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Updated: 4 hours 38 min ago

The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:55

Photo Source Michael Vadon | CC BY 2.0

The Republican Party lost ground in the Congressional and state elections earlier this month, but they continue to triumph in the all-important contests over words.

Republicans have been winning the “war over words” for years. First, the hard core political right wingers symbolically claimed the Bible and the American flag, turning them upside down. To them the Bible meant anything but the Golden Rule and compassion for the “poor,” so frequently noted in the Scriptures. They brandished the flag as a patriotic symbol to gag dissent, as a bandanna for waging war crimes, and as a fig leaf to hide the shame of their cruel domestic policies in the U.S.

During the late Forties, few Americans chose to call themselves “conservatives.” “Liberals” were ascendant, coming out of the FDR years. Under incessant associational attack on the word “liberal,” few politicians now brandish their beliefs as “liberals,” while many tout some of their views as “conservative.”

Given American history, this is quite a twisted linguistic victory. Tories (the conservatives of the Revolutionary era) sided with King George III against the American Revolution. Conservatives supported slavery, women’s disenfranchisement, and stood against the great progressive reforms by farmers and industrial workers in the late 19th and early 20th century. Conservatives opposed progressive taxation, social security, Medicare, labor union rights, and more recently, the civil rights, consumer rights, and environmental protections. Liberals led in support of these expansions of justice in our country.

Yet liberals are timid about using the liberal label. Instead they either often cite their “conservative” credentials, for example on spending, or use the word “progressive,” as their chosen new label. Liberals are not progressives on issues of war and peace, Wall Street and corporate welfare entitlements—to just name two differences.

When Hillary Clinton accepted her Party’s nomination for President of the U.S. in 2016, she explicitly called herself a “progressive.” Not even close for such a war-monger, who embraced the war outlaw Henry Kissinger, who was also a Wall Streeter, coddling the corporate supremacists with huge crony capitalism (corporate welfare). Clinton accepted huge speaking fees from Goldman Sachs and other mega-corporatists amounting to $200,000 or more for each closed door speech she gave.

Conservatives put “liberals” on the defensive by stigmatizing them as “big spenders” and for “expanding public deficits.” Never mind the conservative mega-deficits. “Liberals,” compromised by their campaign cash paymasters, were reluctant to accurately accuse the conservatives of building the burgeoning “corporate welfare” bonanzas or supporting runaway unaudited military budget waste arising from their 2017 tax cuts for the corporations.

When it came to voting, the Democrats played the same game as the Republicans. In 2017, 60 percent of the Democrats voted for a larger military budget than even Donald Trump requested from Congress.

Over the years, enhanced by Ronald Reagan’s rhetorical repetition, Republicans took away the words “liberty” and “freedom” from the liberals, who were left only with the crucial, bedrock word “justice” that they didn’t often want to hurl against the Republicans. Too bad, because the hardest word for the Republicans to hijack is “justice.” Note its rarity in that Party’s speeches and writings. Without “justice,” of course there is little “freedom” or “liberty.”

More recently, Republican extremists and the media have usurped the word “populist” to misuse it as a pretext to “divide and rule,” while the corporatists laugh all the way to the megabanks that are “too big to fail.” Populism was a political movement against gigantic concentrated corporate power of the banks and railroads over 100 years ago, on behalf of all the people. That is what the farmers and workers were driving their populist revolts to achieve.

The latest verbal usurpation is making “globalism” into a dirty word, as former Wall Streeter, Steve Bannon has done. Notice the absence of any qualifying adjective. There are different types of globalization. The word is used to identify financial/corporate transnational creators of a global world order opposed to nationalism. In reality, the other globalism brings together people who believe in global unity. This includes beneficial global treaties, normal commercial laws, and disaster rescue efforts.

Above all, there is civic globalization where the forces of just democratic societies unite with environmental (eg. climate disruption), worker, consumer, cooperative and charitable missions. Given the interdependencies of the natural environment and the mutual reinforcements of justice initiatives, we should talk much more about civic globalization as a counterweight to globalized corporations strategically planning and advancing their commercial priorities.

Civic globalization recognizes that the nation state remains, economist Herman Daly has noted, the main defense against global corporate predators.

Turning “globalists” and “globalization,” without any adjectives, into pejorative stereotypes fosters other forms of prejudicial propaganda.

The Republican wordsmith, Frank Luntz has scoffed at the Democrats’ verbal ineptitude or indifference. Luntz coined the phrase “death tax” to replace “estate tax”, and with the media’s repetition almost got the Congress to repeal this tax that is overwhelmingly on the wealthy. Fortunately, in 2002 the Democrats blocked this all out Republican effort in the House and the Senate. Once when asked, what would he have called the “estate tax” were he a Democrat, Luntz smiled and immediately said “the billionaires’ tax.” His gift to the Democrats was not adopted as a moniker in this continuing plutocratically-driven struggle over mind-shaping words and phrases that so often serve to obscure contrary deeds.

Categories: News for progressives

Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:55

Plato has a bad reputation in many circles because his most famous work, The Republic, appears to defend all sorts of ideas that are unpalatable to most contemporary readers, ideas such as that people need to be protected from the truth, that large-scale censorship and even the deliberate dissemination of false and misleading information by governments is defensible as a means of ensuring order in a society. I believe, however, as I have argued elsewhere, that such a view of Plato is mistaken.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the positive value of a liberal arts education.  I couldn’t agree more. There is much we could learn, for example, from Plato’s Republic. Despite the fact that it disparages what it calls “democracy,” the democracy it describes is not one that I believe would be recognizable as such to any Enlightenment thinker. More importantly for the purposes of the present reflections, the Republic takes nearly as dim a view of societies that value money above everything else. Such societies are generally referred to as “plutocracies,” which literally means “government by the wealthy.” Interestingly, however, Plato calls them “oligarchies” which means “government by the few,” because he believes that societies that value money above everything else will inevitably end up concentrating the wealth in the hands of a very small number of people.

I love teaching The Republic for many reasons. It is a beautiful and deeply moving book. One of the things that makes it such a joy to teach, though, is how it engages students. The city on which the book focuses is what Socrates calls an aristocracy, or “government by the best individuals.” Even this city, he acknowledges, however, in Book VIII, will inevitably succumb to a process of dissolution into a series of increasingly degenerate states, first to a timocracy, or “government in which love of honor is the ruling principle,” then to an oligarchy, which values money above everything else, from there to a democracy, which according to Socrates, values nothing at all except freedom from restraint, and finally, to a tyranny.

Students need no coaching in where to place the U.S. on this sad trajectory of political decline. They zero in on oligarchy every time, despite the fact that most of them have been raised to think of the U.S. as a democracy. Young people are a lot smarter than we tend to give them credit for being and they have little tolerance for people who value money above everything else

I made an important discovery recently that relates to this issue, thanks to one of my students. It concerns a problem in several translations of The Republic, including Allan Bloom’s, which is considered by many scholars to be the best. 

There is a personality type, asserts Socrates, that corresponds to each type of political regime. The oligarchical personality type, that is, the personality type that values money above everything else, appears to be just. He isn’t really just, though, according to Socrates. He simply needs to maintain a reputation for being just for the purposes of contractual relations, but he does this, Socrates explains, by 

forcibly holding down bad desires, which are there, with some decent part of himself. He  holds them down not by persuading them that they had “better not” nor by taming them with argument, but by necessity and fear. (554c7-d).

One of my students remarked that it was strange Socrates would say that the oligarchical man holds down his bad desires with some “decent” part of himself, but that despite that, he wasn’t really just, but only appeared to be just. The student wanted to know what the Greek term was that was translated as “decent.” 

I looked it up. The Greek expression Plato uses in the passage where Socrates talks about how the the oligarchical man holds down his bad desires “with some decent part of himself” is ἐπιεικεῖ τινὶ έαυτοῦ. The relevant term is ἐπιεικεῖ. It means “fitting,” “meet,” or “suitable” according to Liddell-Scott, the standard dictionary for translating ancient Greek into contemporary English. It’s related to ὲπιείκεια, which means “reasonableness,” “fairness,” or “equity.” Paul Shorey’s Loeb Classical Library translation of The Republic renders this passage as “he, by some better element in himself forcibly keeps down other evil desires dwelling within” 

My student was right, though, to point out that there was a problem with describing the part of the oligarchical man that holds down his bad desires as “decent.” Neither Bloom’s “decent part of himself” nor Shorey’s “better element in himself” coheres well with the point Socrates is making in the passage because the oligarchical man isn’t trying to be good. He isn’t genuinely virtuous, but only appears to be virtuous. He holds down his evil desires, according to Socrates, out of “fear,” not because he wants to be good, but because he is afraid that by giving in to those desires, he’ll get a bad reputation and no one will want to do business with him. It isn’t any “decent” part or “better element” of himself through which he restrains his evil desires. 

It looks like Shorey was aware of the fact that it isn’t actually anything “decent” in the oligarchical man that holds down his “bad desires” because he has a note in which he writes that “ἐπιεικεῖ is here used generally, and not in its special sense of ‘sweet reasonableness’.” 

It appears ἐπιεικεῖ is being used here in the purely prudential sense of “fitting.” That is, what holds down oligarchical man’s “bad desires” is whatever it is in him that is, in fact, capable of doing this. It isn’t some morally praiseworthy part of himself. So why have so many scholars chosen to translate it with English terms that have positive moral or ethical connotations? Such translations actually make the passage harder to understand. 

Benjamin Jowett’s translation, another student pointed out “has enforced virtue,” where Bloom has “decent part of himself” and that is actually better than either Bloom’s or Shorey’s translations. The best translation of this passage, however, that I have found is, I believe, Joe Sachs’. Sachs has “quasi-decent constraint over himself” for ἐπιεικεῖ τινὶ έαυτοῦ. The qualification “quasi” is important because it makes clear, as none of the other translations does, that the constraint the oligarchical man exercises over himself only seems to be “decent.”

I haven’t used Sachs’ translation before, but I am going to consider using it the next time I teach The Republic. It may not be uniformly better than other translations, but it definitely seems deserving of a closer look.

It’s tempting to think that works that have already been translated many times probably don’t need to be translated anew. In fact, however, no translation is ever perfect. Language changes over time, and that translators have their own particular biases. It is therefore a good idea to re-translate important works at regular intervals, just to make sure that the language of the translation is keeping up with contemporary usage and that any bias that may have influenced earlier translations is corrected for. 

Clearly Plato’s Republic deserves to be repeatedly re-translated. There is a great deal of wisdom in it, including insight into the moral bankruptcy, on both an individual and a collective level, of valuing money above everything else.

Categories: News for progressives

Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:55

Photo Source UNICEF Ecuador | CC BY 2.0

The destruction of the rule of law

Can you imagine a “democracy” in which the president handpicks a council that proceeds to dismiss the Constitutional Court, the Judicial Council which oversees the judiciary, the National Electoral Council, the Attorney General, the ombudsman, and all six major regulators (superintendents)?

Unfortunately, that is the current situation in Ecuador. Abusing participatory democracy, and deceiving the public with the complicity of a corrupt press, on February 4 of this year they called an unconstitutional referendum.

Several articles in our constitution stipulate that the Constitutional Court must rule on the legality of any referendum questions, but, given the clear unconstitutionality of several questions, the government knew that a ruling would not go its way and called the referendum by decree. For the first time in its history, Ecuador had a nationwide referendum without a ruling from the Constitutional Court.

With the approval of the tricky and confusing question 3, they seized the so-called Council of Citizen Participation [CPCCS in the Spanish acronym], whose members were selected through national competitions, and which, according to the Constitution of Ecuador, is responsible for overseeing competitions that elect about 150 control authorities. [1]The unconstitutional referendum gave a “Transitory” CPCCS  (which I’ll refer to as the CPCCS-T) the “power” to evaluate and, if applicable, dismiss these control authorities. The dismissal of authorities is an exclusive constitutional power of the National Assembly. The Constitutional Court, which is not even selected by the CPCCS , cannot be dismissed by anyone else.

At present, Ecuador does not have a Constitutional Court. The President’s handpicked CPCCS-T  [after dismissing the court] declared a two month absence of the court which expire this week and will surely be extended. Throughout this lapse, Ecuadorians have no one to guarantee our constitutional rights.

The illegally dismissed authorities had to be replaced by their [already selected] alternates, as the law demands, but the “Transitory” CPCCS-T directly appointed its replacements. Not even the unconstitutional referendum gave it the power to directly appoint authorities.

Ecuador is presently a “Transitory Republic”. We have a transitory CPCCS, a transitory Judicial Council, a transitory National Electoral Council, and similarly with the Prosecutor General, Ombudsman, Comptroller General, and all superintendents – all transitory and practically all open enemies of my government. All were illegally and arbitrarily appointed by the CPCCS-T and under its complete control.

The Ecuadorian state has five branches: the Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Electoral, and the Transparency and Social Oversight branch. Three of these five branches are in the hands transitory officials directly appointed the Executive’s handpicked CPCCS-T.

The temporary authorities were sworn in before the CPCCS-T, violating article 120 of the Constitution which states that they must sworn in before the National Assembly. I hope you understand what it means to be pursued by an “acting” prosecutor directly appointed and sworn in before a “transitory” Council whose president – a personal and political enemy of mine- publicly insults me every day and says that I must go to prison.

The president of the CPCCS-T [Julio Cesar Trujillo] has explicitly declared that if his Council’s decisions contradict the Constitution, then the former would prevail, because they are equivalent, according to him, to a Constituent Assembly. In reality, a constituent disenfranchisementis being carried out, without any authorization or even the knowledge of its supposed constituents: the Ecuadorian people.

The only constitutional aspect of question 3 in the referendum was the proposal that future members of the CPCCS be selected by popular vote and not through open contests based on merit. The Government knows that it will lose those elections, and is aware of all the abuses it perpetrated, so Trujillo has therefore proposed – that at the same time local elections are held in March of 2019 – that another referendum take place so that the people can give blanket approval to all the violations and also eliminate the CPCCS!

In other words, in the same elections where the definitive members of the CPCCS  were supposed be elected for the first time by popular vote, it is proposed that the CPCCS be eliminated after the handpicked  CPCCS-T has already changed all the control authorities – the perfect coup d’État.

The dismissal of the vice president

Our adversaries lost the [2017 Presidential] elections but took power anyway as we were betrayed. People voted for the continuation of the Citizen Revolution, but the program of the losing candidate was implemented. The referendum itself was the central proposal of the candidate who was defeated at the polls. This would not be possible without the brazen support of large media corporations.

To pull off this coup d’État, it was necessary to get rid of Vice President Jorge Glas. This was achieved by implicating him in the corruption case regarding Odebrecht, which occurred in twelve countries. Odebrecht, a Brazilian company, was probably the largest construction company in Latin America, but it created an entire department dedicated to dispensing bribes to public officials.

On October 2, 2017, the Vice President was illegally placed in pre-trial detention. After 90 days, the President of the Republic directly declared the position abandoned and appointed the replacement of the Vice President, without waiting for any ruling by the Constitutional Court, as ordered by the Constitution.

Vice President Glas was implicated exclusively on the basis of the false testimony of a corrupt Odebrecht official. Glas was convicted of a crime that was not the one for which his immunity was lifted; and they sentenced him with a repealed code in order to increase the penalty and thereby prevent him from walking free and retaking the Vice Presidency. All this is unthinkable if the rule of law exists.

Meanwhile, the self-confessed corrupt Odebrecht officials were not pursued by Ecuadorian prosecutors, clearly revealing that a pact had been made that they’d be left alone if they accused the Vice President.

In March, the president of the National Assembly was dismissed, a former ally of the government who explicitly denounced the pact that had been made with Odebrecht. As in any other country in the world, the Vice President of the Assembly was supposed to have replaced him, but, again violating the Constitution, the Government made political deals in order to appoint another person.

That is, in addition to not having a Constitutional Court, and in addition to having all its control authorities illegally appointed, Ecuador has both a Vice President and a President of the National Assembly who were unconstitutionally appointed.

To this day, not a cent of illegally obtained money has been shown to have been received by Vice President Glas, which is recognized even by media that always opposed the Citizen’s Revolution. One of this media’s most prominent voices just admitted that the Vice President is imprisoned without evidence against him, but by “the force of circumstances”. Read “the media’s lynching”.

On October 21, Vice President Jorge Glas was transferred from a minimum security prison to a common prison. This was done by the Government in reprisal for Fernando Alvarado, former Secretary of Communication (another persecuted politician) breaking his ankle bracelet and seeking asylum in a friendly country. This reminds us of Nazi tactics: if a prisoner escapes, you kill five as revenge and as a deterrent. As in periods of fascism, reprisals are taken against the family and partners of the alleged offenders.

Even thoughpretrial measures can only be ordered by judges, the Government also announced that all members of my government who are supposedly being “investigated” are prohibited from leaving the country, revealing total control of the justice system and directly violating the American Convention on Human Rights.

To top it off, the acting prosecutor also said that in the next few days he will name perpetrators and accomplices of crimes perpetrated against the State, and that he will request the corresponding pretrial measures to prevent the “flight” of those who could be involved in these “crimes”.

Persecution and the blocking of political participation

In January of 2018, in an absolutely illegal way and through direct interference of the Government, they took away from us the party that I founded, the most successful and largest in Ecuadorian history: Alianza País.

We have tried three times to register a new political movement that represents the Citizens’ Revolution, but we have been illegally prevented from doing it. Trampling our political and human rights, and democracy itself, the country’s main political force, the Citizens’ Revolution – which in the last elections obtained nearly 40 percent of the citizens’ vote – is without a legally recognized political organization and is prevented from participating in elections.

Finally, as already mentioned, judicial persecution has been unleashed against the members of my Government. The main instruments of this persecution are the “transitory” comptroller whose appointment followed no legal process whatsoever – and the handpicked “acting prosecutor” – a position that does not exist in Ecuadorian law.

My former administrative team has been targeted by about 300 audits of the Comptroller’s Office with criminal implications. The reports do not even mention the legal articles where the alleged crimes are described. Many of these former collaborators of mine are out of work and have had to sell their homes, vehicles, etc., in order to pay their lawyers.

Anyone who believes that these are mere “opinions” of mine should ask the Ecuadorian State for concrete things like the legal documents that correspond to the appointments of the comptroller, prosecutor or Judicial Council and analyze if they are constitutional. They simply do not exist.

In my personal case, I have 14 criminal proceedings against me, for things as ridiculous as a supposedly exceeding a legal debt on Ecuador’s public debt limit, which, in addition to being false, is not criminal, never mind that the president is not directly responsible for debt management.

They accuse me for a decree stating that, to meet the 40 percent maximum public debt / GDP ratio, a limit that we set ourselves set in 2010, said the public debt had to be measured in a consolidated manner, as per an IMF manual. The Comptroller apparently did not like this, and therefore asks that a criminal investigation be initiated against an ex-president.

Another example is an accusation regarding the concession of an oil field called Singue, which I had not even heard of. I am implicated in the case because one of the companies sent a letter to the Presidency denouncing that it had been damaged. I never read the letter. Hundreds of communications arrive daily to the Presidency. The letter was forwarded directly to the corresponding ministry, but, even if I had read it, there is nothing criminal here. Imagine the precedent! Anyone who seeks to implicate the President in an alleged crime simply sends a letter to the Presidency, and that is enough.

Finally, since they could never prove me corrupt, nor will they ever, they implicate me in supposed cases of repression: kidnapping, murder and even an extrajudicial execution of a police officer killed by crossfire while protecting me on September 30, 2010 – when there was a coup d’état and it was me that they wanted to kill.

They put forward outlandish theories, for example that I had turned the intelligence services into a political police. In one of the cases, they hired supposed experts who compared my Government with the dictatorships of the Southern Cone, where, in Argentina alone, there were 30,000 dead and missing. But it turns out that all the alleged cases of repression are before 2013, when the current President of Ecuador was Vice President. How is it possible that he did not know something so serious? It’s obvious that they lie.

The case that has advanced the most is the so-called Balda case, for which I have been called to trial in the most absurd way. I even had an arrest warrant against me since I was ordered to appear every 15 days in Quito, which was impossible because, as everyone knows, I have lived in Belgium for more than a year.

The false testimony of the confessed intellectual author of the alleged kidnapping, a policeman I do not even know, but who, according to his story, met with me three times and spoke with me on the phone three times is what involves me in the case.

They already had to admit that he lied when he said that he had met with me and that they have no proof of the alleged calls. We’ve already managed to show that during one of the alleged calls I was actually flying from Guayaquil to Quito. In present day Ecuador, where the presumption of innocence no longer exists, the state does not have to prove someone’s guilt. Instead, after any false testimony, the accused has to prove their innocence.

The press has depicted Balda, the alleged victim, as a legislator, which is false. In fact, this guy has a long criminal record, was a fugitive from justice in Colombia, was dedicated to computer hacking, and was held for 35 minutes by his associates during these illegal activities. Shortly after the alleged kidnapping, he was deported by the Colombian government, since, in addition, his status in Colombia was not legal.

In 2013, Balda filed a complaint in Ecuador about this alleged kidnapping, where among the many defendants he does not even mention me.

Then, in 2015 he filed a complaint in Colombia against members of my government and against me, a complaint dismissed by the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office for lack of evidence.

Despite this, six years later, in April 2018, the case was reopened in Ecuador, the press giving it sensationalist coverage and portraying it as a “state crime” against a “legislator”.

In October of 2017 President Lenin Moreno announced that he had not lost hope of seeing me imprisoned, and Balda himself in November sent messages on social media saying that there would soon be a red alert from Interpol against me. Clearly, everything was planned.

One of Moreno’s main advisers admitted that he traveled to Spain, where a former intelligence secretary also implicated in the case resides, to tell him to surrender and accuse me. In exchange for that they would help him; otherwise, they were going to “rain criminal charges” on him.

We have documents and audiovisual evidence showing all of this.

Regional Lawfare

Lawfare is a regional strategy. It is what they are also doing against Lula da Silva and Cristina Fernández. Its main instruments are the press and co-opted judges.

Judge Moro’s case is classic. He orders prison for Lula in a case of corruption that is extremely dubious, and in this way prevents him from participating in the presidential elections in Brazil, even though he was the frontrunner in the polls, thus opening the doors for the triumph of the fascist Jair Bolsonaro.

Moro will be the Minister of Justice of the new Government. It is all crystal clear.

The double standards are also infuriating. The only thing that exists in the international agenda on Latin America is Venezuela. If our leftist parties had perpetrated a coup d’état like Brazil’s, or trampled all over the constitution as in Ecuador, or if our governments had persecuted political opponents as they are doing with Lula, Cristina, Jorge Glas or me, we would already be hauled before the International Criminal Court.

There is too much hypocrisy. In all Latin America, but particularly in Ecuador, not only democracy is being destroyed, but also the very pillars of civilization: justice, human rights, and truth.

NOTE.

[1] There were seven unrelated questions in the referendum.

Categories: News for progressives

Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:54

Photo Source DVIDSHUB | CC BY 2.0

Next time you shudder at a another vulgar tweet of spiteful malevolence from the President of the United States, please try to console yourself by reflecting that there are decent people in the world who try to do their best to assist those who are deprived, poor and needy.

A long time ago I was in the United Nations Military Observer Group in Kashmir, and before I become deputy head I served on what we called ‘Field Stations’ on both sides of the Line of Control dividing that unhappy territory of astonishing beauty and diverse peoples. When I arrived in one of these, called Astore, way up in the mountains on the Pakistan side at about 8,500 feet (and close to Nanga Parbat at 26,660 feet), the Aga Khan Foundation, a singularly saintly organisation, was helping build a pipeline from the glaciers down the mountain to the Astore River, so that electricity could be generated in a station which they also constructed.

They brought electricity to much of the area for the first time, and this was a very big deal in these days. So in between going on ‘Field Tasks’ along the Line of Control to make sure that the area wasn’t being reinforced militarily to a dangerous degree, I chatted with such luminaries as the local village head, the schoolteacher and the visiting Aga Khan Foundation representative, from all of whom I learned a great deal.

The main thing I learned was that if you are helping somebody, make them think they are helping themselves. In fact it makes sense to construct your entire aid project so that those who stand to benefit from it are heavily involved to the point that if there is a problem then it is their problem. Don’t stand above it as a rich and well-meaning donor who chucks money at it and then walks away with a self-congratulatory swagger. Because if you don’t involve the local people in the project — which they very much want to see completed, of course — then disaster looms.

You must encourage them to come up with ideas, without being patronising. Ask, for example, “how do we get the line across that nasty bend in the river around where the glacier ends in summer?”

Now, as project manager you’ve probably got half a dozen engineers who could solve that problem in a heartbeat. BUT: you must ask the local people about it, because when you do what they suggest (OK, maybe tickling it here and there), they are very proud of this and tell everyone it was their idea. The word gets round.  There is a swell of justifiable pride.

Of even more importance: get the locals to themselves suggest that they do the building and other work rather than having it done by imported labour. If you involve residents they will in the future resist any outside attempts to interfere with what they themselves created, even to the point of physical protection. And of course there will be considerable economic benefits, although it is essential, of course, that management and disbursement of monies be closely controlled by the donor body. Sure, you will have to take time and trouble and money to train local tradesmen (concrete-makers, carpenters and so on) but remember — you’re in the improvement business; it all adds up, nationally, to establishment of more skills, recognition that education is important, and, above all, pride that We Can Do It.

In other words — make sure projects are regarded as local challenges and accomplishments. Don’t just throw uncontrolled money at development schemes in the hope that it will all stick, because as we’ve seen around the world, that sort of money tends to stick to people who aren’t interested one bit in improving the lives of their fellow human beings. And nowhere is this more evident than in Afghanistan where, as stated by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Mr John Sopko, the US has spent $132 billion on reconstruction projects.

A very large proportion of this money has been wasted. Many billions of dollars have vanished into corrupt pockets.  Mr Sopko told Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper that “There is a lot of corruption, [but] most of what we have identified are just head-smacking stupid programs and really poorly managed and no accountability. Nobody is really held accountable for wasting the money.”

In his October 2018 report to Congress the SIGAR was blunt in recording that US money has gone to build medical clinics without electricity or water, schools without children and buildings that literally melted away in the rain. Also, corrupt local officials who were in charge of paying workers with some of the funds created what audits called “ghost workers,” civilian bureaucrats, police and soldiers who did not exist, then kept or diverted money recorded as being paid to them.  It’s a terrible picture, and while it is scandalous that US taxpayers have had their money wasted, it is even worse that the people whose lives should have been changed for the better by all these enterprises are still living in mediaeval squalor — if they haven’t been forced to flee from the violence that is endemic in that war-torn country.

Mr Sopko is dismayed and disappointed that “Even after 17 years of US and coalition effort and financial largesse, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest, least educated, and most corrupt countries in the world. It is also one of the most violent.”

What now?  Is anyone going to try to rectify this appalling state of affairs?  There might be a Trump tweet blaming Obama or France, maybe Canada, for the shambles, but it’s unlikely that he will do anything about the “head-smacking stupid” waste of money. He doesn’t care about human suffering, still less about trying to ameliorate it and improve the lives of countless millions who exist in conditions he can’t even imagine.

We need fewer Trumps and more Aga Khan Foundations in this unhappy world.

 

Categories: News for progressives

A Tale of Two Marines

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:53

Photo Source Portland DSA

These two young men may have an infinite number of things in common, but the actions they took this week do not.

One used a pro-war ceremony at a professional basketball game to reject the celebration of militarism, and to protest war-profiteering advertising in sports.

One became the latest “mass shooter” — which I put in quotation marks only because he had already been a mass shooter, but he had been an acceptable kind of mass shooter.

On Tuesday evening, former U.S. Marine Josuee Hernandez was scheduled to be honored for his so-called service at a Portland Trailblazers game. He unzipped his jacket to reveal a shirt with a protest message shaming the team for accepting money from a weapons dealer. He rejected the bag of prizes being given him. “We should not feel honored by being gifted a bag of trinkets and then paraded in front of an audience,” Hernandez said. He acted righteously and bravely, and perhaps (I know nothing about him, but have known a lot of veterans) therapeutically as well.

On Wednesday evening, former U.S. Marine Ian David Long failed to stop doing his job. He had been employed by the U.S. government to fire a machine gun at people. That had been his job for years, and part of that time he had participated in the war on Afghanistan. He had been given awards for the fine job he’d done in combat. Nobody had been outraged. Nobody had called him names or questioned his sanity.

CNN’s inaccurate headline, “Thousand Oaks gunman went from Marine vet to mass shooter. Investigators want to know why,” creates a mystery where none exists. The question is not how he became a mass shooter but how so many others have managed to cease being mass shooters.

Ian David Long died in the most common manner for participants in recent U.S. wars, namely by suicide. The difference is that he killed a lot of other people-who-matter first. But this, too, is not as unusual as we might wish. At least 35% (probably much more, and it seems to be rising) of U.S. mass shooters were trained by the U.S. military.

Imagine if 35% of U.S. mass shooters were . . . anything at all: black, Asian, Muslim, atheist, female, wealthy, foreign, red haired, Latino, gay . . . can you imagine? It would be the leading news story for weeks. There would be chairs endowed at universities to study it. But the fact that so many of the killers are men who were trained to kill by the world’s leading killing institution is not only unworthy of mention, but is depicted in each isolated instance as a mystery to be explained in some other terms.

Imagine if the mounting death count from all of these shootings included not just the hundreds killed within the U.S. but also the hundreds of thousands killed outside it. Imagine treating the vast majority of the victims as if they mattered.

A public debate over how to tackle a mass murderer is as insane as a public discussion of how to build a stronger house on the beach. If you won’t address the training of murderers, and you won’t ban guns, and you won’t stop destroying the earth’s climate, what’s left is madness.

Often the madness takes the form of repeating the evil that goes unmentioned. Stick an armed security guard in front of every building. On Wednesday that policy simply determined the name of the first victim. It may even (one can only speculate) have presented the killer with an inviting or rationalizing sense, a familiar sense, of taking on an “enemy.” The solution is not even more armed guards.

The solution in the war on Afghanistan is not even more armed killers. The war on Afghanistan came “home” to California this week, but how many people know that? How many people know the war is still raging? How many know that Obama promised to escalate it and did so, and that Trump promised to end it and escalated it (albeit on a smaller scale)? How many were outraged when Ian David Long was killing mere Afghans? How many are outraged that thousands of U.S. and NATO troops are still over there making Afghanistan worse and bringing the war back with them?

How many can put 2 and 2 together and recognize that all the just-retired U.S. commanders in Afghanistan who have said the war is counter-productive have been right, that it endangers the very people who cheer for veterans at basketball games — who cheer, that is, as long as those veterans don’t take a stand for sanity?

Categories: News for progressives

Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:53

Photo Source Aaron Moriak | CC BY 2.0

Well, the mid-term elections are over, but the fallout from them, the constant verbal diarrhea from newscasters, pundits and other self-proclaimed experts, continues.

And what are they saying? For many of them on whatever passes for ‘leftist’ in the U.S. today (there is really no such thing in the two major parties or the so-called ‘mainstream’ news media), the glee is overwhelming. Democrats won control of the House and now, finally, we are told, much needed brakes will be applied to the speeding Donald Trump train wreck-in-the-making.

Ho hum. Is there really any cause for thinking people in the U.S., or anywhere in the world, for that matter, to suddenly think that the U.S. has begun to climb out of its long decline? Does any reasonable person actually think that Democrats controlling the House of Representatives will change anything?

Let’s look at some things that should change.

* War: the U.S. should stop bombing every nation it is now bombing; it should stop supporting Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people, and Saudi Arabia’s genocide of the Yemeni people. It should immediately withdraw from Afghanistan.

Is this going to happen, now that the Democrats control one house of Congress? Will any of them even speak about these issues? Why do that, when doing so might annoy powerful lobby groups?  Such actions would require knowledge, compassion, an understanding of history, a commitment to the people who they purport to represent. Does any of this sound like the characteristics of U.S. politicians? Hardly!

* Environment: With Trump having no problems whatsoever with polluted water and air, and allowing mining and logging to take place in national parks, it would seem that the Democrats could take aim at these issues. After all, it is their children who must breath this air and drink this water. Oh wait, in the exclusive enclaves in which the members of the oligarch reside, such mundane issues are of no concern. They don’t live near factories, spewing their poisons into the air. The water that they drink, and that fills their swimming pools, is always from the most pristine of sources. So what if their constituents don’t have these same advantages? They simply need to work harder, and then they, too, will be able to join the 1%. Of course, how one is going to work harder than some people in the middle- and poverty-classes currently work, with multiple jobs just to make ends meet, is never quite explained.

* International agreements: Trump has proudly disgraced the United States, and proven again (if any additional proof was necessary) that agreements entered into by the U.S. are meaningless. The Paris Climate Accord was the first that Trump violated. He followed that up with pulling out of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), and by reissuing sanctions against Iran, despite the fact that the entire international community recognizes that Iran has fully complied with the agreement. Even Saudi Arabia and Apartheid Israel, the only two countries on the planet that praised Trump’s decision, don’t deny that Iran is compliant. Perhaps the newly-empowered Democrats in the House might start by demanding that Trump honor this commitment. But no, Iran is the current bugaboo, so that isn’t going to happen, either. Please feel free to review the information stated above about knowledge and an understanding of history, and consider again how these traits are lacking in Congress.

* Taxes. During the first two years of Trumps increasingly disastrous administration, the U.S.’s upper crust, the members of the 1%, which includes the president himself, his wealthy supporters and most of the members of Congress, received a very generous tax cut. Prior to the mid-term elections, there was talk coming from the White House that such a cut for what’s left of the middle-class would be introduced ‘soon’. Of course, ‘soon’ is a relative word, which could mean anything from tomorrow to when hell freezes over. In this context, the latter meaning is the one we can all use.

Will the Democrats tackle this issue? Will they throw a bone to the people who actually vote for them? No, we must be very careful not to do anything that might cause the wealthy to feel some economic pinch; better to let the middle-class carry the burden. Once they are able to make huge donations to the campaign coffers of their own (or others; it hardly matters to whom the money goes, as long as some politician gets it), then, perhaps, they will receive some tax relief.

We must now ask: with the Democrats soon to control the House of Representatives, what, exactly, will they do? Well, they have made their plans clear. They will demand that Trump release his tax returns, something that weighs heavily, this writer is sure, on the minds of people attempting to make ends meet. They will investigate whether or not Trump broke the law by paying hush money to his erstwhile mistress, Stormy Daniels (among others). No doubt citizens across the U.S. have been busy writing their elected officials (this writer absolutely refuses to call them representatives), demanding to know the answer to this question, and telling them that, while they try not to go bankrupt paying for college education, their number one priority, the issue that Congress must tackle, before addressing the crumbling infrastructure, low-performing school, the opioid epidemic, or crippling taxes, is to determine where the funding came for Trump to silence that particular woman.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency pushed the U.S. through some strange portal, where the bizarre becomes the mundane, truth is fiction and the reality you see before you is denied. The country had long since been hovering at that portal, but Trump dove through it, taking Congress with him. A willing Democratic Party closed its eyes and took the plunge, too.

Within just a few short months, we must all endure the announcements of various Democrats that they have decided to take their level of ‘service’ to the nation to the next level, and seek the presidency in 2020. These dynamic agents of change (?) include former Vice President Joe Biden, an elderly white man who inspires absolutely no one, and none other than Hillary Clinton, she of the long and sullied resume and sufficient baggage to sink a freighter. Various other names are bandied about, and all of them are cut from the same mold: barely different from the Republicans, perhaps a tad PEP (Progressive Except for Palestine), but mostly male and entirely white.

And why should it be different? Those potential candidates live very well in their ivory towers, and the system is rigged so none of the little people can ever even dream of affording a political campaign.

And so the pattern continues: lots of talk, no action, and increasing suffering at home and abroad. Welcome to the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’.

Categories: News for progressives

The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:53

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The reporter on TV has just detailed his “chilling” encounter with the killer in a Pittsburgh courtroom. I was present in the courtroom as well, and I have no idea what the hell he is talking about.

It was the initial court appearance of Robert D. Bowers, the individual who killed 11 and wounded several others at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, October 27, 2018. Bowers, who received 29 federal and 36 state charges, was pushed into the courtroom in a wheelchair. With his gray sweatpants, blue sweatshirt, dollar store black plastic slippers and thinning hair, he could be any problem drinker at a local Pittsburgh bar; except that his arms and legs were shackled to his wheelchair. He looked around the courtroom as he entered, but nothing appeared to register for him. It’s not that he wasn’t alert—just that he was possibly a bit of a “dull blade,” if you know what I mean; certainly, he was in over his head. When asked if he would waive his right to bail, he said, simply, “yes.” When asked if he needed a public defender, he said, “yes.” That was about the extent of the hearing, although to hear David Begnaud of CBSN relay the hearing to his TV audience, the killer’s appearance was “chilling,” something out of a horror film or an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

Perhaps Begnaud wanted to perceive evil in the presence of Bowers, because at least that would go some way towards explaining how such a tragedy might have happened. The reality of the situation is that Bowers didn’t live in a white nationalist compound somewhere in remote Idaho wilderness—he lived in a crappy apartment in the same building as a plumbing and heating company, in a neighborhood lined with modest single-story brick houses. Sitting on the pavement outside his apartment door was a rusted out barbecue smoker with an upturned Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup on the top; an empty bottle of Bud Light was on the ground between the smoker and the front door. The building was near an old coal patch where, according to a neighbor named Terrance Holleran, “there’s been a couple homicides” in the last few years. He didn’t know Bowers; none of his neighbors seemed to. In Holleran’s words, it “is just unfortunate that this asshole chose to live here.”

The more we learn about Bowers, the less remarkable he becomes. He was a long-haul truck driver, friendly enough to the neighbors but generally kept to himself. It was only online where he felt free to unleash his inner raving lunatic. Before the attack, he posted the following on his social media account (he was a verified user of Gab, the Twitter of the extreme right): “[Refugee aid nonprofit] HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

“Screw your optics” refers to a lover’s quarrel among the far-right over “optics,” or whether they should worry about how crazy they appear to people outside the movement. And the invasion he referred to is the current, Donald Trump-fueled hysteria about an alleged, imminent invasion of brown people on our southern border.

Until the shooting, Bowers had “moved through the Pittsburgh area . . . leaving relatively little impression,” reports the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. But violence had been lying just under the surface for quite some time.

“Much of Bowers’ online profile resembles those of countless other extremist users,” according to a Southern Poverty Law Center analysis of the shooter’s social media. “As with other alt-right killers, it’s likely that Bowers was radicalized entirely online.” His social media activity revolved around several common obsessions of the racist right. He feared “white genocide,” an antisemitic conspiracy theory which holds that everything from immigration and multiculturalism to low birth rates and abortion are being promoted by the “globalists” (that’s an antisemitic code word for “Jews”) to drive the white race to extinction. In Bowers’ virtual reality, the white men have no power—undoubtedly resonant to a white man who seemed to have little in his own life worth living for—while George Soros is personally overseeing the extinction of the white race.

“Lone wolf terror” (sometimes called “leaderless resistance”) describes terrorist attacks conducted by a single person, or perhaps a very small, unaffiliated group. As terrorism expert George Michael writes in his book Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance, it is commonly understood among right-wing populists that “they are part of a relatively small and marginalized movement,” and that to take up arms “would almost certainly lead to organizational suicide,” not to mention actual suicide. This has led to the strategy, favored by the more conservative members of the right-wing populist movement, to concentrate on winning the masses over through propaganda.

The more extreme elements of right-wing populism, not willing to abandon armed struggle, have encouraged “lone wolves” to pick up arms. The idea is that individuals like Bowers and MAGA mail bomber Cesar Sayoc are the vanguard of a new movement that’s paving the way for a right-wing takeover of the United States. Now, this might be the case—but probably not in the way that the extremists like to imagine.

“Under specific conditions,” writes journalist and activist Chip Berlet, “virulent demonization and scapegoating can—and does—create milieus in which the potential for violence is increased.” While you can’t predict which individual will turn to violence, it can pretty much guarantee that someone will, “upon hearing the rhetoric of clear or coded incitement,” strike out at the perceived enemy.

Right-wing populism is a continuum. The extreme right (which Berlet also refers to as “the ultra-right”) is the revolutionary arm of right-wing populism in America. This includes the Klan, neo-Nazis, Aryan Nations, and anyone willing to pick up a gun or a baseball bat or make a pipe bomb for the struggle. Among the more conservative elements of right-wing populism are “reformist political movements.” These include the Republican Party, FOX News, and conservative think tanks. In between these two poles—the revolutionaries and the reformers—are the dissidents. This includes patriot and militia groups, right-wing talk radio, tea partiers, and anti-semitic conspiracy theorists. There is a lot of movement along this continuum: people might be drawn into right-wing talk radio, for instance, which becomes a conduit to a more extreme right-wing ideology.

Quite possibly, this is what happened to Robert Bowers. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bowers is believed to have once been an audio archivist for local right-wing talk show host—and Rush Limbaugh protege—Jim Quinn.

Where does the current president factor into all this? Most of us are quick to assume that Bowers’ fit of violence must be somehow connected to Trump—even if Bowers considered Trump to be a part of the problem, a “globalist,” and therefore at least partially responsible for the “kike invasion.”

In a recent talk, Berlet described [PDF] how right-wing populist groups are effective tools of political elites; as a result, they often receive encouragement (and funding) from those in power. The elites aren’t trying to reform the system, of course; they’re using the populist desire for reform to get one up on their political rivals.

“Cynical politicians emerge using populist-sounding rhetoric to mobilize the angry social movement into a political constituency,” according to Berlet. In the end, the winner is “a selected group within the society who are seeking to defend . . . unfair power and privilege.”

Ultimately, right-wing populism is a tool that is used by cynical elites for their own political advantage. However, right-wing rage is not something that can be controlled. Once unleashed, it will go wherever it goes; Trumpian hate speech one day becomes antisemitic violence the next.

***

On Tuesday, three days after the massacre, the funerals began. David and Cecil Rosenthal (ages 54 and 59 respectively) were Bowers’ youngest victims. The brothers were roommates at a residential facility for adults with developmental disabilities and never missed a Saturday at Tree of Life. I have never met David, but Cecil was my buddy—for the better part of a year, we would wait at the same bus stop each morning. He would always say hello, and once he even told me that I had “pretty hair.” (That was the first time I suspected that he was maybe an adult with developmental disabilities.)

The service was held at the Rodef Shalom Congregation. The brothers’ caskets, closed, were arranged front and center. By the time their brother-in-law, Michael Hirt, told us an anecdote about the brothers’ yearly trip to the flea market (Cecil would always buy a new calendar and a watch, while David invariably picked out a bottle of cologne and mirrored CHiPs-style sunglasses) everybody in the room was on the verge of tears.

I wrote the following in my notebook: “Jesus Christ, this is heartbreaking.”

The mourning ritual focused on the victims. Bowers’ name didn’t come up once, and aside from an argument over gun control between two old ladies sitting next to me in the balcony, neither did politics. Despite the presence of the mayor and several Pittsburgh Steelers, the focus stayed solely on the victims, just as it should have.

On this same day, the president was scheduled to visit the crime scene. It has been reported that he had displayed rare flashes of humanity in the period following the attacks, but for the most part, these were overshadowed by all-too-familiar Trumpisms.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said that he received a call from the president on the morning of the shooting. The president offered his condolences, then quickly started talking about the death penalty. “I’m literally standing two blocks from 11 bodies,” Peduto told The Washington Post. The death penalty would do nothing for the survivors, and it wouldn’t bring back the dead—this was simply cynical partisanship coming at the most inappropriate time.

“I ended the conversation pretty quickly after that,” the mayor said.

Not long after that phone call, Trump was in the news, talking up the death penalty and the need for armed guards in synagogues—a “Second Amendment solution” to right-wing violence that placed the blame on the Jews who dared practice their religion unarmed.

Hours after David and Cecil’s funeral, I was standing at the police checkpoint near the Tree of Life. On my side of the street, there were an estimated 2,000-plus protesters with signs that said things like “Denounce White Nationalism” and “Nazi Trump Fuck Off!” Two blocks away, the president and his wife placed rocks on a memorial dedicated to the eleven victims, the White House’s idea of an appropriately understated, religiously neutral ritual. In between us and them, a small group of riot cops stood on alert. They were lined up behind a dump truck that had been positioned to block the street, should the protestors get any ideas. The White House had invited a number of politicians to join them on the trip, “including the Senate and House Republican majority leaders, their Democratic counterparts [and] Mayor Bill Peduto.” All of those invited, sensing a political minefield, wisely declined.

The slow, solemn march of the protest through Squirrel Hill was a ritual itself—a civic ritual performed by and for a population who were angry and frightened. The truth, which perhaps they’d been able to avoid considering thus far in this season of bloodshed, could no longer be ignored: our Conspiracy-Theorist-in-Chief thinks nothing of using violent rhetoric and outright lies to gain and to keep power. And this violent rhetoric inevitably leads to physical violence. This is all straight from the despot’s playbook.

Robert Bowers, sad and violent and isolated, his worst impulses encouraged by forces he couldn’t quite understand, marks the end result of a particularly vile process. He may be locked up, awaiting trial, but his accomplices are many and they’re unlikely to pay for their crimes anytime soon.

Categories: News for progressives

Twitter: Fast Track to the Id

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:52

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Bret: There’s a side of me that thinks that Trump is a natural culmination for a country that has spent the past 60 years besotted with television, the past 50 with moral relativism, the past 40 with ostentation, the past 30 with the politics of sex, and the past 20 with the politics of fear. He seems to encapsulate all of it.

Gail: Don’t forget the internet. And Fox.

– Gail Collins and Brett Stephens, “The Conversation: One Wave, Two Waves, Red Wave, Blue Wave,” The New York Times, Nov. 6, 2018

Actually, it is difficult to forget the internet, especially because cyberspace has become our default reality. Polls show that the Millennials and Gen Z are not “besotted with television” but rather with their Smartphones.

I will not forget the internet but first let us consider what Mr. Stephens believes has led us to the presidency of Donald Trump.

I realize that the phrase “moral relativism” frightens an ostensibly Christian country. Actually, we do not fear relativism in regard to morality but rather in regard to economics. I mean that we cannot believe the market only rules relative to what Federal rules might be. Response to need cannot be relative to what government decides to do but rather only to the play of the market. Individual success must always be seen as relative to individual choice and competition and not to gifts you are born with or inherit or when and where you are born. We also cannot believe that profit to shareholders should be relative to the power of labor unions to bargain for wages.

You might say that our morality is relative to our economic status, or where we are positioned in the wealth divide.

Those living on their dividends have leisure to sponsor universal and moral absolutes, rather like the way plantation owners had more time for mint juleps than did the field hands. Those living on wages, which rise or not according to the noblesse oblige of capital, are in a good position to see that inequities exist but do not show up on the moral calculation chart.

They are in the position to observe that in spite of always working and working hard, times do not get better, that in fact how good or how bad your life is does not merit a moral review by market rule which never looks beyond your own personal responsibility. Americans like everything personal and private, especially a moral sense, but that is hard to do when the society in which you are embedded has already embedded within you the market’s notion of moral behavior– individual choice, the assumption of individual responsibility, and the glories of not fraternitè but competition.

What conditions and forces that economically and then politically corrupt your life because they are themselves corrupt must never be up for a moral review, especially by the Losers. Instead, the Losers much at every stage of their descent into immiseration conduct a moral review of themselves. Therapy will lead them to a discovery as to why hard work and ambition has led them to a precariat place loaded with dysphoria.

At this post mid-term election moment, Democrats offer health care recuperation as the answer here, a narrow triage when a grand narrative is needed. President Trump, on the other hand,  continues to play the role of both Avenger for and Savior to those who have given up blaming themselves, the old Neoliberal and Neoconservative pitch, and are focused on what’s rotten in the state of Denmark, aka the United States. And Donald J. Trump is leading that charge.

II

“The leading candidates for America’s next presidency use Twitter to energize their supporters and draw citizens who wouldn’t otherwise follow political discourse. Twitter’s simple and personal messages resonate in a way that more traditional means of communication — mail robocalls and yard signs — no longer can.”

Matt Kapko, “Twitter’s impact on 2016 presidential election is unmistakable,” CIO magazine Jan. 9, 2017

I pass over the other causes Mr. Stephens mentions as having led us to Donald J. Trump, namely “ostentation,” and the “politics of sex and fear” because those politics are historically endemic in the American mass psyche and ostentation very explicable in a plutocratic society.

My huckleberry here is the effect the internet has had on Donald Trump ascendance.

A day after the midterm elections, President Trump held a 90 minute press Q&A that I am sure would be studied by more psychotherapists than by historians far into the future. The President is on one hand a nodding, understanding compliant, sane, presidential guy, and on the other hand, a dangerous animal cornered by the press. A couple of hours later, he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a useful idiot who had worn out his usefulness to the President almost at once by recusing himself from the Russian probe.

A man of impulse and quick retaliation, President Trump would have been seriously slowed down without Twitter. His Consigliere (he has none) would have had time to reason with him. Or his own wandering mind could have taken him someplace else. This is not my flippancy: this President is fully present in the moment but this is not the liberating insight that is now faddish. Whatever is present to others, say, the size of a crowd or election results, is not present to this President. And the moment has no staying power but rather rushed forward and backward till the continuity of time and the possibility of coherence vanishes.

For this sort of mind, Twitter is both an accelerant and a drive shaft.

Consider how effectively the President could or could not have kept his loyal followers in his camp if he did not reach out to them instantly, day and night, on Twitter. True, minus cyberspace, he could spend more time on Fox and Friends, hold more cross county bund rallies,  appear regularly on the late night talk shows ( but not Bill Maher), host his own radio show or another reality TV show, give more TV Oval Office Presidential addresses, do fireside chats.

The instantaneity, however, would be gone; the readiness to transmit the knee jerk reactions of someone too grandiose to accept criticism would not be available. The transmission would be delayed or disrupted. And the receivers own reptilian brain receptors would not be fed, perhaps then giving way to rational review.

I do not believe we could have the special self-inflated huckster type that we have in President Trump before the existence of cyberspace. Certainly, he reached an audience who later became his voters with his Reality TV show, The Apprentice but it takes a new and special kind of communication system to hold on to the attention deficient but viscerally responsive receivers. Trump and Twitter found each other and the relationship has been advantageous to both. Trump saved Twitter from bankruptcy and Twitter keeps his followers tightly attached.

Regardless of whether your Liberal or Neoliberal or studying the various kinds of socialism, I believe you have to agree that President Trump’s impact would be slowed down greatly if reality had remained on one platform. More precisely, we would not be entertaining notions of reality platforms and alternative facts and hyperbolic truths or sufficient truthiness if the hyperreal had not become a more profitable platform than reality itself.

Although it’s true that candidate Trump hilariously slayed his rivals in the Republican Primaries on TV, if the commentary and analysis of his performance had been restricted to what those hired to write for magazines and newspapers or speak on TV and radio had to say, there would have been no interactive space open to all in which any level of cogitation could find its peers.

What social media did was eclipse thoughtful critique off-line but more pertinently, it offered a platform to opinionate anonymously for those who had previously expressed their opinions to the bathroom mirror or their beleaguered mates.

In short, Twitter brought to clarity for many how closely candidate Trump was quoting their own opinions, their own low regard for a status quo that was leaving them fearful, angry, and befuddled until Trump arrived.

One of the potentials of social media is to fast-track the Id, which it has done. Thus far, this is the potential we have blocked from our minds easily because we are wrapped up in the marvels of cybertech and look forward to its further extension into our lives.

What we focus on is the potential of social media to augment sociability by increasing occasions of social interaction, albeit in a digital reality. The revival of distant relationships, the therapeutic effect of feeling you are close to a community of friends whose lives you share in joy and sadness, the sense you have of being in the moment, up to date on what’s going on at a level that is personal to you, the sense of belonging and not being excluded, of being heard and responded to — all of this cannot be over-estimated.

All of this has to be weighed against social media’s virulent contamination of an order of civility in our real social institutions, practices and discourse.

That order was not angelically shaped to suit all but depended upon denying mass opinion and feeling conduits of expression. The military makes this an operative philosophy. The military is not democratized is a price paid for the country’s protection. Education also is grounded in the many shutting up and listening while someone speaks. The classroom has always been structured to restrain the equitable voicing of opinions. Democracies need an educated citizenry but education itself is not democratized. That failure to democratize voices and opinions in the classroom is a price paid so that the previously uninformed can learn and by means of that education join in rational dialogue.

What a cyberspace designed to meet your own likes and dislikes has done is vacate the sense of informed and not, knowledgeable and not, as well as a hierarchy of critical ability and understanding and replaced all of that with  all voices are equal and deserve equal time and opportunity to be heard. The upshot of that in a very brief period of time has been to overpower “the best that has been thought and said,” to quote Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy, as well as ways of thinking established in Western culture since the Greeks.

Overpowering is far different from deconstructing in Derrida’s sense of closely examining an argument to determine how it undermines its own meaning. My work over many years both in teaching and writing did not set out to throw aside and replace what Derrida called “the white Mythology” of Western culture, two examples made in the previous paragraph.

What deconstruction and postmodern thought pursued was a critical examination from within the illusions of absolute and universal reasoning and determinate categories so established.

What the cyberspace universe has done is not to engage from within established discourse, practices and institutions but rather overrun or overwrite them as if they never existed.

For the coming and rising generations, they will indeed never have existed.

This is, as I say, an overpowering, not an engagement, not a continuance of a dialectic or a refutation of a dialectic. What we are facing is a wipe out of our reality and truth making ways by an alternative hyperreality drowning us in voices unreachable within the self-designed reality frames they have chosen for themselves.

In some sense what cyberspace offers, reality cannot, rather like the way a chasing of the dragon offers a favored place. In that preferred place, “The Great Outdoors” of a raw reality that is not interactive or indeed “social” (think of Nature as not social) is left behind. Its removal, however, is not ours to arrange just as reality has no obligation to confirm our choices, regardless of how free we think they are.

The problem we face then is that we cannot leave reality behind; we cannot overpower it, just as it is clear that our progress has not overpowered and dominated Nature. Efforts to overpower reality by hyperreality, the real with simulacra, always take you to a bad place, just as our dominating Nature has led us to a bad place.

Cyberspace is not utopia, except in the literal sense that it is “no place.”  However, we have made it a real place by thinking of it as such and so have exposed ourselves to an invasion that is barbaric and feral in the sense that this invasion incinerates thought and ways of thinking outside one’s own visceral responses. And such “thinking” is now bombarding social media and indistinguishable from fact based interpretation.

Democratization is, as de Tocqueville pointed out, not without its perils in the political realm. When extended to our ways of knowing and discovering/revealing truth, it can leave us without a way to expose an autocratic aspirant such as President Trump as well as leaving us with a significant percentage of the populace who remain viscerally attached to him.

Cyberspace and its productions in social media are indeed the Pandora’s Box we have opened. Nothing released goes back into the box.

Parents who struggle to get their children away from their Smartphone texting or their video games or social media are not getting any help with this from an educational system leaning on Google and Microsoft and others. Psychologists are already doing a brisk business with people suffering from Nomophobia, which “is the irrational fear of being without your mobile phone or being unable to use your phone for some reason.”

We are a long way from treating our addiction to cyberspace as an addiction, especially when we are facing an opioid addiction that has fatalities, an addiction we cannot quell. We are a long way from thinking that what so fascinates us is also, like any addiction, harmful to us.

We observe, however, that a collapse in our truth and reality making ways, a collapse if not shaped by our turn to cyberspace at least accelerated by it, has brought us to the dark state of fracture and division in all our discourses, practices and institutions.

Donald J. Trump not only owes his presidency to this collapse but he has bullied on behalf of alternative, i.e. his, constructions of reality and truth. And an American public, that Nancy Pelosi states she is anxious to give what they want, want Trump’s version of everything. And sadly, any inclination to fact check those wants takes them not to the real but to simulacra, takes them to a social media within which they seek truth among their like-minded friends.

Categories: News for progressives

Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:52

I’ve often wondered about the limits of activist’s reach and the lack of coherent, organized progressive social movements in the US. Does it come down to the precarious nature of our jobs, the stress, strain, and exhaustion caused by the realization of being a paycheck away from penury? Or is it all the fault of our monopolistic media, with the puppet strings controlled by their advertisers, the corporate giants and multinationals? Is it geographic distance from Europe where socialism advanced far broader and deeper into society? Could it be the anti-communist Red Scare that dominated the binary and delusional cold war mindset? Was it the very real threat and use of violence via Cointelpro, and overseas with Operations Gladio, Condor, etc? Is it deeper psychological issues stemming from the trauma of having to grow up in a cold capitalist world which leads to false consciousness?

It would seem to be a mixture of all of the above. Yet millions of citizens still are able to see through the mendacities inherent in our empire, in our collective cultural death-wish, and many millions more would be able to if provided the education, tools, and resources to see through the lies of our global system of capital.

Activists and educators must reconsider their approaches in light of the repeated failures of international progressive organizations. In short, part of the failure lies with the leadership of non-profits, NGOs, community leaders, and the type of worldview they adhere to. For one, unstable vertical hierarchies are reproduced, with not enough feedback from concerned citizens and community-based, small-scale pressure groups. Also, technocrats and lawyers are relied far too heavily upon to perform band-aid, stopgap procedures in the social and environmental justice fields. Endless petitions and protests are planned which do not lead to fundamental change.

Organization in the majority of so-called progressive movements mimics the neoliberal order. Pedestals and soapboxes are lined up for the official learned classes, who are offered cushy positions to run vote campaigns, to lobby (beg) a corrupt Congress or Parliament to do the right thing. This is turn creates a new split between the middle-class non-profit lawyers, campaigners, and managers; and the working class constituencies, which only fuels social division and alienation.

These maladies contribute to the false consciousness of the mostly liberal, white, middle-class, urbane, college-educated non-profit and social justice managerial class, as well as progressive activists. All of the racist, sexist, and classist baggage is carried alongside these organizations, as we can see so clearly in the faux “progressive” areas like Silicon Valley.

Let us take this line of thought further. I believe the lack of rigor and effectiveness also shows up with so-called radical activists and intellectuals who believe they are sincerely committed to revolution. It works in a few ways: radicals take on the feelings of others in unhealthy ways, bottling up anger and sadness that legitimately occurs and is expressed in subaltern groups. Another point involves the expectation of success, the attachment to pet projects and the personal rage that spills out when failure occurs.

US progressive and radicals are, for the most part, not versed in modern scientific advancements, ecology, or Eastern traditions. There is no tolerance for balance, paradox, and contradiction. Most are stuck on treadmills and attached to their egos and personas. Then there is the problem of speed: trying to catch up with every travesty the establishment and corporations impose on us (playing defense), as if one could bail out a sinking Titanic with a bucket. There is the notion of taking on social justice burdens as a very Christian-like type of “work”, instead of blending work and play into a post-modern, post-coercive labor environment that could put humankind on a type of threshold, a liminal state, towards a saner society of free association and mutual aid which could end much unnecessary suffering.

Running in Circles

There is most likely an inverse relationship between how seriously one takes oneself and one’s wisdom. The most serious among us are almost undoubtedly the least wise. The vast majority of the endless running around from protests or events or conferences or speaking engagements are just a series of distractions.

There are appropriate times for all those things, to be sure. Yet it must be noted that the predominant mode of liberals, leftists, and progressives is predicated on constantly reacting to and diagnosing mainstream culture, rather than arriving at any original prescriptions for changing society.

Many people in the US of all political persuasions are quite aware of the near terminal nature of politics: and many are looking for a model that works. The diagnosis has been made countless times. People are ready for an alternative to our broken system.  Obviously, with no capital this is nearly impossible for poor and marginalized communities.  An international network of direct action, worker co-ops, and communal agriculture must begin as soon as possible to fight neoliberal economics and the looming challenges of climate change.

Brecht’s Stance

A few years ago, I stumbled across Bertolt Brecht’s Stories of Mr. KeunerThe first passage is entitled “What’s wise about the wise man is his stance.” Here is the full passage:

“A philosophy professor came to see Mr. K and told him about his wisdom. After a while Mr. K said to him: ‘You sit uncomfortably, you talk uncomfortably, you think uncomfortably.’ The philosophy professor became angry and said: ‘I didn’t want to hear anything about myself but about the substance of what I was talking about.’ ‘It has no substance,’ said Mr. K. ‘I see you walking clumsily and, as far as I can see, you’re not getting anywhere. You talk obscurely, and you create no light with your talking. Seeing your stance, I’m not interested in what you’re getting at.’”

Now we’re getting somewhere! As Sean Carney explains in Brecht and Critical Theory: Dialectics and Contemporary Aesthetics:

“The most important thing to draw from Brecht’s play, then, is the attitude it displays, which Brecht also calls a kind of wisdom that is performed or staged for us. It seems important here to distinguish between the form of wisdom, and the content of wisdom. Brecht, for his part, is concerned only with the former, the posture of wisdom, wisdom as an action. The form of this wisdom is dialectical and historical.”

There is no space to flesh out all the implications here. A few thoughts will have to suffice.

When Western activists scream, “Rise up!” they should be reminded: “Sit down.” Always consider the antithesis. Slowing down, sitting: calling for nationwide wildcat general strikes would do much greater good than marching around with placards along predetermined protest routes.

When others shout “Speak out,” we can remind them: be silent (just imagine kids in school refusing to speak the pledge of allegiance or taking a knee in high school sports in solidarity with Kaepernick). When protestors implore: “Wake up,” they can also be chided and reminded: “Keep dreaming!” (of a genuine revolution, not stopping the imagination at some milquetoast progressive reforms led by the DSA or other pseudo-leftists, which, while helpful, do not go nearly far enough). I am not advocating not speaking truth to power here, or any escapism, only that in certain cases we should ignore the constant dramas and tragedies engendered by the corporate ruling-class and focus on building parallel structures and intentional communities to bust an escape hatch from global tyranny.

Non-striving

It should be recognized that many so-called “radicals” mimic the striving, combative, and authoritarian nature of the neoliberal order. Raised in an ultra-competitive society, some proponents of revolution refuse the inner work necessary while clinging to whatever social capital or insignificant platform one can muster up.

We live in a culture of constant striving, clinging, petty jealousness and egomaniacal childishness. It is no wonder that it shows up on many outlets of progressive outlets as well as on social media, and in activist circles.

Instead, we should begin the work of instilling a radical patience. Not because we have a lot to time left to act (we assuredly don’t), but because attaching oneself to unobtainable goals in the very short term only has the effect of tiring out and disillusioning many sincere people. Western activists could learn something by practicing non-attachment.

Only by giving up hope can we become present in the moment. This has continually been best expressed among Buddhists. As Pema Chodron writes:

“As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot. In a non-theistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put ‘Abandon Hope’ on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like ‘Everyday in everyway, I’m getting better and better.’ We hold onto hope and it robs us of the present moment. If hope and fear are two different sides of the same coin, so are hopelessness and confidence. If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.”

Thus, this brutally honest reflection (on our individual lives, but also on the fate of our civilization as we hurtle into the Anthropocene) leads to self-love, joy, and to vulnerability. This is a baseline for giving our collective culture what Rollo May called The Courage to CreateMay contrasts happiness (in this sense a cessation of wants, a sense of security) with basic joy (quoted here):

“Happiness is related to security, to being reassured, to doing things as one is used to and as our fathers did them. Joy is a revelation of what was unknown before. Happiness often ends up in a placidity on the edge of boredom. Happiness is success. But joy is stimulating, it is the discovery of new continents emerging within oneself…Happiness is the absence of discord; joy is the welcoming of discord as the basis of higher harmonies. Happiness is finding a system of rules which solves our problems; joy is taking the risk that is necessary to break new frontiers.”

One cannot understand joy without noting the sense of timelessness: the past, present, and future all converging into the present moment. Athletes, artists, scientists, and others call this “flow” or “being in the zone.” Time moves more slowly, certainly everyone has experienced this phenomenon at one point or another. Relativity has proven that this is possible, as well as studies in consciousness, meditation, and psychedelics.

Is any of this useful as a guide towards activism today? I will leave it to you to decide. Is it possible to “create light” when you speak, or be in tune with “higher harmonies?”

Time

Regarding time, we can turn to Brecht’s friend, Walter Benjamin, and his notion of the Jetztzeit. In order to break free from “homogenous, empty time,” which, notably, Francis Fukuyama unintentionally expressed so well as the ever-looming backdrop to the neoliberal era in The End of HistoryBenjamin writes that society must struggle towards “the messianic zero-hour of events, or put differently, a revolutionary chance in the struggle for a suppressed past.”

That is to say, only by looking backwards in time can we assess the damages of the present age, even as the storm of progress pushes us further away from mending the wreckage, as Benjamin explains Klee’s Angelus Novus. Only in the zero-hour, the ever-present moment, can we blast open a historic event. This explains Benjamin’s concept of the monad, a “constellation overflowing with tensions.”

On the Horizon

Does any modern science conform to these ideas of reality as a constellation of energy and matter, something like Benjamin’s monad, influenced by Leibniz, overflowing with possibilities, tensions, and constant flux? Put another way, are there are empirical/scientific fields which show a healthy stance or posture of wisdom?

Here we turn to some of the modern science that corroborates what people like Benjamin, the German Idealists, process philosophy, Leibniz, and before him, Spinoza, Heraclitus, Lao Tzu, and various Eastern traditions have contributed to: a systems view of life and the universe that explains phenomena holistically. In a nurturing system such as this, cross-discipline studies would expand, converge, and enrich social life and ecosystem health.

In many ways, modern science shows a return to the old ways of knowing: concepts in relativity and quantum mechanics were foreseen millennia ago, such as in Buddhism’s principle of dependent co-arising, for example.

Chaos Theory

Some of the greatest 20th century scientists were: Einstein, Watson & Crick, Margulis & Lovelock. Yet the most influential of all may turn out to be the little known meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, pioneer of chaos theory, the butterfly effect, and the strange attractor.

For a thorough introduction, James Gleick’s Chaos is a great start. For those mathematically inclined, I recommend Manfred Schroeder’s Fractals, Chaos, Power Laws

It is this system-view approach that can explain, even, the formation of life on this planet: self-organizing proto-nucleotides and amino acids along with fatty membranes and mitochondria/chloroplasts which gave rise to the first unicellular organisms. It is these non-linear dynamics which do in fact create higher harmonies- Poincare’s three body problem being the first modern example.

In non-linear systems based on power laws, when the variable in the function passes a certain limit (dependent upon the initial conditions), the function starts to behave chaotically. The next figure cannot be predicted from previous answers. Eventually, a bifurcation will occur: this simply means that further on in the progression, the function bounces back between two figures, back and forth. If the parameter is pushed higher, period-doubling occurs: this simply means that instead of bouncing between two numbers, the function doubles to bounce between four, then eight, 16, etc. This applies to many dynamic systems and can start with any integer, so depending upon the function, you could have period doubling of 3, 6, twelve; four, eight, 16, etc. Period halving is possible, too.

The scientist Robert May was the first to prove this in population biology, and many fields have found it a useful tool for studying dynamic systems since. The point I want to make clear is in regard to climate and weather: all climate scientists and meteorologists accept weather cannot be predicted after 3 weeks, weather is inherently chaotic, yet climate, for now, is stable.

Without significant changes, the positive feedback loops currently warming the planet will eventually push the relatively stable, homeostatic climate model into the “Hot house Earth” model. Wild changes in weather are more likely to occur. Not only that, but much higher-level droughts and flooding will occur more frequently, i.e., climatic normality may switch into an non-linear, chaotic state.

In the US, the Southwest in particular will be hit hard. Consider central Arizona, where the ancient Hokoham population could have reached 80,000 around 1300 CE. The area around Phoenix could have provided for 10,000 people. You make think, well, that was before modern irrigation and food transportation. You would be wrong. The Hokoham were masterful farmers with over 500 miles of canals and estimates of over 100,000 acres of cultivated, irrigated land. Today, metro Phoenix has approximately 4.7 million people. This won’t end well. By 2050, much of Arizona and the wider region could be ghost towns.

The second point: self-similarity is inherent in nature at many scales, as observed in fractals. How does this apply to culture? Direct democracy can be implemented at all scales (local, from worker councils to communal town meetings; to international, with a trans-national body such as a re-imagined UN.)

Chaos theory applies to the brain as well: there is evidence that psychedelics reform and rearrange new connections of neurons, changing the “criticality” of its structural firings. This is what is able to cure patients of depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., by changing the flow of thoughts and giving a wider expression, to get your mind out of a rut or a bad habit of harmful/fearful thinking.

There is plenty of sociological and anthropological evidence that mimetic theory (pioneered by Rene Girard) has some merit. Mostly, this is studied cross-culturally (horizontally), but we should consider the vertical dimension of hierarchies: at levels of coercion and exploitation are imitated at all scales of the socio-economic pyramid. The ruthless hierarchy was not that different between the mind-numbing conformity and bureaucratic chicanery of state-capitalist countries, contrasted with the crushing alienation and faux-competitive crony capitalism of neoliberal nations. If the structure is rotten at the top, most state and local governments mimic and take their cue from the power relations above them.

This played out very clearly on the international level after 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Once the Patriot Act, NDAA, and AUMF were passed, once NATO and ISAF forces invaded Afghanistan, with troops and spooks using “rendition”, “enhanced interrogation techniques”, with nighttime raids on civilians, and outright drone murder was rolled out by the US, other nations followed suit, with a rash of authoritarian copycat legislation, as well as police and military brutality playing out around the globe. For instance, the uptick in violence by Israel in 2002-2003 during the second Intifada is telling. Without the Sept. 11 attacks and the relentless anti-Muslim propaganda coming from the US, there is little doubt that the IDF would have been so emboldened.

On a positive note, it’s quite telling, and appropriate, that the self-similar snail shell (caracol) became the emblem of the Zapatistas, and the model for their communities. Rebecca Solnit explains this well, and quotes a wonderful passage from Marcos, who draws from his folk hero, “Old Antonio”:

“The wise ones of olden times say that the hearts of men and women are in the shape of a caracol, and that those who have good in their hearts and thoughts walk from one place to the other, awakening gods and men for them to check that the world remains right. They say that they say that they said that the caracol represents entering into the heart, that this is what the very first ones called knowledge. They say that they say that they said that the caracol also represents exiting from the heart to walk the world…. The caracoles will be like doors to enter into the communities and for the communities to come out; like windows to see us inside and also for us to see outside; like loudspeakers in order to send far and wide our word and also to hear the words from the one who is far away.”

Contradiction, Paradox, Nuance

There is a great passage in an old Marcos communiqué, “The retreat is making us almost scratch at the sky.” As the echo chambers, petty infighting, and silos build up on the Left, I thought it’d be appropriate to share his thoughts on how to respond to those fearful of heterodox-postmodern-non-ideological-anarchic stances:

After these confessions, he of the voice was exhorted to spontaneously declare himself innocent or guilty of the following series of accusations. To each accusation, he of the voice responded:

The whites accuse him of being dark. Guilty

The dark ones accuse him of being white. Guilty

The authentics accuse him of being indigenous. Guilty

The treasonous indigenous accuse him of being mestizo. Guilty

The machos accuse him of being feminine. Guilty

The feminists accuse him of being macho. Guilty

The communists accuse him of being anarchist. Guilty

The anarchists accuse him of being orthodox. Guilty

The Anglos accuse him of being Chicano. Guilty

The antisemitics accuse him of being in favor of the Jews. Guilty

The Jews accuse him of being pro-Arab. Guilty

The Europeans accuse him of being Asiatic. Guilty

The government officials accuse him of being oppositionist. Guilty

The reformists accuse him of being ultra. Guilty

The ultras accuse him of being reformist. Guilty

The “historical vanguard” accuses him of calling to the civic society and not to the proletariat. Guilty

The civic society accuses him of disturbing their tranquility. Guilty

The Stock Exchange accuses him of ruining their breakfast. Guilty

The government accuses him of increasing the consumption of antiacids in the government’s Departments. Guilty

The serious ones accuse of being a jokester. Guilty

The adults accuse him of being a child. Guilty

The children accuse him of being an adult. Guilty

The orthodox leftists accuse him of not condemning the homosexuals and lesbians. Guilty

The theoreticians accuse of being a practitioner. Guilty

The practicioners accuse of being a theorist. Guilty

Everyone accuses him of everything bad that has happened. Guilty

I take inspiration from this; I see a sort of playfulness, a glimpse of his “inner child”. Today, we could also say: to those who, without nuance, accuse others of being heretics or dogmatic; to those who would accuse us of rather having a messy, non-violent, and imperfect revolution on the streets rather than continue to perpetuate a self-congratulatory, alienating, bloviating, insular, suffocating, and self-defeating movement in substance and style, we must reply: we are Guilty.

Quantum Theory

Our understanding of reality and consciousness has grown by leaps and bounds with advances in quantum physics. The parallels between Eastern though and quantum mechanics are uncanny, and no one has explained this better than Fritjof Capra in his bestseller The Tao of PhysicsExploring connections between the sub-atomic world and Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophy, Capra takes the reader on a tour-de-force. Of course, it was the early physicists who worked on the uncertainty principle, double-slit experiment (wave-particle duality), complementarity, and quantum superpositioning who originally noted the connections between Eastern philosophies. Thus, consciousness and the observer effect somehow influences these experimental designs in ways science currently has no answer for.

Capra synthesizes this and builds upon these models: he insists on the interrelationship operating at certain scales of reality, and calls it a holistic/ecological worldview in his afterword to the 3rdedition.

There has been lots of push-back from other physicists since 1975 when the first edition appeared. The science is not in debate at the sub-atomic scale, rather, how it applies to the macroscopic world is what is at stake. There are plenty of scientists that dismiss Capra completely without acknowledging the very qualified, modest theory he put forward.

The new revelations about quantum entanglement push this line of thought further. The basic idea is: two electrons become “entangled” where the spin of one is connected with the other regardless of distance. When one electron’s spin is measured, the second spin correlates instantaneously, faster than the speed of light. This is what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Non-locality is another name. This flies in the face of the fundamentals laws of physics.

So what does this mean? The best analogy I can come up with (paraphrasing from someone, somewhere) is that when measuring (observing) the first particle, you are pushing through the fabric of space-time with your finger to “touch” the second particle at the same time, bypassing the physical distance between the two.

What are the implications here? Physicists insist this phenomenon doesn’t “scale up” to the macroscopic level. If we look at today’s level of scientific knowledge in physics, they’re right. There is little evidence to suggest this.

Yet, the simple fact that this can occur on sub-atomic levels is staggering. No one knows where these new teachings will take us.  Certainly, though, there are parallels with shamanic/animistic ways of thinking, or, to put it in the words of Stephen Hawking: “every particle and every force in the universe contains information, an implicit answer to a yes-no question.”

However, this interpenetration of levels/worlds in the social and mental realms, is quite pronounced, say, in medical facts. The higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, in poor and working class communities as well as for minorities is tied to the mental strain and stress of living in substandard housing without proper nutrition, lack of access to education, etc. African American women are 3-4 times more likely to lose children in childbirth compared to white women, due to lack of pre-natal care, and sometimes because their doctors won’t listen to them. Women who’ve suffered a heart attack are more likely to survive if their doctor is a woman, rather than a man. Again, because women doctors are generally: more competent, listen to patients’ symptoms better, and show higher emotional intelligence and compassion.

Gaia Theory

Turning to Earth systems, it was the pioneering work of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock who together formulated Gaia theory. Thinking of the Earth as a self-regulating super-organism is helpful in many fields, from geology to climate science to evolutionary biology. From the simple-programming of Lovelock’s Daisyworld, today we can model ecosystem resiliency, albedo effects in the Arctic Sea, and deforestation in tropical rainforests, the lungs of the Earth, all in terms of feedback loops which can tie into trends such as global warming, species extinction, desertification, and declining biodiversity.

Scientists are now willing to combine the shocking implications of chaos theory within Gaia: in the journal Nature Barnosky et al. write of “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere.” The authors write that “the plausibility of a future planetary state shift seems high” and they acknowledge the uncertainty about when it may happen. They also point out: “it is extremely unlikely or impossible for the system to return to its previous state.” Thus, if a hothouse Earth scenario becomes a reality, there will be no going back. Real estate speculation on Antarctica could be a thing in 100 years.

There are reasons to be hopeful. One line of thought was taken up recently by Bruno Latour, who along with a co-author, postulate what they call Gaia 2.0. Simply put, they are referring to a global system where:

…deliberate self-regulation—from personal action to global geoengineering schemes—is either happening or imminently possible. Making such conscious choices to operate within Gaia constitutes a fundamental new state of Gaia, which we call Gaia 2.0. By emphasizing the agency of life-forms and their ability to set goals, Gaia 2.0 may be an effective framework for fostering global sustainability.

While they posit this self-conscious biomimetic planning of bioregions as new, because they see it as the first chance to endeavor to perform this on a global scale, the novelty only really applies to a certain brand of Eurocentric/anthropocentric materialists, anti-intellectual monotheists, and other deniers of common sense and basic ecology. Indigenous groups have used bioregional eco-friendly practices for millennia, with First Nations sustainably caretaking land from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle.

Consider terra preta in Amazonia, the miraculous change from teosinte to maize which many estimate domestication circa 9000 years ago, mountain terracing in the Andes, super-high productivity with Central American milpas, multiyear field rotation for fallow lands to rejuvenate nutrients, seasonal burns throughout North America which increased deer and upland game bird populations, with agroforestry “forest farming” of chestnut (Chestnut Trees could produce over a ton per acre in vast portions of America before the die-off occurred), hickory, butternut, oak (acorns are used as a food source removing tannins with water) and more. Not to mention the thousands of uses of native plants and fungi for herbal/traditional medicine, preventive/holistic care, and shamanic/spiritual uses.

I would say one of the most interesting debates about what Gaia 2.0 could look like is mostly ignored, because it is occurring on the far side of the globe: Aotearoa, aka New Zealand. Their government has already launched a “Predator Free” program for 2050, where all mammalian predators are hoping to be eliminated with a variety of programs forming in the near future. Intense debate surrounds the gene drive approach, some techniques using CRISPR and some using other gene editing technology, to in effect, using genetic manipulation, create all male future generations of predators and thus, lead to localized extinction of these mammals in Aotearoa and its small outlying islands.

The bioethics are being debated by UN and national groups and many conservation groups are totally against the idea. Some Maori are open to the possibilities of gene-drive technology, yet they understandably critique the bad faith of the scientists involved, citing:

[An] increasing lack of cultural accountability in academic journals who seem happy to publish anything without thought, consideration, or commentary from the communities those papers have extracted from, taken swipe at, or made promises to… The second issue is what I deem bad research-dating behaviour, or rather how to build respectful relationships with indigenous peoples/communities… Relatively few, however, are actually committed to investing their time into building long-term relationships, despite being continually told that that is what is required… However, some researchers by-and-large continue to push an extractive model whereby they attempt to take intellectual property from communities in return for ‘the greater research good’. This model is naïve to the political situations that indigenous communities are operating in, and often places those communities in culturally unsafe positions.

Fritjof Capra notably calls the first step in transitioning to such a state of ecological awareness and cultural sensitivity “eco-literacy” and the next step eco-design. He’s on point. The funny, sad, and tragic thing (to me at least) is that exposes the orthodox technophile Western Left (seemingly the majority) as supporters of what many like to call Industrialism, the over-arching system, including capitalism and state socialism, of fossil fuel exploitation which is killing the planet.

According to the technophile proponents of unrestrained instrumental reason, many of us, well, sane and sensible people, who, in advocating for appropriate-scale technology, have the basic common sense to understand that Small is Beautiful, are a bunch of Luddites, crazy hippies, anti-civ, lifestylists, primitivists, nihilists, and/or misanthropes.

This type of thinking exposes the narrowness and superficiality of many “Leftists” who espouse all the right mantras, yet never bothered to take Marx’s example and actually study and stay abreast with key scientific and ecological advances.

I try my best to remain calm, patient, and equanimous, yet it is difficult with unabashed technophiles- again, possibly the majority of what qualifies as what’s left of the Left. There is a discomfort from listening to the droning on of progressives, and also many banal Leftist economists and historians who pay lip service to sustainability, while not even giving token acknowledgment of the nature of spiritual transformation required.

Many of these people, even on “progressive” alternative media, are unaware of their own immiseration via lack of engagement with the natural world, which I take no pleasure in pointing out, so my queasiness doesn’t qualify as schadenfraude, but apparently, there is another German word for what I’ve been feeling: Fremdschämen: “‘exterior shame’, for those of you who cringe in phantom pain when others make a fool of themselves, this is your word. It describes the feeling of shame when seeing someone else in an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation.” Perhaps Mr. Keuner was feeling this, as well.

Planting Seeds

Well, there is no high note to end this on. Most of activism goes towards wasting time attempting to change the minds of adults who’s conditioning and social infantilization have already reached epic proportions. There is no systemic, global plan for engaging the youth in ecological-cultural restorative practices. This is absolutely ridiculous and a severe oversight of academia, including lackadaisical teachers and administrators, as well as conservatives and liberal-progressives who insist on vote-campaigns and the wonders of traditional higher education which indoctrinates and obfuscates class issues: yet the idea of revolutionizing public education never crosses their minds.

Revolutionary artists have always understood this, as well as indigenous tribal societies and many poor and working class communities. Yet today, the hungry ghosts of global capitalism are here to consume the sustenance and life force of future generations in an era where information is at our fingertips as never before.

The current education model effectively imprisons children in unsafe and unhealthy schools, with psychotropic drugs, authoritarian teachers, mind-numbing boredom and ennui functioning as social conditioning for a future hellscape with billions in poverty worldwide, no decent jobs, benefits, or forms of belonging; alongside a crushing tyranny of corporate rule, oligarchy, global war, climate chaos, and a culture ruled by a principle of “repressive tolerance.”

Thus, it is inevitable that the most important thing to do is raise our children in a healthy way. This will require social engagement on a spiritual, intellectual, communal, emotional and material basis (i.e., sharing extra housing for homeless and low-income families, paying child-rearing adults a living wage for their time and labor, equal pay for women, ending oppression against the LGBTQ community, serious environmental education, etc.). Patriarchy and racism will not be solved, until youth are gifted the freedom and opportunity to pursue their passions unencumbered by structurally racist and sexist policies which enforce hierarchy, capitalism, and war, until pathetic guidelines advocating rote memorization in school are abandoned, and crippling conformity fueled by vapid pop culture and the psychically numbing effect of social media is no longer glorified. Poverty, war, and disease cannot be significantly lowered or eliminated without a fundamentally redistributive model.

Furthermore, some sort of restorative healing measures, including some sort of reparations for minorities, including but not limited to redistributing money, property, land, and the means of production, via a process truth and reconciliation in the public sphere, is absolutely crucial. This would necessarily coincide with the dissolving of corporate and state power.

Public and private land must be given back to citizens: we are only free when given the ability to use the means of production to transform corporate agriculture into communal, appropriately-scaled endeavors where communities can directly and deliberatively interact, and transform as need be, to the world-historical changes (climactically, ecologically, and socially) on the immediate horizon.

This would seem to entail relaxing the grip of the Apollonian style of “emotionless” pure logic (techne/episteme), and instrumental reason; and coming to terms with the obverse: the Dionysian, where the shamanic/animistic, nomadic, and anarchic ways of being are accepted. This shift, with the science to back it up, is seen in a many counter-culture belief systems: the push for radical intersubjectivity, expanding studies of the realms of consciousness, a hylozoic belief system, and formulating a new model of recognition (see Taylor, Fraser, Honneth, Butler, among others) which does not re-invigorate the power of capital.

There is no hope of this happening in today’s 24/7 mainstream media, driven by fear and sensationalism. Only a world-historical process, a paradigm shift, can overturn this momentum, which would require inner work to be done on a mass scale in the Western world alongside collective general strikes, debt jubilees, a bit of carnivalesque (Bakhtin)/festival/regional cultural appreciation/in the spirit of a Communitas, and a counter-cultural force which does not overly privilege the economic at the expense of other social struggles.

This critical way of teaching is a sort of “stance”: a tendency towards what Aristotle called eudaimonia, “the good life,” informed by virtue, areté. Another way of phrasing it would be “human flourishing,” and here this referred to a moral sensibility, but also an aesthetic, a form of posture or “stance” if you will, an art of living, a way of (Hölderlin-esque) dwelling poetically upon the Earth.

From another angle, we could consider this a search for The Ethics of AuthenticityAs Charles Taylor describes, what is structurally called for is:

…a many leveled struggle, intellectual, spiritual, and political, in which the debates in the public arena interlink with those in a host of institutional settings, like hospitals and schools, where the issues of enframing technology are being lived through in concrete form; and where these disputes in turn both feed and are fed by the various attempts to define in theoretical terms the place of technology and the demands of authenticity, and beyond that, the shape of human life and its relation to the cosmos.

Yet, again, this type of work should get started by educating children, because under the current conditions of liberal democracy, there is no acknowledgment of “interlinking”. There is only the autonomous individual: at least understood by most adults, whose notion of civic duty is voting, or volunteer work, or donating to charity. Rather, youth could be asked to inquire, as Rudy Rucker wondered:

One might also ask whether a person is best thought of as a distinct individual or as a nexus in the web of social interaction. No person exists wholly distinct from human society, so it might seem best to say that the space of society is fundamental. On the other hand, each person can feel like an isolated individual, so maybe the number-like individuals are fundamental. Complementarity says that a person is both individual and social component, and that there is no need to try to separate the two. Reality is one, and language introduces impossible distinctions that need not be made.

We can imagine a single cell in our body asking itself the same question: am I an individual or just part of a wider integrated whole? We can shift the scale but the self-similarity always follows: it’s turtles all the way down. This famous saying, of course, echoes what we know about fractals, and the possibility that we’re in a multiverse. There are also the First Nation stories about Spider Woman, or Grandmother Spider, who created the world. Again, we find the notion of the web- the basis of our bio/psycho/social being, and also a connection to string theory: spider-woman’s creation song, i.e. vibrations held by interconnected threads.

My preferred analogy to the individual/social false binary is mycological (or rhizomatic, though I’ll save D+G for another day): our conception of ourselves (ego) is the mushroom, the fruiting body which rises above the soil, while the unconscious mycelium sustains us below the surface. Although we stand above the detritus (wreckage, as Benjamin says) we are deeply enmeshed in it, history “is not even past” and it feeds, and thus can warp, our consciousness and sensibilities.

Thus we must tend to the soil, nurture the sprouts and green shoots of this new culture. The meager results of our efforts can be depressing (April really can be the cruelest month) yet we must move on, without clinging to hope.

As for the problem of language which Rucker mentioned, it’s worth reminding our sisters and brothers that propaganda is all around us today. As Malcolm X said: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Now is the time for the “revaluation of all values.” The struggle continues.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:50

This essay provides an overview of the bitterly polarized and consequential political moment in which the United States, along with many other countries, is embroiled in. It also suggests a strategic approach for U.S. progressives and the left to maximize our contribution to defeating the Trump and the far right, and advancing toward racial and social justice.

Big World Trends Strengthen the Right

Since the mid-1970s I see four main trends shaping the world and the country. Big capital in the U.S., for the most part, has moved to the right in reaction to each of them. Each of these trends has also invigorated rightwing populism.

First, while the U.S. and Europe are still the most powerful bloc, political and economic power is shifting to other parts of the world and international and national capitalist competition has intensified. These processes have been clear since the 1970s but have recently reached a new tipping point: Symbols of this changing balance of forces are the immediate as well as structural economic crisis of the European Union, the displacement of the Group of 8 by the Group of 20 (which includes the BRICS) and the failure of U.S. militarism in the Middle East. However, the U.S. is the still the only world superpower and its competitors and opponents have many divisions among them.

Second, since the 1970s the current system of financialized, high tech capitalism has generated a dramatic increase in capitalist wealth and economic inequality, a marked division between the wealthy and the struggling sections of working and middle classes, growing economic and political differentiation within those each of those classes and an explosion of homelessness. The Great Recession exposed the deep contradictions internal to contemporary capitalism.

Third, there is a major demographic and migratory shift in the world, transforming the racial and ethnic composition of the west itself. Symbols of these demographic trends are Obama’s election and reelection and the intense political polarization over immigration in Western Europe and the U.S.

Fourth, the danger of environmental crises, especially climate change, has greatly increased just as more countries like China and India are becoming enormous consumers of fuel and other natural resources. The ongoing wars in the Middle East, other resource wars, increased natural disasters and the international fight over global warming are symbols of this trend.

In this light it is no accident that for the last thirty-five years the majority of the corporate class, along with the politicians who represent them, has moved strongly to the right, grasping for even more political and economic power for themselves by attacking the standard of living of working people at home and opponents abroad. At the same time, rightwing racist populism – the grassroots rightward movement of working and middle-class sectors – has grown more extreme and more powerful. Rightwing corporate capital and rightwing populists are strongly allied, despite their obvious differences and internal fights. Militarism, attacks on the living standard of the working class, along with its organizations, criminalization of Black people, the poor and immigrants, mass incarceration, deregulation, financialization, privatization and gross inequality have ruled the day.

And now we have Trump and Trumpism.

TRUMPISM AND POLITICAL POLARIZATION

We are neck deep in one of the most consequential moments in our history. The country, indeed much of the world, is veering towards authoritarianism, war and even fascism. In the U.S., Trumpism—the alliance of racist, rightwing populism with the most reactionary sectors of corporate capital led by a cowardly, narcissistic bigot—is undermining the gains we have fought for and won since the New Deal and Civil Rights.

As scholars StevenMiller and Nicholas Taylor report in “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy,”survey data shows that when “intolerant whites” fear that democracy may benefit the growing numbers of people of color, many may abandon democracy altogether.

The Trumpists are endangering world peace and the most basic democratic norms, freedoms and institutions, not to speak of the planet itself.

In 2016 Trump and his racist populists trounced the Republican corporate elite that had ruled the country as a whole for most of the last 36 years and took control of the party. This reactionary Republican Party now controls the presidency, both houses of Congress, the federal judiciary, 33 governorships, and a record 68 of the 99 state legislative bodies, including both houses in 32 states, not to speak of most of the police and sheriff’s departments in the country. Although she won the popular vote, Hillary Clinton carried just 487 of the country’s 3,181 counties. These rightwing Republicans are on a tear to remake the country in their own image while they have the power to do so.

On our side we can be tremendously proud of the vibrant peoples’ Resistance that has surged to meet the Trumpist challenge. Rising up angry, women have created #MeToo, #TimesUp and the Women’s March which confront the patriarchy and sexual abuse that have permeated human cultures since time immemorial. Students have surged forward to provide powerful leadership to the fight against gun violence. Teachers are rallying in their thousands, even in deep red states such as Oklahoma and West Virginia. Bernie Sanders uncovered and mobilized a new generation of radicals. Native peoples surged forward at Standing Rock. Resistance is high among immigrants, Black people, Muslims, and LGBTs.

In all of these, young people and women are playing a vital role. Polls consistently show Trump limping at historically low approval ratings though also retaining a large, loyal and well-organized base.

Indeed, the country is probably more politically and culturally polarized than at any time since the Civil War. The far right is moving further to the right; the center left is moving further to the left. The space for public dialogue or compromise between the two is almost non-existent. The stakes are immense. It’s no exaggeration to say that we are in a state of peaceful civil war.

As of this writing, the prospects look positive, though by no means certain, for the Democrats to take back at least the House of Representatives in 2018 and to beat Trump in 2020. Such victories are absolutely crucial to our short and longterm prospects of defeating the right.

However, we are far less prepared to actually defeat the far right or undo the extensive damage it has done at all levels of our country. Without broad and strong state-based and national united fronts anchored by powerful and organized social justice forces, it is likely that the traditional centrist/liberal power players will compromise with the far right, and revert to some version of corporate neo-liberalism. By themselves they will be insufficient to defeat the right at the national let alone state levels and local levels.

The fight against the far right is likely to last decades with many ups and downs and a still very uncertain outcome. In fact, the battle against the right has been raging since at least the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Reconstruction was crushed after a decade of post-Civil War progress when the Republican elite cut a deal with the white supremacist South. The Civil Rights movement—the Second Reconstruction—has been sabotaged by decades of backlash by an alliance of the Republican corporate elite and racist populists, with collaboration by all too many Democrats. We must not fail at a Third Reconstruction. To prevail, we must decisively win public opinion and build massive organized strength, anchored by determined progressives and social justice forces, that are prepared to persist not just through 2020, but long past.

RACE AS THE PIVOT OF POLITICS

Racism is at the core of rightwing populism in this country. Of course, that populism has numerous important strands: sexism, gun rights, Christian fundamentalism, authoritarianism, economic anxiety, homophobia, climate denial, greed, fascism, transphobia, fiscal conservatism, libertarianism, etc. But, as study after study verifies, it is the perceived threat to white group dominance—racism and its variants such as Islamophobia and xenophobia—that is the critical political and cultural unifying thread of Trumpism and the force that sustains them through ups and downs.

The contemporary far right has its origins in the 1960s white backlash against the victories of the Civil Rights movement. But its increasing strength and radicalization centers on dire fear of the power of the coming people of color majority in the U.S. Despite the fact that whites will long be the largest group in the U.S., the far right is launching a preemptive strike—and many whites are willing to sacrifice the most basic norms of democracy to ensure their dominance. Racism is driving authoritarianism.

In my opinion, the “coming people of color majority by 2045” is often overstated and the idea that demography is destiny is not useful. Many Latinos are, racially, white, and the racial identity and politics of the increasing numbers of multiracial people is uncertain. People of color are extraordinarily diverse by history, class, politics and ethnicity. Moreover, there is a significant difference between percentage of the population and percentage of voters. In California, for example, whites have dropped to 39% of the population but are still 61% of the voters due to racial differences in rate of citizenship and voter participation.

Nonetheless, race is unmistakably the main pivot of politics. Racism is the glue of the far right and they cannot win unless they suppress the votes of people of color. The Democrats, let along the progressives, cannot win without the moral and political leadership and strength of people of color.

People of color, most especially Black people, are the most consistent progressive forces in the U.S. And, since the 2000 election, Blacks, Latinos, Asian, Arabs and Muslims have dramatically increased their opposition to the Republicans both in percentages and numbers. Without a doubt they are the core of progressive voters and the moral and political heartbeat of the fight against the right and for social justice. Yet there is still a marked tendency in the Democratic mainstream and among some progressives to take people of color for granted and spend inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to win over white Trump voters.

Despite much racial progress, the failure of this country to successfully settle accounts with its foundational history of racism and settler colonialism has, once again, come back to haunt us. If we are to truly defeat the far right, we will need to strike a mortal and sustained blow to racism.

The immigrant rights movement and #BlackLivesMatter have contributed greatly to this process, as has revulsion to the white nationalism that Trump has stoked. According to a poll done by fivethirtyeight.com, one of the positive developments of the last few years is the deepening understanding of and opposition to white privilege among liberal and moderate white people. The participation of tens of millions of whites, disproportionately women and LGBT, young and working class, will long be a strategic condition for building a powerful progressive movement, let alone to defeating the far right.

Yet downplaying the strategic centrality of the struggle against racism and the leadership role of people of color and other core progressive constituencies dilutes our ability to confront the racist right and to build the kind of multiracial, multi-class movement necessary to win hearts and minds and build power.

FIGHT FOR THE SOUTH AND SOUTHWEST

The fight against racism is seriously impaired without undertaking the struggle for the South and Southwest. The South, in particular, has more population, more Blacks and Latinos, more congressional representatives and more Electoral College votes than any other region. And its power is growing since it has been the fastest growing region for decades, a trend expected to continue well into the future. Yet progressives have largely ceded those regions to the far right.

The majority of Blacks still live in the South, augmented by three decades of Black re-migration to the region. Latinos now live throughout the country but the largest concentration is still in the Southwest.

Given the dynamics of racism, it is not surprising that the South and Southwest are also centers of poverty and the military industrial complex.

If we cede the South and Southwest to the right, we undermine the strength of our most progressive populations and forfeit the moral high ground in the fight against racism, poverty and militarism.

Both the South and Southwest are highly diverse and their politics and sociology are rapidly changing. The big cities are getting more numerous and larger, and all vote Democratic, as do an increasing number of suburbs. There are numerous Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans in the rural areas and far more Black and Latino majority counties than anywhere else in the country. Given the racial, economic and political diversity of these states, it is crucial to create a strategy appropriate to each one.

Moreover, it is possible to shift the political center of gravity and the coalition that holds governing power. Already Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C., Colorado, California, Nevada and New Mexico tilt strongly Blue. Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and perhaps Arizona are purple. Texas has virtually the same racial demographics as California and before long will be the most populous state in the country. It can be a national game changer.

THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT

The women’s movement—led by #MeToo, #TimesUp and the Women’s March—are an incredibly powerful force against Trump and a movement of truly historic potential that challenges oppressive gender relations and sexual harassment that are as old as humankind and almost as determinative as DNA. Not that previous women’s movements have not done the same. But what makes the current women’s movement different is that in its brief history it has demonstrated astonishing power to seize media attention and mobilize supporters, causing the unceremonious ouster of corporate, cultural and political big shots almost weekly. Even rabidly rightwing Fox television has found it in its interest to do so.

Of course, there is a long, long, long way to go. Patriarchy and sexual abuse are part of the fabric of most institutions in U.S. (and global) life, from workplaces to schools to households. But #MeToo and #Times Up are off to a very impressive start.

The women’s movement has not only won the moral high ground, it has also begun to transform politics. An historic number of women have contended for elected office in these last two years, and an historic number have won. Women candidates have driven Democratic voter turnout, greatly enhancing Democratic electoral results.

Sexual abuse is hardly confined to rightwingers or Republicans. It poisons the entire political spectrum and it would be both immoral and politically foolhardy to confine its targets to pro-Trumpers.

Women’s leadership has become not just a theoretical necessity, but an increasing practical reality. And the related surge of the LGBT movement over the last two decades is also truly remarkable. This movement has made it crystal clear that it is not morally acceptable nor politically viable to exclude the fight against homophobia and transphobia from the core of the progressive agenda.

INSIDE/OUTSIDE STRATEGY

Another positive development of the last decade or so is the increasing sophistication among progressives about how to navigate the complexities of the U.S. electoral system.

Not long ago many progressives were mired in abstentionism, third partyism, or being passive, self-denying Democrats. But, in opposite ways, the victory of Obama and the victory of Trump—as well as the stunning presidential run of Bernie Sanders—have awakened the vast majority to the crucial importance of organizing both inside and outside of elections, and both inside and outside of the Democratic Party if we are going to build a powerful, independent social justice movement that might one day achieve governing power.

The U.S. two party system sets high bars of funding and scale of operations to seriously contend and is fraught with racial and wealth inequities. The Electoral College violates even the basic democratic principle of one person, one vote. We must fight to democratize the electoral system against the dominating role of big money, to eliminate the racist and undemocratic Electoral College, denial of the vote to former felons, pernicious gerrymandering and other forms of voter suppression.

Many of these reforms would require us to accumulate enormous power in Congress and state by state strength to meet the high bar of constitutional change. This strength can only be forged by struggling within the current system. Failure to seriously engage in elections marginalizes us from the fight for political power and public opinion, blocks us from organizing the hundreds of millions of voters and constrains our fight for policies and programs that shape the lives of everyone who lives in this country.

Since I neglected it in this book of essays, I think it is important to highlight the importance of state-based strategies and organizations and not just national ones:

First, the majority of laws that govern our lives are decided at the state and local levels, not the federal.

Second, the presidency is decided not by the national vote, but by the tally in each state.

Third, the federal Congress consists of representatives elected in the states.

Fourth, state governments generally control redistricting which has an enormous impact on congressional and legislative electoral outcomes.

Fifth, the political dynamics and forces vary quite drastically from one state to the other, requiring unique analyses and strategies tailored to each state. Indeed, a real national strategy would be extremely inadequate if it did not include state strategies.

And last but hardly least, the state level presents a much more favorable and manageable terrain and scale compared to the nation as a whole at which to build mass organization and power. Without mass progressive organization we will significantly remain at the mercy of the powers that be.

THE FIGHT FOR PEACE

Trumpism presents a clear and present danger of expanded and intensified wars, on many fronts and continents, up to and including the previously unthinkable possibility of nuclear war. The administration has already embarked on a massive military build-up and appointed a Cabinet replete with war criminals. Terrorism, or the often-exaggerated threat of it, might well be the excuse Trump uses to embark on new wars, especially with Iran. Yet one of the important unresolved issues facing progressives is how to reinvigorate the peace movement and respond to terrorism.

The U.S. has been at war since Bush launched his attack on Afghanistan following Sept. 11. These wars in the Middle East have now lasted five times longer than the U.S. involvement in WWII, wasted hundreds of billions—maybe trillions of dollars, killed tens of thousands of people, displaced tens of millions of people from their homes and homelands, crushed the societal infrastructures (government, public safety, schools, neighborhoods, health care systems, etc.) of several countries, and caused a massive increase in poverty.

Even when the antiwar in Iraq movement reached massive proportions in the early 2000s, it was an extremely rare domestic social justice organization that participated. While social justice individuals turned out en masse to the demonstrations, almost no organization adopted an official antiwar position let alone crafted antiwar programs or appointed staff to help build the antiwar movement or actions.

Seventeen years later, somehow most U.S. people have normalized war and even the antiwar movement has not awakened to the new dangers posed by Trumpist militarism. We cannot be an effective opposition to the right, let alone defeat it, if we do not place the struggle against militarism and for peace at the center of our agenda.

CHALLENGING CORPORATE POWER AND A THIRD RECONSTRUCTION

Of course, it is not just the far right that is creating havoc in peoples’ lives. Contemporary corporate capitalism is producing gross inequality and misery alongside obscene wealth at an accelerating rate. For example, California is by far the richest state in the union and it is politically dominated by Democrats, many of them self-styled progressives. Yet last year the U.S. census announced that, when cost of living is considered (especially housing), California has the highest poverty rate of any state in the country!

This puts progressives and social justice forces in a complicated relationship with corporate, anti-Trump forces. On one hand, we know there’s a good chance they would make all sorts of negative compromises with Trump and Trumpism if they are put back in power by themselves. On the other hand, they hold so much political, economic and media power compared to the social justice forces that it is pretty much impossible to conceive how we could defeat Trump and Trumpism without their participation. Many corporate leaders, media and pro-corporate politicians are already engaged in the fight against Trump, and it would not be surprising to see many more join in if, for any reason, corporate profits or the stock market significantly wane.

We are, necessarily, in a complicated unity and struggle relationship with them, not unlike the relationship the rightwing populists have navigated with the corporate Republicans for the past forty years. Realism about power relationships and skill at changing them is a hallmark of a serious movement.

Yet the abysmal results of high tech, financialized capitalism—even at its best as in California—ought to be a signal that social justice cannot be approached, let alone achieved, without confronting corporate power and beginning to effect a real social transformation. Such a transformation is purely hypothetical unless we are able to massively build our forces within the broad front that can defeat the right and divide the corporates.

Within this, the specifically left and social justice forces will need even more power to be able to advance toward a new era of social progress. The struggle against the far right and for a Third Reconstruction cannot be victorious without constructing a sweeping alliance and progressive program that includes and speaks to the needs and dignity of all working people for peace, democracy, and social and environmental justice. These fights will surely involve tremendous collisions with corporate power and the corporate structures which are the root cause of much of the inequality, poverty and war in the world.

STRATEGY SUMMARY

In brief:

First, we need to correctly target the main enemy, which for some time ahead is the Trump-led racist authoritarian right which has captured the Republican Party and controls the vast majority of the federal, state and local governmental elected and non-elected bodies.

Second, to defeat the far right and simultaneously to lay the basis for social advance when this is achieved, we need to create broad national and state united fronts with a unified inside/outside strategy, organizing inside and outside elections, the Democratic Party and the halls of power.

Third, our strategy needs to centrally incorporate racial, economic and gender justice and be connected to our core progressive social base of people of color, poor folk, labor, women, youth, LGBTs and students. People of color and women’s leadership will be crucial to ignite working class-oriented racial and social justice movements and to defeat the right.

Fourth, we must fight for the South and Southwest in order to give substance to and build the power of people of color, the fight against poverty, the fight against militarism, the struggle against the far right and to contend for power in the largest and fastest growing regions of the country.

Fifth, despite the blows that the corporate powers have rained down upon labor, as well as its own internal inconsistencies, the labor movement is still one of the most powerful parts of the anti-right and progressive movements and the centerpiece of the crucial fight for economic justice. Increased political unity between the social justice and labor movements is key to the future of our movement and our country.

Sixth, we must have a governance strategy, not a strategy limited to “influence” or “impacting public policy and debate” and certainly not a strategy of self-righteous isolation. The people and the country need us, but only if we take ourselves seriously enough to prepare to govern.

Seventh, we must build independent, progressive power, but also strategic and ecumenical coalitions in order to build real power inside and outside of the Democratic Party, but to simultaneously play a major role in an “anti-right” front against the Republicans and rightwingers who are our main enemies.

Eighth, we need to simultaneously work national, state and local strategies, remembering that states are key building blocks of our electoral and governmental systems.

Ninth, we need to grasp the intimate interconnection of the fight for social justice with the fight against militarism and for peace.

Tenth, we need to dramatically broaden and deepen our concept and practice of communications work if we are to reach tens of millions and fight for public opinion.

Last, even as we prioritize the urgent task of defeating the right, we need to prepare the ground for a profound social transformation, a Third Reconstruction. That would be a period when peace and social justice forces are powerful enough to set a governing agenda that makes unprecedented strides toward peace and racial, gender, social, economic and environmental justice, but which is short of, yet perhaps might open the way to, a post-capitalist society.

There are many more elements to an adequate strategy, and countless more that will emerge as we intensify the struggle. How can we maximize the diminishing strength of labor? What is the strategic meaning of the changing nature and divisions within the working class and what sectors might be able to play a role similar to the industrial proletariat in the past? And, besides communities of color, what other social forces among working people can be mobilized to be the antiracist and class anchors of the multiracial, multi-class social justice movement? What is the role of the environmental crises and the environmental movements? And what about the complicated historical and ongoing problems of Marxism and socialism—of all varieties—in forging a sustainable, equitable and democratic future?

Hopefully, however, I have provided some substantial ideas that will be useful to consider in the critical process of advancing social justice work, especially its electoral component, in the coming years.

(This essay is excerpted from the introduction to my new book by the same title now available at www.lulu.com. I have also launched my website at www.bobwingracialjustice.org.)

 

Categories: News for progressives

Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:50

Photo Source David Drexler | CC BY 2.0

Hunter S. Thompson is one of, if not the most, famous journalist of the last fifty years. His inimitable style and approach to the work of journalism made it an art form, with his mastery in a domain of its own. The first ten years of his work included three books—Hells Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, and Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail 1972. These books not only sold lots of copies and garnered innumerable positive reviews and much praise, they also provided the world with a uniquely manic, even psychedelic vision of the twentieth century USA. This vision was not necessarily (if ever) pretty. Indeed, at times it was filled with a darkness that described an evil in grotesque scenarios reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings of hell and William S. Burroughs’ descriptions of his fictional place he called the Interzone.

Crucial to Thompson’s best pages describing the nature of the America he wrote about was the man he felt embodied the darkest elements of the United States of America. That man was Richard Nixon. Nixon the politician, Nixon the president, Nixon the con artist, Nixon the actor. Both a foil and a villain for Thompson, Nixon represented the forces of greed, hatred, racism and fear that continue to plague US society and culture to this day. It is these forces and humans like Nixon all too willing to manipulate them that have done more to destroy the ideals of democracy and freedom this nation claims to uphold. It is men and women like Nixon who manipulate the mechanics of democracy to destroy democracy. This was the fundamental belief that underlined all of Thompson’s writing. One can only wonder what he would write today in this time of the Trumpists.

Ultimately, Thompson became as famous as his works. Some would even argue that he was more famous. It is this cult of personality that both fed his success and ensured his slide downward. Movies were made about him and biographies were published. He even became the model for a Doonesbury comics character. While this attention may have helped him financially, it detracted from his writing and his family. Still, he continued writing his uniquely composed insights and attacks on the unfolding situation that are modern times until he died, never sparing the powerful from his still sharp pen.

Quite recently, a new biography of Thompson was published. Titled Freak Kingdom: Hunter S. Thompson’s Manic Ten-Year Crusade Against American Fascism and authored by Timothy Denevi, this text captures the essence of Thompson’s most prolific (and arguably his best) years as a journalist. Denevi begins his story just before his subject moves to San Francisco as a reporter for the National Observer. He ends this biography about ten years later shortly after the book publication of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972. In between, the reader visits (or re-visits) the Bay Area counterculture, the Los Angeles Chicano uprisings, Thompson’s campaign for sheriff in Colorado, the trips with Zeta Acosta to Las Vegas and the McGovern and Nixon presidential campaigns of 1972. Denevi skillfully weaves together Thompson’s family life and his working life. He describes his riding and drinking with the Hells Angels and riding and drinking with the campaign press corps. He discusses Thompson’s amphetamine use and his drinking. Context and details are woven into a multidimensional tale that brings the reader into the historical moment being chronicled. Denevi’s writing does more than just bring the period alive, it makes one want to be there as if it were brand new.

There’s never been a better chronicler of the death of US democracy than Hunter S. Thompson. The rest of us can only write in the shadows his work cast. Similarly, there has never been a Hunter S. Thompson biographer who has captured Thompson’s work as well as Denevi. In this biography, one is reminded not only of the impressionistic intensity of Thompson’s writing but also of its brutal clarity; of his ability to force the reader to acknowledge and ascertain his truths. By putting Thompson’s work first, Denevi’s book has helped ensure that Thompson has a prime place in the pantheon of American writers. Simply put, Freak Kingdom does justice to Hunter S. Thompson.

Categories: News for progressives

Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:50

As Americans go to the polls today, November 6, 2018, no doubt some will be thinking of the hordes of immigrants we’re told are invading the US southern border. Or they may be remembering the pipe bombs, the killings in Pittsburg, or the racist murders occurring almost daily elsewhere that barely get press coverage anymore.

If they’re Millennials, they may be considering whether even to vote or not, since neither wing of the corporate Party of America—aka Republicans or Democrats—have done much for them over the past ten years. Burdened mostly with low paying service jobs and $ trillion dollar student debt payments that consume roughly 37% of their paychecks, with real incomes well below what their parents were earning at their age, and with prospects for the future even more bleak, many Millennials no doubt wonder what’s in it for them by voting for either party’s candidates. Will Millennial youth even bother to turn out to vote? As an editorial in the Financial Times business newspaper recently noted, “Only 28% of Americans aged 18 to 29 say they are certain to vote this November”. Political cynicism has become the dominant characteristic of much of their generation—deepening since the politicians’ promises made in 2008 have failed to materialize under Obama and now Trump.

If they’re Latinos and Hispanics, as they go to the polls they are aware their choice is either Trump Republicans who consider them enemies, criminals and drug pushers; or Democrats who, in the past under Obama, deported their relatives in record numbers and repeatedly abandon programs like DACA (‘Dreamers) as a tactical political necessity, as they say. Who will they trust least? One shouldn’t be surprised if they too largely sit it out, harboring a deep sense of betrayal by Democrats and concern they may soon become the next ‘enemy within’ target of Trump and his White Nationalist shock troops who are being organized and mobilized behind the scenes by Trump’s radical right wing buddy, Steve Bannon, and his billionaire and media friends.

If they’re African Americans, they know from decades of experience that nothing changes with police harassment and murders, regardless which party is in power.

If they’re union workers in the Midwest, they know the Democrats are the party of free trade and job offshoring, while Republicans are the party favoring low minimum wages, elimination of overtime pay, privatization of pensions, and cuts to social security.

All these key swing groups of Millennials, Hispanics, African-Americans, and union workers in the midwest—i.e. those who gave Obama an overwhelming victory in 2008, gave him one more chance in office in 2012 despite failure to deliver, and then gave up on the unfulfilled promises in 2016—will likely not be thinking about the real ‘issues’ as they go to the polls. For the ‘Great Distraction’ is underway like never before.

The Great Distraction

It’s the ‘enemy within’ that’s the problem, we’re told by Trump. And the ‘enemy without’. Or, in the case of the immigrant—it’s both: the enemy without that’s coming in! So put up the barbed wire. Grab their kids when they arrive, as hostage bait. Send the troops to the border right now, to stop the hordes that just crossed into southern Mexico yesterday. Hurry, they’re almost here, rapidly proceeding to the US on foot. (They run fast, you see). They’re in Oaxaca southern Mexico. They’ll be here tomorrow, led by Muslim terrorists, carrying the bubonic plague, and bringing their knapsacks full of cocaine and heroin.

And if the enemy immigrant is not enough is not enemy enough, the ‘enemy within’ is increasingly also us, as Trump adds to his enemies list the ‘mob’ of Americans exercising their 1st amendment rights to assembly and protest against him. And don’t forget all those dangerous Californians who won’t go along with his climate, border incarceration, trade or other policies. Or their 80 year old Senator Diane Feinstein, their ring-leader in insurrection. They’re all the ‘enemy within’ too. The chant ‘lock ‘em up’ no longer means just Hillary. So Trump encourages and turns loose his White Nationalist supporters to confront the horde, the mob, and their liberal financiers like George Soros. If all this is not an unraveling, what is?

Not to be outdone in the competition for the Great Distraction, there’s the Democrats resurrecting their age-old standby ‘enemy without’: the Russians. They’re into our voting machines. Watch out. They’re advancing on Eastern Europe, all the way to the Russian-Latvian border. Quick, send NATO to the Baltics! Arrange a coup partnering with fascists in Ukraine! Install nuclear missiles in Poland! And start deploying barbed wire on the coast of Maine and Massachusetts, just in case.

However, behind all the manufactured fear of immigrants, US demonstrators, and concern about violence- oriented white nationalists whipped up and encouraged by Trump and his political followers—lies a deeper anxiety permeating the American social consciousness today. Much deeper. Whether on the right or left, the unwritten, the unsaid, is a sense that American society is somehow unraveling. And it’s a sense and feeling shared by the left, right, and center alike.

Both sides—Trump, Republicans, Democrats, as well as their respective media machines—sidestep and ignore the deep malaise shared by Americans today. Older Americans shake their heads and mumble ‘this isn’t the country I grew up in’ while the younger ask themselves ‘is this the country I’ll have to raise my kids in’?

There’s a sense that something has gone terribly wrong, and has all the appearance will continue to do so. It’s a crisis, if by that definition means ‘a turning point’. And a crisis of multiple dimensions. A crisis that has been brewing and growing now for at least a quarter century since 1994 and Newt Gingrich’s launching of the new right wing offensive that set out purposely to make US political institutions gridlocked and unworkable until his movement could take over—and succeeded. It’s a crisis that everyone feels in their bones, if not in their heads. The dimensions of the unraveling of America today are many. Here’s just some of the more important:

Growing Sense of Personal Physical Danger

Mass and multiple killings and murders are rampant in America today, and rising. So much so that the media and press consciously avoid reporting much of it unless it involves at minimum dozens or scores of dead. There are more than 33,000 gun killings a year in the US now. 90 people a day are killed by guns. While we hear of the occasional school shooting, the fact is there are 273 school shootings so far just in 2018. That’s one per school day.

The suicide rate in America is also at record levels, with more than 45,000 a year now and escalating. Teen age suicides have risen by 70% in just the last decade. The fastest rate of increase is among 35-64 year olds. People are literally being driven crazy by the culture, the insecurities, the isolation, the lack of meaningful work, the absence of community, and the hopelessness about a bleak future that they’re killing themselves in record numbers.

And let’s not forget the current opioid crisis. The opioid death rate now exceeds more than 50,000 a year. These aren’t folks over-dosing in back alleys and crack houses. These are our relatives, neighbors and friends. And the ‘pushers’ are the big pharmaceutical companies and their salespersons who pushed the Fetanyl and Oxycontin on doctors telling them it was safe—just like the Tobacco companies maintained for decades that cigarettes were ‘safe’ when their tests for decades showed their product produced cancer. Big Pharma knew too. They are the criminals, and their politicians are the paid-for crooked cops looking the other way. All that’s not surprising, however, since Big Pharma is also the biggest lobbyist and campaign contributor industry in the US.

So it’s 33,000 gun killings, 43,000 suicides, and 50,000 opioid deaths a year. Every year. That compares to US deaths during the entire 8 years of Vietnam War of 56,000! That’s a death rate over three years roughly equal to all Americans who died during the three and a half years of World War II! We all got rightly upset over 2500 killed on 9-11 by terrorists. But the NRA and the Pharmaceutical companies are the real terrorists here, and politicians are giving them a complete pass.

Instead of Big Pharma CEOs and leaders of the National Rifle Association (NRA), we’re told the real enemies are the desperate men, women and children willing to walk more than a thousand miles just to get a job or to escape gang violence. Or we’re told it’s the Russians meddling in the 2016 election and threatening our democracy—when the real threat to American democracy is home grown: In recent court-sanctioned gerrymandering; in mass voter suppression underway in Georgia, North Dakota, and elsewhere; in the billions of dollars being spent by billionaires, corporations, and their political action committees this election cycle to ensure their pro-business, pro-wealthy candidates win.

News of these real killing machines goes on every day, creating a sense of personal insecurity that Americans have not felt or sensed perhaps since the frontier settlement period in the 19th century. It’s not the immigrants or the Russians who are responsible for the guns, suicides, and drug overdoses. But they certainly provide a useful distraction from those who are. People feel the danger has penetrated their communities, their neighborhoods, their homes. But politicians have simply and cleverly substituted the real enemies with the immigrant, the mob, and that old standby, the Russians.

Income & Wealth Inequality Accelerating

Another dimension of the sense of unraveling is the economic insecurity that hangs like a ‘death smog’ over public consciousness since the 2008-09 crash. As more and more average American households take on more debt, work more part time jobs or hours, and adjust to a declining standard of living, they are simultaneously aware that the wealthiest 1% or 10% are enjoying income and wealth gains not seen since the ‘gilded age’ of the late 19th century. The share of national pre-tax income garnered by the top 10% has risen from 35% in 1980 to roughly 50% today. That’s 15% more to the top, equivalent to roughly than $3 trillion more in income gains by the top 10% that used to be distributed among the bottom 90%.

How could an America that once shared income gains from economic growth among its classes and across geography from World War II through the 1970s have now allowed this to happen, many ask? And why is it being allowed to get worse?

There are many ways to measure and show this economic unraveling. Whether national income shares for workers and wages falling from 64% to 56% of total national income; or the distribution to the rich of more than a $1 trillion a year every year since 2009 in stock buybacks and dividend payments; or the $15 trillion in tax cuts for investors, businesses, and corporations since 2001; or Trump’s recent $4 trillion tax windfall for the same; or stock market values tripling and quadrupling since 2009; or stagnant real wage gains for the middle class and declining real wages for those below the median.

Whatever dimension or study or statistic, the story is the same. Economic gaps are widening everywhere. And everyone knows it. And except for that noble, modern Don Quixote of American Politics, Bernie Sanders, it appears no one in either party is proposing to reverse it. So the awareness festers below the surface, adding to the realization that something is no longer right in America.

The sense of economic unraveling may have slowed somewhat after 2010, but it continues none the less, as millions of Americans are forced to assume low paying service jobs. Working two or more jobs to make ends meet. Taking Uber and gig work on the side. Going on Medicaid or foregoing health insurance coverage altogether. Moving to lower quality housing and taking on more room-mates. Treading economic water in good times, and sinking and gasping for air during recessions and in the bad times. Just making due. While the wealthy grow unimaginably wealthier by the day.

Never-Ending Wars

The sense of anxiety is exacerbated by the never ending wars of the 21st century. How is it they never end, given the most powerful military and funding of more than $1 trillion a year every year, it is asked?

Newspaper headlines haven’t changed much for 17 years. The war in Afghanistan and elsewhere continues. Change the dates and you can insert the same news copy. With more than 1000 US bases in more than 100 countries, America since 2001 has been, and remains, on a perpetual war footing. All that’s changed since 2000 is that the USA no longer pays for its wars by raising taxes, as it had throughout its history. Today the US Treasury and Federal Reserve simply ‘borrow’ the money from partners in empire elsewhere in the world—while they cut taxes on the rich at the same time.

And the annual war bill is going up, fast. Trump has increased annual spending on ‘defense’ by another $85 billion a year for the past two years. Approaching $150 billion if the notorious US ‘black budget’ spending on new military technology development—not indicated anywhere in print—is added to the amount. And more is still coming in the next few years, to pay for new cybersecurity war preparation, for next generation nuclear weapons, and for Trump’s ‘space force’. Total costs for defense and war—not just the Pentagon—is now well over $1 trillion annually in the US. And with tax cutting for those who might pay for it now accelerating, the only sources to pay for the trillion dollar plus annual US budget deficits coming for the next decade is either to borrow more or cut Social Security, Medicare, education and other social programs. And those cuts are coming too—soon if one believes the public declarations of Senate Republican Majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

Technology Angst

As our streets and neighborhoods become more dangerous, as inequality deepens, as wars, tax cuts for the rich and social program cuts for the rest become the disturbing chronic norm— awareness is growing that technology itself is beginning to tear apart the social fabric as well. Admitted even by visionaries and advocates of technology, the negatives of technology may now be outweighing its benefits.

Studies now show problems of brain development in children over-using hand-held screen devices. Excessive screen viewing, studies show, activates the same areas of the brain associated with other forms of addiction. Social media is encouraging abusive behavior by enabling offenders to hide. What someone would not dare to say or do face to face, they now freely do protected by space and time. Social media is transforming human communications and relations rapidly, and not always positively. It is also enabling the acceleration of the surveillance state. Massive databases of personal information are now accessible to any business, to virtually any governments, and to unscrupulous individuals around the globe intent on blackmail, threats, and worse. Privacy is increasingly a fiction for those participating in it.

And employment is about to become more precarious because of it. Technology is creating and diffusing new business models, destroying the old, and doing so far too rapidly to enable adjustment for tens of millions of people. Amazon. Uber. Gig economy. Wiping out millions of jobs, increasing hours worked, uncertainty of employment, lowering of wages. And next Artificial Intelligence. Projected by McKinsey and other business consultants to eliminate 30% of current jobs by the end of the next decade. Where will my job be in ten years, many now ask themselves? Will I be able to make it to retirement? Will there be anything like retirement any more after 2035?

Unchecked and unregulated accelerating technological change is adding to the sense of social unraveling of key institutions that once provided a sense of personal security, of social stability, of a vision of a future that seemed more related to the present, rather than to an even more anxiety ridden, uncertain, unstable future.

A Culture Increasingly Coarse & Decadent

When the President of the US brags he could shoot someone on the street corner and (his) people would still love him, such statements raise the ghostly spectre of prior decades when the vast majority of German people thought the same of Hitler. And when one of his closest advisers, Rudy Guliani, declares publicly that ‘Truth is not the Truth’, it amounts to an endorsement for an era of lies and gross misrepresentation by public figures. With chronic lying the political norm, what can anyone believe from their elected officials, many now ask? It’s no longer engaging in political spin for one’s particular policy or program. It’s politics itself spinning out of control. Public political discourse consists increasingly to targeting, insulting, vilifying, and threatening one’s political opponents. Trump’s railing against politicians and government itself smacks of Adolph’s constant insulting indictment of democratically elected Weimar German governments and leaders in the 1920s. It leaves the American public with a nervous sense of how much further can and will this targeting, personalizing, and threatening go?

But the political culture is not the only cultural element in decline. A broader cultural decline has become evident as well. Americans flock to view films of dystopia visions of America, of zombies, and ever-intense CGI violence where fictitious super heroes save the world. More of popular music has become overtly misogynous, angry, mean, and violent in both sound and lyrics. And has anyone recently watched how high schoolers now dance, in effect having sex with their pants on?

Collapse of Democratic Institutions

Not least is the sense of unraveling of political institutions and the practice of democracy itself. As a recent study estimated, Democracy is in decline in the US, having dropped in an aggregate score of 94 in 2010 to a low of 86 today—when measured in terms of free and fair elections, citizen participation in politics, protection of civil rights and liberties, and the rule of law. The study by the non-profit, Freedom House, concluded “Democracy is in crisis’ and under assault and in retreat.

In America, the restrictions on civil rights and liberties have been growing and deepening since 2001 and the Patriot Acts, institutionalized in annual NDAA legislation by Congress thereafter. Legislatures have been gerrymandered to protect the incumbents of both wings of the Corporate party of America. The US Supreme Court has expanded its authority to select presidents (Gore v. Bush in 2001), defined corporations as people with the right to spend unlimited money which it defines as free speech (Citizens United), and will likely next decide that Presidents (Trump) can pardon himself if indicted (thus ending the fiction that no one is above the law and endorsing Tyranny itself).

The two wings of the Corporate Party of America meanwhile engage in what is an internecine class war between factions of the American ruling class. More billionaires openly contest for office as it becomes clear millions and billions of dollars are now necessary to get elected.

Voter suppression spreads from state to state to disenfranchise millions, from Georgia to the Dakotas, to Texas and beyond. If one lacks a street number address, or an ID card, or has ever committed a felony, or hasn’t voted recently, or doesn’t sign a ballot according to their birth certificate name, or any other number of technical errors—they are denied their rights as citizens. What was formerly ‘Jim Crow’ for blacks in the South has become a de facto ‘Jim Crow Writ Large’ encompassing even more groups across a growing number of states in America.

A sense of growing political disenfranchisement adds to the feeling that the country is politically unraveling as well—adding to the concurrent fears about growing physical insecurity, worsening economic inequality and declining economic opportunities, and an America mired in never ending wars. An America in which it is evident that political elites are increasingly committed to policies of redistribution of national wealth to the wealthiest. An America where more fear that technology may be taking us too far too fast. An America where the culture grows meaner, nastier and more decadent, where lies are central to the political discourse, and where political institutions no longer serve the general welfare but rather a narrow social and economic elite who have bought and captured those institutions.

And, not least, an America where politicians seem intent on drifting toward a nationalism on behalf of a soon to be minority White America—i.e. politicians who are willing to endorse violence and oppression of the rest in order to opportunistically assume and exercise power by playing upon the fears, anxieties, and insecurities as the unraveling occurs.

Categories: News for progressives

Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:50

Poor Jesus and the Virgin Mary. From the perspective of the “kids” (what family, mostly my sister, called my two brothers and me when we were still cute), no gods from religion’s orthodoxy could compete with the superhero gods from Marvel Comics. And unlike the Biblical gods, superheroes did not demand worship, although worship them we undoubtedly did. Iron man and Thor and Captain America invited us to revel in their sagas, serialized stories of mounting peril and unerring redemption. We also imagined ourselves as Thor, Captain America, and Ironman; no religion allows you to step into God’s shoes.

Our only problem is that we were too poor to afford comics. Enter Amparo, a real life Santa Claus. One of my mom’s oldest and closest friends, Amparo would show up (always on foot, few people owned cars in el segundo) with a bag stuffed with magazines (Mad, for example) and lots of comics. All in good condition. She never explained how or from whom she acquired her stash. No one in our neighborhood could afford them, much less throw them out.  She was as poor or perhaps even poorer than us, but looking back, I would not be surprised if she bought the comics. Like I said, she was Santa Claus. Her hair was always unkept and short (she scratched her head to coax out answers and memories which came out in slow chunks) and her face was chiseled into a welcoming grin. She cussed like a cholo, especially to one of my older brothers with whom she joked. Amparo means protection or shelter. It should have meant education. The only thing we read growing up were comics, and mostly comics that Amparo brought. (She would also bring news, like she woke my mom one morning to tell her that RFK had been assassinated). The language of comics was grandiloquent which demanded from the reader a certain mastery of English. Reading comics explains why I tested far beyond my expected reading levels and why a teacher asked if my family read to me (they did not).

If Amparo was Santa, Stan Lee was Santa’s master elf, the mastermind behind our superheroes. Each Marvel comic book had a column by Mr. Lee which he signed with Excelsior, which he interpreted as “Onward and upward to greater glory!” I read each column and was warmed by his optimism. Marvel so motivated me that I once wrote in and Marvel published my letter to the editor in Doctor Strange. At least I think it was Doctor Strange. I kept the edition for years, but lost it decades ago.

Now we visit New York City often and, given the opportunity, we go the rooftop to be awestruck by the panorama of lights, the iconic skyline. I also invariably imagine myself doing impossible feats of parkour, of scaling walls like Spiderman, of hurdling obstacles like Daredevil, and of making things right for humanity.  Excelsior, indeed.

Oscar Gonzalez lives in Allen, Texas, a town with tons of comic books that he hasn’t read. He can be reached at: jog707@yahoo.com.

 

Categories: News for progressives

The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:49

Tony Maxwell, a retired African-American naval officer, was trying to get his Jacksonville, Florida neighbor to go vote with him. The young neighbor, a high-school-dropout, had no interest.

“Voting,” the young man declared, “doesn’t change anything.”

Can Democrats use their newly won House majority to reach that dispirited young man in Jacksonville? That all depends on their eagerness to think big and bold — and to challenge the concentrated wealth and power that keeps things from changing.

Of course, big and bold new legislation will be next to impossible to enact with a Republican Senate and White House. But just pushing for this legislation — holding hearings, encouraging rallies, taking floor votes — could move us in a positive direction and send the message that meaningful change can happen.

This sort of aggressive and progressive pushing would, to be sure, represent a major break with the Democratic Party’s recent past. The reforms Democrats in Congress have championed have often been overly complicated and cautious — and deeply compromised by a fear of annoying deep-pocketed donors.

That fear may be easing. A number of leading Democrats with eyes on 2020 — and the party’s growing progressive base — have advanced proposals that could spark real change in who owns and runs America.

Senator Bernie Sanders started the big-and-bold ball rolling in 2016. He’s still adding fresh new ideas to the political mix. This past September, he introduced legislation that would discourage corporate execs from underpaying workers.

Under this new Sanders proposal, corporations with 500 or more employees would have to pay a tax that equals the cost of federal safety-net benefits — from programs like food stamps and Medicaid — their underpaid workers have to rely on.

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act, unveiled this August, would refocus large corporations on serving “not just shareholders but their employees and communities as well.” Warren’s bill would set 40 percent of corporate board seats aside for directors elected by employees.

Warren is also thinking big and bold on housing. Her American Housing and Economic Mobility Act would invest $450 billion over the next decade in affordable housing for working families. To offset the price-tag, Warren’s initiative would increase the estate tax on the nation’s 10,000 wealthiest families.

Senator Cory Booker is looking at establishing a new “baby bond” program to “make sure all children,” not just kids from wealthy homes, “have significant assets when they enter adulthood” — as much as $50,000 for kids from poorer families. A big chunk of the dollars for Booker’s baby bonds would come from raising the tax rate on capital gains, an income stream that flows overwhelmingly to America’s rich.

Senator Kamala Harris is advocating a tax credit that would increase the income of couples making less than six figures up to $500 a month. “Instead of more tax breaks for the top 1 percent and corporations,” says Harris, “we should be lifting up millions of American families.”

Other ambitious ideas are coming from progressive activists and scholars.

Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project has proposed an “American Social Wealth Fund,” an independent public investment enterprise that would take in “regular injections of cash from the government” and “make regular dividend payouts to its shareholders — all American adults.” Funds for this solidarity fund would come from a variety of corporate taxes.

Meanwhile, my colleague Sarah Anderson notes, five states have introduced legislation that limits or denies tax dollars to corporations that reward top execs at worker expense.

The new Democratic House could give ideas like these an airing and debate. And new leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez certainly have the charisma to attract wide swatches of America into that discourse.

If all this action materialized, would large numbers of our politically dispirited sit up and take notice? We’ll never know unless we try.

Categories: News for progressives

Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:49

One has to admire the Canadian government’s manipulation of the media regarding its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Despite being partners with the Kingdom’s international crimes, the Liberals have managed to convince some gullible folks they are challenging Riyadh’s rights abuses.

By downplaying Ottawa’s support for violence in Yemen while amplifying Saudi reaction to an innocuous tweet the dominant media has wildly distorted the Trudeau government’s relationship to the monarchy.

In a story headlined “Trudeau says Canada has heard Turkish tape of Khashoggi murder”, Guardian diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour affirmed that “Canada has taken a tough line on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record for months.” Hogwash. Justin Trudeau’s government has okayed massive arms sales to the monarchy and largely ignored the Saudi’s devastating war in Yemen, which has leftup to 80,000 dead, millions hungry and sparked a terrible cholera epidemic.

While Ottawa recently called for a ceasefire, the Liberals only direct condemnation  of the Saudi bombing in Yemenwas an October 2016 statement. It noted, “the Saudi-led coalition must move forward now on its commitment to investigate this incident” after two airstrikes killed over 150  and wounded 500 during a funeral in Sana’a.

By contrast when the first person was killed from a rocket launched into the Saudi capital seven months ago, Chrystia Freeland stated, “Canada strongly condemns the ballistic missile attacks launched by Houthi rebels on Sunday, against four towns and cities in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh’s international airport. The deliberate targeting of civilians is unacceptable.” In her release Canada’s foreign minister also accepted the monarchy’s justification for waging war. “There is a real risk of escalation if these kinds of attacks by Houthi rebels continue and if Iran keeps supplying weapons to the Houthis”, Freeland added.

Ottawa has also aligned itself with Riyadh’s war aims on other occasions. With the $15 billion LAV sale to the monarchy under a court challenge in late 2016, federal government lawyers described Saudi Arabia as “a key military ally who backs efforts of the international community to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the instability in Yemen. The acquisition of these next-generation vehicles will help in those efforts, which are compatible with Canadian defence interests.” The Canadian Embassy’s website currently claims “the Saudi government plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability.”

In recent years the Saudis have been the second biggest recipients of Canadian weaponry, which are frequently used in Yemen. As Anthony Fenton has documented in painstaking detail, hundreds of armoured vehicles made by Canadian company Streit Group in the UAE have been videoed in Yemen.Equipment from three other Canadian armoured vehicle makers – Terradyne, IAG Guardian and General Dynamics Land Systems Canada– was found with Saudi-backed forcesin Yemen. Between May and July Canada exported $758.6 million worth of “tanks and other armored fighting vehicles” to the Saudis.

The Saudi coalition used Canadian-made rifles as well.“Canada helped fuel the war in Yemen by exporting more rifles to Saudi Arabia than it did to the U.S. ($7.15 million vs. $4.98 million)”, tweeted Fenton regarding export figures from July and August.

Some Saudi pilots that bombed Yemen were likely trained in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In recent years Saudi pilots have trained  with NATO’s Flying Training in Canada, which is run by the Canadian Forces and CAE. The Montreal-based flight simulator company also trained Royal Saudi Air Force pilots in the Middle East.

Training and arming the monarchy’s military while refusing to condemn its brutal war in Yemen shouldn’t be called a “tough line on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.” Rather, Canada’s role should be understood for what it is: War profiteer and enabler of massive human rights abuses.

Categories: News for progressives

Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:48

“I don’t consider them immigrants. I consider them my friendly neighbors,” said Larry Baldwin, a former American military officer and teacher referring to the Mexican immigrants in El Paso, Texas. Many other Americans living in El Paso expressed the same sentiment. If healthy coexistence between Americans and immigrants can be found in El Paso, why can’t it be fostered in the rest of the country?

El Paso is located on the Rio Grande, across from the Mexican city of Juarez, which is one of the most violent in the world. In 2015, El Paso had a population of 679,000, which makes it the 19th most populous city in the U.S. Hispanics and Latinos (mainly Mexican) account for almost 81 percent of the population. In spite of its significant majority of Mexicans in the city, the city consistently ranks among the safest in the U.S.

This doesn’t stop President Donald Trump from taking the slightest opportunity to portray Mexican and Central American immigrants pejoratively. Perhaps he is trying to play down the failures of his administration to promote policies that favor most Americans. The result is an atmosphere of hate and distrust that has poisoned the political dialogue in this country, while attacks on people’s rights and quality of life continue unimpeded. According to the annual statement of the agency, the number of hate crimes reported to the FBI increased 17 percent in 2017 from the previous year.

On November 2017, Annie Proulx depicted the situation in the U.S. in her acceptance speech as a winner of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She said, “We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. This is a Kafkaesque time. The television sparkles with images of despicable political louts and sexual harassment reports. We cannot look away from the pictures of furious elements, hurricanes and fires, from the repetitive crowd murders by gunmen burning with rage. We are made more anxious by flickering threats of nuclear war. We observe social media’s manipulation of a credulous population, a population dividing into bitter tribal cultures.”

Despite this pessimism, life in El Paso follows a predictable rhythm of tranquility. There are many explanations for the absence of violence in El Paso, its large Mexican population notwithstanding. There is a heavy concentration of law enforcement officials and agencies in the city and a fear of the death penalty. Most believe that Mexican immigrants are law-abiding, respectful citizens who come to El Paso to work and to progress.

Deborah Svedman, a retired high school teacher, told me that her best students were always Mexican children. She tells me that on occasion she has had to deal with very violent students in her class. I asked her how she handled it. “There is no secret,” she said, “I treated them with consideration and respect and they responded in the same way.”

There is an assumption that while the social and cultural divide is clearly marked in Mexico, upward social and economic mobility is easier in the U.S., and this is what prompts many Mexicans (and also Central Americans) to come to the U.S. in search of opportunities. These are the same reasons that immigrants from all over the world (myself included) came to the U.S.: to work and progress in a country of unparalleled opportunities.

Immigrants continue to make significant contributions to this country’s progress, but the anti-immigrant rhetoric reaches new heights almost every day incited by President Trump’s diatribe against Mexican and Central American immigrants.

I am now in Morelia, a city in the state of Michoacán, in central México, where I stand before a statue of Melchor Ocampo, a 19th Mexican statesman. I read words that he left for posterity (translated from Spanish):

It is by talking to each other

not by killing each other

that we will end up

understanding each other.

That is what I saw in El Paso, a respect for the “other”. These could also be the guiding words that lead us into recapturing an atmosphere of civility and respect in the U.S. They are words that can lead us to heal as a society, at a time of profound distress.

Categories: News for progressives

The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:47

Historians debate to what extent the Treaty of Versailles was responsible for Hitler’s march to World War II, but there can be little doubt that the treaty ending the “War to End All Wars” continues to be a major factor in our ongoing “War Without End.”

On November, 11, 1918, Europe laid exhausted and nearly bled dry. Just months before the war ended on that date, fresh, motivated U.S. troops entered the fight and assured an Allied victory.  As a result, President Woodrow Wilson played an oversized role in the fateful redrawing of borders across half the globe.

Wilson was the primary proponent of American Exceptionalism, an idea promoted by the U.S. elite ever since.  The myth that somehow America would always advance humanitarian interests attracted many, particularly the dispossessed encouraged by Wilson’s “Fourteen Points.” The president took to his messianic mission in Paris with paternalistic passion but as the record shows, imperialism infected not only European powers, it also drove Wilson.  Nonetheless, millions were mesmerized by this outspoken advocate of some vague form of self-determination. He was an empty vessel into which whole nations poured their hopes for a better life.

True, there was a stated effort at Versailles to rise above the centuries-old tradition of “to the victor goes the spoils” by introducing plebiscites and theoretically grounding decisions more frequently on justice than revenge. However, plebiscites were omitted when troublesome and justice often morphed into “just us.”

Regarding the treaty’s effect on Germany and ultimately World War II, Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, provides illuminating background in an in-depth history of the Versailles negotiations.

For context, she reminds that the horrors of WWI did not visit German soil nor did Germans see occupying troops except in the Rhineland. Few Germans knew that after the Allied advance of August 8, 1918, 16 German divisions disappeared within a few days and the remaining troops fell back miles at a time. They didn’t know that a week later General Ludendorff told the Kaiser to consider negotiating with the Allies and the next month demanded peace at any price.  Few Germans regarded the armistice for what it basically was, a surrender.  Consequently, the Nazi’s myth of how the Kaiser stabbed Germany in the back found ready listeners.

MacMillan disputes that Germany’s reparations were overly burdensome.  Here’s what the record shows.

+ France got back Alsace-Lorraine which it had lost in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 (Prussia was one of several states that formed the nation of Germany in 1871 after that war). Allied troops occupied Germany’s Rhineland as a buffer for France.  France also got ownership of Germany’s coal mines in the Saar which the League of Nations administered until a 1935 plebiscite in which people voted overwhelmingly to rejoin Germany.

+ Poland was given use of the German port of Danzig/Gdansk as well as ownership of Silesia, with 3,000,000 German-speaking people, 25% of Germany’s coal and 80% of its zinc.  After Germany protested, an international commission awarded most of the land to Germany and most of the industry and mines to Poland. (Additionally, Poland fought a border war with Russia until 1921 when Lenin agreed to the Treaty of Riga, drawing Poland’s eastern border 200 miles further into Russia than the Allies recommended and adding 4 million Ukrainians, 2 million Jews and a million Byelorussians to Poland.)

+ Czechoslovakia was given the Sudetenland, a region bordering Germany and Austria with 3,000,000 German-speaking people, as well as Austria’s Bohemia that contained another 3,000,000 German-speaking people.  Hitler was to make the cause of these “lost Germans” his own and occupied the former Sudetenland after the Munich agreement in 1938.

+ Denmark regained, via plebiscite, two duchies previously seized by Prussia.

+ The reconstituted nation of Lithuania got the German port of Memel on the Baltic.

+ Germany turned over its entire naval fleet, airplanes, heavy guns and 25,000 machine guns.  It was allowed an army of 100,000 and a navy of 15,000, but no air force, tanks, armored cars, heavy guns, dirigibles or submarines. Arms imports were forbidden, and only a few German factories were allowed to produce arms.

As for money damages, with so much of Europe in chaos and ashes, it was difficult to determine how much Germany even owed.

One U.S. team of Army engineers estimated it would take over two years to arrive at a guesstimate.  But superseding any concerns about what was owed was the Allies’ most important question of all: how much could Germany afford without bankruptcy and chaos, handing it over to the Bolsheviks? (With revolutionary movements in several German cities by the end of the war, this was a real concern to the Allies who invaded Russia at the end of the war with 200,000 troops, aiding the White Russians against the Bolsheviks.  Wilson sent 13,000 U.S. troops and a heavy cruiser as America’s contribution.)

Initially, Britain wanted $120 billion, France $220 billion and the US $22 billion. They later submitted much smaller bills and the final calculation in 1921 ordered Germany to pay $34 billion in gold marks, apportioned 52% to France, 28% to Britain and the rest divided between Belgium, Italy and others.

The U.S. had loaned Britain and France over $7 billion plus another $3.5 billion from U.S. banks.  At Versailles, Britain proposed and the U.S. vetoed the idea of cancelling all inter-Allied debts.  

Between 1924 and 1931, Germany paid 36 billion marks to the Allies, 33 billion of which was borrowed from investors who bought German bonds issued by Wall Street firms.  Germany then used that money to pay reparations to England and France, which in turn used it to repay U.S. loans. Anthony C. Sutton, writing in Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler observed, “The international bankers sat in heaven, under a rain of fees and commissions” made by lending other people’s money to Germany.

As for personal culpability, Kaiser Wilhelm, grandson of Britain’s Queen Victoria, went into exile in Holland.  Britain’s King George V, the kaiser’s cousin, eventually gave up the idea of a war crimes tribunal but sent Germany a list of several hundred he thought should be tried.  Of that number, 12 were. Most were set free at once except for two submarine captains who escaped prison within weeks of being sentenced.

There are other factors leading to Hitler’s rise that U.S. history books are more prone to forget, such as the essential complicity of U.S. corporations.

+ Between the wars, John Foster Dulles, later Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, was CEO of Sullivan and Cromwell (S&C), at which his brother, Allen, later Eisenhower and Kennedy’s CIA chief, was a partner.  Foster structured deals that funneled U.S. investments to German companies like IG Farben and Krupp.  S&C “was at the center of an international network of banks, investment firms and industrial conglomerates that rebuilt Germany after WWI.”(1)

+ The Dawes Plan, created to rebuild German industry after World War I and provide reparations to England and France had on its board Charles Dawes, first director of the U.S. Budget Bureau and Owen Young, president of General Electric Co. By 1944, German oil (85% synthetic, produced with Standard of NJ technology) was controlled by IG Farben, created under the Dawes Plan and financed by Wall Street loans packaged by S&C.  An internal Farben memo, coincidentally written on D-Day, 1944, said Standard’s technical expertise in synthetic fuels, lubricating fluids and tetra-ethyl lead was “most useful to us,” without which “the present methods of warfare would be impossible.” (2)

+ Even after Hitler took power in 1933, Foster Dulles continued to represent IG Farben and refused to shut down S&C’s Berlin office until partners, tired of having to sign letters, “Heil Hitler,” rebelled in ’35.  Throughout the war, Foster protected the U.S. assets of Farben and also Merck from confiscation as alien property.  Arthur Goldberg, who served with Allen in the OSS, the CIA’s forerunner, and later on the Supreme Court, claimed both Dulles brothers were guilty of treason.(1)

+ An open secret through the ’20’s was Henry Ford’s financial support for Hitler.  A December 20, 1922 NY Times story claimed links between new uniforms and side arms for 1,000 young men in Hitler’s “Storming Battalion” and Ford’s portrait and books the Fuehrer prominently displayed in his well-staffed Munich office.(2)  In 1938, Ford received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle award.

+ In February 1933, Hermann Goering held a fundraiser at his home for the National Trusteeship, a front group from which Rudolf Hess paid Nazi Party election campaign expenses.  Industrialists and financiers pledged 3,000,000 marks including 400,000 from IG Farben and 60,000 from General Electric Corporation’s subsidiary, AEG.  On the board of IG Farben’s U.S. subsidiary were Edsel Ford, Walter Teagle, board member of the NY Federal Reserve and Standard Oil of NJ and Carl Bosch, on the board of Ford’s German subsidiary, Ford AG.  One week after that massive infusion of funds the Reichstag was burned.  A week later, national elections swept the Nazis into power.

+ In a 1936 memo, William Dodd, U.S. Ambassador to Germany, reported that I.G. Farben gave 200,000 marks to a p.r. firm “operating on American public opinion.”

***

Vietnam

One of the many subtexts of Versailles that grew to historic proportions was that Ho Chi Minh, working in Paris as a kitchen hand and a photographer’s assistant, appealed unsuccessfully in writing to the American delegation on behalf of the people of Annam (Vietnam).

The cover note Ho wrote to the U.S. Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, to accompany eight politely-worded demands from the “Annamite People” stated:

Since the victory of the Allies, all the subjects are frantic with hope at prospect of an era of right and justice, which should begin for them by virtue of the formal and solemn engagements made before the whole world by the various powers of the entente in the struggle of civilisation against barbarism.

While waiting for the principle of national self determination to pass from ideal to reality through the effective recognition of the sacred right of all peoples to decide their own destiny, the inhabitants of the ancient empire of Annam, at the present time French Indochina, present to the noble governments of the entente in general and in particular to the honourable French government the following humble claims…

The list contained such basics as freedom of the press and of assembly and the need to construct schools, but never demanded freedom from the French, only a “delegation of native people elected to attend the French parliament in order to keep the latter informed of their needs.”

It finished by saying:

The Annamite people, in presenting these claims, count on the worldwide justice of all the Powers, and rely in particular on the goodwill of the noble French people who hold our destiny in their hands and who, as France is a republic, have taken us under their protection.

In requesting the protection of the French people the people of Annam, far from feeling humiliated, on the contrary consider themselves honoured, because they know that the French people stand for liberty and justice and will never renounce their sublime ideal of universal brotherhood. Consequently, in giving heed to the voice of the oppressed, the French people will be doing their duty to France and to humanity.”

In the name of the group of Annamite patriots…
Nguyen Ai Quoc [Ho Chi Minh]

***

Onward to War Without End 

The ghosts of Versailles didn’t stop with Vietnam.

The treaty left in place the 1917 Balfour Declaration pledging Britain’s support to the Zionist movement’s takeover of Palestine for a Jewish homeland as well as the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 that gave Syria to France and Mesopotamia to Britain (which already held contracts with Arab leaders to control oil resources).

If self-determination was truly an operating principle in Paris in 1919, there was plenty of testimony to make decisions that would have spared the world much anguish. Solid proof is contained in a little-known study, ordered by President Wilson during the Paris peace talks and then buried until 1922, called the “Report of the King-Crane Commission.”

For nearly two months commission members crisscrossed what is now Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, meeting with all manner of people, official delegations and groups with petitions in what appears to be a very honest attempt to determine public opinion. Their recommendations are nothing short of revolutionary, based on what we’ve learned in the meantime.

We recommend, in the fifth place, serious modification of the extreme Zionist program for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews, looking finally to making Palestine distinctly a Jewish State.

(1) The Commissioners began their study of Zionism with minds predisposed in its favor, but the actual facts in Palestine, coupled with the force of the general principles proclaimed by the Allies and accepted by the Syrians have driven them to the recommendation here made.

(2) The commission was abundantly supplied with literature on the Zionist program by the Zionist Commission to Palestine; heard in conferences much concerning the Zionist colonies and their claims; and personally saw something of what had been accomplished. They found much to approve in the aspirations and plans of the Zionists, and had warm appreciation for the devotion of many of the colonists, and for their success, by modern methods, in overcoming great natural obstacles.

(3) The Commission recognized also that definite encouragement had been given to the Zionists by the Allies in Mr. Balfour’s often quoted statement, in its approval by other representatives of the Allies. If, however, the strict terms of the Balfour Statement are adhered to — favoring “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights existing in non-Jewish communities in Palestine”— it can hardly be doubted that the extreme Zionist Program must be greatly modified.

For “a national home for the Jewish people” is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State; nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission’s conference with Jewish representatives that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase.

In his address of July 4, 1918, President Wilson laid down the following principle as one of the four great “ends for which the associated peoples of the world were fighting”; “The settlement of every question, whether of territory, of sovereignty, of economic arrangement, or of political relationship upon the basis of the free acceptance of that settlement by the people immediately concerned, and not upon the basis of the material interest or advantage of any other nation or people which may desire a different settlement for the sake of its own exterior influence or mastery.”

If that principle is to rule, and so the wishes of Palestine’s population are to be decisive as to what is to be done with Palestine, then it is to be remembered that the non-Jewish population of Palestine—nearly nine-tenths of the whole—are emphatically against the entire Zionist program. The tables show that there was no one thing upon which the population of Palestine were more agreed than upon this.

To subject a people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration, and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land, would be a gross violation of the principle just quoted, and of the people’s rights, though it kept within the forms of law.

It is to be noted also that the feeling against the Zionist program is not confined to Palestine, but shared very generally by the people throughout Syria, as our conferences clearly showed. More than 72 per cent—1,350 in all—of all the petitions in the whole of Syria were directed against the Zionist program. Only two requests—those for a united Syria and for independence—had a larger support.

The Peace Conference should not shut its eyes to the fact that the anti-Zionist feeling in Palestine and Syria is intense and not lightly to be flouted. No British officer, consulted by the Commissioners, believed that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms. The officers generally thought that a force of not less than 50,000 soldiers would be required even to initiate the program. That of itself is evidence of a strong sense of the injustice of the Zionist program, on the part of the non-Jewish populations of Palestine and Syria. Decisions, requiring armies to carry out, are sometimes necessary, but they are surely not gratuitously to be taken in the interests of a serious injustice. For the initial claim, often submitted by Zionist representatives, that they have a “right” to Palestine, based on an occupation of 2,000 years ago, can hardly be seriously considered.

What more can be said about the Treaty of Versailles except to ask: what are we doing today that will haunt the world 100 years from now?

Notes.

1) The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, David Talbot, 2015.

2)  Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler,  Antony C. Sutton, 1976.

Categories: News for progressives

Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:46

We went to a very moving commemoration in London this week marking the 80th anniversary of Krystallnacht– when thousands of German Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The opening salvo, as it were, of the Holocaust. But what I found most appalling–because of its relevance to today’s headlines –was not the description of those horrific events, but the motivation of a top Nazi official responsible for carrying out Hitler’s genocidal commands.

One of the speakers at the commemoration was Anita Lasker-Walfisch, whose prodigious musical talent as a a cello player in the Woman’s Orchestra at Auschwitz saved her from the Nazi gas chambers. The other speaker was Niklas Frank, son of one of Hitler’s top henchmen, hung at Nuremberg in October 1946 for the role he played in the Final Solution.

Anita’s description of the horrors she and her family faced was moving—particularly their incredulity that their Jewish family, so steeped in German culture and tradition, would be packed off to extermination by the leader of a country they felt so much a part of.

But to me most chilling was what Niklas Frank had to say about his father. Hans Frank was a German lawyer , an early supporter of Hitler, who rose through Nazi ranks to become Governor-General of occupied Poland during World War II. He would be directly involved in the deaths of millions of Polish Jews.

Born in Cracow in 1939, Niklas Frank was too young to fully comprehend his father’s role in the Holocaust. As he matured however, and became a reporter, his initial embarrassment of being the son of a war criminal turned into what he called a “burning hatred– ” an obsessive need to research the dark corners of his parents’ life. The result was an searing book denouncing his father for his horrific acts—“Der Vater” (In the Shadow of the Reich).

What was so remarkable, was that, according to Niklas, Hans Frank did not particularly dislike Jews. Indeed, Niklas claimed to have no memory of ever hearing his father spout anti-Semitic venom at home, even as his day job involved sending millions to the gas chambers.

Nor, according to Niklas, was his father a fervid Nazi ideologue. Ideals had nothing to do with Hans Frank’s eagerness –as a lawyer–to enable Hitler. It was purely a question of building a career, reigning as the “Governor General” of Occupied Poland– of an obsession with position, prestige, and wealth, of having great (stolen) renaissance masterpieces hanging in his palatial home.

So, tell me: why should we not compare Niklas Frank’s blindly ambitious father with top Trump officials and the leaders of the Republican Party, most of whom denounced and derided Donald Trump when he was running for office, but now not only remain silent in the face of his increasingly outrageous acts, but actually seem eager to join his wrecking-ball attacks on America’s most hallowed democratic principles.

This is not to compare Trump to Adolph Hitler. But Trump’s depredations don’t have to meet Hitlerian extremes for them to be heinous and a threat to all Americans.

Yet Republican leaders join him in claiming widespread electoral fraud without any evidence, rest silent when he dispatches thousands of American troops to the Mexican Border to defend against a totally fictitious “immigrant invasion”. They accept his denials of Russian hacking, turn their heads when he fills key government posts with corrupt and incompetent officials, pretend not to see the Trump’s family’s blatant double-dealing.

Supposed leaders like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Generals John Kelly and Jim Mattis, and all the other Republican Senators and Congressmen who remain head bowed and mute as an unprincipled, unbalanced President tramples America’s ideals and traditions.

And for what? To ensure the President won’t sic his base after them? To achieve another right-wing Justice on the Supreme Courts? An additional tax cut for the super-rich? Or the abolition of Obamacare?

At what point do they weigh such possible gains against the destruction of their own country’s basic institutions?  Is there any red line left for Trump to cross that would finally spur them to action? In so, what is it?

Or in fact, are most of them basically interested in fostering their own careers? Feathering their own nests? enjoying the pleasures of power?

Nothing really to do with ideology or patriotism. More with craven cowardice.

Not that different, in other words, from Hans Frank.

Categories: News for progressives

Beto’s Lasting Legacy

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:46

Beto O’Rourke may have lost his race for Senate, but he’s managed to change the political landscape of Texas — and maybe beyond — in just one campaign.

He proved that Texas is more than the gun-slinging, oil-rich, old-fashioned state conservatives are trying so hard to cling on to. It’s a state full of cultural diversity and impassioned youth. I’m willing to bet we’ll see this side of Texas grow stronger because of O’Rourke’s campaign.

I didn’t have much faith in my congressman when he announced he’d be running against Senator Ted Cruz. He was a little known representative from El Paso, a poorly understood corner of Texas along the Mexico border.

I reasoned the best that could happen was O’Rourke would show Texas what El Paso is really about, by pushing back against Cruz and the GOP’s fear-mongering about border communities. I never imagined the consequences of his campaign would be so much bigger, impacting voter turnout and laying the groundwork for future progressives.

In a state with historically low voter turnout, the increase in this year’s midterms needs to be celebrated. Almost as many voters turned out for the midterms this year as they do for presidential elections. Whether or not people cast ballots for O’Rourke, he deserves credit for driving so many Texans to the polls.

We also need to celebrate youth and Latino turnout. Nearly five times more young people in Texas turned out for early voting as they did in 2014, according to The Hill, showing up for O’Rourke, while 64 percent of Latinos also turned out to vote for him.

In El Paso County, O’Rourke brought out a record-breaking number of voters in a district that notoriously hardly votes. About 44 percent of registered El Paso voters cast a ballot this midterm, up dramatically from about 20 percent in 2014— and 74 percent voted for O’Rourke. Similar patterns can be seen in almost all Texas border counties.

In the end, O’Rourke only lost by 2.7 percent without taking PAC money. More impressive, O’Rourke accomplished all of this by going against conventional campaign wisdom, embracing a broadly progressive platform in a state with a conservative reputation.

O’Rourke is already being credited for helping Texas Democrats down-ballot win their elections. His star power helped his party win two U.S. House seats, two state Senate seats, and 12 state House seats.

This should worry the Texas GOP, who up until now didn’t have to work very hard to win elections.

Now we’re starting to understand that the GOP’s stronghold in Texas might not be because it’s a truly conservative state. Maybe it’s simply that a large portion of the state’s population hasn’t felt energized, empowered, or properly represented.

It’s a trend we also saw in Florida and Georgia, where other tight races are redefining state identities.

O’Rourke surpassed my expectations, but he also accomplished what I hoped he would all along: He gave my hometown a national voice.

The countless times O’Rourke went live from El Paso, whether it was while running a 10k from El Paso to Ciudad Juárez across the border, skating at a local Whataburger parking lot, or even going live the day after Election Day with a box of Savage Goods donuts, he painted the border with a broader brush.

The border O’Rourke showed Texas wasn’t Cruz’s or Trump’s Wild West, where undocumented immigrants wreak havoc. It’s a city full of welcoming people who take pride in living in a binational community.

I hope that honest depiction — and the progressive vision behind it — stays in the minds of people in Texas and beyond.

Categories: News for progressives

The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:46

Are we forever doomed to be warriors, wired from birth to be belligerent? Or is there, deep inside our species, an equal propensity toward peace?

I found a tentative answer to these questions that have vexed humanity through the ages when I was no more than a child growing up in Queens in the late 1940s. At about the time when it turns out that Donald Trump, a mile or so away, was taking his first steps in life, I found myself at the age of 7 or so, fiercely engaged in a street-level cult of war that he would might well approve of today, given his militaristic posturing and bellicose language.

But Trump’s Queens was, in that era of rampant discrimination, almost entirely white, whereas I resided — thanks to my Argentine father’s work for the fledgling United Nations –in an apartment complex called Parkway Village, a multicultural, multinational, multiethnic enclave. And the most unlikely place in the world for any sort of conflict between children or adults, for that matter, to find fertile ground, because it was thought of as a unique experiment in diversity — international, linguistic, racial — supposedly projecting a utopian vision of planetary harmony.

Alas, it was not harmony I sought as I roamed the gardens and open spaces of Parkway Village where confrontations had broken out between rival groups of the young sons of diplomats and staff, who were so fervently dedicated to amity among nations and cultures. The clashes had started with an insult of some kind, soon escalating to fists and stones and, eventually, sticks.

The pugnacious kids were recent immigrants to the States, perhaps eager to hold onto some form of nativist identity by bashing the heads of anyone who spoke strangely or looked different.

The camp I belonged to consisted of French and Latin American lads, with a Liberian and an Egyptian added to the mix, while our opponents came primarily from Scandinavia and England, vaguely replicating a divide between North and South that would be the source of so many toxic combats across the globe in the coming decades. Despite truces organized at afternoon teas by our horrified mothers, the fighting became ever more ferocious.

Only Roy, a sweet youngster from India — a friend I have evoked before, in a story I wrote some years ago — attempted to stop the mayhem. He would often step between the two bands, begging us not to hurt each other, an intervention that was met by mockery from both sides (well, something at least cruelly united us!). We turned his last name — akin to Bahana — into Banana. Roy was bananas, crazy for believing he could convince us to abandon the masculine pleasures of our antagonism.

And yet, it was Roy who finally managed precisely that, though not in the manner he or we could have foretold. One afternoon, as I returned from school, ready to rally the troops for another round of United-Nations-at-war, my distressed father told me that Roy had died that morning of a heart attack during a dental operation. Dazed with grief and guilt, I wandered into the wide area behind our house where the other boys soon began gathering. We all just stood there quietly, our heads turned toward the ground, our innocence shattered, our games of death revealed as shameful and offensive.

From that day onward, the battles ceased.

It was a way for the mourning child-warriors to honor the memory of the departed peacemaker, keeping our small comrade alive — or at least his message of brotherhood. Roy had wagered that war was a failure of the imagination, stemming from the inability to feel the afflictions of adversaries as if they were our own. This fantastical possibility, that an enemy could turn into a friend, was made real for me a few months later, when Jens, the Danish ringleader of the rival gang, moved into the house next door to ours. We had soon become inseparable, the best of pals.

I remembered Roy recently as I watched the clips commemorating the ceremonies that marked the end of the First World War. His vision of a humanity that need not be condemned to endless cycles of aggression was anticipated by a young British officer called Wilfred Owen, who died a mere week before the Armistice on November 11th 1918, one more senseless death among so many others senselessly wasted.

Though only 24 years old when he was killed, Owen wrote some extraordinary poems about his wartime experience. In one of them, “Strange Meeting,” he eerily anticipated the impending end of his own life, speaking of “the waste of war in its time.” They are verses that today — when humanity is assailed with similar stories of carnage, poisonous gas attacks and fears of apocalypse — are just as painfully relevant as they were back then.

In that poem, Owen channels the voice of a soldier who strikes up an unnerving conversation with a dead man. Together, they mourn “the undone years, the hopelessness,” until the dead man reveals he was killed the previous day by the very soldier narrating this encounter: “I am the enemy you killed, my friend… Let us sleep now.”

Owen was to sleep forever, without seeing the conclusion of the “War to End All Wars,” according to a phrase from H.G. Wells. As the interminable conflicts and victims of the next hundred years attest, nothing could have been further from the truth: we continue to slaughter each other as if the curse of Cain is ingrained in our DNA, as if we had learned nothing. Our leaders promise, as Trump did in France, to “protect the peace” while doing not nearly enough to really prevent war.

We live in a world ravaged by incessant strife and the rise of the extreme nationalism that led to the First World War that so many now swear never to repeat. It is true that new incarnations of my friend Roy intervene across the globe.

Doctors in Syria and Yemen, mediators in Colombia and Afghanistan, citizens contesting rage in Israel and Palestine, peacekeepers in the Congo and Kosovo, women — and men –denouncing war rapes, prove that there is no lack of brave members of our species ready to stand against the machines of war. What is lacking is the realization by us all that peace is a daily task, that must be carried out not by heroic, exceptional beings, but by every concerned parent and every vulnerable child.

Only when millions upon millions understand that struggle to be intimately theirs, will no more Wilfred Owens die, no more soldiers like him be sent to kill enemies whom they have never met and who could one day move in next door and become their best friends. Only then will Roy rest, effectively, in peace.

This essay originally appeared on CNN Opinion.

 

Categories: News for progressives

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