News for progressives

Center for Science in the Public Interest, Greg Jaffe, Cornell and GMOs

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-01-10 14:55

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is known in public interest circles as one of the premiere food safety public interest groups in Washington, D.C.

But that reputation has suffered over the years because of the group’s stance on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – including its opposition to mandatory labeling of GMO foods.

That GMO stance aligns CSPI with pro-GMO organizations and against other consumer groups – including Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union and US Right to Know.

In 2015, CSPI refused to debate Consumers Union’s Michael Hansen on the question of mandatory labeling of GMO foods.

“Why is CSPI defending a technology that has health and environmental risks but nearly no consumer benefits?” asked Gary Ruskin of US Right to Know at the time. “CSPI has done a lot of good work over the years. But on the issue of GMOs, they have lost their way.”

Now, Greg Jaffe, the head CSPI’s Biotechnology Project, has publically aligned himself with one of the most pro-GMO groups in the country – the Cornell Alliance for Science.

Jaffe works part time as the Cornell Alliance for Science associate director of legal affairs.

“CSPI contracts with Cornell for part of his salary to have Greg provide expert technical assistance to the Alliance for Science,” said CSPI’s Jeff Cronin. “The Alliance for Science, like CSPI, takes no donations from corporations and discloses its donors on its website.”

Cronin would not say how much Cornell is paying Jaffe.

(The Cornell Alliance for Science primary donor is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But the Alliance does list as one of its funders a corporation – Blue Mountain Capital, a hedge fund with $21 billion under management.)

The public interest community sees Jaffe’s move to Cornell as a step too far.

“For decades, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has done great work on integrity in science, and exposing corporate front groups,” Ruskin told Corporate Crime Reporter. “It is regrettable that their standards have sunk so low that one of their staff, Greg Jaffe, now serves as the associate director of legal affairs for the Cornell Alliance for Science, a public relations shop that parrots agrichemical industry propaganda, partners with industry front groups, and works closely with many of the industry’s leading messengers.”

“We hope that CSPI will come to its senses, and stop supporting front group activities it has honorably decried for so long,” Ruskin said.

US Right to Know put out a report in October 2018 titled Cornell Alliance for Science is a PR Campaign for the Agrichemical Industry.

The Gates Foundation helped launch the Cornell Alliance for Science in 2014 as an effort to “depolarize the charged debate” around genetically modified foods (GMOs).

“The Gates Foundation Deputy Director Rob Horsch, who worked for Monsanto Company for 25 years, leads the foundation’s agricultural research and development strategies, which have drawn criticism for relentlessly promoting GMOs and agrichemicals in Africa over the opposition of Africa-based groups and social movements, and despite many concerns and doubts about genetically engineered crops across Africa,” according to the report.

Jaydee Hanson of the Center for Food Safety said that Jaffe’s work with the Alliance “certainly makes Jaffe look way more partisan.”

“In taking a position with the Alliance, Jaffe went a step too far,” Hanson said. “It totally undermines whatever neutrality he had cultivated.”

Doug Gurian-Sherman was present at the creation of the Biotechnology Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in 2001.

He was soon joined by Greg Jaffe as a co-director.

Jaffe is now the sole director of the Biotechnology Project at CSPI and Gurian-Sherman has his own consulting firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Jaffe is more pro-GMO, Gurian-Sherman – not so much.

Gurian-Sherman studied plant pathology and genetic engineering at the University of California Berkeley. He ended up working at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I left EPA at the end of 2000 when the Bush administration came in,” Gurian-Sherman told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last year. “I was also disillusioned with the way the EPA was handling genetic engineering. And I was disillusioned with the bureaucracy.”

How long were you at the EPA?

“About five years. I started in 1995 and left in 2001 to go to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. One of my goals was to work as a scientist with a public interest group. Michael Jacobson at CSPI was just starting a new program on biotechnology and he contacted me to see if I was interested in directing the program. I jumped on it. I knew a bit about CSPI’s reputation and the work they did.”

Were you the head of the new group from the beginning?

“I was the initial director. And then Greg Jaffe joined. And he was brought on as my co-director very shortly after, within a couple of months. That was in early 2001. Jaffe came in soon thereafter.”

“For myself that I was optimistic about what we might do. It was over a period of several years that I grew unhappy and disillusioned with the direction it was taking.”

“Part of the question was a matter of degree. Can this be regulated safely? What would be required to do that? And over time, not only how can it be regulated safely but how can it best be developed in ways that might be best for society.”

“My initial thinking was – I was not convinced that it would be an important beneficial technology for society. But I was cautiously optimistic that with the right kind of regulatory regime, at least the harmful manifestations of the technology could be weeded out and prevented from reaching the market. We were not anywhere near that and still are not anywhere near that in terms of our regulatory system.”

“That was my initial perspective. And it was largely in line with CSPI.”

Was it your perspective at that time that GMOs were just a handmaiden to industrial agriculture and thus wouldn’t benefit society?

“No. I wasn’t thinking as much initially about those broader social implications. I certainly was thinking about the corporate use of the technology at the time. Some of the same players – Monsanto, DuPont, Dow –  were clearly dominating the technology. And I certainly was concerned about that. Going back to my Science for the People days, if not before, I have been concerned about corporate power and corporate consolidation. That aspect of it was certainly on my mind. And it was a major concern. At that point, my analysis had not reached conclusions that the technology had an inherent tendency to be controlled and dominated by the industry. Or as you put it, it was often a handmaiden of the industry.”

“At the initial stages, I had not done the analysis or thought deeply enough about whether the technology was capable of being developed independent of the big corporations and whether the corporate influence could be adequately tamped down and controlled to allow public aspects to be developed. That came over time and came later.”

At what point in time at CSPI did you start thinking – this is going in a direction I’m not comfortable with?

“CSPI has not been a partner with the other progressive public interest groups in the United States and around the world on genetic engineering.”

What groups are you talking about?

“It has changed over time. At the time, one of the major groups in the United States was the Union of Concerned Scientists, who I eventually ended up working for. Their position was similar to mine –  genetic engineering maybe had some promise but was causing many more problems than it was solving. It was mainly detrimental, the regulations were drastically inadequate, we needed more sustainable farming and conventional crop breeding rather than genetic engineering.”

“Their program was led at the time by Margaret Mellon and Jane Rissler. Environmental Defense Fund was a major player with Rebecca Goldberg. They had positions similar to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Consumers Union has a research arm. Michael Hansen and others there played a big role. And this goes back into the late 1980s. Friends of the Earth had some involvement at the time.”

“Another group that started around that time was the Center for Food Safety. I also worked with them for a time. They have done a lot of the legal work, filing lawsuits against particular applications of the technology, especially the herbicide resistant crops. Andrew Kimbrell was an acolyte of Jeremy Rifkin. His first lawsuit was against the lab in Berkeley where I was doing my PhD.”

“The Union of Concerned Scientists changed directions in 2014 under a new director. Margaret Mellon and I left the program at that time. They are no longer working on genetic engineering.”

Then the current groups are Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety. US Right to Know. Greenpeace, and Organic Consumers Association and others.

“Yes. They are still involved. But it’s interesting because the groups critical have changed somewhat and dispersed. There are smaller groups like Food Democracy Now. And many of the groups are working to get mandatory labeling.”

Why did CSPI move in the other direction?

“I don’t know. It’s a good question to ask. CSPI has certainly been associating themselves with positions similar to the GMO pesticide industry despite some criticisms of the technology. And that differs from the positions of the liberal and progressive public interest community, which on the whole has been opposed or skeptical of genetic engineering.”

“I’m sure I am forgetting other groups. But these groups worked together. There was communication, strategy, among these groups. And CSPI has never been a part of that coalition. And not only nationally, but internationally.”

What about Jaffe signing on with Cornell?

“That is not the only pro-GMO group he is aligned with. And I am not questioning his motives. But it does raise questions as to why they are comfortable to collaborate with organizations that are highly pro-GMO. From my understanding, CSPI’s position is they are pro-GMO with some reservations.”

“Jaffe was also very involved with the Program for Biosafety Systems, which is associated with the green revolution centers, in particular the International Food Policy Research Institute. And he has had associations with the US Agency for International Development, which is pro-GMO. It’s an interesting mix of bedfellows supporting the GMO project. He helps third world countries develop regulatory systems that allow the countries to choose GMOs. But many of civil society groups in these African and other countries say these regulations facilitate large pesticide/GMO corporations to penetrate those countries.”

“CSPI has said it wants to position itself between industry and the civil society sector, which they see as both having extreme positions on genetic engineering – again paraphrasing. They see civil society as hyping the risks and industry as minimizing those risks. But in fact, CSPI has eschewed civil society groups which oppose GMOs on safety and other grounds. But CSPI is comfortable associating itself widely with groups that are highly pro-GMO and have positions similar to the industry. CSPI’s talking points are mostly in line with industry talking points.”

“It raises the question, which I don’t have the answer to, as to why they are often found associated with these groups that are pro-GMO, and reluctant to be involved with civil society groups.”

Cornell is funded by the pro-GMO Gates Foundation.

“The Gates Foundation, the Cornell Alliance for Science, industry, academics associated with the GMO technology, the US government – they all want to open up markets in developing countries in Southeast Asia and Africa. In all of these cases, policy supporters of genetic engineering recognize the importance those countries having social systems, regulatory systems, intellectual property systems that facilitate the private sector commodification or use of genetic engineering in those countries. And Jaffe’s expertise is as a legal expert on the regulation of genetic engineering.”

They would argue that as part of the green revolution – we are going to feed the world.

“Where I have a major philosophical difference with CSPI goes back to my early days in biology as part of a social system. I see these technologies as being embedded in a political and economic context that is not neutral. CSPI has said and Jaffe has said that they take an incrementalist approach to solving these problems.”

“They can defend that by saying the broader system based approaches are just unrealistic while an incrementalist approach does some real good in preventing or stopping some harmful applications of various technologies. It’s been a good thing to get trans fats off the market. That kind of approach can have a lot of merit in a sane society that basically does the right thing and is egalitarian and broadly democratic.”

“But in a society that has a broken democracy, dominated by corporate interests and powerful economic interests, that kind of approach can be misleading and like a bandaid. What you have in the case of genetic engineering is CSPI touting the reduction of chemical pesticides in Bt crops, which I agree is a good thing.”

“But what they don’t talk about is the nature of industrial agriculture, which this is a part of and remains highly dependent on those pesticides. What has happened with insecticides in major Bt crops like corn or cotton, sprayed insecticides have been reduced, but seed coating insecticides, neonicotinoids, are more widely used now than the sprayed insecticides. And these are the very insecticides that are associated with killing off bees and other pollinators. There is a tremendous amount of research on that.”

Categories: News for progressives

Meet Godfathers of Ukraine’s New Church: CIA, Neo-Nazis and Mafia

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Is this a Yellow Vest Spring, a Eurozone Spring, or just holiday-related stress relief?

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Beyond Kafka: How Youtube & Facebook Keep Purging Alternative Media

Hassan Nasrallah is persona non grata on Social Networks, where Anti-Zionism is the ultimate thoughtcrime  With a comment from Norman Finkelstein The guillotine’s blade fell again, one year later. On
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Really Small Town by One Eyed Oracle

This music video was sent to me by a friend, and I wanted to share it with you. The Saker Really Small Town by One Eyed Oracle featuring Boris and
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Turkey Wants US Military Bases In Northern Syria

Syrian War Report – Jan. 9, 2019: Turkey Wants US Military Bases In Northern Syria Ankara has asked the US to hand over 16 of its military bases in northern
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Moveable Feast Cafe 2019/01/09 … Open Thread

2019/01/09 20:00:01Welcome 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
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The EU in 2019 – the Problem of Survival

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Stuff To Read: Integrity Initiative, Skripal, Kaspersky ...

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Tax the Rich?  History Proves Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez May be Correct

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-09 16:02

Taxes impede economic growth and high taxes kill the economy, right?. This is the belief among many who criticize Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy to 70% or more.  But what does the evidence really tell us?

Do high taxes really hurt the economy as much as they believe, and will lowering them have much of an impact on stimulating it? The economic literature is clear — tax breaks to encourage economic relocation or investment decisions are inefficient and wasteful. Hundreds of studies reach this conclusion. When businesses are surveyed regarding factors important to their investment decisions, taxes often come in behind proximity to markets, suppliers, and the quality of the labor force. These other factors occupy a larger percentage of a business’s budget than do taxes, and all of them are far more critical to long-term success than are taxes. Businesses occasionally admit this. Nearly 62 percent of those interviewed in a California study on hiring tax credits indicated that they had never or rarely affected their decision to employ individuals.

Anecdotal stories and illustrations also confirm the tax fallacy. High tax states such as Minnesota have generally fared better in terms of economic growth, unemployment, median family incomes, and location of Fortune 500 companies than low tax ones such as Mississippi and Alabama. In many situations high taxes, and with that, government expenditures on education, workforce training, and infrastructure, correlate positively with income, low unemployment, and business retention. One needs to look not just a one side of the equation—taxes—but the other side too—what taxes buy—to see what value businesses get out of them in terms of educated workforces and infrastructure investments. Most debates fail to do this.

Bureau of Economic Analysis statistics demonstrate how economic growth is related to tax rates. One can compare annual economic growth as measured by the percent change in the gross domestic product (GDP) percent based on current dollars to the highest federal individual tax rate and the top corporate tax rate since 1930. If taxes are a factor affecting economic growth, one should see an inverse relationship between growth of the U.S. economy and higher tax rates. The GDP should grow more quickly when top individual and corporate tax rates are lower. If taxes are a major factor deterring economic growth, lines on a graph should go in opposite directions: As tax rates go up the GDP should go down.

No such pattern emerges between high taxes and GDP growth over 80 years. During the Depression of the 1930s corporate and individual taxes rates increased, but in 1934 through 1937 the GDP grew by 17%, 11%, and 14% annually. Top corporate tax rates climbed to over 50% through the 1960s, again with no discernable pattern associated with decreased economic growth. The same is true with top tax rates on the richest which were 91% into the 1960s. Conversely, since the 1980s after Kemp-Roth and then after 2001 with the Bush era tax cuts, there is no evidence that the economy grew more rapidly than in eras with significantly higher tax rates on the wealthy and corporations.  The same is true even of the much heralded 1960s Kennedy tax cuts.  While at one time economists thought they had an almost magical impact on the economy, more recent evidence questions that.

Looking at time periods when tax rates were at their highest, GDP often grew more robustly than when taxes were cut. Visually, the attached graph simply fails to demonstrate that tax rates negatively impact economic growth.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, but statistics are priceless. Statistically, if a tax hurts economic growth, the correction with it is -1. If they positively facilitate growth the relationship is 1, and if they have no impact the relationship is 0. The correlation between GDP and top individual taxes is 0.29, between GDP and top corporate taxes is 0.32, and among the three it is 0.14. Statistically, there is a slight positive impact on either top individual or corporate taxes or economic growth, but overall almost no connection between tax rates on the wealthy and corporations and economic growth in the United States.

But what about taxes as job killers? Again running similar statistical tests, there is little connection. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data on unemployment rates since 1940, the correlation among top individual and corporate taxes and the annual unemployment rate is -0.02—essentially no connection at all.

The simple claim that high tax rates on the wealthy and corporations hurt economic growth and job production is false. The evidence is simply not there to support assertions that high taxes alone hurt the economy or that cutting them will have the stimulus effect asserted.  Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be correct that increasing taxes on the wealthy will not only be more fair, but an efficient means to stimulate the economy, help the poor, and generate the resources necessary to fund a fair and equitable America.

Categories: News for progressives

“Invasions”: the Desperate Need to Distract From the Brexit Shambles

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-09 16:00

In these days of the 24/7 news cycle– with virtually instantaneous spin on the part of politicians and their slick media gurus, and ever-gullible segments of social media– it’s become easy to plant stories that can soon be shown to be false flags.

One of these false flags occurred in the UK in the recent holiday season. As I mentioned in a CounterPunch article a couple of weeks ago, Gatwick, the UK’s second largest airport, located 30 miles south of London and serving 43 million passengers a year, was closed for a nearly two days during the busiest travel period of the year when multiple drone sightings were reported over its runways throughout that time.

As a result, 140,000 passengers had flights delayed, cancelled, or rerouted to other airports, and 11,000 people were stranded at the airport, which was not prepared for such an emergency, as airport eateries ran out of food.

The British army was summoned to deal with this “emergency” after a meeting of Theresa May’s cabinet.

According to The Guardian, the military deployed the Israeli-developed Drone Dome system, which can detect drones using radar. It can also jam communications between the drone and its operator, enabling authorities to take control of the drone.

Two drone enthusiasts living near Gatwick were arrested as “persons of interest”, before being freed after two days of interrogation without being charged.  In the meantime, their names were revealed by the tabloid media, with a predictable outcome (the couple are now suing the tabloids for the severe harassment they suffered as a consequence of being named).

By this time the supposed drone attacks ceased, though there was another twist to the story.

The police said it was possible that the 200 or so witness reports of drone sightings after the first ones caused panic were mistaken, though this police statement was later backtracked with the blame placed on “miscommunication”.

It turned out that no photographic or video footage exists of the invading drones!

The police also examined two damaged drones allegedly found on the airport perimeter, but later said they were “ruled out” of the investigation.

The Independent now reports that the Israeli anti-drone technology has been removed from Gatwick, and quotes the area’s chief police officer:

“He said some reports of drones in the area may have involved the police’s own craft, but added that he is “absolutely certain” a drone was flying near the airport’s runways during the three-day period of disruption”.

I wonder how many of my fellow Brits will bet against me that this worthy protector of the public gets a knighthood in the next Ukanian honours list for owning up to the fact that his own police force was flying drones over the airport during the panic-inducing “invasion”!

And who would now bet against the supposedly sighted “invading” drones being precisely the ones operated over Gatwick by the local police force?

The bungled drone investigation did not stop other airport authorities from consulting with their Gatwick equivalents. According to The Huffington Post: “Executives at several passenger hubs – including some top US airports – have called their Sussex counterparts to find out more about the incident, HuffPost UK understands”.

Presumably these other airport authorities want to learn how not to handle a drone incursion the way Gatwick did!

Ukania, in its deep funk over Brexit– with the leading Brexiteers whipping up hysteria over “invading” immigrants allowed entry under current EU rules, and using this as one of their rationales for Brexit– is now deeply susceptible to any symbolism involving “invasion”.

The fantasy of the invading drones over Gatwick did some work towards this end.

The next part of the story involves the supposed “invasion” of the UK by rubber dinghies of people on the move (mainly asylum seekers) crossing the Channel before they were intercepted by the UK Border Force.

539 people attempted to travel to the UK on small boats in 2018.

About 100 of these, most of them desperate Iranians, made the crossing in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day– on Christmas Day itself 5 small boats carrying a mere 40 people attempted to cross the Channel.

The Home Secretary Sajid Javid cut short his £800/$1000-a-night luxury safari holiday in South Africa, and sped home to describe dramatically the small increase in the number of Channel crossings as a “major incident”.

Javid, the son of penniless Pakistani immigrants who would now be prevented from coming to the UK under new immigration rules their son supports enthusiastically, is a hugely ambitious narcissist and lover of over-blown PR gestures, who makes no bones about his desire to take over from Theresa May as prime minister.

Javid, whose job before entering politics was being a director and then managing director of the long-troubled Deutsche Bank (soon to feature in any legal proceedings against Trump), usually hastens away from reporters with a speed that might impress Usain Bolt when questioned about his time at DB (2000-2009).

Javid, just back from his curtailed South African holiday, requested the help of the navy to patrol the Channel, and announced the redeployment of two UK Border Force ships from the Mediterranean.

Javid repeatedly referred to the boat-people as “illegal” migrants, even though it is not against the law to seek asylum. The UK is a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, which requires signatories to give due process to all who apply for asylum.

Javid suggested, in a clear breach of the Convention on Refugees, that people picked up by UK authorities could have their asylum requests denied to “deter others from undertaking the same dangerous journey” and said: “A question has to be asked: if you are a genuine asylum seeker, why have you not sought asylum in the first safe country you arrived in?”.

Nearly 3 times more people apply for asylum in France than in the UK, and the French asylum-processing office is totally grid-locked. The logical thing for refugees to do is to leave France, cross the Channel, and hope the UK’s asylum-system will be less paralyzed and perhaps less nasty than France’s.

The ghastly Javid clearly believes it would do his prime ministerial ambitions no harm if he engaged in a bit of grandstanding designed to appease far-right and anti-immigrant sentiment at the expense of desperate refugees, rather than seek to solve any real problems.

Meanwhile, to quote The Guardian on the real crisis confronting the UK:

“More people than ever relied on food banks to get through Christmas this year, around half of them children. More than 130,000 children faced Christmas in a state of homelessness, in temporary accommodation or B&Bs completely unfit for families. Almost every day, a woman is killed or takes her own life because of domestic violence, a form of abuse that often spikes at this time of year”.

This, and not a few dozen people on wobbly boats seeking asylum in the UK in a single week, is the major crisis confronting Ukania today.

It would therefore be good for UK politics generally if the US found a way to subpoena Javid as part of any investigative or prosecutorial move against Trump.

There is certainly enough out there on Trump’s dealings with DB to pique the interest of the US authorities. These dealings began in the late 90s, but according to Bloomberg:

“Trump did little to merit Deutsche’s involvement after that until the early 2000s, when it agreed to loan him as much as $640 million for a Chicago project — the Trump International Hotel and Tower.

In recent years, Deutsche’s private banking unit has loaned Trump money — about $300 million, accordingto Bloomberg News and Trump’s government financial disclosureforms — for such projects as his Washington hotel and the Trump National Doral golf course”.

If the scoundrel Javid is in a position to answer questions about DB’s nearly $1bn loans to Trump for his hotel and resort ventures (the Ukanian scourge of boat-people was after all on the DB board of directors at that time, and managing director even), he should certainly be invited to grandstand in front of an investigative panel or two in Washington DC.

Categories: News for progressives

Is the Historical Subject Returning, Wearing a Yellow Vest?

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-09 15:59

If someone were to ask me the meaning of politics, I would say that it is concerned with the contestation of power; that it is agonistic, even antagonistic. And that it has to be, because what it contests is the balance of power wielded by different class interests. As Marx recognised, the underlying purpose of the social, political, economic and even legal institutions of capitalist society is to preserve the monopoly of power enjoyed by the capital-owning class. And, consequently, any attempt to challenge that monopoly, in whatever sphere, is going to be countered, as the yellow-vested protesters are currently experiencing on the streets of Paris.

I point this out because the nature of politics seems to have radically changed over the last couple of decades. Dare I say it, it has become rather apolitical. – concerned more with ameliorating the excesses of capitalism than with challenging the system itself. The dramatic protests against global capitalism that marked the end of the 20thcentury have now settled into a not uneasy truce, as new ‘transnational’ actors have emerged to fill and ‘depoliticise’ the radical space previously occupied by the working class. These new players comprise a panoply of ‘Global Social Justice Movements’, (‘GSJMs’) and ‘Non-Governmental Organisations’, (‘NGOs’) which impose themselves on inchoate civil society all over the globe. Whilst the range of their particularistic interests is vast, they are generally united in the denigration of working class politics. These movements, which tend to be managed by western, middle class personnel,[1] and are very often funded, directly or indirectly by western corporate interests and unelected bodies,[2] eschew the representational demands of the ‘old’ class politics, insisting instead that their ‘individualistic’ agenda wields a higher moral authority. In the eyes of these new global players, ‘collective’ politics, with its demands of representation, constituency and even democracy are discredited artefacts of a broken system which needs to be superseded by a more moral form of global governance.

The rapid multiplication of these, media-savvy, global players, which act very much like lobbyists, negotiating concessions at capitalist summits, isn’t simply a crude manifestation of an expanded global capitalism. Although World Bank requirements that third world governments seeking aid involve NGOs and advocacy groups has clearly helped fan that development. There is also a philosophical justification underpinning the emergence of these post-political movements,and the consequent replacement of the collective subject focused on class politics with a more compliant apolitical partner. What may seem surprising, however, is that global capitalism’s new partner, should largely be a creation of the Left. For whilst neoconservatives bent on rolling back the state, welcomed the hugely influential work of neo- liberal philosopher John Rawls, which heralded the primacy of the autonomous individual and provided a philosophical justification for the fiction of ‘trickle down’ economic.[3] It was the Left’s embrace of postmodern thinking with its distinctive disparagement of historical narratives that has led to the abandonment of the working class as the historical subject, i.e., in Marxian terms, as the class capable of effecting historical change.

A corollary of this supposed moral evolution in trans-global ‘politics’, is the depreciation of the former political objectives fought for by organised labour and its associated imperatives of solidarity and community: terms which are notably absent from the new ‘corporate-friendly’ moral lexicon. Indeed, the vilification of the working class, which has become a cultural meme since the 80s, has proved an invaluable aid to the ushering in of this new apolitical elite. For the flip side of the worthy coin that is GSJM is the unworthy, feckless and irresponsible working class.  By falsifying working class politics as greedy and self-serving it has been relatively easy for the capitalist media to delegitimise their demands. What is now approvingly taken up instead is a pluralism of social and cultural interests none of which has the political leverage, nor the desire it would seem, to challenge the status quo.

Urban geographer, Mike Davis discusses the NGO revolution under the heading ‘Soft Imperialism’, and regards it as responsible for ‘hegemonising the space traditionally occupied by the left’ and‘de-radicalising urban social movements.’ Housing activist, P.K. Das is more forthright, suggesting that the aim of such movements is to “subvert, dis-inform and de-idealise people so as to keep them away from class struggles.” At the same time encouraging people to beg “for favours on sympathetic and humane grounds rather than making the oppressed conscious of their rights.”[4]  David Chandler describes these newly emergent political actors as ‘anti-political and elitist’ which seems spot on.[5] In many ways their actions mirror those of their missionary forebears: placating the natives and clearing the ground for the expansion of expire. However, his suggestion that the shift away from class politics stemmed from the fact that the leftist programmes of the 70s and 80s were empty and exhausted isn’t correct. Quite the opposite, as a brief glance at the progressive policies put forward at that time reveals. In fact, the compensatory consumerism launched by neo-conservative governments in the deregulated 80s, which has led to unprecedented levels of private debt, was the very antithesis of the socialist projects suggested a decade earlier, when workers had sought to found an alternative society on something other than a destructive and wasteful capitalism. A more accurate summation of those years of contestation – what might now be called ‘extreme politics’ is not that the leftist programmes were exhausted, but that their policies were never implemented. Certainly in the UK, striking workers were deceived by their own representatives, both in and out of government, but also by the political system itself, which used undemocratic means to block the implementation of manifesto pledges promising irrevocable and fundamental change to the economic system. What evidently united the forces against the workers was their demand for more direct democracy and involvement in the political and economic process, which was a challenge both to capitalist control and to bourgeois clientism. In the cultural shift from contesting capitalism to accepting it, it is acceptance which now seems to be the governing ethos determining and directing what passes for ‘leftist’ politics.  It therefore seems timely to reflect on that earlier era, not so long ago, when a politics of contestation dominated the public space and being ‘on the left’ was a socialist stance, incontrovertibly bound up with working class demands for a fairer and more just society.

In the UK of the 1970s strikes, sit-ins, worker occupations and even work-ins (most famously perhaps at the Upper Clyde Ship Building works (‘UCS’) were common events. Angry grey men, huddled around braziers, were a regular sight on the nightly news, and everyone seemed to be locked in debate about the economic and political future of the country. When Ted Heath, the Prime Minister of the Tory government then in power, called an election in 1975, (after declaring 5 states of emergency in so many years), asking the people ‘Who rules Britain?’ the electorate decisively answered that it was not him and returned a Labour government. It was, indeed, a time of flux. And there was a real sense that fundamental change was possible; a confidence perhaps best conveyed by the appearance of the UCS shop steward on a BBC chat show. It seems incongruous now, in the era of ‘bake-offs’ and similar inanities, that the highlight of Saturday night television could be something as prosaic as a discussion of working class politics. That the chair usually occupied by Hollywood types on promotional film and book tours should seat the charismatic communist, Jimmy Reid, promoting nothing other than the interests of ordinary people seems quite extraordinary. But so it was.

What is not so surprising, perhaps, is the fawning media’s denunciation of that time, dubbed ‘the winter of discontent’ as an era when the country was on the brink of economic collapse.[6]Eager to hail Margaret Thatcher’s emergence on the political scene as nothing short of messianic, it suited the Tory press to denigrate the striking workers and present their demands as greedy and self-serving. However, what the workers were primarily asking for wasn’t money, it was power and more involvement in the productive process itself.[7]With many manufacturing industries closing down, due to a combination of mismanagement and under-investment, often notwithstanding considerable government subsidies, the workers could see a way forward through the production of socially useful goods, like dialysis machines and efficient heating systems for pensioners.  In their demands for greater involvement, workers – through Worker Councils – were putting forward industrial strategies that recognised the importance of diversification, social goods, green energy, environmental constraints, worker cooperation and responsibility. In ‘Socialism and the Environment’, published in 1972[8], several years before ‘Green Politics’ came on the scene, the connection between the expropriation of the environment and that of the worker was recognised, as was the need to end the destructive and wasteful consumerism that was polluting the planet and threatening to make it uninhabitable.

For young people today, the passivity of ‘apolitics’ rather than the contestation of politics is the norm. The class divisions that animated society in the 1970s have since become institutionalised and repackaged as career paths for the ‘caring middle classes’ or passed off as market exigencies beyond the reach of government, as much of what constituted civil society back then has been destroyed or privatised. Margaret Thatcher is perhaps best remembered for her role in deregulating the financial sector and selling off state assets and social housing in an attempt to create an expanded middle class, but her main target was always the destruction of organised labour which she rightly recognised was the main challenge to the capitalist monopoly. As victims of the cult of individualism which began to throttle society in the 1980s, and is evidently nothing more than ‘consumer grooming’, it is difficult for anyone growing up in post-industrial capitalism to appreciate that it was calls for solidarity, justice, worker co-operation and a new vision for productive capacity that shaped much of the debate around industrial democracy, which is precisely why there was so much opposition from the city and corporate interests, the media, the civil service and even the security services. What most exercised all these concerns was the realisation that their long held fears about organised labour being capable of effecting historical change were real. And that the only way to see off that challenge and to secure their monopoly was to destroy the collective power of the working class using every possible means. Structurally that meant emasculating the trade unions with onerous legislative controls, and eradicating those elements of civil society which inculcated notions of community and solidarity. Culturally, it meant effecting a radical shift in society’s perception of the working class so negative and pervasive that few, whatever their economic circumstances, would wish to be identified as, let alone associated with, working class ideas and values. Ably caricatured by a relentless and reactionary media, membership of the working class soon became synonymous with being a ‘benefit cheat’ or a ‘scrounger’. You could also expect to be imputed to hold racist and sexist views and would almost certainly be perceived to be lacking in aspiration. However, it is the label ‘underclass’, or ‘feral underclass’ for working class youth, which perhaps best conveys the dramatic fall and political invisibility of the working class, who were effectively erased from the political spectrum. With the withdrawal of the state and the promotion of the neoconservative mantra of ‘individual responsibility’, it became easy to present poverty and unemployment as personal failings rather than political objectives. What was thereby ensured was that the ‘irresponsible’ and ‘unaspirational’, seared by their shameful failings, would obligingly delete themselves from the political play list, as indeed they have.

Mike Savage’s ‘Social Class in the 21stCentury’, published in 2015, which reveals the results of the biggest survey of class ever undertaken in the UK, with 161,000 participants, reports that not a single cleaner or worker in the ‘elementary services’ responded to the survey.[9]Savage acknowledges that there are ‘telling patterns’ in the survey results, particularly as there was a ‘dramatic over-representation of business and related finance professionals’, and with the responses received from CEOs being more than 20 times the number expected.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem able to tell us what they are. He reports that “the proportion of respondents who do not think they belong to a class rises as the class hierarchy descends,” with only a quarter of the ‘precariat’, (the class who occupy a precarious position in society due to no or poor work opportunities) acknowledging their low class status. Whereas, “Nearly half of the elite think they belong to a class.” Savage suggests that this is a “fascinating inversion of what Marx might have thought, that class consciousness intensifies among the proletarianized, who ‘have nothing to lose but their chains.’” Whereas, “In fact, those at the bottom of the pile are the least likely to think of themselves as belonging to a class.”[10] Apart from the obvious fact that what people think and what they say are often very different things, and the observation that nobody wants to volunteer for the losing team; there is no inversion of Marx’s thesis here. A better explanation for the proletariat not rattling their chains is perhaps because there is little chance of losing them in a time when their incarceration has been normalised, i.e., de-politicised. At such a time all that rattling achieves is to remind you of your sorry, forgotten state. Lenin’s observation concerning the working class’s perpetual ‘cultural enslavement’ certainly seems truer than ever.[11]

Savage’s work is also instructive in revealing the social vulnerability of the middle classes and how class itself has now assumed a cultural significance as an aspect of personal identity: as a signifier of moral and intellectual value. Which would, perhaps, explain why GSJM personnel are drawn primarily from this class. However, the survey’s division of the populace into 7 separate class divisions obscures the bigger picture of winners and losers, which is what the dramatic differentiation in response rates so eloquently reveals. A less obfuscating analysis of that trend is perhaps provided by the simple societal distinction drawn by Thorstein Veblen in ‘Vested Interests and the Common man’. In Veblen’s study, which concerned the US at the turn of the century, all the ‘Vested Interest’ group requires from the capitalist class with whom they negotiate, is “a narrow margin of net gain”.In return for this moderate benefit, Veblen suggests, they will happily “shape their sentiments and outlook” in support of those business interests. If anything, at a time when social and cultural capital have attained new levels of exchange-value following capitalism’s colonisation of the cultural sphere, Veblen’s analysis seems more relevant than ever. For, in the era of trans-global capitalism and the accompanying expansion of apolitical social and cultural movements there are many more margins for gain.

The abandonment of the working class as the historical subject is generally traced back to the emergence of post-Marxian/post-modernist thinking in France in the 70s, with its defining denial of over-arching historical narratives. The work which has provided moral and political authority for that abandonment is ‘Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics’, by Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, published in 1985. In that post-Marxist text, Mouffe and Laclau argue that the working class is no longer the historical subject, essentially because there is no historical subject and therefore no ontological privilege attaches to the working class as the effective historical force against capitalism. Instead, they suggest that a range of social interest groups, (e.g., feminism, anti-racism, environmentalism etc.) can, through ‘moral and intellectual’ leadership, (as opposed to mere ‘political’ leadership) combine to effect such a challenge. Workers remain relevant to that amalgamation of interest groups, but only through their lived, concrete experience and not because of the historicity of their position. It is in this new ‘unity of an ensemble of sectors’ that a ‘structurally new relation, different from class relations, is to be forged. And such an ensemble, the work suggests, will form a ‘radical democracy.’[12]

It is in what Mouffe and Laclau call the ‘decisive transition’ from the political to the moral/intellectual plane that a new concept of hegemony ‘beyond class alliances’ takes place. The reason that a shift away from the political is thought necessary is because there is a perceived need for an ensemble of ideas and values to be shared by a number of sectors – “that certain subject positions traverse a number of class sectors.” It is Mouffe and Laclau’s contention that it is only by leaving class politics, and the inadequate “conjunctural coincidence of interests” that political alliances have forged in the past, that a new singular movement can be established. Part of the reasoning for this is the supposition that the working class cannot think for the rest of society: that it cannot get beyond the “narrow defence of its corporative interests.”[13] History, however, does not bear that out. As seen above, the UK of the 70s: a time when working class power was growing, was a very enlightened time. Anti-racist and Anti-sexist acts were passed and there was also progressive legislation protecting the rights of homosexuals, legalising abortion and making divorce easier.  Workers even went on strike to demand more money for old age pensioners. In fact, it is difficult to think of an area of social life which was not considered to be part of the socialist plan for reform.

Reflecting on the fact that students and immigrants as well as factory workers were involved in the mass strikes which broke out in France in 1968, Mouffe suggests that “Once the conception of the working class as a universal class is rejected it becomes possible to recognise the plurality of the antagonisms which take place in the field of what is arbitrarily grouped under the label of ‘workers struggles.’”[14] However, exactly what is ‘arbitrary’ about that label and what benefit is to be derived from abandoning it in favour of a plurality of different labels which have no political significance in the context of a workers struggle is difficult to determine. Dissolving the solidity of the working class into a multitude of antagonisms seems aimed at destroying solidarity; it also looks like political suicide. In the famous Grunwick strike of 1976, started by non-unionised Asian women working for a pittance in extremely poor conditions, a powerful message of worker solidarity was sent to the Labour government then in power. Issues of ethnicity and gender were swept aside as the biggest mobilisation of worker solidarity ever seen in the UK was put in place and over 20,000 workers turned up on the picket line to support the strikers.  The strike even went international: with dock workers in Belgium, France and the Netherlands blacking goods from the Grunwick, film-processing factory. It was precisely the widespread solidarity of the movement which terrified the government, as what was then evident was that worker solidarity could transform society, which is why the government resorted to heavy policing to break up the strike, (the same tactic the Thatcher government would use against the miners a few years later.) Mouffe asserts that pluralism can only be radical if there is no ‘positive and unitary founding principle’. But it is hard to see what can act as a unifying force in anti-capitalist struggles if it isn’t the commonality of exploitation. Who could the predominantly Gujarati women strikers: newly arrived immigrants from East Africa, have called on if it wasn’t their fellow exploited workers? And how effective would their actions have been in the absence of that solidarity?

In their attempt to justify this dramatic shift away from class politics and the historical interests of the working class, Mouffe and Laclau draw on Gramsci’s notion of the ‘collective will’, which he regarded as a national and popular movement capable of expressing the shared interests of the masses, and also on Gramsci’s recognition of the importance of moral and intellectual leadership. However, with regard to both these aspects of his political strategy, Gramsci’s thinking remains grounded in the historicity of the working class. For whilst he recognises the need for alliances and doesn’t see the working class holding out on its own, he does recognise it as the directing force. The whole point of a collective will is that it is a single, focused will, and not a disparate array of tactics and objectives. In fact, Gramsci opined that what had blocked the formation of just such a will in the past was an array of specific social groups. “All history, from 1815 onwards shows the efforts of the traditional classes to prevent the formation of a collective will of this kind and to maintain ‘economic-corporate’ power in an international system of passive equilibrium.”[15] The fact that Gramsci identifies the need for moral and intellectual leadership in the formation of such a will does not mean that it loses its political/economic base. On the contrary, not only does he regard it as self-evident that such a movement needs to be led by a party grounded in politics.[16]But he also recognises that moral and intellectual policies are nothing without structural change: “Intellectual and moral reform has to be linked with a programme of economic reform – indeed the programme of economic reform is precisely the concrete form in which every intellectual and moral reform presents itself.”[17]

By elevating a spurious moral leadership above class politics a platform has been created for an open-ended plurality of apolitical causes. The effect of which has been to radically depoliticise democracy by removing from its preserve the defining issues of working class contestation. Whilst Mouffe suggests it is the very fragmented, separate identity of these specific ‘antagonisms’ that produces a “deep pluralistic conception of democracy”, the reality has been just the opposite.   As Ellen Meiksins Wood points out in ‘Democracy as Ideology of Empire’ it is precisely the disappearance of politically defined class relations that makes this hollowed out, ‘de-socialised’ version of democracy so attractive to global capitalism. Because, by putting the former social and political concerns of class politics beyond the reach of democratic accountability, politics is easily subordinated to the market.[18] Claus Offe too recognises that the “neoconservative project of insulating the political from the non-political” is served by a restrictive redefinition of what can and should be considered political, thus enabling governments to eliminate problematic social demands from their agendas. At the same time, he observes that the emergence of new social movements, operating in non-political spheres of action, usefully serves to exonerate that de-politicisation.

The Yellow Vest protest is a response to an increasingly ‘desocialised’ version of democracy and to the power of the elites which has only increased under Macron. What began as a protest against increased fuel tax is now so much more. Emboldened by widespread solidarity, the workers are demanding an end to the elitism and corruption of government and a recognition that the working class want more than crumbs. The overthrow of Macron, the ending of political corruption, a new republic, the emergence of a new political party for the working class? It is impossible to forecast how the protest will end. But it would not have lasted as long as it has if it had not been for the widespread solidarity the workers have shown. Solidarity is grounded in a love of justice, which is the life blood of working class politics and therefore until injustice is ended, contestation must continue. For, as the father of political philosophy recognised, “it is always the weaker who seek equality and justice, while the stronger pay no attention to them.”[19]

Notes.

[1] Claus Offe, New Social Movements: Challenging the Boundaries of Institutional Politics, Social Research 52:4 (1985:Winter) 832

[2] James Heartfield, The European Union and the End of Politics (Zero Books: Winchester 2013) 117

[3] John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1972)

[4] P.K. Das, ‘Manifesto of a Housing Activist’quoted in Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums, (Verso: London, 2006)

[5] David Chandler, Deconstructing Sovereignty  in Constructing global civil society in Politics Without Sovereignty, (UCL Press: London 2007) 150

[6] John Medhurst, That Option No Longer Exists – Britain 1974-76,(Zero Books: Winchester, 2014)

[7] State Intervention in Industry – a workers’ inquiry(Russell Press Ltd.: Nottingham, 1980)

[8] Ken Coates, Socialism and the Environment, (Spokesman: Nottingham, 1972)

[9]  Mike Savage, Social Class in the 21stCentury, (Pelican: Random House, 2012) 11

[10] Ibid., 367

[11] V.I. Lenin Collected Works, vol. 27,( Moscow, 1965) 464

[12] Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy – Towards a Radical DemocraticPolitics, (Verso: London, 1985) 64

[13] Ibid., 66

[14] Mouffe, ibid., 167

[15] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, (Lawrence and Wishart: London, 2003) 132

[16] Gramsci, Ibid., 129

[17]  Ibid., 133

[18] Ellen Meiksins Wood,  Democracy as Ideology of Empire in The New Imperialists (Oneworld Publications: Oxford, 2006) 9

[19] Aristotle, Politics, trans., Joe Sachs (Focus Publishing: Newburyport, 2012) 1318b

Categories: News for progressives

The Return of Constitutional Government?

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-09 15:57

The partial shutdown of the federal government is about to set a new and dubious record for the longest in our nation’s history. Amazingly, this happened while one party controlled Congress and the presidency, illustrating the Republicans’ incredible failure to successfully govern during Donald Trump’s two-year tenure. But all that changed with the historic re-ascendency of Rep. Nancy Pelosi to speaker of the House, leading the new majority of Democrats elected in the blow-out mid-term rejection of Trump’s chaotic, destructive presidency.

Our government is constitutionally established with three “separate but equal” branches: The Legislative, Executive and Judicial. The Legislative, Congress, writes the laws and appropriates funding; the Executive, the president, implements the laws with the funding provided; and the Judicial ensures that society adheres to the rights, principles and responsibilities enumerated in the Constitution.

Unfortunately, for the last two years we’ve had a bizarre form of governance where an inexperienced and unskilled president tried to rule by imperial fiat. Simply put, if Trump didn’t want it, Congressional Republican majorities didn’t do it. Those who rightfully disagreed with this mutation and sought to fulfill their oath to serve the Constitution, not their political party, were castigated, demeaned and sometimes even driven from office.

This is not how it’s supposed to work, which is perhaps why it didn’t work. Congress has the responsibility to propose, debate and approve laws and appropriations no matter what the president may or may not support. For those who may have forgotten, that’s just what the Republican majorities in Congress did for the last six years of the Obama presidency, caring little what he did or didn’t want and stymieing any of his appointments or policy initiatives they didn’t like.

To say the worm has turned would be an exaggeration since the Republicans still hold the Senate majority. But it’s safe to say with the divided Congress, we will no longer see undue power vested in the president but quite the opposite — which is a return to Constitutional governance.

Speaker Pelosi, the target of savage degradation by Trump, including targeting her in the mid-terms as a goad to Republican voters, understands very well how government is supposed to work. With 31 years in Congress and now in her historic second speakership, few have more experience in the challenges and opportunities the new Democratic House majority brings.

Moreover, Pelosi leads the most diverse Democratic majority in history with the highest number of women, minority and LGBTQ representatives ever seated in Congress. Those new members have no tolerance for Trump’s white nationalism and have declared to fight for the equality and opportunity guaranteed for all citizens in the Constitution, regardless of race, sex or religion.

Within hours of re-taking the speaker’s gavel, Pelosi’s new majority passed bills to reopen and fund government — but without the billions Trump has demanded for his wall. What they do, however, is ensure hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers will be able to go back to work, pay their bills, take care of their families and fulfill the functions for which they were hired.

Now it’s time for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to start performing his job as a member of a separate but equal Congress. McConnell’s claim that he won’t pass bills without pre-approval by Trump is an abdication of his congressional responsibility.

Trump doesn’t like what’s in the legislation? Fine, let him veto them and see if Congress overrides his veto. That’s how government is supposed to work — not by congressional obeisance to the president.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Why are We Still Logging Our Forests?

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-09 15:57

Anyone who accepts true science realizes that today’s big forest fires are driven far more by climate warming than by a lack of “active forest management” as claimed in previous editorial opinions.

Active forest management, more honestly called “logging,” has always been the timber industry’s cure-all for every perceived problem in our forests.Until science confirmed the amazing diversity and value of our old forests, they were deemed to be “decadent,” badly in need of logging and replacement with more efficient tree farms. When there were budworm or bark beetle breakouts, industry said our forests were being decimated and needed logging to “restore” them. Science disagreed, noting that insects and disease were important components of healthy forest ecosystems. When our forests burn, industry claims quick logging and replanting is necessary to salvage their value. Science again exposed their myths, showing the value of leaving burned forests as critical habitat and how forests reseed and recover naturally from fires like the Biscuit.

I kept a cabin within the huge weather-caused and weather-extinguished Biscuit Fire in Oregon. It was years of cutting and burning non-merchantable understories that saved my cabin, not logging. In the aftermath, I witnessed how little difference commercially thinned stands made to fire spread or intensity. I photographed sites where flames consumed thinned stands only to lie down when they hit the cooler, moister, unthinned forest.

To me, as a timber cruiser and broker who’s tracked timber data and sale prices for decades, it’s obvious why industry preaches logging for all that ails our forests. They make grossly unfair profits from logging public timber sales — far more than the environmental attorneys who litigate them. Scorched old sugar pines and Douglas firs from Biscuit salvage sales sold at literally a dime to the dollar of real value. These sales were sold at a net loss to us as the forest owners, as are many federal timber sales.

Why should we sell our timber at a loss?

Would private forest owners sell their timber at a net loss? Of course not! They aren’t politically forced to sell mature timber at far below market value just to subsidize a few mills. If private forests are managed sustainably as often claimed, why can’t what few mills remain feed off them? Partly because there’s little mature timber left in private forests, but mostly because regional private timber supplies are siphoned off by log exports.

Private log exports from Oregon, though down from recent peaks, still exceed current federal timber harvests. In 2013, log exports were nearly triple Oregon’s federal harvest levels! Domestic mills could successfully compete with log premiums paid by Asian mills if export logs were taxed with a tariff.

Speaking of taxes, suppose we taxed federal forestlands instead of logging them to help fund counties? Unfortunately, however, if federal forests were taxed as little as private forests, the returns would be dismal. Private forest owners pay no tax on the value of their standing timber, even though it’s real property. They pay taxes on a pittance of the real market value of their land. Since 1999, private forest owners of over 5,000 acres have paid no harvest “privilege” tax, a statewide loss of $60 million annually. Tax subsidies to private forest owners average more than double the revenue counties receive from federal forest timber sales. If fair property and harvest taxes were collected from Oregon’s private forests, our forests wouldn’t have to be logged to cover the revenue losses.

When the many politically empowered subsidies are stripped away, federal forests are worth more left standing. The Global Warming Commission Report illustrates just the value of Oregon’s federal forests in removing carbon from the atmosphere. The report says 79 percent of the net carbon is acquired by federal forests compared with only 4 percent by industrial tree farms. If federal forest carbon capture were fairly valued, it would be budgeted and prioritized above money-losing timber sales. Even so-called “thinning,” promoted by some environmentalists, is reported to reduce the ability of federal forests to acquire carbon. Consequently, continued federal logging contributes to warmer conditions which, in turn, drive larger, hotter fires.

After 45 years of observing and evaluating federal logging, contemplating today’s climate science and considering what’s fair for all of us, I wonder — why are we still logging our woods?

Roy Keene works in Oregon’s forests as a forest consultant and private forest broker.

Categories: News for progressives

Multifaceted Attack Against Venezuela on Eve of Maduro Inauguration

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-09 15:57

Venezuelan President Nicholás Maduro’s inauguration for his second term on January 10 is targeted by the US, the allied Lima Group, and the hardline Venezuelan opposition.  They have demanded that Maduro refuse inauguration. A multifaceted attack aimed at regime change is underway using sanctions, military threats, and a campaign of delegitimization to replace the democratically elected president.

Since President Hugo Chávez began his first term as president in 1999, the Bolivarian Republic has promoted regional integration and independence, resisted neoliberalism, opposed “free trade” agreements that would compromise national autonomy, and supported the emergence of a multipolar world. On account of these policies, Chávez (1999-2013) and now Maduro, have faced relentless attacks by the colossus to the north. Today the Maduro administration faces the challenges of defending national sovereignty from imperial domination and overcoming crippling US sanctions that have exacerbated a severe economic crisis.

The US has brazenly announced its consideration of a “military option” against Caracas and has assembled a coalition of the willing in Colombia and Brazil to prepare for an eventual “humanitarian” intervention. Most alarming is that the US seems indifferent to the consequences of such an invasion, which could easily become a regional and global conflagration involving Colombia, Brazil, and even Russia and China.

What the US finds particularly infuriating is that Maduro had the temerity to run for re-election in May 2018 after the US demanded he resign. The US State Department had issued warnings four months prior to the election that the process “will be illegitimate” and the results “will not be recognized.” US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley insisted that Maduro abdicate and presidential elections be postponed.

The Venezuelan National Electoral Commission rejected this diktat from Washington. On May 20, 2018, the Venezuelan electorate had the audacity to re-elect Maduro by a 67.84% majority with a participation rate of 46.07% (representing 9,389,056 voters). Two opposition candidates ran for office, Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci, despite a boycott orchestrated by opposition hardliners and the US.

New Phase in the Campaign Against Venezuela

The campaign to bring about regime change enters a new phase with the inauguration of President Maduro for a second term. With no legal standing or representation inside Venezuela, the Lima Group has now become a major protagonist of  a soft coup in Venezuela.

Just five days before the inauguration, at a meeting held in the capital of Peru, 13 out of 14 members of the Lima Group issued a declaration urging Maduro “not to assume the presidency on January 10… and to temporarily transfer the executive power to the National Assembly until a new, democratic presidential poll is held.”

The following day, Andres Pastrana, former president of Colombia, a member nation of the Lima Group, tweeted that the new president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, should “now assume the presidency of the government of transition as established in the constitution beginning the 10th of January and as requested by the Lima Group.”

In a speech delivered before the Venezuelan National Assembly on January 5, Guaidó stopped short of claiming executive power, but declared that starting January 10, Maduro ought to be considered an “usurper” and “dictator.” Guaidó also urged convening a transitional government that would hold new elections and “authorize” intervention from abroad.

Although the US is not a formal member of the Lima Group, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, participated in the meeting by teleconference. Pompeo had returned earlier in the week from a visit to Brazil and Colombia, during which, according to a senior State Department official, Maduro’s inauguration was on the agenda:

“There’s a very important date that is coming up, which is the 10th of January, where Maduro will hand over power to himself based on an election that many governments in the region and globally have condemned, including the United States, . . . as illegitimate. So we will be discussing, I’m sure, our joint efforts with Colombia and with the region to address this new era beginning on the 10th of January in Venezuela.”

The US Imperial Project

US policy towards Venezuela has three strategic objectives: privileged access to Venezuela’s natural resources (e.g., the world’s largest petroleum reserves and second largest gold deposits), restoration of a neoliberal regime obedient to Washington, and limitation of any movement towards regional independence.

These US objectives are conditioned by a continuing adherence to the Monroe Doctrine for Latin America and the Caribbean, the so-called “backyard” of the US empire. The contemporary mutation of the 1823 imperial doctrine entails a new Cold War against Russia and China and hostility to any regional integration independent of US hegemony.

Back in the 1980s-90s during Venezuela’s Fourth Republic, local elites afforded Washington preferential access to Venezuela’s rich natural resources and dutifully imposed a neoliberal economic model on the country. Currently, US policy appears aimed at  re-establishing such a client state.

However, to bring about such a return, the US imperial project would have to change not only the Venezuelan leadership but dismantle the institutions and even the symbols of the Bolivarian revolution. The devastating US economic sanctions are designed to increase economic hardship in order to ultimately break the will of the chavista base and fracture the Venezuelan military as well as the civic-military alliance. This breakdown would presumably pave the way for installation of a provisional government.

It is time once again to give peace a chance. But Washington has opted for the collision course set by the Lima Group as well as the Secretary General of the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) over efforts of the Vatican and former prime minister of Spain, Luis Zapatero, to broker dialogue between the government and the opposition. The imperial project is abetted by the conservative restoration in Brazil and Argentina and the electoral victory of uribistas in Colombia.

Multifaceted War Against Venezuela and the Bolivarian Response

Washington is engaging in a multifaceted war against Venezuela by deploying economic sanctions, backing a campaign to install a transitional government, and preparing proxy military and paramilitary forces for an eventual intervention.

On August 4, 2018, a failed assassination attempt against President Maduro did not draw condemnation from either Washington or the Lima Group. On November 4, according to Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, three Bolivarian National Guard were killed and ten wounded in an attack by Colombian paramilitary forces in the frontier region of Amazonas. On December 5, the Brazilian vice president-elect Hamilton Mourão declared: “there will be a coup in Venezuela . . . And the United Nations will have to intervene through a peace force . . . and there is Brazil’s role: to lead this peace force.”

On December 12, 2018, President Maduro reported that “734 members of a paramilitary  group called G8 was training [in the city of Tona, Colombia] for attacks against military units in the frontier states of Zulia, Tachira, Apure and Amazonas.” This report ought to be taken seriously given the presence of eight US military bases in Colombia,  the recent association of Bogotá with NATO, Colombia’s rejection of direct communicationwith Venezuelan authorities, and its participation in US-led military exercises over the past two years. Last week, US Secretary of State Pompeo visited Colombia and Brazil to shore up joint efforts to “restore of democracy” in Venezuela.

In response, Venezuela has been fortifying the civic-military alliance built up over the past two decades.The National Guard, military, and militias (now over 1,600,000 strong) have been able so far to fend off several terrorist attacks against public institutions and government leaders as well as an assassination attempt against President Maduro in August.

Caracas has also been developing close military cooperation with Russia and consolidating ties with China. With the recent visit of a pair of its TU 160 heavy bombers to Venezuela, Russia has demonstrated its ability to transport armaments more than 10,000 kilometers at supersonic speeds should the Caribbean nation come under attack by a foreign power.  China has entered into agreements for massive economic cooperation with Venezuela, partially offsetting the punishing US sanctions. Also, the visit of a Chinese navy hospital ship in September subtly signaled Chinese military support of Venezuela.

Shifting Geopolitical Environment

Although the Lima Group now backs a soft coup in Venezuela, with the inauguration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as President ofMexico inDecember, the group has lost the support of one of its key members. Mexico declined to sign on to the latest Lima Group declaration and warned against “measures that obstruct a dialogue to face the crisis in Venezuela.” Maximiliano Reyes, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister, said: “We call for reflection in the Lima Group about the consequences for Venezuelans of measures that seek to interfere in [their] internal affairs.”

The extreme partisanship of Secretary General of the OAS Luis Almagro against Venezuela has undermined his standing. In September2018, Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez declared that Uruguay would not support Almagro for a second term as Secretary General of the OAS.  Almagro was finally expelled from his own political party in Uruguay, the Frente Amplio, in December 2018, largely for his statements in Colombia about the need to retain a military option against Venezuela.

In December 2018, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA-TCP) held its 16th meeting in Cuba, declaring its “concern for the aggression and actions against regional peace and security, especially the threats of the use of force against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” ALBA was founded by Venezuela and Cuba and is now comprised of ten nations.

No Other Choice but Resistance

The Venezuelan people have a long history of resistance to foreign domination and are not likely to view a US-backed “humanitarian” intervention as a liberating force. Nor are the popular sectors likely to support an unelected “transitional government” with a self-appointed Supreme Court in exile which is currently based in Bogotá, Colombia. And if the coalition of the willing includes Colombian paramilitary forces who are notorious for their role in the murder of community activists inside Colombia, their deployment in the event of a “humanitarian” mission would be abhorrent inside Venezuela.

The 1973 US-backed coup in Chile, followed by a lethal cleansing of that nation of leftists, is a cautionary lesson. Add to this the historic memory of the political repression during Venezuela’s discredited Fourth Republic and the Caracazo of 1989, in which the most marginalized and poor were the main victims, and it would be no surprise should the popular sectors have only one thing to offer a provisional government bent on inviting imperial intervention: resistance.

Note: All translations from the Spanish to English are unofficial.

The authors are with the Campaign to End Sanctions Against Venezuela.

Frederick B. Mills is a Professor of Philosophy at Bowie State University. 

William Camacaro is a WBAI Pacifica network producer.

Roger D. Harris is with the Task Force on the Americas (http://taskforceamericas.org/).

Categories: News for progressives

Land Grabbers: the Threat of Giant Agriculture

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-09 15:55

In the 1980s, I met a retired general at a Borders bookstore in northern Virginia. He used to buy tons of military history books. I used to buy environmental and classics books. We started talking about books. But, slowly, in our discussion of Latin America, I criticized American policies, especially the immoral support of  landlords against landless peasants.

“If I knew you a few years ago, I would take you outside the town and shoot you,” he said to me.

I dismissed this vicious threat as a sign the old man was crazy. But the threat, nevertheless, mirrors the invisible war around farming, food, and the environment. I felt the tension of that ceaseless war for decades.

Agrarian reform

In January 28 – February 1, 1992, I was attending an international climate and development conference in Brazil. I was one of the speakers addressing agrarian reform.

I argued that it was necessary for governments and international institutions to protect peasant farmers from the violence of large industrialized farmers. Moreover, Brazil and many other countries, including the United States, should give land to peasants and very small family farmers because the farming they practice has had negligible impact on climate change. In contrast, agribusiness and, especially animal farms, are having significant effects on global warming.

Taking this position in 1992, apparently, was controversial. Once at the conference in the gorgeous city of Fortaleza, Ceara, Northeast Brazil, I learned I would not be delivering my paper. Instead, I joined a few professors in a small room wasting our time: debating agrarian reform and drawing recommendations destined to oblivion.

Fear in the countryside

This is just one example of what happens to unwelcomed ideas. Governments ignore or suppress them. Powerful media refuse to publish them. Advocates of those ideas often abandon them. Sometimes, they risk death.

I entered this fight in 1976 in my first book, Fear in the Countryside: The Control of Agricultural Resources in the Poor Countries by Non-Peasant Elites.

That study opened my eyes to the injustices and violence of modern industrialized agriculture. This is agriculture in name only. It is rather a factory exploiting land, crops, animals and people. It is armed by weaponized science, large machinery, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and, since the mid-1990s, genetic engineering.

Farmers immersed in this mechanical and chemical farming are pretty much divorced from democratic or ecological concerns and politics. They convince themselves they own the world. They have no trouble in poisoning and even destroying the land, which they own by the thousands of acres.

I wrote Fear in the Countryside as a historian. I knew that large-scale farming in antiquity and the dark ages institutionalized slavery and brought the collapse of nations and civilizations.

Giant agriculture has been having similar effects on us and our civilization.

I caught a glimpse of that scary reality during my tenure at the US Environmental Protection Agency. I studied American agriculture in depth.

American agriculture

I was astonished by the insistence of the leaders of American agriculture their model was the best: the world’s farmers should become like those of Iowa; I could not explain their obsession with gigantic monopolies and farms; I was outraged agricultural schools have been serving agribusiness; and I found it unfathomable that farmers are destroying the soil and poisoning the water with deleterious pesticides and fertilizers. And, ironically, I found myself serving a toothless regulatory bureaucracy doing the bidding of agribusiness.

These bad practices have been spreading the world over.

The peasant model

Timothy Wise, a senior researcher at the Small Planet Institute and Tufts University, explains why. His timely and important book, Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food (The New Press, February 2019) summarizes the invisible war of agribusiness against peasants and family farmers. He gathered his data in Iowa, Mexico, India, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia.

He found Iowa “blanketed in genetically modified corn and soybeans, dotted with industrial hog factories and ethanol refineries.”

In Mexico, India and Africa, Wise talked to peasants who raise about 70 percent of the food in their countries. They do that without any support from their governments and international farm assistance organizations. In addition, these peasants raise food in traditional ways enriching the soil and diminishing the harsh realities of climate change. And yet, despite these achievements, both governments and foreign food assistance experts are ridiculing them and, often, grab their land. That’s why, Wise says, peasants describe foreign-funded agriculture as land grabbing.

Wise also observed the foreign philanthropic, agribusiness and government coalitions pressuring the peasants to abandon their native seeds, crop diversity, and “patient soil-building practices” for growing one crop wholly dependent on petrochemicals and GMOS.

Most peasants turn them down.

The agribusiness coalition, however, has plenty of land for transplanting the Iowa model of farming – despite global warming and the repeated failures of the “green revolution” to gain a foothold in Africa. The green revolution is the slogan of agribusiness.

For example, the Gates Foundation, the largest international aid farm donor, has been pushing the agenda of agribusiness in Africa.

The agribusiness danger

The agribusiness forces causing food and environmental chaos in 2019 are not that much  different than those I detected and denounced in 1976. Large farmers (American and non-American), agribusiness producing pesticides, fertilizers, machinery and seeds. GMOs entered the fray in the mid-1990s.

This phalanx of agribusiness power also includes tainted philanthropic foundations, the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and governments.

Wise sheds light on the social and ecological harm of the global domination of agribusiness: massive world hunger, especially in Africa and India; loss of 25 million acres of crop land every year; too much synthetic fertilizers in the fields of farmers, year in and year out, are causing the contamination of groundwater and the acidification of the natural world, including the decline of the organic matter and microbial diversity of the land.

The fertilizer not used by the crop escapes the land as nitrous oxide, an extremely damaging greenhouse gas.

Animal farms also contaminate the atmosphere with huge amounts of global warming gases. Wise says that the top 20 animal farms (global livestock conglomerates) together emit into the atmosphere more global warming gases than countries such as Germany, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom or France.

Obviously, time is running out for agribusiness. A former senior UN official, Olivier De Schutter, agrees. He urges the world to make “a decisive shift away from the agribusiness model.” Millions of peasants and small family farmers could not agree more.

Read Eating Tomorrow. No civilized human being is a cannibal. Tomorrow belongs to the future.

This book promises to outrage and inform you to say no to agribusiness. It’s well-written, inspiring, and incisive.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Climacide: Survival Rebranding

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-09 15:53

A 15-year old Swedish girl bitch slapped the world’s representatives at the recent climate conference in Poland. She stood before them and called them frauds and fakers, while they sat in limp silence. She said they’d had their chances to do something effective about the climate crisis, and they had failed. It was time for them to get out of the way and leave the solution to the next generation, whose future was at stake.

The delegates applauded lamely and resumed their assignment of crafting an intricate  rule book for implementing the earlier Paris climate accords, which were admittedly voluntary, unenforceable and insufficient to the magnitude of the crisis. The American contingent in Poland even staged an event glorifying the burning of more coal—but “clean” coal with some carbon capture to make such operations benign.

This scene repeats a familiar pattern now reduced to a ritual. Professed experts and interests gather to assess what has been done. They concede their efforts have been earnest but inadequate. Some among them, plus intruders, pitch a fit about how little has been accomplished. All pledge to do better—and then go home and continue doing much the same as before.

These rituals apparently have the endurance to continue while the seas rise into the conference halls, the forests burn down around them and the people are rioting in the surrounding streets.

The world began formally addressing the issue this way with the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988—IPCC. At that time global warming was becoming a common name for the looming disaster. But this wasn’t scientifically sound because the evidence showed an increase in hot and cold spikes, rains and droughts, storms and calms around a gradually rising average global temperature in pace with atmospheric carbon dioxide increases from human activities. And global warming sounded too hellishly fire and brimstone apocalyptic.

Climate change seemed more accurate and less alarmist. It allowed the proper authorities to proceed routinely with their studies and recommendations, resulting thirty years later in the bitch slapping in Poland.

Climate change virus

Meanwhile the term climate change has become a virus. It is built into the name of the efforts to salvage the earth. The Poland gathering was COP 24 (the 24thConference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). And climate change appears throughout the world’s faltering attempts to grapple with the puzzle: governmental debates, academic studies, journalistic commentary, social media, coffeehouse chatter—everywhere.

This phrase comforts the skeptics and deniers. It assigns no cause or culprit and offers no cure. It suggests the climate has always been changing and might revert to earlier conditions or swirl into tipping point turbulence. In either case, human deeds are not the main driver of events. Change just happens and the prudent course is to adapt to whatever occurs.

Most scientists, and other sentient beings, immersed in the issue know this vision isn’t true. But the doubters keep sucking on it like a soothing sweet. For their sake (and the rest of ours also) this mental lollypop needs to be yanked out of their mouth and replaced with a brain cleansing purgative.

A word or phrase that accurately indicates what’s happening and suggests causes and cures. Something like: climacide.

Rectification of names

Adopting this replacement for climate change would honor the 2,500-year-old advice of Confucius, which he termed the rectification of names. He insisted that things must be given their correct names, because without that they cannot be understood, and appropriate action cannot occur. In the late 20th century accidental Confucian Utah Phillips applied this insight to conditions he observed around him. He said (reputedly—attribution is fuzzy but it surely resembles something that would appear in his songs or sayings): “The world isn’t dying. It’s being killed by people who have names and addresses.”

Climacide compacts all that into one word manufactured to fit current reality. It indicates that climate changeisn’t simply happening. It is being done by somebody and some institutions with malicious or reckless intent, and they remain at large, and they must be identified, apprehended, and stopped. Because they are guilty of ongoing death-dealing for the world’s climate: climacide. 

That may seem extreme, but so are the circumstances. Dignified, studious approaches have illuminated the situation but they are at risk of outliving their usefulness if the temptation for evermore study paralyzes action.

Merely substituting climacide for climate change wherever this lame term appears would help deliver a mobilizing jolt.

Imagine correcting the name of the body trying to cat-herd the world’s scientists, politicians, businesses, and peoples in a fruitful direction. It’s no longer the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It’s the IPC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climacide. That instantly makes it less a forum for conferences and reports and more a case for Interpol and the International Criminal Court.

Demotic possession

Or consider this recent op-ed leakage from Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer—but wherever he wrote climate change insert climacide:

For too long, Congress has failed to act in a meaningful way to combat the threat posed by climacide. Powerful special interests have a stranglehold on many of my Republican colleagues; some GOP legislators even refuse to acknowledge that climacide is happening. So despite the immense size of the problem, despite wildfires that sweep through the West and hurricanes that grow more powerful over the years, real action on climacide has been stymied by the denialism of the president and too many Republicans in Congress.

This simple change alters Schumer, makes him sound like he’s been possessed by the spirit of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Do the same whenever you encounter climate change in writing, the media, conversation, politicians’ blather—everywhere. Mentally insert climacide instead. This will be a tedious, irksome daily chore. Your brain will bristle, you will itch and twitch, fidget and fume, become so irritated and alarmed that you might actually get up and do something.

Whatever that might be, it’s probably better than what most of us are now doing, which is standing on the beach watching the eruption of a distant volcanic island, while its tsunami rushes toward us.

Categories: News for progressives

Living on a Quagmire Planet: This Could Get a Lot Uglier

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-09 15:53

Sixty-six million years ago, so the scientists tell us, an asteroid slammed into this planet. Landing on what’s now Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, it gouged out a crater 150 kilometers wide and put so much soot and sulfur into the atmosphere that it created what was essentially a prolonged “nuclear winter.” During that time, among so many other species, large and small, the dinosaurs went down for the count. (Don’t, however, tell that to your local chicken, the closest living relative — it’s now believed — of Tyrannosaurus Rex.)

It took approximately 66 million years for humanity to evolve from lowly surviving mammals and, over the course of a recent century or two, teach itself how to replicate the remarkable destructive power of that long-gone asteroid in two different ways: via nuclear power and the burning of fossil fuels. And if that isn’t an accomplishment for the species that likes to bill itself as the most intelligent ever to inhabit this planet, what is?

Talking about accomplishments: as humanity has armed itself ever more lethally, it has also transformed itself into the local equivalent of so many asteroids. Think, for instance, of that moment in the spring of 2003 when George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and crew launched the invasion of Iraq with dreams of setting up a Pax Americana across the Greater Middle East and beyond. By the time U.S. troops entered Baghdad, the burning and looting of the Iraqi capital had already begun, leaving the National Museum of Iraq trashed (gone were the tablets on which Hammurabi first had a code of laws inscribed) and the National Library of Baghdad, with its tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts, in flames. (No such “asteroid” had hit that city since 1258, when Mongol warriors sacked it, destroying its many libraries and reputedly leaving the Tigris River running “black with ink” and red with blood.)

In truth, since 2003 the Greater Middle East has never stopped burning, as other militaries — Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi, Israeli, Russian, Saudi, Syrian, Turkish — entered the fray, insurgent groups rose, terror movements spread, and the U.S. military never left. By now, the asteroidal nature of American acts in the region should be beyond question. Consider, for example, the sainted retired general and former secretary of defense, Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, the man who classically said of an Iraqi wedding party (including musicians) that his troops took out in 2004, “How many people go to the middle of the desert… to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?” Or consider that, in the very same year, Mattis and the 1st Marine Division he commanded had just such an impact on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, leaving more than 75% of it in rubble.

Or focus for a moment on the destruction caused by some combination of U.S. air power, ISIS suicide bombers, artillery, and mortars that, in seven months of fighting in 2017, uprooted more than a million people from the still largely un-reconstructed Iraqi city of Mosul (where 10 million tons of rubble are estimated to remain). Or try to bring to mind the rubblized city of Ramadi. Or consider the destruction of the Syrian city of Raqqa, the former “capital” of ISIS’s caliphate, left more than 80% “uninhabitable” after the U.S. (and allied) air forces dropped 20,000 bombs on it. All are versions of the same phenomenon.

And yet when it comes to asteroids and the human future, one thing should be obvious. Such examples still represent relatively small-scale local impacts, given what’s to come.

The Wars From Hell

If you happened to be an Afghan, Iraqi, Libyan, Syrian, Somali, or Yemeni in the twenty-first century, can there be any question that life would have seemed asteroidal to you? What Osama bin Laden began with just 19 fanatic followers and four hijacked commercial airliners the U.S. military continued across the Greater Middle East and North Africa as if it were the force from outer space (which, in a sense, it was). It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about cities turned to rubble, civilians slaughtered, wedding parties obliterated, populations uprooted and sent into various forms of exile, the transformation of former nations (however autocratic) into failed states, or the spread of terrorism. It’s been quite a story.  More than 17 years and at least $5.6 trillion after the Bush administration launched its Global War on Terror, can there be any question that the wildest dreams of Osama bin Laden have been more than fulfilled? And it’s not faintly over yet.

More remarkable still, just about all of this has largely been ignored in the country that functionally made it so. If you asked most Americans, they would certainly know that almost 3,000 civilians were slaughtered in the terror attacks of 9/11, but how many (if any) would be aware of the several hundred civilians — brides, grooms, revelers, you name it — similarly slaughtered in what were, in essence, U.S. terror attacks against multiple wedding parties in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen? And that’s just to begin to mention the kinds of destruction that have gone on largely unnoticed here.

In the first 18 years of this century, tens of millions of people have been uprooted and displaced — more than 13 million in Syria alone — from what had been their homes, lives, and worlds. Many of them were sent fleeing into countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Sooner or later, more than one million Syrians made it to Europe and 21,000 even made it to the United States. In the process, Washington’s wars (and the conflicts that unfolded from them) unsettled ever more of the planet in much the way those particulates in the atmosphere did the world of 66 million years ago. So consider it an irony that, here in the U.S., so few connections have been made between such events and an unceasing series of American conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa — or that the thought of even the mildest sorts of retreats from any of those battlegrounds instantly leaves political and national security elites in Washington (and the media that cover them) in an uproar of horror.

Consider this a tale of imperial power gone awry that — were anyone here truly paying attention — could hardly have been uglier. And no matter what happens from here on, it’s hard to imagine how things won’t, in fact, get uglier still. I’m not just thinking about Donald Trump’s Washington in 2019, where such ugliness is par for the course. I’m thinking about all of those lands affected by America’s unending post-9/11 wars (and the catastrophic American-backed Saudi one in Yemen that goes with them) — about, that is, the region and the conflicts from which Donald Trump sorta, maybe, in the most limited of ways was threatening to begin pulling back as last year ended and about which official Washington promptly went nuts.

We’re talking, of course, about the conflicts from hell that have long been labeled “the war on terror” but — given the spread of terror groups and the rise of the anti-immigrant right in Europe and the United States — should probably have been called “the war for terror” or the “war from hell.” And it’s this that official Washington and much of the mainstream media can’t imagine getting rid of or out of.

Naturally, doing so will be ugly. In functionally admitting to a kind of defeat (even if the president insists on calling it victory), Washington will be tossing aside allies — Kurds, Afghans, and others — and leaving those who don’t deserve such a fate in so many ditches (just as it did in Vietnam long ago). Worse yet, it will be leaving behind a part of the world that, on its watch, became not just a series of failed or semi-failed states, but a failed region. It will be leaving behind populations armed to the teeth, bereft of normal lives, or often of any sort of life at all, and of hope. It will be leaving behind a generation of children robbed of their futures and undoubtedly mad as hell. It will be leaving behind those cities in rubble and a universe of refugees and insurgents galore. Even if ISIS doesn’t rebound, don’t imagine that other horrors can’t arise in such circumstances and amid such wreckage. Ugly will be the word for it.

And for some of that ugliness, you can indeed thank Donald Trump, whether he withdraws American troops from Syria, as promised, or not. After all, here’s the strange thing: though no one in Washington or elsewhere in this country had paid more than passing attention to it, the recent Syrian “withdrawal” decision wasn’t The Donald’s first. Last March, he “froze” $200 million that had been promised for Syrian aid and reconstruction, money that assumedly might have gone to derubblizing parts of that country — and rather than being up in arms about it, rather than offering a crescendo of criticism (as with his recent decision to withdraw troops), rather than resignations and protests, official Washington and the media that covers it just shrugged their collective shoulders. It couldn’t have been uglier, but Washington was unfazed.

As for countermanding the president’s order and staying, we already know what more than 17 years of endless American war have delivered to that region (as well as subtracted from the American treasury). What would another two, four, or eight years of — to use a fairly recent Pentagon term — “infinite war” mean? Here’s one thing for sure: ugly wouldn’t even cover it. And keep in mind that, despite Donald Trump’s recent Syrian and Afghan decisions (both of which are reversible), so much of what passes for American war in this century, including the particularly grim Saudi version of it in Yemen and those Air Force and CIA drone assassination strikes across much of the region, has shown little sign of abating anytime soon.

Using Up Precious Time

And then, of course, there’s that other issue, the one where withdrawal can’t come into play, the one where ugly doesn’t even begin to cover the territory.

In case you haven’t instantly guessed — and I suspect you have — I’m thinking about what’s happening to the place known to its English-speaking inhabitants as Earth. It no longer takes a scientist or a probing intelligence to know that the planet that welcomed humanity all these thousands of years has begun to appear a good deal less gracious thanks to humanity’s burning of fossil fuels and the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By now, no matter where you live, you should know the litany well enough, including (just to start down a long list): temperatures that are soaring and only promise to rise yet more; a record melting of Arctic ice; a record heating of ocean waters; ever fiercer storms; ever fiercer wildfires (and ever longer fire seasons); rising sea levels that promise to begin drowning coastal cities sometime later this century; the coming of mega-droughts and devastating heat waves (that by 2100 may, for instance, make the now heavily populated North China plain uninhabitable).

Nor do you have to be a scientist these days to draw a few obvious conclusions about trends on a planet where the last four years are the hottest on record and 20 of the last 22 years qualify as the warmest yet. And keep in mind that most of this was already clear enough at the moment in planetary history when a near-majority of Americans elected as president an ardent climate-change denier, as were so many in the party of which he became the orange-haired face. And also keep in mind that the very term climate-change denier no longer seems faintly apt as a description for him, “his” party, or the crew he’s put in control of the government. Instead, they are proving to be the most enthusiastic group of climate-change aiders and abettors imaginable.

In other words, the administration heading the country that, historically, has been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases is now in the business — from leaving the Paris climate accord to opening the way for methane gas releases, from expanding offshore drilling to encouraging Arctic drilling, from freeing coal plants to release more mercury into the atmosphere to rejecting its own climate-change study — of doing more of the same until the end of time. And that’s certainly a testament to something. Ultimately, though, what it’s doing may be less important than what it isn’t doing. On a planet on which, according to the latest U.N. report, there are only perhaps a dozen years left to keep the long-term global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees centigrade, the Trump administration is wasting time in the worst way imaginable.

An Asteroidal Future

Even 18 years into a series of “quagmire” Middle Eastern wars, the U.S. could still withdraw from them, however ugly the process might be. It could indeed bring the troops home; it could ground the drones; it could downsize the Special Operations forces that now add up to a secret army of 70,000 (larger than the armies of many nations) at present deployed to much of the globe. It could do many things.

What Washington can’t do — what we can’t do — is withdraw from the Earth, which is why we are now living on what I increasingly think of as a quagmire planet.

In the 1960s, that word, quagmire (“a bog having a surface that yields when stepped on”), and its cognates — swamp, sinkhole, morass, quicksand, bottomless pit — were picked up across the spectrum of American politics and applied to the increasingly disastrous war in Vietnam. It was an image that robbed Washington of much of its responsibility for that conflict. The quagmire itself was at fault — or as historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., put it at the time: “And so the policy of ‘one more step’ lured the United States deeper and deeper into the morass… until we find ourselves entrapped in that nightmare of American strategists, a land war in Asia.”

Embedded in the war talk of those years, quagmire was, in fact, not a description of the war as much as a worldview imposed on it. That image turned Vietnam into the aggressor, transferring agency for all negative action to the land itself, which had trapped us and wouldn’t let us go, even as that land was devalued. After all, to the Vietnamese, their country was anything but a quagmire. It was home and the American decision to be there a form of hated or desired (or sometimes, among America’s allies there, both hated and desired) intervention. Much the same could be said, of course, of the Greater Middle East in this century.

When it comes to this planet in the era of climate change, however, quagmire seems like a far more appropriate image, as long as we keep in mind that we are the aggressors. It is we who are burning those fossil fuels. It is, as our president loves to put it, “American energy dominance” that is threatening to submerge Miami, Shanghai, and other coastal cities in the century to come. It is the urge of the Trump administration to kneecap the development of alternative energies, while promoting coal, oil, and natural gas production that is threatening the human future. It is the acts and attitudes of Trumpian-like figures from Poland to Saudi Arabia to Brazil that threaten our children and grandchildren into the distant future, that threaten, in fact, to turn the Earth itself into a rubblized, ravaged planet. It is Vladimir Putin’s Russian petro-state that is at work creating a future swamp of destruction in the Arctic and elsewhere. It is a Chinese inability to truly come to grips with its use of coal (not to mention the way it’s exporting coal plants to Africa and elsewhere) that threatens to make our world into a morass. It is the lack of any urge on the part of fossil fuel CEOs to “keep it in the ground” that will potentially take humanity down for the count.

In that context, think of the man who, from his earliest moments in the Oval Office, wanted to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, filled his cabinet with climate-change aiders and abettors, was desperate to obliterate his predecessor’s modest steps on climate change, and never saw a coal mine, oil rig, or fracking outfit he didn’t love as the latest asteroid to hit Planet Earth. Under the circumstances, if the rest of us don’t get ourselves together, we are likely to be the dinosaurs of the Anthropocene era.

Donald Trump himself is, of course, just a tiny, passing fragment of human history. Already 72, he will undoubtedly be taken down by a Big Mac attack or something else in the years to come and most of his record will become just so much human history. But on this single subject, his impact threatens to be anything but a matter of human history. It threatens to play out on a time scale that should boggle the mind.

He is a reminder that, on this quagmire planet of ours, we — the rest of us — have no place to go, despite NASA’s plans to send humans to Mars, the rise of privatized projects for space tourism, and a Chinese spacecraft’s landing on the far side of the moon. So, if we care about our children and grandchildren, as 2019 begins there is no time to spare and no more burning issue on Planet Earth than this.

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Categories: News for progressives

Is There Still Hope for Rojava?

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-09 15:50

As the U.S. foreign policy establishment grapples with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, officials in Washington are overlooking what could be the biggest impact of his decision: the effect on the revolution in Rojava, the most promising democratic experiment in the Middle East.

Since Trump announced on December 19 that U.S. forces in Syria are returning home, most of the foreign policy establishment has lapsed into a kind of collective panic about the geopolitical implications for U.S. power and influence in the Middle East. Although some U.S. officials support Trump’s decision, arguing that a direct U.S. military presence in Syria is no longer necessary, most foreign policy experts portray Trump’s move as a victory for U.S. enemies and a sacrifice of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S.-backed forces who are fighting the Islamic State in Syria.

“A precipitous U.S. troop withdrawal will undermine critical U.S. interests in Syria,” argues former U.S. official Mona Yacoubian, who is now a senior advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Throughout the debate, U.S. officials have done little to consider the ramifications of Trump’s decision for the revolution in Rojava. Without U.S. forces positioned in Rojava, the Kurdish-led region in northeastern Syria, the Syrian Kurds who are leading a social revolution there face an imminent attack from Turkey, which has repeatedly threatened to eradicate them and their revolution.

“If we leave now, the Kurds are going to get slaughtered,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned.

The revolution in Rojava is one of the few positive developments to emerge from the civil war in Syria. For the past several years, the Syrian Kurds have been creating self-governing communities that involve the democratic participation of their residents, including women and ethnic minorities. Committed to the principles of feminism, environmentalism, and democratic confederalism, the Syrian Kurds have united these communities in an autonomous democratic federation across northern Syria.

Sadly, U.S. officials have never fully supported the revolution in Rojava. After the Syrian Kurds announced the creation of their new autonomous region in March 2016, U.S. officials spoke outagainst it. This past November, U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey told Congress that the area is primarily important as leverage in negotiations with the Syrian government. The U.S. relationship with the Syrian Kurds, Jeffrey said, is “tactical and temporary.”

Even against the backdrop of this limited U.S. support, Trump’s recent decision is a serious betrayal. Over the past several years, U.S. officials have repeatedly praised the Syrian Kurds as their most effective partners in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, pledging not to abandon them. Last September, Trump praised the Kurds as “great, great people,” insisting that “we have to help them.”

“Tens of thousands of Kurds died fighting ISIS,” Trump said. “They died for us and with us.”

With his latest announcement, Trump has thrown all of these notions into disarray, leaving administration officials backtracking from their previous commitments. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had previously called the Syrian Kurds “great partners” and pledged to include them in future negotiations to end the war in Syria, now evades questions about whether the United States has an obligation to help them.

National Security Advisor John Bolton recently said that the U.S. withdrawal is conditional on a Turkish pledge not to attack the Kurds, but he confirmed that “we are going to withdraw from northeastern Syria.”

Given the upcoming U.S. withdrawal, the Syrian Kurds are facing an existential threat from Turkey. For years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening to eradicate the Syrian Kurds, portraying them as terrorists no different from the Islamic State.

Erdogan once said that “we will do everything and anything we need to do to eliminate the Kurds,” according to former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Early last year, the Turkish government acted on its threats, invading and conquering Afrin, one of the three cantons of Rojava. Some 200,000 residents fled the area and an estimated 500 civilians were killed. More than 800 Kurdish fighters died trying to defend the area.

Another Turkish incursion into northern Syria would be disastrous for the Syrian Kurds and the revolution in Rojava.

Some U.S. officials have indicated that they can help the Syrian Kurds by keeping them supplied with weapons. The Emergency Committee for Rojava, a recently organized support network, is calling on Congress to provide economic, political, and military assistance.

If it really is the mission of the United States to help democratic movements around the world, then U.S. officials will come to the assistance of the Syrian Kurds. The next moves by the Trump administration may very well determine whether the revolution in Rojava and the people leading it can survive.

This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

 

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