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Is Netanyahu Serious About Annexing Jordan Valley?

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On July 1, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised he would annex part of the Jordan Valley. He did not, but he may still do so before U.S. elections in November and while President Donald Trump is still in office. It could be his legacy.

Trump’s challenger, former vice president Joseph Biden, has joined the chorus of world leaders who object to the annexation, arguing that what little remains of a two-state solution would be finished, legally, but he said he would continue U.S. aid to Israel. Even if Netanyahu annexes a small piece of the area, the argument would be the same. The amount would be irrelevant.

So why may Netanyahu do this? Because he can. There is no discernible internal opposition should he call another election, despite allegations of fraud in an upcoming trial in December and a climbing coronavirus infection. The prime minister ignores as much as possible his main competitor, General Benny Gantz, who is part of his government.

Annexation means declaring sovereignty over about a third of the West Bank, which is already under Israeli military control. It would include 97 kilometers or about 60 miles along the border with Jordan. King Abdullahof Jordan has threatened Israel with “massive conflict” if the annexation plan is instituted, including having an impact on the Israeli-Jordanian 1994 peace treaty.

But President Donald Trump has other things on his mind. He and Netanyahu are facing life-and-death issues. Both are immersed in the coronavirus pandemic; both face daily demonstrations.

By July 11, Haaretz said that Israel’s Health Ministry had reported about 37,000 COVID-19 cases and that, according to the World Health Organization, it had the third-highest daily coronavirus infection rate in comparison to European nations. By the end of July, Israel had 70,036 cases and 500 deaths.

“The surging protests are a direct outgrowth of the government’s failure to prevent the alarming resurgence of the coronavirus epidemic and, more pertinently, its dismal economic assistance packages,” wrote Chemi Shalev, the U.S. editor for Haaretz.

President Trump is certainly not focused on annexation, although he is assumed to be in favor of it and is expected to give Israel the go-ahead. Many Evangelicals, who back Trump, support the action, but he is expected to lose the Jewish vote. In 2016, more than two-thirds of Jewish Americans backed the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

‘Deal of the Century’

In theory, the annexation in the Jordan Valley is part of the plan that Trump adviser Jared Kushner unveiled a year ago as the “deal of the century.” Kushner envisaged Arab nations pouring millions or billions to prop up the living standards of the Palestinians. Despite a tendency to support Israel among Gulf nations as a bulwark against Iran, money is not streaming in.

The plan also calls for a Palestinian state, a point of contention among Israeli settlers in the West Bank. But David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, has told them not to worry, as there are many pre-conditions: “you have to live with the Palestinian state when the Palestinians become Canadians. And when the Palestinians become Canadians all your issues should go away.”

In protest of Israel’s planned annexation, the Palestinian Authority (PA) stopped security cooperation with Israel, impairing police and intelligence work that benefited both sides. According to the New York Times, the PA “stopped accepting taxes collected on its behalf by Israel, and in the resulting budget crisis, most officers are receiving only partial pay.”

World Leaders Speak Up

On July 7, two joint statements—one by the foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany and Jordan, and another by foreign ministers of seven Arab states and the secretary-general of the Arab League—stressed their opposition to the move. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on June 16 told the House of Commons that the Israeli proposal was a “breach of international law.”

Leading the protest was António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations. He told the UN Security Council in a teleconference in June: “If implemented, annexation would constitute a most serious violation of international law, grievously harm the prospect of a two-State solution and undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations.”

Who Cares for Palestinians?

Now that the Trump-Kushner plan is stalled, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is reverting to its mission after months of scandal in 2019 and the resignation of its former director. Contributions halted, but they are picking up again, mainly from European nations and non-governmental organizations. The Trump administration, which had contributed $360 million annually before, reduced its contribution to $60 million in 2018 and zero in 2019, prompting cuts in the agency’s operation.

The UNRWA was established in 1949 to aid Palestinian refugees. In 2020, it aims to provide assistance to 5.6 million Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This includes education, health care, social services and other forms of aid. The Associated Press reports:

“Agency Director-General Philippe Lazzarini told reporters following a virtual fundraising conference that despite the ‘very strong expression of support’ by international donors ‘we are still in the dark and we do not know if our operations will run until the end of the year.’

“He said the donations covered only a fraction of the roughly $400 million budget gap the agency is facing.”

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

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When the Chickens Came Home to Roost In Portlandistan

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Well folks, it’s official, Donald Trump has declared war on America. Probably should have saw that coming. After all, I’ve long argued that our dayglow duce isn’t an isolationist but merely the world’s shittiest imperialist. After trying and failing miserably to bring fascism to Nicaragua and Venezuela, Trump has set his sites on targets much more suited to his America First brand of colonialism. The one war our asshole in chief has managed to wage successfully after all has been the federal government’s war on undocumented brown children. He may have failed to give Israel Iran but he succeeded swimmingly at giving ICE Aztlan, setting up a veritable gulag archipelago of Chuckie Cheese concentration camps on the Rio Grande that would make Woodrow Wilson wet with envy. Now he’s sicking those same feds on America’s more belligerent third world neighborhoods, turning Seattle and Detroit into Managua and Caracas in a sad and evil attempt to fellate his flaccid poll numbers by publicly thrashing black people and their allies for demanding an end to police state apartheid.

In no metropolis has this spectacle of tyranny been more blatantly grotesque than in the throbbing streets of Portlandia, where a long tradition of protest and direct action has been met with all the bleak and eerie force of an Orwellian dystopia. Crowds of mothers, hipsters, activists, and veterans have been repeatedly provoked into defending their right to free assembly nightly by category 4 storms of teargas, rubber bullets, and flashbang devices, often fired directly into waves of unarmed civilians. A bevy of unmarked mystery meat in full combat regalia has swelled the streets in formation like paunchy, Slim Jim chomping, gestapo in heat. Some of them cruising the café lined avenues in windowless glorified rape vans, kidnapping random baristas and disappearing them like Operation Condor while a swarm of hopefully unarmed drones watched it all unfold from above. This is the kind of war Trump believes he can win. Portlandistan! Where the war comes to you…

Thank god for anarchists, who live to prove pompous bullies wrong. Every time the feds picked a fight with peaceful protesters, furious gutter punks in black weren’t far behind to throw it back at them like a fucking teargas canister, victoriously denying Trump his cheap victory by making fools of his over-armed goons with little more than keffiyehs, firecrackers, and that attitude the Bad Brains use to shout about. Daniel Ortega should be proud. Say what you want about these kids but for 60 days Trump brought the war home and for 60 days these motherfuckers fed it back to him. Now he’s forced to take Portlandistan on the road with his tail between his legs.

We may have won this battle but the war is far from over. The biggest mistake the left can and all too often does make about the Donald’s failed American interventions is to assume that they represent some kind of aberration, a nightmare we can all wake up from once November comes. This notion is absurdly childish. Donald Trump himself is the product of the inevitable decline of American imperialism. Everything he’s done, everything he is, is anything but unprecedented. The only reason Trump has the power to declare war on our fed-up nation is because past regimes provided him the weapons designed to do just that.

It was progressive do-gooders and never-Trumpers like Barack Obama and George W. Bush who militarized the executive office and turned the White House into an iron citadel with a ready squadron of armed drones at El Presidente’s fingertips, not to mention the right to use them on any 12-year-old American with a name scary enough for the papers to overlook. And it was glad-handing neoliberal racists like Bill Clinton and our feeble-minded savior Joe Biden who turned our prison system into the finest plantation money can buy, and our police force into the kind of broken window fucking superbeasts that can keep this chattel industry populated with an endless supply of brown bodies to feast on. If you honestly believe that this shit is going to stop or even slow down with Trump gone then you’re dumber than he is and probably shouldn’t vote for anything less trivial than one of his reality TV competitions. Biden’s gray-care handlers will turn down the more histrionic theatrics and keep this thing rolling on mute while the news conveniently finds something else to get upset about.

This is just what happens when imperialism comes home after decades of failure abroad. It brings all the charming trappings of it’s garish banana republics home with it. With each passing day, as the American Century reaches its bloody twilight, Camelot looks more and more like Pinochet’s Chile or Somoza’s Nicaragua. The NSA, FEMA camps, ICE, warrantless wiretaps, black sites, no-knock raids, unmarked paramilitaries, these are all but chickens coming home to roost, and they expose the biggest flaw I see in otherwise heroic movements like Black Live Matter and many of their left-anarchist allies. They seem to suffer from a total lack of awareness that their struggle extends far beyond this nation’s faulty borders. I have yet to hear any of the supposed leaders of these movements point out that the prison industrial complex, which they righteously condemn, is inseparably intertwined with the military-industrial complex, which they refuse to acknowledge. They exist on a continuum of corporate-state power that feeds the same fat masters and keeps us all in chains from Angola to, well, Angola.

Quite possibly the fiercest foe modern American tyranny has ever faced off against were the Black Panthers that BLM is often derisively compared to, but Huey Newton let it be known from day one that his party was a paramilitary movement developed to combat imperialism both at home and abroad. The Panthers and their allies across the Rainbow Coalition spectrum recognized that America’s most impoverished communities, from Oakland to Appalachia, were nearly indistinguishable from the Third World nations that America sought to crush overseas, and they boldly declared allegiance to those oppressed comrades above their own occupying nation. I see this fire in the streets of Portlandistan, but where is the fury that connects it to our brothers and sisters struggling valiantly against the same beast in Yemen and the West Bank? Why do leaders in Black Lives Matter break bread with Fortune 500 monsters before that of the Houthi dragon slayers? I’m not grandstanding here, I seriously want to know.

I’m a devout anti-imperialist, dearest motherfuckers, the proud citizen of a stateless Queer nation, a third world nation of teenage runaways and streetwalking prostitutes. I want this movement to work, like many marginalized people, in many ways, I need this movement to work. I want the kids in the streets of cities across this fascist police state to win like they did in Portlandistan, only bigger. But a true revolution just isn’t possible if you refuse to address the giant blood-drenched elephant in the room, and I’m not talking about Trump.

The post When the Chickens Came Home to Roost In Portlandistan appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Power of the White Man and His Symbols is Being De-Mystified

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is warning us today that if we fail to build alternatives to the current system governed by voracious, ruthless and extractive capitalism, it will rob our descendants of the future.

This historical moment that we are all living through is also serving to reveal that extreme inequalities are not only found in the marginalized and excluded neighborhoods of our so-called “third world” countries, but also in the academic and institutional worlds that we inhabit, many of them here in the “first world”.  In speaking of and honoring activism, inclusion, social justice, human rights and the generation of knowledge at the service of humanity–issues that Martin Diskin defended during his life and career–this moment also requires rethinking how our institutions, universities, departments and even conferences are organized, often leaving out intellectuals who are truly committed to social change movements, sisters and brothers who don’t have academic degrees, and many generators of thought and local action in our countries and communities who literally give their lives to defend the survival of their peoples.

Since the Spanish invasion at the end of the fifteenth century, this continent has been in dispute, creating or recreating territorial spaces where fighting to survive in the midst of acute colonial and neocolonial oppressions has never ceased. They have successfully erased hundreds of indigenous peoples, and in other cases decimated those that survived. Today on the Tzolk’in, one of the Mayan calendars of my ancestors kept and transmitted from one generation to the next, is Keb ’Iq’ day–the Keb’ tan closely linked to my present life and the nawal Iq’ that illuminated my birth.

It’s no coincidence, then, that they coincide on this day to accompany me in the face of this responsibility. On the Gregorian calendar, it is Friday, May 15. The date on both calendars records that the highest number of people killed by COVID-19 is in the territory of Abya Yala [1]. And within Abya Yala, all eyes are on the United States because it leads in the number of infected and deceased people, numbers that have grown exponentially since January of this year due to the deadly virus. [2] Thus, the richest nation in the world, the most powerful, the most armed nation of this time, which invests more than 700 million dollars annually for defense expenses, is being affected by a virus that we do not see, but whose transmission is aggressively attacking certain populations. [3] And we find that the world’s superpower cannot protect to its citizens. [4]

It seems then, that the power of the white man along with his symbols is being demystified. Here it is once again evident that the xenophobic patriotism of these times, held up as a beacon for the world, is not of much use, despite being pushed by the mainstream media and social media that have served to collectively numb or manipulate consciences. The prophetic words of the Great Chief Seattle of the Suquamish People are fulfilled– in 1854 he sent a letter to President Franklin Pierce warning that the white men who contaminated their bed would perish contaminated in their own waste, walking toward their self-destruction. [5]

Just as Chief Seattle warned, today we are seeing the end of self-destructive life and we begin to go back to the dawn of the age for survival. Now, from the epicenters, there are no national heroes or heroines who can save those who have been placed on the bottom steps of the racial pyramid. That is why the people who die are of Afro-descendant and Hispanic populations, and members of the First Nations that were stripped of their territories and today live neglected by the State. And within the category of Hispanics, many are also indigenous peoples of Latin America who were forced to migrate.

Those from below will not be saved, they will never be a priority. For them, happy endings are not written. On the contrary, they are the permanently declassed, those who fall in wars, those who are devastated in natural disasters and those who now fill the hospitals with COVID-19, who now die in absolute solitude and whose bodies no one claims. They end up piled up in trucks parked on the streets and avenues of cosmopolitan cities. In moments of humanitarian crisis, like these, it becomes evident that those from below cannot even hope to be buried in mass graves.

The millions of people throughout Abya Yala who wave white flags asking not to starve to death, are nothing more than the materialization of the invisible women and men who now appear in the media because they are emerging from the ravines or city slums or communities that have been depleted. [6] Their white flags expose the structures of exclusion that in “normal” times are hidden by fraudulent labor policies or private or state charities, but that are false palliatives because they keep entire sectors on the edge of subsistence, just so that they don’t die. Because the economic system needs its workforce to increase the wealth of the national oligarchies and the world elite. And despite this, many of the men and women belonging to these poor or middle-class sectors believe in this exploitative system. Perhaps the most brutal examples can be seen in Brazil and the United States.

In deeply stratified countries, such as those in America, where the gap between opulence and poverty continues to widen, humanitarian crises like this one combine with other social explosions. [7] I was born in one of those countries, and I grew up observing these extremes: between those who had access to exclusive education centers, compared to the majority who barely finished primary school in a school that was really a makeshift shed about to fall apart and even so, registered as part of the government’s “educational coverage”; between those who were fed three times a day and those who ate what they could; between those who had health care through private plans purchased in a voracious market, and those who had no health center to go to even to save their lives. In this permanent inequity, those on the side that receives the worst, the fewest, and the scraps from the system, cannot be expected to survive. There are no miracles for them and, despite their deep faith, which is often the only thing that sustains them, they have no way out, because they have not had the right to weave even a minimal safety net, especially since even the collective security of their communities has been undermined.

The states in Latin America are deeply elitist, racist and patriarchal political systems, sold to us as “democratic”, but which have been put together by countless old and new institutions that few of the citizens know about. The “crisis of democracy” never ends, because the democratic system was created to not work, to entangle our lives and keep millions of human beings tangled up, alienated and as far away as possible from resistance and from human forms of life. In the end, the small but powerful political and economic elites of our countries and the world know that a person’s active life is short, so the challenge is to stay distracted, controlled or divided during those years because disease, addiction or hopelessness will take care of the rest.

Backwards Priorities

The pandemic points out to us one of the errors of humanity and of the academy, where the important thing has not been how much knowledge has advanced, or how many Nobel prizes have been achieved in science, but how little science has been put to the service of humanity. When science is driven by the interests of capital and not by collective interests, it ends up trivialized, isolated in classrooms, invited to receptions in palaces or the headquarters of world institutions, but far from the people it should really serve, and there the consequences are dramatic for those who have the least.

As scientists continue to work on the conquest of Mars and building a camp on the moon, here on earth governments were never prepared or invested in to face diseases like this, and much less health services. Public hospitals were never provided with necessary equipment or instruments. On the contrary, from Utqiaġvik in Alaska to Ushuáia in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, year after year, what little remains of public services have been dismantled with the argument that public is not useful and private is the only and the best option. The finest state assets were handed over to private companies, and in return, the cost of electricity, drinking water, roads, transportation, and telephone services, among others, soared to unpayable prices that have impoverished nations. At times like these, one more trip to the moon is of little use if thousands of people on earth are dying for lack of a ventilator.

 The priorities have always been backwards, but today we see them right before our eyes. We are also responsible, because we have consented by remaining silent, without taking action and allowing rotten systems to govern us, and keeping truly corrupt forces in power.

The centers of world power that control science and research anticipated pandemics of this magnitude based on previous infectious diseases that revealed that the human body is an incubator: Malaysia 1999, Nigeria 2004 and 2014, India 2018, China 2002 and other countries with aggressive and deadly viral infections. Although some specialists and researchers tried to alert us, the powerful have refused to listen. When COVID-19 struck, very few countries were capable of confronting it, not only for lack of hospital infrastructure, but also in terms of social, cultural and psychological measures. As a result, health systems and morgues have collapsed. In Latin America the dramatic case is Guayaquil, Ecuador, but other cities and countries find their populations mired in an economic and emotional crisis of survival and despair. [8 ]

Why was the alarm not raised? Why was the world, and its medical institutions, not prepared for what we`re experiencing? The answer is in the pages of the main global newspapers, in the centers of thought, in the universities, in the ministries of economy and finance that inform us directly or indirectly that no government can oppose the small elite that controls the world economy. In fact, all governments that proclaim themselves “democratic” are supported by that one percent of the world population that controls the wealth of the global economy. Most or all of the rulers were brought to power by multinational companies that control the trillionaire, unstoppable machinery of world production and consumption.

The challenge of how to organize

In the midst of the pandemic, the fight we’re witnessing now in Europe, Asia, Africa or America is not a fight to see who produces life-saving ventilators, or how they are best distributed and put at the service of the countries most affected. Nor is it a fight to see how the world’s medical personnel can be protected, or how to reject the hellish decision to deny the elderly a ventilator on the grounds that they have already lived. No, the fight in big and small countries is to open the markets as soon as possible. The front pages of the newspapers report the urgency, not of saving lives, but of how to save the markets. Powerful pressure comes to bear–we not only feel it, but we can almost smell it.

As long as the powerful and also the poor insist on following this path, it will be difficult to save humanity, but above all it will be almost impossible to save Mother Earth. We have no future with pseudo world leaders of this caliber. “Neither the rich nor the poor have leaders,” José Mujica recently said. Villages are alone and people who do not have a people or have not built a community are much more alone. The challenge is how to organize ourselves against world capital with intelligence and sagacity.

Covid-19 exposed the fallacy that those who have the responsibility and obligation to save the lives of their fellow citizens can be called “statesmen”. We are witnessing the decline of the art of politics and the failure of nations—there is the European Economic Community teaching us that class difference is permanent, that Italy is not the same as the Netherlands or Germany and that the division explains the zero aid given to Italy, while the leaders of the rich countries observed from their computer screens as Italians died rather than take immediate and concrete actions, even for the sake of humanity. The president of the Lombardy region, the worst hit in Italy, Attilio Fontana, stated the first week of April that “the European Union is a failed project.” [9] History has recorded that wealthy European countries widened the gap between them, and with their actions also the gaps that exist throughout the world. They refused to lead a common response to COVID-19, and Italy had to rely on Cuba, China and Russia. [10]

Another example of social division and its deep-rooted stratification is India. When quarantine was decreed, we saw the images of a sea of ​​human beings, whom they call “the rat-eaters”- They carried their few belongings and, out of work, were forced to return on foot to their communities thousands of kilometers away because it was the last refuge to hold on to the only social security they have. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nandrandra Modi sent airplanes to repatriate members of privileged sectors who were unemployed in other countries. In the midst of the crisis, the poor workers, who added to the wealth of transnational capital, walked back to their communities on foot, while the rich sat in comfortable planes. [11]

This is another lesson: The social and political sphere has toppled like dominos, we do not have officials who are up to the task of leading humankind at this stage of our journey. However, we must be alert because the future of humanity will depend on what is decided here, whether the earth is saved or continues to be destroyed will depend on the route taken today.

Having said this, I don’t know if the role of the academy in the world is to continue celebrating events, or perhaps the historical moment now assigns it the responsibility of leading collective reflection on: how did we get here? How did we end up living in a surrealist moment that predicts a future of living behind masks with minimal human contact? Why were we not able to raise our voices, we who are always publishing, traveling, having access to first-hand information? Have we also failed? Because although we witness and register social crises, we have also become hooked on the academic machinery that has created the same economic system that we question.

At this time, when thousands of our sisters and brothers in our countries face the emotional impact and the psychological damage, survive with battered souls and increased trauma, are separated or suffer other pain, let me imagine a humane and reality-based academy world, less performative perhaps, accompanying not so much the rhythm of capital as the human beings who, individually or collectively, have always raised their voices in the face of the destruction of their lives and environments.

I want to appeal to an academy that sees the invisible ones, not only to portray their miseries, but to walk with them and understand that their miseries are not exactly miseries, to really listen to them and learn from their wisdom, so urgent now, and vital to what we will need for the proposals we must develop to meet the challenges of the immediate future. [12]

The real nightmare

In this context, I ask myself, is COVID-19 really a nightmare? [13] I think that the real nightmare has been the world economic system that engulfs us and has brought us to this humanitarian crisis. That is why, now more than ever, the struggle of indigenous peoples, who have lived permanently under constant wars, genocides, diseases, spoils, corners and invisibilities, is key to trying to save humanity.

The mandate of the Zapatistas–“nothing without us”– takes on more life and certainty than before, not due to “academic fashion”, but because there can be no other world if we do not retake elements of the indigenous worlds in how we live. COVID reveals with pain and drama the unforgivable contradictions and injustices of the system that indigenous peoples have denounced for 500 years, without being heard. And now, instead of taking the “global pause” to rethink the future, the elites put all their energy into “getting back to normal” and “opening the markets without question.”

The more than 5,000 indigenous peoples proudly still existing despite the colonization processes they face teach academics, time and time again, that documenting the facts alone doesn’t make sense, especially if they just end up in libraries and they are not generated within a framework of co-participation and co-construction, recognizing and facing the unequal power relations that exist between each other. The knowledge produced must serve as a guide so that everyone lives, not only the richest or the strongest.

We cannot continue to study Indigenous peoples under the policies of representativeness and identity that combine economic projects with the hegemonic cultural and social projects that prevail in the academy. These policies use Indian symbols, speeches or demands, but exclude the peoples from their own historical spaces of power, in the face of global challenges they have to face in multiple ways. Indigenous peoples cannot continue to be taught as if they were the ahistorical defeated, the perpetual victims, the poor beggars, the social destitute or the permanent losers of history. It has to be the opposite—to approach indigenous peoples with the humility to learn more than to teach. Indigenous peoples are tired of others trying to implement all kinds of projects in the territories, even if they were conceived in good faith. They are tired of their participation being mediated by any means and that in the end their efforts do not translate into the substantive changes that as persons and peoples they aspire to and have the right to.

Even in the midst of this crisis, I have found in global public spaces a racist denial that ignores the permanent warnings and protests about environmental destruction that indigenous peoples of Latin America have been talking about constantly. This territory belonged to Indigenous peoples, 500 years later they still constitute around 50 million people, or just over 9 or 10% of the total population, living in 826 villages, of which 200 have decided to live in voluntary isolation. They are the ones who have best known how to maintain the balance between human, natural and mineral life. [14] Thanks to this, this region of the world still has a third of the fresh water we drink daily. In addition, 6 of the 17 mega diverse countries in the world are here–Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru. And despite the fact that Latin America covers only 15% of the Earth’s surface, it protects no less than 40% of the world’s biodiversity. The beautiful and profound Amazon with its 6.7 million remaining forests provides us with more than 40,000 species of plants that are the pharmacies of our villages, and without that ancient medicine many of us indigenous people would not be here today. [15]

In Latin America, indigenous peoples have protected all biomes in their territories: lakes, mangroves, deserts and xerophilous scrubs, temperate coniferous forests and humid, tropical and subtropical broadleaf forests. But biodiversity, as indigenous people well know, is a complex and extremely delicate and fragile network of life, as fragile as human life is today on the planet. So, they have demanded respect for the goods found their territories, because they are vital to the future of humanity. For the majority of indigenous people, the land is our dear mother, our beloved mother, the one who receives us at birth, feeds us and provides for us while we live and in the autumn of our lives. She is the one who prepares us to return to Her, to merge with her, wisely teaching us that we are merely part of a circle that has a beginning and an end, so we must avoid at all costs breaking that circle, if we want to keep our peoples from disappearing.

The permanent cry of the indigenous peoples denouncing the destruction of our world house has sometimes been heard, but no concrete actions for change have been taken by those in power. Let me recall some of the threats facing indigenous peoples and the territories they have cared for: [16]

First, dispossession by extractive companies, especially mining and oil production. [17] In 2013, 30% of global direct investment in mining was in Latin American countries. Between 30 to 40% of the gold and silver mining projects around the world are in our territories. For example, the government of Mexico in 2010 and 2011 granted concessions of nearly half the territory of the Pueblo Wixárika (Huichol) to Canadian companies to mine gold and silver. And these state concessions have been increasing. In 2015, 50% of copper mining projects worldwide were in Chile and Peru.

Today, over 19% of the indigenous territories of Latin America are threatened by mining. The impact of this destruction has caused irreparable damage, for example, since 2007 when 30% of the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest began to be severely polluted after the opening of around 300 oil wells. [18]

Record low world oil prices has not been a nightmare but rather a respite for ecosystems and indigenous peoples. The earth, our mother, has rested from us. The planet’s waters turned crystalline and the animals returned to their territories. The air has been cleaned and the rivers run clearer. Mother Earth has rested from man and his violent and ethnocidal actions. The species that the indigenous world has preserved now for the first time in centuries feel free. We hope that the world will learn that oil as the world’s largest business and the mining sector have brought death and destruction, not only for indigenous people, but for the world as a living being.

A second set of threats to indigenous peoples are infrastructure and power generation mega-projects, which entail excessive road construction, damaging electrical networks, communication systems, hydroelectric plants, installation of towers for energy transportation, telephone towers, among other facilities that the process requires. States, private companies and international organizations such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and also Asian and European financial institutions, finance expanding projects that sow confrontations and internal divisions in the communities. There are the cases of the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory, TIPNIS in Bolivia, or the Mexican government’s project to promote at all costs the so-called “Maya Train”. Both projects will not only destroy fragile ecosystems, but also cause conflict with sectors of indigenous peoples. [19]

The third area is agroindustry, livestock, and large-scale monoculture planting. Soybeans, African palm, banana, sugar cane, livestock and others, bring with them an environmental impact that razes the forests, contaminates water sources due to the excessive and intense use of chemicals and pesticides, reduces biodiversity, increases desert and breaks the natural chain of life for animals, brings thirst to wildlife and human beings, and imposes genetically modified seeds that together with pesticides erode and degrade soils. The short and medium-term impact on indigenous peoples’ health includes malnutrition, cancer, a high number of children born with malformations, threats to physical and cultural survival, and an excessive concentration of land from the transfer of land and resources from indigenous peoples to private, national and international owners, through illegal means often legalized through corrupt national justice systems.

No State, rich or poor, first world or third world, respects the right that we have as peoples to free, prior and informed consent and to consultation in good faith guaranteed in Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization. Consultation has been prostituted by States that have promoted their regulation to benefit companies and not peoples. The fight to respect international and national frameworks–the few instruments that can be used in the midst of economic globalization–has led to the murder of sisters and brothers, fabricated trials, massacres, genocides, deceit, armed conflict, state terror, intellectual and abusive appropriation of our knowledge and wisdom, and the imposition of market mechanisms on living spaces that operate with another dynamic and logic.

Let me point out a single case: the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode people in Paraguay, one of the last peoples to have decided to live in voluntary isolation. Some of its branches are the last uncontacted Indians in South America, outside of those who live in the Amazon. The Totobiegosode people have been the guardians of the Gran Chaco in Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay and in 2013 they faced one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, as forest was converted to grasslands to produce livestock. This destroyed much of their living space and exemplifies the threats to indigenous peoples of the world. They also must endure fundamentalist missionary sects, government armed forces, private police of (trans) national companies, organized crime, even jungle predators. [20] They face diseases for which they have no defenses that place them on the verge of extinction, similar to what the world is experiencing with COVID-19.

This dire situation often forces them to accept the introduction of livestock and other species outside their territories by foreign companies, which accelerates loss of their home, the forest. The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode people tool the Paraguayan State to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which issued protection measures in 2016. Finally, after 26 years of struggle, in 2019 they won a ruling that the state must recognize their ancestral land. [21] Ironic. The same institution that has allowed its destruction is the one that abrogates the absolute right of recognition.

The fourth set of threats I´ll mention is the criminalization of the defenders of the rights of Mother Earth. In 2015, 185 cases of murdered environmental defenders worldwide were documented. Of that total, 50 were killed in Brazil, 60% were assassinated in Latin America, and 40% were indigenous brothers and sisters. The 2016 murder of our sister Berta Cáceres was a hard blow to the fight to defend territory, but despite worldwide coverage and outrage, the violence continues and the number of murders is rising.

In 2017, Global Witness reported that, of 207 defenders killed worldwide, a quarter were indigenous. [22] We are 5% of the total world population, but we are putting the highest number of deaths for the defense of mother earth. [23] Thousands of indigenous women and men are today under surveillance, facing harassment, threats, intimidation, attacks, arbitrary detention and malicious lawsuits often financed by the law firms of transnational corporations.

Here I want to mention and honor some of the leaders who have been criminalized, who are or were imprisoned: Lolita Chávez, Maya K’iche’ of Guatemala, Bernardo Caal Xol and Abelino Chub Caal, Maya Q’eqchi’ of Guatemala; the leaders of the Mapuche people, Alberto Curamil, Álvaro Millalen, Daniel Canio, Jorge Cayupan, Pablo Trangol, José Cáceres; Patricia Gualinga and Salomé Aranda of the Kichwa de Sarayaku people of Ecuador, Agustín Wachapá and José Acacho of the Shuar of Ecuador; our brothers and sisters of the Náhuatl people of México–Dominga González Martínez, Marco Antonio Pérez, Lorenzo Sánchez, Teófilo Pérez González, Rómulo Arias Mireles and Pedro Sánchez Berriozábal.

They all represent the thousands who, with dignity resist in this world. The persecution they suffer demonstrates the clear and permanent pattern of global criminalization, because the system of domination and explotation of natural resouresin the interest of capital is global.

Here we also have to question wealthy nations that have a policy of cooperation, but simultaneously promote investment policies that exploit our resources. I urge them to end this double standard—they should not, on the one hand, support our peoples, and on the other, support trasnational companies headquartered in their countries that destroy our forests or strip our mineral wealth, murdering our sisters and brothers and promoting government corruption in our countres where we have structurally corrupt governments. This system, this vision, and this imperial and colonial way of acting that still exists among them and us, should stop once and for all. This is the historic moment, this is the opportunity to do it if we really want our children and their children to have a world to inherit.

In this pandemia, I reaffirm the need to strengthen my principles Maya-K’iche’ to continue life in community. But also to rethink the way I was raised and molded in western schools. More and more, I feel obliged to examine my life, work and activism and reconsider colonial terms such as “poverty”, “development”, “industrialization”, “growth”, “educaiton”, “progress”, “modernity”, among others, since these are not universal categories that apply equally to all. Consequently, we cannot all be measured with the same international instruments, with the same methodolgies, or with the same theoretical frameworks for all peoples.

Examining this led to the question: as indigenous peoples were we born poor or did centuries of colonialism make our communities poor, perpetuating them in that position through the creation of the Nation State? If the current moment is questioning the imbalance and abuse that capital has imposed on mother earth, to what point do we want to be participants in the return of that normalized “development” that destroyed us? How must we revise the concepts imposed by global states and institutions? Because what the West has considered backwardness, poverty or underdevelopment, is for many indigenous peoples life, balance and the full exercise of their worldview.

While preparing this response, I listened to the advice of several indigenous brothers and sisters on how to deal with the pandemic in their territories, and I thought long and hard about the peoples who have chosen to live in voluntary isolation. Their wealth lies in that they live far from the west. They know that the moment they allow western concepts to penetrate their worlds, they will have lost that delicate and beautiful balance that now allows them to be the only peoples in the world, totally self-sustaining, who need absolutely nothing from this other world that today weeps because its economic pillars have broken and, therefore, it lives a nightmare.

That is a bit of the same self-sustainability that our grandparents and parents had, but which was slowly undermined with the introduction of chemical fertilizer and “improved seeds” in the middle of the last century and killed our lands and with it natural production of our food.

“Progress” came, they told us, and we replaced the mashán sheet for wrapping with plastic bags, and today the sea carries our waste and misery. We must stop being “backward Indians” they shouted at us, and we agreed to stop planting our food and became part of “development” as we went to shopping centers to buy what we stopped producing–our corn, beans, garbanzos and vegetables. Carlos Vilas reminds us that in 1970 the production of basic grains that fed Guatemala was concentrated on small plots of less than 10 manzanas in the highlands of my country. [24]

One of my memories as a child is the devastation of wheat cultivation, which was recently documented by Mario Aníbal González. Wheat in my region not only fed us annually, but also provided work and cared for the land through natural fertilization, and avoided tons of trash. [25] But we were pressured by many institutions, including the school, the church, the press, and the state – to stop being “Shuco Indians.” “Stop dumping the garbage onto your land,” they told us. “That is wasting time, be modern, pay for the garbage removal service.” Today the municipal landfill where I live has collapsed, becoming one of the largest sources of contamination and severely affecting the territories, life and health of the communities where it was installed.

Today the production of food without fertilizer is called organic food. It is the healthiest, but also the most expensive on the world market, while we ruin our land with fertilizers and introduced seeds. Today the separation of garbage is called recycling and our parents gradually stopped practicing it so as not to embarrass their daughters that were going to private school.

My almost illiterate but successful mother worked as a merchant in her community, and as a child I was caught in a clash of ideologies and worlds. I sought to get far away from the world she represented, as it was synonymous with “backwardness” and I wanted to walk toward “progress”. Today, who takes responsibility for the material and emotional destruction that “development” brought about in our lives and our territories? Which institution is responsible for the damages they inflicted on us in the name of modernity?

What, then, is “poverty”? A creation, the establishment of measurable criteria where being a farmer implies not having value, but being underestimated? In the midst of this crisis we celebrate the doctors who deserve it and I join in, but we do not remember those in the fields who are working in inclement weather so there always food on our tables. Why did academic, governments, and international organizations empty out the countryside and promote urbanization which today is where the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold? Perhaps as indigenous people we must fight back against the forms of measuring our lives with external, colonized indicators that do not reflect our realities.

Facing this pandemic, we must examine the indigenous life of the past and the present, the introduction into our lives of a world that came to change us and that today writes us off as poor populations, when poverty really lies in the unstoppable voracity of the economic system that gobbles up our last remaining territories. If you really want to end indigenous poverty, with the inequity and inequality faced by women and girls, with the unstoppable migration of generation after generation to this country, the recipe is simple. Economic power must step aside, it must allow indigenous peoples to decide for themselves what path they want to follow, and all of humanity will be able to witness the creative diversity of ways of life that we possess.

Stop continuing to allow communities to be deprived of their livelihoods by state institutions. Stop the looting of the resources of the soil and subsoil where we live. Stop diverting the rivers, which belong to everyone. Stop extensive monoculture crops. Stop scraping the mountains to extract gold, silver, and other minerals. Stop piercing the ocean and stop dividing to deceive and conquer. The solutions are there, they seem simple, but for the capitalist system the generation of their wealth is at stake. It won’t be easy.

In the midst of this humanitarian crisis, indigenous peoples all over will continue to resist and open up paths that continue the long ancestral struggle through the permanent recovery of the territories. They will continue to fight for respect for the right to self-determination, always remembering that we have life projects that differ from the one that has been imposed on us. Therefore, we have to divest ourselves of a number of created needs that have only brought us hunger, excesses and pain, and have made us slaves to a world that does not care about community or cooperation, but only about the creation of consumers. [26]

This world economic system is personified by aggression and predation, abuse, racism and machismo, assimilation and dispossession, homophobia and cynicism, migration and rejection, excesses and monopolies that have ended up screwing those who shelter and feed us. A system run by immoral and self-conscious politicians, businessmen, bankers and technocrats who mercilessly mock those who do not hold their same values. We hope that many will listen, and that this “pause” will provoke a transformation of consciousness. For the sake of humanity, it must be.

If we don’t learn fromthis pandemia to care for and appreciate our “Big House”, the Pachamama, the “Loma Santa”, the “Tierra sin mal”, or our Mother Earth, we really deserve extinction as a species, because what we’re seeing now is that we cannot go against nature–there is no “progress” outside of the natural order.

What to do, then, about the two fundamental points of the crisis? On the one hand, the exposure of the devastation of the system, and on the other, what the obligatory pause is showing us, the outline of a different future, less dependent on global consumption, less polluting, more attentive to self-sustaining ways and to human relations.

The dilemma lies in that this pause is causing suffering and pain as a consequence of inequities, so many poor people are demanding that the “economy be opened” so they can eat. Will going back to normal reduce pain for the majority? If so, how can those of us in positions of relative privilege encourage alternative spaces?
This is complex, because it has to do with an addiction to the market system, to consumption, to the mentality that there are no alternatives for the poor or the middle class, like the elites tell us.

This is where indigenous ancestral awareness and practice are important, because communities know exactly what to do in the face of the crisis: plant and harvest their own food, as they have done for four thousand years. But at the same time, we cannot avoid the gap between that consciousness and indigenous practice, and the human population, including a significant number of indigenous people themselves. How to make proposals that do not ignore the pain that is being experienced, but that can build possible resistance from the peoples themselves? Could it be that we have to work on transforming the consciences of those who have been the most “used” and co-opted by the system?

The challenge we all face is that we have to go further, take the next steps that involve criticism and self-criticism, but also to rethink the institutions that lead us to alternative proposals where the peoples, the communities, youth and women’s struggles guide the parameters, where undoubtedly those paths will be diverse, some within the states while others seek a partial, temporary or total distancing from the state. Some will be mixed processes, others autonomic or federative. In the indigenous world and the academic world of the future, without a doubt, the diversity in forms of organization will prevail in spite of efforts to minimize or trivialize it. But above all, it will continue to be a fertile field to continue harvesting, imagining and creating.

Maltiox chawe follow tinamit.

Text based on speech by the author on receiving the 2020 Martin Diskin Award for scholar-activism


[1] By March 11 the United States reported 20,110 deaths the highest number worldwide while the total number of infected was 1,754,457, while for May 15 the number of deaths in the US exceeded 87,500. Globally, May 15 the number of cases exceeded 4,600,000 and the number of deaths exceeded 308,000, according to the page of the Johns Hopkins University.

[2] https://instituciones.sld.cu/hfandrade/2020/05/04/transmision-asintomatica-y-presintomatica-del-sars-cov2-la-cara-oculta-de-la-covid-19/

[3] On April 15, which was Junlajuj E, there were more than 2 million cases.

[4] Political debate in the United States about the pandemic has been heated, for example, Hillary Clinton said that the pandemic “is having a disproportionate impact on the front lines: on women who work, women who take care of others, women who support the home as we go through this together.” She added: “Just think of the difference it would make right now if we had a president who not only listened to science, put facts before fiction, but united us.” former President Barak Obama criticized handling of the pandemic along the same lines https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/en-espanol/noticias/story/2020-05-16/obama-critica-respuesta-de-gobierno-de -eeuu-al-coronavirus

[5] http://herzog.economia.unam.mx/profesores/blopez/valoracion-swamish.pdf

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1l3BdbH-Jgs

[7]https://www.gt.undp.org/content/guatemala/es/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2020/04/29/covid-19–nuevas-tablas-de-datos-del-pnud-revelan -Huge-different.html In this report, the UNDP warned of the enormous differences between the capacities of the countries to face the Covid-19, pointing out that there is a systemic crisis.

[9]  http://www.5se September.cu/crisis-sanitaria-podria-herir-de-muerte-union-europea/

[10] Italy proposed the Coronabonos, which Spain and France also supported, but which was rejected by countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.

[11] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/04/the-pandemic-exposes-indias-two-worlds/609838/

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiOxELt8DtY

[13] https://elpais.com/internacional/2020-05-06/los-indigenas-de-la-amazonia-lanzan-un-sos-para-reclamar-proteccion-ante-la-pandemia.html

[14] https://www.cepal.org/en/publications/7115-pueblos-indigenas-indigenous-people


[16] For the four challenges presented here, I want to thank the research support of my colleague, Aileen Ford.

[17] Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), based on the registry of extractive industry projects in indigenous territories, Support Project for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, University of Arizona. Cited in Altomonte and Sánchez, 2016.

[18] See the Chevron-Texaco case.

[19] Booklet “TIPNIS, resistance is dignity.” Territories in Resistance: Bolivia without date.


[21] https://www.survival.es/noticias/12126

[22] https://www.globalwitness.org/en/


[24] In Guatemala, the South Coast concentrated the agro-export boom with only 13% of the national surface, generating in the late 1970s around 40% of the country’s agricultural product. Production of basic grains was concentrated in the Western Highlands, where smallholding predominates: 50% of the area of ​​that region are farms of less than 10 manzanas, while nationally these farms represented only 19% (Hintermeister 1982: 18). Carlos Vilas, Markets, State and Revolutions. Central America 1950-1990. Mexico 1994. The author analyzes how the capitalist modernization of Central America was supported mainly by the IDB and the World Bank.

[25] Wheat Birth, Life and Death in Guatemala. 2019. Mario Anibal González USAC, CUNOC.

[26] https://elpais.com/cultura/2020-04-11/edgar-morin-vivimos-en-un-mercado-planetario-que-no-ha-sabido-suscitar-fraternidad-entre-los-pueblos .html

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Reversal: Boeing’s Flow of Blood

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Today, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic attack on Hiroshima, should be a day for quiet introspection. I recall a summer morning following the U.S. 2003 “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq when the segment of the Chicago River flowing past the headquarters of the world’s second largest defense contractor, Boeing, turned the rich, red color of blood. At the water’s edge, Chicago activists, long accustomed to the river being dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day turned the river red to symbolize the bloodshed caused by Boeing products. On the bridge outside of Boeing’s entrance, activists held placards urging Boeing to stop making weapons.

This summer, orders for Boeing’s commercial jets have cratered during the pandemic, but the company’s revenue from weapon-making contracts remains steady. David Calhoun, Boeing’s CEO, recently expressed confidence the U.S. government will support defense industries no matter who occupies the Oval Office. Both presidential candidates appear “globally oriented,” he said, “and interested in the defense of our country.”

Investors should ask how Boeing’s contract to deliver 1,000 SLAM- ER weapons (Standoff Land Attack Missiles-Expanded Response) to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “defends” the United States.

Here are excerpts from Jeffrey Stern’s account of a missile’s impact on the town of Arhab in a remote area of Yemen. In this case, the missile was manufactured by Raytheon:

Now, as Fahd walked into the hut, a weapon about the length of a compact car was wobbling gracelessly down through the air toward him, losing altitude and unspooling an arming wire that connected it to the jet until, once it had extended a few feet, the wire ran out and ripped from the bomb.

Then it was as if the weapon woke up. A thermal battery was activated. Three fins on the rear extended all the way and locked in place. The bomb stabilized in the air. A guidance-control unit on the nose locked onto a laser reflection — invisible to the naked eye but meaningful to the bomb — sparkling on the rocks Fahd walked over.

At the well,at the moment of impact, a series of events happened almost instantaneously. The nose of the weapon hit rock, tripping a fuse in its tail section that detonated the equivalent of 200 pounds of TNT. When a bomb like this explodes, the shell fractures into several thousand pieces, becoming a jigsaw puzzle of steel shards flying through the air at up to eight times the speed of sound. Steel moving that fast doesn’t just kill people; it rearranges them. It removes appendages from torsos; it disassembles bodies and redistributes their parts.

Fahd had just stepped into the stone shelter and registered only a sudden brightness. He heard nothing. He was picked up, pierced with shrapnel, spun around and then slammed into the back wall, both of his arms shattering — the explosion so forceful that it excised seconds from his memory. Metal had bit into leg, trunk, jaw, eye; one piece entered his back and exited his chest, leaving a hole that air and liquid began to fill, collapsing his lungs. By the time he woke up, crumpled against stone, he was suffocating. Somehow he had survived, but he was killing himself with every breath, and he was bleeding badly. But he wasn’t even aware of any of these things, because his brain had been taken over by pain that seemed to come from another world.

In 2019, the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen observed “the continued supply of weapons to parties involved in Yemen perpetuates the conflict and the suffering of the population.”

These experts say “the conduct of hostilities by the parties to the conflict, including by airstrikes and shelling, may amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

A year and a half ago, were it not for a presidential veto, both houses of the U.S. Congress would have enacted a law banning weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Another end-user of Boeing’s weapons is the Israeli Defense Force.

The company has provided Israel with AH-64 Apache helicopters, F-15 fighter jetsHellfire missiles (produced with Lockheed Martin), MK-84 2000-lb bombs, MK-82 500-lb bombs, and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits that turn bombs into “smart” GPS-equipped guided bombs. Boeing’s Harpoon sea-to-sea missile system is installed on the upgraded 4.5 Sa’ar missile ships of the Israeli Navy.

Apache helicopters, Hellfire and Harpoon missiles, JDAM guiding systems, and Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) munitions have been used repeatedly in Israeli attacks on densely populated civilian areas, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. The human rights community, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, and United Nations commissions, ruled these attacks to be human rights violations and at times war crimes.

I lived with a family, in Gaza, during the final days of the 2009 “Operation Cast Lead” bombing. Abu Yusuf, Umm Yusuf, and their two small children, Yusuf and Shahid, welcomed Audrey Stewart and me to stay with them. Once every 11 minutes from 11 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. and again from 3:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m., we heard an ear-splitting blast. Normally, I wouldn’t have known the difference between the sound of a Hellfire Missile exploding and that of a 500 lb. bomb dropped from an F-15, but soon I could tell the difference. Little Yusuf and Shahid taught us to distinguish one gut-wrenching sound from the other. They had been cringing under the bombs for 18 days and nights.

I don’t see how the sale of weapons to governments which use them against civilian populations, against people like Fahad, in Arhab or Abu Yusuf and his family in Gaza, defends people in the U.S.

Boeing’s vast resources for scientific know-how, skillful engineering, and creative innovation could, however, help defend the U.S. against the greatest threat we now face, environmental climate catastrophe. Writing for The New York Review of Books, Bill McKibben predicts “a century of crises, many of them more dangerous than what we’re living through right now.” The main question, he says, is whether human beings can hold the alarming rise in temperature “to a point where we can at great expense and suffering, deal with those crises coherently, or whether they will overwhelm the coping abilities of our civilization.”

“A rise of one degree doesn’t sound like an extraordinary change,” McKibben writes, “but it is: each second, the carbon and methane we’ve emitted trap heat equivalent to the explosion of three Hiroshima-sized bombs.”

Boeing’s engineers, scientists, designers and marketers could help turn the tide of human actions destroying our earth. Their expertise could truly “defend” people.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the river flowing outside of Boeing’s headquarters. It actually flows backwards. Long ago, brilliant engineers designed a way for the river to reverse its course. In doing so, they saved Chicago from sewage contamination of its drinking water supply – Lake Michigan. This action was hailed as one of the great engineering wonders of the world.

The City’s sewers discharged human and industrial wastes directly to its rivers, which in turn flowed into the lake. A particularly heavy rainstorm in 1885 caused sewage to be flushed into the lake beyond the clean water intakes. The resulting typhoid, cholera, and dysentery epidemics killed an estimated 12 percent of Chicago’s 750,000 residents, and raised a public outcry to find a permanent solution to the city’s water supply and sewage disposal crisis.”

The Sanitary and Ship Canal was constructed at an estimated cost of over $70,000,000. After its completion, in 1900, waterborne disease rates quickly and dramatically improved, and its water supply system was soon regarded as being one of the safest in the world. With its water source made safe and dependable by the canals, Chicago and the region grew and prospered rapidly.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to dye the Chicago River, red or green. We need to protect the river and all wildlife dependent on it. But, we must continually confront Boeing and other weapon manufacturers, and insist they not destroy lives, homes and infrastructures in other lands. We must urge Boeing, like the river, to reverse course and participate, with dignity and humility, in the pursuit of human survival.


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Ireland and Slavery: Framing Irish Complicity in the Slave Trade

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The first instalment in this two-part series, which focused on dismantling the ‘Irish slaves’ myth, made three critical assertions: first, that the attempt to draw equivalence between Irish (and British, Scottish) indenture and African chattel slavery was “untenable, and callous in the extreme” and “almost always deliberately concocted at source through flagrant manipulation of numbers and chronology”; secondly, that the narrow channels in which the ‘debate’ has been confined obscure important developments in the evolution of ‘race’ and ‘race-making’ in the plantation societies of the Americas; and third, that although indenture and racially-based slavery for life were not “comparable in terms of scale or importance in generating the economic foundations that would launch global capitalism,” it was also mistaken to regard them as ‘galaxies apart’: they were “distinct but related forms of exploitation at the birth of the modern world”.

In the article that follows I want to turn to a related question, and one that has drawn attention as controversy over the ‘Irish slaves’ myth has raged on social media: Irish complicity in the transatlantic slave trade. On 12 June the Irish Times published an article penned by Ronan McGreevy under the headline ‘Many Irish were implicated in the slave trade and the legacy lives on’ [since altered: the online version is now headed ‘Links to slave trade evident across Ireland’]. McGreevy’s piece reiterates some of the same points made in a similar article that appeared in the (London) Sunday Times several years earlier, quoting independent historian Liam Hogan and citing the database compiled by researchers at the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at University College London. Some of this has since made its way into social media, including a post by Hogan himself on Medium and a widely-shared blog from Waterford entitled “Tainted by the Stain of Original Sin: Irish Participation in the Atlantic Slave Trade”.[1]

Individually and cumulatively these convey a strong impression that ‘the Irish’ were deeply implicated in the slave trade, and it is this assertion that I want to explore in some depth below. Readers will recall that while acknowledging the important work that has been done in countering the ‘Irish slaves’ myth, I expressed reservations about the ways in which trends in Irish history writing over recent decades have shaped the discussion. In particular the dismissal of Ireland’s colonial subjection as either overdrawn or insignificant, and the framing of this discussion in narrow terms of national identity rather than the wider framework of social relations and class conflict, combine to impede an honest reckoning with the past.

An Obscenely Unequal Society

These problems are conspicuous in the way Irish complicity in the slave trade has been framed in the coverage noted above. It is impossible, for example, to spend more than an hour digging in to the Irish connections highlighted in the UCL database without being knocked over the head with the obvious fact that those slaveowners ‘resident’ in Ireland who were compensated by the British government after emancipation represented, overwhelmingly, the cream of the Anglo-Irish elite, drawn from the (Protestant) landed gentry and with a large proportion of them playing prominent roles in overseeing British colonial administration in an Ireland then under fairly intensive military occupation. A considerable number of them were drawn from the officer class in the British military – at the time almost exclusively the preserve of sons of the landed aristocracy – and most were large landlords, often owning more than one estate in Ireland alongside residences in London and often multiple plantations in Britain’s sugar colonies in the Caribbean. One could hardly find a more perfect illustration of the “close interrelationship between the ascendancy/gentry and membership of the Anglican Church, British army garrison and [Britain’s] Irish administration,” though the close correlation between Irish slave-owning and the elaborate nexus of British power in Ireland goes completely unacknowledged.

While it is this class that benefitted most directly from slave-owning, two important qualifications are in order. First, there are wider layers of Irish society that profited indirectly from the transatlantic slave trade – merchants and big farmers, others engaged in selling provisions to, and purchasing the staples generated by, slave labour in the colonies. Secondly, even among slave owners, there are exceptions to this profile – a layer of Catholic elites who also found their way into slave-owning, and whose role we will discuss below. But the arresting fact so conspicuously absent from every recent discussion of Irish complicity is that the same unrepresentative Irish elite which benefited directly from the exploitation of African slaves in the British sugar colonies was simultaneously engaged in the exploitation of a desperately poor landless majority in Ireland – with a vast military machine at its disposal in both locations to enforce its rule.

While it is possible that the omission of this aspect of Irish complicity can be put down to lack of depth in popular treatment of the subject, its far more likely that the historiographical context touched upon in the first essay has shaped, in profound ways, the packaging of Ireland’s relationship with transatlantic slavery. In places Hogan has pushed back against the notion that ‘the Irish’ were uniformly immersed in transatlantic slavery, though little of this nuance has made it into popular discussion. He has been quoted as suggesting that the reluctance to acknowledge an Irish role in slave-trading is rooted in a ‘post-colonial’ aversion to acknowledging the “dark side” to Irish history, but readers are justified in being sceptical about the bona fides of an establishment on both sides of the border which devotes such considerable energy to denigrating the revolutionary tradition in Irish history.  Conservative trends in academic writing noted earlier find more crass and heavy-handed expression across mainstream print and television media, and are rarely subject to criticism.

Three major, interrelated problems mar the discussion of Irish complicity in the slave trade: a deep aversion to acknowledging the effects of colonial rule in Ireland that coincides, neatly enough, with a framework that emphasises Ireland as an imperial power in its own right: thus the assertion among revisionist historians of an ‘Irish empire’ in the nineteenth century, at a time when the country did not enjoy even limited self-rule. At many levels this is a complete absurdity, and although beyond the scope of this article, it’s worth considering the political context in which such an assertion has managed to gain traction.[2]

A third major defect, not unrelated to these, is the conflation of the conditions facing Ireland’s landless majority with that of an ostentatiously wealthy ruling class, whose opulent lives contrasted so sharply with the circumstances confronting ordinary people. The distinction made later by James Connolly between the Irish rural and urban working classes and the ‘rack-renting’ landlord and ‘profit-grinding capitalist’ is pertinent here. As one reflective daughter of the gentry recalled, until its fall in the late nineteenth century Anglo-Irish landowners presided over a “feudal” order, usually ensconced behind high walls in the Big House, and inhabiting “a world of their own[,] with Ireland outside the gates”.[3] Absent a frank acknowledgment of these vast disparities, the framing of Irish complicity in transatlantic slavery rests on a complete obliteration of class in 18th and 19th century Ireland – at the time an obscenely unequal society, and one perched in 1834 (the year Britain compensated former slaveowners) on the very precipice of mass starvation.

Ruling Ireland at the Height of the Slave Trade

As the profile of Irish slave ownership suggests, the profits accruing from involvement in transatlantic slavery were distributed unevenly, with those at the top of Irish society taking the lion’s share. Overwhelmingly these individuals were drawn from the landed gentry, which after the Cromwellian transformation commencing in the mid-17th century hailed overwhelmingly from Protestant and settler backgrounds. Land ownership provided the “fulcrum of colonial power” for more than two centuries afterward, and by the third quarter of the 17th century the sectarian dimension to land ownership was clearly established, with consequences that would endure down to the present day. In a country whose population were overwhelmingly Catholic, more than 95 percent of land was in the hands of an Anglo-Irish elite whose ascendancy dated to the Elizabethan, Cromwellian, and Williamite conquests. A substantial proportion of these were absentee landlords, living most of their time either in England or in the British colonies, including the West Indies.[4]

There were, of course, enlightened individuals among this class who treated their Irish tenants and labourers with a degree of paternalism, but on the whole they saw themselves as a socially and culturally distinct class, and as unapologetic agents of British colonialism in Ireland. They recruited their ‘loyal retainers’ and the most influential personnel on their estates either from the settler community or directly from England. John Scott, the future Earl of Clonmell, captured the landlords’ acute sense of separation when he wrote, in 1774, that a “man in station [in Ireland] is really like a traveller in Africa, in a forest among the Hottentots and wild beasts”.  While a “cautious man” might “subdue and defend himself…he must be eternally on the watch and on his guard against his next neighbours”.[5] Thomas Carlyle, the pro-slavery propagandist who dreaded the advent of mass democracy in Britain, noted a “kind of charm” in the “poor savage freedom” he observed among rural labourers in the west of Ireland, concluding that the area was “as like Madagascar as England”.[6]

The massive English garrison stationed in Ireland functioned largely as an instrument for the imposition of gentry rule. In 1834 – the same year Britain enacted slave compensation – an observer in Tipperary noted the “array of bayonets” that gave Ireland the appearance of “a recently conquered territory, throughout which an enemy’s army [has] distributed its encampments”. It was not only their numerical strength that was striking, but the military’s function. The whole machinery of law and order was at the disposal of the landed elite and, to a lesser extent, the established (Anglican) Church. Magistrates, bailiffs, police inspectors and court officials were largely drawn from among its closest allies, and almost reflexively the gentry treated this repressive apparatus as its own. They had “ready access” to the colonial administration in Dublin Castle, evident in the request from one Mayo landlord (at the height of the Famine) that a police barracks be erected on his estate “to assist in the collection [of] rent”.

Increased desperation in the early decades of the nineteenth century saw police and military deployed regularly to suppress agrarian unrest and enforce evictions, and a number of bloody confrontations marked the ‘tithe war’ of the 1830s, including the deaths of fourteen civilians at the hands of militia at Bunclody in 1831 and of eleven policemen the following year in Kilkenny. Between 1800 and the outbreak of famine the government enacted some 35 Coercive Acts aimed at containing agrarian violence.[7]

Ireland’s Catholic Elite: an ‘Underground Gentry’

Despite the preponderance of the Anglo-Irish elite at the top of society, it’s mistaken to view Ireland’s social order in this period in purely sectarian terms, and even the direct spoils of slave-holding extended beyond the settler elite. Despite Cromwell’s triumph, elements of the deposed Gaelic and Hiberno-Norman nobility had survived with their privilege largely intact. A small number – seeing which way the wind was blowing – converted to Protestantism. But a more substantial Catholic elite comprised of assimilated ‘Old English’ and elements of the fallen Gaelic clans had, despite being excluded from the highest levels of power, made their peace with British rule in return for holding on (often as middlemen) to some of their formerly considerable property.

At a time when the masses of the Irish peasantry were mostly un-churched and only nominally committed to far-distant Rome, this Gaelic and especially Old English elite provided the lay leadership for Irish Catholicism. Closely tied to the hierarchy, they financed an ambitious programme of church-building, overseeing Catholic education and sending their sons off to colleges and seminaries on the European continent: it was almost exclusively from their ranks that the church appointed bishops. The Catholic elite looked back obsessively – ‘almost to the point of neurosis’, Kevin Whelan observes – to a Gaelic ‘golden age’ when they had dominated Ireland, and while they sought restoration, increasingly they pursued an accommodation with British power – pledging loyalty to the Crown in return for a relaxation of laws restricting public worship and excluding them from the professions and elected office. Ironically, their influence seems to have been left most unimpaired in Connacht where, having avoided Cromwell’s worst excesses, “the flower of the Catholic gentry” flourished.[8]  This explains the inclusion of large Catholic landowners like Galway’s Peter Daly among the list of slaveowners compensated by London.[9]

The “elemental conservatism” of this small Catholic ‘underground gentry’ intensified under the strain of revolutionary upheaval in France, heightened again by the social discontent unleashed in the 1798 United Irish rebellion and, in the early 19th century, by increasing agrarian polarisation across Irish society itself. These tensions brought landed Catholics – “totally out of sympathy with political radicalism” – into ever-closer collaboration with British rule in Ireland. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries they walked a fine line between exploiting the disaffection of the Irish peasantry to further their own class ambitions and straining to ensure that the upheavals unleashed against English ‘invaders’ did not spill over into attacks on property: above all, Nicholas Canny writes, they were averse to “revolutionary action [which] would have placed their own lands and positions in jeopardy”.[10] This dynamic – controlled mobilisation confined within the narrow channels of the constitutional question – provided a template that would underpin Irish nationalism up to the present.

Though it is beyond the scope of this article, the resident Catholic gentry’s involvement in transatlantic slavery was mirrored in the more substantial activity of its counterparts in exile on the European continent. In France especially, the “tight-knit expatriate communities” (mainly Old English) driven by Cromwell’s triumph to relocate from Galway, Cork and Waterford to port cities like Nantes and Bordeaux formed a ‘mercantile littoral’ that was deeply engaged in slave-trading – particularly in French-controlled San Domingue (Haiti). Whelan describes them as an Irish “nation in waiting”, and there were fragments of the same groups further south in Spain and in the regiments dispatched for the task of empire-building by Catholic Europe, but their power was fading by the late eighteenth century.

To the extent that Catholic Ireland can be said to have shared in the profits of slavery, this was concentrated mainly among the big merchants and provision suppliers in southern port cities – an aspiring (minority) Catholic bourgeoisie which came increasingly to resent the political domination of the landed elite, both Protestant and Catholic. Overwhelmingly the former’s fortunes (and the Irish economy more generally) were tied to an expanding British domestic market rather than provisioning the slave colonies. Nini Rodgers suggests, plausibly, that the growing prosperity attending their involvement in slavery helped bolster the confidence of this rising middle class in pushing aside the Catholic gentry and assuming leadership in seeking an extension of Catholic rights.[11] Still, their role in the broader story of Irish involvement in transatlantic slavery is a strictly subordinate one: they owed their position almost entirely to the commercial connections that came their way through the British empire, and by the late eighteenth century even British traders were losing their West Indian markets to cheaper American suppliers.

At a very general level it is no doubt true that, as Rodgers asserts, “every group in Ireland produced merchants who benefitted from the slave trade,” but as we move down the social order these benefits become less impressive. Perhaps it makes sense to include the “ordinary sailors” manning Liverpool’s transatlantic fleet among slavery’s beneficiaries, or to assign complicity even to townspeople who consumed slave produce, like sugar; but their stake in maintaining slavery hardly compares with those at the top of Irish society.

The Irish Peasantry: A Stake in Slavery?

British involvement in transatlantic slavery intensified dramatically after the establishment of the Royal African Company in 1672, and by 1760 Britain had overtaken its European rivals as the foremost among those countries involved in the ‘triangular trade’. At its most profitable in the peak years of the second half of the 18th century, nearly 70% of British tax revenue came from tax on goods from its colonies, and after 1800 slave produce – American cotton especially – played an essential role in fuelling the dramatic industrial expansion bolstering Britain’s position in the global economy.

Although it is unquestionably the case that some of the wealth generated during the years between 1760 and British abolition in 1833 made its way to Ireland, it’s important to recognise that its impact was highly uneven. While this period is viewed by economists as an “expanding age” for the Irish economy, this expansion was marked by a striking paradox:  the concentration of land in the hands of a small minority meant that while agricultural “production continued to increase…so did the extent of poverty”. This “contradiction rested,” Ó Tuathaigh suggests, on the uneven distribution of “the rewards of increased output”.[12]

The notion that Ireland as a whole benefitted from slavery is impossible to square with extensive evidence that all through the period between the late eighteenth century and the onset of famine, conditions for the largest cohorts of Irish peasants  – small farmers, cottiers and labourers (who, combined, formed a majority of the overall population) – declined steadily, year on year. In 1791, 85% of houses in Ireland were “of the poorest condition” – most of them one-room mud cabins with dirt floors. Explosive population growth fuelled increased competition for meagre plots of mostly poor land, and desperation combined with the landlords’ profit-motive to drive further sub-division. A major survey of British government reports concludes not only that “the majority of the Irish people [were] miserably poor”, but that “they retrogressed rather than progressed during the first half of the nineteenth century”. This varied by region – with Ulster somewhat insulated by the custom of tenant right and much of western seaboard, by contrast, marked by “a condition of continuous and deep poverty” – but the general trend is clear.

Far from feeling any tangible lift in their circumstances under the impact of slave commerce, the mass of the Irish people were moving further into immiseration, and would in the late forties face a ravaging hunger almost completely unprotected. Alice Elfie Murray offered a poignant description of conditions in Connacht on the eve of the Great Hunger:

The Connaught labourers sometimes hired land for potatoes from their neighbours, [or] took possession of a portion of the waste ground[.] When their potatoes were planted they were often forced to leave their homes and beg in some neighbouring district. Even in Connaught, however, there was a great dislike to begging, and the peasantry were ashamed to be seen by their neighbours supporting themselves in this way. It was rare for any of them to go harvesting in England [as some 35,000 elsewhere in Ireland did annually], for they could not manage to raise the few shillings necessary for the journey. The small occupiers were nearly as destitute, and when their neighbours did not assist them they often died of starvation, as nothing would induce them to beg. There was no season of the year in which the Connaught peasants were sufficiently supplied with food. Their diet was simply inferior potatoes called ‘lumpers’ eaten dry, [and] small farmers were often forced to bleed the one cow they possessed when their stock of potatoes was exhausted. [13]

This desperation manifested in one of two ways: localised, collective violence carried out by peasant ‘secret societies’ or (probably more commonly) a fatalistic acquiescence to their circumstances on the part of the powerless majority. An English visitor to Ireland at the close of the eighteenth century noted the sharp contradiction between the “language” of “liberty” and a “situation” approximating “slavery”: a “long series of oppressions,” Arthur Young wrote, “have brought landlords into a habit of exerting a very lofty superiority, and their vassals into that of an almost unlimited submission”:

A landlord in Ireland can scarcely invent an order which a servant, labourer, or cottar dares to refuse to execute.  Nothing satisfies him but an unlimited submission.  Disrespect, or anything tending towards sauciness, he may punish with his cane or his horsewhip with the most perfect security; a poor man would have his bones broke if he offered to lift his hands in his own defence.  Knocking-down is spoken of in the country in a manner that makes an Englishman stare.  Landlords of consequence have assured me that many of their cottars would think themselves honoured by having their wives and daughters sent for to the bed of their master; a mark of slavery that proves the oppression under which such people must live.”[14]

Liam Hogan has written movingly about conditions on the eve of the Famine, when the extravagance of the covered ‘sedan chair’ that ferried robed judges back and forth to high court through the streets of Limerick coexisted alongside the “ejected tenantry from the surrounding counties” who “make a run to the cities in search of food” but ended up, many of them, as “living skeleton[s]…bones all but protruded through the shirt…literally starving” in the town’s dank cellars.[15] Nini Rodgers, comparing the circumstances of Irish cottiers and labourers with those of antebellum slaves in the US upper South, suggests that in purely material terms the former had it worse.[16] This is, of course, a highly problematic comparison: slavery’s burden can hardly be reduced to material deprivation, and in many ways the late antebellum years were extremely traumatic for slaves in the upper South, as families were being dispersed and kin sold south and westward to feed the voracious demand for labour opened up by cotton expansion. But as an indicator of the oppression confronting a desperate majority in Ireland it offers a corrective to facile assertions about Irish complicity in slavery. Overwhelmingly the benefits of Ireland’s involvement in transatlantic slavery went to the same class that presided over the misery that culminated in the horrors of famine and mass starvation.

Frederick Douglass, Slavery and the ‘Cause of Humanity’

The difficulty of focusing public outrage on the singular horror accompanying racially-based slavery without losing sight of other forms of inequality was one that we face not only retrospectively – as in the current discussion around indenture and chattel slavery – but one that abolitionists faced in their own time. The escaped slave Frederick Douglass was shocked by the conditions he encountered during visits to Ireland in the mid-1840s. “I see much here,” he wrote in March of 1846, “to remind me of my former condition, and I confess I should be ashamed to lift up my voice against American slavery, but that I know the cause of humanity is one the world over.” He wrote movingly of finding it painful to walk Dublin’s streets, then “almost literally alive with beggars, displaying the greatest wretchedness – mere stumps of men, without feet, without legs, without hands, without arms…pressing their way through the muddy streets…casting sad looks to the right and left, in the hope of catching the eye of a passing stranger[.]”[17]

And yet, despite all this, Douglass was (rightly) unwilling to draw an equivalence between these dire circumstances and the predicament of his own people in the American slave states. His co-agitator Henry Highland Garnet faced the same dilemma in Belfast where, when thousands came to hear him speak at Newtonards, he baulked when asked by the Presbyterian moderator to denounce ‘tenant slavery’ in Ireland. Their hesitation stemmed from a number of sources, including a tendency to accept the laissez-faire outlook of their day, which held that failure to rise under ‘free labour’ conditions was the responsibility of individuals rather than anything systemic in emerging capitalism. Marx had pointed toward an alternative framework when he insisted that “the veiled slavery of the wage workers in Europe needed, for its pedestal, slavery pure and simple in the new world”, but circumstances made any deeper exploration almost impossible at the time.

By far the main impediment to acknowledging a connection between chattel slavery and other forms of exploitation under capitalism was the regularity with which slavery’s apologists tried to bundle false sympathy with the predicament of poor whites into a racist defence of human bondage. There are close parallels, of course, in the far-Right’s attempts to concoct a ‘white slaves’ myth to counter the surging global protests against racism. Douglass pinpointed the dynamic precisely when he observed that “a large class of writers…are influenced by no higher motive than that of covering up our national sins[;] and thus many have harped upon the wrongs of Irishmen, while in truth they care no more about Irishmen, or the wrongs of Irishmen, than they care about the whipped, gagged, and thumb-screwed slave. They would as willingly sell on the auction-block an Irishman, if it were popular to do so, as an African”.

In a situation where pro-slavery ideologues were trying to convince the public that the slaves ‘had it good’, Douglass and others were compelled, for obvious reasons, to focus on exposing the singular brutality of slavery. From our perspective more than a century and a half later, its clear that abolition ended slavery but left deeply embedded racism and global exploitation intact. The systemic inequalities that continue to block the possibilities for human freedom – and which today threaten our very survival – are felt most acutely by workers who carry the stigma of race carried over from the birth of our modern world. But their fate and ours are bound up together, no less than they were in 1840.



[1] Liam Hogan, ‘Following the money — Irish slave owners in the time of abolition,’ Medium (13 Oct 2018); Cliona Purcell, in Waterford Treasures (9 June 2020).


[2] On the impact of renewed armed conflict after 1969 on nineteenth-century historiography, see Christine Kinealy, The Great Irish Famine: Impact, Ideology and Rebellion, pps. 2-5.


[3] Patrick J. Duffy, “Colonial Spaces and Sites of Resistance: Landed Estates In 19th Century Ireland,” p. 376: http://mural.maynoothuniversity.ie/5594/1/PD_Colonial.pdf.


[4] Duffy, 371; Terence A.M. Dooley, “Estate ownership and management in nineteenth- and early twentieth century Ireland”: http://www.aughty.org/pdf/estate_own_manage.pdf.


[5] Kevin Whelan, “An Underground Gentry: Catholic Middlemen in Eighteenth-Century Ireland,” in The Tree of Liberty: Radicalism, Catholicism, and the Construction of Irish Identity, 1760-1830, p. 35.


[6] Duffy, p. 381.


[7] D. Byrne, cited in Duffy, pps. 376-7; violence at Bunclody and Kilkenny, p. 378.


[8] Whelan, pps. 10-11, 17, 46-48; Nini Rodgers, Ireland: Slavery and Antislavery, 1612-1865, p. 95.


[9] A single Co. Antrim family – the McGarel brothers from Larne – claimed for nearly 3 times as many slaves (3546) as all nine Galway claimants combined.


[10] Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, Ireland before the Famine, 1798-1842, p. 10; Nicholas Canny, Making Ireland British: 1580-1650, pps. 444-5; 521.


[11] Rodgers, Ireland: Slavery and Antislavery, pps. 158, 173.


[12] Ó Tuathaigh, pps. 2, 124.


[13] Alice Effie Murray, History of the Commercial and Financial Relations between England and Ireland from the Period of the Restoration, p. 366; figures on seasonal labour from Donald MacRaild, Irish Migrants in Modern Britain, 1750-1922, p. 24.


[14] Arthur Young, A Tour In Ireland, 1776-1779, pps. 166-7: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/22387/22387-h/22387-h.htm


[15] Hogan, “The 1830 Limerick Food Riots,” The Irish Storyhttps://www.theirishstory.com/2016/02/23/the-1830-limerick-food-riots/#.XwtEXJNKj1I.


[16] Rodgers, Ireland: Slavery and Antislavery, pps. 315-6.


[17] Douglass to William Lloyd Garrison, March 1846:  https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/douglass/support12.html.


The post Ireland and Slavery: Framing Irish Complicity in the Slave Trade appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

South American Nations Adopt Different COVID-19 Stategies, With Different Results

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On May 23, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the epicenter of COVID-19 had moved to Latin America, particularly South America. The region now has the highest number of new cases and deaths in the world. Brazil, Mexico, Peru and Chile, in this order, have the highest number of deaths in the region.

The pandemic arrived later to Latin America, giving it a chance to prepare by observing as COVID-19 swept through Wuhan and the surrounding Chinese cities and collapsed hospitals in Spain and Italy. South American governments adopted varying strategies to confront the pandemic, which can be grouped in three basic categories: the denial strategy in Brazil, strict quarantines such as those implemented in Argentina and Peru, and the intermediate policies characteristic of Chile and Uruguay. While Brazil’s approach had predictable catastrophic results, in other countries similar strategies did not lead to similar results, such as in Argentina and Peru. The strength of pre-existing health systems, rates of informality in the labor force and the capacity of the political leadership to clearly transmit messages regarding pandemic control measures, among other factors, have played an important role in determining results.

The denial strategy


On Feb. 26, Brazil became the first Latin American country to present a confirmed case of COVID-19. As in the rest of the countries in the region, the first cases were imported from Europe, most of them from Italy or Spain, by people from high socioeconomic levels.

The virus spread rapidly throughout the country and infected the population of the large cities: São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais and Espiritu Santo. It spread to the Manaus region, where hospitals were soon overwhelmed and to the native communities of the Amazon jungle. However, President Jair Bolsonaro, like his idol Donald Trump, continued to minimize the pandemic.

In the third week of March, cases grew exponentially. The 1,924 cases on March 23 doubled in just three days. When most of the countries in the region had already decreed social isolation measures, almost all mandatory, the governors of the main states urged Brazilians to stay at home unless they worked in critical sectors and called on non-essential businesses to shut down their operations. Educational, cultural and sports activities were suspended, but public administration at all levels – federal, state and municipal – was not interrupted. Social isolation was not mandatory.

Bolsonaro lashed out at the governors for succumbing to “hysteria”, as he put it, and claimed without evidence that they were inflating coronavirus figures for political gain. [I] He also attacked journalists and accused them of causing panic in an effort to undermine his government. Like Trump, Bolsonaro threatened to withdraw from the WHO, accusing the international body of acting with ideological bias. [Ii]

Meanwhile, much of Brazilian society demanded quarantine measures and that the federal and state governments unify criteria to confront the pandemic as a nation rather than leaving states to their own devices. In a message to the country in late March, far from passing strict quarantine rules, Bolsonaro said that “the side effects of measures to combat the coronavirus must not be worse than the disease itself” and proposed that businesses and schools reopen their doors and that mandatory social isolation should be only for groups considered high risk, such as older adults.

Twenty-six of the twenty-seven governors refused to abide by the president’s mandate and announced that they would continue with WHO recommendations. The Supreme Federal Court recognized the autonomy of the states in adopting public policies to confront the pandemic, which in practice involved telling Brazilians to ignore their president. The population in the main cities of the country, including people who voted for Bolsonaro in the Oct. 2018 elections, repeatedly carried out cacerolazos (protests banging on pots), demanding he be removed from office and that the nation adopt effective and coordinated measures with the governors to confront the pandemic.

A week before that message, the president stated at a press conference that COVID-19 was “just a little cold”, and that Brazilians had immunity. His handling of the crisis generated dismay across the country’s political spectrum. In late April, the mayor of Manaus, Arthur Virgílio Neto, noted that the city’s hospitals were saturated and affirmed that “with an irresponsible, almost criminal discourse, President Bolsonaro is encouraging people to go out into the streets, pushing them toward death.” [iii]

The president’s irresponsible attitude towards the pandemic led to the exit of two health ministers in less than a month. On April 16, Bolsonaro fired Luiz Henrique Mandetta due mainly to his views in favor of the mandatory total quarantine measures. The Presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate released a joint communication in support of Mandetta.

Less than a month later, the deputy health minister, oncologist Nelson Teich, resigned over disagreements with the president’s inappropriate promotion of the curative and preventive properties of hydroxychloroquine. Teich noted the president’s declarations led the population to think that there was a cure or a way to prevent the disease, and this had a negative impact on social isolation. He had also repeatedly confronted Bolsonaro due to discrepancies regarding plans to reopen the economy.

Bolsonaro, meanwhile, was participating actively in anti-confinement protests outside the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, where he appeared without a mask and shaking hands with the crowd. Some people carried banners calling for military intervention and the closure of Congress and the Supreme Court. The president’s behavior gave rise to rumors that Bolsonaro was preparing a military self-coup to stop the attempts of the Judicial and Legislative Powers to rein him in [iv].

Bolsonaro’s aim is to reduce the negative impact the economic crisis will have on his government’s popularity ratings. Instead, the spread of the pandemic has highlighted his lack of leadership and his approval ratings have dropped to 30%. Brazil’s management of the pandemic was not clear to citizens and was permeated by differences between the president, governors and mayors. The differences are so serious, and the messages so confusing, that on June 23, a federal judge had to order the president to wear a mask when he is in public places [v].

With nearly 60,000 deaths, Brazil has overtaken European countries for second place in the world, behind the United States. The toll in Brazil could have been worse except that Brazil has a single health system to which all citizens are entitled. Private health services must follow the protocols established by the Ministry of Health. In the event of an emergency, the law obliges them to place themselves at the service of public health.

Despite the WHO’s warnings about the risks of rapid opening, most of the Brazilian states have begun to relax confinement rules and gradually reopen the economy. Experts believe that the country is not yet ready to open it in safe terms, since the testing capacity is low and a contact tracking system has not been established.

Since the departure of the two health ministers, the pandemic is managed locally. The re-opening criteria are defined based on the number of deaths, infections and ICU beds for patients with COVID-19. Thus, for example, the Governor of Sao Paulo announced the relaxation of the quarantine in some regions of the state as of June 1, while maintaining voluntary social isolation until July 14. At the end of June, except for essential activities, bars, restaurants, sports, social and religious activities, among others, continue to be prohibited in the city of Sao Paulo. However, the Governor of the State of Sao Paulo announced on June 26 a plan to reopen classroom classes in schools in September, a proposal that has been rejected by teachers who have threatened to strike.

In the State of Rio de Janeiro, shopping malls re-opened June 10 and the governor has announced that, starting on July 10, stadiums can host a crowd equivalent to up to a third of their capacity. Soccer returned to Rio de Janeiro on June 16, without the presence of the public. In some cities that reopened their economies, such as Porto Alegre, infections increased and they had to back down.

Nationally, new cases and the number of deaths have not decreased. What has happened is an “internalization” of the pandemic, which has moved from the large cities, which have registered a slight decrease, to the small and medium cities in the interior of the country. This presents new challenges for the health system, since its resources are concentrated in the large cities.

The advance of the pandemic has set off alarms in some of its neighboring countries, such as Uruguay, and its main ally, the United States, which on a May 25 prohibited the entry of foreigners who had been in Brazil within 14 days prior to their expected arrival in the United States [vi].

Bolsonaro is immersed in a serious political crisis. In addition to the disastrous handling of the pandemic, the resignation of his Minister of Justice, Sergio Moro on April 24, after he dismissed the head of the Federal Police, dealt a blow to his approval. This office was carrying out an investigation into a criminal organization dedicated to the elaboration and dissemination of false news to threaten and defame authorities, in which Bolsonaro’s two sons were allegedly involved.

Strict and mandatory quarantines

 The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Peru on March 6. Ten days later, with just 76 cases and no deaths, Peru was the first Latin American country to adopt a nation-wide quarantine, one of the strictest in the world. This included closing borders, prohibition of driving in private vehicles, suspension of all educational, cultural and sports activities and public administration, and all kinds of activities considered non-essential. The government of Martin Vizcarra imposed a curfew, which was initially applied from 6 in the afternoon until 5 in the morning.

The measures were accompanied by a plan of more than 26 billion dollars (approximately 12 GDP points), one of the largest in the region, with a component focused on containing the virus and another on stimulating the economy. Priority spending went to trying to increase the country’s weak health capacity to handle the emergency.

An example shows the degree of precariousness: when the health emergency was decreed, Peru had just one hundred intensive care units (ICU) with mechanical ventilators to attend to COVID-19 patients. As of June 25, these had increased to 1,314, but they had an occupancy rate of 87%. This national aggregate does not reflect the situation in Lima and other regions, where the public health system was saturated.

The private sector, which serves only 9% of the population, finally reached an agreement with the government by accepting its rates 101 days after the quarantine began. This, despite the fact that the General Health Law allows the government to establish cap rates and mandatory fees for the care of COVID-19 patients in private clinics. In the first months, private-sector healthcare facilities had been charging exorbitant figures for treating COVID patients. The agreement took place on June 25, a day after the president threatened to expropriate private clinics while the health emergency lasted, under Article 70 of the Constitution [vii].

The plan’s component to stimulate the economy combined aid bonds for the most vulnerable families with measures to support private-sector companies through tax relief, subsidies to the payrolls of micro and small companies, and two programs aimed at guaranteeing the payment chain with cheap financing lines from the Central Reserve Bank with a Treasury guarantee, Reactiva Peru, and the Business Support Fund, the latter destined for small businesses. [viii] In addition, the government called for a perfect suspension of labors for three months for those companies that could not sustain themselves due to the economic impact of the crisis. This means the temporary cessation of the obligation of the worker to provide the service and that of the employer to pay the remuneration, without termination of the employment relationship. [ix]

The measures were well received by society as a whole. President Vizcarra had an approval level of 80%. The quarantine was extended five times, the last of which occurred on May 23 and lasted until June 30. However, new cases and deaths continued to increase.

In the midst of this health crisis, the images of streets full of poor people engaged in informal trade and unable to comply with the quarantine, and the fall of the GDP in April by 40% provided a favorable backdrop for pressure from many economic sectors to make the quarantine more flexible. The strict compliance observed during the first month began to unravel.

Beginning in early May, in the midst of the pandemic, the government authorized the opening of certain mining, electricity, transport, construction, agriculture and professional services activities, among others. The first week of June, it expanded the number of manufacturing activities, shopping centers and online sales services through delivery.

On June 27, the government announced the lifting of compulsory social isolation starting July 1, with the exception of seven departments [x] showing increases in coronavirus cases. The curfew has not been eliminated and it will be maintained between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., and from 8 p.m. for the departments that remain in quarantine.

Social, political and cultural events will continue to be prohibited, as will international passenger transport, and the borders will remain closed until July 31. However, in the first days of July restaurants reopened at 40% of capacity. The department of Lima, which concentrates a third of the population of Peru and 55% of infections, has slightly reduced the rate of contagion, but remains at high levels, in a scenario in which hospital capacity is collapsed.

Management errors on the part of the government during the first month of strict quarantine, such as having caused huge queues around banks to collect the bonds for families, prevented the curb of contagions. Added to this was a phenomenon that no one foresaw: the return of some 200,000 people from the provinces who lost their jobs in the cities and chose to return to their places of origin. Once ground and air transportation were suspended, many families traveled hundreds of kilometers on foot. Others waited in crowds, sleeping on the streets, for the government to organize a way to move them and coordinate quarantine rules with the authorities of their respective places of origin, so as not to spread the disease. The government also did not design a protection program for native communities.

The cumbersome process of State purchases, and the closure of international markets for the sale of these products, generated delays in acquiring virus detection tests and special protection equipment (PPE). This explains the high number of police and members of the Armed Forces who contracted the virus and died. The same has happened with doctors and nurses in proportions that exceed other countries in the region. According to the Medical College, Peru records 45 deaths of COVID-19 doctors nationwide, the highest number in Latin America [xi].

These deficiencies occurred in a context where more than 70% of economic activity in Peru is informal and excluded from the social security and banking systems. The State does not have adequate records of people belonging to that sector, nor of the most vulnerable, which is why not everyone who needed them has been able to receive social aid bonds. Added to this, is the high level of overcrowding in poor households and the fact that a quarter of Peru’s population does not have running water.

The Peruvian State is characterized by its operational weakness and small size, a product of the neoliberal reforms of the 1990s. According to the economist Efraín Gonzales de Olarte, its size is incompatible with resolving social inequalities and poverty that today exceeds 30% in the country. He considers that Peru has a State with a 21st century macroeconomy, but 19th century infrastructure and public management systems. It also notes that the privatization of social services has been functional for the higher income sectors. [Xii]

The economic boom, applauded by risk rating agencies, has not been able to compensate for the lack of investment in health and education in the last three decades. Public investment in health continues to be one of the lowest in the region and the level of primary health care is very poor. This has resulted in the high number of deaths from COVID-19 in Peru. Many have died in their homes or in the corridors and on hospital doors due to lack of oxygen.

This situation contrasted with the strength of public finances. The country has net international reserves close to 74 billion dollars, as of June 10, a public debt of 27% of GDP, low inflation, one of the least volatile currencies in the region and a fiscal surplus. However, the latter is the result of a low level of current and infrastructure spending, including in the health sector.

The elimination of compulsory social isolation in Lima and other departments as of July 1, marks Peru’s transition to a phase with high risks. With limited hospital capacity and no bed availabilty in ICU units, Perú holds second place in number of cases and thrid in deaths in the region. The econmy faces a drop of 14% according to IMF estimates in 2020—one of the affected in the region and the world.

The first confirmed contagion took place on March 3. More than two weeks later, on March 20, and five days after Peru decreed it, the Argentine authorities launched a mandatory quarantine (“social, preventive and mandatory isolation”) as it is officially called. At that time, Argentina registered 97 cases and two deaths.

Days before, the country had canceled educational activities, closed the borders, prohibited local flights, as well as interprovincial sea and land transport for passengers, blocked circulation in private vehicles, and closed banks and the public administration services. Initially, the quarantine, established at the national level, was as strict as the Peruvian one. The concern was also the same: the economic and social impact that this would have, in the scenario of an economy with large imbalances, high levels of inflation and a default on foreign debt.

Argentina has just over 35% of workers employed in the informal sector. The paralysis of economic life and the suspension of school classes implied the suspension of food assistance in a country where millions of schoolchildren eat daily in school food service.  As in most countries, the government implemented a social assistance program and reinforced food delivery to school canteens, which began to deliver food in portions for children to take home, and created a new program Aid the Family Income Emergency, aimed at the wide universe of informal workers (more than eight million people).

In addition, on March 31, President Alberto Fernández signed a decree that prohibited the dismissal or suspension of workers without pay, “for the sake of preserving social peace.” The measure, which was to last two months, has been extended for two more months, to the end of July. To support compliance with said law, the Emergency Work and Production Assistance Program was created for employers and workers affected by the health emergency, through which the State transfers resources so that employees continue to receive their wages, or a percentage of them, depending on the amount.

Preventive and compulsory social isolation continues, but its scope has been changing. The restrictions, initially adopted throughout the country, are basically concentrated in the metropolitan area of ​​Buenos Aires, where about 40% of the country’s population lives and where more than 90% of infections are registered. Even in this area, since May 23, the government relaxed some measures and allowed the operation of local shops, the departure of athletes to run at night, among others. In the regions of the country with low or no transmission level, restrictions have been relaxed and almost all activities are carried out normally.

Despite the serious financial and economic situation facing the country, the strategy has allowed it to manage the pandemic. Time Magazine highlighted the good management of Argentina in a list of exemplary countries that include Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Germany, Iceland, the United Arab Emirates and Greece. [Xiii]

Several factors explain the control of the pandemic. First, despite the lack of investment in the health, education, science and technology sectors in the last government of Mauricio Macri (who eliminated the Ministry of Health to make it a Secretariat of the Ministry of Social Development), the country has a reasonably efficient hospital system compared to the rest of the region. In addition, although it has not been necessary, the beds of the private sector are at the service of the Ministry of Health due to the contingency.

Another factor to highlight is the clear and unique direction of the authorities, including those of the opposition parties. Although it is a federal republic, the governors of the different provinces have followed the directives issued by the president, who has reached 90% approval in handling the pandemic.

However, in the last two weeks of June there was a sharp increase in the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the metropolitan area of ​​Buenos Aires, and in the province of Chaco. There is growing questioning of the obligatory lengthy quarantine, especially in the upper middle sectors, which reject the curtailment of their liberties.

The majority of epidemiologists and government authorities recommended a return to Phase 1 that was in effect in March. The penultimate time that the president extended it, he stated that “it would last as long as necessary for the Argentines to be healthy and for the Argentines not to die.” [Xiv] In these circumstances, on June 26, the president announced a new extension of the quarantine, until at least July 17, as well as the tightening of the measures in the metropolitan area of ​​Buenos Aires (AMBA), and in the province of Chaco, due to the rapid increase in infections. In the rest of the country, the opening process will continue.

On July 1, Buenos Aires went back and only establishments considered essential could open: health services, food and pharmacies. Likewise, permission for sports authorized in the last extension of the quarantine were eliminated and only authorized basic services workers may use public transport.

Although the numbers are not critical –in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, intensive care beds are at 54% occupancy– the authorities of all political stripes and epidemiologists considered that if quarantine measures had not been tightened, the health system could reach the point of collapse. The president pointed out in his speech that «if Argentina had followed the rhythm of Brazil, today it would have 10,000 deaths. (…) Look at Chile, it has a third of the inhabitants of Argentina, look at the difference, 10 times more deaths for every million inhabitants »[xv]. Brazil has 271 deaths per million inhabitants, while Chile and Argentina have 288 and 28, respectively.

The government is preparing the implementation of a universal income for informal workers, who are coming off of several years of suffering falling incomes and who have now lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic. This income should be valid for years. The Minister of Social Development, Daniel Arroyo, has pointed out that universal income must work together with the Empower Work program, through which productive activity is promoted in five sectors. [Xvi]

Given the fall in tax collection, the government is evaluating the establishment of a “solidarity and extraordinary contribution to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic”. It would be a one-time tax, aimed at the great fortunes of Argentina held by individuals, not companies, and that would affect 12,000 people. [Xvii]

The health crisis hit while the country was in the process of renegotiating its foreign debt of $ 66 billion, which has it on the brink of default. Despite the increase in monetary issue for social programs, it is estimated that inflation, which last year registered 54%, will fall to 43%. This is due to the contraction in demand that will imply a drop of almost 10% of GDP, according to the latest estimates by the IMF. The Argentine government has prioritized health over the economy, and everything seems to indicate that it will start opening its economy on safer bases, when the curve flattens.

Quarantines with voluntary aspects


On March 13, when the first four cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the country, Uruguayan authorities immediately launched drastic containment measures similar to those of other countries in the region such as Argentina and Peru: They closed borders and suspended flights and cruises, classes, religious services, shopping centers, social, cultural and sporting events, and public administration. Work in the construction sector was banned for three weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and unemployment insurance was paid to the 100,000 workers in the sector with State resources. Although small businesses could continue open, the vast majority remained closed due to the fact that the population complied with the government’s recommendations to stay home for fear of contagion. Unlike other countries in the region, the ruling Liberal Party imposed a voluntary quarantine, in the sense that there was no impediment to citizens going outside.

Wilson Benia, representative of Health Systems and Services of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in Uruguay, considers that “the development of the first level of care, having an epidemiological surveillance system, with an integrated national health system with strong leadership of the health authority, in addition to having electronic medical records, a wide internet network and a law on audiovisual communication services, have been key aspects in responding to the healthcare demand for COVID-19 ”. [ xviii]

Uruguay is the only country in Latin America in which the State has not detached itself from its companies in the electricity, oil and telecommunications sectors. The population reject privatization during the 1990s through a referendum, a mechanism that other countries in the region do not have for these purposes. Thus, the state telephone companies, Antel, and the mobile telephony company, Ancel, made large investments in the extension of the fiber optic network throughout the country, allowing the nation to successfully carry out distance education and access to medical records in the health sector. [xix]

With a unique integrated first-rate health system, and comfortable hospital capacity, Uruguay has begun to reopen its economy. Its great threat is currently the border area with Brazil. The respective neighboring cities make up a single unit and so the Single Sanitary Epidemiological Unit has been created with joint measures to contain the spread. Currently, this area is on red alert due to new infections on the Brazilian side. This level of alert implies the closure of businesses and self-isolation measures, which has forced the Uruguayan government to shield the Rivera border department from the rest of the country through sanitary barriers and military control on the roads.

Only a country with the demographic, socioeconomic and institutional quality characteristics of Uruguay can have controlled the pandemic with a strategy that combines mandatory elements with permitted activities and the free movement of its citizens. It received the support of the health unions and the opposition political forces acted as a single force on this front.

The country has a population density of 20 inhabitants per square kilometer and lacks large cities. Its territory is 15 times less than that of Argentina and 50 times less than that of Brazil. Almost the entire population has access to drinking water and informal work is only 24%, the lowest in the region. It is a more homogeneous country, without the diversity and cultural complexities of Brazil or Peru, and it has the highest social indicators in the region. In addition, during the fifteen years of government of the Broad Front, significant investments were made in the health sector, as well as in the education sector.

In its latest report, the Chamber of Commerce and Services of Uruguay (CCSU) reflected the harsh reality that companies are going through, with a drop in sales of more than 75% after the appearance of coronavirus. In addition, it mentions that 60% consider that the government’s support measures are insufficient.

Uruguay has not been able to escape the storm and is facing an economic recession, which according to the IMF will be expressed in a drop of about 4% for 2020. The strategy they put in place allowed them to control the pandemic and managed to keep deaths at barely 8 per million inhabitants, one of the lowest in the world. These figures have allowed the country to gradually reopen its economy on a secure basis. The shopping malls opened on June 9 and on June 27 it was announced that it will be the first Latin American country authorized to enter the European Union.


Chile reveals the failure of a strategy for rich countries applied in a poor country Unlike the success of the strategy followed by Uruguay, in Chile it was a resounding failure, despite the fact that it was one of the first countries in Latin America to enact a health alert on February 7. This allowed the country to buy supplies such as tests, respirators and intensive care beds and coordinate the centralization of the health system.

Chile presented the first coronavirus case on March 3. Two weeks later, the government decreed a state of emergency and imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. throughout the national territory. Colleges and universities, land borders and public administration were closed. In addition, severe fines and prison terms were imposed for those patients diagnosed with COVID-19 who did not comply with their quarantines. However, unlike its neighbors Argentina and Peru, which decreed mandatory national confinement, social isolation was only mandatory for older adults and for some parts of the country. The rest of the population, not subject to a mandatory quarantine regime except for the curfew at night, observed social distancing voluntarily.

The government opted for a dynamic and focused quarantine in some communes, which was transferred to others depending on the evolution of infections. National mandatory quarantines were considered to bring many problems, especially for the most vulnerable sectors. The initial results were successful due to the effect of the closure of activities at the national level. These were highlighted internationally and were shown as an example. Associated with this good initial performance, the approval of President Piñera rose from 11% at the beginning of March to 21%, a level close to the 29% it had at the beginning of the explosion of social protests on October 18, 2019. The protests ended with an agreement to hold a plebiscite on April 25 that would determine if the citizenry chose to call a Constituent Congress to write a new Constitution. [Xx] This date had to be postponed to October 25 due to the pandemic.

In late April, Sebastián Piñera’s government celebrated reaching a “contagion plateau” and planned the gradual reopening of productive activities, including shopping malls, and a gradual plan for a return to school and public administration. These announcements led to a loosening of social behavior, with more meetings and parties that spread the virus. The applause lasted only a few days. Contagions and deaths from COVID-19 began to skyrocket and, on May 8, the government announced that the new normal strategy had to be shelved. The pandemic had spread to the poorest districts of Santiago that soon concentrated most of the country’s cases. The dynamic, focused quarantine strategy had failed.

A week later, on May 15, the government decreed mandatory total quarantine for the 32 communes that make up Greater Santiago, other neighboring communes, and two in the Tarapacá Region, affecting a total of 8 million people–42% of the total population of Chile. Sanitary rules were established around the localities of the areas to be quarantined to limit traffic and reduce the risk of the infection spreading to other places.

On May 28, Piñera admitted errors in the strategy to deal with the coronavirus and pointed out that the country’s hospital capacity was on the verge of collapse. [Xxi] The previous day, the former Minister of Health, Jaime Mañalich, carried out a self-criticism of the models used and noted that “what we have learned the hard way in this pandemic is that all the epidemiological exercises, the projection formulas I found convincing in January, have collapsed like a house of cards (…) Reality has overcome any model that one can simulate. It must be said frankly, we are sailing in a kind of darkness. “[Xxii]

The Minister of Health apparently did not know much about the reality of his country either. That same day he discovered that “in a sector of Santiago there is a level of poverty and overcrowding that, I’m sorry to say, I was unaware of in terms of its magnitude. That is the truth. ”[Xxiii] His inability to control the virus and political weakening caused Malanich to be replaced on June 13 by Enrique Paris, former president of the Medical College of Chile.

Two fundamental factors explain the failure of the dynamic and focused quarantine strategy launched in Chile, which is based on the widespread testing model used in Singapore or South Korea. Chile did not have the capacity to carry out sufficient tests, nor does it have a solid health system like the one in force in those countries. On the other hand, since it was not a compulsory quarantine in all the communes, many asymptomatic infected people went out to work. There was a lot of movement between communes with different regimes, permits to move between them were abused and not adequately controlled. The primary health system did not have the capacity in supplies or staff to attend to the sick. Most experts agree that without adequate primary health care, the possibility of tracing cases, isolating them and quarantining them, this strategy does not work and the virus continues to circulate. According to the American news service Bloomberg, “Initial evaluations suggest that Chile followed the example of rich nations only to realize, once again, that a large percentage of its citizens are poor.” [Xxiv]

After the first month of total and mandatory quarantine, the country has been unable to control the pandemic. Contagions and deaths continue to increase and the hospital system is collapsed. The government extended measures until July 3, and has included the entire Santiago Metropolitan Region, in addition to adding other communes in the Tarapacá Antofagasta and Valparaíso regions.

Likewise, the state of constitutional emergency due to catastrophe was extended for 90 days, an umbrella under which it is possible to limit traffic, prohibit meetings in public spaces and establish mandatory quarantines or curfews. These measures will be in force until September 16, assuming that quarantine and the curfew will be extended as necessary.

The state of national catastrophe allows the State to use beds, pavilions and the personnel of private facilities, and place their management at the hands of a public agency. The coordination was carried out by the former Minister of Health in late March, without much success. [Xxv] On April 12, President Piñera announced that, given the national health emergency, the State has “centralized control of all capacity of health, both public and private, in order to have it available for those who need it. “[xxvi]

On May 20, the government issued a new regulation that required the private health service to expand its number of beds to treat critical cases of coronavirus. The former minister pointed out that it was not a request, but rather an order emanating from the health alert and that it was going to be audited. With this measure, the authorities sought to gain a total of 720 beds equipped with mechanical respirators, after 95 percent of the capacity of health centers in the Santiago Metropolitan Region was occupied. But such requirements have not been fully met. [Xxvii] Chile has a fractured public health service, efficient for the insured, but with poor coverage for those who cannot afford it.

Currently, Chile has the highest death rate per million inhabitants on the continent, only exceeded by the United States. Politically, this has weakened the government that had already been hit hard following the social protests. The president does not have the support of social and political forces and his initial strategy to control the pandemic failed, and the current one is also questioned.

Representatives of the health unions, parliamentarians from the Health committees of Congress and presidents of political parties, demanded a change in strategy in the face of the pandemic, and called for discussion. In a letter to the Minister of Health on June 27, unions and representatives of the political forces pointed out that «contempt for participation has been a constant in the handling of this pandemic and that (…) it is perhaps the most important mistake that has been made during this crisis. The government’s response has been to fragment and exclude dissident voices »

The results

The different strategies applied by the countries analyzed allow us to conclude that these have been successful in countries with relatively strong public health systems and efficient primary care services. Weak health systems, with high levels of the population excluded from social safety nets, access to drinking water, low levels of education, reduced access to digital technology and high levels of overcrowding have failed to control the pandemic.

The most visible case of success is Uruguay, a country that has a unique first-rate health system and a fiber optic network –installed with investments from its state-owned telecommunications companies– that have made it possible to have electronic medical records and lead to conduct distance education efficiently. The voluntary social isolation strategy, although with the closure of public and border activities, has managed to flatten the contagion curve. Their demographic characteristics and social development indicators, the best in the region, have also contributed to these results. Controlling the pandemic allowed Uruguay to start the process of opening its economy safely, which in turn will likely make it the country with the lowest economic decline in the region.

To a lesser degree than Uruguay, Argentina traditionally has a unique efficient health and primary care system, despite its recent deterioration as a result of having been systematically neglected during the last government chaired by Mauricio Macri, as well as by other neoliberal governments. Due to this deterioration, as well as the size of its territory, a strict system of compulsory social isolation was chosen at the national level that allowed controlling the pandemic. Argentina has 28 deaths from COVID-19 per million inhabitants, a much lower number than Chile (292) and Peru (288). The good results led to the relaxation, after a month, of some measures that determined the increase in infections. The government did not hesitate to prolong and toughen the quarantine as it aspires to carry out an opening process based on a flattening of the contagion curve.

Like Argentina, Peru was the first Latin American country to adopt a strict and mandatory quarantine at the national level. But unlike the first, which has better social indicators, the Peruvian government has not been able to control the pandemic. The precariousness of the health system and its primary care, in addition to the high levels of poverty, overcrowding, informality, and access to drinking water, played against it. The quarantine began to be disregarded by the population that needed to go out to work to survive, to which was added the pressure of the economic power groups. The government’s commitment to eliminate compulsory quarantine and deepen the reopening of the economy is very risky, in a scenario in which infections and deaths remain at very high levels and hospital capacity is collapsed.

Brazil is a special case. Despite its enormous inequalities, cultural complexities, enormous pockets of poverty and high levels of informality, it has a unified health system (SUS) enshrined in the 1988 Constitution, which is accessible to the entire population. President Jair Bolsonaro chose not to lead the fight against the pandemic and favored, like no other in the world with the exception of Donald Trump, the economy over health. Both the period of confinement, which was not mandatory, and the current reopening of the economy have been carried out without guidelines at the national level. The authorities have resigned themselves to coexisting with the infection and with the risk of rising numbers, but unlike Peru, Brazil has a better hospital capacity. Bolsonaro is responsible for having converted Brazil with the highest number of deaths (59,000) and infections (1.37 million) in South America.

Chile has also failed to control the pandemic. It registers the highest death rate per million inhabitants in Latin America, even more than Brazil (275). These results are explained because its strategy of dynamic and focused quarantines in some communes was too much for the nation to apply, not having the capacity to carry out tests and follow up on cases. Also, the country has a fractured, first-world health system for the upper sectors, but very weak system for the majority of the population. All the democratic governments since the end of the military dictatorship, without exception, have preserved and deepened the neoliberal model that General Pinochet implemented. Behind the stable statistics and the high averages of growth per capita that the international establishment applauded, an enormous inequality and concentration of wealth was incubating, which has dramatically shown its deep cracks in the inability to control the pandemic and, previously, in the extraordinary demonstrations started in October last year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has called into question neoliberal models and has shown the structural weaknesses of countries that were considered successful in the region. It has also highlighted the need to build more inclusive societies. Several economists, including Ricardo Ffrench-Davis and José Antonio Ocampo consider this to be an opportunity to rethink the role of the State and make structural changes that include the people.

Societies with high degrees of inequality are unable to cope with a pandemic like the current one, which draws out and makes more difficult the path to economic recovery. The appearance of this coronavirus has shown that social investment, in addition to being fair, improves the quality of life for everyone, including the wealthier, since it allows them to live without the potential instability that could be unleashed by widespread hunger in the weakest sectors in extremely unequal societies.

Ariela Ruiz Caro is an economist from the University of Humboldt in Berlín, with a masters in processes of economic integration from the Universidad de Buenos Aires. She is the analyst for the Americas Program in the region Andes/Southern Cone.





[iv] See: https://www.americas.org/is-brazils-bolsonaro-plotting-a-self-coup/



[vii]“No-one can be deprived of their property except, exclusively, due to national security or public necessity, declared by law and previously payed in cash the indeminization at a fair price that includes compensation for eventual damage.”

[viii]The channeling of resources from the Programa Reactiva has been questioned since an important part has benefited banks and large companies, some linked to the Lava Jato corrruption case.

[ix]The rule establishes that the Suspensión Perfecta de Labores is applicble to employeres and employees and workers in the private sector (micro, small, medium and large companies), under any labor regime in three cases: 1) when there is the impossibility of working remotely due to the nature of the activities, 2) when it is impossble for leave with pay due to the nature of the activities and 3) when remote work cannot be applied to leave with pay, due to the level of economic impact.

[x]Arequipa, Ica, Junín, Huánuco, San Martín, Madre de Dios y Áncash. These departments have a curfew from 8 pm to 4 am. In these 7 departments the curfew extends to Sundays.






[xvi]One area is small construction projects, houses or infrastucture. The textile industrial and food production are other activities that continue and require intensive labor. Then there is the area of care work and the recollection and recycling of urban waste.

[xvii]Not applicable to businesses, only to individuals who declare personal assets of more than  200 million pesos (around 3 million dollars) on 31 Dic. It is estimated that this will reach about 12,000 people. https://www.france24.com/es/20200530-COVID19-impuesto-riqueza-congreso-argentina


[xix]In 2007 the Plan de Conectividad Educativa de Informática Básica para el Aprendizaje en Línea (Plan Ceibal) was created, which according to the World Bank “is one of the examples worldwide of how a program can use technology in the classroom and be a vehicle for bringing in teachers and professors for innovative solutions, with the objective of influencing learning potentials.”







[xxvi]“All this is coordinated, because it wouldn’t make sense, for example, that a private clinic have respirators not being used when there is need in the public hospital. Here there is no distinction between public and private, or between regions.·”



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Exorcism at Boston’s Old West Church, All Hallows Eve 1971

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First, it seems one should freeze the time. To do so places them in the autumn of 1971. October 31, exactly. All Hallows Eve. Nineteen months previous, Ohio National Guard troops had killed four college students in Kent, Ohio. Others in Jackson, Mississippi were murdered in the weeks that followed. The students were among millions across the United States protesting the expansion of the US war on the people of southeast Asia. A mere six months before tens of thousands had blocked the streets of Washington DC in a righteous and angry protest against that same war. The more spiritual amongst the millions opposed to the orgy of blood and death in those Asian lands were at least as frustrated as those setting off bombs in government buildings. The generals continued to send their pawns into battle; the war industry reveled in an orgy of profits.

That evening, October 31, 1971. The Old West Church on Cambridge St. in the West End of Boston, Massachusetts a service is beginning. The vision of jazz musicians Mark Harvey (also a Methodist minister), Peter Bloom, Craig Ellis and Michael Standish, it is titled A Rite for All Souls. Part of Harvey’s jazz ministry, this musical prayer is a call for healing and end to war. October 31 is All Hallows Eve. According to folk myths the souls of the dead roam the night joined by fellow spirits good, evil and otherwise. Harvey plays various brass instruments; Bloom is on the woodwinds and Ellis and Standish are masters of percussion.

This work is a fully realized improvisation as bewitching as the evening it was performed. In the &first movement titled …… the unsettling beat of the percussion is replaced by an equally unsettling wail of wind forced through reeds and mouthpiece. It is easily the sound of demons battling to keep their hold on humankind; demons of war, hunger and the greed and hatred from which they derive their power.

The liner notes of this beautifully packaged CD quote the artists’ concern with the divide present in the USA at the time. Generational, political, cultural and racial, it was a divide now once again familiar to US residents. A divide informed by a challenge to the warmongers, the Wall street profiteers and the preachers of hate. The divide is always heightened when opposition to these demonic creatures whose greed and bloodlust defines their souls reaches a point they fear. When it comes to a point that might spell their end. It is a fissure this music strives to bridge. Yet, even resolution is rarely achieved. Instead, a cry occasionally sonorous and occasionally not is the essence of this performance, this work. It does not heal or even bridge this canyon, although it describes it in a powerful disturbing and wondrous way. Like the war it reproaches, the performance is seemingly chaotic. Yet, it creates an order that becomes more apparent as the music evolves; the same cannot be said about the war it describes. Perhaps the butterfly effect where a handclap in Brazil creates a thunderclap in Los Angeles is at work here. Maybe these artists Rite for All Souls results in an eventual peace in Southeast Asia. This performance as but one part of a concerted, massive and multifaceted protest against the bloodshed, the bodies piling up, the theater of murder wrought large, the napalm that burns human flesh, adult and child alike.

Or, as Charles Ellis, one of the composer/performers writes in the notes and intones in the piece: “OH THE ROSES AND THE CHILDREN/how it clings/there/to the skin/like a flower/the flesh/curling/falling away….” It’s ghastly in its description—as it should be—as ghastly as words can possibly describe the act itself. The music too evokes the pain of the holocaust’s ovens falling from the sky. (Comparing the dropping of napalm on innocents and the burning of human flesh that is its purpose to the ovens of Nazi Germany became a common understanding among those protesting the US war on Vietnam. Similar comparisons were made during the early years of the US occupation of Iraq in relation to the Pentagon’s use of the banned white phosphorus chemical.)

The final movement opens with a recitation of the William Butler Yeats poem “The Second Coming.” “What rough beast, its hour come round at last….” is slouching towards some Bethlehem. I cannot help but think of Creedence Clearwater’s John Fogerty in their song “Run Through the Jungle” where “Two hundred million guns are loaded” and Satan cries “take aim.” Behind the widening gyre and blood-dimmed tide a jazz attack is launched and the ceremony of innocence is lost. The cascade of song resolves itself in a chaotic and discomforting melody wandering towards some end. Dedicated to the Greek god of song and fire and the ferryman Charon, the deathly beast of Yeats poem takes the Souls of humans wasted in war across the rivers Styx and Acheron to the land of the dead. As woodwinds trade mournful melodies with a trumpet; life disappears in silence and sound. The song itself is over. Is the rite complete?

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Bolsonaro’s Continuous Follies

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It seems every day since I last wrote about Amazonia and COVID-19 about three months ago, another Amerindian leader has died from Coronavirus, another knowledgeable elder gone, and more tragedy compiling upon tragedy not only in the Brazilian Amazon but throughout indigenous communities in Lowland South America. By any standard, at least in Brazil, the Brazilian federal government’s neglect of its indigenous peoples and the deleterious effects from the COVID-19 disease, are tantamount to genocide. Many observers, inclusive of anthropologists, journalists, NGOs, and jurists like Deisy Ventura have said as much in regard to investigating those responsible for Amerindian genocide such as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his administration.

Today, August 5th, we have learned about the death of the Amerindian leader, Aritana Yawalapiti of the Yawalapiti people, Arawak language speakers of the Upper Xingu Region and Xingu National Park Reserve (Teritório Indígena do Xingu, TIX). Another recent notable death of an indigenous leader succumbing to COVID-19 was Paulo Paiakan of the Kayapó people on June 17th. Paiakan was a loquacious and exuberant leader of the Kayapó and their rights and especially important for influencing the 1988 Brazilian Constitution and inclusion of indigenous rights. Paikan also fought against the construction of the Belo Monte Dam, alongside fellow Kayapó Chief Raoni Metuktire and English musician Sting.

Other significant indigenous deaths were educator and leader, Higino Tenório, of the Tuyuka people of the Alto Rio Negro on June 18th and female leader, Bernaldina José Pedro of the Macuxi people on June 24th, important for her knowledge of Macuxi traditions of legends, songs, and artisanal crafts and for establishing a reserve for her people. In 2018, she briefly met with Pope Francis, giving him a letter, and pleading for his help for the Macuxi.

Another renowned leader was Acelino Dace of the Munduruku people who died on June 3rd. He also played a crucial role in demarcating his people’s territories near the Tapajós River and in the Brazilian government’s abandoning its project of a hydroelectric mega-dam at São Luiz on the Tapajós. Yet, Dace was not alone, 8 other Munduruku elders died within a few days of each other. As Bruna Rocha, archaeologist at Universidade Federal do Oeste do Pará, remarked in an interview with Mongabay, “Every time an elder dies, a library is burnt.” Moreover, Bruna averred: “Besides being knowledge repositories on the environment, history, territory, production of specific artifacts and medicines, these elders provide political and spiritual guidance, being fundamental in the struggle for territorial recognition. They remind their peoples of who they are in a fast-changing world.”

In Colombia, the indigenous actor, Antonio Bolívar, known for his role in the popular movie Embrace of the Serpent (El Abrazo de la Serpiente, 2015), and one of the last Ocaina Indians, succumbed to COVID-19. In the film, he portrayed an Indian in contact with a white botanist, inspired from the real-life diaries of Harvard botanist Richard Evans Schultes and German explorer, Theodor Koch-Grünberg. Historically, the Ocaina people were enslaved, tortured, and killed by British rubber companies in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries during the Amazonian rubber boom. Yet, Bolívar was a true indigenous elder and according to those who knew him, he had profound botanical knowledge of Amazonian flora. Currently, in Colombia there are 345,714 Coronavirus cases and about 11,624 deaths from the disease.

The Coronavirus has adversely affected indigenous peoples everywhere in Brazilian Amazonia, and worries are the disease will take many, many more Native peoples before a vaccine is introduced. Especially vulnerable are the Yanomami of northern Brazilian and southern Venezuelan borderlands and the Matis of the remote Vale do Javari of western Amazonas State and those indigenous groups with very few remaining members. Not to mention there are the most defenseless from such illnesses as those “uncontacted Amerindians” living in the remotest regions of Amazonia, perhaps numbering less than 1,500 Indigenes altogether.

Moreover, Brazilian Indians face incursions on their land from illegal loggers, illegal miners, and poachers who likewise bring with them the possibility of carrying COVID-19. While the Brazilian government does nothing to aid the Indians in their fight against such invaders. While at the same time, cattle ranchers are mostly responsible for a rise in Amazonian forest fires, up 25% from the same time last year.

Is it any wonder the Brazilian government has failed to act on behalf of its indigenous peoples when President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently denied the severity of COVID-19 in Brazil and cavalierly flaunted not wearing a mask in public? In fact, a Brazilian federal judge ruled near the end of June, if President Bolsonaro did not wear a mask in public he faced being fined for his negligence. So, it was no surprise to anyone when Bolsonaro himself tested positive for Coronavirus about a month ago.

According to Worldometer, Brazil is only second to the United States with COVID-19 cases across the globe at almost 3 million infected and with approximately ninety-seven thousand deaths from the pandemic. With Bolsonaro’s overall unconcern for his own population, and even his own health, it is hardly surprising why the Brazilian president does not care for Brazil’s indigenous peoples?

In fact, President Jair Bolsonaro has gone out of his way to deny Brazilian Natives help. On July 8th, Bolsonaro vetoed an aid package for Brazilian Indians to protect their communities from COVID-19. The anticipated legislation was an emergency plan to provide funding for Brazilian Amerindians to combat the Coronavirus with clean water, disinfectant, protective equipment, hygienic items, and supplemental hospital beds. Additionally, he denied financial support for emergency healthcare of Brazilian Indians.

According to SESAI (Secretaria Especial de Saúde Indígena, Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health) there are currently 16,840 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Brazilian indigenous peoples and about 338 confirmed deaths of Brazilian Indians. Yet, the non-governmental organization, Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB, Articulation of Brazilian Indigenous Peoples), estimates there are 22,656 confirmed Coronavirus cases among Brazilian Indians with 639 deaths and 148 indigenous ethnic-groups infected out of 305 total Brazilian Native groups. While there is an estimated total of 896,917 indigenous people in Brazil.

The Coronavirus is ravaging indigenous communities across Brazil. As elsewhere, the elderly have been most adversely affected by the pandemic. In the city of Manaus, centrally located in the Brazilian Amazon with more than 2.2 million people, in April the number of people dying increased by 443% than the average for deaths over the last few years and its hospital system completely collapsed. Now Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admittance has somewhat leveled off to half capacity. Manaus has approximately 27,122 Coronavirus cases with about 1,770 deaths and according to reports Amazonas State had the third highest rate of COVID-19 cases with 1,686 cases per 100,000 inhabitants by the end of June.

In the Peruvian Amazonian city of Iquitos, there have been about 12,000 cases and 555 deaths, and by June residents were desperate to buy oxygen cannisters in order to give them to family members because hospitals were beyond capacity. People are despondent and are raising money among communities to afford prices for oxygen cylinders since hospitals are overwhelmed and unable to treat the number of patients with Coronavirus. Presently, Peru has the third most cases of COVID-19 after Brazil and Mexico with approximately 447,624 infected and 20,228 deaths.

Still, many would argue because of the Brazilian President’s overall negative, if not racist, attitude toward Brazil’s indigenous peoples and his policies of trying to strip FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio, National Indian Foundation) of its powers; allowing for invaders like illegal loggers and illegal goldminers on indigenous reserves; allowing murders of indigenous people with impunity; not fining ranchers for forest fires; agreeing to development schemes in the Amazon; and his overall deniability about the seriousness of COVID-19, the situation in Brazil is much worse than elsewhere in Amazonia.

When Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes (Supremo Tribunal Federal, STF) declared the actions of President Bolsonaro were tantamount to genocide, this formalized the debate against the executive branch in humanitarian law. Mendes in a videoconference stated that, “‘The Brazilian Army associated itself with a ‘genocide’, it’s not reasonable. We need to put an end to this,’ referring to the administration’s policies in combating the new Coronavirus pandemic” according to the Brazilian online news site Globo.com. Bolsonaro likewise was against a Supreme Court decision which allowed Brazilian municipalities and states the autonomy to decide for themselves measures for social distancing and dealing with Coronavirus without interference from the federal government in accordance with the Brazilian Constitution.

Magistrate Gilmar Mendes later clarified his statements by saying that Brazil may be committing genocide against its indigenous people, “Understand and this is the debate” (Então é este o debate) and citing the renowned Brazilian photographer, Sabastião Salgado’s open letter to President Bolsonaro on June 24th.

Hence, Professor of International Law, Deisy de Freitas Lima Ventura, at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP), believes there is sufficient evidence to investigate President Bolsonaro and his administration for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague as well as within the Brazilian judicial system.

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper, El País, Professor Ventura qualifies what she means by genocide happening in Brazil: “First, I must say that, in regard to the population in general, I believe that the crime of extermination exists: article seven, letter B, of the Rome Statute. It is also a crime against humanity. And, in the specific case of indigenous peoples, I believe that it can be characterized as genocide, the most serious of crimes against humanity. The crime of extermination is the intentional imposition of living conditions that can cause the destruction of part of a population. What is striking, in this case, is that the example used in the text of the Rome Statute is precisely that of deprivation of access to food or medicine. Since the start of the pandemic, the federal government has assumed the behavior that it still has today: on the one hand, the denial regarding the disease and, on the other, an objective action against local governments that try to give an effective response to the disease, against those trying to control the spread and progression of COVID-19. And, from the beginning, I have said that this policy is one of extermination. Why? Because studies show us that the most affected populations are the black populations, the poorest, the most vulnerable, among which are the elderly and people with comorbidities. And, unfortunately, what we had predicted has happened. Despite the underreporting—which is consensual, since everyone agrees that there are more cases in Brazil than are recognized—the volume is impressive and there is a very clear profile of the people who are most affected by the disease. Both in the genocide of the indigenous population and in what, in my opinion, is an extermination policy regarding action in the face of the pandemic, I clearly see an intention…Regarding indigenous people, two issues are especially relevant, among many…The first is the debate on contact with isolated peoples. Ordinance 419 of the National Indian Foundation [FUNAI] determines that contact with isolated communities must be avoided…In February of this year, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples, upon learning that an evangelical leader could lead the coordination of isolated peoples of the National Indian Foundation [FUNAI], warned of potential genocide. Therefore, genocide is far from trivial. We are talking about a United Nations rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. The second point—and it is even difficult to speak about it calmly—is the law of the emergency plan to combat COVID-19 in indigenous territories.”

As mentioned above, President Bolsonaro vetoed the legislative emergency plan to stem the spread of Coronvirus on indigenous reserves, which prevented the Brazilian government from distributing essential supplies of food and medicine and hygienic products to Brazilian Indians. The Spanish journalist, Eliane Brum, then asks Professor Ventura the question, “With respect to indigenous peoples, what other elements demonstrate that there has been a genocidal crime committed against them?” and Ventura responds by asserting: “The essential difference, which makes it easier to identify genocide in indigenous populations, is the clear interest that exists in using their lands, natural resources, in eliminating the ‘obstacle’ that these figures represent, since they are the great guardians of the jungle, the environment, the Brazilian natural heritage. Eliminating these guardians would greatly facilitate the appropriation of their land, just look at the rate at which protected land is deforested and illegally occupied in Brazil. The motive for the crime is obvious. The age-old mystery movie question, who benefits from crime? Has a very obvious answer in this case.”

Furthermore, others have observed similar irresponsibility by the Brazilian government. In an open-letter to President Bolsonaro and his administration, SALSA (Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America), wrote on June 15th describing how the Bolsonaro administration was failing Brazilian Indians and why the executive branch’s actions have amounted to genocide. The letter states: “Brazil’s failure to protect and ensure the health and safety of its Indigenous populations—including inhabitants in remote areas of the Amazon as well as those who live in impoverished regions, such as the Northeast and also urban areas, where poverty makes Indigenous peoples particularly vulnerable—is irresponsible and grossly negligent. The current procedures and protocols outlined in SESAI (Special Indian Health Service of the Ministry of Health) COVID- 19 Contingency Plans do not conform to WHO Guidelines and Recommendations and furthermore violate the 1988 Constitution, ILO Convention 169, and the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to which Brazil is signatory. Brazil’s current policies concerning the health and protection of its Indigenous citizens are translating into nothing less than genocide… According to APIB [Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil, Articulation of Brazilian Indigenous Peoples], the incidence of Indigenous COVID-19 mortality is more than twice that of the national population. The state’s negligence, its inability and unwillingness to protect the health and safety of the nation’s Indigenous Peoples, has led to the high rate of infection and mortality among Brazil’s Indigenous population. The state itself should acknowledge that this is unacceptable.”

In sum, the prevailing question is whether or not President Bolsonaro and his administration will modify their relationship with Brazil’s indigenous population and take active measures to protect Brazilian Indians?

One indigenous leader, Álvaro Fernandes Sampaio Tukano, who is 67 years old of the Tukano people, and General Chief of the Terra Indígena Balaio, from the Municipality of São Gabriel da Cachoeira, of the Alto Rio Negro in the State of Amazonas, explains his view of the COVID-19 crisis on August 4th: “We are tired of living in this world of injustice and here comes more government politicians and more Coronavirus. Because we don’t have a job, we don’t have a good education, we are not trained, we have no minimum conditions to face any pandemic. Even so, thanks to traditional knowledge, prayers and shamanism, many of our elders have helped us treat everyone’s health. So, most of the Indians who caught Coronavirus in the villages survived, escaped death by taking medicine from the forest, doing their shamanism and we continue to defend those territories that the world needs…Those indigenous people who went to be treated in non-indigenous hospitals died. They died because they did not believe in our medicines, in the way we treat, they lost their traditions and when there is this loss of traditions, we are very dependent on the system and this system is expensive for the treatment of our health. This is how we think and we are making this observation for our children, to maintain this ancient knowledge and to live in a dignified way in our territories, to maintain traditions. It is clear that this knowledge is not recognized in the official information. Many people die, we are not being visible and this data does not enter official government data. But the absolute majority, who had coronavirus escaped, thanks to the traditional medicines of the indigenous peoples.”

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Right-Wing Populism and the End of Democracy

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For many reasons, democracy is associate with the word liberal. A liberal shows commitment to fundamental democratic values such as freedom of speech, the separation of powers, and the protection of individual rights. In this understanding, George W. Bush is as much of a liberal as Barack Obama. In the American understanding, however, only one of the two is a true liberal. In today’s politics, it is rather doubtful to see Donald Trump as any kind of liberal – not in the more general and not in the American understanding.

Nor be a politician of any kind, Trump can look back on a long history of conning people from the students at Trump University to the many building contractors he never reimbursed for their services. On the downside, millions of voters were equally conned into believing that his business cleverness and mental simplicity is a mark of his authenticity and determination to get a good deal.

Many have fallen in the time-honoured trap of believing that a populist leader’s simple solution can work. That was in 2016. By 2020, people realised that their simplistic leader is piling up thousands of Corona deaths. By the end of July, it reached 150,000. To some of them, Donald Trump might have believed his promise as well, “I am an outsider fighting for you!” This came from a man who, from landlord to TV host, arrived in politics via conspiracy theories. Trump thought and perhaps still thinks President Obama forged his birth certificate.

Donald Trump also called President Obama “the founder of ISIS” and announced that Hillary Clinton was “the co-founder”. Too many people believe in nonsense like this. Others might believe Donald Trump when he said, “I am your voice” – this is an hallucination. When populists like Donald Trump are in office, they tend to direct their indignation against the outsider, the non-white minorities, specific ethnicities, and religious groups. They do not recognise them as real people which, of course, they claim to represent. They also direct their power against a second target. These are democratic institutions – formal and informal. In particular, those that contest the populist’s key claim: I represent “the” people – as if there is something like “the” people. It denies variety, the plurality of opinion, and unavoidably: democracy.

Following the anti-democratic rulebook of the populist, they start attacking the free press and in particular the news outlets of the enlightened citoyen. This is the democratic middle-class less dedicated to the business of money-making but more to human rights. Their newspapers – the New York Times, The Guardian, the Washington Post, the Sydney Morning Herald, etc. – reflect this political orientation. They are under attack as populists reject democratic debate as much as free speech. But this is only the beginning. The second step is a more implicit (Trump) than explicit (Orban) fight against independent institutions. These are institutions not under but curtailed by the right-wing populist. Right-wing populism targets democratic foundations, trade unions, progressive think tanks, religious associations, and recalcitrant NGOs.

The populist presents them as tools of an out-dated elite that is outside of society and who are against the interest of “the” people. It is not uncommon for the populist to regard them as traitors. They have betrayed “the” people. Simultaneously, the populist is the only true representative of the real voice of the people. Right-wing populism assumes there is something like a non- or better anti-democratic will of the people. A will that only they – the populists – represent.

This is particularly ridiculous in the case of Donald Trump. Undetected by his supporters lurks the nagging question, how can a billionaire represent ordinary people? – a question never to be answered. Meanwhile, right-wing populists like Trump reject liberal democracy’s three core promises:

1/ a promise to the masses to let them rule – albeit indirectly;

2/ a promise to minorities to protect their rights from the power of the majority; and

3/ a promise to economic elites that they can “accumulate wealth” as Marx would say.

With these promises, most democracies, especially when linked to petit-bourgeois consumerism, have achieved reasonable success. Liberal democracy kept people at bay and capitalism safe and sound. Still, democracy has always been portioned off from the most elementary sphere of corporate capitalism. The exclusion of democracy from the sphere of capitalism, e.g. companies and corporations, clearly indicates that the system of democracy was never set up to fully allow the rule of the people by the people and for the people. The exclusion of democracy applies not only to the sphere of capital but also to the other two branches of government: the judiciary and the executive (state administration and bureaucracy).

Today, sections of the legislature that were once the most important political organ in a democracy have lost much of their powers. The power of democracy has been successively handed over to Supreme Courts, bureaucrats, central banks, and international treaties (WTO, IMF, NATO, etc.) and organisations (etc. EU). Run as non-democratic institutions, they are incapable or unwilling to fight the most critical issue of our time: global warming. In some cases, it surely is as Upton Sinclair once said, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”. In most cases, these are men. All too often, their salary, power, and position depend on not understanding the impact of global warming. Their power also depends on using democracy to mollify public discontent.

Besides this and neoliberalism’s “less state” ideology, most democracies are run by substantial bureaucracies within the executive branch. While this is not unique to the USA, the US Congress enacted 138 laws and in 2007 while federal agencies set up 2,926 rules. The 138 laws are part of democracy, and the 3,000 rules govern many eventualities of American life. Worse, most economic decisions are taken by non-democratic actors like reserve banks. Frequently, such issues are presented as non-democratic but highly technical. These are, so we are told, non-political. These ideologies aid the fact that the exclusion of democracy is accepted.

In the meantime, many politicians are part of a revolving door that works between corporations, corporate lobbying, and politics. It is an excellent money-making scheme for politicians who were once elected through democratic means. Not surprisingly, conservative MPs die almost twice as wealthy as conservatives who unsuccessfully ran for parliament. Much of the money that they accumulate at the end of their lives do not come from saving their meagre remuneration as a politician. In short, for many politicians, the democratic office is highly lucrative because it endows them with political connections and knowledge that they put towards personal financial advantage by selling themselves to companies and corporations.

But that is not all. In most capital cities, one finds more lobbyists than democratically elected politicians. Corporations spend a considerable amount of money on lobbying. In the USA, for example, for every dollar spent by labour unions and public-interest groups on lobbying, large corporations and their lobbyists spend $34.

With a 34:1 ratio, it is not surprising that our laws favour corporations (low or no tax, pro-business regulation, etc.) and disadvantage workers (low wages, high job insecurity, unemployment, the rise of precariat, wage stagnation, gig jobs, etc.). This has become so bad that even the otherwise neoliberal IMF noticed it. Paired with the ideology of neoliberalism, the corporate takeover of the law-making process has created the very opposite of the ideological myth of trickle-down economics. It creates a vacuum of wealth upward, concentrating money at the top.

But it also damages democracy. In a democracy, corporate lobbying works like this: when Hillary Clinton was asked why she had attended Donald Trump’s wedding back in 2005, her response was hardly convincing, “I thought it’d be fun,” she said. Donald Trump offered a somewhat more blunt reason for inviting the Clintons, “as a contributor, I demanded that they be there—they had no choice”. The three volumes of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital could have hardly explained the relationship between corporate capitalism and democracy any better. Donald Trump might not be a good president, but he understands two things to perfection: money and power.

But one should not fall for the romantic illusions of “Mr Smith Goes to Washington“. The reality is rather different. The political power elite has distanced itself from the people. A few years back, the median net worth of an average American was about $45,000. The median net worth of an average member of Congress, by contrast, is over ten times higher and a Senator’s is even higher still. Having $45,000 or $450,000 makes a difference – just as a Honda Civic or a Maserati makes a difference.

Still, money isn’t all there is to it. Power plays a role as well and particularly when it comes along as media power. The UK is a shining example. It is no accident that a (mostly conservative) candidate backed by Rupert Murdoch’s powerful, The Sun, tabloid newspaper has gone on to win ten out of the last ten parliamentary elections. “10-out-of-10” explains why every single UK politician who has ever been Prime Minister had to see Rupert and had to continue to see him to be re-elected. More than any sociological (Dahl) or philosophical (Foucault) definition of power, “10-out-of-10” shows what power is and how it works.

Given all this, it is not surprising that the reputation of democratic institutions is in steep decline. In the 1970s, for example, 40% of Americans expressed confidence in Congress. By 2014, that percentage dropped to just 7%. This is not exclusive to the USA. For the first time in decades, Freedom House, which observes democracy around the world, has found that more countries are taking steps away from democracy than are taking steps toward it. This has been seen as “democracy in recession”.

The global democratic recession of is flanked by an upswing in anti-democratic, right-wing populism. In 2017, people were asked about their support of a strong leader: 33% of Germans said yes, 48% of French voters approved, and 50% of UK voters agreed. In other words, Authoritarianism is on the rise.

This not only shows that Adorno’s Authoritarian Personality is alive and well, but it also shows that right-wing populists can – and will – see democracy increasingly not as a medium to find common ground but as an instrument to eliminate others. Democratic politicians see their political opponent as an adversary. Anti-democratic politicians see opponents as enemies to be destroyed. To them, democracy serves a specific purpose. This purpose has been outlined by none other than Hitler’s Reich-Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. He once said,

it will always remain one of the best jokes of democracy, that it gave its deadly enemies the means by which it was destroyed

This is not to say that Donald Trump is anything like Hitler and Goebbels. Americans can still vote, there are no concentration camps, Jews are not hunted down, no Gestapo will torture you to death, no SA is marching down the street, there is no SS, and there are no Einsatzgruppen. This is the face of true fascism – not Donald Trump. Still, right-wing populist and anti-democrat, Trump broke almost every democratic rule there is. An incomplete list looks a bit like this:

+ he promised to jail his political opponent viewing her as an enemy to be destroyed;

+ he refuses to say that he would accept the outcome of the election;

+ he bullies the press on an almost daily basis, showing disregard for democracy’s free speech;

+ he invited a foreign power to sabotage his main competitor;

+ he incited hatred against ethnic and religious minorities; and

+ he promised to take unconstitutional action against them.

Overall, one might argue that right-wing populism operates a three-stage attack against democracy. Once in power, right-wing populism undermines the neutrality of independent state institutions. Secondly, it uses government funds to spread propaganda and to silence or eliminate non-compliant journalists and media outlets. Finally, it attacks the democratic right to voice dissenting opinions and to protest against government policies.

A right-wing populist movement is set to dismantle key elements of the democratic system. This comes with the dissolution of three key elements that stabilised post-war democracy. Firstly, post-war democracies were defined by mass media that created not only a stable form of mass consent but also limited extreme ideologies. The advent of the Internet has reshaped the media landscape of democracies. Given the power of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, WhatsApp, Amazon self-publishing, etc., right-wing extremists can distribute their l’idée fixe, ideologies, conspiracy theories, etc. widely. Via Fox, they even have access to the mainstream.

Secondly, during the immediate years after the post-war period, most people enjoyed a steady rise in their living standards. Access to petit-bourgeois consumer goods pacified a previously rather revolting working class by incorporating workers into the petit-bourgeois. The working-class milieu dissolved. This has ended. After decades of neoliberalism, substantial sections of the middle class have experienced a decline in living standards. Others live in fear of decline as the rich are made richer, and the rest are made poorer.

The third and final attack on democracy comes from the rise of right-wing populism based on an economic fear of a real decline in living standards linked to the ability of right-wing populism to use the Internet for scapegoating. In other words, what we see at the end of the neoliberal period (1980-2000) is not a return to social-democratic Keynesianism that supports democracy but the exact opposite. The rise of right-wing populism can be seen from Turkey to Hungary, from Poland to India, from Israel to the Philippines, and from Brazil to the USA.

When up to 70% of American said in 2016 that immigration was very important and 84% of Trump voters said some migrants should be deported, one can see that right-wing populism is succeeding. What all this does is shift the emphasis away from neoliberalism and conservatism. Public relations knows this as agenda setting and political framing. It eliminates the recognition of facts like these:

+ Only 1% of total wealth growth from 1986 to 2012 went to the bottom 90% of households. In other words, most Americans got nothing.

+ Ronald Reagan slashed the top tax rate for high-income earners from 70% to 50% in 1981, and then again to 38.5% in 1986. George W. Bush cut it down to 35% and the capital gains rate (exclusively paid by the wealthy) from 20% to 15%. This is one way to make the rich richer. But neoliberalism never stops there. It also makes the poor poorer.

+ Two decades ago, 68% of families with children in poverty received cash assistance via welfare. Today, it is 26%. As poverty is created, corporations are made even richer.

+ The effective tax rate paid by corporations is the lowest in four decades: just 12.1%. And for those corporations that can’t handle this stratospheric tax burden, neoliberalism offers something better.

+ One-fifth of the largest American companies have, by perfectly legal means, shifted over $1 trillion to offshore tax havens, costing the US government about $111 billion in lost tax revenue.

The list goes on. Give these numbers and the shrinking of the middle class, and the rise of economic insecurity, it is no wonder that capital needs someone to divert attention away from its pathologies. Right-wing populism is the handiest tool for that even when it means the end of democracy as we know it.


Yascha Mounk’s People vs. Democracy was published in 2018.


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Trump’s Real Record on Unemployment in Two Graphs

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Donald Trump and his supporters routinely boast about his great success in reducing the unemployment rate. While the unemployment rate did fall to low levels under Trump, this was just a continuation of the downward trend that had been in place under Obama since 2010.

Here’s the picture with the overall unemployment rate.

See the sharp drop for the Trump years? Yeah, I don’t either. By the way, I am being very polite in leaving out the impact of the pandemic, which would show unemployment soaring. That has not happened in most other countries because their leaders were better able to deal with the pandemic and the economy.

Here’s the picture for the Black unemployment rate since Trump apparently thinks his administration has been great for Blacks.

We see the same story here as with the overall unemployment rate, the continuation of a downward trend, albeit at a slower pace, than had been going on for years. Trump can take credit for not crashing the economy, until the pandemic, but that really is not all that much to boast about.

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

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Listening, Conflict and Citizenship

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In Strong Democracy (1984), Benjamin Barber argues that liberals have reduced “talk to speech” which has “unfortunately inspired political institutions that foster the articulation of interests but that slight the difficult art of listening” (p. 174). He thinks that our representative form of politics enhances the “speaking function … while the listening function is diminished” (ibid.). Barber further contends that the Anglo-American adversary system penalizes listening. In contrast, participatory processes of self-legislation nourish mutualistic listening. Listeners do not scrutinize the opponent’s position to crush their opponents.

Rather, they “find that an emphasis on speech enhances natural inequalities in individual’s abilities to speak with clarity, eloquence, logic and rhetoric. Listening is a mutualistic at that by its very practice enhanced equality. The empathetic listener becomes more like his interlocutor as the two bridge the differences between them by conversation and mutual understanding. Indeed, one measure of healthy political talk is the amount of silence it permits and encourages, for silence is the precious medium in which reflection is nurtured and empathy can grow” (p. 175).

Susan Bickford (The Dissonance of Democracy: listening, conflict, and citizenship (1996) argues that listening takes its importance from the endemic presence of difference and conflict in our late twentieth century world (and intensified in the twenty-first). For Bickford, the very possibility of politics hinges on “communicative engagement that takes conflict and differences seriously and yet allows for joint action” (p. 2). She maintains that: “the capacity for paying attention that is central to deliberation has a special characteristic in political deliberation; it includes paying attention to the perceptions of one’s fellow citizens” (p. 35). By paying attention in order to understand and judge others’ contributions, we clear the way for the reshaping of our own opinions and viewpoints. “This kind of listening,” Bickford says, “is central to collective figuring out, to the communicative exercise of practical reason” (p. 51).

But this collective figuring out occurs in a world wracked by cultural conflict and adversarialness (what Michael Karlberg (Beyond the Culture of Contest [2004] labels as a “culture of contest”). To whom does power pay attention, who and what gets heard? Bickford alerts us to the way in which “what tends to get heard in public settings is a way of speaking associated with those who control social, political, and economic institutions” (p. 97). Socio-linguists point to the way power (or its lack thereof) conditions voice quality, affective disposition and the framing of utterances. Feminist theorists have observed that less powerful women speak more hesitantly, and patriarchal power hears only deference or insecurity. The same can be said of other non-listened to groupings. They do not have the right look and the right speech.

Many minority-focused thinkers are suspicious of speaking of “universal citizen identities” (p. 103). They believe that talk of a citizen self ignores the particularities of people’s lives (colour, gender, ethnicity, class, religion, sexuality). In “Polity and group difference: a critique of the ideal of universal citizenship,” Iris Young argues that because the inequalities of economic life affect the status and treatment of groups (minorities are persistently excluded and unrecognized in public deliberations), communicative justice requires the “articulation of special rights that attend to group differences in order to undermine oppression and disadvantage” (p. 177).

For Young, a democratic public ought to provide “mechanisms for the effective representation of the distinct voices and perceptions of those of its constituent groups that are approved within it” (pp. 188-89). Young is looking for a way to force the powerful to listen to the marginalized. In Democracy and Difference (1993), Anne Phillips worries that Young’s proposal could shore up “communal boundaries and tensions, which could be as oppressive as any universal norm” (p. 96). Granting group rights is not the way to enhance “procedures for group-consultation” (p. 7). We must not just talk to ourselves and issue demands to others.

The American turn to “identity” or “group-based politics” signals the unwillingness of many groups to “function on a basis of common understanding with the majority” (C. Taylor, Philosophical Arguments [1995], p. 281). Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor thinks that a severe identity-based politics, which collapses the citizen self into a multiplicity of shifting selves, leads people to believe that they are “less and less capable of forming a common purpose and carrying it out” (p. 282). People feel less bound with each other’s fate. Asserting that a particular ethnic or religious matters (as they do) easily excludes working toward a society where all lives matter.

And the more fragmented a democratic electorate is, Taylor contends, “the more will their energies be transferred to the promotion of partial groupings, and the less possible it will be to mobilize majorities around commonly understood programs. A sense grows that the electorate as a whole is defenceless against the leviathan state; a well-organized and integrated partial grouping may indeed be able to make a dent; but the idea that a majority of the people might frame and carry through a common project comes to seem utopian and naïve” (pp. 282-3). (Here, we set aside the heated debate regarding the idea of making sacrifices for strangers as possible only within the boundaries of the nation-state [J. Ingram, Radical Cosmopolitics: the ethics and politics of democratic universalism, 2013], pp. 45-60)

The world of partial groupings and identity politics thrives on assertive speech and denigrates listening. The less bound we are to our follow and sister citizens, the more the need for attending-to and being attended-to disappears. Ensuring that political fragmentation does not slide into atomization and defeatism places listening in the centre of a civil societarian agenda. Taylor maintains that the conditions for genuine democratic decision-making must include:

1/ People’s understanding that they “belong to a community that shares some common purposes and recognizes its members as sharing these purposes;

2/ That the various groups, types, and classes of citizens have been given a genuine hearing and were able to have an impact on the debate;

3/ That the decision emerging from this is really the majority preference” (p. f276).

For her part, Bickford counsels us to create a non-fragmented public self from out of our multiple loyalties. We must be prepared to be courageous enough to “be open to the possibilities of contradiction and conflict within oneself, to hear different voices and see from different vantage points, bit to move beyond those shared vantage points to a unique view” (p. 123). People who are not listened-to do not “get to participate equally in public argument about those real material needs and obstacles” (ibid.).

Let me conclude these brief observations on listening by suggesting some “pedagogical challenges” emerging from an analysis of listening.

1/ We learn to listen; we cannot assume that the listening capacity of the citizenry is developed or even developing. Our western scientific knowledge-culture and popular mass media cultures are not particularly hospitable to attending-to and heeding the vulnerable other. The erosion of solidarity in the lifeworld weakens the subject’s ability and willingness to communicate.

2/ With others, critical adult educators can foster communicative infrastructures within existing institutions, associations and public spheres. This means that the “rules of discourse” must be followed: no one may be excluded; anything may be said, questioned, or challenged; and no force may be used (S. Chambers, Reasonable Democracy: Jurgen Habermas and the politics of discourse [1996], p. 177). Resourceful and respectful communication not only pursues the “best argument;” it also produces human solidarity.

3/ Committed to a pedagogics of civil society, activists can create innovative learning forms where adults can practice what A. Gutman and D. Thompson (“Moral conflict and political consensus” [1990] call a “distinctly democratic kind of character—the character of individuals who are morally committed, self-reflective in their commitments, discerning of the difference between respectable and merely tolerable differences of opinion, and open to the possibility of changing our minds” (p. 100).

Listening cannot be taken for granted in our present feverish historical moment of antagonist divisions of many sorts. It must be cultivate actively by persons and collectives if we are going to hold civil society together with minimal, but crucial, solidarity and commitment to the commonweal.

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Donald Trump Is The Only One Who Should Be Going To School This Fall

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“In thinking specifically about the abolition of prisons using the approach of abolition democracy, we would propose the creation of an array of social institutions that would begin to solve the social problems that set people on the track to prison, thereby helping to render the prison obsolete. There is a direct connection with slavery: when slavery was abolished black people were set free, but they lacked access to the material resources that would enable them to fashion new, free lives. Prisons have thrived over the last century precisely because of the absence of those resources and the persistence of some of the deep structures of slavery. They cannot, therefore, be eliminated unless new institutions and resources are made available to those communities that provide, in large part, the human beings that make up the prison population.”

—Angela Davis

Our infantile President needs to be taught some lessons. It’s not just the lessons that the liberal meritocracy wants him to learn. Trump’s opposition in the majority of the Democratic Party and the corporate media who backs them up wants Trump to start listening to the experts—who are often in their position of power through many of the same tactics as Trump: ability to bullshit, lack of empathy, being boring enough to have ambition. Our country may be full of idiots but they are mostly at the top.

The larger problem with our society is a lack of education of citizenship a la Ralph Nader. Nader hits another home run in his latest radio hour with educator Barbara Lewis. Speaking of home runs, couldn’t the Marlins use Ralph more than ever right now with most of their team sidelined with COVID? Lord knows the blue team could use a person who can catch some bases being stolen in Florida. Which is exactly what Nader does on the second half of his show with Greg Palast.

When cases inevitably pile up in the schools wouldn’t Trump be just like the baseball commissioner who said the players need to “be better”. Trump’s only governing strategy is deflection. Without at least some checks and balances of power the virus would be far worse. With the country structured as it is he can blame local officials who are cleaning up his mess because these officials do have some power. However, the dictator-in-Chief will do anything he can to get rid of all checks until we are the hoarded toilet paper in his bleached shithole of a country.

Just as Trump’s fascist state has abandoned public health, public democracy and public lands it has abandoned public schools. The disinvestment from poor and minority schools can only be met with a reparations policy that considers all aspects of oppression in an intersectional and dynamic way. But why put the cart before the horse here? If the neoliberal state continues to present itself as incapable of funding public programs why should the public have to take on the health risk of partaking in them?

Mandatory schooling prevents another dynamic of criminalization of people with health conditions who can not afford to let their children take the risk. The dangerous rhetoric of children being “immune” from COVID obscures how the disease spreads between even mild cases and prevents a false security to children who could suffer permanent damage to their body even if they don’t die.

One of the unique risks of children specifically being infected is paradoxically that they often don’t show symptoms meaning they are more likely to spread to others at school because we can’t tell that they are sick. According to Harvard Health, children exposed to COVID have developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) which results in life-threatening organ failure.

Trump is criminally threatening to remove funding for schools that don’t reopen. While this blackmail may be the only kind of black or mail Trump supports, let’s remember too that he is cutting the budget by tremendous amounts regardless. The fiscal year 2021 proposes cuts to education by 6.1 billion according to the National Education Association. They point to cuts to English Language Learners, Title I (low income students), Title II (disability) and rural. Our taxes are also being funneled to private schools through 5 billion in Freedom Scholarships. Public service loan forgiveness would meet its death like many of the American people and work-study funding would fall by 55%.

Schools in free fall are being abandoned by the federal government. Those who can stay afloat amidst budget crises are the schools funded by property taxes—namely where the rich kids live. The other truth is that safely reopening simply isn’t realistic unless the budget radically changes. The estimated cost of safely reopening is 245 billion dollars according to The Council of State Chief School Officers. Compare that to Republican Senator Lamar Alexander’s estimation of 50 billion. The aid is also being disproportionately allocated to private schools already as Betsy DeVos changes the formula of distribution to one based on distribution of total number of schools in a district rather than total number of low income students in a school.

The coronavirus is forcing us to consider space in a new way. In what ways is space utilized to reenforce inequality? How have closed spaces such as prisons and immigrant detainment centers left communities vulnerable to the virus? In what ways has the home been a similar trap for women, who now experience an alarming rise in domestic violence thanks to the enclosed space of the home? In what ways would the closed space of the school be a similar entrapment for children without access to health care and already suffering health consequences of a polluted environment? In what ways do the rich create their own spaces to be free of the dangers of being poor and dark skinned, whether that be policing, environment deregulation or austerity defunding through the logic of neoliberalism?

However to avoid cynicism we should also be asking what type of schools we want for our children. If we can determine a safe way for return then we should be looking at it. However, the numbers simply don’t add up between what is needed for a safe reopening and what is being proposed to be given. While a district by district approach has some appeal we also should be problematizing this segregation of policy because it is obvious that for the richer schools with more funding there is less safety risk. Accepting a district by district approach does accept this inequality and leaves poor children further behind.

Who even needs school when you have Black Lives Matter? Why continue to send children to American Exceptionalism history classes when they could be attending statue removals? Now that’s a bit of hyperbole but the basic point is this: if we cannot even properly educate the public on the dangers of the virus why are we sending people to risk their lives for an alternative story?

The silver lining of this virus is that it has forced us to imagine new possibilities. Rather than working all day for capital people have turned to protest to make demands for justice. On a parallel, the false guarantee of work is exposed under the virus as people have to turn to the government to survive. Hopefully, this will be the propaganda for socialism we need. But then again the American public may already be there. Bernie Sanders mentions winning the ideological battle on “socialist” programs. The deeper problem is that there is no democracy to give voice to these issues because of the very inequality that makes the policies obvious. While we wait for corporate duopoly racketeers to catch up hundreds of thousands die from austerity politics that have completely lost track of the poor who have the virus or are at risk of it. Even if the virus brings the revolution it will be at a tremendous cost.

For now, we simply don’t have the revolution necessary to transform social relations and the idea of living to see another day politically and physically seems like an idea that will have to do. Meanwhile, children will have to deal with a multitude of problems especially from poor and working families reliant on the childcare and food from the school system. But while boycotting school may have many downsides, it also can amount to the same leverage as a strike, which teachers are already organizing. Go back to school and a certain cut will die and Trump and co. will say that’s the cost and that for those of us not dead, America is back. That’s always been his political gambit. Some of you are disposable but the country benefits from it. Cowardly.

However if we boycott school now the government is forced to respond to more civil unrest. This is the sort of exposure of the state that will be necessary to transform it. Just as protest across the country has made the authoritarian state show its brutal hand, so too a boycott of the schools will expose the inability of neoliberal relations to deal with a public health crisis.

Trump defines himself by his wealth and fame. A true public education system can teach our children to be so much more than that. But under a corporate neoliberal model the only public we have is public death. Until we revolutionize our society into one that takes care of the least of us and not just the corporate class we will continue to have cyclical but continual crisis and unnecessary death. In the absence of this society the most responsible thing to do is prevent as many deaths as possible.

When the coronavirus first started I was sadly one of those who bought into the false choice presented by the right: work and die or don’t work and die. I wanted people to be able to go back to work because I could only imagine a society where work could provide for the poor. However, the left must always fight against the reactionary politics of the right that aim to hold idealism captive. There are other ways for society to provide beyond dependent slavery to capital. It is our job to create these possibilities for alternative structures.

Examples of the false choices meant to smother idealism include: reopen the economy amidst a deadly pandemic so poor people can have enough to eat. Counter with a solution that gives people enough to eat without having to risk their lives. The worst-case scenario is the right reactionary one that only emerges because they neglected common sense and decency in their original question.

Another example: the right says invade and sanction Venezuela because their government has failed. The left could respond by pointing out that the economics are sabotaged by Empire and that by negotiating with terrorists like John Bolton we only increase the downward spiral. Resistance to the hegemony of United States must be supported in Venezuela especially when they represent almost a last stand against neoliberal free-market dominance in the entire region of Latin America.

The same logic goes on in the transition to green energy. The right says we’ll lose jobs. Well how about we stop choosing between “livelihoods” and the very existence of life on earth being threatened from climate change. Here is where an emphasis on intersectionality is so key so that the right can’t make disingenuous left arguments (rights of workers) to stop real left projects (transition to green economy which includes worker’s rights naturally).

It is that time of year again and I know it is a special election with a special shade of fascism but the same false choice argument is used for opportunistic Democrats. If you want something more than their corporate neoliberal agenda, you support Republicans is the argument. Let’s give one up for Barack Obama, not just because he didn’t use his eulogy time for a Civil Rights leader to take shots at black radicals as Bill Clinton did but also because he brought up the necessary fight for voting rights that are under severe attack by this authoritarian administration.

We can tell Obama really has the right amount of respect for his doofus successor Joe Biden. That is, zero respect. Obama would never have campaigned for himself to have a Democrat Congress because it would mean he would have to do something for progressives. Good for him for trying to fuck over Biden with a Democrat congress that he will eagerly ignore. Biden will be busy lost in his literal and political basement trying to juggle replacing what Biden called the “first” racist President with all the politically expedient racist policies that Biden built his career on.

Opening schools would be more of an argument if we had an administration that took the virus seriously. We know that this administration will not respond to the plight of children or workers and as a result, the question of catastrophe for school populations is not if, but when. The same disregard for human life can be found in the way this administration deals with public schools generally. In fact, both corporate parties have been gutting public health and public school resources. Under neoliberalism the public doesn’t even exist, only the individual does. President Trump is the embodiment of this mentality as he will kill the entire public as long as it benefits himself. It is said that reading is the best way to create empathy because it gives you access to the world of another person. So Mr. Trump, shut up and read a book. It won’t kill you.

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America’s Multiple Infections

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On a per capita basis, Belgium has been the European country hardest hit by the coronavirus. With a population of 11.5 million, it registered over 66,000 infections and nearly 10,000 deaths. In fact, Belgium’s level of mortality of 860 deaths per million inhabitants is the highest in the world.

Belgium suppressed the first wave of the coronavirus by imposing a strict lockdown. By the beginning of the summer, it had radically reduced its infection rate. It restarted its economy. It reopened its borders to tourists in the middle of June.

In July, however, the infection rate began to rise again, with a pocket of new infections around the city of Antwerp. New cases began to reach several hundred a day.

The Belgian government swiftly instituted new restrictions on the number of people who could gather in public spaces and for private events like weddings. It limited the number of contacts for each household to the same five people for the next four weeks. It made the use of face masks mandatory in crowded public spaces.

In this way, the government wants to avoid another lockdown. “However, the most important approach is the individual one,” Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes has said. “If we cannot contain the coronavirus, it will be a collective failure.” In other words, the Belgian government knows that it can institute as many restrictions as it wants, but they won’t be effective unless individual Belgians comply with the rules.

The U.S. population is about 30 times larger than Belgium’s. During its recent surge of infections, Belgium experienced an average increase of 279 new cases per day. If the United States were to experience a comparable rise, that would translate to 8,370 new cases per day.

In reality, since the middle of July, the United States has been hit by an average of more than 60,000 new cases per day, which is already seven times the size of the crisis that Belgium is experiencing.

But instead of introducing new restrictions, as Belgium has done, President Donald Trump has been insisting on the opposite. He has urged states to reopen their economies. He is insisting that students return to school. Until very recently, he refused even to wear a face mask.

More than 4 million Americans have come down with the virus. Nearly 150,000 people have died. The United States is 4.3 percent of the world’s population—but 26 percent of the world’s coronavirus cases and 22 percent of the deaths. This is the country’s greatest public health disaster of the last 100 years.

On July 21, Donald Trump declared that his administration was “in the process of developing a strategy” to address the coronavirus. Frankly, it’s criminal that he didn’t develop such a strategy half a year ago.

The federal government has proven to be incapable of coordinating an effective response to the pandemic. Even six months into this crisis, the United States does not have a fully functioning testing and contact tracing system. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the actual infection numbers might be as much as 10 times higher in certain parts of the country. As it is, the pandemic is currently overwhelming the southern tier of the country, from Florida to Louisiana and from Texas to California.

The problem is not just Donald Trump, though he bears a lion’s share of the responsibility. And it’s not just the members of his Republican party who serve in Congress and as governors of some of the hardest-hit states who are at fault.

The problem also lies with Americans.

Even though the United States is the epicenter of the current pandemic, many Americans remain coronavirus skeptics. One in three, according to a July poll from Axios-Ipsos, believe that statistics on COVID deaths have been exaggerated. Large numbers of Americans refuse to wear masks in public. These refuseniks go to bars, congregate at public beaches, and even hold big house parties, like the one that police recently broke up in New Jersey that attracted 700 people. If their state doesn’t allow them to eat inside a restaurant or get a haircut, then they’ll drive long distances to a state that does.

Yes, these Americans are brainwashed by their president, by the Republican Party and anti-liberal news sources like Fox. But the problem goes deeper.

Americans have long been infected by the disease of selfish individualism.

This is the country that produced Ayn Rand, the novelist who also wrote a book called The Virtues of Selfishness. This is the country that produced Wall Street billionaires who go to every length to avoid paying taxes. This is the country where an anti-vaccine minority and its irrational beliefs put the majority at risk.

This is the country that elected a president who refuses to take any individual responsibility for his actions (or lack of action). “I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump declared in mid-March in reference to the coronavirus. Instead, he has blamed everyone and everything from his predecessor Barack Obama to a Democratic Party determined to unseat him in November to America’s chief rival, China. Donald Trump’s narcissism is a particularly virulent strain of his country’s selfish individualism.

America suffers from a number of life-threatening infections: racial inequality, gender inequality, economic inequality. But the infection that will ultimately prove most harmful for the country will be its selfishness. Too many Americans belong to the cult of the individual. As the coronavirus is exposing very rapidly, this religion is in fact a death cult.

This essay first appeared in Hankyoreh.

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Thinking Outside the Social Media Echo Chamber

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Social media algorithms serve us up with what we like to see because the more we scroll, the more data they can harvest, and selling that data is their business model. Lately, it’s been popular to refer to the increasingly narrow worldview that we receive this way as an “echo chamber.” Commentators have been warning that both ignorance and polarization are the result, and that we need to take deliberate steps to avoid being boxed in and judgmental. Agreed.

One suggested remedy I saw recently is to keep people with “completely opposite political views” on your newsfeed, in part because this will remind you that people who believe those things are human too. That’s fine as far it goes, but let’s go further. I propose that the key word is not “opposite” but “outside.”

Breaking down issues into sets of opposite views is itself a product of the colonial/Western worldview, and that’s a larger “echo chamber” that we inhabit. Its intellectual tradition, which proudly roots itself in ancient Greece, is hobbled by duality, which is neither inherent to the world nor helpful for modeling political topics.

Rather than picturing ourselves along a spectrum—defined by only two dimensions—we can envision ourselves in bubbles, which extend into all directions. Our knowledge and experience is demarcated by how big our bubble is.

This admits to being in a bubble, which is honest.

First, because here in the “developed” West, we are insulated from many aspects of reality that are commonplace elsewhere, such as bombed cities, mass starvation, and child slavery. That all of these terrible crimes are connected to our material wealth here is even less known. These things are outside our collective bubble.

Second, our individual bubble is a product of our upbringing, experience and constitution, most of which is not in our control. That is, each of us was handed something to work with that we didn’t choose. We can decide what we’ll do with it, though, as circumstances allow. We can push the walls of the bubble out to include more. We widen our perspective.

This process might include keeping people in your social media newsfeed who have “completely opposite political views” but that would only be one element. If we are talking about the very limited world of social media, I would suggest adding people to your feed who offer points of view that are defined less than how they relate to yours in a polar way and more by how “outside” they are of your bubble. Because batting the same ball back and forth between two sides is really only fun if it’s with a racket or a paddle or whatever. When it comes to your knowledge and understanding of life, that approach won’t get you far. It’s reductive and flattens the bubble.

Life is not two-dimensional. Living it that way will not lead to satisfaction or growth. Look back over the centuries of tragedy that led us to this moment: so much brutality and bloodshed, all the way back to Mesopotamia, when this “good vs. evil” slop started getting dished out. Have any of our civilizations worked during that period? As in, accumulated wealth without imposing suffering on humans and nature? Some, like the pre-Patriarchal Crete that Riane Eisler speaks of, were certainly better than others. But we here in the US are among the worst.

We owe it to this planet to widen our field of vision. Rather than viewing life as a series of us vs. them battles, we must step back and look around.

Personally, I don’t see the point of ensuring that my social media feed has at least one virulently homophobic jerk on it who can remind me on a daily basis that people who “hate f@gs” are human too. Or who will spew the racist shit I heard regularly during my red state childhood. Or who is going to denigrate all my sisters because it’s the only way they know to feel like a man. Conversely, as a white US American, I find it totally valuable for my feed to include Native Americans, Blacks and other people of color, as well as a generous amount people who live in other countries. Additionally, non-political interest groups, such as plant, bird and insect identification forums, offer a much needed reminder that it’s not all about humans. (And of course, cat videos are essential, and cut across all sociopolitical lines.)

The internet and social media gives us an opportunity to expose ourselves to all sort of different cultures and ideas; the fact that most US Americans don’t seem to use it that way reminds me of how I have often found myself to be the only white person in an Asian, Middle Eastern or Latinx grocery store. I mean, if the US has been good for anything, it’s been as a place where you can choose from a dizzying array of foods from around the world, probably unprecedented in history. Yet many people just stick with the same set of narrow, habituated choices.

Which might be getting more to the heart of things; in general, US Americans have never been interested in other cultures, and are not only satisfied with living in an echo chamber in real life, but seek to keep it that way. In that sense, social media algorithms are merely reflective of how we have always behaved anyway. A few people are curious, but most aren’t.

Personally, I greatly appreciate people who are smarter, wiser or clearer-seeing than I am in whatever way—whether the topic is politics, food propagation or car repair—and I am happy that this is a pool of people so large that I can draw from it for the rest of my life. As I am exposed to the words and ideas of people like that, my understanding of life expands. Instead of merely seeing that people are human in spite of their shortcomings, I can enjoy that people are inspiring in spite of their suffering. I’d rather seek hands to hold in the darkness, than fists to fend off.

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The Military is Sick

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American military personnel are getting sick in significant numbers in the midst of the ongoing pandemic. As The New York Times reported in a pieceburied in the back pages of its July 21st edition, “The infection rate in the services has tripled over the past six weeks as the United States military has emerged as a potential source of transmission both domestically and abroad.”

Indeed, the military is sick and I think of it as both a personal and an imperial disaster.

As the wife of a naval officer, I bear witness to the unexpected ways that disasters of all sorts play out among military families and lately I’ve been bracing for the Covid-19 version of just such a disaster. Normally, for my husband and me, the stressors are relatively mild. After all, between us we have well-paid jobs, two healthy children, and supportive family and friends, all of which allow us to weather the difficulties of military life fairly smoothly. In our 10 years together, however, over two submarine assignments and five moves, we’ve dealt with unpredictable months-long deployments, uncertainty about when I will next be left to care for our children alone, and periods of 16-hour workdays for my spouse that strained us both, not to speak of his surviving a major submarine accident.

You would think that, as my husband enters his third year of “shore duty” as a Pentagon staffer, the immediate dangers of military service would finally be negligible. No such luck. Since around mid-June, as President Trump searched for scapegoats like the World Health Organization for his own Covid-19 ineptitude and his concern over what rising infection rates could mean for his approval ratings, he decided that it was time to push this country to “reopen.”

As it turned out, that wouldn’t just be a disaster for states from Florida to California, but also meant that the Pentagon resumed operations at about 80% capacity. So, after a brief reprieve, my spouse is now required to report to his office four days a week for eight-hour workdays in a poorly ventilated, crowded hive of cubicles where people neither consistently mask nor social distance.

All of this for what often adds up to an hour or two of substantive daily work. Restaurants, dry cleaners, and other services where Pentagon staffers circulate only add to the possibility of his being exposed to Covid-19.

My husband, in other words, is now unnecessarily risking his own and his family’s exposure to a virus that has to date claimed more than 150,000American lives — already more than eight times higher than the number of Americans who died in both the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed.

In mid-August, he will transfer to an office job in Maryland, a state where cases and deaths are again on the rise. One evening, I asked him why it seemed to be business as usual at the Pentagon when numbers were spiking in a majority of states. His reply: “Don’t ask questions about facts and logic.”

After all, unless Secretary of Defense Mark Esper decides to speak out against the way President Trump has worked to reopen the country to further disaster, the movement of troops and personnel like my husband within and among duty stations will simply continue, even as Covid-19 numbers soar in the military.

America’s Archipelago of Bases

Global freedom of movement has been a hallmark of America’s vast empire of bases, at least 800 of them scattered across much of the planet. Now, it may prove part of the downfall of that very imperial structure. After all, Donald Trump’s America is at the heart of the present pandemic. So it’s hardly surprising that, according to the Times, U.S. troops seem to be carrying Covid-19 infections with them from hard-hit states like Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas, a number of which have had lax and inconsistently enforced safety guidelines, to other countries where they are stationed.

For example, at just one U.S. base on the Japanese island of Okinawa, the Marine Corps reported nearly 100 cases in July, angering local officials because American soldiers had socialized off-base and gone to local bars in a place where the coronavirus had initially been suppressed. No longer. In Nigeria, where official case counts are low but healthcare workers in large cities are reporting a spike in deaths among residents with symptoms, the U.S. military arms, supplies, and trains the national security forces. So a spike in cases among U.S. troops now places local populations (as well as those soldiers) at additional risk in a country where testing and contact tracing are severely lacking. And this is a problem now for just about any U.S. ally from Europe to South Korea.

What this virus’s spread among troops means, of course, is that the U.S. empire of bases that spans some 80 countries — about 40% of the nations on this planet — is now part of the growing American Covid-19 disaster. There is increasing reason to believe that new outbreaks of what the president likes to call the “Chinese virus” in some of these countries may actually prove to be American imports. Like many American civilians, our military personnel are traveling, going to work, socializing, buying things, often unmasked and ungloved, and anything but social distanced.

Public health experts have been clear that the criteria for safely reopening the economy without sparking yet more outbreaks are numerous. They include weeks of lower case counts, positive test rates at or beneath four new cases per 100,000 people daily, adequate testing capacity, enforcing strict social-distancing guidelines, and the availability of at least 40% of hospital ICU beds to treat any possible future surge.

To date, only three states have met these criteria: Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. The White House’s Opening Up America plan, on the other hand, includes guidelines of just the weakest and vaguest sort like noting a downward trajectory in cases over 14-day periods and “robust testing capacity” for healthcare workers (without any definition of what this might actually mean).

Following White House guidance, the Department of Defense is deferring to local and state governments to determine what, if any, safety measures to take. As the White House then suggested, in March when a military-wide lockdown began, troops needed to quarantine for 14 days before moving to their next duty station. At the close of June, the Pentagon broadly removed travel restrictions, allowing both inter-state recreational and military travel by troops and their families. Now, in a country that lacks any disciplined and unified response to the global pandemic, our ever-mobile military has become a significant conduit of its spread, both domestically and abroad.

To be sure, none of us knew how to tackle the dangers posed by this virus. The last global pandemic of this sort, the “Spanish Flu” of 1918-1919 in which 50 million or more people died worldwide, suggested just how dire the consequences of such an outbreak could be when uncontained. But facts and lived experience are two different things. If you’re young, physically fit, have survived numerous viruses of a more known and treatable sort, and most of the people around you are out and about, you probably dismiss it as just another illness, even if you’re subject to some of the Covid-19 death risk factors that are indeed endemic among U.S. military personnel.

Perhaps what the spread of this pandemic among our troops shows is that the military-civilian divide isn’t as great as we often think.

Protecting Life in the Covid-19 Era

Full disclosure: I write this at a time when I’m frustrated and tired. For the past month, I’ve provided full-time child care for our two pre-school age kids, even while working up to 50 hours a week, largely on evenings and weekends, as a psychotherapist for local adults and children themselves acutely experiencing the fears, health dangers, and economic effects of the coronavirus. Like many other moms across the country, I cram work, chores, pre-K Zoom sessions, pediatrician and dentist appointments, and grocery shopping into endless days, while taking as many security precautions as I can. My husband reminds me of the need to abide by quarantines, as (despite his working conditions) he needs to be protected from exposing top Pentagon officials to the disease.

Yet the military has done little or nothing to deal with the ways the families of service members, asked to work and “rotate,” might be exposed to infection. In the dizziness of fatigue, I have little patience for any institution that carries on with business as usual under such circumstances.

What’s more, it’s hard to imagine how any efforts to quarantine will bear fruit in a country where even those Americans who do follow scientific news about Covid-19 have often dropped precautions against its spread. I’ve noted that, these days, some of my most progressive friends have started to socialize, eat indoors at restaurants, and even travel out of state to more deeply affected places by plane. They are engaging in what we therapists sometimes call “emotion-based reasoning,” or “I’m tired of safety precautions, so they must no longer be necessary.”

And that’s not even taking into account the no-maskers among us who flaunt the safety guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to indicate their supposed love of individual liberties. A relative, an officer with the Department of Homeland Security, recently posted a picture on Facebook of his three young children and those of a workmate watching fireworks arm in arm at an unmasked July 4th gathering. The picture was clearly staged to provoke those like me who support social-distancing and masking guidelines. When I talk with him, he quickly changes the subject to how he could, at any moment, be deployed to “control the rioters in D.C. and other local cities.” In other words, in his mind like those of so many others the president relies on as his “base,” the real threat isn’t the pandemic, it’s the people in the streets protesting police violence.

I wonder how the optics of American families celebrating together could have superseded safety based on an understanding of how diseases spread, as well as a healthy respect for the unknowns that go with them.

Sometimes, our misplaced priorities take my breath away, quite literally so recently. Craving takeout from my favorite Peruvian chicken restaurant and wanting to support a struggling local business, I ordered such a meal and drove with my kids to pick it up. Stopping at the restaurant, I noted multiple unmasked people packed inside despite a sign on the door mandating masks and social distancing. Making a quick risk-benefit assessment, I opened the car windows, blasted the air conditioning, and ran into the restaurant without my kids, making faces at them through the window while I stood in line.

A voice suddenly cut through the hum of the rotisseries: “Shameful! Shameful!” A woman, unmasked, literally spat these words, pointing right at me. “Leaving your kids in the car! Someone could take them! Shameful!” I caught my breath. Riddled with guilt and fearful of what she might do, I returned to my car without my food. She followed me, yelling, “Shameful!”

Aside from the spittle flying from this woman’s mouth, notable was what she wasn’t ashamed of: entering such a place, unmasked and ready to spit, with other people’s children also in there running about. (Not to mention that in Maryland reported abductions of children by strangers are nil.)

What has this country come to when we are more likely to blame the usual culprits — negligent mothers, brown and Black people, illegal immigrants (you know the list) — than accept responsibility for what’s actually going on and make the necessary sacrifices to deal with it (perhaps including, I should admit, going without takeout food)?

Typically in these years, top Pentagon officials and the high command are prioritizing the maintenance of empire at the expense of protecting the very bodies that make up the armed services (not to speak of those inhabitants of other countries living near our hundreds of global garrisons). After all, what’s the problem, when nothing could be more important than keeping this country in the (increasingly embattled) position of global overseer? More bodies can always be produced. (Thank you, military spouses!)

The spread of this virus around the globe, now aided in part by the U.S. military, reminds me of one of those paint-with-water children’s books where the shading appears gradually as the brush moves over the page, including in places you didn’t expect. Everywhere that infected Americans socialize, shop, arm, and fight, this virus is popping up, eroding both our literal ability to be present and the institutions (however corrupt) we’re still trying to prop up. If we are truly in a “war” against Covid-19 — President Trump has, of course, referred to himself as a “wartime president” — then it’s time for all of us to make the sacrifices of a wartime nation by prioritizing public health over pleasure. Otherwise, I fear that what’s good about life in this country will also be at risk, as will the futures of my own children.

The post The Military is Sick appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

How the Middle Half Lives

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The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

– William Wordsworth, “The World is Too Much With Us”

To Hell with the MIddle Class!

Oh, wait. They’re already there. At least that’s what David Roedeger argues in his new book The Sinking Middle Class: A Political History. There is no there there worth saving. Fuck it.

What is it even? One minute it’s this, another minute it’s that. Did you ever notice, all couched up on the sofa, watching Titanic that there’s all kinds of talk of the upper classes in the upper berths and the lower classes in the lower earths, blueblood English atop and Derry brogues below, but there’s no sign or mention of the middle class. It’s like there isn’t one on the ship. Unless it was supposed to be hungry artist Leo and slumming romancer Kate coming and coming together, all compromised midship.

Or, maybe the middle class is, like, Dylan sitting at home watching the movie, inspired to write a song about it, that doesn’t mention the 1% or the 99% or any percent of class at all. Fuck, he doesn’t even mention the iceberg. Or maybe the middle class is the viewer, the disappearing act between, a kind of choral commentator on the real action, a buffer between the Haves and Nots, sinking in the Corinthian leather sofa bought on credit at a 22% interest rate, while some generic ship-of-state sinks into the nameless sea.

Roedeger has a go at the whole lot. He unpacks history to interrogate the baggage carried. He brings in pollsters and shysters and the Bushes and Clintons and Obamas to make sense of how the term ‘middle class’ is used to con people into voting. He consults surveys, the Fortune in men’s eyes as they view their post-war future lifestyles. He talks about old-timey working class types, the butler and milkmaid and the milkman who ran off with your mother (haben sie liebfraumilch?). He gives us Marx snarks, amorphous masses and shape-shifting shibboleths, anodynes and literary anecdotes, Trump’s deplorables and other basket cases, and hints at the revolution ahead when we let the middle class go fall, fell, fallen. Fuck it, let’s face reality together.

Roedeger is a professor of history at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. He has a long history of critical thinking and compelling articulation about race and class politics in America. His previous studies include Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All and The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. What makes Black and White is not so black and white. The Sinking Middle Class is an Introduction on the language of politics and an Afterword on the White Working Class sandwiched around chapters on the political Uses, Pretenses, Problems and Miseries of the Middle Class. As Roedeger writes, “Each is meant to be short enough to read in three or four coffee breaks.”

Roedeger’s first consideration in The Sinking Middle Class is to consider the language itself. Where did the term come from? What are some of the assumptions that come with its dissemination? Who’s in charge of its meaning and placement within the social narrative of class history. Roedeger writes,

The term itself found little use until the last ninety years and not commonly until the Cold War…The strata we might retrospectively call the middle class of the nineteenth century (farmers, free professionals, and shopkeepers) differed utterly from those of twentieth (clerks, salespeople, employed professionals, and managers).

As we become more and more entwined in electricity and speed of light communications it can be difficult to ‘remember’ the slower, black and white ways of the pre-Internet.

We can intuitively recall a stratiated class structure — poor, lower middle class, upper middle class, and rich, with degrees of leaching into the contiguous class. One knew he belonged to the lower middle class (if he thought about it at all consciously) when he couldn’t afford to send his talented kid to Groton School, but wasn’t struggling too much to put a roof over the family and lay out three squares on the table for the family. But, says Roedeger,

Over the last thirty years self-serving, vague, and often empty political rhetoric regarding saving the “middle class” has provided the language for rightward political motion finding its way even into unions. Put forward first by the Democrats, it has debased how we understand social divisions in the United States and sidelined meaningful discussions of justice in both class and racial terms.

Somewhere along the line upper middle class on down got grouped as one body — for political purposes, but it’s a fatuous grouping.

You might see it as a way of forcing bloc-voting; a lazy way of approaching the social. economic and moral issues of the day — by trivializing nuance and difference (even as the same old class exclusions applied). And we use the news to deliver these messages, led to believe the ads are objective and balanced bits of information. Roedeger lays into this McLuhan effect. Writes Roedeger,

The US writer Waldo Frank [writes] in The Re-Discovery of America that “THE NEWS IS A TOY”—that is, a seemingly wonderful novelty and one immediately requiring replacement by a new wonder…the “news item” is overwhelmingly the sound bite of alleged political news, and that “anodyne” must now be in boldface….

I’m reminded of a scene from Boston Legal where the toyfulness of news, and the media in general, is unpacked in the courtroom.

So news, as anodyne, becomes part of the political packaging, part of the show, to be taken, ultimately, as no more serious than the campaign promises. A surreal onslaught, every four years, on the delicate balance between our ears called consciousness, an ecosystem every bit as precious as rainforest. There are laugh tracks, practiced ponderments, tearful moments of William Hurt layer peelings of imagined empathy. But we persist in believing the news, even when they refuse to tell us what we need to know. Roedeger writes,

Many of us desire those electoral news items, desperately wanting to be seen as the first to know them, and count that as being engaged in politics … even radicals follow the example of TV pundits in relying on the most quickly available voting data to construct simplistic definitions of class that have little to do with social relations.

Even radicals, and Roedeger’s not being snarky or ironical. Shit happens.

Michael Dukakis getting bushwhacked by Bernard Shaw, the latter asking him what he’d do if his wife, Kitty, was raped by Willie “Furlough” Horton becomes laugh track roast material fit for Comedy Central. One recalls this moment of “live” TV (future generations only get this moment and none of the debate, where Dukakis excelled), and Roedeger briefly references the moment, a moment racially charged, a Black man asking what a white man of power would do to a Black man If — an impossible question to answer, and we clapped with gleeful little schadenfreude hands as one of the few promising poli’s careers went down the ‘terlit’ (as Archie Bunker would say) and his wife returned to heavy drinking. Maybe that was the silver lining to the moment: Kitty was spared four years of journos clinking her ice cubes (real or imagined).

This cheapening and potentially toxic blend of shallow politics and Madison Avenue massaging was, says Roedeger, turned into an art form by consultant and pollster Stanley Greenberg working the Clinton campaign in 1992. Greenberg helped turn Macomb County into a Middle Class Melting Pot America by the careful gathering of data points and manipulation of their results. Writes Roedeger,

Greenberg theorized a middle class roughly interchangeable with an alleged white working class—their votes available for the mining in countless electoral campaigns. In the process, he made a suburban, almost entirely white Michigan county seem to be the key to all “progressive” possibility.

As Macomb goes, so goes the nation, was the meme and theme. Another ad, with toothpaste.

Roedeger writes that Greenberg referred to his own “working class” background, starting out a white Jewish family living in an all-Black D.C. neighborhood and then migrating to “middle class” Silver Spring, as some kind of street cred he gave himself for “understanding” these categories more fluently than others. But, notes Roedeger,

Sympathizing with Macomb County’s suburban workers was nominally available as a result of his own suburban upbringing, but his capacity for understanding them owed more to academic study and political experience than acknowledged personal affinity.

One could argue that such ‘owing to’ is also a valid critique of Marxist scholars among the hoi polloi: They don’t always live the misery, like Studs Terkel, say; often, the best they can do, over crullers and coffee, is sympathize with the Plight.

Roedeger notes that in his book, Politics and Poverty, Greenber offers up to the “migrating lower class” what Roedeger calls three “Goldilock” scenarios of movement, choices with limited and pre-assigned values. He clarifies by saying,

They could have remained “indifferent and uninvolved” where politics was concerned; they could have “become power brokers . . . tinkering and bargaining for their share;” or, they could have refused to “tinker” and instead entered a radical “confrontation with history.”

Most people chose middle course, writes Roedeger, between what really amounted to “a pair of Manichean choices.”

Woven into the fabric of this “Macomb-over” was the cheery “progressive” rhetoric of Stanley Greenberg’s 1995 book, Middle Class Dreams, a collection of stories of people’s everyday lives. A book about how every half, half lived, who wasn’t rich, and so was placed somewhere in the continuum of Middle Class struggles. These struggles and tales of weal woe were captured in the film, The War Room (1993). “Greenberg’s stories of Macomb County mix personal triumph and national salvation promiscuously.” writes Roedeger. But read critically, he goes on, “They illuminate how issues of race, class, and power came to be effaced even by those most claiming credit for discussing them electorally in the neoliberal United States.” Massaged and manipulated. Still, for all his savvy, Greenberg is at a loss to later explain how Trump happened.

Roedeger explains how this magical kabuki show helped Republicans later attract “Reagan Democrats” and he points to Pete Hamill’s late-60s article, “The Revolt Of The White Lower Middle Class,” in New York that “portentously” spoke to the rising unaddressed tension “the working class, trade union, white, beleaguered, ignored, presumptively male figure who turned from New Deal loyalties to vote for Ronald Reagan in the 1980 and 1984 elections.” These said-samers would later graduate to basket case ‘deplorables.’ A more recent article on this topic is offered up by Joan Williams in a Harvard Business Review article, “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class,” that Roedeger unpacks.

This mishmash of ‘folk’ became the subject of a new “technique” called, familiarly now, focus groups, “gathering … people associated demographically and often interviewing them collectively for an extended period, an expensive practice that had previously been used more by Republicans (indeed, the Focus group technique became the Hero of the 1996 Russian election when American consultants — and the Clinton administration — were rushed in to rescue Yeltsin’s campaign: at least, that’s what we were told.). But says Roedeger, this snapshot of Macomb County, as described by Clinton and Greenberg, was actually “an exaggeration, a caricature of America.” We’ve been caricatures ever since. He adds, “Nothing in the setup of the research and little in MCD reflected the integrated workplaces and unions in which many in Macomb also existed.” And questions of race were not addressed at all. What racism? The Clinton appeal to assuaging white anxiety backfired, and Hillary, argues Roedeger, “paid in 2016 for the race-saturated pro-incarceration rhetoric—Black youth as ‘superpredators’—she and her husband had traded on in appealing to Macomb County’s middle-class dreams in the 1990s.”

Barack Obama also got caught up (willingly) in the lampoon of political demographics. He “deftly liquidated the issue of how a country with such astronomical rates of poverty could be almost all middle class. He defined the middle class as “not only folks who are currently [in] the middle class, but also people who aspire to be in the middle class.” Aspire to be. Hope and Change. Bit this begins to get us into Nora Zeale Hurston country. She once explained how ‘folks’ came to be possessed by the sympathetic power of voodoo: If you want to understand voodoo: believe. It really is like the ol’ tush-grabbing Bush once said of Reaganomics — voodoo, and the Press is there to church us. It’s a plutocracy, where the 1% witch doctor gets to stick it to the 99% Middle Class for fun and exercise of power.

Sanders and Clinton weren’t much better than Obama and Romney, Roedeger says, in determining what constitutes Middle Class, “ballparking “below $250,000” annual family income as the benchmark of middle-class membership, though limiting its use to details of tax policy.” Ironically, it seems, then, that by the time You-Know-Who became president, quite a few million people were just plain tired of the political-demographic bullshit. He writes,

Trump presented himself as a modern political leader uniquely unmoved by pretending affinity with the middle class. He bragged repeatedly of his 1 percent status. Overemphasizing his self-made success and deemphasizing his debts, he courted being seen as filthy rich.

He didn’t pretend to be ‘one of us’ and it greatly helped his cause.

Later, Roedeger contrasts such focus groups with surveys taken by Fortune magazine before, during and after WWII. Of special interest to him is Fortune’s 1942 survey that asks a series of class-bound questions, including identification and expectations. He takes issue with “Fortune’s assertion that a startling four-fifths of a nation barely off the skids claimed to be middle class has meant its survey is still cited even today” and “It exulted that the nation remained impervious to the formation of ;any self-conscious proletariat such as a Marxist would wish for.’” Roedeger notes, however, Fortune’s playfulness in suggesting that “one American in four favored socialism, with another 35 percent reporting having ‘an open mind’ on the issue.” It’s an interesting snapshot of our culture, and well worth a perusal. Here.

But for all his linguistic grappling with the definition, trends and usefulness of the term ‘Middle Class,’ and American Exceptionalism (to which it’s linked), Roedeger saves his best for demolishing its presumed allure. It’s a miserable place to be. He lets Marx throw a haymaker, warming up with the reminder that

The precise term “American exceptionalism” came much later and amidst rich irony. One recent account has it originating from Stalin, who in 1929 was searching for a name for a heresy within the world Communist movement he dominated.

But, actually, says Roedeger, Marx tells us that the “middle classes” will propogate and that they exist to consume “the surplus bounty produced in the factories by workers,” leading to a Keeping Up with the Joneses, financed by credit debt, leading to a life of “falling and fear of falling,” such as that described by Barbara Ehrenreich in Fear of Falling. Today’s debt slaves. The New Middle Class.

Misery is the picture Roedeger paints. He brings in literary figures to illustrate, such as Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” the law clerk who “prefers not to” do anymore work, who fades in toiling, losing himself, wasting away. (Not mentioned by Roedeger, but apropos, is Melville’s own misery as he toiled as a clerk to support his writing and saw his time and energy and talent waste away. This is something Tillie Olsen picks up on in “Ways of Being Silent,” her fine essay in Harper’s October 1965 issue, almost suggesting Moby Dick was an obsession with writing itself.). Roedeger emphasizes that “If we see the middle class as a plight as well as a perch, we can understand something of why many workers see themselves simultaneously as middle class, working class, and living impossible lives.”

He sees misery in the cube, “the tomb where a majority of office workers spend much of their lives,” as detailed in Nikil Saval’s Cubed. Willy Loman and The Death of A Salesman are brought in to express the tragedy of a culture consumed with buying and selling, in a transactional existence, an “embourgeoisement” nobody can fathom. “Loman’s fall and death—a suicide after a series of failed attempts—come not at once but over a lifetime of misery,” Roedeger tells us. He writes, “Much of the misery of the middle class fits well within narratives of sudden descent in material terms,” and one recalls how the just before the Towers fell into freefall their middles sagged, and suddenly even images of 9/11 takes on the almost taunting, half-baked truths of memes.

The Sinking Middle Class offers few specific solutions (typical of the Left these days), but it is a good read that points to the vacuity of our central premises regarding what it means to be American and, presumably, Middle Class — at least until the next Credit Report comes rolling with the news of our demise, or, much to our delighted surprise, an opportunity to have our credit limit raised. The book was written before the Covid-19 pandemic began, and it would be interesting to know what Roedeger’s response would be to its near certain revolutionary impact on American Exceptionalism.

Corona may be a blessing in disguise, bringing about an end to commerce as usual, a freefall of a class designation not worth saving, and a revolution nobody can do anything about in an America beset with so many vectors of turmoil that starting over may be the only viable answer.

With any luck, a solar flare will knock out our grids, so that we can get back to the business of being human, face-to-face.

The post How the Middle Half Lives appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Plight of Refugees and Migrant Workers under Covid

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In a world where nationalism and social division is increasing, bigotry growing, are the words refugee, asylum seeker, migrant worker, derogatory labels triggering prejudice and intolerance? Such terms create an image of ‘the other’, separate and different, strengthening tribalism, feeding suspicion, our common humanity denied.

Under the shadow of Covid-19 those living on the margins of society have been further isolated; the refugees and migrants of the world, those displaced internally or in a foreign land, people living in war zones, and the migrant workers in the Gulf States, India, Singapore and elsewhere.

Refugees/migrants and migrant workers are among those most at risk from Covd-19, the economic impact of the pandemic as well as xenophobic abuse linked to the virus. Migrant workers (who universally have few or no labor rights) from Qatar to India have been discriminated against, discarded and ignored. Migrants, particularly those of Chinese or Japanese appearance in the US and elsewhere subjected to violence and abuse, and in refugee camps across Europe and the Middle East, including Gaza, thousands have been left in unsafe camps without medical support.

Homeless, hungry and at risk

Even before the pandemic erupted, to be a refugee, migrant, or migrant worker was commonly to be mistrusted, marginalized and in danger. Whether working as a maid in one of the Gulf States, an internal migrant worker in their homeland or living inside an overcrowded refugee camp these men, women and children are amongst the most vulnerable people in the world. In Europe, where thousands of refugees (many from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan) are packed into camps, their lives already swamped by uncertainty, the fear of the virus hangs heavy. Lacking sanitation and essential services these overcrowded tarpaulin cities are unsafe; the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, for example, was designed to accommodate 2,840, but now has 19,000 people; 40% are under 18, self-harming and attempted suicides are widespread. Compounding the heightened risks Covid has created, since July 2019 asylum seekers throughout Greece no longer have free access to the healthcare system, other than emergency support.

Meanwhile, in countries with large populations of migrant workers Covid-19 and the economic impact of the pandemic is adding additional layers of suffering to already arduous lives, not just of workers, but the families migrant workers support. According to the UN, round 800 million people globally are supported by funds sent home by migrant workers. Families depend on such payments to pay rent and buy food; when this flow stops, as is the case for many now, poverty and the risk of starvation is made more acute. The World Bank is warning of huge drops in global remittance payments of around 20%, resulting from the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic, which they say has impacted on migrant communities particularly hard.

In the Gulf States, which depend on millions of workers from Africa and Southeast Asia, Covid-19 is intensifying discrimination and increasing abuse against migrant domestic workers, including abrupt termination of their contracts. In Kuwait suicide among migrant workers has surged; Saudi Arabia has deported thousands of Ethiopian workers (A total of 2,968 migrants were returned in the first 10 days of April, UN state), without any medical screening, which the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Ethiopia said, is “likely to exacerbate the spread of Covid-19 to the region and beyond.” And in Lebanon (where the majority of migrant workers are Ethiopian) and elsewhere across the region, lower income families unable to cover salaries, cover food costs or provide accommodation have laid off domestic staff; resulting in migrant workers being at high risk of forced labor, including prostitution.

Worse still is the case of freelance (‘live out’) workers, whose work has stopped, leaving them with no income, no food and nowhere to go. In Qatar, (one of the richest countries in the world, with over two million migrant workers) which has one of the highest rates of infections per capita, many of those suffering from the disease are migrant workers. Foreign workers from Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines are being laid off or remain unpaid, as the economic impact of the virus hits. Some domestic workers (women) have been made destitute. In Singapore, widely thought to have responded well to the pandemic, migrant workers, employed mainly in the construction industry, were thrown to the wolves. And in India following the hasty decision by Prime Minister Mahendra Modi to lock the country down on 25th March, (giving people four hours warning!) tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of internal migrants working in cities were forced by their landlords to vacate their homes and had no choice but to head back to their native village. Without funds and with transportation suspended, huge numbers were forced to walk the hundreds or thousands of miles home.

Homeless, hungry and at risk of contracting coronavirus, migrant workers were ignored by the Modi regime. Reacting to this wholesale neglect, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to housing and on extreme poverty said (4th June), “we are appalled at the disregard shown by the Indian Government towards internal migrant laborers, especially those who belong to marginalized minorities and lower castes…..the Government has failed to address their dire humanitarian situation and further exacerbated their vulnerability with police brutality [which is commonplace in India] and by failing to stop their stigmatization as ‘virus carriers’.”

Contemporary Slavery

Covid-19 has highlighted a raft of social inequalities and destructive practices throughout the world. As such issues float to the murky surface of human affairs an opportunity presents itself for reform, for changes in attitudes and practices.

There needs to be a fundamental overhaul of employment rights for migrant workers throughout the world, with migrant workers receiving the same protections as native employees, including access to health care, limits on the hours of work, rates of pay, days off etc.

The Kafala System is used throughout the Gulf States, where the UN estimates there to be “35 million international migrants in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and Jordan and Lebanon, of whom 31 per cent were women.” Under Kafala a migrant worker, many of whom are domestic staff and therefore out of sight, cannot resign if an employer is abusive, the work exploitative or the conditions unacceptable. Amnesty International relates, that it “ties the legal residency of the worker to the contractual relationship with the employer.” The system enables employers to essentially own workers, giving them total control of workers’ movements. This legitimization of modern-day slavery must be brought to an end immediately.

Refugees and migrants are human beings fleeing violent conflict (are often traumatized), persecution and economic hardship. The journey into an unknown future is often treacherous, always uncertain. In the vacuum left by governments and regional authorities like the EU, that should be processing asylum applications in designated centers and offering safe passage, criminal gangs control migration routes and methods of travel, which are unsafe and extortionately expensive. Deaths are commonplace, abuse and exploitation widespread. If they survive the dangers and arrive in their destination country, all too often they are viewed with distrust and antagonism, instead of being warmly welcomed. They are pushed into the shadows, the margins of society, offered little or no state support and made to feel unwanted.

This must change; all should be embraced, not only those with skills in short supply. The idea of judging who can and cannot enter a country based on some discriminatory points system related to national need (the Australian way – a country with a shameful immigration record), as the UK government is proposing, reduces human beings to commodities, some of which are more valuable on the ‘open market of immigration’ than others – and is completely abhorrent.

Deal with the causes of migration, help construct a world at peace by cooperating, sharing and building relationships; reject competition and nationalism in favor of unity and tolerance and see a dramatic fall in the numbers of people forced to leave their homeland, whether in search of safety or opportunity.

The post The Plight of Refugees and Migrant Workers under Covid appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Next Coronavirus Bill Must Protect the 2020 Election

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First, it was a public health crisis. Now, it’s decimating the economy. And for it’s next trick, the coronavirus is threatening to undermine the 2020 election.

Unless, that is, Congress steps in to ensure we can vote by mail.

If you’re curious what the worst case scenario is, look no further than Wisconsin, where a gerrymandered GOP legislature forced voters to the polls over the orders of the Democratic governor — and against the advice of public health officials.

Wisconsin Republicans not only declined to send every voter an absentee ballot. They also appealed — successfully — to the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court to prevent voters who received their ballot late (through no fault of their own) from having their votes counted.

It was a transparent ploy by Wisconsin Republicans to support a conservative incumbent on the state Supreme Court by suppressing the vote. It failed — his liberal-leaning challenger won — but they struck a huge blow to voting rights in the process.

Fallout from the coronavirus exposed structural weaknesses in everything from our health care and education systems to market supply chains and labor rights. It also made painfully obvious the fragility of our electoral process.

Unfortunately, states have received little help from Congress in shoring up their elections. Just $400 million of the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill was earmarked for helping states cover new elections-related expenses stemming from the pandemic.

When it comes to providing the financial support necessary to ensure our elections are safe, accessible, fair, and secure, the last coronavirus response bill was a dereliction of duty.

Will it be safe to gather in large numbers by November? And even if it is, will voters feel comfortable standing in line, for up to six hours in some cases (thanks to GOP poll closures, but that’s another story), next to strangers?

If not, it’s fair to assume some voters will elect not to vote due to safety concerns. And that should undermine public confidence in the outcome.

The obvious solution is expanding voting by mail.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump is fiercely opposed to this. “They had things, levels of voting, that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” he said.

Let that sink in. The president — who himself voted by mail — openly views the right to vote as a threat to his presidency and party.

Americans shouldn’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote. In the midst of this pandemic, states with overly cumbersome processes for absentee voting are complicit in voter suppression. Period.

To fix this, we need to ensure no-excuse absentee voting in the next coronavirus bill — and that’s the bare minimum. Beyond that, we also need pre-paid postage for mail-in ballots and an extended early in-person voting period.

We need accessible, in-person polling places with public safety standards that are up to snuff. That means election workers must know they’re safe, and must have access to personal protective equipment.

We also need to develop and bolster online voter registration systems, and run public information campaigns giving voters localized, up-to-date voting guidelines.

To complete this nationwide, we’re looking at a $2 billion price tag. That’s just 0.1 percent of the $2 trillion package Congress already passed — and if it ensures our democracy doesn’t die in this pandemic, it’s worth every penny.

The post The Next Coronavirus Bill Must Protect the 2020 Election appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Ottawa Bluesfest at Zib: Development at Sacred Site Poses Questions of Responsibility

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These first two August weekends, the RBC Bluesfest Ottawa drive-in concerts – livestreamed online with #CanadaPerforms, a federal program to support artists during the COVID pandemic – are being hosted at a venue that may raise eyebrows to anyone supporting the current protests against racism and monuments to a racist-colonial past.

The ‘Zibi’ development-in-construction is situated at a sacred site – the area at what is known in English as the Chaudière Falls, on the river between Ottawa and Gatineau, an area named Akikodjiwan or Asinabka in the Algonquin language Anishinabemowin.

This development of condominiums and commercial space has proceeded without the proper consent of the Algonquin Nation since being announced in 2013. This is in violation of principles included in rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada, and in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Previously, some local organizations and events have taken action to honour the complexity of this issue:

+ Five years ago, in 2015, organizers of the local Arboretum music festival paused their plans when they learned about the problems with the island venue they’d booked. They did eventually go ahead with it there, but with the addition of two panel discussions of Algonquins speaking on the issues (though only one of the selected speakers was actively opposed to the development).

+ That same year, Ottawa Riverkeeper had their annual fundraising gala at the island site sponsored by the developers – but based on pressure at the time, have not returned since (though they do continue to accept the developers’ sponsorship funding, and a board member is married to one of the developers).

+ Ecology Ottawa chose to stop taking sponsorship money from the development company in 2015, to maintain a clear distance from the developer.

While different grassroots Algonquin, other Indigenous, and settler peoples took positions (and action) against the development earlier, it was in the second half of 2015 that the chiefs of the nine status Algonquin communities based in Quebec – representing the vast majority of the Algonquin Nation – backed formal resolutions against development of the sacred site (read the Assembly of First Nations resolution).

The resolutions asked all levels of government to protect the site by (A) stopping development, and (B) entering into discussions to return the area to Algonquin stewardship. They referred to the pre-existing Asinabka vision for the site that had been led by the late Algonquin Elder and leader William Commanda, that had widespread support before the developers put forward their plans.

However, governments at all levels ignored these requests, and development has proceeded.

Earlier in 2015, the developers did enter into a benefits agreement with one status Algonquin community, Pikwakanagan, and then with the associated “Algonquins of Ontario” (AOO) entity that consists of Pikwakanagan and nine non-status communities, that was formed in the 2000s to engage in the contested Eastern Ontario land claim process.

There is more complexity to the differing positions within the Algonquin Nation than the above description, but that is the 2-minute version that illustrates how:

+ There is not only one position from the Algonquin Nation on this situation.

+ There was strong Algonquin opposition to the development, and an Algonquin-led alternative proposed.

+ There has not been any comprehensive Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), yet the development has proceeded regardless.

Since then:

+ The NCC (National Capital Commission), representing the federal government, began a series of meetings including the ten status chiefs (Pikwakanagan and the nine opposed) in 2016 – though this process has been publicly characterized by a number of the chiefs, including Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council Grand Chief Verna Polson, as inadequate for consultation purposes.

+ In late 2016, the Kitigan Zibi chief and council filed a site-specific land title claim for the area from Parliament Hill east to Lebreton Flats (coincidentally, the regular home of Bluesfest). This included the islands of Zibi development, but not the Quebec side: it is a legal challenge to the legitimacy of the Ontario land claim.

+ In spring 2017, two of the Quebec-based status communities under new leadership followed Pikwakanagan in entering into benefits agreements with the developers. This was only after construction was already underway in Gatineau, and the government had demonstrated lack of interest in honouring the Algonquin’s Indigenous rights.

+ For almost all of August 2017, the Gatineau Zibi site hosted Cirque de Soleil’s Volta performance, with more attendees than there are members of the Algonquin Nation. Along with contributing $300,000 to Zibi for the ‘Place des Festivals’ venue, Gatineau’s mayor said, “We have always viewed Zibi as a cultural and economic partner for our revitalized downtown – [this] cements this role.” The Algonquin opposition to the development was invisibilized.

+ In fall 2017, A Tribe Called Red withdrew their music from the sound and light show ‘Miwate’ at the falls (though this was not at Zibi, but at the Hydro Ottawa section of Chaudière Island, and ATCR said it was because they didn’t want to be part of a Canada150 event).

+ In late 2018 and early 2019, residents of the first Gatineau Zibi condominium building began to take occupancy. Residents have since also moved into the first building on the islands. The full development is still a number of years from being completed.

Public awareness and understanding of this situation – of the sacred site, the associated Indigenous rights, the development project, and the differing positions of the Algonquin people – is less than adequate.

The developer-friendly media, the company’s own PR, and divide-and-conquer dynamics have served to quiet or confuse and misinform many, and keep the issue from the prominence it deserves.

The two centuries of dispossession of the Algonquin and other Indigenous Nations who used the site – a sacred heart of one of the primary pre-colonial transportation corridors of the continent, with the waterfalls comparable in stature to Niagara Falls before being dammed – by historical figures like Philemon Wright, JR Booth, EB Eddy, and others, has also contributed to a diminished significance in the eyes of many. Otherwise, the Akikodjiwan-Asinabka-Chaudière Falls situation might be recognized by many more people in and outside of the region.

The danger of events like Bluesfest at Zibi, is that they can legitimize to the general population the re-colonization of the site that is happening, by pushing the issue out of consciousness and providing non-qualified endorsement of the development. In this instance it is to a national audience, with the government partnership of the National Arts Centre with #CanadaPerforms.

Acknowledging the full situation is necessary, and it goes beyond land acknowledgements.

The late Wolf Lake Chief Harry St. Denis referred to the problem with land acknowledgements in the face of this situation, in a 2017 presentation to committee at Parliament. He also speaks to the need for all Algonquin to have a say at this site, and problems with the larger land claim.


Then-Chief of Kitigan Zibi, Gilbert Whiteduck, also spoke of the difference between ceremonial inclusion and material inclusion, in 2014 when the city of Ottawa decided to rezone the islands for development after ignoring Kitigan Zibi’s request to postpone the city council vote in order to have dialogue first. He also discusses Elder William Commanda’s vision for the site and approach to differing views, and more on the history of the area.

In this era where historical monuments to racism and colonialism are being contested and overthrown, we need to ask what responsibility non-Algonquin and non-Indigenous people have in proximity and potential participation with this place — with such a large ($1billion+), private-property, metal-glass-and-concrete monument to present-day corporate colonialism and the violation of Indigenous rights?


For a comphrehensive backgrounder on the site and development, please see this 2019 post:

Sacred Waterfalls Site in Ottawa – Annotated Resource Guide
(It includes references and source links to most of the information in this piece)

The August long weekend – the first Monday in August is a civic holiday in most of Canada – was when Grandfather William Commanda hosted annual gatherings at his place on Bitobi Lake in Kitigan Zibi, that grew to bring thousands together each year as a Circle of All Nations. The first gathering there was in 1969 and the last in 2011, just after he passed away (on August 3rd of that year). It was at the gathering a dozen or so years ago, that the author of this piece first learned about the Asinabka vision for the sacred site, and then since 2014 has been involved with Algonquin and other peoples to protect the site from the development.

(1) The Zibi development is on the Gatineau shoreline as well as on the islands closest to Chaudière Falls. Slightly downstream Victoria Island has been public space, a site of ceremony and gatherings in recent decades, while the other islands were occupied exclusively by industry.

(2) The nine non-status communities that are part of “Algonquins of Ontario” (AOO) have a large proportion of members with very tenuous connection to Algonquin ancestry; there are also other non-status Algonquin communities in Ontario that chose to not be part of AOO. There are nine status Algonquin communities based in Quebec, along with Pikwakanagan and also Wahgoshig in Ontario (Wahgoshig isn’t part of AOO). The Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council (AANTC) represents seven status Algonquin First Nations – Wahgoshig and six of the Quebec-based Algonquin communities – while the Algonquin Nation Tribal Council (/Algonquin Nation Secretariat) represents the other three Quebec-based communities.

(3) Windmill Development Group Ltd. is an Ottawa-based environmentally-focused developer company that created the ‘Zibi’ development. It later brought in a much larger partner, Toronto-based Dream Unlimited Corp, and also created a new spin-off company, Theia Partners, for its own interests in Zibi.

(4) In 2015, researchers Randy Boswell and Jean-Luc Pilon published archaeological studies focused on “Hull Landing” near the Canadian Museum of History, the downstream beginnings of the portage route around the falls, goig back more than 4500 years that “paint a picture of Ottawa-Gatineau as a profoundly important place for aboriginal people” (quote from the Ottawa Citizen newspaper).

Two short videos from the Bluesfest first weekend:

Land acknowledgements


The CEO of the National Arts Centre, the two Bluesfest concert co-hosts, and Samantha Tenasco (of Zibi’s Memengweshii council) acknowledging the Algonquin and other Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Haviah Mighty:

The 2019 Polaris Prize winner, performing Saturday August 1st, responds to a question from the audience about what message she might have for other artists about ‘the current situation’.

This article and multimedia was first published at EquitableEducation.ca: CC-BY-SA-ND


The post Ottawa Bluesfest at Zib: Development at Sacred Site Poses Questions of Responsibility appeared first on CounterPunch.org.


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