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A New Regional Order: Producing Cross-Economic, Political, and Cultural Interests Among the People of Kashmir

Wed, 2019-03-13 14:57

Indian nationalists are quick to claim their intractable hold on Kashmiris; Pakistani nationalists are just as quick to claim to speak for Kashmiris. Kashmir, despite having a real internal history and a place in the world, is suppressed by its positioning in the Indo-Pak conflict.

Mainstream Kashmiri politicians culpably reiterate that “Kashmir is an integral part of India,” in the process negating the people’s voices and real existence. Separatists are just as quick to scrap that assertion with their vociferous calls for hartal, in the process sidelining the educational and psychological needs of the younger generation. New Delhi in its signature style is straddling the fence by underlining the need for “dialogue” and “quiet diplomacy” but not taking any substantive measures to “talk” to Kashmiris.

The profundity of memories and mourning of Kashmiris cannot be relegated to the background in official accounts of history. The aggressive statements, delusions of grandeur, melodramatic performances, and witty quips of Kashmiri mainstream politicians as well as separatist leaders have a short-lived glory and do nothing to alleviate the pain of anxious parents, destitute widows, bereaved mothers, vulnerable orphans, educated people unable to make a decent living.

Accounts of the insurgency in Kashmir discount narratives that do not contribute to the deepening breach caused by the communalisation of the Kashmir issue and the zeal of Indian and Pakistani nationalism, according to which “Kashmir is unquestionably an integral part of India,” or any people’s movement in Kashmir is led by “anti-national militants,” or “Pakistan is sincere in its attempts to resolve the Kashmir conundrum” leaves out the politics of the people as was done in official accounts of the Partition of India.

The entire subcontinent has several common problems, and the people are bound to each other by numerous ties, but partition resulted in the separation of families.

In one of my favorite novels, Shadow Lines, the author, Amitav Ghosh, shows that the nation is rendered all the more threatening when the war that leads to its construction is internecine and does not bind Muslim to Hindu or Bengali to Kashmiri but rather sunders Bengali from Bengali, Kashmiri from Kashmiri. Such an irregular was polarizes ethnic groups into Hindus and Muslims who are required to disaffirm their cultural, linguistic, and social unities.

As one of the characters in Ghosh’s novel wonders, “And then I think to myself why can’t they draw thousands of little lines through the whole subcontinent and give every little place a new name? What would it change? It’s a mirage; the whole thing is a mirage. How can anyone deny a memory?” (247).

The Partition is a vivid manifestation of the claim that postcolonial nations are founded in a bloody severance of the umbilical cord, one that fortifies borders between nation-states with irrational and remorseless violence. The discourse of ultra-right wing nationalism, however, affects to make sense of the absurd loss of lives.

Referring to the role played by nationalist parties in the Partition of the subcontinent, the narrator queries,

“What had they felt, I wondered, when they discovered that they had created not a separation, but a yet-undiscovered irony—the irony that killed Tridib: the simple fact that there had never been a moment in the four-thousand-year-old history of that map, when the places we know as Calcutta and Dhaka were more closely bound together . . . So closely that I, in Calcutta, had only to look in the mirror to be in Dhaka; when each city was the inverted image of the other, locked into an irreversible symmetry by the line that was to set us free—our looking glass border.” (233)

So the similarity in the emotions evoked by cultural affiliations on the two sides of the border renders the inclusion/ exclusion dichotomy incoherent.

The key to the solution of problems that confront India and Pakistan is diplomatic relations and rapprochement between the two countries.

There is no doubt that the progress and future development of both these countries rests largely on their ability to proceed hand in hand with each other and cooperate in joint ventures, avoiding all wasteful expenditure, including loss of innocent lives, incurred by them on their mutual confrontation, as that would spell doom.

Identifying areas of common outlook and interest is a process of growth.

I firmly believe that in order to address wider political, socioeconomic, and democratic issues in the subcontinent requires rethinking decision-making between state and non-state actors as well as between between state and society. Perhaps it is time to seriously consider a new regional order which would be capable of producing cross-economic, political, and cultural interests among the people of the region.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Military Moves into Environmental Management in South America

Tue, 2019-03-12 16:04

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Environmental and land management in South America is being slowly but persistently militarized, with the aim of controlling extractive industries, especially gold mining. In Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela, as well as other countries, both conservative and progressive governments participate in this militarization. The basic dispute is not so much in avoiding negative environmental and social impacts, as in controlling economic surpluses.

Colombia: Environmental Management as a Security Policy

Colombian president Iván Duque recently presented the National Development Plan that will guide his four-year administration. The novelty is that it includes environmental management under national security and defense policies (1). Protection of biodiversity and water now appear alongside objectives such as defending borders and territorial sovereignty.

The measure creates a new security force for “Comprehensive Environmental Protection”, made up of military and police officers who coordinate with prosecutors and environmental authorities. The Ministry of the Environment joins the National Security Council, environmental issues will be incorporated into the National Security Strategy and possibly even into the National Intelligence Strategy.

From this “security” perspective, nature is presented as an “asset”. This is not a neutral concept– it comes from the business world and promotes the fragmentation of nature that prioritizes the economic value of resources. The plan proposes large-scale land-use planning instruments, called “Strategic Comprehensive Intervention Zones”, with medium-term (5 year) objectives in both security and environment, which would serve to transit towards “legal” exploitation of natural resources.

The Colombian government does not hide its basic objective, which is to bring the illegal exploitation of natural resources, such as timber and minerals–especially gold, under control. Government officials admit that the nation confronts a dramatic situation: 86% of the gold extracted comes from illegal practices and 44% of the country’s municipalities engage in some illegal mining, either in gold or coal or other products. In Colombia, illegal mining is so widespread that it has marginalized legal, formal mining practices.

Several other South American countries face the same dilemma, especially Bolivia and Peru where alluvial gold mining is expanding rapidly at the foot of the mountains and in tropical forests. The activity takes a heavy toll on the environment, particularly from deforestation and mercury contamination. It also causes hugely negative social effects, from the trafficking of girls and adolescents to the illegal trade of inputs and minerals. (2).

The Colombian development plan does not aim to end these mining practices, but rather to control them and transform them into formal business ventures. Its goal is for the State to decide which companies participate and under what conditions they can exploit gold and other mineral resources, while obtaining a portion of the profits that this produces.

Venezuela: Militarized Mining Area

Another extreme example is found in Venezuela, where Nicolás Maduro turned to liberalizing mining exploitation in the so-called Arco Orinoco Mining in one of several desperate attempts to overcome the country’s crisis (3). The Arco Orinoco area comprises ​​more than 100 thousand km2, with deposits of gold, diamonds and coltan, among other minerals. There Maduro created a “Military Economic Zone”, placing the armed forces in charge of controlling and directing mining exploitation.

Currently, there is a dispute over gold in the region, with various complaints regarding the military’s participation in both the registered companies and in illegal networks, involved in environmental destruction and violence. Local groups denounce that their rights are violated, deforestation and other environmental impacts are increasing, and gold mining is spreading beyond the designated area to other Amazonian territories (3).

Brazil: Bolsonaro’s Militarist Offensive

In Brazil, the new government of Jair Bolsonaro is also taking the first steps towards greater military presence in the control of natural resources and territories, especially in the Amazon. The new vision mixes disparate components mix with certain reactionary fantasies. Bolsonaro promotes liberalization in carrying arms and considers the occupation of rural lands as “terrorism”. Some days he claims that the indigenous people must become “soldiers”, but on other days he postulates converting them into “entrepreneurs” in the use of their territories. Most frequently, he marginalizes them as obstacles to progress.

Schematic representation of the Andes biological corridor.

The new president has also denounced what he calls international plots to appropriate the Amazon. In particular, he questioned the initiative to create a “Triple A Corridor” that joins together protected areas and indigenous territories extending from one side of the continent to the other, from Peru (in the north of the Amazon) and Ecuador, along the northern zone of Brazil and adjacent regions of Colombia, Venezuela and the Guianas. (4) Bolsonaro also criticizes it for, according to him, operating analogously to forms of self-determination of indigenous peoples. In this he is not alone–there are military commanders who support him (5).

Schematic representation of the Orinoco mining arch in Venezuela (blue) and the “Caja Norte” program in the northern Amazonian border of Brazil (red).

This may explain the intentions of the Bolsonaro government to resuscitate the old military program of the “Caja Norte” of the Amazon, which includes the Brazilian territories north of the Amazon River along approximately 6,500 km of borders with Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana. This initiative was launched in 1985 to ensure the defense of what they identified as strategic natural reserves, under the control of the Ministry of Defense.

Militarization in Other South American Countries

In Peru, police or military regularly launch interventions to put down citizen protest. The mechanism the government uses is to declare a state of emergency. The most recent occurred on February 15, 2019 in the gold mining areas in the buffer zone of a reserve in the southern Amazon. By some calculations, illegal gold mining there has caused the deforestation of 11,000 hectares of forest. These operations involved 1,272 police officers, 300 members of the armed forces, experts in explosives, and 70 delegates of the General Prosecutor’s Office acting by land, in the rivers and by air. They claim these forces will remain for about two years. (6 ) This reveals the enormous scale of these interventions.

Police and sometimes military actions occur in several other countries. They have been reported, for example, in Argentina, especially in controlling the fracking fields in the south of the country; in Bolivia where they have protected the entry of oil companies into indigenous territories; in Chile with the deployment of the militarized police in the Mapuche areas of the country or in southern Chile to repress local groups that resist the so-called “theft” of water; or in Ecuador, where they have secured the protection of new mining ventures.

In several of these cases, the police or the military provide security or protection to companies and their facilities. The extreme case is Peru, where laws formalized mechanisms for mining and oil companies to contract directly with the police to provide them with “protection” and “neutralization” of threats. In that country, 138 “extraordinary police service provision” agreements have taken place between 1995 and 2018, with 29 of these agreements still in force. (7)

In other cases, agents have been assigned to spy on local leaders, as in the case of  Project X of the Argentine Gendarmerie, or more recently with the spying on church leaders in Brazil for their support of land claims asserted in the Amazon.

Emerging Trends

It is possible to advance some conclusions about this military and police derivative on extractivism. The first is not to forget that the militarization of environmental management is not new, and for example in Brazil it is dragged from the military governments since the mid-twentieth century, although at that time it was focused on ensuring a territorial presence in an Amazon that many considered a green “desert” But at present it is becoming more and more evident in several countries.

The second aspect is that this is promoted under both conservative and progressive governments. The similarities between Colombia and Venezuela are striking. Beyond the rhetoric and the participation of the State, the models of extractivism are repeated, with all their impacts. This indicates that we face a deeper problem that involves the roots in contemporary conceptions of development and Nature.

A third issue is that the dispute is not really focused on how to protect nature, but on how to regulate mining, to control it and obtain part of the profits. For example, it is clear that in Colombia the State seeks to displace and replace illegal groups as arbiters and organizers of gold mining. In this way, a commodification of the environment is reinforced. The flip side is to conceal or exclude other understandings of nature such as those based on its ecological, aesthetic, religious, and historical values.

Fourth, the policy legitimizes military and police as actors in environmental management. This is a substantive change in the tasks usually expected of them, and models like Colombia’s can lead to generals opining on the management of protected areas and indigenous territories. The community of ecologists, biologists and other scientists is once again relegated and the excuse of security serves to cancel out processes of citizen information and participation.

A fifth aspect is the need to recognize and understand that militarization can have widespread local support, especially in areas where there is a high incidence of criminal violence. No doubt there will be many who will celebrate the arrival of soldiers and police. But the passage of time shows that the military presence often ends up fueling more violence. Colombia offers many examples of this. Local communities, especially peasants and indigenous people, are trapped between the military and police on the one hand, and illegal and criminal groups on the other.

Sixth, the spread of this concept of security could lead to possible tensions between countries. This may be beginning to occur in the northern Amazonian regions. In fact, there the AAA Biological Corridor proposal affects the Orinoco Mining Arc in Venezuela and also overlaps the Caja Norte military plan of the Brazilian border.

Finally, it is evident that this type of strategies will not be able to stop the social and environmental impacts of extractive industries. The generals control neither the market price nor the external demand, and it becomes impossible to place a soldier or a policeman at every Amazonian river or on every hillside. Meanwhile, huge financial resources are spent that could be used to sustain productive reconversions in the areas that need it most.

Sin embargo, a pesar de todo esto, lo que hoy se observa en Colombia y otros países vecinos, parece apuntar a que la tozudez una vez más prevalecerá, para insistir en medidas ambientales y territoriales que ya sabemos que son inefectivas.

However, despite all that, recent experience in Colombia and other neighboring countries, seems to point to stubbornness once again prevailing, to insist on environmental and territorial measures that have already been proven to be ineffective.

Eduardo Gudynas is a researcher at the Latin American center for Social Equality in Uruguay (Centro Latino Americano de Ecología Social-CLAES). His most recent book is “Corruption and Extractivism”, with editions in Chile, Peru and Bolivia.

Notes

(1) Bases del Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2018-2022, Departamento Nacional de Planeación, Bobotá, 2019.

(2) Las rutas del oro ilegal: estudios de caso en cinco países amazónicos, Sociedad Peruana Derecho Ambiental, Lima, 2015, en: https://spda.org.pe/wpfb-file/larutadeloro-completo-final-doblecara-pdf/

(3) See, for example, Una mirada estructural del megaproyecto Arco Minero del Orinoco, M. Vitti, en Revista SIC, 27 junio 2018, http://revistasic.gumilla.org/2018/una-mirada-estructural-del-megaproyecto-arco-minero-del-orinoco-i/

Explotación, deforestación y muerte en el Arco Minero de Venezuela, Mongabay Latam, 14 febrero 2018, https://es.mongabay.com/2018/02/arco-minero-de-venezuela/

(4) Triplo A: o controverso corredor ecológico que ligaria os Andes ao Atlântico, F. Ortíz, 23 octubre 2017, (o)eco, https://www.oeco.org.br/reportagens/triplo-a-o-controverso-corredor-ecologico-que-ligaria-os-andes-ao-atlantico/

(5) Former Chief Commander of the Army Eduardo Villas Boas, on Twitter, called the Corridor a “question of sovereignty”, and called for an analysis of “risks”. This general directed the military command in the Amazon. https://twitter.com/Gen_VillasBoas/status/1042435900448354304

Jair Bolsonaro, 2015, on Facebook, classified it as “the new threat to Brazilian sovereignty in the Amazon”, carried out with the “pretext” of combatting climate change, and following the example of “the self-determination of indigenous peoples”, it would end up in an “amputation” of national territory. https://www.facebook.com/pg/jairmessias.bolsonaro

(6) Madre de Dios: inician megaoperativo contra minería ilegal, CooperAcción, Lima, 19 febrero 2019, http://cooperaccion.org.pe/madre-de-dios-inician-megaoperativo-contra-mineria-ilegal/

(7) ER, IDL y CDDHH. 2019. Agreements between the National Police and extractive industries in Peru. EarthRights Internacional (ER), Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL) y Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos (CDDHH), Lima.

Categories: News for progressives

Trump is Trying to Pay His Way to an Annihilation of Palestinian Statehood, and an Erasure of Israel’s Crimes

Tue, 2019-03-12 16:00

Photo Source U.S. Embassy Dedication Ceremony

Palestine” has been compared to many things. The world’s longest colonial war, a “hell-disaster” – Churchill’s memorable epithet – and the site of Israel’s “war on terror”, a conflict in which we are supposed to believe that the Palestinians are playing the role of al-Qaeda or Isis or any other outfit which the west and its allies have helped into existence, and which Israel is going to fight on our behalf.

But there are times when Palestine turns out to have been located in the Bermuda Triangle. The Palestinians disappear. They cease to exist. They are forgotten, irrelevant, outside the landscape of fear, pain, injustice and occupation that we once heard about so often. No one can imagine what has happened to these Palestinians. Like the aircraft and boats which strayed into the mythical triangle, they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Sad to see them go. But it’s a mystery.

The last two weeks have been a case in point. Trump’s fey and vain son-in-law Jared Kushner, a supporter of Israel’s colonial expansion on Arab land, set off with Trump’s “special representative to the peace process” Jason Greenblatt (the man who says that “West Bank settlements are not an obstacle to peace”) to work out the economic underpinning of Trump’s “deal of the century” to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Kushner went to visit some Muslim killer-states, some of them with very nasty and tyrannical leaders – Saudi Arabia and Turkey among them – to chat about the “economic dimension” of this mythical deal.

Middle East leaders may be murderers with lots of torturers to help them stay in power, but they are not entirely stupid. It’s clear that Kushner and Greenblatt need lots and lots of cash to prop up their plans for the final destruction of Palestinian statehood – we are talking in billions – and the Arab leaders they met did not hear anything about the political “dimension” of Trump’s “deal”. Because presumably there isn’t one. After all, Trump thinks that by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and declaring it the capital of Israel, he has taken that most holy of cities “off the table”.

Our titans of journalism were silent – maybe they, too, fell into the Bermuda Triangle – and had absolutely nothing to say, absolutely zilch, about Kushner’s march of folly around the Middle East. They called it, inevitably, a “whirlwind tour” in which this foolish young man would – readers will recognise CNN’s equally inevitable clichés – “prep allies for a spring rollout” of the “plan”.

This very vagueness is amazing, because the Kushner-Greenblatt fandango was in fact a very historic event. It was unprecedented as well as bizarre, unequalled in recent Arab history for its temerity as well as its outrageous assumption.

For this was the first time in modern Arab history – indeed modern Muslim history – that America has constructed and prepared a bribe BEFORE the acquiescence of those who are supposed to take the money; before actually telling the Palestinians and other Arabs what they are supposed to do in order to get their hands on the loot.

Usually, the Americans or the EU come up with highfalutin “peace” proposals – two states, security for Israel, viability for Palestinians, talks about a joint capital, an end to Jewish colonies on occupied Arab land, mutual trust-building, refugees, the usual paint-pots – and then gently suggest that it might be financially worthwhile for everyone to start talking.

But now the bank account is being set up before the customers’ agreement. The banks themselves – we have to include Saudi Arabia, do we not? – have not even been told what investments their funds are meant to support. How many times can you fit a South Sea Bubble into a Bermuda Triangle?

It’s not a blank cheque the Americans want from the Arabs. It’s going to be a very big cheque with specific amounts, to be given to a people who have never – as an occupied, repressed, abandoned community – ever demanded cash from anyone. Sure – and this has been a Kushner theme – Palestinians would be happier if they were better off.

But who has ever seen, in all the bloody Palestinians protests, demonstrations and cries of despair and massacres, a single poster – just one demand – for prime business opportunities, new motorways, five-star hotels, hospitals or pre-natal clinics?

Palestinian demands have been uniformly identical: justice, dignity, freedom and – yes – the return of lost lands, if only of those properties thieved from them by Israel in the West Bank. Of the thousands of unarmed innocents eviscerated in the great Gaza wars, which of their families is now going to settle for an American cheque in return for the end of all their ideals, dreams and political demands? But then again, what do we care for any of those families?

For the Bermuda Triangle sucked into its vortex these past few days yet another Palestinian victim: the UN’s preliminary report on the mass killings by Israeli troops and snipers of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza demonstrating since 30 March last year – against their imprisonment in the enclave and their right, under UN General Assembly Resolution 194, to return to their families’ original homes or receive compensation for them.

More than 200 Palestinians have been killed and around 18,000 wounded. The UN investigated 189 fatalities. Its researchers thought that perhaps on two occasions, armed Palestinian men may have infiltrated the crowds to shoot at the Israeli army, but even the briefest reading of the UN report’s 22 pages makes it perfectly clear that the dead were largely the victims of deliberate and aimed shots. They included journalists, health workers, children. Israel may have committed war crimes, the UN report concluded.

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But each new war, each new set of casualties, each new UN report has become normal. Or perhaps the word is “normalised”. None more so than the 25 February UN document. The demonstrators belonged to the “terrorist” Hamas, according to Israel. The investigation was a “theatre of the absurd”, announced Israel’s spokesman, “a report that is hostile, mendacious and biased against Israel”.

But what did we expect? Ever since Israel trashed and demeaned and politically destroyed that great Jewish jurist Richard Goldstone after his devastating critique of the 2008-2009 Israeli bombardment of Gaza – the accusations by Israel and Jewish Americans of his antisemitism and his innate “evil” (the latter from Alan Dershowitz, of course) make even US Democrat Ilhan Omar’s sins look childlike – UN reports have been little more than wallpaper. Yet none of this matters.

The Palestinians are even supposed to be duped by the closure of the US consulate in Jerusalem and its merger with Washington’s embassy in Israel to enhance “the efficiency and effectiveness of [America’s] diplomatic engagements”, according to the ambassador David Friedman, who also, by extraordinary chance, supports Israel’s land expropriations in the West Bank but claims he wants a “two-state solution”.

Hanan Ashrawi simply and eloquently explained that the merging of the consulate with the embassy “is not an administrative decision. It is an act of political assault on Palestinian rights and identity, and a negation of the consulate’s historic status and function, dating back nearly 200 years.” She was quite right. And no one paid the slightest attention. The US consulate simply got swallowed up by the Bermuda Triangle.

Is all this because Trump has now steamrolled morality and so indelibly soiled the American flag that we have all, somehow, closed down in the Middle East on ideas like principles, promises and humanity, and accepted everlasting night – even if the latter is referred to as the deal of the century? Is that what happens when you fall into the Bermuda Triangle? Goodbye to the Palestinians. Didn’t they know this was dangerous territory? Hadn’t they heard the stories? It’s all a mystery if you ask me.

 

Categories: News for progressives

The Political Class’s Disregard for Irish Life

Tue, 2019-03-12 15:59

Photo Source SeanMack – Wikimedia Commons

The families of the 13 innocent people shot dead by the Parachute Regiment when they took part in a civil rights march against internment without trial in Londonderry in 1972 will learn in the coming week if soldiers, who are alleged to have carried out the killings, will be prosecuted.

There is no doubt about what happened on Bloody Sunday 47 years ago since Lord Saville’s report, 5,000 words long and the fruit of 12 years’ work, was published in 2010. It concluded that none of the casualties shot by the soldiers “were posing any threat of causing death or serious injury”. It said that all soldiers bar one responsible for the casualties “insisted that they had shot at gunmen or bombers, which they had not”. Saville added that “many of these soldiers have knowingly put forward false accounts in order to justify their firing”.

Saville said the report was “absolutely clear” and there were “no ambiguities” about events in the city on that day. David Cameron later told the House of Commons that “what happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.”

But eight years after Cameron had apologised, the Commons heard another story from the Northern Ireland secretary, Karen Bradley, who said this week that the deaths caused by the British security services during the Troubles were “not crimes” but people acting “under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way”.

This was so very different from Saville and Cameron that it was followed by a frantic row-back on the part of Bradley, followed by some some touchy-feely stuff about acknowledging the pain of the families of the dead who might be upset by her words.

Bradley’s original statement and confused apologies were greeted with derision by the media, which recalled her past gaffes, comparing her ineptitude to that of the transport secretary Chris Grayling whose pratfalls and failures – and unsackability because of Brexit – are notorious.

But Bradley’s incompetence and ignorance – her kinder critics say that “she is out of her depth” – are a diversion from a more serious failing on her part, one which has the potential to do real damage to the stability of Northern Ireland. This is simply that what she said and later apologised for reflects all too accurately the real thinking of much of the government, most Conservative MPs and the great majority of their party supporters.

Prominent Brexiteers have never liked the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), while others consider it a Labour project that they would be happy to see wither on the bough. Michael Gove compared the GFA to the appeasement of the Nazis. The former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson happily retweeted an article saying that the GFA had run its course and he supports a hard border with the Irish Republic. The “Get Back Control” slogan of the pro-Brexit campaign was aimed at the EU, but it can be rapidly adjusted for use against the GFA, which undoubtedly does dilute the formal authority of the British government in Northern Ireland though expanding its real influence.

Bradley’s statement in the Commons could be dismissed as the normal Conservative knee-jerk support for the British Army. But the problem here is that its tone is in keeping with Conservative actions since they won the general election in 2010. Since then they have ignored essential parts of the GFA, such as the central role of the nationalist population in the north and, until recently, of the Irish government. Cameron may have apologised for Bloody Sunday but he sent a right winger like Paterson to Belfast as secretary of state.

Bit by bit the preconditions for peace have been chipped away. A crucial element was the declaration by the British government under John Major in 1993 that it was neutral between unionists and nationalists. This enabled it to mediate successfully between the two communities. It also enabled it to act in concert with the Irish government if the two communities could not agree.

This neutrality was carelessly abandoned long before Theresa May finally knocked it on the head when she became dependent on the DUP for her parliamentary majority in 2017. DUP MPs are now treated as if they were the sole representatives of Northern Ireland, though its voters chose decisively by 56 to 44 per cent to stay in the EU. Moreover, demographers say that Catholics and nationalists now each make up half the population of the north and will be in the majority in two years’ time.

Contrary to criticism, Bradley’s repeated gaffes, automatic support for the British Army and open ignorance of the Northern Irish political terrain are nothing out of the ordinary for politicians holding her job. Perhaps it is unfair to blame this on the Conservatives alone: the British political class has a long tradition of ignoring Ireland until it blows up in their faces.

The fact that Bradley’s ill-considered remarks were made only days before there is to be a decision by the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service about the prosecution of soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday is also par for the course.

A central reason why the Troubles went on for so long was that successive British governments from 1968-69 failed to realise the extent to which internment without trial, Bloody Sunday, the hunger strikes, the Birmingham Six and similar injustices delegitimised the British state in the eyes of the nationalist community. A myth was maintained that the IRA has only two or three per cent support in the nationalist community and that it was always on the verge of total defeat. But small guerrilla groups depend more on tolerance or support than they do on military capacity and this popular acceptance was underestimated by the British and Irish governments. Both were astonished when Sinn Fein started winning elections under their own name in the wake of the hunger strikes.

These grievances in Northern Ireland are often presented as “legacy” issues which are only kept alive by the historically obsessed Irish who ought to let the dead bury their dead and get on with their lives.

But this is exactly what Brexit – along with a prolonged failure by the British government to keep the GFA in good working order – is preventing people in Northern Ireland from doing. It is absurd for people in Britain to criticise anybody in Northern Ireland for undue interest in the past when Brexit is doing just that by resurrecting a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, the elimination of which was central to the peace agreement. If Britain goes backward into the past, there is no reason why the Irish should not do the same thing.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Can We Divest from Weapons Dealers?

Tue, 2019-03-12 15:58

Photo Source Coolcaesar at en.wikipedia • CC BY-SA 3.0

Impoverished people living in numerous countries today would stand a far better chance of survival, and risk far less trauma, if weapon manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon stopped manufacturing and selling death-dealing products.

About three decades ago, I taught writing at one of Chicago’s alternative high schools. It’s easy to recall some of their stories—fast-paced, dramatic, sometimes tender. I would beg my students to three-hole-punch each essay or poem and leave it in a binder on our classroom shelf, anxious not to lose the documentation of their talents and ideas.

Some of the youngsters I taught told me they were members of gangs. Looking down from the window of my second-floor classroom, I sometimes wondered if I was watching them selling drugs in broad daylight as they embraced one another on the street below.

Tragically, in the two years that I taught at Prologue High School, three students were killed. Colleagues told me that they generally buried three students per year. They died, primarily, from gunshot wounds. I think they could have survived their teenage years if weapons and ammunition hadn’t been available.

Similarly, I believe impoverished populations of numerous countries at war today would stand a far better chance of survival, and risk far less trauma, if weapon manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon, stopped manufacturing and selling death-dealing products. It would also help if the people living in countries that export deadly weapons were well-informed about the consequences these businesses bring.

Consider this: The 2018 U.S. Census Report tallies U.S. exports of bullets to other countries. Topping the list is $123 million-worth of bullets to Afghanistan—an eight-fold rise over the number of bullets sold in 2017 and far more than the number of bullets sold to any other country.

During a recent visit to Afghanistan, I heard many people voice intense fear of what would happen if civil war breaks out. It seems to me that those who manufacture bullets are doing all they can to hasten the likelihood and deadly outcome of an armed struggle.

But rather than help people here in the United States understand conditions in countries where the U.S. conducts airstrikes, President Donald Trump is hiding the facts.

On March 6, 2019, Trump revoked portions of a 2016 executive order imposed by President Barack Obama requiring annual reports on the number of strikes taken and an assessment of combatant and civilian deaths. Trump has removed the section of the mandate specifically covering civilian casualties caused by CIA airstrikes, and whether they were caused by drones or “manned” warplanes.

A U.S. State Department email message said the reporting requirements are “superfluous” because the Department of Defense already must file a full report of all civilian casualties caused by military strikes. However, the report required from the Pentagon doesn’t cover airstrikes conducted by the CIA.

And last year, the White House simply ignored the reporting requirement.

Democracy is based on information. You can’t have democracy if people have no information about crucial issues. Uninformed about military practices and foreign policy, U.S. citizens become disinterested.

I lived alongside civilians in Iraq during the 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad. In the hospital emergency rooms I heard survivors asking, through screams and tears, why they were being attacked. Since that time, in multiple visits to Kabul, I have heard the same agonized question.

The majority of Afghanistan’s population consists of women and children. When civilians in that country die because of U.S. attacks—whether within or beyond “areas of active hostilities”; whether conducted by the CIA or the Department of Defense; whether using manned or unmanned warplanes—the attack is almost certain to cause overwhelming grief. Often the survivors feel rage and may want revenge. But many feel despair and find their only option is to flee.

Imagine a home in your neighborhood suddenly demolished by a secret attack; you have no idea why this family was targeted, or why women and children in this family were killed. If another such attack happened, wouldn’t you consider moving?

Reporting for The New York Times, Mujib Mashal recently interviewed a farmer from Afghanistan’s Helmand province displaced by fighting and now unable to feed his family. “About 13.5 million people are surviving on one meal or less a day,” Mashal writes, “and 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of a $1 a day.”

Last week, an international crisis sharply escalated in a “dogfight” between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states. The crisis has been somewhat defused. Media reports quickly focused on the relative military strength of both countries—observing, for example, that the dilapidated state of India’s jet fighters could be a “win” for U.S. weapons manufacturers.

“It is hard to sell a front-line fighter to a country that isn’t threatened,” said an analyst with the Lexington Institute. “Boeing and Lockheed Martin both have a better chance of selling now because suddenly India feels threatened.”

A few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited heads of state in Pakistan and India. Photos showed warm embraces and respectful receptions.

The CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson, also embraces the Saudi government. She serves on the boards of trustees of two Saudi technological universities, and presides over a company that has been awarded “a nine-figure down payment on a $15 billion missile-defense system for Saudi Arabia.” The Saudis will acquire new state-of-the-art weapons even as they continue bludgeoning civilians in Yemen during a war orchestrated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And the Saudis will build military alliances with nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

With both India and Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons, every effort should be made to stop the flow of weapons into the region. But major weapon making companies bluntly assert that the bottom line in the decision is their profit.

Attending funerals for young people in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, at the time one of the poorest in Chicago, I felt deep dismay over the profits that motivated gun runners who sold weapons to students, some of whom would be soon fatally wounded. In the ensuing decades, larger, more ambitious weapon peddlers have engendered and prolonged fighting between warlords, within and beyond the United States.

How different our world could be if efforts were instead directed toward education, health care, and community welfare.

 

Categories: News for progressives

How US Sanctions are Hurting Iran: A Firsthand Report

Tue, 2019-03-12 15:57

On a recent delegation to Iran, we experienced first-hand the legendary Iranian hospitality. Iranians are particularly thrilled to meet Americans, but as we discovered, our government’s policies are hurting the very people who want to be our friends.

As our 28-person delegation traveled through the country wearing messages on our jackets proclaiming “Peace with Iran” in English and Farsi, we were surrounded by people—from schoolchildren to storekeepers—who wanted to practice their English and talk to us. Their eyes lit up when they heard we were from America. We were constantly posing for photos and exchanging Instagram accounts. We were offered endless cups of sweet tea and showered with more gifts than we could fit in our suitcases.

A frequent refrain we heard was, “Americans good, Trump bad.” We did meet a few Trump supporters. At one roadside shop outside Tehran, we were shocked to find an entire collection of Donald Trump’s books for sale, in Farsi. One book buyer said Trump was good because would help get rid of the awful clerics who were running Iran. Most people, however, whether they liked or hated their own government, complained that US policies were not hurting the government or the wealthy, but the middle class and the poor.

In May 2018, President Trump’s unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement, followed by an imposition of draconian sanctions that not only prohibit U.S. companies from doing business in Iran, but threaten all foreign companies and international banks that trade with Iran. The sanctions also severely limit Iran’s ability to sell its major source of revenue: oil.

The U.S. sanctions, along with mismanagement and corruption, has decimated the value of the rial and sent the prices of consumer goods soaring. As one of our guides told us, “Our bank savings have been wiped out, rents go up every month, and the price of food increases every single day, while most salaries stay the same.” At a roadside stop outside the Tomb of Cyrus the Great, the wife of the tea vendor told us how her family’s standard of living has plummeted in the past year. “We used to be able to afford a car, now we can’t even afford a refrigerator,” she lamented. Visiting a school for poor children in the southern part of Tehran, we learned that the number of street children has increased, particularly in households headed by single women.

Sanctions are suffocating people’s life choices. A young woman who had been accepted to college in London with a full scholarship had to decline the offer because her family could no longer even afford her plane ticket. “I had so many hopes and dreams,” she said. “Now I have nothing.” A young man told us he cancelled his plans to get married because the couple can’t afford the wedding costs. He is not alone. “The families of many girls can’t afford a decent dowry, which is our custom here,” he explained, “while many young men feel their salaries are no longer sufficient to provide for a family.”

The US government says medicines are exempt from sanctions but with banks, shipping and insurance companies unwilling to risk doing business with Iran, certain life-saving drugs have become scarce. Our interpreter teared up when an elderly man in the marketplace told us his wife has cancer and he can no longer find the interferon she desperately needs. A man with diabetes said he can’t find the medicine to lower his glucose levels and now must undergo painful dialysis treatments to stay alive.

“If Trump thinks he is hurting our government, he is wrong. Rouhani can eat meat every day and so can the clerics,” a father of three told me. “I’m lucky if I can give my children a decent meal once a week. It is one thing for governments to have differences, but why impose hardships on innocent people?”

The Trump administration’s gamble that tough sanctions will either topple the government or force it to change its regional policies is not working. It certainly seems like the Islamic government, which just celebrated 40 years in power, is not about to fall. Caught between a well-oiled repressive apparatus and fear of a Syria-type upheaval, most people we met preferred reforms within the present system to an abrupt regime change that might plunge the country into chaos—and they certainly did not want a US-military intervention.

Trump’s policies, however, are putting the reformers under siege. When our group met with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on February 25, the day before his short-lived resignation, he made it clear that he was under intense pressure to show positive results from his outreach to the West. Trump’s economic strangulation is hurting all those who, like Zarif, staked their reputations on negotiations and it is shoring up hardliners who always insisted that talks with the West were futile. With new parliamentary elections coming up on 2020, these hardliners may well take power. U.S. warhawks like John Bolton, and Trump’s Israeli and Saudi allies, could use their return to power as a reason to push for a U.S. military attack on Iran.

Rejoining the Iran nuclear agreement, lifting sanctions, and developing normal trade and diplomatic relations with Iran would empower the reformists and engage Iran in solving the conflicts that continue to plague the region. It would also ease the hardships affecting the extraordinarily gracious people who welcomed us with such open arms.

Categories: News for progressives

American Greatness?

Tue, 2019-03-12 15:54

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

“Make American Great Again” proclaims Donald J. Trump, and millions thrill at the thought. Millions of others cringe or bristle. National division and animosity escalate.

Could there be a way to talk about what is great in America that might bring us together instead of further apart? Are there distinctively American, widely respected, and for many of us genuinely inspirational figures to whom we could turn to for help and hope in a time of political and moral chaos and despair. And a time when we are all increasingly ghettoized into our tribes, parties, faiths, narrow partisanships, technological distractions, and tweeted slogans?

Henry David Thoreau, George Gershwin, Rachel Carson, and Martin Luther King are four such figures. They exemplify a genuinely American greatness: the ability to combine beliefs and values, insights and actions that seem opposed; and thus to unite in one committed, creative person something new and genuinely hopeful. They were fiercely individual in aims and accomplishments, but also fiercely committed to the welfare of others or to a wider artistic tradition. They were deeply knowledgeable of past and present culture and politics, religion and science—but refused to be bound by any single school, political party, artistic style, or attitude towards nature. Undaunted by criticism for standing against the reigning common sense of their time, they carried the American revolutionary spirit forward by challenging our values, political structures, technological innovations, and artistic conventions. This is American greatness.

Consider Thoreau: not just a hermit in the woods, but someone who asked difficult questions about why forests were being cut down, whether the new technologies would really help us become more fully human, why there was so much despair under America’s emerging wealth, and how any of us could support slavery or aggressive wars. He loved nature and observed it closely with a care and attention bordering on the scientific. But he also believed that science was limited in truth and value if it wasn’t aimed towards the benefit of life. He was devoted to family and friends, and worked to help escaped slaves to freedom, but also sought solitude and what he called the Great Silence that lingers under speech. He learned from the world’s religious and philosophical traditions but instead of choosing a single one thought they should all learn from each other.

George Gershwin rejected longstanding barriers between Beethoven and Tin Pan Alley, jazz and opera—and thus helped create a uniquely American crossover style of music. He was a Jew accepted by a largely Christian culture with little contempt or discrimination, celebrated by America when European culture treated Jews with hatred and exclusion. As Gershwin could learn from both African-American jazz and French composing theory, so America was able learn from the son of Jewish immigrants what its own popular music could become. This too is American greatness.

Using scientific knowledge to challenge reckless and damaging pesticides, best-selling nature writer Rachel Carson helped create a new kind of public identity: someone who was at once scientist, citizen, and environmental activist. In a time of unchallenged sexism she became both a widely recognized technical expert and a political and cultural icon. Despite attacks on her as a communist, a cat loving “old maid,” and a lesbian, she was invited to give advice about the dangers of pesticides to congress and to President Kennedy. Her book Silent Spring won a National Book Award, sold millions of copies, and led to an hour long prime time TV interview. Like Thoreau, she combined a scientific sensibility and a deep questioning of the assumption that nature exists only to be dominated. Like him, she sought a way for humanity and nature to thrive together.

Martin Luther King’s moral and political genius was his ability to join Christianity’s vision of love and compassion with the Declaration of Independence’s assertion of human rights. Heir to Thoreau’s advocacy of civil disobedience, King gave it a distinctly religious flavor by seeing each person as made in the image of God. Rejecting both physical violence and verbal aggression, he refused either to hate violent racists or castigate activists who demeaned him. For King, as for Carson and Thoreau, an overriding love for life triumphed over meanness and resentment. Knowing that he could be killed at any time, King was willing to sacrifice his life so that America could fulfill its incomplete promise of universal rights and respect.

Thoreau, Gershwin, Carson, and King embody alternatives to our current political, moral, and spiritual malaise. If we far too often fail to live up their examples, they remain a beacon of hope of what American greatness truly is.

Categories: News for progressives

Can Journalism Be Saved? A Tax Credit System for Creative Work

Tue, 2019-03-12 15:53

The latest round of layoffs at Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, and other major news outlets has raised new questions about the future of the traditional model of advertising supported journalism. While a small number of news outlets, like the New York Times, continue to thrive, few others seem to be profitable in the current environment.

This raises the prospect of a future in which there will be ever fewer reporters to keep the public informed and to scrutinize the actions of public officials and regulatory agencies. While we all recognize the inevitability of abuse and corruption with a regime that bans a free press, we will get the same outcome in a world where the market is structured in a way to make the operation of independent media difficult or impossible.

We can look to structure the market in a way that overcomes this problem. Specifically, we can have a modest individual tax credit ($100 to $200 per person) that can be used to finance journalism and other creative work.

The basic problem faced by news outlets, and other producers of creative work, is that the Internet has made it possible to transfer written material, as well as recorded music and video material, at near zero cost. This means that the condition loved by economists, with the price being equal to the marginal cost, implies that this material would be available for free. If users pay what it costs to deliver a news article, song, or movie over the web, they would pay nothing, leaving no money to support the workers who produced the material.

This problem is not altogether new. The point of a copyright monopoly was to allow the creator of a creative work to charge a price that was well above the marginal cost of transferring material. However, the Internet makes this problem far more serious with the cost of transferring material falling to zero and copyright enforcement becoming ever more difficult. In this context, it makes sense to look to alternative mechanisms.

A tax credit for supporting creative work should not be seen as an altogether new concept. This can be viewed as a variation on the tax deduction for charitable contributions. Under this system, the government effectively subsidizes any charitable organization a taxpayer chooses to support.

The current system is heavily skewed towards subsidizing the charities favored by the rich, both in terms of the size of the subsidy and whether people get it all. The size of the subsidy will depend on a person’s tax bracket. If a person is in the 37 percent tax bracket, the current top rate, the government subsidy is 37 cents for each dollar given. However, with most people falling in a tax bracket paying 12 percent or less, their effective subsidy will be less than one-third of this size.

Furthermore, a person only gets this subsidy at all if they itemize their deductions. With just over 10 percent of taxpayers now itemizing their deductions, as opposed to taking the standard deduction, the vast majority of people will not get any subsidy at all for their contributions to charitable organization.

The tax credit system would change this situation, with every adult being able to use their tax credit (it would be refundable) to support the creative worker(s) or organization of their choice. However, the current system of tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations can serve as a useful model.

As with the current system, the I.R.S. can certify that an individual or organization meets the standards to qualify to receive money through the tax credit system. This would simply mean certifying that they are involved in producing and/or distributing, some type of creative work. This can be journalism or music, producing movies, writing books, or other types of creative work.

As is the case now, the I.R.S. would not attempt to evaluate the quality of the work, just as it does not currently try to assess the value of a religion or the quality of a university, when it grants them tax exempt status. The only issue is whether they do what they claim to do. The point is to protect against fraud.

A further condition, to prevent the most simple type of fraud, with people trading their tax credits, would be to require some minimum be reached (e.g. $2,500 or $3,000 a year) in order to be eligible to receive money through the tax credit system. While it would still be possible to coordinate some sort of kickback scheme, this would require a substantial amount of coordination, and therefore risk, for a very limited potential gain.

The current system actually offers far greater opportunities for such scams. A rich person can give $1 million to her friend’s church. Her friend then hands back the $1 million and they split the $370,000 savings on her income tax. While scams of this sort do happen, they are almost certainly relatively rare, and they would likely be much rarer with the tax credit system.

The other condition for receiving money through the tax credit system would be that a person or organization would lose the opportunity to get copyright protection for their work for a substantial period of time, say three to five years. Creative workers would be allowed to get one subsidy from the government, not two.

If they want to stay in the copyright system and depend on copyright monopolies for their livelihood, they are welcome to do so, but if they decide they would rather go the route of the tax credit system they have to give up this option for a substantial period of time. The three to five year lag between getting money in the tax credit system and being eligible for copyright protection is necessary to prevent the tax credit system from being used as a farm system for the copyright system.

We don’t want singers, writers, and journalists developing their reputation in the tax credit system and then moving over to the copyright system to get the really big bucks. If they want to take advantage of the opportunity to be supported through the tax credit system, they should not also expect to get a jackpot from government-granted copyright monopolies.

A nice feature of this mechanism is that it is entirely self-enforcing. If a singer or writer in the tax credit system gets a copyright for which they are not eligible, they will find it impossible to enforce. Anyone would be able to reproduce their work without any payment. If they then filed a suit for copyright infringement, it would only be necessary to show that the person had accepted money through the tax credit system and the case would be immediately dismissed, since the copyright would not be valid.

A massive amount of creative work could be supported through this mechanism. You would get $25 billion a year to support creative workers if there was a $100 credit and 250 million people used it. The figure would be $50 billion with a $200 credit. If we assume an average payment to creative workers of $50,000 a year (this is not necessarily their full pay, since many could do other work, such as performing music live), that would be enough to support between 500,000 and 1,000,000 creative workers.

Could this sort of system save journalism? There is no guarantee, since it would depend on what people chose to support with their credits, but journalists should have a pretty good shot under this sort of system. After all, many people do consider journalism important and presumably would be happy to commit part or all of their tax credits for this purpose. It would only take a relatively small share of this funding to fully replace the amount of journalism supported under the current system. (There are less than 33,000 people now employed as journalists by the nation’s newspapers.)

It is also worth asking about the alternatives. Do we want the government responsible for deciding which news outlets get supported? Foundations have supported some important journalistic efforts, most notably ProPublica, but do we really think that a vigorous independent media can be sustained relying exclusively on the goodwill of foundations that are, after all, created by rich people?

This tax credit system would put the power in the public’s hands. If they consider independent journalism to be valuable, it should thrive under this tax credit system. If they don’t consider independent journalism valuable, then we have a really big problem with no obvious solution.

This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.

Categories: News for progressives

China, Australia and Coal Mania

Tue, 2019-03-12 15:51

Fear them for their technology; fear them for their ideology and their authoritarianism. But embrace interference and involvement in the economy if it involves coal.  This is the fancy hypocrisy of Australian politics, one driven to lunacy and inconsistency by that dark and dirty love.

The contrast between a fear of Huawei, on the one hand, and an eager opening for a Chinese state-owned enterprise barging its way into the Australian market suggests that those in Canberra have finally twisted themselves into knots.  The latter is particularly striking – the China Energy Engineering Cooperation (CEEC), the designated monster behind what promises to be 2000 megawatt of coal generation in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney.  Two plants billed as users of efficient coal-fired technology will supposedly take root in the “failed industrial zone” and give it life.  The cost would be in the order of $8 billion and generate over $17 billion worth of carbon liabilities.

Australia’s dinosaur political class is delighted at the latest foray into environmental spoliation. “This is exactly what the market needs,” chuffed Coalition backbencher Craig Kelly. Furthermore, to show that the conservative wing of politics is happy to forfeit any laissez faire credentials regarding the economy when needed, Kelly is keen for generous taxpayers’ support.  “If the Government needs to underwrite it, if it needs a little help, then that’s what we should be doing.”

Gone from the conversational babble was China’s February announcement through the Dalian Port authorities restricting Australian coal imports.  “The goals are to better safeguard the legal rights and interests of Chinese importers and to protect the environment,” explained Geng Shuang of the Chinese foreign ministry.  The point is worth reiterating, since similar bans were not applied to the coal from other states.  The indefinite ban was the bitter icing on that particular issue, confirming prolonged clearing times for Australian coal since the start of February.

The announcement of the mining venture had its predictable reaction in the environmental movement in Australia.  The Greens federal member for Melbourne was aghast and, as is his wont, got into the realms of hyperbole.  Protests would ensue; mass disaffection would take to the streets.  These latest coal plans, according to Adam Bandt, “will make the Franklin Dam campaign look like a Sunday picnic.”  What of, he said, any acknowledgment of the recent climate shocks gripping the continent? “We just had our hottest summer on record. If Labor and Liberal [parties] give this project the tick of approval then you will see civil disobedience in Australia on a scale never seen before.”

Interference by China in Australian matters is enchanting printing presses and stalking the corridors of power in Canberra.  Like other obsessions, it is clear that this one is inconsistent and variable, manifesting in various forms like an inconsistent fever.  James Laurenceson’s Do the Claims Stack Up, Australia Talks China, concludes that “in each case, the evidence base [on interference] is shown to be divorced from the claims found in headlines, news reports and opinion pieces, revealing just how widespread has become the discourse of the China Threat, China Angst and China Panic”.  When it comes to coal, the threat transforms; China Blessing, or China Grovelling come to the fore.  (The Yellow Peril becomes the Yellow Salvation.)

The divorce in terms of reality is also evident in the finance side of things; the mining projects being proposed have yet to find the necessary capital, a point that is proving increasingly difficult for any such concerns.  Kaisun Holdings, the other company involved in the enterprise and also noted for being a “Belt and Road” company, is still on the hunt for “potential investors”. As with the Indian mining giant Adani, such companies will have to convince those who finance them that coal is good in an increasingly hostile environment.  No money, no project; the equation is uncomplicated.  On paper, Kaisun has a market capitalisation of $33 million.  The Australian joint-venture partner, has a mere $25,000 on paper.

The Australian Financial Reviewhas also pointed out that the scheme, inspired by Parramatta’s Frank Cavasinni, is being “driven by a small businessman from Western Sydney with no experience in the energy industry.” Ignorance can be golden, but not in certain areas of economic planning.  Such a plant has already received reproach from EnergyAustralia’s executive Mark Collette, who claims that the plant will not provide the flexible capacity in the grid required as users move to the use of low-cost wind and solar power. “Coal as an investment works best as baseload but the market signal is calling for something different, which is flexible capacity.”

Australian politicians, when it comes to mining, prove fickle.  Their views are changeable, climactically variable and their principles are always up for purchase.  They are in office to be bought by the commodities industry, but the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, is firm: there are no plans in the pipeline to approve any coal-fired power stations. “We are the most resilient state when it comes to our own energy needs.”  But given that the Australian federal government lacks a coherent, sustainable energy policy, coal lovers feel they are still in with a chance.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Improving Health in Africa

Tue, 2019-03-12 15:46

One of the lessons of the Ebola epidemic is the need to improve the African countries’ public health services, which have suffered the consequences of decades of neglect. Africa needs to rapidly upgrade those services as well as to improve the capacity of its medical and paramedical workforce.

Although Africa bears one-quarter of the global burden of disease, it only has two percent of the world’s doctors. Progress has been hindered, particularly in rural areas, because the infrastructure and the health services are inadequate, and there is a widespread lack of trained medical personnel.

Effects of HIV/AIDS

The African continent has been greatly afflicted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Talking to a patient at a hospital in Mozambique at the height of the AIDS epidemic he told me, “My choice is to die from AIDS or from hunger.” In a few words, he was highlighting two of the African continent most pressing problems: disease and poverty.

East and Southern Africa is the region most affected by HIV in the world and is also home to the largest number of people living with HIV (19.6 million in 2017.) This pandemic has reversed decades of improvement in life expectancy, educational progress, and economic growth. For example, in Lesotho, where life expectancy was 60 years in 1995, life expectancy had plummeted to around 50 years in 2017 due, to a large extent, to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country.

Although the number of deaths of AIDS-related illnesses has fallen significantly in the last decade, the high cost of treating HIV/AIDS, when coupled with the indirect costs resulting from loss of workers’ productivity, has had a serious negative effect on African economies. HIV/AIDS is estimated to have decreased agricultural output by as much as 20 percent in several African countries.

In addition, public health officials still have to deal with the stigma of AIDS that persists in most African countries, and that is a huge barrier to gathering people tested for the infection. Fortunately, self-testing kits have improved the proportion of people being tested and this has allowed more people to be treated for the infection.

Other diseases

In addition to HIV/AIDS, South Africa has the highest tuberculosis death rate per capita worldwide, followed by Zimbabwe and Mozambique. This is due to a large extent to the increasing number of cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR) as well as drug-resistant (XDR) tuberculosis. TB is the leading cause of death for people living with HIV.

In addition, there has been a sharp increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cancer, and heart and lung diseases. The World Health Organization estimates that NCDs will rise in the region by 27 percent over the next 10 years, resulting in 28 million additional deaths.

Mental health problems have traditionally been neglected by African governments. As a result, most mental health patients remain untreated. This “treatment gap” ranges from 75 percent in South Africa to more than 90 percent in Ethiopia and Nigeria. As Dr. Crick Lund, a Professor of Psychiatry and Mental Health at the University of Cape Town has remarked, “By neglecting mental health, it will be difficult to attain many of the Sustainable Development Goals related to poverty, malaria, gender empowerment, and education.”

Many diseases affecting both children and adults could be addressed with minimum resources if they are adequately employed. This is the case of diarrhea and respiratory infections, measles, malaria, and malnutrition, which represent the greatest threats to children’s health. Malaria is the leading cause of death among African children under five years old. African women are approximately 175 times more likely to die during childbirth and pregnancy than women in industrialized countries.

Health problems are worsened by the lack of health professionals, due in part to the continuing exodus of doctors and nurses to industrialized nations. If health care systems are to be effective, resources must be redirected from curative care in urban settings with high tech equipment to primary and preventive health care.

Consequences of corruption

In addition to problems directly related to the health sector, corruption and illicit financial flows (money that is illegally earned, transferred or utilized) drain critical resources needed to improve people’s health and education. According to Kar and Cartwright-Smith, Africa is estimated to have lost in excess of $1 trillion in illicit financial flows. This amount is roughly equivalent to all of the official development assistance received by Africa during the same timeframe.

The widespread practice of bribing government officials by foreign companies must be curtailed through the enforcement of national and international laws dealing with this issue.

Importance of reliable statistics

Lack of reliable statistics is a hindrance to improving health systems in Africa. They range from defective systems for civil registration to poor data on maternal and child health indicators, including immunization rates for the most common diseases. A World Bank study showed that half the population of African countries had not been included in a census.

Reliable statistics are critical for assessing the magnitude and kind of health problems affecting the population, for determining access to health services, particularly in rural areas, for allocating resources for different programs, for assessing the effectiveness of the interventions, and for monitoring different projects.

Economic aid

In the last few years, the emphasis has been placed on economic aid to Africa. African countries, however, need a different kind of aid. They need their human resources to be trained in their own countries. They need more help in preventing major diseases. They need more education for all age levels, and they need better conditions of trade for their products. African countries do not need more monetary aid given irresponsibly, which ends up in the hands of government officials and members of the countries’ elites.

Moving forward

To improve people’s health in Africa more efforts are needed to increase primary health care, especially in rural areas, accompanied by health promotion, disease prevention, and improved education for all ages. For too long, Africa has been a photo-op for movie and music stars, whose patronizing attitudes disregarded the Africans’ capacity for solving their own problems. As writer Paul Theroux wrote about Bono, “There are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can’t think of one at the moment.”

Africa has a tremendous human potential that, well directed, will help overcome the countries’ difficulties. According to current population trends, Africa is set to have the largest youth population in the world. It is estimated that by 2050, the median age for Africa will be 25 years, compared to 36 for the rest of the world. The role of Africa’s youth in guiding the continent’s progress can be considerable if we appeal to its own capacity, creativity, and resilience.

Categories: News for progressives

Undisturbed Sagebrush-Juniper Habitat is Vital for the Wildlife

 of the West

Tue, 2019-03-12 15:46

Brett French’s excellent article in The Gazette, “Study: Big sagebrush may weather climate change,” details the resilience of native sagebrush and its vital importance for a vast array of Montana’s wildlife.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Counsel oppose Bureau of Land Management plans to burn sagebrush. In fact, we are currently suing in Billings to stop the BLM’s plan to burn thousands of acres of sagebrush-juniper habitat in the Iron Mask Planning Area of the Elkhorn Area of Critical Environmental Concern and contend the federal agency ignored the importance of sagebrush and junipers for wildlife and the well-documented fact that invasive and highly flammable cheat grass moves in after sagebrush is burned by the BLM.

The BLM claims native plants cannot thrive without sufficient sunlight and water, which is limited by the juniper trees and big sagebrush. They claim that there are few plants adapted to these conditions and these areas can become biological deserts.

The Gazette article, however, cites the recent study “Managing Big Sagebrush in a Changing Climate” done by researchers from Montana State University, Colorado State University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Utah State University. Those researchers conclude sagebrush may be one of the few native plants naturally well prepared to “weather climate change.”

Since the required direction of the Elkhorn Area of Critical Environmental Concern is to protect wildlife, The Gazette’s article on Big Sagebrush came at a perfect time to refocus the discussion on wildlife.

It’s common to see the large herd of antelope that reside between Canyon Ferry and the Elkhorn Mountains. This is exactly where the BLM wants to burn thousands of acres of sagebrush habitat. As the Gazette article states: “Pronghorns are one species that benefits from big sagebrush. One study found that the evergreen plant supplied 78 percent of the annual diet for pronghorns in Wyoming” and “more than half of the winter diet for deer and elk near Gardiner comes from sagebrush.” That’s important because theElkhorns are one of the premier elk hunting areas in the nation. Elkhorn bull permits are among the most sought after in Montana.

The article also points out that large numbers of native birds depend on sagebrush habitat, noting the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service calls Big Sagebrush “perhaps the most important shrub on western rangelands.” Many birds, such as the imperiled sage grouse, live nowhere else.

The BLM in their environmental analysis of the Iron Mask Project, ignored that cheat grass moves in after burning sagebrush and cutting down junipers. Cheat grass is a very aggressive noxious weed that has proven almost impossible to eradicate across the West, is inedible for wildlife or cattle after early spring, and has seeds that are so hard and sharp they can penetrate the stomach and intestines of animals that ingest them. The seeds can also blind the eyes of nesting birds that use sagebrush habitat and replaces the forbs that sage grouse depend on to feed their chicks.

Burning large tracts of sagebrush also vastly increases wildfire risk, lengthening the fire season by two months in the spring and two months in the fall because once cheat grass dries out it becomes highly flammable, creating extreme wildfire hazards annually. By comparison, peer reviewed studies found undisturbed sagebrush habitat only burns every 100 to 200 years in the Intermountain West.

The Idaho and Southwestern Montana BLM Approved Resource Management Plan for greater sage grouse recommends “zero mechanical treatments to remove juniper” and “zero acres of prescribed fire to remove sagebrush” in Montana. That’s the opposite of what BLM is trying to do in the Iron Mask project. Leaving sagebrush alone is the best for the many species that rely on healthy sagebrush-juniper habitat.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Live From Venezuela

Tue, 2019-03-12 15:45

Well, we made it to Venezuela, but it wasn’t easy. The US has closed the Venezuelan embassy because they do not recognize the government. Therefore, it is not possible to get a visa. This might be one reason that the US closed the embassy. If you can’t get a visa and go Venezuela, you can not see for yourself what is going on and challenge their narrative. But six of us did make it and others are delayed but are getting in too. American airlines was the worst. If you were on American airlines for the first leg of you journey, they just would not let you on the flight.

On our flight into Caracas, was Bahman Azad the organizational secretary of the US Peace Council, who is sponsoring the trip, Gerry Condon, pres. of Veterans for Peace, Sara Flanders, co-coordinator of the International Action Center, Ajamu Baraka, national coordinator of the Black Alliance for Peace, progressive journalist, Eva Bartlett and me, Joe Lombardo, co-coordinator of the United National Antiwar Coalition. Because we could not get visas before we left, the Venezuelan government sent us each a letter saying that we can enter the country and the authorities in Venezuela let us through.

Later today and tomorrow, Sarah Martin from Women Against Military Madness, Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers of Popular Resistance, Darien De Lu, President of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – US, Miguel Figueroa, president of the Canadian Peace Congress and Daniel Shea, board of directors, Veterans for peace will arrive to complete the delegation.

We were met at the airport by members of COSI (Committee of International Solidarity). They took us to the hotel, where we are staying and explained to us the situation with the black outs and the two competing demonstrations yesterday. Western Caracas is an upper and upper middle-class area that is the base of the opposition to the Maduro government. Eastern Caracas is working class and Black with a lot of support for the Maduro government. It used to be a real shanti town, but the Bolivarian revolution put resources into this community and now the people live in nice apartment buildings.

When we arrived, there was no electricity. About 80% of the population was without power. The hotel we are staying in has its own power plant so there has been electricity and wifi but it is very sporadic and, as I write this, I am in my room writing without electricity or wifi. It was explained to us that there have been 2 attacks on the Venezuelan power system. Both were software attacks that effected computers that regulate the power and send it where it needs to go. If the power can’t be sent to the needed locations, there is the danger of overload and so the system shuts down. The first attack was on Thursday. The electrical workers were able to restart and get the computers going but then there was a second attack and the computers went down again and, as of this writing, the power is still down.

We were told that despite the power outage the two competing demonstrations happened yesterday. The power outages also meant that the debit cards that people use to buy things did not work, the traffic lights did not work but most importantly, the subway system did not work, and this is the main way that people, at least working people, get around in Caracas. However, despite the power outage, the pro-Maduro demonstration was very large. The pro-Guaido action was smaller than expected. Progressive folks that we talked to about this said that since the February 23 failed attempt to get the “aid” across the border and to get soldiers to come over to their side, Guaido has lost momentum and the small turnout at the demonstration was an example of that. It was not the pro-Maduro forces that told us about the small turnout at the Guaido demonstration but a foreign reporter who attended both demonstrations. At the opposition demonstrations, Guaido said that it is constitutional for a legitimate government – meaning him – to ask for outside military intervention and he said that he is not saying when, but military intervention will happen. Some people thought that the blackouts were actually a practice for what the US can do during an invasion to disrupt communications.

I saw the CNN coverage of these demonstrations. CNN tried to put a “good face” on what happened yesterday. They said something like the Maduro demonstration just had the same old people and Maduro blamed everything on US sanctions and intervention. They did not say the relative size of the actions, but they showed a little of what looked like a very sparse guaido action and interviewed a woman who screamed about the Maduro “dictatorship.”

Throughout the day, we were able to have informal discussions with members of the COSI team who were hosting our delegation including Carolus Winmer, its president and with Carlos Ron the Vice Minister of foreign affairs of Venezuela.

We were told that although the population may be evenly divided for and against Maduro the opposition itself is badly divided and 86% of the population is against foreign intervention.

By the end of the day, all but 2 of our delegation had arrived and we held a meeting with our hosts where we went over our agenda for the week and discussed the possibility of our group holding an action in Caracas.

We have already had a lot of media requests for interviews from our delegation and are planning a UN press conference when we return and a public webinar report back. UNAC will be publicizing both.

Categories: News for progressives

It’s Time.

Tue, 2019-03-12 15:40

I’ve lost all patience with moderates, centrists, incrementalists and mainstream establishment Democrats who think the status quo is not so bad, just needs a little tweaking around the edges. They’d be satisfied just getting rid of Trump – which is fine as far as that goes, it just doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Anybody with a clear-eyed view of the status quo understands the horror of US foreign policy and the shameful neglect of US domestic policy. The system has failed us. The duopoly has frustrated all serious efforts to change things for the better. The owners of the USA, the billionaire class, like things just the way they are. There is no profit in peace or taking care of the needy or delivering justice to the masses. America is owned and dominated by greed monsters who don’t care that their money comes drenched in the blood of patriots and innocent victims of US war crimes.

I’m still furious with the DNC for ripping off Bernie and his millions of supporters and ushering in the Trump presidency.

Mainstream Democrats have failed us. They like to claim to be progressives, liberals and/or part of ‘the left’ but in truth they are none of those things.

I’m done with those who think war is okay or that the Military Industrial Complex is just a conspiracy theory or that the wildly unfair distribution of wealth in this country is remotely okay. I’m sick and tired of those who insist that the Main Stream Media is equivalent to the “free press,” and NOT the propaganda organs that lied us into Vietnam, Iraq, Libya and Syria (among others) and now Venezuela and Iran while helping to undermine anything smacking of true change or real reform of our screwed up and hopelessly corrupted system. That is not to say that they don’t occasionally say something that is true, just that they can’t be trusted not to lie for the oligarchy, as that is their top priority.

MSNBC Yet Again Broadcasts Blatant Lies, This Time About Bernie Sanders’s Opening Speech, and Refuses to Correct Them

“MSNBC IS A dishonest political operation, not a news outlet. It systematically and deliberately refuses to adopt a defining attribute of a news outlet: a willingness to acknowledge factual errors, correct them, and apologize. That they not only allow their lies to stand uncorrected but reward their employees who do it most frequently — especially when those lies are directed at adversaries of the Democratic Party — proves that they are, first and foremost, a political arm of the Democratic establishment.”

I am gobsmacked that so many Americans seem blithely unaware of the extent to which we are lied to and who have no clue about our own sordid history of assassinations, coups, torture, death squads, etc. throughout Central and South America – and much of the rest of the world. Or how the mainstream media has fed our bloodthirsty empire by manufacturing consent for war and propagandizing the public with sinister intent in the interest of the corporate elite and America’s uber-wealthy owners – the very same folks who own the media.

Who Owns the Media?

The trend of media conglomeration has been steady. In 1983, 50 corporations controlled most of the American media, including magazines, books, music, news feeds, newspapers, movies, radio and television. By 1992 that number had dropped by half. By 2000, six corporations had ownership of most media, and today five dominate the industry: Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany and Viacom.

Mega-Corporations controlled by the super-rich determine what information is broadcast to the world and how it is framed. Sandwiched in-between the straight news are poison pills of rank propaganda meant to shape the thinking of the entire culture – such as the present daily drumbeat for war on Venezuela so our rich guys can take their oil, or how they’re all attacking and smearing Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. The corporate-owned media consciously manipulates the public mind to get people to think and believe what the elite wants them to – which all ends up supporting and enabling their robbing, raping and pillaging of the world. The worst thing about all of this is how appallingly effective it is.

A Century of U.S. Intervention Created the Immigration Crisis

“The liberal rhetoric of inclusion and common humanity is insufficient: we must also acknowledge the role that a century of U.S.-backed military coups, corporate plundering, and neoliberal sapping of resources has played in the poverty, instability, and violence that now drives people from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras toward Mexico and the United States. For decades, U.S. policies of military intervention and economic neoliberalism have undermined democracy and stability in the region, creating vacuums of power in which drug cartels and paramilitary alliances have risen. In the past fifteen years alone, CAFTA-DR — a free trade agreement between the U.S. and five Central American countries as well as the Dominican Republic — has restructured the region’s economy and guaranteed economic dependence on the United States through massive trade imbalances and the influx of American agricultural and industrial goods that weaken domestic industries. Yet there are few connections being drawn between the weakening of Central American rural agricultural economies at the hands of CAFTA and the rise in migration from the region in the years since. In general, the U.S. takes no responsibility for the conditions that drive Central American migrants to the border.

When we overthrow governments, assassinate leaders, run death squads and torture people, it devastates the societies to whom we do these things. The CIA and other nefarious agents of our government sow the seeds of mayhem and chaos and destroy whole cultures. Now that the victims of our unspeakable evil are seeking the only relief they can conceive by making their arduous way to our border and asking for our help, we shun them, smear them, stir up irrational fear and hatred against them, imprison them and kidnap their children.

Things are NOT normal when the US has fifteen-thousand children ripped from the loving arms of their impoverished and desperate families (who came to us begging for help) locked in cages on the Mexican border. Things are NOT normal!

Is it hyperbole to compare these monsters to Nazis? Increasingly, no. I’m not saying they are equal to the Nazis in terms of sheer evil but who can say they’re not headed that way? They’re trying awfully hard. They are normalizing that level of hate. Certainly nothing good can come from it.

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

Those who support the status quo are complicit in the crimes against humanity that the global elite have committed. You don’t get to call yourself “progressive” if you have propped up the status quo and worked against any meaningful change. Having some moderately liberal social ideas doesn’t make up for all the rest. The lesser evil is still evil. The Establishment is still the Establishment.

Establishment dems are only superficially better than establishment Republicans. At the deepest level they are functional equivalents. Both groups serve the empire and the wealthy elite. They all take the dirty money. They are all okay with war and corruption as long as they get theirs. Anyone who doesn’t understand that by now, understands very little.

”It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.” ~ Albert Camus

The type of society we live in has a huge bearing on our happiness and well-being. The following article goes back to 2015 but is still valid and relevant.

The Global Elite’s Crimes Against Humanity

From Bernays to Albright: ‘their’ happiness, our misery

Virtually every government in the world creates an illusion for its people. Take economic policy. Government policies might hurt us in the short term, but we are all on a one way route to the ‘promised land’ of happiness, or so we are told by the politicians, the corporate media and spokespersons for the ones who make us suffer to ensure they never have to – the privileged elite, the ruling class.

Western governments set out to con ordinary working folk by bringing us war in the name of peace, austerity in order to achieve prosperity and suffering to eventually make us happy. Is there any room for truth? Politicians never like to tell the public the truth. The feel-bad factor is never a vote winner. Best to keep the public in the dark and rely on positive spin. If people knew the truth, they just wouldn’t be happy.

People wouldn’t be happy if they knew the truth. Well, no kidding, the truth is ugly. But some people would rather be falsely happy than suffer the painful truth. Ignorance is bliss and all that. Mainstream establishment-supporting democrats are a fine example of people who don’t want to understand what is actually true. They are willing to settle for that which confirms their own biases and that which makes them feel good: Democrats, team blue, those with Ds next to their name. They reduce governmental and social policy to a simplistic team sport and juvenile popularity contest, never noticing that the outcome is always the same: Democrat or Republican, it’s all war all the time, austerity for the people, tax cuts for the rich, bonuses for banksters and crimes against humanity dressed up in pretty rhetoric and a big fat NO to any effort to reform this despicable system.

The outcome is always the same.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citzenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

We should be tending to the needs of our people and improving lives here at home and around the world. Instead, we lavish all our treasure on warmongers and war profiteers, building the most lethal modern weapons possible to sic on the rest of the world. The undeveloped world, especially where they have resources like oil that our rich guys want, wade in the bloodshed on their land by our tax dollars and our government’s anti-humanitarian gangster policies.

That the American people want peace and a better life for themselves and the rest of the world matters not one whit to our so-called leaders.

“We’ve become now an oligarchy instead of a democracy. And I think that’s been the worst damage to the basic moral and ethical standards of the American political system that I’ve ever seen in my life.” ~ Jimmy Carter

We’ve descended into oligarchy and fascism. The billionaires and millionaires at the top don’t care about us. To them we are merely pawns to be manipulated and preyed upon. Everything else about our government is sheer kabuki, slight of hand and rank bullshit.

The US is not a democracy but an oligarchy, study concludes

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Establishment Democrats are every bit as corrupt as Republicans. They are not serving the public interest, only their own. Corruption is rife from the bottom to the top.

Democrats in Congress who oppose Medicare for All have taken vast sums of money from the pharmaceutical and medical industries. Pelosi took over a million dollars.

Nancy Pelosi is worth $16 million and Dianne Feinstein is worth 58.5 million. (According to Wikipedia.)

American politicians in the modern era invariably get rich while in office.

“You can’t get rich in politics unless you’re a crook.” ~ Harry S. Truman

Now the mainstream Dems want us to all pull together, which would be fine but what they want is for us to unite behind some neoliberal, war-mongering, elitist millionaire who will only betray us to Wall Street and the great American war machine on day one while they cheat any real change agent out of the opportunity to serve the people and history. We’ve seen this movie before.

It didn’t work in 2016 and it won’t work in 2020. Even some of the dead-enders get it now.

A Clinton-era centrist Democrat explains why it’s time to give democratic socialists a chance

“The baton rightly passes to our colleagues on our left.”

The result, he argues, is the nature of the Democratic Party needs to shift. Rather than being a center-left coalition dominated by market-friendly ideas designed to attract conservative support, the energy of the coalition should come from the left and its broad, sweeping ideas. Market-friendly neoliberals, rather than pushing their own ideology, should work to improve ideas on the left. This, he believes, is the most effective and sustainable basis for Democratic politics and policy for the foreseeable future.

IMHO, we shouldn’t be trying to unite or make nice with those who still don’t get it. We should be uniting with all of those who DO get it and who have been ignored, belittled, preyed upon and shut out of the process for forever. It’s time for a new deal – and a great big giant new deal. All those people who have been sitting at home on election day need to be given real reasons to come out and choose a new and better destiny. The same old tired crap wrapped in a shiny new box won’t get it. We need a new deal.

The Green New Deal isn’t outlandish — it’s a necessity

We’re not talking about a bit less emissions; we’re talking about a phaseout of emissions by 2050 in order to have a fighting chance to hold Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5-degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level, a rise that should not in any way be construed as “safe,” just potentially not catastrophic.

How do we get to zero by 2050, not only in the U.S. but also in Europe, China, India and the rest of the world? We need to move rapidly to zero emissions while keeping the energy system functioning robustly and reliably during the transition. It’s a massive transplant operation requiring the greatest skills of our top engineers and power-grid operators.

Now is the time to get serious about real change in America because humanity itself is at stake. We have to change now or forever hold our peace. It’s time to get on the right side of history and bring desperately needed change to the world. We need to stop taking NO for an answer, stop making excuses for the corrupt government and media and stop swallowing the propaganda. It’s time to stand up, not acquiesce. If we continue to roll over and hide our heads in the sand, this story is not going to end well.

‘Call It the Oppression of the Supermajority’: Americans Eager for Bold Change, So Why Can’t They Get It?

“Entire categories of public policy options are effectively off-limits because of the combined influence of industry groups and donor interests,” argues law professor Tim Wu.

Most Americans support Medicare for All, higher taxes on the rich, a Green New Deal, and other major items on the progressive agenda—so why has Congress failed to enact them?

The reason, Columbia University Law School professor Tim Wu argued in an op-ed for the New York Times on Tuesday, is that the influence of corporations and the donor class on the American political system has drowned out the policy desires of the public.

There is a weird strain of political thought in this country that most people are moderates and only by pulling to the center can we garner enough support to win elections and guide the ship of state. This is the thinking of mainstream Democrats and also why most people stay home on election day. They have little to no interest in which group of elitist millionaires and billionaires get to screw America for the next four years while lying through their teeth and changing absolutely nothing – and who can blame them?

I’ve long believed that nothing short of a bold departure from the conventional wisdom will change anything – and most people, when they aren’t being freaked out by propaganda boogymen, want change: better living conditions, greater opportunity, a brighter future for posterity, a viable ecosystem, less violence, more peace, greater equality, less hate, a more benevolent and less corrupt government, a friendlier and more supportive society, etc.

A world of hate and war, fear and loathing, resentment and strife are not what people want and not what they deserve.

The tide of history seems to be turning at long last.

It’s time to get radical and force the changes that are needed – and we should have less than zero patience for anyone who stands in the way – whether it be through ignorance, incompetence, misplaced loyalty, gullibility or malevolence. Too many of these people are impervious to education or reason, they simply need to be defeated or left behind.

It’s time.

It’s time to reform our society from the prisons to the presidency. Don’t listen to the status quo defenders who will tell you that the only thing that matters is beating Trump. That’s the tune the establishment Dems will be singing. We need to be rid of Trump to be sure, but getting rid of the present establishment is paramount. If we shed ourselves of Trump but are still saddled by the same old establishment, we’ll still be just as screwed.

Remember that things have been screwed up in this country since long before Trump came along. His ridiculous reign has simply brought it all into sharp focus – but Trump is a symptom of a much older disease, the logical end result of a corrupt and hateful rightwing government that serves only the myopic, greedy, selfish mega-rich. We are all out of time for putting up with this greed, corruption and madness.

“Don’t let the greedheads win.” ~ Hunter S. Thompson

It’s time.

Time to do the right thing.

Categories: News for progressives

Night Life of the Odd: Jean Ray’s Whisky Tales

Tue, 2019-03-12 15:36

Jean Ray, Jean Flanders, Raymundus Joannes de Kremer and sometime Harry Dickson – all subsumed under the name Jean Ray, embezzler and premiere avant pulp novelist of Belgium; author of Malpertuis which was made into a film starring Orson Welles; admired by Queneau and Resnais; friend of Ghelderode; pulp machine and comic book scenarist on the skids; ‘a man sinister… nothing… not even a minister’ as he styled himself up in his epitaph – is finally getting his English due thanks to an affordable edition of his first book, Whisky Tales. Previous bulk translations of his seashod horrors were mostly expensive small print-run affairs, so Wakefield Press’ new series of chronological reprints saves the wallet of the weird aficionado from deluxe fetish products or a dog-eared Berkeley paperback at $100. These skyrocketing prices might be the revenge of despised dime dreadfuls on the dreary middle brow, but the old pulp time-killer is now dependent on Amazon to valorize it. When it is recognized, pulp ceases to be pulp. And when it recognizes itself as ‘pulp’, it becomes a million tentacles of Tarantino working big-budget bourgeois brut. The solitary trash collector just can’t win.

Ray is a weird case among the weirds: more than half hack, some part artist, and more parts scam artist. His partly deranged Verne riff, The Mainz Psalter, is probably the only real successor to Poe’s Pym and has wormed its way, buried treasure-like, into several pb horror collections over the years (it does not appear here). Whisky Tales, expertly translated by sage Scott Nicolay and bound in a suitable formaldehyde and psychedelic wrap, places Ray in several trashy genres without forcing him into the Manson-Barker-Ligotti line of contemp nouvelle bizarre. For one thing, his cheap misanthropy is far more ropey EC than hip Augustinianism, and his bitchy Jew-baiting reveals a suburban racism less psychotic than Céline’s but nastier than Archie Bunker’s. It corrupts the quick disposal chute of several of his better three-to-five page cracks with a laser-like hatred too surgical for the goofy guignol and chipboard medievalism of proper contes cruels. There is no hint that Ray ever followed any of his race hate seriously – he joined no party or clique and he seems to have never expressed any public admiration for homegrown fascists like Degrelle. The rest of his output is apparently devoid of it; when American pulp purveyor Weird Tales published a couple of his more venomous tales in ‘30s, they simply edited a few slurs out of the text and it read fine. The excellent translator’s forward rightfully refuses to let him off the hook though, and the inference here is obvious and worser: Ray’s tirades are comparatively slight, which only shows the unexceptional nature of anti-Semitism in Belgium (the same could be said about all of West Europe). Judging from the kind of Jud Süß parades that still go on in Aalst – not to mention cheerful attacks on other ‘orientals’ such as Muslim immigrants – the Flem spirit is still very willing. And in Europe no one mentions King Leopold in same breath as the Austrian Housepainter, a fact that secretly rehabilitates both. “In the past they escaped in large numbers to the French territory, but many were prevented by force from doing this, and numbers were shot in the attempt” — this is Casement on the Congolese, but it might as well have been Jews, communists, gypsies. And of course, it was.

Whisky Taleswas published in 1925 and first revised right after the war. Subsequent editions have subtracted and added contents and occasionally excised the gross anti-Semitism; it remains here, which is the mark of a fan’s editorial honesty. The set-up is usually a man in a bar who offers the narrator a drink, then relates some horrible implausible tale from his past. The stories themselves, frequently second-or third-hand, might also be the hallucinations of a besotted mind or an angle for mugging (the cutesy term for this today is ‘unreliable narrator’, which is the Formalism of fools). There are psychopaths who see men in the forms of fish, moneylenders transformed into spiders, voodoo curses, rape and vengeance, murder by mistaken identity, dockside slags and sentimental thugs, traitors and sea urchins who share a Sea Wolf view of the world as seen from its other side. Puritan moralizing in horror stories is all for parody, invoking the same kind of giggling bloodlust kids feel when a stern teacher lectures them on the terrible processes of VD, disrespecting Old Glory, or making heroes out of serial killers. Or it is used to mask pornographic or political thrills (Ilsa, de Sade, Russ Meyer) in mocking tones of condemnation that everyone knows is an excuse for provocation or box office returns. This stark insincerity is a reflex for those whose curved presence alone absolves them from truth, a passing smile of the perennial loiterer who hears an explosion and immediately calls it ‘friend’.

At the end of the war, Jean Ray was jobbing it in superheroes and detectives illustrated. No one accused him of collaboration, but his old jail time for fraud followed him so doggedly he added it to his resume. The Congo Free State had produced most of the uranium used to obliterate Hiroshima and Nagasaki (cost: some 15 million dead Africans; 225,000+ Japs in the prefectures), and the unholy Hebrew pawnbrokers conspicuous in several of his tales had been whisked off to the crematoria (cost: 5-6 million). The snarky sub-basement Balzac of these early stories evaporated to reveal dark city mansions out of a mulled-over childhood, multi-dimensional alleys and other tricks of black light in the fairytale lands of civic borders (the last piece in this book has a narcotic dreaminess about it and dispenses with the typical Biblical retribution – a phantasmal ‘realism’ replacing Punch irony and caricature). Maybe the world where the crooked figure of Jean Ray wandered held too many ghostless dead after two wars – and more than two, he did not see Brazzaville? – filling up 3 dimensions with a pedestrian wholesale slaughter that stunk even over in the fourth. So people looked at themselves and discovered other dreams and another kind of dreaminess which had no place for the old nightmares without gaming those nightmares. Une farce publique?

Personal fragments of the elusive Monsieur Ray seem to show a good-natured, grinny con-man who must have been delighted with the periodic fads in the modernist worship of inspired trash. Even in 1943’s novel Malpertuis he was aping Delvaux and Brecht a little, jamming in leftovers from Melville and Stevenson, and anticipating Last Year in Marienbad, Pandora & the Flying Dutchman and even the grisly comedies of George Romero. This arty trick produced the best but also the most mannered things he ever wrote, which is maybe why today’s sourpusses are so intrigued by him, hoping they’ve found another driven primitive in the grue circuit now that HP Lovecraft has sadly gotten his stars. These stories are less clever, more freight-commercial and show a locomotive hack at work – sometimes in peculiar ways – as if the author were paid by raw volume, rather than potlatching his own crafty obsessions. Maybe they are the same mercenary techniques he used efficiently when he ran illegal hooch or cranked out some 106 ‘translations’ featuring a flimsy American Holmes clone from the Pinkertons. His wildest stuff shines with an italicized lend-lease fog, false bottoms and timely rip-offs, lies hung in theater rope rather than any serious madness. His pirates, gnomes and bitter suckers beg incessantly for pity while they keep trying to underbid Judas. All cardboard-shadow flies, no incarnate Devil.

As an old man, Ray was more popular than ever before, constantly feted on TV, with a true mass audience composed of bright adolescent pulp fans, bored commuters and elder-state Avant Gardists. I hope his 1964 collection, Dark Tales of Golf, will soon find its way into English, guided by Scott Nicolay’s expert hand. The title seems to promise Preston Sturges critique packaged in fish and chip paper, a logical variation on what makes the best of these whisky tales so good at conniving time.

Categories: News for progressives

Judging U.S. War Crimes

Mon, 2019-03-11 16:10

Chelsea Manning, who bravely exposed atrocities committed by the U.S. military, is again imprisoned in a U.S. jail. On International Women’s Day, March 8, 2019, she was incarcerated in the Alexandria, VA federal detention center for refusing to testify in front of a secretive Grand Jury. Her imprisonment can extend through the term of the Grand Jury, possibly 18 months, and the U.S. courts could allow formation of future Grand Juries, potentially jailing her again.

Chelsea Manning has already paid an extraordinarily high price for educating the U.S. public about atrocities committed in the wars of choice the U.S. waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chelsea Manning was a U.S. Army soldier and former U.S. intelligence analyst. She already testified, in court, how she downloaded and disseminated government documents revealing classified information she believed represented possible war crimes. In 2013, she was convicted by court martial and sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking government documents to Wikileaks. On January 17, 2017, President Obama commuted her sentence. In May of 2017, she was released from military prison having served seven years.

“Where you stand determines what you see.” Chelsea Manning, by virtue of her past work as an analyst with the U.S. military, carefully studied footage of what could only be described as atrocities against human beings. She saw civilians killed, on her screen, and conscience didn’t allow her to ignore what she witnessed, to more or less change the channel. One scene of carnage occurred on July 12, 2007, in Iraq. Chelsea Manning made available to the world the black and white grainy footage and audio content which depicted a U.S. helicopter gunship indiscriminately firing on Iraqi civilians. Twelve people were killed, including two Reuters journalists.

What follows is part of the dialogue from the classified US military video footage from July 12th:

US SOLDIER 1: Alright, firing.

US SOLDIER 4: Let me know when you’ve got them.

US SOLDIER 2: Let’s shoot. Light ’em all up.

US SOLDIER 1: Come on, fire!

US SOLDIER 2: Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’.

US SOLDIER 2: Alright, we just engaged all eight individuals.

Amy Goodman described the next portion of the video:

AMY GOODMAN: Minutes later, the video shows US forces watching as a van pulls up to evacuate the wounded. They again open fire, killing several more people, wounding two children inside the van.

US SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse. We have individuals going to the scene, looks like possibly picking up bodies and weapons.

US SOLDIER 1: Let me engage. Can I shoot?

US SOLDIER 2: Roger. Break. Crazy Horse one-eight, request permission to engage.

US SOLDIER 3: Picking up the wounded?

US SOLDIER 1: Yeah, we’re trying to get permission to engage. Come on, let us shoot!

US SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse one-eight.

US SOLDIER 1: They’re taking him.

US SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse one-eight.

US SOLDIER 4: This is Bushmaster seven, go ahead.

US SOLDIER 2: Roger. We have a black SUV —- or Bongo truck picking up the bodies. Request permission to engage.

US SOLDIER 4: Bushmaster seven, roger. This is Bushmaster seven, roger. Engage.

US SOLDIER 2: One-eight, engage. Clear.

US SOLDIER 1: Come on!

US SOLDIER 2: Clear. Clear.

US SOLDIER 1: We’re engaging.

US SOLDIER 3: I got ’em.

US SOLDIER 2: Should have a van in the middle of the road with about twelve to fifteen bodies.

US SOLDIER 1: Oh yeah, look at that. Right through the windshield! Ha!

Democracy Now, in the same segment, asked former U.S. whistleblower Dan Ellsberg for comments about releasing the video. “What were the criteria,” Ellsberg asked, “that led to denying this to the public? And how do they stand up when we actually see the results? Is anybody going to be held accountable for wrongly withholding evidence of war crimes in this case…?”

Chelsea Manning’s disclosures also led to public awareness of the Granai massacrein Afghanistan. On May 4, 2009, Taliban forces attacked U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan’s Farah province. The U.S. military called for U.S. airstrikes on buildings in the village of Granai. A U.S. Air Force B-1 bomber was used to drop 2,000 lb. and 500 lb. bombs, killing an estimated 86 to 147 women and children. The U.S. Air Force has videotape of the Granai massacre. Ellsberg called for President Obama to post the videotape rather than wait to see if Wikileaks would release it. To this day, the video hasn’t been released. Apparently, a disgruntled Wikileaks employee destroyed the footage.

Were it not for Chelsea Manning’s courageous disclosures, certain U.S. military atrocities might have been kept secret. Her revelations were also key to exposing U.S. approval of the 2009 coup against the elected government in Honduras and U.S. dealings with dictators and oligarchs across the Middle East, which helped spark the Arab Spring rebellions.

Prior to her arrest in 2010, Chelsea Manning wrote: “I want people to see the truth, regardless of who they are. Because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

Chelsea Manning’s principled and courageous actions provide guidance for us to control our fears. We must seek an end to war crimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and other areas where the U.S. terrifies and kills civilians.

Categories: News for progressives

Killing a Mockingbird

Mon, 2019-03-11 16:04

“Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.'”That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.”‘Your father’s right,’ she said. ‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.”

—Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird

“Take me to a place without no name.”

– Michael Jackson, “A Place With No Name”

Harper Lee’s book To Kill A Mockingbird continues to get reproduced. It is read across the country in school. Now the book is going to Broadway. We should all breathe a sigh of relief that Hamilton no longer center stage. What was with that play anyways? Could anyone figure that out? Wasn’t American history class nauseating and unbelievable for more people? If there was a national poll on Hamilton one would guess it would do no better than the 1% who actually saw it.

Hamilton and To Kill A Mockingbird are the same story, more or less. It’s a fairy type of heroic rich white men in a history that produced none of these characters. To dull the sins of the present moment these stories are repeated. History is told inaccurately not for history’s sake, but for the sake of the present. If there were heroes in the past, why couldn’t there be heroes now?

To Kill A Mockingbird isn’t about a black guy (Tom Robinson) getting accused of rape. Tom isn’t even real. He’s not a character, he’s just a plot structure. Could anyone say anything about Tom besides his race? To be fair, none of the characters are complex, well-developed or interesting in any way, shape or form. And yet the book is clearly about one person: Atticus Finch. Unlike the helpless but angelic prisoner, Mr. Finch is a real person. And he’s annoying as hell.

It’s not unusual for a rich guy to have platitudes. It’s unusual for them all to come true. And Finch works for the book because he has strict rules. He is law and order. He is meant to civilize the white trash whose racism makes them subhuman to rich whites like Finch. It is here that the racism of the audience is displaced. What generally happens when the bourgeois make these very ‘black and white’ stories is that prejudice is only confirmed. Once prejudice is accepted it can never be controlled. Once humanity looses its complexity, all we can see is complexion.

It is dangerous to teach children this fairy tale of good and evil. What we teach them is that justice comes from the top. Now power no longer corrupts. Power does not oppress. Power, when in the right hands, saves. To those in power, power is always in the right hands.

And in a story like this the black guy is subhuman not by his actions, but by definition. He is a cripple. And his story runs parallel to a freakish subhuman boy (Boo Radley) down the street who is accepted by Finch. The lesson is that “the others” are not as they appear, whether they be black or deranged—without any distinction between the two.

Maybe Harper Lee is smarter than she appears. Maybe she was writing this book from the perspective of a 6 year old to prove just how fantastical such a story was. At the very least, it’s an ageist book, and one that doesn’t age well. Except for on Broadway apparently, where the audience is just as rich, old and white as they ever have been.

On a seemingly unrelated note a new documentary is out. “Leaving Neverland” documents pop star Michael Jackson’s sexual abusive relationships with two young boys. From Donald Trump to Harper Lee to HBO, America remains fascinated by the construct of rape by people of color.

Why not make a remake of To Kill A Mockingbird involving Michael? Have this play still told from the perspective of a young child. Would Michael still be defended? Would his admirers be any less problematic than his detractors? Could anything beyond fame or criminality be considered? How would Atticus’ children react to Michael? Would the children be relieved to find a father figure who wasn’t so condescending? Or would the idea of treating these young children ‘as adults’ go too far and stunt the real merits of childhood that Michael himself supposedly lost along the way?

If Michael couldn’t sing, would anyone take his case? Any if Michael couldn’t sing, would anyone hear from those children? How quickly would the Finch children turn on Finch’s hackneyed advice and run into the arms of the magical Mr. Jackson? How would Jackson’s relationship with Mr. Finch’s children test Finch’s “anti-racist” crusade?

How would such a book effect the reader? Most of the readers of To Kill A Mockingbird are young children, young enough to be influenced by a figure like Jackson, or even by a figure like Finch. How would the children benefit from hearing “both sides” of the story? Both from the hallow and sanctimonious Finch and from the deep and morally ambiguous Jackson? Could this book have a “happy” ending, where Mr. Finch goes to jail? Or would even the idea of “happy” be too corrupted by Jackson’s own dishonesty in dealing with real happiness in his fantasy land.

And yet, was Jackson’s fantasy any more far-fetched than Finch’s? Weren’t both men buying into the world of innocence where the always guilty black man is merely used as a way to prove that even he can be innocent? Circa bizarro O.J. Simpson, who killed two people and is publicized not as a symbol of innocence, but as a symbol of fear of the black mob for White America.

O.J. still gets play for three reasons: 1. To prove that the criminal justice system is not racist. 2. To normalize, or even celebrate violence and murder, specifically the murder of a woman. 3. To get White America frightened of black people dancing on the streets in their supposed celebration of Mr. Simpson. Remember when Donald Trump said that Muslims danced for joy after 9/11? It’s like that. It’s actually not that original of a story if we think about why it is repeated.

Could Jackson’s own transition to whiter skin be linked with his own quest for innocence and nostalgia? Because black children are not allowed to be children he had to become a white person to become a child. Black children cannot be innocent in America. Jackson is always seen as magical, and therefore harmless. He becomes a problem only when he tries to be real through the very magic that was supposedly who he really was.

Finch becomes a fictional hero for the ruling class and a pain in the rear for children. Finch becomes the hero because he is fair, he is civilized. He does not see race. He does not see prejudice. All you people need to do is walk in someone else’s shoes and you will know too.

But Finch won’t walk in anyone else’s shoes. He walks in his own. And his fans do too. For they are him. They are not at fault. They watch and watch. They are smarter than the story. They watch just to prove their fantasy that nothing is wrong. As long as there are fair-minded old white guys running the show (same as it ever was). Jackson has fans because no one can walk in those shoes. It’s called the moon walk. And it can’t be done, not in the same way.

Jackson is the mockingbird, so many years later. He sings. It’s sad when he dies because he was a pretty bird. But was he? And was that all he was? Who knew this man besides those who really knew him? And by God Atticus Finch does not understand mockingbirds. He sees them as a case. He’s a sociologist. Who does all that looking and still has no prejudice?

What use is Finch if he looks all day, runs the whole town, and comes up with nothing at all to be prejudiced about? Keep the world the same? How is that going, Mr. Finch? And give this to Jackson, he wanted to change the world, and he did. Rock is dead. Pop rules the world. It has critics. But no one really cares about them. So Jackson runs the world, Finch has his town. Jackson is a story, Finch is just bored. And maybe the great shakers only make things worse, after all. But they have a story at least. And it is a real story.

It is different sides of production. Finch decides. He decides who is guilty, who is innocent. Finch chooses innocent this time. Because this is fiction. And because no one at the top is scared of more Atticus Finchs. The same people from the same families and the same neighborhoods cycle in and out of the criminal justice system.

We can call these people on trial guilty and we can call them innocent, but is either true? For isn’t Finch really running the show? Not in the sense of declaring who is guilty, who is innocent. But in the fact that he is choosing either. And the fact that those on trial are always the same. They may have done it. They may have not done it. But who cares? Crime is a social problem. We get lost in the details and motives of each criminal. As a group there will always be a certain percentage of each class that did a crime, and this percentage will vary among the classes in questions.

So each time one of the underclass is saved it’s a story but never more than that, and therefore not a story worth telling. And Jackson sings. And we debate. If he did it. And why not believe the victims? But why should that be the story, or even really a debate? With some good people and bad people in each class, everyone has the same choices. And a good choice in one situation is like a bad choice in another.

Now the world sings Michael Jackson anyways. And no one really cares about these stories, as long as his song pops, which it does. And this kills Atticus Finch. Finch needs to control the world. He needs heroes and he needs villains.

Finch has more power than he thinks. He controls all parts of the world. Not just the trial. Finch controls before and Finch controls after. No one is guilty, and certainly no one has clean hands. And so Michael, let’s skip the public trial. They could ruin anybody if they wanted, why you? Robert Kraft made the news too. But everyone knew he was a predator already. Was this news? The only news is that it was covered up for so long. This is all of ICE too. Where was Donald Trump when The New York Times broke the story about migrant women being held hostage and raped repeatedly?

It happens in message parlors. It happens in the Church. MeToo’s most lasting accomplishment has been democratizing the role of Atticus Finch. Now it is less shameful to be the one who shames. Now it is not only Finch who can say what is right and wrong. Now an immigrant in detention can say so too. Occasionally only though. And only when approved by the corporate press. Which is why we are yet to come to terms with the military’s role in all of these dynamics. Finch is an imperialist just as much as Jackson may be a product of it—in both good ways and bad.

So it’s not random. It’s not captivating. It’s pervasive and sad and cruel. Jackson can’t and shouldn’t escape that evil. Still, pop rules the world. Micheal built that. That cannot be taken away.

There’s power in pop too. For everyone, if they want. It’s pop after all. And it’s not that trivial. It’s just life. And if pop is trivial, so is life. Golf needs a set of clubs, soccer only needs a ball. Rock needs a guitar, pop only needs a microphone, This is life.

Atticus wants power. Michael wants something else. And maybe power too. Atticus get off from hearing the sound of his own voice. Michael looked at the man in the mirror. Not for pleasure. But to really look.

To the contrary, the entire point of To Kill A Mockingbird is to congratulate the reader. It is not to make the reader think. It’s CNN. You decide. You make it fair. You make it right. None of it is true. And maybe even the reader is doing the best they can. If that’s the case why congratulate one’s self?

Jackson was pop before pop. You didn’t have to feel anything. You were here, he was here. And that was enough. And then Madonna. And then Rihanna. And then Drake. The top star now always projects less feeling. Finch drives the wedge of ambition. His children admire it but would they rather have a father? Finch wants you to feel. He strikes the right chords but doesn’t know what music is. Jackson just is. And that gives more than Finch ever could.

The larger quibble is that this book is still read very widely in school and is seen as the way to explain morality to children. To Kill A Mockingbird can only do so much damage to the Broadway crowd because there is only so much damage left to be done. As for our young people who continue to get more and more progressive, let’s give them better reading material.

Finch treated adults like children because his heart was too small. Jackson treated children like adults because his heart was too big. And in both cases power corrupts, while consequences are evasive. And justice has nothing to do with what these men could get away and with what their victims couldn’t. It was only class. Both will be seen as heroes and now almost by accident both will have to face the spotlight. Jackson entraps because he makes you feel alive. Finch entraps because he makes you feel powerless.

Wesley Morris of The New York Times argues that we haven’t been able to see the truth about Jackson before the new documentary because he was too magical for us to see through him. And yet, wasn’t it just the opposite? Jackson was so real that no one cared. No matter how convincing the documentary may be there are a lot of people who simply won’t care because Jackson gave so much to them in a real way. Jackson himself may have lived in a fantasy land but the star is always more distant from reality than their fans are. The star is the star because they can act as the link between the reality we all feel and the fantasy the star lives in. This fantasy is no more the star’s than it is ours. It is a fantasy that is both false because of its corporate distribution and true because of no one can truly exit the expectations of the bourgeois besides the bourgeois themselves.

The shift from rock to pop as the dominant music medium is in line with Karl Marx’s technological determinism. The shift from communal instrumentation to individual electronic sound expresses both the technological advances of capitalism and its alienating effects. Michael Jackson and Prince thriving at similar times points to a split, and perhaps the reason people always ask which one you prefer: Prince or MJ? What that question might be asking is do you prefer music before these two musicians or music after?

Prince was an instrumental pop artist, and maybe even closer to rock, if not closest to funk. Instrumentally speaking, Prince and the music that preceded him were quite material. They relied on material instruments for sound. The contradiction is that lyrically the focus was largely immaterial. Art that precedes the present age asked about broad immaterial concepts: love, God, purpose, etc.

Fast forward to Michael Jackson and modern day pop. No instruments in sight. Many of the pop stars can’t even sing. This isn’t meant as a diss. They are every bit as talented—they just use different skillsets which shouldn’t just be limited to the arena of music. Music itself is more or less a mathematical equation and in many ways the pop stars today have mastered the equation in ways older musicians never did. It’s like playing chess. A beginner will see the game as full of endless possibilities and will improvise at every turn. And yet as they improve they will find that the best move is both mathematical and formulaic.

As a result, pop music today is less about music than it ever has been. The formula of making a catchy song with a trendy character behind it has been mastered. Dominant singular stars then distinguish themselves in much the same way Jackson did. Lyrically the focus is material. There is no way to make any sort of formula out of the material world as a whole. The ridiculous skill of recognizing and remembering faces should prove this before we even get to the other material focuses of today’s music: sex, money and work. What pop stars now aim to do is capture the material reality of today’s precarious world which has lost the philosophical depth of pre-Prince precisely because we have transcended it materially as a whole and remain too insecure materially on an individual level to even contemplate these broader questions. Jackson’s focus on dance, fashion and vocal play all set the stage for the modern artist to branch out from a sound that no longer relies on instruments in the same way.

To Kill A Mockingbird is bad in part because it isn’t funny. There’s no room for laughter. You are suffocated the entire time. As far as racist classics go, at least give Heart of Darkness this: it’s supposed to be a comedy. Granted, there are no moments at which you would actually laugh. The Oscar winner Green Book is the same way. It’s supposed to be funny at least. Even though it isn’t. The Oscars have worse taste than the Russians when it comes to picking American winners (kidding, lefties).

Why would a movie like Green Book which is completely reductive and uninteresting beat out another Spike Lee classic, a legit good Hollywood  movie like A Star Is Born and an artistic success in Roma? Because Green Book makes the audience feel good. Because it tells the audience not that racism is dead, but that the bourgeois audience is part of the solution, not the problem.

A side note on A Star Is Born, which is a very good film. The film is more serious than it claims to be. However, the total takedown of pop music is so pretentious. Bradley Cooper kills himself because pop music is supposedly so “meaningless” that he just can’t take it. Lady Gaga still made one of the best pop albums of all time (The Fame) no matter what she thinks. The reason the movie holds up is because the real Gaga is still there, even if she tries to become more conceited than she’s capable of.

Art only means as much as the enjoyment it can provide the viewer. The liberal entertainment complex is highly linked with the military industrial complex and cultural imperialism in general. The purpose of this structure is to tell the viewer how to feel, not for the viewer to enjoy the product. While most art only practically functions as relief from the mechanisms of capitalist labor and alienation, critics like to judge art on whether the art means anything. This is interesting to be sure. Although it’s a very meta approach that implies that art has no value in and of itself.

This is the criticism of pop music and popular culture in general. The greatest philosopher ever may have been Karl Marx. This was not because he found anything that had meaning, truth, or enjoyment but because he was able to identify exactly what was preventing people from becoming the very philosophers that had enough time, money and relief from stress that could identify such philosophical implications in a way that was more than simply a product of their present condition. Hence, there is more truth in the anti-philosophy materialism of today’s pop than most any philosophy simply because now more than ever it is the material, not the natural world, that is present in our lives. There also must be truth that if there is such thing as a ‘natural’ state for humans (slowly adjusted by evolution), then the present times that are so overtaken by technology and individualism and so distant from nature and community that these times must be inherently alienating. The irony of pop music then is that it can speak to alienation precisely because it is the popular expression of it.

So, America, Michael Jackson should not be our mockingbird. He does not need us to save him. He is not a bird, he is a man. He is not a singer, he is a human. He is real precisely for the reasons To Kill A Mockingbird is not. He wanted to feel, he wanted to change, he wanted to inspire, and sometimes, he wanted to hurt. To Kill A Mockingbird should never go near a child again because it means nothing beyond a reproduction of its own mythos.

Jumping to Michael Jackson’s defense seems misplaced. Proving him to be innocent means nothing. Just as proving Tom Robinson innocent means nothing. Nor should the innocence be so certain. Jackson was many things. Not just a mockingbird. Pop can save lives and pop can ruin lives. It never has been the powerless cripple that Harper Lee imagines seeing in Tom Robinson, Boo Radley and the mockingbird itself.

Michael Jackson is not Tom Robinson with a voice, he is Atticus Finch with a soul. He, like Finch, can weave a fantasy tale and evade the consequences. Anyone with power and money can. What separates Jackson is that he actually had a story to tell. When most kids listen to Michael Jackson, it’s not required reading. For a few children though, Jackson was required.

If the layered world Michael Jackson created meant more than the sentimental magical world of Atticus Finch, we should avoid the sentimentality of seeing Jackson as a helpless mockingbird. Instead let us assert that he was a full human. An accurate depiction of humanity’s history would tell us that while this isn’t a compliment, it is the truth. Jackson will outlast Finch simply because there was some truth there. Truth is not found in the books that rich people require children to read, nor it is in the verdicts of rich lawyers who decide who is good and bad. Truth lies in pop. It lies in the music that captivates the masses, whether that be to our promise, or to our peril.

Categories: News for progressives

On Biblical Inerrancy: Some Reflections for United Methodists and Other “Christians”

Mon, 2019-03-11 16:00

The United Methodist Church, one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States , voted on voted on Tuesday, February 26th, to affirm its official stance that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Not all Methodists agree with this view, of course, as is detailed in an article on the vote in The New York Times. Many do, though, hence the outcome of the vote. And Methodists are not the only “Christians” who consider homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching. People who hold this view usually justify it by pointing to specific passages in the New Testament that appear to support it. The question is: Does the New Testament unequivocally condemn homosexuality?

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the Bible is inerrant. What are the implications of that? That means, it would appear, that the Bible can’t be wrong in either descriptive or prescriptive terms. What does it mean, though, to be “right” in those terms? Is the primary purpose of historical narrative to present an accurate reconstruction of past events, or is it to guide readers, or listeners, to teach them something about human folly, human weakness and frailty, with the aim of making humanity’s future better than its past? Is an “accurate” historical narrative one that gets the facts right or one that presents them in a way that will be optimally instructive?

My concern here is not so much with the descriptive nature of biblical narrative as with its prescriptive nature. People who believe in biblical inerrancy often do so because they believe the Bible is God’s speaking directly to humanity and that that message contains rules for how we are to behave. Even if it were the case that the Bible was God speaking directly to humanity, it would not solve the problem of determining what God meant in a particular instance because all communication is meaningful as such only after it has been interpreted, and any interpretation undertaken by people who are assumed to be marred by sin is going to be problematic. “Love your neighbor” seems fairly uncomplicated and yet for some people that means forcing their neighbor to pull himself up by his own bootstraps, while for other people it means positively assisting their neighbor in his efforts to stand on his own. 

The idea, however, that the Bible is God speaking directly to humanity is foolishness. God speaking directly would be God speaking directly and not to some specific people who are then tasked with recording the divine message and passing it on to the rest of humanity. The Bible is, by definition, God speaking indirectly to humanity through the agency of specific individuals (and many more individuals, it appears now, than was originally supposed). That, in itself, does not mean the Bible cannot be inerrant, but it does complicate the task of determining what God’s message is.

Add to this the fact that much, if not all of the Bible was undisputedly written long after the events it records and in many instances in a language other than that of its source. Jesus communicated with his followers in Aramaic, so even ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ώς σεαυτόν, let alone “love your neighbor as yourself,” are not Jesus’s original words. Imagine for yourself the potential for alteration that is unavoidably associated with the translation of a message from one language to another and then the passing down of that translation orally from one generation to another for thirty, forty, fifty, or even a hundred years before it is actually written down. Anyone who has ever played a game of “Telephone” knows how badly a message can be mangled even over the course of a single evening, to say nothing of a period that transcends a generation.

Add to that the fact that it is now clear, as Bart Ehrman and others have argued, that portions of the texts of the New Testament were not merely inadvertently changed when, of necessity, they were copied by hand, but deliberately changed to make them more unequivocally reflect evolving church doctrine. Such a practice might seem sinister at first, but it is merely a result of the fact that even the earliest copyists of the writings that eventually became the New Testament realized that the texts they had inherited were themselves interpretations, products of other human hands, inevitably marred by mistakes and misinterpretations that they, with their changes, endeavored to put right.

Paul is now widely believed by scholars not to have said that women shouldn’t preach, that that injunction appeared in a letter that he didn’t actually write, but which was erroneously attributed to him. In fact, quite a number of writings that have traditionally been attributed to Paul are now widely believed not to have been written by Paul but by later adherents to the new Christian faith. 

But assume, for the sake of argument, that we have the original texts of the New Testament in their pristine and unadulterated form. Even that would not relieve of us the burden of interpretation. Even that would not eliminate all possibility of error in our interpretations. Take, for example, Matthew 13:12: “For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Revised Standard Version). 

To him who has what? What does that passage mean? Is it a reference to how wretched is humanity that it would so order itself that the rich get would get richer and the poor get poorer? That’s how Billie Holiday interpreted it. Does it refer to love, so that it means the more love a person has, the more love that person will receive? That’s how I used to like to think of that passage. It makes sense to me that loving people would tend to be more loved than those who were less loving. 

But then one day I became curious and decided to find out what the Greek term was that was translated as “has” in that passage and learned to my surprise that among the many meanings of that term, ἔχω, listed in the online edition of the Liddell-Scott dictionary of ancient Greek, was “to possess mentally, understand” (sadly, I can’t include a link because the site requires a login). So the passage might actually mean something like “to him who understands more understanding will be given,” etc. 

That meaning actually fits best both with what appears to be the meaning of the preceding passage where Jesus talks about the importance of having “ears” to hear his message, as well as with the line that immediately precedes it (i.e., Matthew 13:11) where Jesus says to his disciples “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” That is, because they understand Jesus’s basic message, they will understand his individual parables and hence gain more understanding with each new parable. 

Of course it is possible that the passage means all three of these things at once. That’s part of what the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard referred to as “the genius of language,” that the same combination of words can have multiple meanings. 

What, to pick a passage that is more apposite to the recent decision of the leaders of the United Methodist Church to continue to condemn homosexuality, is the meaning of Romans 1:26-27. 

Therefore God gave them to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. 

The Oxford Annotated Bible says “[a]lthough widely read today as a reference to homosexuality, the language of ‘unnatural’ intercourse was more often used in Paul’s day to denote not the orientation of sexual desire but its immoderate indulgence, which was believed to weaken the body (the due penalty).”

That makes sense because it sounds like the Greek position more generally, or at least the position of many Greek philosophers and Paul was an admirer of Greek philosophy. Passion, they believed, was suspect because it led to excess and excess is generally bad. Moderation, the Greeks believed, was to be aimed at in all things. 

So what does the passage mean? Does it refer damningly to a lack of restraint? Does it mean that excessive indulgence in the pleasures of the flesh is “unnatural” and “shameless”? Does it mean such unrestrained physical passion is bad. Or does it mean only heterosexuality is pleasing to God? 

I’m inclined to the former interpretation because a lack of restraint and excessive indulgence in almost anything tends to be self destructive. God’s creatures have a sacred duty to preserve and protect themselves. The main crime, according to Paul, of the people to whom Romans 1:26-27 refers was that they had turned away from God. They did not see themselves as God’s creatures. “did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking” (Romans 1:21).

A creator who loves his creatures would not want them to engage in self-destructive behavior. By the same token, however, a creator who is defined as love would presumably approve of the love his creatures have for one another. It seems not only bizarrely arbitrary, but directly counter to what most people like to think of as the core message of Christianity that God would condemn love because it was directed at a purportedly inappropriate object. Such a view doesn’t seem divine. It seems, on the contrary, all too human.

Unfortunately, much of what goes by the name “love” is not genuine love, but actually the instrumentalizing of one person by another, the use of one person merely as a means to another person’s sensuous or egoistical gratification. But that sad practice has no direct relation to sexual orientation. It is as pervasive in heterosexual relationships as in every other purportedly loving relationship including those between friends, siblings, and even parents and children. 

Of course it is possible that Paul really did mean to condemn homosexuality as such. Human beings throughout history have condemned certain things as “deviant” simply because they were not the norm. That is the origin of the pejorative connotations of “sinister,” a Latin word that simply means “left.” There was a time when purportedly good, God-fearing Christians believed left-handed people were in league with Lucifer. 

Fortunately, few Christians believe that now. They abandoned that view, presumably, because someone actually thought about it a little and decided that it would be inconsistent with Jesus’s teachings to condemn people simply because they were different. 

So if Paul actually meant to condemn homosexuality as such rather than simply to condemn unrestrained physical passion, that would appear to be a place where he erred in his understanding of Jesus’s teaching. We don’t have to assume that’s what he meant, though, at least not in that passage. It isn’t actually all that clear what he meant. We have to try to figure that out for ourselves. 

Even for those who believe in biblical inerrancy, the Bible is very far from a comprehensive set of specific rules for how to live. Human existence is just too complex; novel situations are constantly springing up. No set of rules for how to live can cover every conceivable situation. What is needed in order to give human beings instruction in how to live are not specific rules, but general ones. 

“Christian revelation was intended,” asserted John Stuart Mill way back in the nineteenth century (Utilitarianism, chapter 2) “to inform the hearts and minds of mankind with a spirit which should enable them to find for themselves what is right, and incline them to do it when found, rather than to tell them, except in a very general way, what it is.”

I’m inclined, sometimes, to think of Biblical inerrancy as consisting in the inexorable quality of scripture to reveal what lies deepest in people. My mother, whose parents were both ministers in the Assemblies of God church, once said that in her experience religion made good people better and bad people worse. 

So don’t be quick to judge the meaning of scripture. Even if the truth is always there somewhere its substance is arguably rarely obvious. One must look deeply into any text in order to divine its true meaning and nowhere is this more true than with the Bible, hence James’s admonition that one must “persevere” when attempting to understand it (James 1:25). Even people who believe in biblical inerrancy must look long and hard into the “mirror” of the New Testament if they want to divine God’s message to humanity there. 

So look long and hard into the mirror of what you assume to be God’s word. If what is reflected back to you is anger and condemnation, then look again. Look again and keep looking. 

Persevere in your looking until what is reflected back to you is love. 

Categories: News for progressives

Robots in the Vast Memory Palace of Myth

Mon, 2019-03-11 15:59

Winged robot Talos (ΤΑΛΩΝ) armed with a stone. Didrachm (2 drachmas coin) dated approximately 300 BCE from Phaistos, Crete. Cabinet des Madailles, Paris.  Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

Greek myths are not fiction. They are extremely ancient stories that preserve memories and history.

Ancient Greeks thought of myths and history as complementary narratives speaking to them about their gods, heroes, traditions and civilization. In fact, the Greeks understood mythology as early history. This early history (myths) explained their origins and the origins of the gods, and tied all that to the origins and workings of the cosmos.

Philosophers-scientists and poets fashioned their theories, models and dramatic plays from myths. In fact, myths include valuable insights on what the Greeks eventually did in politics, theology, and all fields of knowledge, including science and technology.

Gods of science and technology

Myths exalt  the gods for being like humans but possessing virtue, beauty, goodness, immortality and immense power: everything humans would also love to have. Myths also reveal that some gods had special affinity and liking to craftsmanship and techne, science and technology: Prometheus, Hephaistos, Metis and Athena.

Prometheus brought light and fire (knowledge) to humans, securing their survival and civilization. Hephaistos was above all fire, the volcanos and the natural forces of creation and destruction. He was  the perfect metallurgist, craftsman and inventor who toiled in the making of useful tools, weapons, shields, robots and machines governed by Artificial Intelligence. Metis, a water goddess, was the icon of intelligence. Zeus married her; and, to guarantee he would remain supreme, he swallowed her. That’s why Athena, daughter of Metis, goddess of the olive tree, and the arts of civilization, came out of the head of Zeus.

These stories of mythology became the metaphysics that inspired the Greeks to think about thinking: try to know themselves; ask questions about the workings of society and the cosmos, and slowly develop philosophy, science and technology.

The Greek apocalypse

This was a chronic and complicated process of evolution. The Greeks were not many, not well organized, and lived in hundreds of poleis (city-states) all over the Mediterranean. However, they reached high levels of civilization. And with Alexander the Great, they spread their civilization throughout the world. In fact, from the third century to the first century BCE, they sparked a golden age of science and technology in Alexandria, Egypt.

However, the Romans entered Greece and the Alexandrian kingdoms that replaced the empire of Alexander. Then, in the fourth century, the forced Christianization of Greece struck the country like a cataclysm. Even myths faced extinction. Church fathers destroyed and defamed Greek myths, branding them lies and falsehoods.

Techne (technology)

Despite the damage, enough myths survived, enough art and ceramic vases survived, that we can stitch together the panorama of daily life in ancient Greece. Some vase paintings show us kilns firing ceramics, craftsmen sculpting statues, making tools, shoes and weapons. Other vase paintings zero in on Hephaistos: making twenty gold-wheeled tripods; fashioning attractive golden girl robots for serving the gods; crafting bronze bulls spitting fire; sculpting a handsome and impenetrable shield for Achilles with composite materials: hard bronze, tin and pure gold; building a pilotless ship taking Odysseus from Phaiakia (Kerkyra) to Ithaca. That ship was governed by Artificial Intelligence; and designing the female android Pandora.

The mythic and iconographic depictions of Hephaistos or Prometheus or Athena designing exquisite art and mechanical devices like robots or humans are not always restricted to gods. A few human heroes like Daidalos created god-like works of art and engineering.

Daidalos, a genius in art and technology, sculpted statues that barely differed from live human beings. Daidalos was Athenian who worked in the second millennium BCE for Minos, king of Crete. He built a cow-sex machine for Pasiphae, wife of Minos, and designed the Labyrinth for the safe keeping of the monster Minotaur. He also constructed an impregnable acropolis for King Kokalos of Acragas (Agrigento), a Greek polis in Italy. He pioneered human flight imitating birds.

Talos

Minos was the son of Zeus. He had access to power. Hephaistos crafted the bronze android Talos for Minos. The robot was a mighty mechanical giant protecting Crete. Talos would keep walking and flying over Crete and would kill any intruder unwelcomed by Minos.

Yet Talos met his match when Jason and the Argonauts landed in Crete. Medea, daughter of Aeetes, son of the god Sun-Helios, and king of Colchis in the far east of the Black Sea (the Greeks’ Welcoming Sea), undid a bolt in the foot of the robot, bringing its end.

Gods and robots — yesterday and today

These interesting mythic stories — with clues on crafted, not born, life like robots and automata – are the subject of a lavishly-illustrated, timely, insightful and well-written book by Adrienne Mayor: Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology (Princeton University Press, 2018). Mayor is a research scholar in classics and the history of science at Stanford.

Mayor credits Greek, Roman, Indian and Chinese myths for giving us astonishing stories of human imagining of artificial life and its still unresolved ethical dilemmas.

Yet her understanding of myths is limited. She considers myths about artificial life nothing more than cultural dreams: “ancient thought experiments, ‘what if’ scenarios set in an alternate world of possibilities, an imaginary space where technology was advanced to prodigious degrees.”

She admits, however, that many of the automata and mechanical devices actually built in Greece and Rome “recapitulate myths.” Yes, they do.

Even the awesome cosmological computer built in all likelihood in Rhodes in the second century BCE is a testimony of the power of the prevailing mythic and heliocentric cosmological vision of the heavens in the third century BCE. That vision inexorably gave birth to scientific technology as we know it today. No wonder the Greek computer, dubbed Antikythera Mechanism, brought the heavens down to Earth.

Mayor does not see such cosmic movements. She does not see a free flowing highway of ideas from mythic machines to real machines or direct connections between ancient and modern technology.

“This book is not intended to suggest direct lines of influence from myth or ancient history to modern technology,” she writes.

Despite this limited blind spot to the workings of mythology in the making of scientific technology in ancient Greece, and to the founding of modern technology on the pillars of Greek science and technology, Gods and Robots is an absorbing and important book on myths and robots in ancient and modern times.

In fact, Mayor has a remarkable agenda. She says she wrote her book as a guide to the perplexed in robotics, Artificial Intelligence machines, biotechnology, driverless cars, and machine learning.

On “deeper levels,” she says, “the ancient myths about artificial life can provide a context for the exponential developments in artificial life and Artificial Intelligence – and the looming practical and moral implications.”

Mayor lives in the Silicon Valley in Palo Alto, California. Naturally, her Greek mythic readings are merging with the awe, terror and hope in the Silicon Valley myths about technology for profits, power, and changing the world.

Read Gods and Robots. It’s a welcome food for thought in our desperate and dangerous times. The Greeks at least had Prometheus warning them not to open Pandora’s box. But who is doing that now about AI ( and so many other hazardous technologies) slowly seeping out of the new Pandora’s box?

Categories: News for progressives

Dying to Make a Living: the Shame of Industrial Mortality

Mon, 2019-03-11 15:58

Kudos to Montana’s Democratic Senator Jon Tester who introduced a new bill to ban the use of asbestos in the United States last week. Tester joins eight other senators on the measure, which was simultaneously introduced in the House and co-sponsored by 21 representatives. Montana’s tragic history with asbestos-caused death and injury in the Libby and Troy area from the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine is a shameful blot on Montana’s past. But in truth, dying to make a living in the U.S. goes far beyond asbestos and continues to kill and maim innocent citizens every day.

The grim story of the W.R. Grace caused deaths and illnesses began when the company took over the Zonolite mining operations in 1963 to produce an estimated 80 percent of the world’s vermiculite from the Libby mine. Enormous amounts of asbestos-laden dust blanketed the workers, homes, yards, forests and general environment in the area while the vermiculite was used on everything from gardens to the local schools’ running tracks.

The problem, which was well-known before Grace shuttered the operations in 1990, is that the vermiculite ore contained high concentrations of deadly tremolite asbestos fibers that penetrate the lungs to sicken and eventually kill those unfortunate enough to have inhaled them. Even worse, it wasn’t just the employees at the mine and mill, it was their families to whom they brought home their asbestos-coated work clothes.

The true shame of Libby’s deadly disaster is that the state was being sued by those suffering asbestosis in the late 80s, which coincides with the time Marc Racicot, who was raised in Libby, was the state’s attorney general. As the state’s top law enforcement official, Racicot had to know about the sickness and deaths detailed in the lawsuits. But the mine continued to operate until 1990 and wasn’t a focus of Racicot’s attention when he became governor in 1993.

Nope, it wasn’t until 1999, after a blistering series of articles in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer revealed the enormity of Grace’s crimes that the EPA listed the area as a Superfund site — and continues to work on “clean up” 20 years later. As reported by Montana Standard editor David McCumber, health screenings have found “more than a thousand residents with signs of asbestos-related lung disorders, and more area residents are being diagnosed with the deadly disease every week.”

The latest estimates are that a stunning “39,000 Americans die from asbestos-related disease each and every year” according to Dr. Richard Lemen, the deputy director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

In the meantime, Montana’s Republican Senator Steve Daines’ claims “his No. 1 priority is the safety of all Montanans, preventing tragedies like Libby and Troy from happening in the first place.” So dedicated is Daines that his office reports he is still reading the bill’s text and considering his next steps. Duh!

The more truthful explanation is that Daines is afraid of angering President Trump, who proudly lauds his deadly and despicable record of deregulating toxic-emitting industries and claims asbestos is “perfectly safe when properly applied.”

Tens of thousands of Americans continue to die from industrial poisons annually. Golden Sunlight’s mine poisoned groundwater with cyanide. Colstrip polluted domestic wells with arsenic. Anaconda’s smelter workers breathed toxins from the stack daily. The list goes on and on.

Dying to make a living is, simply put, a crime against humanity. It’s time for Daines to represent his constituents and move aggressively to protect the health of workers and their families — not the profit margins of deadly polluting industries.

Categories: News for progressives

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