Category Archives: War

Netanyahu vs Gantz: Gaza Escalation as Reflection of Israel’s Political Rivalry

Only recently, the Palestinian group, Hamas, and Israel seemed close to reaching a prisoner exchange agreement, where Hamas would release several Israeli soldiers held in Gaza while Israel would set free an unspecified number of Palestinian detainees held in Israeli prisons.

Instead of the much-anticipated announcement of some kind of a deal, on August 10, Israeli bombs began falling on the besieged Strip and incendiary balloons, originating in Gaza, made their way to the Israeli side of the fence.

So, what happened?

The answer lies largely – though not entirely – in Israel, specifically in the political conflict between Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing political camp, on the one hand, and their government’s coalition partners, led by Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, on the other.

The discord between Netanyahu and Gantz is concentrated on a fierce budget conflict currently underway in the Knesset, which has little to do with government spending or fiscal responsibilities.

Gantz, who is supposed to serve his term as Prime Minister, starting November 2021, believes that Netanyahu plans on passing a one-year budget to disrupt the coalition agreement and to call for new elections before the leadership swap takes place. Therefore, Gantz insists on extending the budget coverage to two years, to avoid any possible betrayal by Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Netanyahu’s plot, which was revealed by the daily newspaper Haaretz on July 29, is not entirely motivated by the Israeli leader’s love for power, but by his mistrust of Gantz’s own motives. If Gantz becomes the country’s Prime Minister, he is likely to appoint new judges who are sympathetic towards his Blue and White and, thus, eager to indict Netanyahu in his ongoing corruption trial.

For both Netanyahu and Gantz, this is, perhaps, the most crucial fight of their political careers: the former fighting for his freedom, the latter fighting for survival.

One issue, however, is acceptable to both leaders: the understanding that military strength will always garner greater support from the Israeli public, especially if another election becomes inevitable. A successive, fourth election is likely to take place if the budget battle is not resolved.

As a military showdown in South Lebanon becomes unattainable due to the massive explosion that rocked Beirut on August 4, the two Israeli leaders have turned their attention to Gaza. Moving quickly, as if on the campaign trail, Gantz and Netanyahu are busy making their case to Israelis living in the southern towns bordering the Gaza Strip.

Gantz paid the leaders of these communities a visit on August 19. He was joined by a carefully selected delegation of top Israeli government and military officials, including Agriculture Minister, Alon Schuster and Gaza Division Commander, Brig.-Gen. Nimrod Aloni, who joined via video conference.

Aside from the customary threats of targeting anyone in Gaza who dares threaten Israeli security, Gantz has engaged in election campaign type of self-promotion. “We have changed the equation in Gaza. Since I entered office, there has been a response to every breach in our security,” Gantz said, emphasizing his own achievements, as opposed to those of the coalition government – thus denying Netanyahu any credit.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, has threatened harsh retaliation against Gaza if Hamas does not prevent protesters from releasing incendiary balloons. “We have adopted a policy under which a fire is treated as a rocket,” he told the mayors of southern towns on August 18.

Netanyahu is keeping the Gaza war option open, in case it becomes his only recourse. Gantz, as Defense Minister and Netanyahu’s rival is, however, enjoying greater political space to maneuver. From August 10, he has ordered his military to bomb Gaza every night. With every bomb dropped on Gaza, Gantz’s credibility among Israeli voters, especially in the south, increases slightly.

If the current conflagration leads to an all-out war, it will be the entire coalition government – including Netanyahu and his Likud party – that will bear responsibility for its potential disastrous consequences. This places Gantz in a powerful position.

The current military showdown in Gaza is not entirely the outcome of Israel’s own political fight. Gaza society is currently at a breaking point.

The truce between Gaza groups and Israel, which was reached through Egyptian mediation in November 2019, amounted to nothing. Despite much assurance that besieged Gazans would receive badly needed respite, the situation has, instead, reached an unprecedented, unbearable phase: Gaza’s only power generator has run out of fuel and is no longer in operation; the Strip’s tiny fishing zone of barely three nautical miles was declared a closed military zone by Israel on August 16; the Karem Abu Salem Crossing, through which meager supplies enter Gaza through Israel, is officially shut down.

The 13-year-old Israeli siege on Gaza is currently at its worst possible manifestation, with little room for the Gaza population to even express their outrage at their miserable plight.

In December 2019, the Hamas authorities decided to limit the frequency of protests, known as Gaza’s March of Return, which had taken place almost daily, starting March 2018.

Over 300 Palestinians were killed by Israeli snipers during the protests. Despite the high death toll and the relative failure to ignite international uproar against the siege, the non-violent protests permitted ordinary Palestinians to vent, to organize and to take initiative.

The current growing frustration in Gaza has compelled Hamas to open up a space for protesters to return to the fence in the hope that it pushes the subject of the siege back to the news agenda.

The incendiary balloons, which have ignited the ire of the Israeli military recently, are one of several Palestinian messages that Gazans refuse to accept that the protracted siege is now their permanent reality.

While Egyptian mediation may eventually offer Palestinians a temporary fix and avoid an all-out war, Israeli violence in Gaza, under the current political arrangement, will not cease.

Certainly, for as long as Israeli leaders continue to see a war on Gaza as a political opportunity and a platform for their own electoral games, the siege will carry on, relentlessly.

The Great Election Fraud: Will Our Freedoms Survive Another Election?

Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest—forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries.

― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism,  1951

And so it begins again, the never-ending, semi-delusional, train-wreck of an election cycle in which the American people allow themselves to get worked up into a frenzy over the misguided belief that the future of this nation—nay, our very lives—depends on who we elect as president.

For the next three months, Americans will be dope-fed billions of dollars’ worth of political propaganda aimed at keeping them glued to their television sets and persuading them that 1) their votes count and 2) electing the right candidate will fix everything that is wrong with this country.

Incredible, isn’t it, that in a country of more than 330 million people, we are given only two choices for president? How is it that in a country teeming with creative, intelligent, productive, responsible, moral people, our vote too often comes down to pulling the lever for the lesser of two evils?

The system is rigged, of course.

It is a heavily scripted, tightly choreographed, star-studded, ratings-driven, mass-marketed, costly exercise in how to sell a product—in this case, a presidential candidate—to dazzled consumers who will choose image over substance almost every time.

As author Noam Chomsky rightly observed, “It is important to bear in mind that political campaigns are designed by the same people who sell toothpaste and cars.”

In other words, we’re being sold a carefully crafted product by a monied elite who are masters in the art of making the public believe that they need exactly what is being sold to them, whether it’s the latest high-tech gadget, the hottest toy, or the most charismatic politician.

This year’s presidential election, much like every other election in recent years, is what historian Daniel Boorstin referred to as a “pseudo-event”: manufactured, contrived, confected and devoid of any intrinsic value save the value of being advertised.

After all, who wants to talk about police shootings, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture schemes, private prisons, school-to-prison pipelines, overcriminalization, censorship or any of the other evils that plague our nation when you can tune into a reality show carefully calibrated to appeal to the public’s need for bread and circuses, diversion and entertainment, and pomp and circumstance.

But make no mistake: Americans only think they’re choosing the next president.

In truth, however, they’re engaging in the illusion of participation culminating in the reassurance ritual of voting. It’s just another Blue Pill, a manufactured reality conjured up by the matrix in order to keep the populace compliant and convinced that their vote counts and that they still have some influence over the political process.

It’s all an illusion.

The nation is drowning in debt, crippled by a slowing economy, overrun by militarized police, swarming with surveillance, besieged by endless wars and a military industrial complex intent on starting new ones, and riddled with corrupt politicians at every level of government.

All the while, we’re arguing over which corporate puppet will be given the honor of stealing our money, invading our privacy, abusing our trust, undermining our freedoms, and shackling us with debt and misery for years to come.

Nothing taking place on Election Day will alleviate the suffering of the American people.

Unless we do something more than vote, the government as we have come to know it—corrupt, bloated and controlled by big-money corporations, lobbyists and special interest groups—will remain unchanged. And “we the people”—overtaxed, overpoliced, overburdened by big government, underrepresented by those who should speak for us and blissfully ignorant of the prison walls closing in on us—will continue to trudge along a path of misery.

With roughly 22 lobbyists per Congressman, corporate greed will continue to call the shots in the nation’s capital, while our so-called representatives will grow richer and the people poorer. And elections will continue to be driven by war chests and corporate benefactors rather than such values as honesty, integrity and public service.

Just consider: while billions will be spent on the elections this year, not a dime of that money will actually help the average American in their day-to-day struggles to just get by.

Conveniently, politicians only seem to remember their constituents in the months leading up to an election, and yet “we the people” continue to take the abuse, the neglect, the corruption and the lies. We make excuses for the shoddy treatment, we cover up for them when they cheat on us, and we keep hoping that if we just stick with them long enough, eventually they’ll treat us right.

When a country spends billions of dollars to select what is, for all intents and purposes, a glorified homecoming king or queen to occupy the White House, while tens of millions of its people live in poverty, nearly 18 million Americans are out of work, and most of the country and its economy remain in a state of semi-lockdown due to COVID-19 restrictions, that’s a country whose priorities are out of step with the needs of its people.

Then again, people get the government they deserve.

No matter who wins the presidential election come November, it’s a sure bet that the losers will be the American people if all we’re prepared to do is vote.

As political science professor Gene Sharp notes in starker terms, “Dictators are not in the business of allowing elections that could remove them from their thrones.”

To put it another way, the Establishment—the shadow government and its corporate partners that really run the show, pull the strings and dictate the policies, no matter who occupies the Oval Office—are not going to allow anyone to take office who will unravel their power structures. Those who have attempted to do so in the past have been effectively put out of commission.

So what is the solution to this blatant display of imperial elitism disguising itself as a populist exercise in representative government?

Stop playing the game. Stop supporting the system. Stop defending the insanity. Just stop.

Washington thrives on money, so stop giving them your money. Stop throwing your hard-earned dollars away on politicians and Super PACs who view you as nothing more than a means to an end. There are countless worthy grassroots organizations and nonprofits working in your community to address real needs like injustice, poverty, homelessness, etc. Support them and you’ll see change you really can believe in in your own backyard.

Politicians depend on votes, so stop giving them your vote unless they have a proven track record of listening to their constituents, abiding by their wishes and working hard to earn and keep their trust.

It’s comforting to believe that your vote matters, but Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right: “Presidents are selected, not elected.”

Despite what is taught in school and the propaganda that is peddled by the media, a presidential election is not a populist election for a representative. Rather, it’s a gathering of shareholders to select the next CEO, a fact reinforced by the nation’s archaic electoral college system. In other words, your vote doesn’t elect a president. Despite the fact that there are 218 million eligible voters in this country (only half of whom actually vote), it is the electoral college, made up of 538 individuals handpicked by the candidates’ respective parties, that actually selects the next president.

The only thing you’re accomplishing by taking part in the “reassurance ritual” of voting is sustaining the illusion that we have a democratic republic.

In actuality, we are suffering from what political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page more accurately term an “economic élite domination” in which the economic elite (lobbyists, corporations, monied special interest groups) dominate and dictate national policy.

No surprise there.

As an in-depth Princeton University study confirms, democracy has been replaced by oligarchy, a system of government in which elected officials represent the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the average citizen.

We did it to ourselves.

We said nothing while our elections were turned into popularity contests populated by individuals better suited to be talk-show hosts rather than intelligent, reasoned debates on issues of domestic and foreign policy by individuals with solid experience, proven track records and tested integrity.

We turned our backs on things like wisdom, sound judgment, morality and truth, shrugging them off as old-fashioned, only to find ourselves saddled with lying politicians incapable of making fair and impartial decisions.

We let ourselves be persuaded that those yokels in Washington could do a better job of running this country than we could. It’s not a new problem. As former Senator Joseph S. Clark Jr. acknowledged in a 1955 article titled, “Wanted: Better Politicians”:

[W]e have too much mediocrity in the business of running the government of the country, and it troubles me that this should be so at a time of such complexity and crisis… Government by amateurs, semi-pros, and minor-leaguers will not meet the challenge of our times. We must realize that it takes great competence to run a country which, in spite of itself, has succeeded to world leadership in a time of deadly peril.

We indulged our craving for entertainment news at the expense of our need for balanced reporting by a news media committed to asking the hard questions of government officials. The result, as former congressman Jim Leach points out, leaves us at a grave disadvantage:

At a time when in-depth analysis of the issues of the day has never been more important, quality journalism has been jeopardized by financial considerations and undercut by purveyors of ideology who facilely design news, like clothes, to appeal to a market segment.

We bought into the fairytale that politicians are saviors, capable of fixing what’s wrong with our communities and our lives when, in fact, most politicians lead such sheltered lives that they have no clue about what their constituents must do to make ends meet. As political scientists Morris Fiorina and Samuel Abrams conclude:

In America today, there is a disconnect between an unrepresentative political class and the citizenry it purports to represent. The political process today not only is less representative than it was a generation ago and less supported by the citizenry, but the outcomes of that process are at a minimum no better.

We let ourselves be saddled with a two-party system and fooled into believing that there’s a difference between the Republicans and Democrats when, in fact, the two parties are exactly the same. As one commentator noted, both parties support endless war, engage in out-of-control spending, ignore the citizenry’s basic rights, have no respect for the rule of law, are bought and paid for by the corporate elite, care most about their own power, and have a long record of expanding government and shrinking liberty.

Then, when faced with the prospect of voting for the lesser of two evils, many simply compromise their principles and overlook the fact that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Perhaps worst of all, we allowed the cynicism of our age and the cronyism and corruption of Washington, DC, to discourage us from believing that there was any hope for the American experiment in liberty.

Granted, it’s easy to become discouraged about the state of our nation. We’re drowning under the weight of too much debt, too many wars, too much power in the hands of a centralized government, too many militarized police, too many laws, too many lobbyists, and generally too much bad news.

It’s harder to believe that change is possible, that the system can be reformed, that politicians can be principled, that courts can be just, that good can overcome evil, and that freedom will prevail.

Yet I truly believe that change is possible, that the system can be reformed, that politicians can be principled, that courts can be just, that good can overcome evil, and that freedom can prevail but it will take each and every one of us committed to doing the hard work of citizenship that extends beyond the act of voting.

A healthy, representative government is hard work. It takes a citizenry that is informed about the issues, educated about how the government operates, and willing to make the sacrifices necessary to stay involved.

Most of all, it takes a citizenry willing to do more than grouse and complain.

The powers-that-be want us to believe that our job as citizens begins and ends on Election Day. They want us to believe that we have no right to complain about the state of the nation unless we’ve cast our vote one way or the other. They want us to remain divided over politics, hostile to those with whom we disagree politically, and intolerant of anyone or anything whose solutions to what ails this country differ from our own.

What they don’t want us doing is presenting a united front in order to reject the pathetic excuse for government that is being fobbed off on us.

So where does that leave us?

We’d better stop hanging our hopes on a political savior to rescue us from the clutches of an imperial president.

It’s possible that the next president might be better, but then again, he or she could be far worse.

Remember, presidential elections merely serve to maintain the status quo. Once elected president, that person becomes part of the dictatorial continuum that is the American imperial presidency today.

If we are to return to a constitutional presidency, “we the people” must recalibrate the balance of power.

The first step is to start locally—in your own communities, in your schools, at your city council meetings, in newspaper editorials, at protests—by pushing back against laws that are unjust, police departments that overreach, politicians that don’t listen to their constituents, and a system of government that grows more tyrannical by the day.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the only thing that will save us now is a concerted, collective commitment to the Constitution’s principles of limited government, a system of checks and balances, and a recognition that they—the president, Congress, the courts, the military, the police, the technocrats and plutocrats and bureaucrats—answer to and are accountable to “we the people.”

This will mean that Americans will have to stop letting their personal politics and party allegiances blind them to government misconduct and power grabs. It will mean holding all three branches of government accountable to the Constitution (i.e., vote them out of office if they abuse their powers). And it will mean calling on Congress to put an end to the use of presidential executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements as a means of getting around Congress and the courts.

As historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. concludes:

I would argue that what the country needs today is a little serious disrespect for the office of the presidency; a refusal to give any more weight to a President’s words than the intelligence of the utterance, if spoken by anyone else, would command… If the nation wants to work its way back to a constitutional presidency, there is only one way to begin. That is by showing Presidents that, when their closest associates place themselves above the law and the Constitution, such transgressions will be not forgiven or forgotten for the sake of the presidency but exposed and punished for the sake of the presidency.

In other words, we’ve got to stop treating the president like a god and start making both the office of the president and the occupant play by the rules of the Constitution.

Vulgar Militarism: Expanding the Australian War Memorial

It was a decision both rash and indulgent.  In November 2018, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, after being nudged incessantly by then Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson, committed to a redevelopment project intended to double the exhibition space in Campbell.  The amount for the project would be just shy of a half-billion dollars and would be, Nelson claimed with eye-brow raising plausibility, an exercise of therapy for veterans and their families “coming to terms with what they’ve done for us and the impact [war] has had on them.”

Voices in opposition grew, many not exactly fitting the description of pinko defeatist types.  Former Department of Defence secretary Paul Barrett, author Thomas Keneally and eighty-one others appended their signatures to an open letter claiming that the Memorial was “being given preference over other national institutions, and the money could be better spent.”  Nelson’s aims of giving more prominence to supposedly “forgotten” conflicts while fostering a program of healing veterans were questionable aims: the former had to be seen in terms of proportionality and perspective; the latter was the purview of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs.  $350 million had already been disgorged on the occasion of the Anzac Centenary and the Sir John Monash Centre in France.  “Should further money be spent on these extensions rather than on other needy cultural institutions or direct benefits to veterans and their families?”

On one level, the Memorial expansion project was merely typical of the sorts of fripperies wars encourage.  Commemorations and building programs reflecting on the effects of war often have the unintended effect of glorifying the very thing they are meant to eschew.  To the victor go the spoils and the celebrations.  Besides, good narratives to justify killing or being killed are always needed.

Australians generally do not regard themselves as warlike, yet their leaders have deployed them in every major conflict since the late nineteenth century.  Such decisions have often been as emotive as they have been strategic, the former often taking precedence over the latter.  A survey of these engagements reveal the shedding of blood across virtually every continent on the planet.  Be it Britannia or the US imperium, Australian soldiers will do the bidding of others, and happily so.  Resentment, much as that shown to the Australian War Memorial redevelopment, will be dismissed as the ranting of “special interest groups”, traitors or closet fifth columnists.

Before the Parliamentary standing committee on public works on July 14, the egg heads were particularly testy, with the testiness taking various forms.  Former memorial directors Brendon Kelson and Major General Steve Gower both felt slighted at having been left off the drinks list.  That did not stop Kelson from making the point that the expansion was distinctly vulgar.  “The Australian War Memorial is a poignant tribute to those who died on, or as a result of, active service in the nation’s wars.”  The AWM was “dedicated to their commemoration and a place to pause and reflect on the costs of war, a national icon, unique among the world’s great monuments.”

It did not take long for the narrative of the coronavirus to find its way into the hearings.  It seeps, cloys and will out.  Former AWM principal historian Peter Stanley found Nelson’s argument on expanding the memorial in the name of healing as almost laughable, “the museum equivalent … of hydroxychloroquine.” There had been “no demonstrable therapeutic benefit in traumatised veterans visiting a display of their former weapons vehicles or aircraft”.  Such an argument supplied a “meretricious” attraction, but was unsustainable given the findings of clinical studies.

The medical opposition was also shored up by Margaret Beavis, secretary of the Medical Association for Prevention of War.  The literature on veterans’ mental illness had “no reference to memorial-based therapy”.  The notion of such healing derived “from wishful thinking” and untested anecdotes.

Architect and town planner Roger Pegrum had concerns about the way the expansion was going to be implemented in terms of structural and symbolic integrity.  The character of the building would be affected by the bombastic nature of the project. The memorial was merely meant to be a “simple statement of sacrifice and valour” intended to house small objects to best understand why Australians served in conflict.  “If built as drawn, it is an irreversible and complete change to the memorial”.

The current AWM director Matt Anderson tried to buck the trend in the specialist literature on trauma and healing using a technique politicians are often receptive to:  the scientifically untested anecdote.  He had been “told by veterans and their clinicians” that such acts as signing the Tarin Kowt wall for Australians who had served in Afghanistan had “positive mental health benefits”.  Susan Neuhaus, a longstanding member of the AWM council, similarly voiced the therapeutic line.   She suggested the need for larger displays, illuminating other areas of conflict Australians had perished in.  There was still, she argued, a “fracture line separating the worthy dead and the unworthy dead”.

The Australian War Memorial Council chair, Kerry Stokes, was characteristically dismissive.  Expanding war memorials was exactly what those involved in war memorials ought to do.  If the public want to see weapons, let them.  Stokes also sniffed the sort of hypocrisy that accretes over time.  “Only after the final designs came out did the special interest groups seem to gather their momentum.”  Most of them, in any case, were based in Canberra; most Australians seemed to relish the prospect of war as glory.  “The number of people who claim not to have been involved is very small.”

Stokes may have a point.  War, packed with its uniforms and lethal toys, is vulgar.  This project, should it be envisaged in the form Nelson intended it, promises to be the most vulgar of all.  Commemorative solemnity has its role, but Australia’s ruling classes have little intention to pause and reflect about the losses the country has either endured or inflicted over the short existence of the Commonwealth.  With money being poured into a delusionary defence budget to fight fictional enemies, the distasteful cinematic joke of healing veterans by reminding them of their weapons of death and destruction seems aptly grotesque.

Listening to our Anger and Angst

The family of a killed protester demand fair distribution of bread (Credit: Tolo News)

COVID-19 is clarifying a significant source of global anger and angst: inequality.

At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Afghanistan had 300 ventilators, only one ventilator for every 110,000 Afghans.

As a medical physician, I gasped, my heart racing at the dilemma of who gets the ventilator. What if I was near death with serious COVID-19?

The head of a global vaccine alliance advised that “nobody is safe unless everybody is safe”, saying, “This is a global problem that needs a global solution and we have to all work together.”

But in many countries, the pandemic has stripped naked our systems, revealing how our economic and political elite value profit and power over human lives.

Though the Afghan government has been reporting higher GDPs over the past years, COVID-19 has exposed how GDPs don’t reflect the sort of economy all citizens need to survive with dignity.

GDPs say nothing about how governments and corporations treat their people and workers. COVID-19 has.

During Afghanistan’s lockdown, angry and hungry folk in Ghor province protested that corrupt government officials had redirected foreign food aid to themselves. They clashed with the police. Seven persons were killed.

During Minneapolis’ lockdown, George Floyd was stopped, and under the forceful knee of a policeman, he was suffocated and killed. Like the people of Ghor, the people of the U.S. are braving the virus to protest.

These incidents shock us into grieving at our outrageously meaningless systems. Yes, Hans Anderson, even the children can see that the emperors have no clothes! We all wish to echo Floyd’s “I can’t breathe!”

Our inter-connected human spirit responds. Some of us sigh heavily. Some cry. Some scream. Others slow down to take deep breaths. All of us wish for close friends who understand.

It helps to be present with one another, listening until our rage begins to transform into systemic change.

Rising Inequality, Anger and Angst Everywhere

Likewise, in people protests across the world over recent years, citizens have shouted, “Enough!” People have had enough of their political elite taking their money, then giving excuses, lying, berating the people, threatening them and imprisoning them.

People are demanding an end to the outdated premise that the “kings and rulers” are superior and all-knowing. They no longer wish to submit to the obsolete narrative that governments are always good, and the people are always bad.

We’ve seen through the illogical math of one President or Prime Minister behaving as if he or she is more intelligent or more moral than 34 or 340 million or 7.7 billion other human beings.

I think this unequal disparity is one reason why in 2018, Afghans reported the lowest positive experiences in the world, and why that year, anger seemed ‘contagious’, with more than one fifth of adults across the planet admitting to feeling angry, the highest percentage recorded by the Gallup Emotions Report since 2005.

And now, COVID-19 has given us the unique opportunity to share this anger as a human family.

Afghan Peace Volunteers distributing COVID food relief in May 2020 to 96 of the APVs’ “Borderfree Street Kids School” students (Credit: Dr. Hakim)

We Can Heal Together By Insisting On Equal Treatment For All

Primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall said, “One of the lessons learnt from this crisis is that we must change our ways. If we do not do things differently, we are finished. We can’t go on very much longer like this.” She was referring to how we treat the environment and animals with absolute disrespect.

So, learning from COVID-19, we can each resolutely insist on equal policies for all members of our human family, whether in our personal lives, through protests, writing, art, music or other creative ways.

When the late Stephane Hessel was 93 years old, he called us to “Indignez-vous! Cry Out! Time for Outrage!”

To help Afghans, Americans and every human at the wrong end of the police or militaries, global citizens can insist on de-militarization, disarmament and the diversion of annual war trillions to take care of the climate, food, water, shelter, healthcare and education.

When a recent UN report showed that the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government forces had killed Afghan civilians in record numbers, we can respond by insisting on the same for Afghans as for George Floyd: arrest the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government, rather than allowing them to negotiate “peace deals” for power.

A banner in an alley as a memorial to the APVs’ Sajaad and two other youth killed in the explosion (Credit:  Dr. Hakim)

On the evening of 27th of February in a residential area where I live in Kabul, explosive devices attached to two bicycles exploded in a small alley, killing Sajad, one of our street kid students who was selling vegetables. Ironically, Sajaad’s death was just two days before the U.S. and Taliban signed their touted “peace deal”, not in Afghanistan, but in Qatar, with no Afghans involved, not even their acquiescent President Ghani.

I heard waves of wailing from my neighborhood, which were cries from the relatives and family members of Sajaad and other children who were killed.

That night, COVID-19 was already moving rapidly across the world, as I journaled my feelings below:

Death is my neighbour in Afghanistan,

a living hell for mourners nearby,
screaming,
unable to separate themselves away from love.
They raged with torrents of regret
over words said and unsaid,
deeds done and not done,
struck by unacceptable grief.
On this life-draining evening,
I was heating up leftovers for dinner
when I heard two blasts.
They were ‘small’ compared to others I’ve heard before,
so I dismissed them
as “gas cylinder incidents”??
This is the 5th night
of a 7-day ‘reduction in violence’ agreed upon
by the Orwellian1 US/Taliban ‘peace-makers’.
But, such deals have never created a people’s economy
where teenagers like 16-year-old Sajaad,
one of our Borderfree street kid students,
needn’t sell vegetables
along the alley where he was killed tonight.
The Mother of All Bombs2 and her bomblets
are provoking revenge,
everywhere.
In furious retaliation,
across deforested and climate-changed swathes of dust,
multi-national opponents buy, improvise, plant and trigger
all warps of explosive devices.
No ‘bomb’ is small,
because every weapon is manufactured
and paid for by us the human species,
Every munition is a pre-designed coffin
sold at a handsome, psychotic3 price,
fuelling wails.
While we heal from our grief,
we can daily dismantle
our ‘normal’ ways of making money,
protecting ourselves,
and obeying our status quo or symbols.
In our being and feeling,
thinking and doing,
studying and working,
quietly or out in the streets,
we can decisively choose
to recover meaning.

  1. Stars and Stripes had reported, “Talks between the two sides continued for most of 2019 as American bombs (a record 7423) were dropped.”
  2. In 2017, Trump threw the “Mother of All Bombs” over some caves and tunnels of Achin, a bomb that experts said would “vaporize anyone within 300 meters, while those in a one kilometer radius would be left deaf.”
  3. When Trump met Pakistan’s Prime Minister, he thought he sounded merciful when he taunted, “I could win that (Afghan) war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.”

Pivot To Peace Must Replace US Pivot To War With China

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

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

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

Bipartisan Escalation Against China Is Longterm US Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trump COVID Escalation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Melkisethian from cc-nc-nd-flickr

Time for a Pivot to Peace

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

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

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

Trump wins! Completing Obama’s Pivot to Asia and the Confrontation with China

Even before becoming the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump had one consistent foreign enemy – China. Partly fueled by his intrinsic white supremacy and his antipathy for the liberal elite “globalists” who evoked his personal inferiority complex, Trump has never waivered from his fierce opposition to what he saw as the “yellow peril” from China.

So when the Obama Administration announced in 2011 that the US would make “a strategic pivot” in its foreign policy to focus its military and political attention on the Asia-Pacific, particularly Southeast Asia, which meant China, it was one time that Trump supported Obama’s position – but for very different reasons.

For Trump, the problem was the cozy relationship between finance capital and the transnational corporations they funded during the neoliberal period of rapid and deepening globalization of production. The result of that relationship was that much of the industrial base of the U.S. economy was transferred first to Mexico and then mainland China. Altering that relationship and bringing those jobs “back home” as part of his “America first” position became a campaign issue and his intended first order of business once he assumed the presidency.  Shifting trade relations in favor of his capitalist base in the U.S. was a primary objective with Chinese containment being a necessary but almost secondary objective.

Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the “gold standard of trade deals” according to Hilary Clinton before she pretended to oppose the treaty during her 2016 campaign, was seen by the elite as the signature deal that would provide the leverage to contain China’s ambitions in the Asia-Pacific region and globally, while also ensuring the continuity of economic relationships for U.S. transnational capital to utilize China as a profitable zone for the production of goods and services for the U.S. and European markets.

Trump’s opposition to the TPP and his comments regarding the entire architecture of the global neoliberal project of the last forty years was seen as reckless and made him a threat. The financial and corporate transnational elite moved swiftly operating though the state and media to destabilize his administration, even before he took office. That fraction couldn’t care less about his rhetoric on race, Muslims and immigration; in fact, his theatrics became a very valuable distraction while they completed the strengthening of the national security state under Bush and Obama and plotted to either get rid of Trump or impose the discipline of their agenda on his administration.

As Trump saw it, completing the pivot to Asia required one strategic angle – reducing tensions with Russia with the intent to bring them into the fold of “Europe” in order for the U.S. and Europe to combine forces to discipline China. What Trump hadn’t anticipated and was clearly unprepared for, was the ferocity of the efforts to make it impossible for him to govern. Russiagate became the issue that would block his plan to reconcile with Russia and bring the full force of the state against China.

But, today, after having survived the unprecedented efforts by unelected power to undermine his presidency perhaps in the history of the U.S. nation/state short of actual assassination, Trump has the support of a growing coalition of forces across the ruling class spectrum that represent a new and growing consensus that China is out of control and is a real threat to U.S. global hegemony.

What changed?

Limiting China to a specific role in the international division of labor was always part of the plan even when China received “most favored Nations status” in the 90s and membership in the World trade Organization.

The relationship between U.S. transnational capital and the Chinese state was seen as a win-win. China served as platform to produce goods and services for U.S. markets providing jobs for Chinese labor and revenue for the state while providing price competitive products for U.S. consumers. In the process it was assumed that China’s integration and participation in the global capitalist order would result in the “liberalization” of their economy and political system and open up an enormous new market for U.S. capital.

The problem, of course, was that the Chinese had their own plans.

The new bipartisan, ruling class consensus that more aggressive measures were needed to contain China was captured in the now infamous “pivot to Asia” announced by Barack Obama in 2011.

Today the growing ruling class consensus that has given new life to Trump’s anti-China campaign is reflected in the positions that say economic integration with China did not result in any transformation of China into a “regular” capitalist nation. And with the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) introduced by Chinese president Xi Jinping, China is an existential threat that can only be countered by military means.

War Against China, COVID-19, and Black Working-Class Position

“Not One Drop of Blood from the Working Class and Poor to Defend the Interests of the Capitalist Dictatorship” (Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) Slogan)

The psychopathology of white supremacy blinds U.S. policymakers to the political, economic, and geopolitical reality that the U.S. is in irreversible decline as a global power.  The deep structural contradictions of the U.S. economy and state was exposed by the weak and confused response to COVID-19 and the inability of the state to provide minimum protections for its citizens and residents. But even in decline, the U.S. has a vast military structure that it can use to threaten and cause massive death and destruction.

This makes the U.S. a threat to the planet and collective humanity because U.S policy-makers appear to be in the grip of a death-wish in which they are prepared to destroy the world before voluntarily relinquishing power, especially to a non-European power like China.

For example, when Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo declared in public that the United States and its Western European allies must put China in “its proper place,” this represents a white supremacist mindset that inevitably will lead to monumental errors of judgment.

This white supremacist, colonialist mentality is unable to accept the full and equal humanity of non-Europeans and, therefore, are driven to an irrational obsession with preventing what is now inevitable – global hegemony passing to China.

To prevent this objective eventuality, U.S. policymakers are openly advocating war with China. Not only war, but a war that some of them argue must take place before 2025!

And this is not some wild construction from the Trump Administration.

More than a decade ago military strategists war-gamed on how to defeat the Chinese concentrating on fuel supplies and trade routes. The RAND Corporation described during the Obama Administration how the U.S. could defeat China in a conventional war and in 2011, the Council of Foreign Relations began to urge the U.S. to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF )Treaty which it did in 2019 in order to redeploy intermediate range missiles off the coast of China.

COVID-19, that the Trump Administration constantly refers to as the Chinese virus, and the blame game being played, is preparing the public to support conflict with China.

However, The Chinese are aware of the dangerous turn of events with COVID-19 and are preparing accordingly. And here is the real danger.  Forces within the Chinese Communist Party and military are warning that the nation must prepare itself for all contingencies, including armed conflict.

For African Americans we must resist all efforts to draw us into a conflict that has nothing to do with us. We must be clear that we are not going to allow our sons and daughters to be sacrificed in yet another war of aggression on behalf of white capitalist/colonial power.

We must reject anti-China propaganda being directed at our communities using lurid stories of Chinese anti-black racism in China and the alleged attempts by the Chinese to “colonize” Africa, a position that is both absurd and insulting in how it trivializes the brutal reality of European colonization that the continent has yet to recovery from.

Trump is winning the propaganda war on the Chinese issue because at its core the U.S. is susceptible to appeals to cross-class white racial solidarity against the uncivilized hordes. Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations did not just resonate with right-wing audiences but was an acceptable commentary on the challenges of Western modernity.

However, we must remain clear about who our enemy is. It is not the Chinese who are beating us down in the streets for not social distancing, who have denied us medical care, imprisoned us, killed us, poisoned our water, and forced us to face death on a job just to survive.  We got a historical beef, but it ain’t with China, Russia, or any of the enemies of the U.S.

Only the Poor Starve: Hunger in the Time of Covid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A perfect storm

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

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

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

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

The Age of Reason

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

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

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

Bloated

The Bloated Defense Department

The so-called Defense Department does not live up to its name; instead, the acronym and word Bloated describe this behemoth and its budget. We the people need defense, but the trillion tax dollars we spend a year do not provide it. Instead they pay for:

Some 800 US overseas military bases

Endless wars

The Nuclear Arsenal

Billions for Bombers and Battleships

These do nothing to make us secure.  They have benefited few people in the US or the world, apart from bloated arms manufacturers and merchants, bloated military contractors, bloated generals, bloated politicians, and those in the high echelons of bloated corporate power.

The Defense We Need

We need a strong, universal free-of-charge public health system to help defend us against COVID-19 and other health problems; the bloated Department steals resources that could provide the true security for a healthy population.

We need defense against climate disruption and heating of the planet. The bloated Department aggravates these problems by emitting more greenhouse gases than any other institution in the world and more than many entire nations.

We needed defense against Wall Street predators when they stole home ownership from millions of people – especially people of color and other working class people – during the 2008 economic meltdown. The bloated Department offered no defense.

Women especially need defense against sexual harassment, assault and domestic violence. The bloated Department exacerbates these problems: military culture promotes sexism, Military Sexual Trauma is rampant; the military protects sexual perpetrators of women and men within its ranks .

Veterans who have survived the endless and earlier wars need to heal from physical, emotional and moral injury.  The resources offered are inadequate and often inappropriate.  The bloated Department’s promotion of war and hyper-masculinity tends to aggravate veterans’ trauma.

The bloated Department did not even defend against a military attack on its own headquarters on September 11, 2001.  Nobody in the Pentagon lost their job over that “failure”.

Truth in Language

Toward the goal of ending war and militarism, let us have truth in language.  Bloated is an accurate word and acronym for the Department that oversees the enormously wasteful and destructive military. As the COVID pandemic makes painfully clear, funds now squandered on the military are urgently needed to meet the real security needs of US people – for healthcare, housing, infrastructure, and food security.

Let us also stop using the term defense expenditures when referring to costs that do not defend human beings from real problems that we face.  Military or war expenditures are accurate terms.

Changes in language in our writings, speeches, conversations and on social media can help change thinking and help lead to right action.

Will the Coronavirus Change the World?

The prophecies are here and it is a foregone conclusion: the post-coronavirus world will look fundamentally different from anything that we have seen or experienced, at least since the end of World War II.

Even before the ‘curve flattened’ in many countries that have experienced high death tolls — let alone economic devastation — as a result of the unhindered spread of the COVID-19 disease, thinkers and philosophers began speculating, from the comfort of their own quarantines, about the many scenarios that await us.

The devastation inflicted by the coronavirus is likely to be as consequential as “the fall of the Berlin Wall or the collapse of the Lehman Brothers,” wrote Foreign Policy magazine in a widely read analysis, entitled ‘How the World Will Look After the Coronavirus Pandemic’.

While major newspapers and news media outlets jumped on the bandwagon of trying to construct the various post-coronavirus possibilities, Foreign Policy sought the views of twelve thinkers, each providing their own reading of the future.

Stephen M. Walt concluded that “COVID-19 will create a world that is less open, less prosperous, and less free”.

Robin Niblett wrote that it is “highly unlikely… that the world will return to the idea of mutually beneficial globalization that defined the early 21st century”.

‘Mutually beneficial’ is a phrase deserving of a completely different essay, as it is a claim that can easily be contested by many small and poor countries.

Be that as it may, globalization was a focal point of discussion among many of the twelve thinkers, although a major point of contention was whether globalization will remain in place in its current form, whether it will be redefined or discarded altogether.

Kishore Mahbubani wrote that, “the COVID-19 pandemic will not fundamentally alter global economic directions. It will only accelerate a change that had already begun: a move away from US-centric globalization to a more China-centric globalization”.

And so on…

While political economists focused on COVID-19’s impact on major economic trends, globalization and the resultant shift of political power, environmentalists emphasized the fact that the quarantine, which has affected the vast majority of the world’s population, raises hopes that it might not be too late for Planet Earth after all.

Numerous articles, citing scientific research and accompanied by photo galleries that illustrate the blue skies over Delhi and the clean waters of Venice, all underline the point that the upcoming ‘change’ will prove most consequential for the environment.

With prophecies afoot, even discredited philosophers such as Slavoj Zizek, tried to stage a comeback, offering their own predictions of ‘ideological viruses’, including “the virus of thinking about an alternate society, a society beyond nation-state, a society that actualizes itself in the forms of global solidarity and cooperation”.

In his article, published in the German newspaper Die Welt, Zizek proposes what he describes as a ‘paradox’: while COVID-19 constitutes a ‘blow to capitalism’ it “will also compel us to re-invent communism based on trust in the people and in science”.

Ironically, only a few years ago, Zizek, who is often referred to as a ‘celebrity philosopher’, advocated an ethnocentric discourse targeting refugees, immigrants and Muslims.

“I never liked this humanitarian approach that if you really talk with them (meaning war refugees who sought safety in Europe) you discover we are all the same people,” Zizek said in his book Refugees, Terror and other Troubles with the Neighbors. “No, we are not — we have fundamental differences.”

In an article discussing Zizek’s book, published in Quartz, Annalisa Merelli wrote, “Following the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, Zizek warned that liberals need to let go of the taboos that prevent open discussion of the problems that come from admitting people of different cultures to Europe, and in particular the denial of any public safety danger caused by refugees.”

This supposedly ‘Marxist philosopher’ went even further, borrowing from Christian theology in explaining that “the Christian motto ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ is not as simple as it appears,” criticizing the alleged ‘prohibition’ by some leftist circles of “any critique of Islam”.

“It is a simple fact that most of the refugees come from a culture that is incompatible with Western European notions of human rights,” Zizek wrote, conveniently omitting that it is Western imperialism, colonialism and wars of economic dominance that have been the main triggers of Middle Eastern crises for at least a century.

It would be safe to assume that Zizek’s unorthodox ‘reinvention of communism’ excludes millions of refugees who are paying the price, not for the ills of ‘the global economy’ – as he conveniently proposes – but for war-driven Western hegemony and neo-colonialism.

Our seemingly-disproportionate emphasis on Zizek’s unsettling ideas is only meant to illustrate that ‘celebrity philosophy’ is not only useless in this context, but also a distraction from a truly urgent discussion on the mechanics of equitable change in society, a process currently hindered by war, racism, xenophobia, and populist-centric far-right ideologies.

In truth, it is far easier to predict the future of globalization or air-pollution when analysts are confronted with straight-forward indicators – technological advancement, exports, currency valuation, and air quality.

But speaking of the reinvention of society, with little credibility to boot, is the equivalence of intellectual guesswork, especially when the so-called intellectual is almost entirely detached from the trials of everyday society.

The problem with most analyses of the various ‘futures’ that lie ahead is that very few of these predictions are predicated on an honest examination of the problems that have plagued our past and afflicted our present.

But how are we to chart a better understanding and a suitable response to the future and its many challenges if we do not truly and honestly confront and dissect the problems that have taken us to this dismal point of global crisis?

We concur. The future will bring about change. It ought to. It must. Because the status quo is simply unsustainable. Because the wars in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan; the Israeli occupation of Palestine; the dehumanization and economic strangulation of Africa and South America, and so on, must not be allowed to become an everyday occurrence.

But for that better, more equitable future to arrive, our understanding of it must be situated within a historically valid, ideologically defensible, and humane view of our troubled world, of ourselves and of others — and not within the detached and callous view of mainstream Western economists or celebrity philosophers.

It is indeed strange how Zizek and his like can still embrace an ethnocentric view of Europe and Christianity while still being viewed as ‘communist’. What strange breed of communism is this ideology that does not acknowledge the centrality and history of global class struggles?

If we are to place the Marxist class struggle within broader and more global terms, it is befitting and tenable then to assume that Western powers have historically represented the ‘ruling classes’, while the colonized and historically oppressed Southern hemisphere makes up the ‘subordinate classes’.

It is this dynamic of oppression, usurpation and enslavement that fueled the ‘engine of history’ — the Marxist notion that history is propelled by internal contradictions within the system of material production.

It would be simply naive to assume that an outbreak of a pandemic can automatically and inexorably, in itself, propel and produce change, and that such a romanticized ‘change’ will intuitively favor the ‘subordinate classes’, whether within local societal structures or at a global level.

There is no denial that the current crisis — whether economic or within the healthcare system — is fundamentally a structural crisis that can be traced to the numerous fault-lines within the capitalist system, which is enduring what Italian anti-fascist intellectual and politician Antonio Gramsci refers to as ‘interregnum’.

In his Prison Notebooks, Gramsci wrote: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

The ‘variety of morbid symptoms’ were expressed in the last two decades in the gradual decay, if not decimation, of the very global system that was constructed ever so diligently by capitalist Western forces, which shaped the world to pursue their own interests for nearly a century.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s was meant to usher in a whole new world – uncontested, militaristic to the core and unapologetically capitalist. Little of that has actualized, however. The first US-led Iraq military adventure (1990-91), the parallel ‘new world order’ and subsequent ‘new Middle East’, and so on, ultimately, amounted to naught.

Frustrated by its inability to translate its military and technological superiority to sustainable dominance on the ground, the US and its Western allies fell apart at a much faster rate than ever expected. Barack Obama’s administration’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ — accompanied by military retreat from the oil-rich Middle East — was only the beginning of an inevitable course of decline that no US administration, however belligerent and irrational, can possibly stop.

Largely helpless before relentless crises facing the once-triumphant capitalist order, dominant Western institutions, the likes of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU), grew useless and dysfunctional. No prophecies are required here to assume that the post-coronavirus world will further undermine the very idea behind the EU. Interestingly, although not surprisingly, the ‘European community,’ at the time of Europe’s greatest crisis since World War II, turned out to be a farce, since it was China and Cuba that extended a helping hand to Italy and Spain, not Germany, France or the Netherlands.

It is rather ironic that the very forces that championed economic globalization — and derided reluctant countries that refused to join in — are the same as those that are now advocating some form of sovereignism, isolationism, and nationalism.

This is precisely the ‘interregnum’ that Gramsci has talked about. It should not be taken for granted, however, that this political vacuum can be filled through wishful thinking alone, for real, lasting and sustainable change can only be the outcome of a mindful process, one that keeps in mind the nature of future conflicts and our ideological and moral position in response to these conflicts.

Celebrity philosophers certainly do not represent, nor do they earn the right to speak on behalf of the ‘subordinate classes’ — neither locally nor globally. What is needed, instead, is a counter ‘cultural hegemony’, championed by the true representatives of oppressed societies (minorities united by mutual solidarity, oppressed nations, and so on), who must be aware of the historical opportunity and challenges that lie ahead.

A distinct symptom of ‘interregnum’ is the palpable detachment exhibited by the masses towards traditional ideologies —  a process which has begun much earlier than the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“If the ruling class has lost its consensus, i.e., is no longer ‘leading’ but only ‘dominant,’ exercising coercive force alone, this means precisely that the great masses have become detached from their traditional ideologies, and no longer believe what they used to believe previously”, Gramsci wrote.

Admittedly, there is a problem with true democratic representation all over the world, due to the rise of military dictatorships (as in the case of Egypt), and far-right populism (as in the case of the US, various Western countries, India and so forth).

Bearing all of that in mind, simply counting on ‘trust in the people and in science’ — as disconcertingly prescribed by Zizek — will neither ‘re-invent communism’, restore democracy or redistribute wealth fairly and equitably among all classes. And, needless to say, it will not bring the Israeli occupation to an end or humanely end the global refugee crisis.

In fact, the opposite is true. Under the cover of trying to control the spread of the coronavirus, several governments have carried out authoritarian measures that merely aim at strengthening their grip on power, as was the case in Hungary and Israel.

Not that Hungary and Israel have been governed according to high democratic standards prior to the spread of the coronavirus. The collective panic that resulted from the high death-toll of a barely understood disease, however, served as the needed collective ‘shock’ — see Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine — required by authoritarian regimes to seize the moment and to further erode any semblance of democracy in their own societies.

Following each and every global crisis, analysts, military strategists and philosophers take on whatever available platform to prophesize seismic changes and speak of paradigm shifts. Some even go as far as declaring the ‘end of history’, ‘clashes of civilizations’, or, as in the case of Zizek, a new form of communism.

French critic and journalist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (born November 1808), has once written that “the more things change, the more they continue to be the same thing”.

Indeed, without a people-propelled form of change, the status quo seems to constantly reinvent itself, restoring its dominance, cultural hegemony and undemocratic claim to power.

Undeniably, the global crisis invited by the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic embodies within it the opportunity of fundamental change (towards greater equality or greater authoritarianism), or no change at all.

It is us, the people, and our true authentic voices — the ‘organic intellectuals’, not the celebrity philosophers — who have the right and the moral legitimacy to rise up to reclaim our democracy and redefine a new discourse on a global, not ethnocentric, form of justice.

It is either that we exercise this option, or the current ‘interregnum’ will fizzle out into yet another missed opportunity.

Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Help Curb War and Militarism?

Decades ago, when I began teaching international history, I used to ask students if they thought it was possible for nations to end their fighting of wars against one another.  Their responses varied.  But the more pessimistic conclusions were sometimes tempered by the contention that, if the world’s nations faced a common foe, such as an invasion from another planet, this would finally pull them together.

I was reminded of this on March 23, when the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, called for “an immediate global ceasefire.” The time had come, he said, to “end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world.”  A UN summary noted that the Secretary-General had “urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19: the common enemy that is now threatening all of humankind.”

If human beings behaved rationally, they would certainly recognize their common enemy and back this proposal.  After all, why not work cooperatively to save humanity from massive global death and economic collapse rather than continue to devote $1.8 trillion a year to waging wars and engaging in vast military buildups with the goal of slaughtering one another?  The U.S. government alone is currently spending a record $738 billion a year on its ever-growing military machine―considerably more than it allocates every year for health, education, and all other civilian services.  How about using these enormous resources, now earmarked for war and war preparations, to meet the needs of its own people, such as coping with the coronavirus pandemic?  And surely other heavily-armed governments, currently shoveling the human and economic wealth of their nations down the rathole of war, would also benefit by a reordering of their priorities.

Furthermore, with the world swept by a deadly pandemic―and maybe only the first of many in the coming decades―how are nations going to maintain the necessary armed forces to fight wars?  Soldiers, like sailors, live in close proximity with one another and, as a result, their ranks are likely to be decimated by disease.  As illustrated by the recent dismissal from command of a U.S. Navy captain who warned of the spread of the coronavirus on his aircraft carrier, top military officials are likely to resist recognizing the deteriorating health of their military personnel.  But that willful ignorance won’t put an effective combat or military occupation force in the field.  It might even lead to widespread resistance and revolts among the troops, as disease and death sweep through their cramped barracks and ships’ sleeping quarters.

Nevertheless, as history shows us, we are not living in a thoroughly rational world.  Nations―and, before their existence, competing territories―have been squandering human and economic resources on war and war preparations for millennia.  Even 75 years after the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs, nations continue to arm themselves with roughly 14,000 nuclear weapons, preparing for―and sometimes threatening―a nuclear war that will destroy most life on earth.

Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic might be strengthening authoritarian political tendencies that, traditionally, have gone hand-in-hand with militarism.  Recognizing the fear and panic that are already gripping the general public, power-hungry government officials are using the crisis to proclaim a state of emergency and cut back political freedom.  In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbàn convinced parliament, controlled by his party, to cancel all elections, suspend its ability to legislate, and give him the right to rule by decree indefinitely.  In the United States, Donald Trump, after initially making light of the pandemic, did a total reversal―declaring “a national emergency” and reinventing himself as a “war president“.  Recently, under cover of the coronavirus crisis, Trump has escalated his military threats against other nations, ordering stepped-up action by the U.S. forces forces that risks war with Iran and, also, portends a U.S. military attack upon Venezuela.

In short, the jury is still out on whether the coronavirus pandemic will weaken or strengthen war and militarism.  Much will depend on what the public of heavily-armed nations will demand.  Will they press for a reorientation of their countries’ priorities from waging war to meeting human needs?  Or, despite the enormous challenges posed by the disease pandemic, will they once again rally behind their flag-waving rulers―all too often unscrupulous and incompetent―and pour their blood and treasure into war?

Given the world’s long history of violent international conflict, it would be foolish to bet on humanity turning over a new leaf.  But, on the other hand, there have been occasions when human beings have worked together to solve their common problems.  Perhaps they will do so again.