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Spinoza: a Man for Our Troubled Time

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:58

Photo Source Britannica | CC BY 2.0

In these interesting times, we all need someone to admire. I have found such a one in Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677), the 17th-century rationalist liberal philosopher who advocated freedom of thought and expression, toleration, and simple kindness.

Spinoza lived in what at the time was the most liberal place on earth, the Dutch Republic, his Jewish Portuguese family having moved there after Portugal expelled its Jewish population in 1497. He seems to have been a free thinker at an early age, and it apparently got him into trouble with the Jewish community of Amsterdam. In 1656, at the tender age 23, his synagogue banned him for life from the community for “abominable heresies … and … monstrous deeds.” The excommunication decree — the charem — left no doubt about how the Jews of Amsterdam were to regard the young man:

By decree of the angels and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of God, Blessed be He, and with the consent of the entire holy congregation, and in front of these holy scrolls with the 613 precepts which are written therein; cursing him with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho and with the curse which Elisha cursed the boys and with all the castigations which are written in the Book of the Law. Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down and cursed be he when he rises up. Cursed be he when he goes out and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven. And the Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law. But you that cleave unto the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day.

It ordered “that no one should communicate with him neither in writing nor accord him any favor nor stay with him under the same roof nor within four cubits [six feet] in his vicinity; nor shall he read any treatise composed or written by him.”

Spinoza was not upset with this development; he apparently thought his excommunication merely saved him the trouble of leaving the community on his own initiative. So he changed his name from the Hebrew word for blessed, Baruch,  to the Latin equivalent, Benedictus. However, he lived in a time and place in which being unaffiliated with any community had its disadvantages.

What had he done to deserve this treatment? No one is really sure because he had not yet written a word, and he would not publish a book for several years. But he must have been talking to friends about the philosophy he was formulating. If so, we should have no problem understanding why Spinoza would have outraged the Jewish authorities, who feared anything that might jeopardize the community’s relatively free status in the Protestant republic. His writings, published between those of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, would reject the immortality of the soul and the divine origin of the Bible, while arguing that God was nothing more than nature, or existence, itself without a consciousness or will with which to command, reward, punish, or listen to human beings. His famous phrase was Deus sive Natura, God or/as Nature. For Spinoza, nothing could be beyond nature and logic; thus, no supernatural being or realm existed.

When I (along with others) nominate Spinoza for hero status, I am thinking specifically of his political philosophy, which he expressed in his anonymously published A Theological-Political Treatise (1670), condemned as “a book forged in hell.” The authorship of the book soon became an open secret, and all but his book on Descartes were banned in the Dutch Republic and elsewhere. Spinoza also lived in interesting times, which were no doubt on his mind as he formulated his political philosophy: the Thirty Years’ War ended in 1648 and the English Civil War raged from 1642 to 1651.

As the libertarian philosopher Douglas Den Uyl notes in God, Man, and Well-Being: Spinoza’s Modern Humanism, Spinoza was very much in the tradition of Greek philosophy, but he went the Greek thinkers one better by rejecting the state as a shaper of souls and promoter of virtue. What Spinoza called “blessedness” cannot be achieved through external forces but only through an internal process that individuals undertake. (Den Uyl’s earlier book on Spinoza, a doctoral dissertation, is Power, State, and Freedom: An Interpretation of Spinoza’s Political Philosophy.)

For Spinoza (alas, no anarchist, but see Daniel Garber’s lecture at 44:00), the socially contracted democratic-republican state had one task: to produce security — full stop. Security enables individuals to 1) live in safety, 2) pursue understanding, which is the key to activeness, power in the sense of efficacy, virtue, and excellence, and 3) enjoy the benefits of cooperation with others through the division of labor. But, properly, number two is neither the state’s direct nor indirect goal. Against the claim that Spinoza looked to the state to promote virtue if only indirectly, Den Uyl refers to Spinoza’s unfinished Political Treatise, where he writes, “The best way to organize a state is easily discovered by considering the purpose of civil order, which is nothing other than peace and security of life.” Virtue is not even an indirect goal? No, because, Den Uyl points out, the failure of people to become more virtuous would not indicate a deficiency in the state. Virtue is a private internal matter.

As an aside, I note that for Spinoza, living actively according to reason (understanding), rather than passively according to appetites and (other) “external” forces, enables one to accomplish more than one’s own flourishing directly; it also encourages others to live according to reason, which in turn further promotes one’s own flourishing.

Another Spinoza scholar who finds this political philosophy especially worth studying today is Steven Nadler. In his 2016 Aeon article “Why Spinoza Still Matters” (from which many of the Spinoza quotes below are taken), Nadler writes:

At a time when Americans seem willing to bargain away their freedoms for security, when politicians talk of banning people of a certain faith from our shores, and when religious zealotry exercises greater influence on matters of law and public policy, Spinoza’s philosophy – especially his defence of democracy, liberty, secularity and toleration – has never been more timely. In his distress over the deteriorating political situation in the Dutch Republic, and despite the personal danger he faced, Spinoza did not hesitate to boldly defend the radical Enlightenment values that he, along with many of his compatriots, held dear. In Spinoza we can find inspiration for resistance to oppressive authority and a role model for intellectual opposition to those who, through the encouragement of irrational beliefs and the maintenance of ignorance, try to get citizens to act contrary to their own best interests….

The political ideal that Spinoza promotes in the Theological-Political Treatise is a secular, democratic commonwealth, one that is free from meddling by ecclesiastics. Spinoza is one of history’s most eloquent advocates for freedom and toleration.

In his treatise, Spinoza was quite clear: “The state can pursue no safer course than to regard piety and religion as consisting solely in the exercise of charity and just dealing, and that the right of the sovereign, both in religious and secular spheres, should be restricted to men’s actions, with everyone being allowed to think what he will and to say what he thinks.”

And: “Freedom to philosophise [on all things –SR] may not only be allowed without danger to piety and the stability of the republic, but that it cannot be refused without destroying the peace of the republic and piety itself.”

Further: “A government that attempts to control men’s minds is regarded as tyrannical, and a sovereign is thought to wrong his subjects and infringe their right when he seeks to prescribe for every man what he should accept as true and reject as false, and what are the beliefs that will inspire him with devotion to God. All these are matters belonging to individual right, which no man can surrender even if he should so wish.”

Nadler elaborates: “No matter what laws are enacted against speech and other means of expression, citizens will continue to say what they believe, only now they will do so in secret. Any attempt to suppress freedom of expression will, once again, only weaken the bonds of loyalty that unite subjects to sovereign. In Spinoza’s view, intolerant laws lead ultimately to anger, revenge and sedition.”

For Spinoza, it was not enough to have the freedom to think any thoughts. “The more difficult case,” Nadler writes, “concerns the liberty of citizens to express those beliefs, either in speech or in writing. And here Spinoza goes further than anyone else in the 17th century”:

Utter failure will attend any attempt in a commonwealth to force men to speak only as prescribed by the sovereign despite their different and opposing opinions.… The most tyrannical government will be one where the individual is denied the freedom to express and to communicate to others what he thinks, and a moderate government is one where this freedom is granted to every man.

Alas, Spinoza was not what we would call a modern libertarian, although (as Nadler emphasizes) he was a far better liberal than John Locke, whose Letter Concerning Toleration did not extend the courtesy to the beliefs, not to mention the public activities, of atheists and Catholics.

Spinoza thought one can be free “in any kind of state.” How so? The free person is guided by reason, he wrote, and reason favors peace; therefore, the reasonable person obeys the state’s laws because “peace … cannot be attained unless the general laws of the state be respected. Therefore the more he is free, the more constantly will he respect the laws of his country, and obey the commands of the sovereign power to which he is subject.” Now Spinoza might have been thinking of a commonwealth in which the laws are perfectly appropriate to rational persons — except that he says we can be free in any kind of state. Does it follow that ignoring unjust statutes really risks general civil strife? I think Spinoza would reply, in a Hobbesian way, that “justice is dependent on the laws of the authorities.” However, while civil strife is not conducive to the good life, neither are unjust statutes that prohibit or regulate peaceful conduct.

Spinoza drew a line between the expression of thoughts and actions. As Nadler points out (in this video), Spinoza thought the secular authority had a right to dictate how religion was publicly practiced in order to safeguard the peace. Practitioners of alternative religions should be free to think and say what they please, but their public rites were to be permitted only within prescribed limits. As one can see, Spinoza is in some respects a Hobbesian though he was more liberal because Hobbes, unlike Spinoza, had the sovereign serving as the arbiter of right opinion in religious and other matters — for the sake of civil peace, of course. The one time that Spinoza mentions Hobbes is in a note in his treatise: “Now reason (though Hobbes thinks otherwise) is always on the side of peace, which cannot be attained unless the general laws of the state be respected.”

Spinoza wrote:

The rites of religion and the outward observances of piety should be in accordance with the public peace and well-being, and should therefore be determined by the sovereign power alone. I speak here only of the outward observances of piety and the external rites of religion, not of piety, itself, nor of the inward worship of God, nor the means by which the mind is inwardly led to do homage to God in singleness of heart.

Moreover, Nadler says, “Spinoza does not support the absolute freedom of speech. He explicitly states that the expression of seditious ideas is not to be tolerated by the sovereign. There’s to be no protection for speech that advocates the overthrow of the government, disobedience to its laws, or harm to fellow citizens.”

Citizens should be free to argue for repeal of laws, but that’s about it; they may not rebel or even express ideas that implicitly call for rebellion because it would undermine the social contract and the peace. Nadler acknowledges that, despite Spinoza’s definition of seditious beliefs, the vagueness of that phrase and his notion of implicitly inciting rebellion properly trouble civil libertarians.

Nevertheless, Spinoza ends his treatise on a high note: “The safest way for a state is to lay down the rule that religion is comprised solely in the exercise of charity and justice, and that the rights of rulers in sacred, no less than in secular matters, should merely have to do with actions, but that every man should think what he likes and say what he thinks.” Not bad for 1670.

Spinoza knew he was not entirely politically safe in the world’s freest state. (Friends had been persecuted by the state for their ideas.) Besides not putting his name on the book, which was written in Latin rather than the vernacular, he wrote in his final paragraph:

It remains only to call attention to the fact that I have written nothing which I do not most willingly submit to the examination and approval of my country’s rulers; and that I am willing to retract anything which they shall decide to be repugnant to the laws, or prejudicial to the public good. I know that I am a man, and as a man liable to error, but against error I have taken scrupulous care, and have striven to keep in entire accordance with the laws of my country, with loyalty, and with morality.

Whatever his limits, we have much to learn from and admire about Spinoza, especially these days.

Categories: News for progressives

Whose Moral Stain? Hold Democrats Accountable on Immigration Too

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:58

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Of course, we need to hold Donald Trump and his Party accountable for the deep moralstain of his awful immigration policies.  But it doesn’t follow that we must, therefore, rally around the Democrats and work for a “blue wave” in the next election.  What Barack Obama and other Democrats did to immigrants is so reprehensible that ignoring it or acting like it wasn’t important is not an option.  Democrats must also be held accountable for their morally repugnant actions.

Yes, it really was that bad. My new report, Whose Moral Stain?  Obama’s Immigration Atrocities Led to Trump’sprovides a comprehensive review of Obama’s immigration record and how Democrats set the stage for Trump.  This article shares highlights from the report.

Obama’s Immigration Record

Rampant family separations. Over 152,000 children lost a parent to deportation in 2012 alone.  Each year similar numbers lost parents that way.

At the border, fathers were routinely separated from their children and spouses.  Mothers were generally allowed to keep their small children with them but older children, e.g. 11-year-olds, were often detained separately.  Small children traveling with aunts or other beloved guardians were taken away from them.

In 2011, an estimated 5100 children pulled from their parents by immigration officials were in foster care.  The numbers in other Obama years were likely similar.  It was extremely difficult for parents to comply with the reunification plans Child Protective Services (CPS) devises for children in foster care.  Distance and incarceration stymied participation in required programs and hearings.   Some parents faced the threat of permanent termination of parental rights.

Huge numbers of deportations. 

Obama deported over 3 million people.  That’s more than all presidents before him since 1890 combined.

He claimed to be ridding the country of dangerous criminals, thereby feeding a false racist narrative about immigrants.  In reality, the overwhelming majority of Obama’s “criminal” deportees were guilty of minor crimes like traffic violations, drug possession, and the like.  Immigration “crimes” were particularly dominant.  In other words, in a classic Catch 22, people denied legal options for immigrating were labeled as “criminals” for coming here the only way they could (illegally), and then that label was used to justify their expulsion.

Between 41% and 69% of Obama’s deportees each year had not been convicted of any crime.  Obama set a goal of deporting 400,000 people a year, and immigration agents were pressured to sweep up as many people as they could in order to meet that goal.

Obama expanded the tiny Secure Communities Program established by President Bush in October of 2008 to virtually every local law enforcement jurisdiction in the United States.  As a result, local officials everywhere provided ICE with fingerprints—including those of victims, witnesses and others not charged with offenses themselves—and then held undocumented people until ICE picked them up.

Under Obama, ICE also carried out traumatizing raids.  Armed agents pounded on doors in the wee hours of the morning, searched houses and whisked undocumented family members off to undisclosed locations.

Harsh treatment of refugees, including sending children and adults to their deaths. 

Obama labeled “recent arrivals” a top priority for deportation.  That put tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and families who had fled extreme violence and poverty in Central America and Mexico in his crosshairs.

The conditions people fled were directly fueled byU.S. foreign policies implemented by both Democrats and Republicans.  Many survived rapes, other assaults, severe deprivation, and other trauma on their way to the U.S.

Obama used expedited procedures to rapidly expel recent arrivals, denying them lawyers and other basic due process rights.  “We have already added resources to expedite removal, without a hearing before an immigration judge, of adults who come…without children,” bragged Obama’s Homeland Security chief.  “Then there are adults who brought their children with them.  Again, our message to this group is simple:  We will send you back.”  Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that unaccompanied children who made it to the U.S. had to be sent back. “It may be safer [for them to stay in the U.S.] but that’s not the answer”, she said.   “We have to send a clear message,” Clinton explained.   “Just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay.”

Obama’s deportations sent people to their deaths.  At least 83 people deported between January 2014 and September 2015 were subsequently reported murdered.  Ten children deported from a New Mexico detention center on the same day as a visit there from the head of ICE, soon showed up dead in El Salvadoran morgues.

Inhumane incarcerations. 

Obama established a system of over 200 detention centers across the U.S., more than half of which are privately owned.  Many facilities are in remote locations far from legal services and detainees’ communities.

Each year hundreds of thousands of people were detained.  As of late 2016, 40,000 people were detained per day.

Substantial numbers of immigrants were incarcerated for very long periods of time.  None of 67 detainees interviewed during the Obama years at an Alabama detention facility had been detained for less than 2 months.  Three had been detained for 2 to 6 months, and five for 6 months to a year.  Twenty-five people had spent 1 to 2 years in detention; fifteen had spent 2 to 3 years; and twelve had spent 3 to 4 years.  Seven people had been detained for 4 years or more.

Numerous investigations have documented widespread abuse and neglect in Obama’s detention facilities. (See, for example,  this, thisthisthis, and this.)    For many, detention began with time in extremely cold cells they called “hieleras” (ice boxes) and/or in cages they called “perreras “(dog kennels).  At longer-term facilities excessive cold and heat were ongoing problems as were physical violence, sexual assault, verbal abuse, unhygienic conditions, lack of access to medical care (which was implicated in many detainee deaths), overcrowding, lack of privacy, lack of access to the outdoors, extended periods of solitary confinement, not being able to see loved ones, having lights shined into one’s room every 15 minutes all night, and being paid little or nothing for labor.

An American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report details abuse of unaccompanied children in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody between 2009 and 2014.   “These records document a pattern of intimidation, harassment, physical abuse, refusal of medical services and improper deportation,” the report notes.  The federal government’s failure to protect the children and hold abusive officers accountable  “allowed a culture of impunity to flourish within CBP, subjecting immigrant children to conditions that are too often neglectful at best and sadistic at worst.”  (Emphasis added.)

Those who visited Obama’s family detention centers decried their “utter inhumanity” and compared them to Japanese-American internment camps during World War II.

Thousands of deaths at the border. 

As the result of support and leadership from Democrats and Republicans, there is a 650-mile wall along our southern border.  It funnels migrants into the most treacherous areas for entering the U.S.

Obama declared “securing our Southwest border” to be “a top priority”.  He poured billions of dollars into adding agents, deploying drones, and otherwise militarizing and beefing up border security.  In fiscal year 2012 alone, the Obama Administration spent about $18 billion on immigration enforcement programs, more than what was spent on the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and various other U.S. law enforcement agencies combined.

In the 2010s, the immigrant death toll skyrocketed even as the numbers of undocumented people heading north to the U.S. declined. According to Border Patrol statistics, 2975 people died trying to cross the border, during the Obama years.   This official number greatly understates the actual death toll.   La Coalición de Derechos Humanos opened over 1200 cases of people who were unaccounted for in 2015 alone.

“You just feel for them, they are young, in their 20s and 30s, even teenagers,” said Fire Chief Rene Lopez, Jr. referring to dead individuals he helped recover from the Rio Grande. “It used to be one a month. Now it’s one a week.”

Threats posed by nature were exacerbated by the military-like response of border patrol agents under Obama.  Practices like “chase and scatter” separated migrants from each other and led some to fall off cliffs.   Would-be immigrants were frequently shot to death.  Border personnel were also strongly implicated in destruction of water left for immigrants by charitable organizations and individuals.

There was strong evidence of widespread abuse of migrants by border patrol agents throughout the Obama years.   It ranged from deriding and verbally abusing immigrants to physically assaulting and even killing them.  Nonetheless meaningful reviews were not conducted, and effective reforms were not implemented.

Impoverishment and exploitation of those in the shadows.

Obama conducted “silent raids”on more than 2900 companies, forcing them to fire undocumented workers.  While long-time community members with families to feed lost their livelihoods, employers often brought in “guest workers”—immigrants with even fewer rights than those fired—to replace them.

Donald Trump wanted to deny undocumented immigrants access to social services.  But Bill Clinton beat him to it years earlier.

Obama approved highly toxic pesticides despite acute poisonings of immigrant farm workers and ongoing chronic exposures for them and their families.

Broken promises

As a candidate Barack Obama pledged to introduce legislation in his first year in office creating a pathway to citizenship.  The time to pass immigration reform was during Obama’s first two years when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.  But Obama went back on his word.  He squandered the opportunity he had to introduce and pass legislation.  He focused on border security and deportations instead.

Measures like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) singled out subgroups of immigrants for temporary deportation reprieves, without creating a pathway to citizenship for them.  To enjoy these reprieves people had to come out of the shadows, thereby making themselves vulnerable to future deportation under Obama or his successor, Donald Trump.

Supporting Democrats is Not A Good Way to Resist Trump

The conclusion we must draw is clear.   The righteous words of those condemning Republicans for the moral stain of Donald Trump’s immigration policies must be leveled against Democrats as well.  We cannot vote for or otherwise support Democrats. Doing so ignores violations of human rights that simply must not be ignored.  It rewards a Party that must instead be held accountable for its actions.

But there’s more.

We must reject Democrats because they enable Trump and other demagogues to ascend.

The disconnect between Obama’s compassionate-sounding words about immigrants and the abject cruelty of his immigration policies is typical of what goes on when Democrats are in power. On issues ranging from economics to war to environmental protection, what Democrats say is one thing, and what they do is another.

This politics of illusion fosters widespread disillusionment.   It leaves people feeling powerless and confused and without a roadmap forward to a just world.   This creates fertile ground for demagogues like Donald Trump, enabling them to foment bigotry and rise to power.

But it’s even worse than that.  Not only did Democrats help Trump get into office.  They also ensured that he has everything he needs to maximize the harm he does to immigrants.  Democrats gave Donald Trump.

Massive Infrastructures for doing harm:

+ Over 200 detention facilities across the U.S.

+ 650 miles of heavily militarized barricades along our southern border.

+ Invasive surveillance systems that can provide ICE with the fingerprints of literally millions of people each year.

Draconian laws and precedents:

+ Bill Clinton signed legislation in 1996, which provided for expedited deportations, criminalized immigration offenses, authorized agreements giving local officials the power to enforce federal immigration law, and otherwise stacked the deck against immigrants.

+ Barack Obama fought a U.S. District Court ruling regarding detention of children and their parents. He successfully overturned a presumption that parents should be released when children are, thereby making it easier for Donald Trump to separate families.

+ Obama aggressively used the tools available to him against immigrants, flagrantly violated their rights, established huge budgets for immigration enforcement, and otherwise set the stage for Trump to continue violating human rights with impunity.

A well-established racist narrative about immigrants:

+ Immigrants commit less crime than native-born people, but Obama’s repeated statements about going after dangerous criminals combined with his huge deportation numbers implied otherwise.

+ Many describe Donald Trump as “decoding” the racist messages about immigrants that already prevailed because of the rhetoric and policies of Barack Obama and other Democrats.

+ Research shows that narratives portraying immigrants as lawbreakers make people less supportive of immigration legalization and more supportive of deportations.

Supporting Obama and the Democrats has consequences beyond those experienced during their time in office.    The precedents they set, the infrastructure they put in place, and the racist rhetoric they normalize are there for whoever comes into office next.  Trump can do so much harm, precisely because Obama and the Democrats served before him.

Is it worse for immigrants under Donald Trump than the Democrats?  Arguments can be made both ways on this question.  But let’s not waste time on comparisons.  The immigration records of both Democrats and Republicans are clearly unacceptable, and we must hold both accountable.  With injustice and abuse this reprehensible, we must demand more of ourselves than rallying around a political party because it’s the lesser evil.

What We Must Do

It is time to stand up for immigration justice, rejecting the policies of both Republicans and Democrats.   We must call for a swift pathway to citizenship for those currently living in the shadows in the U.S., and for those who long to come here.   We must insist upon foreign policies that don’t undermine sovereignty, freedom and economic security in other lands.

Concurrently, we must fight for universal free health care, universal free higher education, true environmental protection, an end to U.S. wars and their drain on public funds, and more.

In other words, we must demand what neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will give us.  We must move beyond those parties and their servitude to the wealthy few.

Some seek to divide working people, pitting citizens against non-citizens.  If we allow them to keep us apart, we lose our power.  The real problem we face is an economic system that lets decisions about human needs, including jobs, be made by the few based on what profits them most.  Those few—the owners of our major industries—make decisions that shape the destiny of humanity—a set-up that is inherently undemocratic.  They receive all the profits generated by our labor.

We can and must insist upon guaranteed good-paying jobs for all, including those new to our country. There is plenty of work to go around, and there are ample resources to make this happen.  We can and should hire more teachers to reduce class sizes, more caregivers to help the elderly, more engineers to produce solar panels, more biologists and laborers to restore degraded environments, more construction workers to repair bridges, more artists to beautify our communities, and so on and so forth.

The problem is one of distribution.  It is one of democracy.

Both Democrats and Republicans prop up an economic system based on profit-driven private control of our destiny.  But we can and must demand democracy instead.  To win, we must fight together for the rights of all working people, including the rights of immigrants.

The moral stain left by the oppressive policies of both Democrats and Republicans is deep—and it spreads far beyond the issue of immigration.  We must hold accountable all who implement morally repugnant policies.  It is time to build the movement we need, leaving the deadly diversion of the Democratic and Republican Parties behind.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Chemical Deceit

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:58

Photo Source CGP Grey | CC BY 2.0 www.CGPGrey.com 

A friend recently put me in touch with Janet Brown (not her real name). This is a woman from Chicago who had the misfortune of renting an apartment that had been sprayed with the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos. Dow/DuPont produces this deleterious substance.

In late August 2018, Janet Brown visited me and we spent several hours talking. Her real education started in the poisoned apartment in Chicago.

She had read my book, Poison Spring. She wanted to talk.

A poisoned apartment

Our discussion was mostly about pesticides and the Environmental Protection Agency, which “regulates” toxic pesticides like chlorpyrifos. I told Janet Brown a few of my EPA stories. And she told me her astonishing story.

Janet Brown grew up in Illinois. She got married to a doctor. She had hopes of becoming a doctor herself. However, the poisoned apartment blew up in her face, causing a tsunami of psychological and health adversities and pain.

The tragedy took place in the 1990s. Janet Brown gave birth to two children. The apartment landlord informed her he was spraying the apartment. He did that for a decade.

The effects of chlorpyrifos poisoning were devastating to her and her children. She had trouble staying awake. She was confused, ill, and endured chronic and savage headaches. The children screamed for days and months. They could barely crawl, walk and talk. Experts said autism explained their hyperactivity, inability to pay attention,  low self-esteem, and aggressive behavior.

This tyranny of disease, the perpetual anguish of the mother, and the ceaseless pain of the children: their constant humiliations in school, the incomprehensible anger and hidden violence boiling over at home and everywhere else, teenagers unable to sign their name or find their shoes – all but annihilated their future.

In 2000, Janet Brown started suspecting the chemical sprayings of her apartment was probably responsible for the maladies of her children.

She saw a headline in a newspaper linking indoor use of chlorpyrifos and children’s health. The article said that a crevice treatment with chlorpyrifos put so much poison in the air that exposed children inhaled hundreds of times more chlorpyrifos than the amount EPA considered “safe.”

She called the Poison Control Center, only to be told there was nothing to worry about. Chlorpyrifos was “safe.”

At that moment, Janet Brown panicked. She rushed her children to the emergency room of a hospital. She was lucky. The doctor on duty had just taken training in chemical warfare. He told her to stop immediately the spaying of chlorpyrifos in her home. Chlorpyrifos, he told her, was a chemical warfare agent.

The light of truth

This sudden confrontation with the truth, rather than the façade of pesticide safety, started Janet Brown to healing herself. She decided she was going to get a formal education in public health and devote her life to teaching and informing people of the dangers of pesticides.

She stopped the chlorpyrifos spraying of her home. But chlorpyrifos remained, its deadly molecules locked into the teeth of her children.

I listened carefully to this extraordinary story. Unfortunately, there are probably millions of people with similar tales of deceit and personal pain. They trust advertisements and the government, only to discover an abyss of a difference between the promise and the real thing.

We concluded America’s “environmental protection” had degenerated to immoral policies satisfying the rich and powerful. I explained to her that the heavy layers of scientists, administrators, Congressional and White House officials form an almost impenetrable cover for the lobbyists and owners of toxins like chlorpyrifos. The more dangerous the chemical, the more formidable the phalanx of lobbyists.

Why were countless Americans, including this mother, being deceived and poisoned? Why did the EPA register this nerve gas, especially, for indoor use?

In 2011, scientists at Columbia University published a study of hundreds of infants that had been exposed to chlorpyrifos before birth. The study concluded that the higher the exposure of the pregnant mothers to chlorpyrifos, the larger the decrease in “cognitive functioning” of the baby. In other words, this chemical, like all organophosphates, affects the brain and intelligence of human beings.

No doubt, EPA and DowDuPont knew of this Columbia study and more important than that: they were certain chlorpyrifos was an organophosphate chemical, which, by definition, is a dangerous nerve poison. They are equally responsible for harming victims like Janet Brown and her two children. So, why did American scientists fail to raise their voice against this chemical weapon?

The companies spraying such deleterious stuff should be put out of business.

Self-reliance and the common good

However, with president Trump, don’t expect any relief from the top. On the contrary, things will get worse. That’s the nature of oligarchies. The business oligarchs (of America and the world) are under the delusion that money will even buy them health, even in an unhealthy environment and polluted world.

Any relief we experience will, ultimately, be relief from us.

Stop buying conventional food contaminated by pesticides. Support organic farmers. They don’t use toxic synthetic petrochemicals and nerve poisons. Be alert and decode the secret danger hiding in the  advertisements for chemicals.

We need to educate ourselves about farming and what farmers spray the crops we eat. In fact, ask: do we need sprays in the raising of our food? Industrialized farming depends on chlorpyrifos-like substances and massive machinery. It’s no longer family farming. Is that good for America?

In the 1860s, President Lincoln founded the US Department of Agriculture as the people’s department. Now USDA is the department of agribusiness. Is that good for America?

Chlorpyrifos is on its way to extinction because a panel of federal judges agreed with scientific evidence the chemical is causing “neurodevelopmental damage” to children. In August 9, 2018, they ordered EPA to ban Chlorpyrifos. Yet the Trump Justice Department wants to reinstate the nerve poison. It demanded the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of 22 judges reconsider the banning of chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos, the tragedy of Janet Brown, and the insistence of the Trump administration to keep the neurotoxin in its deadly path of poisoning children ought to become lessons of why we must be better informed about almost everything, especially things affecting our health. Americans, especially young women, should be outraged by this act of callousness by the Trump administration.

Read the label carefully. Ask questions. Be active in the politics of your hometown and state, including the politics of the country. That’s good for your health — and democracy.

Under no circumstances should we negotiate the integrity of our health and the health of the natural world.

Categories: News for progressives

With ISIS Defeated, Trump Targets Iran

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:57

The shadowy figures of Kurdish fighters can be just made out on film as they ambush and kill three pro-Turkish fighters in a night time attack in Afrin in northern Syria. The Kurdish enclave was invaded and occupied by the Turkish army and their Syrian armed opposition allies earlier in the year. Sporadic guerrilla warfare has been going on ever since.

This skirmish took place a few days after an attack on a military parade by gunmen a thousand miles away from Afrin in Ahvaz in southwest Iran that killed 25 people. Film shows soldiers and civilians running in panic as they are sprayed with bullets, leaving 25 dead, including 11 conscripts and a four-year-old child. The killings were claimed by both Isis and Arab separatists from the province of Khuzestan whom the Iranians accused of acting as catspaws for the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

These incidents matter because they may be the harbinger of the next round of confrontations, crises and wars engulfing the Middle East. The most recent phase of conflict in the region saw the rise and fall of Isis and failed campaigns to overthrow the governments of Syria and Iraq. But Isis, which three years ago ruled a de facto state with a population of five or six million, has been largely crushed and confined to desert hideouts. President Bashar al-Assad – whose fall was confidently predicted after the uprising in 2011 – is firmly in power, as is the Iraqi government that suffered calamitous defeats at the time of the Isis capture of Mosul in 2014.

But the round of conflicts just ending may soon be replaced by another with different players and different issues. The guerrilla action in Afrin is a single episode in the escalating confrontation between Turkey and the Kurds in northern Syria which will involve the US and Russia. The Middle East is always dangerous because, like the Balkans before 1914, it is full of complex but ferocious conflicts that draw in the great powers. The risk is always there but is more dangerous under President Trump because he and his administration view the Middle East through a paranoid prism in which they everywhere see the hidden hand of Iran. President George W Bush and Tony Blair had similar tunnel vision during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when they blamed everything that went wrong on a remnant of Saddam Hussein supporters. 

The exaggeration of “the Iranian threat” by the Trump administration this week at the UN General Assembly in New York was very like what was being said about Iraq fifteen years earlier. The National Security Advisor John Bolton threatened that “the murderous regime and its supporters will face significant consequences if they do not change their behaviour. We are watching, and we will come after you.” The US military intervention in Syria, previously targeting Isis, will in future be directed against Iranian influence.

US policy in Syria and Iraq has been likened to playing chess while mistaking the knight for the bishop and thinking that castles move diagonally. The US has decided to retain a military force in northeast Syria in order to thwart Iranian ambitions, but the country most affected by this is not Iran but Turkey. The US can only stay in this part of Syria in alliance with the Syrian Kurds, whose de facto state, which they call Rojava, Turkey is pledged to eliminate.

Turkey has been nibbling its way into northern Syria over the past two years and is now deploying troops in Idlib province in cooperation with the Russians. A shaky alliance with Turkey as a leading Nato military power is one of the biggest Russian gains of its military intervention in Syria which it will go a long way to preserve. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now threatening to extend the Turkey advance east of the Euphrates river in order to slice up the Kurdish statelet.

This would mean the extinction of the last remaining gain of the Syrian uprising of 2011. Rojava was the unexpected creation of the Syrian Kurds and their YPG militia that allied themselves with the US against Isis during the siege of Kurdish city of Kobani in 2014. They provide the ground troops and the US the airpower.

The US-backed Kurds are greatly overextended, holding a swathe of northeast Syria, half of whose population are Arabs hostile to Kurdish rule. It is not a place where American troops can stay forever without becoming somebody’s target. Prolonged US presence invites disaster as with the American ground operations in Lebanon in 1982-84, Somalia in 1992-95 and in Iraq in 2003-11. “There will always be people in the Middle East who think that the best way to get rid of the Americans is to kill some of them,” noted one observer with long experience of region.

Denunciations of Iran as the root of all evil by Trump, Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and UN ambassador Nikki Haley are simple minded to the point of idiocy. Haley responded to the Ahvaz massacre by telling the government to “look in the mirror”. Bolton last year promised the exiled Iranian opposition group, the very weird cult-like Mojahedin-e Khalq, that by 2019 they would be ruling Iran. This week he was saying that there would be “hell to pay” if Iran stood in the way of the US.

The blood-curdling rhetoric may be arrogant and puerile but should be taken seriously because it reflects the same attitude of mind that preceded past US interventions in the Middle East: the enemy is demonised and underestimated at the same time. There is credulity towards self-interested exiled groups who claimed that US intervention would be easy (Iraqi opposition groups were privately cynical in 2003 about how far they were misleading the Americans on this score). Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE have an interest in luring the US into fighting Iran, though they are not intending to do much fighting themselves. 

The twists and turns of US policy in the Middle East has in the past mystified knowledgeable observers who attribute bizarre actions by the White House to stupidity and ignorance of local conditions. But US policy was often more rational than it looked – so long as one understood that it was determined by American domestic politics and the main purpose was to persuade the US voter, particularly in the run up to important elections, that their president had not mired them in a bloody and unsuccessful war.

The reputation of every US President since the 1970s, with the exception of President George Bush senior, has been damaged to a greater or lesser degree by conflict in the Middle East or North Africa. There is Jimmy Carter (Iran), Ronald Reagan (Lebanon, Irangate), Bill Clinton (Somalia), George W Bush (Iraq, Afghanistan), Barack Obama (Syria, Libya). It would be surprising if Trump turns out to be an exception to the rule.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Is China-led Belt and Road Initiative Afraid of Competition?

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:55

Hardly a day goes by without some lies about Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) being concocted and disseminated by the empire’s propaganda arm, also known as corporate media. In the first 2 or 3 years after BRI was launched, western press and politicians fabricated the narrative that Beijing sought to export its excess production capacity and establish/widen its spheres of influence with the BRI. Since last year, accusations of China springing debt traps and neo-colonizing unsuspecting Third World nations have become the mantra of western corporate media. Lately, they are spinning tales of BRI unravelling and coming unglued.

As the lies and propaganda are exposed for what they are and gaining little traction, the empire and its vassals from Japan and India to EU are ganging up to counter BRI with their own versions of New Silk Road.

The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor or AAGC proposed by Japan and India was unveiled with great fanfare by BRI-sceptic Modi last year. To date, there has not been any tangible sign of AAGC getting off the ground. It looks like AAGC is merely a publicity stunt to stroke the ego of India’s Modi and Japan’s Abe.

Last week, the US announced talks on a tie up between its Overseas Private Investment Corporation or OPIC and India’s counterpart. This came after the US Congress passed a bill to revamp and expand the funding cap of OPIC to $60 billion. The US had earlier entered into agreements with Japan and Australia on a partnership to take on China-led BRI. Japan International Cooperation Agency or JICA has a war chest of $110 billion and an annual budget of $12 billion. Australia has no equivalent development finance agency; AusAid administers some of the overseas assistance under $1 billion a year. India operates bilateral aid focused on South Asia through the Development Partnership Cooperation with a yearly budget below $2 billion. In fact, India receives much more foreign aid and international project financing than it gives to its South Asian neighbours. All told, the four countries or QUAD have way shallower pockets (under $200 billion, with JICA’s interest in infrastructures being peripheral) than China’s commitment of at least $1 trillion to BRI.

After years of griping about BRI not being a level playing field for EU businesses, Brussels recently rolled out “Connectivity Strategy” linking Europe and Asia. The document is long on motherhood statements such as sustainability, environmental friendliness and labour rights – straight out of the empire’s lexicon – but woefully short on funding details. EU’s complaint about Chinese-funded projects not being open to public bidding is disingenuous and fatuous . Which country would lend tens of billions of dollars at concessionary rates and bear the risk of default, and then put the projects funded by it up for public tender? (The terms of such contracts are actually quite unfavorable compared with privatized build-operate-transfer concessions.) No one has stopped or prevented EU from doing the same!

All the concerns about sustainability and environmental friendliness are unfounded. First of all, Beijing is sincere and serious about building a Green Silk Road. For the record, China is the global leader in Green Finance. To date, the Chinese market has issued more than $30 billion in Green Bonds, the most in the world. Second, the use of gas in lieu of coal for power generation can’t be done in all cases, especially when there’s no gas supply at reasonable prices and there is an acute shortage of power. That’s the case in Mindanao Island in the Philippines and in Pakistan. To insist on gas-powered plants in such circumstances is like asking a person trapped in a famine to have a balanced diet and not to eat high-carbs food that’s available, but go hungry (and die!) until meat and vegetables arrive. Third, to put its money where its mouth is, China is building and funding the world’s largest solar farm in a desert in Pakistan that can generate 1,000 Megawatts of power enough for 320,000 households. The project forms part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC for short.

The zero-sum mentality of the empire and its vassals is in full display. Instead of joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or AIIB and participating in BRI to help develop trade and the economy in Eurasia – the US, Japan and India have opted to stay out, and now start their own schemes to counteract BRI.

China isn’t concerned or afraid of the competition. On the contrary, China welcomes it if that doesn’t morph into or turn out to be disruption or outright sabotage. The fact of the matter is Asia’s need for infrastructures and their financing are HUGE! The Japan-controlled Asian Development Bank or ADB published a report in February last year on the subject.

According to the ADB report, Developing Asia (developing countries in Asia ) excluding China has infrastructure needs of $13 trillion in the 15 years to 2030, or $870 BILLION PER YEAR. The infrastructure financing shortfall excluding China is more than half a trillion dollars EACH YEAR! In other words, AIIB’s $100 billion dollars in capital is no more than a drop in a big bucket. Even with China’s multi-year commitment of $1 trillion, the gaping hole is far from filled. Multilateral Development Assistance accounts for a paltry 2.5% of total infrastructure needs! The ADB counts on fiscal reforms in Developing Asia and private investors to bridge the yawning gulf . That’s akin to a new government or administration banking on the elusive or self-deceiving “savings through increased efficiency and waste elimination” to balance the budget!

In summary, the infrastructure needs in Asia are so massive that even the Chinese commitment of $1 trillion to BRI can scarcely meet. The zero-sum mentality of the Imperium to counter the BRI is therefore plain stupid and diabolical.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Between Socialism and Barbarism

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:53

On September 20, 2013, Vladimir Putin gave a speech at a Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in the Novgorod region that announced his new orientation to the far-right internationally:

Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.

The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote paedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.

I discovered this hair-raising speech in Anton Shekhovtsov’s “Russia and the Western Far-right: Tango Noir”, a carefully researched book that was published in August 2017 and that is must-reading for anybody trying to make sense of the deep divisions on the left about Russia’s role in world politics. Information about the book can be found on Shekhovtsov’s website alongside a blog that keeps up with the same kind of research. For example, a June 2018 post reveals that ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky hosted a conference in Moscow intended to connect like-minded Russians with groups like the National-Democratic Party (NDP) in Germany that is regarded as the country’s most significant neo-Nazi party since 1945.

Like every far-right party discussed in the book, the NDP is “pro-Palestinian”. For example, during the 2009 Israeli attack on Gaza, they organized a “holocaust vigil” for the Palestinians. As an indication of the tortured state of such politics, some German Jews, who are mostly Russian emigres, have joined the neo-Nazi AfD because of its opposition to “Islamic terrorism”. When you keep in mind that Putin is best friends with Benjamin Netanyahu at the same time he is the most important ally of Bashar al-Assad, who has the reputation of being the Palestinian’s most reliable defender, you can see how tangled things can become.

Shekhovtsov begins his analysis with an examination of some obscure figures on the far-right in the USA and France who championed Russia during the Cold War as outliers anticipating more recent overtures. While they never became leaders of a mass movement, their ideas have undoubtedly been studied by men like David Duke and Richard Spencer who are avid supporters of Russia today.

Francis Parker Yockey was the first ideologue to propose an alliance between the far-right and Russia during the Cold War, going against the grain of the John Birch Society and other traditionally reactionary groups. Yockey defined his ideas in “Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics” that was published in 1948. Essentially, Yockey advocated a Eurasianism that has gained currency once again in the writings of Alexander Dugin and other far-right ideologues in Russia. Like the Birchers, Yockey was hostile to Bolshevism but saw it as a political philosophy at odds with the Russian soul. His dream was a new Europe extending from London to Moscow that broke with the new American hegemon and that would be based on neo-fascism. To begin spreading his gospel, he met with Oswald Mosley who was thinking along the same lines. No longer a “British Firster”, Mosley had developed a pan-Europeanist program in a book titled “The Alternative”.

Yockey created a group called the European Liberation Front (ELF) that considered the possibility of forming guerrilla groups in West Germany that would collaborate with the Soviet military against the American occupation. One scholar believed that the ELF was being financed in part by the USSR. In the ELF Manifesto, Yockey blamed the “Asiatic elements” and Jews in Russia that were an obstacle to it being the leader of a reborn fascist Europe. When the show trial dramatized by Costa-Gravas in “The Confession” was held in Czechoslovakia in 1952 against mostly Jewish CP members, including Rudolf Slansky, Yockey was ecstatic since he saw this as proof that Russia was finally purging its Jewish-Bolshevik elements. Like many of Putin’s supporters on the left, Yockey became an ardent advocate of Third World liberation struggles. Shortly before his death in 1960, he went to Cuba to try to set up a meeting with Castro.

His pro-Soviet positions were embraced by other fascists. The National Renaissance Party (NRP) was sympathetic to Russia as well. Like Yockey, they argued that since the Kremlin was against the Jews, it couldn’t be all bad. James Madole, the founder of the NRP and a figure just as obscure as Yockey, developed close ties to the Soviet consulate in New York and even tried to convince the press officer about how such a neo-Nazi group could be a solid ally in a war against the Jews.

More concerned about Yockey’s overtures to the Kremlin and Fidel Castro than to someone like Mosley, the FBI arrested him in 1960. While in custody, he ended his life by taking a cyanide pill.

Clearly, men like Yockey and Madole were insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Despite the brief periods during the Weimar Republic when a misbegotten CP flirted with the Freikorps, and later when the USSR and Nazi Germany were bound to another by a non-aggression pact, the Kremlin saw the far-right as its enemy.

It was only in the post-Yeltsin era that such bridges began being built between Russia and the far-right. It is important to understand, however, that Shekhovtsov does not see Putin as orchestrating their construction from above. Largely, it has been the result of nominally independent economic and political players in Russia taking their own initiatives—but inspired by the Kremlin’s foreign policy—that is at work. This gives Putin a certain degree of plausible deniability in the way that some analysts described Reagan’s role in Iran-Contra.

Russia understood that parties such as the National Front in France, Jobbik in Hungary, the Lega Nord in Italy, UKIP in England, and others less well-known could be brought around. They saw Putin first and foremost as a supporter of “traditional family values” as indicated in the speech above as well as an adversary of the European Union, whose liberal immigration norms were hated as much as they are by Donald Trump. It was not just the open borders of the EU that enabled Polish workers to work for lower wages in England that had to go. It was also the willingness of countries such as Germany and Sweden to take in refugees. A hatred of Muslims was already gestating in Europe when the arrival of tens of thousands fleeing the war in Syria fueled the growth of AfD and the mistitled Sweden Democrats.

In addition, the far-right was eager to take Russia’s side in its periodic wars with upstart former Soviet republics such as Georgia, Ukraine and Chechnya. If “colored revolutions” were a plot orchestrated by the Jew George Soros, why wouldn’t you support Russia?

A large part of Russia’s campaign to win friends and influence people on the far-right entails its ambitious media outreach that is practically synonymous with Russia Today. The network was renamed RT in order to disassociate it from the kind of vertical organization extending down from the Kremlin alluded to above. In chapter five of Shekhovtsov’s “Russia and the Western Far-right: Tango Noir”, there are some startling revelations on RT’s unbridled rightwing politics despite the good reputation it enjoys among some leftists.

Early on, RT executives figured out that “Russia is good” programming would not work in the West but if you mixed “Russia is good” with “The West is Bad”, you might have a winning formula. This is commonly known as “whataboutism” and has a certain viability since it is based on the obvious reality that the West is pretty damned bad. If Assad is blowing up Syrian hospitals, then you can always feature news about Saudi Arabia doing the same thing in Yemen. (Not that you can get any news about Russian jets bombing hospitals in Idlib.)

RT has a large following in the West because its programming is laced with conspiracy theories that went viral with the advent of the Internet. You can find a plethora of reports on 9/11 being an inside job. For example, Aymeric Chauprade, a leader of the National Front in France, appeared on an RT show titled “9/11: Challenging the Official Version”. He was identified as a “dissident voice in the French academic world” as if he were the French Noam Chomsky.

Another frequent RT guest was Lyndon LaRouche who became a diehard supporter of Vladimir Putin after being released from prison in 1994. In every single act of defiance by a former Soviet Republic, LaRouche could be counted upon to reduce it to a CIA plot. Another reliable booster of Russia’s need to defend its borders was Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the Freedom Party in Austria that is nativist to the core and emphatically opposed to sanctions against Russia. The fascist party works closely with the Lega Nord in Italy and has helped to form a coalition of the far-right in 2014 named the Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom. Without overstating the case, it might be described as the kernel of a fascist international.

Despite the presence of many well-known leftists as hosts or interviewees on RT, its coverage of certain litmus test events place it firmly in Fox TV territory. When an immigrant was killed by the cops in May 2013, riots broke out in Stockholm, Sweden. They were seen by RT as a symptom of the EU’s failure. Out of 7 people interviewed on a show titled “They Don’t Want to Integrate”, four belonged to racist and far-right circles, including a Sweden Democrats member of parliament.

For his expertise on Libya and Syria, RT turned to Richard Spencer, the fascist who became an instant celebrity after a YouTube video showed him being punched in the face by an anti-fascist. Another expert is Marine Le Pen, who is on RT almost as much as Michael Moore is on MSNBC. One of the more appalling revelations in this chapter is this:

The introductions of far-right commentators in the Russian media were sometimes overtly impudent. This was the case, for example, of Jobbik’s Marton Gyongyosi who, in 2012. urged the Hungarian government to draw up lists of Jews who posed a “national security risk”. In an introduction to the interview with him in Komsomol’skaya Pravda, the female journalist described Gyongyosi as an “elegant, handsome 37-year old man” a “way-up and sophisticated … ardent patriot of Hungary” who “could not care less” that “he had been called an anti-Semite and a neo-Nazi”. The journalist of Komsomol’skaya Pravda, which earlier reported on anti-Semitic activities of Jobbik, apparently needed this whitewashing and distracting introduction to play down Gyongyosi’s anti-Semitism and lend credibility to his words that the EU was a colony of the United States and that the CIA, the US State Department, George Soros and European politicians had allegedly orchestrated the Ukrainian protests.

Despite my admiration for Shekhovtsov’s “Russia and the Western Far-right: Tango Noir” being unbounded, I must state that I have different ideas on the origins of the Russia/Far-right alliance and how it can be opposed. I doubt that he would object to me describing him as coming at these questions in the same way as Ann Applebaum and Timothy Snyder, who regard Putin, Le Pen, Orban, Salvini, et al as enemies of democracy and Western values. I have a different take.

In my view, unless you factor in the economic consequences of the Western System, for the lack of a better term, you will fail to understand why people are turning to the right. While it is true that reporters are not being murdered in London or New York for writing articles critical of the government, the freedom they enjoy is joined at the hip to the freedom of the marketplace. Nativism is growing apace because unemployment is also growing apace. Runaway shops leave people destitute and hungry. Last week the NY Times reported that schoolchildren are going hungry because of cutbacks). One teacher was shocked to see one of her students sifting through trash cans for discarded fruit. When you turn back the clock to the days of Charles Dickens, people do desperate things—including voting for Brexit, a rightwing move that is motivated to a large extent by resentment toward immigrants.

While it is true that we need political democracy, it is just as true that we need economic democracy. Without a decent job that pays enough to pay for housing, food and medical care, people resort to desperate measures, including following a rightwing demagogue who promises the world while practically stealing the bread from their table. That is what we are dealing with now in the Trump regime. To put an end to Trumpism, Putinism, Modism, and Erdoganism, we need a movement that moves on all fronts, from human rights to democratic rights. As Rosa Luxemburg once put it, the choice is between socialism and barbarism.

Categories: News for progressives

Kavanaugh is the Wong Nominee

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:48

The Kavanaugh confirmation process has been a missed opportunity for the United States to face up to many urgent issues on which the bi-partisans in Washington, DC are united and wrong.

Kavanaugh’s career as a Republican legal operative and judge supporting the power of corporations, the security state and abusive foreign policy should have been put on trial. The hearings could have provided an opportunity to confront the security state, use of torture, mass spying and the domination of money in politics and oligarchy as he has had an important role in each of these.

Kavanaugh’s behavior as a teenager who likely drank too much and was inappropriately aggressive and abusive with women, perhaps even attempting rape, must also be confronted. In an era where patriarchy and mistreatment of women are being challenged, Kavanaugh is the wrong nominee for this important time. However, sexual assault  should not be a distraction that keeps the public’s focus off other issues raised by his career as a conservative political activist.

The Security State, Mass Spying and Torture

A central issue of our era is the US security state — mass spying on emails, Internet activity, texts and phone calls. Judge Kavanough enabled invasive spying on everyone in the United States. He described mass surveillance as “entirely consistent” with the US Constitution. This manipulation of the law turns the Constitution upside down a it clearly requires probable cause and a search warrant for the government to conduct searches.

Kavanaugh explained in a decision, “national security . . . outweighs the impact on privacy occasioned by this [NSA] program.” This low regard for protecting individual privacy should have been enough for a majority of the Senate to say this nominee is inappropriate for the court.

Kavanaugh ruled multiple times that police have the power to search people, emphasizing “reasonableness” as the standard for searching people. He ruled broadly for the police in searches conducted on the street without a warrant and for broader use of drug testing of federal employees. Kavanaugh applauded Justice Rehnquist’s views on the Fourth Amendment, which favored police searches by defining probable cause in a flexible way and creating a broad exception for when the government has “special needs” to search without a warrant or probable cause. In this era of police abuse through stop and frisk, jump out squads and searches when driving (or walking or running) while black, Kavanaugh is the wrong nominee and should be disqualified.

Kavanaugh also played a role in the Bush torture policy. Torture is against US and international law, certainly facilitating torture should be disqualifying not only as a justice but should result in disbarment as a lawyer. Kavanaugh was appointed by President Trump, who once vowed he would “bring back waterboarding and … a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Minimizing torture is demonstrated in his rulings, e.g. not protecting prisoners at risk of torture and not allowing people to sue the government on allegations of torture.

Torture is a landmine in the Senate, so Kavanaugh misled the Senate likely committing perjury on torture. In his 2006 confirmation, he said he was “not involved” in “questions about the rules governing detention of combatants.” Tens of thousands of documents have been kept secret by the White House about Kavanaugh from the Bush era. Even so, during these confirmation hearings documents related to the nomination of a lawyer involved in the torture program showed Kavanaugh’s role in torture policies leading Senator Dick Durbin to write: “It is clear now that not only did Judge Kavanaugh mislead me when it came to his involvement in the Bush Administration’s detention and interrogation policies, but also regarding his role in the controversial Haynes nomination.” 

Durbin spoke more broadly about perjury writing: “This is a theme that we see emerge with Judge Kavanaugh time and time again – he says one thing under oath, and then the documents tell a different story.  It is no wonder the White House and Senate Republicans are rushing through this nomination and hiding much of Judge Kavanaugh’s record—the questions about this nominee’s credibility are growing every day.” The long list of perjury allegations should be investigated and if proven should result in him not being confirmed.

This should have been enough to stop the process until documents were released to reveal Kavanaugh’s role as Associate White House Counsel under George Bush from 2001 to 2003 and as his White House Staff Secretary from 2003 to 2006. Unfortunately, Democrats have been complicit in allowing torture as well, e.g. the Obama administration never prosecuted anyone accused of torture and advanced the careers of people involved in torture.

Shouldn’t  the risk of having a torture facilitator on the Supreme Court be enough to stop this nomination?

Corporate Power vs Protecting People and the Planet

In this era of corporate power, Kavanaugh sides with the corporations. Ralph Nader describes him as a corporation masquerading as a judge.  He narrowly limited the powers of federal agencies to curtail corporate power and to protect the interests of the people and planet.

This is evident in cases where Kavanaugh has favored reducing restrictions on polluting corporations. He dissented in cases where the majority ruled in favor of environmental protection but has never dissented where the majority ruled against protecting the environment. He ruled against agencies seeking to protect clean air and water. If Kavanaugh is on the court, it will be much harder to hold corporations responsible for the damage they have done to the climate, the environment or health.

Kavanaugh takes the side of businesses over their workers with a consistent history of anti-union and anti-labor rulings. A few examples of many, he ruled in favor of the Trump Organization throwing out the results of a union election, sided with the management of Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian CasinoResort upholding the casino’s First Amendment right to summon police against workers engaged in a peaceful demonstration — for which they had a permit, affirmed the Department of Defense’s discretion to negate the collective bargaining rights of employees, and overturned an NLRB ruling that allowed Verizon workers to display pro-union signs on company property despite having given up the right to picket in their collective bargaining agreement. In this time of labor unrest and mistreatment of workers, Kavanaugh will be a detriment to workers rights.

Kavanough opposed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling in favor of net neutrality, which forbids telecom companies from discrimination on the Internet. He argued net neutrality violated the First Amendment rights of Internet Service Providers (ISP) and was beyond the power granted to the FCC. He put the rights of big corporations ahead of the people having a free and open Internet. The idea that an ISP has a right to control what it allows on the Internet could give corporations great control over what people see on the Internet. It is a very dangerous line of reasoning in this era of corporations curtailing news that challenges the mainstream narrative.

In 2016, Kavanaugh was asked if he believed that money spent during campaigns represents speech, and is protected by the First Amendment and answered: “Absolutely.”  Kavanaugh joined in decisions and wrote opinions consistent with efforts to oppose  any attempt by Congress or the Federal Elections Commission to restrict campaign contributions or expenditures. His view that free speech allows unrestricted money in elections will add to the avalanche of big money politics. Wealthy elites and big corporations will have even greater influence with Kavanaugh on the court.

Kavanaugh will be friendly to powerful business and the interests of the wealthy on the Supreme Court, and will tend to stand in the way of efforts by administrative agencies to regulate them and by people seeking greater rights.

Women’s Rights, Abortion and Sexual Assault

Judge Kavanaugh has not ruled on Roe v. Wade and whether the constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion. In 2017, Kavanaugh gave a Constitution Day lecture to the conservative American Enterprise Institute where he praised Justice Rehnquist and one of the cases he focused on was his dissent in Roe. Rehnquist opposed making abortion constitutionally protected, writing, it was not “rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people.”  Shortly after that speech, Kavanaugh wrote a dissent that argued an immigrant minor in government detention did not have a right to obtain an abortion.

On the third day of his confirmation hearings, Judge Brett Kavanaugh seemed to refer to the use of contraception as “abortion-inducing drugs.” It was a discussion of a case where Kavanaugh dissented from the majority involving the Priests for Life’s challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Kavanaugh opposed the requirement that all health plans cover birth control, claiming that IUDs and emergency contraception were an infringement of their free exercise of religion.

Kavanaugh clerked for Judge Kosinski who he describes as a mentor. Kosinski was forced to resign after being accused of harassing at least 12 women in the sanctity of his judicial chambers. Kavanaugh swears he never saw any signs that the judge was sexually harassing women, but the Democrats did not ask a single question about it.

Multiple accusers have come forward to allege Kavanaugh’s involvement in sexual assault and abuse. While Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is viewed as credible – she was the only witness allowed to testify – it is not clear these allegations will be thoroughly reviewed. After being approved by the committee, the Republican leadership and President Trump agreed on a limited FBI investigation. It is unclear whether the FBI will be allowed to follow all the evidence and question all the witnesses. As we write this newsletter, the outcome has yet to unfold but Jeffrey St. Clair at Countpunch points out, “the FBI investigation will be overseen by director Christopher Wray, who was two years behind Brett-boy at both Yale and Yale Law. After graduation, they entered the same rightwing political orbit and both took jobs in the Bush Administration. How do you think it’s going to turn out?”

Why don’t Democrats, as Ralph Nader suggests, hold their own hearing and question all the witnesses? If there is corroborating evidence for the accusers, Kavanaugh should not be approved.

A Republican Political Operative As A Justice?

Kavanaugh has been a legal operative for the Republican Party involved in many high profile partisan legal battles. He spent three years working for Ken Starr on the impeachment of Bill Clinton where he pressed Starr to ask Clinton sexually graphic details about his relationship with Monica Lewinisky. He tried to expand the Starr investigation into the death of Vince Foster, whose death had been ruled a suicide. He was a lead author of the infamous Starr Report—widely criticized as “strain[ing] credulity” and being based on “shaky allegations.”

Kavanaugh was one of George W. Bush’s lawyers in the litigation after the election in 2000, which sought to block a recount of ballots in Florida, resulting in a decision that handed the presidential election to Bush. In the Bush administration, he was involved in pushing for conservative judges as well as controversial policies like torture.

During his confirmation process, in response to the accusations of assault, he claimed they were “a calculated and orchestrated political hit” and “revenge on behalf of the Clinton’s.” He demonstrated partisan anger and displayed a lack of judicial temperament, making him unfit to serve on the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh exposes the true partisan nature of the highest court, which is not a neutral arbiter but another battleground for partisan politics. The lack of debate on issues of spying, torture and more shows both parties support a court that protects the security state and corporate interests over people and planet. Accusations of sexual assault must be confronted, but there are many reasons Kavanaugh should not be on the court. The confirmation process undermines the court’s legitimacy and highlights bi-partisan corruption.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Stronger Drug Patents in New NAFTA To Cost U.S. Manufacturing Workers Jobs

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:46

The new trade agreement with Canada that the Trump administration announced yesterday has rules on drugs patents and related protections which are likely to cost the jobs of U.S. manufacturing workers. The deal includes a number of provisions that are explicitly designed to raise drug prices in Canada.

These provisions include a requirement of a period of ten years of marketing exclusivity for biotech drugs before a biosimilar is allowed to enter the market. The deal also requires Canada to grant a period of exclusivity for existing drugs when new uses are developed. In addition, it requires that the period of patent monopoly be extended beyond 20 years when there have been “unreasonable” delays in the granting of the patent.

The intended purpose of these provisions is clearly to make Canada pay more money to U.S. drug companies. Insofar as it acheives this result, it will mean that the United States has a larger surplus on intellectual products. That would imply a larger trade deficit in manufactured goods, and therefore less employment in U.S. manufacturing.

A basic accounting identity in economics is that the overall U.S. trade deficit is equal to the gap between domestic savings and domestic investment. This identity means that if this domestic balance is not changed, the overall trade deficit is not changed.

When the U.S. economy is below its potential level of output, a lower trade deficit can lead to more employment and income, which typically also leads to more domestic savings. However, economists typically analyze trade as though the economy is always at or near its potential level of output. If this is the case, the trade deficit is fixed by the balance of domestic investment and savings. In that case, if the trade surplus rises in one area, like intellectual products, then the trade deficit must rise to offset this increase in other areas, like manufactured goods.

The mechanism through which this would occur is, other things equal, more licensing payments to Pfizer, Merck, and other U.S. companies for their drugs will mean a rise in the value of the U.S. dollar against the Canadian dollar. If the U.S. dollar increases in price relative to Canada’s dollar, it makes goods and services produced in the United States relatively less competitive, leading to a larger trade deficit in areas other than prescription drugs.

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

Categories: News for progressives

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is a Conlapayara Woman

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:43

Only a heartless person could not be moved by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate judiciary committee. And only a biased one could not see that the testimony of Judge Brett Kavanaugh was trying to replace fire for truth. His refusal to unequivocally say that he would welcome an FBI investigation of the incident involving him and Dr. Ford was a weak point in his own defense.

Dr. Ford’s testimony was poised, pained, and ringing of civic responsibility, while Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony was loud and vigorous, just what the audience of Republican senators wanted to hear. On Saturday, Judge Kavanaugh received the “blessing” of President Donald Trump, who said that Brett Kavanaugh would be a “truly great” justice.

The hearing evolved in a different way than expected, and the FBI investigation may clear matters definitely. It is Senator Jeff Flake’s merit who, unlike his colleagues in the Senate, had the minimum amount of decency to ask for an investigation of the incident.

Impressive as it was, Dr. Ford’s behavior has an unusual precedent. In his book entitled Genesis, the late Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano narrates how in 1542 Francisco the Orellana, a close friend and possibly even a relative of Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador of Peru, fought the inhabitants of Conlapayara.

Going down the Amazon with his men, de Orellana reached the village of Conlapayara. On St. John’s Day, with bursts of arquebus and crossbow from their brigantines, de Orellana’s men killed the villagers coming from shore. Things were going well for the Spaniards.

They hadn’t considered, however, the possibility that the women from the village were going to join the battle. The women appeared suddenly, and placing themselves in front of the men, fought fiercely. Women of great attractiveness and charm, they fought courageously, never getting tired.

The Spaniards had heard of such women, but only now, in the heat of battle, they realized that they existed. They lived to the south, in dominions without men. They fought the Spaniards laughing and dancing and singing, their breast quivering in the breeze. They chased them away until the Spaniards got lost beyond the mouth of the Tapajós River. They were exhausted and astonished by what they had experienced.

The invaders kept sailing the river until they reached the sea without pilot or compass or chart. “They just let themselves drift down the Amazon River, through the jungle, without the energy to row, and mumbling prayers: They pray to God to make the next enemies male, however many they may be,” wrote Galeano.

While giving her testimony in front of the judiciary committee of the Senate, Dr. Ford met the distrustful look of all senators, with the unique exception of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who seemed genuinely troubled by her words. After both testimonies were presented, and Senator Flake asked for a one-week investigation by the FBI before casting his vote, all senators rushed back to their chambers, in disbelief of the day’s proceedings.

Even President Donald Trump, a man who is not known to be sympathetic to victims of any kind, least of all of sexual violence, called Dr. Ford’s testimony “compelling”. Dr. Ford showed tremendous courage, decency and a rare sense of civic duty. She proved to be a true woman of Conlapayara.

 

Categories: News for progressives

17 Years of Getting Afghanistan Completely Wrong

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:32

We expect 17-year-olds to have learned a great deal starting from infancy, and yet full-grown adults have proven incapable of knowing anything about Afghanistan during the course of 17 years of U.S.-NATO war. Despite war famously being the means of Americans learning geography, few can even identify Afghanistan on a map. What else have we failed to learn?

The war has not ended.

There are, as far as I know, no polls on the percentage of people in the United States who know that the war is still going on, but it seems to be pretty low. Polling Report lists no polls at all on Afghanistan in the past three years. For longer than most wars have lasted in total, this one has gone on with no public discussion of whether or not it should, just annual testimony before Congress that this next year is going to really be the charm. Things people don’t know are happening are not polled about, which contributes to nobody knowing they are happening.

Possible reasons for such ignorance include: there have been too many wars spawned by this one to keep track of them all; President Obama claimed to have “ended” the war while explicitly and actually not ending it, and pointing this out could be impolite; a war embraced by multiple presidents and both big political parties is not a useful topic for partisan politics; very few of the people suffering and dying are from the United States; very similar stories bore journalists and editors after 17 years of regurgitating them; when the war on Iraq became too unpopular in the United States, the war on Afghanistan was fashioned into a “good war” so that people could oppose one war while making clear their support for war in general, and it would be inconvenient to raise too many questions about the good war; it’s hard to tell the story of permanent imperial occupation without it sounding a little bit like permanent imperial occupation; and the only other story that could be developed would be the ending of the war — which nobody in power is proposing and which could raise the embarrassing question of why it wasn’t done 5, 10, or 17 years ago.

The war is not the longest U.S. war ever.

Among those who know the war exists, a group I take to include disproportionately those involved in fighting it and those trying to end it, a popular claim is that it is the longest U.S. war ever. But the United States has not formally declared a war since 1941. How one picks where a war starts and stops is controversial. There is certainly a strong case to be made that the never-ending war-sanctions/bombings-war assault on Iraq has been longer than the war on Afghanistan. There’s a stronger case that the U.S. war on Vietnam was also longer, depending on when you decide it began. The war on North (and South) Korea has yet to be ended, and ending it is the top demand of a united Korean people to their Western occupiers. The centuries-long war on the indigenous peoples of North America is generally ignored, I believe, principally because those people are not legally or politically thought of as actual real people but more as something resembling rodents. And yet it is important for us to recognize that none of the wars taught in U.S. school texts took even a tiny fraction of this length of time, and that even applying the same name (“war”) to (1) things that happened for limited and scheduled durations in empty fields between soldiers with primitive weapons *and* to (2) endless aerial and high-tech assaults on people’s towns and cities is questionable.

Military glory is to glory as military justice and military music are to justice and music.

For most of the duration of this war, participation in which is supposed to be called glorious, the top cause of death in the U.S. military has been suicide. What more powerful statement can someone make against glorifying what they have been engaged in than killing themselves? And sending more people off to kill and die in order not to disrespect the people who have already killed themselves, so that they not have killed themselves “in vain,” is the definition of insanity squared — it’s insanity gone insane. That it may be common sense doesn’t change that; it just gives us the task of causing our society to go sane.

Benjamin Franklin is still right: There has never been a good war.

When it became convenient for politicians and others to present Afghanistan as “the good war,” many began to imagine that whatever had been done wrong in Iraq had been done right in Afghanistan: the war had been U.N. authorized, civilians had not been targeted, nobody had been tortured, the occupation had been wisely planned; the war had been and was just and necessary and unavoidable and humanitarian; in fact all the good war needed was more of what it was, while the bad war in Iraq needed less. None of these fantasies was true. Each was and is blatantly false.

“They started it” is always a lie, because it’s always used to start something.

Most everyone supposes that the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and has stayed there ever since as a series of “last resorts,” even though the Taliban repeatedly offered to turn bin Laden over to a third country to stand trial, al Qaeda has had no significant presence in Afghanistan for most of the duration of the war, and withdrawal has been an option at any time. The United States, for three years prior to September 11, 2001, had been asking the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden. The Taliban had asked for evidence of his guilt of any crimes and a commitment to try him in a neutral third country without the death penalty. Those don’t seem like unreasonable demands. At the very least they don’t seem irrational or crazy. They seem like the demands of someone with whom negotiations might be continued. The Taliban also warned the United States that bin Laden was planning an attack on U.S. soil (this according to the BBC). Former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Niaz Naik told the BBC that senior U.S. officials told him at a U.N.-sponsored summit in Berlin in July 2001 that the United States would take action against the Taliban in mid-October. He said it was doubtful that surrendering bin Laden would change those plans. When the United States attacked Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the Taliban asked to negotiate handing over bin Laden to a third country to be tried, dropping the demand to see any evidence of guilt. The United States rejected the offer and continued a war in Afghanistan for many years, not halting it when bin Laden was believed to have left that country, and not even halting it after announcing bin Laden’s death. Perhaps there were other reasons to keep the war going for a dozen years, but clearly the reason to begin it was not that no other means of resolving the dispute were available. Punishing a government that was willing to turn over an accused criminal, by spending 17 years bombing and killing that nation’s people (most of whom had never heard of the attacks of September 11, 2001, much less supported them, and most of whom hated the Taliban) doesn’t appear to be a significantly more civilized action than shooting a neighbor because his great-uncle stole your grandfather’s pig.

Tony Blair has a lot to answer for.

Blame is, contrary to popular opinion, not a finite quantity. I don’t deny an ounce of it to Bush or Cheney or every single member of the U.S. Congress except Barbara Lee, or just about every employee and owner of U.S. corporate media, or numerous profiteers and weapons dealers and death marketers of all variety. I blame history teachers, military recruiters, NATO, every member of NATO, the UN Security Council, the people who designed the UN Security Council, priests and preachers, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Hillary Clinton, Steven Spielberg, Thomas Jefferson, Wolf Blitzer, flag manufacturers, any neighbor of Paul Wolfowitz who didn’t give him a talking to, and — I’m confident in saying — a lot more people than you blame. I don’t exclude them and I am not right now ranking them. But I would like permission to point out that Tony Blair belongs in this list and not on some panel discussing the principles of liberal humanitarian slaughter. Blair was willing to go along with Bush’s attack on Iraq if Bush attacked Afghanistan first. Attacking a country because it would make marketing an attack on another country easier is a particularly slimy thing to do.

Afghanistan is Obama’s war.

Barack Obama campaigned on escalating the war on Afghanistan. His supporters either agreed with that, avoided knowing it, or told themselves that in their hero’s heart of hearts he secretly opposed it — which was apparently sufficient compensation for many when he went ahead and did it. He tripled the U.S. forces and escalated the bombings and creating a campaign of drone murder. By every measure — death, destruction, financial expense, troop deployment — the war on Afghanistan is more Obama’s war than anyone else’s.

Trump lied.

Candidate Trump said: “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghans we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.”

President Trump escalated and continued the war, albeit at a much smaller scale than Obama had. And he had lied about the amount of money being spent. The notion that it could all be spent on useful things in the United States either underestimates the amount of money or overestimates U.S. greed and powers of imagination. This amount of money is so vast that one would almost certainly have to spend it on more than one country if spending it on useful human and environmental needs.

The people in charge of the war don’t believe in it any more than the troops they order around.

The view that further war, in particular with drones, is counterproductive on its own terms is shared by:

U.S. Lt. General Michael Flynn, who quit as head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in August 2014: “The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just… fuels the conflict.”
Former CIA Bin Laden Unit Chief Michael Scheuer, who says the more the United States fights terrorism the more it creates terrorism.
The CIA, which finds its own drone program “counterproductive.”
Admiral Dennis Blair, the former director of National Intelligence: While “drone attacks did help reduce the Qaeda leadership in Pakistan,” he wrote, “they also increased hatred of America.”
Gen. James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “We’re seeing that blowback. If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”
Sherard Cowper-Coles, Former U.K. Special Representative To Afghanistan: “For every dead Pashtun warrior, there will be 10 pledged to revenge.”
Matthew Hoh, Former Marine Officer (Iraq), Former US Embassy Officer (Iraq and Afghanistan): “I believe it’s [the escalation of the war/military action] only going to fuel the insurgency. It’s only going to reinforce claims by our enemies that we are an occupying power, because we are an occupying power. And that will only fuel the insurgency. And that will only cause more people to fight us or those fighting us already to continue to fight us.” — Interview with PBS on Oct 29, 2009
General Stanley McChrystal: “For every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.”
— Lt. Col. John W. Nicholson Jr.: This commander of the war who left that position last month, like most of the people above, pulled “an Eisenhower” and blurted out his opposition to what he’d been doing on his last day of doing it. The war should be ended, he said.

The Afghans have not benefitted

It’s much desired in the United States to imagine that wars benefit the people bombed, and then to lament and point to their ignorant inability to feel grateful as a sign that they are in need of more bombing. In reality, this war has taken a deeply troubled and impoverished country and made it 100 times worse, killing hundreds of thousands of people in the process, creating a refugee crisis being addressed courageously by Pakistan, and helping to destabilize half the globe.

The purposes have not been admirable.

Invading Afghanistan had little or nothing to do with bin Laden or 9-11. The motivations in 2001 were in fact related to fossil fuel pipelines, the positioning of weaponry, political posturing, geo-political posturing, maneuvering toward an invasion of Iraq, patriotic cover for power grabs and unpopular policies at home, and profiteering from war and its expected spoils. These are all either indefensible arguments or points that might have been negotiated or accomplished without bombs. During the course of the war its proponents have often been quite open about its actual purpose.

Permanent bases make war permanent and do not bring peace.

They just cut the ribbon for new construction at Camp Resolute Support. Can a ground breaking at Fort Over My Dead Body be far behind. It’s important that we understand that permanent peace-bringing bases are neither.

The U.S. has no responsibility to do something before it gets the hell out.

After the United States gets out, Afghanistan will continue to be one of the worst places on earth. It will be even worse, the longer the departure is delayed. Getting out is the principle responsibility. The United States has no responsibility to do anything else first, such as negotiating the future of the Afghan people with some of their war lords. If I break into your house and kill your family and smash your furniture, I don’t have a moral duty to spend the night and meet with a local gang to decide your fate. I have a moral and legal responsibility to get out of your house and turn myself in at the nearest police station.

The ICC is teasing, but what if it starts to enjoy the teasing?

The international criminal court has never prosecuted a non-African, but has claimed for years to be investigating U.S. crimes in Afghanistan. What if people began encouraging it to do its job. Not that I would suggest such a thing.

International Criminal Court
Post Office Box 19519
2500 CM The Hague
The Netherlands
otp.informationdesk@icc-cpi.int
Fax +31 70 515 8555

Too many wars is a reason to end them.

That there are too many wars to keep track of them all is a reason to end each one and to end the entire institution of war before it ends us, as it has spiraled far out of control.

The damage is unlimited.

The damage to Afghanistan is immeasurable. The natural environment has suffered severely. Cultures have been damaged. Children have been traumatized. U.S. culture has been poisoned and militarized and made more bigoted and paranoid. We’ve lost freedoms in the name of freedom. The financial tradeoff has been unfathomable. The complete case is overwhelming.

Peace is possible. Here’s one effort to “intervene.”

A letter you can sign.

Events you can attend.

Please support David Swanson’s work by donating at http://davidswanson.org/donate or by check to David Swanson, PO Box 1484, Charlottesville, VA 22902.

Categories: News for progressives

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is a Conlapayara Woman

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:24

Only a heartless person could not be moved by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate judiciary committee. And only a biased one could not see that the testimony of Judge Brett Kavanaugh was trying to replace fire for truth. His refusal to unequivocally say that he would welcome an FBI investigation of the incident involving him and Dr. Ford was a weak point in his own defense.

Dr. Ford’s testimony was poised, pained, and ringing of civic responsibility, while Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony was loud and vigorous, just what the audience of Republican senators wanted to hear. On Saturday, Judge Kavanaugh received the “blessing” of President Donald Trump, who said that Brett Kavanaugh would be a “truly great” justice.

The hearing evolved in a different way than expected, and the FBI investigation may clear matters definitely. It is Senator Jeff Flake’s merit who, unlike his colleagues in the Senate, had the minimum amount of decency to ask for an investigation of the incident.

Impressive as it was, Dr. Ford’s behavior has an unusual precedent. In his book entitled “Genesis”, the late Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano narrates how in 1542 Francisco the Orellana, a close friend and possibly even a relative of Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador of Peru, fought the inhabitants of Conlapayara.

Going down the Amazon with his men, de Orellana reached the village of Conlapayara. On St. John’s Day, with bursts of arquebus and crossbow from their brigantines, de Orellana’s men killed the villagers coming from shore. Things were going well for the Spaniards.

They hadn’t considered, however, the possibility that the women from the village were going to join the battle. The women appeared suddenly, and placing themselves in front of the men, fought fiercely. Women of great attractiveness and charm, they fought courageously, never getting tired.

The Spaniards had heard of such women, but only now, in the heat of battle, they realized that they existed. They lived to the south, in dominions without men. They fought the Spaniards laughing and dancing and singing, their breast quivering in the breeze. They chased them away until the Spaniards got lost beyond the mouth of the Tapajós River. They were exhausted and astonished by what they had experienced.

The invaders kept sailing the river until they reached the sea without pilot or compass or chart. “They just let themselves drift down the Amazon River, through the jungle, without the energy to row, and mumbling prayers: They pray to God to make the next enemies male, however many they may be,” wrote Galeano.

While giving her testimony in front of the judiciary committee of the Senate, Dr. Ford met the distrustful look of all senators, with the unique exception of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who seemed genuinely troubled by her words. After both testimonies were presented, and Senator Flake asked for a one-week investigation by the FBI before casting his vote, all senators rushed back to their chambers, in disbelief of the day’s proceedings.

Even President Donald Trump, a man who is not known to be sympathetic to victims of any kind, least of all of sexual violence, called Dr. Ford’s testimony “compelling”. Dr. Ford showed tremendous courage, decency and a rare sense of civic duty. She proved to be a true woman of Conlapayara.

Categories: News for progressives

Mad Scramble in DC

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:24

Senate panic in DC! How far will the FBI go, if they start interviewing enough individuals peripheral to the Kavanaugh posse?  It could be hard to say where exactly the net ends.  FBI not Trump ‘Friend’.  Will the beans spill, revealing the inbred historic extent and contours of upper-class immunity? Hope for it!  Just don’t count on it.

Despite Trump controlling the findings, will word get out how these scions of empire chronically cavorted with abandon and moved on to be shakers and movers?  How privilege begat (and begets) excess, and the pressure to conform to expectations laid upon them in return for privilege blows away limits to any sense of proportion or morality?  Not to mention having the ways and means to do so.

How many senators have mouldering schoolboy skeletons awakening, feel acts they thought dissipated by the abrasive winds of time, animating in zombie reincarnation?  Too many in positions of absolute power are long past their pull dates.

How many are wrangling the calculus of political expediency, dry cleaning their moral rectitude mantles, dusting off the finer points of class solidarity, and weighing that against the looming prospect of an avalanche of furious harpies sweeping them from power?  With a frosting of #MeToo lawsuits on top?  Set the spin doctors on high: hide, deny, minimize and obfuscate these sordid tales! “They are only women, and they always lie!”  It’s like a men’s group in tribal New Guinea, without the nose piercings.

Knowing some truth could come, the mad scramble must be on to negotiate safety net payoffs for their terminal acts of betrayal to the 99%, those ne’er-do-wells who missed the ivy league blessing.  Do you hear the chitinous skittering of roaches in the echoing marble halls of solemn aristocracy?  Whose lifetime salaries you pay!  Halls you paid for!  And who will be the fall guys (or gals), because you know, some sacrificial blood will be offered up in lieu of real change?

When Kavanaugh is sworn in, you will truly know your enemies by their names.  The ship of state will have keel-hauled you, (again) while they lounge on the flying bridge, sipping fine liquors, planning their next move.

Most ironic is the fact that Kavanaugh’s record already speaks for itself.  Not about sideline garden variety misogyny.  Torture, capitalistic fever dreams of hegemony, honesty vs. lies, women’s rights and equal human rights are what’s really on the line.

Vote them out?  Big deal.  There are more trained sociopathic minions waiting in the wings.

Be careful what you ask for. We are already experiencing a B-team in action.  See what happens if you call in more D-leaguers.

Your time would be better spent tuning up your pitchforks, folks.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Vietnam: North/South and the Party Line

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:23

Last July, Will Nguyen, a 32-year-old Vietnamese-American, was convicted of “causing public disorder” in a June 2018 demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) against controversial plans to create three Special Economic Zones (SEZs), and immediately deported.

SEZs are a popular means of attracting additional foreign direct investment (FDI) that offer land leases for up to 99 years, plus various financial and legal incentives to encourage businesses to invest.  As a result of perceived Chinese interest in these long-term projects, they have become a national bone of contention among Vietnamese who are concerned about encroachment on their country’s national sovereignty and were the target of early summer demonstrations in Hanoi and HCMC.

An essay Nguyen wrote earlier in the year for New Naratif entitled North/South offers some insights into his thoughts and actions.  He doesn’t waste any time getting down to business with this telling rhetorical salvo: I’ve always been into the idea of counterparts—’separate but equal’, to borrow the politically dangerous phrase.

The date of publication, 30 April, was probably not a coincidence. That is a national holiday in Viet Nam known interchangeably as Reunification, Victory, or Liberation Day.  It was the day that Saigon was liberated by the People’s Army of Viet Nam (PAVN) and National Liberation Front (NLF) forces.  In the Vietnamese diaspora, of which Nguyen is a second-generation member, the week of 30 April is known as Black April.

Toeing the Party Line

In this case, the party line is strict adherence to the US/overseas Vietnamese narrative and consensus.  Here are some choice excerpts from the essay (in italics) worthy of a counterpoint.

The 1954 Geneva Accords split Vietnam into directional counterparts once more—a communist north versus a democratic south—with nationwide elections set to unify the country in two years’ time.  Ho Chi Minh was predicted to win. Knowing this, Ngo Dinh Diem declared the formation of an independent southern republic that technically was not signatory to the Geneva Accords and thus un-beholden. The United States supported the non-communist South Vietnamese government, pouring in financial aid. The northern victory in the Vietnam War in 1975 unified the country once more, but different perspectives persist. Depending on who you talk to, 30 April 1975—the day the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong captured Saigon—is described either as a liberation or an invasion.

Well, yes and no.  What is it that Will Nguyen doesn’t understand about the part in bold?  Was it really simply a matter of agreeing to disagree?  Was it right that Ngô Đình Diệm did this, thereby making the 2nd Indochina War inevitable at a cost of nearly 4 million Vietnamese and 58,300 US lives, not to mention war legacies, most of which affect Viet Nam and its people, and retarding the nation’s development, to say the least?  Diệm did not do this single-handedly; he had some help from his benefactor within whose borders he was plucked from obscurity to be their boy in the southern part of what was supposed to be a temporarily divided Viet Nam.  His sponsor had provided the lion’s share of financial support for the last gasps of French colonialism and, against the advice of no less than Charles De Gaulle, picked up where the French left off.

When they met in May 1961, De Gaulle told John F. Kennedy the following: “You will find that intervention in this area will be an endless entanglement. Once a nation has been aroused, no foreign power, however strong, can impose its will upon it. You will discover this for yourselves. For even if you find local leaders who in their own interests are prepared to obey you, the people will not agree to it, and indeed do not want you. The ideology which you invoke will make no difference. Indeed, in the eyes of the masses it will become identified with your will to power. That is why the more you become involved out there against Communism, the more the Communists will appear as the champions of national independence, and the more support they will receive, if only from despair.”  De Gaulle later said that “Kennedy listened to me but events were to prove that I had failed to convince,” perhaps the understatement of the century for the US and Viet Nam.

Daddy (think Father Knows Best) didn’t want the national election to take place, an election that President Dwight D. Eisenhower himself said would have resulted in Ho Chi Minh becoming president of a unified Viet Nam.  Therefore, Viet Nam remained divided.  That is an indisputable historical truth not open to interpretation or spin.  In an era of peace, perhaps prosperity would have followed. At a bare minimum, about 4 million human beings, mostly Vietnamese, would have survived the 1960s and early 1970s and the nation’s cemeteries wouldn’t have so many graves with dates of death from those years.

While I know this sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard to the ears of loyal Republic of Viet Nam (RVN) supporters, young and old, Vietnamese, US and others, who are in denial about history, and while I know the truth can sometimes hurt, I can assure you that 30 April 1975 was and will always and forever be remembered as a joyous day of liberation by the vast majority of Vietnamese.  It’s only Black April in the refugee communities of the Vietnamese diaspora.

Here’s another observation that reveals the author’s true colors (think three horizontal red stripes on a yellow background):

Even so, it must be acknowledged that the war was a manifestation of North and South both wanting the best for the Vietnamese people while choosing drastically different paths. It would be unforgivably cynical to believe otherwise, to view either government as monolithic entities not made of Vietnamese individuals who loved their country. The root of the conflict stemmed from both sides competing to be the only good. Both the North and the South had causes they believed to be just—a fact which native and overseas Vietnamese have yet to fully accept.

Then color me cynical.  Guilty as charged. Unforgiven.  Did the RVN leadership, which chose to do the USA’s bidding as a Cold War client state and participate in the mistreatment, torture, and slaughter of its own people a la Vietnamese killing Vietnamese, really “want the best” for them?  Did they really want the best for those who were not one of them, “them” being Catholic, urban, and pro-US American?   Whose cause was just?  Which side’s actions caused the American War in Viet Nam?  Let’s stop giving the RVN, which owed its very existence, fleeting as it was, to the money, weapons, and arrogance of the US, a pass.  Let’s be honest.

On paper and in diplomatic circles, there is only one “true” Vietnam.  Although the Republic of Vietnam ceased to exist after 30 April 1975, it lives on in the hearts and minds of millions of Vietnamese who abhor communist totalitarianism. It lives on in its enforced absence within Vietnam’s national discourse.  A silent, de facto ban of the yellow flag with three red stripes, of any positive mention of the southern republic, of anything related to the former state is, in a way, perpetuating South Vietnam’s existence. And if history is any indication, the South remembers.

The RVN (“South Viet Nam”) “lives on in the hearts and minds of millions of Vietnamese” who hitched their collective cart to their US senior partner and willingly accepted their second-class status as yet another US client state, a bastard state, if you will, that was illegitimate from day one.  Let’s not whitewash history.

The RVN was an authoritarian regime run by a Saigon Catholic clique that had no virtually popular support outside of the metropolis.  And the “millions of Vietnamese who abhor communist totalitarianism” but held their noses under a brutal dictatorship that persecuted anti-war Buddhists and tortured and executed its political opponents?  A dictionary definition of hypocrisy.  The South will die with its remaining refugees, both internal and external. Besides, as mentioned, it wasn’t about “North” and “South” Viet Nam, a division that should have ended in 1956.

There is not a “silent, de facto ban of the yellow flag with three red stripes;” it is illegal to fly that flag just as it is illegal to do the same with the flag of Nazi Germany in the Federal Republic of Germany.  Freedom of speech does have its limits.  Think shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater or yelling “I’ve got a bomb!” on a passenger jet, to name a few.

Faux Democracy

To call the South “democratic” is disingenuous, at best.  It was a democracy on paper only, much like the country to which Will’s parents moved as refugees, the source of their suffering, as Linh Dinh, a fellow Vietnamese-American refugee, writer and poet, noted in his spot-on 2010 essay, House Slave Syndrome.

Again, this is part of the Việt kiều (VK: overseas Vietnamese)/US party line that he’s parroting from his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, et al., all on the losing side.  In fact, going farther back, some held the distinction of being on two losing sides, first that of the French colonialists and, later, the US Americans neocolonialists.  Their fate and punishment were to live the remainder of their lives as refugees and self-imposed exiles in an alien land.

Many of its original supporters were the “errand boys” (and girls) of whom national heroine and resistance fighter, Võ Thị Sáu, spoke before her execution in 1952.  The only reason “the modern Vietnamese nation-state existed as two separate entities” is because that is what the US government wanted and, while might doesn’t make right, it can sure help you get what you want whether or not it is just and whether or not you stand on the right side of history.

Ideology vs. Historical Truth

North/South?  Unfortunately, for many, the world is not that simple, not that cut-and-dried, and not that black and white.  Up is not down, cold is not hot, and evil is not good.  Reality is a rich and complex technicolor scene infused with every shade of every color of the rainbow.

Coming full circle to my original point about a binary thinking, some people prefer to inhabit a fantasy world of half-truths and outright lies in a vain effort to justify key components of their world view.  Call it the adult Santa Claus Syndrome.  Call it the power of ideology.  If you confront them with facts and historical truth, in this case, their reaction is anger, resistance and, at times, violence.

To call a spade a spade in the overseas Vietnamese community in the US has sometimes resulted in the bringers of truth being silenced by a bullet, not unlike during the ill-fated days of the artificial entity and faux democracy that was the Republic of Viet Nam, except now Vietnamese blood is being shed on US soil, as this ProPublica account of assassinations entitled Terror in Little Saigon: An old war comes to a new country details.

Sadly, Will’s Ivy League education wasn’t very useful in helping him understand this pivotal part of Vietnamese history.  (He has a BA in East Asian Studies from Yale University and recently completed a MA in Public Policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS, where he studied Vietnamese history, culture, and politics.)  It’s abundantly clear that he’s swallowed the US-centric and VK party line, hook, line, and sinker.  In fact, if deciphering historical truth were target shooting, his North/South essay is proof that Will Nguyen couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.

“Those Who Do Not Move, Do Not Notice Their Chains.”

My advice to Will Nguyen is this: read more, ask more questions, explore more history through the written word and those of its eyewitnesses.  Liberate yourself from the intellectual and emotional shackles of a mindset that is holding you prisoner.  Move so that you notice your chains, a reference to Rosa Luxemburg’s famous quote about false consciousness.  If you’re ever able to obtain a visa to return to your parent’s homeland, talk to more people beyond the narrow confines of your sociopolitical circle.

I can understand why your parents and grandparents believe and live this lie because that part of their lives is a cornerstone without which the entire story and therefore part of their existential raison d’être would shatter into a thousand pieces.  It explains, in part, who they are and why they ended up in the US and other countries.  It’s a justification, a rationale, a salve on the still raw pain of dislocation and inner upheaval.

If Humpty Dumpty – as world view and personal identity – were to have a great fall, I’m afraid it would be exceedingly difficult for all of the king’s horses and men to put him back together again, especially among older Việt kiều.  There are no excuses, however, for members of the younger generation.  If they are to move forward, they must think anew and act anew, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, who presided over a very different kind of war.

Will Nguyen tweeted on 27 July 2018, “I will never regret helping the Vietnamese people exercise #democracy …and I will continue to help #Vietnam develop for the rest of my life.”  For the time being, he will have to act on his savior complex from his home in Houston, TX, one of the nerve centers of the Vietnamese-American community and its ongoing resistance to the legitimate Viet Nam.  I’m confident that latter will continue to make significant progress on all levels without Will’s help.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Why Wilderness? It’s Irreplaceable

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:18

There is a lot being said about wilderness these days: some misrepresentations and a lot of confusion as to what wilderness is, legally and ecologically.

First, wilderness designation is the best land protection law our nation has. As one wildlands advocate stated decades ago: “Wilderness is nature in its original condition.”

Wilderness cannot be manufactured; it can only be protected. Just as the 300-square-mile Jonah Field exists where oil and gas occurs, so can wilderness be protected only where it occurs. And the Jackson region is blessed with incomparable wild lands in need of protection.

Some say a wilderness designation is tantamount to a “lockout.” Wilderness is not a lockout. Anyone can enter on foot, skis, canoe, kayak, horseback or wheelchair. Anyone can backpack and camp, and any license-holder can enter to hunt and fish. Licensed hunting camps are permitted in wilderness areas, and many allow livestock grazing.

What wilderness excludes is entry by mechanized transport and the commercial extraction of resources, the building of dams and roads, the flying of drones and the landing of aircraft. It allows whipsaws, but not chain saws. It welcomes footsteps and sweat, but not motorized conveniences.

Nor is wilderness a place to be raced through on mountain bikes. Instead, it’s a place to be experienced as it was before the invention of the wheel. It’s incredible to think that anyone capable of riding a mountain bike into a wilderness area would not be able to walk or ride a horse into the same landscape.

At most wilderness is a filter that asks nothing more of those seeking entry than to check mechanization at the trailhead. Wilderness designation protects the land’s “original conditions” while allowing human activities that leave no land-altering footprint.

Our wilderness areas help shape our quality of life by providing incomparable, year-round recreation opportunities. They help fuel today’s robust economy while also protecting our watersheds and wildlife.

Besides the obvious benefits to humans, wilderness provides our iconic wildlife with secure habitats and movement corridors at a time when globally the rate of wilderness loss is nearly double the rate of protection.

We have our wilderness areas and national parks because of the vision of Jackson Hole’s first conservationists. They understood the value of protecting what is best about this region: our public lands. Their foresight and determination has served us well, and continuing their legacy is clearly today’s best investment strategy.

Jackson Hole’s conservation work continues. We are now on the threshold of making the largest land management decision in decades: the destiny of the Palisades and Shoal Creek wilderness study areas.

These wilderness study areas came about as a result of the 1984 Wyoming Wilderness Act, which dedicated the Gros Ventre, Winegar Hole and Jedediah Smith wilderness areas. Although both county political parties and the full Teton County Commission wanted more wilderness dedicated, they could not convince our Congressional delegation. Consequently, a compromise was reached where it was agreed that these areas would be protected as WSAs, to be managed as wilderness until their fate could be determined at a later date. Now is that later date.

The Palisades connects the Tetons and the northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to the Wyoming and Salt River ranges, which in turn approach the High Uintas, which then line with the Colorado Rockies.

A Palisades Wilderness will allow wide-ranging species such as the lynx, wolverine, wolf and potentially the grizzly bear to reconnect with large portions of their historic range. It will benefit all our native wildlife and provide them with a better chance of thriving well into the future.

Likewise, the Shoal Creek Wilderness Study Area has high ecological value. It contains low-elevation habitats rare in many wilderness areas. It provides summer parturition and winter habit for elk, deer and moose, and contains documented migration corridors for our mule deer population. Wilderness designation for the Shoal Creek Wilderness Study Area will ensure that these critical habitats retain their highest wildlife values.

On Oct. 9 the Teton County Commission is tentatively set to take a position on the future of these lands. Will it recommend that the wilderness study areas be released for multiple use, such as roads, mechanized and motorized activities, logging and mineral development? Or will it recommend full wilderness protection?

Jackson Hole has a long and enviable history of land conservation; to suddenly express less then full support for wilderness would be an economic and ecological mistake with irreparable consequences. And so doing would be an affront to our conservation legacy.

The decision will put our community on record as either supporting wilderness, the best land protection option, or as giving up and turning these two great, in “original condition” land masses over to special interests for inevitable commercialization and degradation.

Jackson, which will it be: conservation or commercialization? When it comes to wilderness we can’t have it both ways.

Share your views with the commission at: commissioners@tetoncountywy.gov.

Franz Camenzind is a a documentary wildlife filmmaker of black rhinoceros, grizzly bears, giant pandas, condors and wolves, and he directed the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance for 13 years before retirement. He remains actively involved with environmental issues, serving on organizational boards and councils, and acting as a science advisor. 

This column originally appeared in the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Reflections on “Reflections From a Hashtag”

Mon, 2018-10-01 16:10

Photo Source Jeanne Menjoulet | CC BY 2.0

I was sexually harassed by one of my professors in graduate school. He was the director of the graduate program and was known to host parties at his apartment for the graduate students. I assumed, when he invited me to his apartment for “dinner,” that the “dinner” in question was such an event.

I was wrong. I was the only guest for what had clearly been conceived as a romantic dinner. There was filet mignon wrapped in bacon and an excellent cabernet. I was surprised to find myself the object of such attentions, but I wasn’t frightened, not at first, anyway. The professor in question, let’s call him Professor H (H for “harasser”), was only a few years older than I was. We were both young and unattached. Unfortunately, though I was flattered by his interest, I didn’t reciprocate it. I tried to communicate this to him in a way that would minimize his hurt and embarrassment. He was a hard man to put off though. The evening ended, I kid you not, with his literally chasing me around the dining table. He kept moving uncomfortably close to me and I kept moving away, around and around the dining table until, finally, he seemed to get the point.

When he realized, or appeared to realize, anyway, that I was not simply playing hard-to-get, he told me that he appreciated my honesty and that what was most important to him was that we continued to have a positive professional relationship. And we did continue to have a positive professional relationship, at least for the next couple of weeks. 

“Whew, dodged that bullet,” I thought to myself gratefully. 

But then, things changed. He suddenly became openly hostile toward me. He would publicly disparage everything I said, both in class and outside of it. He once spent an entire class arguing to the other students present that a remark I had made in relation to what is known in philosophy as personal identity theory demonstrated beyond all doubt that I was an irredeemable idiot. 

Professor H’s behavior toward me became increasingly hostile as the weeks passed. Finally, the lone tenured woman in the department approached me privately and explained that she knew what was going on. She had been a victim of Professor H herself. It was very important, she explained to me, that I complain to the chair of the department because Professor H was disparaging me to other faculty to such an extent that I was in danger of losing my funding. 

So I dutifully complained to the chair. I will never forget his first words.

“Oh, I am so sorry,” he said, “Professor H. has been warned about this.” 

By that time, I knew Professor H had a history. I just didn’t know how extensive it was. It seemed he used the graduate program as his personal dating pool. He’d started doing that, actually, even before he’d become the director of the graduate program. His behavior was so conspicuous that a group of graduate students had actually protested his appointment as director of the graduate program. 

“Oh, I am so sorry,” the chair said. “You don’t want to make a formal complaint against him, though,” he continued, “because that would hurt his career.” 

I’m not a vindictive person. It seemed to me that Professor H was not really evil, but simply incredibly emotionally immature. I didn’t want to hurt his career (though in retrospect, I doubt very much that a formal complaint against him would have had that effect). I just wanted him to leave me alone. I wanted to have my work evaluated fairly. The chair said he would talk to Professor H., and I’m sure he did, because my funding was not revoked. 

I never again enjoyed the favor, in an academic sense, I mean, of any of my professors. When I’d first arrived in the program, I’d been feted as if I were some kind of celebrity. All the professors welcomed me, commented favorably on my work, invited me to their homes, etc. Not after I had gone to the chair about Professor H., though. No one was openly hostile, the way Professor H. had been, but everyone was decidedly cool. I was grudgingly given passing grades (one of my papers from this period was later published, in the same form in which I had submitted it for a grade, and then reprinted both in English and in Chinese and Russion translations, in an anthology and a textbook). The same well-intentioned female professor again approached me privately, however, and explained to me that I should not solicit letters of recommendation from any of the faculty in my own program, that I would have to rely on what she knew was my growing list of professional contacts outside my program when it came time for me to look for a job.

Thanks to the practice of blind reviewing, which involves concealing the identity of the author of a scholarly paper when it is submitted to referees for judgment concerning whether it should be published, I was able to begin publishing scholarly articles while still a student and to build, gradually, a reputation that made it possible for me to obtain a Fulbright fellowship and then, finally, a tenure-track job. 

It was a long, hard slog, though. The job market back then was no better than it is now. Philosophy is a notoriously sexist discipline and a job candidate, man or woman, who cannot present letters of recommendation from any of the faculty of their degree-granting institution is automatically thought of as suspect.

I labored mightily for years to become the best possible scholar, and amassed an impressive collection of publications, and yet I still regard it as something of a miracle that I was able finally to secure a tenure-track position, to get tenure, and finally, to be promoted to full “Professor.” I knew I would have to work as if my life depended on it, so I did. It seemed pointless to reflect on how unfair it was that I did not enjoy the patronage of a powerful professor that is more often than not the decisive factor in opening the door to a tenure-track position for a newly-minted Ph.D. in philosophy. That was my lot, so I tried to make the best of it.

I spent a great deal of time, however, trying to figure out how things could ever go so terribly wrong as they had for me. Why hadn’t Professor H. been read the riot act immediately after his first transgression? Why hadn’t the proverbial fear of God been placed in him by so that he would at least have been discreet, even if he’d been a victim of satyriasis and unable actually to stop himself? Professor H. wasn’t the only professor in that department who abused his authority to initiate sexual liaisons with female graduate students. Not everyone did it, but many did, and to those who didn’t, viewed the antics of the others were a spectator sport. 

This all came rushing back to me when I read Jian Ghomeshi’s “Reflections from a Hashtag” in the New York Review of Books (October 11, 2018).  Ghomeshi was a prominent Canadian broadcaster who lost his job and was publicly vilified after he was accused of sexual harassment and assault. 

“When a well-known fellow broadcaster saw me with a twenty-something date at a film festival event in Toronto,” writes Jian Ghomeshi, who was then thirty-nine, “he left a voice mail saying, ‘Dude, you are the king!’ I basked in his praise,” Ghomeshi continues, “He’d never called me before and never mentioned my work; the real message was the women I was with were the true gauge of success” (p. 29).

That was the way Professor H. was viewed. He was “the king!” He eventually left the university in question and moved to another university where he continued to harass female students until one of them finally sued. 

I haven’t mentioned Professor H.’s name because singling him out for blame is now pointless. You could figure out who he was, of course, if you wanted to do a little research. The purpose of my recounting these events, however, is to make clear that harassment and abuse of women is a systemic problem. It goes on for one very simple and straightforward reason: It is allowed to go on. This is partly because of what Ghomeshi correctly identifies as a “systemic culture of unhealthy masculinity” (p. 30) that leads many men not merely to derive pleasure from harassing and abusing women, but to derive pleasure from the spectacle of it as well. 

There is more to the problem than that, though. There is what I like to call “the first-stone problem.” Ghomeshi writes that many male acquaintances furtively commiserated with him. “What happened to you,” they wrote, “could have been me.” People are naturally reluctant to point fingers at one another for fear of having fingers pointed back at them. Most people are not sexual predators, but there aren’t many people who don’t have something to be embarrassed and ashamed about, something they don’t want paraded before the general public and this makes them naturally reluctant to call out the bad behavior of others.

“Professor H. didn’t mean to harass you,” the chair explained to me. “He didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable or threatened, or to coerce you into a sexual relationship.” (I’m paraphrasing now, of course, because the conversation took place many years ago and only his first words remain indelibly marked on my memory.) “He’s just emotionally immature. He reacts badly when things don’t go the way he wants them to.”

I think that was a pretty accurate depiction of Professor H.’s character. He wasn’t a bad guy. He just had an unfortunate habit of behaving badly, very badly under certain circumstances. Philosophers distinguish, however, between explanation and justification. Professor H.’s emotional immaturity explained his bad behavior, but it didn’t justify it. Bad behavior should never be tolerated just because the person engaging it isn’t normally a bad person. People need to be called on their behavior, and judgment about their character, reserved for a higher power. Unless, of course, they are being considered for a position of such authority that the question of their character, however ultimately undecidable, becomes crucially relevant. 

People are so social that they tend to respond more or less appropriately to censure, even private censure, to say nothing of public censure, by someone in a position of authority. If people are called on their inappropriate behavior, unless they are serious sociopaths, they will usually, at least eventually, stop engaging in it. 

Aristotle figured this out long ago (if Plato hadn’t actually figured it out before him). If you want people to behave in certain ways, he wrote in the Nicomachean Ethics (Books I and II), then the culture needs to reinforce that kind of behavior. And if there are ways you don’t want them to behave, then the culture needs to send a clear message to that effect as well.

We need, without exception, to hold individuals responsible for behaviors that violate norms of what we, as a culture, collectively feel is right. We are deluding ourselves, however, if we think that by targeting individuals in this way we are dealing effectively with what is clearly a systemic problem. It may give the impression we are doing something about the problem, but all the while, the problem waxes and thrives. 

Categories: News for progressives

1918: How the Allies Surfed to Victory on a Wave of Oil

Mon, 2018-10-01 16:01

French troops are transported by truck to the front, as shown on a bas-relief of the Monument of the Voie Sacrée near Verdun. Photo by J. Pauwels.

Virtually everybody knows that the First World War came to an end when Germany capitulated on November 11, 1918. But very few people are aware that, earlier in that same year, the Reich came tantalizingly close to winning the so-called Great War, but ultimately snatched defeat, so to speak, from the jaws of victory.

In the spring of 1918, the Germans launched a major offensive on the western front. This undertaking, orchestrated by General Ludendorff, actually amounted to a big gamble because, though still very strong militarily, Germany was in very bad shape. Blockaded by the Royal Navy, the country was plagued by shortages of all kinds of products, including crucially important raw materials and food. German civilians and soldiers were undernourished and hungry; they were so disgruntled that it was feared that they might follow the revolutionary example set by their Russian counterparts in 1917. Already in the beginning of the year, Berlin and other big cities were the scenes of demonstrations and riots, as well as strikes. Moreover, Germany’s Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Ottoman allies had started to display alarming signs of war weariness. And on the western front, the number of Germany’s enemies was mushrooming as more and more American troops were joining their French and British brothers in arms.  It was therefore fervently hoped that the offensive launched in March 1918 would conjure up the great victory that, like a deus ex machina, would cause all these problems to evaporate.

The attack was launched on the first day of spring, March 21, at 4:30 in the morning, after a mammoth artillery bombardment, and the “theatre” was a stretch of the front in the same area where the Battle of the Somme had taken place in 1916. The results were extremely impressive. The German attackers managed to break through the British lines and make rapid progress. The British lost all the terrain they had conquered in 1916 and suffered huge casualties in the process. Later in that spring as well as in the early summer of 1918, more German attacks followed against the British in Flanders and against the French along the Aisne River, and the results were always very similar: the Germans achieved impressive territorial gains, but the hoped-for big prize, total victory, kept eluding them. The German advance towards Paris was halted by the French, albeit with considerable American assistance, in the famous “Second Battle of the Marne” between mid-July and early August 1918. Symbolically, however, the tide turned on August 8, when the French, British, Canadians, and Americans launched a gargantuan counterattack; the Germans troops were henceforth pushed back systematically and inexorably. Ludendorff was later to describe August 8 as the blackest day in the history of the German army.

A number of factors contributed to the failure of Ludendorff’s offensive. First, as the Germans made good progress and carved deep pockets in the Allied lines, they stretched the front line, requiring their resources in manpower and materiel to be dispersed rather than concentrated; this made their attacks less forceful, and their increasingly long flanks more vulnerable to Allied counterattacks. Second, while they inflicted huge losses on their enemies, the Germans also suffered considerable casualties: at least half a million, and possibly as many as a million, between March and July. Another factor was psychological. The German soldiers realized that the chances of victory on the Western Front were better than they had been since the beginning of the war in 1914. And they understood that their commanders had committed all available resources to ensure the offensive’s success. It was all or nothing, now or never. Paradoxically, the success of the attack was also responsible for its failure, at least partly. When the German soldiers overran British positions, they noticed that these were bursting with weapons and ammunition as well as stocks of food and drink that they themselves had not seen in years. The officers often tried in vain to incite their men to attack the next British or French line of trenches; the soldiers simply interrupted their advance to feast on canned meat, wine, and white bread.

These losses of momentum permitted the British and French to reorganize, shore up defences, and bring up reserves, many of them American soldiers, who surfaced just about everywhere to help plug gaps in the allied lines. That demoralized the Germans, who got the impression that the Allies disposed of unlimited reserves not only in food, weapons, ammunition, and all sorts of war materiel, but also in men, in “human material.” How many more times did the Germans have to attack allied positions before the enemy would capitulate? How could one defeat an enemy who commanded such inexhaustible reserves of men and equipment?

But another factor played the most important, and almost certainly most decisive role in the failure of the German offensive of 1918. If again and again the Allies succeed in bringing up the reserves in men and materiel that were needed to slow down and eventually stop the German juggernaut, it is because they disposed of thousands of trucks to do the job. The French, in particular, who already made good use of motorized vehicles earlier, for example taxis to transport troops to the battlefield of the Marne in 1914 and trucks to supply Verdun along the voie sacrée, the “sacred way,” in 1916, had excellent trucks, mostly models designed and built by Renault, a manufacturer that was to end up producing more than nine thousand of them for the French army during the Great War. As for the British, who started the war without a single truck, in 1918 they had fifty-six thousand of them at their disposal. On the other hand, as in 1914, the Germans still transported their troops mostly by train; however, many sectors of the front, for example the Somme battlefields, were hard to reach that way. (In northern France, the railway lines run mostly north-south, towards Paris, and not east-west, towards the coast of the English Channel, which was the German army’s major line of advance.) In any event, in the immediate vicinity of the front, both sides would continue until the very end of the war to rely heavily on horse-drawn carts to transport equipment. But in this respect too, the Germans were disadvantaged, as they suffered from a serious shortage of draft horses as well as fodder, while the Allies were able to import large numbers of horses and robust mules from overseas, especially from the US. The greater mobility of the Allies undoubtedly constituted a major factor in their success. Ludendorff would later declare that the triumph of his adversaries in 1918 came down to a victory of French trucks over German trains.

This triumph can also be similarly described as a victory of the rubber tires of the Allies’ vehicles, produced by firms such as Michelin and Dunlop, over the steel wheels of German trains, cranked out by Krupp. Thus it can also be said that the victory of the Entente against the Central Powers was a victory of the economic system, and particularly the industry, of the Allies, against the economic system of Germany and Austria-Hungary, an economic system that found itself starved of crucially important raw materials because of the British blockade. As the French historian Frédéric Rousseau has written, “The military and political defeat of Germany is inseparable from its economic failure.”

The economic superiority of the Allies clearly had a lot to do with the fact that the British and French — and even the Belgians and Italians — had colonies where they could fetch whatever was needed to win a modern, industrial war, especially rubber, oil, and other “strategic” raw materials, as well as “coolies,” that is, cheap colonial manpower mobilized to repair and even construct the roads that were used in the spring and summer of 1918 by the trucks transporting allied troops. The Great War happened to be a war between imperialist rivals, in which the great prizes to be won were territories bursting with raw materials and cheap labour, the kind of things that benefited a country’s “national economy,” more specifically its industry, and thus made that country more competitive and more powerful. It is hardly a coincidence that the war was ultimately won by the countries that had been most richly endowed in this respect, namely the great industrial powers with the most colonies; in other words, that the biggest “imperialisms” — those of the British, the French, and the Americans — defeated a competing imperialism, that of Germany, admittedly an industrial superpower, but underprivileged with respect to colonial possessions. In view of this, it is even amazing that it took four long years before Germany’s defeat was a fait accompli.

On the other hand, it is also obvious that the advantages of having colonies and therefore access to unlimited supplies of food for soldiers and civilians as well as rubber, petroleum, and similar raw materials could only become decisivein the long run. The main reason for this is that in 1914 the war started as a continental kind of Napoleonic campaign that was to morph — imperceptibly, but inexorably — into a worldwide clash of industrial titans. Its opening stages typically conjure up images of cavalry, more specifically paintingsof German uhlansand French cuirassiers,sporting fur hats or shiny helmets and armed with sabre or lance, appearing proudly on the scene as vanguards of armies trudging through open fields towards hostile horizons. In the photostaken on the battlefields in 1918, however, the men on horseback are absent and we see infantrymen being transported to the front in trucks or advancing behind tanks, armed with machine guns and flame-throwers, while airplanes circle overhead. In 1914, Germany still had a chance to win the war, especially since it had excellent railways to ferry its armies quickly to the western and eastern fronts, which is how a big victory was achieved against the Russians at Tannenberg. But by 1918 Germany’s prospects of victory had long since gone up in smoke. (Hitler and his generals were to draw the conclusion that Germany, in order to win a second edition of the Great War, would have to win it quickly, which is why they would develop the concept of Blitzkrieg, “lightning-fast war,” to be followed by Blitzsieg, “lightning-fast victory.” This formula was to work against Poland and France in 1939–1940, but the spectacular failure of the Blitzkriegin the Soviet Union in 1941 would doom Germany once again to fight a long, drawn-out war, a war that, lacking sufficient raw materials such as oil and rubber, it would find impossible to win.)

Rubber was not the only strategic type of raw material that the Allies had in abundance but the Germans lacked. Another was petroleum, for which the increasingly motorized land armies — and rapidly expanding air forces — were developing a gargantuan appetite. During their final offensive in the fall of 1918, the Allies consumed 12,000 barrels (of 159 litres each) of oil daily. During a victory dinner on November 21, the British minister of foreign affairs, Lord Curzon, would declare, not without reason, that “the allied cause floated to victory upon a wave of oil,” and a French senator was to proclaim that “oil had been the blood of victory.” A considerable quantity of this oil had come from the United States. It had been supplied by Standard Oil, a firm belonging to the Rockefellers, who made a lot of money in this type of business, just as Renault did by producing the gas-guzzling trucks. (Of all the oil imported by France in 1917, the United States furnished 82.6 per cent and Standard Oil alone 47 per cent; in 1918, the United States furnished 89.4 per cent of the oil imported by the French.)

It was only logical that the Allies — swimming in oil, so to speak — had acquired all sorts of modern, motorized, and oil-consuming war materiel. In 1918, the French disposed of not only phenomenal quantities of trucks, but also a large fleet of airplanes. And in that same year, the French as well as the British also had a considerable number of automobiles equipped with machine guns or cannons, a combination pioneered by the Belgian army in 1914, as well as tanks. The latter were no longer the lumbering, ineffective monsters that first showed up at the front in 1916, but machines of excellent quality such as the light and mobile Renault FT “baby-tank,” considered the “first modern tank in history.” If the Germans had only very few trucks or tanks, it is because they did not have sufficient fuel for such vehicles — or for their planes; only comparatively small quantities of Romanian petroleum were available to them.

A Renault FT “baby-tank,” in the Brussels War Museum. Photo by J. Pauwels.

After that fateful eighth of August of 1918, the majority of the German soldiers on the western front realized that the war was lost. They now wanted to get it over and done with and go home. They did not hide their contempt for the political and military leaders who had unleashed the conflict and thus caused so much misery, and they were not willing to sacrifice their lives on the altar of a lost cause. The German army began to disintegrate, discipline broke down, and the number of desertions and mass surrenders skyrocketed. Between mid-July 1918 and the armistice of November 11 of that year, 340,000 Germans surrendered or ran over to the enemy; of the casualties Germany suffered at that time, prisoners represented an unprecedented 70 per cent. The epidemic of mass surrenders and desertions mushroomed during August and September 1918, so much so that this state of affairs has been described as a Kampfstreik, an “undeclared military strike.” And that is certainly how the German soldiers themselves saw things. The men who were leaving the front often insulted those who were marching in the opposite direction, calling them “strike breakers” and Kriegsverlängerer, “war prolongers.”

The German war machine sputtered because it was quickly running out of soldiers. In addition, the situation on the home front was simply catastrophic. Because of the British naval blockade, not enough food had been reaching Germany, so the civilians were starving, and malnutrition caused diseases and high mortality rates, especially among children, older people, and women. It is estimated that during the Great War no less than 762,000 Germans died of malnutrition and associated diseases. The most infamous and deadliest of these disorders was the “Spanish flu,” originally called the “Flemish flu” because it was brought to Germany by soldiers coming home from the front in Flanders. This epidemic is believed to have caused the death of four hundred thousand Germans in 1918.

Already in 1917, the misery and mortality caused by the war had started to drive a wedge between pacifists with predominantly democratic, radical, and even revolutionary aspirations, and “hawks” who remained loyal to the Reich’s established order and cherished traditional conservative, authoritarian, and militarist values. In the fall of 1918, the former gained the upper hand because most Germans now wanted peace at any price. As in Russia one year earlier, this combination of war-weariness and longing for radical political and social change among soldiers and civilians caused the war to close in a context of revolution.

Shortly before and after November 1, the revolutionary flames flared up as sailors mutinied in the ports of Wilhelmshaven and Kiel and revolutionary “councils” of soldiers and workers, inspired by the “soviets” of the Russian Revolution, were set up in cities such as Berlin and Munich. Ludendorff – figureheadpar excellenceof discredited militarism, authoritarianism, and conservatism – resigned and fled abroad. On November 10, a newly formed government, consisting of liberal and social-democratic politicians, asked the Allies for an armistice. Very early in the morning of the next day, the unconditional German capitulation was signed in the railway car that served as headquarters to the allied commander in chief, Marshal Foch, and at 11 a.m. the guns fell silent.

During the final months of the war, as hundreds of thousands of German soldiers, mostly of plebeian background, “gave their lives” for the glory of the German Reich, Kaiser William had been ensconced in his headquarters in Spa, a Belgian resort whose very name conjures up relaxation and luxury for the upper class. On November 10, having abdicated, he left to seek salvation in the neutral Netherlands. His inglorious disappearance from the scene reflected the fact that Germany’s defeat was mostly due to a shortage of motorized vehicles as well as the petroleum needed to use them: he departed not by automobile, but by train.

Jacques R. Pauwels is the author of The Great Class War 1914-1918 (James Lorimer, Toronto 2016).

Categories: News for progressives

The Odyssey of Otis Rush, 1934-2018

Mon, 2018-10-01 16:00

Otis Rush performing in 2002. Photo: Masahiro Sumori.

In 1969, after nearly 14 years of constant gigging in small blues clubs and cutting scorching singles for obscure labels, songs that received limited radio play but were greedily snatched up by young white rockers desperate to learn the rudiments of the Chicago blues, it looked like Otis Rush was about to finally get his due. Rush had just been signed by the notorious Albert Grossman, then the manager of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Peter, Paul and Mary. Grossman told Rush that he had landed him a recording deal with Atlantic Records.

Rush headed down to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record one of the first sessions at the soon-to-be-famous studio out on Jackson Highway. The album, Mourning in the Morning, was produced by two other musicians from Chicago who idolized Rush, Michael Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites. Bloomfield, one of the more authentic white blues guitar-players, and Gravenites were then heading the short-lived jam band Electric Flag. Bloomfield  had convinced Grossman to sign Rush, telling the portly manager that he was the Jimi Hendrix of the blues.  Like Hendrix, Rush was a lefty. Unlike Hendrix,  Rush usually played  a left-handed guitar with the order of the strings reversed, featuring the low E string on the bottom. The Rush sound was striking lyrical and, though many tried, nearly inimitable.

The new Muscle Shoals Studio had been founded by some of the best session players in the south: keyboardist Barry Beckett, bassist David Hood, guitar player Johnny Johnson and drummer Roger Hawkins.  By 1969, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm section had already backed some of the best music made by Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Picket and Etta James. Hawkins, a native of Indiana, is widely regarded as one of the sturdiest drummers in the history of rock music.

When Rush showed up in Alabama in the spring of 1969, Duane Allman greeted him at the studio and showered him with praise, telling Rush he was the equal of the immortal B. B. King. Allman ended up playing on a few tracks, including the haunting instrumental cover of Aretha’s “Baby, I Love You.”

The album met with hostile reviews. Most of the blame has to be placed on Granventes and Bloomfield, who freighted the record with six of their own songs, including two irredeemable stinkers, “Me” and “My Old Lady.” Inexplicably, the clunky “Me” opens the album, souring the entire experience. In retrospect, there’s some fine playing on the record, particularly on the devastating cover of B. B. King’s “Gambler’s Blues” and the Minister of Stroll Chuck Willis’s “Feel So Bad,” which, with Rush’s spine-tingling vibrato, lethally cuts even Elvis’s version. The problem with the album as a whole is there’s far too Bloomfield and not nearly enough Otis Rush. Rush is one of the best songwriters in the history of the blues. After all, he learned at the feet of  Willie Dixon. But Bloomfield and Granventes  allowed Rush to record only one of his own songs on the album, “My Love Will Never Die,” which had made a splash on the R&B charts in 1959. The record failed to capture the menacing and intense sound of Rush in a live setting—or even the Cobra singles recorded in that primitive studio where the West Side blues was born.

In the wake of the dismal reviews, sales of “Mourning in the Morning” floundered and executives at Atlantic suddenly terminated Rush’s contract. Rush, who has battled depression his entire life, returned to Chicago, distraught and angry. As Eric Clapton, Dave Mason and Peter Green were ripping off his licks for hit singles, Rush was back on the West Side, playing bars and blues joints for cash and tips and making the occasional festival appearance, often backed by an inept band of hastily assembled local musicians.

* * *

Otis Rush was born in 1934 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, one of the most racially mixed towns in the Delta. In Rush’s youth the population of Philadelphia was almost equally divided between whites, blacks and Choctaw Indians. As a consequence, Philadelphia was also one of the most racist towns in Mississippi, a hotbed of Klan activity and, of course, site of the 1964 murders of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. In 1980, Reagan picked the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia as the locale  to give his first post-convention speech, an attack on the federal government that launched his own race-baiting “Southern Strategy.” J.L. Chestnut, one of two black people in the huge audience, recalled Ronald Reagan shouting  that “‘the South will rise again and this time remain master of everybody and everything within its dominion.’ The square came to life, the Klu (sic) Kluxers were shouting, jeering and in obvious ecstasy. God bless America.”

Like many black youths in the Delta, Otis sat near the radio every day at 12:15, tuning in to KFFA, broadcast out of Helena, Arkansas, for the King Biscuit Time show, hosted by Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Lockwood, Jr. For half an hour Williamson and Lockwood played live in the studio, often featuring other rising stars of the blues, such as B.B. King, James Cotton and Pinetop Perkins (who was an original member of the studio band, called the King Biscuit Entertainers.) Otis decided he wanted to be a blues player. He began playing the blues harp at the age of six and later his father rigged him a makeshift one-string guitar out of a broom handle and baling wire.

Rush’s father was a sharecropper, toiling in the parched red clay soils of eastern Mississippi. But mechanization was slowly drawing this brutal way of life to a close. In 1948, Rush’s father moved the family (there were 8 Rush children) to Chicago. At the age of 14, Otis began working 12-hour days in the stockyards. At night he played the blues with two other young stockyard workers, Mike Netton, a drummer, and “Poor Bob” Woodfork, a guitar player recently migrated up from Arkansas. The band began to get some paying gigs in some of the new clubs springing up on Roosevelt Avenue.  One night when Rush was 18, Willie Dixon walked into the Alibi club on the West Side of town. Dixon, one of the true geniuses of American music, had just left Chess Records in a bitter dispute over royalties. The great bassist and arranger had taken a job with the new Cobra Records, a small Chicago label run by a TV repairman. Dixon was enthralled by Rush’s uniquely expressive, almost tortured guitar-style and signed him on the spot.

In the studio, Dixon, the real architect of the Chicago Blues sound, assembled a small talented R&B combo to back Rush, featuring Shakey Horton on harmonica, Harold Ashby on tenor, veteran drummer Odie Payne,  Little Brother Montgomery hammering the piano and Dixon himself on stand-up bass. The first song Rush recorded was Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You, Baby.” Dixon said he wrote the song about an obsessive relationship Rush was having with a woman at the time. Dixon wanted to provoke an emotional response from the singer and he got one. “I Can’t Quit You, Baby” opens with a chilling falsetto scream, then Rush launches into a staccato guitar attack unlike anything heard before it. Led Zeppelin (and dozens of other bands) would cover Rush’s version of the song but never capture the excrutiating fervency of the original. The recording was released in the summer of 1956 as Cobra’s first single. The song hit number 6 on the Billboard R&B charts.

Over the next two years Rush and Dixon would release eight more records, each of them dazzlingly original. The sound was aggressive and confident, like the hard-charging jump blues “Violent Love,” where Rush’s slashing guitar chords seem to be engaged in a romantic combat with the horns. Rush’s own composition, “Checking on My Baby,” is an eerie, minor key blues that sweats sexual paranoia. This is not the blues of despondency and despair, but of defiance and, at times, rage. It’s music with an edge, sharpened by the metallic sounds of urban streets, of steel mills, jail cells and rail yards.

Despite hit singles from Rush, Magic Sam, Ike Turner and the Rhythm Kings and the young Buddy Guy (who Rush discovered at “Battle of the Blues” show at the famous Blue Flame Club), Cobra Records went bankrupt in 1958. Rush followed Willie Dixon back to Chess Records. This was the beginning of Rush’s seemingly endless professional odyssey, from label to label. Even with Dixon back in his slot as artistic director at Chess, Rush’s relationship with the label proved a disappointment. In two years, Rush recorded eight songs for Chess, but management only released one single, the brilliant “So Many Roads, So Many Trains,” featuring one of Rush’s most vicious guitar solos.

Feeling abused by Chess, Rush bolted in search of another label. He cut one hard rocking single, “Homework,” (later covered by Fleetwood Mac and J. Geils) for Duke Records and that was it for six very lean years. Rush hit the club circuit, performing two and three times a night, often in different venues. In those days Rush tended to close with one of his fiercest compositions, “Double Trouble”, a tormented minor key blues about a man who has lost his job and his lover. Rush plays the song with a nerve-racking intensity:

I lay awake at nights, false love, just so troubled
It’s hard to keep a job, laid off, having double trouble
Hey hey, yeah, they say you can make it if you try
Yes some of this generation is millionaires
It’s hard for me to keep decent clothes to wear

Otis Rush is the Thelonious Monk of the electric guitar: an uncompromising and eccentric genius who redefined the possibilities of his instrument. His playing is beautifully idiosyncratic. There is an existential quality to Rush’s solos, there are spaces in his runs, decision spaces, where notes are bent and left hanging in a state of suspension, before snapping back in an unnerving coherence. At his best, Rush’s playing conveys a gamut of emotions, often in a single song, from dread and anxiety to manic ecstasy. In a live setting, Rush’s playing could be erratic, one false note from collapse. That’s a huge part of his ingenuity, of course, his aptitude for sustaining such an acute intensity in his playing night after night. In those bleak years in the mid-1960s, when everyone had left him for dead, Otis Rush became a master of the hardboiled blues.

* * *

In late December of 1970, Rush got a call from Grossman, the man whom Dylan described as looking just like Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon, telling the bluesman not to despair for he, Albert the Great, had just secured a five album deal for Rush with that titanic label on Hollywood and Vine, Capitol Records.

So in February of 1971 Rush flew to San Francisco to record the songs for the ill-fated album Right Place, Wrong Time. This time Rush co-produced the project with Gravenites and exerted himself in the roster of songs. The band featured some of the Bay Area’s best blues musicians, including guitarist Fred Burton, bass player Doug Killmer and piano player Mark Naftalin. Rush opens up red hot with a lacerating version of his pal Ike Turner’s “Tore Up,” where Rush seems to vent a decade’s worth of frustration with two brutal solos. The album also includes a chilling, heart-rending cover of Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia,” where Rush replaces his normal falsetto with a deep soulful voice like a gritty Otis Redding.

But the real gems of the album are Rush’s own compositions, including the brooding, shuffling title cut, which is a blues but perhaps unlike any blues you’ve every heard before, a song that bleeds bitter irony:  The album closes with the harrowing “Take a Look Behind,” where Rush demonstrates how absolutely he absorbed the B. B. King style and then ripped it up, transforming King’s bright, single-string runs into dark and ferocious riffs, each note stabbing like a stiletto at the vital chords of life.

Oh, yeah, looking back over our slate
I can see love turn to hate
But if I only had the chance
I say if I only had the chance
I’d never make the same mistake again

There’s not a misfire on the entire record. Each song, each solo is flawlessly constructed. The record was a masterpiece in an era awash with mediocre imitators of the Chicago blues style that Rush and his buddy Magic Sam Maghett on the West Side had perfected. By 1971, it was too late for Magic Sam, who was shockingly felled by a heart attack in 1969 at the age of 32, but it seemed certain that Rush, and by extension the West Side Blues, was at last going to enjoy the acclaim and perhaps even riches he deserved.

Then inexplicably the executives at Capitol, never the brightest bunch on the block, shelved the album, burying the landmark tapes deep in their vaults. Why did Capitol unjustly sabotage the legendary Otis Rush? One theory holds that the company was run by reactionary suits with little appreciation for musical innovation. This was, after all, the label that tried to kill off the Beatles in their infancy (see Dave Marsh’s merciless skewering of Capitol executives in The Beatles Second Album) and turned their collective nose up at the Doors because they thought Jim Morrison “lacked charisma.” The Lizard King may have yearned in vain for an adequate singing voice but nearly every pore in his body suppurated an evil kind of charisma.

Less charitably it might be speculated that Capitol executives, who presided over a predominantly white roster of talent, were innately suspicious of the blues and, more pointedly, black culture itself. Recall that Jimi Hendrix’s blistering song “Red House” was cut from the North American release of Are You Experienced? because the big shots at Track Records contended that “Americans don’t like the blues.”  Perhaps Capitol executives felt that Rush’s album was too black, too raw, too plaintively urgent. Perhaps they felt that such a record, about as far as you can get from Pet Sounds, would never sell to white audiences conditioned by the homogenized and anemic blues of Clapton or the ponderous thrashings of Led Zeppelin, whose early recordings ruthlessly pillaged the songbooks of Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Rush.

A frustrated and justifiably embittered Otis Rush had to battle the label for five years just to liberate his own tapes. Finally he had to buy them back. The album was released in 1976 on the tiny Bullfrog label. Sales were bleak. It did win a Grammy nomination in the category of “traditional” blues–a bizarre accolade to say the least, because even today, forty years later, the smoldering music captured on the tracks of Right Place, Wrong Time screams its unyielding modernity, its intense relevance to life on the unforgiving streets of America.

Categories: News for progressives

Battle for the Ages: Priciest US Weapon, the F-35, Just Attacked One of World’s Most Primitive Fighters, the Taliban

Mon, 2018-10-01 15:59

Photo Source Official U.S. Navy Page | CC BY 2.0

Why did the US military have a vertical-take-off F-35B launched from an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean make an attack on a Taliban position in Afghanistan?

Nobody’s mentioning several things about this Pentagon-touted first-ever US military “combat use” of the most expensive and supposedly sophisticated fighter-bomber ever produced at a current price of over $115 million per plane for the B model.

The first point is why it happened at all. The plane is not actually meant to be a ground attack aircraft. Designed as a fighter to fly at Mach 1.6 speed and to be invisible to enemy radar, which of course the Taliban fighters (whose top speed is a few miles per hour) in Afghanistan don’t even have, it is meant to be a sixth-generation fighter intended to assure US forces of air superiority against an advanced enemy with similar planes. The Taliban of course have zero planes or even anti-aircraft weapons. They are about as primitive an enemy as the US has ever confronted since the days of  Gen. Armstrong Custer (who as we know had problems even then).  As Pentagon critic Chuck Spinney notes, “This attack on the Taliban could have been much better handled by an A-10 Warthog ground attack plane.”

The particular model B version of the F-35 used in this particular attack was specifically designed to suit requirements of the US Marine Corps, which wanted a jet that could take off and land vertically,  presumably to be able to support Marine forces by operating from a small clearing in the jungle, on a beach, or on a small section of road or parking lot. Doing that, as opposed to taking off from a runway, burns through an inordinate amount of jet fuel so unless the plane is refueled in the air, it cannot fly very far or carry much ordnance, or both, but loading up on fuel in flight makes both the plane and the lumbering aerial tanker vulnerable to attack, which  makes a joke of the stealth aspect of the plane.

Worse yet, Spinney says that the exhaust from the F-35B’s powerful jet engines, necessary to lift its entire weight off the ground, is so hot that it “explodes concrete.”  He says it cannot simply land or take off on a beach, a favorite traditional Marine location, or on the ground in a clearing.

Because of this ill-thought-out complication, he says the Pentagon and its contractor, Lockheed Martin, have developed a 100-foot-diameter ceramic pad that has to accompany the plant to be set down on such locations where it operates from, in order for the F-35B to safely make any vertical take-off or landing (VTOL) maneuver. “The only place I know of that they have any of those ceramic pads,” he laughs, “is in a test site near Yuma, Arizona.  I don’t know how they plan to deliver them in battle to sites in the jungle.”

Spinney says that since the F-35B would ruin the tarmac of any ordinary military airstrip, the only place it can actually do a VTOL maneuver is on an aircraft carrier, but even then, he says, special measures have to be taken so that the ship’s metal deck doesn’t get melted and damaged.

So why did the Pentagon pull this stunt of sending into actual battle a plane that is actually still in development and not ready for prime time?

“It’s budget time,” says a chuckling Spinney. “The 2019 fiscal year budget was just signed by the President, so now the Pentagon’s gearing up to present its FY 2020 budget proposal to Congress.”

It’s a budget that will set a spending record and the Pentagon will as part of the process will have to explain the latest costs of its unprecedentedly expensive F-35 Joint Strike Force fighter, which already at almost $1.5 trillion dollars, has made it the most expensive weapon ever produced by mankind. Congress will also have to deal with the fact that the Air Force has discovered that the costs of operation and maintenance of its new toy are rising so rapidly, according to Lockheed Martin, that this  main customer for the plane is considering having to slash its order by a third.

One of the things the Pentagon will have to explain is why they took such a high-performance plan and, at great cost, added weapons like rockets with fragmentation warheads to it to make it capable of ground-attack missions for which it is uniquely unsuited, the real reason of course being that it doesn’t really have any enemies it is likely to confront in the sky so they have to give it something else to do — like this initial mission against the Taliban.

That, of course, is an old story with the Pentagon. As cost overruns on deliberately under-estimated new projects inevitably mount — generally as with the F-35, after a new weapon has been pushed prematurely into production and after deliveries of problematic units have already begun, making it too late to cancel but far costlier to retrofix — the Pentagon responds by cutting back on the number of units ordered. But since these programs are all written on a cost-plus basis, reducing orders just means the Pentagon pays the same price, but get fewer planes for its (our) money.

So now the Pentagon is going all out to promote its epic trillion-dollar boondoggle. What better way to do that than to send one of the planes into battle and get some exciting video footage for an ever-enthusiastic national news media?

They’ll have to work hard at the publicity campaign though. Within a day of this glorious battle sortie in Afghanistan, another F-35B crashed in South Carolina destroying the  $115 million aircraft. The pilot, we’re told, safely ejected from this first reported total loss of an F-35, and is being examined in a hospital for injuries.

Categories: News for progressives

Getting Serious About Debts and Deficits

Mon, 2018-10-01 15:57

Photo Source CafeCredit.com | CC BY 2.0

With the possibility that the Democrats will retake Congress and press demands for increased spending in areas like health care, education, and child care, the deficit hawks (DH) are getting prepared to awaken from their dormant state. We can expect major news outlets to be filled with stories on how the United States is on its way to becoming the next Greece or Zimbabwe. For this reason, it is worth taking a few moments to reorient ourselves on the topic.

First, we need some basic context. The DH will inevitably point to the fact that deficits are at historically high levels for an economy that is near full employment. They will also point to a rapidly rising debt-to-GDP ratio. Both complaints are correct, the question is whether there is a reason for anyone to care.

Just to remind everyone, the classic story of deficits being bad is that they crowd out investment and net exports, which makes us poorer in the future than we would otherwise be. The reason is that less investment means less productivity growth, which means that people will have lower income five or ten years in the future than if we had smaller budget deficits. Lower net exports mean that foreigners are accumulating US assets, which will give them a claim on our future income.

Debt is bad because it means a larger portion of future income will go to people who own the debt. This means that the government has to use up a larger share of the money it raises in taxes to pay interest on the debt rather than for services like health care and education. Or, to put it in a more Keynesian context, there will be more demand coming from people who own the debt, which means the government would need higher taxesnto support the same level of spending than would otherwise be the case.

There is an important intermediate step in the deficit-crowding out story that is worth stating explicitly. The Federal Reserve Board could opt to keep interest rates low by buying up debt directly. The assumption in the crowding out story is that the Fed allows interest rates to rise or even deliberately raises them, presumably because it is concerned about inflation.

If there is no basis for inflationary concerns, there is no reason that the Fed could not simply keep interest rates low in spite of a large deficit, and therefore prevent any crowding out. The question then is whether a budget deficit is pushing the economy up against its limits, leading to inflationary pressures. When we look at the various sources of demand in the economy, there are two reasons for thinking that a larger budget deficit would be needed today to sustain something close to full employment than would have been true four decades ago.

First, we have the enormous upward redistribution of income that has taken place over this period. Roughly ten percentage points of disposable income have been transferred from people at the middle and bottom of the income distribution to those at the top. To take very rough numbers, if we think the rich will on average spend half of this increase in income, whereas the losers would have spent 90 percent, it implies a loss of consumption demand equal to 40 percent of this ten percentage points. With disposable income equal to roughly 75 percent of GDP, this implies a loss of consumption demand equal to 3 percentage points of GDP (0.4*10 pp*0.75 = 3.0 pp).

This implies that we would need a budget deficit that is 3 pp of GDP greater in 2018 than in 1978 to keep demand in the same place, other things equal. The upward redistribution of income creates a large gap in demand that we need to fill through some other channel.

The other big change is the trade deficit. If we go back to the 1960s and 1970s, trade was nearly balanced. We started to move towards deficits with the OPEC price hikes that led us to pay far more money for the oil we imported. But even with these price hikes, the trade deficits were still generally less than 1.0 percent of GDP. The trade deficit is currently running close to 3.0 percent of GDP. (It had been almost 6.0 percent of GDP in 2005 and 2006.) This creates another demand gap that could be filled by a budget deficit.

If we combine the gaps in demand due to less consumption, as a result of the upward redistribution of income, with the gap due to a higher trade deficit, it can be as much as 6.0 percent of GDP. This implies that, other things equal, we need to run deficits in the neighborhood of 5.0 to 6.0 percent of GDP to fill the demand gap created by the upward redistribution of income and the trade deficit. In that context, budget deficits of the size we are now seeing may be necessary to sustain something close to full employment.

It is worth qualifying this story somewhat. First, the impact of upward redistribution on consumption has likely been offset in part by the wealth effect associated with unusually high asset prices. The value of stock relative to GDP has been unusually high in recent years, although not as high as at the peaks of the stock bubble in the 1990s. House prices are also above their long-term trend. As a result, the savings rate out of disposable income (the share of disposable income not consumed) is not unusually high. This means that the loss of consumption due to the upward redistribution may not be very much.

However, the conventional story of a demand gap being filled as a result of low interest rates spurring investment seems not to be holding up. In spite of the extraordinarily low interest rates for the last decade, investment is roughly equal to its long-term share of GDP. Investment is presumably somewhat stronger than it would be with higher interest rates, but this component of spending has not risen to fill the demand gap.

Anyhow, with net exports and possibly consumption considerably weaker than in prior decades, we need a larger budget deficit than in the past to get to full employment. Given where the economy is today in terms of employment/unemployment, could we up spending by another $100 billion to $200 billion a year (0.5 to 1.0 percent of GDP), without offsetting tax increases? I would be worried that this could be pressing things too far, but I would have said the same thing a year ago when the unemployment rate was a half percentage point higher.

I would like us to press demand until we see clear evidence of constraints, which would show up in rapidly rising wages and accelerating inflation. At that point, we could put on the brakes, both with tax increases and higher interest rates, but it is important to know how far we can push the economy.

In this respect, we essentially performed a similar experiment in 1990s when Greenspan allowed the unemployment rate to fall far below the level that almost all economists considered consistent with full employment. The unemployment rate averaged 4.0 percent for the full year in 2000 and the low point was 3.8 percent. Back in the mid-1990s, the conventional wisdom was that the unemployment rate could not get much below 6.0 percent without triggering spiraling inflation. By allowing the unemployment rate to fall so low, Greenspan proved the conventional wisdom wrong and showed we could have many more people employed than previously had been believed.

We can tell a similar story today. Let’s push the limits and see how low the unemployment rate can go. There are risks — inflation could suddenly start to take off in a serious way — but this seems unlikely. There may be a gradual rise in the inflation rate, but if we see an inflation rate that stabilizes 0.5 or even 1.0 percentage point higher, it is hardly the end of the world.

And, we have to remember there are very large costs to having a higher than necessary unemployment rate. It means that millions of people are needlessly kept from having jobs. Or, if we want to put it in terms of future generations, unnecessarily high unemployment means that millions of kids are being brought up in homes with one or more unemployed parent. That’s a pretty bad story.

For some reason, the deficit hawks are never held to account for policies that prevented larger stimulus and therefore more rapid growth in employment following the Great Recession. This is not only a passing problem, the losses endure as many workers lose skills and we forego hundreds of billions of dollars in investment that would have led to more rapid productivity growth. The cost of unnecessary austerity since the Great Recession literally runs into the trillions of dollars, yet we never hear anyone in major news outlets talk about the enormous harm caused by the DH. But somehow if progressives propose a policy with some potential downside risk they want us to reject it out of hand.

Getting back to debt, there are two stories that get told. One is the worthless debt problem. This is one where we wake up one day and no one wants to hold US government debt. There literally is no precedent for this with a country with a healthy economy. We can point to countries that have been devastated by war or catastrophic weather events, but countries with otherwise healthy economies don’t suddenly find that no one wants to buy their debt.

Even in this absurd situation, we could still have the Fed buy the debt. Remember, we are talking about an economy that is growing at a decent pace with no major bottlenecks impairing future growth. In this context, if foreign and domestic investors decide they don’t want government bonds, the Fed could just buy them up.

Will this cause inflation? What would be the mechanism? If we somehow were overstimulating the economy it certainly could, but this is not something that would just happen overnight. It would require some period of excessive stimulus, with no response in either fiscal or monetary policy. If we had policymakers that were this irresponsible, then the problem would be incredibly irresponsible people in policy positions, not the debt.

The other story we get with the debt is that it is a drain on the government’s resources. Money that could go to meet important social needs is instead being paid out in interest to bondholders.

This is a real issue, but it needs to be put in context. In the early and mid-1990s, we were paying out more than 3.0 percent of GDP in interest payments. In 2018, the Congressional Budget Office projects that we will spend 1.3 percent of GDP, net of money rebated by the Federal Reserve Board, in interest payments. This is projected to rise rapidly to almost 3.0 percent of GDP in a decade, but even at that level we’re just getting back to where we were in the early 1990s. That amount of interest did not prevent the second half of the 1990s from being a very prosperous decade.

The other part of this story that for some reason the deficit hawks never mention, is that the government is constantly making debt like commitments in the form of patent and copyright monopolies. These government-granted monopolies allow drug companies, medical equipment suppliers, and software companies to charge prices that are many thousand percent above the free market price.

And, there is a huge amount of money at stake. In the prescription drug industry alone patent monopolies like cost the public close to $380 billion a year (1.9 percent of GDP) in higher drug prices. How can deficit hawks concerned about our children not be concerned that the government is allowing drug companies to effectively impose a huge tax on prescription drugs?

In short, there seems little basis for the DH’s concerns about debt and deficits. If the Democrats retake Congress, and try to push for increased spending on health care, education, and other areas of social spending, the DHs will likely be appearing frequently in major news outlets. Remember not to take them seriously.

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

Categories: News for progressives

Tortured Solutions: Ecuador, the UK and Julian Assange’s Fate

Mon, 2018-10-01 15:55

The pulse of negotiations, a flurry of communications, and the person central to this is one who threatens to go nowhere – for the moment.  But go somewhere these parties would wish Julian Assange to do.  For six years, cramped within a space in London a stone’s throw away from Harrods, one he has made his tenuous home, a citadel of sporadic publishing and exposes; for six years, an unruly, disobedient tenant whose celebrity shine has lost its gloss for certain followers and those who did, at one point, tolerate him.

The landlords have lost patience, and Lenín Moreno is willing to call in the arrears.  He has made it clear that, whilst Assange has been subjected to an unacceptable state of affairs (“Being five or six years in an embassy already violates his human rights”), he should also be moved on in some form with the British authorities.  How that moving takes place is producing a host of large, ballooning questions.

Ultimately, the current Ecuadorean leadership finds little to merit Assange’s effort.  He intrudes into the political affairs of other countries with audacity; he disturbs and interrupts the order of things with relish and, for those reasons, ought to be regarded with suspicion.  “I don’t agree with what he does,” Moreno is on record as saying.  “It is somewhat disgusting to see someone violating people’s right to communicate privately.”

Moreno, despite being classed as a protégé of his predecessor Rafael Correa, has done his level best to spruce up the country’s image for the United States whose Vice President, Mike Pence, duly acknowledged on a visit in June this year. He has moved on former figures within the previous administration, including Correa, claiming instances of corruption and crime.  Previous contracts made with Chinese companies are also being scrutinised for their value.

Moreno is prudish and inaccurate on the issue of private communications and the WikiLeaks experiment. What he ignores is the driving rationale for the spicy vigilantism of the publishing outfit, an attempt to subvert a certain order of power that was crying out for a revision. This revision, applied through the lens of transparency, would arm the weak and powerless with knowledge while defending their privacy.  The powerful and brutish, on the other hand, must be kept exposed, under a form of public surveillance and permanent review. Transparency for the powerful; privacy for the powerless.

The asymmetrical order of information, however, lauds the reverse of this. States are patriarchs beyond scrutiny; they dispense, with occasional bad grace, the odd favour that entitles the public to see its activities.  Freedom of information statutes and regulations give the impression that the public are, somehow, entitled to see material that is supposedly their resource. (How condescending to tell citizens that they have a resource that can only be accessed carefully, via suspicious gatekeepers obsessed with national security.)

In return, these gorged bureaucracies conduct surveillance upon their citizens with a sneering conviction, and ensure that a fictional public interest is deployed against those who would dare air the cupboard of skeletons.

The current state of negotiations are blurry. On Wednesday, Moreno claimed that Ecuadorean and British officials were nattering over permitting Assange to leave the embassy “in the medium term”.  His lawyers have been notified of the process, but nothing else is forthcoming.

What tends to be written about Assange is itself a product of the dissimulation that he has attempted to banish from political conservation.  His variant of the Midas touch is less turning things to gold than simulacrums of truth.  A piece on the Australian SBS site notes how, “Previous sexual assault charges filed against him in Sweden have been dropped.”  The stopper here is that he was never charged, being merely a subject of interest who needed to be questioned.  The rest is an awkward, concocted silence.

Assange, more significantly for the geopolitical boffins, took a dump in the imperium’s gold water closet, and now faces the consequences.  It has come in drips and drabs: cutting off internet access on March 27; restricting visitors and the access of journalists.  Moreno himself has suggested that Assange stop what he does best: express unsavoury opinions.  Should Assange promise “to stop emitting opinions on the politics of friendly nations like Spain or the United States then we have no problem with him going online.”  Turning Assange into a eunuch of public affairs is a top priority.

Moreno’s predecessors have shaken their heads in disbelief at the treatment being dished out to the Australian publisher.  To ban visitors, argued Correa, was “a clear violation of his rights. Once we give asylum to someone, we are responsible for his safety, for ensuring humane living conditions.” (It should be noted that Correa himself authorised a temporary suspension of internet access to Assange in 2016, a brief measure taken to stem the publisher’s zeal in attacking Hillary Clinton during the US presidential elections.)

This will be a slow torture, a cruel process of breaking down resistance.  The issue in such cases is to avoid going potty and losing all sense of bearing. Should Assange even maintain a sense of psychic composure after this relentless attempt to dissolve his will, history should record it as one of those infrequent secular miracles that the human spirit can provide.

Categories: News for progressives

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