Category Archives: Health/Medical

Children: Civilization’s Future, Victims of Western Brutality

The United Nations Universal Children’s Day – 20 November – has come and gone and nothing has changed. No action that would now protect children any more than before, no move even by the UN to call on nations at war to take special care to protect children if for nothing else but the fact that children are our planet’s future. They are the standard bearer of human generations to come and of our civilization as a whole, if we don’t run it into the ground. Yet, children are among the most vulnerable, discriminated and abjectly exploited and abused species within human kind.

The culture of greed and instant profit has no space for children, for their rights, for their up-bringing within a frame of human rights, fair education, access to shelter and health services everywhere. For much of our western society, children are a nuisance, at best, a tool for cheap labor, especially when the west outsources its production processes to poor developing countries, mostly in Asia and Central America, so poor that they cannot enforce laws against child labor, all to maximize corporate profits.

Otherwise the western driven killing and war machine indiscriminately slaughters children, by famine, by drones, by bombs, by disease, by abuse. Collateral damage? I doubt it. Children could be protected, even in illegal wars. But eradicating by death and poverty entire generations in nations the west intends to subdue has a purpose: rebuilding of these nations will not take place under the watch of educated children, grown adults, who would most likely oppose their ‘hangmen’, those that have destroyed their homes and families, their villages and towns, their schools and hospital, their drinking water supply systems, leaving them to the plight of cholera and other diseases brought about by lack of hygiene and sanitation. So, in the interest of the empire and its puppet allies, children’s calamities and crimes on them are at best under reported. In most cases nobody even cares.

Look at Syria. The poison gas attacks instigated by US and NATO forces, carried out by their proxies ISIS and Saudi Arabia, to blame them on President Bashar al-Assad, were directed at children for greater public relations impact, further helped by the fake heroes, the White Helmets. Can you imagine! (I’m sure you can!) Children have to be poisoned and killed by western forces who want to topple the Syrian Assad regime to put their puppet in Assad’s place, so that they can control the country and eventually the region. Yes, children are sacrificed – a huge crime against humanity – to commit another horrendous international crime – forcefully change a democratically elected regime. That’s what the west does and is – and probably always was for the last 2000 years.

Take the situation of Yemen, where for the last 3 ½ years the network of the world’s biggest mafia killer scheme, led by Saudi Arabia, as the patsy and foreign money funnel aiding the United States and her allies in crime, the UK, France, Spain, several of the Gulf States, until recently also Germany, and many more – has killed by bombs, starvation and cholera induced by willingly destroyed water supply and sanitation systems, maybe hundreds of thousands of children.

According to Save the Children, some 85,000 children below 5 years of age may have already died from famine; mind you, a purposefully induced famine, as Saudi and Gulf forces destroyed and blocked the port of Hodeida, where about 80% – 90% of imported food enters the country. The most vulnerable ones, as with every man-made disaster, are children and women.

Already a year ago, the UN warned that the cholera outbreak in Yemen is the fastest spreading cholera epidemic since records began and that it will affect at least a million people, including at least 600,000 children. A year later – how many of them have died? Extreme food shortages, destroyed shelters and hospitals, lack of medication, as medicine is also blocked at the points of import, have reduced children’s natural immune systems even further.

Imagine the suffering caused not just to the children, but to their parents, families, communities! What the west is doing is beyond words. It’s beyond crime; and all those ‘leaders’ (sic) responsible will most likely never face a criminal court, as they are controlling all the major justice systems in the world. Though, no justice could make good for the killing and misery, but at least it could demonstrate that universal crime – as is the war on Yemen and many others fought for greed and power – is not tolerated with impunity.

UNHCR – the UN refugee agency — reports that worldwide some 70 million refugees are on the move or in refugee camps. This figure does not include a large number of unreported cases, perhaps up to a third more. Most of the refugees are generated in the Middle East by western initiated wars; wars for greed, for natural resources, for controlling a geopolitically and strategically important region on the seemingly ‘unstoppable’ way to full power world dominance.

At least two thirds of the refugees are children – no health care, no education, no suitable shelter, or none at all, malnourished-to-starving, raped, abused, enslaved – you name it.

Where do all these children go? What is their future? There will be societies – Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan – missing a full generation. The countries are suffering a gap in educated people. This wanton gap will likely prevent rebuilding and developing their nations according to their sovereign rights. These countries are easier to control, subdue and enslave.

Just imagine, many of the lost children pass under the radar of human statistics, ignored, many of them are totally abandoned, no parents, no family, nobody to care for them, nobody to love them – they may quietly die – die in the gutters, unknown, anonymous. We – the brutal west – let them.

And the UN-declared Children’s Day has come and gone and nothing has changed, Nothing will change as long as the west is devastating indiscriminately countries, cities, villages for sheer greed. Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan — never were threatening the United States, nor Israel, of course. But they have resources the west covets, or they are geopolitically of strategic importance – for step by bloody step advancing towards world hegemony.

According to the UN, about 300 million children around the world do not go to school. Again, the unreported figure is possibly double or higher, especially including those that attend school only sporadically. Many of the children are abducted, sold into slavery, prostitution, imprisoned for medical testing and for use in orgies of blood thirsty secret societies, their organs harvested and traded by mafia type organizations. Organ trading allegations are levied against Israel’s armed forces killing thousands of children in Israel’s open prison and extermination camp, called Gaza; and against Ukraine’s Kiev Nazi Government.

Did you know, 60% of all children in Gaza are mutilated and amputated as a result of Israel’s war against the Palestine population? And the world looks on, not daring to protest and stand up against this criminal nation – God’s chosen people.

In the UK, 1 of 4 children live in poverty. In the US, 60 million children go to bed hungry every night. As I write these lines, at the US-Mexican border refugee children and their mothers are being shot at with teargas canons by US police and military forces, to prevent them from entering Mr. Trump’s Holy Land, the Great United States of America.

The former UN Secretary General, Koffi Annan, winner of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, referring to the horrific siege on Aleppo and calling for international action to stop the war, said:

The assault on Aleppo is an assault on the whole world. When hospitals, schools and homes are bombed indiscriminately, killing and maiming hundreds of innocent children, these are acts that constitute an attack on our shared, fundamental human values. Our collective cry for action must be heard, and acted upon, by all those engaged in this dreadful war.

But, how could the world of today be described better than by Caitlin Johnstone in her recent poem “Welcome to Planet Earth”, where she says:

Welcome to Planet Earth…… where children who do not know how to live, teach their children how to live; where children pray for miracles, using minds that are made of miracles; with clasped hands that are made of miracles; where children wander in search of God, upon feet that are made of God, looking with eyes that are made of God.

Where have all the children gone?

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NE0)

Capitalism, Empire, and the Infernal Gloom Machine

Depression is built into this machine and the evidence is plastered on the morose faces of people caught in the clutches of its business as usual activities. Depression is found in the insurmountable debts we owe for spending a lifetime of preparation and labor to serve the machine. In addition to debt, the machine awards us for our servitude with trinkets, gadgets, doodads and gizmos that provide a moment of hollow amusement and then sit on shelves in garages and decay. They represent the planned obsolescence of the human heart. The sacrifice paid for our fetish with materialism is the actual quality of our lives.

The gloom machine tells us the quality of our lives is defined by the machine in the driveway, and the machine that flushes away our excrement, and the machine that chills the tortured slaughtered animal flesh for later consumption, and the machine that flashes pornographic images and supplies numbers detailing how much we are liked by our so called friends. But to us humans it seems that quality of life is more appropriately measured in the amount of disposable time we have to pursue that which we want, and the quality of the community around us, and living without being chronically stressed with threats of being displaced from the land upon which we live for not working hard enough for the machine.

Depression is waking up at 6 in the morning in darkness to sit in traffic for an hour to arrive at a job that we don’t want to be at, only to serve the machinations of people with nothing but greed in their overstuffed bellies. And we go to these jobs so that we can pay rents that are unaffordable, and to service debt we’ll never escape, and we go home in darkness to our lonely lives in places where community is absent with a view of an equally lonely tree or a man-made retention pond which is an upgrade over the view of staring directly at your neighbor’s domicile. Depression is the realization there is no vacation on the horizon, no respite, just more of the same. Depression is knowing that such a life is better than many others have it.

Depression is recognizing the cynics were right about this society, that Cohen spoke truth when he sullenly moaned:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Depression is watching art die. The surrealist, the bohemian, the rock ’n roll, and the anti-authoritarian soul has lain down and pledged fealty to the dollar. For money, they’re now all willing to become ready made predictable cubes to be packaged and sold in plastic wrap placed in cleverly designed boxes which deliver to the depressed public what they want, more of something that’s pretty on the outside and vacant within. We are left with monthly subscriptions of more tales of self aggrandizement for the throngs of temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

Depression is watching the worst of us rise to legitimacy and awarded iniquitous riches for it. The popular is depressive, musical hack Cardi B sings about her money money money and she is loved. Jordan Peterson sells cheap self help stolen from better written material decades ago amalgamated with misogyny and dictates of hierarchal subjugation and becomes wildly popular. Trump purveys hatred of people of color and a love of authoritarianism and the depressive people, oh do they eat it up. This is sickness, depressive sickness.

Depression is acceptance of the violent now. The grossly unhappy men with their armaments spread their gloom and horror across the planet and claim righteousness for doing so. Depression is watching society applaud murderous hearts for their crimes who don badges and camouflage and have holidays to celebrate their violent history, while villains are made of those who simply don’t want to stand up for songs of oppression. Thank you for your service to the machine.

Depression is watching notions of resistance and revolution take form in slightly altered subservience. The great reformation desired now is for a “green new deal” that doesn’t come close to mitigating the impending culling of humanity from soon to be ecological catastrophes. Their plans offer only more endless work at the behest of the gloom machine while promising healthcare that will never happen, less debt it will also never deliver, and affordable housing that still won’t solve homelessness. They don’t want to break the machine, just tweak it, and they lack the ability to do that even. Never have I borne witness to such eager slaves and such depressive aspirations. The people seem to adore their cubicle lives, their environmental destruction, their corporations, their debts, their corrupt leaders, their prisons, their banks, and their taxes.

They want to continue to be put to work under the thumb of the status quo western civilization authoritarian mind and this is all the depressed mentally dominated masses can think of as a possible improvement. Instead of wanting to taste real liberty and be actual equals, their dreams are limited to being better treated servants. The gloom machine chugs along fueled with dimwitted ideas sold by boxed-in thinkers without any possibility of escaping the darkness, rather simply offering a more cushy seat for viewing the end of everything.

The machine bellows out demanding more, more, you owe me more, and somehow those wearing red, white, and blue agree and celebrate the demands of the machine. These debts we owe are servitude. The numbers held in digital machines are immoral which demand one must wake up to a dreary existence to do more of what is killing our souls along with the flora and fauna around us.

Depression is the downtrodden plebs who celebrate their corrupt democracy, which is in reality a thinly veiled oligarchy that should be obvious to all. They prop up a system of voting that allows the election of the presidency, a position that shouldn’t exist in the first place in an egalitarian society, to be awarded to candidates who don’t capture the most votes. What little democracy there is in a representative system is lost in totality when the winner of elections need not win the majority of votes. The gloom machine is straight up tyranny.

A non-depressed society would reject being served faux democracy. They’d reject a system absent of reason or compassion and disdain would be for ideas of continuing to support such a destructive way of being. But instead, within the gloom machine shame is reserved for those who don’t want to take part in the busted system, and it venerates those who cast votes for imperialist conquerers and planet destroyers, and those voters are lauded as doing their civic duty for taking part in open public corruption.

Depression is the insincere know it all crowd who are incapable of honest debate and have rarely endeavored to open a book of substance or engage in critical thought, but they know trivialities which they mistake as facts and wisdom. They know arrogance well and emanate it with aplomb. They know how to believe all they see in the corporatized media, but thinking without boundaries or limitations is beyond their capacity. This is not even depression, this is tragedy.

Depression is watching the trees be plowed down for more tract housing, a portion of which will sit empty for years because no one can afford to move there, and even if they could it’s a heinous boring life that awaits which is only significantly better compared to being homeless. Depression is knowing this is the reason why we are rapidly destroying our habitable environment and commencing a 6th mass extinction event which is now accelerating.

Depression is to know there is nothing we can do to stop the country we live in from mercilessly killing innocent people all over the world for no reason other than more economic expansion and our sadistic ideas of exceptionalism that entail spreading pain and hardship so a few elites can have more of what they already have more than enough of.

Depression is the powerlessness to change anything of significance. There is no other way they say other than the desolate gloom machine, they say this is how it must be. And so we remain here waiting for the horror that is soon to approach us all as the gloom descends in ever quickening waves.

A zombified indoctrinated populace can see no other way than capitalism and beating each other over the heads to satiate egos in needless competition that is unnecessary for survival and deleterious to the common good. Capitalism is the primary tool of empire, and a word that should be synonymous with depression. It’s the accumulation of resources in an effort to gain more power in man-made markets to leverage that power over other people and get them to do what the person with the most power desires. Capitalism’s depressing ideology is defined by the lecherous desire for more for the sake of it so the winner can pound their simian chest in victorious celebration of the devastation they’ve created.

Capitalism is inherently unsustainable due the way it allows power to coalesce via the leveraging abilities given to money to buy land, the means of production, elections, and advertising. It allows the whims of the few to overrun the needs of the many where those with the worst intentions aspire to gain more than others because they will attempt to fill the void in their hearts with self importance expressed via power over others. This is why it cannot be used.

If there is no central currency or advantage to collecting huge amounts of resources then the motivation to hoard would evaporate, as those resources would simply rot or become a burden to maintain. There’s no fun in that kind of hoarding. The “fun” comes to the simpleton power seeker when they acquire power to make others do what they want and thus gain the ephemeral validation they so desperately seek.

If one runs the math on players competing for money at different rates of gain over a certain amount of time, there will be a doubling effect which becomes exponential. And this effect will accelerate as it plunders along due to gains in leverage which allows for ever greater amounts of money to be made at faster rates. Eventually it always ends the way a game of monopoly ends, someone has all the power and everyone else is subservient to that entity/person.

These dour thoughts manifest from the recognition of the stranglehold empire has over our lives. The depression is the result of the myriad of expectations I can’t let go of that wants to see a kinder more egalitarian and sustainable world emerge while knowing how unlikely it is. Our collective depression is rooted in the foundations of social hierarchy and its economic tools of control, and understanding what a perfect trap it is, and so it goes, and everyone doesn’t know, but they feel it, though.

Homelessness, Corporate Welfare and Priorities

The homelessness issue has been a source of controversy at the local, state and national levels for some time now. There has been some limited progress, but this problem has certainly not been resolved humanely. Sometimes lost in the debate about this issue is that the homeless are fellow human beings, including families with children, and most of them really don’t want to be without homes.

Many of these people were and are hard working people who suffered some event, whether it was due to the predatory financial crisis ten years ago, a health crisis, a loss of a good-paying job, an accident, a severe weather-related event, the opioid crisis or other drug addiction, etc. A disproportionately large number are military veterans who suffer from PTSD or other injuries that prevent them from maintaining employment. Many of us could also become homeless if we were faced with something that disrupted our income source.

Despite the valiant efforts of lots of smart and compassionate people, the conditions faced by the homeless in the U.S. are, in general, a disgrace. I had the good fortune to have lived in Western Europe for two years in the 1980s and saw very few homeless people there. Most of these nations had good safety net programs that were a right. Unlike the U.S., self-described as the world’s greatest nation, these Western European nations valued and provided human rights including, for example, the rights to health care, housing and food, rights that don’t exist here.

Much of the lack of progress regarding homelessness in the U.S. is due to a shortage of public funds to deal adequately with the issue. Unfortunately, we accept this shortage instead of questioning why it exists.

An examination of the US budget reveals that over 60% of the discretionary spending goes to funding the military, including expensive weapons that help fuel an arms race. Other nations without an empire spend far less on their militaries. For example, our military budget is greater than the combined total of the seven nations with the next largest military budgets. Note that much of this money does not go for our national security but, instead, is corporate welfare. The military, including our naval fleets and air force as well as the over 800 military bases around the world, is used, among other things, to protect overseas investments of banks and other transnational corporations. More corporate welfare goes to the weapons manufacturers for weapons that often don’t work, are grossly over budget, and/or are unnecessary.

Our political leaders have also greatly increased homelessness in Gaza, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, areas or countries we have attacked or where we supported our allies’ attacks.  Shamefully, we almost never consider these people.

One might ask how we have arrived at this situation where our nation doesn’t value human rights of our people or of the others. Instead U.S. leaders sacrifice our rights to the protection of a banking and corporate empire that enriches the already wealthy at the expense of the rest of us and the environment.

A partial answer to the above question is that we have a political system influenced/controlled by money. Our lightly-regulated capitalist system allows the accumulation of vast amounts of money that translate into political power. Laws are then created to further rig the system to benefit the wealthy. Our economic system allows no room for compassion for the other, a system in which looking out for number one and excessive greed rule the day. This neo-liberal economic system stands in stark contrast to the professed teachings of most religions including Christianity.

Unless we change our political and economic systems, we won’t have a government of, by and for the people. Instead we will continue to have a budget that protects and expands the wealth of those in power instead of protecting our true human rights (including the right to shelter) and the right to a clean, safe and sustainable environment. Therefore we require a fundamental change in the U.S. political/economic system. Otherwise, continuing on our current path is likely to result in either a nuclear conflict or worsening climate chaos, both of which threaten human survival.

Liar, Liar

The dictatorship’s mistake was to torture but not kill.
— Jair Bolsonaro, Radio interview, 2016

I won’t get voted out of office.
— Bill Gates, Bill Moyer Interviews Bill Gates

I hate the indifferent. I believe that living means taking sides. Those who really live cannot help being a citizen and a partisan. Indifference and apathy are parasitism, perversion, not life.
— Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, International Publishers Co; Reprint, 1989 edition (November 24, 1971)

The sadist needs the person over whom he rules, he needs him very badly, since his own feeling of strength is rooted in the fact that he is the master over someone.
— Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, Holt Paperbacks; Owl Book ed edition, September 15, 1994

Years ago Robert Bly talked about Ronald Reagan’s capacity for lying. He said Reagan grew up lying about his father, an alcoholic, and his dysfunctional childhood which he routinely described as happy. How the enormity of that lie, and all the attendant pressures of such intimate dishonesty made lying about the Iran/Contra deal much easier. And I recently heard Gabor Mate say the same sort of thing about Donald Trump. How Trump grew up with an abusive authoritarian father, one who humiliated and belittled the boy Trump, and the world of that boy was one of cruelty and abuse. And if that is the only world you know growing up, that is the world you will see everywhere around you later. And the only way to navigate a world of abasement and lying was to be better at it than those who had abused you. The grandiose aggressiveness and paranoia of Trump is the product, in part, and probably in large part, of a family that operated on strict hierarchies of power, a punitive and sadistic family dynamic. Trump’s brother, of course, drank himself to death.

Countless Presidents came out of dysfunctional families, ones often with authoritarian and alcoholic fathers. Gerald Ford, or Bill Clinton with his stepfather. The list is quite long. British Prime Ministers are also disproportionately the product of similar childhoods. But the point is really about a system that rewards men and women who have developed pathological coping mechanisms that include an ability to lie, an inability to feel empathy or remorse, and who are adept at cheating and taking credit for the accomplishments of others. The deformed character that comes out of such dynamics is, it seems, perfectly suited for the public spectacle of political life. Perfectly suited for a career as a carny barker, too.

All hierarchical systems are to some degree systems that encourage winning and punish losing.

Before the last Presidential election I wrote this about the two leading candidates…

For that is it, a rich white anti intellectual with openly self embraced bad taste, Trump valorizes half the white men in America for their seeming failures. He is saying, ok, you are not rich like me, but the rest, yeah we are one. But Trump has no role without his co-star, Hillary Clinton. Hillary is the cliche woman who is overbearing, petty, resentful and spiteful, but also functions as a female destroyer. And that role is complex, here. Hillary is not the purifying force of Kali, she is not the forest fire that brings regeneration. No she is simply the electric chair with a short, a sadistic contraption of flawed construction that terrorizes and disseminates suffering and cruelty. And while I have thought it impossible that Hillary doesn’t win this dog and pony show, it is now becoming apparent that Trump is the candidate of masculine revenge. Every misogynist looks to Mr Orange Hair to get even. And that misogyny is interlaced with race and colonial memory. And this is where the importance of Heidegger and Schmitt looms. And it is where the rising tide of left liberal antisemitism appears alongside peak Islamaphobia. It is all of a piece, in a sense.

— “Cunning of Unreason“, May 8, 2016 John-Steppling.com

Hillary, too, came from a dysfunctional family environment.

The message here is, I think, most of America is made up of dysfunctional families. Perhaps all families under capitalism are dysfunctional. Most learn to lie about their families. Only today, one form of lying to confess about it and advertise one’s own self improvement program as a response. The therapeutic often, it seems in my experience anyway, to simply be another form of lying. Or self delusion. Americans love to “work on themselves”. It’s a bit like working on your car, or those DIY projects to convert the garage into a ‘rec room’. Of course, fewer and fewer people own their own homes anymore. Maybe they need a show for those living out of their cars. DIY for building portable sidewalk showers without risking police persecution.

Dysfunction is the cost of Capitalism. ‘Wrong life cannot be lived rightly’, as Adorno put it. So one part of the fall-out from this prolonged exposure to the irrationality of life in neoliberal America has been to normalize lying. When Alexandria Ocasio Cortez praises Nancy Pelosi…I have found many people, maybe the majority, expressing something along the lines of, well ‘she has to say that sort of thing’. Or she is only kissing the ring so she can later create possibilities for real change. The fact she was lying is excused. It is excused because America itself lies. And deep down those saying this stuff know full well Ocasio Cortez will become Nancy Pelosi, not fight against her.

In Brazil, the new fascist in power praised his father for the beatings his dad gave him. Young Jair Boslonaro said it helped make him a man. Jair is now out to destroy the rain forest of the Amazon basin. Which might well kill off the planet. We can all partly thank dad for that.

Capitalism is an emotional plague on the planet. Wilhelm Reich said that. Bertell Ollman wrote of Reich’s ideas…

If the desire to accumulate property lies at the origins of sexual repression, its chief function today is to produce submissive beings of both sexes. In our treatment of character structure, the diminution of critical faculties, general passivity, resignation, and other negative effects of repression were identified. The work of sexual suppression is carried on primarily by the family. In his Marxist period Reich believed the suppression that was most decisive in determining character occurred between the ages of four to six in the ways parents respond to sexual play and questions. So important is the role of the family in these early years that Reich refers to it as the “factory of submissive beings.” To him, it is no coincidence that “the lack of victorious spirit, the outlawry of protest, the absence of personal opinions characterizes the relations of faithful children to their parents just as they do the relations of devoted bureaucrats to the state authorities and that of non-class conscious workers to the owner of the factory.
— Bertell Ollman, Social and Sexual Revolution: Essays on Marx and Reich, 1979

For the first time (last census) more Americans are living alone than in families. The loss of jobs, the onerous economic burden of child rearing, and gender inequality were all tied into an impossible model for any but the most affluent classes.

Millions of men who have been denied their family wages find refuge for male domination in right-wing anti-woman politics and fundamentalist and Catholic religions with their emphasis on denying women’s independence through anti-abortion and anti-birth control movements, opposing equal wages for women and denying support for raped and battered women. Other men seek to take back their male power through guns. (None of the explosion of mass killings have been committed by women.) Millions more seek power in heterosexual pornography in which women are portrayed as inviting sexual degradation.
— Harriet Fraad, “Living Alone:  The Rise of Capitalism and the Decline of Families“, Truthout, October 3, 2012)

Families propagate violence. Sons of violent parents are 1,000 times more likely to batter their adult partners, and daughters of violent parents are 600 times more likely to batter their partners. Children who are bullied at home are more likely to bully and to be bullied at school. Child abuse is rampant in the capitalist family system. We cannot know how rampant, because it goes on behind closed doors, most is never reported, and adults tend to normalise what they experienced as children. When neglected, they conclude that they did not deserve better. When physically terrorised, they will rationalise: “Sure, I was hit. But I deserved it.” According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, more than one in four American adults lived with alcohol or drug addiction in their childhood homes, 28 percent were physically abused as children and 21 percent suffered sexual abuse. ( ) Capitalism promotes sympathy for child victims and prosecutes adult perpetrators. But today’s perpetrators are yesterday’s victims. While only a small minority of child victims become adult perpetrators, studies of those who do perpetrate reveal that almost all were traumatised as children. Capitalism cannot acknowledge that most perpetrators are former victims, because it cannot admit that families transmit trauma from one generation to the next.
— Susan Rosenthal, Capitalism, alienation and the family, Socialist Review, 2015

Rosenthal notes something else, and that is that Capitalism in the transition from agricultural production to industrial removed labor from the family. It created this amorphous social sphere of leisure time or free time. But as Adorno noted sixty years ago, there is nothing free about it and leisure had already begun to resemble alienated work.

Rosenthal also adds….

Impossible gender expectations create crushing disappointment. The woman is raised to see the man as a champion and a prince who will make her dreams come true. When she discovers that he cannot do this, she expresses her disapproval or withdraws in despair. The man gets the message that he is not measuring up. How could he? The man is raised to expect a warm attentive partner who is always ready for sex. What he gets is an overworked, exhausted and frequently irritated partner. Both of them blame themselves, and both of them blame each other.

The American political drama, or electoral theatre, is reinforced so aggressively because it is the most basic and effective distraction people have for their social malaise and misery. Voting is a reflection of binary models. It is really just exchange value. And voting makes everyone equal. And Americans have even taken to wearing little stickers that proclaim they voted. So electoral theatre as a shaming device. But voting becomes even more than just a threadbare symbol of equality, it takes on almost occult significance for many. It is one of the few rituals in bourgeois society that seems to encompass something almost magical. Voting is an affirmation of one’s existence, of one’s autonomy and even freedom. I can vote for whoever I choose. Well, off a menu of two.

But I have seen leftist writers proclaim lesser evilism is not to be debated. This is, apparently, because Trump is some sort of special category of evil. This is a hugely regressive and politically immature position. Firstly, voting is not going to solve shit. Full stop. No, the entire apparatus of elections and voting machines and voter suppression or corrupt counts is part of this grand theatre. And this emphasis also promotes a popular idea with the ruling class, that of individualism.

I wrote this several years back…

Voting is the constant reinforcement of the idea of equality. Everyone has a vote, therefore everyone is equal. This is of course not true, however. But the expanding of campaign season ( a bit like the expanding of Christmas shopping season) is serving to keep this illusion foremost in the minds of citizens. The act of voting is then a sort of magic elixir for conveying a sense of equality, and it is coupled with the idea of ‘responsibility.

Dentistry as Art, John-Steppling.com, September 2015.

It is no doubt true that America is a full blown open fascist society today. But it was already. It’s hard to decide what was the starting point, but it certainly could be Bill Clinton’s second term. Or after 9/11. By Obama it was most certainly fascistic in operation. Gabor Mate noted that the ruling class was not fooled by Obama and all that hope and change stuff. Wall Street backed and funded his candidacy. They knew he was one of them. He rewarded them the second he was elected. No, only the mass public believes ANYTHING of what the political class tells them.

The Democratic Party has taken positions actually to the right of Trump on many issues (here is an issue Democrats fell in line with…) And does anyone believe real action would take place if Dems controlled the government? I mean they have, and not that long ago, and what happened? But none of these things are as significant as the wholesale swath of destruction that US and NATO military action has caused in Africa and west Asia. And nobody asks this during election season. Unless I missed something, no candidate or news talking head brought up why NATO even exists anymore. Nobody asked why the US needed to upgrade its nuclear arsenal, or why it occupies a third of Syria. Or why there are military bases in almost every country in Africa. Why there are 900 worldwide.

But more hidden, in a sense, and therefore more insidious is the role of giant foundations and non-military uses of coercion and control. Jacob Levich writes:

For the ruling classes do not rule by guns and laws alone. Rather, they need to be able to do so without the constant resort to force. So, [Joan Roelofs] argues, they manufacture the consent of the ruled through the activities of a broad range of institutions, activities and persons (not necessarily themselves members of the ruling class) who disseminate the ideology of the ruling class as if it were merely common sense. While dissent from ruling class ideas is labeled ‘extremism’ and is isolated, individual dissenters may be welcomed and transformed. Indeed, ruling class hegemony is more durable if it is not rigid and narrow, but is able dynamically to incorporate emergent trends.
— Jacob Levich, “The Real Goal of the Gates Foundation“, Aspects of India’s Economy, May 2014

The role of foundations is, to most Americans, opaque and almost inexplicable. Nobody in political/Electoral theatre mentions this ‘third sector’. Neither business nor government, these foundations operate with budgets in the multi billions of dollars. This is the stuff discussed at Bilderberg Meetings, and other summits of the world’s richest people.

The fall of the Soviet Union ushered in the present phase of public health philanthropy, characterized by the Western demand for “global health governance” – purportedly as a response to the spread of communicable diseases accelerated by globalization. Health has been redefined as a security concern; the developing world is portrayed as a teeming petri dish of SARS, AIDS, and tropical infections, spreading “disease and death” across the globe and requiring Western powers to establish centralized health systems designed to “overcome the constraints of state sovereignty.” Imperial interventions in the health field are justified in the same terms as recent “humanitarian” military interventions: “[N]ational interests now mandate that countries engage internationally as a responsibility to protect against imported health threats or to help stabilize conflicts abroad so that they do not disrupt global security or commerce.
— Jacob Levich, “The Real Goal of the Gates Foundation“, Aspects of India’s Economy, May 2014

I mention this only as a sort of corrective to these naive notions about voting. Voting is not the issue. Not in an absolutely controlled system of perception management. Back in 2014 Gates warned about overpopulation in places “we don’t want it” (sic) and he mentioned Pakistan and Yemen. Huh. Yemen, you say? Yeah, well, I guess that’s not an issue anymore. The U.S. Imperialist agenda is about control. It is adaptive and flexible.

Malthus’s heirs continue to wish us to believe that people are responsible for their own misery; that there is simply not enough to go around; and to ameliorate that state of wretchedness we must not attempt to alter the ownership of social wealth and redistribute the social product, but instead focus on reducing the number of people.

— Manali Chakrabarti, “Are There Just Too Many of Us?”, Aspects of India’s Economy, No. 55, March, 2014

I digress a moment to add on here that the overpopulation mythology has taken on a green cover of late. Suddenly the same old Malthusian eugenics is sprinkled with Gaia jargon and sensitivity to global ecologies. But the thrust and engine driving the idea remains the same.

Most non-profits do the dirty work of what a society is looking more and more to not provide for – mental health care for a bigger and bigger share of the USA population; disability services for a larger and larger swath of Americans mentally, psychologically, intellectually, socially, physically, and spiritually broken or disabled; financial, employment, education, housing assistance for an ever-growing population of humans who are not able to work and live and transport and find health care for themselves in this New Gilded Age.

The non-profits I have worked for are top-heavy, have very little money put aside or earmarked or grant-provided for the workers; many of the non-profits hire development associates, upper management shills, PR folk, marketing and events coordinators; many are in shining and remodeled digs while casting shadows on the street people they supposedly care about.
— Paul Haeder, “The Punditry of Shithole Thinking“, Dissident Voice, January 15th, 2018

In the 1950s came the development of the first psychiatric drug, the antipsychotic drug Chlorpromazine. This marked the beginning of what has come to be a mammoth and powerful industry in chemical warehousing of an unwanted population.

This industry was founded on a single ideology—the “mental illness” theory, or “medical model” (which I’ll refer to simply as the medical model)—an ideology that gave this industry
tremendous power and influence. The medical model essentially states that distressing states of mind can, for the most part, be categorized into discrete “mental illnesses,” and that although these mental illnesses continue to the present day to be rampant and even growing within our society, we must rest assured that the great medical advances of this industry have already developed powerful drugs that can generally contain them, and that it is just a matter of time before our medical technology will eliminate these illnesses altogether.

— Paris Williams, “Madness and the Family: Exploring the Links between Family Dynamics and Psychosis”

As Williams has pointed out, the very term mental illness is something of a self fulfilling prophecy. The profits from all psychotropic drugs is almost incalculable — Xanax (alprazolam), Zoloft (sertraline), Celexa (citalopram), Prozac (fluoxetine), Ativan (lorazepam), Desyrel (trazodone HCL), Lexapro (escitalopram). Exact numbers are hard to know but the best guess by the government itself is that over 35 million people took psychotropics between 2013 and 2014.

A common side effect of psychotropic medication is difficulty feeling certain emotions once the drug accumulates in a person’s system. For example, many people complain of losing the feelings they used to have, report a reduction in their ability to laugh or cry, or experience a decrease in libido. Side effects of SSRIs that might affect one’s sexuality and love relationships, such as diminished sexual interest, are discussed in a chapter from Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience.

GoodTherapy.org

Psychiatrists claim their drugs save lives, but according to their own studies, psychotropic drugs can double the risk of suicide. And long-term use has been proven to create a lifetime of physical and mental damage, a fact ignored by psychiatrists. Common and well-documented side effects of psychiatric drugs include mania, psychosis, hallucinations, depersonalization, suicidal ideation, heart attack, stroke and sudden death. Not only that, but The US Food and Drug Administration admits that probably one to ten percent of all the adverse drug effects are actually reported by patients or physicians.

— The Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights

It is no different in the U.K. The Council for Evidence Based Psychiatry states…

The latest prescription figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that the UK is in the midst of a psychiatric drug epidemic. Over 57m prescriptions for antidepressants were issued in England in 2014, enough for one for every man, woman and child. This represents a 7.5% increase since 2013, and over 500% since 1992.

Now there is a kind of psychological blindness affecting Americans, today. A perhaps banal example, but still useful, is the popularity of American football. Since the incontrovertible proof that collisions on the field cause brain damage, acute irreversible damage, the sports popularity has actually increased. Never mind the jingoism attached to this sports-tainment empire, the fact that players are literally risking their lives and mental health to play is one thing, and there is an economic coercion involved, but how is it people want to watch this? Hollywood even made a film about the man who researched the phenomenon of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). A very popular film starring Will Smith. But more and more people tune in each week. Nobody talks about it. Sitting on the couch, a slice in one hand, Bud light in the other, the question is, I’m guessing, never broached…’Hey bro, so, these guys, you think they’re aware their brains are turning to mush?’ But then the league is 70% black, so, for many it’s a kind of unconscious de-facto solution. Racism in America is indelible and deep. Even animal shelters acknowledge black dogs are harder to place than white. (This is a fact, not the Onion).

This blindness is the product of decades, now, of electronic media indoctrination. People even admit this, accept that it’s true. But they still remain habituated to their various screens. They still wear buttons saying ‘I voted’. They still become shrill and near hysterical at the idea YOU voted for a third party candidate, or worse, didn’t vote at all. How does that work? The presidency of Obama is revealing, both as it happened, and now as an object of near history. If you tell people Obama was the president who signed off on (and presumably helped design) the joint US/Saudi assault on Yemen, you will get denial or blank stares. If you say, well, ICE deported people under Obama, and at a record clip. You get denial. Or that Obama was notorious for persecuting whistle blowers and for narrowing press freedoms as much as possible. Denial. Blankness. Obama was the fulcrum for a very late onset of amnesia. Collectively speaking. He has taken the role of mental black hole. History began and stopped with Obama. (I actually think Michelle might run for President in 2020).

Americans collectively cannot grasp their own family relations. They are not sure, most of them I would wager, on even how to define *family*. But, the idea is past its sell by date I suspect. People are living alone, they have no choice. Often alone and on the street. A recent typhus outbreak on the mean streets of skid row Los Angeles suggests the U.S. is inching or hurtling toward 3rd world status.

This social morality, anchored in all individuals and reproducing itself permanently, has in this manner a reciprocal effect on the economic base in a conservative direction. The exploited person affirms the economic order which guarantees his exploitation; the sexually repressed person affirms even the sexual order which restricts his gratification and makes him ill, and he wards off any system that might correspond to his need. In this manner morality carries out its socio-economic assignment.
— Wilhelm Reich, Mass Psychology of Fascism, Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 3 edition (November 1, 1980)

The drastic increase in economic inequality has also generated the need for official explanations and justifications. I am reminded of Otto Fenichel, that most neglected of early psychoanalysts who complained in his 1938 book The Drive to Amass Wealth (and quoted by the worthy Russell Jacoby, whose own work Social Amnesia should be required reading today) of what he saw as Ferenczi’s psychologism:

The instincts represent the general tendency, while matters of money and the desire to become wealthy represent a specific form which the general tendency can assume only in the presence of certain definite social conditions.  The existence of the erogenous pleasure in collection causes Ferenczi to overlook the fact that when the capitalist strives to increase his capital he does this on very rational grounds: he is forced to it by competitors who produce on a larger scale …. A social system of this kind makes use of and strengthens erogenous drives that serve the necessity for accumulating. Of this there can be no doubt. There is considerable doubt, however, as to whether the existing economic conditions of production were created by the biological instinct.

At the end Fenichel suggested sometime in the future such conditions would no longer exist. And perhaps somewhere in the distant past they also did not. Capitalism is not inevitable nor is it some kind of natural law. It’s a fact that Google and Facebook censor socialist sites. Why would they do that if they were not afraid? The authority structure, the proprietor class, they want you asleep. That’s the idea.

We are at the tail end of a kind of Ayn Randian period of simplistic one dimensional and crude capitalist cheerleading — and it began in its current form under Reagan. He of the happy childhood. The president who no doubt suffered from Alzheimers even BEFORE he became the commander in chief. And this has led to the marketing industry to double down on certain tropes of American happiness. We are still within a Norman Rockwell cocoon in terms of propaganda. Each holiday season Hollywood churns out one after another fairy tale of the American family — Thanksgiving fables or Christmas. Oh heck, families can be complex, but gull darn it, we always overcome and celebrate together. But a fairy tale is all it is. And a pernicious one. Most families I know struggle through the Holidays, buffeted by guilt and resentment. And depression. It is the cruelest season.

Anti-depressants, and all those millions and millions of prescriptions written in the U.S. and U.K. may (!) alleviate symptoms in some or even many patients, but even at their most effective (and I reserve acceptance they actually do any real good for anyone) they do nothing to change the conditions that created this depression. When mass shooters appear, especially white ones, they are *mentally ill*. If non-white they are likely terrorists. The system is not indicted either way. Only the victims of that system. The U.S. is a remarkably unwell place and it has created a political system that rewards the most pathological people in this unwell place. Donald Trump is the perfect man to be President of this asylum. He is ignorant, and proud of it, a narcissist and pathological liar. A racist and misogynist. He often seems he to be made up of the worst qualities of his predecessors. Bush, Clinton and Obama were all in various ways pathological. But who is President really is not the point. The point is class hierarchies. Until Americans learn to talk politics in terms of class, nothing will change.

The U.S. is reaching an economic/social singularity; there are no jobs, there is no health care, and no education. There is a throughly debased culture and much of the country is in the hands of Evangelical Christians. And Evangelicals, especially Dominionists like Pence and Pompeo and Kudlow and DeVos would have, in an earlier time, been shipped off by their family to some discreet asylum or hospital. We are sort of living a Marat/Sade nightmare. The American fairy tale isn’t working anymore. People may cling to its remnants but at their most lucid I suspect most people know it’s all bullshit. The cultural landscape is so depressing most can only intermittently engage with it. The ruling elite are further distanced from the rest of the populace. The educated liberal bourgeoisie is in crises. All the myriad identity-based systems of belief are less and less convincing. The violence of the military complex finds expression domestically in a militarized sadistic and racist police apparatus. A nation where mass shootings are now routine is a kind of movable hell. Mass incarceration is growing still. It is my experience that people can no longer easily read facial expressions or hear the pitch or intonation of speech — they mimic autistic symptoms in fact. And sociopathy is everywhere. From the wholesale killing of wildlife, to bald faced lies about food ingredients, contaminants in factory farmed meats. But drinking water might be the worst. Across the rust belt and through the southwest, mostly from abandoned mining sites. In Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and on across to Georgia. Detergents, solvents, pesticides, and things such as vinyl chloride and PCEs, paint sludge and boron. A recent report detailed by the Center for Public Integrity noted….

Across the country, in Albany, Georgia, three separate areas of groundwater are polluted with cyanide and chloroform from various industries. One of the contaminated areas came from a landfill on the Marine Corps’ Logistics Base. The U.S. Navy has taken responsibility for the base and is providing residents in the majority African-American town with an alternative water supply due to the health risks associated with the pollution. Politicians and researchers say industrial sites are more likely to be located near low-income and minority communities.’More heavily polluting industries were located near communities of color or minority communities or poor communities because they didn’t have the political clout to fight back.

The EPA estimates, now, that since 1987, various industries have dumped about 600 million pounds of toxic substances, including ammonia and nitrates into the Ohio river. Six hundred MILLION pounds of poisonous crap into the once pristine Ohio River. Cue Doc Watson singing On the Banks of the Ohio.

No, don’t.

In 2015, the top 1% of Americans made almost thirty times as much income as the bottom 99 percent — an increase from 2013, when they earned twenty five times as much. This from the Economic Policy Institute in DC. There is a racial divide, too. The billionaires who make up the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans now have as much wealth as ALL African-American households, plus one-third of America’s Latino population, combined. In other words, just 400 extremely wealthy individuals have as much wealth as 16 million African-American households and 5 million Latino households. (from Forbes own statistics)

That is America today. And everyone knows it. But they can’t say it. They can’t look at it soberly and honestly. It is too much to bear.

And America is exporting its misery at an accelerated clip. The far right fascist sensibility is growing across Europe. There are few NATO countries without a powerful fascist party participating in government, and in several places — Hungary, Italy, Poland, they ARE the government. And now Brazil. One might think the recent summer of apocalyptic fires in the U.S. would be a wake up call, but it’s not. The horror cannot be faced by most. Lying, family or household dysfunction, and chemical numbing are the ground floor reality today. When the ruling class own everything, people must find ways to cope. Once you have mastered lying to yourself, lying to others is easy.

I almost do not exist now and I know it; God knows what lives in me in place of me.
— Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot, 1868–1869; separate edition 1874

Approaching Development: GMO Propaganda and Neoliberalism vs Localisation and Agroecology

What people communicate is a matter of choice. But what can be more revealing are the issues they choose to avoid. There are certain prominent pro-GMO activists who describe themselves as ‘science communicators’. They hit out at those who question their views or who have valid criticisms of GM technology and then play the role of persecuted victim, believing that, as the self-appointed arbiters of righteousness, they are beyond reproach, although given their duplicity nothing could be further from the truth.

Instead of being open to questioning, they attempt to close down debate to push a flawed technology they have a vested (financial-career) interest in, while all the time appealing to their self-perceived authority, usually based on holding a PhD in molecular biology or a related discipline.

They relentlessly promote GM and industrial agriculture and unjustifiably cast critics as zealots who are in cahoots with Greenpeace or some other group they have a built-in dislike of. And they cynically raise or lower the bar of ‘credibility’ by ad hominem and misrepresentation so that studies, writers and scientists who agree with them are commended while those who don’t become subjected to smear campaigns.

Often with ties to neoliberal think tanks, pro-GMO lobbyists call for more deregulation and criticise elected governments or regulatory bodies which try to protect the public interest, especially where genetic engineering and associated chemical inputs (for instance, glyphosate) are concerned. The same people push the bogus idea that only GM agriculture can feed the world, while seeking to discredit and marginalise alternative models like agroecology and ignoring the structural violence and injustices brought about by global agricapital interests (from whom they receive funding) which help determine Codex, World Bank, IMF and WTO policies. By remaining silent or demonstrating wilful ignorance about the dynamics and injustices of the political economy of food and agriculture, they tacitly approve of its consequences.

They also frame the GMO debate as pro-science/pro-GMO vs anti-science/anti-GMO: an industry-promoted false dichotomy that has sought to close down any wider discussion that may lead the focus to fall on transnational agribusiness interests and their role in determining an exploitative global food regime and how GM fits in with this.

This is how ideologues act; not how open discourse and science is carried out or ‘communicated’.

Broadening the debate

A participant in any meaningful discussion about GM would soon appreciate that ethical, political, environmental and sociological considerations should determine the efficacy and relevance of this technology in conjunction with scientific considerations. Unfortunately, pro-GMO advocates want to depoliticise food and agriculture and focus on the ‘science’ of GM, yield-output reductionist notions of ‘productivity’ and little else, defining the ‘problem’ of food and agriculture solely as a narrow technocratic issue.

But to understand the global food regime, we must move beyond technology. Food and agriculture have become wedded to structures of power that have created food surplus and food deficit areas and which have restructured indigenous agriculture across the world and tied it to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for a manipulated and volatile international market and indebtedness to global financial institutions.

More specifically, there are the deleterious impacts of the nexus between sovereign debt repayment and the ‘structural adjustment’ of regional agriculture; spiralling input costs for farmers who become dependent on proprietary seeds and technologies; ecocide, genocide and the destruction of food self-sufficiency; the fuelling of barbaric, industrial-scale death via animal-based (meat) agriculture and the colonisation of land to facilitate it; US/EU subsidies which mean farmers in developing countries cannot achieve prices to cover their costs of production; and degraded soils, polluted oceans and rising rates of illness, etc.

If any one country epitomises much of what is wrong with the global food regime, it is Argentina, where in an October 26th 2018 article (‘Soy destruction in Argentina leads straight to our dinner plates’) The Guardian newspaper’s analysis of (GM) soy cultivation highlighted many of the issues set out above.

Whether the impacts of the global food regime result from World Bank/IMF directives and geopolitical lending strategies, neoliberal plunder ‘ease-of-doing-business’ ideology,  undemocratic corporate-written trade deals or WTO rules, we are seeing the negative impacts on indigenous systems of food and agriculture across the world, not least in India, where a million farmers intend to march to Delhi and the national parliament between 28 and 30 November.

India’s manufactured ongoing agrarian crisis is adversely affecting the bulk of the country’s 840 million rural dwellers. And all for what? To run down and displace the existing system of peasant-farmer-based production with a discredited, ecologically unsustainable (GMO) model run along neoliberal ‘free’ market lines by global agribusiness, a model which is only profitable because it passes on its massive health, environmental and social costs to the public.

Neoliberal dogma

Tim Worstall of the Adam Smith Institute in London says of India’s agrarian crisis that Indian farmers should be left to go bust because they are uncompetitive and relatively unproductive. But even where farmers in India produce world record yields, they are still heavily indebted. So why can’t they compete?

Putting the huge external costs of the model of industrial agriculture which Worstall compares Indian agriculture to aside (which he conveniently ignores), the issue is clear: a heavily subsidised US/EU agriculture depresses prices for Indian farmers both at home and on the international market.

Policy analyst Devinder Sharma says that subsidies provided to US wheat and rice farmers are more than the market worth of these two crops. He also notes that, per day, each cow in Europe receives a subsidy worth more than an Indian farmer’s daily income. He suggests: let the US and EU do away with subsidies, relieving taxpayers of such a costly burden and let Indian farmers compete properly; then see that it is the Indian farmer who produces the cheapest food; and then imagine US consumers benefitting from this cheap food.

That is the ‘free’ market which could exist. A fair one not distorted by subsidies. Not the type of market that currently exists and which is ‘free’ only within the ideological parameters set by Worstall and others who promote it.

Proponents of the ‘free’ market and GMOs are big on ‘choice’: letting ‘the market’, the consumer or the farmer decide, without anyone imposing their agenda. This is little more than rhetoric which fails to stand up to scrutiny, given the strategically embedded influence of agricapital over policy makers. If anything encapsulates the nonsense and hypocrisy surrounding this notion of choice are reports about Monsanto and its cynical manipulation of agriculture in Punjab.

According to an article in Delhi’s Sunday Guardian in late 2017 (‘Monsanto’s profits, not Diwali, creating smoke in Delhi’), India’s surplus food grain supply is an uncomfortable fact for the pro-GMO lobby. The piece notes that in 2012 the then Punjab Chief Minister asked Monsanto to set up a research centre for creating maize and, due to fears over water shortages, announced plans to reduce the area under rice cultivation to around 45% to grow maize. Fear-mongering about rice cultivation was reaching fever pitch, stoked by an advertisement campaign from a group of scientists who appealed ‘Reduce the area under rice, save water, save Punjab’.

Conveniently, Monsanto (now Bayer) offers its GM maize as a solution that will increase the level of subsoil water, although that corporation’s inputs and Green Revolution practices led to problems in Punjab and elsewhere in the first place. For instance, fertilisers and pesticides have accumulated in the ground water (causing massive health issues) and their use has also led to poor water retention in soil, leading farmers to pump excessive amounts of ground water.

Punjab’s plan to reduce the area under rice cultivation (a staple food for large sections of the Indian population) with what will most likely be GM animal feed is part of a cynical tactic. Of course, any resulting gap between supply of and demand for food in India will be conveniently filled via global agribusiness and an influx of GMO produce from abroad or by growing it in India (have no doubt, the push is on for that too).

It is reminiscent of unscrupulous attempts to undermine India’s edible oils sector in the late 1990s and current attempts to break traditional cotton cultivation pathways in India to help usher in herbicide-tolerant seeds (which have now ‘miraculously’ appeared on the market – illegally). The ability of hugely powerful corporations to flex their financial muscle and exert their considerable political clout to manufacture ‘choice’ and manipulate policies is the reality of neoliberal capitalism.

Those pro-GMO ‘science communicators’ are silent on such matters and, as with their fellow neoliberal ideologues, have nothing of any substance to say on these types of ‘market-distorting’ power relations, which make a mockery of their ‘free’ choice and ‘free’ market creed.

Indeed, a recent report in The Guardian indicates that neoliberal ‘austerity’ in the UK has had little to do with economics, having failed in its objective of reducing the national debt, and much to do with social engineering. But this is the ideological basis of modern neoliberal capitalism: dogma masquerading as economics to help justify the engineering of the world in the image of undemocratic, unaccountable corporations.

Agroecology and food sovereignty

The industrial agriculture that Worstall compares Indian farmers’ productivity with is outperformed by smallholder-based agriculture in terms of, for example, diversity of food output, nutrition per acre and efficient water use. Imagine what could be achieved on a level playing field whereby smallholder farming receives the type of funding and political commitment currently given to industrial agriculture.

In fact, we do not have to imagine; in places where agroecology has been scaled up, we are beginning to see the benefits. The principles of agroecology include self-reliance, localisation and food sovereignty. This type of agriculture does not rely on top-down corporate ‘science’, corporate owned or controlled seeds or proprietary inputs. It is potentially more climate resilient, labour intensive (job creating), more profitable for farmers and can contribute to soil quality and nutrient-enhanced/diverse diets. Moreover, it could help reinvigorate rural India and its villages.

When the British controlled India, they set about breaking the self-reliance of the Indian village. In a 2009 article by Bhavdeep Kang (‘Can the Indian farmer withstand predatory international giants?’), it is stated:

The British Raj initiated the destruction of the village communities, famously described by Lord Metcalfe as ‘little republics, having nearly everything they can want within themselves.’ India’s ability to endure, he wrote, derived from these village communities: ‘They seem to last where nothing else lasts. Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down but the village community remains the same. It is in a high degree conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence.

Metcalfe said this in 1830. However, since independence from the British, India’s rulers have further established ‘village India’s’ dependency on central government. And now a potential death knell for rural India is underway as India’s ruling elite, exhibiting a severe bout of ‘Stockholm syndrome’, sells out the nation to not only Western agribusiness but also to US finance and intelligence interests.

Whether it concerns India or elsewhere, to see the advantages of agroecology, there are those economists, political leaders and ‘science communicators’ who must remove the self-imposed blinkers. This would involve shifting their priorities away from promoting career-building technologies and facilitating neoliberal capitalism towards working for justice, equality, peace and genuine grass-root food sovereignty.

To do that, though, such figures would first have to begin to bite the hand that feeds them.

Lessons from Switzerland

Almost forty years ago I invented direct democracy – or so I thought at the time. I had been raised in Rhodesia, a racist and mostly fascist country, and had just moved to England. Although England considered itself a fine example of democracy (and still does), I was puzzled how such a fine democracy could have an unelected head of state, and a parliament where more than half its members are unelected. There must be a better way, I thought, so I invented direct democracy and set about writing a political novel based on the idea of a southern African country having a revolution and creating a government that worked in such a way.

The novel was terrible and never saw publication, but the concept of a new democracy stayed with me, and is still with me today. Of course, I now know that I did not invent direct democracy. Some years after my first awful novel I learnt that Switzerland had been using direct democracy for over a hundred years. Far from being disappointed that I was not the inventor of this wonderful concept, I was delighted. It totally validated my belief that such an idea was not only possible, it was already working, and working pretty well. After all, here was Switzerland, one of the most successful and stable countries in the world, that had been using it for ages. It was a country wholly controlled by its people, with high standards of social welfare and enlightened environmental awareness. And it had kept out of wars for almost two hundred years – even when completely surrounded by war, twice. So ever since finding out about Swiss democracy I’ve yearned to visit the place, and see it in action. But Switzerland is an expensive place to visit, and if you ain’t loaded, that ain’t easy.

Then a few months ago we learnt of a cut-price holiday to Chateau D’Oex (pronounced “day”), and I just had to go for it. Although I knew that Switzerland must have its problems, just like anywhere else, I wanted to try to get a feel for what Swiss people think about their country and its relatively exemplar democracy.

I wasn’t especially interested in the beautiful scenery, and it is very beautiful. Many other countries also have beautiful landscapes, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of them before. What I wanted was to speak to Swiss people. This is not the easiest thing to do. First of all, although most Swiss people have various levels of competence with the English language, English is not an official language. Swiss children are taught to speak the main language spoken in their region, which means German, French or Italian, and then one of the other two. Romansch, the sort of native Swiss language, is hardly taught at all, which is a bit sad. English is sometimes available to school children as an optional extra.

But the fact that some Swiss people are not very fluent in English was only part of my problem. Mainly I’m always deeply humiliated when visiting foreign countries because I’m so incompetent at speaking their language, or some other mutually understandable language other than English (which obviously instantly associates me with one of the most vile and repressive regimes of all time), so I always feel very uncomfortable about trying to have conversations with people in non-English-speaking countries: I always feel I have to apologise for being English, and say how ashamed I am of our history. However, I did manage to overcome my discomfort a few times whenever I came upon someone who was clearly quite happy to speak English. Fortunately my wonderful wife Lorraine was with me, and she is usually less inhibited than I am about talking to people, and because she is very good at this she initiated many of the conversations we had with local folk.

So my impressions of modern Swiss life were obtained mainly from discussions with three young Swiss people (one of whom said she would rather live in England!). I’ll call them Belinda, Martina, and Stan.

Referendums

The Swiss provide direct democracy through continual national referendums, which they hold more often than any other country in the world, and now have them about once a month. Contrast that with the fact that the UK has only ever had three national referendums, and the US has never had a single one. Swiss attitudes to their government are possibly similar to many other Europeans about their governments. Whereas Martina said she always voted in every referendum, Stan said he never did, and appeared to have a similar casual indifference to politics that is very common in many young people. I asked him if he trusted the information that came with every referendum question, about whether arguments for and against were equally weighted. He said he thought they were, so that obviously wasn’t the main reason for his indifference to the system – although he possibly wasn’t the best person to ask.

Good information is clearly a vitally important condition to the success of any vote, and I didn’t learn enough to form an opinion on the quality of public information in Switzerland. But according to a recent report by Reporters Without Borders, Switzerland has the fifth most independent press in the world; compared with Britain, at 40, and the US at 45. So presumably the Swiss do get pretty reasonable information about the issues they get to vote on.

However, there do seem to be some glitches in the system, admitted by this fine free press. Here we learn, for example, that there are at least seven weaknesses to how referendum results are implemented. It’s basically a list of tricks that the government has learnt whereby it can either minimize the effect of a people’s referendum, or ignore it altogether if it wants to. It can do this, according to another article on the subject, through the fact that Swiss courts are not specifically required to implement the constitution.

The genius Tom Paine clearly identified this problem over two hundred years ago:

A man, by his natural right, has a right to judge in his own cause… But what availeth it him to judge, if he has not power to redress?1

This crucial point about the difference between having civil rights and having the means to enforce them was highlighted in the landmark legal dispute William B Richardson v The United States of America, where Mr Richardson tried, but eventually failed, to force the US government to make public the money spent on the CIA – as required in the US constitution. But it was decided that as a mere citizen Mr Richardson “lacks standing” to actually enforce the constitution.2 So as far as Switzerland is concerned, it appears the people may indeed have this wonderful democracy where citizens are invited to be directly involved in government decision-making, but there may be a big difference in what the people say they want, and what the people actually get. It could be that Swiss referendums are sometimes little more effective than large opinion polls.

Trade Unions

We asked Martina and Stan about Swiss trade unions, and received blank looks on both occasions. I remember Martina saying she thought there were some, but she knew nothing about them. The tour guide we had, Dave, was pretty knowledgeable about Switzerland, and told us that we were his one hundred and twenty fifth tour there. He told us quite a bit about Swiss life but never mentioned trade unions. So when she had the chance Lorraine asked him that question. Dave is the sort of guy who doesn’t like to admit that he doesn’t know something – especially if it’s about Switzerland, but he had to admit that he knew nothing about Swiss trade unions.

This is quite interesting.

Coming from England, which still has a pretty good trade union movement (albeit it a shadow of its former self) it seemed almost incomprehensible to us that a modern western society would have no significant trade union movement – because given the fact that no one we asked seemed to know anything about it that must be the obvious conclusion to be drawn. And if there’s no significant trade union movement, who looks after workers’ rights? Although there are trade unions in Switzerland, as a percentage of population, membership is only about half of what it is in Britain or the US — both of which countries currently have considerably depleted numbers of trade union members from what they once had.

It could be that the Swiss constitution helps the Swiss out quite a bit in this regard. Because although it may not be exactly user-friendly, it does at least establish clear principles of right and wrong. Its opening words, for example, include this line: “The strength of a people is measured by the wellbeing of its weakest members” ((The Swiss Constitution – Preamble.)), and it begins with a fairly comprehensive section on “Fundamental Rights”. In other words, a pretty high ethical standard of society is clearly defined in the country’s single most important document, reducing the requirement for trade unions.

National Service

All young men leaving full time education are required to do national service – unless, one of our informants told us rather cryptically, they’re rich enough to buy their way out. National service can take the form of joining the armed forces, or doing some form of social service. Girls do not have to do it at all, but may do so if they want.

The initial commitment is spread over five years with different types of training taking place in three or four month blocks once a year. After that every Swiss man joins a unit of reservists and is issued with a rifle which he must keep secure at home.

I asked Martina about the boys she knew when she left school, and how many of them joined the army, or social service. She said she didn’t know of any boy doing social service in preference to the army. But she says there is some public resentment to the practice, and a general feeling that too much money is spent on military training, instead of more important public services. That’s probably true of almost every country in the world.

I had the impression from both Martina and Stan that although they both loved Switzerland, they also felt it was too conservative, and that new ideas and innovation were seldom welcome. It was Martina who said she would rather live in England, because it seemed a freer society, and Stan appeared to have a hankering to move to Amsterdam, where he’d once spent a few months working.

Thinking about this very conservative nature for which the Swiss are quite well known, I wondered how much of it might be down to the fact that so many of them do five years of national service. After all, there are few institutions more conservative than the military, who are also extremely good at brainwashing. Forcing a young mind through such a regime is bound to have long-lasting effects on most. So how much, I wonder, of Swiss conservativeness is a product of military brainwashing?

The Economy

Another main reason I had for visiting Switzerland was to get a feel for how their economy works. I have strong socialist leanings, but Switzerland is an unashamedly capitalist country. But unlike so many other capitalist countries, Switzerland does not appear to have slums and ghettoes. No one appears to go hungry or homeless. There is clearly something different about Swiss capitalism, and I wanted to find out what.

Obviously this is not a scientific report, it’s just a short record of superficial impressions, points I picked up which appear different to the capitalism I’m used to.

Minimum wage

Switzerland is an expensive country to live in, therefore wages have to be pretty high. So the minimum wage is about $23 an hour. This is more than two and a half times higher than minimum wage in Britain. Although prices are definitely higher in Switzerland, the prices of most basics are not two and a half times higher than British prices. Petrol, for example – a vital driver of costs – is only about 20% higher than British prices. Apparently the minimum wage is only a very recent innovation in Switzerland. As I have always been deeply suspicious of the principle of a minimum wage, I would not be surprised to see the purchasing power of those who receive it in Switzerland start to fall – just as it did in Britain.

Although taxes are relatively modest, every Swiss resident is obliged to have private health insurance. Martina, who was probably on minimum wage, told us that her health insurance cost her SF350 a month (about US$350). She did not seem happy with the arrangement, and told us that it was about the cheapest insurance she could find, and wouldn’t cover everything. Dental care is apparently very good, but so expensive that many Swiss people travel to other countries to have it done.

So it comes back to the same basic point as always. Although $23 an hour might seem pretty good, money is only as good as what you can buy with it – and in Switzerland you need quite a lot to buy not very much.

Self-sufficiency

Unlike many capitalist countries, Switzerland does not appear to buy into the concept of globalisation with quite as much enthusiasm as most western countries. Although its banking system has long been an important asset to its economy (arguably the most important), the Swiss have never been huge fans of international trade. Both Britain and the US, for example, who both market themselves as champions of capitalism, have both had negative trade balances for many years (i.e. imports exceeding exports), but the Swiss have nearly always shown the opposite trend, with exports usually exceeding imports. In pure business terms, this is like saying Switzerland is a viable business, whereas both Britain and the US are technically bankrupt.

It would seem the key to Switzerland’s success in this regard is the fact that they value self-sufficiency extremely highly. They resist importing almost anything they could produce for themselves. Given that it has precious little in the way of natural mineral resources this is a singularly fine achievement. A brief glance at almost any set of statistics comparing Swiss trade with the rest of the world shows a remarkably healthy economy.

Swiss Cheese

Directly linked to the Swiss economic principle of self-sufficiency is the fact that they take huge pride in home-produced foods and drinks. Consistent with the notion that imported products should be avoided where there are good local alternatives, Swiss farm products too are usually preferred to imported farm products. A fine example of this in practice is the cheese industry.

Dairy farming is huge in Switzerland. The many beautiful mountainsides are invariably adorned with dairy cattle, seemingly happy to graze the plentiful greenery in one of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe. So dairy products are plentiful. However, consistent with the Swiss principle of subsidiarity, local is always preferred to products from somewhere else – even if the somewhere else is in Switzerland. So almost every rural town has its own small dairy producing milk, butter and cheese. As we were quite close to Gruyere, an internationally recognised Swiss brand, we had the opportunity to visit the cheese factory. But as this is not of much interest to vegans, we didn’t bother. We would far rather have visited the local bakery, because unsurprisingly bread-making is something else the Swiss do very well, and something else they do locally in many areas – once again preferring local to some cheap mass-produced rubbish.

Possibly because the Swiss are so protective of their farming industry, vegans can have a fairly bleak time of things. Although our hotel knew we were vegans, and said beforehand they could cater for us, it took them three days to obtain some soya milk, even though it was easily available at a local co-op almost across the road; and all they could produce for our evening meal was rice and vegetable stew, varied on two occasions with a few added mushrooms.

Switzerland is well-known for its cow-bells, which are something of a national symbol, and cows grazing the beautiful hillsides to the sound of clanging cow-bells is supposedly an image of the perfect rural idyll. But walking nearby to such a scene you can’t help but notice how bloody loud those bells are, and my heart went out to the poor animals that are forced to wear the damn things – mostly unnecessarily.

But pigs fare much worse. Dave commented several times on the beautiful rural idylls but observed that you never see pigs in Switzerland, which is very odd, he thought, given that the Swiss apparently eat a lot of pork. It’s not that odd. You don’t see pigs because they’re factory-farmed on a fairly large scale, and the poor creatures seldom see the light of day.

However, the principle of subsidiarity applies to almost everything else in Switzerland – from small local timber mills, to breweries and wine-makers. Wherever local products can be used in preference to goods from anywhere else – even other Swiss goods – the Swiss use them. And providing you’re not a vegan, or a pig, it works extremely well.

One of the most interesting points about all this is that the Swiss policies of subsidiarity and self-sufficiency, which clearly do it no harm whatsoever, could also be called protectionism which, according to the technically bankrupt nations of Britain and the US, is no way to run an economy. But the hard evidence provided by Swiss success shows that their economic policies, coupled to their direct democracy, is a much sounder way to manage a country than Britain or the US manage their countries.

Banking

Switzerland has been known as a haven for dodgy offshore banking and financial services for a very long time, and most infamously for laundering Nazi gold during WW2. But there is a very huge difference between Swiss offshore banking and the basically criminal enterprises operated by other capitalist giants such as Britain and the US. The Swiss National Bank is in full control of money supply, and is also under direct control of the state – which is itself largely controlled by the people through their system of routine referendums. Article 99 of the Swiss constitution states that “A minimum of two thirds of the net profits made by the Swiss National Bank shall be allocated to the cantons.” (My emphasis) In other words, unlike British and American banks, vast quantities of bankers’ profits are distributed throughout Swiss cantons for local development.

Model of capitalism

No self-respecting socialist would put up an argument for capitalism as the best way to manage a country’s economy. However, there’s no escaping the fact that Switzerland is both a capitalist country, and a very successful economy, and has high levels of social care, and has high standards of environmental protections. In other words, if anyone wanted to present a reasonable argument for the virtues of capitalism, they would be hard-pressed to improve on the Swiss example. And yet this is not the model most preferred by the self-appointed champions of capitalism, Britain and the US. Why might that be?

Unlike Britain and the US, Switzerland appears to try to run itself like an honest business enterprise, whereas Britain and the US both manage their economies in much the same way as if they were being run by Al Capone. Adam Smith, credited as the father of capitalism, would most likely approve of the Swiss model, but would certainly abhor the economic practices of Britain and the US. In fact, the two economic systems are so different they really should have different names.

How is it then that Swiss capitalism has managed to escape the traps that British and US capitalism have fallen into? Why have Britain and the US turned into the biggest criminal enterprise on the planet whilst the Swiss tick along as a comparatively decent, honest, solvent society? The answer, surely, lies in the fact that Switzerland is, relatively speaking, a real democracy.

Whilst there’s no doubt there are some glitches with Swiss democracy, it’s leaps and bounds better than the British and American models. Whereas British and American so-called democracies are thoroughly corrupt, basically criminal enterprises wholly controlled by the world’s wealthiest gangsters, the Swiss people have a fine national constitution which provides them with a mechanism whereby they could easily control their government if they had to. In Britain or the US the super-rich controllers of politicians know they can literally get away with murder because there’s no mechanism to stop them, but in Switzerland there is, therefore super-rich Swiss must be far more careful in what they try to get away with.

The British academic R.H. Tawney once observed:

That democracy and extreme economic inequality form, when combined, an unstable compound, is no novel doctrine.3

In other words real democracy and extreme economic injustice are not compatible. You can have one or the other, but not both. Britain and the US resolved this problem by ensuring that real democracy does not exist, which allows extreme economic inequality to thrive. The Swiss on the other hand, with their very different version of democracy, are not only relatively free from economic injustice, they also have a highly successful economy.

So it seems fairly obvious to me that extreme constitutional reform of western so-called democracies – to provide real direct democracies – is the essential first step for eliminating global economic injustice.

Here’s Tawney once more,

Democracy is unstable as a political system as long as it remains a political system and nothing more, instead of being, as it should be, not only a form of government but a type of society, and a manner of life which is in harmony with that type. To make it a type of society requires an advance along two lines. It involves, in the first place, the resolute elimination of all forms of special privilege which favour some groups and depress others, whether their sources be differences of environment, of education, or of pecuniary income. It involves, in the second place, the conversion of economic power, now often an irresponsible tyrant, into a servant of society, working within clearly defined limits and accountable for its actions to a public authority.4

Socialists are unlikely, with good reason, ever to trust any form of capitalism. But the inescapable fact is that when capitalism is managed in the way the Swiss do it it is a reasonable and perfectly workable model. It helps to see that Swiss democracy and the version of so-called democracy that’s practised by most western countries is as different as socialism and capitalism. For me the most perfect economic model is one where the state, directly controlled by the people, is wholly responsible for providing all essential public services, but where the private sector (properly regulated by the state) is free to provide non-essential services for whatever profit it can make.

But the Swiss model is a reasonable alternative.

  1. Rights of Man, Tom Paine, p. 120.
  2. Blank Check, Tim Weiner, p. 226.
  3. The Vote – how it was won, and how it was undermined, Paul Foot, p. 340.
  4. The Vote – how it was won, and how it was undermined, Paul Foot, p. 306.

A Debate for Auditor: What the Papers Wouldn’t Say

Why does the Green Party elect so few people in the US while similar parties have elected representatives across the globe.  Some have suggested it is the way Greens organize or problems with the leadership.  While these may be contributing factors, they could hardly be a complete explanation since the Democrats and Republicans have elected thousands of incompetent, disorganized candidates.

A factor that may be far more important is the way the press defines non-corporate parties as unworthy of existence, even when they bring up the issues most on people’s minds.  Would it be fair to say that there is a conspiracy between big business, corporate parties and the press, or, does the word “conspiracy” imply a paranoid delusion?  My experience as a candidate may shed a bit of light.

In the first debate for Missouri State Auditor, I brought up the trial of Monsanto/Bayer which resulted in the jury’s awarding groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson $289 million in July 2018.  The jury determined that his terminal illness resulted from use of Roundup.  As the Green Party candidate, I am very aware of environmental dangers of herbicides.  I explained that the State Auditor should examine how much Missouri spends purchasing Roundup for use on state parks, roadways, and lands surrounding state colleges, universities and governmental offices.  After all, with over 8000 pending lawsuits against such a widely hated agribusiness, continued use of its poisons could put state finances at high risk.

After the debate, sponsored by the Missouri Press Association, I scrutinized articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kansas City Star, Columbia Daily Tribune, Springfield News-Leader, and West End Word.  Not one of them even mentioned Roundup.  So, what did they cover instead?

When current Democratic auditor Nicole Galloway described herself as a “watchdog” for the people, the Republican Saundra McDowell sneered, “you’re just a dog.”  That made it front and center in each of the five articles.  Constitution Party candidate Jacob Luetkemeyer, Libertarian Sean O’Toole, and I never impugned anyone and stuck to issues throughout the hour and a half.  And none of the issues we brought up were covered.

Though most Americans want Medicare-for-All, TV ads by Missouri’s Democrats and Republicans focus on legislative changes that allow health insurance companies to exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions.  Of course, health insurance is not the same as health care.  So, I pointed out that state audits should examine how many taxpayers’ dollars have been wasted by Missouri’s privatization of health care for Medicaid recipients and prisoners.  In both cases, state money is devoted to providing profits and covering overhead of insurance companies.  An audit would help in estimation of savings with a single-payer system.  None of the five papers mentioned anything about health care.

Instead, they all addressed how the Democrat attacked the Republican for lying about personal finances and the Republican’s describing a lawsuit against the Democrat for violating the state’s Sunshine Law.  Stories also included the fascinating discussion of whether or not the Republican had lived in the state for 10 years.

What the audience responded to most strongly was my comment that they had all smoked marijuana or knew someone who had.  Thus, a state audit should determine how much Missouri money is wasted policing, arresting, holding, trying and hiring parole officers for continued criminalization of marijuana.  That was the only time during the debate that the moderator instructed the audience to stop applauding.

Again, all five stories ignored a topic of clear interest to those present.  In fact, the stories from across the state were so similar that they could have been written by one person with the other four just rearranging paragraphs and rewording sentences.

Since the media was oblivious to issues that actually affect people’s lives, I wrote an op-ed and sent it to the three largest papers.  Two didn’t respond; but Tod Robberson, Editorial Page Editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote back that it was their “policy” to not run op-ed pieces by candidates.  Nevertheless, he invited me to trim my piece to under 300 words and send it to him as a letter-to-the-editor, which I promptly did.  It never ran; and, I felt like I had been played by someone contemptuous of candidates without big money to throw around.

Then, a few days later, the same Tod Robberson penned an editorial on “Choosing the Best Candidate” wherein he described the painstaking effort his staff goes through to interview candidates, how staff are verbally abused by candidates, and their internal struggles to be fair to all.  He even claimed that they “bring in as many candidates as we can” to interview.  What he did not say was that invitations only go to “viable” candidates, a press industry buzz word for those with corporate funding.

On October 11, 2018, the Post-Dispatch published its endorsement of the Democrat for a series of vacuous reasons.  That candidate is a Certified Public Accountant (not required for the office); “exposes corruption” (part of the job); and applies “consistently high accountability standards” (what State Auditor does not?).  The endorsement bemoaned the failure of the Republican to show up for an interview (thereby admitting that the endorsement was based on a single interview) but didn’t mention the paper’s failure to invite other candidates.

Also on October 11, I attended a forum for candidates of the US Senate from Missouri.  Only Green Party candidate Jo Crain and Independent candidate Craig O’Dear showed up.  In the audience, I recognized Don Corrigan, who wrote the article on the September State Auditor’s debate in the West End Word.  We know each other because he has invited me multiple times to speak about environmental issues to the class on Political Journalism he teaches at Webster University.

Afterwards, I went up to him, shook hands, and told him that “It might be difficult for you to write an article about the debate tonight.”

“Why’s that,” he asked.

“Because neither of the candidates berated each other; they responded to important issues; and, they are not from the moneyed parties.”  I let him know that I was quite disappointed at the way he said nothing regarding three candidates when writing about the auditor’s debate.

“There just wasn’t room.  I’m really sorry,” he apologized.

“Not room?  Instead of going into detail about the personal attacks, you might have given one sentence to an issue brought up by each of the other candidates.”

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.  “But we need to write about what interests our readers and they only want to know what the Democrats and Republicans say.”

Imagine that!  Those who read US newspapers in 2018 apparently have no interest in Medicare-for-All, being poisoned by Roundup, or whether their friends and family members do jail time for blowing weed.  Perhaps local reporters think readers are on the edge of their seats waiting to hear about residency requirements for their State Auditor.  Or, maybe they know that their editor will squash stories that give space to candidates who don’t buy expensive ads in their paper.

I just told him, “I feel the pain you endure.”  I’m sure that his students look up to him for displaying the journalistic standards he teaches.

Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma

It is an organisation not without its problems. Conceived in the heat of idealism, and promoted as the vanguard of medical rescue and human rights advocacy, Médecins Sans Frontières has had its faults.  Its co-founder Bernard Kouchner went a bit awry when he turned such advocacy into full blown interventionism.  As Nicolas Sarkozy’s foreign minister, his conversion to politicised interventionism in places of crisis went full circle.  He notably split from MSF to create Doctors of the World, where he felt imbued by the spirit of droit d’ingerence, subsequently given the gloss of “humanitarian intervention”. With its mischief making properties, such interventions have manifested, usually in the guise of wealthy Western states, from the Balkans to Africa.

MSF, at least in its operating protocols, is meant to be solidly neutral and diligently impartial.  But neutrality tends to be compromised before the spectacle of suffering.  Bearing witness disturbs the mood and narrows objective distance.  On June 17, 2016, by way of example, the organisation stated that it could not “accept funding from the EU or the Member States while at the same time treating the victims of their policies! It’s that simple.”  Central to this, as Katharine Weatherhead explained in an analysis of the organisation’s stance, is the “ethic of refusal” and témoignage, “the idea of being a witness to suffering.”

Australia’s gulag mimicry – a prison first, justice second mentality that governs boat arrivals – has done wonders to challenge any stance of distance humanitarian organisations might purport to have.  To see the suffering such policies cause is to make converts of the stony hearted.  What matters in this instance – the MSF condemnation of Australia’s innately brutal anti-refugee policy on Nauru – is its certitude.

The Australian government has taken the high, icy road and left the UN Refugee Convention in shambolic ruin; it insists, repeatedly, that refugees are to be discriminated against on the basis of how they arrive to the country; it also suggests, with a hypnotically disabling insistence that keeping people in open air prisons indefinitely is far better than letting them drown.  (We, the message goes, stopped the boats and saved lives!)

MSF, which had been working on the island since November 2017 primarily providing free psychological and psychiatric services, was given its marching orders by Nauru’s authorities last week.  Visas for the organisation’s workers were cancelled “to make it clear there was no intention of inviting us back,” explained MSF Australia director Paul McPhun.

A disagreement about what MSF was charged with doing developed.  The original memorandum of understanding with the Nauru government tends to put cold water on the suggestion by Australia’s Home Affairs Minister that MSF had not been involved in supplying medical services to the detainees on the island.  In dull wording, the agreement stated who the intended recipients of the project would be: “People suffering from various mental health issues, from moderate to severe, members of the various communities living in the Republic of Nauru, including Nauruan residents, expatriates, asylum seekers and refugees with no discrimination.”

It was obvious that the revelations would eventually become too much for either the authorities of Australia or Nauru to tolerate.  Having been entrusted with the task of healing the wounds of the mind, MSF’s brief was withdrawn after the organisation’s findings on the state of mental health of those in detention. “Five years of indefinite limbo has led to a radical deterioration of their medical health and wellbeing,” claimed McPhun in stark fashion to reporters in Sydney on Thursday.  “Separating families, holding men, women and children on a remote island indefinitely with no hope of protection except in the case of a medical emergency, is cruel and inhumane.”

Undertaking a journey from war torn environs and famine stricken lands might well inflict its own elements of emotional distortion and disturbance, but Australia’s policy of keeping people isolated, distant and grounded took it further.  It was penal vindictiveness, a form of needless brutal application.

In McPhun’s sharp assessment, “While many asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru experienced trauma in their countries of origin or during their journey, it is the Australian government’s policy of indefinite offshore detention that has destroyed their resilience, shattered all hope, and ultimately impacted their mental health.”

The organisation has made it clear that Canberra’s insistence that “offshore detention” remains somehow humanitarian is barely credible, there being “nothing humanitarian saving people from the sea only to leave them in an open air prison on Nauru.”

Such a cruel joke has turned the members of MSF into a decidedly militant outfit.  “Over the past 11 months on Nauru,” states psychiatrist Beth O’Connor, “I have seen an alarming number of suicide attempts and incidents of self-harm among the refugee and asylum seeker men, women and children we treat.”  Particularly shocking were the number of children enduring the effects of traumatic withdrawal syndrome “where their status deteriorated to the extent they were unable to eat, drink, or even to walk to the toilet.”

With such observations, there is little surprise that Nauru’s government, which was evidently seeking to find an ally and an alibi, felt slighted.  The doctors had to go.  “Although MSF claimed to be a partner to Nauru and the Nauruan people instead of working with us,” came the government justification, “they conspired against us.”  The government was no longer inclined “to accept the concocted lies told about us purely to advance political agendas.”

What the government statement also insisted upon was the comparative advantage the hosted refugees and asylum seekers had.  They had their own tissue of mendacity to proffer.  “The facilities, care, welfare and homely environment offered to refugees and asylum seekers are comparable or better than what other refugees and asylum seekers across the globe receive.”  For that to make any sense, a comparative study on suicides, psychological corrosion and trauma would have to be done across the world’s refugee camps.  In those terms, Nauru’s performance, aided and abetted by their Australian sponsors, has been ghoulishly stellar.

Food, Justice, Violence and Capitalism

In 2015, India’s internal intelligence agency wrote a report that depicted various campaigners and groups as working against the national interest. The report singled out environmental activists and NGOs that had been protesting against state-corporate policies. Those largely undemocratic and unconstitutional policies were endangering rivers, forests and local ecologies, destroying and oppressing marginalised communities, entrenching the corporatisation of agriculture and usurping land rights.

These issues are not unique to India. Resistance against similar practices and injustices is happening across the world. And for their efforts, campaigners are being abused, incarcerated and murdered. Whether people are campaigning for the land rights of tribal communities in India or for the rights of peasant farmers in Latin America or are campaigning against the fracking industry in the UK or against pipelines in the US, there is a common thread: non-violent protest to help bring about a more just and environmentally sustainable world.

What is ultimately fueling the push towards the relentless plunder of land, peoples and the environment is a strident globalised capitalism, euphemistically termed ‘globalisation’, which is underpinned by increasing state surveillance, paramilitary-type law enforcement and a US-backed push towards militarism.

The deregulation of international capital movement (financial liberalisation) effectively turned the world into a free-for-all for global capital. The ramping up of this militarism comes at the back end of a deregulating/pro-privatising neoliberal agenda that has sacked public budgets, depressed wages, expanded credit to consumers and to governments (to sustain spending and consumption) and unbridled financial speculation. In effect, spending on war is in part a desperate attempt to boost a stagnant US economy.

We may read the writings of the likes of John Perkins (economic hitmen), Michel Chossudovsky (the globalisation of poverty), Michael Hudson (treasury bond super-imperialism) or Paul Craig Roberts (the US’s descent into militarism and mass surveillance) to understand the machinations of billionaire capitalists and the economic system and massive levels of exploitation and suffering they preside over.

Food activists are very much part of the global push-back and the struggle for peace, equality and justice and in one form or another are campaigning against violence, corruption and cronyism. There is a determination to question and to hold to account those with wealth and power, namely, transnational agribusiness corporations and their cronies who hold political office.

There is sufficient evidence for us to know that these companies lie and cover up truth. And we also know that their bought politicians, academics, journalists and right-wing neoliberal backers and front groups smear critics and attempt to marginalise alternative visions of food and agriculture.

They are first to man the barricades when their interests are threatened. Those interests are tied to corporate power, neoliberal capitalism and the roll out of food for profit. These companies and their cheerleaders would be the last to speak up about the human rights abuses faced by environmentalists in various places across the world. They have little to say about the injustices of a global food regime that creates and perpetuates food surpluses in rich countries and food deficits elsewhere, resulting in a billion people with insufficient food for their daily needs. Instead all they have to offer are clichés about the need for more corporate freedom and deregulation if we are to ‘feed the world’.

And they attempt to gloss over or just plain ignore the land grabs and the marginalisation of peasant farmers across the world, the agrarian crisis in India or the harm done by agrochemicals because it is all tied to the neoliberal globalisation agenda which fuels corporate profit, lavish salaries or research grants.

It is the type of globalisation that has in the UK led to deindustrialisation, massive inequalities, the erosion of the welfare state and an increasing reliance on food banks. In South America, there has been the colonisation of lands and farmers to feed richer countries’ unsustainable, environment-destroying appetite for meat. In effect what Helena Paul once described in The Ecologist as genocide and ecocide.  From India to Argentina, we have witnessed (are witnessing) the destruction of indigenous practices and cultures under the guise of ‘development’.

And from various bilateral trade agreements and WTO policies to IMF and World Bank directives, we have seen the influence of transnational agricapital shaping and benefiting from ‘ease of doing business’ and ‘structural adjustment’ type strategies.

We also see the globalisation of bad food and illness and the deleterious impacts of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture on health, rivers, soils and oceans. The global food regime thrives on the degradation of health, environment, labour and communities and the narrowing of the range of crops grown resulting in increasingly monolithic, nutrient-deficient diets.

Whether it includes any or all of the above or the hollowing out of regulatory agencies and the range of human rights abuses we saw documented during The Monsanto Tribunal, what we see is the tacit acceptance of neoliberal policies and the perpetuation of structural (economic, social and political) violence by mainstream politicians and agricapital and its cheerleaders.

At the same time, however, what we are also witnessing is a loosely defined food movement becoming increasingly aware of the connection between these issues.

Of course, to insinuate that those campaigning for the labelling of GM food, the right to healthy food or access to farmers markets in the West and peasant movements involved with wider issues pertaining to food sovereignty, corporate imperialism and development in the Global South form part of a unified ‘movement’ in terms of material conditions or ideological outlook would be stretching a point.

After all, if you campaign for, say, healthy organic food in your supermarket, while overlooking the fact that the food in question derives from a cash crop which displaced traditional cropping systems and its introduction effectively destroyed largely food self-sufficient communities and turned them into food importing basket cases three thousand miles away, where is the unity?

However, despite the provisos, among an increasing number of food activists the struggle for healthy food in the West, wider issues related to the impact of geopolitical IMF-World Bank lending strategies and WTO policies and the securing of local community ownership of ‘the commons’ (land, water, seeds, research, technology, etc) are understood as being interconnected.

There is an emerging unity of purpose within the food movement and the embracing of a vision for a better, more just food system that can only deliver genuine solutions by challenging and replacing capitalism and its international relations of production and consumption.

Gross Hospital Negligence Does Not Exempt Celebrities

Solid studies by physicians at leading medical schools have been warning of the huge casualty toll that flows from preventable problems in hospitals. A 2016 peer-reviewed study by physicians at the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine estimated that at least 5,000 people a week in the U.S. lose their lives due to such causes as hospital-induced infection, medical malpractice, inattentiveness, and other deficiencies. Media attention lasted one day.

What will it take to make the powers-that-be outside and inside the government reduce what medical analysts call the third leading cause of death in America? Let that statement sink in—preventable problems in hospitals are the third leading cause of death in America after heart disease and cancer!

Indignation and frustration over the massive avoidance of action to save American lives and reduce even more preventable injuries and sicknesses prompted the issuance of an eye-opening, factual report by the Center for Justice and Democracy (lodged at New York Law School) titled “Top 22 Celebrities Harmed by Medical Malpractice.” Surely in a celebrity culture, this documented report should have made headlines and prompted widespread commentary. Unfortunately, the report received little coverage from major news outlets.

Let’s see if you agree that this compilation, written by Emily Gottlieb and conceived by Joanne Doroshow, the Center’s Director, should have been newsworthy. Surveys cited in the Report show that “Four in 10 adults have experience with medical errors, either personally or in the care of someone close to them.” “Nearly three-quarters [73 percent] of patients say they are concerned about the potential for medical errors.”

Count tennis superstar, Serena Williams, was among them.  She had to save her own life overcoming inattentive medical personnel “that initially dismissed her legitimate concerns about lethal blood clots following the birth of her child.” That story made news. Other celebrities passed away without the public knowing the causes until lawsuits were filed and settlements were rendered. For the most part, the physicians have received reprimands, temporary suspensions, but rarely lost their license to practice.

Joan Rivers, the long-time comedian, entered an endoscopy center in July 2014 for a routine throat procedure in New York. Her vital signs started failing, but her caretakers were “so busy taking cell phone pictures of their famous patient that they missed the moment her vital signs plummeted,” according to her daughter Melissa who filed a successful lawsuit ending in a private settlement.

Celebrity doctors who “cater to ‘the demands of wealthy and/or famous drug-seekers’” are overprescribing pain killers and other drugs. Reckless practices “led to the premature deaths of legendary entertainers like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, to name just three.” More recently, over-prescription of drugs has harmed or killed Michael Jackson, Prince, Anna Nicole Smith, and 3 Doors Down guitarist Matt Roberts, to name a few. These were not one-time prescriptions but rather deadly ministrations over time by physicians who knew the conditions and vulnerabilities of their famous patients.

Other tragedies recounted in the Center’s report, based on lawsuit evidence and/or a medical board sanction, include singer Julie Andrews (destroyed her singing career); Marty Balin, Jefferson Airplane’s co-founder and lead-singer (destroyed his career); comedian Dana Carvey (led to “serious illness”); Maurice Gibb, the Bee Gees’ star (“died in a Florida hospital”); NASCAR champion, Pete Hamilton (survived “horrendous surgical errors causing… multiple complications”); and John Ritter, the Emmy award-winning actor, was “misdiagnosed and improperly treated at a hospital where he died.”

The great sports writer, Dick Schaap died after routine hip replacement surgery, when contemporary tests showed his weakened lungs indicated that the procedure would be too dangerous.

In 1987, the pioneering artist, director, and producer, Andy Warhol, underwent gallbladder surgery and died a day later when medical personnel put too much fluid intravenously into his body.

The Center’s report concludes by noting that “health care in the United States can be incredibly unsafe, and this is true even for well-known actors, singers, musicians, athletes and other personalities …wealth and fame cannot shield someone from being victimized by a preventable medical error.”

Safety and health reforms are long overdue in hospitals and clinics astonishingly. The American Medical Association has not produced any calls to action with effective recommendations. State regulators are heavily compromised by conflicts of interest and low budgets. The federal government is AWOL. A minimum of 5,000 lives lost a week, not counting the casualties in clinics and medical offices is a serious health crisis. This ongoing epidemic should lead to public alarms and reforms long known but kept on the shelf. Contact your members of Congress and demand public hearings. The evidence cannot be ignored any longer.