Category Archives: Corporate Globalization

Do Not Reach for the Sky Just to Surrender

Greta Acosta Reyes (Cuba), Neoliberalism, 2020.
Greta Acosta Reyes (Cuba), Neoliberalism, 2020.

Dear Friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

Beirut, mon amour.

Those shattered mirrors once were
The smiling eyes of children,
Now are star-lit.
This city’s nights are bright.
and luminous is Lebanon.
Beirut, ornament of our world.
Faces decorated with blood
Dazzling, beyond beauty.
Their elegant splendor
Lights up the city’s lanes.
And radiant is Lebanon.
Beirut, ornament of our world.
Every charred house, every ruin
Is equal to Darius’ citadels.
Every warrior brings envy to Alexander.
Every daughter is like Laila.
This city stands at time’s creation.
This city will stand at time’s end.

– Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984).

The novel coronavirus continues its march through the world, with 18 million confirmed cases and at least 685,000 deaths. Of these, the United States of America, Brazil, and India are the worst-hit, harbouring about half of the world’s cases. US President Donald Trump’s claim that these numbers are high because of higher rates of testing is not borne out by the facts, which show that it is not testing that has ballooned the numbers but the paralysis of the governments of Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and India’s Narendra Modi and their failure to control the contagion. In these three countries, testing has been hard to access, and the test results have been unreliably reported.

Trump, Bolsonaro, and Modi share a broad political orientation – one that leans so heavily towards the far right that it cannot walk upright. But beneath their buffoonish statements about the virus, and their reluctance to take it seriously, lies a much deeper problem that is shared by a range of countries. This problem goes by the name of neoliberalism, a policy orientation that emerged in the 1970s to stabilise a deep crisis of stagnation and inflation (‘stagflation’) in global capitalism. We define neoliberalism plainly in the image below:

Vikas Thakur (India), Neoliberalism, 2020.
Vikas Thakur (India), Neoliberalism, 2020.

The tax strike by the very rich, the liberalisation of finance, the deregulation of labour laws, and the evisceration of welfare provisions deepened social inequality and reduced the role of the vast mass of the world’s population in politics. The demand that ‘technocrats’ – especially bankers – run the world produced an anti-political sentiment amongst large sections of the world, who became increasingly alienated from their governments and from political activity.

Institutions of society that emerged to protect us from catastrophes of one kind or another were undermined. Public health systems were dismantled in countries such as the United States and India, while associated social services for childcare and eldercare were cut back or destroyed. In 2018, a United Nations study found that only 29% of the global population has access to social protection systems (including income security, access to health care, unemployment insurance, disability benefits, old-age pensions, cash and in-kind transfers, and other tax-financed schemes). A consequence of ending even meagre social protection for workers (such as sick leave) and of failing to provide public universal healthcare is that in the case of a pandemic, workers can neither afford to remain at home nor can they access healthcare: they are left to the wolves of the ‘free market’, which is really a world designed around profit and not the well-being of people.

Choo Chon Kai (Malaysia), Freedom of choice, 2020.
Choo Chon Kai (Malaysia), Freedom of choice, 2020.

It is not as if there have not been warnings about the policy framework known as neoliberalism and the austerity project that it has driven. In September 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned about the deep cuts in public health spending – including the lack of hiring of public health workers – and the impact this would have if a pandemic were to break out. That was on the verge of this pandemic, although earlier epidemics (H1N1, Ebola, SARS, MERS) already showed the weakness of the public health systems to manage an outbreak.

From the onset of neoliberalism, political parties and social movements warned about the threats posed by these cuts; as social institutions are whittled away, society’s ability to withstand any crisis – be it economic or epidemiological – is damaged. But these warnings were dismissed, the callousness remarkable.

Kelana Destin (Indonesia), Water, 2020.
Kelana Destin (Indonesia), Water, 2020.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), founded in 1964, lit the red light of caution from the publication of its first Trade and Development Report (TDR) in 1981; this UN body tracked the new economic agenda premised on liberalised trade, debt-driven investment in the developing world, and the slow emergence of a broad slate of austerity policies pushed by the IMF’s structural adjustment programmes. The austerity programmes imposed on countries by the IMF and by the wealthy bondholders negatively impacted GDP growth and produced large fiscal imbalances. Growth in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and exports did not necessarily mean an increase of the incomes for the people in the developing world. The TDR from 2002 explored the paradox that, while the developing countries were trading more, they were earning less; this meant that the trading system was rigged against these countries whose economies are largely reliant on exporting primary commodities.

The 2011 TDR looked closely at the after-effects of the 2007-08 credit crisis, which – it noted – ‘highlighted serious flaws in the pre-crisis belief in liberalisation and self-regulating markets. Liberalised financial markets have been encouraging excessive speculation (which amounts to gambling) and instability. And financial innovations have been serving their own industry rather than the greater social interest. Ignoring these flaws risk another, possibly even bigger, crisis’.

Lizzie Suarez (USA), Abolish Neoliberalism Resist Imperialism, 2020.>
Lizzie Suarez (USA), Abolish Neoliberalism Resist Imperialism, 2020.

After re-reading the 2011 TDR, I wrote to Heiner Flassbeck, who was the Chief of Microeconomics and Development at UNCTAD from 2003 to 2012, to ask him about that report and his feelings about it almost a decade later. Flassbeck re-read the report and wrote, ‘it seems to me that it is still a good guide into a new global order’. Last year, Flassbeck wrote a three-part series of articles titled ‘The Great Paradox: Liberalism Destroys the Market Economy’ in which he argues that neoliberalism destroyed the ability of economic activity to create jobs and wealth for the majority of the people. Now, Flassbeck wants to emphasise the importance of stagnant wages as an indicator of problems, as well as a place from which to develop solution.

The 2011 TDR argued that ‘the forces unleashed by globalisation have produced significant shifts in income distribution resulting in a falling share of wage income and a rising share of profits’. The Seoul Development Consensus of 2010 had advised that ‘for prosperity to be sustained it must be shared’. Apart from China, which developed a major scheme in 2013 to eradicate poverty and share growth, most countries saw wage growth fall short of productivity growth, which has meant that domestic demand grew slower than the supply of goods; nor were the possible solutions of relying on external demand or stimulating domestic demand with credit sustainable.

Pavel Pisklakov (Russia), Invisible Hand, 2020.
Pavel Pisklakov (Russia), Invisible Hand, 2020.

Flassbeck replied to Tricontinental: Institute of Social Research: ‘The core of the matter is wages. That was missing in the TRD 2011. All attempts to stabilise our economies and bring them back to strong investment growth are futile if the wage question is not fixed. To fix it means to implement in all countries of the world strong regulation to make sure that wage earners are fully participating in the productivity growth of their national economies. In the developing world, this is understood in Eastern Asia but nowhere else. You need strong government intervention to force companies, national as well as international, to apply wage growth in line with productivity growth and the inflation target set by the government or the central bank. It can be pushed through by governments decisions about the increase of the minimum wage, as China did it, or by informal pressure on the companies, as Japan did it’.

In a recent report, Flassbeck argued that many developing countries – even in the midst of the coronavirus recession – look to the advanced capitalist countries, which are cutting wages, underspending, and pursuing failed policies of ‘labour market flexibility’; the IMF often forces along these policies, which are the ‘main hindrances to a better growth and development performance’.

Sinead L Uhle (Germany), También la lluvia (‘Also the rain’), 2020.
Sinead L Uhle (Germany), También la lluvia (‘Also the rain’), 2020.

This newsletter is illustrated by posters from our ongoing Anti-imperialist Poster Exhibition. The first set was on the theme of capitalism; the second set is on neoliberalism, for which we received submissions from 59 artists from 27 countries and 20 organisations. Please spend some time enjoying the inventiveness of the artists.

Their inventiveness gives us confidence to be inventive and bold in our demands for society, which reject the neoliberal capitalist framework. If we are to reach for the sky, there is no point in putting our hands up merely to surrender to the propertied and the powerful; we need to reach for the sky to lift up the world from the morass of despair.

Who’s behind the Canadian Think Tank Pushing for Sanctions against China and Iran?

The “independent” think tank, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute recently called for China and Iran to be severely punished for allegedly covering up the original outbreak and failing to respond to COVID-19 in time.

This was done in ignorance of both Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau and US President Donald Trump’s failure to listen to military intelligence warning of the dangers of COVID-19 in early January. This includes the failure to maintain a strong early warning system, his implementation of limited neo-liberal measures months too late, only due to intense pressure from the NDP, while refusing to implement a rent freeze, and having EI and CERB fail to cover one-third of Canada’s population.

So the question is, who is this think tank pushing for sanctions which could unnecessarily draw Canada into further disputes with China and Iran?

Founding years and Leading Figures in league with the Conservatives

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute was founded in 2010, claiming to be a “non-partisan Ottawa think tank.” However, its first report revealed that the board of directors were filled to the brim with past and present CEOs, CFOs and wealthy millionaires, including Rob Wildeboer, Chairman of Martin-rea International Inc. and Rick Peterson, the President of Peterson Capital. The Managing Director of MLI, Brian Crowley had close ties to the PM in 2010, Stephen Harper.

Brian Crowley was the founding President of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a conservative, free-market think tank incorporated in 1995. AIMS received the majority of its funding from “several anonymous donors” (millionaires and billionaires who don’t want their donations publicly known) and pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Merck Frosst. They were at the forefront of the battle against public health care in Canada for years, until it merged with the Fraser Institute in November 2019.

Sourcewatch revealed that as of 2010, Crowley was also a member of the influential right-wing Civitas Society, founded by Calgary political scientist Tom Flanagan, campaign manager for and advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In 2006, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty appointed Crowley as the 2006-2007 Clifford Clark Visiting Economist of the department. Four months later, Crowley began to develop the MLI while giving policy advice to the Harper government. In 2009, Minister Flaherty hosted a private fundraising dinner at Toronto’s Albany Club for the MLI. In a letter, he urged Bay Street elites to come and support the fledging right-wing think tank stating that he was “giving it my personal backing”. Soon afterwards, the Aurea Foundation, funded by Peter Munk, gave $100,000 to assist in starting up the think-tank, as revealed on page 13 of their 2010 annual report.

Rob Wildeboer, the chairman of the MLI Board of Directors until 2018 and current member of its Advisory Council, is a wealthy evangelical and the chief backer of the ECP Centre. The ECP centre “attacks human rights commissions as instruments of Christian persecution,” explained Donald Gutstein. The ECP believes that “the very notion of legally protected individual rights is an unthinkable heresy, a repudiation of God’s sovereign law,” according to The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada.

Within the first year of existence, the Institute’s notable corporate funders included: CTV, Labatt Breweries, TD Bank Financial Group, Merck, BMO Financial Group – Corporate, RBC Financial Group and Pfizer International, which continued their tradition of supporting think-tanks run by Crowley.

Foundations supporting the Institute at the start were funded by a who’s who of Canadian oligarchs and elites: The John Dobson Foundation, Aurea Foundation, The Garfield Weston Foundation, Lotte & John Hecht Foundation, Donner Canadian Foundation and Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

The Institute soon began publishing a series of papers by Janet Ajzenstat, which served to glorify the genocidal colonialist leaders of Canada, called “Canada’s founding ideas”. It claimed to “paint the picture of Founders far more steeped in a concern with liberty, than academic and popular tradition suggests”. By minimizing the genocide committed against Indigenous nations, it provided credence to Harper’s contempt for Indigenous Nations during his first four years as Prime Minister.

Within a year of its founding, the think tank soon pushed a “non-partisan” politically valuable policy paper, written by Scott Newark in 2011, which alleged that Statistics Canada was systematically undercounting crime statistics.

Unsurprisingly, Newark was also connected to the conservatives. During the period of 2006 to 2008, Stockwell Day was the public safety minister under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. During that time Newark worked as a special advisor to Day. Newark then went on to work as project manager overseeing a $300,000-plus contract from his former ministry.

This policy paper provided important cover for the Harper government’s “tough-on-crime” policies. The pro-corporate welfare Harper government was facing elections, only a few months later, which they ended up winning.

In this year, the MLI gained new donors such as Google Inc., Johnson & Johnson, the company exposed for failing to pull its products despite knowing they caused cancer, and John Irving, the Canadian oil baron.

The MLI took credit for: the Harper government’s refusal to expand the Canadian Pension Plan and their decision to cap the Canada Health Transfer, worsening healthcare in Canada and taking finances away from the CPP, in favour of giving money to private sector pensions.

The MLI begins its pro-military putsch

The Institute began its pro-militarism putsch this year, pushing for more military spending and supporting an interventionist foreign policy, under the guise of “debating whether Canada should make war or keep the peace.” In this same year, under the Harper government, the a short summary needed here Canadian military was actively involved in the NATO and AFRICOM led coup against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The coup ended in Gaddafi’s death and the collapse of the Libyan state, which led to open slave markets, and warring warlords within the next five years.

In 2013, the Institute began to push nationalistic anti-China trade policies, urging the Canadian government to block investment from Chinese state-connected businesses in Canada’s mineral and energy resources. They also cast any business done by these businesses with “official enemies of the Canadian stateTM” such as Venezuela, Iran and Syria as a decision which “should concern the Canadian economic and security community.”

Even after the utter disaster in Libya, the MLI continued to push for the same pro-war policies, limiting discussions around the military to how the Canadian government could more efficiently purchase new instruments of death (updated military equipment).

In 2015, the Institute complained about the inability of the Canadian military to procure updated military equipment, while totally ignoring how the tens of billions which is poured into the Canadian military could be used to better the lives of ordinary Canadians.

In 2016, Munk Senior Fellow Shuvaloy Majumdar, a former senior aide in the Stephen Harper government, joined the MLI. He began a campaign of calling for increased sanctions against Iran that year. It had been only one year after the JCPOA was signed, which ended some of the economy crushing sanctions leveled by the EU and America against Iran. After Trump violated the JCPOA, and repeatedly instituted sanctions against Iran beginning in 2018, Human Rights Watch reported that the sanctions had a devastating effect on the health of ordinary Iranians.

Majumdar also followed the Washington consensus of supporting the jihadist Syrian rebels, who are still fighting to overthrow the secular Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, describing them as “moderate rebels” in a Huffington Post op-ed.

In 2017, even the most imperialist nations looked to have their militaries leave Iraq, the country which the US invaded on the fictitious claim of Saddam Hussein possessing WMDs. The MLI urged Trudeau to stay in Iraq and touted the benefits of the mission. In the present day, there are still 500 Canadian troops in the country, with missions continuing to the present day.

During the same year, the Institute urged the Trudeau government to join with the US to deploy its military in the South China Sea and Pacific region, to “protect the region from China.”

In 2018, the MLI continued its calls for reducing trade with China, and focused on persuading the Trudeau government to avoid choosing Huawei to develop Canada’s 5G networks. The main reason pushed was that Huawei would be forced to hand over data that flows through its networks to the Chinese government, ignoring that major American and Canadian telecommunications companies are regularly forced to hand over data to their respective governments. As a result of this pressure campaign, Nokia and Ericcson were chosen to develop Canada’s 5G networks. Both networks are both forced to retain all data for six months, which is accessible to the Finnish and Swedish police forces.

In January 2019, the MLI called for the Canadian government to invest billions in military arms and planes, to allow its imperialist foreign policy to continue interrupted. Bianca Mugyenyi brilliantly explained why this call for more funds to the military, which already receives $22 billion a year in funding as of 2019, is absolutely out of touch with the needs of ordinary Canadians, in an op-ed which appeared on The Canada Files two days ago.

The MLI also made Nathan Law, co-founder of the separatist Demosistō party and “pro-democracy” movement leader, a MLI fellow during that same year. In doing this, they supported the American push to re-colonize Hong Kong, in which the US gave millions to activist groups and “grassroots organizations” each year, while turning a blind eye to the millions more given to these groups by nationalist HK billionaire Jimmy Lai. They ignored Demosistō’s close relationship with the National Endowment for Democracy’s National Democratic Institute, and the former NED Acting Director Allen Weinstein’s 1991 admission that, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

On September 12, 2019, the organization held a special panel on “Russian disinformation”, specifically scheduled on Black Ribbon Day, which falsely equates Communism to be an equivalent evil to Nazism. The panel featured Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who actively supports Canadian-Ukrainian groups which glorify Ukrainian Nazi collaborators, former Liberal Party leader Bob Rae, and others.

In December 2019, the Institute published a media release describing Chinese President Xi Jinping as the “top Canadian policy-maker of the year.” It featured an image of Xi Jinping as a spider standing over Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is wrapped up in a cocoon.

It goes on to push a xenophobic narrative of an “evil China” which has “significant influence” over Canadian policy, citing a study by Australian scholar Clive Hamilton. The release even criticizes the Canadian government for the rare cases where it declined to stoke unnecessary conflict with the Chinese government.

According to Corporate Mapping, as of 2019, the MLI is funded by massive oil corporations, mining corporations, the Charles Koch Foundation and the same foundations funded by Canadian oligarchs, which backed it from the start. It is also a member of the Atlas Network. A paragraph from Corporate Mapping explains that “Atlas provides an opportunity for the fossil fuel industry to fund organizations aligned with their interests.”

When a group is funded by imperialists, its policy direction and proposals will follow the interests of its funders: those of rampant imperialism across the world.

So, it is of little surprise that the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a right-wing think tank led by Christian nationalists and Conservative Party connected insiders, would push the most useful narrative for the Conservatives.

That narrative being that only China and Iran should be punished for the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, in total ignorance of the failure of PM Trudeau’s failure to properly respond to military intelligence warning of the COVID pandemic back in January and resistance to measures necessary to fight the pandemic.

Canadians should not take this ludicrous claim seriously, and should instead roundly condemn the MLI, consigning it to the dustbin of history.

As US Protests Show, the Challenge is How to Rise Above the Violence Inherent in State Power

Here is one thing I can write with an unusual degree of certainty and confidence: Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin would not have been charged with the (third-degree) murder of George Floyd had the United States not been teetering on a knife edge of open revolt.

Had demonstrators not turned out in massive numbers on the streets and refused to be corralled back home by the threat of police violence, the US legal system would have simply turned a blind eye to Chauvin’s act of extreme brutality, as it has done before over countless similar acts.

Without the mass protests, it would have made no difference that Floyd’s murder was caught on camera, that it was predicted by Floyd himself in his cries of “I can’t breathe” as Chauvin spent nearly nine minutes pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck, or that the outcome was obvious to spectators who expressed their growing alarm as Floyd lost consciousness. At most, Chauvin would have had to face, as he had many times before, an ineffectual disciplinary investigation over “misconduct”.

Without the current ferocious mood of anger directed at the police and sweeping much of the nation, Chauvin would have found himself as immune from accountability and prosecution as so many police officers before him who gunned down or lynched black citizens.

Instead he is the first white police officer in the state of Minnesota ever to be criminally charged over the death of a black man. After initially arguing that there were mitigating factors to be considered, prosecutors hurriedly changed course to declare Chauvin’s indictment the fastest they had ever initiated. Yesterday Minneapolis’s police chief was forced to call the other three officers who stood by as Floyd was murdered in front of them “complicit”.

Confrontation, not contrition

If the authorities’ placatory indictment of Chauvin – on the least serious charge they could impose, based on incontrovertible evidence they could not afford to deny – amounts to success, then it is only a little less depressing than failure.

Worse still, though most protesters are trying to keep their demonstrations non-violent, many of the police officers dealing with the protests look far readier for confrontation than contrition. The violent attacks by police on protesters, including the use of vehicles for rammings, suggest that it is Chauvin’s murder charge – not the slow, barbaric murder of Floyd by one of their number – that has incensed fellow officers. They expect continuing impunity for their violence.

Similarly, the flagrant mistreatment by police of corporate media outlets simply for reporting developments, from the arrest of a CNN crew to physical assaults on BBC staff, underlines the sense of grievance harboured by many police officers when their culture of violence is exposed for all the world to see. They are not reeling it in, they are widening the circle of “enemies”.

Nonetheless, it is entirely wrong to suggest, as a New York Times editorial did yesterday, that police impunity can be largely ascribed to “powerful unions” shielding officers from investigation and punishment. The editorial board needs to go back to school. The issues currently being exposed to the harsh glare of daylight get to the heart of what modern states are there to do – matters rarely discussed outside of political theory classes.

Right to bear arms

The success of the modern state, like the monarchies of old, rests on the public’s consent, explicit or otherwise, to its monopoly of violence. As citizens, we give up what was once deemed an inherent or “natural” right to commit violence ourselves and replace it with a social contract in which our representatives legislate supposedly neutral, just laws on our behalf. The state invests the power to enforce those laws in a supposedly disciplined, benevolent police force – there to “protect and serve” – while a dispassionate court system judges suspected violators of those laws.

That is the theory, anyway.

In the case of the United States, the state’s monopoly on violence has been muddied by a constitutional “right to bear arms”, although, of course, the historic purpose of that right was to ensure that the owners of land and slaves could protect their “property”. Only white men were supposed to have the right to bear arms.

Today, little has changed substantively, as should be obvious the moment we consider what would have happened had it been black militia men that recently protested the Covid-19 lockdown by storming the Michigan state capitol, venting their indignation in the faces of white policemen.

(In fact, the US authorities’ reaction to the Black Panthers movement through the late 1960s and 1970s is salutary enough for anyone who wishes to understand how dangerous it is for a black man to bear arms in his own defence against the violence of white men.)

Brutish violence

The monopoly of violence by the state is justified because most of us have supposedly consented to it in an attempt to avoid a Hobbesian world of brutish violence where individuals, families and tribes enforce their own, less disinterested versions of justice.

But, of course, the state system is not as neutral or dispassionate as it professes, or as most of us assume. Until the struggle for universal suffrage succeeded – a practice that in all western states can be measured in decades, not centuries – the state was explicitly there to uphold the interests of a wealthy elite, a class of landed gentry and newly emerging industrialists, as well as a professional class that made society run smoothly for the benefit of that elite.

What was conceded to the working class was the bare minimum to prevent them from rising up against the privileges enjoyed by the rest of society.

That was why, for example, Britain did not have universal health care – the National Health Service – until after the Second World War, 30 years after men received the vote and 20 years after women won the same right. Only after the war did the British establishment start to fear that a newly empowered working class – of returning soldiers who knew how to bear arms, backed by women who had been released from the home to work on the land or in munitions factories to replace the departed men – might no longer be willing to accept a lack of basic health care for themselves and their loved ones.

It was in this atmosphere of an increasingly organised and empowered labour movement – reinforced by the need to engineer more consumerist societies to benefit newly emerging corporations – that European social democracy was born. (Paradoxically, the post-war US Marshall Plan helped subsidise the emergence of Europe’s major social democracies, including their public health care systems, even as similar benefits were denied domestically to Americans.)

Creative legal interpretations

To maintain legitimacy for the state’s monopoly on violence, the legal establishment has had to follow the same minimalist balancing act as the political establishment.

The courts cannot simply rationalise and justify the implicit and sometimes explicit use of violence in law enforcement without regard to public sentiment. Laws are amended, but equally significantly they are creatively interpreted by judges so that they fit the ideological and moral fashions and prejudices of the day, to ensure the public feels justice is being done.

In the main, however, we the public have a very conservative understanding of right and wrong, of justice and injustice, which has been shaped for us by a corporate media that both creates and responds to those fashions and trends to ensure that the current system continues undisturbed, allowing for the ever-greater accumulation of wealth by an elite.

That is why so many of us are viscerally appalled by looting on the streets by poor people, but reluctantly accept as a fact of life the much larger intermittent looting of our taxes, of our banks, of our homes by the state to bail out a corporate elite that cannot manage the economy it created.

Again, the public’s deference to the system is nurtured to ensure it does not rise up.

Muscle on the street

But the legal system doesn’t just have a mind; it has muscle too. Its front-line enforcers, out on the street, get to decide who is a criminal suspect, who is dangerous or subversive, who needs to be deprived of their liberty, and who is going to have violence inflicted upon them. It is the police that initially determine who spends time in a jail cell and who comes before a court. And in some cases, as in George Floyd’s, it is the police that decide who is going to be summarily executed without a trial or a jury.

The state would prefer, of course, that police officers don’t kill unarmed citizens in the street – and even more so that they don’t carry out such acts in full view of witnesses and on camera, as Chauvin did. The state’s objections are not primarily ethical. State bureaucracies are not overly invested in matters beyond the need to maintain external and internal security: defending the borders from outside threats, and ensuring internal legitimacy through the cultivation of citizens’ consent.

But the issue of for whom and for what the state keeps its territory safe has become harder to conceal over time. Nowadays, the state’s political processes and its structures have been almost completely captured by corporations. As a result, the maintenance of internal and external security is less about ensuring an orderly and safe existence for citizens than about creating a stable territorial platform for globalised businesses to plunder local resources, exploit local labour forces and generate greater profits by transforming workers into consumers.

Increasingly, the state has become a hollowed-out vessel through which corporations order their business agendas. States function primarily now to compete with each other in a battle to minimise the obstacles facing global corporations as they seek to maximise their wealth and profits in each state’s territory. The state’s role is to avoid getting in the way of corporations as they extract resources (deregulation), or, when this capitalist model regularly collapses, come to the aid of the corporations with more generous bailouts than rival states.

Murder could prove a spark

This is the political context for understanding why Chauvin is that very rare example of a white policeman facing a murder charge for killing a black man.

Chauvin’s gratuitous and incendiary murder of Floyd – watched by any American with a screen, and with echoes of so many other recent cases of unjustifiable police brutality against black men, women and children – is the latest spark that risks lighting a conflagration.

In the heartless, amoral calculations of the state, the timing of Chauvin’s very public act of barbarity could not have been worse. There were already rumblings of discontent over federal and state authorities’ handling of the new virus; fears over the catastrophic consequences for the US economy; outrage at the inequity – yet again – of massive bailouts for the biggest corporations but paltry help for ordinary workers; and the social and personal frustrations caused by lockdown.

There is also a growing sense that the political class, Republican and Democrat alike, has grown sclerotic and unresponsive to the plight of ordinary Americans – an impression only underscored by the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

For all these reasons, and many others, people were ready to take to the streets. Floyd’s murder gave them the push.

The need for loyal police

In these circumstances, Chauvin had to be charged, even if only in the hope of assuaging that anger, of providing a safety valve releasing some of the discontent.

But charging Chauvin is no simple matter either. To ensure its survival, the state needs to monopolise violence and internal security, to maintain its exclusive definition of what constitutes order, and to keep the state as a safe territorial platform for business. The alternative is the erosion of the nation-state’s authority, and the possibility of its demise.

This was the rationale behind Donald Trump’s notorious tweet last week – censored by Twitter for “glorifying violence” – that warned: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Not surprisingly, he invoked the words of a racist Miami police chief, Walter Headley, who threatened violence against the African-American community in the late 1960s. At the time Headley additionally stated: “There’s no communication with them except force.”

Trump may be harking back to an ugly era of what was once called “race relations”, but the sentiment lies at the heart of the state’s mission.

The state needs its police forces loyal and ready to use violence. It cannot afford discontent in the ranks, or that sections of the police corps no longer identify their own interests with the state’s. The state dares not alienate police officers for fear that, when they are needed most, during times of extreme dissent like now, they will not be there – or worse still, that they will have joined the dissenters.

As noted, elements in the police are already demonstrating their disenchantment over Chauvin’s indictment as well as their sense of grievance against the media – bolstered by Donald Trump’s regular verbal assaults on journalists. That sentiment helps to explain the unprecedented attacks by the police on reliably compliant major media outlets covering the protests.

Ideological twins

The need to keep the security forces loyal is why the state fosters a sense of separateness between the police and those sections of the populace that it defines as potentially threatening order, thereby uniting more privileged segments of society in fear and hostility.

The state cultivates in the police and sections of the public a sense that police violence is legitimate by definition when it targets individuals or groups it portrays as threatening or subversive. It also encourages the view that the police enjoy impunity a priori in such cases because they alone can decide what constitutes a menace to society (shaped, of course, by popular discourses promoted by the state and the corporate media).

“Threat” is defined as any dissent against the existing order, whether it is a black man answering back and demonstrating “attitude”, or mass protests against the system, including against police violence. In this way, the police and the state are ideological twins. The state approves whatever the police do; while the police repress whatever the state defines as a threat. If it is working effectively, state-police violence becomes a circular, self-rationalising system.

Throwing the protests a bone

Charging Chauvin risks disrupting that system, creating a fault line between the state and the police, one of the state’s most essential agencies. Which is why the charging of a police officer in these circumstances is such an exceptional event, and has been dictated by the current exceptional outpouring of anger.

Prosecutors are trying to find a delicate compromise between two conflicting demands: between the need to reassure the police that their violence is always legitimate (carried out “in the line of duty”) and the need to stop the popular wave of anger escalating to a point where the existing order might break down. In these circumstances, Chauvin needs to be charged but with the least serious indictment possible – given the irrefutable evidence presented in the video – in the hope that, once the current wave of anger has subsided, he can be found not guilty; or if found guilty, given a lenient sentence; or if sentenced more harshly, pardoned.

Chauvin’s indictment is like throwing a chewed-dry bone to a hungry dog, from the point of view of the state authorities. It is an act of parsimonious appeasement, designed to curb non-state violence or the threat of such violence.

The indictment is not meant to change a police culture – or an establishment one – that presents black men as an inherent threat to order. It will not disrupt regulatory and legal systems that are wedded to the view that (white, conservative) police officers are on the front line defending civilisational values from (black or leftwing) “lawbreakers”. And it will not curtail the state’s commitment to ensuring that the police enjoy impunity over their use of violence.

Change is inevitable

A healthy state – committed to the social contract – would be capable of finding ways to accommodate discontent before it reaches the level of popular violence and revolt. The scenes playing out across the US are evidence that state institutions, captured by corporate money, are increasingly incapable of responding to demands for change. The hollowed-out state represents not its citizens, who are capable of compromise, but the interests of global forces of capital that care little what takes place on the streets of Minneapolis or New York so long as the corporations can continue to accumulate wealth and power.

Why would we expect these global forces to be sensitive to popular unrest in the US when they have proved entirely insensitive to the growing signals of distress from the planet, as its life-support systems recalibrate for our pillage and plunder in ways we will struggle to survive as a species?

Why would the state not block the path to peaceful change, knowing it excels in the use of violence, when it blocks the path to reform that might curb the corporate assault on the environment?

These captured politicians and officials – on the “left” and right – will continue fanning the flames, stoking the fires, as Barack Obama’s former national security adviser Susan Rice did this week. She denied the evidence of police violence shown on Youtube and the very real distress of an underclass abandoned by the political class when she suggested that the protests were being directed from the Kremlin.

This kind of bipartisan denial of reality only underscores how quickly we are entering a period of crisis and revolt. From the G8 protests, to the Occupy movement, to Extinction Rebellion, to the schools’ protests, to the Yellow Vests, to the current fury on US streets, there is evidence all around that the centre is struggling to maintain its hold. The US imperial project is overstretched, the global corporate elite is over-extended, living on credit, resources are depleting, the planet is recalibrating. Something will have to give.

The challenge to the protesters – either those on the streets now or those who follow in their wake – is how to surmount the state’s violence and how to offer a vision of a different, more hopeful future that restores the social contract.

Lessons will be learnt through protest, defiance and disobedience, not in a courtroom where a police officer stands trial as an entire political and economic system is allowed to carry on with its crimes.

The Covid-19 “Manhattan Project” and its Ties to the CIA

On April 27, the Wall Street Journal reported about the creation of a “Manhattan Project” for Covid-19. A “secret group”, consisting in a dozen scientists and a few billionaires, was working “to cull the world’s most promising research on the pandemic” to then advise the White House in the best course of action.

As Rob Copeland wrote for the journal, the group is led by a 33-year-old physician-turned-venture-capitalist named Tom Cahill, a graduate from Duke University with extensive – maybe too extensive – contacts in the business world, as we will explore below. The “lockdown-era Manhattan Project”, as the group describes its own endeavor, is all about “distilling unorthodox ideas” from around the globe. As we can remember, the MP created the atomic bomb during WW II.

Cahill’s “secret group” is already influencing the Trump administration, which is taking advice from its 17-page memo, also made available by the journal. In other example of its influence, by the end of March Dr. Cahill made a phone call to Mike Pence’s aid, Nick Ayers, who managed to accelerate a lucrative FDA permission for Regeneron Pharmaceuticals – working on a potential vaccine for COVID-19 – to move its production to Ireland, where taxes and licenses are more lax.

Other policies included in the memo regard mandatory smartphone apps that will require people to report about their health and potential symptoms to a government agency on a daily basis.

But the brazen pecuniary nature of their enterprise comes to light when the WSJ informs us that the group of scientists working around Cahill – and their billionaire backers:

…has acted as the go-between for pharmaceutical companies looking for a reputable link to Trump administration decision makers. They are working remotely as (an) ad hoc review board for the flood of research on the coronavirus, weeding out flawed studies before they reach policy makers.

In other words, a private filter made of billionaires and scientists – who as we will see, own stock in some very profitable big pharma companies or work for them – is arbitrarily “weeding out” ideas from around the world regarding solutions to the pandemic… in the purported benefit of society?

Some could argue that that very same logic brought us to where we are right now: underfunded healthcare systems collapsed under a pandemic that was foreseen years or even decades in advance. As tens of writers and journalists have outlined in recent weeks around the world, what was needed for an up-to-the-task response to a threat like coronavirus, like stockpiles of specific medical equipment, more hospital beds and health professionals, was not a lucrative enough alternative for the privatized healthcare mercenaries in charge.

As few alternative media commented on the WSJ revelation, Naked Capitalism noted:

In essence, the country would be betting on venture capitalists and private equity specialists to solve the Covid-19 epidemic; oligarchs, in other words. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good bet… private equity is, after all, responsible for a range of social ills, including surprise billing from practices in privatized emergency rooms…

Just two months ago, when the pandemic was starting, Dr. Peter Hotez, from the Center for Vaccine Development at the Texas Children’s Hospital, told the US Congress that in 2016 he and his team of researchers had a vaccine for a strain of coronavirus “ready to go”, but by then, “nobody was interested…”, so they didn’t obtain funding to test it on humans. Hotez, who also stated that his vaccine “may have provided cross-protection from the (present) strain”, says that the SARS epidemic of 2003 and the MERS or camel flu of 2012, should have “triggered major federal and global investments to develop vaccines in anticipation…”

It didn’t. Our good doctor even approached big pharma companies after the recent outbreak regarding his would-be vaccine. He literally got this response from one of them: “Well, we’re holding back to see if this thing comes back year after year…”

Now some big pharma investors, hiding behind their scientists/employees –young Dr. Cahill is presented by the WSJ as an stoic “one suit” living in a “one bedroom rental near Boston’s Fenway Park”– are looking to make a kill among the biggest disaster in recent times, with an economic fallout yet to be seen.

And just as the billionaires behind the “Covid-19 Manhattan Project” are tied to big pharma and some of the most powerful investment trusts in the world, its head, Dr. Tom Cahill, is tied to the CIA’s venture capital, In-Q-Tel.

Cahill, Seventh Sense BioSystems, and the Gates Foundation

As former CIA director George Tenet stated in his memoirs: “…CIA identifies pressing problems, and In-Q-Tel provides the technology to address them. The In-Q-Tel alliance has put the Agency back at the leading edge of technology”. In-Q-Tel is notorious for investing in Keyhole, the technology that later became Google Earth.

As mentioned, Dr. Tom Cahill’s tender age didn’t stop him from developing a list of contacts among billionaire “philanthropists” like the notorious Michael Milken, and elite capitalist ventures like … well, the CIA’s investment fund.

Seventh Sense BioSystems was created in 2008 to develop a blood collection system that would facilitate diagnosis around the world, especially in the underdeveloped world. They designed a small device armed with micro-needles that would be fixed to the upper arm of the patient, drawing blood with a painless tap and storing it.

Dr. Cahill is a member of the board of directors at Seventh Sense. The medical technology start-up obtained money from In-Q-Tel for its very first round of funding ($4.2 million in total; the exact amount coming from the CIA’s front is unknown). Although the donation, made with tax-payer money, isn’t officially secret – the CIA’s venture fund works openly but discreetly –, the reasons why the agency could be interested in the project remain a mystery.

A few years after that, in 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation granted Seven Sense BioSystems over $2 million for its second round of funding. We should note that Novartis, also a Gates Foundation grantee, was tied to the recently incarcerated Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s lawyer. Novartis, working on a hydroxychloroquine treatment for the virus, paid Cohen more than $1 million for “policy insights” after Trump’s election in 2016. After their relationship was leaked, Novartis apologized. Later, a congressional investigation revealed the real objective of Novartis, the company: “explicitly sought to hire Michael Cohen to provide the company ‘access to key policymakers’ in the Trump administration…”

Dr. Cahill’s access to the White House, on the other hand, is a benefit provided to him by his own powerful godfathers, like Steve Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics and co-chairman of Bane Capital – involved in “some of the biggest investments in biotech” since 2016. According to the WSJ, Pagliuca passed on a version of Cahill’s Scientists to Stop Covid-19 memo and policy recommendations to a Goldman Sachs executive, David Solomon, who then handed it to Trump’s Treasure Secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

As the WSJ stated, Pagliuca, along with PayPal’s Peter Thiel, Jim Pallotta – owner of Raptor Capital, also invested in biotechnologies and Big Pharma – and Michael Milken (a “philanthropist” and convicted felon who invented the “junk bonds”) gave Cahill the “legitimacy” to reach the White House “in the middle of the crisis”.

Finally, in an even more unintendedly sarcastic manner, the WSJ piece assures its readers that: “no one in the group stands to gain financially”. Maybe not directly.

An elite club of interconnected billionaire investors

A recent short documentary from The Corbett Report’s, “How Bill Gates Monopolized Global Health”, carefully explains how the Gates Foundation (also) donates millions of dollars to many world renowned media like The Guardian, the BBC, NPR and ABC News, where its dollars funds health related news segments. Its influence in media, the World Health Organization and hundreds of grants for research and development let Gates set the agenda for human health, to the point that is: “almost impossible to find any area of global health that has been left untouched by the tentacles of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation…

“It was Gates who sponsored the meeting that led to the creation of GAVI, the vaccine alliance, a global public-private partnership bringing together state sponsors and big pharmaceutical companies…” as Corbett reports. The openly stated objective of GAVI is to ensure healthy markets (for vaccines and other pharma products).

Government reactions in the US and UK, he adds, were shaped by the advice of two research groups, one from London’s Imperial College and the other from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (Seattle), both heavily funded by – you guessed it – the Gates Foundation.

Despite dubious disclaimers, the fact is that the handful of billionaires and multimillionaires backing Cahill’s group of Scientists to Stop Covid-19 have important and overlapping investments in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, and therefore could be expected to make huge deals out of the present pandemic and the proposed solutions. Jim Pallotta’s Raptor Capital made millions investing in Hospira, a pharmaceutical company bought by Pfizer in 2015. Steve Pagliuca’s Bain Capital Life Sciences also invests in two dozen biotech startups, with special mentions to a couple Pfizer spinouts.

All of the billionaires or multimillionaires mentioned throughout this article seem to deal with the same companies, venture funds and holdings, as if they were part of an elite club of investors. Peter Thiel, through the Founders Fund, invested in Stemcentrx, a company designing cancer treatments with stem cells that was bought by AbbVie, owned in part by the Vanguard Group. The latter also have interests in Pfizer and half a dozen big pharma names that overlap with those receiving “charitable” donations from the Gates Foundation. The Vanguard Group is also one of the top institutional shareholders of Class B shares from Berkshire Hathaway, where Warren Buffett is CEO.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust, according to a recent investigation by The Nation, own stock from a dozen well-known names in pharmaceuticals like GSK, Merck, Pfizer or Eli Lilly, while at the same time – and in an open conflict of interests – the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation makes “philanthropic” donations to them.

Most of these firms, including “charities”, holdings and venture funds, have no qualms in dealing with pharmaceuticals and the kind of private companies that make them direly needed in the first place, like Coca-Cola, McDonalds or giants of the oil and agricultural industries, including the producers of glyphosate-carrying concoctions.

The so-called “Covid-19 Manhattan Project” is, in sum, an open door to the White House for an elite club of billionaires aiming at enlarging their already extravagant business portfolio at the expense of a catastrophic emergency. Far from new, it follows the same neoliberal logic that brought us to this point, putting in the hands of the superwealthy 0.01 % the future of health in the United States and the world just like another business opportunity.

As Joachim Hagopian once wrote for Global Research:

This is neither a new nor unique story. In fact, the story of big pharma is the exact same story of how big government, big oil, big agro-chem giants like Monsanto have come to power. The controlling shareholders of all these major industries are one and the same.

Welcome to the Era of the Great Disillusionment

This is a column I have been mulling over for a while but, for reasons that will be instantly obvious, I have been hesitant to write. It is about 5G, vaccines, 9/11, aliens and lizard overlords. Or more accurately, it isn’t.

Let me preface my argument by making clear I do not intend to express any view about the truth or falsity of any of these debates – not even the one about reptile rulers. My refusal to publicly take a view should not be interpreted as my implicit endorsement of any of these viewpoints because, after all, only a crazy tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist sympathiser would refuse to make their views known on such matters.

Equally, my lumping together of all these disparate issues does not necessarily mean I see them as alike. Rather, they are presented in mainstream thinking as similarly proof of an unhinged, delusional, conspiracy-oriented mindset. I am working within a category that has been selected for me.

Truth and falsehood are not what this column is about. To consider these topics solely on the basis of whether they are true or false would distract from the critical thinking I wish to engage in here – especially since critical thinking is so widely discouraged in our societies. I want this column to deny a safe space to anyone emotionally invested in either side of these debates. (Doubtless, that will not deter those who would prefer to make mischief and misrepresent my argument. That is a hazard that comes with the territory.)

I am focusing on this set of issues now because some of them have been playing out increasingly loudly on social media as we cope with the isolation of lockdowns. People trapped at home have more time to explore the internet, and that means more opportunities to find often obscure information that may or may not be true. These kinds of debates are shaping our discursive landscape, and have profound political implications. It is these matters, not questions of truth, I want to examine in this column.

Social media and 5G

Let’s take 5G as an example. I am not a scientist, and I have done no research on 5G. Which is a very good reason why no one should be interested in what I have to say about the science or the safety of 5G. But like many people active on social media, I have been made aware – often with little choice on my part – of online debates about 5G and science.

Like TV presenter Eamonn Holmes, I have inevitably gained an impression of that debate. To a casual viewer, the debate looks (and we are discussing here appearances only) something like this:

a) State scientific advisers, as well as scientists whose jobs or research are financed by the mobile phone industry, are very certain that there are no dangers associated with 5G.

b) A few scientists (real ones, not evangelical pastors pretending to be former Vodafone executives) have warned that there has not been independent research on the health effects of 5G, that the technology has been rushed through for commercial reasons, and that the possible dangers posed long term to our health from constant exposure have not been properly assessed.

c) Other scientists in this specialist field, possibly the majority, are keeping their peace.

Business our new god

That impression might not be true. It may be that that is just the way social media has made the debate look. It is possible that on the contrary:

  • the research has been vigorously carried out, even if it does not appear to have been widely reported in the mainstream media,
  • mobile phone and other communication industries have not financed what research there is in an attempt to obtain results helpful to their commercial interests,
  • the aggressively competitive mobile phone industry has been prepared to sit back and wait several years for all safety issues to be resolved, unconcerned about the effects on their profits of such delays,
  • the industry has avoided using its money and lobbyists to buy influence in the corridors of power and advance a political agenda based on its commercial interests rather than on the science,
  • and individual governments, keen not to be left behind on a global battlefield in which they compete for economic, military and intelligence advantage, have collectively waited to see whether 5G is safe rather than try to undercut each other and gain an edge over allies and enemies alike.

All of that is possible. But anyone who has been observing our societies for the past few decades – where business has become our new god, and where corporate money seems to dominate our political systems more than the politicians we elect – would have at least reasonable grounds to worry that corners may have been cut, that political pressure may have been exerted, and that some scientists (who are presumably human like the rest of us) may have been prepared to prioritise their careers and incomes over the most rigorous science.

Looney-tunes conspiracism

Again, I am not a scientist. Even if the research has not been carried out properly and the phone industry has lobbied sympathetic politicians to advance its commercial interests, it is still possible that, despite all that, 5G is entirely safe. But as I said at the start, I am not here to express a view about the science of 5G.

I am discussing instead why it is not unreasonable or entirely irrational for a debate about the safety of 5G to have gone viral on social media while being ignored by corporate media; why a very mainstream TV presenter like Eamonn Holmes might suggest – to huge criticism – a need to address growing public concerns about 5G; why such concerns might quickly morph into fears of a connection between 5G and the current global pandemic; and why frightened people might decide to take things into their own hands by burning down 5G masts.

Explaining this chain of events is not the same as justifying any of the links in that chain. But equally, dismissing all of it as simply looney-tunes conspiracism is not entirely reasonable or rational either.

The issue here is not really about 5G, it’s about whether our major institutions still hold public trust. Those who dismiss all concerns about 5G have a very high level of trust in the state and its institutions. Those who worry about 5G – a growing section of western populations , it seems – have very little trust in our institutions and increasingly in our scientists too. And the people responsible for that erosion of trust are our governments – and, if we are brutally honest, the scientists as well.

Information overload

Debates like the 5G one have not emerged in a vacuum. They come at a moment of unprecedented information dissemination that derives from a decade of rapid growth in social media. We are the first societies to have access to data and information that was once the preserve of monarchs, state officials and advisers, and in more recent times a few select journalists.

Now rogue academics, rogue journalists, rogue former officials – anyone, in fact – can go online and discover a myriad of things that until recently no one outside a small establishment circle was ever supposed to understand. If you know where to look, you can even find some of this stuff on Wikipedia (see, for example, Operation Timber Sycamore).

The effect of this information overload has been to disorientate the great majority of us who lack the time, the knowledge and the analytical skills to sift through it all and make sense of the world around us. It is hard to discriminate when there is so much information – good and bad alike – to digest.

Nonetheless, we have got a sense from these online debates,  reinforced by events in the non-virtual world, that our politicians do not always tell the truth, that money – rather than the public interest – sometimes wins out in decision-making processes, and that our elites may be little better equipped than us – aside from their expensive educations – to run our societies.

Two decades of lies

There has been a handful of staging posts over the past two decades to our current era of the Great Disillusionment. They include:

  • the lack of transparency in the US government’s investigation into the events surrounding 9/11 (obscured by a parallel online controversy about what took place that day);
  • the documented lies told about the reasons for launching a disastrous and illegal war of aggression against Iraq in 2003 that unleashed regional chaos, waves of destabilising migration into Europe and new, exceptionally brutal forms of political Islam;
  • the astronomical bailouts after the 2008 crash of bankers whose criminal activities nearly bankrupted the global economy (but who were never held to account) and instituted more than a decade of austerity measures that had to be paid for by the public;
  • the refusal by western governments and global institutions to take any leadership on tackling climate change, as not only the science but the weather itself has made the urgency of that emergency clear, because it would mean taking on their corporate sponsors;
  • and now the criminal failures of our governments to prepare for, and respond properly to, the Covid-19 pandemic, despite many years of warnings.

Anyone who still takes what our governments say at face value … well, I have several bridges to sell you.

Experts failed us

But it is not just governments to blame. The failings of experts, administrators and the professional class have been all too visible to the public as well. Those officials who have enjoyed easy access to prominent platforms in the state-corporate media have obediently repeated what state and corporate interests wanted us to hear, often only for that information to be exposed later as incomplete, misleading or downright fabricated.

In the run-up to the 2003 attack on Iraq, too many political scientists, journalists and weapons experts kept their heads down, keen to preserve their careers and status, rather than speak up in support of those rare experts like Scott Ritter and the late David Kelly who dared to sound the alarm that we were not being told the whole truth.

In 2008, only a handful of economists was prepared to break with corporate orthodoxy and question whether throwing money at bankers exposed as financial criminals was wise, or to demand that these bankers be prosecuted. The economists did not argue the case that there must be a price for the banks to pay, such as a public stake in the banks that were bailed out, in return for forcing taxpayers to massively invest in these discredited businesses. And the economists did not propose overhauling our financial systems to make sure there was no repetition of the economic crash. Instead, they kept their heads down as well, in the hope that their large salaries continued and that they would not lose their esteemed positions in think-tanks and universities.

We know that climate scientists were quietly warning back in the 1950s of the dangers of runaway global warming, and that in the 1980s scientists working for the fossil-fuel companies predicted very precisely how and when the catastrophe would unfold – right about now. It is wonderful that today the vast majority of these scientists are publicly agreed on the dangers, even if they are still trapped in a dangerous caution by the conservatism of scientific procedure. But they forfeited public trust by leaving it so very, very late to speak up.

And recently we have learnt, for example, that a series of Conservative governments in the UK recklessly ran down the supplies of hospital protective gear, even though they had more than a decade of warnings of a coming pandemic. The question is why did no scientific advisers or health officials blow the whistle earlier. Now it is too late to save the lives of many thousands, including dozens of medical staff, who have fallen victim so far to the virus in the UK.

Lesser of two evils

Worse still, in the Anglosphere of the US and the UK, we have ended up with political systems that offer a choice between one party that supports a brutal, unrestrained version of neoliberalism and another party that supports a marginally less brutal, slightly mitigated version of neoliberalism. (And we have recently discovered in the UK that, after the grassroots membership of one of those twinned parties managed to choose a leader in Jeremy Corbyn who rejected this orthodoxy, his own party machine conspired to throw the election rather than let him near power.) As we are warned at each election, in case we decide that elections are in fact futile, we enjoy a choice – between the lesser of two evils.

Those who ignore or instinctively defend these glaring failings of the modern corporate system are really in no position to sit smugly in judgment on those who wish to question the safety of 5G, or vaccines, or the truth of 9/11, or the reality of a climate catastrophe, or even of the presence of lizard overlords.

Because through their reflexive dismissal of doubt, of all critical thinking on anything that has not been pre-approved by our governments and by the state-corporate media, they have helped to disfigure the only yardsticks we have for measuring truth or falsehood. They have forced on us a terrible choice: to blindly follow those who have repeatedly demonstrated they are not worthy of being followed, or to trust nothing at all, to doubt everything. Neither position is one a healthy, balanced individual would want to adopt. But that is where we are today.

Big Brother regimes

It is therefore hardly surprising that those who have been so discredited by the current explosion of information – the politicians, the corporations and the professional class – are wondering how to fix things in the way most likely to maintain their power and authority.

They face two, possibly complementary options.

One is to allow the information overload to continue, or even escalate. There is an argument to be made that the more possible truths we are presented with, the more powerless we feel and the more willing we are to defer to those most vocal in claiming authority. Confused and hopeless, we will look to father figures, to the strongmen of old, to those who have cultivated an aura of decisiveness and fearlessness, to those who look like down-to-earth mavericks and rebels.

This approach will throw up more Donald Trumps, Boris Johnsons and Jair Bolsonaros. And these men, while charming us with their supposed lack of orthodoxy, will still, of course, be exceptionally accommodating to the most powerful corporate interests – the military-industrial complex – that really run the show.

The other option, which has already been road-tested under the rubric of “fake news”, will be to treat us the public like irresponsible children, who need a firm, guiding hand. The technocrats and professionals will try to re-establish their authority as though the last two decades never occurred, as though we never saw through their hypocrisy and lies.

They will cite “conspiracy theories” – even the true ones – as proof that it is time to impose new curbs on internet freedoms, on the right to speak and to think. They will argue that the social media experiment has run its course and proved itself a menace – because we, the public, are a menace. They are already flying trial balloons for this new Big Brother world, under cover of tackling the health threats posed by the Covid-19 epidemic.

We should not be surprised that the “thought-leaders” for shutting down the cacophony of the internet are those whose failures have been most exposed by our new freedoms to explore the dark recesses of the recent historical record. They have included Tony Blair, the British prime minister who lied western publics into the disastrous and illegal war on Iraq in 2003, and Jack Goldsmith, rewarded as a Harvard law professor for his role – since whitewashed – in helping the Bush administration legalise torture and step up warrantless surveillance programmes.

Need for a new media

The only alternative to a future in which we are ruled by Big Brother technocrats like Tony Blair, or by chummy authoritarians who brook no dissent, or a mix of the two, will require a complete overhaul of our societies’ approach to information. We will need fewer curbs on free speech, not more.

The real test of our societies – and the only hope of surviving the coming emergencies, economic and environmental – will be finding a way to hold our leaders truly to account. Not based on whether they are secretly lizards, but on what they are doing to save our planet from our all-too-human, self-destructive instinct for acquisition and our craving for guarantees of security in an uncertain world.

That, in turn, will require a transformation of our relationship to information and debate. We will need a new model of independent, pluralistic, responsive, questioning media that is accountable to the public, not to billionaires and corporations. Precisely the kind of media we do not have now. We will need media we can trust to represent the full range of credible, intelligent, informed debate, not the narrow Overton window through which we get a highly partisan, distorted view of the world that serves the 1 percent – an elite so richly rewarded by the current system that they are prepared to ignore the fact that they and we are hurtling towards the abyss.

With that kind of media in place – one that truly holds politicians to account and celebrates scientists for their contributions to collective knowledge, not their usefulness to corporate enrichment – we would not need to worry about the safety of our communications systems or medicines, we would not need to doubt the truth of events in the news or wonder whether we have lizards for rulers, because in that kind of world no one would rule over us. They would serve the public for the common good.

Sounds like a fantastical, improbable system of government? It has a name: democracy. Maybe it is time for us finally to give it a go.

The Gates Foundation and the War on Cash: “Financial Inclusion” in an Age of Neoliberalism 

Back in November 2016, the Indian government decided to remove all 500- and 1000-rupee notes from circulation overnight without prior notice. This effectively removed 86% of cash in a country that was almost 90% cash reliant.

The notes became worthless and people were asked to hand them in to banks. They would only receive what they had deposited in dribs and drabs over time in the form of new notes. The official reason for this was that the action would curtail the shadow economy and reduce the use of illicit and counterfeit cash to fund illegal activity and terrorism.

Some who questioned the official narrative regarded this ‘demonetisation’ policy as a ploy to take money from the public and use it to inject much needed liquidity into the banking system that had been bled dry by the outflow of cheap money (and loan waivers) to large corporations which had been milking the well dry.

The purpose of this article is not to explore the merits or otherwise of this claim or the official government narrative. The point here is to highlight how the policy (also) formed part of an ongoing global ‘war on cash’. In the discussion that follows, it will be shown that Bill Gates is a major player in trying to get the world to go digital and ditch cash, especially relevant given his role in the COVID-19 issue.

When we look beyond the mainstream narrative to gain an understanding of the current crisis, it doesn’t take long before the name of Bill Gates and his foundation appear. And this is no coincidence seeing that he has placed himself firmly in the limelight on prime time TV shows offering his opinion on COVID-19 and what he thinks should be done. He has mentioned the need for maintaining some form of lockdown until a vaccine is discovered.

Much has been written on the Gates Foundation’s close associations with the big vaccine manufacturers and its questionable practices and record in rolling out vaccines in places like Africa and India. US attorney Robert F Kennedy Jr says that top Trump advisor Stephen Fauci has made the reckless choice to fast track vaccines, partially funded by Gates, without critical animal studies. Gates is so worried about the danger of adverse events that he says vaccines shouldn’t be distributed until governments agree to indemnity against lawsuits.

But this should come as little surprise. The Gates Foundation and its global vaccine agenda already has much to answer for. Instead of prioritising projects that are proven to curb infectious diseases and improve health — clean water, hygiene, nutrition and economic development — Kennedy notes that the Gates Foundation spends only about $650 million of its $5 billion budget on these areas.

It is fair to say that the Gates Foundation has an agenda: it believes that many of its aims can be delivered via the barrel of a syringe. It has been well documented in recent weeks about how the Gates Foundation has spread its tentacles into every facet of global health policy. For instance, it is a major funder of the World Health Organization and donates to other pivotal players in the COVID-19 saga, not least Imperial College London whose Neil Ferguson produced hugely flawed data upon which the UK government implemented a lockdown, which entailed sanctioning draconian state powers and stripping of people’s basic rights via the Coronavirus Emergency Act.

Although often alluded to, Gates’s push for cashless societies is given less attention in the current climate but is just as important. It is not only the major pharmaceutical corporations which the Gates Foundation is firmly in bed with (along with the big agri-food players), it is also embedded with Wall Street financial interests.

The global shift from cash towards digital transactions is being spearheaded by Bill Gates and US financial corporations who will profit from digital payments. At the same time, by controlling digital payments (and removing cash), you can control and monitor everything a country and its citizens do and pay for.

War on cash in India

In India, the informal workforce has been measured at around 85%By 2014, fewer than 35% of Indians above the age of 15 had used a bank account and under 10% had ever used any kind of non-cash payment instrument.

Although some voices welcomed the 2016 demonetisation policy, as they believed it would push many Indians off cash and towards ‘financial inclusion’, it was, according to economist Norbert Haring, concocted in Washington, not for the benefit of Indians but in the interests of Western financial institutions who are pushing for a cashless world. For a lower income country such as India, which runs on cash, the outcomes were catastrophic for hundreds of millions of people, especially those who did not have a bank account (almost half the population) or did not have easy access to a bank.

According to Haring, the global ‘war on cash’ has the backing of some heavy hitters: the major US banks and likes of PayPal, Visa and the Gates Foundation. Writing in 2017, he argued that the cooperation of the Gates Foundation and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been a very tight one. For example, Nachiket Mor, a banker, is director of the Gates Foundation India. He is also a board member of the RBI with responsibility for financial supervision.

Haring indicates that the demonetization policy was carried out on behalf of USAID, MasterCard, Visa and the people behind eBay and Citi, among others, with support from the Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation. He adds that the start of direct cooperation of the Gates Foundation with the RBI on digital payments coincided with the work of the foundation in the President’s Global Development Council, which was to promote cooperation with foreign governments and the private sector with a view to securing US defence and commercial interests.

Bill Gates, Haring notes, gave an example of the link between worldwide digitalisation of payments (via the large US payment companies) and US security interests in a speech in 2015.

Gates said:

If financial flows go into a digital system that the US is not connected to, it becomes much harder to find those transactions that you want to be aware of or you want to block.

Demonetisation used the Indian population as a collective guinea pig to see how far the geostrategic interests of the US and those of Wall Street could be secured in a country of 1.3 billion people. The effects of people’s lives did not matter as long as the policy was pushed forward.

And this was carried out with reference to the usual corporate jargon of ‘financial inclusion’. Cash already provides financial inclusion. What does not lead to financial inclusion or any type of inclusion is a neoliberal system that imposes gross inequalities, austerity, joblessness, neocolonialism and the destruction of indigenous practices and cultures under the guise of ‘development’, the deliberate impoverishment of farmers in India, the twisting and writing of national and international laws, the destruction of rural communities or an unjust global food regime.

It is clear that ‘financial inclusion’ really means eliminating the main competitor of digital payments and finance sector profits – cash. In capitalism, every aspect of human life is to be commodified in the quest for fresh markets and profit — in this case, securing payments from payments.

Norbert Haring quotes Dan Schulmann, CEO of PayPal, who has stated:

The major competitor we have is cash. Right now, 85 percent of the world’s transactions are done in cash. That is really what we are trying to attack right now.

He also quotes Strive Masiyiwa, chairman and founder of Econet, a large African mobile phone company with a payment platform:

Our major competitor is cash. Cash is what we seek to eliminate.

It seems ‘financial inclusion’ really means denying sections of society their preferred method of payment – cash – to benefit the bottom line of these corporations.

Did Gates and his associates succeed in pushing Indians off cash? By April 2018, the volume of digital payments had doubled. At the same time, however, at the end of May 2019, currency notes in circulation had increased by more than 22% over the pre-demonetisation level. The use of cash was expected to reach $2.45 trillion by 2021, up from $1.5 trillion in 2016, although demonetisation helped digital payments advance by three to four years.

The 2016 policy adopted a callous and ill-thought-out blanket approach. And it was not as though Indians were clamouring for digital — it was imposed on them.

Under cover of COVID-19 lockdowns, can we expect to see cash being pushed right to the margins when countries emerge from the current crisis (for instance, in an ongoing pandemic culture of fear and paranoia, it would be easy to convince people that notes and coins are potential transmitters of disease, or with mass unemployment we may have universal basic income schemes linked to digital payment systems)? It can already be seen with large stores asking customers to pay by card whenever possible.

Many commentators have discussed how the current crisis has been used to remove basic rights and how vaccines and surveillance will be intensified. What could follow may also see our purchases and behaviour being monitored even further via digital payments. For instance, Haring notes that in Kenya Gates saw little wrong in compelling mobile phone providers to give the authorities the opportunity to monitor all phone calls and mobile payments by telling phone companies to let contracted (private) companies hook up to all routers. The plan was to monitor transactions and use the data to target people with advertising to make even more transactions, thereby driving consumption.

It doesn’t take a great leap of faith to appreciate how in a fully digital system, ‘financial flows’ could be blocked, as Gates implied back in 2015. This already happens in the dollar-centred monetary system. But when there is no cash to fall back on and every single transaction in a society is computerised and can be monitored by the state and private corporations, will the term ‘financial inclusion’ then sound so benign?

Trump to Direct Workers to Die

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Donald Trump is no George Washington, but his descent from commander-in-chief to vector-in-chief is nonetheless dizzying. Trump’s narcissism, mendacity, bullying, and malignant incompetence were obvious before the coronavirus crisis and they have been magnified rather than moderated in his surreal response to a catastrophe whose full gravity he failed to accept until March 31, when it had become horribly undeniable.

Fintan O’Toole, New York Review of Books

The US elite can’t have the Joe and Julie Six Pack’s of the world having time on their hands to figure out what their masters really think of them. It is frightful to the ruling elite that the plebes are agitating for on the job protections from virus infection via mild protests all around the USA. They must be sent back to work so they can’t cause any more trouble. The taskmaster’s thinking: Who cares if another 80,000 or so die from COVID-19? Get them going for the summer season. Give them some face masks, gloves and back to the production line. We got our trillions and we are fat and happy.

From the standpoint of the ruling elite, generating public concern over the pandemic has exhausted its usefulness. The COVID-19 crisis has been exploited to engineer a massive, multi-trillion-dollar bailout of the financial system.

The financial oligarchy has received a bailout even bigger than after the 2008 crisis, but this time in the course of weeks, not years. This has led to the most explosive growth in the stock market in American history. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has soared 25 percent in less than three weeks.

Having looted the treasury, the imperative of the ruling class is to send workers back to the job of producing profits. The most open advocate of prematurely opening businesses is President Donald Trump, speaking on behalf of powerful sections of the financial oligarchy.

Trump declared Wednesday that it would be “nice to be able to open with a big bang, and I think we will do that soon. I would say we are ahead of schedule.” In order for that to happen, Trump said, “I think we have to be on the downside of the slope.” World Socialist Website

Wall Street wins coming and going.  For example,  who knew that millions of US employees have life insurance policies taken out for them by corporations who, upon a worker’s death, will collect the payout and use it for tax breaks, to pay health insurance and bolster pensions. It’s a multi billion dollar business.

According to the New York Times, “…a common but little-known practice in corporate America: Companies are taking out life insurance policies on their employees, and collecting the benefits when they die.”

You can’t beat them or join them, it seems.

On Parole from the Master’s Asylum

I had sent to a friend some public domain documents on the US Department of Defense planning for a pandemic of the type the US, and much of the world, is currently dealing with. His response, paraphrasing, was that if he clicked on the links to the documents someone in the US government would discover what he had done and lock him up in an asylum.

My response to him was this: You don’t understand! We were in the asylum that was daily existence before COVID-19 hit hard and lockdown orders from states and localities came. The rich and powerful, whom we only see on television; and who oversee the asylum, are scared shitless! Why? Now we can legitimately  sit back and think about how the daily rat race of the asylum really sucks. Parents have to be parents again and not rely on the babysitters in the brick and mortar education system. Families and neighbors are walking the sidewalks again talking to each other on weekends. There is time a-plenty for contemplation, hobbies, study, reading without extraordinary time pressures. And there is time to examine the criminality of Trump and the federal government’s desultory response to the pandemic. The USA’s status as banana-republic is now secure.

Oh sure, a shock to the system and the pain of job loss for those in the middle to lower classes. On top of that, auto workers, Amazon employees, grocery store clerks, delivery people, nurses and so many others have had to strike and walk off the job simply to get an extra dollar in pay and some promise of paid leave.

Yet the US Federal Reserve and the US Congress are pumping trillions upon trillions into Wall Street and corporations. Great to prop up the stock but what about main street? $500 billion that comes with red tape, delays and near certainty that austerity programs are sure to follow and the Social Security Trust fund robbed again.

Trump Thwacks His Own People: Lost Shepard Leading the Doomed

If there is one article that you read dissecting Trump from end-to-end it must be Fintan O’Toole’s piece in the New York Review of Books (link at the intro) titled “Vector in Chief”. It is compelling and on target.

In the piece, O’Toole points out that Trump’s Al Qaida (his Base) is likely suffering more from COVID-19 than other political groups.

“For we must bear in mind that Trump’s “real people,” the ones who make up his electoral base, are disproportionately prone to the chronic illnesses (the “underlying conditions”) that make Covid-19 more likely to prove fatal. A 2018 Massachusetts General Hospital study of more than three thousand counties in the US reported that:

Poor public health was significantly associated with the additional Republican presidential votes cast in 2016 over those from 2012. A substantial association was seen between poor health and a switch in political parties in the last [presidential] election.

For every marker of the prevalence of poor health (such as diabetes, obesity, days of illness, and mortality rates), there was a marked shift toward voting for Trump. Trump has acted in relation to Covid-19 like the God who tells the Jews to mark their homes with a sign so that the plagues he is inflicting on Egypt will pass by their doors—with the malign twist that he has instead marked out his own chosen people for special harm.

Who will be held accountable for the negligence that guided the initial US government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a disaster that was planned for by the Department of Defense in conjunction with other federal agencies like the Center for Disease and Control and Prevention? One can only hope the sword is raised against the wicked shepherd(s), the phony leaders of America.

Woe to the worthless shepherd,
Who leaves the flock!
A sword shall be against his arm
And against his right eye;
His arm shall completely wither,
And his right eye shall be totally blinded.

Zecariah 11

Coronavirus Capitalism: Entrenching Dispossession and Dependency

There is surprisingly a certain degree of optimism around at the moment, despite virtually entire populations and economies on lockdown. Although things are really bad for millions right now due to the effects of lockdown, economist Mariana Mazzucato believes that the Covid-19 crisis will shine light on societal and economic systems all across the world, exposing some of the deep-rooted flaws of capitalism.

After lockdown ends, Mazzucato believes societies can be reshaped to become more inclusive. She says an overly financialised business sector has been siphoning value out of the economy by rewarding shareholders through stock-buyback schemes, rather than shoring up long-run growth by investing in research and development, wages and worker training. Mazzacuto thinks we can use the current state of emergency to start building a fairer and more sustainable economy with the state playing a leading role to serve the public interest over the long term.

Her optimism is also shared by others who think that out the wreckage of the current crisis, the state and citizens can work together to shift towards more stakeholder capitalist or even more socialist oriented societies.

The reality, however, may merely mean the entrenchment of the prevailing system. For example, does anyone really believe that the ruling Conservative administration in the UK genuinely cares about the well-being of ordinary people or has any kind of commitment to publicly funded institutions? The Conservative Party has devastated millions of lives courtesy of an ideologically driven austerity agenda for over a decade. And for over three decades, it has been waging war on workers, unions and the public sector on behalf of global capital.

The situation is not unique to the UK. In India, successive administrations have been facilitating neoliberal policies that have led to a wholly avoidable agrarian crisis, marked by farmer suicides, child malnourishment, growing unemployment, increased informalisation, indebtedness and an overall collapse of agriculture. If anything, the current Modi administration has been keen to further open up the sector to the demands of Western agrocapital.

Things in the US hardly merit optimism for radical change either. The Federal Reserve estimates over 47 million will lose their jobs in the US, taking unemployment to almost a third of the labour force. This is more than during the Great Depression of the 1930s. However, in a series of short explanatory films for the layperson, analyst John Titus shows that US capitalism and the privately owned Fed are not going to change their spots: Wall Street and its top executives will continue to enrich themselves, while the public will suffer throughout the duration of lockdown, which could persist in various forms for 18 months.

Even if we take a brief, more general look at what is happening, we can see that, for instance, factory farms in the US are expected to receive $23.5 billion in stimulus money. The Center for Biological Diversity and allies have urged congress to direct these funds to small and mid-size farmers instead of big agri-food concerns. With the threat of environmental regulation rollbacks also on the cards, it is clear the current crisis is being used to consolidate the position of major players in the sector.

Consider too that, according to a recent piece in the New York Times, the $2 trillion-plus coronavirus relief package making its way through US congress will give bailouts to a number of key industries and companies that have indulged in the types of shameful activities that Mazzucato outlines. The airline industry is expected to get some $50 billion in cash and loans and Boeing, which asked for $60 billion, is widely expected to receive some part of a $17 billion fund.

During the past decade, most of the companies in line to get taxpayer money did not prepare for a downturn. For example, the airline industry, which is prone to booms and busts, collectively spent more than $45 billion on stock buybacks over the past eight years. Viewed in context, The New York Times says the relief package still amounts to a bailout of private capital and the endorsement of self-enriching practices.

Further Neoliberal reforms

The current crisis is hitting workers hard across the world, possibly more so in India than elsewhere. Consider that nearly half of India’s workforce of 467 million is self-employed, 36 percent are casual wage workers, while only 17 percent are regular wage workers. Two-thirds of them work without contracts and more than 90 percent lack any social security or health benefits in the workplace. The six-week coronavirus lockdown has made survival extremely difficult for them.

But is there hope on the horizon? World Bank Group President David Malpass recently stated that poorer countries will be ‘helped’ to get back on their feet after the various lockdowns that have been implemented in response to the Covid-19 crisis. However, before getting anyone’s hopes up too much, this ‘help’ will be on condition that neoliberal reforms and the undermining of public services are implemented and become further embedded.

Malpass says:

Countries will need to implement structural reforms to help shorten the time to recovery and create confidence that the recovery can be strong.  For those countries that have excessive regulations, subsidies, licensing regimes, trade protection or litigiousness as obstacles, we will work with them to foster markets, choice and faster growth prospects during the recovery.

Ranil Salgado, mission chief for India at the IMF, echoes the views of Malpass by saying that when the economic shock passes, it’s important that India returns to its path of undertaking long-term reforms.

In the face of economic crisis and stagnation at home, this would seem like an ideal opportunity for Western capital to further open up and loot economies abroad. On 20 April, the Wall Street Journal ran the headline ‘IMF, World Bank Face Deluge of Aid Requests From Developing World. Scores of countries are asking for bailouts and loans from financial institutions with $1.2 trillion to lend. An ideal recipe for fuelling dependency.

Global conglomerates will be able to hollow out the remnants of nation state sovereignty, while ordinary people’s rights and ability to organise and challenge the corporate hijack of economies and livelihoods will be undermined by the intensified, globalised system of surveillance that beckons.

This is a sentiment shared by economics professor Michel Chossudovsky, who implies Covid-19 provides ideal cover for rebooting the global economy via a global debt crisis and the subsequent privatization of national states. The current crisis will certainly have the effect of impoverishing hundreds of millions of workers and increasing the national debt of nations. It could prove so devastating to economies that bailout packages from global financial institutions might saddle nation states with debts that prove almost impossible to pay back.

Dollar denominated loans will help secure the global hegemony of the dollar, which has been looking increasingly fragile in recent years.

At the same time, with mass unemployment and workers’ pay decimated, ordinary people in both rich and poor countries will have finally reached the finishing line in the race towards the bottom. Workers’ rights and well-paid jobs will be at a premium, with a global reserve army of labour waiting in the wings to snap up any work that is available.

In India, neoliberal reforms have already devastated many livelihoods and the US – via the WTO and World Bank – has since the 1990s been pushing India to further open up to Western goods and corporations. Pressure has been applied to further reduce subsidies to the farm sector and to dismantle mechanisms which have ensured some degree of food security for the hundreds of millions who rely on state support.

As the lockdown plays out in India, we see stories of fractured supply chains and of farmers who cannot sell their produce. In rural areas, millions of migrant workers have returned to the countryside. Rural affairs commentator P Sainath paints a dreary picture of the impacts of India’s lockdown. He discusses the desperate plight of migrant workers, a shortage of cash to buy food and a potential shortage of food as farmers are unable to complete their harvests.

He notes that Dr. Sundararaman, a former executive director of the National Health Systems Resources Centre, asserts that there is a desperate need to “identify and act on the reverse migrations problem and the loss of livelihoods. Failing that, deaths from diseases that have long tormented mostly poor Indians could outstrip those brought about by the corona virus.”

But no doubt cash-rich Western capital which will gain from the trillions being pumped into the system will see many strategic opportunities to benefit. It has been pushing via the World Bank to bring Indian agriculture under corporate control for a long time. This would involve forcing GMO food crops into the country, the displacement of peasant farmers, corporate consolidation and commercialisation based on industrial-scale monocrop farms incorporated into global supply chains dominated by transnational agribusiness and retail giants.

This would amount to the wholesale restructuring of Indian society. What we could see is the acceleration of existing processes which have already led to what Sainath describes as a crisis of civilisation proportions.

Across the world, people need to question the narrative, the data and the data collection methods surrounding Covid-19 and assess whether lockdowns and their devastating effects are in line with the risks involved. Because, five years from now, given what is at stake and the massive hardships being endured, it will then be too late to look back and say it was all based on flawed data and wrongheaded responses and was driven by vested interests who were set to benefit financially.

What’s the Matter With Science?

Science for the People at 2017’s March for Science. John Vandermeer/Science for the People Ann Arbor

What’s the matter with science? By that, do I mean, why don’t we turn away from corrupt politics and religion and follow the way of science? Or do I mean, why have we allowed science to so corrupt our politics and our culture? I mean, of course, both.

We don’t need an uneducated jackass telling people how to control a viral pandemic because he’s a president. At the same time, we don’t need corporate, for-profit, and ignorant media outlets using the arrogant science of computer models to predict the course of a pandemic in a manner at odds with what has already happened in the actual world with this pandemic, not to mention past ones.

We don’t need politicians bought and paid for by oil companies telling us that the earth’s climate is doing fine. But, of course, the oil companies bought and paid for scientists (and university departments) before they bought and paid for politicians. Scientists are telling the public that nuclear energy is the answer, that war is good for them, that relocating to another planet is possible, and that a scientific solution to climate change will be here soon, not to mention that blissfully destroying the earth with all sorts of machinery developed by scientists is simply not to be questioned.

The Governor of New York has no qualifications whatsoever to decide how people should behave to save lives during a plague. But mathematicians at RAND have absolutely no business telling politicians to base their foreign policy on nuclear deterrence, secrecy, and dishonesty.

So, is the answer science or not science? Can’t you just put it in a tweet, for godsake?

The answer is that public decisions need to be made on a basis of morality, independence from corruption, maximum information and education, and maximum democratic public control, and that one tool in acquiring information should be science — meaning not just anything with numbers or scientistic vocabulary or a scientistic source, but independently verifiable research into areas that have been selected on a basis of morality, independence from corruption, maximum information and education, and maximum democratic public control.

Clifford Conner’s new book, The Tragedy of American Science: From Truman to Trump, takes us on a tour of what’s the matter with science. He blames two chief evils: corporatization and militarization. He addresses them in that order, creating the possibility that at least a few people not previously ready to question militarism will be by the time they reach the middle of the book — a book packed with wonderful examples and insights into both new and familiar topics.

Conner takes us through numerous accounts of the corruption of science. Coca-Cola and other sugar profiteers backed science that led the U.S. government to drive people away from fat, but not away from sugar, and straight toward carbohydrates — which made the U.S. public fatter. The science wasn’t simply lies, but it was simply too simplistic to be a basis for guidance on the topic at hand.

Scientists developed new varieties of wheat, rice, and corn. And it’s not that they didn’t work. But they required huge amounts of fertilizer and pesticide, which poor people could not afford. This poisoned the earth while concentrating big agriculture. Even more farmers suffered when too much food was produced, which destroyed prices. And people continued to go hungry because the main problem had always been poverty, not the type of wheat being grown.

Scientists developed GMO crops to require less fertilizer and pesticide, and to withstand increased use of herbicides used on weeds, thereby creating new problems while solving problems of their own creation, and never addressing the primary problems in need of solution. Scientists have simultaneously been paid to claim that GMO crops are safe for human consumption and produce more food, without actually providing evidence of either claim. Meanwhile corporate-captive governments block the public from being able to know whether food in stores contains GMOs or not — a move that can only fuel suspicion.

Because science is a field of expertise that reaches a public that knows scientists have lied for a buck about cigarettes, diet, pollution, climate, racism, evolution, and so on, and because it reaches us through highly distrusted government agencies and corporate media outlets, and because there’s always been a huge market for baseless, magical, mystical, and optimistic claims anyway, distrust of science is prevalent. That distrust is often wrong and often right, but always partially to blame on the garbage people are presented with as science.

Tobacco is a story we think we all know already. But how many know the origins of big tobacco’s lies in the nuclear Manhattan Project? And how many know that 480,000 deaths a year in the United States are still caused by smoking, or that globally the figure is 8 million and rising, or that the tobacco industry still pays its scientific researchers 20 times what the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association combined spend on theirs? This is typical of many reasons to read The Tragedy of American Science.

My view, of course, is that once you make science American it’s doomed. It needs to be human to have a chance. American exceptionalism is not just part of basing pandemic predictions on computer models rather than on the other 96% of humanity. It’s also part of denying the possibility of success for universal health coverage or workplace rights or required sick leave or a reasonable distribution of wealth. As long as something has never worked in the United States, an American Science can deny its legitimacy, even if the rest of the world finds it successful.

Conner also finds for-profit pharmaceutical pain-profiteers to blame for the opioid crisis, not to mention for the failure to do the world of good that could have been done had research been directed elsewhere. One choice in science is what to research. Melanoma and cystic fibrosis and ovarian cancer get funding, while sickle-cell anemia doesn’t. The former mainly impact white people, the latter black. Similarly, deadly viruses that only impact other countries are not a top priority — until they threaten the people who matter.

Beyond big money deciding the priorities of big medicine, Conner chronicles an array of methods used to produce the desired science. These include seeding trials (phony trials intended simply to introduce a drug to doctors), medical ghostwriting, predatory journals, and disease mongering. Drug advertising is unique to the United States and New Zealand, and it’s part of the creation of diseases to fit drugs, as opposed to the development of drugs to fit diseases.

All such tails are only half the story. The other half is war-making. Conner traces the militarization of science from the Atoms for Peace pretense to today. Over half of U.S. government spending on scientific research over the past 50 years has been on war, including research into nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, “conventional” weapons, drones, torture techniques, and even imaginary weapons never scientifically found to work (such as “missile defense” or “brain washing”).

While New York City suffers through coronavirus, it’s worth recalling that in the name of science in 1966, the U.S. government released bacteria in the New York subways. The bacteria that was released is a frequent cause of food poisoning and can be deadly.

What do we need instead of the current state of affairs?

Conner proposes 100% public funding and control of all scientific research, with agencies like the EPA, FDA, and CDC free of corporate corruption. He also seems to favor open global sharing of research, which would be our best hope against coronavirus and much else.

He also puts a spin on Grover Norquist’s madness with this:

“I don’t want to abolish the military-industrial complex. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

I don’t know whether 100% public funding is possible. I don’t agree with Conner regurgitating accusations of chemical weapons use by Syria without providing any evidence. I’m not sure he’s right that stopping and reversing global warming would be a relatively simple step if we got science out of the hands of the military. And I have a serious question about his take on military spending.

But I highly recommend this book and consideration of what I take to be its main message: science could have worked wonders if properly used (and if a bit of military budgets were spent on something useful) and perhaps it still can.

Piety, Propriety, and Propaganda

One of the slogans I learned in an earlier, albeit brief, phase of my life was called the 5 Ps: “Prior planning prevents poor performance.”

While it is true that planning, which by definition is somehow prior, can improve performance of any task, like all such slogans there is much tautology. Planning can define performance in such a way that it cannot be “poor.” On the other hand, performance can be judged “poor” simply because it does not conform to the plan.

In the discussions I have had or read about the current unpleasantness, there are many implicit controversies over planning and performance. For example, based on the assumption that the organisational skills of the CCP/PRC are solid, if not extraordinary, then one could say that the current conditions with respect to the so-called novel corona virus are the result of good and above all rapid planning capability and superior performance. In contrast, the actions by governments in the West, or those governments dominated by the West, reflect poor planning and even more doubtful performance — considering especially that the number of people to be assisted through organised state and social action is incomparably SMALLER than in China. Already one could make the immediate argument that the virus has led to demonstrations that the century-long pretension of Western efficiency is simply — to use the fashion word of the season: fake! When it really comes to getting serious work done, the West is only expensive or miserly. Its only criteria are so-called financial performance indicators.

I have been reading corporate annual reports for the past twenty-odd years. These are filled with tortuous language intended to cloak the corporations’ activity in the euphemisms of economic models akin to the theology of high scholasticism in the European Middle Ages. The focus of economic (and social) planning, like the focus of big ticket scientific (and medical) research is on the development of internally consistent (tautological) models which can then be applied to discipline the organisations charged with managing the economy or human existence. The language — derived from these models — is highly resistant to what ordinary human beings call “daily life.” For example, while the clergy in corporate accounting departments, finance ministries, and the Bretton Woods curia swoon over imagined economic growth in single digits or statistically concocted unemployment and wage figures, the reality of drastic purchasing power decline since the 1970s is dismissed as popular superstition. Although the official announcements when the euro was introduced; e.g., exchanged for the German mark, published the exchange rate by which the translation was to occur — in the case of the German mark it was DM 2 to EUR 1 — the fact that a one DM litre of milk was priced EUR 1 after the changeover was not acknowledged as a 100% price increase! Subsequent official statements insisted that overall prices might have increased slightly due to inflation but there was no admission of the obvious: at one stroke wages were halved and prices were doubled. That just was not part of the economic model for those who designed this covert currency reform (devaluation). The same can be said of what passes for healthcare and public health policy.

When the first coffins began to return containing US soldiers killed in imperial wars of the 1990s, the US regime quickly prohibited any photographing of these real indicators that the US was waging war and ordinary soldiers were being killed (often enough by their mates or committing suicide). The long-term result has been “no coffins, no dead” hence “no dead, no war.” This has meant that the US perpetual war against everyone (except maybe the British who are “part of the team”) has ceased to exist, except in the form of a budgetary model or a strategic battle plan.

The same can be said for public health policy. The existence of highly profitable corporations assigned statistically to the healthcare industry is easily represented as an indicator that there is a successful public healthcare policy. It is also claimed in the US that because not only its weapons expenditure is the highest in the world but also its healthcare expense that this means the US has the best healthcare. In fact, it only means that it has the most expensive medical services. The debate conducted under Mr Trump’s predecessor was presented as one over the merits of universal health care v. health care for those who can pay. It is a testimony to the deception in this debate that the law passed under Barack Obama is attacked for extending healthcare to the undeserving and praised as an incremental step toward equity in healthcare in the US. The legislation was neither — it merely extended the mandatory market for the cash stuffed private health insurance sector, generating more premium income without any guarantee of more actual healthcare service. There was also no challenge to the obscene pricing structure, which deprives the vast majority of affordable healthcare — despite what many supporters of the legislation claim. On the ground, the insurance industry benefited while the actual supply of medical treatment in any form was not appreciably improved, either in quality or price. Yet it is the model of the industry, not the reality, which counts and the model is a balance sheet and not a bed sheet.

In the US where public health policy has always been linked to policing non-whites, the concept of saving lives or preserving health has never been a priority. At best the policy has been one of protecting “whites” from contamination by inferior people. The poor and minority populations have often been used for testing under colour of public health measures that was condemned as crime against humanity in another country. The complement to this policy has included pollution of those segregated residential areas by collusive zoning enforcement permitting the location of unregulated toxic or polluting industrial plant in places inhabited by the poor, especially non-whites.

Now in what is more properly termed an epidemic-like environment, the acrimony of debate can only be enhanced. The current POTUS has no more to say in the creation of this “corona” problem than any other head of government/state in the West. At a W**** House press conference, Mr Trump recently said to China, “They know where it came from. We all know where it came from.” The statement is revealing. Beyond the redundancy of the official media, many people outside the US believe that the origin of the virus is the US and not China. By now Mr Trump will probably have been made aware of this fact even if the mechanics of the operation are not part of the “need to know” which governs how much the POTUS is told about any operation taken by the US regime’s operational forces.

However, knowledge of the origin will not solve any of the problems the West has with its own cannibalised infrastructure, reduced solely to the ability to move military and money. NATO, the church militant, is the outward and visible form by which the US Empire exerts control over its means of “salvation,” the flow of money. This was never more prosaic than when Paul Bremer, as US colonial administrator in Iraq, admitted to the US Congress a loss of USD 9 billion — because he did not consider it his job to count money while he was in Baghdad. Pallets of US currency, Federal Reserve Notes in bundles of hundred dollar bills, were unloaded from military transport planes and disappeared. No economic model was needed to explain that. Just this week at least USD 4,000,000,000,000 was printed or generated electronically by the Federal Reserve for the delectation of the leading finance corporations in the US.

In Germany, it has been reported that a US investor offered a substantial sum to a pharmaceutical laboratory for exclusive rights to a potential corona treatment — only to be sold to the US. So while there is more money generated in a day than the annual budgets of most countries in the world, the US has not withdrawn any of its exposed and potentially contagious soldiers from around the world — to protect global health. Nearly 20,000 were to participate in an anti-Russia manoeuvre in the NATO heartland called Defender 2020. The capacity to kill is still far more important than the ability to heal or prevent illness.