Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, Joseph Borkin

Joseph Borkin, as a young lawyer working for a 1934 Senate committee, was assigned to investigate munitions where he first encountered, I.G. Farben. For the rest of his government career he kept bumping into the German conglomerate. When he witnessed the results of war criminal trials following World War II. He vowed to write a book on the corporation, published in 1978.

The company history runs thus (detailed in the book): An executive of one of the dozen or so German chemical companies, early part of the 20th century, visiting the U.S., was informed of the measures Standard Oil had taken to consolidate its power, forming a trust. Inspired he returned to Germany determined to organize his competitors into what became the conglomeration known as I.G. Farben. Holding a virtual international monopoly via patents on key products, everyone grew rich.

The company responded during World War I., patriotically, putting their skills to work creating the first poison gas of the war, which might have left Germany victorious had I.G. Farben's vision of its use been quickly and ruthlessly utilized. The company was also complicit in Germany's damning use of slave labor. The military moved into Belgium and seized every able-bodied man they could lay hands on for the project. Generally less than enthusiastic about Hitler's rise to power, with a few significant exceptions, but preferring him to the left with its anti-capitalist agenda, the company threw their support that way, purging Jewish employees, even highly valued technical and executive level people, and eventually fully utilizing the “free labor” of concentration camp victims, working them to death in their quest to fill the rampaging German military's insatiable need for synthesized fuel and rubber tires. Borkin gives a horrifying account of what it was like under the cruel boot of the psychopathic Nazi machine. Malnourished prisoners were marched daily several miles to the I.G. Farben factory and worked long hours mercilessly. Those who weakened or fell were shot. A sadist at the factory gate would select out those he estimated were weakest and they'd be immediately taken to the gas chamber.

After the war the high-ranking Nazis who survived and didn't manage to flee were dealt with by the Nuremberg court with long prison terms and hanging. But the I.G. Farben top executives were able to stall the proceedings until things had cooled off somewhat, the cold war having kicked in and distracted the victors. Many were acquitted and those who were convicted served three to seven years, very light sentences for what they had done. Of course when the nation is taken over by sociopaths not going along is no longer much of an option, an important lesson to resist early. Jefferson (if he indeed said this, but it's solid whoever the author) knew of what he spoke - “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” The victors were not subject to the court so the fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo were not on the docket.

As well as resisting early, another lesson for statecraft is, avoid war entirely for it is brutal and dehumanizing. Although some tyrants openly glorify the practice, most will claim to trigger the nightmare only after all other options are exhausted. We can be skeptical, ready examples being the Bush/Cheney Iraq attack and the Obama drone war. When South Carolina has a grievance with Georgia the matter is settled by the courts not the National Guard. At least so far. No reason this model can't be extended internationally though of course those who are well armed feel they can “win” so why take the chance? The answer is plain, “We end war or we end ourselves.” MLK

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Where We Go From Here? Bernie Sanders


A small indication of trustworthiness for a national leader is to be widely known by an affectionate first name, Bernie in this case. Polls indicate Bernie is the most trusted politician in the country. I hasten to add that this is, in itself, not enough. Stalin was known as Joe or Uncle Joe by many, who like tRump supporters somehow managed to maintain a mighty delusion despite ready facts, believing that if only Uncle Joe had known about the purges and killing he would have stopped them. Put another way, they became quite adept at avoiding or denying ready facts. But the appellation holds for Bernie. Not that there aren't hordes of the properly indoctrinated who dismiss the guy with tags like, socialist/communist, needing for some psychological reason a “strong leader” (like Joe). Both sides of this equation use words like freedom, democracy, justice but it isn't hard to decipher which side is serious and which side is seriously misusing the language.

Bernie begins his book with an account of the negotiations, for the Democratic Convention in 2016, which produced what he calls the most progressive political platform in U.S. history. When he recognized that Hillary had the delegates to win the nomination, by hook or by crook, he used his leverage to get 5 of his supporters on the 12 person platform committee. Climate specialist Bill McKibben and philosopher-activist Cornel West, notably. Included in the platform were commitments to make college tuition free, reduce student loan debt, funding of community health centers, a public option to allow citizens to opt into medicare at age 55 (a compromise since Bernie favored single payer, medicare for all), a $15 dollar an hour minimum wage, a tax on greenhouse gases, massive investments in solar, wind and other renewable energy (not nukes), a path toward legalization of marijuana, abolishing the death penalty, attacking the problem of corporations and the wealthy avoiding taxes by stashing cash off-shore, union-friendly measures, automatic voter registration... and other progressive items, achieving 80% of Sander's goals.

Recognizing that either Hillary or Trump was going to be president, Bernie set out to get that across to his troops, at the convention and across the country. Supreme Court appointments alone, as we have seen, was issue enough to back Clinton. Obstacles to preventing the disaster of a Trump victory were serious Republican cheating, gerrymandering, and deception, including probably collusion with Russian hacking and dirty tricks. Democratic victory required a huge win, to win. As we know, 2 million (or was it 3?) wasn't a big enough win to overcome these obstacles. But try he did. His book chronicles some of the speeches he made on his tour to support Hillary, a tour which was formidable for a man some considered too old to run. One could question whether the book has a lot of filler in the form of speeches Bernie made on this and other tours but, since they're good, important speeches, they justify themselves. Questioning U.S. foreign policy with its over-reliance on force, the massive military budget and corruption, subservience to Israeli intransigence and apartheid, collusion with dictators (right wing only if you please) highlights Bernie as one of the very few elected officials with the courage to go down those roads.

Asking the question how do we revitalize U.S. democracy and create a government that represents all the people, not just the few? How do we bring millions of new people into the political process and raise political consciousness? Bernie's answer is Our Revolution, an organization aimed to do just that. This section talks about the many who fail to vote, the disenfranchised, the demoralized and the uninspired. That last quality is understandable when a citizen can feel, if not articulate, that political life is largely controlled by a handful of billionaires and corporations. The Sanders presidential campaign netted millions of small donations and, for Our Revolution, millions of contacts that could be used to further the goals of the organization, which include electoral activity, resulting in many victories, ranging from local state school superintendent to U.S. senator. The democratic party split is represented by the Hillary/Bernie campaigns, an establishment figure and a revolutionary, and it runs across the party nationwide. Those comfortable with the status quo and who believe only “moderate” (read republican-lite) candidates can win versus those who believe, and have shown, that progressive candidates speaking to the general malaise can win. These candidates, naturally, coming out of the grass roots, express the diversity of the population in race, religion and gender, even sexual orientation.
The path to U.S. senator and presidential candidate was unique to Bernie and he lays that out for the reader, from his civil rights, anti-war activist days, his failed runs for senate and other offices, his successful bid for major of Burlington, Vermont, house of representatives and finally senate. Throughout this career, it is remarkable how consistent, from day one, has been his critique and understanding of the extent to which a wealthy elite runs this country for their own benefit. No one person has done more to further this understanding across the country. His determined optimism runs through this book and should help inspire many to join the fray.

Illustration by the author