WWF Execs Knowingly Funding Rights Abuses in Africa

A new and devastating investigation by Buzzfeed News has revealed that WWF’s director & board had detailed evidence of “widespread” atrocities being committed by rangers it funds and equips, but kept the information secret.

It’s the latest finding from a Buzzfeed investigation that has brought to light a series of secret WWF reports, proving the organization has known for years that the rangers it funds in central Africa commit gross human rights abuses among the local population.

Survival International has been highlighting these abuses, among the Baka and Bayaka people, for more than three decades, but WWF has always claimed ignorance.

It’s now proven that the highest levels of management in WWF have known about the abuses, but continued funding and equipping the rangers, and pushing for the creation of yet more protected areas on Baka and Bayaka land.Congolese officials hand the top official (and WWF employee) of Salonga National Park an assault rifle. Some of the park’s guards have been accused of gang rape, torture and murder.

Congolese officials hand the top official (and WWF employee) of Salonga National Park an assault rifle. Some of the park’s guards have been accused of gang rape, torture and murder.
© Sinziana-Maria Demian / WWF

Buzzfeed has revealed a series of reports:

– April 2015: WWF commissioned an indigenous expert to prepare a report on the charity’s work in Cameroon. He found WWF “shared responsibility” for ranger violence.

– July 2017: WWF sent a consultant to a proposed new park, Messok Dja, in the Rep. of Congo. He found villagers were afraid of “repression from eco-guards.”

– January 2018: WWF asked UK-based human rights lawyer Paul Chiy to follow up on the 2015 Cameroon report. He finds “valid” and “grossly understated” evidence of human rights abuses.

– December 2018: WWF asked Chiy to conduct another assessment into parks it funds in Dem. Rep. of Congo, Rep. of Congo and Central African Republic. Its contents are unknown.

– March 2019: A confidential report commissioned by WWF and the Congolese government finds evidence that WWF-backed rangers raped pregnant women and tortured villagers.

The charity is now being investigated by authorities in the U.S., UK and Germany. Survival is campaigning for the organization to scrap its plans for a new protected area, Messok Dja, in the Congo, which does not have the Baka’s consent.

So, Admiral McRaven Just Called for a Military Coup, Kinda

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Admiral William McRaven, famous for being the guy who told the guy who told the other guy who told the other guy who told that guy to go kill bin Laden, has essentially called for a military coup against the President of the United States in a New York Times Op-Ed.

He begins with something to get the blood up, a call to the good military stuff, invoking generals who are “highly decorated, impeccably dressed, cleareyed and strong of character, [yet] were humbled by the moment” at a change of command ceremony. Then a little history, invoking the WWII Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to today’s CIA and Special Operations community, who had “faith that these values were worth sacrificing everything for.” In case it wasn’t clear, they “personified all that is good and decent and honorable about the American military,” his Op-Ed’s intended audience.

Then, invoking that oath that requires the military to protect America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, McRaven explains to them why they are being now called to battle: “The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within.” This is not subtle.

McRaven continues: “These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press. They have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own. They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield. As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, ‘I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!'”

Quick Summary: The president is destroying the Republic, from within. The last folks who wanted to destroy the Republic were the Nazis, the Commies, and the terrorists and you know what we did to them.

McRaven’s next step is reassuring the troops that whomever they are next ordered to kill, it is all for a good cause. “We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys. We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate.”

That leaves aside the silliness of such a statement in light of what hell the American pursuit of justice has wrought among the millions dead in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, never mind in an earlier century across Southeast Asia and the Americas. This is not about that. This is about dehumanizing the next enemy, who may look alot like you this time McRaven is hinting, to convince his shooters they are killing for freedom.

Finally, what this is really about. You guys need to be ready to take out Trump.

Here are McRaven’s words: “If this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office — Republican, Democrat or independent — the sooner, the better. The fate of our Republic depends upon it.”

Now everyone knows the election where Americans get to choose the next president is a year from now, no sooner. A generous soul, reading McRaven’s sentence in isolation would say that bit about “the sooner the better” maybe means he is hoping for impeachment to supersede the election, you know, get Trump out sooner without the risk and muss of allowing The People a say in it all. That’s certainly what McRaven would claim, perhaps with a wink at Jake Tapper this Sunday across the desk. But take this Op-Ed and reimagine something similar being said by a displeased colonel in the Turkish or Iranian army, or what as an intelligence officer yourself you’d be reporting about it from Moscow if it was said to you by a prominent Russian former general with deep personal loyalties into special operations.

Sure, McRaven is not ordering Seal Team Six into action today. But go ahead, convince yourself he isn’t laying the groundwork, or at least trying to remind people he could.

I’ve been fired, accused, hated on by friends and relatives, and deplatformed multiple times for “supporting Trump.” I do not. But I am willing to think past him. It’s the old warning about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater; what we say and do now to get rid of Trump will survive him, and become part of the political lexicon forever. Impeach a president still widely supported by the American people three years into his term over a phone call? Sure, seems OK. Tolerate calls for violence, veiled threats of a coup in our largest newspaper? Constantly call the president dangerously mentally ill, a literal nutcase who should be institutionalized? That’s how to operate a democracy?

And spare me the idea that Trump is not widely supported, with his low approval ratings. President Obama’s 11th quarter in office, October 2011 same now as Trump, was the worst of his administration, based on his quarterly average job approval ratings. His 41% approval average is down six percentage points from his 10th quarter in office, and is nearly four points below his previous low of 45% during his seventh quarter.

Reprinted with permission from WeMeantWell.com.

US Democrats cultivated the Barbarism of Isis

There is something profoundly deceitful in the Democratic Party and corporate media’s framing of Donald Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria.

One does not need to like Trump or ignore the dangers posed to the Kurds, at least in the short term, by the sudden departure of US forces from northern Syria to understand that the coverage is being crafted in such a way as to entirely overlook the bigger picture.

The problem is neatly illustrated in this line from a report by the Guardian newspaper of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s meeting this week with Trump, who is described as having had a “meltdown”. Explaining why she and other senior Democrats stormed out, the paper writes that “it became clear the president had no plan to deal with a potential revival of Isis in the Middle East”.

Hang on a minute! Let’s pull back a little, and not pretend – as the media and Democratic party leadership wish us to do – that the last 20 years did not actually happen. Many of us lived through those events. Our memories are not so short.

Islamic State, or Isis, didn’t emerge out of nowhere. It was entirely a creation of two decades of US interference in the Middle East. And I’m not even referring to the mountains of evidence that US officials backed their Saudi allies in directly funding and arming Isis – just as their predecessors in Washington, in their enthusiasm to oust the Soviets from the region, assisted the jihadists who went on to become al-Qaeda.

No, I’m talking about the fact that in destroying three key Arab states – Iraq, Libya and Syria – that refused to submit to the joint regional hegemony of Saudi Arabia and Israel, Washington’s local client states, the US created a giant void of governance at the heart of the Middle East. They knew that that void would be filled soon enough by religious extremists like Islamic State – and they didn’t care.

Overthrow, not regime change

You don’t have to be a Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi or Bashar Assad apologist to accept this point. You don’t even have to be concerned that these so-called “humanitarian” wars violated each state’s integrity and sovereignty, and are therefore defined in international law as “the supreme war crime”.

The bigger picture – the one no one appears to want us thinking about – is that the US intentionally sought to destroy these states with no obvious plan for the day after. As I explained in my book Israel and the Clash of Civilisations, these haven’t so much been regime-change wars as nation-state dismantling operations – what I have termed overthrow wars.

The logic was a horrifying hybrid of two schools of thought that meshed neatly in the psychopathic foreign policy goals embodied in the ideology of neoconservatism – the so-called “Washington consensus” since 9/11.

The first was Israel’s long-standing approach to the Palestinians. By constantly devastating any emerging Palestinian institution or social structures, Israel produced a divide-and-rule model on steriods, creating a leaderless, ravaged, enfeebled society that sucked out all the local population’s energy. That strategy proved very appealing to the neoconservatives, who saw it as one they could export to non-compliant states in the region.

The second was the Chicago school’s Shock Doctrine, as explained in Naomi Klein’s book of that name. The chaotic campaign of destruction, the psychological trauma and the sense of dislocation created by these overthrow wars were supposed to engender a far more malleable population that would be ripe for a US-controlled “colour revolution”.

The recalcitrant states would be made an example of, broken apart, asset-stripped of their resources and eventually remade as new dependent markets for US goods. That was what George W Bush, Dick Cheney and Halliburton really meant when they talked about building a New Middle East and exporting democracy.

Even judged by the vile aims of its proponents, the Shock Doctrine has been a half-century story of dismal economic failure everywhere it has been attempted – from Pinochet’s Chile to Yeltsin’s Russia. But let us not credit the architects of this policy with any kind of acumen for learning from past errors. As Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove explained to a journalist whom he rebuked for being part of the “reality-based community”: “We’re an empire now and, when we act, we create our own reality.”

The birth of Islamic State

The barely veiled aim of the attacks on Iraq, Libya and Syria was to destroy the institutions and structures that held these societies together, however imperfectly. Though no one likes to mention it nowadays, these states – deeply authoritarian though they were – were also secular, and had well-developed welfare states that ensured high rates of literacy and some of the region’s finest public health services.

One can argue about the initial causes of the uprising against Assad that erupted in Syria in 2011. Did it start as a popular struggle for liberation from the Assad government’s authoritarianism? Or was it a sectarian insurgency by those who wished to replace Shia minority rule with Sunni majority rule? Or was it driven by something else: as a largely economic protest by an under-class suffering from food shortages as climate change led to repeated crop failures? Or are all these factors relevant to some degree?

Given how closed a society Syria was and is, and how difficult it therefore is to weigh the evidence in ways that are likely to prove convincing to those not already persuaded, let us set that issue aside. Anyway, it is irrelevant to the bigger picture I want to address.

The indisputable fact is that Washington and its Gulf allies wished to exploit this initial unrest as an opportunity to create a void in Syria – just as they had earlier done in Iraq, where there were no uprisings, nor even the WMDs the US promised would be found and that served as the pretext for Bush’s campaign of Shock and Awe.

The limited uprisings in Syria quickly turned into a much larger and far more vicious war because the Gulf states, with US backing, flooded the country with proxy fighters and arms in an effort to overthrow Assad and thereby weaken Iranian and Shia influence in the region. The events in Syria and earlier in Iraq gradually transformed the Sunni religious extremists of al-Qaeda into the even more barbaric, more nihilistic extremists of Islamic State.

A dark US vanity project

As Rove and Cheney played around with reality, nature got on with honouring the maxim that it always abhors a vacuum. Islamic State filled the vacuum Washington’s policy had engineered.

The clue, after all, was in the name. With the US and Gulf states using oil money to wage a proxy war against Assad, Isis saw its chance to establish a state inspired by a variety of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabist dogma. Isis needed territory for their planned state, and the Saudis and US obliged by destroying Syria.

This barbarian army, one that murdered other religious groups as infidels and killed fellow Sunnis who refused to bow before their absolute rule, became the west’s chief allies in Syria. Directly and covertly, we gave them money and weapons to begin building their state on parts of Syria.

Again, let us ignore the fact that the US, in helping to destroy a sovereign nation, committed the supreme war crime, one that in a rightly ordered world would ensure every senior Washington official faces their own Nuremberg Trial. Let us ignore too for the moment that the US, consciously through its actions, brought to life a monster that sowed death and destruction everywhere it went.

The fact is that at the moment Assad called in Russia to help him survive, the battle the US and the Gulf states were waging through Islamic State and other proxies was lost. It was only a matter of time before Assad would reassert his rule.

From that point onwards, every single person who was killed and every single Syrian made homeless – and there were hundreds of thousands of them – suffered their terrible fate for no possible gain in US policy goals. A vastly destructive overthrow war became instead something darker still: a neoconservative vanity project that ravaged countless Syrian lives.

A giant red herring

Trump is now ending part of that policy. He may be doing so for the wrong reasons. But very belatedly – and possibly only temporarily – he is closing a small chapter in a horrifying story of western-sponsored barbarism in the Middle East, one intimately tied to Islamic State.

What of the supposed concerns of Pelosi and the Democratic Party under whose watch the barbarism in Syria took place? They should have no credibility on the matter to begin with.

But their claims that Trump has “no plan to deal with a potential revival of Isis in the Middle East” is a giant red herring they are viciously slapping us in the face with in the hope the spray of seawater blinds us.

First, Washington sowed the seeds of Islamic State by engineering a vacuum in Syria that Isis – or something very like it – was inevitably going to fill. Then, it allowed those seeds to flourish by assisting its Gulf allies in showering fighters in Syria with money and arms that came with only one string attached – a commitment to Sunni jihadist ideology inspired by Saudi Wahhabism.

Isis was made in Washington as much as it was in Riyadh. For that reason, the only certain strategy for preventing the revival of Islamic State is preventing the US and the Gulf states from interfering in Syria again.

With the Syrian army in charge of Syrian territory, there will be no vacuum for Isis to fill. Its state-building rationale is now unrealisable, at least in Syria. It will continue to wither, as it would have done years before if the US and its Gulf allies had not fuelled it in a proxy war they knew could not be won.

Doomed Great Game

The same lesson can be drawn by looking at the experience of the Syrian Kurds. The Rojava fiefdom they managed to carve out in northern Syria during the war survived till now only because of continuing US military support. With the US departure, and the Kurds too weak to maintain their improvised statelet, a vacuum was again created that this time risks sucking in the Turkish army, which fears a base for Kurdish nationalism on its doorstep.

The Syrian Kurds’ predicament is simple: face a takeover by Turkey or seek Assad’s protection to foil Turkish ambition. The best hope for the Kurds looks to be the Syrian army’s return, filling the vacuum and regaining a chance of long-term stability.

That could have been the case for all of Syria many tens of thousands of deaths ago. Whatever the corporate media suggest, those deaths were lost not in a failed heroic battle for freedom, which, even if it was an early aspiration for some fighters, quickly became a goal that was impossible for them to realise. No, those deaths were entirely pointless. They were sacrificed by a western military-industrial complex in a US-Saudi Great Game that dragged on for many years after everyone knew it was doomed.

Nancy Pelosi’s purported worries about Isis reviving because of Trump’s Syria withdrawal are simply crocodile fears. If she is really so worried about Islamic State, then why did she and other senior Democrats stand silently by as the US under Barack Obama spent years spawning, cultivating and financing Isis to destroy Syria, a state that was best placed to serve as a bulwark against the head-chopping extremists?

Pelosi and the Democratic leadership’s bad faith – and that of the corporate media – are revealed in their ongoing efforts to silence and smear Tulsi Gabbard, the party’s only candidate for the presidential nomination who has pointed out the harsh political realities in Syria, and tried to expose their years of lies.

Pelosi and most of the Democratic leadership don’t care about Syria, or its population’s welfare. They don’t care about Assad, or Isis. They care only about the maintenance and expansion of American power – and the personal wealth and influence it continues to bestow on them.

The genealogy of the Kurdish question, by Thierry Meyssan

The unanimous international community multiplies its condemnation of the military offensive in Rojava and watches helplessly as tens of thousands of Kurds flee, pursued by the Turkish army. However, no one intervenes, considering that a massacre may be the only possible way to restore peace, given the inextricable situation created by France and the crimes against humanity committed by Kurdish combatants and civilians.

To Think or To Work? That Is the Question

On both sides of the political aisle, workforce-training reforms are being touted as the be-all, end-all of America’s public education system. Right-wing “school choice” proponents, such as President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, push corporate charter school programs with workforce-training curriculums. Left-wing “community schooling” advocates, such as Democratic Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Julián Castro, push “lifelong-learning” programs with school-to-work curriculums. Both “conservatives” and “liberals” concur: the purpose of public education is workforce development.

It’s nice to know that, in this divisive era of Trump outrage, America’s political representatives can still reach across the aisle to agree on something. Too bad this bipartisan movement will reduce the US schooling system to a corporate-government bureaucracy that deploys Big Data to train students to fill labor quotas prescribed by workforce-planning algorithms.

Career-Aptitude Pigeonholes:

In this new age of rapidly advancing technologies that are automating “low-skill” jobs, many parents are understandably concerned that their children’s schooling will fail to prepare them to survive in a hi-tech future where the economy is driven by computers. However, parents should be skeptical of hyped-up “career pathways” curriculums that train students in hi-tech skills prescribed for job placement in the fields of “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” (STEM). While this polytechnical training might offer quick shortcuts to hi-tech jobs, such vocational tech-training pigeonholes the student into a predetermined job with limited upward mobility.

Such “cradle-to-career” training is based on three of the “six basic functions” of schooling systematized by Harvard Professor of Education, Alexander Inglis, who believed that public schools are instruments of Statecraft and social engineering. In “Against School,” Inglis’s authoritarian “principles of education” are paraphrased by the renowned New York State Teacher of the Year (1991), John Taylor Gatto:

  1. The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student’s proper social role. . . .
  2. The differentiating function. Once their social role has been “diagnosed,” children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits—and not one step further. . . .
  3. The propaedeutic function. The social system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.

By pipelining students directly from the classroom to the job site, career-pathways curriculums diagnose each student’s social role by consigning him or her to a job caste that is directed by Big Business partnering with publicly funded school-to-work programs. Furthermore, to efficiently determine each student’s socioeconomic role, the cradle-to-career “conveyor belt” differentiates the student body into a hierarchy of managers and wage slaves who are trained with minimal job competences so that the chain of economic command is not destabilized by social ambitions.

Simply put, career-pathways do not teach students how to choose their own careers and social roles; rather, they teach students job-specific skills for limited employment openings which are predetermined by the market projections of the politically connected corporations that partner with government-funded schools.

Psychometric Learning Analytics for “Personalized” Job Training

Rather than applaud school-to-work curriculums that train students to keep up with the evolution of a hi-tech economy, perhaps school-boards should be disconcerted about the encroachment of the Big Tech economy on schools and learning. With growing popularity, Big Data is becoming an integral component of career-pathways training through “adaptive-learning” computers that literally reduce students to numbers. By data-mining a student’s responses to digital lessons, adaptive-learning software (such as Dreambox, Alta, and Brightspace Leap™) can tabulate student-learning algorithms which diagnose students as mentally “fit” or “unfit” for certain jobs. The result is a psychometrical “bell curve” system that pathologizes a student’s workforce “competences” based on his or her “cognitive-behavioral” algorithms.

Such data-mining of student psychometrics might be an efficient way to distribute job placement through workforce-schooling programs. Nonetheless, acclaimed education theorist Alfie Kohn documents that the psychological conditioning methods of schooling advocated by “economists and a diehard group of orthodox behaviorists (who have restyled themselves ‘behavior analysts’)” usually “backfire” and “undermine the very thing we’re trying to promote.” Indeed, workforce-schooling psychometrics are “undermined” when “personalized” student-learning profiles “backfire” by socially engineering the student body into a workforce caste hierarchy with limited job opportunities that restrict upward mobility.

A Post-Humanism?

If parents are worried that their children may get run over by the hi-speed, hi-tech automation economy on the horizons, their attempts to reform education so that students can “compete” with the new computerized economy may actually exacerbate the problem. Rather than encourage school-to-work curriculums that train students to “interface” with a techno-automated workforce, perhaps it is more important to teach the humanities of philosophy, history, and the arts so that the next generations can make humane decisions which ensure that technological evolution serves the inalienable rights of human dignity and conscience.

We are at a crossroads here: the “career pathways” to a technocratic economy, or the “classical way” to a moral economy based on the “categorical-imperative” values of human dignity and conscience. I am not saying that technological advancement cannot progress alongside the preservation of human values. But in a computer-automated economy driven by Big Data, algorithms must be programmed with certain values; and without the preservation of humane values in the minds of students, there will be nothing to ensure that human morality is programmed into the algorithms that plan the work forces of the future. If we amputate the arts and humanities from the “new education,” which worships the supposed infallibility of data, what will it profit our children to gain the world of hi-tech jobs only to lose their humanity?

Opera in Crisis: Can it be made relevant again?

Introduction

Opera productions depend on much state support, which is in decline, as states themselves go further and further into debt. To try and overcome these problems there have been many attempts at changes in form and content and even transmission in recent years. But these changes do not solve cost or accessibility issues especially in an era where it is difficult to get people to go out to the much cheaper cinema house, let alone a phenomenally expensive opera production. Although nowadays one is more likely to experience opera as cinema than theatre. Can such an expensive medium become popular again? What makes an opera popular? Can opera be relevant to people’s struggles today?

Here I will look at the origins and history of opera from the late 1590s until today. Like other forms of culture, opera was initially influenced by Enlightenment ideas in its Baroque (1590-1750) and Classical periods (1750-1820), while the Romantic (1800-1914) reaction predominated in the early nineteenth century up to the early twentieth century. Enlightenment and Romantic influences could still be seen throughout the twentieth century with Verismo (c1890-1920) and Modernism respectively. The twenty-first century has brought interesting changes in form and content and a global appreciation of opera but it remains an essentially elite form of entertainment in terms of cost and audiences.

Early opera – ‘did not normally furnish half the expense’

Jacopo Peri is credited with developing the first operas. His earliest surviving opera Dafne exists mainly as a libretto and fragments of music. The earliest surviving full opera is Peri’s Euridice which was first performed in 1600. Peri worked with Jacopo Corsi, also a composer of the time, both of whom were influenced by classical Greek and Roman works. They worked with the poet Ottavio Rinuccini, a member of the Florentine Camerata, who wrote the texts. The Camerata were a group of humanists, poets and musicians in late Renaissance Florence who sought to produce new works more in keeping with the spirit of humanism in the form and style of the ancient Greeks.

Renaissance humanism was a revival in the study of classical antiquity, at first in Italy and then spreading across Western Europe from the 14th to the 16th centuries. Their aim was to educate people and create a participatory citizenry through the study of the studia humanitatis, today known as the humanities: grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry, and moral philosophy. The Renaissance contributed heavily to the spread of Enlightenment ideas which was a much broader movement.

In France, the Enlightenment is traditionally dated from 1715 to 1789; i.e., from the beginning of the reign of Louis XV until the French Revolution. Enlightenment ideas focused on reason as the main source of knowledge and propagated ideals of liberty, progress, toleration, constitutional government, and separation of church and state in opposition to absolute monarchy and the dogmas of the Catholic church.

The intellectuals of the Enlightenment believed that “humanity progressed through the rational acquisition and organization of knowledge, and that real knowledge resulted from observation and logic rather than tradition, speculation, or divine inspiration.”

Enlightenment ideas also had a profound affect on different forms of culture, particularly in the creation of opera.

The Florentine Camerata were influenced by the historian and humanist Girolamo Mei who believed that ancient Greek drama was mainly sung rather than spoken as the Greek Aristoxenus had written that speech should set the pattern for song. The Camerata were also critical of contemporary polyphony which was felt to be overused and obscured the words and their meanings. Therefore:

Intrigued by ancient descriptions of the emotional and moral effect of ancient Greek tragedy and comedy, which they presumed to be sung as a single line to a simple instrumental accompaniment, the Camerata proposed creating a new kind of music. Instead of trying to make the clearest polyphony they could, the Camerata voiced an opinion recorded by a contemporary Florentine, ‘means must be found in the attempt to bring music closer to that of classical times.’

These musical experiments were called monody and Peri’s operas had the entire drama sung in monodic style with gambas, lutes, and harpsichord or organ for continuo as the main instruments. Thus we see a radical development in musical form along with content coming from Greek mythology. This new ‘music drama’ was called ‘opera’ (work). Over time other composers took up these new ideas and eventually synthesised monody and polyphony.

Orpheus, the hero of the opera, with a violin, by Cesare Gennar

Peri’s opera Euridice tells the story of Orpheus (Orfeo), a great musician, who journeyed to the underworld to plead with the gods to revive his wife Euridice after she had been fatally injured. Orpheus uses his legendary voice to convince Pluto, the god of the underworld, to return Euridice to life. He is successful and they return from the underworld and rejoice. The use of this particular story from Greek mythology in 1600 showed the growing divide between the humanist intellectuals and the church. This was at a time when “the persecution of witches was the official policy of both the Catholic and Protestant Churches.” According to Helen Ellerbe in The Dark Side of Christian History:

Around 1600 a man wrote: Germany is almost entirely occupied with building fires for the witches… Switzerland has been compelled to wipe out many of her villages on their account. Travelers in Lorraine may see thousands and thousands of the stakes to which witches are bound.1

The fear of the devil and hell had reached terrible proportions and any reasonable call for mercy or reconsideration, like the theme of Euridice, most likely would have been dangerous at that time, except in allegorical forms. Not long after, the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi (with a libretto by Alessandro Striggio) brought out an opera based on the same story in 1607 entitled L’Orfeo, an opera which is still regularly performed.

Monteverdi constructed the opera score out of a daring use of many different existing forms – the aria, the strophic song, recitative, choruses, dances, dramatic musical interludes. While there was an actual written score, instrumentalists were allowed freedom to elaborate musically and singers to embellish their arias. While the work was admired up to the 1650s it was soon forgotten until the 19th century due to changing styles and tastes. When first performed it was in front of a a courtly audience of nobility and intellectual aristocrats. However, with the spread of interest in opera throughout Europe, public opera houses were built to hold larger and larger audiences by the end of the seventeenth century. Yet the expense of producing opera was becoming apparent as a French commentator noted in 1683:

The nobility of Venice patronized the great opera theatres more for their divertissement particular that for any financial profit that might accrue, since income from opera did not normally furnish half of the expense’.2

Thus we can see that opera was born in a time of church hierarchy and power, determined to wipe out dissent resulting in widespread fear and danger while Renaissance humanists were focusing on ancient Greek ideas of democratic society, and values like mercy.

Classical – ‘divesting the music entirely of abuses’

It was the German classical composer, Christoph Willibald Gluck who reformed opera in the 1700s as the freedom allowed to musicians and singers to extrapolate was seen to have gotten out of hand. His first reform opera, Orfeo ed Euridice, was premiered in Venice in 1762 and then in Paris, in a revised French-version, in 1774. In his own words, Gluck sets out his reasons:

When I undertook to set this poem, it was my design to divest the music entirely of all those abuses with which the vanity of singers, or the too great complacency of composers, has so long disfigured the Italian opera, and rendered the most beautiful and magnificent of all public exhibitions, the most tiresome and ridiculous. It was my intention to confine music to its true dramatic province, of assisting poetical expression, and of augmenting the interest of the fable; without interrupting the action, or chilling it with useless and superfluous ornaments; for the office of music, when joined to poetry, seemed to me, to resemble that of colouring in a correct and well disposed design, where the lights and shades only seem to animate the figures, without altering the out-line.

Gluck, like other classical period composers, sought to simplify music emphasizing:

Light elegance in place of the Baroque’s dignified seriousness and impressive grandeur. […] Composers from this period sought dramatic effects, striking melodies, and clearer textures. One of the big textural changes was a shift away from the complex, dense polyphonic style of the Baroque, in which multiple interweaving melodic lines were played simultaneously, and towards homophony, a lighter texture which uses a clear single melody line accompanied by chords.

Gluck, Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were all major composers of the classical style. These composers were on the cusp of a major change in society with burgeoning capitalism changing the balance of power in the feudal aristocratic societies of Europe.

In the past the role of music was to entertain the wealthy and powerful in their mansions and castles while praising the glory of God in the churches. Composers, if they were lucky, had the job of Kapellmeister, or church composer, who worked as artisans producing mainly hymns and oratorios or in-house for a noble patron.

Mozart sought to move away from this life to compose for a more bourgeois audience and become an independent contributor to intellectual life. This was a developing attitude of the intellectuals of Enlightenment Europe who believed in the improvement of humanity and civil society through increased secular knowledge.

Portrait of Francisco D’Andrade in the title role of Don Giovanni by Max Slevogt, 1912

Mozart’s Don Giovanni was written in 1787, two years before the French Revolution, when there was an antipathy to the aristocracy and a growing perception of them as a parasitic class. Don Giovanni, as James Donelan notes, gives audiences an exaggerated version of ‘an aristocrat who does nothing but consume, and does so almost joylessly’. He writes:

As the curtain opens, we see Figaro and Susanna; Figaro is counting off the measurements necessary for fitting a bed in his new room, and Susanna is admiring how she looks in the new hat she made for herself. You can already notice several things that indicate that something different from standard opera buffa is going on: this scene of domestic tranquility emphasizes Figaro’s and Susanna’s capabilities as the makers and doers of this world. You can assume he will build his own bed; Susanna has made her own hat, and this opera, based, as you know, on a subversive play, appeared at precisely the time in history when a new bourgeois class of traders, bankers, craftsmen, and merchants were gaining power and significance in European society, and the necessity of having a noble class was being questioned very seriously for the first time. The workers of the world and the bourgeois created wealth, and got things done; the sovereign provided them with a stable government, but what did the aristocracy do any more except hoard valuable resources and put on airs?

The world of the aristocracy was in decline and a new world led by the bourgeoisie was in the ascent with its emphasis on emotion and individualism. The Romantic reaction to the Industrial Revolution and the scientific rationalization of nature produced a new culture that opposed the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment.

Romanticism – ‘mysticism and turbid emotionalism’

This change in attitude was noted by Arnold Hauser in The Social History of Art. He writes:

Since the advent of romanticism all cheerfulness seems to have a superficial, frivolous character. The combination of carefree light-heartedness with the most profound seriousness, of playful exuberance with the highest, purest ethos transfiguring the whole of life, which was still present in Mozart, breaks up; from now on everything serious and sublime takes on a gloomy and careworn look. It is sufficient to compare the serene, clear and calm humanity of Mozart, its freedom from all mysticism and turbid emotionalism, with the violence of romantic music, to realize what had been lost with the eighteenth century.3

The Romantics’ attitude to modernity was one of outright rejection. They were radical and individualistic enough to lead bourgeois revolutions but soon saw the abyss and the potential for their own loss of power and dissolution as a class. So, the Romantics looked backwards to medievalism instead of forward to proletarian revolution. Rather than questioning the organisation of society and who should own and control the new means of production in the ‘dark, satanic mills’ they chose to revere an ideal that society could return to peasant culture.

In Germany, Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz (1821) started the style which became known as Romantische Oper along with other composers like Albert Lortzing (e.g. Undine, described as a romantische Zauberoper ‘romantic magic opera’), Heinrich Marschner (e.g. Der Vampyr and Hans Heiling) and Louis Spohr (e.g. Faust). These composers based their operas on typical Romantic themes such as nature, the supernatural, the Middle Ages and popular culture, specifically folklore, culminating in Wagner’s ‘romantic operas’, Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman, 1843), followed by Tannhäuser (1845) and Lohengrin (1850).

Wagner’s operas grew in scale with more nationalist overtones but focused on myths, legends and nature, such as Der Ring des Nibelungen (the Ring or “Ring cycle“), a set of four operas based loosely on figures and elements from Germanic mythology. As his fame and influence spread throughout Europe other composers took on board some elements of his style and rejected others.

As nationalists moved away from universalist enlightenment ideas such as equality of all before the law, opera became a powerful tool to promote the idea of ethnic groups as the true basis of the nation state. Folk songs and folk dances as well as nationalist subjects formed the new content of the new operas. In Italy, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Nabucco contains the lyrics, “Oh mia Patria sì bella e perduta (Oh my Fatherland so beautiful and lost!)! In Russia Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar (1836) tells the story of the Russian peasant and patriotic hero Ivan Susanin who sacrifices his life for the Tsar by leading astray a group of marauding Poles who were hunting him. In Brazil, Carlos Gomes’ (1836–1896) opera Il Guarany (1870) used references from the country’s folk music and traditional themes while the Czech composer Antonín Leopold Dvorák used the Czech language for his librettos to convey the Czech national spirit.

Verismo – ‘focusing on the hard-knock lives’

In Italy, the growth of Realism in art and literature was making itself felt among opera composers such as Pietro Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana, 1890), Ruggero Leoncavallo (Pagliacci, 1892), Umberto Giordano (Mala vita, 1892), Francesco Cilea (L’arlesiana, 1897) and Giacomo Puccini (La bohème, 1896) and they developed their own style called verismo (Italian for “realism”, from vero, meaning “true”). Realism opposed Romantic idealisation or dramatisation and focused more on working class people instead. The popularity of Wagner’s work with its social and political mythologising had had its effects. As Adam Parker notes:

The Italians took notice and, coping with their own political, economic and social upheavals, began to embrace a more realistic operatic style that strived to show aspects of everyday life and convey basic truths about human struggles. The music, too, changed. Standard arias — pauses in the action that showcased the talents of singers — gave way to a more unified structure and constant musical flow. Italian composers cast aside romantic fairy tales and stopped short of embracing Wagner’s mythical realms, preferring to focus on the hard-knock lives of characters who often were simple village-dwellers, impoverished, lovelorn and prone to make mistakes.

Giacomo Puccini, one of the composers most closely associated with verismo.

The Italian Verismo composers were highly influenced by the realistic literary works of Émile Zola, Honoré de Balzac and Henrik Ibsen and sought to bring opera down to earth by examining the lives of ordinary people, the lives of the poor, with themes such as infidelity, revenge, and violence.

The Verismo singing style brought in big changes from the elegant bel canto style of the 19th century. Verismo singers adopted a more declamatory singing style with a vociferous, passionate element to increase the emotional content of the opera.

20th Century – ‘losing much of its narrative power’

The twentieth century led to many changes as Modernism and Postmodernism, descendants of Romanticism, settled into Western culture while Realism and Social Realism, descendants of the universalist ideas of the Enlightenment, became state styles in the East. The Modernist composers rejected traditions such as classical ideas of form in art (harmony, symmetry, and order). As in literature and art, Modernist emphasis on new forms had their effect on opera as atonal, and then twelve-tone techniques were developed by Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, while later in the century Philip Glass and John Adams became known for a pared-down style of composing called Minimalism.

Atonality, which describes music that lacks a key, became became used from the early twentieth-century onwards and began a breakdown of the forms of classical European music which had existed from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.

The knock-on effects were profound, as Andrew Clements writes:

With the collapse of tonality, music had lost much of its narrative power, they reasoned, and so storytelling need no longer be a prerequisite of opera either. The music would still contain, support and reinforce the onstage drama, but that drama didn’t need to be linear: scenes could proceed simultaneously (as in Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten, 1965), present different versions of the same story (Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus), tell no story at all (Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach) or dispense with a text altogether (Wolfgang Rihm’s Séraphin, 1995).

Meanwhile, in Russia there were many successful composers. Mikhail Glinka’s (1804–1857) A Life for the Tsar was followed by Alexander Dargomyzhsky (1813–1869) and his opera Rusalka (1856) and revolutionary The Stone Guest (1872), Modest Mussorgsky’s (1839–1881) Boris Godunov, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s (1840–1893) Eugene Onegin (Yevgeny Onegin), (1877–1878) and The Queen of Spades (Pikovaya dama) (1890) and the prolific Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908) who completed fifteen operas.

The Soviet state encouraged opera and many new operas were produced by a new generation of composers. While the early operas were influenced by Modernism, things started to change as the 1934 Soviet Writers Congress instigated a policy of Socialist Realism and by 1946 the Zhdanov Doctrine was proposed which opposed  “cosmopolitanism” (which meant native Russian accomplishments were to be emphasised more than foreign models) and the “anti-formalism campaign” (which saw “formalism” as art for art’s sake and did not serve a larger social purpose).

Most famously Dmitri Shostakovich’s (1906–1975) Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (performed in 1934) was criticised by Pravda in an article entitled Chaos Instead of Music in 1936. The story centres around a lonely woman in 19th-century Russia who falls in love with one of her husband’s workers and is driven to murder. While there doesn’t seem to have been any problem with the content, however, one can see the reaction to Western Modernism playing out in the description of the opera:

From the first minute, the listener is shocked by deliberate dissonance, by a confused stream of sound. Snatches of melody, the beginnings of a musical phrase, are drowned, emerge again, and disappear in a grinding and squealing roar. To follow this “music” is most difficult; to remember it, impossible. Thus it goes, practically throughout the entire opera. The singing on the stage is replaced by shrieks. If the composer chances to come upon the path of a clear and simple melody, he throws himself back into a wilderness of musical chaos – in places becoming cacophony. The expression which the listener expects is supplanted by wild rhythm. Passion is here supposed to be expressed by noise. All this is not due to lack of talent, or lack of ability to depict strong and simple emotions in music. Here is music turned deliberately inside out in order that nothing will be reminiscent of classical opera, or have anything in common with symphonic music or with simple and popular musical language accessible to all.

When an editor of Pravda was asked why Shostakovich was targeted, he replied:

We had to begin with somebody. Shostakovich was the most famous, and a blow against him would create immediate repercussions and would make his imitators in music and elsewhere sit up and take notice. Furthermore, Shostakovich is a real artist, there is a touch of genius in him. A man like that is worth fighting for, is worth saving … We had faith in his essential wholesomeness. We knew that he could stand the shock … Shostakovich knows and everyone else knows that there is no malice in our attack. He knows and everyone else knows that there is no desire to destroy him.4

Indeed, Shostakovich was awarded the USSR State Prize in 1941 (Piano Quintet), 1942 (Symphony No. 7), 1950 (Song of the Forests – The Fall of Berlin for chorus) and 1952 (Ten Poems for Chorus opus 88).

The first time the USSR State Prize was awarded for opera was to Uzeyir Hajibeyov for the opera Keroghlu in 1941. It was the first opera in the Muslim East. Koroghlu was based on a regional legend about a young man who organized a rebellion against the khan (king), who had blinded his father out of spite. Hajibayov uses the rhythms of Azerbaijan’s Yalli dance in the choir’s singing to reflect the strength of the people and their yearning for freedom. The large choir conveys the unity of the people and glorifies their rebellion.


Koroglu is a “classical opera complete with arias, choruses and ballet, but like so much of Hajibayov’s work it also includes traditional rhythms and melodies. […] Hajibayov included folk instruments such as the tar, zurna (pipe) and nagara (drum) in the orchestra to heighten the sense of place. […] The opera quickly gained popular acclaim and was performed widely.”

Thus we can see the huge gap that opened up between modernist opera in the West, its influence in the East, and the kind of opera that was promoted in the Soviet Union.

Twenty-First Century – ‘no use pretending something’s not broken’

A couple of years ago Classical-Music.com asked leading opera singers to list their top operas. Five were composed in this century: Jake Heggie, Dead Man Walking (2000), Mark-Anthony Turnage, The Silver Tassie (2002), George Benjamin, Written on Skin (2012), Thomas Adès, The Exterminating Angel (2016). Despite the variety of themes and historical periods – showing that opera composition and production is alive and well, in the words of Graham Vick (thestage.co.uk): “we need to bend – there’s no use pretending something’s not broken.”

Recent writers on opera are well aware of the issues involved and have come at the problem from differing perspectives. For Vick, issues of form were uppermost in his thoughts. In an article entitled Opera needs radical overhaul to survive, he writes:

We must stop believing that, if we work really hard, we might be almost as good as the legitimate theatre. Our agonising nostalgia for class (Downton Abbey only the most recent example) perpetuates philistine values. Crippled with self-doubt and privilege, the art form can hardly be heard in the wider society. A charge often levelled against it is that it is ‘owned by the few’. It is this sense of possession and superiority that is its greatest enemy.

He suggests different ways that opera companies can overcome these problems such as having touring versions and lowering seat prices by lowering performance costs.

For writers like Richard Morrison (chief music critic of the Times) content is a determining factor for future survival. In a recent article he discusses Anthony Bolton’s The Life and Death of Alexander Litivinenko (spy killed by polonium), John Adams’s Death of Klinghoffer (hijacking of a cruise ship), and Tansy Davies’s Between Worlds (about five people trapped in the World Trade Centre on 9/11). He questions the subject matter of recent operas which seems to be almost a strategy of using shock tactics to get punters back into the opera house:

Can anything and everything be turned into art? Is the entire human condition fair game for a writer, painter or composer? Or are some real-life subjects so horrific or still so fresh that they should be off limits, at least until those caught up in them are no longer around to be offended?

Both of these are valid and important perspectives on the ongoing problems of the opera business. However, like cinema, the more expensive a cultural medium is, the more its ideology is tightly controlled by those who hold the purse strings. The mass media corporations control how everything is seen and understood, saturating the media with ideologies that favour the world outlook of the neoliberal elites. This allows them to promote conflicts that suit their agenda (e.g. the bombing of Libya) and neutralise the ones that are not going their way (e.g. the attacks on Syria).

Conclusion

For culture in general to inspire future interest and support it must move away from the narratives and objectives of the elites. Working class struggles have shaped the world and any improvements in living conditions have been won after years of often violent conflict and sacrifice. These stories, histories and even allegories of these stories have formed the basis of culture in the past. Ordinary people do not own their own mass communications media or opera houses but know art made in solidarity with their plight (whether it be local or abroad) when they see it. Therefore, yes, anything and everything be turned into art, that is, if it is made in such a way that empathy, solidarity and progress is the result of the work and not just a distant spectacle as a vehicle for shock-horror or laughs. For opera to have distinctive, compelling, and meaningful engagements with people in the future it must first invest in its most important component: its audiences.

  1. Helen Ellerbe, The Dark Side of Christian History (Morningstar and Lark, 1995), p. 136/7.
  2. Daniel Snowman, The Gilded Stage: A Social History of Opera (Atlantic Books, London, 2010), p. 36.
  3. Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, Vol. 3 (Vintage Books: New York, 1958), p. 225.
  4. Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (Harper Perennial: London, 2009), p. 249.

The Decent Protester: A Down Under Creation

The Decent Protester, appropriately capitalised and revered, is, from the outset, one who does not protest. It is an important point: to protest in the visage of such a person is an urge best left to inner fantasy and feeling. You come late to the scene: the best work and revolt has been done; the people who made the change are either dead, in prison, or ostracised.  Modest changes might be made to the legal system, if at all.

To actually protest, by which is meant screaming, hollering, and disrupting, with the occasional sign of public indignation, is something of a betrayal.  A betrayal to your comfortable station; a betrayal to your happy state of affairs.  Show disgust, but keep it regular, modest and contained.  Add a dash of bitters that amount to hypocrisy.

This regularity is something that ensures the continuation of police states, apartheid regimes, and vicious rulers.  It also perpetuates the status quo in liberal democracies.  The cleverness of this is the idea of permissible revolt: As long as you operate within the acceptable boundaries of protest, your conscience is given its balm, and the regime can continue to hum to the tune of the tolerable.  It is a principle that states of all political hues adopt, though the degree of that adoption is sometimes moderated by bills of rights and the like.

When Henry D. Thoreau was arrested and found himself spending a night in a Concord prison in 1846 for refusing to pay his poll tax, he was making a broader statement about breaking rules, albeit from a selfish perspective.  His objects of disaffection were slavery and the Mexican War.  To the individual exists a conscience that should not bow to majoritarian wishes.  If there is a law “of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another,” he writes in Civil Disobedience, “then, I say, break the law.”  In Walden (1854), he elaborated on the point, claiming that no citizen “for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation.”

This view has hardly gone unchallenged, suggesting that civil disobedience can be a slippery matter.  Hannah Arendt cast more than a heavy stone at Thoreau in her own essay on the subject in The New Yorker in September 1970.  Her proposal, instead, was the necessary need to institutionalise civil disobedience and render it a matter of recognised action, rather than individual abstention.  Thoreau had, after all, suggested distance and the will of the individual, that it was “not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even to the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it…”

To that end, Arendt felt that “it would be an event of great significance to find a constitutional niche for civil disobedience – of no less significance, perhaps, than the event of the founding of the constitutio liberatis, nearly two hundred years ago.”  But she resists, curiously enough, the idea of legalising it, favouring a political approach akin to treating the protester as a registered lobbyist or special interest group.  “These minorities of opinion would thus be able to establish themselves as a power that is not only ‘seen from afar’ during demonstrations and other dramatizations of their viewpoint, but is always present and to be reckoned with in the daily business of government.”

Few countries better exemplify this dilemma than Australia, a country that has no formal constitutional protection of the right to protest yet insists on a collaborative model between protestor and state (protest permits, for instance, take precedence over any organic right; cooperating with police is encouraged, as laws are to be abided by).  In some ways, an argument might well be made that civil disobedience, in anaemic form, has been institutionalised down under.

The result brought forth in this coagulation is simple if compromising: the Decent Protester.  Such a person is one very much at odds with the barebones definition of civil disobedience advanced by Robin Celikates, who describes it as “intentionally unlawful protest action, which is based on principles and aims at changing (as in preventing or enforcing) certain laws or political steps.”  In other words, there can be no Australian Rosa Parks.

Each state has its own guidelines for the decent protester, offering a helpful hand for those braving a march or organising a gathering.  An information booklet covering the right to protest in the Australian Capital Territory has a range of “guidelines”.  It speaks of “many public places” in Canberra, the national capital, “where people can exercise their right to communicate their opinions and ideas through peaceful protests and demonstrations.”  The authors of the booklet make the claim that Australian “democracy recognises this right which is subject to the general law and must be balanced against the rights and interests of others and of the community as a whole.”

The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s office gives the false impression that Australia has a clear right to peaceful assembly for people to meet and “engage in peaceful protest.”  A list of international human rights treaties are suggested as relevant, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (articles 21 and 22) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 8(1)(a)).  But being a party to a convention is not the same as incorporating it.  Legislation needs to be passed and, for that reason, remains mediated through the organs of the state.  The Fair Work Act 2009, for instance, protects freedom of association in the workplace but only in the context of being, or not being, members of industrial associations.  Not exactly much to go on.

Other publications venture a much older right to protest, one that came to the Great Southern Land, paradoxically enough, with convict ships and manacles. “The origins of the common law right to assembly,” argues a briefing paper by Tom Gotsis for the NSW Parliamentary Research Service, “have been traced back 800 years to the signing of the Magna Carta.”  This, in turn, finds modest recognition in state courts and the High Court of Australia, not least through the limited implied right of political communication.  Ever eccentric in its conservatism, that right is not a private one to be exercised against the state, merely a control of hubristic parliaments who venture laws disproportionate to it.  Not exactly a glorious, fit thing, is that implied right.

Such protest, measured, managed and tranquilised, makes the fundamental point that those who control the indignation control the argument.  Much time has been spent in Australia embedding police within the protest structure, ensuring that order is maintained.  Trains, buses and cars must still run on time.  People need to get to work.  Children need to be in school.  The message is thereby defanged in the name of decency.  It also means that genuine lawbreaking aimed at altering any policies will be frowned upon as indecent.  Good Australians would never do that.

US and China “Trade” War?

It is very popular these days to talk and write about the “trade war” between the United States and China. But is there really one raging? Or is what we are witnessing simply a clash of political and ideological systems: one being extremely successful and optimistic, the other depressing, full of dark cynicism and nihilism?

In the past, the West used to produce almost everything. While colonizing the entire planet (one should just look at the map of the globe between the two world wars), Europe and later the United States, Canada and Australia kept plundering all the continents of natural resources, holding hundreds of millions of human beings in what could be easily described as ‘forced labor’, often bordering on slavery.

Under such conditions, it was very easy to be ‘number one’, to reign without competition, and to toss around huge amounts of cash for the sole purpose of indoctrinating local and overseas ‘subjects’ on topics such as the ‘glory’ of capitalism, colonialism (open and hidden), and Western-style ‘democracy’.

It is essential to point out that in the recent past, the global Western dictatorship (and that included the ‘economic system) used to have absolutely no competition. Systems that were created to challenge it were smashed with the most brutal, sadistic methods. One only needs to recall invasions from the West to the young Soviet Union with the consequent genocide and famines. Or other genocides in Indochina, which was fighting its wars for independence, first against France, later against the United States.

*****

Times changed. But Western tactics haven’t.

There are now many new systems in numerous corners of the world. These systems, some Communist, others socialist or even populist, are ready to defend their citizens and to use natural resources to feed the people, and to educate, house and cure them.

No matter how popular these systems are at home, the West finds ways to demonize them, using its well-established propaganda machinery. First, to smear them and then, if they resist, to directly liquidate them.

As before, during the colonial era, no competition has been permitted. Disobedience is punishable by death.

Naturally, the Western system has not been built on excellence, hard work and creativity, only. It was constructed on fear, oppression and brutal force. For centuries, it has clearly been a monopoly.

*****

Only the toughest countries, like Russia, China, Iran, North Korea or Cuba, have managed to survive, defending their own cultures and advancing their philosophies.

To the West, China has proven to be an extremely tough adversary.

With its political, economic, and social systems, it has managed to construct a forward-looking, optimistic and extraordinarily productive society. Its scientific research is now second to none. Its culture is thriving. Together with its closest ally, Russia, China excels in many essential fields.

That is precisely what irks, even horrifies, the West.

For decades and centuries, Europe and the United States have not been ready to tolerate any major country which would set up its own set of rules and goals.

China refuses to accept the diktat from abroad. It now appears to be self-sufficient, ideologically, politically, economically and intellectually. Where it is not fully self-sufficient, it can rely on its friends and allies. Those allies are increasingly located outside the Western sphere.

*****

Is China really competing with the West? Yes and no. And often not consciously.

It is a giant; still the most populous nation on earth. It is building, determinedly, its socialist motherland (applying “socialism with the Chinese characteristics” model). It is trying to construct a global system which has roots in the thousands of years of its history (BRI – Belt and Road Initiative, often nicknamed the “New Silk Road”).

Its highly talented and hardworking, as well as increasingly educated population, is producing at a higher pace and often at higher quality than the countries in Europe or the United States. As it produces, it also naturally trades.

This is where the ‘problem’ arises. The West, particularly the United States, is not used to a country that creates things for the sake and benefit of its people. For centuries, Asian, African and Latin American people were ordered what and how to produce, where and for how much to sell the produce. Or else!

Of course, the West has never consulted anyone. It has been producing what it (and its corporations) desired. It was forcing countries all over the world to buy its products. If they refused, they got invaded, or their fragile governments (often semi-colonies, anyway) overthrown.

The most ‘terrible’ thing that China is doing is: it is producing what is good for China, and for its citizens.

That is, in the eyes of the West, unforgiveable!

*****

In the process, China ‘competes’ but fairly.  It produces a lot, cheaply, and increasingly well. The same can be said about Russia.

These two countries are not competing maliciously. If they were to decide to, they could sink the US economy, or perhaps the economy of the entire West, within a week.

But they don’t even think about it.

However, as said above, to just work hard, invent new and better products, advance scientific research, and use the gains to improve the lives of ordinary people (there will be no extreme poverty in China by the end of 2020) is seen as the arch-crime in London and Washington.

Why? Because the Chinese and Russian systems appear to be much better, or at least simply better, than those which are reigning in the West and its colonies. And because they are working for the people not for corporations or for the colonial powers.

And the demagogues in the West – in its mass media outlets and academia – are horrified that perhaps soon the world will wake up and see the reality which is actually already happening slowly but surely.

*****

To portray China as an evil country is essential for the hegemony of the West. There is nothing so terrifying to London and Washington as the combination of these words: “Socialism/ Communism, Asian, success”. The West invents new and newer ‘opposition movements’, it then supports them and finances them, just in order to then point fingers and bark: “China is fighting back, and it is violating human rights”, when it defends itself and its citizens. This tactic is clear right now in both the northwest of the country and in Hong Kong.

Not everything that China builds is excellent. Europe is still producing better cars, shoes and fragrances, and the United States, better airplanes. But the progress that China has registered during the last two decades is remarkable. Were it to be football, it is China 2: West 1.

Most likely, unless there is real war, in ten years China will catch up in many fields; catch up, and surpass the West. Side by side with Russia.

It could have been excellent news for the entire world. China is sharing its achievements, even with the poorest of the poor countries in Africa or with Laos in Asia.

The only problem is the West feels that it has to rule. It is unrepentant, observing the world from a clearly fundamentalist view. It cannot help it: it is absolutely, religiously convinced that it has to give orders to every man and woman, in every corner of the globe.

It is a tick, fanatical. Lately, anyone who travels to Europe or the United States will testify: what is taking place there is not good, even for the ordinary citizens. Western governments and corporations are now robbing even their own citizens. The standard of living is nose-diving.

China, with just a fraction of the wealth, is building a much more egalitarian society, although you would never guess so if you exclusively relied on Western statistics.

*****

So, “trade war” slogans are an attempt to convince the local and global public that “China is unfair”, that it is “taking advantage” of the West. President Trump is “defending” the United States against the Chinese ‘Commies’. But the more he “defends them”, the poorer they get. Strange, isn’t it?

While the Chinese people, Russian people, even Laotian people, are, ‘miraculously’, getting richer and richer. They are getting more and more optimistic.

For decades, the West used to preach ‘free trade’, and competition. That is, when it was in charge, or let’s say, ‘the only kid on the block’.

In the name of competition and free trade, dozens of governments got overthrown, and millions of people killed.

And now?

What is China supposed to do? Frankly, what?

Should it curb its production or perhaps close scientific labs? Should it consult the US President or perhaps British Prime Minister before it makes any essential economic decision? Should it control the exchange rate of RMB in accordance with the wishes of the economic tsars in Washington? That would be thoroughly ridiculous considering that (socialist/Communist) China will soon become the biggest economy in the world, or maybe it already is.

There is all that abstract talk, but nothing concrete suggested. Or is it like that on purpose?

Could it be that the West does not want to improve relations with Beijing?

On September 7, 2019, AP reported:

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow compared trade talks with China on Friday to the U.S. standoff with Russia during the Cold War…

“The stakes are so high, we have to get it right, and if that takes a decade, so be it,” he said.  Kudlow emphasized that it took the United States decades to get the results it wanted with Russia. He noted that he worked in the Reagan administration: “I remember President Reagan waging a similar fight against the Soviet Union.”

Precisely! The war against the Soviet Union was hardly a war for economic survival of the United States. It was an ideological battle which the United States unfortunately won, because it utilized both propaganda and economic terror (the arms race and other means).

Now, China is next on the list, and the White House is not even trying to hide it.

But China is savvy. It is beginning to understand the game. And it is ready, by all means, to defend the system which has pulled almost all its citizens out of misery, and which could, one day soon, do the same for the rest of the world.

*  First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook – a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Peace Expert George W Bush Says ‘Isolationism’ Is Dangerous To Peace

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Humanity was treated to an important lecture on peace at a recent event for the NIR School of the Heart by none other than Ellen Degeneres BFF and world-renowned peace expert George W Bush.

“I don’t think the Iranians believe a peaceful Middle East is in their national interest,” said the former president according to The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin, whose brief Twitter thread on the subject appears to be the only record of Bush’s speech anywhere online.

“An isolationist United States is destabilizing around the world,” Bush said during the speech in what according to Rogin was a shot at the sitting president. “We are becoming isolationist and that’s dangerous for the sake of peace.”

For those who don’t speak fluent neoconservative, “isolationist” here means taking even one small step in any direction other than continued military expansionism into every square inch of planet Earth, and “We are becoming isolationist” here means “We have hundreds of military bases circling the globe, our annual military budget is steadily climbing toward the trillion-dollar mark, and we are engaged in countless undeclared wars and regime change interventions all around the world.”

It is unclear why Bush is choosing to present himself as a more peaceful president than Trump given that by this point in his first term Bush had launched not one but two full-scale ground invasion wars whose effects continue to ravage the Middle East to this very day, especially given the way both presidents appear to be in furious agreement on foreign policy matters like Iran. But here we are.

From a certain point of view it’s hard to say which is stranger: (A) a war criminal with a blood-soaked legacy of mass murder, torture and military expansionism telling Trump that he is endangering peace with his “isolationism”, or (B) the claim that Trump is “isolationist” at all. As we’ve discussed previously, Trump’s so-called isolationism has thus far consisted of killing tens of thousands of Venezuelans with starvation sanctions in an attempt to effect regime change in the most oil-rich nation on earth, advancing a regime change operation in Iran via starvation sanctions, CIA covert ops, and reckless military escalations, continuing to facilitate the Saudi-led slaughter in Yemen and to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, inflating the already insanely bloated US military budget to enable more worldwide military expansionism, greatly increasing the number of bombs dropped per day from the previous administration, killing record numbers of civilians in airstrikes for which he has reduced military accountability, and of course advancing many, many new cold war escalations against the nuclear superpower Russia.

But these bogus warnings about a dangerous, nonexistent threat of isolationism are nothing new for Dubya. In his farewell address to the nation, Bush said the following:
In the face of threats from abroad, it can be tempting to seek comfort by turning inward. But we must reject isolationism and its companion, protectionism. Retreating behind our borders would only invite danger. In the 21st century, security and prosperity at home depend on the expansion of liberty abroad. If America does not lead the cause of freedom, that cause will not be led.
As we discussed recently, use of the pro-war buzzword “isolationism” has been re-emerging from its post-Bush hibernation as a popular one-word debunk of any opposition to continued US military expansionism in all directions, and it is deceitful in at least three distinct ways. Firstly, the way it is used consistently conflates isolationism with non-interventionism, which are two wildly different things. Secondly, none of the mainstream political figures who are consistently tarred with the “isolationist” pejorative are isolationists by any stretch of the imagination, or even proper non-interventionists; they all support many interventionist positions which actual non-interventionists object to. Thirdly, calling someone who opposes endless warmongering an “isolationist” makes as much sense as calling someone who opposes rape a man-hating prude; opposing an intrinsically evil act is not the same as withdrawing from the world.

Nobody actually believes that US foreign policy is under any threat of anything remotely resembling isolationism. The real purpose of this buzzword is to normalize the forever war and drag the Overton window so far in the direction of ghoulish hawkishness that the opposite of “war” is no longer “peace”, but “isolationism”. By pulling this neat little trick, the propagandists of the political/media class have successfully made endless war seem like a perfectly normal thing to be happening and any small attempt to scale it back look weird and freakish, when the truth is the exact opposite. War is weird, freakish and horrific, and peace is of course normal. This is the only healthy way to see things.

It would actually be great if George W Bush could shut the fu*k up forever, ideally in a locked cell following a public war tribunal. Failing that, at the very least people should stop looking at him as a cuddly wuddly teddy bear with whom it’s fun to share a sporting arena suite or a piece of hard candy or hang award medals on for his treatment of veterans. This mass murdering monster has been growing more and more popular with Democrats lately just because he offers mild criticisms of Trump sometimes, as have war pigs like Bill Kristol and Max Boot and even John Bolton for the same reason, and it needs to stop. And in the name of a million dead Iraqis, please don’t start consulting this man on matters of peace.

Reprinted with permission from Medium.com.
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Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: Trading Away Indian Agriculture?  

On the back of Brexit, there are fears in the UK that a trade deal will be struck with Washington which will effectively lower food and environmental standards to those of the US. At the same time, it seems that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is being resurrected and could have a similar impact in the EU. These types of secretive, corporate-driven trade deals ride roughshod over democratic procedures and the public interest.

India has not been immune to such deals. The US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (2005) is aimed at widening access to India’s agricultural and retail sectors for US companies. This agreement was drawn up with the full and direct participation of representatives from various companies, such as Monsanto, Cargill and Walmart, in return for India receiving assistance to develop its nuclear sector.

And now, in India, there are serious concerns about another deal. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is currently being negotiated by 16 countries across Asia-Pacific and would cover half the world’s population, including 420 million small family farms that produce 80% of the region’s food. Although stumbling blocks have prevented any deal being struck thus far, there is an increased sense of urgency to get it signed.

The RCEP could further accelerate the corporatisation of Indian agriculture. The plight of farmers in India has been well documented. A combination of debt, economic liberalisation, subsidised imports, rising input costs, deliberate underinvestment and a shift to cash crops has caused massive financial distress. Over 300,000 (perhaps over 400,000) have taken their lives over the last 20 years. From the effects of the Green Revolution (degraded soils, falling water tables, drought, etc.) to the lack of minimum support prices and income guarantees, it is becoming increasingly non-viable for many smallholder farmers to continue.

Indian smallholder/peasant farmers are under attack on all fronts. Transnational corporations are seeking to capitalise the food and agriculture sector by supplanting the current system with one suited towards their needs, ably assisted by the World Bank and its various strategies and directives. There is a push to further commercialise the countryside, which will involve shifting hundreds of millions to cities.

GRAIN is an international non-profit organisation and in 2017 released a short report that outlined how RCEP is expected to create powerful new rights and lucrative business opportunities for food and agriculture corporations under the guise of boosting trade and investment.

Land acquisition and seed saving

The RCEP is expected to create powerful rights and lucrative business opportunities for food and agriculture corporations under the guise of boosting trade and investment. It could allow foreign corporations to buy up land, thereby driving up land prices, fuelling speculation and pushing small farmers out. This could intensify the ‘great land grab that has already been taking place in India.

GRAIN notes that giant agribusiness concerns want to put a stop to farmer seed saving and sharing by forcing farmers to buy their proprietary seeds each season. The global seed industry is highly concentrated today and recent mergers only further consolidate its power and influence over both governments and farmers. For example, with China having acquired Syngenta, that country has a new vested interest in seeing seed laws strengthened via tighter intellectual property rights under RCEP.

We have already seen the devastating effects on Indian farmers due to Monsanto’s illegal ‘royalties’ (on ‘trait values’) on GM cotton seeds in India. Monsanto effectively wrote and broke laws to enter India. Under RCEP, things could get much worse. If patents are allowed on inventions ‘derived from plants’ (whether hybrid or genetically modified seeds), we could see higher seed prices, a further loss of biodiversity, even greater corporate control and a possible lowering of standards (or a complete bypassing of them as with GM mustard) for high-risk products such as GMOs.

India’s dairy sector

Access to the huge Indian market is an important focus for New Zealand in the RCEP negotiations, especially where the diary sector is concerned. However, according to RS Sodhi, managing director of the country’s largest milk cooperative, Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation, this could rob the vibrant domestic dairy industry and the millions of farmers that are connected to it from access to a growing market in India.

The Indian government has encouraged the co-operative model in the dairy sector with active policy protection. However, the dairy trade could be opened up to unfair competition from subsidised imports under RCEP. India’s dairy sector is mostly self-sufficient and employs about 100 million people, the majority of whom are women. The sector is a lifeline for small and marginal farmers, landless poor and a significant source of income for millions of families. They are the backbone of India’s dairy sector.

New Zealand’s dairy giant Fonterra (the world’s biggest dairy exporter) is looking to RCEP as a way into India’s massive dairy market. The company has openly stated that RCEP would give it important leverage to open up India’s protected market. As a result, many people fear that Indian dairy farmers will either have to work for Fonterra or go out of business.

At the same time, some RCEP members not only heavily subsidise their farmers, but they also have food safety standards that are incompatible with the small-scale food production and processing systems that dominate in other RCEP countries. There is sufficient room for concern here: during the ‘mustard crisis’ in 1998, ‘pseudo-safety’ laws were used to facilitate the entry of foreign soy oil: many village-level processors were thereby forced out of business.

The RCEP could accelerate the growth of mega food-park investments that target exports to high-value markets, as is already happening in India. These projects involve high-tech farm-to-fork supply chains that exclude and may even displace small producers and household food processing businesses, which are the mainstay of rural and peri-urban communities across Asia. This would dovetail with existing trends that are facilitating the growth of corporate-controlled supply chains, whereby farmers can easily become enslaved or small farmers simply get by-passed by powerful corporations demanding industrial-scale production.

From pesticides to big retail

Fertiliser and pesticide sales are expected to rise sharply in Asia-Pacific in the next few years. Agrochemical use is heaviest in China and growing rapidly in India. GRAIN notes that China’s acquisition of Syngenta, the world’s top agrochemical company with more than 20% of the global pesticide market, puts the country in a particularly sensitive position within RCEP.

GRAIN states that liberalized trade in farm chemicals are bound to be part of the RCEP, resulting in increased residues in food and water, more greenhouse gas emissions, rising rates of illness and further depletion of soil fertility.

The RCEP also demands the liberalisation of the retail sector and is attempting to facilitate the entry of foreign agroprocessing and retail gaints, which could threaten the livelihoods of small retailers and street vendors. The entry of retail giants would be bad for farmers because they may eventually monopolise the whole food chain from procurement to distribution. In effect, farmers will be at the mercy of such large companies as they will have the power to set prices and also will not be interested to buy small quantities from small producers. In effect, the RCEP will usher in a wave of corporate agri-food consolidation.

It is interesting to note that Ashwani Mahajan, economics professor and national co-convener of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, an Indian political and cultural organization that promotes self-reliance, argues that the ‘make in India’ push by the current government is completely at odds with the RCEP. He argues that no sector seems to want the trade deal and that India’s participation in the talks have overshot the original aim. That aim was to be that of observer, so India could learn from the process. However, Mahajan suggests civil servants now seem to be fully engaged and are ready to sign up to the deal.

The RCEP is a recipe for undermining biodiverse food production, food sovereignty and food security for the mass of the population. It will also create massive job losses in a country like India, which has no capacity for absorbing such losses into its workforce

There is a need to encourage localised food economies that are shielded from the effects of rigged trade and international markets. Rather than have transnational agri-food corporations determining global and regional policies and private capital throttling democracy, we require societies run for the benefit of the mass of the population and a system of healthy food and sustainable agriculture that is run for human need.

We need only look at Mexico and what ‘free trade’ has done to that country’s food and agriculture sector: destroyed health, fuelled unemployment, transformed a rural population into a problematic group of migrants who now serve as a reserve army of labour that conveniently depresses the incomes of those in work. The writing is on the wall for India.