Category Archives: Environment

The First Nine Months of Donald Trump’s Presidency

For the past nine months, we have seen widespread attacks on the common good. The latest assault is the Republicans’ proposed tax reform, a huge transfer of wealth to the richest one-tenth of one percent. This legislation would also greatly increase the national debt, supposedly a major red line for Republicans. In addition, President Trump continues to: 1) slow action on climate change; 2) support fossil fuels; and 3) weaken the protections of clean air, water and soil. Trump and the Republicans have repeatedly tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The repeal would have eliminated coverage for millions while increasing costs for millions more. Trump now is using an executive order to withhold subsidy payments, harming more Americans. White supremacists, especially males, believe they have support from the White House. They are pleased by Trump’s continuation of the ongoing large-scale deportation of Hispanic immigrants and by his repeated attempts to keep Muslims out.

The U.S. spending on the military was already out of control, and the Pentagon cannot account for over $6.5 trillion. Despite the already unnecessarily huge military budget and astonishing unaccountability, Trump proposed a large increase and Congress raised that amount even more.

These items give a hint of the scope of the disaster we are experiencing. Given these and other issues that deserve much more media attention, I find it hard to reconcile the focus that some media still place on the questionable allegations of Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails. I wonder what has happened to journalistic standards when the mainstream media repeatedly has treated allegations as facts.

U.S. intelligence agencies and others have searched for proof of this Russian hacking for well over a year. An early January 2017 intelligence report was touted as proof, but it provided no solid evidence, only an assessment, i.e., a best guess, in support of the allegation. Moreover, the report was presented as being done by 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, but was actually performed by handpicked analysts from three agencies — the CIA, FBI and NSA. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence was also involved. Remember the George W. Bush administration used bogus sources and cherry-picked intelligence to support the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately the media a vital role in promoting this disinformation.

There have been numerous other highly suspect claims of Russian activity, for example, an alleged threat to the power grid that was quickly knocked down, an attempt to hack voting systems in 21 states, and the use of Facebook and other social media to influence the election and to create disharmony.

Why is this unsubstantiated hacking allegation still being pushed? I doubt that it is really driven by concern about protecting our political system from outside influence. For example, Israel and its supporters have exercised undue influence on our system for decades with little concern expressed. In addition, given that outside interference is terrible, why aren’t we outraged over the history of U.S. interference in elections of and collusion in coups against many other nations? This history includes the blatant collusion by the Clinton administration in Russia in 1996. People elsewhere see this hypocrisy.

If we are serious, a few of the many steps we can take to improve the integrity of our elections are: 1) ensuring that all citizens are allowed to vote; 2) using paper ballots; 3) providing public funding of campaigns; and 4) having a nonpartisan group run the Presidential debates.

I think there are two more probable reasons why the inept Democratic Party leadership, much of the U.S. establishment, and much of the mainstream media have for still promoting this allegation. One refers mainly to domestic considerations and the other focuses on the foreign arena. The contention of the hacking of the DNC swiftly became the basis of a claim of collusion between Trump and Russia. The charge distracted attention from the DNC’s efforts to undermine the Bernie Sanders’ campaign. After Hillary Clinton lost the election, the Democratic Party leadership continued to focus attention on its unproven claim of Russian hacking. This focus diverted attention from the Democratic Party’s need to reform itself into a party representing everyone, not just the wealthy. Perhaps some also view the collusion allegation as a way of building support for impeaching Trump.

Regarding the foreign policy area, the allegation of Russian hacking fits nicely into an ongoing PR campaign to convince Americans that Russia is our enemy. Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, has dared challenge worldwide U.S. supremacy. In addition to economic sanctions, a military response to this challenge is possible and the U.S. public must be prepared to accept and support it.

If there were no Russian hack of these emails, those creating and benefiting from this allegation while knowingly increasing the risk of a nuclear conflict, are beyond the pale.

Tree-huggers, Trees and Forests

Navigating the current world of torrential actual news – never mind the copious “fake” stuff – is becoming increasingly difficult. With traditional common sense under constant attack by sensory overload, sidestepping the numerous trees placed before us in order to perceive the larger forest remains the big challenge.

A short salutary omnibus of key news as reported in the last day or so might illustrate the point. One of the latest headlines crossing NPR feeds stated bluntly: “Massive Government Report Says Climate is Warming And Humans Are the Cause”. Ignoring for the moment  intricate arcana of American “checks and balances”, it is hard to square that with the US government’s dominant denialist narrative, dismissive of any tree-huggers blocking economic growth. Perplexed, we might then turn to the next worthy government-related headline on promoting growth: the tax reform proposal. This is the one where, in the words of Sen. Sanders, “Donald Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress are […] trying to push through one of the most horrific and destructive budget and tax proposals in the history of our country“.  So, we might reasonably and naively conclude that such twin calamities, stated in no uncertain terms, would mobilize Sanders’ progressive allies to the max. Until we flip the channel again…

Instead, there we find the ongoing saga of alleged Russian interference into the sacrosanct US electoral process, with the those (mostly Democratic) senatorial allies engaged in it with apodictic, magisterial certainty – this time ostensibly directed at the complicit/lax behavior by the social media trio of giant darlings of both The Valley and The Street.  Never short of his SNL-style comic flare, Sen. Al Franken amusingly proceeds to “grill” the Facebook corporate counsel – although it’s not quite clear whether the inconvenient fact that these “sophisticated foreign operatives’” paid for their foul ads with dead-giveaway Russian roubles and/or N. Korean wons (instead of some crypto-currency or honest-to-God greenbacks) is part of the skit, or some even more sinister Ruskie strategy…  But the combination of the witness’ salubrious, patriotic prepared remarks (slightly self-flagellating, very self-regulating) and bumbling evasive answers – would still indicate that we might be on to something and looking at the right tree. Until we notice the next news piece…

Here, CBS news anchor Elaine Quijano focuses on the horrendous Manhattan massacre, and the question of how the perpetrator might have been radicalized. From her conversation with a bona fide expert (Haroon Ullah), we learn of massive Twitter traffic by radical terror-preachers, that “ISIS and people affiliated with ISIS use social media to find outsize influence beyond any borders”, and that therefore “many believe the group is actually winning”.  These are serious words. Also, they suggest that the supposed senatorial tree-huggers that are about to rein in the unpatriotic corporate giants are really barking up the wrong tree – or at least missing the much bigger one behind it. To verify, we might flip the channel once more…

There, the massive shadow of an even bigger tree suggests that Sens. Franken, Feinstein et al. may have created a fake Frankenstein monster after all: the next headline reports on new evidence (from former DNC interim chair Donna Brazile) that eseentially the DNC rigged the system to steal the primary from Sen. Sanders. Translated to even plainer English, this means the real corruption of a fair US election – the one that robbed the electorate of a cogent debate on substantive issues raised by Sanders during primaries – is hiding in plain sight, on US soil, paid by USD. Still, one might ask, what’s the deal then with the Google-Facebook-Twitter trio, with all that foreign platform abuse (Russian, N. Korean, Islamist, whatever)?

The final channel flip is again to CBS news, with the anchor this time engaging a financial analyst on the just released phenomenal results by Facebook, its consequent stock surge and any possible dampening effects of the ongoing Senate hearings. The guest quickly dispels any doubts and calms the investor audience by plainly reminding us that these companies did not get to their coveted leadership positions by subjecting themselves to much regulation, by limiting the tremendous traffic that their worldwide platforms generate, or ultimately – by neglecting the primacy of profits.

Which brings us full circle to the real forest.  Saving these (and much more) that seems threatened in our opening news piece indeed requires seeing the forest through the noise of individual trees. To borrow some of the ominous words and ideas of Naomi Klein’s recent book, “This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs. the Climate”, the forest in the big picture is the profit motive of capital. Effecting that change will require the observer(s) to read through the lines, spot the elephants in the room and discern the truths hiding in plain sight. No amount of crash courses on fake news, “big data crunching” or quasi-artificial intelligence will help here – only human intelligence aiding our capacity for independent thinking and decision-making.

The Ecosystem is Breaking Down

The ecosystem is the quintessential essence of life on our planet, and this crucial life system is showing signs of breaking down. It is likely a more pressing problem than climate change. Time will tell but time is short.

The ecosystem consists of all living organisms that interact with nonliving components like air, water, and soil contained within the biosphere, which extends from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the mountains. Although unannounced by authorities or professional orgs, it is already becoming evident that the ecosystem is breaking down. Alas, it’s our only ecosystem.

The evidence is too prevalent to ignore. For example, when (1) abundance of insects plummets by 75%, and (2) tropical rainforests mysteriously emit CO2, and (3) Mt Everest’s snow is too toxic to pass EPA drinking water standards, and (4) squid at 1,000 fathoms carry toxic furniture protection chemicals, and (5) ocean oxygen production plummets, then something is wrong, horribly, horribly, horribly wrong. But, nobody has announced it. Global warming gets all of the attention.

All of which begs the question: What does it take to determine when the ecosystem is losing it? After all, it surely looks like it is doing exactly that. For example, the loss of 75% of insect abundance in a landmark study in Germany (referenced in prior articles) released only last month is enough, all by itself, to indicate an extinction event is in the works. That is a monstrous wake up call.

Equally horrifying, recent studies show tropical rainforests emitting more CO2 than automobiles, which is kinda like getting hit repeatedly in the head with a wooden two-by-four, a deadly serious wake up call that says the planet is breaking down.

As for the rainforest research: A 12-year study claims the world’s tropical rainforests have reversed gears. Instead of absorbing CO2, as they have forever and ever and ever, serving as a carbon sink, they are emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s not supposed to work that way.1

“The forest is not doing what we thought it was doing,” said Alessandro Baccini, who is one of the lead authors of the research team from Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University. “As always, trees are removing carbon from the atmosphere, but the volume of the forest is no longer enough to compensate for the losses. The region is not a sink any more.”2  The “region is not a sink any more” is almost impossible to accept. How can it be true?

Rainforests competing head-to-head with automobiles for most excessive CO2 emissions is a real shocker, a haunting sign of ill-fated climate change. Who would’ve ever thought? It seems as improbable as the Sun shutting down.  It is a spine-chilling signal that the ecosystem is really, truly in trouble. What to do?

Not only is the ecosystem exhibiting undue stress, human health is under attack like never before. Using a baseline year of 1975, observed case counts of cancer are up 76.6% to 193%, depending upon race. As such, Wall Street has discovered a new growth vehicle in biotechnology companies searching for answers to cancer. Nearly 50 new cancer cases are diagnosed in the time it takes (15 minutes) to read this article. These days everybody knows somebody who has been stricken. It’s the leading cause of death worldwide, and one can only wonder and speculate that ecosystem carnage and the cancer epidemic seem to go hand in hand. Ergo, whatever’s poisoning the ecosystem is the most important issue of the 21st century.

The following quote from Julian Cribb’s Surviving the 21st Century, likely tells the story:

The evidence that we ourselves— along with our descendants, potentially for the rest of history— are at risk from the toxic flood we have unleashed is piling up in literally tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific research reports. Despite this mass of evidence, the public in most countries is only dimly aware, or even largely unaware of what is being done to them. The reason is twofold: First, most of these reports are buried in scientific journals, written in the arcane and inaccessible language used by specialists. The pubic may hear a little about certain chemical categories of concern, like pesticides and food additives, or the ‘dirty dozen’ (Stockholm Convention 2013) industrial super-poisons, or ‘air pollution’ in general. However, these represent only a scant few pixels in a much larger image now amassing in the scientific literature of tens of thousands of potentially harmful substances which are disseminating worldwide. Second, the proportion of chemicals which have been well-tested for human safety is quite small…3

In short, humanity is poisoning itself with a massive flood of chemicals all across the world, dripping wet with toxicity. It’s little wonder the ecosystem is breaking down under the venom of peacetime chemical warfare. Is it any wonder that insect abundance suddenly plummets by 75%, which is defined, by any book, as an extinction event? People need insects a lot more than insects need people. Eighty percent (80%) of all the world’s plants are angiosperms, dependent upon pollination. No plants, no survival.

According to a United Nations study, most chemicals are never screened for health concerns, and WWF Global claims only 14% of chemicals used in largest volume have minimum data available for initial safety assessments. Yet, the FDA carefully scrutinizes drugs that are used to combat malfunctions like cancer, like Parkinson’s that may be caused by failure to regulate chemicals in the environment in the first place. After all, the chemicals become part of the living ecosystem!

Over time as the public wises up, it’ll be surprising if people do not come to arms over the failure of government to protect life, its ultimate responsibility. The ecosystem breaking down is too serious to avoid responsibility. It does not happen on its own.

As it happens, the deadly combination of global warming, which may be beyond control, and toxic chemicals, which are all over creation in all quarters, destroys the ecosystem in a slow death march by a thousand cuts, until, similar to Rachel Carson’s idyllic American town in her landmark book Silent Spring, it suddenly experiences a “strange blight,” leaving a swathe of inexplicable illnesses, birds found dead, farm animals unable to reproduce, and fruitless apple trees, an eerie lifelessness, yet unannounced, suddenly happening out of the blue. Like General Custer’s troops, caught flat-footed, it’s over so quickly.

Ignorance of the breadth and depth and mass of our toxic chemical planet will be no excuse when Rachel Carson’s “strange blight” suddenly hits hard because ignorance is never an excuse, especially with life and death at hand.

  1. A. Baccini, et al, “Tropical Forests are a Net Carbon Source Based on Aboveground Measurements of Gain and Loss”, Science, Vol. 358, Issue 6360, pp. 230-234, October 13, 2017.
  2. Jonathan Watts, Alarm as Study Reveals World’s Tropical Forests are Huge Carbon Emission Source, The Guardian, September 28, 2017.
  3. Julian Cribb, Surviving the 21st Century, Springer Int’l Publishing, Switzerland 2017, p. 108.

Newsletter: From Neoliberal Injustice To Economic Democracy

The work to transform society involves two parallel paths: resisting harmful systems and institutions and creating new systems and institutions to replace them. Our focus in this article is on positive work that people are doing to change current systems in ways that reduce the wealth divide, meet basic needs, ensure sustainability, create economic and racial justice and provide people with greater control over their lives.

When we and others organized the Occupation of Washington, DC in 2011, we subtitled the encampment ‘Stop the Machine, Create a New World’, to highlight both aspects of movement tasks — resistance and creation. One Popular Resistance project, It’s Our Economy, reports on economic democracy and new forms of ownership and economic development.

Throughout US history, resistance movements have coincided with the growth of economic democracy alternatives such as worker cooperatives, mutual aid and credit unions. John Curl writes about this parallel path in “For All the People,” which we summarized in “Cooperatives and Community Work are Part of American DNA.”

Mahatma Gandhi’s program of nonviolent resistance, satyagraha, had two components: obstructive resistance and constructive programs. Gandhi promoted Swaraj, a form of “self-rule” that would bring independence not just from the British Empire but also from the state through building community-based systems of self-sufficiency. He envisioned economic democracy at the village level. With his approach, economics is tied to ethics and justice — an economy that hurts the moral well-being of an individual or nation is immoral and business and industry should be measured not by shareholder profit but by their impact on people and community.

Today, we suffer from an Empire Economy. We can use Swaraj to break free from it. Many people are working to build a new economy and many cities are putting in place examples of economic democracy. One city attempting an overall transformation is Cooperation Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi.

Economic Democracy in response to neoliberalism

In his new book, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis, George Monbiot argues that a toxic ideology of greed and self–interest resulting in extreme competition and individualism rules the current economic and political culture. It is built on a misrepresentation of human nature. Evolutionary biology and psychology show that humans are actually supreme altruists and cooperators.  Monbiot argues that the economy and government can be radically reorganized from the bottom up, enabling people to take back control and overthrow the forces that have thwarted human ambitions for a more just and equal society.

In an interview with Mark Karlin, Monbiot describes how neolibealism arose over decades, beginning in the 1930s and 40s with John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek and others, and is now losing steam, as ideologies do. Monbiot says we need a new “Restoration Story.”

We are in the midst of writing that new story as people experience the injustice of the current system with economic and racial inequality, destruction of the environment and never ending wars. Indeed, we are further ahead in creating the new Restoration Story than we realize.

Cooperatives

New research from the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Center for Cooperatives (UWCC) has found there are 39,594 cooperatives in the United States, excluding the housing sector, and there are 7 million employer businesses that remain “potential co-op candidates.” These cooperatives account for more than $3 trillion in assets, more than $500 billion in annual revenue and sustain nearly two million jobs. This May, the Office of Management and Budget approved including coop questions in the Economic Census so that next year the US should have more accurate figures. The massive growth of cooperatives impacts many segments of the economy including banking, food, energy, transit and housing among others.

In cooperatives, workers or consumers decide directly how their business operate and work together to achieve their goals; it is a culture change from the competitive extreme capitalist view dominated by self-interest.

In Energy Democracy: Advancing Equity in Clean Energy Solutions, editors Denise Fairchild and Al Weinrub describe energy cooperatives that are creating a new model for how we organize the production and distribution of energy, which is decentralized, multi-racial and multi-class.

Lyn Benander of Co-op Power, a network of many cooperatives in New England and New York, writes that they transform not just energy but also their communities:

First, people come together across class and race to make change in their community by using their power as investors, workers, consumers, and citizens ready to take action together. Then, they work together to build community-owned enterprises with local capital and local jobs to serve local energy needs. It’s a proven strategy for making a real difference.

In Lancaster, CA, the mayor has turned the town into a solar energy capital where they produce power not just for themselves, but also to sell to other cities. They are also moving to create manufacturing jobs in electric buses, which more cities are buying, and energy storage. Research finds that rooftop solar and net-metering programs reduce electricity prices for all utility customers, not just those with solar panels. The rapid growth of rooftop solar is creating well-paying jobs at a rate that’s 17 times faster than the total U.S. economy. Rooftop solar, built on existing structures, such as homes and schools, puts energy choices in the hands of customers rather than centralized monopolies, thereby democratizing energy.

Including housing cooperatives would greatly increase the number of cooperatives. According to the National Association of Housing Cooperatives, “Housing cooperatives offer the more than one million families who live in them several benefits such as: a collective and democratic ownership structure, limited liability, lower costs and non-profit status.”  Residents of a mobile home park in Massachusetts decided to create a housing cooperative to put the residents in charge of the community when the owner planned to sell it.

Related to this are community land trusts. A section of land is owned in a trust run as a non-profit that represents the interests of local residents and businesses. Although the land is owned by the trust, buildings can be bought and sold. The trust lowers prices and can prevent gentrification.

Universal Basic Income

Another tool gaining greater traction is a universal basic income.  James King writes in People’s Policy Project that “. . . a universal basic income (UBI) – a cash payment made to every person in the country with no strings attached – is becoming increasingly popular in experimental policy circles. . . payments  [would be] large enough to guarantee a minimum standard of living to every person independent of work. In the US, that would be roughly $12,000 per person based on the poverty line.”

The wealth divide has become so extreme in the United States that nearly half of all people are living in poverty. A small UBI would provide peace of mind, financial security and the possibility of saving money and building some wealth. A report by the Roosevelt Institute, this week, found that a conservative analysis of the impact of a UBI of $1,000 per month would grow the economy by 12.56 percent after an eight-year implementation, this translates to a total growth of $2.48 trillion.

Public Finance

Another major area of economic democracy is the finance sector. At the end of 2016 there were 2,479 credit unions with assets under 20 million dollars in the United States. Members who bank in credit unions are part of a cooperative bank where the members vote for the board and participate in other decisions.

Another economic democracy approach is a public bank where a city, state or even the national government creates a bank using public dollars such as taxes and fee revenues. Public banks save millions of dollars that are usually paid in fees to Wall Street banks, and the savings can be used to fund projects such as infrastructure, transit, housing, healthcare and education, among other social needs. Public banks can also partner with community banks or credit unions to fund local projects. This could help to offset one of the negative impacts of Dodd-Frank, which has been a reduction in community banks. In testimony, the Secretary of Treasury, Stephen Munchin, said we could “end up in a world where we have four big banks in this country.”

North Dakota is the only state with a public bank, and it has the most diverse, locally-owned banking system in the country. Stacey Mitchell writes that “North Dakota has six times as many locally owned financial institutions per person as the rest of the nation. And these local banks and credit unions control a resounding 83 percent of deposits in the state, more than twice the 30 percent market share such banks have nationally.” Public banking campaigns are making progress in many parts of the country, among them are Oakland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, and other areas.

Mutual Aid

When crises occur, no matter what their cause, people can work together cooperatively and outside of slow and unresponsive state systems to meet their needs. This is happening in Athens, Greece, which has been wracked by financial crisis and austerity for years. People have formed “networks of resistance” that meet in community assemblies organized around needs of the community, such as health care and food. They started with time banks as a base for a new non-consumer society.

Similar efforts are underway in Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria. A group called El Llamado is coordinating more than 20 mutual aid efforts, and providing political education and support for self-organizing at the same time.

As George Monbiot describes it, this is consistent with the truth about what human beings are:

We survived despite being weaker and slower than both our potential predators and most of our prey. We did so through developing, to an extraordinary degree, a capacity for mutual aid. As it was essential to our survival, this urge to cooperate was hard-wired into our brains through natural selection.

As we face more crises, whether in lack of access to health care, education, housing, food or economic and climate disasters, let’s remember that we have the capacity to meet our needs collectively.  In fact, every day, people are putting in place a new economic democracy that allows people to participate based on economic and racial justice as well as real democracy. As these alternatives are put in place, they may become dominant in our economy, communities and politics and bring real democracy and security to our lives.

The Buck Stops Here

I have no children; and given that I’m a happily childless pensioner now, that’s not likely to change. My childlessness was not especially through conscious choice (initially at least), illness, tragedy or anything else. It just worked out like that. Many people – especially women – instantly show some sort of sadness when they learn this fact, as though just discovering I have some horrible disability. But I don’t feel in the least unfortunate. Indeed, I not only consider myself lucky to have accidently achieved this outcome, I feel, with every passing day, a slowly growing sense of victory: I beat the system.

In her most excellent book, “Democracy in Chains”, Nancy MacLean gives part of the explanation for this feeling. In her concluding chapter, “Get Ready”, she writes,

As [economic inequality] has swelled in the United States to a degree not seen in any comparable nation, intergenerational mobility – the ability of young people to move up the economic ladder to achieve a social and financial status better than that of their parents, which was once the source of America’s greatest promise and pride – has plummeted below that of all peer nations, with the possible exception of the United Kingdom.1

When I was a teenager, back in the sixties, my generation felt like we had the world at our feet. Finding work when you left school was as easy as falling off a log. You could start one job, walk out the same day if you wanted to and start a different one the following day, no problem. People didn’t have great riches, but they had enough to meet their essential costs quite easily, with some left over to enjoy themselves. Life was good. Old people would frequently shake their heads at our cocksure arrogance and remark that we didn’t know we were born, and smile wistfully at the amazing opportunities we had at our fingertips.

Today, I don’t know a single old person who feels anything but pity for the young. In just one generation the great and trusted leaders who manage and control every aspect of our lives have combined and contrived to turn a world of real hope and promise for the young into one of fear and insecurity. In just one generation, all of the marvellous new technologies, that were going to make everyone happy and free, have been used to achieve the exact opposite.

At the heart of this is the vile economic model, widely known as capitalism, much beloved by our great and trusted leaders because it makes them obscenely wealthy. And at the heart of capitalism is a ridiculous, stupid, concept — a dogma of permanent growth. The capitalists either believe that infinite growth out of finite resources is somehow achievable, or they simply don’t care that it isn’t achievable. The only thing that matters to these people is quick and maximum profit, no matter the consequences in human and animal lives, and environmental catastrophe. That can all be someone else’s problem.

Our great and trusted leaders actively and viciously peddle and promote this catastrophic dogma with all the wide-eyed zeal and foamy-mouthed fanaticism of religious fundamentalists. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with or oppose the holy faith of capitalism.

If endless growth is the malignant tumour at the heart of capitalism, the worst manifestation of endless growth, by far, is the endless growth of the human population. A casual glance at the human population clock is instructive. This number, increasing at roughly two per second, is not the rate of human births, as some might assume; it’s the rate at which human births are exceeding human deaths.

Compare this with the fact that, according to the World Wildlife Fund, for example, other living species are being wiped out at a rate somewhere between 200 and 10,000 species every year. The stats are vague for the simple reason that the total number of species in the world is not exactly known; but many species have been accurately counted and measured over time, and many are known to be sharply declining, so much so that it’s now widely accepted that we are living through the sixth mass extinction of species, the most calamitous environmental event since dinosaurs disappeared. 90% of big predators have recently disappeared from the seas – thanks to overfishing, plastics and other garbage polluting the seas, and now nuclear poisoning pouring daily into the Pacific from Fukushima. Manmade wars obviously kill tens of thousands of people every year and spread misery and desperation to millions of others, but there’s also the environmental destruction to consider – from the eradication of Vietnam’s rain forests to hundreds of square miles of earth poisoned for billions of years with depleted uranium. Human beings are behaving like a parasitic plague all around the world, and most other living things are suffering to the point of extinction because of the insatiable greed of our great trusted leaders.

Helping to fuel this greed, indeed, providing the most efficient and effective fuel, is human overpopulation. Continual growth of human beings means a continually growing supply of capitalism’s two most important drivers: slave labour and consumers.

Human overpopulation in the poorest countries provides a continual source of desperate people who have no choice but to sell their labour for whatever pittance they can obtain. In India, Pakistan, the Far East and Africa, for example, millions of people suffer the most unimaginable hardships just to find enough to eat, and safe shelter to survive one more night. This is the vast, bottomless pool of exploitable labour from which the most despicable and unscrupulous human beings amass vast fortunes and wallow in obscene splendour.

In the so-called “first world”, human overpopulation takes a different form. Whilst there are always self-righteous howls of indignation at any suggestion of overpopulation, citing stable or even negative birth-rates here, there’s no escaping the fact that the relatively small number of first world humans consume far more of the planet’s resources than all the rest of the planet put together. According to the Worldwatch Institute:

The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent.

Other variations of the same point show that if everyone on Earth consumed resources like an average US citizen, for example, 4.1 Earth-sized planets would be needed to supply their needs. And the US isn’t even the worst consumer!

Factors of Overproduction

The belief that we must reproduce ourselves is, of course, a natural instinct, as it is for all living things. But as far as humans are concerned, it’s also the product of conditioning – brainwashing even. Indeed, for us the desire to reproduce is probably more a product of brainwashing than it is natural instinct. After all, it’s now an easy matter to enjoy the pleasures of sex without having to consider the implications of parenthood, so having children today is therefore more a matter of conscious choice than accidental chance. So what factors influence that conscious choice?

Probably the most powerful factor of all is peer pressure, the influence of immediate family and close friends. Many young adults are routinely subjected to the desires of their families and friends for them firstly to form a close bond with a mate, and then to start producing babies. Although there’s not much peer pressure to produce lots of babies, there’s seldom much encouragement not to. And there’s also sometimes a sort of desirable inference that someone who has a lot of children is particularly virile – in the case of men – or fertile in the case of women, an implication which helps to encourage creating large families.

Yet another factor that encourages some young people to produce babies – especially those who live in the lowest income areas and who often struggle to find useful and rewarding work – is the economic incentive to produce children.

When I lived in Africa I remember having a conversation with an African who, when talking about his children, proudly informed me that he had seven daughters and no sons. In parts of Africa having daughters is seen as particularly advantageous, because when they get married husbands’ families must pay the wives’ fathers, usually in cattle, in exchange for their daughters. The chap I was talking with was looking forward to the wealth that seven daughters would generate, without him having to spend anything on sons. No matter that he didn’t have enough land to support all the cattle; what did matter was the number of animals he had, rather than their condition.

But here in the supposedly advanced first world too, children have long been seen by poorer families as income-generators. From the days when factory and mine owners, for example, preferred employing children because they were cheaper to use than adults, to today where mothers with few good employment options will be paid by the state just enough income to encourage them to keep producing babies, children have been used as income providers for parents who would otherwise struggle to survive. I know a young woman who hasn’t done paid work for many years, but has produced a new baby every eighteen months or so for the last fifteen or sixteen years. As long as she keeps producing children, the state will keep paying her.

Yet another factor to take into account is the powerful influence of religion. Roman Catholics are possibly the most well-indoctrinated as far as encouraging large families is concerned. Once again this is especially relevant in some of the poorer parts of the world where the influence of Catholicism is especially significant – Latin America, for example. Contraception has always been officially forbidden in Catholic countries, and abortion is treated as a cardinal sin. But the Catholics are not entirely alone in this attitude, as procreation is strongly encouraged to various levels of fanaticism by all religions; and the anti-abortion movement relies very heavily on religion for providing the ethical justification for their frequently vicious campaigns. No matter that religion, all religion, has absolutely no empirical evidence to support their spiritual claims, and therefore no grounds to claim any rights to ethical guidance in the matter.

And finally we shouldn’t forget to consider big business. Big business is wholly dependent on permanent growth. “Growth” is the very watchword of capitalism, the single most important measuring-stick for the supposed health of an economy. Suggesting that growth is not a good thing, that it’s actually harmful and destroying our planet before our very eyes, is tantamount to heresy. But permanent growth can only be achieved by permanently increasing the number of consumers. Given that big business has never let long-term considerations interfere with its short-term profits, it’s unsurprising that big business does absolutely nothing to correct the obvious flaw in its central argument — that infinite growth from finite resources is obviously impossible. So human beings are strongly encouraged by all our great trusted leaders to continually multiply their numbers, so that big business may continue to grow and grow, and grow.

Ending Exceptionalism

There is a widely held belief amongst most human beings — once again the product of brainwashing — that humans are the most important species on Earth, that we’re somehow exceptional. Furthermore, that humans living in the most powerful country on the planet are even more exceptional than other humans. One of the most obvious manifestations of this view is the so-called “pro-life” movement, usually meaning pro human life in general, and pro exceptional human life in particular. (But wiping out tens of thousands of non-exceptional human lives every year through illegal wars in far-flung corners of the world doesn’t usually trouble the pro-lifers overmuch.) Women who choose to have abortions should not be seen as shameful criminals, as the pro-lifers desire, but as people who, at the very least, have every right to do what they want with their own bodies, and who should even be acclaimed for limiting the growth of the human population. One glance at the human population clock is startling proof that the voluntary removal of a human foetus is no great loss to the planet.

Human beings are not exceptional. If anything at all they should be using the unique abilities they admittedly have to help nurture and care for our fragile life-sustaining planet, instead of recklessly destroying it.

Many people say there’s no such thing as human overpopulation, and get very angry at any suggestion that humans should limit the size of their families. Although it’s very easy to show the direct correlation between human overpopulation and the destruction of our planet, as I’ve indicated above, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest otherwise, that humans are somehow beneficial to the planet. Earth managed pretty well for billions of years without human beings at all — naturally occurring catastrophes excepted — so what is the case for suggesting that humans are in any way more advantageous or beneficial than any other species? So far there is no case. What case there is, and it’s a very convincing case, argues the exact opposite.

Stopping the clock

Therefore the condition of childlessness in which I have accidently found myself is definitely not something I regret, or which troubles me one jot. It’s something that quite cheers me up whenever some new piece of stupidity, hypocrisy, wanton destruction or abominable cruelty by my fellow humans is revealed in what passes for mainstream “news”: I know that no progeny of mine will ever have to suffer the worsening condition of our planet; and I know that I have done the very best thing that can be done to save it — I’ve not produced any more human beings.

The vast majority of us, the 99 percenters, are no more than tools of the 1%, the essential providers of their obscene wealth; and we are the single most important cause of the rapidly increasing destruction of our planet, the drivers of its sixth mass extinction. Whilst our numbers keep on growing that situation will never improve. Yet at our fingertips or, to be more accurate, at deeper parts of our anatomy, we have the solution. We don’t need MPs or congressmen, generals, popes, presidents or any other kind of leader. We each have the power to stop the craziness, to reverse our planet’s desperate struggle for survival. All we need to do is stop having children or, at the very least, to ensure we have no more than two.

The Chinese knew this decades ago, and produced their one-child policy. It was poorly managed and condemned all around the world. But they were basically right. Growth, in terms of more material production, the cornerstone of capitalism, must end.

The global situation is now so desperately serious that China’s one-child policy should be universally encouraged. The human overpopulation clock must be brought to a stop, and then reversed. The numbers of human beings must be brought down, steadily reducing them until such time as species extinction because of human overpopulation ends, and we no longer need four Earth-sized planets to sustain us. At that time, and only at that time, could humans safely raise the one-child policy to a two-child policy – something which would keep the numbers of human beings in harmony with the rest of life on Earth.

This does not need the intervention of governments. There must be no laws demanding birth control. It simply needs education. We have direct control of our own bodies. The buck truly stops with each and every one of us. We each have the power to control the future of our planet, simply by controlling the number of children we have.

  1. Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean, p. 226.

Will Hurricane Maria Wash Away all Illusions about the U.S. in Puerto Rico?

Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward identified and emphasized an important factor in understanding the larger political and economic forces that create the conditions in which people defy the rules of the established order and take part in popular protest.1 These moments of popular protect was during the Great Depression in the 1930s, when unemployment was at about one-third for the working population in the U.S., and during the 1950s and 1960 when unemployment reached depression levels for Blacks, living in segregated ghettos. For Piven and Cloward, it was the removal of employment and the disintegration of community that resulted in uprooting people from a sense of stability that comes from the routine of work. It is in these moments of catastrophic suffering that individuals find it difficult to blame themselves or God for the plight they found themselves in.2

In the case of Puerto Rico, will Hurricane Maria have a similar effect? Will the removal of stability (which was always precarious) among the many poor and displaced in Puerto Rico force Puerto Ricans to confront the illusion that the conditions on the island are not their individual or collective faults, but the results of the U.S. colonial relationship? Hurricane Maria appears to be a part of the storm that has ravaged Puerto Rico since 1898.

Even before Hurricane Maria reached Puerto Rico, it had depression-like economic conditions with high unemployment and a poverty rate estimated to be at 43.5% in 2016.3 Recent figures had the “official” unemployment rate at around 10.1% in August 2017 (17% in 2010 was the highest since 2007).4 According to a Pew Research Center report, more Puerto Ricans have left the island for the U.S. this decade than during the largest recorded numbers during the Great Migration after World War II, citing job-related reasons above all others.5 Immigration to the U.S. has historically been seen as a safety-valve, reducing the social pressure and conflict associated with high unemployment.

A very important statistic is the percentage of Puerto Ricans in the labor force. According to the U.S. Census 2011-2015, only 43% of Puerto Ricans aged 16 and older are in the labor force (compared to the U.S., which is 63.3%). It is difficult to arrive at actual figures of the plight of Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico when one considers all the discouraged workers who exist below the official radars of U.S. quantitative statistical methods. Many appear to either manage to scrape by, participate in the underground economy, or move to the United States. For example, the number of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. reached a record 4.9 million in 2012, and since, at least 2006, has exceeded the 3.5 Puerto Ricans on the island.

On his visit to Puerto Rico, Trump said, “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico.” While this may have been an attempt at humor, it actually reveals the U.S. government’s official policy on Puerto Rico, regardless if a Republican or a Democrat is at the head of the executive office. The idea that economic conditions are self-inflicted is not only consistent with “blaming the victim,” but is also part of the “myth of underdevelopment.”6 The myth of underdevelopment illustrates how imperialist nations enrich themselves through the extraction of resources, enslavement, exploitation of labor, the development of captive markets, and debt domination as a result of ownership and control of industry and trade and then turn around and treat a colony or neo-colony’s actions as the source of its impoverishment.

Puerto Rico has experienced one of the worst hurricanes in its history. Most of the 3.5 million Puerto Ricans remain without electricity, drinking water, food, fuel, vital medicines, and a devastated infrastructure. The Trump administration’s response has been slow and ineffective, leaving Puerto Rico in a dire life and death situation. However, the history of Puerto Rico has been a history of economic crisis that long preceded the hurricane or the well-publicized 72 billion dollar debt owed to Wall Street. We are told that Puerto Rico has mismanaged “its” economy and that it is a “welfare basket case,” leeching off of U.S. tax payers’ money. But what is missing in this “official” U.S. narrative is that Puerto Rico has been the location of wealth development. This wealth development has certainly not been equal. U.S. corporations have received the lion’s share of it along with a Puerto Rican elite that has seen fit to ensure that Puerto Rico’s resources remain in the control of the U.S. and that it remains a captive market for U.S. goods.

The Puerto Rico as a captive market of the U.S. was established by the U.S. Foraker Act of 1900. The Foraker act placed all trade between Puerto Rico and other countries under U.S. taxation and protective tariffs, which protect U.S. products from foreign competition.  As a result, Puerto Ricans are forced to buy all of its imported goods from the U.S., thus becoming a captive market. In addition, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 stipulates that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried on U.S. flag ships to Puerto Rico.7 As a result, Puerto Ricans pay up to 20% more for goods sold on the island, increasing the profit margins for U.S. produced goods and shipped items.

As long as Puerto Rico (and not just the selected elite) is not in a position to negotiate the terms of its development, trade, and have the capacity to regulate and tax foreign investment (includes the U.S.), Puerto Rico will remain in the clutches of U.S. dependency.  For example, in 1947, Operation Bootstrap, a U.S. driven economic development project meant to industrialize and combat poverty in Puerto Rico by attracting U.S. owned manufacturing companies, with tax exemptions, subsidies to factories, and loan assistance was a godsend to U.S. corporations because of the unlimited pools of low-paid labor and all the profits amassed without the benefit of paying taxes to the island or investing in its development. In order to address the poverty that this program accelerated, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), encouraged Puerto Rican immigration to the U.S. by subsidizing airfare. In addition, other forms of population control was used to combat poverty such as a governmental sponsored sterilization program. Yet, in that period, U.S. corporations continued to take huge profits off the island, while billions in federal welfare and transfer payments come to the Puerto Rican yearly to alleviate poverty.8

In 1976, the U.S. Congress passed Section 936, in the U.S. Tax Code, with the goal of encouraging business investment in Puerto Rico.  While several corporations, primarily pharmaceutical corporations, took advantage of the federal tax exemptions and made millions, Section 936 did not deliver on its promise of jobs or increases of wages because capital-intensive labor requires less employees. Nevertheless, the continued problem was that U.S. corporations did not invest the profits in Puerto Rico; instead most of them accumulated their profits until the end of the tax exemption period (10 years) and then liquidated their profits into other subsidiary companies outside of Puerto Rico.9 In fact, because of the loss of billions of dollars in taxes to the U.S. federal government, Section 936 was phased out of existence in 2006.  Some have pointed to the removal of Section 936 as causal to the current economic crisis, but a careful review of this law reads more like the legal corruption that pervades Washington and corporate interests, and not a viable and sustainable economic policy with Puerto Rican interests in mind.

For many Puerto Ricans, the promise of America did not pan out. Nelson Denis observed:

After one hundred years of citizenship [the Jones Act], the per capita income of Puerto Ricans is roughly $15,200—half that of Mississippi, the poorest state in the union. Yet in the last five years alone, the government raised the retirement age, increased worker contributions, and lowered public pensions and benefits. It also hiked the water rates by 60 percent, raised the gasoline and sales taxes (the latter to 11.5 percent), and allowed electricity rates to skyrocket. In 2013–14 alone, 105 different taxes were raised in Puerto Rico.10

The nefarious circumstances that surround the Jones Act of 1917 are clear and illustrate the motives of the United States. According to Johnson, “Congressional hearings in 1916 had indicated that many Puerto Ricans preferred to be Puerto Rican citizens” as opposed to U.S. citizens.11 In the period of World War I, Lewis wrote: “…America felt obliged to prove her liberalism as against imperial Germany…”12 In addition, Cripps argued that with the outbreak of World War I, the U.S. wanted to secure Puerto Ricans more firmly to the U.S. as well as curb the growing discontent toward the United States.13 Lastly, Denis argues that U.S. citizenship wasn’t exactly a gift, because one month later the U.S. declared war on Germany and needed more able bodies for the war effort in World War I.10

Puerto Rico’s elite and political process grew out of colonial context. The political process has historically operated within the sphere of external control and it is within these constraints that Puerto Rico’s political parties operate. The political process provides the island’s elite and their political parties an arena in which to exercise their limited power within the perimeters of U.S. power. For example, Luis Munoz Marin and the PPD came to power in the 1930s during political and economic strife. Munoz Marin was the Roosevelt New Deal administration’s man in Puerto Rico and he and the PPD would serve as an intermediary force between the U.S. and the Puerto Rican people, delivering the “goods,” short circuiting the tension on the island, while elevating their own political and economic interests in keeping the colony afloat.14

The creation of the “commonwealth” in 1952 or what is referred to as the Estado Libre Asociado in Puerto Rico was designed to shield against international criticism of its continued colonial status. This in turn provided the opportunity to manufacture the necessary consent to “legitimize” the political arrangement by providing the appearance of the expressed political will of Puerto Ricans. The creation of commonwealth status was used as a ploy to convince the U.N. that Puerto Rico was no longer a colony. As a result, in 1953, Puerto Rico was removed from the U.N.’s list of non-self-governing territories that required decolonization. This maneuver made the U.S. exempt from submitting annual reports on the country’s social and economic conditions to the U.N. Secretary General. Since 1953, the U.S. has refused any inquiry into Puerto Rico’s political status stating that all Puerto Rican matters are within the purview of the U.S. and it is considered an internal matter. As we will see below, the U.S. colonial relationship with the U.N. is at the core of this matter and cannot be resolved as an internal matter, but requires international attention and intervention in the form of establishing a process for decolonization.

The management of a colony by the use of a U.S. state strategy of elite promotion of the PPD and its employment distribution and social aid provisions failed miserably by the 1960s and the 1970s as the U.S. was hit with an economic crisis and moved more in the direction of neoliberalism amid growing competition from Japan and Western Europe. The period that preceded the crisis was characterized by what Morales Carrion called the “political consensus,” because it involved the PPD’s ability to deliver employment and improvements to the standard of living.15 This crisis also provided opportunity for the New Progressive Party (PNP), a new pro-statehood political party, to emerge.  They won their first governor’s election during political and economic uncertainty in 1968. They attempted to appeal to the poor with such slogans as “Statehood is for the Poor” as they attacked the PPD for being responsible for Puerto Rico’s state of dependency. The PNP program is that as a state, Puerto Ricans would have access to the services, rights, and protections that other U.S. states have. Critics have stated that statehood would bring about the death of a Puerto Rican nation; its unique culture, identity, and whatever autonomy it claims and aspires to possess.

The pro-statehood party has received little to no support in the U.S. Congress and if and when this is to happen it would more than likely occur when Puerto Rico has been depopulated of almost all Puerto Ricans, especially the poor, which is occurring now (as noted above). On the other hand, the PPD’s model as an intermediary force embedded in the New Deal politics of managing marginality has ran its course, because of  the U.S.’s declining global economic position and its increasing reliance on neoliberal policies. It is clear that the U.S. and Puerto Rico do not have mutual interests. It is also clear that the U.S. continues to maintain sovereignty over Puerto Rico and as long as it can maintain a captive market, rent free military bases, an endless pool of labor rendered superfluous due to globalization and its race to the bottom, and bodies to fill the rank-and-file of the war machine, it has no desire to change this fortuitous situation, only the desire to keep a lid on a potential explosive situation.

Puerto Ricans now must confront a grim reality that the U.S. government does not care about them and has not since 1898. This reality is not the result of the Trump administration. After all, the establishment of PROMESA, came under the Obama administration, which announced loudly and forcefully that Puerto Ricans do not have any national sovereignty or rights, because this board, which comprises of Wall Street interests has dictatorial powers, having control over Puerto Rico’s budget, laws, financial plans (allocation), and regulations, and is not accountable to Puerto Ricans.16 It is very important to point out that the U.S. government, no matter the political party at the head of the executive office, has never prioritized a resolution of Puerto Rico’s colonial status. It is also important to understand that political parties in Puerto Rico are not mere puppets of the U.S. or its party duopoly, but are active participants in sustaining their own positions of power by cooperating closely with the U.S.’ Democratic or Republican Parties.

Will Hurricane Maria wash away all illusions about the U.S. in Puerto Rico? The hurricane winds of Maria appear to be blowing the roof right off of the many years of concealment and containment of the fact that Puerto Rico is but a colony of the U.S., with second rate citizenship and as Trump stated, “on an island in the middle of the ocean.”

The last two times in which large segments of the Puerto Rican population became aware that their collective suffering was the byproduct of larger structures and processes and not the result of either individual attributes or some deficiency in their ability to self-govern was in the 1930s, when the Nationalist Party and organized labor mobilized and in the 1960s and 1970s when Puerto Rico was hit with an economic crisis, which propelled mobilizations of labor, students, and the reemergence of the pro-independence movement. In these two historic moments, the U.S. state and the elites on the island had the use of the carrot (a system of rewards in return for compliancy) and the stick (a huge repressive and surveillance apparatus on the island). However, today, there appears to be less and less carrot (the New Deal strategy), but plenty of stick.

The stick can be summed up by examining the repressive and surveillance apparatus on the island. The U.S. military presence on the island has varied according to the U.S. geopolitical strategy at any given time. At its peak, there were 50 military bases with the largest being the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. In the 1980s, these military bases had approximately 10,243 full-time active military and civilian personnel stationed on them.17

The U.S. National Guard, currently maintains 48 armories and are in 30 communities. The Guard in Puerto Rico is estimated at being about 8,000 to 10,000 strong. In addition to the Guard and the unknown military strength of other branches on the island, there are FBI, DEA, CIA, Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, and private contractors who are not only involved in drug interdiction and counterinsurgency operations in the Caribbean and Latin American, but are active in Puerto Rico.18

This military presence on the island has historically served as a constant reminder and deterrent to resistance: a show of U.S. military strength as compared to Puerto Rican’s military weakness. These forces have been active in putting down rebellion and engaging in counterinsurgency types of operations in the 1930s and 1950s that targeted the Nationalist Party, a pro-independence organization. Also in the 1960-1980 period, the FBI’s COINTELPRO was active in a campaign to disrupt the pro-independence organizational efforts that included labor leaders and students on the island and in the United States. For example, in 1985, 200 FBI agents raided Puerto Rican activists’ houses and businesses throughout the island in an attempt to intimidate supporters of independence while they arrested people alleged to be connected to the Los Macheteros.19

It was discovered in 1987 that the FBI and the local police had “subversive” dossiers on about 75,000 Puerto Ricans deemed to be threats. These dossiers go back to the early days of the U.S. occupation and not only on included members of pro-independence supporters, but also included large sections of the Puerto Rican population.20 These brief examples point to how a movement for national independence has been historically repressed and criminalized; they also reveal the lunacy in the reasoning that Puerto Ricans have somehow expressed their free will under such oppressive conditions.

Will the disasters, natural or otherwise, create the conditions for a people to look beyond the U.S.’ set parameters of thought and alternatives and look at larger political and economic conditions that Puerto Rico finds itself? This is not a case of restructuring or forgiving the debt or allocating more provisions to Puerto Rico, but the case of colonialism.  A cursory study of Puerto Rico’s history illustrates that remedies to the “economic problem” in Puerto Rico have consistently overwhelming benefited the U.S. at the cost of Puerto Ricans.

The Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria on the island and its disparaging views of Puerto Rico may end up being a watershed moment for Puerto Ricans because it reveals the real commitment and position of the U.S. on Puerto Rico.  The effects of Hurricane Maria and the austerity measures (e.g., closed schools and hospitals, and cuts to government employment) may, in fact, begin a major drift towards decolonization as the current reality on the island becomes more and more evident to the common Puerto Rican.

  1. Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward. 1979 [1977]. Poor People’s Movement. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
  2. Ibid., 11-12.
  3. QuickFacts: Puerto Rico. U.S Census Bureau. 2016. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  4. Economy at a Glance: Puerto Rico. Bureau of Labor Statistic, United States Department of Labor, October 13, 2017. Received: October 13, 2017.
  5. See Cohn, D’Vera, Patten, Eileen, and Lopez, Mark Hugo. 2014. “Puerto Rican Population Declines on Island, Grows on U.S. Mainland.” Pew Research Center, Hispanic Trends. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  6. See Michael Parenti. 1995. Against Empire. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books.
  7. See Nelson Denis. 2017. “After a Century of American Citizenship, Puerto Ricans Have Little to Show for It.” The Nation, March 2, 2017.  Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  8. See Juan Gonzalez. 2000. Harvest of Empire. New York, NY: Penguin Books, p. 251.
  9. James L Dietz. 1986. Economic History of Puerto Rico: Institutional Change and Capitalist and Capitalist Development. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, p. 301.
  10. Nelson Denis. 2017. “After a Century of American Citizenship, Puerto Ricans Have Little to Show for It.” The Nation, March 2, 2017. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  11. Roberta Ann, Johnson. 1980. Puerto Rico: Commonwealth or Colony? New York, NY: Praeger, p. 17.
  12. Gordon K. Lewis. 1963. Puerto Rico: Freedom and Power in the Caribbean. New York, NY: Haper Torchbooks, p. 3.
  13. L. L. Cripps. 1982. Human Rights in a United States Colony. Cambridge, MA.: Schenkman Publishing Company, Inc., p. 23.
  14. Vince Montes. 2003. Cycles of Protest: Contentious Puerto Rican Collective Action, 1960s-1980s. Unpublished dissertation, New School for Social Research.
  15. Arturo Morales Carrion. 1983. Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., p. 143.
  16. Patricia Guadalupe. 2016. “Here’s How PROMESA Aims to Tackle Puerto Rico’s Debt.” ABC News, June 30. Retrieved June 12, 2017.
  17. Humberto Garcia Munoz. 1993. “U.S. Military Installations in Puerto Rico: Controlling the Caribbean.” Pp. 53-66 in Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Puerto Rico, edited by Edwin Melendez, and Edgardo Melendez. Boston, Mass.: South End Press, p. 57.
  18. Vince Montes. 2009. “The Web Approach to the State Strategy in Puerto Rico.” Pp. 99-118 in Bureaucratic Culture and Escalating Problems: Advancing the Sociological Imagination, edited by D. Knottnerus and B. Phillips. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
  19. Ronald Fernandez. 1996. The Disenchanted Island: Puerto Rico and the United States in the Twentieth Century. Westpoint, CT: Praeger Publishers, p. 246-247.
  20. Ramon Bosque-Perez. 2005. “Political Persecution against Puerto Rican Anti-Colonial Activities in the 20th Century.” Pp. 13-48 in Puerto Rico under Colonial Rule, edited by Ramon Bosque-Perez and Jose Javier Colon-Morera. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, p. 24.

A Dripping Wet Chemical Planet

Each and every year an avalanche of toxic chemicals, amounting to 250 billion tonnes, drips over Earth, which, over time, will sanitize all life, turning the planet into a massive gooey glob that glistens dazzlingly orange, not vividly blue. Already, scientists categorize Earth as a “toxic planet.”1

“Earth, and all life on it, are being saturated with man-made chemicals in an event unlike anything in the planet’s entire history,” says Julian Cribb, author of Surviving the 21st Century (Springer International 2017).

Nothing is spared. Mercury is found in Arctic polar bears. Honeybees are dropping like flies. Insect abundance is falling off the edge of a cliff, down 75%, which itself is an extinction event. And, drum roll please, Mt Everest’s snow is so polluted it doesn’t even meet EPA drinking water standards, absolutely true. Dangerous levels of arsenic and cadmium have been found in snow samples taken every 1,000 feet up, according to Samantha Langely-Turnbaugh, professor of environmental science, University of Southern Maine.

So, how does this affect the human species?

Well, for starters, man-made chemical emissions are, far and away, the largest human footprint on the planet. And, here’s the strange scary aspect: It’s one of the least understood or regulated. So, even though Earth is turning into a chemically soaked sphere above and beyond the wildest of imagination, according to UN Environment Program, most of those chemicals blanketing the planet have never been screened for health concerns.

According to WWF Global research, only 14% of chemicals used in largest volumes have the minimum amount of data available to make an initial basic safety assessment. Oh, well!

So, not only is the planet saturated dripping wet with chemicals, it is largely being done in the blind. Nobody knows for sure the upshot of the biggest most gigantic of all time chemical spray in all of history as toxic chemicals literally drip off the planet. Witnessed from outer space, aliens must be horrified. No wonder they haven’t landed.

Humanity could be at risk like never before but nobody really knows for sure how or why at the very moment when worldwide capitalism is cranking faster than ever before now that state-run capitalism is so popular and ingrained in Oligarch-Heaven Russia and Red Communist China. The upshot: Considerably more unregulated chemicals at the rate of 2,000 new chemicals released every year. That’s five (5) brand new chemicals soaking the planet every day. As a result, industrial toxins are now found worldwide in newborn babies. When will humans start glowing in the dark?

Meanwhile, medical science is increasingly linking issues such as obesity, cancer, heart disease and brain disorders like autism, ADHD and depression to the massively growing titanic volume of toxic chemicals dripping off the planet.

Notably, only recently, the global threat is coming to surface; for example, a recent landmark study of insects showing a 75% falloff of abundance over 27 years. That in, and of, itself is an extinction event!2

Problem: People need insects a lot more than insects need people. Without insects 80% of plants will die. The plants are angiosperms, meaning they need pollination. Mass starvation ensues. There’s no way around it.

Now that the UN and the chief scientist of the UK have come out in protests of rampant peacetime chemical warfare lodged against humanity, it is all the more interesting, actually disheartening, to follow America’s leadership role in the wide, wide world of chemicals.

Beyond U.S. policy, here’s what the world, via the UN, says about pesticides: “The current assumption underlying pesticide regulation – that chemicals that pass a battery of tests in the laboratory or in field trials are environmentally benign when they are used at industrial scales – is false,’ say the scientists.”3

What to do? After all, it’s claimed the world will go hungry without pesticide control. However, according to a UN study, it’s a myth that pesticides are essential to feed a fast-growing population. To wit:4

Pesticides cause an array of harms. Runoff from treated crops frequently pollute the surrounding ecosystem and beyond, with unpredictable ecological consequences. Furthermore, reductions in pest populations upset the complex balance between predator and prey species in the food chain, thereby destabilizing the ecosystem. Pesticides can also decrease biodiversity of soils and contribute to nitrogen fixation, which can lead to large declines in crop yields, posing problems for food security… Despite grave human health risks having been well established for numerous pesticides, they remain in use.

Try organic farming on for size and see if it fits and crop rotation and crop-cover natural farming techniques rather than industrialized chemically grown crops.

A recent New York Times exposé, “Why Has the E.P.A. Shifted on Toxic Chemicals? An Industry Insider Helps Call the Shots” (10-21-17), delves into details about toxic changes at EPA, figuratively as well as literally a real killer of a story.

When it comes to peacetime chemical warfare, the Trump administration simply gives the finger to both the UN and the UK chief scientist, and for that matter, all scientists. Who needs ’em? The Trumpeters think it is just dandy, just great to loosen up the regs. “Cease and desist overregulation” is their mantra. Let the chips fall were they may, and stop the crazy over-regulation becuz it hurts making America great again. Indeed, the Trumpeters are pure fodder for the Sixth Mass Extinction. Just what Dr. Doom ordered.

Contrariwise, there are times when science verbiage makes common sense, a lot of common sense; for example:

Our data indicate that beyond global species extinctions Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population declines and extirpations, which will have negative cascading consequences on ecosystem functioning and services vital to sustaining civilization. We describe this as a “biological annihilation” to highlight the current magnitude of Earth’s ongoing sixth major extinction event.5

In other words “biological annihilation” is right around the corner. Isn’t that just great! Thus therefore and furthermore, ponder for a moment impending biological annihilation in the context of the Trump presidency.

But, thank heavens, in stark contrast to Trump administration officials obliterating EPA, the UN is on the warpath, warning of “catastrophic consequences” from use of pesticides, claiming manufacturers systematically deny any harm and use unethical marketing tactics. After all, it’s a $50B industry on a dollars and cents basis worth the risk to chemical manufacturers to hoodwink the public as long as possible. Legal fees are easily paid out of profits to defend lawsuits. According to the UN, 200,000 people die each year from acute poisoning, and who could possibly know of the numbers of cases of cancer or Parkinson’s or liver failure. Nobody knows, and therein lies the heart of the problem of “not knowing” what nobody knows (not a quote by Donald Rumsfeld).

It is worthwhile taking note that pesticides are found in honey around the world. Yes, honey, the stuff people like to spread on bread and eat, lots and lots of honey. Here’s a quote from Science Magazine:

Insecticides are cropping up in honey samples from around the world, a new study finds, suggesting that bees and other pollinators are being widely exposed to these dangerous chemicals.6:

No kidding, that’s exactly why insect abundance has plummeted by 75%. Nothing could be worse, other than a Trump nuke attack simultaneously on both North Korea and Iran. That would likely knock out the remaining 25% insect population. Then, who knows what?

  1. “Scientists Categorize Earth as a ‘Toxic Planet,” Phys.Org, February 7, 2017.
  2. Caspar A. Hallmann, et al, More Than 75 Percent Decline Over 27 Years in Total Flying Insect Biomass in Protected Areas, PLOS, October 18, 2017.
  3. Damian Carrington, Environmental Editor, “Warning of Ecological Armageddon After Dramatic Plunge in Insect Numbers”, The Guardian, October 18, 2017.
  4. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Human Rights Council,” UN General Assembly Thirty-fourth Session, Agenda item 3, January 24, 2017.
  5. Paul R. Ehrlich, et al, Biological Annihilation via the Ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction Signaled by Vertebrate Population Losses and Declines, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 114, No. 31, May 23, 2017.
  6. “Pesticides Found in Honey Around the World”, Science Magazine, October 4, 2017.

The Third World War

Was undeclared. Exactly where and when it began is debatable. Most would say there had been low-level conflict for millennia, but it only became a world war toward the end of the 20th century CE. Some choose the symbolic date when we ran that tanker, the Exxon Valdez, aground in Prince William Sound, because its cargo was the secret weapon that had brought the war into this new stage.

Our global forces were still divided into two antagonistic camps at that time, but both were at war with the greater enemy. The eastern camp had already killed the Aral Sea and poisoned 180,000 square kilometers of land with nuclear radiation (although this action was a Pyrrhic victory, resulting in more drastic consequences to us than the enemy). Shortly thereafter, we declared a truce of sorts between the factions, so we could make further gains in the great war, ostensibly without so much damage to ourselves. For the remainder of the last century, our forces were on the march everywhere, and the enemy fell back.

But in the early years of this century, some unseen fulcrum began to shift. Rather than the widely and randomly interspersed events we experienced in the relatively mild regime we grew up with, we saw destructive actions that escalated in their scope and frequency until they came to seem like calculated responses.

The waves of heat and cold. They caught us off-guard with their new intensity. Then the storms, to which we continued to give bland, suburban names: Mitch, Dennis, Katrina, Irene, Sandy, Iris, Maria. At first mostly a threat to the growing legions of the unprotected poor, they soon showed themselves a match for our largest cities. And beyond that: whole provinces, countries were paralyzed for days, weeks, months. And then the fires – early on they were far from where we lived and breathed, in the still-vast northern forests, but then they came closer, filling the skies of our cities apocalyptically with drifting ash and smoke, and finally, audaciously, striking at the sprawling cities themselves, taking thousands of buildings in a single attack.

Our initial casualties were so small – a few tens of thousands a year against all our billions. We published the tiny body counts for each incident, as if nothing else was of consequence. But overall, we took little notice, because we killed ourselves with friendly fire in vastly greater numbers. And against the enemy, we unleashed a holocaust. Total war. We took no prisoners. It was xenocide; we were willing to exterminate not just individuals but whole species to win our freedom. Thousands, then tens of thousands of species began to fall.

What we didn’t understand was that the enemy, who had seemed outmatched, capable only of rear guard actions, had retrenched and begun fighting a war of attrition: displacing millions, infiltrating town and countryside with hunger, sickness, despair. Leveling its aim at our infrastructure, our economy, our very desires for comfort and ease. So many were uprooted and then discovered there was no refuge elsewhere. We were under siege and didn’t realize it.

Besides the weather it controlled, the enemy bred armies of the small: ticks, mosquitoes, cancers, viral plagues. Again, we had the sense that it was using our very advances in the wider war to undermine us. For example, we decimated the great tropical forests so we could install our farms and industries in them, only to find that the enemy had begun to burn the peat under the desiccated region surreptitiously to release more of the atmospheric carbon that we had just begun to understand was its greatest weapon. Carbon: an invisible and odorless waste product, something we simply breathed out, threw away. A stroke of the enemy’s blind genius.

There were some pacifists. They marched in the streets, shouted at buildings. They performed dramatic stunts at remote battle sites, recruited rich celebrities. Stop the War! they cried, with colorful banners unfurled. Many of their actions were heroic. But they were relatively easy to marginalize. If they were well-to-do, our leaders made sure they were seen as hypocrites, trying to deny the poor their hope. If they were poor, they killed them, imprisoned them, or simply ignored them. They were expendable.

In the end, we discovered our leaders had betrayed us. Our titans of industry betrayed us. Too late we realized: they were actually on the side of the enemy; they were provoking its ever-stronger attacks on our homes, our food, our pleasures. They sacrificed us to enrich themselves. And, in time-honored fashion, the enemy was using our own strength against us…

A Personal Memory

The thing that struck me most about living for years in a country at war was how much normalcy there was. Every day the streets of the capital were jammed with traffic, the stores crowded with shoppers. We went to the mall, to birthday parties, the beach. Occasionally a car bomb would go off. A light post would be blown up. There were bored soldiers with assault rifles at the entrances to the banks, the airport and the bus stations. The television and newspapers were heavily censored. They ran the same non-sequitur crime stories every day. They said nothing about the war.

In the distant countryside, bombers screamed overhead, dropping payloads that destroyed villages, and helicopter gunships prowled, seeking out columns of fighters moving through the bush to mow them down. But when I visited the far-flung villages in the later years of the war, I never saw and scarcely heard any fighting. The doughty buses ran regularly over the rough roads and were always full of passengers, although sometimes they had to stop at checkpoints and be searched. The tropical sun shone, the farmers left for their fields before dawn, the teachers held classes in the tin-roofed sheds. It all just went on. Somewhere out of sight, thousands of troops were on the march; skirmishes were being fought daily, people were killing and being killed. A tiny place, that country at war, and yet most of the time the war was far away unless you were actually fighting in it.

The Forever War

So now, understanding at last that we are all at war, the final war, the forever war between our species and our vast complex single enemy, the planetary ecosystem that engendered us, I know how I will live, girded by the invisible armor of the middle class everywhere, but especially in the rich world. I know that I can go down the street to the coffee shop every day, and one day the sky will be thick with the smoke of wildfires incinerating a town to the north, and everybody will be wearing surgical masks, and the sun will be red as molten steel in the sky’s furnace, but in a few days the smoke will dissipate and I’ll go back to the coffee shop and joke with the waitress and get my coffee. “It’s a good day to be alive,” she’ll say, and I’ll agree.

And next winter, a mammoth storm will wreck the highway, and a few dozen unwary cars will slide into the abyss, but we will take a detour, or change our vacation plans. The crews will show up eventually, although the road will be blocked for months, and maybe one lane buried under a massive rock slide will never open again. But the traffic will keep moving regardless. We’ll get there. We’ll get to a place where the forest hasn’t burned yet, or floods destroyed the dam that held back the lake, or the hotel closed because one or the other of those things happened.

And then there will be the attack from the sea – the Dungeness crab will be poisoned with a new bacterium, or its numbers will crash for a year, and then another, or this will happen to the salmon or bass, till many of the fish markets close, but we will go on finding good things to eat; intrepid chefs in the downtown bistros will do creative things with jellyfish and squid. Thousands of seals dead of starvation will litter our beaches one year, pods of whales another, but we will step over them, in mild dismay, and wait for the authorities to clear them away. And then we’ll go back to the beach, unless another storm comes that washes it away for good. And then we’ll find another beach that hasn’t been washed away yet.

The heat waves will hit, and the pavement will melt so the planes can’t fly for a day or two, and we will grumble about the delay and wait in whatever air conditioned space we can find until the temperature drops again. We’ll still find a way to visit our distant families or get our business done. It will just be a little more time-consuming, unpleasant, and expensive each year.

The helicopters will prowl overhead more often; the sound of sirens will be a more constant backdrop. The news will be a garish pageant of non-sequitur crime stories. Most will say nothing about the war.

On the quiet days when no battle rages anywhere near us, we will stand on our doorsteps for a moment and breathe the soft air that reminds us of peacetime. As you do when you live with terminal illness, we’ll have a sudden sharp memory of what it was like before, when we were healthy, or thought we were. Our happy past will seem so vivid and real, for an instant. And then we’ll push the memory aside, and with it the hope that health or peace will return one day. We’ll just get on with it, burying our sorrow and regret deep in the urgent trivia of the day-to-day, for whatever time we have left.

Reflections on the Counsel of Italian Clowns, Anarchists and Social Movements

Ex Caserma Liberata, Bari, Italy — Some four years ago, a group of (mostly) anarchists occupied the premises of what was once a military barracks (caserma in Italian) in Bari, a port city at the top of the heel of Italy’s boot. They collectively took over 8 hectares (20 acres) in the heart of the city and began carving out a rather significant social center in the shadow of multi-story brick and glass apartment buildings. Soon realizing that 8 hectares in a large metropolitan area was a little too much territory for a few anarchists (and their fellow travelers) to occupy and defend or cultivate, they reduced their size to 2.5 hectares, which is still a hell of a lot. I suspect, from what I’ve seen here, that there are many political tendencies included among the residents and supporters of the Ex-Caserma besides the predominant anarchism, but as Pippo, says, “we are united by antifascism.”

Photo by Clifton Ross

Pippo, the poet, set up my visit to the Ex-Caserma Liberata and arranged for me to show Arturo Albarrán’s and my movie, In the Shadow of the Revolution, one week before I head off to show it at the London Anarchist Book Fair. Pippo is the founder of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade of Bari and as he takes me through the city he laughs as he points out the poems along the way that he’s wheat-pasted on walls, electrical boxes, light poles and anywhere else they’ll fit. Pippo laughs a lot. But his English and Spanish are as minimal as my Italian, so our communication is done more by hand signals than anything. I’m relieved, then, when we return and Pippo hands me over to “Aurora” for a tour of the squat. Now I can give my hands a rest and talk in English with my new, fluent guide.

I’d guess the young pink-haired woman is still a teen-ager, but Aurora speaks with great authority as she walks me through the Ex-Caserma.  Over these four years they’ve painted murals on the low, ramshackle buildings, planted a small garden and taken in a “herd” of seven cats. They created various sleeping rooms, a kitchen, bathrooms, a break dance/yoga studio, a library, a bicycle repair and construction garage, a screen print shop and an indoor skate park that Aurora tells me is now closed due to lack of use.

Needless to say, it’s all collectively organized and managed by consensus, and that night I’ll see one of the biggest crowds to turn out for a showing of our movie, brought together pretty much by word of mouth among the community of supporters. Support in the community they definitely seem to have. And they’re going to need it now that the “socialist” government of the PD is giving the national police free hand to evict all squats. No doubt Ex-Caserma is on their radar.

Eventually Aurora and I arrive at the “palestra,” or the gym where “Giulio” teaches boxing. Giulio is a handsome young fellow whose light brown full beard is just starting to turn gray. He has an easy, sweet disposition that seems so incongruous with the sport he teaches, but I see a striking consistency as we start to talk about violence. After all, Giulio teaches people how to be prepared to meet fascists who are out looking for trouble, skilled as he is in the art of self, and other, defense.

“Sometimes you meet fascists on the street and you have to be prepared to defend yourself,” he says in his heavily-accented English. He also recognizes that there will be times when those committed to bridging borders and welcoming, and defending, immigrants will have to deal with the violence of the right, especially the fascist right. Recall that this is Italy where the term “fascist” was coined from the Italian movement of Mussolini, the socialist-fascist.

In the course of my conversation with Giulio, I decide to ask him what he thinks of the August 27th violence in Berkeley, which touched off a few weeks of intense debate over the proper way to respond to right-wing violence and hate speech. I describe the scene as it was reported to me by eyewitnesses, and by newspaper reports, and from what I could see in videos that were posted online afterwards since I refused to participate. When I’d discovered the Portland Antifa was involved, I decided I didn’t want to be part of a peaceful backdrop to what I knew would be their violent attacks, so I protested the protest.

I express my own views up front to Giulio (that I only believe in defensive force, not offensive violence) and then I tell him that the demonstration in Berkeley was thousands strong, and marched through Berkeley, the home of the Free Speech Movement. This massive assembly was joined by a contingent of perhaps as many as 100 to 150 Antifa, said to have arrived from Portland, Oregon. As the demonstration converged on the Civic Center Park where Amber and Joey Gibson and a few others were gathered, the Antifa charged and began beating the “right-wing” gathering. None of the “right-wingers” fought back, but rather retreated. In one case a “right-wing” protestor fell and was kicked and beaten by a number of the Antifa before African American reporter Al Letson intervened and stopped the beating.

There’s a reason why I put “right-wing” in quotes: Joey Gibson appears to be something of a Christian anarchist or libertarian, but certainly in a very interesting interview, he denied being “right-wing.” Amber Cummings is a self-described “transsexual anti-Marxist” and also denies association with right wingers. No doubt, as organizers claimed, some people who may have been right-wing showed up, but the Antifa never allowed them to speak: they were beaten to the ground, in most cases, before they were even allowed to open their mouths.

So I asked Giulio what he thought of this.

Giulio shook his head. “No, I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree with fascist tactics.”

Ah, yes. That is exactly why I have such admiration for the Antifa I’ve met in Europe. We can actually have a conversation about these issues without anyone engaging in personal attacks. I don’t need to worry about them beating me up if I express any sympathy for victims of their attacks since, clearly, according to the Portland Antifa in Berkeley on August 27th, people they beat up are “Nazi” by definition, regardless of how the victim defines him or herself, right? Furthermore, Giulio and many like him recognize that fascism, more than an ideology, is a practice. It’s a way of doing politics by relying almost exclusively on the two main tactics of fear and violence. Anti-fascism, Giulio and others in the European Antifa might agree, would take the opposite tactical approach, relying mostly on courage and respect, backed up only when necessary, by defensive force. And after all, Europeans have painful experience with, and a long time to reflect on, fascism, and learn through that what does, and doesn’t, work.

Another group headquartered here in the Ex-Caserma has found a different way to deal with cops and fascists and other threats to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was the last stop on Aurora’s tour and as we paused while she unlocked the door, she smiled and looked up at me. “You’re not afraid of clowns, are you?” I wasn’t quick enough to get the joke and so responded earnestly that I wasn’t, and then we entered the headquarters of the Clown Army of Bari.

This would be my home for the next few days, their nerve center, and the arsenal of the Clown Army is all around me: plastic clubs, fly swatters, and ridiculous neon orange and green space guns. Their headquarters have mostly been painted pink, but it was clearly a job done by clowns, and the white undercoat shows through everywhere. On the walls are photos of some of their more intensive military offensives: one clown dressed up as a large pink pig being arrested and handcuffed by two policemen; a line of police in riot gear with shields, all painted pink by passing clowns; police arresting a giant penis, and the other indignities perpetrated with the most extreme and violent forms of humor.

And by the door is a little bucket for strange, frilly umbrellas, a little yellow plastic kiddy bat for plastic baseball, and several tubes that look like kaleidoscopes. Above the bucket is a sign that says “Bastoni in caso di FASCISTI” (Clubs in case of fascists).

At this point in my life, clowns are probably the only teachers I could take seriously, so as I settle into the clown headquarters I begin to consider what lessons I can take back to the USA with me from this experience in the clown headquarters, and in Italy as a whole. After all, we North Americans really understand so little about our own situation and we have so much to learn from the world.

So here’s the first lesson: in just a short time here at Ex-Caserma my new friends have made clear that we’re definitely not going to be able to defeat fascists by using their tactics against them. That would only guarantee our own transformation into fascists. And though we certainly need to fight the ignorance that breeds fascism, racism, and malignant nationalism, we also have to deal with our own ignorance about that “basket of deplorables” that seems to evoke so much fear and disgust among liberals and the Left. To do that, we’ll have to let go of our arrogance in thinking we’re somehow better than them because we know the “right” language, are more urbane, and hold more humane views. To achieve that, we’ll need to cultivate greater humility to open our hearts and minds.

Of course, as Giulio knows, there may also be times when we have to defend ourselves, our comrades and people with whom we’re in solidarity, by the use of force—not “by any means necessary,” but rather only when necessary. We’ll need to begin to develop a strategy rather than relying simply on tactics, but a strategy can only be developed when we have an objective, a vision, a goal. All of this is strikingly absent on the Left these days now that socialism, defined as the “state ownership of the means of production” has proven to be an unworkable concept and many of us are left scratching our heads and trying to come up with a viable alternative to transnational capitalism. We’ll have to be willing to completely let go of unworkable ideas before we can hope to come up with new ideas, objectives and aims.

All that will require us to leave the safety of our mental and social ghetto of the “Left” and move out into the big world where the real 99% live. And that 99%, in the USA, at least, is mostly made up of liberals, conservatives and people that many of us still insist on describing as “fascists.” Will it be possible for us to let go of our cherished identity as (self)-righteous Leftists and just become people again? Will we be able to open ourselves up to all those people thrown away like trash by the neoliberalism Hillary Clinton and the Democrats (and Republicans) have touted for the past few decades. I’m not so sure.

Perhaps that’s why, at the same time I’ve grown alienated from the “Left” I’ve found myself drawn increasingly closer to European anarchists and Latin American social movements. As the Chilean social movement activist, Edmundo Jiles, told Marcy Rein and me when we visited him in Paine, Chile a few years back as we worked on the final stages of a book we were putting together at the time: “Social movements have no ideology…they don’t have their own programs and there are no political parties at the forefront interpreting the social movements to channel the social aspirations.” A little further south in the area of Aysén you could see this in practice. The social movement there was making national news at the time, and in our book we translated and published an interview with the main coordinator of that movement, Iván Fuentes.

Ours is a movement that cuts across lines with deep criticism for the current political scheme. The country today is demonstrating against a system, not against politicians. People want to vote for persons, not for certain political parties. So this is a wake-up call for politics in Chile; Chilean politics are sick and they have to be healed. I’m not of any particular political party, nor is this movement political. The demands represent deep social feelings that cross lines. My compañero Misael Ruiz is right-wing, and a militant in the Renovación Nacional. I’m not a militant of any party, but my work is social. We want people to regain their faith in politics, in our way of doing politics, valuing people dedicated to doing the things they were born to do. These people have no wage nor title, but they work from their hearts and they’re able to give, to leave something for their children and work for their community. Those are the leaders.

That was back in 2012 and we found this ability on the part of the social movements to cross all political and social boundaries very inspiring. This phenomenon has also been the case in Venezuela (as our movie demonstrates) where an array of social actors were out in the streets every day for four months this year in a struggle to restore democracy to the country. And now I’ve found refreshing evidence of others thinking along the same lines here in Italy.

After showing the movie in Bologna, the event organizer, poet Pina Piccolo, and I went out with a couple of students who also had helped organize the event. “Piero” and “Sofia”were part of a group called “Hobo” who had come together a few years ago because they were disgusted by what went under the rubric of “Left” in Italian politics.

As elsewhere in the world, or I should say, as everywhere in the world, the Italian Left has seen better days. In fact, it might be more accurate to say it’s a shadow of itself, in many senses. As a result, the reformed Communist Party, now the Democratic Party (PD) is gradually losing ground to the various fascist and populist parties, even in traditional Left bastions like Bologna.

Piero and Sofia took us to a bar on a quiet back street for “happy hour” which, in the Italian case, happens around 9 p.m.. Piero is polite and clean cut, like most Italian college-age men. His perfectly trimmed mustache and glasses fit the image of the long-term resident of academia that he is, but Piero is definitely not an academic. Nor is Sofia. Sofia, a British-Italian who rolls her own cigarettes, is loquacious but not excessively so: she’s just excited about the work Hobo has been doing recently.

When a local bank went belly up the Hobo students decided to find out what happened to the shareholders and those who lost money in the debacle. Most on the Left around them couldn’t understand why they were so concerned about “middle class” people, many of whom were considered “right wing” and quite “backward” by the educated, intellectual Left. But the Hobos insisted and roused the courage to go out and meet the people. Sofia described the process as having been quite difficult. “Yes, some of the people were racists; sexists, and so on. There were times when in a group they would sing the old nineteenth century Italian National Anthem and I thought I would choke. But gradually we got to know the people as people, and we developed mutual respect as they realized we were really interested in their situation.”

I have no doubt these experiences of social movements are repeated daily by social movements all around the world. I wonder when we’ll begin to recognize their value in the United States. The situation there cries out for such an awareness, and that was brought home to me in one great moment in the run-up to the presidential election of 2016. In perhaps the most backward state of the USA, Oklahoma (a state where, incidentally, I have family and where I lived for five years), Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won the Republican and Democratic primaries, respectively. For me, that was an extraordinary revelation. It tells me that white “rednecks” are sick of the neoliberal politics of the likes of the Clintons, and they’re looking for alternatives.

Oklahoma, it should be recalled, was once “red” (communist and anarcho-syndicalist) of a different color than the “red” (Republican) of today. Back in the 1920s it had five socialist weeklies and it was also home of the now-forgotten Green Corn Rebellion when as much as one third of the state was flying red flags in a great grassroots revolution that was quickly stamped out by the Federal government. And what was the relationship between the government and the Klan? Racist populism clearly substituted for socialism…

The message of the last presidential election when Trump was elected couldn’t be clearer. The white working class has been ignored, and forgotten, but worse, it has been ridiculed and disrespected by neoliberals—and liberals, and left liberals, and the Left. This is the clear message that people like Arlie Hochschild (Strangers in their own Land) and Joan C. Williams (White Working Class) and others have so eloquently articulated. Only by patient and careful willingness to open our hearts to listen closely to people we find so terribly “backward,” “uneducated,” “uncouth” and even “unreasonable” will we be able to find common ground with people now entertaining political positions we (rightly, I think) find so counterproductive and destructive.

So perhaps Giulio is right, and we may find one day we’ll have to be ready to duke it out on the streets with fascists. This has been the case on many occasions here in Europe, and it certainly was an important part of the defensive force Antifa and others used in Charlottesville, Virginia this past August. At the same time, there’s also a need for education, dialogue, as well as the use of the best weapon the Clown Army possesses in its formidable arsenal: humor. But most importantly, we need to set our political, social and cultural differences aside to focus on problems that affect all of us. Like climate change.

I didn’t have time to hear how things turned out with Sofia and Piero. The subject turned to other things and Pina and I had to catch a train home. So let me imagine an ending, and say there’s probably great truth in my imaginary ending because I recall Sofia speaking with genuine affection about the people she’s come to work with recently when she dared to cross the lines of what she once thought was correct ideology to reach out to people so different from her. I do recall that the students and the aggrieved shareholders and former customers of the bank were able to demonstrate together for justice, crossing political and social boundaries that elites have thus far deftly managed to use on the 99% and keep it divided. Yet I imagine that eventually the issue with the bank became less important to everyone because a much deeper transformation was taking place. Gradually, in ways no one quite anticipated, and certainly no one really understood, people began to develop deep feelings of affection for each other and especially for those they once felt were repugnant, even deplorable. Now that’s a wonderful thought, isn’t it?

Mr. Toxicity Zaps America

America’s all-time-leading heartless anti-science zealot EPA Administrator Scott “Mr. Toxicity” Pruitt, as of March 2017, nixed his own agency’s proposal of 2015 to ban the toxic chemical chlorpyrifos, an insecticide that attacks the nervous system of pesky insects, as well as pesky and non-pesky people (the Nazis invented it for germ warfare). It’s sprayed on crops of foodstuff that ends up in grocery stores.

All of which brings to mind, how in the world does the Trump group, from A-to-Z, remain in power, one of the great enigmas of all time. By all appearances, so far nobody has the backbone, the guts to throw ’em in the gutter, back to their lifeblood.

Chlorpyrifos is no longer patent protected. It is now the active ingredient in dozens of pesticide products made by companies such as Bayer and BASF. More than 80,000 people submitted comments to the EPA urging the agency to ban chlorpyrifos from use on all crops immediately.1

Here are the results of a major study of chlorpyrifos by researchers at Columbia University:

Conclusions: We report evidence of deficits in Working Memory Index and Full-Scale IQ as a function of prenatal CPF exposure at 7 years of age. These findings are important in light of continued widespread use of CPF in agricultural settings and possible longer-term educational implications of early cognitive deficits.2

Further, that’s just for starters, “Based on the harm that this pesticide causes, the EPA cannot, consistent with the law, allow it in our food,” said Patti Goldman, a lawyer with Earthjustice, citing a number of studies that have demonstrated the harmful effects of the pesticide in humans.”3

“It’s been banned from household use for more than a decade, but it’s still used by farmers on citrus trees, strawberries, broccoli, and cauliflower. The residue may be found on produce in supermarkets.”4

What! Why is it banned from household use but still okay for foods purchased by households? Can Mr. Toxicity answer since he took it upon himself for approval? Doubtful at best.

“Jim Jones, a former assistant administrator of the EPA who was in-charge of pesticide regulation: ‘But, once we cracked that nut, and you had the risk evaluated and in front of you, it became, in my view, a very straightforward decision, with not a lot of ambiguity in terms of what you would do,’ he told National Public Radio. ‘I just don’t know what basis they would have to deny the petition [to ban chlorpyrifos], given the vast scientific record that the EPA’s got right now.

It is no spoof that the vast scientific record is lodged with an EPA that is mandated to protect American citizens from stupid harmful products. And in truth, Mr. Toxicity nixed a proposed ban by his own agency’s scientists utilizing that “vast scientific record” to recommend prohibition. The operative question therefore can only be: Should Mr. Toxicity be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail… just for starters? That’s how history says society dealt with charlatans.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, exposure to chlorpyrifos can cause a range of symptoms including nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, seizures, and paralysis.

Not only that, according to the EPA’s own studies, expected residues of chlorpyrifos on food crops exceed the safety standard under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Steadfast, Mr. Toxicity and Dow AgroSciences remain confident in the use of the chemical, assuming quantity is well regulated, then safe, even though used specifically to kill living things. Jeepers Creepers! Let’s spray!

Although, according to Scott Faber Sr. VP at Environmental Working Group, Dow AgroSciences itself makes safer alternatives, confirmed by Dow. Still and remarkably, really-really remarkably, considering Dow’s confirmation of safer alternatives, chlorpyrifos is the most widely used insecticide in the country. Registered uses include apples, lettuce, peaches, and potatoes. Go figure!

“There’s simply no way EPA could reach any conclusion other than it should no longer be used on food crops,’ Faber said. ‘What’s outrageous about Scott Pruitt’s decision is that the science is so strong, so overwhelming, that chlorpyrifos causes neurological problems.”5

Political malevolence is spreading across the land from shore to shore like dreaded plague ever since the Trump confidence game turned lose on the most naïve voting block in the history of the republic, but fading fast on a pathway to a crazy ugly mélange of mass disembowelment at their own hands.

How it feels to be victimized, bamboozled is rapidly becoming America’s new legacy for the world to chew on.

  1. “EPA Urged to Ban Widely-Used Pesticide Chlorpyrrifos”, Environment News-Washington, DC, January 5, 2016.
  2. “Seven-Year Neurodevelopmental Scores and Prenatal Exposure to Chlorpyrifos, a Common Agricultural Pesticide,” Environ Health Perspective, 119:1196-1201, April 2011.
  3. Dom Galeon and Abby Norman, “The EPA Approves the Continued Use of a Harmful Chemical in Pesticides”, Futurism, Earth & Energy, March 30, 2017
  4. Ibid.
  5. Susan Scutti, “EPA Won’t Ban Pesticide Chlorpyrifos: Is It Safe?” CNN, March 30, 2017.