Category Archives: Book Review

Empire’s War under the Radar: Nicaragua

In April of 2018 armed and unarmed proxies of the US in collaboration with Nicaraguan elites launched a war against the Nicaraguan state, its government, its economy and its people. It disrupted transportation and communications throughout the country and sabotaged the economy. This was effected through acts of vandalism, arson, assault, beatings, killings, torture and rape, as well as the construction throughout the country of hundreds of violently enforced roadblocks, and the staging of political demonstrations peppered with violence. Through false and deceptive domestic, international and social media reports and posts, the aggressors in this war managed to enlist a number of Nicaraguans not part of the country’s politically reactionary elite.

The war proper began mid-April and ended mid-July with the removal of the opposition roadblocks. Over 250 people had been killed and many more injured.  More than 250 buildings were burned down or ransacked, with public sector property losses of over $230 million USD. GDP fell nearly 4%, a loss to the economy of nearly 1.5 billion USD, with job losses of up to 300,000. (NB: This review calls the events of 2018 a “war,” though it may also be called a “regime-change operation,” “coup attempt,” and more.)

This 270-page ebook, Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup?, which the editors call a “Reader,” is offered free by the Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ), the leading anti-imperialist solidarity organization in the US. It includes essays, investigative journalism, interviews and first-hand accounts of the war. It is a thoughtful and multifaceted collection covering a highly significant event in modern revolutionary and anti-imperialist history. Contributors are Alex Anfruns, Paul Baker Hernandez, Max Blumenthal, Michael Boudreau, S. Brian Willson, Jorge Capelán, Enrique Hendrix, Katherine Hoyt, Chuck Kaufman, Dan Kovalik, Barbara Larcom, Coleen Littlejohn, Gabriela Luna, Nils McCune, Nan McCurdy, Nora McCurdy, Camilo Mejía, Barbara Frances Moore, John Perry, Louise Richards, Stephen Sefton, Erika Takeo, Helen Yuill and Kevin Zeese.

Live from Nicaragua exposes and refutes the biased and false accounts of the war presented in the corporate and even alternative media, along with Washington-aligned human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Their narrative imagined a peaceful, progressive protest movement crushed by the brutal national police of a dictatorial regime. Even from the broad Left (however defined) this narrative has been disseminated by North American Congress on Latin America, Democratic Socialists of America, Jacobin Magazine, The Nation, The Guardian, and iconic broadcasts like Democracy Now! (262-263) In the Orwellian world we inhabit it is certain this Reader, despite its importance, scope and quality, will never be acknowledged by the corporate media or most alternative media, much less reviewed or discussed there.

In addition to longer essays and articles, Live from Nicaragua includes news briefs.  From these we learn of the launch of the regime-change war, and that some days before the war began, a fire in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve was greeted with contrived protests against alleged government inaction. These protests tried but failed to initiate the war and they fizzled with the fire. We learn the details of the proposed social security reforms by which the government sought to avoid the neoliberal plans of the International Monetary Fund and the powerful Nicaraguan business association, the Superior Council for Private Enterprise. These proposed reforms were misrepresented in opposition media and met with pretextual protests with changing rationales. These were the protests that initiated the war.1

These news briefs report the burning of government offices in Masaya, with the fire spreading through much of the neighborhood; the teachers’ denunciation of the violence and the roadblocks; the kidnapping of a high school teacher in Managua who had marched in the protests; shootings in Carazo and Jinotepe; the burning of the pro-Sandinista radio station “Tu Nueva Radio Ya” in Managua; opposition calls for a coup; Mother’s Day violence which killed 16 and wounded 30 police and Sandinista supporters in Managua, Masaya, Chinandega and Estelí; the arrest of Christian Mendoza, “El Viper,” gang leader who carried out murder, car theft and other crimes, and who had been in charge of the initial April violence at the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua; the burnings in Granada of the municipal building and vendor markets, destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of vendors and small business owners.

Elsewhere are vivid eyewitness accounts of the war, such as this from Maribel Baldizón, a self-employed Managuan fruit-seller and General Secretary of the Federation of Workers at Bus Stops and Traffic Lights (226):

[W]e couldn’t be in our streets; we couldn’t walk freely because we were worrying about those who might rape, kill or steal…I sell here in the sector of the [University of Central America]…they set my stand on fire…they shot mortars where I sell, and they burned down [Tu Nueva Radio Ya, pro-Sandinista radio station] across the street…

She rejected the media’s false narrative, saying of the opposition:

What they did was against the people, it was not a struggle in which the people rose up, no, it was a struggle against the poor.

In “Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua” (115, 179), Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune analyze the regime-change operation, the violence committed by opposition forces, and opposition claims of government use of excessive force. They identify the class character of the conflict, aptly calling it “an upside-down class war.”

In “How Nicaragua Defeated a Right-wing US-backed Coup” (57), Max Blumenthal interviews Nils McCune. This especially compelling interview gives an overview of the war from its inception. Also discussed is the role of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)-funded Felix Maradiaga and his criminal operatives in organizing and committing the violence, as well as the role of nominally Left parties of the opposition: Movement for Sandinista Renovation, and Movement for the Rescue of Sandinismo (both parties known by the acronym MRS). McCune notes that these parties lack popular support and give a perpetually weak showing in elections, always in single digits and nearly always at the low end. “They’re very strong outside the country,” McCune notes, but “very weak within the country. There’s not one MRS member in Tipitapa [McCune’s town] because it’s a very working-class city.”

Previously AFGJ and the British organization, Nicaraguan Solidarity Campaign Action Group (NSCAG), collaborated on Dismissing the Truth, a detailed refutation of two Amnesty International reports on the violence in Nicaragua. The 55-page analysis is excerpted in the Reader (195) and available free at afgj.org. Amnesty International has been a primary purveyor and ostensibly authoritative source of the false narrative embraced by the media, and this debunking by AFGJ and NSCAG makes plain AI’s subservience to the anti-government narrative promoted by the US and Nicaraguan opposition press.

In “The 15 Days of Protests without Deaths” (83), Enrique Hendrix references his own longer study, “Monopolizing Death,” which examined every death occurring during period of the war, from April 19 through September 23, 2018. Hendrix’s work refutes the myth of a popular peaceful opposition protest movement met with brutal police repression.

In “How Washington and Soft Power NGOs Manipulated Nicaragua’s Death Toll to Drive Regime Change and Sanctions,” (191), Max Blumenthal discusses the falsification of the death toll by partisan NGOs in the reporting of the regime-change war and the use of so-called human rights organizations in propagating false and misleading accounts. These organizations include the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, relied upon by the US Congress, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and Human Rights Watch (HRW). Blumenthal also reports the close and unconcealed ties between leading young activists of the Nicaraguan regime-change efforts and the right wing of the US Congress.

With precision and wit, like a defence lawyer delivering a summation to a jury, Chuck Kaufman in “The Case Against Ortega” (138) eviscerates the charge that Ortega is a dictator, as well as the claims of those who assert that they stand to the left of the Sandinistas. Explaining his motivation (and startling this reviewer), Kaufman opens his piece with a collective self-reproach to the US solidarity Left:

[S]ince the [Sandinistas]’ return to power with the 2006 election of Daniel Ortega as president, we haven’t really countered the disinformation campaign against Daniel, his wife, and his government. We mistakenly assumed that the demonstrably improving standard of living, the reduction in poverty, infant and maternal mortality, the lack of Nicaraguans coming north to the US border, the return of economic and political rights stripped from the people during seventeen years of neoliberal US vassal governments [1990 to 2006], would outshine the lies.

John Perry studies the role of “social media, Nicaragua’s corporate media and the international press,” in “Nicaragua’s Crisis: The Struggle for Balanced Media Coverage” (208):

Nominally the protests that began on April 18 were in opposition to a series of quite modest reforms to the social security system. A vigorous disinformation campaign fooled large numbers of students and others into joining the protests by misrepresenting the details of the government’s proposals. But the students leading these protests were soon joined by those with a much wider agenda of attempting to bring down the Ortega government. Rather than arguing about changes in pension arrangements, social media were quickly promoting regime change.

This campaign “included many more fake videos and false reports. Facebook posts reported that public hospitals were refusing to treat injured protestors. Fake videos appeared of ‘injured’ students being treated in universities and at the Catholic Cathedral of Managua.” Social media disseminated “instructions to track down and kill government sympathizers or officials.” On July 12, a caravan of motor vehicles ”attacked both the police station and the town hall.” Four police and a teacher were killed. “Around 200 armed ‘protestors’ kidnapped the remaining police, took them away, beat them up and threatened to kill them.”

Perry remarks the existence of a “consensus narrative” on Nicaragua. International media, including the New York Times, Guardian, New Yorker, BBC, and Huffington Post adhere to the narrative, often comparing Ortega’s government to famous dictatorships of history. And AI, HRW and IACHR repeat the false claims and invented body counts of local Nicaraguan ‘human rights’ organizations that are “aligned with the opposition, are notoriously biased and have often received US funding.”

Chuck Kaufman’s “US Regime-Change Funding Mechanisms,” briefly outlines the alphabet-agencies and fronts responsible for the regime-change operations of 2018. (171) These include the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the AFL-CIO, and others, along with Nicaraguan-based NGOs, some not only funded but created by US regime change organizations. Max Blumenthal’s essay, “US Government Meddling Machine Boasts of ‘Laying the Groundwork for Insurrection’ in Nicaragua” (174) details these US operations and their evolution from covert to overt operations in US foreign policy. It is estimated that the US may have spent hundreds of millions on the efforts that culminated in the regime-change war of 2018 (Willson and McCune, 13).

In pieces by Gabriela Luna (5), Chuck Kaufman (10, 171), Brian Willson and Nils McCune (13), and Dan Kovalik (186, 256), the long arc of the Sandinista Revolution and its accomplishments emerge, from the triumph in ’79, the reversal in 1990, and the return to power in 2007. During the first Sandinista period:

The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated. (Dan Kovalik)

Then in 1990 came the electoral defeat of the Sandinista Revolution, but as Noam Chomsky noted at the time, “the Nicaraguan people were voting ‘with a gun to their heads,’” understanding that if they did not vote out the Sandinistas the US would continue the dirty war. Counter-revolutionary government followed, during which the gains of the Revolution were reversed: in public health care, education, land redistribution, and much more. (Willson and McCune)

With the return of the Sandinistas in 2007, the Revolution began its second phase, with enormous and rapid progress in poverty alleviation, food sovereignty, gender equality and much more. (Kovalik) For example, the “absolute number of undernourished people in the country has been reduced by half, access to free education and health care has been guaranteed to rural communities, maternal mortality has been reduced by 60% and infant mortality by 52%, while access to electricity has been increased from 54% to 96% of the rural population.” (Gabriela Luna)

One of the accomplishments least known in North America are Nicaragua’s achievements in gender equity (Kovalik, 258-259): “[I]n 2018 Nicaragua was ranked number 5 in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum (WEF).” Only Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland were ranked higher. A 50-50 law mandates gender equality in party candidate lists for elections. All this, Kovalik remarks, “is at great variance with the derisive claims of many in the US left and the human rights community that Nicaragua is being led by a sexist ‘caudillo’ in the person of Daniel Ortega, but few will acknowledge this glaring contradiction.”

The Reader includes essays on Nicaragua that cover much more than the events of 2018. Nils McCune writes of the unique Nicaraguan “popular economy” (221), which he aptly calls “Nicaragua’s Anti-Shock Therapy,” referring to Naomi Klein’s work on neoliberal opportunism, The Shock Doctrine.

While the formal private sector — represented politically through the Supreme Counsel of Private Companies — employs about 15% of Nicaragua workers the informal, popular sector employs upwards of 60%…The capitalist creates employment in order to maximize accumulation; the self-employed worker, family business or cooperative uses accumulation as a tool in order to provide employment.

And it is the popular economy that provides much of Nicaragua’s food, clothing and housing.

In “A Creative, Enterprising and Victorious Economy to Defeat the Coup” (232), Jorge Capelán has written an expert, statistic-rich, but extremely readable analysis of the Nicaraguan economy as a whole, its development over the last forty years throughout the first and second periods of Sandinismo, as well as during the interim neoliberal period of 1990 through 2006. Capelán explains why such an economy was able to maintain stability and provide for the needs of the people both during and after the war. This success owes much to strategic government policy and regional alliances with Venezuela and Cuba  (e.g., Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America: Peoples’ Trade Treaty [ALBA] and PetroCaribe).

This very economic success, as Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune explain (“Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua,” referenced above), answers the question of why the modern Nicaraguan state became the target of empire: because the country’s popular social, economic and political achievements, and its open rejection of imperialism, present the classic “threat of a good example” that might inspire other countries of the global south to break free of the imperialist choke-hold. It is also because of Nicaragua’s alliances with Cuba, Venezuela and the Palestinian struggle, its support for Puerto Rican independence, its membership in ALBA, and its alliances with China for a canal project and with Russia for security cooperation. (122)

Taking opposition critics of the government at their word, Kathy Hoyt (143) writes that for some, including those trained by NGOs funded by the US and the EU, “material improvements are not enough for them or they are not particularly interested in them.” Instead, they have particular complaints about the political system, the nature of Nicaragua’s political parties, elections, the person of Daniel Ortega, etc. But for supporters of the government, both in Nicaragua and abroad, the remarkable improvement in the lives of the poor of Nicaragua matter, and as Hoyt notes, quoting Orlando Nuñez Soto speaking of Cuba, “we are seduced by the fact that the children eat and go to school.”

In “The Catholic Church Hierarchy and Its Role in the Current Political Crisis in Nicaragua” (243), Colleen Littlejohn writes of ideological or theological differences within the Catholic Church, and the Church hierarchy’s participation in the war, both as instigator and organizer of the violence, and as a duplicitous negotiator and mediator. While the hierarchy formed part of the opposition, other Church elements resisted the betrayal of revolutionary Liberation Theology, which still has deep roots in Nicaragua’s Catholic laity and some clergy.

In “US Imperialism and Nicaragua: ‘They would not let our flower blossom’,” (13) Brian Willson and Nils McCune have written a gripping introduction to the century-and-a-half history of the US attempt to control Nicaraguan “resources, infrastructure and a potential interoceanic canal route.” One learns that the US has used every technique in its campaign against Nicaraguan sovereignty: direct and mercenary war, military occupation, assassination of political leaders, financing of opposition political and media organs, use of international institutions to exert pressure, coup attempts, sanctions on trade and credit, and manipulation of US credit rating corporations to misrepresent Nicaragua’s financial stability. Even the world’s first use of planes to drop bombs was done by the US, on Nicaragua.

In the 1930s General Augusto César Sandino led a guerilla war against US occupation. He was assassinated in 1934 by Anastasio Somoza García, who also massacred Sandino’s troops. Backed by the US, the Somoza family then ruled the country from ’34 to ’79. Although the Sandinista Revolution was victorious in 1979, the US seamlessly continued the counter-revolutionary efforts that preceded the revolution, beginning the Contra War. President Jimmy Carter, after briefly wavering just before the Sandinista triumph, initiated the effort that was next taken up with such brutality and sadism by the Reagan administration. Ancillary techniques of this war of murder, torture and rape of civilians, and the destruction of hospitals, clinics and schools, included US funding, via the CIA and the NED, of a reactionary pro-Contra press, economic and election sabotage, radio propaganda broadcast from neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica, and manipulation and recruitment of Nicaragua’s indigenous Miskito population on the Atlantic Coast. The Iran-Contra Affair, a US national scandal, helped the administration fund the Contra without telling the public or Congress. This is the period when the CIA’s covert funding of opposition parties for regime-change efforts in many places in the world began to be done overtly by the NED, which loomed large in the 2018 war.

But victories are rarely final. With the recent passage of the NICA Act (unanimous in both Congress and Senate), the US has announced that its war on Nicaragua is far from over. This unlawful siege-by-sanctions and the international campaign of demonization against the country continues, immiserating the lives of the poor and vulnerable in particular, just like the illegal, unilateral sanctions the US wields against dozens of countries, including Venezuela, Cuba and Syria. Live from Nicaragua should arm the solidarity Left in its resistance to the cruel and reactionary methods and aims of the empire.

  1. “The Events of 2018 and Their Context,” Nan McCurdy and Stephen Sefton, 76ff.

Empire’s War under the Radar: Nicaragua

In April of 2018 armed and unarmed proxies of the US in collaboration with Nicaraguan elites launched a war against the Nicaraguan state, its government, its economy and its people. It disrupted transportation and communications throughout the country and sabotaged the economy. This was effected through acts of vandalism, arson, assault, beatings, killings, torture and rape, as well as the construction throughout the country of hundreds of violently enforced roadblocks, and the staging of political demonstrations peppered with violence. Through false and deceptive domestic, international and social media reports and posts, the aggressors in this war managed to enlist a number of Nicaraguans not part of the country’s politically reactionary elite.

The war proper began mid-April and ended mid-July with the removal of the opposition roadblocks. Over 250 people had been killed and many more injured.  More than 250 buildings were burned down or ransacked, with public sector property losses of over $230 million USD. GDP fell nearly 4%, a loss to the economy of nearly 1.5 billion USD, with job losses of up to 300,000. (NB: This review calls the events of 2018 a “war,” though it may also be called a “regime-change operation,” “coup attempt,” and more.)

This 270-page ebook, Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup?, which the editors call a “Reader,” is offered free by the Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ), the leading anti-imperialist solidarity organization in the US. It includes essays, investigative journalism, interviews and first-hand accounts of the war. It is a thoughtful and multifaceted collection covering a highly significant event in modern revolutionary and anti-imperialist history. Contributors are Alex Anfruns, Paul Baker Hernandez, Max Blumenthal, Michael Boudreau, S. Brian Willson, Jorge Capelán, Enrique Hendrix, Katherine Hoyt, Chuck Kaufman, Dan Kovalik, Barbara Larcom, Coleen Littlejohn, Gabriela Luna, Nils McCune, Nan McCurdy, Nora McCurdy, Camilo Mejía, Barbara Frances Moore, John Perry, Louise Richards, Stephen Sefton, Erika Takeo, Helen Yuill and Kevin Zeese.

Live from Nicaragua exposes and refutes the biased and false accounts of the war presented in the corporate and even alternative media, along with Washington-aligned human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Their narrative imagined a peaceful, progressive protest movement crushed by the brutal national police of a dictatorial regime. Even from the broad Left (however defined) this narrative has been disseminated by North American Congress on Latin America, Democratic Socialists of America, Jacobin Magazine, The Nation, The Guardian, and iconic broadcasts like Democracy Now! (262-263) In the Orwellian world we inhabit it is certain this Reader, despite its importance, scope and quality, will never be acknowledged by the corporate media or most alternative media, much less reviewed or discussed there.

In addition to longer essays and articles, Live from Nicaragua includes news briefs.  From these we learn of the launch of the regime-change war, and that some days before the war began, a fire in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve was greeted with contrived protests against alleged government inaction. These protests tried but failed to initiate the war and they fizzled with the fire. We learn the details of the proposed social security reforms by which the government sought to avoid the neoliberal plans of the International Monetary Fund and the powerful Nicaraguan business association, the Superior Council for Private Enterprise. These proposed reforms were misrepresented in opposition media and met with pretextual protests with changing rationales. These were the protests that initiated the war.1

These news briefs report the burning of government offices in Masaya, with the fire spreading through much of the neighborhood; the teachers’ denunciation of the violence and the roadblocks; the kidnapping of a high school teacher in Managua who had marched in the protests; shootings in Carazo and Jinotepe; the burning of the pro-Sandinista radio station “Tu Nueva Radio Ya” in Managua; opposition calls for a coup; Mother’s Day violence which killed 16 and wounded 30 police and Sandinista supporters in Managua, Masaya, Chinandega and Estelí; the arrest of Christian Mendoza, “El Viper,” gang leader who carried out murder, car theft and other crimes, and who had been in charge of the initial April violence at the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua; the burnings in Granada of the municipal building and vendor markets, destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of vendors and small business owners.

Elsewhere are vivid eyewitness accounts of the war, such as this from Maribel Baldizón, a self-employed Managuan fruit-seller and General Secretary of the Federation of Workers at Bus Stops and Traffic Lights (226):

[W]e couldn’t be in our streets; we couldn’t walk freely because we were worrying about those who might rape, kill or steal…I sell here in the sector of the [University of Central America]…they set my stand on fire…they shot mortars where I sell, and they burned down [Tu Nueva Radio Ya, pro-Sandinista radio station] across the street…

She rejected the media’s false narrative, saying of the opposition:

What they did was against the people, it was not a struggle in which the people rose up, no, it was a struggle against the poor.

In “Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua” (115, 179), Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune analyze the regime-change operation, the violence committed by opposition forces, and opposition claims of government use of excessive force. They identify the class character of the conflict, aptly calling it “an upside-down class war.”

In “How Nicaragua Defeated a Right-wing US-backed Coup” (57), Max Blumenthal interviews Nils McCune. This especially compelling interview gives an overview of the war from its inception. Also discussed is the role of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)-funded Felix Maradiaga and his criminal operatives in organizing and committing the violence, as well as the role of nominally Left parties of the opposition: Movement for Sandinista Renovation, and Movement for the Rescue of Sandinismo (both parties known by the acronym MRS). McCune notes that these parties lack popular support and give a perpetually weak showing in elections, always in single digits and nearly always at the low end. “They’re very strong outside the country,” McCune notes, but “very weak within the country. There’s not one MRS member in Tipitapa [McCune’s town] because it’s a very working-class city.”

Previously AFGJ and the British organization, Nicaraguan Solidarity Campaign Action Group (NSCAG), collaborated on Dismissing the Truth, a detailed refutation of two Amnesty International reports on the violence in Nicaragua. The 55-page analysis is excerpted in the Reader (195) and available free at afgj.org. Amnesty International has been a primary purveyor and ostensibly authoritative source of the false narrative embraced by the media, and this debunking by AFGJ and NSCAG makes plain AI’s subservience to the anti-government narrative promoted by the US and Nicaraguan opposition press.

In “The 15 Days of Protests without Deaths” (83), Enrique Hendrix references his own longer study, “Monopolizing Death,” which examined every death occurring during period of the war, from April 19 through September 23, 2018. Hendrix’s work refutes the myth of a popular peaceful opposition protest movement met with brutal police repression.

In “How Washington and Soft Power NGOs Manipulated Nicaragua’s Death Toll to Drive Regime Change and Sanctions,” (191), Max Blumenthal discusses the falsification of the death toll by partisan NGOs in the reporting of the regime-change war and the use of so-called human rights organizations in propagating false and misleading accounts. These organizations include the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, relied upon by the US Congress, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and Human Rights Watch (HRW). Blumenthal also reports the close and unconcealed ties between leading young activists of the Nicaraguan regime-change efforts and the right wing of the US Congress.

With precision and wit, like a defence lawyer delivering a summation to a jury, Chuck Kaufman in “The Case Against Ortega” (138) eviscerates the charge that Ortega is a dictator, as well as the claims of those who assert that they stand to the left of the Sandinistas. Explaining his motivation (and startling this reviewer), Kaufman opens his piece with a collective self-reproach to the US solidarity Left:

[S]ince the [Sandinistas]’ return to power with the 2006 election of Daniel Ortega as president, we haven’t really countered the disinformation campaign against Daniel, his wife, and his government. We mistakenly assumed that the demonstrably improving standard of living, the reduction in poverty, infant and maternal mortality, the lack of Nicaraguans coming north to the US border, the return of economic and political rights stripped from the people during seventeen years of neoliberal US vassal governments [1990 to 2006], would outshine the lies.

John Perry studies the role of “social media, Nicaragua’s corporate media and the international press,” in “Nicaragua’s Crisis: The Struggle for Balanced Media Coverage” (208):

Nominally the protests that began on April 18 were in opposition to a series of quite modest reforms to the social security system. A vigorous disinformation campaign fooled large numbers of students and others into joining the protests by misrepresenting the details of the government’s proposals. But the students leading these protests were soon joined by those with a much wider agenda of attempting to bring down the Ortega government. Rather than arguing about changes in pension arrangements, social media were quickly promoting regime change.

This campaign “included many more fake videos and false reports. Facebook posts reported that public hospitals were refusing to treat injured protestors. Fake videos appeared of ‘injured’ students being treated in universities and at the Catholic Cathedral of Managua.” Social media disseminated “instructions to track down and kill government sympathizers or officials.” On July 12, a caravan of motor vehicles ”attacked both the police station and the town hall.” Four police and a teacher were killed. “Around 200 armed ‘protestors’ kidnapped the remaining police, took them away, beat them up and threatened to kill them.”

Perry remarks the existence of a “consensus narrative” on Nicaragua. International media, including the New York Times, Guardian, New Yorker, BBC, and Huffington Post adhere to the narrative, often comparing Ortega’s government to famous dictatorships of history. And AI, HRW and IACHR repeat the false claims and invented body counts of local Nicaraguan ‘human rights’ organizations that are “aligned with the opposition, are notoriously biased and have often received US funding.”

Chuck Kaufman’s “US Regime-Change Funding Mechanisms,” briefly outlines the alphabet-agencies and fronts responsible for the regime-change operations of 2018. (171) These include the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the AFL-CIO, and others, along with Nicaraguan-based NGOs, some not only funded but created by US regime change organizations. Max Blumenthal’s essay, “US Government Meddling Machine Boasts of ‘Laying the Groundwork for Insurrection’ in Nicaragua” (174) details these US operations and their evolution from covert to overt operations in US foreign policy. It is estimated that the US may have spent hundreds of millions on the efforts that culminated in the regime-change war of 2018 (Willson and McCune, 13).

In pieces by Gabriela Luna (5), Chuck Kaufman (10, 171), Brian Willson and Nils McCune (13), and Dan Kovalik (186, 256), the long arc of the Sandinista Revolution and its accomplishments emerge, from the triumph in ’79, the reversal in 1990, and the return to power in 2007. During the first Sandinista period:

The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated. (Dan Kovalik)

Then in 1990 came the electoral defeat of the Sandinista Revolution, but as Noam Chomsky noted at the time, “the Nicaraguan people were voting ‘with a gun to their heads,’” understanding that if they did not vote out the Sandinistas the US would continue the dirty war. Counter-revolutionary government followed, during which the gains of the Revolution were reversed: in public health care, education, land redistribution, and much more. (Willson and McCune)

With the return of the Sandinistas in 2007, the Revolution began its second phase, with enormous and rapid progress in poverty alleviation, food sovereignty, gender equality and much more. (Kovalik) For example, the “absolute number of undernourished people in the country has been reduced by half, access to free education and health care has been guaranteed to rural communities, maternal mortality has been reduced by 60% and infant mortality by 52%, while access to electricity has been increased from 54% to 96% of the rural population.” (Gabriela Luna)

One of the accomplishments least known in North America are Nicaragua’s achievements in gender equity (Kovalik, 258-259): “[I]n 2018 Nicaragua was ranked number 5 in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum (WEF).” Only Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland were ranked higher. A 50-50 law mandates gender equality in party candidate lists for elections. All this, Kovalik remarks, “is at great variance with the derisive claims of many in the US left and the human rights community that Nicaragua is being led by a sexist ‘caudillo’ in the person of Daniel Ortega, but few will acknowledge this glaring contradiction.”

The Reader includes essays on Nicaragua that cover much more than the events of 2018. Nils McCune writes of the unique Nicaraguan “popular economy” (221), which he aptly calls “Nicaragua’s Anti-Shock Therapy,” referring to Naomi Klein’s work on neoliberal opportunism, The Shock Doctrine.

While the formal private sector — represented politically through the Supreme Counsel of Private Companies — employs about 15% of Nicaragua workers the informal, popular sector employs upwards of 60%…The capitalist creates employment in order to maximize accumulation; the self-employed worker, family business or cooperative uses accumulation as a tool in order to provide employment.

And it is the popular economy that provides much of Nicaragua’s food, clothing and housing.

In “A Creative, Enterprising and Victorious Economy to Defeat the Coup” (232), Jorge Capelán has written an expert, statistic-rich, but extremely readable analysis of the Nicaraguan economy as a whole, its development over the last forty years throughout the first and second periods of Sandinismo, as well as during the interim neoliberal period of 1990 through 2006. Capelán explains why such an economy was able to maintain stability and provide for the needs of the people both during and after the war. This success owes much to strategic government policy and regional alliances with Venezuela and Cuba  (e.g., Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America: Peoples’ Trade Treaty [ALBA] and PetroCaribe).

This very economic success, as Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune explain (“Correcting the Record: What is Really Happening in Nicaragua,” referenced above), answers the question of why the modern Nicaraguan state became the target of empire: because the country’s popular social, economic and political achievements, and its open rejection of imperialism, present the classic “threat of a good example” that might inspire other countries of the global south to break free of the imperialist choke-hold. It is also because of Nicaragua’s alliances with Cuba, Venezuela and the Palestinian struggle, its support for Puerto Rican independence, its membership in ALBA, and its alliances with China for a canal project and with Russia for security cooperation. (122)

Taking opposition critics of the government at their word, Kathy Hoyt (143) writes that for some, including those trained by NGOs funded by the US and the EU, “material improvements are not enough for them or they are not particularly interested in them.” Instead, they have particular complaints about the political system, the nature of Nicaragua’s political parties, elections, the person of Daniel Ortega, etc. But for supporters of the government, both in Nicaragua and abroad, the remarkable improvement in the lives of the poor of Nicaragua matter, and as Hoyt notes, quoting Orlando Nuñez Soto speaking of Cuba, “we are seduced by the fact that the children eat and go to school.”

In “The Catholic Church Hierarchy and Its Role in the Current Political Crisis in Nicaragua” (243), Colleen Littlejohn writes of ideological or theological differences within the Catholic Church, and the Church hierarchy’s participation in the war, both as instigator and organizer of the violence, and as a duplicitous negotiator and mediator. While the hierarchy formed part of the opposition, other Church elements resisted the betrayal of revolutionary Liberation Theology, which still has deep roots in Nicaragua’s Catholic laity and some clergy.

In “US Imperialism and Nicaragua: ‘They would not let our flower blossom’,” (13) Brian Willson and Nils McCune have written a gripping introduction to the century-and-a-half history of the US attempt to control Nicaraguan “resources, infrastructure and a potential interoceanic canal route.” One learns that the US has used every technique in its campaign against Nicaraguan sovereignty: direct and mercenary war, military occupation, assassination of political leaders, financing of opposition political and media organs, use of international institutions to exert pressure, coup attempts, sanctions on trade and credit, and manipulation of US credit rating corporations to misrepresent Nicaragua’s financial stability. Even the world’s first use of planes to drop bombs was done by the US, on Nicaragua.

In the 1930s General Augusto César Sandino led a guerilla war against US occupation. He was assassinated in 1934 by Anastasio Somoza García, who also massacred Sandino’s troops. Backed by the US, the Somoza family then ruled the country from ’34 to ’79. Although the Sandinista Revolution was victorious in 1979, the US seamlessly continued the counter-revolutionary efforts that preceded the revolution, beginning the Contra War. President Jimmy Carter, after briefly wavering just before the Sandinista triumph, initiated the effort that was next taken up with such brutality and sadism by the Reagan administration. Ancillary techniques of this war of murder, torture and rape of civilians, and the destruction of hospitals, clinics and schools, included US funding, via the CIA and the NED, of a reactionary pro-Contra press, economic and election sabotage, radio propaganda broadcast from neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica, and manipulation and recruitment of Nicaragua’s indigenous Miskito population on the Atlantic Coast. The Iran-Contra Affair, a US national scandal, helped the administration fund the Contra without telling the public or Congress. This is the period when the CIA’s covert funding of opposition parties for regime-change efforts in many places in the world began to be done overtly by the NED, which loomed large in the 2018 war.

But victories are rarely final. With the recent passage of the NICA Act (unanimous in both Congress and Senate), the US has announced that its war on Nicaragua is far from over. This unlawful siege-by-sanctions and the international campaign of demonization against the country continues, immiserating the lives of the poor and vulnerable in particular, just like the illegal, unilateral sanctions the US wields against dozens of countries, including Venezuela, Cuba and Syria. Live from Nicaragua should arm the solidarity Left in its resistance to the cruel and reactionary methods and aims of the empire.

  1. “The Events of 2018 and Their Context,” Nan McCurdy and Stephen Sefton, 76ff.

The Flawed Food Dependency

The most destructive object on the planet… is the human jawbone.1

Whether by sight, taste, touch, feel, or smell, it’s only too obvious that “food” affects every aspect of life and is key to crucial life-supporting ecosystems. Day-in, day-out, every living thing needs food.

Perchance, ecosystems cease to function, the human jawbone would plop open, and remain plopped open, gaping and, over time, morph into a zombie-like end game of people preying upon people.

All of which serves as a prelude to Julian Cribb’s brilliance as an established and celebrated science writer, recipient of 32 journalism awards, and author of ten books, with a new “first-rate” book, now available via pre-order: Food or War.

It is an important book:

The world faces the greatest threat to global food supply in all of human history… There has never been a situation faced by the entire human population at one time to compare with today’s.2

Cribb takes readers on a wild ride through human history with jolts along the way: “Most people who die in wars perish from hunger.”

Food or War is not only a page-turner with Cribb’s clear, precise prose, but as an added bonus, it’s jam-packed, like a textbook, with significant facts and statistics about the biosphere. It belongs in the hands of people who deeply care about the deteriorating condition of our poisoned planet. Incidentally, based upon very compelling evidence, yes, it is poisoned.

Not surprisingly, food is the primary dynamic behind human conflict, “Since the dawn of civilization – and not merely its lack. Also its abundance.” The great civilizations arose in fertile river valleys like the Nile where water and food were plentiful. (pps 4-5)

But… “Time and again, the fertile regions of the world have spewed out great armies, bent on conquest, plunder and often, on the acquisition of fresh lands in which their people can flourish. But first they must displace or absorb the conquered.”(pps 4-5)

Nevertheless, of more immediate concern, Cribb poses a question that silently haunts our (collectively) reckless unenlightened naïve Age of Anthropocene: “Is Agriculture Sustainable?”

It’s the single biggest question of the century and requires careful study. Cribb’s explanation elicits pause:

The basics of the global food system, which today feeds seven to eight billion people, were developed by the ancient Romans. Their model of mono-crop, broadacre export agriculture has been taken up worldwide.3

Continuing… Food is the product of an “Iron Age system” yet super-charged and propped up by the addition of recent high-intensity technologies, chiefly chemistry, fossil fuels, and biotechnology. And, knowing there are devils lurking in the details, fatal flaws are exposed, by the bucketful, especially in light of an already crippled, hobbling biosphere, as Cribb’s says: “The overheated, over-populated, over-exploited planet.”

Unquestionably, the Iron Age system is increasingly looking shaky, especially in the face of not only an over-populated biosphere, but that same biosphere is undergoing earth-shattering changes that scare people and force eco migrants to flee across assorted landscapes; e.g., erratic climate behavior, loss of precious soil, water scarcity, and chemical pollution, as well as the onset of collapsing ecosystems for the first time in human history as, for example, the loss of 75% of flying insects from Germany’s skies. What’s responsible for killing flying insects, en masse, in over 60 “protected” nature reserves?

Recently, a key study, EAT-Lancet Commission/2019, issued a “highly authoritative warning” to the world at large: Even though food systems can potentially nurture health and also support environmental sustainability, “they are currently threatening both.”

That’s a mouth-dropping warning that’s difficult to fathom, especially with knowledge that the flawed food system is not properly analyzed for public consumption in the first instance. Food or War corrects that egregious failure to “level with the public,” and it does so in wonderful style, even when dealing with thorny issues.

The modern food system is broken and needs fixing. It endangers human health and destroys ecosystems. As such, agricultural experts claim “business as usual” for farming is no longer a viable option. Rather, it must, must, must change: “We must take a more ecological approach.”4

Along those lines, Cribb quotes Dr. Jane Goodall, the world-famous anthropologist:

Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?5

Unbelievably, more than 2,000 and 4,000 different chemicals and pesticides are used in farming, and more than 2,500 chemicals are intentionally added to foods to modify flavor, color, stability, texture, and costs. Many, if not most, of these chemicals over the decades have not been properly analyzed for toxicity to humans.

In the final analysis, modern industrial chemical farming cheats Mother Nature. But, she’s almost gone anyway!

As a result, the scientific literature is crammed full (thousands) of telling studies, “with mounting evidence,” that chemicals are implicated in a global pandemic of (1) cancers, (2) brain damage, (3) sexual dysfunction, (4) allergies, (5) hormonal and developmental disorders on a level of which humanity has never experienced.

Little wonder that human health care costs skyrocket. Given enough time, the costs volcanically erupt based upon years and years of pent-up accumulation of chemicals lodged in human tissue, finally becoming one more statistic of our peculiar modern-day human tragedies, crippling illnesses and over-populated care centers.

Most American families have at least one family member confined to a care center or under 24/7 home care.

Additionally, nearly every American family has someone with cancer and/or sexual dysfunction, as both ailments stand out, if only because billions upon billions are spent annually on each ailment; in fact, record amounts of money spent for bizarre treatments and powerful drugs to live long enough for adolescent intimacy, all over again.

Meanwhile, male sperm count (fertility) throughout much of the developed world has fallen off a cliff, in free-fall, down by as much as 60%, which may be a blessing in disguise. But that’s another subject for another time. Still, why the steep falloff, which is accelerating, by the decade?

Ipso facto, the unthinkable could happen (but, on second thought, not so unthinkable) as chemically-induced men run out of ammunition, no more fire power.

The Earth is now subject to a universal chemical bombardment, a macro-scale version of the destruction of the forests and rice paddies of Vietnam in the US ‘Agent Orange’ campaign of the 1970s. The job of most farm chemicals is to kill something — whether it is an insect or a plant — and their dispersal through the global environment ensures that many non-target species, including people, birds, frogs, honeybees, and soil micro-organisms, are killed, injured or have their reproductive neurological and developmental systems damaged.6

Today’s version of industrial farming with its monocroping produces vast fields of green for as far as the eye can see in perfectly aligned slick rows embedded in “sick soils” where microbial activity is so low that nutritional value is negligible, lacking minerals, vitamins, proteins, and, worse yet, with low antioxidant qualities because there are not enough microbes in the soil to release them.

That’s the antithesis of how humans, over the centuries, evolved as strong and powerful creatures, eventually growing into a force more powerful than the biosphere itself, forever thereafter dominate as the infamous “human footprint.”

While not solely responsible, the modern industrial food system is, nonetheless, a major contributor to a universal web of toxicity… that hardly existed three generations ago and previously, did not exist at all for the entirety of human history… Farm chemicals… have become a significant threat to life on the planet.7

It’s the greatest paradox of all time.

Postscript:

If the pathway to war, government failure, or the collapse of a civilization can be thought of as a series of dominoes, collapsing one upon another, the fall of the food domino and the climate domino lie very early in the sequence and have irresistible impact and consequences.

— Julian Cribb

  1. Julian Cribb, Food or War, Cambridge University Press, 2019) p. 177.
  2. p. 62.
  3. p. 86.
  4. p. 88.
  5. p. 93.
  6. p. 100.
  7. p. 99.

Assembling the Multitude

Few modern political-economic works have the objective reach and power as Assembly by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri — the recent coda to their original magnum opus trilogy (Empire – Multitude – Commonwealth) from the millennium’s first decade.  Perhaps even fewer have the quality that a single sentence — the book’s final, at that — summarizes so succinctly and incisively the essence of its ca. 300 pages: “We have not yet seen what is possible when the multitude assembles”.

The book must be carefully read for proper understanding, but for starters here, suffice it to say that the sentence reaffirms one of the main foci the authors have developed over the years; i.e.,  the concept of the multitude, a version of the proverbial “99%” that decisively moves away from some fade-to-gray melting pot of faceless clones (“the masses”) to a loose coalition of varied constituencies firmly united in opposition to the rule of global capital and private property. Next, the statement squarely hints at the potential of this force – elaborated in much detail throughout the text. Finally – and somewhat ominously – its negative form implicitly testifies to the real difficulties on the road to realizing this potential.

Certainly, Negri and Hardt are rather clear throughout Assembly on many such difficulties, but firmly stand behind the multitude’s ultimate (and practical) transformative potential. This is not a trivial point – indeed, in one segment the authors explicitly differentiate themselves from (otherwise much praised) fellow Marxist Wolfgang Streeck, who presents a far bleaker view of contemporary resistance forces in the opening summary of his recent essay collection How Does Capitalism End? – suggesting this is not just a “glass half empty/full” relativity. Perhaps it is not a fateful and clear dichotomy either – after all, the authors’ evidence for the potential is indeed compelling –  but still, given the “devil in the details”: Are there real signs that the multitude has a fighting chance of making a lasting change for the better?

In the book, Negri and Hardt early on state: “There are two primary roads by which the poor themselves can respond to this contemporary neoliberal condition”. Taking into their cross-hairs various right-wing populisms, they see the wrong one basically involving attempts to “construct, defend or restore the identity of the people”; the other “refuses the siren calls of identity and instead constructs […] secure forms of life grounded in the common.”  Similar clear distinctions between Left and Right populisms are echoed even in staunch criticisms of globalizing neoliberalism outside the Marxist tradition (cf.  Stiglitz’s separation in Globalization and it Discontents, Revisited). Nonetheless, some evidence suggests matters might be a bit more nuanced.

Objectively, the further we move from the globally dominant nation-states toward subordinate ones (and excluding egregious right-extremist bigotry), it often becomes increasingly difficult to separate nationalist demagoguery from legitimate national identity mobilizations, in line with known anti-imperialist and anti-colonial traditions. Take this example: the Greek island of Lesvos (i.e., its native inhabitants and local government) was widely praised during the height of the Middle East migrant/refugee crisis – which was crested in 2015, but spans much longer and to date – for the compassionate and effective response in the front line of this disaster, despite virtual abandonment by national and supranational governing bodies; indeed, even an apparent Nobel Peace Prize nomination ensued.

However, years of continued neglect and impotence by said bodies, straining limited resources at the periphery of an already impoverished EU pariah, unfortunately changed that tune of compassion in tangible ways; and this tale of gradual shift from virtue to  “xenophobia” and “anti-immigrant sentiments” can certainly find echoes elsewhere along the circuitous routes of migrant flow to the coveted global “Northwest”.  This highlights another key point: finding diverse allies in what might be shaping into a directed protest against “the Man”.  Occupy, Standing Rock, Yellow Vests, etc. is one thing, but doing that in the seemingly zero-sum games constantly framed by Empire is considerably harder. Returning to Greece for a moment – the just completed results of the national parliamentary elections only further confirms this: the deep general disillusionment with the once promising SYRIZA (= “radical leftist coalition”!) government is really much less testimony to the (undeniable) poor choices they made at some key junctures, as to the power that Empire still wields over limiting options of the dissenters.

Indeed, Empire’s standard “divide-and-conquer” play remains one of its workhorses against the Multitude and its ability to effectively assemble right here in the developed world as well (US above all). Much of this comes from specific events – keenly analyzed by Naomi Klein some time ago in her Shock Doctrine – that are capable of setting back promising agendas in unforeseen but decisive ways.  It is well established by now that the serious anti-globalist (and anti-capitalist) momentum from the turn of the century was effectively destroyed by the 9/11 shock and aftermath. (Not the movement – but the momentum!)

More recently, the real story of the 2016 US presidential election  – the blatant interference by major party structures to sideline the candidate with a potentially dangerous, progressive-sounding agenda – (and above all any real content of that agenda) somehow morphed into a completely different Cold-War-like narrative of some “foreign interference”, which persists with an uncomfortably large segment of what should nominally be the American “99%”.  Luckily, that candidate (Sanders) and his basic message did survive into the opening rounds of the currently crowded, early Democratic Party field of 2020 contenders. Yet, during their recent debates (despite some creative variety on the soft targets of the administration’s many obvious trespasses), the dearth of ideas on, say, the crucial question of identifying “the one country to reset US relations with first” – with a couple of reasonable suggestions far outshadowed by the trite and nonsensical “NATO allies” – is as symptomatic as it is disturbing.

Although it is hard to gauge the complex US scene, much of this divisiveness seems reinforced from the agendas set by various elements of the putative Multitude coalition, and much too often playing right into the hands of the ruling system. Negri and Hardt  are clear on this point in Assembly as well: “movements must be nonidentitarian” (p. 57).  But leveraging identity politics is another favorite play of capital, and these challenges have been the subject of some very eloquent recent analyses right here on Dissident Voice, like those by David Penner, and Chris Wright.

To summarize: the quoted ominous closing sentence of Hardt and Negri’s seminal work both beckons and warns. In some ways, it even reminds us of the famed opening sentence of the original Marxist work, the Communist Manifesto: “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism”.  The potential of that spectre has been open ever since. For it to convert and close, the multitude truly needs to assemble into one.

Barack Obama: “Turns Out I’m Really Good At Killing People”

In Obama’s Unending Wars, Kuzmarov has brought together many telling proofs, nuggets, of just how horrible the world is, and just how responsible the US and its henchmen around the world are. A kind of who-does-it. Kuzmarov is that rare analyst (Belen Fernandez is another) who respects footnotes, leaving fascinating bits there that would otherwise detract from his focus.

Standing out in my mind after reading OUW is the power that China has matured into in the past three decades, the US more and more resentful and frightened by it. Russia also has reclaimed much of its international clout, abandoned by Yeltsin, retrieved and nurtured by Putin, again infuriating the US. Other developed countries play almost no part in OUW, as if passive spectators of the geopolitical battles now being fought, as if they don’t even exist.

But as a Canadian, that makes perfect sense. Canada long ago lost any respect internationally, respect it once merited during and immediately after WWII, the only ‘good war’ the world has ever seen, fought courageously by ‘good guys’ against ‘bad guys’. We are living in a grey fog ever since. OUW is a fine lighthouse piercing through it.

 

Uncle Sam = Great Satan

That brings me to the other impression Kuzmarov’s book leaves: a mourning for the once well-meaning Uncle Sam, under the last great US president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who presided over a quasi-socialist experiment, the only way to extract the US from its capitalist hell, and who made friends with everyone, except the ‘bad guys’ Hitler and Tojo. Sadly FDR died before he could cement his vision of a peaceful world order, where the US was not the world policeman fighting pretty well the rest of the world, able to cow most countries, and making enemies of those who insisted on independence.

Kuzmarov mentions FDR only as author of the ‘Good Neighbor Policy’ towards Latin America, basically cancelling the Monroe Doctrine. It was a mixed bag, with FDR’s acceptance of Nicaragua caudillo Samoza as ‘our son of a bitch’, but even in admitting that shameful act, FDR underlines his distaste for realpolitik. FDR was fighting an already ravenous US imperialist elite, who openly supported Hitler, who had, since the invasion of Philippines in 1898, been invading, occupying, setting up puppet regimes increasingly, especially in Central America.

But FDR is the antithesis of Obama. It is Wilson who is the role model for Obama. An intellectual president with an elegant plan, a mission, to bring the world to heel in the name of American principles, and anyone in the way — beware!

There are so many facts marshalled, it is hard to keep focused. Halfway through, the name Crown caught my eye, a recurring motif. Already on p. 20, we learn that one of Obama’s primary financial sponsors was Henry Crown & Company, which owns 20% of General Dynamics (GD), manufacturer of the Trident rocket, Stryker troop carrier, bunker buster bombs, LAV-25 amphibious armored vehicle, Abrams tank, nuclear subs, naval destroyers … During Obama’s presidency, General Dynamics bought out 11 firms specializing in satellites, geospatial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, working for 16 intelligence agencies (how many are there!) after investing $10m per year in lobbying. Then it gets interesting. GD got caught lying to the government, but — what, me worry? — paid a $4m ‘fine’ and the same year (2016) tripled its profits over 2000.

There are many Crowns. Their dynasty began as Material Services Corporation, one of the government’s largest WWII contractors (sued for $1m for price-gouging). Rechristened GD by 1962, it was awarded a $7b Pentagon contract for bombers (influence peddling investigation quashed). James Crown told the New York Times that his father was ‘fairly hawkish about Israel’s security,’ and felt Obama was ‘terrific on Israel.’ Lester told the Chicago Jewish News that the two-state solution was fine if ‘you will have a demilitarized, peaceful Palestinian entity.’ Ha! Not a ‘state’. Hey, did Lester help Jared Kushner write his ‘deal of the century’?

Obama’s legacy is clear. He is a good provider. He is just not interested in corruption. The imperial gravy train is full speed ahead. It is now an ‘intelligence’ government, with shadowy private corporations increasingly doing the imperial dirty work, leaving the real ‘bad guys’ looking cultured, too smart to be nasties. Bush-Cheney have their Blackwater (rechristened Xe now Academi). Obama told CIA director Leon Panetta the CIA would ‘get everything it wanted.’ The NYT reported that ‘in the 67 years since the CIA was founded, few presidents have had as close a bond with their intelligence chiefs as Mr. Obama with Mr. Brennan’ (architect of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program).

It certainly looks, now, that Trump has boxed himself in everywhere he has tried to be original: Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Afghanistan, Syria… But Obama put the finishing touches on the box. Kuzmarov makes it clear that all of those Trump ‘initiatives’ — economic war against Iran, Venezuela, and Russia, negotiations with the Taliban, US troops in Syria (uninvited) — were all in Obama’s game plan.

Obama promised ‘we can’. We all pointed to his vote against the Iraq invasion in 2003, his Nobel Peace prize, misunderstanding his ‘no stupid war’ for ‘no war’. Obama saw himself as the ‘smart war’ guy. After all he is ‘black’, so he can’t possibly be an agent of US white-man imperialism; he’s so much smarter than stupid Bush with his ‘stupid war’.

Handbook

Reading Kuzmarov is like reading a speeded-up survey of the past decade, with the same scenarios repeated: something smacks of people power, the US nurtures instability (take your pick, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso …), leading to a collapse of authority, growth of insurgents, ‘invite’ in US troops, make sure your new puppet is secure. But that could be Haiti, or Chad, or Syria.

It’s hard to keep on top of all the machinations in the world, so you can see OUW as a handbook, focus on the gaps in your knowledge. I found Yemen especially instructive. The Houthi only recently formed as a force, harking back to the pre-colonial Zaydeh clan that ruled in the north prior to the outbreak of civil war in the 1960s (i.e., they have street creds).

By 2013, the Houthi were part of a larger coalition that included deposed dictator Saleh and his loyalists, various tribal militias and most military and public sector workers, who were protesting the corruption and poor living standards under the post-2011 (unelected) Saudi-approved Mansour Hadi. The Pentagon had a working relationship with the Houthi in the fight against al-Qaeda (i.e., they’re okay). But Obama and now Trump refuse to work with them, supporting the Saudi sponsor, which has meant the resurgence of al-Qaeda in southern Yemen and the worst humanitarian crisis going.

The US-led Saudi coalition against the Houthi recruited al-Qaeda to fight the Houthi (haven’t we heard that before? Afghanistan 1980s?). Shia are immune to the al-Qaeda virus, which was spawned by the Saudi Wahhabi sect. So if the US is serious about fighting al-Qaeda, ISIS, et al, its natural ally is not Saudi Arabia but Iran.

Did ‘smart’ Obama see that? Is that why he persisted in trying to bring Iran back into the international community, to work with it to really, really defeat the Islamic terrorists?

In Obama’s defense, he did a few brave, principled things:

*He carried through on the START talks and treaty with Russia

*He supported negotiations with Iran and even coughed up $400m to settle a pre-1979 contract for arms to the Shah which were never delivered

*He (sort of) normalized relations with Cuba

*He pardoned hundreds of prisoners who had been caught in Clinton’s ‘three-strikes’ sentencing bill

*He pardoned Chelsea Manning (but went after Snowden and Assange with a vengeance)

*He voted to abstain on a UN condemnation of Israeli settlements

*He was mixed on the environment, encouraging fracking, but cancelling the pipeline through Standing Rock (though not for long).

It is important to remember this in assessing his legacy. Just painting Obama ‘black’ doesn’t leave much room for analysis. My own views on Obama are mixed. He was not just a puppet, though his good initiatives were few and timid. Power certainly corrupted him, as it did his earlier JFK heirs, Bill and Hillary, who likewise moved from (disavowed) student radicalism to outright channelers of Cecil Rhodes.

Kuzmarov mentions Bill Ayers as a friend of Obama. But Ayers, a former leader of the Weather Underground, lost his illusions about Obama after he was elected. In 2013, he told USA Today:

Every president in this century should be put on trial … for war crimes. Every one of them goes into office — an office dripping with blood — and then adds to it. And, yes, I think that these are war crimes. I think that they’re acts of terror. [Then:] He is a curious man who does a lot of reading. He’s a really good guy.

Don’t believe everything you read or that people are quoted as saying. I suspect Ayers was just playing to the mainstream audience. No point in signing your own death warrant for USA Today.

Which brings me to the unanswered question: Yes, Obama is slick, articulate, clever, well read. Not very funny, despite the cheery smile. But does he believe the things he spouts? Even half or one tenth? As I read his mellifluous words in OUW, I conjured up Obama’s schoolmarmish, mechanical, measured baritone, exhorting us to listen up:

As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence… I cannot be guided by [Gandhi and King’s] examples alone. I face the world as it is. … To say that force may someday be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.*

In his Nobel Peace prize lecture, he recalls winner Wilson (1919) who “led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.”

One-tenth? He did go to Hiroshima (the first sitting US president), though he was careful not to mention who did what there.

As I read, I would pause from time to time to daydream ‘what if…?’

This is Kuzmarov’s last chapter ‘Seeking a better way to live’, and it is not just platitudes. ‘I know why I don’t want the empire. There are better ways to live and better ways to die.’** And there are Americans who understand that. In The Demilitarized Society: Disarmament and Conversion (1988), Seymour Melman criticized the peace movement for not developing and promoting a long term program for converting the US into an economy of peace.

Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX), once a hawk, convened a meeting of members who had proposed economic conversion legislation to switch the US economy from the Vietnam-era killing machine into … whatever. But Newt Gingrich (Lockheed Martin in his constituency) targeted him in a political witch-hunt, and the plan died. Just as the Soviet Union was collapsing, when there were no enemies (phantom or otherwise), Newt drowned out any further discussion of economic conversion. A historic opportunity had been destroyed.

There are good American politicians! But what about the 1.3m American soldiers? What do they do, every day, day after day? Polish boots, terrorize Afghans, terrorize terrorists, play video war games, drink beer, counting the days till their leave from whatever hell-hole they’re in? Surely there are better ways to live and die.

There are so many horrible things the US does, that if it didn’t, the whole world (including the US) would benefit. Standing up to Saudi Arabia and Israel, letting alone good guys like Maduro. Making peace with Russia and Iran (Obama at least tried with the latter). The world wouldn’t hate the US if it let up a bit on the jingoism, the killing. Why can’t an American president do good anymore, like FDR? Or Lincoln?

The latter gives a hint. Doing the right thing often results in assassination in the US. After JFK, RFK, MLK and Malcolm X, the likelihood of a truly progressive (like Obama’s youthful friend Bill Ayers) is almost zero, and if s/he strays a bit too far from the script, BANG!

My sore spot

I have only one dispute with this stimulating, instructive and highly readable survey of imperialism. Kuzmarov dismisses the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as the empire’s choice in 2012. That is not true. They were/are in no one’s back pocket — US or Saudi. They have been victimized from both sides.

Kuzmarov notes that they refused to join the US-led campaign to overthrow Assad, upsetting Obama, though logically they should have. The Syrian MB was slaughtered in 1980 when they starting a violent uprising, inspired by the (peaceful) Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Morsi said little about them, instead extending a hand to Iran, the first Egyptian president to visit Tehran (for the Non-Aligned Movement conference). Only in June 2013, with the coup in the air, did Morsi call for an international campaign to overthrow Assad. Kuzmarov rightly states this was pretty tame stuff, and that Obama was hoping for more, a replay of the 1980s in Afghanistan.

But 2013 was not 1980. And even this limp support for overthrowing a leader and his army was too much for the Egyptian army, which was/is rooting for Assad, fearing their MB. Take my word. Morsi is right up there with Lenin and Khomeini, defending the revolution.

* ‘The World Beyond Iraq’, Fayetville, North Carolina, March 19, 2008.

** William Appleman Williams, Empire as a Way of Life, Oxford University Press, 1980. p266.

Communism is closer than you think

Another world is possible and it is coherently presented in Aaron Bastani’s new book entitled Fully Automated Luxury Communism.

The revolution is here and its main protagonist is technology.

Bastani writes with almost messianic verve on how capital is about to transform itself into labor.

It’s all about humanity accelerating the possible practices and uses of the information age which will/is revolutionizing everything from energy production to food consumption.

And he has a point. After all, humanity has been changing itself and its environment through technology for well over a million years.

As Bastani describes it, we have gone through three Great Disruptions: the first was Agriculture, the second the Industrial Revolution and the third which is just getting started is the Age of Information.

The third age will be one where supply vastly overwhelms demand. A world where energy, material resources, and information of all kinds will be cheap and abundant. In short, a world where communism, as Marx intended it, will be possible.

As Bastani says, if it isn’t luxurious, it can’t be communism.

Here, Bastani develops the thesis that technology is a necessary but not sufficient catalyst for ushering in the necessary material conditions for communism. The other condition is a fundamental change of social system which replaces capitalism’s ideological focus on scarcity and a society motivated and structured by the profit motive.

In short, without revolutionary technological advance there cannot be satisfactory and sustainable material abundance which is the prerequisite for communism. A world where work is akin to play and man’s fundamental physical needs are met. In this case through a combination of robotic automation, AI, genetic engineering, and, yes, even asteroid mining.

While some of Bastani’s futurist visions may seem over the top, much of it is well within the realm of possibility within a few decades time if not earlier. Even if prophecy is often a doomed and dismal business, Bastani’s central premise that man is able to utilize the laws of physics to extend, deepen, and enrich his quality of life has been proven time and again since at least the Age of Enlightenment.

At a moment in time where negativity seems to be all around us, it is refreshing that someone young and from the left (Bastani is an ardent supporter and media spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn) has the courage to bring forth a political manifesto that is vibrantly optimistic. And as he often reminds us, links himself securely to communism’s founder in his understanding of the crucial importance of technology for revolutionary societal change.

US Imperialism from Manifest Destiny to the New American Century

Roberto Sirvent and Danny Haiphong have explored the albatross of myths, legends, lies and damn lies around America’s neck in their book  American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News—From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.  They look into America’s closet of historical secrets and expose them.  They knock down the stuff that is just made up.  The authors explain why the US habitually denies its own bad behavior, and projects it onto others.

Over the centuries the US has developed an illusion of grandeur.  It imagines itself as indispensable and exceptional, unlike any nation that has ever existed.

Exceptionalism means not having to say you are sorry or pay for your mistakes.  Being exceptional means you are the law.  You are the policeman, the judge, the jury and the executioner.

To enforce its exceptionalism the US has built a mighty military.  The price for its grandiose military has been the neglect of the American people.  The US is addicted to militarism and violence.  From its founding, the US was a violent country.  It used violence to acquire and occupy the land, and to gain independence from Great Britain.  The US maintained that God was on its side, and it was innocent of any wrongdoing.  The US just made it up that it was Manifest Destiny, that it should become an empire.  Americans saw themselves as being on a civilizing mission for God.

The Myth of Manifest Destiny

Movies glorifying and romanticizing the westward expansion of the US were an early theme of motion pictures.  One of the first silent movies was a Western produced in 1903:  The Great Train Robbery.  Right from the beginning motion pictures created false narratives and myths.

A 1915 silent move spectacle was The Birth of a Nation, which falsely recasts the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era.  It portrays the South as a victim, depicts blacks as depraved, and the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic protector of America’s virginity.  After featuring the movie in the White House, President Woodrow Wilson said:

It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.

Hollywood perpetuates America’s spirit of exceptionalism, often in cahoots with the power elites of the ruling class.  Up until the late 1960’s Western movies were a regular theme, which was later adapted to television too.  Movies, radio and television were revolutionary forms of entertainment, information, advertising, and propaganda in the 20th century.

When I was growing up in the 1950’s playing “cowboys and Indians” was a favorite pastime for children.  We reenacted what we saw in the movies.  For example, watch the below movie trailer for How the West Was Won, produced in 1963:

The phrase Manifest Destiny was not coined until the mid-19th century.  But the ideology had started with the colonial settlement and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people.  As Sirvent and Haiphong explain:

“George Washington and his secretary of war Henry Knox wasted no time in laying the basis for Manifest Destiny.  Manifest Destiny was an alteration to the colonial ideology that led to the formation of the American nation-state…..Manifest Destiny presupposed that American expansion from coast to coast was a matter of ordained fate justified by the Republic’s superior civilization”.

During the westward expansion, the phrase Manifest Destiny came into vogue with the debate about whether or not to steal one-third of Mexico, while “taming” the West.  Manifest Destiny won the debate.

The westward expansion of the US empire did not stop at the shore of the Pacific Ocean.  It kept on going to Asia.  The US became a colonial empire, and went knocking down the trade barriers of Japan, Korea and China.  The US believed in “free trade”, even if it had to be at the point of a gunboat.

The Legacy of Slavery

The legacy of slavery continues to pervert equality and justice today.  As Sirvent and Haiphong explain the US pleads that slavery was just a “peculiar institution” and not a contradiction of American exceptionalism:

While It has been difficult to mask the horrors of slavery on subjugated Africans, it has been equally difficult to pierce through the narrative that the institution of slavery was a mere mistake or an aberration in an otherwise flawless American design.

Saying that the US was built on the backs of slaves is not a metaphor.  The early foundation of the US economy relied on slavery.  The White House and Capitol were built by slaves; now that is a literal metaphor.  Watch the following short debate on the subject:

Chomsky is correct; cotton was king.  It was as important in the18th and 19th century, as oil is in the 21st century. Everybody wanted cotton, and the textile industry sparked the industrial revolution.  Yet the emancipated slaves and their descendants have never received reparations for their contribution.

The US pleads innocence from genocide and slavery.  The colonial settlers even blamed the victims.  The African slave was characterized as being lazy.  The Declaration of Independence accuses the indigenous people as being the following:

“…merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

Privatization of the Native’s commons and slavery were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.  The “pursuit of happiness” was code for stealing Indian land and enslaving blacks.  That was the reason for the 2nd Amendment.

The Monroe Doctrine

Another well-known legacy of early American history is the Monroe Doctrine, as Roberto Sirvent and Danny Haiphong explain in their book.  The Monroe Doctrine sprang forth from President James Monroe’s lips as an extension of Manifest Destiny.  Since God was believed to have granted the US possession of the continent, it followed that it should include the Caribbean and Latin America too.

In the 19th century Spain lost its grip on its colonial possession in the Americas.  France had suffered major losses in the French and Indian War (1754 to 1763).  The Napoleonic Wars (1801 to 1815) weakened France.  Haiti, which was the “pearl” of France’s colonies, achieved independence in 1804.  In 1823 President Monroe declared that the US would be the arbiter of disputes and protector of the Caribbean and Latin America from then on.  With the victory of the Spanish American War (1898) the US became an empire with foreign colonies in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.

History is Not “History”, It Has a Life of its Own

American Exceptionalism and American Innocence is not just a history book, although it is that too.  Sirvent and Haiphong examine historical events and the myths that justified them.  For instance, after World War Two the US developed a messiah complex that it was the savior of the world.  The facts don’t support the myth.  However, the US did come out of World War Two as the strongest economic and military power in the world.

During the post-war period the US used it economic and military power to expand its neocolonialism.  The US opposed anti-colonial wars of liberation in Africa and Asia, as well as in its “backyard”.  The power elites of the US ruling class framed the US’s neocolonialism as protecting budding democracies from the evils of communism.  The US power elites hid their true economic motives in myths about freedom, democracy and human rights.

Critical thinking would expose the contradiction of the US supporting colonialism.  In fact, the US secretly overthrew democratically elected governments that wanted to use their natural resources for the benefit of their own people.  Early covert “regime change” operations were the democratically elected governments of Iran, Guatemala, and the DR Congo.  The US has been overthrowing governments ever since.  When communism was no longer available as a bogeyman, the US created a new villain with the War on Terror.

Since World War Two the US has been in 37 violent conflicts, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 20 million people.  The ruling class frame these conflicts as examples of American exceptionalism.  The meme that the US is a force for good in repeated ad nauseum.  Critical thinking shows that US wars are for the benefit of corporations and cronies of the power elites.  US foreign policy is not for the benefit of the American people.

The ruling class developed sophisticated propaganda to manufacture the consent of the public to US policies.   American ideology and mythology are part of the soul of the nation.  The public internalizes the ideology and mythology as part of their being.  Many people become emotionally distraught when the US is criticized.

Symbols of American exceptionalism take on a life of their own.  For example, when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick “took a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem it created an emotional firestorm.  Kaepernick was using his right of free speech to make a statement about the continued injustices to African American.  That is not allowed at patriotic orgies, which sporting events have become.

After twenty years of the War on Terror, the US has nothing to show for it.  A half-dozen nations have been destroyed and millions of people killed.  The cost to the US is guesstimated at $7 trillion, and still climbing.  The costs to the countries that the US destroyed are priceless.

The opportunity loss of the War on Terror has been the neglect of domestic problems, such as inequality, poverty, hunger, and disease.  Over 30 million people do not have healthcare.  Public education is being dismantled, and higher education leaves many students in deep debt.  US prisons are inhumane and rehabilitation isn’t even talked about.  Little is being done about global heating.  US infrastructure is decrepit and crumbling.  The Bill of Rights has been eviscerated.  Minorities are disproportionately affected by neglect and injustice.

Yet the myth is alive and well that the US is an exceptional nation for good.  People still believe that the US is the greatest nation in the world.  It is a great country for the few that are born rich or strike it rich.  It is a terrible country for those that are born in poverty, get sick without insurance, and get old with nothing more than a Social Security check.

The list of US failures to its people is long, but it can be summarized by the United Nations Index of Human Development.  Shockingly while the US spends trillions of dollars on war, the US comes in at 25th in human development, adjusted for inequality.  Don’t expect it to improve; the trend is down.

It is not enough to learn the real history of the US, and unlearn the fake history.  The US must get over the illusion of its exceptionalism, innocence, and victimhood.  The US really does not have any enemies that it cannot defend itself against.  Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and North Korea are not threatening the US.  It is ridiculous to think that they are.  Instead other geopolitical and economic motives are in play.

The US cannot escape its history, but it can change the future.  According to  Sirvent and Haiphong, to change America’s future the American people need to learn the real history of the US, and unlearn the myths.  A big step in that direction is found in the book American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News—From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.

•  First published in American Herald Tribune

It’s Time to Embrace Nuclear Energy

It is a tragic irony of the contemporary environmentalist movement that in its opposition to nuclear energy, it is doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry and increasing the likelihood of climate apocalypse. This is the inescapable implication of the new book A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow, by Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist. The anti-nuclear stance to which Green Parties, for example, are so fervently committed may seem enlightened, but, in fact, it is dangerous and destructive. What an informed environmentalist movement would demand above all is a rapid and globally coordinated acceleration of nuclear power plant construction, ideally at a rate of 500 or even 750 new reactors a year. This would set us on track to completely eliminate fossil fuels from the world’s electricity generation within a couple of decades, as well as displacing coal as a heat source for buildings and industrial use. We would be well on the way to making the planet livable for our descendants.

A Bright Future is hardly the only recent book to make the case for nuclear power. Others include Gwyneth Cravens’ Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy, Charles D. Ferguson’s Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know, and Scott L. Montgomery and Thomas Graham Jr.’s Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century. What these and other books make clear is that the “green” shibboleths about nuclear energy’s being dangerous, polluting, proliferation-prone, wasteful, vulnerable to terrorist attack, and excessively expensive are vastly overstated. The truth is closer to the opposite—although in the United States, because of the byzantine regulatory environment and the multiplicity (rather than standardization) of reactor designs built and operated by private companies, the economic costs of building a reactor are indeed very high.

The advantages of nuclear power

A Bright Future is framed by two contrasting stories: that of Sweden and that of Germany. From 1970 to 1990, due to its construction of nuclear power plants, Sweden was able to cut its carbon emissions by half even as its economy expanded and its electricity generation more than doubled. Germany has taken a different path, which has led to its emitting about twice as much carbon pollution per person as Sweden despite using one-third less energy per person and having approximately the same per capita GDP.

What Germany has done is to install large capacities of renewables, mostly wind and solar power, such that by 2016 they made up more than a quarter of electricity production and 15 percent of total energy production. At the same time, however, Germany cut nuclear power by roughly an equivalent amount, which means it only substituted one carbon-free source for another. CO2 emissions have hardly decreased at all, in fact, going up slightly in recent years. German energy remains dominated by coal, and greenhouse gas emissions remain around a billion tons a year.

Decades of anti-nuclear propaganda have colored public attitudes in the West, but, as Goldstein and Qvist explain, nuclear energy has many advantages. For one thing, like renewable sources, it produces no carbon emissions (although over its entire life-cycle, from mining materials to decommissioning the plants, there are some emissions—as with renewables). Unlike solar and wind but like coal, it provides baseload power, which is to say it reliably and cheaply generates energy around the clock to satisfy the average electricity demand. Renewable sources can be more flexibly deployed to match changes in demand, so they have an important role to play during periods of peak energy use, but they also tend to be intermittent and unreliable, unlike nuclear.

Goldstein and Qvist give abundant evidence for the latter claim. “As a rule of thumb,” they note, “nuclear power produces at 80–90 percent of capacity on average over the year, coal at around 50–60 percent, and solar cells around 20 percent.” In 2013, Europe saw an entire month in which solar produced at only 3 percent of capacity because of the lack of sunshine. Wind is somewhat more reliable than sunlight: at a massive 2,700-acre wind farm in Romania, for example, which has 240 wind turbines each as tall as a fifty-story skyscraper, production in 2013 was a little less than 25 percent of capacity. And the total capacity of this enormous wind farm was 600 megawatts, a fraction of a large nuclear power plant.

In fact, the amount of space and material needed for a solar or wind farm to produce as much energy as a large nuclear plant is mind-boggling. Take the example of Ringhals, a plant in Sweden. On just 150 acres it can produce up to 4 gigawatts of electricity, 24/7. A wind farm that was to produce as much energy would require three times the power capacity because wind is so variable. That is, it would require about 2,500 wind turbines 650 feet high, spread over 400 square miles. And its energy production would be intermittent, sometimes much higher than demand and sometimes much lower.

A solar farm equivalent to Ringhals would need a capacity of at least 20 gigawatts and would cover 40 to 100 square miles. “Imagine driving down a highway at 65 mph, with solar cells stretched out for a mile to the right of you and a mile to the left. It would take you about half an hour before you got to the end of the solar farm.”

Think of the environmental (and aesthetic) costs of building scores of such immense wind and solar farms to replace both coal and nuclear.

Waste and safety

Another advantage of nuclear energy is how little waste it produces. Public fears about radioactive waste are absurdly disproportionate to the reality. In the United States, “the entire volume of spent fuel from fifty years of nuclear power—a source that produces one-fifth of U.S. electricity—could be packed into a football stadium, piled twenty feet high.” Spent fuel rods can be safely stored in water for several years, becoming less radioactive, and then transferred to dry storage in concrete casks that contain the radiation. They can remain in these casks for over a hundred years. Longer-term storage, for hundreds of thousands of years, can involve burying material deep underground, as the U.S. military does for its waste from nuclear weapons.

To rebut the concerns about radioactive waste, it surely suffices to point out that spent fuel has been stored around the world for almost 70 years with apparently no adverse health effects at all.

Other energy sources produce waste as well. When the life of solar cells is over after twenty-five years, their waste remains toxic for many decades and requires special handling for disposal. Coal waste, both solid and airborne, is not only orders of magnitude more voluminous than nuclear waste—as is true of solar waste, too—but is also toxic for centuries, and contains radioactive elements. Goldstein and Qvist observe, in fact, that if you live next to a coal plant you’ll get a higher dose of radiation than if you live next to a nuclear power plant. (Humans are continually exposed to small doses of radiation that have zero or negligible health effects.)

In general, nuclear power is incredibly safe. Three famous nuclear accidents have occurred: Three Mile Island in 1979, which had no health effects because of the containment structure that surrounded the partially melted core; Chernobyl in 1986, which caused a few dozen deaths in the short term (though possibly 4,000 in the long term, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency) and was the product of terrible reactor design, terrible on-site errors by operators, and terrible bureaucratic incompetence and secretiveness by the Soviet government; and Fukushima in 2011, which caused no deaths from radiation exposure. (The authors investigate this question in depth and conclude that, on the worst possible assumptions, several people might eventually get cancer because of the accident.)

How does this record stack up against other energy sources? Coal kills at least a million people every year from particulate emissions that lead to cancer and other diseases. It also has a terrible safety record, including toxic wastes that are usually located near poor communities and coal-mining accidents that still happen multiple times a year around the world.

Methane, or natural gas, not only emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal but also is liable to explode from time to time, killing anywhere from several people to hundreds (as when 300 children were killed in an explosion at a Texas school in 1937). And fracking, to extract oil or gas, has negative impacts on public health and the environment.

Oil, too, is less safe than nuclear (leaving aside Soviet incompetence). It spills and it blows up, as with the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and oil trains can derail and explode, as happened in Canada in 2013, when 47 people were killed.

Hydroelectric dams are not at all safe. If a dam fails, thousands of people downstream can die. In Banquiao, China in 1975, for example, 170,000 people died when a dam burst. Dam failures have killed thousands in the U.S.; just in 2017, crises in California and Puerto Rico forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people.

Imagine if nuclear energy had a record remotely comparable to coal or hydropower! Worldwide, the whole industry probably would have been shut down long ago.

An uncertain future

A Bright Future is far too rich to do justice to in a single article, but Goldstein and Qvist also address the issues of possible terrorist attacks on power plants and, in more depth, nuclear proliferation. Regarding the latter, the record over the decades since nuclear technology was developed is reassuring, due in large part to the very effective IAEA and the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But even if nuclear energy weren’t as remarkably safe as it is, we should ask ourselves if it would still be worth including as a major part of a “diversified portfolio” of clean energy. Why are we willing to tolerate so many deaths and risks from coal, oil, hydropower, and natural gas while demanding none from nuclear? (And even then, nuclear has a bad reputation!) Even if a fatal accident occurred from nuclear power every year or every few years, might that not be an acceptable cost if the benefit were a massive mitigation of climate change? We accept risks in every other sphere of life, as when driving cars, living near seismic fault lines, riding airplanes, etc. It’s odd that we rail against nuclear energy because it isn’t 100 percent risk-free.

The simple fact is that we can’t solve climate change without accelerating the construction of nuclear power plants. Since the energy in nuclear fuel is millions of times more concentrated than wind or solar power, nuclear power can “scale up” much faster than renewables. “What the world already knows how to do in ten to twenty years using nuclear power,” the authors write, “would take more than a century using renewables alone.”

And yet in the U.S., reverse action is being taken. Nuclear power plants are being shut down prematurely for political reasons, as in Vermont, California, and Massachusetts, and producers are often abandoning plans to build new plants after facing endless litigation, regulation, opposition from anti-nuclear groups, and competition from cheap and highly subsidized fossil fuels. When a plant is shut down, what that means, first, is that renewables that are introduced afterwards are not contributing to decarbonization but are simply replacing a clean (and far more powerful) energy source. Second, fossil fuels have to fill most of the gap, which causes a rise in carbon emissions.

For example, after the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant closed in 2014, carbon dioxide emission rates rose across New England, reversing a decade of declines. When Massachusetts’ last remaining nuclear power plant, Pilgrim, closed last month, much more electricity generation was lost than the state generates with all its solar, wind, and hydropower combined. Several new fossil fuel plants will mainly take the place of Pilgrim.

Thus, Greenpeace and other anti-nuclear groups with money and political clout can congratulate themselves on exacerbating climate change.

Globally there are bright spots for nuclear energy, mostly in the developing world. Goldstein and Qvist discuss this topic in detail, placing some hope in Russia, China, and India, which are much friendlier to nuclear power than the U.S. They also devote a chapter to “next-generation technologies” that are being developed, such as thorium reactors, which have advantages over uranium, and fusion, which has advantages over fission.

But despite these (and other) bright spots, and despite the book’s overall optimism, after I had finished reading I couldn’t help feeling very, very worried about the future. We know how to address climate change. But the vast funds of the fossil fuel industry and the anti-nuclear movement, together with mass ignorance, may yet doom us in the long run. We have, it seems, a decade or two to wake up and demand government action.

Renewables, yes. But even more important: nuclear power.

The Jacobin Vision of Social Democracy Won’t Save Us

The title of Bhaskar Sunkara’s new book is both bold and smart, from a marketing perspective at least. It’s eye-catching in its reference to The Communist Manifesto. I’m actually a little surprised that apparently no previous book has had that title, since it seems so obvious. The reason may be that other writers have been more humble than Sunkara, and less willing to elicit inevitable comparisons between their work and Marx’s. For no writer, and certainly not Sunkara, will fare well under such a comparison.

But I don’t want to be too harsh on the founder of Jacobin, whose magazine has (whatever one thinks of its particular political line) performed useful services for the American left. Sunkara is not a deep or original thinker, but he’s an effective popularizer—and in an age of mass ignorance, there’s much to be said for popularizations. The book is written for the uninitiated, and if it succeeds in piquing young readers’ interest in socialism, then it has served its purpose.

The title is a misnomer, however, for the book is no manifesto. It is essentially a critical history of socialism with a couple of chapters at the beginning and the end on the present and possible future of the left. The scope is ambitious: it ranges over the German Social Democratic Party up to World War I, the triumphs and tragedies of Leninism and Stalinism in Russia, Swedish social democracy, the record of “socialism” in China and the Third World, and the history of socialists in the U.S., in the process touching on the Labour Party in Britain, the Popular Front period in France, the impact of neoliberalism on the working class, and other subjects. It also has a chapter on fifteen lessons to be gleaned from the history, as well as a whimsical, speculative chapter (the first one) on what it might be like to live in a socialist society and what the transition from a social democratic to a socialist society might look like. Sunkara’s interpretations and ideas come from respectable scholars such as Michael Harrington, Vivek Chibber, and David Schweickart, in addition to younger writers for Jacobin.

Through most of the book, the arguments are anchored in sturdy common sense, however much one might contest a point or emphasis here and there. On “Third World socialism,” for example, whether in China or Africa or the Americas, Sunkara is right that it turned Marxism on its head, so to speak: “revolutionaries embraced socialism as a path to modernity and national liberation. Adapting a theory that was built around advanced capitalism and an industrial proletariat, they struggled to find ‘substitute proletariats’—from peasants to junior military officers to deprived underclasses—to achieve these ends.” None of it was socialism in the Marxist sense, as coming from the breakdown (literal or not) of capitalism and signifying the liberation of humanity from alienated and exploitative production. It was a “socialism” subordinated to nationalistic ends.

As for social democracy, Sunkara is clearly right that it always faces a “structural dilemma,” in that it exists within capitalism and depends on capitalist profitability. Historically it was safe only as long as there was an expanding economy. “Expansion gave succor to both the working class and capital. When growth slowed [in the 1970s] and the demands of workers made deeper inroads into firm profits, business owners rebelled against the class compromise.” The era of neoliberalism began.

Sunkara’s conclusion to his survey of twentieth-century socialism is appropriate: “The best we can say about socialism in the twentieth century is that it was a false start.” Personally, I would even argue (and have, in Worker Cooperatives and Revolution) that attempts to introduce socialism—which is to say workers’ democratic control of production—exclusively through the bureaucratic initiative of the state, in an international economic environment still completely dominated by the dynamics and the hierarchies of corporate capitalism, were always misconceived. If a transition to genuine socialism ever happens, it will necessarily take generations, generations of struggle around the world directed at everything from the interstitial construction of solidarity economies to the mobilization of millions on behalf of radical political parties.

What Sunkara envisions is that a new kind of “class-struggle social democracy,” of the sort that Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders advocate, may be achieved after years of popular struggle. But rather than being content with this achievement and possibly letting it be undermined by the capitalist class, as happened to classical social democracy, socialists have to keep pressing for more radical transformations, such as expansion of the cooperative or publicly-owned sector of the economy.

Democratic socialists must secure decisive majorities in legislatures while winning hegemony in the unions. Then our organizations must be willing to flex their social power in the form of mass mobilizations and political strikes to counter the structural power of capital and ensure that our leaders choose confrontation over accommodations with elites.

Eventually, this new social democracy will evolve into socialism, as the state and/or workers take over ownership and control of the remaining private firms.

Sunkara fleshes out these predictions a bit in his first chapter, but I think some skepticism is in order. Social democracy was appropriate to an era of industrial unionism and relatively limited mobility of capital. In a “globalized” age, it’s hard to see how social democracy can simply be reconstructed—in a more radical form, even, than before. History doesn’t work in this way, in which previous social formations are resurrected after they have succumbed to the universal solvent of capitalism. We can’t just return to conditions that no longer exist. That is a key lesson of Marxism itself.

In the U.S., to enact Medicare for All, safe and secure housing for all, free child care, decent public education at all levels, and other reforms Sunkara mentions would require, as he says, that socialists have strong legislative majorities. Given the power of the capitalist class, I don’t see this happening, at least not in the next twenty or thirty years. It took reactionaries decades of organization to achieve their current power—and they had enormous resources and existed in a broadly sympathetic political economy. It’s hard to imagine that socialists will have better luck.

Predicting the future isn’t exactly easy, especially not at this moment when humanity is poised on a precipice overlooking climate change, mass extinction of flora and fauna, economic crisis, complete political dysfunction, and general social breakdown. But my own prognosis would be more pessimistic than Sunkara’s. Neoliberalism has brought to its consummation the fracturing and atomizing of civil society that capitalism has entailed. The nation-state system itself seems in danger of decaying from within, from social crisis. There is no return of vitality and integration on the horizon. There is only a long period of crisis, a period of political flailing and confrontation, of stagnation and polarization, a period that will see lots of little left-wing victories and lots of defeats but few epochal triumphs. (If Sanders or Corbyn achieve power, for example, they will face a business community determined to destroy them.)

Whatever will be happening at the level of the national state, on smaller scales initiatives in the solidarity economy will be spreading around the nation and around the world, from people’s sheer necessity to survive. Activists will be pressing for changes in state policy to facilitate the growth of this non-capitalist economy, and states will be increasingly forthcoming if only because such local and decentralized projects are seen as relatively unthreatening to capitalist power. As left-wing parties acquire more influence, they will press for the expansion of this cooperative sector of the economy—along with other policies that are more directly and immediately threatening to capitalism. The reactionaries can’t control everything forever (otherwise society would completely collapse), and the left will begin to have more political victories to approximately the degree that a cooperative sector invested in the left grows. As repeated economic crises will be destroying huge amounts of wealth and thinning the ranks of the capitalist hyper-elite, a new society and economy will gradually emerge in the womb of the old regime.

In my above-mentioned book I argue that this scenario, which will unfold over many decades, is the only truly Marxist or materialist conception of socialist revolution, notwithstanding most Marxists’ hostility to any conception hinting of “gradual change.” The Jacobin social democratic scenario is naïve and ahistorical.

Nevertheless, Sunkara’s book is of value. Little in it will be new to long-time leftists, but American political culture could certainly use more popularizations like The Socialist Manifesto. We have a long, long war ahead.

Answering the Mysterious Call of An Artist’s Spiritual Vocation

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.

— Kabir, “To Be a Slave of Intensity”

Strange how a man
Can enter your life
Just like that: a knock
Out of nowhere
And you’ve slipped away
To a rendezvous with destiny
That always awaited you.

— EJC, “The Birth and Death of Trauma”

Myths and popular tales, like life, are replete with accounts of those not answering the call, of locking the door to their hearts and shutting themselves up in sterile and safe lives where the rest of the world is not even an afterthought, where others suffer and die because of one’s indifference.  Answering can be very dangerous, for it can take you on a journey from which you may never return, surely, at least, as the same person.  Only the courageous heed the call.

When Carolyn Forché, a twenty-seven year old naïve academic poet living in the San Diego area, miraculously answered the call of a Salvadorian stranger named Leonel Gómez Vides, who showed up at her door out of the blue, to go to El Salvador, a country she knew very little about but to which he said war was coming and her poet’s eye was needed, she acted intuitively and bravely from her deep soul’s murmurings and said yes, not knowing why or where she was heading except into the unknown.

This memoir, a souvenir of hope and terror and a call to resistance, a poet’s lucid dreaming between childhood and an adult awakening, invites the reader to examine one’s life and conscience through language that emulates our living experience as it strains toward meaning through a wandering dialectical consciousness that weaves the past present with the present past and lucid dreaming with the waking state. One experiences this book as one does life, not, as the French existentialist Gabriel Marcel, has said, “as a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.”  It is impossible to adequately “review” a book that breathes.  One can only conspire with it to uncover the conspiracy of silence that is American government propaganda.

For at the heart of this mystery are facts, which Forché describes in graphic detail, the truth of how the United States government has long been doing the devil’s murderous work in El Salvador, throughout Latin America and the world, as current events confirm.  Forché asks us to enter into her memories not to wax nostalgic, but to wake to the truth of today.  The truth that little has changed and the past was prologue.  The U.S. is still “Murder Incorporated,” and Americans must see this clearly, and resist.

Carolyn’s “Yes” to the enigmatic stranger Leonel, so I sense from her reveries, was the fruit of a seed of faith planted when she was a child of ten or so in Michigan.

The girl I once was, who had been a Catholic, woke for the bells of the Angelus at six in the morning, Angelus Domini.  I sang to myself as I walked to morning Mass under a canopy of maples, through a wetland of swamp cabbage and red-winged blackbirds, the quiet, low Mass where it was possible to pray in peace, with the Latin liturgy a murmur in the air….I felt at peace in the church, on the padded kneeler near the stained-glass windows depicting the seven sorrows along the west wall, the seven joys along the east….When I knelt beside them, the floor, the pews, and my own body were quilted in colored light.

But she tells Leonel that she has “fallen” because she no longer attends Mass.

Leonel, a “non-believer” who says “I believe with my life, how I live,” tells her about Padre Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest who was murdered with an old man and a boy by the U.S. trained and supported Salvadorian death-squads.  “God that Padre Grande taught was not up in the sky lying in some damn cloud hammock.  This was a God who expected us to be brothers and sisters and to make of earth a just place.”

This was her introduction to a new theology, a way of connecting her spiritual core from a conservative Catholic childhood piety to the liberation theology that created Christian base communities of the poor and persecuted in El Salvador and other Latin American countries.  Dissident Christianity. True Christianity. When she went to El Salvador soon thereafter, not only did the poet leave the quiet of her study where her work might have revolved around herself, but the little girl left the church building to discover, as a changed woman, Christ among the poor and persecuted in the living world.

One night she meets a man in the shadows of such a Christian base community where a few of its members had been killed and dismembered by the government death squads.  His pseudonym is Inocencio.  “You can say Chencho,” he tells her.  At first he thinks she is a nun, (“although,“ as a girl, “I considered that vocation.”) because she smokes, and some of the foreign nuns smoke and don’t dress in traditional habits.  He asks her why she is there and she says, “You know, I’m not sure.”  She then explains how an unnamed person invited her to come to see the truth for herself because war was coming, and when she returned to the United States to “explain the reasons for the war to the North Americans, because my friend tells me that this will be important, that the real reasons be known, so that the people of the United States understand.”

Chencho is a catechist who secretly moves under darkness of night from one small Christian base community to another, encouraging the campesinos to keep the faith because God is with them, la gente, los pobres, the people, the poor.  He says to Carolyn:

Listen to me, hermana.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and Christ is moving through the world now, through us.  He is acting through us in the struggle against injustice, poverty, and oppression.  To be with God now is to choose the fate of the poor, to be with them, to see through their eyes and feel through their hearts, and if this means torture and death, we accept.  We are already in the grave.

Later, Leonel takes her to visit a friend who is in a prison from hell where men are tortured in padlocked wooden boxes the size of washing machines.  Afterwards she vomits. Then they go to visit a dirt poor young mother give birth in a casita in which there was nothing, “really nothing: a candle, a plastic basin, a ladle hanging against the wall, and, in the candlelight, the shadow of a wooden chair dancing on the wall.”

I followed him [Leonel] through the darkness into a passage, then through a door lit by a candle and, by the light of it, saw people gathered and one of them, someone, took me by the hand and drew me into the circle surrounding a young woman who was lying on her side on a blanket on the floor, her head propped in her hand.  There was a cardboard box beside her, and in the box, a newborn girl with her hair still wet, lying in a towel.  Leonel was looking at me from across the room.  ‘She was born about a half hour ago,’ a young man beside me whispered.  ‘She’s early.  We’re going to name her Alma. Bellisima!’

Then it is on through night to meet with four young impoverished men who read their “political” poems for her, written under pseudonyms for fear for their lives, poems they hope might stir the hearts of people in the United States.

That night I knew something had changed for me, and that I wasn’t going to get tired or need a shower or want to call something off so I could rest, and I hoped that if I forgot this I would somehow remember Alma in the cardboard box in the barrio, and the mimeographed poems….The woman who went into the prison in Ahuachapán left herself behind in a barrio called La Fosa, the grave.

The naïve young poet is buried and the political poet of witness is born.  It is impossible not to be deeply moved and nourished by such a birth.  Who, I wonder, are the “fallen” ones?  What is writing for?  What good are poets?  Why say yes to a stranger’s request when it is so much easier to not answer the knock on the door?  So much easier to barricade ourselves behind walls of denial and say “me first.”  So much easier to ignore the truth that this book reveals: that the United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world and our society rests on keeping the poor poor and under the vicious thumbs of the rich.

The world is filled with writers who witness only to their imprisonment in their own egos.  When Carolyn Forché said yes to Leonel and then returned from El Salvador to write “political” poems such as “The Colonel,” she was attacked by writers wishing a poet would stay in her box and not disturb their universe.  That she was not like them angered them, J. Alfred Prufrocks who were not going to come back from the dead to tell us all as she has, poets who had time on their hands to neurotically contemplate their navels with their fellow Americans:

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Having heard Leonel’s descriptions of “the silence of misery endured” and the American supported death-squads massacring impoverished Salvadorians, she tells us:

I knew that if I didn’t accept his invitation, I could never live as if I would have been willing to do something, should an opportunity have presented itself.  I could never say to myself: If only I’d had the chance.  This was, I knew, my chance.

Wasn’t such a daring decision by this “fallen” poet the quintessence of the creative act, exactly what inspired artists do when they see the act of writing as an adventure into the unknown where startling truths wait to reveal themselves to the unsuspecting author?  A journey fraught with danger and delight, perhaps delightful danger or dangerous delight, but always ready to surprise with hidden truths that might unlock the prison gates that enclose the world in suffering and pain? Does not the artist proceed into this alien territory armed only with a fierce faith in the power of truth to reveal its face and so strengthen us through disarmament?  Doesn’t a poet trust in a power greater than herself and know what she wishes to say only in the act of saying it?  Isn’t real writing a transmission between the creative spirit and the world of flesh and blood, the living and the dead, a visionary opening into the future where freedom beckons?

Carolyn somehow knew this then and now, and her memoir is the result, a haunting trip into the past to liberate the present.  “The strange, mysterious, perhaps dangerous, perhaps redeeming comfort that there is in writing,” wrote Kafka in his diary.  Perhaps there are certain writings that cannot be adequately reviewed but must be experienced. As I said, I think What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance is such a book.  How do you review a prayer and a mystery?  You must enter them if you are willing.

Carolyn, drawing on the uncanny spirit of her mystical, Gypsy-spirited Czechoslavian grandmother Anna (“I will get Anna out of you if it’s the last thing I do” her mother told her, to no avail), chose to develop her “legitimate strangeness,” as the French poet René Char urged, heeding his words that “what comes into the world to disturb nothing merits neither attention or patience.”  Disturbed and perplexed by the stranger’s tales and her former husband’s experiences in Vietnam and the United Sates’ savage war there, as well as by her mystical Catholic childhood’s faith and its tug of conscience, she joins the mysterious Leonel in El Salvador.

To those ensconced in instrumental rationality, her decision seems insane. However, instrumental rationality is insane, and it has taken us to the brink of nuclear extinction.  It is to the poet’s truth we should turn.  The data-driven instrumental rationalists have given us WW I, II, Auschwitz, Vietnam, the CIA, death squads, Iraq, Syria, etc. – should I give you numbers, list it all, do the logic?  When has such logic convinced the disbelievers?  Logicians don’t trust the soul’s promptings and, like Carolyn, take a chance, take a leap of faith.  They do calculations, follow computer models, and dare not enter the world outside if they are told there is a 60% chance of rain.  And if they are told the sun will shine and all will be well with the world, but a hard rain does fall and the poet shouts there is blood on our hands, they act shocked.  Always shocked at the truth that was there from the start.  If only we had known.

Is it any wonder so many Americans are depressed?

For Carolyn, the child of Czechoslovakian ancestry, the German holocaust atrocities haunted her, and she grew up suffering from periodic depressions that would lift once she felt the urge to do something about the injustices she saw. The urge to act for others freed her from wallowing in depression.  Rather than becoming a nun, she became a poet, and when Leonel told her that an American poet was needed to witness the truth of the American supported atrocities in El Salvador, she trusted the spirit to lead her on, not knowing why this might be so.  What use are poets, she wondered, in the U.S. poetry “doesn’t matter.”  She would soon help change that.

There is an old Catholic prayer that goes like this: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

Might such words have bubbled up from her unconscious?  I have long felt it was a prayer for poets as well as the religiously faithful – are not all inspired together?  Is there a difference?  “I believe in the magic and authority of words,” said Char, the French resistance fighter.  Witness and resistance.  Words.  Poetry.  Prayers.

It is best that I not tell you too much about Leonel.  You will wonder about him, and you will wonder with Carolyn what her relationship with him is all about.  You will discover his essence in the reading. You will learn that he once said to Carolyn that “it isn’t the risk of death and fear of danger that prevent people from rising up, it is numbness, acquiescence, and the defeat of the mind.  Resistance to oppression begins when people realize deeply within themselves that something better is possible.”  You might, like me, question whether this is true only for the most oppressed, or whether it applies to Americans whose lives depend on the subjugation of others in foreign lands.

You will be terrified to learn of the death squads, the brutality and cold-bloodedness of their murders, and Forché’s close escapes as they hunted her.  You will feel her fear.

You will learn of the courageous women who befriend her, her meeting with Archbishop Oscar Romero the week before he is assassinated while saying Mass and Carolyn has left the country at his urging, and you too will be lost in reveries as you travel between worlds of night and day, wealth and poverty, life and death, now and then.

If you are like me, you will be inspired by what the poet Char called “wisdom with tear-filled eyes.”  This book is just that.  It is a call to Americans to face the truth and resist.