Counterpunch Articles

Religion is a Repeating Chapter in the History of Politics

Jesus and the rich young man by Heinrich Hofmann, 1889

In 1949 the German philosopher Karl Jaspers coined the term ‘the axial age’ in his book, ‘The Origin and Goal of History.’ He defined the Axial Age as the pivotal period in human moral and spiritual development that has conferred upon the world the political, cultural and philosophical shape it has today. It occurred, according to Jaspers, between 2 and 3 thousand years ago in various places around the world. This pivot point in history comes after the emergence of the State and civilization in these areas, which current anthropological and archaeological thinking sets at about 5 to 6 thousand years ago.

What Jaspers and other historians had noticed in studies of ancient history was that over a relatively short span of time all the great founding philosophies or systems of morality that we still refer to today – such as Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Platonism, the Abrahamic religions – appeared in parallel, with no obvious connection, in different civilizations.

Jaspers looked for reasons for this ancient ‘enlightenment’ in the political situations of the various civilizations he analysed and suggested the opportunity for new thinking was provided in each area by the destabilization of the previous, originary, monolithic, State and the formation of smaller, competing States that were in a process of navigating a new course for themselves and in relation to adjacent territories. Several of the founding philosophers, for example, are known to have wandered around their region, disseminating their ideas in the cities and districts of different States.

Michel Gauchet, in ‘The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion’ (1985), takes up Jaspers’ notion and develops it. He finds that human history has undergone three pivotal revolutions. The first is the emergence of the State – the event that brought humans out of the longue (et heureuse) durée of pre-civilized existence – while the second is the shift in religious thought from immanence to transcendence: the Axial Age. The third, according to Gauchet, is the expansion of speculative thought brought about by the imperatives of Western Christianity (The Enlightenment). These three revolutions followed one another chronologically, but Gauchet insists: “The most important of these upheavals is undoubtedly the first one, the birth of the State. This event severs history in two and brings human societies into an entirely new age.”

For these revolutions after the emergence of the State, both Jaspers and Gauchet identify the motors of change as philosophical rather than material, although both would, of course, maintain that these changes in thinking were ‘prompted’ by situational factors. But still, Jaspers and Gauchet give us a useful way into thinking about pivotal points in ‘human history’ and we can go further. In fact, we can also go simpler.

In my CounterPunch article “The Wonders of Modern Life Briefly Explained” I identify two pivotal points. The first being the classic one: the emergence of the State. The second being the expansion of the strategy of acquiring ‘relative surplus value’ – capitalism – that led to the Industrial Revolution. Neither of these events were ‘philosophical’ revolutions. The philosophies that are associated with them came from them. So, morality, religion, and millenarianism (the ‘transcendent’ philosophies) emerged with the birth of the State and civilization. And ‘the Enlightenment’ and the march of ‘reason’ and ‘rationality’- speculative thought – emerged from the new economic and social circumstances created by capitalism.

In the article linked to above I do not explore how States were created, I do this in the piece “Re-Contextualizing Fascism” in which I use the image of chickpea bushes to make my argument. It may seem odd that I condense the emergence of the State into a short paragraph involving chickpea bushes within an article about fascism and anti-fascism, but that’s all part of the rock-and-roll of trying to cram novel ideas into less than two thousand words.

My argument in that article is that States are neither good nor bad – despite them often doing monstrous things and being represented by monsters – but emerged as a managerial solution to the dilemma of a large population. This is how I think the first State and civilization emerged – picture the scene, from long, long ago, two people are sat chatting in the shade of a rockface in the early morning:

“Yeah, Bob and his gang reckon they can sort out all the problems as long as everyone does what he says and gives him a tribute by sending daughters and sons to work for him, and building him a really good place to sleep in. The whole place will be a lot easier to live in, less chaos, but we’ll have to stay where we are and work harder to make sure he gets enough recompense for his trouble. We don’t want him to put his thugs on us, but it will be good if he sorts out those lazy thieving bastards who live up by the chickpea bushes…”

You will need to go back to the original article for a fuller exposition, but my argument here does not rely on you accepting or not my proposition for the origin of the State, so let’s proceed.

Back to religion. Did Gauchet get it right when he described the Axial Age as the change in religious thought from immanence to transcendence? Yes and no.

If we define religion only as having something to do with some kind of view that the truth of things as they are is underpinned by some kind of supernatural force or set of forces… then yes. Prior to the emergence of the State – and this is also recorded by anthropologists in the present day for Indigenous peoples who live with the land and not under the full command of a State – peoples viewed supernatural presences as immanent. This means they saw supernatural forces within all material things – they viewed the spiritual world as immanent. (Spinoza in 1665, by-the-way, returned ‘God’ to an immanent state, he was lucky not to be hanged for it, and his ‘Ethics’ formed one of the first texts of radical democracy, or communism, another transcendent philosophy.) Transcendent religions – for example, Christianity – took the supernatural out of all material things and made it stand above all things where it could control the universe. Once the idea of supernatural forces had been made transcendental (above the world) rather than in it (immanent) then it became possible to create monotheistic religion and everyone began to see God as a big guy somewhere up there in the sky. So, my contention here is that religion can only be transcendent – this is where I think Gauchet does not get it right.

How does paganism fit here? Paganism – as practiced by the Vikings and Ancient Romans, for example – is also a product of transcendent thinking because it has supernatural human figures that lord it over the world. Paganism and religion are products of the State – neither exist where exploitation and hierarchy are absent. Transcendent thinking is forever tied to social formations in which exploitation and hierarchy dominate.

John Gray begins his book, Black Mass (2007), with the sentence: “Politics is a chapter in the history of religion.” I think that this is a reversal of reality and history, religion is in fact the child of politics. What I perceive as Gray’s error comes, I think, from his psychological definition of religion. He writes:

“The most necessary task of the present time is to accept the irreducible reality of religion. In the Enlightenment philosophies that shaped the last two centuries, religion was a secondary or derivative aspect of human life that will disappear, or cease to be important, when its causes are removed. Once poverty is eradicated and education universal, social inequality has been overcome and political repression is a thing of the past, religion will have no more importance than a personal hobby. Underlying this article of Enlightenment faith is a denial of the fact that the need for religion is generically human. It is true that religions are hugely diverse and serve many social functions – most obviously, as welfare institutions. At times they have also served the needs of power. But beyond these socio-political purposes, religions express human needs that no change in society can remove – for example the need to accept what cannot be remedied and find meaning in the chances of life.”

There are two immediate problems with this passage. Firstly, is it true to state: “At times [religions] have also served the needs of power”? I am not sure about the words ‘at times.’ I would think that religions are either always at the service of power or are trying to build their own power. If they are small and/or ‘unsuccessful’ they operate like cults, with all the abuse that such social formations encourage. And even when they are ‘only’ operating as “welfare institutions” they are setting themselves out in an economic situation, with all the political leverage that comes with such a strategy, or they are pushing their particular religious brand. Either way, they are never separate from power.

Secondly, Gray is conflating religion with the natural impulse within people to embroider a vain narrative onto their life events, or to believe in luck, or to simply see patterns and make meaning. But worse than this, by making religion some kind of “irreducible” trait of human beings Gray is doing a massive, and possibly dangerous disservice to the perspectives of Indigenous peoples and those peoples who live beyond the clutches of the State – those who, as Eduardo Viveiros De Castro describes, see a multiplicity of ‘human’ subject positions in all the animate and inanimate beings that have, naturally, a different perspective on their world. (Viveiros De Castro has explored the notion of ‘perspectivism’ – not ‘animism’ – in Amerindian culture and, to explain it really simply I could use this question: do you think your dog views the world as ‘a dog,’ or does she view the world as the human?)

But it is Gray’s insistence that politics is a chapter in the history of religion that is my main concern here. It is most certainly true, as he shows in his book, that political utopianism, or communism, appears to resemble something like early Christianity and in making this connection we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that radical politics is the spawn of a religious impulse. The similarities between most religions – Judaism forms a kind of exception because it is not a recruiting religion – and radical politics become more obvious the more one considers them. For example, radical political groups are ever attempting to raise the consciousness of others and recruit them to their cause… just like Christianity did from the beginning… and so it would seem that the strategy for a political movement is descended directly from a recruiting religion like Christianity. But, in fact, it is the reverse.

Jesus Christ was an expression of political discontent within a Roman occupation. Christianity was a response to the objectionable aspects of a – foreign – State power. In fact, all religions are a response to living in a State – they begin as controlling ideologies, at the beginning of States, or as oppositional political movements, after States have been established.

It is no coincidence that the story of the Garden of Eden, for example, is about the loss of ‘innocence’ – Adam and Eve were the peoples that lived prior to their tragic immersion in a State. When States first appeared, as the archaeological evidence shows, people became hungrier, they were exploited, they were subject to hierarchy and terror. No wonder they looked back to a receding golden age. The story of the Garden of Eden was developed to warn people that they were in new, inescapable territory, it was their fault, and that if they didn’t follow a sound moral code then everything would get far worse. A transcendental rather than immanent supernatural force – God – was now presiding over the house, and he wasn’t often pleased. But radicals argued that God didn’t like these conditions and wanted to sweep away all the bad people so that the good people, the true believers, could live in peace again – and they began a political movement that appealed not to ‘true democracy’ – as we might today – but to the ‘true God.’

The utopian or millenarian radicals believed, like Jesus did, that heaven was definitely going to be (re-)established on Earth at some appointed time, and that if people wanted to get there then they should sign up and break with their old traditions and old family life asap. As Yuri Slezkine has shown in great detail in ‘The House of Government,’ the Bolsheviks, as well as the anarchists and left communists, were millenarians too.

Life in an exploitative and hierarchical society naturally generates opposition, which is often revolutionary and millenarian – and both are the same thing. Life in civilization also generates thinkers – philosophers – who try to work out how best to endure in such conditions. But if the political movement designed to revolutionize the State, or escape it completely, becomes successful then not only is a new State created, but also a new religion.

The first religions were indeed transcendent – they made the presumed supernatural force external to material life – but they weren’t millenarian, and they were developed in order to control populations that had to exploited. The religions that followed, such as Christianity, were political objections to the State that relied on reference to God for authority. If they became successful they did not do away with the State, they did not bring heaven to Earth, and they did not depose transcendence: they became part of the exploitative system. Communism is the most recent millenarian objection to the State. In our secular age ‘true or radical democracy’ can replace God as the focus of appeal. Where communism became successful, no matter how much one may think that it was a travesty of what ‘communism’ means, the new transcendent religion of Marxist-Leninism became established.

Politics – the management of people who accept or oppose the machinations of a State – comes before religion. We should be careful how we tread.

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The Escalating Class War Against Bernie Sanders

Photograph Source: Alper Çuğun – CC BY 2.0

More than ever, Bernie Sanders is public enemy number one for power elites that thrive on economic injustice. The Bernie 2020 campaign is a direct threat to the undemocratic leverage that extremely wealthy individuals and huge corporations constantly exert on the political process. No wonder we’re now seeing so much anti-Bernie rage from leading corporate Democrats — eagerly amplified by corporate media.

In American politics, hell hath no fury like corporate power scorned.

Flagrant media biases against Sanders are routine in a wide range of mainstream outlets. (The media watch group FAIR has long documented the problem, illuminated by one piece after another after another after another just this month.) In sharp contrast, positivity toward Sanders in mass media spheres is scarce.

The pattern is enmeshed with the corporatism that the Sanders campaign seeks to replace with genuine democracy — disempowering great wealth and corporate heft while empowering everyday people to participate in a truly democratic process.

Big media are continually amplifying the voices of well-paid reporters and pundits whose jobs involve acceptance of corporate power, including the prerogatives of corporate owners and sponsors. And, in news coverage of politics, there’s an inexhaustible supply of former Democratic officeholders and appointees who’ve been lucratively feeding from corporate troughs as lobbyists, consultants and PR operatives. Their corporate ties usually go unmentioned.

An important media headquarters for hostility toward the Sanders campaign is MSNBC, owned by Comcast — a notoriously anti-labor and anti-consumer corporation. “People need to remember,” I pointed out on Democracy Now! last week, “that if you, for instance, don’t trust Comcast, why would you trust a network that is owned by Comcast? These are class interests being worked out where the top strata of ownership and investors hires the CEO, hires the managing editors, hires the reporters. And so, what we’re seeing, and not to be rhetorical about it, but we really are seeing a class war underway.”

Routinely, the talking heads and go-to sources for mainline news outlets are far removed from the economic pressures besetting so many Americans. And so, media professionals with the most clout and largest megaphones are quite distant from the Sanders base.

Voting patterns in the New Hampshire primary reflected whose economic interests the Sanders campaign is promising to serve. With 10 active candidates on the Democratic ballot, Sanders “won 4 in 10 of voters with household incomes under $50,000 and nearly 3 in 10 with incomes between $50,00 and $99,000,” the Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, a trio of researchers associated with the Institute for New Economic Thinking — Thomas Ferguson, Jie Chen and Paul Jorgensen — found that “the higher the town’s income, the fewer votes cast” for Sanders. “Lower income towns in New Hampshire voted heavily for Sanders; richer towns did the opposite.”

The researchers saw in the data “further dramatic evidence of a point we have made before: that the Democratic Party is now sharply divided by social class.”

It’s a reality with media implications that are hidden in plain sight. The often-vitriolic and sometimes preposterous attacks on Sanders via powerful national media outlets are almost always coming from affluent or outright wealthy people. Meanwhile, low-income Americans have virtually zero access to the TV studios (other than providing after-hours janitorial services).

With very few exceptions, the loudest voices to be heard from mass media are coming from individuals with wealth far above the financial vicinity of average Americans. Virtually none of the most widely read, seen and heard journalists are on the low end of the nation’s extreme income inequality. Viewed in that light — and keeping in mind that corporate ownership and advertising dominate mainstream media — it shouldn’t be surprising that few prominent journalists have much good to say about a presidential campaign fiercely aligned with the working class.

“If there is going to be class warfare in this country,” Bernie Sanders told the Iowa AFL-CIO convention last summer, “it’s time that the working class of this country won that war and not just the corporate elite.”

To the corporate elite, goals like that are unacceptable.

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Irish Elections and Unification

Photograph Source: Ardfern – CC BY-SA 3.0

The victory by Ireland’s leftwing Sinn Fein Party in the Republic’s recent election has not only overturned some 90 years of domination by the island’s two center-right parties, it suddenly puts the issue of Irish reunification on the agenda. While the campaign was fought over bread and butter issues like housing, the collapsing health care system, and homelessness, a united Ireland has long been Sinn Fein’s raison d’être. In the aftermath, Party leaders called for a border referendum on the subject.

But nothing is simple in Ireland, most of all, reunification.

For starters, the election’s outcome is enormously complex. Sinn Fein (We Ourselves) did get the largest number of first-choice votes—Ireland has a system of rated voting—but not by much. The center-right parties that have taken turns ruling since 1922—Fine Gael (the Irish Tribe) and Fianna Fail (Soldiers of Destiny)—took 22% and 21% respectively to Sinn Fein’s 24.5%.

Although other progressive parties, like the Greens, also did well, it would be extremely difficult to form a government without one of the two big traditional parties.  Fine Gael has ruled out working with Sinn Fein because of its association with the Irish Republican Army, but Fianna Fail is hedging its bets. Party leader Michael Martin was coy in the aftermath of the vote, saying he respected the democratic decision of the Irish people.

But getting from the election’s outcome to actual governance promises to be a difficult process, and one that, in the end, might fail, forcing yet another general election. Sinn Fein will be reluctant to play second fiddle to Fianna Fail—the latter won one more seat than Sinn Fein—since junior partners tend to do badly in follow up elections. Sinn Fein would have won more seats if it had fielded more candidates, but it was reluctant to do so because it had taken a beating in local elections just seven months earlier. The Irish lower house, or Dail, has 180 seats.

If governance looks complex, try reunification.

On the one hand, there are any number of roadblocks to reuniting the Republic and Northern Ireland, many of them historical. On the other hand, there are some very practical reasons for considering such a move. Sorting them out will be the trick.

Northern Ireland—called the Plantation of Ulster by Elizabeth I—was established in 1609 after driving out the two major Irish clans, the O’Neills and the O’Donnels, and seizing 500,000 square acres of prime farm land. Some 20,000 Protestants, many of them Scots, were moved in to replace them.

From the beginning, Ulster was meant to be an ethnic stronghold. Protestants who used native Irish labor had to pay special taxes and eventually even intermarriage with Catholics was discouraged. Protestant farmers got special deals on rent and land improvements—the “Ulster Privilege”—and Catholics were politically and economically marginalized. Hatred between the two communities was actively stoked by extremist Protestant organizations like The Orange Order. The name comes from William of Orange (William III), the Protestant husband of Mary II, queen of England.

This is hardly ancient history. Up until recently, Protestants controlled Northern Ireland through a combination of disenfranchising Catholics and direct repression. In 1972 a peaceful march in Londonderry demanding civil rights was attacked by British paratroopers, who gunned down 24 unarmed people, killing 14 of them. “Bloody Sunday” was the beginning of  “The Troubles,” a low-scale civil war that took more than 3600 lives and deeply scarred both communities.

Getting past that history will be no easy task, even though the Good Friday Agreement ended the fighting in 1998 and established the current assembly in Northern Ireland, the Stormont. A recent agreement between the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the largely Catholic Sinn Fein Party has the Stormont up and running after a three-year hiatus.

The practical reasons for re-examining reunification are legion.

During the 2016 Brexit vote, Northern Ireland, like Scotland, voted to stay in the European Union (EU). A majority of Protestants voted to leave, but a strong Catholic vote tipped the scales to “remain.”  Northern Ireland gets more than $780 million yearly from the EU to support agriculture and encourage cultural development and intra-community peace.

What was once one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world has been dismantled, and Ulster exports to the Republic are worth $4.4 billion a year. And because the border is open, the North has an outlet for its goods through the Republic. If Ulster follows Britain out of the EU, however, that will change. While there is agreement not to reestablish a “hard” border, Ulster’s imports from Britain will still have to be inspected to make sure they follow EU regulations.

The Protestants were promised by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that there would be no EU inspections, but “promises” and “principles” are two words that don’t easily co-exist with the word “Johnson.” The Prime Minister—no longer dependent on the DUP for votes in the London Parliament—double crossed the DUP and agreed to a EU inspection regime in the Irish Sea.

It is not clear how most of the people in both countries feel about reunification. Exit polls in the south found that most voters would support a referendum on unification.

Polls also show that many Northern Irish would consider it as well, although that sentiment is sharply divided between “unionist” Protestants and “loyalist” Protestants. The former are more concerned with stability than religious sectarianism, and if Brexit has a negative impact on Ulster—the outcome most economists expect—they might be open to the idea.

The “loyalists,” however, will certainly resist, a fact that gives Irish in the Republic pause. The south has gone through a long and painful economic recovery from the crash of 2008 and many are not enthusiastic about suddenly inheriting a bunch of people who don’t want to be there.

Sinn Fein argues that the Good Friday Agreement essentially says that the Irish have a right to choose without reference to Britain, and is pushing for a border referendum. Under the Agreement, however, if the vote to reunite fails, another can’t be taken for seven years.

Sinn Fein did as well as it did—particularly among the young—because of its political program to build 100,000 homes, freeze rents for three years, increase aid to education, house the homeless, improve health care, and tax the wealthy. Those are also issues in the north, where 300,000 people are currently waiting to see a medical specialist. Some15,000 medical workers recently went on strike to protest long hours and poor pay.

At this point, Ulster’s Sinn Fein has seven representatives to the British parliament, but refuses to send them because they would have to swear an oath to the Crown. If Sinn Fein has any hopes of getting enough people in the north to consider reunification, however, it will have to rid itself of such nationalist trappings, and convince the majority of Protestants that their traditions will be respected.

This may be less difficult than it was several years ago, because the Catholic Church in the Republic has gone into deep decline, pummeled by charges of child abuse and the exploitation of unwed mothers. The Catholic Church in the Republic fought hard against initiatives in 2015 and 2018 supporting gay marriage and abortion, and lost badly both times.

If unification is the goal, supporters in the Republic and Ulster will have to be patient, and show that they can deliver a better life for the entire community. That will have less to do with Ireland’s “long sorrow” ancient hatreds than with decent health care, good schools, affordable housing and well-paid jobs. All the Irish can get behind that program.


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We Shouldn’t Have to Beg Mark Zuckerberg to Respect Democracy

Last month George Soros had a New York Times column arguing that Mark Zuckerberg should not be running Facebook. (Does the NYT reserve space on its opinion page for billionaires?) The gist of Soros’ piece is that Zuckerberg has made a deal with Trump. He will allow all manner of outrageous lies to be spread on Facebook to benefit Trump’s re-election campaign. In exchange, Trump will defend Zuckerberg from efforts to regulate Facebook.

Soros is of course right. Zuckerberg has said that Facebook will not attempt to verify the accuracy of the political ads that it runs. This is a greenlight for any sleazebag to push the most outrageous claims that they want in order to further the election of their favored candidate.

This will almost certainly benefit Donald Trump’s re-election, since the one area where he can legitimately take credit is in pushing outlandish lies. No one has pushed more lies more effectively than Donald Trump. The free rein promised by Zuckerberg is a re-election campaign contribution of enormous value.

While Soros is right on the substance of the issue, he is wrong to focus on the personality of Mark Zuckerberg. It would be good if we had a responsible forward-thinking person, who cared about the future of democracy, running Facebook, but that is not the normal course of things in a capitalist economy.

Businesses are run to make money. And, the bottom line here is that Facebook stands to make much more money spreading outlandish lies that help Trump’s campaign, than screening ads for their veracity. In this context, we should not be surprised that Facebook is taking the lie-spreading route. The problem is not that Zuckerberg is acting like a normal businessperson, the problem is that we made the lie-spreading route profitable.

In this respect it is worth pointing out that we don’t have the same problem with other media outlets. We don’t have to beg CNN, the New York Times, and other major news outlets to not take ads that they know to be false. They won’t do it, perhaps in part out of principle, but also because they could be sued for libel if they spread claims that were false and damaging.

For example, if I wanted to take out an ad asserting that Donald Trump is a rapist (which is likely true), most major news outlets would refuse to run it. Donald Trump could not only sue me for libel, he could also sue any news outlet that carried the ad. If I could not show that the claim was true, the news outlet that published the ad could be forced to pay substantial damages. For this reason, traditional news outlets do try to screen political ads for accuracy, and will not run an ad that they know to be false.

Facebook does not feel the same need to protect against libel because a law passed by Congress exempts it from the same sort of liability faced by traditional media outlets. Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, protects Internet intermediaries from the liability rules that apply to traditional media outlets.

The logic that was used to justify this provision is that Internet intermediaries should be treated the same way as common carriers, like a phone company or the mail service. A common carrier does not have control over the content it carries, nor does it profit from specific content, except insofar as it increases demand for its service.

This was arguably an accurate description of Internet intermediaries in the early years of the web. For example, we would not have expected AOL to be responsible for whatever people chose to post in its chatrooms. But the web in general, and Facebook in particular, have evolved hugely in the years since Section 230 was put into law.

Facebook has complete control over content. It allows people to pay to have their posts sent to as many people as they choose. It allows them to target the recipients, based on location, age, education, gender, and any number of other characteristics. It is very hard to see how an outlet like CNN or the NYT can be held responsible for spreading libelous material, but Facebook should be exempt.

Whether or not Section 230 made sense in 1996, it clearly does not in era of Facebook. In effect it gives Facebook, and other Internet outlets, a special privilege that is not available to their broadcast or print competitors.

Of course, Zuckerberg will claim that it is not possible for Facebook to monitor the hundreds of millions of items that get posted every day. But the standard need not be that Facebook prevents libelous material from being posted. Rather, Facebook can be required to remove libelous material after it has been called to its attention. Furthermore, since Facebook’s system allows it to know exactly who has opened a post, it can be required to send a correction to anyone who originally received the libelous material.

Zuckerberg has also argued that they cannot be responsible for preventing false material from being spread through Facebook because they shouldn’t be in the position of determining what is true. Determining truth may seem hard for Zuckerberg, but this is precisely what every traditional media outlet does all the time, both when deciding on editorial content and when making decisions about accepting ads. If Zuckerberg’s team is that much less competent than those at traditional media outlets they can look to hire competent people away from these other outlets.

There really is nothing terribly complicated about Facebook’s situation, nor any grand questions of freedom of speech and freedom of the press that don’t come up all the time with traditional media. The basic story is that Facebook is now gaming a provision of a quarter-century old law to pretend it is a common carrier when that is clearly not the case.

If Facebook wants to be treated like a common carrier, then it should become one. That would mean not profiting from ads and boosted posts. It would also mean not selling personal information from its users. If it wants to be a common carrier then it can simply allow people to post as they please and not try to profit from content or personal information.

However, this is obviously not Facebook in its current form. Facebook is no more a common carrier than any major media outlet. As such it has to be subject to the same rules as other media outlets. That will require much more spending to police its network for false and libelous information, which will mean that Facebook will be much less profitable and Mark Zuckerberg will be much less rich.

But that is Mr. Zuckerberg’s problem. We should not be in the position of begging Zuckerberg to do the right thing as the CEO of Facebook or hoping that a more socially responsible person takes over the company. The law must be adjusted to take away Facebook’s special status. It is a media outlet and it is long past time that it be treated like one.

This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s Patreon page.

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A Silicon Valley Life Lesson: Money That ‘Clumps’ Crushes

If everything rich people tell us — about prosperity — happened to be true, Silicon Valley would right now be overflowing with exceedingly happy people. Silicon Valley, after all, has everything rich folks say they need to get an economy going and growing: an abundance of “successful” people with plenty of money to invest, spectacularly generous rewards for corporate executive “innovators,” and billions in subsidies from local governments

What more could deep pockets want? How about a largely union-free environment? Silicon Valley has that, too. This mecca for high-tech has hardly any workplaces with pesky unions — and their nasty habit of demanding that companies ought to be sharing wealth with everyone who helps create it.

Movers and shakers in Silicon Valley don’t do sharing. They do getting rich. They do that fabulously well. In Silicon Valley, “money is clumping,” as the president of a top local civic group puts it.

Clumping at the top. Most everywhere else, people are hurting, not happy, and Silicon Valley’s Institute for Regional Studies has a new report out on what’s driving that unhappiness.

The local blues start with housing. The problem: People can’t afford a decent place to live in Silicon Valley, not without devoting some unholy share of their income to rent or mortgage payments. Housing costs in Silicon Valley, the Institute for Regional Studies report notes, “remain the highest in the nation.” The typical local household is shelling out $2,401 monthly on housing, well above the $1,626 median monthly outlay in California and the $1,082 median in the United States.

This housing cost crisis, in turn, creates crises in other facets of daily life. To find affordable housing, people find themselves having to move further and further from where they work. That puts cars on the roads for more miles. That means more traffic. Lots of it.

Any commutes longer than a half-hour, researchers tell us, take a stressful toll. About half of Silicon Valley took over a half-hour to get to work last year. Add that commuting stress to the ongoing anxiety of hustling to meet Silicon Valley’s outsized monthly bills, and you have the basics for a hypertension perfect storm. Living conditions, the new Institute for Regional Studies study points out bluntly, rate as “harsh for the broad peripheries of the population.”

“The necessity for individuals and families to choose between paying for housing and adequately feeding themselves,” the Institute adds, “is becoming a more prominent issue throughout the region, even for those with incomes well above the poverty limit.”

Last year, the average Silicon Valley family of four with a little kid and a baby needed a combined income of $131,600 to get by without public or private assistance. Last year’s federal poverty rate for that family demographic? Just $25,750.

This relentless squeeze on daily life in Silicon Valley seems to be getting even tighter. Local housing prices have about doubled over the last decade. Homelessness has also doubled over recent years. Traffic congestion has quadrupled since 2002. The death rate from hypertension and hypertensive renal disease since 1999 has jumped 270 percent, over twice the hypertension death rate increase in California overall.

Why are these conditions of Silicon Valley life getting worse? One key factor: The distribution of income and wealth in Silicon Valley is becoming ever more skewed and concentrated.

Households with savings under $100,000 — the “non-affluent” in the new Institute for Regional Studies analysis — make up over half of Silicon Valley households, 53 percent to be exact. But these households hold only 2 percent of Silicon Valley’s wealth.

At the other end, “high net worth” households with over $1 million available to invest make up 13 percent of Silicon Valley. They hold a whopping 75 percent of Silicon Valley’s household wealth.

This intense concentration is making Silicon Valley increasingly unlivable for anyone other than the awesomely affluent. Their affluence is poisoning the Silicon Valley well on a number of fronts.

How so? Let’s start again with housing. The rich in Silicon Valley can afford to pay most any price for housing that strikes their fancy. Developers see that — and put their energy into building high-profit luxury units. Over the last four years, 83 percent of the homes granted Silicon Valley building permits have rated, the Institute for Regional Studies relates, as luxury dwellings “unaffordable to most buyers and renters.”

Wealthy people in Silicon Valley can, of course, also afford to pay more in taxes, dollars that could be used to expand affordable housing programs and local options for public transit. But these rich people don’t need affordable housing, and they don’t ride buses. They have little to zilch interest in paying taxes for services they don’t need and will never use.

What the rich, thanks to their enormous wealth, do have: enormous political power — and they use that power to keep their taxes low and the public purse squeezed.

Silicon Valley’s rich pull all this off, most of the time, with aplomb. They glide through life as enlightened stewards of the public trust. They donate to charities. They recycle. They roll their eyes when Donald Trump goes off on one of his nativist rants. They feel noble.

And the rest of us? In Silicon Valley and beyond, we get to feel like feudal peasants.

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Minority Abuse: A Slice of Life in Modi’s India

It is not uncommon for colonial governments to enact sedition laws with the purpose of stifling dissent; it is, following independence, for democratic governments to be enforcing them to quell critics.  It is also exactly what the Modi government and party encourages in India.

And it is what landed a 26-year old mother and her daughter’s teacher in jail.  All for a play critical of Mr. Modi’s Citizenship Amendment Act and the government’s plans for a National Register of Citizens, the NRC on which he has been caught modifying the truth.  These have stoked fear among India’s Muslims in that they may be required to produce documents to prove citizenship — an impossible task in a poor country where few register births, or have any other documents like passports or drivers licenses.

What did the play do?  Not much.  An elderly woman is told that Narendra Modi wants Muslims to produce documents to prove citizenship.  The woman responds that her family has been in India for generations, and she would have to dig up the graves of her ancestors to produce those documents, adding that a boy who used to sell tea (reference to Modi) is now demanding them.  “I will ask him for his documents,” she continues, “and if he can’t show them to me, I’ll beat him with my sandal.”

The play was streamed on Facebook by a parent and quickly went viral.  One of Mr. Modi’s ardent supporters, a certain Neelesh Rakshal, chanced upon it and promptly registered a complaint with the police “for abusing the prime minister and also for spreading hatred,”  To most citizens of western democracies, the charge would appear ludicrous.  For example, President Trump is lampooned much more severely and fairly regularly on in the Porcupine’s Quill satire column.

But then it was just before Valentine’s Day and Mr. Rakshal, the greatly offended self-proclaimed social activist, expected garlands of marigolds for his idol.

Nazbunnisa, the 26-year old mother is not sure how she came to be jailed.  She said, she simply heard her daughter rehearse her part at home.  She also says she never even went to the play.  A domestic worker, she has few resources at her disposal.

Farida Begum the 52-year old teacher suffers from high blood pressure, and fears what the future holds for her family.  Her husband, Mirza Baig, is also greatly concerned about how his wife’s time in jail will affect the marriage prospects of their daughter.  He says what has been been done “is not right.”

The complaint also named the school management and the president of the school, who the police have not been able to find.  So they told the court at the preliminary hearing.

Dr. Thouseef Madikeri, the school’s CEO, says, “We do not know for what reason sedition charges have been invoked against the school.  It is beyond the imagination of any reasonable person.  We will fight it in court.”

India is full of travesty these days, but should the courts dismiss the complaint, Mr. Neelesh Rakshal could face a lawsuit for defamation, at the very least.  He would most certainly in the US, where he could also be liable for damages and legal fees running into six figures.

Karnataka is not the only state where Muslims are being abused.  The city of Kanpur in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has a large community of Muslims that is under constant abuse by police, but this year has seen the brutality having fatal consequences.

Such is life for poor minorities in Modi’s India.

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China’s Economy: Powerful But Vulernable

China’s economy is often presented as a powerful engine.

This is, however, only one face of it. It has also been marked by vulnerabilities, and these have become more obvious over time, as the costs of high-speed growth have rebounded on the country, giving rise to social tensions that are straining the capacity of the reigning Communist Party to contain them.

Uneven development among regions has been one of legacies of the Chinese road to capitalism, with most of the benefits of growth being cornered by the eastern and southeastern coastal region that led the integration of China into the global economy. While the growth of income disparities has slowed overtime, it continues, with the inland provinces — particularly in northwestern and southwestern China — lagging behind Guangdong, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang, the powerhouses of China’s export-led industrialization.

The inland provinces continue to supply cheap labor to China’s “gold coast,” where migrants endure legalized discrimination owing to the hukou residential system that prevents them from enjoying housing and social security benefits in the areas where they work.

Overcapacity Stalks Industry

China is meanwhile burdened with an overcapacity problem, especially in heavy industry and many medium industries. There has been significant overcapacity in the steel, iron, aluminum, and automobile industries, leading to practically flat prices and causing some analysts to say that China is now suffering from “industrial deflation.”

Since China accounts for a great part of global production and trade in heavy goods, its surpluses in these goods have brought down global prices, contributing to global deflationary pressures.

Overcapacity is a symptom of overproduction and overaccumulation, and it is a product of the Chinese way of capitalism. Specifically, it is due to repression of domestic consumption and excessive investment. Repression of consumption was a policy dictated by the need to channel people’s savings to the industrial export sector. Excessive investment stemmed from the decentralized economic strategy where local areas were given a great deal of autonomy in investment decisions.

Many local authorities, says Ho Fung Hung, perhaps the leading expert in China’s overproduction, act “developmentally,” that is, they pick industrial “winners” and act proactively to set these up at the local level. The sum of these efforts, however, produces anarchic competition among localities, resulting in uncoordinated construction of redundant production capacity and infrastructure.

As early as the 2000s, in fact, more than 75 percent of the country’s industries were already suffering from overcapacity and fixed asset investment in industries already experiencing overinvestment accounted for 40 to 50 per cent of China’s GDP growth.

The situation, however, has worsened since then, with state media admitting that 21 industries suffer from “serious” overcapacity — including steel, aluminum, cement, shipbuilding, power generation, heavy engineering, solar panels, wind turbines, construction machinery, chemicals, textiles, paper, glass, shipping, and oil refining.

For instance, since 2014, China has produced more than half of all the steel in the world. But of the 1.1 billion tons of steel Chinese factories were capable of making in 2015, only 70 percent was actually produced. That year, more than half of China’s steel companies posted a loss, and prices were driven so low that, as one account observed, “steel was cheaper than cabbage, as was the popular observation at the time.”

To solve the overcapacity problem, China has tried to shut down the less efficient enterprises and “rationalize” the remainder. This is, however, easier said than done, because officials are scared to death of provoking worker unrest since the ability to maintain social stability is one of the key justifications used by the Communist Party for its continued political dominance. Moreover, shutting down enterprises may be demanded from the center, but it is the local authorities that have to deal with the consequences, and so the natural response of the latter is to resist.

The end result is that keeping “zombies,” which are mainly state-owned enterprises (SOEs), alive has been extremely costly. Overcapacity brings down prices, bringing down profits throughout an industry. Indebtedness becomes a permanent condition, so that one can speak of a permanent line of credit to banks which is never repaid.

Calculations of the levels of debt of the public and private corporate sector in China are not easy to come by, but China’s companies went from owing $3.4 trillion to $12.5 trillion between 2007 and mid-2014 — “a faster buildup of debt than in any other country in modern times,” as a McKinsey report points out.

Finance: The Economy’s Achilles’ Heel

Massive indebtedness, mainly to Chinese state banks, clearly poses a threat to the economy. But China is no ordinary capitalist economy.

Under normal capitalism, when loans are nonperforming, the banks come calling on the debtor and either collect or force them into bankruptcy. But in China, the fact that the state enterprises and the banks are all owned by the government places the day of reckoning far into the future.

As Dinny McMahon writes, “The real advantage of China’s system of state ownership isn’t that the cleanup is easier than in market economies; it’s that the clean-up is easier to put off… Sure bank profits erode — after all, a big chunk of their loans aren’t paying interest — but otherwise no one has to take responsibility for mounting bad loans. And, most importantly, deadbeat companies are kept alive.”

But though put off indefinitely, the day of reckoning will arrive, and it has perhaps been advanced by the negative synergy between the mountain of debt owed by the SOEs and the other vulnerabilities of China’s financial system: a real estate bubble, a roller-coaster stock market, and an uncontrolled shadow banking system.

There is no doubt that China is already in the midst of a real estate bubble. As in the United States during the subprime-mortgage bubble that culminated in the global financial crisis of 2007–2009, the real-estate market has attracted too many wealthy and middle-class speculators, leading to a frenzy that has seen real estate prices climb sharply.

Chinese real estate prices soared in so-called Tier 1 cities like Beijing and Shanghai from 2015 to 2017, pushing worried authorities there to take measures to pop the bubble. Major cities, including Beijing, imposed various measures: They increased down-payment requirements, tightened mortgage restrictions, banned the resale of property for several years, and limited the number of homes that people could buy.

However, Chinese authorities face a dilemma.

On the one hand, workers complain that the bubble has placed owning and renting apartments beyond their reach, thus fueling social instability. On the other hand, a sharp drop in real estate prices could bring down the rest of the Chinese economy and — given China’s increasingly central role as a source of international demand — the rest of the global economy along with it.

China’s real estate sector accounts for an estimated 15 percent of GDP and 20 percent of the national demand for loans. Thus, as pointed out by banking experts Andrew Sheng and Ng Chow Soon, any slowdown would “adversely affect construction-related industries along the entire supply chain, including steel, cement, and other building materials.”

The problem is not just a real estate market slowdown having a domino effect on the rest of the economy owing to reduced demand; it is also that so many other industrial sectors are heavily invested in real estate. Because of reduced profitability in the real economy owing to overcapacity, more and more manufacturing companies have started to subsidize their losses by investing in real estate or financial speculation.

Financial repression — keeping the interest rates on deposits low to subsidize China’s powerful alliance of export industries and governments in the coastal provinces — has been central in pushing investors into real-estate speculation. However, growing uncertainties in that sector have caused many middle-class and rich investors to seek higher returns in the country’s poorly regulated stock market.

The unfortunate result: a good many Chinese have lost their fortunes as stock prices fluctuate wildly. As early as 2001, Wu Jinglian, widely regarded as one of the country’s leading reform economists, characterized the corruption-ridden Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges as “worse than a casino” in which investors would inevitably lose money over the long run.

At the peak of the Shanghai market in June 2015, a Bloomberg analyst wrote that “No other stock market has grown as much in dollar terms over a 12-month period,” noting that the previous year’s gain was greater “than the $5 trillion size of Japan’s entire stock market.”

When the Shanghai index plunged 40 percent later that summer, Chinese investors were hit with huge losses — debt they still grapple with today. Many lost all their savings — a significant personal tragedy (and a looming national crisis) in a country with such a poorly developed social-security system.

Another source of financial instability is the virtual monopoly on credit access held by export-oriented industries, state-owned enterprises, and the local governments of favored coastal regions. With a significant part of the demand for credit from a multitude of private companies unmet by the official banking sector, the void has been rapidly filled by so-called shadow banks, informal institutions of credit that are unregulated.

The shadow banking system in China is not yet as sophisticated as its counterparts on Wall Street and in London, but it is getting there. Ballpark estimates of the trades carried out in China’s shadow banking sector range from $10 trillion to more than $18 trillion.

In 2013, according to one of the more authoritative studies, the scale of shadow banking risk assets — i.e. assets marked by great volatility, like stocks and real estate — came to 53 percent of China’s GDP. That might appear small when compared with the global average of about 120 percent of GDP, but the reality is that many of these shadow banking creditors have raised their capital by borrowing from the formal banking sector. These loans are either registered on the books or “hidden” in special off-balance-sheet vehicles.

Should a shadow banking crisis ensue, it is estimated that up to half of the nonperforming loans of the shadow banking sector could be “transferred” to the formal banking sector, thus undermining it as well. In addition, the shadow banking sector is heavily invested in real estate trusts. Thus, a sharp drop in property valuations would immediately have a negative impact on the shadow banking sector — creditors would be left running after bankrupt developers or holding massively depreciated real estate as collateral.

Finance is the Achilles’ heel of the Chinese economy. The negative synergy between an overheating real estate sector, a volatile stock market, and an uncontrolled shadow banking system could well be the cause of the next big crisis to hit the global economy, rivaling the severity of the Asian financial crisis of 1997–1998 and the global financial implosion of 2008–2009.

Environmental Wasteland

Not surprisingly, China’s infrastructure-intensive, smoke-stack-industries-dependent high-speed growth has been accompanied by widespread and chronic environmental crises, with perhaps the dangerous air pollution levels in Beijing being the most widely discussed internationally.

Water scarcity, desertification, deforestation, soil erosion and degradation, and soil and water contamination have all contributed to a greater concern about the environment, especially among the middle class. Yet that same middle class is the source of much of the problem.

Reliance on fossil fuels contributes significantly to air pollution and climate change. Prosperity has made China the world’s biggest car market, with the consequent rise in unhealthy levels of airborne pollution in the cities. Owing to its price competitiveness, coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, continues to be the fuel of choice for generating power, accounting for 65 percent of electricity use.

Apart from their massive negative impact on the environment and public health, fossil fuel-driven industrial processes have increasingly boomeranged on the economy. Economists have estimated that environmental degradation and pollution cost the Chinese economy the equivalent of 3 to 10 percent of GDP owing to work days missed, crops lost to pollution and contamination, decline in tourism, and other problems. A recently published retrospective analysis by the Chinese Academy of Sciences placed the figure higher, at 13.5 percent of GDP in 2005.

From Relative Equality to Gross Inequality

China’s breakneck capitalist growth relying on cheap labor has had two contradictory effects on the socioeconomic conditions of its people.

On the one hand, people living in poverty declined from 88 percent in 1988 to 2 or 3 percent at present. On the other hand, it has converted China from one of the world’s most egalitarian societies during the Mao period to one of the world’s most unequal societies. Research by Branco Milanovic, one of the world’s leading experts on inequality, shows that in the period 1988 to 2008, income inequality in China rose far more rapidly than in any other region in the world.

Estimates of China’s Gini Index or Gini Coefficient, the most commonly used measure of inequality, range from 0.47, the government’s estimate, to 0.55. The government figure, it has been pointed out, would make China’s income inequality substantially greater than is the case in all developed countries.

Class-related inequality has recently been joined by gender-related inequality as a great source of concern. Ironically, as China has become more prosperous, the gap has increased between women’s incomes and economic status and those of men. With the headlong rush towards capitalism, the earnings of women went down from 80 per cent those of men at the start of the reform era to 67 percent in the cities and 56 percent in the countryside.

The drivers of this regression from the status of women during the Mao period are a greying population and the demographic imbalance produced by the controversial one-child policy, when male children were favored over females, resulting in widespread abortion and infanticide.

Gender is now one of the most important factors determining income inequality in China, perhaps more so than even the longstanding divide between the cities and the countryside. What is alarming is that discrimination against women is now accepted if not promoted by the country’s leadership.

Mao famously told women that they held up “half the sky,” and despite turmoil and the persistence of patriarchal traditions, they entered the wor force in record numbers and began to enjoy greater rights. Now, in a break with the Marxist ambition of liberating women, President Xi has openly called on women to embrace their “unique role” in the family and “shoulder the responsibilities of taking care of the old and young, as well as educating children.”

No party leader would have been caught saying something like this in the past, but the breaking of the taboo apparently stems from the male party leadership’s push to raise the birth rate, owing to its obsession with China’s looming demographic crisis.

China’s rapid growth has produced prosperity and reduced poverty. It has also generated less wholesome economic, social, and ecological consequences which are now catching up with it, making the much-vaunted Chinese model increasingly less attractive for developing economies.

This series is based on the recently published study by Focus on the Global South titled China: An Imperial Power in the Image of the West? on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China this year.

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Afghan Troops say Taliban are Brothers and War is “Not Really Our Fight.”

The world is waiting anxiously to see whether the U.S. and Afghan governments and the Taliban will agree to a one-week truce that could set the stage for a “permanent and comprehensive” ceasefire and a withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign occupation forces from Afghanistan. Could the talks be for real this time, or will they turn out to be just another smokescreen for President Trump’s addiction to mass murder and celebrity whack-a-mole?

If the ceasefire really happens, nobody will be happier than the Afghans fighting and dying on the front lines of a war that one described to a BBC reporter as “not really our fight.” Afghan government troops and police who are suffering the worst casualties on the front lines of this war told the BBC they are not fighting out of hatred for the Taliban or loyalty to the U.S.-backed government, but out of poverty, desperation and self-preservation. In this respect, they are caught in the same excruciating predicament as millions of other people across the greater Middle East wherever the United States has turned people’s homes and communities into American “battlefields.”

In Afghanistan, U.S.-trained special operations forces conduct “hunt and kill” night raids and offensive operations in Taliban-held territory, backed by devastating U.S. airpower that kills largely uncounted numbers of resistance fighters and civilians. The U.S. dropped a post-2001 record 7,423 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan in 2019.

But as BBC reporter Nanamou Steffensen explained (listen here, from 11:40 to 16:50), it is lightly-armed rank-and-file Afghan soldiers and police at checkpoints and small defensive outposts across the country, not the U.S.-backed elite special operations forces, who suffer the most appalling level of casualties. President Ghani revealed in January 2019 that over 45,000 Afghan troops had been killed since he took office in September 2014, and by all accounts 2019 was even deadlier.

Steffensen travelled around Afghanistan talking to Afghan soldiers and police at the checkpoints and small outposts that are the vulnerable front line of the U.S. war against the Taliban. The troops Steffensen spoke to told her they only enlisted in the army or police because they couldn’t find any other work, and that they received only one month’s training in the use of an AK-47 and an RPG before being sent to the front lines. Most are dressed only in t-shirts and slippers or traditional Afghan clothing, although a few sport bits and pieces of body armor. They live in constant fear, “expecting to be overrun at any moment.” One policeman told Steffensen, “They don’t care about us. That’s why so many of us die. It’s up to us to fight or get killed, that’s all.”

In an astonishingly cynical interview, Afghanistan’s national police chief, General Khoshal Sadat, confirmed the troops’ views of the low value placed on their lives by the corrupt U.S.-backed government. General Sadat is a graduate of military colleges in the U.K. and U.S. who was court-martialed under President Karzai in 2014 for illegally detaining people and betraying his country to the U.S. and U.K. President Ghani promoted him to head the national police in 2019. Steffensen asked Sadat about the effect of high casualties on morale and recruitment. “When you look at recruitment,” Sadat told her, “I always think about the Afghan families and how many children they have. The good thing is there is never a shortage of fighting-age males who will be able to join the force.”

In the final interview in Steffensen’s report, a policeman at a checkpoint for vehicles approaching Wardak town from Taliban-held territory questioned the very purpose of the war. He told her, “We Muslims are all brothers. We don’t have a problem with each other.” “Then why are you fighting?” she asked him. He hesitated, laughed nervously and shook his head in a resigned manner. “You know why. I know why. It’s not really our fight,” he said.

So why are we all fighting?

The attitudes of the Afghan troops Steffensen interviewed are shared by people fighting on both sides of America’s wars. Across the “arc of instability” that now stretches five thousand miles from Afghanistan to Mali and beyond, U.S. “regime change” and “counterterrorism” wars have turned millions of people’s homes and communities into American “battlefields.” Like the Afghan recruits Steffensen spoke to, desperate people have joined armed groups on all sides, but for reasons that have little to do with ideology, religion or the sinister motivations assumed by Western politicians and pundits.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discontinued the State Department’s annual report on global terrorism in 2005, after it revealed that the first three years of the U.S.’s militarized “War on Terror” had predictably resulted in a global explosion of terrorism and armed resistance, the exact opposite of its stated goals. Rice’s response to the report’s revelations was to try to suppress public awareness of the most obvious result of the U.S.’s lawless and destabilizing wars.

Fifteen years later, the U.S. and its ever-proliferating enemies remain trapped in a cycle of violence and chaos in which acts of barbarism by one side only fuel new expansions and escalations of violence by the other side, with no end in sight. Researchers have explored how the chaotic violence and chaos of America’s wars transform formerly neutral civilians in country after country into armed combatants. Consistently across many different war zones, they have found that the main reason people join armed groups is to protect themselves, their family or their community, and that fighters therefore gravitate to the strongest armed groups to gain the most protection, with little regard for ideology.

In 2015, the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), interviewed 250 combatants from Bosnia, Palestine (Gaza), Libya and Somalia, and published the results in a report titled The People’s Perspectives: Civilians in Armed Conflict. The researchers found that, “The most common motivation for involvement, described by interviewees in all four case studies, was the protection of self or family.”

In 2017, the UN Development Program (UNDP) conducted a similar survey of 500 people who joined Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and other armed groups in Africa. The UNDP’s report was titled Journey To Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives and the Tipping-Point for Recruitment. Its findings confirmed those of other studies, and the combatants’ responses on the precise “tipping-point” for recruitment were especially enlightening.

“A striking 71%,” the report found, “pointed to ‘government action’, including ‘killing of a family member or friend’ or ‘arrest of a family member or friend’, as the incident that prompted them to join.”  The UNDP concluded, “State security-actor conduct is revealed as a prominent accelerant of recruitment, rather than the reverse.”

The U.S. government is so corrupted by powerful military-industrial interests that it clearly has no interest in learning from these studies, any more than from its own long experience of illegal and catastrophic war-making. To routinely declare that “all options are on the table,” including the use of military force, is a violation of the UN Charter, which prohibits the threat as well as the use of force against other nations precisely because such vague, open-ended threats so predictably lead to war.

But the more clearly the American public understands the falsehood and the moral, legal and political bankruptcy of the justifications for our country’s disastrous wars, the more clearly we can challenge the absurd claims of warmongering politicians whose policies offer the world only more death, destruction and chaos. Trump’s blundering, murderous Iran policy is only the latest example, and, despite its catastrophic results, U.S. militarism remains tragically bipartisan, with a few honorable exceptions.

When the U.S. stops killing people and bombing their homes, and the world starts helping people to support and protect themselves and their families without joining U.S.-backed armed forces or the armed groups they are fighting, then and only then will the raging conflicts that U.S. militarism has ignited across the world begin to subside.

Afghanistan is not the United States’ longest war. That tragic distinction belongs to the American Indian Wars, which lasted from the founding of the country until the last Apache warriors were captured in 1924. But the U.S. war in Afghanistan is the longest of a series of anachronistic and predictably unwinnable neoimperial wars the U.S. has fought since 1945.

As an Afghan taxi driver in Vancouver told me in 2009, “We defeated the Persian Empire in the 18th century. We defeated the British in the 19th century. We defeated the Soviet Union in the 20th century. Now, with NATO, we are fighting 28 countries, but we will defeat them too.” I never doubted him for a minute. But why would America’s leaders, in their delusions of empire and obsession with budget-busting weapons technology, ever listen to an Afghan taxi driver?

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The BJP is Not India, and Every Indian is Not a Modi-Devotee

Rational people cannot gloss over the arbitrary exercise of authority in Kashmir, nor can they legitimize the lack of accountability in the union territory.

Subsequent to the revocation of the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP made several tall claims to legitimize its decision. One of those claims was that the integration of J & K into mainland India would expedite the growth of democracy and development in the union territory. Contrary to its claims, the BJP-led federal government has extended detentions of several detenus under the Public Safety Act (PSA).

A couple of days ago, Shah Faesal, former Civil Services officer and budding politician, was booked under the stringent Act. Like the other political figures being held under PSA, Shah Faesal‘s incarceration has been extended without valid reason. Prime Minister Modi’s government has also charged Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA). Both Omar and Mehbooba, former heads of government, have been in detention since August 5, 2019. And now their detentions have been extended by another three months, without formal charges.

An amendment made to the Public Safety Act in 1990 made it non-obligatory for the federal government to provide the detainee with reasons for his/ her arrest.

In their quest to portray Kashmir as a religious issue and not a political one, Prime Minister Modi’s government is shrinking the political space for those who chose the route of electoral politics to make their voices heard.

The brazen muzzling of those political voices that are antithetical to the BJP is absolutely ridiculous.

With the continued detention of several elected legislators and parliamentarians in the union territory, any potential opposition to the revocation of the autonomous status of J & K is being nipped in the bud. Indigenous political institutions, which were already eroded, are now being decimated.

While regional political parties in J & K might have had eroded mass bases, it cannot be denied that they are cadre-based. A democracy should be about strengthening grass-roots institutions, which are not limited to Village Councils and Block Development Councils. Much to the BJP’s chagrin, Village Councils and Block Development Councils cannot replace cadre-based political parties. Nor can legitimate political dissent be stifled forever.

Democracies thrive on differences of opinions, not on gagging those who might not be on the same page. Instead of deterring the growth of democracy and depoliticizing the people, the goal should have been to empower the populace of Jammu and Kashmir.

The creation of a “third-front,” comprising carpetbaggers, will not fill the enforced political vacuum in J & K.

The people of J & K should be sufficiently empowered to induce satisfaction with the Kashmir constituency’s role within current geopolitical realities, such that a dis-empowered populace does not succumb to ministrations of destructive ideologies.

Amidst the pandemonium, I need to remind myself that the BJP is not India, and every Indian is not a Modi-devotee.



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Buying Elections: The Bloomberg Meme Campaign

Interfering, corrupting and altering the views of electors is apparently frowned upon. But it all depends on who that manipulating source is. The Russians might be condemned for being meddlers of minds in the US electorate, but an American billionaire who hires battalions of influencing agents to get his word across on social media platforms is not much better. At least the Russian representatives were decent enough to light fires on both sides of the political divide, providing an odd equilibrium of chaos.

Bloomberg’s booklet of electoral wooing is merely a softened, couched version of what has come before. To win over the electorate, you need an army of hidden persuaders, the men and women who claim to know, telling the voter how to vote for a supposedly delightful candidate who is, truth be told, a sham. This is ad-man territory and puts the former New York Mayor on terrain that abuts that of President Donald Trump.

The cash-for-allegiance system is being facilitated through the very social media organs so disliked by Democrats. They, after all, were excoriated for muddying Hillary Clinton’s image in 2016, doing that most terrible thing of disseminating leaked material, good and bad, about her. Now, the Bloomberg campaign, keeping it digitally real, has linked arms with Meme 2020. The mission is simple if implausible: vesting Bloomberg with various attributes he does not have. According to Sabrina Singh, spokesperson for Bloomberg, “While a meme strategy may be new to presidential politics, we’re betting it will be an effective component to reach people where they are and compete with President Trump’s powerful digital operation.”

This polish-the-turd effort has the stifling smell of acute desperation. Its armchair electioneering of the most profligate kind (a million dollars a day spent on Facebook ads alone), putting faith in online presences and seducers to do what candidates who fail turning up to primaries and caucuses supposedly cannot. As it turns out, Bloomberg’s approach has furnished Senator Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg with the gift of credibility. They, at the very least, bothered. However ceremonially hollow such initial rounds are, placing the candidate before the halls, the tea rooms, the homes, counts as turning up. Bloomberg is already assuming that physical absenteeism can be overcome by digital loudness.

The lead strategist of the campaign group, Mick Purzycki, chief executive of Jerry Media, is tasked with the improbable. Given that Trump’s electability was deemed impossible, the issue is by no means an irreconcilable handicap, but the fence is still a high one. The thing guaranteed in this fairly low brow affair is bad taste and profound disingenuousness. The Instragram posts, for instance, promote Bloomberg as the awkward but “cool candidate”. He dresses accordingly, if unconvincingly. He is, as the @KateSalad meme account run by Samir Mezrahi spouts, “like kale salad: tough and tasteless but ultimately good for you.”

The marketers involved with posting memes for Bloomberg are thrilled with the exposure. In the broader world of advertising, all publicity is good. The same cannot be said for the political world. Shirin Ghaffary makes the point in Vox, questioning the effectiveness of the campaign. The risk here for both Bloomberg and the influencers lies in “promoting a candidate who’s viewed by many of their followers as an out-of-touch billionaire trying to buy his way into an election.”

Not all the cabal of influencers are singing from the same hymn book. They do the same dirty deeds, blot the same copybooks but even on that shallow terrain, Bloomberg will spark disagreement. Josh Ostrovsky, known in his line of work as The Fat Jew, is one. “They asked me to do it, I said no,” he vented on Instagram. “I grew up in New York City so I can tell you firsthand, Bloomberg is a colossal shitbag.” It takes one to know one, and Ostrovsky, a serial joke thief, is a paragon of vice in the field. Paid Instagram influencers such as Tank.Sinatra are also finding their posts choked with withering remarks about the former New York mayor.

The campaign has raised a bigger question as to what role such “branded content” has. Instragram’s owner is Facebook, an organisation constantly accused of sporting accounts that might be used to disseminate unsavoury political content. Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications Nick Clegg has not helped matters with his statements on the subject. “We do not submit speech by politicians to our independent fact-checkers, and we generally allow it on the platform even when it would otherwise breach our normal content rules.” He suggests two exceptions: “where speech endangers people and where we take money, which is why we have more stringent rules on advertising than we do for ordinary speech and rhetoric.”

Bloomberg has, on this point, scored a victory of sorts. As a Facebook representative explained to the New York Post, “We’re allowing US-based political candidates to work with creators to run this content, provided the political candidates are authorized and the creators disclose any paid partnerships through our branded content tools.” This leads to a specious difference. “Branded content is different from advertising, but in either case we believe it’s important people know when they’re seeing paid content on our platforms.”

In all this, a solid argument might well be made that Bloomberg is demonstrating precisely why Trump, toxic leader of the realm, is entitled to remain in the White House. The US electors already have their cashed-up megalomaniacal fraud; why go for another?


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Here’s Hoping

In her new book—her 17th solo work—Rebecca Solnit recalls a conversation with an unnamed older man she was “seeing” who said to her, “Baby, you’re driven.” She adds that at that time, when she “threw out sharp replies without thinking,” she replied, “And you’re parked.” Solnit goes on to say that she “was driven to redeem my existence, by achievement.” Seventeen books in about thirty years, plus five co-authored books, is a lot of books in a fairly short amount of time.

Solnit is quick, sharp and intensely motivated to write, right perceived wrongs, and try to change the world so that young women today don’t have to experience the kinds of hurtful experiences, including the sexual harassment she experienced as a young woman. Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir (Viking; $26) is a long complaint about patriarchy, femicide, misogyny, sexual terrorism, male privilege and male chauvinism.

An intellectual and an emotional autobiography, it is also a kind of “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman” who emerged from self-doubt and insecurity and who created a powerful self and shaped a powerful voice that she has used to honor the poor, the wretched, the abused, the exiled as well as people on the margins, where as she points out, “authority wanes and orthodoxies weaken.” Except in the colonial world where authority and orthodox can become even stronger than in the imperial center and where there is little if any pretense of democracy and where bodies pile up.

As the author Jamaica Kincaid and others have said, almost anything and everything one can say and believe to be true contains at its core, its opposite and contradiction: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” as Dickens famously wrote.

Not surprisingly, much of this new book is about Solnit’s previous books and essays, including “Hope in the Dark,” in which she elevated hope into a kind of gospel. Soon after the U.S. bombing of Baghdad, she explains, “some of the friends I’d protested with and others around me extrapolated from the fact that they had not stopped the war the idea that they had not achieved anything and, sometimes they traveled onward from there to the idea they’d never achieved anything, had no power and that we were all doomed.”

She adds that, “Despair became a machine that would grind up anything you fed it” and that “That prompted me to work harder on the case for hope I was building.”

For years, Solnit rode the hope train. Her mantra was summed up by the title of her 2010 book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster that acknowledges human resilience and that downplays the machinations of disaster capitalism.

Not all lefty writers, activists, liberals and concerned citizens have embraced hope as thoroughly as Solnit. Senator Elizabeth Warren recently noted that hope was fine, but that it didn’t mean all that it was supposed to mean, unless there was also “fight.” As Sheelah Kolhatkar wrote in The New Yorker in June 2019, “Warren’s rhetoric is more about fighting than about hoping.”

Earlier this year, the young Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg—who reads both climate change and cultural climate—wrote, “People sometimes ask me if I’m an optimist or a pessimist. I am a realist. Hope is something you deserve [after] you have actually done something.” Thunberg added that she didn’t want the gift of hope that adults were offering her and her generation. “I don’t want your hope,” she explained. “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day, and then I want you to act.”

From Africa, the Nigerian novelist Wole Soyinka told Henry Louis Gates, Jr. “I no longer use the word ‘hope.’ I just look at the records of the past, the advances made since then, and the evidence of sincerity in the policies that are set. Hope, despair, and so on—I’ve now moved completely beyond that.” Will Solnit hear any of these voices? Maybe she will. Throughout her life, she has been open to new and different voices, though her most recent book also suggests that she has had a tendency to dig in her heels, become defensive and strike back. Still, there are signs of a new consciousness and a new awakening.

Near the end of Recollection of My Nonexistence, she writes, “though damage is not necessarily permanent neither is repair. What is won or changed or fixed has to be maintained and protected or it can be lost. What goes forward can go backward.” How and why she reached that conclusion she does not explain. Maybe it’s too soon for her to do so. Maybe she doesn’t see the change, or regard it as something different.

Solnit has a tendency to want to be right, and to place herself on, or very near, the “cutting edge,” or what some radicals have called “the vanguard,” whether it has to do with ideology, race, class, culture, politics, gender or ethnicity. So, she explains, she lived in an African-American neighborhood, experienced poverty, watched gay liberation unfold, was present when punk was pure and saw environmentalism from the frontlines.

In a chapter called “Otherwise,” Solnit tells a story about Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights who published one of her books, and so she was often in the editorial offices. “In these decades Lawrence Ferlinghetti…had never spoken a word to me,” she writes. On one occasion in particular Ferlinghetti said “hi” to a male writer, but not to Solnit who was in the same room.

Ferlinghetti and the Beat boys, including Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg, who recognized and owned his own misogyny, often ignored women and excluded them from their club, though as many women Beats, including Diane di Prima, have pointed out their Beat older brothers helped to liberate them from the constraints of American culture in the 1940s and 1950s.

The fact that Ferlinghetti didn’t say “hi” to Solnit, may not have been because she is a woman. Maybe it’s just that he can be an elitist asshole. Among men, including Beat and bohemian men there is a pecking order. Guys who think they’re at the top often don’t see or speak to guys they consign to what they regard as the bottom.

In Recollections of My Nonexistence, Solnit says that she once had an “urge” to “shout” and complain about an exhibit of Allen Ginsberg’s photographs, almost all of them depicting his male buddies. Her new book is the “shout” that she didn’t express at that exhibit, or to Ferlinghetti when he was rude at the least and misogynist at the worst, or when she first decided that Kerouac’s On the Road was “contaminated.”

It’s too late for Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac to hear Solnit’s shout. At 100, Ferlinghetti might not be able to hear her or read her words, but one hopes (there, I’ve used the word), that writers, readers and publishers these days will acknowledge Solnit and her contributions to intellectual life, the history of ideas, feminism and the protest movements of the late twentieth- and the early twenty-first century. It might help if she removed the chip on her shoulder. But that’s her choice.

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Herakles in the Age of Climate Chaos

On Monday afternoon of February 10, 2020, I went to the Classics department of Pomona College for a lecture on Herakles. Chiara Sulprizio of Vanderbilt University used cartoons and animation to help us understand the lasting influence and power of classical mythology.

She chose the Soviet Union and Russia to illustrate how animated Greek myths may have inspired a better future in the collapsing Soviet Union. Greek mythology has always been political and pedagogical. The Greeks repeated those mythological stories as memories of their early history.

Early mythological history is full of political views, which have the potential of uplifting modern people in their quest for freedom or equality and justice.

Chiara Sulprizio hit the nail on the head with her focusing on the life of the Greek mega-hero, Herakles. The animated cartoons sharpened the choices that emerged in the crisis of the Soviet Union-Russia at a time of almost revolutionary upheaval – in the late 1980s. Herakles’ killing of tyrants and struggles for justice probably inspired the Russians to recover their freedom and dignity.

American Skyla and Charybdis

Looking at the animated cartoons on Herakles inspired me as well. Here I am in the United States, studying Hellenic history, science, and mythology for decades, and I am still trying to return to Ithaca. I go from Skyla to Charybdis and, like Sicyphos, I struggle to take a large stone to the top of the mountain.

The United States, meanwhile, has a tyrant for a president. Trump, with the support of Republican Senators, and the oligarchs funding them, has been increasing  the ecocide and human harm and suffering all over the country.

The Greeks and Greek civilization, including mythology, don’t exist for this class of oligarchs.

The virtue of freedom and Herakles

So, Herakles appeals to me. He freed Prometheus, restoring the fire of knowledge among humans. He freed the world from monsters, tyrants, and injustice. He founded the Panhellenic Olympics. He took up the cause of making society and the world better.

The Greeks thought of Herakles as the hero who prevented evil and the hero who was handsome in his ceaseless victories.

Ancient Greek and Roman literature is full of stories and poetry about Herakles: from Homer to Hesiod, to Pindar to Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Plato; the Romans Virgil, Ovid and Seneca; to the modern Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis. They praised the super human courage of Herakles and, sometimes, condemned his overreach.

Herakles threatening the Sun god Helios

In the tenth labor of searching for the cattle of Geryon, Herakles turned his bow against the god Sun Helios. He was hot and exhausted. He did not know where he was going. Helios admired the courage of Herakles and gave him a large golden cup to cross the River Okeanos to the island Erythia where Geryon grazed his cattle.

After the labors, Herakles started looking for a new wife. Eurytos, king of Oichalia, put up his daughter Iole as a wedding prize to anyone defeating him and his sons in archery. Herakles won the contest, but Eurytos refused to give Iole to him. His concern was that, if Herakles had children with his daughter, he might kill them, as he did to the children he had with Megara. Iphitos, the eldest of Eurytos’ sons, however, sided with Herakles, saying he deserved Iole.

Herakles’ conflict with Eurytos turned deadly. Iphitos was searching for some lost cattle and Herakles promised him help in finding them. Yet, for reasons that mythographers ignored or did not understand, Herakles killed Iphitos.

Herakles tried to seek forgiveness from the Oracle at Delphi for the murder of innocent Iphitos, but Pythia refused to purify him. Herakles got furious and grabbed the tripod to establish his own oracle. Apollo would not tolerate such offence. He started fighting with Herakles. Zeus separated them with a thunderbolt. Finally, Pythia said Herakles would be purified of his crime only if he agreed to become a slave for three years. Herakles did and Hermes put him up for sale to Omphale, queen of the Lydians.

Herakles: hero of heroes

Despite Herakles’ transgressions, probably because of the hatred of Hera, he remains the hero supreme in the Greek tradition: born a demi-god from a mortal mother, Alkmene, and the father of the gods and Greeks, Zeus. The Sun god Helios even lengthened the night to give Zeus more time with the exquisitely beautiful woman Alkmene.

Such a privileged position all but disappeared because the wife of Zeus, Hera, had to have her revenge. She could not do anything against Zeus, so she targeted Herakles. She made his life a living hell, starting at birth.

Pindar writes (Nemean 1. 37-48):

“The queen of the gods sent two snakes into the room of baby Herakles and his brother. However, Herakles saw the snakes and fought his first battle. He gripped both snakes by their throats and strangled them.”

We don’t know why Zeus did not prevent Hera’s mischiefs. Instead, he sent Athena to protect Herakles. The irony is that the name Herakles means the glory of Hera.

The importance the ancients gave to Herakles was his single-minded purpose of serving the public good. Even the Olympics, which he founded, transended athletic competition. The games brought Greeks together every four years from all over the Greek world. They listened to poets and historians read their works, building a community of common origins and interests. The games forbade hostilities or war.

Herakles is our hero. Our age of perpetual war, ecocide, and genocide could use the spirit of Herakles.

This brings me back to Chiara Sulprizio and her passion for animated myths. Go to her site and indulge in the beauty and virtues of Greek and Roman mythology.

I am also grateful that many colleges and universities teach Greek and Latin, Greek and Roman history, and mythology. We need lots of inspiration from our Western ancestors so we don’t blow up or poison the world. Climate change is a warning we are mistreating our Mother Earth.

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We’re All in This Together

“We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

—Benjamin Franklin

Listen: we don’t have to agree about everything.

We don’t even have to agree about most things.

We don’t have to love each other. We don’t even have to like each other. And we certainly don’t need to think alike or dress alike or worship alike or vote alike or love alike. But if this experiment in freedom is to succeed—and there are some days the outlook is decidedly grim—then we’ve got to find some way of relating to one another that is not toxic or partisan or hateful or so self-righteous that we’re doomed to failure before we even start.

America has been a warring nation—a military empire intent on occupation and conquest—for so long that perhaps we, the citizens of this warring nation, have forgotten what it means to live in peace, with the world and one another.

We’d better get back to the fundamentals of what it means to be human beings who can get along if we want to have any hope of restoring some semblance of sanity, civility and decency to what is progressively being turned into a foul-mouthed, hot-headed free-for-all bar fight by politicians for whom this is all one big, elaborate game designed to increase their powers and fatten their bank accounts.

Maybe Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, was right: maybe all we really need to know about “how to live and what to do and how to be” is as simple as remembering the basic life lessons we were taught as children.

What were those lessons? Fulghum reminds us:

Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody…. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together…. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all—the whole world—had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are—when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

The powers-that-be want us to forget these basic lessons in how to get along. They want us to fume and rage and be so consumed with fighting the so-called enemies in our midst that we never notice the prison walls closing in around us.

Don’t be distracted.

No matter what happens in the next presidential election, no matter how many ways the powers-that-be attempt to sow division and distrust among the populace, no matter how many shouting commentators perpetuate the belief that there is only one “right” view and one “wrong” view in politics, the only “us vs. them” that will matter is whether “we the people” care enough to stand united in our commitment to the principles on which this nation was founded: freedom, justice, and equality for all.

The rest is just noise intended to distract us from the fact that life in America has become a gut-wrenching, soul-sucking, misery-drenched, demoralizing existence, and it’s the government that is responsible.

Even so, here’s why I’m not giving up on the American dream of freedom, and—despite all the reasons to the contrary—why you shouldn’t either: because this is still our country.

I’m outraged at what has been done to our freedoms and our country. You should be, too.

We have been subjected to crackdowns, clampdowns, shutdowns, showdowns, shootdowns, standdowns, knockdowns, putdowns, breakdowns, lockdowns, takedowns, slowdowns, meltdowns, and never-ending letdowns.

We’ve been held up, stripped down, faked out, photographed, frisked, fracked, hacked, tracked, cracked, intercepted, accessed, spied on, zapped, mapped, searched, shot at, tasered, tortured, tackled, trussed up, tricked, lied to, labeled, libeled, leered at, shoved aside, saddled with debt not of our own making, sold a bill of goods about national security, tuned out by those representing us, tossed aside, and taken to the cleaners.

We’ve had our freedoms turned inside out, our democratic structure flipped upside down, and our house of cards left in a shambles.

We’ve had our children burned by flashbang grenades, our dogs shot, and our old folks hospitalized after “accidental” encounters with marauding SWAT teams.

We’ve been told that as citizens we have no rights within 100 miles of our own border, now considered “Constitution-free zones.”

We’ve had our faces filed in government databases, our biometrics crosschecked against criminal databanks, and our consumerist tendencies catalogued for future marketing overtures.

We’ve seen the police transformed from community peacekeepers to point guards for the militarized corporate state. The police continue to push, prod, poke, probe, scan, shoot and intimidate the very individuals—we the taxpayers—whose rights they were hired to safeguard. Networked together through fusion centers, police have surreptitiously spied on our activities and snooped on our communications, using hi-tech devices provided by the Department of Homeland Security.

We’ve been deemed suspicious for engaging in such dubious activities as talking too long on a cell phone and stretching too long before jogging, dubbed extremists and terrorists for criticizing the government and suggesting it is tyrannical or oppressive, and subjected to forced colonoscopies and anal probes for allegedly rolling through a stop sign.

We’ve been arrested for all manner of “crimes” that never used to be considered criminal, let alone uncommon or unlawful, behavior: letting our kids walk to the playground alonegiving loose change to a homeless manfeeding the hungry, and living off the grid.

We’ve been sodomized, victimized, jeopardized, demoralized, traumatized, stigmatized, vandalized, demonized, polarized and terrorized, often without having done anything to justify such treatment. Blame it on a government mindset that renders us guilty before we’ve even been charged, let alone convicted, of any wrongdoing. In this way, law-abiding individuals have had their homes mistakenly raided by SWAT teamsthat got the address wrong. One accountant found himself at the center of a misguided (armed) police standoff after surveillance devices confused his license plate with that of a drug felon.

We’ve been railroaded into believing that our votes count, that we live in a republic or a democracy, that elections make a difference, that it matters whether we vote Republican or Democrat, and that our elected officials are looking out for our best interests. Truth be told, we live in an oligarchy, politicians represent only the profit motives of the corporate state, whose leaders know all too well that there is no discernible difference between red and blue politics, because there is only one color that matters in politics: green.

We’ve gone from having privacy in our inner sanctums to having nowhere to hide, with smart pills that monitor the conditions of our bodies, homes that spy on us (with smart meters that monitor our electric usage and thermostats and light switches that can be controlled remotely) and cars that listen to our conversations, track our whereabouts and report them to the police. Even our cities have become wall-to-wall electronic concentration camps, with police now able to record hi-def video of everything that takes place within city limits.

We’ve had our schools locked down and turned into prisons, our students handcuffed, shackled and arrested for engaging in childish behavior such as food fights, our children’s biometrics stored, their school IDs chipped, their movements tracked, and their data bought, sold and bartered for profit by government contractors, all the while they are treated like criminals and taught to march in lockstep with the police state.

We’ve been rendered enemy combatants in our own country, denied basic due process rights, held against our will without access to an attorney or being charged with a crime, and left to waste away in jail until such a time as the government is willing to let us go or allow us to defend ourselves.

We’ve had the very military weapons we funded with our hard-earned tax dollars used against us, from unpiloted, weaponized drones tracking our movements on the nation’s highways and byways and armored vehicles, assault rifles, sound cannons and grenade launchers in towns with little to no crime to an arsenal of military-grade weapons and equipment given free of charge to schools and universities.

We’ve been silenced, censored and forced to conform, shut up in free speech zones, gagged by hate crime laws, stifled by political correctness, muzzled by misguided anti-bullying statutes, and pepper sprayed for taking part in peaceful protests.

We’ve been shot by police for reaching for a license during a traffic stop, reaching for a baby during a drug bust, carrying a toy sword down a public street, and wearing headphones that hamper our ability to hear.

We’ve had our tax dollars spent on $30,000 worth of Starbucks for Department of Homeland Security employees, $630,000 in advertising to increase Facebook “likes” for the State Department, and close to $25 billion to fund projects ranging from the silly to the unnecessary, such as laughing classes for college students and programs teaching monkeys to play video games and gamble.

We’ve been treated like guinea pigs, targeted by the government and social media for psychological experiments on how to manipulate the masses. We’ve been tasered for talking back to police, tackled for taking pictures of police abuses, and threatened with jail time for invoking our rights. We’ve even been arrested by undercover cops stationed in public bathrooms who interpret men’s “shaking off” motions after urinating to be acts of lewdness.

We’ve had our possessions seized and stolen by law enforcement agencies looking to cash in on asset forfeiture schemes, our jails privatized and used as a source of cheap labor for megacorporations, our gardens smashed by police seeking out suspicious-looking plants that could be marijuana, and our buying habits turned into suspicious behavior by a government readily inclined to view its citizens as terrorists.

We’ve had our cities used for military training drills, with Black Hawk helicopters buzzing the skies, Urban Shield exercises overtaking our streets, and active shooter drills wreaking havoc on unsuspecting bystanders in our schools, shopping malls and other “soft target” locations.

We’ve been told that national security is more important than civil liberties, that police dogs’ noses are sufficient cause to carry out warrantless searches, that the best way not to get raped by police is to “follow the law,” that what a police officer says in court will be given preference over what video footage shows, that an upright posture and acne are sufficient reasons for a cop to suspect you of wrongdoing, that police can stop and search a driver based solely on an anonymous tip, and that police officers have every right to shoot first and ask questions later if they feel threatened.

Are you outraged yet?

You should be. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and right these wrongs.

Stop waiting patiently for change to happen, stop waiting for some politician to rescue you, and take responsibility for your freedoms: start by fixing what’s broken in your lives, in your communities, and in this country.

Get mad, get outraged, get off your duff and get out of your house, get in the streets, get in people’s faces, get down to your local city council, get over to your local school board, get your thoughts down on paper, get your objections plastered on protest signs, get your neighbors, friends and family to join their voices to yours, get your representatives to pay attention to your grievances, get your kids to know their rights, get your local police to march in lockstep with the Constitution, get your media to act as watchdogs for the people and not lapdogs for the corporate state, get your act together, and get your house in order.

Appearances to the contrary, this country does not belong exclusively to the corporations or the special interest groups or the oligarchs or the war profiteers or any particular religious, racial or economic demographic.

This country belongs to all of us: each and every one of us—“we the people”—but most especially, this country belongs to those of us who love freedom enough to stand and fight for it.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we are fast approaching the point at which we will have nothing left to lose.

Don’t wait for things to get that bad before you find your voice and your conscience. By then, it will be too late.

As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s character reflects in The Gulag Archipelago:

How we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if … during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.

Take your stand now—using every nonviolent means at your disposal—while you still can.

Don’t wait to reflect back on missed opportunities to push back against tyranny.

Don’t wait until you’re the last one standing.

Time is running out.

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Bodies in Freedom: a Barcelona Story

We fucked like there was no tomorrow. In a frenzy. Bodies yielded to pleasure. I got to your place late after being told that J had agreed to run for office. That was a relief and it made my decision easier. If J stood, I didn’t have to. I got his message when I got home, after you’d awkwardly left me at the night bus stop to go off and lose yourself in a night that promised nothing. I saw the message and expected to feel shaky but what ran through my whole body was a feeling of being rid of a gag that had been suffocating me. I’d almost say I started breathing again. When I got to your place, I was still disconcerted but feeling this buzz of freedom. I wanted to fill with my body the whole space that had just opened up before me. I was drunk, high on freedom. You were high on coke, not that I cared (almost always I’ve not cared, I don’t do drugs, that’s your thing, that’s your life and I’m not going to judge it or share it either). I thought I understood that you wanted to talk, and I didn’t care about that either. I didn’t know how long this sensation of being boss of my own life, which I’d forsaken so long ago, was going to last.

I don’t know how many hours it lasted. I remember the dampness of bodies, I remember caresses, invading you with my pleasure because there was too much for me, I remember the feeling that I was occupying the whole room, I remember not feeling cold and confusing your moistness for mine, I remember a knee digging into my chest but don’t know if it was yours or mine, I remember feeling you inside me and all of a sudden I was coming then guiding your hand to my clitoris, I remember teeth on my neck, lots of caressing, your disconcerted expression wanting to go further but not knowing where to look for me. That night was mine, from then on, for the first time in ages. I remember thinking, “I’ve got to sleep” while you, glued to my back were licking my shoulder and my hand was looking for your dick and I was wanting to take it into my mouth without separating my back from your body, and then your mouth explored my lips and ended up with my vagina. I remember holding you between my legs, and I remember you pushing my body into desire spread over a mattress without sheets. I remember my wetness all over your body, feeling that you were the one who was seeping out my flow. I remember not understanding your line of coke on the bedside table and that I didn’t care. I went to sleep only to wake up, looking for your body, which had already found mine and we were fucking again, moaning for me, moaning in your ear, wanting more, but not like wanting more as usual because there’s desire that goes further, and like never before, wanting more because, alone, I couldn’t unpack this pleasure and these wild cravings of being that had got inside me. For a moment I thought that some of the life that had been stolen from me in the last few years was clawing at the bed. I remember rediscovering animal instincts in your bed, recognising myself, wanting to tell you and not knowing how. I was sure you knew that I was using you and you were letting yourself be used as if because of an unpaid debt. I remember the wet bed and hot bodies before leaving to go to work.

A few days later it all started and standing for election was once more an option. I remember how I clung to these memories to hold back the few glimmers of doubt that appeared as I watched the gates closing. On the other side was my freedom, our bodies, life.

Gala Pin was a Barcelona City councilor from 2015 to 2019.


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Democracy, Dictatorship and Bloomberg

The 2020 presidential race didn’t get decided this week, but the choice before us did: more democracy or less of it. That’s the decision we are facing, and if the Democrats manage to foul this up, they may not get another chance.

The very same day that New Hampshire held its primary, the president was out there bullying federal workers via Tweet. By the end of the night, Trump’s criminally-convicted chum Roger Stone’s sentence was suspended, and the Constitution, the impartiality of the courts and the supposed rule of law had taken one more power-addled hit.

Democracy on the one hand, autocracy on the other. Whatever you think of the race so far, the stakes for the nation don’t get much clearer than they did Tuesday night. And whatever you think of their candidates, democracy should be something Democrats could sell. While the word may be Greek (a plural noun meaning we the people, the populace, us), the idea’s beloved by Americans. Any Coca-Cola or Cadillac seller can tell you that.

Ranked along the democracy spectrum, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren stand out. Demos-driven, decrying big-dollar power, no billionaires bankroll their field campaigns, no self-interested, anonymous sources shell out for their TV ads. Bernie’s socialism, when it’s not explained by haters, has everything to do with more choices for more people, not fewer. Warren’s many plans speak to the world of input she’s gotten and seems to have taken to heart.

At the other end of the spectrum is Michael Bloomberg, the three-term Mayor in a two-term limit town, the stop-and-frisk, my-way-or-the-highway CEO in a land of laws defending civil rights. If there is one way for the Democrats to bungle this battle for democracy, Bloomberg is it.

Already, thanks to a DNC rule change, Bloomberg will participate in the Nevada debate without having won a single delegate or small donation. He’ll come to Super Tuesday fresh, having campaigned for months via a one-way media megaphone, while his opponents have had to sweat it out under spotlights, handshake by handshake—the senators squeezing in their public service too in the impeachment trial, trying to rein in the predator in chief.

The Democratic establishment’s clearly rattled. It’s not democratic socialism they fear, they say, rather Trump’s vilification of it. But while Trump will surely red-bait Sanders, he’ll just as certainly banker-bait Bloomberg. The real question is, for which is the DNC willing to go to bat? The demos or the autocrat?

In 2016, the wolf now in the White House dressed up in “outsider” clothing and cast himself as the dragon slayer of the Democratic establishment—a developer David vs. New York’s Goliaths. The Donald was lying, but it worked, and he’s run with it ever since. There’s no indication that he’s about to change course. If the 2020 choice becomes one between the bully-in-chief’s MAGA muscle-Ts and Wall Street’s clean “I Like Mike” shirts, a lot of us who hanker for a broader demos will see ourselves in none of it.

Democracy vs. Dictatorship. Democrats should not be able to lose that race, but they could. And what comes next is worse.

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Among Cruel Children

Among Cruel Children

Law’s rule is flourishing only where
The body politic’s not bruised to pleasure spite
And turn all hope for justice to despair,
But blossoms into beauty born of right.
O horn-rimmed Barr, “fighting back” there,
Are you the law, or just the arm of might?
O student of kabuki, Trump’s tweedy whore,
How can we know the dancing from the war?

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Anti-BDS Laws Violate Our Freedom

Americans’ free-speech and other rights are being violated by state laws aimed at stifling the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement against Israel’s illegal rule of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, both conquered over half a century ago. Twenty-eight states have enacted anti-BDS laws or executive orders that prohibit state agencies and state-financed entities, such as colleges, from doing business with any person or firm that hasn’t pledged never to boycott Israeli goods.

Appropriately, these laws have come under fire as violations of both free speech and the right to engage in boycotts, which consist of peaceful decisions not to buy products of a particular origin.

The latest case to hit the news is concerns journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin and the state of Georgia. Martin explained the case in a January 11 tweet:

After I was scheduled to give keynote speech [about the media, not about BDS] at an upcoming @GeorgiaSouthern [University] conference, organizers said I must comply w/ Georgia’s anti-BDS law & sign a contractual pledge to not boycott Israel. I refused & my talk was canceled. The event fell apart after colleagues supported me.

This sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. To speak at a Georgia institution that gets state tax money (with a minimum honorarium), you must pledge never to boycott Israel. Here’s how the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law, which supports such laws, described Georgia’s situation:

Georgia’s State Senate passed an anti-BDS bill which states that “a company or individual seeking a procurement contract worth at least $1,000 with any state agency would have to certify playing no party in a boycott of Israel.” When making his claim for passage on the floor of the Senate, Senator Judson Hill cited companies like HP and Motorola as examples of companies that use Israeli technology, and stated that boycotting any products or companies that were developed in Israel goes hand in hand with discriminating against the people of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole. [Emphasis added.]

One would be hard-pressed to show that boycotting Israeli goods discriminates against all Jewish people. Many Jews support BDS and condemn Israel for its brutal mistreatment of the Palestinians. Sen. Hill merely repeated the pro-Israel smear that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism, which is patently absurd. As for BDS constituting discrimination against the people of Israel — perhaps it does (except for Israelis who oppose the occupation of Palestinian territory and support efforts to end it). But why don’t Georgians and other Americans have a right to do that? It’s a peaceful decision to not buy certain products, and it violates no one’s rights.

Martin’s exclusion from Georgia Southern is under legal challenge by her, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF).

At least one other legal challenge on this issue has succeeded on constitutional grounds, and similar laws are now in the courts. Regarding the successful case, MPN News reports,

In 2018, Bahia Amawi, a Houston-based children’s speech pathologist who worked with autistic, speech-impaired and other developmentally disabled children, lost her job after she refused to sign a similar document. Amawi had been at her job for nine years previously without a problem. CAIR took up Amawi’s case and managed to overturn every Texas boycott law on the grounds of their unconstitutionality and she is now free to return to work. They appear confident of a similar victory in Georgia.

Quoting a previous case, federal district Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the Texas anti-BDS law “threatens to suppress unpopular ideas” and “manipulate the public debate” on Israel and Palestine “through coercion rather than persuasion.” Judge Pitman added: “This the First Amendment does not allow.”

This issue ought to be a no-brainer. By what right does a state government require contractors, including speakers, to sign what is in effect a loyalty oath to Israel (or another other country)? That those laws have passed state legislatures and been signed by governors is more evidence of the influence — dare I say power? — the Israel lobby routinely wields in American politics. The lobby along with the Israeli government works overtime to destroy the BDS movement and discredit the activists who participate in it. (See my “The Art of the Smear — The Israel Lobby Busted.”)

To address an objection (which I’ve already seen), anti-BDS laws are nothing like antidiscrimination laws that prohibit state agencies and state-funded entities from contracting with firms that practice racial, ethnic, religious, or sex discrimination. As long as states exist (hopefully for not too much longer) they will surely tax everyone without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, or sex. Therefore, it is wrong for the state — or tax-financed entities — to discriminate in hiring, contracting, etc., on the basis of those incidental characteristics. The liberal principle of equality before the law demands such nondiscrimination. But one cannot move from that reasonable principle to other kinds of conditions on contracting, particularly conditions that infringe the right to free speech (say, advocating BDS) or peaceful action (say, boycotting for any reason).

Finally, a word about BDS itself. The movement aptly models itself on the effort to boycott, divest from, and sanction South Africa during its apartheid days. Israel has deprived the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip of their rights since the war of 1967. Gaza is a prison camp under a long-standing Israeli blockade, punctuated ever few years by full-blow military assault. Peaceful protesters in Gaza have been shot by Israeli military snipers from outside the prison fence, killing hundreds and wounding tens of thousands. The Palestinians in the West Bank have no rights and are subject to military surveillance and Jewish-only settlements and roads, as well as separation wall that snakes through the territory. It is naked apartheid in that Jews have full rights while Palestinians are treated like nonpersons. Meanwhile, Israeli officials, encouraged by the Trump administration, have been moving toward formal annexation of key parts of the West Bank. Thus, no mystery surrounds the selection of Israel for boycott and divestment. (The Palestinians inside Israel, 20 percent of the population, are treated no better than second-class citizens, which is not surprising since Israel bills itself as the state of the Jewish people everywhere, not the state of all its citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity.)

I have no problem with the B and the D, and I applaud those who refuse to do business with companies and individuals associated with the oppression of the Palestinians and who liquidate investments in Israeli firms. That’s a proper and peaceful exercise of their rights. But we advocates of liberty should draw the line at S — sanctions — because we should on principle reject the state’s power to impose sanctions on anyone. Sanctions punish people who don’t wish to boycott the targets. But the right to boycott logically entails the right not to boycott. Also, if the state has the sanction power, it will surely use it against targets we wouldn’t want targeted.

I propose a different S instead: Strip Israel of its $3.8 billion annual military appropriation.

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NEPA is Our National Defense System

Pup Creek Falls, Mt. Hood National Forest. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The current attack on our land didn’t originate in Russia or China; it began in Washington D.C., in January, when President Trump proposed dismantling NEPA

Our nation is under attack. If the attack were coming from the sky, NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) would detect the threat. That is NORAD’s mission, to anticipate threats to our homeland.

The current attack on our land didn’t originate in Russia or China; it began in Washington D.C., in January, when President Trump proposed dismantling NEPA – the law that protects our communities, land and water every bit as much as NORAD protects our skies.

NEPA’s mission is very clear – anticipate and disclose any significant threats to our natural world from actions of the federal government. Instead of soldiers sitting in front of radar screens, NEPA accomplishes its mission, in part, by allowing ordinary citizens to review proposals for new projects that effect our environment.

These citizens cannot perform their duty without government transparency. How can anyone determine the threats of a potential project without knowing the details? Trump wants to make it impossible for the citizens of this country to know those details or have any input on them. It’s like he’s blocking the soldiers from looking at their radar screens.

Patriotism is defined as “love or devotion for one’s country.” What higher form of devotion can we practice than to protect our communities, climate, and our land and water from any threat, both foreign and domestic?

When the Trump administration portrays NEPA as unnecessary rules that block development, they ignore one of the core principals cherished by our founders. That things should be done slowly, with checks and balances, in order to avoid harmful or even tragic unseen consequences. NEPA is a highly valuable check and balance.

Moreover, the Trump administration is proposing to deny all Americans the opportunity to participate in the decision making process about whether or not this important protection should be removed. They set unreasonable limits on who could attend this week’s meeting to discuss Trump’s dangerous proposal. Limiting the number of people who can voice their concerns is limiting democracy itself and that is, indeed, tyranny.

The descent toward tyranny in the 21st century is likely not marked by dramatic events but rather incremental steps wherein human freedoms and civic norms are steadily eroded. Such is the case here.

NEPA also contains safety and health provisions that protect people, as well as the environment. Tearing apart NEPA is not merely an assault on the land; it is an assault on the people.

The Act, unlike many other environmental statutes, does not dictate outcomes such as the protection of clean air, clean water or wild public lands. Instead, the Act is grounded in the belief that given the right information, decision makers would make the right choice.

Of course, that hasn’t always been true over the statute’s 50-year history, but more often than not public input and rigorous and transparent analysis of a project’s environmental effects has led agency decision makers to make better economic and environmental choices.

Since the law’s unanimous passage by the Senate and then its receipt of President Richard Nixon’s signature 50 years ago last month, it has enjoyed sustained, bipartisan support. That’s because the law embodies many core democratic principles: inclusivity, transparency and deliberative process.

All that will change under the draft that was announced soon after the New Year. One of the proposal’s biggest beneficiaries would be the fossil fuel industry. Hence, this proposal would also contribute to the climate crisis.

Gutting NEPA suits Trump because he doesn’t want any limits on his personal or political behavior. He also knows eventually that he has to leave the White House and he knows that eventually he wants to build a hastily built casino or hotel.

All NEPA requires of our government is to pause for a moment before acting. Of course Trump would resist any restraints. If you asked a five-year-old to pause before stuffing his face with cake, he’s going to resist.

It’s not surprising to me that someone who has the impulse control of a child would be hostile to any limits on his behavior. Hopefully, there are still enough grown-ups willing to stand up and fight this attack on our democracy, our health and our land.

John Horning is executive director of WildEarth Guardians.

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How the UN’s Middle East Peace Plan Was Trounced by Its Own Members

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has delivered a dramatic condemnation of the U.S.-drafted Middle East peace plan. No country, except Israel, has approved of the proposals at any public forum.

Still, several nations around the world want the Palestinians to use the plan as a means of reopening negotiations with Israel by presenting its own vision.

Whether this is possible under the current leadership is an open question. Abbas is in his waning years and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu draws support from the rightest of the right wing.

Gesticulating, Abbas compared the U.S. peace proposal, presented in January by President Donald Trump, to “Swiss cheese.” Holding maps dating back to 1948 of shrinking Palestinian space, Abbas asked 15 United Nations Security Council members on Tuesday: “Who among you would accept such a state?”

“Every time I look at this map, I lose hope,” he said. He also backed an international conference, but it received little support.

What’s the Plan Say?

The plan is painful for any Palestinian and largely devised by Netanyahu’s team working with U.S. envoy Jared Kushner. It calls for a two-state solution, as UN resolutions have for decades.

But then it relegates a future Palestinian state to a third of what was envisioned 25 years ago in the Oslo Accords, the beginnings of a peace process that ended in stalemates, particularly after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995.

Scattered in the newly proposed state are a plethora of Israeli settlements guarded by Israeli security. In Jerusalem, the plan relegates Palestinian control to impoverished suburbs. Most of the world regards the settlements as illegal.

Before the Trump administration, the United States for years supported the creation of a Palestinian state with adjustments to Israeli boundaries before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Nothing worked.

What the Others Said

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said the Trump administration’s 181-page peace plan was a basis for negotiations and could be subject to changes.

“It is an opening offer,” Craft told the Council. It is “a conversation that is a starting point, not a finishing line. … It is not set in stone. … It is the beginning of a conversation—not the end of one.”

Britain was a bit more conciliatory compared to a slew of negative comments in the 15-seat Council, complimenting the U.S. efforts. Ambassador Karen Pierce said her country now “looks to the Palestinian leadership to offer its own vision for a settlement” and to find a way to negotiate.

In a statement, read by Belgian Foreign Minister Philippe Goffin, Council members of the European Union (France, Belgium, Germany, Estonia) voiced their displeasure:

“In line with the long-standing EU position, we remain committed to a negotiated two-State solution, based on 1967 lines, with equivalent land swaps, as may be agreed between the parties, with the State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous, sovereign and viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace, security and mutual recognition.”

The EU members as well as Britain, which has just left the EU, expressed opposition to Netanyahu’s announced intention to officially annex the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank.

The Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea constitute almost 30 percent of the West Bank. Nearly 65,000 Palestinians and some 11,000 Israeli settlers live there. Israel has already taken over most of the land.

New UN Security Council Resolution?

Abbas had supported a resolution that Tunisia, representing Arabs on the Security Council, had circulated, but the government in Tunis objected and recalled its ambassador after calls from Washington, diplomats said.

A milder version was then circulated, but an American veto could not be excluded. So while Abbas said his envoys would introduce another measure, none has appeared yet.

Ex-Israeli Prime Minister Enters

Abbas ended his stay with a meeting and press conference with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who said he was ready to resume negotiations on a peace plan they discussed in 2008 which Abbas had not accepted.

That plan would have a near-total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and international supervision over Jerusalem’s holy sites, among others. Olmert, however, was forced to resign in 2008, indicted for corruption and sent to prison for 16 months.

Abbas welcomed Olmert as a man of peace and a “dear friend.” He also said Palestinians should use the opportunity of the Trump plan to reopen talks.

In response, Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, criticized Olmert for meeting with Abbas and said the Palestinian leader should not have come to New York but instead “he should come to Jerusalem.”

What’s Next?

One of the sharpest critics of the U.S. plan is diplomat Martin Indyk, a respected fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former vice president of the Brookings Institution and himself once a negotiator in the Middle East.

“The Trump team simply resolved the issues by sleight of hand: it decided each of the final status issues—borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, and mutual recognition—in Israel’s favor before the negotiations even begin,” he wrote.

“The Trump plan would thereby surround the Palestinian state with Israeli territory, severing its contiguity with Jordan and turning Jericho into a Palestinian enclave and the Palestinian state into a Bantustan.”

Indyk said that after the upcoming March 2 election in Israel, it could annex the Jordan Valley regardless of whether or not Abbas resumed negotiations.

“The Palestinians can reasonably ask: what, then, is left to negotiate?” Indyk wrote.

But Indyk too said Abbas should be willing to negotiate and draw in the Arab League, outlining how generating Arab support might have an impact on Israel.

“Palestinians cannot beat something with nothing,” he said.

Evelyn Leopold is a writing fellow and correspondent for Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She is an independent journalist based at the United Nations as resident correspondent. She was bureau chief for Reuters at the UN for 17 years, and is chair of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists. She was awarded a gold medal in 2000 for UN reporting by the UN Correspondents Association.

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

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“Just Mercy” and Justice Don’t Exist in Alabama

The chance of there being “just mercy” for Nathaniel Woods—facing lethal injection on March 5 for the killing of three Birmingham police officers—is as good as the chance Alabama will ever reform its dismal, no-justice-to-be-found-anywhere legal system; it ain’t gonna happen.

A Hollywood movie and best-selling book about a legendary lawyer getting an innocent man off of death row can’t change a culture of condemnation on its own. It can’t, by itself, defeat deep-seated hatred and crass corruption that feeds off, subjugates, and disenfranchises the poor in Alabama.

And so I hate to tell my progressive, abolitionist friends: But it is unreasonable and naive to think the undeniably decent call for “just mercy” can push the needle from out of the veins of flesh-and-blood human beings—even old, dying ones—condemned to death in Alabama.

The righteous cry for “just mercy” can’t cool the hot, facile, and feral appeal of vengeance in a state soaked in the blood of slavery and segregation, where hatred for common humanity thrived, and, where it remains, having long ago seeped into its criminal code, its policies of mass incarceration, its entrenched and inescapable poverty for so many, its abysmal prison conditions, and its terrible, twisted addiction to capital punishment.

“Just mercy” doesn’t exist in Alabama, because truth be told, justice doesn’t exist in the state either.

Elsewhere I’ve written how Alabama has been torturing poor people for a long time, how it’s been ducking and dodging death penalty accountability, and, how its sick and shrouded plan to exterminate a substantial portion of its death row population with nitrogen gas is an abomination. But this time let me offer a new, concrete, more personal anecdote to illustrate how unfair and unjustAlabama’s so-called “justice” system is.

Over five years ago, as a “capital habeas” or “post-conviction” attorney, I was involved in litigating a capital case in Alabama; the end result of our Herculean effort was that a man named Christopher Revis had his death sentenced vacated and a new trial ordered—by Marion County Circuit Court Judge John H. Bentley—because of juror misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel.

Over five years have passed since that magical, momentous, Hollywood movie-like day when Bentley ruled. But, guess what? Christopher Revis still has not had his new trial.

That’s right: Even though Revis was ordered to have a new trial on capital murder charges over five years ago, he hasn’t had it. Nor has his case otherwise been resolved. Instead, the only thing that has happened to Revis during all this time is he has remained in Holman prison—locked down in a place that is otherwise known as “hell on earth”—where he had already been incarcerated for nearly a decade before I met him.

Last year, after more than four years had passed since Revis was ordered by Judge Bentley to have his new trial, I re-activated my Alabama bar card and traveled to Alabama for a few days to see if I could suss out—as a freelance writer who still cares about my former client, his family, and the rule of law—what the heck is happening. I failed.

But I am not alone. Because does anyone in the legal community, press, or the public know why Christopher Revis has not had his new—constitutionally mandated—trial yet? Has any competent, conscientious journalist anywhere ever looked into Christopher Revis’s case and this question before?

Nope and nope.

Have I, as Revis’s former lawyer, and after having been contacted and asked to do so at various times by Revis’s desperate family—over the years since I left law practice—done everything possible to alert members of the legal community and the press (both local and national) of the unconscionable passage of time in Revis’s case? Yup. But you can google for yourself to find out just how little that has accomplished.

And so, although I don’t relish being in the role of spoiler and bearer of bad news: In my opinion, based on my own personal experience, before “just mercy” can be anything but a wishful and fleeting slogan on highway billboards in Alabama, the state must first be able to competently and fairly provide justice to its citizens. Citizens like Christopher Revis. So far it hasn’t.

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