Counterpunch Articles

Cuba’s Revolution in Thinking: To Live and Not Lie

Photograph Source: Pepa Barril – CC BY 2.0

In Dostoevsky’s Demons, liberal academic Stepan Trofimovich says before dying: “I’ve been lying all my life. Even when I was telling the truth …. The worst of it is that I believe myself when I lie. The most difficult thing in life is to live and not lie.”

It’s because lies are behaviour. Dostoevsky’s characters “eat” ideas. They don’t believe them, but more important, they don’t know they don’t believe them. Some beliefs are tacit, presupposed, not acknowledged, just lived.

This aspect of thinking is known in Cuba. It is why its independence traditions, centuries-long, are so interesting, philosophically, although it’s largely unrecognized. In 1999 in Caracus, Fidel Castro said, “They discovered smart weapons. We discovered something more important: people think and feel.”

It is not trivial. It has to do with lies that are lived and how to know them.

José de la Luz y Caballero, in early 19th century Cuba, taught philosophy because of a lie: slavery. Progressives accepted it. They couldn’t imagine life without slavery. Luz taught philosophy so privileged youth could know injustice when injustice is identity: lived lies.

José Martí, later, identified another lie. He built a revolution around it, not just the lie, but how to know it: a revolution in thinking. He said the South didn’t need to look North to live well. That lie is lived still. We can’t imagine life without a dominating North.

Both Luz and Martí taught that “people think and feel”. It’s about reciprocity. A new book on the US medical system identifies just such thinking, known to science, but hard to practise. Reciprocity involves experiencing – that is, feeling – relations between people, and becoming motivated, even humanized.

Anyone seriously ill (in Canada too), knows medicine is not about care. Soul of Care, by Harvard psychiatrist, Arthur Kleinman, explains why.[1] The failure is systemic. He cites an educator at a major medical school, who feels like a “hypocrite” teaching about care. She knows doctors don’t have time to listen and aren’t supported to try.

Medicine is about “cost, efficiency, management talk”. Survival “depends on cutting corners, spending as little time as you can get away with in human interactions that can be emotionally and morally taxing.”

As Kleinman tells his personal story, of caring for his beloved wife, Joan, he offers a different view. Caregiving is not a moral obligation; it is existential. At its heart is reciprocity, the ““invisible glue that holds societies together”. In caregiving, one finds within oneself “a tender mercy and a need to act on it”. Caregiving, Kleinman argues, made him more human

Reciprocity offers solutions not identifiable previously. It matters for science, for truth. But the capacity must be cultivated. “Being present” means submitting intellectual judgment, on occasion, to experience of feelings. One can’t just decide to do it without preparation. Yet such training is not happening. It’s not likely to. It contradicts “politically useful fictions” like the “self-made man”.

Kleinman says medicine needs help from sociology and “even philosophy”. But the myth of the self-made man is taught in philosophy. It’s called philosophical liberalism, providing ideas of identity, rationality and autonomy assumed in social sciences. It denies person-making reciprocity.

Marx taught such reciprocity – the kind that recognizes receiving back, cause and effect, giving. So did Lenin, the Buddha, and Christian philosophers, Thomas Merton, Jean Vanier and Ivan Illich. We don’t teach these philosophers. We barely recognize them.

Caregiving is so alien to medical practise that Kleinman’s “modest proposal” is to omit it from the curriculum altogether. Nonetheless, health institutions claim to care about care. Kleinman’s colleague says: “We can’t even tell ourselves lies we can believe in”.

But they can. Whole societies can. I was reminded of this reading Hippie Woman Wild, a recent book on hippie communes of the 70s.[2] Having lived in such communes most of that decade, I spent subsequent decades figuring out lies: How to explain to students. Those communes weren’t about love and peace. They couldn’t be. You can’t love when you’re self-absorbed and morally superior. It doesn’t work.

We didn’t know that we didn’t believe in love, or even know what it is. When Dostoevsky’s characters begin redemption, they fall, or are thrown, to the earth and “water it with tears”. Raskolnikov, after confessing, berates himself for “submitting”. But he:

could not understand that even then, when he was standing over the river, he may have sensed a profound lie in himself and in his convictions. He did not understand that this sense might herald a future break in his life, his future resurrection, his future new vision of life.

He must wait for “something completely different” to work itself out. Waiting, submission, is not the “self-made man”. The “self-made man” seizes control of their destiny.

That’s what autonomy means, supposedly. Che Guevara saw the myth as an iron cage, blocking truth. If you believe it, there are no lies, not about you. Truth is whatever you want it to be. It’s easy but limiting – humanly so.

Some understand Cuba’s famous medical internationalism as a mere moral achievement. They undervalue it. Being “good” doesn’t motivate sacrifice. Reciprocity does. It energizes, compels.

It beats “smart weapons” because it’s about truth. Che Guevara told medical students in 1960: “If we all use the new weapon of solidarity [i.e. reciprocity] then the only thing left for us is to know the daily stretch of the road and to take it. … [and we] will gain from individual experience.” He meant capacities direction. Reciprocity means giving but also receiving back, humanly.

José Engenieros, brilliant Argentinean psychiatrist, early 20th century, dedicated himself to educational reform across the continent. Philosophical liberalism, grounding medical education, had convinced Latin Americans, with its false freedoms, to support imperialism in World War 1.

It convinces North Americans to “follow dreams” just because we have them. It makes it hard to live and not lie.


1. Penguin Random House, 2019. Review forthcoming at

2. Hippie Woman Wild (Wyatt-MacKenzie, 2019). See review


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Boris Johnson and the New Battle of Britain

Photograph Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office – CC BY 2.0

All eyes are focused these days on Boris Johnson, the new prime minister of the United Kingdom.

But that’s not the most important news this month out of Britain.

The Labor Party has finally come around to opposing the country’s exit from the European Union, though it’s possibly a case of “too little, too late.” The party failed to get its act together before the European Parliament elections in May and was thus unable to offer a clear alternative to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which ultimately received the most British votes.

Nevertheless, the battle lines are now clearly drawn. Just last month, the country was led by Theresa May, who initially supported Remain but who dutifully pushed through her party’s commitment to Leave. At the helm of the main opposition Labour Party, meanwhile, is Jeremy Corbyn, whose dislike of the European Union’s neoliberal elements ensured that Labour was incapable of taking a clear position. With such half-hearted leadership, no wonder the country has been making a mess of things after the Brexit referendum.

But now, the chest-thumping Brexiteer Boris Johnson will take Britain’s helm. And Labour has moved more firmly into the Remain camp. Let the battle begin.

Labour’s Shift

Britain’s Labour Party is in difficult straits. It’s not just the party’s incoherent position on Brexit. Charges of anti-Semitism within the party have led to a number of MPs leaving the party and an investigation by the independent Equality and Human Rights Commission. Fully one-third of British voters think that Labour is anti-Semitic. In this year’s European Parliament election, Labour lost half its seats. The party has seen its popularity drop from 42 percent in July 2017 to 27 percent two years later.

But given how unpopular the Conservative Party has been, even 27 percent puts Labour close to the top of the polls. There is, however, competition from another quarter. The Liberal Democrats have just chosen a new party leader, Jo Swinson, who offers a full-throated rejection of Brexit and an equally unequivocal condemnation of Boris Johnson: “He has shown time and time again that he isn’t fit to be prime minister. Boris Johnson has only ever cared about Boris Johnson.”

An insurgent movement within Labour has attempted to right the ship and stave off the challenge from the Liberal Democrats. A new group of radical and socialist Labour MPs called “Love Socialism, Rebuild Britain, Transform Europe” recognizes the problems of the European Union and acknowledges the pain suffered by so many of Brexit’s supporters. But it argues that Britain should remain in order to join the fight to transform the EU. Last week, the group held a meeting in parliament that included a number of shadow cabinet ministers who endorsed the anti-Brexit agenda and pushed for another referendum on the issue.

Corbyn, meanwhile, has officially shifted to supporting a second referendum, but only after Labour-affiliated trade unions pushed him that direction.

I asked Mary Kaldor, a professor of global governance at the London School of Economics and a long-time campaigner at the European level, if Labour’s shift has come in time to affect the Brexit discussion. Boris Johnson, for instance, has threatened to implement Brexit by the EU’s deadline of October 31 even if he can’t renegotiate a deal to cushion the impact of withdrawal. This “no deal” option terrifies Britons across the political spectrum.

“We’re on a knife edge,” she told me. “The victory of the Brexit Party [in the European Parliament elections] pushed a whole group of society toward this mad ‘no deal’ position. My fear is that a lot of Labour MPs will support the withdrawal agreement because the alternative is no deal. As [Labour MP] Clive Lewis said at the meeting on Monday, ‘We’re in for the fight of our lives.’”

The next official British election is set for 2022. But snap elections could take place if Boris Johnson believes that he can take advantage of Labour’s divisions and Jeremy Corbyn’s  declining popularity. It would be an enormously risky move to do so before the Conservatives have delivered on Brexit.

But Boris Johnson, like Donald Trump, is notoriously unpredictable and incautious.

The Tragicomedy of Johnson

It’s often said that anything —a speech, a threat, a jingle — delivered in an upper-class British accent sounds more sophisticated (to American ears at least). Boris Johnson, however, challenges that assertion. He has a long history of sounding absolutely asinine, posh accent notwithstanding.

A one-time journalist, Johnson is a walking, talking embodiment of the Peter Principle: the tendency of a person to rise in a bureaucracy to their level of maximum incompetence. Except that Johnson has been failing forward his entire life.

Johnson was fired from his first job at the Times of London for making up a quote. A normal person would have scrupulously observed the rules of the game thereafter or found a different career. Instead, Johnson doubled down. He found a new employer, the Telegraph, that ate up all the Euroskeptic nonsense he was making up from his new base in Brussels. As one of his former colleagues put it, Johnson wrote “outrageous stories with only the slenderest connection of truth in them.”

As mayor of London, Johnson was entirely out of his depth, wasting huge sums of money on unrealistic projects such as an airport on an artificial island in the Thames. Another time, he bought old German water cannons for riot control that ended up in the scrap heap at a loss of 300,000 pounds. The only reason London continued to function is that Johnson delegated all the actual work to competent underlings.

Later, as foreign secretary, Johnson compiled an even more ignominious record of gaffes and diplomatic blunders. He insulted foreign leaders. He told inappropriate jokes. And he managed to screw up the details of a case involving a British citizen detained in Iran in such a way that she remains in jail there until today.

In fact, the only thing that Boris Johnson has ever succeeded at is Brexit, the campaign he supported from the very beginning. But that’s like identifying the Iraq War as George W. Bush’s signal accomplishment or suggesting that the conviction of the Central Park Five was one of Donald Trump’s great victories.

With Johnson taking over Number 10, government ministers are leaving in droves. Cabinet ministers Philip Hammond and David Gauke have submitted their resignations, as has Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan. A #NeverJohnson bloc has emerged to mirror the #NeverTrumpers. A polarizing figure, Johnson may well tear apart the Conservative Party over the issue of Brexit.

Or, having reached the pinnacle of his incompetence, Boris Johnson could bring the entire country down with him in one final fail. Then with a shrug and a smirk, he’d go back to writing ridiculous articles and saying outrageous things. It would be high comedy on the order of Monty Python — if it weren’t all so damn tragic.

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BOOM! Fossil Fuel Combustion and the Mother of All Economic Busts

Photograph Source: Eric Kounce TexasRaiser – Public Domain

William Catton focussed on what follows a boom in the human population. He spelled out the scenario in his 1980 book, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. As one reviewer put it, “Catton believed that industrial civilization had sown the seeds of its own demise and that humanity’s seeming dominance of the biosphere is only a prelude to decline.”

Catton hasn’t been alone. Many others have warned or at least implied an inevitable human population bust. But that inevitability is no longer likely to hit solely from overshoot alone, and not in some far-distant future. Instead, with the added pressure from our booming combustion of fossil fuels, a human population bust could plausibly be kicked into gear sometime “by” — a.k.a. before — 2050, or within the next 30 years.

This could be the mother of all economic busts.

The human population boom has been the bedrock of economic boom in sector after sector. It’s been the bedrock foundation of a profit boom for the fossil fuel combustion industries that now put it at risk. In the US alone, the booming human population has been the wellspring for surging numbers of visitors to the likes of Yellowstone National Park, city managers bent on promoting growth, the basis of soaring demand for logging to supply housing for a growing human herd.

Booms thus enjoy considerable public approval and political popularity. Over and over again, the long-ongoing human population boom has afforded the political elites and local boosters an opportunity to boast of a booming economy, sometimes raising local and even national concerns that they tout growth at any cost.

Bust, on the other hand, is a dirty four-letter word.

The mother all economic busts

In the preface to his 1992 book on the economic history of the United States, James Grant reminded readers that, “Booms have consequences.” Politicians and local boosters who boast of booms seldom if ever mention consequences, but they’re no secret. In July, 2001, The Economist advised its readers that “It is no coincidence that the deepest and most protracted recessions in recent decades have taken hold in countries that experienced booms.”

Climate scientist Kevin Anderson has advised anyone willing to listen that, if we fire up the fossil fuels enough to hike atmospheric heat by 4C, only around half a billion people will survive. Anderson says, “I think it’s extremely unlikely that we wouldn’t have mass death at 4C. If you have got a population of nine billion by” — a.k.a. before — “2050 and you hit 4C, 5C or 6C, you might have half a billion people surviving.”

The consequences of human die off at that scale would sprawl widely across both ecological and economic realms. Just in economic terms alone, it would trigger a mass loss of customers for every business and industry across the world. The numbers of tourists flocking to US national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite would plummet. Vast supplies of housing would be left vacant, and the demand for logging crushed. In an irony to cap all ironies, the mass consumption of fossil energy would hit the floor. All in all, Anderson’s stark scenario would add up to economic catastrophe beyond compare.

It doesn’t have to be that extreme to be extreme

Anderson’s reference to reaching 4C added heat is within the realm of possibility. But his scenario of mass death doesn’t have to reach the extent he indicates in order to be extreme. For example, if 4C won’t wipe out all but half a billion people, it would still have profound effect if it wiped out all but a billion, or two billion.

Even if it only wiped out all but 3.5 billion, it would wipe out half of today’s human population. Human die off at even this less extreme scale would put the politically popular cause of economic growth in sharp reverse.

And recent research has turned up signals of economic damage even without mass death. The June 30 2017 issue of Science published a densely detailed article under the title, Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States. The authors found that the mid-Atlantic and southern states would be hit hard by the heat forced on the region by continued combustion of fossil fuels.

But the impact wouldn’t stop there. Instead, the impact would ripple across the nation, partly just because of mass migration away from the hardest hit states. When Time magazine interviewed the lead author, he told Time that “Conflict and political instability — those kinds of things we don’t see today, but could be baked into the future.” He said, “If we continue to emit, you go into this recession and you get stuck in it forever.”

Avoid change, and get change

The first sentence of the executive summary of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5C advises policymakers that, “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”  In a nutshell, if we avoid making the sacrifices necessary to that particular set of far-reaching and unprecedented changes, we’ll get another — and plausibly nastier — set of far-reaching and unprecedented sacrifices in all aspects of society. We’ll give up a lot to get a soft-as-still-possible landing, or give up a lot more in a crash.

There’s a lot of money at stake

The moneyed world has recently come wide awake to the economic damage made likely by continuing the combustion of fossil fuels. In an article under the headline, Climate change threatens to wreak havoc on the global economy,” the January 25 2019 issue of World Finance magazine advised its readers that, “It is becoming more and more apparent that the developing threat of climate change is not simply damaging the earth’s natural ecosystem, but is also harming the world economy .”

More specifically, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, reportedly managing climate-vulnerable assets worth more than twice the value of the entire Chinese economy, has launched a campaign of lobbying governments to get away from thermal coal, and put an end to subsidizing all the fossil fuels, and to get on with putting a price on carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion.” This amounts to a direct pushback against policy touted by Trump and the Republicans and, since pushing back, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change ranks have grown from 415 to 477.

Plainly enough then, the moneyed world’s worries are beginning to sound a lot like those voiced by advocates of the Green New Deal and campaigners of Fridays for the Future and the Extinction Rebellion.

Where do the politicians stand?

Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee recently grilled Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on the Fed’s response to a changing climate. They made no reference to Kevin Anderson’s dire scenario, or to risk of a recession that goes on forever. They may even have been unaware of either scenario. They did, however, succeed in getting Powell’s opinion that human-caused climate change does pose financial risk.

Republicans, meanwhile, launched a conservation caucus aimed, according to The Hill, at battling the perception that their party doesn’t care about climate change. Like the Democrats, they made no reference to Kevin Anderson’s dire scenario, or to risk of a recession that goes on forever. They too may even have been unaware of either scenario. They did, however, have something to say. Sen. Lindsey Graham said the Green New Deal is “crazy economics,” adding that “We believe our friends on the other side care about the environment, but they care so much they’re going to destroy the economy in the name of saving the environment.”

In an editorial on July 13, 2019, the right-leaning Washington Examiner picked up that accusation with a headline declaring that, “The Green New Deal was never about climate change; it’s just AOC’s excuse to destroy America’s economy.”

Interestingly, according to The Hill, the Republican “caucus members on Wednesday stressed that traditional energy sources like coal, oil and gas would remain a part of the mix.” In an irony of all ironies, the Republicans, who have long claimed the role of guardians of the economy and defenders of capital, now push the world closer to 4C ? Huh?

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Can Biden or Any Democrat Avoid a Brokered Convention?

My #10at10 2020 Democratic Primary Model is now live. It includes delegate projections down to the state and Congressional District level (State Senate District in Texas) for every state voting from the Iowa Caucus on February 3rd through to Super Tuesday, when thirteen states vote a month later. The Model uses a variety of factors in an attempt to route around the difficult data-based issues that menace the potential success of such a projection.

There were 177 unique state polls in the three week periods before relevant contests in the 2016 Democratic Primary. Eighty of them (45%) missed outside their margin of error (MoE) in projecting Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ share of the vote. Fifty-six (32%) underestimated his share of the vote outside their MoE. Of the twenty-four polls that overestimated his share, twenty-two were in nine southern states including Texas. The scientific standard for accuracy in polling is 95% – for example “accurate to within +3.2% 19 times out of 20.” Across all 177 polls, Sanders’ share of the vote was underestimated by an average of 3.4%.

Three-quarters, or more [pdf], of likely Democratic voters for the 2020 primary have not settled into support for a single candidate. The contest itself will take place over a nineteen week period in which several of the candidates will drop out if they have not already in the next six months. All of this should give some idea of why models projecting delegate totals by candidate for the Primary are exceedingly rare and worthy of suspicion. At this stage, what follows is not a prediction of where things will likely wind up, but of how things would go if this model is reasonably accurate and if the Iowa caucuses were imminent. Nevertheless, the model does include defensible innovations to account for obvious data difficulties.

A big question looming over the Primary is whether any candidate can prevent a brokered convention. Even though Biden has lost ten or more points on a national lead, the former Vice-President maintains a large popular vote advantage and a delegate lead in thirteen of seventeen states that will vote through Super Tuesday. Taken together, Biden could manage, if the model is correct, to spin 44% (642 of 1470) of pledged delegates available through March 3rd out of just 28% of the national vote on average. Still, Gaffe Master Flash would have to recover serious momentum to avoid at least a second ballot at the Democratic Convention scheduled for July 2020 in Milwaukee. After his debacle last month, the debate on Wednesday may be the biggest moment in his decades as a career politician.

In Iowa, a tight race between the top-4 candidates suggests Biden, if the caucuses were tomorrow, would likely capture less than 25% of the vote but punch out a four delegate win (15-11) over Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, with Sanders (10) not far behind and California Senator Kamala Harris (5) trailing but viable statewide with 14.6% of the popular vote. In New Hampshire, Biden enjoys a sixpoint lead in the popular vote projection, but shares the delegate lead, nine a piece,with Sanders on account of the vagaries of Democratic delegate math.

Sanders is the only candidate besides Biden that the model sees winning delegates in all seventeen states and competing seriously in every one of the four major regions nationally. Sanders’ strength in every region flows out of his racially diverse, working class coalition that continues to hold strong appeal for voters under forty-five years of age. The model has Sanders at 15% (the cut off by delegate contest) or greater with voters in each of the four major groups by race or ethnicity, with White, non-Hispanic voters as his weakest point (14.9%) and Hispanic voters (20.2%) as his strongest.

Elizabeth Warren would be projected currently to win no delegates in Alabama and South Carolina and just fourteen delegates total in four other Southern states with large African American populations. Warren is strong in many other parts of the country, however, including now pushing Sanders (30 delegates) and Biden (34) in her home state of Massachusetts where the model would project her to pick up 27 delegates. Warren also does well on the left coast in California (98 delegates, good enough currently for 2nd there) but also in places like Colorado (17 of 75 delegates, 3rd) and even Texas (47 of 228, 3rd).

Could Warren and Sanders combine their delegates at a contested convention to put one of them forward as the nominee? Perhaps. But one or both would have to substantially improve their current standing. With just enough delegates for the two of them together (657) to push past Biden alone (643), they would, if the contest started today, have to catch fire in the final three months of the primary or broker a much larger deal to prevent Harris, candidates with much smaller delegate totals, or the superdelegates, which return this time for the second ballot, from easily pushing Biden over the top.

Harris is projected to do reasonably well in California and also, potentially, in the South. As the Model was initially being built out, Harris was enjoying the crest of her post-first-debate surge, hitting an average of 15% nationally. She has since lost 3.2% on average nationally while Biden has recovered three points. Dipping below the magic 15% threshold has seen Harris go from a projection of 275 delegates or more through March 3, 2020 to her current state in the initial full launch at just 122 delegates, almost all of them (97) from California. Even at her best, however, Harris polled fairly poorly with Hispanic, Asian, Indigenous, and “other” survey respondents. Outside the South and California, Harris’ best state in the model is Iowa, showing that a well organized, legacy media supported campaign could see her capitalize on a traditional Democratic Primary trajectory for previously not well-known candidates.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg polls fifth in terms of popular vote in the Model at 5.8% in strict average, 4.9% as weighted together with the demographic projection portion and numbers from my preliminary model, which will continue to play a small part (2-8%) going forward. Buttigieg’s failure to gain any traction with people of color and his bad luck in being a politician from Indiana have him stuck on zero in the #10at10 2020 Democratic Primary Model’s delegate count through Super Tuesday. Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke is at 3% and 11 delegates, all from Texas. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is at less than 1.5% but 27 delegates, all from Minnesota. Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro appeal to Hispanic voters sees him at 10 delegates split between California and Texas.

There is a long way to go, with many assumptions to be challenged and at least moderately surprising, cart tipping events to unfold. So long as it can reasonably account for those dips and doodles, I will fully update the #10at10 2020 Model bi-weekly, with some adjustments around more sporadic polling and events ongoing between full updates.

Will the Democratic Convention be brokered or contested – the “Holy Grail” of political reportage? If the #10at10 2020 Democratic Primary Model is accurate and the contest started tomorrow, the answer would be technically yes but practically no. It is extremely unlikely absent a major change in one candidate’s fortunes that any of then will reach 1885 delegates or 50% on the first ballot. But if Biden can reach 44% by delegate total through Super Tuesday and maintain or increase that share as candidates drop out after March 3rd, he would almost certainly ask Harris to be his Vice-President. Superdelegates would rubber stamp the arrangement, and the whole deal would be widely understood months ahead ofMilwaukee.

Brokered ahead of the convention and requiring a second ballot, but not actually contested.

That, however, would not have been the conclusion ten days ago with Harris at 15% nationally and Biden at 25%. A candidate with less than 30% support nationally breezing to a second-ballot win would sit horribly with large segments of the Democratic electorate. The #10at10 2020 Model is built around the likelihood that three or more candidates will regularly poll over 15% nationally. In that case, Biden is unlikely to maintain a 10%+ lead over the long haul.

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A Dark Corner of Hell

Photograph Source: Los Angeles Times – Public Domain

Thou shalt not kill. Right! That admonition is one of the few things that organized religion got right over the past few thousand years. Their spokespersons on Earth soon began to give that advice from above lots of shades of gray and began to make it okay to kill in wartime, but only under some circumstances that few remember, or care to remember today.

The religious right, the largest organized group of hypocrites in the U.S., makes murder by the state one of their principles. They love the unborn, but for most intents and purposes are ready to cast away the born once they see the light of day and cast off those who have gone astray in twisted ways, such as those who murder.

State murder is bad business and the hallmark of rightwing, authoritarian societies. It allows the state to premeditate the murder of its members, especially those who are poor, mentally ill, and castoffs who are of no practical use. Executions also make for a good show in a society trained to watch screens without any critical analysis.

There are heinous crimes and victims of crimes and heinous people. One such person sits in the Oval Office today. He’s responsible for the deaths of immigrant children at the U.S. border with Mexico, but I don’t hear any uproar of those moral leaders of the right calling for the full legal weight of the government to be brought against him. The law loves the foreseeable and it’s foreseeable that caging immigrants and especially immigrant children will lead to some kids dying.

His Justice Department, in the person of William Barr, is now going to put the machinery of death at the federal level into full swing (“US justice department resumes use of death penalty and schedules five executions,” Guardian, July 25, 2019) and murder five of those heinous actors who will serve as symbols of the government’s right to kill. They’ll throw in a white supremacist or two to prove that they, the federal government, are equal opportunity murderers. And their base will love the death chamber scenes with some inmates strapped to a gurney not very different from themselves in terms of social and economic class, except for mental illness in some cases and some very bad luck. But this so-called twist of justice will be served.

Revenge is the key emotion that Trump hopes to tap into with the resurrection of the death penalty at the federal level while the death penalty is losing adherents in states. Revenge is a very powerful human emotion, but soon exhausts itself, leaving the victims of heinous crimes revictimized and possibly more at risk for emotional turmoil.

There are those who have committed heinous crimes and need to be separated from society, but the death penalty goes much further than that separation.

Over 50 years ago, I taught at the junior high school level and had a class of eighth graders, one of whom liked to express his outrageous sentiments (about gruesome methods of execution) in class during a unit of study about the death penalty. I think that the student was trying to draw attention to himself, rather than taking part in intelligent discussions about the topic.

Looking back at his behavior in class, I think of today’s circus-like atmosphere of the application of the death penalty in places like Saudi Arabia and the Philippines. Now, the US will once again join this parade of the uncivilized and shove what remains of civil society into a dark corner of hell.

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Could Trump End the Afghanistan War?

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

Could Donald Trump end the Afghan war someday? I don’t know if such a possibility has been on your mind, but it’s certainly been on the mind of this retired U.S. Army major who fought in that land so long ago. And here’s the context in which I’ve been thinking about that very possibility.

Back in the previous century, it used to be said that “only Nixon could go to China.” In other words, only a longtime cold warrior and red-baiter like President Richard Nixon had the necessary tough-guy credentials to break with a tradition more than two decades old in February 1972. It was then that he and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger traveled to Beijing and met with Communist leader Mao Zedong. In that way, they began a process of reestablishing relations with China (now again being impaired by Donald Trump) broken when the Communists won a civil war against the American-backed nationalists led by Chiang Kai-Shek and came to power in 1949.

By the same token, perhaps no one but Nixon could have eventually — after hundreds of thousands more Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, and Americans died — extracted the United States from what was then (but is no longer) America’s longest war, the one in Vietnam. After all, in 1973, it was hard to imagine just about any Democrat agreeing to the sort of unseemly concessions at the negotiating table in Paris that resulted in an actual peace accord with a crew of Communists. But Nixon did so.

After those “peace” talks and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from that land, the corrupt, battered U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government barely held on for another two gruesome years before a massive Communist offensive finally took Saigon, the capital of the American-backed half of that country in April 1975. Images of U.S. military helicopters hastily evacuating American diplomats and others from Saigon would prove embarrassing indeed. Yet, in the end, little could have altered the ultimate outcome of that war.

Nixon, a cynic’s cynic, evidently sensed just that. Yes, he would prolong the war to the tune of more than 20,000 additional U.S. troop deaths and seek to create a politically palatable pause between the withdrawal of American troops and the unavoidable Communist victory to come (at the cost of god knows how many more dead Vietnamese). It was what he called “breathing space.”  In the end, in other words, in the bloodiest way imaginable, he finally accepted both his presidential, and Washington’s, limitations in what was, after all, a Vietnamese civil war.

Fellow TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich has referred to such realities as “the limits of power.” As a longtime military man who once carried water for the American empire in both Afghanistan and Iraq, let me assure you that, almost two decades into the twenty-first century, those limits still couldn’t be more real.

Recently, I got to thinking about Vietnam and Bacevich — himself a veteran of that war — while following the strange pace of the Trump administration’s peace talks with the Taliban. It struck me that the president, his negotiators, and his loyally “deplorable” backers might (gulp!) just be America’s best hope for striking a deal, 18 years late, to conclude the U.S. military’s role in Afghanistan. If so, he would end the war that replaced Vietnam as this country’s longest — and that’s without even counting the first Afghan War Washington fought there against the Red Army of the now-defunct Soviet Union from 1979 to 1989.

An Unwinnable War

For someone like me who long ago turned his back on America’s never-ending wars on terror, it’s discomfiting to imagine the process that might finally lead to a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, especially one negotiated by The Donald and his strange team of hawks. Of one thing, rest assured: bad things will happen afterward. Afghans whom Americans are sympathetic to, especially women, will suffer under the heel of the kind of extreme Islamism that will be in command in significant parts of the country. And getting there could be no less grim. After all, President Trump, that self-proclaimed “deal-maker,” has so far shown himself to be anything but impressive in striking deals. Nevertheless, he has, at least, regularly criticized the ill-advised Afghan War for years and his instincts, when it comes to that conflict, though unsophisticated and ill-informed, seem sound.

In a sense, the situation isn’t complicated: the U.S. war in Afghanistan cannot be won. The Kabul-based government’s gross domestic product can’t even support its own military budget, leaving it endlessly reliant on aid from Washington and its allies. Its security forces have been taking what, last December, the American general about to become the head of U.S. Central Command termed “unsustainable” casualties — 45,000 battle deaths since 2014. Those security forces simply can’t recruit enough new members to replace such massive losses.

Today, the U.S.-backed regime controls less of Afghanistan than at any point in the nearly two-decade-long war, despite all the American bombs dropped and troops deployed these past 18 years. Rather than grapple with that inconvenient fact, the U.S. military simply stopped counting how much of the country the Taliban now contests or controls. For these and a plethora of other reasons, that military and its Afghan proxies won’t be able to change the ultimate outcome of the Taliban’s war in Afghanistan. Forgive me, then, for placing some hope in President Trump and his negotiators.

The disconcerting truth is that the brutal, venal, medieval Taliban movement is popular in the ethnic-Pashtun-dominated south and the mountainous east of Afghanistan. In 2011-2012, as a lowly company commander in a sub-district of Kandahar, the province that birthed the Taliban, I saw firsthand just how much sympathy villagers seemed to have for that Islamist cause. Sure, many — so, at least, they said — were opposed to that movement’s violent campaign to control the province and the country, but culturally and religiously in some fashion many of them seemed to agree with the group’s basic agenda and worldview.

Most of the Taliban foot soldiers I faced were little more than impoverished farm boys with guns drawn to the movement as much by patriotic opposition to the American military occupation of their country as by any desire for the application of sharia law. In addition, many in the region were making at least modest sums off Afghanistan’s record-breaking opium trade, something the U.S. was never truly capable of controlling or suppressing. The bottom line: the American war in Afghanistan was essentially over then. It’s over now, a defeat that neither politicians in Washington nor Pentagon officials have been able to accept to date.

A Brief Litany of Messy Wars and Their Endings Since 1945

The certainty of imperial failure in anticolonial and counterinsurgency conflicts has defined the era of war making since at least 1945. So it shall be in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, it’s worth considering some of those oft-forgotten conflicts.

In the favored American version of war, endings involve unconditional surrender by a defeated enemy, whether Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865 or imperial Japanese officials on the deck of the USSMissouri in 1945. But such moments, historically speaking, couldn’t be more rare in “the American century.” After World War II, as the last colonial wars of the European powers ended in defeat or the withdrawal of imperial forces, the U.S. military went to war globally with Third World “Communism” — and victory became a thoroughly outmoded word. In the Korean War (1950-1953), which never officially ended, the U.S. finally settled for a status quo truce with its North Korean and Chinese opponents. Tens of thousands of American troops and millions of Koreans died in what essentially amounted to a negotiated draw. Vietnam, as noted, ended in the negotiated version of an outright defeat.

Meanwhile, the French, already booted out of Vietnam in the First Indochina War (1954-1962), tried to torture and kill their way to victory in colonial Algeria before accepting defeat there, too. (A coup attempt by disgruntled right-wing military officers during that counterinsurgency almost cost France its democracy.) Nor could a declining Great Britain kill its way out of the last of its colonial wars, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland (1969-1998). That 30-year war with the quasi-socialist, nationalist Irish Republican Army (IRA) only ended when London demonstrated a willingness to negotiate with that group and draw it into electoral politics. Not only was there no military victory to be had, but Britons had to swallow the embarrassing spectacle of former IRA bombers being released from prison and onetime IRA commanders entering parliament at Westminster.

In smaller conflicts and interventions, the American military withdrew from Lebanon in 1983 after some 220 Marines (and 20 other service personnel) were killed in a suicide bombing and the until-then hawkish President Ronald Reagan realized he’d stepped into an unwinnable morass. In 1994, President Bill Clinton did the same in Somalia after 18 U.S. troops were killed in a chaotic shootout the previous year with a warlord militia in a local civil war. (Twenty-five years later, however, U.S. drones and special operators are still battling it out in that chronically war-ravaged society.)

One lesson to draw from such an abbreviated version of American and allied morasses and military defeats at the hands of nationalist militants, left and right, is that suppressing people’s movements has historically proven difficult indeed. Most of the insurgencies of the long Cold War era were led by vaguely Marxist or, at least, leftist groups. In this century, however, similar insurgencies are led by right-wing Islamist groups. Either way the results have generally been the same. The insurgents, not the governments the U.S. imposed and/or backed, are almost invariably seen by local populations as the more popular, legitimate fighting forces.

Marxism (and its Soviet communist variant) ran its course in local societies as the Cold War wound to its conclusion, but such movements were never truly defeated by the U.S. military and its brutal right-wing proxies, even in the Americas (as in Nicaragua in the 1980s). Islamist theocracy is undoubtedly abhorrent, but it, too, must run its course and (hopefully) sooner or later be defeated by forces within the societies where it’s now conducting its terror wars. Just as in Vietnam, the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan in this century has only served as an accelerant for what might be thought of as political and military arson.

A Messy End

Predictions are tricky when it comes to war, but here’s a safe enough bet: in the wake of any Trump administration “peace” deal with the Taliban, like the South Vietnamese government of the Nixon era, a corrupt, scarcely legitimate U.S.-backed Afghan government and its badly battered security forces will, sooner or later, find themselves back at war. And they will be fighting an ever more confident Taliban. The Kabul-based regime could perhaps hold onto the biggest cities (except possibly Kandahar) and significant parts of the country’s north and west where there are Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara minority enclaves long opposed to the Islamist insurgents. The Taliban would then dominate much of the south and east, leaving Afghanistan divided and still violent indeed until, perhaps, like the South Vietnamese government, the one in Kabul collapsed.

Still, it’s unlikely the Taliban will ever again risk harboring large numbers of transnational terrorists or stand by as a bin Laden-style attack is planned in Afghanistan’s mountains or valleys. After all, its goals have always been Afghan-centric, not global. What’s more, it appears that its negotiators have tacitly promised not to protect or ally with al-Qaeda or its newer offshoot, the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan (which, in any case, is anything but a prospective ally of theirs).

Of course, transnational terrorists have never needed Afghanistan to hatch attacks on the West. Much of the planning and logistics for the actual 9/11 attacks occurred in Germany and even in the United States itself. In addition, partially thanks to America’s never-ending war on terror, there are increasing numbers of ungoverned spaces and tumultuous regions in dozens of countries in a band stretching from West Africa to Central Asia. Should the U.S. military really station tens of thousands of troops in all those locales? Of course not. Among other things, leaving aside the expense of it to the American taxpayer, U.S. soldiers would only inflame local passions and empower local terror outfits.

So here we are knowing there is little the U.S. can do to change the ultimate outcome in Afghanistan. The only question of consequence is: Could Donald Trump be the twenty-first century’s Richard Nixon? Could he do what no one in his position over the last 18 years has had the political courage to do and end — his phrase — a “stupid” war that has come to seem eternal? If “only Nixon could go to China,” is it possible that only Trump can extract the U.S. military from Afghanistan? God help us, but that seems conceivable.

Now, some in the foreign policy establishment will balk at any eventual Trumpian peace agreement. Army General Mark Milley, the president’s nominee for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for instance, recently bucked his boss during confirmation hearings. He told senators that withdrawing from Afghanistan “too soon,” according to the New York Times, would be a “strategic mistake.” Likewise, Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, a typical Washington foreign policy pundit, has already complained that the current U.S. peace talks with the Taliban in Doha will only lead to a Vietnam-style denouement where U.S. negotiators use a negotiated agreement as a fig leaf to save face, declaring “victory,” while essentially accepting future defeat. And, in this case, O’Hanlon is probably right on the mark, even if wrong to reject such an approach.

Count on this: the end of the American military mission in Afghanistan will be unfulfilling and likely tragic. Still — and here’s where O’Hanlon and his ilk couldn’t be more off the mark — like Vietnam before it, the Afghan war should never have been fought for these last almost 18 years, never could have been won, never will be won, and should be ended in some fashion, even a Trumpian one, as soon as possible.

This essay first appeared on TomDispatch.

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American Politicians Use Jews as Pawns to Excuse Their Meddling  in Israeli Elections

On July 23, the US House of Representatives passed (the vote went 398-17, with five voting “present”) a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

The resolution was an outrageous condemnation of the freely chosen economic actions of millions of Americans.

Worse, that condemnation was made on the express behalf of not just a foreign government but the specific policies of one foreign political party (Israel’s Likud Party and its leader, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu). Its intended purpose is to give Likud and Netanyahu the advantage of perceived US support in Israel’s upcoming election.

Worst of all, the resolution’s proponents made — and now that it’s passed, will continue to make — extensive use of overt, undisguised race-baiting, posturing as defenders of Jews while smearing their opponents as anti-Semites.

What are the purposes of the BDS movement?

To pressure the government of Israel to meet “its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully compl[y] with the precepts of international law by: 1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; 2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

Who supports BDS?

Yes, some BDS supporters oppose the existence of the Israeli state as such, and some of them are anti-Jewish bigots. Go figure.

Other BDS supporters are Jews, including some Israelis. Being Jewish or Israeli no more entails supporting one political party’s agenda than being American does.

BDS harnesses the consciences of individuals — individuals of all religions, nationalities, and ethnicities — to voluntary action pressuring the Israeli government to abide by the same standards of international law that the US  government routinely, and with great pomp and circumstance, imposes coercive sanctions on other governments for supposedly violating.

The anti-BDS resolution is a far more overt, and likely far more effective, instance of US government meddling in Israel’s elections than anything the Mueller Report credibly accuses the Russian state of doing vis a vis the 2016 US election.

That’s disgusting.

But not as disgusting as its supporters’ virulent resort to racial politics and their abuse of Jews as, to steal a phrase from a recent New York Times op-ed by Michelle Goldberg, “human shields” to distract our attention from what they’re actually up to.

Shame on the House.


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Why is Education Being Corporatized and Human Life Being Devalued?

In the southern Indian state of Telangana at least 23 teenagers have killed themselves since the scores of their school-leaving exam results, processed by a private software firm, Globarena Technology, were announced in April. The state education board of Telangana has impersonalized education by outsourcing the job of conducting the school-leaving exam, processing the scores, and announcing them for more than 970,000 students across the state to Globarena Technology. The overwhelming pressure on students across the board in India and children of elite families in the United States to get into “prestigious” schools has resulted in the degradation of education and devaluing of human life.

The devaluing of human life is reflected in the tragic suicides in Telangana. While most people aspire to have good lifestyles and profitable jobs, the real purpose of education is to create space for critical thinking, creativity, and good citizens. In order to accomplish these worthy goals, we require less state control in education.

I would argue that reducing education to rote memorization, standard answers, and the ability to regurgitate those answers/ responses leads to the corporatization of education. It also relegates higher cognitive skills, like analysis, evaluation, synthesis, and creativity, to the background.

A student unable to score well in a competitive exam in India sinks into the abyss of despair and is unable to see a future for her/ himself. I underline that education should give students the empowerment to employ critical intelligence. Education should give students the credibility to employ articulate expressions. Education has, historically, given young people the intelligence to create a national identity.

Well-educated students can give the clarion call for a much needed social consciousness. They can give the clarion call for a society and polity that recognizes the need to revitalize stagnant political and bureaucratic institutions.

They can give the clarion call for a democracy that would enable them to fully participate in institutions and rule of law that specifies the limits of jurisdiction and call for decentralization of power.

We, educators and students, must recognize and avail ourselves of the myriad political, sociocultural, and economic forums that a good education can create for us.

A quality education should employ us with the skills to answer the following questions: How can we, as a people, develop the ability to organize and mobilize for social change, which requires the creation of awareness not just at the individual level but at the collective level as well? How can we develop self-esteem for which some form of financial autonomy is a basis? How can we make strategic life choices that are critical for people to lead the sort of lives they want to lead?

Now more than ever, India requires a civil society that bridges regional and communal divides is a prerequisite for the effective and legitimate functioning of educational institutions.

As educators, we are in a position to mold students not just intellectually, but as functional members of families and communities as well. Deploying pedagogical tools as catalysts for verbalizing sociocultural trauma gives students a meaningful voice in addition to contributing to family and community healing.

Education that aids in articulating traumatic experiences, understanding, and integrating such experiences for young people who have intimate knowledge of familial trauma can enable students to facilitate the education of other students in order to positively impact “all students’ empathy, understanding, and resulting ability to understand individuals, families, and communities who have experienced trauma.”

Educators can play an indispensable role in creating opportunities for meaningful communication between students and their families.

It is therapeutic for the younger generation to engage with the past and to learn about historical, political, and sociocultural legacies through a larger context that enables them to connect with sociocultural identity, family/ tribe/ clan, and society. Personal memories must not be bogged down by the reduction of education to an industry and social silence about traumatic events and political terrors. On the contrary, educators can facilitate the process of healing for young people by encouraging a comprehensive study of contemporary history in which students are stakeholders.

I have been highlighting, for a while, the important challenge of creating new openings for people, including the young, to discuss public issues and become active participants. To that end, we need to revive and reinvigorate educational institutions that would encourage students to find purpose and become productive citizens.

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Bassam Shakaa: The Making of a Palestinian ‘Organic Intellectual’

It would be unfair to claim that Palestine has not produced great leaders. It has, and Bassam Shakaa, the former Mayor of Nablus, who passed away on July 22 at the age of 89, was living proof of this.

The supposed deficit in good Palestinian leadership can be attributed to the fact that many great leaders have been either assassinated, languish in prison or are politically marginalized by Palestinian factions.

What was unique about Shakaa is that he was a true nationalist leader who struggled on behalf of all Palestinians without harboring any ideological, factionalist or religious prejudice. Shakaa was an inclusive Palestinian leader, with profound affinity to pan-Arabism and constant awareness of the global class struggle.

In a way, Shakaa exemplified the ‘organic intellectual’ as described by Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci. Indeed, Shakaa was not a mere “mover of feelings and passions” but an “active participant in practical life, as constructor and organizer – a permanent persuader, not just a simple orator”.

Shakaa’s base of support was, and remained, the people – ordinary Palestinians from Nablus and throughout Palestine who always stood by his side, most memorably when the Israeli government attempted to exile him in 1975; when the Palestinian Authority (PA) placed him under house arrest in 1999 and when he was finally laid to rest in his beloved home town of Nablus, a few days ago.

Between his birth in Nablus in 1930 and his death, Shakaa fought a relentless struggle for Palestinian rights. He challenged Israel, the PA, US imperialism and reactionary Arab governments. Throughout this arduous journey, he survived exile, prison and an assassination attempt.

But there is more to Shakaa than his intellect, eloquence, and morally-guided positions. The man represented the rise of a true democratic Palestinian leadership, one that sprang from, spoke and fought for the people.

It was in the mid-1970s that Shakaa rose to prominence as a Palestinian nationalist leader, an event that changed the face of Palestinian politics to this day.

Following its occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in June 1967, the Israeli government moved quickly to fashion a new status quo, where the Occupation became permanent and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was denied any political base in the newly-occupied territories.

Among other things, the Israeli government aimed at creating an ‘alternative’ Palestinian leadership that would engage with Israel with trivial, non-political matters, therefore marginalizing the PLO and its inclusive political program.

In April 1976, the Israeli government, then led by Yitzhak Rabin, conducted local elections in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel had, by then, assembled another group of Palestinian ‘leaders’, which consisted mostly of traditional heads of clans – a small, self-seeking oligarchy that historically accommodated whatever foreign power happened to be ruling over Palestinians.

Israel was almost certain that its hand-picked allies were ready to sweep the local elections. But the Occupation had its unintended consequences, which surprised the Israelis themselves. For the first time since Israel’s creation, all of historic Palestine was now under Israeli control. This also meant that the Palestinian people were, once again, part of the same demographic unit, which allowed for coordinated political mobilization and popular resistance.

These efforts were largely facilitated by the Palestinian National Front (PNF) which was founded in 1973 and comprised all Palestinian groups throughout Occupied Palestine. What irked Israel most is that the PNF had developed a political line that was largely parallel to that of the PLO.

To Israel’s dismay, the PNF decided to take part in the local elections, hoping that its victory could defeat the Israeli stratagem entirely. To thwart the PNF’s initiative, the Israeli army carried out a massive campaign of arrests and deportation of the group’s members, which included intellectuals, academics and local leaders.

But all had failed as Palestine’s new leaders won decisive victories, claiming most mayoral offices and bravely articulating an anti-occupation, pro-PLO agenda.

“We are for the PLO, and we say this in our electoral speeches,” the elected Mayor of Ramallah, Karim Khalaf, said at the time. “The people who come along to our meetings do not ask about road improvements and new factories; we want an end to the Occupation.”

Bassam Shakaa was at the forefront of that nascent movement, whose ideals and slogans spread out to all Palestinian communities, including those inside Israel.

Despite decades of exile, fragmentation and Occupation, the Palestinian national identity was now at its zenith, an outcome the Israeli government could never have anticipated.

In October 1978, Shakaa, Khalaf and the other empowered mayors were joined by city councilors and leaders of various nationalist institutions to form the National Leadership Committee, the main objective of which was to challenge the disastrous Camp David agreement and the resulting marginalization of the Palestinian people and their leadership.

On July 2, 1980, a bomb planted by a Jewish terrorist group, blew up Shakaa’s car, costing him both of his legs. Another targeted Khalaf, who had one of his legs amputated. The leaders emerged even stronger following the assassination attempts.

“They ripped off both my legs, but this only means that I am closer to my land,” said Shakaa from his hospital bed. “I have my heart, my intellect and a just aim to fight for, I don’t need my legs.”

In November 1981, the Israeli government dismissed the nationalist mayors, including Shakaa. But that was not the end of his struggle which, following the formation of the PA in Ramallah in 1994, acquired a new impetus.

Shakaa challenged the PA’s corruption and subservience to Israel. His frustration with the PA led him to help draft and to sign, in 1999, a “Cry from the Homeland”, which denounced the PA for its “systematic methodology of corruption, humiliation and abuse against the people.” As a result, the PA placed Shakaa, then 70, under house arrest.

However, it was that very movement created by Shakaa, Khalaf and their peers that sowed the seeds for the popular Palestinian uprising in 1987. In fact, the ‘First Intifada’ remains the most powerful popular movement in modern Palestinian history.

May Shakaa rest in peace and power, now that he has fulfilled his historic mission as one of Palestine’s most beloved leaders and true organic intellectuals of all times.

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Poisoned for Profit: We Are Not the Agrochemical Industry’s Guinea Pigs

Environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has just written to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Chemicals Regulation Division (HSE) in the UK claiming that the glyphosate-based weed killer Roundup has poisoned her nature reserve in South Wales and is also poisoning people across the UK (she includes herself here, as she struggles with a neurodegenerative condition). She notes that the widespread spraying of glyphosate went against the advice of directive 2009/128/EC of the European parliament but was carried out at the behest of the agrochemicals industry.

Mason has sent a 24-page fully referenced document with her letter in support of her claims. It can be accessed in full here. What follows is a brief summary of just a few of the take-home points. There is a lot more in Mason’s document, much of which touches on issues she has previously covered but which nonetheless remain relevant.

The thrust of her open letter to these agencies is that glyphosate is a major contributory factor in spiralling rates of disease and conditions affecting the UK population. She also makes it clear that official narratives – pushed by the pesticides industry, the media and various key agencies – have deliberately downplayed or ignored the role of agrochemicals in this. Instead, the focus has been on the role of alcohol use and obesity, conveniently placing the blame on individual behaviour and the failure of people to opt for ‘healthy lifestyle’ choices.

Mason argues that Monsanto emails released into the public domain have revealed that Roundup was kept on the market by capturing regulatory agencies, corrupting public officials, bribing scientists and engaging in scientific fraud. In addition, she notes that documents show that the European Commission bowed to the demands of pesticide lobbies. Former PM David Cameron, Defra, the European Food Safety Authority, the European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency all ignored the warnings that GM crops and Roundup were hazardous to human health and the environment.

In the run-up to the relicensing of glyphosate in the EU, Mason states that in its analysis the Glyphosate Task Force omitted key studies from South America (where herbicide-tolerant GM crops are grown) that associate Roundup with cancer, birth defects, infertility, DNA damage and neurotoxicity. She refers to many studies in support of her claim that glyphosate is deleterious to human health and the environment. It is worth noting that the European Chemicals Agency has classified glyphosate as a substance causing serious eye damage and toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects.

Mason reserves a special place for Cancer Research UK (CRUK) in her letter, saying that the agency has been hi-jacked by the pesticides industry and has persuaded key figures in the medical establishment to repeat certain claims: that alcohol, cigarette smoking and obesity are the main causes of cancer. She argues that Monsanto and the US EPA have known for a long time that Roundup is carcinogenic.

CRUK recently made a bold statement about its vision to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured. However, Mason asserts this is fantasy for public consumption. She argues there are a huge number of cancers in the UK and their prevalence is increasing each year in tandem with the rising use of glyphosate and other agrochemicals.

Mason provides the statistics:

“In the UK, there were 13,605 new cases of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2015 (and 4,920 deaths in 2016): there were 41,804 new cases of bowel cancer in 2015 (and 16,384 deaths in 2016); 12,547 new cases of kidney cancer in 2015 (and 4,619 deaths in 2016); 5,736 new cases of liver cancer in 2015 (5,417 deaths in 2016); 15,906 new cases of melanoma in 2015 (2,285 deaths in 2016); 3,528 new cases of thyroid cancer in 2015 (382 deaths in 2016); 10,171 new cases of bladder cancer in 2015 (5,383 deaths in 2016); 8,984 new cases of uterine cancer in 2015 (2,360 deaths in 2016); 7,270 cases of ovarian cancer in 2015 (4,227 deaths in 2016); 9,900 new cases of leukaemia in 2015 (4,712 deaths in 2016); 55,122 new cases of invasive breast cancer in 2015 (11,563 deaths in 2016); 47,151 new cases of prostate cancer in 2015 (11,631 deaths in 2016); 9,211 new cases of oesophageal cancer in 2015 (8,004 deaths in 2016); and 5,540 new cases of myeloma in 2015 (3,079 deaths in 2016); 2,288 new cases of testicular cancer in 2015 (57 deaths in 2016); 9,921 new cases of pancreatic cancer in 2015 (9,263 deaths in 2016); 11,432 new cases of brain cancer in 2015 (5,250 deaths in 2016); 46,388 new cases of lung cancer in 2015 (and 35,620 deaths in 2016). In the US in 2014 there were 24,050 new cases of myeloma.”

Arguing that UK farmers are “drowning” their crops in pesticides, Mason notes that it is therefore not surprising that Pesticide Action Network UK’s analysis of the last 12 years of residue data (published by the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food) shows there are unacceptable levels of pesticides present in the food provided through the Department of Health’s (DoH) School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS).

Residues of 123 different pesticides were found, some of which are linked to serious health problems such as cancer and disruption of the hormone system. Moreover, residues contained on SFVS produce were higher than those in produce tested under the national residue testing scheme (mainstream produce found on supermarket shelves). However, Mason says that when PAN-UK sent its findings to the DOH, the agency was told that pesticides are not the concern of the DoH.

Perhaps they should be, given what Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, stated in 2017:

“Our children are growing up exposed to a toxic cocktail of weed killers, insecticides and fungicides. It’s on their food and in their water, and it’s even doused over their parks and playgrounds. Many governments insist that our standards of protection from these pesticides are strong enough. But as a scientist and a lawyer who specialises in chemicals and their potential impact on people’s fundamental rights, I beg to differ.”

He added:

“Paediatricians have referred to childhood exposure to pesticides as creating a ‘silent pandemic’ of disease and disability. Exposure in pregnancy and childhood is linked to birth defects, diabetes, and cancer. Because a child’s developing body is more sensitive to exposure than adults and takes in more of everything – relative to their size, children eat, breathe, and drink much more than adults – they are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals. Increasing evidence shows that even at ‘low’ doses of childhood exposure, irreversible health impacts can result.”

Tuncak says that most victims cannot prove the cause of their disability or disease and this limits our ability to hold those responsible to account. But this is changing. The public is becoming increasingly aware of the industry’s criminal strategy for keeping Roundup on the market, thanks to the various high-profile litigations in the US. Maybe it’s time for the (taxpayer-funded) agencies Rosemary Mason has continually written to over the years to finally act in the public interest. Or would that be too much to expect?

In finishing, we should take note of the current orchestrated campaign (cheer-led by those outside of India with industry links) to get herbicide-tolerant seeds planted in India. Aside from Bt cotton, GM crops are not allowed in the country. This cynical campaign is aimed at increasing GM seed, glyphosate and other toxic agrochemical sales. Given increasingly saturated markets elsewhere, the global GM seed and herbicide industry regards India as a massive potential money spinner.

However, Punjab took the lead in 2018 and banned glyphosate. Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have since followed. But there is still no nationwide ban. With this in mind, author and academic Ashwani Mahajan has started a petition campaign (here) to stop the use of glyphosate in India.

He says that pesticide companies are taking advantage of farmers’ ignorance about the deadly risks associated with glyphosate. Mahajan notes that industry is sending its agents to approach farmers directly and trap them with attractive promotional offers. This is part of a wider strategy to get farmers to break with effective traditional practices and lure them onto agrochemical (and GMO) treadmills as described in the 2017 paper The Ox Fall Down: Path Breaking and Technology Treadmills in Indian Cotton Agriculture (Glenn Stone and Andrew Flachs).

Farmers are being subjected to slick PR and lured because they are told this herbicide is a cost-effective method to kill weeds quickly. What they are not told is that its effectiveness is limited, that it’s a health and environmental hazard and that it’s a risk to their lives. But it’s not just farmers’ lives that are at risk. We just need to look at the statistics provided earlier in this article to realise the risk to the wider public health.

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Contractual Disputes: Replacing Monster Chefs on MasterChef

The show is pompous, condescending and shallow. It was designed to mock the lowly non-cook, the ignorant, and, from high culinary summitry, grace the winner after munching, gratis, what was promoted. The winner would then be nurtured, cared for in an entrepreneurial way.  Little master chefs would, in turn, become big ones, owning restaurants, starting a line of cookery books and wind up with face, cooking implements and all, on television.

The MasterChef idea, unsurprisingly born in a country where grub takes precedence over cuisine, was always an obscene way of stirring the lowly heart. The plebs want their fare and fun, so let us give it to them via a Pygmalion effect. Inspire “the ordinary Briton”, or “the ordinary Australian”; cultivate the ignorant, encourage the confused mangler in the kitchen, and let’s have a damn good laugh about it.


Now, the last gastro laugh is being had on the Australian version of the program and its cocksure hosts.  The fattened, smug trio of George Colombaris, Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan, are no more – at least in terms of being judges on the program. For a decade, these Monster Chefs have not so much graced the screens as saturated them with judgments.

The Monster Chef trio had become so confident they made the only cardinal error that matters: presuming their own immortality. Accordingly, they saw themselves as irreplaceable, able to continue reigning in broadcasting heaven for a twelfth season.  In doing so, the inner brat was enlivened.  They could negotiate hard – and harder – over their contract of renewal. They could push terms, and get rewarded. But it was not to be.

The question on every food boffin’s lips is: What did they want?  More pay, more entitlements, came the response, to the tune of a 40 percent increase. (All three receive over $1 million in salaries.)  In the words of Chief Executive Officer Paul Anderson, “Despite months of negotiation, [Network] 10 has not been able to reach a commercial agreement that was satisfactory to Matt, Gary and George.”

This fact left a certain stench in the air, given the payment problems of one of the judges, who works in an industry seemingly incapable of understanding the merits of a fair wage.  MAdE Establishment, which steers the Colombaris restaurants, was found by the Fair Work Ombudsman to have been derelict in its payment obligations to staff to the tune of $7.83 million.  The 515 current and former employees involved in the dispute duly received a backpay order and a mild “contrition payment” of $200,000.

In a bland, unconvincing statement, Colombaris insisted that the company was “committed to acting as a force for change in the industry and leading by example when it comes to building and promoting supportive, healthy and compliant hospitality workplaces.”

The response from fellow Monster Chef Preston on ABC Radio Melbourne was less humble than apologia spiced with bitchiness. “George genuinely loves the staff, that’s why he wants to pay them back.”  He was in agreement with the principle that staff had to be paid what was owed to them (astonishingly novel); besides, Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, was also in the soup regarding underpayments to casual staff.  To each his not so gallant own.

Even the network producing MasterChef Australia was happy to offer Colombaris their backing, despite a petition seeking his sacking from the program garnering over 20,000 votes.  According to an untroubled spokeswoman from Network 10, “George and MAdE Establishment have reached an agreement with the Fair Work Ombudsman in relation to this matter.” The chef had “the support of Network 10.”

The hospitality industry can be a truly unhospitable one, and Colombaris exemplifies this.  His group was also responsible or underpaying 162 employees in 2017, coughing up backpay totalling $2.6 million. Other hefty names in the chef business are also tainted by a seeming inability to understand, let alone measure the concept of fair pay.  Big egos make for bad payers.

Heston Blumenthal, another beast of the chef’s television circuit, has also established an imperium that underpays its workers even as it maximises profit through offshore tax havens. The means of doing so are delightful: the Caribbean island of Nevis features, less for the scenery than its zero tax rate.  The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists was particularly scathing of Nevis in their Paradise Papers trove.  Tipsy Cake Pty Ltd, the entity behind Blumenthal’s Australian restaurant, is registered and incorporated via an office suite and post office box on the island.

Blumenthal, as with many of his fellow chefs, likes doing things the small portioned, indiscernible way, and that includes proper payments to staff.  Dinner by Heston found itself in a spot of bother in 2018 when the Fair Work Ombudsman received information from two chefs alleging unremunerated overtime.  The figures were far from negligible.  One submitted estimates showing underpayments up to $25,000; the other, $35,000.

The Colombaris payment scandal, and the troubles with MasterChef, go to the same problem.  The celebrity chef believes himself divine, a gastro deity unaccountable and egomaniacal.  The food is less important than the figure; the show, more significant than the substance. Those studying the food industry have done a disservice in their encouragements of the Big Chef-turned-judge phenomenon, formulating such empty terms as “culinary cultural capital”, a body of skills and knowledge supposedly attributable to MasterChef.

Food should be eaten and savoured, not contrived and made the stuff of a blood sport.  The great food texts are themselves poetic guides of mystery urging us to consume in the freest of ways.  The celebrity chef as television judge performs a different function.  In the MasterChef model, the judge plays social worker and helpful instructor, supposedly encouraging creativity in a competitive setting.  But what the format has done is drag the monster out of the kitchen and restaurant business and place him in a position of judgment.  Be done with them to lunch in grotesque, small portioned luxury.

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The US-China Trade War: A Cease-Fire, Nothing More

The Financial Times reported on July 10 that Donald Trump, at his last meeting with Xi Jinping in Osaka in June, promised to “tone down” criticism of China’s actions in Hong Kong in return for progress on trade talks. Such is the way of Donald’s world: Making a deal with authoritarian regimes is always preferable to protecting human rights. Even so, don’t hold your breath on those trade talks; appearances are deceiving. While news reports cited mutual concessions at the sideline of that meeting—Trump permitting resumption of business between Huawei and US technology firms, and Xi Jinping promising to buy lots of US farm products—Trump’s usual comment (“we’ll see”) tells the real story, which is that the two sides agreed to a cease-fire, nothing more.

Here is what the Trump-Xi understanding did not accomplish. First, it did not eliminate current US tariffs of 25 percent on $250 billion of Chinese exports. Second, it only postpones additional US tariffs on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese exports. Third, China has announced no concession on intellectual property rights belonging to US corporations. Fourth, the reprieve granted Huawei is tentative, though it is apparently loose enough to allow US technology companies to seek exemptions that would enable them to resume doing business with Huawei. Still, the company may be hostage to successful completion of the entire trade deal, especially if liberals and conservatives sustain their objections to the reprieve on national security grounds (such as Senator Marco Rubio’s claim the deal was “a catastrophic mistake”).

Trump thinks he’s got China in a bind: The US, he told Fox News, is “taking in a fortune, and frankly [it’s] not a very good thing for China, but it is a good thing for us.” But that’s fake news on two counts: US import duties are not enough to make up for the roughly $28 billion in promised government aid to farmers hurt by the trade war, and China has made up for a good deal of lost business with the US by increasing exports to Europe and Southeast Asia. Meantime, Chinese imports of US goods are way down, especially of soybeans—as much as 30 percent according to Simon Rabinovitch of The Economist. As far as this latest US-China understanding goes, Goldman Sachs was appropriately cautious, saying “No substantive progress was announced on the main issues in the dispute.” Industry leaders, who were nearly unanimous in protesting Trump’s tariffs, aren’t celebrating the new understanding either. They’re reduced to hoping for the best. Good luck.

The politics of the trade war is central to what is really going on. Trump knows he must credibly claim a win to reassure his base, including skeptical farmers, that he hasn’t given anything way as election time approaches. He knows, and the Chinese know, that a Democratic aspirant is in the wings, someone who would be far more open than Trump to negotiating an end to the trade war, even if not to trade frictions.

As compelling a drama as the trade war is, it is only one piece in a troubling overall deterioration of US-China relations. China’s naval advances, US military aid to Taiwan (a new $2 billion sale is in the works), Congressional efforts to limit visas to Chinese students and scholars, political pressure on US universities to close Confucius Institutes and investigate Chinese-American faculty as possible spies, China’s successful push in Europe for its Belt and Road Initiative, warmer North Korea-China ties, differences over Iran, and stronger China-Russia relations are all signs of intensified US-China competition.

The extraordinary Hong Kong demonstrations, which might lead to China’s military intervention to quell, and China’s mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Muslims—the latter condemned, by the way, by 22 countries (but not one Muslim-majority one) in a letterto the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights—show that, Trump’s accommodating view notwithstanding, the struggle for human rights and dignity must be pursued even at the cost of doing business. (See the powerful essay on Hong Kong by the artist Ai Weiwei on the New York Times site.)

While signs of increased US-China cooperation are becoming harder to identify, cooperation in the pursuit of common interests must go on alongside competition and policy differences. As more than 130 China specialists said in an open letter to Trump, maintaining positive relations with China is essential.

They remind us that China does not seek, and has many liabilities should it seek, global leadership. But it is becoming closer to Russia, economically and militarily, a development surely not in US interests. So it was strange to read a New York Times editorial of July 21 that said: “President Trump is correct to try to establish a sounder relationship with Russia and peel it away from China” –exactly the opposite of what US policy should be. The US has far more interests and opportunities in better relations with China than with Russia, among them the climate crisis, North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and of course trade and investment. And let’s keep in mind that it is Russia, not China, that is interfering in US elections.

Playing up the China threat has lately become standard procedure among liberals and conservatives alike, and has caused most Americans to view China as a rival–a change from past years. But the “China threat” thesis exaggerates Beijing’s intentions, capabilities, and allure. Indeed, the latest Chinese national strategy paper, just released, identifies domestic threats as primary, specifically “separatism.” A foreign policy based on hostility to China endangers national and international security, not to mention the world economy. A cease-fire in the trade war is of little significance unless these other disputes are addressed and diplomacy replaces confrontation.

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It Isn’t Rocket Science

It Isn’t Rocket Science

The gecko’s in the ginkgoes

And the weasel’s got the measles
As the diesels chug
You slump and cough
For cops won’t allow us to shut off
The engines
And Willem Van Spronsen’s in other

And oh did I mention,
And oh did you see

They’re knocking on doors
but everyone’s hiding —
The prophet Elijah said:
Leave the doors open
Admit me and feed me red wine
However, the doors remain shut, I suppose
it isn’t yet time
And there’s next to no time —
As everyone watches their watches
And watches the news and views
the ruse and what
Across the whole globe
All sane people know
That the president’s a nut
Get the truck
lock him up
And then what?
Shut the camps
and the prisons
Forgive all the debts,
End the wars
House all the homeless
and feed all the hungry
Plant trillions of trees
And ban cars


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The Coming Savings Writedowns

Debts that can’t be paid, won’t be. That point inevitably arrives on the liabilities side of the economy’s balance sheet.

But what of the asset side? One person’s debt is a creditor’s claim for payment. This is defined as “savings,” even though banks simply create credit endogenously on their own computers without needing any prior savings. When debts can’t be paid and debtors default, what happens to these creditors?

As President Obama showed, banks and bondholders can be bailed out by new Federal Reserve money creation. That is what the $4.6 trillion in Quantitative Easing since 2008 was all about. The Fed has spent the last few years supporting stock market prices (and holding down gold prices) by manipulating the forward option markets.

But this artificial life support to keep the debt overhead afloat is nearing the reality of the debt wall. The European Central Bank has almost run out of available euro-bonds to buy. The new fallback position to keep the increasingly zombified U.S. and Eurozone financial markets afloat is to experiment with negative interest rates.

Writing down savings by a few percentage points helps bring the glut of creditor claims marginally back towards balancing bank deposits with the ability of debtors to pay. But such marginal moves are rarely sufficient. A quantum leap is needed.

Governments have long followed a basic guideline when faced with a need to devalue their currencies (for instance, as the dollar was devalued against gold in 1933). Nothing is worse for a politician or central banker than to be overly shy when it comes to devaluation. The motto is, “Always depreciate to access.” That means at lest 25 percent, often a third when a basic structural adjustment is needed.

The recent experiment in negative interest rates writing down savings as a necessary compliment to the inevitable debt writedowns means that financial policy makes are beginning to fact the hitherto unthinkable fact that many zombie companies and debtors have no foreseeable means of paying the amounts that they owe on paper.

The tendency of debts to grow exponentially at rates in excess of the economy’s ability to create an economic surplus to pay creditors has been known for nearly 5,000 years. My book “… and forgive them their debts” describes how ancient Near Eastern rulers recognized the inherent tendency of financial dynamics to cause instability, leading to debt bondage and forfeiture of land to creditors.

To prevent this rising indebtedness from tearing their realms apart, rulers started their first full year on the throne by clearing away the overhang of arrears that had been accruing on personal and agrarian debts. The aim was to restore an idealized “mother condition” in which bondservants were liberated, able to start with a Clean Slate with their self-support land returned to them, in balance with regard to their income and outgo.

An analogy would be the idyllic condition that the U.S. economy would achieve if we could restore the financial situation that existed in 1945. The end of World War II left an economy in which most families were almost debt-free. Families and businesses and were rife with cash, as there had not been much opportunity to spend during the wartime years, and the Great Depression had wiped out substantial debts. Returning soldiers were able to start families and buy homes by committing to pay only 25 percent of their income for 30 years. This era was as close as the United States came to a Clean Slate. Today it seems an unrecoverable golden age – as the ancient Near East seemed to be to debt-wracked imperial Rome.

Germany’s Economic Miracle consisted of its Allied Monetary Reform of 1948 – a Clean Slate erasing most personal and business. That debt cancellation was fairly easy because most debts were owed to Nazis, and the Allies were glad to see their savings claims for payment wiped out.

Fast forward to today: Indebted students graduate with an obligation to pay so much education debt that they cannot qualify for mortgages to buy homes of their own. Marriage rates are down, U.S. home ownership is plunging, and rents are rising. Automobile debt also has soared, leading to rising default rates second only to student debt defaults. The overhang of junk-mortgage debts that crashed the economy in 2008 remains on the books of families who managed to survive the ten million foreclosures under the Obama bailout of Wall Street. (His constituency turned out to be his Donor Class, not the junk-mortgage victims among his voters. He characterized them as “the mob with pitchforks” to the banksters he invited to the White House to celebrate his bailout.)

By driving down interest rates, the Fed’s policy of Quantitative Easing has subsidized an enormous debt buildup without increasing the interest burden proportionally. This has enabled corporations to carry much higher debt and even indulge in leveraged buyouts and stock buyback programs.

This QE policy has made financial engineering much more enriching than industrial engineering. But it has painted the U.S. and European economies into a corner. At some points interest rates will inevitably begin to rise back up. Some countries will have to increase rates in order to borrow to stabilize their exchange rates when their balance of trade and payments falls into deficit. Other countries will simply see that the game is over and will give up the pretense that the personal, corporate and public-sector debt overhead can be paid.

It is to prepare for this inevitable eventuality that Europe is experimenting with its trial run of negative interest rates. Once the technique is established, it will prepare the way for the inevitable step of writing down national savings in line with the economy’s ability to pay.

That ability is shrinking much more than at any time since the 1920’s, which gave way to the Great Depression despite the many debt writedowns of 1931-32. The exponential mathematics of compound interest have created more and more claims on personal income and corporate cash flow, leaving less and less to be spent on goods and services.

Until a debt writedown occurs, storefronts will continue to close, arrears will mount, students will continue to postpone marriage and family formation, high-risk bonds will begin to give way and default.

That should be what economic theory is all about. But for the past generation, economic models have pretended that banks and creditors act responsibly enough not to make bad loans. Pension fund managers pretend that they can provide for future retirement by corporate or public employees by earning 8 percent annually ad infinitum, doubling every 7 years, as if this is really possible in an economy not really growing outside of the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector (and even so, growing at only 1 or 2 percent). How then can the economy pay its debts without imposing financial austerity much like Third World countries subjected to IMF austerity programs?

Today’s economic orthodoxy denies that this debt problem can exist. Debt dynamics and the exponential growth curve of compound interest does not exist in the parallel academic universe that somehow has been situated in the social science department instead of the literature department as science fiction.

Perhaps someday a revamped economics curriculum will include the study of history to see how earlier societies have coped with the inherent tendency of debts to increase faster than the ability to be paid. It is a long history with many examples. Western civilization has failed to solve the financial problem that Near Eastern societies were able to cope with by intervening from “outside” the economy.

But these formative debt experiences are as repressed today as sexual drives repressed academically before the work of Freud. Academic economists are financial prudes. Debt cancellation is historically the solution. Quantitative Easing and bailouts of the One Percent can only be a temporary substitute. We should think of them as “abstinence” from recognizing the need to write down bad loans (“savings”) along with the bad debts.


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For a Peaceful and United Korea

Kim Il Sung monument, Mt Paektu, DPRK. Photo George Burchett.

I have watched live on TV all three meetings between Chairman Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump: the first one in Singapore on June 12, 2018, the second one in Hanoi (where I live) on 27-28 February 2019, and the last one at the DMZ on June 30, 2019.

All three meetings were moments of great hope and cause for cautious optimism.

But every time, I am also reminded of what President Kim Il Sung – Chairman Kim Jong Un’s grandfather – told my father, Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett in Pyongyang, when they first met there in May 1967. This is how my father relates it in his book Again Korea:

“Come and visit us again,” said my host. “Bring your wife and have a good holiday here. But I advise you to come soon if you want to see our country as it is now.” He waved his hand toward the window which looked out on a broad, tree-lined boulevard of shining new apartment houses and shops. “It is possible that all this will be destroyed if war breaks out. I say to my comrades that they should not think they can keep our nice theaters and things as they are now; they must realize that as long as imperialism exists, war may break out again. Especially as long as the unification of our country has not been achieved, things may be destroyed again.” My host was Premier Kim II Sung of North Korea, the place Pyongyang, the date May 20, 1967. (Wilfred Burchett, Again Korea, 1969)

I note that President Kim Il Sung didn’t specify which “imperialism” when he warned “that as long as imperialism exists, war may break out again”. He was well placed to know a thing or two about imperialism, having successfully fought Japanese imperialists occupying Korea and Yankee imperialists and their lackeys trying to annihilate North Korea, occupying South Korea and keeping the Korean Peninsula divided to this day.

From the rubble left by the Korean War, the people of the DPRK, under the leadership of President Kim Il Sung, built an advanced and prosperous socialist state. Since its inception, that socialist state, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, has had US nuclear weapons pointed at it from the South and has been under constant threat of annihilation. Let’s not forget that prior to the historic Singapore meeting, Donald Trump was also threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” if it didn’t comply with US diktats.

On 13 April 2012, together with delegates from many countries, I had the privilege of visiting Mount Paektu, on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of President Kim Il Sung’s birth. The scenery is breathtaking. To make it even more dramatic, we were treated to a real snow storm, to remind us of the extraordinarily harsh conditions under which President Kim Il Sung and his companions fought their heroic war or resistance against Japanese imperialists and their local collaborators.

Two days later, on 15 April 2012, I was on Kim Il Sung Square watching the military parade to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of President Kim Il Sung’s birth. I was standing next to our interpreter, the diminutive and always elegant Miss Liu. She had told me earlier that she had done her military service with an artillery unit. As the big guns were paraded before us, I kept asking her: Were you with this unit? Finally some really, really big guns appeared and I asked her again: These ones? And she said: Yes! Which makes me wonder, how many Miss Lius are ready to man those big guns in defense of their socialist motherland, inspired by the heroic example of the generation of revolutionaries led by President Kim Il Sung?

On that same occasion, Chairman Kim Jong Un made his first public speech. It was a moment of great and palpable emotion for the people gathered at the square and, no doubt, for all North Koreans, who for the first time heard the voice of their young new leader.

Today, Chairman Kim Jong Un is hailed even by the President of the United States of America as a great and wise leader of his people and a personal friend. Who would have believed that back in 2012? Not many, I’m sure.

I first visited the DPRK in September 2002 with my son Graham. We arrived from Sydney, Australia, where we were living at the time. I must confess that I was a little bit apprehensive. I had lived in Australia since 1985 and had had to endure an endless and sustained demonization campaign against my father, Wilfred Burchett. He was never forgiven by the Australian establishment and its media etc. enforcers for reporting the ceasefire talks to end the Korean War from the North Korean-Chinese side. Some still denounce him as a “moral traitor to western civilisation”. For good measure, he had also reported the Vietnam war from the “communist” side. Australia had fought in both wars alongside the US. But this is another story…

In 2002, when my son and I visited, the DPRK was emerging from a period of extreme hardship due to a combination of adverse factors. But when we were there, there was also great hope for normalising relations with the US and Japan. Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had visited the DPRK and had spoken favourably of Chairman Kim Jong Il. Japan’s Prime Minister Koizumi was also expected to visit Pyongyang to normalise relations between the two countries. President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea was pursuing his Sunshine Policy of détente with North Korea. Then George W Bush declared North Korea as part of his “axis of evil” and relations went into deep freeze again. A “deep freeze” that has lasted pretty much until the June 2018 historic summit between Chairman Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump.

So, three generations of DPRK leaders have had to confront “imperialism”: Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un.

Only President Kim Il Sung had to fight militarily Japanese and US imperialisms. He did so successfully, for all of Korea, North and South. One would hope that both imperialisms would draw some useful lessons from their defeats. But I’m afraid that remains hopeful thinking. If history teaches us anything, it is that imperialism feeds on war and destruction, like vampires feed on blood. Lenin wrote in 1917: imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism. And history proves him right.

Before concluding this essay I would like to quote again from my father’s book, Again Korea:

“Driving out homeward bound along the concrete highway leading to the airport, past Pyongyang’s gleaming buildings, the air heavy with the scent of acacia blossoms, admiring again the neat grey and white villages, the carefully tended fields already green with thickly planted rice, my thoughts could not but turn to Kim II Sung’s warning that it might all be destroyed again soon. I thought of the former head of America’s Strategic Air Command, General Curtis LeMay’s solution for Vietnam: “Let’s bomb ’em back into the Stone Age,” and realized how right Premier Kim is to prepare the country organizationally and psychologically for more destruction. But I also thought how wrong was LeMay. You can bomb the Vietnamese and Korean people underground, but you cannot bomb them back into the “Stone Age.” You cannot bomb out of existence those solid technical, intellectual and moral qualities they have acquired during the years of building and living under socialism. What stone age moralists such as LeMay would like to bomb out of existence is indestructible. If what has been built up in North Korea is destroyed again, the “abundant fruitful orchard” will grow faster than ever again. And the next time it will spread over the whole country.”

In 1992, Francis Fukuyama proclaimed “the end of history” and the triumph of free market “liberalism” over “collectivist” soviet-style state socialism. Almost three decades later, the DPRK proves him wrong. North Korea is still a proud socialist state that firmly stands its ground against threats from the self-proclaimed rulers of the world. Not only that, but suddenly “socialism” looks attractive again to Western societies facing increased economic hardship and inequality, social dysfunctionality, endless wars, terrorism and so on and on.

The world now looks at the DPRK with renewed respect. That respect is hard-earned thanks to the strong and wise leadership of President Kim Il Sung, Comrade Kim Jong Il and Chairman Kim Jong Un, who, in the most difficult circumstances, have been able to not only defend their country, but also guide it towards a bright and prosperous future.

All progressive and peace-loving people around the world can only sincerely wish that the near future will see Korea peacefully reunited and all Koreans joining forces to build a strong, proud, independent and prosperous Korea.

And if I may end on a personal note, I believe that only the people of Korea, by their common will and efforts can make that happen, despite every efforts by “imperialists” to keep them apart and in a constant state of conflict.

So all of us who support a united and peaceful Korea have a lot of work to do. There are now some glimmers of hope on the horizon, and we must make sure that the flame of hope keeps burning, brighter and brighter until it illuminates us all, like bright sunshine. This, I’m sure, would also be the wish of President Kim Il Sung and Comrade Kim Jong Il, who have past the baton to their grandson and son, Chairman Kim Jong Un, who only a few days ago, invited US President Donald Trump to step on North Korean territory, making him the first acting US president to step on North Korean soil. Let us hope that these few steps, lead to more firm steps towards Peace and Reunification.

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Alaska Governor Demolishes Climate Research

“The University of Alaska Fairbanks (“UAF”) is a hub for Arctic climate research, and a magnet for top scientists and international collaborations— and it’s in trouble.” (Source: Sabrina Shankman, A Death Spiral for Research: Arctic Scientists Worried as Alaska Universities Face 40% Funding Cut, Inside Climate News, July 19, 2019)

UAF’s International Arctic Research Center sits at the pinnacle of worldwide climate research “with experts on permafrost, short-lived climate pollutants, sea ice and more, UAF has earned a reputation as a leader in Arctic climate research. Its research is often the product of years of work with partners from universities worldwide,” Ibid.

However, recent events make it appear that climate science is too hot for political comfort as study after study identifies shocking volumes of collapsing/thawing permafrost, which covers 25% of the Northern Hemisphere.

Crumbling permafrost is an extraordinarily dangerous situation that, over time, can lead to deadly RGW (runaway global warming) and subsequent burn-off of mid-latitude agriculture, as people starve and scream, in that order.

In point of fact, global warming has been on a binge of late; in the North it’s heating 2-4xs faster than anywhere else on the planet. As a result, permafrost is drip-drip-drip thawing at record rates, well beyond any and all analytical predictions; it’s a real stunner!

But, not to worry, there’s a political answer: Alaska’s governor, taking field notes from “Donald Trump’s Tips on Handling Climate Change” proposes: Defund it! Kill it! Hide it!

Ergo, Alaskan Governor Michael Dunleavy (R) will likely go down in history as the nasty ole “Ghoul of Runaway Global Warming.” After all, the governor is slashing the University of Alaska’s funding by 40%. Thereafter, no one will know for sure what’s happening of consequence in the rambunctious North, as the world-famous International Arctic Research Center limps along as a result of hefty cuts in funding with some critical research coming to a screeching halt.

In the wake of the Gov’s big cuts, a plague of doom spread throughout the scientific community. According to Sabrina Shankman of Inside Climate News: “The state’s flagship university at Fairbanks is a hub of climate research that brings together scientists from around the world.”

All of which begs the most obvious of questions: At a time when scientists are floored by global warming’s unrelenting walloping of permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere, how and why is crucial climate research cut to the bone?

Is it merely coincidence that spending cuts hit just as global warming starts “strutting its stuff like never before” with collapsing permafrost, like fallen tinker toys that, heretofore, was solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, over eons? What’s up with this sudden massive thawing of rock-solid permafrost that contains tons and tons of carbon?

The brutal truth is: Cascading permafrost, at unprecedented volume and rate of collapse, is a powerful signal that anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gases are way too excessive and thus disrupting the climate system.

In fact, several recent field studies have already exposed dangerous imbalances in the climate system. For example, in some instances, thawing of permafrost is 70 years ahead of all expectations. See -Louise M. Farquharson et al, Climate Change Drives Widespread and Rapid Thermokarst Development in Very Cold Permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic, Geophysical Research Letters, June 10, 2019.

Nobody ever expected it to happen so dramatically, so quickly, without warning. As such, ecosystem collapse in northern latitudes is not “a disaster in the making.” It’s already “a disaster happening.”

Curiously, residents of New York City and Los Angeles can’t see collapsing permafrost’s fearsome signals of impending trouble, dead ahead. However, the world’s top climate scientists at the University of Alaska can’t miss it.

Meanwhile, in classic Orwellian fashion, Gov. Dunleavy takes a meat cleaver to the origins of “intellectual discovery.”

“Dunleavy’s spending cuts were part of an attempt to make good on a campaign promise: to increase the state’s Permanent Fund Dividend—the checks sent to residents each year from royalties the state collects from the oil industry. The amount typically ranged from $1,000 to $2,000 per person, but that was reduced by former Gov. Bill Walker as he sought to cover a budget deficit. The unpopular move may have been the nail in the coffin of his re-election campaign. Dunleavy promised $3,000 for each resident if elected,” Ibid.

“Halfway through Dunleavy’s first year in office, that promise comes at a steep cost. The cuts to the university were among several budget cuts Dunleavy made using his veto power that will undermine key social services across Alaska—from Medicaid to help for the elderly and homeless. But the university system took the biggest hit,” Ibid.

Thus, the Gov’s priorities are: An additional one-thousand-dollars in voter’s pockets is more important than social services for the elderly and homeless and Medicaid and climate research, all of which, unfortunately, adds up to the perfect recipe for unmitigated disaster with “eyes wide shut.”

According to Governor Dunleavy, paying off voters with a measly thousand bucks of extra pocket cash supersedes UAF as the world’s leading center for Arctic research with volumes of studies published in scientific journals, bespeaking of a world-class institution.

Now, its stellar reputation has suddenly been cut off at the knees, coincidentally, at the very moment when its obligation to analyze and prep society for a major existential threat have never been so crucial, as an out of control climate system fast approaches “the perfect setup” to clobber comfy lifestyles.

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From Nazi Germany to Ottoman Turkey, Genocides Begin in the Wilderness, Far From Prying Eyes

Many believe the Jewish Holocaust was planned by the Nazis at a Berlin lakeside villa at Wannsee on 20 January 1942. Most historians still think the Armenian Holocaust was hatched up by the Ottoman Turks in Istanbul in 1915. Of course, we’ve long known that the mass slaughter of Europe’s Jews began the moment the Germans crossed the Polish border on 1 September 1939 – and carried on across the Soviet Union in 1941, seven months before Wannsee.

But now, almost incredibly, we discover that the liquidation of Christian Armenian men, women and children was first instigated on 1 December 1914 in the far away city of Erzurum – not on 24 April 1915, when Armenians commemorate the first killings of the genocide perpetrated against them. And that back in that fatal December month, the Turkish “Special Organisation” – the Ottoman equivalent of the later German SS and Einsatzgruppen – organised the immediate liquidation of Armenians “liable to carry out attacks against Muslims”.

We already know the terrifying statistics of the two genocides. The Armenian Medz Yeghern (Great Crime) destroyed a million and a half souls. The Jewish Shoah (Holocaust), which began less than a quarter of a century later, destroyed at least six million souls.

The Turks – and, alas, the Kurds – committed these crimes against humanity of the First World War. The Germans – and, alas, many Slavic peoples of the Nazi-occupied states – committed these crimes against humanity of the Second World War.

The Turks have never, to this day, accepted their responsibility. The Germans have. We still respectfully record how the Turks “hotly dispute” their genocide of the Armenians. We always – rightly – condemn the right-wing Europeans who deny the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

But it is that fine Turkish historian Taner Akcam, in his self-imposed American exile, to whom we this month owe the historically seminal revelation that the Armenians were targeted for death exactly 31 days after the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War on 31 October 1914. The first Armenian victims were only men – the bloodlust to kill their families would come later – in the provinces of Van and Bitlis. But they prove how deeply this war crime was embedded in the countryside of eastern Turkey, in the cities of the periphery rather than the capital.

And thanks to Akcam’s research in hitherto unexplored prime ministerial Ottoman archives, we find, for the first time, a secret order from the local Erzurum government headquarters to the governors of Van and Bitlis to arrest Armenians who might be rebel leaders or might attack Muslims, and ordering them “to be deported to Bitlis immediately in order that they be exterminated”. No euphemisms here – like the Nazis’ infamous “final solution”. The Ottoman officials use the Turkish word for extermination: imha.

In some villages near the town of Baskale, the entire male population above the age of 10 was killed. Two months later, in February 1915, an Armenian deputy in the Ottoman parliament sent a report from Van to Talaat Pasha, the Ottoman interior minister in Istanbul, who would be held responsible for the entire genocide of a million and a half Armenians, telling him that “massacres are being carried out in some villages and townships in the environs of Baskale and Saray”. Clearly, local Ottoman officials were instigating the genocide – and then asking their masters in Istanbul to approve their decisions.

Akcam has unearthed evidence that local governors would sometimes travel to Erzurum – almost 800 miles from the Ottoman capital – to hold joint meetings on the killings and then communicate their decisions to Talaat Pasha. One of them – only days before the date on which Armenians today recognise the start of their genocide – records an instruction from Erzurum to the governor of Bitlis to send Kurdish militias after the Armenians. On some occasions, it is apparent that regional governors would gather around a single telegraph machine in Erzurum and conspire together with Istanbul in an early 20th-century version of a social media conference call: meetings by telegram.

That the governors fully understood the wicked nature of their acts – and clear evidence that Talaat was well aware of their criminal nature – is reflected in the constant instruction that their telegrams were “top secret” and “to be decoded by the recipient only”. One telegram stated that “the copy of the cable was burned here on the spot. Please ensure that Istanbul burns their copy”.

On 17 November 1914 – scarcely two weeks after Turkey had joined its German and Austro-Hungarian allies in their war against Britain and France, and long before the previously regarded date of the genocide’s commencement – Erzurum governor Tahsin wrote to Talaat that the time had come “to take permanent decisions and orders in regard to the Armenians”. Talaat archly replied that Tahsin should “carry out what the situation demands … until definitive orders are given in regard to the Armenians”.

As historian Akcam writes in his essay in this month’s issue of the Journal of Genocide Research, Istanbul was essentially “giving the green light to Erzurum for the violent actions that it would subsequently carry out”. At the end of November 1914, we find Talaat slyly instructing Governor Cevdet of Van that “until decisive orders are given, it is necessary to carry out the measures demanded by the situation, but judiciously [sic] implemented”.

Cevdet, under whose authority 55,000 Armenians would be killed, had warned Istanbul that gangs of Armenians were fighting on the side of the Russians in Iran and the Caucasus and that this had been viewed as a “general uprising by the Armenians”. Armenians did indeed ally themselves with Russian troops – for the Tsar was an ally of the Anglo-French entente against the Ottomans – advancing into eastern Turkey. Armenian historians acknowledge this historical fact but point out, correctly, that when Armenians usually took up arms, it was to defend themselves against the Turkish genociders. Around Van, however, there was also evidence, later in the war, that Armenians had revenged their own persecution by massacring the inhabitants of local Turkish Muslim villages.

Hitherto, Turkish historians – other than Akcam and a few brave colleagues – have refused to recognise the Armenian genocide as a genocide.

They have suggested that the deportation of the Armenians may have been prompted by the Allied landings at Gallipoli in the fourth week of April 1915, a few hours before the first Armenian leaders were arrested in Istanbul, or by the Turkish defeat at the battle of Sarikamish in January 1915. But to suggest that the mass killings of a million and a half people could have been devised in so short a time is ridiculous. For example, Governor Resit of Diyarbakir told Istanbul of his plans weeks before Gallipoli, expressing the view that “it would be profitable … to implement practices as harsh and effective as necessary against the Armenians”.

Still apparently concerned that the killings in his own district of Sivas had not been given an official imprimatur, Governor Muammer wrote to Istanbul in a telegram on 29 March 1915 that “if a decision has been taken by the central [government]…that would ensure the orderly mass removal and elimination [sic], I ask that you permit its communication without delay”. Other governors referred to the Armenians’ “annihilation” and the “implementation of exterminatory measures”.

The start of the Armenian genocide in December 1914 could have been no surprise to the authorities in Istanbul, certainly not to Talaat. The Erzurum decision was originally taken by Bahaettin Shakir, the head of the “Special Organisation” and the man largely regarded as the architect of the Armenian genocide. But he was himself a central committee member of the governing Union and Progress Party and had arrived in Erzurum from Istanbul. Perhaps Talaat found it expedient to begin the genocide – or to give the project a trial run – far from the capital and its foreign ambassadors, especially the Americans who would publicly reveal the later massacres to the world.

Akcam himself is still bemused as to why Ottoman archive personnel produced the incriminating papers for him. “The decision and following exterminations resemble … the first killings of Einsatzgruppen in Poland,” he told me. “I discovered other telegrams from local governors again in the Ottoman archive where the term ‘extermination’ of Armenians is openly used. These are amazing discoveries. I don’t know why they made these documents available for researchers.”

They certainly disprove the idea – widely disseminated by Turkish genocide deniers – that the Armenian deportations and killings occurred when Turkey was experiencing serious military difficulties and the prospect of losing the war. Not only were the Erzurum decisions taken five months before Gallipoli and a month before the Russians destroyed Turkish forces in the forests of Sarikamish; the killing of Armenians was underway well before the Ottoman state was endangered.

The early massacres of Armenians in the far east of Turkey – long before the Armenian community in Istanbul felt threatened – oddly parallels the experience of Jews in Vienna after Hitler’s 1938 Anschluss, when the Nazis incorporated Austria into the Third Reich.

Jews who fled the mass killing and anti-semitism of the Austrian capital for Germany found that Jews suffered less discrimination in Berlin. This, of course, was not to last. The Germans preferred to commit their grossest crimes of humanity against the Jews outside the Reich: in the ghettos of Poland and the Ukraine – in Babi Yar – in the killing fields of Belarus and Russia and then, after Wannsee, in the extermination camps and gas chambers set up in Poland.

Hitler followed the history of the Armenian massacres closely and often referred to them in the years before the Second World War. Nazi Germany envied the Turks for having “purified” the Turkic race and German diplomats in Turkey during the First World War witnessed the Armenian deportations in cities far from Istanbul. Rural Muslim Turkish and Kurdish communities far from the sophistication of Istanbul or Smyrna might have more easily accepted the first brutalities; they were certainly to participate in them.

In other words, local towns provided the impetus for killing the Ottoman empires’ minorities, just as Baltic and Ukrainian militias allied to the Nazis did not need to be instructed to murder their Jewish neighbours. Nor were the Croatians ordered by Berlin to slaughter their Serbian neighbours after Germany occupied Yugoslavia in 1941; they did so without orders from Berlin. The roots of their genocidal racism already existed.

Does this apply to Rwanda, where up to a million Tutsi and moderate Hutus – including 70 per cent of the Tutsi population – were massacred in the 1994 genocide? This was centrally organised and planned, but the execution of these crimes against humanity was in the hands of Hutus across the entire country, where neighbours killed neighbours. And in their persecution and murder of Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria, Isis – which included Muslims from around the world – may not have been specifically aided by the local population; but while Arabs tried to protect their neighbours, others systematically looted their homes and property after Isis had slaughtered or deported the owners.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem lecturer Umit Kurt studied the 1915 dispossession and killing of Armenians in the southern city of Aintab and found that local Turkish Muslims freely and willingly participated in the crimes. What he discovered was that a genocidal government must have the local support of every branch of respectable society: tax officials, judges, magistrates, junior police officers, clergymen, lawyers, bankers and, most painfully, the neighbours of the victims. Not to mention the governors.

In other words, leaders do not commit genocide, not on their own. Ordinary people do. And holocausts can start far from home, in the frozen east, and long before the date we all believed the bloodbaths began.

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The Dangerously Irresponsible Arguments of the “Responsible” Budget Gang

Last week the Washington Post ran a column by Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, one of the many pro-austerity organizations that received generous funding from the late Peter Peterson. The immediate target of the column was the standoff over the debt ceiling, but the usual complaints about debt and deficits were right up front in the first two paragraphs.

“At the same time, the federal debt as a share of the economy is the highest it has ever been other than just after World War II. ….”

“So our plan is to borrow a jaw-dropping roughly $900 billion in each of those years — much of it from foreign countries — without a strategy or even an acknowledgment of the choices being made because no one wants to be held accountable.”

This passes for wisdom at the Washington Post, but it is actually dangerously wrong-headed thinking that rich people (like the owner of the Washington Post) use their power to endlessly barrage the public with.

The basic story of the twelve years since the collapse of the housing bubble is that the U.S. economy has suffered from a lack of demand. We need actors in the economy to spend more money. The lack of spending over this period has cost us trillions of dollarsin lost output.

This should not just be an abstraction. Millions of people who wanted jobs in the decade from 2008 to 2018 did not have them because the Washington Post and its clique of “responsible” budget types joined in calls for austerity. This meant millions of families took a whack to their income, throwing some into poverty, leading many to lose houses, and some to become homeless.

At this point, the evidence from the harm from austerity in the United States (it’s worse in Europe) is overwhelming, but just like the Pravda in the days of the Soviet Union, we never see the Washington Post, or most other major news outlets, acknowledge the horrible cost of unnecessary austerity. We just get more of the same, as though the paper is hoping its readers will simply ignore the damage done by austerity.

And it is not just an occasion column from a Peter Peterson funded group, the Post’s regular economic columnist, Robert Samuelson, routinely complains about budget deficits, as do the Post editorial writers. We get the same story in the news section as well, for example, this piece last week telling us about the need to “fix” the budget. The Post is effectively implying that a lower budget deficit, which results in lower output and higher unemployment is “fixed.”

If the Post cared about the logic of its argument, instead of just repeating platitudes about the evils of budget deficits, it should quickly recognize that its push for austerity makes no economic sense. The argument of the evils of a budget deficit is that it is supposed to lead to high interest rates and crowd out investment.

That leaves the economy poorer in the future, since less investment leads to less productivity growth, so the economy will be able to produce fewer goods and services in future years. (The implicit assumption is that the economy is near its full employment level of output so that efforts by the Fed to keep interest rates down by printing money would lead to inflation.)

The nice part of this story is that there is a clear prediction which we can examine; high budget deficits lead to high interest rates. Or, if the Fed is asleep on the job, high budget deficits will lead to high inflation.

The interest rate on 10-year Treasury bonds at the end of last week was just over 2.0 percent. That is incredibly low by historic standards and far lower than the rates of over 5.0 percent that we saw when the government was running a surplus in the late 1990s. The inflation rate is hovering near 2.0 percent and has actually been trending slightly downward in recent months. So where is the bad story of the budget deficit?

In the classic deficit crowding out investment story, if we cut the budget deficit, investment rises to replace any lost demand associated with lower government spending or higher taxes. We can also see some increased consumption, mostly due to mortgage refinancing, and some increase in net exports due to a lower valued dollar.

But what area of spending does the Washington Post and its gang of deficit hawks think will fill the gap if it could find politicians willing to carry through the austerity it continually demands? It shouldn’t be too much to ask a newspaper that endlessly harps on the need for lower deficits to have a remotely coherent story on how lower deficits could help the economy.

There is also the burden on our children story that the Peter Peterson gang and the Post likes to harangue readers with. Our children will inherit this horrible $20 trillion debt that they will have to pay off over their lifetimes.

This story makes even less sense than the crowding out story. The burden of the debt is measured by the interest paid to bondholders, which is actually at a historically low level relative to GDP. It’s around 1.5 percent, after we subtract the interest rebated by the Fed to the Treasury. It had been over 3.0 percent of GDP in the early and mid-1990s.

And, even this is not a generational burden. It is a payment within generations from taxpayers as a whole to the people who own bonds, who are disproportionately wealthy. Much of this money is recaptured with progressive income taxes. More could be captured with more progressive taxes.

But this is actually the less important issue with this sort of accounting. Direct government spending is only one way the government pays for things. It also provides patent and copyright monopolies to provide incentives for innovation and creative work. These are alternatives to direct government payments.

To be specific, if the government wants Pfizer to do research developing new drugs, it can pay the company $5-$10 billion a year to do research developing new drugs. Alternatively, it can tell Pfizer that it will give it a patent monopoly on the drugs its develops and arrest anyone who tries to compete with it.

Generally, the government takes the latter route with innovation. This can lead to a situation where Pfizer is charging prices that are tens of billions of dollars above the free market price. This monopoly price is equivalent to a privately imposed tax that the government has authorized the company to collect.

Anyone seriously interested in calculating the future burdens created by the government would have to include the rents from patent and copyright monopolies, which run into the hundreds of billions of dollars annually, and possibly more than $1 trillion. (They are close to $400 billion with prescription drugs alone.) The fact that the deficit hawks never mention the cost of patent and copyright monopolies, shows their lack of seriousness. They are pushing propaganda, not serious analysis.

I got a taste of this propaganda effort first hand earlier this year when I was asked by an editor at the Washington Post to write a piece on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). While I’m largely sympathetic to MMT (it’s essentially Keynesianism – that’s not an insult, the name is taken from a phrase in the Treatise on Money), I have some differences. In particular, I am not willing to give up having the Fed as a check on inflation.

I also think the proposal for a job guarantee is a very big lift. It is a good idea in principle, but one that must be moved towards gradually with smaller programs like this one recently proposed by Senator Chris Van Hollen. Jumping to a program that could add 20 to 30 million people to the government payroll strikes me as a recipe for disaster.

There are also Twitter MMTers who view it as meaning the government can spend whatever it wants on things like Green New Deal or Medicare for All. This is not a view that the leading promulgaters of MMT hold, but for some this is what the theory means.

Anyhow, I was happy to make these points in a column in the Post, as I have doneelsewhere. I went through a couple of rounds of edits, with the editor both times making the piece more critical. I decided to throw in the towel after round two. The editor wanted me to include a needlessly snide remark from a MMT critic and had me referring to the theory as “dangerous.”

That comment left little doubt that they wanted a different column than the one I had written. MMT is dangerous?

How much output has the austerity pushed by the Post’s regular contingent of commentators and reporters cost the country? More importantly how many lives have been ruined by needless unemployment and the resulting loss of income and poverty?

Seeing the needless hardship the country has endured because of austerity since the Great Recession, it really takes some nerve to refer to MMT as “dangerous.” Anyhow, I suspect the Post’s editors are immune to criticism. Just like the millions who mindlessly pledge allegiance to Donald Trump, they will push the austerity line they have always pushed regardless of the evidence.

But it is important to call out the Post’s austerity nonsense for what it is. This is not serious economics, it is a doctrine that imposes pain, with the only gain going to those who will get cheap help as a result of higher unemployment.

This column first appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.

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The Tiwi Islands, the Catholic Church and King Joe of Melville Island

Darwin, Northern Territory

Lush mangroves, the spray of emerald water from the Timor Sea, the sense of the untainted: the journey to the Tiwi Islands, some 80 kilometres north of Darwin, was crudely advertised as one of the Things to Do in the Northern Territory. “Take the opportunity to have a truly fantastic day out. Visit Bathurst Island for this special day and a chance to view and buy Tiwi Island artwork and watch the grand footy final.”

The ferry service seemed a sloppy operation. Locals heading back to the Tiwi Islands new something visitors did not: do not bother pre-purchasing tickets. Do them on the day itself, and avoid the queue. On getting to Bathurst Island, the elegant wooden structure that is St. Therese’s Church is swarming with worshippers and guests: a wedding is about to take place.

Background reading on the Tiwi Islands lends one to squirming discomfort. They are glossily advertised as singular in their indigenous quality. But this count soon unravels. The populace on both islands, Bathurst and Melville, became witness to both the Catholic Church and the obtrusive efforts of roughing pioneers of the British Empire.

One such figure was Robert Joel Cooper, a figure who looks like a man who killed everything he came across. Anybody termed a pioneer in this particularly harsh environment would have to have a certain acquisitive tendency. What was seen, witnessed and met had to be possessed. His grave stone in Darwin’s ill-kept Gardens Cemetery suggests the flavour, reminding us of his known title of “King Joe of Melville Island”, “a man of courage and love for everyone”.

He had all the attributes of the ruthless frontiersman: patriarchy, a tendency to sow his not-so-royal oats, a capacity for a certain work regimen, a firm disciplinarian. He established the buffalo industry on Melville Island, extracting some thousand hides a year. He took an Aboriginal wife, Alice, in what seemed like a primordial gesture. One of his brood, Rueben, became a figure of sporting repute, adept and talented across a range of codes and ultimately minting history as a formidable player of Australian Rules Football, known colloquially in these parts as “footy”.

Cooper’s resume reads like that of any figure of conquest deemed important after the fact. His entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography shows suitable wildness, with hints of admiration from the authors. Along with this brother George Henry (Harry) Cooper and pastoral lessee E. O. Robinson, he ventured to Melville Island “despite hostile Aborigines”. He did not seem discouraged in being speared in the shoulder; if anything, it emboldened him to “to abduct four Tiwi Aboriginals”. While such acts might well have been seen as those of a traditional looter of specimens and possessions, the authors of the entry condescend to suggest that he “treated his captives kindly and learned their language.” (The rough pioneer as accomplished linguist? Go figure.) In 1905, Cooper became the first “settler” since Ford Dundas was abandoned in 1828, using twenty Port Essington Aborigines to allay the fears of any locals as to what his intentions might have been. The ruse worked; he established his name.

Cooper’s profile matched like attitudes adopted to the indigenous populace more broadly speaking. They were there to be used, abused and infantilised, their autonomy relegated to the level of trinket exotica. Indigenous parenting was effectively disregarded: the Chief Protector in the Northern Territory, by virtue of the Northern Territory Aboriginals Act 1910, became the “legal guardian of every Aboriginal and every half-caste child up to the age of 18 years” irrespective of whether the child had parents or other relatives. This came with the power to confine “any Aboriginal or half-caste” to a reserve or Aboriginal institution. In the Aboriginal Ordinance of 1918, the clutches of the Chief Protector were extended to Aboriginal females from birth to death unless married and living with a husband “who is substantially of European origin”.

Cooper the hunter was also Cooper the connected figure. The Catholic Church, through the figure of Father Francis Xavier Gsell, was convinced by him to focus on neighbouring Bathurst Island to set up a Catholic mission. The good Father got to work, landing on Bathurst Island in 1911 and buying rights to marry Tiwi girls. Fiancées and fathers were won over (again, the message of seduction and appropriation are never far) with cloth, flour and tobacco. With due boastful extravagance, Gsell would recall his time on the island in his memoir, Bishop With 150 Wives.

The influence of Gsell and the church has become part of a formidable public relations exercise executed by the Vatican, masking the effects of what came to be known as inculturation. Publications of praise such as Australia: The Vatican Museums Indigenous Collection, conveys the impression of church guardianship and preservation of Tiwi tradition. No tincture of irony is present in the work. The collection itself boasts an early set of Pukamani poles (tutini) from the islands, grave posts that had made their way into church possession.

Anthropologists were not be left out of the stealing game, and German anthropologist Hermann Klaatsch, the first anthropologist to successfully make his way to Melville Island on September 20, 1906, recounted several feats of theft of Pukamani poles, lamenting that, “due to the smallness of my boat I could not transport more examples.” The penny, he was relieved, never dropped. “Luckily, we remained unnoticed by the blacks in our grave violating enterprise.”

The account might have been somewhat different. A certain Harry Cooper, no less the brother of Joe, may well have distracted the islanders by firing shots over their heads while Klaatsch did his deed. “There, that sounds more like it,” wrote Marie Munkara acidly.

The lingering Catholic presence, through immersion with Tiwi custom as both imposition and adjustment, has left its own traumas. The missionaries used “psychological warfare”, insists Munkara, a process which “corroded our ancient beliefs.” And much more besides.

Having assumed the role of converters and educators, the Church mission on Bathurst Island would eventually be shown in its ghastly manifestations. Protectors, whether religious or secular, became ready abusers. In 1993, claims that some 40 children who had been to St. Xavier’s Boys’ School on Bathurst Island had been sexually abused by Brother John Hallett were reported. Two years later, he received a five year jail sentence, one quashed five months later by the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal.

Cooper’s circle of intimates supplies a direct line to the spoliation of the Tiwi Islands, but more broadly, the indigenous population in the Northern Territory. Professor W. Baldwin Spencer, the anthropologist who became Chief Protector in 1912, stayed with the King of Melville Island at stages in 1911 and 1912 as he was conducting his own investigations. There was a meeting of minds: one appropriator to another.

Spencer’s 1912 report furnished the natives with a terrifying vision, executed with brazen cruelty towards children who had, by law, been executively entrusted into his care. “No half-caste children should be allowed to remain in any native camp, but they should all be withdrawn and placed on stations.” The mother should, as a matter of necessity, accompany the child “but in other cases, even though it may seem cruel to separate the mother and child, it is better to do so, when the mother is living, as is usually the case, in a native camp”. Unsurprisingly, Cooper, having obtained the confidence of Spencer, would himself be deputised in this less than protective role.

Visiting the Tiwi Islands has the discomforting effect of moving around in a historical zoo. The islands are haunted by Church, the Coopers, and civilizational predations. While the idea of the reserve is now regarded as a vestige of administrative barbarity, the Tiwi message and advertisement is one of false purity and the deceptively unspoilt. This has the effect of a museum feel with damaged artefacts. The wondering tourists with heavy wallets, backpacks, hats and sunscreen resemble the plundering pioneers of old. This time, instead of abducting native residents and doing a spot of grave robbing, they prefer to purchase the art.

Idealisation becomes hard to ignore; the spectator and viewer effectively participate in an exercise of unwarranted elevation and the words of Klaatsch in his Ergebnisse meiner australischen Reise (1907) come to mind. “When you see the black man walking by, with his erect posture, his head decorated with feathers, with the spear in his right hand, then who cannot help form the impression that you have a ‘savage gentleman’ in front of your eyes, a king in the realm of the surrounding nature, to which he is so well adapted.”

The brochure language does little by way of improvement on Klaatsch’s observation. In fact, it replicates it as a timeless fib, a gallery caption. Instead of the “Island of Smiles”, you are greeted by dazed wanderers of the walking wounded playing out a distorted cultural play. In 1999, attention was brought to the fact that the Tiwi Islands was facing a suicide epidemic. The then resident medical practitioner, Chris Harrison, noted a number of instance: 100 attempts, meaning that 1 in 16 or 1 in 20 on the islands had attempted some form of suicide. Nothing to smile at, let alone induce cheer.

When suggestions were made that such rates might be attributed to the influences, amongst other things, of the Church and its predatory practices, officialdom fumed. As then Bishop Ted Collins explained with irritation, “I think they’re trying to put the blame somewhere outside the people rather than acknowledge that it’s happening within the people.” How ungenerous of them to think otherwise.

Beside the Bathurst Island cemetery are two men, seemingly hypnotised, finding shelter under a lonely eucalypt. They gaze aimlessly at a billy boiling over a roughly made fire. There are no fragrant smells of cuisine, no sense of culinary wonder. Instead, there is a distinct sound of eggs clanking against the rim, no doubt hard boiled to oblivion. On the island, there are no food markets or stalls of fresh produce. Food items, canned and frozen, are imported. It is the afternoon, and the islanders migrate from their homes to the various shady spots under suitable vegetation. Lit fires across the island send their bluish plumes towards the sea. The church, in its wooden majesty, is quiet but for the whirring fans. The guests have left, the singing done. We leave Bathurst Island with a sense of loss, and not a smile in sight.

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Mueller and Trump: Blah Blah Blah

When I first heard about the possibility that Russians had interfered with our election and were the cause of Trump’s win, I thought it absurd and laughed aloud. ‘Playing on the old American fear of the Russians, huh?’ is what I thought, and didn’t given it much thought.

After noticing the media talking about it repeatedly, day after day, with the common people joining in, I then wondered if Trump would go through his first term with this ridiculous story distracting people from the real problems. And now the answer is clear: the media and political establishment have accomplished a monumental feat, talking about this absurd story for two-thirds of his term already, day after day, with nothing really being said, and no real movement.


We have so many problems with our electoral system, from the purging of voters, to presidents not winning the popular vote, to the quality of many candidates, to the corrupt behavior of many elected officials, to lobbyists, to the fact that many people simply choose not to vote because they can’t stomach the choices or this broken system.  Is Russia the cause of these problems?

It’s clear that Trump is liked by about half the voting public, who voted for him despite his racism and sexism, despite serious allegations and proof of sexual misconduct, despite him making fun of disabled people, despite his clear bullying tactics, despite his many obstructions of justice, and despite his absolute refusal to take responsibility for himself. It’s clear that about half the voting public continues to support Trump. Did Russia cause this problem in our country?

The American government has interfered with many countries’ elections, both covertly and overtly, from assassinating democratically-elected leaders, to funding unpopular candidates, and the list goes on. Did this possible Russian interference with our election cause a Soul-searching in America when we realized how terrible it can be to not be able to vote freely with clear knowledge that foreign governments are not forcing their choices on you? It did not. Did it cause elected officials to issue apologies and take responsibility for mistreating so many of the world’s citizens by negating their right to freely choose their own destiny? No. Is Russia the cause for that?

Hatred has become normalized in this country. Trump rallies this tendency in his supporters routinely, and many on the Left are starting to think it normal to hate Trump and those on the Right. I recently saw a leftist newspaper raising money by asking “Hate Racists?” and then saying that financial support would help to fight against racists. They asked if their readership hated certain people, not racism itself. Hatred has now become normalized in this country, and the effects of this development are greater than one can imagine. Is Russia the cause of this?

Of course the answer is no. Neither Russia nor Trump are the cause of these problems in America. But it’s easier to blame them than to realize that the problem is with us, and we are the only ones who can fix it. No one is coming to save us. No one needs to save us. We can change this situation, but we would have to do the very things being so casually demanded of Trump: to take a hard look at our history and current state, take responsibility for it, and to do that hard, hard work of daily struggle to turn the tide of history.



Soon after Trump was elected I was lucky to come across an article by journalist Cynthia Dagnal-Myron, who shared the profound insights of her Hopi relative. This relative compared Trump to a Hopi sacred clown. “Through their antics, questionable behavior is revealed and, usually, changed. They are ‘mirrors.’ They are us. The ‘worst’ of us, exaggerated to such an extreme that we cannot miss the message. So my in law was telling us two things. First, that Trump is ‘us,’ too. Even those of us who insist he’s ‘Not My President.’ And second, that nothing will change until we have accepted and digested that message.”

Trump often mistreats people and then lies about it, doing nothing to rectify or acknowledge the harm he has caused. America has a long history of this behavior, starting with Indigenous people and Africans forced into slavery. Trump is a mirror.


Santita Jackson sings, “Love is such a simple thing.” I found myself wondering how many people in America feel that way right now. The song goes on to say: “Let the light shine through, let it come from you, make your life a prayer you pray.”

Do we remember this energy, this life force, this responsibility, this beautiful gift we have to be here right now? So many are drowning in the sickness of a madman’s tweets and a corporate media cascade of words that will never lead you right. So many are drowning in energy they are consuming, instead of living, instead of striving, instead of believing in themselves and fighting for life.

Patrisia Gonzales, a wonderful friend and profound journalist, once asked “I’d like to know, what happened to love?” She talked about her elders who were able to love people for who they were and where they were in their process. She called this “a generosity of spirit, of accepting and welcoming people on their own terms, the sharing of yourself and the gifting of kindness.”

Love. Do we remember what it is? Will our children remember?

Hatred is being spewed by political pundits, presidents, politicians, and some of our neighbors and friends, and it’s being spewed so often it’s becoming normal. But those who feed on hatred lose much more than they comprehend: the consequences are profound and very difficult to undo. The battle to stop hatred from becoming normal is a battle we must fight and win.

Someone who hates is ill, and hating them only spreads the sickness. Those who are ill need healing, whether they currently realize it or not. If someone hates you or your people, please protect yourself: see them as sick, don’t feed the energy, and buckle down and get to work. We have to be empowered and believe we are capable of changing this situation, because the truth is: we are more than capable. With all respect.

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