Counterpunch Articles

Yemen as Arabian Vietnam

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. The last soldiers and agents of the world’s biggest and deadliest empire, fleeing Saigon with their thorned tails between their legs as a rag-tag army of half-starved guerrillas inched closer by the hour. The last Bell helicopters, stuffed to the brim with bourgeois refugees of the fascist Yankee quisling state of South Vietnam, bumbling about before they scatter like highway vultures interrupted by a semi as they attempt to pick the last bone clean on a withering carcass. This was unthinkable just a decade earlier, when LBJ decided to turn a contentious civil war into a full blown holocaust. We had thrown everything but the White House kitchen sink at those yellow commie savages; bombs, napalm, agent orange, near institutionalized campaigns of rape and slaughter. We had turned the jungles of Indochina into a living hell, just a few Pinkville’s shy of a full tilt genocide. But they just kept coming. Tiny men and women in black pajamas with hearts like lions, throwing their malnourished bodies into the guts and gears of the war machine. At the end of the day, the empire’s efforts were all for nothing. Billions of dollars, millions of lives, and the sterling reputation we had built on the myths of the Good War were gone like dust scattered to the wind. Was there a lesson to be learned here? Was anybody but Charlie interested in learning it?

Flash forward some forty years and tragedy repeats itself as farce. This time it’s one of the now hemorrhaging American empire’s dauphins, a dick-swinging desert upstart called Saudi Arabia, that is rapidly finding itself overwhelmed by the unintended consequences of its own private Vietnam. After another gaggle of impoverished peasants called the Houthis decided to take their once regional conflict from the northern mountains of Yemen to the bustling capital of Sanaa, overthrowing yet another fascist Yankee quisling state, Saudi Arabia’s swarthy young princeling, Mohammed bin Salman, decided to show the world what he’s made of by burying his poorest neighbor in American munitions. Like his fellow psychopath, LBJ, MBS threw everything he could get his filthy hands on at these poor people; bombs, drones, white phosphorous, mercenary death squads of African child soldiers, and a crippling naval blockade, all with more than a little help from their friends back in Washington. Hundreds of thousands murdered in cold blood. Even more starved, diseased, malnourished, most of them children. But just four years into this genocidal campaign and it’s all falling apart. That handsome young Lothario in Riyadh is left drowning in the dunes as his “allies” flee the scene of the crime.

Even after all the death, misery, fear and loathing, those dastardly Shia barbarians known as the Houthi just keep coming. In fact, they now appear to stand stronger, taller, more furious than ever. Galvanized like steel soldiers in the hell-fires of what should have been their Armageddon. Like the Cong before them, these outgunned young renegades have turned the tables on their tormentors with nothing but sheer rage and tenacity. Baseless conspiracy theories about them being Iranian agent provocateurs aside, they weathered this storm alone, buried the bodies of their children, bided their time and are now in the midst of making minced meat of their wealthy would-be Saudi conquistadors. Striking oil lines with homemade drones, Jerry-rigged in crumbling urban garages from the smashed bits of American machines that haunted their villages long before the onslaught. Trapping Saudi soldiers and their hapless local mercenaries in giant valley-wide ambushes, taking hundreds of Salafi chin scalps at a time. Making a bunch of racist colonial pigs belly-crawl through scorpion infested deserts back to the gaudy glass towers from which they came.

The Saudis are fucked and even their one-time friends know it. Half of their fighting force, sponsored by the equally dreadful United Arab Emirates, are defecting from this blood belching quagmire and turning their attention instead towards rebuilding an independent South Yemen. The Emirates couldn’t be happier with a Dalit house-slave’s throat in their hands. The only thing keeping them in this savage farce to begin with is their hope of securing the shipping routes of the southern ports in cities like the now rebel held Aden. The UAE’s goal of becoming the Persian Gulf’s answer to Singapore appears to be pushing them to the brink of opening a second front against their former besties in Riyadh in order to achieve their own petite imperialist objectives. Prince Salman’s blood spattered vanity project is as dead as South Vietnam.

Once again, another imperial blood feast, billions of dollars, millions of lives and the once sterling reputation of the “new” Saudi Arabian empire built on little more than CNN mythology, gone, demolished like a Zaydi schoolhouse, all for nothing, just another Vietnam scattered like a fist full of sand in the breeze of the Arabian Sea. Is there finally a lesson to be learned here? Yes, but only the Houthi, like their Vietcong counterparts, seem to have learned it. The desert holocaust in Yemen mirrors the jungle holocaust in Vietnam because the imperialist antagonists of both battles failed to learn the basic lesson that no amount of money, high-tech military hardware or unbridled savagery can deter a people determined to be free. It appears all empires are damned to remain forever blind to this lesson no matter how many times peasants are forced to teach it to them, from Algiers to Kabul to god knows who’s next, because imperialism itself is defined by its blindness to humanity. It is it’s strength as well as it’s folly.

We must also take note here that the modern concepts of the western style nation state are at best the fickle illusions of an over-privileged class and at worst a fevered nightmare brought on by fumes of the Industrial Revolution. Trying to cobble a nation together from two separate and distinct societies like the Northern Zaydi Tribesman and the Southern Sunni Proletariat has proven to be as asinine and bullheaded as trying to deny the almost metaphysical unity of two nations that have always been one like Vietnam. Nation building is a cruel fool’s errand and it never works. The lion share of America and it’s imperial offspring’s woes in places like the Middle East and Southeast Asia derive from their insistence on modernizing people they have zero respect for with statist contraptions like capitalism and mass borders. The best lesson the Houthis can take from recent events to their south is that their supposed enemies in that region essentially want the same damn thing, to escape western nation building and finally be left the fuck alone. If both sides can realize this, then they can unite to divide and maybe, just maybe, this hopped up nightmare can finally end.

Imperialism is a heavy weapon in the hands of the powerful. But it’s as good as glass against the will of a people who refuse to be ruled. All empires will crumble because they are designed to deny this basic fact of human nature and any system that denies humanity is inherently unsustainable. To put it bluntly, they quite simply cannot kill us all, but united we can destroy them. Houthis, Hezbollah, Southern Separatists, Kashmiri Separatists, Black Lives Matter, Sovereign Citizens, the Vietcong, the Weather Underground; only together are we too heavy to be moved by any imperial behemoth. Let us all join hands and fuck it up, dearest motherfuckers. Why the hell not? Lets fight like a Houthi.

The post Yemen as Arabian Vietnam appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Bearing Witness at Aeon’s End: the Wound Becomes the Womb

PR: Kenn, this question haunts me: Is it still possible, amid constant inundation by the mass and social media simulacrum, for literature, poetry or a music to rouse the heart and foment rebellion against one’s complicity in what amounts to a bondage of sensibility? Naturally, we are given to outrage but, for the most part, it is directed, if we are honest, at our own sense of powerlessness against the mind-stupefying roil of events.

The decimated fauna and flora of the earth are not dying a natural death; the living things of the planet are in the process of being fatally wounded by abuse. As, all the while, all pervasive — therefore invasive — culture of electronic distractions negates apprehension, connection, and communion with the breathing moment. The things of the world that sustain us, body and soul, are dying from both abuse and neglect. Enervated by a sense of emptiness, we seek palliative relieve in manic distractions. We are retailed visual piffle, comprised of celebrity culture and media hype. A contrivance of media-borne mirages — a shell game deploying electronic phantasmagoria, usurping the mind, waylaying desire into precincts of capitalist exploitation — a clip joint shakedown operation.

There is a dopehouse quality to capitalism-inflicted insularity. All too many have been transformed into ghosts of empty appetite. By being estranged from larger orders of our souls and the soul of the world (anima mundi), the citizens of consumer imperium have been rendered down to manic, mindless spirits — death-besotted spirits susceptible to the ersatz eros of fascist spectacle. A toxic red tide of MAGA hats rise and agitate a sea of inert souls. A death cult of economic elite sacrifice flesh before an alter of an insatiable god — an incorporeal deity manifested as protean formations of electrons — an invisible god yet oceanic in its quality of obliterating empathetic imagination in a drowning tide of impersonal craving.

An animal-in-a-cage restlessness is inherent to capitalist modernity. An aura of boredom, fraught with free-floating, nebulous angst, is a constant presence. Historically, there is always the danger of bourgeoisie restlessness and chronic discontent transforming into the sickness of the collective soul known as fascism. Unnerving to witness: Fascism, with its insistence on tangible verities and aggrandisement of action, becomes a desperate attempt to experience freedom by means of a literalizing of death.

Freud averred suicide is an urge to homicide turned inward.  A pandemic of suicide is plaguing the US working class. James Hillman averred, after much study and contemplation on the subject (an early analysand of his committed suicide) when one turns to suicide, the individual is attempting to kill a psychical complex – not oneself. The misapprehension arrives by being afflicted with the phenomenon R. D. Laing termed the False Self and Friedrich Engels termed capitalist false consciousness.

Engels ascribed the process to the phenomenon as the self value system of the capitalist ruling class becoming internalised by the working class, and contact pathos of exposure to the economic elite’s Cult of Success mythos and concomitant mode of mind and modus operandi bristling with manic compensation — to wit, the striving, obsessive, winged, grounding-bereft, split off half of despair. Yet an individual cannot remain airborne, mortals that we are, ad infinitum.

The manic Spirit, enthralled and intoxicated by its own scintillating glow, by compulsion, ascends while the Soul, by nature, makes chthonic descents. Rilke compared the Orphic impulse to a tree — whose roots reach into the singing loam of the earth as its branches are played like the strings of a lyre by the winds of spirit. The Dead must be engaged, their laments acknowledged, or their beckoning will grow into the overpowering admonition of a Death Drive.

Walker Percy limned the psychical landscape thus:

“Death in the form of death genes shall not prevail over me, for death genes are one thing but it is something else to name the death genes an d know them and stand over against them and dare them. I am different from my death genes and therefore not subject to them. My father had the same death genes but he feared them and did not name them and thought he could roar out old Route 66 and stay ahead of them or grab me and be pals or play Brahms and keep them, the death genes, happy, so he fell prey to them.”

— Percy, Walker, excerpt from The Second Coming

The capitalist paradigm is held in the thrall of its inherent death genes. By ecocide or economic collapse (events that will cause the system to reveal its true countenance i.e., fascism) — or by nuclear annihilation, capitalists will succumb to their internalised Thanatopic admonitions. In short, there must come an economic/socio/cultural sea change or the beckoning of the Dead to join them in endless song will prove too potent to resist.

KO: I have been thinking about the absurdity of this age and its delusional mythos a lot lately, Phil. What does it mean to succeed on an increasingly brutal, unequal, unjust and dying world? To attain the hollow grandeur and lucre promised by capitalist mythology? This is an age of stark contradiction where the vaunted and self-insulated “captains of industry” reside within a fragile bubble of a new gilded age. All around us countless species of our biosphere shriek in agony. Ancient forests are felled in a nanosecond. Sprawling coral reefs are bleached to a white, enduring death within days or terribly sullied by damaged oil tankers. And all around us the working class are getting poorer and their population is growing. The rich are getting richer, and fewer. Yet the spectacle continues and grows ever more absurd, more disconnected from reality. And I cannot help think that this is what the ruling class wishes. After all, they have no idea how to fix our collective predicament without dismantling the economic, political and social order that produced and perpetuates it.

When I see the pervasive influence and concurrent numbness induced by the holograms of social media and the surveillance state I am reminded of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. These projections on the wall, holograms of reality, are ubiquitous. Everyone has a portable cave handy, carrying them in pockets or purses.

Screens that alert us to the projected shadows. The things we are told are important. The spectacle. But most of the contents are meaningless images that reinforce depravity, as well as alienation and emptiness. A deceitful mirror that informs us on how we should look, or think, or act. And to never question the order itself. And the insidious sway of this over our consciousness is by design, whether intentional or not, because it emanates from the halls of capital. So then our minds are colonized by the most powerful and moneyed colonizers in all of human history. Yet most of us have difficulty understanding where our agency is curtailed. And this understandable, because the labyrinth is opaque.

Guy Debord had the prescience to understand this power and how it worked before the age of the internet or social media:  “Where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior.”   This is how social media maintains itself and perpetuates a false reality. Social media, through the manipulation of the brains neurochemicals has created a stranglehold on scores of people. Thus, the person who has it withheld may experience anxiety or even panic, a kind of withdrawal.

But this is a sort of mania defines the capitalist order itself. And so this order has a pernicious effect on every one of us because the world is, with few exceptions, under the domination of capitalism and the “imperial” court who benefits from it.

PR: Kenn, a question, then a poetic digression, of which the latter is political, but not in an overt manner.

How does one spend the fleeting hours of this finite life? Is it possible to escape being held in the thrall of internalised colonisation, a psyche-shackling phenomenon that usurps the days of one’s existence? We are confronted by systemic economic control, inherent to the capitalist order, over both the quality and criteria of one’s existence that hijacks the day, renders barren the womb of the earth’s oceans and seas, and scours away by light pollution the stars. An economic order, conceived for the exclusive benefit of a loose-knit, yet unified by their mutual cupidity, clutch of capitalist ghouls. Hyperbole? Do these ghouls not live off of the flesh of the earth and devour the hours of the lives of the powerless multitudes held in servitude to their insatiable greed?

One cannot reclaim what has been lost to time. One cannot conscript coffin dust in the service of eros. Materialism, both economic and philosophical, have wrought a wasteland, of both landscape and mindscape. Yet the breathing moment resounds with birth cries. The archetype of the redeemer god (examples include, Tammuz; Osirus; Dionysus; Orpheus; Jesus Christ; Attis; Mithras; Horus; Krishna; Persephone) exists in the human psyche — we are held, gripped and grappled, undone, and restored by agencies that are not going to be expelled by materialist credo. Archetypal criteria will hold profound influence over the lives of humanity — all as, by reflex, literalism borne of materialist dogma will leave all too many cold and alienated. To wit, the least important — even irrelevant and counterproductive — question is, whether or not the gods are literal figures because, in regard to the human psyche, Mundus Imaginalis is reality.

How does the archetype of the redeemer god relate to the human psyche and the death swoon of the capitalist order?

When the season of a systemic structure that determines the mode of being of individuals languishing within the decaying system has passed, it is crucial that moribund perceptions of oneself and how one regards the world are pruned away. Applying the lexicon of Mundus Imaginalis, one is confronted with the early spring agonies (“April is the cruelest month”) of Dionysus or, as is the case with Persephone, an autumnal descent into the underworld — there, like a brooding seed, it is possible for the psyche to dream a new psychical order — thus novel societal arrangements — into existence. For example, a drunk’s dismally circumscribed by his bondage to the bottle existence can be broken by a rearrangement of the psyche; thereby, his life is broadened and deepened by ceasing an habitual reliance on alcohol previously utilised to mitigate the stressors of the day and torments of past trauma.

Widespread consumer addiction is a form of collective, negative enchantment. Sanity insists, the spell must be broken. Yet the God of Reason’s admonitions do not prove propitious in a struggle against addiction because its verities are drowned out by the cultural cacophony of a commodified madhouse, whereby Mundus Imaginalis has taken the form of a 24/7, consciousness devouring, mass and social media-borne phantasmagoria. Conversely, trauma and concomitant neurotic compulsions that haunt the mind and paralyse the eros of modernity can be transformed by artistic engagement. The wound becomes the womb thereby birthing novelty. The grail, at last, at the lips of the languishing, near-death, couch potato king restores the land.

Languishing in middle age, from the reality of his imagination, Dante Alighieri became lost in a dark woods, his path blocked on one side by a hungry she-wolf and on the other by a threatening leopard. But a pagan poet arrives on scene, Virgil, protagonist of the Aeneas, a witness to the folly that was the Trojan War and consequential destruction of Troy. Only by passing through the black, iron-wrought gates of Hell, bearing the admonition, ““Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (“Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”) and, later in the epic poem, only after he, led by Virgil, must pass across the loins of Satan in the frozen Ninth Circle would Dante be granted a glimpse, upon entering Purgatory, of Beatrice’s transformative beauty framed in the spheres of Paradise.

The quality of lostness is the redeemer god’s dominion, the baffling terrain on which we are stranded at capitalist eon’s end.  Thus I have made a home in being lost.

But the question persists, how does one spend one’s days?

KO: Time is perhaps, as Einstein once averred, an illusion. And yet we experience it. We sense its passing and not just by numbers, but by what we truly sense. With each new wrinkle on the face, each new diminished ability, each child passing through years of development into adult bodies. So we pass the time, so to speak, regardless of whether we are intentionally doing it. But to live mindful of this is the challenge. And I am loath to use that term given the nauseating manner in which it has been twisted in order to justify each new demoralizing and diminishing assault by the lords of Capital on the working class. But this era demands a new kind of mindfulness, one which turns everything on its head.

I remember wandering through the catacombs of Paris several years ago and marveling at the artistry of this underground necropolis. Here was a place built for the dead. A place not to be seen by the masses. Yet now the masses tromp through its dusty passages daily, snapping selfies and posting check-ins. And so your mention of art and “the wound becomes the womb” made me think of this for some reason. And I think it is the association of art with death, because death, and its constant looming over all who are mortal, is the regisseur of artistic expression.

The Redemption in this age must come, as always has, from radical artists, poets, writers, mystics and philosophers, because they are the most radically dangerous to the order itself. Their resistance to conformity, racism, militarism, the commodification of nature, and blind, rapacious consumerism, presents the greatest challenge to a hegemony which cannot expunge the reality of its destructive nature. It can no longer hide the carnage. As Yemen endures carpet bombing and a manufactured famine and Kashmir and Gaza resist an engineered genocide, refugees flee their homelands in Syria, Honduras and Myanmar, as countless species succumb to habitat loss and pollution, and as the Bahamas lie in ruins from climate changed, angry skies and rainforests in the Amazon, Angola and Australia unnaturally burn to ash, we are all witness to the trajectory of unfettered capitalist, militarism, and industrial exploits. Indigenous peoples on every continent face the brunt of this, of course. But we are all indigenous to this besieged earth. We are born of its loam and kin to every breathing species that crawls, slithers, burrows in it or that flies above it.

So at this eon’s end, as you say, I think we are called to bear witness as we traverse its bitter, blood drenched killing fields. But also to tread with care and with arms locked in solidarity with others who have been cast off, devalued by the imaginary calculus of capital. Those on the margins of empire. Those disappeared or assigned annihilation because of the imaginary borders in which they live, or their dearth of societal status or material wealth, or whom they spend their lives with and love, or their caste, gender, skin pigment, religious affiliations or individual peculiarities. And to reignite a reverence and kinship with the myriad of species outside our own. Those that have been commodified and reduced to barcodes.

To be lost with the lost. I think this is our species last, best hope for redemption.

The post Bearing Witness at Aeon’s End: the Wound Becomes the Womb appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Homage to the Tabloids

Are you ready for some football?  Big story in the LA Times this week: “Will the NFL allow players to use marijuana? League wants Science to determine drug policy. ” It should come as no surprise that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell  is taking refuge behind “More Research is Needed.”

The NFL commissioner serves the interests of the owners (just like the President of the United States).  We know where these gentlemen are at politically because they  have blacklisted Colin Kaepernick for three years, the prime of his career. Their mutual class interest obviously takes precedence over their separate  teams’ interests.  Which means zero tolerance for truly uppity workers.  At upcoming contract talks, when the players’ demand access to marijuana  —a non-opioid analgesic that might protect against traumatic brain injuries— the owner’ game plan will be to stall in the name of Science.

The convergence in one story of two major issues of our day —marijuana and NFL football— brought to mind an old joke about the ultimate newspaper-selling headline: “Queen’s Dog Cured of Polio in Church.” At Walgreen’s that evening I couldn’t help admiring the latest Globe headline:

I thought Attorney General Barr might have authorized Epstein’s exit because ongoing publicity would inform the tabloid-loving masses that the AG’s father, Donald Barr, had set Epstein on the road to riches in the 1970s by hiring him to teach math at the elite Dalton School. (Donald Barr was the principal at Dalton.) My guess and the Enquirer’s exposé are not mutually exclusive.

Around 1995 the missus and I were driving on Highway 1 in Lantana, Florida, when  I noticed a sign in the distance identifying the site as the home of The National Enquirer.  I took the next exit and found it, a large, modern one-story office building fronting on a park with baseball diamonds. I told the receptionist that I was a journalist from California there to pay my respects to “the leading newspaper in America.” She suspected that I was putting her on. I said I meant it:  “Aren’t they all adopting your approach, little by little?”  She recognized my sincerity and we were given a tour of the editorial office. As we were leaving, so was a tall, sleek man in a finely tailored suit who wore wraparound shades and carried an attache case. He looked more like a banker than an editor, and his car was a Mercedes.

A surprising fact we learned on our tour: four of America’s five best-selling tabloids were then headquartered  in Lantana! Somehow, economy of scale even applies to lowbrow gossip production.

Here’s some relevant background  as recounted by Wikipedia:

“In 1926, William Griffin, a protégé of William Randolph Hearst, founded the paper as The New York Evening Enquirer, a Sunday afternoon broadsheet newspaper distributed throughout New York City, using money lent to Griffin by Hearst. It made its debut on September 19, 1926. As partial payment of his loan, Hearst asked Griffin to use the Enquireras a proving ground for new ideas. Hearst took the ideas that worked in his successful publications; the less successful ideas stayed with the Enquirer, and as a result the Enquirer’s sales never soared. During the 1930s and 1940s, it became a voice for isolationism and pro-fascist propaganda. The paper was indicted along with Griffin under the Smith Act for sedition by a grand jury in 1942 for subverting the morale of US troops through Griffin’s editorials against US military involvement in World War II. The charges were later dropped.

“By 1952, when the paper’s circulation had fallen to 17,000 copies a week, it was purchased by Generoso Pope Jr., the son of Generoso Pope, the founder of Il Progresso, New York’s Italian language daily newspaper.[12]It has been alleged that Mafia boss Frank Costelloprovided Pope the money for the purchase in exchange for the Enquirer’s promise to list lottery numbers and to refrain from any mention of Mafia activities.[13]

In 1953, Pope revamped the format from a broadsheet to a sensationalist tabloid… Pope pioneered the idea of selling magazines at supermarket checkouts. In order to get into the supermarkets, Pope completely changed the format of the paper in late 1967 by dropping all the gore and violence and instead focusing on more benign topics like celebrities, the occult and UFOs.”

In recent years the most visible owner of the Enquirer has been David Pecker, a bag man for Donald Trump. This spring a sale to Ron Burkle, a billionaire friend of the Clintons, was supposedly imminent. Burkle would have shielded his friends from front-page stories predicting their imminent deaths (with super-unflattering photos). But he pulled out and the Enquirer was picked up for $100 mill by James Cohen, heir to the Hudson News stores, which will provide distribution at 1,000 airports.

A New York Times piece April 18  reporting the sale informed us: “As part of the deal, American Media, led by David J. Pecker, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, has also agreed to sell two of its other tabloids: the Globe and the National Examiner.”

We infer from the Times’s brief bio of Cohen that he and Ms. Fayne Cohen will put out a cooler, classier Enquirer.

“In 2016 he started a quarterly publication called Galerie with his wife, Lisa Fayne Cohen. Earlier this year, the magazine published a feature titled ‘Discover a Hamptons Dream House Filled With Modern Art.; Its subject was the Cohens’ East Hampton, N.Y., home. Ms. Fayne Cohen serves as the magazine’s editorial director.

“Mr. Cohen and Ms. Fayne Cohen started a serious art collection in 2009. Their condominium at the Plaza Hotel has included works by the artists Willem de Kooning, Jean Dubuffet, Hans Hofmann, Joan Mitchell, George Condo and Mark Grotjahn.

“In 2015 they threw a bat mitzvah for their daughter Jaclyn at a reported cost of over $1 million. The event, which took place under a tent at their home in northern New Jersey, featured the singer Nick Jonas, who performed six of his hits for a reported $300,000.

“Mr. Cohen, who did not respond to requests for comment, has a tabloid connection. His late sister, Claudia Cohen, was a gossip writer for both The Daily News and The New York Post. She was married to the Revlon billionaire Ronald O. Perelman.”

So, are you ready for some highbrow Epstein gossip?

The  business of scientific publishing  was made “startlingly profitable” by a British  entrepreneur named Robert Maxwell, according to a brilliant, thorough analysis that ran in the Guardian two years ago. “With total global revenues of more than £19bn,” Stephen Buranyi reported, “it weighs in somewhere between the recording and the film industries in size, but it is far more profitable.”

Reviewing the Guardian exposé today, we are aware of another dubious achievement of Maxwell’s: his daughter Ghislaine would  become Jeffrey Epstein’s partner in crime.

Robert Maxwell, who was born in Czechoslovakia, died in 1991 after intentionally plunging, accidentally falling, or being pushed off his yacht, The Lady Ghislaine (which was named after his youngest daughter).  Ghislaine, the flesh-and-blood lady, then moved to New York City where she soon hooked up with Epstein. You  don’t have to be a Freudian to wonder: did she see her father in the Brooklyn-born financier or did she coach him to recreate dear old dad? Probably both.

The parallels between Maxwell’s  “apparent suicide” (he had stolen millions from a pension fund and was facing public humiliation and prison) and Epstein’s death in a Manhattan jail cell are obvious and eerie. And so are the similarities between Maxwell’s and Epstein’s courting  of  scientists and other standard operating procedures. As explained by Buranyi in the Guardian:

“Scientific conferences tended to be drab, low-ceilinged affairs, but when Maxwell returned to the Geneva conference that year, he rented a house in nearby Collonge-Bellerive, a picturesque town on the lakeshore, where he entertained guests at parties with booze, cigars and sailboat trips. Scientists had never seen anything like him…

By 1959, Pergamon was publishing 40 journals; six years later it would publish 150. This put Maxwell well ahead of the competition. (In 1959, Pergamon’s rival, Elsevier, had just 10 English-language journals, and it would take the company another decade to reach 50.) By 1960, Maxwell had taken to being driven in a chauffeured Rolls-Royce, and moved his home and the Pergamon operation from London to the palatial Headington Hill Hall estate in Oxford…

“Occasionally, Maxwell would call Noble to his house for a meeting. “Often there would be a party going on, a nice musical ensemble, there was no barrier between his work and personal life,” Noble says. Maxwell would then proceed to alternately browbeat and charm him into splitting the biannual journal into a monthly or bimonthly publication, which would lead to an attendant increase in subscription payments.

Maxwell doted on his relationships with famous scientists…”

The New Yorker has just published a piece by scandal specialist Ronan Farrow: “New documents show that the M.I.T. Media Lab was aware of Epstein’s status as a convicted sex offender, and that Epstein directed contributions to the lab far exceeding the amounts M.I.T. has publicly admitted.”

The post Homage to the Tabloids appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Profiles in Courage: the Tories Have It, the Republicans Don’t

As a Senator, John F. Kennedy authored Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage in 1957 to highlight the integrity by eight United States Senators who did what they felt was best for the nation not their party and they suffered accordingly.

This week Conservative Party members in Britain’s Parliament demonstrated that type of unique political courage. They voted to stop their party leader, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, from leaving the European Union without a deal governing future relations.

They did so, against the express wishes of their party and PM Johnson, whose followers in retaliation have vowed to kick these dissidents out of the party and bar them from running in the next election. In response to the vote, PM Johnson has proposed calling for a general election on October 15.

As reported in the New York Times, these Conservative rebels took this highly unusual break from their Party’s leadership because they believed Johnson’s actions on Brexit would severely damage the British economy and set “fire to their vision of a big-tent party with priorities beyond Brexit.”

Under the parliamentary system, you cannot run for public office from a political party unless you have that party’s approval, unlike in the U.S. where just about anyone can run as a Republican or Democrat, even if they don’t have the approval of the party. In other words, the Conservative parliamentarians knew that they would very likely lose their seat without the party’s endorsement.

Now think of what is happening with the Republicans in congress under President Donald Trump. He has demanded loyalty from them and has threatened retaliation against those who publicly criticize him. They do not need his approval to run as a Republican for congress, but his 80 percent plus approval rating among Republicans has intimidated any effective opposition to his executive orders and policies that threaten our democratic society.

In May 2019, Justin Amash became the only Republican Congressman to call for Trump’s impeachment for obstructing justice. No other Republican in congress has joined him.

Other conservatives and Republicans have come out in opposition to Trump, but they are either former elected officials, like conservative radio personality Joe Walsh, or journalists like David Brooks and Bill Kristol. They are not sacrificing any public office. However, there are sixteen current Republicans in congress who do not intend on running for reelection in 2020. Could this be an indication that they would rather drop out than fight Trump and his followers?

The significant difference between Johnson and Trump is that Johnson, first of all, was not elected into office by the general public, but rather achieved  his position as a vote of just conservative party members. Second, and just as importantly, there was a national issue that had to be immediately dealt with.

When Johnson took the unusual step of dramatically limiting the time that parliament could meet and debate any Brexit legislation, he forced members of his own party to recognize that something had to be done within days. There has been no comparative single crises with Trump.

Although his actions ignore the norms of acceptable democratic process like Johnson’s did, they consist of a steady stream of actions with long term impacts that often are initially stifled through our court system. So, there is no impending crises that needs to be addressed within days.

Nevertheless, Republicans face the same two major problems with Trump that the conservatives in Britain faced with Johnson: potential national economic damage and a shrinking voter base.

The first stems from tariff wars being conducted solely by the President and an astronomical growth in national debt that shows no slowing down. The second is the continuous  reliance on an increasingly narrow slice of the population. Although not easily seen as grounds for impeachment, they are clearly transforming the Republican Party into a personality driven movement promoting ethnic nationalism at the expense of protecting our general welfare and respecting basic democratic rights.

Which brings us back to the issue of courage. Democracies cannot be sustained on obsequious behavior by politicians whose first concern is to protect their job. It will eventually result either in authoritarian behavior from the top or group think from below. It takes courage to recognize these trends and for elected officials to stop them from growing like a cancer in our society.

The Profiles in Courage chapter on Republican Senator Edmund G. Ross, from Kansas, always stuck in my mind. He cast the deciding vote for acquitting Democratic President Andrew Johnson for impeachment. Ross lost his bid for re-election two years later and none of the other Republicans who voted for acquittal were voted back to congress.

Now, Johnson was not a good president, his policies did not protect the rights of black citizens following the civil war, but the grounds of impeachment were so flimsy that afterwards even some of those most in favor of impeachment realized it would have been a mistake.

It took courage to recognize that maintaining an orderly democracy overrules allegiance to a political party. This past week a select group of British conservative parliamentarians came to that realization. The question is how long it will take for Republicans in congress to get the courage to reach that same conclusion?

 

The post Profiles in Courage: the Tories Have It, the Republicans Don’t appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Farewell, John Bolton

The firing (or, he insists, the resignation) of John Bolton as national security special assistant is being treated by some observers as a great loss for coherence and professionalism in the conduct of US foreign policy. Josh Rogin at the Washington Post, for example, writes on September 11: “Republicans on Capitol Hill lost a key interlocutor and a key ally inside the White House. Many fear Trump will replace Bolton with someone who will feed Trump’s own desire to drastically pull back on U.S. commitments and alliances abroad. Even Democrats acknowledge Bolton was somebody who they knew and trusted to — at the very least — push back against Trump’s worst instincts or false beliefs.”

In short, we are invited to treat Bolton’s departure as another in a long line of “adults in the room” who are gone, leaving Trump to make policy by gut instinct. (“Trump unplugged,” as one former diplomatic put it.) You would think we had lost a voice for peace, human rights, and international cooperation! Let’s get real: Bolton’s departure is a welcome event. His hawkish impulses, if allowed to proceed uncheck, quite possibly would have led to war with Iran, no talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, continued “maximum pressure” on North Korea and Venezuela, and further sanctions against Cuba and Nicaragua. Yes, Bolton was an “adult” when it came to sanctions on Russia, support for NATO, and Trump’s glad-handing of dictators. But on balance, Bolton was as much a menace to real national and international security as his boss.

Various foreign-policy professionals are being quoted as concluding that with Bolton gone, Trump will have the field to himself, with only Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and friends to restrain him. That is indeed worrisome, since Pompeo has been just as militant as Bolton on Venezuela, North Korea, and Iran. The main difference between the two is Pompeo’s loyalty—his willingness to bite his tongue and go along with whatever Trump says or does. US foreign policy will be no less incoherent and erratic in a Bolton-less world. But at least with Bolton gone, we have one less voice for war in Washington.

The post Farewell, John Bolton appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

RCMP Attempt to Silence Critics of Trudeau Foreign Policy

On Tuesday two RCMP agents came to my house. Two large men in suits asked for me and when my partner said I wasn’t there they asked who she was.

Why didn’t they email or call me to talk or set up a meeting? If they have my address, the RCMP certainly has my email, Facebook, Skype or phone number. My partner asked for their badges, took their photo and asked them to leave the hallway they had entered.

They returned the next day. Not wanting to interact, my partner ignored them. They rang the doorbell multiple times over many minutes. After she saw people at the restaurant across the street wondering what was going on – from the ground you can see into the front of our place – she poked her head down the stairway where they caught her eye. They asked why I didn’t call even though they didn’t leave a number.

The visits are a transparent effort to intimidate me from directly challenging the government’s pro-corporate and pro-empire international policies.

The day before their first visit to my house two RCMP officers physically removed me from a press conference when I asked Transportation Minister Marc Garneau about Canadian arm sales to Saudi Arabia. When I sat down at an event that was already underway an officer took the seat next to me. When I began to ask a question at the end of the press conference he used the cover of private property to try to block me. On this video one can see the RCMP agent asking the building security twice if I’m welcome in the space. Deferring to police, the security guard tells him I’m not welcome. The RCMP agent, who doesn’t have the right to remove me from the room without a directive, then uses the authority derived from a representative of the building to physically eject me and threaten arrest.

Last Wednesday lawyer Dimitri Lascaris and I were blocked from a talk by the prime minister at the Bonaventure Hotel in a similar way. In my case an RCMP agent called out my name as I entered the hotel and then accompanied me in the elevator, through a long lobby and down an escalator to ‘introduce’ me to hotel security. The representative of the hotel then said I wasn’t welcome, which gave the officer the legal authority to ask me to leave. Lascaris details the incident in “The RCMP’s Speech Police Block Yves Engler and Me From Attending A Speech By Justin Trudeau.”

After starting to write this story, I was targeted by the RCMP for removal from a press conference by Justice Minister David Lametti. On Thursday, a Concordia University security guard, who I walked past to enter the room, came up to me 15 minutes later and asked for my press credentials. There were two dozen people in the room who didn’t have press credentials and the release for the event said nothing about needing them. The RCMP agent admitted that he asked Concordia security to approach me. He also said he was only there for the physical — not political — protection of the minister, but refused my suggestion that he and the Concordia security agents sit next/in front of me to ensure the minister’s physical safety.

(Here is the question I planned to ask the Justice Minister: “Minister Lametti you have an important decision to make in the coming days about whether you believe in international law and consumer rights. As you know the Federal Court recently ruled against your government’s decision to allow wines produced on illegal settlements in the West Bank to be labeled as ‘Products of Israel’. While anti-Palestinian groups are pressuring your government to appeal the decision, the NDP and Greens want you to stop wasting taxpayer money on this anti-Palestinian agenda. Will you commit to accepting the court’s sensible ruling that respects consumers, international law and Palestinian rights?”)

Over the past six months Lascaris, I and other members of Solidarité Québec-Haiti and Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix have interrupted a dozen speeches/press conferences by Liberal ministers/prime minister to question their anti-Palestinian positions, efforts to topple Venezuela’s government, support for a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president, etc. We are open about our actions and intentions, as you can read in this commentary. We film the interruptions and post them online. (If any illegal act were committed the RCMP could easily find all they need to charge me on my Facebook page!) The interruptions usually last no more than a couple of minutes. No politician has been stopped from speaking, let alone threatened or touched.

Did the RCMP receive a directive from a minister to put a stop to our challenging their policies? The federal election is on the horizon and government officials will increasingly be in public. The Trudeau government is playing up its ‘progressive’ credentials, but the interventions highlight how on one international policy after another the Liberals have sided with corporations and empire.

From the government’s perspective, having their PR announcements disrupted is a headache, but that’s democracy. The right to protest, to question, to challenge policies outweighs politicians’ comfort.

The post RCMP Attempt to Silence Critics of Trudeau Foreign Policy appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Hempress Sativa: “Rastafari Should be Protected”

Hempress Sativa with writer Stephen Cooper at the Dub Club in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Stephen A. Cooper.

Hempress Sativa is one of the most dynamic and talented performers – male or woman – in reggae music today. Currently at work on her sophomore album following her extremely impressive debut “Unconquerebel” – and its dub version with legendary sound engineer Scientist (“Scientist Meets Hempress Sativa in Dub”) – Hempress Sativa is a spiritual, powerful, deeply conscious Rastafari singer. Born into a musical family, she grew up surrounded and nurtured by some of the biggest names in Jamaican music.

On July 31, I interviewed Hempress for over thirty minutes after her dynamite show at the famed Dub Club in Los Angeles with Scientist. We spoke about her live performance of “Wah Da Da Deng,” that has been viewed over 12 million times on YouTube; her new single “Boom Shakalak” and the official video; the cliquishness of the reggae industry; her relationship with reggae legends Sister Caroland Brigadier Jerry; how the reggae music business can provide fairer and more equal opportunities for women performers; marijuana; Rastafari culture; lingering discrimination against Rastas in Jamaica and what can be done to combat it; and much, much more. What follows is a transcript of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations.

Q: Greetings Hempress, it’s a joy and a blessing to meet and reason with you. I’m a big fan of your music and I think your debut album “Unconquerebel,” that you released about two years ago, is superb.

Hempress Sativa: Thank you.

Q: But before talking about your album and your new single “Boom Shakalak” – which you sang tonight [and] which I really dig – if it’s okay, I’d like to begin by asking about the live performance you gave on February 25, 2015, at the Song Embassy Yard in Papine. [This is in] the part of Jamaica where I know you were raised; you performed your massive tune “Wah Da Da Deng” with [producer] Paolo Baldini.

Hempress Sativa: Yes.

Q: I want to ask about that because I along with more than twelve million other people have seen that video of you singing in Papine that day, over 4 years ago now, and there’s not a soul who knows anything about music who could watch that video and [not be blown away by your undeniable] talent.

Hempress Sativa: Thank you.

Q: Could you talk just for a minute about that performance, how it came about, and the reaction you’ve received from people who’ve seen [it]?

Hempress Sativa: I originally started out working with “Jah Over Evil” and he introduced me to “Mellow Mood” and that’s how I got in touch with Paolo Baldini. They told us they had a setup where they were just playing versions. [And they said,] “Feel free to come out and just pick a song.” And the day we went there we were reasoning with them about where they’re from and what they’re into and things like that. And we decided that we were gonna participate. Myself and other members in Jah Over Evil.

Q:  Does that Song Embassy Yard in Papine have any particular significance?

Hempress Sativa: No. It’s just that it’s in Papine. I was born and raised in Papine but at the other side of that area, further down.

Q: And was that [dynamite, jaw-dropping performance recorded in] one take?

Hempress Sativa: Yeah that was one take. (Laughing)

Q: Wow. Ok.

Hempress Sativa: Some people don’t believe me. (Laughing)

Q: You have such an incredible focus and flow in that video. The last thing I want to ask about it is: What was going through your mind that day, because you were so serious, so focused when you walked up to the mic?

Hempress Sativa: Alright. Some people don’t understand, when you’re doing anything, you have to be focused. You have to lock-in. And hone-in. And give your all. And that’s what happened. Sometimes I tend to not recognize [my] facial expressions because I’m so [focused]. And people don’t necessarily understand that I’m not sad or angry. I’m so focused in my mind that it’s almost like I’m outside of myself, you know? So I don’t have no control over [my] facial expressions or movements. I kinda just go with the energy and that’s it.

Q: Let’s talk about your new single that you released in the spring, “Boom Shakalak.” This is a very cool song. In my opinion it bears some similarities to the song “Rock It Ina Dance” on your debut album [“Unconquerebel”]; they sound different but both have a definitive dancehall and a sound system vibe. Do you agree with that?

Hempress Sativa: I agree. And that’s very important to me because my whole life I grew up with a father who is a Selecta. He’s a person who would get up at five o’clock in the morning and start to play vinyl. And the music would continue throughout the day. And I’m not making up any type of story when I tell you he was a person who would stay around [his] sound system the whole day without eating, without breaking for nothing. That’s how serious music is to my father. I grew up in a household where constantly, all hours, we have to be listening to vinyl. And my father is a very conscious man. You never heard one slack song coming from his selection. Strictly roots music. So that sound system culture is something I am very proud of. Something I see almost dying out inna Jamaica. And it’s something I want to preserve. That’s why I’ve incorporated it so much in my music.

Q: In your lyrics you often hail up your dad –

Hempress Sativa:  All the time. Because I personally feel that my father [doesn’t] get enough respect. I don’t feel like people recognize my father [despite] all the great works he’s put in the Jamaican music fraternity.

Q: And for the sake of the interview, we’re talking about Albert “Ilawi Malawi” Johnson, selector for the “Jah Love” sound system. This was a Brigadier Jerry sound system?

Hempress Sativa: The Jah Love sound system did not belong to Brigadier Jerry. Both of them being from the Twelve Tribes of Israel organization and just being there on a regular basis would participate; one playing [the] system and the other one would “toast” – which is DJ[’ ing] over the mic – which was Brigadier Jerry. My father was playing the music. So that’s how they first started out.

Q: One difference I noticed lyrically between those two songs, Boom Shakalak and Rock it Ina Dance, is your view on promoters. Because you “big up” the promoter in Rock it Ina Dance, but in Boom Shakalak you take a more critical stance.

Hempress Sativa: Yes!

Q: [I’m thinking about] [t]wo different lyrics [in that song]: (1) where you say “promoter pocket fat,” and (2) “promoters, advance my lion if you want…” Now I want to make sure I get this part right…

Hempress Sativa: “. . . if you want to dance ram.”

Q: Advance my lion if you want to dance “from?”

Hempress Sativa: (Laughing) “Ram.” It means make it full to capacity.

Q: Nice. It’s important to know these things –

Hempress Sativa: Yeah, because people have a hard time understanding my [accent]; it’s very strong. (Laughing)

Q: But people should take the time to learn what you’re saying, because it’s dope when they do.

Hempress Sativa:. (Laughing) Yeah, that is why I am saying to them, it’s nice to come to the stage where everybody can dance and feel good, but at the end of the day, mi still want everyone to take the opportunity to listen to what is actually being said. Because you might not even know what you a-dance to. You might not really agree. And I want to make sure you’re supporting me – [that] we’re on the same page. [That] [y]ou don’t have any misconception of who I am or what I stand for. So any little thing you see or you read that can help me to advance better – to have a better connection with my fans where they understand the music, that’s something that I want to do.

Q: Respect. Which is why I’m glad we’re doing the interview. Now I really dig the new [official] video you made for Boom Shakalak. And I understand it was filmed in downtown Kingston.

Hempress Sativa: Yeah.

Q: Can you say more about the location where the video was filmed, why did you chose that particular part of Kingston? Was there a particular reason or vibe [about] that part of Kingston?

Hempress Sativa: Yeah we wanted to get down into the town aspect, and kinda connect with the real roots people. Real people who are actually supporting the music out there inna Jamaica. And that is why we went there, you know? We never really had any scenes really planned. We just wanted to go there to perform, basically. And that is what we did. We basically went there and set up the riddims and the songs and just started to sing. And just tried to get [people] to pay attention. I even made new fans down there doing that. Because many people never even knew about Hempress Sativa until that morning we [went] out there to shoot the video. So it was just one way of connecting with the people out there.

Q: They seemed to be very into the song for sure.

Hempress Sativa: The amount of support I got that day [was incredible]; we had people saying, “Oh Hempress, you want to use my cart? You want to use my cart?”

Q: Cool. Now if you had to describe to somebody what the major vibe and message of Boom Shakalak is, how would you describe it?

Hempress Sativa: I would describe it as a nostalgic new era of roots, rock reggae. It’s basically me wanting to preserve the thing that I grew up in, dancehall culture. And the dancehall culture that I’m making reference to is not the genre that I know that people would know of as dancehall. Dancehall used to be a place that is a hall where they used to have dance.

Q: Big sound? Big amplifiers? Big speakers?

Hempress Sativa: Yes, stacked up. And a selector is there playing vinyl records. So that is something that I want to preserve. And [so] we incorporated a big sound system in the video as well. And the dancing aspect –

Q: I love that.

Hempress Sativa: Yeah, [I wanted to] show people you can dance and have a good time. Where you don’t have to be lewd. You don’t have to be slack. You don’t have to be gyrating in such a way where you give a negative energy.

Q: There’s a very cool vibe to the video.

Hempress Sativa:  Yeah, it’s just relaxed.

Q: A blog on your website indicates [Boom Shakalak] will be featured on your next album. What can you tell the fans about [this] second album that you’re working on? How far along are you in putting together another album? And can you say, if you know, when folks can start [looking for it]?

Hempress Sativa:  The album will be out in January 2020. Featured on the album we’ll have a lot of collaborations. The album is very relaxed. You can look for a lot of singing on this album, and just more cool melodies. More catchy songs.

Q: In 2013 you told the Jamaica Observer that you think favoritism amongst disc jockeys is “hurting artists” and “keeping artists down.” Also, a year ago, in an interview with “Gibbo,” –

Hempress Sativa:  Yes.

Q: – you said, “Sometimes this reggae industry is cliquish.” I wondered if you still feel –

Hempress Sativa: I still stand by everything that I’ve said in 2013 to this day. It has not changed.

Q: But because your star, I would say, has risen since that time; you’ve been so successful; you’ve been touring; you’ve had great[, well-attended] European [performances]. And people are really starting to learn more about Hempress Sativa. Now that you’ve become more known in the industry, do you feel that you’re more accepted?

Hempress Sativa: No. And let me tell you this: people don’t know what it takes for us to reach where we are. We’ve never been given any handout. We’ve always worked 100 percent investing our own money, investing our own resources. Sometimes going without just so we can get the music out. So we can create the studio time. Pay the band to come and record things. We don’t have no companies supporting us. And that is something that I realized, when you’re independent you have a harder time. Because you don’t have that connection to that individual over there that has the money. You don’t have their resources. You don’t have their mailing lists. You don’t have their disc jockeys on deck. You have to basically just be hoping that people are open-minded. And willing to listen to your music. And are really willing to support you. That’s why we’re grateful for the few disc jockeys who are willing to [play our music] without asking for any money. There’s a lot of “payola” in Jamaica, that is something that they don’t talk about. Enough! I’m not looking [for] any friends, I’m talking the truth. The minute we stop doing that [in Jamaica] you’ll find a lot of people come out of the shadows who’ll have wonderful talent. Where other people can listen to it and be encouraged. Those people are being drowned [out]. Dem a-drown out. Because first, they don’t have the money. And if you don’t have the money, how are you going to pay the disc jockey? If you can’t pay the disc jockey, how are you gonna get your song on the radio? And if you can’t get your song on the radio, who is going to listen to you? Give thanks to social media now. Back in the days we never had it like this now where you can [show-off your talent]. You [didn’t] have that [then]. And even then you still have algorithms which prohibit a certain reach [for] a certain artist in the same way in certain areas. So there’s always bias, in every aspect of this thing that we’re doing.

Q: Hempress, last fall I was blessed to interview Sister Carol at the first ever L.A. Reggae Vegan Fest. Now I know you “big up” Sister Carol in one of your songs, “Rock It Ina Dance”; you’ve performed with her before; she attended your album launch party; so it’s probably fair to say that she’s been an influence to you.

Hempress Sativa: Yes I!

Q: How young were you when you first met Sister Carol?

Hempress Sativa: I’ve been knowing Sister Carol since I was a little girl. Because, as I said, I grew up in the Twelve Tribes of Israel sound system, culture, [and] organization. [And] my parents would take me over there whenever [my dad] was playing to just lay down on the lawn. My mother would have us there listening to our father play [the] sound system. Sister Carol, Dennis Brown, Freddie McGregor, Brigadier Jerry, [Sister] Nancy, all of dem used to be there as a little girl growing up. These are all members of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. They come from over there. So growing up as a little girl, I knew Sister Carol because of my father. She’s someone who will always hear me out and give me full-couraging words. And I look to her as a mentor. Someone I can call up and bounce ideas off of. And she will give me words of encouragement, [and] a sense of direction. So we’re grateful for Sister Carol.

Q: Recently I described your style to someone as unique, but a bit of a cross between Sister Carol and Lauryn Hill.

Hempress Sativa: (Laughing)

Q: Would you agree that your style could be described that way?

Hempress Sativa:  People can describe a style because it’s their opinion and how they hear it, but personally for me, I think my sound is very unique. Yes, it has cadences and [resemblances] of other [artists’s] styles. Because it’s natural. I grew up with these people. [And] I love Lauryn Hill. She’s one of my favorite MCs. [And] I love Sister Carol because she’s one of the first women who came out on the dancehall scene. And they [showed] sisters can be royal. [How] sisters can be a “Black Cinderella.” So it’s natural for you to see these things bleed off in me. From me. Because they’re two people who have influenced me greatly.

Q: Sister Carol said that Brigadier Jerry had a huge influence on her career [and] that he really “instilled a courage” in her. I was curious [whether] by the same token you may have had a similar experience because Brigadier Jerry was in the background [as you were growing up], whether he would encourage you [to sing], too?

Hempress Sativa: I’ve been knowing Brigadier Jerry since I [was] a likkle girl. His son and I used to go to the same school, be in the same class. To this day we’re idrens. We’ve done music together. “Dread at the Control,” if you’ve ever heard of that song with Micah Shemiah; that’s Brigadier Jerry’s son [T.J. a.k.a. “Likkle Briggie,” too]. So he’s somebody who has influenced me, too, because mi grew up listen[ing] to my father [play his music] over and over again. So listening to him, I rate that man as the king of dancehall. That’s how I see Brigadier Jerry.

Q: I’ve started learning more about Brigadier Jerry. It seems like he was big into encouraging female artists –

Hempress Sativa: His sister is [Sister Nancy]!

Q: I [don’t think] I knew that.

Hempress Sativa: Yes! And they all used to [perform] on the Jah Love sound system – toasting!

Q: A July 3rd article published in the Gleaner [had] what I humbly thought was a paternalistic headline, “Female Artistes Encouraged to Do Their Best at Sumfest.” Because why wouldn’t they want to do their best anyway? Sumfest is of course the large reggae festival held annually each summer in Jamaica. The article went on to say that “in a lineup of predominately men” the five chosen female artists had “little room for error.” Now Hempress I know you’ve performed at Sumfest before –

Hempress Sativa: Twice.

Q: And also, last year, in an interview with Magnetic magazine, you said you were fascinated by Lauryn Hill because she “showed that a female [artist] could hold her own in a jungle of testosterone.”

Hempress Sativa: Of course.

Q: So I want to ask you the same question I asked Sister Carol: In your opinion, what are some of the things that need to happen, steps that should be taken, [and] reforms that are needed for the reggae music business to provide fairer and more equal opportunities for women performers?

Hempress Sativa: Simple. Level the playing field. Make it equal where you don’t have such a high standard set for women, and such a low standard set for men. A man can go onstage and sing any amount of foolishness and everybody will support that; the minute a girl goes onstage and [sings] lyrics full of impactful words, they don’t take her serious. They only look upon a woman as some type of object. You can go onstage and expose yourself, they don’t take your music serious[ly]. So it’s not necessarily for the woman to do anything. The industry needs to take the veil from over their face and stop pretending like they’re not doing these type of things. All over the world it’s the same thing. Even me going to a show, I’m treated with the least amount of respect that they’d give a man.

Q: So women need to stand up for themselves?

Hempress Sativa: They need to stand together. We need to stand together. We’re not less than anyone.

Q: And demand equal treatment?

Hempress Sativa: Of course. Not only us, but the people who are going to these events. [They also] need to be the ones to be vocal. Because they’re the ones that are buying the tickets, they’re the ones supporting the shows. So they have a power also, to demand more female [performers] on the lineup[s].

Q: For sure, Hempress, and respect for that. There was a lot of coverage recently about Sumfest, and there was an article about marijuana – and [this] being the first year that they had various people who support dispensaries attend[ing] Sumfest; there was a symposium they [did] a day or two before the festival [began]. And I wanted to ask you [because] you’ve been an advocate for marijuana for a long time: What are some specific things the government of Jamaica should do to ensure that Rastas – persecuted and discriminated against for so long over herb – can secure a bigger share of the profits now being reaped from marijuana?

Hempress Sativa: I think specifically for the Rastafari community, for example, the licenses that they’re issuing [are] hard to obtain. It’s too expensive. [And] there are too many requirements. Especially for the Rastafari community [that] has been persecuted, even incarcerated. You have Rastaman being abused for using the plant. I feel like if you can lock up these people, you can also expunge their records expediently. You can give them some type of incentives [and accommodations] for all the things they have been going through and [have] endured. They should be given the opportunity to have access to [a] license.

Q: It should be similar in some sense to reparations?

Hempress Sativa: Yes!

Q: Because [Rasta farmers] can’t compete in the same community with big corporations –

Hempress Sativa: The things that they’re asking for someone to run a farm should be more relaxed when it comes to the Rastafari community. Because we are the ones who have been telling people [for so long] all the wonderful medicines and uses of the [herb].

Q: And now Rastas should be the ones –

Hempress Sativa: We should be the ones to benefit before any other.

Q: Respect. Your [marijuana] advocacy has been grounded in your Rastafari background, and because of this, and because it plays a significant part [in] your music – including your stage name – you’ve often been sought out and asked [for your] opinions about herb. When were you first introduced to smoking marijuana? And was it with your parents or with someone else?

Hempress Sativa: [When] I [was] a little girl my parents used to steam the stalk of the marijuana plant in coconut milk. And [they’d] give us that as tea. [And] [s]ince I [was] a likkle baby I’ve never had any illness. I’ve never had any sickness. I’ve never once had a mental breakdown. And I can’t say this goes for everybody, but I’m telling you about me. My parents being Rasta, a lot of people will judge them, but that’s fi their opinion – they’re entitled to judge whoever they want to – but me, knowing the fullness of what the plant has done for me since I was a little girl . . . . And since I was a little girl, my parents used to give me a draw of a marijuana spliff. Yeah.

Q: Do you remember how old you were?

Hempress Sativa: 10. I used to see dem [and say,] “give me draw,” [and] they’d give me a draw. I first burn a spliff for myself, a whole entire spliff, at the age of 17. And I did that with my mother. And she said to me, “You see, you have people who don’t understand the importance of marijuana. And they mix it with all these things because they want to get a false high.” She said, “Never go out and smoke with anyone. If you want to smoke, come and [see] your mother and have [a] reasoning.” That’s how I used to smoke herb, with my mother. She’s the first person that I actually sat and rolled a spliff with. And we burned a spliff and reasoned about His Imperial Majesty.

Q: As a mother, have you given a lot of thought to the way you’re going to introduce your son to smoking herb, and do you have an opinion about how old a child should be –

Hempress Sativa: I don’t smoke herb with my child. My child [doesn’t] even mind that I smoke. I don’t want to give him the impression that because my parents did – [it was] easier for me, [because] we [were] growing up in different times. Different types of herbs being grown now. I don’t want to make [a] mistake and jeopardize my son’s future. Just because of my opinion. I wouldn’t give [herb] to my child. People mentally develop different now. Back in the days it was more of a spiritual thing. The herb was more organic then. There wasn’t so many fertilizers, so many chemicals. You used to get the purest form of the herb. So you got the purest vibration out of the herb. It’s different now. There’s many different strains of herb. Many hybrids. You have to know what you are getting into. And my son, he is here in America. So I don’t want him to get involved in so many different types of herbs. You have so many false, synthetic herbs. You have to be very careful.

Q: You were part of a documentary celebrating and talking about herb with Bushman and Jah9 not too long ago. And in that documentary, Jah9 talked for some time about how once she began smoking herb out of a steam chalice, she began steaming exclusively; she said she won’t smoke herb any other way. How do you prefer to smoke herb, and especially for Americans and non-Rasta readers, can you explain or describe how smoking out of a [steam] chalice compares to a different way of smoking?

Hempress Sativa: This is what I want people to understand: don’t get too caught up in what you a-see artists a-do. Because not everyone is doing it the right way. I see people steaming herbs – and steaming herbs requires you to have either coconut or calabash or a bamboo bottom. You’re supposed to put a certain amount of water in it to engage the herb. [And] there’s a gauge that separates the herb from the coal that is on top. So when they draw the heat from the coal, it opens up the trichomes in the herbs. So you better get to the root of it by finding the elders who can really show you the fullness. Because what I realized with the steam chalice, [in] my opinion, many people are using it incorrectly. Because if you’re steaming the herbs there’s no way you’re supposed to be burning the herb and getting any level of smoke out of it. And the herb is being charred. So people have to be very careful. People just want to say they are steaming the herbs; they have to be doing it the right way for me to take them serious.

Q: If you do [steam] the right way, and you have all the proper equipment, is that the superior way to smoke?

Hempress Sativa: That is one of the most superior ways to smoke.  

Q: In your song “Skin Teeth” – a dope riff on Horace Andy’s “See A Man’s Face” – that you sang tonight, about backstabbers, fake people, and fake friends, you sing “steam chalice and post for the Instagram post.”

Hempress Sativa: Uh-huh.

Q: Which made me think that similar to fake Rastas, who nonetheless grow dreadlocks and claim they are about Rasta and “one love,” that there are some people who will in the same way, adopt the steam chalice and use that image superficially or falsely, to claim a Rasta identity.

Hempress Sativa: Not necessarily. What I was making a reference to is a person and a friend – a friendship. Because [you have] many people who you steam chalice with. You have many people who you sit down and you break bread with. Who you’re driving in your car together with and you’re having all these conversations with. Just [about] regular life and your family. You invest so much time in a friendship. And then at the end of the day it amounts to naught because they have no good intent for you. So that is what we’re talking about. These people who post on Instagram [etcetera] and you call them your “friends”; these are the people you have to be very careful of.

Q: Right. They might be using you.

Hempress Sativa: Exactly.

Q: In [your song] “Rock It Ina Dance” and even more so in “Natty Dread,” your [sizzling] collaboration with Ranking Joe, you sing about wearing “Clark” boots and “dressing well-clean.” Now I’ve heard Protoje and other Rasta artists promote Clarks in their music before and honestly, if I imagined an army of Rastas, they’d all be wearing Clarks. But when, [and] how, [and why] did Clark boots become an essential component of a Rastaman or Rasta-woman’s footwear?

Hempress Sativa: Clark boots [are] not necessarily what Rastas are wearing, but that comes from the dancehall culture. From way back in the days. Man a-toast. Man [have] a nice pants-length, an “Arrow” shirt, and Clarks boots, looking very clean and dapper. So that is where it comes from. It’s a cultural expression of Jamaican people.

Q: Respect.

Hempress Sativa: Because we like to look clean, we like to look well-nice.

Q: Dressed up for the dancehall?

Hempress Sativa: For the dancehall. Because it was a way of expressing yourself. Showing your own style. You have some who used to wear the diamond socks – so everyone expressed themselves through dem fashion.

Q: And when you come onstage you’re always dressed to the nines.

Hempress Sativa: Well it’s important to me, you know? Because I want to make people know how important Africa is on a daily basis for me. So I like to wear the African garments fi make the black people know, we’re special too. We need to remember our heritage, our culture, where we’re coming from.

Q: Hempress, there was an editorial recently in the Gleaner called “Hair Today.” It [commended] California for passing a new law that bans discrimination against black people who wear their hair naturally in braids, locks, afros, and other hairstyles. The editorial ended [by noting] “from time to time, the issue has surfaced in Jamaica, particularly in schools where administrators have frowned on dreadlocks as a form of improper grooming.” As a Rasta woman and mother living in Jamaica, how widespread or rampant does discrimination against Rastas – at schools, in the workplace, out in public, in the government – still occur in Jamaica?

Hempress Sativa: It still occurs, especially in schools. So for example, I wanted to get my son into a school in Jamaica. And one of the first things I had to ask them was whether they would accept him with [his] locks. Because I’ve taken my son to schools already and they’ve basically denied him; he met all the criteria, but because of his hair [they said] it would have been a problem. And when they gave a reason, it made no sense.

Q: That’s terrible.

Hempress Sativa: They said they wanted to differentiate the boys from the girls. I said that is so stupid. Because hair shouldn’t be what differentiates anybody. Hair is something natural growing from your body.

Q: Will the school system do anything if you were to go and complain?

Hempress Sativa: When you complain to the Ministry of Education they do nothing. Especially when it’s a private school.

Q: What should the government and good conscientious people of Jamaica do to stamp out discrimination that still lingers against Rastas in Jamaica?

Hempress Sativa: The government needs to put legislation and laws in place that protects Rastafari people and Rastafari culture. That’s something they can do. Also the people after going so long inna Jamaica knowing all the things that Rastafari has [stood] for need to [have] the initiative to speak up. Because when you look, Rasta culture brings all the tourists [to] Jamaica. Rasta culture bleeds out inna reggae music that everybody loves so much. And Rasta culture help[ed] to bring out the culture of dancehall where all these people gravitate to. So in essence, Rastafari people should be protected.

 

The post Hempress Sativa: “Rastafari Should be Protected” appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Joie-de-Job: Staying High, at Work

On listening to Alabama Shakes frontwoman and three-time Grammy winner Brittany Howard’s “Stay High,” an early release from her debut solo album Jamie due out next Friday, I thought of Matsuo Bansho’s sixteenth-century haiku: “Beginning of all art / a song when planting a rice field / in the country’s inmost part.” Perhaps implied in those three lines is the fulfillment of work done not just in the natural world, but in harmony with it. Bansho’s voice calls from a vanished time before our separation from that world.

The title of Howard’s “Stay High” might suggest an ode to drugs. However irresistible, even addictive the song is, the Sacklers of Purdue Pharma aren’t likely to try and buy the rights to it. The song is about the joys of living, not with opioids, but thanks to work and family and community—that last word so abused by politicians and pundits that its rehabilitation in this song can only be partial.

Effortlessly it seems, the song makes its irrepressible case for good feeling. But it is the video that brightens away any possible ambiguity that might creep past the music’s glowing enchantments.

The video, shot on location in Howard’s home town of Athens, Alabama, will be seen and heard by many as a corrective to visions of a racially divided south that are projected not just by the current president but by many of his critics. Howard is the child of a mixed marriage that made her the sometime target of bigotry as a child. She has certainly earned the right to loft a hymn to unity in her hometown and beyond it.

The video, which as of this morning had tallied six million hits, begins with a close-up of a mid-century clock. Alongside, it employee time cards await punching. Ambient sounds of a factory accompany blurry background images of hard-hatted workers. Shots of long-armed robots working at super-human speed are intercut with humans at their tasks. One machine fills up fifty-pound sacks of poultry feed next to a man who seals the bags. Another worker sweeps the floor. All these jobs are a few ticks away from being automated out of existence. Even the happy music can’t allay these ominous visual tones. The robots don’t quit for the evening.

The clock goes five: a reasonable, even old-fashioned nine-to-five, plenty-long-enough-already workday.

Quitting time is the cue for the music to start. Rhythmic guitar chords start us off at a pleasant pace, not running from the job site but ambling towards evening above a friendly bass line. Above this plush, a tiny bells ring out a precious melody. Only the hard-hearted will be able to suppress a smile.

Shuffling towards the camera, saying goodbye to boss and co-workers, comes the video’s central figure, based on Howard’s father. According to Howard, he’s the unofficial mayor of Athens, beloved by all, a font of humor and goodwill, a man who loves to dance. This warmth is confirmed by his cheery cameo in the video.

The actor playing this central part is middle-aged, powerful and fit. He looks like an NFL linebacker because he was one: Terry Crews, retired football player turned actor, former host of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire and more recently, emcee of America’s Got Talent, in addition to various dramatic roles. I’ve always found it odd that the first of these shows chops the question mark from its title. Why? The answer is too obvious: almost everyone who isn’t one already. Crews, too, is a generous onscreen presence, though it might grate on some that this winner in the celebrity economy, a man who presides over the plucking of those other precious few to share in some of the spoils, should be the one having a jolly time at his work: he can afford it.

After punching and saying his goodbyes, Crews makes it to the daylight beyond the factory door and begins lip-synching to Howard’s singing. Crews’ bonafides as master of the art come in the form of his championship belt from Lip Sync Battle.

He breaks into song in a euphoric falsetto: it’s an endearing ploy, the burly worker’s voice rising like a feather above the industrial fray. What he/she sings as he passes by the foreman (played by Howard in one of many of her own cameos in the video) on the way to his pick-up is another witty inversion—unlikely praise of the wage-slave slog just concluded: “I already feel like doing it again, honey.”

The factory’s three enormous silos of the facility dwarf him. It belongs to Aviagen, a corporation claiming itself as “the world’s leading poultry meat science company”; the facility in Athens “is the only bio-secure feed mill in the United States,” one committed to “pathogen-free’ production.” That explains the guy sweeping in the video. The only thing that’s contagious at this chicken coop is Crews’ joie-de-job.

Later Howard/Crews qualifies this declaration of love:

We work hard and grind and hustle all day
(Yes, we do)
There comes a time, there comes a time
At night, where we get to play.

In the gig economy of today’s America that time gets ever shorter. The unhurried rapture of the song works in dissonant counterpoint to the harried, cacophonic pace of millions trying to make ends meet.

Crews must suffer no teeth-grinding traffic and nerve-fraying encounters as he makes his way. To the chorus, “I just want to stay high with you,” he crosses the steel frame bridge over the coffined Tennessee River. As presented in this video the landscape is not much blighted, though the skeletal remains of a wooden barn alongside rusty silos capture the state to which agro-biz giants like Aviagen have pushed the American family farm, already receding into a past as mythic Bansho’s rice paddy.

Still behind the wheel, he/she meows disapprovingly at the dark and downcast—presumably those without Aviagen jobs:

‘Cause where I come from
Everybody frowns and walks around
With that ugly thing on their face.

We do not see any of these people in the video’s images of this very place of frowns: in the song’s Athens there are only smiles elicited by Howard’s euphoric melodies.

Crews stops by the Hometown Grocery. In the parking lot, black and white kids hang out and get the beat; mom and daughter sing along while loading their food into their trunk. Inside the well-lit, well-stocked store more folks join in: these are the real townsfolk putting their best face and voice forward for these precious seconds of celebrity. The cashier lane lights flash to the ding of those happy bells. There’s not a food stamp in sight.

Every spirit is raised: every grave in the city cemetery sighted from the pick-up window is adorned with fresh carnations. A personalized green light waves the pick-up into main street with its lovely brick facades. There’s a song line outside the soft-serve ice cream place. The coffee shop where Crews picks up pastries is filled with jolly customers even after five o’clock; out front Howard’s dad is greeted by the actor who plays him with a neighborly dance move.

The singing pick-up driver continues past folks not sequestered from the sultry summer evening inside in the air conditioning, but instead enjoying the street view from their porches. Come twilight even the cops have joined the dance party outside the ice cream shop.

The coda keeps cycling through “I just want to stay high,” like a prayer for that feeling to endure in eternity, Crews drives past a row of cottages with weather-beaten siding and patched up roofs, finally pulling up alongside a chain-link fence. Brown paper grocery bag under his arm like an inflate-gate football, his kids run to hug him. On the porch his white wife smiles at his return. Never mind that Crews lives in a vast McMansion in Santa Clarita as well as a fortress in the sky in downtown L.A.

Stay High is a utopian song, Panglossian pop that artfully, ecstatically, evades reality. But there is truth in it, too. The voice of the rice planter is still in us. On rare occasions it sings.

The post Joie-de-Job: Staying High, at Work appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Four Storms of the Apocalypse: Katrina, Sandy, Maria and Dorian.

Photograph Source: Hurricane Dorian as seen from the International Space Station – CC BY 2.0

The history of the United States remains shrouded in the fog of myth and overlain by the mists of time. Here in the stygian gloom, its founding looms as the triumph of freedom over tyranny; its slaveholding the reasonable exploitation of an inferior race; its civil war the singular triumph of a great president; its period of reconstruction proof that former slaves were not ready to take their place in the country’s democratic institutions; and in Jim Crow a return to the natural order. Here, the great wealth of this country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is viewed as the result of American entrepreneurial genius and technical wizardry rather than its founding on the flagellated backs of African slaves.

Out of this venerable gloom, the Roaring Twenties shimmer as the best of times; the Great Depression rises up as a proving ground for the spirit and resourcefulness of the white population in tough times; the New Deal is established as the benevolent assurance of universal welfare; and, after Japan’s dastardly attack on Pearl Harbor, American industrial might and its greatest generation appear as the sole reason for the Allied victory in WWII. Its economic boom after the war is visible as the just fruit of that victory; its wars in Korea and Vietnam limned as vital to maintaining its freedom; its bestowal of Civil Rights upon African Americans faint proof of this country’s generosity and inclusivity.

Even in the obscuring miasma of the fog of (cold) war, the fall of the Soviet Union is seen as the result, once more, of America’s freedom triumphing over tyranny; financial deregulation and globalization (and their corollary of devastating ‘structural adjustments’) appear as a beneficent effort to spread prosperity to all; the vision of the 9/11 attack by the dark forces of Islamic extremism is brightly etched; the nation’s response coruscates as a bloody crusade undertaken across the Middle East, Asia and Africa to rout the terrorists and preserve the sanctity and freedom of our Christian homeland. Now, when myth is hastily promulgated by social and corporate media, we perceive the homeland as threatened by menacing nation states – Russia, China, or Mexico and its neighbors in Central America, selected for demonization according to one’s partisan taste – all gathering at our real or virtual borders threatening our security, our prosperity, our democracy and, once again, our most precious heritage – our freedom.

Our mythic history is thus played out on an epic scale unto the ends of the earth – where the forces of liberty must constantly renew themselves if they are to hold oppression and tyranny at bay within the precious homeland. Yet this is a history that does not yet take account of a new actor raging across the existential battlefields where our holy sacraments (most obviously, the right-to-bear-arms, the Stars and Stripes, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star-spangled Banner) are the visible, aural and moral evidence of our God-given grace – which we must daily defend against the secular forces of evil. Global Warming is newly arrived on the stage – no longer just a part of the scenery, as Latour has it, or at best a ‘mechanical’ but now with a big speaking part. Strangely, this epochal and newly verbose character has yet to acquire mythic status within our nation’s historical saga.

If the phenomenon of Global Warming were instantiated as ‘The Four Storms of the Apocalypse’, for instance, though already suitably anthropomorphized by The World Meteorological Organization as Katrina, Sandy, Maria and Dorian, might it then mediate the phenomenon’s mythic enshrinement and substantiate its historical gravity? For they are the storms, spread across fourteen years, that have morphed into a tentacular Shiva, the destroyer of all things.

Surely the imagery of a flooded New Orleans and the terrifying swamp of a refugee camp that the Superdome became are seared into the nation’s cerebrum, alongside the inane flippancy of our then president, George W. Bush? Who of us can forget Lower Manhattan, the seat of the global neoliberal order, sinking beneath a full moon and a Frankenstorm surge in 2012? The tragedy of Puerto Rico continues to unfold after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, and once again an inane President, this time Donald Trump, provided us with a horrifying picture of a lack of governmental gravitas, with his paper towel toss. Now comes Dorian, still marauding along the East coast as I write, having devastated Grand Bahama and the Abaco islands. When will Global Warming and the storms it spawns rise to the mythic level of a 9/11? The combined death toll of just these four storms, all within the American sphere of influence, far exceeds that of the Al Qaeda attack, and the human misery they have caused is incalculable.

A quick Google search for Weather Terrorism reveals two referrals to pieces of mine in Counterpunch, here and here and then to a site that promises to reveal all – “As the CIA pretends to know what is going on, the world is waiting for the real answer to the question: Who is controlling our weather?” Most reputable scientists know the answer in some detail even if our President protests his innocence of it, and even more alarmingly, of the question.

As a nation that professes a profound reverence for the Christian religion, perhaps we should seek mythic resonance in the Bible. Metastasized weather phenomena certainly find a place in Biblical Mythology. I have already referenced the final chapters of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, wherein the Lamb of God (Jesus) opens a scroll secured by seven seals. Opening the first four seals reveals four riders on, respectively, a

white, red, black and pale horse, which are taken to symbolize Conquest, War, Drought induced Famine and Death, each an element of the Christian Apocalypse which presages the Final Judgment. Daunting roles for Katrina, Sandy, Maria and Dorian but not entirely incommensurate with their awesome powers of destruction.

Both Elizabeth Rush in Rising: Dispatches from the American Shore, 2019, and Jeff Goodell, in The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities and the Remaking of the Civilized World, 2017, reference what Goodell calls ‘the oldest story ever told’ – which he suggests, has its genesis in the breaching of the landmass between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea – what is now the Bosporus Strait. Given the disparity in levels between the higher Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the latter rose by over 300 feet in two years, flooding, by some estimates, 25,000 square miles and giving rise to the flood story in The Epic of Gilgamesh, written some two thousand years before the Bible.

Rush notes that Noah’s flood was initiated by God’s anger at the unprecedented population growth occurring, we can presume, at some point after the invention of agriculture, and in his wrath, he caused it to rain without cease. We now know that a massive increase in the burning of fossil fuels, linked to the industrial revolution in Britain, was initiated some time in the 1840’s and has since resulted in epic population growth and growing prosperity together with extinction levels of carbon in the planet’s atmosphere and oceans.

Since 1880, when the data were first reliably recorded, average global sea level rise is about nine inches. Today, we suffer not the cataclysmic rage of a vengeful god but death by these inches, where small increases in ocean levels are transforming islands, seashores and estuaries across the planet – creating wet slums, homelessness and the loss of livelihoods nurtured over the centuries in what once were relatively stable shoreline ecosystems. Meanwhile, warming seas, where most of the planet’s heat increase resides, are supercharging hurricanes to unprecedented levels of intensity (Dorian recently joined Maria and Katrina as a Category 5 storm) and to unremitting levels of frequency.

This is the environmental epic of our age. It is, as far as we know, of anthropogenic rather than divine origin, yet any effective response must include infrastructural landscapes (either hardening or softening the shore) and the resettling of threatened populations, at Biblical scales. Such heroic strategies can only be made manifest if the phenomenon they attempt to ameliorate is likewise understood at a mythic scale. In this country, Global Warming must now join the pantheon of high dramas that illuminate (even in the twilight of historical memory) this nation’s story.

The alternative is to have The Book of Global Warming, or perhaps The Book of Fossil Capital appended at the very end of our civilizational saga.

The post The Four Storms of the Apocalypse: Katrina, Sandy, Maria and Dorian. appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Yemen Continues Its Descent into Hell

Photograph Source: Julien Harneis from Sana’a, Yemen – CC BY-SA 2.0

There are really only two sides to the war in Yemen. There are the unarmed civilians. And there’s everyone else. The civilians are losing. Badly.

The 2011 democratic uprising in Yemen, part of the Arab Spring, succeeded in forcing out Yemen’s longtime dictator President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saleh was succeeded by his vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. In 2014, a civil war broke out which pitted Yemen’s Houthi rebels against President Hadi’s government. Between 2014 and 2015, the Houthis gradually took control of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. Hadi fled the country in 2015 and is in exile in Saudi Arabia. In response, a military coalition led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began bombing the country in March 2015 with the declared aim of restoring Hadi. The Saudi-led coalition receives assistance from the US, UK, and France while the Houthis are backed by Iran. (The Houthis appointed an ambassador to Tehran last month.) ISIS and Al-Qaeda are also active in Yemen.

The UN has called Yemen the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” Yemen relies on imports for 75% of its food. A coalition land, sea, and air blockade on Yemen has cut off desperately needed food and medicines. An outbreak of cholera affects half a million people. International aid group Save the Children has determined that as many as 85,000 children may have died from starvation and disease.

All of the belligerents, both domestic and foreign, have committed rapes, torture, extrajudicial executions and detentions, and have conducted indiscriminate attacks on civilians. These findings appear in a report to be presented this week to the UN Human Rights Council, but they will not be news to anyone who has followed the conflict. The UN panel which produced the report—the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen—has given Human Rights Council chief Michelle Bachelet a list of 160 undisclosed persons which the panel recommends be prosecuted for war crimes.

US Role

Since 2015, the US has been assisting the Saudi-led coalition with target spotting, intelligence sharing, and (until November 2018) in-flight refueling of coalition aircraft. Many of the bombs dropped on innocent Yemenis are supplied by the US, such as the bomb which killed 40 Yemeni schoolchildren in a Saudi airstrike on a school bus on August 9, 2018. Examination of bomb fragments found at the scene disclosed that the bomb was manufactured by US defense contractor Lockheed Martin. One of the justifications President Trump gives for US involvement in the Yemen war is the need to maintain US arms sales to the Saudis.

President Barack Obama took the US into Yemen’s civil war in order to throw a bone to the Gulf States which had opposed his nuclear deal with Iran. Trump, who has done his best to reverse all of Obama’s other policies, has perversely continued US involvement in Yemen. In doing so, Trump has been opposed even by prominent members of his own party, such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

On April 16, 2019, President Trump vetoed a Congressional resolution which invoked the 1973 War Powers Resolution and would have forced the US to terminate assistance to the Saudi-led coalition. The 53 to 45 vote in the Senate which followed on May 2 fell short of the two-thirds supermajority needed to override a presidential veto.

Undeterred, Congress is making another attempt to end the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, this time using Congress’ power of the purse. In July, the House passed amendment 26 to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The Khanna-Smith-Schiff-Jayapal amendment blocks intelligence sharing, logistical assistance, and the transfer of spare parts used in coalition warplanes.

Will the Khanna-Smith-Schiff-Jayapal amendment survive in the Republican-controlled Senate? Probably not. Not a single Republican had the guts to vote in favor of the House version of the NDAA. Nevertheless, a bipartisan group of more than 40 legislators from both chambers has written the leaders of the House and Senate armed services committees urging that the Khanna-Smith amendment be retained in the final form of the NDAA.

The Trump Administration maintains that a negotiated settlement, not unilateral US withdrawal, is the way to end the war in Yemen. The Wall Street Journal reported on August 27 that the Trump Administration is seeking the first ever direct talks between the US and Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

The problem with talks, as Bonnie Kristian writes in The American Conservative, is that “Talks are good, but their outcome and timeline are uncertain. It could be months or even years before a deal is reached * * * .” (She might have added: “or never.”) She’s right. Several rounds of talks between the Houthis and the Yemeni government have already been held, but the war goes on. US withdrawal could end the war tomorrow.

The South Will Rise Again

A fissure has opened in the Saudi-UAE coalition. In a surprise to the Saudis, the UAE announced in July that it was pulling most of its forces from Yemen. In addition, the Saudis and Emiratis back opposing forces in Yemen. While the Saudis back the officially-recognized government of President Hadi, the UAE backs a revived separatist movement in Yemen’s south. Before unification in 1990, north and south were two countries: the northern Yemen Arab Republic and the southern People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. The marriage of the two countries has not been a happy one, with the south rankling under the domination of the north. The southern separatist movement constitutes a second civil war within the larger civil war centered in the north between the Hadi government and Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

After the Houthis took Sana’a in 2015, the Yemeni government moved its capital to the southern port city of Aden. In August, Southern separatists wrested control of Aden from the Hadi government. The Hadi government blamed connivance by the UAE, which the UAE denies. Fighting outside Aden continues between Saudi- and UAE-backed militias. On August 29, Emirati warplanes attacked government-backed forces trying to retake Aden.

That’s about as obvious as a rift can get. Nevertheless, the Saudis and the UAE are publicly trying to keep up the appearance of a unified coalition as Yemen totters on the brink of fracturing permanently. Whatever happens, unless the war ends, the people of Yemen will be the losers.

 

The post Yemen Continues Its Descent into Hell appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Netanyahu Risks Triggering an Unwinnable War to Avoid Losing Election

Photograph Source: Israel Police – CC BY-SA 3.0

Nazareth.

Every Israeli prime minister – not least Benjamin Netanyahu – understands that a military entanglement with Hezbollah, Lebanon’s armed Shia movement on Israel’s northern border, is a dangerous wager, especially during an election campaign.

It was Shimon Peres who lost to Netanyahu in 1996, weeks after the former prime minister had incensed Israel’s Palestinian minority – a fifth of the population – by savagely attacking Lebanon in a futile bid to improve his military, and electoral, standing.

Lebanon proved a quagmire for Ehud Olmert too, after he launched a war in 2006 that demonstrated how exposed Israel’s northern communities were to Hezbollah’s rockets. The fallout helped pave Netanyahu’s path to victory and his second term as prime minister three years later.

Netanyahu has faced off with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah for the full 13 years he has been in power. But unlike his political rivals, he has preferred to play a cautious hand with his Lebanese opponent.

Which makes a recent spate of drone attacks by Israel across the region, including in Lebanon, all the more surprising, even in the context of a highly contested election due to take place next week. During the campaign, Netanyahu has been buffeted by yet more corruption allegations.

According to the Israeli media, two drones dispatched over Beirut late last month were intended to destroy Iranian-supplied equipment that would allow Hezbollah to manufacture precision-guided missiles.

It was the first such Israeli attack on Lebanese soil since a ceasefire ended the 2006 war. Hezbollah and Israel have preferred to flex their muscles in neighbouring Syria, weakened after more than eight years of war.

The attack outraged Lebanon’s leaders, with Nasrallah warning that Hezbollah would shoot down any Israeli drones encroaching on Lebanese airspace. He also vowed revenge, which finally came a week ago when Hezbollah fired at an Israeli military vehicle carrying five soldiers close to the border. Israel said there were no casualties.

That was followed by Hezbollah shooting down an Israeli drone in southern Lebanon early on Monday. The Israeli army confirmed the drone had been on a “routine mission” when, it claimed, it fell in Lebanese territory.

In retaliation for last week’s attack, Israel shelled Hezbollah positions, a clash Israeli media described as being a “hair’s breadth” from escalating into all-out war.

Neither Israel nor Hezbollah appear to want such an outcome. Both understand the likely heavy toll in casualties and the damaging political consequences.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu appears to be stoking a fire he might ultimately struggle to control – and not just in Lebanon. Around the time of the Beirut attack, Israeli drones were also in action in Iraq and Syria.

First, Israel hit a building near Damascus, killing two Hezbollah operatives. According to Israel, they were working with Iranian forces to prepare a drone attack on the Golan Heights, Syrian territory annexed by Israel in violation of international law.

Then a day later, more Israeli drones – apparently launched from Azerbaijan – targeted depots housing Iranian weapons close to the Iraqi-Syrian border.

More strikes occurred early this week when 18 people were reportedly killed on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq, and a further 21 Iraqis died a day later in an explosion in Iraq’s Anbar province.

There have been reports of more than half a dozen such attacks since mid-July. They are the first known Israeli strikes on Iraq’s territory in four decades.

The running thread in these various incidents – apart from Israel’s violation of each country’s sovereignty – is Iran.

Until recently, Israel had launched regular forays deep into Syrian airspace to target what it said was the transport through Syria of long-range precision missiles supplied by Iran to Hezbollah, its Shia ally in Lebanon.

Hezbollah and Iran view this growing stockpile of precision weapons – capable of hitting key military installations in Israel – as a vital restraint on Israel’s freedom to attack its neighbours.

Over the past year, Israel’s ability to hit missile convoys as they pass through Syria has narrowed as Bashar Al Assad has regained control of Syrian territory and installed more sophisticated, Russian-made air defences.

Now Israel appears to be targeting the two ends of the supply chain, from deliveries dispatched in Iraq to their receipt in Lebanon. In the words of Netanyahu, Iran “is not immune anywhere”.

The US has not taken kindly to Israel’s actions in Iraq, fearing that a local backlash could endanger the 5,000 troops it has stationed there and push Iraq further into Iran’s arms. In response, the Pentagon issued a statement condemning “actions by external actors inciting violence in Iraq”.

So what is Netanyahu up to? Why risk provoking a dangerous clash with Hezbollah and alienating his strongest asset, a supportive US administration headed by Donald Trump, at this critical moment in the election campaign?

The answer could be that he feels he has little choice.

The same weekend that Israel launched its wave of attacks across the region, French President Emmanuel Macron engineered an unexpected visit by Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to the G7 summit in Biarritz.

It was part of efforts by Macron, and Europe more generally, to encourage Trump to repair relations with Tehran after the US pulled out of the 2015 nuclear agreement last year and reimposed sanctions. Netanyahu has taken credit for the administration’s tough stance.

Now he has been jolted by Trump’s apparent willingness to reconsider, possibly to protect shipping lanes and oil supplies in the Gulf from Iranian disruption, just as the US president seeks re-election.

Any U-turn would conflict sharply with Netanyahu’s agenda. Domestically he has long presented Iran as the ultimate bogeyman, hellbent on gaining a nuclear bomb to destroy Israel. His strongman image has been built on his supposed triumph both in reining in Tehran and recruiting the Trump administration to his cause.

If Trump indicates a readiness for rapprochement with Iran before polling day, Netanyahu’s narrative is sunk – and the corruption allegations he faces are likely to take a stronger hold on the public imagination.

That was why, as he headed to London last Thursday, Netanyahu issued a barely veiled rebuke to Trump: “This is not the time to talk to Iran.”

It might also be why a report in the New York Times last week suggested that Israel is contemplating a risky, go-it-alone strike on Iran, something Netanyahu has reportedly been mulling for several years.

Presenting them this week as “new revelations”, he also recycled old claims of Iranian nuclear activity predating the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and the US.

Certainly, Netanyahu has every interest in using attacks like the recent ones to provoke a reaction from Iran in the hope of pre-empting any US overture.

It is a high-stakes gamble and one that risks setting off a conflagration should Netanyahu overplay his hand. These are desperate times for Israel’s longest-serving but increasingly embattled prime minister.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

The post Netanyahu Risks Triggering an Unwinnable War to Avoid Losing Election appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Nonviolence Denial Is As Dangerous As Climate Denial

Photograph Source: EdJF – CC BY-SA 4.0

Persistent willful ignorance of necessary knowledge can be deadly. This is true of denial of climate collapse. It is also true of denial of the tools and power of nonviolent action. As evidence and knowledge pile up in each case, denial of the facts looks more and more intentional, reckless, and malevolent, or intentionally, recklessly, and malevolently manufactured by propagandists.

“We need to burn more oil or suffer horribly” is slowly being recognized as a vicious deception, as more and more people come to understand that we need to burn less oil or suffer horribly. “We need to dump more money into war preparations or suffer horribly” is the same type of statement. The notion that a population must be prepared to fight off an invasion and occupation violently or do nothing may someday be understood as on a par with “We need to eat the roasted flesh of livestock or eat nothing.” Some of us grasp that there are other things to eat. Refusing to grasp that there are other ways to resist a military is daily becoming a more irrational act.

Here is a collection of resources on this point. I’d like to highlight the two latest additions to it: Social Defence by Jørgen Johansen and Brian Martin, and Shut It Down by Lisa Fithian.

The authors of Social Defence define social defense as “nonviolent community resistance to repression and aggression, as an alternative to military forces.” They mean using rallies, strikes, boycotts, and all the thousands of nonviolent tools. Other names for social defense include nonviolent defense, civilian-based defense, and defense by civil resistance. This book provides the case against military defense, and a guide to training for and engaging in social defense. It also provides case studies of times when social defense has been used, and used with some success even without proper training and organization.

Needless to say, roughly half the world’s military spending is by a single country that is under no threat of being occupied but has, on the contrary, attacked and occupied numerous other countries. Yet, ironically, it is a U.S. audience that may most need to gain nonviolent enlightenment, since the propaganda of military defense supports the military spending which generates the distant wars of aggression. For these reasons, it’s important to study how military spending and preparations actually make countries into targets rather than protecting them, and how military propaganda about enemies distracts from the use of armed force to defend anti-democratic rulers from their own people. Not only is the U.S. arming three-quarters of the world’s dictatorships, but it has armed itself heavily against popular grievances at home.

Johansen and Martin address popular fears of mass slaughter by a foreign invader, by pointing out that most wars never involve any intention of genocide, and that genocides almost always happen within a country and with the support of military forces. Social defense both removes the need for a military and provides people with a means of resisting an attack. While two dozen small nations have abolished their militaries, no nation has replaced its military with, or even created alongside its military, a department of social defense. Nonetheless, people have spontaneously and haphazardly used social defense successfully, demonstrating its enormous potential. Studies of numerous campaigns resisting oppressive governments have shown nonviolence to be more effective than violence, to be the stronger tool to which one must “resort.” But most such studies do not focus on foreign occupations and coups. Johansen and Martin do.

Social Defence examines German resistance to French occupation in 1923, and Czechoslovakian resistance to Soviet occupation in 1968, making the case that these partial successes could have been more successful with advanced preparation.

When French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr in 1923, “The German government called on its citizens to resist the occupation by what was called, at the time, ‘passive resistance,’ namely resistance without physical violence. The key resistance tactic was to refuse to obey orders from the French occupiers. This was costly: thousands who ignored orders were arrested and tried by military tribunals, which handed out heavy fines and prison sentences. There were also protests, boycotts and strikes. The resistance had many facets. The French demanded that owners of coal mines provide them coal and coke. When negotiations broke down, the German negotiators were arrested and court martialled. . . . Civil servants resisted. The German government said they should refuse to obey instructions from the occupiers. Some civil servants were tried for insubordination and given long prison sentences. Others were expelled from the Ruhr; over the course of 1923 nearly 50,000 civil servants were expelled. Transport workers resisted. The French-Belgian occupiers tried to run the railways. Only 400 Germans agreed to work for the new administration, compared to 170,000 who worked in the railways prior to the occupation.”

When the Soviet military invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, “There were huge demonstrations. There was a one-hour general strike on 22 August. Graffiti, posters and leaflets were used to publicise the resistance. A few individuals sat down in front of tanks. Farmers and shopkeepers refused to provide supplies to the invading troops. Staff at Prague airport cut off central services. The Czechoslovak radio network allowed synchronous broadcasting from many locations across the country. . . The Soviets brought in radio-jamming equipment by train. When this information was broadcast, workers held up the train at a station. Next it was stopped on the main line due to an electricity failure. Finally it was shunted onto a branch line where it was blocked by locomotives at both ends. . . . Announcers told how to avoid detection, harm and arrest, including details of when particular individuals were being hunted. To make the KGB’s job more difficult, citizens removed house numbers and took down or covered over street signs. . . . An effective part of the resistance involved local people talking to the invading soldiers, engaging them in conversation, explaining why they were protesting. Some soldiers had falsely been told there was a capitalist takeover in Czechoslovakia; some of them thought they were in Ukraine or East Germany. . . . For the invading troops, the combination of being met with strong arguments while being refused food and normal social relationships was upsetting, possibly leading some troops to be deliberately inefficient.”

What were the outcomes of these campaigns of social defense avant la lettre?

People nonviolently turned public opinion in Britain, the U.S., and even in Belgium and France, in favor of the occupied Germans. By international agreement, through the Dawes Commission, 95 years ago this week, the French troops were withdrawn.

Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring lasted a week. “Dubcek, Svoboda, and other Czechoslovak political leaders were arrested and held in Moscow. Under severe pressure and without communication with the resistance back in Czechoslovakia, they made unwise concessions. They didn’t realise how widespread and resolute the resistance was. The leaders’ concessions deflated the resistance, so its active phase lasted only a week. However, it took another eight months before a puppet government could be installed in Czechoslovakia. The resistance thus failed in its immediate aims. However, it was immensely powerful in its impacts. The use of force against peaceful citizens undermined the credibility of the Soviet Communist Party. At this time, most countries around the world had communist parties, some of them quite strong and most looking to the Soviet party for leadership. The Prague spring changed all this. Many foreign communist parties splintered, with some members quitting or the parties splitting into old guard supporters of the Soviet line and supporters of the reform approach.”

In both cases, nations heavily armed and committed to intervening, and the League of Nations in one case and the United Nations in the other, did nothing — thank goodness!

Social Defence also looks at the use of social defense against coups in Germany 1920, France-Algeria 1961, and the Soviet Union 1991. The lessons learned are widely applicable, including in countries whose governments refuse to impeach or remove lawless leaders, and in countries whose buffoonish leaders suspend democratic government.

In Germany in 1920, a coup, led by Wolfgang Kapp, overthrew and exiled the government, but on its way out the government called for a general strike. “Workers shut down everything: electricity, water, restaurants, transport, garbage collection, deliveries. . . . Civilians shunned Kapp’s troops and officials, who could not get anything done. For example, Kapp issued orders, but printers refused to print them. Kapp went to a bank to obtain funds to pay the troops, but bank officials refused to sign cheques. . . . In less than five days, Kapp gave up and fled from the country.”

In Algeria in 1961, four French generals staged a coup. “There was even a possibility of an invasion of France. There were far more French troops in Algeria than in mainland France. There was massive popular opposition to the revolt. After a couple of days of indecisiveness, De Gaulle went on national radio and called for resistance by any possible means. In practice all the resistance was nonviolent. There were huge protests and a general strike. People occupied airstrips to prevent aeroplanes from Algeria landing. The resistance within the French military in Algeria was even more significant. . . . Many of them simply refused to leave their barracks. Another form of noncooperation was deliberate inefficiency, for example losing files and orders, and delaying communications. Many pilots flew their planes out of Algeria and did not return. Others feigned mechanical breakdowns or used their planes to block airfields. The level of noncooperation was so extensive that within a few days the coup collapsed.”

In the Soviet Union in 1991, Gorbachev was arrested at his dacha in Crimea. “Tanks were sent to Moscow, Leningrad and other cities, and plans were made for mass arrests. Strikes and rallies were banned, liberal newspapers were closed and broadcast media were controlled, so most of the country had no news of resistance. . . . The coup leaders seemed to have all the advantages: backing from the armed forces, the KGB (Soviet secret police), the Communist Party and the police, plus the Soviet people’s long acceptance of authority. . . . There was an immediate response, including protests, strikes and messages of opposition. Across the country, including at major industrial complexes, many workers went on strike or just stayed home. Some civilians stood in the path of tanks, whose drivers then took another route. Rallies were held; when the army did not disperse the crowd, this provided a boost for the demonstrators. . . . Within a few days the coup collapsed, almost entirely due to popular noncooperation.”

There are examples beyond those discussed in this book. To quote Stephen Zunes, “During the first Palestinian intifada in the 1980s, much of the subjugated population effectively became self-governing entities through massive noncooperation and the creation of alternative institutions, forcing Israel to allow for the creation of the Palestine Authority and self-governance for most of the urban areas of the West Bank. Nonviolent resistance in the occupied Western Sahara has forced Morocco to offer an autonomy proposal which—while still falling well short of Morocco’s obligation to grant the Sahrawis their right of self-determination—at least acknowledges that the territory is not simply another part of Morocco. In the final years of German occupation of Denmark and Norway during WWII, the Nazis effectively no longer controlled the population. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia freed themselves from Soviet occupation through nonviolent resistance prior to the USSR’s collapse. In Lebanon, a nation ravaged by war for decades, thirty years of Syrian domination was ended through a large-scale, nonviolent uprising in 2005. And . . . Mariupol became the largest city to be liberated from control by Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine, not by bombings and artillery strikes by the Ukrainian military, but when thousands of unarmed steelworkers marched peacefully into occupied sections of its downtown area and drove out the armed separatists.” I would suggest also the one-time success of the Philippines and the ongoing success of Ecuador in evicting U.S. military bases, and of course the Gandhian example of booting the British out of India.

Yet governments are not investing in social defense, in part — no doubt — because there is no social defense weapons industry from which to make fortunes, and in part — no doubt — because an empowered population can hold a government accountable. So, Johansen and Martin propose another way of developing social defense, namely encouraging social movements to incorporate elements of social defense into their thinking and their campaigning. The authors remark: “The peace movement is the most obvious candidate to promote social defence measures, though it has mainly campaigned against war rather than building capacity for nonviolent action. The environmental movement, by promoting local self-sufficiency in renewable energy production, makes communities less vulnerable to hostile takeover. The labour movement is crucial: when workers have the understanding and skills to take over workplaces and operations, they are ideally placed to resist aggressors. This includes workers in factories, farms and offices. Government employees can play a potent role by refusing to cooperate with occupiers, so administering government operations becomes impossible.”

Social Defence even offers (page 133) an exercise that groups can try in rehearsing nonviolent resistance to occupation.

As a guide to using the tools of nonviolence in social movements, one could hardly do better than to pick up Lisa Fithian’s new book, Shut It Down. This book includes guides to planning campaigns and to staging all variety of actions in great detail, from how to plaster posters everywhere to how to relate to the police. This is a powerful resource because of the rules it lays out but also because of the examples it includes. The book is as much a personal memoir as a theory of social change, but the latter is its mission throughout.

You have power if you use it, and it’s not found primarily in voting or whining. That’s a central message. And it’s hard not to accept after reading about how much power people have created through nonviolent actions. A sample from the book:

“It’s at the edge of chaos where the deepest changes can emerge. In the dominant culture, the words chaos and crisis often connote violence and destruction, and are used to engender fear. But to me, the edge of chaos is not inherently violent. I have found that violent situations are usually counterproductive, generating fear and demobilizing people. By contrast, nonviolent actions that build strategic crisis can make people feel powerful while exposing the power brokers, convincing them that things have to change.”

Fithian draws conclusions that can guide activism: “There are many ways to organize direct action, but I have found that action is most effective when it takes place within a strong, moderately dense, linked network of participant groups. This is a model of social movement organizing that involves self-organized local groups in a network using working groups, clusters, caucuses, assemblies, or councils as needed. These smaller groups are structures that serve as anchors or hubs in an ever-evolving network.”

These conclusions are based on numerous accounts of specific experiences over the decades and around the world, in the United States, Europe, Egypt, and elsewhere. Fithian was there at the start of Occupy and before the start of Occupy, though she couldn’t know what it would become. She was in Ferguson and at Standing Rock, and draws powerful lessons from each campaign. She got hooked on this work years before with early successes, and she recounts an amazing number of successes over her activist career. One of the earliest successes she mentions was pressuring Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts in 1986 to refuse to send the National Guard to wars in Central America. A sit-in and a little public pressure can go a long way.

Then there was the 1987 shutting down of the CIA. Thousands of people blocked all the entrances to the CIA headquarters for hours as part of the “Pledge of Resistance.” The place re-opened, but a message was sent to the U.S. government, and to participants. The message to the latter was: you have power. Organizers with the Pledge of Resistance “trained tens of thousands of people, organizing them into affinity groups that coordinated with one another in local spokes councils. These processes and structures spread rapidly across the country, with each local network mirroring the other. The Pledge had an explicit structure and tons of flexibility to meet local needs. This is what I now call a hybrid structure, mixing national coordination with local coordinating committees, spokes councils, and affinity groups in an emergency response network. . . . The Reagan administration was never able to invade Nicaragua as they desired, and I believe this was because of the continuing, unrelenting public pressure.”

Around the same time, Fithian worked with Justice for Janitors in Washington, D.C., on a multi-faceted campaign that included blocking bridges. This seemed to work. “Within a few years of our first action at the bridge, 70 percent of the commercial real estate buildings in DC were under a union contract, up from 20 percent in 1987.”

Fithian was also part of the Battle of Seattle, and provides a valuable account of it and its educational and policy successes, as well as the new techniques developed. Fithian was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina rebuilding and saving schools from destruction. Through these endless and varied struggles, Fithian recounts victories and set backs. A good share of the short comings in terms of results seem to have followed, not unsuccessful nonviolent action, but a failure by activist leaders to use nonviolent action sufficiently. This is a reluctance we simply must overcome.

Fithian embraces diversity and disagreement, humility and openness. She works hard to confront her own white privilege and to put it to good use. But she also offers an empirical, non-theoretical critique of the violent activism often labeled “diversity of tactics.” I recommend sharing her account of her experiences with anyone inclined toward violence. Violence creates problems related to secrecy, an inability to plan ahead, a susceptibility to infiltration and sabotage by police, and of course a problem appealing to the wider public. With regard to infiltration, Fithian concludes:

“In almost every situation over the past twenty years where people have been caught planning a risky or violent action, it turned out that a government infiltrator was in the mix urging them on. This occurred most infamously during the 2008 Republican National Convention protests, when three young white men, in two different situations, were arrested for constructing Molotov cocktails. During their trial it became clear they did not intend to use them, and it came out that an agent provocateur with the FBI had been goading them forward.”

Shut It Down makes a strategic, pragmatic case for the use of many of the tools of social defense. Fithian risks arrest and goes to jail for the sake of social betterment. But she also goes to jail for something else:

“If you’re white or affluent, incarceration might not affect your family at all. This is why I encourage white or otherwise privileged people to make the choice to go to jail for justice. The experience shows you what it’s like to lose your privilege. How easy it is to be criminalized. When they treat you like a criminal, you feel like one. You start questioning yourself, thinking of yourself as a criminal just because they say so. Experiencing this dehumanizing process can make white people understand more about what has been happening to Black and Brown communities for generations. Once you see for yourself how the state enacts violence and robs people of their freedom and dignity, you can never unsee it.”

For those looking for an opportunity to put the tools of nonviolence to work, there is a plan to shut down Washington D.C. for the climate of the earth on September 23rd. The people of DC are of course occupied by a colonial overlord known as the U.S. government, and they will never overcome it violently. Neither is violence a strong enough tool to save the health of this planet. But nonviolence might be.

The post Nonviolence Denial Is As Dangerous As Climate Denial appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The US Media War Machine Kicks In Against Iran

Photograph Source: Creator-bz – CC BY-SA 3.0

Yes, Iran is increasing the number of centrifuges it is using to refine nuclear fuel, and yes, it is refining that fuel to a higher percentage of U-235, the isotope that allows the uranium to begin a chain reaction necessary for both fueling a nuclear reactor and for creating an atomic bomb.

But in taking these steps, Iran is not, and indeed cannot be “in violation” of the agreement on its nuclear program that was negotiated by the Obama administration and the Iranian government in 2015, with the backing of 5 other nations (France, the UK, China, Russia and Germany).

That’s because the Trump administration, acting on its own, foolishly pulled out unilaterally from that agreement, and has been imposing sanctions on Iran, all of which has been in  violation of the agreement, and which, by violating its terms, effectively terminates the agreement.

One can debate the merits of such an agreement, and whether the Trump administration was right or wrong in pulling out of it (I think it was either a deliberately provocative act intended to steer the country into what would be a disastrous war with Iran, or a stupid decision designed to pressure Iran into reaching a much more restrictive deal with the US), but  that doesn’t mean that the mainstream media should be falsely reporting that Iran is “violating” the terms of the agreement, as for example, NPR did in its Saturday “Morning Edition” program.

The New York Times, in its latest report on Iran’s decision to expand its refining of Uranium fuel, did marginally better. In a Saturday article headlined “Iran Breaks With More Limits in Nuclear Deal as It Pushes for European Aid,” the paper makes the point that while Iran, four months ago, had been “continuing to comply” with the limits on nuclear fuel refining imposed under the deal that the US had violated by reimposing sanctions lifted under that agreement, but that the Tehran was now saying it would “no longer abide by” an agreement that the US was violating.

But Politico, that same day, ran an AP article using a headline saying “Iran now using advanced centrifuges, violating nuclear deal.”   The article, no doubt picked up by dozens or more US news organizations, states in its lead paragraph, ” Iran has begun using arrays of advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium in violation of its 2015 nuclear deal, a spokesman said Saturday, warning that Europe has little time left to offer new terms to save the accord.”

The Washington Post wasn’t any better, screaming that Iran had “breached” the agreement and was pursuing more intensive refining of uranium fuel. How can one breach an agreement that the other key party, the US, had already pronounced dead, pulling out and reimposing sanctions whose lifting had been part of the deal, despite outside inspectors and other nations party to the agreement insisting that Iran has been adhering to the agreement?

A poorly informed US reader of or listener to such slanted coverage could be forgiven for assuming that Iran was aggressively in breach of an agreement between the itself and the US and the group of other UN Security Council permanent members as well as Germany, when in fact it is the US that has crashed out of the accord and reimposed stiff economic sanctions on Iran.

This kind of slanted coverage of a critical international story is worse than just poor journalism. It is rank propaganda in support of increased tension between Washington and Tehran — tension that could easily erupt into a military conflict.

Speaking in terms of the people of the world, it is clearly in nobody’s interest for the US and Iran, a sovereign nation of 70 million, to be at war.  We know how poorly US wars have gone against much smaller and less developed nations like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have gone. And Iran is a country with a powerful historical sense of national pride and identity, not a stitched-together collection of feuding tribes and religions that is twice as big as any of those other countries — one that, as well, is one of the largest oil producers in the world.

What US journalists should be doing, instead of mindlessly backing an administration that appears to be stoking hostility and war against Iran and its people, is to be analyzing and questioning why the US is so unwilling to continue with a diplomatic agreement that, by all accounts, was working to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. They should also be asking why the US, which reportedly is today producing more oil and gas than it uses domestically, even cares about what nations in the Middle East are doing with their oil and gas.

And Americans should be asking why their country’s news media organizations are being so conspicuously pro-war in their reporting on the US-Iran dispute.  It is clearly the Trump administration that has been sabotaging the Obama administration’s successfully reached nuclear agreement with Iran.

 

The post The US Media War Machine Kicks In Against Iran appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Spikes of Violence: Protest in West Papua

Photograph Source: Government of Sarmi Regency – Public Domain

Like Timor-Leste, West Papua, commonly subsuming both Papua and West Papua, remains a separate ethnic entity, acknowledged as such by previous colonial powers. Its Dutch colonial masters, in preparing to leave the region in the 1950s, left the ground fertile for a declaration of independence in 1961. Such a move did not sit well with the Indonesian desire to claim control over all Dutch Asia Pacific colonies on departure. There were resources to be had, economic gains to be made. The military duly moved in.

The New York Agreement between Indonesia and the Netherlands, brokered in 1962 with the assistance of the United States, saw West Papua fall under United Nations control for the duration of one year. Once passing into Indonesian control, Jakarta would govern the territory “consistent with the rights and freedoms guaranteed to the inhabitants under the terms of the present agreement.” Education would be a priority; illiteracy would be targeted, and efforts made “to accelerate participation of the people in local government through periodic elections.”

One article stood out: “Indonesia will make arrangements, with the assistance and participation of the United Nation Representative and his staff, to give the people of the territory the opportunity to exercise freedom of choice.” In 1969, a ballot was conducted in line with the provision, though hardly in any true, representative sense. In the rich traditions of doctored representation and selective enfranchisement, 1,026 individuals were selected by Indonesian authorities to participate. Indonesia’s military kept an intimidating watch: the vote could not be left to chance. The result for Indonesian control was unanimous; the UN signed off.

Unlike Timor-Leste, the historically Melanesian territories of Papua and West Papua remains under thumb and screw, an entity that continues to exist under periodic acts of violence and habitual repression from the Indonesian central authorities. A policy of transmigration has been practiced, a point argued by scholars to be tantamount to genocide. This has entailed moving residents from Java and Sulawesi to West Papua, assisted by Jakarta’s hearty sponsorship.

The Indonesian argument here has been ethnic and political: to confect a national identity through assimilation. Under President Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”)), one keen to push the idea of “Indonesia Maju” (“Advanced Indonesia”), renewed stress is being placed on infrastructure investment, economic growth and natural resources, of which Papua features heavily.

The indigenous populace has had to, in turn, surrender land to those transmigrants and appropriating authorities. “The rights of traditional law communities,” notes Clause 17 of Indonesia’s Basic Forestry Act of 1967, “may not be allowed to stand in the way of transmigration sites.”

Appropriations of land, the relocation of residents, and the odd massacre by Indonesian security forces, tend to fly low on the international radar of human rights abuses. West Papua lacks the cinematic appeal or political heft that would encourage around the clock coverage from media networks. Bureaucratic plodders in the various foreign ministries of the world prefer to render such matters benign and of little interest. Geopolitics and natural resources tend to do most of the talking.

In late 2015, for instance, Scott Busby, US deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and James Carouso, acting deputy assistant secretary for Maritime and Mainland Southeast Asian affairs, ducked and evaded anything too compromising in their testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy. The consequences of demographic policies directed by Jakarta were assiduously ignored. Massacres and institutional accountability in the territory were bypassed, as were Indonesian efforts to prevent scrutiny on the part of human rights monitors, the UN Special rapporteur and journalists.

This year, more instances of violence have managed to leach out and gurgle in media circles. It took a few ugly incidents in the Javanese city of Surabaya to engender a new wave of protests which have had a rattling effect on the security forces. Last month, pro-Indonesian nationalist groups, with reported encouragement from security forces, taunted Papuan students with an array of crude insults in East Java. (“Dogs”, “monkeys” and “pigs” were part of the bitter mix.) The fuse was lit, notably as arrests were made of the Papuans themselves. “Papuans are not monkeys”, proclaimed banners being held at a rally in Central Jakarta on August 22.

Government buildings have been torched in Jayapura. Additional forces have been deployed, and internet access cut. There are claims that white phosphorous has been used on civilians; prisons are being filled. There have even been protests in Indonesia’s capital, with the banned Morning Star flag being flown defiantly in front of the state palace. (Doing so is no mild matter: activist Filep Karma spent over a decade of his life in prison for doing so.)

The struggle for independence, at least in the international eye, has been left to such figures as Benny Wenda, who lobbies governments and groups to back the “Free Papua” campaign. He is particularly keen to take the matter of the Free Choice vote of 1969, that nasty instrument that formalised Indonesian control, to the United Nations General Assembly. Last month, he had to settle for taking the matter to the Pacific Islands Forum as a representative of Vanuatu’s delegation. In January, he gifted the UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet a petition with 1.8 million signatures seeking a new referendum for the territory.

The response from an Indonesian government spokesman was emphatic, curt, and conventional. “Developments in Papua and West Papua province are purely Indonesia’s internal affairs. No other country, organisation or individual has the right to interfere in them. We firmly oppose the intervention of Indonesia’s internal affairs in whatever form.”

The hope for Jokowi and the Indonesian authorities will be simple: ride out the storm, conduct a low-level suppression of protests, and place any talks of secession on the backburner. In this, they can count on regional, if hypocritical support. In the words of a spokesman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “Australia recognises Indonesia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over the Papua provinces. Our position is clearly defined by the Lombok Treaty between Indonesia and Australia.”

The post Spikes of Violence: Protest in West Papua appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Confuse, Then Blame the Public: Facebook Dodges Regulation With Wall Street’s Tactics

Facebook fulfilled an old promise last month in the most Facebook way possible: by sounding nice on paper and glossing over the details. Their new privacy tools are a laughably inefficient and insufficient set of measures, because fundamentally, they’re not trying to actually solve the stated problem: Facebook’s surveillance-based business model. It’s more proof that forcing individuals to protect themselves from the abuses of giant corporations is a cruel fantasy. This collective problem will require a collective solution. It’s about time regulators stepped in to do something about it.

This week the social media titan began rolling out a new slate of features to let users manage their “Off-Facebook Activity,” an awkward euphemism for all of the ways the company tracks its users’ browsing habits when they’re not actually on Facebook. Despite CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s promise that the new feature would let you “flush your history whenever you want,” “Off-Facebook Activity” offers no tools for deleting the data Facebook has gathered about you. Nor will it let users fully opt out of having their browsing activity tracked. No matter what, if you have a Facebook account, the company is watching what you do online.

So what does “Off-Facebook Activity” do? It lets users see much more of what Facebook knows about them. Even if users cannot take meaningful action to stop it collecting the information. Instead users can “anonymize” their data — but the anonymous data will still be reported to advertisers and, as a former Federal Trade Commission official noted, it’s pretty easy to re-identify an individual.

Oh, and lest we forget merely because it is laughably impractical, Facebook now allows users to sift laboriously through every website which sends data back to Facebook (nearly a third of the web) and request one by one that these websites not use any of their obvious or subtle tools to send information to Menlo Park.

What few protections the system offers are very complicated and ultimately unrewarding for privacy-minded Facebook users. Essentially, anyone who wants to keep prying eyes off of their sensitive information needs to first spend hours figuring out the technicalities of how online advertising programs even work. If users can parse out the information they need, the tools at their disposal only (slightly) protect them. Meanwhile, everyone with less patience or sophistication is left open to corporate espionage.

If, as a society, we want to prevent Facebook users from feeling spied on, there is a much simpler and more efficient way to do that: force Facebook to stop spying on them. Of course, doing so challenges the company’s business model. Thus, the mere suggestion that regulators might move in that direction has inspired Facebook to begin a counterattack, one that deploys a tactic first pioneered by Wall Street and predatory lenders: shift responsibility to consumers while furiously resisting the structural changes that could actually help them.

Rachel Cohen documented this tactic’s history for The American Prospect in June: as bankruptcy rates skyrocketed in the 1990s, Ford Motor Credit CEO Robert Odom fretted about young people failing to learn “financial literacy,” or the ability to recognize exploitative terms in auto loans. Never mind that Odom’s fellow auto-lenders were the ones offering these exploitative terms in the first place. Over the next two decades, states and the federal government rolled out a slew of educational counter-measures, in hopes of teaching students how to navigate the financial marketplace. Teach young people how to be smarter customers, the thinking went, and this whole predatory lending problem will sort itself out.

Except, as anyone who’s tried to read their mortgage or credit card paperwork knows, it’s not that simple. Financial contracts have mountains of legal jargon, and bury crucial details in  subsections of subsections. All of the information one needs for an informed decision is technically there, but in practice, it’s almost impossible for the average person to parse out what matters — and often, they’re under heavy emotional pressure to sign immediately. In other words, unless financial literacy workshops are training almost everyone as a consumer protection attorney, they are woefully insufficient for the problem at hand.

Luckily, financial literacy or universal law degrees are not the only two options available to lawmakers who wanted to fight predatory lending. Indeed they could choose the far more straightforward path of simply banning predatory loans. As Lauren Willis, an academic and leading critic of financial literacy, told Cohen, “People aren’t dumb, they’re just busy, and we should regulate around those things, with the assumption that there are certain things a consumer can do and other things they can’t, and that it would be silly to ask them to do.”

Congress did eventually move toward ending the “financial literacy” regime by establishing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a powerful watchdog designed to spot and stop bad behavior in consumer finance markets. Here was a bureau of actual consumer protection attorneys working in the public interest who had the rule-making power to box out any new, exploitative weapons which predatory lenders might develop.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration reversed many of these gains. Since taking power, Trump officials have systematically defanged the agency. In a twist of tragic irony, its new director announced in April that one of her major focuses would be promoting financial literacy.

Substituting consumer choice for active regulation is tremendously profitable. That is why predatory lenders and technology companies alike want to rig the rules of their respective markets such that consumers must try to avoid getting ripped off, instead of the companies accepting rules that would stop them from ripping people off in the first place.

Indeed, fellow tech titan Google seems to be signalling that it’s taking a similar approach to quelling its own privacy concerns among users. Last Thursday, the company said it would create a “Privacy Sandbox” for its Chrome browser, which would set new standards in order to “build a more private web.” It’s unclear right now what that means in concrete terms, but it definitely doesn’t mean that Google will change any part of its core website — and Facebook’s shift from promising to “flush your history whenever you want” to the meager Off-Facebook Activity options should leave onlookers skeptical about other tech giants taking the high road.

Plus, avoiding exploitation is getting much harder thanks to market consolidation. “Consumer choice” regimes presume that markets are competitive, which simply isn’t true for much of the modern American economy. Take Facebook. Even if a consumer does all of the leg-work, and isn’t satisfied with their privacy options, they’re still almost forced to use a product owned by this social media titan. As Rep. Joe Neguse pointed out at a Congressional hearing last month, the company owns four of the top six social networks. Flee to Twitter or the Google-owned YouTube, and one finds the same, gross business model. There’s no escape from the surveillance.

Critics might respond that social media is a non-essential product, and if one doesn’t like corporate surveillance, they should just delete their accounts. Try telling that to a journalist, musician, entrepreneur, or activist — anyone who needs others’ attention. These forums are just too powerful, and the companies holding the keys are just too big and unaccountable, for market-based fairy dust to work.

Given these big, structural obstacles, the solution cannot rest on individual action. We don’t prevent pandemics just by teaching people to avoid rats. The government convenes the forces necessary for creating vaccines and medicines to eradicate diseases in the first place. Preventative treatments work. Likewise, if an industry is preying on the public, it’s insufficient to simply inform and educate its would-be targets.

In this case, our “vaccines” must come from specialized regulators like the CFPB, Federal Communications Commission, and Food and Drug Administration. Society recognizes that it’s unfair and dangerous to expect every individual to be their own, and only, advocate in every transaction with complex and powerful industries. The staff at these agencies are (or could and should be) trained experts who follow these fields for a living, and they can set rules in order to stop new forms of exploitation that profit-hungry bad actors invent.

The agencies need to rediscover the powers they already have. They need to push back against the failed market-driven policies of the last four decades. But as the CFPB example demonstrates, that can only happen with strong leadership from the top. Unless agency heads actually understand and believe in the missions of their agencies, nothing is going to change. Properly staffing and leading the executive branch agencies will be one of the most important ways any new president can actually improve Americans’ lives.

Yet Democratic leadership has continued to neglect these appointments, and the opportunities to wield power that they represent. Until that changes, we can all expect a lot more scoldings from billionaires over their own deceptions and theft. In a world of “Buyer Beware,” it’s always the little guy who suffers.

Max Moran writes for Center for Economic and Political Research, where this article first appeared.

The post Confuse, Then Blame the Public: Facebook Dodges Regulation With Wall Street’s Tactics appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

NFL’s Depression-Era Ban on Black Players Lingers On in the Owners Box

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. (NFL Network.)

The National Football League season opened last week with a full slate of games.

On the field, extraordinary athletes of all races and backgrounds competed with the same set of rules.

Yet, it is worth noting that this has not always been the case — and that the legacy of discrimination has yet to be redressed.

In June, when the Chicago Bears announced that their “throwback jersey” for their 100th anniversary this year would come from 1936, they were honoring a jersey that was worn in the third season of the NFL’s 12-year ban on black players.

In an extraordinary article for Windy City Gridiron, Chicago Sports historian Jack Silverstein detailed the story and background of the ban.

Unlike baseball, the NFL allowed black players to play in its early years. Black players like All Pro halfback Fritz Pollard and tackle Duke Slater were among the most honored players of the day.

“What makes the NFL so unique is that it’s a full-fledged league and it starts off integrated,” says professor, author and historian Louis Moore, whose work includes the podcast The Black Athlete.

Yet, when the Great Depression deepened, black players were suddenly banned from the league. The owners — led by George Preston Marshall, owner of the Washington Redskins and, Silverstein postulates, likely George Halas, famed owner of the Chicago Bears — clearly enforced a ban on black players that lasted from 1933 to 1945.

The argument apparently was that with the Depression, black players would be resented — the football version of last hired, first fired.

The Washington owner, Marshall, writes Silverstein, was an “avowed, gleeful racist,” who generally bears the onus of pushing the ban. He hoped to market the Washington team as the team of the South.

But other owners, including legends in the sport, were complicit or worse, including Chicago’s Halas, Curly Lambeau of the Packers, Tim Mara of the Giants and Art Rooney of the Steelers.

Mara’s Giants didn’t have a black player until 1948, Halas’ Bears not until 1952, Lambeau’s Packers not until 1950. Marshall’s Redskins were the last to integrate, doing so only in 1962 when the federal government threatened to revoke the lease on the team’s stadium.

Today, NFL rosters are integrated.

But there’s still a dearth of blacks in the elite club of owners. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, only two principal owners are people of color — Shahid Khan of the Jaguars and Kim Pegula of the Buffalo Bills. (Of the 92 teams in baseball, basketball and football combined, there are only six majority owners that are people of color.)

Ownership is a small club, and the club owners still tend to admit only people that look like them. The exclusion is also a legacy of the discrimination.

When black players — and black owners — were banned, teams were affordable. As the league built up, many teams were inherited, gaining in value along the way. By being excluded at the start, black owners have a far harder time getting in now.

Today’s integrated teams on the field serve as positive examples.

Fans cheer for favorites by the color of their jerseys, not the color of their skin. That players of all races and backgrounds play by the same set of rules exemplifies the equal justice under the law that we strive for.

But equality on the field should parallel equality in management and ownership.

The NFL should start by acknowledging the racial ban it enforced, recognizing black players and moving more of them into the Hall of Fame and taking concrete steps to ensure that the ownership, management and coaching of NFL teams reflect the diversity of the players on the field and the fans in the stands.

 

The post NFL’s Depression-Era Ban on Black Players Lingers On in the Owners Box appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Tax Dodging 101: the Aircastle Model

Aircastle Ltd. is not a household name, but if you’ve flown on South African Airways, KLM, or any of more than 80 other airlines, you’ve probably traveled on an airplane the Connecticut-based company owns and manages.

The company´s business model is based on buying, selling, and leasing aircraft worldwide. Its corporate structure minimizes the payment of taxes by using a complex arrangement of subsidiaries, all managed from Connecticut, Ireland, or Singapore.

These arrangements, recently highlighted in the #MauritiusLeaks investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), are legal. But they have allowed the company to pay minimal taxes, including no corporate taxes in the United States on income from their aircraft leases.

Aircastle, of course, isn’t alone among large American companies in lowering their taxes through creative accounting. Well-known giants such as Amazon and Apple do so as well.

But the recent revelations on Aircastle’s use of Mauritius as a tax haven provide a helpful window into how such tax dodges can use offshore companies set up primarily for that purpose. Getting to zero with tax avoidance became even easier with the new Republican tax cuts in 2017, but Aircastle was already well on the way to that objective.

For example, when Aircastle decided to do business in South Africa in 2010, as the ICIJ and Quartz Africa revealed in July 2019, it turned to a Bermuda-based law firm to help it set up six subsidiaries in Mauritius: Thunderbird 1 Leasing Ltd. along with five other companies named Thunderbird 2 through 6. As was Aircastle´s common practice, each company was to own a specific aircraft. South African Airways made their lease payments to the subsidiaries in Mauritius, each of which was owned in turn by an Aircastle subsidiary in Bermuda or Delaware.

Since South Africa and Mauritius have a tax treaty allowing this, Aircastle paid Mauritius at the low Mauritius rates on the income from the leases ($772,735 a month for the first A300-200 leased by South African Airways from Thunderbird 1 beginning in 2011). From 2011 through 2014, according to documents leaked to ICIJ, Thunderbird 1 paid  a total of $382,600 in Mauritius taxes, a 1.59 percent tax rate on $24 million in operating profits.

Aircastle paid no taxes on these profits either in South Africa or in the United States.

According to ICIJ, “Had Aircastle’s Thunderbird 1 company alone reported the profits it made in Mauritius over four years in the U.S., it could have paid more than $5 million. Those taxes would just about cover the state of Connecticut’s current budget for domestic violence shelters.”

Including other Thunderbird companies as well, Quartz calculated, Aircastle paid $1.5 million in Mauritius taxes on profits of $53 million, at an effective rate of 2.87 percent — thus avoiding $14.8 million in taxes it would have owed if taxes had been paid to South Africa. This is equivalent to more than half the annual social housing budget of Johannesburg.

Aircastle did not respond to queries from ICIJ or Quartz, and data for a more comprehensive analysis of its tax strategy are therefore not available. However, since the company is registered on the New York Stock Exchange and also traded on NASDAQ, its reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are public. Its annual report to investors for 2018, for example, incorporates the 10-K report to the SEC.

There we learn that Aircastle Ltd is actually incorporated in Bermuda and thus pays no U.S. corporate income tax, except on the management services supplied by its U.S. subsidiary to the aircraft-owning companies. Bermuda has no corporate income tax. Thus the company notes in its 10-K report, under the heading “risks related to taxation”:

“If Aircastle were treated as engaged in a trade or business in the United States, it would be subject to U.S. federal income taxation on a net income basis, which would adversely affect our business and result in decreased cash available for distribution to our shareholders.”

Given the lack of transparency in corporate reporting, it is hard to tell how Aircastle’s strategies compare to those used by other companies. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) reported in April, based on 10-Ks submitted to the SEC, that 60 of the Fortune 500 had zero or negative federal income tax payments in 2018. But more detailed analysis or estimates of tax revenue lost, in the United States and other countries, require much more data than almost all such reports provide.

The fundamental step needed to make accountability feasible is public country-by-country reporting, whereby corporations would be required to provide for investors and the public a breakdown by country of revenues, profits, employees, and taxes paid for  every country in which they do business. Governments, investors, and even some businesses are increasingly accepting the need for such reports.

According to an April 2019 report from the U.S.-based Financial Accountability and Corporate  Transparency (FACT) Coalition, however, the trend is in the right direction. “The evidence suggests we are quickly reaching a turning point,” said Christian Freymeyer, researcher and author of the report. “Investors see the value, policymakers see the benefits, and businesses see the inevitability of greater transparency. It’s only a matter of time before tax transparency is accepted and expected of financial disclosure.”

Freymeyer´s analysis may well err on the side of optimism, given the continued opposition from those with vested interests in tax avoidance. But it is certainly true that the argument is now finding new supporters far beyond the circle of tax justice activists who have been the leaders in demanding these reforms.

The post Tax Dodging 101: the Aircastle Model appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Treadmill of Magic Seeds and Broken Promises: Dismantling the Myth of Bt Cotton Success in India

Political posturing aligned with commercial interests means that truth is becoming a casualty in the debate about genetically modified (GM) crops in India. The industry narrative surrounding Bt cotton is that it has been a great success. The current Modi-led administration is parroting this claim and argues its success must be replicated by adopting a range of GM food crops, amounting to what would be a full-scale entry of GM technology into Indian agriculture. Currently, Bt cotton is India’s only officially approved commercially cultivated GM crop.

With the aim of putting the record straight, a media event took place on Friday, 6 September in New Delhi at the Constitution Club of India during which it was declared that Bt cotton has been a costly and damaging failure. Speakers included prominent environmentalists Aruna Rodrigues and Vandana Shiva who presented a good deal of information based on official reports, research papers and documents submitted as evidence to the Supreme Court on Bt cotton.

It was argued that even the government’s own data contradicts its tale of Bt cotton success and that the consequences of irresponsibly rolling out various GM crops based on a false narrative would be disastrous for the country.

PR and broken promises

In the early 2000s, Bt cotton was being heavily promoted in India on the basis it would cut pesticide use dramatically, boost yields and contribute to the financial well-being of farmers. However, pesticide use is back to pre-Bt levels and yields have stagnated or are falling. Moreover, some 31 countries rank above India in terms of cotton yield and of these only 10 grow GM cotton.

As will be shown, farmers now find themselves on a chemical-biotech treadmill and have to deal with an increasing number of Bt/insecticide resistant pests and rising costs of production. For many small-scale cotton farmers, this has resulted in greater levels of indebtedness and financial distress.

Failure to yield

Over 90% of cotton sown in India is now Bt. Although initially introduced to the country in 2002, its adoption was only about 12 and 38% respectively in 2005 and 2006. A good deal of data was contained in the media briefing that accompanied the event in Delhi. In it, Aruna Rodrigues and Vandana Shiva show that, even then (2005-2006), average yields had already reached the current plateau of about 450-500 kg/ha. Average all-India Bt cotton yields hovered around or below 500 kg/ha during the period 2005-2018.

What is particularly revealing is that cotton production for 2018-2019 will be the lowest in a decade, down to an estimated 420.72 kg/ha, according to a press release issued in July by the Cotton Association of India.

Furthermore, the argument is that increases in yields that may have occurred were in any case due to various factors, such as increased fertiliser use and high-yielding hybrid seeds, and not Bt technology.

The data presented by Rodrigues and Shiva shows that cotton yield in the pre-Bt era increased significantly from its 191 kg/ha low in 2002 to 318 kg/ha in 2004-2005, registering an increase of 66% in just three years (the baseline for Bt cotton is 2005-2006 as prior to this adoption rates were not significant). The two environmentalists say this was a result of increased acreage under hybrids and a new class of insecticides.

They note that the momentum of this upward swing carried into the Bt era and had nothing to do with that technology. Their argument is that Bt cotton has failed but is being trumpeted as a success under the cover of increased fertiliser use, hybrid seed trait yield (not attributable to Bt technology), better irrigation and insecticide seed coating.

Biotech treadmill and ecological disruption

Bt technology was used in conjunction with high-yielding hybrids (as opposed to pure line varieties) and has no trait for intrinsic yield. This, Rodrigues and Shiva argue, conveniently allowed a smudging of the yield data (isolating the precise impact of hybrid yield would prove to be difficult) and also provided a ‘value-capture’ mechanism for Monsanto: the introduction of these hybrids disallows seed saving, forcing farmers to buy new expensive hybrid Bt cotton seed each year (hybridisation gives one-time vigour).

Prior to Bt cotton, the extensive use of insecticides to cope with the Pink Bollworm (PBW), which is native to India, had become a problem. Spraying for PBW caused outbreaks of the American Bollworm (ABW). The ABW is a secondary pest that was induced by extensive insecticide use and became the target for Bt cotton.

Although Bt cotton was supposed to control both species of bollworm, PBW resistance to Bt toxin has now occurred and the ABW is also developing resistance. Moreover, post 2002, new pests have appeared, such as whitefly, jassids and mealybugs.

However, Rodrigues and Shiva note that resistance in PBW now occurs to both Monsanto’s Bollgard I and Bollgard II Bt cotton (BGI and BG II). BGI was replaced by BG II as early as 2007-8, just six years after its introduction because the PBW had developed resistance. The ABW is also now developing resistance to stacked Bt toxins in BG II.

Irresponsible roll out

Hybrids are input intensive and are sown at suboptimal wide spacing. Unlike in other countries that grow Bt cotton, they are long season cottons and are thus more susceptible to pest build-up. With this in mind, Rodrigues and Shiva refer to Dr K R Kranthi, former director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research, who says:

“Insecticide usage is increasing each year because of resistance development in sucking pests to imidacloprid and other neonicotinoid insecticides—by 2012 insecticide usage was at 2002 levels and will continue to increase inducing further outbreaks of insecticide and Bt resistant pests.”

Bt cotton hybrids also require more human labour and perform better under irrigation. However, 66% of cotton in India is cultivated in rain fed areas, where yields depend on the timing and quantity of highly variable monsoon rains. Unreliable rains, the high costs of Bt hybrid seed, continued insecticide use and debt have placed many poor (marginal) smallholder farmers in a situation of severe financial hardship.

In fact, Professor A P Gutierrez argues that Bt cotton has effectively put these farmers in a corporate noose: his research has noted a link between Bt cotton, weather, yields, financial distress and farmer suicides.

Monsanto’s profiteering

Rodrigues and Shiva note that Monsanto was allowed a ‘royalty’ on Bollgard I seed without having a patent on it. Drawing on conservative estimates (by K R Kranthi), on average, the additional expenditure on seeds (compared to non-Bt seeds) was at least Rs 1,179 per hectare and the Indian farmer may have spent a total extra amount of Rs 14,000 crores (140 billion) on Bt cotton seeds during the period 2002-2018. The trait value charged (2002-2018) is around Rs 7,000 crores. This excludes royalties accruing to Mahyco-Monsanto, which were illegal on Bollgard I (first generation Bt cotton) and yet allowed by the regulators.

Overall net profit for cotton farmers was Rs 5,971/ha in 2003 (pre-Bt) but plummeted to average net losses of Rs 6,286 in 2015, while fertiliser use kg/ha exhibited a 2.2-fold increase. As Bt technology was being rolled out, costs of production were thus increasing. And these costs were increasing in the face of stagnant yields.

Why GM anyway?

At this point, it is worth broadening the scope of this article by noting that in 2010, an indefinite moratorium was placed on Bt brinjal, which would have been India’s first GM food crop. Despite the current push for a full-scale entry of GM into Indian agriculture, the moratorium is still in place: the conflicts of interest, secrecy, negligence and lack of competence inherent in the GM regulatory process that were acknowledged at that time remain unaddressed.

It would therefore be grossly irresponsible to roll out GM. If the experience of Bt cotton tells us anything, it would also be extremely unwise to proceed without carrying out independent health, environmental and socio-economic risk assessments.

Of course, establishing the need for GM – crops that outperform current non-GM options currently available – is paramount but totally absent. With this in mind, Rodrigues and Shiva cite evidence that traditional plant breeding and newer methods outperform GM agriculture at much less cost, release fewer carbon emissions and earn much greater profits for farmers.

Given this situation (the fraud of GM and its dubious track record aside), anyone could be forgiven for thinking that the plan to get GM into Indian agriculture is solely driven by ideology and commercial interest. Instead of drawing on proven traditional knowledge and practices to ensure food security, the strategy seems to be to place farmers on biotech-chemical treadmills for the benefit of corporate interests.

Green Revolution to ‘gene revolution’

If we look at the Green Revolution, it too was also sold under the guise of ‘feeding the world’. But in India, according to Professor Glenn Stone, it merely led to more wheat in the diet, while food productivity per capita showed no increase or actually decreased. Nevertheless, there have been dire consequences for the Indian diet, the environment, farmers, rural communities and public health.

More generally, the Green Revolution dovetailed with an international system of chemical-dependent, agro-export mono-cropping and big infrastructure projects (dams) linked to loans, sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF directives, the outcomes of which included a displacement of the peasantry, the consolidation of global agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries into food deficit regions.

Often regarded as Green Revolution 2.0, the ‘gene revolution’ is integral to the plan to ‘modernise’ Indian agriculture. This means the displacement of peasant farmers, further corporate consolidation and commercialisation based on industrial-scale monocrop farms incorporated into global supply chains dominated by transnational agribusiness and retail giants. It would also mean the undermining of national food security.

GM-based agriculture is key to what would amount to a wholesale corporate capture of the agri-food sector: a sure-fire money spinner that would dwarf the amount drained from India courtesy of Monsanto’s ‘royalties’ on Bt cotton.

Agroecological solutions

This wholesale shift to industrial agriculture would have devastating impacts on the environment, rural communities, public health, local and regional food security, seed sovereignty, nutritional yield per acre, water tables and soil quality, etc. Industrial agriculture has massive health, social and environmental costs which are borne by the public and taxpayers, certainly not by the (subsidised) corporations that rake in the massive profits.

It is no surprise, therefore, that an increasing international consensus is emerging on the role of agroecology. In this respect, smallholder farmers are not to be regarded as residues from the past but as being crucial to the future.

And this is not lost on Rodrigues and Shiva who note the vital importance and productivity of small farms (which outperform industrial-scale enterprises and feed most of the global population) and the advantages of agroecological farming. They refer to the recent UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts which concludes that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture.

Furthermore, according to Rodrigues and Shiva, regenerative organic farming can draw down excess carbon from the atmosphere and put it in the soil, thereby reversing climate change and making agriculture climate resilient. They argue that organic systems are competitive with conventional yields and leach no toxic chemicals. As for cotton, they state that ‘desi’ species of cotton varieties are highly amenable to low-cost organic farming, providing an excellent opportunity for India to emerge as a global leader in organic cotton.

The take-home message is that if GM food crops are to be rolled out – based on a narrative about Bt cotton that relies more on industry spin than actual facts – it would be disastrous for India. Given the evidence, it’s a warning that should not be taken lightly.

An eight-page briefing was issued to coincide with the media event and contains relevant references, additional data and numerous informative charts. It can be accessed here 

The post Treadmill of Magic Seeds and Broken Promises: Dismantling the Myth of Bt Cotton Success in India appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

BDS in Canada

A recent ruling by the Federal Court of Canada declaring ‘Product of Israel’ labels on West Bank settlement wines to be “false, misleading and deceptive” has thrown Canada’s pro-Israel community into a tizzy. In full court press-mode, Canadian Zionist groups are arguing that the ruling bolsters the “anti-Semitic” Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and are demanding that Canada’s Attorney General file an appeal. He has until the end of September to do so.

“Refusing to buy goods made by Jews is patent discrimination,” fumed David Matas (“undoubtedly one of the leading human rights scholars and advocates in the world”),in a letter to government lawyers. Matas represented B’Nai Brith Canada as intervenor in the wine labeling case, that I initiated [link to one of my previous CounterPunch pieces]. “Refusing to buy goods by Israeli Jews is also discrimination,” Matas continued. “Refusing to buy goods by Israeli Jews working out of a particular location is yet another form of discrimination against Jews.”

In a letter to Ottawa’s Hill Times, Honest Reporting Canada researcher Noah Lewis wrote: “The Federal Court’s decision on the labeling of “West Bank” wines was discriminatory, and it was marred by lending support to the anti-Semitic BDS movement.”

Truly over the top, in a full-page New York Times ad citing Madam Justice Anne Mactavish by name, Zionist zealot Shmuley Boteach lambasted the “Canadian judiciary” for “prejudice” in “singling out the Jewish State,” and – in extra large font and caps – for its “Jew-shaming double-standards.”

These cries of outrage are disingenuous.

The only reason why someone would avoid a wine product labeled as being produced in a West Bank settlement, as opposed to a truly Israeli wine, is because Israel’s settlements are flagrantly illegal. To be precise, they violate Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention (a ‘grave breach’ under article 85(4) of the Convention’s 1977 Additional Protocol), and are also a presumptive war crime under Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Nuanced BDSers – those inclined to cut Israel some slack, including Jewish people of conscience – would avoid settlement wines, but buy truly Israeli products.

Strict adherents of BDS (a fundamentally anti-racist, pro-human rights movement) would avoid both. So would real racists, including people who hate Jews, Jewish people and Judaism.

Christian Zionists, among the most rabid Jew-haters, would likely be overjoyed to buy settlement wines, knowing that ‘Judea’ and ‘Samaria’ are being reclaimed by the Jewish people, true to prophesy, prior to their incineration.

Let’s get real. What infuriates Israel and its Canadian agents the most about Justice Mactavish’s July 29 ruling is her proposition that the West Bank does not belong to Israel. All parties to the case (including David Matas) agree on this point, Justice Mactavish pointed out. Ergo, West Bank settlement wines cannot truthfully be labeled ‘Product of Israel’. Plain and simple.

Trouble is, Canadian Zionists believe that all lands from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean were gifted to the Jewish people by God. Palestinians don’t exist, they argue. ‘Arabs’ who happen to find themselves in the Land of Israel may reside in whatever enclave the State of Israel provides them, at Israel’s pleasure. Like Benjamin Netanyahu, his Likud followers and a broad swath of Israeli society, Canadian Zionists who oppose the Federal Court of Canada’s wine labeling decision – folks like B’Nai Brith, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (Canada’s AIPAC), the Jewish Defense League (of course) and neocons like Linda Frum – oppose the creation of a truly sovereign Palestinian state. They may say they support a ‘Two-State Solution’, but they really don’t. The Land of Israel belongs to the Jews, and only the Jews, they firmly believe.

So, denying settlement wine producers the right to label their vino ‘Product of Israel’ is an affront of the deepest sort. Not because it’s discriminatory (it isn’t; all food and beverage products sold in Canada must be truthfully labeled, Canadian ones included), or because it deprives them of a lucrative market, at preferential tariff rates (truthfully labeled settlement wines can still be sold in Canada), or because settlement labels would expose Canadian Jews to attack (an absurd notion), but because this would deny Israel the right to stake sovereign claim over settlements, over all of “Judea” and “Samaria,” on Canadian store shelves.

How sharply this affront sticks in Zionist craws is most honestly articulated by settlement wine producers themselves – the ones named in my wine labeling case. “Canada, a country founded and expanded as it conquered and destroyed the homeland of another people, a country with no roots or historical validity of its existence there, questions the right of Jews to live and grow vineyards in the land of our forefathers,” Psagot Winery owner Yaakov Berg told the CBC in the summer of 2017, following the launch of my court case.

“I will not take out the words ‘Made in Israel’, under no circumstances,” said Amichai Lourie, owner of Shilo Winery, located in the heart of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. “Even if I lose the market, I’ll lose the market. No big deal … Making wine in Israel, it’s not just about money. You’re connecting to the land. There are things that we won’t compromise.”

If only Canadian Zionists were as honest in their condemnation of the Federal Court of Canada’s July 29 ruling. What counts for them, more than anything else, is Israel’s right to do as it pleases, free of censure. They believe, as do Benjamin Netanyahu and a wide swath of Israeli society, that all the ‘Land of Israel’ belongs to the Jews, and that Canadian consumers should have no say in the matter.

If the Canadian government opts to appeal the Federal Court’s July 29 ruling, it will be endorsing these notions, in breach of its obligation to uphold international law and Canadian consumer rights. Not something the Trudeau government – outspoken defender of the “rule of law” – wants to fess up to. Certainly not before this coming October’s federal elections.

The post BDS in Canada appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Pages