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Corporate Interests Are Warping the Internet

Counterpunch - 1 hour 32 min ago

My identity was stolen this year. The perpetrator didn’t open credit cards in my name or gain access to my finances. Instead, they used my name to submit a comment to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of repealing net neutrality rules.

Those rules, enacted in 2015, declared the internet to be a free and open place. They prevent internet service providers, or ISPs, like Comcast and AT&T from restricting access to any websites — either permanently or to charge you more money to access them.

Imagine your water company charging you more for the water that comes out of your shower than the water that comes out of your sink. Or imagine not being allowed to use your shower at all, even though you pay a water bill.

That’s what net neutrality rules protect consumers from when it comes to the internet.

But Ajit Pai, the current FCC chairman and a former lawyer for Verizon, has scheduled a vote to repeal net neutrality. To do this, he had to solicit public to comment on the matter.

In the past, this has resulted in millions of pro-net neutrality comments — which makes sense, because most Americans support it. But this time, an unusual number of anti-net neutrality comments showed up.

ToGa Wanderings/Flickr

Why? Because of the 22 million comments received, half or more of them appear to be fake, likely posted by bots or special interest organizations attempting to sway the FCC’s opinion. When I checked the FCC’s website, I learned that one of those fake comments used my own name and address.

Someone had stolen my identity to advocate for a position that I didn’t agree with.

Several people and organizations, including the New York attorney general, have petitioned the FCC for information on the scale and origin of fake comments. However, the FCC has rejected these petitions.

As a federal agency, the FCC should be far more concerned about the identity theft of the citizens they’re tasked to represent.

Internet providers like Verizon, the former employer of the FCC chairman, complain that net neutrality rules slow their investments in internet technology. However, ISPs exist in a shockingly non-competitive market.

More than 50 million households in the United States have only one choice of provider, and those providers score the lowest customer satisfaction rates of all 43 industries tracked by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index. Personally, I’ve never had an ISP that offers reasonable customer service or internet speeds and reliability at the levels I pay for.

This isn’t an industry that consumers are satisfied with, so why should they hold even more power than they already do? No wonder they have to rely on sleazy tactics like stealing identities and posting fake comments.

The internet has become an essential tool in the 21st century. A small handful of companies shouldn’t have the power to decide which parts of it people can access.

Corporate-funded lies and identity theft highlight a major threat to the benefits of increased communication. How can we prevent special interest groups from warping the internet to spread misinformation and further their political goals?

That’s a question we must answer, because misinformation campaigns are rampant, and they’re being used to restrict your rights and freedoms. But at the very least, a former Verizon employee shouldn’t hold the power to give ISPs a major win at the expense of consumers — and a free and open internet.

Mark Luskus is a med student at Emory University. He’s interested in infectious diseases and public policy.

Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Sinking in the Swamp

Counterpunch - 1 hour 32 min ago

Washington DC was a swamp at the beginning of 2017. When Donald Trump held his inauguration party that so many did not go to, it became an even muddier swamp. At the beginning of 2018 it is clear that there is a leaking septic tank in the middle of that swamp. The smell of corruption that has always emanated from that town to some degree has become a stench that is so heavy and repulsive it hangs on the fabric of the thousand dollar suits worn by those who ram through laws legitimizing theft in our name but for the benefit of the world’s most powerful. When these suits travel the world in search of new places to rob or destroy, the stench of their ill-gotten millions attracts others of similar ilk.

The threat of war is heightened and the Trumpists are throwing gasoline on some of the globe’s hottest spots.  The Middle East and Korea are the first that come to mind.  Of course, it’s not like the loyal opposition in the media and the political world seem to have much of a problem with waging war against Pyonyang, Palestine or Tehran. War is the surest symptom of the health of the state, especially when that state is as unhealthy as the entity we call the United States. Like most administrations, the Trump/GOP budget cuts do not affect the Pentagon. Like most GOP administrations, the war profiteers watch their share of taxpayer money increase while social services face more cuts. No matter how many times the Republican Party tries to make it so, it is impossible to provide both guns and butter. So, Washington’s answer is more guns and less butter. For too many folks, there isn’t much bread for the butter anyhow, so the issue is merely an exercise.

There are those who argue that the situation would be just as bad with a Democrat in the White House. While I tend to agree, I think there would be a very important difference. The public discourse would not be as full of race, gender and class hatred. In other words, white supremacists would not have the forum they currently enjoy, male supremacists would be strutting less, and the rich would be much quieter about the ongoing theft of working people’s wealth. Under Trump and the Trumpists, those who cheer these actions have not only been given a forum, their ideas are regaining a legitimacy they have not had for decades. Furthermore, that legitimacy is considerably nastier and brutish. Is this the crisis that needs to culminate in order for positive social change to arrive? I would like to think so, but I fear that is too hopeful of a reading. It seems more likely that the brutishness and hatred will intensify while positive change will cease to be considered.

Trump even has some folks who grew up during Nixon’s reign wishing for Tricky Dick over the madman currently in the White House. I want to use this moment to remind them that Nixon was as authoritarian as Trump and, so far anyhow, killed exponentially more people. It’s not Nixon you want, it’s the mass left-leaning movement in the streets that you long for. Millions of us cheered Nixon’s departure and wished he had been put in prison for his crimes. He was as much of an enemy then as Trump is now.

Besides Nixon’s legacy of murder and corruption, there’s the little known fact that it was under his administration that the Health Maintenance Organization Act was passed. This act made it legal to profit from health care for the first time in the United States. As a favor to the CEO of Kaiser-Permanente, Nixon signed the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973. We are all paying for that law. Under Trump, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is being dismantled with nothing in mind but greater profit. In case you forgot, the ACA is the feeble attempt to relieve the health-seeking public from some of the more disastrous aspects of health-care-for-profit. Although it has serious faults stemming from its establishment as part of the health care for profit industry, the ACA has helped millions to receive much needed health care. Trump and the GOP are determined to end that. Along with a hell of a lot more than civility.

Like Jim Morrison sang in his song “Roadhouse Blues,”, “The future’s uncertain and the end is always near.” Multiply that a hundredfold in the land of Trump. The uncertainty is certainly part of the Trumpist strategy, but it could also be their undoing. By stirring the teapot of unrest like he has done, he is adding an element over which he has less control—the element of resistance. However, in order for that resistance to effectively counter the Trumpist agenda, it must also be unpredictable and uncontrollable to some extent. Pat of its strategy should be to make the current situation ungovernable.

That means the Democratic Party cannot and should not have a leading role. This isn’t to say the Democrats should not oppose Trump. It’s just that any opposition they might provide can only be part of the party’s strategy to take the seats of power currently under control of their counterpart in capitalist rule—the Republican Party. It is ultimately a losing strategy. If the Democrats somehow managed to field candidates who could deliver single payer healthcare and an end to the war economy, those candidates would get my vote. However, unless those policies were written into the Constitution, the wealthy lords of the political system would convince/pay other politicians to overturn them as soon as they could. If the reader doubts this, just go back fifty years to the Great Society programs and see what remains of them. Even better, go back to the New Deal and describe what remains of those attempts to distribute wealth more fairly. The point I am trying to make is that the capitalist class never gives up its goal of maximizing its profits. Therefore, you can’t really depend on their political parties to do much to change that. Of course, a complete overhaul is also unlikely. Yet, that is what should be the goal, just like it was when Nixon was the president.

The swamp is not being drained. It is becoming more toxic by the day. It is now ebb tide at the pig farm and the sewage is in the pool where your children go to swim. If protests don’t begin to fill the streets, expect more of the same. If they do fill the streets, expect a serious struggle with equally serious consequences, one way or another.

Prepare! Peruse!! Prevail!!!

Counterpunch - 1 hour 32 min ago

The waves, the artificial tides of anti-Russian propaganda continue to beat upon the ears and eyes of Western citizens, spurred by US politicians, bureaucrats and tycoons whose motives vary from duplicitous to blatantly commercial.  It is no coincidence that there has been vastly increased expenditure on US weaponry by Eastern European countries.

Complementing the weapons’ build-up, which is so sustaining and lucrative for the US industrial-military complex, the naval, air and ground forces of the US-NATO military alliance continue operations ever closer to Russia’s borders.

Shares and dividends in US arms manufacturing companies have rocketed, in a most satisfactory spinoff from Washington’s policy of global confrontation, and the Congressional Research Service (CRS) records that “arms sales are recognized widely as an important instrument of state power. States have many incentives to export arms. These include enhancing the security of allies or partners; constraining the behavior of adversaries; using the prospect of arms transfers as leverage on governments’ internal or external behavior; and creating the economics of scale necessary to support a domestic arms industry.”

The CRS notes that arms deals “are often a key component in Congress’s approach to advancing US foreign policy objectives,”  which is especially notable around the Baltic and throughout the Middle East, where US wars have created a bonanza for US weapons makers — and for the politicians whom the manufacturers reward so generously for their support. (Additionally, in 2017 arms manufacturers spent $93,937,493 on lobbying Congress.)

Some countries, however, do not wish to purchase US weaponry, and they are automatically categorized as being influenced by Russia, which is blamed for all that has gone wrong in America over the past couple of years. This classification is especially notable in the Central Asian Republics.

The US military’s Central Command (Centcom) states that its “area of responsibility spans more than 4 million square miles and is populated by more than 550 million people from 22 ethnic groups, speaking 18 languages . . . and confessing [sic; probably ‘professing’] multiple religions which transect national borders. The demographics create opportunities for tension and rivalry.”  Centcom is deeply engaged in the US wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, while supporting Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen, and the extent of its influence in the Pentagon’s self-allotted geographical Area of Responsibility is intriguing, to say the least. Some of its priorities were revealed in March 2017 by the Commander of this enormous military realm, General Joseph Votel, in testimony to the Armed Services Committee of the House of Representatives in Washington.

General Votel’s description of US “responsibilities” was astonishing in its imperialistic arrogance.

As Commander of Centcom, General Votel gave the Armed Services Committee a colorful tour of his territory, describing nations in terms ranging from condescendingly supportive to patently insolent, and he devoted much time to describing relations with countries abutting Russia, Iran and China, which nations, he declared, are trying “to limit US influence in the sub-region.”  That “sub-region” includes many countries immediately on the borders of Russia, Iran and China, and averaging 7,000 miles (11,000 kilometers) from Washington.

First he dealt with Kazakhstan with which the US has its “most advanced military relationship in Central Asia” in furtherance of which Washington is “making notable progress . . . despite enduring Russian influence.”  It is obviously unacceptable to the Pentagon that Russia wishes to maintain cordial relations with a country with which it has a border of 6,800 kilometers. Then General Votel went into fantasyland by claiming that “Kazakhstan remains the most significant regional contributor to Afghan stability . . .” which even the members of the Congressional Committee would have realized is spurious nonsense.

But more nonsense was to follow, with General Votel referring to Kyrgyzstan in patronizing terms usually associated with a Viceroy or other colonial master of a region that Votel describes as “widely characterized by pervasive instability and conflict,” which he failed to note were caused by the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He told the Committee that Kyrgyzstan “sees political pressure from its larger, more powerful neighbors, including Russia, hosting a small Russian airbase outside the capital, Bishkek.  Despite ongoing challenges in our bilateral and security cooperation, we continue to seek opportunities to improve our mil-to-mil relationship.”  He did not explain why Kyrgyzstan should be expected to embrace a military alliance with United States Central Command, but Viceroys don’t have to provide explanations.

Votel then moved to describe Tajikistan with which “our mil-to-mil relationship is deepening despite Moscow’s enduring ties and the presence of the military base near Tajikistan’s capital of Dushanbe, Russia’s largest military base outside of its borders.”  Not only this, says Votel, but China (having a 400 kilometer border with Tajikistan) has had the temerity to have “initiated a much stronger military cooperation partnership with Tajikistan, adding further complexity to Tajikistan’s multi-faceted approach to security cooperation.”

No :  China hasn’t added any complexity to Tajikistan’s circumstances.  What has complicated their relations is the fact that Afghanistan is in a state of chaos, following the US invasion of 2001, and drugs and terrorists cross the border (1,300 kilometers long) from Afghanistan into Tajikistan, which is trying to protect itself.  During its sixteen years of war in Afghanistan there has been no attempt by the United States to secure that border.

None of these countries wants to be forced into a military pact with the United States, and Turkmenistan (border with Afghanistan 750 kilometers) has made it clear it doesn’t want to be aligned with anyone.  But General Votel states that its “UN-recognized policy of ‘positive neutrality’ presents a challenge with respect to US engagement.”  No matter what is desired by Turkmenistan, it seems, there must always be a way for the United States Central Command to establish military relations and, as General Votel told the Defence Committee, “we are encouraged somewhat by Turkmenistan’s expressed interest in increased mil-to-mil engagement with the US within the limits of their ‘positive neutrality’ policy.”

In the minds (to use the word loosely) of General Votel and his kind, it doesn’t matter if a country wants nothing whatever to do with the United States’ military machine, and wants very much to be left alone to get on with its affairs without interference.  Adoption of such a policy by any nation presents a “challenge” and the United States, which in this region is overseen by General Votel’s Central Command, is determined to seek military “engagement” irrespective of what is desired by governments.  Arms sales would swiftly follow.

Votel’s tour of his area of responsibility covered Afghanistan, about which his most absurd assertion  was “I believe what Russia is attempting to do is they are attempting to be an influential party in this part of the world. I think it is fair to assume they may be providing some sort of support to [the Taliban] in terms of weapons or other things that may be there.”

There was not a shred of evidence provided, but the Committee accepted his pronouncement without question. If an allegation is made about Russia it doesn’t matter if it is false.  It must be believed.  But unfortunately for the imperial Votel and his deferential audience, a person with some sense of truth and balance came up two months later with a statement rubbishing Votel’s unfounded and provocative accusation. In May the Director of the US Defence Intelligence Agency told a Senate Committee that “We have seen indication that [Russia] offered some level of support [to the Taliban], but I have not seen real physical evidence of weapons or money being transferred.”  The mainstream media gave no publicity to the truth, and continue to blame Russia for all the ills that befall the US Empire, at home and overseas.

The state of affairs was summed up admirably by Jacob Hornberger of the Future of Freedom Foundation on December 4 when he wrote that “Central to any national-security state is the need for official enemies, ones that are used to frighten and agitate the citizenry. If there are no official enemies, the American citizenry might begin asking some discomforting questions: What do we need a national-security state for? Why not abolish the CIA and dismantle the military-industrial complex and the NSA. Why can’t we have our limited-government, constitutional republic back?”

The Motto of the Pentagon’s Central Command is “Prepare, Pursue, Prevail.” and the Central Asian Republics would be well-advised to bear in mind these threats and think hard about the underlying motif of the US military-industrial complex which is “Propagandize, Provoke, Profit.”

We Agree Assault is Bad, Now Let’s Agree on How to Punish It

Counterpunch - 1 hour 32 min ago

Our national debate about sexual harassment and assault seems to be missing a bit of nuance. As a woman who’s been sexually harassed and assaulted many times, here’s how I see it.

Sexual predators aren’t the same as pigs. Roy Moore is a predator. His systematic, frequent pursuing of teenage girls at a shopping mall when he was in his 30s shows a pattern of intentional behavior. He was after children too young to consent to sex.

Film producer Harvey Weinstein, who systematically entrapped women trying to make it in the film industry, is a predator. A monstrous one.

Al Franken sounds like a pig.

A pig is the man who stares at your chest instead of your face when talking to you. A pig might try to touch you under the pretense of being friendly, or joking, or “accidentally” brushing up on you.

The pig might think he’s being hilarious or just having good fun. He may even think he’s flattering you. You should feel grateful he chose you as a woman worthy of his sexual attention.

The last pig I encountered smacked my behind. Twice. The first time it happened, I didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t OK, but what do you say?

As a woman I’m socialized to always remain polite. Since I couldn’t think of an appropriate, non-confrontational polite response, I said nothing.

The second time, I was ready. This wasn’t OK, and I was willing to risk an unpleasant confrontation.

“Don’t do that,” I said.

“Why not?” the man asked.

“Because I didn’t give you permission,” I snapped back.

“And?” he said. He held up one finger, as if he were making a list and I’d just given him one item — but there had to be more.

What? No.

“I didn’t give you permission” is the only reason I need. But I added, “And were aren’t dating.” He nodded, accepting my reasons. I was enraged. “Don’t touch my butt” shouldn’t require explanation or justification.

There seems to be a spectrum, from the small-time pig to the most heinous sexual predator. And different punishments fit different crimes. It also matters if the perpetrator apologizes, and if he stops the problematic behavior.

Yet the way we’re haphazardly applying consequences doesn’t reflect the severity of the crime, the trustworthiness of the evidence, or the sincerity of the apology.

Donald Trump bragged about assaulting women, and many women have come forward to allege he’s assaulted them, yet he’s in the White House. Roy Moore pursued teenage girls when he was an adult, yet he still retained the support of most Republicans.

Senator Al Franken, a mere pig by comparison, resigned his seat after realizing he was wrong for groping and kissing women without their consent.

Actor Kevin Spacey, who played the president on the TV show House of Cards, lost his job after a wave of assault allegations surfaced against him. But while Spacey can’t play a president on TV anymore, a man who openly bragged about committing assault still sits in the real Oval Office.

And Clarence Thomas, a man once accused of serial sexual harassment, is still on the Supreme Court.

Our conversation must advance from simply agreeing to take sexual harassment and assault seriously to agreeing upon a fair and consistent way to punish it.

The Greatest Threats to Our Common Humanity

Counterpunch - 1 hour 32 min ago

I would like to use this opportunity in the run-up to International Human Rights Day to focus on the greatest threats to our common humanity.  And why states need to throw their weight behind genuine international co-operation and human rights both individual and collective, social and economic, as well as legal and constitutional at home and abroad if we are to meet and overcome those threats.

My own country is at a crossroads. The decision by the British people to leave the European Union in last year’s referendum means we have to rethink our role in the world.

Some want to use Brexit to turn Britain in on itself, rejecting the outside world, viewing everyone as a feared competitor.

Others want to use Brexit to put rocket boosters under our current economic system’s insecurities and inequalities, turning Britain into a deregulated corporate tax haven, with low wages, limited rights, and cut-price public services in a destructive race to the bottom.

My party stands for a completely different future when we leave the EU, drawing on the best internationalist traditions of the labour movement and our country.

We want to see close and cooperative relationships with our European neighbours, outside the EU, based on solidarity as well as mutual benefit and fair trade, along with a wider proactive internationalism across the globe.

We are proud that Britain was an original signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights and our 1998 Human Rights Act enshrined it in our law.  So Labour will continue to work with other European states and progressive parties and movements, through the Council of Europe to ensure our country and others uphold our international obligations.

Just as the work of the UN Human Rights Council helps to ensure countries like ours live up to our commitments, such as on disability rights, where this year’s report found us to be failing.  International co-operation, solidarity, collective action are the values we are determined to project in our foreign policy.

Those values will inform everything the next Labour government does on the world stage, using diplomacy to expand a progressive, rules-based international system, which provides justice and security for all.

They must be genuinely universal and apply to the strong as much as the weak if they are to command global support and confidence.

They cannot be used to discipline the weak, while the strong do as they please, or they will be discredited as a tool of power, not justice.

That’s why we must ensure that the powerful uphold and respect international rules and international law.

If we don’t, the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 will remain an aspiration, rather than a reality and international rules will be seen as a pick and mix menu for the global powers that call the international shots.

Most urgently we must work with other countries to advance the cause of human rights, to confront the four greatest and interconnected threats facing our common humanity.

First, the growing concentration of unaccountable wealth and power in the hands of a tiny corporate elite, a system many call neoliberalism, which has sharply increased inequality, marginalisation, insecurity and anger across the world.

Second, climate change, which is creating instability, fuelling conflict across the world and threatening all our futures.

Third, the unprecedented numbers of people fleeing conflict, persecution, human rights abuses, social breakdown and climate disasters.

And finally, the use of unilateral military action and intervention, rather than diplomacy and negotiation, to resolve disputes and change governments.

The dominant global economic system is broken.

It is producing a world where a wealthy few control 90 percent of global resources.

Of growing insecurity and grotesque levels of inequality within and between nations, where more than 100 billion dollars a year are estimated to be lost to developing countries from corporate tax avoidance.

Where $1 trillion dollars a year are sucked out of the Global South through illicit financial flows.

This is a global scandal.

The most powerful international corporations must not be allowed to continue to dictate how and for whom our world is run.

Thirty years after structural adjustment programmes first ravaged so much of the world, and a decade after the financial crash of 2008, the neoliberal orthodoxy that delivered them is breaking down.

This moment, a crisis of confidence in a bankrupt economic system and social order, presents us with a once in a generation opportunity to build a new economic and social consensus which puts the interests of the majority first.

But the crumbling of the global elite’s system and their prerogative to call the shots unchallenged has led some politicians to stoke fear and division. And deride international co-operation as national capitulation.

President Trump’s disgraceful Muslim ban and his anti-Mexican rhetoric have fuelled racist incitement and misogyny and shift the focus away from what his Wall Street-dominated administration is actually doing.

In Britain, where wages have actually fallen for most people over the last decade as the corporations and the richest have been handed billions in tax cuts, our Prime Minister has followed a less extreme approach but one that also aims to divert attention from her Government’s failures and real agenda.

She threatens to scrap the Human Rights Act, which guarantees all of our people’s civil and political rights and has actually benefited everyone in our country. And she has insisted “if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere”.

There is an alternative to this damaging and bankrupt order. The world’s largest corporations and banks cannot be left to write the rules and rig the system for themselves.

The world’s economy can and must deliver for the common good and the majority of its people. But that is going to demand real and fundamental structural change on an international level.

The UN has a pivotal role to play, in advancing a new consensus and common ground based on solidarity, respect for human rights and international regulation and co-operation.

That includes as a platform for democratic leaders to speak truth about unaccountable power.

One such moment took place on 4 December 1972, when President Salvador Allende of Chile, elected despite huge opposition and US interference, took the rostrum of the UN General Assembly in New York.

He called for global action against the threat from transnational corporations, that do not answer to any state, any parliament or any organisation representing the common interest.

Nine months later, Allende was killed in General Augusto Pinochet’s coup, which ushered in a brutal 17-year dictatorship and turned Chile into a laboratory of free market fundamentalism.

But 44 years on, all over the world people are standing up and saying enough to the unchained power of multinational companies to dodge taxes, grab land and resources on the cheap and rip the heart out of workforces and communities.

That’s why I make the commitment to you today that the next Labour government in Britain will actively support the efforts of the UN Human Rights Council to create a legally binding treaty to regulate transnational corporations under international human rights law.

Genuine corporate accountability must apply to all of the activities of their subsidiaries and suppliers.  Impunity for corporations that violate human rights or wreck our environment, as in the mineral-driven conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, must be brought to an end.

For too long, development has been driven by the unfounded dogma that unfettered markets and unaccountable multinational companies are the key to solving global problems.

So under the next Labour Government the Department for International Development will have the twin mission of not only eradicating poverty but also reducing inequality across the world.

To achieve this goal we must act against the global scandal of tax dodging and trade mis-invoicing – robbing developing countries and draining resources from our own public services.

In Africa alone an estimated 35 billion dollars is lost each year to tax dodging, and 50 billion to illicit financial flows, vastly exceeding the 30 billion dollars that enters the continent as aid.

As the Paradise and Panama Papers have shown the super-rich and the powerful can’t be trusted to regulate themselves.

Multinational companies must be required to undertake country-by-country reporting, while countries in the Global South need support now to keep hold of the billions being stolen from their people.

So the next Labour government will seek to work with tax authorities in developing countries, as Zambia has with NORAD – the Norwegian aid agency – to help them stop the looting.

Tomorrow is International Anti-Corruption Day. Corruption isn’t something that happens ‘over there’. Our government has played a central role in enabling the corruption that undermines democracy and violates human rights. It is a global issue that requires a global response.

When people are kept in poverty, while politicians funnel public funds into tax havens, that is corruption, and a Labour government will act decisively on tax havens: introducing strict standards of transparency for crown dependencies and overseas territories including a public register of owners, directors, major shareholders and beneficial owners … for all companies and trusts.

Climate change is the second great threat to our common humanity. Our planet is in jeopardy. Global warming is undeniable; the number of natural disasters has quadrupled since 1970.

Hurricanes like the ones that recently hit the Caribbean are bigger because they are absorbing moisture from warmer seas.

It is climate change that is warming the seas, mainly caused by emissions from the world’s richer countries.

And yet the least polluting countries, more often than not the developing nations, are at the sharp end of the havoc climate change unleashes – with environmental damage fuelling food insecurity and social dislocation.

We must stand with them in solidarity. Two months ago, I promised the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, that I would use this platform to make this message clear.

The international community must mobilise resources and the world’s biggest polluters shoulder the biggest burden.

So I ask governments in the most polluting countries, including in the UK:

First, to expand their capacity to respond to disasters around the world. Our armed forces, some of the best trained and most highly skilled in the world, should be allowed to use their experience to respond to humanitarian emergencies. Italy is among those leading the way with its navy becoming a more versatile and multi-role force.

Second, to factor the costs of environmental degradation into financial forecasting as Labour has pledged to do with Britain’s Office of Budget Responsibility. Third, to stand very firmly behind the historic Paris Climate Accords.

And finally, take serious and urgent steps on debt relief and cancellation.

We need to act as an international community against the injustice of countries trying to recover from climate crises they did not create while struggling to repay international debts.

It’s worth remembering the words of Thomas Sankara, President of Burkina Faso, delivered to the Organisation of African Unity in 1987 a few months before he too was assassinated in a coup.

“The debt cannot be repaid,” he said, “first because if we don’t repay lenders will not die. But if we repay… we are going to die.”

The growing climate crisis exacerbates the already unparalleled numbers of people escaping conflict and desperation.

There are now more refugees and displaced people around the world than at any time since the Second World War.

Refugees are people like us.

But unlike us they have been forced by violence, persecution and climate chaos to flee their homes.

One of the biggest moral tests of our time is how we live up to the spirit and letter of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Its core principle was simple: to protect refugees.

Yet ten countries, which account for just 2.5 percent of the global economy, are hosting more than half the world’s refugees.

It is time for the world’s richer countries to step up and show our common humanity.

Failure means millions of Syrians internally displaced within their destroyed homeland or refugees outside it. Rohingya refugees returned to Myanmar without guarantees of citizenship or protection from state violence and refugees held in indefinite detention in camps unfit for human habitation as in Papua New Guinea or Nauru. And African refugees sold into slavery in war-ravaged Libya.

This reality should offend our sense of humanity and human solidarity.  European countries can, and must, do more as the death rate of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean continues to rise.  And we need to take more effective action against human traffickers.

But let us be clear: the long-term answer is genuine international co-operation based on human rights, which confronts the root causes of conflict, persecution and inequality.

I’ve spent most of my life, with many others, making the case for diplomacy and dialogue… over war and conflict, often in the face of hostility.

But I remain convinced that is the only way to deliver genuine and lasting security for all.

And even after the disastrous invasions and occupations of recent years there is again renewed pressure to opt for military force, America First or Empire 2.0 as the path to global security.

I know the people of Britain are neither insensitive to the sufferings of others nor blind to the impact and blowback from our country’s reckless foreign wars.

Regime change wars, invasions, interventions and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and Somalia have failed on their own terms, devastated the countries and regions and made Britain and the world a more dangerous place.

And while the UK government champions some human rights issues on others it is silent, if not complicit, in their violation.

Too many have turned a wilfully blind eye to the flagrant and large-scale human rights abuses now taking place in Yemen, fuelled by arms sales to Saudi Arabia worth billions of pounds.

The see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil approach undermines our credibility and ability to act over other human rights abuses.

Total British government aid to Yemen last year was under £150 million – less than the profits made by British arms companies selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. What does that say about our country’s priorities, or our government’s role in the humanitarian disaster now gripping Yemen?

Our credibility to speak out against the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims is severely undermined when the British Government has been providing support to Myanmar’s military.

And our Governments pay lip service to a comprehensive settlement and two state solution to the Israel- Palestine conflict but do nothing to use the leverage they have to end the oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people.

70 years after the UN General Assembly voted to create a Palestinian state alongside what would become Israel, and half a century since Israel occupied the whole of historic Palestine, they should take a lead from Israeli peace campaigners such as Gush Shalom and Peace Now and demand an end to the multiple human rights abuses Palestinians face on a daily basis. The continued occupation and illegal settlements are violations of international law and are a barrier to peace.

The US president’s announcement that his administration will recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including occupied Palestinian territory, is a threat to peace that has rightly been met with overwhelming international condemnation.

The decision is not only reckless and provocative – it risks setting back any prospect of a political settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

President Trump’s speech at the UN General Assembly in September signalled a wider threat to peace. His attack on multilateralism, human rights and international law should deeply trouble us all.

And this is no time to reject the Iran Nuclear Deal, a significant achievement agreed between Iran and a group of world power to reduce tensions.

That threatens not just the Middle East but also the Korean Peninsula. What incentives are there for Pyongyang to believe disarmament will bring benefits when the US dumps its nuclear agreement with Tehran?

Trump and Kim Jong Un threaten a terrifying nuclear confrontation with their absurd and bellicose insults.

In common with almost the whole of humanity, I say to the two leaders: this is not a game, step back from the brink now.

It is a commonplace that war and violence do not solve the world’s problems. Violence breeds violence. In 2016 nearly three quarters of all deaths from terrorism were in five states; Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria and Somalia.

So let us stand up for the victims of war and terrorism and make international justice a reality.  And demand that the biggest arms exporters ensure all arms exports are consistent, not legally, but with their moral obligations too.

That means no more arms export licences when there is a clear risk that they will be used to commit human rights abuses or crimes against humanity.

The UK is one of the world’s largest arms exporters so we must live up to our international obligations while we explore ways to convert arms production into other socially useful, high-skill, high-tech industry.

Which is why I welcome the recent bipartisan U.S. House of Representatives resolution which does two unprecedented things.

First, it acknowledges the U.S. role in the destruction of Yemen, including the mid-air refuelling of the Saudi-led coalition planes essential to their bombing campaign and helping in selecting targets.

Second, it makes plain that Congress has not authorised this military involvement.

Yemen is a desperate humanitarian catastrophe with the worst cholera outbreak in history.

The weight of international community opinion needs to be brought to bear on those supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, including Theresa May’s Government, to meet our legal and moral obligations on arms sales and to negotiate an urgent ceasefire and settlement of this devastating conflict.

If we’re serious about supporting peace we must strengthen international co-operation and peacekeeping.  Britain has an important role to play after failing to contribute significant troop numbers in recent years.

We are determined to seize the opportunity to be a force for good in peacekeeping, diplomacy and support for human rights.

Labour is committed to invest in our diplomatic capabilities and consular services and we will reintroduce human rights advisers in our embassies around the world.

Human rights and justice will be at the heart of our foreign policy along with a commitment to support the United Nations.

The UN provides a unique platform for international co-operation and action. And to be effective, we need member states to get behind the reform agenda set out by Secretary General Guterres.

The world demands the UN Security Council responds, becomes more representative and plays the role it was set up to on peace and security.

We can live in a more peaceful world. The desire to help create a better life for all burns within us.

Governments, civil society, social movements and international organisations can all help realise that goal.

We need to redouble our efforts to create a global rules based system that applies to all and works for the many, not the few.

No more bomb first and think and talk later.

No more double standards in foreign policy.

No more scapegoating of global institutions for the sake of scoring political points at home.

Instead: solidarity, calm leadership and co-operation. Together we can:

Build a new social and economic system with human rights and justice at its core.

Deliver climate justice and a better way to live together on this planet.

Recognise the humanity of refugees and offer them a place of safety.

Work for peace, security and understanding.

The survival of our common humanity requires nothing less.

We need to recognise and pay tribute to human rights defenders the world over, putting their lives on the line for others – our voice must be their voice.

Text of  Jeremy Corbyn’s remarks at the United Nation’s Geneva headquarters on December 8, 2017 in honor of International Human RIghts Day.

The Amoral Code of America’s Dirty Old Men

Counterpunch - 1 hour 33 min ago

Many of America’s leaders in politics and other fields have forced themselves on women, their deeds often masked by a sanctimonious decorum. To Donald J. Trump goes the distinction of having been caught in verbal flagrante—bragging about his attacks on women as he bantered off-camera—so he thought—with an accommodating interviewer. Despite the chorus of victims who confirmed his boasts, Americans elected him president.

Males have lorded it over females for millennia. Men of every race, religion, and party have abused women.  Now we  like to think that moral standards have been raised.  We take it for granted that gender exploitation is a violation of basic human rights.  Accordingly, Democrats have pressed Senators John Conyers and Al Franken to leave the Senate under the shadow of gender-abuse scandals.

In sharp contrast, the Republican responses to scandal leave us uncertain who we really are.. Despite Roy Moore’s reputation as a pedophile, his Senate candidacy was backed by Trump and the Republican National Committee. Moore’s ambiguous denial of the charges (“I don’t remember… dating any girl without the permission of her mother.”) was supposed to exonerate him.  Most Republicans in Congress (as well as the White House) demonstrated their readiness to jettison their vaunted principles to get one more yes vote (for a bill that, along with  other cruelties, hurts women.)

As with Moore, so Trump:  most Republicans appear deaf, dumb, and blind to the president’s predatory past, his use of office for his own profit-making, his peculiar links to Putin’s Russia, his attacks on the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, and his various trespasses against the Constitution.

What explains Republican apathy to amoral or, rather, immoral behavior in high places? Is age a factor?  Trump is 71; Moore, 70; The average age in the House is now 58 and the Senate 62.  Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is 75; senior Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer,  67. (Speaker of House Paul Ryan is a spring chicken at 47.). Have older men abandoned their ideals—or has hypocrisy always ruled the day?

On the other hand, the distaff side of Congress is not resigned to male bullying. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (herself age 77) and many of the 89 women in the House and 21 in the Senate do care. Pelosi is one of many women who pressured Conyers and Franken to resign.

Republican attitudes toward gender abuse is part of a larger indifference to basic morality and to patriotic love of country. Here is their version of the Ten Commandments (quite different from the one Judge Moore claimed to revere):  Greed more than age would explain this syndrome.

+ Jigger the tax system to reward donors to our party regardless the impact on national debt and collateral damage to health, welfare, and education. Subvert comprehensive medicine by removing any obligation to buy health insurance. Remove tax exemptions for graduate student tuition grants and university endowments, because most educated people oppose our policies. We don’t need experts to guide policy but Trump loyalists

+ Gut any restrictions on oil, coal, gas, and chemical industries.  Tear down environmental protection rules that favor alternative energy or protect public lands and water  (How many votes can Navajos, Sioux, Eskimos, and polar bears muster?) Ignore and throttle science that warns about global warming, pollution, or perils of nuclear war..

+ Knowledge: Denounce mainstream media as “fake news” because they often question our policies and the motives behind them. Tear down net neutrality and let the biggest companies rule the air waves. Remove Obama-era efforts to protect learners from for-profit colleges like the erstwhile Trump University. Support charter schools including the many that teach creationism and say nothing about pollution and global warming.

+ Raise walls against immigration—especially by Muslims, blacks, and Latinos. Get rid of DACA protections.  Many of migrants, especially those with education,  will support our political foes.

+ Back white supremacists and weaken “black lives matter” and other forms of protest by non-whites. Do not punish racist police actions or alt-right demonstrators.

+ Question the patriotism and honesty of any courts that rule against us.  Appoint judges  who share our “values.”

+ Tear down consumer, investor, and work-place protections; let free enterprise and the market do their thing.

+ “America First!”—material interests above “values.”  Downplay our traditional alliances with democracies and work with strong, if authoritarian, partners such as Saudi Arabia and Russia,  Downsize the State Department.  Diplomats are superfluous: it’s the president who makes policy.

+ Degrade arms control restraints and transfer at least one trillion dollars to industry to modernize our strategic and other arms. Fight any restraint on gun sales at  Legislate to permit carrying  loaded weapons in every state.

+ Our all-encompassing rule is this: Never mind what might be good for the country and most of its people. Do whatever helps us retain and use power in Washington and across the country.

Walter C. Clemens is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Boston University and Associate, Harvard University Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. He wrote Complexity Science and World Affairs (SUNY Press, 2013) and North Korea and the World (University Press of Kentucky, 2016).  

Stephen H.  Advocate is  a social psychologist  in New Haven, CT. 

Trump’s Cruel Policy on Haitian Refugees

Counterpunch - 1 hour 34 min ago

Two months after experiencing the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010, my dad finally made it back home to Boston. What had started as a holiday vacation turned into weeks of sleeping outside the family home in Haiti, fearful that it would collapse on anyone sleeping inside.

My family members lived that way for weeks, as daily aftershocks kept them reliving the traumatic experience that rattled the country’s capital. They never knew whether the next aftershock wouldn’t kill them as the quake had killed their neighbors nearby.

This devastating natural disaster took nearly 316,000 lives and displaced 1.5 million Haitians. Many of these victims sought refuge in the United States — legally, under a classification called Temporary Protective Status (TPS).

Now again, in this holiday season — eight years after the quake — they’re reliving this fear and uncertainty. The Trump administration has moved to end the TPS program, causing many Haitians to face deportation after July 2019.

For these Haitian immigrants, TPS offered a chance to start fresh and build a new life — an opportunity that’s hard to come by in Haiti, a country that’s spent decades struggling with widespread poverty.

Widespread poverty that the U.S. has contributed to both economically and politically.

See, the U.S. has a long history with Haiti, dating back to the early 1800s when Haiti defeated France in the world’s first successful slave rebellion, leading Haiti to become the first independent black nation.

While black people around the world celebrate this moment in history, this victory didn’t come without costs.

After the 1804 revolution, France found a way to gain economic control of Haiti, forcing the new country to pay back 150 million francs for the enslaved Haitians that were freed after the war.

In order to pay this debt, Haiti was forced to take out a major loan from the young U.S., which didn’t recognize Haiti for another 60 years. This debt wasn’t paid off till 1947, at a current value of over $20 billion.

Haiti’s economic dependency on the U.S. didn’t end there, though. From 1957 to 1986, Haiti’s government was run by two U.S.-backed dictators, “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

“Duvalier stole millions from Haiti and ran up hundreds of millions in debt that Haiti still owes. Ten thousand Haitians lost their lives,” longtime Haiti human rights advocate Bill Quigley explained in the Huffington Post. “Estimates say that Haiti owes $1.3 billion in external debt and that 40 percent of that debt was run up by the U.S.-backed Duvaliers.”

Although this era had a ripple effect of negative consequences that the people of Haiti still face, the U.S. continues to play a big role in Haitian economics and politics, including efforts to rebuild the nation after the earthquake.

But instead of using relief funds to provide some much needed assistance to the country, the Red Cross used half a billion dollars to build just six permanent homes in Haiti.

Now, the Trump administration’s decision to terminate TPS will force up to 60,000 Haitians back to a country that’s still facing food shortages, widespread homelessness, and lack of access to schools and medical facilities to say the least.

This isn’t only wrong — it’s inhumane. The U.S. should use this as an opportunity to reverse the damage it’s done to Haiti.

Water Rights or Water Privileges?

Counterpunch - 1 hour 34 min ago

Oregon Public Radio had a story about the Deschutes River and its water flow problems. The Deschutes River which historically had one of the most constant flows of any river in the United States due to the abundance of springs that form its headwaters. The annual difference in high and low flows was about 6 inches.

However, in an effort to irrigate the desert, the river has been captured by irrigators who have constructed reservoirs to store water in winter, which is released in high volume in the summer months. As a consequence, the once nearly even flow varies radically throughout the year.

In the fall when the gates are closed on reservoirs, the flows dwindle to the point where many fish are trapped in side channels and die. Riverbanks are also exposed to erosion, including the sedimentation in the river.

By contrast in summer, the irrigators use the river channel as an irrigation canal sending high volumes of water downstream. This further erodes the banks and also disrupts the aquatic ecosystems.

The drawdowns harm the river’s once famous fisheries, and all but lead to the extirpation of bull trout, and is also harmful to Oregon spotted frog which was recently listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The changes to the river also harm other businesses that have grown in Central Oregon like fly fishing, river floating and other recreation, not to mention, greatly changed the water quality in what was once one of the clearest and cleanest rivers in the West.

The OPB radio spot talked about “water rights” of the irrigators as if these meant that ranchers and farmers could dictate water use on the river. What was not mentioned is that ALL water in Oregon, as well as in other western states, is “owned” by the citizens of the state.

A water “right” is not a right to the water. All water is OWNED BY THE STATE’S CITIZENS.

A water right determines who gets the water and how much IF the owners of the water (i.e. you and me) decide to allow them to take the water.

Historically when many people in Oregon were dependent on Ag for their living no one questioned the idea of taking public water out of rivers for private use and profit. But today with many other people dependent on the water, this law doesn’t make sense.

However, the legal framework has not kept up with the changes in employment and expectations.

For instance, the Crooked River, a tributary of the Deschutes River, lost tens of thousands of trout when irrigators turned off flows from an upstream reservoir.

Prior to this event, the Crooked River was well-known as a major trout fishing destination with 8000 catchable trout per mile. After the drawdown, there were only 300 fish per mile. What happened? Did the irrigators pay any consequences? Nada.

Think how crazy this is. If you or I went fishing on the Crooked River and caught a few extra trout over the limit, we would be fined as poachers. But an irrigator can kill tens of thousands of the public’s wildlife with no consequences. And keep in mind that not only fish suffer, but all the other wildlife that depends on fish like osprey, bald eagles, otter, mink and so on.

Yet every fall when irrigators draw down the Deschutes what is the public response. Some conservation groups organize fish capture parties to find fish trapped in shrinking pools of water and put them back in the river.

What I Learned in Ghana 

Counterpunch - 1 hour 37 min ago

I spent the past four months studying abroad in Accra, Ghana at the University of Ghana. If anyone is interested in study abroad I suggest the provider USAC, who put me in the same dorm as students from other programs who were paying three times the cost. It was certainly nice being outside of the United States, whose meltdown is more visible now than it was during the devastating administrations preceding Donald Trump. Of course few can afford to travel for four months.  I didn’t feel so different from the people who talked about moving to Canada because they hated Trump, leaving all those who cannot afford to uproot their lives behind to deal with him.

There is a sense among the enlightened liberal circles that we have no responsibility in Trump’s rise. The extreme conclusion of this would be to leave the country but one really doesn’t have to in order to completely separate themselves from the reality in America, that is if this person is privileged enough to believe in the first place that “America is already great.” Locking yourself away in an air-conditioned suburbia does the trick just fine. The irony being that this is the very “wall building” that the liberal is supposedly against. It is much easier to be against Trump’s wall when illegal immigrants can’t be given your job (at an even more unlivable wage mind you, as the employers are the most racist of all). The hope is that all workers can identify the common enemy who is lowering everyone’s  living standards. This unfortunately is at times far from the perception in a deeply racist country.

This is not to excuse anybody but merely to recognize that the issue of immigration is about far more than race. Both liberals and conservatives would rather divide by race than unite by class. It might be more accurate to say liberal elites prefer to divide by education level and geography because our leaders are not coming close to taking the side of nonwhite people obviously, regardless of what identity politics assumes.

So to say that poor rural whites are the only ones building walls would be disingenuous. The main point here is that regardless of political affiliation we would all do well to be less isolated in America.

My roommate from Myanmar compared Ghana to his home country, saying both countries were “people” countries. Communities were strong and people relied on each other. Ghana could teach us some lessons about how to treat each other in the United States. I will immediately qualify this statement with a quote from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s Critique of Postcolonial Reason:: “In subaltern studies, because of the violence of imperialist epistemic, social, and disciplinary inscription, a project understood in essentialist terms must traffic in a radical practice of differences. The object of the group’s investigation, in this case not even of the people as such but of the floating buffer zone of the regional elite—is a deviation from an ideal—the people of subaltern—which is itself defined as a difference from the elite.” It is very easy to simply cast a group already so othered in American discourse as simply different and monolithic. Spivak is right in that such solutions are not necessarily even looking at the people themselves but defining them solely in their difference to the assumed norm. The assumed norm here being the American innovative individual, the engine of capitalism.

Spivak’s analysis is excellent and I fear I will not overcome it. My best counter to it would be to attempt to explain such an essentialized difference through difference in experiences, rather than in essence.   One explanation for a strong community in Ghana was simply that Ghanaians had to bond together. Many Ghanaians told me that they had to form a community to survive. How else could you make it under imperialism and capitalism? This seemed to be in striking contrast to the survival of the fittest narrative we so often hear in the United States. Here we seem to have embraced the idea that individuals can make it under capitalism. Once again a product of our situations as certain individuals in the US were doing ok for a short time under capitalism.

Ghana’s first President and liberator Kwame Nkrumah (Kwame indicating that he was born on a Saturday) said this about Ghana’s independence: “the independence of Ghana would be meaningless unless it was tied to the total liberation of Africa.” Such a sentiment was inspired by Marcus Garvey’s Pan-Africanism. Meanwhile, the United States was founded on the genocide of Native Americans. Here it sadly was survival of the fittest (most barbaric and cruel) that won. Ghana was a trailblazer for African Independence because of, not in spite of, its emphasis on community, specifically socialism.

This is not to say that Ghana is a socialist country, or a country without corruption and horrific poverty, but maybe it would be if Britain soldiers had not led the Ghanaian army in a coup that ousted Nkrumah. Just months before Nkrumah had introduced the term “neo-colonialism”, where he outlined the new strategies of the West’s domination, namely intelligence agencies interference politically (CIA, KGB) as well as exterior economic exploitation that nullifies independence.

Ghana may have led the fight against neo-colonialism with Nkrumah at the helm. When Nkrumah was overthrown, the US feasted. From us-uk interventions.org:

“Commenting on the recent coup in Ghana, Robert W. Komer, a special assistant to the US president, says in a memo to President Johnson that the overthrow of the Nkrumah government was “another example of a fortuitous windfall”. He gloats over the win noting that “Nkrumah was doing more to undermine our interests than any other black African” and that the “new military regime is almost pathetically pro-Western”. He then goes on to emphasize that the US should “follow through skillfully and consolidate such successes”. He explains: “A few thousand tons of surplus wheat or rice, given now when the new regimes are quite uncertain as to their future relations with us, could have a psychological significance out of all proportion to the cost of the gesture. I am not arguing for lavish gifts to these regimes, indeed, giving them a little only whets their appetites, and enables us to use the prospect of more as leverage.”

The possessive and exploitive nature of relationships between countries and their people continue under neocolonialism. My professor believed that the US was not at war against Ghana currently because Ghana gives them oil on the cheap.

Somehow though a decency lives on. I don’t mean to romanticize Ghana, the lack of social services, the inequality and the patriarchy are all problems that are theirs and ours. But there were some very refreshing occurrences from my time in Ghana:

+ Before being asked for a favor, one would be asked how they were doing, and often get good wishes for their family in the process. I think we can account for the general politeness and consideration both by more time away from work and the priorities of the culture within this time.

+ If someone was given too much money by mistake in a transaction they would alert the other person and return the money. In America if someone made a mistake such as giving a customer too much money I wouldn’t suspect many customers to be decent enough to alert them of their mistake. It was after all, theirmistake.

+ If someone needed directions, they could feel free to ask people on the street and often they would be walked to their location. There are less road signs in Ghana, which makes for more confusion but less stress. You just ask somebody for help, and people actually know the landscape of their neighborhood. In other geography news it was nice  to see a world map here. I mean at home the United States is nearly the size of all of Africa.

+ People smiled at you here. I forgot what smiles from strangers looked like. Suspicion is the name of the game in the US, as mass shootings dominate the headlines and public spaces.

+ When you saw someone you knew you stopped to talk to them rather than rushing off in a hurried apology. In Ghana relationships are valued and remembered, work is not the first priority 24/7.

+ Strangers on public transport would talk to each other all the time. Public transport in the US, when it hasn’t been surmounted by Uber, (which sadly is in Ghana too) is full of exhausted people with personal space issues. A Ghanaian had been in New York and asked me what was wrong with everyone there. No one looked up from their phones!

+ Ghanaians would not ignore persons who begged. This didn’t mean that they gave them money always but eye contact was expected. In America those who can avoid public transport do, and have those tinted windows so the beggars can’t see them.

+ The police didn’t have guns. Someone even had the guts to say to a police officer that he didn’t have the right to search him and there were no consequences. The militarization of our police do not allow us to have any sort of genuine interaction with them, as we fear they could and would open fire.

+ I got most everything from local markets and I was friends with everyone I bought from. These are just little things mostly but it gave me some perspective about how isolated and distrustful we have become in America. Much of this has to do with the way corporations have taken over small communities and businesses.

+ Hugs are always free and given. Not just by a guy with a “Free Hugs” sign after a traumatic event.

What disturbs me about just walking through the streets of America today is that we are so distrusting of one another. If it’s not a Muslim behind every corner, it’s a Russian agent. The segregation, isolation, and close-mindedness can all be linked back to the public school being abandoned as a place for community and curiosity. Now the schools are very much a part of the punishing private state.

It is a worthwhile idea just to get to know people different from you. Sometimes the differences help you improve as a person. But even if this isn’t the case there is something to be said for just seeing other people. Like not walking right by them. And being curious. Everyone seems to be too guarded or distracted for the everyday interaction. The whole notion of anything public is thrown out the window as we all indulge in our own technology bubbles, where we can read our own news, watch our own shows, live our own outrages and form our own moral superiority. Whatever happened to just learning from somebody else? I mean learning from someone new. Behind every person is a story, every opinion an explanation, every feeling a memory.

Assuming all of us are merely a product of our situations, the youth of our country are surviving as they need to, just as Ghanaians did when they turned to socialist ideals under Nkrumah. Polls show now that millennials prefer socialism to capitalism. A whole generation of Reds! Well yes, that is what happens when capitalism can only irk out symbols and crumbs.

Now as we reach the days of mass extinction, we must unite. But will we? Or is the American identity too ingrained? All signs point to an uphill climb that cannot be solved on neoliberal terms. Neoliberalism is merely an argument for a certain kind of individualism. It will contain few winners. What we will need is a revolution that responds to the new conditions that we find ourselves in. America is a dark place at the moment but Trump and company are showing their hands. If socialism is to triumph we must be willing to accept difference, for we are all different, and we are all suffering.

To close, bell hooks’ Talking Back: “It may have been this contact or contact with fellow white English professors who want very much to have “a” black person in “their” department as long as that person thinks and acts like them, shares their values and beliefs, is in no way different, that first compelled me to use the term white supremacy to identity the ideology that most determines how white people in this society (irrespective of their political leanings to the right of left) perceive and relate to black people and other people of color.”

It’s Capitalism

Counterpunch - 1 hour 37 min ago

To say we’re approaching the brink is a yawner. Especially when Nobel Prize recipients are warning that we’re poised at a tantrum. They’ve called on Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un to “tone down the rhetoric” to prevent nuclear disaster, that we’re a “tantrum away” from catastrophe. Isn’t it enough we have an epic urgency—that Mother Earth is marinating in pollutants, one of which is pesticides that are neurotoxic and carcinogenic? Big Pharma to the rescue though with an answer that’s unrelated to prevention: drugs, drugs whose side effects often are as bad or worse than the diseases they’re designed to treat. We’re at a death-rattle moment in human history. See this link for the world’s worst air quality locations.

Maybe, like me, you’re a consummate worrier with anxiety overload. It’s the entirety, including minor, medium, large, and ginormous, list entries playing hopscotch as one concern is elevated. Generally, the minor includes the small, the personal. The ginormous are ecosystem collapse and nuclear annihilation.

One moment I’m consumed with Big Agriculture and the grocery options that if labeled honestly would note toxins as the first ingredient. Then I shift to war. War threatens my peace. I read about troop deaths, families hearing the words, “We regret to inform you,” words my brother Mark hears as he tries to sleep and when he wakes. All the families, like mine, that have lost a loved one to war’s lies, lies that we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here or that freedoms must be protected or that the mission is humanitarian. Plus, the Other victims, the Un-human, the objectified. Those men, women, and children who largely remain uncounted, because, well, to the warmongers they don’t count, people whose lives don’t matter, same as U.S. troops’ lives don’t matter, because the sound of cha-ching is inspirational music to war profiteers.

This is the distillate of capitalism.

Monday: a terrorist attack in New York City. A Bangladeshi detonated an explosive in the name of ISIS. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, spinner extraordinaire, said,

The President is certainly concerned that Congress, particularly Democrats, have failed to take action in some places where we feel we could have prevented this. Specifically, the President’s policy has called for an end to chain migration and if that had been in place, that would have prevented this individual from coming to the United States.

In the comment section of a New York Times article, someone wrote: “Can we please heed the message of the season and just learn to live with one another without insisting our religion is the only way?”

No acknowledgement of U.S. might-makes-right entitlement. No acknowledgement of regime change as U.S. foreign policy. No acknowledgement that actions have consequences: blowback.

This is a period of chaos, of whiplash, a distraction a day. An inflammatory Trump tweet or another sexual predator outed. We watch, read, hear the women (and a handful of men) whose truths, shrouded in fearful hush-hush for so long, are told and heard, in a demand for justice. Here, I’m obligated to add that I’m not trivializing any accuser’s pain, damage to the psyche. All of us should be grateful for their courage in challenging the patriarchy. Plus, this could be a preliminary to the taking down of the head of the Rough Beast who’s occupying the White House. Really, this possibility is fertilizer for my imagination and requires the following insert:

(Imagine the Pences, Pence pillow talk.

“Mother, this is it. Trump plucked me from the jaws of what likely was ignominious defeat in Indiana, and now I’ll be president.”

“Yes, Father, and promise me you still won’t lunch with any women unless I’m present to shield you from temptation. Together we’ll work for the glorification of Christo-fascism. Let’s pray.”

“I’m turned on, Mother. Will you allow me to fornicate you as we pray?”)

As important as it is though, the to-catch-a-sexual-predator news is distraction, distraction from the rape of resources in the countries the U.S. invades. Distraction from the rape of our planet by multinational corporations and legislators that represent the interests of these corporations instead of the people. Those ginormous life-and-resource-sucking corporations are the constituents whose voices are heard, not yours, not mine. Again, the distillate of capitalism.

Let’s see, what will I obsess on tonight? Please, not images of the Pences.

Stop Trump movement

Counterpunch - 1 hour 37 min ago

Since the #GagMeElection of 2016 we have heard a great deal about “resistance.” Nevertheless, we’ve seen relatively little of it actually happening. Who is doing what toward what announced goal?

The War Resisters League (full disclosure: I was on its National Committee years ago and especially love its secular nonviolent philosophy) is claiming to be doing a lot but nothing much to show for it, nothing mentioned since the inauguration really, and no reference to numbers involved. Discouraging.

Moral Monday movement, led by Rev. William Barber II, is possibly the most ambitious, with designs on establishing campaigns in every state. Encouraging.

The movement in and out of Congress to impeach Trump is lurching into view, but is yet to gather enough steam or coordinated constituencies. One is reminded of both JFK and Obama telling activists, essentially, get out in the streets and give me the political cover to do what you are asking me to do. Challenging.

The climate chaos resistance has produced a small beginning in its overdue and underpopulated resistance to Trump’s slashing efforts to stymie the EPA and roll back renewables while boosting dirty tar sands, choking coal, and radioactive nuclear. Some of the resistance—the most serious of which actually happened during the last two years under Obama—has been impressive, but, again, spotty and not yet in meaningful coalition. Motivating.

Yes, the women’s movement has produced by far the most meaningful mass results, first with the astonishing Women’s March and now with the sexual harassment/attack/pedophilia charges mounting against all powerful abusive men, but only very recently has found a bit of a focus on Trump in particular. Mildly hopeful.

Immigrants’ rights groups historically come out in the streets on May Day and 2017 was no exception, with spokespeople from several national groups claiming that strikes and boycotts would ensue. If they have, few have noticed. Yearning.

What is the goal, overall? Bluntly, to end the Trump regime using nonviolent methods. Has such a thing ever happened in a democracy? Or, for that matter, in an autocracy masquerading as a democracy?

Oh yes. Serbia. The Philippines. Hungary. Poland. Ghana. Estonia. Tunisia. Chile. Czechoslovakia. Lebanon. Latvia. Zambia. Lithuania. Tanzania. Liberia. This list goes on and there are online libraries devoted to it. The research shows it succeeds twice as often as does violent insurrection but to succeed it takes numbers—that research reveals that successful civil resistance movements are normally larger than a successful guerrilla army by a factor of about 11:1.

But it’s not just the numbers; it’s the coordination and commitment. Is there the movement power to engage in sustained resistance on a massive enough level and keep its nonviolent discipline? Michael Moore launched a resistance calendar, but it is a catch-all with no idea of priority or coalitional clout. Enticing.

So far, we are not close in the US. Trump may shoot himself in the rhetorical foot daily, sometimes hourly, but until we are coordinated in an unstoppable coalition—broad base but laser-sharp focus—he will enjoy his power, privilege, and position. Many peoples, one goal. Many reasons, many constituencies, one target. Join with others to remove Trump.

Time to reach out to each other. Hello?

The Real Internet Censorship Threat

Counterpunch - 1 hour 40 min ago

In a particularly Orwellian example of the arguments for “Net Neutrality,” the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times preemptively complained that the Federal Communications Commission’s December 14 repeal of the two-year-old rule “sacrifices the free and open Internet on the altar of deregulation.”

In fact, the “free and open Internet” did just fine — more than fine, even — for decades before being brought under a “Title II” regulatory scheme intended for 1930s-era telephones. And, unfortunately, there’s no deregulation involved. Instead of just getting its grubby mitts off the Internet as it should, FCC is handing regulation off to another intrusive bureaucracy, the Federal Trade Commission.

If the Times is truly interested in a “free and open Internet,” perhaps its editorial board should quit worrying about the FCC making it too free and too open and re-focus its attention on real problems. “Net Neutrality” has always been a distraction and a bugbear.

A Google News search returns 5,520 results from the Times on the term “Net Neutrality,” but only four on the US Senate’s proposed “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” (SESTA).

SESTA, along with its companion bill in the House of Representatives, the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (FOSTA, because we must have cute acronyms at any cost), is straight-up Internet censorship, an open and undeniable threat to the “free and open Internet.”

Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” The sound theory underlying that rule is that many, even most, web sites are open to user-created content and can’t be expected to pre-edit that content.

SESTA/FOSTA attempts to carve out an exception to that perfectly sensible guideline for “participating in a venture” by “knowingly assisting, facilitating, or supporting sex trafficking.”

Conscripting blog platform operators, newspaper comment moderators, and ad brokers as unpaid government censors is both evil in itself and bound to produce the opposite of the result SESTA/FOSTA’s sponsors claim they want.

Existing laws against abduction, sexual assault, forced labor and criminal conspiracy are more than sufficient to enable the prosecution of those who collude with others in such activities. Even setting aside legitimate debate concerning what constitutes “sex trafficking” and whether or not specific commercial activities (e.g. consensual adult sex work) should be illegal, SESTA serves no legitimate purpose in protecting the vulnerable. Their abusers will just move them off of public web sites and into the shadows.

On the other hand, the high susceptibility to interpretation of the words “knowingly,” “assisting,” “facilitating” and “supporting” leave holes in Internet speech/press protections that are big enough for the federal government to drive an armored car carrying a SWAT team through. And given past its past abuses, who doubts that it will do exactly that under this turkey of a bill?

We can have a “free and open Internet” or we can allow SESTA/FOSTA to become law. We can’t do both.

Peace on the Far Side of Nuclear Weapons

Counterpunch - 1 hour 45 min ago

“. . . real security can only be shared . . .”

I call it news in a cage: the fact that the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

In other words, how nice, but it has nothing to do with the real stuff going on across Planet Earth, like North Korea’s recent test of an ICBM that puts the entire U.S. in the range of its nukes, or the provocative war games Trump’s America has been playing on the Korean peninsula, or the quietly endless development of the “next generation” of nuclear weapons.

Or the imminent possibility of . . . uh, nuclear war.

Winning the Nobel Peace Prize is not like, say, winning an Oscar — accepting a big, flashy honor for a piece of finished work. The award is about the future. Despite some disastrously bad choices over the years (Henry Kissinger, for God’s sake), the Peace Prize is, or should be, utterly relevant to what’s happening at the cutting edge of global conflict: a recognition of the expansion of human consciousness toward the creation of real peace. Geopolitics, on the other hand, is trapped in the certainties of same old, same old: Might makes right, ladies and gentlemen, so you gotta be ready to kill.

And the mainstream news about North Korea is always, solely about that country’s small nuclear arsenal and what should be done about it. What the news is never about is the slightly larger nuclear arsenal of its mortal enemy, the United States. That’s taken for granted. And — get real — it’s not going away.

What if the global anti-nuclear movement was actually respected by the media and its evolving principles continually worked into the context of its reporting? That would mean the reporting about North Korea wouldn’t simply be limited to us vs. them. A third global party would be hovering over the entire conflict: the global majority of nations that last July voted to declare all nuclear weapons illegal.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons — ICAN — a coalition of non-government organizations in some 100 countries, led the campaign that resulted, last summer, in the United Nations treaty prohibiting the use, development and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. It passed 122-1, but the debate was boycotted by the nine nuclear-armed nations (Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States), along with Australia, Japan, South Korea and every member of NATO except the Netherlands, which cast the single no vote.

What the remarkable Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has accomplished is that it takes control of the nuclear disarmament process away from the nations that possess them. The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty called on the nuclear powers to “pursue nuclear disarmament,” apparently at their own leisure. Half a century later, nukes are still the bedrock of their security. They’ve pursued nuclear modernization instead.

But with the 2017 treaty, “The nuclear powers are losing control of the nuclear disarmament agenda,” as Nina Tannenwald wrote in the Washington Post at the time. The rest of the world has grabbed hold of the agenda and — step one — declared nukes illegal.

“As one advocate put it, ‘You cannot wait for the smokers to institute a smoking ban,’” Tannenwald wrote.

She added: “The treaty promotes changes of attitude, ideas, principles and discourse — essential precursors to reducing numbers of nuclear weapons. This approach to disarmament starts by changing the meaning of nuclear weapons, forcing leaders and societies to think about and value them differently. . . . The treaty’s prohibition on threats of nuclear weapons use directly challenges deterrence policies. It is likely to complicate policy options for U.S. allies under the U.S. nuclear ‘umbrella,’ who are accountable to their parliaments and civil societies.”

What the treaty challenges is nuclear deterrence: the default justification for the maintenance and development of nuclear arsenals.

Thus I return to the quote at the beginning of this column. Tilman Ruff, an Australian physician and a co-founder of ICAN, wrote in The Guardian after the organization was awarded the Peace Prize: “One hundred twenty-two states have acted. Together with civil society, they have brought global democracy and humanity to nuclear disarmament. They have realised that since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, real security can only be shared, and cannot be achieved by threatening and risking use of these worst weapons of mass destruction.”

If this is true — if real security somehow must be created mutually, even with North Korea, and if walking the edge of nuclear war, as we have done since 1945, will never result in global peace but rather, at some point, nuclear catastrophe — the implications demand unending exploration, especially by the media of the world’s wealthiest and most privileged nations.

“For far too long reason has given way to the lie that we are safer spending billions every year to build weapons which, in order for us to have a future, must never be used,” Ruff wrote.

“Nuclear disarmament is the most urgent humanitarian necessity of our time.”

If this is true — and most of the world believes that it is — then Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s nuclear missile program are only a small piece of the threat faced by every human being on the planet. There’s another reckless, unstable leader with his finger on the nuclear button, delivered to the planet a year ago by the flawed U.S. democracy.

Donald Trump should be the poster boy of nuclear disarmament.

Christmas Letter to Jesus

Counterpunch - 1 hour 45 min ago

I am old enough to know there is no Santa Claus, so I am writing to Jesus with my wish list. It’s only been 2017-8 years since Jesus was supposedly around, and the Church of Rome was supposedly founded by his acolytes and continued since that time, so that only about 96 generations have passed between then and now, with much history written and unwritten that suggests maybe there is some truth there. Also, I have had the good fortune of having met many people who profess to be followers of Jesus and they are really amazing people, feeding and clothing the poor, ministering to the sick, visiting the imprisoned, resisting war and struggling for peace, that I have decided having faith that Jesus will respond is a better bet than Santa.

So, here goes: Jesus all I want for Christmas is 1.6 TRILLION dollars.

That’s all. Nothing else. I can live with just the one gift, thanks.

I know, people will mock me, cause it’s not really one gift. After all a TRILLION is a thousand BILLION, and a Billion is a thousand Million, and a Million is a thousand thousand, so we are talking a big number. But still its only $1,000,000,000,000. Plus the .6 part, don’t forget that. I guess I can trust Jesus not to forget that. Everyone says you can trust Jesus.

Now, before you all get too worked up about this OUTRAGEOUS Christmas gift request, that it is contrary to the spirit of the season, which is about giving and not getting, let me be clear: I am going to GIVE IT ALL AWAY. I am going to give it to kids for school, and hospitals to pay nurses and doctors to take care of people, and for the VA to start actually caring for vets disabled by the permanent wars fought for nothing, and for homeless shelters, and food kitchens and affordable housing—I may end up a job creator. So, it’s not really my Christmas present after all. But still, it’s what I want. It’s all I want.

And to make it even better, I know where Jesus can get it! The USA already has 4,000 nuclear bombs and only needs about 1,000 to destroy the earth. But the USA is going to spend $1.6 Trillion on new nuclear bombs that are “smaller and more useable” (actually many will be “dial a dose” so they can be really BIG or somewhat smaller than Hiroshima). I just don’t see that money as well spent. I am betting Jesus agrees with me. So, Jesus, whaddya say? It is kind of like chasing the money changers out of the temple. “New and Improved Nuclear Bombs” ought to be as offensive to your father and the money changers—maybe even more so—after all the money changers were not threatening to destroy your father’s entire creation, but the nuke bombers are. Let’s chase those new fangled money changers out of your temple!

Let me use the magic word, Please Jesus, just this once, can I get the Christmas Gift I truly desire? Thanks for considering this request. And, if I got it wrong, feel free to forward it to Santa, just saying….

China: From the Treasure Fleet to One Belt, One Road

Counterpunch - 1 hour 47 min ago

The One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative is not China’s first attempt at global outreach. Before Colombus and his three ships discovered what would become the Americas, China had the greatest seagoing fleet in the world, up to 3,500 ships at its peak. The US navy has 430 vessels in its fleet. In the 15th century Chinese shipyards were building vessels five times the size of those being built in Europe.

But by 1525 the “Treasure Fleet” had been destroyed. In one of those fascinating “what if” moments in history the fleet was burned or left for scrap. Voyages to the unknown were halted. China was on the cusp of circumnavigating the globe decades before the Europeans. At a pivotal time, the Ming Dynasty lost its nerve, culminating in a period of decline that resulted in national humiliation in the 19th and 20th centuries.

To use the vernacular, China in the 1400s was a superpower. The Treasure Fleet was vast with some vessels up to 120 metres long. (Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria was 19 metres long.) A Chinese ship was the apogee of design with several decks, up to nine masts, twelve sails, and luxurious staterooms.

Under the command of the eunuch admiral Zheng He, the Chinese were routinely sailing to Africa and back decades before Columbus was even born. Yet they did not go on to conquer the world. Instead, the Chinese decided to destroy their boats and stop sailing West.  A land war with the Mongols was one reason, the navy was redundant. The cost of maintaining the fleet was prohibitive but another reason may have been the imperial court was suspicious of mercantile success. A newly rich class of global traders were increasingly demanding concessions from the imperial court and were prospering beyond the pale of court patronage. For the first time, roughly since Colombus discovered America, China is again reaching out to the world, not with a fleet but through OBOR.

Considering its scale, potential and the number of people whose lives will be affected, OBOR is an acronym that is surprisingly little used.

If you are reading this, the chances are OBOR is coming to an area near you or will at least play a role in your working life.

Like the Treasure Fleet, it is impressive. The countries it plans to include comprise 55 percent of global gross national product, 70 percent of the world’s population, and 75 percent of known energy reserves. The initiative is funded with $100 billion from the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and $40 billion from the Silk Road Fund, both Beijing backed.

The road and belt are different. The Silk Road Economic Belt hopes to connect China with Central Asia, South East Asia, South Asia, Russia, and Europe by land. The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road aims to link China’s coastal regions with Southeast and South Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East, and Eastern Africa. So far, and the list is growing, over 60 countries have expressed an interest in participating in OBOR.

Timing is important. With the West in relative decline, and certainly not interested in mega-development projects, OBOR is filling a vacuum and demonstrates China’s intention to offer “goods’’ to the world. Altruism it is not but practical it is with China flexing its economic muscles and winning greater political and geostrategic clout. OBOR also provides an outlet for excess manufacturing capacity.

Beijing realizes the problems its faces. Many participating countries are under-developed for a reason, such as poor infrastructure, weak governance and an untrained labor force.

Geographic and weather conditions can be harsh and scattered populations make it difficult to get economic momentum. Arable land in many OBOR countries is scarce, and an area of permafrost between Europe and Siberia where China plans to establish railway and telecom facilities to achieve connectivity will challenge the most determined engineers. Political ramifications could also play a role, as Chinese companies and workers become ever more present.

But for the first time since Zheng, China is westward bound. The order to Zheng to stop sailing was a turning point in history. OBOR has the potential to be another.

 

Trump’s Blueprint for State Capture

Counterpunch - 1 hour 52 min ago

—–Scapegoat immigrants and minorities in order to capture the vote of whites who believe they have lost their sense of privilege.

—–Nominate the least qualified people ever to head government agencies, a kakistocracy, and brag about how wealthy they are.

—–Eliminate clean air and water controls to cater to industries and businesses that pollute and increase the suffering of people who live in environmentally compromised areas.

—–Abuse and humiliate women (because women are typically more vocal than men) and thereby act as a model for men to treat women by keeping them in their place.

—–Build a wall on the southern border of the country—ostensibly to prohibit illegals from entering the country—but, more accurately, to prevent people from fleeing the country once anarchy begins.

—–Elevate neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists, providing them with an equal voice to the mainstream population for whom the former are anathema.

—–Claim moral authority and religion as foundations of your leadership, but demonstrate no morality, empathy, or humanity in any action.

—–Question systems of justice, labeling them as corrupt, broken, and unfixable, while proposing additional oversight bodies that support your narrow vision of what justice should be.

—–Defund government support for public education in order to guarantee a misinformed and ignorant electorate that can continue to be manipulated by lies and distortions.

—–Convince key party leaders to implement a supposed “tax-reform” that caters to donors and those already benefitting from an unfair tax system, describing it as helping the middle-class while, in reality, massively transferring their money to one’s friends at the top.

—–Refuse to release one’s income tax forms, while simultaneously lying that the revised tax code will have any material benefit on one’s self or family.

—–Deny everything.

Jay-Z’s 4:44 Moves Black Radical Thought Through and Beyond the Classroom

Counterpunch - 2 hours 17 min ago

Trump’s America exposes a fundamental truth—that black lives will be sacrificed to the alter of white supremacy even after the white supremacists retire their hoods. This is not a new lesson. Jay-Z has been telling us so for all of these years. So, I asked my students to listen, closely.

As a scholar and educator of Afro-pessimism—perhaps the greatest form of black optimism— I have found that Jay-Z’s music and politics offer me a useful pedagogical instrument for moving black radical thought through and beyond the classroom.  Afro-pessimism at once mourns the gratuitous suffering black people must endure and professes the gratuitous freedom they might enjoy. It’s a both/and kind of theory, and Jay-Z is its most high-profile celebrity spokesperson.

No cultural producer has been so prolific in his responses to structural antiblackness, in song and in prose, as Jay-Z. His music teaches us to read more closely for how the “criminal justice system stalks black people”—for example, in “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” Jay-Z “[flips] the Latin phrase that is considered the bedrock principle of our criminal justice system, ei incumbit probatio qui dicit” in which “the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies”—at the same time as his music teaches us to listen for the sound of black suffering, in beats that break and hold to reveal movements within movements that are “lived underground, in outer space”.[1] Indeed, Jay-Z’s stylings invite a poetic correction to the antiblack grammar of this world. His music video for the title track especially invites students to think about the movement of the body in song and to think about what identity and difference mean.

While the critical black theorists I assign, like Frank B. Wilderson III, Jared Sexton, Hortense Spillers, and Saidiya Hartman, teach my students to think robustly about the black feminist argument that black lives don’t, or more precisely, can’t matter—save an epistemological crisis that rearranges how and what we know—it is Jay-Z who teaches them to see, think, and feel this theoretical argument practiced as culture, as the daily, quotidian operations of the world.

Jay-Z’s title track in particular incorporates Spillers’ and Hartmans’ critiques of structural antiblackness and its gendered effects to make a statement about black love as a revolutionary and fugitive possibility. The video borrows its collage style from artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa’s Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016) and its clips, including sightings of Spillers (at minute mark 5:05) and Hartman (at minute mark 2:29) from Jafa’s Dreams Are Colder than Death (2013). Not only are Spillers’ and Hartman’s persons cited, but their corpus is taken up in movement, too, in conversation with the choreographed stylings of Brooklyn-based performer Okwui Okpokwasili, who engages with their work to imagine that pain and pleasure of racial blackness in bodily movement, that is to say, in and as a black feminist movement.

I see “4:44” doing more than just lamenting the love and commitment that Jay-Z owes to Beyoncé but can never deliver in a manner that is worthy of her; it is also or especially about the fungibility and (im)possible fugitivity of racial blackness. Jay-Z incorporates black radical thought literally and allegorically; his critical merging of the high theory to which Afro-pessimism, as a literature which interrogate humanism, modernity, and its discontents, responds, and the ‘low’ culture that caricatures hip-hop has moved the conversations in my Black Lives (Don’t) Matter class through and beyond the classroom, to think about space, time, and ontology, or the nature of being, which is fraught for black persons in space and time.

Consider the stanza: “We’re supposed to laugh ’til our heart stops/ And then meet in a space where the dark stop/ And let love light the way.” Here, love is the actualization of a freedom dream that is yet to come and which has not yet arrived—perhaps, which necessarily cannot arrive but, when it does, will be explosive, which is to say, will be an ‘excellence’ (he elaborates in “Legacy,” the album’s final track, dedicated to his children) that will save us all, so that “someday we’ll all be free.” Jay-Z’s is a politics of “[taking] those moneys and [spreading them across] families” to create a “society within a society” in which we take care of each other, which he modeled with a personal contribution to disaster relief in Puerto Rico last September.

The future according to Jay-Z is capacious, and in being capacious, is the Afro-pessimistic future of black feminism. In an echo of the Combahee River Collective’s “Black Feminist Statement”, this future privileges racial blackness first, last, and only, and in doing so, makes room for all other articulations of difference—as Jay-Z enumerates them in “Legacy”, “Muslim, Buddhist, and Christians”, and as he reflects in “Smile,” same sex attractions and identifications.

This is what it would mean to inhabit the break Jay-Z describes: “a space where the dark stops” and love instead “lights the way”. As a visual album, 4:44 does some heavy lifting, reflecting in song and images that racial blackness stands outside of and disrupts human recognitions and protections. The post-humanism Jay-Z invokes as the new materialism whereby black persons are proscribed from ontological (i.e., human) resistance is the stuff of chattel slavery’s afterlife, in which black persons are not recognized as human but as the human’s constitutive Other.

The black post-human (i.e., robot) in the video for “4:44”, shown intercepting a 1985 interview with Jean Michel Basquiat—in which Basquiat laments being made a spectacle by media reporters—therefore reflects, “I am having an existential crisis here. Am I alive? Do I actually exist? Will I die?” (minute mark 5:40). The rich tapestry Jay-Z creates by layering a critique of the human atop imagery about the possibilities of black feminist bodily comportment, atop beats that themselves break, prolonged in the message that love is the way out/through, into the gratuitous freedom that is our Otherwise is the call for a radical pedagogy of miseducation.

What if going to college meant listening to Jay-Z’s music, examining his music videos as one would close read a text, and even—as my students at our small Midwestern liberal arts college experienced on December 5th—going to a Jay-Z concert? What Jay-Z has given my students is the ability to think about space, including their campus space, time, and being differently, precisely because of how he curates movement in sound and in image, as the performative enactment of black study in the world as on white campus spaces that must be undone.

In the hour of Trump’s America, we would be wise to remember Jay-Z’s lesson: that all freedom pivots on a gratuitous black freedom that is a non-human freedom, and which will save us all.

M. Shadee Malaklou is an Assistant Professor of Critical Identity Studies at Beloit College, where she teaches the upper-division theory course Black Lives Matter. She is also a Mellon Faculty Fellow of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, and Visiting Faculty at the Centre for Expanded Poetics in the Department of English at Concordia University in Montréal.

Notes. 

[1]. Jared Sexton, “The Social Life of Social Death: On Afro-Pessimism and Black Optimism” in InTensions Number 5 (Fall/Winter 2011) 28.

What About Our Debts, Pope Francis?

Counterpunch - 2 hours 32 min ago

“It’s Satan who leads us into temptation – that’s his department.”

Last week the Holy Pontiff, Pope Francis, said he believed that the line “Lead us not into temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer had been wrongly translated in English from the original language of the Bible.  Pope Francis told Italian Catholic television channel TV2000 that it was not a good translation “because it speaks of a God who induces temptation”. He suggested that the words be amended worldwide to something similar to that being used by France’s Roman Catholic Church as an alternative: “Do not let us fall into temptation”.

“‘Do not let me fall into temptation’ because it is I who fall. It is not God who throws me into temptation and then sees how I fell,” he said. “A father doesn’t do that; a father helps you to get up immediately.”

Ah yes, the good old ‘Our Father’!  That prayer you learned to recite at an early age, and used to rattle off in church and school assemblies.  You probably know it by heart – or think you do.

Not everyone is happy with the Pope’s suggested amendment. The New York Times quotes Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr as being shocked by the idea.

“This is the Lord’s Prayer. It is not, and has never been, the Pope’s prayer, and we have the very words of Jesus in the New Testament. It is those very words that the Pope proposes to change. It is not only deeply problematic; it’s almost breath-taking.”

Changing the words of Jesus, hmm?  As recounted in Matthew 6:9-13, the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” was taught to his disciples as an example of how they should pray.  It is memorized by Christians at an early age, and chorally chanted in schools and churches every day, blithely (and wrongly) believing they are quoting the very words of Jesus.

For if they should check the words in any bible from the King James Version right up to the 20th Century’s New International Version and New Revised Standard version, they may be surprised at what they find.   Instead of the customary rendition of the prayer – “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we find instead (the correct one) – “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Huh?  “Debts” not “trespasses”?  How did that happen?

A mistranslation.  In 1526 William Tyndale created the first mass-produced English bible based on his translation from the original Greek and Hebrew languages.  Unfortunately he made a boob.   In Matthew 6:12, the Greek word for “debts” is ophelilema, and it means “that which is owed.”  Likewise, the Greek word for “debtors” is opheiletes, and it means “one who owes another.”  Tyndale translated the same Greek word differently as treaspases, or “trespasses” (invasion of property).  The  first Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, published in 1549, copied the word “trespasses”; it became the official Anglican version, and stuck.  English-speaking  Protestants, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and Methodists are all more likely to say “trespasses”,  even though it was quite correctly translated as “debts” by the scholars who produced the King James’ Version of the Bible  in 1611.

So, Your Eminence, Pope Francis, if you’re thinking of making any changes in the wording of the Lord’s Prayer, you might consider doing something about this centuries-old glaring glitch in the English Church.  After all, when you recite the Lord’s Prayer in Latin, you use the word “debts” (debita).

Kick out the word “trespasses” and restore the word “debts”!

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Imagine if banks started applying the idea.  A debt-free world!  Ah, sweet Jesus!  Pray on!

What Was Verifiably Great About America: Fragments of a Memoir Set to a Musical Soundtrack

Counterpunch - 3 hours 10 min ago

Having been born in a coal and steel company town but destiny delivered, as an adult, to reside, during extended intervals, in the East and West Coast cities of Los Angeles and New York City, and, at present, the continent of Europe, I have come to conclude, people born into situations providing economic advantage, both liberals and conservatives alike, experience difficulty, more often than not, envisaging the lives of those born into a labouring class existence. Worse, a wilful obtuseness, in combination with a supercilious posture is, all too often, evinced, by reflex, towards those scorned as “hillbillies,” “trailer trash,” and “genetic retreads.”

Among groups possessing economic advantage, a lack of curiosity prevails as to the nature of the lives of individuals who have spent their lifetime subjected to the life-defying tyrannies of full-spectrum, company town capitalism. Life circumstances, under the present, neoliberal order, that are, in all but rare cases, intractable; wherein, the meagre and fraught with economic instability livelihoods earned as a mine, mill, factory worker, and, in the service industry economy in the US wage and debt slave archipelago of fast food outlets, Big Box retailers and Dollar Discount stores, and as a domestic worker, presents, for the vast majority of workers, the degrading, anxiety-inducing option of submitting to low pay, no benefits, long hours of tedious, vastly under-compensated labor or facing homelessness and hunger.

I was born in the foothills of Appalachia. I know, bones to brain, the painful plight of the labouring class. I will go so far as to say, the transforming, I would even suggest, redemptive element, in my life was a house stocked with books and an indomitable yearning to seek out the music indigenous to the region.

My family, later, moved to the then small, Piedmont region city of Atlanta, Georgia. Shortly thereafter, in the living room of a musician, science fiction writer, and general Beat polymath my father had befriended, I swooned — was, I suspect, transformed– when a guest in the home (where a young Bob Dylan used to crash when in Atlanta — which was, at the time, a rundown, mafia-owned apartment house but where, decades earlier, Margaret Mitchell had penned Gone With The Wind — North Georgia-born folksinger and activist Hedy West played her most famous song, “500 Miles Away from Home” also known as “Railroaders’ Lament.”

During childhood, a period of life in which one is transmigrating through a wilderness of archetypes, for me, the experience of being in West’s presence felt as if I had been transported to glens and gardens inhabited by a veritable muse.

In the year, 1970, in the summer I turned 14, in Piedmont Park, in Atlanta, Georgia, the Allman Brothers, among other bands, would perform free, impromptu concerts for a tie-dye-clad, reefer-reeking, bell-bottoms-caressing-the-Georgia-red-dirt gatherings of “freaks” — which was the preferred tribalist term, as opposed to the media-created, socially pejorative – hippies … which, when bandied among counterculture insiders, was generally applied ironically.

Although the park was located only a few miles from my family’s home, undertaking the trip presented a degree of peril. To make one’s way to the park included traversing a tough, in-town, White working class neighborhood (now a gentrified into soul-sucking blandness, yuppie enclave) where, from the perspective of its denizens, their world, and all they held in reverence and reference, was under siege.

And, although inchoate, their animus was instantly distilled, simply upon a glimpse of the untamed tresses of a singular, thin of wrist, dirty hippie, commie faggot — whose mere presence was considered an affront to their pomade-crowned, muscle car-thundering parcel of redneck paradise.

Accordingly, the locals were pledged to do their part to fight the scourge … by increasing their intake of PBRs and Jack Daniels, and, upon sight of said dirty hippie interlopers, bestowing ass-stompings — and for no-extra-charge — involuntary haircuts upon errant longhairs caught in their midst.

Yet as the era progressed, the savage dance between hippie freak and redneck belligerent changed in tone and tempo, an extemporaneous type of metaphysical jujitsu occurred, in which the predator was subdued and seduced by the prey … as if by cultural contact buzz, redneck fury yielded to counterculture insouciance.

“When the individual feels, the community reels” … Aldous Huxley

Briefly, this was the anatomy of the seduction: In their pursuit of fleeing freaks into the park, the young males of the cracker tribe happened upon a few of the things of this vast and vivid world even more compelling than the possibility of ass-kicking … in the form of attractive young women.

Yet to the young men, the hippie sphinxes, sirens, waifs and gypsy queens were baffling, unapproachable; these women were less than taken by their greasy, pompadoured forelocks and aggressive bearing.

In short, and to appropriate the parlance of the era, the hippie chicks didn’t get off on these young men’s “bad vibes … it, like, really harshed their high.”

But these great, great grandsons of the Lost Cause proved much more malleable in countenance than the ossified in memory, now enshrined in marble statuary, of their confederate forefathers.

Consequently, a kind of cracker Lysistrata started to unfold. The pomade lacquer faded from stiff pompadours, yielding to lank, draping locks of hippie plumage. The habit of rebel bellicosity was sublimated into an avidity to “boogie.” The zealots of ass-kicking became the acolytes of acid and devotees of the gospels of kicking back and getting down.

As time passed, on weekends, as the Allman Brothers preached Sunday sermons vis-a-vis guitar and drum solos, these newly minted freaks could be found in positions of repose and reflection upon the grassy hills of the park, eating Orange Sunshine and drawling, “aw mahn, Dwayne’s guitar is shootin’ sparks into mah brain…”

Or as Marcel Proust put it, “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”

If the US is great in any regard, it is not because of the psychotic belief in its own exceptionalism or its risible grandiosity involving the claim to be the one and only “indispensable nation.” Conversely, its best quality is evinced in the voices of the country’s economically bereft rabble, as expressed in the blues, in jazz, folk, country/western, and hip hop music, in which the powerless find a voice that moves the heart by inducing the soul to be able to penetrate the thick walls of shame that the class-based capitalist prison state imposes on the laboring class.

Waylon Jennings rendition of Billy Joe Shaver’s outlaw country classic, and its Cracker Zen philosophy of: The more adept one becomes at growing down — even composting — one’s pride, ego, pretensions, and careerist striving the richer the soil of the soul grows.

(Billy Joe Shaver’s mother, eight months pregnant with him, was severely beaten by her husband and left for dead in a ditch. Later spotted labouring in the scorching heat of an east Texas cotton field, a child harness to her back, young Billy at her side, by a recruiter for local honky-tonks scouting the area to fill waitress positions. Shaver’s red-haired mother’s good looks proved providential for exposing him to venues of country/western music.)

The early 1980s. I am attempting to navigate, and failing on a psychical basis, the vales and canyons of Los Angeles. It is the advent of the Reagan years. The idiot stare of the encompassing dome of the LA sky is too much for my Appalachian Hill country psyche. There is no green-on-green canopy to filter the relentless sheen of sunlight. It renders me manic, angst-ridden, and sleepless.

The damp evening air envelops one at sundown in LA. It gets damn cold. A clinging chill wafts from the Pacific Ocean. But the phenomenon is not weather related; instead, the cold is the embrace of the ghosts of the dead dreams of the city’s inhabitants.

X captures in tone and limns in  lyric the effects of the atomised LA landscape upon my besieged psyche…I slouch in the direction of The Whiskey to catch them.

This song, by Elizabeth Cotten, here, interpreted by Rhiannon Middens, seems to me, concerns the type of release borne of lament, whereas one has lost everything and made every attempt to right oneself with circumstance and fate but to no avail. Every worldly possession is in hock…but destitution has not been dodged.

Oh Lordy me, didn’t I shake sugaree
Everything I got is done and pawned
Everything I got is done and pawned

Yet a stark, painfully beautiful, indomitable truth rises up from the soul. I am still here. My voice still rises heavenward. The deathless heart of my song endures in the face of misfortune and grief.

Wallace Stevens captures the sentiment in verse: Excerpted from his poem: A Weak Mind in the Mountains:

Yet there was a man within me
Could have risen to the clouds,
Could have touched these winds,
Bent and broken them down,
Could have stood up sharply in the sky.

One can imitate, with virtuoso precision, musical and poetic technique — but the verities garnered from life lived cannot be counterfeited, no matter how perfect the mimicry. The performance will remain at surface level.

Conversely, as is the case with Roscoe Holcomb, the sublimity of his exquisite rawness arrives from the authenticity of his experience. Listening, at least in my case to his Appalachian cadences, causes my wounded heart to bleed lambent light.

As I write these words, it has been dark for hours here in Munich, Germany, as, collectively, we, in the Northern Hemisphere trudge into the long, dark nights of the dying year. Short daylight hours, haunted with grim and grisly news. Our era, lit up but not illuminated, by twenty four/seven artificial light. Perpetual media distractions at our finger tips. Nature banished. Communal experience atomised.

We attempt to grieve, but remain empty, by means of the same Mephistophelian illusion that has left us estranged from the beating heart of earthly life. Conversely, the US blues/gospel/folk tradition captures the cadences of grief wrought by the knowledge of the vastness of creation, within which unfolds the tragic dance between the fragility of human life and the reality of ever present human folly.

This ballad by the Carter Family defines the form and reveals what has been scoured away by Mephistophelian light. (As a general rule, songs about trains are about anything but trains.)

Pete Seeger, a few years before his death, told me and a small group of others this anecdote about he and Woody Guthrie. The two of them were playing a gig for striking coal miners, deep in the Ozarks. Because no one present could afford babysitters, the union hall was filled with women and small children. A short time into their performance, a squad of large, brutal company goons, wearing long coats concealing clubs and other weapons, entered the hall.

Pete inquired of Woody as to how they should respond. Woody told him to keep playing, and play for all they were worth, which they did. They continued their show and no trouble came to pass that night. Afterwards, one of the members of the goon squad approached Woody and Pete and confessed to them. “We came here to bust up the meeting. But what was going on was not what we were told. You seem like good people.”

Pete related, Woody, much taken with the declaration, returned to their quarters and wrote his song Union Maid, in a single sitting. That is what Woody meant by, “this machine kills fascists.” His music and that of other inspired troubadours kills the soul-dead ideology of fascism with the life-vivifying veracity of truth.

A Man Turns

Counterpunch - 3 hours 20 min ago

Hush! She called him,
Dusk and the first snow
Are falling, come, join me
On the deserted lake road
For a twilight rendezvous
Destined for us.

Never one to refuse her siren call,
He dressed and headed up,
Silent in the silent snow,
The noisy world shut-in for once,
His pounding heart the sole sound
Shared with thoughts of beauty’s face.

The lake was painted yin and yang,
Swirled snow on thin white ice,
Black geese floating spies on
The misty black open water.
Glowing eyes in the gathering dusk,
Searchlights on his slipping steps.
No one will see us here,
He thought, swallowing the uncanny
Sense of someone lurking near.

The crepuscular light on bright
White snow made going slow
As he side-stepped drifting mounds,
The newly ancient burying grounds
Of what he took to be
The call refusing wizened ones
Afraid to meet desire in the snow.

Stumbling spellbound mindless now,
Lost in this very moment,
He steps gingerly over the fallen
Body of a still warm life,
While the snow whirls, though fall fell
Not that long ago.  Geese honk
To jolt him wide awake.

Now slightly smiling since
The slumped down snowy body
Of this life he oversteps
On the road has been hit,
Knocked down, but not destroyed.
And though it’s wet and cold,
An abandoned child,
He knows he’ll turn in a minute,
Go back, pick up his life, slip
Into it as if it were a shirt
He had never taken off to wash.
It’s cold, he’s wet, it’s snowing.
But he sees in the image of his body
Lying down behind him
A way to take up the life that lies
Before him.

He feels she called him out of love,
So turns, his life jumps up, they run
Joyously into each other’s arms
As the snow falls upon them
For the first time, alone to face
The gathering storm.

Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely.  He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/

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