Category Archives: Peace

Racism: Are We All Prejudiced?

Loud acts of racism, like the atrocious killing of George Floyd by a US police officer; the disproportionate number of black men incarcerated in American prisons or the high percentage of young black or minority ethnic (BAME) men subjected to ‘stop and search’ by police in Britain are blatant and ugly. But an individuals ‘unconscious bias’ and the institutionalized racism festering deep within organizations is subtler, perhaps harder to recognize.

Racism is prejudice against BAME people/groups, it has deep historical roots within ex-colonial cultures (particularly in countries with large migrant populations, like Britain, France and the US), it is vile and abhorrent and it must be driven out of society. It is one of many forms of prejudice that exist all over the world. Prejudice against women, or LGBT individuals and groups, people with disabilities, tribal people and other minorities, prejudice against religious groups, certain nationalities and people of various ages. No matter how liberal minded and ‘progressive’ we believe ourselves to be, are any of us truly free from all forms of prejudice?

Learning to hate

Prejudice in all its foul forms, including racism, is not innate  – nobody is born a racist – it is learnt. It results from psychological and sociological conditioning, which is absorbed unconsciously from birth and for the most part is acted on habitually, without thinking or awareness. Decisions, choices and actions that proceed from this position are in some way or other limited, colored, and distorted by dogma, motivated by desire and fear.

Such actions take place all the time; most are petty and relatively limited in their impact. But when prejudice is involved and the action is constantly repeated or exercised from a position of power – an employer, government official, a parent, someone in uniform or education then the effects can have long-lasting detrimental effects. Worse still, when racism has seeped into the fabric of the perpetrator and turned to blind hate, allowing for abuse (like kneeling on a defenseless man’s neck while arresting him for a petty incident) to occur the results can then be much more serious: recurring mental health illnesses, physical injuries, and sometimes death, of an individual, or in the case of genocide (the organized expression of hate) the systemic annihilation of a whole community.

Prejudice then is a form of conditioning; it is discrimination or bias unconsciously expressed in varying degrees, fuelling hurtful destructive patterns of behavior and social division. This does not in any way legitimize or excuse acts of racism and prejudice, but if such actions are the consequence of conditioning we have a key to eradicating this poison from society.

Young children do not on the whole exhibit signs of prejudice. They see other children simply as children, they don’t see black, white, brown, Asian etc., children. That is, until they are conditioned into seeing ‘difference’, into dividing people based on race, gender, religion, nationality etc., and encouraged to make judgments based on that prejudice. The agents of conditioning are (most commonly) ignorant parents, peers who have already taken the poison, government policy (on immigration, for example) and the media.

In 1968 an exercise in racial conditioning was famously demonstrated by the schoolteacher and campaigner Jane Elliot (credited with inventing the concept of diversity training): On 5th April, the morning after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jnr, she segregated the 28 children (eight/nine year olds) in her classroom based on eye color, with one group adopting superior status to the other. The following day the roles were reversed. It was a brilliant exercise that aimed to show what it would feel like to be discriminated against and also to discriminate.

Once the seed of prejudice and division is planted, false notions of superiority and inferiority are fed and the belief that some people are ‘like us’ and some people ‘are not’ is adopted. The idea of ‘the other’ separate from me, potentially a threat to me, takes root, and this, if reinforced by competition and fear (as is commonly the case) leads to distrust, further division and hate. Allowing for the creation of a violent minority, and, in extreme cases the birth of a flag-waving, swastika-bearing racist or bigot. In the majority prejudice leads to what is commonly called ‘unconscious or implicit bias’.

How unconscious is Unconscious Bias

In October 1998 social psychologists from the University of Washington and Yale conducted the ‘Implicit Association Test (IAT)’. An online research tool designed to “measure implicit or unconscious evaluations and beliefs that spring from strong, automatic associations of which people may be unaware.” The study found that 90-95% of people held such unconscious prejudices. The researchers, including Mahzarin Banaji, professor of psychology at Yale, stated that unconscious prejudice “results from the culture they [people] live in and the culture’s attitudes towards stigmatized groups …a culture leaves an imprint on the mental structure, and most people have more or less the same mental imprint.” This is sociological conditioning.

Various studies since have revealed that unconscious bias affects a range of everyday decisions impacting on people from minority groups. Job prospects, education opportunities and health care, as well as prejudicial treatment by criminal justice systems. While it may be unclear just how ‘unconscious’ an individual’s bias is, what isn’t in dispute is that it exists, impacting on almost all of us, creating division and injustice. But, as Professor Banaji said “the same test that reveals these roots of prejudice has the potential to let people learn more about and perhaps overcome these disturbing inclinations.”

Action not words

As Jane Elliot said, ‘there is only one race, the human race’: humanity is one, brothers and sisters of one humanity. This has been proclaimed many times, most famously perhaps by Mahatma Gandhi. Yet, like peace, brotherhood and justice, equality is nowhere to be found. It remains a noble ideal, but ideals, which are not made manifest become tools of deceit, feeding complacency and apathy, allowing destructive attitudes and behavior to remain intact, and to proliferate.

In the years since the introduction of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in March 1966 attitudes have changed and much progress has been made. But there is a long way to go if we are to create a world that is completely free from all forms of discrimination. To rid society of racism and prejudice a number of things need to take place simultaneously.

Education, inclusion and awareness (de-conditioning) are key, together with the introduction of urgent practical steps within all areas where institutionalized racism exists. The essential element to individual liberation from prejudice is awareness; the unconscious impulse of discrimination needs to be brought into the light of awareness where, when seen, it can be rejected. Institutionalized racism collects out of the individual prejudice of people working within a particular organization, whether a police force, government department, school, university, corporation or small business. Eradicating prejudice from all such organizations and encouraging diversity and greater representation of minority groups must become a priority; more support needs to be given to children from BAME families (often among the poorest in society) to ensure equal education opportunities and, in order to limit prejudice by employers, schools, universities etc., the mandatory introduction of ‘blind CVs’ (without personal details concerning the applicant’s gender, age or ethnicity) should be brought about immediately.

The global response to the appalling killing of George Floyd and the widespread calls for fundamental change must not be ignored or the focus lost by distracting arguments about statues and artifacts. Certainly, following community debate, some statues should be removed – not torn down – and placed in museums, and items stolen by colonialists and now held in western museums returned.

But the primary issue is not what happened in the shameful past, it is changing existing attitudes and behavior. The momentum for change must not be lost as the mainstream media turn their attention elsewhere and politicians ruminate and set up yet more committees. Action is needed now, not endless speeches by duplicitous ambitious politicians. The rise of racism and all types of hate crime parallels the increase in political populism and tribal nationalism; these ideologies of division have stoked racial tensions and fed hate among the hateful. They are of the past and must be collectively rejected. The path to equality, social harmony and peace will come about through unity not division, cooperation not competition, tolerance not bigotry. It is these qualities that need to be adopted and cultivated, not as ideals, but as living principles animating and pervading all aspects of life.

Pivot To Peace Must Replace US Pivot To War With China

US and Chinese Fists and Weapons face-off (from the Financial Times)

The Trump administration, in seeking to divert attention from its bungled response to the COVID-19 pandemic and mishandling of the economic collapse, is escalating the bipartisan anti-China policy, which has a long history. This increases the potential of military conflict and economic war between our countries.

President Trump is making both a global depression and war more likely. The United States needs to de-escalate its conflicts and work with China and other countries to confront the pandemic and economic collapse, as well as the climate crisis and nuclear proliferation. This is not the time for escalation of conflicts, but for de-escalation and a new era of a multipolar and cooperative world.

Bipartisan Escalation Against China Is Longterm US Policy

While some blame Trump for the escalation of conflict with China, in this century, it began with President Obama’s pivot to Asia. It now includes a full spectrum dominance strategy of military, information, and economic aggression.

The roots of treating the Asian Pacific as a ‘US lake,’ just as Latin America is ‘our backyard,’ go back to 1878 when Navy Commodore Robert W. Shufeldt of the USS Ticonderoga described the Pacific as “the ocean bride of America.” Declaring a Monroe Doctrine for the Pacific, he described Asia as where the “search for Empire ceases and human power attains its climax.” Interestingly, it was the Panic of 1873 that led to a depression that resulted in a search for new markets. The US failed its invasion of Korea in 1871 and Shufeldt needed to improve US relations. In 1882,  his mission resulted in the first treaty in the Pacific Rim signed by the US and South Korea.

Today’s economic collapse is a major reason for Trump’s escalation with China but Trump is building on the policies of Barack Obama who declared himself the “first Pacific president” as part of a geopolitical strategy to challenge China. His Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote “America’s Pacific Century” that claimed the future will be decided in Asia and the US will be right at the center of the action. They put in place the Asian Pivot, an escalation of military confrontation with China with 60 percent of US war capacity shifting to the Pacific.

The US was already at war with China before Donald Trump entered the Oval Office. The US military and other branches of government were gearing up for a long-term conflict, involving both economic and diplomatic pressure on China with a buildup of military forces along the country’s periphery. Last Thursday, on Flashpoints on KPFA, KJ Noh pointed out that the Pivot came with the Air-Sea Battle War Doctrine designed to ensure the US maintained freedom of action throughout the globe. The US built a networked land, sea, air, space, and cyber collective warfighting capability with allied countries.

In 2011, the Council of Foreign Relations began urging the US to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF )Treaty. The RAND Corporation, which advises the US military, published “Thinking through the unthinkable” in 2016. It described how the US could win a war with China, which it argued the US needs to do before 2025. The strategy is to focus on the South China Sea in a long and costly way that cuts off Chinese fuel supplies and trade. Almost a decade ago, military strategists James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara found the First Island Chain was a natural barrier that could bottle-up the Chinese Navy.

RAND urged the US to void the INF Treaty so missiles could be directed at China. In 2018, Trump declared–as if on his own volition–the US would drop out of the INF Treaty. The US falsely claimed Russia had violated the treaty, but it was really about targeting China. In August 2019, the US withdrew from the treaty and started developing new missiles. The US then conducted the first test launch of a new ground-launched cruise missile.

The US has also been expanding military bases and military agreements in the Pacific. In September 2019, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper called for further expanding military base locations in the Pacific region while speaking at the Naval War College, calling the Indo-Pacific “our priority theatre.” Esper believes “The United States network of alliances and partnerships provides us an asymmetric strategic edge that our adversaries cannot match.”

The hybrid war against China includes an information war as well as economic conflict. Just before the novel coronavirus pandemic, the propaganda war was most evident around the Hong Kong protests and the disinformation campaign about the Uyghurs. The US has been funding anti-China activities in Hong Kong since 1996. People have mistakenly called the anti-China protests ‘democracy protests’. While there was confusion about the protests, it is obvious when they called for “Trump to Save Us” and worked with right-wing anti-China senators that Hong Kong is part of Washington’s anti-China strategy. The US passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which the US will use to justify intruding into the internal affairs of China and Hong Kong.

Similarly, reports based on dubious studies claimed mass imprisonment of millions of Muslim Uyghurs, or even that there is a Muslim Holocaust in China. These were vast exaggerations used to stoke anti-China views. The US has long backed the World Uyghur Congress as part of its effort to undermine China from within. A small minority of poor, radicalized Uyghurs, who have been involved in terrorism and violence in China and have also fought with ISIS in Syria, are a problem for China.  People who visited the region and reported on the Uyghurs describe what we are hearing as ‘shameful lies’ peddled by the US empire.

Under Obama, economic domination involved the largest corporate trade agreement in history, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP included the United States and 11 Pacific Rim countries, excluding the largest economy in the hemisphere, China. It was designed to ensure US hegemony in the Asia Pacific through corporate dollar domination. Popular Resistance helped organize a five-year ‘movement of movements’ campaign that stopped the TPP. This defeat was seen as the beginning of the end of US hegemony in Asia.

But, the defeat of the TPP did not stop the US’ focus on Asia. In 2018, the United States announced a new national defense strategy, “Great Power Conflict,” with China as the top target. Around the same time, the Nuclear Posture Review announced the escalation of nuclear weapons development, which also started under Obama. The new arms race also includes space, traditional weapons, cyber defense, and surveillance.

The US fears the 21st Century will be the Chinese Century and is doing all it can to prevent that development. This has resulted in a bipartisan policy of militarily surrounding China with nuclear and other weapons.

The Trump COVID Escalation

The Trump administration is now using the novel coronavirus to escalate opposition to China. This includes a propaganda offensive that is becoming a Chinese version of Russiagate. The Trump administration made a point to call it the “Chinese” or “Wuhan virus” until it was told this was an inaccurate description as we still do not know where it began. The propaganda continues with claims that China was not transparent, is hiding the number of deaths, punished doctors who discussed the issue, and leaked or manipulated the virus.

A thorough reality check of these claims has shown them to be false but they have built hatred for China, resulting in prejudice against Asian people and laying the groundwork for escalation. Now Trump and Biden are accusing each other of being soft on China. Biden accuses Trump of not holding China accountable while Trump is seeking to use China as a scapegoat for his failed response to the virus. Fearmongering is being used to justify escalating the economic and military conflict with China.

The reality is China had a rapid, breathtaking, and impressive response to the virus that bought countries time to respond and won praise from health experts. China allowed public health officials to examine its response, independently confirming its successful response. China’s approach provides other nations with lessons they can learn to combat the virus. In addition, China is providing assistance to nations throughout the globe to help them respond to the pandemic. Indeed, while countries received little or no help from the European Union and the United States, China along with Cuba provided aid to them.

Last month, China’s top intelligence ministry, the Ministry of State Security, presented a report by China’s Institutes of Contemporary International Relations to top Beijing leaders that warned China needs to be prepared in a worst-case scenario for an armed confrontation with the United States. This risk comes from the backlash against China over the pandemic.

This week, Reuters reported the US is investing heavily in weapons for use against China. Budget documents show the Marines sought $125 million to buy 48 Tomahawk missiles next year and $3.2 billion for hypersonic technology, mostly for research on new, long-range missiles. The Pentagon also seeks $224 million for another 53 new Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles in 2021. They expect to have more than 400 of them in service by 2025. These will be used on Navy Super Hornet jets and Air Force B-1 bombers.

Testimony also reported the Marines had successfully tested new shorter-range anti-ship weapons, the Naval Strike Missile. Reuters reports “in a radical shift in tactics, the Marines will join forces with the US Navy in attacking an enemy’s warships. Small and mobile units of US Marines armed with anti-ship missiles will become ship killers.”  These would be dispersed at key points in the Western Pacific and along the First Island Chain.

China has urged the US to stop “moving around the chess pieces” in the Asia Pacific. A Chinese military spokesman, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, warned last October that Beijing would “not stand by” if Washington deployed land-based, long-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific. The US moves are leading to an arms race in the Asia Pacific. Reuters has published a series on China’s military that revealed in most categories, China’s missiles now rival or outperform US counterparts.

In addition to these plans, the US has already increased military activity in the Asia Pacific. The South China Morning Post reported on May 10, that the US increased military operations in waters close to China. This has included 39 flights over the South China Sea, East China Sea, Yellow Sea, and the Taiwan Strait, more than three times the number carried out in 2019. The US Navy also conducted four so-called freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in the first four months of 2020 – compared with just eight for all of 2019.

A conflict between the United States and China presents a risk of global warfare as the US has directed NATO to focus on China and has been building military relations in the Asia Pacific, especially with its closest military ally, Japan. China has also built relationships with numerous countries including Russia. The United States has been increasing military spending in the region while Russia and China have responded with the development of new weapons and also increased spending. The Pentagon is planning for a new long war with China and Russia.

Stephen Melkisethian from cc-nc-nd-flickr

Time for a Pivot to Peace

Rather than a national security strategy of major power conflict, the US needs a strategy of major power cooperation. The United Nations has called for international cooperation and a global ceasefire, which the US blocked this week.

People need to promote and work toward peace as a top priority as the risk of conflict escalates. We urge you to sign onto Peace Pivot where you can find more information on the conflict between China and the US and what you can do about it. US elected officials should not be rewarded for China-bashing. We must work together to call out the falsehoods about China so that doing so backfires against the politicians who make them.

China’s rise from poverty to becoming an engine for the global economy should not be seen as a threat to the United States. China’s Belt and Road Initiative can help all nations. If the United States responds with an escalation of economic and military conflict it will undermine US leadership and bring greater insecurity to the world. The US must work with China, and other nations in this new multipolar world to stop the pandemic, economic collapse, climate catastrophe, and the risk of nuclear war.

Only the Poor Starve: Hunger in the Time of Covid

Additional to the global health crisis and the coming worldwide economic collapse, Covid-19 is fuelling a humanitarian crisis. The World Food Program (WFP) warns that, “millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations, including many women and children, face being pushed to the brink of starvation, with the spectre of famine a very real and dangerous possibility.” The WFP’s view that the biggest impact of the pandemic will not by caused by the virus directly, but the hunger that flows from it, is in line with other concerned groups.

In a recent statement the WFP warned that “unless swift action is taken”, by the end of the year we “will see more than a quarter of a billion people suffering acute hunger…in low and middle-income countries.” This is made up of 135 million already facing food shortages, plus an estimated 130 million people (it could well be more), as a result of Covid-19. This would take the total number of people who go to bed hungry every night to over a billion – approximately, for all such statistics serve as a guide only; inevitably they miss the hidden hungry, people living on the fringes of society in every country, rich and poor.

In addition to the ‘130 million’ there are the tens of millions of casual workers who can only eat if they work. “Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs,” says Dr. Arif Husain, chief economist at WFP, “it only takes one more shock – like Covid-19 – to push them over the edge.”

Countries dependent on food imports and the export of oil are particularly at risk of increased levels of hunger, as well as communities that rely on remittance income from overseas, and tourism. In addition there is the uncertainty around foreign aid as donor countries face the prospect of recession. Those in greatest danger are in 10 countries affected by conflict, economic crisis and climate change – all of which are interconnected. The 2020 Global Report on Food Crises highlights Yemen (where two deaths from Covid-19 have already been reported), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Nigeria and Haiti. Drought and the worst locust infestation for decades (triggered by climate change) have already caused food shortages in South Asia and the Horn of Africa, where according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, 12 million people are living under the frightening shadow of food insecurity.

Unless we prepare and act now – “to secure access, avoid funding shortfalls and disruptions to trade,” the WFP statement state, “we could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months.”

If the virus takes hold in locations where war is raging, in countries which have weak health care systems, the UN has warned that it would be impossible to limit the impact and/or deliver much needed humanitarian supplies, including food. In an attempt to safeguard these countries the UN Secretary general António Guterres has called for a global ceasefire. While some 70 member states, regional partners, non-state actors, civil society networks and organizations,” have so far endorsed his plea, “there was”, he said, “still a distance between declarations and deeds in many countries.”

If a ‘Pandemic of Hunger’ is to be avoided, in addition to peace and humanitarian access, supply chains, which have been disrupted, must remain open and fluid, allowing food to be transported easily. And, as WFP makes clear, states must not introduce export bans or import duties, which would lead to price rises.

These are urgent steps that must be taken to meet the immediate threat. But these measures will not feed the 800 million or so suffering from chronic hunger. The primary cause of hunger in our world is not conflict or access to food, it is poverty – there is nowhere in the world where the rich go hungry. To banish hunger for good, lasting fundamental change must be introduced. Systemic change and behavioral change, and the two are inextricably connected.

A perfect storm

Even before Covid-19 the head of the WFP forecast “2020 would be facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.” He cites wars in Syria and Yemen; the crisis in South Sudan, Burkino Faso and the Central Sahel region in Africa, where UNICEF says, “4.3 million children are now in need of humanitarian assistance,” the economic crisis in Lebanon, as well as countries like Ethiopia, the DRC and Sudan. The list, he says, ‘goes on…we’re already facing a perfect storm.’

The ‘perfect storm’ is an extreme consequence of a series of interconnected causes; many, if not all of which flow from the all-pervasive socio-economic order and the divisive values and attitudes that are promoted. Crystallized as it is, the system is a construct of the consciousness of the past. It is not of the now or the time we are moving into, nevertheless it dominates all life. Like many of our structures and forms it needs to change, many know this and Covid-19 is highlighting the need for change and presenting an opportunity. It is acting as a mirror, an agency of revelation, bringing issues into focus and pouring fuel on already simmering fires, insisting we attend. With businesses closed large numbers of people are being forced to slow down, to stop consuming, stop travelling. A space has opened up in which to reflect and examine how we live, individually as well as collectively.

A range of festering issues, known but either ignored or inflamed, are being brought to the surface; interrelated crises that have been percolating for decades demanding attention and a new approach. The man-made environmental crisis, which is the pressing issue of the age, and the outdated economic structure, inadequate or non-existent public services, the crisis of wealth/income and power inequality and social injustice among a number of other pressing social wounds.

After the pandemic has retreated and lockdowns are released the world economy is, by all predictions set to crash. The IMF estimate The Great Lockdown, as they are calling it, will result in the “worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis.” But as the head of the body, Kristalina Georgieva admits, it could be worse, they don’t know. If the coming crash is met, not with desperation and despair, but with creative imagination and compassion, it may, indeed could, bring about widespread liberation, allowing for a new and just, long overdue, reorganization of the socio-economic and political spheres.

The Age of Reason

Consistent with the new time we are moving into, a shift in collective consciousness is taking place among large numbers of people all over the world. To accommodate this shift, this new awareness that is slowly emerging, new ways of thinking, new institutions and structures are badly needed, including crucially a radically overhauled socio-economic system. A flexible evolving model anchored in certain Principles of Goodness: Unity, sharing and justice.

This common-sense trinity is interdependent and encourages values of cooperation and understanding, responsibility and tolerance. By the expression of one quality the other is strengthened, reinforced, expanded. Key is unity, the recognition that all of life is interconnected, whole, that humanity is one and that all have the same and equal rights. That we all have a responsibility to one another and the natural world and our actions should proceed from a position of awareness. Any new system must have sharing at its core. Sharing would end for good the abomination of men, women, and children dying of starvation – with or without a pandemic –, or living stunted crippled lives due to malnutrition in a world overflowing with food. Acknowledging what each nation has to offer the world at large (natural resource, including food and water, knowledge and skills, etc.) and what it lacks, what it needs from others. And thirdly, Justice, – social and environmental justice –, under the doctrine of the present order there is neither. The system is inherently unjust and cruel, benefiting these that have, punishing and abusing those that are vulnerable and have not. The natural environment – forests, rivers, oceans, habitat, all are sacrificed or exploited for profit. All need to be protected, nurtured, and allowed to heal, as does humanity.

Through the introduction of sharing as the primary organizing principle underlying the socio-economic order and animating widespread change, trust would be created, relationships built, divisions eroded, allowing for peace to come into being. Peace and freedom are perennial ideals held within the hearts of mankind. Sharing, unity and justice are the means of entry into a world in which they become not just hopes and  unrealized dreams, but vibrant qualities animating all modes of living.

COVID-19 and the Wasting Disease of Normalcy

“But what of the price of peace?” asked Jesuit priest and war resister Daniel Berrigan, writing from federal prison in 1969, doing time for his part in the destruction of draft records. “I think of the good, decent, peace-loving people I have known by the thousands, and I wonder. How many of them are so afflicted with the wasting disease of normalcy that, even as they declare for the peace, their hands reach out with an instinctive spasm in the direction of their loved ones, in the direction of their comforts, their home, their security, their income, their future, their plans — that twenty-year plan of family growth and unity, that fifty-year plan of decent life and honorable natural demise.”

From his prison cell in a year of mass movements to end the war in Vietnam and mobilizations for nuclear disarmament, Daniel Berrigan diagnosed normalcy as a disease and labeled it an obstacle to peace. “’Of course, let us have the peace,’ we cry, ‘but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties.’ And because we must encompass this and protect that, and because at all costs — at all costs — our hopes must march on schedule, and because it is unheard of that in the name of peace a sword should fall, disjoining that fine and cunning web that our lives have woven… because of this we cry peace, peace, and there is no peace.”

Fifty one years later, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the very notion of normalcy is being questioned as never before. While Donald Trump is “chomping on the bit” to return the economy to normal very soon based on a metric in his own head, more reflective voices are saying that a return to normal, now or even in the future, is an intolerable threat to be resisted. “There is a lot of talk about returning to ‘normal’ after the COVID-19 outbreak,” says climate activist Greta Thunberg, “but normal was a crisis.”

In recent days even economists with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and columnists in the New York Times have spoken about the urgent necessity of reordering economic and political priorities to something more human — only the thickest and cruelest minds today speak of a return to normal as a positive outcome.

Early in the pandemic, the Australian journalist John Pilger reminded the world of the baseline normal that COVID-19 exacerbates:

A pandemic has been declared, but not for the 24,600 who die every day from unnecessary starvation, and not for 3,000 children who die every day from preventable malaria, and not for the 10,000 people who die every day because they are denied publicly-funded healthcare, and not for the hundreds of Venezuelans and Iranians who die every day because America’s blockade denies them life-saving medicines, and not for the hundreds of mostly children bombed or starved to death every day in Yemen, in a war supplied and kept going, profitably, by America and Britain. Before you panic, consider them.

I was starting high school when Daniel Berrigan asked his question and at the time, while there obviously were wars and injustices in the world, it seemed as though if we did not take them too seriously or protest too strenuously, the American Dream with its limitless potential was spread before us. Play the game, and our hopes would “march on schedule” was an implied promise that in 1969 looked like a sure thing, for us young white North Americans, anyway. A few years later, I abandoned normal life, dropped out after a year of college and joined the Catholic Worker movement where I came under the influence of Daniel Berrigan and Dorothy Day, but these were privileged choices that I made. I did not reject normalcy because I did not think that it could deliver on its promise, but because I wanted something else. As Greta Thunberg and the Friday school strikers for climate convict my generation, few young people, even from previously privileged places, come of age today with such confidence in their futures.

The pandemic has brought home what the threats of global destruction by climate change and nuclear war should have long ago — that the promises of normalcy will never deliver in the end, that they are lies that lead those who trust in them to the ruin. Daniel Berrigan saw this a half century ago.  Normalcy is an affliction, a wasting disease more dangerous to its victims and to the planet than any viral plague.

Author and human rights activist Arundhati Roy is one of many who recognizes the peril and the promise of the moment:

Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to ‘normality’, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

“Every crisis contains both danger and opportunity,” said Pope Francis about the present situation. “Today I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world. This is the opportunity for conversion. Yes, I see early signs of an economy that is less liquid, more human. But let us not lose our memory once all this is past, let us not file it away and go back to where we were.”

“There are ways forward we never imagined – at huge cost, with great suffering – but there are possibilities and I’m immensely hopeful,” said Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, on Easter. “After so much suffering, so much heroism from key workers and the NHS (National Health Service) in this country and their equivalents all across the globe, once this epidemic is conquered we cannot be content to go back to what was before as if all was normal. There needs to be a resurrection of our common life, a new normal, something that links to the old but is different and more beautiful.”

In these perilous times, it is necessary to use the best social practices and to wisely apply science and technology to survive the present COVID-19 pandemic. The wasting disease of normalcy, though, is the far greater existential threat and our survival requires that we meet it with at least the same courage, generosity and ingenuity.

Will Covid-19 spur a Peoples’ Bailout for the World’s Poorest?

Image credit: Giacomo Carra on Unsplash

The question is whether Covid-19 will awaken us to the stark inequalities of our world, or does it simply represent a new cause of impoverishment for the vast swathes of humanity who have long been disregarded by the public’s conscience?

*****

Since the beginning of 2020, we’ve entered an extraordinary new era. There is still a great deal of fear and uncertainty about what lies ahead, and most countries are undergoing a kind of social and political revolution that is unprecedented in the post-war period. But amidst the tragedy and suffering of those affected by Covid-19, there is also a reawakening of hope about the future possibilities of this epochal moment. Political campaigners of every type are rolling out their progressive agendas, envisioning the crisis as an inflection point that could potentially kickstart a more just and sustainable economy.

The reasons for optimism are in plain view. With major economies temporarily frozen, state interventions on a colossal scale have directly contradicted the prevailing ideology of our time. The free market creed that has run the world for almost 40 years is, once more, effectively defunct; in its place, governments are forced to undertake huge feats of economic planning in order to avert an economic catastrophe.

Right across the Western world, state-imposed lockdowns have necessitated social solidarity policies that were previously unthinkable. Rescue programmes vary greatly in terms of social protection measures, cash assistance and workers’ rights, but there is no alternative to governments stepping in to secure the livelihoods of millions of people.

Despite the shortcomings of many schemes, together they have dramatically busted the myth that governments cannot afford to implement radical pro-social investments. Never has there been such a case for guaranteeing everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living during the current crisis and beyond, particularly by rolling back punitive austerity measures and the privatisation of essential public services.

Even a universal basic income has suddenly resurged in popular interest and been seriously discussed by policymakers of all political persuasions. From every quarter, the calls are ringing out for a different kind of economy to be built that recognises the limitations of the market, and that places finance at the service of basic human rights.

But the worst of the pandemic is still to come, and it’s too early to tell how events will unfold. An implosion of global financial markets is an imminent possibility, with a global recession of perhaps record dimensions a near certainty. What will happen then for social safety nets and economic priorities—will the burden of adjustment really be shouldered by large corporations and wealthy elites, or will governments heap the costs onto the poor and ordinary workers as since 2008?

Unequal outcomes

The one certainty is that the most vulnerable and excluded members of society will suffer the worst consequences, as with all economic crises. We may be all in this together, and the coronavirus may not discriminate as to one’s socioeconomic class, but the experience of lockdown will be very different with respect to one’s position and place in society. This pertains most of all to those who live in the world’s most downtrodden places, where even basic health advice is impossible to follow. Constant media reports now question how a billion people living in slums can practice social distancing, or frequently wash hands when there is no easy access to clean water or sanitation (a situation that afflicts 40% of the world population).

The prospects are terrifying for the millions of migrants and displaced people, prisoners, the homeless and those who live in disaster-prone areas. Not only are they most exposed to infection, but they are least able to access quality healthcare, and most impacted by a loss of income. No government support packages will be expected by the world’s 25.9 million refugees, of whom huge numbers may be left to fend for themselves in overcrowded temporary settlements.

For many low-income countries, the current health crisis could become a ‘double tap’ that exacerbates existing humanitarian challenges, such as conflicts, droughts, the locust plague or endemic poverty. Healthcare systems are already overburdened throughout the global South, especially where IMF-backed austerity cuts have been imposed. Scores of countries have endured waves of fiscal adjustment programmes that have increasingly weakened social protection schemes, curtailed labour rights and exacerbated precarious work.

If the virus takes off in its ‘third wave’ – after China, after Europe and across the developing world – the consequences could be devastating for under-resourced governments that are reeling from other humanitarian catastrophes.

As John Pilger has reminded, deaths from Covid-19 still pale in comparison with the 24,600 people who unnecessarily die from starvation every day, or the 3,000 children who die from preventable malaria. Not to mention other diseases of poverty like tuberculosis or pneumonia, or the cholera crisis in Yemen, or the countless daily deaths due to economic sanctions in countries like Venezuela and Iran. No pandemic or global emergency has ever been declared for these people.

Will Covid-19 therefore awaken us to the stark inequalities and injustices of our world, or will it simply represent a new cause of impoverishment for vast swathes of humanity who have long been disregarded by the public’s conscience?

A global action plan

Given the huge challenges for less developed countries, it is essential that governments respond to this global health emergency through genuine cooperation and the sharing of international resources. The developing world is already in turmoil due to falling commodity prices and foreign direct investment, a collapse in tourism and the weakening of their own domestic demand—even before the socioeconomic impacts of the virus take hold.

Heavily indebted countries are also facing a ‘double whammy’ of declining exports and sharply increased borrowing costs, raising the prospect of a new debt crisis that engulfs south-east Asia, Latin America and Africa. But the need for global economic sharing goes beyond moral imperatives: unless we prevent these regions from descending into chaos, the virus could circle around the world and be reimported into richer countries.

The scale of an emergency response plan is boldly summarised by Oxfam, who call upon governments to implement a globally-coordinated and massive investment in public health. This necessitates a degree of international aid-giving that is unseen in our history, as well as an immediate moratorium on debt interest payments for poor countries without conditions.

Oxfam estimates that it would cost $159.5 billion to double the health spending of the 85 poorest countries, home to nearly half the world’s population. Compare this with the trillions of dollars being released by the United States and European Union in their emergency relief measures. The United Nations, in contrast, has so far called for merely $2 billion to fund its Humanitarian Response Plan, which is seriously inadequate given the scale and complexity of the crisis, but still far from being met.

Beyond this emergency relief, there is also an urgent need to transform the global economy in the longer term. The coronavirus crisis has given renewed impetus for major structural financial reforms, including action against tax havens, debt cancellation and changes to trade rules. This is essential for enabling poorer nations to protect jobs and build comprehensive, universal public services and social protection systems.

Above all, a massive global stimulus package should be directed towards supporting green industries, rather than further entrenching fossil fuel interests. Similar proposals for a Global Green New Deal were put forward after the last financial crisis over a decade ago: now time is running out for governments to mobilise maximum resources towards decarbonising the global economy and restoring our natural ecosystems. A ‘just transition’ of sufficient scale will also serve to increase the resilience of low- and middle-income countries as they diversify production and reduce their heavy reliance on commodities.

A spirit of solidarity

The UN trade and development body, UNCTAD, has renewed its appeal for a new Marshall Plan for the global South, in which G20 nations act in a spirit of solidarity to assist the 6 billion people living outside their core economies. But there is little hope for such a historic level of coordinated global leadership to emerge, when the most powerful nations—particularly the United States—continue to view world politics as a zero-sum game in which states compete rather than cooperate. The global pandemic has arisen within a crisis of multilateralism which has increasingly eroded governments’ capacity for collective action in the post-crash years, so it is hardly surprising that the virus is already outpacing a global response.

Now, as ever, the responsibility for transforming geopolitical relations lies not with influential heads of state, but with ourselves. There may be much heartening evidence of national and local solidarity during this lockdown period, but the question remains as to whether that will be translated internationally once a vaccine is discovered.

Will the more privileged people in affluent societies continue to profess our global interconnectedness, while shrugging their shoulders at the dire inequality that leaves half the world impoverished? Or will we unify our demands in a deafening call for securing everyone’s basic socioeconomic rights, which would directly strengthen the United Nations’ capacity and foundational purposes?

It is one thing to call for a people’s bailout in single nations alone, but it is something else to call for a global people’s bailout that benefits every disadvantaged individual and family in all countries. If the coronavirus crisis is revealing anything of lasting human significance, surely it must be this necessity of finally sharing our planet’s phenomenal wealth and ample resources.

Standing on the Precipice of Martial Law

In my recent paper Why Assume there will be a 2020 Election?, I took the opportunity of today’s multifaceted crisis in order to revisit an important Wall Street funded coup d’état effort of 1933-34. As I explained in that location, this bankers’ coup was luckily exposed by a patriotic general named Smedley Darlington Butler during one of the darkest moments of America and profoundly changed the course of history.

The Deep State Plot Against JFK

The danger of World War and a military coup arose again during the short-lived administration of John F. Kennedy who found himself locked in a life or death struggle not with Russia, but with the Military Industrial Complex that had become dominated by the many Dr. Strangeloves of the Joint Chief of Staff and CIA who fanatically believed that America could win a nuclear war with Russia. Kennedy’s valiant efforts to achieve dialogue with his Soviet counterparts, move towards peace in Vietnam, support of colonial liberation, promotion of space exploration and advocacy of a Nuclear Test Ban treaty made him a target of the Deep State of his time. During this period, this effort was led from the top by JFK’s two most powerful American opponents: Allan Dulles (director of the CIA) and General Lyman Lemnitzer (head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), both of whom were proponents of pre-emptive nuclear war, architects of the Bay of Pigs regime change trap and advocates of Operation Northwoods (an ultimate “inside job” precursor to 9/11 which JFK subverted).

As historian Anton Chaitkin recently reported:

Lemnitzer had displayed what his faction viewed as his qualifications for this role back in August 1960, when, as Army chief of staff, he announced that the Army was all ready to “restore order” in the United States after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union—to bring back normalcy just as the military does after a flood or a riot.

This plot was detailed in a quasi-fictional book written by investigative journalists Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey published in 1962 entitled Seven Days in May and swiftly made into a famous film with unprecedented support by JFK himself who gave the film crew and director John Frankenheimer full access to the White House, advisors and materials for the film which he believed every American should see.

In the story, a patriotic lieutenant discovers the plans for the coup which is scheduled to take place during a vast military drill whereby a President who is close to finalizing a de-armament treaty with Russia will be incapacitated in a bunker while a military regime takes over America.

Tragically, where the lieutenant is able to expose the plot and save the nation in the story, by the time of the film’s 1964 release, JFK had been deposed by other means.

Now 56 years later, history has begun to repeat itself with distinctly 21st century characteristics… and a viral twist.

The Stage is Again Set for Martial Law

Another President resistant to regime change and nuclear confrontation with Russia and China finds himself today in the White House in the form of Donald Trump.

As in 1933, today’s financial collapse threatens to rip the social and economic fabric of America to shreds, and just as in 1963 a powerful military industrial complex and private banking system manages a web of power which is devoted to overturning the 2016 election (and 1776 revolution) by any means. The biggest difference today is that a global coronavirus pandemic threatens to be the catalyzer used to justify military dictatorship in America and broader nuclear confrontation with Russia and China.

Instead of names like “Dulles”, or “Lemnitzer”, today’s coup directors feature such names as “Pompeo” and “O’Shawnessy”… both Deep State assets highly positioned in 3rd and 4th place to take over the Presidency at the drop of a hat.

Terrence O’Shawnessy: The Man Who Could Be President

Having slipped silently under the radar four weeks ago, the American Government passed a new emergency protocol into law which vastly expands powers and procedures of Martial Law under “Continuity of Government” which must be taken very seriously. These new protocols deal at length with the triggering of Martial Law should the nation become ungovernable through a variety of foreseeable scenarios that COVID-19 has unleashed, such as “unwanted violence” caused by “food shortage, financial chaos” or also if the President, Vice President and Secretary of State all become incapacitated for any reason.

Even though this act was classified “Above Top Secret” a surprisingly in depth March 18 Newsweek report by William Arkin documented how the “Combat Commander” of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) will immediately take power as a part of the “Continuity of Government” procedures which took on monstrous dimensions under the control of Dick Cheney in the wake of 9/11. According to Newsweek, the new regulation drafted by the Joint Chiefs states that the military may take control where “duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation” even when “authorization by the President is impossible”. Arkin describes the new protocols for “devolving” leadership to second-tier officials in remote and quarantined locations.”

General O’Shawnessy, (former Deputy of UN Command in Korea) currently doubles as the head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and has devoted his past 14 months to the promotion of a military confrontation over the Arctic which he has described as “the new frontline of our homeland defense” against Russia and China who are “determined to exploit the region’s economic and strategic potential”.

NORTHCOM went operational on October 1, 2002 as part of the Neocon takeover of America. This neocon coup which came to full fruition with 9/11 was governed by a manifesto entitled the Project for a New American Century which laid out a Pax Americana of police state measures at home, regime change abroad and containment of a rising China and Russia under a religious belief in a unipolar world order.

This continental organization interfaces closely with both FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security, and was given a wide jurisdiction embracing not only the USA but also Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, acting as “primary defender of an invasion of America”. NORTHCOM interfaces closely with the deep state by hosting personnel from the FBI, CIA, NSA and Defense Intelligence Agency in its headquarters and is responsible for the protection of the President, Vice President and Secretary of State.

Most recently, RT has reported on March 28 that O’Shawnessy has ordered teams of “essential staff” deep into vast bunkers 650 meters below the surface in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado to “wait out the COVID-19 crisis”. Announcing this secretive mission, the General tweeted “Our dedicated professionals of the NORAD and NORTHCOM Command and control watch have left their homes, said goodbye to their families and are isolated from everyone to ensure they can stand watch each and every day to defend our homeland.” 

Other military personnel have been banned from travelling and commanded to stay near their bases ready for action and as of March 30, over 14,600 National Guard forces have been deployed to all 50 states. Although they cannot currently engage in policing due to the 1878 US Posse Comitatus Act, Martial Law would render that provision null and void.

It is also noteworthy that only one day after the Coronavirus was labelled an “international public health emergency” by the World Health Organization on January 30, Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved nationwide pandemic plans and warned NORTHCOM to “prepare to deploy“.

This author doesn’t believe it to be a coincidence that patriotic voices who would typically be opposed to such a Martial Law agenda have been taken out of public life due to chaos emerging from the Coronavirus with Senator Ron Paul’s March 22 COVID-19 diagnosis forcing him into quarantine and the politically naive Tulsi Gabbard’s dropping out of the presidential race in order “to be prepared for the national guard duties”. It isn’t very hard to imagine a COVID-19 diagnosis, real or fabricated, to take the President and other members of the government out of office at a moment’s notice.

Time is running out for America and only bold, decisive action taken courageously and swiftly can change the course of self-annihilation upon which the republic now finds itself.

Presidents Xi Jinping and Putin have opened their arms to welcome America and other western nations into their new multipolar system which is built not upon a worship of money or militarism, but rather cooperation and creative mutual growth. Project Airbridge collaboration between China and the USA has begun as a part of the Health Silk Road bringing millions of medical supplies to America. Meanwhile a brilliant coalition of former Latin American heads of State called for the creation of a new just economic order and debt jubilee as a response to the failure of the neoliberal system which shines a principled light out of the current threefold danger of economic collapse, war and Martial Law.

• First published at Strategic Culture Foundation

The Decade of Transformation: Remaking International Relations

The coronavirus pandemic is magnifying the cruelty of US foreign policy. The economic collapse is showing the failure of neoliberalism and how the empire-economy is not working for the people of the world, including the United States.

The US is losing its global dominance as it demonstrates its own incompetence in response to the pandemic and its viciousness in the midst of this crisis. Other countries are showing leadership and solidarity while the US is escalating its attacks.

This is an opportunity to change direction. What seemed impossible in the recent past is now possible. We must seize the opportunity to create change that ensures the necessities of the people are met and the planet is protected. COVID-19 is one immediate crisis, but the climate crisis, nuclear war and economic insecurity all require solidarity between the people of the world.

End Venezuela Sanctions sign on the Venezuela Embassy, from Venezuela Embassy Protectors Collective.

The World Is Turning Against Washington For Undermining Solidarity During The Crisis

No country can fully recover from COVID-19 or the economic collapse unless these crises are resolved for the whole world. Both the economy and pandemic are global and interconnected as are the looming crises of climate chaos and nuclear war. Rather than showing solidarity with other nations in the midst of the crises, the US is escalating economic sanctions and threatening war while undermining a global response to climate and increasing the risks of nuclear war.

Black Alliance for Peace points out: “The brutality and criminality of the colonial/capitalist system of state violence is reflected most graphically by the illegal and immoral policy of sanctions imposed on 39 nations by the U.S. and its Western allies.” Venezuela, Iran and other nations are being denied the ability to import medicines and medical equipment to protect their populations from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 23, the UN General Secretary António Guterres called for “an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world” saying nations should “focus together on the true fight of our lives – the #COVID19 pandemic.” Fifty-three countries immediately agreed. Instead of heeding this call, the US has threatened Iran and Venezuela with military attacks and continued the war with Yemen while eliminating the majority of humanitarian assistance to Yemen. These actions were wrong before the pandemic, but in the midst of the pandemic, they are obscene.

China is sending medical supplies and assistance to 89 countries so far as part of its Health Silk Road. It is ignoring US sanctions by sending drugs, test kits, and supplies to Iran and Venezuela. Hard-hit Italy noted that the other EU nations ignored their desperate plea for medical equipment while China responded. China is building positive relationships by providing essential equipment and expertise while the US is trying and failing to get other nations to sign on to a statement blaming COVID-19 on China.

Cuba has sent brigades of doctors and nurses to Italy, as well as Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname, and Grenada. Russia has also sent medical supplies to hard-hit countries like Italy. Even Venezuela, suffering from a US economic blockade and threats of a military attack, is sending aid to its neighbors, including Ecuador and Colombia– even though Colombia has joined the US in threatening Venezuela. The US blocked a shipment of coronavirus aid for Cuba from China’s richest man, Jack Ma, including 100,000 face masks and 10 COVID-19 diagnostic kits, along with other supplies.

Europe is starting to break with the United States. The EU finally sent aid to Iran ignoring US sanctions. France, Germany, and Britain have sent medical goods to Iran through INSTEX — a workaround to export goods to Iran that bypasses US sanctions. This development could have major implications for the ability of the US to unilaterally sanction nations as it provides a way for countries to trade without the US’ financial system. Europe, led by Germany, also backed out of war games against Russia, which would have included a practice nuclear attack, due to the COVID-19 virus.

President Rouhani of Iran sent an open letter to the people of the United States saying, “the war on this virus can only be successful if all nations can win this war together, and no affected nation is left behind.” He urged us to change the direction of the US government, writing, “Future generations will judge the American people based on the actions of their government.”

The zig-zagging incompetence of US policy is evident. During the three months when the Trump administration did not take the virus seriously, the Intercept reports the United States allowed exports of medical supplies and equipment. After examining vessel manifests, the Intercept found “medical equipment needed to treat the coronavirus [was] being shipped abroad as recently as March 17.” This has led to a “persistent lack of medical supplies” in the US.

Now, the US has angered allies by diverting medical supplies to the US. The Washington Post reports that “Berlin expressed outrage over what they said was the diversion to the United States of 200,000 masks that were en route from China, while officials in Brazil and France complained that the United States was outbidding them in the global marketplace for critical medical supplies.” They report the US is also stopping the export of masks to Canada and Latin America.

Even worse, Trump took time from his daily press conference on COVID-19 to escalate threats against Venezuela by sending US naval vessels near Venezuela’s borders. AP reports “The deployment is one of the largest U.S. military operations in the region since the 1989 invasion of Panama … It involves assets like Navy warships, AWACS surveillance aircraft and on-ground special forces seldom seen before in the region.”

This followed a phony indictment of President Maduro and other Venezuelan leaders for alleged narcotrafficking that included a $15 million bounty on Maduro.  President Maduro wrote an open letter to the people of the world that decried the indictment as illegal and part of a US coup attempt writing, “the U.S. government, instead of focusing on policies of global cooperation in health and prevention, has increased unilateral coercive measures, has rejected requests from the international community to lift or make flexible the illegal sanctions that prevent Venezuela from accessing medicines, medical equipment, and food.” The indictment was announced after Venezuela prevented weapons financed by the US from being sent into Venezuela from Colombia for another coup attempt.

Venezuelans in the US who want to fly back to Venezuela to escape the economic and health crises here are not being allowed to charter flights from Florida. The escalation against Venezuela also included the US-controlled IMF blocking a COVID-19 emergency loan to Venezuela. Venezuela has taken aggressive actions to stop the spread of the virus and has been more effective than the US.

The US also shows disregard for its own people, including those in the military, by firing a US Navy Capt. Brett Crozier after he sought help for sailors on the USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier. Crozier wrote his superiors about hundreds of COVID-19 cases and when the letter was leaked, he was fired. As he left the ship, the crew cheered him for standing up for their health and risking his career.  The first government official fired over the virus was one trying to protect people from illness. The US has also directed that reports on COVID-19 in the military be kept secret.

The actions of the US are leading to the reshaping of global leadership.” Patrick Coburn describes COVID-19 as a “Chernobyl moment” and concludes “nobody is today looking to Washington for a solution to the crisis.”

National Security Redefined

The people of the United States have been sold a false definition of national security. The pandemic shows that mass military spending on bombs, weapons, bases, and troops does not provide security. The coronavirus is expected to kill between 100,000 to 240,000 people in the United States if our response goes well and could be more than one million if it is inadequate.  Deaths have already passed 9/11 and Pearl Harbor and could exceed the Vietnam War and World War 1.

We need to redefine national security. David Swanson calls for a real Department of Defense that would prioritize “the twin dangers of nuclear and climate apocalypse, and the accompanying spin-offs like coronavirus.” He points out it would be less expensive to provide financial security and top medical care to everyone on the globe than to fight wars.

Gareth Porter writes, “For decades, the military-industrial-congressional complex has force-fed the American public a warped conception of US national security-focused entirely around perpetuating warfare. The cynical conflation of national security with waging war on designated enemies around the globe effectively stifled public awareness of the clear and present danger posed to its survival by the global pandemic. As a result, Congress was simply not called upon to fund the vitally important equipment that doctors and nurses needed for the Covid-19 crisis.”

The Pentagon was well aware of the threat of a pandemic and anticipated the lack of ventilators, face masks, and hospital beds, according to a 2017 Pentagon plan. Intelligence agencies warned about the threat from influenza viruses for two decades at least and warned about coronaviruses for at least five years. Luciana Borio, director of medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council in May 2018 warned that a flu pandemic was the country’s number one health security threat and that the US was unprepared.

In January 2017, Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there is “no doubt” Donald Trump will be confronted with a surprise infectious disease outbreak during his presidency. In 2019, HHS organized a month-long simulation involving multiple federal offices that demonstrated the US was seriously unprepared to cope with a pandemic. Despite all of this, the president claimed the virus “surprised the whole world,” and “nobody knew there’d be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion.”

The White House created a National Security Council office on pandemics, but in 2018 that was disbanded by Trump. The Trump administration also ignored a pandemic playbook that would have ensured a more effective response. The Strategic National Stockpile has not been maintained for years, as it competes with the military budget, which shoveled $15 trillion into wars. The unreplenished stockpile is one reason the US does not have sufficient ventilators and other necessary equipment. The US is also weakened by the shortcomings of the for-profit health system including the closing of hospitals.

What would actually protect US national security?

First and foremost, the US must cease its drive to be the dominant power in the world and recognize we are part of a community of nations that must cooperate to take on the many crises that will define the 2020s. This means ending military aggression and regime change efforts by respecting the sovereignty and integrity of other countries, large and small. It means ending our occupation of other nations in the form of hundreds of military bases and outposts and ending our support for other occupiers such as Israel until it stops its colonization of Palestine. Instead of international war “games”, we could hold international exercises on disaster responses to save lives. And it means respecting and obeying international law and joining the International Criminal Court. The US must stop behaving with impunity.

Second, the US must scale down the military to what is required for protection, an actual defensive approach rather than being offensive. This means cutting the military budget by at least 50% and converting all production of military equipment, supplies, and weapons into public entities to remove the profit motive that drives conflict around the world. These resources can be used for social uplift instead of causing death in a peace economy.

Third, the US must move quickly to eliminate threats to human extinction. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reset the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to “midnight,” putting the world closer to destruction than at any point since the clock was created in 1947. As Alice Slater writes, we have a virus of nuclear proliferation as nuclear arms control agreements collapse. The US is spending more than a trillion dollars to upgrade nuclear weapons while placing ‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons on submarines.

It’s not only superpowers that are engaged in a nuclear arms race, countries like North Korea, which is threatened by the US, and allies like Germany and Saudi Arabia believe they need their own nuclear weapons. The US must commit to the rapid disarmament of all nuclear weapons in cooperation with other nuclear nations and disband the Space Force, which violates the treaty that makes space a global commons.

While COVID-19 is almost certainly a zoonotic disease, David Swanson points out at least some diseases, such as Lyme Disease and Anthrax, have been spread by military labs. Germ warfare is a criminal enterprise and so labs disguised as being for our defense but that create bioweapons need to be closed.

Foreign policy includes trade, which has been designed for corporate profit since NAFTA. The coronavirus collapse shows corporate trade creates weak supply lines. It also hollowed out US manufacturing for cheap labor in Mexico, China, and other nations, creating economic insecurity and leaving us ill-prepared for a crisis. Trade must be remade into fair trade that serves the people and planet, supports industry at home, ends factory farming and creates a balance with nature that will help prevent future animal-based viruses.

A new foreign policy must also confront the climate crisis. This is a global challenge and nations of the world must work together to confront it. The US has been playing a counterproductive role by building fossil fuel infrastructure, becoming a leading oil and gas producer, and holding back global climate treaties. Next week, in our series on “The Decade of Transformation,” we will focus on the environment.

The Time Is Now to Remake US Foreign Policy

The global economic collapse and COVID-19 pandemic are causing widespread suffering and death but will result in change. What that change looks like, positive or negative, is up to us. We must create the new normal that provides for the necessities of the people and protection of the planet. The world must unite in solidarity to confront not only COVID-19 but other crises too.

We applaud countries that are beginning to stand up to US sanctions and work around the US financial system to help countries like Iran and Venezuela. These are positive steps to end US hegemony. We agree with President Rouhani of Iran, it is our responsibility to remake the government so it reflects the best of us.

An immediate step is to end US sanctions. Join us in the Sanctions Kill campaign where the coalition will be organizing webinars and other events to end illegal unilateral coercive measures. There will be an international week of action against imperialism and sanctions from May 25 to 31. We will need to be especially creative to build an effective campaign with tactics that work in this time of physical distancing.

We must also take action now to stop the war on Venezuela. Join the webinar with Carlos Ron, vice foreign minister of Venezuela on Monday night at 6:00 pm Eastern.  Click here for information. Sign onto this demand that the US drop its charges against President Maduro and other Venezuelan officials who have been falsely charged with narco-trafficking. We must be ready to mobilize quickly if the US moves to attack Venezuela, or Iran or any country for that matter while the government believes we are distracted by the pandemic.

We are living in a time of crisis and that can be unnerving. But we have the power to get through this if we mobilize together with a clear vision of the world we wish to create and show our solidarity with each other through our actions. We are one human community  and we need each other to get through the rough times ahead.

Death of the “Usual”: Economic Evolution and the Emergence of the New

Humanity is faced with a series of self-made, interrelated crises, from the environmental catastrophe to poverty, inequality, the absence of peace and an unprecedented level of displaced persons, among other pressing issues.  All have been brought about by the negative behaviour of mankind, by the pervasive modes of living, the corrosive values and ideologies that dominate all aspects of contemporary life.

The latest crisis is the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and the potential resulting collapse of the world economy. It is a collective crisis the like of which we have never seen before. Whole populations are being forced to change behaviour, to stop travelling, to withdraw, stop shopping, stay at home and to support others in the community. It is forcing people to shift their focus and slow down, to simplify and re-examine their lives. Worrying and unsettling in the immediate term, but potentially liberating, providing the space in which to be quiet, to reflect and look within, and good for the natural environment.

With crisis comes opportunity, the possibility for growth and realignment with purpose; for change to take place – change that inculcates harmony, allowing for that which has hitherto been inhibited to be to be expressed.

The inevitability of crises

There is a natural order to life and certain fundamental laws that underpin all manifestation. When this rhythm is inhibited – individually or collectivelystasis takes place leading to dis-ease, and a crisis of some kind occurs. The greater the resistance the more inevitable and intense the crisis becomes.

Current modes of living are disharmonious, the socio-economic and political systems are totally unjust, favouring the few at the expense of the many; driven by divisive materialistic values and the reductive ideology of greed they sit at the core of most if not all of our problems. Ecosystems have been disrupted by self-centred human activity, weather patterns completely altered by the poisons daily poured into the atmosphere, leading to disharmony within the climate. Huge numbers of people recognize these facts and the need for a new way of living, but resistance among governments and corporate power is fierce; attachment to the status quo deep; fear of loss of power and privilege, intense. And so the required changes are consistently blocked; the natural order, which forever moves towards harmony for that is its inherent quality is consistently blocked, creating further inflammation.

The Coronavirus is beyond the control of governments, institutions and corporate bodies of power. It is causing widespread chaos and this will intensify and broaden in scope, affecting not just public health but social order and will devastate the consumer-led economy. As stock markets tumble, businesses fail, global supply chains fracture and nations are forced to turn within, governments (predictably) talk about the ‘fundamental strength of the economy’ and the ability of the markets to ‘bounce back’ quickly after the crisis has passed, returning to business as usual. The ‘usual’, however, is the problem: the ‘usual’ has poisoned the planet, created enormous levels of inequality, set one against another, nation against nation, sustained widespread exploitation of the vulnerable and encouraged a pernicious value system fuelling all manner of social ills. It is of the past and must now come to an end.

In the short-term, businesses that are in danger of going under need government support, and, more or less, this is taking place; employment/salaries need to be guaranteed, mortgages and rent payments suspended, as well as bank overdrafts and loans, credit card debt etc., but once the dust settles, instead of attempting to refurbish the out-dated, patch up the inadequate and carry on as normal, the opportunity for an Economic Evolution should be grasped; an opportunity to reimagine the way the socio-economic system functions, to recognize that the current model has had its day and to create a new system based on sharing, with social justice and cooperation at its heart. Indeed, if the collapse is as deep as it threatens to be, there may be no option. Welcome or not, this crisis could force the changes that some dread but many long for, and prove to be the final blow to the existing systems; inadequate forms that are already in a state of terminal disintegration as the energy that had sustained them is withdrawn and we transition from one age or civilization into a new, as yet undefined, time.

The teacher for this time

Standing back of outward events and unknown to most is the teacher for this time, the Lord Maitreya, head and leader of our spiritual hierarchy, a body that many in the West in particular, may be unfamiliar with. Foretold to come at this time by Gautama Buddha some 2,600 years ago and awaited by all the World’s religions under various names (Christ, the Imam Mahdi, Maitreya Buddha, the Messiah, Krishna), Maitreya has been patiently waiting for the right time to come forward, to be invited to begin His full and open public work. The Covid-19 crisis could well be the factor that allows this event to take place, an unprecedented event that would potentially change everything.

Together with a large group of His closest disciples, the Masters of Wisdom, Maitreya will offer advice and guidance, pointing the way out of our troubles. It is up to humanity to listen and respond though; if there is a world saviour it is humanity itself. As Maitreya has said, “I am the Architect, only, of the Plan. You, My friends and brothers, are the willing builders of the Shining Temple of Truth.” The ‘temple of truth’ is the new civilization.

The presence, and gradual emergence (since July 1977) of Maitreya, was made known, up until his death in October 2016, by the British artist and writer Benjamin Creme: for forty years he travelled the world spreading what is an extraordinary, albeit controversial, story of hope to anyone who would listen. The coming of a teacher at specific times of crisis and/or transition is quite normal, expected, in fact; historically a teacher has always come forward from the ranks of the Spiritual Hierarchy. Now, as many realize, is such a time.

Maitreya is not a religious leader but a guide in the broadest sense, concerned with the pressing issues of the day. He is, Alice Bailey relates in The Reappearance of The Christ, “that Great Being Whom the Christian calls the Christ; He is known also in the Orient as the Bodhisattva and as the Lord Maitreya.” He is the great “Lord of Love and of Compassion” as the Buddha was “the Lord of Wisdom.” He is the Christ for this planet, a fact that many Christians will no doubt struggle to accept. He is the Master of all the Masters, and to Him “is committed the guidance of the spiritual destinies of men [mankind]. He is the World Teacher for this coming cycle; He is the Coming One.”

Some of Maitreya’s thoughts and aspects of His teachings were made known in the 140 extraordinary messages He gave between September 1977 and May 1982. “Allow Me to show you the way,” He says in one such message, “forward, into a simpler life where no man lacks; where no two days are alike; where the joy of Brotherhood manifests through all men. And in another asks, “how to start? Begin by dedicating yourself and all that you are and have been to the service of the world, to the service of your brothers and sisters everywhere. Make sure that not one day passes without some act of true service and be assured that My help will be yours.”

As the world faces the Covid-19 crisis, a coordinated response to the health demands and the economic impacts are needed; community service and simple acts of kindness are essential, as is sharing. This is a global crisis and a united response is called for, enough of competition and tribal nationalism – America first, China first, India first, etc., humanity and the planet first. Unity, cooperation, tolerance and understanding; these, together with sharing, are the hallmarks of the time and must guide our thoughts and actions, now more than ever.

The pandemic will be overcome, and, if we embrace the opportunity this crisis offers, there is a real chance that afterwards life could be fundamentally changed forever and for the good. A chance to re-imagine how to live, to introduce new modes of living that encourage the good, that cultivate unity, peace and natural happiness and allow the space in which to be.

The Taliban Scores a Coup

It threatened to disappear under the viral haze of COVID-19, but February 29 saw representatives from the US and Taliban, loftily acknowledged as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, sign the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan”.  After two decades of conflict, the agreement sets in motion the process that should see American troops leave Afghanistan within 14 months.  Initially, 8,600 troops will leave over a 135-day period; the balance is set to do so after 9 months.

The Doha ceremony was attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Taliban deputy leader Mullah Baradar, a person said by former CIA Operations Officer Douglas London to be of “little influence or authority” serving as “convenient window dressing”.  The ink from the US side for the signature was supplied by US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.  Conspicuously absent, and much in recognition of the failings of that institution, was the NATO-backed Afghan government.  Nor was the Taliban present in the joint US-Afghan declaration.  The results of that say much about the sheer will power, not to mention staying power, of Taliban negotiators.  It was they who insisted not to be part of any instrument acknowledging the legitimacy of the Afghan government.

In sum, both instruments lay out various steps for the Taliban, US and Afghan government to take.  The Taliban are to prevent their territory from hosting groups or individuals who might threaten the US and their allies; the US is to draft a timeline for the withdrawal of all US and coalition forces; the Afghan regime and the Taliban are to commence peace talks at the conclusion of the withdrawal, with the parties ultimately developing the basis for a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire.

Having stolen the show, the Taliban has merely promised to engage in talks with the Afghan government about a lasting peace; cunningly, even brashly, they have refused to specifically renounce resorting to violence in achieving their aims.  It will be hard to refute the claim that they have their opponents on the run and intend keeping it that way.

The deal will be another etching on the long list of agreements made in the cemetery of imperial failure.  Afghan resistance can rightly claim the scalps of many, including Britain and the Soviet Union.  Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has approved the release of 1,500 Taliban prisoners in exchange of 1,000 government troops.  The decree signed by Ghani noted that the prisoners will be released within 15 days “with 100 prisoners walking out of Afghan jails everyday.”  The US-Taliban agreement intends for the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

The joint US-Afghan declaration, for its part, has the Afghan government promising to “participate in a US-facilitated discussion with Taliban representatives on confidence building measures, to include determining the feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides.”

On March 10, the UN Security Council gave the US-sponsored resolution supporting the deal their unanimous blessing, deeming it one of the “significant steps towards ending the war” and promising to provide “sustained support” in negotiations to achieve peace.  It also spoke of “the willingness of multiple countries to facilitate or convene intra-Afghan negotiations in order to achieve political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire.”

But this vote of confidence does not detract from the possibility that the US will still maintain a presence, or that conflict will continue.  The US-Afghan joint declaration, for instance, takes the position that the withdrawal of US forces will eventuate on the “Taliban’s fulfilment of its commitments.”

Those barracking for some continuing US footprint are many, though the years have taken their toll.  Paul D. Miller, formerly of the National Security Staff for both President George W. Bush and Barack Obama, sees inadequacies and threats in the brokered deal.  Tear up the agreement, he urges in Lawfare; al-Qaeda is likely to return in force and find a place of, if not hospitality then certainly sanctuary.  “President Trump and his successor should scrap the deal and increase military pressure until the Taliban publicly denounces al-Qaeda and agreed to verifiably sever links with the group.”  US commitments were “clear, specific and measurable”; those of the Taliban, lacking in detail, means of enforcement and verification.

Miller’s view that the US remain is based on a certain contempt for the US public and, it must be said, the armed forces.  To maintain the imperium, you need to ignore the former, at least to a certain extent, and use the latter.  The troop presence is not large, expensive or costly in terms of casualties.  “There is no mass anti-war movement.  The American people are not sick of the war: They are hardly even paying attention to it.”

London concurs on most points.  He sees the Taliban with the same conviction that took US forces to Afghanistan in the first place.  The agreement “naively relieves the Taliban from renouncing [ties to terrorist groups] or expelling them outright.”

Others nurse the maybes and the tormenting hypotheticals.  Lawrence J. Korb, who in 2010 was engaged in negotiating efforts on ending the war in Afghanistan, rued the lost chances of the Bush administration in 2002 to annihilate the Taliban.  “It compounded the problem by simultaneously expanding its objective from defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan to nation-building.” This train of thought is persistent in US strategic thinking: insurgents are somehow foreign and not indigenous, lacking local support; they can be culled, restrained or eliminated altogether.

There is little doubt that the resilient, seemingly indestructible Taliban will take greater heart in the entire process than the cheerleaders for empire.  They have resumed operations against their enemy with enthusiasm.  The unpopular central government is negotiating from a position of profound weakness.

Even Korb, despite lamenting lost opportunities, felt that it was no longer a conflict the US should contend with. “Just as America did not make it out better than France in Vietnam, it is time for its officials to realize that America will not make it out any better than the British or Soviets in Afghanistan – no matter how long it tries to stay.”

A Difficult Peace

Nearly a thousand of us were gathered in Chicago beneath the alarming edifice of Chicago’s “Trump Tower.” Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani had been brutally murdered the day before in Iraq, with several of his associates; and the welcome surprise of Iran’s relatively measured response was yet a few days off.  A region-wide conflagration seemed just on the verge of engulfing perhaps millions of lives, and consuming, as well, much of the species’ remaining time and attention needed to face our direst threats: with the new war we could fear continued paralysis in the face of an unfolding climate collapse, a terrifying new Cold War (now with hypersonic missiles), and a global far-right resurgence driven by shocking inequality and violence.

I’d been to Iran a year before with Voices’ Sarah Ball on a CODEPINK delegation and, addressing the crowd, I thought of how little attention Trump’s worst crimes, his war crimes, now receive from his critics in both parties.  I wondered aloud if the right-wing trend that had made Trump commander-in-chief was not, as is often argued, a backlash by the poorest Americans against the same kind of contemptuous disregard that American power also shows for the dignity and safety of the people of Iran.

Tragically, in its “forever wars” the United States consistently denounces authoritarianism and religiosity among the world’s poorest, but only as an excuse to violently drive the people of those countries even further from security, democracy, and peace. The U.S. condemns the global poor it claims so ardently to wish to protect, too frequently as a shallow pretext for military and economic subjugation.  Americans, correct to denounce Iran’s theocratic regime, ignore what Iranians are quick to recognize, that Iran’s worst enemy remains not its own government, but that of the United States.

On our first day in Tehran, reformist foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with us and quipped that Iran veers rightwards whenever the war-hawk John Bolton is anywhere near the levers of U.S. power.  Today the White House would seem to have moved to the right of its stance under Bolton, while Trump’s enemies in both parties alarmingly hail Bolton as an ally in their quest to encircle Russia — Iran’s largest ally.  Predictably, if tragically, this past Friday, religious hardliners swept Iran’s parliamentary elections, with help from a Tehran regime secure as never before in the knowledge that, with U.S. hardliners rampant, Iranians have nowhere else to turn.  Iran’s brave dissidents generally rush to reject all expressions of support from U.S. leaders, hastening to agree on one point only with the many Iranians who support the theocracy: that the United States (along with its Saudi and Israeli cats paws) remains the worst threat which Iranians must face.

There is no reason for U.S. voters to suppose that their government’s hostility towards Iran is aimed at realizing anyone’s human rights.  Staunch U.S. support for the brutal Saudi dictatorship puts the lie to any such claim. Iran’s military support for its regional allies is massively dwarfed in destructive impact by the Saudi role, directly and through proxies, in bloodily destabilizing the region.  The U.S.’ own 2003 invasion of Iraq remains the century’s worst human rights violation (if the Saudis’ U.S.-backed, famine-assisted war in Yemen doesn’t catch it up).  An untold number of Iranians facing dire economic hardship were recently gunned down protesting the greed (perhaps more than the strict religion) of Iran’s clerical oligarchs; but the U.S. had, through its crushing sanctions, imposed this hardship deliberately and with the stated intent of callously forcing Iranians to topple the regime for them.

The idea that a U.S.-driven regime change, either through sanctions or through war, might somehow democratize Iran is popular in the U.S., but it’s a prospect for which few Iranians would ever want to vote.  Social scientists place Iran among Earth’s most nationalistic countries, with many in Iran acutely aware of the U.S.-driven coup which crushed Iran’s stubborn bid for secular democracy in 1953. The Islamism which revolutionary Iran adopted in 1979 was widely considered an anti-colonialist necessity, a “return to ourselves” required to resist further U.S. cooptation and violence. Today, Iranians well note that U.S. leaders’ regime-change plans tend to involve installing, as Iran’s ‘democratic’ rulers, Iran’s most feared terror group, the “Mojahedin-e Khalq”. In 1988, during the Iran-Iraq war, the cult-like “MEK” actually invaded Iran, on Iraq’s behalf, from Iraqi soil, and with air cover from Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.  Outside Tehran I visited the chief graveyard of that war, resting place for hundreds of thousands.  It’s an odd definition of “democracy” under which we hope to impose, through war, the would-be leaders Iranians fear most.

US Den of Espionage Museum, Tehran

We gathered at a terrible moment this winter beneath the unsightly bulk of Chicago’s Trump Tower, but far more ominous threats loom on our horizon, whether a U.S. war on Iran can be averted or not.  Our forever wars, nightmarish enough in themselves, should terrify us for the truly existential crises they prevent us from addressing.  Trump’s worst crimes are his war crimes, and both of the U.S.’ political parties seem focused on urging Trump towards more war, not less. No mere election but a grassroots movement of never-before-witnessed scope would seem needed to turn our government, in this late hour, away from empire and towards the goal of human survival. But to succeed, that movement will need to involve and empower the bases of both parties, including many of Trump’s voters who it would seem easier to simply dismiss and denounce.

When the U.S. settles for condemning Iran, it drives Iran and the world even further towards dictatorship and annihilatory violence. The most urgent threats facing our species aren’t enemies, like a country or a political party, that we can simply defeat, at however unacceptable a cost, but existential deadlines implicit in our nation’s own wealth and frightened arrogance, deadlines we can’t meet without our “enemies'” freely offered assistance. The path we must follow within the U.S. seems also to be the sole survivable path the U.S. has left that it can follow abroad – to somehow redress those of our neighbors’ real grievances to which their undeniable failings should never have blinded us; to build a movement for species survival which no-one will join if we won’t share our wealth and our power; and to empower those who, like Iran, we’re most inclined to condemn – in the desperate hope of forging a difficult peace.