Robot as a Teacher

Beware of digital education! COVID-19 may be used as a ruse to centralize power and control minds by technological elites.

Schools were created when books were not available, at least not at the mass scale as it is now. Nevertheless, they are still organized as if they responded to the conditions and circumstances from 200 years ago. The recent advancements in education seem to update the learning process to the technological capabilities of our times. However, they may bring a flattening of the old model using computers to enhance the intake of knowledge. This would imply a regress in understanding what education is for this. Potential digitalization of education also bears some dangers.

It is urgent to discuss the purpose and ethics of education in times of imposed pressure to turn to digital tools in organizing teaching. Naomi Klein warned about strengthening the economic power of digital giants as a result of bringing classroom to online realm, which she calls a Screen New Deal. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Bill Gates have been appointed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to advise on a scenario for post-pandemic reforms, including remote learning and telehealth. Bill Gates’ task was to help rethink public schools’ organization for the next fall. In 2014, Cuomo was criticized for including Schmidt in the advisory panel of Smart Schools Commission because of the potential conflict of interest. His Alt School failed in 2015 but coronavirus promises new opportunities.

Current crisis may be seized as an opening towards more control over minds of the younger generations. The Millennials are already being formed by digital media. All the hours spent on YouTube and online social media make them absorb information and shape their cognitive and interpersonal predispositions. Zeynep Tufekci warned that the algorithms aiming at maintaining people’ interest in YouTube content may bring more radicalization and polarization in the society. Television was influencing precedent generations but in a less intrusive way. Since the television did not have an algorithm hooking people into being exposed to the same topic or way of thinking as social media do by creating bubbles of like-minded “friends” and groups, learning process was less effective. YouTube further boosts learning effect by proposing to watch more and more extreme movies once the viewer showed interest in a topic. Furthermore, television did not engage people in interaction. So they may have wanted to discuss what they saw with others. In contrast, online media give a substitute of a debate. When we think about learning, we tend to associate effective learning with a desirable result. However, learning can also cause damage and it is important to think of the opportunities of unlearning and being exposed to opposite interpretations as part of education.

Introducing robotized education may impose similar disadvantages for the development of young people. Innovators familiar with neuroscience may propose gamification of learning process. Online games stimulating dopamine secretion may lead to addictive behavior, especially, amongst socially and emotionally neglected children. It would turn the old model of learning into memorization on steroids. The pleasurable experience may create an inner subconscious attachment to the knowledge absorbed this way. As a consequence, the activity of learning, which suggests engaging with the subjects, is obsolete in this model. It would be replaced by programming with subliminal messages. Such a model contrasts with contextual learning model of transacting knowledge. Research has demonstrated that being exposed to the same word or information through spaced repetition imprints it in long-term memory. These “truths” may be difficult to question because any opposite information may be dismissed by cognitive dissonance. This gives an enormous power to whomever holds it. And this may be engineers and technological giants that will grab it.

One could argue that this subliminal learning is already happening in schools. Professor Peter McLaren pointed to the reproduction of class stratification and the hidden curriculum in the way schooling is organized. The danger of the scenario I am predicting here lurks in the centralization of learning. Decentralized schooling, as we know it, gives more leeway to the teachers. They can organize in unions and subvert the system in their classrooms depending on their level of awareness and non-conformism. It would be more difficult to convince a high number of educators to perform repetitive teaching with well-calculated chunks and intervals, especially if it were serving narrow economic interests. It is easier to corrupt a couple of specialists instead.

Current shortage of over 100,000 teaching staff in the US and the reliance on migrant teachers (mainly from Philippines), who stay on short-term job contracts, may pave the way to digitalized and robotized education. Amidst the urgency to protect the health of families having school-age children, we need to be cautious about reforms that “Corona-crisis” may enable to be sneaked in.

China: All In All, Just Another BRIC in the Wall

Chief of Police: One man cannot move a mountain.
Charlie Chan: No, but two men can start digging.

— Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935) calling a spade a spade

Fifty years ago, Capitalists Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger initiated their rapprochement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after 25 years of total silence between the world’s two leading economic ideologies. America was in a Cold War with the ‘SPECTRE’ Soviets, but it was a Cold Shoulder they shared with the Chinese. A wall had come up between them. Through backchannels and diplomatic alleyways, the Commie-hating Nixon was invited to come play some ping-pong and shoot the shit with Chairman Mao Zedong. Nixon’s sudden announcement that he’d be going to China in 1972 was a shocker, election year or not. (What’s next, some of us thought, will Tricky be inviting Timothy Leary over at the White House for quaaludes and cubes?) Fear and Loathing had begun.

Many folks agreed (but not Peter Seeger) that when Nixon went electric with Mao and Chou in February 1972 it was as monumentally meaningful as Mr. Jones’s chatfest with Napoleon in rags at the end of Orwell’s Animal Farm. Look Left, look Right, tell me what you see. Mao snarked about the American Left-Right in his conversation, calling the Left-Left disingenuous reactionaries (i.e., the pampered middle class). Nixon and Mao and Kissinger and Chou chowed down with bonhomme and good humor, the world was their oyster, on the half shell.

At one point, Mao shot down Nixon’s passive aggressive attempt at flattery:

Nixon: I read your book [The Little Red Book]. You moved a nation and changed the world. [Mao looks at Chou, who laughs]

Mao: Oh, I don’t know about that. Maybe one neighborhood in Beijing. [Chou laughs so hard, Kissinger maneuvers das Heimliche]

And soon tiring of Nixon, Mao called it a day:

Mao: I don’t feel so well. [the translator almost said, “You make me sick.]

Nixon: You look good.

Mao: [imitating Charlie Chan] Appearances can be deceiving.

And they all agreed over their shoulders, guffawing, as they moved down the corridor in different directions that what Lennon said was true, If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, then…. Funniest thing Nixon ever heard. You don’t believe me? Read the transcript for yourself.

A later toast succinctly lays out the clearest, most coherent policy toward China (and all sovereign nations) imaginable and discusses their future role together as partners in a “new world order.” He says, in part,

You believe deeply in your system, and we believe just as deeply in our system. It is not our common beliefs that have brought us together here, but our common interests and our common hopes, the interest that each of us has to maintain our independence and the security of our peoples and the hope that each of us has to build a new world order in which nations and peoples with different systems and different values can live together in peace, respecting one another while disagreeing with one another, letting history rather than the battlefield be the judge of their different ideas.

Mr. Mao, Nixon said, tear down that wall, and Chou En-lai laughed, thinking but it’s 13,000 miles long. Why you not start with Berlin Wall? You funny, shaking his head.

So important was that rapprochement that books were written, an opera was made. Nixon in China got the wunderkind (now wundergramps) Peter Sellars treatment. Remember his Wagner? The pampered middle class enervated by the sobering revelations of the Nam experience (We’re willing to do that? No, not My Lai, Kent State.) was inebriated again, like an overflowing glass of bubbly multiverses. Great libretto by Alice Goodman, who’s been asked to go after Trump now. And the MET production of the opera is actually here on YouTube. Even the Scots have a 2020 version up on stage. Can you imagine Mao with a brogue? Or Nixon for that matter? Pass the bong.

Fast-forward 50 years to the Nixon Library, Mike Pompeo (a comic book villain’s name if there ever was one) delivering a kung-pow speech meant to announce to the world America’s intention to erect a Great Wall against Chinese capitalist aggression: What if they export their sweatshops everywhere? Essentially implying Nixon was a two-faced liar, Pompeo averred that “President Nixon once said he feared he had created a ‘Frankenstein’ by opening the world to the CCP. And here we are.” He called on the world — the same one the Trump government has spurned in the last three years — to come together: “If the free world doesn’t change Communist China, Communist China will change us.”

Has he ever considered that capitalism itself is a Frankenstein monster waiting to happen, or, put more honestly, that the US is Dr. Frankenstein out to create capitalist monsters around the globe? And Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in 2017, eating “the most beautiful piece of devil’s food cake that [he had] ever seen,” when Trump pulled a cakeus interruptus and whispered to Xi, “I’ve just bombed Syria.” Xi almost snarked some Chan, but did not want to encourage more chaos. Where was Chou when you needed him? Alas, poor Yorick.

Chaos. That’s the recurring motif of Has China Won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy by the former Singapore ambassador to the UN, and president of the UN Security Council from 2001-2, Kishore Mahbubani. “The Chinese people fear chaos,” writes Mahbubani early on. “It is the one force that in the past brought China to its knees and brought misery to the Chinese people. Clearly, America is suffering chaos now,” he continues. “President Donald Trump has been a polarizing and divisive figure. American society has never been as divided since the Civil War of 1861–1865.” And that was written before the impeachment, Super Bowl recovery and Covid-19. Damn. And now some people are thinking George Floyd might be the Storm the Bastille moment we’ve been waiting for.

Has China Won? has 8 chapters, an introduction, and an appendix, “The Myth of American Exceptionalism,” which could serve as the thesis of the book. With Trump wielding power, Mahbubani suggests, it’s as if America has gone Brexit from the world and even with its extraordinary military might still flexing muscles everywhere, no one is paying much attention any more to her manifest destiny nonsense. “One thing is certain,” writes Mahbubani, “The geopolitical contest that has broken out between America and China will continue for the next decade or two.” There are chapters delving into strategic mistakes the two countries have made in dealing with each other, chapters on their geopolitical motivations and goals, and chapters that question which way nations will go at this historical crossroad of values.

Though he briefly mentions it toward the end of the book, Mahbubani doesn’t emphasize the Clash of Civilizations trope, espoused by the likes of General William Westmoreland, which got us all greatly walled off from China to begin with — such KKK-like nonsense, if true, would mean a Jim Crow world favoring the Nordics and the Nordic Trackers, as culture is not readily negotiable. Nevertheless, Trump and Pompeo thought they’d give Generalissimo Gookphobe’s slant another go. Today, however, we deal in Empir(e)ical theories — the honesty of economics, we tell ourselves, turning capitalist exploitation into an ‘objective’ universal principle; like comparing shitting your bed to organic gardening.

If we want to simplify, we could compare the CCP and Americans systems to a contest between the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) versus The New Silk Road. The Chinese muscling west and south to Africa, the Americans muscling east and south to Africa, and each a kind of spectre hanging over Europe like a high and low pressure system duking it out and you just know a hard rain’s a-gonna fall. PNAC is the muscle behind the unrefusable offer from the neoliberals. The Chinese will sow soft discord, spread their opiated capital to the people, until Confucian reigns. They already have the West by the yinyangs, there’s no Tao about that, and some neocons, believing the CCP wants to do to us what we did to the CCCP, probably think we should just blast them to get some debt relief. (Chou just cracked up in his grave.) But we want a more nuanced approach. Let us follow Mahbubani’s train of thought.

Mahbubani spends a couple of chapters trying to figure out what went wrong in the respective approaches of the US and China that led to the collapse of their 50 year détente. He expresses initial surprise that American businessmen, who’ve made so much money in China, have failed to show up to defend China when President Trump began his trade war in January 2018. It’s one of the few areas that Congress and the president have shown bipartisan unanimity. Mahbabani writes,

Senator Chuck Schumer said that “when it comes to being tough on China’s trading practices, I’m closer to Trump than Obama or Bush.” Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said, “The United States must take strong, smart and strategic action against China’s brazenly unfair trade policies.…”

As far as Americans are concerned, China brought this on themselves.

Mahbabani notes that it’s not only Americans coming down with a Sino headache. Europeans, too, have been nonplussed by China’s tactics. He cites George Magnus, a research associate at the China Centre, Oxford University, who tells how, in his 2018 book Red Flags,

China has made a huge political mistake in ignoring the strong convictions among leading American figures that China has been fundamentally unfair in many of its economic policies: demanding technology transfer, stealing intellectual property, imposing nontariff barriers. “The US has a strong case” against China in this area, as Magnus notes.

This is dooley noted, as they say in Casablanca and the White House. Of all his hateful media, even the adversarial New York Times has run op-eds suggesting that Trump engage Europe.

Mahbabani points to “three contributing factors” that brought about China’s unacceptable behavior: one, the power of local officials to control business arrangements with foreigners; two, Sino hubris over the 2008 Wall Street financial collapse; and, three, weak central government in the 2000s. While Americans applied pressure on Beijing, Mahbabani points out that “even if Beijing wished to do so, there are limits to how much day-to-day control the center can impose.” He adds, Charlie Chan-like, “A well-known Chinese saying is: The mountains are high, and the emperor is far away. For millennia, the provinces of China, even under strong emperors, have always had strong local autonomy.” And, sure, they were laughing their asses off when the Cappies almost blew their own brains out playing Russian roulette in 2008, almost like Manchurian candidates. Wah.

Mahbabani also takes issue with American tactics. By giving the Middle Kingdom the middle finger, as only Americans can do (think Easy Rider), we’ve become occidentally disoriented in our foreign policy, becoming the kind of reactionaries that Mao and Nixon had a chuckle festival over in 1972. And, as far as Mahbabani is concerned, America has a “need to find a foreign scapegoat to hide the deep domestic socioeconomic challenges that have emerged in American society.”

Mahbabani largely blames Trump for this drive:

By plunging into a major geopolitical contest, possibly the biggest ever in human history, without first working out a comprehensive long-term strategy, the Trump administration has only succeeded in diminishing America’s standing in the world while, at the same time, creating space for China’s influence to grow in the world.

As Charlie Chan might have said: Wise man say, If you shoot from hip too often, soon you need hip replacement therapy. Better hope HMO cover. Well, anyway, Mahbabani doesn’t stop there, he continues to lay into Trump. He writes, “America would present a formidable challenge to China if it were a united, strong, and self-confident country.” He’s not done: “Trump has done the opposite. He has divided and polarized America…Trump’s administration must take sole blame for following a unilateral, rather than a multilateral, approach to deal with China…America, under Trump, is increasingly perceived as a chaotic and unpredictable actor.” His pitch rising, Mahbababni goes aria, “Did anyone in the Trump administration work out a thoughtful and well considered strategy before launching the first round of these tariffs (which were followed by many more rounds)?” He notes: “Trump replied: ‘I just like tariffs.’” Wah. Chaos. Jake, you tell yourself, it’s just Chinatown.

Sometimes while reading Has China Won? you wonder if Mahbubani didn’t get so driven to distraction by Trump that he started leaning on some magic dust to get through his analysis. He thinks,

it would be reasonable for many Chinese leaders to believe that when America promotes democracy in China, it is not trying to strengthen China.It is trying to bring about a more disunited, divided China, a China beset by chaos. If that was China’s fate, America could continue to remain the number one unchallenged power for another century or more.

That’s fine, but what I’m talking about is his diminishing Trump by trotting in Plato. He notes, “Edward Luce reminded us, that ‘democracy was the rule of the mob—literally demos (mob) and kratos (rule).’” And that “Plato said the best form of rule was by a philosopher king.” And then the punchline: “There is a very strong potential that Xi Jinping could provide to China the beneficent kind of rule provided by a philosopher king.” Sweet Jesus. Pass the bong.

But the most important takeaway from this section is Mahbabani’s discussion of the US Dollar as the global reserve currency, and how it has backed American privilege and hegemony over the many decades, and, how, most importantly, this “privilege,” which has allowed Americans to pursue “middle class” lives, on credit, (without knowing it), is in danger of collapse. He quotes Ruchir Sharma to make his point:

Reserve currency status had long been a perk of imperial might—and an economic elixir. By generating a steady flow of customers who want to hold the currency, often in the form of government bonds, it allows the privileged country to borrow cheaply abroad and fund a lifestyle well beyond its means.

As a result of this status, paper money can be printed up whenever needed — essentially IOUs bought up by foreign investors and countries, such as China, who if they ever cashed in could make the US government insolvent overnight.

Mahbabani points out that such an arrangement is built on trust and that

The world has been happy to use the US dollar as the global reserve currency because they trusted the US government to make the right decisions on the US dollar that would take into consideration the economic interests not only of the 330 million American people but also of the remaining 7.2 billion people outsideAmerica who also rely on the US dollar to fund their international transactions.

But, he writes, now much of the world sees America falling into disorder, with the 2008 near-collapse of the global economy, thanks to Wall Street hijinks, being a harbinger of ill-tidings ahead for America. As a result, China, and other countries have begun looking for ways to get around the US dollar, such as with BRICS and other talk of alternate currencies. No doubt, this left many Western bankers shitting bricks. Could such moves cause a war? Wah.

In another section, Mahbabani asks if China is expansionist, as the Americans have claimed. He obliquely responds rhetorically, Is capitalism inherently expansionist? Did America push capitalism on China? Has China shown it can play the game with equal skill, while keeping pleasing its citizens with true upward mobility and market opportunity, while keeping chaos at bay? What do you think, reader, he seems to ask. As far as Mahbabani is concerned, modern China is destined to make inroads into Europe, where the Monguls failed, due to one historian’s account, by getting bogged down by mosquitoes and malaria. Mahbabani writes, America is trying to create a pretext for military engagement with China, by claiming it is flexing its muscles, especially in the South China Sea.

In another section, Mahbabani wonders if America can make a “U-turn” away from its profligate and totally unnecessary military spending. He suggests that China looks at America the way the latter looked at the Soviets who wasted so much GDP on weaponry it helped collapse the USSR. “It is in China’s national interest for this irrational and wasteful defense spending to continue,” writes Hababani. America is locked into an “irrational processes it cannot break away from.” He gives an example of their two approaches: “An aircraft carrier may cost $13 billion to build. China’s DF-26 ballistic missile, which the Chinese media claims is capable of sinking an aircraft carrier, costs a few hundred thousand dollars.”

Another chapter asks: Should China Become Democratic? Mahbabani wonders the same about America? While the US considers regime change in China, Mahbababi writes,

Since I live in the neighborhood, I can say with some confidence that most of China’s neighbors would prefer to see China led by calm and rational leaders, like Xi Jinping, and not by a Chinese version of Donald Trump or Teddy Roosevelt.

In a surprise suggestion to the West, he adds, that for China, and its millenia long history of emperors, “a nondemocratic CCP could do long-term calculations on what would be good for China and the world.” But, of course, there are those in America, who will ignore what Nixon said about sovereign nations. “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people,” Kissinger said before socialist Allende was popped.

Mahbabani closes with a section on American hypocrisy, which falls on deaf ears, as it does with any realpolitik empire. So, sue me, they say. Mahbabani closes with A Paradoxical Conclusion, the nub of which is that imminent conflict is “inevitable” and yet “avoidable.” Why? Hubris. Always, it’s the hubris. Who will win? Look at the title? What do you think? Mahbabani asks rhetorically.

If Has China Won? has a major flaw it is that it presumes that China’s global victory by economic expansion is a victory. We are learning that we are in late stage capitalism, and that the endless expansion of economic growth in light of diminishing resources, proliferating population growth, and imminent climate catastrophe, is not a healthy response to reality. To his credit, however, Mahbabani does suggest that if the two superpowers could find a way around their dangerous political impasse they might be able to come together and lead the world out of some of its impending crises.

Pass the bong.

When Corporate Power Is Your Real Government, Corporate Media Is State Media

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The New York Times published an astonishingly horrible article the other day titled “Latin America Is Facing a ‘Decline of Democracy’ Under the Pandemic” accusing governments like Venezuela and Nicaragua of exploiting Covid-19 to quash opposition and oppress democracy.

The article sources its jarringly propagandistic claims in multiple US government-funded narrative management operations like the Wilson Center and the National Endowment for Democracy-sponsored Freedom House, the extensively plutocrat-funded Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the United States Naval Academy.

The crown jewel of this piece of State Department stenography reads as follows:
Adding to these challenges, democracy in Latin America has also lost a champion in the United States, which had played an important role in promoting democracy after the end of the Cold War by financing good governance programs and calling out authoritarian abuses.
Whoa, nelly.
The fact that America’s most widely regarded newspaper feels perfectly comfortable making such a spectacularly in-your-face lie on behalf of the US government tells you everything you need to know about what the mass media in America really are and what they do.

The United States has never at any time been a champion of democracy in Latin America, before or since the Cold War. It has intervened hundreds of times in the continent’s affairs throughout history with everything from murderous corporate colonialism to deadly CIA regime change operations to overt military invasions. It is currently trying to orchestrate a coup in Venezuela after failing to stage one during the Bush administration, it’s pushing regime change in Nicaragua, and The New York Times itself admitted this year that it was wrong to promote the false US government narrative of electoral shenanigans in Bolivia’s presidential race last year, a narrative which facilitated a bloody fascist coup.

This is propaganda. There is no other word for it. And yet the only time western politicians and news reporters use that word is to talk about nations like Russia and China.

Why is propaganda used in an ostensibly free democracy with an ostensibly free media? Why are its news media outlets so consistently in alignment with every foreign policy objective of US government agencies no matter how destructive and inexcusable? If the media and the government are two separate institutions, why do they so consistently function as though they are not separate?

Well, that’s easy. It’s because they aren’t separate. The only thing keeping this from being seen is the fact that America’s real government isn’t located where people think it is.

In a corporatist system of government, where no hard lines are drawn between corporate/financial power and state power, corporate media is state media. Since bribery is legal in the US political system in the form of corporate lobbying and campaign donations, America’s elected government is controlled by wealthy elites who have money to burn and who benefit from maintaining a specific status quo arrangement.

The fact that this same plutocratic class also owns America’s media, which is now so consolidated that it’s almost entirely run by just six corporations, means that the people who run the government also run the media. This allows America’s true rulers to set up a system which promotes narratives that are favorable to their desired status quo.

Which means that the US has state propaganda. They just don’t call it that themselves.

Strip away the phony two-handed sock puppet show of US electoral politics and look at how power actually moves in that country, and you just see one more tyrannical regime which propagandizes its citizens, brutally cracks down on protestersdeliberately keeps its populace impoverished so they don’t get powerful enough to change things, and attacks any nation which dares to disobey its dictates.

Beneath the thin layer of narrative overlay about freedom and democracy, the US is just one more despotic, bloodthirsty empire. It’s no better than any of the other despotic, bloodthirsty empires throughout history. It just has good PR.
Plutocrats not only exert control over America’s media and politics, they also form alliances with the secretive government agencies whose operators remain amid the comings and goings of the official elected government. We see examples of this in the way new money tech plutocrats like Jeff BezosPeter Thiel and Pierre Omidyar have direct relationships with the CIA and its proxies.

We also see it in the sexual blackmail operation which was facilitated by the late Jeffrey Epstein in connection with billionaire Leslie Wexner and Israeli intelligence, along with potentially the FBI and/or other US intelligence agencies. Today the internet is abuzz as newly unsealed court documents relating to Epstein and his co-conspirator Ghislaine Maxwell reveal witness testimony regarding underage sex trafficking, with such high-profile names appearing in the documents as Alan DershowitzBill Clinton, and Prince Andrew.

The Overton window of acceptable political discourse has been shrunk into such a narrow spectrum of debate that talking about even well-known and extensively documented facts involving the real nature of America’s government and media will get you laughingly dismissed as a conspiracy theorist, which is itself a symptom of tight narrative control by a ruling class which much prefers Americans thinking they live in a free democracy whose government they control with their votes.

In the old days you used to be able to tell who your rulers were because they’d sit on thrones and wear golden crowns and make you bow before them. Human consciousness eventually evolved beyond the acceptability of such brazen indignities, so it became necessary for rulers to take on more of a background role while the citizenry clap and cheer for the illusory puppet show of electoral politics.

But the kings are still among us, just as cruel and tyrannical as ever. They’ve just figured out how to mask their tyranny behind the facade of freedom.

But 2020 has been a year of revelations, a trend which seems likely to continue accelerating. Truth cannot stay hidden forever.

Reprinted with permission from Medium.com.
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Racism, Sexism, Classism: The Necessary Incoherence of “Mainstream” Ethical Debate

What does it mean when journalists who spent the last two decades promoting wars of aggression on brown- and black-skinned people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen take a knee?

The Observer commented:

‘There is a dreadful familiarity about the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by white police officers in Minneapolis last Monday….

‘The fact that the US has been here before, countless times, does not lessen the horror of this crime nor mitigate brutal police actions.’

There was a dreadful familiarity about the West’s toppling of Gaddafi in 2011, but the Observer didn’t notice. Instead, the editors insisted that, ‘The west can’t let Gaddafi destroy his people’, ‘this particular tyranny will not be allowed to stand’.

Not ‘allowed to stand’, that is, by the destroyers of Iraq eight years earlier; by governments with zero credibility as moral agents. The fact that the US-UK alliance had been ‘here’ before, countless times, did not lessen the horror of the crime nor mitigate brutal military actions.

When the dirty deed was done and Libyan oil was safely back in Western hands, an Observer editorial applauded, ‘An honourable intervention. A hopeful future’, as the country fell apart and black people were ethnically cleansed from towns like Tawergha without any UK journalists taking a knee or giving a damn.

When a white policeman crushes a black man’s neck with his knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, journalists see structural racism. When the West places its boot on the throats of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen for decades and centuries, journalists see ‘rogue states’, an ‘axis of evil’, a ‘clear and present threat’ to the West that can be averted only by force.

Journalists see racism in the disproportionate violence habitually visited on US black people by police, but find nothing racist in the ultra-violence habitually inflicted by the US-UK alliance blitzing famine-stricken Afghanistan in 2001, in sanctions that killed 500,000 children under five in Iraq, in war that killed one million people in Iraq, in war that destroyed Libya, Syria, Yemen, and many others.

The links between domestic and international racism are hard to miss. Theodore Roosevelt (US president 1901-1909), noted that ‘the most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages,’ establishing the rule of ‘the dominant world races’.1

In 1919, Winston Churchill defended the use of poison gas against ‘uncivilised tribes’ as a means of spreading ‘a lively terror’. Churchill wrote of the ‘satisfied nations’ whose power places them ‘above the rest,’ the ‘rich men dwelling at peace within their habitations’ to whom ‘the government of the world must be entrusted’.2

In 1932, at the World Disarmament Conference, David Lloyd George (British prime minister, 1916-1922), insisted that the British government would continue to inflict violence for ‘police purposes in outlying places’. He later recounted: ‘We insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers.’

In 1947, renowned British Field Marshall, Bernard Montgomery, noted the ‘immense possibilities that exist in British Africa for development’ and ‘the use to which such development could be put to enable Great Britain to maintain her standard of living, and to survive’. ‘These lands contain everything we need’, said Montgomery, fresh from combatting the Nazi’s efforts to achieve ‘Lebensraum’. It was Britain’s task to ‘develop’ the continent since the African ‘is a complete savage and is quite incapable of the developing the country [sic] himself’.

In his book, A Different Kind Of War – The UN Sanctions Regime In Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, wrote that during ‘phase V’ of the Oil-For-Food programme, from November 1998 to May 1999, each Iraqi citizen received a food allocation worth $49, or 27 cents per day. Von Sponeck noted that, ‘the UN was more humane with its dogs than with the Iraqi people’: each UN dog was allocated $160 for food over the same period.3

If the killing of George Floyd was racism, how shall we describe US- and UK-led UN policy that ‘was more humane with its dogs’? How to describe corporate media that rail against domestic racism while perennially cheerleading the infinitely more violent international version? Why are we not taking a knee for Iraqis and Libyans? Why are they not even mentioned in the context of institutionalised racism? Why is no-one toppling Orwellian monuments to a ‘free press’ supporting global oppression, like the statue of George Orwell outside BBC Broadcasting House?

The Guardian opined:

‘It is the United States’ great misfortune at such a time to be led by a president who sows division as a matter of political strategy. Bunkered down, now literally, in the White House, the president tweeted last week: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”’

In 2011, after the shooting had started, the Guardian quietly celebrated the work of an earlier president who also sowed division without the editors perceiving any great ‘misfortune’. A Guardian leader commented on Libya:

‘But it can now reasonably be said that in narrow military terms it worked, and that politically there was some retrospective justification for its advocates as the crowds poured into the streets of Tripoli to welcome the rebel convoys earlier this week.’

The same paper insists it did not support the 2003 Bush-Blair war on Iraq. The truth is that it promoted every last government ruse in pursuit of war: Saddam Hussein was a threat to the West, he was certainly hiding WMD, US-UK were focused on disarming him, were trying to find diplomatic solutions, were fighting for freedom (not oil, a possibility so far-fetched and insulting it was dismissed out of hand), and so on.

The Guardian has never seen the US-UK devastation of Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen as manifestations of the same structural racism it sees so plainly in US police violence:

‘Racism is structural, and state neglect can be as deadly as state abuse. It does not always take a knee on the neck to kill someone. Poverty, overcrowding, and unequal access to healthcare can be fatal.’

True enough. So can corporate greed for profits, for control of oil. Any rational person can join the dots: corporate power subordinates human welfare at home and abroad. Bombing, sanctions, invasion are symptoms of the same profit-driven brutality that forces people to suffer poverty, overcrowding and poor healthcare.

The Times wrote nobly:

‘The challenge is to harness this moment so that it leads to positive changes.’

And:

‘Of course not all of the legitimate aspirations of those protesting can be achieved overnight. But progress can be made with determined action.’

This from the newspaper that supports every war going, aided by Perpetual War propagandists like David Aaronovitch, who wrote an article for The Times entitled: ‘Go for a no-fly zone over Libya or regret it.’ (See our book, Propaganda Blitz, pp.129-131, for numerous other examples of Aaronovitch’s warmongering.)

If, as John Dewey said, ‘politics is the shadow cast on society by big business’, then liberal media discussions of morality are a grim part of that darkness, shedding no light.

The Human Ego – ‘I’ Matter More

The corporate system gives the impression that anti-semites, white supremacists, sexists and the like are victims of a primitive mind virus reducing them to the status of moral Neanderthals. With sufficient social distancing, track-and-trace, isolation, the remnants of this historic pandemic can finally be eradicated. The focus is always on establishment ‘cancel culture’: erasing, banning, firing, censorship and criminalisation.

The BBC, for example, prefers to erase the language of racism. A recent news report was titled:

‘A gravestone honouring the Dambusters’ dog – whose name is a racial slur – has been replaced.’

The report noted that the slur was one ‘which the BBC is not naming’. The dog’s name, ‘Nigger’, appears instantly, of course, to the mind of anyone who has seen the film, or to anyone who has access to Google. Curiously, although the ‘N-word’ appears nowhere in the report, the racial slur, ‘Redskin’, appears 12 times in a BBC report that appeared just three days earlier and that was actually titled:

‘Washington Redskins to drop controversial team name following review’

‘Nigger’ and ‘Redskin’ are both colour-related racial slurs with horrendous histories – both are used to imply racial inferiority. Why can one be mentioned and the other not? Censoring the Dambuster dog’s name achieved little and is not attempted by broadcasters showing films like ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’, in which the slur is repeated numerous times.

Like other media casting Dewey’s corporate ‘shadow’, the BBC cannot make sense of racism and other forms of prejudice because moral coherence would risk extending the debate to the structural prejudice of the deeply classist, racist, war-fighting, state-corporate establishment.

Racists and sexists start to look a little different when we make the following observation:

Racism and sexism are manifestations of the ego’s attempt to make itself ‘higher’ by making others ‘lower’.

Viewing brown- and black-skinned people as ‘inferior’ is obviously all about white and other racists asserting their ‘superiority’. This is literally, of course, a microscopically superficial basis for ‘superiority’. Differences establishing sexist ‘superiority’ at least involve whole organs rather than a layer of cells! But despite what the necessarily incoherent corporate shadow culture would have us believe, racists and sexists who view other people as ‘inferior’ are not exotic anomalies.

The human ego does not view others as equal; it places itself and its loved ones at the centre of the universe – ‘I’ matter more, ‘my’ happiness and the happiness of those ‘I’ love come first. The happiness of everyone else is very much a peripheral concern. The ego latches on to almost any excuse to reinforce this prejudice – viewing itself as ‘special’, ‘higher’, and others as ‘ordinary’, ‘lower’ – on the basis of almost any superficial differences, many of them even more trivial and transient than racial and gender differences. (See here for further discussion on the striving to be ‘special’.)

This tendency is massively promoted by our culture from the earliest age and manifests in numerous forms other than racism and sexism. We are taught to compete with our peers, to rise to the ‘upper stream’, to come first in exams, to be ‘top of the class’, to go to the ‘best’ schools, the ‘best’ colleges, to get the ‘best’ jobs. We are taught to define ourselves as more or less ‘bright’, ‘academic’, ‘gifted’ (selected for receipt of an actual ‘God-given talent’!). As children, we do not all display the arrogance of young Winston Churchill visible in this photograph, but we are all trained to be ‘winners’ over ‘losers’.

The Art of Pronouncing ‘Hegemony’

Racism and sexism have caused immense harm, of course, but so has the classism visible in young Winston’s face. Humans feel ‘above’ others, ‘special’, when they come from wealthy, aristocratic families; when they attend a celebrated school, an elite university; when they gain a first class degree (or any degree), or a Masters, or a PhD; when they buy a ‘top of the range’ car, or luxury property in a desirable postcode; when they work in high-prestige jobs; when they achieve fame and fortune; when Howard Jacobson writes in The Independent:

‘When Russell Brand uses the word “hegemony” something dies in my soul.’

It is agony for people like Jacobson – who was educated at Stand Grammar School and Downing College, Cambridge (before lecturing at the University of Sydney and Selwyn College, Cambridge) – to hear Brand – educated at Grays School Media Arts College, Essex, a coeducational secondary school – chatting to Ricky Gervais, both of working class origin, without cringing at the way they glottal stop the ‘t’ in words like ‘civili’y’, ‘carnali’y’, ‘universi’y’ and ‘beau’iful’.

The reaction of middle and upper class people to Brand preaching philosophy and ‘poli’ics’ is exactly that described by Samuel Johnson who made himself ‘higher’ by making women ‘lower’:

‘Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.’

Because elite interests run the mass media, we have all been trained to perceive elite accents as cultured and authoritative, and working class accents as uncultured, uneducated. When we at Media Lens grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, BBC newsreaders and continuity announcers sounded like Etonian masters and Oxbridge dons. Even now, journalists like Fiona Bruce and Nicholas Witchell deliver the royal pronunciation of the word ‘years’ as ‘yers’.

The above may sound comical and absurd – it is! – but the fact is that, as Jacobson’s comment suggests, millions of people have been trained to perceive the accents of working class people appearing on political programmes like Question Time, Newsnight and The Marr Show as ‘lower’. When we react this way to skin colour, rather than to accent and class, we call it racism.

In an article titled, ‘Leather jackets, flat caps and tracksuits: how to dress if you’re a leftwing politician’, Hadley Freeman wrote in the Guardian in 2016:

‘Now, personally, some of us think that Corbyn could consider updating his ideas as much as his wardrobe… He must spend veritable hours cultivating that look, unless there’s a store on Holloway Road that I’ve missed called 1970s Polytechnic Lecturer 4 U. Honestly, where can you even buy tracksuits like the ones he sports?’

This wasn’t racism, but it was classism. Much of the focus on Corbyn being insufficiently ‘prime ministerial’ was establishment prejudice targeting a working class threat. Corbyn didn’t dress like the elite he was challenging – he wore ‘embarrassing’ sandals rather than ‘statesmanlike’ black leather shoes; an ’embarrassing’ jacket rather than the traditional long, black ‘presidential’ overcoat – just as Brand didn’t know the ‘correct’ way to say ‘hegemony’. Corbyn was second-rate, Polytechnic material; not first-class, Oxford material, like Freeman. The BBC’s Mark Mardell commented on Corbyn:

‘One cynic told me expectations are so low, if Corbyn turns up and doesn’t soil himself, it’s a success.’4

If this was not gross, classist prejudice, can we conceive of Mardell repeating a comparable slur about establishment politicians like George Bush, Tony Blair, Theresa May and Sir Keir Starmer shitting themselves in public?

Racism and sexism have monstrous consequences, of course, but so does classism and speciesism, so does every kind of faux-elevation of the self.

Beyond Censorship

The banning and even criminalisation of words and opinions associated with ego inflation come at a cost. The problem is that powerful interests are constantly attempting to extend censorship to words and opinions they are keen to suppress. For example, the banning of Holocaust denial prompted establishment propagandists pushing their own version of ‘cancel culture’ to damn us at Media Lens for something called ‘Srebrenica denial’. As political analyst Theodore Sayeed noted of the smearing of Noam Chomsky:

‘In the art of controversy, slapping the label “denier” on someone is meant to evoke the Holocaust. Chomsky, the furtive charge proceeds, is a kind of Nazi.’

Although we had never written about Srebrenica, repeated attempts were made to link us to Holocaust denial in this way, so that we might also be branded as virtual Nazis that no self-respecting media outlet would ever quote or mention, much less interview or publish.

In both our case and Chomsky’s, this was not the work of well-intentioned individuals, but of organised groups promoting the interests of the war-fighting state. It was actually part of a much wider attempt by state-corporate interests to ‘cancel’ opponents of US-UK wars of aggression. Terms like ‘genocide denial’ and ‘apologist’ are increasingly thrown at leftist critics of Western crimes in Rwanda, Syria, Libya and Venezuela. For example, critics of Western policy in Syria are relentlessly accused of ‘Assadist genocide denial’, which is declared ‘identical’ to Srebrenica denial and Holocaust denial.

The ongoing campaign to associate criticism of Israel with anti-semitism is an effort to extend the ban on Holocaust denial to Labour Party politicians and other members promoting socialism and Palestinian rights. This establishment ‘cancel culture’ played a major role in the dismantling of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Again, the goal is to anchor the need for censorship in a fixed ethical point on which everyone can agree. On the basis that Holocaust denial is prohibited, attempts are made to extend that prohibition to other subjects that powerful interests dislike. The goal is the elimination and even criminalisation of dissident free speech.

Promotions of violence, including state violence, aside, the focus of anyone who cares about freedom of speech and democracy should not be on banning words and opinions relating to racism and sexism. Both are functions of the ego’s wide-ranging efforts to elevate itself, and these efforts cannot simply be banned. Instead, we need to understand and dissolve the delusions of ego through self-awareness.

Noam Chomsky was absolutely right to sign a letter in Harper’s magazine opposing the growing momentum of ‘swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought’, even though many other signatories were hypocrites. As Chomsky has said:

‘If you’re in favour of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise you’re not in favour of freedom of speech.’

The 8th Century mystic, Shantideva, asked:

‘Since I and other beings both, in wanting happiness, are equal and alike, what difference is there to distinguish us, that I should strive to have my bliss alone?’5

Are ‘my’ suffering and happiness more important than ‘your’ suffering and happiness simply because they’re ‘mine’? Obviously not – the idea is baseless, irrational and cruel. This awareness certainly provides the rational, intellectual foundation for treating the happiness of others as ‘equal and alike’ to our own, but not the motivation.

However, Shantideva examined, with meticulous attention, his own reactions on occasions when he did and did not treat the happiness of others as ‘equal and alike’, and he reached this startling conclusion:

‘The intention, ocean of great good, that seeks to place all beings in the state of bliss, and every action for the benefit of all: such is my delight and all my joy.’6

Shantideva’s point is that, if we pay close attention to our feelings, we will notice that caring for others – treating their suffering and happiness as equal to our own – is a source of tremendous and growing ‘delight’ and, in fact, ‘all my joy’. It is also an ‘ocean of great good’ for society. This is a subtle awareness that is blocked by the kind of overthinking that predominates in our culture (it requires meditation, an acute focus on feeling), but Jean-Jacques Rousseau saw the truth of the assertion with great clarity:

‘I could sometimes gladden another heart, and I owe it to my own honour to declare that whenever I could enjoy this pleasure, I found it sweeter than any other. This was a strong, pure and genuine instinct, and nothing in my heart of hearts has ever belied it.7  (our emphasis)

The fact that a loving, inclusive heart is the basis of individual and social happiness, and a hate-filled, prejudiced heart is the basis of individual and social unhappiness, is the most powerful rationale for dropping racism, sexism, classism and speciesism. It is a response rooted in the warm truth of being and lived experience, not in bloodless ideas of ‘moral obligation’ and ‘political correctness’, not in the violent suppression of free speech.

It is not our ‘duty’ or ‘moral obligation’ to be respectful and tolerant of people and animals different from us; it is in our own best interests to care for them.

Enlightened self-interest, not banning and censorship, has always been the most effective antidote to prejudice. In fact, anger, punishment, blame and guilt-making may lead us away from the truth that we are not being ‘selfish’ by denigrating others, we are harming ourselves.

  1. Quoted, Noam Chomsky, Year 501 – The Conquest Continues, Verso, 1993, p. 23.
  2. Ibid., p. 33.
  3. Hans von Sponeck, A Different Kind of War, Bergahn Books, 2006, p. 38.
  4. Mardell, BBC Radio 4, ‘The World This Weekend’, 21 May 2017.
  5. Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shambhala, 1997, p. 123.
  6. Ibid., p. 49.
  7. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of A Solitary Walker, Penguin Classics, 1979, p. 94

Does Rep. Louie Gohmert Have Coronavirus because He Did Not Wear a Belt?

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“Rep. Louie Gohmert, who often went without a mask, tests positive for the coronavirus.” That is the headline for a Wednesday NBC article regarding United States House of Representatives member Louie Gohmert (R-TX) having tested positive for coronavirus. Similar headlines seeking to make a connection between Gohmert’s test result and Gohmert not wearing a mask were used throughout much of the media. For example, headlines read “Louie Gohmert, who refused to wear a mask, tests positive for coronavirus” at Politico and “Texas Republican Rep. Gohmert Tests Positive For Coronavirus After Rebuffing Masks” at National Public Radio.

Suppose Gohmert often did not wear a belt when he went about his daily activities. Then, media could alternatively publish articles about his coronavirus test results with headlines like “Rep. Louie Gohmert, who often went without a belt, tests positive for the coronavirus.” Mentioning Gohmert’s belt-wearing tendency would be just as relevant to the matter as is mentioning his mask-wearing tendency. As with wearing masks, there is no clear evidence that wearing belts on net helps prevent people from being infected with coronavirus.

Even if you believe masks help protect against coronavirus, pointing to Gohmert to buttress that argument does not make sense given that he said in a new interview at KETK-TV that in the last week or two he had been wearing a mask more than before. Indeed, the US House member, who says he has had none of the symptoms associated with coronavirus infection, ponders in the interview if his recent mask wearing could have caused him to be infected. Gohmert states in the interview: “I can’t help but wonder if, by keeping a mask on and keeping it in place, if I might have put some germs, some of the virus onto the mask and breathed it in.” Given coronavirus tests often result in false positives, Gohmert should also wonder whether he in fact has coronavirus.

Further stated Gohmert in the interview:
There are an awful lot of people that think [wearing a mask is] the great thing to do all the time, but I can’t help but think that, if I hadn’t been wearing a mask so much in the last ten days or so, I really wonder if I would have gotten it. But, I know, moving the mask around, getting it just right, I’m bound to have put some virus on the mask that I sucked in. That’s most likely what happened.
Gohmert’s suggestion that wearing a mask may have caused him to be infected with coronavirus brings to mind a reason National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci offered in an early March 60 Minutes interview at CBS television when advising against people wearing masks while doing their daily activities away from home. Fauci mentioned the coronavirus transmission danger from people “fiddling” with their masks.

The next month Fauci, along with other US government officials, including Surgeon General Jerome Adams who had around the time of Fauci’s interview declared at Twitter “Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!” and masks “are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #Coronavirus,” turned on a dime to encourage people to wear masks while doing daily activities away from home.

At least in some parts of America, state and local governments have not jumped on the tyrant bandwagon by imposing mask mandates justified by nonexistent “science” supposedly establishing that everyone covering their faces when they work, shop, or visit with friends reduces the spread of coronavirus. Yet, in places that have mask mandates, things can become worse. If politicians and their cohorts in the media can be so brazen in their mandating and propagandizing regarding masks, what is next? Might governments impose belt mandates too, or even goggles mandates?

A ‘Brazen Giveaway’ GOP HEALS Act is a $30 Billion Bonanza for the Pentagon

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On Monday the Senate GOP released their outline for a new $1 trillion coronavirus stimulus package. A successor to March’s CARES Act, the 177-page document, named the HEALS Act, includes no funding for hazard pay, the Postal Service, state and local governments, nutrition assistance, or help for uninsured or underinsured Americans, but incorporates a $29.4 billion bonanza for the Pentagon.

The package is presented as a necessary measure to help the country fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far caused the deaths of nearly 153,000 Americans. But it appears that the GOP had a very different enemy in mind when writing some parts of it. “To prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically and internationally,” the bill (pp. 35-38) allocates $686 million for the purchase of extra Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, $650 million for A-10 Warthog fighter-bombers, $720 million for C-130J transport planes, $283 million for AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and $1.068 billion for P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine aircraft.

It is not just the Air Force that will benefit from the new bill; it also includes $41.4 million for Raytheon missiles, $260 million for a new Navy fast transport ship, $250 million for amphibious shipbuilding programs and $375 million for armored combat vehicles. Most of these military spending requests are ones that had previously been subject to cuts in February as the Trump administration moved Pentagon money around to fund construction of the border wall. The plan also allocates (p. 11) $1.75 billion to the FBI for the design and construction of a huge new facility in Washington, D.C.

'Amphibious ships don’t feed hungry children'

The new HEALS Act, which differs both in scope and its recipients from the $3 trillion Democrat-backed Heroes Act, which President Trump has promised will be “dead on arrival.” Unsurprisingly, Democrats have condemned the new plan. “The bill contains billions of dollars for programs unrelated to the coronavirus, including over $8 billion for what appears to be a wish-list from the Department of Defense for manufacturing of planes, ships, and other weapons systems,” said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy. “The bill provides nothing to address the long lines at food banks and shortchanges education and childcare, but we can shore up the defense industry? I am at a loss for words.” “Amphibious ships don’t feed hungry children,” added House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY).

Yet Democrats have supported other sections of the bill, particularly that to do with cutting unemployment benefits. While providing a second $1,200 check, the HEALS Act also reduces unemployment payments from $600 to $200 per week, although in the long term it would move to a system where the government would pay up to 70 percent of a worker’s pre-COVID wages, a setup that most of Europe opted for in the beginning. “Look, it’s not $600 or bust,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), claiming that a weekly $600 check serves as a disincentive to many to start working again.

The proposed act also ensures that businesses and other entities have near blanket immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits coming from customers and employees. “Mitch McConnell’s new coronavirus ‘relief’ proposal is an utter disgrace. It somehow manages to make the pandemic and economic pain even worse,” wrote consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, labeling it a “brazen giveaway” to big business and the military.

A lack of popular support

Far from wishing to increase spending, a poll conducted earlier this month showed that the majority of Americans (including 69 percent of Democrats) supported Bernie Sanders’ proposal to cut the $740 billion Pentagon budget by ten percent, using the savings to fight the coronavirus and the impending housing crisis it is causing. Yet Democrats in both the House and Senate joined with the GOP to vote down the idea. The $74 billion in savings, the National Priorities Project calculated, would have been enough to end homelessness, pay for 2 billion COVID-19 tests, create one million green energy jobs, or hire 900,000 extra school teachers.

The US military budget rivals that of the rest of the world combined, with the majority of federal discretionary spending already going on warfare. Earlier this month, Congress and the Senate passed Trump’s massive $740 billion military bill, an increase from previous years. Yet it seems too much can never be enough for defense contractors. While it is far from clear how attack helicopters and cruise missiles will help during a pandemic, it is not hard to see who will benefit from the new bill and whose interests are really being served.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

Fauci Doubles Down: ‘Put On Your Goggles!’

Dr. Fauci is back in the limelight where he likes to be. In a recent ABC interview he informs Americans that if they "really want 100 percent protection" they should not only wear masks, but also goggles on their eyes. Will he be recommending space suits next week? Also in today's Liberty Report: With the latest Depression-level drop in US GDP, the real costs of the lockdown are becoming evident. Poverty, hunger, and more death will continue the foolish policy of shutting down the US economy instead of protecting the vulnerable. Plus, Are The Netherlands, Sweden, Mumbai, and Afghanistan all on the right track? Watch today's Liberty Report:

An Economic Order by and for the People

Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI.

It is bad enough that the U.S. makes vacuous claims to a democratic form of government, as described in Part IV. But even a democratic form of government does not equate to a democratic society, and most Americans participate in democratic decision making only once every 2-4 years, at most, i.e. during elections. Compare that with their daily interaction with corporations, businesses and financial institutions where they have no decision making power at all. These institutions make no claim to be democratic and would ironically object that it is their democratic right not to be. That is how our ”democracy” works (or not).

Of course, these undemocratic institutions assure that the government will be also be undemocratic, unless one accepts the oxymoron that wealth buys more access to democracy. As absurd as this formulation may be, it is nevertheless widely believed and accepted in the U.S., even by the Supreme Court, as shown by its 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.

All concentration of wealth and power is necessarily undemocratic and even anti-democratic. This leaves the poor and disenfranchised – disproportionately Black, Indigenous and Hispanic – as little more than landless serfs, to borrow a feudal term.

In previous installments of this series of articles, we discussed a variety of measures and proposals that redistribute power and wealth to create a more egalitarian society, thus empowering those who are currently disenfranchised. This installment will address the existing institutions in which power and wealth are concentrated, and what kind of changes are needed.

Corporations began as formal bodies of individuals (usually wealthy) pooling their resources for a particular purpose, to be dissolved upon completion of the purpose. This is still an important part of their function, with the exception that “successful” corporations never complete their purpose, but simply move on to other purposes.

The problem with corporations is precisely that they concentrate wealth, which is inimical to an egalitarian society. Even if the investors in the corporation are of modest means, the pooled resources give the corporation an advantage over individuals –sometimes an unfair advantage. To the extent that corporations are justified at all, they need to be circumscribed and supervised very carefully to assure that they serve a community function that cannot be served by better means. Highly regulated monopolistic corporations commonly include utilities like water, electricity, natural gas, and “land line” telephone services.

In some places, however, and especially in other countries, such utilities are entirely government operated, placing the supervision in the public domain. These are often the “better means” that can be a more suitable alternative to private corporations. In fact, such government services can be an improvement over competitive systems by ending the confusing and often deceptive practices of marketplace corporations, as well.

Nonetheless, corporations, and especially small corporations, can be a good alternative in proscribed situations where groups of individuals want to work together for a common purpose that is not predatory in nature and which would be difficult or less effective without a corporate structure. A lot of small nonprofits fall into this category, but well-regulated for-profit organizations can potentially also provide good and responsible service, especially if the shareholders are from the same community. The Green Bay Packers professional football team might be one example.

Unfortunately, this is not at all the way most corporations are conceived and run today. They are allowed to run rampant and to inordinately influence government and public policy. Through those means they have gained rights that they should never have. Thankfully, this does not (yet) include the right to vote, but they often have an oversize influence on elections, nonetheless. Even before the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, the largest corporations or groupings of corporations into common interests invested lavishly in powerful lobbying organizations that pushed for legislative advantages for their industry, often to the disadvantage of consumers of their products and their less endowed competition. That is still the case, with arguably greater impunity.

Part of the problem is that corporations are legally considered to have many of the rights and much of the status of a “legal person”. We must enact a constitutional amendment affirming that the rights outlined in the Bill of Rights are human rights and do not apply in any way to corporations. Similarly, corporations must have no permanent, constitutionally protected rights, though they may have such powers or immunities as are explicitly granted to them by legislative actions at either the federal or the state level. These powers or immunities may be modified or removed by later action of the same legislative bodies. Otherwise, they are defined by the provisions of the contractual relations forming the corporation. Corporations are or should be no more than a contractual relationship between the members. In no case can their powers or immunities override the constitutionally protected rights of human beings.

Corporations must not be permitted to donate to political parties or candidates, or to campaign for propositions or referenda, or to pay signature takers, all of which will be publicly financed, as part of the campaign procedure described in Part IV of this series of articles.

Mergers and market domination by multi-billion-dollar corporations have also created monopolistic practices in many sectors of the economy, prejudicing the smaller competitors. Current antitrust regulation and enforcement is inadequate. Additional legislation and enforcement is required, giving more power and resources to autonomous regulating agencies, with more public oversight. If some industries cannot be run efficiently or effectively in a competitive environment, they should be publicly owned and operated. Perhaps social media will be a candidate for such treatment.

Regulating agencies must be given the means and power to regulate effectively, and must not be composed of representatives or former personnel of the businesses they are regulating, and regulators must be prohibited from accepting positions in those businesses after they resign or retire. Likewise, careers as regulators must be prohibited to former employees of the companies being regulated.

Banking must also be made to prioritize the needs of its users rather than its owners. An accessible public banking alternative must be made available to all the population in all US territory, providing all basic banking services, at minimum. Such banking facilities are common in other countries, and serve to provide basic and universal banking services. It is commonplace to find such banking services as an adjunct to post offices, which can serve both functions. The existence of public banking facilities cannot help but influence the practices of private banks, so as to make them more oriented to public service.

The Great Recession of 2008 demonstrated that financial institutions have become too consolidated, too powerful and too unregulated. No institution should be “too big to fail”. The regulations that provided stability, reliability and confidence in financial institutions in the past must be reconstituted, or provisions that serve much the same purpose, with more rigorous constraints. The deregulation that became the demise of the Savings and Loan Associations needs to return in some form, and other financial transactions must similarly be kept separate from each other. Home mortgages must remain with the original lender and not be sold to another institution, nor combined with other investments to create new securities. Derivatives are too speculative and volatile to continue, and should not be allowed. Perhaps an SEC fee on all trades in securities, based on the size of the transaction, might be one of several tools to bring such abuses to heel. In addition, U.S. corporations have been avoiding or evading payment of their taxes by banking abroad or locating their charters offshore. Their size, power and influence have allowed them to get away with robbing the American people in this manner. This must end, and they must be cut down to size.

The public also needs a powerful voice in regulation. A cabinet level Department of Consumer Protection and Advocacy is needed in order to give consumers the priority that they deserve and to assure strict standards in the marketplace. The Secretary of Consumer P&A must be a person with an impeccable record of consumer advocacy and must not be recruited from a career that would be in conflict with a consumer advocacy mandate. S/he will be charged with responding to consumer concerns, maintaining open communication with consumers, defending against fraud and deception in consumer products and services, and will advocate for consumer interests in all products and services in the US, including, for example, an end to all unsolicited telephone mass marketing calls. The office will review all products and services offered in the U.S., and be staffed and funded in order to meet the requirements of the office.

Finally, it is past time to restore critical and aging infrastructure, including ecosystems, so that the US economy can function with optimal safety and efficiency, as well as preserve and enhance the quality of life everywhere in the US. We must invest in our present and our future.

In forthcoming installments we will look at how environment protection, expansion of free public education, empowerment of labor, a rethinking of immigration policy and curbing of corporate journalism can advance the remaking our society. Then we will address the problem of policing.

Moore’s Law of Entropy

There is but one freedom, to put oneself right with death. After that, everything is possible.

— Albert Camus, Notebooks, 1942-51

For those of us who grew up watching Charlton Heston films, we can recall enactments of heroic courage, both in the early development and later downward decline of human civilization. Heston gave us a magnificent Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956), returning all scraggly from the wilderness, like some people I knew in the Sixties returning from poetry communes, holding up that Decalogue in revolutionary resistance to the gold lust of Baal. He refused to be a slave in Ben Hur (1959). He gave us a Live Free or Die kind of ethos. No debt slavery, no bondage of any kind.

Toward the end of his career, Heston got dyspeptic over gun control and dystopic in his roles, teaming up with Edward G. Robinson (his last film role) in Soylent Green (1973) as Detective Thorn, a contraband-sniffing cop for the State in a world catastrophically fucked up by climate change and overpopulation and resorting to cannibalism (recycled humans, get it?) that he has a late epiphany as he watches his good friend, Sol, old enough to remember beauty, die by euthanasia, fading to a surround screen explosion of splendor and Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony. He’s been told stories by Sol, but Thorn has never seen this before and he weeps, as if to say: My god, that’s the way it used to be?

But arguably his most important role came a few years earlier in Planet of the Apes, where he plays astronaut George Taylor, who, inadvertently time travels, and comes to realize that he’s landed on the future Earth controlled by fascist orangutans. Who can forget the final beach scene, Lady Liberty buried in sand, while an epiphanal Taylor exclaims, “Goddamn you all to hell!” When I remember his roles as a revolutionary, and an orbiter, I’m almost willing to cut him some slack for his last role, before dying, as president of the National Rifle Association, where he promised you’d have to pry his gun from his “cold, dead hands.” (Damn, the way things are going, we may need those 400 million guns after all.)

Apparently, the Taylor role is the one Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs chose to remember for Planet of the Humans, a recently released film on the politics of things Green and the looming environmental catastrophe ahead, once we knock back Covid-19 with some more Happy Zoom and recreational therapy Corona mask decorations. The film is written and directed by Gibbs; Moore was executive producer. The film was released on YouTube, in time for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day (remember Earth?), and was available for viewing for free, until “controversy” over 4 seconds of Fair Use footage caused the film to be pulled by Google. It has since been put up, in its entirety, on Vimeo, without incident thus far.

As we recall, the last time Moore and Heston came head-to-head was in Bowling for Columbine (2002), and things got ugly during the interview, with Moore shooting his mouth off about Heston’s gun rhetoric, but not so much guns themselves (Moore is a member of the NRA). The question is: Why did Moore and Gibbs bring back Heston from the dead to ‘headline’ their environmental film? The answer is simple: Astronaut Taylor realized that They went ahead and did it: They blew up the planet despite years of warnings of impending catastrophe. And Moore and Gibbs are promoting the notion in their new film that we’re an environmental flashpoint away from a planet ruled by fascist orangutans. (Trump as omen.)

As you could almost guess from the title, the film wants to show and explain to us what happens when one species — guess which one — takes over the planet and shits repeatedly in its own well-feathered bed. Well, it’s a Michael Moore film (executive producer), so you can probably see where the film goes, after an opening sequence where passersby are asked the loaded gun of a question: How much longer do you think the human race has? Typically, no one has a clue. Then the soundtrack vibes somber synthetic, Gibbs’ voice-over all disillusioned monotone. Recalls Fahrenheit 9/11. Another bummer rant from Moore ahead.

According to Rolling Stone, “Moore and Gibbs said they decided to release it now, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the hopes of getting people to reflect on ‘the role humans and their behavior have played in our fragile ecosystem.’” This hope seems promising, on the surface, where most of us interface and internet, and so many people have already expressed wonderment at how much the world will have changed while we’ve been in ‘lockdown’. Prisoners opine that way: I wonder how the world will be, without me, in 5 to10.

But, we have people expressing the sentiment after just two months of half-assed ‘self-isolation’ (though increased internet activity). The New Yorker has weighed in for the comfy middle class. Psychology Today speaks for the masses. Yesterday, I watched masked baseballers play in an empty stadium (big screens inexplicably lit up) and thought I was hallucinating: How come this vision (of the future) doesn’t scare the shit out of us? (Plus, these guys like to spit: Yuck, when they remove their masks!)

Planet of the Humans is a tone poem more than a documentary. The vision is in the title. It suggests not so much defeatism as disturbing resignation in the face of Climate Change. Moore and Gibbs argue that We Just Don’t Get It: The much ballyhooed “transition” from an age of fossil fuel dependency to renewable energy is illusory, ineffectual, and too late. The “intermittent” technologies – Solar and Wind – as well as, biomass burning, will never be fully removed from fossil fuel dependency and/or usage. Even if these technologies have improved exponentially in the last decade (when the film was being produced), we humans should be spending our time preparing for the now-unavoidable climate apocalypse ahead. As far as Gibbs and Moore are concerned, pushing renewables at this stage is little more than stylin’ out Covid face masks.

And, yes, recognized leaders of the environmental movement – Al Gore, Bill McKibben, Sierra Club – even if not personally cashing in, have, by partnering with venture capitalists (like Goldman Sachs), corporates and other oil-associated companies, put the “problem” into the hands of private interests and reduced the role of public policymaking. As far as the filmmaking pair are concerned, putting the problem into the controlling hands of capitalists is exactly the wrong thing to do because their interest is growth and profit, not public interest, or, it seems, the fate of the human race. With the global population expanding, almost out of control, with a projected 11.7 billion people by 2100. Prodded by Gibbs, Penn State, anthropologist, Nina Jablonsky, tells us that population growth “continues to be not the elephant, but the herd of elephants in the room.”

Planet begins by reminding the viewer that we’ve had plenty of warning about disastrous climate upheaval. Gibbs inserts a clip from the 1958 Frank Capra movie, The Unchained Goddess, which graphically warns Americans of flooding that will greatly reduce the land mass. It’s not so wonderful a life anymore. Mother Nature standing behind us on a wintry snow-driven bridge telling us to Jump, after giving us a vision of how much Earth would have been better off if we’d never existed.

It’s clear that Planet is a deeply personal film, and Gibbs begins by laying down some street cred. Observing, as a child, some bulldozers taking down woods near his home, Gibbs lets us know he put sand in one of their gas tanks. More contrite, perhaps, he wonders, “Why are we still addicted to fossil fuels?” And he follows the Green movement to understand and to participate in the Pushback. There’s movement forward. 2008 Obama. A stimulus bill with billions for renewable energy development. (Hope, Change). Al Gore’s brought in for some inconvenient rah-rah. End Coal rah-rah. The New Green Economy rah-rah. Bill McKibben. 350.org. Sierra. The Chevy Volt. Rah-rah-rah. Give me a G. Give me an R. Give me an E. Give me an E. Give me an N. GREEN!

But then Gibbs’s anxiety creeps in (the Moore Uncanny with music) and suddenly he’s interviewing well-meaning ‘folk’ giving us the ta-dah! on the Chevy Volt, an electric car that will lead us into the future, no more mean Mr. Carbon. But how are they recharged? They’re plugged into the coal-powered grid, just like your toaster. And you can almost hear the bagpipe crumple into a bummed out wheeze. On to solar arrays. More despondent bagpipes. A ‘folk’ person tells us the football field sized array before us generates enough electricity to power an underwhelming “10 homes” per annum. Getting worked up, Gibbs reminds us that renewables are intermittent and that we can’t count on sun and wind in most places, and we need to have storage, and storage means dependency. In short, there are “profound limitations of solar and wind, rarely discussed in the media.”

Suddenly, we’re being sold a bill of goods by the snakes of Oil and mining; we’re Koch suckers, who believe we can frack (XL) and mine our way to private Paradise. The manufacture of solar panels and other materials that are not renewable replacements. Gibbs gives us a list of the elements unearthed in name of sustainability and renewableness. We are daunted: silicon, graphite, rare earths, coal, steel, nickel. sulphur hexaflouride, tin, gallium, cadmium, lead, ethylene vinyl acetate, neodymium, dyprosium, indium, ammonium fluoride, molybdenum, sodium hydroxide, petroleum. Sweet Jesus!

“It was becoming clear,” he tells us, “that what we are calling green renewable energy and industrial civilization are one and the same. Desperate measures not to save the planet, but to save our way of life. Desperate measures, rather than face the reality that humans are experiencing the planet’s limits all at once.” And he blames the direction that Greenies are now heading in on sell-outs in the ranks and co-optations by the Cappies. Bill McKibben gets enveloped in extra insinuating mood music because he once championed biomass energy and is caught on camera saying, “Woodchips is the future of energy…It must happen everywhere!” Though McKibben has since recanted, Gibbs is all bongos because McKibben’s enthusiasm got the Koch brothers involved. They own Georgia-Pacific, and “are now the largest recipient of green energy biomass subsidies in the United States.” Lawd, almighty!

Gibbs saves some of his best speed bag work for the face of self-appointed Environmental Savior, Al Gore. The Could-Have-Been-President-Had-He-Fought-A-Little-Harder is taken to task for selling his Current TV news company to Al Jazeera, for “that government is nothing but an oil producer,” and Gore picked up the tidy sum of $100m (pre-tax), and he has crowed about how “proud of the transaction” he was. Later Night show hosts lay into his hypocrisy. He doesn’t care.

Gore once claimed to have “created” the Internet because he was part of the Congressional committee that extended funding for ARPANET (the internet’s precursor), which is like tossing some coins into busker Tracey Chapman’s hat and taking credit for her later success. Later, two internet pioneers, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, trying to smooth things over said, Gore “helped create the climate,” which is when Gore got cluey and created the Environmental Movement, in his own mind. Look at the obese beaver get called out by Richard Branson.

Again, Planet of the Humans is a tone poem that begins where astronaut Taylor’s lamentations leave off. Gibbs consults anthropologists and psychologists to explain the mental limitations preventing us from getting it. “What differentiates people from all other forms of life is that we’re not only here, but we know that we’re here. If you know that you’re here, then you recognize, even dimly that you’ll not be here some day,” Sheldon Solomon, social psychologist at Skidmore College tells us. “And on top of that, we don’t like that we’re animals. So we don’t like that we’re going to die someday. We don’t like that you can walk outside and get hit by a fucking meteor.” Like the fuel-producing dinosaurs did. Or Climate Change for us. What a fucking feedback loop.

Gibbs closes the film with an appeal, or closing argument, of sorts to viewers, and it’s probably best to let it speak for itself:

There is a way out of this. We humans must accept that infinite growth on a finite planet is suicide. We must accept that human presence is already far beyond sustainability. And all that that implies. We must take control of our environmental movement and our future from billionaires and their permanent war on Planet Earth. They are not our friends. Less must be the new more. And instead of climate change we must at long last accept that it is not the carbon dioxide molecule that’s destroying the planet — it’s us….

This is the nub: We are looking for scapegoats instead of acting radically to save ourselves from extinction. Far from being outliers with their view, the New Yorker’s Jonathan Franzen asks the very same questions the film queries and responds: “What If We Stopped Pretending?

Apparently as anticipated, criticism from fellow Greenies came fast and furious. Though, if you were inclined, you could have pointed out that Moore/Gibbs films have been for years more psychodrama in their approach than documentarian in, say, the mode of Ken Burns; suddenly, fellow environmentalists were complaining vociferously about the accuracy of Moore’s films. Nobody has been more reactive, so far, than Bill McKibben. It’s clear he feels personally bushwhacked. In a Rolling Stone piece, “‘A Bomb in the Center of the Climate Movement’: Michael Moore Damages Our Most Important Goal,” he bitterly denounces the film’s ethos and damage it is said to have done to the Movement, and avers that it was not only made “in bad faith,” but “dishonorably.” Ouch.

“Basically, Moore and his colleagues have made a film attacking renewable energy as a sham and arguing that the environmental movement is just a tool of corporations trying to make money off green energy,” says McKibben, and continues, “The film’s attacks on renewable energy are antique, dating from a decade ago, when a solar panel cost 10 times what it does today; engineers have since done their job, making renewable energy the cheapest way to generate power on our planet.” It short, the science cited in the film is bad, he says. Gibbs wants to raise consciousness, says McKibben, “But that’s precisely what’s undercut when people operate as Moore has with his film. The entirely predictable effect is to build cynicism, indeed a kind of nihilism. It’s to drive down turnout — not just in elections, but in citizenship generally.”

McKibben also defends his previous championing of biomass energy, saying, “I thought it was a good idea [at the time],” but, he goes on, “And as that science emerged, I changed my mind, becoming an outspoken opponent of biomass. (Something else happened too: the efficiency of solar and wind power soared, meaning there was ever less need to burn anything.)” So, McKibben may justifiably feel as if he’s been called to task for a view he no longer holds. But he’s most irate about the insinuation that he’s a “sell out.” McKibben feels the need to spend much space in the Rolling Stone piece defending his record of achievement over the years. And this may be entirely unfair to his activism.

However, McKibben may be off when he says little science is at play in Planet of the Humans. While it’s true that it relies heavily on anthropological and psychological considerations (because that’s really the concern of the film), Moore and Gibbs do cite a relevant study by Richard York, a much-lauded professor of environmental studies at Oregon State University, who published a peer-reviewed article in Nature magazine, “Do alternative energy sources displace fossil fuels?” His answer is No, not really. Other pieces there suggest similar findings, such as York’s more recent article, co-written with Shannon Elizabeth Bell, “Energy transitions or additions?: Why a transition from fossil fuels requires more than the growth of renewable energy” and the Patrick Trent Greiner (et alia) piece, “Snakes in The Greenhouse: Does increased natural gas use reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal consumption?” They say, No, not really.

In a private communique to me, York clarifies how his work was used in the film, “My research that Gibbs draws on found that in recent decades, nations that have added more non-fossil energy sources don’t typically reduce their fossil fuel use substantially (controlling for economic growth etc.) relative to nations that don’t add a lot of non-fossil energy. Thus, it’s not a simple case where there is a fixed energy demand so that adding renewables necessarily pushes out fossil energy, but rather adding energy sources is typically associated with rising energy consumption.” So, again Gibbs and Moore, if somewhat inarticulately, are drawing attention to renewables a s an expansion of energy options without a significant drop in the use of fossil fuels. “I find the movie frustrating,” writes York, “because I don’t think they do a good job of articulating a vision for action.”

Even a recent Guardian article meant to defend McKibben and the environmental movement against the slights of Planet accidently, it seems, underlined Gibbs’s point. Oliver Milman links to a study touting the extraordinary increase of efficiency in renewable technology designs – a study that brags, “Decarbonization of electric grids around the world by an average of about 30% will result in approximately 17% lower battery manufacturing emissions by 2030.” This, to Gibbs and Moore, is merely improvement (and only a best guesstimate at that) and insufficient for the long haul. Milman writes, “Scientists say the world must reach net zero emissions by 2050 to head off disastrous global heating, which would likely spur worsening storms, heatwaves, sea level rise and societal unrest.” By 2050. That’s exactly why Moore and Gibbs seem to be throwing in the towel. That’s not going to happen.

Moore and Gibbs have put together a sober and quiet response to the reactions of fellow environmentalist against Planet of the Humans. (You could argue that the 17 minute discussion is better than their film.) Once done with watching Planet and listening to rebuttals and getting dismayed, you may want to pull an Edward G. and have a lounge-down with a bev or bone and remember how much you love Being and Nature by watching the Qatsi Trilogy at Documentary Heaven. You could start with Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance. A Palate cleansing after a hard-to-swallow reality check.

Or you could go the whole Earth Abides route, and prefer to see it the late George Carlin’s way. Cynical, but realistic, for a species that just doesn’t seem to give a shit about most things for very long. Distracted from distraction by distraction, as T.S. Eliot puts it. Of course, Carlin’s Way is unavailable to anyone with a family.