Counterpunch Articles

What You Need to Know about the ICC Investigation of War Crimes in Occupied Palestine

Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), has, once and for all, settled the doubts on the Court’s jurisdiction to investigate war crimes committed in occupied Palestine.

On April 30, Bensouda released a 60-page document diligently laying down the legal bases for that decision, concluding that “the Prosecution has carefully considered the observations of the participants, and remains of the view that the Court has jurisdiction over the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

Bensouda’s legal explanation was itself a preemptive decision, dating back to December 2019, as the ICC Prosecutor must have anticipated an Israeli-orchestrated pushback against the investigation of war crimes committed in the Occupied Territories.

After years of haggling, the ICC had resolved in December 2019 that, “there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine, pursuant to article 53(1) of the Statute.”

Article 53(1) merely describes the procedural steps that often lead, or do not lead, to an investigation by the Court.

That Article is satisfied when the amount of evidence provided to the Court is so convincing that it leaves the ICC with no other option but to move forward with an investigation.

Indeed, Bensouda had already declared late last year that she was,

“satisfied that (i) war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip… (ii) potential cases arising from the situation would be admissible; and (iii) there are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.”

Naturally, Israel and its main Western ally, the United States, fumed. Israel has never been held accountable by the international community for war crimes and other human rights violations in Palestine. The ICC’s decision, especially if the investigation moves forward, would be an historic precedent.

But, what are Israel and the US to do when neither are state parties in the ICC, thus having no actual influence on the internal proceedings of the court? A solution had to be devised.

In an historic irony, Germany, which had to answer to numerous war crimes committed by the Nazi regime during World War II, stepped in to serve as the main defender of Israel at the ICC and to shield accused Israeli war criminals from legal and moral accountability.

On February 14, Germany filed a petition with the ICC requesting an “amicus curiae”, meaning “friend of the court”, status. By achieving that special status, Germany was able to submit objections, arguing against the ICC’s earlier decision on behalf of Israel.

Germany, among others, then argued that the ICC had no legal authority to discuss Israeli war crimes in the occupied territories. These efforts, however, eventually amounted to nil.

The ball is now in the court of the ICC pre-trial chamber.

The pre-trial chamber consists of judges that authorize the opening of investigations. Customarily once the Prosecutor decides to consider an investigation, she has to inform the Pre-Trial Chamber of her decision.

According to the Rome Statute, Article 56(b), “… the Pre-Trial Chamber may, upon request of the Prosecutor, take such measures as may be necessary to ensure the efficiency and integrity of the proceedings and, in particular, to protect the rights of the defence.”

The fact that the Palestinian case has been advanced to such a point can and should be considered a victory for the Palestinian victims of the Israeli occupation. However, if the ICC investigation moves forward according to the original mandate requested by Bensouda, there will remain major legal and moral lapses that frustrate those who are advocating justice on behalf of Palestine.

For example, the legal representatives of the ‘Palestinian Victims Residents of the Gaza Strip’ expressed their concern on behalf of the victims regarding “the ostensibly narrow scope of the investigation into the crimes suffered by the Palestinian victims of this situation.”

The ‘narrow scope of the investigation’ has thus far excluded such serious crimes as crimes against humanity. According to the Gaza legal team, the killing of hundreds and wounding of thousands of unarmed protesters participating in the ‘Great March of Return’ is a crime against humanity that must also be investigated.

The ICC’s jurisdiction, of course, goes beyond Bensouda’s decision to investigate ‘war crimes’ only.

Article 5 of the Rome Statute – the founding document of the ICC – extends the Court’s jurisdiction to investigate the following “serious crimes”:

(a) The crime of genocide

(b) Crimes against humanity

(c) War crimes

(d) The crime of aggression

It should come as no surprise that Israel is qualified to be investigated on all four points and that the nature of Israeli crimes against Palestinians often tends to, constitute a mixture of two or more of these points simultaneously.

Former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights (2008-2014), Prof. Richard Falk, wrote in 2009, soon after a deadly Israeli war on the besieged Gaza Strip, that,

“Israel initiated the Gaza campaign without adequate legal foundation or just cause, and was responsible for causing the overwhelming proportion of devastation and the entirety of civilian suffering. Israeli reliance on a military approach to defeat or punish Gaza was intrinsically ‘criminal’, and as such demonstrative of both violations of the law of war and the commission of crimes against humanity.”

Falk extended his legal argument beyond war crimes and crimes against humanity into a third category. “There is another element that strengthens the allegation of aggression. The population of Gaza had been subjected to a punitive blockade for 18 months when Israel launched its attacks.”

What about the crime of apartheid? Does it fit anywhere within the ICC’s previous definitions and jurisdiction?

The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of November 1973 defines apartheid as,

“a crime against humanity and that inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination, as defined in article II of the Convention, are crimes violating the principles of international law, in particular the  purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and constituting a serious threat to international peace and security.”

The Convention came into force in July 1976, when twenty countries ratified it. Mostly western powers, including the United States and Israel, opposed it.

Particularly important about the definition of apartheid, as stated by the Convention, is that the crime of apartheid was liberated from the limited South African context and made applicable to racially discriminatory policies in any state.

In June 1977, Addition Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions designated apartheid as, “a grave breach of the Protocol and a war crime.”

It follows that there are legal bases to argue that the crime of apartheid can be considered both a crime against humanity and a war crime.

Former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights (2000-2006), Prof. John Dugard, said this soon after Palestine joined the ICC in 2015,

“For seven years, I visited the Palestinian territory twice a year. I also conducted a fact-finding mission after the Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008, 2009. So, I am familiar with the situation, and I am familiar with the apartheid situation. I was a human rights lawyer in apartheid South Africa. And I, like virtually every South African who visits the occupied territory, has a terrible sense of déjà vu. We’ve seen it all before, except that it is infinitely worse. And what has happened in the West Bank is that the creation of a settlement enterprise has resulted in a situation that closely resembles that of apartheid, in which the settlers are the equivalent of white South Africans. They enjoy superior rights over Palestinians, and they do oppress Palestinians. So, one does have a system of apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territory. And I might mention that apartheid is also a crime within the competence of the International Criminal Court.”

Considering the number of UN resolutions that Israel has violated throughout the years – the perpetual occupation of Palestine, the siege on Gaza, and the elaborate system of apartheid imposed on Palestinians through a large conglomerate of racist laws (culminating in the so-called Nation-State Law of July 2018) – finding Israel guilty of war crimes, among others “serious crimes”, should be a straightforward matter.

But the ICC is not entirely a legal platform. It is also a political institution that is subject to the interests and whims of its members. Germany’s intervention, on behalf of Israel, to dissuade the ICC from investigating Tel Aviv’s war crimes is a case in point.

Time will tell how far the ICC is willing to go with its unprecedented and historic attempt aimed at, finally, investigating the numerous crimes that have been committed in Palestine unhindered, with no recourse and no accountability.

For the Palestinian people, the long-denied justice cannot arrive soon enough.

The post What You Need to Know about the ICC Investigation of War Crimes in Occupied Palestine appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Death and the Economy: a Dialogue

Welcome to Chewing the Fat, our weekly talk show here at WXYZ.

Today, we have a special treat for you — two guests who will answer the question on everyone’s mind. Should we stay at home in virtual quarantine or should we head out the front door and reopen the economy?

The coronavirus pandemic is still claiming lives — nearly a thousand a day here in the United States. But other countries, like New Zealand, have effectively eradicated the disease. There is a huge disparity within countries as well, within states, even within cities. And some countries that have loosened their quarantine restrictions, like China and South Korea, have seen fresh outbreaks of the disease.

Meanwhile, the global economy has taken a major hit. GDP has dropped deeper and faster than at any time since the Great Depression. Unemployment here in the United States stands at 15 percent and rising. People don’t know if they’ll keep their current jobs, get their old jobs back, ever get a job again. The government can print money to keep things going, but individuals can’t do that. A lot of us just don’t know how we’re going to pay the rent or get our next meal.

Frank Jacobs is a Texas legislator, a businessman, and a vocal advocate of re-opening the economy. Frank, you’ve been talking about the Texas Solution. Tell us about that.

Frank Jacobs: I own a chain of 15 movie theaters across this great state of Texas. We opened up five of those this last weekend. This is what I told customers. I said: Take your mask off and relax. Breathe in some great buttery popcorn smells, watch a great movie, and just enjoy some time with your family. And that’s what I’ve been saying to people all over the state as part of what I call the Texas Solution. Here in Texas —

Cassandra Jones: Are you crazy?!

That’s our other guest, Cassandra Jones, an infectious disease specialist at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Cassandra: The number of coronavirus cases is rising in your state. And that’s even before your governor declared your reopening. And you’re not testing enough in Texas, not compared to other states and not compared to what you need to be testing in order to safely reopen the economy.

Frank: Well, let me tell you that in our movie theaters, we are taking every precaution and then some. Everyone will be six feet or more away from each other. We’ll be cleaning every surface. It will be a lot safer than going to the supermarket, where people get much closer to each other. We’ll be giving my employees their jobs back and safely providing some much-needed entertainment. If you don’t want to go see a movie, hey, that’s fine. But we’re providing an option for those of us who do.

Cassandra: You’re not talking drive-ins. If someone coughs or sneezes in your enclosed movie theater, the air will circulate any potential viruses to everyone else. And you’re not taking into account all the other interactions that take place because you’re opening up your movie theaters. In the parking lot. On the sidewalks. At the gas station where people are filling up their tanks. At the restaurants where they’re eating before or after the show.

Frank: With all respect, if we don’t start opening up the economy in these small ways, then there won’t be an economy left to reopen. Our approach here in Texas is very careful.

Cassandra: Your governor acknowledges that reopening the economy is going to cause deaths. And your lieutenant governor said that “there’s more important things than living.” He was talking about basically sacrificing lives — the lives of senior citizens, of people of color, of folks with preexisting health conditions — and for what? For making sure that the stock market goes back up? When it comes to the vulnerable members of our community, your Texas Solution sounds a whole lot like the Final Solution.

Frank: Now hold on there. No one is talking about sacrificing people. It’s the opposite. We’re talking about saving lives. Making sure that people have enough money to eat, to feed their children.

Cassandra: But more people are going to die as a result of the relaxation of restrictions. That’s a fact. Suddenly all the people who got bent out of shape about how there were going to be “death panels” because of the Affordable Care Act, now they’ve basically set themselves up as a death panel, deciding on how many people are going to live or die.

Frank: No one is talking about death panels. This is the right to life. Hey, listen, nearly 40,000 people die every year on America’s highways. It’s the leading cause of death for people under the age of 55. But we don’t ban cars. Instead we improve auto safety. We come up with better and better methods of reducing the risk of going out on the roads. And it works. Back in the 1970s, more than 50,000 people a year were dying in car accidents.

Cassandra: A car accident is not an infectious disease. Our models show that, even with the necessary interventions, we’ll have well more than 100,000 deaths in this country. If we relax those controls, the difference would be an order of magnitude.

For our non-scientific listeners, you’re talking about a million, yes? A million deaths.

Cassandra: That’s correct.

Frank: Other countries have been opening up around the world. They’ve taken a sensible approach that balances medical prudence and economic risk. Take a look at Europe. We’re 29 million people in Texas. We’re nearly twice the size of the Netherlands. About 40,000 Dutch have been infected, with over 5,000 dead. But here we’ve only had a little more than a thousand deaths and fewer than 40,000 infections. And, look, the Dutch opened up their primary schools and day care centers last month.

Cassandra: The countries you’re talking about have seen a substantial reduction in the infection rate. Netherlands has cut infections from over 1,000 a day to less than 300 a day. Italy was seeing over 6,000 new infections a day back in March. They’re now under 1,000 a day. The same with Spain, with Germany. These countries have much more robust systems of testing and contact tracing than we have in the United States. We are almost completely in the dark here in this country as to the real spread of this disease. In Europe, they’re operating in a much more information-rich environment.

Frank: Hats off to those Europeans. But here in America, we can make decisions for ourselves. We don’t need the state telling us what to do. We had a fellow here in Texas at Prestige Ameritech, the last domestic mask producer, who was all ready to restart production of N-95 masks way back in January. He notified the federal government, and they just blew him off. All that bureaucracy and red tape: it’s heartbreaking. Here in Texas, we know not to depend on government. We believe more in individual responsibility.

Cassandra: Individual responsibility? How about all those students on Spring Break partying and spreading the virus? Or that party last weekend in Ft. Worth where 600 people got together to shoot off fireworks and then started shooting each other? Most Americans are taking their responsibilities very seriously by staying home. But all it takes for an infectious disease to spread is a minority of the irresponsible.

Frank: But you don’t have a plan, do you? A plan to reopen the economy? If we listened to you, we’d all starve to death at home. Millions of us! That’s the order of magnitude I’m talking about.

Cassandra: We wait until the infection rate drops substantially. We wait until we have a robust testing and tracing system in place. We wait for more effective treatments, widespread antibody tests, and, ultimately, a vaccine.

Frank: Wait. Wait. Wait. A lot of us don’t have the luxury of waiting. You have a job, Ms. Jones, that you can no doubt do from home. You are in a comfortable place where you can wait. The rest of us depend on going back to factories, to running restaurants, to building houses.

Cassandra: I’m not saying that we can’t reopen the economy. I’m saying that we have to do so responsibly.

Frank: Well, here’s something to chew on. People die because of the economy all the time. They die in workplace accidents. They die commuting to work. They die because of air pollution caused by factories and cars and energy production. Every morning we get out of bed in the morning, we are taking a risk. Living is a risk.

Cassandra: That may be true. But some folks are at greater risks than others. The counties that are disproportionately African-American account for nearly 60 percent of the coronavirus deaths. In New York City, 70 percent of the essential workers are people of color.

Frank: Here in Texas, by opening up the state, we’re actually spreading that risk around!

Cassandra: You’re spreading the risk by spreading the disease.

Frank: You liberal types are always pointing to Sweden as the model the United States should be emulating. So, what about the Swedish model of tackling this pandemic? The government is full of social democrats and Greens. All lefty types. But there’s no lockdown. You can eat out at a restaurant. The schools remain open. Sure, there are some common-sense restrictions, like no gatherings larger than 50 people and no visits to nursing homes. They’ve had more deaths than neighboring Norway, which went for a complete lockdown. But the Swedes also haven’t ruined their economy.

Cassandra: But Sweden also has a very robust testing system. And contact tracing. They have a much stronger social safety net than we have here in the United States, with paid sick leave for workers. And people there complied with the voluntary distancing recommendations. What works for Sweden won’t work for Texas. Unless you’re planning to put in place a strong social safety net and rein in some of that good ol’ boy individualism.

Armed militia members in Texas are demonstrating around the state on behalf of non-essential businesses that want to open up.

Frank: Well, we’re definitely not sheep down here in Texas. Just because the government says something doesn’t mean it’s right. And I say that as a representative of government. The bottom line is that we can’t know for sure about my plan or anyone else’s plan unless we test them. You’re all for testing, right?

Cassandra: That’s not what I meant.

Frank: Every year more than 2,000 infants die in this state. That’s twice as many lives as the coronavirus has claimed. It doesn’t make any of us happy. We’ve reduced those numbers over the last decade, but we can’t get it to zero tomorrow. Everyone says that this virus is going to be with us for a long time. So, we have to figure out a way to live with it as well.

Cassandra: Or die with it.

Frank: Well, some people are going to die. But most of the deaths in Texas have been in nursing homes, prisons, and meatpacking plants. The governor is sending surge response teams to those hotspots to contain them. It seems more sensible to me to focus attention on containing the hotspots than trying to keep everyone under house arrest.

Cassandra: You’re basically saying that old people, prisoners, and low-income workers are expendable. That’s a cruel and disgusting policy. And it’s not even effective. The virus doesn’t stay in hot zones. By opening up the state, you’re providing the virus with millions more hosts to infect. And that will mean a lot more deaths, and not just in institutional settings.

Frank: Look, the Pilgrims knew that some of them were going to die on the ships coming over here from England. The settlers of the westward expansion knew that some of them were not going to make it to California. And our soldiers knew that some of them were going to die defending democracy overseas. That’s what it means to be American. We take risks. Live free or die, right?

Cassandra: All of those people volunteered. They knew the risks. And when they took those risks, they weren’t endangering their whole community. Increasing exposure to the coronavirus is a whole different category of risk. My grandmother is not volunteering to fight overseas or drive a covered wagon across the Great Plains. But these new state directives put her at risk.

Frank: I wouldn’t recommend that your grandmother go out to see a movie any time soon. Or go to a restaurant. At-risk populations probably shouldn’t be taking the risks that you or I can take.

Cassandra: You still don’t see that these are not individual risks —

Frank: And you still don’t see the importance of individual choice —

Well, we’ve run out of time, folks. On this show and maybe in this country as well. We’re facing the greatest threat to America in a generation, in two or three generations, and we can’t figure out how to pull together and get the job done?

This is not the America I know. But maybe the America I know just doesn’t exist anymore.

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Bozeman Watershed Project Spills Bad Blood

Hyalite Reservoir, source of Bozeman’s water supply.

Back in the Middle Ages, it was a common practice for “doctors” to bleed the “bad blood” from sick patients. If the patient survived, the doctors took credit for their recovery. If the patient died, well, obviously, not enough bad blood was removed.

A similar logic drives the Forest Service thinning programs like the proposed Bozeman Watershed Project in the Gallatin Range. The agency suggests the problem for communities like Bozeman is too much “fuel” (like bad blood) in the watershed.[i] Like the doctors of old, the solution is to reduce the “bad” blood or thin the forest.

The fundamental problem is that thinning the forest is MORE likely to increase the occurrence of high severity burns, not reduce it. Further, one of the justifications for the logging proposal is to preclude sedimentation from entering the Bozeman water system. One of the most significant and most chronic sources of sedimentation across the West is from logging roads.

Like the Middle Age doctors who did not understand the disease, the Forest Service does not fully comprehend fire ecology.

All large (high severity) fires are driven by weather-not fuel. Unless you have a fuel-free zone like a Safeway parking lot, the fire can spread—and the recent blaze in Paradise, California, even burned up the Safeway despite the parking lot. Even the mile-wide Columbia River in Oregon could not stop the Eagle Creek fire from jumping across the entire waterway to spread into Washington. If a parking lot or a major river won’t stop a blaze, does anyone sincerely believe removing just some of the forest will halt a fire?

Large blazes occur under extreme fire weather conditions—these conditions including drought, low humidity, high temperatures, and, most importantly, high winds. If you have these conditions, you have a blaze that cannot be stopped (until the weather changes). If you don’t have these conditions, fires do not burn much. They are often self-extinguish.

For instance, in a 2017 letter to Congress, more than 250 scientists opined that logging and thinning were ineffective. To quote from their message: “Thinning is most often proposed to reduce fire risk and lower fire intensity…However, as the climate changes, most of our fires will occur during extreme fire-weather (high winds and temperatures, low humidity, low vegetation moisture). These fires, like the ones burning in the West this summer, will affect large landscapes, regardless of thinning, and, in some cases, burn hundreds or thousands of acres in just a few days.”[ii]

Many researchers question the idea that fuel reduction from logging/thinning or even prescribed burning is effective. This is a representative sample from scientists at the Missoula Fire Lab. “Extreme environmental conditions. .overwhelmed most fuel treatment effects. . . This included almost all treatment methods, including prescribed burning and thinning … Suppression efforts had little benefit from fuel modifications.”[iii]

This view was echoed by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which stated in a report to Congress “From a quantitative perspective, the CRS study indicates a very weak relationship between acres logged and the extent and severity of forest fires. … the data indicate that fewer acres burned in areas where logging activity was limited.[iv]

A 2016 study that reviewed over 1500 fires concluded that fires burned at higher severity in “actively managed” forests while protected areas like wilderness experienced lower severity fires.[v]

There is evidence that thinning can ENHANCE fire spread. Keep in mind that these factors are exacerbated by thinning, leading to large fires—wind, low humidity, high temperatures—all of these factors. Opening the forest canopy leads to greater drying, and wind can more easily penetrate thinned forests. Logging also puts more “fine fuels” on the forest floor.

Thinned forests also tend to get rapid regrowth of small trees, grass, and shrubs. It is these fine fuels that carry fires, not large tree boles—which is why you have snags left after a fire. The trees themselves seldom burn.

Even if thinning worked to reduce fire severity and spread—a questionable assumption—there is the science that finds that the probability of a fire actually encountering a thinned parcel during the period when “fuels” are reduced is around 1% or less. And one must “maintain” fuel reductions indefinitely into the future—including prescribed burns every few years which always poses a risk they will escape.

Logging the forest degrades forest ecosystems. It removes biomass (read trees and snags) which is important “habitat” for many wildlife species. It reduces carbon storage (logging releases much more carbon than a wildfire). It creates roads which are vectors for weeds (which increases the flammability of vegetation), but also tend to increase human access that can disturb sensitive wildlife. Not to mention roads are also the location of most human-ignitions.

In other words, Bozeman will get all the negatives from thinning and almost no additional fire prevention.

Notes.

[i] http://weblink.bozeman.net/WebLink8/0/doc/178492/Electronic.aspx

[ii] https://www.forestlegacies.org/images/scientist-letters/scientist-letter-wildfire-signers-2018-08-27_1.pdf

[iii] Objectives and considerations for wildland fuel treatment in forested ecosystems of the interior western United States Reinhardt et al. 2008.

[iv]https://www.nytimes.com/2000/09/01/us/fires-not-caused-by-reduced-logging-congressional-report-finds.html

[v] https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ecs2.1492

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Trump’s Megalomania and Boris Johnson’s Incompetence Have Only Increased in COVID Pandemic

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

The US and UK are the nation states that have performed worst in the world in coping with the coronavirus pandemic. Americans and Britons make up more than a third of the 300,000 people worldwide who have died from Covid-19. They have paid the ultimate price for their governments’ slow and incompetent response to the spread of the disease.

Both countries have obvious points in common that explain their excess fatalities: Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are nativist demagogues skilled in winning elections, but not in coping with real crises as opposed to the ones they invent or exaggerate. Their critics had long predicted disaster if either man became national leader and this has finally happened.

I had thought that Trump and later Johnson were safer than they looked so long as they avoided real crises. I was thinking primarily of wars, probably in the Middle East, in the case of Trump. But for all his verbal belligerence towards Iran, he has stopped just short of a full-scale military conflict over the last three years.

In the case of Johnson, I believed that he would muddle through and, if there was a true crisis it would be to do with a no-deal Brexit. This seemed unlikely because he has a track record of carrying out U-turns and retreats while announcing famous victories: this week the government quietly admitted that there would indeed be border checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, though Johnson had repeatedly denied conceding this as the price of last October’s withdrawal agreement with the European Union.

It was the pandemic that turned Trump’s and Johnson’s character and behavioural flaws into lethal failings that have since killed many people. Both had risen to power by skilfully exploiting nativist fears and ambitions and scapegoating foreigners at home and abroad. They had become like a pair of conmen who have been successfully peddling lies and fantasies, but who must suddenly grapple with a highly-dangerous reality.

In Graham Greene’s novel Our Man in Havana, an amiable British businessman selling vacuum cleaners in pre-Castro Cuba bamboozles MI6 by inventing a string of well-paid secret agents. He passes off his scaled-up drawing of a vacuum cleaner as a mysterious weapon of mass destruction. As an accidental conman, he believes that he is safe from trouble because neither his agents nor the secret they have discovered actually exist, but because there are those who believe his imaginings, he unexpectedly has to deal with a dangerous reality in which real people begin to die.

Trump and Johnson are both like Greene’s conman in that they suddenly had to deal with a real crisis instead of a fictional one. Unsurprisingly, they have been manifestly incompetent in doing so with the result that their highly-developed countries lead the world in the number of deaths. In dealing with the all-too-real lethal coronavirus, they have not only done worse than powerful well-resourced states like Germany and South Korea, but also worse than poor and weak ones like Slovakia in Europe and Kerala in India.

Neither leader has risen to the challenge. Instead, it is the most negative and damaging aspects of their personalities that have become more pronounced under pressure. Trump was always self-obsessed, mendacious and authoritarian, but he has visibly turned into a ranting megalomaniac in the last five months.

Johnson, for his part, was always a shambolic opportunist, at one moment aping Shakespeare’s Falstaff and, at another, Winston Churchill in 1940, but it is the present catastrophe that made his poor judgement and contempt for facts such a lethal combination.

Trump’s performance is the more extraordinary: for long he denied the seriousness of the outbreak, refused to coordinate measures against it, publicised crackpot ideas on how to cure it, ignored or dismissed experts trying fight the virus. The government scientist, Rick Bright, once in charge of the critical task of developing a vaccine against coronavirus, testified this week before congress about how he was sacked because, among other reasons, he refused to endorse an anti-malaria drug favoured as an antidote for Covid-19 by Trump without any scientific evidence.

The main US public health institution, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), once played a crucial role in combating malaria and polio. But today it is led by Robert Redfield, a Trump appointee, who once controversially headed the Pentagon’s response to HIV-Aids in the 1980s. When Trump horrified doctors in April by suggesting that coronavirus victims inject themselves with disinfectant, the CDC showed the degree to which it had been cowed into submission by contenting itself with reasserting that consumers should read the instructions that come with the medicine.

Because half of Americans – and a higher proportion in the rest of the world – have always thought of Trump as a crackpot, the moment that this transformed into dangerous mania has not had the impact it might have had otherwise. Even so, it is extraordinary to watch Trump – like that Roman Emperor who claimed to have conquered the sea – boast of great American victories over the virus.

Johnson’s political approach has always been a muted and cosier version of Trumpism, adapted to British political conditions. Both men are political campaigners of proven effectiveness. plugging into nativist fears and ambitions. In contrast to Trump’s divisiveness, Johnson specialises in appeals to national unity and support for the NHS, yet the consequence of having these two leaders in office during the pandemic has in both cases been a great number of people dying.

What Trump’s terrifying megalomania has achieved in the US is being replicated in the UK by the drip-drip of government incompetence and poor decision-making: the slow response to the onset of the epidemic, the lack of equipment, the famously inadequate number of tests. Daily press conferences were at first seen as a sign of government openness, but it has since become apparent that the confident-looking ministers and health officials did not know how many people were infected or had died.

Foolish decisions led to the shifting of 15,000 untested elderly patients from hospital to care homes where they inevitably infected others. Heroic but untested carers and nurses became the unwitting carriers of the disease to patients and each other. Much of this was obvious to anybody with common sense which was why so many seriously ill people decided not to go near a hospital and have died at home.

In the first half of March government policy was based on establishing herd immunity on the assumption that 60 per cent of the population would be infected. But the inadequacy of the information on which they were taking life-an-death decisions was exposed this week when the Office for National Statistics published a survey showing that coronavirus is less infectious than supposed and only 0.27 per cent of the population have got it.

Trump’s lust for power has inflicted a far worse epidemic on Americans than would have happened otherwise; the incompetence of Johnson’s Brexiteer administration has done much the same in Britain.

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The Coming Nuclear Menace: Hypersonic Missiles

Photograph Source: David James Paquin (attributed) – Public Domain

The United States is seeking to acquire “volumes of hundreds or even thousands” of nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles that are “stealthy” and can fly undetected at 3,600 miles per hour, five times faster than the speed of sound.

Why so many? A Pentagon official is quoted in the current issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology as saying “we have to be careful we’re not building boutique weapons. If we build boutique weapons, we won’t—we’ll be very reluctant to—use them.”

The article in the aerospace industry trade journal is headlined: “Hypersonic Mass Production.” A subhead reads: “Pentagon Forms Hypersonic Industry ‘War Room.’”

On March 19, 2020, the U.S. conducted its first hypersonic missile test from its Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii.

Fast and Furiously Accurate” is the title of an article about hypersonic missiles written by a U.S. Navy officer which appeared last year on a U.S. Naval Institute website.

The piece declares that by “specifically integrating hypersonic weapons with U.S. Navy submarines, the United States may gain an edge in developing the fastest, most precise weapons the world has ever seen.”

“Hypersonic weapons,” explains the article by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Andrea Howard, “travel faster than Mach 5—at least five times the speed of sound, around 3,600 mph, or one mile per second….They are similar to but faster than existing missiles, such as the subsonic U.S. Tomahawk missile, which maxes out around 550 mph.”

“While hypersonic weapons can carry conventional or nuclear warheads, they differ from existing technologies in three critical ways,” writes Howard. “First…a one-kilogram object delivered precisely and traveling multiples of the speed of sound can be more destructive than one kilogram of TNT. Second, the low-altitude path helps mask HCMs [Hypersonic Cruise Missiles] when coupled with the curvature of the Earth” and so “they are mostly invisible to early warning radars. And third…they can maneuver during flight; in contrast with the predictable ballistic-missile descend, they are more difficult to intercept, if even detected.”

“By offering the precision of near-zero-miss weapons, the speed of ballistic missiles, and the maneuverability of cruise missiles, hypersonic weapons are a disruptive technology capable of striking anywhere on the globe in less than an hour,” declares the Navy officer.

The article also notes that Russian “President Vladimir Putin unveiled six new” what he called “invincible” hypersonic missiles as part of a March 2018 “state of the nation” speech. “Russia has successfully tested the air-to-ground hypersonic missile” named Kinzhal for dagger, “multiple times using the MIG-31 fighter.” It’s “mounting the Kinzhal on its Tu-22M3 strategic bomber.” The article also says “China, too, is working on hypersonic technologies.”

The piece concludes: “As the tradition of arms control weakens with the breakdown of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement, it would be naïve to anticipate anything other than full-fledged weapon development by Russia and China in the coming decades….The bottom line is that hypersonic weapons will determine who precisely is ‘prompt’ enough in 21st century conflict.”

The U.S. under President Trump withdrew last year from the INF treaty, a landmark agreement which had banned all land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of from 310 to 3,420 miles. It had been signed in 1987 by President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. The treaty “marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and employ extensive on-site inspections for verification,” notes the Arms Control Association.

Hypersonic missiles may be unstoppable. Is society ready?” was the headline of an article in March in The Christian Science Monitor. This piece notes: “Hypersonic missiles are not just very fast, they are maneuverable and stealthy. This combination of speed and furtiveness means they can surprise an adversary in ways that conventional missiles cannot, while also evading radar detection. And they have injected an additional level of risk and ambiguity into what was already an accelerating arms race between nuclear-armed rivals.”

The article raises the issue of the speed of hypersonic missiles miring military decisions. “For an incoming conventional missile, military commanders may have 30 minutes to detect and respond; a hypersonic missile could arrive at that same destination in 10 minutes.” Thus “artificial intelligence” or “AI” would be utilized.

The Christian Science Monitor article quotes Patrick Lin, a professor of philosophy at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, as noting: “Technology will always fail. That is the nature of technology.” And, says the article: “Dr. Lin argues that the benefits of hypersonic weapons compared to the risk they create are ‘widely unclear,’ as well as the benefits of the AI systems that inform them.”

It quotes Dr. Lin as saying, wisely: “I think it’s important to remember that diplomacy works and policy solutions work…I think another tool in our toolbox isn’t just to invest in more weapons, but it’s also to invest in diplomacy to develop community.”

The Aviation Week & Space Technology article begins: “As the U.S. hypersonic weapons strategy tilts toward valuing a quantity approach, the new focus for top defense planners—even as a four-year battery of flight testing begins—is to create an industrial base that can produce missiles affordably enough that the high-speed weapons can be purchased in volumes of hundreds or even thousands.”

It continues: “To pave the way for an affordable production strategy, the Pentagon’s Research and Engineering division has teamed up with the Acquisition and Sustainment branch to create a ‘war room’ for the hypersonic industrial base, says Mark Lewis, director of research and engineering the modernization.”

The piece then quotes Lewis as saying: “At the end of the day, we have to be careful we’re not building boutique weapons. If we build boutique weapons, we won’t—we’ll be very reluctant to—use them. And that again factors into our plans for delivering hypersonics at scale.”

The article says that “Air Force and defense officials have been promoting concepts for operating air-launched hypersonic missiles in swarm attacks. The B-1B [bomber], for example, will be modified to carry” six hypersonic missiles.

“I think it’s a poorly posed question to ask about affordability per unit,” the piece quoted Lewis as saying. “We have to think of it in terms of the affordability of the capability that we’re providing. By that I mean: If I’ve got a hypersonic system that costs twice as much as its subsonic counterpart but is five times more effective, well, clearly, that’s an advantageous cost scenario.”

The hypersonic missiles will indeed likely be “invincible.” And they would be at the ready because of the withdrawal by the Trump administration of the INF treaty and other international arms control agreements, one after another.

With the vast numbers of hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles being sought, the world will have fully returned to the madness in the depths the Cold War—as presented in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Apocalypse will be highly likely. Artificial intelligence is not going to save us. These weapons need to be outlawed, not produced and purchased en masse. And we must, indeed, “invest in diplomacy to develop community”—a global community at peace, not a world of horrific and unstoppable war.

The post The Coming Nuclear Menace: Hypersonic Missiles appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Unsettling Noises: Locked Down in Queens

Photograph Source: Alejandro Mallea – CC BY 2.0

For the past nine weeks an eerie silence has descended upon my neighborhood, as it has for much of the rest of New York City. Being a musician, I am extremely aware of my sonic environment at all times and the soundscape of the city has abruptly changed since even a week before the Stay-at-Home order was given on March 22nd. Gone are the honking horns and idling engines in snarled traffic. I don’t hear the traffic helicopter hovering overhead daily anymore. The incessant roar of the turbines from the high volume of commercial airliners coming in and out of nearby LaGuardia and JFK airports has been replaced by birdsong. The residual din of the MTA, LIRR, and thousands of other passersby that made up my “natural” listening existence in my neck of the woods, a non-descript residential area where urban and inner Queens rub up against each other, is no longer prevalent.

Instead, two unsettling sounds have constantly pierced this unusual silence. The first is the blare of the sirens of ambulances and other rescue crew. Day and night NYC’s finest EMTs have been rushing to and from hospitals, homes, and everywhere else humanity is suffering this pandemic in the “world’s borough” of the city that never sleeps.

I am situated next to Queens Hospital Center, close to Jamaica Hospital, and Grand Central Parkway, the southern border of our co-op, is within roughly a hundred yards of my back door. No more than a quarter mile to the east is the mouth of the parkway’s junction with the Van Wyck Expressway and Jackie Robinson Expressway. That means if the screaming ambulance isn’t going to either of these hospitals, then it is barreling down an empty highway to any other hospital in Queens, Brooklyn, and god knows where else.

To boot, the FDNY EMS station 50 is just a few blocks from our home and they have been as busy as one could imagine. The facility was built in 2016 and hadn’t been anywhere this active since we moved in to the neighborhood in 2017. Now, their EMTs have been on red alert for two months solid and are about to begin their third month of rescuing people, with all the accumulated stress, frustration, depression, and loss that this traumatic episode has caused them.

The New York Post reported on April 11th, after the worst week of the outbreak to hit the Big Apple, that citywide, …“the average ambulance response time to the most life-threatening cases — cardiac arrest and choking — rose from 7:37 in February to 9:24 last month. Responses to all emergencies jumped from 11:27 to 18:07.” Those statistics reflected what happened in March, when things were just getting started. It could have only gotten worse as the calendar turned to April, the cruelest month. The Post also reported that there had been one day that week in April with at least 290 cardiac arrest calls, when the average was between 70 and 80 calls a day. That first full week of last month more than 500 New Yorkers died daily and I swear I heard more than my fair share of what would have, ultimately, been their last ride.

Yes, the numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and mortalities in New York are waning. Mercifully, we aren’t terrified anymore by horrific scenes at Elmhurst hospital, the surreal images of field hospitals being set up in Central Park and the Javits Center, and the drone footage of mass burials of unclaimed Covid-19 victims on Hart Island. However, the wash of sirens and claxons at all hours hasn’t stopped, it’s just subsided somewhat in the past week and a half. It has been the most unpleasant of sounds that have intruded upon an otherwise ominous and oppressive silence that has settled over New York, my borough, my hood, my home and, even my inner self.

This silence, with which all New Yorkers are struggling now, is one of the more subtle elements of this calamity. This struggle doesn’t compare to the trials and tribulations posed by the fatality, ill health, financial ruin, and historic unemployment that many have faced in this crisis. Nevertheless, all the city’s denizens now confront this unwelcome stillness that has entered their lives and has taken up residence in each of our souls.

Broadway-curtains. Times Square-devoid of human life. The Village- closing iconic dives. Grand Central – abandoned. MTA- near empty and now shut down. The fortissimo that was the grand, orchestrated cacophony of nonstop industry, movement, culture, and humanity has, subito, been diminished to an opaque quietude.

To add injury to insult, most New Yorkers haven’t been able, or willing, to go out and actually experience that void. And, for the foreseeable future, they might not be amenable to venturing out to see nothing. Like the rest of the world, they’ll be watching it on the news or checking it out online, virtually. Like the families and loved ones of hospitalized coronavirus patients who succumb, we have to watch the demise of our favorite parts of the city from afar. A growing number of the restaurants, jazz clubs, dive bars, theaters, boutiques, bistros, salons, and other alcoves of our pleasures and pastimes may pass without us even being able to say goodbye in person.

Nobody comes to New York for the peace and quiet. The continuous array of sights and sounds encountered throughout a 24-hour day within the metropolis is it’s most attractive feature. There is never a moment’s rest for the senses. New Yorkers, when traveling, are often perturbed by the near and total silence of long nights in rural and less urban settings. “The silence is maddening!” they’ll tell you after a night that the high decibels of never-ending car alarms, stereos pumping out rap and reggaeton, and quarreling neighbors are replaced by the subtle impingements of chirping crickets, the rustle of leaves flitting in the wind, and livestock and other fauna vocalizing a mile away. Nobody comes to New York for the peace and quiet, and nobody ever will.

Sadly, this implies that New York will not be truly itself again until people are either safely able, or desperately/selfishly needing or craving enough, to coexist publicly in close NYC-style proximity. Only then can we return to the quotidian pursuits of; rubbing elbows, literally, with people at the next table, crowding onto the F train at rush hour, standing in a line for Shake Shack, squeezing into elevators, attending concerts where maybe 4 to 5 people are physically touching you at any given moment, and any number of typical scenarios that make the city unique. No one really has any answers as to when, or, dare I say- if, these occurrences, now memories, may be relived. The ubiquity of the catchphrase “new normal” would suggest that some of our favorite (or, not-so-favorite) activities that make this city special won’t be reassumed for awhile. Until then it’s “Stay Home” for most of us and let the city lay dormant. Not all are staying indoors though.

Unfortunately, the ambulances aren’t the only things that have penetrated this silence. I mentioned that there were two unnerving sounds that have served as the main protagonists of my Covid-19 induced solitude. From inside my house I also frequently hear the unbidden roar of the mufflers of racing motorcycles, dragsters, and an ungodly assortment of “off-road” vehicles that have taken over the streets and expressways of New York since the pandemic started and have converted the city’s empty avenues and thoroughfares into racetracks. Because of my proximity to Grand Central Parkway I am bombarded by what seems like an all day, eternal Grand Prix motor event.

Although less reported than other recent incidents throughout the nation of people breaking with guidelines and exposing themselves and others to harm during this pandemic, this scourge of illegal street racing and joyriding is yet another example of what William S. Burroughs termed “the basic American rottenness.”

Like the mobs of right-wing funded, white, gun toting, confederate flag-waving miscreants overtaking state capitols, these speedsters are taking advantage of open, public spaces to demonstrate just how bereft they really are of common sense and mindfulness of others. Their common disregard for health and safety has just been waiting for this sort of opportunity in order to flaunt itself. The speedsters, like the gun nuts, white nationalists, and Trumpsters, were around before the lockdown. Their dangerously darting in between cars in gridlock traffic with no concern for other’s safety, and taking over streets at night in the outer boroughs has grown worrisome in the last six months, but there was always enough traffic to make sure they would never take over. Now, open road for miles and no hassle from the police. Like those angry, armed protesters, they have been given free reign to take over our commons while they mistakenly claim that their frivolities and conveniences are really their liberties and freedoms. None of them care a wink for the suffering, sacrifice, and heroism of others who are getting us through this catastrophe while they try and hit 120 mph.

Complaints from all five boroughs have been filed, but the NYPD has been stretched beyond capacity lately. Some weeks in April up to 20% of uniformed officers were out ill, thereby hampering any attempt to respond to such nuisances. Many people are afraid of what will happen when drag racers end up running into people, which is what happened on a Queens expressway to an unfortunate off duty cop the last week of April.

As for me, the main inconvenience of the infernal racing is the noise pollution. I haven’t driven hardly at all in two months and have only crossed the street a handful of times. I haven’t been into Manhattan since March 17th, and I can barely wrap my head around that fact. I haven’t been on any road that would lead me to have any contact with any of these fools. Yet, the constant, hideous backfires from modified and illegal mufflers that sound like a machine gun and explosives fired often have me straining to discern whether or not what I hear are gunshots. It would be just a minor inconvenience if it weren’t for the volume and frequency. Some days it would seem as though the dragsters and ambulances were mixing it up on the road, racing each other to see who can get to the Triboro Bridge the quickest.

These two sounds break the silence, my silence. No more clashing ride cymbals, throbbing bass lines, and hip-grinding congas. Forgotten are the shriek and hiss of the rails as your train comes into your station. No more eavesdropping on conversations in a hundred different languages and trying to see if you understand anything. The wail of sirens and the crackle and pops of mufflers of crotch rockets and funny cars are the only things to listen for since the beginning of this ordeal.

Benjamin Willis is a musician, interpreter, writer and dark humorist.

 

The post Unsettling Noises: Locked Down in Queens appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

War and Power in Classical Greece: Lessons for Superpowers and the World

Nineteenth-century painting by Philipp Foltz depicting the Athenian politician Pericles delivering his famous funeral oration in front of the Assembly – Public Domain

Prologue

Humans have had almost ceaseless difficulties in working and living together. Superstition, religious ideas, race, geography, ownership of land, and language engulf them so much, they often fail to extend a friendly hand to people who don’t fit their schizophrenia of who among humans is like them. This culture has been generating a deadly record of competition and conflict.

The terror of survival coded war and peace in human genes and societies.

The sixth century BCE Greek natural philosopher Herakleitos praised war as the father and king of everything. He should know. He lived in Ephesos in Ionia (Asia Minor), where Greeks had several flourishing independent states. These Greeks lived next to the Persians. War was nothing unusual. The Greeks had a war god named Ares.

The Greeks struggled long and hard in organizing a society that best suited their passions for excellence and freedom. They formed many small communities sharing the same language, piety for the gods, and vision of non-Greeks and the cosmos.

The polis

The Greeks called their community polis (city-state) from their conviction that each member of the political community would have to work with other members for common security and prosperity.

The Greeks of the polis thought that living together would solidify their way of life stamped by polis culture. This polis experience gave the Greeks politismos / civilization.

The rule of law was the chief characteristic of governing the polis. The Greeks called this rule of law politeia (government / constitution / republic). It guaranteed individual rights and the common good, including the defense of the polis. The hope was that the institutions of the polis, especially those of government, the rule of law, and the temples inspiring piety towards the same gods, would make living safer and, equally important, would help people to respect and like each other.

Lawgivers and polis constitutions aimed to make the polis an invisible university for the education of citizens in virtuous behavior. There were some criminals in poleis, but the polis tried to make crime unacceptable and impossible.

The democratic polis of Athens, for example, would pay citizens to attend the theater whose plays explored dramatic stories from the time of the heroes, the era of the Trojan War and Homer, patriotism, peace, tragedy, and the beautiful and virtuous.

Plato praised the polis. He even wrote his own Politeia (Republic), a dialogue-story of political genius and imagination. Plato’s student,  Aristotle, could not see how a human being would maintain a semblance of civilization outside of the polis.

The footprint of the polis was usually small. Each polis had enough land for houses, temples, agora, courts, schools, theaters, and stadia. It also had a much larger area of land for raising its own wheat and barley, grape vines for wine, fruit trees and vegetables, and olive trees. Farmland was essential for food self-sufficiency.

Agriculture also assured the political survival of the polis. Peasant farmers, not philosophers, defended the polis and invented democracy.

The Greeks had a couple of millennia of experimenting with their poleis (city-states). They straddles mainland Greece, the region of the Black Sea, southern Spain and France, Asia Minor and northern Africa. Italy, starting from Naples to Sicily, was pretty much Greek. The Romans called that region Magna Grecia (Great Greece). In the fifth century BCE, there were about 2,000 Greek poleis in the Mediterranean.

The polis became the laboratory of political theory and power. Political theory was not abstraction. Theory comes from reasonable speculation and seeing living and imagined reality. Life, especially political life, life lived in a polis, was full of surprises, satisfactions, and difficulties. Political theory sprang from a variety of political experience with tyranny, monarchy, oligarchy, democracy and other constitutions in foreign countries like Persia and Egypt.

Democratic Athens invented an array of institutions to empower the average Athenian male citizen to govern and be governed. Athenian juries were large and complex organizations. They were immune to corruption. It was impossible to predict who would be a juror in a forthcoming trial.

Athenians could seek justice in courts, courts of appeal, and district courts. There were no judges or lawyers in a trial. The citizen who filed a suit against another citizen would have to explain to usually large number of jurors why he sought the punishment of another citizen. Hired speech writers could embellish the presentations of prosecutors and defendants.

Athenians served as jurors and magistrates. They slowly evolved to accommodate a variety of constitutions, which enlarged the rights and obligations of citizens.

The polis was not some kind of ideal city of perfect equality, justice, science and civilization. Plato’s Politeia highlighted perfection and virtue. But Plato never run a polis.

Sparta and Athens

The real polis, say Athens and Sparta, grew to vigorous states that dominated mainland Greece, especially in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Athens and Sparta joined forces and defeated the Persian Empire in early fifth century BCE.

This was no small accidental victory. This was a big victory that saved the Greeks and Western civilization from extinction.

In reading Herodotos, the fifth century BCE historian of the Persian Wars, one has a sense of the cosmic confrontation unfolding in Persia, Ionia, dotted with Greek poleis, and Greece. The mighty Persian King Darius could not tolerate independent Greek poleis on the borders of his vast empire. He threatened these cities and the cities appealed to Sparta and Athens for military assistance.

The Spartans were the strongest polis in Greece. Their mixed constitution combined oligarchy, monarchy, democracy and communism. Male Spartans lived the lives of soldiers. They removed their sons at the age of seven from their mothers and trained them in military barracks to be soldiers. Sparta was a permanent military camp.

In order to remain soldiers, the Spartans had enslaved fellow Greeks, Messenians, descendants of Agamemnon and the Trojan War Myceneans, to grow food for them.

This grave injustice kept Sparta on a permanent state of war readiness, lest the enslaved Messenian helots revolted. This cloud of fear and uneasiness colored everything the Spartans did in Greece or abroad. Second, Sparta was, for all practical purposes, an oligarchy, with little if any sympathy for democracy.

Athens, on the other hand, did not wear a military straightjacket. Athenians were convinced they were autochthonous, springing from their own land. Yet they were opened to the world, their navy brought them all over the Mediterranean for trade and ideas. The peasant farmers of Athens made up its soldiers who always fought bravely in the hoplite phalanx.

Leading Athenian citizens experimented with all forms of political power. They started with kings who resembled powerful nobles of the era of the Trojan War. These kings, and kings in other Greek poleis, came out of the oligarchy but did not have the power of modern kings like Louis XIV. They had moderate power. Athens eventually abolished hereditary monarchy. Kings became officials elected for a year.

When in the sixth century BCE, the rural oligarchs in Athens overstepped their power, the moderate of the Athenian nobles gave the legislative key of their troubled polls to Solon. This was a former archon (ruler) who, within a year, 594-593 BCE, abolished the slavery of Athenians by Athenians. His laws aimed at eunomia (dominance of good law) and Seisachtheia (shaking off of burdens of political inequality).

Solon supported small family farmers and set the foundations for a democratic constitution in Athens.

The political history of classical Greece is primarily the struggle for power between democratic Athens and the military superpower of oligarchic Sparta.

The Persian Wars

The Persian Wars brought to light the enormous but hidden competition of Athens and Sparta. First of all, in the early fifth century BCE, the Persian danger brought Athens and Sparta together.

In 490 BCE, the Athenians confronted the Persians at Marathon. But before the battle, they sent the fast runner Pheidippides to Sparta appealing for help. Pheidippides reached Sparta by running 140 miles in a day. The Spartans said they could not join the Athenians at Marathon before  there was a full Moon.

Athenian hoplites and 600 soldiers from the polis of Plataea fought a larger Persian army at Marathon, inflicting on the Persians a crushing defeat. The Persians suffered 6,400 casualties and the Athenians lost 192 hoplites.

The new Persian king, Xerxes, immediately started preparing for a war of revenge. Herodotos reports that, in 480 BCE, Xerxes invaded Greece with an armada of more than 2,500,000 troops, 1,207 trireme warships, and 3,000 smaller warships for carrying troops and cavalry. More likely, the Persian army was a multi-national force of around 200,000 soldiers from 46 countries.

Under the leadership of Sparta, the Greeks formed the Hellenic League to fight the Persian invaders. Thirty-one poleis joined the Hellenic League. They took an oath to fight the Persians to death in order to preserve freedom. Sparta was the hegemon of this alliance, the first such union of Greek states since the Trojan War. Argos, the main enemy of Sparta in Peloponnesos, and Crete remained neutral.

The Greeks asked the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi for guidance. The priestess was so fearful of the coming Persian invasion, she uttered cries of despair. But during the second pleading for advice, she mumbled something about wooden walls and Salamis.

The Hellenic League sent King Leonidas of Sparta to block the Persians from entering Peloponnesos at the mountain pass of Thermopylae in Central Greece. In August 480 BCE, Leonidas and his 300 fighters sacrificed their lives on the cause of Greek freedom.

The Persians then invaded and burnt Attica and Athens. With the news of Thermopylae, Themistocles, the Athenian general commanding Athens, insisted the Greeks should send their fleet of 271 triremes (of which 147 were Athenian warships) to Salamis, an Athenian island close to Attica.

In September 480 BCE, Themistocles sent a trusted slave, Sikinnos, to Xerxes, deceiving him to send his fleet to Salamis. Xerxes did and the Athenians and other allies annihilated the Persian fleet in the narrow strait between Salamis and the Greek mainland.

In August 479 BCE, Spartans and Athenians finished off the Persians at Plataea. They executed Theban leaders who sided with the invading Persians.

The defeat of the Persians lifted an enormous danger over Greece. It inspired the Athenians to greatness: a political and civilization enlightenment. The Spartans, however, returned to their military barracks, losing their sleep, and leaking their worries about the rising Athenian power in the post-Persian world.

Athens founded the Delian League, which included all vulnerable poleis to potential Persian attack. Athens and her allies freed  other Greek cities under Persian influence and control and kept peace in Ionia, home of several great Greek poleis.

In time, some of the Greek allies of Athens started paying Athens for the security they received.

Scholars describe this relationship between Athens and its Aegean and Ionian allies as the Athenian Empire.  I find such claim problematic.

Empire is always hostile political arrangements between a ruler and his subjects. Persia was an empire. Athens never imitated or acted like Persia. Athens might have been harsh at times, and especially during the Peloponnesian War.  However, in the fifty years between the Persian and Peloponnesian War, Athens did not treat Greeks as conquered subjects.

Democratic Athens, however, was preparing itself for hegemony. It sponsored Thurii, a Panhellenic polis in the Tarentine gulf in southern Italy. Athens wanted to see a polis made up of Greeks from all over the Greek world. Probably Athens wanted to unite Greece.

Athens was tasting and living power. That power was changing it. Perikles, its political leader, used Athens’ new wealth (the money allies paid Athens for security) to build the Parthenon. He was proud telling Athenians their polis was “the school of Hellas” (Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 2.41).

The Peloponnesian War

Athens had the largest fleet in the Mediterranean. No Greek or foreign state was a match its constantly growing confidence and power – a reality building antagonism and hostility among the Spartans.

Thucydides, the Athenian general who recorded the war that broke out in 431 BCE between Athens and Sparta and its Peloponnesian allies, assures us that it was the ceaseless growth of Athenian power that became the main reason for the war (The Peloponnesian War 1.23).

Power does lift up its owner but it also radiates jealousy among those whose power is declining or in doubt. The Spartan superpower of the Greek world could see Athens was drawing accolades. Anywhere Athens went oligarchic regimes gave in to democratic constitutions and governments.

In other words, power is indivisible. You either have it or you don’t. When you have it, others are attracted to you. They imitate your schools, economy, even the clothes you wear, the music you invent, and the food you eat.

America since 1945 has been a classic example of this political power. China’s greatest ambition is to become an exact copy of America.

Like sex, power is a monopolistic aphrodisiac. It becomes the center of everything. It does not split in two.

The Peloponnesian War caused irreparable damage to Greece. Both sides of the war (Spartan and Athenian) perpetuated atrocities. Greeks started treating other Greeks like barbarians.

Decline and fall of Sparta

In 404 BCE, Athens sunk to the humiliations of defeat. Sparta rose back to superpower status. Sparta had brought Persia back to Greek politics. Persian gold funded Sparta, a factor of emerging corruption in the military society of this invincible oligarchy. Sparta also was not accustomed to the niceties of diplomacy. It demanded and got the money Greek poleis used to pay Athens. This additional money increased corruption among Spartans who were forbidden by their own constitution from owning coins of gold or silver.

The Spartans had destroyed the walls of Athens, but did not agree with the proposal of Corinth and Thebes, powerful Spartan allies (on the Isthmus linking Central Greece to Peloponnesos and Boeotia in Central Greece) to wipe out Athens. Nevertheless, Sparta put its own tyrannical regime in Athens.

Other Greek poleis started resenting Sparta. An Athenian general, Thrasyboulos, attacked the thirty tyrants Sparta had imposed on Athens and fought to a standstill the Spartans who came to restore the tyrants. In 403 BCE, Thrasyboulos restored democracy to Athens, winning the greatness he deserved.

Sparta tried to freeze Greek politics while it remained superpower. It convinced the Persian king to issue an edict on the independence of Greece, dissolving confederacies, save that headed by Sparta, and ordering the autonomy of all poleis.

This blatant and Spartan-inspired Persian interference in Greek affairs increased the hostility of the Greeks for Sparta. Thebes decided to do something about it.

In 371 BCE, two Theban generals, Pelopidas and Epaminondas, lead 6,000 Theban hoplites against 10,000 Spartan hoplites. The Theban victory at Leuktra in Boeotia was decisive.

The defeat of Sparta by Thebes shattered  the political power of Sparta. Thebes delivered the final blow soon after. In 369 BCE, Thebes led a huge army of some 50,000 to 70,000 Greek soldiers into Sparta’s home ground in Lakonia, something that had never happened before. The Spartans did not go out of their villages to meet this formidable army.

The Thebans inflicted considerable damage to the countryside of Sparta. In addition, they cut the jugular vein of Spartan power. They freed the Messenian helots, giving them their own polis at Pylos in Peloponnesos, the capital of Nestor, the Mycenaean king who fought in the Trojan War. Freeing the helots effectively destroyed the power of Sparta – for good.

These examples of power politics in classical Greece suffice to illustrate the nature of political power. It is insatiable, corrupting, and tyrannical.

Thucydides lived through the events he described, shedding light on why the Greeks fought for so long the most destructive war in Greek history. He was right that his history of the Peloponnesian War would last forever. It has. It remains a required text in most military academies and universities teaching history and political science. The book is insightful, always timely, riveting and telling of the weaknesses and strengths of human character.

It should also become the required text for those elected or appointed to high political office, especially among politicians seeking to become president of the United States.

War is necessary to defend freedom, like the war the Greeks fought against the mighty Persian Empire or the war Europeans and Americans fought to defeat tyrannical Hitler and the Nazis. But, otherwise, war makes men barbarians.

The polis, at the center of the Peloponnesian War, was a great political idea that brought about the Greek “miracle”: natural philosophy, epic poetry, drama, comedy, theater, history, classical architecture, astronomy, biology, geography, cartography, medicine, mathematics and democracy, the Parthenon, Plato and Aristotle.

But not all poleis were equal or thought of themselves as equal. One Greek superpower followed another in wars that weakened Greece, making it a tempting target for outsiders.

It always happens. Which is to say, Greek history is always relevant and important and timely.

The Europeans repeated the political mistakes of the Greeks. The result was two Peloponnesian Wars that nearly destroyed civilization. Instead of wars, the Europeans could have founded a strong confederation that would have prevented tyrants like Hitler.

Climate change and political theory

Now, in 2020, the world of some 200 states is also in the precarious position of the Greek poleis and European states.

Overarching this conglomerate, there are three states, superpowers all: US, Russia and China. Then there are other additional nuclear-armed states in the second tier, and everyone else is at the bottom of the barrel.

Now that the US has become temporarily the kingdom of Trump, intelligent Americans and the world seem to be in a shock. The new Washington consensus is all about building castles and walls around the United States. The Trump regime is an enemy of public health and the natural world, a friend of polluters, oilmen, loggers, and oligarchs.

Given the certain nemesis of climate change, the world is astonished at the stupidity and immaturity of Americans for their political choice of Trump.

However, political power will survive Trump. The next American president may well be Joe Biden who has a saner and “democratic” view of power — and the world.

Will Biden, like Perikles, be able to fight off climate change enough to bring about a golden age for civilization? Or will he be tempted to enrich the munition merchants by another deadly contest with the other superpowers?

Biden could earn the Nobel Peace Prize and immortality by getting the United States, Russia and China to establish a Peace League, in which the three would pool the trillions they spend on armaments to fight climate change and convert the world petroleum economy to a carbon-free economy.

Second, will Biden grasp the enormity of political power, now that such elixir is wrapped by the life and death threats of the virus plague, climate change, overpopulation, disappearing fresh water, nuclear weapons, and the ceaseless destruction of the natural world.

Third, if Biden does understand these rising crises, and is willing to tame them, the world has a chance to avoid the third, final and fatal, Peloponnesian War.

Political power can be muzzled for the benefit of all. And unlike the Politeia of Plato, an inspiring pie in the sky, this Politeia of America, Russia and China can restructure the world from a death-pursuing bunch of heavily armed nomads to a peaceful, ecological, and livable commonwealth of nations.

These nations must reduce their populations dramatically, which, among other things, may necessitate abandoning religious beliefs or religions or economic doctrines teaching man’s domination of the Earth and unlimited human procreation. Enough of these superstitions.

That way, humanity survives in polis-like communities with small populations working the land and enriching their ancient traditions with the best assets of science and virtue.

 

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Unmasking the “Wartime President”

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

There is an insidious attempt by President Trump to manipulate workers and consumers into believing they are “warriors,” fighting to save the American economy from the coronavirus. His aim is to motivate citizens to return to work and to shop prematurely, in the belief that they are saving the country, when, in fact, their unnecessary sacrifice of health and life is about his attempt to save his 2020 re-election campaign.

President Trump told reporters that he viewed himself as “a wartime president” as the U. S. was at “‘war’ against an ‘invisible enemy.’” He compared America’s achievements during World War II with what is required today: “Now it’s our time. We must sacrifice together, because we are all in this together, and we will come through it together.” (“Trump labels himself ‘a wartime president combating coronavirus,” By Caitlin Uprysko and Susannah Luthi, POLITICO, March 18, 2020)

If it is a “war,” the “wartime president” is not arming American workers and consumers with the weapons needed to protect themselves and fight this “invisible enemy.” President Trump talks a good game of providing testing to identify, contain and treat those with coronavirus to stop the virus from spreading. During a visit to the Centers for Disease Control in early March, he said, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test. . . . That’s what the bottom line is.” And he repeated himself: “Anybody right now and yesterday, anybody that needs a test gets a test. They’re here. They have the tests and the tests are beautiful.” (“Trump calls coronavirus test perfect’ and compares it to the Ukraine phone call,” CBS News, March 6, 2020)

“The bottom line” is that testing was not available “now and yesterday.” An analysis by CNN revealed a “lack of coronavirus testing,” which “may blunt Trump’s planned economic revival.” Staff writer Stephen Collinson “found multiple errors in the government testing program that squandered a critical month during which aggressive testing may have reduced the spread and scale of the pandemic as it took root on US soil.” Collinson added: “The administration failed to make early use of private labs, released a flawed test it took weeks to correct, and barred private labs from making their own tests.” (“Lack of coronavirus testing may blunt Trump’s planned economic revival,” Analysis by Stephen Collison, CNN, April 10, 2020)

Today, over two months later, President Trump repeated, “If somebody wants to be tested right now, they’ll be able to be tested.” As reported, he was “flanked by large posters that proclaimed ‘America leads the world in testing.’” He “also declared victory over the pandemic, saying that ‘we have met the moment and we have prevailed.’” But, “under questioning he revised his comments, saying he only meant to say the country had prevailed on increasing its access to testing.” Still, his “claim that ‘we’ve prevailed on testing’” was also reported to be “premature,” as “the current rate still remains far behind the five million daily target he set last month.” (“White House Orders Staff to Wear Masks as Trump Misrepresents Testing Record,” By Michael D. Shear, Maggie Haberman and Linda Qiu, The New York Times, May 12, 2020)

“We have met the moment and we have prevailed.” Sounds like former president George W. Bush’s pre-emptive criminal invasion of defenseless Iraq in 2003; and two months later he raised a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished” But the ruination and deaths Bush unleashed in Iraq continue to this day.

President Trump is still misleading American “warriors” in continuing to say that testing is available to anyone. That’s still not so. Again as reported: “It is one thing to have enough testing capacity for everyone who is symptomatic or has been in contact with someone who has tested positive, but that is quite different from having enough to provide reassurance to people considering returning to normal life.” (Ibid)

The risks American “warriors” face do not concern “the wartime president.” He is willing to have workers and consumers sacrifice their lives, if that is what it takes “to open the country” – and insure his re-election. “I’m not saying anything is perfect, and, yes, will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes,” he said. “But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.” He was okay with Americans dying, saying, “There’ll be more death . . . the virus will pass, with or without a vaccine. And I think we’re doing well on the vaccines, but with or without the vaccine, it’s going to pass, and we’re going to be back to normal.” (“Trump: Some will die for economy’s restart, but you’re ‘warriors,’” By William Goldschlag and Dan Janison, Newsday, May 6, 2020)

President Trump’s wishful narcissistic thinking is exposed by health advocate and South Carolina Democratic Congressional candidate Kim Nelson. She states that “Trump is characterizing people whose lives are at risk as warriors ‘so that you’ll view those who died as having sacrificed for the greater good.’” She continues: “He absolutely does not want you to view these deaths for what they are . . . a result of his abject failure to handle the pandemic in any logical way.” (“’There’ll Be More Death’: Trump Says He Is Willing to Sacrifice Lives to Reopen US Businesses,” By Jake Johnson, staff writer, Common Dreams, May 6, 2020)

Along with the lack of testing, President Trump was slow to enact social distancing measures. Allan Smith of NBC News reported that “President Donald Trump’s top public health officials concluded by the third week in February that they should recommend to the president a new approach to COVID-19 that included social distancing steps. But,” Smith continued, “according to The Times, the White House ‘focused on messaging and crucial additional weeks went by before their views were reluctantly accepted by the president – time when the virus spread largely unimpeded.’” (“Fauci: Earlier social distancing measures ‘obviously’ would have saved more lives,” April 12, 2020)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the leading White House public health expert, said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” program: “Obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously no one is going o deny that. . . . There was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.” (Ibid)

Later the day of the interview, a warning shot was fired across Dr. Fauci’s bow. “Trump retweeted someone calling for Fauci to be removed.” (Ibid)

Along with his lack of testing and resistance to social distancing measures, President Trump’s refusal to wear a mask is telling. The aim of wearing a mask is to protect others as well as oneself. Trump says he doesn’t wear a mask because he is tested every day, which protects others. Yet as reported “A rapid coronavirus test used by the White House to screen its staff could miss infections up to 48 percent of the time, according to a study by researchers at N.Y.U. Langone Health.” But “Mr. Trump has said the tests are ‘highly accurate.’” (“Coronavirus Testing Used by the White House Could Miss Infections,” By Katie Thomas, The New York Times, May 14, 2020)

This finding suggests that other people around President Trump are protecting him by wearing masks, whereas he may not be fully protecting them by not wearing a mask. Here appears to be another example of his lack of caring for others, which is compounded by the poor example he is setting for Americans in not wearing a mask.

On a deeper level, wearing a mask would indicate President Trump’s admission that there is something he cannot control or bully or intimidate. Such an admission would be intolerable for this authoritarian president. He is above laws and regulations and the critical analysis of “fake news” – and even the coronavirus. Nothing is beyond his intelligence and control. Thus he told reporters while visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, “Doctors he’s come across as the administration tries to get a handle on the outbreak have been surprised about how much he knows about COVID-19. ‘Maybe I have a natural ability,’ he said. ‘Maybe I should have done this instead of running for president.’ ” (“Trump says doctors keep asking how he knows so much about coronavirus,” theweek.com, March 7, 2020)

The tragic result for Americans is that a self-deluded President Trump is driven to prematurely open the country. The result will not be saving the economy, but countless more deaths, which will worsen efforts to get the economy back to normal. Trump’s narcissism prevents him from seeing that the economy is made for people, not people for the economy. To him, the economy is to serve the wealthiest, not the economically weariest. Never mind the health of the people, a healthy economy is the springboard for his re-election.

Two White House public health officials were reported to “paint a grim picture of the months ahead on Tuesday, warning a Senate panel that the coronavirus pandemic was far from contained, just a day after President Trump declared that “we have met the moment and we have prevailed.” The two, “Dr. Anthony S. Fauci . . . and Dr. Robert J. Redfield . . . predicted dire consequences if the nation reopened its economy to soon, noting that the United States still lacked critical testing capacity and the ability to trace the contacts of those infected.” (“At Senate Hearing, Government Experts Paint Bleak Picture of the Pandemic,” By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times, May 13, 2020)

With the “dire consequences” of President Trump’s failed leadership already infecting America, correspondent at The Nation, Jeet Heer has a final comment about the “wartime president” calling Americans to sacrifice as “warriors.” Heer concludes: “These endangered Americans are being sacrificed not for the sake of public health but for the goal of reopening the economy, with the hope of boosting Trump’s electability.” Heer continues: “If the current crisis is the moral equivalent of a war, then Trump is the moral equivalent of a war criminal.” He ends: Trump’s “political defeat in November is a consummation devoutly to be wished, but full justice will have to include corruption investigations – and prosecutions where warranted – after he leaves office.” (“If This Pandemic Is a War, Trump is a War Criminal,” May 6, 2020)

The challenge of people of faith should be clear. It is one thing to pray for the victims of the coronavirus and their families and for the virus to end. It is quite another – risky and necessary – undertaking to confront a president who is not only incapable of providing competent leadership in the fight against the coronavirus, but uses it to prey on Americans.

 

 

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Fauci Saves

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

What kind of a country is it that will not care for its own people?

The president of the United States pulled a Pontius Pilate when he washed his hands of ensuring the people he supposedly governs are safe from COVID-19. He is underlining his disregard for setting an example of protection from the disease by strutting around with an in-your-face machismo attitude without a mask.

That faux stance is rich coming from an overweight pretender to a would-be throne whose unseen bone spurs kept him out of the Vietnam War in which 58,000 Americans gave their lives. Now, on his watch, the number of American COVID-19-related deaths top that number by far and probably are headed toward six figures.

Narcissus, of Greek mythology, would be proud of this guy, who’s fixated on himself and his physical appearance. (See hairdo, orange face.) Narcissism is a mental personality disorder, says the Mayo Clinic, “in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships and a lack of empathy for others.” Familiar?

The problem? A leader with such a disorder can have a deadly impact on those he leads. He holds our lives in his hands with every executive order, every spontaneous whim. Remember his absurd advice to take bleach or a disinfectant as a cure for COVID-19?

For example, he put himself above the experts and declared it was time to reopen America, falsely stating the number of tests that have been conducted to determine who has contracted the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which is an acronym for Chinese Originated Viral Infectious Disease. He said the United States has carried out more tests than any other country in the world. Bull.

Isn’t his exaggeration, another lie, pure and simple, dangerous? Does it not mean anything that Americans are falsely lulled by their president into thinking they can return to a pre-pandemic life before the virus has been controlled, eliminated as a threat? This spiny disease generator creates incredible suffering, prolonged agony that attacks the lungs and, seemingly, other organs. What must it be like to not to be able to breathe.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom Trump has sidelined despite his decades-long sterling reputation as an infectious disease specialist, warned the Senate health committee May 12 that a premature opening of America could portend “a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control.”

Such a move, he cautioned, could mean “some suffering and death that could be avoided but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery because it would almost turn the clock back rather than going forward.” Clever to insert economic recovery.

For it’s economic recovery that Trump is most concerned about because the continuing Depression era-like unemployment, a plunging stock market and shuttered stores and restaurants could affect his chances at re-election. Some states already have begun lifting their lockdowns, ignoring warnings by Fauci and other infectious disease experts.

Like a petulant 5-year-old in the body of a 73-year-old, Trump banished Fauci to the hinterlands because he outshone the president at his daily briefings, gently contradicting the president’s false claims about a disappearing virus that at the same time was savaging thousands of people he was elected to govern and protect. He failed.

Fauci saves.

The Covid Tracking Project said states report about 300,000 tests a day, “about a tenth of the 3 million or more a day that experts say is the minimum needed to begin to safely open workplaces again,” The Washington Post said in a May 11 editorial. Trump, it said, should be in charge of “a Manhattan Project for the pandemic age. Instead, he left the job to governors, and the nation is staggering under the consequences.”

Vaccine specialist Dr. Rick Bright, rapidly demoted from his directorship of a government agency devoted to disease research after he refused to approve a Trump-recommended malaria medicine for use against COVID-19, warned a House subcommittee May 14 the virus outbreak will worsen if the country does not come up with a national testing strategy and a plan to distribute a vaccine.

“The window is closing to address this pandemic because we still do not have a standard, centralized, coordinated plan to take this nation through this response” to the virus, Bright said.

This should be the job of the federal government. But, then, Trump is in charge of the federal government.

Bright said it could take a year to 18 months to develop a vaccine.

This self-proclaimed “wartime president,” a Trump-19 who, like a virus, has infected our country with hatred, who has lied to our faces without flinching, who has denied us the weapons with which we could protect ourselves from a horrific disease that apparently also takes our children from us, has lived in a fantastical alternate reality while tens of thousands of Americans are dying in a world shaken with fear.

Maybe his urging America to reopen despite the invisible protein molecules continually attacking us has him imagining he’s Navy Adm. David Farragut. He was a hero during the previous Civil War, the one with bullets, in which he was celebrated for saying during the battle in Mobile Bay, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” That’s if Trump knows any American history.

Richard C. Gross, a career journalist at home and abroad, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.

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Covid-19, Big Ag and the Failing Food System

Big Ag has separated humankind from the process of creating food that sustains existence. This separation has been done for material gain. Big Ag has interrupted the most natural relationship, a spiritual relationship, between humanity and the land. This human/land connection supersedes all religions. It is humankind’s association with land that feeds us and fortifies people to grow and expand civilization. It is this divine relationship that has been interrupted by the economic agenda of Big Ag. That agenda, like in most industry, is to monetize human need, with little or no concern for people’s wellbeing.

This COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the contradictions existing in our food system. We have a hyper-concentration in the distribution of food throughout the country. There is grand irony in hearing one of the leaders of Big Ag express dismay at the current state of affairs.

John Tyson is a third-generation scion and board chairman of the family business that bears his name. Tyson Foods, headquartered in Springdale Arkansas, is the world’s second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork. Tyson exports the largest percentage of beef out of the United States. Their revenues exceed $40 billion annually.

“The food supply chain is breaking,” wrote board chairman John Tyson in a full-page advertisement published simultaneously in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “There will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed,” Tyson wrote.

President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order that invoked the Defense Production Act and commanded meat processing facilities to remain open. An analysis by Business Insider found at least 4,585 Tyson workers in 15 states have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and 18 have died. Trump’s order has prioritized meatpacker profits over the health and safety of workers, many of whom are immigrants, and created coronavirus hotspots.

The food system is broken! Where are the solutions? We need a comprehensive Small Farm and Urban Agriculture Homestead Act to support local food economies!! Some tentative steps have been taken. We have to go further.

Senator Cory Booker, joined by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ro Khanna, has introduced a bill to phase out large-scale factory farming by 2040. The question is what will replace the current modalities of production? Access to land, labor, capital (both infrastructure and funding) and regulatory support has to shift from Big Ag to small farmers who live in the neighborhoods that they serve. There are billions of dollars already committed to the food system in the form of subsidies, education and research and other resources, that can fund a new food system that is more efficient, healthy and humane.

As it stands, the business of farming and ranching is increasingly concentrated, with few growers occupying much larger acreage. The number of farms in the U.S. peaked in 1935, at 6.8 million.  By 2016, there were only 2.1 million farms, occupying the same number of acres.  Large farms “eat up” smaller ones, by having greater access to land, equipment and markets. The small farmers that have weathered the onslaught of commercial farming are finding it difficult to survive.  According to a 2016 USDA report, 59 to 78 percent of small farms, those with gross incomes up to $349,999, were operating in the red in 2015.  On the other hand, farms with incomes of $1-5 million and above were more likely to bring in profits averaging 25%.

Building sustainable communities begins with a focus on infrastructure, equity and food self-sufficiency. Big Ag is highly scalable, but not replicable. They have the ability to become larger, but the possibility of their facilities and infrastructure being replicated are slim. However, the local food production provided by small farms and urban agriculture is highly replicable. Small farms and urban agriculture can address many of the issues faced by humanity and expand a very productive pre-industrial, regenerative local food economy.

 

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The Bouficha Appeal: Universal Call for Humanity to End Militarism and Stop War

On March 15, 1950, the World Peace Council sent out the Stockholm Appeal, a short text that called for a ban on nuclear weapons and that would eventually be signed by almost 2 million people. The appeal was made up of three elegant sentences:

+ We demand the outlawing of atomic weapons as instruments of intimidation and mass murder of peoples. We demand strict international control to enforce this measure.

+ We believe that any government which first uses atomic weapons against any other country whatsoever will be committing a crime against humanity and should be dealt with as a war criminal.

+ We call on all men and women of good will throughout the world to sign this appeal.

Now, 70 years later, the nuclear arsenal is far more lethal, and the conventional weapons themselves dwarf the atom bomb that was dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. In 1950, there were 304 nuclear warheads (299 in the United States), while now there are 13,355 warheads; and each of the 2020 warheads is far more destructive than those from the early years of this terrible technology. Something like the Stockholm Appeal is imperative now.

To call for a ban on weapons of mass destruction is not an abstract issue; it is one that points directly toward a bloc of countries, led by the United States of America, that is stubbornly persisting in using force to maintain and extend their global dominance. In the midst of this global pandemic, the United States threatens to deepen conflicts with China, Iran, and Venezuela, including moving a naval carrier group to effectively embargo Venezuelan ports and moving ships into the Persian Gulf to challenge the right of Iranian boats to international waters; meanwhile, the United States has said it will position aggressive missile batteries and anti-missile radar arrays in a ring around China. None of these countries—China, Iran, and Venezuela—have made any aggressive move against the United States; it is the United States that has imposed a conflict on these countries. If an appeal is to be drafted now, it cannot be made in an anemic, universal fashion. Any call for peace in our time must specifically be a call against the imperialist warmongering that emanates from—but is not only authored by—Washington, D.C.

Our assessment of the imposition of a state of a war by the United States relies upon four points:

1) The United States already has the largest military arsenal and the widest military footprint in the world. According to the most recent data, the U.S. government spent at least $732 billion in 2019 on its military; we say “at least” because there are secret disbursements of funds to the massive intelligence wings that are not publicly available. From 2018 to 2019, the United States increased its military budget by 5.3 percent, the amount of which is the same as the total German military budget. Almost 40 percent of global military spending is done by the United States. The United States has a combined total of more than 500 military bases in almost every country on the planet. The United States Navy has 20 of the world’s 44 active aircraft carriers, while other U.S. allies have 21 of them; this means that the U.S. and its allied states have 41 of the 44 aircraft carriers (China has two and Russia has one). There is no question about the overwhelming superiority of U.S. military force.

2) Yet, the United States is now using its full ability to expand its nuclear and conventional domination into space and into cyber-warfare with its Space Command (re-established in 2019) and Cyber Command (created in 2009). The United States has developed an interceptor ballistic missile (SM-3) that it has tested in space, and it is testing such fanciful weapons as particle-beam weaponry, plasma-based weaponry, and kinetic bombardment. In 2017, Trump announced his government’s commitment to such new weaponry. The U.S. government will spend at least $481 billion between 2018 and 2024 to develop new advanced weapons systems, including autonomous vehicles, counter-drones, cyber-weapons, and robotics. The U.S. Army has already tested its Advanced Hypersonic Weapon that can travel at Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound), so that it can reach any place on earth within an hour; this weapon is part of the U.S. military’s Conventional Prompt Global Strike program.

3) The U.S. military complex has advanced its hybrid war program that includes a range of techniques to undermine governments and political projects. These techniques include the mobilization of United States power over international institutions (such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and the SWIFT wire service) to prevent governments from managing basic economic activity, the use of U.S. diplomatic power to isolate governments, the use of sanctions methods to prevent private companies from doing business with certain governments, the use of information warfare to render governments and political forces to be criminals or terrorists, and so on. This powerful complex of instruments is able—in the plain light of day—to destabilize governments and to justify regime change.

4) Finally, the U.S. government along with its NATO partners as well as U.S. and European weapons manufacturers continue to flood the world with the deadliest weapons. The top five arms exporters (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics) are located in the United States. These five firms alone account for 35 percent of the top 100 of the world’s arms dealer sales in 2018 (the most recent figures); the total U.S. arms sales account for 59 percent of all arms sales that year. This was an increase of 7.2 percent over the U.S. sales in 2017. These weapons are sold to countries that should instead spend their precious surplus on education, on health, and on food programs. For example, in West Asia and North Africa, the greatest threat to the people is not only the terrorist in his Toyota Hilux, but it is also the arms dealer in the air-conditioned hotel room.

The Stockholm Appeal is now obsolete. A new appeal is needed. We developed it while we were discussing it in Bouficha, Tunisia; let’s call it the Bouficha Appeal.

We, the peoples of the world:

+ Stand against the warmongering of U.S. imperialism, which seeks to impose dangerous wars on an already fragile planet.

+ Stand against the saturation of the world with weapons of all kinds, which inflame conflicts and often drive political processes toward endless wars.

+ Stand against the use of military power to prevent the social development of the peoples of the world, to allow countries to build their sovereignty and their dignity.

Abdallah El Harif is a founder of the Democratic Way (Moroccan radical left party); he was its first national secretary and is now the deputy national secretary in charge of international relations. El Harif is an engineer who studied at Mines ParisTech. He was a member of a clandestine Moroccan organization that fought against the dictatorship of King Hassan II; for his role in the fight for democracy and socialism, El Harif was imprisoned for seventeen years.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than twenty books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

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

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For Trump, It’s Mission Accomplished

“We have met the moment and we have prevailed,” Donald Trump said at a news briefing May 11. “The moment” is quite a departure from Dr. Anthony Fauci’s idea that “the virus determines the timeline,” and from his caution that “we’re not out of the woods yet.” Fauci’s points seem incontrovertible, but not in Trump world, where the only thing that matters is his reelection. From now to November 4, we can expect Trump to focus on satisfying his two bases: for the white nationalists, touting restrictions on immigrants and refugees, supporting anti-closing protests, and derailing the rest of Obama’s environmental agenda; for Wall Street, reassuring the stock market and pushing reluctant governors to reopen the economy.

There is a third element—the underside—of Trump’s strategy, which includes welcoming Russian election interference, berating China (and Biden’s “softness” on China), and attacking Democratic governors for going slow on reopening in a deliberate effort to bring about his defeat in November. This last element sets him up to cry foul if he loses: “It was rigged.”

Knowing he’s down in the polls and mired in one of the country’s worst calamities, with 80,000 deaths and over 30 million unemployed so far, Trump has only one option if he is to win in November: convince Americans that it’s patriotic to get back to work, never mind the risk of “needless suffering and death” (Fauci). After all, at one time 150,000 or more were predicted to die, so we’re ahead of the game, Trump will proclaim. America became great by making money and watching the upticks in the stock market, not huddling in one’s home. All his recent statements—his lies, actually—point in that direction. As Trump said May 11:

“The numbers are really coming down very substantially, and this weekend was one of the lowest we’ve had. The numbers are coming down very rapidly — all throughout the country, by the way.”

“America leads the world in testing, …nearly double the number of any other country.”

“If people want to get tested, they get tested.” “But for the most part, they shouldn’t want to get tested. There’s no reason.” (nota bene: A Harvard Global Health Institute team said last week that the US should be testing at least 900,000 people a day by May 15. Trump has announced that the current number is about 300,000 tests per day.)

Of course we are by now used to Desperate Donald’s politics of distraction. But we should never doubt his cutthroat political instincts. His perversion of patriotism cannot stand. Joe Biden must forcefully deliver the message that health security is national security, that Main Street and not Wall Street deserves the biggest share of government financial support, and that the new administration will rebuild the health care, environmental, and social justice structures that Trump has torn down. That’s the patriotic thing to do, and that’s what a true national leader does.

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Caring About the Murder of Ahmaud Arbery

Black men are being stalked and killed in the US–business as usual. Ahmaud Arbery’s murder was based on: “He’s a black man running down our road.” Punishment for the crime of being black is sometimes death.

Video footage has surfaced to challenge the citizen’s-arrest-self-defense narrative. Of course, prosecutors were reluctant to charge the former law enforcement officer and his son over the fatal shooting; we’ve heard the lines of “imminent threat,” and “I was afraid for my life,” many times, usually they are accepted without question.

It would be deja vu if one only had flashbacks to 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was stalked and killed for being black while getting a bag of Skittles. In this case the jury accepted George Zimmerman’s contention that he killed Martin in self-defense; the jury believed Martin, armed with candy, presented immediate danger.

This is relived day-after-day, like the movie “Groundhog Day,” the cycle is never-ending. My political awakening happened with the Rodney King beating March 3rd, 1991 and the subsequent Los Angeles riots when officers who beat the motionless King were acquitted in April 1992. I had my eyes opened to the truth minority communities have always known.

When I lived in Georgia my African-American housemate asked me, “do you ever worry about having tinted windows?” I inherited a car with really dark window tint—probably illegal—but I answered that I wouldn’t worry about getting it fixed until I got a ticket or something. He told me that he always felt like he needed to drive as if he were in a brightly visible aquarium, because cops (or white vigilantes) seeing hands on the steering wheel could be a matter of life and death.

Caring about the deaths of innocent people, like Ahmaud Arbery, should not be delegated to just those who could imagine it happening to themselves. Some parents I know have to give their children survival strategies that I never had to worry about as a white boy, and they know the extra steps may still not be good enough.

We must socialize ourselves to understand the conditions and structures of violence, especially as it intersects with racism, in our country. The fact that one of the murderers (yes, I am supposed to say “alleged” at this point but the video and the shooters’ admissions sent me past that) was former law enforcement and should have known better is one stark example. If those who have taken sworn oaths of service deliver such brutally unfair treatment, then all moral people should be united in outrage. It is time stand-your-ground-style laws stopped providing cover for racist executions—the modern-day lynching.

There is a great need for examining the deep history of prejudice and the failure in atoning and reconciling with the injustice. The contemporary racial animus is part of this painful tradition. Confederate flags were waved as hate symbols in defiance of a black President, his successor was allowed to call him a foreigner and demand a birth certificate (all publicly available evidence proved Obama’s citizenship); the point was clear, “American” and “White” were synonymous. It is not a coincidence that Arbery was murdered in a neighborhood with “several homes … decorated with Trump flags, one bearing the president’s smiling face with the phrase, ‘Make liberals cry again.’”

It is not a “race card” to acknowledge terrorism. I’ve listened to a colleague explain about a grandmother who died of appendicitis while she was transported from a “whites only” hospital to one that served “colored people.” Appendicitis is easily treatable, appendicitis did not kill her, a system designed to terrorize black communities did. Ahmaud Arbery went out for a jog and was killed by the same system. It has been 10 weeks and charges are finally filed. The family and all of us have a right to expect a functioning legal system that cannot tolerate blatant crime like this.

We can all affirm that Black Lives Matter (yes, all lives matter, but Blue Lives and White Lives always have, the term Black Lives Matter is really Black Lives Also Matter, though they haven’t much in the past). The murderers need to be brought to justice and those who have aided and abetted them with support should be pushed out of positions of public trust. We can take meaningful steps to address the inequities threaded from centuries of slavery and decades of Jim Crow to our painful present. We can stop demanding that the victims provide proof that the murderers are not burdened by. Ahmaud Arbery deserved better. Please let us make certain in our United States of America that his life mattered. As his tearful mother told reporters, “He had plans; he had dreams.”

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Staying Above Water During the Pandemic

Depression is a serious disease. In its most serious manifestation, clinical depression, a person can hardly function or not function at all. A best guess is that there are untold millions of people in the US and around the world who are now suffering from either mild depression, or its more serious form as Covid-19 stares us in the face daily. The toll of serious depression, including suicide, may never be accurately measured because the pandemic limits the accounting of that outcome.

As a leftist, I can make the argument that many of us were depressed to one degree or another in having to deal with the antithesis of a newer world, even a fascist demon, in the person of Donald Trump and his administration of hateful scowlers. Look at Trump and Pence at a news conference on the virus and it can bring a relatively normal person to his or her knees.  There are the lies, the science denial, and the massive number of deaths that can be laid beneath the feet of Il Duce for his failure to acknowledge the pandemic through the advice of his advisers and his failure to take action in early February, with its lethal results. For the generation of baby boomers who were protesters, Trump et al. are lethal by themselves.

Try to imagine what it must be like in one epicenter of the disease, like New York City. Imagine what it is like to be in a hospital with the disease, a medical worker, or a family member cut off from access to a loved one. Try to imagine being a resident of a nursing home, an assisted living facility, or a veterans’ home as the disease moves like the plague. Try to imagine what it is like being elderly and alone. Just by being confronted with the dictates of social distancing and self-isolation are in themselves enough to create the conditions through which either mild or serious depression can grow and take hold.

This is what psychologist and professor Andrew Solomon says about depression during the pandemic in an opinion piece in the New York Times (“When the Pandemic Leaves Us Alone, Anxious and Depressed,” April 9, 2020):

For nearly 30 years — most of my adult life — I have struggled with depression and anxiety. While I’ve never felt alone in such commonplace afflictions — the family secret everyone shares — I now find I have more fellow sufferers than I could have ever imagined.

What is most refreshing about Andrew Solomon’s work is that he speaks the truth and avoids any mention of psychobabble. He has suffered from serious depression and worked with those suffering from it and he bears witness to the power of depression during this catastrophe.

Here are Professor Solomon’s concluding thoughts from the article:

The authorities keep saying that the coronavirus will pass like the flu for most people who contract it, but that it is more likely to be fatal for older people and those with physically compromising preconditions. The list of conditions should, however, include depression generated by fear, loneliness or grief. We should recognize that for a large proportion of people, medication is not an indulgence and touch is not a luxury. And that for many of us, the protocol of Clorox wipes and inadequate masks is nothing compared with the daily task of disinfecting one’s own mind.

I believe that some leftists have their politics to fall back on in this pandemic. Standing for the right and the good are values that can sustain a person through much turmoil, although this pandemic provides no roadmap through troubled waters. There is no self-help guide here. What else? Reading, writing, communicating with at least one other significant person can keep people hanging on to the gunwales of our psyches. Transcendentalists commune with nature for sustenance. Serious depression, however, requires professional help and that help is available more readily today than ever because of the Internet, where searches can locate people trained to treat depression. Tragically, treatment requires health insurance.

A hope is also that the terror we all face now will be transformed into action on the left when we can come out once again and confront the demons outside of ourselves who seek to despoil and destroy our world.

In anticipation of that societal coming-out, plans are in place for a late-summer conference (online?) of the People’s Party. There’s not much on the group’s Website yet, but the political system’s graveyard is littered with third parties. Can a kind of workers’ party–there are already several socialist parties—rise from the ashes of the duopoly? Here is an interview with a  founder of the People’s Party. There’s lots of money and power and viciousness within the oligarchy to stop movements in their tracks.  And when the repression is over the admonition of Emma Goldman and Philip Berrigan will come to mind regarding the futility of electoral politics.

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Taking the Air out of Balloon Pollution: Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year Danielle Vosburgh

Danielle Vosburgh has been selected as the Fund for Wild Nature’s Grassroots Activist of the Year for 2020. Danielle is co-founder of the Florida-based grassroots group Balloons Blow, which opposes helium balloon releases and their harmful impact on wildlife.

Discarded balloons are particularly dangerous for animals living in the ocean. When balloons deflate and fall into the water, they can be readily mistaken for food. Balloons and their attached ribbons can also cause entanglement or strangulation. Examples of marine wildlife killed or injured by balloons include numerous species of seabirds, sea turtles, seals, dolphins, and whales. Researchers in Australia found that balloon debris is the deadliest form of marine pollution for seabirds, killing almost one in five birds who ingest it! Many terrestrial animals are also harmed by balloons, such as songbirds, owls, desert tortoises, elk, and even a bighorn sheep that was found choked to death by a cluster of balloons.

Danielle and her sister Chelsea were inspired to start Balloons Blow after a childhood in which they and their parents regularly cleaned up debris from the beaches near their home in southeastern Florida. Danielle was troubled by how much the volume of debris along the coast increased over the years. She was particularly struck by the role of balloon pollution after finding a cluster of balloons with markings indicating that they had been released in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a vivid illustration of how far balloons disperse around the country.

This experience ultimately led Danielle to cofound Balloons Blow in 2011. She was 23 years old at the time. In the great tradition of volunteer environmental activism, she works on Balloon Blow in her spare time while holding a full-time job. Balloons Blow began as a website and a social media presence, and soon she was hearing from people around the world who have witnessed the widespread impact of balloons—including an example of one found high up on a glacier.

Danielle decided to try to stop some particularly highly-profile, large-scale balloon releases. One of her early targets was the Clemson University football team in South Carolina, which had been featuring huge balloon releases at home games since the early 1980s. It took seven years of persistent advocacy by Balloons Blow before achieving victory in 2018 when Clemson announced that it would end its balloon releases.

Another high-profile target has been the Indianapolis 500 auto race, which has featured mass balloon releases for over 70 years. In 2019, Balloons Blow tried a new tactic for the Indy 500. With financial assistance from the Fund for Wild Nature, Danielle purchased a billboard next to the racetrack calling out the harms from balloons. However, within hours of the sign going up, the billboard company took it back down. Danielle was told that the company was under pressure from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The removal of the Balloons Blow billboard then attracted significant media coverage. As Danielle recounted, the suppression of the billboard “wound up causing more of a stir.” Subsequently, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has come under new management, and Danielle is hopeful that, with continued campaigning, there may be an opportunity to finally end the Indy 500 balloon releases.

The Fund for Wild Nature specializes in supporting small grassroots groups who are confronting much larger opponents. Balloons Blow is a good example of this “David and Goliath” dynamic. And the balloons themselves provide a ready way to call out big companies involved in balloon releases because their names are often printed on the resulting debris. Balloons Blow’s website includes a “Wall of Shame” with photos of examples from McDonald’s, Publix, Nissan, and many others.

Beyond these individual companies, Balloons Blow’s biggest opponent is the Balloon Council, which lobbies to prevent restrictions on balloon releases. The Balloon Council formed in 1990 in response to an effort by schoolchildren to get a state ban on balloon releases after they read about a whale who died from swallowing a balloon. More recently, Balloons Blow successfully got a balloon release halted in Trenton, New Jersey—the hometown of the Balloon Council. Not long after, Danielle received an anonymous letter with a New Jersey postmark that simply said– “be careful.” Reflecting on the implicit threat, Danielle said, “So we must be having an impact!”

Despite the Balloon Council’s efforts, legislation restricting balloon releases have been enacted by five states and 22 cities in the US. Furthermore, right now there are pending bills in Arizona, Maryland, New York, and Virginia.

Beyond these legislative outcomes and the victories against individual balloon releases, Danielle is also quite proud of the responses she has received from youth around the world who have used Balloon Blow’s Student Action Pack to reach out to their classmates and communities.

For all these reasons, the Fund for Wild Nature has been pleased to support the work of Danielle and Balloons Blow. The Fund was created by grassroots activists to get more resources to bold grassroots groups working to protect wildlife and wild places, recognizing how even a small amount of money for these groups can lead to big results. The Fund for Wild Nature depends entirely on annual contributions from the public, which it then redistributes to support worthy grassroots groups throughout North America. In addition to providing grants, the Fund sponsors the Grassroots Activist of the Year Award as another way to promote bold activism. The Fund has presented Danielle with a $1,000 check and a trophy featuring a badger in recognition of her selection as the 2020 Grassroots Activist of the Year.

 

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Reopen the  Economy; or Charge of the Right Brigade

Half a shop, half a bar,
Half a school onward.
Into the Virus of Death
Goad the Sick Hundreds.
“Forward the Right Brigade,
Charge on your cards,” he said.
Into the Virus of Death
Goad the sick hundreds.

“Forward the Right Brigade!”
Was there a MAGA dismayed?
Not that the shoppers knew
POTUS had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to buy and die.
Into the Virus of Death
Goad the sick hundreds.

Covid to the Right of them,
Covid to the Left of them,
Covid in front of them
Slaughtered and sundered.
Stormed at with goods to sell,
Boldly they shopped and well.
Into the Virus of Death
Rode the sick hundreds.

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Democrats, Racism, and the Future

Photograph Source: Medill DC – CC BY 2.0

Whatever the political back-and-forth over whether or not the current pandemic was predictable, what was predictable was the bipartisan response to it. The first instinct of the Trump administration, just like the Obama administration before it, was to secure the wealth of the rich through bailouts and special privileges and leave the rest of us to figure things out on our own. Some governors in hard hit states stepped up— mostly late and without adequate resources. It seems that political proximity to the little people was the determinant factor.

This similarity of responses coming from two allegedly opposing political parties illustrates the hold that class interests have on the American political system. With three plus years of near daily chants of ‘not normal’ and the xenophobic right-wing nationalism of Russiagate, when put to the test, a saddening, sickening continuity showed itself to be all too normal. Rather than demonstrating political difference through their actions, establishment Democrats ran with bailouts for the rich, using empty posturing to simulate opposition.

The political views that emerged after the 2016 election did fall into opposing categories, with Nancy Pelosi articulating the Democrat’s view that turnover between the parties is natural and in no way indicative of political failures by the Democrats. This left external factors like Russian interference and racial backlash as the available explanations for the election of Donald Trump. Joe Biden was elevated by the Democratic establishment to ‘prove’ this very point. If he could win the primary, and more importantly, the presidential election, then the Democratic orthodoxy would be proven right, went the logic.

This last point needs to be amplified. The Democrats lost by running Hillary Clinton in 2016, so their strategy in 2020 is to run an even less attractive and less articulate candidate with a legislative record to the right of Ronald Reagan to prove there is a natural ebb and flow that will eventually put Democrats back in power? Why not run Bernie Sanders if that is the case? In fact, the point of running Joe Biden is that when he isn’t being Austerity Joe or Warmonger Joe or Cracker Joe or Rapey Joe, he is an empty suit who will do the bidding of his corporate masters.

So the ‘ebb and flow’ theory was to buy time so that the establishment Democrats could roll their bourgeois constituents with Russiagate and ‘Trump is a racist, sexist, etc.’ chatter. Of course, there is plenty to not like about Donald Trump. But most of what there is to not like about Mr. Trump is applicable with only the slightest of twists of the analytical frame to Democrats. To this point, the radical left spent three years spouting DNC talking points, apparently oblivious to the party’s actual history on matters of race, war, and political violence.

The national Democrat’s capitulation to Donald Trump’s political program throughout the Russiagate farce demonstrated that their disagreement was over distribution of the spoils, not ideology or issues of governance. This point was brought to the fore in the pandemic bailouts when they leapt over one another not to be bested when shoring up the fortunes of the rich. This, while their constituents were dying by the thousands without virus tests, protective gear, or affordable health care. Even after the initial stages of the fiasco, they still can barely be bothered to fake concern for the dead and dying.

Current back and forth over charges that Joe Biden forcibly assaulted Tara Reade serve as cover for the fact that raping an employee is among the least destructive acts of Joe Biden’s political career. On matters of race, Mr. Biden’s affinity for Dixiecrats combined a Yankee’s sense of political marketing with a plantation manager’s notion of governance. And the ‘Senator from MBNA’ was selling out his constituents to loan sharks while he was endorsing George W. Bush’s catastrophic war against Iraq. Multitasking they call it.

The Clarence Thomas hearings, in which Joe Biden cleared the path for Supreme Court Justice-for-life Clarence Thomas by prematurely silencing the erudite and stoic Anita Hill, took place around the time that Mr. Biden is claimed to have assaulted Ms. Reade. The chatter then was remarkably like the back-and-forth now over the truthfulness of Ms. Reade’s claims. In fact, one need not believe either woman (Hill or Reade) to draw the conclusion that Joe Biden relished the power to decide not only who was to be allowed a voice (Hill was silenced), but what counts as truth.

Mr. Biden has been framed by his supporters as ‘a friend of segregationists,’ rather than as the ardent segregationist he has been. He opposed school busing and spent much of his time in the Senate racializing the use of state power through punitive immigration and drug laws and hawkish foreign policy. It was none other than Joe Biden who borrowed a line from the KKK to convince white liberals that racial integration was a threat to ‘black culture.’ In terms of concrete harms caused to American blacks, Joe Biden has been among the more dangerous legislators of the modern era.

The tendency of Democrats to downplay the racial subtexts of key New Democrat programs like ‘ending welfare as we know it,’ the focus of the 1994 Crime Bill on policing and prosecuting drug crimes for which people of color are disproportionately targeted, and the militarization of the police in targeting ‘high crime’ areas that overlap with poor neighborhoods, begs the question of how they have been able to sell opposition to racism as their ‘brand?’ The answer is that they successfully used the racist chimera of ‘crime’ to cleave race from class.

After years of assertions that Donald Trump is racist, the Americanism that racism, sexism, etc. are what you believe, not what you do, appears to have been instantiated in the public mind. As his public statements have it, Donald Trump is racist. So are the New Democrats. The residual glow of their ambiguous, wavering and often paradoxical support for the Civil Rights movement fell prey to Bill Clinton’s Southern strategy. That strategy depended on dog whistles like ‘law and order’ that allow racist Democrats to cause harm to people of color while maintaining an unearned and undeserved sense of virtue.

The visceral conception of racism that motivates parts of the Democrat’s base, that of armed lynch mobs breaking down doors and burning black churches, is historical memory, not political analysis. This isn’t to suggest that racism has disappeared. What is meant is that organized racial violence was migrated to the very levers of social control that the New Democrats dedicated their careers to re-racializing. How is the political party that promoted and passed the 1994 Crime Bill that increased the carceral population by 60% not racist? The answer, that incarceration is a class issue, requires understanding how its American incarnation evolved during and after slavery.

And this gets to how the New Democrats have been more insidious than out-and-out racists. The relation of race to crime has historically been tied to maintaining a hierarchical economic order. In the realm of economics, this is clearly a class issue. However, the liberal notion of merit depends on full employment. Had Bill Clinton actually believed in merit, he wouldn’t have ended welfare for the sake of merit because doing so wouldn’t have been necessary. Full employment would have made doing so redundant except in select cases.

That Mr. Clinton ‘ended welfare as we know it’ for political reasons— to triangulate Republicans from the right, both puts a lie to the concept of merit (the disabled and poor parents raising children merit assistance) and it demonstrated a willingness to benefit politically by throwing blacks under the bus. Ronald Reagan put forward the fraudulent caricature of the black ‘welfare queen’ (most people on welfare were white), and this is the reference made by Mr. Clinton’s political gesture, else it wouldn’t have ‘worked’ for him politically.

Occasional Democrat Michael Bloomberg used the Clinton’s logic of crime prevention to oversee New York’s ‘stop and frisk’ program that targeted black and brown youth using the logical fallacy that ‘that is where the crime is.’ Not only was the program openly racist in that people were targeted based on race, it was fascist through the use of racialized police state tactics. That stop-and-frisk made social sense to white liberals suggests that liberal opposition to racism is skin deep. How long would the injustice of stop-and-frisk have remained hidden if the Democrats’ donor class had been shaken down once a week by cops filling a quota?

The program depended on logical fallacy in several dimensions. In the first, racially targeted law enforcement will produce racially disproportionate results given equivalent criminal tendencies. This is called selection bias in statistics. In the second, the New Democrat’s focus on so-called street crime left poor neighborhoods over-policed relative to bastions of white collar crime like Wall Street and corporate executive suites. The result was to over-represent street crime relative to white collar crime, with the clear class bias that doing so represents. The effect of the New Democrat’s policies was to maintain an unjust social order, not to make people safer.

The fear of political violence expressed since Donald Trump took office assumes away the New Democrat’s hawkish foreign policy, the political violence of mass incarceration, of the militarization of the police, of cutting the social safety net, and of freeing predatory capitalism. The Republicans are just as guilty here, which is the point. There are multiple axes of political violence. To focus on those that might affect you while being indifferent to those being carried out in your name is moral and political cowardice.

Here (embedded video) is Joe Biden advocating political violence against poor black and brown children. Here is Hillary Clinton advocating political violence against poor black and brown children. Left unstated by both Biden and Clinton was that the CIA was supplying the American drug cartels with the cocaine that motivated the activities that both objected to. When the distinction is made between state and non-state violence, 1) listen to Ms. Clinton’s defense of ‘citizen patrols’ (link above) and 2) consider that the CIA structured non-state violence through its drug distribution channels.

With serial crises of capitalism of increasing scale and scope unfolding, the economic conditions conducive to political violence are rising. It is a legitimate fear. Deference to the former Yugoslavia ignores the impact of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, residual Cold War tensions and the role of the Clinton administration in stirring ethnic tensions. Otherwise, liberals have been claiming that a fascist coup led by Donald Trump’s supporters was imminent for three and a half years. The closest the U.S. came was by Democrats using Russiagate as a pretext.

Political tensions are sure to rise as economic fortunes fall. The logical solution would be to elect people who believe in the power of government to make people’s lives better. The Democrats aren’t going to do this, the Republicans aren’t going to do this, so no one is going to do it. The only political path left is outside of electoral politics.

Finally, the image of Joe Biden wandering the White House in adult diapers telling stories of how he and Jesus Christ built an ark would be entertaining if the stakes weren’t so high.

 

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War and Plagues: Military Spending During a Pandemic

Photograph Source: U.S. Navy – Public Domain

“There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet plagues and wars take people equally by surprise”

–Albert Camus,  “The Plague”

Camus’ novel of a lethal contagion in the North African city of Oran is filled with characters all too recognizable today: indifferent or incompetent officials, short sighted and selfish citizens, and lots of great courage. What not even Camus could imagine, however, is a society in the midst of a deadly epidemic pouring vast amounts of wealth into instruments of death.

Welcome to the world of the hypersonic weapons, devices that are not only superfluous, but which will almost certainly not work, They will, however, cost enormous amounts of money.  At a time when countries across the globe are facing economic chaos, financial deficits and unemployment at Great Depression levels, arms manufacturers are set to cash in big.

Hypersonic weapons are missiles that go five times faster than sound—3,800 mph—although some reportedly can reach speeds of Mach 20—15,000 mph. They come in two basic varieties, one powered by a high-speed scramjet, the other –launched from a plane or missile—glides to its target. The idea behind the weapons is that their speed and maneuverability will make them virtually invulnerable to anti-missile systems.

Currently there is a hypersonic arms race going on among China, Russia and the US, and, according to the Pentagon, the Americans are desperately trying to catch up with its two adversaries.

Truth is the first casualty in an arms race.

In the 1950s, it was the “bomber gap” between the Americans and the Soviets. In the 1960s, it was the “missile gap” between the two powers. Neither gap existed, but vast amounts of national treasure were, nonetheless, poured into long-range aircraft and thousands of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The enormous expenditures on those weapons, in turn, heightened tensions between the major powers and on at least three occasions came very close to touching off a nuclear war.

In the current hypersonic arms race, “hype” is the operational word. “The development of hypersonic weapons in the United States,” says physicist James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, ”has been largely motivated by technology, not by strategy. In other words, technologists have decided to try and develop hypersonic weapons because it seems like they should be useful for something, not because there is a clearly defined mission need for them to fulfill.”

They have certainly been “useful” to Lockheed Martin, the largest arms manufacturer in the world. The company has already received $3.5 billion to develop the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (Arrow) glide missile, and the scramjet- driven Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (Hacksaw) missile.

The Russians also have several hypersonic missiles, including the Avangard glide vehicle, a missile said to be capable of Mach 20. China is developing several hypersonic missiles, including the DF-ZF, supposedly capable of taking out aircraft carriers.

In theory hypersonic missiles are unstoppable. In real life, not so much.

The first problem is basic physics: speed in the atmosphere produces heat. High speed generates lots of it. ICBMs avoid this problem with a blunt nose cone that deflects the enormous heat of re-entering the atmosphere as the missile approaches its target. But it only has to endure heat for a short time because much of its flight is in frictionless low earth orbit.

Hypersonic missiles, however, stay in the atmosphere their entire flight. That is the whole idea. An ICBM follows a predictable ballistic curve, much like an inverted U and, in theory, can be intercepted. A missile traveling as fast as an ICBM but at low altitude, however, is much more difficult to spot or engage.

But that’s when physics shows up and does a Las Vegas: what happens on the drawing board stays on the drawing board.

Without a heat deflecting nose cone, high-speed missiles are built like big needles, since they need to decrease the area exposed to the atmosphere Even so, they are going to run very hot. And if they try to maneuver, that heat will increase. Since they can’t carry a large payload they will have to very accurate, but as a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, that is “problematic.”

According to the Union, an object traveling Mach 5 for a period of time “slowly tears itself apart during the flight.” The heat is so great it creates a “plasma” around the craft that makes it difficult “to reference GPS or receive outside course correction commands.”

If the target is moving, as with an aircraft carrier or a mobile missile, it will be almost impossible to alter the weapon’s flight path to intercept it. And any external radar array would never survive the heat or else be so small that it would have very limited range. In short, you can’t get from here to there.

Lockheed Martin says the tests are going just fine, but then Lockheed Martin is the company that builds the F-35, a fifth generation stealth fighter that simply doesn’t work. It does, however, cost $1.5 trillion, the most expensive weapons system in US history. The company has apparently dropped the scramjet engine because it tears itself apart, hardly a surprise.

The Russians and Chinese claim success with their hypersonic weapons and have even begun deploying them. But Pierre Sprey, a Pentagon designer associated with the two very successful aircraft—the F-16 and the A-10—told defense analyst Andrew Cockburn that he is suspicious of the tests.

“I very much doubt those test birds would have reached the advertised range had they maneuvered unpredictably,” he told Cockburn. “More likely they were forced to fly a straight, predictable path. In which case hypersonics offer no advantage whatsoever over traditional ballistic missiles.”

While Russia, China and the US lead the field in the development of hypersonics, Britain, France, India and Japan have joined the race.

Why is everyone building them?

At least the Russians and the Chinese have a rationale. The Russians fear the US anti-missile system might cancel out their ICBMs, so they want a missile that can maneuver. The Chinese would like to keep US aircraft carriers away from their shores. But anti-missile systems can be easily fooled by the use of cheap decoys, and the carriers are vulnerable to much more cost effective conventional weapons. In any case hypersonic missiles can’t do what they are advertised to do.

For the Americans, hypersonics are little more than a very expensive subsidy for the arms corporations. Making and deploying weapons that don’t work is nothing new. The F-35 is a case in point, but nevertheless, there have been many systems produced over the years that were deeply flawed.

The US has spent over $200 billion on anti-missile systems and once they come off the drawing boards, none of them work very well, if at all.

Probably the one that takes the prize is the Mark-28 tactical nuke, nick named the “Davy Crockett,” and its M-388 warhead. Because the M-388 was too delicate to be used in conventional artillery, it was fired from a recoilless rife with a range of 2.5 miles. Problem: if the wind was blowing in the wrong direction the Crockett cooked its three-man crew. It was only tested once and found to be “totally inaccurate.” So, end of story? Not exactly. A total of 2,100 were produced and deployed, mostly in Europe.

While the official military budget is $738 billion, if one pulls all US defense related spending together, the actual cost for taxpayers is $1.25 trillion a year, according to William Hartung of the Center for International Policy. Half that amount would go a long way toward providing not only adequate medical support during the Covid-19 crisis, it would pay jobless Americans a salary

Given that there are more than 31 million Americans now unemployed and the possibility that numerous small businesses—restaurants in particular—will never re-open, building and deploying a new generation of weapons is a luxury the US—and other countries—cannot afford. In the very near future, countries are going to have to choose whether they make guns or vaccines.

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El Diego: the Two Lives of Maradona

Still from “Diego Maradona.”

22 June 1986.  A world cup semi-final is about to play out in the Estadio Azteca stadium at the heart of Mexico City.   Under the billowing blue skies and the streaming sunlight the pitch is shadowless and pastel green. The teams line up.  The English in white.  The Argentinians in blue.  As the Argentine anthem plays, the camera moves across the team, before lingering momentarily on the solemn, stormy features of the captain – a small, squat man, a head shorter than his teammates, his dark, handsome features shadowed with determination.  Diego. Armando. Maradona.  Despite the blue, open vistas of the sky and the high sun, there is a tension in the air, a foreboding; these last, lingering moments before the whistle is blown feel more like a prelude to war than a football match. For there is a context to this game, it has a past.

Four years earlier Argentina had made the move to occupy the Malvinas/Falkland Islands which, up until that point, had been one of the lingering bastions of the vanishing British Empire.  In an attempt to drum up popular support for a government which was flagging against a backdrop of economic stagnation and social decay, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher launched a war in order to reclaim the islands and galvanize the more noxious instincts of national chauvinism and patriotic fury on the part of an otherwise weary population.  It was a war which was fought for the cameras, a depressing spectacle played out not because the Falklands were a significant economic interest to the UK but because of the political capital sought by interested parties and the need of a leader to bask in the irradiating and toxic colours of the imperial flag.

The Argentine forces were rapidly decimated by the more muscular British army and the rather sordid conflict achieved its ends; that is, it provoked an upswing in reaction among those flag-waving elements in the British population whose frustration, pettiness and lack is always compensated for by the thought of ‘the great nation’ and the destruction of lives in lands faraway.  Nevertheless, to the majority of people around the world, the war appeared very much as it was; the exercise of belligerent, arbitrary power on the part of a strong state against a much weaker one – over a territory it had no business with in the first place.

And this was why the game between England and Argentina felt like something more than a simple football match, was freighted with broader meaning and significance.  As Maradona himself revealed, the shadow of the Falklands conflict was cast across the game: ‘Although we had said before the game that football had nothing to do with the Malvinas war, we knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys there, killed them like little birds’.  For the Argentines, and their charismatic and volatile captain, a win here would mean ‘revenge’.

From the start the game was riven with these ramifications; even the players themselves – their physical shape and form – seemed to carry them.  The English players were bigger, physically more dominant, able to impose themselves in and through crushing clashes and brutal tackles, whereas the Argentines were more mercurial – fleet-of-foot they remained just beyond the orbit of the English players, relying on quick, slipping passes to keep themselves out of trouble.  Perhaps the Argentines had the better of it in the first half, but the rugged and dogged English defence consistently thwarted their attempts on goal; if the Argentines played with nomadic grace and creativity, the British defence had all the solidity of a Roman legion, moving forward in a single, organised, imperial bloc, refusing to yield ground.

The deadlock was broken in the sixth minute of the second half in what became one of the most infamous moments in footballing history.  Making a deft, stuttering run, unravelling the English defence, Maradona made a pass which was interrupted by the English player Steve Hodge, but he lost control of the ball, sending it high and allowing Maradona to continue his run.  At this point the goal keeper Peter Shilton runs out from goal, to meet Maradona and punch the ball away.  Shilton is some 8 inches taller than the pint-sized Argentine, but Maradona leaps, and at the last moment twists his body, reaching the ball with his left hand and sending it over Shilton and into the goal.  The handball is not recognised by either the linesmen or the referee, and much to the chagrin of the English players the goal is allowed to stand.  When asked about his sly ruse, the Argentine infamously claimed it was ‘the hand of God.’

The level of vitriol Maradona received for ‘scoring’ this goal in the English press was perhaps unprecedented and demonstrated the rabid irrationality of unchecked, untapped patriotism.  Yes, Maradona had quite clearly cheated.  But such moments are ubiquitous in football tournaments.  Was it so different from when, say, in the 1966 World Cup the English player Nobby Stiles had taken the legs out from under the French player Jacques Simon in a brutal and hobbling manoeuvre which opened up the way for the English to score their second goal against the French – in a tournament they, the English, would go on to win?  Of course, while this incident is all but forgotten, the bile and venom toward Maradona in the UK sustains even to the present day.

Take the English defender Terry Butcher for example  – a stupid slab of a man who comforts himself during the lonely twilight of his later years by putting his dull, plodding brain to work, engineering a series of banal, violent fantasies in which he is able to use ‘the fist of Terry Butcher’ in order to exact revenge on the diminutive author of the ‘hand of God’, thus restoring the honour to Albion which was stolen by the Evil Argentine on that fateful day (the same day when all the ravens went flapping from the Tower, while on some desolate, wind-swept moor an anguished moan could be heard from the cadaver of Alfred as the venerable and ancient King of England turned in his grave).   In the words of the sports journalist Brian Reade commenting on the ridiculous ire of the block-headed English defender: ‘Never has a Little Englander looked so little.’

What was Maradona’s attitude to the furore?  He remained unflappable but when pressed for a comment he eventually reflected that scoring that goal felt like ‘picking the pocket of an Englishman’.  In this phrase, everything is captured; the powerful and pompous English gent who is fleeced by the devious wiles of a quick-thinking street urchin; here we have the perfect metaphor for both the stakes and the players in that infamous 1986 footballing clash and its controversial goal; but only moments later, subterfuge was transformed into sublimity, as Diego Maradona…struck again.  The English, perhaps still disorientated from the illegal goal, lose the ball behind their own half-way line and Maradona manages to pick it up.  He is, of course, surrounded by English players, nevertheless it is from this point when he begins his run.  The great sports commentator, Byron Butler described what happened next live and in real time, his voice, tense and urgent, becoming ever more ominous, gradually building to its crescendo as Maradona weaves his way toward the English goal: ‘Maradona, turns like a little eel, he comes away from trouble, little squat man … comes inside Butcher, leaves him for dead, outside Fenwick, leaves him for dead, and puts the ball away … and that is why Maradona is the greatest player in the world’.

Watching that hypnotic goal, along with the gravelly gravitas of Butler’s commentary, never fails to give me shivers.  I think it is because it is one of those transcendent moments in sport; all the implications – the political and cultural tensions which are being played out, the roar of the crowd, the sense that this encounter has pulled in millions upon millions across the globe – all of these worlds and experiences are suddenly distilled and condensed into ten seconds of pristine physical movement – the motion of a small, plucky figure, spiriting the ball across the bright terrain of green, and as the English players come crashing in, Maradona pivots and turns, and there is such free-flowing grace in his movements that they might as well have been pre-ordained; there is an inevitability in his run, and beyond all else, it is a moment of transcendental beauty.

Like Muhammad Ali, flitting and floating around the ring, Maradona is an athlete whose tremendous skill, in its peak moments, crosses over into the aesthetic with consequences both beautiful and sublime.  The goal is quite simply breath-taking and most commentators concur that it is the greatest of all time.  In the words of Byron Butler once again, ‘the first goal should never have been allowed, but Maradona has put a seal on his greatness. He’s left his thumbprint on this world cup. He scored a goal that England just couldn’t cope with, they couldn’t face up to, it was beyond their ability…it’s England 0, Diego Maradona 2.’

Those two goals – the handball and its sublime successor – are also instructive because they seem to hint at the type of duality which characterised Maradona’s existence more broadly.   The first, illustrates a type of plebeian cunning and bravado; sneaky, wily, audacious, with more than a hint of corruption.  The second speaks to the sense of creativity and imagination which arises from the underclass and the spirit of the streets.  For Maradona was born to the most extreme forms of poverty; he grew up in Fiorito, a poverty-stricken slum on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, home to a neighbourhood of people who were, by virtue of their geography, quite literally the outsiders.  As a child Maradona lived in a three roomed shack with a wire gate, a small patch of dirty earth and then the house itself.  He slept in a room which measured ‘no more than two metres square’ with his seven other siblings and when it rained ‘we walked around dodging the leaks; you got wetter inside than out. Forget a sink, we didn’t even have running water.’

When skimming through Maradona’s autobiography you get a vivid sense of this debilitating poverty, but you also get a strong sense of how his footballing abilities and his future self were shaped by it. He didn’t have the money to visit the local gym because, well…there was no money and there was no gym, and yet the lack of running water provided him with a fitness programme which would help develop his upper body strength: ‘That’s how I started weight training.   We would use empty twenty-litre cans of oil to fetch water from the only tap in the street, so my mum could wash, cook, everything’.

There was little to do in the neighbourhood; poverty ensured the local children’s options were limited – there was football, of course, and kite flying sometimes, but beyond that the children were pretty much left to their own devices.  And sometimes there wasn’t even the funds to stretch to a decent ball. For this reason, a young Maradona, already obsessed with the game, was compelled to improvise: ‘Everything I did, every step I took, was because of the ball.  If La Tota [his mother] sent me on an errand I would take with me anything that resembled a ball: it could be an orange, or scrumpled-up paper, or clothes.  And I would go up the steps on to the bridge that crossed the railway, hopping on one foot, the right one, and taking whatever it was on the left, tac, tac, tac…That’s how I walked to school as well.’

Again, that strange negation, that dialectical reversal, by which Maradona’s abilities were enhanced by his lack, his deprivation; his creative powers flowing into the gaps and absences which a poverty-stricken childhood entailed.  It is one thing to learn while using a brand new football, it is quite another to do so using an orange – which is that much harder to control and demands that much more skill.   When you see Maradona, in his prime, warming up before an important game, he does things with the ball – flicks and tricks – which are so astonishing they would not be out of keeping in a circus performance; and in the same moment, watching the adult Maradona do this against the glorious backdrop of a great national stadium and in full view of crowds of hundreds of thousands, you can still catch, in faint outline, the ghost of the boy which once was – a solitary child who took solace and joy from kicking an orange across the dilapidated streets of the barrio, totally engrossed in his game.

If poverty shaped the character of the footballer Maradona would become, it marked him politically too. His parents were working class to the core; lives conducted with stoic dignity, shaped by relentless labour and a fierce devotion to the lives of their children, along with an ingrained sense of community – a love of the barrio and its colourful raffish character, and the sights and the sounds of the streets and rivers and land:

I understood my old man, he was breaking his back to enable us to eat and study, and that’s what he wanted, for me to study…[He] was a boat man, he worked for Don Lupo, a man who owned some animals, mostly cows.  My dad would carry them over to the islands of the Paraná Delta to graze.  His life was on the river and he knew all its secrets. He still knows them.  He had a lot of things he liked there, things we still share today: fishing, asados or barbecues, and football…No one will ever make a tastier asado than my old man…But when La Tota called for him, he set off for Buenos Aires to get a job, and he got one. Job is a loose description, he worked in the Tritumol mill pounding cattle bones from four in the morning to three in the afternoon.

Along with the fortitude, there are moments of heartbreak.  Maradona, one of eight siblings, describes how for many years he believed his mother suffered from chronic stomach pain especially in the evenings when the family sat down together for dinner.  It was only when he reached the age of thirteen that he came to understand the truth: ‘She never had a stomach ache, she just wanted us to eat. Every time the food would come out, she would say “my stomach hurts”…It was because there was not enough to go round. That is why I love my old lady so much.’   It was from this brave and sometimes tragic example of his parents that Maradona derived his most essential motivation, the need for struggle: ‘I have happy memories of my childhood, although if I had to define Fiorito with just one word, it would be “struggle”.  In Fiorito, if it was possible to eat, people ate, and if it wasn’t, they didn’t.’

This was the struggle of the underclass more broadly, the struggle which extreme poverty inculcates, and its corollary – quite naturally – was one of anger; the anger which develops against suffering and exploitation – the anger which expresses one’s protest at human beings living in less than human conditions.  Maradona describes such anger with the colourful Argentine street-slang of his childhood, he calls it ‘bronca’, and for him this word expresses both the rage of the oppressed and the sense of solidarity and resoluteness such a feeling calls forth: ‘What nobody has understood, ever, was that our strength, our togetherness, was born from just that, from our bronca…the bronca we felt from having had to fight against everything. That’s how it had to be.’

Of course, Maradona was soon to traverse the distance from the most threadbare poverty to the most immense forms of wealth.  His phenomenal capacities were more and more manifest from an early age, and it wasn’t long before he was a feature of the local team Los Cebollitas (albeit that he sneaked onto the team at twelve years old, three years younger than his teammates).  Within a short time he was travelling across South America, playing in international tournaments, even appearing on local TV programmes exhibiting his skills with the ball.

A call from a premier division side swiftly followed; six days shy of his sixteenth birthday the young Maradona found himself playing his first match for Argentinos Juniors where he would go on to score 115 goals in 167 appearances, a particularly astonishing statistic for a youthful, untested player whose preferred position was mid-fielder rather than striker.   His precocious performances in Latin America eventually set the stage for a lucrative offer from Barcelona – one of the wealthiest and most prestigious teams in the world and one Maradona would join in late 1982.  By this point he had achieved what was one of his paramount ambitions; he had bought his parents a wonderful house to live in and had finally been able to ask ‘my old man for a very big favour; I pleaded with him to stop working. He was fifty, he had done enough for us. Now it was my turn.’

There is no doubt that the young Maradona had his head turned by the vastness of the money and fame his life had come into.  In the years to come he would cheat prolifically on his wife, he would father a love-child who he would shamefully refuse to acknowledge for many years, he would become addicted to cocaine and sex with prostitutes, and thoroughly seduced by the luxury and corruption of an existence which brought him into close contact with some unsavoury figures, including several heads of organised crime.

The sheer scope of the change in his circumstances, occurring at such a formative period of his life is almost unimaginable; the cataclysmic effects it had were such that they seemed to split him asunder, and from such a separation emerged two distinct personalities.  On the one hand there was ‘Diego’, the person the footballer had been – the thoughtful, brooding and introverted boy from the barrio, ardently determined to give his parents and his siblings a better life. On the other, there was ‘Maradona’, the brash, bold, creative genius who enjoyed the adulation of the world, and carried on his shoulders the hopes and dreams of an entire nation – the person ‘Diego’ was destined to become.  As his long-time fitness coach Fernando Signorini would have it, ‘[There was] the insecure kid and the character he came up with. With Diego, I would go to the end of the world. But with Maradona, I wouldn’t take a step.’

The ‘Maradona’ persona was no doubts formed as a result of the money, the fame and the bloated luxury, but it was also, perhaps, the only mechanism by which a fraught and fallible teenager might generate the kind of energy and confidence to meet the expectations and hopes of the millions of people who had come to believe in him.  Who more and more came to see him as a symbol of redemption and hope.  Maradona’s ultimate tragedy lies in the fact that the one persona would eventually come to eclipse the other – ‘Maradona’ would come to dominate ‘Diego’.   And yet, the boy from the barrio was never entirely vanquished.  It is true that Maradona secured fame on a global scale when he went to Barcelona – which was an incredibly wealthy and prestigious club – but despite the numerous exhibitions of his footballing brilliance, he never really seemed at home there.  The sheer physical change was unnerving – the European players were heavier, would run harder, were more ruthless and aggressive in terms of mounting physical pressure – ‘I found the transition from technique to fury very hard’.

But it wasn’t simply that.  Barcelona the club was saturated with money in a way in which the previous clubs Maradona had played for simply hadn’t been.  The joy and fluency of the game was increasingly subordinated to the relentless micromanagement of bureaucrats and managers whose ever expanding wealth and property portfolios depended on their ability to regard the football team as an industrial unit whose productivity needed to be maximised; whose public image needed always to be varnished through the obsequious and greasy appeals to an ever present media.  In the figure of José Luis Núñez – a man who had no connection to the club before his promotion to its president and was hitherto known only as a property entrepreneur – in José Luis Núñez the supremacy of the cash mandate was personified: ‘He was such a publicity seeker. He would do anything to appear in the media.  When we lost he would come weeping into the dressing room to offer us more money as if playing better or worse depended on the cash’.

Everything in Maradona’s being gravitated against such a social type; the sense he had inherited from the backbreaking labour endured by his mother and father back in Fiorito – the sense that the true source of life in any society comes from the people underneath who create the means by which everyone else lives: ‘There’s something very perverse going on with many football directors.  They’re not grateful: we the players give them power, we give them fame…while they are just the money-men. Núñez may have become famous for being the president of Barcelona but ‘Núñez y Navarro’ is his bread and butter: that’s the construction company he owns with his wife…That’s what most of them are like.’

There is something indelibly childlike about Maradona.  He weeps copiously with joy and disappointment alike.  He cries in the solitary confinement of a changing room toilet or he sheds his tears in front of millions.  He can be incredibly stubborn, spoilt and self-centred like a child, and at the same time he has in himself the beautiful simplicity of a child’s generosity (despite his great wealth, he has over the years found himself drained of funds, and this is often, one feels, due to the guileless faith he places in those who have extended him friendship, even if their motivations are less than pure).

But the most childlike aspect of all lies in his inability to shield his feelings; he wears his emotions on his sleeve.  When a particularly savvy reporter asks Maradona a loaded question, he will get drawn in, he will spill his guts whether in sympathy or outrage.   And for this reason Diego Maradona, the greatest player of all time, was always unable to ‘play’ a different type of game – for he would articulate spontaneously his unease or his antipathy toward a figure like Núñez, and more generally the forms of moneyed, institutional power such a figure represents.   In response ‘[Núñez] would organise press campaigns against me because he had a huge influence at a particular newspaper…he wouldn’t let me speak…I spoke out anyway.’

At one point the acrimony became so intense, Maradona’s desire to leave the club so powerful – that Núñez used bureaucratic means in order to confiscate Maradona’s passport.   Maradona’s time at Barcelona was capped off, most horrifically, by an incident during a game against Athletic de Bilbao, when he was the victim of one of the most ugly, senseless and deliberate tackles perpetrated by a long forgotten player called Antoni Goikoetxea – a tackle which was really just a veiled form of assault.   As the Basque player slid feet first into Maradona from behind, the latter ‘felt the impact, heard the sound, like a piece of wood cracking.’  As they stretchered off Maradona, he spoke choked words, in the midst of weeping ‘I’m broken, I’m broken’, the young virtuoso said.  People assume that Diego Maradona’s cocaine addiction came from the wealth and the fame and a developing sense of decadence, and I wouldn’t want to deny these factors, but I think it’s important to acknowledge as well that it began in his time with Barcelona and the tribulations he underwent there.

Despite the severity of his injury Maradona was able to recover and finally escape Spain.  But the team he now signed a contract with came as a surprise to both fans and pundits.  Maradona travelled to Italy in order to join the Serie A team Napoli.   But although, technically, Napoli were in the topflight league, they were nevertheless a low draw.  In their whole history, they had only ever won two cups.  They’d never won the championship.   For the past few years they had been fighting relegation, coming within just one point of slipping down into the lower leagues.    When Maradona joined them in 1984 he was already regarded as one of the best players in the world.  Why would he make what appeared to be such an odd career move?

Part of it was the fact that his finances had been, to use a euphemism, ‘mismanaged’, and despite his stratospheric success he already carried heavy debts.  Napoli were one of the first to offer him a way out and a new beginning, and they fought for Maradona in a way which some of the more elite clubs didn’t deign to do. But it wasn’t simply down to the practical details.  From the very beginning Maradona felt a strong spiritual affinity with the club and the city.  When the President of Junventus, Giampero Boniperti, had derided Maradona’s abilities, arguing that someone ‘with a physique like mine wouldn’t get anywhere’, Maradona responded by saying ‘Football is so beautiful, so unlike everything else, that it finds a way to fit everyone in. Even dwarves like me’.  Of course, the levelling effect Maradona was describing was about more than one’s physical template.   It was about the way in which football provided a gateway to joy and belonging for even the most downtrodden and disadvantaged of people.

One of Maradona’s fondest recollections comes from 1981 when he arrived with Boca to play a friendly in Africa against the Ivory Coast: ‘a crowd of locals stepped over the machete wielding police, and hung round my neck saying to me: Diego, Diego! They moved me, they really moved me.  Afterwards when we were having lunch at the hotel about twenty fans came up to me, and one said “Pelusa”. He said “Pelusa” to me! A little black kid in the Ivory Coast knew my childhood nickname.’  Maradona is both touched and humbled, this is one of the many anecdotes which registers his strong anti-racist credentials, but one can’t help but feel that such political sensibilities were in some way preordained.   After all, Maradona himself, because of his poverty and ‘moreno’ skin tone was often regarded in explicitly racial terms during his childhood in Argentina, was classified as in some way being ‘black’ for both derogatory and affectionate purposes. In the 2019 documentary about his life a commentator describes how Maradona was seen as a ‘shitty little black kid from the slums’ while at the same time Maradona himself talks with pride of being ‘a cabecita negra (a little black head), descended from poor Italian and Guarani stock, a laborer from the lowest reaches of society.’

We see here the intimate connection between race, poverty and exploitation, and this is most significant in understanding Maradona’s deep-felt connection with Napoli.  While the heads of the bigger clubs had remained aloof, Napoli’s bid for Maradona was a result of the fans themselves who went on hunger strike in order to demonstrate their determination to acquire the brilliant Argentine, an expression of people’s power which would further endear the club to the player.   It bears remembering that the first team Maradona had ever played with in a professional capacity –  las Cebollitas – had started off dirt poor, founded in the barrio by a group of friends who had socialist and anarchist principles and originally called the team the ‘Martyrs of Chicago’, after the anarchists who had been killed and imprisoned following the Haymarket Riots in Chicago in 1886.  It had a strong following amongst the poor and was rooted in the traditions of the working class which supported it.

And this was also true with Napoli.  Napoli as a club was a good deal poorer than the clubs to the North, but even more significantly, the city itself – like the southern region of Italy more broadly – had since the unification of the country in 1861 assumed an almost colony-like status within the context of the national framework; the South as a whole was very much reduced to an agricultural backwater which would provide the glittering, cosmopolitan North with the raw materials for its industrial project.  This geopolitical power disparity cultivated over almost a century and a half was rationalised in terms of a corresponding and corrosive anti-worker ideology which had obscenely racist overtones.  When, for example, the Napoli team travelled North to play Juventus, the Juve fans would often chant: ‘the Neapolitans are coming, sick with cholera, victims of the earthquake, you never washed with soap, Napoli shit, Napoli cholera, You are the shame of the whole of Italy.’  The racist undertone is apparent – the Neapolitans are dirty, diseased and so on.  When they played Inter Milan the racist chants against the Neapolitans would reach a sinister, fascist-like crescendo: ‘wash them, wash them, wash them with fire!’

Maradona intuited all this very swiftly; with the life experience of his own background, he understood exactly what it meant to be a despised outsider, to be exiled by virtue of your poverty and to be demeaned in and through the most toxic and sometimes racialist categories: ‘The Neapolitans were the Africans of Italy…I felt I represented a part of Italy which counted for nothing’.    For Maradona, playing for Napoli was always going to be imbued with great symbolism; a victory for them against the Northern clubs was simultaneously a victory for the working classes and the oppressed, a blow dealt against racism and a peon to the creativity and colour of the barrio.  Maradona recalls travelling to Turin in 1986 to play a big match against Juventus: ‘We were 1-0 down and when we equalised the stadium exploded, everyone was celebrating, going mad…We scored a second, and again there were huge celebrations. Then the third, and it went even crazier.  Then I realised: the stadium was full of workers, southerners the lot of them!  Napoli, Napoli! They were screaming. Amazing. We had truly become the club of the working class, of the poor.’

On a global scale people nearly always tend to remember the image of Maradona in the blue and white stripped Argentine strip, holding up the golden World Cup trophy, borne aloft on the shoulders of his teammates against the backdrop of hundreds of thousands of roaring spectators under that glorious blue-billowing sky.  What was remarkable about Argentina’s victory in ‘86 was that they simply weren’t the best team.  West Germany, France, Brazil, Italy, and yes, perhaps even England…all had a better all-round roster of players, all had a claim to be a stronger overall side, and yet, somehow, Argentina managed to triumph.  And that was very much down to Maradona.  But in a certain way his achievement with Napoli was even greater.  With Maradona at the helm, Napoli would win their first ever Serie A league championship in 1986-87, the Coppa Italia Cup in 1987 and the UEFA Super Cup in 1990.  Maradona brought them from being a ‘glorified second-division team’ into the elite category of one of the world’s best with a stockpile of sparkling silverware.

Maradona was able to accomplish this due to his unsurpassable talent on the pitch; he was the lead goal scorer in the 1987-88 season with 15 goals and eventually became the most prolific goal scorer the club had ever had up until that point.  The simple statistics, of course, don’t do him justice. He did things on the pitch that nobody had ever seen before, he seemed to subvert the very laws of motion.  The goal Maradona scores against Hellas Verona, for instance, when the ball is floated down to him from half way across the pitch, bouncing once, and he repositions himself to volley it from some thirty yards away, a smooth trajectory which spirals across space before finding the goal.   There is a casualness and fluidity to the strike which is just a work of art.

Or the curving, curling, freakish free kick he scores against Juventus which has all the instantaneous precision of a ballistic missile.  Or any number of the cheeky, joyful lobs which send goalkeepers scuttling backwards, tripping over their own feet to no avail.  Or those devious, staccato-like runs which send players one way and then the next before slipping the ball through someone’s legs, and making his escape in the aftermath of that staggering, bewildered defender.  But it was not only about the sublime beauty of unsurpassable skill.  It was also about a sublime footballing intelligence; Maradona’s ability to see the team in its totality, to intuit to a fault its fissures and weaknesses, to know exactly where the adjustments had to be made – and to have the ‘cojones’ to demand that the managers and directors make them: ‘I confronted the club president, Carrado Ferlaino, and said: ‘Buy me three or four players…Get me Renica of Sampdoria, who comes on as a 3, a defender, and in fact is a fucking first class libero.’ And that’s how we started building the team up.’

Most of all, Maradona’s ability to bring the Napoli team together came from the fact that Maradona himself had grown up in an atmosphere of poverty and exclusion; his was the ‘bronca’ which came from hardship – the intransigence of the rebel, along with the elusiveness of the underdog who owns nothing, can count on nothing, except for his wits and wiles.  In Naples he breathed the air of the oppressed, in that city Maradona recognised the raffish colour and character of the favela and of people who had nothing but would give everything on a wing and a prayer. In Napoli he felt his own nature – colourful and gregarious, rebellious and crafty – reflected back to him, and for their part, the Neapolitans sensed in Maradona a kindred spirit, someone who was of the street – someone who sang their songs, and dreamed their dreams – someone who could channel their creative aspirations, raising a bedraggled, despised city from the shadows and bathing its people in the glow of a luminous, rainbow hope.  In the words of Ed Vulliamy, the sports journalist who chronicled the life of the footballer in the city at the time, ‘Maradona and Naples shared a common heartbeat and soul’ – and it was this strange and wonderful synergy, as much as Maradona’s magical footballing prowess, which galvanized the strength and temper of the team and helped set the basis for an almost miraculous ascent.

Perhaps because of its despair, perhaps because of the city’s poverty and neglect – religious life in Naples had taken on a uniquely fervent and occult character; the streets, buildings and churches bustling with a plethora of plaster saints and strange, colourful reliquaries, while underneath – a rich byzantine world of crypt and catacomb opens up, replete with the tombs of generations of believers and the flickering shadows of their ghosts.  In the early-afternoon in light-flooded plazas, people read tarot cards on stalls, shops burst at the seams chock-full of religious icons with marble or ebony dolls stooped in prayer or raised on the cross. This has always been a city whose broader Christian vision of suffering and redemption was infused with a medieval sense of magic and the miraculous – and in Maradona these elements achieved perfect synthesis; his preternatural ability with the ball, his capacity to anticipate his opponents, before outflanking them, seemed like an act of divination – a feat of magic in its own right.  And what, ultimately, did this almost divine-like ability herald – other than the redemption of a whole society in and through the one individual blessed with almost Christ-like significance?

It was perhaps inevitable, therefore, that the adulation of Maradona would take on a religious hue; the footballer’s image appeared on murals on the dilapidated walls of poverty-stricken neighbourhoods, his rich dark eyes shining with the solemnity of the saint – and whenever he left his house to go to a restaurant or a shop within minutes the whole place was flooded with thousands of people desperate to reach out, to get an autograph, to touch him.  In one incident, a nurse stole the sample of a blood test Maradona had given – the pilfered vial ended up in the church of San Genarro as an actual relic of the goal-scoring saint.  Alongside Jesus and the apostles, many Neapolitans reserved a place for a picture of Maradona on their mantelpiece.

But such expectation, such adulation, could be stultifying and, ultimately, corrupting. There were darker influences at work in the city too.  The Camorra, the Naples mafia, took an interest in Maradona very early on, and it was an interest which Maradona repaid.  For Maradona tended to look at these shadowy figures in a rather naive and romanticised way; he saw them as rebels against society rather than the sinister parasites they tended to be, but at the same time they offered the young footballer something genuine and important.  They had the ways and means of giving Maradona what he craved; that is, time away from the crowds which had come to smother him.  The Camorra could isolate a nightclub or a bar, giving Maradona the kind of privacy and relief from the fans that he might not otherwise find.

And there were the more gaudy, glitzy offerings too.  A Rolex here.  A sports car there.  For a young man who had come from absolute poverty such luxury trinkets held a hypnotising allure.  Swiftly and easily, the Mafia absorbed Maradona into its subterranean world of exclusive restaurants and late night parties.  What did they require in return?  Only that Maradona would now and again appear at the opening event of one of their new business ventures, snapping the ribbon, creating the requisite level of publicity, marking their money with his mystical aura.   And along with the – well we might as well call them what they were – the bribes, the Camorra also provided Maradona with call girls and they fed his developing cocaine addiction, so that – whether he was aware of it or not – before long the young footballing genius had cultivated an intense dependence on them.

An ancient proverb has it that those the gods wish to destroy, they first make great.  The stunning victories the virtuoso achieved captaining Napoli were neatly elided into the late nights, the cocaine addiction, the call girls and the cars.  The lifestyle and the links with the mob would take their toll on his health, and also his character.  ‘El Diego’, the boy from the barrio – the boy whose most ardent dream was to one day provide a house for his impoverished parents to live in which had hot running water – was now increasingly shunted to the side in favour of the brash, self-serving superstar who was known to the world as ‘Maradona’.  Maradona was swaggering, confrontational, overbearing and an adept liar.  In perhaps the most sordid of his deceptions he refused to acknowledge the paternity of a son – the result of an affair with one of his sister’s friends Cristiana Sinagra.  Maradona denied outright the claim of Sinagra and allowed the implication to linger that she was an underhanded individual with dubious and dishonest motives.  To say the least, the Italian press didn’t treat her kindly.

But his illicit, drug-fuelled lifestyle also made its claim on Maradona’s footballing durability.  It is a testament to his genius that he was able to perform to the level he did while remaining a cocaine addict.  But the Maradona who entered the 1990 World Cup was simply not the same as the one who appeared in the ‘86 tournament.  Was he the best player in the world at that point?   Perhaps, perhaps not.   He still had moments of brilliance, but he no longer shone; he was no longer…hypnotic in the way of his earlier incarnation, and his contributions came from quick, clever touches rather than the blistering magnetic runs which would see him leave the opposition in tatters.

Players like Jürgen Klinsmann, Paul Gascoine, Salvatore Schillaci, Claudio Caniggia, and Maradona’s historic rival of old, Lothar Matthaus, all had a better claim to player of the tournament in that World Cup.  Argentina’s path to the final was lacklustre.  They sensationally lost to Cameroon in the early stages.  They took an offensive battering from Brazil in a game which, ultimately, they were lucky to come through.   What you can say about Maradona’s sometimes brilliant but patchy performance was that he never lost his talent for brinkmanship, to adjust the tactics and strategy of a lesser team in order to overcome a greater one; and most of all, he never lost his ability to bring the players together, to inspire in them the sense that they were underdogs fighting for a higher ideal, to coax from them every effort and sublimity.  But when Argentina lost in the final to West Germany one can only concede that the result was a just one, the better team had won.

There was another significant event in that World Cup which would ultimately determine the trajectory of Maradona’s career.  The semi-final match of Argentina vs Italy.   The game itself was played in Napoli.  In the run up to the encounter Maradona notoriously proclaimed that ‘Naples is not Italy’ in a bid to persuade Napoli fans to go over to Argentina when the clash took place.  Of course, Maradona had an important point; Italian nationalism had been the political product of the North as it secured its economic grip on the rest of the country in and through a newly created national framework; but at the same time it was an obviously self-interested ploy on Maradona’s part which was more than a little sly.

In the event, it created terrible press for Maradona in Italy more broadly, while within Naples itself fights broke out between those who wanted to follow Maradona and those who refused to relinquish their support for the motherland.  Perhaps the mood amongst the Napoli fans was best expressed on the day of the Argentina-Italy match, when the Italian crowds unfurled a large banner which read; ‘We love you Maradona, but Italy is our country’.  In the game itself, Italy looked the stronger throughout, scoring early and having the run of the ball, but a late goal from Caniggia ensured that Argentina remained competitive.  The game eventually went to penalties and Argentina were able to sneak the victory through the back door, the way they had in that tournament several times before.

The Argentine victory was the moment when the deep and intimate connection between Maradona and the city was torn asunder.  Almost overnight, Maradona became a figure of hate.  He was depicted as the villain who had, through the divisions he had sown, cost Italy the cup which was rightfully theirs – for the tournament had taken place on home soil and they were, by most bookmakers’ odds, the clear favourites.  Perhaps more significantly the ‘largesse’ he had enjoyed from the Italian state suddenly dried up and life in Italy ‘stopped being a paradise and became a hell. The first sign we were at war came just two days after the semi-final against Italy. My brother Lalo…was stopped by the police for speeding. He told them he didn’t have his papers on him…They came back to the concentración but with the wrong attitude…and all hell broke loose.’

In the next couple of years Maradona swiftly lost the support of his ‘friends’ in the Camorra.  Perhaps most importantly the Napoli authorities which had for so long turned a blind eye to his drug taking and use of prostitutes now had him in their sites.  In 1991 he tested positive for drugs after the match between Napoli and Bari.  Most decisively of all, Maradona was wiretapped; a recorded conversation in which he tried to procure prostitutes from his underworld contacts, and eventually he was charged with supplying those same women with cocaine.  To borrow Dickens’ most famous opening line, for Maradona, Napoli represented the best of times and the worst of times.  He had first arrived at the city to be greeted by tens of thousands of fans.  But when he finally left in 1991, he left ragged and in tears, and very much alone.

What happened in the years following?  Generally speaking it makes for a depressing read.  Maradona spiralled into further drug addiction, infamously being kicked out of his last World Cup in 1994 having once again tested positive for illegal substances.   He put on weight, his body becoming shapeless, worn and shuffling.  He played his final testimonial game in Buenos Aires in 2001, a game in which those who once considered him the most deadly of threats now regarded him only with pity: ‘The opposing players indulged him, stepping aside as he lumbered by. He scored two goals that day, both penalties against René Higuita, the former goalkeeper for the Colombian national team, who obliged his old friend by jumping out of the way.’

As the possibilities of playing football eventually dwindled to nowt, the drugs and the listlessness gradually consumed him; for the power which had once redeemed his existence, was now beyond his grasp.   In early middle-age, Maradona became obese and his drug addiction grew so extreme that the danger to his life became an acute one.  The image of him on a TV show, vastly overweight and immobile, sobbing before the host in a kind of befuddled terror is a harrowing one.  But it wasn’t all bad. There were some high points too. In 2007 he finally managed to shake his dependence on cocaine. In 2010 he became the manager of the national team taking them as far as the quarter finals in the World Cup. And in 2016, after so many years, he managed to do the right thing and acknowledge his paternity of the son he’d had by Cristiana Sinagra.

And yet, as the years went by, the affairs and the fast living left their irreparable toll.  More paternity suits arose, more illicitly fathered children. His childhood sweetheart Claudia Villafañe – the woman who had shared the hardship and poverty of Diego’s early days and the person to in some sense moor him to a more grounded and authentic existence – eventually separated from him, and the acrimony increased as both parties accused one another of stealing money.  In the process Maradona found himself alienated from his daughters.  He married again to Rocio Oliva – a woman thirty years his junior, but again this marriage collapsed, after a series of rows which culminated in an alleged assault by Maradona on his partner.

Despite all the fame and wealth – one receives the impression of a man entering his later years lost in space, untethered from the modes of being which had formed him.  Perhaps the tragedy of his life lies in the fact of his quite stratospheric success; that the rise of ‘Maradona’ was always going to precipitate the loss of ‘Diego’.  He had achieved a great deal but at the cost of straying far from everything that had once informed who he was.  And yet, this process was set into motion by the tragic demands of poverty itself and the desperate need to help his loved ones escape it.  ‘Maradona’ was the vehicle by which such a thing could be achieved, ‘Maradona’ was the creation of someone whose childhood had been curtailed and whose life had come to bear the hopes and responsibilities of first his own family, and then a whole generation: in the words of his younger sister, one of the few people to remember the boy that once was, the child of the favela: ‘my brother… At the age of 15 he stopped having a life, and became someone else’.  For Diego, such was the price of fame.

The post El Diego: the Two Lives of Maradona appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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