Friday, November 14, 2014

Inmates Control the Asylum

Now that a week has passed since the November 4 election, it may be time to assess the damage and the prospects for the next two years. And of course it’s easy to attribute the debacle to Republican money made possible by Citizens United. For example, everyone on the left knows that the Koch Brothers contributed untold millions to super-pacs that bought tons of TV ads making the Republican victories possible. But what we may not have known until recently is that these same brothers, some of the biggest and dirtiest oil men in the nation, actually have leases on about 1.1 million acres of Canada’s tar sands land, the biggest non-Canadian leaseholder in Alberta (see Washington Post, 3/20/2104). If they can get the Keystone pipeline built (the issue Republicans say is first on their agenda), they stand todouble their fortune—from about $100 billion they have now to about $200 billion in a few years. That’s why they’re willing to invest millions into political support for tea-partiers and conservatives in general. (Someone without money, like myself, would have thought that $100 billion might be enough; it could support me and everyone I’ve ever known for a lifetime in unimagined luxury; but not for these guys.)
            But of course it wasn’t just money that the Repugnants used to win the election. They also did everything they could to mess with the vote, suppressing it here, making it impossible to unseat their candidates in safe districts there. In general, this means targeting cities and urban areas (where minorities live) in order to enable rural and suburban areas (where whites live) to dominate the vote. Several methods have been used to achieve this. First, by taking over state houses in key states, they’ve managed to gerrymander voting districts to such an extent that even were the Democrats able to get out their vote, it wouldn’t matter. All the Dems power has been limited to urban zones, while suburban and rural zones have been crazy-quilted in such a way as to vote-proof their conservative candidates. Then these clever fellows instituted voter ID laws that made it almost impossible for minorities to comply—either because getting birth certificates and other IDs were too difficult or expensive, or by making common forms of ID ineligible. Though Republicans routinely allege massive voter fraud, studies in recent years have all given the lie to this dodge; there has been almost no voter fraud in recent years (one study found only 31 incidents nationwide between 2000 and 2014), especially compared to the millions of voters who have been disenfranchised. And finally, some clever lawyer type came up with the scheme known as Crosscheck. Used by 27 states, Crosscheck involves going through huge voter rolls in various states and trying to find name matches—which often occurs with common minority names like Jackson or Kim or Garcia or Patel. Then they claim, on no other basis than a name match, that a Jackson or Lee or Garcia has voted in two different states—an obvious violation of law—and succeed in getting the names thrown off the rolls. In Georgia, this worked to throw 40,000 voters off the state rolls, thus disqualifying a huge percentage of voters that had been newly registered as a result of a campaign by Atlanta’s Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church. (For a summary of these methods, see Juan Thompson’s piece for The Intercept, reprinted 9 Nov. in Reader Supported News[], where he notes that overall turnout in this election was 36.6%, a modern low.)
            This brings us to the underlying point of this election. Yes, it is surely to get Republicans elected to control the Congress. And yes, it is surely to allow billionaires like the Koch Brothers to control the government. But it’s more specific than that, and it’s not just a bunch of scared white males trying to maintain their positions of privilege, though it’s that too. This is about the deeper fear among conservatives that demographics as well as scientific truth is turning against them and could upend the huge victory they’ve achieved in recent years—convincing the world that free trade, deregulated free market capitalism and globalization are divine edicts from nature and hence the only game in town. I addressed this in a previous blog called Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes’ brilliant summary of the conservative battle to undermine the science of cigarette smoke, CFCs, acid rain, and global warming. Beginning to read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate has buttressed the case even more. Because what Klein does is not simply to cite all the reasons that the science of global warming has become definitive, compelling and truly urgent; she makes clear that the massive threat to human civilization posed by global warming cannot be stopped short of a massive change in our economic system. This is the sense in which she titles a chapter with the counterintuitive slogan, “The Right is Right.” Oreskes actually made a similar point in her book. That is, the right, the tea partiers, the conservative nut jobs who continually make apparently lunatic statements equating liberals with socialists and communists who intend to impose collectivist social controls on freedom-loving individualists like themselves—they actually have a point. And that point is simple. The world has allowed global warming to get so out of hand that amelioration measures that might have worked two or three decades ago can no longer work now. Globalization and its resultant export of the West’s industrial base to Asian countries like Korea and Bangladesh and China and India have exacerbated the problem to the point where now only large, cooperative planetary measures can work. And by “work” is meant keeping global warming below the 2Celsius target internationally-agreed upon recently. So, if we are to keep overall temperature rise to that 2o C mark or less—and Klein makes clear that the International Energy Agency warns that if we don’t do this by 2017, a mere three years away, our fossil fuel economy will “lock in” truly dangerous, runaway warming—then the measures feared by the right will become mandatory. The CO2-producing methods we’ve been so profligate with until now (indeed, even more profligate since the 1990s when scientists began their dire warnings about the perils involved in continuing to burn fossil fuels) will force governments to impose measures that could well end up ending capitalism and free markets and so-called “free” trade as we know it.
            In truth, Klein makes the case in her book that this result is all but demanded and assured. Here is how she puts it in her Introduction:
…our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature….So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate (Klein, 21-22). 
Now we know why the Koch Brothers and Crosscheck and all that Republican energy was put into the recent election. These are the people who know that if the truth about global warming is allowed to reassert itself (Klein points out that as recently as 2007, a Harris poll found 71% of Americans believing that burning fossil fuel alters the climate), they and their whole economic system, their whole wealth system, their whole belief system, their entire worldview, is doomed. As Klein puts it beautifully a bit later, “Climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests” (41). And it does; because the threat of global warming demands one thing above all: collective action by the world’s nations, especially the nations that have profited most from burning fossil fuels, Great Britain, Europe in general, and the United States of America. And collective action, regulation, environmentally-based action to preserve the planet from the massive changes to life that excessive warming will unleash, is already unleashing, goes against everything conservatives purport to believe.
            So we understand why Mitch McConnell and John Boehner announced what their preferred agendas would include: putting an end to EPA interference in coal and other energy production (like fracking), passing the laws to enable the Keystone pipeline to bring all that tar sands sludge into the U.S. and through New Orleans, and fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All are intended to energize the energy-wasting, globalized capitalist system which fuels their wealth and success. Naomi Klein is particularly revelatory about how trade rules and the WTO (World Trade Organization) fits into this diabolical system. Recently, a case came before the WTO relating to both trade and solar panels produced in Ontario, Canada. The solar company was/is run by Paolo Maccario, an Italian businessman who moved his solar factory to Ontario in 2010 due to its Green Energy and Green Economy Act to promote the production of renewable energy there. Besides providing subsidies to green companies, the Act ensured that a percentage of the workers and the materials (between 40% and 60%) companies used were local to Ontario. This made sense, especially after the economic crisis that had earlier devastated the province. The plan worked quite well, and by 2012, Ontario was the largest solar producer in Canada, with only one coal-fired plant left.  There was a fly in the ointment, though: the WTO rules about discrimination against outside producers. Japan and then the European Union brought claims against Ontario’s requirement for those percentages to be sourced locally, saying that this requirement would “discriminate against equipment for renewable energy generation facilities produced outside Ontario.” That is, by Japan and the Europeans. And the WTO agreed, ruling against Canada that the buy-local rules were illegal. Ontario then had no choice but to void the local-content rules that were the heart of the program, and Maccario’s solar operation—by common consent producing the best solar panels anywhere—had to pull back and suspend all its plans for expansion.
            Thus, the “national treatment” rules in almost all free-trade agreements (and they will operate in the Trans Pacific Partnership that the Congress wants to vote on right away, and which Barack Obama is even now trying to facilitate on his Asia trip) work directly against local laws that are intended to support green manufacturing to help and heal the environment. It is an absurdity. But that is what the free-marketeers—i.e. the multinational corporations who rule the world these days—have worked day and night to achieve. Trade trumps the planet. That would seem to be their motto. And it is happening in every nation, all the time. Klein cites another example from 2012, when an oil company decided to use NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement so beloved of our politicians) to challenge Quebec’s fracking moratorium, “claiming that it robbed the company of its right to drill for gas in the province” (72). As Klein sums it up,
To allow arcane trade law, which has been negotiated with scant public scrutiny, to have this kind of power over an issue so critical to humanity’s future, is a special kind of madness. 
            And it is. Madness. But then, what is one to think of another outcome of the recent Republican victory in the Senate: that, since the majority party selects committee chairmen from its members, the new head of the Senate’s Committee on the Environment and Public Works will be none other than the chief denialist in the U.S. Congress, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Inhofe is the author of the book,The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. He has said things like “God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous;” and that the temperature increases from global warming “may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.” In any country but the United States, putting such a person at the head of such a critical committee would be considered madness indeed. But here we are, with Inhofe poised to take over from Senator Barbara Boxer as head of the committee most responsible for laws related to our environment and the greatest threat to the planet in history.
            So that’s the ultimate skinny on the last election. The most deranged inmates are now in control of the asylum.

Lawrence DiStasi

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Disposable People

In a recent Truthout piece, “The Political Economy of Israeli Apartheid and the Specter of Genocide,” UCSB Professor William Robinson laid out the conditions that are enabling more and more Israelis to contemplate what should have been unthinkable before: the final expulsion of all Palestinians from the land Israel considers Eretz Israel, either by ethnic cleansing, or by genocide. That means, in the words of Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked posted on Facebook recently that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy, including its elderly and its women…They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.” He was seconded by an August 1 Times of Israel op-ed by Yochanan Gordon titled “When Genocide is Permissible,” and later comments by Moshe Feiglin, the deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament, urging the Israeli army to “kill Palestinians in Gaza and use any means possible to get them to leave.” Robinson caps his data with the observation that nearly 50% of Israel’s Jewish population supports a policy of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, with almost as many contemplating genocide. Though this has always been the unstated purpose of the Zionist project, Robinson notes that until recent years, it would not have been possible because the Israeli economy relied on Palestinians as a cheap labor force to exploit for the dirty work Israelis could not or would not do. After the 1990s, however, this classic colonial situation changed. Thanks to globalization and Israel’s shift to its role as the major arms and high-tech supplier in its region and beyond, classic Palestinian farm labor was no longer needed. In addition, Israel’s incentives to Jews worldwide, especially the Soviet Union, to immigrate, resulted in as many as 1 million Soviet Jews taking the place of the Palestinian labor force. So did globalization’s displacement of hungry laborers from Africa, Asia and elsewhere, which allowed hordes of cheap transnational labor to fill in for what the new immigrants would not do. The result has been the apartheid wall keeping Palestinians out of Israel, and their resulting marginalization and disposability as a labor force. As was noted during the most recent Israeli assault on Gaza, nearly three-quarters of all Gazans depend on UN and government support to even stay alive, since there are no jobs to be had.
            This leads to William Robinson’s major point: what makes genocide possible is the situation that Israel/Palestine now exemplifies—a powerful nation beset by the claims of a marginalized and helpless population that has outlived its usefulness. As Robinson puts it,
The rise of new systems of transnational labor mobility and recruitment have made it possible for dominant groups around the world to reorganize labor markets and recruit transient labor forces that are disenfranchised and easy to control. 
Easier to control, that is, than those troublesome Palestinians who, now no longer needed, would be much better somewhere else—including in the grave.
            It is not hard to see how other such populations in other nations—such as the United States—can fit this same paradigm. As nations around the world become increasingly separated into haves and have-nots, high-tech and poor nations, racial minorities and sub-groups become increasingly marginalized and disposable. This is because with the rise of the indigent transnational labor force, the advanced industrial nations no longer need to rely on their minority groups for labor. In the United States, this was true early on with respect to Native Americans, and is now true even in the high-tech and information sectors such as Silicon Valley, where major corporations have lobbied hard to get work visas for cheaper and often better-educated tech workers. In the area of farm and other high-risk labor, it is the same: migrants from Mexico and other countries in Latin America both legally and illegally provide the labor force that American agriculture needs, and, further, that cheap labor bastions like China increasingly provide for the secondary preparation and packaging once done in the U.S. The result is that African Americans, especially those in major cities like Detroit and Chicago and Newark, become more and more marginalized and disposable. Where once, especially during and shortly after WWII, they migrated to northern cities en masse where they could find good jobs in factories producing cars and other manufactured commodities, today most cannot find such work because most of the jobs have been shipped overseas. The unemployment rate for young African American men in major cities is nothing short of a national scandal, and leads directly to the equally high and equally scandalous incarceration rate of such young men, many of whom conclude that there is no future for them. They are right. Aside from work in minimum-wage fast-food restaurants, their use to the American economy as it is now developing, has evaporated. They are the new disposables.
            The only question that remains, if things are allowed to continue as they are, is what can possibly happen to whole populations of such disposable people? Clearly, automation and the globalized work force are on a path to increase. Clearly, fewer and fewer of the deprived will be able to afford to educate themselves for the few decent jobs that will remain. What is to become of them? Will they simply join the ranks of the homeless, chased off sidewalks by local police, or the incarcerated? Will they become part of the RV ‘workamper’ force of the aging indigent, migrating to places like Amazon’s warehouses where they can get temp work during the Christmas season? Will the United States, like Israel, finally decide that genocide—even the slow genocide of mass disposability and mass incarceration—is now acceptable? It is a daunting prospect, but one that conditions force into our consciousness. The world population is increasing. More and more of the haves feel more and more encroached upon by desperate have-nots, and more and more fearful of them, with the resulting increase in militarized borders to keep the hordes out, and more draconian “law and order” procedures to control those already inside. Will our accelerating disposition to dispose of mass-produced goods be succeeded by an equally accelerated disposition to dispose of our masses of disposable people as well? Ah Bartleby. Ah disposable humanity.

Lawrence DiStasi

Merchants of Death

I wonder if you’ve noticed, as I have, a prominent, somewhat new corporate sponsor of the PBS News Hour. It calls itself BAE Systems and it seems to be a rather high-minded tech company with the appealing brand motto “inspired work.” Oh yeah, they’re inspired alright, inspired to produce some of the most deadly machinery on the planet. BAE Systems, that is, used to be British Aerospace and changed to the more mild-sounding BAE Systems in 1999. That would’ve been after 1985 when British Aerospace was involved in the biggest (and perhaps most scandalous) arms deal of all time, the Al Yamamah trade supplying Saudi Arabia with over £43 billion worth of aircraft, specialized naval vessels, missiles, shells, support services and infrastructure.  In return, the Saudis pledged to supply Britain with 400,000 barrels of oil a day. It was the deal that saved British Aerospace, and allowed it to thrive and establish subsidiary companies in the U.S. among other places, including no less than seven sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is the story that Andrew Feinstein tells in his 2011 book, The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade. It’s filled with gems like the story of the Al Yamamah deal, including luscious details about the scandal involving the Saudi Royal Family and a personal slush fund operated for them by BAE, and the massive commissions the dealers (including Maggie Thatcher’s son Mark, who received about £12 million as an agent, and Prince Bandar al Sultan of 9/11 fame) got for greasing the wheels of the deal. According to the story Feinstein cites from Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the principal beneficiary of the slush fund was Prince Turki Bin Nasser, head of the Saudi Royal Air Force, who in addition to about £17 million in personal benefits, (some of which took care of his mistress, Anouska Bolton-Lee), also got gifts for his family: “a $30,000 Mercedes for his daughter, a blue Rolls Royce for his wife (Rolls is one of BAE’s subcontractors), and a £175,000 Aston Martin Le Mans for himself.”  These cars were regularly shipped between Saudi Arabia and Los Angeles on privately chartered airplanes; in 1995, for example, one cargo plane cost $300,000 to carry cars and assorted shopping booty home to Saudi Arabia. So were the members of the royal family, all paid for by BAE’s slush fund—the total, by 2002, amounting to more than 1 million pounds a month and 7 million pounds a year. Gives you an idea of the kind of money involved in the arms trade.
            The shady characters involved are equally staggering. Feinstein begins by charting the origins of a company called Merex. It started with the Nazis, courtesy of U.S. intelligence’s decision to rescue a general named Reinhard Gehlen, who had been chief of Nazi intelligence on the Eastern Front and so knew a lot about the Russians and their industrial plants. So Gehlen and several colleagues were shipped to Washington in a private plane, and then, after supplying lots of intel, were within a year returned to Germany to head a huge German spy ring to monitor the Russians. That led to the ex-Nazi’s promotion to head the West German intelligence agency until his retirement in 1968, but that’s not all. In the 1950s, Gehlen asked one of his old SS associates, Gerhard Mertins, to “act as middleman for German arms sales to the Third World,” which is where the action was and still is. The idea was, Germany could remilitarize if it could sell its old surplus arms stock, and Mertins was to be the agent for the selling. In 1963, he established a new company that he called Merex based in Bonn and Switzerland. Some of Merex’s first deals, aided by one Sam Cummings of the CIA, were selling old Luftwaffe stock to Castro’s Cuba and to Venezuela. It was, and is, typical of such arms dealers to sell fighting equipment to both sides in a conflict, as they did to Pakistan and India. Like BAE, Merex established an American branch in Bethesda Maryland, a convenient location for working with the CIA, as when they managed to ship arms to the CIAs favorite “freedom fighters,” the Nicaraguan Contras. Of course, for the arms merchants in the shadow world, the pedigree of those who want to buy arms never enters the calculation. The motto seems to be, ‘If you got the money, honey, we got the guns, planes, bullets, rockets or whatever suits your fancy.’ Africa after colonialism thus became one of the great illegal arms markets. As Feinstein points out, lovely episodes like the Rwandan genocide could not have happened without the immense influx of arms from unscrupulous arms dealers. Between 1992 and 1994, Rwanda became one of Africa’s major arms importers, spending over $112 million on mainly hand grenades and AK-47s—much of it from former Soviet countries—which amounted to 20 times what it had spent in the entire 1980s. Grenades were so easy to come by “they could be bought from local vegetable markets for $3 apiece.” It was grenades and weapons, not machetes, that were necessary to kill masses of young men in Rwanda’s stadiums. Hence, the genocide.
            What Feinstein makes clear, though, is that unsavory as these foreign arms dealers were and are, it’s in the United States, and its pitbull Israel, where the big money lies (in 2008, over 2/3 of all new arms sales agreements worldwide went to US companies) especially since the bonanza for arms manufacturers known as the War on Terror. In 2003, the US Government issued 3,500 contracts to companies for security, and from then to the end of 2006, the Department of Homeland security issued 115,000 contracts, most on the no-bid basis made possible by the contract initiated by Dick Cheney when he was head of the Pentagon. It’s called LOGCAP (Logistics Civil Augmentation Program) and it invites bids from American companies to supply logistical support for the US military, with NO DOLLAR VALUE in the contract. It’s cost-plus: all costs covered plus a guaranteed profit; in short, corporate welfare for the types who regularly inveigh against welfare to the poor—chump change by comparison. Thanks to this kind of largesse, the US Government regularly spends about $550 per household on homeland security alone. And that doesn’t even begin to consider the amount spent on keeping our redoubtable military up to date, as with the Boeing $26 billion contract of 2001 to lease 100 KC-767 in-air-refueling tankers from Boeing over a ten-year period (the CBO determined that buying the damn things outright would have cost $5 billion less!). So corrupt was this deal that the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Darleen Druyun, who oversaw the deal, was charged with ethics violations (she got her son-in-law a job with Boeing and then got herself one), and eventually accepted a plea deal of 9 months in prison and a $5000 fine—though she still collects her government pension. Boeing’s CFO and CEO both resigned, with the CFO sentenced to 4 months in prison, while the company paid a healthy fine for its chicanery. But probably the best example of ‘price creep’ under LOGCAP involves Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, the most expensive fighter jet in history and one that is considered basically useless in any foreseeable war. The original intent (contract is meaningless here) was to buy 750 planes for a projected cost of $25 billion. By 1999, the cost had ballooned and plans had shrunk to 339 planes at a projected cost of more than $62 billion—i.e. half as many planes for twice the cost! The practice here is known as “buying in”, where the company bids at what it knows is a low price and then jacks up the price later, using “gold plating” or setting ever higher performance requirements after the plane is in development. Moreover, to protect their contracts, companies like Lockheed don’t do what one would normally expect a company to do to minimize risk—that is, build several prototypes to test before starting production. No, they start production based on lies and then simply jack up costs to keep the money flowing.
            There’s more about Lockheed and other military contractors, especially those that made a killing in Iraq (the mother of all military-procurement boondoggles) like Dick Cheney’s company, Halliburton. Just to give a sense of the big bucks involved here, it should surprise no one that Cheney’s personal wealth rose from about $1 million before he became VP to $60 to $70 million when he left office. During his 7 years in office, “Halliburton was awarded with more than $20 billion in contracts,” most of them on the usual no-bid basis. So blatant was their cheating that in the end Halliburton was fined for overcharging the government and using misleading accounting practices. But Dick Cheney seems to have emerged scot-free, wealthy, and with the chutzpah to regularly criticize the current president for failing to live up to the standards set by the Bush administration. Feinstein’s comment provides the real picture: “In the Bush administration the war profiteers weren’t just clamouring to get access to government, they were the government” (209).
            As to Israel, Feinstein devotes an entire chapter to their arms dealing entitled “America’s Shop Window.” By that he means that “Israel is the ‘primary testing ground’ for American weapons…It is, in effect, a shop window for the American weapons industry.” Feinstein goes on to note that in 2008, Israel’s military contracts were worth over $6.3 billion, “the 7th highest of 32 countries for which information is available,” spending no less than 8% of its GDP on the military (the US spends 4.5% while most comparable countries spend only 1% of GDP).  It was also the 11th largest arms importer between 2005 and 2010, when its imports rose 102%. But the real story lies in its arms exports, ranking it as the 4th largest arms exporter to developing countries (always a great market), including “rogue states in Africa, Latin America, and even the Middle East.” One of the reasons Israel ranks so high here is that, given its long experience suppressing Palestinians, its arms industry specializes in “equipment designed to control civilians.” In this regard, the War on Terror was crucial in bolstering—even saving—Israel’s economy. Its sales pitch to arms purchasers highlights its experience in this regard: “We have been fighting a War on Terror since our birth, we’ll show you how it’s done.” When it comes to heavy equipment, of course, Israel buys most of that from its chief sponsor and enabler, the United States: in 2007, the two countries signed a 10-year MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) calling for $30 billion in US military aid. In this, Israel is unique in that it is the only country permitted to use US military aid to build its own military industry, including the development of weapons systems based on US designs, and to fund joint military research and development with its donor, as with its “Iron Dome” anti-missile system. This has allowed Israel to amass an arsenal of 226 F-16 jet fighters, over 600 M-690 tanks, no less than 6,000 armoured personnel carriers, and countless transport planes, attack helicopters, cluster bombs and white phosphorus. Only Saudi Arabia buys more, but it pays for its equipment.
            The story of Israeli arms dealers and deals is too long, and in some ways too well-known to go into here. Suffice it to say that its former officers train security forces all around the world, boasting a
one-stop shop that includes all requirements for riot control, ground forces, homeland security, counter- and anti-terror, K9 dogs, and identification of and protection against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons (385). 
Israeli arms dealers dominate the shadow world, according to Feinstein, helped by the citizenship, travel privileges and protection their government provides them. Yossi Melman, an Israeli investigative reporter, is quoted by Feinstein as wryly describing the two wings of the entire Israeli business community thusly: ‘Those who are arms dealers and those who don’t admit they’re arms dealers.’ Perhaps most important, Israel comprises the chief testing ground for weapons the US thinks it might some day need. Feinstein spoke to one army source who testified to using ammunition in recent battles that was not even approved for use in the US:
It came from the American company ALS, where it was still in the testing phase, and thus, not legally usable in the US. But it was being used against people in the occupied territories by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) (393). 
Of course, Israel is no laggard when it comes to developing its own high-tech equipment for dealing death to its enemies. It even sets up US subsidiaries so that it can utilize US aid money to buy the latest military equipmentfrom its own companies. It is a leader in drone development, and its notorious separation barrier (some call it an apartheid wall) is similarly outfitted for long-distance monitoring:
The separation barrier is equipped with unmanned, armed observation points that, through personnel in a distant, secure location, identify and fire on anyone who comes too near to the barrier. (394) 
Like drones, this amounts to “the creation of a robotic non-culpability for death…” Perhaps all the merchants of death, including the gun dealers and manufacturers in the US, would claim the same non-culpability for themselves: ‘We don’t kill anyone. We just sell them the equipment; what they do with it is not our affair.’

Lawrence DiStasi

Friday, August 08, 2014

Merchants of Doubt

The title of a 2010 book by Naomi Oreskes (Professor of history and science studies at UC San Diego) and Erik Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, pretty much tells the grim tale contained therein. Starting with the tobacco industry’s decades-long fight to combat and obfuscate the science that they knew to be true—that cigarettes cause a host of diseases including lung cancer; and that even second-hand smoke causes the same suite of diseases to those who breathe the smoke from others’ cigarettes—Oreskes and Conway provide the details of how all other industries took their cue from the tobacco companies and tried (with alarming success) to cast doubt on the real facts scientists had unearthed about the dangers of acid rain, CFCs causing the ozone hole, second-hand smoke, and most recently global warming from the human-caused buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere. Here was the tobacco industry’s key insight: that the normal uncertainty that is crucial to science could be used
to undermine the status of actual scientific knowledge…. “Doubt is our product,” ran the infamous memo written by one tobacco industry executive in 1969, “since it is the best method of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public.” (34) 
And what the industry and administrations like those of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes have been able to do is to recruit scientists themselves—including some distinguished ones—to undermine the conclusions of the scientific majority who have been establishing the dangers in some of the prime environmental hazards of our time. This undermining work has led to doubt, delay and constant attack on the government agencies that have tried to regulate these environmental hazards. As to why legitimate scientists would want to smear the work of their colleagues, the reasons are probably legion, but Oreskes and Conway identify what is probably the major one: Find a scientist who sees environmental regulation as the road to Socialism and/or Communism, and you can probably find a scientist who will figure out clever ways to undermine what most other scientists agree are established facts.
            The “scientists” who have played a major role in such nasty work are clearly identified by Oreskes and Conway, and they include Fred Seitz, a physicist and onetime president of the National Academy of Sciences who had worked on the A-bomb project during WWII and who opposed everything from arms control to peaceful coexistence with the Soviets; Fred Singer, also a physicist developing Earth observation satellites and later a chief scientist in the Reagan Administration and prime proponent of SDI or “Star Wars”; William Nierenberg, also a physicist who had worked on the bomb and later served in the Reagan White House; and Robert Jastrow, an astrophysicist who had worked on the space program. All four were once termed “my scientists” by President George H.W. Bush. Together, and with a few other colleagues and millions from corporate coffers, they have managed to create the impression that there is a raging debate about such established scientific facts as the harm done by tobacco smoke, the devastation caused by the sulfur emissions that cause acid rain, the ozone depletion caused by CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), and the global warming caused by CO2. The harm and the probable deaths they have caused by sowing the doubt that gives corporations cover is thus incalculable.
            Merchants of Doubt tells us not only how this has been done, but why it has been done, and it is a story that will grey your hair if you care about the planet we live on and the health of the humans who live on it with us. The main outlines, though, are fairly simple and in many ways familiar. These guys are zealots, most of whom ended their original scientific work years ago, and spent their ‘twilight’ years cozying up to the power elite by attacking colleagues whom they saw as threatening the American system of ‘free market capitalism’ through research that would lead to regulation. Government regulation was, for most of these true believers, the great socialist sin and anything or anyone that called for it was little more than a subversive undermining the American way. They hated the EPA in particular, but all environmentalists and regulatory agencies in general, as well as anyone who opposed military preparedness (hence their fondness for SDI or ‘Star Wars’). Here is what Fred Singer wrote in 1989, for example, when he was arguing against measures to eliminate CFCs from the atmosphere. First, he slandered the scientists who agreed on it (virtually all of them) as “corrupt and motivated by self-interest and political ideology” (a perfect description of Singer himself). Then he added that
            “..there are probably those with hidden agendas of their own—not just to ‘save the environment’ but to change our economic system…Some of these ‘coercive utopians’ are socialists, some are technology-hating Luddites; most have a great desire to regulate—on as large a scale as possible.” (134). 
In another article in 1991 concerning global warming, Singer reinforced this idea about the “hidden” agenda of environmentalists, and the scientists who gave them their data: to destroy capitalism and replace it with some sort of worldwide utopian Socialism or Communism. It was to counteract this nefarious plot that Singer and Seitz and their cronies in 1984 established the George C. Marshall Institute, primarily to promote the so-called science of the Strategic Defense Initiative even then being attacked by main line scientists as pie-in-the-sky nonsense, a waste of money, and probably an incentive to a new and more dangerous arms race. Of course the new Institute was touted as “promoting science for better public policy,” but like the better known Team B of the Reagan Administration (boasting such luminaries as Richard Perle, Richard Pipes, Paul Wolfowitz, and other hawks), it was really designed to promote SDI and the underlying right-wing view that “The Soviet Union is preparing for a Third World War as if it were unavoidable..” (40).
            To understand how Singer and company operated, consider his efforts to undermine the science on acid rain. You may remember that acid rain comes about when sulfur and nitrogen emissions from electrical utilities, cars, and factories mix with moisture in the atmosphere, and then fall as precipitation to poison lakes, rivers, soils, trees, and wildlife far from the polluting source. Twenty years of meticulous studies led to a 1974 article in Science magazine that summed up the danger: “Acid rain or snow is falling on most of the northeastern United States” (68). The article went on to identify acid rain as the product of burning coal and oil in tall smokestacks designed to remove particles from the smoke in the Midwest—the unintended consequence being that since the particles tended to neutralize acid, “removing them inadvertently increased the acidity of the remaining pollution.” In short, tall smokestacks had transformed local soot into the far more damaging and widespread acid rain. In addition to falling in New England, that is, acid rain generated in the Midwest was also falling in Canada, and the Canadian government had concluded that most of its acid rain came from the United States. President Carter agreed, and signed the Acid Precipitation Act of 1980, which established a ten-year monitoring program to determine the impact of acid rain on both the environment and human health. But then—Ronald Reagan was elected, and “his” scientists began to pump up the doubts. In 1984, Congress simply rejected a joint pollution control program with Canada. At about the same time, the Reagan White House’s Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) commissioned its own panel to review what the EPA had already concluded about acid rain, i.e. that it was caused by coal-fired Midwest plants. Bill Nierenberg was made chair of this commission, and managed to have some of the major scientists who had already worked on acid rain included. They, not surprisingly, concluded the same thing as the EPA: acid rain was caused by man-made sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. This might have concluded the story, but for the fact that the White House had pushed for Fred Singer to be on the Commission, and after the Executive Summary was generated, insisted not only that Singer contribute an appendix, but also that the strongest paragraphs of the summary, dealing with soil damage that could set off devastating effects in the food chain, be deleted and that several other paragraphs be presented in a different order. As Oreskes summarizes it:
            Rather than start with the fact of the 25 million tons of SO2 emissions per year, the White House wanted to start with a statement that earlier actions taken under the Clean Air Act were a “prudent first step,” and then proceed to the discussion about incomplete scientific knowledge.” (87)
Fred Singer’s revisions were even more damaging. He started by claiming that acid deposition was “a serious problem, but not a life-threatening one.” He then summarized the main points from his point of view, i.e. that the science was uncertain, that more research was needed, that the economic costs of controlling acid rain, even if it did exist, would be too great, and that acid rain might be caused by natural sources after all. In short, Singer and the White House had drastically altered the conclusions of the scientific experts who had written the original draft, and they had done it without ever consulting those scientists—who were, almost to a man, outraged. The most authoritative scientist on acid rain, Gene Likens, wrote to Bill Nierenberg that “My understanding is that these unapproved changes in the Executive Summary originated with the White House/OSTP. Frankly, I find such meddling to be less than honest and extremely distasteful” (99), an objection that may not sound like much, but which, from a scientist, is devastating.
            The damage was done however. As the report began to surface, a House subcommittee considering legislation on acid rain voted in May 1983: the vote was 10 to 9 against the legislation, thus killing congressional action. Nor would there be any legislation addressing acid rain during the rest of Ronald Reagan’s terms in office, as the administration continued to insist that not only were the causes unknown, but the proposed fixes were too expensive: “a billion-dollar solution to a million-dollar problem.” The George H.W. Bush administration would finally, under pressure, amend the Clean Air Act to set up emissions trading (cap and trade), resulting in a 54% decline in SO2 levels between 1990 and 2007. But further research, especially by Gene Likens and his colleagues, determined that the problem had not been solved at all. Writing in 1999, Likens said: “Acid rain still exists, and its ecological effects have not gone away.” In fact, things had gotten worse: not only had the forest stopped growing, but it was in fact shrinking. He predicted that the legendary sugar maple was “dying…[and] scientific research suggests that by 2076, the 300th birthday of the United States, sugar maples will be extinct in large areas of the northern forest” (104). Thus, this first use of ‘cap and trade’ to stop an industry-caused environmental threat failed utterly to even stabilize things.
            Fred Singer and his diabolical cronies went on to attack the EPA, the damage to the ozone by CPCs, the dangers of second-hand smoke, and even Rachel Carson (for the alleged deadly damage to world health done by getting DDT banned, thereby sparing malaria-carrying mosquitoes and causing 50 million unnecessary deaths!), as well as the threat from global warming. Regarding global warming, for example, the first Marshall Institute report on this subject blamed global warming on the sun, which was changing and sending more heat our way.
            What Oreskes concludes, however, is that far from accomplishing their aim to ridicule and delegitimize environmentalists out to ‘destroy free markets and capitalism,’ the merchants of doubt have in fact led even former allies to consider more seriously the fact that “free enterprise can bring real costs—profound costs—that the free market does not reflect.” Such ‘externalized costs,’ imposed by the damage done by DDT and a host of other pesticides and herbicides, SOin rain, cigarette smoke, CFCs eating the ozone, and CO2 creating the greenhouse effect, are
all market failures. They are instances where serious damage was done and the free market seemed unable to account for it, much less prevent it. Government intervention was required. This is why the market ideologues and old Cold Warriors joined together to fight them (237-8). 
As more and more people, including former free-marketeers, begin to realize this, argues Oreskes, they become less able to deny that major changes are required in how governments, regulators, and corporations conduct their business. Thus the final irony: the one thing that the merchants of doubt dreaded most—what they saw as the advance of bleeding-heart socialist regulation—must increasingly, under the pressure of real science and looming environmental calamity, come to pass. If it does not, if the merchants of doubt prevail for much longer, we will all go down with their badly-leaking free-market Titanic.

Lawrence DiStasi

The En-Closure of Gaza

We hear constantly in the mainstream media, and in the hallowed halls of the U.S. government, the great rationale for bombing the hell out of Gaza: Israel has a right to defend itself. ‘If the Gazans would only stop firing those rockets, we Israelis would be glad to cease our fire.’ But Hamas, Gaza’s duly and democratically-elected government, keeps insisting that a ceasefire isn’t enough, because it will only put Gazans back in prison. What’s needed, says Hamas, is for Israel to lift the siege of Gaza and open the borders so that Gazans are no longer prisoners. That would constitute a permanent ceasefire worth partaking in.
            Rarely, however, do we hear anything about this notion other than ridicule of it. ‘Those terrorist Hamas leaders—they want Israel to reward them for their aggression. Have they no morals?’ But perhaps this notion deserves a bit of consideration. What does Hamas actually mean here? Why do they insist that the real aggressor is Israel, even aside from bombs and rockets, and that it is Hamas that has the right to defend itself?
            A recent article by Prof. Daniel C. Maguire, “Hiding War Crimes Behind a Question,” (July 24, 2014,, provides some light here. That is, according to Maguire, “siege (or blockade) is itself an act of offensive warfare,” indeed, one of the most devastating forms of warfare and one that is condemned by ethical and religious and civic leaders from Maimonides to Just War theorists to humanitarian law. Therefore, since the Gazans have been under siege since at least 2007 (in 2006, explaining its “economic warfare” on Gaza, Dov Weisglass, adviser to then-PM Ehud Olmert, said the goal of the siege was to put the people of Gaza “on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”), and since that siege or blockage of both entry and exit to and from the Gaza Strip has become even more devastating since the new Egyptian government closed the tunnels near Rafah that were the only lifeline for Gazans until then, the policies and military measures locking Gazans into their open-air prison have become even more suffocating. Their farmers cannot trade with other countries including their relatives in the West Bank and Israel, their fishermen cannot fish, their builders cannot build, even hospital supplies and food are rationed, their meager supplies of water and electricity have been cut off, they have no airport, and the few places where they can take refuge are themselves being bombed. In short, like the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, Gazans have decided that they would rather “die on our feet than on our knees.” And that the continuous warfare against them, the never-ending siege, gives themnot the Israelisthe right to defend themselves.
            Once one decides to look into this notion, the plight of the Gazans and the violations of the Israelis take on ever darker tones. Numerous international organizations have condemned the siege as illegal. In 2010, UN fact-finding mission into Israel's attack on the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla concluded:
'The Mission considers that one of the principal motives behind the imposition of the blockade was a desire to punish the people of the Gaza Strip for having elected Hamas. The combination of this motive and the effect of the restrictions on the Gaza Strip leave no doubt that Israel's actions and policies amount to collective punishment as defined by international law..” (cited on ). 
In 2011, a UN panel of experts similarly concluded that Israel’s blockade of Gaza (resulting in its deadly attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010) doesviolate international law, stating that it amounts to collective punishment  “in flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.” This is because, according to a detailed position paper produced by the Israeli organization, GISHA (,), the closure of Gaza is in fact collective punishment, authorized in September 2007 when “Israel’s Security Cabinet approved a decision that openly called for restricting the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza.” The Gisha position paper explained, in fact, that the “restrictions on the movement of people and goods through Gaza’s borders” are neither ‘economic sanctions,’ as Israel argues, nor a siege or a blockade as they are commonly known. Rather, they “constitute a closure imposed for purposes of collective punishment - and are therefore illegal under international law.” Though this might appear to constitute a technical distinction, it is extremely important in this case because while both sieges and blockades are sometimes legal, the type of closure imposed on Gaza is not. It is, as noted, a closure (I prefer to call it an en-closure, like fences or walls that enclose farm animals) imposed for purposes of collective punishment, and therefore illegal.
            So why is the en-closure not a siege? Quite simply, because a siege is “the act of surrounding a particular area in order to induce surrender.” That is, the only reason the laws of war allow a siege is to bring about a surrender, after which the siege would be lifted. A siege is temporary, in other words; it happens only for a limited time, until the town or area opens itself to its besiegers. But in Gaza, there is no time limit. Gaza is closed indefinitely (except, of course, to the Israeli military). Israel controls everything about Gaza: its entrances and exits, its ability to trade or sell goods, its import of the most basic goods, the sea outside it, its air space, practically the air it breathes. Again, Israel’s en-closure of Gaza has no military objective. Rather, it is aimed at civilians,
with the goal of using them as a point of pressure on the Hamas regime - in blatant violation of the fundamental international law prohibition against collective punishment and deliberately harming civilians. (Gisha report) 
In a similar way, and for similar reasons, the en-closure of Gaza cannot be considered a blockade. For Israel’s aim is not the blockade’s normal aim of depriving an enemy of needed military supplies, as can be seen from the obvious fact that what is kept out of Gaza is not just weapons but a broad range of civilian goods including hospital supplies, “most of which have absolutely no military use or potential for military use.” Neither can the closure be considered “sanctions,” which usually involve an agreement among nations to refuse to trade with the target nation. This doesn’t apply in Gaza’s case, because no other nation (with the possible exception of the U.S.) has joined these sanctions, and more, because numerous other nations have indicated that they want to trade with Gaza, but Israel is using military force to prevent anyone from trading with Gaza, or even, as in the case of the Flotilla—where nine Turkish nationals were killed—bringing it humanitarian supplies.
         The conclusion of the Gisha report, therefore, is simple and even more devastating to the en-closure than its simple illegality due to its purpose of collective punishment. This is because the report adds the fact that “the closure of Gaza is taking place in the context of an occupation.” That is,
Israel continues to control Gaza through substantial control of Gaza's land crossings, total control of Gaza's airspace and territorial waters, control of the Palestinian population registry (including the question, who is a "resident" of Gaza) and control of tax policy and transfer of tax revenues. That control rises to the level of "effective control", the test in international law for the existence of a state of occupation. Gisha's position is that Israel owes obligations to Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank commensurate with the level of control it exercises. 
In short, it is not just that the imprisonment of the people of Gaza (a majority of them refugees from Israel’s original seizure of their homes/land in 1948) in a total enclosure is illegal collective punishment; it is also a violation of Israel’s obligations as an occupying power—obligations including “the right to life, the right to freedom of movement, the right to water, the right to health, the right to decent living conditions, protection from hunger and the special duties owed to protect children,” hundreds of whom her military has killed in the latest invasion and assault. These have been Israel’s obligations since 1967, when the occupation began, and they have been violated repeatedly for nearly fifty years. They have been violated even aside from the violations incurred during each of the last three invasions that have now killed nearly 5,000 people in Gaza and wounded thousands more, the vast majority of them civilians.
            So the next time you hear the rationalization about ‘self-defense’ from Israel or from United States officials up to and including the President, you might want to think about the right of the Gazans to defend themselves against their deadly en-closure. You might also want to think about whether, in the absence of United States support—vetoes in the UN Security Council; U.S.military aid amounting to $3 billion each year, plus a recent Congressional vote to send several hundred additional millions to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome defenses—the state of Israel could for so long get away with its blatant depradations against a helpless population, its gross violations of international and humanitarian law, its grim pursuit of its aims without regard for truth or justice or simple human decency.

Lawrence DiStasi

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pius XI, the Vatican, and Lost Chances to Stop Fascism

Two books have emerged recently, both dealing with Pope Pius XI (Achille Ratti) and the failure of intention to call out fascism publicly in his last speech and encyclical. Italian scholar Emma Fattorini addresses this in Hitler, Mussolini and the Vatican: Pope Pius XI and the Speech That Was Never Made (Polity Press: 2011; originally published 2007). Not very well written (or perhaps it’s the translation), Fattorini’s book focuses chiefly on the speech Pius XI had prepared to deliver in February of 1939, but which was foreclosed by his death two days before a conclave of the Vatican Curia. The Pope, who early on had hailed Mussolini as “the one whom Providence has sent us,” lived to regret both these words and his 1929 Concordat with the Fascist government, especially when the Duce instituted Italy’s racial laws in August and September of 1938. The Pope was mainly incensed about the proviso of the laws that prevented Jewish children from attending public schools at all, and about another section that forbade marriages between Catholics and Jews—even those Jews who had converted to Catholicism. Fattorini describes a meeting on October 24, 1938 between Pius XI and his advisors trying to find a solution to the possible rupture with the government over these laws. When the Jesuit Tacchi-Venturi, the Vatican’s liaison with the Fascist government, explained the government’s rigid position on the “racial question,” and under-secretary of state Tardini underscored this by pointing out the absolute prohibition of any newspaper argument against the racial laws, the Pope erupted:
“But this is enormous! And I am ashamed…ashamed to be Italian. And tell that, Father, to Mussolini himself! I am ashamed not as pope but as an Italian! The Italian people have become a herd of stupid sheep. I will speak out, without fear. I am forced to by the Concordat, but even more so by my conscience. I have no fear! I would prefer to beg in the streets. I will not even ask Mussolini to defend the Vatican. And even if the piazza fills with people, I will not be afraid!” (Fattorini, 163).
Strong words, also cited by David Kertzer in his book, The Pope and Mussolini (Random House 2014.) Kertzer’s book, like Fattorini’s, was made possible by the 2006 opening of the secret Vatican archives referring to Pius XI’s papacy, and is, in my opinion, far superior for being far more detailed, especially for a general reader. It not only leaves us lamenting the fact that Pius XI’s death interrupted what might have been a serious blow against Mussolini’s government and some reduction of the horrors that followed in World War II; it also prepares us by demonstrating the degree to which the Vatican was willing, in the 1920s and early 1930s, to compromise with Mussolini and fascism in order to maintain cordial relations with the Italian government and its (the Vatican’s) prerogatives as a separate state. I will refer mostly to Kertzer in what follows.
            What one must know, to understand the fatal 1929 Concordat, is that the Church had, since the 1870 Italian revolution, lost its immense power in Italy. Once in control not only of the Vatican itself but of the Papal States in central Italy—making it a world power that could forge alliances such as the ones that brought the French and Spanish armies to Rome in 1849 to defeat the Italian patriots who had established a Roman Republic—the Holy See had been stripped of its possessions and rule outside the 108 acres of Vatican city. Even there, it was not really sovereign, because technically the Italian government exercised authority over all of Rome and its citizens, including those in the Vatican. All popes had chafed under this perceived reduction of papal sovereignty, and when Pius XI was offered the opportunity to recoup some of this power by allying the Church with Mussolini’s Fascist government in the 1929 Concordat, he did so. Thereby, Mussolini got the legitimization of his rule that he needed (fascism now, in effect, enjoyed the approval of the Catholic Church), and the Vatican recouped some of its power, at least over Vatican City and the major churches in Rome. Those who lived in Vatican City, mainly the Roman curia, became citizens of the Vatican, with the Pope as their ruler. The Catholic religion was made the official and only religion of Italy (even Mussolini, the one-time atheist and socialist became “Catholic”, baptizing and confirming his children, and celebrating his marriage in a Catholic ceremony), with crosses and religious instruction in all Italian classrooms. It was chiefly to maintain these recovered powers and privileges that Pius XI and his curia acceded to each new outrage perpetrated by the Fascist Government: the daylight murder of Unitary Socialist Party leader Giacomo Matteotti; the brutal aggression against Ethiopia in 1935; and the growing alliance with, and even subservience to Adolf Hitler.
            The murder of Matteotti is instructive, for it was here that Vatican support truly saved Mussolini from disaster. The murder was simple and brazen: on June 10, 1924, Matteotti was walking from his Roman home to give a speech in the Chamber of Deputies, when three men dragged him into a waiting car. The car then raced through Rome’s streets, blaring its horn to cover the struggle and screams of Matteotti, being savagely beaten in the back. His screams stopped when Matteotti died from the blows; he was then unceremoniously dumped in a shallow grave 15 miles outside of Rome. An uproar followed, impelling Mussolini to fire the head of police and his undersecretary for internal affairs, but it was not enough to quell the storm. Cesare Rossi, Mussolini’s press secretary, became a chief suspect, in addition to Amerigo Dumini, an American-born henchman working for Rossi. With Matteotti’s body still not found by July, the fascist government was mired in deep crisis, with its leader, Mussolini, in a deeper one. Depressed and immobilized, he fully believed, with his enemies in parliament emboldened and even the conservative press opposing him, that his government could not survive. It was at this point that the Vatican came to his aid. The pope instructed his liaison, Father Tacchi-Venturi, to assure Mussolini he still had the pope’s support. Then the pope instructed Father Enrico Rosa, editor of Civilta cattolica, a twice-monthly organ known to express the pope’s views, to write an article on the crisis. The pope even edited drafts that went back and forth before the article was published. What the article did was praise the Fascist leader for all he had done for the Church, imply that he had nothing whatever to do with the murder, and warn the public against any violent action against the government. Indeed, it said that
            Even the use of legitimate means to bring it down, as through new elections, should be avoided, for it would bring “serious misfortune.” Most important, the Popular Party [the Catholic party, ed.] could never be justified in entering into an alliance with the Socialists. (Kertzer, 75).
The Pope underlined this last point in a speech he gave to a group of university students in September, when he warned that Italian Catholics could never cooperate with Socialism (almost the entire Church hierarchy regularly inveighed against the Communist-Masonic-Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy threatening civilization). He also ordered Don Luigi Sturzo, former head of the Popular Party, to stop his attacks on the fascist regime. The result was that Sturzo left the country, not to return for twenty years. 
            Still, Mussolini’s decline continued, save for one problem: no one could come up with an alternative to his rule. By January, he had regained his footing enough to speak in parliament, and faced his accusers with breathtaking boldness. He admitted that “I and I alone assume full political, moral, and historical responsibility for everything that has happened.” After cheers from his Fascist deputies, he went on: “If Fascism has been a criminal organization, I am the head of this criminal association!” As the applause and shouts grew ever more thunderous, he concluded by shouting his defiance:
            “Sirs! You have deluded yourselves! You believed that Fascism was finished…but you will see…Italy, sirs, wants peace, wants tranquility, wants calm. We will give it this tranquility, this calm through love if possible, and with force, if it becomes necessary.” (77)
The crisis was over, or, one might say, it was just beginning. For with this speech, Mussolini had effectively ended democracy in Italy; within hours, his thugs had rounded up opposition leaders and jailed them, beat Giovanni Amendola, Liberal leader in parliament, so severely that he eventually died of his wounds, and turned parliament into a Fascist-only house. He then began to take on the aura of a Roman, or even Christ-like deity who could do no wrong.
            It was with this conviction of his own infallibility (it should be noted that one of Pius XI’s main objections to both Mussolini and Hitler was their arrogation to themselves of pagan, god-like attributes; in the pope’s view, he alone, as vicar of Christ on earth, could rule infallibly, absolutely; totalitarianism was his prerogative and no one else’s) that Mussolini embarked on his Concordat with the Church mentioned above, and his invasion of a defenseless Ethiopia in order to give Italy an empire. It also allowed him to go to Munich, ostensibly to mediate between Hitler and the European countries looking on anxiously as Germany swallowed up territory, and to welcome Hitler to Italy in order to firm up the alliance he was striking with the Fuhrer in order to defeat the ‘communism threatening to destroy Europe.’ Of course, it was the Fascist-Nazi axis, signed secretly in October of 1936, that would nearly destroy Europe, but facts such as these are no obstacle to one who conceives of himself as infallible. And indeed, one of the major reasons the Vatican was willing to ally with fascism was the pope’s sense that opposing communism, socialism and liberalism were common goals of both the Church and Mussolini.  
            When it came to the anti-Semitic laws instituted first in Nazi Germany, and then in Italy in 1938, however, the pope began to comprehend the mistake he had made. He had already criticized what he saw as the “aggressive paganism” of the Nazi regime and its efforts to “blend Christianity with race worship.” When Mussolini announced in July 1938 his campaign against Italy’s Jews, claiming that Italy’s people were “of Aryan origin,” and that “All of the work that the regime has done thus far is, in essence, racism,” the pope, despite being seriously ill, felt compelled to resist. He expressed his determination to do so, even though most of his advisors feared angering Mussolini and many in the Church actually agreed that “defensive anti-Semitism” was legitimate to combat the “Jewish invasion in politics, the economy, journalism, morals, and all public life” (Kertzer, 291). So it was that when the racial laws were actually passed on September 1, the pope spoke from his heart in a September 6 audience with the staff of Belgian Catholic Radio. Emotional and near tears, he said:
“It is impossible for Christians to participate in anti-Semitism. We recognize that everyone has the right to self-defense and can undertake those necessary actions to safeguard legitimate interests. But anti-Semitism is inadmissible. Spiritually we are all Semites.” (Kertzer, 320).
This was exactly the type of comment the pope’s advisors, especially Tacchi-Venturi and the pope’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (soon to become Pope Pius XII), feared. Sadly, they were able to limit what they considered irreparable damage by excising the Pope’s inflammatory remarks from the published version in the official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore romano. How this was actually done is not clear for, as Kertzer remarks, “Most of the pages from Pacelli’s log of his meetings with the pope in these months are, curiously, missing from those open to researchers at the Vatican Secret Archives” (320).
            Increasingly frail, and increasingly disillusioned with what he considered a betrayal of his trust by the fascist government, the pope nevertheless vowed to do something ‘memorable’ before he died. When told of this, Mussolini at first made threats, and then realized an agreement was needed to prevent an open break before the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Concordat on February 11. But the pope did not wait that long. In remarks he gave to his cardinals, he referred darkly to “the recent apotheosis in Rome prepared for a cross that is the enemy of the Cross of Christ.” The “cross” referred to was the Nazi swastika, leaving no doubt that Nazis should be considered the enemies of Catholicism. And this time the ailing pope made certain that his sentiments were published in L’Osservatore romano. Mussolini exploded once again, refusing the invitation to meet with the pope on February 11, but he still held out hope for some reconciliation. Yet rumors of an impending papal denunciation of his regime, even a secret encyclical on its racism (which was true), continued to spread. Meantime, both the pope and the Duce were proving true to their intransigent natures: each was determined to celebrate the Vatican Accords in his own way, and on his own terms. Mussolini busied himself with preparations for war; the pope made sure his remarks scheduled to be given to the gathered bishops and cardinals went to the printer. An open break seemed inevitable. But by Thursday evening, February 9, 1939, Pius XI’s condition had weakened to the point that death seemed near and he was given the last rites. The next morning, at 5:31 A.M the pontiff breathed his last—only a few hours before he was scheduled to celebrate his Concordat, and issue his most urgent condemnation of racism in Italy yet. Also on his desk was the encyclical, Humani generis unitas, he had been preparing: it rejected “the idea that a good Christian could embrace racism, and demanded an end to the persecution of the Jews.”
            In the end, Benito Mussolini’s luck held out for a little longer. Instead of having to deal, in wartime, with the powerful and volatile Pope Pius XI, he was favored with a successor, the Secretary of State Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who would become even more of an enabler. Pacelli, an instinctive diplomat and conciliator, did all that he was asked, and more. Within days of his predecessor’s death, Pacelli ordered Pius XI’s secretary to gather all copies of his prepared remarks, including all notes pertinent to it, and secrete them. All printed copies of the speech, as well as the planned encyclical, the new pope ordered destroyed. No one would be allowed to see them in full until the Secret Archives for Pius XI’s papacy were opened in 2006. Then, as the newly elected Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli opened his papacy by meeting almost immediately with the German ambassador, and assuring him of his Church’s plan to inaugurate a new era of understanding. Having been papal nuncio in Berlin, he understood, he told Ambassador Bergen, that each country chose its own form of government and “it was not the pope’s role to judge what system other countries chose.” On March 15, 1939, three days after Pacelli’s formal coronation, the German military seized the remainder of Czechoslovakia. And with their invasion of Poland on September 1, the Nazis made clear that nothing could stop their march to total war and genocide. As to Pius XII’s relations with Mussolini’s fascist government, the days of easy collaboration seemed to have returned with the new pope. As Kertzer puts it, with the death of the irascible Pius XI, “it was as if a dark cloud had lifted.” Of course, an even darker cloud was beginning to envelop Europe, but that, as they say, is another story.

Lawrence DiStasi