The 2020s Bring The Crises We Face Into Clear Focus

The year 2020 is coming to an end, and that is cause for celebration, in COVID-19-safe ways, of course.

The 2020s is the beginning of an era in which the roots of the crises we face are coming into clear focus. The Trump administration openly exposed these crises through its candid disdain for the well-being of people and the planet. But the systems that are bringing our demise – capitalism, white supremacy, racism, colonialism, patriarchy and imperialism – have been in place for a long time, since the founding of the United States on stolen land using forced labor.

I interviewed Miko Peled, an author and activist for Palestinian rights, on Clearing the FOG this week about current affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and he described how the institutions within the Israeli state are falling apart. When I asked why, he said it was because it was founded as an illegal and corrupt state. That is not a foundation for a stable structure.

Similarly, the United States was not built on a stable foundation. Now, it is falling as a world power and global empire. Change is coming. What that looks like is up to us to determine.

Important lessons from 2020

The first lesson from 2020 is that neoliberal capitalism perpetuated by both major political parties knows no limits. It will dismantle the US Postal Service, sacrifice healthcare workers, evict people from their homes, allow police to murder with impunity and continue to funnel obscene wealth to the top 1% while nearly half the people in the country live in poverty. This trajectory will not stop on its own. The corporatists have gotten away with it for too long. They don’t know how to stop.

The second lesson is that we must rely on each other for survival, not only in a time of crisis, but always. The concept of rugged individualism is a myth. Our futures on this planet are bound together. What happens in one place doesn’t stay there, as the climate crisis and COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate. We need to solve our problems together.

On a positive note, these crises have driven the rise of mutual aid networks. They are providing people with basic necessities and organizing eviction defense to keep people in their homes. They model what our path forward looks like. The future depends on restructuring our society through solidarity and cooperation.

A third lesson is that we in the United States have a lot to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world, both in how to resist the destructive forces of capitalism and imperialism and how to build alternatives to them that empower people and are sustainable. The economic war the US is waging against one-third of the global population using illegal coercive measures (aka sanctions) is also being waged against the people at home. Countries like Cuba and Venezuela, which are under an economic blockade, are showing that you don’t have to be a wealthy county to provide for your people’s basic needs like healthcare, education, housing and food. We could have universal healthcare, free education, affordable housing for everyone and local organic food production too, but it will take a revolution.

The path forward

In 2021 and beyond, it is time to break with the notion that we can elect our way out of this. The current campaign to #ForceTheVote in Congress on Medicare for All is revealing what happens when “progressives” are elected into a capitalist, imperialist party. They are marginalized and/or become champions of that corrupt structure. This campaign is a critical test to determine whether the Democrats will fight for our interests or whether their words are empty rhetoric designed to placate us so they could regain power.

We should attempt to hold elected officials accountable, but our success in winning the changes we need requires that we organize outside of electoral arenas. In our current system, the Democrats and Republicans control the electoral process. When we work within that realm, we are working in a system in which we have the disadvantage. It is an anti-democratic structure that distracts us from the long term community base-building work needed to establish real political power.

This is another lesson we can learn from other countries. Liberal democracies are designed to support capitalism. We need systemic change in the way we govern our society. There are alternatives being developed that are based on participatory democracy so that people have the power to make decisions.

Venezuela is one country that is struggling to build a participatory structure from the local to the national level. That is one reason why it is being targeted by the US and why we who live in the US need to work to stop our government’s illegal interference in its revolutionary process.

Around the world, including in the US, people are experimenting with new systems. During the 2020s, we need to expand on that work. One way to start is locally by identifying needs in our communities and working collectively to meet them. If you need ideas on building alternatives, check out the “create” section of our website or the “new economy” tag. You might also want to check out the free Popular Resistance School on how social transformation occurs.

In this decade, we can “stop the machine and create a new world.” We will need to resist the harmful policies and practices that exist through strategic campaigns and replace them with alternative systems rooted in the values we want to achieve. Within this framework, there is something for everyone to do. If we succeed, we will create a stable foundation for the country and decrease the harm the United States does to the rest of the world. That will truly be something to celebrate.

The post The 2020s Bring The Crises We Face Into Clear Focus first appeared on Dissident Voice.

#ForceTheVote Pressure Growing from Inside

Force The Vote! We demand that every progressive in Congress refuse to vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House until she publicly pledges to bring Medicare for all to the floor of the House for a vote in January: https://forcethevote.org/

The post #ForceTheVote Pressure Growing from Inside first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Will relations between old adversaries the US & Russia improve under Biden? No, they’ll only get worse

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As the incoming Democrat surrounds himself with hostile Russophobes, the frosty US-Russian relationship doesn’t look likely to thaw any time soon. In anticipation, Moscow is already shifting to a policy of deterrence.

In comments made to the media on Christmas Eve, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov was critical of US policy toward Russia. Discussing the most recent round of economic sanctions levied by Washington against the country, Ryabkov accused the US of “accommodating the domestic needs of those interested in further non-stop escalation of tensions in relations with Russia, and letting them know that Washington led by the current administration has no intention to slow down its anti-Russian campaign.”

Noting that “the next US president will receive a difficult legacy,” Ryabkov stated that “I am not sure that those who might be responsible for Russia after January 20 [when Joe Biden is sworn in] are inclined and ready to seriously start strengthening a healthy foundation,” adding that “[w]e are moving from bad to worse.”

Ryabkov’s comments cannot be viewed in isolation, but rather must be examined in the context of the past two decades, during which time the US has been angrily lashing out at Russian President Vladimir Putin for the “crime” of seeking to right a Russian ship that was floundering in the stormy seas of post-Cold War lethargy brought on by years of misrule on the part of Boris Yeltsin.

From the US' perspective, Yeltsin was a compliant asset who sought Russian stability through the implementation of flawed market reform that sacrificed Russian democracy, allowing “economic liberalization” to transform into a Russian version of 19th-century American “robber-baron” capitalism. After years of watching the US run roughshod over a prostrate Russia, buying elections and humiliating Yeltsin in phone calls where he begged his American counterpart, Bill Clinton, to give Russia a modicum of respect, Putin took the reins of power as Yeltsin’s hand-picked heir apparent.

Putin won the Russian presidential election of 2000 and has never wavered from his vision of restoring Russia to what he believes is its rightful position as one of the world’s “great powers.” This has been a constant irritation to Washington, which has sought to sustain the post-Cold War subservient status of Russia as a “defeated” nation whose ambitions were to be permanently subordinated to a “victorious” US/NATO alliance.

As President-elect Biden surrounds himself with a cast of Russo-phobic “Putin whisperers” whose singular focus is on how best to undermine the legitimacy of the Russian president, he should pay heed to the words and assessments offered up by Ryabkov.

The future will not be 'business as usual', where the US dictates policy options to a Russia waiting in the wings. Russia will no longer stand idly by waiting for the US to come to its senses, but rather will treat the US for what it has become – a malign actor who must be deterred rather than accommodated. It is the US, not Russia, who has seized the mantle of 'Evil Empire'.

Ryabkov’s statements are not a threat – indeed, he made it very clear that Russia is ready and willing to work with the US to improve relations.

“If at any stage of the development of the process of its thinking on Russia, Washington demonstrates the readiness to try to clear the way in at least some areas, we will not keep them waiting,” Ryabkov noted. “We are ready for that. But we are not going to beg them to do so. We need relations with the United States as much as Washington needs relations with Russia. They should be fully aware of that.”

The deputy foreign minister declared that “it's up to the Americans to choose how, when, and what should be done about our bilateral relations. We are not initiating any contacts with Biden's transitional team, and we are not going to do so. Whenever they become interested, they are welcome, every address is known.”

But Ryabkov was not optimistic for any change coming from the new administration, noting that “[it] would be strange to expect anything good from people, many of whom have built their careers on Russophobia and slinging mud at my country.”

Russia, Ryabkov declared, would be considering a two-track approach toward relations with the US, one that was driven by the reality that “US policy on Russia is deeply hostile and contravenes our fundamental interests.” As such, Russia would be seeking “total deterrence of the United States in all areas.” The second track, “selective dialogue,” would be engaged “only in those areas that are interesting to us, instead of the areas interesting to them only.”

Ryabkov picked up on the use by Biden of the term “adversary” when describing Russia. “If you are adversaries,” he said, “you should sit in your trench, while we will do everything we can to make things worse and more difficult for you. This is the essence of the US policy on Russia, it is crystal clear. This is what we should proceed from and we have no illusions about who we are dealing with on the other side. The situation will fully persist under the new administration.”

US-Russian relations under a Biden administration, Ryabkov declared, were reflective of “a historical moment of truth, when the masks slip and when there is no need to cover with empty words some things that have become obvious recently. This is what is called the naked truth of life. It should be perceived in all of its diversity as it is.”

Russia was patient with Trump, operating under the mistaken belief that the current incumbent sought to better relations. But no more. As Ryabkov noted, “I know for sure there was no interest in normalizing relations with the Russian Federation when the Trump administration was in office.” The door leading to the betterment of relations will remain unlocked, if the US decides it wants to enter. But it will no longer remain open, with Russia standing by like a girl ready to be stood up on prom night.

Those days are over, never to return. This is the new reality that Biden and his coterie of Russophobic advisers are going to have to deal with going forward, a pragmatic reality that no longer seeks or desires a foundation of a friendship upon which to conduct relations.

Reprinted with permission from RT.

The Future Will Only Contain What We Put into It Now

Image in homage of Bolivian people’s resistance by Tings Chak (China)

Image in homage of Bolivian people’s resistance by Tings Chak (China)

Towards the end of November, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres addressed the German Bundestag to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations (UN). At the heart of the UN is its Charter, the treaty that binds nations together in a global project, which has now been ratified by all 193 member nations of the UN. It is well worth reiterating the four main goals of the UN Charter, since most of these have slipped from public consciousness:

  1. To prevent the ‘scourge of war’.
  2. To ‘reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person’.
  3. To maintain the integrity of international law.
  4. To ‘promote social progress and better standards of life’ as a means to enlarge the experience of freedom.

Guterres pointed out that the avenues to realise the aims of the Charter are being closed off not only by the neofascists, who he euphemistically calls ‘populist approaches’, but also by the worst kind of imperialism, as illustrated by the ‘vaccine nationalism’ driven by countries such as the United States of America. ‘It is clear’, Guterres said, ‘that the way to win the future is through an openness to the world’ and not by a ‘closing of minds’.

CoronaShock: A Virus and the World. Cover image by Vikas Thakur (India).

CoronaShock: A Virus and the World. Cover image by Vikas Thakur (India).

At Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, we take the UN Charter as the foundation of our work. To advance its goals is an essential step for the construction of humanity, which is a concept of aspiration rather than a concept of fact; we are not yet human beings, but we strive to become human. Imagine if we lived in a world without war and with respect for international law, if we lived in a world that honoured fundamental human rights and tried to promote the widest social progress? This would a be a world where the productive resources would no longer be used for military hardware but would be used to end hunger, to end illiteracy, to end poverty, to end houselessness, to end – in other words – the structural features of indignity.

In 2019, the world’s nations spent nearly $2 trillion on weaponry, while the world’s richest people hid $36 trillion in illicit tax havens. It would take a fraction of this money to eradicate hunger, with estimates ranging from $7 billion to $265 billion per year. Comparable amounts of money are needed to finance comprehensive public education and universal primary health care. Productive resources have been highjacked by the wealthy, who then use their money power to ensure that Central Banks keep inflation down rather than pursue policies towards full employment. It’s a racket, if you look at it closely.

Two new World Bank studies show that, because of a lack of resources and imagination during this pandemic, an additional 72 million primary school aged children will slip into ‘learning poverty’, a term that refers to the inability to read and comprehend simple texts by the age of ten. A UNICEF study shows that in sub-Saharan Africa an additional 50 million people have moved into extreme poverty during the pandemic, most of whom are children; 280 million of sub-Saharan Africa’s 550 million children struggle with food insecurity, while learning has completely stopped for millions of children who are ‘unlikely to ever return to the classroom’.

The gap between the plight of the billions who struggle to survive and the extravagances of the very few is stark. The UBS report on wealth bears an awkward title: Riding the storm. Market turbulence accelerates diverging fortunes. The world’s 2,189 billionaires seemed to have ridden the storm of the pandemic to their great advantage, with their wealth at a record high of $10.2 trillion as of July 2020 (up from $8.0 trillion in April). The most vulgar number was that their wealth increased by a quarter (27.5%) from April to July during the Great Lockdown. This came when billions of people in the capitalist world were newly unemployed, struggling to survive on very modest relief from governments, their lives turned upside down.

CoronaShock and Patriarchy. Cover image by Daniela Ruggeri (Argentina).>

CoronaShock and Patriarchy. Cover image by Daniela Ruggeri (Argentina)

Our most recent study, CoronaShock and Patriarchy, should be compulsory reading; it provides a sharp assessment of the social – and gendered – impact of CoronaShock. Our team was motivated by the acute state of deprivation in which billions of people find themselves and how that deprivation morphs basic social bonds towards the hyper-exploitation and oppression of specific parts of the population. The report closes with an eighteen-point list of demands that are a guide for our struggles ahead. We make the case that the capitalist states are controlled by elites who are unable to solve the basic problems of our time such as unemployment, hunger, patriarchal violence, and the under-appreciation, precarity, and invisibility of social reproduction work.

The texts that we published this year – from our red alerts on the coronavirus to the studies on CoronaShock – seek to orient us towards a rational assessment of these rapid developments, rooted in the world-view of our mass movements of workers, peasants, and the oppressed. We took seriously the view of the World Health Organisation to ground our studies in ‘solidarity, not stigma’. Based on the startlingly low numbers of infections and deaths in countries with a socialist government from Vietnam to Cuba, we studied why these governments were better able to handle the pandemic. We understood that this was because they took a scientific attitude towards the virus, they had a public sector to turn to for the production of necessary equipment and medicines, they were able to rely upon a practice of public action which brought organised groups of people together to provide relief to each other, and they took an internationalist – rather than a racist – approach to the virus which included sharing information, goods, and – in the case of China and Cuba – medical personnel. Because of this, we – alongside other organisations – have joined the campaign for the Nobel Prize for Peace to be given to the Cuban doctors.

We have assembled a remarkable archive of material on CoronaShock and on the world that it has begun to produce. This includes a provisional ten-point agenda for a post-COVID world, a paper first delivered at a High-Level Conference on the Post-Pandemic Economy, organised by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). In the first few months of 2021, we will release a fuller document on the world after Corona.

CoronaShock and Socialism. Cover image by Ingrid Neves (Brazil), adapted from People’s Medical Publishing House, China, 1977

CoronaShock and Socialism. Cover image by Ingrid Neves (Brazil), adapted from People’s Medical Publishing House, China, 1977

On a personal note, I would like to thank the entire team at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research for their resilience during the pandemic, their ability to work at a pace much greater than before, and their good cheer towards each other during this period.

We swim in the waters of our movements, whose fortitude against the opportunistic and cynical use of the crisis by capitalist governments lifts us up and gives us courage. Last week, the newsletter highlighted the patient and dedicated work done by the young comrades of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala, who work to build a humane and just society. The same kind of work can be seen amidst the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil (MST), and it can be seen in the Copper Belt region of Zambia, where the members of the Socialist Party campaign for next year’s presidential election, and in South Africa, where the National Union of Metal Workers (NUMSA) fights to defend workers against retrenchment during the pandemic and where Abahlali baseMjondolo builds confidence and power amongst shack dwellers. We see this great endurance and commitment from our comrades of the Workers’ Party of Tunisia and the Democratic Way of Morocco, who are leading a revitalisation of the Left in the Arabic-speaking regions, and in the great application of the peoples of Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela, China, Laos, Nepal, and Vietnam, as they seek to build socialism in poor countries who face a sustained attack against the socialist path. We take strength from our comrades in Argentina, who struggle to consolidate the power of the excluded workers and to build a society beyond patriarchy. We are a movement-driven research institute; we rely upon our movements for everything that we do.

The post The Future Will Only Contain What We Put into It Now first appeared on Dissident Voice.

2020: The Year the Tree of Liberty Was Torched

The people are unaware. They’re not educated to realize that they have power. The system is so geared that everyone believes the government will fix everything. We are the government.

— John Lennon

No doubt about it: 2020—a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year for freedom—was the culmination of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad decade for freedom.

Government corruption, tyranny, and abuse coupled with a Big Brother-knows-best mindset and the COVID-19 pandemic propelled us at warp speed towards a full-blown police state in which nationwide lockdowns, egregious surveillance, roadside strip searches, police shootings of unarmed citizens, censorship, retaliatory arrests, the criminalization of lawful activities, warmongering, indefinite detentions, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, police brutality, profit-driven prisons, and pay-to-play politicians were accepted as the norm.

Here’s just a small sampling of the laundry list of abuses—cruel, brutal, immoral, unconstitutional and unacceptable—that have been heaped upon us by the government over the past two decades and in the past year, in particular.

The government failed to protect our lives, liberty and happiness. The predators of the police state wreaked havoc on our freedoms, our communities, and our lives. The government didn’t listen to the citizenry, refused to abide by the Constitution, and treated the citizenry as a source of funding and little else. Police officers shot unarmed citizens and their household pets. Government agents—including local police—were armed to the teeth and encouraged to act like soldiers on a battlefield. Bloated government agencies were allowed to fleece taxpayers. Government technicians spied on our emails and phone calls. And government contractors made a killing by waging endless wars abroad.

The American President became more imperial. Although the Constitution invests the President with very specific, limited powers, in recent years, American presidents (Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton, etc.) claimed the power to completely and almost unilaterally alter the landscape of this country for good or for ill. The powers that have been amassed by each successive president through the negligence of Congress and the courts—powers which add up to a toolbox of terror for an imperial ruler—empower whoever occupies the Oval Office to act as a dictator, above the law and beyond any real accountability. The presidency itself has become an imperial one with permanent powers.

Militarized police became a power unto themselves, 911 calls turned deadly, and traffic stops took a turn for the worse. Lacking in transparency and accountability, protected by the courts and legislators, and rife with misconduct, America’s police forces continued to be a menace to the citizenry and the rule of law. Despite concerns about the government’s steady transformation of local police into a standing military army, local police agencies acquired even more weaponry, training and equipment suited for the battlefield. Police officers were also given free range to pull anyone over for a variety of reasons and subject them to forced cavity searches, forced colonoscopies, forced blood draws, forced breath-alcohol tests, forced DNA extractions, forced eye scans, forced inclusion in biometric databases.

The courts failed to uphold justice. With every ruling handed down, it becomes more apparent that we live in an age of hollow justice, with government courts more concerned with protecting government agents than upholding the rights of “we the people.” This is true at all levels of the judiciary, but especially so in the highest court of the land, the U.S. Supreme Court, which is seemingly more concerned with establishing order and protecting government agents than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution. A review of critical court rulings over the past two decades, including some ominous ones by the U.S. Supreme Court, reveals a startling and steady trend towards pro-police state rulings by an institution concerned more with establishing order and protecting the ruling class and government agents than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

COVID-19 allowed the Emergency State to expand its powers. What started out as an apparent effort to prevent a novel coronavirus from sickening the nation (and the world) became yet another means by which world governments (including our own) could expand their powers, abuse their authority, and further oppress their constituents. While COVID-19 took a significant toll on the nation emotionally, physically, and economically, it also allowed the government to trample our rights in the so-called name of national security, with talk of mass testing for COVID-19 antibodies, screening checkpoints, contact tracing, immunity passports, forced vaccinations, snitch tip lines and onerous lockdowns.

The Surveillance State rendered Americans vulnerable to threats from government spies, police, hackers and power failures. Thanks to the government’s ongoing efforts to build massive databases using emerging surveillance, DNA and biometrics technologies, Americans have become sitting ducks for hackers and government spies alike. Billions of people have been affected by data breaches and cyberattacks. On a daily basis, Americans have been made to relinquish the most intimate details of who we are—our biological makeup, our genetic blueprints, and our biometrics (facial characteristics and structure, fingerprints, iris scans, etc.)—in order to navigate an increasingly technologically-enabled world.

America became a red flag nation. Red flag laws, specifically, and pre-crime laws generally push us that much closer towards a suspect society where everyone is potentially guilty of some crime or another and must be preemptively rendered harmless. Where many Americans go wrong is in naively assuming that you have to be doing something illegal or harmful in order to be flagged and targeted for some form of intervention or detention. In fact, all you need to do these days to end up on a government watch list or be subjected to heightened scrutiny is use certain trigger words (like cloud, pork and pirates), surf the internet, communicate using a cell phone, limp or stutter, drive a car, stay at a hotel, attend a political rally, express yourself on social media, appear mentally ill, serve in the military, disagree with a law enforcement official, call in sick to work, purchase materials at a hardware store, take flying or boating lessons, appear suspicious, appear confused or nervous, fidget or whistle or smell bad, be seen in public waving a toy gun or anything remotely resembling a gun (such as a water nozzle or a remote control or a walking cane), stare at a police officer, question government authority, appear to be pro-gun or pro-freedom, or generally live in the United States. Be warned: once you get on such a government watch list—whether it’s a terrorist watch list, a mental health watch list, a dissident watch list, or a red flag gun watch list—there’s no clear-cut way to get off, whether or not you should actually be on there.

The cost of policing the globe drove the nation deeper into debt. America’s war spending has already bankrupted the nation to the tune of more than $20 trillion dollars. Policing the globe and waging endless wars abroad hasn’t made America—or the rest of the world—any safer, but it has made the military industrial complex rich at taxpayer expense. The U.S. military reportedly has more than 1.3 million men and women on active duty, with more than 200,000 of them stationed overseas in nearly every country in the world. Yet America’s military forces aren’t being deployed abroad to protect our freedoms here at home. Rather, they’re being used to guard oil fields, build foreign infrastructure and protect the financial interests of the corporate elite. In fact, the United States military spends about $81 billion a year just to protect oil supplies around the world. This is how a military empire occupies the globe. Meanwhile, America’s infrastructure is falling apart.

Free speech was dealt one knock-out punch after another. Protest laws, free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws, shadow banning on the Internet, and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors (and championed by those who want to suppress speech with which they might disagree) conspired to corrode our core freedoms, purportedly for our own good. On paper—at least according to the U.S. Constitution—we are technically free to speak. In reality, however, we are only as free to speak as a government official—or corporate entities such as Facebook, Google or YouTube—may allow. The reasons for such censorship varied widely from political correctness, so-called safety concerns and bullying to national security and hate crimes but the end result remained the same: the complete eradication of free speech.

The Deep State took over. The American system of representative government has been overthrown by the Deep State—a.k.a. the police state a.k.a. the military/corporate industrial complex—a profit-driven, militaristic corporate state bent on total control and global domination through the imposition of martial law here at home and by fomenting wars abroad. The “government of the people, by the people, for the people” has perished. In its place is a shadow government, a corporatized, militarized, entrenched bureaucracy that is fully operational and staffed by unelected officials who are, in essence, running the country and calling the shots in Washington DC, no matter who sits in the White House. Mind you, by “government,” I’m not referring to the highly partisan, two-party bureaucracy of the Republicans and Democrats. Rather, I’m referring to “government” with a capital “G,” the entrenched Deep State that is unaffected by elections, unaltered by populist movements, and has set itself beyond the reach of the law. This is the hidden face of a government that has no respect for the freedom of its citizenry. This shadow government, which “operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power,” makes a mockery of elections and the entire concept of a representative government.

The takeaway: Everything the founders of this country feared has come to dominate in modern America. “We the people” have been saddled with a government that is no longer friendly to freedom and is working overtime to trample the Constitution underfoot and render the citizenry powerless in the face of the government’s power grabs, corruption and abusive tactics.

So how do you balance the scales of justice at a time when Americans are being tasered, tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, hit with batons, shot with rubber bullets and real bullets, blasted with sound cannons, detained in cages and kennels, sicced by police dogs, arrested and jailed for challenging the government’s excesses, abuses and power-grabs, and then locked down and stripped of any semblance of personal freedom?

No matter who sits in the White House, politics won’t fix a system that is broken beyond repair.

For that matter, protests and populist movements also haven’t done much to push back against an authoritarian regime that is deaf to our cries, dumb to our troubles, blind to our needs, and accountable to no one.

So how do you not only push back against the government’s bureaucracy, corruption and cruelty but also launch a counterrevolution aimed at reclaiming control over the government using nonviolent means?

You start by changing the rules and engaging in some (nonviolent) guerilla tactics.

Take your cue from the Tenth Amendment and nullify everything the government does that flies in the face of the principles on which this nation was founded. If there is any means left to us for thwarting the government in its relentless march towards outright dictatorship, it may rest with the power of juries and local governments to invalidate governmental laws, tactics and policies that are illegitimate, egregious or blatantly unconstitutional.

In an age in which government officials accused of wrongdoing—police officers, elected officials, etc.—are treated with general leniency, while the average citizen is prosecuted to the full extent of the law, nullification is a powerful reminder that, as the Constitution tells us, “we the people” are the government.

For too long we’ve allowed our so-called “representatives” to call the shots. Now it’s time to restore the citizenry to their rightful place in the republic: as the masters, not the servants.

Nullification is one way of doing so.

America was meant to be primarily a system of local governments, which is a far cry from the colossal federal bureaucracy we have today. Yet if our freedoms are to be restored, understanding what is transpiring practically in your own backyard—in one’s home, neighborhood, school district, town council—and taking action at that local level must be the starting point.

Responding to unmet local needs and reacting to injustices is what grassroots activism is all about. Attend local city council meetings, speak up at town hall meetings, organize protests and letter-writing campaigns, employ “militant nonviolent resistance” and civil disobedience, which Martin Luther King Jr. used to great effect through the use of sit-ins, boycotts and marches.

The power to change things for the better rests with us not the politicians.

As long as we continue to allow callousness, cruelty, meanness, immorality, ignorance, hatred, intolerance, racism, militarism, materialism, meanness and injustice—magnified by an echo chamber of nasty tweets and government-sanctioned brutality—to trump justice, fairness and equality, there can be no hope of prevailing against the police state.

We could transform this nation if only Americans would work together to harness the power of their discontent and push back against the government’s overreach, excesses and abuse.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the police state is marching forward, more powerful than ever.

If there is to be any hope for freedom in 2021, it rests with “we the people.”

The post 2020: The Year the Tree of Liberty Was Torched first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Top 10 Questions for Antony Blinken

Before Antony Blinken can become Secretary of State, Senators must approve. And before that, they must ask questions. Here are some suggestions for what they should ask.

1. Second to the war on Iraq, which of the disasters you’ve helped facilitate do you most regret, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, or something else? And what have you learned that would improve your record going forward?

2. You once supported dividing Iraq into three nations. I’ve asked an Iraqi friend to draw up a plan to divide the United States up into three nations. Without yet seeing the plan, what is your initial reaction, and which state do you most hope to not end up with?

3. The trend from the Bush years to the Obama years to the Trump years is now one of moving away from ground wars in favor of air wars. This often means more killing, more injuring, more making people homeless, but an even higher percentage of that suffering on the non-U.S. side. How would you defend this trend if you were teaching children about morality?

4. Much of the U.S. public has been clamoring for an end to endless wars. President-Elect Biden has promised an end to endless wars. You’ve suggested that the endless wars shouldn’t really be actually ended. We’ve seen both President Obama and President Trump take credit for ending wars without ending them, but surely that legerdemain cannot succeed forever. Which of these wars do you support immediately and actually in the ordinary sense of the word ending: Yemen? Afghanistan? Syria? Iraq? Somalia?

5. You cofounded WestExec Advisors, a company that helps war profiteers get contracts, and serves as a revolving door for unscrupulous individuals who get rich from private money for what they do and whom they get to know in their public jobs. Is war profiteering acceptable? How would you perform your job differently in government if you anticipated being hired by a peace organization afterward?

6. The U.S. government arms 96% of the world’s most oppressive governments by its own definition. Is there any government on earth other than North Korea or Cuba that should not be sold or given deadly weapons? Do you support Congresswoman Omar’s bill to stop arming human rights abusers?

7. Should the State Department function as a marketing firm for U.S. weapons companies? What percentage of the State Department’s work should be devoted to selling weapons? Can you name a recent war that has not had U.S. weapons on both sides?

8. The U.S. and Russian governments are loaded up with nuclear weapons. The Doomsday Clock is closer to midnight than ever before. What will you do to scale back the new Cold War, re-join disarmament agreements, and move us away from nuclear apocalypse?

9. Some of my colleagues will not be satisfied until you’re as hostile toward China as toward Russia. What will you do to help them relax and think more wisely about playing around with the future of life on earth?

10. What would be one example of a situation in which you would choose to become a whistleblower?

Further reading:
Norman Solomon: Neera Tanden and Antony Blinken Personify the ‘Moderate’ Rot at the Top of the Democratic Party
David Swanson: Top 10 Reasons to Reject Blinken

  • Originally published at worldbeyondwar.org.
  • The post Top 10 Questions for Antony Blinken first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Blood Gold

    Background

    The Middle East Eye reports there are no gold mines under Dubai’s sands with artisanal miners or children toiling away trying to strike gold. But there is the Dubai Gold Souk and refineries that vie with the largest global operations as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) strives to expand its position as a major gold hub.

    In recent years, the UAE, with Dubai in particular, has established itself as one of the largest and fastest-growing marketplaces for the precious metal, with imports rising by 58 percent per annum to more than $27bn in 2018, according to data collated by the Observatory for Economic Complexity.

    With no local gold to tap, unlike neighboring Saudi Arabia, the UAE has to import gold from wherever it can, whether it be legitimately, smuggled with no questions asked, sourced from conflict zones, or linked to organized crime.

    Blood gold

    The Sentry’s investigation (Sentry Investigations specialize in private and corporate investigations in the UK) found that 95 percent of gold officially exported from Central and East Africa, much of it mined in Sudan, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, ends up in the Emirates.

    Gold has become so important to Dubai’s economy that it is the emirate’s highest value external trade item, ahead of mobile phones, jeweler, petroleum products and diamonds, according to Dubai Customs.

    And it is the UAE’s largest export after oil, exporting $17.7bn in 2019. Gold’s importance has only increased as Dubai’s oil reserves have dwindled and the UAE has tried to diversify its economy.

    The Swiss connection

    Dubai is not the only gold player with dirt, and even blood, on its hands.

    “It is not just Dubai, it’s also Switzerland. The Swiss get large quantities of gold from Dubai. The Swiss say they are not getting gold from certain countries [connected to conflict gold], but instead from Dubai, yet the gold in Dubai is coming from these countries. Dubai is complicit, but Swiss hands are equally dirty as they can’t cut Dubai from the market,” said Lakshmi Kumar, policy director, at Global Financial Integrity (GFI) in Washington DC.

    Switzerland is the world’s largest refiner, while [more than half] of all gold goes through the country at some point, according to anti-corruption group Global Witness. Switzerland’s trade is tied to the UK, which imports around a third of all gold.

    *****

    PressTV: Gold has become such an important commodity for the UAE, that it is the largest export after oil, exporting $17.7bn in 2019. But there is the other side to this story. A report by the UK’s Home Office and Treasury earlier in December also named the UAE as a jurisdiction vulnerable to money laundering by criminal networks because of the ease with which gold and cash could be moved through the country. Is this the case?

    Peter Koenig:  First, International Gold Laundering is a gigantic Human Rights abuse, foremost because laundered gold stems from many countries in Africa and South America where massive child labor is practiced. Children not only are put at tremendous risk working in the mines, in narrow rickety underground tunnels that could collapse any time, and often do, but they are also poisoned on a daily basis by chemicals used in extracting gold ore from the rock, notably cyanide and mercury and others.

    Second, Gold laundering is an international crime, because it illegal and it is mostly run by mafia type organizations – where killing and other type of violence, plus sexual abuse of women – forced prostitution – is a daily occurrence.

    There should be an international law – enforceable – issued by the UN and enforced by the International Criminal Court against anything to do with gold laundering. Infractions should be punished, and countries involved in gold laundering should be held responsible – put on a black list for illegal financial transactions and for facilitating human rights abuses.

    The United Arab Emirates has no gold, so all of the $17.7 billion of their gold exports is being imported and “washed” by re-exporting it mainly through the UK into Switzerland and other gold refining places, like India. With a worldwide production of about 3,500 tons, there are times when Switzerland imports more gold than the annual world production, most of it coming from the UK, for further refining or re-refining, for “better or double laundering”, erasing the gold’s origins.

    From the refinery in Switzerland, it goes mostly into the banking system or is re-exported as “clean” gold coming from Switzerland, and its origins are no longer traceable.

    Worldwide about 70% of all gold is refined in Switzerland.

    Gold mine production totaled 3,531 tons in 2019, 1% lower than in 2018. About 70% of all gold, worldwide, is refined in Switzerland. So, it is very likely that the UK, receiving gold from United Arab Emirates, re-exports the gold to Switzerland, for re-refining, for further export to, for example, India. Coming from Switzerland it has the “label” of being clean. How long will this reputation still last?

    Metalor is the world’s largest gold refinery, established in Switzerland. And they are absolutely secretive, do not say where they buy their gold from, because the Swiss Government does not require the origin when gold enters Switzerland.

    Once it is refined the origin can no longer be determined because gold does not have a DNA.

    PressTV:  The Sentry’s investigation found that 95 percent of gold officially exported from Central and East Africa, much of it mined in Sudan, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, ends up in the emirate, through what’s known as blood gold:  gold obtained through brutal mining practices and illicit profits, including the use of children.  How do you see this?

    PK:  Yes, this is absolutely true.

    As mentioned already before, much of the gold from Africa/Central Africa, Ghana and South America, notably Peru, is blood gold. Of course, it passes through many hands before it lands in a refinery in the UK, Switzerland or elsewhere, and therefore is almost untraceable.

    But, the company that buys the gold, like Metalor, they know exactly where the gold is coming from, but, as mentioned before, since the Swiss government does not require the importing company to divulge the origin of the gold  the human rights abuses will never come to light, or better – to justice.

    It is estimated that up to 30% of all gold refined in Switzerland is considered blood gold. Imagine the suffering, disease, and even deathm  or delayed death, through slow reacting chemicals like cyanite and mercury.

    However, if there is no international law – a law that is enforced, that puts the criminals to justice – and put countries that facilitate gold laundering on an international list for the world to see and hold them accountable with, for example, financial sanctions, little will change.

    The post Blood Gold first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    A Dalit and a Brahmin

    “I hear the lower castes are finding this lack of monsoons rather difficult for their crops,” droned Aashka’s father at their lavish supper (as usual), in the midst of her father’s normal dull conversing with the other Brahmins.

    The table was long and elegant and filled every night with rich Brahmins, such as Aashka’s family.  Most of them were reserved old men, who hardly spoke to Aashka save for reprimanding her that if she kept up her unladylike behavior she’d surely be reincarnated as a stick bug.  Some women were present, of course, their faces drawn and lifeless as if no thoughts swam behind their dark eyes and extravagant cosmetics.

    “I have heard this as well,” said Priest Sadiva, a burly old man at the end of the table.

    “It’s as if they have no idea where to find the food that does exist, for looking at this table, it obviously is present if you know where to look.”  He chuckled at his own joke.

    “Dalits, Shudras and Vaishyas are being buried by the cartload.” said Priest Safal, a sour man who Aashka always avoided. “But they wouldn’t have achieved Moksha anyhow; they led lives of great disregard for Brahman, the force that brings us all together.”

    Aashka felt a familiar itchy heat rising inside her, as if somewhere inside her, a caged starling was struggling to escape.  You didn’t achieve Moksha in your past life either, she thought to herself.

    “That’s unfair, Priest Safal, that really is!” she finally blurted. “They are not trying to starve, and they are decent people, just like any of us.”

    Aashka looked around the table, as everyone looked sharply up at her.  The women gasped.

    If I’m referring to this lot, I’m not sure the phrase ‘Decent like you’ ‘is very effective, a little voice in the back of her brain piped up.

    “Aashka,” said her father harshly. “We have not worked hard in our past lives, studying our faith, to achieve Karma like this, to become the religious leaders to our people and compliment those who are below us.”

    Priest Safal’s wife spoke up. “Sahistha,” she said, speaking to Aashka’s father. “Children should  be seen and not heard. I am afraid your daughter has no hope of ever achieving Moksha, letting her soul be liberated with Brahman.  She has a complete disregard for Atman.”

    That’s more words than she’s spoken all year, thought Aashka.  Then she noticed her stepmother staring at her with a look of cold resentment and embarrassment plastered to her face.  Aashka’s real mother had become ill and passed away just over two years previously, the day before Aashka’s eleventh birthday.  Her father had married again last spring, and Aashka hated him for it.  Her mother had been the nicest thing about her life.

    “Servant, please escort Aashka from the table. Thank you. May Brahma bless you.” said Aashka’s father stiffly, with a note of restrained fury in his voice.

    The following morning, Aashka woke to find all the other Brahmins gone, and her father praying.  Aashka found her step-mother at the dining room table, being served breakfast by an ungainly young man who kept stumbling, apparently over his own feet.  Without acknowledging the presence of Aashka, her step-mother nibbled away slowly at her meal.  The young man served Aashka Aloo Paratha (flatbread stuffed with potato) and shuffled back towards the kitchen, tripping on his way out.

    “What’s wrong with him?” asked Aashka.

    “Aashka!” scolded her step-mother, her eyes widening into her signature “you’re-on-thin-ice” look.

    “Sorry,” said Aashka, “Only, why’d he keep falling over himself?”

    Aashka’s stepmother looked over her shoulder to make sure they were alone.

    “The stupid boy,” she drawled, “is new on the job and very nervous.”

    “We should give him some food.”

    Aashka’s stepmother did a double take. “Whatever for?”

    “Priest Safal said people of lower castes are being buried by the cartload. And he looks very thin. I’m worried,” said Aashka.

    “It’s not for us to mingle with Shudras.”

    “I know, I know.  Anyway, may I go out?  I must…must pray at the temple for Brahma to forgive me for my er…rudeness last night.”

    “Very well.” Aashka’s step-mother went back to her eating with a somber face.  “And you’ll go again later as well.  You have a lot of apologizing to do.”

    Aashka set out to town with half her Aloo Paratha still in her pocket.  She ran briskly, but kept her face down, hoping nobody would recognize a Brahmin girl running in such a rushed and improper fashion.  Aashka was not going to pray near the cattle.

    The streets were more crowded than usual, as Aashka neared the poorer side of town.  Shudras were holding bowls out, begging for just a bit of rice.  Dalits were lurking in the shadows, eyes full of what they knew to be unrealistic longing.  Aashka put her hand over the warm flatbread in her pocket, tempted to stop right there and give it to the first person who asked.

    No, she told herself. You know someone who needs this badly.

    She was beginning to stick out like a sore thumb, and she knew it.  Her clothes were too luxurious to be a member of the lower castes.  People turned to stare at her, shocked that she was still healthy and well-fed-looking.  For most people around here had been getting very thin lately, scarily thin. Dalit boys trudged past with their ribs sticking out like knives.  Girls brushed by with legs jutting out under dresses that were so thin it almost looked like they were floating.

    You’re almost there, Aashka told herself,  please don’t get all wish-washy.

    For Aashka was what her Mama had called a “mirror-girl.”  Anytime Aashka saw other people feeling sad, she would feel almost as bad as them.  Right now, there were a lot of starving, disconsolate people out, and Aashka felt it was almost too much for her as she plowed on.

    She finally reached her destination, a tiny hut at the end of the street, and pushed inside.  A baby was crying in the corner, a woman rocked her back and forth in her thin arms.  A boy stood at the door, relieved at Aashka’s appearance.  The boy was Agavoli.

    Agavoli was Aashka’s best friend.  “What was your excuse, this time?” asked Agavoli, with an amused light in his eyes.

    “I told my stepmother I was praying at the temple, praying to Brahma to forgive me for my dreadful sins.  She ate it up like a kitten to cream,” Aashka smirked.

    Again, Agavoli’s eyes lit up, as if a candle burned within them.  Agavoli never laughed.  You had to know him well to figure out that this was his method of doing so.

    “What would you do if she found out?  Or your father, if he found out?”

    “I don’t want to think about it.” said Aashka, shaking her head.

    Agavoli’s mother, Mrs. Tanwar, bustled over, with Diya, the baby girl of the family, in her arms.  “Oh hello, Aashka dear, so good to see your face during this terrible famine,” she crooned.

    Diya let out a gurgly laugh, sucking her thumb.

    “Mama!”

    “Yes, Diya, I’m Mama.  Good!” said Mrs. Tanwar with a weary smile.

    Aashka thought back to the day she met Agavoli’s family.  Her mother had died that morning, forehead blazing, whispering to Aashka, “Continue what I started, dear.”  Aashka had begun to weep long and hard, her body convulsing, making more noise than she ever had.  Then she noticed her father, sitting stiffly, not even crying, just shaking his head back and forth, back and forth.

    “You monster!” she had cried. “Don’t you even feel?  Well, don’t you!?!?”

    And she had ran out, ran, ran, ran until she stumbled into Agavoli, at the time a complete stranger, who had been running in the opposite direction, crying.  Aashka could tell he was a Dalit from the way he was dressed, but against all she’d been taught, she did not back away.

    “What’s happened to you?” she asked timidly.

    “What’s happened to you?” Agavoli had countered.

    Then Aashka had found out that Agavoli’s father had just died, the same as her mother.

    “Aashka! Aashka?”

    It was Agavoli.

    “Oh, yes, sorry.” said Aashka, coming back to the present.  “I have brought you some food.”

    “Ooh!” said Agavoli gleefully, “What is it?”

    “Agavoli! Manners!” scolded his mother while Aashka simultaneously pulled out her offering and said, “Aloo Paratha.”

    “Sorry mother,” said Agavoli, but in a sidetone to Aashka, “May I have it?”

    Aashka handed him the flatbread, and with a look of someone who was rather tempted to disobey, handed it to his mother to be evenly divided.

    “Eat up,” said his mother, “I’ve got to go now clean the farm stalls out down the street.”

    An hour later found Aashka running up her mansion’s steps, breathing hard but trying to look pulled together, as if she’d just come back from praying, not giving food to her Dalit friends.

    But when she got in, her father and step-mother were in an uproar.

    “You-you…you!” screamed her step-mother in an unbound fashion miraculously out of character.  (Aashka might have even laughed at it if not for the confusion seeping through her, like a thick fog.)

    “Never!” wheezed her father madly, “Never will I let you out of my sight again!  Terrible…my reputation…no daughter of mine…”  And with that, he collapsed into a chair.

    “What’s going on?!” cried Aashka, alarmed.

    “Oh I think you know what’s going on well enough!” shouted her step-mother hoarsely, “Priest Safal saw you conversing with a Dalit boy, that’s what’s going on!”

    Oh noThey’d seen her with Agavoli.  Everything was ruined.  His family would starve without her help.  Oh no!

    “W-why was Priest Safal over there?”

    “Priest Safal was preaching to a group of dirty Shudras, that’s why!”

    Suddenly, Aashka’s father stood up, and grabbed Aashka by the scruff of her neck.  Aashka saw his strong sturdy hand, flying through the air towards her face, saw her step-mother hastily disguising a look of surprise.

    SLAP. SLAP. SLAP.

    One Week Later

    Priest Safal asked, “More deaths by starvation?”

    “Oh yes, and the latest is a baby girl,” said Aashka’s father, as he rolled his eyes.  Lately, he had been getting preaching jobs with the lower castes, teaching them the paths to Moksha, which he thought to be a grand waste of time with “people like them.”  Aashka was always being dragged along lately, since she had lost her father’s trust.

    “Knowledge – Having a true understanding of all Hindu concepts.  Work – Doing things that are good for your community.  Devotion – Spending your entire life loving Brahma,” she would hear her father say in his deep, leader voice again and again.

    But at the mention of a dead baby girl, her ears pricked up with worry.

    “What’s the baby’s name?” she piped up.

    Her father looked at her warningly.

    “Just some worthless Dalit girl named Diya Tanwar.”

    “Diya Tanwar?  DIWA TANWAR?!!?” Aashka cried, filling with dread.

    Aashka’s father began to turn purple. “I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse us Priest Safal.”

    The man waddled away, and then Aashka’s father looked down at her, murderously.

    “AND DOES SHE MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU!?”

    Aashka hesitated.  Agavoli’s sister was dead.  Agavoli’ sister was dead.

    “Actually,” she said, as a lump rose in her throat.  Don’t cry, she told herself.  Don’t you dare.  “Yes she does! She is-was…my best friend’s sister!”

    Aashka’s father looked simply livid.  Aashka’s hand flew to the bruises on her face.

    “HAVE I NOT TOLD YOU NOT TO MENTION THAT BOY?!” he roared.

    “I-I wish I was a Dalit too!”

    Aashka’s father went silent. She was reminded strongly of a bomb about to explode.

    Aashka looked timidly at her father’s big hands, scared to show her true feelings.

    Gogetoutdon’targuejustGETOUT, she told herself.

    And she turned on her heels and dashed away to Agavoli.

    Six months later

    Aashka walked with Agavoli to an empty field.  No sign on it read “graveyard,” but the two of them knew very well that this was where all Dalits were buried.

    Agavoli scattered some wildflowers over the meadow and the two of them were silent for a minute as they…remembered.

    After Diya died, Aashka’s father had it.  He had sent Aashka out onto the streets with a big basket of food to fend for herself and make sure to not forget ‘Atman,’ the spiritual component of the universe.  Aashka had felt sad at first, which surprised her, but she had known what to do, of course.  She had gone to the Tanwar’s and mourned with them; then they had gotten busy. Traded tears for dried meat to preserve on the walls. Traded sadness for rice. Traded remembrances for cheese that would keep for months. Traded emotions for potatoes.

    And nobody seemed to remember Aashka the Brahmin anymore. Upper castes eyes slid from Agavoli to her, disgusted expressions never changing.  Aashka was fine with that.

    She prayed every day, whispering to Brahma, “Please believe that I am the good person I claim to be.”

    And that was enough for her.

    The post A Dalit and a Brahmin first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Same Procedure as Every Year: The Story of Dinner for One

    Memories are thick of this: the respectful, even reverential German introduction of a comedy sketch; the scratchy string orchestral music that adds a layering of anticipation.  Black-and-white film.  Dining room, white tablecloth, silver chandeliers.  The names Freddy Frinton and May Warden.  An English show broadcast on German public TV networks without subtitles.  Family members, perched, sprawled, slumped, comfortable, lightly sozzled, eyes glued to an 18-minute sketch with only two actors: the attentive butler by the name of James, played by the roguish Frinton; the spinster lady of the birthday moment, Miss Sophie, played by Warden.

    This 90th birthday is characterised by notable absences. After nine decades, mortality has done its bit of gathering.  The venerable lady has been left the sole survivor of a circle of beloved friends.  The bawdy subtext here is that they are all males and must have been a rather naughty crew at that.  She misses them, and longs for their company.

    The task for James seems, at least initially, innocuous. The table, with Miss Sophie at the head, is set for the spectral guests: Admiral von Schneider, Mr Pomeroy, Sir Toby and Mr Winterbottom.  James assumes the role of each of the departed, standing before each empty seat for each course that will be served.  “They are all here, Miss Sophie,” begins James.  But his task is not merely to mimic them and assume their persona with conviction; he is also required to drink their share.  The task is formidable, challenging both sobriety and liver.  A different set of drinks must accompany the servings for the phantom guests: sherry with the mulligatawny soup; white wine with the fish; champagne with the bird; port with the fruit.

    Through the course of the sketch, there are the tireless favourites for the audience.  James trips over the head of a tiger skin rug with stubborn, unfailing regularity.  Drinks are poured and drunk with gusto. Drinks are spilled.  There is slurring.  Before each course, the butler always inquires with increasing desperation: “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?”  The insistent reply follows: “The same procedure as every year, James.”

    Dinner for One, or the 90th Birthday, was recorded in 1963 and found a ceremonial home across Germany’s regional public TV channels.  Scribbled by Lauri Wylie in the 1920s, it had its London premier in 1948, making its way to Broadway in 1953.  Frinton secured the rights in the 1950s.  Both he and May had been performing it as a routine seaside resort gig, very much a music hall staple destined for modest obscurity.  In 1963, German TV presenter Peter Frankenfeld, on a mission of cultural reconnaissance, was in one of those audiences in Blackpool.  He fell in love.  Frinton and May were invited to perform on his program Guten Abend before a live Hamburg audience at the Theater am Besenbinderhof, where it was recorded by NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk).  In 1972, the ritual of showing the program as a New Year’s Eve special was established.

    The date, Dinner for One retains the Guinness World Record for the most repeated program in history.  It has created a commemorative industry in Germany. It spurs drinking competitions and inspires cookery.  It has even inspired productions in various dialects: Hessian and Kölsch.

    In 2017, more than 12 million Germans saw the show.  But it remains unknown, for the most part, to audiences in the US and UK.  Of the Anglophone states, Australia has had a decent, smattering acquaintance. Northern European states in Scandinavia and the Baltic are also familiar.  It took till December 31, 2018 for the production to be shown in Britain.

    Dinner for One has managed to emerge from its subcultural cocoon in music hall entertainment and heavy German consumption.  Netflix took interest in it in 2016, if only to promote its own programs with a parody.  The imaginary guests, on that occasion, were Saul Goodman (Michael Pan in Better Call Saul); Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey in House of Cards), Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura in Nacros) and Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba in Orange in the New Black).

    As with all rituals, viewing Dinner for One comes with its presumptive historical and cultural baggage.  For German audiences, this is a British museum piece with perennial relevance.  There is more than a tang of hierarchy to it.  Frinton and May converse in a setting of nostalgia and the whiff of a departed empire.  Stefanie Bolzen, the UK and Ireland correspondent for Die Welt, was not wrong to wonder if the sketch had re-enforced such assumptions celebrated by the staunchest Brexiteers.  The UK is leaving the European Union, but this little jewel of British slapstick remains the emotional preserve of German audiences, so much so it has become indigenous.

    The post Same Procedure as Every Year: The Story of Dinner for One first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    The Machine Age: is it progress, or is it an anomaly?

    When one questions current trends, especially for those beyond their twenties, it is quite common to be thought of as ‘out of touch’, ‘outdated’, ‘reactionary’ or various other negative descriptions for those who might be resistant to the inevitable process of change.

    Change is perhaps the only constant in known existence, on both a micro or macro scale. Accepting that all things are subject to eventual change is perhaps a valuable life lesson that all of us must confront if we wish to attain any self-knowledge of wisdom. However, not all change is necessary, inevitable or beneficial and change for its own sake is not something we should blindly accept. Blind acceptance of all change as ‘progress’ is foolish to say the least and one must consider the view that just because something is possible it is not necessarily imperative.

    Looking at human history, we can see variations in the pace of human change over millennia, in different societies and in different parts of the world. Most people would agree that it is fair to say that change has been slow up until the Renaissance period. During and after this period, the rate of change in technology and human innovation increased dramatically, as did the effect of humans on the planet.

    This rate of change increased again as we entered the industrial age – with the creation of machines that ran on steam, hydrocarbon fuels and electricity. Coupled with technological progress we see a huge increase in the human population, reaching around 1 billion in 1800 approximately and hitting 2 billion around 1925 and currently at just under 8 billion people.

    Although electricity became practically usable in the 1820s, mostly due to the work of Michael Faraday, it did not become widely usable by vast numbers of people until after World War 2. Even today, there are over 1 billion people in the world without electricity available to them, although developments in ‘Free Energy’ might soon change that. So, apart from the last 70 years, the entirety of human history (except for minor uses in ancient Sumer, Greece etc) has been without electricity, and without any understanding of it, or any desire to avail of it.

    Likewise, the motorised vehicle, gas appliances, street lighting, metalled roads, advanced medicine and most practical sciences are all recent innovations that humans have done without for millennia. For the most part, people would agree that these recent innovations have been a huge benefit to humanity, even though many of them have had a detrimental effect on the wider environment. However, most of the innovations of the last 200 or so years have been fairly gradual in comparison to recent developments.

    Along with faster, but still gradual technological change, there has been huge but gradual social change. The most dramatic change has been the acceptance of women  as the social and intellectual equals of men, although this has taken considerable time and arguably is still incomplete.

    Much of the ‘progress’ we have seen in the 20th century has been of great benefit – such as in medicine, but some of it is rather questionable. Two areas that are most suspect are agriculture and computer technology. Agricultural innovation of the ‘Green Revolution’, which began in the 1950s has yielded as many problems as it has benefits, and is now proving to be catastrophic for bio-diversity, despite the increased productivity in human food generation.

    Computer technology has also yielded somewhat mixed results – innovation and computational ability far beyond that of individual humans is a great benefit, but one must also remember that computers have eliminated entire industries, created alienation, unemployment, addiction and a host of other social ills that we still do not fully appreciate or comprehend.

    Alvin Toffler, in his 1970 book Futureshock predicted much of the problems that have come to pass, due to the vast acceleration in the pace of change. These changes have not just been technological but social in nature, and have stressed the very fabric of human society near to breaking point on occasion. As a result, we now live in an increasingly fragmented world, where human experience and perception is perhaps more diverse than it has ever been.  While diversity in generally a good thing, extremes and myriad deviations can cause loss of continuity, cohesion and the destruction of formerly homogeneous societies.

    What we see now in the world is vast array of experiences – ranging from the non-technological indigenous person, who has no experience of modern lifestyles to the techno-savy, socially aware city/town dweller – ready to embrace a transhumanist future. These two extremes are worlds apart, and most people do not fit in either extreme, falling somewhere between the two, in all or many areas of their life – as humans are not simple beings, we are complex, nuanced and at times contradictorary.

    Along with the vastly accelerated technological changes of the 21st century, we are seeing social changes that, although somewhat slower, mirror the technological shift, perhaps, in part, in an attempt to adapt to the technological norms that are increasingly imposed upon humanity.

    The concept of the Overton Window, developed by the late Joseph Overton, at the end of the last century, has become very popular in sociology, politics and increasingly so in popular culture. The basic idea is that what is acceptable now is different from what was acceptable in the past and that extreme ideas, beyond the bounds of current reasonable public perception will not be accepted. At one time gladiatorial games would have been normal and acceptable to Roman citizens, but in our current time such a thing would be socially and politically anathema.

    While it is clearly a good thing that slavery, oppression of women, widespread violence, racism, etc. are generally no-longer acceptable, I question whether some of the social changes we are now seeing fall into the category of ‘beneficial to humanity’. Where the pace of change accelerates beyond what the human mind can easily adapt to, we end up in unknown territory.

    While change is inevitable and one cannot even hope to prevent the development or evolution of humanity, it is perhaps wise to question the current direction we are taking. Is an over-reliance on technology really a benefit? A simple example would be the electronic calculator, that became fairly common in the 1970s and present in the bags of most western school children by the end of the 1980s. As a result of this small innovation, many people have difficulty in performing simple arithmetic and slightly more advanced arithmetic (such as long division) is pretty much impossible for some. This is only one small example of where mental laziness has crept in, due the replacement of thought with a technological aid, today we see the possibility of a multitude of tasks being undertaken by machines in a ‘labour saving’ exercise. In truth, mental effort and exertion are both necessary and beneficial for humans – without use, both our bodies and brains deteriorate and atrophy.

    In the space of 70 years we have automated and electrified human existence, making many everyday tasks easier, eliminated much of the need for back-breaking work and created new areas of endeavour that were just science-fiction or unthought of before WW2. In the last 20 years the internet has been brought from its humble beginning (the academic JANET) to a world-wide information exchange system. Far beyond its original purpose of information sharing, the Internet  as the ‘Internet Of Things’ has become the ultimate information monitoring, sharing and distribution system. If your home is a ‘smart-home’, technology companies have access to unprecedented information, such as how often your toilets are used and how much milk is in your fridge; not to mention all the data that is collected through phones, tablets, laptops, Alexa etc, smart TV and conventional desktop computers.

    Seemingly the next step is integration of human thought processes with this technology. In the past Human Computer Interaction (HCI) was about screen design and external devices (peripherals) but it has now progressed to the stage of direct interfacing with the body (phones, Fitbit) and even with the human brain (Elon Musk’s Neuralink, for instance).

    It is clear that robotics are to become part of every-day human life in the same way that computerized devices have become omnipresent. The prospect of computerized human enhancements and prosphetic devices is also within reach – the main obstacle to this is not the technology but human resistance to such a major sea-change. We can now choose to change our gender, aided by hormones and surgery. Perhaps in the future we will be able to change our ‘species’ and even become cyborgs – part machine.

    Going back to the Overton Window – much of the films, series, documentaries, journalism, social commentary and ‘woke’ culture seem to be conditioning us through what some call ‘social engineering’ to accept a future of unlimited possibilities, including machine-human integration that is total departure from 99.9% of historical human experience. It may be unacceptable right now, but these concept could become normlized in the very near future.

    Transhumanism is a concept that has been around for a long time, about 100 years or so. Aldous Huxley wrote about it in his 1931 novel Brave New World, although this was a fictional warning, Huxley knew plenty about the Transhumanist philosophy through his brother Julian, who was an eminent supporter of it. Aldous Huxley later discussed his fears for the future at length in a television interview in 1958 (still available via YouTube), which was a rather grim prediction of what has come to pass and may come to pass very soon.

    To some, my concerns about the direction of human progress may seem far-fetched and nonsensical, but considering how far we have come in such a short time, I believe a modicum of caution and restraint would be wise. Once we let the AI genie out of the bottle there is no putting it back in. The benefits of AI as a ‘stand alone’ device are obvious, but we are increasingly looking at integration and networking of AI technologies with human activities and human consciousness. Once we integrate into a network we can never be alone again, we cannot ever have true privacy again, unless we remove ourselves from that network. If permanent physical devices (prosphetics and implants) are used to connect us to each other and increasingly sophisticated computer networks, then that removes the option of disconnnection – effectively there will be no off switch.

    Already it is hard to disappear. Even if we switch off our wifi, our phones and all surveillance-capable electrical devices we can still be monitored by CCTV, electronic purchases and other peoples’ devices. Some might say that ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about’, but that is not the point. Up until recently, humans have had the choice whether or not to share their time, space, energy, words and thoughts with others – in short, privacy was easily obtained. In this current era, one will find it increasingly difficult to find true privacy – perhaps in a forest or a deserted beach, but otherwise privacy is in increasingly short supply.

    One could argue that this current period is simply an anomaly and that technology will continue to be the tool that it always was meant to be. Certainly some people are now desensitized to social media, electronic devices and no longer make them the centre of their existence. I am not advocating for a de-technologized future; what I am saying is that we need to consider that when ‘progress’ ceases to be a choice, then we are in trouble. Innovation is part of human existence, but acceptance and integration of technological innovation has always been optional up until now.

    My fear is that technological obsession will not be an anomaly but become a new integrated future of humanity, in which there is no ‘opt-out’. I do not like the prospect of a world where I cannot choose to use my mind to perform multiplication tasks instead of using my electronic calculator. What AI and network integration between computers and human nural processes offers is the ability for us to stop thinking for ourselves. What is more frightening still is the possibility that AI will preemptively think for us, predictively and far faster than we can make analyses and decisions ourselves. Self-reliance is a key skill to be a successful human and societies that have relied too much on technology, other actors (machines, servants or slaves) have often deteriorated and failed in the long term.

    We are at a pivotal stage in human history – whether we choose to truly embrace the machine and AI, or encourage and develop our own faculties, is key to how the rest of this century may unfold. Indeed, what we choose to do in the next decade or so might change the future direction of humanity as fundamentally as the invention of the wheel.

    The post The Machine Age: is it progress, or is it an anomaly? first appeared on Dissident Voice.