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Climate Change Action Would Kill Imperialism

Wed, 2018-11-21 16:05

Photo Source Molly Adams | CC BY 2.0

Climate change action would kill imperialism, and that is why we can’t have it in America.

American political power is based on fossil fuels, and the US military is the engine that consumes those fuels to produce that power. So long as there is an American political elite that craves lucrative personal prestige and the ability to dominate internationally, the US economy will be fossil-fueled capitalism that maintains the military colossus that enables and protects those elite ambitions.

US military-enabled imperial power is of two varieties:

first: the hard power that overtly invades and seeks to control territory to impose American capitalist domination, as for example capturing pipeline routes south through Afghanistan and Pakistan–away from China–out of Central Asian oil fields; the guarding of sea lanes crucial for petroleum transport west, as at Suez and the Strait of Hormuz, and east to Japan, Korea and Australia (if they behave); and the securing of scarce metal ore and rare earth deposits in Afghanistan and Africa (for elements used in solid state electronics); and

second: the soft power of buying compliance to US hegemony from client states by gifting them with arms sales that enable them to exercise their own mini-imperialistic ambitions, as with Israel’s threat-projection in the Levant that is consistent with US aims of regional control, and Zionism’s own manifest destiny colonialist mania of persecuting the occupied Palestinians and shrinking their reservations; and with arms sales to Saudi Arabia enabling its genocidal war against Yemen, and giving the U.S. leverage to induce the opulent Saudi royalty to keep oil production high and oil prices low on the world market, so as to grease Western capitalism and also undercut the revenue streams supporting Venezuelan socialism and Iranian economic development.

Because of the fracking (oil shale) boom of the last two decades, the U.S. now produces as much oil as Saudi Arabia and is energy independent as a fossil fueled economy, but hegemonic ambition compels it to seek global control of petroleum distribution because to control the flow of oil around the globe is to throttle the imperial ambitions and economic development plans of all others.

American imperialism, mediated by its military, is intrinsically fossil fueled. It is impossible to power the trucks, tanks, gun-carriages, helicopters, airplanes, missiles, drones, ships and submarines of the US military with solar and wind power; only fossil fuels will do. Nuclear power–also based on a fossil fuel, fissile uranium–is used to propel particularly large destruction-projection platforms, specifically missile-carrying submarines and aircraft carriers. Military vehicles require high energy-density fuels, to provide a high amount of energy at a high rate of delivery from relatively small volumes of fuel-matter, in order to propel them quickly (and inefficiently) despite the weight of their armaments.

“Green” forms of energy–solar, wind, hydroelectric–are intrinsically of low energy-density; they are spread out over large areas from which they are collected rather slowly, rather than being chemically concentrated into relatively compact masses, like coal, petroleum, natural gas and fissile uranium, which can be ignited to release their stored energy explosively. 

Local sources of “green” electrical energy can power civilian infrastructure almost anywhere, because solar, wind and even hydro power are widely available around the globe. All that is required is investment in and installation of appropriate energy collection technology, and a local area distribution network for electrical power. Green energy is intrinsically a socialist form of powering civilization, because the energy to be used locally can be collected locally, which frustrates the capitalist impulse to monopolize narrowly-defined sites of high energy-density fuel deposits – like coal and uranium mines, and oil and gas wells – and tightly confined electrical generation plants that meter out their electrical power through a web of long distance transmission lines.

The United States can only address the existential threat of global climate change by disavowing the imperialistic and self-aggrandizing ambitions of its political and corporate elite. That means deflating American militarism and its vast war industries complex by abandoning capitalism, which is exclusionary (privatized, extractive) fossil-fueled and speculation-dominated economics, and transforming the US economy to nationally and rationally planned green energy socialism: people over profits, an equalizing domestic solidarity over classist international gamesmanship.

Transforming the American political economy to green energy socialism would be very good for the American people, but it would be the death of American fossil-fueled capitalism, and thus of America’s rulers’ ambitions and privileges.

What we know today is that America’s political and corporate elite would rather see humanity end within a century than disavow its imperialistic and self-aggrandizing ambitions. Their obsession is to rule to the bitter end, a bitter end hastened by their obsession to remain in control. America does not have a robust permanent national commitment to contain, ameliorate and possibly reverse climate change and ecological deterioration because that would necessarily require the overthrow of Imperial America’s capitalist elite and its classist and racist mentality.

The revolution necessary to overthrow American capitalism and enable a national response to the climate change crisis would first require an amazing degree of popular consensus, psychological and intellectual maturity, moral courage, popular solidarity and personal commitment throughout the public, to sustain it through whatever struggle would be necessary to overpower its ruling capitalist paradigm.

Will this ever be possible?, or would any popular American eco-socialist uprising be snuffed out as pitilessly as was the Syrian Revolution? Regardless, is CO2-propelled climate change now so far advanced that it is beyond any human ability to stop? No one can really say.

We are each left with a choice between: defeatist acquiescence to capitalist-dominated climapocalypse, or the dignity of rebellious aspiration and activism for green socialism, regardless of whether or not it will ever be realized politically, and even if it is now precluded by Nature’s implacable geophysical forces that humanity’s blind self-absorption has set into karmic motion.

Categories: News for progressives

Return to Denver: Clouds on the Horizon

Wed, 2018-11-21 16:00

Photo Source Scott McLeod | CC BY 2.0

I’m in Denver, Colorado, which I’ve not visited since my climbing days in the Rockies 25 years ago.

Colorado is considered by many to be a “liberal” US state, especially for the Mountain State area. It just elected the first openly gay governor in US history, the Democrat Jared Polis, who also happens to be Jewish. Polis will be the second Jewish governor after the 2018 midterms, the other being JB Pritzker, the billionaire Clintonite Democrat whose family founded the Hyatt hotel chain, who will become governor of Illinois.

Colorado was the first state to legalize marijuana. Alas, due to my asthma, I can neither smoke nor inhale.

I wondered if I’d come across that famous “non-inhaler” Bill Clinton on Denver’s streets exploring its marijuana shops while I was here, but this closest approximation to a presidential lounge lizard (among other things), was possibly “cavorting lewdly”– a phrase used by the late Alex Cockburn to describe Bill’s trysts at the nightclub of the Little Rock Hilton when he was governor of Arkansas—somewhere else.

Or else Slick Willy is currently doing more or less serious prep for the fatuous nationwide-tour Hillary and he are about to embark upon, intended to signal her Sisyphean entry into the 2020 presidential race.

As one of the larger US cities, Denver is fairly impressive.

Its mayor Michael Hancock is African-American, the second African-American to hold this post, in a city that is 69% white and 10% black. Democrats have held the mayor’s office since 1963, and all of Denver’s seats in the state legislature are held by Democrats.

Hancock though is hardly a luminary of progressive causes. Denver has an enlightened policy towards the homeless, but the corporate Democrat Hancock is a steadfast opponent of this policy.

In 2012 he signed legislation banning unauthorized camping, and in 2016 Hancock authorized his police force to crack down on residents in low-income housing. Colorado’s ACLU chapter criticized the mayor’s office for the misuse of appropriations intended for the homeless, instead using the money for evictions.

Hancock’s predecessors John Hickenlooper and Wellington Webb instituted policies to help the city’s homeless. As a result, Denver’s homeless ratewas 19 homeless per 10,000 residents in 2011, compared to 50 or more per 10,000 residents for the 4 metropolitan areas with the highest rate of homelessness.

So far mayor Hancock has not evicted the homeless from Denver’s many fine parks, which is where rough-sleepers tend to congregate.

2017 median income for the Denver metro area stood at $71,926, as opposed to $57,617 for the US nationally.

Population growth has been a mirror to Denver’s economic and cultural success– since 2010, the city’s population has grown by 101,403.Projections forecast an additional 1.3 million inhabitants in the Denver metro area by 2030.

Urban sprawl frequently accompanies population growth, and Denver is no exception—towns such as Boulder, a half-hour drive away, are now virtually suburbs of Denver, which was not the case when I was here 25 years ago.

A pendulum effect can start to operate when the flight to suburbia reaches saturation point—the declining downtown starts to become a cheaper and more convenient alternative to the increasingly costly suburbs.

Walking around the downtown area it is noticeable how many loft developments are springing up. The corollary of such gentrification is an increased scarcity of low-cost downtown property, and poorer Denverites, with no recourse to the always more expensive expensive suburbia, are now finding themselves caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, as they are priced-out of downtown living as well.

With such rapid population growth public transportation becomes a crucial consideration. Denver’s extensive and integrated bus and light-rail transport system is exemplary. The system is free in key parts, and a modest fare is charged for the rest.

However, there is possibly a bigger cloud on Denver’s horizon, namely, the city’s bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics. The day before I arrived, members of the United States Olympic Committee were here to meet with local officials to explore a Denver bid for the 2030 games.

Denver is the sole city to be awarded an Olympics only to turn down the opportunity. The 1976 Winter Games were held instead in Innsbruck, Austria.

The sanity behind the 1976 decision to decline the Games may not be in evidence this time, as city officials pursue the mirage of a privately-funded Games with strict environmental safeguards in order to circumvent the “Olympic curse” of massive cost overruns, touted economic benefits that fail to materialize, and environmental despoliation.

Denver’s officials are trying to buck historical experience where the Olympics are concerned. Even Sydney, deemed in 2000 to have held the most successful modern Olympic Games, is still struggling to complete the light-rail network due to have been completed in time for the 2000 Games.

For Denver’s sake, many hope the curse of the Olympics will find a way to descend on another city.

Categories: News for progressives

Netanyahu’s Ceasefire is Meant to Keep Gaza Imprisoned

Wed, 2018-11-21 15:59

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

Palestinians in Gaza should have been able to breathe a sigh of relief last week, as precarious ceasefire talks survived a two-day-long, heavy exchange of strikes that threatened to unleash yet another large-scale military assault by Israel.

Late on Tuesday, after the most intense bout of violence in four years, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas, the Islamic movement that rules Gaza, approved a long-term truce brokered by Egypt.

Both are keen to avoid triggering an explosion of popular anger in Gaza, the consequences of which would be difficult to predict or contain.

The tiny enclave is on life support, having endured three devastating and sustained attacks by Israel, as well as a suffocating blockade, over the past decade. Thousands of homes are in ruins, the water supply is nearly undrinkable, electricity in short supply, and unemployment sky-high.

But as is so often the case, the enclave’s immediate fate rests in the hands of Israeli politicians desperate to cast themselves as Israel’s warmonger-in-chief and thereby reap an electoral dividend.

Elections now loom large after Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hawkish defence minister, resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the clashes. He accused Netanyahu of “capitulating to terror” in agreeing to the ceasefire.

Lieberman takes with him a handful of legislators, leaving the governing coalition with a razor-thin majority of one parliamentary seat. Rumours were rife over the weekend that another party, the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home, was on the brink of quitting the coalition.

In fact, Netanyahu recklessly triggered these events. He had smoothed the path to a truce earlier this month by easing the blockade. Fuel had been allowed into the enclave, as had $15 million in cash from Qatar to cover salaries owed to Gaza’s public-sector workers.

At this critical moment, Netanyahu agreed to a covert incursion by the Israeli army, deep into Gaza. When the soldiers were exposed, the ensuing firefight left seven Palestinians and an Israeli commander dead.

The two sides then upped the stakes: Hamas launched hundreds of rockets into Israel, while the Israeli military bombarded the enclave. The air strikes killed more than a dozen Palestinians.

Lieberman had reportedly expressed outrage over the transfer of Qatari money to Gaza, claiming it would be impossible to track how it was spent. The ceasefire proved the final straw.

Hamas leaders boasted that they had created a “political earthquake” with Lieberman’s resignation. But the shockwaves may not be so easily confined to Israel.

Strangely, Netanyahu now sounds like the most moderate voice in his cabinet. Fellow politicians are demanding Israel “restore its deterrence” – a euphemism for again laying waste to Gaza.

Naftali Bennett, the head of the settler Jewish Home party, denounced the ceasefire as “unacceptable” and demanded the vacant defence post.

There was flak, too, from Israel’s so-called left. The opposition Labour party leader Avi Gabbay called Netanyahu “weak”, while former prime minister Ehud Barak said he had “surrendered to Hamas under fire”.

Similar sentiments are shared by the public. Polls indicate 74 per cent of Israelis favour a tougher approach.

Sderot, close to Gaza and targeted by rockets, erupted into angry protests. Placards bearing the slogan “Bibi Go Home” – using Netanyahu’s nickname – were evident for the first time in his party’s heartland.

With this kind of goading, an election in the offing, and corruption indictments hanging over his head, Netanyahu may find it difficult to resist raising the temperature in Gaza once again.

But he also has strong incentives to calm things down and shore up Hamas’s rule.

The suggestion by some commentators that Netanyahu has turned a new leaf as a “man of peace” could not be more misguided. What distinguishes Netanyahu from his cabinet is not his moderation, but that he has a cooler head than his far-right rivals.

He believes there are better ways than lashing out to achieve his core political aim: the undermining of the Palestinian national project. This was what he meant on Wednesday when he attacked critics for missing “the overall picture of Israel’s security”.

On a practical level, Netanyahu has listened to his generals, who warn that, if Israel provokes war with Hamas, it may find itself ill-equipped to cope with the fallout on two other fronts, in Lebanon and Syria.

But Netanyahu has still deeper concerns. As veteran Israeli military analyst Ben Caspit observed: “The only thing more dangerous to Netanyahu than getting tangled up in war is getting tangled up in peace.”

The Israeli army has responded to months of largely non-violent mass protests at Gaza’s perimeter fence by killing more than 170 Palestinian demonstrators and maiming thousands more.

The protests could turn into an uprising. Palestinians storming the fence that imprisons them is an eventuality the Israeli army is entirely unprepared for. Its only response would be to slaughter Palestinians en masse, or reoccupy Gaza directly.

Netanyahu would rather bolster Hamas, so it can keep a lid on the protests than face an international backlash and demands that he negotiate with the Palestinians.

Further, a ceasefire that keeps Hamas in power in Gaza also ensures that Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, can be kept out.

That was in part why Netanyahu, against his normal instincts, allowed the transfer of the Qatari money, which had been opposed by the Palestinian Authority. It is not just a fillip for Hamas, it is a slap in the face to Abbas.

A disunited Palestine, divided territorially and ideologically, is in no position to exert pressure on Netanyahu – either through Europe or the United Nations – to begin peace talks or concede Palestinian statehood.

That is all the more pressing, given that the White House insists that President Trump’s long-delayed peace plan will be unveiled within the next two months.

Leaks suggest that the US may propose a separate “entity” in Gaza under Egyptian supervision and financed by Qatar. The ceasefire should be seen as a first step towards creating a pseudo-Palestinian state in Gaza along these lines.

Palestinians there are now caught between a rock and a hard place. Between vengeful hotheads such as Lieberman, who want more carnage in Gaza, and Netanyahu, who prefers to keep the Palestinians quiet and largely forgotten in their tiny prison.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Liar Liar

Wed, 2018-11-21 15:58

Photo Source Cat Branchman | CC BY 2.0

“The dictatorship’s mistake was to torture but not kill.”

– Jair Bolsonaro (Radio interview, 2016)

“I don’t get voted out of office”.

– Bill Gates

“I hate the indifferent. I believe that living means taking sides. Those who really live cannot help being a citizen and a partisan. Indifference and apathy are parasitism, perversion, not life.”

– Antonio Gramsci (Prison Notebooks)

“The sadist needs the person over whom he rules, he needs him very badly, since his own feeling of strength is rooted in the fact that he is the master over someone.”

– Erich Fromm (Escape from Freedom)

Years ago Robert Bly talked about Ronald Reagan’s capacity for lying. He said Reagan grew up lying about his father, an alcoholic, and his dysfunctional childhood which he routinely described as happy. How the enormity of that lie, and all the attendant pressures of such intimate dishonesty made lying about the Iran/Contra deal much easier. And I recently heard Gabor Mate say the same sort of thing about Donald Trump. How Trump grew up with an abusive authoritarian father, one who humiliated and belittled the boy Trump, and the world of that boy was one of cruelty and abuse. And if that is the only world you know growing up, that is the world you will see everywhere around you later. And the only way to navigate a world of abasement and lying was to be better at it than those who had abused you. The grandiose aggressiveness and paranoia of Trump is the product, in part, and probably in large part, of a family that operated on strict hierarchies of power, a punitive and sadistic family dynamic. Trump’s brother, of course, drank himself to death.

Countless Presidents came out of dysfunctional families, ones often with authoritarian and alcoholic fathers: Gerald Ford, or Bill Clinton with his stepfather. The list is quite long. British Prime Ministers are also disproportionately the product of similar childhoods. But the point is really about a system that rewards men and women who have developed pathological coping mechanisms that include an ability to lie, an inability to feel empathy or remorse, and who are adept at cheating and taking credit for the accomplishments of others. The deformed character that comes out of such dynamics seems perfectly suited for the public spectacle of political life. Probably for carny barkers, too.

All hierarchical systems are to some degree systems that encourage winning and punish losing.

Before the last Presidential election I wrote this about the two leading candidates…

For that is it, a rich white anti intellectual with openly self embraced bad taste, Trump valorizes half the white men in America for their seeming failures. He is saying, ok, you are not rich like me, but the rest, yeah we are one. But Trump has no role without his co-star, Hillary Clinton. Hillary is the cliche woman who is overbearing, petty, resentful and spiteful, but also functions as a female destroyer. And that role is complex, here. Hillary is not the purifying force of Kali, she is not the forest fire that brings regeneration. No she is simply the electric chair with a short, a sadistic contraption of flawed construction that terrorizes and disseminates suffering and cruelty. And while I have thought it impossible that Hillary doesn’t win this dog and pony show, it is now becoming apparent that Trump is the candidate of masculine revenge. Every misogynist looks to Mr Orange Hair to get even. And that misogyny is interlaced with race and colonial memory. And this is where the importance of Heidegger and Schmitt looms. And it is where the rising tide of left liberal antisemitism appears alongside peak Islamaphobia. It is all of a piece, in a sense. (Cunning of Unreason, May 8, 2016 John-Steppling.com )

Hillary, too, came from a dysfunctional family environment.

The message here is, I think, most of America is made up of dysfunctional families. Perhaps all families under capitalism are dysfunctional. Most learn to lie about their families. Only today, one form of lying to confess about it and advertise one’s own self improvement program as a response. The therapeutic often, it seems in my experience anyway, to simply be another form of lying. Or self delusion. Americans love to “work on themselves”. Its a bit like working on your car, or those DIY projects to convert the garage into a ‘rec room’. Of course fewer and fewer people own their own homes anymore. Maybe they need a show for those living out of their cars. DIY for building portable sidewalk showers without risking police persecution.

Dysfunction is the cost of capitalism. ‘Wrong life cannot be lived rightly’, as Adorno put it. So one part of the fall out from this prolonged exposure to the irrationality of life in neo liberal america has been to normalize lying. When Alexandria Ocasio Cortez praises Nancy Pelosi…I have found many people, maybe the majority, expressing something along the lines of, well ‘she has to say that sort of thing’. Or she is only kissing the ring so she can later create possibilities for real change. The fact she was lying is excused. It is excused because America itself lies. And deep down those saying this stuff know full well Ocasio Cortez will become Nancy Pelosi, not fight against her.

In Brazil, the new fascist in power praised his father for the beatings his dad gave him. Young Jair Boslonaro said it helped make him a man. Jair is now out to destroy the rain forest of the Amazon basin. Which might well kill off the planet. We can all partly thank dad for that.

Capitalism is an emotional plague on the planet. Wilhelm Reich said that. Bertell Ollman wrote of Reich’s ideas…

“If the desire to accumulate property lies at the origins of sexual repression, its chief function today is to produce submissive beings of both sexes. In our treatment of character structure, the diminution of critical faculties, general passivity, resignation, and other negative effects of repression were identified. ( )The work of sexual suppression is carried on primarily by the family. In his Marxist period Reich believed the suppression that was most decisive in determining character occurred between the ages of four to six in the ways parents respond to sexual play and questions. So important is the role of the family in these early years that Reich refers to it as the “factory of submissive beings.” To him, it is no coincidence that “the lack of victorious spirit, the outlawry of protest, the absence of personal opinions characterizes the relations of faithful children to their parents just as they do the relations of devoted bureaucrats to the state authorities and that of non-class conscious workers to the owner of the factory.”

– Bertell Ollman, Social and Sexual Revolution, 1979

For the first time (last census) more Americans are living alone than in families. The loss of jobs, the onerous economic burden of child rearing, and gender inequality were all tied into an impossible model for any but the most affluent classes.

Millions of men who have been denied their family wages find refuge for male domination in right-wing anti-woman politics and fundamentalist and Catholic religions with their emphasis on denying women’s independence through anti-abortion and anti-birth control movements, opposing equal wages for women and denying support for raped and battered women.

Other men seek to take back their male power through guns. (None of the explosion of mass killings have been committed by women.) Millions more seek power in heterosexual pornography in which women are portrayed as inviting sexual degradation.

– Harriet Fraad, Truthout, 2012

Families propagate violence. Sons of violent parents are 1,000 times more likely to batter their adult partners, and daughters of violent parents are 600 times more likely to batter their partners. Children who are bullied at home are more likely to bully and to be bullied at school. Child abuse is rampant in the capitalist family system. We cannot know how rampant, because it goes on behind closed doors, most is never reported, and adults tend to normalise what they experienced as children. When neglected, they conclude that they did not deserve better. When physically terrorised, they will rationalise: “Sure, I was hit. But I deserved it.” According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, more than one in four American adults lived with alcohol or drug addiction in their childhood homes, 28 percent were physically abused as children and 21 percent suffered sexual abuse. ( ) Capitalism promotes sympathy for child victims and prosecutes adult perpetrators. But today’s perpetrators are yesterday’s victims. While only a small minority of child victims become adult perpetrators, studies of those who do perpetrate reveal that almost all were traumatised as children. Capitalism cannot acknowledge that most perpetrators are former victims, because it cannot admit that families transmit trauma from one generation to the next.

Susan Rosenthal “Capitalism, alienation and the family,” Socialist Review, 2015

Rosenthal notes something else, and that is that capitalism in the transition from agricultural production to industrial removed labor from the family. It created this amorphous social sphere of leisure time or free time. But as Adorno noted sixty years ago, there is nothing free about it and leisure had already begun to resemble alienated work.

Rosenthal also adds:

Impossible gender expectations create crushing disappointment. The woman is raised to see the man as a champion and a prince who will make her dreams come true. When she discovers that he cannot do this, she expresses her disapproval or withdraws in despair. The man gets the message that he is not measuring up. How could he? The man is raised to expect a warm attentive partner who is always ready for sex. What he gets is an overworked, exhausted and frequently irritated partner. Both of them blame themselves, and both of them blame each other.

The American political drama, or electoral theatre, is reinforced so aggressively because it is the most basic and effective distraction people have for their social malaise and misery. Voting is a reflection of binary models, it is really just exchange value. And voting makes everyone equal. And Americans have even taken to wearing little stickers that proclaim they voted. So electoral theatre as a shaming device. But voting becomes even more than just a threadbare symbol of equality, it takes on almost occult significance for many. It is one of the few rituals in bourgeois society that seems to encompass something almost magical. Voting is an affirmation of one’s existence, of one’s autonomy and even freedom. I can vote for whoever I choose. Well, off a menu of two.

But I have seen leftist writers proclaim lesser evilism is not to be debated. This is, apparently, because Trump is some sort of special category of evil. This is a hugely regressive and politically immature position. Firstly, voting is not going to solve shit. Full stop. No, the entire apparatus of elections and voting machines and voter suppression or corrupt counts is part of this grand theatre. And this emphasis also promotes a popular idea with the ruling class, that of individualism.

I wrote this several years back:

Voting is the constant reinforcement of the idea of equality. Everyone has a vote, therefore everyone is equal. This is of course not true, however. But the expanding of campaign season ( a bit like the expanding of Christmas shopping season) is serving to keep this illusion foremost in the minds of citizens. The act of voting is then a sort of magic elixir for conveying a sense of equality, and it is coupled with the idea of ‘responsibility.”

– “Dentistry as Art,” John-Steppling.com, Sept 2015

It is no doubt true that America is a full blown open fascist society today. But it was already. Its hard to decide what was the starting point, but it certainly could be Bill Clinton’s second term. Or after 9/11. By Obama it was most certainly fascistic in operation. Gabor Mate noted that the ruling class was not fooled by Obama and all that hope and change stuff. Wall Street backed and funded his candidacy. They knew he was one of them. He rewarded them the second he was elected. No, only the mass public believes ANYTHING of what the political class tells them.

The Democratic Party has taken positions actually to the right of Trump on many issues (here is an issue Democrats fell in line with) And does anyone believe real action would take place if Dems controlled the government? I mean they have, and not that long ago, and what happened? But none of these things are as significant as the wholesale swath of destruction that US and NATO military action has caused in Africa and west Asia. And nobody asks this during election season. Unless I missed something, no candidate or news talking head brought up why NATO even exists anymore. Nobody asked why the US needed to upgrade its nuclear arsenal, or why it occupies a third of Syria. Or why there are military bases in almost every country in Africa. Why there are 900 worldwide.

But more hidden, in a sense, and therefore more insidious is the role of giant foundations and non-military uses of coercion and control. Jacob Levich writes:

For the ruling classes do not rule by guns and laws alone. Rather, they need to be able to do so without the constant resort to force. So, [Joan Roelofs] argues, they manufacture the consent of the ruled through the activities of a broad range of institutions, activities and persons (not necessarily themselves members of the ruling class) who disseminate the ideology of the ruling class as if it were merely common sense. While dissent from ruling class ideas is labeled ‘extremism’ and is isolated, individual dissenters may be welcomed and transformed. Indeed, ruling class hegemony is more durable if it is not rigid and narrow, but is able dynamically to incorporate emergent trends.

– Jacob Levich, “The Real Goal of the Gates Foundation,” Aspects of India’s Economy, May 2014

The role of foundations is, to most Americans, opaque and almost inexplicable. Nobody in political/Electoral theatre mentions this ‘third sector’. Neither business nor government, these foundations operate with budgets in the multi billions of dollars. This is the stuff discussed at Bilderberg Meetings, and other summits of the worlds richest people.

The fall of the Soviet Union ushered in the present phase of public health philanthropy, characterized by the Western demand for “global health governance” – purportedly as a response to the spread of communicable diseases accelerated by globalization. Health has been redefined as a security concern; the developing world is portrayed as a teeming petri dish of SARS, AIDS, and tropical infections, spreading “disease and death” across the globe and requiring Western powers to establish centralized health systems designed to “overcome the constraints of state sovereignty.” Imperial interventions in the health field are justified in the same terms as recent “humanitarian” military interventions: “[N]ational interests now mandate that countries engage internationally as a responsibility to protect against imported health threats or to help stabilize conflicts abroad so that they do not disrupt global security or commerce.

– Jacob Levich, “The Real Goal of the Gates Foundation,” Aspects of India’s Economy, May 2014.

I mention this only as a sort of corrective to these naive notions about voting. Voting is not the issue. Not in an absolutely controlled system of perception management. Back in 2014 Gates warned about overpopulation in places “we don’t want it” (sic) and he mentioned Pakistan and Yemen. Huh. Yemen you say? Yeah, well, I guess that’s not an issue anymore. The U.S. Imperialist agenda is about control. It is adaptive and flexible.

Malthus’s heirs continue to wish us to believe that people are responsible for their own misery; that there is simply not enough to go around; and to ameliorate that state of wretchedness we must not attempt to alter the ownership of social wealth and redistribute the social product, but instead focus on reducing the number of people.

– Manali Chakrabarti, “Are There Just Too Many of Us?,” Aspects of India’s Economy no. 55, March, 2014.

I digress a moment to add on here that the overpopulation mythology has taken on a green cover of late. Suddenly the same old Malthusian eugenics is sprinkled with Gaia jargon and sensitivity to global ecologies. But the thrust and engine driving the idea remains the same.

Most non-profits do the dirty work of what a society is looking more and more to not provide for – mental health care for a bigger and bigger share of the USA population; disability services for a larger and larger swath of Americans mentally, psychologically, intellectually, socially, physically, and spiritually broken or disabled; financial, employment, education, housing assistance for an ever-growing population of humans who are not able to work and live and transport and find health care for themselves in this New Gilded Age.

The non-profits I have worked for are top-heavy, have very little money put aside or earmarked or grant-provided for the workers; many of the non-profits hire development associates, upper management shills, PR folk, marketing and events coordinators; many are in shining and remodeled digs while casting shadows on the street people they supposedly care about.

– Paul Haeder, Dissident Voice, Jan 15th, 2018

In the 1950s came the development of the first psychiatric drug, the antipsychotic drug Chlorpromazine. This marked the beginning of what has come to be a mammoth and powerful industry in chemical warehousing of an unwanted population.

This industry was founded on a single ideology—the “mental illness” theory, or “medical model” (which I’ll refer to simply as the medical model)—an ideology that gave this industry tremendous power and influence. The medical model essentially states that distressing states of mind can, for the most part, be categorized into discrete “mental illnesses,” and that although these mental illnesses continue to the present day to be rampant and even growing within our society, we must rest assured that the great medical advances of this industry have already developed powerful drugs that can generally contain them, and that it is just a matter of time before our medical technology will eliminate these illnesses altogether.

– Paris Williams, Madness and the Family: Exploring the Links between Family Dynamics and Psychosis.

As Williams has pointed out, the very term mental illness is something of a self fulfilling prophecy. The profits from all psychotropic drugs is almost incalculable — Xanax (alprazolam), Zoloft (sertraline), Celexa (citalopram), Prozac (fluoxetine), Ativan (lorazepam), Desyrel (trazodone HCL), Lexapro (escitalopram). Exact numbers are hard to know but the best guess by the government itself is that over 35 million people took psychotropics between 2013 and 2014.

A common side effect of psychotropic medication is difficulty feeling certain emotions once the drug accumulates in a person’s system. For example, many people complain of losing the feelings they used to have, report a reduction in their ability to laugh or cry, or experience a decrease in libido. Side effects of SSRIs that might affect one’s sexuality and love relationships, such as diminished sexual interest, are discussed in a chapter from Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience. – GoodTherapy.org

Psychiatrists claim their drugs save lives, but according to their own studies, psychotropic drugs can double the risk of suicide. And long-term use has been proven to create a lifetime of physical and mental damage, a fact ignored by psychiatrists. Common and well-documented side effects of psychiatric drugs include mania, psychosis, hallucinations, depersonalization, suicidal ideation, heart attack, stroke and sudden death. Not only that, but The US Food and Drug Administration admits that probably one to ten percent of all the adverse drug effects are actually reported by patients or physicians.

– The Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights

It is no different in the U.K. The Council for Evidence Based Psychiatry states…

The latest prescription figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that the UK is in the midst of a psychiatric drug epidemic. Over 57m prescriptions for antidepressants were issued in England in 2014, enough for one for every man, woman and child. This represents a 7.5% increase since 2013, and over 500% since 1992.

Now there is a kind of psychological blindness affecting Americans, today. A perhaps banal example, but still useful, is the popularity of American football. Since the incontrovertible proof that collisions on the field cause brain damage, acute irreversible damage, the sports popularity has actually increased. Never mind the jingoism attached this sports-tainment empire, the fact that players are literally risking their lives and mental health to play is one thing, and there is an economic coercion involved, but how is it people want to watch this? Hollywood even made a film about the man who researched the phenomenon of Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). A very popular film starring Will Smith. But more and more people tune in each week. Nobody talks about it. Sitting on the couch, a slice in one hand, Bud light in the other, the question is, I’m guessing, never broached…’Hey bro, so, these guys, you think they’re aware their brains are turning to mush?’ But then the league is 70% black, so, for many its a kind of unconscious de-facto solution. Racism in America is indelible and deep. Even animal shelters acknowledge black dogs are harder to place than white. (this is a fact, not the Onion).

This blindness is the product of decades, now, of electronic media indoctrination. People even admit this, accept that its true. But they still remain habituated to their various screens. They still wear buttons saying ‘I voted’. They still become shrill and near hysterical at the idea YOU voted for a third party candidate, or worse, didn’t vote at all. How does that work? The presidency of Obama is revealing, both as it happened, and now as an object of near history. If you tell people Obama was the president who signed off on (and presumably helped design) the joint US/Saudi assault on Yemen, you will get denial or blank stares. If you say, well, ICE deported people under Obama, and at a record clip. You get denial. Or that Obama was notorious for persecuting whistle blowers and for narrowing press freedoms as much as possible. Denial. Blankness. Obama was the fulcrum for a very late onset of amnesia. Collectively speaking. He has taken the role of mental black hole. History began and stopped with Obama. (I actually think Michelle might run for President in 2020).

Americans collectively cannot grasp their own family relations. They are not sure, most of them I would wager, on even how to define *family*. But, the idea is past its sell by date I suspect. People are living alone, they have no choice. Often alone and on the street. A recent typhus outbreak on the mean streets of skid row Los Angeles suggests the U.S. is inching or hurtling toward 3rd world status.

This social morality, anchored in all individuals and reproducing itself permanently, has in this manner a reciprocal effect on the economic base in a conservative direction. The exploited person affirms the economic order which guarantees his exploitation; the sexually repressed person affirms even the sexual order which restricts his gratification and makes him ill, and he wards off any system that might correspond to his need. In this manner morality carries out its socio-economic assignment.

– Wilhelm Reich, Mass Psychology of Fascism.

The drastic increase in economic inequality has also generated the need for official explanations and justifications. I am reminded of Otto Fenichel, that most neglected of early psychoanalysts who complained in his 1938 book The Drive to Amass Wealth (and quoted by the worthy Russell Jacoby, whose own work Social Amnesia should be required reading today) of what he saw as Ferenczi’s psychologism….

The instincts represent the general tendency, while matters of money and the desire to become wealthy represent a specific form which the general tendency can assume only in the presence of certain definite social conditions. ( ) The existence of the erogenous pleasure in collection causes Ferenczi to overlook the fact that when the capitalist strives to increase his capital he does this on very rational grounds: he is forced to it by competitors who produce on a larger scale …. A social system of this kind makes use of and strengthens erogenous drives that serve the necessity for accumulating. Of this there can be no doubt. There is considerable doubt, however, as to whether the existing economic conditions of production were created by the biological instinct.

At the end Fenichel suggested sometime in the future such conditions would no longer exist. And perhaps somewhere in the distant past they also did not. Capitalism is not inevitable nor is it some kind of natural law. Its a fact that Google and Facebook censor socialist sites. Why would they do that if they were not afraid? The authority structure, the proprietor class, they want you asleep. That’s the idea.

We are at the tail end of a kind of Ayn Randian period of simplistic one dimensional and crude capitalist cheerleading — and it began in its current form under Reagan. He of the happy childhood. The president who no doubt suffered from Alzheimers even BEFORE he became the commander in chief. And this has led to the marketing industry to double down on certain tropes of american happiness. We are still within a Norman Rockwell cocoon in terms of propaganda. Each holiday season Hollywood churns out one after another fairy tale of the American family — Thanksgiving fables or Christmas. Oh heck, families can be complex, but gull darn it, we always overcome and celebrate together. But a fairy tale is all it is. And a pernicious one. Most families I know struggle through the Holidays, buffeted by guilt and resentment. And depression. It is the cruelest season.

Anti depressants, and all those millions and millions of prescriptions written in the U.S. and U.K. may (!) alleviate symptoms in some or even many patients, but even at their most effective (and I reserve acceptance they actually do any real good for anyone) they do nothing to change the conditions that created this depression. When mass shooters appear, especially white ones, they are *mentally ill*. If non-white they are likely terrorists. The system is not indicted either way. Only the victims of that system. The U.S. is a remarkably unwell place and it has created a political system that rewards the most pathological people in this unwell place. Donald Trump is the perfect man to be President of this asylum. He is ignorant, and proud of it, a narcissist and pathological liar. A racist and misogynist. He often seems he to be made up of the worst qualities of his predecessors. Bush, Clinton and Obama were all in various ways pathological. But who is President really is not the point. The point is class hierarchies. Until Americans learn to talk politics in terms of class, nothing will change.

The U.S. is reaching an economic/social singularity; there are no jobs, there is no health care, and no education. There is a throughly debased culture and much of the country is in the hands of Evangelical Christians. And Evangelicals, especially Dominionists like Pence and Pompeo and Kudlow and DeVos would have, in an earlier time, been shipped off by their family to some discreet asylum or hospital. We are sort of living a Marat/Sade nightmare. The American fairy tale isn’t working anymore. People may cling to its remnants but at their most lucid I suspect most people know its all bullshit. The cultural landscape is so depressing most can only intermittently engage with it. The ruling elite are further distanced from the rest of the populace. The educated liberal bourgeoisie is in crises. All the myriad identity based systems of belief are less and less convincing. The violence of the military complex finds expression domestically in a militarized sadistic and racist police apparatus. A nation where mass shootings are now routine is a kind of movable hell. Mass incarceration is growing still. It is my experience that people can no longer easily read facial expressions or hear the pitch or intonation of speech — they mimic autistic symptoms in fact. And sociopathy is everywhere. From the wholesale killing of wildlife, to bald faced lies about food ingredients, contaminants in factory farmed meats. But drinking water might be the worst. Across the rust belt and through the southwest, mostly from abandoned mining sites. In Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and on across to Georgia. Detergents, solvents, pesticides, and things such as vinyl chloride and PCEs, paint sludge and boron. A recent report detailed by the Center for Public Integrity noted….“Across the country, in Albany, Georgia, three separate areas of groundwater are polluted with cyanide and chloroform from various industries. One of the contaminated areas came from a landfill on the Marine Corps’ Logistics Base. The U.S. Navy has taken responsibility for the base and is providing residents in the majority African-American town with an alternative water supply due to the health risks associated with the pollution. Politicians and researchers say industrial sites are more likely to be located near low-income and minority communities.’More heavily polluting industries were located near communities of color or minority communities or poor communities because they didn’t have the political clout to fight back.”

The EPA estimates, now, that since 1987, various industries have dumped about 600 million pounds of toxic substances, including ammonia and nitrates into the Ohio river. Six hundred MILLION pounds of poisonous crap into the once pristine Ohio River. Cue Doc Watson singing “On the Banks of the Ohio.”

No, dont.

In 2015, the top 1% of Americans made almost thirty times as much income as the bottom 99 percent — an increase from 2013, when they earned twenty five times as much. This from the Economic Policy Institute in DC. There is a racial divide, too. The billionaires who make up the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans now have as much wealth as ALL African-American households, plus one-third of America’s Latino population, combined. In other words, just 400 extremely wealthy individuals have as much wealth as 16 million African-American households and 5 million Latino households. (from Forbes own statistics)

That is America today. And everyone knows it. But they can’t say it. They can’t look at it soberly and honestly. It is too much to bear.

And America is exporting its misery at an accelerated clip. The far right fascist sensibility is growing across Europe. There are few NATO countries without a powerful fascist party participating in government, and in several places — Hungary, Italy, Poland, they ARE the government. And now Brazil. One might think the recent summer of apocalyptic fires in the U.S. would be a wake up call, but its not. The horror cannot be faced by most. Lying, family or household dysfunction, and chemical numbing are the ground floor reality today. When the ruling class own everything, people must find ways to cope. Once you have mastered lying to yourself, lying to others is easy.

“I almost do not exist now and I know it; God knows what lives in me in place of me.”

– Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot.

Categories: News for progressives

Paradise Lost

Wed, 2018-11-21 15:58

Photo Source Scott Schiller | CC BY 2.0

The air quality of the San Francisco Bay Area is the worst in the world right now. We all have air quality apps on our phones now to keep up and as I type the air particles pollution index just went up to 217, as a comparison Beijing, for years vilified as the city with the worst air quality in the world, today is 75. It is really dangerous for anyone to be out in it even with a N95. That is the best over the counter face mask that is now common and known just by its number. As we go into the second week of this, more and more people are inside and those few outside are wearing N95’s, and for the thousands of homeless, well they, as usual, are on their own.

What is sinking into the consciousness of all is that the destination State; the so called Golden State is seriously tarnished. The streets seem abandoned as schools, businesses – and even San Francisco’s famed cable cars are closed. The common view of seeing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge across the bay is becoming a thing of the past and part of the wardrobe of our grand children will most likely require face masks.

There are 3 major fires still not under control in California, 2 in the South and one in Butte County, 165 miles up wind from where we live in Oakland and that fire is the source of the worst air quality here ever. The Butte wildfire is now on record as the worst fire in California history and the worst in the U.S. in over a century. Over 140,000 acres have burned and over 13,000 structures have been turned to ash; 9,800 of them homes.

These fires are a dramatic new norm that climate scientists have been warning us about for years. Just like the hurricanes that get larger and more ferocious in extended storm seasons, as they gain steam over the warming Gulf of Mexico, the hyper charged fires in the West of the U.S. are not only becoming more frequent but are larger, hotter and move with the speed of a tornado inferno.

In the middle of the Butte fire is Paradise, a town of 27,000 people where the wild fire tore through last Thursday night at the speed of covering, 8 football fields (2400 feet) per minute! Residents said it was like a war zone as propane tanks exploded like bombs. People literally had just a moment to flee for their lives and many didn’t make it. Reports as of this morning are that 79 people are confirmed dead and a staggering 1300 are missing. Many died in their cars; some ran out of gas and were trapped. Many older and infirmed died and where incinerated in their homes. The death toll in Paradise for sure will rise; maybe into the hundreds and many will not be found except possibly through DNA evidence. The personal stories coming out of the town are heart wrenching.

The U.S. has an atrocious record of preparing for and responding to disasters of this magnitude. Like usual the people of Butte County pretty much had to fend for themselves. A tragic example of this is unfolding in the city of Chico near the fire where over a thousand of the victims of the fire are camping in a Walmart parking lot and have just been given a deadline to clear out and leave in 2 days. People here and in other make shift emergency camps are sitting unprotected in an area where the air quality particle measure has reached levels over 500, rated damaging to all who inhale it. There are 5,100 people fighting the fire in Butte County many of whom are prisoners earning a slave wage of $1.45 a day for the dangerous and exhausting work while hoping their efforts will mean days off their sentences.

Only in the delusional minds of climate change deniers like Donald Trump is there not a human caused climate crisis reality taking place. As people’s lives were being destroyed in Paradise Trump dismissed the fire as a product of California’s poor forest management and he threatened to cut off federal disaster funding to the state. The bombastic president has never let facts get in his way as he failed to mention that more than half of California’s forests are under federal management that his administration has chosen to divert resources away from. Outgoing Governor Jerry Brown responded to Trump’s assertions by saying there is nothing normal about these fires, “this is our new abnormal and it will be with us for years to come.”

There is not a person living in the primarily rural counties of Northern California that cannot be in fear of losing everything at any moment. A friend of mine who lives in Sonoma County, the site of last year’s devastating wild fires, told me, “It isn’t if our house will burn it is just a matter of when.” Before the town of Paradise became an incorporated town it was called Poverty Ridge, now it is beyond poverty, it is gone.

Bill Hackwell is an editor of the North America bureau of Resumen Latinoamericano and a national organizer with the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity.

Categories: News for progressives

“Maybe He Did, and Maybe He Didn’t:” Reflections on Morality in 2018

Wed, 2018-11-21 15:58

Photo Source Garry Knight | CC BY 2.0

I expected this, actually. I just didn’t think it would be so crude, so buttheadedly amoral.

Trump’s view of the Saudis, in a nutshell, was announced last week: “They’re a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development.” Okay, ’nuff said.

The Saudis buy billions in war planes, missiles, tanks, helicopters and other military equipment every year. Over half of their arms come from the U.S., Britain serving as number two supplier. This means jobs. The annihilation of 50,000 Yemeni men, women and children puts bacon on the tables of Lockheed and Boeing workers in Seattle. The meddling in Syria, where Riyadh has supported al-Nusra-linked (al-Qaeda-linked) jihadis against the secular regime, means more jobs. The suppression of protesters during the Arab Spring in Bahrain was carried out by Saudi-led troops using U.S. small arms.

Trump was briefed on the Khashoggi matter last Friday. He knows that the CIA has concluded, with a “high degree of confidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin-Salman  is “personally responsible” for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Istanbul consulate Oct. 5 But Trump said after the meeting that it was “premature” to assess responsibility.

I suspect it wasn’t premature at all. An announcement was merely timed to give the appearance of a decision after a formal procedure. The moral decision had been made. Billions in arms sales, billions from cheap oil, the priceless gift of Saudi help in destroying Iran (to help Israel assert hegemony over the region in tandem with the U.S.), the invaluable retention of the Jared-MbS blood brotherhood bond made the decision easy.

Now Trump, albeit in peculiar language that virtually advertises his amorality, language that frankly acknowledges that maybe the prince did it —“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”—has proclaimed his satisfaction with the Saudi explanation. Much of his base might accept it.

Fox “News” has already floated the idea that, since Kashashoggi was once a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (which by the way is not a “terrorist” organization, whatever the U.S. State Department–which inflicts terror on people daily–has to say about it), his death might not be such a bad thing. In his disturbed statement today Trump raised that too.

In familiar fashion, the Idiot President today cites vague dirt. His statement on Khashoggi includes this: gem “Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that…”  (Just thought I’d bring it up…)

So Khoshoggi was (maybe?) a “terrorist.” So the president’s statement asked his audience to understand the unpleasant killing matter in that context.

The amoral thug’s long-awaited missive begins Goering-like: “The world is a very dangerous place! The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen…”

What idiocy.

The Houthi movement has a mass base in Yemen. Shiite imams ruled northern Yemen for a thousand years up to the 1960s. Yemen was a U.S. ally from 2001, helping to fight al-Qaeda (although the U.S. presence in Yemen came to stimulate al-Qaeda and then ISIL presence in the country, and the current chaos). During the Arab Spring of 2014 the U.S. forced the (Shiite) president, Ali Saleh, to step down in favor of his Sunni vice-president, who assumed power in an uncontested election and was then toppled in a bloodless occupation of the capital Sana by Houthi militia in 2015. Since then there’s been an ongoing, vicious Saudi effort through their own proxies to return the ousted Sunni Yemeni president to power. In their war the Saudis claim that the Houthis are Iranian puppets, reliant on Iranian arms. Neither charge is true. The Houthis practice a form of Shiism that differs greatly from that of the mullahs of Qom; they are not connected to Iran as intimately as Lebanon’s Hizbollah. Their arms are overwhelmingly drawn from captured arsenals and the international arms market, not a pipeline to Iran.

The Houthi “insurgency” in Yemen has nothing to do with Sunni Islamist terrorism, such as is massively financed by private Saudis and other Gulf state donors. It is not a threat to the U.S. Saudi Arabia is waging a bloody war on the Yemeni people for no good reason than to show that MbS is boss of the peninsula and that he can get away with virtually everything he wants.

The world–or that small portion paying attention–has recoiled for many months at the savagery of the Yemen War. The figures are astounding. 50,000 civilians dead, three million displaced, 12 million facing starvation. The Saudi jets routinely refueled by U.S. aircraft, striking at sites targeted by U.S. allies, have cut off the Yemeni people from outside trade except at one besieged port. This is all well-known to be the Crown prince’s doing.

Trump lies. The above idiot-statement continues:

The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more.

No, Iran is not trying to undermine Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy. Only recently has a fairly legitimate government emerged in Baghdad from the electoral system imposed by the U.S. occupation following the criminal war based on lies in 2003. It consists of a Shiite nationalist party in alliance with the Communist Party and is quite independent of Iran.  The Iranian’s are Iraq’s next-door neighbors and share the Iraqi majority’s Shiite faith; it is not unusual that Iran might have more influence in Iraq’s politics than (say) a despised imperialist country that has slaughtered half a million Iraqis. But Iran has been trying to stabilize Iraq—certainly much more so than the U.S.

Hizbollah is not a terrorist group but a political party that holds seats in the Lebanese cabinet and parliament. It has radio stations, newspapers, runs hospitals, schools and charities. While the U.S. spurred by Israel has successfully campaigned to get Europe to designate Hizbollah a “terrorist” organization, it is recognized as a legitimate party by Norway (which while a NATO member tries to be slightly independent on Middle East policy), Switzerland, China, Russia, Turkey, India, Iran, Syria, Algeria, and Venezuela, among others.

Iran has provided  assistance to its ally Syria following the U.S. intervention in that country beginning at least in 2014. Hillary Clinton wanted to bring down Bashar al-Assad as the U.S.-NATO effort had brought down Muammar Gaddafi. The U.S. intervention as Donald Trump used to emphasize was disastrous. Assad has not killed millions; that is a foolish claim from a well-known serial liar.

Best estimates for the death toll of the Syrian conflict since 2014 hover around 400,000, with about 120-180,000 combatants on each side, and from 85,000 to 200,000 civilians. One must note that on the opposition side, the al-Nusra (al-Qaeda) forces have played a dominant role.

“…and much more,” the idiot president concludes, explaining why Iran is so bad that the U.S. has to stay in bed with a murdering thug who ordered his buddies in his security detail to head a kill team of 15 experienced professionals to take secret flights to strangle a dissident journalist in a diplomatic facility, dismember and dissolve his body, fake the dead’s emergence from the consulate, and deny the murder passionately even as the host country gainsaid his lies. So many more examples of Iran’s perfidity!

The Washington Post reports that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Egyptian dictator Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi have both “reached out to the Trump administration to express support for the crown prince.” What do those butchers care about Jamal Khashoggi or the rule of law, when the anti-Shiite, anti-Iran, anti-Muslim Brotherhood axis of Washington, Riyadh and Israel underwritten by billions in arms sales and rivers of blood is at stake?

Russia and China will likely tow the U.S. line and give the Saudis a break. One can only hope that Europe balks and tells the president that he’s not just a moron but a moral monster and his leadership is not so much weakened as abrogated.

In standing with MbS Washington stands with sheer evil. It does so with refreshing clarity. On the White House just now (3:43 PM EST) Trump reiterates: “It’s all very simple for me. It’s America first….just look at Iran. If we abandoned Saudi Arabia it would be a terrible mistake.”

Actually if one looks at Iran one sees a country with a far better human rights record than Saudi Arabia. Whether you look at women’s rights, or press freedom, or the operation of the legislature and judiciary, religious rights of Christians and other religious minorities including  Zoroastrians and Jews, you find that Iran is light years ahead of Saudi Arabia. Only a fool would deny that.

But here is the president of the United States, whom (foolish) parents tell their kids is leader of the country, worthy of respect. He is now plainly an accomplice, an enabler, a liar, an object of well-deserved contempt. How can Europeans rooted in empirical reasoning and Enlightenment thought accept this call from across the Atlantic to prettify a ghastly murder—just to help a medieval monarchy stave off political crisis?

There are many good reasons for this country to slip from a position of global hegemony. May Trump’s decision on Tuesday hasten its end.

Categories: News for progressives

Criminal Behavior: US May be Developing Biological Weapons

Wed, 2018-11-21 15:57

Richard Lugar Center, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia.

The United States has great tolerance for wholesale killings. Think Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Think civilians killed in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq – in U.S. wars. Think biological weapons.

An article appearing October 4, 2018 in Science magazine deals with a U.S. Defense Department project named “Insect Allies” which began in 2017 and runs for four years. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)is providingfour U.S. Universities with $45 million in funding to enable researchers to alter the gene make-up of plants grown as crops on farms. DARPA claims to be “addressing national security challenges in agriculture domestically and abroad.” Genes are being “edited”, says DARPA, so that plants can resist diseases, drought, floods, excessive heat, or “natural or engineered harmful biological agents,”

Yet the five authors of the report, evolutionary biologists and lawyers at German and French Universities, see the U.S. Defense Department as probably developing offensive biological-warfare capabilities. The United States, they explain, actually may be working on an innovative mechanism of genetic modification programmed to reduce productivity rather than to maintain or increase it.

The authors write that the “knowledge to be gained from this program appears very limited in its capacity to enhance U.S. agriculture or respond to national emergencies.” They condemn the project “as probably in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which tookeffect under United Nations auspices in 1975.

The 182 nations ratifying the BWC as of 2018 are committed to prohibiting the “development, production, and stockpiling” of such weapons. In 1969 President Richard Nixon announced that the United States would no longer be making offensive biological weapons.

The Science magazine report focuses on a new delivery system Defense Department researchers are using to transfer altered genetic material to crops in the field. The authors cite the BWC which says: “certain developments in science and technology have the potential for use contrary to the provisions of the Convention now or in the future. These developments include, inter alia…to develop novel means of delivering biological agents and toxins.” The idea of a “novel means” is crucial to what follows here.

For the reader to understand why the United States may be non-compliant with the BWC, some familiarity with relevant science is necessary. We review it briefly.

DARPA researchers are trying to insert altered genetic material into viruses, arrange for those viruses to infect certain insects, and then transfer the insects with doctored viruses to plants being grown for food. They are relying on a horizontal – or lateral – approach instead of the traditional one, which is to transfer the inheritance of genetic material vertically, from one generation of living things downward to the next. Whether taking place in the laboratory or in the field, the vertical method consumes time and money. The new, horizontal method is relatively inexpensive and is quick. It fits into one growing season.

DARPA’sprocess rests on two biological systems. One of them, known by the acronym CRISPR, utilizes sets of DNA sequences originating fromthe genetic material of single cell organisms. These are composed of DNA fragments from viruses that had infected those organisms. Under CRISPR, the sequences are combined with certain enzymes to achieve “editing” of the genetic make-up of an entirely different organism. And CRISPR enables those altered genes to be transferred to yet another life form.

The other system involves a virus known as a “horizontal environmental genetic alteration agent” (HEGAA). It contains genes modified as per CRISPR. That virus infects insects, specifically aphids, whiteflies or leafhoppers, and the insects are transferred to crops where they feed. Doing so, they insert the virus into the cells of plants, thus endowing them – CRISPR at work again – with new genetic material.  The plants thrive or fail depending on how humans engineered such material at the beginning.

In the Science magazine report, HEGAA technology is cast as one of the “novel means” proscribed by the BMW. The authors hold that gene modification achieved through HEGAA doesn’t fit with the intention proclaimed by DARPA, that of protecting U.S. agriculture. Any discussion of a project with such a purpose ought to have dealt with methods and arrangements pertaining to agriculture.

If indeed the Insect Allies program had been programmed as advertised, then consideration might have been given to regulatory mechanisms applying to food produced through HEGAA and about to enter national and international markets. That didn’t happen. Nor was there discussion of the full range of practical impediments to achieving benefits for agriculture.

There is silence also on the likelihood that HEGAA gene modification will lead to inconsistent results. The insects, for example, won’t reach all plants in a field and the outcome will be “quite different” from situations involving “laboratory-generated genetic modifications.” Gene modification via insects will likely affect crops other than the targeted ones. HEGAA technology also could end up reducing or finishing off seed production and leave no seeds to be marketed.  Seeds necessary for perpetuation of plant species might disappear. DARPA researchers discussed none of this.

The article points out that for normal plantings – even of crops that are threatened – the delivery of viruses by insects would work less well than delivery of viruses by overhead spraying equipment. Lastly, the authors, having noted that the researchers are allowing the virus-laden insects to survive for only two weeks, suggest that through simple modifications the insects’ lives could be prolonged for use in war.

These discrepancies, the authors say, signal the intentions of DARPA and the researchers and they are not about problems of maintaining or increasing agricultural production. The implication is that DARPA is developing the HEGAA system as a weapon of war.

The article concludes: “[A] party engaging in the development of biological agents for which a hostile-use case is plausible (or even obvious, in the case of the Insect Allies program) must present acceptable explanations that its research is only serving peaceful purposes.” The authors demand “robust explanations for the necessity of mandating insect dispersion in routine agricultural or emergency applications.” Without them, “Insect Allies risks being widely perceived as an attempt to develop a means of delivering HEGAAs for offensive purposes.”

University researchers working on the Insect Allies program “have publicly identified the target species for their experiments as maize— a crop upon which hundreds of millions of people rely for their basic nutritional needs, mainly in Latin America and Africa.”

News outlets reflecting scientific opinion criticized the program, as evidenced hereand here. The U.S. mainstream media have not. The Washington Post, for example, communicated the DARPA program manager’s opinion that, “I don’t think that the public needs to be worried.” “That seems a stretch,” declared a Post editorialist commenting on weapons-production motives.  The New York Times reassuringly quoted the project manager: “This is biology we understand very well.”

While offering no direct proof that the U.S. government is developing biological weapons capability, the article illustrates the difficulty in assigning war-making purposes to technology with peacetime applications. And to tease out offensive purposes from research on defensive capabilities is no easy task. But the history and current manifestations of U.S research and development on biological weapons tell their own story.

Wider perspective

Research and development on biological weapons continued within the United States after 1975 when the BWC took effect, as evidenced by a report appearing in 2007 that mentions 400 bio-weapons laboratories operating in the United States. Itnotes the refusal by 113 U.S. biologic research institutions to comply with mandatory reporting requirements as to purposes of their microbiological research.

Currently a plethora of places and institutions are studying biologic agents, and apparently not for humanitarian or peaceful purposes. An extensive report dated April 29, 2018 from Bulgarian investigative journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva documents research activities the U.S. military carries out abroad. Accessible on her website and elsewherethe report titled “The Pentagon Bio-weapons” provides circumstantial evidence of U.S. violations of the BWC.

Gaytandzhieva begins:

“The US Army regularly produces deadly viruses, bacteria and toxins in direct violation of the UN Convention on the prohibition of Biological Weapons. Hundreds of thousands of unwitting people are systematically exposed to dangerous pathogens and other incurable diseases.  Bio-warfare scientists using diplomatic cover test man-made viruses at Pentagon bio- laboratories in 25 countries across the world. These US bio-laboratories are funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) under a $ 2.1 billion military program… and are located in former Soviet Union countries such as Georgia and Ukraine, the Middle East, South East Asia and Africa. [DTRA] has outsourced much of the work under the military program to private companies.”

Her report is replete with images of U.S. facilities, victims, and U.S. military and intelligence documents. Her documentation of generous funding for the various projects and description of some of the microbiological species and illnesses don’t appear in the following summary.

She highlights the [Senator] Richard Lugar Center located near Tbilisi in Georgia and staffed entirely by U.S. citizens, all enjoying diplomatic immunity. Biologic specimens arrive by diplomatic pouchAt least three U.S. companies do research there for the Pentagon, CIA, and other U.S. agencies.

CH2M Hill and Battelle Companies operate bio-laboratories also in Uganda, Tanzania, Iraq, Afghanistan, and South East Asia. The latter company works in Armenia and at Fort Detrick in Maryland. Metabiota has laboratories in Georgia and Ukraine and formerly in West Africa.  The contracted research teams study a variety of disease-causing micro-organisms.

The Lugar Center has housed an insect facility since 2014 and “as a result Tbilisi has been infested with biting flies since 2015” and “flies similar to those in Georgia have appeared in neighboring Dagestan (Russia).” Researchers there study tropical mosquito species that transmit deadly viral illnesses. Those species are now showing up in Southern Russia, Northern Turkey, and throughout Georgia.

Lugar Center researchers study the anthrax bacillus, especially the strain engineered by Soviet germ warfare specialists. Gaytandzhieva disputes Pentagon claims as to the defensive nature of such research.She points to investigation at the Center of the “Genome Sequences” of the Soviet strain of the bacterium and to a U.S. history of developing anthrax as a weapon.

Tularemia is a subject of investigation, as are local ticks that carry tularemia bacteria, which the United States had once converted into a weapon. Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) is another possibly tick-borne disease.  Gaytandzhieva claims that study of that disease at the Center caused a “sharp increase of CCHF human cases in 2014” in the surrounding area.  There were 237 cases of the disease in Afghanistan in 2017, “41 of which were fatal.”  Lugar Center researchers work there too.

The Defense Department funds 11 bio-laboratories in Ukraine, where U.S. personnel work under diplomatic cover. U.S. funding extends to the Science and Technology Center in Ukraine that, supposedly an international entity, “supports projects of scientists previously involved in the Soviet biological weapons program.Gaytandzhieva attributes sicknesses and deaths among Ukrainians to leakage from U.S. bio-laboratories of organisms causing hepatitis A, swine flu, and cholera – from a new strain.  

The journalist reports that the Birmingham-based Southern Research Institute  constructed and has operated U.S. bio-laboratories in Ukraine, and also in Germany, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Thailand, Ethiopia, Vietnam and Armenia. The Institute has sponsored anthrax research and for decades was a prime Pentagon biological weapons contractor.

Stopping at nothing

Gaytandzhieva mentions experiments on Botulinum neurotoxin, anthrax spores, and aerosol delivery systems that Metabiologics Company conducted for the U.S. Army at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah beginning in 2007.  She concludes with a survey of heavily funded U.S. studies of emerging viruses, synthetic viruses, and genetically engineered pathogens. The Defense Department is researching “binary biological weapons (a lethal combination of two viruses), host swapping diseases (animal viruses that ‘jump’ to humans, like the Ebola virus), stealth viruses, and designer diseases,” which target particular ethnic groups.

The probability that the U.S. government fashions weapons delivering deadly microorganisms or their products has dire implications. First, U.S. democracy is at great risk. National elections held on November 6 were supposedly about people weighing in on the people’s business. But biological warfare apparently is someone else’s business. The public knows almost nothing about this aspect of U.S. war-making.  People don’t get to judge.

Secondly, U.S. use of massively lethal weapons apparently serves the interest of those in charge. If so, U.S. leftists would do well to regard U.S.imperialismas involving more than just foreign interventions andwealth extraction by richcountries. Force itself, it seems, has its own place in the imperialist scheme of things. Biological warfare is an enforcement mechanism. It threatens the death of many, as do nuclear war, carpet bombing, and climate change. They are crimes for which the masters of capitalist imperialism are responsible.

 

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Categories: News for progressives

How Media, Tech, and News Networks Normalize Trump’s Propaganda

Wed, 2018-11-21 15:56

Throughout his life, Edward Bernays (1891−1995), known as the “father of public relations,” argued in favor of using “third parties” to influence public opinion.

“If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway,” Bernays wrote in Propaganda (1923), his popular book that explored the psychology behind manipulating public opinion.

“Because man is by nature gregarious he feels himself to be member of a herd, even when he is alone in his room with the curtains drawn. His mind retains the patterns which have been stamped on it by the group influences,” wrote Bernays.

In the age of Citizens United — and with Trump in the White House — Bernays’s insights on public manipulation have become plain to see for anyone willing to look.

This is because President Trump doesn’t use propaganda to just sell hotels, steaks, and hats—he also uses his platform to rile up his racist and xenophobic supporters, and channel hatred toward immigrants, people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and progressives.

In October 2018, a Trump supporter was arrested for mailing bombs to high-profile figures within the Democratic party and critics of the President. Shortly after, a right-wing extremist, who has been linked to anti-Jewish and anti-immigrant posts on social media, killed 11 Jewish Americans inside of a Pittsburgh synagogue.

These and other horrific events prompted some to question the extent to which Trump’s hateful rhetoric inspires far-right terrorists. An ABC report identified at least 17 criminal cases where Trump’s name was invoked in “direct connection with violent acts, threats of violence or allegations of assault.”

However, it would be disingenuous for anyone to put the blame solely on Trump, as he is simply a product of the right wing media empire which cultivated his followers. Likewise, we shouldn’t ignore the ways in which liberal elites have contributed to Trump’s rise by supporting his talking points and strategically voting for his militarist and corporatist agenda.

As a savvy marketer, Trump has employed various “third parties” and channels that disseminate his rhetoric to different segments of the U.S. population. Outlining these channels across the media, tech, and news industries can help us re-imagine how we share and perceive information, and prevent the next Trump from hijacking our political process and collective attention.

Free Media and Obedient “Entrepreneurs”

One of the most apparent ways in which Trumpism entered the U.S. mainstream was through support from media executives and Silicon Valley.

Although he had one of the smallest campaign budgets, spending less on television advertising than any other major Republican candidate, Trump received a staggering $2 billion worth of free media during the 2016 presidential elections, according to the New York Times. “Mr. Trump is not just a little better at earning media. He is way better than any of the other candidates,” wrote authors Nicholas Confessore and Karen Yourish at the time.

To put this in perspective, the article mentions that “Mr. Trump earned $400 million worth of free media last month, about what John McCain spent on his entire 2008 presidential campaign.”

Corporate love for the Donald was perfectly exemplified by Les Moonves, the ex-CBS CEO who claimed that Trump is “not good for America, but damn good for CBS” at a conference in San Francisco before the 2016 elections. Moonves was referring to the ad money that Trump and his competitors were bringing to the network at the time. In 2018, Moonves left CBS after six women raised assault and harassment claims against him.

While media platforms welcomed Trump with open arms, Silicon Valley executives found ways to target independent media and journalists — one of our last defenses against a fascist dictatorship. For example, in October 2018 Facebook shut down pages devoted to covering war, police brutality, and other issues that get little media attention.

“Facebook has removed the pages of several police accountability/watchdog/critic groups, including Cop Block, the Free Thought Project, and Police the Police,” wrote Washington Post journalist Radley Balko following Facebook’s announcement. “They’ve also apparently severely restricted activity for the Photography Is Not a Crime page.”

Also in October, Facebook announced its partnership with the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank that serves neoconservatives and liberal interventionists. As Greyzone Project journalists Max Blumenthal and Jeb Sprague have reported, the Atlantic Council is “fundedby NATO and repressive, US-allied governmentsincluding Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Turkey, as well as by Ukrainian oligarchs like Victor Pynchuk.”

Facebook’s “brand” continues to take hits following the platform’s lack of serious response regarding user micro-targeting. Although in May of 2018 Facebook added a mandatory “Paid For” disclosure for politically-related ads, a recent VICE News investigation found that one can easily place fake political ads on behalf of figures such as Vice President Mike Pence — even after being screened by Facebook’s new process.

The reporters were able to place an ad approved on behalf of the “Islamic State” and copy the same Facebook ads that were published by “Russian trolls” and blamed for “Russian interfering” in the 2016 elections. In another experiment, VICE staff were able to “run ads in the name of every single one of the US’ 100 senators,” getting approved under names like “Cookies for Political Transparency” and “Ninja Turtles PAC.”

If this wasn’t enough, a November 2018 New York Times article (that was six months in the making) further exposed Facebook’s wheeling and dealing with Republican “opposition research” propagandists, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, and its own staff.

Another example of Silicon Valley’s embrace of Trumpism is how YouTube’s algorithms recommend conspiratorial and propagandist content. According to Guillaume Chaslot, a 36-year-old French computer programmer who was fired from Google in 2003, “there are many ways YouTube can change its algorithms to suppress fake news and improve the quality and diversity of videos people see.” “I tried to change YouTube from the inside,” Chaslot says in an interview for The Guardian, “but it didn’t work.”

Chaslot has since developed a program that explores bias in YouTube, available here — Algotransparency.org. While “each study finds something different,” reports from Chaslot’s work suggest “YouTube systematically amplifies videos that are divisive, sensational and conspiratorial.”

On the eve of the US Presidential Election, Chaslot and his team gathered recommendation data on Clinton and Trump, and found that more than 80% of Youtube’s recommended videos were favorable to Trump, whether the initial query was “Trump” or “Clinton”. A large proportion of these recommendations were divisive and fake news.

Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTube, a New Data & Society report by researcher Rebecca Lewis, describes how an “alternative influence network” of about 65 scholars, media pundits, and internet celebrities promotes a range of rightwing political positions, from mainstream conservatism to overt white nationalism on YouTube. “By connecting to and interacting with one another through YouTube videos, influencers with mainstream audiences lend their credibility to openly white nationalist and other extremist content creators,” the report states.

Trump’s rise to power has proven that traditional and “new” media companies are OK with letting oligarchs hijack their platforms for the right dollar amount. It might require a little bit more preparation next time, but if the money’s there Comcast and Fox will be there too, and so will the “social media” platforms with their concerned CEO’s and profit margins to chase.

Those who control the information diet of millions of Americans have readily given the keys to Donny, without realizing that his clown car is already hurting people at home and abroad.

Trumpism Sold as “Free Speech” on Campuses

While media executives and obedient entrepreneurs became comfortable with a white nationalist and racist President, the donors that have supported America’s right wing insurgency for decades cooked up ways to normalize their new messiah’s message in the mainstream.

Obviously, a strategy based on being overtly racist or hateful all of the time wasn’t in the cards. This is why Trump’s affiliate network took a hint from the master himself and started presenting their arguments through affiliate speakers, suggestive content, re-tweets, and other implicit means that rile up the extreme right wing base without alienating the rest of Trump’s followers.

Often, concepts like “free speech,” a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, are used to smear progressives in the U.S.

A cursory look at Young America’s Foundation (YAF) and Turning Points USA (TPUSA), the major conservative youth organizations that promote “free speech” on U.S. campuses, reveals that it is not their “dangerous ideas” that have caused students to protest them — it is the fact that they use “free speech” as a way to promote trickle down economics and anti-left rhetoric.

Similarly to the Donald, YAF and TPUSA’s operatives often use smear tactics on social media to rile up their base. Their speakers rarely talk about the actual issue of freedom of speech in college campuses; instead, their paid speakers, who regularly make the rounds on Fox News and alt-right wing media outlets, often toe the line between right wing ideology and outright agitation.

If you think YAF and TPUSA’s efforts are limited to a small number of institutions, chances are there are chapters, events, speakers, and efforts to build up their “National Field Program” somewhere near you.

Whether they present themselves as pro-Trump, “never Trump,” or somewhere in-between, YAF and TPUSA’s operatives work in favor of the oligarchy.

This makes the dispute between the two organizations that much more revealing, as a leaked YAF internal memo recently claimed TPUSA lacks “integrity, honesty, experience, and judgment.” As examples, the memo listed an infamous public stunt in which students wore diapers to protest safe spaces, in addition to evidence that TPUSA is falsifying activities and dollar figures, and even risking their non-profit status to support politicians.

Тhe YAF-TPUSA feud illustrates the distrust of old school neoliberals toward Trumpians like Charlie Kirk, TPUSA’s founder. Yet, despite the occasional fussing, the conservative movement has embraced Kirk, Trump’s “man on campus,” the same way Wall Street lackeys in both Parties readily welcomed Trump’s proposals on tax cuts, military spending, and deregulation.

Cash rules everything in this system, which means Trump’s cheerleaders in the media are going to be listened to, admired, discussed, and promoted — or Donald will be Disappointed.

(Million dollar advice for Democrats: why not create organizations that listen to students and provide them a platform to counter YAF/TPUSA’s indoctrination? You can send your check in the mail. Oh, and don’t read the next section.)

Centrism and False Equivalency — How Liberals Enable Trumpism

While the feud between YAF and TPUSA exposes the inner-workings of the conservative youth propaganda business, it also illustrates Democrats’ lack of meaningful engagement with young people.

In fact, liberal elites welcome the conservative narrative against safe spaces on campuses and the false equivalency between progressive movements and white nationalists.

In doing so, “The Democrats” have helped manufacture consent in the mainstream that blame for domestic terrorist activity should be equally attributed to both sides of the political spectrum.

Such efforts have opened the door for right wing operatives to downplay Trump’s hateful rhetoric, even though some alleged domestic terrorists who plotted to slaughter Muslim refugees, and the Nigerian Army which killed dozens of protesters, have explicitly claimed they were influenced by Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States.

Democratic Party elites like Schumer and Pelocy, who flaunt their “neutrality” and willingness to compromise with Trump as a sign of sophistication, rather than a profitable way to milk liberal and right wing narratives without ever having to take a stand, are in high demand today.

Their role in Trump’s affiliate network is to preserve their perceived image of neutral observers and use it to give credence to right wing talking points on moral, rather than political, grounds. This allows Democratic elites and self-described moral psychologists to further obfuscate the political climate in the U.S., while using their perceived neutrality as a bargaining chip for attracting donors and audiences alike.

There are many examples of how liberal pundits play this game. For example, HBO host Bill Maher and his guest Jonathan Haidt recently blamed millennials for safe spaces and advocated for “antifragility” in schools. For reference, a safe space is “a place, as on a college campus, intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.”

One has to wonder how Maher and Haidt’s conversation differs from explicit cases of right wing propaganda against safe spaces. From where I stand, the consequences are the same—blaming victims, spreading fake news about the collective character of millions of people, and refusing to analyze the failures of both Parties.

Perhaps then, it is no surprise that the “credible” research Haidt cites in the interview is from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) which has ties with the Koch brothers among other “friends” of direct democracy.

While I’d love to believe that FIRE’s mission is to actually “defend and sustain individual rights at America’s increasingly repressive and partisan colleges and universities,” their donors’ anti-student activities on U.S. campuses prove otherwise.

In times when school shootings and hateful rhetoric from the highest places of power have become a regular part of our lives, advocating for “antifragility” in schools just makes you look like a dumbass. To blame young people, who constitute the most diverse generation in U.S. history, for their need for protection in a culture shaped by extreme partisanship when it comes to race, social needs, and immigration is the definition of self-importance and intellectual dishonesty.

“I have talked about the fragility stuff for a long time,” Maher says in the interview, visibly surprised by Haidt’s narrative that safe spaces are a recent phenomenon. However, unlike comedians like George Carlin who deconstructed how the youth are used by those in power, Maher and Haidt work in favor of power — they blame the new generations and their parents for the existence of safe spaces.

Neither of the two white men attempt to place the issue in the context of mass poverty among students today, a drastic increase in hate crimes in the U.S., and elevated stress levels across the board — you know, the kind of things that might require safe spaces.

This top-down way of shaping public perception about young people is nothing new. It has been in effect ever since another two white males with connections to the ruling class coined the millennial label and turned generational theory into a consultation industry.

As tangential affiliates of the Trump network, who peddle this bullshit either by design or a lack of thought, Maher and Haidt don’t have to take their case any further.

This is what makes “centrist” public figures like them valuable to conservative organizations — it exposes their audiences, aka you, to one of the main right wing “verticals” today — campuses and students who are willing to entertain “dangerous,” meaning pro-corporate, ideas. This process is outlined quite explicitly in this interview between TPUSA and YAF staff.

To be clear, I am not calling for liberals to censor the psychologists and commentators who normalize Trump’s messaging. I am calling for all of us to realize the ways in which self-described progressives and centrists have normalized Trump’s rhetoric by simply branding themselves a certain way and profiting from their role in Trump’s parade.

The Cross Pollination of Trumpian Pundits

Maher and Haidt’s conversation illustrates one of the main mechanisms that allows Trump’s rhetoric to enter different marketing channels — having affiliate members appear on each other’s YouTube shows, events, digital platforms, and so on to lend credibility to each other’s mission without explicitly coming out as “right wing.”

The cross pollination between TPUSA/YAF operatives, moral psychologists, corporate media pundits, and centrists further exposes the scam behind “free speech” narratives on the right.

Ironically, for all of their insistence on allowing dangerous ideas to surface, such organizations rarely feature progressive or leftist speakers in their events. Instead, they recycle upcoming and familiar propagandists who routinely distort and radicalize public perception of the progressive movement in the U.S.

Take for example this exchange between Stephen Crowder, a conservative commentator affiliated with Young America’s Foundation, and Jordan Peterson, another recently popular psychologist who is a regular on the conservative pundit media circuit.

Crowder: “Can you name me anyone today in 2018, anyone on the national DNC platform bench who we wouldn’t consider radical left? Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelocy, Debbie Wassermann Schultz, Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters, Eric Sneiderman…Can you name any one of them who would be as reasonable as people as even a Rubio on the right?”

Jordan Peterson: “Well, it’s a good question. I think the question is to what extent the moderate left has been able to separate itself from the radical left. This is a big problem…We know the Left can go too far, that’s a historical fact. The question is: when exactly does the Left go too far, what combination of policies do they put fort that produces the proclivity towards tyranny and catastrophe that categorize the radical Left movement in the 20th century…I think it’s the triad of the diversity, exclusivity, and equity — it’s a deadly triad, especially equity.

Similarly to Haidt, Peterson is not expected to back up his partisan assertions with anything other than selective data and wordplay. For someone who is regularly advocating about “setting limits on the Left,” he fails to be the adult in the conversation and instead lends credibility to Crowder’s dangerous right wing propaganda.

Presenting establishment Democrats as the “radical Left” helps both wings of Trump’s bipartisan promotion network; first, by brainwashing those on the right who actually believe this narrative, and second — by implying that anyone to the left of Nansi Pelosi is some sort of a leftist guerrilla revolutionary.

Peterson, a Canadian citizen, is open about monetizing the SJW movement. “I shouldn’t say this, but I am going to — I have figured out how to monetize social justice warriors,” he says in an interview with Joe Rogan. “If they let me speak then I get to speak and then more people support me on Patreon…so they go protest me, then that goes on YouTube, and then my Patreon account goes way up. So it’s like, they don’t know what to do.”

Peterson became popular following his well publicized criticism of the Canadian Bill C-16, which proposed adding gender identity and gender orientation to the Canadian Human Rights Act. According to him, such efforts would limit “free speech” and criminalize one’s failure to use preferred pronouns.

Here’s what he said regarding his own university’s efforts to incorporate transgender pronouns for students and staff who identify themselves as other than male or female:

“If they fine me, I won’t pay it. If they put me in jail, I’ll go on a hunger strike. I’m not doing this. And that’s that. I’m not using the words that other people require me to use. Especially if they’re made up by radical left-wing ideologues.”

While videos of Peterson arguing with LGBTQ students and activists propelled him into mainstream culture, little attention was given to the ways in which he mischaracterzied the bill.

As it turns out, C-16 wasn’t about “radical left-wing ideologues” limiting his free speech, but about equality for trans and non-gender binary Canadians. This has been explained at length by fellow professors, supporters-turned-critics, and even the Canadian Bar Association itself.

The account from one of his previous supporters who has a transgender daughter is especially revealing:

Following his opposition to Bill C-16, Jordan again sought to establish himself as a ‘warrior’ and attacked identity politics and political correctness as threats to free speech. He characterized them as left-wing conspiracies rooted in a ‘murderous’ ideology — Marxism. Calling Marxism, a respectable political and philosophical tradition, “murderous” conflates it with the perversion of those ideas in Stalinist Russia and elsewhere where they were. That is like calling Christianity a murderous ideology because of the blood that was shed in its name during the Inquisition, the Crusades and the great wars of Europe. That is ridiculous.

In Jordan’s hands, a claim which is merely ridiculous became dangerous. Jordan, our ‘free speech warrior,’ decided to launch a website that listed ‘postmodern neo-Marxist’ professors and “corrupt” academic disciplines, warning students and their parents to avoid them. Those disciplines, postmodern or not, included women’s, ethnic and racial studies. Those ‘left-wing’ professors were trying to ‘indoctrinate their students into a cult’ and, worse, create ‘anarchical social revolutionaries.’ I do think Jordan believes what he says, but it’s not clear from the language he uses whether he is being manipulative and trying to induce fear, or whether he is walking a fine line between concern and paranoia.

Despite his multiple hats and pivot points, Peterson continues to be given airtime in the media. By giving credibility to Peterson, even after his obvious anti-LGBTQ stunt, commentators have enabled him and other “third parties” to peddle anti-left rhetoric to their viewers.

Comedians like Bill Hicks would’ve had a field day with the concept of whiny fifty-something psychologists who parachute into campuses to preach against “diversity, exclusivity, and equity.” Instead, commentators often go along with “centrists” like Peterson, who in another one of his Joe Rogan Experience podcasts described his critics as “social constructionist, women studies, and neo-Marxist types” who “don’t give a damn about biology.”

It doesn’t take much for explicit Trumpian propagandists to take Peterson’s incoherent statements on the “radical Left,” free speech, immigration, LGBTQ rights and whatever their donors require, and coordinate with the Trump administration to turn such propaganda into policy proposals.

For example, in January of 2018 the Department of Justice sided with Young America’s Foundation against the University of California, Berkeley on a lawsuit about discriminatory practices in “stifling the guaranteed constitutional right of free speech.”

“The Berkeley College Republicans are grateful to the DOJ for filing a Statement of Interest into the lawsuit of discriminatory practices in stifling the guaranteed constitutional right of free speech brought against UC Berkeley,” said the Berkeley College Republicans President Bradley Devlin. “We are also grateful AG Sessions has called the success of the Ben Shapiro event hosted by YAF and BCR a ‘victory for free speech’.”

While it’s conceivable that Young America’s Foundation’s coordination with the DOJ might be a good thing, the mingling between our judicial system and an anti-progressive propaganda machine that runs on “Socialism Sucks” memes suggests otherwise.

Understandably, the Internet is filled with questions about whether figures like Peterson are alt right, liberal, or conservative — with passionate argumentation in support of all possible scenarios.

Yet, it’s precisely the lack of a label that makes him and other “neutralistas” so polarizing. It’s also what makes such figures suitable partners in the lucrative field of manufacturing of consent about Trump’s policies.

The use of “free speech” as a tool to vilify those who protest militarism, corporatism, and racism is a talking point shared throughout the platforms and pundits that normalize Trump.

Trumpism is Here to Stay — Support Independent Media

A lot has been said and written about how Trump affects the public. Yet, the networks that prime audiences for Trump-like messaging often go announced — perhaps because a serious look at “Who brought us Trump?” requires honest reflection from both Parties and the information business industry.

Media executives, obedient entrepreneurs, “free speech” Trumpian disciples, and assists from moral psychologists and neoliberal pundits have provided as big of an umbrella as someone like Trump can fit under.

What happens when this umbrella can no longer contain the public’s collective anger toward Trump is yet to be seen. My guess is that the decentralized network that normalizes Trump’s rhetoric will eventually coalesce into a new right wing media empire that will mobilize against the “radical Left.”

But behold! There is (some) light in the end of the CheetoTunnel™. For example, The Correspondent, a news site completely free of ads and sponsored content, has set its sights on the U.S., with plans to implement their successful model here.

The Correspondent allows users to literally invest in transparent journalism by having a less click-baity news experience delivered by “writers who can come to conclusions and show conviction, but they have to be evidence-based in the extreme,” as Jay Rosen puts it in his article about the company’s mission and views.

“Expectations are that writers will continuously share what they are working on with the people who follow them and read their stuff,” writes Rosen. “They will pose questions and post callouts as they launch new projects: what they want to find out, the expertise they are going to need to do this right, any sort of help they want from readers.”

To my mind, this is the kind of platform that could provide a viable alternative to the Trumpism that will be coming our way well after the Donald has left the White House. Our support for independent news platforms and journalists, both through our finances and attention, will determine how influential Trumpism will be in the decades ahead.

Until we find what’s on the other side of the OrangeMoon™, we should be mindful of what many warned against, but quickly forgot about following the 2016 elections — the normalization of Trumpism in our culture driven by savvy propagandists whose funding often points out their true motives.

Failure to trace and analyze Trump’s “third parties” — as well as their justifications, data, euphemisms, and implicit support for right wing ideas — brings us that much closer to a world in which Trumpism is the new normal. If we aren’t there already.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Migrant Caravan: Branding Migrants “Human Shields” Has a Deadly Motive

Wed, 2018-11-21 15:56

The “migrant caravan” is making its way towards the US border – and is facing countless obstacles and much opposition along the way. Most recently, protests erupted when a large group of the migrants reached the Mexican border town of Tijuana. Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump was quick to join the clamour, accusing them of causing “crime and big problems in Mexico”:

The Mayor of Tijuana, Mexico, just stated that “the City is ill-prepared to handle this many migrants, the backlog could last 6 months.” Likewise, the U.S. is ill-prepared for this invasion, and will not stand for it. They are causing crime and big problems in Mexico. Go home!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2018

The men, women and children in the caravan are travelling as a large group because in the past individuals and small groups who have fled central America to escape political violence or to find a better livelihood have been kidnapped by traffickers and drug gangs. Travelling en masse offers them a degree of protection.

US president Donald Trump has long lambasted the migrants. He first characterised them as “invaders”, who sheltered among their ranks “unknown Middle Easterners”. Later, Trump admitted that this thinly veiled attempt to portray the migrants as terrorists was not based on any “proof” but nevertheless went on to calm the public by declaring that the US military would be waiting for the caravan at the Mexican border. Initially announcing that he would send as many as 5,200 troops, he later upped this number to a possible 15,000 soldiers.

US secretary of state, Michael Pompeo, joined the bandwagon, warning the American people that the migrants are “putting women and children in front of this caravan to use as shields as they make their way through”.

As if to add credibility to this claim, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) then released a factsheet stating that among the marchers are hundreds of individuals who “have criminal histories”, and adding that, in Central America, they have put “women and children to the front to act as human shields as the caravan pushes against [the Guatemalan] military forces”.

An old story

Interestingly, the president, secretary of state, and DHS did not pluck these allegations out of thin air. They are simply repeating claims made in a 2014 report published by the US right-wing Tea Party organisation.

The report described the movement of migrants as an “offensive whereby the southern borders of America are being swarmed”, adding: “This offensive is an invasion, not led by troops, but by divisions of mothers, children and young adults marching north from Central America and Mexico”. It went on:

Civilian women and children are directly marched into the target nation so that permanent settlement locations may be secured for more advancing insurgents. In effect, the civilians become political human shields for the insurgents coming in behind them, which are part of a much larger (and more dangerous) offensive.

The use of military vocabulary – “invasion”, “divisions”, “insurgency”, “offensive” and “human shields” – to describe such migrants is, of course, calculated. It aims to prepare the ground for the way they will be treated once they reach the US border.

Consider the expression “human shields”. According to international law, human shields are civilians or prisoners of war whose bodies are deployed to illegally protect a legitimate military target. Whether they do so voluntarily or are forced to do so, the law states that they cannot “render an area immune from attack”.

Consequently, voluntary shields who die during an attack are responsible for their own deaths because they put themselves in harm’s way. Similarly, when involuntary shields die, those deploying them rather than those killing them are to blame. In armed conflicts, when civilians are used as shields by state militaries, they lose or risk losing the protections bestowed on them by international law.

Legitimate targets

By using such language, Pompeo and the DHS potentially achieve two things. First, they cast the migrant caravan as an enemy that is willing to deploy human shields – a legitimate target for military action rather than a group of innocent and vulnerable individuals. Second, they suggest that if these migrant “human shields” die, it is those who use them as shields – rather than the US authorities – who must be held responsible.

Pompeo and the DHS are not alone in their attempts to frame migrants as legitimate military targets. Hungary and the Czech Republic have also categorised migrant children as “human shields”, claiming that their parents are using them to facilitate their efforts to enter Europe.

Significantly, the use of “human shields” is also something that is projected almost exclusively on to non-white migrants, another attempt to portray them as “barbaric” people who fail to understand and respect the civilised norms of international law.

Much like the rebels in Syria, Houthis in Yemen, and Palestinian protestors in Gaza, migrants are now widely depicted as deliberately violating the distinction between combatant and non-combatant, purportedly shielding themselves behind “women and children” in order to gain an advantage against state militaries. Consequently, such migrants are depicted as perpetrators of a war crime – even though they are not waging an armed struggle and, in many cases, are simply trying to escape one.

And so by attempting to make a better life for themselves, migrants are transformed into military targets, people who can be legitimately injured or killed. As the migrant caravan works its way north, and is further demonised for doing so, the world should reflect on this and how one of the pillars of international law – the category of civilian – is being eroded.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Categories: News for progressives

Jordan Peterson’s Disturbing Views on Inequality

Wed, 2018-11-21 15:55

In recent years, Jordan Peterson, the 56-year-old Canadian clinical psychologist, has become the new star of the political right. His books are bestsellers, and his YouTube videos are watched by hundreds of thousands of people, sometimes even millions. Although he is an educated man with a lot of interesting things to say, some of his views are very disturbing, if not potentially dangerous. Perhaps the best illustration of this is his position on inequality and capitalism.

According to Peterson, inequality is both natural and inevitable. In his talks, he likes to invoke Price’s Law, which states that the square root of the number of people in a domain do 50% of the work, while the rest, the majority, takes care of the other half. This inequality, Peterson continues, can be found everywhere. A tiny number of musicians, for instance, create 50% of the music that is played; a few of the best hockey players score most of the goals; a small number of stars contain most of the mass and so on. So the fact that a small number of people own most of the wealth is, according to his reasoning, an inevitable result caused by a natural law. Capitalism, therefore, cannot be held responsible for the inequality that we observe today.

This argument by Peterson has some serious problems. While he is probably right that it is impossible to create and maintain a perfectly equal world, it is without a doubt that capitalism nurtures inequality. After all, inequality is built into the very core of any capitalist system.

Perhaps capitalism’s most fundamental feature is the way how it organizes the economy. In a capitalist society, one will find two groups. The first group consists of the ‘owners’ who possess the means of production. And since they own everything, they get to decide. The second group is made up of ‘workers’, people who do not own any capital and thus have to offer their labor to one of the owners whom they then have to obey. The owners, in their position of power, not only decide what is produced by whom and how, they also decide how the rewards are shared. Unsurprisingly, they give a disproportionate amount to themselves, thus creating inequality.

Unfortunately, capitalism’s ability to generate inequality does not end here. The power and wealth which the owners accumulate are used by them to gain control over the political system, making sure that politicians implement policies that are beneficial to them, no matter the consequences to others. This then increases their wealth even more, which allows them to further extend their control over politics. It is this vicious cycle that for the past several decades has resulted in increasingly higher levels of inequality. And, as will be discussed below, there is nothing inevitable about this process.

Peterson likes to illustrate the inevitability by explaining the game of Monopoly. In this popular game, everyone begins out equal, with equal chances to win. However, Peterson points out, when the game gets underway, some people start to gain money while others see their possessions decline. In the end, which does not have to take long, one player owns everything while everyone else has nothing. Despite equal beginnings, inequality is inevitable.

Interestingly, however, the game of Monopoly was invented by a woman named Elizabeth Magie in 1903, in order to demonstrate to people the evils of capitalism and the tendency of the system to produce tremendous inequality. She originally created two versions of the game, one in which capitalist style competition based on winners and losers prevailed, and another version based on players sharing the wealth that was being produced. In the end, only the first version survived and became the game of Monopoly as we know it. Monopoly’s story is thus one about presenting an alternative to an inequality generating capitalist system, not one to illustrate its inevitability.

Compared to his views on the causes of inequality, Peterson’s ideas on the solution similarly suffer from major problems.

Inequality cannot be solved, Peterson’s emphasizes, through the political or economic system, or through any sociological force. To back up this rather remarkable claim, he cites a study that compares left and right-wing governments with the GINI inequality coefficient and shows that inequality is not related to left or right wing governments. He also seems to argue that there is no viable alternative to capitalism.

Now, everyone who has studied history, especially labor history, knows that inequality can be addressed through the economic and political system. It is also not difficult to illustrate. Take for instance the average percentage of employees who have joined a union in the OECD (the rich) countries, and correlate this with the GINI inequality coefficient, and one will find a negative correlation of about -0.45 to -0.5. This number would make any social scientist, such as Peterson, very happy, because it signifies a relationship that is somewhere between moderate and strong. It tells you that as the percentage of people who are members of a union goes up, the inequality in that country goes down. It is important to keep in mind, however, that a correlation does not imply causation. Perhaps less inequality motivates people to join unions, or perhaps there is a third factor that explains both. But considering the mechanisms at work, it is likely that increased union membership reduces inequality, and it is not hard to see why.¹

Unions are ways for workers to organize and use their collective power to take on inequality. Unions confront the owners directly to demand a more equal distribution of the rewards. Unions also pressure the political system to pay attention to the workers’ needs, and in doing so organized labor, when strong enough, is able to break the vicious cycle by which the owners increasingly control the political system. Every major social change, be it the abolition of slavery, the introduction of democracy or women’s rights, they have all come through exactly this process: organized groups of people putting pressure on the political system to force change. 

It is also interesting to examine Peterson’s claim that there is no viable alternative to capitalism (he does view capitalism as the lesser of all evils though). Peterson uses the frequently employed technique to present a world in which only two options exist: Western capitalism and Soviet-style socialism (Peterson uses the terms communism and Marxism), by which is meant a totalitarian dictatorship. And because of the violence and ultimate failure of the Soviet Union, that system has already been proven unsuccessful, leaving only capitalism as a viable option. 

There are two major problems with this statement. First, the Soviet Union was not socialist and second, there exists a third alternative which is real socialism.

Now, Peterson immediately objects to the notion that the Soviet Union was not socialist (he uses the terms communist and Marxist). According to him, anyone who believes this, is either a naive fool or is so “ignorant of history that it is… utterly appalling”. History, however, tells a different story.

If one decides to study socialism, for instance as understood by 19th century workers in the United States, or by European and Russian Marxists before the Russian Revolution for that matter, one finds that the core belief of socialism is that workers should be in control of production. Instead of dividing people into owners who own and workers who obey as capitalism does, socialism introduces democracy into the economy, allowing workers to make economic decisions democratically.²

With this definition of socialism in mind, one casual glance at the Soviet Union immediately reveals that there existed no trace of it, a fact that good Soviet scholars also recognize. If anything, the Soviet Union was the exact opposite. Within the Soviet Union, there existed a small group of people at the top who made all the decisions. Their orders were then handed down below, and at the bottom, where most people found themselves, you simply had to obey. To talk about socialism in the Soviet Union makes absolutely no sense. The fact that both Soviet and Western propaganda were claiming that this Soviet dictatorship equaled socialism does not make it so. To use the Soviet Union as an example that socialism has failed and that therefore there exists no viable alternative to capitalism is historically incorrect.³

One interesting side note to this is that the structure of power as it existed in the Soviet Union can also be found in the dominant institution of the Western capitalist world: the corporation. Both institutions, the corporation and the Soviet State, are strict hierarchies that do not tolerate democracy and instead place enormous powers in the hands of a few. Corporations do not display the kind of violence that the Soviet State exhibited, but in their structure of power, they show striking similarities. It may not be such a coincidence that in both worlds, the West and the Soviet Union, there existed massive inequality in terms of wealth and power. It does make one wonder though, how Peterson can consider corporate capitalism the best system humans can produce while at the same time denounce the repressive and hierarchical nature of the Soviet State.⁴ 

Whereas Peterson thus offers people a choice between two undemocratic and exploitive systems in which a few people own everything, there is an obvious alternative: real socialism based on a completely democratic society. But the idea that ordinary people would play a role in decision-making seems completely alien to Peterson and betrays his elitists’ views. Interestingly, this puts Peterson in the same category as certain individuals he so utterly despises, as will be discussed shortly.

Peterson, after having dismissed with several methods how to counter inequality, comes up with what he considers to be the only way to solve the problem: psychological intervention. Because there is nothing society can do to reduce inequality, the only option left is to teach people how to cope with an unequal world and to improve their ability in climbing up the ladder of success.

Although there is no doubt that psychological intervention can be of tremendous help and that psychologists like Jordan Peterson are of enormous value to society, the above position is not only wrong, it shows a resemblance to those who created the Soviet system.

To illustrate this point, it is useful to make a comparison with Lenin, someone who Peterson utterly despises. Lenin, as can be easily deduced from his writings, never was in favor of real socialism. He believed that ordinary people are too dumb and ignorant to understand what is good for them. In his famous article “What is to be done”, Lenin describes that only an elite group of leaders, the “Vanguard”, can create a new society. This Vanguard consists of a group of “intellectuals”, the “Intelligentsia”, the “advanced contingent”, the “talented leaders”, “wise men” with “special qualities” who “guide” and “direct the thoughts” of the workers.

Peterson’s position on how only a special group, one of which he is of course a member, can solve society’s problems bears some resemblance to Lenin’s views. They are both extremely elitists. The mere idea that people, ordinary people, are capable of changing the world into something better, does not resonate with either of them. For both Lenin and Peterson, only an elite special group can offer a solution, one that puts them in a privileged position within an exploitive system they want to maintain, and in case of Lenin, control.

Overall, the bottom line of Peterson’s story is that inequality is a natural law. Ordinary people can do nothing to change it. Although psychologists ought to teach people how they can take control over their lives, Peterson’s message on inequality is one that nurtures passivity and helplessness, which from the point of view of the privileged top 1%, is very beneficial to them. Either knowingly or unknowingly, Peterson behaves like a typical mainstream intellectual whose function is to come up with stories that make people accept the existing structures of power, no matter how unequal and unfair these structures are.

References

1. For the percentage of employees who are member of a trade union, see the OECD dataset which can be found here

2. For the GINI inequality coefficient, see the World Bank dataset which can be found here

3. For U.S. workers and socialism, see Ware, N. (1964). The Industrial Worker.

4.For the opposition to Lenin from fellow Bolsheviks, see Daniels, R. V. (1960). The Conscience of the Revolution: Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia.

5. See for instance Lewin, M. (2016). The Soviet Century. Verso Books.

6. For the comparison between Western corporations and the Soviet State, see Meyer, A. G. (1961) USSR INCORPORATED and the chapter on Stalinism and the Mono-Organizational Society by T. H. Rigby in Tucker, R. C. (1998) Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation, Transaction Publishers.

Categories: News for progressives

Nicholas Kristof and the China Trade War

Wed, 2018-11-21 15:48

You really have to wonder if there is a ban on columnists and reporters mentioning wanton violation of the copyrights and patents of U.S. companies as a potential weapon for China in its trade war with the United States. Incredibly, as aspects of the trade war get highlighted and debated, wholesale violations of copyrights and patents held by U.S. companies never gets mentioned.

The latest conspicuous ignorer is Nicholas Kristof. In a column that warns Trump of all the non-trade measures China could pursue, he never once mentions patents and copyrights.

If this sounds obscure, let me be as specific as possible. Suppose China announces that it is working with a large domestic computer manufacturer to make tens or even hundreds of millions of computers, using Windows and other Microsoft software, which will be sold not only in China but exported to any country interested in getting low cost computers. Microsoft will not get a dime in royalty payments.

It also announces that all the latest Hollywood movies will be available on websites hosted in China for instant downloads at zero cost. Like Bill Gates, the boys and girls in Hollywood get zero. China also announces plans to get in the generic drug business in a huge way, mass producing versions of Pfizer, Merck, and other big U.S. drug companies drugs without regard to patents and related intellectual property claims. As with computers, these generic drugs will be sold not in only in China, but to any country in the world that would prefer low cost drugs.

Perhaps this form of retaliation has never occurred to Mr. Kristof and other folks who write on trade in U.S. news outlets, but I can guarantee the leadership in China is not so stupid. I’m sure they recognize this step would be the equivalent of going nuclear, but if they feel the need to take stronger measures in response to Trump, it is inconceivable that this one is not on the list.

And, as a sidebar, it would be a great thing for both China and the world. And at the end of the day, it would also be a great thing for the United States.

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

Categories: News for progressives

Approaching Development: GMO Propaganda and Neoliberalism vs Localisation and Agroecology

Wed, 2018-11-21 15:39

What people communicate is a matter of choice. But what can be more revealing are the issues they choose to avoid. There are certain prominent pro-GMO activists who describe themselves as ‘science communicators’. They hit out at those who question their views or who have valid criticisms of GM technology and then play the role of persecuted victim, believing that, as the self-appointed arbiters of righteousness, they are beyond reproach, although given their duplicity nothing could be further from the truth.

Instead of being open to questioning, they attempt to close down debate to push a flawed technology they have a vested (financial-career) interest in, while all the time appealing to their self-perceived authority, usually based on holding a PhD in molecular biology or a related discipline.

They relentlessly promote GM and industrial agriculture and unjustifiably cast critics as zealots who are in cahoots with Greenpeace or some other group they have a built-in dislike of. And they cynically raise or lower the bar of ‘credibility’ by ad hominem and misrepresentation so that studies, writers and scientists who agree with them are commended while those who don’t become subjected to smear campaigns.

Often with ties to neoliberal think tanks, pro-GMO lobbyists call for more deregulation and criticise elected governments or regulatory bodies which try to protect the public interest, especially where genetic engineering and associated chemical inputs (for instance, glyphosate) are concerned. The same people push the bogus idea that only GM agriculture can feed the world, while seeking to discredit and marginalise alternative models like agroecology and ignoring the structural violence and injustices brought about by global agricapital interests (from whom they receive funding) which help determine Codex, World Bank, IMF and WTO policies. By remaining silent or demonstrating wilful ignorance about the dynamics and injustices of the political economy of food and agriculture, they tacitly approve of its consequences.

They also frame the GMO debate as pro-science/pro-GMO vs anti-science/anti-GMO: an industry-promoted false dichotomy that has sought to close down any wider discussion that may lead the focus to fall on transnational agribusiness interests and their role in determining an exploitative global food regime and how GM fits in with this.

This is how ideologues act; not how open discourse and science is carried out or ‘communicated’.

Broadening the debate

A participant in any meaningful discussion about GM would soon appreciate that ethical, political, environmental and sociological considerations should determine the efficacy and relevance of this technology in conjunction with scientific considerations. Unfortunately, pro-GMO advocates want to depoliticise food and agriculture and focus on the ‘science’ of GM, yield-output reductionist notions of ‘productivity’ and little else, defining the ‘problem’ of food and agriculture solely as a narrow technocratic issue.

But to understand the global food regime, we must move beyond technology. Food and agriculture have become wedded to structures of power that have created food surplus and food deficit areas and which have restructured indigenous agriculture across the world and tied it to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for a manipulated and volatile international market and indebtedness to global financial institutions.

More specifically, there are the deleterious impacts of the nexus between sovereign debt repayment and the ‘structural adjustment’ of regional agriculture; spiralling input costs for farmers who become dependent on proprietary seeds and technologies; ecocide, genocide and the destruction of food self-sufficiency; the fuelling of barbaric, industrial-scale death via animal-based (meat) agriculture and the colonisation of land to facilitate it; US/EU subsidies which mean farmers in developing countries cannot achieve prices to cover their costs of production; and degraded soils, polluted oceans and rising rates of illness, etc.

If any one country epitomises much of what is wrong with the global food regime, it is Argentina, where in an October 26th 2018 article (‘Soy destruction in Argentina leads straight to our dinner plates’) The Guardian newspaper’s analysis of (GM) soy cultivation highlighted many of the issues set out above.

Whether the impacts of the global food regime result from World Bank/IMF directives and geopolitical lending strategies, neoliberal plunder ‘ease-of-doing-business’ ideology,  undemocratic corporate-written trade deals or WTO rules, we are seeing the negative impacts on indigenous systems of food and agriculture across the world, not least in India, where a million farmers intend to march to Delhi and the national parliament between 28 and 30 November.

India’s manufactured ongoing agrarian crisis is adversely affecting the bulk of the country’s 840 million rural dwellers. And all for what? To run down and displace the existing system of peasant-farmer-based production with a discredited, ecologically unsustainable (GMO) model run along neoliberal ‘free’ market lines by global agribusiness, a model which is only profitable because it passes on its massive health, environmental and social costs to the public.

Neoliberal dogma

Tim Worstall of the Adam Smith Institute in London says of India’s agrarian crisis that Indian farmers should be left to go bust because they are uncompetitive and relatively unproductive. But even where farmers in India produce world record yields, they are still heavily indebted. So why can’t they compete?

Putting the huge external costs of the model of industrial agriculture which Worstall compares Indian agriculture to aside (which he conveniently ignores), the issue is clear: a heavily subsidised US/EU agriculture depresses prices for Indian farmers both at home and on the international market.

Policy analyst Devinder Sharma says that subsidies provided to US wheat and rice farmers are more than the market worth of these two crops. He also notes that, per day, each cow in Europe receives a subsidy worth more than an Indian farmer’s daily income. He suggests: let the US and EU do away with subsidies, relieving taxpayers of such a costly burden and let Indian farmers compete properly; then see that it is the Indian farmer who produces the cheapest food; and then imagine US consumers benefitting from this cheap food.

That is the ‘free’ market which could exist. A fair one not distorted by subsidies. Not the type of market that currently exists and which is ‘free’ only within the ideological parameters set by Worstall and others who promote it.

Proponents of the ‘free’ market and GMOs are big on ‘choice’: letting ‘the market’, the consumer or the farmer decide, without anyone imposing their agenda. This is little more than rhetoric which fails to stand up to scrutiny, given the strategically embedded influence of agricapital over policy makers. If anything encapsulates the nonsense and hypocrisy surrounding this notion of choice are reports about Monsanto and its cynical manipulation of agriculture in Punjab.

According to an article in Delhi’s Sunday Guardian in late 2017 (‘Monsanto’s profits, not Diwali, creating smoke in Delhi’), India’s surplus food grain supply is an uncomfortable fact for the pro-GMO lobby. The piece notes that in 2012 the then Punjab Chief Minister asked Monsanto to set up a research centre for creating maize and, due to fears over water shortages, announced plans to reduce the area under rice cultivation to around 45% to grow maize. Fear-mongering about rice cultivation was reaching fever pitch, stoked by an advertisement campaign from a group of scientists who appealed ‘Reduce the area under rice, save water, save Punjab’.

Conveniently, Monsanto (now Bayer) offers its GM maize as a solution that will increase the level of subsoil water, although that corporation’s inputs and Green Revolution practices led to problems in Punjab and elsewhere in the first place. For instance, fertilisers and pesticides have accumulated in the ground water (causing massive health issues) and their use has also led to poor water retention in soil, leading farmers to pump excessive amounts of ground water.

Punjab’s plan to reduce the area under rice cultivation (a staple food for large sections of the Indian population) with what will most likely be GM animal feed is part of a cynical tactic. Of course, any resulting gap between supply of and demand for food in India will be conveniently filled via global agribusiness and an influx of GMO produce from abroad or by growing it in India (have no doubt, the push is on for that too).

It is reminiscent of unscrupulous attempts to undermine India’s edible oils sector in the late 1990s and current attempts to break traditional cotton cultivation pathways in India to help usher in herbicide-tolerant seeds (which have now ‘miraculously’ appeared on the market – illegally). The ability of hugely powerful corporations to flex their financial muscle and exert their considerable political clout to manufacture ‘choice’ and manipulate policies is the reality of neoliberal capitalism.

Those pro-GMO ‘science communicators’ are silent on such matters and, as with their fellow neoliberal ideologues, have nothing of any substance to say on these types of ‘market-distorting’ power relations, which make a mockery of their ‘free’ choice and ‘free’ market creed.

Indeed, a recent report in The Guardian indicates that neoliberal ‘austerity’ in the UK has had little to do with economics, having failed in its objective of reducing the national debt, and much to do with social engineering. But this is the ideological basis of modern neoliberal capitalism: dogma masquerading as economics to help justify the engineering of the world in the image of undemocratic, unaccountable corporations.

Agroecology and food sovereignty

The industrial agriculture that Worstall compares Indian farmers’ productivity with is outperformed by smallholder-based agriculture in terms of, for example, diversity of food output, nutrition per acre and efficient water use. Imagine what could be achieved on a level playing field whereby smallholder farming receives the type of funding and political commitment currently given to industrial agriculture.

In fact, we do not have to imagine; in places where agroecology has been scaled up, we are beginning to see the benefits. The principles of agroecology include self-reliance, localisation and food sovereignty. This type of agriculture does not rely on top-down corporate ‘science’, corporate owned or controlled seeds or proprietary inputs. It is potentially more climate resilient, labour intensive (job creating), more profitable for farmers and can contribute to soil quality and nutrient-enhanced/diverse diets. Moreover, it could help reinvigorate rural India and its villages.

When the British controlled India, they set about breaking the self-reliance of the Indian village. In a 2009 article by Bhavdeep Kang (‘Can the Indian farmer withstand predatory international giants?’), it is stated:

“The British Raj initiated the destruction of the village communities, famously described by Lord Metcalfe as ‘little republics, having nearly everything they can want within themselves.’ India’s ability to endure, he wrote, derived from these village communities: ‘They seem to last where nothing else lasts. Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down but the village community remains the same. It is in a high degree conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence.’”

Metcalfe said this in 1830. However, since independence from the British, India’s rulers have further established ‘village India’s’ dependency on central government. And now a potential death knell for rural India is underway as India’s ruling elite, exhibiting a severe bout of ‘Stockholm syndrome’, sells out the nation to not only Western agribusiness but also to US finance and intelligence interests.

Whether it concerns India or elsewhere, to see the advantages of agroecology, there are those economists, political leaders and ‘science communicators’ who must remove the self-imposed blinkers. This would involve shifting their priorities away from promoting career-building technologies and facilitating neoliberal capitalism towards working for justice, equality, peace and genuine grass-root food sovereignty.

To do that, though, such figures would first have to begin to bite the hand that feeds them.

Categories: News for progressives

Patrimonio (Trailer)

Wed, 2018-11-21 02:44

Categories: News for progressives

Geographies of Violence in Southern California

Tue, 2018-11-20 16:10

Photo Source IvyMike | CC BY 2.0

The Arroyo Conejo winds through what once were oak meadows in the Conejo Valley. The area is now home to the Los Angeles exurbs of Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park, Westlake Village, Agoura Hills and Oak Park. It was here, before contact, that the Chumash people relied on acorns as their staple food and traded their flour for seafood from coastal villages along the Pacific coast some twenty miles to the west. William Bryant Logan in Oak, the Frame of Civilization, 2005, notes that “early European travelers came to recognize how close they were to an Indian village by the boom and thump of women driving pestles into mortars to grind acorns into meal”.  That sound had hung in the Conejo Valley for at least two millennia.

On Wednesday evening, November 7th, the only boom and thump to be heard along Rolling Oaks Drive in Thousand Oaks was coming from the Borderline Bar and Grill where country music echoed into the night. A little before midnight that sound was punctuated by the dull thuds of a Glock 21 handgun being fired in a mass shooting that killed twelve. The shooter, a former Marine, concluded the massacre by turning the gun on himself.

Early in the afternoon the next day, a wildfire started somewhere on the 2,668 acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory. Up until 2006 this facility had been used to test nuclear reactors and rocket engines for over fifty years. It was here that Rocketdyne developed and tested the engines that powered the space shuttle. In an un-used corner of the vast site sits Burro Flats painted cave, a Chumash solstice observation rock formation where members of the community’s priestly caste, the ’Antap, confirmed the return of the sun for another year. It is here too, in the surrounding Simi Hills, that winter rains run to the Arroyo Conejo, to form a part of the Calleguas watershed.

The fire would spread quickly, propelled by forty mile an hour Santa Ana winds, and like the creek, eventually find its way through the Santa Monica Mountains to the coast. Named the Woolsey fire, for a canyon close to its origin, it has now burnt almost 100,000 acres, destroyed five hundred structures and killed three.

On Friday morning, believing the fire barely west of U.S. Route 101, which runs the length of the state and follows El Camino Real for much of its length, and unaware that at seven a.m. Malibu had declared a compulsory evacuation order, my wife and I, guided by Google Maps, chose to take the Pacific Coast Highway to LAX. We moved swiftly across the alluvial plains of Oxnard, some of the richest agricultural lands in the country, and across the Calleguas Creek that filters its waters through Mugu Lake and its bordering wetlands along the beach. Then, in the usual abrupt fashion, we arrived at the northernmost outcropping of the Santa Monica Mountains, manifested (in my imagination) as a dragon’s tail plunging precipitously into the Pacific Ocean. In 1926, this rocky bastion was broached by dynamite, pick, shovel and the unremitting labor of newly arrived immigrants to allow a two-lane track to pass through what is now known as Point Mugu. A remnant of this severed spine remains as a sentinel rock at the Point.

Approaching Point Mugu, we had driven past the Seabees shooting range on the right and the trail head of the Chumash trading route on the left (which passes over Boney Mountain and then is buried beneath asphalt and concrete before reappearing in the Conejo Valley). Four years ago, after the first winter rains following the Springs Fire of 2013, which began, like the Woolsey, just east of Route101 and like it, burnt through the mountains to the beach,  I had followed the trail through a mostly monochrome landscape (the creek bottom and the puffs of new oak growth the only green) and noticed, on the blackened earth amidst the white ash of burnt shrubs, other more intense dots of white. Looking closer, I realized that I was walking through a collection of shell middens – where mussel, barnacle, sea-snail and clam shells had been exposed by the fire. These were the leavings from some Chumash meal in the Mission period, and below them no doubt, was buried the detritus from countless sea-food dinners consumed over many thousands of years. This ancient landscape of coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and riparian oak meadowlands, twice burnt in the span of five years, will likely only grow back as botanically impoverished, weedy grasslands, in a process known as type-conversion; its discarded shells left exposed in fields of non-native oats, mustard and star-thistles.

The sky was already dark with smoke, the ocean ruffled by off-shore Santa Ana winds, its waves flattened. Once beyond the portal, the road clings to the edge of the flanking mountain to the east and is supported by a rocky cliff to the west that falls into the roiling waters of the Pacific. By now, the curtain of smoke had fully descended except at its very edges far to the west where an orange glow of daylight peaked between the ocean and the billowing pyro-cumuli.

When we reached Zuma, one of Malibu’s northernmost beaches, traffic ground to a halt as the city’s residents heeded the evacuation call and headed in their SUV’s, Priuses, Teslas, Bentley’s, and one conspicuously new Rolls Royce, south on the PCH.For five hours we crawled along the picturesque highway as volcanic clouds, and the occasional line of ridge top fire, loomed to our left and the curiously placid smoke-dark sea lay to our right. We listened to AM radio predicting the fire’s imminent and inevitable arrival at the coast while we inched our way towards Santa Monica and an awakening from the nightmare of our almost stalled cars being engulfed in flame.

We arrived at the airport seven hours after leaving our home (usually an easy two-hour drive) and long after our flight to Vancouver had departed. Having failed to secure later stand-by seats, we stayed overnight with friends in Venice who were harboring a fire-refugee from Topanga, a threatened rural suburb just south of Malibu, and who themselves were mourning the loss of another friend’s house in Malibu Lake.

Our harrowing experience was a very minor note in a major state-wide catastrophe that included the Camp Fire in Butte County east of Chico, which started on Wednesday November 7th, far larger and much deadlier than the Woolsey fire, but entirely lacking in the latter’s celebrity frisson.

The carbon sequestered in over a quarter million acres of trees and shrubs and within the building materials of many thousands of structures has now been released to the atmosphere in these hellacious wildfires spread across California. In a state that has seen most of its historic old growth forests logged into extinction, its fossil biomass extracted from the earth for well over a century, where its gasoline burning automobiles clog its cities and highways and its industrial and domestic energy needs are largely supplied by the burning of natural gas, its wildfires count as the reciprocal in a cycle of violence.

The wildlands of California have long been coopted by civilization as either ‘Lands of Many Uses’, the motto of the USDA Forest Service, or as a mythological counterpoint to human agency. They are perceived as an ancient backdrop to the miraculous achievements of a humanly engineered modernity which, in turn, has undertaken their systematic violation. Through the karmic medium of global warming, the victim is now wreaking its revenge.

Characterized by the enduring marks of Chumash inhabitation, the landscape between Conejo Valley and the Pacific coast, reaching south to the long spit of Malibu, now experiences, it seems, recurring fires that are fueled by drought stricken vegetation and driven by powerful winds that funnel down the canyons, defiles and valleys of the Santa Monica Mountains – carved over millennia by their rivers and creeks.

The anger-stoked shooting rampage in Thousand Oaks during the Santa Anas recalls Raymond Chandler’s note of caution that when these winds blow, “Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.” This is but a picayune meteorological fancy. All across the nation, American violence cleared the way west and we are now haunted by these fitful, generational, reenactments of the carnage. This time, in this place, it was the act of a young man likely innocent of our history, but, as a Marine, deeply inculcated in the Empire’s killing machine. We are all complicit by the fact of our living on lands stolen over a century or more of a rolling genocide and of contributing to the culture of war by paying our taxes. Perhaps more perniciously, we are also complicit in creating the circumstances of global warming by way of our egregious habits of consumption.

Following this second week of November in Southern California, amidst these entwined geographies of violence, can we hope that we are newly alerted to this complicity?

Categories: News for progressives

Abolishing ICE Means Defunding it

Tue, 2018-11-20 16:00

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

Many progressive Democrats that won their midterm election bids, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, to Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, campaigned to change radically immigration policy. One of their slogans was to abolish the principal immigration law enforcement agency, ICE (Immigration Customs and Enforcement).  To turn that campaign slogan into reality means defunding ICE, which Democrats can do, if they chose, now that they have a majority in the House of Representatives.

ICE has long been criticized by immigration rights groups – even before Trump became President – for its use of private, for-profit detention centers, treatment of detainees, and overall lack of transparency and accountability. Despite these problems, the Trump administration has not only expressed support for the agency, but has sought to increase its budget.  In 2017, ICE was authorized to use $6.4 Billion, which increased to $7.6 Billion in 2018. Trump’s proposed 2019 budget for ICE, similarly, sees an increase of nearly $1 Billion dollars.

A variety of activities related to immigration fall within ICE’s purview.  Its 2018 budget divides these activities into five ‘missions,’specifically, (1) ‘preventing terrorism and enhancing security,’ (2) ‘securing and managing our borders,’ (3) ‘enforcing and administering our immigration laws,’ (4) ‘safeguarding and securing cyberspace,’ and (5) ‘strengthening national preparedness and resilience.’  Of these five, the third – ‘enforcing and administering our immigration laws’ – receives by far the lion’s share of ICE’s total budget.  In 2017, this amounted to nearly $4 Billion, with over $3 Billion dedicated to enforcement and removal.  Such operations, as explained in ICE’s budget statement, entail “identifying and apprehending removable aliens, detaining those individuals pending final determination of removability, and removing aliens from the United States by legal processes and procedures.” These practices, which are central to ICE’s mission, are also some of the institution’s most controversial and criticized.

Yet, to abolish ICE, especially in the current political climate, is next to impossible. The reason is that ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which was created during the Bush Administration in the aftermath of September 11th.  Public Law 107-296 officially saw to the creation of DHS, and with it, ICE.  Thus, to abolish ICE would require legislation not only to pass the House of Representatives, but also the Republican-controlled Senate.  The chances of such a bill getting a vote in the Senate are next to none. The odds that President Trump would sign that legislation, also, are essentially zero.

Not all hope is lost for Democrats who seriously hope to reign in ICE. After gaining a majority of seats in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, Democrats now control one chamber of Congress.  This means that they will have majorities on the committees that debate and craft legislation. Of all the committees in the House, Appropriations is perhaps the most powerful. The reason is that in this committee legislation dealing with the budgets for governmental activities is debated and negotiated.

Concerning immigration policy, Democrats have one option in the Appropriations Committee – pass appropriation bills that defund ICE’s mission to detain, arrest, and remove people.  Yes, the Republican-controlled Senate also has an Appropriations Committee. But now, Senate Republicans must seriously negotiate with the Democrats in the House for funding to move forward.

Progressive Democrats who want to seek real change in terms of immigration have a clear opportunity to turn a slogan into policy.  Democrats may make speeches on the House floor to denounce child separation or abuses in detention centers. Such posturing does nothing to limit ICE’s power.  In the Appropriations Committee, they now have an option to make true change.  The question is if this incoming class of Democrats will have the courage to make good on their campaign promises.

Categories: News for progressives

Why (Mostly) Men Trophy Hunt: a Biocultural Explanation

Tue, 2018-11-20 16:00

Photo Source Robert Tadlock | CC BY 2.0

Wolves do not stay anywhere for long. This is partly a function of their prey’s movement, but it’s also a function of being hunted for seven months of the year, at least in Montana, where residents can “harvest” up to five wolves for a paltry $19 dollars. A quick online search reveals dozens of images and videos of (mostly) men posing with wolves they had killed. The majority of the hunters are wearing what researchers K. R. Child and C. T. Darimont call “pleasure” or “killing” smiles. In their essay “Hunting for Trophies: Online Hunting Photographs Reveal Achievement Satisfaction with Large and Dangerous Prey,” the authors note that hunters’ smiles tend to be more pronounced when the prey is large and/or dangerous, that is, as opposed to when they pose with smaller and presumably less dangerous animals of the same species.

Similarly, a cursory glance of online images of wolf hunts (which is all I can stomach) supports this finding by showing all the creative ways that hunters display and accentuate the size of their trophies. Some men carry the wolf across their shoulders. Others string up, lay out, or hold up the wolf to show its length, height, or mass. Another pose motif shows the hunter, often with gun in hand, kneeling behind and standing up the wolf so that it appears to be alive.  One hunter—I will call him “the artist”—went so far as to prop up the wolf on a moss-covered rock.  But the wolf’s size is not the only cause for celebration; so too is the fearsome appearance of the wolf’s teeth, which hunters often display, apparently, to show how much danger they were in as they hid in their blinds and shot the wolf from 150 yards away.  The hunter’s killing smile tells only one part of the story, however.

Referring to images of hunters with their quarry, Edward Abbey observed how dead animals have a more powerful presence than do the humans who killed them.  Dead animals that remain intact are also more beautiful.  Although 99% of the time I don’t agree with killing wolves, I understand (which is not the same as agreeing with) a rancher or herder’s decision to kill a wolf in defense of his livestock.  But I will never understand why anyone would kill a wolf (or any other predator/carnivore) otherwise.  And I’m not alone in my efforts to fathom this bizarre, perverse, and baffling behavior. In their article The Dark Triad and animal cruelty: Dark personalities, dark attitudes, and dark behaviors, Samantha James and her colleagues document a correlation between some sport or trophy hunters and a trio of undesirable behaviors that they call the “dark triad.”  Narcissism (ego-driven admiration of oneself and no compassion), Machiavellianism, and, most notably perhaps, psychopathy, which is characterized by a profound lack of empathy, among other socially undesirable behaviors.

I have never trophy or sport hunted, nor personally observed a trophy hunt, but I have unwittingly caught the last few minutes of a hunting show that featured a hunter who could have been the poster child for the dark triad.  He had travelled from his home state of Missouri to hunt coyotes in southeastern Arizona, though his methods required one to have an extremely loose definition of hunting as well as a strong stomach.  Although I am not a hunter, I am familiar with the tools and techniques hunters use to kill the animals I study.  One tool is the call or caller, which calls in the target by mimicking survival relevant vocalizations in its environment, including the cries of distressed fauns and rabbits.  Calls can be made manually (usually with the hands and mouth) or with technology that ranges from a whistle-like tool made of wood, to electronic devices that broadcast recordings of attractive sounds.

Apparently lacking the ability to manually call in his quarry, the hunter set up an electronic caller on the side of a ridge, where he broadcasted the cries of a distressed rabbit and waited for his prey to appear.  After unceremoniously dispatching two coyotes with a rifle powerful enough to kill an animal three times the coyote’s size, the hunter set his sights on a bobcat that had come to investigate.  The feline, which was about half the size of the coyote, couldn’t have been more than 50 yards away, a distance that was reduced to mere feet with the aid of a high-powered scope mounted on the rifle.  The hunter made the shot and then, with a spring in his step, walked down and retrieved the bobcat, or rather, what was left of it.  As he neared the bloody and mangled jumble of fur and bone, he slowed down, as if he were beholding something magical.  Then he lifted up the cat by the scruff of the neck.

“I gut-shot it,” he said excitedly, which was both odd and unnecessary because anyone with eyes could see that the cat’s entire midsection was gone and the only thing holding it together was its spine.

Then something strange and unexpected happened: The hunter began to cry-talk, or talk and cry at the same time.  Cry-talking invites a mixed reaction (plus it’s hard on the ears), but I was glad he did because otherwise I wouldn’t have really known why he was crying.  “This is an emotional experience for me,” he said as he dropped the ruined bobcat on the ground.  His face was coated with dust so I could see the paths his tears had taken.  Then he wiped them away, looked right at the camera, and explained how he had always wanted to shoot a bobcat, and now he could finally say that he had.  Then he looked down at the bobcat and said again that it was an emotional experience. I’ve never been one to yell at the TV, but for this guy I made an exception.  Here he had just exploded this beautiful animal and the only thing he could think about was himself.

While these findings and this anecdote may illuminate the personalities or mindsets of trophy hunters, they don’t address why this mindset may exist in the first place.  For that we can look at Why men trophy hunt, a paper by Evolutionary Anthropologists Brian Codding and Kristen Hawkes, and Chris Darimont, a Conservation Scientist at the University of Victoria.  After finding the current hypotheses for why men trophy hunt (for meat, recreation, population control, among other apparent benefits) incomplete or implausible, Darimont, Hawkes, and Codding offer an evolutionary explanation for what they describe as this “perplexing activity.”

This “seemingly irrational behavior is resolved by costly signaling theory. . . [which] considers the social status and prestige that accrue to successful hunters.”  This explanation suggests that recreational hunters accrue status from the costs that they appear to absorb (economically and otherwise), despite the high risk of failure.  According to this view, from the audience’s perspective (particularly that of rivals and prospective mates), only the fittest of the fit can afford to hunt big-game or trophy animals, especially when the hunt is for large, and/or dangerous animals and has no guarantee of success.

While the signaling of non-human animal species tends to be more genuine, for humans what appears to be the case may be more important than what is actually case.  As the authors point out (and as the images of wolf hunters posing with dead wolves illustrate), regardless of their actual ability, “men generally target species that are not only large-bodied but also—and, importantly—impose high cost.”  The carcasses of large (and often inedible) animals aren’t just valued as food, but also serve as “a signal of the costs associated with the hunter’s accomplishment.”  Ultimately, then, the bigger the animal of any species, the greater the accomplishment.  The rewards of this signaling don’t end with killing the animal; rather, they begin with it. For in addition to the images of hunters with their prey, which are often posted on social media and can reach thousands of viewers, a common and well-documented practice among hunters is to have the whole or parts of the animal prepared for display.  (Perhaps the bobcat hunter cut off one of the animal’s paws or mounted its head with teeth exposed for this purpose).

Darimont, Hawkes, and Codding discuss how, in today’s global context, costly signaling theory of trophy hunting doesn’t just extend to the small social groups that were characteristic of our recent and evolutionary past, but to a world-wide audience.  Because of social media and the internet, today’s trophy hunters have signaling opportunities that would have been unthinkable to hunters of the past, as well as to hunters from extant hunter-gather societies.  Prior to the 2015 killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, one of the consequences of this increased visibility was an uptick in trophy hunting and, in the case of some species, a hastening toward extinction. Despite claims that trophy hunting plays an important role in the conservation of threatened species, the anthropogenic Allee effect, which describes how “the demand and associated costs increase when otherwise unprofitable rare resources become attractive, thereby speeding up their decline,” suggest that these hunts, while contributing to local economies, may in fact be contrary to conservation.

For those of us who are interested in the practical applications of this paper’s findings, and how they might be used to discourage this destructive behavior, the authors recommend developing policies that diminish the perceived cost of trophy hunting so that it will no longer function as a costly signaling opportunity.  Given the international media coverage of Cecil’s death and the outrage that followed, the authors also suggest that public shaming may have a dampening effect on signaling by eroding the apparent status of the trophy hunter. Walter J. Palmer, the American dentist who killed Cecil and received hundreds of hateful messages, probably knows this as well as anyone.

Far from being perceived as a superior male and/or desirable mate, Palmer became the international persona non grata within days of killing Cecil.  If the years before Cecil’s death saw an increase in trophy hunting, the years after it saw a decrease that was so dramatic it became known as the Cecil Effect.  This result not only validates the authors’ call for more research into “the conditions that influence trophy hunting motivation,” it also provides proof of their prediction “that social media boasting about lion hunting declined following the widespread shaming after Cecil’s death.”  Together, these studies offer interesting insights into the biological basis of human behavior and, more importantly, the biologically responsive strategies for changing it.

Categories: News for progressives

Undercutting Female Circumcision

Tue, 2018-11-20 16:00

Photo Source Amnon Shavit | CC BY 2.0

Malaysia has always been the land of myths in the colonial imagination. The myth about those who run amok when possessed by demons; the myth of the Pontianak, the female vampire, inhabiting banana trees; the myth of the lazy native.

Today, Malaysia is still the land of myths, though one has to be careful about the way the word myth is used.

Remember the two lesbians who were publically caned in Malaysia, but they were not really caned, just “forcefully tapped” with a rod? The myth here is about shariah punishment for sexual ‘crimes’ or ‘deviance’. Is the lashing of women sanctioned by the Quran? How is it to be done? To what extent is lashing actually carried out in Muslim countries? There are those who will also point out that caning as a form of punishment is part of the old British colonial penal code, forgetting that Malaysia is not obliged to retain this code and that this code is compatible with Islamic code.

The debate goes on and on. It becomes hard to tell what, actually, is going on from what people believe is going on, putting the caning of women in Malaysia in the realm of myth.

In the case of the lesbians, however, Malaysia proposed its own real and by no means mythical  ‘gentle’ solution. The Malaysian way of punishment is still extreme and humiliating, but there are varying degrees of extremism, as we know. The fact is, however, that there is no tradition of real, hard flesh-splitting caning of women in Malaysia. So why the need to mete out a ‘light’ form of it?

Now there is this news that a representative of the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry in Malaysia recently defended the practice of infant female circumcision in Malaysia at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. It is part of a Malaysian cultural “obligation”, he said.  But “the type of circumcision practiced is very mild and does not involve any cutting,” he added.

By cultural did he mean the Islamic culture of Malay Muslims, the largest ethnic group in Malaysia, since none of the other Malaysian ethnicities practice female circumcision? Ah, but female circumcision is not required in Islam. Yes it is. No, it isn’t. Like caning, the hijab and polygamy, people will argue endlessly about what is and isn’t required in Islam. Neighboring Singapore, too, which is not a Muslim majority country and is touted as one of the wealthiest, most modern city-states in the world, tolerates female circumcision within the Malay community there, though, to the best of my knowledge, it is Malaysia that speaks of it for the first time in terms of “no cutting involved”.

Circumcision without cutting? Incision implies cutting, circumcision means to cut around. So there is no Malaysian word for what is “mildly” done to the clitorises of babies? Even in the Malay language, the same word for male circumcision is used for female circumcision: sunat. The only difference is that the word perempuan—female—is added on, but that in itself tells us very little about the difference in technique in the two types of circumcision.

One would have to talk to the doctors to find out how, exactly, female circumcision is carried out in Malaysia, though even here the picture is unclear. This is just one of the many reasons why Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) and other groups have slammed the government representative for giving misleading information to the UN.

As someone who has researched and written fiction about circumcision, the truth of the matter is that no Malay woman I know has been circumcised. This was never a part of my adolescent or adult conversations. I know a fair amount of Malays who have daughters and granddaughters. I also happen to have family members who are sociologists and Islamic philosophers, so I know the kind of advice that is sought from them and given.

Malaysian Muslim women may not know whether they are circumcised or not, people say. They may not remember what was done to them as babies or young girls. The men, too, may not even know, the joke being that so many men don’t even know where clit is or what it should look like.

Plus Malay women are reserved. They don’t like to talk about these things. Odd, then, why some are so willing to talk to the media about their private parts. Even the Deputy Prime Minister is calling attention to the clitorises of Malay women, the same Deputy Prime Minister who is trying to accommodate child marriage in the country. Malay women have spent decades getting themselves hijabed. Now the first thing that someone is going to think when they look at a Malay woman is: Is she circumcised?

I don’t like to assume that Malay women—city women or kampong women—are stupid and don’t know their own bodies. Anyway rumour has it, from men and women, that a lot of Malay women simply aren’t circumcised. And the few women I have heard claim that they are circumcised relate the experience almost as hearsay, a story about a story rather than an account of direct experience. We don’t even remember the details of the first time we get our teeth pulled, they say.

But it is dangerous to say that few Malaysian women are circumcised and to do so, in a way, would be to help the enemy side. If the general sense is that women are not circumcised, the risk is that measures will be stepped up to get them circumcised, with real cutting, and this is exactly what many don’t want to happen.

However, if Malaysia feels some sort of need to use women to show to the world that they are following Islamic traditions even though there is no consensus on what they are, this invention of ‘mild non-cutting’ can actually be quite subversive. It undercuts the will to a horrible and unnecessary practice.

Maybe doctors who are pressured into carrying out this ritual, when they are in cold surgical rooms with female babies, they simply say a prayer over clit. Maybe that is what mild non-cutting is.

Whatever the case, the message is that the sexuality of Malay women has to be regulated, and somebody is making decisions over their bodies since the decision to circumcise them is made when they are babies or young girls.

Perhaps the most persistent myth of all is the notion that if you control sexuality, society will be more moral and ethical. The Victorian era has shown us that this is simply not true. And Malaysia still remains a country that certainly does not have a clean corruption record. It still has one of the biggest political and financial scandals involving the former Prime Minister and his wife hanging over its head.

Masturah Alatas is the author of The Life in the Writing (Marshall Cavendish, 2010) and The Girl Who Made It Snow in Singapore (Ethos Books, 2008). She is currently working on a novel about polygamy. Masturah teaches English at the University of Macerata in Italy, and can be contacted atalatas@unimc.it    

 

Categories: News for progressives

Global Oil Price Deflation 2018 and Beyond

Tue, 2018-11-20 15:57

Photo Source wongaboo | CC BY 2.0

One of the key characteristics of the 2008-09 crash and its aftermath (i.e. chronic slow recovery in US and double and triple dip recessions in Europe and Japan) was a significant deflation in prices of global oil. After attaining well over $100 a barrel in 2007-08, crude oil prices plummeted, hitting a low of only $27 a barrel in January 2016. They slowly but steadily rose again in 2016-17 and peaked at about $80 a barrel this past summer 2018. Now the retreat has started once again, falling to a low of $55 in October and remain around $56 today, likely to fall further in 2019 now that Japan and Europe appear entering yet another recession and US growth almost certainly slowing significantly in 2019. With the potential for a US recession rising in late 2019 oil price deflation may continue into the near future. What will this mean for the global and US economies?

The critical question is what is the relationship between global oil price deflation, financial instability and crises, and recession–something mainstream economists don’t understand very well? Is the current rapid retreat of oil prices since August 2018 an indicator of more fundamental forces underway in the global and US economy? Will oil price deflation exacerbate, or even accelerate, the drift toward recession globally now underway? What about financial asset markets stability in general? What can be learned from the 2008 through 2015 experience?

In my 2016 book, ‘Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy’ and its chapter on deflation’s role in crises, I explained that oil is not just a commodity but, since the 1990s, has functioned as an important financial asset whose price affects other forms of financial assets (stocks, bonds, derivatives, currencies, etc.). Financial asset price volatility in general (bubbles and deflation) have a greater impact on the real economy than mainstream economists, who generally don’t understand financial markets and cycles, think. Hence they don’t understand how financial cycles interact with real business cycles. This applies as well to their understanding of oil prices as financial asset prices, not just commodity prices.

For my comments on global oil deflation in 2014-15, go to my website for the excerpt from the chapter from the ‘Systemic Fragility’ book that explain the role of global crude oil prices as financial asset prices. This article is reproduced, with the excerpts from 2016, from the book. Go to: http://kyklosproductions.com/articles.html)

Oil Price Deflation Revisited 2018

Oil is a commodity whose price is determined by the interaction of supply and demand; but it is also a financial asset the price of which is determined by global finance capitalists’ speculation in oil futures markets and the competition between various forms of financial assets globally. For the new global finance capital elite (also addressed in the book) look at the returns on investment (e.g. profits) from financial asset investing globally—choosing between oil futures, stocks, bonds, derivatives, currencies, real estate on a worldwide basis.

The price of crude oil futures drives the price of crude oil in the short and medium term, as a commodity as speculators bet on oil supply and demand; and the relative price of other types of financial assets in part also determine the demand of oil speculators for oil futures.

What this means is that simply applying supply and demand analysis to determine the direction of crude oil prices globally is not sufficient. Neither supply nor demand has changed since August 2018 by 30% to explain the 30% drop in crude oil to its current mid-$50s range; nor will it explain where oil prices will go in 2019. Nevertheless, that’s what we hear from economists today trying to explain the recent drop or predict the trajectory of global oil price deflation in 2019.

What Mainstream Economists Don’t Understand

Mainstream economists are indoctrinated in the idea that only supply and demand determine prices. It harkens back to the influence of classical economics of the 18th century and Adam Smith. Supply and demand are the appearance of price determination. What matters are the forces behind, beneath and below that cause the changes in supply and demand. Those forces are the real determinants. But mainstream economists typically deal at the surface of appearances, which is why their forecasts of economic directions in the medium and longer term are so poor.

Looking at recent explanations and analyses by mainstream economists, and their echo in the business media, we get the following view:

First, it is clear that there are three major sources of oil supply globally today: US production driven by technology and the shale fracking revolution. Second, Russian production. Third, OPEC, within which Saudi Arabia and its allies, UAE, Kuwait, etc. Each produce about 10-11 million barrels per day, or bpd.

Since this summer, US fracking has resulted in roughly an additional 670,000 barrels a day by October compared to last July 2018. Both Saudi and Russian production has added roughly 700,000 more, each respectively. Offsetting the supply increase, in part, has been a reduction in output by Venezuela and Iran—both driven by US sanctions and, in the case of Venezuela, US longer term efforts to prevent the upgrading and maintenance of Venezuelan production.

The more than 2 million bpd increase in global crude oil supply by the global oil troika of US- Russia-Saudi has, on the surface, appeared as a collapse in global oil prices from $80 to $55, or about 30% in just a few months. Projections are supply increases will drive global oil prices still lower in 2019: US forecasts for 2019 are for an average of 12.06 million bpd; for Russia an average of 11.4 million bpd; and for Saudi an average of 10.6 million bpd. (Sources: EIA and OPEC secretariat).

Demand & Supply as Mere Appearance

So the appearance is that supply will drive global oil prices still lower in 2019. But what about demand? Will the forces behind it drive oil price deflation even further? And what about other financial asset markets’ price deflation? Will declines in stock, bond, derivatives, and currencies prices result in financial capitalist investors increasing their demand for oil futures as they shift investing from the collapse of values in those financial markets to oil? Or will it reduce their investing in oil futures as other financial asset markets prices deflate, as a psychological contagion effect spreads across financial asset markets in general, oil futures included?

While mainstreamers focus on and argue that pure supply considerations will predict the price of oil, my analysis insists that a deeper consideration of forces are necessary. What’s driving, and will continue to drive, oil prices are Politics, other financial markets’ price deflation, and Demand that will be driven by renewed recessions in the major advanced economies (Europe, Japan, then US, and continued GDP slowdown in China).

As global economic growth slows, now clearly underway, more than half of the world’s oil producers will increase oil production. Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, smaller African and Asia producers, are dependent on oil sales to finance much of their government budgets. As real growth slows, and recessions appear or worsen, deficits will rise further requiring more government revenues from oil sales. What these countries can’t generate in revenues from prices they will attempt to generate from more sales volume. Even Saudi Arabia has entered this group, as it seeks to generate more revenue to finance the development of its non-energy based economy plans.

So Russia and much of OPEC for political reasons will increase supply because of slowing economies—i.e. because of Demand originally and Supply only secondarily. As the global economy continues to slow Demand forces trump those of Supply. But the two are clearly mutually determined. It’s just that Demand has now become more determining and will remain so into 2019.

Debt as a Driver of Global Oil Deflation

But what’s ultimately behind the Demand forces at work? In the US it’s technology, the fracking revolution, driving down the cost of oil production and thus its price. It’s also corporate debt, often of the junk quality, that has financed the investment behind the oil production output rise. Drillers are loaded with junk bond debt, often short term, that they must pay for, or soon roll over now at a higher interest rate in 2019 and beyond. They must produce and sell more oil to pay for the new technology driven investment of recent years. And as the price falls they must produce and sell still more to generate the revenue to pay the interest and principal on that debt.

So is it really Supply, or is it more fundamentally the debt and technology that’s driving US shale output, that in turn is adding to downward global price pressures? Is it Supply or is it the way that Supply has been financed by capitalist markets?

Similarly, in the case of Russia and much of OPEC, is it Supply or is it the need of those countries to finance their government growing debt loads (and budgets in general) by generating more sales revenue from more oil output, even as the price of oil falls and thereby threatens that oil revenue stream?

Whether at the corporate or government level, the acceleration of debt in recent years is behind the forces driving excess oil production and Supply that appears the cause of the emerging oil price deflation.

Politics as a Driver of Global Oil Deflation

Domestic and global politics is another related force in some cases. Clearly, Russia is engaged in an increase in its military research and other military-related government expenditures. Its governing elite is convinced the US is preparing to challenge its political independence: NATO penetration of the Baltics and Poland, the US-encouraged coup in the Ukraine, past US ventures in Georgia, etc. has led to Russian acceleration of its military expenditures. To continue its investment as the US attempts to impose further sanctions (designed to cut Russia connections with Europe in particular), and as Russia’s economy slows as it raises its domestic interest rates in order to protect its currency, Russia must produce and sell more oil globally. It thus generates more demand for its oil competitively by lowering its price. Demand for Russian oil increases—but not due to natural economic causes as the world economy slows. It increases because it shifts oil demand from other producers to itself.

Saudi politics are also in part behind its planned production increase. It has stepped up its military expenditures as well, both for its war in Yemen and its plans for a future conflict with Iran. The Saudi government investment in domestic infrastructure also requires it to generate more oil revenue in the short term.

The recent Russian-Saudi(OPEC) agreement to reduce or hold oil production steady has been a phony agreement, as actual and planned oil production numbers clearly reveal.

Not least, there’s the question of global financial asset markets’ in decline with falling asset prices and how that impacts the oil commodity futures financial asset market. Once again, changes in oil supply and demand simply do not fluctuate by 30% in just a couple months. The driver of oil prices since July 2018 must be financial speculation in oil futures.

Here it may be argued that investors are factoring in the slowing global economy, especially in Europe and Japan, in coming months. They may be shifting investment out of oil futures as a speculative price play, and into US currency and even stocks and bonds. Or into financial asset markets in China. Or speculating on returns in select emerging market currencies and stocks that have stabilized in the short term and may rise in value, producing a nice speculative gain in the short run. The new global finance capital elite looks at competitive returns globally, in all financial asset markets. It moves its money around quickly, from one asset play to another, enabled by technology, past removal of controls on global money capital flows, easy borrowing, and ability to move quickly in and out of what is a complex network of highly liquid financial asset markets worldwide. As it sees global demand and politics playing important short term roles in global oil price declines, it shifts investment out of oil futures and into other forms of financial assets elsewhere in the global economy. Less supply of money capital for investing in oil futures reduces the demand for oil futures, which in turn reduces demand for oil and crude oil prices in general.

Conclusion

What this foregoing discussion and analysis suggests is the following:

• Looking at oil supply solely or even primarily is to look at appearances only

• But Supply & Demand analyses of oil prices are also superficial analyses of appearances. They are intermediate causal factors at best.

• What matters are real forces that more fundamentally determine supply and demand

• Politics, technology, and debt financing are more fundamental forces driving supply and demand in the intermediate and longer run.

• Oil is not just a commodity, since the 1990s especially; it has become a financial asset whose price is determined in the short run increasingly by speculative investing shifts by global finance capital elites.

• As financial assets, oil prices are determined in the short run globally by the relative price of other competing financial assets and their prices

• The structure of the global economy in the 21st century is such that a new global finance capital elite has arisen, betting on a wide choice of financial assets available in highly liquid financial asset markets, across which the elite moves investments quickly and easily due to new enabling technologies and past deregulation of cross-country money capital flows

To summarize, as it appears increasingly that politics (domestic budgets and revenue needs, US sanctions, rising military expenditures, trade wars, etc.) and a slowing global economy are causing downward pressure on oil demand and thus oil prices; this price pressure is exacerbated by a corresponding increase in production and supply as a result of rising corporate and government debt and debt-servicing needs. However, in the very short run of weekly and monthly price change, it is global oil speculators betting on further oil price deflation and shifting asset investment returns elsewhere that is the primary driver of global oil deflation.

Global oil prices are in determined by other financial asset market price deflation underway in the short term, and in turn determine in part price deflation in other financial asset markets. Global oil prices cannot be understood apart from understanding what’s happening with other financial asset markets and prices.

Understanding and predicting oil prices is thus not simply an exercise in superficial supply and demand analysis, and even less so an exercise primarily in forecasting announcements of production output plans by the big three troika of US-Russia-Saudi.

Categories: News for progressives

Why High Technology’s Double-Edged Sword is So Hard to Swallow

Tue, 2018-11-20 15:55

Photo Source thierry ehrmann | CC BY 2.0

“If big tech companies are going to turn their back on US Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble…We are going to continue to support the DOD and I think we should.”

~ Amazon founder and DoD contractor Jeff Bezos at the WIRED25 summit

The world’s wealthiest individual went on to acknowledge, “Technologies always are two-sided. There are ways they can be misused.” Convinced that they are being misused, Google employees mounted a protest that caused Alphabet (Google’s parent company) to step back from a contract to develop AI pattern recognition technology for targeting military drones, worrying the Pentagon.

More recently, thousands of employees at scores of Google facilities worldwide staged a walkout (chronicled here) over gender inequality and sexual harassment. At a time when women in tech are demanding to be treated respectfully and paid and promoted equally, two pioneering women engineers in the male-dominated national intelligence community have quietly been shaping the technology landscape for three decades. Any complaints they may have had about working conditions along the way are presumably classified, but we can probably guess what they are.

At least one of the women, Sue Gordon, is among defense and intelligence officials scurrying to Silicon Valley on damage control missions, prodding tech leaders to “have the same fierce commitment to align technology with public purpose,” as Ash Carter, who directs the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center recently editorialized in Wired (9/14/18). The former Secretary of Defense, who also runs the Kennedy School’s Project on Technology and Public Purpose, disparagingly contrasted current high tech leaders to his “mentors in subatomic physics …from the Manhattan Project. They were proud to have created nuclear weapons that helped end World War II.” If those scientists were so proud of their work, why did they straightaway wind up that still-ticking Doomsday Clock?

The Bomb, digital computers, the Internet, Google Maps, and the Maven project that Google is abandoning were or stemmed from government-funded R&D projects employing scientists and engineers from government, academia and industry. NASA has long partnered likewise, as has the Department of Energy. The government likes to call such projects “dual use,” as they have both civilian and military applications. Yet, many serve a single purpose, which of course is to align corporate agendas with US foreign policy to achieve world domination.

This didn’t happen overnight. Odious fruits of technology—machine guns, tanks, aircraft, and chemical agents—made the Great War the Great Horror. In the next one, better-organized collaborations built weapon systems that defeated the Axis nations. After Japan’s surrender came a reorganized military and a new intelligence establishment that soon begat the military-industrial complex (MIC) that President Eisenhower warned us about in 1956. From the Korean “police action” onwards, that burgeoning war machine has evaded Congressional oversight and brainwashed Americans to acquiesce to one unwinnable war after another. It’s a long, sordid story, well told by David Talbot in his chilling biography of the CIA’s redoubtable Director (and fascist sympathizer) Allen Dulles, The Devil’s Chessboard.

The exception to the MIC’s failed ventures, of course, was winning the Cold War by way of bankrupting the USSR in an arms race. That surprise outcome must have come as somewhat of a disappointment to the MIC, which had managed to keep US forces engaged somewhere or another pretty much every single day since WWII. But détente with Russia left the war machine hard pressed to justify its muscle-bound posture. Writing in CounterPunch, Jason Hirthler depicts Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell’s lamentation that the gravy train was about to derail:

“Shortly after the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, made a candid confession to the Army Times, ‘I’m running out of demons, I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and Kim Il Sung.’ Amid the general bonhomie of the military interview, Powell nicely encapsulated a central truth of empire: it doesn’t want peace. Never did. Imperialism, the monopoly stage of capitalism, is based on conquest. Peace is little more than an aftermath in the imperialist vision”

But Colin didn’t have to shed tears for long. The Iranian revolution and its war with Iraq, and then the Gulf War and 9/11 came along to top off his enemies list. War planners dubbed oil-rich nations “rogue states” and non-state Islamic insurgents “terrorists.” Subsequent US occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan generated hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties that spawned revengeful jihadists, guaranteeing that we would be on a war footing for the foreseeable future, exactly the sort of outcome the planners had hoped for. Most of our new adversaries wielded weapons made in the USA that US export controls somehow had failed to interdict, requiring us to build more apace.

* * *

Ever since the WWII, computing technology evolved in lock step with “national needs.” The Internet—the mightiest surveillance system the world has ever known—was built by academics and corporations with DoD seed money in the early 1960s. But once high-tech employees started objecting to doing the DoD’s dirty work, their companies sought to distance themselves from the MIC, leading defense and intelligence thinkers like Ash Carter to criticize tech leaders as being insufficiently patriotic and have been campaigning to keep Silicon Valley from escaping its orbit around the Pentagon.

Currently, that campaign seems to be spearheaded by Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon, who unabashedly dubs herself the “chief operating officer of the intelligence community.” Gordon makes frequent forays out to the Valley to soften up tech execs. Emily Dreyfuss (Wired, 11/9/18) quotes Gordon as telling Google executives “We’re in the same business. And they’re like ‘What?’ And I said: ‘Using information for good.’” Yeah, right.

Beyond her talent for evangelizing, during her 30-year stint at CIA (a tenure as long as that of current CIA Director and ex-grand inquisitor Gina Haspell), Gordon has tirelessly fostered many “public-private partnerships,” building out the MIC one brick at a time. Two decades back, Dreyfuss notes that she inspired the agency to spin off In-Q-Tell, a venture capital tech accelerator perhaps best known for bankrolling Keyhole, whose mapping software spawned Google Earth and Maps. Google stores our geospatial inquiries, you know, and might not always keep that data to itself. There are hundreds more that CrunchBase has cataloged.

Actually, it wasn’t Gordon who inspired In-Q-Tel, as Dreyfuss asserts. Rather, it was another influential secret team technologist, Ruth David (who headed the Central Intelligence Agency Directorate of Science & Technology in the 1990s). But Sue Gordon is no slouch. Her bio for Aspen Institute trumpets that in her 27 years of service at CIA, she rose to senior executive positions in each of the Agency’s four directorates: operations, analysis, science and technology, and support in her lifelong mission to use information for good.

Some fun facts about In-Q-Tel: according to Wikipedia, in its 19 years of existence In-Q-Tel has invested in 12 hardware, 50 software, 18 biotech, 8 energy, 10 electronics, 18 biotech, 8 electric power, 9 electronics, 13 video, 10 sensor network, and 9 data center and security start-up firms. From Internet protocols to autonomous vehicles and facial recognition, In-Q-Tel fueled private companies to push the technological envelope while serving their country in ways they can only imagine. Find more details about its investments at craft.co.

Dr. David went on to lead Analytic Services (ANSER, nee 1958), a Falls Church, VA nonprofit military think tank and project management firm, for 17 years, retiring in 2015 with three commendations and a medal from the national security agencies she had worked for. Bloomberg Research tells us that ANSER:

“focuses on agencies and analytic processes used to prepare for future global threats across the federal sector; helping clients to meet the challenges of a complex and uncertain global security environment characterized by persistent threats to the homeland and the U.S. national interests; and activities where government entities must work together to address national security challenges through the implementation of common and intersecting functions.”

The company reports that in 2001, under David’s direction, it “invested its personnel and assets to create the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security, a center for exploring issues related to that critical subject.” Funded by DHS, its mission is to muster technology to analyze and mitigate security threats, vulnerabilities and risks. (It may have been involved with is the Obama-era Insider Threat Program that seeks to identify, profile, and monitor potential leakers of secret information that I have discussed here.) ANSER also brags, “for 60 years, the research and analysis we provide has ‘informed decisions that shape our Nation’s future.’ We can all take pride in that legacy” (just as Jeff Bezos does). Informed decisions like how best to militarize space, subject travelers to face and body scans, or implement martial law.

The latter was the specialty of one William Brinkerhoff, who joined ANSER after a long career, first in the Army and later at FEMA. There, from 1981 to 1984 he supported Oliver North (later of Iran-Contra fame) to detail a closely held plan to contain civil disturbances called REX-84 (short for Readiness Exercise 1984). Brinkerhoff, who wasn’t a lawyer, drafted executive orders providing for suspension of the constitution, the imposition of martial law, internment camps, and investing all government authority in the president and FEMA, since folded into the Department of Homeland Security.

There is no mention of him on ANSER’s website, and hardly anywhere else. But in a chatty 2002 article he wrote while at ANSER he argued that domestic deployments need not violate Posse Comitatus, the 1878 post-reconstruction statute civil libertarians enjoy citing in opposition to fielding federal troops as enforcers of civil law (such as at the US-Mexico border currently). He cites the Posse Comitatus Act in full:

“Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

Brinkerhoff argues that Posse Comitatus applies only to the Army and the Air Force (formerly part of the Army), and not to the other armed services, the National Guard, even when under state control, or to military police units. Furthermore, it does not prevent

“…the President from using federal troops in riots or civil disorders. Federal troops were used for domestic operations more than 200 times in the two centuries from 1795 to 1995. Most of these operations were to enforce the law, and many of them were to enforce state law rather than federal law. Nor does it prevent the military services from supporting local or federal law enforcement officials as long as the troops are not used to arrest citizens or investigate crimes.”

He concludes:

“It is time to rescind the existing Posse Comitatus Act and replace it with a new law. The old law is widely misunderstood and unclear. It leaves plenty of room for people to do unwise and perhaps unlawful things while trying to comply with their particular version. It certainly does not provide a basis for defining a useful relationship of military forces and civil authority in a global war with terrorism. The Posse Comitatus Act is an artifact of a different conflict-between freedom and slavery or between North and South, if you prefer. Today’s conflict is also in a sense between freedom and slavery, but this time it is between civilization and terrorism. New problems often need new solutions, and a new set of rules is needed for this issue.”

So Freedom equals Civilization and Slavery Terrorism? Is that why the US has been fighting terrorism at the expense of freedom, posse comitatus notwithstanding? And from where will come the new solutions? Technology evangelists like Ms. Davis and Ms. Gordon, cloud seeders like In-Q-Tel, and insider policy mavens like ANSER are happy to help Americans to choose between civilization and terror and pay to fight and lose more wars. Wars that are planned and run by leaders who, of course, only use information for good, including the profiles of citizens they have amassed. It could turn out that one of those “persistent threats to the homeland and U.S. national interests” such as ANSER duly identifies could be you, should you object loudly enough. When they come for you because you spoke up, you’ll be given the right to remain silent. How civilized, how free we are. 

Categories: News for progressives

Charges Under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange

Tue, 2018-11-20 15:53

Photo Source Michael Mayer | CC BY 2.0

Those with a stake in the hustling racket of empire have little time for the contrariness that comes with exposing classified information.  Those who do are submitted to a strict liability regime of assessment and punishment: you had the information (lawfully obtained or otherwise) but you released it for public deliberation.  Ignorance remains a desensitising shield, keeping the citizenry in permanent darkness.

Critics indifferent to the plight of Julian Assange have seen his concerns for prosecution at the hands of US authorities as the disturbed meditations of a sexualised fantasist.  He should have surrendered to the British authorities and, in turn, to the Swedish authorities.  It was either insignificant or irrelevant that a Grand Jury had been convened to sniff around the activities of WikiLeaks to identify what, exactly, could be used against the organisation and its founder.

Cruelty and truth are often matters of excruciating banality, and now it is clearer than ever that the United States will, given the invaluable chance, net the Australian publisher and WikiLeaks founder to make an example of him.  This man, who dirtied the linen of state and exposed the ceremonial of diplomatic hypocrisy, was always an object of interest, notably in the United States.  “He was,” confirmed Andrea Kendall-Taylor, former deputy national intelligence officer for Russia under the director of national intelligence, “a loathed figure inside the government.”

Whether it was the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Department of Justice, or the specific army of investigators assembled by special counsel Robert Mueller III to weasel out material on the Trump-Russia connection, Assange remains a substantial figure who needs to be captured, sealed and disappeared.  Forget any such references to journalism and being a truth teller with obsessive tendencies; for these officials, Assange had become a calculating machine in the information market, a broker in state details and activities, trading and according value to subject matters of his choice.

A gnawing fascination for US authorities persists on whether Assange has a direct, cosy line to the Kremlin. Fashioned as such, it can be used as a weapon against President Donald J. Trump, and a cover for Democratic villainy and incompetence.  In terms of scale and endeavour, WikiLeaks has been kitted out in the outfit of a guerrilla information organisation. This exceedingly flattering description may well have given Assange a flush of pride, but it assumes a measure of disproportionate influence.  It also ignores the vital issue of how public discussion, which may well translate into voting patterns, can alter policy.  (This, it should be added, remains the big hypothetical: does such information induce an altered approach, or simply reaffirm prejudice and predisposition?  The flat-earth theorist is hardly going to be moved by anything that would conflict or challenge.)

Both the New York Times and Washington Post revealed last Friday that prosecutors had inadvertently let a rather sizeable cat out of the security bag. (That feline escapee was noted by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.) As with so much with matters of secrecy, errors made lead to information gained.  In the filing of a case unrelated to Assange, Assistant US Attorney General Kellen S. Dwyer informed the relevant judge to keep the matter at stake sealed, claiming that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

Dwyer, whose remit also includes investigating WikiLeaks, had bungled.  “The court filing,” claimed a meek Joshua Stueve of the US attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, “was made in error.  This was not the intended name for this filing.”

What is not known is the nature of the charges and what events they might cover.  Do they date back to the days of Cablegate or feature updates with the Vault 7 revelations showing the range of cyber tools deployed by the CIA to penetrate mobile devices and computers?  Or do they feature the trove of hacked Democratic emails which constitute a feature of the Mueller investigation?  Charges might well centre on using 18 USC §641, which makes it unlawful for a person to receive any record or thing of value of the United States with intent to convert it to his use or gain, knowing that it was stolen.  But even there, the issue of press protections would apply.

Prosecutors have previously flirted with conspiracy, theft of government authority and purported violations of the Espionage Act, but the Obama administration, for all its enthusiasm in nabbing Assange kept coming up against that irritating bulwark of liberty, some would say impediment, known as the First Amendment.  Prosecute Assange, and you would be effectively prosecuting the battlers of the Fourth Estate, however withered they might be.

The free speech amendment, however, does not trouble current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, as CIA director, claimed that, “We have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”

A niggling concern here lies in Justice Department regulations, as amended by Eric Holder in 2015, which cover the obtaining of information and records from, making arrests of, and bringing charges against members of the press.  As Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic, Matthew Kahn and Benjamin Wittes point out in Lawfare, one exception stands out with sore attention: “The protections of the policy do not extent to any individual or entity where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the individual entity is … [a] foreign power or an agent of a foreign power”, so defined in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  The mania in packaging, ribbon and all, of Assange with those in the Kremlin becomes clear. To make  him a foreign threat takes him outside the scope of press protection, at least when it comes to those desperately drafted regulations.

Since US voters cannot be trusted by the country’s corporate owners and the parties of business to act with any degree of maturity and intelligence, it has been assumed by the political classes that they must have been swayed and manipulated by a foreign power.  Or fake news.  Or news.  That assessment obviates any issue as to whether the Clinton machinery within the Democratic Party did its fair share of manipulation and swaying – but then again, quibbles can’t be had, nor hairs split on this point.  Keeping it local, and attacking the Great Bear fused with Satan that is Russia, frosted with new Cold War credentials, remains the low-grade, convenient alibi to justify why the backed horse did not make it to the finishing line.  To Assange would be small though consoling compensation.

Categories: News for progressives

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