whip the labor force into line, then those who will not or cannot comply will be cast onto the cold, unforgiving concrete of a soulless cityscape.

It comes down to this, societies that are ridden with vast wealth inequity, due to the machinations of a rapacious over-class, create the obscenity known as homelessness. Moreover, the situation is only one of the numerous obscenities inherent to state capitalism. Obscenities that include, events that are dominating the present news cycle, e.g., the predations of a lecherous movie mogul, to the sub-cretinous doings and pronouncements of a Chief of State who is a bloated, bloviating, two-legged toxic waste dump.

Trump, No Aberration 

How is it then, liberals fail to grasp the fact that the Trump presidency is not an aberration; rather, his ascension to power should be regarded as being among the high probability variables of late-stage capitalism and empire building? The psychopathic, tangerine-tinged clown Trump is the embodiment of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a development that is concomitant to over-expanded empires. Thus he will continue to flounce deeper into the quagmire of crash-engendering, economic legerdemain and perpetual war.

Empires are death cults, and death cults, on a subliminal basis, long for their own demise. Paradoxically, the collective mindset of imperium, even as it thrusts across the expanse of the world, renders itself insular, cut off from culturally enhancing novelty, as all the while, the homeland descends into a psychical swamp of churning madness.

A draining of the swamp of the collective mind cannot come to pass, for the swamp and citizenry are one. Withal, the likes of leaders such as Trump rise from and are made manifest by the morass of the culture itself. In a swamp, the gospel of rebirth and redemption is heard in the song of humus. New life rises from its compost.

In the presence of Trump’s debased mind and tombified carcass, one is privy to arias of rot. While Hillary Clinton’s monotonous tempo was the dirge of a taxidermist — cold, desiccated of heart, and devoid of life’s numinous spark — Trump’s voice carries the depraved cacophony of a Célinean fool’s parade … its trajectory trudging towards the end of empire.

As liberals new BFFL (Best Friend for Life) George W. Bush might ask, “Is our liberals learning.”

In a word, no. For example, the collective psyche of U.S. culture as been enflamed by the revelations that actresses were coerced into sexual encounters with a movie mogul whose power in the industry was only matched, even enhanced, by his sadistic nature. The staff of his company assisted, was complicit in, or remained silent about his lechery, as did the whole of the movie industry and the entertainment press. All as NFL athletes are being threatened with expulsion from the League if they kneel during the national anthem.

The Great Unspoken 

Yet the great unspoken remains: The enabling of and submission to the degradation, exploitation and tyranny, and the lack of resistance thereof share a common and singular factor: The careerism of all concerned. The cultural milieu concomitant to capitalism is at the rotten root and noxious blossoming of the situation. 

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 cinematic barnburner “Two or Three Things I Know About Her” should be required viewing for those unaware or in denial of the acuity of the film’s theme i.e., becoming enmeshed within the psychical landscape of dominance, degradation, and submission inherent to and inseparable from capitalist/consumer culture will cause one to become party to societal sanctioned prostitution. When life is negotiated within a collective value system that devalues and deadens the individual’s inner life thus warps every human transaction, anomie descends, the worst among a people ascend to positions of power.

“Panic is the sudden realization that everything around you is alive.” — William S. Burroughs, from Ghost of Chance

When friends visited me in New York, where I lived for decades, I would take them on walking tours through the city. We would cross the Westside Highway and stroll the pedestrian walk along the Hudson River, or cross the East River by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

The effect of these excursions on people was often profound … the combined elements of the elemental beauty of the rivers and vastness of the city’s architecture and scope, clamor, and the dense interweaving of traditional ethnic customs and ad hoc social codes of New Yorkers often would heighten the visitors’ senses and open them to larger, more intricate awareness of themselves and extant reality … the freeways of the contemporary mind (conditioned to be constantly engaged in manic motion, with one’s mind either frenzied by an obsession with performing (ultimately futile) maneuvers directed to saving time — or stalled at a frustration inducing standstill) were replaced by the exigencies of life at street level, i.e., novel situations that had to be apprehended and negotiated.

The possibilities of life seemed greater. The crimped eros of insular suburban thought became loosened before the city’s intricacies and expansiveness. Although: Not all, or even a scant few, New Yorkers can maintain the state of being. Few of us can live by Rilke’s resolve to “make every moment holy.” Life, in the city, becomes grotesquely distorted … High rents, inflicted by hyper-gentrification, in combination with the deification of success and its cult of careerism overwhelm one’s psyche … There is so far to fall.

Angst (the word originally can be traced to the ancient Greek deity Ananke, the immovable by prayer and offering bitch Goddess of Necessity and the root word of anxiety) clamps down one’s sense of awareness. Ananke dominates the lives of the non-privileged citizenry while Narcissus, Trump’s, the Clintons’, et.al. and their financial and cultural elitists’ patron God rules the day. The pantheon of possibility has been decimated, a cultural cleansing has been perpetrated, by the egoist caprice of the beneficiaries of the late capitalist dictatorship of money.

Hence, we arrive at the primal wisdom tacitly conveyed by anxiety-borne states of fight or flight. Due to the reality that capitalism, on both an individual and collective basis, drives individuals into madness, all as the system destroys forest and field, ocean and sea and the soul-scape of all who live under its rapacious dominion, our plight comes down to this: We either struggle and strive, by and any and all means, to end the system — or it will end us.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living, now, in Munich, Germany. He may be contacted: philrockstroh.scribe@gmail.com and at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/phil.rockstroh




Trump’s War for Coal Raises Risks

Exclusive: President Trump’s war for coal is threatening progress on alternative energy while creating hazards both in the weather effects from global warming and in health risks from breathing dirty air, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

When Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt proudly declared “The war against coal is over,” as part of his Oct. 9 announcement of plans to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, he neglected to mention the thousands of Americans whose lives will be sacrificed so coal producers and utilities can declare victory in the nation’s environmental wars.

As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement, “Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt will go down in infamy for launching one of the most egregious attacks ever on public health, our climate, and the safety of every community in the United States. He’s proposing to throw out a plan that would prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of childhood asthma attacks every year.”

Coal burning produces deadly particulates, toxic metals, and other pollutants that have a ruinous effect on public health, even with current controls on smokestack emissions. A 2015 analysis by the EPA of the Clean Power Plan, which proposed flexible measures to curb carbon pollution from power plants across the country, noted that associated cuts to smog and soot would “bring major health benefits for American families.”

By 2030, when its provisions fully kicked in, the plan would result in “up to 3,600 fewer premature deaths; 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children; 1,700 fewer hospital admissions; and avoiding 300,000 missed days of school and work.”

Those numbers reflected only the projected impact of the Clean Power Plan, not the total impact of coal burning. Carnegie Mellon professor Jay Apt recently cited a vast scientific literature that supports estimates of premature deaths from U.S. power plant emissions at between 7,500 and 52,000 annually — roughly comparable to total fatalities from car crashes.

Switching electric utilities completely from coal to natural gas would slash those emissions and lower human health costs by upward of $50 billion a year, Apt and a team of fellow scientists calculated in a 2016 paper.

That process is already underway for economic reasons. Thanks to cheap natural gas prices, nearly half of U.S. coal-fired power plants have shut down or announced plans to retire in recent years—including nearly a dozen since Trump took office.

A recent study issued by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University noted, “A surge in US natural gas production due to the shale revolution has driven down prices and made coal increasingly uncompetitive in US electricity markets. Coal has also faced growing competition from renewable energy, with solar costs falling 85 percent between 2008 and 2016 and wind costs falling 36 percent.”

Unless those basic economic facts change, it declared, “US coal consumption will continue its decline despite Trump’s aggressive rollback of Obama-era regulations.”

War on Renewable Energy

This March, for the first time ever, wind and solar produced 10 percent of all electricity in the United States, reflecting their growing challenge to coal and their rapidly declining cost. The Trump administration is looking for ways to reverse that trend, even if that means ending the tremendous job boom in alternative energy industries.

At EPA, besides attempting to kill the Clean Power Plan, Trump apparently hopes to roll back costly regulations of mercury emissions and coal ash from power plants by appointing former coal company lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to serve as deputy administrator of the agency.

EPA’s Pruitt has also publicly urged repeal of federal tax credits for wind and solar power — without noting that they are scheduled to disappear by 2020 and 2022, respectively, and without acknowledging that extensive federal subsidies for coal for years tilted the playing field in favor of fossil fuels. (President Trump is said by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice to be “really interested” in providing a lavish new federal subsidy for Appalachian coal.)

Meanwhile, over at the Department of Energy, the White House has asked for cuts of nearly 70 percent in the department’s programs for renewable energy and energy efficiency, including its much-acclaimed advanced research program.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry last month asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ram through new economic regulations favoring ailing coal and nuclear plants. His transparent attempt to interfere with energy markets ran into determined opposition not only from wind and solar representatives, but members of the gas industry. One of Trump’s own appointees to FERC objected, saying “I did not sign up to go blow up the markets.”

The Interior Department has weighed in, too, with Secretary Ryan Zinke declaring during National Clean Energy Week that solar companies should stop looking for sites to produce energy on federal lands. To date, his department has approved only one solar project, compared to the 60 approved by the Obama administration over eight years.

Zinke’s anti-solar stance conflicts with the opinion of two-thirds of adult Americans, who believe the United States should give priority to renewable energy over fossil fuels.

Perhaps the Trump administration’s biggest threat to renewable energy is its potential support for a new ruling by the U.S. International Trade Commission, which found that cheap Chinese solar panels have hurt U.S.-based manufacturers. The Solar Energy Industry Association, the main industry lobby, has decried the ruling and warned that punitive tariffs would raise panel prices, slam the breaks on solar adoption, and cost nearly 90,000 U.S. jobs.

The ruling was also opposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation, at least two Republican governors, and a group of retired military energy experts.

“But for Trump,” observed the Washington Post’s Dino Grandoni, “the commission’s decision presents a rare opportunity for him to penalize two of his favorite punching bags — China and Mexico, which was also named in the ITC ruling . . . — without Congress getting in the way.” Just as important, it would allow Trump to land another blow for the coal industry.

By waging war against renewable energy industry, the Trump administration isn’t just putting hundreds of thousands of good jobs at risk. In the long run, it is jeopardizing efforts to slow the pace of global warming, which has contributed to the vast scale and devastation of recent natural disasters ranging from hurricanes to fires.

Just as significant, the administration threatens to condemn to misery or death thousands of Americans who will be forced to breathe dirtier air in order to line the pockets of Trump’s coal-industry supporters. By fighting for coal, Trump is waging war on our very lives.

Jonathan Marshall is a frequent contributor to Consortiumnews.com.

 




Catalonia and the ‘Europe of Regions’

Exclusive: Catalonia’s bid for independence from Spain had a curious twist, a readiness to take its place within the supranational European Union, a further challenge to traditional nation-states, observes Andrew Spannaus.

By Andrew Spannaus

Political debate across Europe has been shaken by the clash between the pro-independence faction in the Spanish region of Catalonia, and the national institutions of Spain, raising thorny issues about autonomy, national sovereignty and the European Union.

The Catalans, who organized a referendum on independence that was formally prohibited and partially repressed by national authorities, are in fact just one of the regional groups around the continent which have consistently sought to lessen their ties with their respective national governments, with schemes that go from greater financial independence to outright secession.

Until just a few decades ago, such aspirations would have barely been considered realistic in the Western world, as nation-states have been the dominant political entity for centuries, with no intention to give up power over their territory or population.

Several factors have intervened to change the political environment since the beginning of the 1990s. First, there has been the promotion of the notion of ethnic self-determination by Western democracies. This has generally been used to urge political change in other areas of the world, often with geopolitical aims such as weakening strategic adversaries; there are numerous examples, from the former Soviet bloc and the Balkans, to East Timor and Tibet. Support for such breakaway movements in the name of democracy and human rights has opened the door for people in Western Europe to demand their own right to self-determination.

Second, is the strategy adopted by architects of the modern European Union to encourage acceptance of the abandonment of national sovereignty. This entailed a departure from the original form of the E.U. that was begun in the 1950s as a system of economic cooperation among Western European countries with a strategic aim.

In that initial phase, it was considered essential to foster a close alliance in order to counter the Soviet Union, and the United States even made increased European cooperation a condition for disbursement of Marshall Plan funds shortly after World War II.

At the end of the Cold War though, the E.U. underwent a significant transformation, adopting the goal of gradually ceding national prerogatives to the supranational structures in Brussels and Frankfurt, ultimately seeking a sort of European-wide “United States of Europe.” This idea was promoted by the political elites, but garnered only limited public support, repeatedly being rejected when actual votes were taken among the population, for example.

It’s not difficult to understand why: countries would have to voluntarily give up their sovereignty to a political structure that, while formally managed by representatives sent from each single area, risked being led mainly by a permanent bureaucracy with little connection to, or understanding of, the diverse populations around the continent. The impression, still present today, is that the transatlantic political and financial establishment would centralize control, catering to the needs of only a small portion of the population.

A ‘Europe of Regions’

One of the solutions that emerged was to promote the notion of a “Europe of Regions,” i.e. along with the centralization of power on certain matters at the supranational level, there would also be a devolution of powers towards local authorities in other fields. The idea of emphasizing regional characteristics on an ethnic basis was not new, but it received renewed attention in the 1990s as avenues were sought to advance E.U. integration.

This had an effect on political movements that focused on local issues. An example comes from Italy, where the idea was trumpeted by Gianfranco Miglio, an Italian jurist and political scientist who was a leading proponent of regional autonomy. Miglio was a long-time supporter of a reorganization of nations into smaller entities based on different ethnic groups, in a situation where the state and borders would ultimately disappear, as he put it.

Miglio became the philosophical leader of the Italian “Northern League” for a time in the 1990s. The League began as a movement calling for secession of the wealthier regions of northern Italy from the center and south, cast as corrupt, inefficient and impossible to reform. Representatives of the League were elected to political positions throughout the North, but eventually also took on roles in the national government.

As the notion of secession proved to be unrealistic, the political world did however embrace the idea of greater federalism, understood as allowing regional governments more financial and administrative autonomy, for better or for worse.

Now the two largest regions of Italy’s North, Lombardy and Veneto, are poised to vote in a non-binding referendum in favor of greater autonomy on Oct. 22. The aim is not to move towards actual independence – a goal embraced by only a small portion of the population – but rather to convince the national government to allow the wealthy regions to keep more of the taxes they pay, instead of sending most of the money to Rome where it is redistributed based on national priorities.

“We want the cash,” a leading member of the Lombardy Regional Government told this writer on Oct. 3. “The referendum will strengthen us in our negotiations will Rome.”

This is the position supported publicly by Lombardy Governor Roberto Maroni, who makes no bones about his desire to shift resources to his own constituents rather than keep subsidizing other areas of Italy that are less efficient and more needy.

In a press conference three weeks ago, Maroni also jumped at the chance to declare his support for a “Europe of the Regions.” Despite aiming to capitalize on populist sentiment, he distanced himself from the nationalist, anti-E.U. sentiment spreading around Europe, expressed by politicians such as Marine Le Pen in France. Thus the push for local autonomy dovetails nicely with the increase of supranational power structures that weaken the nation-state.

A Divided Catalonia

The case of Catalonia is more contentious. The Statute of Autonomy went into effect in 2006, giving the regional institutions heightened power over numerous areas, from education and health to communications and transportation. In 2010, the Constitutional Court of Spain began to roll back the effects of the Statute in various fields, provoking the opposition that ultimately led to the referendum earlier this month.

Not all Catalans are for leaving Spain. Indeed recent polling suggests that there is currently not a pro-independence majority. This conclusion is disputed though, and in the regional elections of 2015 pro-independence parties received 48 percent of the vote, short of an absolute majority, but a plurality sufficient to give them control of the regional government. The result has been a clash between Catalonia and the national government of Spain, with the national police intervening physically to block the referendum on Oct. 1.

The conflict has also raised serious issues for the European Union. Catalan secessionists openly stated that as an independent state they intended to be a member of the E.U. What better way to advance the notion of a “Europe of Regions”?

When push came to shove though, the E.U. institutions found themselves forced to warn Catalonia that it would not receive any preferential treatment even if it were to become independent. After an initial embarrassed silence, the European Commission aligned itself squarely with the position of the Spanish government, showing that in times of crisis the prerogatives of nation-states still prevail.

It’s ironic that just as voters throughout the West are supporting populists calling for a return to national sovereignty, in opposition to the end of political and economic borders as preached by globalization, the other flank used to weaken nation-states, that of regional autonomy and self-determination, is now causing problems precisely for those who promoted it.

Andrew Spannaus is a freelance journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan, Italy. He is the founder of Transatlantico.info, that provides news, analysis and consulting to Italian institutions and businesses. His book on the U.S. elections Perchè vince Trump (Why Trump is Winning) was published in June 2016.




The Osage Indian Murder Mystery

Exclusive: The European arrival in North America led to genocide against Native Americans along with various schemes to steal their land by both government and individual murderers, as James DiEugenio explains.

By James DiEugenio

White America has deployed any number of subterfuges to steal land from the Native Americans, with a favorite tactic being the signing of treaties that were voided whenever it became convenient – and especially when the Native American land was found have something valuable in it. Then, the deal was “renegotiated” or the U.S. Army arrived to slaughter some tribe for going “off the reservation.”

But there were also more local strategies, hatched by greedy operatives and enforced by targeted killings, such as the murders of Osage Indians at the heart of a new book by David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon.

The Osage Indian nation dated back to well before the formation of the United States, when the Osage roamed through what are now four states (Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma). After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 when the new U.S. government “bought” vast tracts of territory west of the Mississippi River from France and after a series of negotiations, the Osage ceded 52 million acres in return for the U.S. government’s protection from other tribes. But the Osage had more to fear from the white men.

In 1870, the Osage were ultimately pushed onto their final destination, the north central portion of Oklahoma, where they lived by subsistence farming and by leasing land to ranchers for grazing. Under the agreement negotiated by Chief James Bigheart, the land was owned by the Osage though administered by the U.S. government. Bigheart also negotiated a deal in which the Osage maintained mineral rights to their land.

That proved important because oil was discovered in Osage County making the tribe relatively wealthy due to a system called headrights. This meant that each tribe member would be allotted royalties from both the sale of the oil leases and also for a percentage of the extracted petroleum. Since some of the bidders on the leases were people like Frank Phillips, George Getty and Frank Sinclair, the auctions on some leases would begin at $500,000 and end at over $1 million. In 1923, in just one day, $14 million in oil leases were sold: over $200 million in today’s dollars.

This wealth helped transform Osage territory; with the main villages — Fairfax, Hominy, and Pawhuska – becoming the equivalent of Western boomtowns. Horses and wagons were replaced by Model T Fords; one-level wooden frame stores gave way to five-story brick office buildings; telegraph offices were replaced by blocks and blocks of telephone poles and wires.

Envious Whites 

By standards of the time, the Osage Indians became rich; some employing servants, living in large homes, even purchasing grand pianos. In other words, the Osage began behaving like rich white Americans, but – because they were Indians – their displays of wealth provoked a backlash in the U.S. press. For instance, in writing about the auctions, a journalist for Harper’s Monthly asked, “Where will it all end? Every time a new well is drilled the Indians are that much richer.  The Osage Indians are becoming so rich that something will have to be done about it.”  (Grann, p. 76)

Two things were done. First, the federal government instituted a system of guardianships. This meant that each Osage tribe member could be deemed “incompetent,” and that necessitated a guardian be appointed to the case. As Grann notes, this appointment was nearly always based on the quantity “of Indian blood in the property holder; or what a state supreme court justice referred to as ‘racial weakness.’“ (ibid, p. 78)

Congressmen would study and analyze expenditures made by each individual Osage and criticize the amounts spent on certain items. At times these assessments echoed Rudyard Kipling’s famous dictum about England bearing the white man’s burden for colonized natives, or as Grann quotes a congressman:

“Every white man in Osage County will tell you the Indians are now running wild. The day has come when we must begin our restriction of these moneys or dismiss from our hearts and conscience any hope we have of building the Osage Indian into a true citizen.” (ibid, p. 79)

Therefore, in 1921, not only were the Osage limited by needing approval from their guardians for expenditures, but limits were placed on how much they could annually withdraw from their trust fund. Practical exceptions like having medical bills or wanting to send children to private colleges did not matter. As one can imagine, this guardian system also provided ample opportunities for embezzlement of the Osage “trust” funds.

The second method that the local power structure utilized to control the Osage wealth was exercised through a legal loophole. That loophole specified that the Osage trust funds could be passed on through family inheritance. What this meant was that if an Osage woman married someone outside the tribe, her husband could inherit her wealth.

A Killing Spree 

But there was even a more sinister side to these arrangements. Osage women started disappearing and people who dared investigate started turning up dead.

In May 1921, Mollie Burkhart began to worry about Anna Brown, her missing sister. Three years earlier, her sister Minnie had died at age 27 after a brief, mysterious illness. And about a week before Anna’s disappearance, a man named Charles Whitehorn, another Osage, had vanished. Whitehorn’s body was soon found at the base of an oil derrick. He had been shot execution-style with two bullets between the eyes. (ibid, p. 14)

A few days before her disappearance, Anna had gone to see a play with Mollie’s husband, Ernest Burkhart, and his brothers Bryan and Horace. Ernest assured Mollie that Anna would show up soon. But Anna never returned alive. Her body was found by a boy out squirrel hunting at the edge of a creek. She had been killed by a .32 caliber bullet to the rear of the skull. (ibid, p. 19)

Because local authorities seemed reluctant to investigate her sister’s murder, Mollie turned to a man named William Hale, who was a pallbearer at Anna’s funeral. Hale had been a prosperous rancher in Osage county for two decades, a reserve deputy sheriff and a political ally of the county prosecutor. Hale once said, “I will always be the Osages true friend.”

The inquest found that Bryan Burkhart was the last known person to have seen Anna alive. He said he brought her back to her home and never saw her again. His brother, Ernest Burkhart, said, “I don’t know of enemies she had or anyone that disliked her.” (ibid, p. 31)

After eliminating local outlaws and her former husband as suspects, the local Justice of the Peace closed the case in July 1921. He concluded that both Anna Brown and Charles Whitehorn had died at “the hands of parties unknown.” (ibid, p. 35)  That same month, Mollie’s mother Lizzie also passed away. Bill Smith, Mollie’s brother-in-law, became convinced Lizzie had been poisoned.

The mysterious deaths didn’t stop there. In February 1922, a 29-year-old Osage named William Stepson died, also believed to have been poisoned. Five months later, Joe Bates, another Osage tribe member in his 30s also died of suspected poisoning. (ibid, pgs. 67-68)

With the death toll climbing, but the public and private inquiries yielding meager results, the Osage turned to Barney McBride, a wealthy white oil man whom they trusted and who was genuinely sympathetic to Indian affairs. He knew several people in Washington who might help.

The night McBride arrived in Washington, he stopped at the Elks Club to play billiards. As he departed, someone wrapped a burlap bag tightly over his head to silence him. The next morning, McBride’s body was found near a culvert in Maryland. He had been stabbed 20 times, his head was bashed in, and, except for his shoes and socks, his body was stripped naked. The authorities suspected McBride had been followed from Oklahoma. The Washington newspapers called McBride’s killing “the most brutal in crime annals in the District.” (ibid, p. 69)

A few weeks later, the dead body of Henry Roan was found in his car. He had been a friend of William Hale, the rancher who had vowed to help solve the murder of Anna Brown. (ibid, pgs. 81-82)

But the killing spree only got worse. A spectacular explosion tore through the house of Mollie Burkhart’s sister and brother-in-law, Rita and Bill Smith, the man who had voiced his certainty that Mollie’s mother Lizzie had been poisoned. Rita Smith and a maid Nettie Berkshire died in the blast and Bill Smith died four days later.

That incident attracted the attention of a former prosecutor, W.W. Vaughn, who learned that a potential witness was in a hospital in Oklahoma City suffering from suspected poisoning, George Burkhart, a nephew of tribal chief James Bigheart. When Vaughn reached the hospital room, he met alone with the ailing man shortly before he died. Vaughn then called the Osage County sheriff and told him he now had all the information he needed and would take the first train to pass on the evidence to the sheriff. The sheriff asked him if he knew who killed Bigheart. Vaughn replied that he knew a lot more than that. (ibid, p. 94)

But Vaughn never arrived in Pawhuska to meet with the sheriff. He was dragged from his Pullman car and his is body was found 36 hours later with his neck broken. Whatever notes he took concerning his interview with Bigheart had disappeared. With Vaughn’s death, the official number of murders in the Osage case rose to 24. The local and state authorities seemed powerless to stop it.  Whoever was running the plot seemed beyond the reach of the law.

Federal Attention

In the summer of 1925, the head of Washington’s Bureau of Investigation decided it was time to intervene in a serious way. One of the functions of the Bureau, which had not yet been named the FBI, was to investigate crimes on Indian reservations. The director was 29-year-old J. Edgar Hoover, who knew his position was tenuous. Hoover decided the only way to prevent more bad publicity was to call in a law enforcement acquaintance from the area and give him the power he needed to crack the case.

The man Hoover called upon was Tom White, a Texas Ranger for 12 years before joining the Bureau in 1917. Hoover offered White the stewardship of the Oklahoma City office and the freedom to select his own task force. Hoover made a good choice and was wise to give White the independence he needed.

White decided to pursue the conspiracy on two levels. He would stay in Oklahoma City as the public face of the inquiry. From there, he and his chief assistants – most notably John Burger – would review the files that had accumulated from all law enforcement agencies over the last four years. Secretly, White would employ a team of undercover agents who would slowly flow into the Osage area seeking to make friends and to find leads. One of these agents was John Wren, a Ute Indian.

White  was interested in finding out if Bill Smith, the bombing victim, had revealed anything before he died. Through all his suffering and slipping in and out of comas at the hospital, Smith had managed to say that he had only two enemies in the world. They were William Hale, the rancher who had professed his devotion to the Osage people, and his brother-in-law Ernest Burkhart, Mollie’s husband and Hale’s nephew. (ibid, p. 152)

But there was something else White discovered during his inquiry into Smith’s final hours. Before Smith died, David Shoun, a popular doctor in Osage County, got him to sign a document making Shoun’s brother James, who was also a doctor, the administrator of Smith’s dead wife’s estate. (ibid, p. 153)

That document led White to uncover a massive system of graft and embezzlement, involving as much as $8 million stolen from the Osage through the guardian system (or about $112 million in today’s dollars).

In reviewing the evidence, White thought it was odd that Hale was never considered a suspect in the murder of Henry Roan because Hale was the recipient of a $25,000 insurance policy upon Roan’s death. And employees of the insurance company said Hale had approached them to sell Roan the policy. When an agent suggested $10,000 as the sum, Hale upped it to $25,000. Since Hale was not a relative, he had to prove that Roan owed him money in order to collect on the policy of a man who was not yet 30. Hale produced a document that said Roan owed him the precise amount of the policy. White later found that the document had been doctored. (ibid, p. 159)

White also discovered another curious aspect of the Hale/Roan relationship. Hale had unsuccessfully tried to purchase Roan’s mineral headrights. But the attempt led White to another lead. While studying the record of the murders, and the scam that Dr. Shoun had pulled on Smith before his death, White concluded that, with Mollie Burkhart’s relatives dying off one by one, more and more headrights were ending up with Mollie, who was married to Ernest Burkhart, Hale’s nephew.

Was this the objective of the conspirators? White reasoned that if he was right about Hale, it was time to turn to the criminal underworld for more information. In talking to local criminals who specialized in cracking safes, White came across a source who said he knew the man who had created the “box” – the nitroglycerine fuse and package – for the Smith bombing. It turned out that, while in the process of a jewel heist, this man had been killed by a local merchant. But, as White later learned, the robber was killed because Hale had tipped off the merchant. (ibid, p. 176)

Financial Motive

The case was broken when White went back into the files and discovered an informant named Blackie Thompson, who was half Cherokee. He told White that Ernest Burkhart and William Hale had tried to enlist him in the Smith bombing, but he was arrested for theft before the bombing was carried out. White confronted Burkhart with Thompson’s sworn affidavit. When Burkhart still denied it, he had Thompson enter the room to endorse the document. Burkhart then admitted his role, saying that when he expressed reservations about the bombing, Hale said to him, “What do you care. Your wife will get the money.” (ibid, p. 190) Burkhart also revealed the names of the killers who Hale had recruited to murder Henry Roan and Anna Brown.

Hale did everything to escape justice. He attempted to influence the grand jury, he tried to have his case moved out of federal court and into state court. He even hired an assassin to murder a key witness. But White heard about it before it could occur and confronted the accused assassin. Hale and three accomplices were eventually convicted.

In his book about the mystery, author Grann argues that if the victims had been white, Hale would have received the death penalty. But since they were Indians, the conspirators were sentenced to life in prison. Ernest Burkhart and Hale were eventually paroled. Hale later said, “If that damn Ernest had kept his mouth shut, we’d be rich today.” (ibid, p. 248)

Shortly after Hale went to jail, White retired from the Bureau and became a prison warden. Hoover closed the case. But that meant the public never discovered who stabbed Barney McBride in Washington and who threw W. W. Vaughn from that Oklahoma City train.

Grann looked up Vaughn’s surviving descendants and was told that Vaughn’s family was threatened not to pursue the matter any further. (ibid, p. 259) But they did, and information was passed on from one generation to another. Their major suspect was a local banker named H. G. Burt, who tried to embezzle money from Vaughn’s estate and was later sued by his widow.

White had discovered that Burt and Hale were close associates. In fact, White had one informant who labeled Burt a murderer. And Burt had a motive for his involvement in the conspiracy. After George Bigheart died, his valuable headrights were passed on to Bigheart’s daughter whose guardian was Burt. Burt also was on the train with Vaughn when it departed Oklahoma City and he reported Vaughn’s disappearance. And, when Hoover sent Tom White to Oklahoma City to take over the case, Burt moved to Kansas. (ibid, p. 264)

At the end of the book, Grann looked up the records of Indian guardianships that the Bureau of Indian Affairs maintained. Two things struck him as revealing about these records. The first is the recurrence of guardianship rights to powerful people in Osage County like Burt and the owner of the local Trading Company. Some of these local luminaries  had as many as 13 wards. The second curious matter was the number of wards who died mysteriously under guardianship. (ibid, p. 281)

After doing an inquiry into other cases in which the Bureau had information that did not lead to the Hale plot, the author concludes that the official number of Osage dead greatly exceeds the 24 named by the FBI. Grann believes that one of the most common forms of murder was through hypodermic needle overloaded with morphine. Then, cooperative doctors, like the Shoun brothers, would conceal the actual cause of death. (p. 290)

The book leaves the reader with the clear implication that the conspiracy to kill and rob the Osage was much wider than the one that Hale organized. As one authority on the case told Grann, “If Hale had told what he knew, a high percentage of the county’s leading citizens would have been in prison.” (ibid, p. 291)

James DiEugenio is a researcher and writer on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other mysteries of that era. His most recent book is Reclaiming Parkland.




The Evil That Guns Do

On the defensive over the Las Vegas massacre, the NRA is trotting out some new arguments, such as the inevitability of evil, to deter any meaningful gun control, explains Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

In the United States, you will hear madmen insist that: 58 dead and 500 injured in Las Vegas are the price of freedom; 49 dead and 58 wounded in Orlando, Florida, are the price of freedom; 27 dead and 2 injured in Newtown, Connecticut, are the price of freedom.

And so it goes. This truly is insanity. We can try to deal with that small percentage of the population who collect or own guns for hunting, target shooting or security, but to claim as a constitutional right the possession of firearms intended for nothing less than brutal, gruesome warfare strains credulity. These are killing machines with no purpose other than to maim and destroy.

Of course, we’ve said this time and again and will doubtless say it again because the foolish cycle remains unchanging. Every time someone unleashes gun violence and takes multiple victims, we begin with adamant, genuine grief and a collective wringing of hands. Then we are told that the immediate aftermath is not the time to bring politics into a time of sorrow, and then that, yes, maybe we will look into the license to kill we permit with our lax gun laws. Then the flowers will fade, the candles will gutter, the memorials will be over and nothing will be done.

But beyond the horrific scale of the Las Vegas killings, there were a couple of things that struck us as different about this latest tragedy. Usually, the National Rifle Association goes into its bunker and assumes radio silence for a week or so after these mass murders take place, and as if on cue Sunday morning, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre suddenly popped up on CBS’ Face the Nation, blaming the violence not on the millions and millions his organization spends holding gun control at bay but, you guessed it, “the elites.” He said:

“They all protect themselves with armed security. I mean, they criticize the NRA. You want to talk about irresponsible use of firearms? The No. 1 person teaching irresponsible use of firearms is all these elites’ employer, the Hollywood television gaming industry. We spend millions teaching responsible use of firearms. They make billions every single day, teaching irresponsible use of firearms. They’re so hypocritical it’s unbelievable.”

Limiting the Response

What was different this time was that just a couple of days after the Las Vegas deaths, for once the NRA seemed in favor of new gun laws, in this case forbidding the sale of the bump stocks that killer Stephen Paddock used to turn his semiautomatic rifles into automatic weapons that could spray the concert area below him with hundreds of bullets.

But hold on. What the NRA’s carefully parsed statement actually said was that the group was urging the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law. The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”

In other words, as John Cassidy reported at The New Yorker, “the NRA was looking to convert a legislative threat into a regulatory issue. Since fully automatic weapons are already illegal, it wasn’t giving up any substantive ground, and it was trying to prevent an open political debate in areas where it knows it is vulnerable.”

So don’t be fooled by their rhetorical camouflage. In truth, the NRA still wants to steer clear of any open debate in Congress that conceivably could change minds and even lead to other new gun control rules already widely favored by the public — like a renewal of the ban on assault rifles, universal background checks and a federal data base tracking gun sales.

Which leads to the second thing we noticed – the repeated use of the word “evil” to describe the deadly Vegas attack. It was “an act of pure evil,” President Trump said the morning after. And Don Turner, president of the Nevada Firearms Coalition, state branch of the NRA, told Mary Louise Kelley of NPR’s All Things Considered:

“Putting more new laws on the books is not going to stop it. This has been a conundrum humans have fought with since Cain and Abel. You cannot legislate compliance with evil. People are going to be evil. They’re going to do evil acts for one reason or another, and there’s not any laws in the world would stop them. If we had a total ban on guns, they would’ve used a semitruck or a bomb.”

That the acts of mass murderers are evil is undeniable. The problem is that if you insist that civilization cannot avoid the generation of evil acts — that the force of evil is out of the control of mere mortals — you are throwing up your hands and shirking responsibility for taking action. It’s a stinking cop out.

Bruce Clark, who writes the Erasmus blog on religion and public policy for The Economist magazine, notes that the emphasis on evil makes this assumption: “If evil is an inexorable feature of a fallen plane of existence, one that has been tainted from the very start of things by human sin, then no policy measures will ever remove it. The only response to evil is to identify it clearly, to avoid secular soft-headedness, and perhaps to mitigate its effects as and when they arise, without presuming to abolish it. In other words, gun control will not work.”

You can’t change fundamental human nature, the NRA and its allies shout. Wayne LaPierre proclaims, “[I]f we could legislate morality, we would have done it long ago.” But as Clark concludes, “whatever you may think about the causes of badness in the world, it seems manifestly absurd to suggest that the legislator should not try, at least, to reduce the scope for evil to prevail.”

We must continue to try. Yet given the nature of evil, why bother, LaPierre suggests. He knows the answer. More guns. But only for “the good guys,” of course. Madness.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship. [This article first appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/evil-guns-in-america/]




A Deaf Ear to Dire Russian Warnings

Official Washington is so obsessed with the hyped Russia-gate allegations that it isn’t picking up on dire warnings from Russia that continued U.S. military interference in Syria won’t be tolerated, as Gilbert Doctorow notes.

By Gilbert Doctorow

From time to time, the Kremlin uses the Sunday evening weekly news wrap-up program of Dmitry Kiselyov on state television, channel Rossiya-1, to send blunt and public warnings to Washington without diplomatic niceties. Last night was one such case and we must hope that the intended audience within the Beltway can put aside all its distractions about Russia-gate long enough to read a real message from Moscow.

The last such message came in the week following President Trump’s April 6 decision to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base to punish the Syrian government for an alleged but disputed chemical attack on a village in Idlib province. TV host Kiselyov used his airtime to spell out Russia’s disdainful response, which he characterized as unprecedented in scope and seriousness.

It was essential to put all the elements of the warning together in one place, as he did, because the Pentagon sought to downplay the elements in isolation, such as Russia’s installation of the Iskander nuclear potential missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian city on the Baltic Sea surrounded by Poland and Lithuania; or the abrogation of the deconfliction agreement relating to air space over Syria; or the dispatch of still more Russian vessels to the Eastern Mediterranean equipped to sink U.S. Navy ships.

While U.S. generals were saying that the Russians didn’t really mean it, Kiselyov put the whole picture on the screen: an ultimatum to Washington to back off or be prepared for war.

A still earlier message of this kind to Washington aired on the Kiselyov news show in the week following the supposedly accidental Sept. 17, 2016 bombing by U.S. and allied warplanes against Syrian army positions inside the encircled eastern town of Deir Ezzor, which killed more than 80 Syrian soldiers and prepared the way for a renewed offensive by the Islamic State. That bombing scuttled the agreement on a Syrian cease-fire concluded with the approval of President Obama less than a week earlier by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after a 14-hour negotiating session.

Lavrov was shown on the Kiselyov program openly accusing U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter of directing “friendly fire” against Kerry and of dangerous insubordination to his boss, the U.S. President, which put in question any possibility of reaching agreements with the Americans on anything.

Who’s in Charge Here?

That last question about who’s in charge in Washington has now re-emerged in the program that Kiselyov presented on Sunday evening. The Americans were identified as the “main obstacle” to the mopping up operation in Syria, at a time when Kiselyov indicated that people could finally see “the light at the end of the tunnel” for the horrific six-year conflict with more than 90 percent Syrian territory now back under government control.

The core of the accusation is that the United States is secretly aiding the Islamist terror groups at the center of the remaining resistance to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime: supplying the terror groups with weapons, helping them to move around, removing them from hostile fire, and giving them the findings of aerial reconnaissance, maps of where Syrian government forces are operating and even the locations of Russian military detachments.

Things have gotten to the point where the Russians feel that it is not the military capability of the Islamic State that stands in the way of routing the remaining terrorists from Syrian territory but this American assistance to the terrorists. This analysis, said Kiselyov, is not his own idea: it is the official position of the Russian Ministry of Defense as issued through its spokesman this week, Igor Konashenkov.

Kiselyov added: “The Americans deny everything. But the RF Ministry of Defense does not believe their words, relying instead on facts. We recall in the past week how part of the main road connecting Palmyra and Deir Ezzor was taken over by the fanatics. This is the main artery supplying the Syrian forces leading the offensive from Deir Ezzor against the remaining forces of the terrorists in Syria. De facto this was an attack in the rear. This was planned and facilitated by the Americans. In parallel, on 28 September a large group of terrorists numbering about 300 men left the area of the American base in al-Tanf at the Jordanian border. In this area there is a refugee camp numbering tens of thousands.”

According to Kiselyov, the Americans have cut off the refugee camp, not allowing in United Nations or other humanitarian relief convoys, so as to use the camp as cover, a human shield, for the Islamic State fighters whom the U.S. military is supporting.

Striking at ‘Random Events’

According to the warning from Russian defense spokesman Konashenkov, if the U.S. forces see these attacks by mobile units of terrorists whom the Americans are assisting as “unforeseen random events,” then Russian armed forces in Syria are prepared to totally destroy all such “random events” directed against the zone under their control.

Kiselyov asked why is this American behavior happening and whether President Trump made this decision. But the question is rhetorical. Though it may seem “amazing,” Kiselyov suggested that it appears Trump was not a party to this behavior, that it more likely resulted from what the TV host called sloppy management when the military gets out from under political control.

On the territory of Syria, Kiselyov said, “they start wandering around quite on their own” and “flirting” with the terrorist groups.

Throughout the six-year war, the United States and its allies – including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan and Israel – have provided support for Islamist militants and other rebels who have fought in close coordination with and often shared sophisticated U.S. weapons with Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Nusra Front, and at times Al Qaeda’s spinoff, the Islamic State.

However, whatever the U.S. intentions may be, said Kiselyov, the result is extremely unpleasant both for Russia and for the American leadership as its generals are being pushed toward adventurism.

Konashenkov characterized the area in Syria under American control near the Jordanian border as a “black hole” that is 100 kilometers long. From this “black hole,” the terrorists come out to stage their attacks on Syrian troops and against the peaceful civilian population.

The Sunday program’s feature segment then shifted to a calmer note with the insistence that Russian President Vladimir Putin remains confident in the victory over the terrorists regardless of who is aiding them. To demonstrate this confidence, the show presented footage of Putin’s response to questions put to him at the Energy Forum in Moscow at mid-week. Putin said, “in the end, we all [presumably including the Americans] have common interests in securing Syria and the region against terrorists and that will bring us together for cooperative action.”

In the meantime, however, videos showed the results of Russian air activity in Syria this past week, including more than 400 sorties of Russian planes based in Syria, plus SU-134 and SU-135 bombers arriving from Russian territory that killed a dozen or more terrorist leaders together with 50 security personnel and seriously injured a top official who lost an arm and sank into a coma.

Russian air attacks destroyed the terrorists’ main underground weapons caches amounting to 1,000 tons, according to the report, and an attack by Kalibr cruise missiles launched from submarines in the Mediterranean destroyed Islamic State command installations and vehicles as well as weapons supplies. This attack cleared the way for Syrian troops to begin the liberation of the town of Meyadin.

The program left the dots unconnected, but the Russian threat is clear: Moscow will use its air power to eliminate all forces standing in the way of complete victory including U.S. forces on the ground near the Jordanian border.

The Saudi Visit

The same news round-up had another segment that relates in less direct fashion to the Russian success in Syria: a state visit to Russia by the king of Saudi Arabia, the first in the two countries’ 90-plus years of diplomatic relations. And it was not a simple affair.

Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud brought with him a contingent of 1,000 people, including business leaders, ministry officials and senior military officers. They came with a reported 100 tons of baggage, including favorite carpets and other accouterments of the royal lifestyle.

All aspects of this visit were impressive, including the signing of contracts and letters of intent for multi-billion-dollar joint investments in industrial projects in both countries, possible Saudi purchases of Russian Liquefied Natural Gas from yet another mega-project seeking financing and multi-billion dollar military procurement, said to include the latest S-400 air defense system that Russia agreed to supply to Turkey a few weeks ago in exchange for a $2.5 billion down-payment and which Turkey accepted gratefully over NATO objections.

Putin quipped to the moderator of the Moscow Energy Forum, also held during the past week, that nothing is forever, not even the U.S. hold on the Saudis.

Kiselyov placed the visit in the context of Russian foreign policy in the region generally. Putin, he said, is pursuing a policy of seeking peaceful harmony in the Near East that takes into account the balance of interests of all countries in the region, a policy which is paying off: Russia is now the only country in the world to have good relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Iraq and, of course, Syria.

From both segments it would appear that U.S. longstanding domination of the region is unraveling.

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His next book, Does the United States have a Future? will be published during October 2017.




Ignoring Today’s ‘Great Hungers’

The U.S. government presents itself as the beneficent superpower, but the reality of Washington’s endless wars and lavish spending on bombs – while millions face starvation and disease – suggest a different reality, as Kathy Kelly notes.

By Kathy Kelly

Earlier this year, the Sisters of St. Brigid invited me to speak at their Feile Bride celebration in Kildare, Ireland. The theme of the gathering was: “Allow the Voice of the Suffering to Speak.”

The Sisters have embraced numerous projects to protect the environment, welcome refugees, and nonviolently resist wars. I felt grateful to reconnect with people who so vigorously opposed any Irish support for U.S. military wars in Iraq. They had also campaigned to end the economic sanctions against Iraq, knowing that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children suffered and died for lack of food, medicine and clean water.

This year, the Sisters asked me to first meet with local teenagers who would commemorate another time of starvation imposed by an imperial power. Joe Murray, who heads Action from Ireland (Afri), arranged for a class from Dublin’s Beneavin De La Salle College to join an Irish historian in a field adjacent to the Dunshaughlin work house on the outskirts of Dublin.

Such workhouses dot the landscape of Ireland and England. In the mid-Nineteenth Century, during the famine years, they were dreaded places. People who went there knew they were near the brink of death due to hunger, disease, and dire poverty. Ominously, behind the workhouse lay the graveyard.

The young men couldn’t help poking a bit of fun, at first; what in the world were they doing out in a field next to an imposing building, their feet already soaked in the wet grass as a light rain fell? They soon became quite attentive.

We learned that the Dunshaughlin workhouse had opened in May of 1841. It could accommodate 400 inmates. During the famine years, many hundreds of people were crowded in the stone building in dreadful conditions.

An estimated one million people died during a famine that began because of blighted potato crops but became an “artificial famine” because Ireland’s British occupiers lacked the political will to justly distribute resources and food. Approximately one million Irish people who could no longer feed themselves and subsist on the land emigrated to places like the U.S. But seeking refuge wasn’t an option for those who couldn’t afford the passage.

Evicted by landowners, desperate people arrived at workhouses like the one we were visiting. Our guide read us the names of people from the surrounding area who had been buried in a mass grave behind the workhouse, their bodies unidentified. They were victims of what the Irish call “Greta Mor”—”The Great Hunger.” It was recently, as I tried to better understand the migration of desperate and starving people now crossing from East Africa into Yemen, that I began to realize how great the hunger was.

A Global Holocaust

During that same period as the Irish famine — in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century — there were 30 million people, possibly 50 million, dying of famine in northern China, India, Brazil and the Maghreb. The terrible suffering of these unknown people, whose plight never made it into the history books, was a sharp reminder to me of Western exceptionalism.

As researched and described in Mike Davis’s book, The Late Victorian Holocaust, El Nino and La Nina climate changes caused massive crop failures. What food could be harvested was often sent abroad. Railroad infrastructure could have been used to send food to people dying of hunger, but wealthier people chose to ignore the plight of the starving. The Great Hunger, fueled by bigotry and greed, had been greater than any of its victims knew.

And now, few in the prosperous West are aware of the terror faced by people in South Sudan, Somalia, northeast Nigeria, northern Kenya and Yemen. Millions of people cannot feed themselves or find potable water.

Countries in Africa, which the U.S. has helped destabilize such as Somalia, are convulsed in fighting which exacerbates effects of drought and drives helpless civilians toward points of hoped-for refuge. Many have chosen a path of escape through the famine-torn country of Yemen.

But the U.S. has been helping a Saudi-led coalition to blockade and bomb Yemen since March of 2015. Sudanese fighters aligned with Saudi Arabia have been taking over cities along the Yemeni coast, heading northward. People trying to escape famine find themselves trapped amid vicious air and ground attacks.

In March 2017, Stephen O’Brien, head of the United Nation’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, traveled to Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Northern Kenya. Since that trip, he has repeatedly begged the U.N. Security Council to help end the fighting and prevent conflict-driven famine conditions.

Regarding Yemen, he wrote, in a July 12, 2017 statement to the U.N. Security Council that: “Seven million people, including 2.3 million malnourished (500,000 severely malnourished) children under the age of five, are on the cusp of famine, vulnerable to disease and ultimately at risk of a slow and painful death. Nearly 16 million people do not have access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene, and more than 320,000 suspected cholera cases have been reported in all of the country’s governorates bar one.” This number has since risen to 850,000.

Spreading Famine

Ben Ehrenreich describes famine conditions along what the Israeli theorist Eyal Weizman calls the “conflict shoreline,” an expanding band of climate change-induced desertification that stretches through the Sahel and across the African continent before leaping the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. He notes that this vast territory, once the site of fierce resistance to colonial incursions, is now paying the heaviest price, in disastrous climate conditions, for the wealth of the industrialized north. As the deserts spread south, ever more dire conflicts can be expected to erupt, causing more people to flee.

Of a drought-stricken area of Somaliland, Ehrenreich writes: “People were calling this drought sima, ‘the leveller,’ because it affected all of the clans stretching across Somaliland and into Ethiopia to the west and Kenya to the south.”

“The women’s stories were almost all the same,” writes Ehrenreich, “differing only in the age and number of children sick, the number of animals they had lost and the number that survived. Hodan Ismail had lost everything. She left her husband’s village to bring her children here, where her mother lived, ‘to save them,’ she said. ‘When I got there, I saw that she had nothing either.’ The river and streams, their usual source of drinking water, had gone dry and they had no option but to drink from a shallow well at the edge of town. The water was making all the children sick.”

In 1993, at the Rio de Janeiro “Earth Summit,” delegates conveying the views of then-President George H.W. Bush, voiced a refrain of the statement, “the American lifestyle is not up for negotiation.” U.S. demands of the summit incalculably restricted the changes to which it might have led.

Representing President Bill Clinton six years later, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright defended planned bombardment of Iraq, saying “If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”

A Downward Spiral

There is danger that must be recognized. The danger is real and the danger is spreading. Violence spreads the famine, and the famine will spread violence.

I find myself repulsed by assertions voicing U.S. exceptionalism, yet my own study and focus often omits histories and present realities which simply must be understood if we are to recognize the traumas our world faces.

In relation to conflict-driven famines, it becomes even more imperative to resist the U.S. government’s allocation of $700 billion to the Department of Defense. In the U.S., our violence, and our delusions of being indispensable stem from accepting a belief that our “way of life” is non-negotiable.

Growing inequality, protected by menacing arsenals, paves a path to the graveyard: It is not a “way of life.” We still could acquire a great hunger: a transforming hunger to share justice with our planetary neighbors. We could shed familiar privileges and search for communal tools to preserve us from indifferent wealth and voracious imperial power.

We could embrace the theme of the Irish sisters at their Feile Bride gathering: “Allow the Voice of the Suffering to Speak” and then choose action-based initiatives to share our abundance and lay aside, forever, the futility of war.

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)