Venezuela Ablaze

The title “Venezuela Ablaze” implies sinister forces at work. Whether those sinister forces are for, or against, or within the Bolivarian Revolutionary government of Venezuela is the crux of the matter. Which is it?

Questions come to mind when news about Venezuela depicts a nation under siege. For certain, the mainstream press in America is not on the President Nicolás Maduro bandwagon. From coast-to-coast, American media claims Maduro is a horrible despicable dictatorial creepy monster that flogs his own people and stifles democracy, same as all tyrants throughout history.

But, is that really the truth?

After all, the United States has such a horrible fouled reputation of dastardly influence south of the border, whom to believe? For decades the CIA planted news stories and assassinated leaders and manipulated economies to benefit aristocratic landed interests over the interests of “the people” (Proof: John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, Penguin Group, 2004).

South America is a training ground for the CIA ever since Allen Dulles dreamed up the idea in the 1950s (Dulles likely ordered JFK’s assassination – Read: David Talbot’s The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, HarperCollins Publishers, 2016).

It’s easy to imagine sinister forces at work in Venezuela. After all, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela easily fits the script of Costa-Gavras’ historical film drama Missing (Universal Pictures, 1982) starting Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek based upon the true story of a conservative God-fearing father (superbly played by Lemmon) traveling to Chile to find his “missing” son during the U.S.-backed Chilean coup of 1973, when socialist President Salvador Allende was tossed out of office (likely murdered but supposedly shot himself whilst in the presidential palace under fire by Pinochet’s henchmen) in a bloody coup, including cameo appearances by the irrepressible Henry Kissinger & CIA operatives in darkened shadows.

In subsequent years, the Freedom of Information Act clearly shows Kissinger playing footsy with brutal dictator Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, authorizing covert work via CIA goon squads, disrupting the socialist government with killings galore, American kids not excluded, which, post factum, turns Missing into a true life documentary. At the time, and in the spirit of defending democracy, America was on a “killing spree of anything that moved, so long as it was shades of red.”

So, 44 years after the United States sponsored a bloody coup in Chile, and also intervened, including death squads and caches of armaments, in countless countries south of the border, the big mondo question is whether it’s happening again in Venezuela. After all, ever since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, the United States has furtively claimed protector ship over every inch of ground south of the border. By now, it’s part of U.S.A. DNA.

Reuters, The New York Times, The Washington Post, World News Tonight, wherever a breaking story of Venezuela appears nowadays, it’s bloodshed, protests, no food, people starving, and worse… Venezuela ablaze! President Maduro is reviled time and again as a brute.

On the other hand, that’s strange in the face of the principles of Chavismo, established by Hugo Chávez, including nationalization, social welfare programs for all citizens, and opposition to neoliberalism, especially policies of the IMF and World Bank. Chavismo promotes participatory democracy and workplace democracy. For example, Chávez invested the nationalized oil income in the development of social programs in favor of the most impoverished of the country. Which all sounds kinda okay. The question therefore: Does Maduro violate those principles or uphold them?

Still and all, tens-upon-hundreds and thousands of poets, writers, artists, international analysts, journalists, social and political activists have joined in supporting the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro and the revolutionary Chavista legacy. They also speak of condemning an alleged coup attempt by right wing forces operating both inside and outside of Venezuela, surprise!

Intellectuals from around the world have signed onto “IN VENEZUELA, THEY SHALL NOT PASS,” an international movement to speak the truth and preserve the Bolivarian Revolution.

Why do so many intellectuals, writers, journalists, and analysts from around the world support Maduro and condemn the OAS and the U.S. as well as allege that right-wingers are undermining Maduro in Venezuela, ‘planting demonstrations’, and so forth?

Do intellectuals, in general, support strong-armed tactics or the principles of equality and democracy and evenhandedness? Do they see the latter or the former in Maduro? In fact, thousands upon thousands from sea-to-sea claim to see the latter.

After all, the battle for the soul of Venezuela is at hand, and the battle for South America’s incipient Bolivarian Revolution is at great risk, a revolutionary movement that the great masses in Venezuela embrace with fervor under Chávez. He lifted them out of the gutter.

But then again, it’s the same old story with South & Central America, whom to believe is the major issue regarding stuff that happens, whether reported by American media and department of state or a broad coalition of the world’s intelligentsia. Whom to believe?

Trump’s America is a Constitution-Free Zone

“Policing is broken… It has evolved as a paramilitary, bureaucratic, organizational arrangement that distances police officers from the communities they’ve been sworn to protect and serve. When we have shooting after shooting after shooting that most people would define as at least questionable, it’s time to look, not just at a few bad apples, but the barrel. And I’m convinced that it is the barrel that is rotted.”

— Norm Stamper, former Seattle police chief


Somebody give Attorney General Jeff Sessions a copy of the Constitution.

And while you’re at it, get a copy to President Trump, too.

In fact, you might want to share a copy with the nation’s police officers, as well.

I have my doubts that any of these individuals—all of whom swore to uphold and defend the Constitution—have ever read any of the nation’s founding documents.

Had they actually read and understood the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, there would be no militarized police, no mass surveillance, no police shootings of unarmed individuals, no SWAT team raids, no tasering of children, no asset forfeiture schemes or any of the other government-sanctioned abuses that get passed off as law and order these days.

We’ve got serious problems in this country, and they won’t be solved on the golf course, by wining and dining corporate CEOs, giving local police forces more military equipment, locking down the nation, or pretending that the only threats to our freedoms are posed by forces beyond our borders or by “anti-government” extremists hiding among us.

So far, Trump’s first 100 days in office have been no different from Obama’s last 100 days, at least when it comes to the government’s ongoing war on our freedoms.

Government corruption remains at an all-time high.

Police shootings and misconduct have continued unabated.

The nation’s endless wars continue to push us to the brink of financial ruin.

And “we the people” are still being treated as if we have no rights, are entitled to no protections, and exist solely for the purpose of sustaining the American police state with our hard-earned tax dollars.

Just take the policing crisis in this country, for instance.

Sessions—the chief lawyer for the government and the head of the Justice Department, which is entrusted with ensuring that the nation’s laws are faithfully carried out and holding government officials accountable to abiding by their oaths of office to “uphold and defend the Constitution”—doesn’t think we’ve got a policing problem in America.

In fact, Sessions thinks the police are doing a great job (apart from “the individual misdeeds of bad actors,” that is).

For that matter, so does Trump.

Really, really great.

Indeed, Sessions thinks the nation’s police forces are doing such a great job that they should be rewarded with more military toys (weapons, gear, equipment) and less oversight by the Justice Department.

As for Trump, he believes “the dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong” and has vowed to “end it.”

Excuse me for a moment while I flush what remains of the Constitution down the toilet.

Clearly, Trump has not been briefed on the fact that it has never been safer to be a cop in America. According to Newsweek, “it’s safer to be a cop than it is to simply live in many U.S. cities… It’s safer to be a cop than it is to live in Baltimore. It’s safer to be a cop than it is to be a fisher, logger, pilot, roofer, miner, trucker or taxi driver. It’s safer to be a cop today than it’s been in years, decades, or even a century, by some measures.”

You know what’s dangerous?

Being a citizen of the American police state.

Treating cops as deserving of greater protections than their fellow citizens.

And training cops to think and act like they’re soldiers on a battlefield.

As journalist Daniel Bier warns, “If you tell cops over and over that they’re in a war, they’re under siege, they’re under attack, and that citizens are the enemy—instead of the people they’re supposed to protect—you’re going to create an atmosphere of fear, tension, and hostility that can only end badly, as it has for so many people.”

Frankly, if there’s a war taking place in this country, it’s a war on the American people.

After all, we’re the ones being shot at and tasered and tracked and beaten and intimidated and threatened and invaded and probed.

And what is the government doing to fix this policing crisis that threatens the safety of man, woman and child in this country?

Not a damn thing.

Incredibly, according to a study by the American Medical Association, police-inflicted injuries send more than 50,000 Americans to hospital emergency rooms every year.

Yet as Slate warns, if you even dare to criticize a police officer let alone challenge the myth of the hero cop—a myth “used to legitimize brutality as necessary, justify policies that favor the police, and punish anyone who dares to question police tactics or oppose the unions’ agendas”— you will be roundly denounced “as disloyal, un-American, and dangerous.”

As reporter David Feige concludes, “We should appreciate the value and sacrifice of those who choose to serve and protect. But that appreciation should not constitute a get-out-of-jail-free card for the vast army of 800,000 people granted general arrest powers and increasingly armed with automatic weapons and armored vehicles.”

Vast army.

Equipped with deadly weapons.

Empowered with arrest powers.

Immune from accountability for wrongdoing.

What is this, Hitler’s America?

Have we strayed so far from our revolutionary roots that we no longer even recognize tyranny when it’s staring us in the face?

The fact that police are choosing to fatally resolve encounters with their fellow citizens by using their guns speaks volumes about what is wrong with policing in America today, where police officers are being dressed in the trappings of war, drilled in the deadly art of combat, and trained to look upon “every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making.”

Mind you, the federal government is the one responsible for turning our police into extensions of the military, having previously distributed billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to local police agencies, including high-powered weapons, assault vehicles, drones, tactical gear, body armor, weapon scopes, infrared imaging systems and night-vision goggles—equipment intended for use on the battlefield—not to mention federal grants for militarized training and SWAT teams.

Thus, despite what Attorney General Sessions wants you to believe, the daily shootings, beatings and roadside strip searches (in some cases, rape) of American citizens by police are not isolated incidents.

Likewise, the events of recent years are not random occurrences: the invasive surveillance, the extremism reports, the civil unrest, the protests, the shootings, the bombings, the military exercises and active shooter drills, the color-coded alerts and threat assessments, the fusion centers, the transformation of local police into extensions of the military, the distribution of military equipment and weapons to local police forces, the government databases containing the names of dissidents and potential troublemakers.

Rather, these developments are all part of a concerted effort to destabilize the country, institute de facto martial law disguised as law and order, and shift us fully into the iron jaws of the police state.

So, no, the dramatic increase in police shootings are not accidents.

It wasn’t an “accident” that 26-year-old Andrew Lee Scott, who had committed no crime, was gunned down by police who knocked aggressively on the wrong door at 1:30 am, failed to identify themselves as police, and then repeatedly shot and killed Scott when he answered the door while holding a gun in self-defense. Police were investigating a speeding incident by engaging in a middle-of-the-night “knock and talk” in Scott’s apartment complex.

It wasn’t an “accident” when Levar Edward Jones was shot by a South Carolina police officer during a routine traffic stop over a seatbelt violation as he was in the process of reaching for his license and registration. The trooper justified his shooting of the unarmed man by insisting that Jones reached for his license “aggressively.”

It wasn’t an “accident” when Francisco Serna, a 73-year-old grandfather with early-stage dementia, was shot and killed by police for refusing to remove his hand from his pocket. Police were investigating an uncorroborated report that Serna had a gun, but it turned out he was holding a crucifix and made no aggressive movements before he was gunned down.

It wasn’t an “accident” when Nandi Cain, Jr., was thrown to the ground, choked and punched over a dozen times by a police officer after the officer stopped Cain for jaywalking.  Cain made no aggressive moves toward the officer, and had even removed his jacket to show the officer he had no weapon.

It wasn’t an “accident” when 65-year-old Thomas Smith, suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, called 911 because of a medical problem only to have his home raided by a SWAT team. Smith was thrown to the ground and placed in handcuffs because his condition prevented him from following police instructions.

It wasn’t an “accident” when John Wrana, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, died after being shot multiple times by a police officer with a Mossberg shotgun during a raid at Wrana’s room at an assisted living center. This, despite the fact that there were five police officers on the scene to subdue Wrana, who used a walker to get around and was “armed” with a shoehorn and not a knife, as police assumed.

It wasn’t an “accident” when a 10-year-old boy was subdued by two police officers using a taser because the child became unruly at the day care center he attended.

It wasn’t an “accident” when police in South Dakota routinely subjected persons, some as young as 3 years old, to catheterizations in order to forcibly obtain urine samples.

It wasn’t an “accident” when Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist, was shot by police as he was trying to help an autistic patient who had wandered away from his group home and was sitting in the middle of the road playing with a toy car. The officer who shot Kinsey was reportedly told that neither Kinsey nor the patient had a weapon.

It wasn’t an “accident” when Frank Arnal Baker was mauled by a police dog and kicked by an officer for not complying quickly enough with a police order. Baker, who had done nothing wrong, spent two weeks in the hospital with fractured ribs and collapsed lungs and needed skin grafts for the dog-bite injuries.

No, none of these incidents were accidents.

Nor are they isolated, anecdotal examples of a few bad actors, as Sessions insists.

Far from being isolated or anecdotal, police misconduct cases have become so prevalent as to jeopardize the integrity of all of the nation’s law enforcement agencies.

Unfortunately, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is what happens when you allow so-called “law and order” to matter more than justice: corruption flourishes, injustice reigns and tyranny takes hold.

Yet no matter what Trump and Session seem to believe, nowhere in the Constitution does it say that Americans must obey the government.

Despite the corruption of Congress and the complicity of the courts, nowhere does the Constitution require absolute subservience to the government’s dictates.

And despite what most police officers seem to believe, nowhere does the Constitution state that Americans must comply with a police order.

To suggest otherwise is authoritarianism.

This is also, as abolitionist Frederick Douglass noted, the definition of slavery: “I didn’t know I was a slave until I found out I couldn’t do the things I wanted.”

You want to know what it means to be a slave in the American police state?

It means being obedient, compliant and Sieg Heil!-ing every government agent armed with a weapon. If you believe otherwise, try standing up for your rights, being vocal about your freedoms, or just challenging a government dictate, and see how long you last before you’re staring down the barrel of a loaded government-issued gun.


One Hundred Years That Shook the World

China Miéville is best known for his fiction.  His novels weave intricate worlds of fantastic architecture, complex politics and intimate personal relationships into tales that combine intrigue and the mundane; the lofty and the subterranean; and fear and its opposite.  The results of these efforts serve as metaphor for the current reality and as fictions sometimes too amazing to be believed.  His latest work shares all of these phenomena that make Miéville’s fiction so unique.  However, the tale he tells in this work, titled October: The Story of the Russian Revolution is not fiction, but historical fact.  This in itself makes it profoundly more breathtaking, and equally fantastic.  It is a story of the year 1917 in revolutionary Russia.

As any student of Twentieth Century history knows, the year of the Russian revolution was one of those years that changed the course of human history.  World War One—an imperialist quarrel that ended up being an incomprehensible exercise in human slaughter and a precursor to another even deadlier conflict—was in its final throes.  Troops were dying, mutinying, and just walking away from the horror that was their octobermievillewar.  Civilians young and old struggled to survive; some became angels of mercy while others turned into barely human monsters.  In between these two extremes were the bulk of European and Russian humanity.  The nobility, generals and the bourgeoisie in all nations involved in the conflict were angling on how to keep their positions, their lands and their wealth.  Revolutionaries watched, waited and organized; they knew their moment was nigh.

Given its momentous place in human history, there are numerous histories of the Russian Revolution told from a multitude of viewpoints.  The three-volume set written by the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is probably the most complete and certainly the most inspiring of all of these histories.  It goes almost without saying that the revolution itself has been disparaged by capitalists and their cheerleaders ever since that first moment in February 1917 when the soviets took over in Petrograd.  Even more damaging then the aspersions of the capitalist media though, was the counterrevolution launched against the revolutionary government and the subsequent machinations of that government which caused its mutation and ultimate dissolution barely eighty years later.

As I noted above, China Miéville just published a new history of the Russian Revolution’s first year—1917.  It is a fast-paced history that weaves in and out of the debates and discussions in the soviets, the various revolutionary and leftist political parties, the military and the provisional government.  At the same time, the readers is presented with vignettes of actions in the streets, at the battle front, in the apartments where Lenin is hiding and conspiring with other Bolsheviks for the revolutionary overthrow of a provisional government leaning further and further to the right.  As Miéville’s story unfolds, the momentousness of the history being told reveals itself in a manner similar to a new wave film.  The movements of individual revolutionaries, aristocrats, fearful but boisterous generals, wavering liberals, and angry worker and peasant masses play across the screen of the reader’s mind with a passion and clarity that defies rhetoric as surely as the revolution defied the arrogant assumptions of the Tsar and his sycophants.

There are many who have claimed the legacy of the revolutions of 1917.  There will be many more who will attempt to do so in the future.  The reality though, is that that legacy is not a thing of the past, but is part of an ongoing struggle to define and change the human condition.  The fact of its existence as history serves as both a lesson and an inspiration.  Miéville’s book serves both functions.  Perhaps more importantly, it also serves as an introduction to the Russian revolution for those who might otherwise ignore it.  This latter group probably includes many fans of Miéville’s fiction; readers unaware of his socialist leanings and possibly apolitical in the extreme.  October is short on analysis, which is not a critique of the text.  Indeed, this is a work of historic journalism.  It’s as if John Reed, author of the classic piece of revolutionary journalism, Ten Days That Shook the World, woke from a decades-long sleep to tell the story of 1917 once again.  Although there is less personal detail, the sweep of Miéville’s story is equal to Reed’s in its breadth while matching it in passion.  It is Reed’s contention that the masses of workers, peasants and soldiers were at the front of the revolution.  One hundred years later, Miéville’s telling agrees.

Convenient Untruths About “Human Nature:” Can People Deal with Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons?

At this most critical of times, do current erroneous assumptions about human nature play a role at a deep level in the prevalent responses to catastrophes?   Apropos,  Raymond Williams summarized Antonio  Gramsci’s view of hegemony as a “central system of practices, meanings and values saturating the consciousness of a society at a much deeper level than ordinary notions of ideology.”[1]

There are new and old normals and it is hard to know where public knowledge is on this.    Movies from similar times evoked normal, even beautiful scenes from daily life, of intimacy and love, but with ordinary life shadowed by foreboding threats:  The Garden of the Finzi Continis  under Nazism, Burnt by the Sun under Stalin’s terror, Hiroshima Mon Amour and nuclear holocaust.  Focusing on Trump and immediate realities is urgent, but now looms the specter of human extinction.

Trump has brought increased attention to social pathology.  An observation made by Canadian First Nations lawyer Pamela Palmater pinpoints a core problem in Canada when it comes to understanding people and society, but it is applicable to the broad public.    She writes that “the difficult part about public discourse related to genocide is that the majority of Canadians don’t have all the facts.” The public knows even less about the extinction threat of nuclear weapons and climate change.

Cognitive science, biology and American psychiatry now assume the mantle of defining human nature.   Behavior is said to be hard-wired, “in the brain”, programmed,  in the DNA. [2] Humans are presumed to be addicted to consumption, unable to forego gratification, unable to endure stress and frustration, require optimism and success.  They are primarily motivated by self-interest, do not have a rational understanding of time as they are unable to think much beyond the immediate future, are capable of relating or empathizing at most to a small group of people, and predisposed to fight/flight/freeze reactions.

Human psychology is understood through algorithms and brain imaging.    The field of Game Theory gave us the Prisoners  Dilemma which is about self-serving behavior.   Artificial Intelligence can be programmed to make moral decisions.  Emotions are said to come from a primitive part of the brain.  This is all far removed from what people actually do.  Real prisoners have great capacity to cooperate such as in prisoners’ strikes, and even the most violent criminal acts cannot be reduced to a formula but are highly individual.   Rage, too, can be moral:   Benjamin Ferencz, the 97-years-old,  last-surviving Nuremberg prosecutor, says that he is “boiling with anger all the time” and “won’t give up fighting for peace”.

This human nature model arose at the same time as neo-liberalism and management theory.  William James wrote about a distinctly American version coming from the widespread practice of instantaneous born-again religious experience – no crise de conscience required.   The enshrining of the pursuit of happiness, positive thinking, and optimism glosses over the actual state of the world and over the wide range of human experience.   The individualistic ideal of “full self-realization of human potential” is a compelling promise of capitalist and even some anti-capitalist movements and is libertarian and ahistorical.

The words “people”, “person”, and “human” are themselves corrupted.  In today’s world, many people are not considered persons at all.  As the late poet Eduardo Galeano writes, more and more of the world’s people are “The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing. The nobodies: the no-ones, the nobodied, … Who are not human beings, but human resources.  Who do not have names, but numbers.”  Monbiot exposed how Britain’s chief economist, Nicholas Stern, quantified people’s right to live on the basis of wealth:  Stern  justified expanding Heathrow airport capacity because a rich person would lose money having to wait for a flight, and this wealth was worth more than the wealth of people dying due to aviation’s high greenhouse gas emissions (Heathrow is slated to add 260,000 extra flights/year, and aviation emissions remain exempt under Kyoto).

“Personhood” leaves out real people.   Corporations, citizens from certain countries, and special categories of refugees qualify for various personhood rights.   Populationists and some environmentalists fetishize a pristine nature without people and  believe that there are “too many people” for the Earth’s carrying capacity (billions too many according to GAIA guru James Lovelock).    Only select persons suffer trauma and “humanitarian disasters.”  “Humanitarian” is degraded by the doctrine of the “least possible evil” which allows horrific violence if it is calculated to be less than even worse possible violence. [3]

Inaction about the critical situation is often attributed to denial.  But is it really denial if the facts are not even known.  And does knowledge about severe threats necessarily lead to denial?    Other psychological processes differ from the prevalent human nature framing.

Anxiety can arise because of the realistic perception of a danger situation.  Freud’s view is that anxiety does not necessarily become overwhelming.  The signal of anxiety can lead to a pause that delays action and that allows time to assess a threat.

There is a maturational capacity to understand objective reality, what Freud called “secondary process” thinking.   This contrasts with  “primary process” as seen in dreams and in the thinking of young children: the absence of a realistic sense of the duration of time,  egocentric theories of causality, conflating words with things,  reversal of meanings, confusions about animate and inanimate.    These early forms of thinking can persist for many reasons.

Mature adults are capable of having a constant sense of other people’s existence so that no one is invisible.  This is closely tied to being able to feel ambivalence, that the world is not simply divided between ideal good people and evil bad people.  Early on, young children comfort themselves with ideal good objects like soft furry animals.   The soft, furry polar bear on melting ice has come to signify the tragedy of climate change; what about concern for the tragedy of all other people in the world?

The world’s people are generally left out of discourses on climate change and nuclear weapons.  Manhattan Project Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman reported that after the first atom bomb test at Alamogordo, “’There were tears and laughter…. We beat each other on the back, our elation knew no bounds ….  the gadget worked!’ Feynman got his bongo drums out and led a snake dance through the whole Tech Area.” [4]  In a recent talk about Los Alamos, Feynman recalled how he looked at the world differently, picturing destroyed bridges and buildings — but how about the people?  It is only since the 2014 Vienna Humanitarian Pledge that there is focus on the human consequences of nuclear war.

As in the animistic thinking of young children, climate change is discussed as a de-personalized threat to the “planet”, to ”civilization as we know it”, to “organized civilization”, but not as a current killer of hundreds of thousands of people.    Climate itself is personified,  as in fighting, defeating, battling, combating climate rather than the people and practices causing it.  Reports of species extinctions leave out the catastrophe for people.  The geological term “Anthropocene” puts into the perspective of eons the rapidity and extent of anthropogenic climate change,  but it also  abstracts and distracts from the specific people who are so wholly culpable and from the time scale of a miniscule few years for the needed radical changes.

There are wild gaps in reality testing.    Jim White, a climate scientist begins a lecture by dropping a pencil on the ground.  He demonstrates the physical law of gravity which he cannot change, but he can change his own behavior and choose not to drop the pencil.  Obama spoke at Hiroshima as if atom bombs just dropped out of the sky.  Current agreements and solutions to  climate and nuclear threats ignore the physical laws of nature, as if physical laws can wait,  and as if  humans are incapable of stopping.   Since the 1960s when both extinction threats were known, the response has been to “transition”.

Time frames are cited arbitrarily and without context.   Launch time for nuclear weapons on high-alert is inconsistently reported as several minutes, 9 minutes, 15 minutes.  The human context is that Russians do not have a missile defense system that can detect missiles over the horizon, so their decision to launch a strike would have to be made within minutes, without accurately knowing whether there are indeed incoming nuclear missiles.  President Trump is impulsive so there is no time for thinking and for reality testing.

The number signifying global temperature is reified as a thing in itself.    In a recent interview, Naomi Klein told Jeremy Scahill “we still have a chance of halting warming at 2C, or even the Paris target of 1.5C. But if we do everything we can and mobilize wartime efforts, we could move quickly enough to prevent warming of more than two degrees, or if we are extremely lucky, 1.5 degrees Celsius.”[1]   This is incorrect.  The baseline for measuring the 1.2C rise in temperature due to climate change is inconsistently reported as  1780, 1880, 1945 – the dating makes a huge difference in understanding the accelerated rate of change because there has been a 0.2C in just the last few years.   Overshooting the 1.5C target is inevitable within a few years.  1.5C is twice the global average temperature increase that has already caused major shifts in the entire Earth climate system.

In the climate system,  heat absorption in the ocean, and the changing proportion of fresh to salt water due to melting ice, already cause changes in ocean stratification leading to decreased oxygen, to shifting ocean currents (changing Gulf Stream), interactions with the atmosphere (changing jet stream), accelerated melting of ice shelves from below due to contact with the warming ocean,  powerful waves eroding the  grounding line so that melting glaciers can flow into the sea. The effect of fresh water infusion becomes self-generating and amplifying.   Climate modelling has substantially underestimated the amount of sea level rise and of oxygen depletion.

There are many human causes of these disasters, but not hard-wiring.   The safety of humanity becomes secondary to group loyalty,  subservience to authority, association with narcissistic leaders.  Climate scientists  write about these processes within scientific groups that interfere with objectivity. [5]  Robert J. Lifton describes intense male bonding among groups of nuclear weapons scientists who “didn’t want to appear weak”.  Male narcissism is endemic in the national security insider group and puerile male bonding in elite financial cliques like the Bohemian Club and Yale’s Skull and Bones.  [6]

Climate scientists at times put forth erroneous assumptions about human nature.  James Hansen’s fee-and-dividend carbon tax assumes that only higher carbon prices combined with monetary rewards will change behavior.  Climatologist Michael Mann assumes that drought was a main cause of Syrian violence, overlooking severe immiseration due to neo-liberal restructuring and land enclosures that caused huge migration into urban slums.  Historically, droughts and water conflict in themselves do not cause violence; people have customarily worked out agreements to share resources.  The misinterpretation of violence is accepted as fact and has already become the rationale for the militarization of climate security.  Guy McPherson advises people to enjoy today — carpe diem, as if people cannot sustain a range of difficult feelings, hard work, interdependence, and a realistic sense of what needs to be done right now and in the long term.

After years of proliferating nuclear weapons and greenhouse gas emissions, the main solutions remain war and “green” technology.   It is simply assumed that people can’t talk together and plan the logical cutbacks that would Immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water loss and save lives.  The big energy and water users are aviation and shipping, the military, mining, inessential manufacturing, industrial agriculture, cement and steel production, the internet.  Saving lives requires open borders and debt abolition – not just renewable energy.   There is a magical wish that progressive institutions will someday fix everything without taking into account the critical time frame posed by the Earth’s physical laws.  The bogeyman is economic collapse, even though that economy is destroying the world’s majority population.   Current efforts to address these crises are partial and in disarray.  In Greek tragedy, the chorus bemoans too late what could have been known and simply waits for the deus ex machina.   Our survival depends on mature concern and responsibility for all people.


[1] Perry Anderson. The Heirs of Gramsci.”  New Left Review. July/Aug 2016.  P. 73.

[2] Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin(1985), The Dialectical Biologist, Harvard University Press, and Biology Under the Influence (2007).  Monthly Review Press.

[3] Eyal Weizman, (2011). The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza. Verso.

[4]  Jennet Conant (2005). 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the secret city of Los Alamos. Simon and Schuster: New York.  P. 314-316.

[5] for example, James Hansen (2009) Storms of My Grandchildren (2009), Peter Wadhams (2016) A Farewell to Ice, David Wasdell

[6]  Robert Jay Lifton and Eric Markusen (1990), The Genocidal Mentality (Basic Books), p. 145.   Michael Glennon (2015), National Security and Double Government,   Marc Pilisuk and Jennifer Rountree (2008). Who Benefits from Global Violence and War?

Judith Deutsch writes for Canadian Dimension Magazine, is former president of Science for Peace, and is a psychoanalyst by profession. She can be reached at

Is Pope Francis the World’s Most Powerful Advocate for Climate Stability?

Maybe not now.  But that’s what he could well become.  Francis’ Encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home” recognizes the incredible damage being done to climate change and biodiversity.  Few realize how strong his beliefs are and the unused power of persuasion he has.  Here’s 10 ways that power could be used.

1) Francis could call for a renewed emphasis on not eating red meat on Fridays.

Francis unequivocally recognizes the science of climate change: “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.  A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.” [23]

He shows no quarter to climate change deniers, writing “Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference…” [14]

Missing from Francis’ Encyclical is the massive scientific evidence that meat is probably the single most important contributor to greenhouse gases (GHGs).  Meat production (beef, chicken, pork) produce more GHGs that either the transportation sector or all industrial processes.

Some believe that meat production could account for much more than the 18-20% of GHGs if other factors are taken into account, such as livestock respiration, medical care of livestock, full loss of land used for meat production, and packaging, refrigerating, cooking and disposing of meat.

Francis affirms the “an urgent need to develop policies” to address climate change [26].  There is probably no better way to develop a policy to reduce GHGs than resurrecting the emphasis on meatless Fridays.

2) Francis could ask religious leaders throughout the world to consider a day without red meat.

This brings up two big questions: Would a pope try to influence non-Catholics? and, Would non-Catholics pay attention to a Catholic tradition?  Francis clearly understands that the extent of environmental crises goes beyond his own church when he says “I wish to address every person living on this planet” regarding “our common home.” [3]

In wondering about the potential response from non-Catholics, I recall going to elementary school in Houston during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.  It was not a particularly tolerant time or place.  The proportion of Catholics at my school was tiny – not more than 3-4%.  When I asked my teacher why we had fish cakes every Friday, she said “It’s because the Catholic kids aren’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays.”  That seemed reasonable.  And it was okay with everyone else.  Not one kid ever challenged a school that was over 90% non-Catholic adjusting its meals to accommodate a meatless Friday.

Might non-Catholics of today move from a passive acceptance of meatless Fridays to actively participate in a joint effort to halt environmental devastation?  Francis is hopeful when he says, “Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing.” [7]

Millions of people are searching for ways to have a meaningful effect on the climate.  Most individual behaviors either have little impact on the big picture or are out of the reach of many people.  For example, individuals who live 20 miles from work cannot really choose to ride a bike or take mass transit that does not exist.

Choice of food is different – it is something that most people can do by themselves.  New eating habits by enough people might dramatically influence the world’s climate.

3) Francis could ask governments to ensure that those who receive their livelihood from the livestock sector are protected from harm by decreased consumption of meat.

Over 1.3 billion people depend on livestock for income.  This could make for a very long unemployment line and a lot of hostility toward vegetarianism.  In addition to those who raise livestock, livelihoods that derive from it include manufacturing ranch equipment and supplies, growing animal feed, transportation, and sales of animal products such as leather.

Workers in all these industries are super-sensitive to the economics of livestock reduction.  They must be a core part of planning for economic transition.  A transformation would need to include projects that demonstrate how changing from a cattle ranch into growing crops (or other economic activity) can successfully occur.  This would also include educational programs on how to make such changes, as well as proposals for new jobs for those currently working in livestock-dependent industries.

The US is a rich country that can afford to be a model for the rest of the world.  We could guarantee an income equal to what families relying on animals currently make if they agree to transition to plant-based agriculture for human food.

4) Francis could recommend that Catholics not eat any meat (including foul and fish) on Mondays.

This would be a bold step, going beyond reemphasizing what what is already Catholic doctrine.  Yet, it would be consistent with Francis’ belief that the world has a “sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.” [2]

Overproduction of meat has horrible effects beyond climate change.  The livestock sector accounts for over a third of global land area, which makes it a major contributor to deforestation, habitat destruction, and species extinction.  According to the Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, livestock production is responsible for 55% of erosion, 37% of pesticide usage, and 50% of antibiotic usage.

There is already an embryo of the needed change in the “Meatless Monday” movement.  A serious effort toward stewardship of the Earth requires a halt in the expansion of land which is used for livestock and then a progressive increase in acres of land returned to wild Nature.

5) Francis could ask religious leaders to consider a day without any meat (including foul and fish).

Papal Encyclicals are recommendations – they are not commandments.  Thus, an Encyclical by Francis recommending meatless Mondays would mean that Catholics would need to decide to what extent they should follow it.

Inspiring controversy would actually be better than ordering people to eat less meat.  Once folks argue and haggle, the issue sticks to their minds.  Those who do something because of their own choice are much more committed once they have made a decision.

A debate between the world’s 1.2 million Catholics would not be ignored by other religions.  In fact, it could be a powerful impetus for a Great Discussion regarding how people can effectively impact climate change.

If Francis were to take such an audacious stand within the Catholic Church, he would elevate his ability to ask other religious leaders to step outside of their roles established hundreds or thousands of years ago to similarly recognize the profound threat to Life on Earth.  What could be more helpful than several billion people questioning how actions during the next few decades will affect the existence of generations to come?

6) Francis could precaution the world against using vegetarianism as a weapon of cultural domination.

Of particular concern are non-Brahmin Indians and American Cowboys.  Most of the world’s 1.1 billion Hindus live in India, which is often assumed to be overwhelmingly vegetarian.  In fact, over two-thirds of Indians eat meat.

While Hindus do not have a strict ban on eating meat, most avoid doing so because they wish to minimize harming other life forms.  Indians who do eat meat eat far less than do Americans.  They include young people exposed to Western life styles and religious minorities of Muslims and Christians.  According to Priti Gulati Cox, they also include “Dalits (formerly known as untouchables) and Adivasis (Indigenous communities),” who are victims of “Hindu-centric cultural imposition.”

In his article “Beef ban is an attempt to impose upper-caste culture on other Hindus” Dalit Professor Kancha Ilaiah explains that eating meat has always been a part of Dalit food culture.  Since water buffalo meat is cheap, it is their major source of protein.  He sees the current attempt by Brahmins to impose a beef ban as “casteist and racist.”  Non- Brahmin Indians particularly resent attempts to ban eating beef when India is a major exporter of water buffalo meat, which is not considered sacred by upper castes.

Glance a few thousand miles away to the US.  Many people in western states are very hostile to having a lifestyle imposed upon them by what they perceive as urban elitism.  Some do things that harm their own health and welfare to preserve their customs.  (Witness 2016 Presidential voting patterns.)  In this way, they are not so different from India’s Dalits and Adivasis who strongly resist having Brahmin vegetarianism imposed on them.

The issue is how to present a change away from overconsumption of meat without devaluing their culture or creating massive unemployment.  There is no magic bullet.  But the answer must include a dialogue and understanding that eating less meat at each meal has as much effect as having some meals without meat.

In fact, the small portion of meat eaten means that Indians already have much less environmental impact than do Americans.  Instead of being grain-fed, cattle and water buffalo in India typically eat vegetation from land unsuitable for farming, further reducing their harmful effects.

Yet, we must keep our eye on the prize.  Giving up smoking and having unprotected sex with multiple partners have both been sub-cultural values that came into conflict with objective facts.  Campaigns became effective when former smokers spoke out and when gay men themselves advised new behaviors.  Attempts to reduce meat consumption will be counter-effective unless they include those American Cowboys who already question the quantity of meat eaten.

8) Francis could recommend that Catholics eat no animal flesh or animal products (including eggs, milk and cheese) on Wednesdays.

The tradition of not eating meat on Fridays comes with the idea of doing without something for Lent.  Not eating red meat for three days a week, no meat of any kind for two days a week, and no animal products one day a week would transform the concept of “doing without” to mean “doing without to preserve our common home.”

This is the sort of sacrifice that Francis hints at when he says calls on humanity “to recognize the need for changes in lifestyle.” [23]  He quotes approvingly of the leader of Eastern Orthodox Church stating that “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin.” [8]

This reflects the belief in man’s stewardship over nature shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims.  The responsibility to preserve Life in all forms is an impossibility if ranchland and farms for animal feed continue to expand their destruction of wildlife habitat throughout the world.

How can the desire to protect wild Nature best be expressed?  Recognizing that food travels over 1000 miles from “farm to plate” has lead many to become “locavores” who seek to eat food grown close  to where they live.  However, research demonstrates that not eating red meat and dairy for less than one day per week “achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.”

8) Francis could suggest to those of other faiths that they join him in setting aside an additional day for eating no animal flesh or animal products.

Clearly, millions of Catholics combining a locavore diet with a meatless diet for multiple days per week would have a profound impact on GHG emissions.  Imagine the effect if billions of people did so.

Participants would make two important discoveries.  First, food can taste good if it does not include red meat, if it does not include any animal flesh and it can even taste good without any animal products.  As this realization spread, an increasing number of restaurants would offer non-animal dishes on a regular basis.  There would be more cooks realizing that vegetarian food is not the same as the current diet without meat but is a different approach to preparing food.  Many people would voluntarily change to eating less meat during each meal and eating more meals without meat.

Second, reduction in eating meat would have profound health effects.  High meat consumption is associated heart disease, obesity and colorectal cancer.  Health improvement would occur not only in Western countries, but also China, where meat consumption has zoomed upwards.  Combined discoveries of taste and health could well reinforce each other as people realized that they would not be giving up good food to have a better quality of life.

9) Francis could urge the world to recognize the need for humane treatment as well as humane killing of animals.

Both Muslims and Jews are prohibited from eating meat from animals killed in a cruel way.  Jews include humane killing as part of kosher meat and, for Muslims, it is halal meat.  At the time those rules were written, there was no such thing as factory farms (Confined Animal Feeding Operations, CAFOs).

A twenty-first century extension of ancient laws would recognize that CAFOs practice a merciless process of killing by slow torture.  Confinement of animals in tiny cages is so unhealthy that CAFOs routinely pump antibiotics into them so they will live long enough to be slaughtered.

Treating (and killing) animals in a humane fashion is close to a universally accepted value.  CAFO owners are so worried that people would be horrified if they saw how they operate that they go to great lengths lobbying for laws that criminalize filming how animals are treated.

It is highly unlikely that the meat industry can continue to grow without an expansion of CAFOs. National laws and international treaties banning CAFOs should parallel an increase in plant-based diets.  A call by Francis for humane treatment of animals, with a specific request that CAFOs be banned, would be an enormous contribution to reducing animal cruelty, reducing meat consumption and reducing GHGs.

10) Francis could request a global inquiry into the need to begin shorter work weeks in a world which consumes less meat.

Since producing 1 pound of beef protein requires 10 pounds of vegetable protein, obtaining sufficient protein from vegetables will require vastly less cultivation.  Just as fair trade means less trade, a world which relies on less meat will be one which needs less labor.

The livestock industry is merely one piece of an economy that must be massively reduced for human survival.  Vegetarian agriculture is a bit analogous to a peace economy.  Vegetarian production requires different use of land, but more important, use of less land.  Peace economics emphasizes having fewer weapons to kill people rather than killing people with different weapons.

It is not possible to have less meat, less war, fewer toxic chemicals, less extractions of fossil fuels, fewer products (including homes) designed to fall apart and more wild Nature in an economy that is growing exponentially.  More astute than many progressives, Francis recognizes dangers of unlimited economic expansion when he nods approval to “…correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment.” [5]

We need a smaller economy which focuses on providing basic needs for every person on the planet.  This means a shorter – a much shorter – work week.

Producing less is only the first step in solving or reducing environmental problems.  Of course, changes in production will be very different in various industries; so, environmentally sound economics requires considerable planning, education, adjustment and readjustment.

This train of thought runs counter to capitalism, whose First Commandment is growth.

Francis has not been particularly receptive to capitalists, along with their politicians.  They are left out of the equation when he calls for heeding “the reflections of numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups…” [7]  He warns that “Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms …”  [26]

Neither is Francis receptive to “Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.” [20]  He spells out concerns with the latest step in capital accumulation: “Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right…” [30]

Bringing It home

We can’t explore every religion; but, now that we’ve looked at Catholicism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam, let’s consider my religion of devout atheism.  Devout atheism is quite different from dogmatic atheism, whose dedication to putting down religion has much in common with narrow-minded adherents within the religions it belittles.

Devout atheism feels a connection with the natural world that would be quite receptive to an encyclical from Francis that specified actions to protect Earth.  Dogmatic atheists would, of course, reject anything from a Pope because they often worship money and power as do their dogmatic counterparts in the powerful religions.

The division of world is not between Catholic vs. Protestant, Muslim vs. Jew, Hindu vs. Adivasi or pious vs. atheist.  Rather, the great division is those of every belief who exalt the preservation of Nature vs. those who fantasize that happiness flows from possession of an ever greater quantity of objects.

Attaining a 100% vegan world overnight is not going to happen.  Instead, we should work toward a huge reduction in meat production by (a) encouraging heavy meat eaters to decrease their portions, (b) encouraging moderate meat eaters to increase their vegetarian days, and (c) expanding the number of vegetarians and vegans, while (d) avoiding domination of meat-eating cultures, and (e) preparing for the economic disruptions which will inevitably accompany changes of the magnitude that must happen.  Securing alliances and modifying approaches are possible without compromising the goal of vastly reducing the amount of meat produced.

Note. Numbers in brackets indicate the section of “On Care for Our Common Home” from which the quotation is take.

Don Fitz has taught Environmental Psychology at Fontbonne University and Washington University in St. Louis.  He produces Green Time TV in conjunction with KNLC TV in St. Louis and is on the editorial board of Green Social Thought.  He can be contacted at

A version of this article appeared in     

Africa’s War Lord Queen: The Bloodstained Career of Liberia’s Eleanor Sirleaf Johnson

Eleanor Sirleaf Johnson is the Harvard educated, Nobel Prize winning President of Liberia with a long bloodstained history of support for warlords both past and present.

She used to be the de facto foreign minister for that most bloodthirsty of warlords former Liberian “President” Charles Taylor, and she addressed the US Congress in his support.

President Johnson is the queen of the warlords, for she has granted fiefdoms to many of Charles Taylor’s top Capos in today’s Liberia. This is the Charles Taylor that is an incarcerated war criminal having been found guilty of crimes against humanity by that pack of western lickspittles enthroned at the International Criminal Court.

Thats right, the ruling President in Liberia was the right-hand woman for a serious killer and today is surrounded by many of his most notorious warlords.

Interestingly enough, Charles Taylor was convicted by the ICC of crimes against humanity for crimes he committed in…Sierra Leone? But wasn’t Charles Taylor President of Liberia? Yes, and he committed all sorts of terrible acts in Liberia for much longer than he did during his invasion of Sierra Leone during its bitter civil war, but the ICC couldn’t touch anything Liberian for it would leave Eleanor Sirleaf Johnson with blood on her hands for the world to see.

You see, President Johnson was hand picked by the USA and it lackeys at the UN to rule Liberia when the Charles Taylor regime finally collapsed, doing so under the rubric of “democracy”, never mind Ms. Johnson tends to run unopposed?

To give you an idea just how rotten things are, the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in front of which Ms. Johnson testified, issued an opinion calling for Ms. Johnson to be barred for life from Liberian politics.

When one speaks of warlords it is meant literally, for the lords of war under Charles Taylor now rule much of the Liberian economy and critical government departments. John T. Richardson was appointed head of the Housing Authority and was a top commander for Charles Taylor and is infamous for being the commander of the operation where 5 American nuns were murdered. Eugene Nagbe was a senior commander under Taylor and was appointed Minister of Information. Roland Dou was a senior frontlline commander and is now head of special operations at the National Security Agency alongside President Johnson’s stepson Fomba Sirleaf. Charles Taylors wife, Jewel Howard-Taylor has been a Senator and is being touted as the next Vice President. And the list goes on and on, exposing how some of the worst criminals in neo colonial Africa are ensconced as warlords high up in the national crime syndicate that rules Liberia.

In the mining industry, a mainstay of the economy, many undercover documentaries have exposed how Liberia’s “government” is little more than an extortion racket run by gangsters. Pay to Play? Cash and Carry? Anything goes, never mind the environment and disaster for the locals.

As the Ebola epidemic exposed, there is little in the way of government services for ordinary Liberians, How could there be when corruption and graft are so entrenched?

For years now, while the capital city Monrovia lacked such basic services as electricity and running water, the western banksters, their minions in government and the media kept up a cacophony of praise for the Queen of African Warlords, going so far as to anoint Eleanor Sirleaf Johnson with the Nobel Peace Prize. And this for someone who stood front and center in the ranks of those who supported Charles Taylor?

Charles Taylor was a warlord who did whatever it took to preserve his power, and always worried that his mentors, if convenient, would hand him over to the ICC without qualms, which is what they did. His “trial” was fully sanitized and the automatic guilty verdict pronounced with the necessary pomp and circumstance. And the African Queen of the Warlords, Eleanor Sirleaf Johnson, would escape scott free, and remain on her throne, overseeing so much misery and suffering that Liberia should rightfully be considered a failed state, as exposed by the Ebola epidemic.

Yet Ms. Johnson is regularly welcomed in black American churches across the USA, held up as an example of “a good African” to those with the same skin color but no affinity for any real connection to the African motherland.

The Liberian diaspora in the USA has been active in educating the public about what really happened during the terrible Charles Taylor times and the present regimes links to him. Maybe the real story will see the light of day and Ms. Johnson will no longer be honored with such adulation, instead see the inside of a prison where she belongs.

Short Choices: the French Presidential Elections

The establishment got another burning in the French elections on Sunday, revealing again that there is no level of voter disgust that will not find some voice in the current range of elections.  The terror for pollsters and the establishment now is whether Marine Le Pen will realize her anti-Euro project and drag the French nation kicking and moaning into a new, even more fractious order. In her way will be the pro-European Union figure of Emmanuel Macron.

The French example is similar to others of recent times: parties with presumed tenure were confined to a punitive dustbin, rubbished for stale, estranged obsolescence.  The Gaullists got what was a fair drubbing – 19.9 percent for François Fillon of the Republicans, a figure crusted and potted with corruption.

It did not, however, mean that both candidates in the first and second positions were political virgins.  In that sense, the US election remains an exemplar, a true shock.  France retains a traditional appearance to it, albeit a violently ruffled one.

Macron, with his 23.9 percent, supposedly deemed outside the establishment, still held office as minister for economy, finance and industry but flew the Socialist coop in opportunistic fancy.  Blooded in traditional harness, he has managed to give the impression that he has shed enough of the old for the new, notably with his movement En Marche.  He is blowing hard from what commentators have termed a “centrist” position.  (To be at the centre is to be in the middle, which is not necessarily a good thing in current times.)

Just to weaken the sense of Macron as outsider, both establishment parties – the Socialist, led by Benoît Hamon, and the Republican –urged voters to go for the centrist option.  This all had the appearance of a gentleman’s seedy agreement, plotted in a traditional smoking room to undermine an unlikable contender.  The losers wanted to be vicarious winners.  The tarnished Fillon urged voters to “reflect on your conscience.” In effect, Macron as a quantity is being sanitised for stability, the firebreak against the Le Pen revolution.

Le Pen herself speaks to a particular French and nationalist sensibility, tutored to a large extent by her father, who also ran in the 2002 Presidential elections and lost to Jacques Chirac.  She is hardly one to be unfamiliar with the political argot, which has retained a reactionary punch in more measured guise.

Le Pen kept her approach punchily traditional, milking the killing last Thursday of a policeman on the Champs-Elysees with old apple and oranges comparisons on security and immigration.  Having her in the Presidential office would see the stop of “mass immigration and the free movement of terrorists.”

For Le Pen, the May 7 runoff election would enable a choice to be made between “savage globalisation that threatens our civilisation” and “borders that protect our jobs, our security and our national identity.”

Macron provides an attractive target for the Front National: having worked for Rothschild, he supplies the front for corporate interests, and is “Hollande’s baby” uninterested in French patriotism.  He certainly promises to be friendlier to companies in France, with a policy envisaging a cut of the corporate tax rate from 33 percent to 25 percent, while also permitting them to re-negotiate the sacred 35-hour week.  His vision of the European Union, in short, is business as usual.

Under Le Pen’s particular tent lie appeals to critics of globalisation, a force that has rented and sunk various industries while also seeking to reform the French labour market.  But this nostalgic throwback entails barriers and bridges, building fortifications, holding firm and wishing for the best.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon proved to be another dark horse, the spicy left-wing option to Le Pen, and a candidate who experienced a surge of popularity prior to the poll.  His result is a story that has invigorated the left while gutting the socialists, providing us a reminder of the time of a greater radicalism.

“Len Pen,” claims Roger Martelli, “was counting on turning this election into a fight with the Socialist party government, but she had to compete with a radicalized right-wing opposition and socialist opponents who had moved more sharply to the left than she had expected.”[1]

Nor were things pretty for Hamon, with a devastating result to compare to Gaston Defferre’s 5 per cent showing in 1969.  The socialists reformed by the 1971 Épinay Congress in the wake of that electoral catastrophe, have been well and truly buried.

What Mélenchon’s popularity suggests is that the European system, at least the model as it stands, needs reform and a degree of disentangling vis-à-vis the state.  Nor has he told his supporters to vote for Macron, a paternalistic ploy that can irritate voters.

“None of us will vote for the far-right,” went the consultation to 450,000 registered supporters of the France Untamed movement.  “But does it mean we need to give voting advice?”[2]  As Der Spiegel opined with characteristic gloominess, “The presidential election in France is becoming yet another end game over Europe’s political future.”[3]

Much will depend on voter turnout come May, and the seasoned opportunism of Le Pen.  Her latest play is to place herself above partisan considerations by stepping down from the leadership of the National Front.  “So, this evening, I am no longer the president of the National Front.  I am the candidate for the French presidency.”





Monetizing My Mouth

Discovering I had “deep pockets,” my dentist sent me to see a periodontist, a gum specialist. Having been down this road before and fearing pain and humiliation, I dawdled – for many months. She finally insisted I had to go. So I went.

The periodontist’s office billboard announced he was a private corporation (PC) specializing in “periodontal and implant surgery.” After filling out the requisite forms attesting to my fitness (medical and financial) to undergo the trials of modern medicine, and freeing the doctor from liability in the event of untoward results from his efforts in my behalf, and a wait, I was ushered into his chamber.

After another wait, he came in and we chatted about my teeth. He gave me a meticulous examination. Applying great lateral pressure to each tooth, he found that several could be made to wobble. “These teeth need to be saved,” he told me. He took X-rays, which found “extensive bone loss,” illuminating my teeth’s instability. He explained all this to me carefully, revealing a stern concern for my welfare. His conclusion: he needed to operate to determine if one tooth could be saved.

I returned several weeks later and he numbed up the side of my mouth where he would be operating. He engaged in light banter with the hygienist helping him; they displayed a well-practiced patter, like an old married couple. They inserted a variety of appliances into my mouth to keep it dry and to saturate it with water. Then began the “deep cleaning” of my “deep pockets” and the exploration to see if my tooth could be “saved.”

During the hours-long process, I had to halt the proceedings to swallow and breathe.

“Aren’t you comfortable?” he asked with jocular surprise. I was in no distress, but I replied, “I’m a good ways from comfortable, with you stomping around in there.”

The slightest irritation crept into his voice as he corrected me. “I’m not stomping, I’m excavating.” I nodded. I liked the mining analogy. He even wears a head lamp. And he chooses his words carefully.

To lighten things, the hygienist teasingly asked me, ”When have you ever been more comfortable than this?” Answering her own question before I could, she said to the doctor, ”Right before he came in here, I bet.” Very professional.

I shrugged my shoulder. He returned to search for buried treasure and I to breathe and swallow without interrupting his labors.

As they cleaned up and I rinsed, he said he thought he could save the tooth. He had inserted a cadaveric bone graft to stimulate bone growth in the area of loss. He also explained that several teeth did not do their job properly owing to misalignment. Such “inefficiencies” in my chewing added pressure on the wobbling teeth and besides cleaning out my deep pockets I might need further surgery, maybe even orthodonture. Sensing I was not immediately receptive to the suggestion (I’m 68), he assured me he would try to see what he could do to resolve my problem by other, unspecified means.

I was given prescriptions for antiseptic mouthwash, antibiotics, pain pills and an instruction sheet, which he reviewed with me. I was dispatched to the desk where a dour clerk relieved my credit card of several thousand dollars and an appointment was made for my return. I was unsure which step was the actual cleaning of my “deep pockets.”

I was free to go home to rinse and ponder how deeply capitalism has penetrated our lives how each of us has become the terrain of an ongoing treasure hunt, mapped by increasingly sophisticated, “non-invasive” imaging technology. A dizzying array of specialists explores our bodies searching for any imperfections that might be corrected, so that each of us can conform to a preconceived, pseudo-scientific ideal.

“There’s gold in them thar” gums, lungs, hearts, feet, backs, bones, skin or any other body part partitioned off for reconnoitering and quarrying. Especially in geezers like me.

“Golden years” has taken on a new meaning in light of modern capitalist medicine. My physical decline now provides a way for dynamic medical entrepreneurs to mobilize armies of attendants and “create jobs,” the highest social good in our dark times. Seniors like me have a new social role, stimulating a stagnant economy by plodding from visit to visit.

There is no issue of malpractice or malfeasance here, no individual wrongdoing, no violation of accepted community standards of care. Rather the whole of medical practice is dominated by the capitalist ethic: Like Mother Earth, everything – and everyone – is a dead resource to be exploited for private gain.

Of Union Dreams and Nightmares: Cesar Chavez and Why Funding Matters

Once upon a time, in the most hostile of organizing environments, Cesar Chavez and his farm workers movement successfully mobilized workers and their communities against a powerful array of unaccountable corporate forces in a historic fight for social justice. Chavez initially succeeded where others failed and forced the most powerful industry in California to negotiate with the state’s poorest workers. His life’s work in building the United Farm Workers union is now memorialized in American history. President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan was inspired by Chavez’s rallying cries in the fields, while as President, Obama went on to proclaim March 31 as the national Cesar Chavez Day. Nevertheless, fame and dedication to a good cause are not enough to invoke immunity from criticism, so it is important to scrutinize Chavez’s serious shortcomings, as part of a broader attempt to understand why his decades of organising in the fields ultimately floundered.

Frank Bardacke’s book, Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers (2011), provides an insightful reckoning of the conflicting pressures that eventually undermined Chavez’s union. One of the many external forces that simultaneously facilitated both union successes (in the short-term) and failures (in the long-term) was the ever-present pressures generated by the need for funding. Many financial lessons for how activists can sustain powerful movements for social change can be gleaned from the example of the United Farm Workers, but the significant interventions of elite philanthropists into Chavez’s organizing — alongside the cynical manipulations of conservative trade union bureaucrats — must be factored in to any such observations. This is why Erica Kohl-Arenas’ important contribution to this field of research, The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty (2015) should be considered a must-read for all trade unionists and social justice activists. Drawing primarily upon these two books, along with the biographical interrogations carried out by Miriam Pawel, this essay seeks to draw attention to the enduring problems of financing democratic movements for progressive change.

Drilling to the root of the divisions caused by elite financing of working-class activism, it is important to reflect upon the organizations and people which provided guidance to Chavez’s initial community organizing work. The key individual to be considered in this regard is Fred Ross, a founder of the Community Service Organization (CSO) – a project which had been set-up by Saul Alinksy’s Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in 1947. Ross was the first person to recognize Chávez’s potential as a fellow-organizer when their paths crossed in 1952, and Ross quickly recruited him to paid employment with his CSO — a position that Chávez maintained for the next decade. These formative years are integral to understanding Chavez’s later developments: “Not everything that Alinksy and Ross taught Chavez in the years between his twenty-fifth and thirty-fifth birthday stuck, but understanding Alinskyism is one way of making sense of Cesar Chavez and the foundational architecture of the United Farm Workers.” (Trampling Out the Vintage) For a little informative background on the funding of this early activism, KohlArenas’ writes:

“By the 1950s, Alinsky had become one of the premier thinkers and practitioners of neighborhood-based community organizing. Despite Alinsky’s popularity in the 1950s, he was refused funding by both the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations based on the “political nature” of his approach to building power among local residents to confront unequal opportunity structures. However, through Alinsky’s connections at the University of Chicago, the Emil Schwarzhaupt Foundation generously funded him and the CSO.”

During this period the Schwarzhaupt Foundation also provided much-needed funding to the Highlander Folk School, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Migrant Ministry, but the “main recipient [of their largesse] was Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation.”

“Starting in April 1953, the IAF received a direct grant of $150,000, which in the next ten years expanded to $608,486. More money went to other organizations and groups that had ties to Alinsky but were not directly funded by the IAF. Add it all up, and over a twelve-year period of intense giving nearly $3 million of Schwarzhaupt’s fortune went to fund Alinskyism.” (Trampling Out the Vintage)

Social movement philanthropy was certainly not commonplace in the early fifties (as it would become increasingly so following in the wake of sixties radicalism), as “liberal, corporate foundation money primarily went to institutional intellectuals or charity operations.” There was however a good reason why foundation money flowed to Alinsky and his numerous community-based projects, and this was because his work was seen as an alternative means of organizing for social justice in ways that bypassed the explicitly political class-based approaches to social change. The usefulness of such activism as a counter to socialist organizing is provided in Alinksy’s famous book Reveille for Radicals (1946) where his counsel for activists seeking to tackle the increasingly right-wing turn of trade unions leaders was simply to organise outside of them: “Another obvious alternative – for workers to fight within their unions for democratic unionism – is not even mentioned.” Thus, “Despite Alinksky’s rhetorical accent on democracy, this approach left Cesar Chavez ill-equipped to think about the actual dynamics of union democracy.” (Trampling Out the Vintage)

Gabriel Thompson’s historical overview of Alinsky-styled activism, America’s Social Arsonist: Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth Century (2016), actually puts concerns over both outside funding and the related middle-class orientation of the CSO as one of the key factors that led to Chavez’s resignation from Ross’s CSO in 1962. “It didn’t matter that, earlier in the day, the CSO had approved a plan to form a ‘Farm Labor Committee’ or that a wealthy private citizen, sympathetic to farmworkers, had agreed to donate fifty thousand dollars for the cause. Chavez wanted freedom. Money would come, if it came, later.” Thompson then concludes that “the need to not be constrained by funders” as demonstrated by this split provides the clearest example of Alinsky’s influence upon Chavez. But this analysis is not really accurate, as Alinsky and Ross’s own activism was always constrained, despite their best efforts, by their funders. In fact in 1962, Ross’s own CSO work was hanging in the balance on the basis of continued funding from the Schwarzhaupt Foundation.

Of course this fundamental problem is not entirely sidestepped by Thompson who later drew attention to the perennial “problem of money. The CSO, like nearly every organizing group save labor unions,” Thompson wrote, “could never find a way to pay for itself.” Moreover, besides the CSO’s “money woes” Thompson highlights “a bigger issue, which is that by the early 1960s the CSO lacked an overarching mission – and it was this vacuum that the middle-class moderates filled.” These problems, linked to outside funding, are precisely the reasons why socialists (like myself) maintain that it is critical that social change should be funded by concerned activists (be they trade unionists or otherwise) not philanthropic elites. Either way although Ross remained in the employ of Alinsky’s broad network for the next few years he attempted to get some cash diverted in Chavez’s direction, but Alinsky “didn’t believe farmworkers could be organized, and he rejected the request”. Despite this opposition Ross would still attend the founding convention of Chavez’s Farm Worker Association (on September 30, 1962), and later in the sixties would become a key aide within Chavez’s movement.

Money was clearly always at the centre of debates with the farm workers movement, but contrary to Chavez’s ongoing claims about financial independence, during its early years vital support for his Farm Worker Association (FWA) was derived from the Californian Migrant Ministry (CMM), which itself was supported by the Schwarzhaupt Foundation.

“The support started slowly. In the early 1960s, the CMM had a budget of about $100,000 a year. It bought the FWA its first mimeograph machine and Cesar some meals and gas. When Migrant Minister were assigned to be trained by Chavez, they worked as his assistants. Although Chavez pointedly never took money from the CMM for his own salary, the Migrant Ministry would sometimes pay the salary of other FWA organizers. This began in late 1964…  At one time in the mid-sixties there were twenty-six of these worker priests, most of them with little religious background at all, working under the UFW’s directions.” (Trampling Out the Vintage)

To reiterate the developing contradictions within the farm workers movement: the early stated ethos of Chavez’s organizing ventures was clear:

“Having studied the failures of past attempts to organize migrant farm labor, Chavez believed that organizing workers in a traditional union would never work. Instead, in keeping with his CSO training and his Catholic upbringing, and inspired by his contemporaries Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, Chavez sought to organize farmworkers as a cultural and religious people, situated in their geographic communities, into a social movement. Central to the early philosophy of the movement was the spirit of volunteerism, community service, and collective ownership. According to Dolores Huerta, the main organizing principle emphasized the importance of an all-volunteer, dues-paying membership: ‘There was a strong belief in not taking money from the outside and in insisting that farmworkers pay and volunteer for the movement…’ ” (The SelfHelp Myth)

Through sheer hard work and persistence during their first two years Chavez, Huerta, and a small group of volunteer organizers travelled door to door, organizing endless house meetings, and in doing so were able to recruit membership-paying field workers. Early Farm Worker Association advocate Don Villarejo, recalled that the movement “would not take a dime of money from outside their own pockets—if there was any money or meaning in the movement it had to be based in workers.” (The SelfHelp Myth) Yet even at this early stage Chavez recognized the “benefits” that could be accrued to his organizing efforts if they accepted external funding. Thus, in late 1964:

“Chavez, the pragmatist, was willing to jettison one of his cardinal rules: don’t take outside money. The application submitted to OEO [Office of Economic Opportunity] asked for more than $200,000 to create seventy jobs, sixty-three for farmworkers who would work in the credit union, start a cooperative, and run a gas station. Chavez, as director, would receive a salary of $15,000.” — Miriam Pawel, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography (2014)

During its initial years the Farm Worker Association attempted to build from the tradition of mutualistas, a community self-help model popular in the 1920s and 1930s in Mexico. This desire for self-help meshed well with Chavez’s desire to work outside of traditional methods of union organizing; but soon his Association had to evolve to keep up with other developments in the fields. In this manner the union model of organizing was “quickly thrust” on the Association in 1965…

“…when the mostly Filipino-American members of the AFL-CIO– supported Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), led by Larry Itliong, walked out on strike against grape growers in the Delano area. Under pressure from AWOC and their own members, Chavez’s mostly Latino NFWA decided to join AWOC and was unexpectedly thrown into a five-year grape strike. In the course of only a few months, the dogged door-to-door community organizing and mutual aid approach quickly transformed into the largest union movement of its time.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

External union cash soon came flowing in from Walter Reuther, the president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), which then progressed to direct support from the AFL-CIO: that is, after Chavez’s Association’s merger with AWOC led to the formation of the newly named United Farm Workers of America (which later changed name to become the United Farm Workers, UFW, in 1972). The money that now became available for grassroots organizing was growing by the day and far outstripped union dues. So considering the founding ideals of this still developing farmworkers movement, it is not surprising that some of their “key leaders” were wary of the political implications of external funding, especially that from outside the trade union movement. Illustrating the paradoxical nature of the centrality of financial issues, it is significant that this problem was also raised by groups that were wholly reliant on philanthropic benefactors themselves.

“Despite its own funding from the National Council of Churches and the Max L. Rosenberg Foundation, Migrant Ministry argued that publicly and privately funded self-help housing and infrastructure programs risked co-opting the advocacy and organizing potential of the movement. Regardless of the moral and political stance against outside funds, movement leaders changed their minds when they found out that multiple farmworker-serving organizations were receiving large grants from the OEO’s War on Poverty. According to lead organizer Gilbert Padilla in an interview with Marshall Ganz, Chavez feared that if ‘the NFWA did not get the OEO funds, others would who might not share the NFWA’s organizing agenda… and by reversing itself on rejection of outside money, the NFWA tried to preempt claims of others who might use funds in less productive ways.’ ”

“In 1965, only a year after claiming that public funds would corrupt a volunteer led farmworker movement, the NFWA applied for an OEO grant of $500,000. The NFWA was forced to return these funds amid protest among growers and mainstream stakeholders who were upset that the OEO was supporting strikes and unionization. However, by 1966, the movement was seeking support from private funders, resulting in a heated debate on the limits to farmworker self-help and the incorporation of the private, nonprofit movement institutions to which Chavez eventually retreated.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

The Ford Foundation-backed initiatives in California, of which the most visible was their “War on Poverty” Community Action Projects (CAPs), were at the time dominated by affiliates of the American Friends Service Committee. Millions of dollars flooded into these CAPs from the government, while simultaneously the government’s ODO funders “began to reign in CAP staff eager to join the strikes and vetoed poverty funding that had anything to do with organizing farmworkers.” (The SelfHelp Myth) These efforts to control their activist staff did not always play out as planned, and the ODO-initiated California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) – whose employees included Jerry Cohen, who went on to become the farmworkers primary lawyer — maintained close working relationships with Chavez’s movement despite the best-efforts of their government paymasters. (This intimate link is not unsurprising as Chavez himself was included upon California Rural Legal Assistance’s board of directors when they had been set-up in 1966.)

With the increasing pressures of so many conflicting forces bearing down upon union organizing efforts, “Chavez and a small group of preacher activists from Migrant Ministry redirected decision-making away from workers toward a centralized leadership after the strike went public.” With the flow of money drying up for the more radical CAPs, new streams of funding would soon bolster farm worker activism from groups like the Citizens’ Crusade Against Poverty (CCAP). This CCAP had been initiated in late 1964 by soon-to-be allies of the farm workers which included Walter Reuther, Senator Robert Kennedy, and the former OEO director Richard Boone. The Ford Foundation had provided the grant to launch CCAP and movement leaders including Huerta, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bayard Rustin were quickly drawn in to reside on the organizations board of directors. With a $4 million four-year commitment from Ford, money now began to cascade more freely:

“A CCAP grant to the UFW in 1967 introduced the farmworker movement to program staff at both the Ford Foundation and the Field Foundation, both major funders from 1967 through the early 1970s. Headed up by Reuther, CCAP granted the UFW $200,000 to train emerging farmworker leaders in the Central Valley through the UFW’s then unincorporated National Farm Worker Service Center (NFWSC). The UFW hired Fred Ross (CSO founder and longtime ally) to develop and implement a training program in which farmworker leaders would learn how to organize and represent farmworkers to local agencies. Ross was also charged with establishing the NFWSC as a viable institution to serve the needs of local farmworkers. After only one year of the UFW/NFWSC/Fred Ross training program, the CCAP informed the UFW that the Ford Foundation was ending funding to CCAP. With additional funds from the Ford Foundation, a new organization called the Center for Community Change (CCC) was founded to absorb OEO- and CCAP-related projects.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

As part of ongoing efforts to channel external funds into the movement, in 1966 Chavez’s union set-up the National Farm Worker Service Center which received its “first large grant… through the Ford Foundation for the CCAP organizer-training program.” In 1969, the Centre was subsequently able to be directly funded by philanthropic foundations (like Ford) when it was formally incorporated as a nonprofit organization, but this change led to unforeseen problems that “limit[ed] the kind of farmworker self-help that was possible.” Hence, “Strict lines were quickly drawn between the social service work and economic justice organizing.” Here it should be noted, that the unions increasingly problematic “relationship with private funders, particularly the Field Foundation, paved the way for the retreat from organizing to a nonprofit institutional model—a space that became all too comfortable when crisis intensified within movement leadership and in the fields.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

“After the 1969 incorporation as a 501(c)(3) organization, several private foundations, including the Ford Foundation, granted support to the service center for more farmworker service programming (for example, the creation of a community school and a clinic) and general administrative support. All of these programs fell within the acceptable logic of philanthropic self-help. Unlike the early mutual aid and cooperative associations, which were owned and led by farmworkers and poor migrant families, these programs depended on resources from outside stakeholders. They also focused primarily on how farmworkers could help themselves improve their own behaviors and conditions, without challenging individual growers or the structure of the agricultural industry. The revolutionary interpretation of mutual aid to foster self-determination and ownership, and the subsequent union approach, were both replaced by a more traditional charitable model.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

That the need to attract funding affected the political priorities of the union is obvious, which is why, over the years, members continually opposed Chavez and his Executive on such matters. In regular, democratic unions the majority, if not all, of the organizations funding is reliant upon membership dues, but prior to 1969, “dues were no more than 16 percent” of union income. (Trampling Out the Vintage) In particular, this delinking of the union leadership from its membership base meant that it was foundation money not the workers themselves who would play an important role in building farmworker leadership and institutions. But while Chavez had “initially assumed that private funding could also be used to support strikes, boycott, and union organizing,” it soon became clear that this was not the case. “Through highly charged debates documented in print mail correspondence, foundation program officers convinced Chavez that foundation grants to the movement could not include union organizing or confrontation with the agricultural industry.” As a result of these barriers to action, Chavez channelled such external funds to less confrontational service work; changes which wrought a large effect on the political priorities of the union.

Foundation grants kept flowing during the 1970s for the National Farm Worker Service Center along with the seven additional nonprofit organizations that were eventually founded by the union leadership; and it is true that managing this money presented different challenges in the form of “bureaucratic inundation” for Chavez and his largely uncritical cadre of union activists. “Consumed with developing his new organizations, Chavez ultimately accepted a foundation-approved translation of farmworker self-help that featured poor field hands in need of philanthropic charity—but not a movement in struggle for self-determination, labor rights, and collective ownership among workers.” Arguably it was exactly these additional unforeseen problems that “eventually distracted movement leadership from union organizing when the movement faced its most severe challenges.”

What makes these problems all the more vexing is that during his lifetime Chavez was never held accountable for his many mistakes. This was in large part because the entire farm workers’ movement rested upon Chavez’s own mythmaking. We should of course be realistic about the weighty political pressures that were brought to bear upon Chavez as his organization gradually became more dependent on external benefactors with ulterior motives. The remedy for such perennial problems, which face all organizations (big or small), would have been the promotion of internal democracy within his union. But we should recognize that from the start Chavez never really had much time for internal democracy.

Ongoing state surveillance from the FBI no doubt increased Chavez’s paranoia in the context of his long internal fight against union members of his union harbouring democratic inclinations; and on this score it is notable that the FBI never unearthed any evidence of Communist infiltration into the union. The lack of such a so-called Communist threat however did not quiet Chavez’s own desire to revive the worst elements of McCarthyism. “For Chavez, red-baiting became a convenient excuse to get rid of people who asked too many questions, grumbled about the drudgery of picket work, objected to the AFL-CIO alliance, broke up marriages, exhibited too much independence, or drew too much attention to themselves.” “As Fred Hirsch had pointed out as early as 1968, Chavez viewed almost everyone as expendable.” (The Crusades of Cesar Chavez) When Fred reluctantly parted company with the union in the wake of raising his democratic concerns, he left his teenage daughter, Liza, living with Chavez and his family. Liza then stuck it out with Chavez (her mentor) until 1978 when she was unceremonious ejected from the union after attempting to stick up for a fellow activist whom Chavez had arranged to be arrested by the local police: “Chavez denounced Liza as a Communist and ordered her thrown out.” (The Crusades of Cesar Chavez) This was just the latest in a long string of expulsions and resignations, and Chavez’s unaccountability continued to have a toxic effect as far as far as the future of the union was concerned.

In addition to his daily obsession with communist troublemakers, Chavez’s destabilizing paranoia asserted itself it other ways too, like when he accused the flood of undocumented workers from Mexico into the Californian fields as being part of a devious “CIA operation.” At this historical juncture of CIA ranting, in 1974, Chavez evidently had faith in Liza Hirsch’s obedience to his rule, and he set her the task of coordinating the unions controversial “Illegals Campaign,” which sought to report illegal immigrants to the authorities. Here it is interesting that in that same year, Fred Hirsch had published a short book entitled The Foreign Policy of the AFL-CIO in Latin America: or Under the Covers with the C.IA. The release of this ground-breaking text is relevant here because it illustrated how, from 1962 onwards, the right-wing leadership of the AFL-CIO had colluded with the U.S. government and the CIA to create the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD): the goal of this Institute was to promote business unionism in opposition to radical democratic alternatives across the world. Fred’s volume focused particularly on “the part AIFLD took in the bloody termination of the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende in Chile.”

In 2011, Fred wrote a thoughtful essay reflecting upon this real-life conspiracy titled “Did Ties to CIA-Labor Penetration Abroad Blowback at Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union?” As he points out:

“One strong factor for the decline of the United Farm Workers Union may have derived from its celebrity among good liberals, the awesome allegiance of genuinely humane church people and its early-on dependence on the financial support and “guidance” of George Meany’s AFL-CIO. Chavez came to be dependent upon outside financing for the work of the Union. Without the generosity of progressive and religious groups, and regular checks from the AFL-CIO, the growth and power of the UFW would have had to depend upon the farm workers themselves in a democratic, self-sustaining, dues paying union.”

Although he didn’t realize its significance at the time, Fred recalled how during his time in the fields with the United Farm Workers a delegation of foreign trade unionists from the Vietnamese Confederation of Labor paid them a fleeting visit: “It was the official labor organization that operated at the pleasure of the CIA and in service to Presidents Ngo Dinh Diem and Nguyen Cao Ky.” Although Fred is unclear of the exact date, in either 1974 or 1976, he subsequently met with Chavez to warn him of the vile practices that taken place in Chile, and were still being undertaken elsewhere, by the CIA and AFL-CIO leadership (without the knowledge of the AFLO-CIO’s membership).

“Cesar did not say whether or not he cooperated with such AIFLD visits. He was, however, uncharacteristically fidgety and stone-faced. He made no commitment to act on the information.  We would not expect so intelligent a leader, a man so publicly committed to non-violence, to allow his organization to be tied to the corporate friendly schemes of the Nixon administration through AIFLD. More than three thousand men and women many selected from an AIFLD list of “subversives.” Many or most of those who were killed following the overthrow of democracy in Chile by Pinochet were progressive trade unionists like many of us. They were made martyrs for their names being put on a list.”

Chavez took no heed of Fred’s warnings, and worse still, in 1977, Chavez visited the Philippines to endorse the right-wing dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his associated CIA-backed Trade Union Congress of the Philippines. This disastrous trip was undertaken not without substantial opposition from other leaders and members of his union, all of whose warning were vehemently denied by Chavez. The serious nature of the problems raised by Chavez’s dalliance with a bloody dictator are also briefly touched upon in Trampling Out the Vintage, where particular attention is focused on some of the many reasons why the AFL-CIO benefited from diverting so much funding and energy towards Chavez’s ever-popular union of dreams.

“Chavez provided [George] Meany with progressive cover for his steadfast opposition to most rank-and-file organizing and his long-term betrayal of American liberals. Chavez came relatively cheap when compared with all that had to be ignored or forgotten: Meany’s failure to support an organizing drive in the South following the civil rights movement; his opposition to affirmative action in his federated unions; his support for the war in Vietnam; and his tacit support of Nixon against McGoven. Chavez’s need was more direct. Having lost about 80 percent of his membership to the Teamsters, he needed political and financial support to rebuild, and he had to win that help from a man who disagreed with the way Chavez did business. They negotiated intermittently. Chavez’s need was more profound, so Meany could extract favors: La Paz would be on the itinerary of various Latin American labor leaders who were being wooed by the AFL-CIO’s CIA-aided operation, the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD); Chavez would refrain from criticizing Meany to West Coast reporters; the UFW would contribute to the AFL-CIO fund for Israel and issue a statement of support for Israel in the aftermath of the 1973 war.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, pp.460-1)

Such untoward manoeuvrings on the part of conservative misleaders of the American trade union movement were also played out in the longstanding relationship between the United Farm Workers and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) (which “still had pretences as the standard bearer of ‘social unionism,’ as opposed to Meany’s ‘business unionism’”) – first under the influence of Walter Reuther and then by his successor Leonard Woodcock. Yet at the end of the day:

“The UAW’s reasons for supporting the UFW were not too different from those of its old rival, Meany. In a series of Detroit wildcat strikes in 1973, UAW officials had led the opposition to the strikers, hoping to secure their own position as junior partners of the Big Three auto manufacturers. In the last wildcat strike at Chrysler, endorsed by leaders of the UAW local at the struck plant, more than 1,000 UAW officials, many wielding baseball bats, attacked the picket line and broke up the strike. That finished off the rebellion within the UAW, and brought a symbolic end to the short era of U.S. rank-and-file militancy. At a UAW conventions nine months later, however, in an attempt to assure others (and themselves) that they were still progressive unionists, many of these same bat-swinging officials endorsed Woodcock’s decision to fund the UFW and gave their guest speaker, Chavez, a series of standing ovations.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, pp.461-2)

The democratic trade union myth that is Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers persists to this day, and that is all well and good if it can persuade more people to fight for a better world with the aid of the trade union movement. But what is clear is that the membership of Chavez’s union lies in tatters in no small part because of his failure to allow democracy to flourish,[1] and by his inability to resist being used as a tool by elite forces external to his union, whether they be the right-wing bureaucracy of the AFL-CIO or that of the liberal philanthropic community.

Michael Barker is the author of Under the Mask of Philanthropy (2017).


[1] “By the early 2000s, UFW membership had shrunk to under 5,000, yet movement organizations were collectively receiving more than $1 million a year for service and educational programs, from funders including the California Endowment, the Packard Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Unfortunately, from the late 1970s to the present day, scandals of fraud, nepotism, and mismanagement have plagued the movement institutions.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

“Let Venezuela give me a way of serving her, she has in me a son.”

During a 1959 speech in Caracas, just 23 days after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz, with the clairvoyance that always characterized him said:

“Venezuela is the richest country in America, Venezuela has formidable people, formidable leaders, both civil and military; Venezuela is the home of El Libertador, where the idea of unification among all peoples of America was conceived. Venezuela must be the leading country of the union among all peoples of America; they are supported and respected by us Cubans. “

It would take 40 years for Venezuela to occupy that privileged place in the history of Latin America. And it was Hugo Chavez -the most faithful heir of Simon Bolivar’s ideas – who, with his volcanic force, promoted a geopolitical change in our continent in favor of progressive and left ideas. Since the beginning of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 we hadn´t seen anyone like him. The ideas of integration and unity between our peoples and governments had never had taken this path and just as Fidel had warned in 1959, only Venezuela, by its history, geographical position and natural wealth, could give a revolutionary impulse of this magnitude to history.

From that moment, the Bolivarian Revolution became the main regional challenge for the imperial interests of the ruling class in the United States, and Washington began to direct its main attacks with some minor adjustments during the Bush administration, then it continue during Obama’s, and, now with the new government of Donald Trump. It is a history of besiege and aggression similar to what the Cuban people suffered by decades, and experienced by the government of Salvador Allende in Chile and so many of the alternative projects that have been faced by the imperial logic imposed by the capitalist system.

The people and government of Venezuela have given heroic evidence of resistance and struggle. At the same President Nicolás Maduro, has become more of a giant because of his courage, sense of dignity and patriotism. We have not seen in him the slightest shadow of defeatism, weariness or weakness before the obstacles and attacks of US imperialism, as well as some of its regional lackeys and oligarchs at their service.

Today’s only possible alternative for the revolutionaries of the world is to be hand in hand with the Bolivarian Revolution and President Maduro. This is the best tribute we could give to Fidel and Chávez, along with the definite consecration of the ideas on integration and the union of our peoples. If we become divided we will be devoured. The Latin American and Caribbean history of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s is the most palpable example of this indisputable truth, just like Fidel warned in that memorable speech:

“… if we want to save America, if we want to save the freedom of each of our societies, that after all is a part of a great society, which is the Latin American society; If we want to save the revolution of Cuba, the revolution of Venezuela and the revolution of all the countries of our continent, we have to become closer and solidly support ourselves, because if we are alone and divided we will fail.”

Considering the new imperial-oligarchic onslaught against Venezuela, my message is the same one that Jose Marti once wrote “Let Venezuela give me a way of serving her, she has in me a son.”

Elier Ramirez Cañedo is a historian. Edits the blog Dialogar,Dialogar, of the Hermanos Saíz Association. He is a member of the Network of Intellectuals, Artists and Social Movements in Defense of Humanity, in Cuba.