Category Archives: Poverty

Bulletin For The Comfortable Class: Mass Murder Was Americana Before Trump Was Born!

The U.S. air war in Japan was one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of non-combatants in all history.

— General Bonner Fellers, MacArthur’s Intelligence Chief, from Cultures Of War: Pearl Harbour/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq by John W. Dower, 2011, pp. 195-96.

The recent anniversary of the mass murder that took place in Hiroshima, followed three days later by another mass murder in Nagasaki, would have dominated the consciousness of a nation in remorse for past horrors committed under the degenerate belief of justifiable homicide as long as its warfare. As the comment above helps make clear, these particular acts of dreadful violence were only unique in that one bomb was used for each city, instead of the thousands used to set fire to entire cities in Japan and Germany and immediately burn tens of thousands of their inhabitants to death. American ingenuity made it possible for an early and perverse form of one-stop-shopping as entire populations were slaughtered and cremated in one action, without need of camps, chambers, ovens or any other real or legendary forms of brutality.

But hardly a moment was wasted on those past horrors given that America suffered tragedies occupying national consciousness due to what we’re told are Trump inspired outbursts of racist-sexist- madness, as usual having nothing to do with the political economics of blood profit capital but all about evil individuals and special categories of “identity groups” different from all other members of the human race. Somehow, this fanatic fundamentalism still works to keep us shopping, killing and destroying the environment in pursuit of ever greater personal fortunes for some, appalling poverty for far more, and majorities sinking into unpayable debt and facing planetary doom if radical transformation of the prevailing political economics are not performed for humanity’s sake and not just the pleasure of a minority identity group we worship: the rich.

With most of the nation under the control of mass media even more powerful than it was in the days of World War II, corporate mind management has us in a state of mourning over tragedies which cost the lives of 30 innocent Americans over a period of three days. Said to be murders committed by the mentally ill or fascists inspired by the evil Trump, or both, the villains have some foaming at the mouth under around the clock bombardments of stories of the innocents, mourning by thousands and worst of all cries for vengeance against alleged fascism and/or white supremacy in a national racist mental ward counting deaths by identity group other than the human race and not noticing that most of the recent American victims were of the racist designated “white” group.

To put tragic deaths in perspective, while these poor souls were being murdered in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton, some 200 other Americans, equally innocent of anything other than possible driving errors, died in the raging road wars of our overwhelmingly private profit transit system. It kills an average of 100 of us every single day and little if anything beyond a small notice appears in local newspapers with hardly anything said about the national insanity of such suffering inflicted on innocent people no more guilty of wrong than any of the poor souls murdered by affordable gun owning citizens in a nation with more than half a million humans who cannot afford the market force to enable them to find a place to live. That damned Trump! Oh wait…maybe it’s Putin? Or perhaps Oprah, Dracula or Joe Biden?

Those who think this nation was a Garden of Eden until the dreadful Trump became president need to learn their country’s history and not just that of one or another identity group somehow experiencing history in a vacuum of suffering or wealth while tens of millions of other people simply amount to works of fiction at best and matters of intense disrespect and outright bigotry, at worst. What is going on now isn’t even slightly new and blamed on one or another set of villains it displays a pattern in operation for generations and getting worse by the minute.

Trump is as much an aspect of our system as diversity, war, sex, jazz, TV, shopping, deceit, slander, pets, propaganda and love. All that is good and bad is hidden by some calling every American social disease since our founding as something of his creation. The continued divisions of Americans into racial categories in defiance of all science let alone common sense continues the work of individualism and racism that make us such a unique historic nation able to call itself a democracy while controlled by billionaires while millions of our children live in poverty, hundreds of thousands of our families live on the street and we spend trillions on war and billions on our pet animals. Is this a great country or what? Or at least it was until the vile Trump arrived, according to some who’ve been mentally murdered by the assault on consciousness conducted for generations but never quite as vile and all encompassing as at present, with the empire sinking faster and the danger to humanity growing at an even greater speed.

The American mass murders of the second world war in Japan and Europe were closely followed by mass butchery that killed millions in southeast Asia and our savage behavior towards humanity, under command and ownership of our royal 1%, has slaughtered more in the Middle East over the last twenty years than we have sacrificed to profit making transit on our highways. This, while an upper class has expanded slightly, including what racism identifies as “people of color”, and some other groups previously trashed and treated as less worthy of life than what passed for “normal” have become acceptable members of the market hordes consuming more trash with less money. Meanwhile, our poverty and prison populations explode in this material land of over consumption for a minority that would make the originator of the term “conspicuous consumption”, Veblen, apologize for mincing his words in critique of capital.

We are told by legend and there is some material foundation for belief that in biblical times every few years there was a forgiveness of debt and it may have been easier for civilization, or what it was called then at a time long before the savage circus we call a democracy, to clearly see and react to a reality that could not go on without radical change. Of course, those poor souls didn’t have what we now are taught to call “social” media, which makes us so much smarter than those poor fools of the past that we can carry the burden of trillions in debt, the continued slaughter of human beings all over the planet including our own domicile, and rage against the latest white house pinhead in the fashion of the clients and crew of the Titanic screeching about the lousy captain as they were about to drown on a sinking ship that, like everything else then and since, would never have existed without the motive of private profit, and the public good be damned.

We may be able to elect a new CEO of Capital Inc in 2020, if we don’t destroy even more than our electoral façade and sink in our own sea of political, social and environmental excrement before being able to vote. But if we simply choose another chairperson for the system of private capital and do not demand and execute a social revolution that puts all humanity before any single un-chosen figurehead, we will face far more than personal need for therapy visits or social prayers for divine intervention. All of us or none of us was the call much earlier in our history and it has never had more meaning than at present. In closing, the words of a truly great American sadly unknown to many of us:

Democracy can become truly a rule of the people only when it is extended to the economic life of the people.

— Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The Trial of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the American Civil Liberties Union, January 1, 1968

Women We Are Fighting For

There are stories that are unrelated to the news, but can explain much better than many combat reports, why people like me are fighting against the Empire and imperialism, with such determination and vehemence. Not all stories are ‘big’ or ‘heroic’; not all include famous people or iconic struggles. Not all take place on battlefields.

But they ‘humanize’ the struggle.

Once in a while, I like to share such stories with my readers. As I will do right now.

Because without them, frankly, nothing really makes sense.

*****

It was a hot, humid night in Jakarta; a megapolis with the worst pollution on earth, and with some of the most monstrous contrasts on our planet. A literally sinking city, constructed against the people; fragmented, serving only the few hundred thousand extremely rich (most of them accumulating wealth through corruption and theft), while condemning millions of struggling individuals to a slow death.

For the ruthless Indonesian elites and their Western handlers, the poor of Jakarta (the great majority of city dwellers) simply do not exist. They live in crammed slums, called kampungs – literally translated as villages. Kampungs fill huge spaces between the skyscrapers, malls, and mostly empty five-star hotels. Individuals living there consume very little, and therefore matter close to nothing. Even their number is underplayed in the official statistics.

One night, my small film crew and I were driving though the Klender neighborhood in East Jakarta; a poor, religious and monotonous part of the city.

Re-editing my big film about Indonesia after the US-sponsored military coup of 1965, an event which I often describe as an “Intellectual Hiroshima”, I had to again spend a few days in Jakarta, collecting latest footage, filming contrasts between the people and feudal elites.

We were all tired. Traffic jams have brought the city to an almost permanent gridlock. The pollution is unbearable. Life has come to a standstill. As planned by the regime, no one seemed to be thinking. Nothing seemed to be working.

We were driving past Klender train station a few minutes after midnight.

There were two young women standing by the side of the road. One of them caught my eye. She was clearly a prostitute, or a ‘sex-worker’, as they would call her in the West. But in reality, no, she was not a ‘worker’; not her. Just an abused, tired women.

I liked her face. Hers was an honest, good face. And after all that nonsense I heard during the day, after all that ‘feel good’ crap, I needed to hear something real, honest.

“Stop!” I shouted at my driver. He stepped on the brakes, then backed up a few meters.

“I want to talk to her,” I explained. Then to her: “I want to talk to you.”

She did not find my request strange. She nodded. After years of moving all around the world, while documenting the state of our humanity, I have developed certain instincts. I can tell from the faces of people, whether they have a story to tell; and whether they have the desire to speak. She did, both.

We emptied the front seat for her, next to the driver. She got in. Jakarta is a dangerous city, especially for women. But she did not seem to be frightened. She trusted me, as I trusted her.

“My name is Andre,” I said. “I am a filmmaker, and this is my team”.

“My name is Risna,” she answered and smiled.

“I want to hear your story,” I said.

“OK,” she said.

“Do you mind if I film?”

“Go ahead. I don’t mind.”

I put my GH5 over my knee, turned on the little light on the ceiling of the car, and pressed the “Record” button.

Just like that. No coaching, no preparation. And then it happened. She spoke. Clearly. Bitterly. Honestly.

*****

“It was four of us,” she began, softly:

Four children. Little ones. Two boys and two girls. Our father, a pious religious man, used to use all of us. He had sex with us, with males and females. By then our mother was gone. He wanted to get married for the second time. To a young woman. But he had no money. And so, he began pimping all of us, for cash, so he could save enough, to start his new family. All four of us… you know; we all failed in life. At seven, I often slept on the streets. My siblings are all dysfunctional. I got married, had children, but my husband left me. I’m thirty years old now. I do this to support my children, and my brothers and sister.

Trains kept passing-by. Loud express trains, rushing to far away cities: Yogyakarta, Solo, Surabaya.

“I couldn’t talk to anybody. Here, it is always woman’s fault. No matter what happens, it is woman’s fault.”

I was frozen in my seat.

“This is my story.”

“And now?” I could not think about anything else to ask.

“Now I am speaking to you.”

I stopped the car in the middle of the night. I wanted to hear a story of a woman who was working by the side of the road. And that is precisely what I got: she described to me, briefly, her life.

She did it in a simple, touchingly naïve, pure way. There was nothing unnatural in her voice.

She spoke for herself, and for millions of Indonesian women like her, too.

I cared about her, but did not know how to express it, what to say.

We spoke for a bit, about the terrible fate of women in Indonesia. About the hypocrisy of this society. But it was well after midnight, and she had to earn her living. I had to let her go.

“You will be in my film, together with your former President Gus Dur, and the greatest writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer.”

She nodded, in a matter of fact way.

“What do you dream about?”

And that’s when her eyes filled with tears:

“I want to raise my children as a good mother; from honest work.”

I looked at the monitor of my camera. 8 minutes and few seconds had passed since I began recording. One human life, in a summary. One complex, broken human life. I bowed to her. Shook her hand. Thanked her.

“Do you have hope?”

She looked at me, deep into my eyes. Then she nodded.

“Yes!”

*****

At night, I couldn’t sleep.

I knew all about what she was talking about. My friend who works for the UNDP once explained to me, that Indonesia has one of the highest child abandonment rates in the world. And also, one of the highest amounts of sexual child abuse cases, particularly inside families; committed by family members. All these topics are taboo, and no ‘official’ study can be produced, as most women are only willing to speak ‘off the record’.

In Indonesia, after 1965, everything collapsed; was destroyed. But this downfall, and almost nothing related to it, can be discussed openly. Here, the fear of truth is omnipresent, and I will soon address this shocking issue in one of my upcoming essays.

*****

In 1979, when the pro-US Somoza’s regime collapsed and the Sandinistas took over the devastated Nicaragua, my friend, an American poet and translator, happened to be in Managua.

He was very young and confused.

He understood, theoretically, the greatness of the revolution. But he was still lacking examples.

Then, one afternoon, he saw a bus. A beat-up public bus, slowly moving towards the center of the city, while sun was setting down, behind the hills.

He told me the story, a long time ago, in New York, as I was ready to depart for Peru, to cover the so-called Dirty War:

It was the end of the week. The bus was full of girls; young women from slums. Some were barefoot. But they were dressed in their best. They were travelling to the center of the capital, to dance!

The voice of my friend broke. He was overwhelmed by his memories.

Do you understand? Before, they only went to the rich parts of the city in order to serve, to be humiliated, used; to labor for the rich. Now, they were going to those clubs that only a week ago were frequented exclusively by ‘gringos’ and local elites. They were going to dance. It was their country, suddenly. It was their city. They were free. The country belonged to them.

“This is when I understood,” he concluded, “that the revolution was right. Not because I studied Marxism, not because of some theory. But because these girls from the poor neighborhoods of Managua had suddenly gained the right to dance. They gained their right to exist; to be alive!”

*****

In Cuba, they say: “Everyone dances, or no one dances!”

Covering the world, documenting wars, conflicts, but also revolutions, I often encounter women like Risna.

Whenever countries collapse, whenever they are destroyed by savage capitalism, by religious extremism, or by subservience to imperialist powers, women suffer the most. It is almost the rule.

Most of them suffer in silence, as even their voices are being muted.

The more oppressive, regressive society gets, the more subjugated are its women.

Their humiliation, repression, suffering gets glorified as virtue. While rape, molestation, and submission are hushed up, never discussed. In countries such as Indonesia, if a woman protests and speaks about her fate, she gets ridiculed, discredited, or even thrown into prison, as has happened recently, on several well-publicized occasions.

Western hypocrisy is obvious: while everyone there is obsessed with ‘political correctness’, London, Washington and Paris are glorifying, supporting and even producing regimes which treat women worse than animals.

*****

Risna deserves to be in one of those proverbial buses which are taking women to the once exclusive clubs, so they can dance. In a rough translation of the metaphor: ‘so they could become the owners of their own fate, of their cities, and their country’.

Women like her are the women we are fighting for.

Their stories are our stories. Be they in Managua, Jakarta, Kampala, or Mumbai.

They are as significant as those stories from the war zones near Syrian Idlib, or Afghanistan, or Libya.

Not to tell such stories would convert us, revolutionary writers, into liars.

Originally published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

The Ongoing Dread in Gaza: So Many Names, So Many Lives

I felt shaky and uneasy all day, preparing for this talk.

— Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian from the territory of Gaza

Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian now living in the United States, grew up Gaza. In Chicago last week, addressing activists committed to breaking the siege of Gaza,  he held up a stack of 31 papers. On each page were names of 1,254 Palestinians living in Gaza who had been killed in just one month of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” attacks five years ago.

“I felt shaky and uneasy all day preparing for this talk,” he told the group. He described his dismay when, looking through the list of names, he recognized one of a young man from his small town.

“He was always friendly to me,” Abusalim said. “I remember how he would greet me on the way to the mosque. His family and friends loved him, respected him.”

Abusalim recalled the intensity of losing loved ones and homes; of seeing livelihoods and infrastructure destroyed by aerial attacks; of being unable to protect the most vulnerable. He said it often takes ten years or more before Palestinian families traumatized by Israeli attacks can begin talking about what happened. Noting Israel’s major aerial attacks in 2009, 2013, and 2014, along with more recent attacks killing participants in the “Great March of Return,” he spoke of ongoing dread about what might befall Gaza’s children the next time an attack happens.

Eighty people gathered to hear Abusalim and Retired Colonel Ann Wright, of US Boat to Gaza, as they helped launch the “Free Gaza Chicago River Flotilla,” three days of action culminating on July 20 with a spirited demonstration by “kayactivists” and boaters, along with onshore protesters, calling for an end to the siege of Gaza. Wright resigned from her post as a U.S. diplomat when the United States launched the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing of Iraq. Having participated in four previous internationals flotillas aiming to defy Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza’s shoreline, Wright is devoting her energies preparing for a fifth in 2020.

Another organizer and member of US Boat to Gaza, Elizabeth Murray, who like Wright formerly worked for the U.S. government, recalled being in a seminar sponsored by a prestigious think tank in Washington, D.C., when a panel member compared Israeli attacks against Palestinians with routine efforts to “mow the lawn.” She recounted hearing a light tittering as the D.C. audience members expressed amusement. But, Murray said, “Not a single person objected to the panelist’s remark.” This was in 2010, following Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead, which killed 1,383 Palestinians, 333 of whom were children.

Abusalim’s colleague at the American Friends Service Committee, Jennifer Bing, had cautioned Chicago flotilla planners to carefully consider the tone of their actions. A colorful and lively event during a busy weekend morning along Chicago’s popular riverfront could be exciting and, yes, fun.

But Palestinians in Gaza cope with constant tension, she noted. Denied freedom of movement, they live in the world’s largest open-air prison, under conditions the United Nations has predicted will render their land uninhabitable by 2020. Households get four to six hours of electricity per day. According to UNICEF, “sewage treatment plants can’t operate fully and the equivalent of forty-three Olympic-sized swimming pools of raw or partly treated sewage is pumped into the sea every day.”

Facing cruel human rights violations on a daily basis, the organizers urge solidarity in the form of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. U.S. residents bear particular responsibility for Israel’s military attacks against civilians, they note, as the United States has supplied Israel with billions of dollars for military buildup.

U.S. companies profit hugely from selling weapons to Israel. For example, Boeing, with headquarters in Chicago, sells Israel Apache helicopters, Hellfire and Harpoon missiles, JDAM guiding systems and Small Diameter Bombs that deliver Dense Inert Metal Explosive munitions. All of these weapons have been used repeatedly in Israeli attacks on densely populated civilian areas.

During the 2009 Operation Cast Lead, I was in Rafah, Gaza, listening to children explaining the difference between explosions caused by F-16 fighter jets dropping 500-pound bombs and Apache helicopters firing Hellfire missiles.

Israel continues using those weapons, and Israeli purchases fatten Boeing’s financial portfolios.

At Boeing Company, Names of people killed in Israel’s Operation Protective Edge are read aloud; Elizabeth Murray sounds a gong after each name.  (Photo credit: Barbara Briggs Letson)

On July 19, young Palestinians outside of the Israeli consulate read aloud the names of people who had, five years ago, been killed in Gaza. We listened solemnly and then proceeded to Boeing’s Chicago headquarters, again listening as youngsters read more names, punctuated by a solemn gong after each victim was remembered. Ultimately, 2,104 Palestinians, more than two-thirds of whom were civilians, including 495 children, were killed during the seven-week attack on the Gaza Strip in 2014.

Banner dropping over a bridge crossing the Chicago River: Israel, Stop Killing Palestinians (Photo Credit: Barbara Briggs Letson)

During the Free Gaza Chicago River flotilla on July 20, Husam Marajda, from the Arab American Action Network, sat in a small boat next to his grandfather, who was visiting from Palestine. His chant, “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go!” echoed from the water to the shore. Banners were dropped from bridges above, the largest reading, “Israel, Stop Killing Palestinians.”

Kayakers on the Chicago River display Free Gaza sign (Photo Credit: Barbara Briggs Letson)

Kayakers wore red T-shirts announcing the “Gaza Unlocked” campaign and managed to display flags, connected by string, spelling out “Free Gaza.” Passengers on other boats flashed encouraging peace signs and thumbs up signals. Those processing along the shore line, carrying banners and signs, walked the entirety of our planned route before a sergeant from the Chicago Police Department arrived to say we needed a permit.

We can’t permit ourselves to remain silent. Following the energetic flotilla activity, I sat with several friends in a quiet spot. “So many names,” said one friend, thinking of the list Abusalim had held up. “So many lives,” said another.

• A version of this article was published July 23rd, 2019 at The Progressive

You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three

The central argument of Amusing Ourselves [Neil Postman] is simple: there were two landmark dystopian novels written by brilliant British cultural critics – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – and we Americans had mistakenly feared and obsessed over the vision portrayed in the latter book (an information-censoring, movement-restricting, individuality-emaciating state) rather than the former (a technology-sedating, consumption-engorging, instant-gratifying bubble).

Andrew Postman

So what would Neil Postman say about this fellow [note title of this essay, referencing Jeff Bezos’ proclamation on what work should mean to every breathing American], or the many fellows like Bezos who have zero patience for a world without disrupting economies tied to their authoritarian business plan of more billionaires deserving (sic) more power. Disruptive and destructive, and not just economies in the book sense, but structural violence and community disintegration, murdering people with debt, lack of housing, no medical care, suicide, that’s Bezos, et al looking to capitalize on every penny gathered from every nanosecond in our individual human lives.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has seen his company grow into one of the world’s biggest companies.

Back in 1997, Bezos told shareholders that employees at other companies “can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com, you can’t choose two out of three.”

Bezos acknowledges his high standards for employees every year, telling shareholders that “it’s not easy to work here.”

In the 24 years since Amazon was founded, CEO Jeff Bezos has seen his company grow from a modest online bookshop to one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Back in 1997, Bezos was already expecting big things out of his young company. In his annual letter to Amazon shareholders, Bezos described how much effort he expected from his employees.

“When I interview people I tell them, ‘You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three,” Bezos wrote in the 1997 letter.

“Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success.”

The New York Times reported in 2015 exactly how bruising the work environment at Amazon could be. Employees were reportedly expected to routinely work late, were encouraged to criticize coworkers‘ ideas at meetings, and were often found crying at their desks. Amazon disputed many of the claims in the Times investigation, though the newspaper defended its reporting.

God forbid we call Amazon Boss Bezos a plantation owner of a different mother, for sure. That Americans — living in small and large cities, far and wide — depend on the Amazon way as if Amazon is sutured into all aspects of American culture (sic) and hardwired into every new born’s head. Same day delivery. A shopping cart that would be the envy of any Rothschild or Leona Mindy Roberts Helmsley.

See the source image

This essay, first, was going to address those other masters of the Universe — Google Guys and Algorithm Titans. I barely criticized a billionaire in a DV article —   Household Income, or Higher Planes of Consciousness?*

I criticized Nick Hanauer for his false balance, contrived bifurcation, and his new wind as a billionaire fighting what he calls the educationalism mindset that says that a good, grounded, deep and holistic education might be a thing of kings, whereas Nick says education backing and financing ain’t worth diddly squat in capitalism until more people make more money to buy more things, or just to survive in his nihilistic world.

Taken with this story line, I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

— Nick Hanauer

In my email box, Google, of course, I get an unsolicited email from an organization for which I have never associated with or even pursued. It’s the old surveillance state of Google and the internet Stasi, for sure —

Image result for stasi

Alas, Neil Postman was correct, in so far as what we say and do as writers really does not count — we are only as smart and deep and truthful as our masters will allow:

In my college economics class, we were taught that wages depend on productivity. The more productive or skilled workers are, my professors used to argue, the more they will be worth on the labor market and, therefore, the higher their wages will be. That’s bunk.

Under this logic, the way to cure our economic woes – whether poverty, inequality, underemployment, or unemployment – is through education. By educating our citizens, we increase their human capital, making them more productive and, therefore, increasing their expected income.

It sounds good, right?

This seductive myth – of education as an economic cure-all – is something Civic Action founder Nick Hanauer calls “educationism.” As Nick writes in a recent article for The Atlantic, it’s a myth he used to believe, and it’s a myth many wealthy elites still propagate. It’s what leads philanthropists to donate billions of dollars to public schools and educational institutions.

There’s just one problem: Educationism doesn’t work. If it did, our middle class would be much better off.

In the last 40 years, while the real incomes of most Americans have been stuck, we’ve gotten a lot more educated. Almost everyone has a high school diploma and the share of Americans with a college degree has more than tripled since 1970.”

But all that education hasn’t translated into higher wages. In fact, if our incomes had done what my college profs told me – gone up with productivity – the average family today would be earning $29,000 more a year. An average of $105,000!

Of course, it’s true that getting an education is likely to increase your own income. But that’s not the same as raising incomes throughout the economy. Not when four out of five of the fastest growing jobs pay very low wages – jobs like cashiers and health care assistants. Meanwhile, the pay of most people who do have a college education barely keeps up with inflation.

What we do need to do is raise incomes for working families and the middle class throughout the economy. That’s how we build an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few. As Nick writes:

“In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.”

—  Stephen Paolini, Civic Action, email with an ask for $ support

But then, this essay takes a twist, as they always seem to do when I deploy some ground-truthing. You see, most of us in the USA, the 80 percent of the population —  many of which are on the skids, on the near skids, or those of us barely scraping by, and those of us who are unseen but are many short steps away from working for one of those sweatshops like we see with Amazon (there are so many warehouse jobs, forklift gigs, sorting careers) and finding down time in the back seat of our cars)  —  so-so tire of, really, the prognosticators writing away hard in semi-secure status —  even the smartish ones on leftish magazines like The Nation, or digital forums like Truthout or Truthdig or The Intercept.

They have NO idea of what is real in the world, and that rarefied realm of citing this study or making this or that prediction, well, it is bombast at best, propaganda at worst, denuded of humanity in many cases.

Case in point — tens of millions of men and women wandering the land (US), in some warped version of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, really, in a society that eats-sleeps-dreams-believes the crap that Huxley warned of, and that which Neil Postman discussed. Oh the irony, those, that billionaire book salesman, Bezos, dead to the world, dead to us, the 80 percent, living, barely, in the middle of their hellish barbecue.

I was with three fellows — two literally are sleeping in campgrounds, and one fellow living with his parents. A million miles away from what any social worker or Sheryl Sandberg or Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or any of the scions of Holly-dirt or anyone in the Trump Loony Bin Show, or those clamoring around an Obama or Oprah or Rachel Maddow. It’s a triple sick experience even thinking about how vapid that so-called debate was yesterday with half of the half-wits of the Democratic Party wanting to play president.

So, a life of men truly on the extinction block, in several demographics. These fellows I hired on to help my spouse and I move from a rental to a house we had the temerity to purchase in a Time of Climate Heating, Oceans Rising, Food Wilting, Water Draining, Economies Imploding, Saber Rattling, and ICBM Immolating.

Their lives, broken down, seem to hold the familiar life story of many people I have worked with as a non-traditional social worker for the homeless, the just-out-of-prison returnees, and chronically physically and mentally ill. They work jobs, stacking halibut,  packing shrimp, pounding two-by-fours, hauling goods, sorting things, cutting trees, landscaping, roofing. Both of these fellows are 50, living in campgrounds, one with false teeth, the other with nubs and rotting teeth.

Child support for children they have never seen, or can’t see now. Felonies for this or that charge keeping them from even getting to first base on an apartment application. Vagabonds harassed by cops, and living life in a constant move. For my other helper, Brian, he’s a former marine, working as a social services provider, has a wonderful child on the spectrum (autism) and is currently living with aging and sickly parents. All three fit the bill for zero tolerance in this society. Never reflected in the news stories, in the Mass Murdering Media, never on the minds of the One Percent, Point Zero Zero One Percent. I know for a fact, though, that those Little Eichmanns who populate the other 19 percent of the 20 Percenters, well, many of them have one degree of separation when it comes to family members with substance abuse issues, chronic mental or physical illness, depression, suicidal, schizophrenic, and homeless.

You get both barrels of human pain and human survival and some human triumphs when talking with real people, albeit, denigrated folk, disenfranchised humans.

They are really rough around the edges, but these fellows, Tommy and Devon, they are examples of struggle and defeat and some triumph, as Brian and I note and agree. They are so far from any of the discourse going on around the world — the complete irrelevance of all the trolling, all the internet crap, all the stuff that makes for an echo chamber that sucks humanity and human connection from the ether.

You look at Tommy, and you see a man on the skids. Big laughing screwed up face, almost Dickensian, crazy might be one moniker. Hustling and wanting to have people know that there was once a time when he had some normalcy, some sense of being a man in society — not on the skids. Though, Tommy would not see himself on the skids.

Brain injury 23 years ago when a van hit him head on as a pedestrian. And he still works, moves heavy furniture, and hammers roofs.

Devon, a former truck driver, someone who has a few years in the Marines, and as Brian states — people are only awakened to the level of how they have been able to access those tools necessary to be woken up. Yet, Brian states that he’d much rather be in the company of these men than the MSWs and other graduate-level punishers he’s worked with, as I have also worked with, in the non-profit arenas as supposed social services workers.

They probably know nothing about this movement, which could affect Tommy and Devon:

When reporters for the International Amazon Workers Voice interviewed part-time Amazon “associates” (a cheap euphemism for “employees” used to disguise the exploitative relationship between workers and management at the company) in Baltimore to discuss their attitude toward Bezos’ fortune, they were met with a torrent of disgust, calls for sharing the wealth, and social anger.

“Tell Mr. Bezos and the rest of management to come out of their offices and get on the shop floor” said one worker who identified herself as a single mother of two. “At the end of the day, they never feel what we go through in a day for $12 an hour. They get to sit down in their offices and get paid more than we will see in a year,” she said.

Bezos’ wealth typifies the way an increasingly small number of multi-billionaire CEOs and finance operatives extract ever more obscene sums from the international workforce. This process of ever-increasing wealth for the few and exploitation for the majority is reaching a political breaking point.

Explaining her work environment during the holidays, the working mother said, “they just had us move 100,000 packages in 5 hours, and at the end we aren’t even paid enough to take care of our kids. I’m a single mother, I don’t receive food stamps. My rent is $850 a month. I have to pay for gas, electricity, bus passes, plus raise two kids.

“If we decided to quit, who would move these packages out of the door?” she said, noting the social power of the workers employed by the company. “We are the ones making you rich.”

Brian and I talk about Amazon, and the nefarious nature of how the guy at the Washington Post attacks the fourth grader Trump and others, while he is part of the Military Industrial Complex. From The Intercept:

Amazon’s extensive relationship with the NSA, FBI, Pentagon and other surveillance agencies in the west is multi-faceted, highly lucrative and rapidly growing. Last March, the Intercept reported on a new app that Amazon developers and British police forces have jointly developed to use on the public in police work, just “the latest example of third parties aidingautomating, and in some cases, replacing, the functions of law enforcement agencies — and raises privacy questions about Amazon’s role as an intermediary.”

Then there’s the patent Amazon obtained last October, as reported by the Intercept, “that would allow its virtual assistant Alexa to decipher a user’s physical characteristics and emotional state based on their voice.” In particular, it would enable anyone using the product to determine a person’s accent and likely place of origin: “The algorithm would also consider a customer’s physical location — based on their IP address, primary shipping address, and browser settings — to help determine their accent.”

All of this is taking place as Amazon vies for, and is the favorite to win, one of the largest Pentagon contracts yet: a $10 billion agreement to provide exclusive cloud services to the world’s largest military. CNN reported just last week that the company is now enmeshed in scandal over that effort, specifically a formal investigation into “whether Amazon improperly hired a former Defense Department worker who was involved with a $10 billion government contract for which the tech company iscompeting.”

Bezos’ relationship with the military and spying agencies of the U.S. Government, and law enforcement agencies around the world, predates his purchase of the Washington Post and has become a central prong of Amazon’s business growth. Back in 2014, Amazon secured a massive contract with the CIA when the spy agency agreed to pay it $600 million for computing cloud software. As the Atlantic noted at the time, Amazon’s software “will begin servicing all 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community.”

Given how vital the military and spy agencies now are to Amazon’s business, it’s unsurprising that the amount Amazon pays to lobbyists to serve its interests in Washington has exploded: quadrupling since 2013 from $3 million to almost $15 million last year, according to Open Secrets.

What would the house-less Tommy and Devon say about this Byzantine world of hyper billions of dollars and hyper trillions of human hours wasted on the things of capitalism, of power and control, consumption?

We were keeping our eye on 1984. But it’s Brave New World we should have feared instead.

I know many friends who wonder why we — people like me — still live in the US? Many wonder what it will take young people to stand down the systems of oppression. Some believe the young people have it, as in Greta the Carbon Dioxide Robin Hood, or AOC, the new face (sic) of American politics.

This system we have now is one where a few voices count (get read, heard, published, followed), and the majority of voices are just bursts of yelling in the woods, in campgrounds, in one’s lovely home in the old sedan, in our own bedlam. People travelling from one insane place to another, but in that realm, a sanity sets in for guys like Tommy and Devon. The world is pretty clear-cut, and on many levels, these people have positive outlooks — toothless, no real estate or swelling investment accounts. Just that hard way forward. Cigarettes and bicycling miles a day. Places to shower. Places to get out of the rain without the bulldozers of misanthropy pushing them further and further into ditches or out on the periphery until they stare us all down, face to face, the coming of a New Brave World. Is it the entertaining ourselves to death cycle, or a little bit of the other — big brother, watching our every move, holding every syllable mouthed in a cloud server, every speck of mole cataloged, and every word penned or typed, collected to hold us at bay, hold us as prisoners of our own faulty beliefs?

 

Needless to say, Charles Dickens grew to hate the system and rail against it in his works. In his seminal novella “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by two portly men raising money for the poor.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the [one of the gentlemen], taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

— Charles Dickens, 1843, A Christmas Carol 

Or, updated for 2020, as illustrated by a commentator on an article about Portland, OR, once the Rose City, now The City of Rocks:

To disrupt illegal camp sites set up by homeless in Portland, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is moving boulders onto the roadsides. The project will eventually cost about a million dollars, but ODOT argues this cost is less than the cost of dealing with existing campsites.

Many have pointed out that this policy does nothing to address the underlying problem or help the people in the camp, but only forces them to move somewhere else.

KGW8


odot boulders homeless camps highway 26 1015 2018

—Scrooge/Marley, Edward Sullivan, Planetizen

A debtor's prison in London.

A debtor’s prison in London.

Canada enables corrupt Haitian president to remain in power

At the front of a protest against Haiti’s president last week a demonstrator carried a large wooden cross bearing the flags of Canada, France and the US. The Haiti Information Project tweeted that protesters “see these three nations as propping up the regime of President Jovenel Moïse. It is also recognition of their role in the 2004 coup.”

Almost entirely ignored by the Canadian media, Haitian protesters regularly criticize Canada. On dozens of occasions since Jean Bertrand Aristide’s government was overthrown in 2004 marchers have held signs criticizing Canadian policy or rallied in front of the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. For their part, Haiti Progrès and Haiti Liberté newspapers have described Canada as an “occupying force”, “coup supporter” or “imperialist” at least a hundred times.

In the face of months of popular protest, Canada remains hostile to the protesters who represent the impoverished majority. A recent corruption investigation by Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes has rekindled the movement to oust the Canadian-backed president. The report into the Petrocaribe Fund accuses Moïse’s companies of swindling $2 million of public money. Two billion dollars from a discounted oil program set up by Venezuela was pilfered under the presidency of Moïse’s mentor Michel Martelly.

Since last summer there have been numerous protests, including a weeklong general strike in February, demanding accountability for public funds. Port-au-Prince was again paralyzed during much of last week. In fact, the only reason Moïse — whose electoral legitimacy is paper thin — is hanging on is because of support from the so-called “Core Group” of “Friends of Haiti”.

Comprising the ambassadors of Canada, France, Brazil, Germany and the US, as well as representatives of Spain, EU and OAS, the “Core Group” released another statement effectively backing Moise. The brief declaration called for “a broad national debate, without preconditions”, which is a position Canadian officials have expressed repeatedly in recent weeks. (The contrast with Canada’s position regarding Venezuela’s president reveals a stunning hypocrisy.) But, the opposition has explicitly rejected negotiating with Moïse since it effectively amounts to abandoning protest and bargaining with a corrupt and illegitimate president few in Haiti back.

In another indication of the “Core Group’s” political orientation, their May 30 statement “condemned the acts of degradation committed against the Senate.” Early that day a handful of opposition senators dragged out some furniture and placed it on the lawn of Parliament in a bid to block the ratification of the interim prime minister. Canada’s Ambassador André Frenette also tweeted that “Canada condemns the acts of vandalism in the Senate this morning. This deplorable event goes against democratic principles.” But, Frenette and the “Core Group” didn’t tweet or release a statement about the recent murder of journalist Pétion Rospide, who’d been reporting on corruption and police violence. Nor did they mention the commission that found Moïse responsible for stealing public funds or the recent UN report confirming government involvement in a terrible massacre in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of La Saline in mid-November. Recent Canadian and “Core Group” statements completely ignore Moise’s electoral illegitimacy and downplay the enormity of the corruption and violence against protesters.

Worse still, Canadian officials regularly promote and applaud a police force that has been responsible for many abuses. As I detailed in a November story headlined “Canada backs Haitian government, even as police force kills demonstrators”, Frenette attended a half dozen Haitian police events in his first year as ambassador. Canadian officials continue to attend police ceremonies, including one in March, and offer financial and technical support to the police. Much to the delight of the country’s über class-conscious elite, Ottawa has taken the lead in strengthening the repressive arm of the Haitian state since Aristide’s ouster.

On Wednesday Frenette tweeted, “one of the best parts of my job is attending medal ceremonies for Canadian police officers who are known for their excellent work with the UN police contingent in Haiti.” RCMP officer Serge Therriault leads the 1,200-person police component of the Mission des Nations unies pour l’appui à la Justice en Haïti (MINUJUSTH).

At the end of May Canada’s ambassador to the UN Marc-André Blanchard led a United Nations Economic and Social Council delegation to Haiti. Upon his return to New York he proposed creating a “robust” mission to continue MINUJUSTH’s work after its planned conclusion in mid-October. Canadian officials are leading the push to extend the 15-year old UN occupation that took over from the US, French and Canadian troops that overthrew Aristide’s government and was responsible for introducing cholera to the country, which has killed over 10,000.

While Haitians regularly challenge Canadian policy, few in this country raise objections. In response to US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s recent expression of solidarity with Haitian protesters, Jean Saint-Vil put out a call titled “OH CANADA, TIME TO BE WOKE LIKE ILHAN OMAR & MAXINE WATERS!” The Haitian Canadian activist wrote:

While, in Canada, the black population is taken for granted by major political parties who make no effort to adjust Canadian Foreign policies towards African nations, Haiti and other African-populated nations of the Caribbean, where the Euro-Americans topple democratically-elected leaders, help set up corrupt narco regimes that are friendly to corrupt Canadian mining companies that go wild, exploiting the most impoverished and blackest among us, destroying our environments in full impunity… In the US, some powerful voices have arisen to counter the mainstream covert and/or overt white supremacist agenda. Time for REAL CHANGE in Canada! The Wine & Cheese sessions must end! We eagerly await the statements of Canadian party leaders about the much needed change in Canadian Policy towards Haiti. You will have to deserve our votes, this time around folks!

Unfortunately, Canadian foreign policymakers — the Liberal party in particular — have co-opted/pacified most prominent black voices on Haiti and other international issues. On Monday famed Haitian-Canadian novelist Dany Laferrière attended a reception at the ambassador’s residence in Port-au-Prince while the head of Montréal’s Maison d’Haïti, Marjorie Villefranche, says nary a word about Canadian imperialism in Haiti. A little discussed reason Paul Martin’s government appointed Michaëlle Jean Governor General in September 2005 was to dampen growing opposition to Canada’s coup policy among working class Haitian-Montrealers.

Outside the Haitian community Liberal-aligned groups have also offered little solidarity. A look at the Federation of Black Canadians website and statements uncovers nothing about Canada undermining a country that dealt a massive blow to slavery and white supremacy. (Members of the group’s steering committee recently found time, however, to meet with and then attend a gala put on by the anti-Palestinian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.)

A few months ago, Saint-Vil proposed creating a Canadian equivalent to the venerable Washington, D.C. based TransAfrica, which confronts US policy in Africa and the Caribbean. A look at Canadian policy from the Congo to Venezuela, Burkina Faso to Tanzania, suggests the need is great. Anyone seeking to amplify the voices from the streets of Port-au-Prince should support such an initiative.

In the U.S. they are never called human rights violations

Trump’s 2020 budget proposal reflects another significant increase in military spending along with corresponding cuts in spending by Federal agencies tasked with the responsibility for providing critical services and income support policies for working class and poor people. Trump’s call for budget cuts by Federal agencies is mirrored by the statutorily imposed austerity policies in most states and many municipalities. Those cuts represent the continuing imposition of neoliberal policies in the U.S. even though the “A” word for austerity is almost never used to describe those policies.

Yet, austerity has been a central component of state policy at every level of government in the U.S. and in Europe for the last four decades. In Europe, as the consequences of neoliberal policies imposed on workers began to be felt and understood, the result was intense opposition.  However, in the U.S. the unevenness of how austerity policies were being applied, in particular the elimination or reduction in social services that were perceived to be primarily directed at racialized workers, political opposition was slow to materialize.

Today, however, relatively privileged workers who were silent as the neoliberal “Washington consensus” was imposed on the laboring classes in the global South — through draconian structural adjustment policies that result in severe cutbacks in state expenditures for education, healthcare, state employment and other vital needs — have now come to understand that the neoliberal program of labor discipline and intensified extraction of value from workers, did not spare them.

The deregulation of capital, privatization of state functions — from road construction to prisons, the dramatic reduction in state spending that results in cuts in state supported social services and goods like housing and access to reproductive services for the poor — represent the politics of austerity and the role of the neoliberal state.

This materialist analysis is vitally important for understanding the dialectical relationship between the general plight of workers in the U.S. and the bipartisan collaboration to raid the Federal budget and to reduce social spending in order to increase spending on the military. This perspective is also important for understanding the imposition of those policies as a violation of the fundamental human rights of workers, the poor and the oppressed.

For the neoliberal state, the concept of human rights does not exist.

As I have called to attention before, a monumental rip-off is about to take place once again. Both the Democrats and Republicans are united in their commitment to continue to feed the U.S. war machine with dollars extracted — to the tune of 750 billion dollars — from the working class and transferred to the pockets of the military/industrial complex.

The only point of debate is now whether or not the Pentagon will get the full 750 billion or around 733 billion. But whether it is 750 billion or 733 billion, the one sector that is not part of this debate is the public. The attention of the public has been adroitly diverted by the absurd reality show that is Russiagate. But this week, even though the budget debate has been disappeared by corporate media, Congress is set to begin debate on aspects of the budget and specifically on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Raising the alarm on this issue is especially critical at this moment. As tensions escalate in the Persian Gulf, the corporate media is once again abdicating its public responsibility to bring unbiased, objective information to the public and instead is helping to generate support for war with Iran.

The Democrats, who have led the way with anti-Iran policies over the last few decades, will be under enormous pressure not to appear to be against enhancing military preparedness and are likely to find a way to give Trump and the Pentagon everything they want.

Support for Human Rights and Support for Empire is an Irreconcilable Contradiction

The assumption of post-war capitalist order was that the state would be an instrument to blunt the more contradictory aspects of capitalism. It would regulate the private sector, provide social welfare support to the most marginal elements of working class, and create conditions for full employment. This was the Keynesian logic and approach that informed liberal state policies beginning in the 1930s.

The idea of reforming human rights fits neatly into that paradigm.

As seen, a state’s legitimacy was based on the extent to which it recognized, protected and fulfilled the human rights of all its citizens and residents. Those rights included not only the right to information, assembly, speech and to participation in the national political life of the nation but also the right to food, water, healthcare, education, employment, substantial social security throughout life, and not just as a senior citizen.

The counterrevolutionary program of the late 60s and 70s, especially the turn to neoliberalism which began in the 70s, would reject this paradigm and redefine the role of the state. The obligation of the state to recognize, protect and fulfill human rights was eliminated from the role of the state under neoliberalism.

Today the consequences of four decades of neoliberalism in the global South and now in the cosmopolitan North have created a crisis of legitimacy that has made state policies more dependent on force and militarism than in any other time, including the civil war and the turmoil of the 1930s.

The ideological glue provided by the ability of capitalism to deliver the goods to enough of the population which guaranteed loyalty and support has been severely weakened by four decades of stagnant wages, increasing debt, a shrinking middle-class, obscene economic inequality and never-ending wars that have been disproportionately shouldered by the working class.

Today, contrary to the claims of capitalism to guarantee the human right to a living wage ensuring “an existence worthy of human dignity,” the average worker is making, adjusted for inflation, less than in 1973; i.e., some 46 years-ago. 140 million are either poor or have low-income; 80% living paycheck to paycheck; 34 million are still without health insurance; 40 million live in “official poverty;” and more in unofficial poverty as measured by alternative supplemental poverty (SPM).  And more than half of those over 55 years-old have no retirement funds other than Social Security.

In a report, Philp Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, points out that: the US is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. It spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France and Japan combined.

However, that choice in public expenditures must be seen in comparison to the other factors he lays out:

  • US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
  • Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the US and its peer countries continues to grow.
  • US inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries
  • In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
  • The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.

For African Americans in particular, neoliberalism has meant, jobs lost, hollowed out communities as industries relocated first to the South and then to Mexico and China, the disappearance of affordable housing, schools and hospital closings, infant and maternal mortality at global South levels, and mass incarceration as the unskilled, low-wage Black labor has become economically redundant.

This is the backdrop and context for the budget “debate” and Trump’s call to cut spendings to Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and even the State Department.

The U.S. could find 6 trillion dollars for war since 2003 and 16 trillion to bail out the banks after the financial sector crashed the economy, but it can’t find money to secure the human rights of the people.

This is the one-sided class war that we find ourselves in; a war with real deaths and slower, systematic structural violence. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans can be depended on to secure our rights or protect the world from the U.S. atrocities. That responsibility falls on the people who reside at the center of the Empire to not only struggle for ourselves but to put a brake on the Empire’s ability to spread death and destruction across the planet.

Plutocracy V: Subterranean Fire

Plutocracy V: Subterranean Fire, written and directed by Scott Noble, continues the run of quality documentaries by Metanoia Films. The film provides the historical context that allows the viewer to understand why inequality reigns while social justice and peace lag today. The, at first blink, curious title stems from a quotation by the American labor leader August Spies, who was one of four anarchists hanged in 1887 after being found guilty in the bomb explosion that wounded and killed several policemen and civilians in what became known as the Haymarket affair.

Said Spies to the court:

But, if you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement—the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery, the wage slaves, expect salvation—if this is your opinion, then hang us!

Here you will tread upon a spark, but here, and there, and behind you, and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up.

It is a subterranean fire.

Subterranean Fire documents historically how the capitalist class have nefariously accumulated wealth and power for selfish purposes by depriving working people of dignity and rights.

Subterranean Fire details at the outset how strike actions and popular revolts were put down by corporations through their cronies, including police, private detectives, vigilantes, and even the National Guard. In the Homestead strike of 1892, after workers had defeated the Pinkerton agency’s private army, the National Guard was brought out.

According to data cited in the film, in 1929, 60 percent of the population lived well below the poverty line. Despite large increases in productivity, there was no trickle down of profits. Neither was there a social safety net.

Labor historian Peter Rachleff tells how organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army were enmeshed in the capitalist pattern, categorizing the poor into deserving and undeserving of assistance based on what their “interrogations” uncovered about one’s life style. The unemployed were often blamed for being without employment.

Violence against workers was rampant, and the government was complicit in the violence. The über-rich industrialist Henry Ford hired armed guards to crush disenchanted workers. These armed guards shot and killed hunger marchers from the River Rouge plant.

Finally in 1935, unions were legalized. There was hope. A crafts union, the AFL was formed; also formed was an industrial workers union, the CIO. These two were to merge years later into the AFL-CIO.

Subterranean Fire informs how unions sought to end prejudice — an obvious sine qua non in the battle between the moneyed power of the capitalist class and working class.

A message that is compelling and clearly conveyed is that government (and hence “democracy”) is not a force for the masses of workers. Especially prominent in pushing for the dignity of labor were communist leaders.

Communism and Social Justice

Rachleff identified the communists’ goal as developing workers as human beings.

Of particular importance to communists was the inclusion of the Black masses. The KKK, who were supported by state power, warned against Blacks attending communist meetings.

The Scottsboro Boys surrounded by Alabama National Guard, 20 March 1931

Communists played a prominent role in the scathingly egregious example of racism meted out to the Scottsboro boys. African-American Studies professor Carol Anderson lays out how nine Black teenagers were falsely accused of rape by two White prostitutes. This raised temperatures to boiling among racist Whites. In a one-day trial, eight youths were sentenced to the electric chair and the other youth to life imprisonment. Eventually one woman recanted her false testimony, but it was 17 years before the last prisoner was released for a crime never committed.

Immigrants were also targeted for exploitation.

Stoop labor, such as farm labor where the worker was often stooped over while working in the fields, was considered undesirable. This provided work opportunities for those more desperate; Mexican workers were attracted by the opportunity for work. As immigrant labor, they were without rights and often mistreated. To avoid a labor shortage during WWII, the US-Mexico had reached agreement on the Bracero program, a massive guest worker program that allowed over four million Mexican workers to migrate and work temporarily in the United States from 1942 to 1964. Scandalously, many Braceros still seek to collect unpaid wages from that time. As Justin Chacon, author of No One Is Illegal points out, this form of captive labor has continued into the present. The current backlash against immigrants supported by the Donald Trump government augurs back to the Bracero program.

Resistance in the Arts

Artists, writers, and actors were centers of unionization and resistance against exploitation of people. Such artistic expression was opposed by the capitalist class.

Subterranean Fire features an excerpt from director Tim Robbins’ movie Cradle Will Rock, where the capitalist Nelson Rockefeller is questioning the artist Diego Rivera who was commissioned by Rockefeller to produce a fresco for the Rockefeller Center in New York city. However, the pro-communist display was too much for Rockefeller to stomach; he subsequently had the fresco destroyed.

Diego Rivera, Man at the Crossroads, 1933, Rockefeller Center prior to destruction

The Importance of Solidarity

In Flint, Michigan, autoworkers occupied factories and conducted sit-down strikes. Historian Sharon Smith points out the ingenuity of such a tactic: while factory owners were readily willing to use violence against workers, they were loathe to damage their own factories.

Women of the epoch played an important role in supporting the labor rights actions of the men. Women auxiliaries sneaked food into the men; they broke windows to prevent men from being overcome by gas attacks; and they served as a distraction to police.

The strikers reached out to fellow autoworkers across the country and fostered much unity. These tactics helped workers win demands from Big Auto.

Sit-down strikes spread across the country. The film tells that in 1937 almost 5 million workers took part in sit-down strikes. It was a heady time for workers.

However, in the end, the grassroots organizing power of workers was undermined by the union leadership which sought an alliance between labor and capital. The Communist Party of America also failed the working class.

In another blow to workers, the Supreme Court ruled sit-down strikes illegal in 1939.

The demonized state of workers was epitomized in the summer of 1937 when Chicago police shot at a parade of striking steelworkers and their families. Fifty were shot and 10 died. President Franklin Roosevelt sat on the fence and blamed both sides for the violence.

Later, however, FDR appeared to have a change of heart, and in 1944 he backed a second Bill of Rights for all. Among the rights were such basics as “a right to a useful and remunerative job,” “the right of every family to a decent home,” and “the right to adequate medical care.” According the the documentary, FDR was no true friend of labor, and his expressed views were in anticipation of the United States entering WWII. Nonetheless, FDR died a year later.

Demonizing Workers and the Left

Capitalists, with media in tow, demonized communists and anarchists. The Alien Registration Act of 1940 aimed to preserve the status quo. Japanese-Americans were interred. Communists were targeted.

The FBI was involved. Edgar Hoover had leftists monitored and surveilled by tactics including wiretaps and break-ins. The anti-leftism was so extreme that a section of corporate America supported fascism. The fascists supported Nazi Germany in WWII.1

Post-WWII the top income tax rate was 91% until 1964. One-third of workers belonged to a union. From 1940 to 1967 real wages doubled. Living standards doubled.

However, the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 would attack workers, banning many types of strikes, closed union shops, union political contributions, communists and radicals in union leadership, and the compelled payment of union dues. The Supreme Court upheld Taft-Hartley, and it remains in force today.

The film also examines McCarthyism, a witch hunt against communists or communist-leaning types, as a psychological attack against Americans. No one was safe. Blacklisting was in vogue and among the first blacklisted were the so-called Hollywood 10 for either communist sympathies or refusal to aid Congress’ House Un-American Activities Committee investigations into the Communist party or having fought for the rights of Blacks and workers. The list expanded much past 10. One celebrity given in-depth prominence in Subterranean Fire was singer Paul Robeson who refused to back down before Congress, stated he was for Negro and worker rights, and accused Congress of neo-fascism.

McCarthyism hit hysterical heights as exemplified by Texas proposing the death penalty for communist membership and Indiana calling for the banning of Robin Hood.

McCarthyism was foiled when it bit off more than it could chew. When McCarthyism took on the establishment, in particular the military, its impetus ground to an inglorious halt. The Alien Registration Act was ruled unconstitutional, and the First Amendment right to political beliefs was upheld.

Subterranean Fire notes that the damage to the labor movement was already done. A permanent war economy was established: overtly through the military and covertly through the CIA. Come 2001, union membership had dropped to 13.5%. Radicals were disconnected from their communities; union democracy was subverted by a top-down leadership which avoided the tactic of striking for collective bargaining; the court system was heavily backlogged with labor-management issues, which usually were ruled in favor of management.

Some outcomes noted in the film,

In the early 21st century, Americans took on the dubious distinction of working more hours than any other country….

There is no single county in America where a minimum wage earner can support a family.

The Rise

Grotesque income and wealth disparity signifies the current state of neoliberalism. Yet Subterranean Fire finds glimmers of change for working men and women.

Despite relating the historical trampling of the working class, the film concludes on a sanguine note. Union strength appears to be on the rebound with solidarity being a linchpin. Labor strikes were on the upswing in the US, with teachers leading the way. Fast-food workers are fighting for a decent wage. Labor, which has seen real wages stagnate in the age of neoliberalism, is fighting back worldwide. Autoworkers in Matamoros, Mexico are striking and colleagues in Detroit, Michigan have expressed support for their sisters and brothers. The Gilet Jaunes in France have been joined by labor. A huge general strike took place in India. The uptick of resistance was not just pro-labor but anti-global warming in Manchester, UK; Tokyo, Japan; Cape Town, South Africa; Helsinki, Finland; Genoa, Italy; and, Nelson, Aotearoa (New Zealand).

All this, however, must be considered through the lens of the current political context. A virulent anti-socialist president and his hawkish administration occupy the White House in Washington. Despite the nationwide strike actions, the right-wing BJP and prime minister Narendra Modi won a recent huge re-election in India. The purportedly centrist Liberal Party in Canada, rhetoric aside, has been, in large part, in virtual lockstep with the US administration.2

The Importance of Metanoia Films

Today, people with access to the internet have little excuse for continuing to depend on state-corporate media sources. Why would anyone willingly subject himself to disinformation and propaganda? Not too mention paying for access to such unreliable information and the soul-sapping advertisements that accompany it.

It is important that we be cognizant of the search engine manipulations of Google, the biased opinions parlayed by moneyed corporate media, and the censorship of social media data-mining sites. The corporate-state media nexus wants to limit and shape what we know. The current war on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange is proof positive of this. Assange and WikiLeaks exposed horrific war crimes. It is a no-brainer that a person should be congratulated for bringing such evil perpetrated by the state to the public awareness. Instead the establishment seeks to destroy WikiLeaks, the publisher Assange, and Chelsea Manning who is accused of providing the information to WikiLeaks.

Given the corporate-state power structure’s ideological opposition to WikiLeaks and freedom on information as well as the preponderance of disinformation that emanates from monopoly media, it seems eminently responsible that people seek out credible independent sources of information. Metanoia Films stands out as a credible source.

There are plenty of independent news and information sites that provide analysis that treat the reader/viewer with respect by substantiating information provided in reports and articles with evidence, logic, and even morality. The reader/viewer who seeks veracity has an obligation to consider the facts, sources, and reasoning offered and arrive at her own conclusions.

Metanoia documentaries lay out a historical context that helps us understand how we arrived at the state of affairs we find ourselves in today. It is an understanding that is crucial to come up with solutions for a world in which far too many languish in poverty, suffer in war zones, and are degraded by the cruelties of inequality. It is an understanding that is crucial for communicating, planning, and organizing the establishment of new societies in which all may flourish and of which all may be proud.

Independent media is meant for independent thinkers and those who aspire to a better world. Watch Plutocracy V: Subterranean Fire and the first four parts in the Plutocracy series and become informed.

  1. For an in-depth history, read Jacques R. Pauwels, The Myth of the Good War (Toronto: Lorimer, 2015), a book which exposes US motivations during WWII as serving corporate interests.
  2. Note Canadian prime minister Trudeau’s stand on Assad in Syria, Maduro in Venezuela, Huawei and the extradition hearings on Meng Wanzhou, antagonisms with China, and antagonism with Russia’s Putin. Also consider Canada’s poor record on effectively taking on climate change. These actions differ little from president Trump south of the border.

Finding Space Between Despair and Validation

There is nothing very remarkable about being immortal; with the exception of mankind, all creatures are immortal, for they know nothing of death. What is divine, terrible, and incomprehensible is to know oneself immortal.
— Borges, “The Immortal”, IV, in The Aleph (1949)

All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.
— Jorge Luis Borges

I knew it would come at me sooner or later, that feeling of dread that I had steeled myself against . . . staving off that realization that the books are so cooked that every level of societal organization in the USA (elsewhere, too, as in the UK, take, for example, the excellent movie, I, Daniel Blake) is rotting from the inside-out, outside-in. I’ve kept that juggling inside my mental space for a long time, but the blood-brain barrier has been pretty much intact, cloistering away intellectual realization from emotional acceptance; i.e., vulnerability.  It’s this inoculation many of us in the middle of the muck — radical journalism, even more radical social services, and, for this article, beyond radical education —  have to succumb to and for which we have to continue to ramify our emotional ‘scapes with boosters to make it through a day or week or month of travails.

I have to insert a full disclaimer: I know I am not living in Guatemala, San Salvador, Bangladesh, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia or Palestine. Things — basic living conditions — are so-so grotesque in other countries where capitalism and despotic fascism have ensconced those places with the plague of Little Eichmann’s and narcissistic racists who do the bidding of the moneyed classes (sic). Millions of babies are dying of gut diseases a year because of shitty water systems or none at all . . . because of Capitalism; the plague of misogyny is destroying the futures of women and girls in places like Saudi Arabia or a thousand other nations . . .  because of religion; resources are continually being polluted, tainted or collapsing  . . . because of Western Culture’s rapacious appetites, all flowing out of the sewage drain that defines Capitalism. All of that to the 10th power in so-called “third world” societies compared to “our” dragging lives, and, mine, sure (since I maybe enlightened, but too I am pressed into the strata of the death system . . .  USA capitalism), so, sure, how can I complain. Anything the rest of the non-Western world has to go through daily overshadows even the hard times many of “our” people in “our” country face with this old time religion of corporate-government fascism.

Good stuff daily at Dissident Voice, as in:

It is strange to watch the sleepy drama of airports, in which a bourgeoisie and a working class effortlessly intermingle, both seemingly inured to the routines of capitalist life. Something soulless inhabits the pace of capitalist life. One observes it here in the deadened gaze of the wage workers, watching their lives tick away in [airport] terminal jobs; but also in the ceaseless arrivals and departures of businessmen charging off to another sales conference; and in the harried rush of families to make it on their annual holiday junket. One wonders if any of these classes, more the workers than the professional caste, might ever revolt against the system that keeps them ensnared in their drudgery.

— Jason Hirthler, “The Curious Malaise of the Middle Class

We’ll be getting to that soulless rendering of Capitalist lives soon. For now, I’m not talking about a complete blow-out of my emotions here, but I knew that through teaching, yet again, in a PK12 system out here on the Oregon Coast, as a hired gun substitute teacher, I’d open myself up to that sinking feeling not so much of despair, but validation that the entire country has been sold down the river with a super majority of its people colonized by the thinking, or lack thereof, created by the taker class, the destroyer species, so more victims by the thousands in their cribs are created for the elite to chew up every so much and completely every day.

Then millions daily in our public schools, chewed up and spit out. But still marks for a society of Mafiosi-PayPal-PayDay loan sharks that profit in pain, dissolution, human toil, poverty, struggle, economic hell, emotional insanity, and ethical dissuasion.

I knew going into this research project — to discover out how to wrap up my concept for a short book on The Good, Bad and Ugly of American Ed — it would be rough sailing on the edges of this strange continent since I am working in a rural county with high poverty rates, high parental drug use,  homelessness and consistent precarity in the economic realm, with parents working 12-hour gigs or four jobs to a family, and a class of people who have shuttered themselves with beach-combing, Pinot Gris-loving, tourist junkets to Mexico, la Provence in France and ski resorts and mud cleansing camps in Montana. Plus, it’s Oregon, on the coast, a very racist place/history of sundown laws (not to say New York City or Chicago or LA aren’t racist super max militarized black man/woman/Latinix hating police mafia), where the rare sane and giver tribes person is a diamond yet to be found.

Inoculation for me is that I might find personal fortitude from all my many years geriatrically speaking and many more experiences living on the planet dredging up all the detritus deposited in the process of bearing witness to the failure that is America —  the Prison Complex, America — the Warring Complex, America — the Enemy of All Good People Complex, America — the Vapidity Complex, America — the All Polluting Complex. One can still hold out hope for some semblance of solidarity from cohorts and like-minded individuals within my geographical region.

The truth is that while the national media, and the national news and national academics blather on and on about, sure, important issues such as USA Democrats and Republicans parsing out why locking up whistle blowers or jailing journalists like Assange is good/bad, or how the USA ended up bombing thousands of civilians in Raqqa, or, say, the story about Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez’s family suing the Border Patrol for $100 million after the Guatemalan was murdered by an agent last year on the Texas border, the work to be done at the local level, even within a fifth grade classroom, is monumental, almost impossible in this murderous carnival of capitalism gone rogue. Wave after wave of spasms after viewing or hearing any number of stories pumped out on the ticker-tape voyeurism that is Bing or Yahoo or Fox or CNN “news” (sic) feeds is interesting in an ironic way — as a student of journalism-media-public opinion trends.

But the toll on communities, on individual children, is so-so deep and grave and beyond the abilities of a Melinda Gates or Michelle Obama or Elon Musk to even begin to comprehend, let alone beyond their capabilities to just sit down and honorably and truthfully engage in healing, or dialogue.

Witnessing the absurdity that is American and Capitalistic exceptionalism, in real time, during work, while trying to accomplish  something worthy, like teaching youth six years to 18 years old, puts a heavy toll on some of us when we many times confront the injustice and insanity of it all, head on. It’s a toll tied to our personal activities of daily living in a colonized world, where, no kidding, someone like me (and I have very few friends or acquaintances who would agree with me on the following spot on quote half a century old, and counting) can’t remove what has become a default fine print disclaimer that should be plastered on anything coming out of America, and American-drenched marketing campaigns of the murderers who run Corporations, large and small:

If America is the culmination of Western white civilization, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilization. This is a painful truth; few of us want to go that far…. The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al, don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.

— Susan Sontag, Partisan Review, Vol. 34 No. 1 1967.

This is no flippant thing I’m expressing here, yet so many people have attacked this critique, Sontag’s, that is, and my ascribing it, so deeply, and they rebuff even considering it with so much contrarianism filled with paranoia, or that disease of white guilt, or exceptionalism, or something more, something really nefarious.

The bottom line, a fourth grade thinker like Trump and his coterie of asinine, ignorant, rich, degraded, full-on psychopathic followers, in and out of his administration, hate my students. These students who are 30 to a class. Students who have four or five bullies in each class. Students who have driveling principals who are afraid of their own shadows. Students who are 576 to one counselor on hand. Students who have Chromebooks and giant caterpillar math games in seventh grade. Students who are fed the entrails of fast food and the most dangerous food for lunch that it just makes a grown person cry. Students who are forced in classrooms with bachelor degreed teachers, mostly all with their hearts in the right place, but floundering under the weight of shitty wages and economies that take up more than half our income to just make rent.

Students with local beaches that have Memorial Day warnings of fecal matter in the tides. Students with clear cuts peppered all around them and the follow up aerial spraying of Agent Orange like derivatives to keep the invasives down. Students who have no parks to speak of, no museums, no trolley services to help them get from one beach to the next. Students who are forced to listen to military recruiters, and students bred in the faux patriotism that calls all boys and girls to seriously consider the all-volunteer military (economic draft, that is)  as a gateway to college, when the majority of youth see no end in sight in school.

We hate these kids, if one were to look at our education policies run by an Amway sales person, Betsy DeVos, and if we look at all the other cabinet level people, all those heads of our supposed government agencies for, by and because of the people, and listen to what they want in terms of tearing down every economic, environmental, educational, retirement, housing, health, energy, conservation, community development safety net, how in god’s name (sic) can any thinking adult believe that this administration or any of them really cares about the 80 percent of the country, the majority, our youth, our babies, our teens, our future?

Therein lies the catalyzing moment Friday that spurred me to write this angst-leveling piece — I again, after dozens of gigs, got from the horse’s mouth — the students — that the schools are bullying enterprises, where many in these classes call young girls and boys “fat jelly rolls, fatsos, stupid, sissies, retards, fags,” and alas, nothing is being done to rectify this. Nothing at the administration level, at the classroom level, at the parental level, at the assembly level, nothing.

And so one of these counselors, one in the school, just displayed so many levels of malpractice, stupidity, telling me, a substitute, that unless I heard the boys yelling these things, and even if the girls and boys that are the victims say that happened, are crying, are withdrawn, there is nothing he can do.

Then this ignoramous spewed some platitude about, “I told Mary to not let those boys take her power away . . . to not give them her power.” This is the state of retarded adult thinking, pure reckless operating procedures.

Then, students tell me to not be so worried that the class is going bonkers or is disruptive, or that student x and y are being not only idiots, but disrespectful of me, an elder, in some sense. That this goes on with the regular teacher, and that the students have complained about x and y bully, but to no avail.

I ask them how they even learn with all the disruptions, all the students x and y getting pulled from the classroom, or all the bells and breaks and idiotic things that supposedly have been built into the curriculum because the powers that be believe young minds can’t stick to a problem or a topic for more than 10 minutes, and anything beyond 10 minutes has to be programmed into some Chromebook moving cartoon or video game.

Teachers in middle schools who tell students, “go figure it out yourself,” when confronted with a math problem. Teachers who look like they just spent a day in Yemen under Saudi-USA bombardment after a day’s teaching.

This system for the most part is ruinous of human celebration, ruinous of honoring and stewarding young minds and bodies.

Alas, yes, fixing education is easy, but not under capitalism, not under the weight of the core curriculum or shackled by No Child Left Behind or through all the degrading junk that is shoveled down young people’s throats. Nothing in the classroom is mattering, and fixing the education system again, is what the book I am about to launch is all about.

I guess what triggered me was all the bullying, all the poor ass kids who must have demons for parents, because the amount of disrespect for teachers and peers and visitors is deafening. I am not saying all the youth are like that, or even half like those bullies, but if you get six out of 30 in a class who control the message, control the chemistry of the group dynamics, who are always vying for warped levels of attention and disruptive shenanigans, then the learning experiment begins to wither on the vine.

Add to that significant numbers of youth with behavioral plans and learning plans, youth with reading issues, with intellectual disabilities, or psychological disabilities. Youth with chronic illness. Youth from broken families. Youth with some family member in jail and with an addiction. Youth with no sense of community. Entire elementary schools, middle schools and high schools that hardly ever have anyone from the community come in to facilitate learning, let alone cadres of visiting local and regional experts in biology or other fields, or artists or just plain wise elders from tribes.

This in and of itself shows that Trump and all the suits and skirts backing him HATE America, and the way they are making America great again with untold numbers of more and more victims, beaten down by the forces of oppression and repression and suppression at earlier and earlier ages, that’s his MAGA, Trump’s army of deplorables.

Again, though, “the principal never does anything to these bullies . . . he just tells them that he will give them something if they stop bullying us . . . but they don’t stop . . . there are no consequences . . . and we just have to take it.”

Now, take that to the heart of your soul dear reading and really begin to think how we are going to get out of all the colluding and colliding messes we face in this destructive warring society when we are creating more and more causalities at younger and younger ages who will never ever be able to be part of the solution.

Truly, when the school administration knows/does diddle squat, and when some goofy counselor tells students that “getting upset about a bully is like your kryptonite . . .  letting the bullies bother you is handing them your power,” a grown man not only wants to cry, but he wants to smack that puke of a person from here to kingdom come.

Seriously.

I finish off after talking today to several people about the state of youth, the state of our schools, the state of our young people’s lack of critical thinking skills. So many civilians, or citizens, think they know what’s wrong with education, or what’s up with parents, or why millennials or those in this generation are broken. Yet, adults, so many of them, have zero tolerance for creativity, outside the box thinking, and investing in REAL education, REAL outdoor schools, REAL schools where youth are building solar panels, living in tepees, growing vegetables, planting permaculture gardens, raising chickens, collecting eggs, doing art, making instruments from which to make music, doing community film projects on the old timers, going to old folks homes and reading and performing, or bringing in homeless people to feed and clothe.

Real work, real learning, real systems thinking teaching.

Imagine hundreds or thousands of students working on drive-by photography shoots, telling neighborhood history projects, building wheelchair ramps for the handicapped, getting into real businesses and learning how to be entrepreneurs,  having bio-diesel bus trips to the state capitals weekly.

We know how to lead and follow, teach and learn, share and provide. But the systems of oppression in Capitalism make it virtually impossible to do any good with not only our young but our old, or those with disabilities, or those just out of prison, or those who are traumatized by the most brutal parents and neighborhoods.

Take the following to the bank. Yes, John wrote this decades ago, and, yes, he believed we could do wonders with schooling at home and within the communities. He did not anticipate the powers of Capitalism to generate more and more finely grained sacrifice zones at the census track level, regionally wide, entire states succumbing to an un-United States. He did not anticipate the dog-eat-dog nature of capitalism, nor did he really delve into the murderous powers that have harnessed all economic models and all business plans that the USA produces. Trillions spent on war, billions spent on propagandizing this rotten economic system, billions spent on policing and jailing, billions spent on entrapping more and more people into the madness of screens and phones and idle self-aggrandizement and narcissism.

Community schools, and schools inside the companies, and forcing bosses to give time off for workers to tend to the schools. Of course, we need to own our schools, and we need Pearson Publishing and the thousands of other leeches and bottom feeders in educational publishing and curriculum design and management and testing and computerization of learning and on-line madness to be sent to the dung heap.

I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my thirty years of teaching: schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers to care and do work very, very hard, the institution is psychopathic — it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to a different cell where he must memorize that humans and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.

Children learn what they live. Put kids in a class and they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community; interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important or worth finishing; ridicule them and they will retreat from human association; shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even. The habits taught in large-scale organizations are deadly.

Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.”

What’s gotten in the way of education in the United States is a theory of social engineering that says there is ONE RIGHT WAY to proceed with growing up.

― John Taylor Gattoo, Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, February 1, 2002

Denmark Peace and Justice Conference Connects Activism Against Poverty, Pollution and War

Most people in the West think of Denmark as a tolerant, peace-loving country, even—according to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump—as a socialist country. Trump views this as a disease to be excised, and avoided in the US at all costs, while Sanders sees this as an ideal for America.

The truth is far from these tales. Denmark runs on a solidly capitalist economy, and it has been at war against all the countries the US has invaded since Iraq in 1990. Its troops remain in Afghanistan and Iraq; and its planes bombed Syria not long ago. The various governments have cut back the social network of “free” education and healthcare to the bare bones in the last decade. The elderly, for instance, who cannot bathe themselves, must wait up to seven weeks before a social welfare assistant can come to wash them and clean house, and must do so in the few minutes strictly allotted. (See my series, ”Scandinavia on the Skids: The Failure of Social Democracy”.)

There are a few, quiet progressive or radical groupings in Denmark, no peace movement, but a burgeoning climate movement. Yet one alternative institution, Tvind, tries to influence people in Denmark, throughout Europe and in some “third world” countries to be activists and teachers of activism. Tvind started in 1970 (see sidebar below) and for the past five years has sponsored an international Peace and Justice Conference.

One of the unusual aspects of Tvind, at its schools, residences and conferences, is that no alcohol or any drugs are allowed. I was there four days and never did anyone, not even the 20-30 year-old majority, speak of any need for these normal crutches, and they danced after all the work until after midnight stone sober. Maybe they got their energy from a sense of fulfilling togetherness and the delicious vegetarian-ecological food they prepared for two dozen students and another 150 people, who came to the conference from Denmark and a dozen more European countries east and west, a handful from India, Africa and Latin America.

This year’s conference took place in mid-May for three days. The kick-off speech dealt with “the Russian ‘peace threat’”, other global perspectives, and how to resist; how to bring the deadly and polluting institution of militarism and its wars into the consciousness and the agenda of those opposing climate change. Previous conference themes had dealt with how to stop wars not refugees; to transform from militarism to conflict resolution and peace; and no justice no peace.

”A culture of peace will be achieved when citizens of the world understand global problems, have the skills to resolve conflict constructively; know and live by international standards of human rights; gender and racial equality; appreciate cultural diversity; and respect the diversity of the earth. Such learning cannot be achieved without intentional sustained and systematic education for peace,” read the invitation.

This year’s program included over 30 workshops, half-a-dozen key speeches, music, a theater piece, artwork, poems, sports and networking. Workshop topics included: fighting with the poor; humanity in action in India; youth in climate action with refugees in Europe; movements for change in the USA; the difference between what the US government tells us about why it wages war and what the real reasons are; war and ecocide; songs for peace; pedagogy of liberation; what is going on in Venezuela; perspectives for our future, and how to take part of creating one.

Making music together with Italian musician Paolo Rossetti

Hans Blix-Noam Chomsky did not attend but Blix was interviewed for the conference, and a Democracy for Now interview with Chomsky was viewed. Blix was the UN’s chief investigator sent to Iraq in 2002-3 to find out if the government had “weapons of mass destruction,” the excuse that President George Bush used to invade it. In 2004, Blix stated that, “there were about 700 inspections, and in no case did we find weapons of mass destruction.” Nevertheless, “let’s kick ass” Bush set up the “coalition of the willing” to destroy much of Iraq and murder over one million people. The Danish government declared war on Iraq to please the US—the only country to actually declare war. While Blix is a man of the Swedish Establishment, a strong supporter of capitalism, EU and nuclear energy, and Chomsky is a rebel anarchist, the two agreed that the greatest threats and challenges to humanity are: climate change and the growing possibility of a nuclear war. Blix said that the former is slow suicide; the latter is quick suicide. The doomsday clock stands at two minutes to midnight, the first time since it did during the Cuba missile crisis, in 1962.

Trine Wendelboe is a Dane who moved to Dowagiac, Michigan 13 years ago. She directs research and development at the One World Center connected to Tvind. This small town is headquarters for the Pokagon band of Potawatomi Indians. The center aims to take action against worldwide poverty and climate change.  Wendelboe spoke of the growing poverty and anxiety overwhelming Americans, and about some of the movements resisting the disasters people confront.

The closing workshop and last speech were held by the Dutch transformation coach and Camino Real guide Gert-Jan van Hoon. Along with young DNS teachers Nadezda and Justas they asked how participants can stick together, how do they not get “blown away”, in order to heal the soul and Mother Earth.

Gert and open future workshop at Tvind’s Peace and Justice conference

I spoke with a dozen participants about what the conference had meant to them. Some were DNS students, a few were in the 10-month international development volunteer program, and some had only attended the conference. Here are comments regarding what they got out of it and how they might “not get blown away”.

Annie Wood, an English student in the DNS program, immediately took up planning her first action following the conference—a student strike in the nearby city of Holstebro. This would be part of the Friday For Future movement actions, which began in March with about 1.6 million strikers at 2000 locations on all continents

She had been inspired by her studies at Tvind and by the conference to write a poem, “The Choice”, which she read to the participants. Here are excerpts:

Here’s my first rhyme for the world to hear
written from inspiration about something I hold dear.
To me it makes clear sense and I think it should to you too,
because right now I’m heartbroken, this has got me feeling blue.

We are killing our home, this great big planet earth.
We are plundering, draining and polluting it for everything its worth.
Yes you’ve heard this story before, maybe you’re bored with the same old lines
but if you don’t help make it better, this story will tell the end of our times…

Maybe we don’t know what is right or what we want,
but we should know by now it’s not war but it is provident.
It’s not hate, destruction or poverty.
It is love, peace, justice what brings a happy life to me.

A Danish youth, Lars, heard of Tvind from The Establishment’s prejudiced view that its founders and teachers are authoritarian “brainwashers”. “Strange”, he surmises in typical Danish irony, “I never knew that brainwashing actually could open up hearts as it has done these days. We clearly felt a warm welcome to share our ‘stories’, as they say in America. We did that but most importantly we engaged in enthusiastic discussions one-to-one and in groups what it is that we want and need to do to save this world, to make it better than it is.”

Maxsim, a 22-year old Lithuanian, said, “We are all impressed with one another in that each of us has so much to share that is useful and positive.”

Maxsim had been deluged with a hateful view of Russia so pervasive in his country. But at the conference he heard a different picture of Russia today, one that indicates neither its people nor its leaders wish nor are acting to make war but rather are acting to protect their sovereignty and defend themselves against an escalating war threat from the US/NATO.

Mariana is a college student from Portugal studying management. She won a free week-long trip to Tvind to help prepare the conference. “These days have shown me that I am not content with becoming a manager for capitalism. I have to find something else for my future, some kind of education that can lead to a job that people actually need. I don’t know what but it shall come.”

Jette, a retired nurse and amateur illustrator, felt it was “lovely to see that people actually looked at one another and smiled or spoke a few words together as they passed by, instead of what we are used to here that one looks away from one another when passing by. And then such a pleasure to see how effective everyone is in doing their tasks while also so willing to play.”

Yusef is a 22-year old Kurdish refugee from Syria who looks ten years older. His parents fled the war-torn land first and made it to Denmark. Yosef was homeless for a time, hungry, on the run. He came to Denmark five years ago, and now lives with his parents.

One summer three years ago, Yusef wanted to do something useful, to participate in a summer camp. A camp at Tvind was among the choices his social worker showed him, something unusual for government paid workers to do.

Yusef said that he, “fell in love with the place and I’ve come here three years in a row now—to the camp and to this conference. I’ve learned a lot especially at this one. As a teenager, I had joined some demonstrations against Assad. I thought it was cool, you know. But I saw that the opposition was brutal too, and some of them were/are being supported by the US. One of the issues that we Kurds had was that we couldn’t automatically get government work when we graduated from universities with degrees, say, in medicine but Arabs could. Otherwise, we also had free education and health care. Shortly after demonstrations began in 2011, Assad agreed to change the rules so we could get government paid work. I realized after a while and since being here, that we were, and are being used and misused by the Americans and all the media hysteria. I now regret that I took part in demonstrations. Assad is not nearly as bad as he is painted to be.”

Vladimir is a 19-year old Russian, offspring of South Korean parents, living in the Czech Republic where he saw an announcement about this conference. He and I worked together in the kitchen one morning, two persons from two entirely different worlds and one four times the age of the other.

Vladimir is shy and not much for words but he opened a bit in our talk. “It is new for me to see people embrace one another and to work together. People here are not thinking so much about themselves. They are not selfish but thinking about the environment, about humanity and the planet.

“I’ve decided to join the ten-month traveling-learning-teaching program. I’ll be back to prepare for the African program, to open new horizons.”

*****

Sidebar: About Tvind

Tvind started (1970) near Ulfborg village (2000 pop.) on Denmark’s west coast by the North Sea. A small group of young teachers settled there to live collectively and with a shared economy. They sought to become pioneers in social development, education and with sustainable environmental projects. Today, there are hundreds of members in the “Teacher’s Group” in several countries.

The first task was to build living quarters, mainly from prefabricated wooden buildings. They dug foundations and made water and sewage systems. They bought and repaired ten buses, which would be used to travel to other countries to learn and teach.

The “Teacher’s Group” developed an educational system based on the concept of a rural collective and a travelling school. They expanded internationally becoming a global people’s corporation.

On September 1, 1972, 100 youth—ten young teachers and 90 students—created a four-year training program to become teachers in primary and secondary schools. This program is called the Necessary Teaching Training College (DNS in Danish letters).

DNS was started from a “necessity to train another kind of teachers to bring more relevant knowledge, mobilization and life to children.”

The times were a-changing but the Establishment and its schools were not. There were pressing issues and contradictions, such as the growing inequality between rich and poor, which were not on the agenda of society’s schools.

DNS became an international program. Today most students at Tvind are from many European countries. There are few from Denmark since the state has refused to support studies at Tvind financially following allegations of tax evasion and misuse of funds by former leaders—a matter still pending. Clearly Tvind/DNS are as controversial today as they were half-a-century ago.

In 1996, Tvind started an international network “Humana People to People”. Humana assists people to lift themselves out of poverty. During a ten-month program, international volunteers learn and work with poor people to learn new skills to farm organically, using windmill energy, assuring clean water, building solar water pump and solar light systems, producing jatropha seed oil for biodiesel energy and animal feed, building homes, and establishing mini-loans for self-employment especially for women. Another aspect is planting tens of millions of trees.

Humana programs exist in the Caribbean, India, Malawi, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Zambia. One form of financing these activities is the UFF—development aid from people to people—which collects used clothing that is sold to support Humana projects.

With a DNS bachelor monograph graduates (now over 1000) can become teachers at some schools in a few countries; take jobs with UN aid programs; work with the poor in many countries. Their notion is that the battle for the future of humanity is, “the fight of the poor against the three sisters of capitalism: free trade, free enterprise, freedom of endless profiteering.”

Tvind in Ulfborg also has a care center for people with special needs, a day school, and a school for youth with special needs and others who seek an alternative education—all supported by the local municipality. Students, other than those in the day school, live on campus. The DNS students also live there. There is a second school in Denmark, One World Center at Lindersvold.

The “Teachers Groups” has three other schools in England, Norway and Michigan, USA using the “determination of modern method”, the pedagogical approach shaped at DNS. This gives the student the main responsibility for training and results. Learning is structured with 50% individual studies, 25% common courses, and 25% personal experiences.

Tvind is renowned for building the first modern windmill (1975-8), the largest in the world at that time (54 meters tall with a 54 meters wingspread). Four hundred people began the construction, and through the years several thousands participated. An estimated 100,000 people visited Tvind to watch the process. When the mill was completed, it had only cost the equivalent of $1 million in today’s value—paid for out of Tvind teachers’ salaries.

Tvindkraft (windmill’s name) offered the designs and ideas to any and all, but the state didn’t want them because it was committed to going with nuclear energy. Nevertheless, the Danish people soon rejected this idea, in part because Tvind showed that windmill energy was possible, cheaper and much better for the environment. Tvindkraft is the basis for all of Denmark’s famous windmills.

By 2015, the windmill had produced 20 million kWh. Tvindkraft still provides all the energy Tvind uses. Yet Tvind gets no credit from Denmark’s Establishment since they teach that collective living, common production and sharing is better for people and the environment than capitalism’s greedy foundation.  Nevertheless, in 2008, they won the European Solar Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in renewable energy.

Tvindkraft still standing and functioning 41 years later. Tvind comes from the local dialect word for the surrounding “twisting” brook in that area (Jette Salling Photo)

Welcome to Hell: Peruvian Mining City of La Rinconada

No one can agree how high above the sea level that La Rinconada really lies at: 5,300 meters or 5,200 meters? On the access road, a metal plate says 5,015. But who really cares? It is indisputably the highest settlement in the world; a gold mining town, a concentration of misery, a community of around 70,000 inhabitants, many of whom have been poisoned by mercury. A place where countless women and children get regularly raped, where law and order collapsed quite some time ago, where young girls are sent to garbage dumps in order to ‘recycle’ terribly smelling waste, and where almost all the men work in beastly conditions, trying to save at least some money, but where most of them simply ruin their health, barely managing to stay alive.

I decided to travel to La Rinconada precisely during these days when the socialist Venezuela is fighting for its survival. I drove there as the European elites in Bolivia were trying to smear the enormously popular and successful President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, while the elections were approaching.

Welcome to La Mona Mine

As in so many places in the turbo-capitalist and pro-Western Peru, La Rinconada is like a tremendous warning: this is how Venezuela and Bolivia used to be before Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales. This is where Washington wants the entire Latin America to return to. Like those monstrous and hopeless slums surrounding Lima, La Rinconada should be a call to arms.

Just some five years ago we thought: This is how Latin America was never supposed to look again. We thought so, before the extreme right-wing forces in Washington managed to regroup and to deploy old dogmas of the Monroe Doctrine back to the frontlines, against Latin American independence and socialism.

*****

A driver refused to take me to La Rinconada, alone. For me, the fewer people involved the better. Even in Afghanistan, I work alone, only with my trusted Pashtun driver. But here it is different: the reputation of La Rinconada is that “you can enter, but you will never manage to leave.” I am told about the new mafia that operates there, and about the totally deteriorating security situation. In the end, I had no choice but to accept a crew of two men: a driver and a person “who is familiar with the situation related to Peruvian mines”.

Nature is nothing to gold diggers

We leave the city of Puno in the morning, passing along the magnificent shores of Lake Titicaca, which with a surface elevation of 3,812 meters, is the highest navigable lake in the world, shared by Peru and Bolivia.

“From the Peruvian side, the lake is getting poisoned by mercury,” explained Freddy, a mining expert. “La Rinconada and its gold mines are still very far, but the River Ramis is now bringing contaminated water from the area, particularly from the mining town of Ananea, directly into the lake.”

There is some sort of a motorway between Puno and Juliaca, a ‘center of commercial activity’ in the region; in fact, a huge, unkempt dusty city full of slums. Right after Juliaca, it is just rural misery.

I used to work in Peru during the so called ‘Dirty War’, fought between two Communist guerillas (the Maoist Shining Path and the Marxist, pro-Cuban MRTA) and the Peruvian state, which officially ended in 1992. Since then, the rural misery of Peru has not changed: dwellings made of earth, the desperate faces of villagers, and almost no social services, have remained. Right across the border, in socialist Bolivia, life in the countryside improves dramatically, continuously. But not here; not in Peru. And so, tents of thousands of anxious men are ‘going up’, reaching tremendous heights, risking their lives and ruining their heath, for at least a tiny chance to find gold, and to escape the endemic misery.

Miners taking a break

“My wife saved me,” I was told by a driver who, two days earlier, took me from the Bolivian border of Desaguadero, to the Peruvian city of Puno:

I was totally broke. We just had a baby. I had no idea what to do. And so, I told my family that I am going to La Rinconada. My wife stood up and said: ‘If you go, you will never return. And if you do, you will not be the man that I love, anymore. You stay in Puno and work here. I will work, too. We will somehow manage. Don’t you know: La Rinconada is a death sentence.’ I stayed. She was right. I saw people who went and came back totally destroyed.

*****

It is getting cold. Our Toyota Hilux climbs up, grumpily, with badly damaged suspension, but going nevertheless. The higher we climb, the colder it gets. It rains, then it stops.

Aluminum hell

The views are magnificent, but the countryside is covered by garbage. The river is filthy. The Llamas are eating garbage, cars are being washed in the rapids, and entire villages appear to be abandoned, turned into ghost towns.

After more than four hours of driving, after insane, neck-breaking serpentines, the first mines appear on the horizon. Then more filth, primitive machinery, and a mining town – Ananea.

Ms. Irma, the owner of a local eatery, prepares strong coffee and coca leaves soaked in hot water, the best remedy for altitude sickness. She is chatty, realizing that we represent no danger:

Sometimes, miners from La Rinconada, escape here. Ananeo is a bit below, and safer. We have water here. There, it is all poisoned; by mercury and other horrible stuff. You know the concept, how they work up there: 29 days they are laboring for free, and then for one day a month, they are allowed to grab what they find. It is a gamble: if they are lucky, they get rich during that one day. Or they find very little, or nothing. And even if they do, at night, it can get stolen from them.

She sounds old, maternal, compassionate, concerned. She has seen it all, it appears.

We pay and drive up.

Then, we see it: enormous lakes, yellowish, brownish, with streams coming from their surface. Long blue hoses. Everything is ruined and poisoned. Freddy says that there are some new technologies that could be used to extract gold, but the miners here use mercury, as it is cheaper. Primitive machinery is at work, just like on the Indonesian island of Kalimantan/Borneo; there, illegal mining is poisoning mighty rivers, here, it is leveling entire mountains, creating huge lakes, and moonscapes at some 5,000 meters of altitude.

The guards are obviously very unhappy about our presence. Still, I manage to film and photograph, and then we drive even further up.

The piles of garbage appear. Behind them, two tremendous mountains covered by snow. And an ironic metal sign: Welcome to La Rinconada”, “Do not litter.”

*****

I have seen a lot, on all the continents, but La Rinconada is truly ‘unique’.

Mountains and valleys are dotted with metal shacks, with makeshift structures. The filth is everywhere. There is no water supply. Electricity is scarce.

Cemetery covered with garbage

Garbage even covers the humble graves of a local cemetery.

In the main square, heavy drinking is in progress. It is dangerous to photograph here. I hide; use zoom. Two plastered miners are lying on their stomachs, and someone is throwing food into their open mouths, as if it was feeding time in a zoo.

Hand feeding smashed drunk miners at the main square

Prostitution is rampant. Children are doing odd jobs. At one of the garbage dumps, I ask two young girls about their age.

“25,” comes the ready answer. I guess 15, at most. But their faces are covered.

“How dangerous is it here?” I ask one of the miners.

He replies readily: “Very dangerous, but we have no choice.”

“Do people get injured on jobs? Do they get killed?”

“Of course. It happens very often. We are all taking risks. Some people get horrible injuries, others die. If they cannot treat them here, they take them to Ananeo, and if they are lucky, to a Juliaca hospital. Others are left here to die. It’s life. Some get saved, some don’t.”

Do they blame capitalism, the extreme savage pro-market system, adopted by their country?

“It’s life,” I hear the same fatalistic reply.

Do they know about Bolivia; about the great changes just across the border? Do they know that some 30 kilometers away from here, ‘as the condor flies’, on the Bolivian side, there is the pristine Uila Uila National Fauna Reserve?

Some know that it is much better ‘there’, in Bolivia, now. But they do not associate it with socialism or with the independent and pro-people policies of President Evo Morales. And they know very little about Venezuela.

All they know is that they were barely surviving on Altiplano, and that they are fighting for their lives, here, in La Rinconada.

Like in Indonesia, another savage pro-Western capitalist regime, people here are too preoccupied with their immediate essential problems; they cannot be bothered with ‘abstract’ thoughts about the environment, or lawlessness.

I see people pissing in the middle of the street.

“It is not just mercury,” I am told. “Everything here is mixed: poisons related to mining, urine, shit, urban waste…”

The urban landscape

The altitude is hitting me hard. 4,000 in Puno is bad; over 5,000 here is fatal. I am being held by two people as I film on the edge of a ravine, in order not to fall down.

Somehow, in a very twisted way, I acknowledge that the vistas around me are beautiful, stunning. I am impressed. Impressed by the ability of human beings to survive under almost any conditions.

Virtually all of this is illegal. But hundreds of millions are made, and washed.

People gain nothing; almost nothing. A miner makes 800 to 1,000 Soles (roughly $250 to $300) per month. Private companies and corrupt government gain billions. Once again, Latin America is getting poorer. But the West is not pushing for ‘regime change’ in Peru, or in Paraguay, or Brazil. This is how it is supposed to be; this is how Washington likes it.

Another miner dares to talk to me:

Most of the gold goes abroad. But before it does… If gangs do not rob us, miners, at night, they often murder small middlemen, those who buy gold directly from us.

Is he scared?

“Everyone here is scared,” he confirms. “Scared and sick. This is hell.”

“It is like a war…” I utter.

“It is a war,” he confirms.

But almost nobody comes here to report and to investigate. The life of a poor Peruvian person is worth nothing; nothing at all.

I film, I document… It is all that I can do for them. And for Bolivia, for Venezuela.

While I work, I feel that hell is near, it is here. It is not abstract, religious: it is real. But it could, it should be stopped.

Post-mining craters

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

• First published by RT