Category Archives: Interview

Czechoslovakia to Chile, Back to Oregon Coast

We’re being accused of being eco-terrorists. But the way the laws are right now, the corporations have priority over the citizens’ right to defend their own health and safety. That’s terrorism.

— Newport resident Maria Sause

We meet at Oceana Natural Foods Co-op. Maria Kraus will turn 77 December. 9. Her face reflects five or six iterations of her life’s journey.

Just four days 80 years ago could have changed this interview – she might not have been conceived and born. Maria’s father Franta (Francisco)  left Czechoslovakia a scant 96 hours after Nazi Germany took over her parents’ homeland.

The Czech family line goes way back: “I just got in touch with a second cousin two years ago who has completed the family tree. The Kraus family goes back to the late 1700s in Czechoslovakia.”

I’m with Maria on a warm Sunday, ready to feature her life — amazing intellectual and creative journeys she’s taken having being born in Chile in 1942 and her own family’s powerful narrative of survival.

I am also scrambling to get some ink down concerning the Lincoln County Community Rights’ “loss” in state court after being successful with a countywide aerial herbicide ban on forestland, AKA, clear-cuts. The short-lived ban was the first in the country won by popular vote.

On September 23rd Judge Sheryl Bachart issued her ruling that Measure 21-177 is invalid based on state law regulating pesticide use. That Measure (for the ban) was voted on by citizens in 2017 okaying the prohibition of aerial spraying of all pesticides.

The fight for our legal, constitutional, and fundamental right of local self-government marches on, and it is going to take the political will of the people to make it a reality if we ever want to stop living under the thumb of corporate government.

—  Rio Davidson, President of Lincoln County Community Rights.

LCCR is now in overdrive, setting up townhall meetings to strategize to fight the judge’s reversal. For people like Maria, this is a huge blow to her community and to her concept of democracy.

Pre-emption laws are made whenever government and industry see the people are rising up against their projects. A government that protects industry at a higher level than it protects the safety of the people is unconstitutional.

— Maria Sause

This concept of having a fundamental right enshrined by the constitution that allows people to decide locally on issue of health, safety and the environment, is held dearly by Sause.

She has witnessed the devastation of total forest removal in her own neck of the woods where she lives in small above-garage apartment on acreage along Fruitvale Road. The stumps are emblematic of her own fight and LCCR’s fight against clear-cutting.

With the ban reversed, who knows when the timber company will begin spraying glyphosate, Atrazine and 2,4-D (an ingredient in Agent Orange made infamous in Vietnam) near where she lives.

“Right where I live, they clear cut an enormous parcel of the forest.” Interestingly, her life-long avocation of painting now reflects thick forest, sky and clear-cut landscape.

Holocaust, History, Chile

Maria is an avowed anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist. Her early days in Santiago, Chile, with her industrialist father (he was a licensed medical doctor from Czechoslovakia whose credentials were not recognized in Chile) was one of struggle since he was a highly intelligent but dictatorial man.

Her father was prescient enough to have sent his wife, Lisabet Erica Hirsch (maiden name), to England in 1938 before things got ugly in Europe.

Maria and I talk about history, about the saga of her Jewish heritage and roots. Her Kraus family line was virtually extinguished — 54 members on her father’s side (and an unknown number on her mother’s side) were exterminated in places like Auschwitz. Nazis processed professional Jews through the town of Theresienstadt, a hybrid concentration camp and ghetto established by the SS during World War.

My father in his youth belonged to several left movements. Maybe it was the shock and trauma of losing parents and the entire family that turned him into a right wing conservative.

Maria and her sister were sent to private schools outside of Santiago in the 1940s and ’50s. Her parents, in fact, split when she was one-and-a-half years old and the legal battle for the children put them into a children’s home.

That was a German couple who ran a summer camp that took them in, until Maria was more than six years old when her father took them to live with him and his new wife and new son.

Ironically, the New World formerly conquered by Spain — much of South America, including Chile — is where the Kraus Family ended up. During so-called biblical times world Jewry’s most concentrated homeland was located in what is now Spain. Maria says her paternal grandmother comes from the Sephardic Jewish population, which according to history books had established themselves in Spain almost 1,700 years ago.

Her own diaspora as a secular, non-practicing Jew is what she herself precipitated once she hit age 19 and her father approved of Maria coming to the US to study at the San Francisco State College. She stayed with an aunt and uncle there. That residence lasted six months before Maria was out on her own, working, going to school, and eventually marrying a man and having a son together, Christopher.

Summer of Love, and Ms. Sause’s Radical Education

Maria talks about her vibrant circle of friends and compatriots now in Lincoln County. At 76, Maria has good friends in Lincoln County, and the Lincoln County Community Rights organization is also a life force for her. She has three grandchildren from a single offspring, Christopher, who has spent time in Portland, Tempe, San Francisco and Chile.

Maria’s gone to school to learn English literature as an avocation to becoming a public-school teacher, which she tried her hand at as a single mother raising Christopher, who graduated from Newport High a long time ago.

That lesson, after having gained a master’s in education in a one-year intensive program at Portland’s Reed College, was tough. Getting to Lincoln County/Toledo was a journey unto itself.

She says working as an English-Art-Journalism teacher at Siletz High School was a hard lesson. “The kids just ate me up. I wasn’t prepared for all the behavioral issues. I gave the principal my resignation after two years.”

The Politicization of a Chilean

Maria Sause is busily writing press releases for the Lincoln County Community Rights. Town hall meetings were being set as we spoke at Oceana. The framing to the talks is foundational:

  • Ask your questions
  • Have your say!
  • Find out what’s next
  • What can I do?
  • How can I donate?

Meetings in Newport (October 15) and Yachats (October 16) will have already occurred by the publication of the hard copy of Oregon Coast Today. Lincoln City, however, has one set from 2 to 4 pm, October 20 at the Cultural Center.

The odds against the 21-177 measure were huge more than two years ago — the opponents were funded by big industry groups, to the tune of $475,000; on the other hand, the LCCR citizens group who wrote the initiative received support of $21,600 in cash and in-kind contributions, most of them small gifts from individuals. That was a drop in the bucket for LCCR, according to Sause, to lobby against the national and multinational stakeholders who fought to continue chemical sprays.

She has faced bigger struggles, but the Community Rights movement is her cause celebre, now.

Love and Death in a time of Chile

She returned back to Chile to take care of a dying mother (1990), after she had already taken care of her dying sister in Israel (1987 for five weeks). Both died of cancer. Maria’s is a crisscross journey from Chile to Portland to Newport to San Francisco.

This last time she returned to Southern Chile (1990) for the purpose of taking care of her mother: she met a man, fell in love, started a business and took care of an ailing father for one and a half years before his death. Maria stayed in Chile 18 years.

Cesar Retamal had lived in many places, including studying in East Germany as a machine builder. He had been imprisoned in Chile by the junta. He was an activist, a communist and blacklisted in Chile. He had been arrested by the goons deployed by the country’s American-backed dictator, General Augusto Pinochet.

Cesar, like thousands of students, professionals, union activists, was “disappeared” and tortured in one of the hundreds of torture houses Pinochet’s secret police had set up throughout Chile.

Cesar escaped because he knew one of the guards.

This is a period of time when I had an enormous education.

The couple was afforded their own home next to Maria’s father’s. He purchased it so Maria and Cesar could be close as they took care of him after the once robust man (he had been hiking in the Andes up to age 83) was paralyzed after cervical surgery.

After her father’s death (her mother had died years earlier) they ended up with inheritances (both Maria and Cesar got separate amounts) they ended up looking for land in the South of Chile: near Temuco, about 675 kilometers from Santiago. They ended up living in the foothills of the Andes.

“We built a house which I designed and made a scaled down exact model of it. Four months later the cabin-like home was built by locals. Great gatherings of friends and acquaintances were common there. Politics were central to the parties.

Socialist Owners and Conservative Workers

Maria laughs when she tells me of the construction business she and Cesar embarked upon. “We made sure everyone got the same wages. Cesar and I were working without pay. We did not have any business background.”

The administrators/owners were leftists and the laborers right wing. She laughs hard at that dichotomy.

The business went bust and the creditors were on their backs; eventually, the relationship ended. After that, Maria and Cesar stayed there for two years, in the house they had built. She painted, gardened, and worked as a translator, where she made a decent living conducting legal and technical cross translation (Spanish to English, English to Spanish).

Those years in Chile were vital to where Maria is now in Newport. She witnessed her father turn softer in his old age, becoming friends of Cesar, the avowed communist. The Pinochet regime murdered tens of thousands of innocent people of Chile. Her father was disgusted with that history of right wing politics.

The country is still collectively traumatized by the ugly years of Pinochet: 1973-1990.

Pinochet was arrested in London October 16, 1998. He was 82, recovering from back surgery. The charge was crimes against humanity on the basis of an international warrant issued by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón.

He not only was hit with allegations of human rights abuses committed against Spanish citizens in Chile during the military regime, but also the murder, torture, hostage-taking and genocide of Chileans and other nationals.

Pinochet died one year before Maria returned to Oregon to visit her son and grandchildren. That was 2007.

Setting Down Roots

I have a love-hate relationship with Oregon,” she tells me. “It’s got a reputation for having an environmentally minded government. Yet it’s clear industry runs the state.

She recalls John Kitzhaber, when he was governor, saying he couldn’t do anything about the clear-cutting and aerial spraying in Oregon because “my arms are tied by the timber industry.”

So this final iteration of her vagabond life started in Lincoln County when she ended up sharing a house with her former San Francisco State College (now University) Shakespeare professor — Edward van Aelstyn.

That was 2007, and Maria lived with him on Nye Beach, from 2007-2016. He passed away May 23, 2018 at age 82.

Interestingly, van Aelstyn became an Associate Professor of English at San Francisco State College in 1967 mostly teaching Shakespeare. His involvement with the cultural life of San Francisco, and his participation in a union-led faculty strike supporting students were part of the “Education of Ms. Sause.”

“I was very naïve about the United States, about the world and politics. I was taking care of my son, going to school, working odd jobs — a lawyer’s office, for a record distributor and in offices.” She remembers striking faculty at SFSC in solidarity with students, and remembers how those striking faculty were fired.

That’s what began to stoke fire in her belly. van Aelstyn founded the Newport-based Teatro Mundo, which Sause thinks fondly of.

“I like what I am doing now – drawing and painting, sort of getting back into it. I am still finding my way,” she says while describing her life in a studio apartment above a garage as pretty ideal.

“I am almost 77 (December 9) and I am very fortunate to spend my time here on the coast. I am not interested in being a tourist,” she laughs, saying that she couldn’t afford to be a globe trotter even if she wanted to.

She tells me that the fight for a community bill of rights, reversing these state pre-emption laws and having communities determine their health, safety and sustainability takes time.

Maria Sause is no fly on the wall, no Polly Anna, and certainly has certain gravitas in the community. She’s up on the issues why the Liquid Natural Gas proposed port in Coos Bay, Jordan Cove, is wrong for that community and the state.

She alludes to the youth around the world, and in Newport, protesting for climate action. She applauds them.

In the end, her goal with LCCR is “to provoke structural change in government. In that sense, education is key to “give people the  opportunity to see government is not really there to protect their safety.”

“This is why I am here in Newport. I have good friends. I can do my painting. Work on community rights. People have to rise up for their most fundamental rights.”

In an Activist’s Own Words

Paul:  In a few sentences, explain what your philosophy is in terms of your life and your idea of what we as a species have to do on earth.

Maria:  My “philosophy” in terms of my life, if I have one, has to do with learning how to love better and better throughout life, to always live in such a way that I am actively learning something, and with doing things that are meaningful.  I don’t make a big distinction between work and entertainment.  I can have as much fun working as doing something conventionally called entertainment. Work can be, and should be, entertaining, and entertainment, for me, can be something that requires effort and is difficult to do.

What we as a species have to do on earth is a big question which I don’t know anyone knows how to answer.   There are a lot of things we, as a species, shouldn’t do.  We unfortunately learn about them as we witness ourselves doing them and causing harm to other species and our own.  So, what I think we as a species have to do on earth today is retrace our steps in many ways, and start living in a way that allows other species to live and flourish, even if that means relinquishing many comforts we take for granted today.

Paul:  If you could do some things over in your life, what would they be, and why?

Maria:  There are many things I would do differently and hopefully better.  But that happens to all of us.  We learn our lessons precisely because we cannot do those things again.  Don’t we?

Paul:  The value of art and the arts. Can you give us your take on that?

Maria:  Art is a translation of experience into something we can feelingly see, hear, or touch.   So, in a sense, it is experiencing life in another language or in a medium separate from ourselves.  It gives us a deeper connection with life, allowing us to renew our focus on it.  How it does that is a mystery, and mystery is a gift all by itself.

Paul:  If you could meet one person, alive or in history, who would that be, and what would you ask her or him?

Maria:  Maybe it would be a person who lived in pre-historic times.  I have always had a yearning to know what life was like then, and how people saw their lives, and what they thought about life.

Paul:  Homo sapiens is, unfortunately, through the lens of capitalism, an invasive species, with the concept of might makes right, the victors write the history, and those with power and money have always ruled. How do you reframe this for some of the young people you and I now see on the street, valiantly striking for climate change mitigation or awareness or change?

Maria:  I don’t have the answer to this question.  The harm to our beautiful planet home is being done at an alarming rate every day that passes.  What we can and desperately need to do is change that lens – capitalism – through which we see the world and make our choices in life.  We have to regroup, rethink ourselves as the caretakers of Mother Earth, who is growing old.  We have received from her for millennia and now it is time to give back, to ask for forgiveness.  Our social and government structures have to mirror that attitude.  Only that can allow Mother Earth to heal.  Only that way can we as a species have a future.

Paul:  If you were to have a tombstone, what would that say once you pass on? Write it!

Maria:  “We don’t know why we pass through. Let no step we take while here be wasted.”

An electronic umbilical cord

The lifeblood of alternative radio is sometimes the celebrity that they create among themselves. And on Monday, October 7, Lincoln County’s KYAQ radio station will welcome one of the biggest stars from the bottom of the dial as David Barsamian visits Newport, Oregon on his Rise Up and Resist tour.

Barsamian grew up in New York, the son of Armenian refugees who fled the genocide unleashed in Turkey by the Ottoman government from 1915 to 1917. More than 1.5 million people were murdered.

191004_oct_David-Barsamian-speaking-at-SLO-Grange-Hall.jpg

The 74 year old will be at Oregon Coast Community College talking to the Central Coast as part of his contribution to an evening of “inspiration.”

I will be drawing on not only my experiences, but those historical examples of people fighting back with sometimes dangerous and deadly consequences.

Barsamian and I talked via phone while he finished his regular bike ride and settled into one of his favorite Boulder, Colorado, coffee shops, Beleza, which in Portuguese means beautiful.

From growing up in the neighborhoods of New York, where he tells me he ditched school and barely graduated from high school, Barsamian enrolled in San Francisco State before dropping out after a year and then signing up to crew a Norwegian freighter out of San Francisco. He ended up in East and Southeast Asia for two years and then three years in India.

He learned the sitar, and embedded himself in the cultural cornucopia of India.  “I was surrounded by some of that country’s greatest musicians and poets”, he said. “I learned so much, including Urdu, Hindi and Bengali. It was like getting a graduate education in South Asian Studies.”

He got back to the US in 1970, finding work in Pakistani and Indian restaurants playing sitar, as well as teaching English to private students first in Rockefeller Center and later in the World Trade Center.

While David Barsamian is not a household name, his Alternative Radio out of KGNU-Boulder is syndicated to more than 250 stations in the country. He has interviewed heavy hitters of the intellectual, writer, scholarly variety, again, many not household names.

Barsamian is a touchstone for most supporters of alternative radio — sort of like IF Stone for some, or Studs Terkel for others, and really more like a cross between Edward R. Murrow and Gore Vidal.

Mile High With a Sitar and Eastern Sensibility

We are talking 1978, when he ended up in Boulder just after the radio station opened. Barsamian volunteered at the public station, making a living teaching ESL, Hindi and performing music. His first show was a music program, “Ganges to the Nile.” His sitar playing and knowledge of India and Eastern music helped.

Alas, when I ask Barsamian if there was a moment in his life when he realized he would be following a path less traveled in the US, he tells me there isn’t.

I’ve been a rebel since I can remember. I’ve always questioned authority, beginning with my parents. With the shadow of genocide hanging over our family, I wanted to learn more.

That included reading books at a young age, and listening to talk shows on the radio coming from his hometown, New York City.

Radio back then was quite a sober affair. Nothing like what we have now with all this shouting and screaming.

He has stated many times that founding Alternative Radio was his personal attempt to meet the goals of public broadcasting:

To serve as a forum for controversy and debate. To provide a voice for groups that may otherwise be unheard.

As an activist myself, I am always challenged with bringing voices like Barsamian’s to my communities – homeless veterans, just-released prisoners, students in military compounds, adults in night school at the many community colleges where I have taught.

In a kind of parallel universe, David Barsamian states the same rational I have used to bring great voices and minds – many times very alternative, outside the box – to my clients and students as he too purports his battle is against mainstream media oversimplifying debate and shutting out so many important voices. “It was unacceptable that many of this country’s greatest and most articulate radical voices had no forum on public radio”, Barsamian said. “Alternative Radio was created to be the vehicle for progressive perspectives that are otherwise ignored or given short shrift.”

Radio Waves on the Pacific

For Franki Trujillo-Dalbey, board president of KYAQ-91.7 FM and sponsor of Barsamian’s trip to Newport, there are not enough alternative voices out there giving listeners a sense of other countries’ perspectives and the unfiltered history of our own country.

Trujillo-Dalbey proudly states this is the third trip to the Central Coast for this radio personality who also has more than 20 books and a few documentary credits to his name.

A regular contributor to Sun Magazine, Barsamian just finished an interview of Bill McKibben, author of the 1989 book, The End of Nature, and one of the co-founders of 350.org.

Drawing from that October Sun Magazine interview of McKibben on the heels of the release of this environmentalist’s new book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? Barsamian poses a rhetorical point sure to be broached liberally at his October 7 talk in Newport:

In your new book, Falter, you talk about how scientists at both Exxon and NASA confirmed that climate change was occurring back in the 1980s.

The radio personality declares he has limited time for a telephone interview, as he is working on an essay by an Iranian writer for a new book of essays ReTargeting Iran — interviews with Ervand Abrahamian, Christopher de Bellaigue, Noam Chomsky, Nader Hashemi, Trita Parsi and Laura Secor. “At the Newport event I hope to be drawing on the energy and strength from voices like these and others questioning authority and the status quo”, he said.

An electronic umbilical cord

I had just listened to Vijay Prashad, director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and chief editor of LeftWord Books, on Democracy Now, aired daily on KYAQ. His latest article for Salon is headlined, “World leaders gather at the UN in the face of war, climate catastrophe & global worker exploitation.”

That was a 10-minute interview. David Barsamian just completed a two-hour interview with Prashad, talking about Kashmir, the eco-crisis, neoliberalism’s attack on all sectors of the world, “and a whole range of international issues.”

We talk about Vijay being one of the amazing contemporary voices with deep intellectual acumen and knowledge of a vast range of issues.

“Vijay is in the same mold as Tariq Ali and Edward Said.” Tariq is a British political activist, writer, journalist, historian, filmmaker and public intellectual. He is a member of the editorial committee of the New Left Review and Sin Permiso. Said (1935-2003) was a professor of literature at Columbia University, a public intellectual, and a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies. A Palestinian American born in Palestine, he was a citizen of the US by way of his father, a US Army veteran.

There is no mincing words when one broaches the Donald Trump presidency and chaos to Barsamian:  “Trump is taking up too much oxygen in the room,” he said. “I am more concerned with Christian radical Mike Pence (Vice President) waiting in the wings.

For several decades, 90-year-old Noam Chomsky — author of more than a hundred books, MIT linguistics scholar and considered the left’s go-to public intellectual – has been featured on Barsamian’s shows and in the related books of collected Chomsky-Barsamian interviews.

I was just with him in Tucson, and Noam didn’t miss a beat. He was razor sharp in 80 minutes.

The Chomsky-Barsamian radio relationship started more than 33 years ago, with Barsamian’s show, “Hemispheres,” a political program. It was a two-and-a-half-hour program with Noam Chomsky which Barsamian uplinked to the public radio satellite. Back then, most radio stations preferred half-hour or one-hour segments, although a few stations picked up the program. It was that long conversation with Chomsky that birthed Alternative Radio.

For many followers of Barsamian, they know he has accolades for Bernie Sanders, presidential candidate and senator from Vermont. “I interviewed him when he was first elected to the House of Representatives, when he was still mayor of Burlington.” Barsaminan, however, doesn’t spend much time interviewing politicians because, in his words, they already have a platform and bully pulpit.

Country Roads, He Calls Home

Boulder, Colorado, has been more than a radio station location for Barsamian. He calls it home, and is seeing more locals developing socialist collectives, community supported agriculture and farmers markets, co-housing, or collective housing.

For Barsamian, it may be two steps forward and three steps backward for progressives. However, he sees righteousness in the struggle. He quoted American statesman Daniel Webster:

Justice, sir, is the great interest of man on Earth. It is the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together.

The list of people on Barsamian’s radio show is impressive – Vandana Shiva, Arundhati Roy, Ralph Nader, Edward Said and so many others. Interviewing his mother, Araxie, and other witnesses of the Armenian Genocide was a pivotal moment.

The genocide trauma his mother expressed was what Barsamian calls the most difficult interview of his life. However, that discomfort helped him heal and his mother deal with difficult personal and political history.

From that day forward, Barsamian dedicated his life to listening to unheard voices. While those voices are definitely important to true democracy, as Howard Zinn wrote in the Peoples’ History of the United States and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes in  An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, this retelling gives the narrator holistic healing through the very conduit of communication. “I have been lucky to have connected with a whole galaxy of social activists and authors”, Barsamian tells me. “It is a kind of a gift of an electronic umbilical cord.”

For anyone interested in a deeper look at the construction and deconstruction of American democracy, David Barsamian has had a front row seat with history makers. He has been one of the clearer voices critiquing American media, also known as the press:

Corporate media are largely weapons of mass distraction. Language is manipulated to manufacture consent and to limit the bounds of permissible thought. A golden Rolodex of so-called experts produces a mono-chromatic one-note samba of drivel. That’s one reason I started Alternative Radio out of my house many years ago. You can’t simply whine and complain. You need to come up with positive alternatives that give people hope.

Note: For anyone willing to take a ride on the alternative side, and push aside American exceptionalist mythology, curb blind patriotism and listen to someone who has been with history’s great minds, coming out to the Newport, Oregon, event, 7 p.m. on Monday, October 7, at Oregon Coast Community College, 400 SE College Way, will be well worth the suggested $10 donation at the door.

Impact on Yemeni Attack on Saudi ARAMCO Oil Facilities

PressTV Interview with Peter Koenig
15 September 2019

Enhanced and partial transcript of a PressTV Interview

Background

Saudi Arabia says the recent drone attacks on the state-run oil company Aramco led to a temporary closure of its facilities and disrupted the kingdom’s oil production and exports.

[Saudi] Energy Minister, Abdulaziz bin Salman said the attacks led to the interruption in production of an estimated five-point-seven million barrels of crude per day. The amount is equivalent to five percent of the daily global supply of crude oil. Meanwhile, Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, said his country is willing and able to deal with Saturday’s drone strikes. Also, the U-S secretary of state has accused Iran of being behind the recent attacks. Mike Pompeo claimed there is no evidence to prove that the attacks were launched from Yemen. He was actually adamant about blaming Iran for the attack, without any shred of proof. This is while Yemen’s Ansarullah movement [the Houthis] has claimed responsibility for the drone strikes.

Saudi stocks dropped dramatically following drone strikes on two Aramco facilities by Yemeni forces; an attack that halved the kingdom’s crude production.

Saudi shares have dropped three percent after Yemeni drone attacks on two major state-run Aramco oil facilities knocked out more than half the kingdom’s production.

Saudi Energy Minister, Abdulaziz bin Salman said the attacks led to the interruption in production of an estimated five-point-seven million barrels of crude per day. The amount is equivalent to five percent of the daily global supply of crude oil. Yemeni forces launched the massive drone attack in response to the Saudi-led coalition war that has lasted for more than 4 years on the impoverished nation on Saturday.

PressTV:  Could you please comment on the consequence of this reduction in the oil supply by Saudi Arabia?

Peter Koenig:  First, let’s make one thing crystal clear.  Mr. Pompeo is a flagrant liar, has been in the past with everything he says against his own fabricated enemies, and he will very unlikely change, as the type of his hawkish aggressive warrior character will not change. Therefore, everything Pompeo says and pretends with such assurance that most people realize it’s a fabricated lie as he did not – and never does – provide any evidence. Therefore, whatever he says and pretends to be the truth without evidence has to be taken with more than a grain of salt.

In fact, immediately blaming Iran for the drone attack on ARAMCO is without any foundation; it is an outright lie, just to put more dirt on Iran, to further denigrate Iran. It is very clear to me – who have worked for 7 years in Yemen – that the Houthis have the capacity to develop their own drones.  They have a flying range potential of at least 1,000 km.

It is very simple and very logical. The Houthis are gradually getting their strength back and are revenging themselves for the horrendous aggression launched for more than 4 years by the Saudis against their country — of course, with staunch support from the US, UK and the French.

Let’s just remind ourselves that inhuman abhorrent aggression has cost tens of thousands of Yemeni lives — most of them children, women and the elderly and weak — from direct bomb attacks, from famine, and from cholera and other sanitation-related diseases. Today still a million people are at risk of a cholera epidemic.

Having said this, the consequences or impact of a 5% oil output reduction due to the burning ARAMCO wells is insignificant. Of course, speculators – the Goldman Sachs type, who are the chief manipulators behind oil prices – would like you to believe that this is ample ground for hefty fuel price increases.  In reality not at all.

Of course, in our predatory capitalist world, the stock market wheelers and dealers may try to cash-in on this event – which in reality has – or should have – zero impact on the world oil supply.

This shortfall could easily be made up by lifting sanctions on Iranian and Venezuelan oil sales… so it’s just a question of logics and foremost of justice, international law and Human Rights.

PressTV:  What about the fragility of the Saudis military power?

PK:  Of course, the Saudi military power is nothing without the full support and guidance, by weapons and technical and strategic advice directly from the Pentagon, CIA, and the European vassals, and, of course, from weapon manufacturers and weapon sales sharks in the UK and in France.

The Saudis from day one – in October 2015 – were just launching a proxy war for the US against Yemen. Yemen has a key strategic location in the Gulf and Middle East, and also off-shore deep hydrocarbon deposits, and god forbid, may not be ruled by a people-friendly — a socialist leaning government. For the last 50-some years Yemen was ruled by a US puppet, or puppets, which was okay for the US, but once people got tired of injustice and corruption, they decided to dispose their nefarious regime and replace it with the popular Houthi movement.

When the Saudis agreed in the early 1970’s as head of OPEC and on behalf of OPEC, to sell crude only in US-dollars, the US Administration offered them in turn “forever” military protection in the form of multiple military bases in the Saudi territories. Without this protection, the Saudis would not have survived as long as they did with their horrendous discriminatory and corrupt government and, of course, without that protection, OPEC may not have stuck to the “dollar-only” rule to trade hydrocarbons.  We might be in another world today, but we really don’t know how dynamics might have worked out.

Iran: A Club of Sanctioned Countries in Solidarity Against US Economic Terrorism

PressTV Interview – transcript

Background links:
https://ifpnews.com/iranian-mps-propose-formation-of-club-of-sanctioned-countries
https://www.newsweek.com/russia-china-iran-fight-sanctions-1458096

Excerpts:

An Iranian parliamentary faction has come up with the idea of establishing a club of sanctioned countries for concerted action against the US economic terrorism.

The chairman of the Parliament’s faction on countering sanctions, Poormokhtar, gave a report on the formation of the faction and its activities, as well as the ongoing efforts to establish the club of sanctioned countries. Iran’s FM, Zaraf, said this would be enhancing the already existing alliance of Russia, China, Syria, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela against US economic terrorism.

PressTV:  Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela are among the nations that have come out against the United States’ use of sanctions to enforce its foreign policy around the world. In what ways can they fight these US sanctions as a group?

Peter Koenig: Brilliant idea!  Solidarity makes stronger and eventually will attract other countries who are sick and tired of the US sanction regime, and since they have the backing of Russia and China, that’s a very strong alliance, especially an economic alliance. The sanction regime can only be broken through economics, meaning decoupling from the western monetary system. I said this before and say it again, at the risk of repeating myself.

After all, China is the world’s largest and strongest economy in Purchasing Power GDP measures which is the only comparison that really counts. I believe this solidarity alliance against US sanctions is certainly worth a trial.

And personally, I think it will be a successful trial, as more countries will join, possibly even non-sanctioned ones, out of solidarity against a common tyrant.

The countries in solidarity against sanctions, in addition to ignoring them — and the more they ignore them, the more other countries will follow-suit — that’s logical as fear disappears and solidarity grows.

For example, Iran and Venezuela, oil exporting countries, could accompany their tankers by war ships. Yes, it’s an extra cost, but think of it as temporary and as a long-term gain. Would “Grace I” have been accompanied by an Iranian war ship the Brits would not have dared confiscating it. That’s for sure.

PressTV: Many of the US sanctions have led to death of civilians in those particular countries. At the same time, sanctions have also led to the improvement of these countries to the point where domestic production in various fields advanced. Don’t sanctions become country-productive to US aims?’

PK:  Of course, the sanctions are counter-productive. They have helped Russia to become food-self-sufficient, for example. That was not Washington’s intention and less so the intention of the EU, who followed Washington’s dictate like puppets.

Sanctions are like a last effort before the fall of the empire, to cause as much human damage as possible, to pull other nations down with the dying beast. It has always been like that  starting with the Romans through the Ottoman’s. They realize their time has come but can’t see a world living in peace. So they must plant as much unrest and misery as possible before they disappear

That’s precisely what’s happening with the US.

Intimidation, building more and more military bases, all with fake money, as we know the dollar is worth nothing – FIAT money – that the world still accepts but less and less so, therefore military bases, deadly sanctions, and trade wars. Trump knows that a trade war against China is a lost cause. Still, he can intimidate other countries by insisting on a trade war with China or that’s what he thinks.

PressTV: The more countries US sanctions, illegally, more people turn against the US: doesn’t that defeat the US so-called fight against terrorism and violence?

PK: Well, US sanction and the entire scheme of US aggression has nothing to do with fighting terrorism, as you know. It’s nothing but expanding US hegemony over the world, and if needed, and more often than not, the US finances terrorism to fight proxy wars against their so-called enemies, meaning anybody not conforming to their wishes and not wanting to submit to their orders and not letting them exploit – or rather steal – their natural resources.

Syria is a case in point. ISIL is funded and armed by the Pentagon, who buys Serbian produced weapon to channel them through the Mid-East allies to Syrian terrorists, the ISIL or similar kinds with different names — just to confuse.

Venezuela too – the opposition consist basically of US trained, financed and armed opposition “leaders” – who do not want to participate in totally democratic elections – order of the US – boycott them. But as we have seen as of this day, the various coup attempts by the US against their legitimate and democratically elected President, Nicolás Maduro, have failed bitterly, and this despite the most severe sanctions regime South American has known, except for Cuba, against whom the US crime has been perpetuated for 60 years.

So, nobody should have the illusion that Washington’s wars are against terrorism. Washington is THE terrorist regime that fights for world hegemony.

Is a Rouhani-Trump Meeting Imminent?

PressTV Interview Transcript
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qsp1UcXqEo&feature=youtu.be

Peter Koenig
29 August 2019


Background

Tehran and Washington have been locked in a dispute since last year when the US unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear agreement and re-imposed crippling sanctions on Iran. On Monday, President Donald Trump said he is ready to meet his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani within weeks after a G-7 leaders’ summit. The idea was proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron who was hosting the summit. But Rouhani said Washington must first lift sanctions imposed since its withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

*****

PressTV: Could you comment on Mr. Rouhani’s conditions for talks with President Trump?

Peter Koenig: Mr. Rouhani is right asking for lifting of sanctions as a principle, because Iran has never bypassed or violated the rules of the Nuclear Deal. The sanctions are a groundless punishment by Washington because Iran wants – and should – remain a sovereign country, not bowing to Washington.

It’s sheer economic terrorism.

However, let’s be realistic. The US, especially Trump who is dancing to the tunes of Netanyahu, will not just lift the sanctions. It would, in my opinion, be more constructive if Mr. Rouhani would ask for lifting of the most hurting sanctions – for example, the ban on importing crucial medication and medical equipment and other vital goods.

We know the US will not change behavior, especially under Trump, as long as they still feel they are the exceptional Nation, the undisturbed Empire. Never mind that the empire is rapidly declining. As long as they have a stranglehold, literally, on the western monetary system, that will not change.

That’s why I keep suggesting that Iran gradually but firmly and ever faster detach from the western economy and financial system, western banks, the use of dollars and euros – and shift to the East, becoming a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as quickly as possible, and trade in Chinese yuan.

Yes, Mr. Macron initiated the talks with Mr. Trump.

But, how shall I say this?  Macron is not trustworthy. He does what he thinks can serve himself, not even the French people, but him, his image as King Macron.

He wants to be the go-between, be friends with Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi, but also be friends with Trump. Whatever serves his megalo-image.

When something doesn’t go his way, doesn’t bolster his image, he will step back.

So better Iran goes her own way in direction East, where the future is.

And again with as little as possible dealing with the west.  As long as the US is in the driver’s seat, and as long as the US controls the western money flow, anybody not liked by the Master is vulnerable for sanctions. We see it all over the world.

Therefore, asking for partial lifting of sanctions, namely for vital goods, those that cause most harm to the Iranian people, like medical imports, may be a good initial strategy. Who knows, perhaps Trump goes along. And if not, Mr. Rouhani has at least tried, and a rejection by Trump would further tarnish his presidency.

Venezuela: “Landowners Persecute and Murder the Yukpa with Impunity”

The French journalist Angèle Savino lived in Venezuela for thirteen years, during which time she followed closely the conflict between the Yukpa and the major landowners. “After Chavez decided to hand over the land to the Yukpa, the assassinations ensued” – she confides. Convinced that in Venezuela, the indigenous struggle for land is also that of the peasants, Angèle Savino has long developed the idea of making a documentary that pays tribute to these men and women murdered with impunity. This documentary is called “Hau Yuru”. She tells us more in this interview.

*****

Alex Anfruns: To make your film, you have chosen the Sierra de Perijá — on the Colombian-Venezuelan border — and the indigenous community of the Yukpa who have always lived there. What is your relationship with this geography and its inhabitants?

Angèle Savino: It is almost a love story with this Yukpa community, from Chaktapa in the Sierra de Perijá. I met them exactly ten years ago on a trip I made with students from the Bolivarian University in that region. I was a radio journalist, I only had a small audio recorder and a camera, and I wanted to understand a little bit about the complexity of the conflict in the region. I had worked a lot as a press correspondent during Hugo Chavez’s mediation to achieve peace in Colombia. As a result, I wanted to understand more deeply the Colombian conflict and its indirect effects on the border. I had been working for several years with the indigenous people, first in Chile with the Mapuches, then with the indigenous people of Mexico in Oaxaca who had a community radio project and who were then imprisoned… To try to obtain their release, I accompanied some activists to the European Parliament in Brussels, for instance. I was already very much involved in the struggle of the indigenous people for their territory and their rights.

So I went with a group to the Sierra de Perijá region, after being deeply influenced by a conference at the Bolivarian University; the title of the conference was “The conflict as told by women”. At that moment I was greatly impressed by the testimony of Sabino Romero’s wife, his daughter, other women leaders in this community… and I decided to make that trip.

There I met them, and something magical happened: my last name is Savino and I discovered that there was an indigenous rebel leader named Sabino. Something very powerful happened at that moment. I accompanied them in their militant activity until the imprisonment of Sabino Romero. I had done a report for Radio France Internationale because I was working there at that time.

Angela Savino had a “magical” meeting with the rebel leader Yukpa Sabino Romero in 2009, in the Sierra de Perijá.

AA: It is known that in 1999 the Venezuelan Constitution granted rights to indigenous communities for the first time. Based on your experience with the Yukpa, would you say they are respected?

AS: In trying to understand this issue, I realized that in Venezuela there was a lot of talk about recognized indigenous rights; Chavez had been a voice for the recognition of indigenous rights, which helped to give them visibility… but I had the impression that everything was not so simple. I had previously been to the Pemones region and I realized that the issue of demarcating indigenous lands was a complex one.

When Sabino Romero came out of prison, Chávez realized that he too had his hands somewhat tied in relation to this land problem because there is a lot of interest in mining resources in this region, especially coal. Chávez, who was already sick in 2011, decided to hand over the land to the Yukpa. It was from that moment that the murders began. Sabino Romero was the first to be attacked, of course. In April 2012, he had escaped an assassination attempt, then he came to Caracas and I interviewed him there. I decided to make a film about him. He agreed.

At the end of 2012 there was another event: after Chávez’s re-election, the transfer of land had not progressed. Chavez may have ordered it, but there were alliances between the former minister of indigenous peoples and bureaucrats linked to the power of landowners and multinational mining companies, which blocked the transfer.

Sabino Romero went back to Caracas, accompanied by about fifty Yukpas. They tried to stop them from speaking, but all the social movements mobilized and it was finally broadcast on national television on November 9, 2012. He was received by William Castillo, the journalist who was president of VTV at the time. He expressed the contradictions of the Revolution but also his support for Chávez and his willpower. He said this phrase that I remember perfectly: “I am here to revolutionize the country and myself”. He insisted that he was a revolutionary and also a Chavista, but that he wanted to denounce absolutely the manipulations, the false officials, instrumentalised by certain branches of power, including some soldiers, bureaucrats, landowners, not to mention the complexity of the border with Colombia and paramilitaries.

AA: Can you tell us about the event you referred to earlier?

AS: Yes, it was Chavez’s speech known as the “golpe de timón “, with the slogan “communa o nada”, on October 20, 2012. During his fourteen years in power, Chavez spoke a lot about indigenous issues, but during this self-criticism he addressed them again. His speech took place just after a confrontation between the landowners and the Yukpa, on a piece of land that was to be handed over to them. Zenaida, Sabino’s daughter, had been injured.

After that, Chávez’s illness gave Sabino’s murderers an unimaginable opportunity to act with ease, since he had received protection from the state, but at the same time many decisions were focused on Chávez. When Sabino was on television, after years of censorship, perhaps he felt that with that media coverage he had finally been heard and that he had less need to protect himself.

He was assassinated shortly after, during the election of the new chief officers. He opposed the election of one of those caucuses, which was linked to the landowners to defend their interests. It was March 3, 2013, two days before Chávez’s death (emotion temporarily interrupts this conversation, NdR).

AA: We understand that this disappearance was what pushed you to follow the documentation of this conflict?

AS: Exactly. After that difficult moment, I decided to return there. Then something very important happened: I realised that the women who had always accompanied me were the protagonists of this silence. They had always been present. Since Sabino would no longer be able to speak, I addressed the women. I went to the Sierra, did some interviews in May 2013 and little by little I came up with the idea of making a film to tell the story of the journey of the Yukpa women, who would recall the key moments of their lives.

“Sabino lives, his struggle continues,” says Angèle Savino’s t-shirt, which still accompanies the Yukpa women’s struggle, ten years after the meeting.

This journey began in the Sierra de Perijá, where Lucía Romero, Sabino Romero’s wife, was born. It was also a return to the roots, but if the film started there, it was also because those mountains are not the place where the Yukpa originally lived, but where they were pushed by the landowners who seized the fertile lands.

The woman would tell of her childhood, her encounter with Sabino, her love story and then the descent to the lowlands. She would travel there with four other women: Anita, Sabino Romero’s cousin, who also fought hard for Yukpa rights. She is the chieftain of another community; Kuse. Four of his sons were murdered, one of them before the death of Sabino, who had been in prison with him. There is also Ana Maria, who is Anita’s daughter. And then Guillermina, the daughter of Sabino Romero, witness to the murder of his grandfather in 2008, Atancha José Manuel Romero. And one last character that was recently added, Marys, who is also Anita’s daughter. Initially, she was not in the script and then she prevailed, as she was the victim of a kidnapping in November 2018. She was tortured for a week and saved from death in extremis.

AA: Are you saying that the persecution of this community is still going on?

AS: Yes, the current situation related to the economic crisis has led to an increase in cattle trafficking to Colombia. It is a place of passage and the conflict is still very strong. This makes the situation quite complex if we want to understand what happened more recently…

AA: Mining companies are present in this border region, both in Colombia and Venezuela. Can you elaborate on their impact in the region?

AS: The Sierra de Perijá is a geographical area located at the end of the Colombian Cerrejón, which is the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America and one of the largest in the world. This area contains high quality coal, which is being sold at a higher price, but there is not only coal. As Sabino explained, there is also gold, uranium, lime and oil, of course. Obviously, there are many interests at stake.

It is said that Chávez was born of the “Caracazo”. Well, Sabino Romero was born out of an encounter with an environmental activist named Lusbi Portillo who founded the NGO Homo et Natura, which was criminalized by the government for years. She was accused of being a cover for the CIA, etc. That was nonsense. This encounter between Sabino and Portillo was a very important moment, Portillo was a professor at the university and helped in the fight against coal mining, which had begun with the Wayuu people of the northern Sierra de Perijá. In the area near the Guajira there are two open-pit coal mines that have completely destroyed the area and the Wayuu have been decimated. There have been many illnesses related to coal mining, with the displacement of populations, of course. This left a mark on Sabino Romero, who said to himself: “I don’t want this to happen to my community”. This is also a story of awareness of the indigenous people and in particular of Sabino Romero, which was an outstanding case.

What is certain is that it is a region very rich in mineral resources and, in addition, it is part of the IIRSA (Infrastructure for the Integration of Latin America) axis. It is a huge project of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, which plans to build highways and river highways throughout Latin America. This is one of the reasons for the TIPNIS (Indian Territory and Isiboro-Secure National Park in Spanish, NdR) conflict in Bolivia. Chávez himself signed this convention in 2000 in Canada. He had just been elected president, he could not do anything else because it was something so big that he could not afford to oppose it, and he was not supported by other presidents, ALBA did not exist! This IIRSA axis affects both Colombia and Venezuela.

AA: And precisely what is the relationship between these companies and the Venezuelan state?

AS: When I discovered this conflict in 2009, there was something very special about it. The indigenous people had managed to reach an agreement with the landowners. The Cattlemen’s Association said: “It’s okay that they keep part of their land, but we need them to pay compensation: for years we’ve been producing on this land, etc.”. So this harmed the government in some way.

I even asked Chávez: “Can the demarcation of the land and the payment of compensation resolve the conflict in the Sierra de Perijá? And he replied quite rightly: “If we have to pay compensation, we will do so in some cases, but we must not forget that the owners have to leave, because they are the only ones who have appropriated the indigenous lands, it is not us”. It sounds good in words, but, in fact. it is more complicated. Chávez always said “Indians first”. The second is the state and the third is those who came after: the cattle ranchers, the displaced peasants from Colombia, the Wayuu too … So it is a complex situation.

One of the possibilities to demarcate the indigenous land and hence avoid future exploitation of mineral resources was to pay compensation to the farmers in the context of land demarcation. This is where the conflict occurred. There was already a “revolutionary bourgeoisie”, which unfortunately is increasingly visible at this time in Venezuela. The Minister of Agriculture himself uses this term, and enrages the peasants who are being evicted from their lands by the landowners in complicity with certain governors. Because the conflict between indigenous people and peasants is the same. A few days ago, the anniversary of the admirable Peasant March of 2018 was celebrated, and the situation is unchanged or worse: 25 peasants were killed in one year and more than 300 since 2001.

Two months after the murder of Sabino Romero, the state finally paid compensation for the lands of Chaktapa. But Kuse’s lands have not yet been demarcated. The landowners see themselves as the legitimate owners of these lands, and persecute and murder the Yukpa with impunity. On the issue of mineral resources, there is complicity between certain members of the government, the military, the landowners and the paramilitaries, of course. It is a zone of no rights. Natural resources are extremely attractive.

To return to the subject of this conflict and especially the case of Marys, she was kidnapped and tortured by a landowner who wanted to recover her land. In 2008, her mother received a loan from Chávez to raise cows and make cheese. The landowner hired Yukpas to create a conflict within this ethnic group, as well as guerrillas. After her kidnapping, Marys was received by the country’s deputy prosecutor, the Ministry of Education, the Minister of Communes, former vice-president Elias Jaua also received her… She was strongly supported by the institutions of the Revolution that want impunity to end; but the most urgent issue today is to establish a peace dialogue among the Yukpa themselves. Those who benefit from this conflict are the landowners, and they like to see them kill each other. And the Yukpa are Caribs, they are warriors, they are very combative. This negotiating table must be established, as in the case of the war in Colombia, and there must be a demarcation of indigenous lands so that natural resources cannot be exploited. It depends on the good will of President Nicolás Maduro.

AA: Since July 30, 2017, there is a Constituent Assembly, whose objective is to improve the 1999 Constitution. There is also a Minister of People’s Power for Indigenous Peoples, Aloha Nuñez. What is your impression of the debates taking place in this constituent process?

AS: It’s quite complicated. Aloha Núñez has received Marys Fernández, the latest victim of this conflict. But the institutions are not present on the ground. The message does not reach its destination. When Sabino Romero’s son and his mother return to the Governorate of Maracaibo, they are ignored. The activists in Caracas have a network of support in the institutions to welcome these women organized in the association Oripanto Oayapo Tuonde (women for the defense of the territory) and it is in this context that they manage to be received. Last time, she came with all the witnesses of her kidnapping to testify in front of the Public Ministry, in Caracas, because the Machiques prosecutor’s office is completely corrupted by the landowners who have real power in this region. Those connections also exist in Maracaibo. It is complicated, you have to constantly be moving to achieve justice.

What we are asking Aloha Nuñez today is to facilitate this dialogue. Because today there are divisions among the Yukpa. And these divisions are linked to the fact that the landowners have formed their own indigenous groups that defend their oppressors.

AA: To make the story of your film, you let yourself be guided by these Yukpa women. In your opinion, the transmission of a collective and feminine voice is capable of bringing something that has not been seen or heard until now?

AS: That’s right, that’s exactly what it is. Lucía is an incredible woman, she is a fighter. The film could be about her, but I chose a women’s collective because I think she’s not the only woman fighting. Despite being Sabino’s wife, Lucía has never been behind him, she is a woman with a very strong character, who certainly doesn’t speak very good Spanish. In my filming I will ask her to tell her story in Yukpa, because it is obvious that it is not the usual way to tell it. Women’s voices are essential: they have a different way of describing conflict, because as women with children, they carry life within them. It is also their children who will be able to continue Sabino Romero’s struggle.

Furthermore, if we speak in the more general context of the Bolivarian Revolution, where white, black, Indian, peasant and working women have appropriated power… I think they have learned how to say to themselves: “We can also speak, we can also fight for our land”. It is true that Lucía, Anita and Carmen are women brimming with a force that leaves us breathless. Four of their children have been murdered and they are still standing! They have a special feminine perspective: they are mothers, daughters, widows. Guillermina is a woman who lost two murdered husbands, Ana María had three murdered brothers. They are the ones who continue, because there are no more men in these lands. Their words are really important.

“In the US Prison Industrial Complex, slavery can be used as form of punishment”

On the 31st July 2019 a group of incarcerated people at Scotland Correctional, North Carolina, started a hunger strike in order to protest against the use of torture in the correctional facility. In the United States, there are more than 2 million people incarcerated. To know more about the hunger strikers’ conditions, Alex Anfruns has interviewed a member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. 

 *****

Alex Anfruns:  How many incarcerated people are taking this action?

Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee:  To my knowledge, the hunger strike began with an estimated 6 people on July 31st. The razor wire plantation masters, aka authorities, have acted worse than even expected. They have flat out denied that the prisoners’ rights have been violated and have completely lied stating that there is no such hunger strike occurring.

This is a typical story, though.  The authorities lie all of the time, and everybody knows that. Just ask anyone who has a loved one behind bars. Scotland Correctional even goes so far as to state that the prisoners are “treated well”.

AA:  Could you please tell us about those torture complaints?

IWOC:  Let’s look at just a brief history really quick:

– “Only 1 hour of recreation. Without proper exercise, fresh air, and movement an individual develops a mentality like a caged animal. She and the admins here have created a very hostile environment and seem to enjoy it. ”

– “Does anyone have any loved ones at Scotland Correctional Institution in North Carolina? I do, and out of all of the ones my son has been too (sic) this one is the pit of hell.”

Scotland Correctional Medical Neglect

– The other picture is of a correctional officer from Scotland Correctional Institute, in Laurinburg, that reads “Feeling cute…might spray ya baby daddy.”

– A list of a number of cases filed against Scotland Correctional

AA: Have you got any support from other organizations? And how is the local media reacting to the hunger strike?

IWOC: There have been so many supporters it has been overwhelming! Just to name a few: Perilous Chronicle, San Francisco Bay View, Unheard Voices O.T.C.J., Solitary Watch, PANIC – Prison Abolitionists of Nassau Inciting Change, DSA.

Local media has been receptive to getting the perspective of those incarcerated and facing the direct repression. People faced with incarceration are more than capable of representing themselves and sharing with us the atrocities that occur daily inside these razor wire plantations. However, correspondence between those taking part in this hunger strike has been non-existent. They are all being held in the Security Housing Units (SHU aka solitary confinement) where they are already not allowed any phone calls and as a further hindrance their mail has been intercepted. Several letters have been sent in to some of these hunger strikers and there has yet to be a response since the hunger strike began on July 31st. At this point, family and friends are extremely concerned about the hunger strikers’ health and the retaliation that they are obviously faced with. They have been put on lockdown and have been severely beaten. All for protesting non-violently in attempts to expose the administration’s violations.

We should all remember a hunger strike is a form of protest in which one person sacrifices their own well-being for the well-being of the whole, truly such an earnest display of empathy and humanity by the prisoners unites them all. The monsters continue to be the prison administration and its employees who have refused to give us any updates on the conditions of the hunger strikers.

Hunger strike or not, Scotland leaves families in the dark as far as the health and whereabouts of their loved ones caged inside. This is a story most people with loved ones inside can relate to. When one hears about a stabbing inside or dead prisoner without further identifying information, naturally wouldn’t you call in concerned to know if it was your child, significant other, or parent? Most often, administration will straight away hang up in your face. This is no surprise to those directly impacted by this horrific prison industrial complex.

AA: We know there is a profit-making approach in US prisons. How would you define the workers’ conditions in the US state prisons?

IWOC: Here in the South, there are a number of states that do not pay a dime to the prisoners for their labor. This is straight up slavery. However, for those states that do pay the prisoners cents to a dollar an hour, this is also slavery as making a few cents is a joke in this day and age. Especially when these people are being forced to work days on end just to have basic needs like toothpaste and hygiene products. The prices of these items on commissary are exorbitant and made inaccessible to most already impoverished undeserved populations such as the many who have experienced the school to prison pipeline or are victims of a white supremacist society who already suffer constant profiling, policing, and harassment directed at those living in communities below the national poverty level.

Here in North Carolina, there is a further restrictive factor to saving up money to afford basic necessities in the prison commissary: In February, an abrupt law came into effect in which the only visitors you can have and the only people who can put money on your books are immediate family members. For those with no support from their immediate family, this leaves them no choice but to be without hygiene products, health care, food, or phone calls but also forces them into this slave labor. As we all know by now, the 13th amendment has long since legalized slavery in the U.S. stating that slavery can be used as form of punishment.

Exploitative prison labor is used by the following companies in North Carolina. Just to name a few: AT&T, Walmart, Whole Foods, Abbott Laboratories, Autozone, Bank of America, Bayer, Cargill, Caterpillar, Chevron, Costco, John Deere, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, International Paper, Johnson & Johnson, Sears, Koch Industries, Mary Kay, Merck, Motorola, Pfizer, ConAgra Foods, Starbucks, United Airlines, UPS, Verizon, Wendy’s.

AA: How do you think that mass incarceration is affecting the US society, especially to Afro-American and Hispanic people?

IWOC: In the United States, there are more than 2 million people incarcerated1 and roughly 70% of them are people of color.2  I’d like to acknowledge that there are lots of undeserved “white” people incarcerated as well. It is very much a class issue, that all races should unite against.

The Prison Industrial Complex is a profiteering social control apparatus that serves to keep the most revolutionary voices silenced and disappeared from the communities that they come from. Angela Davis says it best: “The penal system as a whole does not produce wealth. It devours the social wealth that could be used to subsidize housing for the homeless, to ameliorate public education for poor and racially marginalized communities, to open free drug rehabilitation programs for people who wish to kick their habits, to create a national health care system, to expand programs to combat HIV, to eradicate domestic abuse — and, in the process, to create well-paying jobs for the unemployed.” …”the prison has actually operated as an instrument of class domination, a means of prohibiting the have-nots from encroaching upon the haves.”3

Post-scriptum: The following is a thank you letter and update from a hunger striker within the prison walls of Scotland Corrections:

August 11, 2019
Revolutionary Love

Komrade is more than a friend, it’s a title given to one who struggles with you and makes sacrifices to assure their Komrade knows they have a Komrade. 

So thank you Komrades all of you who took the time to shine a strobe light on the inhumane living conditions myself and others were being subjected to. When unconscious prisoners see that there are people who care about us, their morale and desire to join the struggle reach unforeseen heights. 

Love and Solidarity was what motivated you all and know we are grateful for all the time and energy that was put in to let these miscreants know that we have people that love us despite our flaws. When outside support is shown, these miscreants think twice before they move on us. 

We knew there would be reprisals and I was the victim of them, but I gladly take them with pride knowing that my fellow prisoner can enjoy exercise outside his cell five days a week and be offered a phone call every 90 days. 

Since the calls were made, Captain Henderson has been in the process of addressing our complaints. She let it be known that it wouldn’t be done overnight, but the recreation was rectified immediately, we’re still waiting to hear from her on the phone calls which must be provided once every 90 days. They are obviously not complying with their own policies and procedures. This negligence on behalf of the prison staff is nothing new and there’s still a mile to walk but with the support of ya’ll on the outside we don’t have to walk the mile alone. 

Fellow Komrade
Hunger Striker
Held captive by the state at Scotland Correctional Institution

  1. As far as North Carolina goes, NC is more than at max capacity. Today, North Carolina’s incarceration rates stand out internationally.
  2. In NC people of color are over-represented in the carceral system (p.i.c.).
  3. History is a Weapon: Masked Racism:  Reflections on the Prison Industrial System and “Political Prisoners, Prisons, and Black Liberation

An Interview with Daniel Kovalik

In his last book on Venezuela, Daniel Kovalik, a lawyer and a long standing friend of Latin American people in countries such as Colombia and Central America, is tearing away the veil of war propaganda: “The humanitarian part of the intervention is now barely a fig leaf for the real and usual intention – the control of another country’s oil supplies“. To know more about the ins and outs of The Plot To Overthrow Venezuela, we have interviewed author Mr. Kovalik.

 *****

Alex Anfruns: In a chapter of your book on the birth of the Bolivarian Revolution, you point at some historical figures from the pre-revolution period that have been concealed to the western public opinion. I quote an excerpt: “A report mentions that critical poverty had tripled from 11% of the population in 1984 to 33% in 1991, meaning that only 57%” of Venezuelans could afford more than one meal a day”. Which conclusion should we draw if we compare those figures to the situation that has prevailed the last 20 years of Bolivarian government?

Daniel Kovalik: Certainly between 1999, when Hugo Chavez became president, until 2015, the government did a great job of eradicating poverty and extreme poverty; of building houses, providing free education to children – which also included a hot meal every day, etc.  So that was a real critical piece of Bolivarian Revolution. They struggled after 2015 with those social programs because of the lowering of oil prices — which was done intentionally by Saudi Arabia and the United States beginning in 2014 — and then, because of the sanctions that were imposed on 2015 and have been ramped up ever since.

But even in spite of the sanctions, the government has made huge efforts to get food to people through the CLAP program (Local Committees for Supply and Production in Spanish) and it continues to build housing for people. It has built 2.5 million housing units. The gains of the revolution continue to exist, but the sanctions are certainly cutting into them.

AA: You also highlight the rights that Venezuelan government has given back to the Afro-descendant and indigenous people, the majority of which are supporting the revolution. Could you draw a comparison with the situation of these people in the US and how their specifical rights are being treated there?

DK: Well, there is really no comparison, because indigenous groups in the US have been treated in a horrible way. Since the initial years of the US, the attacks against indigenous peoples can only be described as genocidal. It was an extreme genocidal violence against them. And still, to this day, you have massive amounts of poverty amongst the indigenous peoples in this country  – the suicide rate is huge; you have situations in which indigenous children are taken away from their families on a huge scale. In truth, indigenous peoples have been pushed to the margins of society, where they remain.

In Venezuela, on the other hand, the government made a huge attempt, since the Bolivarian Revolution in 1999, to enshrine the rights of indigenous peoples in the Constitution, not only to recognize their languages but actually to preserve them.  They have gone out of their way to create programs to preserve indigenous languages. They gave stolen land back to indigenous peoples.

So I mean the differences in both countries are very stunning, and similarly with Afro-descendants! This country (the US), of course, was built on trade slavery, and then there was Jim Crow and legal segregation, and still today African Americans are living much worse than the rest of the population in terms of poverty, hunger, and access to social services and critical infrastructure. You have disproportionately high rates of infant mortality, maternal mortality amongst African Americans. And there is the huge rate of incarceration of African Americans in this country. The first thing to say about this is that the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world — in both absolute numbers and by percentage of the population. Over 2.2 million people in this country are incarcerated, and about 40% of those are African Americans even though they only make up around 14% of the total population. So you see, African Americans are still being greatly oppressed in this country.

And again in Venezuela, the Bolivarian Revolution has given land back to Afro-descendants, has recognized their rights as a people, in a way which really didn’t exist before the revolution. And that’s the reason why Afro-Venezuelans and indigenous people are supporting the government there. And, of course, it makes sense in many ways that the US government, which oppresses indigenous and Afro-descendants here, have aligned with the white elite in Venezuela to try to topple the government.

AA: Ex ambassador of the US in Venezuela has recently admitted it, in other words, explaining why a traditional military intervention couldn’t be put into practice in Venezuela contrarily to the case of Libya’s, for at least two reasons: the lack of rebel forces ready to overthrow the government, and the state of the public opinion, still not unanimous enough against Maduro. Can this “collapse strategy” benefit somehow the Venezuelan opposition or is it rather a political impasse?

DK: Obviously the goal is to destroy the Venezuelan economy and to blame all of this on the Venezuelan government, with the hopes to overthrow the government and bring the opposition into power. But even the opposition and Juan Guaido have recognized that, though they have supported that strategy, they have also recognized that if the economy is destroyed beyond repair — by sanctions and other means — then, how are they going to govern if they take power? So Juan Guaido, for example, asked Trump a few months ago to lift the international sanctions which prevent Venezuela from getting international financial assistance and loans. Again, he didn’t want to see the economy hurt so badly that he would inherit a mess if he came to power.  However, Trump turned him down on that.

So the point is even the opposition recognizes that the damage could be too great and could be irreparable. And indeed, we are seeing that the US is imposing such draconian sanctions on that country, that they really could destroy the economy in a way that it would be nearly impossible to repair. I don’t think this economic warfare is going to work to replace the Maduro government, but certainly it could destroy that nation.

By the way, that’s the alternative goal of the US.  If you look at US regime change operations throughout the years, if the US is unable to unseat the government it wants to unseat, it will accept as an alternative simply destroying the nation. Vietnam is a great example. The US knew at some point that it would not defeat the national liberation forces in Vietnam and so it simply proceeded to bomb that country to the stone age so as to leave them with nothing. If we look at Libya there is a similar situation, in Venezuela and Iran too.  The US would settle for just destroying which is quite shocking and obscene, and people should oppose it. But I do think we are witnessing that strategy being played out.

AA: Venezuelan government has denied there is a “humanitarian crisis”. On the contrary, the opposition has been using on purpose this concept, which is linked to the UN’s “responsibility to protect” norm that could lead to a military intervention. To which extent are US sanctions affecting Venezuelan people?

DK: There is a recent report that was put out by The Center for Economic Policy Research which was co-authored by Jeffrey Sachs, a very well-respected economist from Columbia University. They have concluded that at least 40 thousand Venezuelans have been killed by the sanctions since August 2017 when Trump imposed a very draconian round of sanctions which cut Venezuela off from the international financial markets. So they are virtually unable to get things like HIV medicine, dialysis equipment, chemotherapy medicines and food.

This report concludes that because of this, 40 thousand Venezuelans have died, and they also conclude that at least another 40 thousand or more will die this year.  So the sanctions have been very devastating for people there, which, of course, exposes the lie that this is a humanitarian operation. If you truly wanted a humanitarian operation, you wouldn’t intentionally cut people off from medicine and food.

AA: So, how has the Venezuelan government been dealing with them in order to protect its own people’s rights?

DK: What the government has done in response is the CLAP program in which it buys mostly locally grown food, and then provides it at very cheap cost to those who need it. For a long time they were providing food to people once a month, and now they are trying to do it every 15 days in order to make sure people are getting food. The government try to get medicines from the eastern market like China, Russia, Iran, because it can’t get them from the West. And again, incredibly the US now wants to sanction the CLAP program that is providing food for people. So this is an obvious attempt to starve the population. The hope of the US is that the Venezuelans cry uncle (specifically, Uncle Sam) and overthrow the government. This is a form of terrorism, clear and simple!

AA: A few people have denounced how the western public has been disinformed by propaganda in favor of a coup d’Etat during the first half of the current year. Do you think the debate about foreign issues in the US public opinion will evolve, specially now that there is a dialogue process between the Venezuelan government and the opposition?

DK: I can only speak about what is happening in the US, and in the US the press is very one-sided in its coverage of Venezuela. It barely covers the negotiations that have been taking place between the government and the opposition. Once it became evident that Juan Guaido was not going to succeed in overthrowing the government, the press just stopped covering Venezuela like they were covering it before.  Instead of trying to deal with the situation in an honest way, and reconsider whether this gambit of supporting Guaido was right to begin with, the media just moved on. The point is that it would be hard for most of Americans to be forced to reassess the situation, because the media isn’t giving them any information or any reason to rethink what’s happening there.

AA: In the 2000’s you have had a rich experience in defending Colombian trade unionists – there is a documentary film that talks about that. Nowadays we learn about the killing of Colombian social leaders on a daily basis, but it seems that this issue is not important enough to make big news…

DK: That’s another point that I mention in the book: if you look at Colombia, which is right next door to Venezuela, there are record numbers of social leaders being killed, including trade unionists. This year has been terrible for them, with about over 150 social leaders being killed in the last year, and that number is really climbing. There is massive displacement of people. Colombia has the largest internally displaced population on earth, at around 8 million people. And disproportionately, the displaced are Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples. So there is a terrible human rights record in Colombia, but again it’s not being covered in the press.

The press barely whispers anything about Colombia. So people don’t understand what the reality of Colombia is, especially as compared to Venezuela’s. The other thing that the media doesn’t talk about is the fact that 5.8 million Colombians are living in Venezuela. There has been a mass migration going the other way, from Colombia to Venezuela, which is not talked about. So people are then led to believe that Venezuela is a uniquely troubled country in the region when that is far from truth.

AA: In your opinion what is the importance of that country for the US, and what is your view on the future of the Colombian peace agreement?

DK: The government never honoured the peace agreement in a serious way. There has been 130 ex-FARC combatants murdered. The government has never halted the paramilitaries as it was required to do by the peace agreement. So the peace agreement is dead. That is a fact. Colombia is the US’s beach head in South America. The US operates from over at least 7 military bases there, its regime change operations for Venezuela are largely staged from Colombia. Some people say Colombia is the Israel of South America, the US’s surrogate in South America. That’s why the US is so protective of Colombia and gives it so much military aid, because that is where it projects power from.

The CIA is Global Capitalism’s Secret Gangster Army

Douglas Valentine is the author of the five works of non-fiction: The CIA as Organized Crime (2017), The Strength of the Pack (2009), The Strength of the Wolf (2004), The Phoenix Program (1990), and The Hotel Tacloban (1984); the novel TDY (2000); and a book of poems, A Crow’s Dream (2011). Also editor of the poetry anthology With Our Eyes Wide Open: Poems of the New American Century (2012).

To sum up The CIA as Organized Crime (review), outside of anti-imperial and/or socialist countries, Earth’s peoples live in a plasticine simulacrum of fake democracy and government/corporate controlled propaganda. The CIA has, since 1947, with almost limitless black funds from the sale of heroin, cocaine and weapons, effectively taken control of local, state and federal law and drug enforcement, judicial courts at all levels, the military, the White House, Congress, and executive departments, such as State, Justice, Treasury, Homeland Security, etc., not to mention maintaining an Orwellian grip on all important global media, such as TV, newspapers, magazines, Hollywood and the Internet. It runs secret armies and parallel governments in most of the world’s non-socialist countries, bribing, corrupting, blackmailing, extorting, assassinating and sabotaging supposed allies into servile submission, while working tirelessly to destroy any country that is not a whore for Wall Street and global capitalism, especially if they have exploitable natural and human resources. Look no further than China, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere across the planet.

Dr. Chris Wright: “Critical and Informed Thinking Is Dangerous to the Powerful”

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You wrote Worker Cooperatives and Revolution where you talk about workers’ cooperatives. In this fascinating book, we note your optimism about the coming of a new era where the human is at the center. You give the example of the cooperative New Era Windows, in Chicago. In your opinion, are we in a new era where the union of workers in the form of a cooperative will shape the future of the world?

Dr. Chris Wright: I think I may have been a little too optimistic in that book about the potential of worker cooperatives. On the one hand, Marx was right that cooperatives “represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new.” They’re microcosmic socialism, since socialism is just workers’ democratic control of economic activity, which is essentially what cooperatives are. Even in the large Mondragon firms that have seen some conflicts between workers and the elected management, there is still vastly more democracy (and more equal pay) than in a typical large capitalist enterprise.

Moreover, there’s an expanding movement in the U.S and elsewhere to seed new cooperatives and promote the transformation of existing capitalist firms into co-ops (which, incidentally, are often more productive, profitable, and longer-lasting than conventional businesses). Countless activists are working to spread a cooperative ethos and build a wide range of democratic, anti-capitalist institutions, from businesses to housing to political forms like participatory budgeting. (Websites like Shareable.net and Community-Wealth.org provide information on this movement.) This whole emerging “solidarity economy” is really what interested me when I was writing the book, though I focused on worker co-ops. I was struck that the very idea of a socialist society is just the solidarity economy writ large, in that all or the majority of institutions according to both visions are supposed to be communal, cooperative, democratic, and non-exploitative.

It’s true, though, that a new society can’t emerge from grassroots initiative alone. Large-scale political action is necessary, since national governments have such immense power. Unless you can transform state policy so as to facilitate economic democratization, you’re not going to get very far. Cooperatives alone can’t get the job done. You need radical political parties, mass confrontations with capitalist authorities, every variety of disruptive “direct action,” and it will all take a very, very long time. Social revolutions on the global scale we’re talking about take generations, even centuries. It probably won’t take as long as the European transition from feudalism to capitalism, but none of us will see “socialism” in our lifetime.

Marxists like to criticize cooperatives and the solidarity economy for being only interstitial, somewhat apolitical, and not sufficiently confrontational with capitalism, but, as I argue in the book, this criticism is misguided. A socialist transformation of the country and the world will take place on many levels, from the grassroots to the most ambitiously statist. And all the levels will reinforce and supplement each other. As the cooperative sector grows, more resources will be available for “statist” political action; and as national politics becomes more left-wing, state policy will promote worker takeovers of businesses. There’s a role for every type of leftist activism.

MA: Do you not think that the weakening of the trade union movement in the USA and elsewhere in the world further encourages the voracity of the capitalist oligarchy that dominates the world? Does not the working class throughout the world have a vital need for a great trade union movement?

CW: The working class desperately needs reinvigorated unions. Without strong unions, you get the most rapacious and misanthropic form of capitalism imaginable, as we’ve seen in the last forty years. Unions, which can be the basis for political parties, have always been workers’ most effective means of defense and even offense. In the U.S., it was only after the Congress of Industrial Organizations had been founded in the late 1930s that a mass middle class, supported by industrial unions with millions of members, could emerge in the postwar era. Unions were important funders and organizers of the American Civil Rights Movement, and they successfully pushed for expansion of the welfare state and workplace safety regulations. They can serve as powerful allies of environmentalists. It’s hard to imagine a livable future if organized labor isn’t resurrected and empowered.

But I don’t think there can be a return of the great postwar paradigm of industry-wide collective bargaining and nationwide social democracy. Capital has become too mobile and globalized; durable class compromises like that aren’t possible anymore. In the coming decades, the most far-reaching role of unions will be more revolutionary: to facilitate worker takeovers of businesses, the formation of left-wing political parties, popular control of industry, mass resistance to the global privatization and austerity agenda, expansion of the public sphere, construction of international workers’ alliances, etc.

Actually, I think that, contrary to old Marxist expectations, it’s only in the 21st century that humanity is finally entering the age of the great apocalyptic battles between labor and capital. Marx didn’t foresee the welfare state and the Keynesian compromise of the postwar period. Now that those social forms are deteriorating, organized labor can finally take up its revolutionary calling. If it and its allies fail, there’s only barbarism ahead.

MA: Your book Finding Our Compass: Reflections on a World in Crisis asks a fundamental question, namely, do we live in a real democracy?

CW: We certainly don’t. None of us do. The U.S. has democratic forms, but substantively it’s very undemocratic. Even mainstream political science recognizes this: studies have shown that the large majority of the population has essentially zero impact on policy, because they don’t have enough money to influence politicians or hire lobbyists. Practically the only way for them to get their voices heard is to disrupt the smooth functioning of institutions, such as through strikes or civil disobedience. We’ve seen this with the gilets jaunes protests in France, and we saw it when air traffic controllers refused to work and thus ended Donald Trump’s government shutdown in January 2019. We live in an oligarchy, a global oligarchy, which isn’t constrained much by the normal “democratic” process of voting.

But voting can be an important tool of resistance, especially if there are genuine oppositional candidates (like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example). In that case, society can start to become a little more democratic. So it remains essential for the left to organize electorally, even if it will take a while for there to be a big policy payoff.

MA: Do you not think a new crisis of capitalism is in progress? Does not the capitalist system generate crises?

CW: I’m not an economist, but anyone can see that capitalism has a deep-rooted tendency to generate crises. There’s a long tradition of Marxist scholarship explaining why crises of overproduction and underconsumption (among other causes) repeatedly savage capitalist economies; David Harvey, Robert Brenner, and John Bellamy Foster are some recent scholars who have done good work on the subject. A lot of it comes down to the fact that “excessive capitalist empowerment,” to quote Harvey, leads to “wage repression” that limits aggregate demand, which constrains growth. For a while the problem doesn’t really appear because people can borrow, and are forced to borrow more and more. But accumulation of debt can’t go on forever if there’s no growth of underlying income. Huge credit bubbles appear as borrowing gets out of control and capitalists invest their colossal wealth in financial speculation, and the bubbles inevitably collapse. Then things like the Great Depression and the Great Recession happen.

As horrible as economic crises are, leftists should recognize, as Marx did, that at least they present major opportunities for organizing. It’s only in the context of long-term crisis and a decline of the middle class that there can be a transition to a new society, because crisis forces people to come together and press for radical solutions. It also destroys huge amounts of wealth, which can thin the ranks of the hyper-elite. And the enormous social discontent that results from crisis can weaken reactionary resistance to reform, as during the 1930s in the U.S. (On the other hand, fascism can also take power in such moments, unless leftists seize the initiative.)

There is no hope without crisis. That’s the paradoxical, “dialectical” lesson of Marxism.

MA: You wrote an article about Obama’s mediocrity. Don’t you think that the current US President Donald Trump is competing with Obama in mediocrity?

CW: In the competition over who’s most mediocre, few people hold a candle to Trump. He’s just a pathetic non-entity, an almost impossibly stupid, ignorant, narcissistic, self-pitying, cruel, vulgar little embodiment of all that’s wrong with the world. He’s so far beneath contempt that even to talk about him is already to lower oneself. So in that sense, I suppose he’s a suitable ‘leader’ of global capitalism. Obama at least is a good family man, and he’s intelligent. But he’s almost as lacking in moral principles as Trump, and he has no moral courage at all. I don’t know what to say about someone who announced in 2014, as Israel was slaughtering hundreds of children in Gaza, that Israel has a right to defend itself, and went on to approve the shipment of arms to that criminal nation right in the midst of its Gaza massacre. He’s a self-infatuated megalomaniac without morality.

MA: You wrote in one of your articles that the US government considers its citizens as enemies by using generalized surveillance. Does not the real danger come from this system which spies on everyone?

CW: I think Glenn Greenwald is right that few things are more pernicious than an expansive “national security” state. Surveillance is a key part of it, facilitating the persecution of protesters, dissenters, immigrants, and Muslims. The so-called “law and order” state is a lawless state of extreme disorder, in which power can operate with impunity. It begins to approach fascism.

One danger of the surveillance state is that it might operate like Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon: because people don’t know when they’re being watched or targeted, they monitor and regulate themselves all the time. They avoid stepping out of line, being obedient drudges and consumers. Any misstep might sweep them up in the black hole of the police state’s bureaucracy. So they internalize subservience. Of course, in our society there are many other ways of making people internalize subservience. Surveillance is only one, though a particularly vicious and dangerous one.

Another reason to be concerned is that internet companies’ ability to “spy” on users allows them to censor content, whether on their own initiative or from political pressure. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other such companies are constantly censoring leftists (and some on the right) and deleting their accounts. Critics of Israeli crimes are especially vulnerable, but they’re hardly alone. The only real way to solve this problem would be to make internet companies publicly owned, because private entities can do virtually whatever they want with their own property. It’s absurd that leftists can connect and coordinate and build movements only subject to the approval of Mark Zuckerberg and other corporate fascists. It’s also terrifying that a surveillance alliance can develop between corporate behemoths and governments. That’s another feature of fascism.

MA: How do you see the inhuman treatment of Julian Assange and the persecution of him by the British and American administrations?

CW: As left-wing commentators have said, the persecution of Assange is an assault on journalism itself, and on the very idea of challenging the powerful or holding them to account. In that sense, it’s an assault on democracy. But that’s pretty much always what power-structures are doing, trying to undermine democracy and expand their own power, so the vicious treatment of Assange is hardly a surprise. But I doubt that the U.S. and Britain will be able to win their war on journalism in the long run. There are just too many good journalists out there, too many activists, too many people of conscience.

MA: This capitalist society is based on consumption but boasts of concepts such as “freedom of expression”, “human rights”, “democracy”, etc. Don’t we live rather in a fascist system?

CW: I wouldn’t say the West’s political economy is truly fascist. It has fascist tendencies, and it certainly cares nothing for freedom of expression, human rights, or democracy. But civil society is too vibrant and gives too many opportunities for left-wing political organizing to say that we live under fascism. The classical fascism of Italy and Germany was far more extreme than anything we’re experiencing now, especially in the U.S. or Western Europe. We don’t have brownshirts marching in the streets, concentration camps for radicals, assassinations of political and union leaders, or total annihilation of organized labor. There’s still freedom to publish dissenting views.

But major power-structures in the U.S. would love to see fascism of some sort and are working hard to get there. And they have armies of useful idiots to do their bidding. American “libertarians,” for example, of whom there are untold millions, are essentially fascist without knowing it: they want to eliminate the welfare state and regulations of business activity so as to unfetter entrepreneurial genius and maximize “liberty.” They somehow don’t see that in this scenario, corporations, being opposed by no countervailing forces, would completely take over the state and inaugurate the most barbarous and global tyranny in history. The natural environment would be utterly destroyed and most life on Earth would end.

In one sense of fascism, Marxists from the 1920s and 1930s would, as you suggest, say we do live in a rather fascist system. For them, the term denoted the age of big business, or, more precisely, the near-fusion of business with the state. Insofar as society approached a capitalist dictatorship, it was approaching fascism. We don’t literally live under that kind of dictatorship, but without determined resistance it could well be our future.

MA: Isn’t there a need to reread Karl Marx? How do you explain the disappearance of critical thinking in Western society?

CW: I actually think there’s a lot of critical thinking in Western society. The rise of “democratic socialism” in the U.S. is evidence of this, as is the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. The left is growing internationally — although the right is too. But insofar as society suffers from a dearth of critical thinking, the reasons aren’t very obscure. Critical and informed thinking is dangerous to the powerful, so they do all they can to discourage it. Lots of studies have probed the methods of corporate and state indoctrination of the public, and the enormous scale of it. Noam Chomsky is famous for his many investigations of how the powerful “manufacture consent”; one of the lessons of his work is that the primary function of the mass media is to keep people ignorant and distracted. If important information about state crimes is suppressed, as it constantly is, and instead the powerful are continually glorified, well then people will tend to be uninformed and perhaps too supportive of the elite. It’s more fun, anyway, to play with phones and apps and video games and watch TV shows.

The mechanisms by which the business class promotes “stupidity” and ignorance are pretty transparent. Just look at any television commercial, or watch CNN or Fox News. It’s pure propaganda and infantilization.

As for Karl Marx: there’s always a need to read Marx, and to reread him. He and Chomsky are probably the two most incisive political analysts in history. But Marx was such an incredible writer too that he’s a sheer joy to read, and endlessly stimulating and inspiring. He rejuvenates you. (His political pamphlets on France, for instance, are stylistic and analytic masterpieces.) Besides, you simply can’t understand capitalism or history itself except through the lens of historical materialism, as I’ve argued elsewhere.

Of course, Marx wasn’t right about everything. In particular, his conception and timeline of socialist revolution were wrong. The “revolution,” if it happens, will, as I said earlier, be very protracted, since the worldwide replacing of one dominant mode of production by another doesn’t happen in a couple of decades. Even just on a national scale, the fact that modern nations exist in an international economy means socialism can’t evolve in one country without evolving in many others at the same time.

I can’t go into detail on how Marx got revolution wrong (as in his vague but overly statist notion of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”), but in Worker Cooperatives and Revolution I devote a couple of chapters to it. It’s unfortunate that most contemporary Marxists are so doctrinaire they consider it sacrilege if you try to update or rethink an aspect of historical materialism to make it more appropriate to conditions in the 21st century, which Marx could hardly have foreseen. They’re certainly not honoring the Master by thinking in terms of rigid dogma, whether orthodox Marxist or Leninist or Trotskyist.

MA: You are a humanist and the human condition is central in your work. Are you optimistic about the future of humanity?

CW: Frankly, no, I’m not. The forces of darkness just have too much power. And global warming is too dire a threat, and humanity is doing too little to address it. It’s worth reflecting that at the end of the Permian age, 250 million years ago, global warming killed off almost all life. If we don’t do something about it very soon, by the end of the century there won’t be any organized civilization left to protect.

And then there’s the problem of billions of tons of plastic waste polluting the world, and of the extinction of insects “threatening the collapse of nature,” and of dangerous imperialistic conflicts between great powers, and so on. I don’t see much reason for optimism.

We know how to address global warming, for example. But the fossil fuel industry and, ironically, environmentalists are acting so as to increase the threat. According to good scientific research, as reported in the new book A Bright Future (among many others), it’s impossible to solve global warming without exponentially expanding the use of nuclear power. (Contrary to popular opinion, nuclear power is generally very safe, reliable, effective, and environmentally friendly.) Renewable energy can’t get the job done. The world has spent over $2 trillion on renewables in the last decade, but carbon emissions are still rising! That level of investment in nuclear energy, which is millions of times more concentrated and powerful than diffuse solar and wind energy, could have put us well on the way to solving global warming. Instead, the crisis is getting much worse. Renewables are so intermittent and insufficient that countries are still massively investing in fossil fuels, which are incomparably more destructive than nuclear.

But the left is adamant against nuclear power, and it’s very hard even to publish an article favorable to it. Only biased and misinformed articles are published, with some exceptions. So the left is working to exacerbate global warming, just as the right is. Why? Ultimately for ideological reasons: most leftists like the idea of decentralization, dispersed power, community control of energy, and anti-capitalism, and these values seem more compatible with solar and wind energy than nuclear. The nuclear power industry isn’t exactly a model of transparency, democracy, or political integrity.

But the Guardian environmental columnist George Monbiot is right: sometimes you have to go with a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater one, in this case the collapse of civilization and probably most life on Earth. Is that a price environmentalists are willing to pay so they can preen themselves on their political virtue? So far, it seems the answer is yes.

We humans have to break free of our tribal ways, our herd-thinking ways. We have to be more willing to think critically, self-critically, and stop being so complacent and conformist. The younger generation, actually, seems to be leading the way, for instance with the Extinction Rebellion and all the exciting forms of activism springing up everywhere. But we still have a terribly long way to go.

I haven’t lost hope, but I’m not sanguine. The next twenty or thirty years will be the most decisive in human history.