Category Archives: Politics

Anti-semitism is Cover for a Much Deeper Divide in Britain’s Labour Party

The announcement by seven MPs from the UK Labour Party on Monday that they were breaking away and creating a new parliamentary faction marked the biggest internal upheaval in a British political party in nearly 40 years, when the SDP split from Labour.

On Wednesday, they were joined by an eighth Labour MP, Joan Ryan, and three Conservative MPs. There are predictions more will follow.

With the UK teetering on the brink of crashing out of the European Union with no deal on Brexit, the founders of the so-called Independent Group made reference to their opposition to Brexit.

The chief concern cited for the split by the eight Labour MPs, however, was a supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in the party.

The breakaway faction seemingly agrees that anti-semitism has become so endemic in the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader more than three years ago that they were left with no choice but to quit.

Corbyn, it should be noted, is the first leader of a major British party to explicitly prioritise the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s continuing belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories.

‘Sickeningly racist’?

Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who has highlighted what she sees as an anti-semitism problem under Corbyn, led the charge, stating at the Independent Group’s launch that she had reached “the sickening conclusion” that Labour was “institutionally racist”.

She and her allies claim she has been hounded out of the party by “anti-semitic bullying”. Berger has suffered online abuse and death threats from rightwing extremists and neo-Nazis.

In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, the former Labour MP said the Independent Group would provide the Jewish community with a “political home that they, like much of the rest of the country, are now looking for”.

In a plea to keep the party together, deputy leader Tom Watson issued a video in which he criticised his own party for being too slow to tackle anti-semitism. He added: “Time is short for us to confront the scale of the problem and meet the consequences, to keep others from leaving”.

Ruth Smeeth, another Jewish Labour MP who may yet join a later wave of departures, was reported to have broken down in tears at a parliamentary party meeting following the split, as she called for tougher action on anti-semitism.

Two days later, as she split from Labour, Ryan accused the party of being “infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism”.

Hatred claims undercut

The timing of the defections was strange, occurring shortly after the Labour leadership revealed the findings of an investigation into complaints of anti-semitism in the party. These were the very complaints that MPs such as Berger have been citing as proof of the party’s “institutional racism”.

And yet, the report decisively undercut their claims – not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all.

That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party.

Nonetheless, the facts seem to be playing little or no part in influencing the anti-semitism narrative. This latest report was thus almost entirely ignored by Corbyn’s opponents and by the mainstream media.

It is, therefore, worth briefly examining what the Labour Party’s investigation discovered.

Over the previous 10 months, 673 complaints had been filed against Labour members over alleged anti-semitic behaviour, many based on online comments. In a third of those cases, insufficient evidence had been produced.

The 453 other allegations represented 0.08 percent of the 540,000-strong Labour membership. Hardly “endemic” or “institutional”, it seems.

Intemperate language

Those figures, it should be remembered, have almost certainly been inflated by the efforts of Corbyn’s opponents to trawl through Labour members’ social media accounts in search of comments, some of them predating Corbyn’s leadership, that could be portrayed as anti-semitic.

Intemperate language flared especially in 2014 – before Corbyn became leader – when Israel launched a military operation on Gaza that killed large numbers of Palestinian civilians, including many hundreds of children

Certainly, it is unclear how many of those reportedly anti-semitic comments concern not prejudice towards Jews, but rather outspoken criticism of the state of Israel, which was redefined as anti-semitic last year by Labour, under severe pressure from MPs such as Berger and Ryan and Jewish lobby groups, such as the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement.

Seven of the 11 examples of anti-semitism associated with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition adopted by Labour concern Israel. That includes describing Israel as a “racist endeavour”, even though Israel passed a basic law last year stripping the fifth of its population who are not Jewish of any right to self-determination, formally creating two classes of citizen.

Illustrating the problem Labour has created for itself as a result, some of the most high-profile suspensions and expulsions have actually targeted Jewish members of the party who identify as anti-Zionist – that is, they consider Israel a racist state. They include Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Martin Odoni, Glyn Secker and Cyril Chilson.

Another Jewish member, Moshe Machover, a professor emeritus at the University of London, had to be reinstated after a huge outcry among members at his treatment by the party.

Unthinking prejudice

Alan Maddison, who has been conducting statistical research on anti-semitism for a pro-Corbyn Jewish group, Jewish Voice for Labour, put the 0.08 percent figure into its wider social and political context this week

He quoted the findings of a large survey of anti-semitic attitudes published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in 2017. It found that 30 percent of respondents from various walks of society agreed with one or more of eight anti-semitic views, ranging from stereotypes such as “Jews think they are better than other people” to Holocaust denial.

However, lead researcher Daniel Staetsky concluded that in most cases this was evidence of unthinking prejudice rather than conscious bigotry. Four-fifths of those who exhibited a degree of anti-semitism also agreed with at least one positive statement about Jewish people.

This appears to be the main problem among the tiny number of Labour Party members identified in complaints, and is reflected in the predominance of warnings about conduct rather than expulsions and suspensions.

Far-right bigotry

Another of the institute’s findings poses a particular problem for Corbyn’s opponents, who argue that the Labour leader has imported anti-semitism into the party by attracting the “hard left”. Since he was elected, Labour membership has rocketed.

Even if it were true that Corbyn and his supporters are on the far-left – a highly questionable assumption, made superficially plausible only because Labour moved to the centre-right under Tony Blair in the late 1990s – the institute’s research pulls the rug out from under Corbyn’s critics.

It discovered that across the political spectrum, conscious hatred of Jews was very low, and that it was exhibited in equal measure from the “very left-wing” to the “fairly right-wing”. The only exception, as one might expect, was on the “very right-wing”, where virulent anti-semitism was much more prevalent.

That finding was confirmed last week by surveys that showed a significant rise in violent, anti-semitic attacks across Europe as far-right parties make inroads in many member states. A Guardian report noted that the “figures show an overwhelming majority of violence against Jews is perpetrated by far-right supporters”.

Supporters of overseas war

So what is the basis for concerns about the Labour Party being mired in supposed “institutional anti-semitism” since it moved from the centre to the left under Corbyn, when the figures and political trends demonstrate nothing of the sort?

A clue may be found in the wider political worldview of the eight MPs who have broken from Labour.

All but two are listed as supporters of the parliamentary “Labour Friends of Israel” (LFI) faction. Further, Berger is a former director of that staunchly pro-Israel lobby group, and Ryan is its current chair, a position the group says she will hold onto, despite no longer being a Labour MP.

So extreme are the LFI’s views on Israel that it sought to exonerate Israel of a massacre last year, in which its snipers shot dead many dozens of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza in a single day. Faced with a social media backlash, it quietly took down the posts.

The eight MPs’ voting records – except for Gavin Shuker, for whom the picture is mixed – show them holding consistently hawkish foreign policy positions that are deeply antithetical to Corbyn’s approach to international relations.

They either “almost always” or “generally” backed “combat operations overseas”; those who were MPs at the time supported the 2003 Iraq war; and they all opposed subsequent investigations into the Iraq war.

Committed Friends of Israel

In one sense, the breakaway group’s support for Labour Friends of Israel may not be surprising, and indicates why Corbyn is facing such widespread trouble from within his own party. Dozens of Labour MPs are members of the group, including Tom Watson and Ruth Smeeth.

Smeeth, one of those at the forefront of accusing Corbyn of fostering anti-semitism in Labour, is also a former public affairs director of BICOM, another stridently pro-Israel lobby group.

None of these MPs were concerned enough with the LFI’s continuing vocal support for Israel as it has shifted to the far-right under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have stepped down from the group.

Nor was their committed support for Labour Friends of Israel shaken by a 2017 undercover Al-Jazeera documentary investigating the Israel lobby’s tactics in the UK. It revealed that the LFI and the Jewish Labour Movement were both covertly working closely with an Israeli embassy official, Shai Masot, to damage Corbyn.

In fact, the secret filming recorded Ryan inventing a false claim of anti-semitism against a Labour party member.

She also admitted on camera that she was in almost daily contact with Masot, and was filmed speaking to Masot about £1 million he had secured on the LFI’s behalf to fly Labour MPs on junkets to Israel as part of recruiting them to the Israeli cause.

‘Wrong kind of Jews’

Anti-semitism has taken centre stage in the manoeuvring against Corbyn, despite there being no evidence of significant hatred against Jews in the party. Increasingly, it seems, tangible abuse of Jews is of little interest unless it can be related to Corbyn.

The markedly selective interest in anti-semitism in the Corbyn context among the breakaway MPs and supposed anti-semitism watchdogs has been starkly on show for some time.

Notably, none expressed concern at the media mauling of a left-wing, satirical Jewish group called Jewdas when Corbyn was widely attacked for meeting “the wrong kind of Jews”. In fact, leading Labour figures, including the Jewish Labour Movement, joined in the abuse.

And increasingly in this febrile atmosphere, there has been an ever-greater indulgence of the “right kind of anti-semitism” – when it is directed at Corbyn supporters.

A troubling illustration was provided on the TV show Good Morning Britain this week, when Tom Bower was invited on to discuss his new unauthorised biography of Corbyn, in which he accuses him of anti-semitism. The hosts looked on demurely as Bower, a Jewish journalist, defamed fellow Jewish journalist Michael Segalov as a “self-hating Jew” for defending Corbyn on the show.

Revenge of the Blairites

So what is the significance of the fact that the Labour MPs who have been most outspoken in criticising Corbyn – those who helped organise a 2016 leadership challenge against him, and those who are now rumoured to be considering joining the breakaway faction – are heavily represented on the list of MPs supporting LFI?

For them, it seems, vigorous support for Israel is not only a key foreign policy matter, but a marker of their political priorities and worldview – one that starkly clashes with the views of Corbyn and a majority of the Labour membership.

Anti-semitism has turned out to be the most useful – and damaging – weapon to wield against the Labour leader for a variety of reasons close to the hearts of the holdouts from the Blair era, who still dominate the parliamentary party and parts of the Labour bureaucracy.

Perhaps most obviously, the Blairite wing of the party is still primarily loyal to a notion that Britain should at all costs maintain its transatlantic alliance with the United States in foreign policy matters. Israel is a key issue for those on both sides of the Atlantic who see that state as a projection of Western power into the oil-rich Middle East and romanticise Israel as a guarantor of Western values in a “barbaric” region.

Corbyn’s prioritising of Palestinian rights threatens to overturn a core imperial value to which the Blairites cling.

Tarred and feathered

But it goes further. Anti-semitism has become a useful stand-in for the deep differences in a domestic political culture between the Blairites, on one hand, and Corbyn and the wider membership, on the other.

A focus on anti-semitism avoids the right-wing MPs having to admit much wider grievances with Corbyn’s Labour that would probably play far less well not only with Labour members, but with the broader British electorate.

As well as their enthusiasm for foreign wars, the Blairites support the enrichment of a narrow neo-liberal elite, are ambivalent about austerity policies, and are reticent at returning key utilities to public ownership. All of this can be neatly evaded and veiled by talking up anti-semitism.

But the utility of anti-semitism as a weapon with which to beat Corbyn and his supporters – however unfairly – runs deeper still.

The Blairites view allegations of anti-Jewish racism as a trump card. Calling someone an anti-semite rapidly closes down all debate and rational thought. It isolates, then tars and feathers its targets. No one wants to be seen to be associated with an anti-semite, let alone defend them.

Weak hand exposed

That is one reason why anti-semitism smears have been so maliciously effective against anti-Zionist Jews in the party and used with barely a murmur of protest – or in most cases, even recognition that Jews are being suspended and expelled for opposing Israel’s racist policies towards Palestinians.

This is a revival of the vile “self-hating Jew” trope that Israel and its defenders concocted decades ago to intimidate Jewish critics.

The Blairites in Labour, joined by the ruling Conservative Party, the mainstream media and pro-Israel lobby groups, have selected anti-semitism as the terrain on which to try to destroy a Corbyn-led Labour Party, because it is a battlefield in which the left stands no hope of getting a fair hearing – or any hearing at all.

But paradoxically, the Labour breakaway group may have inadvertently exposed the weakness of its hand. The eight MPs have indicated that they will not run in by-elections, and for good reason: it is highly unlikely they would stand a chance of winning in any of their current constituencies outside the Labour Party.

Their decision will also spur moves to begin deselecting those Labour MPs who are openly trying to sabotage the party – and the members’ wishes – from within.

That may finally lead to a clearing out of the parliamentary baggage left behind from the Blair era, and allow Labour to begin rebuilding itself as a party ready to deal with the political, social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Shifting Baselines in a Time of Climate Change, Systems Stagnation, Life and Death in a Time of Amnesia

Both of my parents were assassinated by death squads in our country. My siblings and I fled because we were afraid. We entered the U.S illegally. We crossed the river, and once inside the U.S., we applied for asylum. We were among the very few who were granted asylum. In 1988 I graduated from Bowie and studied at UTEP, receiving a bachelor’s of science.

— Former refugee at a press conference in El Paso, at Annunciation House

I once volunteered at Annunciation House, in El Paso, during the 1980s. I was chipping away at my graduate degree in English, teaching as a TA at UT-El Paso, as well as working freelance writing gigs with both the morning and evening newspapers, teaching one-on-one conversational English to an engineer in Juarez (who was working for Packard Electric getting paid one-tenth the pay as his fellow Yankees), writing a couple of books, and being active in environmental and social justice issues tied to protesting the militarization of the border and the overuse of the Rio Grande as a toxic slough and drawing down of the Hueco Basin aquifer for golf courses. Heck, in El Paso during this time I even worked for Planned Parenthood helping write a media plan against a mean son-of-a-bitch who called himself a Jew for Christ who set upon the clinic (no abortions done there) mean as cuss religious zealots who tried to block women and families from seeking STD services and such.

Ruben Garcia started the House in the late 1970s and by the time I got there, at Casa Anunciación, the dirty wars in Central America were really ramped up against teachers, unionists, activists, politicals on the left, priests, nuns and anyone questioning the right wing policies of US-backed governments and the thug henchmen of those administrations, the death squads in Guatemala, Honduras, and Salvador, and the contras in Nicaragua. Part of the fallout created by those US-trained militarists, economists and lawyers who perpetrated that harm against their own people was that many small towns and villages – regular people of the land, la tierra – were being caught in the crossfire.

Entire villages were told in the morning by the fascists to pack up and head out of their pueblitos by sundown. Many girls, women and old ladies were raped and murdered. Beheadings of husbands and grandfathers, fetuses cut out of bellies, and torture of anyone who was suspected of going against Death Squad Capitalism were the order of the day.

As far as media coverage goes: My baseline was different than that of twenty-somethings today. When I was in my mid-twenties, in El Paso and working along the border, there were much more robust forms of journalism and ground-truthing reporting going on than anyone today in their twenties could image.

The baseline was a more open, aggressive Press willing to pull away more of the onion layers to get to the truth. Really, many editors and most of the newspaper journalists had no issue with peering through the looking glass to uncover truth, and their motto was that governments do and will tell lies. Now comparing the number of print newspapers, dailies, and weeklies and monthlies, even magazines and broadsheets, newsletters, and the like that were inking up paper in my time, and then looking at the Press now, going on 38 years of study and my own battles as a writer, anyone young can never really know what has been lost in this impetus of the Press then who were striving for independence, in a good way.

It’s the old saws of not having their own boots on the ground then, not having an authentic real point of view because they never lived and worked then, what is termed liberally by me as the shifting baseline syndrome.

I’m talking about small-town journalism, medium-sized market news, and quirky and unique monthlies. While the so-called liberal media (SCLM) was not liberal at all, what was happening in newsrooms and with editorial boards, for the most part, in the 1970s and Eighties was, compared to today, more nurturing to truth tellers, with a truer sense of why journalism’s ethical code points us to looking at as many sides as possible to weigh in on editorial decision-making. Sort of akin to what a lot of people use as a baseline for liberal (sic) versus conservative, comparing today’s neoliberal democrats, for instance, to someone like Barbara Jordan, or looking at Crypo-AngloZionist Republicans such as Ted Cruz today to so-deemed Rockefeller Republicans of old. When I was born, 1957, the Republican Party’s platform was much more progressive and populist than that of the Pelosi-Schumer Party of the millionaires (or billionaires when looking at proverbial Dem Billionaire Michael Bloomberg). Get a load of this, 62 years ago:

Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things, but their number is negligible and”–and the president says–“their number is negligible and they are stupid.

— Dwight Eisenhower, Republican President

The platform for 1956 under the banner of the Republican Party included fighting for workers, the right to form a union, for health and safety measures at workplaces, for a strengthened eight-hour work, for social welfare programs for individual citizens to be strengthened, and more and more positive programs along the lines of today’s milquetoast progressives. Ike was backed by the Republican Party, and it was Eisenhower who fought to keep the tax rate for the very rich fair, which in today’s baseline would be considered way too high and communist!  For instance, the top income tax bracket in the 1950’s was 91%. And, Eisenhower fought tooth and nail to ensure that it remained at that rate.

Can you imagine Bernie Sanders or Obama or Clinton backing this? Forget the neocons, the professors of the Chicago School of Predatory and Culture-Destroying (brainwashing) Capitalism even wanting any tax rate other than zero percent (0.00 %) for the rich, for the corporations, who are now persons with full rights of person-hood.

How many rich individuals and how many corporations pay no taxes today, and how many have tax shelters (“legit” mafia-style money-laundering outfits) overseas, in Cayman or Panama? We have winks and nods and complete red-faced debates and retorts against the accusation that the rich pay no taxes, or certainly not enough, with bald-faced defenses by tens of millions run-of-the-mill Americans who support their flavor of rich man/rich woman in America.

Imagine, rooting for millionaires and billionaires? By welfare recipients or middle-class soccer moms. What does George Lakoff call it, Narrative Frames? For decades this was considered unAmerican to support the rich over the poor!

That’s one difference I have experienced – when I was a teenager and college puke, most people hated the rich for what they were. Many average working class people looked at rich as sociopaths who were only rich because they exploited the average American citizen. Add to the baseline shift from today versus back then: my bosses at newspapers were not multimillionaires, and many more newspapers by a factor of 5 or 10 in the 1970s and 1980s were independent and competitive, compared to 2019.

Back then, the baseline was that many reporters were vying to get the scoop on real news stories. Truth and facts were a given; anything else rose to the level of pink slip offenses. That robust nature of things back then — even though for the most part, as a socialist and Marxist, I never did fit personally into any paradigm in a newsroom — was things that you’d never see printed today in the few small town newspapers left (there are hardly any left across America, anyway) were vigorously printed in many more newspapers back then. From Salon:

According to University of North Carolina’s research, the country has lost nearly 1,800 local newspapers since 2004, and many more have lost the ability to comprehensively cover their communities.

Rural counties with poorer, older populations are most at risk — 500 rural papers have shuttered since 2004. These communities are also less likely to see a digital start-up help fill the void — as funding for both for- and non-profit models are more available in metro areas, and many rural counties across the U.S. still lack broadband internet access, which is critical for delivering online news.

More than 200 counties in the U.S. have no local paper, but that’s just part of the story, or this new shifted baseline: Local ownership of papers is eroding big time. Get this — nearly one-third of U.S. newspapers and two-thirds of dailies are now owned by 25 companies. GateHouse Media is rapacious, buying up small-town papers. That means the news is controlled by Big Brother Being The Oligarchs, many times edited a thousand miles or more from the towns or counties that are supposedly being covered. Copy-editing and editorial decisions for GateHouse originate in Austin, Texas. It’s the number one small and medium newspaper owner in the USA, and its model of “efficiency” means many fewer reporters and a more insipid and irrelevant TV style content which is also replicated (shared) widely.

Murders, celebrities, food, weather (not global warming) pet tricks, celebrity food, celebrity weather, celebrity pet tricks, celebrity murders idiocy of the umpteenth degree.

I have a case in point: a massive militarized police presence was in Beaverton, Oregon, last April, resulting in closing the main road east-west, locking down schools and the Salvation Army facility I worked at as a social worker. There were civilian-clothed snipers with high powered rifles w/ higher powered scopes all over; dozens of multi-agency personnel out in public with pistols brandished, and two armored vehicles with gun turrets that rammed the offending ex-vet’s big pick-up truck.

He had just been evicted from the Salvation Army’s homeless veterans transition center for suspect reasons. The entire homeless facility was bombarded with SWAT-outfitted police thugs, and no one was allowed to enter or leave the facility, creating high levels of anxiety with already PTSD-addled veterans and their homeless families.

The veteran was shot seven times, after only a few hours of staged hostage negation-like stuff, even though he was alone, pinned in his own pickup truck. The Salvation Army leadership later said it was a coup for them (this bizarre religious organization) – “Thank goodness we controlled the story and very few media outlets picked it up. We want to protect our brand in Oregon . . . as the number one non-profit.”

Now, imagine if there had been one or two beat reporters, like myself in my teens and twenties, vying to find out what really happened and why so much force had been deployed for a suicidal veteran basically isolated in his pick-up who could do no harm to anyone but himself? My baseline would have been news coverage galore, and better yet, follow up coverage.

Today, nothing, not even in the Portland, Oregon media market that serves millions of residents. And this is the Salvation Army, funded by the US taxpayer; i.e., VA paying for beds for those veterans to be housed.

This is the shifting baseline syndrome, which is a sickness tied to outfits like the Salvation Army using PR flaks and using the fact there are no newspapers in Washington County to cover local news and this disturbing show of military force and what the implications of a military operation in their neighborhood might mean in the future. No less, against a veteran who was getting services from a well-known homeless center.

Local news, and then news that has national and international implications, lost. Not covered. In the memory hole!

Shifting baseline syndrome means the public gets shafted and the administrators and gatekeepers of information — PR and marketers and development officers – get to lie through their teeth, or in the case of my police-involved shooting incident (even that term is dripping with propagandist flavor), no one knew the ramifications of the Salvation Army’s unprofessionalism and lack of trauma informed care leading up to the soldier’s eviction and then the suicidal behavior and then the soldier almost killed, and now, recovering in County lock-up jail serving time.  And he’s still suicidal, untreated.

Job well done by the keepers of the information flow. Shifting baseline disease.

Read the three parts of my Salvation Army mess here, II  III.

In the 1980s, I had published pieces in small towns newspapers, and later in the El Paso Times and El Paso Herald-Post on Central American refugees, on people crossing the border seeking asylum, on groups, both religious and secular, helping undocumented people cross the border and get help once here and to apply for political asylum. Piece published on the front pages of many small town rags I worked for.

My baseline then was we still had morning and evening rags, and weeklies, that debated hard the military’s presence in towns like Tucson or El Paso. Debated hard the debasement of the environment through the unchecked developers razing the desert. Debated hard the values of community health, welfare, safety and well-being over the wants and desires of small and large companies coming into communities and demanding tax abatements, giveaway land schemes, and more-more-more from the public coffers to do their trickster capitalism to make more-more-more for the owners, CEOs and stockholders.

Now Democrats and Republican alike rah-rah cheer trillions in military spending. Job creation and Hollywood America the Greatest masturbation. –

I’m going back to Ike: In his final address to the country, in 1961, while still a five-star general, and still a believer in the American way, in American exceptionalism, in America’s greatness (both sides of the political isle yammer on and on to show their patriotism), he did at least put into check the US military industrial complex:

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.

Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.   —source

Now, I have to back up a bit to reset this essay: I continue today — just hitting 62 — to call this myopia and concerted erasure of knowledge and historical context (what Gore Vidal calls the United States of Amnesia) shifting baseline syndrome covering many aspects of my life, the life of America and the implications to the world that the US Empire negatively effects.

I explain this concept daily as I go about living and roaming, learning and teaching, struggling and rejoicing.

Here, illustratively: The baseline for divers like me, in the Sea of Cortes (called the Aquarium of the World by many then), for the 1970s and ’80s:

I was diving daily near San Carlos and Guaymas, out near Tiburon Island from the boat my buddy and I paid $500 from a lake fisherman from Phoenix. So, a typical dive – dozens of turtles of three or four species, dozens of moray eels of a dozen species; pinnipeds like sea lions by the hundreds; long beak and short beak dolphins by the dozens; hammerhead sharks by the dozen; over two hundred species of reef fish, crustaceans, and sponges and soft corals; brown pelicans by the hundreds; pelagic fish and groupers and barracuda and amazing surface fish, nudibranchs; and, well, in one hour dive, more than what any overpaid Avatar CGI technical wonk could create, let alone dream of.

That’s the baseline for an 18-year-old in 1975, me, a wanna be Jacques Cousteau and marine biology college major. Fast forward forty-four years, and the baseline of another Pablo diver, same age, well, now a decimated, overfished, multi-polluted ocean, with hardly a shadow of what I saw on typical dives in the 1970s.

The baseline shifted, and today, the syndrome, in the shifting baseline syndrome/disease analogy, would be the arrogance, historical stupidity, and hubris to believe that a healthy and normal reef dive is what it should be as experienced in 2019. The syndrome and disease of shifting baselines it that it is most likely even smart biologists might be working on staving off further decline in an ecosystem based on the present baseline. What you don’t see now normalizes one to see what they see now as the correct baseline to go by. Wrong.

Now transfer the shifting baseline syndrome/disease to almost every aspect of US society: no, the baseline for police involvement in our lives is not a Gestapo, shoot to kill first force, where we all are in fear, while witnessing pigs murder Latinos and African Americans with impunity. Judge, jury and executioner, no, is not the baseline we should be stuck with or happy with.

Baseline sickness now applied to what it means to be a student – my baseline was a university where faculty had freedom to teach, that more were on the tenure track, where students would be experimenting with ideas and learning, without fear of Goldman Sachs thugs hobbling them for life with $100 K debt or censuring like a Phil Knight of Nike fame or Monsanto do regularly to researchers.

Yes, the baseline in 1975 when I was coming of age was that we COULD protest in the streets without fear of felonies, without being sprayed upon with tear gas and rubber bullets at every event; where cops were in small numbers, and there were no drones and militarized SWAT teams for peace demonstrations.

Baseline was for 1975 one hell of a lot more book readers, more by a power of 10,000 regular thinkers, and more people who had newspapers in their hands and talked about local politics by a power of 1,000,000.

Shifting baseline syndrome is now infecting every sector of our lives, where what is acceptable thinking, behavior, standard operating procedures and collective will NOW are so bastardized, retrograded and devolved that the conversation about anything on any tract – food-medicine-science-arts-law-education-international politics-community standards-health-safety-welfare of the environment-ownership-birth and death-cradle to cradle planning — is an effort in alien talk, as if people today are from a completely new set of gravitaional laws.

Idiots call this the “new normal,” another shifting baseline of not only bastardizing language but Orwellizing it. War is Peace, Lies are Truth, Stupidity is Smarts. New normal!

Now, back to “we all are illegal aliens,” where I helped push that bumper sticker in El Paso as a solidarity protest meme, to illustrate that no American First Nations leaders came together to endorse the free passage of all those whites to use their great Turtle Island as a haul-out like a bunch of molting fur seals.

Here, my writing, 13 years ago, for Dissident Voice, just below. Talk about no shifting baseline for me, or in the case of this hatred of Mexicans and Central Americans, displayed by more than just Trump and his ilk.

Oh, once you hit 50 or 60, the ramifications of this French doozy really sink in:

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — the more things change the more they stay the same –

It hearkens to the proverb, “Turbulent changes do not affect reality on a deeper level other than to cement the status quo.”

Related image

What is the Empire’s status quo when it comes to people displaced by American Empire structural and military and economic and environmental violence? April 7, 2006:

See the source image

This Land is Their Land, and We Are the Illegal Aliens

By Paul. K Haeder, April 7, 2006

We are all illegal aliens.” It’s a bumper sticker many of us on the frontlines of the fight against the United States’ government’s assault on Central Americans plastered on our car bumpers down El Paso way.

That was in the 1980s.

Image result for childrens drawings of murders in Central America by death squads

You know, when Reagan was running amok ordering his captains Ollie North, McFarland, Casper Weinberger, the whole lot of them, to send bombs, CIA-torture manuals and US agents in order to aid terrorist contras and other despotic sorts in killing hundreds of thousands of innocents in civil wars in Salvador and Guatemala and El Salvador.

We worked with women and children who had witnessed fathers, uncles and husbands eviscerated by US-backed military monsters.

Victims of torture, in Texas illegally. You know, what those brave Smith and Wesson-brandishing, chaise lounge Minutemen of today would call aliens.

We worked with people in faith-based communities, mainstream churches, and non-profits throughout El Paso, Juarez and the general area known as La Frontera. Everyone I met working with in this refugee assistance stint had humanitarian blood coursing through their veins. We were proud of our law-breaking work — we gave refuge to terrorized and sometimes half-dead civilians.

We were called lawbreakers by the Reaganites and the Minutemen of that time. Communists. Pinko-fags. Those were the good old days of low-tech surveillance and simple FBI lists.

But what we did was human and humane, in the tradition of that very universal (with roots in Quakerism) belief in bearing witness and acting upon that which has been judged as unjust and inhumane.

Of course, we were up against the laws of this land and coarse politically-driven judges who denied victim after victim permanent or temporary status while seeking asylum in the US.

We have so many stories of people sent back who were at best imprisoned, and in the worse cases, mutilated, disappeared, and murdered.

Guatemalan and Salvadorans, that is. My readers may not want to hear the narratives and visualize the descriptions of photos of those victims of torture. Ghastly things happened to teachers, nuns, medical workers and farmers, more heinous than what we’ve heard happened in the cells of Abu Ghraib.

We were there to assist, but more importantly to bear witness to our country’s terror campaign. Some of us got so riled up that later in our lives — me included — we hoofed it to Central America. Kicked around. Wrote articles for the few newspapers in this country that even cared about poor, misbegotten, displaced people of Latin America.

But no matter how hard-nosed we became, or how much we could withstand the photographs of women’s sliced backs and beheaded fetuses, we couldn’t shake the images of the children of torture at this two-story refugee house, Annunciation House. It was full of scruffy-looking East Coast volunteers who had hooked up with Ruben Garcia, the House’s director, through Catholic services organizations. It was their stint with public service, their spiritual duty calling. Part of their degree plans. But most were converted and slammed hard intellectually and spiritually by the violence their charges had suffered under in our name – as US citizens paying taxes.

Those PTSD-induced cartoons those children drew sucked the air out of even the hard-ass border patrol guys who used to “dump” the Central Americans at Ruben’s door at all hours of the night. Who can believe it now, that once upon a time official INS and border patrol officers knowingly let their perps go — knew that Ruben and his volunteers could salve emotional and physical wounds of these tortured crossers.

Their chance at freedom. Except for the piss-ant judges. And the memories of pregnant aunties being raped, their fetuses cut out alive, speared, and the laughing Reagan-loved military punks in the highlands and jungle.

Annunciation House was bulging at 100 people — disheveled lives jammed in. Beans always cooking. Songs. Mattresses and piles of donated clothes. Guitars strumming. Gueros, the white ones, and the Chicanos would help with in-takes — asylum transcripts, translation, dotting all the i’s and crossing the t’s. Help with getting jobs. Odd jobs in the community. Help with making sure the refugees didn’t get caught again.

But it was always those by-the-letter-of-the-law jurists helping to confound the torture. More than 70 percent of our brothers and sisters seeking asylum in the US were denied entry by some fat cat, many times cocaine-sniffing immigration judge who usually had a friend in the back pocket of some Bush or buddy of Bush somewhere.

Then it was trying to get the denied victims off to Canada without being caught. You remember, the Canada back then which used to open its borders to refugees, [the Canada of shifting baseline syndrome].

The judges and politicians and Minutemen all professed, “Send them back. Those aliens broke our immigration laws.”

But “we are all illegal aliens” as a rejoinder went much farther than USA’s mayhem in Mesoamerica. We worked in solidarity with the housekeepers, bricklayers, agricultural workers and so many other worthy Mexicans who worked their butts off in the US for little pay and much less respect.

These were workers who crossed the Rio Grande to find low-paying jobs with American families and businesses — working for mayors, bigwigs, even on government contracts. In Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, elsewhere. With a wink and a smile by the American exploiters.

Mojado — wetback. Squatter. Beaner. Illegal alien. These were the more tame epithets.

But let’s not kid ourselves about the genesis of this new round of empowered Latinos fighting against racist laws put forward by the dispassionate conservatives running the ship of fools in DC.

This is not a country of legal immigrants. It’s a country based on colonialists, undocumented white people who helped displace native tribes through broken laws and genocide.

It’s a country based on illegal occupation of native lands and on Mexico’s lands, pure and simple. Colonialists protected by Federal laws that deemed free white people as the only ones who had the right to be fully-fledged citizens.

Manifest Destiny was a violent racist act to seize lands illegally.

Everything this country’s current anti-Mexican and pro-Apartheid border war proponents stand upon — all that doctrine and those so-called laws — is based on illegally seizing lands of Native tribes.

And worse — laws that “removed” natives. Laws that starved natives. Laws that approved of eradicating native families, entire tribes.

The current massive turnout of students and workers alike in this country’s major cities is a testament to these Americans’ backbone to fight this new exclusionary law — HR4377 — a Washington, DC-inspired racist act that has its roots in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Many Americans do express a certain humanity and dignity for the people many deem aliens, but it’s not awe-inspiring that some citizens of Copenhagen, Denmark or Limerick, Ireland, disobey the so-called immigration laws of this country during their initial years as landed immigrants.

Let’s make no bones about the motives of Jim Sensenbrenner, the author of this racist House bill: He sees those brown-skinned south-of-the-border lettuce pickers, linen washers, house framers, and their US-born children as, what? “Alien gang members terrorizing communities.”

Anyone spouting that we are a nation of immigrants and laws has a disease, what George Orwell called the illness of double-think.

And until those many white Americans stop spewing that this is their land, a land of their laws, and a land made for Christians, the racist Minutemen will ramp up their gun brandishing on the southern and northern borders. And racist politicians will continue to play on the fears of uniformed constituents and try to pass the 21st Century’s racist exclusionary laws.

I wonder what these modern-day Nazis would say about those children’s cartoons — images of bodies floating in rivers. Blood-soaked church walls. Military men with their M-16s trained on men while others are sketched in their rape hunch. Beautiful jungle birds flying in the sky next to US-paid-for helicopter gunships spraying the corn and coffee fields below. Dead mommies cradling dead babies.

Yeah, I’m an illegal alien. We all are illegal aliens, under the laws of these creeps in high office. Humanity and caring and simple benedictions for suffering so much, those are alien traits only held by a minority in this country of exclusion, and slavery. Yeah, those creeps on hate-radio and in the newspaper columns and on Capitol Hill, sure, they recognize all of us who see the lies and fight the injustice as aliens.

And the children whose post-traumatic cartoons brought tears to men and women, some who had “fought” in Vietnam. Simple Crayola colorings brought tears to a county sheriff who had survived drug runners shooting up his town and unearthed bodies.

Yeah, we are all illegal aliens. Except them.

Paul Haeder worked in Central America and Mexico writing for newspapers during the 1980s and early 1990s. He’s currently in Spokane, Washington, as an instructor of writing at Spokane Falls Community College and writes sustainability-energy-environmental pieces for the towns weekly, Pacific Northwest Inlander.

 

Unity and Exceptionalism: Trump’s State of Union Flurries

“Trump is hated by everyone,” comes one unnamed former official in an account to Vanity Fair, one supposedly sourced after the President’s State of the Union Address.  Another claimed that all was wretched in the White House: “It’s total misery. People feel trapped.”  Off record stuff, unnamed and, as ever, doing nothing to concern a leader whose interests have always lain elsewhere.  Whatever the chronic dysfunction affecting the West Wing, what mattered for Donald Trump was simply getting his State of the Union address going. And long it was too – 82 minutes, making it the third longest in history.

The address saw Trump return to what he is most comfortable with: campaign mode.  Governance is less important than combat.  When there are troubles, and when there is crisis, he searches for the rally, the reassurances of his formidable and, it would seem, unshakeable base still ignored on either side of the coast.  The speech was seen by Susan Glasser of The New Yorker as “sort of gauzy” with hints of “World War II triumphalism”.

The language was, in the main, thin puffery, that of the exceptional nation which had “saved freedom, transformed science” and done more than its bit to redefine “the middle class standard of living for the entire world to see.” In a sense, this is true: the paradox of US living is that it supposedly reconciles middle class living with horrendous swathes of indigence and an active food stamp culture, a true glory to the distortions of Social Darwinism.

US presidential addresses tend to sound like bits of elevated shouting, the imperial figure, clutching the purple, looking down at his global subjects to lecture them about an extensive curriculum vitae thick with achievement.  “This is our future, our fate, and our choice to make.  I am asking you to choose greatness.”  This is the great mythology of choice, one that takes root in the experimental soils of New World optimism.  It hides, or at least ignores, the obvious point that greatness has often nothing to do with choice, being, as it were, a convergence of accidents, unintended steps and old fashioned stumbling.  US society was not conceived as a committee’s work in progress.

But for Trump, there was an exhortation framed around the language of decision and volition, peering into the future brightly. “Together we can break decades of political stalemate.  We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future.  The decision is ours to make.”

Trump’s language of deliverance is not for the future, but from it.  It speaks to nostalgic tear-duct swellings, hot flushes of the past when full US employment was not an elaborate sham and US power could be seen, and in many cases felt, as an unconditional phenomenon.  The future, to be understood, can only be done via the mechanism of the past.  The State of the Union was no different in that sense.  “In June we marked 75 years since the start of what Gen. Dwight Eisenhower called ‘the great crusade’, the Allied liberation of Europe in World War II.”

Then there was that issue of moon travel, another act worthy of chest beating.  “In 2019, we also celebrate 50 years since brave young pilots flew a quarter of a million miles through space to plant the American flag on the face of the moon.  Half a century later we are joined by one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who planted the flag: Buzz Aldrin.  This year, American astronauts will go back into space on American rockets.”

The speech proved glazing in its praise of the Make America Great project. Manufacturing was up; regulations had been cut; corporations had been pacified and encouraged; taxes had been sliced; and the United States had become “the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world.”

Then came the rather funny business of unity.  Not that Trump’s period in office has been entirely absent of it: the passage of the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform measure that received a modest cheer across the aisles, will go down, in time, as a significant bipartisan measure. But Trump had his sights set elsewhere.  “As we have seen, when we are united, we can make astonishing strides for our country.  Now, Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis.”  Congress, he spoke in hectoring reminder, had “10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our Government, protect our homeland and secure our southern border.”

The Democrats remained defensive and unmoved, preferring a softer approach to dealing with illegal immigration.  Nor are they are likely to ease up on the investigations, which they have become inexorably linked to.  It said much about the neurotic state of affairs that is Washington politics: Trump can speak to unity where it doesn’t exist, a common ground that is simply not being reached.  Nor can it.  Unity is precisely what the president is not, the toxic, necessary revelation of a society rented through with divisions that have turned into votes.

For the US to again fall into the fictional language of forced consensus, one manufactured in the hot houses of technocracy and the board room, would be for Trump to disappear, for his America to vanish into the illusion of agreement.  That is hardly going to happen – at least for now.  The economic figures have given him leg room; his supporters have not left.  Nor do the Democrats have an answer.  The conspiracy of happiness has yet to return.

The Circle Over the Triangle: A Collectivism and Cyclic Belief Change Comes Around

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Auguries of Innocence, by William Blake

There is an American Native game, counting coup, which is both rarefied and possibly the answer to the male testosterone/female co-opting of testosterone that has given rise to Civilizational humanity since the so-called fertile crescent gestated the evil arts of subjugating man, woman, child and ecosystems to a small cabal of landowners (sic) who got humanity to work for food.

I always go to Daniel Quinn and other neotribalists to look at the long-range, way back, to give some justification to a tribal and hunter-gatherer past that for many of us is locked in our genes, accessible to fewer and fewer people daily as the world becomes a landmine of DNA-warping, cell-depleting, culture-sapping madness orchestrated by white men (mostly).

In our cultural mythology we see ourselves as having left tribalism behind the way modern medicine left the leech and the bleeding bowl behind, and we did so decisively and irrevocably. This is why it’s so difficult for us to acknowledge that tribalism is not only the preeminently human social organization, it’s also the only unequivocally successful social organization in human history. Thus, when even so wise and thoughtful a statesman as Mikhail Gorbachev calls for “a new beginning” and “a new civilization,” he doesn’t doubt for a single moment that the pattern for it lies in the social organization that has introduced humanity to oppression, injustice, poverty, chronic famine, incessant violence, genocide, global warfare, crime, corruption, and wholesale environmental destruction. To consult, in our time of deepest crisis, with the unqualified success that humanity enjoyed here for more than three million years is quite simply and utterly unthinkable.

Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Adventure

What’s lovely about my own intersection with Gary Brumback – the author of the book this review-dash-screed is enveloping: Life’s Triangles and America’s Power Elites: Can the Living Field be Leveled?  — is that Gary reached out to me and solicited my comments and possible endorsement of this book (he’s a regular contributor to Dissident Voice), through the auspices of one of modern civilization’s double-edged swords – the world wide internet.

I think it’s both unreal and uniquely human to reach out across the digital universe, and when someone who is connected to me through my words, and finds some linkage, then I believe that’s sign enough to make some connection deeper, or revealing.

It’s gutsy for this 84-year-old former organizational psychologist to have reached out to me (I’m not now your typical thinker and writer), and the proof is in the pudding when it comes to his writing and then how the diner/reader of those ideas, through the grist of his words and grammar (courses) gets the true taste (or terroir) of the author’s (chef’s) orchestration of ideas and composition.

As many readers of my work know, I am captivated by holism and systems thinking, and many times I am looking at life – universalities — through my own optics. I understand the drive to want to understand how tidal wetlands work and how elephant seals can go down 7,770 feet for up to two hours without succumbing to the bends or nitrogen narcosis.

But inherent in that learning and yearning, I understand the power of attracting forces, both physics and metaphysics, and the value in coincidences, both mathematical and magical, and more and more, daily, I am grasping the reasoning for my own living and thinking and breathing. Here I am on the Oregon Coast (central) just having done my first day’s class to be a certified marine mammal (and to help tourists/visitors understand the other zoological and ecological concerns) naturalist. I was about to fiddle with my short story collection which is coming out in several months from Cirque Press, and I was also prepped to blog from my post here in Otis, Oregon.

Instead, I answered the email call from Gary to take a look at his book and write up something. What interests me most about fellows like Brumback is his tenacity to not only understand the world around him using a variety of tools from his 84 years on the planet, but also his desire to be one among us as writers – anti-authoritarian thinkers who deeply question the role of this country in the upsetting of people and cultures throughout the globe.

“Call of Duty” is what I see my role now turning 62 next week. I have engendered good will and hard learning in thousands of students, at public gatherings where I “ran the show” (a hat off to Ed Sullivan) and in my writing, big and small. I’ve written three-parts to my hell-hole experience working with homeless veterans at the Starvation Army in Oregon. But in reality, the linchpin for me is my call of duty, call and answer, to carry forth in any way possible, the message of revolt. Speaking of revolt, I remember hanging out with Robert Bly on two occasions – one time in El Paso as we made it over to Juarez for tequila, and another time 23 years later in Spokane with bourbon and quietude. I wrote a promo article for his appearance in Spokane as part of Get Lit!. His poem, “Call and Answer,” is powerful, even at 17 years old.

I bring this up as a tangent to describe some of what I interpret as the core value in Gary’s new book:

Call and Answer

Tell me why it is we don’t lift our voices these days
And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed
The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

I say to myself: “Go on, cry. What’s the sense
Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!
See who will answer! This is Call and Answer!”

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

How come we’ve listened to the great criers—Neruda,
Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass—and now
We’re silent as sparrows in the little bushes?

Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
Where are we in the week? Is it Thursday yet?
Hurry, cry now! Soon Sunday night will come.

It is the Saturday of my life, most likely, as I just spent sometime at Cascadia Head, where the Salmon River and the Pacific Ocean battle it out during the various tides ebbing and flowing. Alone, with harbor seals popping their heads up, and their partner, a river otter, watching me look at two bald eagles looking for seal placenta to gobble up.

Here, visiting Canadian photographer Isabelle Hayeur who is on a residency at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, is shooting the Oregon Coast. The Canadian is here on the Pacific Coast of Oregon for first time, and her residency continues her exploration of water and land, people and ecosystems — to show the changes to the ecosystems caused by humans. Here, that Cascadia Head shot and the Salmon hitting the Pacific near Lincoln City, Oregon.

See the source image

I know for sure as the colluding forces of capitalism – a real misanthropy of both the mind and body – eat at my exterior, the very simple act of movement — with my plodding bag of bones — if I am to survive in this sick world of capitulation of both parties working to mine the last corpuscles of the workers and working class — is sometimes herculean. It’s my Saturday, as Bly states, but I am not sure of this writer Gary’s place in time, if it’s Thursday for him, or Sunday.

I’m not saying this is the 84-year-old Brumback’s position, but I know his clarion calls are what Bly states clearly in these stanzas from this small poem –

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

Brumback is looking to reach those angels of our better selves, and he is wanting the cries of great writers and thinkers, alive and passed on, to push out the silence that is engulfing the entire body politic and public of this ripped-off-land-and-killing-natives country that has made more than a trillion pacts with the devil, a foundation that daily reverberates as the grand Faustian bargain of keeping silent for the few spoils of capitalism.

Americans are in their own tight spot now: keeping on the lights, fridge half full, Super Bowl projected on plasma TV, the latest model of Jeep in the driveway, work that eats at the soul and the body. The bargain, I believe, Brumback is not so quick to go quietly into the night, as this book uncovers the full weight of an old man’s lamentations and ruminations.

His book is compelling for those young minds that have been colonized and whose hearts and souls have been metastasized by consumer culture, the true bedrock of capitalism. Small intonations of the country’s history and this current manifestation of corruption are the drumbeats to his march forward in this quickly drawn book of very big historical ideas unleashed for the uninitiated mind.

Back to that Native American counting coup allusion I begin with:  It’s sort of what I see unfolding as my own literary device while reading Brumback’s book, Life’s Triangles and America’s Power Elites. “Coup” for the Lakota and others was counted to establish position in the tribal honor system. Status mattered, and competition to count the greatest coup was intense. Here’s the beauty of this bravery – getting close enough to touch an enemy with a coup stick without causing him harm.

The self-styled book is by former organizational psychologist Brumback, who counts his own coup many times in this book, as he wanders through the history of the United States, with both whimsy and with a Quaker’s eye toward justice. He uses a variety of wide angle and telephoto angles in order to look deeper at the simple equation of the rich — with military might behind them — controlling the destiny of the country – us, its inhabitants – and the insecurity of the planet, from all the other inhabitants of 192 countries plus the flora and fauna of the planet’s Gaia.

Here, for the Lakota, killing an enemy far away or at long range did not count as a coup. Moreover, winning by overwhelming numbers counted as a “non coup.” Bravery involving a solitary warrior in a headlong battle charge that was climaxed by touching, with no lethal tap of a stick, now that was a coup, as Indians harmlessly touched an enemy with wooden sticks for the purpose of counting coup.

In so many ways, Brumback’s book “touches”—counts coup — upon the enemies of humankind, with myriad of histories of this country since first contact with those Lakota et al. The writer delves into the mess of the United Snakes of America utilizing quick riffs while cracking open these causal relationships of greed, power, hierarchy, elitism, pathology in this country’s early years and now advancing into today’s predatory capitalism and parasitic economics (or our Shock Doctrine derived from our Monroe Doctrine) Brumbuck is interested in.

He’s also demonstrating another sort of intellectual “counting coup” in a sense since Brumback touches the enemy with his own touchstones and short pithy points connecting to the current state of global affairs.

His goal, it seems, is to consolidate a lot of his writing over his 84 years on planet earth and to codify a body of work he’s studiously read and then to bring himself to some conclusion that there might be some hope for his children and grandchildren. His belief in organizational psychology as a determinant of how bloody sociopathic the not-so-modern corporation is and how that pathology has twisted and turned (morphed) into a gigantic toxic and self-replicating broken set of laws regulating the elite’s projects of domination and extermination is the umbrella covering his writing.

Oscar Wilde is right when defining a cynic in his work, Lady Windemere’s Fan, with Lord Darlington quip: “A person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

From Raj Patel’s first chapter, The Value of Nothing, Patel can help me understand Brumback’s criticism of capitalism and his somewhat of a defense of it in some idealized state that hasn’t yet existed:

From its inception, the free market has spawned discontent, but rare are the moments when that discontent coalesces across society, when a sufficiently large group of people can trace their unhappiness to free market politics, and demand change. The New Deal in the United States and the postwar European welfare states were partly a result of a consortium of social forces pushing for new limits to markets, and a renegotiation of the relationship between individuals and society. What’s new about this crisis is that it’s pervasively global, and comes at the last moment at which we might prevent a global climate catastrophe. But the breadth and depth of both these crises reflect how profoundly our society has been transfixed by free market culture. To understand how this will affect us in the twenty-first century, we need to understand how it began, and to ask why today’s markets look the way they do

Here, the book Gary sent me, in a nutshell, which Brumbuck puts in his own book’s preface:

Here’s a quick overview of this book. It’s a substantial distillation of and addition to my relevant books and articles on the subject.

The first chapter may seem very abstract and academic, but believe me, it is about very real matters, life itself. This chapter lays the groundwork for understanding why the power elite do what they do and what happens when they do it.

The second chapter explains the very nature of power and introduces my concept and illustration of the “power tower” with the elite at the top and the “les Misérables” at the very bottom with several levels in between.

Chapter Three probes what makes the power elite “tick” by looking inside their “black boxes.” When you read this chapter, you will understand that I don’t flippantly ascribe evil motives and evildoing to the power elite.

Chapter Four thoroughly describes and explains the power elite’s “badvantages,” my term for situations and circumstances that give advantage to bad behavior. For example, “our” government gives many handouts to its master, Corporate America.

Chapter Five describes the seemingly limitless bad behavior of the power elite and their functionaries of the corpocracy.

I want to warn you about Chapter Six. It is a true horror story of the consequences of the power elite’s evil doing. By the time you have finished reading this chapter you may be a bit depressed if you believe it is credible. As an antidote I’ll try to inject some homespun humor now and then, starting now. “There is no beating around the Bush, he is what he is.”

And finally, Chapter Seven asks whether the power tower with its power inequality can be changed to the power rectangle with its power equality; in other words, can the living field finally be levelled? This question explains the question mark at the end of the book’s subtitle. Putting there instead an exclamation mark would have been sheer balderdash.

What his book does is galvanize much of his reading – and respect for – other writers who have peered through the looking glass of the Military-Prison-Financial-Ag-Chemical-Education-Legal-Patent-Pharma-Med-IT-AI-Real Estate-Insurance-Education Complex to discover the truths many of us in the anti-authority/ anti-hierarchical/pro-humanity/ pro-universal rights of nature have discovered through our discourse, our deep and fledgling philosophies, and our own experiences in the insanity echo chamber that is modern and post-modern America.

He dedicates this book to Howard Zinn, and Brumback mentions that other books he himself has written could not have been envisioned or codified without the teachings and writings of Zinn:

I am also dedicating this book to the late Howard Zinn, the author of a book on American history that is a must read! I dedicated my previous book to him, which shows how indebted a follower I am. Like my previous book, I could not have written the one you have in your hands were it not for Mr. Zinn’s illuminating history book that tells the true history of America [A People’s History of the United States, 2005]. The power elite understandingly hate Mr. Zinn’s book. The former governor of my home state, for example, was gleeful upon hearing of Mr. Zinn’s death and promptly banned his book statewide from high school curricula. Is it any wonder that my high school history classes in the 1950’s remain the same today, “trivialized, militarized and numbing?”

What I love about this Will Rogersian approach to history Gary brings to this book is the power of his short, deliberate passages outlying the rules and madness that have been fomented in the name of a small elite in this country. He captivates himself in each section, as if new to the material himself, embarking on a self-styled journey to tell what he knows and what he’s read.

This book is a compilation, a Popular Mechanics and Farmer’s Almanac of Brumback’s autobiographical intersection at explaining how capitalism is a game of manipulated vestiges of a global  usury past, where Fiefdoms and Kingdoms and unholy alliances of dictators and religions have splayed humankind. No matter where Gary treads, he comes up with the same underpinning for the book, and his other books and probably all his other writings, as well as his own conundrum now in advanced age:

I’ll finally end this long Preface with two questions and an advance notice about my choice of certain nouns and pronouns.

First question: do you think on the one hand that there is a tolerable difference between a handful of evil doers choosing villagers in a far-away land and then bombing them to smithereens in our names and on the other hand the many millions of us letting it happen?

Second question: do you think the surviving loved ones blame the few or us in general? You can tell my answer by my varying use in the text of nouns versus pronouns. For example, instead of writing “the military bombs innocent people,” I will occasionally write “we bomb innocent people” to emphasize that whatever is done by a certain few is being done in our names. Since you might find this practice irritating if I always do it, I will do it only occasionally.

Here in the preface, Brumback sets up the entire tome on a simple proposition – what is done and said by/in Las Vegas/USA stays in/with those living/working/dying in Las Vegas/USA.

The contradiction is blaring, though, as one of my friends, Andre Vltchek states in his humanitarian and global writing – that the rest of the world, that is, the world other than Western Civilization; i.e., Europe/EU, UK, USA, Canada – pays for its/our so-called “higher standard” of living, higher level of economic/environmental/health well-being, and its/our unlimited (seemingly) time to ponder its/our own rotten and degenerate selves.

Through the eyes of someone (Gary’s unblindered eyes, as he states it in his book) in this country, USA, who believes that capitalism somehow can be fixed or somehow is derived from a fair system of checks and balances (however, capitalism always relies on growth and continual growth, antithetical to anything we know about the limits of growth, the finite systems), I venture close to proposing to Gary another set of principles needed to live as Homo Sapiens in this world, tied to retrenchement and a form of ecosocialism, far from any new and improved or regurgitated capitalism:  we are living in a closed system of planet earth, and the fragility of the commons (air, water, sea, land, food) now is even more pronounced with ecosystems collapsing (Sixth Mass extinction on steroids) from over over-harvesting, over-polluting, over-rearranging/razing.

Ecosocialism is Utopian, but so are we as writers and thinkers:

Ecosocialism is a vision of a transformed society in harmony with nature, and the development of practices that can attain it. It is directed toward alternatives to all socially and ecologically destructive systems, such as patriarchy, racism, homophobia and the fossil-fuel based economy. It is based on a perspective that regards other species and natural ecosystems as valuable in themselves and as partners in a common destiny.

Ecosocialism shares with traditional socialism a passion for justice. It shares the conviction that capitalism has been a deadly detour for humanity. We understand capitalism to be a class society based on infinite expansion, through the exploitation of labor and the ransacking of nature.

Ecosocialists are also guided by the life-ways of indigenous peoples whose economies are embedded in a classless society in fundamental unity with nature. We draw upon the wisdom of the ages as well as the latest science, and will do what can be done to bring a new society, beyond capitalism, into existence.

I go back to Andre Vltchek  who looks at the polluting effects of capitalism on cultures wide and far, tied to the so-called artist :

You say “European cultural institutions”, and what should come immediately to mind are lavish concerts, avant garde art exhibitions, high quality language courses and benevolent scholarships for talented cash-strapped local students.

It is all so noble, so civilized!

Or, is it really? Think twice!

I wrote my short novel, “Aurora”, after studying the activities of various Western ‘cultural institutions’, in virtually all the continents of the Planet. I encountered their heads; I interacted with the ‘beneficiaries’ of various funding schemes, and I managed to get ‘behind the scenes’.

What I discovered was shocking: these shiny ‘temples of culture’ in the middle of so many devastated and miserable cities worldwide (devastated by the Western imperialism and by its closest allies – the shameless local elites), are actually extremely closely linked to Western intelligence organizations. They are directly involved in the neo-colonialist project, which is implemented virtually on all continents of the world, by North America, Europe and Japan.

‘Culture’ is used to re-educate and to indoctrinate mainly the children of the local elites. Funding and grants are put to work where threats and killing were applied before. How does it work? It is actually all quite simple: rebellious, socially-oriented and anti-imperialist local artists and thinkers are now shamelessly bought and corrupted. Their egos are played on with great skill. Trips abroad for ‘young and talented artists’ are arranged, funding dispersed, scholarships offered.

Carrots are too tasty, most would say, ‘irresistible’. Seals of approval from the Empire are ready to stamp those blank pages of the lives of still young, unrecognized but angry and sharp young artists and intellectuals from those poor, colonized countries. It is so easy to betray! It is so easy to bend.

Please note I am not comparing Gary or his book to other writers or their books/writing, some of whom he cites liberally throughout this latest one. I believe in a new way of book analysis, or reviewing a book – by putting myself into the stream of consciousness that cascades for someone like myself who in the process of reading will take to heart how closely or far away that content resonates with my own life and my own writing. It is the power of a book like Gary’s to incite not only my own deep introspection about what it means to be an American, someone who has worked (albeit struggled by not getting bought and sold by corporate America, but still . . . sold down the river in the careers I’ve held), but also what it means to be counter to almost anything and everything this country produces or stands for in its national collective consciousness.

His thesis for the book is tied to his own backing of organizational psychology. He uses these equations to illustrate where he’s coming from:

Anyone’s Equation:
Person + Context = Person’s Behavior + Consequences

Any Organization’s Equation:
Organization + Context = Organization’s Behavior + Consequences

Any Nation’s Equation :
Nation + Context = Nation’s Behavior + Consequences

Of course, every person, every organization, every nation has their own equations, sort of like a unique DNA code. The specific details in any equation can change from day to day, except some of the details for chronic habits like that of America’s endless warring and spying change less.2 A nation, therefore, over the entire course of its history may have gone through zillions of its more significant equations with varying details in the input side.

Thus, what anyone, any organization or any nation do throughout their lives depends on themselves and their contexts. Behavior never happens without both and will never be fully explained without both.

Beyond his background in psychology, Brumback looks to his writing now as a way to express his historical knowledge of America’s bloody programs of subjugation and to militate his belief in non-violence as he was reared as a Quaker.

He sets up the book by talking about his background working with organizations, treating them sort of speak to heal themselves, which in the end he sees as impossible under the current structures of limited liability companies and the bigger transnational corporations that are rapacious in every way.

Brumback alludes to working a long time for industry, the US federal government and non-profit research business. The power of the company man, and his own background in academics (a rather conservative and lock-step group think cabal), he admits, muted his criticism of the Viet Nam War as he was then (1960-75) fearful of endangering his career and his family.

He talks of being a “recovering” academese reader, writer and talker, and his book is far from any sort of style found in the pedantic journals where members of the nefarious American Psychology Association dump their stories on.

Brumback: This book is therefore as deliberate ‘street write’ as I can make it, a conversation, although one-way with you.

Interestingly, he gives us 12 Facts (as seen in a Jan. 23, 2019 Dissident Voice piece) that are not truths that have embedded into the American mindset, the American propaganda of historical warping, lying and outright censorship. There is a reason why this country goes into zombie or dervish mode every year — when two multi-billion dollar organizations, Rams and Patriots, under the umbrella of a white patriarchy elitism called the NFL — watching entitled, redneck or mute millionaire players whose ultimate contribution to society is to sell cars, beer, Viagra and the lies of empire on their way to permanent Traumatic Brain Injury hell.

  • False Fact: The American Revolution was fought to free the people from suppression by King George and his chartered corporations.
  • False Fact: “We the people of the United States——-do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
  • False Fact: We are the “United States of America.”
  • False Fact: America is a democracy.
  • False fact: America’s Civil War was fought to free the slaves.
  • False fact: America’s wars have been unavoidable and just.
    False Fact: Whistleblowers are traitors.
  • False Fact. Our nation’s military represents the best this country has to offer.
  • False Fact. America’s war veterans are heroes.
  • False Fact: To rationalize its own excesses, including its hand-outs from the government, corpocratic capitalists spout the theory of trickle-down economics as a rationalization for their own hefty welfare benefits, arguing that more money at the top will eventually trickle down to the bottom in the way of jobs.
  • False Fact: The rich say the poor get what they deserve.
  • False Fact. Public services need to be privatized because government is inefficient and costly.

In many ways, Brumback has both fun moments and sarcastic fluidity  with these American exceptionalist delusions throughout his book, but he is serious about launching a straightforward attack on the elite’s continual degradation of the citizenry of this country: hollowing out our “symbolic democracy” through the systematic formula of penury, debt slavery, theft of the commons resources, the rapacious appetite to despoil ecosystems and communities, the socializing of the externalities of their dirty businesses and then in turn privatizing all the profits; and, finally, their basically illegal, unethical and unconstitutional ways of going about their wealth and political power accumulation.

What I like best about this book is the earnestness that Brumback brings to the page. He is there to guide the reader into the hall of mirrors and house of horrors that embody America. He is a troubadour for truth and unraveling the seemingly complexities of the elite’s rule over the majority, the 90 percent of us who are not any part of the Point Zero Zero One percent’s project of human annihilation.

In the end, Brumback hits back at the idea of nature versus nurture, at the very end of the book:

Recall in Chapter 3 that I included genetics as an input in the black box. Our genetic history simply can’t be denied. But when it comes to being bad or good morally speaking, what do we know about the role of genetics, and does it really matter?

Psychologist Stephen Mason concludes that “some people are, quite simply, born bad.”

Not so concludes psychologist Dacher Keltner. “He finds that positive emotions lie at the core of human nature.”

Two diametrically opposed conclusions. My conclusion is that while babies are innocent at the instant of birth because they have not had time to behave badly, some will eventually do so habitually, and some won’t. What role nature plays in influencing their behavior is immaterial in my opinion. What matters from a practical standpoint is the question of how to deal with the resulting wrongdoing.

What’s your opinion?

While we can argue over epigentics and the complete failure of the human seed and human semen to produce unadulteratedly since the  products of capitalism; i.e., toxins, from Teflon to aromatic particulates, from Atrazine to PCBs, from glyphosate to flame retardant, from mercury to cesium, have overtaken humanity and all zoological systems.

Is Donald Trump, the sociopath that he is, friend and abuser with Jeffrey Epstein and Roy Cohn, and that Donald whose father is in a Woody Guthrie song for the old man’s racism, well, is that president (sic-sic) who represents the ills of the father and the unfettered protection of his elite class and the muscle of his casino thugs, is Donald, with NPD (narcissistic personalty disorder), responsible for his hatred, racism, lies, and power hunger? Or is it his upbringing, or months inside his mama’s womb, or the people around him to blame?

roy cohn

That’s the crux of the book, really: Brumback is asking the reader to judge for ourselves the depth of the conspiracy of the rich toward absolute control of the majority. Is there true evil in the world, or are all children borne of original sin?

Those toxins and carcinogenics and structural violence systems were created, marketed, sold, defended, patented by men/women, in corporations. The socipathic definition of a corporation is the same as the person, but can we give a free ride to the majority of people in the corporation who are just, to recoin my favorite phrase, Little Eichmanns?

In any sense, the embodiment of the Hudson Bay Company is the message in the Heart of Darkness, which reflects the individual as sociopath and the LLC as sociopathic, as the amorality of corporations is obvious from a million cases we all can tap into from the written record. That these companies — polluters — have gained personhood is compelling, from the start of this country’s slide deeper and deeper into the morass of capitalism — set forth 133 years ago in 1886 in the Supreme Court case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. This obscure case set the precedent that corporations have some rights under the 14th Amendment and were given de-facto personhood.

So, then, we have given corporations even higher status in this personhood allusion/legal definition in the Citizens United Case . What sort of person is a corporation?

Are they philanthropic and kind to their neighbors or are they the kind of people who will slit your throat to take your wallet?

For most of us in the Brumback class, we see the very nature of the corporation as both amoral and sociopathic.

They exist to make money, regardless of the social consequences. And they have gotten legal protections from the consequences of their crimes — a true Mafioso or cartel paying off the politicians and the cops and judges to gain unimaginable wealth and power over us, the 90 percent.

A sociopath and a corporation have identical incentive structures and motivations:

  • Both sociopaths and corporations exist for the sole purpose of self-centered goals—sociopaths want a variety of things (money, power, sex, etc.) while corporations are solely focused upon making money.

  • Neither has an internal sense of morality and, barring intervention from a more powerful authority, both are willing to exploit others in service of their goal; just as how a sociopath may be willing to lie, cheat and steal their way through life, a corporation is willing to use child sweatshop labor to depress costs.

  • Both sociopaths and corporations are constrained through risk/reward analysis—sociopaths weigh the value or pleasure of doing something immoral against the legal/social risks, while corporations weigh the profit of their actions against the cost of legal/social actions against their agenda.

In the end, we have to develop both sensitivities and thick skins in the gambit called This American Life. Brumback makes his claim to some of those contradictions and dichotomies in his book. He can be contacted by the reader here for more information on ordering the book. Gary Brumback.

I sign off with the words of Eduardo Galeano whose Memory of Fire trilogy sets deep in my soul. From an interview:

I want to be an honest man and a good writer, as James Baldwin was. I greatly admired him. He once told a story that I used in the third volume of Memory of Fire. He was very young, and he was walking down the street with a friend, a painter. They stop at a red light. “Look,” says the friend. Baldwin sees nothing, except a dirty pool of water. The friend insisted: “Look at it, really.” So Baldwin takes a good look and sees a spot of oil spreading in the puddle. In the spot of oil, he sees a rainbow, and the street moving, and people moving in the street; and he sees madmen and magicians and the whole world moving. The universe was there in that little pool. On that day, Baldwin said, he learned to see. For me, that’s an important lesson. I am always trying to look at the universe through the little puddles in the streets.

As Abbas Ages, Fatah Moves to Consolidate Power

Five years after spearheading what is inaptly referred to as a ‘government of national reconciliation’, Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, has finally resigned.

“We put our government at the disposal of President Mahmoud Abbas and we welcome the recommendations of the Fatah Central Committee to form a new government,” Hamdallah tweeted, shortly after Abbas had ordered him to dismantle the government.

Since the Palestinian Authority was founded in 1994, 17 governments have been formed, and every single one of them was dominated by the Fatah party, the largest faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Fatah’s monopoly over Palestinian politics has wrought disasters. Neither did the PA deliver the coveted Palestinian state, nor did Fatah use its influence to bring Palestinian factions together. In fact, the opposite is true.

Most of these 17 governments were short-lived, except that of Hamdallah, which has governed for five years, despite the fact that it failed in its primary mission: healing the terrible rift between Fatah in the Israeli Occupied West Bank, and Hamas in Israel-besieged Gaza.

Moreover, it also fell short of bringing PLO factions closer together. Thus far, the second largest PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) refuses to participate in a future government that will also be dominated by Fatah.

Palestinian divisions have never been as pronounced as they are today. While all Palestinian factions, Hamas and Islamic Jihad included, bear part of the blame for failing to unify their ranks and form a single national strategy to combat Israeli colonialism and occupation, Abbas bears the largest share.

Even before becoming a president of the PA in January 2005, Abbas has always been a divisive political figure. When he was the PA’s Prime Minister, between March and September 2003 under the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, Abbas clashed with anyone who would challenge his often self-serving political agenda, including Arafat himself. His constant clashing with Arafat at the time made him favorite in Washington.

Abbas was elected on a weak popular mandate, as Hamas and others boycotted the presidential elections. His first, and only term in office expired in 2009. For a whole decade, neither Abbas nor any government of his have operated with the minimum requirement of democracy. Indeed, for many years the will of the Palestinian people has been hijacked by wealthy men, fighting to preserve their own interests while undeservingly claiming the role of leadership.

The 2006 Hamas victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections was a reminder to Abbas (but also to Israel and the United States) of how dangerous free elections can be. Since then, there has been much talk about the need for new elections, but no sincere efforts have been made to facilitate such a task. Logistical difficulties notwithstanding (for Palestine is, after all an occupied country), neither party wants to take the risk of letting the people have the last word.

Palestine and her people are not only trapped by Israeli walls, fences and armed soldiers, but by their inept leadership as well.

The 2007 Fatah-Hamas clashes which led to the current extreme polarization have split Palestinians politically, between the West Bank, under Abbas’ authoritative control, and Hamas, in besieged and struggling Gaza. While Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, often complains of the lack of a ‘Palestinian partner’, his government, with the aid of Washington, has done its utmost to ensure Palestinian division.

Several agreements between Fatah and Hamas have been signed, the latest, which appeared most promising, was achieved in October 2017. Palestinians were cautious, then, but also hopeful as several practical steps were taken this time to transfer legal responsibilities from Hamas to the Hamdallah government, whether in the various Gaza ministries, or at the Rafah-Egypt border.

Then, just when the wheels began turning, raising hopes among ordinary Palestinians that this time things were truly changing, Rami Hamdallah’s convoy was attacked as it crossed the main entrance to Gaza, via Israel.

Some sinister force clearly wanted Hamdallah dead, or, at least, it wanted to send a violent message providing the political fodder to those who wanted to stall the political progress between the two main Palestinian parties. Hamas quickly claimed to have apprehended the culprits, while Fatah, without much investigation, declared that Hamas was responsible for the bomb, thus stalling and, eventually, severing all reconciliation talks.

This was followed by clearly orchestrated steps to punish Gaza and push the people in the besieged and war-devastated Strip to the point of complete despair. First, Abbas refused to pay money to the Israeli company that provides some of Gaza’s electricity needs – thus leaving Gaza in the dark; then he significantly slashed salaries to Gaza workers, among other measures.

In response, tens of thousands of Gazans went to the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel protesting the Israeli siege, which, with Abbas’ latest collective punishment, has become beyond unbearable.

Indeed, Gaza’s ongoing ‘Great March of Return’, which began on March 30, 2018, was a popular response to a people fed up with war, siege, international neglect, but also horrific political tribalism. Since the march began, over 200 Palestinians have been killed and thousands maimed and wounded.

Abbas is now 83-years old with increasingly debilitating health. His supporters within Fatah want to ensure a political transition that guarantees their dominance because political monopoly offers many perks: wealth, privilege, power and prestige. For Fatah, Hamdallah and his ‘reconciliation’ government have ceased to serve any purpose. Additionally, a unity government with other Palestinian groups at this crucial, transitional period seems too risky a gamble for those who want to ensure future dominance.

The tragic truth is that all such politicking is happening within the confines of Israeli military Occupation, and that Israeli fences, walls, trenches, illegal Jewish settlements and Jewish-only bypass roads encircle all Palestinians, from Gaza to Jericho, and from Jerusalem to Rafah; that no Palestinian, Abbas included, is truly free, and that all political titles hold no weight before the power of a single Israeli sniper firing at Palestinian children at the Gaza fence.

Palestinians do need their unity and urgently so, not expressed in mere political compromises between factions, but the unity of a people facing the same brutal and oppressive enemy.

Gaza Rallies for Caracas: On the West’s Dangerous Game in Venezuela

Hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets of besieged Gaza to show their support of the democratically-elected government of Venezuela and its legitimate leader, President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela is struggling to defeat a coup attempt that is supported by the United States, Israel and many Western governments.

The relationship between Venezuela and Palestine has been particularly strong under the presidencies of late Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez and current president Maduro. Neither leader has missed an opportunity to show their solidarity towards the Palestinian people, a fact that has always irked Tel Aviv and its western benefactors.

The Gaza rallies, however, were more than a display of gratitude towards a country that had enough courage to break off ties with Israel following the latter’s 2008-9 war on Gaza – a bloody campaign known as “Operation Cast Lead”. Thousands of Palestinians were killed in that one-sided war. No Arab government that has diplomatic ties with Israel severed its relations with Tel Aviv. While Caracas – over 10 thousand kilometers away – did. Then, former President Chavez, accused Israel of “state terrorism”.

But there is more to Palestinian solidarity with Venezuela than this recent history. Palestinians have experienced decades-long collective trauma from US-funded Israeli colonialism and military occupation. The US has imposed itself as an ‘honest peace broker’ as a way to mask its political interference and meddling in the Middle East, while fully and blindly supporting Israeli aggressions.

While the Venezuelan people have every right to protest their government, demanding greater accountability and economic solutions to the crushing poverty facing the country, no one has the right to meddle in the affairs of Venezuela or any other sovereign country anywhere.

We must remember that the US government has hardly ever been a source of stability in South America, certainly not since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Since then, the US has done more than mere meddling, but outright political and military interventions, supporting various coups that toppled or attempted to overthrow democratically-elected governments.

What is underway in Caracas is a repeat of that sad and tragic history.

The unhealthy relationship between the US and its southern neighbors took an even darker turn when, in 1904, then US President Theodore Roosevelt declared the “right” of his country to hold “international police power” in Latin America. Since then, the entire region has been Washington’s business.

Always looking for opportunities to exploit, Washington now sees a chance to undermine Venezuela and its elected government.

The Venezuelan people are dealing with overwhelming poverty and a very unstable social situation. Hyperinflation and the crumbling of the country’s oil industries led to a dramatic economic downturn, with about 10% of the population fleeing the country. Poor policy choices led to an escalation of the already endemic corruption, to a significant weakening of local production and increasing devaluation of the country’s currency.

However, consensus around president Maduro’s socialist government is still broad, as witnessed by their victory in the 2018 presidential election.

Despite the presence of about 150 international observers from 30 countries and international organizations, which declared that the last Venezuelan election was transparent, domestic opponents, supported by the US and its western and regional allies denounced it as “fraud foretold”, even before Maduro delivered his victory speech.

The US and its Western allies are frustrated by the fact that despite its economic problems, most Venezuelans remained united around Chavez, and now Maduro, who are perceived, especially by the poorer classes, as independent national leaders fighting against constant US destabilization and neocolonialism.

The world order is vastly changing, but US ruling elites refuse to change. While speaking about Washington’s need to “protect democracy” in Venezuela, US National Security Advisor, the infamous Israel supporter, John Bolton admitted that the coup in Venezuela is an opportunity to exploit the country’s oil and natural resources.

“It will make a big difference to the United States economically”, Bolton told Fox News in an interview this week, “if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”

Tragically, the US boycott against Venezuela forced the country to sell its gold in return for valuable currency, as well as consumer goods, food and medicinal products. The coup is meant to completely push Caracas to its knees.

Western predators are all moving in, each party playing the role entrusted of them, as if history is repeating itself. Bank of England (BoE) has blocked Maduro’s officials from withdrawing $1.2 billion worth of Venezuela’s gold. Worse, brazen interference from foreign countries is becoming so pronounced that UK foreign office minister, Sir Alan Duncan has suggested that the BoE grant access to the gold reserves to the self-proclaimed opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Germany, and France and Spain gave Venezuela’s Maduro an ultimatum: the President has eight days to call elections, otherwise they’ll recognize Guaido as president. On January 31, the European Parliament recognized Guaido as a de facto leader of Venezuela in complete disregard of the democratic rights of the Venezuelan people.

Yet, as odd as this may seem to some, Maduro still enjoys greater legitimacy in his country than Donald Trump or Emmanuel Macron do in the US and France respectively. Yet, no entity is threatening to intervene in France, for example, on behalf of the ‘Yellow Vests’, who have protested in their hundreds of thousands for weeks, demanding an end to Macon’s rule.

It is doubly important that Venezuela doesn’t collapse before this US-led sinister campaign because of the rising far-right powers in South and Latin America, namely the upsurge of reactionary forces in Brazil.

If Venezuela’s political order disintegrates, others, too will become target: Bolivia, Cuba, and even Mexico.

Since the US partial withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, and the Obama Administration’s ‘pivot to Asia’, to challenge the inevitable dominance of China, US policy makers have been keen on staging a comeback in South America as well. More recently, the just-departed US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley was instrumental in shaping the aggressive US policy towards Venezuela.

Now that the country is struggling with extreme poverty – itself resulting from the manipulation of oil prices – the US sees an opportunity to make its move, and reclaim its destructive, domineering role in that part of the world. The election in Brazil of far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro, who wants to “make Brazil great again’ is tipping the balance in favor of reactionary forces in the whole region.

But the plot against Venezuela is also an opportunity for those who want to challenge the old order, to tell the US government ‘enough is enough’; that the age of coups and blood-soaked interventions should be behind us, and that South America must not be subjugated again.

As Palestinians have fought Israeli tyranny for years, Venezuelans will continue to fight foreign tyranny and unlawful political and military interventions as well. And with true and tangible global solidarity, both nations will prevail – sooner or later.

Now Chad, then Mali: Why African Countries Are Normalizing with Israel

Forget the hype. Israel’s ‘security technology’ has nothing to do with why some African countries are eager to normalize relations with Israel.

What is it that Israel is able to offer in the technology sector to Chad, Mali and others that the United States, the European Union, China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa and others cannot?

The answer is ‘nil’, and the moment we accept such a truth is the moment we start to truly understand why Chad, a Muslim-majority country, has just renewed its diplomatic ties with Israel. And, by extension, the same logic applies to Mali, another Muslim-majority country that is ready to normalize with Israel.

Chadian President, Idriss Deby, was in Israel last November, a trip that was touted as another Benjamin Netanyahu-engineered breakthrough by the Israeli government and its allied media.

In return, Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu, paid Deby a visit to N’djamena where they agreed to resume diplomatic ties. In their joint press conference, Deby spoke of ‘deals’ signed between Chad and Israel, but failed to provide more details.

Israel may try to present itself as the savior of Africa, but no matter how comparatively strong the Israeli economy is, Tel Aviv will hardly have the keys to solving the woes of Chad, Mali or any other country on the African continent.

Israeli media is actively contributing to the fanfare that has accompanied Netanyahu’s ‘scramble for Africa’, and is now turning its focus to preparations under way for another ‘historic visit”, that of Malian President, Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, to Israel in the “coming weeks”.

Netanyahu is keen to schedule Maiga’s trip just before the April 9 date, when Israelis go to the polls to vote in the country’s early general elections.

Israel’s motives to normalize with Africa are inspired by the same reasoning behind Netanyahu’s international outreach to South America and other regions in the global South.

Despite the Trump-Netanyahu love affair at the moment, Israel has no faith in the future of the US in the Middle East region. The current Donald Trump administration, as the previous Barack Obama administration, has made clear and calculated moves to slowly deploy out of the region and ‘pivot’ elsewhere.

This has alerted Netanyahu to the fact that Israel would have to diversify its alliances as an American veto at the United Nations Security Council is no longer a guarantor to Israel’s regional dominance.

For years, Netanyahu has pursued an alternative course, which has become the only path for Israel to escape its international isolation. Unfortunately for Palestinians, Israel’s new strategy, of seeking separate alliances with UN General Assembly members seems to be paying dividends. Israel now hopes that other countries that have historically stood on the side of Palestinians – voting for Palestinian rights as a bloc at the UN – will follow the Chad and Mali examples.

The struggle between Israel and Arab countries in Africa, according to Dan Avni – a top Israeli Foreign Ministry official during the 1950s and ‘60s – is “a fight of life and death for us.” That statement was made during a time that the US had not fully and ardently committed to the Israeli colonial project, and Israel was in a desperate need to break away from its isolation.

Following the expansion of the Israeli colonial project in Palestine and other Arab countries after the 1967 war, the US unconditional political, economic and military support for Israel has addressed many of Israel’s perceived vulnerabilities, empowering it to become the uncontested bully of the whole region. At the time, neither Africa mattered, nor did the rest of the international community.

But now, a new Great Game is changing the rules once more. Not only is the US losing its grip in the Middle East and Africa – thanks to the rise of Russian and Chinese influences, respectively – Washington is also busy elsewhere, desperate to sustain its dwindling global hegemony for a bit longer.

Although ties between Washington and Tel Aviv are still strong, Israeli leaders are aware of a vastly changing political landscape. According to Israeli calculation, the ‘fight of life and death’ is drawing near, once again.

The answer? Enticing poor countries, in Africa and elsewhere, with political support and economic promises so that they would deny Palestinians a vote at the UN.

It is no surprise that the governments of Chad and Mali are struggling, not only economically, but also in terms of political legitimacy as well. Torn in the global struggle for dominance between the US and China, they feel pressed to make significant choices that could make the difference between their survival or demise in future upheavals.

For these countries, an alliance with Israel is a sure ticket to the Washington political club. Such membership could prove significant in terms of economic aid, political validation and, more importantly, an immunity against pesky military coups.

Considering this, those who are stuck discussing the Israeli ‘charm offensive’ in Africa based on the claim of Israel’s technological advancement and hyped water technology are missing the forest for the trees.

It is important to note that it is not the road to Tel Aviv that N’Djamena and Bamako are seeking, but rather the road to Washington itself. In Africa, as in other parts of the global South, it is often the US, not the UN that bestows and denies political legitimacy. For African leaders who enjoy no democratic credence, a handshake with Netanyahu could be equivalent to a political life insurance.

So, for now, Israel will continue to walk this fine line, usurping American resources and political support as always, while learning how to walk on its own, by developing a foreign policy that it hopes will spare it further isolation in the future.

It is yet to dawn on Israeli leaders that, perhaps, a shortcut to breaking its isolation can be achieved through respecting international law, the rights of the Palestinian people and the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors.

Diplomatic ties with Chad and Mali may garner Netanyahu a few more votes next April, but they will also contribute to the Israeli illusion that it can be an international darling and an Apartheid regime, simultaneously.

A Liberal Elite Still Luring Us Towards the Abyss

A group of 30 respected intellectuals, writers and historians has published a manifesto bewailing the imminent collapse of Europe and its supposed Enlightenment values of liberalism and rationalism. The idea of Europe, they warn, “is falling apart before our eyes”, as Britain prepares for Brexit and “populist and nationalist” parties look poised to make sweeping gains in elections across the continent.

The short manifesto has been published in the liberal elite’s European house journals, newspapers such as the Guardian. “We must now fight for the idea of Europe or see it perish beneath the waves of populism,” their document reads. Failure means “resentment, hatred and their cortege of sad passions will surround and submerge us.”

Unless the tide can be turned, elections across the European Union will be “the most calamitous that we have ever known: victory for the wreckers; disgrace for those who still believe in the legacy of Erasmus, Dante, Goethe, and Comenius; disdain for intelligence and culture; explosions of xenophobia and antisemitism; disaster”.

The manifesto was penned by Bernard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher and devotee of Alexis de Tocqueville, a theorist of classical liberalism. Its signatories include novelists Ian McEwan, Milan Kundera and Salman Rushdie, the historian Simon Shama, and Nobel prize laureates Svetlana Alexievitch, Herta Müller, Orhan Pamuk and Elfriede Jelinek.

Though unnamed, their European political heroes appear to be Emmanuel Macron of France, currently trying to crush the popular, anti-austerity protests of the Yellow Vests, and German chancellor Angela Merkel, manning the barricades for the liberal elite against a resurgence of the nationalist right in Germany.

Let us set aside, on this occasion, the strange irony that several of the manifesto’s signatories – not least Henri-Levy himself – have a well-known passion for Israel, a state that has always rejected the universal principles ostensibly embodied in liberal ideology and that instead openly espouses the kind of ethnic nationalism that nearly tore Europe apart in two world wars last century.

Instead let us focus on their claim that “populism and nationalism” are on the verge of slaying Europe’s liberal democratic tradition and the values held dearest by this distinguished group. Their hope presumably is that their manifesto will serve as a wake-up call before things take an irreversible turn for the worse.

Liberalism’s collapse

In one sense, their diagnosis is correct: Europe and the liberal tradition are coming apart at the seams. But not because, as they strongly imply, European politicians are pandering to the basest instincts of a mindless rabble – the ordinary people they have so little faith in. Rather, it is because a long experiment in liberalism has finally run its course. Liberalism has patently failed — and failed catastrophically.

These intellectuals are standing, like the rest of us, on a precipice from which we are about to jump or topple. But the abyss has not opened up, as they suppose, because liberalism is being rejected. Rather, the abyss is the inevitable outcome of this shrinking elite’s continuing promotion – against all rational evidence – of liberalism as a solution to our current predicament. It is the continuing transformation of a deeply flawed ideology into a religion. It is idol worship of a value system hellbent on destroying us.

Liberalism, like most ideologies, has an upside. Its respect for the individual and his freedoms, its interest in nurturing human creativity, and its promotion of universal values and human rights over tribal attachment have had some positive consequences.

But liberal ideology has been very effective at hiding its dark side – or more accurately, at persuading us that this dark side is the consequence of liberalism’s abandonment rather than inherent to the liberal’s political project.

The loss of traditional social bonds – tribal, sectarian, geographic – has left people today more lonely, more isolated than was true of any previous human society. We may pay lip service to universal values, but in our atomised communities, we feel adrift, abandoned and angry.

Humanitarian resource grabs

The liberal’s professed concern for others’ welfare and their rights has, in reality, provided cynical cover for a series of ever-more transparent resource grabs. The parading of liberalism’s humanitarian credentials has entitled our elites to leave a trail of carnage and wreckage in their wake in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and soon, it seems, in Venezuela. We have killed with our kindness and then stolen our victims’ inheritance.

Unfettered individual creativity may have fostered some great – if fetishised – art, as well as rapid mechanical and technological developments. But it has also encouraged unbridled competition in every sphere of life, whether beneficial to humankind or not, and however wasteful of resources.

At its worst, it has unleashed quite literally an arms race, one that – because of a mix of our unconstrained creativity, our godlessness and the economic logic of the military-industrial complex – culminated in the development of nuclear weapons. We have now devised the most complete and horrific ways imaginable to kill each other. We can commit genocide on a global scale.

Meanwhile, the absolute prioritising of the individual has sanctioned a pathological self-absorption, a selfishness that has provided fertile ground not only for capitalism, materialism and consumerism but for the fusing of all of them into a turbo-charged neoliberalism. That has entitled a tiny elite to amass and squirrel away most of the planet’s wealth out of reach of the rest of humankind.

Worst of all, our rampant creativity, our self-regard and our competitiveness have blinded us to all things bigger and smaller than ourselves. We lack an emotional and spiritual connection to our planet, to other animals, to future generations, to the chaotic harmony of our universe. What we cannot understand or control, we ignore or mock.

And so the liberal impulse has driven us to the brink of extinguishing our species and possibly all life on our planet. Our drive to asset-strip, to hoard resources for personal gain, to plunder nature’s riches without respect to the consequences is so overwhelming, so compulsive that the planet will have to find a way to rebalance itself. And if we carry on, that new balance – what we limply term “climate change” – will necessitate that we are stripped from the planet.

Nadir of a dangerous arrogance

One can plausibly argue that humans have been on this suicidal path for some time. Competition, creativity, selfishness predate liberalism, after all. But liberalism removed the last restraints, it crushed any opposing sentiment as irrational, as uncivilised, as primitive.

Liberalism isn’t the cause of our predicament. It is the nadir of a dangerous arrogance we as a species have been indulging for too long, where the individual’s good trumps any collective good, defined in the widest possible sense.

The liberal reveres his small, partial field of knowledge and expertise, eclipsing ancient and future wisdoms, those rooted in natural cycles, the seasons and a wonder at the ineffable and unknowable. The liberal’s relentless and exclusive focus is on “progress”, growth, accumulation.

What is needed to save us is radical change. Not tinkering, not reform, but an entirely new vision that removes the individual and his personal gratification from the centre of our social organisation.

This is impossible to contemplate for the elites who think more liberalism, not less, is the solution. Anyone departing from their prescriptions, anyone who aspires to be more than a technocrat correcting minor defects in the status quo, is presented as a menace. Despite the modesty of their proposals, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US have been reviled by a media, political and intellectual elite heavily invested in blindly pursuing the path to self-destruction.

Status-quo cheerleaders

As a result, we now have three clear political trends.

The first is the status-quo cheerleaders like the European writers of liberalism’s latest – last? – manifesto. With every utterance they prove how irrelevant they have become, how incapable they are of supplying answers to the question of where we must head next. They adamantly refuse both to look inwards to see where liberalism went wrong and to look outwards to consider how we might extricate ourselves.

Irresponsibly, these guardians of the status quo lump together the second and third trends in the futile hope of preserving their grip on power. Both trends are derided indiscriminately as “populism”, as the politics of envy, the politics of the mob. These two fundamentally opposed, alternative trends are treated as indistinguishable.

This will not save liberalism, but it will assist in promoting the much worse of the two alternatives.

Those among the elites who understand that liberalism has had its day are exploiting the old ideology of grab-it-for-yourself capitalism while deflecting attention from their greed and the maintenance of their privilege by sowing discord and insinuating dark threats.

The criticisms of the liberal elite made by the ethnic nationalists sound persuasive because they are rooted in truths about liberalism’s failure. But as critics, they are disingenuous. They have no solutions apart from their own personal advancement in the existing, failed, self-sabotaging system.

The new authoritarians are reverting to old, trusted models of xenophobic nationalism, scapegoating others to shore up their own power. They are ditching the ostentatious, conscience-salving sensitivities of the liberal so that they can continue plundering with heady abandon. If the ship is going down, then they will be gorging on the buffet till the waters reach the dining-hall ceiling.

Where hope can reside

The third trend is the only place where hope can reside. This trend – what I have previously ascribed to a group I call the “dissenters” – understands that radical new thinking is required. But given that this group is being actively crushed by the old liberal elite and the new authoritarians, it has little public and political space to explore its ideas, to experiment, to collaborate, as it urgently needs to.

Social media provides a potentially vital platform to begin critiquing the old, failed system, to raise awareness of what has gone wrong, to contemplate and share radical new ideas, and to mobilise. But the liberals and authoritarians understand this as threat to their own privilege and, under a confected hysteria about “fake news”, are rapidly working to snuff out even this small space.

We have so little time, but still the old guard wants to block any possible path to salvation – even as seas filled with plastic start to rise, as insect populations disappear across the globe, and as the planet prepares to cough us out like a lump of infected mucus.

We must not be hoodwinked by these posturing, manifesto-spouting liberals: the philosophers, historians and writers – the public relations wing – of our suicidal status quo. They did not warn us of the beast lying cradled in our midst. They failed to see the danger looming, and their narcissism blinds them still.

We should have no use for the guardians of the old, those who held our hands, who shone a light along a path that has led to the brink of our own extinction. We need to discard them, to close our ears their siren song.

There are small voices struggling to be heard above the roar of the dying liberal elites and the trumpeting of the new authoritarians. They need to be listened to, to be helped to share and collaborate, to offer us their visions of a different world. One where the individual is no longer king. Where we learn some modesty and humility – and how to love in our infinitely small corner of the universe.

Benny Gantz and Israel’s Drive to Become a Modern-day Sparta

With April’s elections looming, sr Benjamin Netanyahu has good reason to fear Benny Gantz, his former army chief. Gantz has launched a new party, named Iaeli Resilience, just as the net of corruption indictments is closing around the prime minister.

Already, at this early stage of campaigning, some 31 per cent of the Israeli public prefer Gantz to head the next government over Netanyahu, who is only months away from becoming the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history.

Gantz is being feted as the new hope, a chance to change direction after a series of governments under Netanyahu’s leadership have over the past decade shifted Israel ever further to the right.

Like Israel’s former politician generals, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Gantz is being portrayed – and portraying himself – as a battle-hardened warrior, able to make peace from a position of strength.

Before he had issued a single policy statement, polls showed him winning 15 of the 120 parliamentary seats, a welcome sign for those hoping that a centre-left coalition can triumph this time.

But the reality of what Gantz stands for – revealed this week in his first election videos – is far from reassuring.

In 2014, he led Israel into its longest and most savage military operation in living memory: 50 days in which the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza was bombarded relentlessly.

By the end, one of the most densely populated areas on earth – its two million inhabitants already trapped by a lengthy Israeli blockade – lay in ruins. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the onslaught, a quarter of them children, while tens of thousands were left homeless.

The world watched, appalled. Investigations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International concluded that Israel had committed war crimes.

One might have assumed that during the election campaign Gantz would wish to draw a veil over this troubling period in his military career. Not a bit of it.

One of his campaign videos soars over the rubble of Gaza, proudly declaring that Gantz was responsible for destroying many thousands of buildings. “Parts of Gaza have been returned to the Stone Age,” the video boasts.

This is a reference to the Dahiya doctrine, a strategy devised by the Israeli military command of which Gantz was a core member. The aim is to lay waste to the modern infrastructure of Israel’s neighbours, forcing survivors to eke out a bare existence rather than resist Israel.

The collective punishment inherent in the apocalyptic Dahiya doctrine is an undoubted war crime.

More particularly, the video exults in the destruction of Rafah, a city in Gaza that suffered the most intense bout of bombing after an Israeli soldier was seized by Hamas. In minutes, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians and wrecked a hospital.

According to investigations, Israel had invoked the Hannibal Procedure, the code name for an order allowing the army to use any means to stop one of its soldiers being taken. That includes killing civilians as “collateral damage” and, more controversially for Israelis, the soldier himself.

Gantz’s video flashes up a grand total of “1,364 terrorists killed”, in return for “three-and-a-half years of quiet”. As Israel’s liberal Haaretz daily observed, the video “celebrates a body count as if this were just some computer game”.

But the casualty figure cited by Gantz exceeds even the Israel army’s self-serving assessment – as well, of course, as dehumanising those “terrorists” fighting for their freedom.

A more impartial observer, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, estimates that the Palestinian fighters killed by Israel amounted to 765. By their reckoning, and that of other bodies such as the United Nations, almost two-thirds of Gazans killed in Israel’s 2014 operation were civilians.

Further, the “quiet” Gantz credits himself with was enjoyed chiefly by Israel.

In Gaza, Palestinians faced regular military attacks, a continuing siege choking off essential supplies and destroying their export industries, and a policy of executions by Israeli snipers firing on unarmed demonstrators at the perimeter fence imprisoning the enclave.

Gantz’s campaign slogans “Only the Strong Wins” and “Israel Before Everything” are telling. Everything, for Gantz, clearly includes human rights.

It is shameful enough that he believes his track record of war crimes will win over voters. But the same approach has been voiced by Israel’s new military chief of staff.

Aviv Kochavi, nicknamed the Philosopher Officer for his university studies, was inaugurated this month as the army’s latest head. In a major speech, he promised to reinvent the fabled “most moral army in the world” into a “deadly, efficient” one.

In Kochavi’s view, the rampaging military once overseen by Gantz needs to step up its game. And he is a proven expert in destruction.

In the early stages of the Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000, the Israeli army struggled to find a way to crush Palestinian fighters concealed in densely crowded cities under occupation.

Kochavi came up with an ingenious solution in Nablus, where he was brigade commander. The army would invade a Palestinian home, then smash through its walls, moving from house to house, burrowing through the city unseen. Palestinian space was not only usurped, but destroyed inside-out.

Gantz, the former general hoping to lead the government, and Kochavi, the general leading its army, are symptoms of just how complete the militaristic logic that has overtaken Israel really is. An Israel determined to become a modern-day Sparta.

Should he bring about Netanyahu’s downfall, Gantz, like his predecessor politician-generals, will turn out to be a hollow peace-maker. He was trained to understand only strength, zero-sum strategies, conquest and destruction, not compassion or compromise.

More dangerously, Gantz’s glorification of his military past is likely to reinforce in Israelis’ minds the need not for peace but for more of the same: support for an ultranationalist right that bathes itself in an ethnic supremacist philosophy and dismisses any recognition of the Palestinians as human beings with rights.

Benny Gantz and Israel’s Drive to Become a Modern-day Sparta

With April’s elections looming, sr Benjamin Netanyahu has good reason to fear Benny Gantz, his former army chief. Gantz has launched a new party, named Iaeli Resilience, just as the net of corruption indictments is closing around the prime minister.

Already, at this early stage of campaigning, some 31 per cent of the Israeli public prefer Gantz to head the next government over Netanyahu, who is only months away from becoming the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history.

Gantz is being feted as the new hope, a chance to change direction after a series of governments under Netanyahu’s leadership have over the past decade shifted Israel ever further to the right.

Like Israel’s former politician generals, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Gantz is being portrayed – and portraying himself – as a battle-hardened warrior, able to make peace from a position of strength.

Before he had issued a single policy statement, polls showed him winning 15 of the 120 parliamentary seats, a welcome sign for those hoping that a centre-left coalition can triumph this time.

But the reality of what Gantz stands for – revealed this week in his first election videos – is far from reassuring.

In 2014, he led Israel into its longest and most savage military operation in living memory: 50 days in which the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza was bombarded relentlessly.

By the end, one of the most densely populated areas on earth – its two million inhabitants already trapped by a lengthy Israeli blockade – lay in ruins. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the onslaught, a quarter of them children, while tens of thousands were left homeless.

The world watched, appalled. Investigations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International concluded that Israel had committed war crimes.

One might have assumed that during the election campaign Gantz would wish to draw a veil over this troubling period in his military career. Not a bit of it.

One of his campaign videos soars over the rubble of Gaza, proudly declaring that Gantz was responsible for destroying many thousands of buildings. “Parts of Gaza have been returned to the Stone Age,” the video boasts.

This is a reference to the Dahiya doctrine, a strategy devised by the Israeli military command of which Gantz was a core member. The aim is to lay waste to the modern infrastructure of Israel’s neighbours, forcing survivors to eke out a bare existence rather than resist Israel.

The collective punishment inherent in the apocalyptic Dahiya doctrine is an undoubted war crime.

More particularly, the video exults in the destruction of Rafah, a city in Gaza that suffered the most intense bout of bombing after an Israeli soldier was seized by Hamas. In minutes, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians and wrecked a hospital.

According to investigations, Israel had invoked the Hannibal Procedure, the code name for an order allowing the army to use any means to stop one of its soldiers being taken. That includes killing civilians as “collateral damage” and, more controversially for Israelis, the soldier himself.

Gantz’s video flashes up a grand total of “1,364 terrorists killed”, in return for “three-and-a-half years of quiet”. As Israel’s liberal Haaretz daily observed, the video “celebrates a body count as if this were just some computer game”.

But the casualty figure cited by Gantz exceeds even the Israel army’s self-serving assessment – as well, of course, as dehumanising those “terrorists” fighting for their freedom.

A more impartial observer, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, estimates that the Palestinian fighters killed by Israel amounted to 765. By their reckoning, and that of other bodies such as the United Nations, almost two-thirds of Gazans killed in Israel’s 2014 operation were civilians.

Further, the “quiet” Gantz credits himself with was enjoyed chiefly by Israel.

In Gaza, Palestinians faced regular military attacks, a continuing siege choking off essential supplies and destroying their export industries, and a policy of executions by Israeli snipers firing on unarmed demonstrators at the perimeter fence imprisoning the enclave.

Gantz’s campaign slogans “Only the Strong Wins” and “Israel Before Everything” are telling. Everything, for Gantz, clearly includes human rights.

It is shameful enough that he believes his track record of war crimes will win over voters. But the same approach has been voiced by Israel’s new military chief of staff.

Aviv Kochavi, nicknamed the Philosopher Officer for his university studies, was inaugurated this month as the army’s latest head. In a major speech, he promised to reinvent the fabled “most moral army in the world” into a “deadly, efficient” one.

In Kochavi’s view, the rampaging military once overseen by Gantz needs to step up its game. And he is a proven expert in destruction.

In the early stages of the Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000, the Israeli army struggled to find a way to crush Palestinian fighters concealed in densely crowded cities under occupation.

Kochavi came up with an ingenious solution in Nablus, where he was brigade commander. The army would invade a Palestinian home, then smash through its walls, moving from house to house, burrowing through the city unseen. Palestinian space was not only usurped, but destroyed inside-out.

Gantz, the former general hoping to lead the government, and Kochavi, the general leading its army, are symptoms of just how complete the militaristic logic that has overtaken Israel really is. An Israel determined to become a modern-day Sparta.

Should he bring about Netanyahu’s downfall, Gantz, like his predecessor politician-generals, will turn out to be a hollow peace-maker. He was trained to understand only strength, zero-sum strategies, conquest and destruction, not compassion or compromise.

More dangerously, Gantz’s glorification of his military past is likely to reinforce in Israelis’ minds the need not for peace but for more of the same: support for an ultranationalist right that bathes itself in an ethnic supremacist philosophy and dismisses any recognition of the Palestinians as human beings with rights.