The Long Shadow — The Lingering Effects of Childhood Trauma

I think this article, an interview with Bruce Perry, a highly accomplished pediatric psychiatrist (who helped the children of the Branch Davidian Cult during the Waco, Texas standoff), vindicates my journey to understand the pain and confusion that has so badly compromised my baseline experience for my entire life.  In an important way, it’s too bad that some people have seemed, at one point or another, to want to discourage me from trying to understand and heal what happened to me.  But on another hand, maybe it’s not too bad, maybe that’s just our journey together, and I hope this article will bring better understanding to at least a few of us.

The Sun Magazine | The Long Shadow

The Long Shadow

Bruce Perry On The Lingering Effects Of Childhood Trauma

by Jeanne Supin

The “fight or flight” instinct has served the human species well, helping us respond quickly to threats, but, according to child and adolescent psychiatrist and neuroscientist Bruce Perry, it can also change our brains for the worse. If the threats we encounter are extreme, persistent, or frequent, we become too sensitized, overreacting to minor challenges and sometimes experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. This is especially true for children, whose still-developing brains may be chronically altered by growing up in abusive environments that Perry calls “the equivalent of a war zone.” Perry says that instead of being offered the sort of meaningful, caring connections they need, children with these experiences are often labeled troublemakers — and later criminals. He advocates passionately for changes in parenting, teaching, policing, and public policy to help traumatized kids.

The second of four children, Perry was born in 1955 in Bismarck, North Dakota. His father was a dentist; his mother, a homemaker. Skinny and asthmatic, Perry joined the track team and says visualization techniques helped him win races and get his asthma under control. He went on to attend Stanford University in California, where he majored in human biology and participated in a seminar about the effects of early-life stress on the developing brains of rats. During his first summer home from college, Perry got married; he returned to Stanford with his wife in the fall. One night she went missing and was later found brutally murdered. After the funeral Perry didn’t return to school. He spent a lot of time alone, thinking about what had happened. When he went back to Stanford in the spring, the attention he received from other students made him uncomfortable, so he transferred to Amherst College in Massachusetts and entered the neuroscience program. In the wake of his wife’s death he stopped focusing on grades and simply pursued subjects that interested him.

Perry went on to attend Chicago’s Northwestern University, where he earned his MD and a PhD in neuroscience, satisfying his interests in both pure research and applied science. He did his medical residency at Yale University in Connecticut and joined ongoing research efforts to determine why some combat veterans developed PTSD and others didn’t. Perry recalled something he’d learned at Stanford: that rats exposed to uncontrollable stressful experiences early in life suffered lasting changes in brain chemistry. He looked at the veterans’ childhoods and found that those with a history of physical or sexual abuse were more likely to have been traumatized by the war.

In 1987, as a child-and adolescent-psychiatry fellow at the University of Chicago, Perry consulted at Saint Joseph’s Carondelet Child Center, a treatment program for boys with severe behavior disorders. He was shocked to discover that the psychiatrists who diagnosed the boys rarely took into account the children’s histories of abuse and neglect. Perry showed that, if given the structure and stability and nurturing they’d been denied earlier in life, they could improve, sometimes dramatically.

Perry has since served as chief of psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital and worked as a consultant and expert witness following tragedies, including such high-profile cases as the Columbine High School shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas. He currently lives in Houston, where he is a senior fellow at the ChildTrauma Academy (childtrauma.org). He is also an adjunct professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. In addition to having written more than two hundred scientific articles, Perry has coauthored with Maia Szalavitz two books for general audiences: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook and Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential — and Endangered.

For this interview I met Perry at his small Houston office, which is decorated with photographs from summer hiking trips he has taken with his wife and adult children in the Rockies or Canadian mountain ranges. He says that to nurture healthy children and understand what they need, we first have to help them feel safe and connected and allow them time for reflection. He seemed to embody this principle himself: during the two days I interviewed him, he was relaxed, and he never appeared rushed or looked at a watch or device. Though he often spoke about childhood trauma in terms of neurons and brain development, his love for children was obvious. When the conversation turned to the kids he has worked with, I could easily imagine him sprawled out on the carpet with a five-year-old, focused only on the vulnerable human being in front of him.

Supin: What is trauma?

Perry: Despite using that word all the time, the psychiatric field still debates how to define it. Is trauma an external event? Is it the way we experience that event? Is it the long-term changes in emotional and physical functioning that follow the event?

I define trauma as an experience, or pattern of experiences, that impairs the proper functioning of the person’s stress-response system, making it more reactive or sensitive.

Supin: What is the stress-response system?

Perry: We have many stress-response systems. Essentially all the systems in our body can be recruited to respond to some form of stress, and depending upon the nature, timing, and intensity of the challenge or threat, some combination of these responses will be used to help us survive and adapt. Most people are familiar with the “fight or flight” response, which is activated when we perceive a potential threat. Our heart rate and respiration increase, glucose is released for energy, and nonessential feelings like hunger or pain will be ignored — all in preparation to flee or fight. Then, when the threat has passed, those systems return to a baseline equilibrium. These stress-response systems are a dynamic process, constantly monitoring our world and activating and deactivating to allow us to thrive.

Another important aspect of our capacity to adapt is the malleability of the brain. Neural networks tend to change according to how often they are activated, and these changes can make us either more or less functional. If the brain’s stress-response apparatus is activated for prolonged periods, such as in a domestic-violence situation, its equilibrium will change. Instead of being anxious and fearful only when confronted with a threat, a person might live in a persistent state of fear. For a child, in particular, this has many negative ramifications.

Take a school shooting: Two children in the same classroom might experience basically the same event, but they can have very different long-term responses. One might have some bad dreams and anxiety, but after three months or so those will subside, and the child returns to her baseline. She doesn’t forget the event, and even years later she will likely feel upset if she thinks about it, but the event did not fundamentally change her capacity to self-regulate, relate, and reason. She wasn’t “traumatized.”

Another child’s reaction might be much more severe and prolonged: profound anxiety, significant sleep problems, recurring nightmares, and intrusive, disruptive memories of the event itself. This child is experiencing a change in his stress response. The event shifted his baseline in unhealthy ways. He was traumatized.

When a child with a typical equilibrium is traumatized, he is aware of the change and can report his distress to others. But when a child grows up in an environment permeated with chaos or violence, that child perceives this state of hypervigilance and distractibility as the norm. If asked whether he feels anxious, he will say no. We can tell how anxious he is by the way he startles when he hears a sudden noise, by his inability to sit still, and so forth. But to him this is normal. This is his baseline.

Supin: So the difference in baselines explains why one child might recover from a school shooting and another be traumatized by it?

Perry: Many factors influence who we are and how we function. For example, previous prolonged activation of the stress-response system due to living with the unpredictability of poverty might be a factor. So could the type of support the child receives from family and community. The quality of a child’s relationships before, during, and after a horrible event influences outcomes tremendously. Children who have experienced attentive, loving parental care since birth and who live in stable, safe homes and communities will fare best.

A child will also respond to an event based on how the adults around her respond. Human emotions are contagious. If a child falls down and scrapes a knee, she will mirror the parent’s response to the accident. If the parent is calm, it strengthens the child’s stress-response system. If the parent views the situation as threatening, the child will, too. Parents’ reactions turn out to be one of the major predictors of whether a child will develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress after a tragedy. Resilient children are made, not born.

Many people believe that children are more resilient than adults, yet the opposite is true. The developing brain is sensitive to experiences both good and bad. The same neurological principles that allow young children to rapidly learn motor skills and language are also at play when it comes to processing stress or trauma. An infant who receives predictable, consistent care develops a neural framework that helps that child think and learn later in life. An infant who is neglected or abused develops a different neural framework.

Supin: Can you explain a little more about how our stress-response systems work?

Perry: All input — feelings of hunger or thirst, loud noises, the sound of someone’s voice, some information we learn — first enters the lower, more primitive part of our brains, which determines if this input is familiar or unfamiliar. If the input is familiar, it then travels to a higher, more evolved part of our brain, where we decide based on memory whether it’s good, bad, or neutral. If the input is unfamiliar, the brain’s default conclusion is This can’t be good. Any novelty — even desirable novelty, like learning something new — activates our stress-response system.

Some stress is actually good for us — for example, the stress related to meeting a new person or traveling to a new place. Predictable, controllable, and moderate activation of the stress-response system has been shown to build our capacity to manage challenges. When a child has the opportunity to challenge herself in the presence of supportive adults, it builds resilience. It’s the dose, the pattern, and the controllability that determine whether the stress is adaptive or harmful.

Let’s say you’re a six-year-old boy, and up until now your life has been OK. Mom and Dad split up, and there was some conflict around the divorce, but nothing too horrible. Then all of a sudden Mom has a new boyfriend in the house. That’s novel, so it generates moderate stress. At dinner he raises his voice at you; that’s unpredictable. He soon starts barking orders at you more frequently. He yells at your mom. He hits you, or he hits your mom. Your stress-response system doesn’t have time to return to baseline before another source of stress arrives. You start having anticipatory anxiety about what will happen next. Your baseline level of stress increases; things that would not have bothered you much before now bother you a lot. A harsh tone of voice that may have been mildly upsetting is now overwhelming. If the boyfriend’s behavior continues, your stress-response system may start to register any angry tone of voice as threatening. You’ve become what we call “sensitized.”

Supin: Conventional wisdom might suggest that the boy would get used to the angry, violent behavior and be less affected by it over time, but you’re saying the opposite is true.

Perry: Exactly. The more our stress-response system is activated in uncontrollable ways, the less able we are to handle even small amounts of stress.

When you are overstressed, you no longer have efficient access to your higher brain functions. By the time you’re in a state of alarm, significant parts of your cortex — the highest-functioning part of your brain — have shut down entirely. This is adaptive if you’re confronted by a predator, because you don’t want to waste time thinking about how to respond: you want to fight or run away. But to do your best reasoning, you need access to that sophisticated part of your brain. To learn and plan, you need to be in a relatively calm state.

Supin: Let’s go back to the six-year-old boy in your example. What happens to him at school?

Perry: The brain is good at generalizing from one kind of experience to another. Most of the time this ability is a gift, but this boy may generalize that all male authority figures who raise their voices are terrifying. This starts a vicious cycle: The boy arrives at school already on heightened alert due to his home situation, and he can’t pay attention. The teacher gets frustrated and raises his voice. The child is now even more on red alert. It’s impossible for him to concentrate. The rational parts of his brain shut down. Instead he has access only to the parts that process information valuable in threatening situations. He’s attuned to the teacher’s tone of voice, to whom the teacher is smiling at. He’s learning to read nonverbal cues. The calm child will learn the state capitals; the sensitized child will learn who is the teacher’s pet.

Supin: Can he recover from that?

Perry: Yes, opportunities for controlled, moderate doses of stress can shift these systems back toward well-regulated functioning. The key is that a moderate challenge for a typical child may be a huge challenge for a sensitized child.

The achievement gap in schools has a lot to do with the child’s home and community life. If the family is concerned about not having money for food or rent or a doctor’s visit, that creates a pervasive sense of anxiety and unpredictability. The longer the child is in that environment, the worse the vicious cycle at school becomes. Eventually the kid says to himself, “There’s something wrong with me. I’m stupid.” And he drops out as soon as he can.

Supin: What about the character-building benefits of facing down adversity, of “rising to the challenge”? Is that ever applicable in these situations?

Perry: If you start from a healthy place, adversity can be character building. But if you grow up amid constant adversity, you are less likely to have the flexible and capable stress-response systems you need to face down adversity. Certainly many children do grow up with remarkable gifts and strengths despite their challenges, but when this happens, it’s often because there were people in the child’s environment who helped create a safe, predictable space for the child at least part of the time.

Supin: Are there instances in which well-intentioned parents protect their children from stress too much?

Perry: Yes, I’ve seen upper-middle-class children develop anxiety disorders because they had never been given the opportunity to explore the world. They’d been told only, “Don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t get dirty.” By the time these children went to preschool, they hadn’t learned to tolerate even slight discomforts. They became overwhelmed by the novelty of preschool and had meltdowns.

Resilience comes from stress. It’s important that parents, teachers, and coaches not be afraid of it. Exploring, getting dirty, and falling down help you build resilience and tolerate novelty and discomfort.

Supin: How might we apply this to whole communities?

Perry: First we have to understand that feeling connected to other people is one of our most fundamental needs. We feel safer when we are with kind and familiar people. Tension can arise from being part of a marginalized minority, whether you define that minority status by economics, race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual preference, or whatever. The marginalized group has a much higher level of baseline stress. It’s not a specific traumatic event; it’s a continuous sense of disconnection.

Our brain is constantly monitoring our environment to gauge whether or not we belong someplace. If we frequently get feedback that we don’t belong — or, worse, overt threats — then our body’s systems stay in a constant state of arousal. This increases the risk for diabetes and hypertension and makes learning, reflection, planning, and creative problem-solving harder. Over time it will actually change the physiology of your brain.

For example, for someone who already feels marginalized and is hypervigilant, even a relatively benign interaction, such as a police officer asking for your license, can trigger a volatile reaction. This is true for both the person being stopped and for the cop who’s doing the stopping. They both can be sensitized. People in law enforcement should know the principles of stress and trauma. It’s the key to understanding why some of their policies and behaviors have a destructive effect.

Supin: Are you aware of any programs to train law-enforcement personnel in these principles?

Perry: I did some work with the FBI after the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas. [In 1993 the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; the FBI; and the Texas National Guard held the Branch Davidian religious group under siege for fifty-one days, culminating in an explosive clash and eighty-six deaths. —Ed.]

Supin: What were you doing, and what did you learn?

Perry: The events at Waco were astoundingly tragic. We brought in a team of people to help with the Branch Davidian children both during and after the standoff.

The Branch Davidians were a highly insular fundamentalist religious group who had sworn absolute allegiance to their charismatic and controlling leader, David Koresh. The group certainly conformed to all academic definitions of a cult. In the first three days of the standoff, twenty-one children were released into the care of the FBI and the Texas Child Protective Services. I got involved because I lived nearby, and someone in the Texas government asked for my assistance. I went to Waco figuring I’d make some recommendations and be back home in a few days. I ended up assembling a team and staying for months.

When I first arrived, I was greeted by an imposing Texas Ranger who was feeling understandably protective of these children and none too keen about a psychiatrist messing with their heads. In trauma work we routinely track heart rates, because even when traumatized children express no outward stress response, their heart rates are often elevated. I offered the ranger a deal: he could take the pulse of a girl sleeping soundly nearby, and if it was below a hundred, I’d leave. The normal resting heart rate for a child her age is about eighty beats per minute. Her pulse was 160. I stayed, and the ranger and I became close collaborators in helping these kids.

Others wanted the kids to get therapy, but I said no. First let’s bring them consistency and predictability. Let’s minimize the number of new adults in their lives. Let’s settle them into a routine and allow them to build some familiarity with us.

About seven weeks passed from the time the twenty-one children were released until the bloody conclusion of the standoff. I interviewed each child multiple times during that period but was also just with them day in and day out. So I got to know them.

Each evening, after the kids had gone to bed, the adults would sit together and talk about what we’d seen during the day. We found that each child had about three hours of therapeutic interaction a day, even though none of them received formal therapy. Throughout the day kids would seek out small doses of support. One child might go up to the best adult hugger and get a hug; later that same child might find the funniest adult and get a laugh. The key here is that the children controlled the nature and duration of the interaction. Their heart rates began to go down.

We had a diverse-enough group that the children could find exactly what they needed at any particular moment. It reminded me of traditional multigenerational clans, where maybe Mom is good at fixing a hurt, and Grandpa is good at storytelling, and someone else can start a fire, and so on. The community offers a rich array of people to learn and receive support from.

Living with those twenty-one Branch Davidian children changed how I thought about therapeutic work. We offered structure, familiarity, caring — and no therapy. A fifty-minute therapy session might be a part of treating trauma, but ideally it’s simply one thread in a much larger web of therapeutic encounters.

My confidence in our approach grew when the Davidians’ attorneys insisted that the children be allowed to visit with their parents. During those visits the parents repeated Koresh’s apocalyptic message, warning that we were going to kill them all. And, sure enough, after the visits the kids’ heart rates shot back up. As soon as the visits stopped, the children returned to baseline.

Over the years my colleagues and I have honed our ability to identify and educate the adults in a child’s family, community, and school who might help provide therapeutic experiences. We teach them about the impact that trauma and adversity have had on a child’s functioning. We give them realistic expectations. The most at-risk children are often disconnected from family, school, and community. Reestablishing those connections appears to buffer the effects of trauma. Distributing caregiving duties among a set of healthy and loving adults is one of the best ways to help isolated, overwhelmed, and incompetent parents. Grandparents, partners, and friends can all shoulder some of the burden.

Supin: What can communities do to support and encourage healthy development?

Perry: A number of years ago Chicago’s Cabrini-Green public housing added some green space among the high-rise apartment buildings. They put in a better playground. They put in benches where people could sit. No other changes were made or new services offered, but over the next couple of years violent crime in that housing project dropped by 30 percent.

If your living environment increases the probability that you will interact with your neighbor, it makes both of you physically healthier, socially healthier, and less likely to suffer the mental-health issues associated with being isolated and marginalized.

Another set of studies were done of indigenous populations in British Columbia that had suffered the long-term consequences of cultural genocide — authorities suppressing languages, religious practices, economic systems, all the things that create a cohesive community. Throughout British Columbia dozens of these indigenous communities have recovered their languages, traditional practices, and so forth, and those same communities have experienced decreases in violent crime, alcoholism, and suicide. In some the suicide rates dropped to the same as the general population, which is astounding for an indigenous population.

Supin: How do you know if something traumatic happened with a child? Will he or she express it behaviorally?

Perry: Frequently yes, but it’s amazing how many times kids will also make an initial disclosure. They’ll say, “I don’t like to go to Grandpa’s house.” If that gets no response, they might come back later and say, “Grandpa likes to play games. . . .” But if, when a kid makes that comment, the adult says, “Grandpa loves you. Don’t talk bad about Grandpa,” the kid won’t bring it up again. The child was testing the waters, to see how open you are to hearing something negative about Grandpa. The moment the child senses that you’re not open, he or she backs away.

Supin: When you’re getting children to talk about what happened to them, how do you approach them?

Perry: People who have experienced trauma, especially children, need to be able to control how and when they tell their story. When we demand that someone tell us what happened, even with good intentions, we often reactivate the traumatic memory and the accompanying stress, which makes matters worse. Only the child knows what the proper time and method of revisiting the trauma is.

I once worked with a girl who at the age of three had witnessed her mother’s brutal rape and murder. The attacker then slashed the girl’s throat and left her for dead. She was alone with her deceased mother’s body for eleven hours before someone found her. I’d been brought in by the girl’s attorney to prepare her for possibly testifying in court. The first time we met, she was sitting on the floor in a room with dolls, toys, and books. I sat down on the floor nearby, to make myself less imposing, and began drawing in a coloring book, chatting with her about what I was coloring and the colors I chose. Eventually she moved closer and directed me to use specific crayons. We colored together in silence for several more minutes before I asked, “What happened to your neck?” She ignored the question. I quietly asked again. She became agitated and reenacted the events by pretending to slash the throat of her stuffed animal. She then started jumping off the furniture. Afraid she’d hurt herself, I caught her, and she collapsed in my arms and in a slow monotone told me what had happened.

From then on I let her determine what we did at each therapy session. For many months she would motion for me to lie silently on the floor as she revisited her trauma in small, controllable doses in order to make sense of it. She would have me lie down, and she would demonstrate how she had tried to revive her dead mother. She always insisted that I wake up, which, of course, I did. She wanted a different outcome. We did this again and again, and little by little she made the violent memory into something she could live with and not have it crush her.

Her emotional state evolved, too. Over the months her behavior softened, and she grew more deliberate. Finally one day, instead of instructing me to lie on the floor, she led me to a rocking chair, chose a book from the bookshelf, crawled into my lap, and asked me to read her a story.

Supin: What advice do you give to people who work with traumatized kids?

Perry: It’s critically important to meet the child exactly where he or she is developmentally. Imagine a twelve-year-old living in poverty, with hurtful and unpredictable parenting and miserable experiences at school. That child will be much less mature than a typical twelve-year-old. In fact, he’s probably more like a four-year-old socially, and maybe a seven-year-old cognitively.

I teach people to change their expectations at first, because otherwise he won’t progress. I’ll tell his teachers that even though he’s in sixth grade, his ability to learn is closer to a first-grader’s, and he has the attention span of a preschooler. You wouldn’t expect a preschooler to sit still for more than a few minutes, would you? So they adjust their expectations and allow the child to move around or shift to a new task more frequently. The child’s behavior soon improves, and that once-disruptive boy can learn and even excel at an appropriate age level.

Supin: Is it really so easy?

Perry: The great thing about our brains is that they can adapt and improve quickly as soon as we’re given the support we need. I’ve seen many instances in which children with extreme trauma histories and seemingly insurmountable deficits catch up to their chronological age remarkably fast.

Justin, who inspired the title of my book The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, was six when I first met him in a hospital pediatric intensive-care unit. He was nonverbal and always either rocking and moaning or screaming and throwing food and feces at staff. He’d been diagnosed with “static encephalopathy” — severe brain damage of an unknown origin, unlikely to improve. The doctors had assumed he would be unresponsive to treatment, so they’d offered none.

Tragically no one had asked about Justin’s living conditions prior to his hospitalization. His story was heartbreaking. When Justin was two months old, his fifteen-year-old mother had left him with his grandmother, who’d died nine months later. The infant ended up with the grandmother’s boyfriend, who did not have the emotional or intellectual skills to raise a baby. He called Child Protective Services, but since he didn’t seem to pose a threat to the boy, CPS didn’t act. The man was a dog breeder by profession. So he raised this child in a kennel as if he were a puppy. Justin was fed and changed, but otherwise lived in a cage for five years with only dogs for companions.

His severe developmental delays were the direct result of the conditions he’d endured. We immediately conducted new assessments, operating from the premise that Justin did, in fact, have the capacity for developmental growth. Our treatment gave him the opportunities he had missed earlier in life. Speech therapists introduced him to language and words as they would a toddler, and physical therapists helped with toilet training and the motor skills typically acquired by preschoolers. His progress was astounding. He leaped over developmental milestones in mere weeks instead of years.

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The Coming War on China

The Coming War on China

12/3/2016

By John Pilger

When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of 6 August, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, unforgettably. When I returned many years later, it was gone: taken away, “disappeared”, a political embarrassment.

I have spent two years making a documentary film, The Coming War on China, in which the evidence and witnesses warn that nuclear war is no longer a shadow, but a contingency.  The greatest build-up of American-led military forces since the Second World War is well under way. They are in the northern hemisphere, on the western borders of Russia, and in Asia and the Pacific, confronting China.

The great danger this beckons is not news, or it is buried and distorted: a drumbeat of mainstream fake news that echoes the psychopathic fear embedded in public consciousness during much of the 20th century.

Like the renewal of post-Soviet Russia, the rise of China as an economic power is declared an “existential threat” to the divine right of the United States to rule and dominate human affairs.

To counter this, in 2011 President Obama announced a “pivot to Asia”, which meant that almost two-thirds of US naval forces would be transferred to Asia and the Pacific by 2020. Today, more than 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and, above all, nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to Japan, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, says one US strategist, “the perfect noose”.

A study by the RAND Corporation – which, since Vietnam, has planned America’s wars – is entitled, War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable.  Commissioned by the US Army, the authors evoke the cold war when RAND made notorious the catch cry of its chief strategist, Herman Kahn — “thinking the unthinkable”. Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War, elaborated a plan for a “winnable” nuclear war against the Soviet Union.

Today, his apocalyptic view is shared by those holding real power in the United States: the militarists and neo-conservatives in the executive, the Pentagon, the intelligence and “national security” establishment and Congress.

The current Secretary of Defense, Ashley Carter, a verbose provocateur, says US policy is to confront those “who see America’s dominance and want to take that away from us”.

For all the attempts to detect a departure in foreign policy, this is almost certainly the view of Donald Trump, whose abuse of China during the election campaign included that of “rapist” of the American economy. On 2 December, in a direct provocation of China, President-elect Trump spoke to the President of Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province of the mainland. Armed with American missiles, Taiwan is an enduring flashpoint between Washington and Beijing.

“The United States,” wrote Amitai Etzioni, professor of international Affairs at George Washington University, “is preparing for a war with China, a momentous decision that so far has failed to receive a thorough review from elected officials, namely the White House and Congress.”  This war would begin with a “blinding attack against Chinese anti-access facilities, including land and sea-based missile launchers … satellite and anti-satellite weapons”.

The incalculable risk is that “deep inland strikes could be mistakenly perceived by the Chinese as pre-emptive attempts to take out its nuclear weapons, thus cornering them into ‘a terrible use-it-or-lose-it dilemma’ [that would] lead to nuclear war.”

In 2015, the Pentagon released its Law of War Manual. “The United States,” it says, “has not accepted a treaty rule that prohibits the use of nuclear weapons per se, and thus nuclear weapons are lawful weapons for the United States.”

In China, a strategist told me, “We are not your enemy, but if you [in the West] decide we are, we must prepare without delay.”  China’s military and arsenal are small compared to America’s. However, “for the first time,” wrote Gregory Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “China is discussing putting its nuclear missiles on high alert so that they can be launched quickly on warning of an attack … This would be a significant and dangerous change in Chinese policy … Indeed, the nuclear weapon policies of the United States are the most prominent external factor influencing Chinese advocates for raising the alert level of China’s nuclear forces.”

Read also:

A more dangerous world is probably coming after the US election!

Professor Ted Postol was scientific adviser to the head of US naval operations. An authority on nuclear weapons, he told me, “Everybody here wants to look like they’re tough. See I got to be tough … I’m not afraid of doing anything military, I’m not afraid of threatening; I’m a hairy-chested gorilla. And we have gotten into a state, the United States has gotten into a situation where there’s a lot of sabre-rattling, and it’s really being orchestrated from the top.”

I said, “This seems incredibly dangerous.”

In 2015, in considerable secrecy, the US staged its biggest single military exercise since the Cold War. This was Talisman Sabre; an armada of ships and long-range bombers rehearsed an “Air-Sea Battle Concept for China” – ASB — blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca and cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.

It is such a provocation, and the fear of a US Navy blockade, that has seen China feverishly building strategic airstrips on disputed reefs and islets in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.  Last July, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against China’s claim of sovereignty over these islands. Although the action was brought by the Philippines, it was presented by leading American and British lawyers and could be traced to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In 2010, Clinton flew to Manila. She demanded that America’s former colony reopen the US military bases closed down in the 1990s following a popular campaign against the violence they generated, especially against Filipino women. She declared China’s claim on the Spratly Islands – which lie more than 7,500 miles from the United States – a threat to US “national security” and to “freedom of navigation”.

Handed millions of dollars in arms and military equipment, the then government of President Benigno Aquino broke off bilateral talks with China and signed a secretive Enhanced Defense Co-operation Agreement with the US. This established five rotating US bases and restored a hated colonial provision that American forces and contractors were immune from Philippine law.

The election of Rodrigo Duterte in April has unnerved Washington. Calling himself a socialist, he declared, “In our relations with the world, the Philippines will pursue an independent foreign policy” and noted that the United States had not apologized for its colonial atrocities. “I will break up with America,” he said, and promised to expel US troops. But the US remains in the Philippines; and joint military exercises continue.

In 2014, under the rubric of “information dominance” – the jargon for media manipulation, or fake news, on which the Pentagon spends more than $4 billion – the Obama administration launched a propaganda campaign that cast China, the world’s greatest trading nation, as a threat to “freedom of navigation”.

CNN led the way, its “national security reporter” reporting excitedly from on board a US Navy surveillance flight over the Spratlys. The BBC persuaded frightened Filipino pilots to fly a single-engine Cessna over the disputed islands “to see how the Chinese would react”. None of these reporters questioned why the Chinese were building airstrips off their own coastline, or why American military forces were massing on China’s doorstep.

The designated chief propagandist is Admiral Harry Harris, the US military commander in Asia and the Pacific. “My responsibilities,” he told the New York Times, “cover Bollywood to Hollywood, from polar bears to penguins.”  Never was imperial domination described as pithily.

Harris is one of a brace of Pentagon admirals and generals briefing selected, malleable journalists and broadcasters, with the aim of justifying a threat as specious as that with which George W Bush and Tony Blair justified the destruction of Iraq and much of the Middle East.

In Los Angeles in September, Harris declared he was “ready to confront a revanchist Russia and an assertive China …If we have to fight tonight, I don’t want it to be a fair fight. If it’s a knife fight, I want to bring a gun. If it’s a gun fight, I want to bring in the artillery … and all our partners with their artillery.”

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These “partners” include South Korea, the launch pad for the Pentagon’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system, known as THAAD, ostensibly aimed at North Korea.  As Professor Postol points out, it targets China.

In Sydney, Australia, Harris called on China to “tear down its Great Wall in the South China Sea”. The imagery was front page news. Australia is America’s most obsequious “partner”; its political elite, military, intelligence agencies and the media are integrated into what is known as the “alliance”. Closing the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the motorcade of a visiting American government “dignitary” is not uncommon.  The war criminal Dick Cheney was afforded this honour.

Although China is Australia’s biggest trader, on which much of the national economy relies, “confronting China” is the diktat from Washington. The few political dissenters in Canberra risk McCarthyite smears in the Murdoch press. “You in Australia are with us come what may,” said one of the architects of the Vietnam war, McGeorge Bundy. One of the most important US bases is Pine Gap near Alice Springs. Founded by the CIA, it spies on China and all of Asia, and is a vital contributor to Washington’s murderous war by drone in the Middle East.

In October, Richard Marles, the defence spokesman of the main Australian opposition party, the Labor Party, demanded that “operational decisions” in provocative acts against China be left to military commanders in the South China Sea. In other words, a decision that could mean war with a nuclear power should not be taken by an elected leader or a parliament but by an admiral or a general.

This is the Pentagon line, a historic departure for any state calling itself a democracy. The ascendancy of the Pentagon in Washington – which Daniel Ellsberg has called a silent coup — is reflected in the record $5 trillion America has spent on aggressive wars since 9/11, according to a study by Brown University. The million dead in Iraq and the flight of 12 million refugees from at least four countries are the consequence.

The Japanese island of Okinawa has 32 military installations, from which Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq have been attacked by the United States. Today, the principal target is China, with whom Okinawans have close cultural and trade ties.

There are military aircraft constantly in the sky over Okinawa; they sometimes crash into homes and schools. People cannot sleep, teachers cannot teach. Wherever they go in their own country, they are fenced in and told to keep out.

A popular Okinawan anti-base movement has been growing since a 12-year-old girl was gang-raped by US troops in 1995. It was one of hundreds of such crimes, many of them never prosecuted. Barely acknowledged in the wider world, the resistance has seen the election of Japan’s first anti-base governor, Takeshi Onaga, and presented an unfamiliar hurdle to the Tokyo government and the ultra-nationalist prime minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to repeal Japan’s “peace constitution”.

The resistance includes Fumiko Shimabukuro, aged 87, a survivor of the Second World War when a quarter of Okinawans died in the American invasion. Fumiko and hundreds of others took refuge in beautiful Henoko Bay, which she is now fighting to save. The US wants to destroy the bay in order to extend runways for its bombers. “We have a choice,” she said, “silence or life.” As we gathered peacefully outside the US base, Camp Schwab, giant Sea Stallion helicopters hovered over us for no reason other than to intimidate.

Across the East China Sea lies the Korean island of Jeju, a semi- tropical sanctuary  and World Heritage Site declared “an island of world peace”. On this island of world peace has been built one of the most provocative military bases in the world, less than 400 miles from Shanghai. The fishing village of Gangjeong is dominated by a South Korean naval base purpose-built for US aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and destroyers equipped with the Aegis missile system, aimed at China.

A people’s resistance to these war preparations has been a presence on Jeju for almost a decade. Every day, often twice a day, villagers, Catholic priests and supporters from all over the world stage a religious mass that blocks the gates of the base. In a country where political demonstrations are often banned, unlike powerful religions, the tactic has produced an inspiring spectacle.

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One of the leaders, Father Mun Jeong-hyeon, told me, “I sing four songs every day at the base, regardless of the weather. I sing in typhoons — no exception. To build this base, they destroyed the environment, and the life of the villagers, and we should be a witness to that. They want to rule the Pacific. They want to make China isolated in the world. They want to be emperor of the world.”

I flew from Jeju to Shanghai for the first time in more than a generation. When I was last in China, the loudest noise I remember was the tinkling of bicycle bells; Mao Zedong had recently died, and the cities seemed dark places, in which foreboding and expectation competed.  Within a few years, Deng Xiopeng, the “man who changed China”, was the “paramount leader”. Nothing prepared me for the astonishing changes today.

China presents exquisite ironies, not least the house in Shanghai where Mao and his comrades secretly founded the Communist Party of China in 1921. Today, it stands in the heart of a very capitalist shipping district; you walk out of this communist shrine with your Little Red Book and your plastic bust of Mao into the embrace of Starbucks, Apple, Cartier, Prada.

Would Mao be shocked? I doubt it. Five years before his great revolution in 1949, he sent this secret message to Washington. “China must industrialise.” he wrote, “This can only be done by free enterprise. Chinese and American interests fit together, economically and politically. America need not fear that we will not be co-operative. We cannot risk any conflict.”

Mao offered to meet Franklin Roosevelt in the White House, and his successor Harry Truman, and his successor Dwight Eisenhower. He was rebuffed, or willfully ignored. The opportunity that might have changed contemporary history, prevented wars in Asia and saved countless lives was lost because the truth of these overtures was denied in 1950s Washington “when the catatonic Cold War trance,” wrote the critic James Naremore, “held our country in its rigid grip”.

The fake mainstream news that once again presents China as a threat is of the same mentality.

The world is inexorably shifting east; but the astonishing vision of Eurasia from China is barely understood in the West. The “New Silk Road” is a ribbon of trade, ports, pipelines and high-speed trains all the way to Europe.  The world’s leader in rail technology, China is negotiating with 28 countries for routes on which trains will reach up to 400 kms an hour. This opening to the world has the approval of much of humanity and, along the way, is uniting China and Russia.

“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being,” said Barack Obama, evoking the fetishism of the 1930s. This modern cult of superiority is Americanism, the world’s dominant predator. Under the liberal Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, nuclear warhead spending has risen higher than under any president since the end of the Cold War. A mini nuclear weapon is planned. Known as the B61 Model 12, it will mean, says General James Cartwright, former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that “going smaller [makes its use] more thinkable”.

In September, the Atlantic Council, a mainstream US geopolitical thinktank, published a report that predicted a Hobbesian world “marked by the breakdown of order, violent extremism [and] an era of perpetual war”. The new enemies were a “resurgent” Russia and an “increasingly aggressive” China.  Only heroic America can save us.

There is a demented quality about this war mongering. It is as if the “American Century” — proclaimed in 1941 by the American imperialist Henry Luce, owner of Time magazine — has ended without notice and no one has had the courage to tell the emperor to take his guns and go home.

Hope in a Dark Era

Well, Democratic Socialists of America don’t seem to be interested in rhetorical appeals to the Trumplorables.  But I think they should think about that, because I believe the Bernie and Trump phenomena are incorrectly perceived as separate political movements — I think they are actually part of the same movement, and what separates them is an intellectual artifact of the power elites — who are scared shitless that the Berniebots and the Trumporables will one day soon join forces.

 

Hope in a Dark Era: In the Face of Barbarism, Thousands Turn to Democratic Socialism

In his book The American Left and Some British Comparisons, published in 1971, the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith sought to analyze the persistent shortcomings of the Democratic Party. The stakes, he believed, were quite high, as the collapse of the New Deal order seemed imminent.

Almost fifty years later, Galbraith’s study makes for striking reading. Take, for example, the following observation.

“Everything considered,” Galbraith wrote, “if the test of the success of a party is the quality and number of its office holders, the Democrats are not doing well.”

One can find similarly apt passages throughout, like Galbraith’s lament that Democratic Party had carelessly abandoned its commitment to progressive change and had “become a defender of the status quo.” But the most prescient pages of the book are those in which Galbraith — who was hardly a radical — offered his recommendations for the Democratic Party of the future.

Condemning the extent to which the prevailing economic order privileged corporate profits over all else, Galbraith urged Democrats to chart a new path. No longer, he argued, could those negatively affected by soaring income inequality and stagnant wages “be told that the system works.”

Instead, “The Democratic Party must henceforth use the word socialism. It describes what is needed.”

But Democrats ultimately chose to sprint in precisely the opposite direction: Far from embracing socialism, they doubled down on capitalism.

In the years following the publication of Galbraith’s short volume, a wave of advocates of a “Third Way” rose to prominence, promising private sector growth and an end to “the era of big government.” Bill Clinton emerged as the movement’s torchbearer, calling forth a “New Covenant” that would revitalize the economy and move the Democratic Party beyond the traditional strictures of “tax-and-spend liberalism.”

Though he never put it in such frank terms, Clinton’s goal was to shove the Democratic Party to the right, to pick up the burgeoning professional class and the business interests that had long bankrolled the Republican juggernaut.

The results of the so-called New Democrats’ hold on power were nicely summarized in a 1994 New York Times editorial, which observed that “Instead of fighting to dismantle Washington’s big money system, President Clinton has helped his party become its biggest beneficiary. Pledges to clean up the nation’s campaign financing procedures notwithstanding, Mr. Clinton has expended more time and energy courting well-to-do donors at fancy private receptions than prodding Congress to enact serious political reform.”

Though Galbraith was cautiously optimistic that the Democratic Party could, in time, become genuinely progressive — that it could reclaim power from “the great corporations” and affirm an ambitious economic and social agenda — he also understood the consequences of failure.

“If the Democratic Party does not render this function,” he wrote, “it has no purpose at all. The play will pass to those that do espouse solutions, or in frustration espouse violence as a substitute.”

_____

In 2016, the cumulative failures of the Democratic establishment finally came to a head.

Displaying both the arrogance that comes with a sense of inevitability and sheer incompetence, the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton failed to foreclose the possibility that a blustering reality television star — running on a platform of open bigotry and calls to violence — could ascend to the White House.

But it turns out that it can, after all, happen here.

The Clinton campaign’s uninspired, status quo-affirming economic agenda — made even less credible by her frequent and shameless galas, replete with shady influence peddlers and superstars — enabled Donald Trump, a billionaire wage thief, to position himself as an economic populist. Trump railed against the bosses in ways that Clinton would not; he rallied union workers and former Obama voters by promising to be their “voice,” by vowing to stand up to those who promised change but, in the end, delivered more of the same.

As reality settles — and as President-elect Donald Trump stocks his cabinet with horrifying right-wingers — people are casting about for alternatives; many share the view of Slate’s Jim Newell who, writing after the election results were reported, argued, “The Democratic Party establishment has beclowned itself and is finished.”

Perhaps the most viable alternative, then, is to take Galbraith’s advice, to turn toward socialism. “It describes what is needed.”

Inspired by the compelling argument that Bernie Sanders — with his robust economic and social agenda bent on reversing the trend toward greater inequality — would have handily defeated Donald Trump had he emerged victorious from the Democratic primary, and driven by a sense of urgency sparked by the prospect of at least four years of a Trump presidency, thousands have joined the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in the wake of the election.

“I was planning to sign up for DSA on Election Day no matter what; I joined before the results started coming in,” Margaret McLaughlin, a local government employee based in Washington, D.C., told me. “The results helped push a few friends and family members to join as well. It had a catalytic effect.”

Catalytic, indeed: One prominent organizer noted that “the amount of people we’ve registered today alone” — Election Day — “has shattered our monthly new member record.” In total, DSA has registered nearly 3,000 new members since the election, pushing the organization over 10,000 members.

DSA, founded in 1982, is the largest and fastest-growing socialist organization in the United States. Its goal is “to build a radical and effective openly democratic socialist presence at the grassroots,” Maria Svart, DSA’s National Director, said at the Socialist Caucus, which took place during the Democratic National Convention.

As I wrote in September, DSA has benefited greatly from Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign; the appeal of democratic socialism has been particularly notable among young people seeking alternatives to a political establishment that has been captured by organized wealth — and thus has become, in many cases, actively hostile to the interests of the working class.

“The world is rapidly changing and I see the Democratic establishment as a rusty machine that is trying desperately to stay the same while only paying lip service to new voices with the rhetoric of ‘inclusion’ and ‘equality,'” McLaughlin told me. “If it doesn’t change to represent the real economic wants and needs of — not just young people, but people struggling all across the U.S. — then it will continue to lose relevance in the coming years and eventually die out. DSA’s platform is actually addressing those concerns.”

Like other left-wing organizations, DSA is often faced with what the historians Howard Brick and Christopher Phelps call the dilemma of “margin and mainstream” — the choice, sometimes overlapping, between working outside of traditional power structures and attempting to change them from the inside.

Such strategic questions are, however, secondary to solidarity, particularly in the era of “global Trumpism.”

“Let’s be honest,” remarked Bhaskar Sunkara, the founder of Jacobin, “no one has a clear strategy going forward but let’s get in the same tent and figure it out together.”

DSA’s tent is quite broad: Ideologically, the organization is not rigidly doctrinaire. Rather, it emphasizes core principles.

“At the root of our socialism is a profound commitment to democracy, as means and end,” DSA’s website declares. “As we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people.”

As such, DSA has expressed solidarity with the tireless water protectors at Standing Rock and the workers protesting for better wages nationwide; it has denounced austerity, both at home and abroad; and it has called on “progressives across the United States to join together in a broad coalition against the rising tide of racist and nativist politics in the United States.”

In the recent squabbles over the roles of identity politics and economic populism, democratic socialists argue that it is possible to do both: To put forward an agenda that doesn’t compromise on social justice or economic justice.

“We are socialists because we reject an international economic order sustained by private profit, alienated labor, race and gender discrimination, environmental destruction, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo,” the organization’s official statement of values and goals reads. “We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane international social order based both on democratic planning and market mechanisms to achieve equitable distribution of resources, meaningful work, a healthy environment, sustainable growth, gender and racial equality, and non-oppressive relationships.”

As polling data and the successes of the Sanders campaign have indicated, many others share these values; they simply need a vehicle through which they can effectively express them.

“DSA is growing because more and more activists on the Left are finding a political home. It is growing because it is an organization that says liberalism is tired and worn out, and more and more people are coming to that conclusion,” Kim Jones, the co-chair of DSA’s Twin Cities chapter, told me. “DSA is different from liberalism in that liberalism never challenged corporate power and the one percent, which is the only path to strengthening American democracy, fairness, and justice. Democratic liberalism never acknowledged that capitalism is the problem.”

And as Jacobin’s Connor Kilpatrick has noted, Democrats’ “rhetorical embrace of social liberalism alongside a staunch rejection of populist class politics” has rendered them unable to provoke sufficient enthusiasm at the grassroots. They have, instead, opted to vie for the professionals, for the technocrats, for the so-called “moderate Republicans” — most of whom reject the agenda that is necessary to combat soaring income inequality, systemic racism, and climate change.

This failed strategy, and this failed ideology, paved the way for Trump.

There is little hope that anything good will come of this — that, somehow, the horrors of Trumpism will hasten the coming revolution or heighten capitalism’s contradictions, or anything of the sort.

Rather, the prevailing view is that Trump will bring about much worth fighting against; his presidency, in combination with Republican control of Congress, places at immediate risk the most vulnerable members of our society, and is an extraordinary threat to organized labor and the environment. As Sam Kriss has noted, “We need a radical left so there can be any kind of fight at all.” But an effective opposition must emphasize, also, that there is much worth fighting for — a positive agenda to be pursued.

There is, says Simone Morgen, a member of DSA’s National Political Committee, a “felt need to counter the divisiveness and racism that the Trump campaign stirred up as well as a need to work for a more fair and inclusive economic system than the neoliberal structure promised. DSA’s core values of support for a multi-racial, socially just and inclusive future are a natural fit for people trying to resist some of [Trump’s] exclusionary ideas.”

For new DSA members, Trump’s victory falls neatly within the framework of the famous dictum: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.”

“If you read a lot of the responses from people about why they are coming to DSA, you see a real anxiety about many governments, now including our own, turning toward populist authoritarianism due to the economic policies of neoliberalism that put capital ahead of labor and the working class,” says Stefan, a new member who told me he is looking to set up a chapter in Pittsburgh.

“I think lots of people know that financial capitalism can’t deliver what it promises, especially when it comes to jobs, and they’re especially fed up with neoliberalism and being told that the the private sector will solve our problems and if it doesn’t, it’s our fault as individuals,” says Leo Gertner, who recently joined DSA’s D.C. chapter. “For a long time we’ve been told there’s no alternative, that this is the best we can do, but clearly there are alternatives — one of these is fascism and another is democratic socialism.”

_____

At present, it is difficult to justify even the most cautious optimism. But if one looks hard enough, and in the right places, one will find that people are turning not to despair, but to mass politics.

People are joining the fight against the corporate plunderers on the plains of North Dakota; people are marching in the streets, risking arrest, to voice their opposition to right-wing demagoguery; people are organizing and striking for better wages; and people are joining organizations that offer left alternatives to the stale corporate centrism of the Democratic Party.

“Lots of us have begun to realize that we need to build the foundations for a larger movement ten, twenty years from now and stop waiting around for a miracle,” says Leo Gertner. “DSA is doing the hard work to accomplish that.”

It is clear that to effectively combat society’s most pressing ills — climate change and endless war, soaring inequality and crippling poverty, fascism and bigotry — we need a radical imagination, and radical action. In the face of barbarism, we need socialism; in the face of authoritarians, we need grassroots movements; in the face of corporate power, we need unions; and in the face of inequality and division, we need solidarity.

“The very fact that people are coming to DSA as a reaction to the election of Donald Trump shows that they know that DSA is the place to be in forming the resistance,” Kim Jones told me. “It gives me hope, as we enter a dark era. And hope gives life.”

Please sign petition to Washington Post

https://act.rootsaction.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/index.sjs?action_KEY=12566

Tell the Washington Post: “Smearing is not reporting.”

Please sign this petition:

To: Martin Baron, Executive Editor, The Washington Post

Smearing is not reporting. The Washington Post’s recent descent into McCarthyism — promoting anonymous and shoddy claims that a vast range of some 200 websites are all accomplices or tools of the Russian government — violates basic journalistic standards and does real harm to democratic discourse in our country. We urge The Washington Post to prominently retract the article and apologize for publishing it.

Trump Warms Up Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan for a Condo Sale

I have to admit, even though I like looking at Trump here through the lense of his character as a grifter, the New York Times has solidly shown its hand as a mouthpiece of the elites, who are very not interested in dissolving the appearance of threats between traditional enemies like India and Pakistan.  After all, if India and Pakistan would stop thinking of themselves as enemies, then it may become finally impossible to shakedown either one of them for a bevy of useless F-35s.  And if that happened, then who knows what’s next — maybe Japan and China will decide friendship is better for trade and profit.  There are already calls in Japan for political redirection away from strict alignment with the U.S.

Trump’s Breezy Calls to World Leaders Leave Diplomats Aghast

By MARK LANDLER12/1/2016

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, center, invited President-elect Donald J. Trump to visit his country in a recent call. Aamir Qureshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump inherited a complicated world when he won the election last month. And that was before a series of freewheeling phone calls with foreign leaders that has unnerved diplomats at home and abroad.

In the calls, he voiced admiration for one of the world’s most durable despots, the president of Kazakhstan, and said he hoped to visit a country, Pakistan, that President Obama has steered clear of during nearly eight years in office.

Mr. Trump told the British prime minister, Theresa May, “If you travel to the U.S., you should let me know,” an offhand invitation that came only after he spoke to nine other leaders. He later compounded it by saying on Twitter that Britain should name the anti-immigrant leader Nigel Farage its ambassador to Washington, a startling break with diplomatic protocol.

Mr. Trump’s unfiltered exchanges have drawn international attention since the election, most notably when he met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan with only one other American in the room, his daughter Ivanka Trump — dispensing with the usual practice of using State Department-approved talking points.

On Thursday, the White House weighed in with an offer of professional help. The press secretary, Josh Earnest, urged the president-elect to make use of the State Department’s policy makers and diplomats in planning and conducting his encounters with foreign leaders.

“President Obama benefited enormously from the advice and expertise that’s been shared by those who serve at the State Department,” Mr. Earnest said. “I’m confident that as President-elect Trump takes office, those same State Department employees will stand ready to offer him advice as he conducts the business of the United States overseas.”

“Hopefully he’ll take it,” he added.

A spokesman for the State Department, John Kirby, said the department was “helping facilitate and support calls as requested.” But he declined to give details, and it was not clear to what extent Mr. Trump was availing himself of the nation’s diplomats.

President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan in Tokyo in November. The Kazakh government said Mr. Trump had lavished praise on Mr. Nazarbayev in a recent phone call. Franck Robichon/European Pressphoto Agency

Mr. Trump’s conversation with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan has generated the most angst, because, as Mr. Earnest put it, the relationship between Mr. Sharif’s country and the United States is “quite complicated,” with disputes over issues ranging from counterterrorism to nuclear proliferation.

In a remarkably candid readout of the phone call, the Pakistani government said Mr. Trump had told Mr. Sharif that he was “a terrific guy” who made him feel as though “I’m talking to a person I have known for long.” He described Pakistanis as “one of the most intelligent people.” When Mr. Sharif invited him to visit Pakistan, the president-elect replied that he would “love to come to a fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people.”

The Trump transition office, in its more circumspect readout, said only that Mr. Trump and Mr. Sharif “had a productive conversation about how the United States and Pakistan will have a strong working relationship in the future.” It did not confirm or deny the Pakistani account of Mr. Trump’s remarks.

The breezy tone of the readout left diplomats in Washington slack-jawed, with some initially assuming it was a parody. In particular, they zeroed in on Mr. Trump’s offer to Mr. Sharif “to play any role you want me to play to address and find solutions to the country’s problems.”

That was interpreted by some in India as an offer by the United States to mediate Pakistan’s border dispute with India in Kashmir, something that the Pakistanis have long sought and that India has long resisted.

“By taking such a cavalier attitude to these calls, he’s encouraging people not to take him seriously,” said Daniel F. Feldman, a former special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “He’s made himself not only a bull in a china shop, but a bull in a nuclear china shop.”

Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, said his government’s decision to release a rough transcript of Mr. Trump’s remarks was a breach of protocol that demonstrated how easily Pakistani leaders misread signals from their American counterparts.

“Pakistan is one country where knowing history and details matters most,” Mr. Haqqani said, “and where the U.S. cannot afford to give wrong signals, given the history of misunderstandings.”

At one level, Mr. Trump’s warm sentiments were surprising, given that during the campaign, he called for temporarily barring Muslims from entering the United States to avoid importing would-be terrorists.

His conversation with Mr. Sharif also came a day after an attack at Ohio State University in which a Somali-born student, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, rammed a car into a group of pedestrians and slashed several people with a knife before being shot and killed by the police. Law enforcement officials said Mr. Artan, whom the Islamic State has claimed as a “soldier,” had lived in Pakistan for seven years before coming to the United States in 2014.

Mr. Obama never visited Pakistan as president, even though he had a circle of Pakistani friends in college and spoke fondly of the country. The White House weighed a visit at various times but always decided against it, according to officials, because of security concerns or because it would be perceived as rewarding Pakistani leaders for what many American officials said was their lack of help in fighting terrorism.

“It sends a powerful message to the people of a country when the president of the United States goes to visit,” Mr. Earnest said. “That’s true whether it’s some of our closest allies, or that’s also true if it’s a country like Pakistan, with whom our relationship is somewhat more complicated.”

Mr. Trump’s call with President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan raised similar questions.

Mr. Nazarbayev has ruled his country with an iron hand since 1989, first as head of the Communist Party and later as president after Kazakhstan won its independence from the Soviet Union. In April 2015, he won a fifth term, winning 97.7 percent of the vote and raising suspicions of fraud.

The Kazakh government, in its account of Mr. Trump’s conversation, said he had lavished praise on the president for his leadership of the country over the last 25 years. “D. Trump stressed that under the leadership of Nursultan Nazarbayev, our country over the years of independence had achieved fantastic success that can be called a ‘miracle,’” it said.

The statement went on to say that Mr. Trump had shown solidarity with the Kazakh government over its decision to voluntarily surrender the nuclear arsenal it inherited from the Soviets. “There is no more important issue than the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, which must be addressed in a global context,” it quoted Mr. Trump as saying.

Mr. Trump’s statement said that Mr. Nazarbayev had congratulated him on his victory, and that Mr. Trump had reciprocated by congratulating him on the 25th anniversary of his country. Beyond that, it said only that the two leaders had “addressed the importance of strengthening regional partnerships.”

Judee Sill: Soldier of the Heart

This interview from 1972.  I think you will resonate with this as I did.

Judee Sill: Soldier of the Heart

Phoenix – All the rooms at the Holiday Inn are provided, but of course, with Gideon Bibles, and as a nice homey touch, the hotel maids leave them paged open somewhere towards the middle on end tables beside reading lamps. The Good Book in Judee Sill’s second-floor suite happens, by oblique chance, to be open to Psalms, the passage that reads:
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; fret not thyself in any wise to do evil. For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.

Judee, in disguise with lemon-tinted glasses, sits beside the table with the Bible on it, feet propped up on the unmade bed beside a suitcase exploding with rumpled clothes, her back to the view of hot Sunday sky and distant, bruised-purple mountains visible from the sundeck. Judee has…special gifts. She writes and performs songs as severely beautiful as the small gold cross she wears at her throat, as severely beautiful as her own severe beauty. Given the proper time and place, she will swallow a burning roach, or several. Right now, though, she is exorcising ghosts. It is eerie in the room’s muted, saffron light.

“I remember tryin’ to numb myself when I was a real little kid,” she says to a visitor, drumming a nervous tattoo on the open page of the Bible. “My father owned a bar in Oakland, and I used to hang out there when I was, oh, about three – that’s where I started playin’ piano and found out I could harmonize with myself. But even back then I knew somethin’ was wrong, that I was missin’ out on havin’ a normal life. It was so seedy in the bar, you know – people were always fightin’ and pukin’, there was illegal gamblin’, and my parents drank a lot, too. They always managed to take care of business, though. In those days.

“Well, that went on for five straight years, and I knew that wasn’t the regular way of things. By the time I was seven, I was pretty numbed-out. Then, in 1952, my father died of pneumonia, and my mother and brother and me moved to L.A. Not long after that, mother married this other guy – he was an alcoholic – mean, dumb, narrow-minded, he used to beat dogs and stuff like that. I never understood what she saw in him, but she married him, anyway, and they weren’t happy together, and she started drinkin’ a lot more herself. Me, I just kept tryin’ to go on – I was playin’ the ukulele by that time, and gettin’ into some other stringed instruments, and writin’ some songs and takin’ piano lessons and so forth. I didn’t know what I was gonna do, but I thought maybe I wanted to be a star. Only I didn’t know what I wanted to be a star at.”

Judee smiles ruefully at the recollection and brushes a swatch of butterscotch-colored hair away from her face. “Well, things kept gettin’ worse, though, and I was very unhappy. My stepfather was dumb and cruel, and my mother began to get more unreasonable herself. Then my brother, who was the only reasonable person in the whole family, got married and moved away, and I was left all alone. I was a teenager by then, and pretty big and strong, so I started fightin’ back. If my mother hit me, I’d sock her back. It was a pretty even match with her, but not with my stepfather. When I finally let myself feel the injustices of my life, I’d become uncontrollable. So there was violence all the time. I always had scars on my knuckles. We had such violent fights at our house that the police and newspapermen would come.

“Then I was so miserable I flipped out in public school and had to go to a private one. All the rejects from public schools went there, if they could afford to. Two innocent little old ladies owned the place, and, ah, they didn’t know what was goin’ on. We used to have stag movies at recess, get high at lunchtime – there was always good grass around. One of the senior guys ran guns to Cuba, stuff like that. I had a good time there. I was student-body president. Of the ree-jects.”

***

Clasping her gold cross, Judee rocks back and forth, convulsed with hoarse laughter. “Anyway” – she’s still laughing – “there were a lot of people at that school who kind of expressed themselves through crime, you know? The alternatives were to be a beatnik, or if you were more of a violent nature, to be a low-rider – a criminal. I liked both of those. I was attracted – my intellect was attracted to, uh, deep pursuits, like the beatniks. But another part of me was attracted to danger. I always found myself being the opposite of what every situation called for. If I was around low-riders, I’d come on intellectual. If I was around intellectuals, I’d be a low-rider.

“After I graduated, I got married to a low-rider from Sherman Oaks. Just for somethin’ to do, you know? We ran off together in a ’47 Chevvy. We really just wanted to take a vacation, but everyone found out, so we had to kind of justify it so we got married on the way home. Our parents got together and bought us an annulment. That boy was a Scorpio, very daring. He later got killed goin’ down the Kern River rapids in a rubber raft on LSD. My second husband – well, that’s another story. He’s still goin’ down the rapids. We’re in the process of gettin’ divorced right now. I got the first papers at my house in Mill Valley just the other day.

“So…oh, yeah – I was so unhappy around that time that I couldn’t allow myself to realize how unhappy I was or I would’ve disintegrated right on the spot. I didn’t even know if there was any hope of rectifyin’ it, even. I took some music courses at Valley College, but I felt a gray cloud hoverin’ over me. “Then one day I called up this friend – the guy who ran guns to Cuba? He was extremely psychopathic, had no conscience at all. His eyes were always at half-mast, and he didn’t care about anything. I admired that in him – I thought it was an attractive quality, because he didn’t seem to feel anything, he was impervious to it all. I said, ‘Spencer, I’d like to be involved in a crime of some kind, so why don’t you fix somethin’ up and call me back.’ I was thinkin’ along the lines of stealin’ tires or somethin’, but Spencer introduced me to an armed robber. The idea kind of attracted me…I don’t know. I can’t explain the hopelessness and helplessness I felt in the air, but, uh, it seemed like the thing to do, the right thing.

“So this guy and me, we began to do armed robberies. We did six or seven, liquor stores and filling stations. Sometimes it was quite exciting. We’d go to a motel afterwards and spill the loot out over the bed. This guy fixed downers all the time. I was a little intrigued by the needle, but I didn’t know what it was gonna lead to later.”

Judee falls silent for a minute, staring gravely at the palms of her hands resting in her lap.

“I carried a .38. I would rehearse the holdups with it in front of a mirror, try different ways to see which seemed the most treacherous. You heard about that nervous armed robber who said, ‘OK, mothersticker, this is a fuckup’? Well, that was me. I still don’t know whether I’d’ve used the gun or not. Maybe.

“Well, we eventually got caught. I had moved into this shack with an AWOL sailor and a friend and a dog. In that seedy area over near the industrial section on Sherman Way and Laurel Canyon. One night I came home and the police were waitin’. They arrested us all. They even busted my dog. “I was very numb. I didn’t care one way or the other. That’s why I was doing those robberies, I guess – because my heart was reachin’ out, tryin to get me to care about somethin’.

“I was sent to the state reform school in Ventura, the same one Cheryl Crane went to – remember Lana Turner’s daughter who killed Johnny Stompanato? I was up there nine months. A lady therapist was very nice to me, although the other inmates, who were mostly younger than me, made my life hellish. They resented me because I’d already been to college and didn’t have to go to school like they did, stuff like that. But that lady therapist would just look into my eyes, and she was very, very kind. So I told her the truth, you know. I told her I wanted to get out, and she explained what I would have to do to get out. I would have to develop a conscience. So I tried. I don’t know to this day whether I was really doin’ it, or just fakin’ it to get out. I did my best, though, and I got my time cut short. But I got some good out of bein’ in there. I was the assistant to the art teacher and the music teacher, and I was also the church organist. I learned a lot of gospel lyrics, and that was really good for me. I learned a lot of good music while I was in The Joint.”

***

Judee rises to her feet. She is a bigboned woman, wearing a maroon turtleneck and faded dungaree flares. “I got to pee,” she announces, moving off briskly toward the John. When she returns and resumes talking, there’s an edge of metal in her voice that wasn’t there before.

“After Ventura, I went back to Valley College, and I got a job, workin’ in a piano bar. I lied about my age, said I was 21, but I was only 19. Took a lot of uppers because I had to work really long hours. Then my mother died, mostly from drinkin’ too much whiskey, that hard-drinkin’ life style she was into. So I didn’t know where to live ’cause I had no good reason to stay with my stepfather. Fact, I would try to go home sometimes and he would ambush me – lock all the doors and leave one window open, and when I came through the window, he would ambush me.

“So I moved in with a girl friend out in the Valley. That was in ’64, when LSD first came out. I tell you, when I first took acid, I didn’t know what was happenin’. I mean, I didn’t know what you were supposed to do or feel or anything. I never had such extreme changes before, you know? Laughin’ and cryin’ at the same time, all that. Then I met an acid dealer. I went by his place to cop and ended up movin’ in with him that same day. We took some LSD together and listened to Gil Evans play ‘Out of the Cool.’ It was a great romance, for a while.

“That guy was a bass player, and he wasn’t any too good at it. I felt he could’ve picked prettier notes, so I realized I could be a bass player at that point. I already had some really pretty bass lines in my head, so it was just a matter of gettin’ my fingers to work, which I did pretty quick. Joined Local 47, played pickup gigs in cocktail lounges and various places.

“For a year and a half in there, I was takin’ acid every day, or at least every other day – hundreds of trips. Nature had become sort of my religion, and I felt I’d broken through a lot of the old numbers. But just like with everything else, I was overdoin’ it. I began to flip out, and I had a lot of trouble gettin’ back. I was confused all the time. I tried to regain the old state of the first few times I took acid, when I felt like an innocent human being, citizen of Earth, but it was no good. I felt kind of cast out in a sea alone.

“Around then, I ran into this guy I’d known in college, Bob Harris. When I heard him play the piano, he was so good I felt like I should marry him, so I did. Like me, he was an addictive personality, I guess, and he was attracted to heroin. We met some people who shot it, and I was immediately attracted. I knew I was gonna become a junkie, and I did. Before long, we were both up to a couple of bags a day. We got busted for marijuana and got out of that, but things were definitely goin’ downhill for us.

“To raise the money for junk, we both pulled various scams, connivin’ and schemin’ and lyin’ and trickin’ people out of their money. Pretty soon, I realized that I could come up with more money by myself, so I went out on my own and started hookin’, among other things. As a hooker, I wasn’t ever – well, ah, my heart wasn’t in it because I didn’t care that much about gettin’ hot at that time. Oh, you know, I feigned excitement and thought up clever schemes to make it go real quick, but all I really cared about was gettin’ that needle in my vein, squeezin’ off.”

Judee shifts agitatedly in her chair, entwines her fingers in a Jacob’s ladder, peers into its interstices for a minute.

“Well, that went on for three years. At one point, I lived with a smack dealer, and I was shootin’ up 15 to 20 bags a day. We lived down on Central Avenue in downtown L.A., and that was really gettin’ down in the pits, see. I started gettin’ really desperate, got busted a couple of times, went to jail a few times. I don’t remember a whole lot of it along in there, but most of the time I know I had no home, I was just hangin’ around the Wilcox Hotel in the grungy central Hollywood flatlands. Most of the time I was so sick I couldn’t get enough dope, no matter what I did.

“But I kept tryin’, oh, yeah. One time, me and my husband traded a car down in Tijuana for an ounce of heroin. It had some impurity in it that gave me a rash all over my body, made my legs swell up like balloons. But we had to keep shootin’ it because it was part heroin, And I smuggled it across the border in my cunt, and it was rainin’, and I was crying, and I could barely walk because I was crippled by the impurity.

“I started forgin’ around that time. That happened because a well-to-do junkie I knew would leave his checks lyin’ around, so I started hangin’ ’em out. And then a very weird thing happened. One night I was fixin’ up at a friend’s house – well, no, not a friend, you’ve got no friends when you’re a junkie – but, I mean, I was stayin’ at this guy’s house who let me stay there. And I wasn’t shootin’ all that much that night, but I ODed. I didn’t remember anything. The next thing I knew, the people there had fixed milk in my veins, and they were slappin’ me around until I came to. I think I was actually dead for a few minutes. And I didn’t recognize anything. I didn’t even know the name of floor, ceiling, wall. All I could say was, ‘What happened, what happened?’ And all the people around me that I knew but couldn’t recognize slowly started comin’ back to me. It was like when your leg falls asleep – that’s how it felt in my brain.”

***

Judee crosses her legs, then changes her mind and uncrosses them, again drumming her fingertips on the open Bible. “Right after that, I got so sick I couldn’t even put on makeup to go out and turn a trick. Then I got busted for forgery and a lot of narcotics-related offenses, and I was just beyond desperation in jail – called everybody I knew, but no one would help bail me out because they all knew better. Tried to call my brother, even – I hadn’t seen him in at least three years because I hadn’t wanted him to see me as a junkie, you know? In a roundabout way, I found out that he’d died, suddenly, of a liver infection. I remembered back, and realized that he’d died, the same day I had ODed. And I kept thinking about that. He was my only close living relative.

“I can’t tell you how terrified I was at the prospect of bein’ without heroin. Not only to not be fixin’, but just to be alive with the air touchin’ my skin. It was the most fear I’d ever felt. It was worse, I imagine, than hell could be. I spent three nights in the county jail, pukin’ my guts out. Pretty soon, I was over the physical part of kickin’, but I still had the all-consuming misery of bein’ alive without havin’ a drug.

“Somehow, I got off on probation. Some people I knew – they were sort of middle-aged hippies who’d helped support me when I was an acid-head – they got me this lawyer, David, who was very handsome and suave and quite a romantic figure in the courtroom, and I really liked him a lot, except he was married and his wife was pregnant. I had a romantic fantasy about him that later we would get together. A fortune teller in jail told me we would someday. She also told me the exact day I would get out, and she was right.

“The judge put me on Naline probation for two years – that’s surprise anti-opiate testing to make sure you’re stayin’ off dope. I got to be the star of the program – can you believe it? I was the only one in it who wasn’t noddin’ out.”

Judee bursts out laughing and pantomimes a boxer holding up his gloves in victory, and it is suddenly much easier to be in the room.

“In jail, I’d had a recurrent fantasy about becomin’ a songwriter, you know, so when I got out, I started doin’ that. I started writin’ songs, and they just kept gettin’ better and better. I was amazed. All kinds of improbable things began to happen to me. I was hustlin’ and scufflin’ to get by – I worked sometimes as a bass player, lived on and off with various friends. At one point, I lived in a ’55 Cadillac with four other people. We slept in shifts, but it was in the summertime, so it wasn’t all that bad. Ha! I had one set of clothes and a toothbrush, and that was it, but I felt good, you know? Not to be a fucked-up junkie anymore. Also, I got into readin’ real deep books, books about religion and the occult. And I could see that I was gonna have to write songs that were about those things, you know? At first, I didn’t have the psychic defenses to put it all in the right places, but I felt that if I kept goin’ in that direction as hard as I could, it might all work out. And I came to some important inner realizations, tryin’ to make the laws of nature work for me instead of against me. I felt instinctively that it was my duty to throw myself into it all the way, so I did.

“And everything started changin’ for the better. Through a friend’s connections, I got some free time at Pat Boone’s recording studio, of all places. I wrote a song called ‘The Magician,’ and all my songs started gettin’ much better after that. I was a little awkward at first – I didn’t exactly know how to be subtle about what I was doin’, but I knew what it was I had to do. I knew in my bones that somethin’ important was in the works, and that I was just gettin’ goin’.

“So I just kind of went along as fast as I could and had a few romances here and there, and one of the romances was with another bass player – I have this attraction for bass players because I’ve always liked a good bass line, you know.”

Judee titters girlishly and draws her legs up under her in the chair.

“He was a Scorpio, and we lived together for a while, and one day I painted this bird on his wall, a huge bird. It was real ornate and had a lot of frills and things. I told him it was a magic wishin’ bird and that if he’d rub the beak and make a wish, the wish would come true. I just made it up, you know. But I knew there was somethin’ to it. Later, when there was nobody around, I rubbed the beak and wished that I could be the greatest livin’ songwriter in the world. I know it’s a big world, but that’s what I wanted. I knew that was the thing that would thrill me ultimately, and that I would achieve my greatest things if I was goin’ in that direction. That day made a lot of difference. I kind of sensed right then that romance wasn’t gonna be the answer for me, maybe, that I had other things in store.

“Then, right around then, someone gave me some peyote. It was…um, well, I can’t even say anything about it, but it took me off into unknown areas, and I didn’t know what they meant. But the songs that came out of me after that were, without me realizin’ it, much better than I thought they would be. I mean, they were beyond my efforts. ‘Lopin’ Along Through the Cosmos,’ ‘Crayon Angels,’ ‘Lady-O’ – I was writin’ some good songs along in there.

“So Jim Ponds called me up one day. He was with the Turtles at that time, and he had helped me out some when I was in jail. He said, ‘How’d you like to make $65 a week writin’ songs for Blimp Productions, and we’ll record ‘Lady-O’? Plus a $500 advance and a guitar.’ I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ “

Judee bounces up and down and claps her hands in child-like delight. Her face is radiant now, her eyes merry and luminous.

“Oh, I was so happy. Right away I got a little place of my own in the Valley, and bought an Austin-Healy – and, remember David, that lawyer who got me off on probation? He started comin’ around, and we developed a great romance for a year or so. It was sweet while it lasted, almost like a normal romance. But you know how those things go – you get somethin’ and you end up wantin’ just the opposite of it. So things kind of slowly disintegrated with us, but in the meantime, the Turtles’ song was on the radio – it got a lot of airplay, though it didn’t go too high on the charts, maybe No. 19 or 20 – and that meant somethin’ to me, it gave me a new kind of strength, you know? I felt that somethin’ good would happen soon.

“Well, I was thinkin’ about that one day. I had just smoked a joint, and I was in rubbery sway, and I was thinkin’ it shouldn’t be long now. At that instant, the phone rang, and it was David Geffen, the big shot agent who was just then on the verge of startin’ Asylum Records. I was flabbergasted, but when he asked me I hightailed it down to his office and sang him some songs. Afterwards, he said, ‘Don’t worry about a thing.’ Then he asked me, ‘What do you wanna do?’ I said, ‘Be a star.’ ‘How big of a star do you wanna be?’ ‘How big is the limit?’ I asked him. So he told me again not to worry, that everything would be taken care of from that point on.”

Judee rubs her lower lip pensively, and chooses her next words with care.

“David is…uh…the best person in the business for an artist to be involved with. I’ve seen him be real ruthless for the sake of the artists who work for him. When I first met him, I thought he was some kind of knight in shinin’ armor, you know, but I didn’t understand the other things, the things that made him such a ruthless businessman. Sometimes, I find it hard to get along with him personally, but I always trust him as far as business stuff goes, and I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else. He’s not always easy to deal with, especially for someone as crazy as I am.”

***

Judee puts on a fetching grimace and peals with laughter.

“Well, anyway, I signed with David, and I tried not to worry, like he said. I quit smokin’ cigarettes right away ’cause I knew it would make my singin’ better, and I started gettin’ serious about puttin’ an album together. I felt it was my duty to throw myself into it wholeheartedly, even though I might have to be an asshole at times. Even though I’d risk bein’ an asshole, I’d have to do that to learn the things I wanted and needed to learn. I’d have to be a fool for some time.

“See, the music business is really sick, and I found that out right quick. It combines such extremes, you know. It’s probably no more sick than any other kind of business, I guess, but it’s a little more obvious because all the artists seem to want to do one thing, and all the people who’re helpin’ them get to where they want to go seem to have another thing, an opposite thing, in mind. I’d like to think there’s a common place where the extremes can meet. It’s the same with writin’ songs – I think there’s gotta be a meetin’ place between what’s commercial and what’s healthy and helpful and soothin’ to people.

“Recordin’ the album didn’t take long, actually, and I started goin’ out on the road. It was kind of hard, because nobody outside of a few people in L.A. had ever heard of me, but it was fun, too, at first. They didn’t put me on with any real bad rock groups, or anything, right away. They saved that for later. Do you realize that last week I opened the bill for Three Dog Night?”

Judee groans and rolls her eyes in hyper-histrionic misery. “But at first I worked with Jim Webb, Van Morrison, Crosby and Nash, people like that, and it was pretty nice overall. Still, the album didn’t come out and didn’t come out – for ten months that went on – and it was gettin’ me down and depressed. Also, I wasn’t makin’ any money to speak of – 25 percent automatically went for commissions off the top of whatever I got, plus all my hotel bills and airfare and what all. It hasn’t changed any – sometimes I still spend more money on a tour than I make. I sure ain’t gettin’ rich, that’s for certain.

“Then…I’m not sure how what happened next came about, because I wasn’t even thinkin’ about havin’ a romance. Fact is, I was celibate; I was findin’ that by not eatin’ very much and keepin’ my mind in one area and stayin’ celibate, I was gettin’ a lot more done. Then this guy came along who was real nice, and he was a songwriter, too – you’d probably recognize his name – and it seemed like he was intentionally tryin’ to work his way into the secret chambers of my heart. But he did it with such authority that I had to let him in. And, um, I don’t know why, but I was just divin’ into it. I know I shouldn’t have done it, but I did. Couldn’t help myself. So he went into the chambers of my heart and left it in disarray. I felt devastated. I had to go out on the road again right after that, and I still had no album out – I was really depressed.

“To console myself, I was readin’ a book by my favorite author, Nikos Kazantzakis, called The Last Temptation of Christ. In it, Jesus is portrayed as a cross-maker – he’s workin’ as a carpenter, and they need a lot of crosses because the Roman soldiers are killin’ off all the political prisoners. And that’s where I got the idea for my song, ‘Jesus Was a Cross-maker.’ I really liked that guy who’d entered into my heart, you know, but he wasn’t fair to me romantically. Oh, I tell you, I was so excited when I was writin’ that song because it was not only the best thing I’d ever written, and I knew it, but it took the weight off my heart and turned it into somethin’ else, and I was able to forgive the guy for the horrible romantic bummer he’d put me on. And I gained a new kind of strength from it, from that combination of forgiveness and creation. I’d always sort of suspected some real severe hardships lay ahead of me – the further up you go, the bigger the obstacles become – and that experience really verified that in my mind for good and all.”

Smoothing the hair back at her temples, Judee smiles a serene and very private smile.

“Then, at last, the album came out. It wasn’t perfection, but it was pretty good, and I guess it’s sold around 40,000 copies by now, which isn’t bad for a first album. I learned a lot from makin’ it. I learned what not to do on the next one, for one thing.

“Since the album’s been available, I’ve been feelin’ better. I’m tryin’ to devise somethin’ out of the solitude of bein’ constantly on the road – I’m tryin’to turn that into fuel. I’m on a narrow path right now, and I’ve kind of put blinders on myself. I’m tryin’ to be real ruthless in dealin’ with the foe, which is me. I try to keep my hungry monsters in line – keep ’em on a diet of bread and water so I can use ’em to pull my chariot. I want to be able to contain more. I want to be able to see more and not be crushed by it.”

Frowning in concentration, Judee leans forward, hugging her arms to her breasts.

“When I made up my mind to be a serious songwriter, my first intention was to write somethin’ for the good of humanity, because I knew I wouldn’t get any reward of any kind if I didn’t do somethin’ for other people. Yet, basically, I’m so selfish and greedy that I covet spiritual achievement, so I have to work hard at transcendin’ that greed. Still, at the same time, I’m conscious of my greed. I mean, I want to achieve somethin’ materially – I want to achieve somethin’ as far as gettin’ more attention, you know? So I want to do somethin’ for the good of humanity, but at the same time I also need to feed my hungry monsters.

“Basically, I know what I want to do. Seems like as life gets easier for me, it gets harder, too. I know the worst is yet to come as far as the limits I have to push through. Sometimes, I have to drill things into my own head, I have to brainwash myself. But I want to try and keep my warrior spirit, you know? It’s the same spirit that made me fight back when I was little. It’s the same thing, it’s no different – it’s just comin’ out in a different way now. Because I’m a soldier of the heart now.”

Judee is scheduled to open the bill for Gordon Lightfoot that evening at the TraveLodge Theater, a circular glass-and-brick amphitheater with a revolving stage and a seating capacity of 2200. Arriving by cab a half hour before showtime, lugging the cased Martin guitar that David Crosby and Graham Nash gave her when she was touring with them, Judee follows several sets of misdirections before she spots Richard, Gordon Lightfoot’s longhaired manager, in the throng milling around outside the hall.

Richard tells her the house is “clean” – sold out – but grimaces when she asks about the acoustical reference. “It’s a zoo,” he growls. In the dressing room area, Lightfoot and his two accompanists are seated around a coffee table, drinking Irish whiskey. Calling out her hellos to them, Judee unsheaths her guitar and starts tuning up. “We’re gonna be doin’ it in five minutes,” the stage manager tells her. She bobs her head absently.

Lightfoot’s guitarist grins and asks her if she’s nervous. “I get nervous when I take a pee,” she says glumly.

Lightfoot, bearded these days and wearing a see-through brocade shirt, looks weary, puffy-faced, and slightly tipsy. When he lights one cigarette from the butt of another, Judee, mildly reproving, wonders aloud how he can smoke and drink before a performance. Lightfoot shrugs and purses his mouth. “What else is there to do,” he asks rhetorically, “in a toilet?” Pouring himself a new drink, he fingers the material of his shirt and says that he plans to wear it to the Grammy Awards show.

“Be careful,” Judee cautions, “those things rot.”

“It’s time,” the stage manager calls out.

When Judee steps on stage, the applause is polite but perfunctory, and it’s obvious that most of the people in the almost too well-behaved audience have never heard either of her or her music. Still, the volume of clapping swells after each succeeding number – “Enchanted Sky Machines,” “Ridge Rider,” “Phantom Cowboy,” “Crayon Angels,” “Jesus Was a Cross-maker” – and she begins to draw sustained howls with her bantering intros. (“This next song is called ‘The Archetypal Man.’ I wrote it about an ex-boy friend, a lawyer, who was dispassionate in every way except when he was being dishonest. Then he would show fervent passion.”)

Near the end of her set, Judee puts aside her guitar and sits down at the piano to play a new song, unrecorded as yet, called “Down Where the Valleys Are Low.”

By now, the audience is rapt with attention, following her every word:

Down where the valleys are low,
There’s a refuge so high.
And down where the coldest winds blow,
There the warmest winds hide.
And deep in the forest of woe,
Sweet deliverance is nigh
…Send a song on the wind to deliver, me,
Take me and rise when the fire, is on.
Take the reins and the loneliness fillin’ me,
Make my fear fuel and the fuel high octane.

When Judee leaves the stage to an oceanic ovation, her face radiant and exalted, she walks past Gordon Lightfoot, who is waiting to go on. Swaying unsteadily, he waggles a finger at her and says, “Hey, gee hon, that was real nice. You’re gonna be a star someday, too.”

“Why, thank you, Gordon,” Judee says mildly, “thank you very much.”

“The star of the Naline program, can you believe it? I wasn’t noddin’ out.”

“I try to keep my hungry monsters in line – keep ’em on a diet of bread & water.”