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For People, Planet & Peace: Interview with Lisa Savage, Ind. Candidate for Senate in Maine

Lisa Savage is running for Senate in the state of Maine, against Republican incumbent, Susan Collins. Lisa is long-time antiwar and environmental organizer, as well as being a public school teacher and a grandmother. Although she has been an active member of the Green Party, Lisa is running as an independent candidate due to restrictive ballot access laws in Maine. The state does, however, boast the advantage of having ranked choice voting, which gives independent candidates a better shot.

I interviewed Lisa for my podcast, “Voices for Nature & Peace,” on May 7th, 2020, and we covered a lot of ground: COVID-19 relief (including her call for a People’s Bail-Out), healthcare, agriculture, campaigning during a pandemic, the recently released documentary, “Planet of the Humans,” the Green New Deal, and US militarism. If she wins, she will certainly be one of the most progressive people to ever serve in the US Senate.

What follows is a partial transcript of our conversation. Listen to the full interview here.

Kollibri terre Sonnenblume: I’d like to start today with the COVID-19 pandemic. The response from the corporate duopoly in Washington, DC, has been entirely inadequate so far, as I’m sure you’ve noticed and many people are experiencing hardship. But I see that you are calling for a “People’s Bail Out.”

Lisa Savage: We’ve now seen three pieces of legislation passed and they’re debating the fourth right now. They’ve been bailing out different sectors of society: corporations have gotten trillions of dollars in unaccounted-for dollars. We’ve seen some relief to hospitals. We’ve seen some money put into unemployment compensation. And we’ve seen some money put into small businesses in the form of loans and payroll protection, and so forth. But the paltry amount of money that was budgeted for individuals who are unable to pay their bills was extremely austere compared to other wealthy nations and many of us, myself and my husband included, have yet to receive that one paltry payment.

We know that one third of people in the US were unable to make their rent payment on April 1st. I haven’t seen the statistics yet for May 1, but I suspect it was an even greater proportion of the population than one third unable to make the rent. I just read yesterday read a shocking report about how many families with small children are experiencing food insecurity and how many mothers responded to an academic study saying, “I’ve cut down on meals for my children; my children are often hungry.”

I teach school in a very rural, low income part of my state, Maine, and I’m well aware of how very close to abject poverty many of the families in my community are. But I think that the pandemic throwing so many people out of work has exacerbated the problem hugely and Congress continues providing relief for their big campaign donors, the corporation that give them millions and millions of dollars to get re-elected. They have failed to bail out the American people. I would be in favor of providing relief for anyone who is a resident in the US.

Kollibri: So this would include also relief for rent.

Lisa: Yes, my campaign also has a petition demanding that their be relief for renters and for home-owner mortgages… to provide relief. Meaning that, don’t just freeze rent and mortgage payments; that just postpones the problem. If people are out of work they’ll be no more able to pay their rent six months from now than they are right now. [So we need to] put a freeze on evictions because obviously people experiencing homeless is a huge problem and a pandemic where people are told, “Just stay home,” and then it overlooks the fact that millions of Americans have no home to stay in. Certainly, not being able to pay the rent two months running makes a huge amount of growth in housing insecurity.

A People’s Bailout would be in the form of direct payments to the people, such as other countries are doing. I believe Canada gave each of its people $2000 a month. Almost all the other wealthy countries have provided similar relief because you can’t ask people to stay home and not go to their job and not continue earning money and at the same time, how will they eat? How will they pay their bills?

Kollibri: When it comes to the bills that are related to healthcare that more and more people will be getting as this goes on, that’s also unaffordable for many people in the United States.

Lisa: The lack of public healthcare in this country is shocking. It’s been a crisis for at least a couple of decades. The pandemic didn’t create the crisis, but it has certainly shone a spotlight on the glaring inequalities in our healthcare system. Also, the risk to the public when we do not have a coordinated national public health system in place that can respond to something like an unprecedented and novel virus that’s extremely communicable and nobody knows how to fight it yet. If we had a coordinated national response at the healthcare level, I think it would be quite different than what we’re seeing, which is that most people are thrown out of work lose their health insurance because it was tied to their employment.

Many people don’t seek healthcare, either for suspected COVID-19 infection or from other health issues because they literally can’t afford to go to the doctor. Almost no one in the US has adequate dental care. I have a friend who is a big part of my team here in Maine on the campaign, who has Veterans’ Administration care; he’s a member of Veterans for Peace and he goes to the VA, but that doesn’t include dental care. This week he has a terrible tooth ache and he’s very worried about whether they’re going to say he needs a root canal because he doesn’t have thousands and thousands of dollars to fund that.

This system has been in meltdown for awhile and the pandemic, I’m hoping, is the final blow to this terrible, for-profit system. I’m a person who doesn’t believe that the words “profit” and “healthcare” belong in the same sentence. Not every human activity is appropriate to seek profits and healthcare would be right at the top of that list.

Lisa: Many people in the US are unaware of the Pentagon’s role in driving climate change. Not only is the Pentagon a huge polluter–in terms of chemicals and polluting water tables where its bases are, and so forth–but it’s the largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels on the planet. Its greenhouse gas emissions exceed that of 140 nations. The Pentagon has been driving climate change, while waging wars to control access to fossil fuel in other parts of the world. It’s a vicious cycle. If you would stop building weapons systems, that’s one win for the climate right there.

If instead of throwing people out of work and shutting down the factories, you said now we’re going to build that light rail system that everyone’s been dreaming about, economists’ research repeatedly–using models of how much an investment of a certain amount of dollars generates jobs–have shown that you would generate probably 50% additional jobs if you converted from building weapons systems to building clean energy systems. Building weapons systems is not a very good job program although our member of congress constantly tell us they can’t stop doing that because: “Jobs. Everybody needs the jobs.”

We’re talking good union jobs with benefits, but building weapons systems is capital intensive and involves a lot of robotics so it doesn’t actually generate as many jobs as investing that same amount of money in many [other] different sectors of the economy.

Kollibri: US militarism and foreign policy are something that have been missing from the national conversation since the W presidency. The last time we had a vibrant national antiwar movement was 2003. Yet it has continued unabated, not just in the form of hot wars, but in the form of sanctions. I was hoping you could talk about that.

Lisa: Sure. This is really where I came up in political organizing. As my family grew up and didn’t need my care anymore, I became very involved in peace activism and antiwar organizing against specific wars….

I’m the age that I was a high school student during the Vietnam War. I wasn’t old enough that I had to worry about my friends being drafted. That set my understanding. A good friend of mine whose parents were Socialists, brought a pamphlet and shared it with me at school that was written by the North Vietnamese. The analysis was that imperial wars are about money. You can say they’re about ideology and fighting communism and so forth, but really they’re about corporate profits.

I began to look at America’s constant war-mongering with a different eye at that point, when I was about thirteen, fourteen years old. Over the years, it’s certainly been borne out. Probably the war that I took the most active stance against was our war on Afghanistan, where the 9/11 events were used as a pretext for attacking a country that didn’t have any nationals involved, but it had also been a target of many empires: the USSR wanted Afghanistan, Alexander the Great wanted Afghanistan. It’s a very geographically crucial, powerful, strategic area. Then when the second Gulf War–the shock and awe attacks were about to happen–by then my family had grown up and I had enough time to get involved in antiwar organizing.

I have a communications background and so I was always interested in, “How is it that the people in the US don’t seem to be upset by wars?” So many people turned out worldwide to protest the Iraq war, but when it went ahead anyway, most of them faded. Once Barack Obama was elected president, most of the people that I had stood outside with, holding signs, just vanished. They were not going to question America’s first black president. They were not going to criticize him, or question his foreign policy.

I noticed that you interviewed Margaret Kimberley recently in Counterpunch. She’s someone who I met in the antiwar movement, during Obama’s first term. She and some of the other people who write for Black Agenda Report, like Glen Ford, said you know, you don’t have to give Barrack Obama a pass on foreign policy just because he’s black. He’s still wrong. He’s conducting foreign policy the same way that George Bush did, and it’s wrong. We’re not going to support it, no matter how we feel that finally the racial barrier was broken to put a black man in the White House.

So I have studied the financial underpinnings of our constant, endless wars. Starting in ’01 we have a “war on terror.” Well, “terror” is an abstract concept. Terror is never going to surrender, because it’s a thing like freedom or trust. It’s not capable of waging war. It’s a tactic that people use in wars. So they created a war that could not be won, by definition. Particularly in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Syria too.

I was a history major and I’m not aware of other empires that actually funded their own enemies in order to keep the conflict going. Because the profits are rolling in whether we’re quote winning or quote losing any of these wars. Every president has continued bombing civilians pretty much non-stop.

The press doesn’t pay much attention to it. The corporate press is owned by the same corporations that own our government, so they’re going to look aside from it. Really, this is where your corporate Democratic candidates can not talk about wars.

I went to an event in Portland that was a supposed town hall with Susan Collins. She’s our current Senator. It was put on a by a Democratic group. They took questions from the audience on cards and it was a very managed conversation. It took an hour for anyone to be able to ask a question about climate. And no one ever the words, “wars,” “military,” “Pentagon.” Anything to do with the military was just verboten. You cannot talk about it. Democrats don’t want to talk about it because they’re no better than Republicans on that score. They’re no different. It’s inconvenient for their false dichotomy narrative that, guess what? We take donations from General Dynamics just like Republicans do, and we vote for the biggest military budget in the history of the world, just like Republicans do. There we all are, voting yes.

That is the main thing that motivated my political activism for the last twenty years. It’s unsustainable. It’s a disaster just barreling down on us.

…Democrats like a more polite, more educated, more articulate spokesperson for the corporations that rule us, and many people now prefer the bombastic world-wrestling type, braggadocio style of the current occupant of the White House, but I have to tell you, in terms of foreign policy, in terms of the federal budget, there really is not that much difference between those two administrations [Obama and Trump].

…One thing I’ve noticed in my lifetime that’s been really interesting, Koll, is that the closer the two parties move together, the more vigorously the false dichotomy narrative is pushed. So there’s a huge amount of playacting going on all the time about these huge differences between red and blue.

It makes sense that you can fool most of the people some of the time. I think that information control has been the most significant factor in keeping people fooled, in keeping people voting against their own interests, in not seeing the reality underneath the surface that’s presented to them. We thought that the internet and digital information age would make information so much more accessible; it would be an equalizer. And in some ways, that has happened, because people who care to do the work of finding their own information, in fact can find more information. When I was a kid growing up, reading the daily paper that my parents subscribed to, and Time magazine and Life magazine, until my friend handed me that pamphlet from the North Vietnamese, I wasn’t getting a lot of information that wasn’t part of the mainstream.

Now, in the last five years, we’ve seen so much internet censorship, so much more managing of the information that reaches us on various platforms. If you’re committed [and] you like research, and you like reading and digging around, you can still find really good information. I notice that you publish in Counterpunch quite often. That’s an internet source that I consider useful for information that’s outside the narrative. But the vast majority of people that I’ve known in my life don’t spend their time looking. They actually think that National Public Radio is public radio and that if they listen to that, they’re well-informed. They believe that.

Kollibri: I was raised in that milieu, where National Public Radio and PBS were really held up. And perhaps in the 70’s they were a little bit different than now, but now the corporate ownership of them seems nearly complete.

Lisa: I think it was Noam Chomsky who said the American populace is the most heavily propagandized populace that has ever lived. There’s a quote I’ve never been able to source that has intrigued me for years as a communications person, and that is, in really sophisticated propaganda, even the opposite isn’t true. Really, the power of propaganda isn’t in telling us what to believe; it’s in putting the frame around what we should be looking at. It’s directing our gaze and saying, “Here’s where you should be paying attention,” and anything outside of that is not of interest. “Don’t pay any attention to that.” I see the affect of that on people’s understanding of what’s going on.

I don’t like to see people suffering, or toddlers going hungry, or people of color dying in way disproportionate numbers because they’re underlying conditions were already poor due to poverty and racism in our healthcare system. But I do like it when the scales fall from our eyes and we realize what a bad system we live under. Because that offers us the hope that we will be motivated to say, “What can I do? How can I join with others who understand this and try to craft something better so that our children and grandchildren have a more survivable world than the one that we’re living in?”

To find out more about Lisa Savage’s campaign, visit or follow her on FacebookTwitterYouTube, and her blog, Went 2 the Bridge.

Listen to the full interview on my podcast, here.

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Visions of a Future Beyond Capitalism: Revolutionary Films to Watch Under Quarantine

In this time of pandemic and quarantine, there is power in exploring the ways that past generations have confronted rising tides of fascism and crisis. For 100 years, communists, socialists, anarchists, anti-colonialists, and other revolutionaries have made films that attempt to intervene in their moment, to not just tell stories, but lift up silenced voices and imagine better futures. Together, they form an underground history of the 20th and 21st centuries. The films in this list were made by radical and visionary artists; many of them wanted to both overthrow capitalism and transform cinema.

Many on this list ride the border between documentary and fiction, lifting up real people and stories. Often these films cast activists instead of professional actors, with people engaged in social movements playing some version of themselves — even in the science fiction films. These filmmakers also avoid traditional storytelling cliches. Instead of a single protagonists’ “hero’s journey”, they focus on mass movements, showing history shaped by collective effort. In this way, their structure challenges the so-called “Great Man Theory of History”, showing that change is made by community, and all of our stories and fates are interconnected. Seeking a revolutionary process, some of the films are made collectively as well, avoiding a single auteur.

I’ve also included under each film “further viewing,” additional films by the same filmmaker, or along similar themes.

Together this list spans nearly a hundred years of filmmaking, from 1925 to 2019, on six continents. Even so, this is far from an exhaustive list of every radical film ever made. But it does include films that changed my life.

35+ Revolutionary Films

1. Battle of Algiers — A favorite film of revolutionaries from Black Panthers to Irish Republican Army members to Palestinian freedom fighters, The Battle of Algiers is a classic of anti-colonialist cinema. Filmed in a style that deliberately blurs the boundaries of fiction and documentary, the film was written by Saadi Yacef, a leader of Algeria’s National Liberation Front (FLN), and shows that a colonial occupation cannot last, and repression breeds resistance. Yacef and at least one other former FLN member also act in the film. In addition, Jean Martin, who plays a French counterinsurgency officer, was a military veteran who had been outspoken in support of the Algierian freedom struggle. A member of the antifascist resistance in Italy during World War 2, Marxist director Gillo Pontecorvo made several other anti-colonialist films.

Further Viewing: Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf was a revolutionary teenager, imprisoned under the Shah for stabbing a police officer. The Islamic revolution released him from prison and made him a filmmaker. He later became critical of the Iranian clerics leading the country, defining himself as an existentialist and a feminist, and his 1996 film A Moment of Innocence is a critical reconstruction of his own youth, looking back at his own actions with the perspective of twenty years later, and in cooperation with the policeman he stabbed.

2. Born in Flames — Lizzie Borden’s first film, released in 1983, takes place in a near future under a democratic socialist government in the United States. The film follows militant cells of women, mostly lesbians and women of color, who find that the new socialist government has not addressed the problems of patriarchy and racism, and decide to form a women’s army to struggle for an intersectional revolution within the socialist revolution. Nearly forty years later, Born in Flames still feels bold and visionary. The characters in the film embrace a class and race-conscious revolutionary feminism inspired by the Combahee River Collective.

Further Viewing: Borden’s second film, 1986’s Working Girls, is a vérité–style fictional look inside the life of women working in a Manhattan brothel. It still stands today as one of the most non-sensational filmed depictions of sex work.

3. Land and Freedom — The Spanish Civil War is a key moment in revolutionary history. Idealistic revolutionaries from around the world risked their lives to travel to Spain to join with anarchist, socialist and communist militias to fight fascism. British socialist director Ken Loach’s 1995 film, loosely inspired by George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, is the best film about this period, a moving portrayal of liberatory spirit, based in the form and ideas of social realist cinema. A central scene in the film features villagers and militia members discussing whether or not collectivise their land. Land and Freedom immerses the viewer in a discussion that most films would avoid, showing how political differences can have deep implications. As an example of the films’ realist style, the scene features local residents of the village playing themselves, speaking their own beliefs.

Further Viewing: Loach has directed 24 features about the lives and struggles of the working class, including last year’s powerful Sorry We Missed You, about the lives of gig economy workers.

4. Punishment Park — Peter Watkins’ dystopian science fiction film was made in 1971, but still feels fresh and relevant today. In a near future, dissidents and activists are rounded up, imprisoned and sentenced to a mysterious “punishment park.” The prisoners trying to survive divide into groups along the political spectrum from militant to pacifist, and their differing politics lead them to different strategies for survival. The cast is made up of actual anti-war protestors, activists, and former prisoners, who draw upon their own views, experiences and ideas to create the mostly-improvised dialogue.

Further Viewing: Filmmaker Peter Watkins continued to experiment and explore revolution throughout his career. His 2000 film La Commune (Paris 1871) is an experimental retelling of the moment a popular revolution seized power in Paris, inspiring later generations of communists and anarchists.

5. Carlos — Ilich Ramírez Sánchez — better known as Carlos the Jackal, had a life that brought him in contact with many of the key leftist armed movements of the 70’s, from Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, to Japanese Red Army, to German Revolutionary cells. At 339 minutes, Olivier Assayas’s 2010 film (which is critical of Sánchez but refuses easy answers) is perfect for quarantine viewing, and an incredible snapshot of an era of transcontinental armed struggle.

Further Viewing: Check out Assayas’s 2012 film Something in the Air, a drama set among students in the aftermath of the 1968 riots in Paris.

6. Salt of The Earth — Made in 1954 as a collaboration between blacklisted Hollywood filmmakers and radical Latinx trade unionists, Salt of the Earth wears its radical politics proudly. The filmmakers had been blacklisted by Hollywood (and in the case of director Herbert J. Biberman, imprisoned for refusing to cooperate with Congressional investigations of Communists), while the union had been forced out of the CIO labor federation for their radicalism (They were part of the Western Federation of Miners, which had been part of the anarchist Industrial Workers of the World). Based on the true story of a 1951 strike, most of the cast are strikers and their families, playing themselves.

Further Viewing: Actress and director Lee Grant made The Willmar 8 in 1981, a documentary about a group of women bank employees on strike in Minnesota, challenging sexism from their employer and from the labor movement.

7. Strike — Sergei Eisenstein’s classic film depicts a 1903 uprising by factory workers, seen as the beginnings of the mass resistance that led to the 1917 Soviet revolution. Made in 1925, just a few years after the revolution, and starring actors from a revolutionary theater company, the film is less history than it is a celebration of popular resistance. A hundred years later, Eisenstein’s use of montage techniques can still be felt in films today, including several on this list that are directly inspired by Strike.

Further Viewing: Eisenstein’s follow-up films Battleship Potemkin and October are also classics.

8. Hour of the Furnaces — A cinematic descendent of Strike and precursor to other films on this list, Hour of the Furnaces was made illegally and in secret in 1968 as an organizing tool to challenge not only the Argentinian dictatorship, but capitalism, colonialism and neoliberalism. The film was made by Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas, working under the name The Cine Liberación Group. Nicole Brenez writes, “The film was made clandestinely under a dictatorship… Each screening was a risk and created a ‘liberated space, a decolonised territory’ (in Getino’s words), within which the film could be stopped for as long as necessary to allow discussions and debates (hence the compartmentalised structure). Argentinian scholar Mariano Mestman recalls that several screenings lead to military confrontations. To attend a screening was in itself a political act, transforming spectators into responsible historical subjects, not because they did or did not agree with the content of the film, but by virtue of the very decision to attend, despite the threat.”

Further Viewing:
 You can see the influence of Hour of The Furnaces throughout revolutionary cinema, especially in Latin America. One close descendent is Patricio Guzman’s 1973 The Battle of Chile, about the overthrow of the government of Salvador Allende. A more modern descendant, 2004’s The Take, directed by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, shows that the factory takeovers depicted in Hour of The Furnaces have not stopped.

9. A Place of Rage — Did you know that there is a film featuring extended interviews with Angela Davis, June Jordan, and Alice Walker, with music by Prince and Janet Jackson? Pratibha Parmar’s 1991 feminist documentary challenges racism, homophobia, and capitalism, with intimate touches like Angela Davis playing squash and jogging.

Further Viewing: Released the same year, Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust is the first feature film directed by an African-American woman to be distributed theatrically in the United States, and is a Black feminist classic, partially inspired by the work of Alice Walker.

10. Black Girl — European colonialism and patriarchy is personalized in Ousmane Sembène’s 1966 experimental drama about a young Senegalese woman working as a maid for a wealthy French couple. Born in Senegal, Sembène was a novelist and filmmaker, a communist and a feminist. As a young man in France, he helped lead a strike by the communist-led CGT union to hinder the shipment of weapons for the French colonial war in Vietnam.

Further Viewing: Sembène’s Moolaadé is another attack on patriarchy, this time focusing on female genital mutilation.

11. When I Saw You — A child, displaced along with his mother from Palestine in 1967, runs from a refugee camp and finds himself among armed resistance fighters. Released in 2012, Annemarie Jacir‘s moving film offers a child’s eye view of anti-colonialist struggle.

Further Viewing: Jacir’s Salt of this Sea is a poetic drama about a robbery — what is a robbery on stolen land? — starring Tony-award winning poet Suheir Hammad.

12. Chocolate Babies — Released in 1996, Stephen Winter’s Chocolate Babies is a groundbreaking and hilarious over the top comedy/drama about a group of HIV+ genderqueer activists of color that kidnap a politician. The film is the best depiction I’ve seen of the joy and discomfort of activist meetings, and is set firmly in the gay and queer Black subcultures of the 90s. Scenes like the one on the Christopher Street Piers at sunset capture an important moment in LGBTQ history. (Disclaimer: I worked as a crew member on this film, though I can take no credit for any of what makes it brilliant).

Further Viewing: Stephen Winter’s 2015 drama comedy fantasy Jason and Shirley is a subversive re-imagining of Shirley Clarke’s 1967 queer cinema classic documentary Portrait of Jason.

13. Bamako — Malian director Abderrahmane Sissako’s funny, poetic, surreal, and completely original 2006 film puts the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and neoliberalism on trial in an anti-colonialist satire.

Further Viewing: Take some time to explore the rich history of West African anti-colonialist filmmaking, including Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Hyenas and Touki Bouki, Mati Diop’s Atlantics, and Sissako’s Timbuktu.

14. Harlan County, USA — A suspenseful documentary that shows the power of collective struggle to radicalize and empower. Director Barbara Kopple and her co-filmmakers spent a year and half living with the families of Harlan County, documenting their lives and strength in this 1976 Academy Award-winning documentary about striking coal miners. They were nearly killed by armed gunmen working for the company.

Further Viewing: Kopple has made dozens of documentaries, including films about Sharon Jones and the Dixie Chicks, and American Dream, which is an excellent, but more cynical, documentary about another major labor movement strike. Or, if you like uplifting films about inter-movement solidarity and class struggle, watch Matthew Warchus’ Pride (2014). A moving, funny, charming, delightful film based on a true story of gay activists in the 80s that built an alliance with striking miners in Thatcher’s Britain.

15. Sorry to Bother You — Musician/activist/filmmaker Boots Riley blends science fiction, satire, and social commentary in this 2018 film that is already a classic. Like Riley’s music, Sorry to Bother You wears its revolutionary anticapitalist politics on its sleeve but lures you in with sly humor and an outrageous premise, all while building the case that revolution is the only solution. The film would be worth seeing just for the design, from Tessa Thompson’s outfits and earrings to the fully imagined future.

Further Viewing: For more dystopian revolutionary science fiction, see Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer (2008) where future technology is used to further exploit immigrants. Also, Riley appears briefly in the fun agitprop webseries The North Pole, produced by Movement Generation, and In Prison My Whole Life, a 2007 documentary about political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

16. Reds — It’s hard to imagine something like Warren Beatty’s Reds (1981) coming out today. It was made in a brief window in which Hollywood would fund an epic film about the lives of US communists and anarchists in the years before and after the Russian Revolution — and later nominate it for 12 Academy Awards. Beatty stars along with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in this big budget epic spanning several continents. The central love story between real life communist journalists John Reed and Louise Bryant, who traveled together to Russia during the Soviet revolution of 1917, is the least interesting part of Reds (and also completely hides Bryant’s queer identity). But the central characters are surrounded by anarchists and communists like Emma Goldman and trade union leader Big Bill Haywood, and the film makes use of real-life interviews with “witnesses” that were contemporaries of Reed and Bryant, including radicals Scott Nearing and Roger Baldwin, author Henry Miller, and dozens of others.

Further Viewing: The years after the Soviet revolution (and before Stalin consolidated power) saw a flowering of artistic output. In addition to the films of Eisenstein mentioned above, Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera is another early Soviet artistic triumph. Or, for another Hollywood film with leftist content, check out Sidney Lumet’s 1976 Network, a satire of media that predicted Fox News and reality TV.

17. Finally Got the News — Formed in 1968 in Detroit, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers were a revolutionary organization that fought simultaneously against their bosses at the big auto companies and racist leadership of the United Auto Workers, as well as organizing against capitalism and white supremacy in society at large. The league saw media as a crucial part of their work, starting a newspaper (student members of the league actually took over the student paper at Wayne State University), and working in collaboration with Stewart Bird, Rene Lichtman and Peter Gessner, members of the New York Newsreel film collective (later to become Third World Newsreel).

Further Viewing: Founded over fifty years ago, Third World Newsreel created and/or distributed a wide range of revolutionary content, all of which can be purchased on their site.

18. The Spook Who Sat By The Door — Ivan Dixon’s classic 1973 adaptation of Sam Greenlee’s 1969 novel about a disillusioned Black former CIA agent who uses his skills to train gang members to become guerrillas and foment revolution in the US. Come for the satire, stay for the step-by-step guide guerrilla warfare. It’s no surprise that revolutionary hip-hop group Dead Prez sampled the movie on their song We Want Freedom 27 years later.

Further viewing: Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door, a documentary about the struggle to make the film, including attempts by the FBI to stop the film from being seen.

19. Anarchist from Colony — The true story of early 20th century Korean and Japanese anarchists fighting Japanese colonialism in Korea, Lee Joon-ik’s inspiring historical epic Anarchist from Colony was a box office hit in Korea when it was released in 2017.

Further Viewing: This is not the only film about early twentieth century Korean anarchists seeking to overthrow Japanese occupation. Park Chan-wook, director of Oldboy and The Handmaiden, wrote the action film Anarchists, produced by Lee Joon-ik, directed by Yoo Young-sik, and released in 2000.

20. Palante, Siempre, Palante — Iris Morales, the first woman member of the Young Lords, directed Palante, Siempre, Palante in 1996. The film is an indispensable history of the Young Lords and their programs like free breakfast, healthcare, and political education.

Further Viewing: El Pueblo Se Levanta (The People Are Rising), a 1971 Newsreel film about the Young Lords. To see another documentary made from within a revolutionary movement, see Sanjay Kak’s 2013 documentary Red Ant Dream, filmed within the revolutionary Maoist movement in India.

21. Soy Cuba — Made in 1964, in the early days of the Cuban revolution, Mikhail Kalatozov’ Soy Cuba (also known as I Am Cuba) is a celebration of Cuba and a triumph of filmmaking (One incredible shot inspired a sequence in the 1997 Paul Thomas Anderson film Boogie Nights, and Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese helped with the films’ restoration and re-release). The film is narrated by a voice that represents Cuba as a nation and people, and tells the stories of Cuban people struggling under western imperialism and finally rising up.

Further Viewing: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s 1968 film Memories of Underdevelopment is a fascinating view of post-revolution Cuba, by perhaps Cuba’s greatest filmmaker.

22. Lumumba — Anti-colonialist Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck’s 2000 film explores the life and murder of revolutionary Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, the CIA’s role in his killing, and the subsequent devastation of his country.

Further Viewing: Peck has made 15 feature-length radical films, with more on the way. I Am Not Your Negro, his 2016 film about the ideas of James Baldwin, is among his best.

23. United in Anger — In this moment of healthcare crisis, we need Jim Hubbard’s 2012 grassroots history of ACT-UP! (The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) more than ever. Like many of the films on this list, United in Anger avoids having any central protagonists stand in for an entire movement, taking care to lift up the many women and people of color that played leadership roles in this mostly white and male movement.

Further Viewing: Robin Campillo’s excellent BPM (Beats Per Minute) is a thrilling and sexy fiction film about ACTUP! activists in Paris.

24. Concerning Violence — More manifesto than film, Göran Hugo Olsson’s Concerning Violence is made up of text from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth read by Lauryn Hill, with footage and interviews juxtaposing colonizers in Africa with rarely seen footage of freedom fighters and leaders, including Amilcar Cabral and Thomas Sankara.

Further Viewing: Göran Hugo Olsson also directed Black Power Mixtape, using previously unseen archival footage from interviews with Black Power Movement leaders.

25. Ghost Hunting — Raed Andoni’s haunting 2017 film crosses between documentary and fiction, as Palestinians who have spent time in Israeli prisons collaborate on a film to dramatize their experience.

Further Viewing: There are dozens of beautiful Palestinian anti-colonialist films. Buthina Canaan Khoury’s 2005 film Women in Struggle is made up of interviews with four Palestinian women freedom fighters who all spent time in Israeli prisons. Some more recent classics include Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention, Dahna Abourahme’s Until When, and Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan’s The Wanted 18. There is also the archive of Palestinian revolutionary short films made from 1968–1982 by a film group founded by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). See also the list of available films on the Reel Palestine site and the Palestine Film Institute (which is currently offering a new free film every week).

26. Bloody Sunday — Paul Greengrass (who later worked with Matt Damon on the Bourne films) had his breakthrough with this 2002 film, a brilliant drama that recreates, step-by-tragic-step, the Bloody Sunday massacre in Northern Ireland, using a cast drawn mostly from the affected communities.

Further Viewing: Northern Ireland is known for its solidarity with liberation movements — a solidarity born from experience. A whole list could be made just from Irish anti-colonialist cinema. Some highlights: Steve McQueen’s Hunger, Jim Sheridan’s In The Name of The Father, Terry George’s Some Mother’s Son, and Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

27. Free Angela and All Political Prisoners — As the title suggests, Shola Lynch’s 2012 documentary focuses on the trial and solidarity movement around Angela Davis (though less on the other political prisoners). A great movement history and victory to celebrate,

Further Viewing: Don’t miss Cointelpro 101, from The Freedom Archives, for a definitive history of the FBI’s illegal surveillance, disruption, and murder of activists.

28. Matewan — Race, religion and class struggle are at the center of prolific independent filmmaker John Sayles’ fifth and most powerful feature. Matewan, released in 1987, is based on the true story of a mining strike in 1920’s West Virginia and is anchored by stunning cinematography and acting. Sayles funds his independent films by working as a script doctor in Hollywood, and this film’s story and dialogue are among his best.

Further Viewing: All of Sayles’ 18 films are worth watching. He is a socially conscious filmmaker that tells stories of communities rather than individuals. Some of his best are Lone Star, Brother from Another Planet, Men With Guns, and City of Hope.

29. The House on Coco Road — Distributed by Ava DuVernay’s Array, Damani Baker’s 2016 film focuses on his mother’s path from growing up in rural Louisiana to organizing with Angela Davis in early 70’s Los Angeles, to traveling to Grenada to support Maurice Bishop’s revolutionary government.

Further Viewing: Nearly every film distributed by Ava DuVernay’s Array is political and remarkable, often directed by first time filmmakers of color. Check out the Array film series, which has been streaming a film roughly every week.

30. F.T.A. — Did you know that in 1972, a group of actors, musicians and comedians, including Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and Paul Mooney, went on tour to perform shows near US military bases in the Pacific, encouraging soldiers to rise up and resist? The tour was called F.T.A., which took its title from an underground zine produced by soldiers that was called Fuck The Army. A newly restored copy of Director Francine Parker’s 1972 film was recently re-released, and it is an important document of a moment when Hollywood actors took real risks to oppose US imperialism.

Further Viewing: Another recently restored film from 1972, William Greaves’ Nationtime — Gary is a document of the National Black Political Convention held that year in Gary, Indiana. Meanwhile, on college campuses, many students were turning to more militant acts of resistance as well. Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s 2002 documentary The Weather Underground tells that story.

31. Warrior Women — Christina D. King and Elizabeth Castle’s 2018 documentary Warrior Women illuminates decades of Indigenous organizing through the life of Lakota activist, teacher and community leader Madonna Thunder Hawk, an American Indian Movement (AIM) veteran. The film uses her story, and her daughter’s, to explore Native “boarding schools”, the occupation of Alcatraz and resistance at Standing Rock, and more.

Further Viewing: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn’s The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open (2019) is a new classic of Indigenous North American cinema.

32. Fourth World War — Inspired by the words of Zapatista leader Subcommandante Marcos, Fourth World War (2003) traces and connects threads of resistance movements in Palestine, Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, South Korea, and New York. Richard Rowley and Jacqueline Soohen, also known as Big Noise Films, connect scenes of resistance into a poetic story of a global struggle against capitalism.

Further Viewing: Richard Rowley and Jacqueline Soohen have been making movement documentaries for over twenty years, from 1999’s Zapatista to last year’s 16 shots, about the murder of Laquan McDonald and coverup committed by the Chicago police.

33. Walker — Director Alex Cox wanted to support the Sandinista government in its struggle against the US-funded Contra war. So he got Hollywood to give him 6 million dollars, and spent nearly all of it in Nicaragua, on a film that would economically and politically support the country. Walker (1987) is an experimental satire, simultaneously about William Walker (played by Ed Harris), an American who invaded and made himself president of Nicaragua in 1856, and about the then-current Contra war.

Further Viewing: Alex Cox never wore his politics as openly as in this film, but his films Repo Man and Sid and Nancy are cult classics. Battle of Algiers filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1969 film Burn!, starring Marlon Brando, is also about Walker.

34. Rebellion in Patagonia — Did you know about the anarchist uprising in the Patagonia region of Argentina in the early 1920’s? The first half of Héctor Olivera’s 1974 drama is an exciting portrait of a movement of peasants fighting bosses and winning. Spoiler alert: If you don’t want to be depressed, you may want to skip the second half.

Further Viewing: Olivera’s 1986 Night of the Pencils is a drama based on the story of student activists abducted in 1976 by the military dictatorship.

35. Libertarias — The story of women soldiers who fought in the Spanish Civil War is an important and inspiring history of feminist resistance to the rising tide of 1930’s fascism. The politics of Vicente Aranda’s 1996 drama have not always aged well (like the scene of women soldiers “saving” sex workers), but it is an entertaining and moving story of women anarchists fighting both patriarchy and fascism.

Further Viewing: For more anti-patriarchal violence, Marleen Gorris’ A Question of Silence (1982) is a Dutch feminist drama about a group of women who spontaneously kill a random man because they are fed up with society’s sexism.

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Revolution in the Twenty-First Century: A Reconsideration of Marxism

In the age of COVID-19, it’s even more obvious than it’s been for at least a couple of decades that capitalism is entering a long, drawn-out period of unprecedented global crisis. The Great Depression and World War II will likely, in retrospect, seem rather minor—and temporally condensed—compared to the many decades of ecological, economic, social, and political crises humanity is embarking on now. In fact, it’s probable that we’re in the early stages of the protracted collapse of a civilization, which is to say of a particular set of economic relations underpinning certain social, political, and cultural relations. One can predict that the mass popular resistance, worldwide, engendered by cascading crises will gradually transform a decrepit ancien régime, although in what direction it is too early to tell. But left-wing resistance is already spreading and even gaining the glimmers of momentum in certain regions of the world, including—despite the ending of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign—the reactionary United States. Over decades, the international left will grow in strength, even as the right, in all likelihood, does as well.

Activism of various practical and ideological orientations is increasingly in a state of ferment—and yet, compared to the scale it will surely attain in a couple of decades, it is still in its infancy. In the U.S., for example, “democratic socialism” has many adherents, notably in the DSA and in the circles around Jacobin magazine. There are also organizations, and networks of organizations, that consciously repudiate the “reformism” of social democracy, such as the Marxist Center, which disavows the strategy of electing progressive Democratic politicians as abject “class collaboration.” Actually, many democratic socialists would agree that it’s necessary, sooner or later, to construct a workers’ party, that the Democratic Party is ineluctably and permanently fused with the capitalist class. But the Marxist Center rejects the very idea of prioritizing electoral work, emphasizing instead “base-building” and other modes of non-electoral activism.

Meanwhile, there are activists in the solidarity economy, who are convinced it’s necessary to plant the institutional seeds of the new world in the fertile soil of the old, as the old slowly decays and collapses. These activists take their inspiration from the recognition, as Rudolf Rocker put it in his classic Anarcho-Syndicalism, that “every new social structure makes organs for itself in the body of the old organism. Without this preliminary any social evolution is unthinkable. Even revolutions can only develop and mature the germs which already exist and have made their way into the consciousness of men; they cannot themselves create these germs or generate new worlds out of nothing.” The Libertarian Socialist Caucus of the DSA is one group that identifies with this type of thinking, but there are many others, including the Democracy Collaborative, the Democracy at Work Institute (also this one), Shareable, and more broadly the New Economy Coalition. Cooperation Jackson has had some success building a solidarity economy in Jackson, Mississippi.

The numbers and varieties of activists struggling to build a new society are uncountable, from Leninists to anarchists to left-liberals and organizers not committed to ideological labels. Amidst all this ferment, however, one thing seems lacking: a compelling theoretical framework to explain how corporate capitalism can possibly give way to an economically democratic, ecologically sustainable society. How, precisely, is that supposed to happen? Which strategies are better and which worse for achieving this end—an end that may well, indeed, seem utopian, given the miserable state of the world? What role, for instance, does the venerable tradition of Marxism play in understanding how we might realize our goals? Marx, after all, had a conception of revolution, which he bequeathed to subsequent generations. Should it be embraced, rejected, or modified?

Where, in short, can we look for some strategic and theoretical guidance?

In this article I’ll address these questions, drawing on some of the arguments in my book Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States (specifically chapters 4 and 6).[1] As I’ve argued elsewhere, historical materialism is an essential tool to understand society and how a transition to some sort of post-capitalism may occur. Social relations are grounded in production relations, and so to make a revolution it is production relations that have to be transformed. But the way to do so isn’t the way proposed by Marx in the Communist Manifesto, or by Engels and Lenin and innumerable other Marxists later: that, to quote Engels’ Anti-Dühring, “The proletariat seizes state power, and then transforms the means of production into state property.” Or, as the Manifesto states, “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class.”

Instead, the revolution has to be a gradual and partially “unconscious” process, as social contradictions are tortuously resolved “dialectically,” not through a unitary political will that seizes the state (every state!) and then consciously, semi-omnisciently reconstructs the economy from the top down, magically transforming authoritarian relations into democratic ones through the exercise of state bureaucracy. In retrospect, this idea that a “dictatorship of the proletariat” will plan and direct the social revolution, and that the latter will, in effect, happen after the political revolution, seems incredibly idealistic, unrealistic, and thus un-Marxist.

I can’t rehearse here all the arguments in my book, but I’ve sketched some of them in this article. In the following I’ll briefly restate a few of the main points, after which I’ll argue that on the basis of my revision of Marxism we can see there is value in the many varieties of activism leftists are currently pursuing. No school of thought has a monopoly on the truth, and all have limitations. Leftists must tolerate disagreements and work together—must even work with left-liberals—because a worldwide transition between modes of production takes an inordinately long time and takes place on many different levels.

I’ll also offer some criticisms of each of the three broad “schools of thought” I mentioned above, namely the Jacobin social democratic one, the more self-consciously far-left one that rejects every hint of “reformism,” and the anarchistic one that places its faith in things like cooperatives, community land trusts, mutual aid, “libertarian municipalism,” all sorts of decentralized participatory democracy. At the end I’ll briefly consider the overwhelming challenge of ecological collapse, which is so urgent it would seem to render absurd, or utterly defeatist, my insistence that “the revolution” will take at least a hundred years to wend its way across the globe and unseat all the old social relations.

Correcting Marx

Karl Marx was a great genius, but even geniuses are products of their environment and are fallible. We can hardly expect Marx to have gotten absolutely everything right. He couldn’t foresee the welfare state or Keynesian stimulation of demand, which is to say he got the timeline for revolution wrong. One might even say he mistook the birth pangs of industrial capitalism for its death throes: a global transition to socialism never could have happened in the nineteenth century, nor even in the twentieth, which was the era of “monopoly capitalism,” state capitalism, entrenched imperialism, the mature capitalist nation-state. It wasn’t even until the last thirty years that capitalist relations of production fully conquered vast swathes of the world, including the so-called Communist bloc and much of the Global South. And the logic of historical materialism suggests that capitalist globalization is a prerequisite to socialism (or communism).

All of which is to say that only now are we finally entering the era when socialist revolution is possible. The earlier victories, in 1917, 1949, 1959, and so on, did not achieve socialism—workers’ democratic control of the economy—and, in the long run, could not have. They occurred in a predominantly capitalist world—capitalism was in the ascendancy—and were constrained by the limits of that world, the restricted range of possibilities. Which is doubtless why all those popular victories ended up in one or another form of oppressive statism (or else were soon crushed by imperialist powers).

If Marx was wrong about the timeline, he was also wrong about his abstract conceptualization of how the socialist revolution would transpire. As he put it in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, “At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production… From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.” The notion of fettering, despite its criticism by exponents of Analytical Marxism as being functionalist and not truly explanatory, is useful, but not in the form it’s presented here. For to say that relations of production fetter productive forces (or, more precisely, fetter their socially rational use and development) is not to say very much. How much fettering is required for a revolution to happen? Surely capitalism has placed substantial fetters on the productive forces for a long time—and yet here we all are, still stuck in this old, fettered world.

To salvage Marx’s intuition, and in fact to make it quite useful, it’s necessary to tweak his formulation. Rather than some sort of “absolute” fettering of productive forces by capitalist relations, there is a relative fettering—relative to an emergent mode of production, a more democratic and socialized mode, that is producing and distributing resources more equitably and rationally than the capitalist.[2]

A parallel (albeit an imperfect one) is the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Feudal relations certainly obstructed economic growth, but it wasn’t until a “competing” economy—of commercial, financial, agrarian, and finally industrial capitalism—had made great progress in Western Europe that the classical epoch of revolution between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries burst onto the scene. Relative to capitalism, feudalism was hopelessly stagnant, and therefore, once capitalism had reached a certain level of development, doomed.

Crucially, the bourgeoisie’s conquest of political power wasn’t possible until capitalist economic relations had already, over centuries, spread across much of Europe. There had to be a material foundation for the capitalist class’s ultimate political victories: without economic power—the accumulation of material resources through institutions they controlled—capitalists could never have achieved political power. That is to say, much of the enormously protracted social revolution occurred before the final “seizure of the state.”

If historical materialism is right, as it surely is, the same paradigm must apply to the transition from capitalism to socialism. The working class can never complete its conquest of the state until it commands considerable economic power—not only the power to go on strike and shut down the economy but actual command over resources, resources sufficient to compete with the ruling class. The power to strike, while an important tool, is not enough. Nor are mere numbers, however many millions, enough, as history has shown. The working class needs its own institutional bases from which to wage a very prolonged struggle, and these institutions have to be directly involved in the production and accumulation of resources. Only after some such “alternative economy,” or socialized economy, has emerged throughout much of the world alongside the rotting capitalist economy will the popular classes be in a position to finally complete their takeover of states. For they will have the resources to politically defeat the—by then—weak, attenuated remnants of the capitalist class.

Marx, in short, was wrong to think there would be a radical disanalogy between the transition to capitalism and the transition to socialism. Doubtless the latter process (if it happens) will take far less time than the earlier did, and will be significantly different in many other respects. But social revolutions on the scale we’re discussing—between vastly different modes of production—are always very gradual, never a product of a single great moment (or several moments) of historical “rupture” but rather of many decades of continual ruptures.[3] Why? Simply because ruling classes are incredibly tenacious, they have incredible powers of repression, and it requires colossal material resources to defeat them—especially in the age of globalized capitalism.

Building a new mode of production

What we must do, then, is to laboriously construct new relations of production as the old capitalist relations fall victim to their contradictions. But how is this to be done? At this early date, it is, admittedly, hard to imagine how it can be accomplished. Famously, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

But two things are clear. First, a significant amount of grassroots initiative is necessary. The long transition will not take place only on one plane, the plane of the state; there will be a tumult of creative energy on sub-state levels, as there was during Europe’s transition into capitalism. (Of course, in the latter case it was typically to establish predatory and exploitative relations, not democratic or communal ones, but the point holds.) The many forms of such energy can hardly be anticipated, but they will certainly involve practices that have come to be called the “solidarity economy,” including the formation of cooperatives of all types, public banks, municipal enterprises, participatory budgeting, mutual aid networks, and so on. In a capitalist context it is inconceivable that states will respond to crisis by dramatically improving the circumstances of entire populations; as a result, large numbers of people will be compelled to build new institutions to survive and to share and accumulate resources. Again, this process, which will occur all over the world and to some degree will be organized and coordinated internationally, will play out over generations, not just two or three decades.

In the long run, moreover, this solidarity economy will not prove to be some sort of innocuous, apolitical, compatible-with-capitalism development; it will foster anti-capitalist ways of thinking and acting, anti-capitalist institutions, and anti-capitalist resistance. It will facilitate the accumulation of resources among organizations committed to cooperative, democratic, socialized production and distribution, a rebuilding of “the commons,” a democratization of the state. It will amount to an entire sphere of what has been called “dual power” opposed to a still-capitalist state, a working-class base of power to complement the power of workers and unions to strike.

The second point is that, contrary to anarchism, it will be necessary to use the state to help construct a new mode of production. Governments are instruments of massive social power and they cannot simply be ignored or overthrown in a general strike. However unpleasant or morally odious it may be to participate in hierarchical structures of political power, it has to be a part of any strategy to combat the ruling class.

Activists and organizations will pressure the state at all levels, from municipal to national, to increase funding for the solidarity economy. In fact, they already are, and have had success in many countries and municipalities, including in the U.S. The election of more socialists to office will encourage these trends and ensure greater successes. Pressure will also build to fund larger worker cooperatives, to convert corporations to worker-owned businesses, and to nationalize sectors of the economy. And sooner or later, many states will start to give in.

Why? One possible state response to crisis, after all, is fascism. And fascism of some form or other is indeed being pursued by many countries right now, from Brazil to Hungary to India to the U.S. But there’s a problem with fascism: by its murderous and ultra-nationalistic nature, it can be neither permanent nor continuously enforced worldwide. Even just in the United States, the governmental structure is too vast and federated, there are too many thousands of relatively independent political jurisdictions, for a fascist regime to be consolidated in every region of the country. Fascism is only a temporary and partial solution for the ruling class. It doesn’t last.

The other solution, which doubtless will always be accompanied by repression, is to grant concessions to the masses. Here, it’s necessary to observe that the state isn’t monolithically an instrument of capital. While capital dominates it, it is a terrain of struggle, “contestations,” “negotiations,” of different groups—classes, class subgroups, interest groups, even individual entities—advocating for their interests. Marxists from Engels, Kautsky, and Lenin to Miliband and Poulantzas to more recent writers have felled forests writing about the nature of the capitalist state, but for the purposes of revolutionary strategy all you need is some critical common sense (as Noam Chomsky, dismissive of unnecessary “theoretical” verbiage, likes to point out). It is possible for popular movements to exert such pressure on the state that they slowly change its character, thereby helping to change the character of capitalist society.

In particular, popular organizations and activists can take advantage of splits within the ruling class to push agendas that benefit the populace. The political scientist Thomas Ferguson, among others, has shown how the New Deal, including the epoch-making Wagner Act and Social Security Act, was made possible by just such divisions in the ranks of business. On a grander scale, Western Europe’s long transition from feudalism to capitalism was accompanied by divisions within the ruling class, between more forward-thinking and more hidebound elements. (As is well known, a number of landed aristocrats and clergymen even supported the French Revolution, at least in its early phases.) Marx was therefore wrong to imply that it’s the working class vs. the capitalist class, monolithically. This totally Manichean thinking suggested that the only way to make a revolution is for the proletariat to overthrow the ruling class in one blow, so to speak, to smash a united reactionary opposition that, moreover, is in complete control of the state (so the state has to be seized all at once).

On the contrary, we can expect the past to repeat itself: as crises intensify and popular resistance escalates, liberal factions of the ruling class will split off from the more reactionary elements in order to grant concessions. In our epoch of growing social fragmentation, environmental crisis, and an increasingly dysfunctional nation-state, many of these concessions will have the character not of resurrecting the centralized welfare state but of encouraging phenomena that seem rather “interstitial” and less challenging to capitalist power than full-fledged social democracy is. But, however innocent it might seem to support new “decentralized” solutions to problems of unemployment, housing, consumption, and general economic dysfunction, in the long run, as I’ve said, these sorts of reforms will facilitate the rise of a more democratic and socialized political economy within the shell of the decadent capitalist one.

At the same time, to tackle the immense crises of ecological destruction and economic dysfunction, more dramatic and visible state interventions will be necessary. They may involve nationalizations of the fossil fuel industry, enforced changes to the polluting practices of many industries, partial reintroductions of social-democratic policies, pro-worker reforms of the sort that Bernie Sanders’ campaign categorized under “workplace democracy,” etc. Pure, unending repression will simply not be sustainable. These more “centralized,” “statist” reforms, just like the promotion of the solidarity economy, will in the long run only add to the momentum for continued change, because the political, economic, and ecological context will remain that of severe worldwide crisis.

Much of the ruling class will of course oppose and undermine progressive policies—especially of the more statist variety—every step of the way, thus deepening the crisis and doing its own part to accelerate the momentum for change. But by the time it becomes clear to even the liberal sectors of the business class that its reforms are undermining the long-term viability and hegemony of capitalism, it will be too late. They won’t be able to turn back the clock: there will be too many worker-owned businesses, too many public banks, too many state-subsidized networks of mutual aid, altogether too many reforms to the old type of neoliberal capitalism (reforms that will have been granted, as always, for the sake of maintaining social order). The slow-moving revolution will feed on itself and will prove unstoppable, however much the more reactionary states try to clamp down, murder dissidents, prohibit protests, and bust unions. Besides, as Marx predicted, the revolutionary project will be facilitated by the thinning of the ranks of the capitalist elite due to repeated economic collapses and the consequent destruction of wealth.

Just as the European absolutist state of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries was compelled to empower—for the sake of accumulating wealth—the capitalist classes that created the conditions of its demise, so the late-capitalist state will be compelled, for the purposes of internal order, to acquiesce in the construction of non-capitalist institutions that correct some of the “market failures” of the capitalist mode of production. The capitalist state will, of necessity, be a participant in its own demise. Its highly reluctant sponsorship of new practices of production, distribution, and social life as a whole—many of them “interstitial” at first—will be undertaken on the belief that it’s the lesser of two evils, the greater evil being the complete dissolution of capitalist power resulting from the dissolution of society.

It is impossible to predict this long process in detail, or to say how and when the working class’s gradual takeover of the state (through socialist representatives and the construction of new institutions on local and eventually national levels) will be consummated. Nor can we predict what the nation-state itself will look like then, what political forms it will have, how many of its powers will have devolved to municipal and regional levels and how many will have been lost to supra-national bodies of world governance. Needless to say, it is also hopeless to speculate on the future of the market, or whether various kinds of economic planning will, after generations, mostly take the place of the market.

As for “the dictatorship of the proletariat,” this entity, like the previous “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,” won’t exist until near the end of the long process of transformation. Marxists, victims of impatience as well as the statist precedents of twentieth-century “Communist” countries, have traditionally gotten the order wrong, forgetting the lesson of Marxism itself that the state is a function of existing social relations and can’t simply be taken over by workers in the context of a still-wholly-capitalist economy. Nor is it at all “dialectical” to think that a group of workers’ representatives can will a new economy into existence, overcoming the authoritarian, bureaucratic, inefficient, exploitative institutional legacies of capitalism by a few acts of statist will. Historical materialism makes clear the state isn’t so radically socially creative![4]

Instead, the contrast that will appear between the stagnant, “fettering” old forms of capitalism and the more rational and democratic forms of the emergent economy is what will guarantee, in the end, the victory of the latter.

An ecumenical activism

In a necessarily speculative and highly abstract way I’ve tried to sketch the logic of how a new economy might emerge from the wreckage of capitalism, and how activists with an eye toward the distant future might orient their thinking. It should be evident from what I’ve said that there isn’t only one way to make a revolution; rather, in a time of world-historic crisis, simply fighting to humanize society will generate anti-capitalist momentum. And there are many ways to make society more humane.

Consider the social democratic path, the path of electing socialists and pressuring government to expand “welfare state” measures. Far-leftists often deride this approach as merely reformist; in the U.S., it’s also common to dismiss the idea of electing progressive Democrats such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez because supposedly the Democratic Party is hopelessly capitalist and corrupt. It can’t be moved left, and it will certainly never be a socialist party.

According to Regeneration Magazine, for instance, a voice of the Marxist Center network, “Reformism accepts as a given the necessity of class collaboration, and attempts to spin class compromise as a necessary good. One of the more popular strategic proposals of the reformist camp is the promotion of candidates for elected office running in a capitalist party; a clear instance of encouraging class collaboration.”

There are a number of possible responses to such objections. One might observe that if the left insists on absolute purity and refuses to work with anyone who can be seen as somehow “compromised,” it’s doomed to irrelevance—or, worse, it ends up fracturing the forces of opposition and thus benefits the reactionaries. It is a commonplace of historiography on fascism that the refusal of Communist parties in the early 1930s to cooperate with socialists and social democrats only empowered the Nazis and other such elements—which is why the Stalinist line changed in 1934, when the period of the Popular Front began. Then, in the U.S., began Communist efforts to build the Democrat-supported CIO (among other instances of “collaboration” with Democrats), which was highly beneficial to the working class. Leftists, more than anyone else, should be willing and able to learn from history.

Or one might state the truism that social democracy helps people, and so if you care about helping people, you shouldn’t be opposed to social democracy. It may be true that the Democratic Party is irredeemably corrupt and capitalist, but the more left-wing policymakers we have, the better. Democrats have moved to the left in the past, e.g. during the New Deal and the Great Society, and they may be able to move (somewhat) to the left in the future. One of the goals of socialists should be to fracture the ruling class, to provoke splits that provide opportunities for socialist organizing and policymaking.

At the same time, the strategy of electing left-wing Democrats or “reformists” should, of course, be complemented by an effort to build a working-class party, not only for the sake of having such a party but also to put pressure on the mainstream “left.” Anyway, the broader point is just that the state is an essential terrain of struggle, and all means of getting leftists elected have to be pursued.

Personally, I’m skeptical that full-fledged social democracy, including an expansion of it compared to its traditional form, is possible any longer, least of all on an international or global scale. Thus, I don’t have much hope for a realization of the Jacobin vision, that societies can pass straight into socialism by resurrecting and continuously broadening and deepening social democracy (on the basis of popular mobilization to combat capitalist reaction). Surely Marxism teaches us that we can’t resuscitate previous social formations after they have passed from the scene, particularly not institutional forms that have succumbed (or are in the process of succumbing) to the atomizing, disintegrating logic of capital. The expansive welfare state was appropriate to an age of industrial unionism and limited mobility of capital. Given the monumental crises that will afflict civilization in the near future, the social stability and coherence required to sustain genuine social democracy will not exist.

But that doesn’t mean limited social-democratic victories aren’t still possible. They surely are. And in the long run, they may facilitate the emergence of new democratic, cooperative, ecologically viable modes of production, insofar as they empower the left. Even something like a Green New Deal, or at least a partial realization of it, isn’t out of the question.

On the other hand, while mass politics is necessary, that doesn’t mean we should completely reject non-electoral “movementism.” As I’ve argued, the project of building a new society doesn’t happen only on the level of the state; it also involves other types of popular organizing and mobilizing, including in the solidarity economy. The latter will likely, indeed, be a necessity for people’s survival in the coming era of state incapacity to deal with catastrophe.

Not all types of anarchist activism are fruitful or even truly leftist, but the anarchist intuition to organize at the grassroots and create democratic networks of popular power is sound. Even in the ultra-left contempt for reformism there is the sound intuition that reforms are not enough, and we must always press forward towards greater radicalism and revolution.

Ecological apocalypse?

An obvious objection to the conception and timeframe of revolution I’ve proposed is that it disregards the distinct possibility that civilization will have disappeared a hundred years from now if we don’t take decisive action immediately. For one thing, nuclear war remains a dire threat. But even more ominously, capitalism is turbocharged to destroy the natural bases of human life.

There’s no need to run through the litany of crimes capitalism is committing against nature. Humanity is obviously teetering on the edge of a precipice, peering down into a black hole below. Our most urgent task is to, at the very least, take a few steps back from the precipice.

The unfortunate fact, however, is that global capitalism will not be overcome within the next few decades. It isn’t “defeatist” to say this; it’s realistic. The inveterate over-optimism of many leftists, even in the face of a dismal history, is quite remarkable. Transitions between modes of production aren’t accomplished in a couple of decades: they take generations, and involve many setbacks, then further victories, then more defeats, etc. The long march of reactionaries to their current power in the U.S. took fifty years, and they existed in a sympathetic political economy and had enormous resources. It’s hard to believe socialists will be able to revolutionize the West and even the entire world in less time.

Fortunately, it is possible to combat ecological collapse even in the framework of capitalism, for example by accelerating the rollout of renewable energy. It is far from hopeless, also, to try to force governments to impose burdensome regulations and taxes on polluting industries, or even, ideally, to shut down the fossil fuel industry altogether. Capitalism itself is indeed, ultimately, the culprit, but reforms can have a major effect, at the very least buying us some time.

Climate change and other environmental disasters may, nevertheless, prove to be the undoing of civilization, in which case the social logic of a post-capitalist revolution that I’ve outlined here won’t have time to unfold. Nothing certain can be said at this point—except that the left has to stop squabbling and get its act together. And it has to be prepared for things to get worse before they get better. As Marx understood, that’s how systemic change tends to work: the worse things get—the more unstable the system becomes—the more people organize to demand change, and in the end the likelier it is that such change will happen.

The old apothegm “socialism or barbarism” has to be updated: it’s now socialism or apocalypse.

But the strategic lesson of the “purifications” I’ve suggested of Marxist theory remains: the path to socialism is not doctrinaire, not sectarian, not wedded to a single narrow ideological strain; it is catholic, inclusive, open-ended—both “reformist” and non-reformist, statist and non-statist, Marxist and anarchist, Democrat-cooperating and -non-cooperating. Loath as we might be to admit it, it is even important that we support lesser-evil voting, for instance electing Biden rather than Trump. Not only does it change people’s lives to have a centrist instead of a fascist in power; it also gives the left more room to operate, to influence policy, to advocate “radical reforms” that help lay the groundwork for new economic relations.

It’s time for creative and flexible thinking. The urgency of our situation demands it.

1. Being an outgrowth of my Master’s thesis, the book over-emphasizes worker cooperatives. It does, however, answer the usual Marxist objections to cooperatives as a component of social revolution.

2. The state’s official censorship may have required Marx to censor himself in the Preface, but I know of nowhere else that he expresses his theory in causal, as opposed to functionalist, terms. That is, he doesn’t provide a mechanism by which fettering leads to successful revolution. My restatement of his conception in terms of relative fettering—relative to an emergent mode of production—is an attempt to provide such a mechanism.

3. If someone will counterpose here the example of Russia, which didn’t require “many decades” to go from capitalism and late-feudalism to a “Stalinist mode of production,” I’d reply that the latter was in fact like a kind of state capitalism (as Richard Wolff, for example, has argued), and therefore wasn’t so very different in relevant respects from the authoritarian, exploitative, surplus-extracting, capital-accumulating economy that dominated in the West.

4. This is why I claim in the above-linked book that my “revisions” of Marxism are really purifications of it, eliminations of mistakes that finally make the properly understood Marxist conception of revolution consistent with the premises of historical materialism.

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Oil Prices Plunge, But California Oil Permits Rise 7.8%

Los Angeles 

As the price of oil plunged to below zero and dozens of oil tankers carrying over 20 million barrels of oil idled off the California coast, new oil and gas drilling permits actually increased 7.8 percent under Governor Gavin Newsom during the first quarter of 2020 through April 4 as compared to the first quarter of 2019, according to a report issued by two watchdog groups on May 7.

Consumer Watchdog and FrackTrackerAlliance reported that the Newsom Administration issued 1,623 permits during the first quarter of the year. The California Department of Conservation on April 3 also approved 24 new fracking permits in Kern County during the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic and after a nearly six-month moratorium on new fracking operations.

The number of oil and gas permits issued under Newsom since he took office in January 2019 now comes to a total of 6,168, the groups stated. The permit numbers and locations are posted and updated on an interactive map at the website:

“This is terrible news during an unprecedented pandemic,” said Liza Tucker, Consumer Advocate for Consumer Watchdog. “Now that scientists have established a correlation between air pollution caused by the production and combustion of fossil fuels and greater susceptibility to death from Covid-19, issuing zero permits would have been the right thing to do.”’

”On top of that, experts tell us that Californians could be liable for $9 billion in cleanup costs for existing oil and gas wells that are or will be eventually abandoned, so we should not be greenlighting even more wells,” she stated.

Tucker noted that the California Geologic Energy Management Division, a branch of the Department of Conservation, issues two main categories of permits: permits to drill new oil and gas wells and permits to rework existing wells. Permits are issued for different types of well activities, including “Enhanced Oil Recovery Wells” (EOR) that use cyclic steaming and water flooding to dislodge oil.

Permits for drilling new wells rose 27.2%, while permits for reworking existing wells fell 13.4% “in a sign that oil companies are literally scraping the barrel,” according to Tucker.

Approximately 10% of permits issued during the first quarter of 2020 have been issued within 2,500 feet of homes, hospitals, schools, daycares or nursing facilities. This compares to 12.2 percent for all of 2019, according to the organizations.

Unlike many other oil and gas producing states including Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania, California currently has no health and safety zones around oil and gas drilling operations. For example, the state of Texas requires that fracking operations maintain 250 foot setbacks from homes, schools and other facilities while the City of Dallas mandates 1500 foot setbacks around oil and gas wells.

“Regardless of where oil and gas wells and stimulations are permitted, near or close to Frontline Communities, these wells all degrade the regional air quality of the San Joaquin Valley,” said Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator for FracTracker. “The San Joaquin Valley has some of the worst air quality in the country.”

“In addition to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) being both air toxics and carcinogens that negatively impact frontline communities, these pollutants are precursors to the regional ozone and smog pollution that causes health impacts such as asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease, and negative birth outcomes,” said Ferrar.

According to the U.S. EPA, oil and gas production is a main contributor of VOCs and smog-forming nitrogen oxides in the San Joaquin Valley. Beyond the Valley, the American Lung Association in its annual State of the Air report gave 62% of California’s 58 counties “Ds” and “Fs” for air quality.

California, while often touted by state and national politicians as the nation’s “green leader,” topped the list of the nation’s most polluted cities in three categories — ozone pollution, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution.

“Los Angeles remains the city with the worst ozone pollution in the nation, as it has for 20 years of the 21-year history of the report. Bakersfield, CA, returned to the most polluted slot for year-round particle pollution, while Fresno-Madera-Hanford, CA, returned to its rank as the city with the worst short-term particle pollution,” the report found.

The number of permits issued under Newsom in 2019 reached virtually the same level as the number issued in 2018 under Governor Jerry Brown during his last year in office—even though Newsom fired state Oil & Gas Supervisor Ken Harris last July, according to the report.

In July 2019, the two groups revealed that eight oil regulators were invested up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in oil companies they regulated, permits for new production wells had risen by a runaway 77% over the first six months of the year before and fracking permits had doubled, even though Newsom campaigned on a platform of support for banning the practice.

Newsom was angered to hear about the increase in fracking permits — saying he was not aware of it — and then placed a moratorium on fracking permits pending an independent third-party review by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory while the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) investigated the regulators.

Then on April 3, the California Geologic Energy Management Division (Cal-GEM), formerly DOGGR, issued 24 fracking permits to Aera Energy, formed in June 1997 and jointly owned by affiliates of Shell and ExxonMobil. The Well Stimulation National Laboratory Scientific Review document is available at

The Lawrence Livermore Laboratory is now reviewing another 282 fracking permits, but fracking opponents are not optimistic about the outcome. “The lab was hired to confirm that the permits met state regulatory standards, which have a low bar and virtually no thorough environmental review,” said Tucker.

CalGEM issued the following response to Consumer Watchdog and Fractracker Alliance’s report, stating that a “simple total of permits doesn’t reflect actual oil production trends” and that most of the well permits issued by CalGEM were for plugging and abandonment:

“We are not aware of the source or methodology for Consumer Watchdog’s numbers. However, a simple total of permits issued doesn’t reflect actual oil production trends. That is because not all permits issued are for new drilling. During the timeframe Consumer Watchdog tracked, the majority of well permits issued by CalGEM were for plugging and abandonment (which is to permanently seal a well) – nearly a 2:1 ratio. Only in the month of March, 2020 did that ratio not apply. That was due to the court ruling in Kern County that set a March 25 deadline for permit applications under the existing rules.”

CalGEM also disagrees with the groups’ contention that the state regulatory standards for issuing fracking permits have a “low bar”:

“The recent 24 well stimulation permits is the lowest number issued in a calendar year since the implementation of SB4. Those permits were issued under the strictest of standards and after an independent scientific assessment by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to ensure they comply with California law, including the state’s technical standards to protect public health, safety, and environmental protection. LLNL also evaluated the completeness of operators’ application materials and CalGEM’s geotechnical analyses.

The independent scientific review is one of Governor Newsom’s initiatives to ensure oil and gas regulations protect public health, safety, and the environment. This review, which assesses the completeness of each proposed hydraulic fracturing permit, is taking place as an interim measure while a broader audit is conducted of CalGEM’s permitting process for well stimulation. That audit is being conducted by the Department of Finance Office of Audits and Evaluation (OSAE) and will be completed and shared publicly later this year.”

More details on the findings of LLNL’s scientific review to date can be found on CalGEM’s website.

Although Governor Jerry Brown’s enthusiasm for the expansion of oil and gas drilling is quite understandable, since he received over $9.8 million from oil companies, gas corporations and utilities during his administration, Newsom signed a pledge to not take oil money contributions during his gubernatorial campaign.

The rationale for Newsom continuing Brown’s oil well expansion is somewhat puzzling; some political insiders believe that he may be considering a presidential run and may not want to alienate the oil companies as potential campaign donors at this time.

What is even more puzzling is why would oil companies be in a position to drill for oil during the midst of the coronavirus crisis when there is no economic incentive while U.S. prices go into the toilet and dozens of oil tankers, with nowhere to go because of oil price collapse, are idling off the California coast?

Oil prices fell in half in 2014 and oil companies couldn’t cover the costs of their fracking operations, so they borrowed like crazy and burned through their money. As a result, there are going to be hundreds of oil company bankruptcies and no reason to frack at this time.

“Oil companies have been financially stressed for years,” said Tucker. “Fracking is a losing proposition— losing money for oil companies. In a financial crunch, the oil companies are burning through cash and have borrowed billions that are coming due. They are in a fix: investors won’t necessarily invest if they keep producing oil, but they also won’t invest if the oil companies stop producing oil.”

She said there is no reason for the Newsom Administration to issue new permits including fracking permits when the oil prices have fallen through the floor and health experts have connected the combustion of oil and gas and chronic exposure to air pollution to a greater risk of contracting and dying from COVID 19.

“You can’t produce it, you can’t refine it and you can’t sell it,” Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, and former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California, told the New York Times on April 28. “That ain’t a good situation to be in.”

One thing, though, is certain: the oil industry usually gets what what it wants in California. From January 1 to March 31, 2020, the same time that the Newsom Administration approved 1,623 new permits, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in California, spent $1,089,702 lobbying state officials during the period.

Chevron spent even more: $1,638,497 in the fifth quarter of the 2019-20 legislation session to influence legislators, the Governor’s Office and other state officials. The two oil industry giants combined to spend a total of $2,728,199 lobbying in the session’s fifth quarter.

Other big spenders on lobbying in the first quarter of 2020 include Aera Energy, formed in June 1997 and jointly owned by affiliates of Shell and ExxonMobil, with $290,826, and the California Resources Corporation, formerly Occidental Petroleum, with $213,489.

WSPA pumped more money into lobbying than any other organization in California last year, spending a total of $8.8 million, while the San Ramon-based Chevron pumped the third most money into lobbying, a total of $5.9 million. The lobbying expenses of the two oil industry giants came to a total of $14.7 million.

You can expect the lobbying spending by WSPA, Chevron and the oil industry to amp up now that the California Legislature is back in session.

In 2019, California regulators issued 4,545 oil and gas drilling permits, apparently due to the massive lobbying spending by the Western States Petroleum Association, Chevron and other oil industry lobbyists to continue Governor Jerry Brown’s expansion of oil and gas drilling after Newsom became governor in January 2019.

Spending by WSPA, Chevron and other oil companies was also successful last year in preventing the Legislature from approving Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi’s AB 345, a bill to ensure that new oil and gas wells not on federal land are located 2,500 feet away from homes, schools, hospitals, playgrounds and health clinics. Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez made it into a two-old bill after pulling the bill from the Assembly Appropriations Committee that she chairs last May 16.

However, despite the flurry of oil industry spending on AB 345 and other bills last year, the bill made considerable progress this year in the Legislature before they went into recess because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, passing the Assembly Floor by a vote 42 to 30 on January 27:…

AB 345 is currently in the Senate. The bill has been read for the first time and has gone on to the Committee on Revenue & Taxation (RLS) for assignment. You can bet that the oil industry will do everything they can from stopping this bill from making it to the Governor’s Desk.

WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 6 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups: (5) working in collaboration with media; and (6) contributing to nonprofit organizations.

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Monster Capitalism

I read Mike Davis’ tour de force, The Monster Enters (O/R Books), when I was sick and in bed and thought that I might have COVID-19. Originally published in 2005, the book has just been reissued with a new, nifty wham bam introduction that lays the blame for the current pandemic where it rightfully belongs on the doorstep of the noxious nexus that has brought about monstrous slums, industrial farming, corrupt political regimes and the failure of public health services in the U.S. and many other countries in the world.

Subtitled “COVID-19, Avian Flu and the Plagues of Capitalism,” The Monster Enters, offers a rich historical tapestry, going back to 1918-1919, and before that, plus heaps of scientific information, eye-opening prophecies and a wealth of metaphors that keep a reader entertained. Davis also sees a way out of the mess and suggests that what the world needs now is universal health care, the end of poverty, and research and development of antibiotics and vaccines.

An essay titled “The Monster Enters” was published in the March April issue of New Left Review and is available online.

Casting himself as a kind of detective who aims to solve the mysteries of the pandemic that has moved from China to the United States, and every continent except Antarctica, Davis traces the ways that twenty-first century diseases have jumped from species to species: from bats, chickens, chimps and pigs to humans. He points out that scientists have long predicted the pandemic that now ravages the globe.

He offers quotations from scientific journals, like Lancet and from activists/politicians like Ralph Nader who warned long ago about a “world war of mutant viruses taking millions of casualties.” The author of several contemporary classics such as City of QuartzEcology of Fear and Planet of Slums, Davis seems to have enjoyed writing The Monster Enters. Page after page he writes ahout the “perfect epidemological storm,” influenza as “an accessory to murder,” “stealth epidemics,” and “the influenza underworld.”

Like a dogged detective, he reveals the criminals, like John Bolton—the arch-conservative and warmonger—finds good guys to honor and praises grass roots democracy in China even as he lambasts the Chinese “Orwellian culture of secrecy and deception.”

Right before I finished The Monster Enters I went to one of Sutter’s clinics in Santa Rosa where a young, hip doctor named Gabriel Dianes checked my vital signs, listened to my heart and lungs and inserted a “nasal stick” up my left nostril to test for COVID-19. I won’t get the results for another 3-4 days. “Go home, rest, drink plenty of liquids and take Tylenol,” the good doctor told me from behind enough gear to protect him against all kinds of monsters. I did what I was told to do and more. I got into bed and finished reading The Monster Enters. By afternoon I felt like I was mending. I have the feeling I don’t have COVID-19. I’ll know for sure soon enough. Meanwhile, read Mike Davis’ new updated book before the monster rebounds and we spiral down again.

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The Liabilities of History: the Dangers of Pandemic Compensation

Smug assertions of liability in history are often incautious things. They constitute a fruit salad mix: assertions of the wishful thinkers; hopes of the crazed; the quest of genuinely aggrieved generations who feel that wrongs need to be rectified (the Elgin Marbles and transatlantic slavery come to mind). Before you know it, the next historical act will require compensation, the next crime balanced on the ledger of misdeeds. Lawyers will be summoned, writs and briefs drawn up.

The advocates of the China-compensation initiative for COVID-19 are growing in number; most are charmingly untouched by history. Sociologist Massimo Introvigne is one, and with a certain peashooter menace claims that China, specially the Chinese Communist Party “may find itself attacked by an enemy its mighty military power will not be able to stop, aggressive Western lawyers.” Introvigne, while clearly no sharp taloned legal eagle, suggests reference to the International Health Regulations of 2005 which obligate States to conduct surveillance of, and convey accurate and timely information about, diseases through their agencies to the World Health Organization. Tardiness on the issue of reporting outbreaks that can constitute public health emergencies, for Introvigne, might constitute such grave breaches as to violate the Draft Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts.

These particular articles, drafted by the International Law Commission, are not binding. But the Blame-China lobby has been cunning. James Kraska of the US Naval War College, for instance, thinks that the restatement has been absorbed into the ether of international state practice. Magically, the articles have been constituted as international customary law, which is binding.

A rash of legal suits have appeared across the United States, all sharing one common theme: a guerrilla compensation war via courts against a sovereign state. Members of Congress have been drafting various bills seeking to ease the pathway of private and public suits. Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn is one of several, hoping to amend that imposing legal obstacle to suing states known as the Foreign State Immunities Act of 1976 by establishing “an exception to jurisdictional immunity for a foreign state that discharges a biological weapon”. The name of the bill is instructive and leaves little to the imagination, being either the “Stop China-Originated Viral Infectious Diseases Act of 2020” or the “Stop COVID Act of 2020”.

This sort of legal pamphleteering and raging from the stump is interesting but not very instructive. Guilt and agency is already presumed by the advocates: China was not merely negligent in not containing the outbreak of COVID-19, but had actually created the virus with venality. The supreme self-confidence of those in this group leads to problems, the most obvious being the evidence they cite, and much they do not.

Even if there was something to be made about international pandemic wrongfulness, the United States would surely be one of the first to be cautious in pushing the compensation cart. The measure by Senators Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley, for instance, would grant the US president powers to impose visa and financial sanctions on foreign government officials who “deliberately conceal or distort information” about public health crises. This would also cover associates and those assisting in the endeavour.

But as has been pointed out by more grounded analysts, such measures will simply place US officials in the retaliatory firing line, including those who were rather slipshod with informing the US public about the dangers of the novel coronavirus. Rachel Esplin Odell is convincing in her summation at War on the Rocks: “If applied to Chinese officials, such sanctions would likely invite swift retaliation against US officials who themselves dismissed the threat of COVID-19, shared incorrect medical information about it, or spread false theories about its origins, such as the president, vice president, and many governors and members of Congress – including Cotton himself.”

Odell also warns that using the Draft Articles on State Responsibility in the context of public health is more than mildly treacherous. Disease outbreaks can be unruly things, hard to monitor and track; the the customary rule accepting that a state in breach of international law is required “to make full reparation for the injury caused” by that breach has not featured in international health efforts.

David Fidler, a global health specialist, also suggests abundant caution in Just Security for linking state wrongs with infection and disease. What such eager commentators as Kraska avoid is the tendency in state practice to avoid attributing “state responsibility for acts allegedly to be legally wrongful with respect to the transboundary movement of pathogens.” Compensatory mechanisms are absent in any treaty dealing with the spread of infectious disease, and this includes the International Health Regulations (2005).

The pursuit of blame, and efforts to monetise it, also brings to mind the fact that an imperium such as the United States should be reluctant to cast stones in the glass house of international politics. That pedestrian dauber yet dangerously inept President George W. Bush might be free to pontificate about COVID-19 and the sweetness of solidarity but remains silent about his misdeeds in ruining Iraq, and, by virtue of that, a good deal of the Middle East. This was an individual who, in March 2003, said that the US would meet the threat of “an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder” so as not to do so “later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.” Unlike the case of pathogen transmission, the issue of attribution in that case is far from difficult.

While international law furnishes little by way of financial compensation for damage caused by pandemics, it does about the criminal liability of state leaders and military commanders for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is also worth noting that the foundations for the invasion by the US and its allies was conspiratorial and deceptive, filled with the sorts of fabrications and mendacity that make the bumbling authorities in Wuhan seem childishly modest. In doing so, the crime against peace, sketched by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, was committed. As a Dutch Parliamentary inquiry found in 2010, UN Security Council Resolution 1441, giving Saddam Hussein a final chance to disarm, could not “reasonably be interpreted as authorising individual member states to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council’s resolutions.” The warning for US law and policy makers in seeking Chinese scalps should be starkly crystal in clarity.


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Racism and the National Soul

How deep does American racism go?

And is it possible to uproot it?

Or will it simply — endlessly — shift shape, wrap itself in the political correctness of the day and morph, say, from slavery to Jim Crow, from Jim Crow to stand-your-ground laws, gerrymandering and voter suppression?

At some point, the forces of sanity and survival must prevail and we must face this stain on the national soul with terrifying and transcendent honesty — and eliminate it. But how, oh God, how?

Every “legal” murder — by police, by private citizens — of a human being of color brings up such questions. The most recent race-entangled murder to suddenly explode across the headlines is that of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old man who was shot and killed on Feb. 23, while jogging in Brunswick, Ga. Two white men — a father (a former employee of the local District Attorney’s office) and his son — had seen him running through their neighborhood, assumed he was a criminal, grabbed their guns and stalked him down. The local DA, George Barnhill, refused to prosecute the case. No charges were filed against the two men for 74 days — until after a video of the shooting was made public.

As Adam Serwer noted recently in The Atlantic, “Barnhill’s leniency is selective.” He had spent years attempting (unsuccessfully) to prosecute a black woman who had helped another black voter use an electronic voting machine for the first time. Serwer wrote: “A crime does not occur when white men stalk and kill a black stranger. A crime does occur when black people vote.”

This is American racism in the raw: the emperor with no clothes. And such stories are endless. For instance, the family of Breonna Taylor, an EMT, recently filed a lawsuit — with the help of the same civil rights attorney working with Ahmaud Arbery’s family — against three Louisville, Ky. police officers who broke into her apartment at 1 a.m. on March 13 during a narcotics investigation. Taylor, age 26, was killed.

No drugs were found, the person the police were seeking didn’t live there, and they didn’t knock or identify themselves. But during the melee, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “police fired more than 20 rounds into Taylor’s home, striking objects in the living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, both bedrooms and into an adjacent residence where a 5-year-old child and pregnant mother were present.”

And, oh yeah, Taylor was shot eight times.

These are not isolated incidents. They’re situation normal: part of the pandemic of racism that has been gnawing at the soul of this continent ever since the Europeans arrived here. The nation’s racism has manifested itself over the centuries in countless ways, politically, socially, economically. The racism is deeply embedded in the country’s institutions, its legal system and — oh so discretely and between the lines — in our founding documents.

Serwer, discussing the ideas of Jamaica-born philosopher Charles Mills, points out that the assumptions of white innocence and black guilt — the basic American institutional understanding of social order — are part of what Mills, in his book of the same name, calls “the racial contract.” Serwer explains:

If the social contract is the implicit agreement among members of a society to follow the rules — for example, acting lawfully, adhering to the results of elections, and contesting the agreed-upon rules by nonviolent means — then the racial contract is a codicil rendered in invisible ink, one stating that the rules as written do not apply to nonwhite people in the same way. The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal; the racial contract limits this to white men with property. The law says murder is illegal; the racial contract says it’s fine for white people to chase and murder black people if they have decided that those black people scare them.

And Esau McCaulley, writing in the New York Times about the Arbery killing, put it this way:

Black folks need more than a trial and a verdict. Our problems are deeper, rooted not in the details of a particular case, but in distrust of the system charged with protecting us and punishing those who do us harm. This cynicism is well earned, arising out of repeated disappointments. To begin to heal this distrust we need this country to take responsibility for its devaluation of blackness and its complicity in violence against black bodies.

Obviously, some enormous approach to change is necessary. Can this country grow up — finally? We won’t “end” racism. We won’t end fear, hatred, projection, stupidity or mental illness, but can we not at least begin disinfecting our legal and political structure of racism’s horrific consequences? What would it take to deinstitutionalize racism?

First it would take a belief that doing so was not simply necessary but possible. Beyond that, the answer feels almost beyond reach . . . something the size of a social Big Bang. Certainly the answer isn’t bureaucratic: some new law, with the “racial contract” still invisibly simmering between the lines.

Real change would probably have to begin with an enormous public conversation, on the order of South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and national acknowledgment of our history, including slavery and genocide — the theft of people, the theft of the continent — followed by atonement, reparations and institutional changes.

The first institutional change would have to be in our criminal justice system and our underlying theory about the maintenance of social order. Disarm policing. Rethink justice: It’s not a matter of punishment but a matter of healing. This would require moving from the simple to the complex, i.e., from imprisonment and the further devastation of impoverished families and communities to processes such as restorative justice, in which victims and offenders — believe me, this is not simple — are able to talk and reach reconciliation.

We don’t maintain order by threat and domination. Order results from trust and understanding. An entire social transformation is needed that acknowledges this. Without it, the worst of who we are will find ways, as it always does, to sneak back in and regain control.

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The Infodemic of Fake News in the Era of CoV-19

In Italy Facebook and Twitter are not the primary social media apps of Italians generally speaking. More than ever WhatsApp and Instagram are the mobile apps of choice for social media messaging and these apps have been the cause of many fake news stories where local gossip is translated into a media story only later to be discovered as fake. There are even fake animal stories in abundance on social media on Instagram and Twitter and filters on Instagram that made claims to diagnose—and even cure—COVID-19.

Remember the ibuprofen scare that was said to originate from a friend of a doctor at the Medical University of Vienna in March? The claim, originally made as a voice recording in German and quickly translated to many other languages in message form, was that COVID-19 was either caused by or aggravated by patients taking ibuprofen. I saw about thirty tweets to this effect in March that many people aimlessly executed without reading any verifiable studies on this claim. Well, it turns out this was a hoax and wildly successful since even today people are still retweeting the fake news for which there is zero scientific basis.

While fake news is not endemic to Italy, it is having an increasing impact in other European nations as WhatsApp has become the primary vehicle for transmitting fraudulent news stories. Now for every rumour on social media, major and independent news is tasked with correcting the fake news reports to include telling readers how to deal with what is now called an “infodemic.”

Poland was also hit be a series of rumours that the national government would be locking people up in their homes for three weeks. All this is the result of the sharing of an audio file by an unidentified source who heard this plan from a “journalist friend.” In France, a false letter allegedly from the Ministry of National Education was circulated recently on Twitter which contended that summer holidays would be pushed back to 31 July for all schools and in a WhatsApp hoax, another anonymous person claiming to have links to the Institut Pasteur contended that COVID-19 is actually a chemical attack.

The WHO (World Heath Organisation) has become so concerned over the fake news surrounding COVID-19 that it has had to undertake various campaigns to counter directly many fake news reports. For instance, the claims that “snow and cold can kill the virus” as well as “taking a hot bath can ward off the risk of contagion” are both myths heavily circulated to which the WHO responded both with facts on its website and on social media. Tragically, fake news impacted the reaction in many African nations to the COVID-19 threat as the WHO and Ugandan government noted fake reports of reported cases. While this might seem anodyne, it creates a climate of distrust for the news—especially when urgent news requires direct action.

And where there’s fake news about risks and reports, you can bet money on the fact that there will be those interested in selling their secret cures. Hence the myriad fake news stories about the anti-malarial drug, chloroquine, as being safe for use against COVID-19. It’s not safe as one American man and his wife discovered earlier this week. The fake news making its way to Nigeria is the “cure” being offered in India which recommends the ingestion of cow dung and urine.

The problem with fake news about COVID-19 is that so much of what is real news surrounding this virus is often based on guesses such as the claim made last week by the head of Italy’s Civil Protection, Angelo Borrelli, that for every positive case in the country are ten more cases which are not registered. There is no science behind this claim—it’s a guess. Still, it’s a projection given by a professional in the field.

While Italy and other nations struggle against in the theatre of politics and the fake news that is spun, we must resist to share fake news from our keyboards. Of the people spreading the fake news about ibuprofen two weeks ago, at least half of the people on my feed who shared this item had a Masters or PhD degree. It has become somewhat of a cachet within social media to appear to know more about COVID-19 than others as recent days in lockdown has shown as people have debated the need for masks and social distancing as half baked conspiracies about a tie-in between 5G and COVID-19 has made the rounds last month.

Meanwhile with Italy and Spain slowly opening up their economies as some businesses have begun to get back to work, phase two is quickly resembling phase one, just with face masks everywhere. Italians feel like they have been sold fake news by their own government which at the end of April announced a soft reopening which is now visibly not offering much of a change for most businesses. Indeed, it would seem that Italy’s own government and media have spun a subset of fake news as Italians were told that “life would slowly get back to normal” but over the past ten days everyone quickly learned that this new phase encompassed no real changes. Well, that is unless you are one of the wealthy now allowed to attend to second homes while everyone is free to visit immediate family members—with masks donned. The government had also told everyone that they could visit those with whom they had “a stable bond of affection” from which Italians understood this to include friends. Sadly, two days before the launching of phase two, Italians learned this was not the case.

The larger disaster of the fake news of phase two is hitting businesses quite hard now that almost two weeks of this experiment has passed. Italians have discovered that the phase two after lockdown entirely resembles phase despite media reports to the contrary. The only new freedoms allowed now allowed are visits to immediate family members and exercise yet anyone taking a small child to a park will have a difficult time of it since jungle gyms and all playgrounds for children are still off-limits. All non-essential businesses and cultural centers such as hair dressers, shops, gyms and museums while outdoor markets are open and struggling to stay afloat.

For restaurants in Italy only take-out orders are allowed which is hurting Italian businesses sharply. Where some restaurants in the US are relying on restaurant POS (point of sale) systems that allow businesses to survive through fulfilling take-out orders, most Italian restaurants are not equipped with these systems. These and other online systems allow some restaurants to turn around orders in a short period of time during the even shorter-than-usual operating day under phase two. As a result, Italian restaurants still suffer from slow sales despite the media which is trying to spin take-out as a booming. Even cafes have reported slow business since last week as take-out ice cream orders are lagging as the Spring days turn into Summer. However, restaurant owners have complained about the financial hit they have taken in phase two which has pushed the government to speed up the reopening of cafés and restaurants with full service being launched next Monday given that the numbers of infected are falling daily as Italy’s R0 has fallen to below 1. Italians are hopeful that the numbers continue to fall.

Meanwhile, fake news sites are happy to exploit the confusion that weekly national, regional and municipal decrees create as the government has recently had to demystify fake news on its website. For instance, the national government has had to explicitly detail that applying vaseline does not stop the virus from entering the nose nor does drinking alcohol kill the virus, among many other false news accounts circulating the internet.

We must resist this urge to hit the share button before either reading reams of information on these topics or listening to one of the many experts whose voices can easily be heard in the media. The fallout from sharing anti-science junk can potentially be deadly, if not quite harmful, for others.

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Can Democracy Survive Bill Barr?

Bill Barr is covering up for Donald Trump.

Trump’s first national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, just after President Obama had imposed sanctions on Russia for interfering in the 2016 election on behalf of Trump.

Flynn, according to news reports, told Kislyak that when Trump took office in a few weeks he’d do what he could to reverse the sanctions. As a result, on December 30, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia wouldn’t retaliate against Obama’s action: a rare event.

In any other time, a national security adviser who was taking around a half-million dollars from a foreign power to act on their behalf (as Flynn did with Turkey), and reassured another power that actions taken to defend the integrity of American elections would be reversed (as Flynn reportedly did with Russia), would be considered a traitor.

But not in Bill Barr’s America.

Back in 2003, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and radio host Studs Terkel told me in an interview on my show that “hope dies last,” a phrase that became the title of his last book. If there’s an inverse to that saying, it’s that outrage dies first.

When America learned that Richard Nixon had committed treason to become president, sabotaging LBJ’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968, the outrage lasted a few days, but was then quickly forgotten.

When America learned that the Reagan campaign had committed treason by cutting a deal with Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini to deliver spare parts and weapons if they’d only hang onto the hostages until Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter, the outrage lasted a few days, but was then quickly forgotten.

LBJ lied to us about the Gulf of Tonkin; he’s today remembered for the Great Society, the Civil Rights Act and Medicare.

George W. Bush lied to us about Iraq; he’s today lionized by “never Trumper” Republicans on MSNBC as a statesman.

Jeb Bush rigged the Florida election in 2000; tens of thousands of African Americans were thrown off the voter rolls so his brother George could get within a few hundred votes of stealing the election; today Jeb’s seen as an ineffectual but good-natured doofus.

Bill Barr recently pointed out—as have tyrants and dictators before him—that “history is written by the winners.” He knows, because he’s performed in this movie before.

Back in December of 1992, Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was closing in on then-President George H.W. Bush for his complicity in the Iran-Contra crimes; Bush had fewer than three weeks left in office, and Walsh had already secured convictions and indictments against several Reagan/Bush apparatchiks.

Bush turned to his attorney general—Bill Barr—and asked what to do. Barr’s advice was that Bush pardon everybody and thus kill the investigation altogether. Bush did it, and the screaming, all-caps, four-column-wide headline at the top of the December 25, 1992, New York Times front page read: BUSH PARDONS 6 IN IRAN AFFAIR, AVERTING A WEINBERGER TRIAL; PROSECUTOR ASSAILS ‘COVER UP.’

It was a political earthquake at the time; New York Times columnist William Safire had been calling Barr “Coverup-General” instead of attorney general months before that because Barr had helped Bush, earlier in the year, cover up the illegal sale of weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein.

“William Barr, the 42-year-old Attorney General, became acquainted with Mr. Bush in his 20’s, when he served as one of his aides in the C.I.A.,” Safire wrote on December 28, 1992. He added, “A loyal order-follower, Barr makes no major decision without a nod or wink from his mentor [Bush].”

In an op-ed two weeks earlier, Safire noted that “the Coverup-General and his corrupt crew… [had] a style that would make a Watergater blush.”

In the Nazi era, the man holding Bill Barr’s job in Germany’s government was German Justice Minister Franz Gürtner. One of his most famous quotes was, “If you cannot recognize the will of the Führer as a source of law, then you cannot remain a judge.”

Like Trump’s “very fine people” threatening Democratic governors with assault weapons and swastikas, it appears that Coverup-General Barr is also taking a cue from previous fascist regimes: be it George W. Bush or Donald Trump, a Republican president is a law unto himself.

If he colludes with foreign powers, breaks numerous laws, and damages the government of the United States, that’s all fine. He’s the president, and his authority “will not be questioned.”

As a result, we now stand at a historical fork in the road.

In one direction, outrage doesn’t die first: Barr has gone too far in supporting naked treason by a former military official and the politician he served, and will be held accountable by Congress, the Courts and the press.

In the other direction, future Democratic presidents are only willing to “look forward instead of looking backward,” the press develops amnesia like it has about Barr’s 1992 history, and another act of Republican treason for political purposes goes unpunished and eventually fades from memory.

Will the “winner” be Trump and Barr, or American democracy? History’s guide is uncertain.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Don’t Let the Politicians Divide Us During This Crisis

From the beginning of this pandemic, the response of our elected officials has prioritized private profits over saving lives.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, recently came out against federal support for state budgets, saying state pensions were unworthy of being bailed out. In short, he’s using this crisis as an opportunity to deny millions of workers benefits they’ve worked for their whole lives.

Covering his tracks with divisive rhetoric, McConnell said what he opposed was a “blue state bailout.”

The response of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose own state needs help battling the fallout of the pandemic, unfortunately wasn’t much better. He tried to pit New York against McConnell’s Kentucky, calling Kentucky a “taker” from the federal budget.

That’s the same lie of scarcity McConnell was peddling. Cuomo himself is proposing to cut billions of dollars from education, health care, and other social programs in New York while refusing to consider increasing taxes on the wealthy in the state.

We cannot fall for these cynical attempts at misdirection and division. “At the center of all these issues is not the red or blue divide, but actual people and their lives,” the leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign in Kentucky and New York said in a joint statement.

“This is not a state against state issue,” they insisted. We’re all “being forced to exist within an economic framework that time and time again [protects] wealth over life.”

They’re right. We should have ample resources to survive this crisis.

Billionaires in the United States have seen their wealth dramatically increase since the pandemic set in. Trillions of dollars have been funneled to corporations. Recently closed hospitals are sitting empty, along with millions of homes and hotel rooms, and millions of pounds of food are being destroyed.

The lie of scarcity is a screen for policies that undermine not only our human rights to health, housing, and food, but also our democracy.

In the coming months, as state governments put together their budgets, the extent of this immoral opportunism will become even clearer. Sharp declines in sales and income taxes, along with increased strains on Medicaid and unemployment insurance, will leave states in severe budget crises.

What happens next can be deadly, as we saw in the criminal poisoning of Flint, Michigan.

In Flint, it was an unaccountable fiscal “emergency manager” who overruled local officials and switched the city’s water source as a cost-saving measure — and then refused to take necessary safety precautions, causing the entire city to be exposed to lead poisoning.

As Claire McClinton, a long-time Flint community organizer and leader, said: “They could not have taken our water away without taking our democracy first.” Turning our present public health emergency into a financial emergency is the next step in this process.

We cannot be silent in the face of cruelty masquerading as necessity. Just as we refuse to cooperate with irresponsible calls to re-open businesses before it’s safe, we should refuse to allow corporate-backed politicians to balance budgets by denying rights — especially when we have the resources to honor those rights.

We can provide health care, incomes, housing, education, food, and a healthy environment for all — if we choose to. If we value human life over private profits, there is no need for scarcity, not even in a pandemic.

What we can’t do is allow petty divisions to distract us from that.

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis is the Director of the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.

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The Sanders Campaign Was About “Us”–Not Bernie–Remember?

During the five weeks since Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign, many fervent supporters have entered a “WTF?” space. The realities of disappointment and distress aren’t just about dashed hopes of winning the presidential nomination. Much of the current disquiet is also due to a disconnect between choices made by the official Sanders campaign in recent weeks and his statement on April 8 that “we must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic convention, where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party platform and other functions.”

There are scant indications that the remnants of the Bernie 2020 campaign are doing anything to win “as many delegates as possible” in the 20 state primaries set for the next two months. That fact has left it up to individuals as well as independent groups and coalitions to do what they can to gain more Bernie delegates for the Democratic National Convention.

If the total number of Sanders delegates goes over the 25 percent threshold required by party rules — a goal that’s within reach — progressives will get appreciable leverage over convention decisions. While top-level negotiations between the Sanders and Joe Biden camps have led to agreements that are a bit murky, there’s no doubt that the best way for Bernie forces to gain clout is to win as many delegates as possible.

But — while Bernie has continued to provide valuable forums and town halls via livestreams, such as “Saving Our Planet from the Existential Threat of Climate Change” on Wednesday night — what remains of the Sanders campaign is not urging supporters to vote in the presidential primaries this spring.

That choice not only makes it harder to win more Bernie delegates in primaries. It also has an effect of depressing turnout from left-leaning voters overall, to the detriment of progressive candidates in important down-ballot races in a score of states.

On Tuesday, the Nebraska primary netted zero delegates for Bernie. But next week the Oregon and Hawaii primaries are more promising to gain substantial numbers of Sanders delegates.

To get a grip on the torch that Bernie is implicitly passing to the grassroots — now more than ever — we should take heed of a passage from his painful statement five weeks ago suspending the campaign: “Let me say this very emphatically. As you all know, we have never been just a campaign. We are a grassroots, multiracial, multigenerational movement which has always believed that real change never comes from the top on down, but always from the bottom on up.”

From the bottom up, it’s up to us. In effect, that now means the leadership for the Bernie campaign and what it stands for must come from the “movement which has always believed that real change never comes from the top on down.”

We should take Bernie at his words, and take them to heart: “Not me. Us.”

That means grassroots activists in upcoming primary states should take the initiative and get out the vote for Bernie. It also means that progressives around the country should jump into the fray, connecting with organizations that are working to maximize turnout for Bernie such as Our Revolution, People for Bernie Sanders, Progressive Democrats of America, (where I’m national director), and the new coalition Once Again.

No leader is infallible, and the best ones — like Bernie Sanders — don’t claim to be. Bernie’s deeply progressive and visionary leadership has been extraordinary, with inspiring ripple effects nationwide. The rest is up to “us.”

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One Pound Capitalism, a Pinch of Democracy and Keep On Keepin’ On

(Includes a Discomfort Foods recipe, and the words in bold inspire it)

For Trump the ‘warrior’ talk isn’t about shared sacrifice. He is adding a cheap patina of valor to his demand that people endanger themselves and in some cases die to restore the greatest economy that ever was … the one he created, the one he thinks will get him reelected in November. This is less warrior than cannon fodder.

— Josh Marshall, TMP, May 7

Marshall wrote that in response to one of Trump’s latest nonsensical utterances: that he views the “great citizens of this county to a certain extent and to a large extent as warriors.” Of course, Trump wants America to snap out of its induced COVID coma and open up. After all he wants America’s “to-a-certain-extent-and-to-a-large-extent-warriors” get busy keeping America profiteering again. What Trump didn’t add was that the warriors are also “overworked, underpaid, under-protected, and under-appreciated,” to a large, very big extent. And by golly they work for rich white people like Trump.

But most of America is not white and rich. In fact it’s the opposite. It’s non-white and poor-white. In fact, there would be no rich white people in America if it wasn’t for exploitation of the hands of non-white and white working people. And come to think of it, there’s nothing truly rich about rich-white-America. In fact, it’s dull, boring, and bland.

They signed up for a job to work for a company and to make ends meet. These workers didn’t sign up to die.

— Kim Cordova, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, Colorado, NBC News, May 8, 2020

The real richness of America lies in the country’s frontline workers: its migrant fruit pickers and other farmworkers, its meatpackers, vegetable processing and frozen-food plant workers, housekeepers, bus drivers, poultry workers, undocumented dairy workers, grocery store cashiers and clerks, janitors, warehouse workers, nurses, cleaners, healthcare workers, nursing home and home health-care aids, and others.

With Covid, the way it’s treated, in my view it’s just a symptom of something that happens. All. The. Time. We still have construction workers who have cave-ins in trenches. Well that’s just ridiculous. Or falling off a building. No! We can’t have that!

— Joan Ratzlaff, co-chair, Salina Area Workers Coalition, Kansas.

Even before the pandemic hit, this country’s workforce was suffering unimaginable hardships. And their collective suffering has, for the most part, remained outside the government’s livelihoods-policy imagination like a scabbed-over wound that now, thanks to COVID, has suddenly exposed its rawness for all to see and act upon. A rawness without which this country could not come to a full ill-functioning circle.

This richest country in the world, for instance, would have no public transit workers, 26% of whom are black, deliver restaurant workers to their place of work, every day. The well-off would have no restaurant workers to serve them their fave chicken dish; no chicken to give underpaid poultry industry workers carpel-tunnel syndrome; no carpel-tunnel syndrome to be left untreated because many workers like them have no healthcare to speak of.

There would be no healthcare for female and Latinx workers, 53.2% and 40.2% of whom work in building cleaning services, respectively; for women who make up 64.4% of all of the country’s frontline workers in industries where 41.2% of the workforce is also non-white; or for non-white workers, who along with women and foreign-born — 23% of whom live below the 200% poverty line—a poverty line under which live workers like the black bus driver who delivers restaurant workers to their workplace to serve chicken. Coming full circle, every day.

And the real ugliness of America lies in the country’s rich, white profiteers whose latest fad is viewing their workers as COVID fodder.

Meanwhile, states are “opening up” without having met the White House’s own criteria that must be followed before going ahead with a phased comeback—criteria that include showing a downward trajectory of cases over a two-week period, and vigorous testing and antibody testing.

The administration is lying. State governments are lying when they say things like it is safe to attend concerts standing 6 feet apart. And I suppose the owners of that crowded restaurant in Colorado — a state that has seen more than 19,700 cases of COVID and 973 deaths so far — were demonstrating how much they love their mothers on Mother’s Day.

Here, a worker at a large frozen-food factory in Kansas explains the company policies that he and his fellow workers have to live under:

I am to this day not 100 percent sure on what happens entirely when you call in absent or self quarantine or something like that. My impression… since about late March when they upgraded kinda the measures that we’re taking into account, employees would no longer be punished for calling in absent, which was the case before when there was a points system, where absences even with doctors’ notes would count as one point and at ten you would be terminated. And at six you would be denied any opportunity for promotion. Now it seems to be that they’ve taken an incentivized approach to coming to work where you don’t seem to be punished for calling out but you are rewarded with a $100 bonus [for a week’s work] for not missing any of your scheduled time to work, which to me seems like a bribe to come to work while sick… It’s the appreciation bonus, is what they call it.

Self-quarantining to my knowledge doesn’t seem to be rewarded. There’s no pay. If you call in with any amount of symptoms, you’re not allowed to come back until you’re symptom-free for three days. Which seems like good policy but you’re either forced to take it without pay or to consume your vacation and holiday pay which is not unusual but not great… The only paid sick leave that I understand is if you are made by the company to quarantine if there were a confirmed case to happen there.

As for other measures like masks, there are temperature checks that occur on entering the facility… A lot of the time they’re done out in the cold in the morning and I’ve seen an awful lot of instances where they would read temperatures that would suggest like, cold body temperatures and then allow people into the facility.

The problems then occur (with the masks) mostly when on the floor, er, the masks were implemented very recently… maybe one week ago. Before that there was a policy in place that everybody would be expected to maintain six feet of social distancing, except that in the more manually intensive packaging lines almost none of this changed. You would still have situations where the production speed is too fast for the packagers to keep up without more people coming to the rescue.

So instead of maintaining maybe three packers on a line like six feet apart and four lines total, it would be five people at less than a foot and a half apart, desperately like flying one way or the other just like grab products and package it and ship it out. All day. The same people next to each other rotating around the line so that everybody would be in everybody’s spot at one point. And you have members of management that would come by and they would catch you if you were talking to each other less than six feet apart… but they would seem to walk right past all the people that would package continually all day…

That was before the masks… Since the masks have been rolled out not only has that continued to be the case, as if this suddenly, you know, we can make up for the bad job we did before with the social distancing. Like this is the perfect defense against everything.

But the masks bring more problems. They are an extra piece of personal protective equipment that has to be worn underneath an additional full head net for your hair… everybody must wear. It’s pinned down further with… safety glasses and with hard hat with ear muffs, so it peals very tightly across the mask which makes it even harder to breathe than just the mask.

So if you rotate to a spot with harder work, it gets really hard to breathe right. A lot of people have started reporting signs of heat stress, or other things that like not being able to catch your breath. There have been some complaints about it but there are no solutions, and to an extent it seems like there’s even been a mild effort to pass this off as, oh, this is just you not being used to the mask, you know. Your body just thinks the mask is choking you. You’ll get used to it. Keep on keepinon.

Now if you look at some of the meatpacking facilities like Smithfield… some of the pork producers, they’ve had cases skyrocket to the hundreds just in that facility alone. And I don’t really think that our things here are the same as there, but I don’t think that they’re so different that it shouldn’t worry us a little.

Keep on Keepin’ On Chicken Pot Pie Encased in a Lie-Crust

Ingredients for the lie-crust: 2 cups white flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 6 tablespoons butter or crisco and cold tap water.

Ingredients for the pie filling: 1/4 cup butter, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1/3 cup white flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1 1/2 cups chicken broth, 2/3 cup milk, 2 cups cooked chicken cut in small pieces, 2 cups frozen veggies and 3-4 tablespoons chopped jalapenõs.

Mix the salt into the flour. Cut the butter in little pieces and incorporate in the flour using your fingers. Add just enough cold water to make a stiff dough. Then break in half, wrap in saran wrap and chill for an hour or two.

Melt butter in a pan on medium heat, add the onion and cook for about a minute. Stir in flour, salt and pepper. Slowly add the broth and milk, stirring continuously. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil, continuing to stir. Turn the heat off and mix in the chicken pieces, veggies and chopped jalapenõs.

Take the dough out and roll one half of the pieces thin to fit a pie pan. Fold the pan over the rolled dough and cut around. Then roll some more. Press in pan and keep aside. For the top lie-crust layer, take about 2/3 of the remaining piece of dough and shape it like one of your face masks with straps and all, replacing pieces of cinnamon sticks and cloves for thread to make pleats. Fork 100 holes in the mask and keep aside.

Pour the pie-filling into the pie pan, and place the face-mask-shaped dough in the center. Then roll and shape the remaining 1/3 piece of dough to fit the circumference of the pie pan, leaving a small opening between it and the mask-shaped dough. Pinch edges and bake at 425 F for 35-40 minutes, till the crust is golden brown and you can see the filling bubbling through the opening. Serve with fresh salad.

Discomfort Foods uses the medium of ingredients, measurements and textures to communicate the state of the planet and its occupants, in the process creating new food memories and associations. For this recipe, for instance, I have stayed true to the comfort-food taste of chicken pot pie, but introduced an element of discomfort by establishing new livelihood-policy associations with the ingredients — dairy, chicken and veggies, decorating it with a 100-holed face mask, and adding jalapenõs.

(This was first published in Peace Data)

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RIP Little Richard, Tutti Fruiti Sex Revolutionary

It was cancer, not the coronavirus, that took the life of the 87-year-old rock music pioneer known to the world as Little Richard.

But Good Golly Miss Molly, it’s still hard to lose such a blessing to our culture, especially when gifted ground-breakers like Little Richard seem to be rarer than ever.

In fact, there was nobody like Richard Wayne Penniman, the dirt-poor dishwasher who transformed himself into the self-dubbed “Architect of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Yes, his ego was big as his towering hairdo, but he deserved that honor and many more, profoundly influencing the Beatles, the Stones, Elvis, Hendrix, Bowie, Patti Smith, Prince, MJ, everybody!

Not only did he inspire future generations of rock, Little Richard was also an erotic pioneer for the Sexual Revolution and Gay Liberation. I’m no music critic, but as a sexologist, I’d like to credit him with paving the way for many people to embrace their own not-so-straight sexuality.

He called himself “omnisexual” which is pretty much the same as “pansexual,” aka bonoboesque. In other words, he liked everybody. He was married, dated women and loved it when the ladies in his audience threw their panties at him as he performed, but he was also very much into guys. An avid cuckold, he enjoyed watching his girlfriends have sex with other men (which got him busted for “lewd conduct” in Macon, Georgia). Other times, he’d just get it on with the men himself; no girlfriend necessary.

However, Little Richard was a devout Christian whose father kicked him out of the family home for being “gay,” so he struggled with his desires for men throughout his life. He often denied or proclaimed that he’d “conquered” those feelings. Then, a few years or minutes later, he’d confess that he always was and always would be attracted to men.

Interestingly, he never seemed to struggle with what we call “crossdressing”—even making it an aspect of being a successful “crossover” musician in such segregated times. He later opined that his effeminate manner made him seem less of a threat to insecure white men who gave him easier access to “whites only” venues.

Little Richard was the King and the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. His style was aggressively feminine: the bouffant pompadour, pancake makeup, mascara, powder like his beautiful mother used, lots of glitter and flamboyant fashions during a very grey-flannel-suited time when flamboyance was not “in” for any man but Liberace. Indeed, this was years before Ziggy Stardust touched Earth and decades before Sir Elton donned his sequin shades or RuPaul’s Drag Race was even warming up.

Then there was Little Richard’s first major hit, “Tutti Frutti.” Sounds sweet as candy, but what is it?

When I first heard the song, I felt he was singing about me, “Got a gal named Sue / She knows just what to do.”

Though I had no clue what to do.

A-wop-bop, a-loo-mop, a-lop-bam-boom” was, apparently, the answer, but what was that?

Years later, I learned the true meaning of the mysteriously tasty Tutti Frutti: anal sex.

The original lyrics he couldn’t record in-studio were “Tutti Frutti, good booty / If it’s tight, it’s all right / If it don’t fit, don’t force it / You can grease it, make it easy…”

So Little Richard was a sex educator too, teaching us how to make sweet backdoor love without force and with a lot of lube.

He wasn’t shy about the centrality of his libido, though he usually framed it with a disarming rhyme. When asked about rockabilly music, Little Richard didn’t miss a beat, “I don’t know about rockabilly, but I been rockin’ willy for years.”

Last but not at all least, Little Richard was a great integrator, bringing black and white people together from their strictly segregated sections of the club, sock hop or concert hall and into the aisles to dance. It was revolutionary, it was very bonobo and it’s the type of revolution we as a society need again and again and right now.

We love you, Little Richard, and we are grateful for all you have done for our sexuality, our culture and to heal the wounds of our bigotry.

Go get that Tutti Frutti Booty in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven, Baby!

© May 9, 2020.

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Basket Case

—Ithaca, NY, May 14th

I’ve always thought basketball the most American of sports. Baseball purports to be the “national pastime,” but it is similar to English cricket, indeed, likely derived from it—though sporting patriots contest the claim. Baseball conjures the American agrarian idyll with its grass field (now often artificial) and a pace of play beyond the tyranny of time: the length of the game is not dictated by a clock but goes on until the last player has had his chance. The longest major league game went for more than eight hours.

As the most violent of team sports, football might also seem to draw on forces fundamentally “American.” Its ideology is territorial, militaristic. The Market has weighed in the matter, too: the sport has the most fans, and its professional league is the most lucrative in the world.

But drive across the United States and you’ll see more basketball being played than football, baseball, or soccer. Basketball is the most popular kids sport.

James Naismith, a Canadian transplant to the USA, invented basketball in a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. A physical educator of Christian stamp, Naismith had been charged with devising an activity that would keep unruly kids fit and organized in the harsh winter months. The game should be safe but exertive, communal yet competitive. Naismith’s most brilliant innovation was to conceive of a goal that could not be directly defended. Instead, he suspended the goal—a wooden fruit basket—out of reach above the heads of the players. The first game was played under his direction in December of 1891.

In a gym, basketball takes place on hardwood floors, but, weather permitting, it is played outdoors on asphalt. Every schoolyard in the country has an outdoor court that is open even when the school and its gym aren’t. At these public courts or at your driveway basket you can shoot around by yourself, and if you can find another person you’ve got a game of one-on-one. It is a more democratic game than baseball: basketball requires less real estate, less equipment, is more accessible. Even if basketball evokes mythic heartland images of a kid on an Indiana farmstead shooting at a basket pegged to a pole, it thrives as an urban game.

Much is made of the importance of jumping in basketball. The soaring heroics of Michael Jordan long ago became a global brand. But mastery with the hands is more important: dribbling, shooting, and—crucially—passing. That is its crucial difference with what the Americans call soccer: that global game’s genius derives from (almost completely) denying its players the use of those quintessentially human attributes—hands with opposable thumbs.

Passing has become an ominous word during the pandemic, describing as it does not just communication of a ball but of the virus. Passing a basketball can do both. Thus NBA players were the first to be tested rigorously for Covid-19 in the United States; their special access to these medical services did not go unremarked.

American basketball became a world game long ago. It entered the Olympics in 1936. European, African, and Asian players now join the NBA in ever greater numbers.

Cornell University in Ithaca, New York is 400 kilometers directly west from Springfield. Spread across a bluff overlooking a long, deep lake, the campus has many indoor and outdoor basketball courts.

On Friday, March 13th the university sent its students home. Many did not have to go extremely far, returning to their families in affluent districts in and around New York City and elsewhere on the Atlantic seaboard. Not all Cornell students come from wealthy backgrounds; there is financial aid for those of limited means. But many pay the full cost, which now runs to around $70,000 per year.

As at universities in Europe and elsewhere in North America, an increasing number of students come from the People’s Republic of China. Most of them could not get back to China in March and remained in campus dormitories.

Basketball is claimed by many to be the most popular sport in China (and not just by marketers eager to exploit more fully the Chinese market). Kobe Bryant was the most celebrated athlete in the country, and the NBA its most popular professional league. There has been a Chinese league of twenty teams (the CBA) for 25 years, and China has sent a handful of players to the NBA. Americans go to play in China, too. Kenneth Faried, formerly of the Houston Rockets, signed a deal for $4.4 million with the Zhenjiang Lions this past November.

I live in a neighborhood just below the university. When there’s a basketball game going on at the outdoor court on the edge of the campus, I can just about hear the sound of shouting and dribbling—especially when there is no traffic noise, as now during the lockdown. As of March 13th all the university gymnasiums were shut to students, but not the outdoor courts.

Cooped up in their dorms, the Chinese students came out to play. The Upstate New York weather in March was mostly warm and clear. Winter did eventually return: it snowed in Ithaca just last week. But after the shutdown there were plenty of chances for outdoor basketball.

On my afternoon walks I would stop and watch the Chinese play. Many were pretty good, and the games seemed to have enjoyable flow and energy. Occasionally I thought about joining in, but there was the social distancing order, not to mention my old knees.

These pick-up games continued through March.

At his daily pandemic briefing on April 1st, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the problem: “I’ve talked about this for weeks. I warned people that if they didn’t stop the density and the games in the playgrounds—you can’t play basketball; you can’t come in contact with each other—that we would close the playgrounds.” New York City playgrounds were closed that same day.

By early April it was widely being reported that the virus had shut down regular pick-up games across the country, many states less vigorous in their quarantine measures than New York.

At Cornell red warning tape went up around the courts, but even this did little to discourage the student players from having full-court games or from forming smaller groups at one of the two baskets at either end of the court.

As I walked by the court a few weeks ago I noticed that the metal rims had been removed from the backboards. Clearly a directive from the university administration had come down to dismantle the possibility of having a game. But that afternoon a young Chinese man and two Chinese women were playing nonetheless. They were having a great time: passing, dribbling, shooting up at the basket-less backboard. One had to assume that they had formed a social group throughout the lockdown, so what was the harm in having fun on an otherwise empty court?

I watched them from afar, captivated by their joy in basketball without a basket—a long way from home playing a game without a goal.

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The U.S. Military is Hell-Bent on Trying to Overpower China

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

On April 1, Admiral Philip Davidson—the head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command—told the U.S. Congress that he would like $20 billion to create a robust military cordon that runs from California to Japan and down the Pacific Rim of Asia. His proposal—titled “Regain the Advantage”—pointed to the “renewed threat we face from Great Power Competition. … Without a valid and convincing conventional deterrent, China and Russia will be emboldened to take action in the region to supplant U.S. interests.”

The real focus is China. In January 2019, Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told U.S. military officials that the problem is “China, China, China.” This has been the key focus of all U.S. President Donald Trump’s nominees for the Defense Department, whether it be Shanahan or the current chief Mark Esper. Esper cannot open his mouth without blaming China; he recently told the Italian paper La Stampa that China is using the coronavirus emergency to push its advantage through “malign” forces such as Huawei and by sending aid to Italy. As far as Trump and Esper are concerned, China and—to a lesser extent—Russia are to be contained by the United States with armed force.

The Missile Gap?

Senator Tom Cotton (Republican from Arkansas) has pushed the view that China’s military modernization program has created a missile gap in China’s favor. In March 2018, Cotton asked Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (now U.S. ambassador to South Korea) about China’s missiles. “We are at a disadvantage with regard to China today in the sense that China has ground-based ballistic missiles that threaten our basing in the western Pacific and our ships,” Harris told Congress. To remedy this, Harris suggested that the United States exit from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which Trump did in early 2019 (Trump blamed Russian non-compliance, but it was clear that the real target was this fear of a Chinese missile advantage). In August 2019, the U.S. tested an intermediate-range missile, signaling that its intentions long preceded its withdrawal from the INF.

In March 2019, Cotton went to the Heritage Foundation to say that the United States should start production of medium-range ballistic missiles, which should be deployed on bases at the U.S. territory of Guam and on the territories of U.S. allies; these missiles should directly threaten China. “Beijing has stockpiled thousands of missiles that can target our allies, our bases, our ships, and our citizens throughout the Pacific,” Cotton said in characteristic hyperbole. Exaggeration is central to people like Cotton; for them, fear-mongering is the way to produce policy, and facts are inconvenient.

The United States has used the concept of the “missile gap” before. John F. Kennedy used it for his 1958 presidential campaign, even though it is likely he knew that it was false to say that the USSR had more missiles than the United States. Little has changed since then.

In November 2018, before the U.S. left the INF, Admiral Davidson spoke at a think tank in Washington on “China’s Power.” In 2015, Davidson said, his predecessor Harry Harris had joked that the islands off the coast of the People’s Republic of China were a “Great Wall of Sand”; now, said Davidson, these had become a “Great Wall of SAMs,” referring to Surface-to-Air Missiles. Davidson, from the military side, and Cotton, from the civilian side, began to say over and over again that China had a military advantage by the “missile gap,” a concept that required no careful investigation.

The United States has the largest military force in the world. In April, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that the United States military budget rose by 5.3 percent over the previous year to total $732 billion; the increase over one year was by itself the entire military budget of Germany. China, meanwhile, spent $261 billion on its military, lifting its budget by 5.1 percent. The United States has 6,185 nuclear warheads, while China has 290 nuclear warheads. Only five countries in the world have missiles that can strike any country on the earth: the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France. Whether it be in terms of intercontinental weapons or through U.S. air power, there is no doubt that China simply does not possess a military advantage over the United States.

Every known inventory of weapons shows that the United States has a much greater capacity to wreak havoc in a military confrontation against anyone—including China; but the U.S. now understands that while it can bomb a country to smithereens, it can no longer subordinate all countries.


The United States Navy is both overstretched and threatened. The two U.S. Pacific-based carriers—USS Ronald Reagan and USS Theodore Roosevelt—are in trouble; USS Reagan is in Japan, where it is being repaired, while USS Roosevelt is in Guam, with its crew devastated by COVID-19. Meanwhile, the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier group to threaten Venezuela using the excuse of counter-narcotics. Threatening several countries far apart from each other makes it difficult for the U.S. to focus its superior military power against any one country.

Missile capacities shown by Iran and by China have meant that the U.S. continuous bomber presence at al-Udeid Air Base (Qatar) and at Andersen Air Force Base (Guam) has been withdrawn. These bombers are now at Minot Air Force Base (North Dakota) and Barksdale Air Force Base (Louisiana). General Timothy Ray of the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command put a brave face on these withdrawals, saying that it gives the U.S. greater flexibility. The real reason for the bombers leaving Qatar and Guam is that the U.S. military fears that these strategic assets are in harm’s way.

Neither Iran nor China has the capacity to defeat the U.S. in a military confrontation. But alongside both of their borders, Iran and China have the capacity to strike U.S. targets and U.S. allies. This capacity hampers the U.S. ability to establish the complete subordination of these countries. It is this local power developed by China and Iran that the United States wants to extinguish.

Regain the Advantage

Admiral Davidson’s April report calls for “Forward-based, rotational joint forces” as the “most credible way to demonstrate U.S. commitment and resolve to potential adversaries.” What the Indo-Pacific Command means is that rather than have a fixed base that is vulnerable to attack, the U.S. will fly its bombers into bases on the soil of its allies in the Indo-Pacific network (Australia, India, and Japan) as well as others in the region (South Korea, for instance); the bombers, he suggests, will be better protected there. China will still be threatened, but Chinese missiles will—so the theory goes—find it more difficult to threaten mobile U.S. assets.

Davidson’s report has a stunning science-fiction quality to it. There is a desire for the creation of “highly survivable, precision-strike networks” that run along the Pacific Rim, including missiles of various kinds and radars in Palau, Hawaii, and in space. He asks for vast amounts of money to develop a military that is already very powerful.

Furthermore, the U.S. is committed to the development of anti-space weapons, autonomous weapons, glide vehicles, hypersonic missiles, and offensive cyber weapons—all meant to destabilize missile defense techniques and to overpower any adversary. Such developments presage a new arms race that will be very expensive and that will further destabilize the world order.

The United States has unilaterally increased a buildup around China and has ramped up threatening rhetoric against Beijing. Anxiety about a possible war against China imposed by the United States is growing within China; although sober voices are asking the Chinese government not to get drawn into an arms race with the United States. Nonetheless, the threats are credible, and the desire to build some form of deterrence is growing.

The absence of a strong world peace movement with the capacity to prevent this buildup by the United States is of considerable concern for the planet. The need for such a movement could not be greater.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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To Divide and Conquer: Science, News, and Hate in the Age of Instant Media

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

It is hard to see the signal amid the noise in the best of times, but the everyday chatter is especially difficult to comprehend in times of war, disaster, and infectious outbreak. Imagine a game of broken telephone with billions of speed-of-light internet connections – chances are the message will look nothing like the original at the other end, touched up by systemic misfirings and our own bias. But can we separate truth from pixie dust, fact from fiction? Can any of us agree if the sky is or is not falling?

The first telephone message was voiced in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell after spilling acid on his leg and calling out with seemingly controlled alarm to his assistant in the next room – “Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you.” Many of us learned that quaint origin story in school. Lesser known is where the phone was invented, Brantford or Boston typically given as choices. In fact, Bell wasn’t the inventor at all, a feat accorded to Italian Antonio Meucci in New York about 20 years earlier. I wasn’t there so I can’t say for sure, but I have it on good authority (H.Res.269, 107th U.S. Congress).

As in any Hollywood biopic, the truth is lost in the style, a lifetime of iffy facts stuffed into 90 minutes of cinematic retelling. Freddie Mercury didn’t tell his band mates he had AIDS prior to going on stage at Live Aid as in the hit movie Bohemian Rhapsody. But the drama dripped for all to see. So what if Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams kidnapped writer Terrence Mann as played by James Earl Jones, when in the book he rescued J. D. Salinger to “ease his pain.” If you can afford to make a $50-million film, you can tell a story the way you want, hang the truth or literary accuracy. Does it matter if George Washington did or did not cut down his father’s cherry tree and then did or did not lie about it afterwards? Does that make the flag waving any less valiant? We’re still going to take our hats off at the beginning of a ball game.

As for Meucci, Bell, and a host of other claimants, a functional phone would not have been realized without the scientists and engineers who came before them, including Italian Alessandro Volta (battery), Englishman Michael Faraday (induction), and the American Joseph Henry (electromagnetic relay) to name just three. Whatever the story behind the invention, a phone still works: spoken words make vibrations in the air, converted to mechanical crests and troughs on a metal-carbon interface (the essential “telephonic” part), transmitted as a varying electric current in a wire, and then remade as sound waves at the receiving end through an electromagnetically vibrated membrane. As Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

Harry S. Truman may or may not have said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit,” but the sentiment is still valid, though perhaps not for a few modern presidents and prime ministers who want us to believe they alone invented the wheel or were the first to win a war. We can’t all be quarterbacks in life, but we can all pretend to be important. Funnily, the S in Truman’s name (with or without the period/full stop) doesn’t stand for anything. Sometimes an S is just an S. Politics is the perception of truth.

Fast forward to today’s optical-fiber-filled world, the first internet message sent October 29, 1969, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, using a newly devised Arpanet computer-to-computer packet-switching protocol. The message wasn’t as immediate as Bell’s call for help, but the impact was just as significant as the number of internet nodes grew from the original two at UCLA and Stanford to 15 in 1971 and 37 a year later to over billions today, while the number of email messages is now on the order of trillions. I wasn’t there either, but the message sender, Charley Kline, is still alive and has told about the historic event.

We can quibble about details, but billions of us use email on a daily basis so some person or group of government-funded researchers invented it. As the story goes, Homer may not have written the Iliad or the Odyssey, but someone named Homer did. For the record, the first internet message was rather underwhelming – “LO” – the first two letters of an intended “LOGIN” but the Stanford SDS 940 computer crashed after Kline sent the third letter. Fortunately, Kline and Bill Duvall at the receiving end were simultaneously conversing by telephone to verify what was sent and received on their computers.

Adding to systemic flaws are differing perceptions of meaning, language nuances multiplying the imprecision of our messages. When Katy Perry or Justin Bieber tweet, millions learn how their latest song came from the heart. Or lament the obvious self-interest. The nature of knowledge and understanding gets muddled by the inherent subjectivity and our own bias. Is the earth flat, does the sun orbit the earth, was COVID-19 released from a virus lab as part of a Chinese government plot (no/no/no)? Alas, the ability to delegate to authority has become lost in our priest-less, anti-intellectual world. Cui bono? is always the first question to ask, Can the results be independently verified? the next.

To be sure, a healthy scepticism is essential and we must be ever wary of the source and motivation. But we all defer to others, our trusted proxies. Short of being there, how else does anyone know? And yet it is becoming harder to hear other than our own voices in our own echo chambers. The one-footed Dufflepuds in C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” were not very bright as they hopped about clamouring in unison, “True for you, Chief, true for you.” The yes-men and troll farms are everywhere amplifying the nonsense.

It is especially important in time of crisis to make sure what we know is real, critically examining the available data and analyses. Battles are won all the time by quick-thinking tacticians who correctly read the tea leaves or lost by those who mistook a wind. Would you bet your life on a galloping Paul Revere or the boy who cried wolf? Would you trust an unknown source with dubious connections?

A wise leader also rallies the troops behind a trusted banner, inspiring with a noble call to arms as in Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches … we shall never surrender.” Or Shakespeare’s Henry V’s St Crispin’s Day speech at Agincourt “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; / For he to-day that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother.”

Spitballing, thinking aloud, and sarcasm don’t typically muster the same enthusiasm to a cause, although optimism is better than pessimism. Unless you are a rider in the Light Brigade as in Tennyson’s 1854 poem about the horror of the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, “Theirs not to make reply, / Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die. / Into the valley of Death / Rode the six hundred.” Sadly, the frontlines are full of dead.

On March 11, the World Health Organization – composed of 194 member nations dedicated “to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable” as stated in its mission – declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Countries around the world shut up shop and instigated restrictive lockdowns, temporarily depriving citizens of basic freedoms to combat a pernicious invisible enemy. In Ireland, annual St Patrick’s Day parades were cancelled across the country and pubs closed. You know things are serious when the Irish cancel a party.

Not yet fully aware of the dangers, International Women’s Day parades were celebrated on March 8 on the streets of Madrid and cities elsewhere, while in the United States business continued as normal, one congressman stating “it’s a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant.” In England, despite the WHO declaration, the annual Cheltenham horse races went ahead from March 10 to 13. A national emergency was declared in the US on March 13 while the UK shut down 10 days later.

True to its deadly billing, infections and deaths multiplied, exponentially at first before flattening in most countries, the recorded infections totalling 3.3 million and the deaths 230,000 by the end of April (1 million and 60,000 in the US). There was muted joy come May Day as many in Europe ventured out from their homes for the first time in more than 6 weeks.

How an epidemic became a pandemic will be forensically analysed for years to come, especially how so many people in the West became infected while so few were, relatively speaking, in China and other Asian countries. Preparedness, one-party state control, and the understanding of the basics of science and epidemiology will top the list.

The counterclaims will also continue at least until November in an anti-science disinformation campaign. No one should be surprised as the claims are repeated again and again in the coming months, a standard tactic right out of the Propaganda 101 playbook. Joseph Goebbels may not have pioneered “illusory truth” but he knew the importance of “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.”

A week after the WHO declaration, the U.S. president asserted in a White House briefing (March 19) that “No one knew there would be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion,” as bold-faced a lie as there is, and sowing the seeds of the coming administration hand-washing. Further inculpable planks were hastily assembled. In a Reuters interview (April 29), Trump claimed the virus was a Chinese election ploy, saying “China will do anything they can to have me lose this race.” The next day in a White House briefing (April 30), he claimed to have seen evidence that the virus was created in a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. When pressed to share the evidence, he declined to elaborate, adding “I’m not allowed to tell you that.” One wonders how the origins of one of the largest health emergencies in modern history doesn’t warrant full disclosure.

The same idea had been mooted by various right-wing pundits. How those pundits knew better than the agency designed to oversee world health work or the United States own secret services, which announced that the virus was “not manmade or genetically modified,” was not revealed. The Dufflepuds are having a field day.

Countering claims that the Chinese government was to blame and that the US was thus not responsible for its ravaged economy, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Geng Shuang, stated, “Certain U.S. politicians have disregarded facts and vilified China in an attempt to shirk their responsibility and incompetence in fighting the pandemic” (April 30). The punches are starting to land as the action heats up. Beware the flying blood, spit, and sweat.

Some have even suggested COVID-19 was a bioweapon, a charge right out of a Hollywood movie. Alas, Bruce Willis can’t go backwards in time to save the day. Of course, Trump and Co (Trumpco) have no real interest in digging deeper in a systematic way to establish the facts, preferring to sow division with lies, innuendo, and half-baked magic. It’s Maxwell Smart against the old world order, fighting an evil Chinese network, the tentacles of Chaos stretching everywhere to oppose him. The sensationalist tweets and tabloid soundbites are meant to stir up a hornets’ nest of disinformation, ensuring frenzied rhetoric and anti-intellectual rants in the Disunited States, putting government on trial in a permanent state of rebellion. That one is straight from the Reagan script.

It is hard to keep up with any news story as information breaks, but even harder during a pandemic or amid so much sleight-of-hand. On April 30, Trump announced “Operation Warp Speed” to deliver 100 million coronavirus vaccines by November. Alas “warp speed” doesn’t match reality either, despite the catchy sci-fi PR. No matter how many Star TrekStar Wars, or star-fi movies Hollywood makes, nothing can travel at the speed of light other than “light” a.k.a. EM radiation (at 1 foot per nanosecond, sunlight takes about 8 minutes to reach earth).

The Dufflepundits forgot to inform the president that warp speed is a fiction for anything but light, which has zero rest mass. Nothing can exceed the speed of light either, other than on a quantum level and then only for a miniscule period of time by borrowing energy via the uncertainty principle. Sorry star-fi fans, a spaceship and any human beings would be ripped to shreds. Add in hunches about malaria drugs, injecting bleach, and swallowing UV light and one sees how deadly bad science and fake news is. It isn’t state-of-the-art, best-practice solutions Trumpco is selling, but Wild West potions, pixie dust, and dubious dreams.

We are all happy to follow directions, indeed often compelled to in times of uncertainty. We all hope the bosses know what they are doing. In Peter Weir’s anti-war film Gallipoli, we wanted Archie to win against all odds as he rose from the trenches and ran toward the onslaught of Ottoman machine-gun fire like a leopard with “springs for legs.” Instead, against all hopes, the young Australian runner was cut to shreds, the obvious outcome to anyone other than the sheltered generals, calling the shots away from the trenches. Movies have a way of showing real isn’t real and that the promised land is just beyond the next hill. Reality TV has a way of making us think style makes sense or that a salesman is on our side. Remember, soap operas began as a way to sell soap. The story is secondary.

To be sure, truth is often immaterial to a cause. The Turks hold a different view of Gallipoli than the Allies, what they call the Battle of Çanakkale, where almost twice as many Ottoman troops died than Anzac and Allied soldiers. There were many more Turkish than Australian Archies, who gave up their lives for their homeland. When both teams pray before a football game, was one God not listening? Not only beauty but truth is in the eye of the beholder.

Did man walk on the moon? My mother let me stay up late that warm July night in 1969 to watch on TV as the Apollo 11 astronauts took their first tepid steps. That doesn’t make it true, but Occam’s razor is a smart bet that simple explanations are better than elaborate conspiracies. I have read many accounts – Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff about the precursor Mercury program is a great start – and if you have the means you can even bounce a laser off the moon to measure the earth-moon distance in a high-tech demo, using one of the mirrors left behind by the astronauts. The goofy scientists in The Big Bang Theory showed how lunar laser ranging is done (season 3, episode 23). I’m also pretty sure the earth is not supported by a ring of elephants standing on a large tortoise. No one need waste time debating.

Aristotle believed that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects (Physics Book IV). What a dunce. But then Aristotle had many good and bad ideas. Thanks to Galileo and Newton, we understand now how gravity doesn’t play favourites, although many thought as Aristotle did until Newton’s 1687 Principia (I’ve held the original from the British Library in my hands). Some still think as Aristotle did that moving objects fall backwards when dropped from the hand, unbothered by a simple demonstration to the contrary.

Thanks in part to Marie Curie, we know that high-energy radiation is harmful (gamma rays, x-rays, UV). She and her daughter Irène, both Nobel Prize winners, died of leukaemia, having laboriously separated radioactive material from their ores. Madame Curie, who pioneered the use of radiation as a frontline imaging diagnostic, would not want anyone to swallow UV light. Short of reproducing every experiment ever done in the history of science (and assuming no deceiving demons), we have to farm out our brains to those who know.

It took until 1971 for Apollo 15 Commander David Scott to drop a 30-gram falcon feather and a 1.3-kilogram aluminum hammer on the moon to verify Galileo and Newton. University of Manchester particle physicist and science educator Brian Cox later reproduced the same experiment on earth in a fantastically elegant demonstration, evacuating a silo-sized NASA spacecraft test chamber to verify the same result (Cox used a feather and a bowling ball). Without wind resistance, a feather and hammer fall together and hit the ground at the same time. Nothing magical about the science. (We can use Einstein’s explanation of gravity as curved space rather than a force but the result is the same in this case.)

How do I know COVID-19 started in a wet market in Wuhan. I happily defer to qualified experts based on their experience and trusted affiliations. That is the working explanation based on the best evidence today. I would never believe a vague claim that “Some people probably think it was in a lab” no matter how often repeated. Nor does “doing the rounds on social media” equal truth. Same goes for 5G causing coronavirus (seriously Woody?) or bone-headed ideas about injecting bleach and UV light. Even the lightweight press in today’s Trump-a-thon shouldn’t stop scrutinizing that boatload of Bleachgate nonsense. Alas, the ongoing game of presidential whack-a-mole keeps popping out more lies to distract attention.

Nor do I think Bill Gates created COVID-19 so he could vaccinate us all to make an even larger fortune or introduce population control and world government because he is an atheist in league with the globalist kingpin George Soros. I have problems with how much money Gates has hoarded and how little taxes he and other billionaires pay, but he did not create a virus to make even more billions selling microchip vaccines. Of course, anyone can read about Gates’s nefarious plan on their favourite medieval online platform. Some of the comments are even grammatically correct. Any mention of wearing tin foil hats will be shouted down in an endless ad hominem tirade.

Today’s politics of misdirection is never about truth. It’s about Obama, the government taking away my guns, my right to do as I want how I want hang the consequences, tied up in a never-ending game of us-versus-them. Soviets/Russians versus the West, Islam versus the West, and presumably now China versus the West. Will we waste yet another generation on hating the other? The left and right refuse to see each other in their own reflection.

Why so much banter about what is obvious to all? To sow doubt and seed division. To avoid asking the harder questions, such as why universal health care is not a basic human right, why work is not available to all (a 4-day work week an obvious solution to unemployment), or why the supposed richest nation on earth was unprepared for a pandemic. The Play-Doh president will say that coronavirus or climate change is a hoax to incite confusion because he can’t acknowledge an authority besides himself or praise the cooperative efforts of others. America is always beautiful, exceptional, and right. But when one’s speech is peppered with “some people,” “many think,” and “they say,” doubt is the only truth on offer.

I’d rather learn whether hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, and plasma injections from recovered patients can help treat coronavirus – no (causes arrhythmia among other problems), yes (in a controlled program for some severe cases), and possibly (more research needed on antibodies), according to the latest medical reports. Even seemingly crazier ideas can be helpful, such as a peanut-butter sniff test as a Canadian doctor suggested or that nicotine may reduce infections as in a French study. Absent a working vaccine, we’ll see going forward what works and how practical the ad-hoc measures are as the virus becomes better understood. Not everyone can wait for consensus explanations, but we can still use best science and common sense as guides.

We can certainly discuss if 1.5 metres (the Netherlands) or 2 m/6 feet (most everywhere else) is a sufficient social distance, how staggered running and cycling can limit lingering breath and spit (as in a Belgian-Dutch study), or how much viral load infects. But even to suggest that bleach is a possible solution rightly calls into question the validity of the source. We could have a very good discussion about the disinfecting efficacy of UV light, not that it should be shined in the body, but that it can kill germs, viruses, and other contagions on surfaces. Far-UVC light may also kill virus-laden airborne droplets in public places. We are learning the science as we go.

Measuring “excess deaths” may also better calibrate the extent of the virus rather than relying on infection fatality rates (essentially unknown without universal testing) or case fatality rates (IFR and CFR). But stating that a country is prepared to end its economically onerous lockdown because it has tested more than other much less-populous countries is as crazy as saying my fembots can beat your bionics.

It is sad when the obvious nonsense goes unchecked, such as hospitals are empty because parking lots are empty, 5G networks weaken immunity, or an El País reporter sent to Wuhan at the start of the outbreak is Sacha Baron Cohen pretending to be a crisis actor. Alex Jones had to pay court costs in a defamation case for such nonsense about Sandy Hook. Crisis actors? Seriously? You can’t press the undo button on that kind of psychosis.

Truth is not a flavour of ice cream, but it’s hard for a Rum Raisin lover to try Rocky Road. Calling a chair a chair would be a start. Hospitals have been overwhelmed in parts of Europe and in New York City where life-and-death choices were made on the fly as in a warzone triage. In the Netherlands, an attack on two 5G towers could have brought down the emergency network in an act of weaponized stupidity. The El País reporter is not an actor. I know, I have met him. I went to his first book launch. For those who don’t want to believe him or me, he is 20 years younger than Cohen.

The press do have a problem with accuracy. Everyone has an agenda, altruistic or not. Chalk it up to limited resources or deadlines, but the truth does win out. That’s one of the reasons we have peer-reviewed academic literature. That doesn’t mean Nature or Applied Physics Letters is entirely correct, but the chances of intended bias creeping in are minimized. Of course, we can all be wrong as was the idea of a flat earth, an orbiting sun, or Aristotle’s flawed gravity, the validity of which went unchallenged for almost 2 millennia, but not on purpose and not for want of trying. Science builds and destroys. Science is not to be trifled with. That’s why we have references. No bluffing allowed.

When almost all peer-reviewed scientific literature says the earth is warming, we should take serious note. Even a previously avowed climate-change sceptic, Berkeley physics professor Richard A. Muller, knows anthropomorphic global warming is for real. He did his own analysis, extending the temperature record back to 1753, using station data and proxies such as tree rings and coral growth, corroborating the IPCC data that tied the increase in average global temperature to an unmistakable increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. As Muller stated, “The exquisite agreement between the warming and CO2 suggests that most – maybe all – of the warming of the past 250 years was caused by humans.”

Interestingly, Muller noted that temperatures had only increased at two-thirds of the 36,866 recording stations in the study of data collected from around the world, but had actually decreased at the other third, underlining how local temperatures cannot be used to extrapolate to an average global temperature. Climate should not be confused with weather as many unscrupulous presidents and unwilling Dufflepuds are apt to do. Do you want to bet your life Muller works for George Soros (he doesn’t)? Or that climate change is not real (it is)?

In Too True to be Good, George Bernard Shaw noted that “Newspapers are unable seemingly to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization.” The bottom line and ratings are what matters to the accountants. All those online clicks eventually add up to a pretty penny. Presidents can’t know everything, but they should at least know enough not to spout nonsense. Believe the less bad at your peril. A leopard can’t change its spots – the science is out on that.

We should debate whether expanded 5G data networks that will control more of our data are an intrusion into privacy, but not that 5G masts weaken the immune system to facilitate viral infection. Same for contact-tracing apps restricting basic rights and liberties. I can delete the Facebook posts I receive that try to sell me organic food to combat coronavirus, but should such nonsense spread unchecked on social media? If yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre for malicious purposes is illegal, should we ensure that one can’t sell nonsense on instant media? How best to contain an epidemic is essential in a global village, not turning another civilization into an enemy to misdirect. Did anyone call for reparations in the midst of the 1918 Kansas influenza outbreak?

It is far more important to discuss the effects of asymptomatic infection, indoor HVAC, and the use of masks to limit community transmission. Public-space temperature checks may be of questionable value, but there are still conflicting guidelines on whether or not to wear a mask. Should we reuse and clean our own homemade creations in the event of price gouging from the economic new normal? We should be working together to limit transmission to poorer countries, preparing a better response to a possible second wave and future pandemics instead of fighting over whether masks are a common good.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the United States chose not to participate in an EU-led May 4th international fundraiser that raised $8 billion for coronavirus vaccine research, treatments, and diagnostics, a bridge too far for the architects of the America First doctrine. America Alone is the new normal as citizens assert their individual rights and ignore the temporary measures of a coordinated phased de-escalation. Heaven forbid anyone is told what to do by a government smile. Sadly, no one gets overly worked up when Jeff Bezos makes enough in a month to cover the costs. Or that U.S. billionaire wealth jumped almost $400 billion in April at the same time that more than 30 million Americans lost their jobs. Beware the new narrative, same as the old. We’re fighting a fire with a peashooter.

Maybe we need a culture correction with the coming market correction, realigning sustainable practices with resources. In the past 2 months, the luckiest of us have seen how to live without and conserve essentials. “What less do I need?” is a mantra of praise.

Does venting so much anger make one feel less inadequate in the onslaught of 24-7 media, some of which is clearly false and backed by motivated sellers? Am I not good enough in comparison to the obviously overhyped luvvies of the world? Compelled to rank myself forever against others, seeing life only as a ladder? We are keen to knock down and to insult, when to build up and compliment is a sign of strength. Seeing the best in another, even a political adversary, is noble.

The real story is disinformation. They don’t want to value science; they want to debate nonsense to sow doubt about authenticity and obvious facts. Who are they? The Illuminati? The Gnomes of Zurich? The Lizard People? The Evil Globalists who want to take away your guns and stamp 666 on your forehead? More like the me-first libertarian overloads who want to keep their billions in their offshore accounts so you can’t get it. Simple is always best. Global cooperation is not the start of world government.

The earth is not flat. The sun does not orbit the earth. Neil and Buzz did walk on the moon as did 10 others. COVID-19 is not a Chinese government plot. Repeating obvious falsehoods doesn’t make you a rebel; it means you’re someone whose authority is meaningless. When evidence is tainted, other statements become inadmissible, fruit of a poisonous tree. Facts don’t need to pass a smell test. Modern discourse is not duelling gods. As Marie Curie aptly noted, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” We need more scientific rigour and less drivel.

We must prepare for the possibility of more waves, the effect of mutated strains, and other pandemics, possibly more contagious and more lethal than COVID-19. Our defences must be underpinned by reputable science and a collimated plan to make clear decisions. In some cases, the path forward will be based on incomplete knowledge, but never on nonsense. Charlatans do not deserve to be the protagonists of our future. Nor do conmen selling faded dreams.

The truth is out there. We don’t have to look hard, but we do have to look. Follow the science, beware the lies, and don’t fall for the hate.


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Brazilian Indigenous Peoples Confront Double Threat of COVID-19 and Bolsonaro’s Policies

Photograph Source: Cmacauley – CC BY-SA 3.0

After six days of fighting for his life in an intensive care unit in a Amazonas state hospital, a 15-year-old Yanomami teenage boy died in April 9 from complications caused by the novel coronavirus. The boy’s death sounded the alarm for Brazil’s Indigenous peoples who now face the fear of the virus alongside the stress of increasing criminal activities by land grabbers, illegal loggers, gold diggers, poachers, drug traffickers, hitmen and questionable “guests” like missionaries and tourists in their lands. Add to that the prospect of another potentially devasting dry season like last year’s, which saw more than 82,000 fires destroy precious rainforest in the Brazilian Amazon.

Brazil has 850,000 Indigenous peoples distributed between 300 tribes. Their reservations cover nearly 13% of the country’s territory. Access to hygiene and medical services demands long journeys and the practices of tribes commonly that reside in communal hamlets under huge thatched structures make protocols for prevention such as social distancing difficult.

Andrey Moreira Cardoso, a physician who specialized in epidemiology and Indigenous peoples health from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, stated to the UOL news site: “Limitations on the traditional lands available for the preservation of Indigenous peoples, access to basic sanitation systems and considerations such as the recurring infections, malnutrition, anemia and the emergence of chronic illnesses make Indigenous populations even more susceptible to the current pandemic”. Epidemiologists have long noted that Indigenous peoples have a particular susceptiblility to respiratory diseases.

Experts publishing in the scholarly magazine Science recently documented that the risks of the virus spreading are higher than for populations with more services and closer to well-equipped hospitals. Indigenous leaders warn that the incursions of outsiders could bring disease and death to their peoples. Many Indigenous communities have decided to put chains on the entrances to their lands.

In an interview to Americas Program, Indigenous leader Dinamam Tuxá, a member of the Tuxá People who mostly live in the state of Bahia in the northeast region  and coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), stated that his people have been tracking the death of indigenous peoples, given the underreporting or lack of reporting by the government.

With obvious concern in his voice, he reported that an elderly Borari woman recently died in Pará state, along with a male from the Umura people in Manaus, capital city of the Amazonas state, both in northern Brazil.  Although the Brazilian state most hard-hit by the coronavirus so far is São Paulo in the southeast, where the densely populated capital city of São Paulo is located, that reegion also has some of the most advanced medical facilities in Latin America. In the Northern region, Amazonas is suffering the most and is least prepared to contend with the pandemic.

Bolsonaro’s lax policies on the pandemic, including on frequent occasions denying its seriousness, have faced heavy criticism at home and abroad. On April 16 Bolsonaro fired his Minister of Health Luiz Henrique Mandetta due to Mandetta’s insistence on social distancing and lockdown measures. For Brazilians, particularly Indigenous, traditional and poor people, things took a grim turn as the outside world points to Brazil as among the nations with the worst response to the Covid-19 crisis.

An image making the rounds in the international press shows the “utter disaster” looming in Manaus state, as it fills mass graves with the victims of the pandemic. The internationally renowned Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado published an open letter to President Jair Bolsonaro denouncing the situation titled “We are on the eve of a genocide” and signed by famous artists, celebrities, scientists and intellectuals.

Tuxá believes the Brazilian government is trying to hide the spread of the virus from the Brazilian population, but especially among Indigenous peoples. The Federal Prosecutor Office has demanded information from the new Health Minister Nelson Teich on underreported cases of Covid-19 victims.The “utter disaster” looming in Manaus state as it fills mass graves with the victims of the pandemic.

Government Response Called “Genocidal”

The governmental division responsible for the well-being of Indigenous peoples, Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI-National Indian Foundation), responded to an Americas Program request for information by pointing to its programs to face the pandemic. These include distributing information through its decentralized units made up of 225 Local Technical Coordinators, 39 Regional Coordinators and 11 Stations for Ethnical-Environmental Protection. The Foundation uses word-of-mouth, cell phone and social media messages, mostly in Portuguese, to reach native Brazilians.

Governmental institutions have also been facilitating Indigenous transportation from city to villages, delivering food and health items including masks and gloves, while keeping track of the activities by the Special Indigenous Sanitation Districts and the Special Secretary of Indigenous Health.

FUNAI addresses Indigenous matters through the three branches of political power in Brazil: Executive, Legislative and Judicial System. However, the FUNAI, along with other governmental departments focused on environment and human rights, have been mutilated by deep financial cuts under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Moreover, Bolsonaro has put in charge large-scale farmers and evangelicals, members of the caucus known as the “Bible, beef and bullet” caucus. The political alliance, which now has considerable influence over policies that affects indigenous peoples, also includes representatives of the firearms industry.

“We, the Indigenous peoples, need to confront this situation. We’ve always fought to empower FUNAI, but we saw at the beginning of the pandemic how it changed policy to allow missionaries to come in, especially among those in voluntary isolation who are the most vulnerable. We cannot allow this to happen”,  said Célia Xakriabá Akwē from the Xakriabá tribe in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais. At first, FUNAI attempted to contact isolated Indigenous groups, but after pressure from Indigenous leaders, human rights groups and federal prosecutors, FUNAI on March 23 forbid all contact with isolated Indigenous peoples as they requested for their own protection.

Tuxá and other indigenous leaders indicate that governmental actions will not protect their peoples. In a press release Nara Baré, coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations from Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), stated: “Since Jair Bolsonaro took office, our Indigenous lands are increasingly threatened by predatory economic activities that threaten the integrity of our ancestral territories and the natural resources essential for our survival. With the Covid-19 crisis, the illegal activities of miners, loggers, missionaries, drug traffickers and other invaders pose an even greater threat, because they can bring the virus to our territories and communities. For this reason, we demand that this economic activity in our territories be stopped immediately, thus guaranteeing the protection of all our children, women, men, young people, wise elders, and our relatives in voluntary isolation.”

Tuxá recalled ancient times and compared it to the present crisis. “Today we are experiencing a phenomenon very similar to what happened during the ‘discovery’, in fact, invasion, of Brazil.” He noted that when the Portuguese conquerors arrived, the original peoples didn’t have immunity for the novel diseases they brought with them like smallpox.  After the “Discovery of America”, malaria, measles and influenza struck native peoples, brought by gold miners, settlers and rubber tappers.

In the 20th century  government highway construction brought more fatal diseases. “In a second stage, with the so-called development implanted by the 1960’s dictatorship, they used many instruments such as clothes impregnated with smallpox and many other transmissible diseases through virus. These were introduced in Indigenous territory with the aim of decimating the native people”, Tuxá said.

During the dictatorship (1964-1985) military personal trained by the US government’s CIA targeted indigenous Brazil’s indigenous peoples, carrying out massacres, land grabs, enforced removal from territories. They forced many into prisons, tortured, carried out human hunting games, and spreading infectious diseases. At least 8,300 Indigenous Brazilians were killed during this period.

One of the cruelest acts perpetrated by the army happened when airplanes rained napalm on natives to use their territories to enlarge Brazilian roads. Napalm was used during World War II and the Vietnam war, but the native peoples weren’t armed, nor did they have armies. Bolsonaro is a staunch defender of the Brazilian dictatorship and an espoused admirer of American military methods.

When asked if such a tragic scenario could be repeated, Jonathan Mazower of Survival International responded, “Sadly, it’s definitely possible, and quite likely. There are many tribes with large numbers of outsiders on their land”. He stated that these forces have been empowered by Bolsonaro’s election, increasing their activity since 2019 and accelerating a new phase of Indigenous genocide that the activist noted is rarely portrayed in media.

Indigenous leaders and Human Rights activists believe that the dead Yanomami teenager was exposed to the Coronavirus by illegal miners. “It was probably brought in by illegal miners, of which are 25,000 in Yanomami territory,” stated Christian Poirier, director of the U.S.-based Amazon Watch.  “There are only 26,000 Yanomami people still living within their territory, to give you a sense of scale of the land invasion here and the threat it represents for this people,” he added.

Xakriabá Akwē sees Bolsonaro as the Indigenous peoples’ main enemy and further accuses the state governor, Romeu Zema, a political ally of Bolsonaro, of not recognizing the plight of her people.

“I can say that we are two-time orphans of both the Federal and regional power. Zema, along with seven other (governors) didn’t question Bolsonaro while he was taking part in public rallies during weekends in the midst of the pandemic, openly defying social isolation despite what’s going on, and disobeying the recommendations from World Health Organization”, said Xakriabá Akwē in a phone interview to Americas Program.  She dubbed the president’s actions “a genocidal process putting peoples’ lives at risk”.

“For the Indigenous peoples in Brazil, we need to denounce the government for justifying the extermination of Indigenous lives as casualties of disease. The State is responsible from the moment it fails to establish contingency measures and carry them out, because, for example, there is infrastructure in the city centers but there is no campaign for hospitals focused on Indigenous issues even though 300 Indigenous peoples reside in Brazil, besides the isolated groups. So it’s important that government measures be taken or denounced now because we are marching toward a moment that already took place in history”, Xakriabá Akwē added.

Coloonization in Times of Pandemic

Mazower said that encroachment on Indigenous resources have stepped up since the pandemic hit. “There are many reports from Brazil that loggers, goldminers and others are taking advantage of the lockdown to increase their activities. There was already clear evidence that such illegal activities had been increasing in recent months anyway, as they feel emboldened by President Bolsonaro’s rhetoric. His cuts to FUNAI, the Indigenous Affairs Department, and environmental monitoring teams mean they can increasingly act with impunity”.

He stated that the Brazilian president has an end goal of eliminating Indigenous people and opening up their territories to exploitation by national and international industrial and farming interests. “Those policies were in place before Covid-19, and will almost certainly continue afterwards”.

On Feb. 2 Bolsonaro named the theologist and anthropologist Ricardo Lopes Dias as General Coordinator for Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples at FUNAI. The appointee is a former member of the Brazilian arm of the American evangelical group Ethnos360, called locally New Tribes Mission Brazil. As stated in Ehtnos360 official site: “By unflinching determination we hazard our lives and gamble all for Christ until we have reached the last tribe regardless of where that tribe might be”. The organization states that “of the world’s 6.500 people groups, 2.500 are still unreached. Ethnos360, founded in 1942 as New Tribes Mission, helps local churches train, coordinate and send missionaries to these peoples”.

For Célia Xakriabá Akwē, Lopes Dias represents a continuation of the violent historical processes of colonization and religious conversion.  She notes that the Bible, Beef and Bullet Caucus now wields considerable influence in local, state and national government and warns that they are longtime “enemies of Indigenous peoples as they try to usurp what was left us from the extermination”.

For Tuxá, FUNAI is being completely undermined by the Lopes Dias appointment and through the efforts of others on the inside “without technical knowledge and with ties to evangelical groups pushing forward an evangelization process of Indigenous peoples”.

Asked directly by Americas Program if FUNAI was following a strategy to open up Brazilian Indigenous peoples for evangelization, the institution responded tersely through a press office email: “Within FUNAI there is no plan to evangelize Brazilian Indigenous peoples”. The reply did not address the degree to which the agency would or would not promote outside evangelization.

“Deep Connections”

Recently Indigenous people won an unexpected right to reply to Bolsonaro’s racist claims. In an unprecedented decision, Federal judge Raffaela Cássia de Sousa granted the Kinja indigenous people the right to reply to racist invective, a legal move that experts position as a new chapter in the fight against Bolsonaro’s racist portrayals of  Indigenous peoples.

“Bolsonaro in a very racist discourse says that Indigenous peoples aren’t willing to evolve, but in fact we are cautious of any sort of ’evolution’ coming from an anti-humanitarian government”, Xakriabá Akwē said.

A 2011 study by the World Bank, an institution that has frequently violated indigenous rights, was forced to conclude that Indigenous peoples are the most effective environmental factor in conservation. Now that Bolsonaro has increased pressures to dismantle environmental protection efforts in Brazil under the pretext of the pandemic, the defense of the nation’s indigenous peoples is critical.

“This pandemic has risen in a context very tied to capitalism and the powerful nations’ imposition of economic measures and this disease is closely linked to climate changes”, Tuxá said. “The coronavirus has revealed the very visible fragility of poor and/or authoritarian countries such as Brazil, where authoritarian presidents without technical knowledge try to upset science while dealing with the crisis in their own way”.

Amazon Watch’s Poirier said that Brazil’s Indigenous peoples will be vital in a new scenario as guardians of the environment, with the responsibility of leading the fight against global warming. Indigenous peoples also possess important knowledge that could save lives. “Their traditional knowledge may hold the key to cure this virus and other incoming pandemics through the years”, he said.

Xakriabá Akwē, who holds a Masters in “Sustainability Linked to Peoples and Traditional Lands” from the University of Brasilia, argues for “the transmission of knowledge, and science bred in the womb of the territory”. “There is a deep connection that isn’t taught in schools, but the land has always existed with its wisdom”. In addition to closing off lands to outsiders, indigenous measures to confront the virus include the use of traditional plant medicines and philosophy.

The Indigenous scholar described how native peoples are finding new forms of prevention and psychological healing, with an emphasis on returning to tribal knowledge and inner resources. In Brazil, the month of April is known as “Red  April” to celebrate and honor their heritage of tradition and survival.

“This is Indigenous April, Red April, and to better understand this deep history, remember that before people encountered the Green and Yellow Brazil, Brazil was Red. It started with the brazilwood (Paubrasilia echinata) and its seed, which is red. Today people are rethinking Indigenous identity a lot, and our cultural transformation, which also had and still has to deal with violence”, Xakriabá Akwē said.

For the Xakriabá Akwē leader, “staying home” may be something very difficult for others, but for natives it has always been their struggle: “The right to stay home, to keep our territory. However, every time we fight for this right, we are stripped of our homes and land.”

The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples carried out in-depth consultations with Indigenous healthcare specialists and developed the following urgent action points to help protect indigenous communities from the spread of Covid-19:

1) Coordination between all state and municipal health secretariats and indigenous health agencies in order to guarantee access to information on the epidemiological situation and the actions being carried out in each indigenous territory and village, and among indigenous populations in urban areas;

2) Guarantee that emergency plans for the care of critically ill patients in the states and municipalities include the indigenous population, making explicit plans for transporting indigenous patients and responding to requests for assistance in a timely manner, in conjunction with indigenous health agencies;

3) Coordination among health secretariats, social assistance agencies, and other social policies to enable the isolation and quarantine of indigenous people in transit who are returning to their territories and need to take these preventive measures before their entry, or in the case of suspected infections or confirmed cases of coronavirus within communities;

4) Provision of rapid tests for Covid-19 to all Special Indigenous Sanitary Districts to screen the entry of indigenous people from urban centers who seek to return to their territories. Tests must be prioritized to control entry and exit in indigenous territories to ensure that the virus does not spread widely among this population;

5) Inclusion of indigenous populations as a priority group in speeding up the provision of the annual flu vaccine;

6) Guarantee of stocks and provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for indigenous healthcare workers, and suspected and confirmed cases and their family members who accompany them;

7) For the duration of this health crisis, ensure the supply of medicines indicated for the groups most at risk of complications from the coronavirus, which in this case includes indigenous peoples, according to protocols from the Ministry of Health;

8) Support Special Indigenous Sanitary Districts (DSEI) for training health professionals to deal with and monitor the coronavirus, since in indigenous territories access to on-line communication is often insufficient or non-existent;

9) Provision of hygiene materials and PPEs for all Indigenous Health Centers for patients, their caretakers, and health professionals;

10) Include indigenous organizations that are members of APIB in planning and emergency meetings in each state to ensure that the specific needs and realities of indigenous peoples are addressed.

For more information and to support efforts:

APIB – Indigenous Peoples Articulation

Official site –

Donations –

Amazon Watch

Official site –

Survival International

Official site –

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COVID-19: Why Iran Is Doing Better Than You Think

So Iran’s going through its worst year and is hiding the true numbers of Coronavirus victims? It seems it’s also been digging mass graves because it can’t handle the increasing number of deaths, and people are collapsing on the street left and right because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Not only that but apparently the evil Iranian regime will (as predicted by the most knowledgeable of pundits, as always), collapse due to the outbreak; just as it collapsed during and after the 8-year war with Iraq, again once the reformists won the 1997 elections, then again in 2009, not to mention 2011 after the Arab spring, and most recently in both 2017-2018.

Either the Islamic Republic is a cat or these “experts” are purposely spreading misinformation.

You can imagine this was quite a shock to many here living not so far away from the complex where the so-called mass graves were dug. News like this kept popping up every day on people’s feeds, as part of the regular misinformation campaign led by many Western countries against Iran.

To be clear, this article will not be dedicated towards redeeming Iran in light of the deliberate misinformation campaign that happened when the virus first hit it. To cut things short, the mass graves had been built four years ago in order to bury victims of potential natural disasters, coronavirus patients are not being buried there, and videos of some people collapsed on the streets are not videos of coronavirus patients, because the people recording the videos are not walking coronavirus detectors, and cannot possibly tell the difference between someone collapsing due to disease or a drug addict by the side of the road.

Since the coronavirus has become a worldwide phenomenon, this kind of baseless news has largely disappeared, and the anti-Iran view has shifted, and now stands between a critique of the Rouhani administration’s handling of the crisis, or an insistence on easing sanctions against Iran in order to make sure Iranians receive proper healthcare and needed medicine.

The truth is neither here nor there. I’m by no means here to whitewash Iran’s handling of the crisis, as many questionable decisions have been made by the Rouhani administration, but the same can be said about all countries ravaged by the virus, as the majority of countries hit by the virus are stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of fighting the virus and ensuring people’s livelihoods are not greatly disrupted. What I want to say is that Iran not lacking in the work it’s doing to stem the tide of the pandemic, nor is it in dire need of foreign help.

So how just how are things in Iran? What has Iran been doing in this battle? The numbers show that it’s been doing far better than most Western countries in fact. The numbers show that Iran is doing significantly better (in ppm) than France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the US, the UK, and Switzerland, especially since the first cases appeared close to two months ago in an unprepared Iran, and only later spread to the West.

Due to the sanctions (still) imposed by the United States, Iranians were lacking in terms of needed equipment to perform diagnostic tests when the virus first hit, and did not have access to needed medical equipment and medicines, which translates into a delayed diagnosis, and delayed intervention for life-threatening cases. Meaning that Iran, despite being under sanctions, being hit earlier than most countries and being less prepared, has managed to perform better than most countries in this pandemic. So what are the steps Iran took to secure its needs?

A number of officials around the world have referred to the fight against the coronavirus as a “war”, and rightly so, and it will leave a number of the world’s leading economies highly damaged, possibly even leading to a new world order, shattering countless lives, and taking scores of others. However, what the Islamic Republic has done is mobilize all possible manpower to fight against it, meaning the army, IRGC, popular mobilization (Basij), and popular associations have all joined in and are each doing their part.

For one, the IRGC has done a lot, possibly too much to mention here, but some of the steps it has taken include opening up mask and sanitizing gel production lines across the country to meet the increasing demand, supplying hospitals with hospital beds to meet with the increase in cases, and aiding in disinfection duties.

Being under sanctions, Iranian have had to rely on themselves, and as such decided to meet the need for diagnostic kits themselves through domestic production. The Health Ministry recently announced that it has produced a Coronavirus diagnostic kit that can give an accurate reading within 2 hours, and can even export them to global markets. The kits were just recently shipped to Germany, with other Brazil, Ecuador, Spain, and Turkey requesting shipments as well.

Soon after the virus hit, mobilized forces came together under the banner of the National Committee on Combatting Coronavirus, thereby coordinating their efforts in securing needed equipment.

The Setad (which was recently attacked by U.S State Department speaker Morgan Ortagus on Twitter), has dedicated 8 hospitals and hospices with close to 1000 hospital beds to combat the virus, in addition to establishing a landline, where people seeking medical help can call in order to limit visits to physicians. This landline has decreased hospital visits by close to 80%. Not only that, but 50,000 teams (600,000 people) have been mobilized from the Basij, calling people over the phone from this landline in order to check on them for symptoms and provide them with directions, and as of April 6th 70 million people have been checked by these teams (I myself, a foreigner, was contacted on April 8th, and was given directions on what to do and where to go should I show any symptoms). In addition to that, the Setad has been busy preparing tens of thousands of boxes containing sanitizing equipment to be distributed among people in a number of provinces, and opening up a mask production factory capable of manufacturing 4 million masks/day, which is reportedly the largest in Southwest Asia (this here).

As for the treatment costs, Coronavirus patients in Iran do not have to worry about them should they be infected, as Iran has an extensive healthcare system that leaves little for people to shoulder. On average, the treatment costs for ICU patients are on average 4.5 million tomans (almost 300$), and 2 million tomans (130$) for regular beds. Not only that, but if the patient is insured (as most patients are), they only have to foot 10% of the bill, and if they cannot afford even that then they will not be charged for treatment. Treatment-wise, Iran began using plasma therapy in early March, and says plasma treatment has reduced coronavirus deaths in Iran by 40%.

This isn’t to say that the coronavirus did not cause economic difficulties for Iran, if anything it is also projected to cause economic contraction in the future, but this is a case where the sanctions turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Having to rely on domestic production lines and being isolated to a large degree from the global markets means that the Iranian economy was not as hard-hit by the virus as other economies. The pandemic is expected to shave 3% off of Iran’s GDP, meaning that the economy could lose up to $30 billion. A large number of course, but in comparison, Goldman Sacs sees a 34% decline in American GDP, and the UK’s GDP is expected to contract by 15%.

When Iran was first hit by the Coronavirus, many Western countries found it was acceptable for them to use their media outlets to attack it, calling it inefficient in controlling the outbreak, and fabricating news against it. Iran was the first country hit by the virus after China, and as such it was less prepared to counter it. As Professor Mohammad Marandi explains: “When things were not looking good, Iran was a fixed feature in all the charts. Now that Iran is performing better than most Western countries, despite the barbaric US sanctions being used to impede its struggle against COVID-19, why are the country’s numbers no longer included?”

Karim Sharara is a Lebanese PhD student who has been living in Iran since 2013, majoring in Iranian Affairs at Tehran University. 


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Greenlighting War: Iran and Yemen

On May 7, Republicans proved yet again that most of them are perfectly happy allowing President Donald Trump unchecked discretion to make war.

Senate Joint Resolution 68, introduced on January 9 by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate, invoked the 1973 War Powers Resolution in an attempt to prohibit President Trump from waging hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran without Congressional authorization. S.J. 68 passed in the Senate, 51-49, on February 13, and in the House of Representatives, 227-186, on March 11. President Trump vetoed S.J. 68 on May 6. The next day, the Senate voted 49 to 44 to override the president’s veto, falling short of the Constitutionally-mandated two-thirds supermajority required for overriding presidential vetoes. And there the matter rests.

“Very Insulting”

Trump’s veto message personalized Congress’ action, as is Trump’s wont, calling the resolution “very insulting.” Trump contended that S.J. 68 was “introduced by the Democrats as part of a strategy to win an election on November 3 by dividing the Republican Party. The few Republicans who voted for it played right into their hands.”

Actually, S.J. 68 merely restates what the U.S. Constitution mandates. S.J. 68 asserts—correctly—that “Congress has the sole power to declare war under Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution.” The resolution adds that “Congress has not yet [!] declared war upon, nor enacted a specific statutory authorization for use of military force against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Trump denied that the US was engaged in “hostilities against Iran.” That would surprise Major General Qasem Soleimani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, but we’d have to hold a séance to be sure. Trump’s veto message insists that Soleimani’s assassination on January 2, 2020 by a US drone was “fully authorized by law, including by the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 and Article II of the Constitution.”

About that. S.J. 68’s text expressly denies that the 2002 AUMF on Iraq authorizes uses of force against Iran. S.J. 68 might have added that both the 2002 AUMF as well as the 2001 AUMF passed in response to Al-Qaeda’s attacks on the US on 9/11 have been stretched far beyond what Congress intended. The Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations have employed the resolutions to justify an unending series of presidential wars wherever and on whomever they choose. These blank checks for war should have been bounced years ago.

The vote on May 7 was the second time in two years that Congress has failed to override Trump’s veto of a resolution meant to curtail his power to make war. On April 16, 2019, President Trump vetoed a previous measure invoking the War Powers Resolution in order to force Trump to end US assistance to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in its genocidal war on Yemen. The 53 to 45 vote in the Senate on May 2, 2019 fell short of the required two-thirds majority needed to override Trump’s veto.

The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the yearly defense spending bill, which President Trump signed into law on December 21, 2019, contained provisions which would have tied the president’s hands on Iran, forced the US out of Yemen, ended arms sales to the Saudis, and revoked the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs. These urgently needed provisions vanished from the NDAA in conference.

Imagine a justice system in which a burglar gets to be the judge of whether he has committed burglary. Trump gets to judge whether he has violated the Constitution. And Republicans, self-proclaimed Constitutional sticklers, are letting him get away with it.

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