News for progressives

Build in a Fire Plain, Get What You Deserve

Counterpunch - Thu, 2018-11-15 16:00

Photo Source Robert Couse-Baker | CC BY 2.0

My girlfriend and I are trying to figure out a place to live, build a cabin. Somewhere in our native country probably, in the Catskill Mountains of New York, the land we know best, beloved to us. We live in one of the fastest-depopulating counties in New York State, and thank god for that.

First step in cabin-building: understand the land, know its history, and try to predict where it’s headed in the age of climate change. Don’t build in a deluge-prone valley. Many naifs before us have done so, not expecting two-hundred-year floods could flourish in our lifetime. Witness the hurricane-rains that swept through the Catskills in recent years, wiping out homes, storefronts, villages.

Second, related to the cognizance of floods: read the average hydrology, walk the streams, look for the springs, know where the water flows, and where it likely won’t.   We will need good water in the future, when it becomes scarce. We don’t want too much water but just enough for sustenance now and in the long term for subsistence.

Third: recognize that some ecosystems are fire-dependent, and will always be so. The deciduous forests of the northeast, humid, rain-tossed, do not fall under this rubric.

Fourth: consider that there are stupid popular places to set up shop that are incentivized by being alluring but also cheap, because no one – not the buyer, not the seller, not anyone in the deal – is thinking about the long term.

In arid California, where stupid cheapness has driven development, fire has been the norm for tens of thousands of years. Humanity has built its prodigious idiot outposts in fire plains during a period of anomalous rainfall in the 20th century, and humanity now pays the price.

Scratch that: It is not humanity which has wrought disaster. The disaster is the product of the lunatic idea that we can build anywhere and everyplace, into all ecosystems. In California the specific expression of this lunatic idea is the real-estate industrial complex, a tiny segment of capitalist humanity. For millions of bright-eyed homeowners, told they could get a deal regardless of the history of the land, the lunatic idea has the appearance of normalcy.

The destruction wrought in California from fire is in fact a return to an ancient pattern of scorching of the land now exacerbated by climate warming.

Prehistoric records show that huge stretches of the American West burned annually at rates far higher than anything Euro-American settlers have experienced in their short time on the continent. Which is to say that the Euro-Americans enjoyed a climatic suppression of fire.

Now with collective agony, drawing together, feeling for our fellows in the far reaches of the fire plain but not understanding a goddamn thing about what’s really driving the fires of California, we cry like children. How could this have happened? Why is this happening to us?

Well, it’s happening because we have been stupid and arrogant and mindless, self-regarding and weak and fickle, vain and cheap and greedy.

California, overdeveloped, overrun with people, saturated with sprawl, will burn.  I’ve always hated the human infrastructure in California, and so I can’t say this is a bad thing.

Categories: News for progressives

Today It’s Treasure Island, Tomorrow Your Neighborhood Store: Could Local Currencies Help?

Counterpunch - Thu, 2018-11-15 15:58

Amazon has reached the far corners of the earth… and the highest elevations.  Delivery men venture 11,562 feet up in the Himalayas to leave a package.  While the company may serve a useful purpose in remote regions, its phenomenal growth also reveals that no town is immune from its less desirable consequences.  The online retailer’s omnipresence has been all too apparent in Chicago, New York, and London in recent months, where stores have been closing in droves.

Treasure Island Foods of Chicago, a family-owned business started by Christ Kamberos in 1963, announced at the end of September that after 55 years it was closing all remaining stores in just two weeks.  Now, the lights are out and the shadows empty shelves are all that remain, with the scent of fresh sourdough and gyros cooking on the spit only in shoppers’ reminiscences as they walk by the darkened windows.

Julia Child once described Treasure Island as “America’s Most European Supermarket.”  In my memory, it was unforgettable.  The stores always had treasure troves for every season, from delicious green picholine olives from France, to liver pâté and English Blue Stilton at Christmas, and of course, Marmite.  Not to mention exotic cookies and chocolates from all over the world: marzipan and chocolate from Switzerland and Austria, shortbread from Scotland, and crisp butter wafers from the Netherlands are a few examples.  It was a haven for special gifts during the holidays.

Treasure Island was not alone in the struggle to survive amidst food delivery apps and Amazon.  Not only were customers buying goods online, but Amazon was also shifting into the grocery market by taking over Whole Foods.  Not surprisingly, Chicago’s other local grocery chain Dominick’s closed in 2014.  The city lost one of its most beloved bakeries too in 2017 when the Swedish Bakery closed after 88 years in business.  Gone were the days of mouth-watering rum balls, Princess Torte laden with green marzipan, and toska cake.  In its final days an estimated 500 customers per day flocked in to have one last tasty treat.

Purchasing items online might be convenient but the trend has serious costs for many industries, not only food.  Retail has been hit hard.  Sears recently filed for bankruptcy and is closing 142 stores.  So did Toys R Us, shuttering its outlets last summer.  Luxury goods retailer Henri Bendel announced in September that its stores will be closing too, after 123 years.

What’s more the change is not just in the United States.  In the UK, Marks & Spencer plans to close 100 stores by 2022.  Debenhams and House of Fraser in London are also in trouble.  In March of 2018, Sweden’s H & M reported the lowest first quarter profits in more than a decade, down 62%.  When large international stores are being squeezed, one can understand how local shops are struggling to keep afloat.  A recent Atlantic article observes that Manhattan is becoming a “rich ghost town.”  So many store fronts once filled with interesting items are now empty, a trend that the author predicts will move to other cities.  Will the choices for future shoppers be restricted to chain stores and dark unrented windows?  Local small retailers unable to afford high rents are gradually being nudged out of existence.  They need help.

Could Local Currencies Save Our Neighborhood Stores?

The answer may be introducing local currencies.  Studies have shown that municipal currencies stimulate the local economy.  They serve as shock absorbers and protect in times of recession.

Switzerland has had the WIR since 1934 and Ithaca, New York introduced its own currency known as Ithaca Hours in 1991.  Ithaca Hours started out with 90 individuals who were willing to accept the currency as a payment for their work, and expanded to become one of the largest local currency systems in the U.S.  Ithaca’s example was an inspiration for municipal systems in Madison, Wisconsin, and Corvallis, Oregon.

The UK also has several local currencies including the Bristol Pound.  The former Mayor of Bristol accepted his entire salary in Bristol Pounds, and more than 800 businesses accept the local currency.

Once local currencies are in circulation, consumers can continue using their national currency to purchase from large retailers and from online giants like Amazon.  Their local currency, though, is typically used at local businesses.

As an example, were a Chicago currency implemented, consumers might use their U.S. dollars to purchase goods online but would use their Chicago currency to buy locally.  Legislators and communities could thus lend a helping hand to local gems that remain in our towns.  Lutz Cafe and Pastry Shop, for instance, established in 1948, is unique to Chicago, and creates some of the most delicious cakes in the world.

By 2003, there were over 1,000 local currencies in North America and Europe.  Yet this is a mere fraction of the total number of cities.  If local currencies expanded to a majority of towns, perhaps our beloved neighborhood stores would be able to survive the online onslaught.

The Benefits of Preserving Local Shops

Consumers lose a service every time a small shop shuts down.  A local paint store, for instance, can provide advice on what paint to use for a particular purpose, how to use it, etc.  Nowadays, in many towns, these stores have closed.  Consumers’ options are limited to buying online without input from an expert, or from a large national chain, where they will be lucky to find advice comparable to that from a specialized store.  The same holds true for many kinds of home repair.

Then there is the charm of familiar faces at the corner store.  Growing up near Treasure Island as a child, I could scarcely forget the cherry-cheeked cherub-like server at the deli counter.  After noticing this eight-year-old’s tendency to gorge on free olive samples once a week, he would always laugh heartily with those chubby cheeks and remark with a chuckle that I would end up eating all the olives before reaching the check out line.  Ordering specialty olives online is just not the same.  There may be no checkout line, but also no one to talk or joke with.  The same is true for the automated Amazon Go stores.  The nice deli server today is out of a job after decades of service.

Another hidden cost of online purchases is environmental.  Aside from fossil fuel emissions, delivery of a parcel requires packaging, and often bubble wrap, made of low-density polyethylene, a form of plastic that comprises 20% of global plastic pollution.  Reusable bags and a neighborhood store within walking distance are clearly better for the environment.

Amazon’s reach extends to places like Leh, India, high in the snow-covered Himalayas, where many of its goods may not be available in town.  And one can appreciate and understand the value of online purchases in such rural communities.  In fact that was exactly the original purpose of Sears with its iconic catalogue.

Yet in cities where one can readily buy the same items in stores nearby, we have to try to refrain from the convenience of one-click shopping.  The more we purchase online items, the more we pollute the environment and kill local stores.  Without small businesses, cities will eventually become homogenized with block after block of chain retailers, or dark empty windows, as has started to happen in Manhattan.  The character of a quaint town or a trendy metropolis becomes obsolete.

Gone will be the unique gift shops and the luxury tailor.  When the British high street becomes indistinguishable from U.S. ghost towns and when the only place to eat is a chain burger joint, the fun of traveling and the adventure of new places will be lost forever.  The vibrant world of new flavors and experiences will be no more.

So please think twice before clicking an online purchase.  You may be signing your local store’s death warrant.

Meena Miriam Yust is an attorney based in Chicago, IL with a special interest in the environment.

Categories: News for progressives

Climate of Rage

Counterpunch - Thu, 2018-11-15 15:56

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

My former teaching colleague at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, Warren Goldstein, who now teaches U.S. history and chairs the History Department at the University of Hartford, hit the nail exactly on the head in regard to the main source of hate in the United States in an article in The Villager, a New York City newspaper.

“Enough squeamishness from the MSM. The violent, hateful rhetoric comes overwhelmingly from one side only and from its padron, Donald Trump. Period,” wrote Goldstein, who has a doctorate in American Studies from Yale University. He knows the U.S. well.

“Who have their rhetorical targets been? Immigrants, Democrats, black people and George Soros. And who were actual targets last week? Democrats, blacks and immigrant- and refugee-supporting Jews,” he wrote in the piece published on November 1.

As to what he relates is the reluctance by Mainstream Media to focus squarely on the main cause of the vitriol in U.S. society today, Goldstein wrote that “in order to make peace, we need first to talk truth, and say who provided the soil, the nourishment, the encouragement and the spark to these homegrown terrorists and killers: the would-be pipe bomber of Democrats; the racist Kentucky Kroger murderer; the Pittsburgh killer. Not, alas, according to Sunday’s New York Times: ‘The anguish of Saturday’s massacre heightened a sense of national unease over increasingly hostile political rhetoric.’”

“Really? I don’t feel unease—I feel rage at the Trumpian big lies,” declared Goldstein.

“It’s cause and effect. Rhetoric from the top prepares, nourishes and sparks actions in the field. That’s the truth we need to declare, print, shout—and take into the voting booth. Then maybe we can start making peace,” Goldstein said.

The piece was headlined: “We all know who’s fueling the hate; So say it.”

There are others who place this accurate focus on Trump for the wave of hate that has been sweeping the country. U.S. Representative Adam Schiff of California on CNN’s “State of the Union” program spoke following the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue on the “kind of climate” now in the U.S. “This country is filled with amazing beautiful wonderful people who came here, many of them, attracted by the idea this was a land of opportunity no matter your religion, ethnic origin, your color,” he said. “That idea is being tested by those who are preaching hatred and division. And we have to overcome that. And I think the president has a pivotal role there. No one sets the tone more than the president of the United States. And the tone that he sets is one of division, often one of hatred, sometimes one of incitement of violence against journalists and there is no escaping our collective responsibility, but there’s no escaping the tone that he sets for the country.”

Or as Julia Ioffe wrote in a column in The Washington Post: 

“Culpability is a tricky thing, and politicians, especially of the demagogic variety, know this very well. Unless they go as far as organized, documented, state-implemented slaughter, they don’t give specific directions. They don’t have to. They simply set the tone. In the end, someone else does the dirty work, and they never have to lift a finger—let alone stain it with blood.”

“The president did not tell a deranged man to send pipe bombs to the people he regularly lambastes on Twitter and lampoons in his rallies, so he’s not at fault,” wrote Ioffe. “Trump didn’t cause another deranged man to tweet that the caravan of refugees moving toward America’s southern border (the one Trump has complained about endlessly) is paid for by the Jews before he shot up a synagogue. Trump certainly never told him, ‘Go kill some Jews on a rainy Shabbat morning.’ But this definition of culpability is too narrow…”

Celia Wang, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union, says: “The numerous statements he’s made calling himself a ‘nationalist,’ crowds at his rallies chanting threats against George Soros—it’s all connected.” The “central premise of his presidency,” she says of Trump, is “to attack and smear immigrants and refugees. All the violence we see is the extreme and radical version of what he is implementing on a policy and legal front as president of the United States.”

Ronald Lowy, the Miami lawyer for the family of Cesar Sayoc Jr. accused of sending a slew of packages containing pipe bombs to high profile Democrats, media institutions and others, has explained that “this was someone lost who was looking for anything and found a father in Trump.” Sayoc’s father walked out on the family when he was a child. “He doesn’t seem to recognize reality. He lives in a fantasy world.”

Many of the “Trumpsters”—the angry people who populate Trump’s non-stop rallies—also seem to have found a father in Trump with his violent rhetoric, rhetoric not only full of vitriol but also of lies, thousands and thousands of lies.

We’ve had some beauts as U.S. presidents. But Trump, according to a determination of nearly 200 top U.S. political scientists, is the worst. The social science researchers voted in recent months in a 2018 Presidents and Executive Policy Greatness Survey. Trump bumped James Buchanan out of the bottom spot of the survey done every four years. Other analyses confirm this determination as, surely, will history. Trump is the leading personification of hate, of malice, of ill will and of malevolence in the United States. We, indeed, all know who is fueling the hate—and we must say it.

Categories: News for progressives

How Two Demagogues Inspired Their Followers

Counterpunch - Thu, 2018-11-15 15:54

Photo Source frankieleon | CC BY 2.0

The parallels between the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and that of Donald J. Trump have been widely noted. A new book by James M. Longo, Hitler and the Habsburgs: The Führer’s Vendetta Against the Austrian Royals (Diversion Books, 2018) brings out similarities as well as differences. As in 21stcentury America, economic and political troubles clouded the judgment of many Germans and other peoples in the 1920s and 1930s. Across the Continent, as Longo says, people “searched for a leader, a savior, a dictator to rescue them from their economic and political woes. Hitler believed he was that man.” The aspiring Führer spoke only German but proved himself  “a chameleon able to articulate the unspoken emotional language of his listeners.”

Wealthy industrialists secretly financed Hitler’s rise to power after 1924. For unemployed workers  he promised full employment;   for the  forgotten German, he pledged respect. Hitler won financial support and many followers, but he craved legitimacy and political power to make his vision a reality. In public Hitler met with enthusiastic crowds. Behind closed doors he beguiled wealthy monarchists. One-third of German’s ancient nobility joined his Nazi Party, while many others supported him through their silence.  President Trump also craves symbols of legitimacy and seeks to destroy any sign that he was not duly and freely elected.

The insightful American journalist Dorothy Thompson interviewed Hitler and described him  as an “agitator of genius….the most golden tongued of demagogues.” She advised her readers: “Don’t bother about the fact that what he says, read the next day in cold news print, is usually plain nonsense.” To understand what was happening,  “You must imagine the crowds he addresses: Little people. Weighted with a feeling of inferiority.” Appeals to their racial pride were “the cheapest form of self-exaltation.” If one was debt, if one had not made a success in life, there was still the consolation that one belonged to the master race.

Hitler was explicit that Germans are a superior race ordained to conquer  the earth. Trump does not go so far in glorifying his own race, but he hints at its superiority and the need to expel aliens from United States soil. Trump denies he is a racist, but gives his followers every reason to despise people of color—from the Obama family to the Latinos walking northward to the Muslims seeking safe refuge from war and ideological fanaticism. Trump’s suggestions that Obama was born in Africa expressed his racist syndrome.

Hitler’s personal life and his policies, like those of Donald Trump, should have been anathema to serious religious believers. But Hitler tried to silence his critics and unite his followers by  uniting independent Lutheran churches in a “Protestant Reich Church.” An ardent Nazi, Ludwig Müller became its presiding bishop.  He vetted Lutheran clergy to ensure they were “politically reliable” that is, accepted the superiority of the Aryan race.  This tactic anticipated Trump’s appointment of Matthew G. Whitaker to be Acting Attorney General in November 2018.  A few years earlier, when Whitaker campaigned for the Senate, he courted the anti-abortion, evangelical Christian vote, saying at one candidate’s forum that he would scrutinize nominees for federal judge to ensure they had a “biblical view of justice.” Both Hitler and Trump appointed wolves to guard the hen house.

In August 2017 Whitaker wrote that “Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far.” He asserted that the Special Counsel had overstepped the boundaries of his inquiry when he began looking into the Trump family’s finances. This would be a “red line” that Mr. Mueller should not cross, warning that it would render the investigation a “witch hunt”—a favorite reproach of the president.

Like the United States under Trump, Germany in the 1930s had its version of sanctuary cities where the Führer’s dictates did not reach. Hitler’s “Eagle Nest” at Berchtesgaden played a role like Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach.  Trump did not lay out his plans in a book like Mein Kampf, but his Art of the Deal, written  largely by Tony Schwartz, revealed his self-centered transactionalism. Hitler bragged that he was the greatest German of all time; Trump, more modestly, claimed only to be one of the greatest U.S. presidents.

Following the November 2018 elections, Paul Krugman blogged that  “Trump isn’t a dictator, much as he might wish he were. He can tell federal officials not to talk–but he can’t tell private citizens, including fired prosecutors, not to testify when called by Congress. His defensive wall has been breached, bigly.” With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, “Trump can’t really kill the [Special Counsel’s] inquiry–because now people with subpoena power can call Mueller and colleagues for testimony, and get the facts out anyway.”  Now, “Trump is going to find out what the word ‘oversight’ means. He’s had a very cushy two years with a unified government at his beck and call. Now he’s going to find out what politics is really about.”

Unlike Germany in the 1930s, the political institutions of the United States continued in the Trump era to offer bulwarks against a would-be despot. More than half the U.S. citizenry had an unfavorable opinion of Trump. By contrast, as Ian Kershaw put it in Der Spiegel Online (January 30, 2008), “betweenthe death of Hindenburg in August 1934 and the expansion into Austria and the Sudetenland four years later,  Hitler was indeed successful in gaining the backing of the vast majority of the German people, something of immeasurable importance for the disastrous course of German policy ahead.” In the United States the 2016 and 2018 elections showed that less than half of American voters supported Trump and his policies. The president’s golden tongue might not save him from the revelations still to come of his financial and other transgressions.

Categories: News for progressives

Radical Idealism: Jesus and the Radical Tradition

Counterpunch - Thu, 2018-11-15 15:50

Another world is possible, if not already on its way – for better or worse.  There are humanizing and sustainable alternatives to the way we organize society, and there is a diverse tradition of individuals and movements that do the work to build a better future.  I would characterize this tradition as radical idealism: a stance dedicated to dignity, peace, and the constant struggle against injustice.

As a young person in US public education as well as the Protestant church, I did not consider the possibility of another world: it’s not the purpose of those (or any) institution to suggest alternatives exist.  But I was a critical child, and discovered the tradition of radical idealism through the punk rock scene.  Everything was permitted: from NOFX to Chumbawamba, Noam Chomsky to Emma Goldman, Edward Abbey to Rachel Carson, Leonard Peltier to John (Fire) Lame Deer, Howard Zinn to James Boggs, and from Fred Hampton to Subcomandante Marcos[1].  My education began where the school and church curriculum would not go.

The tradition of radical thinking, writing, organizing, and fighting for a better world – the foundation of radical idealism – is a fringe tradition. I recognized this early on, and made a connection to things I read in the Bible, namely the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus was a threat to the power structures during His time and was exiled immediately after birth.  He taught his followers a lifestyle incompatible with greed, individualism, authoritarianism, militarism, and nationalism.  He healed, preached, and educated without a place to lay His head because He knew what awaited Him if He was captured by the authorities.  His Sermon on the Mount wasn’t meant to comfort the listener in turbulent times, but rather establish an ideal: an impossible standard to guide and provide hope for humanity. Like so many radical idealists before and after Him, Jesus was executed by the State.

The contradiction is stark.  If Jesus Christ was radical, what happened to the religion named after Him? Why does the nation that identifies with that religion seem to be the most oppressive and dangerous nation in history?  French professor, Jacques Ellul, in addressing why Christianity gave birth to a culture “completely opposite to what we read in the Bible,” offered an entire book on the “the subversion of Christianity[2].”  Although, in His typical fashion, Jesus explained the disconnect on an individual level when he quoted the Old Testament:

“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”  In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.  For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13: 13-15).

Jesus spoke plainly, radically, and idealistically[3].  He challenged His followers to hear His words and not participate in the ways of predatory economics, authoritarian politics, and rampant individualism.  Unfortunately, Christianity allowed the social forces of greed (capitalism) and country (nationalism) to institutionalize the Man and His teachings in order to obtain a seat at the table of power.  When a person’s eyes, ears, and hearts are closed to the love and dignity of all humans, dehumanizing solutions develop in the darkness.

This darkness is palpable in 2018.  The United States of Amnesia, consumed by 24-hour news media and miles of Twitter feeds, has given way to an information age with little substance.  The most powerful office in the country is held by a White Nationalist, and it appears that many Christians in the U.S. support him.  The Democrats can only hope to be a moderating force against overt white supremacy, exploitation, and war as they shift quickly to the center-right of the political spectrum.  The socialists, if not consumed by the Democrats, can barely get a platform in the political arena.  All the while the anarchists battle the fascists, distribute for Food Not Bombs, and provide disaster relief.  The ideology of capitalism and war research is embedded in academic institutions, and will not allow the university a chance to combat a corrupt and oppressive society.  All the while, Noam Chomsky can’t stop reminding us that we face two existential threats: climate change and nuclear annihilation (i.e., the slow burn or the fast track).

Radical idealism is not delusional, but allows the individual a way to conceptualize light in dark times.  It does this by positioning us in the collective struggle for dignity, peace, and justice.  Radical idealists have left a trail of breadcrumbs and books for us to draw strength from including the teachings of Jesus contained in the Gospels.  It is up to us to build a new society in the shell of the old, an ideal society grounded in love, dignity, and lessons learned from the light of radical idealism.

Notes.

[1] Listed are leftist political musicians, USAmerican anarchists, environmentalists, Indigenous resistant fighters, working-class intellectuals, and revolutionary organizers.

[2] The contradiction inherent in radical idealism is the accompanying pessimism resulting from the fact that past attempts at redistributing wealth and power in society have resulted in totalitarian states either through seizing control internally as was the case with the Soviet Union, or waging war against the revolution as was the case in Spain in 1936. Therefore, any lesson from other movements that were corrupted by greed and the pursuit of power are valuable. (Ellul, Jacques. The Subversion of Christianity. Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986.)

[3] This particular reading of this Bible passage was offered to me by Joel Spring quoting Wilhelm Reich quoting Jesus of Nazareth in the phenomenal book, A Primer of Libertarian Education. (Spring, Joel. A Primer of Libertarian Education. Montreal/New York/London, Black Rose Books, 1998.)

Categories: News for progressives

An Anarchist Uprising Against the Liberal Ego

Counterpunch - Thu, 2018-11-15 15:46

Those who are against fascism without being against capitalism, who lament over the barbarism that comes out of fascism, are like those who wish to eat their veal without slaughtering the calf…They are not against the property relations which engender barbarism; they are only against the barbarism itself.

– Bertolt Brecht, Writing the Truth: Five Difficulties, 1935

I have known some who have been rationally educated…They were marked by a microscopic acuteness; but when they looked at great things, all became a blank and they saw nothing…and uniformly put the negation of a power for the possession of a power – & called the want of imagination, Judgment, & the never being moved to Rapture, Philosophy!

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Letter to Tom Poole

The care with which these [cosmogonic] myths are transmitted from generation to generation and ritualistically rehearsed proves that more than curiosity is at stake in their origin.  They came forward to meet a fundamental human need: the need to sense oneself as grounded in the cosmos and thereby oriented.  Without orientation confusion sets in; if it persists, life loses its radar.

– Huston Smith, Beyond the Post-modern Mind

The quest that determines the orientation for man in the world (in Islamic thought)… is to find the vertical dimension symbolized by the North Star which makes possible the ascent of the soul toward the threshold of the worlds beyond [i.e., a cosmology in which non-rational, instinctual kinds of knowing still have sense]…To lose sight of the North means no longer to be able to distinguish between heaven and hell, angel and devil, light and shadow, unconsciousness and transconsciousness.”

– Tom Cheever, Green Man, Earth Angel (in part quoting Henry Corbin, scholar of Islamic Sufism)

The liberal ego poses an interesting contradiction.  It insists not upon being“egotistical” in the way we think of it, of thinking “too much” of oneself, being self-centered, selfish, etc., but upon being servile, second-rate, low worth, “co-dependent” in relation to the existing power structures.  The liberal, while accepting the rewards of bourgeois attainment and thus living comparatively well,  in failing to challenge her ego’s supremacy,  is automatically obedient to the illegitimate authority of the existing capitalist structures.  She cannot do otherwise; she is profoundly disoriented in the metaphysical sense meant by Huston Smith.  The drastically ungrounded liberal soul is oriented, not to its “noble origins” but to the reduced view of human life issuing from scientism, unalleviated by imagination, that says we  ascend from lesser beings (thus we emphasize “progress”) rather than having descended from gods (i.e., having been born with perfection or wholeness in us).  This is not an argument for creationism, but against the negation of imagination that has us training ourselves and our children to become cogs in a machine, rather than to love – and serve –  “the Great” and “the Whole.”

The dilemma we face is real: without orientation to the vertical, modern post-religious people have three ways to stay above the terrifying abyss of non-being, the task once performed by religion: 1) turn the clock back to rigid authoritarian tradition, to toxic masculinity, nationalism, militarism, fascism, 2) neoliberal vapid verticality, with its flattened masculinity, normalized neurosis and addictions, and covert barbarism, or 3) to in some non-authoritarian way, restore the relation to verticality (I include those who maintain that relation within traditional religion).

For the secular liberal, following choice #2,  the ego is practically unchallenged in the context of mediated reality and social fragmentation that supports neoliberal totality.  We add to the debasement demanded by our imperial egos in countless ways.  Our stories of childhood origins are narratives of defect and weakness (i.e., I’m ADHD, family dysfunctional, Dad a drunk, I was abused, neglected, etc.), rather than  how once we saw that everything, magically,  had meaning.  Unquestionably childhood wounds must be brought to light, but they are part of the story not the whole. We slander our higher nature as we fixate on fitness and nutrition, and in other ways corroborate the conviction of low self worth (machine-hood) that is by now second nature.   Always polite, sometimes witty and clever, we liberals never express authentic opinion for fear of exposure.  Our positive will is atrophied; if it were possible to film the liberal will it would be seen to slink, flinch, evade, excuse itself, look sheepish.  This is so even if we have all outward signs of material grace.  We can pass a lie detector test only if we are not asked: why do you live?

The absence of a positive will explains why the narrative cannot be changed by will alone.  At best, like taking on a diet, we may succeed for a few repetitions, but never as permanent habit, which leaves us feeling worse, even more defeated.  We can find our true orientation only by recovering the cosmogonic grounding, that verticality represented in the North Star.  Self-worth must be positively known if we are to act positively from it.  To re-orient ourselves is not impossible, but it calls for an inward turn entirely counter to the anti-imaginative positivist stance of secular rationalist liberalism.

The Romantics, such as Coleridge, who, though admired, have been seen somewhat dismissively as an interesting stage in Western literary and philosophical tradition, now may be understood as having had it right.  The “non-romantic” path we’re on, our reduced capacity to look at great things and to “be moved to Rapture” is the cause of our arrested development as human beings. By arrested development, I mean the liberal’s capacity to be “against barbarism but not against the property relations that engender barbarism,”  to bow to “lesser of two evilism” that replaces authentic opinion. We will not escape our fate – not just the inevitable destruction civilization is hurtling towards but also our incapacity to acknowledge it – unless we can imagine our way differently, unless we find our orientation in relation to greatness as much as to “baseness.”  Superiority to MAGA Trump-followers won’t save us.  No political  uprising can take place unless accompanied by a spiritual one; we need an uprising against the liberal ego that refuses to see beyond a worldview that robs human beings of our innate power and strength.

Do we need more evidence to prove to ourselves that under neoliberalism life has “lost its radar?” Fancy if, at every public gathering, instead of pledging allegiance to the flag, someone were to tell the story of our noble origins as a people, from the bible or other traditional mythic source as the Iroquois tell of their celestial origins in the  Pleiades.  The idea would be just to sit and listen, as if to a “fairy tale;” listeners might even engage their “child’s soul,” that self once so capable of wonder that the wonderful is no surprise, to help them listen well.

My hunch is that people – all of us so frightened in these times –  would be calmed by the story.  They would listen, as if listening to poetry, not expecting what they heard to make literal sense, but letting the words speak to  some part of themselves that quite naturally and effortlessly responds to hearing of  magical origins.  Listening not with the skeptical, doubting mind, but with the heart, they could in that moment glimpse that other knowing, the one so dismissively rejected by the dominant mentality.

We each need now to make such clearings wherein the long-rejected knowledge is revealed. Imagination offers the only alternative to the illusion of control that simply keeps the barbarity and plunder going, and the only palliative to the disabling fear that lies just under that illusion.

For the past 25 or more years,  due perhaps to a fragile sanity, I have struggled to keep that alternative knowing real to my well-conditioned liberal, educated mind, as if my life depended on it. The world under capitalism, attempting to live without soul, has increased its dreadful roar to the point that I have no choice – since I refuse the reductionist lesser-of-two-evils thoughtworld – except between two options:  Either I cave into my fear orI continue to stoke the fire of the imaginal reality with my writing andalso in my marriage relationship, i.e., with the otherwho has the power, because of our intimacy, to either confirm or undermine the entire metaphysical project.  Within these two immediate grounds  are embodied my struggle to keep the imaginative realm real.

Many couples, I suspect, tacitly adapt to ways to avoid approaching the fear of non-Being at the core of themselves that threatens, in post-religious times, to capsize the consensual reality making up a marriage.  Our “culture” is nothing if not rich in distractions for persons wishing to avoid the reckoning with their souls.  Included among these well-trodden detours:  becoming compulsive consumers, avid TV watchers, technophiles, globe-trotters, workaholics at the job, etc.  For many reasons, Orin and I have mostly refused the distractions, instead committing ourselves to quixotic idealism and “lost causes” that seem to us worthwhile. Having refused the distractions, including that of “success,” we live perilously close to the existential edge. When either of us slips and falls into his/her fear, the “abyss” in the other is activated and we become lost together in a darkness with seemingly no way out.  This condition goes on indefinitely until one or the other finds the “trail of breadcrumbs” leading out from the pathless forest and back into the blessing of a “make believe” reality of spiritual connectedness to which we both give our assent.    These reconciliations are not so much patching up disputes as recovering our footing above the abyss of non-being, usually involving a “bump-up” in self-knowledge, maybe a kind of love earned.

I say “love earned” neither to be smugly superior (which would be ridiculous, given the weirdness just revealed above!), nor so you will be confirmed in your suspicion that “she’s nuts, and so must her husband be.” I do so to illustrate what it means to take up the struggle to remain human against the dehumanizing “surround,” as I have found it.  It is a way to live in immediacy, rather than entirely mediated by neoliberal totality.  I have no idea if everyone so committed has to traverse quite so treacherous a path, though, I must add,  mythologies say it unambiguously: in becoming human, everyone walks the hero’s path that has no guaranteed outcome (or income!)

Is the difficulty level for us liberalized moderns in the process I describe, just too high?  Who thought such Sisyphean effort was involved in being human, for Pete’s sake!   But, again, fancy if people came together for the purpose of sustaining each others efforts to hold together families, communities, places, local economies, local agriculture, the intact souls of children –  against the hurricane winds of commodification and atomization.  They only could do so while standing firm in their own souls against the blasts coming from within.  Might not such a localized struggle, on behalf of both individual freedom and the good of the whole, be bearable and even something to celebrate?  This is my own anarchist “hope,” which, luckily, depends not on evidence that thereis hope for the earth and for humankind, but on the inexhaustible, endlessly renewing, always teaching, creative soul.

What’s necessary is that I keep at the spinning wheel of my writing, (and Orin at his poetry) – and that we stay in the struggle to keep our domestic community of two rightly oriented. That is, I must trust enough the reality invoked through writing and study, which feels right  to my instinct and intuition,  to be able to hold on to it when one or both of us becomes disoriented,  that we might maintain our fragile prayer of having the strength to stand in against the barbaric neoliberal totality.  In keeping the creative fires burning, we, in turn, can concentrate our embattled energy in the immediacies of family, the community of our Cafe and its friends, in encouraging art-making here in “armpit,” dispirited Utica, to, in our way, build the new in the shell of the old.

Categories: News for progressives

Pythagoras in Queens

Counterpunch - Thu, 2018-11-15 14:10

From certain spots in Brooklyn but
the top can be seen
of that high rise in Queens
Its top, just like a ziggurat
Observing — no, reminding you
of all of your debt
and your servitude
And ziggurat’s from zaqaru
Akkadian for “to be high”
To be high — to be low — below
the bridge which —
as in Babylon –
really ought to be a park
a river-spanning park –
a hanging garden — yes
And there should be a ziggurat
As ziggurats are flat on top
Which you can climb
and sit and watch
The dawn break over Brooklyn
Or the sun stain the horizon pink
the moon — like a balloon — rise
When some distance is needed
from toad-minded neighbors
(Some neighbors, you know,
when you open their skull
instead of a brain
all you’ll find is a toad — a toad
inside whose skull you’ll find
another toad
Mise en abyme —

Pythagoras, Pythagoras
Did he know Anaxagoras?
He knew Anaximander, Anaximenes,
and Thales —
having spent time in Miletus
Then he traveled down to Egypt
Was admitted to the priesthood there
To study math
He knew his share
(Copernicus confessed
it was Pythagoras
Who gave him the idea) but
that thing about the beans
must be rethought
Grow them on the bridges
on the ziggurats
Why not?
Why not make things easy?
Ease —
the skies and seas
are toxic these
days
Breathing in the poison haze
It changes brains
Deforms them
into toads
It’s so — so
What can you do?
Pythagoras studied
for 22 years
When Cambyses — Cyrus’ son
attacked and banished all
the priests to the east, to Babylon
(Pythagoras from Samos
He discovered some amazing things
The theorem, though
that bears his name
that one’s Babylonian)
A decade with the magi passed
when he was freed at long last
and returned to Samos.
But things on the island
just weren’t the same
his fame was lame
the attention: a drain
a pain in the brain

What’s in an atom?
the neutron, the proton
Pythagoras left
Put his raggedy coat on
waved
and said: Antio
Stepped aboard a ship
Stepped off in Croton.

Not Croton, New York
near the Bear Mountain Bridge
But Pythagoras did talk to bears
Yes, he did.
And to snakes
And a cow
on the far side one time
of the Gulf of Taranto
A cow eating beans — which
Pythagoras found quite disturbing
This thing
with the beans
is a mighty big problem
For all Pythagoreans

Just eat them
They’ll grow on the bridges
in plots
upon the ziggurats
All over the sides and tops of buildings
Chick peas, favas,
painted ponies, kidneys,
pintos, all of those
Pythagoras did not wear robes
but trousers, some say,
like they wore in Thrace
A place named for a sorceress
The home of both Democritus
and his student, the sophist, Protagoras
Did they discuss the Cosmos
Dressed in trousers?
Wowzers

Atoms, relativity, chremata,
the commodity, the plaque
that’ll grow on your soul
preventing any passage
through the tunnels
to the after world
And how to clean it off
by thought alone

These were, inter alia, the topics
under discussion
Sitting there in dirty trousers
Just like those cro-magnon gals
Who skinned the limbs of animals
and wore them on their own legs
Like a pair of jeans

Oh it’s obscene
Xenophanes remarked somewhere
that Thracian gods
have reddish hair
You hear about Tereus, their king
Who cut out the princess
of Athens tongue?
A tongue composed of so many atoms,
Democritus declared
Protagoras says:
though we can’t really know

Pythagoras, Pythagoras
He couldn’t know Protagoras
He couldn’t know Los Angeles
Or eat a lima bean
Not that he would if he could
though they’re good
And Dr. Freud would most likely conclude
That sometimes a cave
is only a cave,
but sometimes it’s your mother
That hole in the world
out of which we all squirmed
And now we’re here
wearing trousers
Oh brother

Freud, of course, would note as well
each bean’s a seed
And the word, as we all know,
for seed is semen –
each bean is a daemon
the bridge between the divine and the human
Entirely consistent
with Pythagorean thought
Or maybe not

We open up a can of beans
it looks like a mass grave
Peeling open cans of sardines
It’s about the same
Walking through the supermarket
Punching open plastic bottles
Oil spreads across the floor
oil spill on aisle four
But do not fear, there’s no risk here
The creatures are all safely wrapped
in plastic, well-refrigerated
Hacked to pieces, sealed in cans.
No more harm can come to them

The night grinds like a garbage truck
And was that you
all dressed in blue
a slab of gum stuck to your shoe
staring out the window of the city bus
Pythagoras?
Exhorting: do not be a moron
peel your grapefruit like an orange
Is that true? Did you say that?

Pythagoras?

And was the Buranuna River
so named for the copper ore?
you hear about that one before?
you stand along its shore
and did its level drop
the flow diverted
so Cyrus the Great
and the rest of the Persians
could breach the city walls?
You hear about that thing at all?
Or how about Tenochtitlan’s chinampas?

Why not build a bunch of those
though salty the rivers
could still water things
like beans and greens
from underneath
by way of steam — evaporation
I don’t know though
could you grow
a garden on the Harlem River?
gardens on the Brooklyn Bridge?
What do you think, Pythagoras?
Is that you
collecting your salad?

 

Categories: News for progressives

Moveable Feast Cafe 2018/11/15 … Open Thread

2018/11/15 04:00:01Welcome to the ‘Moveable Feast Cafe’. The ‘Moveable Feast’ is an open thread where readers can post wide ranging observations, articles, rants, off topic and have animate discussions of
Categories: News for progressives

Eternal Maidan – Three Sources, Three Components

By Rostislav Ishchenko Translated by Ollie Richardson and Angelina Siard cross posted with http://www.stalkerzone.org/rostislav-ishchenko-eternal-maidan-three-sources-three-components/ source: http://alternatio.org/articles/articles/item/64584-vechnyy-maydan-tri-istochnika-tri-sostavnye-chasti In Ukraine there is talk about the first Maidan, the second Maidan, a future
Categories: News for progressives

Decoding the hypersonic Putin on a day of remembrance

Sitting alongside French President Macron during the 100th anniversary to commemorate the end of World War I, Putin and Trump stole the show in Paris by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with
Categories: News for progressives

Netanyahoo's Likely Fall Destroys Trump's Middle East Strategy

The political upheaval in Israel is a problem for the White House and its Middle East plans. Today Israel's defense minister Avigor Lieberman resigned and called for new elections. He disagreed with prime minister Netanyahoo over the renewed ceasefire in...
Categories: News for progressives

Federal review of broadcasting and communications faces stiff headwinds

Rabble News - Thu, 2018-11-15 02:52
November 14, 2018Media MattersPolitics in CanadaFederal review of broadcasting and communications faces stiff headwindsBoth a Senate committee and a government-appointed panel are reviewing the federal Broadcast Act. If the public hearings are any indication, public broadcasting is in for a rough ride.
Categories: News for progressives

Federal review of broadcasting and communications faces stiff headwinds

Rabble News - Thu, 2018-11-15 02:45
Karl Nerenberg

When expert witnesses appeared before a Senate committee in October to discuss changes to communications legislation, they did not expect to field a series of angry attacks on public broadcasting.

That, however, is what happened.

It is a sign that two parallel processes aimed at a long overdue modernization of laws governing the entire spectrum of communications from over-the-air television to the internet could face a rocky road.

Both processes are reviewing the Broadcasting Act and other key pieces of legislation governing communications, but only the Senate Transport and Communications Committee hearings are public.

The other process is behind closed doors.

Last June, the Trudeau government named a seven-member panel of experts to look at how communications legislation could be updated. The group incudes five lawyers and a former Telus corporation vice-president, Janet Yule, who is the chair.  Monique Simard, who was a labour leader in Quebec and once headed the National Film Board’s French language division, is the only member of the panel with hands-on creative experience.

The expert panel and the Senate Committee are both looking at such fundamental and vital issues as net neutrality, consumer rights, support for Canadian content, and the role of news media in supporting democracy and fostering citizenship.

The government recognizes that while new technologies are changing “the way Canadians connect with each other,” the regulatory framework has not kept pace. The Broadcasting Act, for instance, is almost three decades old. Parliament passed it in 1991, when cell phones were in their infancy and the web referred to something spiders create.

Public service mission; need for CBC; Netflix tax

The Senate committee has been hearing witnesses since September. In October, it heard from Marc Raboy, a professor emeritus at McGill University in Montreal, and professor Gregory Taylor of the University of Calgary.

In his opening remarks, Raboy emphasized elements of the current Broadcasting Act that, in his view, the government must not only maintain, but also enhance.

The current act states that broadcasting is essential to Canada’s national identity and sovereignty. That is a principle worth preserving, he said.

The act stipulates that the Canadian broadcasting system constitutes a single system that must be effectively owned and controlled by Canadians. That principle is more valid today then ever.

The most important feature of the existing legislation, in Raboy’s view, is the affirmation that all of Canadian broadcasting is “a public service.”

“Think about communication the way you think about health care or education,” he told the senators. “Those sectors … are made up of a wide range of specific services, some of them entirely publicly funded, some of them profit centres … but they are fundamentally conceived, operated and overseen as public systems.”

In other words, all broadcasters, be they public or private, like all providers of medical services or education, serve the public’s need for information and cultural enlightenment. And, Raboy added, the government should now “explicitly extend” that public service mandate to the rest of the communication sector.

When it was his turn to speak, Taylor burst what he sees as a widespread myth:

“Be wary of any of the ‘end of broadcasting’ rhetoric that can permeate debates such as this. The data simply does not support this position. In fact, I argue the exact opposite: it is the surprising resiliency of broadcasting that is one of the great media stories of the Netflix era.”

To that Taylor added, ominously: “There are concerning ramifications for democracy if the end of broadcasting is made a self-fulfilling prophecy via legislation.”

In support of this view, he cited the leaders’ debate in the 2015 election campaign, which was only carried by small broadcasters, and attracted a meagre audience of 1.5 million.

“They thought the online audience might pick that up, but YouTube audiences were around 440,000 people,” Taylor added. “To put this into perspective, in the previous election, when Global, CTV and CBC carried the full debates, viewership was around 10 million people.”

The conclusion? “Simply put, the online world has not caught up to the mass viewership of traditional broadcasting.”

Taylor also talked about the availability of the internet in remote and rural areas.

“Despite the repeated announcements by the federal government about rural connectivity, there has been a digital divide that remains persistent in Canada,” he said, adding that market-based solutions, alone, have not worked.

The Calgary professor recommended the federal government revive the department of communications, which it abolished 25 years ago, just as communications technologies were exploding.

Like his McGill colleague, he underscored the need for a vigorous and well-funded public sector in broadcasting.

“The CBC remains key to any future of Canadian media,” he told the committee. “We may incessantly argue about the content, but the centrality of the CBC to the system has not diminished. In fact, it may have intensified in the digital era.”

And finally, to create an even playing field, Taylor advocated that new media should not be given special treatment.

Cable and over-the-air private broadcasters must contribute financially to Canadian content production. Online media, he said, should be subject to the same requirement. His proposal is that the government impose a tax of roughly five per cent on new media distributors, which would be equal to what cable and other traditional distributors pay.

“That would add roughly 50 cents a month to a Netflix bill,” Taylor pointed out, adding, “I do not see this as a major obstacle and it seems fair if legacy media, such as cable, are asked to contribute the same.”

‘CBC is irrelevant to me’

When the time came for questions, a number of the senators – mostly, but not exclusively Conservatives – used the two witnesses as punching bags to attack the very notion of public broadcasting.

Committee chair, Saskatchewan Senator David Tkachuk, did not think Canadian ownership of broadcasting outlets was necessary. His exchange with Raboy went like this:

Tkachuk: What would be the difference if some guy from Boston owned the station rather than some guy from Saskatoon?

Raboy: If some guy from Boston owned the station in Saskatoon, and the CRTC made some kind of ruling that that guy from Boston didn’t like, he might shut down the station.

Tkachuk: Not if he is making money he’s not.

Raboy: He might find that his rate of return would be better to have another station in Indianapolis. In my view, it’s a basic element of sovereignty.

Tkachuk was visibly not convinced.

Nor did the chair agree with Taylor’s emphasis on the need for a strong and well-funded CBC. When the Calgary professor pointed out that CBC, unlike private broadcasters, devotes the majority of its prime time television schedule to Canadian content, Tkachuk suggested nobody he knows watches that content.

“So eyeballs aren’t important?” Tkachuk asked.

Taylor tried to reply, saying, “They’re important. They’re not everything. For example, on the CBC --” at which point the chair interrupted to say, “Really?”

Taylor’s reply was “Yes, really. I do believe that.” But Tkachuk persisted: “So if no one is watching, that’s good?”

Taylor insisted that even if, on a Sunday night, a private network’s dating show might attract bigger audiences, CBC’s broadcast of The Nature of Things is still in the public interest to support the science show.

A few senators agreed with Taylor; a number quite emphatically did not. Nova Scotia Senator Michael MacDonald picked up the chair’s point about the supposed “irrelevance” of the CBC.

“I hardly watch CBC any more,” he said. “Most of the television I watch is stuff I choose to watch … not necessarily the station, but you say CBC is central to the Canadian communication system. I’m not convinced of that. It’s increasingly irrelevant to me, and my children don’t watch it.”

And so it went.

Many senators were hostile to taxing foreign online providers such as Netflix. In fact, some went even further and did not even want the CRTC to have access to such information as how many Netflix subscribers there are in Canada.

When that subject came up, Tkachuk asked, “Why do we care? I have Netflix. Why would you care?”

Taylor’s answer:Because it matters to know about how the overall system operates.”

The reply elicited another scoff from the chair: “They just show old movies and TV shows.”

The professor from Calgary tried to set the record straight by pointing out that Netflix is “now a major producer,” adding, “if they are taking away from Canadian producers, then perhaps they should be paying into Canadian production just as other Canadian providers have to do.”

He did not convince Tkachuk or his allies on the committee.

And, if anyone is under the misapprehension that only Conservatives are hostile to public service broadcasting, they should know that many Liberal politicians express unveiled hostility to the notion of public investment in – or even regulation of – broadcasting. In the case of broadcasting and communications in general, the mantra of “let the market” rule is not exclusive to one party.

The government’s experts panel will deliberate until well into 2019. There is no deadline for the Senate committee to issue a report.

Photo: flickr/Roland Tanglao

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

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Categories: News for progressives

Looking at the Lugansk People’s Republic November 11th Election

by GH Eliason in Novorussia for The Saker Blog For the November 11th election, I was asked to be a part of the International Election observer team Lugansk People’s Republic.
Categories: News for progressives

Unstoppable: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and NAFTA

Counterpunch - Wed, 2018-11-14 23:19

Photo Source tarsandsaction | CC BY 2.0

On Thursday, November 8, a federal court in Montana ordered a pause in the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Sounds like cause for celebration, doesn’t it?  It’s not. Nothing can stop Keystone XL, and the reason is NAFTA.

The order from Judge Brian Morris of the US District Court for the District of Montana came in a lawsuit brought by the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), North Coast Rivers Alliance, and other environmental and Native American groups.  Defendants are the US State Department, which approves trans-border oil pipelines, and TransCanada Corp., the Calgary-based corporation which is constructing KXL, a 1,179-mile long oil pipeline which will run from oil fields in Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, USA and from there via an already-existing pipeline to refineries in Texas.

In his 54-page order, Judge Morris held that the State Department had failed to take a “hard look” at the environmental consequences of approving TransCanada’s permit application, particularly the impact the KXL pipeline would have on global climate change.  KXL will transport Canadian tar sands oil, crude with a high carbon content.  Judge Morris ordered that work on the pipeline be suspended until the State Department could conduct further environmental studies.  Judge Morris’ serious treatment of global climate change places him in sharp contrast with President Donald Trump who dismisses climate change as a Chinese hoax.

Up until last year, Keystone XL seemed to be dead in the water, sent to the bottom in 2015 by Barack Obama.  At that point, TransCanada had already spent $2.5 billion on the project. Enter Donald Trump, stage far right. Candidate Trump had praised Keystone XL, tweeting that KXL would “create thousands of jobs” and that there was “no downside” to the project.  Once Trump took office things almost immediately started looking up for TransCanada.  On only his fourth full day in office, Trump invited TransCanada to resubmit its application for a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline.  (Justin Trudeau, Canadian prime minister and heartthrob of American liberals, applauded Trump’s decision.)  Two days later, TransCanada resubmitted its application.  Trump’s State Department approved the permit for KXL in March 2017.

Given this history, it should be no surprise that Trump is furious over Judge Morris’ decision to suspend construction of Keystone XL.  On Thursday, Trump called the decision a “disgrace” which would cost 48,000 jobs.

Oh, by the way, Judge Morris is an Obama appointee.

Wrecking the Environment for Fun and Profit (Mostly Profit)

TransCanada lawyered up immediately upon President Barack Obama’s cancellation of its $8 billion Keystone XL project.  On January 6, 2016, TransCanada filed a federal lawsuit and a claim for arbitration under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

TransCanada’s NAFTA claim alleges that Obama’s cancellation of Keystone XL violated NAFTA’s Chapter 11.  TransCanada requested $15 billion in damages, including lost profits. TransCanada suspended its NAFTA claim after Trump came to power.  The big question now is whether Judge Morris’ decision on Thursday will make TransCanada renew its NAFTA challenge.

Neoliberalism regards tariffs, environmental protection, food safety rules, and the protection of workers’ rights as barriers to free trade.  Eliminating barriers to trade is central to NAFTA, WTO, the late TPP, and other multinational free trade agreements.  To that end, NAFTA and the TPP (described as “NAFTA on steroids”) allow corporations to directly challenge domestic laws through arbitration, a process known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).[1]  ISDS empowers private tribunals with corporate lawyers in the guise of judges.  These trade tribunals are not democratically accountable to the voters of any nation.

You may have read that these arbitral tribunals have the power to nullify national laws and regulations protecting the environment, labor rights, and food safety.  Strictly speaking, that isn’t true.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is it doesn’t matter.  On occasion, states have found it necessary to change their laws—even their constitutions—in order to comply with the dictates of NAFTA or the WTO.  In the Venezuela Gasdispute, the US had to change an EPA Rule after an arbitral tribunal found that the rule’s air pollution standards conflicted with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), WTO’s predecessor.[2]

NAFTA’s Chapter 11 sets out a series of protections for foreign investors (typically large multinational corporations).  We begin with nondiscrimination.  States must treat foreign investors no worse than the state’s own investors (NAFTA Article 1102).  TransCanada accuses the Obama Administration of discrimination against it. The Obama Administration took seven years before finally denying TransCanada’s permit application.  The Administration took nowhere near that long to review permit applications from US pipeline companies.  Plus, during those seven years, the Obama Administration approved permit applications from US pipeline companies.[3]  TransCanada claims that the US used one set of standards to review US companies’ applications, and another set of standards to review TransCanada’s application. Notice of Intent ¶60.  TransCanada maintains that if the US had applied one, nondiscriminatory set of standards, Keystone XL would have been approved.

In addition to the obligation not to discriminate, NAFTA requires states to extend“fair and equitable treatment” to all investors (Article 1105).  In essence, states must not frustrate investors’ “reasonable expectations.”  TransCanada declares that it had “reasonable expectations” that its permit request would be approved.  Administration officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had made favorable statements about KXL.  TransCanada had made changes to the project at the Administration’s behest, including rerouting a section of the pipeline.  The Obama Administration had approved similar pipelines.  And TransCanada knew of no instance when the US had everturned down an application to build a pipeline across an international border.  Notice of Intent ¶2, 3, 6, 20.

NAFTA allows states to be “sensitive to environmental concerns” (Article 1114).  This could defeat TransCanada’s claim.  The Obama Administration’s stated reason for turning down TransCanada’s permit application was concern about global climate change.  TransCanada says that’s baloney.  No fewer than 6 Administration reviews uniformly concluded that KXL would have a negligible impact on climate change.  TransCanada maintains that politics, not the merits of the application, was the real reason the permit was denied.  Notice of Intent ¶¶8, 43-49.  TransCanada notes that President Obama canceled Keystone XL two weeks before the Paris Climate Summit.  President Obama had said that he wanted to establish US leadership in fighting climate change.  It’s hard to do that if you’ve just approved a massive oil pipeline.

It will be fascinating to watch how TransCanada’s NAFTA challenge plays out if TransCanada decides to resume it.  And entertaining.  Trump wants TransCanada to prevail.  This means that Trump will have to root for NAFTA, an agreement he has derided. The rest of us will root for the future of our planet.  For the planet’s sake, it’s time to end the reign of King Carbon.  For the planet to win, neoliberalism must lose.

Notes.

[1]  The WorldTrade Organization operates a little differently.  Only states can challenge other states in the WTO. A current example is China’s WTO challenge to Trump’s steel tariffs.  However, large corporations don’t find it too difficult to get their home state to bring a WTO challenge for them.

[2]  To his credit, Trumprepeatedly spoke out against NAFTA and the TPP on the campaign trail.  (Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, had championed TPP for years.)  If there is anything we have to thank Donald Trump for (granted, there’s not much) it is Trump’s withdrawing the US from the TPP. As for ISDS, it is cut back, but not entirely eliminated, in the new iteration of NAFTA unveiled in September.

[3]  See TransCanada’s Notice of Intent to Submit a Claim to Arbitration under Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (hereafter “Notice of Intent”), Jan. 6, 2016 ¶¶4, 20, 57.

Categories: News for progressives

November 14, 2018: Turkish-PKK Conflict Escalates Amid Fresh PKK Attacks

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Categories: News for progressives

Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take

Counterpunch - Wed, 2018-11-14 16:05

Photo Source U.S. Embassy Jerusalem | CC BY 2.0

Israel has made a colossal mockery of the concept of security.

In debating an Israeli friend from Jerusalem, I challenged him that Israel consciously plans and uses its military might to damage the Palestinian’s national project to build a state and free itself from Israeli control. Avner, my Israeli friend, argued otherwise, buying into the Israeli state narrative that Israel is “forced” to take measures which negatively affect Palestinians because Israeli security requires it. My knee-jerk reaction as someone living and working under Israeli military occupation for over two decades, was that this was hogwash and, short of ending its illegal (note: legal occupations are temporary by definition) occupation of Palestinians, I claimed that Israel—the occupying power—could immediately take 101 measures to reduce tensions on the ground, without jeopardizing any true and rational security needs. He shrugged and said, “tell me”?

In the years to follow, I have given numerous talks on the state of affairs under Israeli occupation to groups visiting Palestine from all corners of the world. A large number of those talks were to Jewish-American groups—many participants being rabbinical students and mainstream Jewish influencers hosted by the U.S. not-for-profit Encounter—who traveled to Palestine for an Encounter Program. In a recent Encounter talk, one rabbi attentively listened as I made the same claim, Israel can take 101 actions tomorrow morning without jeopardizing security. He raised his hand and asked, where can we get that list?

So, here it is. A quick compilation, with the generous assistance of several friends here in Palestine, and with a few items selected from the umpteen reports being published about the rapidly deteriorating state of affairs. This list is not intended to be comprehensive by any means, but rather a look beyond the daily headlines to give readers, especially those who have bought into the Israeli propaganda—hook, line and sinker—that this military occupation is all about “security”.

I attempted to place a few subtitles to categorize the list, although many items are multifaceted. Space does not allow for a full explanation of each proposed action, so if anyone wants to be directed to a more in-depth explanation of any listed action, or otherwise, please feel free to reach out at the email listed below.

Before offering the list, I must state upfront and clearly, my goal in presenting these ideas is not to assist the powers-that-be to design an embellished military occupation intended as permanent. Rather, my purpose is to reveal Israel’s underlying intentions, its indefinite time frame for continued domination, and the cornucopia of diverse types of actions carefully calculated to humiliate each and every Palestinian, while structurally blocking a path to Palestinian statehood, otherwise known as the two-state solution. That noted, for those who simply cannot fathom the notion of a Palestinian state free from Israeli occupation, I welcome all efforts to get my list addressed while the occupation continues, which would align Israel’s actions somewhat better with the law of occupation, the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Geneva Convention, 12 August 1949).

101 actions Israel could take

Gaza

1) Allow for free movement of goods to/from Gaza

2) Open the Erez [Passenger] Crossing to the West Bank 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the nearly 2 million Palestinian residents of Gaza

3) Permit Palestinians to tap their natural gas wells discovered in the sea of Gaza in 2000

4) Allow access to the Gaza Strip’s land

5) Allow access to the Gaza Strip’s territorial waters, expanding Gaza’s fishing zone: The Government of Israel halved Gaza’s fishing zone from 6 nautical miles to 3 nautical miles; compare that to the twenty-nautical mile limit set by the Oslo Accords. (World Bank)

6) Allow access to the Gaza Strip’s air space, releasing 3G frequencies for wireless internet access for Gaza

7) Keep the Karm Abu Salem cargo crossing open (World Bank)

8) Allow solar panels into Gaza (World Bank)

Jerusalem

9) Stop stripping Jerusalemites of their Jerusalem residency status

10) Eliminate arbitrary taxation regime being applied to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, especially those in the Old City

11) Increase public services to East Jerusalem to align with the level of taxation paid by East Jerusalem residents and with their proportion of the entire city’s population

12) Allow daily mechanism for Palestinians’ freedom of religion, not only on the occasional holidays (entry to Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, e.g.)

Education

13) Remove barriers inside the West Bank between children and their schools

14) Stop soldiers at checkpoints from harassing school age students, stop the delaying and excessive searching of students (and teachers) coming to/from Jerusalem through the Qalandia checkpoint, especially of those who are unaccompanied by parents

15) Provide teachers open access to their workplaces, i.e. crossing checkpoints, etc.

16) Eliminate routine Israeli military forces incursions into schools

17) Allow academic/educational institutions to operate comfortably and freely within Palestinian communities in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), including East Jerusalem

18) Recognize/accredit the degrees granted by all Palestinian higher educational institution as legitimate credentials for continuing education in Israel or for professional work permits

19) Stop delaying release of textbook shipments

20) Stop delaying release of, and desist from tampering with, examination papers and answer sheets coming from the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO)

21) Stop banning basic laboratory supplies for students’ laboratory experiments

22) Grant permits for school education/recreational trips: an entire generation has never seen the sea

23) Stop systematically targeting schools in marginalized areas like Khan al-Ahmar in the Jordan Valley

24) Allow importing of educational accessories and tools: During the Microsoft International Student Competition, smart pens, circuits, and other similar materials required by participants were discarded at the Israeli border on the pretext that these educational materials were a threat to Israel’s security

25) Allow student travel. During the Microsoft International Student Competition, the Palestinian team won first place over 23 Arab countries in the innovation category and were qualified to compete in the US. One of the students, despite the student having no security issues, and with an official invitation from Microsoft and the US consulate in hand, was unable to get Israeli permission to enter Jerusalem to process his US visa.

Humanitarian

26) Stop the arrests, especially of children: Number of Palestinians who have been held in Israeli jails for periods ranging from 1 week to life, 1967-1988: 600,000; number of Palestinians arrested during the first intifada (1987-94): 175,000

27) Stop the torture: Documented percentage of Palestinian detainees who have been tortured during interrogation: 85%

28) Stop the deportations: Documented number of Palestinians deported between 1967 and 1992: 1,522; between 1970 and 1973: 785; in 1992: 415; number deported from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, 2002-2004: 32

29) Stop the house demolitions: Documented number of Palestinian homes in the oPt demolished by Israeli authorities, June 1967-March 2009: 24,145

30) Stop the killings: Killings during the two Intifadas: Number of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces and civilians, December 9, 1987 to September 28, 2000: in the oPt: 1,489; within the Green Line: 60. Number killed, September 28, 2000 – September 28, 2004: 3,234

31) Release the bodies of killed Palestinians to their families

32) Stop ripping apart bicultural families: Provide clear and easy access via family re-unification for foreign nationals married to Palestinians

33) Stop arbitrary denial of entries and restrictions on visiting foreign nationals, allowing Palestinian firms to recruit Palestinian and international talent abroad by issuance of work visas/permits for any such person who does not have a Palestinian identity card.

34) Respect Palestinian water rights as defined under international law and honor applicable, signed bilateral water-related agreements

35) Stop spraying of herbicides intended to destroy crops, especially on outskirts of the Gaza Strip

36) Respect the Bedouin community’s way of life, stop the displacement of Bedouin communities

Municipalities

37) Reclassify areas currently classified as Area C if they are within defined city boundaries

38) Expedite landfill approvals: The regional landfill in Rammun (center of West Bank) took about 15 years for the Israeli side to approve

39) Expedite cemetery approvals: The new Ramallah cemetery project took about 12 years for the Israeli side to approve

40) Expedite water/sanitation approvals: The project for a central purification plant in Ein Griot has been waiting for Israeli approval for years now

41) Expedite approvals for new or improved transportation routes: The desperately needed Ramallah ring road project, a case in point, has submitted all required details and continues to await Israeli approval

Economic

42) Stop the illegal dumping of Israeli goods and services into the Palestinian markets, Stop unlicensed Israeli firms, such as Israeli telecommunications firms, from illegally selling their services to the Palestinian Authority (PA) areas

43) Stop the arbitrary delays in importation of technology products

44) Release 4G frequencies for West Bank and Gaza

45) Allow for free movement of goods within the oPt

46) Allow for unfettered imports

47) Allow for unfettered exports

48) Allow the entry of Palestinian goods into the Israeli market, as the Paris Protocol (4/94) provided for in a unique economic and trade regime named the Customs Envelope

49) Stop using an Israeli-specific “Dual Use List” for Palestinians, causing unjustified additional restrictions to importation of goods into Gaza and considerable delays and difficulties for West Bank economic projects, such as the Bethlehem Industrial Estate (BMIP)

50) Stop the extensive security checks within the West Bank which pose an economic obstacle to trade

51) Allow for delivery of large machinery/equipment/vehicles related to PA and international projects, especially for agriculture and construction

52) Eliminate all military checkpoints between Palestinian cities/villages inside the oPt

53) Provide humane/non-segregated access to Palestinians via air, sea and land ports

54) Provide PA security forces full access to all oPt areas

55) Provide PA police full control of all oPt roads

56) Stop issuing licenses to Israeli firms quarrying of Palestinian lands in the oPt

57) Remove closures to all entrances to villages and cities in the oPt, as some residents travel 90-120 additional minutes to reach destinations literally minutes away

58) Allow Palestinians full privileges on “Israeli-only” roads

59) Allow 24/7 access on Israeli-issued travel permits

60) Allow Palestinians with multiday Israeli travel permits to lawfully stay overnight in Jerusalem and Israel

61) Eliminate the recent requirement of a so called “Magnetic Card” required to apply for an Israeli travel permit to Jerusalem or Israel

62) Eliminate the so called “BMC – Businessman’s Card” required to apply for a multi month Israeli travel permit to Jerusalem or Israel, which artificially segments Palestinian society

63) Allow ease of rehabilitation of deteriorating old cities, especially in Hebron and Jerusalem

64) De-monopolize the Israeli/Jerusalem tourism sector (tourism operators, guides, licenses, etc.), ending the demand to adhere to the “Israeli narrative”

65) Apply and enforce the laws and adjudicate violations equally with respect to all residents/citizens under Israeli jurisdiction as an occupying power

66) De-legitimize “open carry” of weapons for Israeli settlers or accord Palestinian farmers the same privileges

67) Secure Palestinian farmers yearlong access to their farm land, not only partial harvesting seasons

68) Maximize allowed farming area, especially near settlements

69) Expedite issuance of land deeds (Tabu), especially in Area C

70) Allow legal building in Areas B and C

71) Allow access to natural water sources in Area C

72) Allow postal mail and packages to reach the Palestinian Post in a timely manner: In August 2018 Israel dumped 10 tons of mail they held up from 2010

Israeli Crossings and Ports

Border Crossings with Jordan / Allenby/King Hussein Bridge (KHB)

73) Open this sole passenger crossing to Jordan 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the nearly 3 million Palestinian residents of West Bank

74) Increase the number of vehicles, load capacity of cargo loading and unloading, and operating hours at the KHB

75) Streamline the logistics for imports entering the oPt: For example, cement silos could be constructed to store bulk cement until transferred by Palestinian trucks into the Palestinian territory.

Border Crossings with Israel

76) Stop restrictions on shipments through cargo crossings from the oPt into Israel, such as limited number and capacity of cargo crossings, limited working hours, and strict security restrictions: This encourages tax evasion and unfair competition in the form of goods smuggled into the oPt by Israeli trucks that freely enter the Palestinian areas via the crossings and need not unload their cargos, unlike the Palestinian trucks. Moreover, Israeli cargo trucks are not subject to inspection by the Palestinian Authorities.

77) Stop random sampling security checks of cargo which cause cargo damage, as well as, long security checks of perishable cargo which is damaged when delayed for a long period for security inspection purposes.

78) Logistical arrangements for the entrance of goods into the Gaza Strip is an ultra-complicated and troublesome task. In addition to the very long waiting hours at Erez Crossing, the facility has unsystematic working hours with the constant possibility of sudden closure for “security” reasons.

Container Ports

79) Allow direct imports to the oPt via a Palestinian clearing agent. Currently, all kinds of raw materials and goods need to be imported through an Israeli agent. Such a procedural requirement incurs high costs for the Palestinian importer for security and customs inspection. Additionally, the Palestinian importer incurs fees of relevant bonded Israeli warehouses and storage facilities as long as the cargo is withheld in the Israeli ports for inspection purposes, sometimes weeks, months or years on end.

80) Allow Palestinians to define their own import needs. Currently the quantity, quality, destination of imported goods and materials are determined according to the outdated Paris Protocol, which provides the annual ceiling of imports per country of origin.

Area C

81) Stop the prohibition of construction in Area C: Obtaining a permit to construct any factory or plant in Area C is made unbearably difficult and the process should be streamlined, simplified, and not subject to arbitrary regulations and delays.

82) As things stand, permits issued for Area C are time-bound and must be renewed on an annual basis, causing significant delays and a barrier to investment; revise these regulations to streamline the process.

83) Streamline the exhausting “security”-driven bureaucratic procedures to establish land titles, especially in Area

84) Expand spatial plans for Palestinian villages in Area C (World Bank)

85) Grant approval to Palestinian business projects in Area C (World Bank)

Constraints on Movement and Permits

86) Issue and abide by clear and lawful policies and procedures for obtaining all types of visas for foreign visitors, including granting visas to international faculty as they return for a new academic year and eliminating denial of long-term visas to international and regional experts working in the oPt

87) Lift the military ban on Palestinian commercial drivers’ entering Israel with a Palestinian-registered vehicle: This ban is enormously expensive for Palestinian employers, who bear the added logistical costs to rent an Israeli truck for the Israeli side of the route travelled, incurring more than double the rental cost of the Palestinian truck alone.

88) Allow for permits to manage commercial operations within Israeli areas, such as the management of warehouses in these areas. Currently, the limitations on permits issued shackle Palestinian firms’ ability to manage their internal affairs.

89) Allow Palestinian clearing agents access to Israeli ports at Ashdod, Haifa or Eilat. Currently, an Israeli agent needs to be hired as a go-between with the Palestinian importer.

90) Many Palestinian companies are active in both the West Bank and Gaza. Allow permits for West Bank company staff to enter the Gaza Strip and vice versa. At present, absent such permits, staff is unable to follow up on work in progress, attend meetings, or participate in training courses.

91) Permit Palestinian firms’ shareholders to travel to/from the West Bank/Gaza Strip to attend the annual general meetings of firms they are invested in. At present, to work around this, firms incur the extra expense of arranging two venues for a meeting; one in the West Bank and the other in the Gaza Strip, to ensure an equal opportunity for all the shareholders in Palestine to attend the meetings, which are connected by video conferencing.

Legal Issues

92) Streamline legal actions for Palestinian firms having issues with Israeli citizens/cheques; currently, the problem of the Israeli citizen/firm’s being subject to another jurisdiction creates manifold obstacles to prompt resolution.

93) Recognize a third country arbitration between Israeli and Palestinian businesses. If a commercial dispute arises between Palestinian and Israeli parties, Israeli laws requires that arbitration be made in Israeli areas for security purposes and for the safety of the Israeli party. This practice is a clear violation of customary international practices and norms that the seat of arbitration should be in a third and neutral country.

94) Stop the military ban on a large number of Gazan traders who have been commercially banned by Israel without due process, rendering them unable to sell or purchase goods and materials.

Quality inspection

95) Stop the discrimination in dealing with standards certificates. The required Israeli quality inspection of imports transshipped through Israel and acquiring of the Israeli Standards Certificate require a lot of time that might extend up to six months with high costs. Currently, Israeli shipments require one certificate for every product being imported, despite the number of times imported, whereas the Palestinian importer must get a new certificate for every shipment of the same product, adding time and cost to every importation of goods.

96) Allow Israeli products entering the Palestinian market to get a Palestinian Standards Certificate. Currently, the Palestinian market is flooded with Israeli products that bypass Palestinian standards certification.

Financial

97) Stop withholding/delaying the various monetary transfers to the Gaza Strip, imposing extra costs to cover transfers

98) Pay the Palestinian Authority seigniorage for their use of Israeli currency

99) Stop delays in transferring payments to Palestinian government, further indebting the PA: VAT and Import duties collected by the Government of Israel (GoI) on behalf of the PA and should be transferred monthly based on an arrangement instituted by the Paris protocol. (World Bank)

100) Stop unilateral deductions from Palestinian funds, further indebting the PA: These are deductions made by the GoI from clearance revenues to settle utility bills owed by Palestinian Local Government Units (LGUs), utilities and distribution companies to Israeli suppliers. (World Bank)

101) Transfer to the Palestinian Authority fiscal losses accumulated over the years. The signed agreements defined specific arrangements through which the GoI collects VAT, import duties and other income, or the so-called clearance revenues, on behalf of the PA and shares it with the latter on a monthly basis. Some of these arrangements have become outdated and others have not been implemented as envisaged by the agreements, resulting in fiscal losses for the PA. The quantified annual loss (excluding revenues collected by the GoI in Area C that could not be quantified due to data constraints) amounts to USD 285 million, or 2.2 percent of Palestinian GDP. (World Bank)

So, here you have it, a detailed sampling of what the Israeli military occupation means from ground zero. These and dozens of other Israeli restrictions are what mainly underlie the inability of Palestinians, individually and collectively, to create a different reality on the ground, let alone properly prepare for a free and independent state.

A longtime Jewish-American attorney friend with whom I shared this list as a draft in process responded unequivocally: These issues, he said, are notIsraeli security threats; on the contrary. If they were rationally addressed, the results would serveIsraeli security needs. With that, one must step back a bit and reflect on what Israel’s real intentions might be in sustaining its 50-year military occupation through the use of this vast web of “security” regulations.

Sam Bahour is managing partner of Applied Information Management (AIM), a policy analyst with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, a secretariat member of the Palestine Strategy Group, and chairman of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy. He blogs at www.epalestine.com. Twitter: @SamBahour

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