Feed aggregator

Plotting Against Venezuela: Another Coup for Oil?

Counterpunch Articles -

After the publication of Dan Kovalik’s four books since 2017 (The Plot to Scapegoat Russia, The Plot to Attack Iran, The Plot to Control the World and now The Plot to Overthrow Venezuela), I am finally honouring my promise to him to write a review, made at the time his first book was published two years ago. However, the review is of this fourth text, which just arrived last week. Although one could say “better late than never,” in this case, being “late” is actually a great advantage, as what is happening in Venezuela is, at this time, perhaps the single most important international issue.

It is no accident that commentators from Venezuela, Cuba, the rest of Latin America, the US itself and elsewhere are evaluating the Venezuelan experience as currently (and to differing degrees) occupying the epicentre of anti-imperialism or even the epicentre of the anti-imperialist left. The latter assessment is of great significance. Unlike Russia and Iran as the subjects of two of the three previous publications, the component of a new ideology – and the Venezuelan example with which we can identify – highlights the enormous international significance of this Latin American country for this entire hemisphere and beyond. A better world is indeed possible. This is not to underestimate or denigrate in any manner Iran, whose revolution I fully support, or Russia as a key player in support of a multi-polar world, one of whose key ingredients today is undoubtedly proud support for the Bolivarian Revolution and President Maduro. Irrespective of what one may think of these evaluations of Venezuela as the new epicentre, this country remains the focus of debate and discussion regarding international relations and, in particular, US policy toward the entire world.

In a gesture that Kovalik fully deserves, award-winning filmmaker and renowned author Oliver Stone wrote the foreword to the book. In it, he sets the tone for one of the main themes of the book and concerns in the US and internationally with regard to the US – and that is foreign policy, in general and including toward Venezuela. For example, Stone writes that “many Americans who should know better including many liberals and self-proclaimed ‘leftists,’ find themselves rooting against them and for the Empire and its culture of death.” Further, Stone indicates that “incredibly, many who claim to be in the ‘resistance’ against these thugs believe that somehow they can and will pull off a ‘humanitarian intervention in that country.’”

In the face of this almost unprecedented media campaign of lies, which has managed to capture the minds of people who are supposed to be immune to this, Kovalik steps up to the plate. This book is a page-turner. The author attracts the reader in time (a series of reader-friendly, sweeping, factual and historical surveys) and in space (Venezuela as part of Latin America and beyond as victims of US foreign policy toward the world, especially since World War II).

These dynamic and simultaneous surveys of both the historical background and current geopolitical conflicts are coupled in a talented and innovative manner that makes Kovalik’s vast fieldwork experiences from Venezuela and elsewhere modestly but movingly come to life throughout the book. While the reader is absorbed in the overall analysis, from time to time – and when it is most necessary – the lively human experiences that he has accumulated over the years seem to naturally blossom in the book to flesh out the investigation, providing innumerable treats for readers. Despite this, Kovalik is careful to make sure that the experiences are not about him but rather about the people interviewed: they are the protagonists in this book. Without exaggerating, the journey through the pages transports readers to the time and place under discussion as if it were a Google map zooming in on its subject from afar.

In addition, the author has crafted an original manner to completely and comprehensively refute US disinformation by turning American foreign policy against itself. For example, after fully demolishing the rejection by the US that the Venezuelan electrical power grid breakdown was not caused by the US but rather by Venezuelan mismanagement, the author provides the example of Puerto Rico. Its power grid is notorious for its dilapidated condition caused by the complete lack of concern and funds from Washington. The author comments, perhaps somewhat with tongue in cheek, “No one has ever claimed that this reality presents a legitimate reason for regime change, either in San Juan or in Washington.” Some may ask, is this an exaggerated comparison? I personally do not think so. What is the purpose of writing a book about Venezuela if it does not provocatively challenge the smug and arrogant US-centric thinking of the American elite toward other countries, such as Venezuela? These mainstream ideas and values have to be shaken up: the future of humankind depends on it.

Here is another of the many examples of the author’s approach to daring to challenge mainstream thinking. In confronting “humanitarian aid” as a pretext for the US to interfere in Venezuela, Kovalik surprises us with the example of Hurricane Katrina. Well done! We recall that while the US completely mismanaged the effects of Katrina, both Cuba and Venezuela offered important humanitarian aid (e.g. doctors and medicine) to the Katrina-affected area and its residents. The US refused the offer. Let that sink in. However, Kovalik calls the bluff: “Neither Castro nor Chávez threatened to storm the gates of the US to deliver the much-needed aid, and the press corps did not treat the US’s refusal as some high crime.”

Given the title of the book and its focus on oil, one might get the impression that the author does not deal with the issue of Chavismo as a very significant – and growing – ideo-political trend in Latin America. In fact, I had that misgiving – that is, before delving into the book. I discovered, as others surely will, nothing is further from the truth. In Chapters 3 and 4, both dealing with the background to the current situation, the reader is lured into the very heart of Chavismo. Yet, there is not even the slightest hint of the author’s ideological orientation, which I am not aware of. Rather, the facts and important anecdotes from direct experience, based on extensive and frequent visits to Venezuela, speak for themselves. Readers are left to reach their own conclusions about the basic features of this ideology as many people (individually and collectively) are exploring alternatives to the capitalist and aggressive imperialist status quo.

In Chapter 3, “1989 – The Year of Historic Massacres You’ve Never Heard Of,” the author makes sure that readers are fully aware of the historical significance of what happened that year. Never heard about it? Anecdotally, Kovalik reports that his spell-checker software recognizes the term Tiananmen but not Caracazo. (Neither does mine, I just checked!) The US has its favourite historical events to serve its own purposes, Caracazo was – and is not – such an event. After all, it was “just” a massive popular uprising against US-imposed neo-liberal policies that was crushed while hundreds, if not thousands, were killed. Yet, as he brings us through that event, like many others in the book, we are treated to such gems as the following from the testimony of a former Catholic priest from the US who has lived in Venezuela for several years: regarding Chavez as a common soldier at the time of the 1989 uprising, the priest mused, “He [Chavez] probably wondered why soldiers kill hungry people for stealing spaghetti.”

Is this simply an anecdote or is it a vivid insight into what Chavismo is all about? Further, in line with the publication’s innovative feature, it also deals with Caracazo in terms of time and space. Are there other essentially American massacres that we have not heard about? Try this one on for size: Panama, December 1989, during the US invasion. Did you know that US soldiers killed more people then than were killed on 9/11? The double standard on massacres and killings is also illustrated in the context of the US foreign policy to assassinate progressive religious leaders and activists. In 1984, as Chomsky points out, one priest was killed in Poland – and that generated a good deal of coverage compared with the virtual news blackout regarding 72 religious people who were killed throughout Latin America between 1964 and 1978 by US-sponsored regimes.

In Chapter 4, “The Bolivarian Revolution,” and in this context, the rise of Chávez and the accompanying features of this revolution with its economic policy, its particular political options of democracy and race, and other issues, begin to merge with the issue of oil. A new period was ushered in with regard to the never-ending tug-of-war between the use of this resource for the benefit of the Venezuelan people versus its control by the US and its allies.

Kovalik quotes many of the thought-provoking sources on the evolution of Venezuela under Chávez’s leadership, in this case indicating that derisive references to “squalid ones” for the first time in the country’s history became the object of the government’s attention. At the heart of this orientation, we see the political idea that the Bolivarian Revolution is a revolution of the poor for the poor in conflict with a wealthy few who governed Venezuela with US support. To bear this out, data and analysis are deftly merged with on-the-ground experience and interactions that the author accumulated in Venezuela over the years. While it not the only book on Venezuela to highlight a similar approach since Chávez came to power in 1989–1990, this one deserves special attention. It is the first to come off the press, as far as I know, that deals with the aftermath of the coup attempt on January 23, 2019.

In the context of this current period when “fraudulent elections” just rolls off the tongues of the US and its apologists, the readers have at their fingertips the famous evaluation of Venezuela’s electoral system by someone who is neither a communist nor a revolutionary but rather former President Jimmy Carter. On the elections that he monitored, he states, “I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” This same refrain is repeated continuously by the open mainstream media and, as Oliver Stone warns as he comes out of the gate, by some “leftists.” In this regard, Kovalik’s book will be a handy reference to have on your bookshelf and could come with a guarantee to not collect dust.

Racial equality as an integral part of the Bolivarian Revolution is dealt with frankly, in a way that I have yet to see in another publication. Of course, Kovalik has the advantage of writing in the post-January 23, 2019 coup context. The astute observer, not restricted by superficial American puritanical morality and political correctness, would notice on TV that the current conflict is largely white (the US and its puppet) versus coloured. Like many of us, the author, in a modest way true to his personality, confesses as a result of observing the April 11, 2013 elections:

“I witnessed a campaign rally for Maduro, and what occurred to me was that nearly everyone I saw at the rally was black. That is, they were of African descent. I had not thought much of about the racial composition of and divisions within Venezuela, but this cannot be overlooked when thinking of that country and of the Bolivarian Revolution.”

We learn that Venezuela is in fact 70% Mestizo, that is, a nation composed of people with mixed blood from Indian and African descent. On the other hand, we read that at the 2019 Guaidó opposition rallies, the crowds are almost entirely white.

Furthermore, as Kovalik points out once again in time and space, the US has always held a strong prejudice against blacks, not only in the US but also south of the border, providing an example of the historic resentment that the US bears against Haiti for its attempt to establish the first black republic in that part of the world. He also does not miss the occasion to point out that the US, whose political system thrives on “identity politics,” conveniently turns a blind eye to the glaring identity politics being played out in Venezuela.

Even though the dismal human rights and economic situation in Colombia is quite well known, Chapter 5 is entirely devoted to comparing Venezuela and its achievements from the Bolivarian Revolution with Colombia. He brings to light some features we did not necessarily think about or know, thanks in large part once again to the author’s fieldwork in that country, which is one of the main US allies in the drive for regime change in Venezuela. Thus, this chapter, far from being redundant, is on the contrary a most valuable addition as a source to argue against Colombia in its ongoing attempt on behalf of the US to violently overthrow the Maduro government. We see the desire to reach this objective continues today and will probably do so into the future.

In Chapter 6, Washington’s cynical recipe for a regime change is described as “‘Make the Economy Scream,’ Add Chaos and Stir” and is being applied to Venezuela at this time. However, this deadly foreign policy is well entrenched in Washington. The author takes us through the historical experiences in Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, Brazil (the original imposition of the Brazilian dictatorship, not the more current one through the soft power of the Obama Administration’s approach, which is dealt with later) and Chile. This chapter proves to be a useful tool in the hands of those who are driven to oppose US interference, bullying and aggression on a global scale, with Venezuela being the most recent and perhaps most dramatic example of this policy.

One of the most important achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution consisted of forging international allies in political terms as well the extension of the benefits from oil extraction and its revenues to other countries in the region. Based on this common overall political outlook of independence and sovereignty versus the US’s insatiable goal of world domination, new Latin American and Caribbean regional blocks have been formed. This groundbreaking shift in the political landscape, of course, was not to the liking of Washington. Could it be only when the Republicans are in power?

No! Thus, conveniently for those who may be sincerely confused but are thirsting for some truth, readers are confronted with Chapter 8, titled “The US Takes Down Venezuela’s Allies One at a Time.” Take up the challenge. This chapter itself is worth its weight in gold today, because, as the world watches the current US presidential campaign, especially the Democratic Party candidates vying for power, there seems to be a certain amount of confusion and any number of illusions and misconceptions. This outlook regards the different Democratic Party candidates, especially those who are presented as the left wing of the Democratic Party or self-proclaimed “democratic socialists,” keeping in mind if one accepts (I do not) that it is possible to have a left wing of this party even though it has always been devoted to war and aggression in Latin America and the world.

Thus, this chapter deals with – “one at a time” – the coup in impoverished Haiti, whose crime was to have access to Venezuela’s oil, the 2009 Honduras coup (significant as, at the time these words are being written, the entire hemisphere is grappling with the 10th anniversary of the Obama/Biden/Clinton coup in Honduras), attempts in Nicaragua and, lastly, Brazil (where the plot – and a plot it was indeed – to overthrow Lula and Dilma has been revealed since the publication of the book to have been anchored in the Obama mandate, thus making the chapter even more relevant today).

While it is a known fact that the objective of the US in Venezuela is indeed oil (Kovalik himself quotes John Bolton, who indicates very clearly that the objective is oil), it is most valuable to have at one’s fingertips all the facts indicating that a war – war, not just some hypothetical future military intervention that has been clutched upon as a pretext to avoid taking a stand against the current war in the name of “humanitarian aid” – is being waged to capture that resource, as Chapter 9 illustrates through its appropriate title “The War for Venezuela’s Oil Intensifies.” While many liberals in the north clutch their pearls in horror in the face of a potential US direct military intervention, as it would in fact be abominable, they seem to be immune or they gloss over the fact that there is a war going on now against Venezuela. Of course, the uncomfortable fact is that the most recent offensive against Venezuela to capture the oil and to smash Chavismo was actually initiated by the Obama Administration.

The chapter details the manipulation of oil prices by the US and its allies, such as Saudi Arabia, back in 2014 (during the first Obama mandate). It was intended as leverage, mainly against US competition from Iran and Russia. However, we read that hardest hit was Venezuela.

Moreover, “if this were not enough, President Obama, smelling blood in proverbial water then began imposing sanctions against Venezuela in 2015.” What was the pretext? Kovalik does not miss the opportunity to indicate the parallel between Trump’s pretext for building the wall along the Mexican border and Obama’s excuse back in March 2015 (three months after the “thaw” with Venezuela’s ally Cuba) to go for the Venezuelan jugular, that is, declaring “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela.” Not only has the Obama approach mirrored Ronald Reagan’s 1985 declared pretext for war against Nicaragua, Obama’s plans for Venezuela “have only been accelerated by the presidency of Donald Trump.”

Along with the “humanitarian crisis,” the so-called “fraudulent elections” in May 2018 confirming Maduro as president constitute two of the major pieces of disinformation that the US has been fabricating as a pretext for foreign interference in Venezuela. Thus, the treatment of the presidential elections is described by Kovalik as part of the economic warfare against Bolivarian Venezuela: threatening Venezuela with more economic sanctions and even military intervention if they did not vote “the right way.” Kovalik, who together with many others from US and Canada as well as Europe and elsewhere who witnessed the elections, provides us the details of how the US tried to influence elections and came up with a fait accompli that they were fraudulent. It is very disconcerting to be confronted with some people on the left, “progressives” and so on, profusely quoted and provided space in the mainstream media, that they buy into the US narrative regarding the elections rather than the testimony of their own fellow citizens from these countries that had participated as observers in May 2018. However, this is what we are up against and, as such, the text is a must-read for anyone interested in Venezuela.

Chapter 10 is devoted to Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela, Elliot Abrams. Taking just one of many examples that highlight the nature of US policy toward Venezuela, “as assistant secretary of state for human rights, Abrams sought to ensure that general Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala’s then-dictator, could carry out ‘acts of genocide’ – those are the legally binding words of Guatemala’s United Nations-backed Commission for Historical Clarification – against the indigenous people in the Ixil region of the department of Quiché, without any pesky interference from human rights organizations, much less the US government.” This is just one of many examples that are highlighted in this chapter. Thus, it does not come as a surprise; in fact, it is a very welcome commentary with which the author closes the chapter by asking “and now, we are to believe that Abrams has come to bring democracy and human rights to Venezuela. Of all the lies being told about US designs upon and operations against Venezuela, this may very well be the biggest and wildest.”

Nevertheless, there is still widespread bipartisan support for US policy based on “humanitarian aid” for Venezuela in Congress and, of course, in the mainstream media, especially CNN, at which Kovalik correctly points an accusing finger. This constitutes yet another reason that this book is not only a must-read, but that it should also be actively promoted in the US along with the other left-wing journalistic, independent endeavours, which are indeed generously quoted from one end of the book to the other, as Kovalik does not consider himself to be the only writer battling disinformation on Venezuela.

Speaking about left-wing or socialist alternatives, the last chapter analyzes how the Trump regime change policy is exacerbating the crisis in Venezuela and its relation to the American political landscape. It deals with how the US, as is its custom, often points to foreign devils in order to divert attention from its own domestic economic and political situation. The only quibble that I have with the publication is when the author indicates that the offensive against Venezuela is taking place in the context of a situation when “Americans are beginning to seriously talk about socialism.” The reference appears to be the Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) wing of the Democratic Party. However, far from fostering serious discussion about real socialism, these figures and their narrative serve the traditional role of the Democratic Party as the safeguard and shield against any revolutionary movement in the US. To put it more bluntly, as many US observers have charged, the Democratic Party is the gravedigger of any movement from the left or for socialism that dares to break out of the box of the two-party system.

If one reviews the last Democratic Party debate on TV in which Sanders participated, the transcript shows that Venezuela was not raised by any of the candidates nor by the hosts. It indicates the watertight grip that the elite have on the Venezuela narrative. It must, however, be admitted that foreign policy was not officially on the debate agenda.

Nevertheless, when one foreign country – Honduras – did come up, Sanders said the following in response to a comment by Joe Biden: “Picking up on the point that Joe made, we got a look at the root causes. And you have a situation where Honduras, among other things is a failing state, massive corruption…” CounterPunch editor and journalist Jeffrey St. Clair pointed out in a tweet, “Bernie called Honduras a ‘failing state’ without turning to Biden and saying ‘failing because of the coup your administration abetted.’” In addition, when Sanders was cornered by a journalist after the debate and queried on Venezuela, he dutifully proclaimed that, if elected, he will do everything he can to ensure “free and fair elections” in Venezuela against the Maduro “authoritarian” regime. What a progressive foreign affairs electoral plank! Sound familiar? There is a “humanitarian crisis” (as Sanders parroted on many occasions) in Venezuela and the US must come to the rescue. The defenders of this trend, either by blind conviction or lack of information, provide other examples of supposed opposition to wars or interference in the past and/or obvious real humanitarian crises, such as Yemen, to counter any criticism. However, more often than not, it amounts to “anti-war nostalgia” from the bygone days whereby it is now fashionable – from hindsight when all has since been exposed – to point out how wrong it was for the US to carry out its operations. Sorry, folks, but today the litmus test is Venezuela.

Thus, my only criticism is that by providing some credibility to the advocates of this so-called socialism, it negates the very real alternative to the status quo in the US offered by writers and journalists such as Kovalik himself, and the hundreds of other such activists and intellectuals quoted so justly throughout the book. In reading through the book, I was impressed but not surprised (being familiar with Kovalik’s work) that he proudly refers to the whole spectrum of the progressive American left, activists, writers as well as journalists.

As I was putting the finishing touches on the last part of the book review (and I hope that there will be other reviews from other writers) and struggling with the “norm” of writing a critical review and not only praise, I was stymied. I did not want to overdo it. It was the author himself who came to the rescue. I just came across the July 1 op-ed in the Boston Globe penned by Stone and Kovalik: “We must stop our nation’s push for relentless war.” In it, they appeal to Democratic Party presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, and not the so-called left or socialists, who will find no room to syphon any credibility.

This is what Congressperson Gabbard has previously said about Venezuela:

“The United States needs to stay out of Venezuela. Let the Venezuelan people determine their future. We don’t want other countries to choose our leaders. So, we have to stop trying to choose theirs.”

Note that Gabbard is not a socialist or even left-wing. Her claim to fame, as a former military member serving overseas, is to now take a stand in general against US interference and war. Admittedly, though, there is currently some controversy in social media as to whether or not one should give Gabbard a pass as an anti-war candidate. Ultimately, she volunteered for Iraq in 2004 after the Falluja massacre and the phony pretext for the war had been exposed and had become part of the public domain. Nonetheless, one must consider whether people can honestly and sincerely evolve. She more than makes up for her past, as she is not neutral on Venezuela, unlike the “socialist” wing of the Democratic Party. The latter’s silence on the issue is testimony to the cowardly “neutrality” that is disrupted from time to time by journalists (such as the one cited above questioning Sanders after the presidential debate), when the real nature of this centrism bears its ugly head: copy and paste of the Trump policy.

Now, if the left of the Democratic Party is nudged to take a stand like Gabbard, either as a result of the book’s circulation and other such endeavours on the journalistic or social media front, so be it. In any case, the book’s conclusion holds true: “None of us can stay neutral on this issue.”

 

Thoughts on the Impromptu Kim-Trump Summit

Counterpunch Articles -

1. South Korean President Moon Jae-in told journalists a week before the DMZ meeting between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump that it was likely to occur, and U.S. news reports also indicate that Trump’s tweeted invitation to the North Korean leader while in Osaka was not spontaneous.

2. Following Trump’s wild threats after his election to rain down “fire and fury” on the DPRK (and thus the entirety of the Korean Peninsula), South Korea and North Korea quickly joined together in an effort to cope with an obviously unstable, dangerous new world leader who could annihilate the whole Korean nation. In February 2017 a South Korean delegation delivered a letter from the North Korean leader to Trump proposing talks. South Korea has since played a de facto mediating role between the U.S. and Pyongyang, Moon repeatedly meeting with Kim and the two apparently coordinating relations with Trump.

3. Trump’s visit to Seoul after the Osaka G-20 summit had been announced in advance. Moon may himself have suggested that during the trip Trump meet Kim at the DMZ to indicate support for the ongoing process of normalized relations between north and south. (The U.S. press downplays or doesn’t grasp the significance of the two states’ declaration of the end to the state of war between them, and the launching of initiatives for rail links and expanded trade ties. Some pundits complain that South Korea is attempting to circumvent U.S. sanctions on the north. Pyongyang notes that since Seoul must obey the U.S., its own negotiations with the U.S. must be one-on-one, not mediated by the south.) Moon looked very pleased posing for photos with Kim and Trump at the DMZ.

4. Every student of Korean history knows that Korea’s fate has been largely determined by the relations between larger, more powerful neighboring nations: China, Japan and Russia. Since it occupied the southern part of the Korean Peninsula in 1945, the U.S. has also shaped that fate. China has been Korea’s historical protector, patron, and teacher; its ties with Korea are “as close as lips and teeth.” Japan has been Seoul’s antagonist, from the Wako pirate raids of the medieval period and the horrific Hideyoshi invasion in the 1590s to colonization in the twentieth century; Tokyo for its part has viewed Korea as “a dagger aimed at the heart of Japan.” Russia has been an opportunistic imperialist, hosting the Korean king in its Seoul legation in the 1890s during a period of instability, seeking trade advantages, installing Kim Il-song in the north in 1945.

All have an interest in maintaining stability on the peninsula. China dreads the prospect of a refugee crisis caused by war, and the reunification of Korea on U.S. imperialist terms. Russia is less concerned but keen on restoring full trade ties with both Koreas, and Putin is cultivating a reputation as a thoughtful statesman striving to facilitate peace (the Astana and Minsk processes, for example). So I would not be surprised if Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin, or both, urged Trump to reach out again to Kim. They are no doubt saying: “Look this is our part of the world; North Korea is much closer to us than you and its nukes threaten us more than you. But you scare us more than the DPRK. We too want disarmament, we just want no more wild threats but rather calm protracted negotiations.”

5. The U.S. media’s general dismissal of the DMZ photo opportunity—as a mere political stunt producing no substance other than to unnecessarily elevate Chairman Kim’s stature in the world—is driven by anti-Trump sentiment rather than a critical examination of its meaning. An MSNBC talking head just stated that if the U.S. accepts a freeze on the DPRK nuclear program, that would change the balance of power in the region and pose an immanent threat to the United States. This remains the norm in televised analysis. Increasingly Trump is depicted as a threat to national security due to his “coddling of dictators” or unwillingness to confront them, Hillary Clinton-style (in Syria). He’s accused of being unpredictable, mercurial, spontaneous, rude to his subordinates and dismissive of their advice. But worst of all from some critics’ standpoint is his failure to maintain the status quo requiring ongoing confrontation.

One doesn’t hear common sense: that this was a rational friendly gesture towards a country that Trump has rationally decided not to attack.

6. The absence of John Bolton, assigned to diplomatic tasks in Mongolia, suggests that Trump wanted to message Kim that, yes, he had heard the DPRK Foreign Ministry’s criticisms of that war-monger and wanted to signify a departure from Bolton’s belligerent line. That the U.S. press would leak the information that Trump might accept a nuclear freeze by the DPRK in return for some sanctions relief, and that Bolton would immediately respond with an angry tweet dissociating himself from that position, suggests that Bolton is on his way out, which can only be good.

7. Is it not obvious that the South Korean state, with twice the North’s population and many times its GDP, and a huge well-equipped military, does not require the presence of 25,000 U.S. troops and the visitation of nuclear-armed aircraft carriers to defend it from the north, which hosts no foreign troops? Shouldn’t the world support the demilitarization of the Korean Peninsula, and its peaceful gradual reunification? U.S. pundits want us to believe that U.S. troops everywhere in the world maintain “security” and “stability” and “defend our national interests.” (The latter should be understood to mean corporate interests, and geopolitical interests centering on capitalist profit.) But the Korean people would just as soon be left alone to work out their historical reconciliation, or assisted by interested parties (like the U.S. and China) in achieving that end. Trumps visit to the DMZ was welcomed by north and south Koreans, causing all to breathe easier.

The fact that Bolton (once described by North Korea as “human scum”) was 1200 miles away in Mongolia was additionally comforting.

The Falsity of America

Counterpunch Articles -

All rise!  It is the anniversary of this conflicted, sclerotic, blind, self-destructive country.  There will be celebrations.   Glitzy extravaganzas of flash and fireworks providing the shimmering eye candy to camouflage the corpse of the myth that is centerpiece and theme our national shivaree.

A nation built on genocide and slavery, with a Constitution launched with sanctimonious pieties never meant to be honored, ranking property over people, with blood-and-guts Capitalism–wealth and privilege–enthroned to rule an emasculated citizenry concussed by propaganda: this is the “exceptional” America we swarm on this day to extol.

From infancy we are indoctrinated with the fairy tale of our own magnificence; inoculated with the toxic serum of race arrogance; infected with the poisonous virus of violence.

And what noble wonders has America wrought behind its hero story?  We’re told we won two World Wars.  In fact, we barely showed in the First, after Europe cannibalized itself; and we stalled until Russia, at staggering human cost, pulverized the Wehrmacht to win the Second.  We made the world safe, not for Democracy but for Wall Street Capitalism, which made a killing on both bloodbaths, and  on destroying and nukeing Bushido-addled fascist Japan.

Hey, but how about the job we did on Latin America?  We turned that entire continent into a ghastly vivisection lab for psychotic military monsters, paid to run their countries as Dachaus, gulags, for American Capital.  What we could not buy or steal, we raped.  Where we couldn’t install our native murderers and US-trained military brutes to crush their people we did our own crushing–in Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba–and where rebellion lived, we funded the murder of generations of defiant young idealists in Chile, Argentina, Brazil.  The dead hand of our “intelligence” vampires is at its grisly trade now, bleeding Venezuela, Cuba, Honduras.

And what of our notorious “Nation Building”, seeding our lethal “freedom and liberty” wherever there is some wealth we have not pirated, or some native eccentric that won’t sell his soul to our IMF ganefs.  This is best exemplified by the sickening, barbaric massacre of the simple, guiltless peasants of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya. According to one sick US Harpy, “we” feel that killing their children is “worth it”.  The depraved Hillary, queried on our Libyan gorefest, cackled: “we came, we saw, he died”.

Ah, well, you will say, even if all that is true, you leave out the many grand, humane things America has done for its own people.  Yes…  And what are those things?

Social Security!  Medicare!  True, in 1935 the U.S. passed the Social Security Act and in ‘66, Medicare, programs that now rank below those of every developed nation on earth.  It has rued them ever since, damning both as unjustified “entitlements”, vowing that inadequate, inflation-devoured rates and benefits will not increase, but rather must be abolished as immoral.  Their doctrinal, fantasy “invisible hand of the market” exists only as a fist to smash the people, never to care for them, though they are the state.

Under both duller, dumber Republican, or slick, bullshitting Democrat presidencies, there has been total stagnation in workers’ wages for fifty years, jobs eliminated or exported, obscene profits only to the Super Rich. The gap between the .001% and the rest of us was not so vast even under J.P. Morgan and the Robber Barons.  Four men now have as much wealth as the lower 50% of the country.

But if you are fairly well off, have a soul and all this appalls you, you will retreat to the defensive posture you know:  No matter the evil and falsity of America, it has provided you a decent life, a home, a job, some comfort and safety.

And there’s the cognitive rub.  Americans are comfortable enjoying every privilege available at their level, from Bud Lite and food stamps to Romanee-Conti and Kobe Beef.

There is nothing inherently evil or even remarkable about this.  It’s what humans do.  What is disgraceful is to do it out of wilfull ignorance of how such privilege is possible. What is unforgivable is to know it is due to the rape and looting of the world and celebrate it… because it’s for you.

Post-Bouteflika Algeria: For a Democratic Transition

Counterpunch Articles -

In Algeria, the slogan Yatnahaw ga’, “that they all blow off”, sums up the widely shared popular will to put an end to the “Bouteflika system”. It is a question of setting in motion a process of transition to a Second Republic.

In homage to Ramzi Yettou, a victim of repression who died at the age of 23, on Friday 19 April, of internal hemorrhage and head injuries after being beaten by the police during the big march on Friday 12 April. He is the second martyr since the beginning of the movement on 22 February after Hassan Benkhadda, son of Youcef Benkhedda, a great figure of nationalism and the anti-colonial Algerian revolution, who died on 1 March during a demonstration in Algiers in circumstances that have not yet been clarified. The online news media TSA (Tout sur l’Algérie) reminds us that “Hassan Benkhedda was also the nephew of the martyr Mohamed Al Ghazali Al Hafaf, the first to wave the Algerian flag on May 1, 1945, before being brutally killed by the French army”.

The words of the singer, musician, singer-songwriter and poet Kabyle Lounès Matoub, assassinated on 25 June 1998, have resonated, in consonance, in a different light since the insurrection of consciences in Algeria: “I do not expect anything from a corrupt power. And I expect nothing from the fundamentalist alternative. I do not expect anything from a power discredited by the entire population. The popular maturity exceeds the governmental maturity in our country. These murderers must appear before the courts. I am only a poet who has witnessed my time.”

Warrants of shame

In many African countries, heads of state enjoy substantial support from the system they set up to be in power at all costs, even if it means amending the constitution to seek new mandates, a democratic screen that cracks over time.

In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, elected in 2014 in a sham democratic election under the military regime he brutally reinstated in the summer of 2013, amends the constitution to increase his second term from four to six years, ending in 2024, giving him the opportunity to run for a third term… until 2030.

In Uganda, on 18 April, the Supreme Court approved a measure abolishing the age limit of 75 years for running for the post of president. This disputed provision adopted at the end of 2017 will allow President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, to run for a sixth term in 2021. The constitution had already been amended in 2005, allowing him to run for his 3rd, 4th and 5th terms at the head of the country

In Algeria, the people, in a coordinated and massive way, suddenly went beyond the sectoral demands that that they were raising so far, since February 22nd, the head of the state, Abdelaziz Bouteflika wanted to run for the fifth mandate. The most significant uprising since independence in 1962 was so intense that Bouteflika had to resign on Tuesday, April 2, under pressure from the street and the army.

Indeed, the Deputy Minister of Defense and Major General representing the military high command, Gaid Salah, who supported Bouteflika’s fifth term before retreating under popular pressure, took the opportunity to push him out in order to preserve the regime in place.

Bouteflika has thus been added to the list of president-dictators thrown out of power by the popular insurrections, from Ben Ali, who remained in power for 23 years in Tunisia, and Mubarak, almost 30 years at the head of Egypt, both overthrown in 2011, to Blaise Compaoré, 27 years President of Burkina Faso, who had to flee with the help of France in 2014, or most recently Omar al-Bashir, who remained in power for 30 years in Sudan… These personalities had plenty of time to shape a system that was tailor-made for them and difficult to deconstruct.

The popular insurrection thus succeeded in bringing down Bouteflika. Certainly a first victory, but not enough for the “Hirak”[1] demanding the exit of the “3B” or “4B”, referring to the interim president since April 9, Abdelkader Bensalah; prime minister Noureddine Bedoui; Tayeb Belaiz who finally resigned from the presidency of the Constitutional Council on April 16 under pressure from the popular movement and the president of the National People’s Assembly (APN, the lower house of Parliament) Mouad Bouchareb.

The slogan Yatnahaw ga’, “get rid of them all”, sums up the widely shared popular will to put an end to the “Bouteflika system” gangrened by corruption and clientelism. There is also a categorical refusal to let the regime’s personalities organize the presidential elections scheduled for 4 July by the government of Abdelkader Bensalah – a faithful member of the Bouteflika clan, a strong supporter of his candidacy for a fifth term -, representing a system in which, over the past twenty years, “pluralist” elections (reintroduced after decades of single party regime from 1965 and the civil war in the 1990s) have been marked by massive electoral fraud.

It is a question of starting a process of democratic transition, outside the institutions inherited from the Bouteflika system, in order to move towards a Second Republic. The army, or more precisely its high military command, is clearly a major obstacle, as evidenced with the failure of the revolution in Egypt in overcoming the military control in the post-Mubarak transition.

Impact on diplomacy and the role of the media

The 30th Summit of the League of Arab States finished on 31 March in Tunis but Arab diplomats have not yet issued any official statement since the announcement of Bouteflika’s resignation. In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who came to power following a military coup d’état smothering a massive popular movement in 2013, accused the protest movements of several states in the region of bringing “these countries” to their knees. “Currently, in the states of our region, people are talking about the economic situation and difficult living conditions. In this way, they are only ruining their country and leading it to its downfall,” he said in a television address.

In the Egyptian press, controlled or muzzled by the government, Bouteflika’s resignation and the demonstrations disrupting Algeria remain relatively unremembered. For its part, the French press confines itself to reporting the most significant events without going back on the connivance of the French State – which colonized Algeria for more than a century – with the regime or the claims of “second independence” while the first remains unfinished…

Indeed, it was only after independence on 5 July 1962 that Algeria put an end to 132 years of French colonialism. But this too “formal” independence leaves a bitter taste and many are demanding a second independence with a real sovereignty that puts an end to all foreign interference, the plundering of the country and its resources by the elites, especially in the Saharan region rich in gas and oil, where a strong resistance against the exploitation of shale gas emerged in 2015. An opinion that the regime does not like to hear.

This foreign control operates much more in the depths of the Algerian soil to extract resources from it rather than within the ongoing uprising in order to destabilize the country, as the Algerian regime claims in order to discredit the latter. On the contrary, in order to preserve its economic control, France has every interest in a rapid “return to calm” and a stable political situation; but since it cannot openly go against a massive and peaceful popular movement, the former colonial power remains cautious in its official statements.

Before becoming President of the French Republic, during a trip to Algeria on February 5, 2017, Emmanuel Macron stated that “colonization is a crime against humanity”. When asked by the online French journal Mediapart on May 5, he replied: “I will take strong action.” On this 8th May 2019, the sad anniversary of the bloody repression of the anti-colonial demonstrations in Setif, Guelma and Kherrata, which would have left between 15 to 45 thousands Algerians dead, it is essential to finally move from words to deeds, starting by correctly mentioning these events in history textbooks and programmes.

Translation: Sushovan Dhar

Original French version: CADTM

Notes.

1. The Hirak is an Arabic word meaning “movement” and is also used to refer to the popular protest movement that shook the Rif region of Morocco in 2016-2017, for example. This movement was severely repressed. Nasser Zefzafi, 39, and three other activists forming the hard core of the protest have been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

 

What Sanctions Mean for My Iranian-American Family

Counterpunch Articles -

What’s wrong?” I asked my mother, as I saw her broken expression. She was on the phone, speaking with my grandparents in Iran. “A terrible thing has happened,” she replied.

My grandparent’s home in Tehran had been broken into. The thieves took everything they could carry — my grandmother’s jewelry, my uncle’s prized watch collection, his wedding band, and some cash. Perhaps the only thing left untouched was the grand, ornate Persian rug in their living room.

My grandfather had left the house for 10 minutes for afternoon prayers at the mosque. Now, he swears to never leave his home unattended again. He takes turns leaving the house with my grandmother, both in constant dread of another break-in.

Across Iran, such burglaries seem to be increasing as ordinary Iranian people face increased hardship from U.S.-imposed sanctions.

As a dual citizen, I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, but I’ve been traveling to Iran regularly ever since I was four months old.

I grew up in a household that taught me to love who I am, to see the wisdom in maintaining cultural intricacies, and to relish in the socio-religious traditions that keep life going. Words cannot do justice to the feeling of affinity that envelops me every time I step into my second home in Tehran.

My mother, in efforts to ease her old parents’ anxious hearts, could only repeat tavakol be khoda, or as we like to translate it: “Your faith must be stronger than your fear.”

President Trump has sought confrontation with Iran at every opportunity. Since America’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018, the U.S. has re-imposed sanctions targeting critical sectors of Iran’s economy.

Since then, oil exports have more than halved, choking the main source of funding for the country. Iranian currency has lost almost 60 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar, reaching a record low.

Meanwhile, sanctions and problems in banking transfers have made it extremely hard to buy everything from food to medicine. In the past 12 months, the cost of red meat and poultry has increased by 57 percent. Physicians are forced to prescribe less effective drugs, while patients must wait longer for operations.

During my visit last December, I witnessed the desperation with my own eyes.

Children stood, begging on the streets, tapping on my car window, trying to sell flowers and CDs. Highly educated youth sat in their homes, unable to find employment. Families withstood long lines at government-subsidized grocery stores to receive rationed meat. Patients had to self-treat their illnesses because they couldn’t purchase proper medicine.

Day after day, I sit and watch my president come up with new ways to escalate tensions, like tweeting that we’re “cocked and loaded to retaliate,” and only barely calling off a strike that would have killed 150 people — potentially starting a war without congressional approval. Or imposing new sanctions on top Iranian officials, which could close off the road to diplomacy.

Yet the absence of armed conflict doesn’t mean that over 80 million innocent people aren’t tremendously hurting already — and for no good reason. Economic sanctions are a form of warfare on people who are just trying to make ends meet.

Trump has even configured a way to suppress the normal aspirational response to escape destitute living conditions — banning Iranians entry to the most promising nation on Earth with his Muslim travel ban.

Whether it’s Cuba or Venezuela or Iran, history shows that sanctions alone have never forced a change in policy by an adversary. Iranians and Americans alike deserve diplomacy, not war — and that includes war by economic means.

Can our faith be stronger than our fear?

Mina Shahinfar is a Next Leader on the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Abu Graib at Home in America

Counterpunch Articles -

This is not what America is about” argues a U.S. reporter referring to revelations of misogynist, violent, racist behavior by employees of the U.S. Border Patrol ‘guarding’ migrants held in detention centers.Sorry Mr. Thompson (Pro Publica reporter who broke this story); THIS IS what America is about. Vulnerable people, i.e. women, men and children held in secret or without legal representation:– undocumented migrants, Americans in detention or serving sentences in prison, our indigent and our Black and Brown citizens in general, and foreign prisoners. We witness abuse, beatings and killings by ‘authorized’ armed personnel every day–every day– most of it carried out by our local police officers.

But that’s another long, sad story. Let’s get back to those border guards and their contempt for their wards. Where did we last see this shameless conduct on the scale of these recent revelations? Was it not Abu Graib in 2004? And Abu Graib was just one Iraqi prison where American excesses were exposed. One can find more references to extreme cruelty and sadistic acts by American and allied troops (all under earlier administrations) directed against prisoners in Afghanistan.

As much as our naïve public and the noble liberal wing of our press may wish to assign this newly revealed shame to the Trump administration, the ‘problem’ is much deeper.

I suggest it exists within the training of U.S. troops today and to the license given them in the Iraq and Afghan wars– a license to humiliate, mutilate, shame, torture and murder with impunity— people they have been taught to despise. Recall the report of an American verbally attacking a Muslim woman in the street not long ago proudly proclaiming: “I killed people like you over there!” (This week we had one U.S. veteran tried for just one murder by U.S. troops in Iraq; and he was acquitted.)

The U.S. is home to more than two million Iraq-Afghan war veterans who, when they announce they are veterans, we are obliged to hail with “Thank you for your service”. A huge percentage of these veterans are ill—little wonder, given crimes they have witnessed and committed. Of those, an undocumented number have become abusers and killers at home. Too often, if one searches through a news story we’ll find that many killings– of families by out-of-control husbands or fathers, or the perpetrators of mass shootings– are by veterans. A local New Hampshire paper carried a story in May about the murder of two enlisted women by a fellow soldier at their military base.

One threat of a mass shooting, by a military veteran, was thankfully intercepted more recently in Dallas, Texas.

A Mother Jones investigation of mass murders in the US and contributing factors offers no analysis about killers’ experiences in the armed services and in foreign wars.

What we need is a thorough, honest tally of the number of our prison guards, our border patrol guards, and policemen who’ve been in the U.S. military–policemen like those threatening the family in Phoenix.

Videos exposing this kind of terrorizing American urban police behavior may shock our largely white population. It will not shock Black Americans. Nor will it shock Afghans and Iraqis who doubtless witnessed countless such shameless, unrestrained murderous conduct by U.S. and other occupation troops in their neighborhoods.

A closer examination of prior military experience of those involved in the recently revealed activities towards would-be-migrants by border guards may well reveal a) racism, Islamophobia and misogyny perpetuated by our military establishment, and b) the culpability of all American administrations. The ugliness that faces us today cannot simply be laid on the shoulders of the current White House occupant.

Political Correctness Is Getting Out of Hand

Counterpunch Articles -

On June 28, the New York Times published an article by Bari Weiss that wasn’t moronic.

Titled “San Francisco Will Spend $600,000 to Erase History,” it was about the school board’s unanimous decision to destroy a New Deal-era mural by the famous Communist painter Victor Arnautoff that’s painted on the walls of a local high school. Called “Life of Washington,” the mural depicts Washington’s slaves picking cotton at Mount Vernon as a group of colonizers walks past a dead Native American. The painting is clearly meant to oppose the sanitized versions of American history that are taught in most schools.

So you’d think “progressives” would support it. Instead, some of them, at least, find it so offensive they want it gone. “A grave mistake was made 80 years ago to paint a mural at a school without Native American or African-American input,” the school board’s vice president told Weiss. “For impressionable young people who attend school to have any representation that diminishes people, specifically students from communities that have already been diminished, it’s an aggressive thing. It’s hurtful and I don’t think our students need to bear that burden.”

It seems that most students object to the mural’s removal, though a number of community members support the board’s decision. “We know our history already,” a recent high school graduate and member of the Tohono O’odham tribe said. “Our students don’t need to see it every single time they walk into a public school.”

Predictably, Weiss’s article confines itself to admonishing liberals and leftists for being “un-American” snowflakes, failing to point out that conservatives are typically far more eager to censor than the left is. Bashing hyper-sensitive leftists seems to be Weiss’s favorite activity, aside from hyper-sensitively complaining about supposed instances of anti-Semitism that are usually nothing more than criticisms of Israel’s horrifying militarism and near-genocidal policies towards Palestinians. (I didn’t see her write a column bewailing what a “snowflake” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was for advocating the destruction of an “anti-Semitic” mural in L.A. that depicts Israel as the Grim Reaper.)

But leaving aside Weiss, who’s nothing but a vulgar propagandist, her column does raise an important issue. Censorship, the destruction of art, and the sanitizing of history are appropriate agendas for reactionaries and establishment-types like Weiss; progressives and radicals should certainly oppose them. And yet, in the age of “political correctness,” there’s a disturbing tendency for those on the left to adopt the repressive tactics of their enemies.

Whether on social media, on university campuses, or in cultural spaces of whatever sort, people are shunned, shamed, and silenced for not adhering wholeheartedly to a party line. A whiff of dissent brings down the wrath of the mob; a statement or an image that someone, somewhere, might find hurtful is enough to end your career or ruin your life. Magazine editors are fired for defending “cultural appropriation,” as in 2017 when an editor in Canada lost his job for the crime of defending the right of white authors to create characters from other backgrounds. Safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggression reporting systems, call-out culture, and other such devices become ever more ubiquitous, threatening to neuter culture and intimidate even fellow leftists into silence.

In the end, all this excess reaches truly farcical extremes: political correctness eats itself, as a wonderful old mural that tells a people’s history of the United States is destroyed for being “degrading.” A paradigm of identity politics that celebrates and weaponizes victimhood brings forth practitioners who claim they’re being victimized by having to be reminded of their history as victims. In the name of “empowerment,” they want to whitewash a mural whose existence is a blow against whitewashed history, which is the very thing to which identity politics indignantly objects. Political correctness chokes on itself and coughs up self-refuting paradoxes.

In this grotesque autosarcophagy we see the reductio ad absurdum of this whole mode of aggressive liberalism: it becomes a kind of void, a black hole of infinitely dense inhumanity, the postmodern left’s version of cultural totalitarianism. It becomes kitsch, virtually without content except to prevent members of “vulnerable” groups from ever feeling the slightest pang of discomfort. That’s the universal standard, the standard of acceptable art, acceptable speech, acceptable politics, and acceptable thought. And if you stray outside the bounds of acceptable thought, we’ll “cancel” you, hopefully most aspects of your identity: career, social life, public life, especially internet life, since the beautiful anonymity and atomization of the internet are what allow us to besiege you and call out your transgressions against orthodoxy. Ultimately it isn’t permitted—or at least it’s testing our good will—even to state manifest truths, such as that men on average are taller and physically stronger than women, or that, e.g., women tend to be attracted to male dominance (e.g., men taller than they) and the dominant male. No such truths we consider insulting to “marginalized” people can be acknowledged.

Now, as I said, these totalitarian trends are only the reductio ad absurdum of political correctness, and do not invalidate the entire phenomenon known as PC culture. Historically, this multicultural politics that emerged from the radical movements of the 1960s and ’70s has had very constructive effects on society. It has been integrally tied to the collective recognition of real history, the history of Native Americans, African-Americans, immigrants, women, and European colonialism. In educational curricula, it has effectively challenged the supremacy of the Western canon of white male writers, such that students now encounter voices from many different cultures and traditions.

Feminism has raised consciousness to a far more civilized level than in the 1960s, when Betty Friedan could write about “the feminine mystique” that dehumanized women. The MeToo moment is just the latest front in a long war to advance women’s rights. Similarly, we have identity politics to thank for the historic victories of the gay rights movement, which have at long last made homophobia disreputable.

Even the much-derided concept of “microaggressions” denotes a real situation that minorities and women face. Nathan Robinson of Current Affairs gives examples. When a female physician wearing a stethoscope is repeatedly mistaken for a nurse, that surely gets irritating and can be seen as offensive. When a white woman clutches her purse as a black or Hispanic man approaches, that’s a racist microaggression. A particularly egregious example is the time when a black student asked her academic advisor for information about majoring in biology and, “without being asked about her academic record (which was excellent), was casually directed to ‘look up less-challenging courses in African American Studies instead.’” Whatever the Supreme Court thinks, the U.S. is still saturated with racism, and unconscious racism is constantly revealing itself in trivial interactions in every social context.

Identity politics and political correctness are far from being the unmitigated evils Donald Trump and Bill Maher apparently think they are. And it’s true that in popular movements, excess is inevitable. From the French Revolution to the New Left—and now to the new New Left—popular enthusiasm has been apt to get out of control and become absurd and even violent (as with Antifa). But that doesn’t mean the excess shouldn’t be fought when it becomes truly damaging. When a mode of politics starts to ruin the lives of innocent people, discourage independent and honest thinking, and advocate the destruction of valuable works of art, it’s time to rein it in.

One of the most striking features of the extreme fringe of political correctness—a fringe that seems to dominate culture more and more—is one of the least talked about: often, it is just a sublimation of the very conditions of neoliberal capitalism that leftists hate. Interpersonal atomization and alienation, gleeful cruelty, schadenfreude run amok, censorship and suppression of dissent, a universal leveling that valorizes groupthink as the highest virtue, and surveillance of daily life and every interaction: these tendencies of late capitalism are somehow refracted into left-wing forms and concerns. The mechanism, actually, of this ironic ‘refraction’ is probably quite simple: society has become so inhuman and depersonalized, so bureaucratized and anonymized, that people all across the political spectrum—not only leftists—are made pettier, more insecure, sensitive to perceived slights, and mean-spirited (especially online).

We see the “Other” as oppressing us—however each of us defines the Other—and we lash out to punish it or those who we think manifest it at any given moment. This punitive mentality at least gives us little malicious pleasures that partly compensate for the indignities we’re constantly suffering.

But while it might be understandable, it’s hardly appropriate for people on the left to be so corrupted by the anti-humanism of a fragmented and paranoid capitalist society. From Karl Marx to Eugene Debs, from A. J. Muste to Noam Chomsky, the left has devoted itself to far more elevated causes than vindictively shaming people for, e.g., using the word fútbol despite not being Hispanic, or quietly telling a “sexist” joke to a friend within earshot of a woman who doesn’t like such jokes, or in general policing the world so that every space is “safe” and people are never uncomfortable. Some such policing, within reason, can be productive and important: people should be educated, to the extent possible, out of their unconscious biases and prejudices. But those who identify with the left should also identify with the tradition’s compassion and self-critical inclinations. Perhaps a little less puritanism is called for, and a little more understanding that even good people are imperfect and have lapses. And that no one, including the most eager shamer, is perfect.

Indeed, I’m tempted to say that the hyper-moralistic mindset doesn’t belong to the left at all. Its demand for purity is uncomfortably close to the puritan obsessions of the religious right, so vigilantly attuned to the merest indication of atheism, sex, homosexuality, coarse language, and humanism. At best, leftist puritanism represents an attenuated, enervated, decadent left, a strain of the left that has lost its love of people and become thin and narrow as a reed. Brittle, misanthropic, crabbed, ungenerous, ultra-judgmental, whiny, sickly—these are the words that come to mind to describe such a “left.”

How different from the humanism, compassion, and spiritual capaciousness of a Debs or a Chomsky!

The destruction of a left-wing mural for being “hurtful” may seem like a pretty minor affair, and compared to the catastrophes occurring every day all over the world, it is. But if the cultural tendencies that have eventuated in this crime against art are not checked, we’ll continue to see more such crimes, and not only against art. Against people, too, people who don’t deserve to be publicly shamed or ruined. The left should take care lest it lose its humanity and adopt the censorship-fetish of the fascist right.

Our Immigrant Prisons are an Atrocity

Counterpunch Articles -

Over the past several weeks, the brutal terror that immigrants face at the hands of our government has come into even sharper focus.

As reports surface about immigrant children sleeping on concrete floors and people being forced to drink water from toilets, one fact has become unmistakably clear: It’s well past time to demand an end to Trump’s cruel and inhumane treatment of immigrants.

These reports come on the heels of Trump tapping extremists like former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli to head his immigration agencies. Cuccinelli’s extensive anti-immigrant record includes comparing immigrants to pests and rats and working with people like Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has publicly identifiedhimself as a white supremacist.

Appointments like these send a clear message that Trump will continue to weaponize federal agencies in his unrelenting assault against immigrants. But this administration’s dehumanizing treatment of immigrants isn’t just a political issue — it’s a moral one. Instead of providing immigrants the safety and security our country has long promised, Trump is violating their human rights and causing them to die.

On July 2, the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog released its latest report on the brutal living conditions of immigrant detention centers. Their findings paint a grim picture of severe overcrowding and denial of basic needs like food, beds, showers, functioning toilets, and vital medications.

In late June, they actually argued in court they aren’t required to provide small kids with soap, toothbrushes, or bedding.

Many Americans first learned of Trump’s dehumanizing treatment of immigrants last summer, and watched with horror as his administration separated thousands of immigrant children from their parents. But though that policy was supposedly rescinded a year ago, the practice has continued.

Since then, hundreds of young children and infants have since been ripped from their families. The youngestto be separated was only four months old.

Today, hundreds of children are still waiting to be reunited with their families, a process that could take up to two more years. Every day these children spend in detention centers without their families exacerbates their psychological (and in some cases, physical and even sexual) trauma.

Even during their last hours in government custody, innocent children endure needless harm. NBC recently released a horrifying set of emails outlining botched family reunification attempt that left children as young as 5 in sweltering vans for up to 39 hours.

Since Trump took office, at least 24 immigrants — including six children — have died in government custody. Before last December, no child had died under the care of border protection agents in a decade. That figure doesn’t include tragic deaths like the father and daughter who recently drowned after unsuccessfully trying to request asylum at a closed port of entry. (Cuccinelli blamed their deaths on the father’s poor judgment.)

With the unrelenting onslaught of chaos flowing from the White House, it’s exhausting to keep track of every horrific action or policy this administration pushes. But human lives are on the line.

Trump is tapping increasingly militant people to deny asylum seekers the safety and security they’re legally entitled to apply for and is threatening further deportations and other cruelties. Compassion and humanity have been replaced by hate.

This administration is moving full speed toward atrocity and the government-sanctioned traumatization of an entire community. But our country was founded upon the values of freedom, liberty, equality, and opportunity, even if we haven’t always lived up to them.

We have a legal and moral obligation to ensure the safety we promise to asylum seekers. Enough is enough.

Love and Rights: Contingent or Unconditional? 

Counterpunch Articles -

Kali Akuno asks an important question: where would we be as a world today if people of the left had been as organized in 2008 when the financial crash hit as they’d been in 1980 before thirty years of neoliberalism?

Akuno, a co-founder and co-coordinator of Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi, asked this question this past Friday at a panel we were both part of at the annual Left Forum. It resonated with me especially this weekend as I took part in two of New York City’s three LGBTQIA marches. I say marches because, indeed, there were several. Lesbians and self-described dykes have, for many years, marched on the day before the big parade. The Dyke March is always a raucous, disobedient alternative to the staid and commercial official Pride Parade. This year, self-defined queers held a third march and rally too, for everyone seeking to reclaim some of Stonewall’s more radical and liberatory legacy.

Multiple marches spring from a multi-faceted history. After all, what’s remembered as the Stonewall Uprising took place over several nights with several different factions. Fifty years ago, things kicked off riotously early in the morning of June 28th when fed-up patrons—mostly young trans women, butch dykes and drag queens of color—fought off a police raid, refusing arrest. That night, a crowd gathered, curious, excited and eager to be part of something.

The night after that, when most of the most famous pictures were snapped, an even bigger group showed up and faced off against an even bigger mass of police, including the infamous Tactical Unit in riot gear. By the third day, the Village was in uproar, with more protest and organizing and also a backlash. More conservative gays, who’d been lobbying politely for their rights for years, pleaded for quiet: “WE HOMOSEXUALS PLEAD WITH OUR PEOPLE TO PLEASE MAINTAIN PEACEFUL AND QUIET CONDUCT ON THE STREETS OF THE VILLAGE,” they posted on a sign on the boarded up, broken bar window. 

And that’s the tension that has been with us ever since. Are rights things to be granted by the powerful to the deserving few, contingent on their obedience, someone’s convenience and adherence to the prevailing rules and conventions? Or are rights rather, as revolutionaries of very many stripes have said over many, many generations, “unalienable, endowed at birth”— which is to say, unconditional?

We would have fewer marches if we had more agreement. Meanwhile, I ask myself Kali’s question in a slightly amended form: where would we be today if more people were comfortable with being just a little bit uncomfortable and excited and eager to be part of something? Or, to put it another way, because Pride’s about nothing if it’s not about heart, if more of us loved ourselves, and one another, unconditionally? 

Highly Recommended Books for 2019 Summer Reading

Counterpunch Articles -

1. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff (PublicAffairs, 2019): You’re already experiencing the early stages of Big Corporations becoming Big Brother while Big Government becomes the Big Pussycat. Unfortunately, indentured Members of Congress drink the milk of campaign contributions and dream of industry job offers. This constructive book is chilling and will curb your digital enthusiasm.

2. Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom by Katherine Eban (Ecco, 2019): This book exposes the price gouging U.S. Drug Companies that are outsourcing production of medicines (and their active ingredients) to China and India with disastrous results. We are at the mercy of these largely uninspected, often contaminated, foreign labs and are not given labeling information regarding the country of origin of vital medicines. Did you know that the U.S. no longer produces antibiotics? Once you read Eban’s work, you won’t look at prescription medications the same way.

3. Strength Through Peace: How Demilitarization Led to Peace and Happiness in Costa Rica, and What the Rest of the World can Learn From a Tiny, Tropical Nation by Judith Lipton and David Barash (Oxford University Press, 2018): Lipton and Barash expertly tell the story of how Costa Rica outperforms the U.S. in meeting basic human needs. The book humbles our native ethnocentricity and our culturally accepted, elementary school-taught myth that the U.S. has little to learn from other countries.

4. Banking on the People: Democratizing Money in the Digital Age by Ellen Brown (Democracy Collaborative, 2019): Brown offers an in-depth exploration of the problems with big banks and the “shadow banking” industry. The book explains how reckless bankers affect your livelihood, waste your tax dollars, and unduly influence an increasingly corporate-owned government. Nestle with this book until you see the wonderful future that could be ours, by recovering control of OUR OWN MONEY.

5. The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption by Dahr Jamail (The New Press, 2019): The intrepid Jamail went to the shaken places where global warming is fracturing our planet in very plain sight. His book serves as a tour of climate disasters for the climate disruption deniers who ignore what is clearly happening before their very eyes.

6. Ethics, Politics, and Whistleblowing in Engineering by Nicholas Sakellariou and Rania Milleron (CRC Press, 2018): It is not only Boeing engineers whose better judgments about aircraft safety were overridden by profit-obsessed management (Axe the Boeing 737 Max!). Engineers in many industries provide expert judgments on the health, safety, and durability of products and processes. These experts are routinely ignored by avaricious corporate bosses looking to maximize profits at the public’s expense. A recent high profile example of this was the disastrous Boeing 737 Max crashes, which might have been prevented if Boeing management had heeded the advice of their more conscientious engineers. At last, there is a book with case studies, professional vision, and a cast of heroes for engineering students, practicing engineers, and all the rest of us that will raise our expectations for the engineering profession (Proud to say that Rania is my niece).

7. Conflicts of Interest In Science: How Corporate-Funded Academic Research Can Threaten Public Health by Sheldon Krimsky (Skyhorse Publishing, 2019): In this collection of articles, Krimsky delves into the devolution of scientific research from the integrity of academic science to the secret, profit-driven domination of corporate science. This book brings together many examples of the impact of corporate funded research on health and safety.  Taxpayer dollars and public trust are at risk in the current scientific climate. Krimsky compellingly advocates for full disclosure and the need to shield university scientists from the pressure or temptation to sell out consumers, workers, and the environment.

8. Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right-and How We Can, Too by George Lakey (Melville House Books, 2016): Given the upcoming presidential primaries and elections, this book is a contemporary necessity. Lakey illustrates how Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland have used social democratic policies to make their citizens the world’s healthiest and happiest people. Relatively, the Nordic countries are a model for good governance, equitable prosperity, and responsible environmental leadership. This is the “most fun economics book” you’ve never read. Voters and candidates alike should read it before the November 2020 election.

9. Whistleblower at the CIA: An Insider’s Account of the Politics of Intelligence by Melvin A. Goodman (City Lights Books, 2017): As a career CIA intelligence analyst and truth-teller Goodman shows how the secretive CIA has been anything but “intelligent.” The modern CIA blunders through the world with major, inaccurate forecasts, violent covert action, general lawlessness, and cover-ups that ignore President Harry Truman’s original intention for the organization. This book explains why CIA actions have contributed to our country’s disastrous foreign policy. A personal, readable, and authentically patriotic story.

10. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham (Simon and Schuster, 2019): Adam Higginbotham’s recent book prompted one reviewer to say that the author “gives us a glimpse of Armageddon.” The atomic power meltdown in Ukraine 33 years ago has produced a large uninhabitable region and driven deadly radiation effects, short and long term, into humans, their genes, and the flora and fauna. Together with the widely viewed HBO series on Chernobyl, this book explains why people should reject any notion that nuclear energy is a solution to global warming. Far, far better is to invest in energy conservation, solar energy, and wind energy – energy options that are cheaper, quicker, safer, and more community based. The catastrophic consequences and security threats posed by using nuclear power (the purpose of which is to boil water) are unacceptable. Remember —nuclear disasters can happen anywhere.

Trump Can’t Blame His Own Cruelty on Obama’s Flawed Record

Counterpunch Articles -

Trump, under fire for separating immigrant children from their families and detaining them in inhumane conditions, has falsely claimed that Obama started the policy of family separation.

Obama’s policies for migrant children and immigration were not perfect. He presided over a record number of deportations, while also offering people brought here as children without documentation the right to legally stay and work in this country.

In 2014, the Obama administration sent over a thousand child migrants to the same Army base where Trump is being criticized for sending children now.

Obama was a mixed bag, and certainly flawed. But while his administration did detain child migrants who arrived alone, family separation was rare. And camp conditions appear to have been far more humane.

Back around 2010, I visited one of the group homes where undocumented immigrant children who’d come to this country unaccompanied were held under Obama. It was a group home, not a detention center.

The youngest were about 12. There were no infants and toddlers, because nobody sent infants and toddlers to a foreign country on their own. They stayed in the home until they could be reunited with their families.

The administration’s priority was reuniting families — either with family in the United States, or sometimes by deportation. It wasn’t a perfect policy, but it didn’t prioritize separation or deliberate mistreatment.

I visited because my friend was there working as the children’s therapist. (Note that the children had a therapist! The Trump administration has fought in court against admitting even medical doctors.) He invited me to come see his workplace one day.

Most of the kids were out on a field trip to a sports game. (They went on field trips!) I could see that all of the children had beds, and it felt a bit like a dorm.

It wasn’t ideal —  children should be with their families, not in detention centers. But I at least came away with the sense that the government was trying to solve that problem, not causing it on purpose.

The adults involved all cared about the children and wanted to do what they could for the kids’ well being. That was the impression I got, and my friend who worked as the children’s therapist concurs.

As you have likely seen in the news, that isn’t what is going on now. The U.S. government is now deliberately separating children from their parents, placing them in overcrowded detention centers (not group homes), and holding them in deeply inhumane conditions. I doubt they’re taking them on field trips.

When criticized, Trump often likes to blame things on Obama. He claims that Obama caused all the problems, and he is now solving them.

In this case, it’s hardly a matter of black and white. Obama’s record on immigration and undocumented children was flawed. But the small part that I saw wasn’t remotely as cruel as what we’re seeing now.

Patriotism Is Too Small For My Family

Counterpunch Articles -

Ending bigotry has gone mainstream among the enlightened people of the developed world.

Did you spot the acceptable bigotry in that sentence?

We’re against racism, sexism, and more kinds of bigotry than I could ever list.

But the 96 percent of humanity that’s not within the United States is hardly worthy of concern.

Millions of lives in Yemen lack the value of one Washington Post reporter dismembered with a bone saw. A third of the United States would gladly murder a million innocent North Koreans, the pollsters tell us. Not a million handicapped Americans, not a million atheist Americans, not a million gay Americans. We’re above all that. A million North Koreans. Or a half million Iraqi children, judging by the respect still afforded to Madeleine Albright to this day.

On the Fourth of July I’m expected to celebrate a bloody, moronic, hubristic, and laughably failed attempt to take over Canada that instead got the White House burned, because at a battle in Baltimore lots of people died yet a flag survived, and somebody who owned other human beings as slaves wrote a poem glorifying the murder of people who dared to escape from slavery or who happened to be Muslims.

Oh say.

Can you see?

Seriously, can you? If you go to a supposedly national park in the United States you have to pay to get in, because only Evil Socialists tax their billionaires, and the money for getting in the park goes to provide tanks and jets and weaponry for a fascist parade in Washington D.C. openly celebrating profiteering off death, which is now carried on with zero shame. And if you were to let people into the national parks for free on condition that they were able to name all the nations the United States had bombed in the previous year, not a dime in funding for the patriotic trumparade threat to the world would be lost.

Please take your good patriotism or proper nationalism and stick it where you’ve stuck homophobia and ageism and religious bigotry. Don’t you love your family? Your neighborhood? Your town? Your region? Of course you do, but where are the flags and songs and weapons parades to prove it? You don’t need them, do you? Because you don’t need to be conditioned to support mass murder on behalf of your family, neighborhood, town, or region.

Someone recently told me that my effort to get a statue glorifying genocide taken down was suspect because I was “white.” Yet the same person, like every other person in the United States, would almost certainly have rendered news of a massive bombing of Iran by the U.S. military thusly: “We just bombed Iran.” There’s not supposed to be a “we” undivided by the stupidest possible means. We’re supposed to be divided and conquered by appearance and culture. But the world’s greatest criminal enterprise is supposed to unite us (and one-and-a-quarter trillion of our dollars each year) in the cause of Small Gummint and the liberty to do unto others before they can do it unto you.

Sorry. I will never attack Iran. Iranians are my family. The people of Hong Kong demanding their rights are my family. The people of China, for that matter, demanding their rights are my family. Every single person in Sudan who wants peace, and any who do not, are my family. People all over the world contending with rotten governments but preferring not to have their houses bombed in the name of defying their rotten governments are my family.

Those kids in concentration camps near the U.S.-Mexico border are my family. The rightful president of Honduras, thrown out ten years ago in a coup the United States supported and supports, is in my family. The thugs who orchestrated the coup are my family too. Nancy Pelosi, who apparently believes nothing short of withholding a “campaign contribution” from her political party is impeachable, is my family too.

Families sometimes have discord, disagreement, and conflict. Families don’t solve their conflicts with hellfire missiles. Former presidents who joked about murdering their daughters’ boyfriends with predator drones are in our family too. The leader of North Korea is in our family. The people of his country who would rather not die in a nuclear apocalypse are in the same human family. The rest of the world’s people who’d rather not die in a nuclear winter created in Korea are also family members. And those in the United States who are so ridiculously misinformed as to suppose that nuclear explosions in Asia would not effect them, and that the horror of having murdered a million people would not effect them — those beautiful men and women are us; they live in our home.

There only is one home. And we cannot replace it. We cannot escape it. We cannot expect aliens (the noble little green kind not from Honduras and therefore not illegal, but still guaranteed to be met with barbaric hostility) to arrive and save us. We cannot sit back and wait for the market or the plutocrats or the liberals or the conservatives to save us. Our hope lies in identifying with and loving our entire family, which extends far beyond our one bizarre species — and in taking power on behalf of our family, and reversing every type of destructive hateful behavior, including patriotism.

North Korea Nuclear Freeze? Finally, a Realistic Proposal

Counterpunch Articles -

As President Donald Trump met with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un for the third time at the end of June — becoming the first sitting US president to visit North Korea — the New York Times ran a piece suggesting the appearance of a new option on the proverbial table: A negotiated “nuclear freeze” rather than just another cycle of fruitless US demands for “de-nuclearization.”

The response from National Security Advisor John Bolton came swiftly via Twitter: “Neither the NSC staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to ‘settle for a nuclear freeze by NK.’ This was a reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the President.”

If Bolton and the National Security Council HAVEN’T discussed the possibility, they haven’t been doing their jobs. And if anyone’s being “boxed in” by having the idea called to public attention, it’s not Trump, it’s Bolton, who prefers saber-rattling theatrics for his hawkish friends on Capitol Hill to actually safeguarding the US.

There are really only two viable paths forward for improved US-North Korea relations.

One is for the US to start minding its own business: Withdraw US troops from and end all defense guarantees to South Korea, unilaterally lift sanctions on the North, and let the region work out its own problems without further American interference. Highly unlikely, at least for the moment.

The other is a “nuclear freeze” under which Kim keeps his existing nuclear arsenal but refrains from building more weapons, in return for sanctions relief and the US getting, and staying, out of the way of improving relations and closer ties between Pyongyang and Seoul.

That second option is eminently doable. It would cost the US nothing of real value. In fact, rightly handled, it would immediately reduce US “defense” outlays — a peace dividend, if we can keep the Military-Industrial Complex’s grubby hands off it.

Any US policy toward North Korea must account for two facts:

First, nuclear powers don’t give up their nukes. Only one, South Africa, has ever done so, and that regime didn’t face external foes on any large scale. North Korea has effectively been at war since the late 19th century, first against Japanese occupation, then against the South and the US from 1950 until now. Expecting Kim Jong-un to give up the ultimate deterrent to future invasions — by the US, by the South, by Japan, or even by current allies like China and Russia — is simply unrealistic. It’s not negotiable. The US knows it’s not negotiable. The only reason to even make the demand is to intentionally keep relations hostile.

Secondly, in the case of the United States, Kim has historical evidence as to what giving up his nukes might portend. He saw Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi deposed and killed after they gave up their (never successful) nuclear weapons efforts. Kim would presumably prefer to remain alive and in charge.

A nuclear freeze agreement would not, in and of itself, produce peace. But it would be a giant step in that direction.

From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Toxic Agriculture Is the Problem Not the Solution

Counterpunch Articles -

Why did the European Food Safety Authority claim that glyphosate was not ecotoxic? This is the question environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason poses in her new 23-page report which can be accessed in full here. In places, the report reads like a compilation of peer-reviewed studies and official reports that have documented the adverse impacts of chemicals used in modern agriculture.

Only a brief outline of Mason’s report is possible here. Readers are urged to consult the document to grasp more detailed insight into the issues she discusses as well as the evidence cited in support of her arguments and claims.

Mason argues that the European Commission has consistently bowed to the demands of the pesticide lobby. In turn, she notes the fraudulent nature of the assessment of glyphosate which led to its relicensing in Europe and thus the continued use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. This ongoing support for the pesticide lobby flies in the face of so much evidence pointing to the detrimental effects of Roundup and other agrochemicals on the environment, living organisms, soil, water and human health.

These chemicals have become integral to an increasingly globalised process of agro-industrialisation. Mason discusses the nature of modern farming by referring to the endless corn fields of Iowa. One hundred years ago, these fields were home to 300 species of plants, 60 mammals, 300 birds and thousands of insects. Now, there is almost literally nothing – except corn – in what amounts to a biological desert. The birds, bees and insects have gone.

It’s a type of farming where so much toxic agrochemicals are used that they have ended up in soils and sediment, ditches and drains, precipitation, rivers and streams and even in seas, lakes, ponds, wetlands and groundwater. A type of agriculture that is responsible for undermining essential biodiversity, human health and diverse, nutritious diets.

The report takes us further afield, to the Great Barrier Reef to discuss the destruction of coral by Monsanto’s Roundup and Bayer’s insecticide clothianidin. It is interesting that the pesticide industry and the media tend to blame global warming for the degradation of the reef. Although there have been efforts to grow new corals, Mason states that pesticide run off from farmland means that corals will continue to be destroyed.

She touches on the role of agrochemicals in relation to the decline of the Monarch butterfly and the now well-documented ecological Armageddon due to the dramatic plunge in insect numbers: insects which are vital to soil health and the food web. Numerous studies and reports are presented as well as warnings from scientists and whistleblowers like Henk Tennekes and Evaggelos Vallianatos about the impacts of toxic chemicals in food and agriculture.

Indeed, since the late 1990s, Mason notes that various scientists have written in increasingly desperate tones about biodiversity loss and the impact on humanity as well as the emerging fungal threats to animal, plant and ecosystem health.

Mason also reveals insight into her own struggles with a local authority in Wales over the destruction of her nature reserve due to the council’s spraying of Roundup in the vicinity. Despite numerous open letters and e-mails to UK and European agencies documenting the impacts of this herbicide (some of this correspondence is contained in the report, with responses), her evidence has been ignored and it remains ‘business as usual’.

That’s because global agrochemical conglomerates exert huge political influence at state and international levels. For instance, back in 2017, the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food was heavily critical of these companies and accused them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”. The authors noted the catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society in general.

At the time, one of the report’s authors, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, said:

“The power of the corporations over governments and over the scientific community is extremely important. If you want to deal with pesticides, you have to deal with the companies…”

Her co-author, Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on toxics, added:

“While scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agro-industry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals, and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics.”

In noting the severity of the issue and the driving forces that perpetuate and profit from the chemical-intensive corporatised global food regime, Mason quotes Vandana Shiva:

“The ecological crisis, the agrarian crisis, the food crisis, the health and nutrition crisis, the crisis of democracy and sovereignty are not separate crises. They are one. And they are connected through food. The web of life is a food web. When it is ruptured by chemicals and poisons that come from war, and rules of ‘free trade’ that is a war declared by corporations against the earth and humanity, biodiversity is wiped out, farmers are killed through debt, and people die either because of hunger or because of cancer, diabetes, heart problems, hypertension and other environment and food related chronic diseases. Everyone is paying a very high price for corporate greed and dictatorship and collusion of corporate states to spread the toxic empire of corporations in the name of ‘reforms’.”

Pesticides include herbicides, insecticides, termiticides, nematicides, rodenticides and fungicides. Today, the pesticide industry is valued at over $50 billion and there are around 600 active ingredients. Herbicides account for approximately 80 per cent of all pesticide use.

Of course, Vandana Shiva’s main focus is on India and the ongoing undermining of its indigenous agriculture by foreign corporations. The potential market for herbicide growth alone in India is huge: sales have probably now reached over $800 million per year in that country, with scope for even greater expansion. And have no doubt the global agrochemical industry has made India a priority.

From cotton to soybean, little wonder we see the appearance of illegal genetically modified (GM) herbicide-tolerant seeds in the country. These seeds are designed not only to push GM into India across a range of food crops but, ultimately, to drive the growth of the herbicide market in India, as they have in South America. The detrimental health impacts there as a result of the widespread use of Roundup are now well documented along with the displacement of indigenous peasant agriculture to make way for commodity monocropping agro-exports. At the same time, in certain cotton cultivation areas of India, we have seen a push to break traditional weeding practices (‘double-lining’ ox ploughing), seemingly with the intention on nudging farmers towards taking up herbicide-tolerant seeds.

Little wonder too that we currently see industry-connected lobbyists (masquerading as objective scientists or independent ‘science communicators’) residing abroad and encouraging farmers in India to plant these illegal GM seeds in what appears to be an orchestrated campaign. Numerous high-level reports have stated that GM is unsuitable for India. Having lost the debate, the GM/agrochemical lobby has now resorted to a tactic of illegal cultivation.

While touting the supposed virtues of GM agriculture, these lobbyists also spend much of their time promoting the merits of its godparent, the Green Revolution, in an attempt to justify the roll-out of GM seeds and associated herbicides. But emerging academic research indicates that the Green Revolution in India did next to nothing in terms of increasing productivity, despite the well-perpetuated myth that it saved lives and helped avert famine. In fact, in Punjab, the cradle of the Green Revolution in India, this ‘green dream’ has turned into a toxic environmental and human health nightmare.

India produces enough food to feed its population. It does so without GM and could do so agro-ecologically without synthetic chemicals – without ‘nuking’ nature and without destroying human health. While the agrochemical lobby continues to spin the message that India and the world need its proprietary inputs to feed the world and eradicate hunger, the reality is – as noted by Hilal Elver and Baskut Tuncak – that we do not.

If we want to look at the causes of hunger and malnutrition, we must first address the deleterious impacts of the water-guzzling, chemical-dependent Green Revolution, so eloquently described by Bhaskar Save in his open letter to officials in 2006 and extremely pertinent given India’s current water emergency; the global capitalist food regime and its undermining of regional food security and food sovereignty; the lack of income to purchase sufficient food; and various other issues, including an erosion of land rights, debt, poverty and food distribution problems.

No amount of genetic engineering or chemicals can address these issues. And no amount of industry-inspired spin can divert attention from the root causes of malnutrition and hunger and genuine (agroecological) solutions.

Trouble at the Border

Counterpunch Articles -

Yes, we have a serious problem at the border — indeed, at every border we create and defend with force of arms and bureaucratic indifference.

“‘If you want water, just drink from a toilet.’ That’s what border patrol told one thirsty woman we met on today’s #DemsAtTheBorder trip. These are the same CBP personnel who threatened to throw burritos at members of Congress. Changes must be made.”

So tweeted U.S. Rep. Judy Chu in the wake of a visit by congressmen and women to Texas border facilities last week, stirring even further incredulity and disgust about the nature of these American concentration camps for immigrants.

The problem we have is ourselves.

In the process of defining ourselves in “us vs. them” terms —obsessively protecting ourselves from an enemy — we jettison our values and become everything we pretend not to be. Defining a particular group as the enemy gives one permission to dehumanize that group. This is essence of militarism. It’s also called racism.

Just prior to the congressional delegation’s border visit last week, organized by the House of Representatives Hispanic Caucus, ProPublica published a disturbing story about a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents called “I’m 10-15.” The term is Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody,” writes A.C. Thompson. The three-year-old group has about 9,500 members.

Some of these members “shared derogatory comments about Latina lawmakers who plan to visit a controversial Texas detention facility on Monday, calling them ‘scum buckets’ and ‘hoes,’” according to the article.

They also “joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility” and posted several illustrations unrestrained in their vulgarity, making fun of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“In another thread, a group member posted a photo of a father and his 23-month-old daughter lying face down in the Rio Grande . . . . The member asked if the photo could have been faked because the bodies were so ‘clean,’” exclaiming, “I HAVE NEVER SEEN FLOATERS LIKE THIS.”

Joaquin Castro, head of the Hispanic Caucus, said, according to ProPublica, the site “confirms some of the worst criticisms of Customs and Border Protection. These are clearly agents who are desensitized to the point of being dangerous to migrants and their co-workers” and they “don’t deserve to wear any uniform representing the United States of America.”

Here’s the thing. This is situation normal at the American border — and by “border” I mean every confrontational setting between America’s armed protectors and a defined enemy. These settings are both internal and external.

Fascinatingly, barely a month before the ProPublica revelations were published, something called the Plain View Project hit the news. As I wrote at the time: “The project, an exhaustive, two-year analysis of social media posts by some 2,800 police officers and 700 former officers, from police departments across the country, revealed another non-surprise: a racist subculture permeates American police forces.”

Thousands of such posts, I noted, which are from officers’ personal Facebook pages, can be seen at the Plain View website. For instance: “It’s a good day for a choke hold.” “Death to Islam.” “If the Confederate flag is racist, then so is Black History Month.” And, as though in solidarity with the Border Patrol: “Sooner or later they end up in a cage, where (they) belong.”

The parallels are so naked, so obvious: When you define particular people as the enemy and arm yourself against them, you also dehumanize them. A father and his 2-year-old daughter, who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande, become “floaters.” Their lives don’t matter in the least. And when people holding such views are wearing official government uniforms (not KKK robes), their actions are in our names.

The crucial point to make here is that this is not about “bad apples.” It’s about a culture of militarism, which, unavoidably, equals a culture of racism. How can it not? The enemy is killable, which means he and she — and their children — must be dehumanized.

This was made gruesomely clear to me when I attended the Winter Soldier hearings outside Washington, D.C., in 2008. Indeed, this was the focal point of a panel discussion called “Racism and War: The Dehumanization of the Enemy.” The panelists talked about how they learned contempt and disgust for all Iraqis and how it manifested on the ground in Iraq.

“I joined the Army on my 18th birthday,” said panelist Mike Prysner. “When I joined I was told racism was gone from the military. After 9/11, I [began hearing] towel head, camel jockey, sand nigger. These came from up the chain of command. The new word was hadji. A hadji is someone who takes a pilgrimage to Mecca. We took the best thing from Islam and made it the worst thing.”

And Geoff Millard: “Hadji was used to dehumanize anyone there who is not us. KBR employees who did our laundry became hadji. Not a person, not a name, but a hadji. ‘They’re just hadjis. Who cares?’ The highest ranking officer, Gen. Casey, used the word. He called Iraqi people hadjis. These things start at the top, not the bottom.”

We cannot prepare to kill others without first dehumanizing them. This is the foundation of military culture, and I fear it pervades all our armed agencies. There are no obvious or simple solutions, like tougher enforcement of political correctness by governmental higher-ups.

For now, the best I can say is this: Change – setting aside our weapons, redefining what it means to be safe – begins with awareness.

Trump-Kim III: Making History Without Making Progress?

Counterpunch Articles -

Taking a few steps onto North Korean soil, and posing for pictures with a friendly dictator, seem to fit Trump-era diplomacy better than a carefully laid out process. But unless the US changes its bargaining position—in fact, starts to bargain—nothing will be come of this sudden trip, and Trump will have given North Korea another PR victory: the US president accepting it as a nuclear state.

The media’s focus on Trump making history is strange, and a distraction from the main issue: peace and security on the Korean peninsula. Whereas Trump took a few steps inside North Korea, Jimmy Carter (in 1994) and Bill Clinton (in 2009) made peace missions to Pyongyang that had substantive results. The only real history Trump is making is his consistent adoration of dictators and substitution of nice personal exchanges for problem solving.

More noteworthy than Trump’s gambit is the NY Times report that Trump is considering a different tack with the North Koreans this time around, namely, a proposal for a freeze on the North’s nuclear weapon production (presumably meaning production of the materials for the weapon as well as the weapon itself). Critics are already jumping on that idea too, pointing out the obvious: North Korea would retain its nuclear weapon stockpile while continuing missile testing. The US is said to weigh proposing that in return, North Korea will agree to abandon perhaps two weapon production and testing sites under international inspection.

Granted, such a US proposal would mean acknowledging what no administration had been willing to acknowledge before: that North Korea is a legitimate nuclear-weapon state. Pro-nuclear forces in South Korea, Japan, and perhaps elsewhere (Saudi Arabia? Iran?) might be emboldened to insist on having the same privilege, raising all kinds of regional security and proliferation issues. And how likely is it that Kim Jong-un will agree to intrusive inspections of his nuclear facilities?

On the other hand, let’s face it: the demand of the last three administrations for “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” of North Korea is simply unattainable. So a nuclear freeze may be the best deal possible. (Among the few specialists who agree is Joel Wit, who has been involved in nuclear negotiations with North Korea.)

What follows that deal counts just as much. If it paves the way for further steps—for example, a permanent halt to North Korean missile tests in return for a partial easing of US sanctions, a peace treaty (including South Korea, China, and Japan) to replace the Korean armistice, and farther down the road a significant North Korean reduction in nuclear warheads in exchange for elimination of US sanctions and normalization of relations—the freeze would be a win for both countries.

Otherwise, Trump has gained very little—a freeze can quickly unfreeze, and nuclear production can be resumed or started elsewhere—in return for major North Korean gains in international recognition and continued possession of a substantial nuclear-missile arsenal.

Provoking World War III with Iran and a U.S. History of Provocation

Counterpunch Articles -

In the history of the United States and its history of interventionism, the recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman seem to be foreboding and ominous signs of what may come—an inevitable war with the Islamic Republic of Iran? To many who are watching the region closely, it is still unclear if Iran is behind such attacks. Moreover, and, thankfully, President Donald J. Trump backed away from bombing Iran after the Iranians allegedly and recently shot down a U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz.

Even so, the bellicose rhetoric between President Trump (threatening Iran’s “obliteration”) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (calling Trump “mentally retarded”) have continued. Watching from the sidelines, everyone hopes diplomacy will prevail.

Let us examine U.S. interventionism past more closely. I know of four clear international instances where the United States intervened under dubious circumstances, initiating war.

The first happened just before the beginning of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). President James K. Polk sent American troops to the Rio Grande River under the command of Zachary Taylor. The Mexicans had believed that the border had been at the Nueces River, not the Rio Grande, the Nueces being significantly north of the Rio Grande. This move was provocative and incited Mexican forces to attack the U.S. Army at its fortifications on the Rio Grande in 1846. As the attacks on U.S. soldiers were reported by Taylor to Polk, the U.S. Congress promptly declared war on Mexico.

Yet, in understanding these incidents, we have to likewise understand the motivations of the historical actors. Polk strongly believed in the Manifest Destiny of the United States to conquer the territories west of the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Indeed, Polk initially sent U.S. Congressman John Slidell as U.S. envoy to Mexico to negotiate buying the territories of California and New Mexico from Mexico for about $30 million. (The California and New Mexico territories included present-day California and New Mexico plus Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and parts of Colorado.) But Mexican legislators balked at the offer and Mexican newspapers printed the offer as an insult to Mexican pride. The rejected buy simply became war of territorial conquest.

At the end of the 19thcentury was the Spanish-American War of 1898, when the United States made its debut as an imperialistic world power, seeking its own colonies despite rejecting empire with the American Revolution. Congress declared war on Spain after the U.S.S. Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor. With no evidence, the U.S. blamed Spain and the war was on—not just for Cuba, but for other Spanish colonies, and the U.S. thus acquired Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.

However, in all likelihood, the ship exploded because of an accident, possibly, a spark from the furnace setting off munitions nearby. Or, a mine in Havana Harbor planted by Cuban rebels detonated the hull of the vessel. In total, 261 sailors lost their lives from the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine. Yet, the causes of the war had more to do with the sensationalism of newspapers at the time owned by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, called “Yellow Journalism”—what we call today, “fake news.” Hearst and Pulitzer newspapers were publishing stories about Spanish atrocities in Cuba. Moreover, there was the supposed “de Lôme letter” allegedly a critical letter of President William McKinley, written by the Spanish Foreign Minister Enrique Dupuy de Lôme. All of these events “justified” war with Spain.

There was also the “Gulf of Tonkin incident” which began and escalated the Vietnam War under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. The incident was allegedly a series of attacks by Northern Vietnamese naval torpedo vessels on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, especially involving a destroyer, the U.S.S. Maddox. These skirmishes were said to have occurred on August 2 and August 4, 1964, with the second clash now believed to be entirely imaginary. The falsity of the Gulf of Tonkin incidents was allegedly substantiated by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the former Vietnam People’s Army General Võ Nguyên Giáp. The Gulf of Tonkin skirmishes with the U.S. Navy and the Northern Vietnamese Navy led to the U.S. Congress passing the “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.” It gave President Johnson: “…all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”

And lastly, there is the Iraq War (2003-2011). The United States invaded Iraq on the false pretext that Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, was actively developing a program for obtaining alleged WMDs. The United Nations Security Council had earlier passed two resolutions (678 and 687) which allowed the United States to force Iraq into complying with its international agreements, concerning biochemical and nuclear disarmament; both the UN head of inspections and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iraq had no more weapons of mass destruction, yet the U.S. invaded. What is more, the intelligence community tried linking the Hussein government with Al-Qaeda, patently false. As a result of the George W. Bush Administration’s War in Iraq, there were nearly 4,500 U.S. soldier deaths and almost 32,000 U.S. soldiers wounded in action.

So, this brings us to today with our military escalation with Iran under the Donald J. Trump Administration. Currently, we have deployed an aircraft carrier to the Arabian Sea as well as sending a Patriot missile defense system and four B-52 bombers to the region along with ordering the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad with the exception of essential personnel. According to Middle East expert Ilan Goldenberg Iran does not want a war with the United States. The question is whether we are forcing the situation, or unnecessarily exaggerating the threats from Iran. Certainly, it may depend upon how much National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo advocate for war. As Goldenberg states: “The bad news is that a war could still happen. Even if neither side wants to fight, miscalculation, missed signals, and the logic of escalation could conspire to turn even a minor clash into a regional conflagration—with devastating effects for Iran, the United States, and the Middle East.”

My worry, along with many other observers, is that such a conflict may snowball into a worse conflagration bringing in other international actors, maybe Russia. Neither the attack on these oil tankers nor the alleged shoot-down of an unmanned US drone so far has not led to any Gulf of Tonkin resolution. However, if another incident occurred causing Americans casualties and Iran was the claimed culprit, then the situation may get out of control.

For now, we can only hope from a distance that cooler heads in Washington, D.C. will prevail. We can certainly listen to diplomatic efforts of the likes of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Iran does not want war with the United States and its coalition partners. We can examine the U.S. history of interventionism and learn from our past military mistakes.

If you are concerned about this pattern of provoking war by making claims that cannot be proven, please participate in your democracy:

Here is a petition against this possible war that you can sign online: https://www.change.org/p/stop-war-with-iran

Write a quick note to your US Senators: https://www.senate.gov/senators/How_to_correspond_senators.htm

Send your thoughts to your member of Congress: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

Ship of Fools: Liner Notes

Counterpunch Articles -

Sometimes the ironies, contradictions and absurdities mount so high to fuel the pyre that honors our postmodern relativism — oh, the vanity of bonfires! — that one wonders what must go through the minds of aliens looking down as they watch the spontaneous combustion of a species. What blue ship in the starry night is this that is all “mutiny from stern to bow” from dawn to dusk every walking-plank day? Sometimes the humanistic Captain Kirk seems in charge, like an acid trip redux, but if you blink you see instead Queeg razing Caine over strawberries, or, most often, the militaristic Ahab, who doesn’t have a leg to stand on whenever he tries to explain his rabbit-hole obsession with the white Russian whale. What must they think?

I was watching the 1965 film Ship of Fools the other day. The cautionary film was based upon the novel by Katherine Anne Porter, who was inspired by the satirical medieval classic by Sebastian Brant, who, in turn, derived his notions of neurotic oceans from Plato’s reference in the Republic. The trope has found its way into song (The Doors), as well as painting (see Bosch) and even modern sculpture. In the film, the fascistic rise of Nazi Germany is pre-figured on a luxury liner cruising off Mexico in 1933. Sardined migrant workers languish in the hold, while, above them, First Class passengers (mostly Germans) luxuriate and squabble over the politics of class, gender, and pre-Krisstalnacht anti-semitism. The malignant leather cancer metastasizes before your eyes.

The signs are always there, it will always seem, in retrospect. Russian meddling in American elections. You double-take as you hear President Obama admonish the Russians, shortly after the 2016 presidential election, “We can do stuff to you.” I’m old enough to remember that such ‘stuff’ has been going on for awhile. In 1996, Americans crowed about having meddled in the Russian presidential election. Well, you could argue that they can do stuff too.

Let’s recount. Reagan told Gorbachev to “tear down that wall” in Berlin. He did, along with the Iron Curtain. The neoliberals rushed in like RawdyYates in Rawhide with their bling and sto ho ethos. The oligarchs took over in Russia. Clinton installed the dancing circus bear Boris Yeltsin and laughed so hard at the president’s buffoonery that it looked for awhile like America would be friends-for-life with the Russkies. Maybe they could do stuff together.

But not every Russian citizen liked being represented on the world stage by a drunken lout. So maybe the Russians did stuff back: Maybe they did meddle. They larfed their asses off when Edward Snowden became the most famous American defector since Lee Harvey Oswald. And now we have our own humiliating buffoon calling the shots, while the Russkies tumble over themselves laughing, as Trump cries, ‘Put up that wall! Or iron curtain, or whatever you wanna call it. Doesn’t matter.’ Thus Spake Saint Gropian, patron saint of coarse and vulgar people. Well, Putin came after Yeltsin. KGB. Who will come after Trump’s second term (wink)? Won’t be Biden, Bernie or Pocohantas. They’ll all be too old. Maybe even dead, if they’re lucky. Maybe a disciplinarian’s on-deck.

Americans don’t need the Russians; we’re not above rocking our own ship of state with meddled elections. You don’t hear about it much or in context. Nixon did McGovern in (1972). Reagan boinked Carter (1980). And Bush whacked Gore (2000). In all three instances, potential treason is in play. In Gore’s case, not only did his loss open up the still-suppurating ugliness of race politics in America, but we may have lost our best chance at climate change leadership, here and abroad. Instead, we got 9 Eleven™. Now it’s too late, as the prophet-driven Bob Marley put it, because “Nobody can stop them now.”

Well, as Bobby Dylan would say, people’ve been drawing conclusions on the wall for quite awhile now, the signs have been there for the seeing. I’ve counted at least seven signs. Odd shit happening. The Pentagon, after decades of denial, suddenly announcing they’ve been chasing UFOs and providing evidence. People developing the Truman Show syndrome, thinking “that their lives are staged reality shows, or that they are being watched on cameras.” Verbs trying to take down nouns. Dinosaurs having the last laugh, as they release the comet energy that they absorbed onto us. DARPA talking ‘bout robo-bees replacing the dying honey-bees. The Pentagon talking Gay Bombs to drop on enemies, but pulling back at the last moment no doubt for fear of the potential blow-back, literally.

I’ve been saying for years that if the gargoyles are now in charge of the cathedrals — those colossi of pure beauty and holy terror worthy of any God’s love — then it’s time to tear the cathedrals down. Lo and behold, next thing I know, Notre Dame forest has gone poof! The firemen ate cake. The gilded crown of Christ was saved. No insurance. The 1% came to the rescue. Will it be known in the future as the MacDonalds Notre Dame Cathedral. Will we have to pray to the candy-colored clown christ of capitalism in the future? What was Quasimodo’s alibi that day anyway? Signs.

An enquiring mind wants to know how is it possible that a flat-earther like basketball star Kyrie Irving is allowed to dribble that round round ball so recklessly on that flat flat rectangular surface, repeatedly going off the edge of his world on lay-ups? Signs.

And then another sign. The controversy over a new app called DeepNude, described as an app that “Undresses a Photo of Any Woman With a Single Click.” Kind of like the Male Gaze fights back. Needless to say, in this #MeToo era, the app was pulled, pitchforks, torches, and calls to storm the Bastard were hailed. Actually, Ray Milland demoed the product in The Man with the Xray Eyes. But when they took away his glasses he went into a tailspin funk and ended up drinking himself half to death in The Lost Weekend.

Let’s face it: Ever since We fell from grace after eating an iApple from the Tree of Knowledge and were unceremoniously booted from Eden, God telling Adam, while pointing at the newly ribbed Eve, “take her with you and go fuck yourself. You’ll see.” After millennia of cultural and technological ‘evolution’ we arrive back, catastrophic methane bubbles popping out of the sea all around us, at the place we started from without knowing it, God taunting us, “So how did you like them apples?” Meaning everything from the be-bop bone in 2001: A Space Odyssey to the wormholes and the quantum and the mofo multiverses ahead. A self-made Adam carries a worn-out Eve across the threshold, from a living hell back to a Paradise frozen over. See ya.

Pessimism, Optimism and the Role of Intellectuals

Counterpunch Articles -

The challenge of modernity is to live life without illusions and without becoming disillusioned… I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but am an optimist because of will.

— Antonio Gramsci (1891- 1937)

Back on December 10, 2016, after 45 years of college teaching, I met my last class. The course was Intro to International Politics: How the World Works. After twelve weeks of exposing countless myths, fables, and misinformation the odds of changing the world seemed daunting at best. If ignorance is bliss, there were few blissful days in the course and early on I mentioned that my mother not infrequently referred to her oldest son as “Dr. Gloom and Doom!” Per usual, I felt responsible to leave my students with some sense of hope but it had to be honest and not mawkish, anemic, liberal bromides.

Although my classes were invariably discussion oriented, on that occasion I chanced the students would tolerate a mini lecture. After waiting a full minute to get their attention, I wrote Gramsci’s aphorism on the board and took it as my point of departure. Here’s a synopsis of my comments for your possible interest:

British historian E.J. Hobsbawm described Antonio Gramsci as “an extraordinary philosopher, perhaps a genius, probably the most original communist thinker of the 20th century in Western Europe.” Born on the island of Sardinia into a recently impoverished family, Gramsci had experienced the conditions he was to write about. As a revolutionary socialist and co-founder of the Italian Communist Party, his effectiveness as a radical thinker, journalist, agitator and organizer led to his arrest and imprisonment by Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime in 1926. The charge was treason — attempting to “undermine the Italian state.”

Mussolini had once referred to Gramsci as “this Sardinian hunchback and professor of economics and philosophy” who possessed “an unquestionably powerful brain.” At his trial the government prosecutor pointed directly at Gramsci and famously proclaimed, “For twenty years we must stop this brain from functioning” and that was sentence. The serious health problems that plagued Gramsci’s entire life continued as he spent most of the remainder of his life in prison.

When his health deteriorated to a life-threatening situation he was moved to prison clinics in1933 and 1937. Just prior to gaining his freedom in April, 1937 he succumbed to a stroke at age 46. While in prison he wrote his justly famous Prison Notebooks (34 volumes) and 3,000 pages of handwritten notes.

In 1929, writing from his prison cell, Gramsci tried to put his youngest brother Carlo’s fears to rest with these words:

You must realize that I am far from feeling beaten…it seems to me that… a man out to be deeply convinced that the source of his own moral forceis in himself — his very energy and will, the iron coherence of ends and means — thathe never falls into those vulgar, banal moods, pessimism and optimism. My own stateof mind synthesizes these two feelings and transcends them: my mind is pessimistic,but my will is optimistic. Whatever the situation, I imagine the worst that could happen in order to summon up all my reserves and will power to overcome every obstacle. [1]

For Gramsci “the crisis” of his time and by extension our own, arises from the fact that the old order is expiring but the new one cannot be born. In the intervening period, certain “morbid symptoms” emerge. Most importantly, there is no guarantee the new order will be better or worse than the present one and it could be catastrophically worse.

One need not look far today to justify pessimism of the intellect, for Gramsci’s “morbid symptoms.” Decision-making in the U.S. remains in the hands of massive private tyrannies; the systematic undoing of reformist concessions wrung from capitalists has accelerated; endless wars; millions of plant and animal extinctions; four decades of neoliberal ideology has produced an empathy deficit disorder of epic proportions; a record number of desparate refugees around the world; ecocide, euphemistically called “climate change” looms; the populist right is gaining political ascendency around the globe; political manipulation and manufacture of consent has attained unprecedented levels; the U.S. empire is in decline and therefore its incomparable power is even more dangerous; and with the world seemingly in its death throes, the minuscule radical left in this country shows unmistakable signs of ossification.

On a personal level, claiming to face things as they really exist mandates looking into the abyss and acknowledging that my life’s work may have been extraneous, perhaps doomed to irrelevancy. Put another way, being right about so many things hasn’t counted for nearly as much as I’d assumed when much younger. The awareness that my own government is responsible for most of the world’s overt and structural violence is a background thrum in my life and often leaves me feeling like a stranger in my own country.

Based on extensive exchanges with Facebook friends I know I’m hardly alone in this respect. I should quickly add that these numerous, far-flung contacts remain an essential source of sustenance for me and I encouraged my students to seek out friends and associations with shared commitments. If memory serves, I said that living life without illusions means being liberated from the brain-washing worldview imposed (and conveniently believed) by our rulers. That’s life affirming and no small achievement. Finally, participating in struggles for justice brings rewards that simply can’t be experienced anywhere else.

What then, is pessimism of the intellect? It’s seeing the world as it actually exists, not some fantasy about how we’d like it to be. It means not accepting things at face value and doubting what we’ve heard since childhood in the absence of evidence. In short, it’s pretty much what they’d heard before taking the class. In terms of optimism of the will, Gramsci means that humans have the capacity to overcome new challenges, to courageously move forward and create a better world in the face of very long odds. We can’t predict the course of history but human agency is paramount and history is made by human will.

Here I hesitate to introduce the troublesome term “intellectual” but it bears directly on our subject. A major focus of Gramsci’s work was on the role of intellectuals in organizing culture. Pessimism of the intellect requires discerning the truth about politics. However, Gramsci knew that “to say truth is revolutionary” but the reality is that most intellectuals speak untruths to the powerless. In his time, Gramsci observed this was so effective that “when truth is actually spoken, no one believes it.” [2]

According to Gramsci it would be a grievous error to believe such matters are somehow only within the purview of individuals commonly referred to as “intellectuals.” Gramsci wrote about what he called “organic intellectuals” who emerge out of their socioeconomic milieu. For the working class, arriving at a pessimism of the intellect and engaging in critical thinking are activities that can be performed by many different people depending on the occasion. It’s not about pedigrees, those possessing ‘superior powers of intellect,’ certain writing skills or eloquence or special vocations. To be sure, affluence, leisure time and opportunity all factor in but “working class intellectual” is not an oxymoron.

“These organic intellectuals are distinguished less by their profession, which may be any job characteristic of their class, than by their function in directing the ideas and aspirations of the class to which they rightly belong.” [3] This is what Gramsci meant by stating “all men are philosophers” or all individuals are intellectuals, in capacity if not always function. Different classes midwife their own intellectuals and the working class is fully capable of generating its own organic intellectuals in this broad sense of the term. The anthropologist Cate Crehan, a close student of Gramsci’s work, reminds those of us intent on radical change must be mindful that counter narratives “emerge out of the lived realities of oppressed people’s day-to-day living.” [4]

I also reviewed Noam Chomsky’s position that most people we call ‘intellectuals’ are a special class of people who are lavishly rewarded for imposing the ideas of those in power on the rest of us. And that “…the population should be anti-intellectual in that respect. I think that’s a healthy reaction.” He’s suggesting that people need to develop an “intellectual self defense” against these ‘intellectuals.’ Chomsky goes on to assert, “My suspicion is that plenty of people in the crafts, auto mechanics and so on, probably do as much or more intellectual work than people in the universities…if by ‘intellectual’ you mean people who are using their minds, then it’s all over society.” [6]

For me, Paul Baran, the late Marxist professor of economics at Stanford University, adds to this more nuanced, more inclusive view when he asserts that to be an intellectual is to be a social critic, someone who identifies, analyzes and helps “to overcome the obstacles barring the way to the attainment of a better more humane, and more rational social order.” [7] To be sure, such a person will be treated as a nuisance and a troublemaker by those in power and it takes courage and commitment to withstand the social pressure. However, echoing Gramsci, Baron makes the essential point that this understanding of “intellectual” includes all sorts of people from many walks of life.

What happens in the absence of optimism of the will? We already see it. Some people adopt a breezy, banal optimism that Gramsci describes as “nothing but a way to defend one’s laziness, irresponsibility, and unwillingness to do anything.” (Prison Notebooks, Number 9). More common is an enveloping of sense of impotence, fatalism, and withdrawing into oneself to fend off further despair, a voluntary disengagement that University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen identifies as “the ultimate exercise of privilege.” [5]

Toward the end of the last session I said that during my career I’d tried to help students see through all the bullshit and grasp how the world works. I would not have remained a teacher if I hadn’t wagered it should and could work much better. I reminded them of our first week’s discussion that human nature has revealed a continuum of behaviors from the most wretched and cruel to the most compassionate and empathetic. At a minimum this means, in the words of Amin Maalouf, “There is a Mr. Hyde inside each of us. What we have to do is prevent the conditions that bring the monster forth.” Call it optimism of the will or of the heart but to try to live life as we think humans should live —as the world should work — is a choice.

Chomsky put it this way: “You basically have two choices. You can say ‘Nothing is going to change, so I am going to do nothing.’ You can therefore guarantee that the worst possible outcome will come about. Or, you can take the other position. You can say: ‘Look, maybe something will work. Therefore I will engage myself in trying to make it work and maybe there’s a chance things can get better.’ That is your choice. Nobody can tell you how right it is to be optimistic. Nothing can be predicted about human affairs…nothing.” [8] It doesn’t contradict Chomsky’s assertion to conclude that failure to engage today will provide a definitive answer to Rosa Luxemburg’s famous question: Will we be transitioning to socialism or barbarism?

(Thanks to Kathleen Kelly, my comrade and in-house editor, for her tough love critiques)

Notes

[1] Antonio Gramsci, Letters from Prison (New York: Harper & Row, 1973) pp.158-59.

[2] Prison Notebooks, Edited by V. Gerratano, Turin, 1975, p. 699.

[3] Selections From The Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, edited and translated by Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. (London: Eloc Books, 1991), p 131.

[4] Cate Crehan, Gramsci, Culture and Anthropology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), p.5.

[5] Although written fifteen years ago, there’s arguably no more succinct and more accessible source for ‘pessimist of the intellect but optimist of the will’ than to consult Robert Jensen’s Citizens o the Empire. (San Franciso: City Lights, 2004).

[6] Both quotes from Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power, Edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, (New York: Harper & Row, 2002) p.96.

[7] Paul Baran, “The Commitment of the Intellectual,” Monthly Review (May, 1961)

[8]Face to Face with a Polymath, Frontline, November, 2001.

How the Two-Tiered System in Higher Education Gets Reproduced (and Hopefully Abolished)

Counterpunch Articles -

To understand how the two-tiered system in higher education reproduces itself, I think it is useful to analyze how those in positions of relative power often serve to legitimate the system rhetorically, culturally and via political discussion. This is especially true when the purported aim of those driving the discussion is a progressive one, as I hope to show below with analyses of a tenure-track professor’s commentary on healthcare disparities in academia and of the higher education plans recently put forward by high-profile politicians seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. In addition, I spell out below the kind of educational aims and strategy those of us most severely impacted by the two-tiered system need to adopt if we are to abolish the disparate treatment incisively described as “faculty apartheid.”

The two-tiered system refers to the class structure in academia that bestows a modicum of prestige and influence upon a dwindling portion of the professoriate while ensuring the privileges that shrinking strata of faculty enjoy are made possible by the disempowering of the rest of us who teach at community colleges, state universities and sometimes even Ivy League institutions. The two-tiered system reflects the separation of faculty into haves and have-nots. The system is responsible for the conditions facing ‘contingent faculty’ and ‘adjuncts’ – designations used more or less interchangeably to refer to us have-nots, although ‘adjunct’ tends to imply part-time, per-semester contract status while ‘contingent’ is more of a catch-all for professorial precarity. The two-tiered system is responsible for the new faculty majority of precariously employed professors who rarely know if they will have jobs from one semester to the next. It produces and indicates the existence of déclassé faculty who – despite holding master’s degrees and often enough PhDs – are paid appreciably less than their counterparts on the tenure-track, subsist in poverty or near-poverty and frequently lack basic job benefits. Unlike our tenure-track and tenured colleagues, we adjuncts are subject to the whims of department chairs and upper level administration. We might not get offered classes the next term if lecturer money dries up or if we annoy our chairs, fellow faculty with the power to hire or to deny us work. We are part of the gig economy. The two-tiered system created and continually reproduces a situation in which a significant number of faculty are routine “freeway fliers,” reduced to cobbling together several “part-time” gigs at a couple different schools in order to teach enough classes and earn (just) enough to squeak by, for a while. Maybe. Oh, and sometimes, especially during summers, we work plenty of other jobs too.

Selective Assessments of the Health (Impacts) of Higher Education

The death of an underpaid 83-year-old adjunct, Margaret Mary Vojtko, made headlines a few years back. Thea Hunter, a consummate scholar whose career and life opportunities were fatally limited by the two-tiered system, died last December. “She had a number of ailments that bothered her—her asthma, her heart—and the rigors of being an adjunct added to them,” wrote Adam Harris in his posthumous profile of Hunter, a tenacious historian whose body just could not keep up the fight forever. “Had she been tenured, she would have experienced a sort of security that tenure is designed to provide: a campus office of her own, health insurance, authority and respect with which to navigate campus bureaucracy, greater financial stability. Without tenure, she was unprotected, at the whim of her body’s failings, working long hours for little pay, teaching large survey classes outside of her area of special expertise.”

The two-tiered system perseveres precisely because the human cost of higher education gets placed out of sight, out of mind. Colleges, of course, are not eager to broadcast to the world that despite the always-increasing tuition dollars pouring in, instructors without benefits, offices or job security often teach the majority of classes. The academic underclass is no fun for tenured and tenure-line professors to think about either, especially as they enjoy a comfortable living and decent working conditions while those performing similar – or the exact same – labor flounder.

Even when authors benefitting from the two-tiered system acknowledge the conditions of contingency, they seldom prioritize the problem. The better-off portion of the professoriate makes the obligatory gesture, lamenting the shameful situation their co-workers face, seemingly just so they can feign empathy and tout their progressive chops. It also enables them to avoid looking like the proverbial ostriches with their heads buried in the sand. But when they do acknowledge the plight of adjunct professors, they swiftly de-emphasize that struggle soon after. The framing and focus shift. Elision of the two-tiered system ensures it receives implicit legitimation.

A June 2019 piece by Andrea Chow, “A Tenure-Track Job Means Finally Catching Up on Doctor Visits,” published at The Chronicle, illustrates the rhetorical maneuver. The author detailed how low pay and lack of decent health insurance kept her from getting much-needed medical and dental treatment throughout graduate school. The issue was finally remedied, Chow explains, when she landed a tenure-track job – and the money and health coverage that comes with it. Her criticism of the conditions faced and hardships endured by graduate student workers is spot on and should sound familiar to many contingent faculty who had to earn master’s and doctoral degrees to obtain their precarious positions.

The fact that so many graduate students who pursue their own scholarship while working as low-paid teaching and research assistants will go on to enter a job market that all but assures they will constantly chase and likely never land the ever-elusive tenure-track spot while spinning their wheels as adjuncts is why Chow’s framing is such a problem. “Adjuncts and other contingent faculty members often are forced to let chronic health issues go unresolved for even longer since they spend years in temporary jobs with limited-to-no health insurance and are unable to find tenure-track employment,” she states several paragraphs into the article. Yet, she concludes by emphasizing that if higher education is “to be a viable pathway for anyone other than the independently wealthy,” then “comprehensive and contractually secured health insurance—including dental and vision coverage” ought to be treated “as a basic right” for graduate employees. “Graduate school shouldn’t be a health risk,” she proclaimed toward the end of her piece. Chow is right, but her omission reinforces an awful wrong. There are “chronic health issues” plaguing a whole class of professors who subsist without adequate health insurance and with little income to treat underlying ailments. This issue, which is acknowledged by the author earlier in the article, is forgotten within a few paragraphs. Her refrain from highlighting healthcare as a right for adjuncts too reflects the disregard for non-tenure track faculty inherent in the two-tiered system. The framing helps legitimate that system.

Political Rhetoric Shaping the Understanding of Injustice in Higher Education

Omissions akin to the aforementioned are on display in the mainstream political discourse already receiving added attention in anticipation of the 2020 presidential election.

Not so long ago, former vice president and current presidential hopeful Joe Biden, apparently unfamiliar or unconcerned with the realities of those of us off the tenure-track, blamed college tuition increases on the salaries of professors.

While the political climate has changed, consent for the two-tiered system remains intact. Deafening silence and the art of overlooking crisis function to solicit that consent. Even the most progressive of today’s democratic presidential candidates, including those who otherwise champion issues related to education, are more or less mum when it comes to the issues facing contingent faculty.

Senator Elizabeth Warren recently put forward a plan to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt for everyone with a household income under $100,000. Her plan would provide “substantial debt cancellation for every person with household income between $100,000 and $250,000” as well. Her proposal includes a provision for “universal free college” too, which she suggests would grant “every American the opportunity to attend a two-year or four-year public college without paying a dime in tuition or fees.”

Among adjuncts, there are those who dismiss plans for fully publicly funded higher education. They question where the money will come from. For her part, Warren proposes to fit the bill for the broad debt cancellation and universal free college with an “Ultra-Millionaire Tax,” which would amount to an annual two percent tax on families with $50 million or more in wealth.

What the presidential candidate’s self-proclaimed “truly transformational” proposal fails to address, however, is the super-exploited labor of those who teach at colleges and universities in the US. In her post, Warren included links to stories from eight educators whose lives have been adversely affected by student loan debt. Tellingly, no adjunct professors were invited to detail their experiences. Yet we have no shortage of horror stories to share. For example,Ellen Tara James-Penny, an adjunct professor at San Jose State who sleeps in her car because she cannot afford rent, said she is $143,000 in debt because of the student loans she took out when she went back to school after losing her tech job during the dotcom crash. “And I’m in my 50s,” she told the camera. “But I pay that loan [back] every month.”

While Warren’s post contains a promising subhead, “Addressing Inequities in Our Higher Education System” – and a corresponding section that, importantly, explains how her plan will address racial disparities and work to improve enrollment and graduation rates for low-income students – ideas on how to transform the two-tiered system are entirely absent. The self-evident adage, that faculty working conditions are also student learning conditions, evidently did not factor into her diagnosis of what ails higher education in the US, and it did not prompt her campaign team to address one of the most fundamental inequities characterizing it today. Failure to even mention contingency helps guarantee the two-tiered system continues to be academia’s dirtiest and tacitly condoned secret.

Senator Bernie Sanders, another presidential contender and progressive champion on the education front, put forward a proposal earlier this year in which his team stressed that if “you cannot pursue your dream of becoming a teacher, environmentalist, journalist or nurse because you cannot make enough money to cover your monthly student loan payments,” then you are not truly free. In response to those who would dismiss the imperative of free higher education, his team added that “you are not truly free when the vast majority of good-paying jobs require a degree that requires taking out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to obtain.”

Like the Warren campaign, the Sanders camp also explained where the money would come from, which should allay the concerns of those alleging a failure on the part of ambitious politicians to specify how they plan to pay for the abolition of tuition, fees and unpaid student loan debts. The Sanders campaign estimated the cost of making higher education a right coupled with complete student debt cancellation at $2.2 trillion. To cover the cost they propose a Wall Street speculation tax – placing a tax of 50 cents on every $100 of stock trades, plus .1 percent bond trades and a .005 percent derivative trades fees – capable of generating, they estimate, $2.4 trillion over 10 years.

His team noted that, beyond the elimination of tuition and fees, the Sanders plan “will match any additional spending from states and tribes which reduces the cost of attending school at a dollar for dollar rate,” and that the funds could be used “to hire additional faculty, ensure professors get professional development opportunities, and increase students’ access to educational opportunities.” Aside from that tangential reference, though, the post contains no mention of the other major crisis afflicting higher education. The two-tiered system retains staying power and the 1.3 million professors excluded from the tenure track suffer because of the rhetorical and political neglect.

In late June, Sanders – along with Representatives Parmila Javapal and Ilhan Omar – introduced formal legislation to eliminate tuition and fees and to cancel student debt. Their College for All Act creates a federal-state partnership and grant program to eliminate tuition and fees at public institutions of higher learning and at tribal colleges and universities, and it mandates student loan forgiveness. Closer inspection of the text reveals the architects of the legislation gave some thought, albeit maybe only some afterthought, to faculty working conditions. One section stipulates that within five years after an eligible institution receives a grant to go toward tuition and fee elimination, at least 75 percent of instruction there should be performed by tenured or tenure-track professors. Of course, it says nothing about how to create a path toward tenure for those not on the tenure-line. The congresspersons who crafted the legislation might have invoked a model like the one used by the Vancouver Community College system, which enables regularization and some job protection for many instructors who would feel the wrath of contingency were they teaching at most any other school in the US. Yet they did not.

The College for All Act does state that once tuition and fees are eliminated, schools receiving grants should use the remaining funds “to reduce the cost of attendance and increase the quality of instruction and student support services,” and a few of the suggested ways to accomplish that are noteworthy. “Increasing the number and percentage of full-time instructional faculty, including full-time tenure and tenure-track instructional faculty” is one method listed. Another involves equipping “all faculty with professional supports to help students succeed, such as professional development opportunities, office space, and shared governance in the institution” – several workplace rights currently denied quite a few contingent faculty. The final suggested use of surplus funds is the only explicit mention of the academic underclass, and it calls on institutions to remunerate “adjunct and part-time faculty for work done inside and outside of the classroom relating to instruction, such as holding office hours.” If schools used their excess funds in that manner, it would no doubt improve the working conditions for instructors hitherto treated as disposable. However, none of this even begins to dismantle the two-tiered system, and if there are no remaining funds for institutions to work with, then even these inadequate half-measures will remain empty promises.

What Have We Learned?

In May 2019, the Sanders team announced “A Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education,” which focuses on K-12 schooling but contains insights germane to a discussion of the hegemony of academia’s two-tiered system. His team recounted how in the last year we saw thousands upon thousands of teachers go on strike. “The wave of teacher strikes throughout the country provides an historic opportunity to make the investments we desperately need to make our public education system the best in the industrialized world, not one of the poorest,” they wrote.

Arguably, the democratization and revitalization of the Chicago Teachers Union and the 26,000-member strong strike back in September 2012 catalyzed an educator-driven “counter-hegemonic” movement that has only just recently reclaimed the spotlight. That strike, executed in my home state of Illinois, changed the public narrative and showed the strength of social movement unionism rooted in community. A strike wave in traditionally red states like Oklahoma, Kentucky and West Virginia captivated the radical, pedagogical imagination in 2018. In Southern California, not too far a drive from the Inland Empire where I currently live and teach, some 34,000 educators in Los Angeles went on strike and won in early 2019, thereby teaching us another lesson in what organizing and movement building can accomplish. Teachers in Oakland reiterated the message.

Neither the all-too-often-milquetoast, nor the self-styled nor even the meaningfully progressive elements of the relatively empowered professoriate, nor the most progressive of presidential candidates, can be counted on to contest the dominance and legitimacy of the two-tiered system. To do that, precarious faculty have to organize and adopt the sort of militancy our fellow K-12 educators have demonstrated to be both effective and transformative. Solidarity is essential for any serious, successful effort to abolish the two-tiered system. The narrowly focused adjuncts among us who flippantly criticize budding movements toward a tuition and fees free higher education and toward student debt forgiveness ironically echo the dearth of concern the two-tiered system and those benefiting from it tend to show contingent faculty. To be sure, debt cancellation and free higher education are in the interest of a plethora of the already existing academic precariat and should be part of any abolitionist politics worthy of the name. I personally have a total unpaid federal student loan balance of $3,855.41, last I checked. My monthly repayment is just one more bill I can barely afford as an adjunct. And I am not alone (or a loan, as the pun would have it). Folks I went to grad school with, many destined to enter the contingent faculty fray, owed more than $100,000 in student loans. Debt forgiveness and free college are in the interest of future contingent faculty busy accumulating massive debt to pay for the undergraduate and graduate education necessary to do this line of work. Few present and future contingent faculty are going to be excited about organizing with fellow adjuncts who fail to give a shit about their financial situations even though that predicament is inseparable from their struggle as part of the low-paid, precariously employed professoriate.

What is more, adjunct self-organization alone will not suffice. Like K-12 educators have shown, solidarity with students and the surrounding community are key components of successful organizing. Politicians and well-off faculty will stop reproducing consent for the two-tiered system only when students and graduates ally with their current and former professors fighting to survive off the tenure track. We would be presumptuous, indifferent and foolhardy to think students and those in the community saddled with debt post-graduation should or will fight alongside us if we refuse to understand their struggle as our own. If we reject that shared struggle, we teach the sort of insidious lessons that undermine education as a common good and engender the worldviews that make possible the popular acceptance of a pernicious structure of faculty stratification. One of the myths that serves to justify the two-tiered system suggests we adjuncts deserve our lot because we are subpar pedagogues who just do not care or try hard enough. The best way to dispel that is to evince the kind of education we believe in.

Pages

Subscribe to The Peace Coalition of Southern Illinois aggregator