Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution

Photo by Juhan Sonin | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Juhan Sonin | CC BY 2.0

Democrats have 201 members in the House of Representatives.

Of those, 71 are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has endorsed HR 676, the single payer bill in the House.

As of this writing, HR 676 has 70 sponsors and co-sponsors.

But fully 25 House members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are not signed onto the bill.

(They are — Ruben Gallego (Arizona), Maxine Waters (California), Nanette Barragan (California), Jared Polis (Colorado), Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut), Lisa Blunt Rochester (Delaware), Val Demings (Florida), Lois Frankel (Florida), Frederica Wilson (Florida), Andre Carson (Indiana), Dave Loebsack (Iowa), Anthony Brown (Maryland), Joseph Kennedy (Massachusetts), Debbie Dingell (Michigan), Ruben Kihuen (Nevada), Carol Shea Porter (New Hampshire), Frank Pallone (New Jersey), Nydia Velazquez (New York), Carolyn Maloney (New York), Adriana Espaillat (New York), Peter DeFazio (Oregon), David Cicilline (Rhode Island), Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas), Lloyd Doggett (Texas) and Don Beyer (Virginia).)

And the only Senate member of the Progressive Caucus — Bernie Sanders — is dragging his feet on introducing a companion single payer bill in the Senate.

Recalcitrant Democrats say they are too busy defending Obamneycare to get behind single payer.

Typical is Progressive Caucus member Don Beyer who said that while he has voiced support for single payer in the past, his immediate priority is “protecting the health care achievements of President Obama.”

There is a history here, of course.

Back in 2009, a young single payer activist, Nick Skala, ran into the same kind of stonewall from the Progressive Caucus, when he presented the case for single payer.

He was told that his presentation in favor of single payer and against the public option was seen as an attack on the Progressive Caucus.

Democrats are in danger of being sucked into the Obamneycare death spiral.

What could emerge is a new political movement that will sweep away the Democratic Party and sweep single payer into law.

Some Bernie Sanders supporters, like Nick Brana (draftbernie.org) see this coming and are urging Sanders to bolt the Democratic Party and start a new people’s party.

But Sanders has endorsed Hillary Clinton for President and is now beholden to Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democratic leadership.

Texas billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been signaling recently that if he runs for President in 2020, it might be outside the Democratic Party and single payer might be his issue.

Cuban told reporters recently that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to make healthcare a right.

A reporter from PJ Media asked Cuban last week why he supports single payer.

“Everybody who has that uncertainty of not knowing if something goes really wrong in their family – what they are going to do – that goes away so, I think that makes people a lot more productive and a lot more self-sufficient,” Cuban said.

Some in the press are calling it “The Cuban Revolution.”

Tim Miller, Jeb Bush’s former spokesman, who is now a partner at a Washington, D.C., public affairs firm, told the Texas Monthly recently that if Trump does not crash and burn over the next four years, there is little chance that a traditional status-quo Democrat, such as a senator or governor, will be able to beat him in 2020.

“The only people who I think could go toe-to-toe with Trump are Michelle Obama or Mark Cuban,” Miller said.

And Mark McKinnon, the former political adviser who co-created and co-hosts Showtime’s The Circus, told the Texas Monthly that if the Democrats don’t want Cuban because of his more-conservative positions on economic policy, he would have a shot at winning as a third-party candidate.

“You need thirty million dollars to get on the ballot in every state, which wouldn’t be a problem for him,” McKinnon said. “And then he would be wide open to go mano a mano against Trump, making the case that he’s essentially a far better version of Trump, someone who’s a better businessman and who’s also got a much better, more thoughtful grasp on the issues. If the question for 2020 becomes who can out-Trump Trump, the clear and perhaps only answer is Cuban.”

McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer

I

Over the last few years, and as the corporate neoliberal project has started to unravel, the Guardian/Observer news stable has devoted a considerable amount of space to smears on re-emerging alternate sites of power, located in grassroots activism. An early example was former Labour Leader Ed Miliband’s McCarthyite ‘reds-under-the-beds’ attack on trade unionists in Falkirk, propped up by yet another New-Labour-type ‘dodgy dossier’ – the assertions of which were rejected by the police who “concluded there are insufficient grounds to support a criminal investigation at this time”.[1] This was followed by attacks against the Labour grassroots, including the Corbyn campaign group Momentum, associated Party societies, residents groups, co-operative supporters, trade unionists, and other affiliates getting subsidised membership rates – with the implication that Labour voting privileges should now be the exclusive preserve of the affluent Guardian-reading middle classes.[2]

Similarly, in the Guardian/Observer universe, peace activism of the ‘Stop the War’ movement type has been pejoratively labeled as ‘disreputable.’[3] Its editorial policy apparently presumes that Labour supporters should embrace a pro-imperialist, pro-war position or, as Labour’s social base frequently joke, a ‘Start-the-War’ movement – which is in stark contrast to the reality of the Party’s actual history and grassroots membership. For example historically, Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s Labour government kept the UK out of the Vietnam War, and some trade unions have continued to affiliate their members both to the official Party and to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Student activism of all types has also repeatedly been smeared in articles across both papers. Obviously if, for example, Black students are as successful as their grandparents in critiquing the Cecil Rhodes model of racist-imperialism, then the status of those elitist neoliberal politicians responsible for criminal debacles in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, becomes questionable, even untenable.[4]

Like many grassroots groups, students have increasingly turned their backs on the orthodoxy of neoliberal corporate media hegemony, which defines politics as a cozy deal between corporate lobbyists, bought professional politicians, their spin doctors and the journalists who regurgitate the resulting pre-packaged copy. Students in particular have been unwilling to accommodate, in their social spaces, speakers who have a hostile corporate-media-supported profile. The response by the Guardian/Observer has been to generate significant moral panics about free speech being under attack, in alleged student No-Platforming’ incidents. This is clearly an attempt to force the influence of an oppressive corporate media narrative into the social spaces that are rejecting it. It is a measure of how heavy-handed this campaign has been that feminists and fairly innocuous transgender activists have been amongst the victims caught in its crosshairs. A letter of complaint about this moral panic and its attacks on student political protest signed by hundreds of feminist supporters was published in the Observer.[5] After being smeared for allegedly ‘no platforming’ celebrity campaigner Peter Tatchell, transgender activists supported by more than a hundred signatories felt the need to sidestep Guardian/Observer hegemony by taking this specific aspect of their complaint to the pages of Pink News.[6] Perhaps this was because hypocritically, the Guardian/Observer’s own willingness to reciprocate by allowing fair equal representation on its pages is strictly limited?

II

Despite its ‘free-speech-under-attack’ smears, the Guardian/Observer practices its own racist form of ‘No-Platforming’ where – even in its ‘hard news’ sections – criticism of Israel particularly by Black and/or Muslim Britons is labeled as a form of bigotry often accompanied by demands that the ‘perpetrator’ be driven from public life. The most recent victims have been women of colour. Naz Shah, a Labour MP of Pakistani origin, has been headlined as anti-semitic after a two-year-old Facebook post of hers was found, which fancifully expressed a desire for Israel to be relocated to the US. That members of Black diasporas might yearn for a Middle East prior to white western imperialist intrusion, is hardly surprising. Israel is a society only recently invented by the genocidal colonial conquest of Europeans, Russians, White Americans and White South-Africans who were non-indigenous to the region, and some of whom who were obviously on their second attempt at segregationist white settler society exploitation.

Previously and inside the first week of her tenure, the National Union of Students first Black and Muslim woman president Malia Bouattia and critic of Zionism was similarly smeared. She has had the label anti-semitism put next to her name in a number of Guardian headlines and this process seems to be ongoing. So far neither she nor Naz Shah has been found to have expressed any pejorative views about Jews. Neither woman has expressed sympathies that even exceed that of the late Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela who stated “If one has to refer to any of the parties as a terrorist state, one might refer to the Israeli government, because they are the people who are slaughtering defenseless and innocent Arabs in the occupied territories, and we don’t regard that as acceptable”[7] and “We identify with the PLO because, just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self determination.… Arafat is a comrade in arms.”[8] But both women have been smeared anyway.

III

These smears and contextual omissions are part of a broader conservative revisionist rebooting of the news-outlets’ worldview. Absent from the Guardian/Observer’s editorial practice of equating criticism of Israel with anti-semitism is any sense of the country’s dubious standing within the global human rights community. Israel is a society that another Noble Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has repeatedly compared to Apartheid South Africa.[9] UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard described it as “an apartheid regime … worse than the one that existed in South Africa.”[10] Kgalema Motlanthe, the Deputy President of South Africa and of the African National Congress described the Israeli occupation as creating conditions worse than “for Blacks under the Apartheid regime.”[11] In October 2012, Baleka Mbete Chairman of the ANC also used the words “far worse than apartheid South Africa”[12] Moshé Machover of Matzpen, the Israeli Socialist Organization has gone further, saying, “Apartheid can be reversed. Ethnic cleansing is immeasurably harder to reverse; at least not in the short or medium term.”[13] These findings have been supported by Jewish activists, academic intellectual Noam Chomsky, and investigative journalist Max Blumenthal.[14] In the current climate of corporate media McCarthyism, all these prominent voices could now expect to be smeared as anti-semites.

In the case of the two most recent female victims smeared, the fact that the neoliberal end of the corporate media expects that Black women should be somehow ‘compelled’ to identify with Israel – a country in whose non-tourist areas they’d be justifiably fearful of walking – raises a number of issues of racist editorial policy. First, there is obviously a practice of privileging a specific ethnic-religious ‘point-of-view’ within Guardian/Observer hard news coverage. Second, there is also a news management policy which deliberately either censors or dismantles reports of Israel’s ongoing racist policy offences into isolated single-incident examples with no relationship to previous historical and repeated ongoing transgressions. However, once you start to reintegrate the data available even from within the corporate media, then the exceptionalist nature of Guardian/Observer smears – even in the context of broader media’s pro-Israel ‘anti-semitism’ moral panics – and the racist enormity of what women-of-colour in particular, are expected to tolerate, becomes all too apparent. Israel is a society built upon genocidal white western expansionism. Even leaving aside the ‘ethnic cleansing’ horrors of the Palestinian experience, Israel’s victims are largely Black and Indigenous and – contrary to corporate media anti-semitism narratives – these involve processes whereby Jews also racially oppress other Jews.

Violence against Ethiopian Jews in Israel – including that committed by the police – is a fact of life. Even after a 2015 incident in which a white police officer shown on film assaulting an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier became international news, the culprit as usual escaped prosecution. The Guardian highlighted the race riots provoked by the incident but referred to the attack as a “scuffle” – even Murdoch/Fox-owned Sky News permitted the word ‘assaulted’ in their coverage – and the Guardian further failed to cover the subsequent scandal caused by the lack of judicial prosecution.[15] By contrast, the resulting particularly newsworthy protests were carried by the Jerusalem Post, ynetnews.com, the Times of Israel, and other news outlets.[16] Unsurprisingly, the report on racism in Israel presented to the UN by the researcher David Sheen and the resulting numerous postings of video footage of mob intimidation and violence against Africans in the country, was never allowed into the news-outlets’ coverage either.[17]

For many years donations of so-called ‘black blood’ by Ethiopian Jews have been dumped by Israel’s hospitals and Red Cross. In 1996 this provoked the race riots covered by the Independent newspaper, the New York Times and other news outlets.[18] In 2013 a protest by the country’s main Ethiopian-Jewish politician highlighted this practice and kept it in international public scrutiny – subsequently featuring in the Daily Beast, the Times of Israel, Haaretz, ynetnews.com and elsewhere.[19] Despite many years of controversy, the Guardian only finally touched the story – after international embarrassment forced Israeli President Shimon Peres into condemning the practice – when it then could be conveniently spun as rapprochement.[20] A comparison between western white settler society Israel and the multi-cultural UK demonstrates both the oddity of the Guardian’s years of absented coverage of this scandal, and the obvious scientific medical invalidity of ‘racial’ blood segregation. The British National Health Service, as a matter of policy, rejects such segregation.[21]

Further illustrating the plight of Africans in Israel, both The Jerusalem Post and Ynew.com conceded that Ethiopian Jews – who are disproportionately constrained to menial support jobs – were faced with neighbourhoods operating ‘whites only’ housing policies.[22] Again this was not integrated into Guardian/Observer’s overall ongoing coverage of Israel. Far more disturbingly, and echoing Nazi eugenics policies, Forbes, Haaretz and even the Guardian have all had to acknowledge that Ethiopians in Israel were subjected to regular forced injections of the long-acting contraceptive drug Depo-Provera – a policy of temporary sterilization – that deliberately plummeted Ethiopian-Israeli reproductive rates by at least 20%.[23] There is no evidence of any other western country which accepted Ethiopian refugees pursuing such a policy. One might hope that a story with such Nazi-like implications would feature on the front page of a so-called progressive newspaper, but in the Guardian it was largely buried on its inner pages. Imagine the front-page media storm if the ethnic identities of victim/perpetrator had been inverted.

To the brutal racism experienced by Ethiopians and Bedouins and obviously the Apartheid horrors of Palestinian life, we can also add the ugly discrimination experienced by indigenous Jews such as the Sephardi/Mizrahi. The complaints of these groups now feature on their own ethnic-themed websites and have even been explored on certain peripheral corporate media outlets such as Haaretz. The Huffington Post’s David Shasha also returns to this issue periodically. On different occasions he has complained of “the evisceration of the traditional Sephardic Jewish heritage,” and written “most Israelis saw them as culturally and intellectually ‘backward,’ like the Arabs in whose countries they once lived. The Israeli political system forced many Sephardim to live at the margins of society, where they often found themselves caught between the warring forces of religious extremism and imposed secularization.”[24] However, for all the performed outrage about anti-semtitism, you’ll struggle to hear about oppression of Indigenous Jews within the Guardian/Observer stable.

African-American and British-Caribbean Jews have also fallen foul of white-ethnic settler sensibilities. Israel offers citizenship to Jews from across the western world but for years has resisted allowing black converts to Judaism anything other than temporary visitors’ visas. In some cases, even these won’t be honoured. African-American Idit Malka intended to visit the country for a family event but instead found herself and her family detained at an Israeli airport for two days, and – she claims – racially insulted as a cushim (a racist Hebrew word for black people) before being deported.[25] The issue of black entry to Israel has had to be repeatedly contested on an individual case-by-case basis. In 2010 the Jewish Chronicle noted that the Caribbean Levy family from South London were denied ‘Aliyah,’ (immigration to Israel) “despite testimonials from British rabbis and intervention by Israeli lawyers on their behalf.”[26] Regardless of a recent successful campaign by the African-American Mosley family, which took very many years – and against the context of a long nurtured historic Israeli paranoia about the legitimacy of the so-called ‘Black Hebrew Community’ – it is yet unclear whether any precedent has been set, which will spare other Black families the same humiliation.[27]

Variants of this ethno-religious exclusive ideology permeate the highest levels of Israeli society. Recently Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef – who thankfully has no official government policy status – stated that “non-Jews should not be allowed to live in Israel”. Given that prior to the recent invention of Israel, Indigenous Jews, Christians, Muslims and other groups lived with varying degrees of success alongside each other for hundreds of years in the Middle East, you can only wonder what frightening strategy he has in mind for achieving this demographic realignment. However, equally concerning is his prescriptive requirement of ethno-demographic ‘exceptions’, constrained within the boundaries of Israel but compelled to live by Jewish religious law, without whom he asks “who, otherwise, will be the servants?”[28] It’s hard to read this other than as desire to create a society where there is a class of masters and then a pre-selected subordinate ethno-religious caste doomed to do nought else but serve them. Certainly a Muslim religious leader making this statement would be rigorously condemned as an extremist, which may explain why coverage of this story was to be found – albeit without any form of critical interrogation – in the Independent, but was apparently absented from the Guardian/Observer. Significantly, even Israel Defence Force Deputy Chief Major-General Yair Golan felt compelled when commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day to state “If there is something that frightens me about the remembrance of the Holocaust it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and in Germany in particular…and finding signs of them here among us, today, in 2016” (note: “revolting” could be “nauseating” depending on translation).[29] This story was covered by Haaretz, the international broadcasters Aljazeera, Deutsche Welle and many other news outlets but once again the Guardian only finally covered the story when the General was forced to backtrack after heavy criticism from Prime Minister Netanyahu – and then instead of being indicative of colonial racist intolerance, the controversy could again be spun benignly.[30]

At the level of inequality alone, and of the potential racist existential ethnic threat to those who could be mistaken for any member of the ethnic groups Israel oppresses – Ethiopian Jews, Indigenous Jews, or Palestinians – it is inexcusable that Naz Shah and Malia Bouattia should face efforts to somehow compel them to identify with Israel. As females, who could conceivably be mistaken for Palestinian women, they have other escalating issues of potential violence with which to contend. Racism in Israel also opens the door for repellent forms of gender violence. In 2014, Bar-Ilan University lecturer Mordechai Kedar publicly discussed the idea that the mothers and sisters of Palestinians who take up arms against Israel ‘could’ be raped. “The only thing that could deter a suicide bomber is knowing that if caught, his sister or his mother would be raped… the knowledge that if he pulls the trigger or blows himself up, his sister will be raped. That’s all. That’s the only thing that will bring him back home, in order to preserve his sister’s honor.” Kedar is not some peripheral figure to governmental authority but served for twenty-five years in IDF Military Intelligence. Subsequent press releases have attempted to downplay his comments, but the fact that rape is intimidating is so self-evident, that it is difficult to imagine that floating the idea was anything other than the most blatant incitement to sexual violence.[31]

Despite Mordechai Kedar’s high profile, his rape comments are omitted from the Guardian/Observer coverage. But his comments are far from an isolated form of articulation from within the dominant settler culture, having been supported by the frequently expressed public sentiment “go pound their mothers and come back to your own mother”[32] which according to Haaretz has also featured as a large banner in the town of Or Yehuda.[33] In global debate Palestinian critics and Israeli state apologists dispute whether this refers to sexual violence or gender violence but the latter explanation is no more excusable – though sadly it is an ongoing feature of the settler culture. In recent years members of the Israel Defence Force and its veterans have been caught wearing t-shirts featuring the image of pregnant Palestinian women in Israeli sniper gun-sights, logoed ‘one shot two kills’ (to glimpse this reality, enter ‘Palestinian Women Killed Checkpoints’ into your internet search-engine).   [34]

Despite all this material being available in the public domain, none of the Guardian/Observer’s coverage smearing Naz Shah and Malia Bouattia for their critical relationship to Israel points out that proximity to the country’s social spaces could pose a very real racist and misogynistic threat to their existence. It also says something about broader issues of racism, hypocrisy and Israel’s status as a site-of-power, that currently the British government, while issuing cautions to Britain’s LGBT community about the difficulties of travelling to North Carolina, broadcasts no such equivalent warning to Black Britons about the very real dangers of visiting Israel’s non-tourist areas.

IV

A significant factor in the generation of the Guardian’s ideological agenda is the lack of demarcation between its Hard News coverage, its favoured sites of power, and its own reporters who also frequently make up its public relations driven commentariat. For instance the notion of peace activism being ‘disreputable’ originates with the right-wing Blairite MP Tristam Hunt who gets to situate his smear in the Guardian with the ease of placing a gratis classified ad, which of course in a way it is. But then sometimes a smear doesn’t have to be placed because reporters are either already ideologically onboard and/or adhering to a predetermined editorial agenda. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the context of the current ‘anti-semitism’ moral panics. Here, when reporting the smears against the NUS’s Malia Bouattia, Guardian contributor Hannah Weisfeld blatantly goes to bat for the Israel lobby. “Bouattia says she has a problem with ‘Zionist politics. Zionism, at its core, is the belief in the right of the state of Israel to exist. Whether Bouattia likes it or not, connection to Israel is a key part of Jewish identity for an overwhelming majority of Jews in 21st-century Britain. In nearly every synagogue around the world, on Shabbat and major festivals, Jews pray for the safety of the state of Israel.”[35]

What is really telling about this passage is not simply that this argumentative polemical construction is infecting a Hard News story, nor is it simply that religious fundamentalism is being used to justify white settler conquest in a manner that would be regarded as intolerable in the case of violent ‘gay men should be stoned to death’ homophobia. But by comparison, if any Black and/or Muslim Briton similarly tried to excuse violent conquest and ethnic cleansing by what went on in their place of worship, the police would arrest and prosecute, and it would be demanded that a government ‘Prevent’ team be quickly in attendance. Not for the first time, you simply you have to invert a Guardian narrative, for the racism and white privilege to stand revealed. Also absent from the Guardian’s coverage, as part of its pro-Israel historical revisionist rebooting, is the fact that the very western colonialist ideology that Weisfeld is being allowed to champion here was condemned by UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 which in 1975 “determine(d) that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”[36] (this Resolution from the era of black liberationist global culture, lasted until in 1991 US President George H.W. Bush strong-armed a new UN vote).[37]

This editorial positioning even infects the material selected for the Letters sections. Reference to the actual practices of ‘Apartheid’ and ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ in Israel – unless supported by mass signatories or a contributor with a very high media profile – is becoming less and less permissible, as is the citing of pre-conquest indigenous population levels of Palestine that therefore might indicate extermination or mass displacement.[38] Words like ‘white settler’ and ‘conquest’ are starting to become taboo in favour of ‘Jewish’ and ‘Israel being formed’ designed to invert the obvious indigenous victim vs foreign aggressor representational dynamic. In the aftermath of Muhammad Ali’s death Guardian letters permitted a couple of critical tributes. No reference to Ali’s historic outspoken criticism of Zionist white settler conquest was allowed, which might have risked normalising the positions of Naz Shah or Malia Bouattia. By contrast, when supporting a pro-Israel position it’s amazing just who and what gets published on the Guardian Letters page. In August 2015 the paper printed a letter from the recently released jailed expenses thief and disgraced former MP Denis McShane who, given that he was articulating a pro-Israel position accusing Iranians of “pervasive Jew-hate” and practicing an “anti-Jewish ideology,” was now apparently to be treated as a respectable commentator.[39] The blatant flaw in McShane’s smears is that there are Iranian Jews too. As news outlets as diverse as the BBC, The Independent, and Electronic Intifada point out, Iran has the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel, numbering up to 20,000 and served by some 60 synagogues.[40] The irony is that once again, it is those invoking the smear of anti-semitism in defence of a settler culture who find it convenient to refuse to recognise the identity of indigenous Jews.

V

Black feminist academic bell hooks, in her books Talking Back (1988) and Black Looks (1992), refers to the practice, dating back to slavery, of creating a social taboo which prevents Black and Indigenous people from ‘talking back’ to challenge the authority of the dominant white group. Obviously this notion is relevant to the case of the two women caught in the Guardian’s oppressive anti-semitism moral panic. But it also appears to be a persistent tactic. After anti-semitism attacks on the historically anti-racist politician Ken Livingstone, the Black Labour MP Diane Abbott appeared on Sunday television condemning the pervasive smearing of ‘decent working-class Labour supporters’ as anti-semites. Unusually, almost every news outlet headlined the story neutrally by using her comments. The Guardian initially did the same running ‘Diane Abbott says claims of antisemitism within Labour are smear’ but within a matter of hours relabeled the link from its homepage to exactly the same story as ‘Calls for Corbyn to take tougher action after Abbott dismisses crisis as smears.’[41] This relabeling is editorialising, which manages to simultaneously imply that Abbott’s ‘talking back’ behaviour is questionable and elevate claims about anti-semitism into being a ‘crisis’ without offering any evidence of either.

This manipulative binary process of privileging a certain ethno-religious identity while suppressing legitimate black voices and grievances, becomes all the more apparent when applying any form of comparative sociological or statistical demographic analysis. Reports on racism and ethnic demographics presented by the academic, Dub poet and musician Benjamin Zephaniah on behalf of the Newham Monitor Group show that Black Britons are nearly 6 in every 100 people. By comparison we know that British Jews are 250,000 out of a population nudging 65 million – or only 1 in every 260 people, which means they are outnumbered by black Britons by a ratio of nearly 15 to 1. If we add in the number of people of Arab origin, the number of Black Britons is even higher. For convenience sake we could underestimate these numbers and call the ratio 16-1. Despite the demographic spread, the Guardian/Observer’s moral panic – as increasingly stimulated by its commentariat – exclusively focuses on the smaller, privileged middle-class, and quite obviously less oppressed white ethnic group, and constructs any criticism of white settler oppression as an offence against them.

Yet the Black experience of racism is far more significant. The Zephaniah/Newham Monitoring Group material cites multiple instances where police officers were caught on recording equipment racially abusing suspects to quote, “the problem with you is that you will always be a nigger,” telling a suspect they’ll “smash his Arab face in” and many more such incidents without any serious disciplinary action taken.[42] It’s also noted that “African-Caribbean and Asian people together make up 5.6% of the population but 16% of the prison population.” Similarly in further contrast to white middle-class Jewish life experiences, not only are Black Britons marginalised from continuing education, the better forms of employment, and housing, but they also experience very serious state and societal racist violence. In December 2015, during the period when the Guardian/Observer was concerned with the ‘alleged anti-semitism’ of the ‘talking back’ taboo-type, Black Briton Jermaine Baker was shot dead by police – his family claim – while sleeping in his car. Previously, the dubious circumstances of Black mixed-race Mark Duggan’s death at the hands of the police and subsequent media misrepresentation provoked race riots. While doing his supermarket shopping, Sikh dentist Dr Sarandev Bhambra suffered horrific injuries in an attempted beheading incident perpetrated by a racist shouting ‘white power,’ who had mistaken Dr Bhambra for a Muslim.[43] An 82-year-old Muslim, Muhammad Saleem Chaudhry was stabbed to death on his way home from Mosque in a racist attack.[44] His murderer also “planted three bombs near three mosques in the West Midlands.” Locals complained “If these had been placed by bearded Muslim men, Cobra [the government’s emergency committee] would have been enacted and the country’s media would have descended on us. Instead the media almost had to be pushed into coming along.”[45] There also has been an epidemic of attacks and abuse aimed at Muslim women, particularly those wearing the Niqab – even to the extent that a man boasted on twitter of abusing a Muslim woman after the Paris attacks.[46] Plus, two successful further arson attacks on Finsbury Park,[47] Bishopbriggs mosques.[48]

What is especially amazing is that if you wade through the last few years of the Guardian/Observer’s anti-semitism moral panics while asking where are the equivalent victims, you’ll find it’s extremely difficult to find one. This omission is particularly obvious when you examine the listed articles of the three journalists prominently foregrounding the theme of anti-semitism in their work on a repeated basis – the Observer’ Nick Cohen, the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland, followed by the paper’s tamed house Labour Party supporter Owen Jones. Jones, despite significantly lesser output, has written articles at such strict regular intervals[49] that rather than a reaction to genuine events, the impression given is of a topic that is a type of statutory contractual requirement or of regular commissioned work. By comparison to the prioritisation given to the largely unsubstantiated theme of anti-semitism, if you search the back catalogue of articles of all three men, you’ll struggle to find mention of the killed Jermaine Baker, Mark Duggan, or Muhammad Saleem Chaudhry, maimed Dr Sarandev Bhambra or equivalent output on issues of Black equality. But you will find the words ‘Anti-semitism, the Left’ and ‘Labour Party’ and on occasion ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ hurled together in largely evidence- and incident-free narratives or in reference to criticism of Israel (obviously the real issue is, that the potential restoration of its traditional socialist anti-racist/anti-imperialist identity to the Labour Party, after the short period of entryist neoliberal service-to-power, is perceived as a threat to the powerful pro-colonialist Israel lobby). Cohen’s writing in particular has become so free of evidence and cited incident that he appears to have resorted to self-plagiarising melodramaticism, with critics observing that his sudden angry conversion noted in his Observer March 2016 article “Why I’m becoming a Jew and why you should, too” is strikingly similar in theme to his 2009 Jewish Chronicle article “Hatred is turning me into a Jew.”[50]

The absent equivalent commentary on black and Muslim experiences of racism does not appear to be an accident. The Middle-Eastern commentator Jonathan Cook observed that Jonathan Freedland and other white panelists addressed the issue of anti-semitism while appearing on the BBC political discussion show ‘Question Time’. When the issue of the effaced representation of Muslim victimisation was raised by pro-Palestinian MP George Galloway, Freedland and panelists had a pre-prepared sound-bite position about not wanting to get into an ‘arms race’ on oppression.[51] After the show Freedland was apparently still trying to obscure the inequality in the representational dynamic, writing “Jews and Muslims are not in competition over who is hated most: that’s not a competition anyone would want to win.”[52] However it’s not just that black and Muslim experiences of racism are being effaced from representation. Guardian contributor David Cronin has claimed “the Guardian has told me to steer clear of Palestine.”[53] Nafeez Ahmed has similarly claimed he was ‘censored’ and ultimately had his blog ‘discontinued’ for referring to Palestine.[54] Significantly, whenever anecdotes of this type are made public, the name of editorial writer Jonathan Freedland often features prominently – accused of being linked to this repression either as a direct participant or as the originator of managerial policy.

In total the Guardian/Observer’s anti-semitism moral panic coverage has almost entirely been an application of the racist ‘talking back’ taboo, mobilised against those critical of Israel.[55] A search of the Guardian/Observer’s website suggests that this coverage is now greater than that afforded terrorist Brixton bomber David Copeland, whose explosive devices targeted Caribbeans of South London, Gay men of Soho, and Asians of East London.

VI

Breaking the pattern of the Guardian’s recent attacks on politicised students, has been the uncritical prominence given to the claims of Oxford University pro-Israel student-activist Alex Chambers and his colleagues that “Labour have some sort of problem with Jews” – this because of criticism of Israel.[56] Similarly it’s unquestioningly taken at face value that an Oxford University pro-Israel student-activist campaign, threatening to leave the NUS after the election of Black Muslim woman President Malia Bouattia, has no racist dimension.[57] By comparison, in the case of Oxford’s Black students campaigning to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the Guardian has permitted rigorous repeated criticism, even to the point of suggesting that notions of “racist…structural violence” were in fact questionable, and designed to shut down debate.[58] The Guardian has similarly given prominence to the complaints of New Labour Blairite pro-Israel peer Michael Levy “Lord Levy warns he could quit Labour over anti-Semitism.”[59] All of which is not evidence of equivalent oppression but of exceptional White Privilege. In these examples, you have a peer of the realm, white ethnic Jewish students who have been able to enter one of Britain’s most expensive and elitist institutions in such numbers as to be able to threaten to change its policies, plus white middle-class Israel-supporting journalists with lead columnist and editorial power such as Cohen and Freedland claiming they are victims. This is particularly interesting in Freedland’s case because in apparent violation of the norms of equal opportunity employment policies, his father Michael also gets occasional columnist work at the Guardian that could alternately be open to Black or working-class applicants. To these numbers we can also add writers such as Hadley Freeman and Hannah Weisfeld also indiscriminately invoking anti-semitism in support of Israel. Now ask, that for every student Israel supporter at Oxford University, every powerful pro-Israel Levy figure in the house Lords, Cohen at the Observer, and Freedland et al on the Guardian editorial writing desk and across the paper, where are the representative 16 Black Britons enjoying similar status? This is how disproportionate the privilege being mobilised is and how different it is from the black experience. Scandalously, rather than provoking embarrassment, simply identifying in this way the unrepresentative presence of the Israel lobby will routinely incur, in the British media, accusations of Jewish-conspiracy-type anti-semitism.

Given that anti-semitism does exist, this form of partisan and often misleading victim narrative coverage does grave ‘boy-who-cried-wolf’ disservice to genuine future victims. In March 2015 the Guardian reported an attack on a Stamford Hill synagogue stating “A group of men tried to break into a synagogue overnight in north London in an anti-semitic incident, police have said.”[60] Missing from this article is the statement of Rabbi Maurice Davis who, much to his great credit, told the Jewish Chronicle, “There was a party happening across the road. We think a Jewish boy at the party ran out and got into a fight with other party-goers on the street. He came into the shul and it got out of hand, that’s when the other people smashed the windows. We want people to know it wasn’t an anti-semitic incident. Tottenham is such a wonderful place to live we have tremendous social cohesion here, and everybody gets on and we haven’t had any experience of antisemitism. We have had support from our local mosque, our local churches.”[61] Rabbi Davis was similarly quoted by the BBC, the Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard but his statements never made it into the Guardian, nor were used to update the existing story.[62]

The fact that this McCarthyite moral panic came to a peak just before British local elections has caused a number of commentators to argue that this was a coup d’état attempt designed to wrest control of the Labour Party from its social base and their democratically elected leader Jeremy Corbyn. This is certainly consistent with the Guardian’s ongoing attacks on grassroots social movements. The Huffington Post and even the Telegraph have reports of this being an attempt to bring down Corbyn, but adversarial critics could argue that these originate from within the Corbyn camp.[63] However the Financial Times previously predicted a summer coup attempt, without similar tame reliance on any of Corbyn’s inner circle but calling on largely rightwing neoliberal sources.[64] Jewish academic and Holocaust scholar Norman Finkelstein agreed, citing the natural relationship between neoliberals who pursue racist-imperialist ‘wars-for-oil’ and advocates of racist-colonialist white settler conquest: “You can see this overlap between the Labour Right and pro-Israel groups personified in individuals like Jonathan Freedland, a Blairite hack who also regularly plays the antisemitism card. He’s combined these two hobbies to attack Corbyn.”[65]

Like a lot of the corporate media, the Guardian’s pro-Israel agenda and overt prioritising of an anti-semitism moral panic hit a peak around the time of world condemnation of Israel’s 2014 bombing of Gaza’s children and was clearly designed to overwrite this critical reaction. However once again, the Guardian went further than many other news-outlets, publishing the notorious ‘Blood Libel’ advert alleging Palestinians were using children as human shields – an advert that even Rupert Murdoch’s Times refused to run.[66] The Blairite neoliberal capture of the paper goes back considerably further. So jarring was the sudden wrenching move to the right and the consequential dumbing-down, that in the late 90s staffers dubbing themselves the ‘Farringdon Therapy Group’ (after the paper’s London publishing site) advertised in the London Review of Books for submissions of critical commentaries on the process, intended to be published in a book called Reading the Guardian – which subsequently failed to materialise on its 2000 Verso publication date, prompting accusations of suppression.[67]

Over the years the Guardian/Observer has provided unfailing and manipulative support for this neoliberal capture of the Labour Party, frequently marketing the ending of free education, welfare cuts and workplace casualisation as ‘achievements.’ Whatever isolated incidents of progressive coverage the paper featured were largely an institutional hangover from the Guardian’s establishment-questioning past and – as exampled in the Snowden revelations – were prioritised at historical moments which did not inconvenience the paper’s favoured New Labour ruling elite. A similar strategic application of editorial policy ensures that scoops/coverage arising from its previous progressive value system and which reflect negatively on Israel’s offences – such as Israel providing the armament technology that Apartheid South Africa used to oppress its indigenous people[68] – are now never referred to.

Both the Guardian and Observer were also pro-war. There are reports of the Observer inverting its 3-2 anti-Iraq-war postbag to make support for imperialist western conquest seem more normal.[69] Even now, the papers present Tony Blair and other ‘senior’ (?) politicians, who have shared cabinet responsibility and complicity for torture – not to mention the killing of civilians – as credible and acceptable voices in political debate.

When it’s not saying ‘the left has a problem with Jews,’ the news stable is similarly asserting that ‘the left has a problem with women.’ This despite the fact, that the most recent sexist incidents involved neoliberals. New Labour neoliberal knight Richard Leese spent 20 hours in cell after assaulting his 16-year-old stepdaughter.[70] MP Simon Danczuk was found to have sent sex-texts to a teenage job applicant and was recently “put in a Spanish jail cell after an alleged holiday row with his estranged wife led to her being taken to hospital.”[71] In a historical context these claims make even less sense. On the left there has always been a revolving door between feminists, anti-racists and worker-activists. And the left has no ideology without the contribution of Jewish Marxists and sociologists.

VII

These smears are really indicative of the incestuous relationship between the minority entryist neoliberal right of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Guardian/Observer. In the New Labour era there was a marketing practice of constructing a centralised narrative at central office, then asking party officials or activists – who don’t declare their institutional status – to front this regurgitated material to news outlets, their letter pages and public opinion events. This is a process that the Guardian/Observer has been happy to accommodate. By comparison, previous coordinated efforts by New Labour officials marketing Tony Blair as a popular ‘political celebrity’ in BBC’s Radio4’s 1996 ‘Personality of the Year’ contest were caught by the corporation and resulted in 4000 ballots being disqualified – for ‘multiple voting’.[72]

This practice was more recently evident in the 2015 local and general election campaigns. For example, in February 2015 the Observer’s letters page featured a correspondent named Peter Atkinson stridently complaining about declining public services under his local Green Party council.[73] The giveaway, suggestive of an institutional narrative or press release, is that Mr Atkinson was regurgitating a description of the ‘Winter of Discontent’ – a historical media critique successfully aimed at the 1974-79 Labour government. This contribution exhibits the signs of being written by someone who is aware that the Guardian/Observer policy is to often replicate the ‘Loony-Left’ attack on grassroots movements that brought Margaret Thatcher to power and that kept her there. A casual search reveals that a Peter Atkinson was the Labour Party’s candidate in the local council elections.[74] This accommodating institutional interaction seems like a comparatively minor example, but what happens when this process is used to over-write genuine calls for grassroots democratic accountability?

Objections to the neoliberal capture of the Labour Party crystallised around iconic issues of class and representation – occasionally known as the ‘Toff-Labour’ phenomenon or the problem of nepotism. Former head of the Labour Party Ed Miliband was the son of one Britain’s most prestigious academics. He served in cabinet with his brother David, and husband and wife team Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper. Prominent positions in the Party were also eventually found for Stephen Kinnock son of former leader Neil Kinnock, Will Straw son of former cabinet minister Jack Straw, and the children of former ministers John Prescott, Harriet Harman and Jack Dromney. Stephen Kinnock had been parachuted into a constituency as its candidate for MP, despite the fact he been embroiled in a tax avoidance scandal in Denmark – where he and his wife, the Danish Prime Minister, had given the national tax office conflicting information on his residency status, thereby avoiding tax while simultaneously allowing him to be eligible to buy property in the country.[75] Will Straw was forced into the Rossendale and Darwen constituency as its candidate. He subsequently lost amidst rumours that local activists wouldn’t campaign for an outsider. Ed Miliband’s problems of downplaying his social advantages were compounded by issues raised by his public appearances. He seemed unable to function in a working-class café situation, unable to talk credibly to a homeless man, and Miliband’s house – with its two kitchens – invoked notions of Upstairs, Downstairs/Downton Abbey-like privilege.

Labour officials trying to combat this understandably negative impression were allowed to present their press releases once again incognito on the Guardian letters page. In February 2015, apparent ordinary citizen contributor Tim Daniel attacked Green Party Leader Nathalie Bennet and congratulated Miliband on his housing policy.[76] However a cursory search revealed that a Tim Daniel was listed as Labour candidate for Wincanton & Bruton and Vice-chair of his local Party.[77] Similarly Ian Flintoff wrote, “Ed Miliband is the best possible leader for the Labour party and will also be the best prime minister…I have never met him and have no incentive to write this other than my deep and honest care for the people of Britain.”[78] Ian Flintoff states that he has ‘no incentive to write’ but a casual internet search reveals he was Labour Party parliamentary candidate in Plymouth Devonport, a Councillor in Kensington & Chelsea, and is active in the Oxford Labour Party.[79] Again institutional allegiance is allowed to be undeclared. Michael Hudson’s letter contribution is the most worrying and the most familiar. “I’m disappointed you used the picture of Ed Miliband eating a bacon roll…It seems to me the reason is the antisemitic subliminal message: Ed Miliband is a Jew; he chokes on bacon.” However, if you google contributor “Michael Hudson Chairman of Sleaford and North Hykeham Labour Party” you’ll get at least 7 references to Mr Hudson’s local Labour Party chairmanship dating from at least 2009 onwards.[80]

Clearly this anti-semitism narrative placed by Mr Hudson – if in fact he is the originator of it – attempts to manage the bad publicity that Miliband’s awkward café appearance generated. To work effectively, it demands acceptance of the assumption that the entire British public are aware of Miliband’s ethno-religious background. In fact such is the distaste for elitist political corruption in Britain and the resulting voter disengagement, that three years after Ed Miliband became Labour Leader a Yougov poll demonstrated that nearly a quarter of the electorate still couldn’t recognise him.[81] If the reading of the data made by the right-wing Daily Mail was to be believed, some people were actually confusing him with a character from Sesame Street.[82] It seems unlikely therefore that large numbers of people were seeking out information on his religious heritage. Particularly, as juxtaposed against Black Britons, Miliband passes as simply white, privileged and middle-class. Also attempts aimed at the more politically aware voter, to establish a victim narrative for Miliband, can only succeed by separating him from the rest of the Toff-Labour phenomenon of class privilege Sadly on the Guardian letters pages it is now not unusual for the Miliband anti-semitism narrative to be conveniently repeated as a form of orthodoxy.[83] Obviously this constructed placement comfortably supports the ongoing elitist anti-semitism moral panic. The only McCarthyite-type smear that did feature the then Labour Leader was aimed at his late father Ralph Miliband who due to his background as a prominent Marxist academic the Daily Mail headlined as ‘The Man Who Hated Britain.’[84] Ironically, were it not for the fact that son Ed Miliband was a neoliberal, it’s entirely likely that the Guardian/Observer stable would have joined in with its own ‘why do the left have a problem with patriotism?’ narrative.

VIII

Overall this campaign has not been without economic territorial cost. Just as previous undemocratic neoliberal entryism cost the Labour Party millions of votes and two thirds of its peak membership, it appears the Guardian/Observer’s ideological war on its own natural readership base has been similarly damaging. Currently the Guardian is soliciting donations from its readers to prop up its ailing sales coffers. In 2015 the paper admitted to readership purchasing falling by 9.5%.[85] Its web-traffic readership has also declined.[86] The Observer has had comparable losses.[87] In 2016 the Guardian Media Group announced losses of £173 million.[88] If these figures are representative of a long-term decline – or of readers’ unconscious or even deliberate boycott – who could argue with the socio-economic logic or justice of it? Apparently, rather than perform a rudimentary representative function to their base demographics, neoliberals both within the Labour Party and at the Guardian/Observer, are prepared to risk killing off the institutions upon which they feed, in the pursuit of their own elitist ideology.

This has resulted in day-to-day practices that are politically and ideologically brutal. The Guardian/Observer stable as represented by Cohen, Freedland, Jones, Wiesfeld, Freeman and many others, is practicing a particularly pernicious multi-layered form of racism. White settler Apartheid and Ethnic Cleansing is being championed. Black and Indigenous voices are being smeared for ‘talking back’ to power on the issue. Black grievances and experiences of racism are being both effaced from representation and stolen by a white middle-class elite who invoke the genuine suffering and marginalisation of others in order to defend the undefendable. These offences are being committed by those who are content to risk the viability of future complainants of anti-semitism being reduced to the status of simple partisan political ploys, by their ‘boy-who-cried-wolf’ practices. These abusive practices are being indiscriminately fielded because they also tie into larger strategic Blairite drives for power. Not for the first time and particularly in the neoliberal media, the worst racism is practiced by those careerists who hide in plain sight, masked in respectable office apparel, and polite middle-class mannerisms.

Postscript

Like other historical victims of McCarthyism before her, Naz Shah MP subsequently found it necessary and in her self-interest to ‘recant’ – in her case specifically on her previous posting about Israel. This allowed her to keep her career position on the powerful Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee. However, some months after the events reported in this article and just when it appeared that the high point of the anti-semitism moral panic was over, yet another woman of colour was smeared for her leftism and questioning of Zionism. This happened across the broader media but with the Guardian prominently involved.

In the tradition of ‘Black Lives Matter’ activism, Jewish-Jamaican Jackie Walker, Vice-Chair of the pressure group Momentum, pointed out that Jewish entrepreneurs had been “financiers of the sugar and slave trade” and “the African holocaust”.[89] She then followed this up by asking that black victims of genocide be also included in Holocaust Day as she put it “In terms of Holocaust day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experienced holocaust?”[90] Sadly, given that Nazi crimes against humanity are frequently used to justify the Zionist conquest of Palestine – this despite the fact that territorialist efforts on behalf of the Zionist project precede the Nazi period – attempts at raising the previous historical horrors of the western colonialist tradition and any challenge to the claimed right of exclusivity of victimhood, are routinely and intensely contested by the pro-Israel lobby. As consequence, as in previous cases, Ms Walker faced calls for her sacking, and was resoundingly condemned by a powerful vocal minority that the Guardian once again privileged in its reporting (see notes 88 and 89). In order to do this there were significant omissions in the news stable’s coverage. The issue of Jews and their participation in the slave trade is mentioned in Jewish histories prominently enough to often make it onto news-sites but excluded from Guardian reportage. For example, to publicise his book The Jewish Slave, Rabbi Lody van de Kamp gave an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, describing Jewish owned slave plantations in Dutch Guyana, “At one point, Jews controlled about 17 percent of the Caribbean trade in Dutch colonies”.[91] Similarly, Rabbi Dr Marc Lee Raphael’s 1983 book Jews and Judaism in the United States: A Documentary History is frequently cited on this topic and features on numerous websites. It confirms Jewish participation in the Dutch slave trade, and observes that “in all the American colonies, whether French (Martinique), British, or Dutch, Jewish merchants frequently dominated.”[92] None of these very prominent sources featured as a balance in the Guardian’s condemnatory reporting of Jackie Walker’s comments.

But what was far more worrying, was that in the Guardian’s service-to-power it was actually willing to let the issue of comparable colonial genocide be viewed as again questionable, despite the weight of historical evidence available. Adam Hothschild (King Leopold’s Ghost, 1998) describes the death toll from European colonialism in just a single African country – the Belgian Congo – as 10 million, while Caroline Elkins (Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, 2005) describes Britain’s use of mass torture in colonial Kenya. The British suppression of India’s uprisings of the 1850s is described by historian Amaresh Misra (War of Civilizations: India AD 1857, 2007) as “an untold holocaust” which caused the deaths of almost 10 million people over 10 years. And this is not even the entire history of the British Raj. David Stannard (American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World, 1994) calculates 100 million indigenous deaths in the conquest of the Americas.  While figures of ‘60 million and more’ have long been culturally accepted as the numbers of victims of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade – featuring in Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel ‘Beloved’ (1987) and cited by Paul Robeson in his 1956 testimony to HUAC.

What is significant is that a number of these sources had originally featured in hangover coverage from the Guardian’s previous progressive incarnation, either in its columns or on its literary review pages.[93] So this almost ‘black holocaust denial’ practiced in the reporting of Jackie Walker’s case cannot be written off as simply base incompetence. Clearly the ‘new’ Guardian embraces a ‘black lives DO NOT matter’ policy. As a consequence of the media frenzy, Jackie Walker subsequently lost her position.

Gavin Lewis is a BlackBritish writer and academic who has published internationally in the UK,  Australia and America on Film, Media, Culture & Politics.

Footnotes

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jul/05/ed-miliband-unite-falkirk-selection; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/10201643/Labour-vote-rigging-scandal-police-rule-out-Falkirk-inquiry.html; http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jul/25/falkirk-ballot-insufficient-grounds-inquiry-police

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/sep/08/labour-concerns-leadership-election-rules; http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/07/labour-leadership-election-260-former-candidates-and-members-rival-parties-apply-vote; http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/19/labour-seeks-legal-advice-over-leadership-election-infiltration-fears

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/06/jeremy-corbyn-urged-to-pull-out-of-stop-the-war-christmas-fundraiser

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/24/safe-spaces-universities-no-platform-free-speech-rhodes

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/22/letters-student-political-protest-under-threat-free-speech

[6] http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2016/02/22/academics-and-activists-condemn-bully-peter-tatchell-in-open-letter/

[7] http://www.jta.org/1990/10/25/archive/mandela-angers-australian-jews-with-fresh-anti-israel-rhetoric

[8] 1990 Town Meeting City College New York, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5TiUhhm7cQ

[9] http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Desmond-Tutu-Israel-guilty-of-apartheid-in-treatment-of-Palestinians-344874; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/desmond-tutu/divesting-from-injustice_b_534994.html

[10] http://www.haaretz.com/un-agent-apartheid-regime-in-territories-worse-than-s-africa-1.132494

[11] Delegation of Arab Political Leaders and Adalah Representatives in South Africa Meet with Lawyers from the Legal Resources Center, Ministers and Government Officials to Discuss Constitution Building and Human Rights, Adalah, 9 June 2008

[12] Mbete’s support for boycott of Israel noted (The Citizen, 29 October 2012)

[13]https://web.archive.org/web/20081212200155/http://www.jewsforajustpeace.com:80/pages/opinion/machover_01.html

[14] http://www.mintpressnews.com/noam-chomsky-israeli-apartheid-much-worse-than-south-africa/208936/; http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/01/02/inside-israels-apartheid-state/

[15] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/04/ethiopian-israelis-clash-with-police-as-anti-racism-rally-turns-violent; http://news.sky.com/story/1477169/violent-clashes-at-protest-by-ethiopian-jews

[16] http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/EthiopianIsraelis-continue-protests-week-after-A-G-closes-case-on-police-who-attacked-soldier-406802; http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4671495,00.html; http://www.timesofisrael.com/cop-who-beat-ethiopian-israeli-soldier-wont-be-tried

[17] http://www.davidsheen.com/racism/ Sheen’s video clips not only demonstrate intimidation and violence against black people, but a repeated trend of sexual threats directed against any white feminist woman who has the nerve to be anti-racist. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7dkF5UVx7Y, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOomBSTTzrU, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKIiDeKRGQU. This recurring threat to black Israelis, Palestinian women, and white feminists is frequently referred to – even by right-wing deniers – as ‘Israel’s rape culture’. http://www.jpost.com/Blogs/The-Warped-Mirror/David-Sheen-knows-what-it-takes-to-demonize-Israel-379522

[18] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/black-israelis-riot-over-insult-to-their-blood-1326412.html; http://www.nytimes.com/1996/01/29/world/ethiopian-in-israeli-riot-over-dumping-of-donated-blood.html

[19] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/12/13/why-is-israel-s-red-cross-rejecting-ethiopian-blood.html; http://www.timesofisrael.com/uproar-as-ethiopian-mk-denied-chance-to-give-blood/; http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.563273; http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4464560,00.html

[20] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/12/israeli-president-ethiopian-born-mp-blood-donor-shimon-peres

[21] https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/news-and-campaigns/news/call-for-black-blood-and-organ-donors-to-be-there-for-their-community/

[22] http://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/Report-Kiryat-Malachi-neighborhood-bans-Ethiopians; http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3671185,00.html

[23] http://www.forbes.com/sites/eliseknutsen/2013/01/28/israel-foribly-injected-african-immigrant-women-with-birth-control/; http://www.haaretz.com/news/israel/israel-admits-ethiopian-women-were-given-birth-control-shots.premium-1.496519; http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/30/forced-contraception-jewish-ethopian-women

[24] http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.649892; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-shasha/israels-sephardic-ashkena_b_627445.html; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-shasha/sephardim-ashkenazim-and_b_615692.html; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism_in_Israel#Sephardim_and_Mizrahim_.28Middle_Eastern_and_North_African_Jews.29

[25] http://mondoweiss.net/2015/07/detains-american-because/ Israel detains and deports American Jews because they are black

[26] http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/26613/family-heartbroken-israel-refuses-aliyah

[27] http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/news/.premium-1.658593 African-American family converts finally recognised as Jews in Israel; http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/israel-threatens-to-deport-african-american-convert-to-judaism.premium-1.502204

[28] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/non-jews-should-be-forbidden-from-living-in-israel-says-chief-rabbi-yitzhak-yosef-a6957806.html

[29] http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.717948; http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/05/israeli-soldiers-compared-nazis-160509060134244.html; http://www.dw.com/en/idf-general-triggers-outrage-comparing-israel-to-europe-processes-of-90-years-ago/a-19244831

[30] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/05/israeli-military-chief-yair-golan-nazi-germany-comparison

[31] http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/israeli-professor-rape-hamas-militiants-mothers-sisters-deter-terrorist-attacks-1457836; https://www.timeshighereducation.com/comment/opinion/bar-ilans-disturbing-defence-of-one-of-its-own/2014936.article; http://www.salon.com/2016/02/17/event_at_nyc_college_with_israeli_scholar_who_said_only_rape_can_deter_palestinian_militants_postponed_after_protests/

[32] http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/19992/sexual-violence-women%E2%80%99s-bodies-and-israeli-settler

[33] http://www.haaretz.com/news/israel/.premium-1.613444

[34] https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=idf+t-shirts+one+shot+two+kills&biw=1280&bih=623&site=webhp&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=zYhGVe7NOIG0sAGCrYGIBw&ved=0CAYQ_AUoAQ

[35] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/22/antisemitism-malia-bouattia-nus-muslim-anti-zionist

[36] https://web.archive.org/web/20121206052903/; http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/761C1063530766A7052566A2005B74D1; www.mefacts.com/cached.asp?x_id=10584

[37] http://mondoweiss.net/2015/11/resolution-declared-zionism/

[38] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/16/peace-not-promoted-israel-boycott  Here in Guardian letters Stephen Malnik boasts about permitting injured Palestinians into his medical centre in the town of Ashkelon which as Mr Malnik admits now contains “lots of Jews” and is subject to occasional rocket attack. No one is permitted to point out, in rebuttal, that prior to al-Naqbar, 11,000 Arabs lived in this town before being dispossessed by the violence of western colonists. http://www.alternativeinsight.com/Ashkelon_Speaks.htm See also ‘1948 and After: Israel and the Palestinians’. Benny Morris (1990/1994)

[39] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/02/after-iran-nuclear-deal-its-everyone-elses-turn

[40] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/irans-jews-on-life-inside-israels-enemy-state-we-feel-secure-and-happy-a6934931.html; http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5367892.stm; https://electronicintifada.net/content/israels-jewish-problem-tehran/7089

[41] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/may/01/diane-abbott-smear-labour-antisemitism-problem-andrew-marr

[42] http://benjaminzephaniah.com/what-am-i-going-on-about/;   http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/26/police-dont-work-for-us

[43] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-east-wales-34218184

[44] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-24614280

[45] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-24602113

[46] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/brussels-attacks-croydon-man-matthew-doyle-charged-tweet-confronting-muslim-woman-brussels-attacks-a6951711.html

[47] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-34953096

[48] http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/bishopbriggs-mosque-hit-by-arson-attack-hate-crime-syrian-refugees-arrive-glasgow-1529202

[49] Jones’s previous media work had included mention of the plight of the Palestinians. Then, after sustained pressure and harsh criticism from the Israel lobby, this suddenly changed. Instead, in the month following the bombing of Gaza, Jones’s column gave a priority to unspecified accusations of anti-semitism. This obviously functioned to overwrite the outrage caused by the Gaza civilian death-toll. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/11/anti-jewish-hatred-rising-antisemitism-meaning  A year later, when there was a risk of commemoration of the Palestinian victims, Jones again instead wrote about alleged anti-semitism. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/26/antisemitism-left-racism-israel

[50] http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/2016/3/20/9ho9joytgkhvcj4ip524ilmuynfa7x; http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1099/weapon-of-choice/

[51] http://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2015-02-09/guardian-editors-hypocrisy-on-anti-semitism/

[52] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/feb/06/george-galloway-accuses-bbc-over-question-time-set-up

[53] https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/david-cronin/how-guardian-told-me-steer-clear-palestine

[54] https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/palestine-is-not-an-environment-story-921d9167ddef#.moo9fko9d

[55] Jonathan Cook argues that Freedland’s anti-semitism statistics “were compiled by the Community Security Trust, a Zionist organisation that has a record of dubious political activity…the great majority were classified as ‘harassment’, a broad category that could include remarks against Israel.” http://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2015-02-09/guardian-editors-hypocrisy-on-anti-semitism/

[56] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/18/oxford-student-left-antisemitic-university-antisemitism-jewish-progressive-politics; http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/17/labour-condemns-antisemitism-oxford-university-labour-club-claims

[57] http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/apr/22/students-threaten-break-with-nus-after-election-of-new-president

[58] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/24/safe-spaces-universities-no-platform-free-speech-rhodes; http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/13/cecil-rhodes-statue-row-chris-patten-tells-students-to-embrace-freedom-of-thought

[59] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/mar/20/labour-peer-lord-levy-warns-he-could-quit-party-over-antisemitism

[60] http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/mar/22/police-investigate-london-synagogue-break-in

[61] http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/132553/rabbi-reveals-stamford-hill-synagogue-brawl-was-sparked-party-dispute

[62] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-32007767; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/11488480/Watch-Mob-launches-anti-Semitic-attack-on-Stamford-Hill-synagogue.html; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3006382/Drunken-mob-20-thugs-shouted-kill-Jews-stormed-synagogue-north-London-smashing-windows-attacking-worshippers-inside.html

[63] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/labour-anti-semitism-row-attempt-to-challenge-jeremy-corbyn-leadership-len-mccluskey_uk_57266218e4b0d6f7bed60632; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/01/it-is-a-smear-to-say-labour-has-an-antisemitism-problem-claims-j/

[64] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/85c207c4-ea01-11e5-888e-2eadd5fbc4a4.html#axzz47pCYawnS

[65] https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/jamie-stern-weiner-norman-finkelstein/american-jewish-scholar-behind-labour-s-antisemitism-scanda  Finkelstein goes on to cite his own experience of being smeared by Freedland “Incidentally, when my book, The Holocaust Industry, came out in 2000, Freedland wrote that I was ‘closer to the people who created the Holocaust than to those who suffered in it’. Although he appears to be, oh, so politically correct now, he didn’t find it inappropriate to suggest that I resembled the Nazis who gassed my family. We appeared on a television program together. Before the program, he approached me to shake my hand. When I refused, he reacted in stunned silence. Why wouldn’t I shake his hand? He couldn’t comprehend it. It tells you something about these dull-witted creeps. The smears, the slanders – for them, it’s all in a day’s work.”

[66] https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/liberal-guardian-print-pro-genocide-ad

[67] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Reading-Guardian-Farringdon-Therapy-Group/dp/1859847846/279-1453820-9568459?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

[68] Former Ambassador for Israel Alon Liel stated “We created the South African arms industry… When we were developing things together we usually gave the know-how and they gave the money… there was a love affair between the security establishments of the two countries and their armies.” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/feb/07/southafrica.israel

[69] Socialist historian Keith Flett wrote to the New Statesman at the time with information that the Observer had been inverting its anti-war postbag, http://www.newstatesman.com/node/157085

[70] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/apr/14/manchester-richard-leese-cautioned

[71] http://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/mp-simon-danczuk-arrested-after-estranged-wife-karen-taken-to-hospital-in-spain-a3321301.html; http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/31/labour-mp-simon-danczuk-suspended-over-explicit-text-message-allegations

[72] http://www.whathappened.website/DEC2496-031.htm; https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-112810217.html; http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/whats-wrong-with-the-bbc-today-1315367.html

[73] http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2015/feb/08/greens-brighton-catastrophic

[74] http://www.brightonhovelabour.com/tags/portslade

[75] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-10856352; http://politiken.dk/indland/politik/ECE1061397/revisor-skat-frikender-thorning-i-skattesag/

[76] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/feb/25/green-party-leader-natalie-bennett-trying-to-be-honest

[77] http://www.somersetlabour.co.uk/candidates/tim-daniel/; http://www.somertonandfromelabour.org.uk/local-contacts

[78] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/nov/07/labour-play-ed-miliband-strengths-back-hilt

[79] https://uk.linkedin.com/in/ian-flintoff-1a3b2111; https://profile.theguardian.com/user/id/728319

[80] https://www.google.co.uk/?gfe_rd=cr&ei=o-KTVveUOYjW8Afg2bPIBw&gws_rd=ssl#q=Michael+Hudson+Chairman+of+Chairman%2C+Sleaford+and+North+Hykeham+Labour+Party%22+

[81] https://yougov.co.uk/news/2013/05/10/not-so-famous-faces/

[82] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2347947/Poll-Ed-Miliband-confused-Bert-form-Sesame-Street.html

[83] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/31/a-short-history-of-food-and-antisemitism; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/01/the-nazis-germany-and-lazy-equations

[84] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2435751/Red-Eds-pledge-bring-socialism-homage-Marxist-father-Ralph-Miliband-says-GEOFFREY-LEVY.html

[85] http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/apr/10/national-daily-newspapers-lose-more-than-half-a-million-readers-in-past-year

[86] http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/apr/23/mail-guardian-mirror-traffic-as-telegraph-abc

[87] http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/national-newspaper-abcs-march-2015-sun-sales-decline-unaffected-second-full-month-without-page-three

[88] https://next.ft.com/content/f5be593a-51b5-11e6-9664-e0bdc13c3bef

[89] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/sep/26/corbyn-urged-to-show-leadership-in-tackling-antisemitism-within-labour-wes-streeting-labour

[90] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/sep/28/momentum-vice-chair-jackie-walker-pressure-resign-antisemitism-row-jewish-labour-movement

[91] http://www.jta.org/2013/12/26/news-opinion/world/dutch-rabbi-confronts-jews-with-ancestors-complicity-in-slavery

[92] Jews and Judaism in the United States: A Documentary History (New York: Behrman House, 1983), 14, 23-25. cited on http://www.rense.com/general69/invo.htm

[93] See for example the work of ‘old Guardian’ columnist George Monbiot (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/jan/11/mawkish-maybe-avatar-profound-important; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/apr/23/british-empire-crimes-ignore-atrocities) and the review of Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’ referring to the ‘sixty million and more’ victims of slavery, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/jul/08/fiction.tonimorrison

Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen

Photo by Gerry & Bonni | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Gerry & Bonni | CC BY 2.0

This week at the Voices for Creative Nonviolence office in Chicago, my colleague Sabia Rigby prepared a presentation for a local high school. She’ll team up with a young friend of ours, himself a refugee from Iraq, to talk about refugee crises driven by war. Sabia recently returned from Kabul where she helped document the young Afghan Peace Volunteers’ efforts to help bring warmth, food and education to internally displaced families living in makeshift camps, having fled the Afghan War when it raged near their former homes.

Last year Sabia had been visiting with refugees in “the Calais Jungle,” who were fleeing the Middle East and several African countries for Britain. Thwarted from crossing the English Channel, a large mass of people were stopped in this refugee camp in Calais, France, from which French authorities eventually evacuated them, defying their careful solidarity and burning their camp to the ground.

As part of her high school talk, Sabia prepared a handout to show where refugees are the most welcomed. One detail astonished her.

In FY 2016, the U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees, but Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world took in 117,000 new refugees and migrants in 2016, and hosts more than 255,000 refugees from Somalia. Yemen is now beginning to host the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. What’s more, the country is regularly targeted by Saudi and U.S. airstrikes.

Since we are also planning a week of fast and action related to the tragic circumstances Yemen faces, we were astounded when we realized Yemen is a path of escape for Somalis fleeing the Horn of Africa, refugees of one conflict, stranded in their flight, and trapped in a country where deadly conflict is precipitating into deadlier famine.

After years of U.S. support for dictator Ali Adullah Saleh, civil war has wracked Yemen since 2014. Its neighbor Saudi Arabia, itself among the region’s cruelest dictatorships and a staunch U.S. ally, became nervous in 2015 about the outcome and, with support from nine regional allies, began subjecting the country to a punishing barrage of airstrikes, and also imposed a blockade that ended the inflow of food and supplies to Yemen through a major port. This was accomplished with massive, ongoing weapons shipments from the U.S., which has also waged independent airstrikes that have killed dozens of civilians, including women and children.

Pummeled by airstrikes and fighting, facing economic collapse and on the brink of famine, how could this tiny, impoverished country absorb thousands upon thousands of desperate migrants?

Yemen imports 90% of its food. Because of the blockade, food and fuel prices are rising and scarcity is at crisis levels.

UNICEF estimates that more than 460,000 children in Yemen face severe malnutrition, and 3.3 million children and pregnant or lactating women suffer acute malnutrition. More than 10,000 people have been killed, including 1,564 children, and millions have been displaced from their homes, but worse is the groundwork laid for the far greater devastation of famine. Iona Craig, in the IRIN publication, recently wrote:

In the middle of a vast expanse of grey scrubland, a rapidly growing population of more than 120 families huddle under parched trees. Escaping the latest wave of conflict on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, they walked two days to get to this camp southwest of Taiz city.

But on arrival, the scores of women and children found nothing. No support from aid agencies. No food. No water. No shelter. The elderly talk of eating the trees to survive, while children beg for water from local farmers. A mother cradles her clearly malnourished baby in her arms.

Now comes word that on March 16th, forty-two Somali people were killed in sustained gunfire from the air as they set forth in a boat attempting to flee Yemen.

“I took cover in the belly of the ship,” said Ibrahim Ali Zeyad, a Somali who survived the attack. “People were falling left and right. Everyone kept screaming, ‘We are Somali! We are Somali!’”

But the shooting continued for what felt like half an hour.

The attack on Yemen traps both Yemenis and fleeing Somalis in the worst of four developing crises which collectively amount, one U.N. official warns, to the worst humanitarian crisis in the history of the U.N. As of this writing, no one has taken responsibility for the strike, but survivors say they were attacked by a helicopter gunship. The boat was carrying 140 people as it headed north off the coast of Yemen.

Meanwhile, US weapons makers, including General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, profit massively from weapon sales to Saudi Arabia. In December, 2017, Medea Benjamin wrote: “Despite the repressive nature of the Saudi regime, U.S. governments have not only supported the Saudis on the diplomatic front, but militarily. Under the Obama administration, this has translated into massive weapons sales of $115 billion.”

At this critical juncture, all member states of the UN must call for an end to the blockade and airstrikes, a silencing of all guns, and a negotiated settlement to the war in Yemen. The worst malefactors, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, must abandon cynical maneuvering against rivals like Iran, in the face of such an unspeakable human cost as Yemen is being made to pay.

U.S. people bear responsibility to demand a radical departure from U.S. policy which exacerbates the deadly tragedy faced by people living in Yemen.

Choosing a path of clear opposition to U.S. policies toward Yemen, U.S. citizens should demand elected representatives stop all drone attacks and military “special operations” within Yemen, end all U.S. weapon sales and military aid to Saudi Arabia, and provide compensation to those who suffered losses caused by U.S. attacks.

Our group of activists long functioned under the name “Voices in the Wilderness,” a campaign to defy U.S. economic warfare against Iraq, a form of war through imposition of economic sanctions which directly contributed to the deaths of over 500,000 children. Lost in a culture of hostile unreality and unbearable silence concerning economic warfare, we were evoking, perhaps unconsciously, the plight of refugees seeking survival. We didn’t succeed in lifting the brutal economic sanctions against Iraq, but we surely learned harsh realities about how callous and reckless U.S. policy makers could be.

We must ground ourselves in reality and in solidarity with the greater part of the world’s people. As our neighbors around the world flee in desperation across borders or within the confines of their own countries, we must continually educate ourselves about the reality of what our nation’s actions mean to the world’s poor. Building toward a time when our voices may unite and be heard, we must raise them now in crying out for the people of Yemen.

Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics

Photo by Vikalpa | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Vikalpa | CC BY 2.0

In its most extreme form, our constitutional rights are reducible to the right not to have to love our neighbor.  The irony is that the more energetically we pursue our individual, socially isolated right to “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the deader the social and natural worlds become.

Curtis White, The Spirit of Disobedience: An Invitation to Resistance (2006)

So much of what we muster excitement about in American politics, about which we feel passionate,  is based in feeling injured, slighted, left out, wronged. The historic struggle for rights is premised on having been denied them, or experiencing threats to them, or wishing to ally with those whose rights have been violated.   Now, perhaps because so much of what shapes our context is  far out of our control, perhaps for other reasons,  politics on the left has been reduced to precisely that, to identity politics.  One danger in fighting solely from the sense of injury to a group, is that it rests on an assumption that the humanity underneath is intact but for this injustice.  One can be opposing social wrongs and injuries and never look “underneath” to see if the human being is intact, if there even exists the community and life-sustaining culture that needs to be or is worthy of being defended.

Liberals, in particular, defend the rights of women for equal pay, of single mothers, of transgender and questioning people – all worthy and valid causes – without ever asking if the passionate defense of these “rights” comes at the expense of anything else perhaps more precious and threatened? What are the constituent elements of community?  Surely not only acceptance for difference, but also for critique of that acceptance.  For real community, both must be allowed. Trust must be allowed.  Like rightwing fundamentalists in this respect, secular humanists cannot tolerate genuine moral questioning, not because it risks condemning single mothers or homosexuals or divorce – though this is always possible – but because it asks people to think more deeply about the consequences to the community of our choices.  It poses the perspective of an adult against the perspective of the “siblings.”

For this reason I have long held back from that liberal tendency to engage in identity politics.  During college and graduate school in the 1970’s, I was greatly influenced by feminism which gave me for the first time a sense of purpose, of being an actor in history.  Not until one day, having brought my pathologically depressed self to a therapist’s office, realizing I was unable to answer a question about myself, but only about women as a group, did I begin to tear myself away from this identification with oppression and victimization that had been so positive for me.

Right on schedule, I was one of the  “me-centered” in the famous “me-decade” of the 80’s, participating in 12-step groups,  gaining a connection to spiritual reality, and then finding myself on an intense ride that could not be stopped at some point convenient to myself.  The ‘process’ turned out to be way more powerful than me,  terrifying, and in the end, and at points along the way, incredibly rewarding.  Call it “individuation” or “the soul’s journey” or what have you, I was brought into the “fire” of transformation which dominated my life in the 1990’s.  A point came when I  had no choice but to see it through; otherwise I’d end up institutionalized.  In so wrestling with a power ‘greater than myself,’ I was immersed in a health-bringing process; it made sense to me it was that which people have called God, or Nature, but the experience meant far more than the name.   I make no claims for my “sanity” now, but after this experience I could no longer identify myself as victim.  Although it felt – and still feels to me – completely audacious, I had to speak from the intact part of myself; only the writer, the creative part of me, was capable of this.

I have no choice as to what I will write about.  I envy the poets and the novelists their forms; I have just this one ‘song’ that may sound like something quite other than a song to others; it comes out of a deeper disturbance and a deeper alienation than secular left liberal American politics allows.  Indeed, it is akin to the valid experience brought to one through Buddhist practice, according to David Lopez, quoted in Curtis White’s We, Robots: “The goal of meditation is stress induction.  This stress is a product of extreme dissatisfaction with the world.  Rather than seeking a sense of peaceful satisfaction with the unfolding of experience, the goal of this practice is to produce a state of mind that is highly judgmental, indeed judging this world to be like a prison.”

I use this quote from a book (Lopez’s) I have not read for two reasons: first, it says of Buddhism what I have found to be true through my own “practice,” the writing I have kept at devotedly for close to 20 years.  Writing provides me access to “know what I know”and so is for me the way to be a free human being in this world; as a free human being, my art imposes upon me a duty that I address ‘the prison’ and critique it.  A moral perspective is built into the practice.

Second, the quotation points to one reason I speak of “religion” (and religiophobia) in my writing, rather than the more congenial “spirituality.”  To the extent that “spirituality” and spiritual practice are put to work for the world we have (i.e., to reduce stress, increase fitness, bring tranquility, etc,) rather than for the world we dream of and sacrifice for (i.e., thus inducing stress and knowing one’s profound alienation from this world), I tend toward  the less acceptable, more divisively connoted word.  It is more than possible when people say “I’m spiritual but not religious” that they are fully in the countercultural critique, but I cannot help being suspicious.  I sense a holdout, a bit of bargaining on behalf of the ego.

If one goes deep enough into the wilderness of the self, and many poets and artists can confirm, one reaches an experience – or a series of experiences – that is initiatory in the tribal sense.   Even for people who have that experience,  a choice remains as to how to make use of it in the world.  Perhaps due to my seminary training, of which I am no shining exemplar,  I understood I was called to address  the world in which the soul’s reality – the non-optional basis for our humanity – is consistently denied and violated. One source of damage to the soul is the loss of will to resist the colonization of communities and families by corporate reality so that they no longer consistently provide safety and protection for innocence, that is for the spiritual inner beings of children.  Liberal, “uninitiated” society is so polarized on its side of the battle lines defending group rights, it leaves the social structures that are supportive of humanity to fend for themselves.  In effect, it ensures an endless supply of victims.

This is why I am ambivalent toward politics which have passion exclusively for identity issues. Even now, when the winds of fascism are unnervingly blowing in America, or perhaps especially now, when we see the consequences of our reduced politics in a possible fascism, I appeal to a different perspective.

Martin Luther King, Jr., quoted in the film I’m Not Your Negro, said (paraphrase) “We have a right to sit wherever we want to sit [i.e., on the bus or at the lunch counter], and we have a duty to do so. “   With the  juxtaposition of those two words, he suggests this initiated perspective.  In speaking of rights, he addressed the injured and violated, in speaking of duty he addressed a community of adults prepared to assume a moral purpose, their purpose as human beings in the face of an immoral society.

More than ever, as Americans facing the nightmarish current reality, we need to include with our passion for defending rights the knowledge of our duty to be human beings, to serve a reality larger than the one that comforts the ego,  the deeper reality worthy of human beings and human becoming.  Rights is a popular word; duty, except among Marines and Boy Scouts, is not. But it is time, aside from defending victims,  we rallied around something more inclusive, more meaningful and more visionary than rights exclusively,  that comes from and speaks to the nobility, dignity, and strength inherent in whole human beings.

Profiling Islamophobes

Photo by Fibonacci Blue | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Fibonacci Blue | CC BY 2.0

Islamophobia in America is the fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims prevailing among Christian and Jewish Americans. (Atheists who question the very notion of religion are perhaps less likely to select Islam as a special target of disparagement.) A majority of American Christians and Jews do not fear or hate Islam or Muslims. In fact, many Christian and Jewish interfaith organizations are actively engaged in repelling Islamophobia. American Jews understand that they too will be a prime target, as recent cemetery vandalism and bomb threats demonstrate, if Islamophobia gains intensity and momentum. Likewise, Mormons, Hindus, Sikhs, and other minority religious groups living in America fear for their safety as the hatred of Islam sweeps the nation.

The ugliest American Islamophobes that occupy prominent social, political, and intellectual fields are well known to the world if not to the people of the United States: They are Steve Bannon (Irish Catholic), Robert Spencer (Greek Catholic), David Horowitz (Jewish), Pamela Geller (Jewish), David Yerushalmi (Jewish), Frank Gaffney (Irish Catholic), Steven Emerson (unknown heritage), Daniel Pipes (Jewish), Sean Hannity (Irish Catholic), and Bill O’Reilly (Irish Catholic). There are scores of other Islamophobes, less highflying but no less vicious, firmly occupying posts in the media, legislatures, television, and academia.

These garrulous Islamophobes write books, sponsor seminars, and write op-eds; some prompt states to enact anti-Sharia legislation, some finance anti-Islamic political movements in Europe and the United States, some provide radio and television commentaries sensationalizing the perils of Islam, and some outright advocate the persecution and expulsion of American Muslims.

A quick overview of the ugliest Islamophobes listed above demonstrates that they are mostly white males, and mostly Irish Catholic or Jewish. It is ironic how these ugliest Islamophobes conveniently forget that Jews, Catholics, and the Irish — their own communities — have experienced sorrowful histories of discrimination, prejudice, hatred, and refusal to enter the United States. Anti-Semitism is the fear and hatred of the Jews. Hibernophobia is the fear and hatred of the Irish. It is a question of psychiatry, if not psychosis, why the descendants of the victims of Anti-Semitism and Hibernophobia have turned into malicious Islamophobes.

Profiling is inherently obnoxious and a questionable generalization from both moral and empirical viewpoints. Profiling is stereotyping, maybe carrying a trace of truth but almost always over-inclusive – a fishing net catching the blameless and the blameworthy. Stereotypes such as African-Americans are violent, Native-Americans are alcoholics, and Muslims are terrorists – all are odious and wrong. To this questionable list of stereotypes, I am in no hurry to add Irish Catholics and Jews as Islamophobes.

But I wonder. When Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly fume against Islam or Muslims with the intent to poison hearts and minds of the FOX viewers, do they ever simultaneously think about the Irish, the Catholic, or the Irish Catholic communities? When Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz intellectualize hatred against Islam and Muslims, do they ever simultaneously think about similar intellectualization of hatred against the European Jews who faced expulsion and extermination? At this point, in a free flowing stream of consciousness, I am thinking of Ben Carson, an African-American, speaking in vivid delirium against Syrian refugees and discounting African slavery as a form of illegal immigration.

Producers of Islamophobia may be distinguished from consumers of Islamophobia. The producers are highly educated or highly power individuals, such as Steve Bannon. The individuals identified in this commentary are the producers of Islamophobia. For example, David Yerushalmi markets his Islamophobia to state legislatures, Sean Hannity to his television viewers. The consumers of Islamophobia are frequently less educated or less powerful, who can be easily swayed into hating Islam or Muslims. A person pulling the hijab off a Muslim woman walking in the street is a consumer of Islamophobia as is the person shooting “Iranians” (who were indeed Indians) in a Kansas bar. By every standard, the producers of hatred are worse foes of humanity than the consumers of hatred.

Over the centuries, Islamophobes have trashed Islam, persecuted and even killed Muslims. But there is a great irony in Islamic history. The Mongols destroyed Baghdad but their children embraced Islam. Even the Prophet’s own uncle (Abu Lahb) was a vicious Islamophobe, and Mecca, now the citadel of Islam, was once an Islamophobic city. American Islamophobes, the ugliest and the less ugly, need to know that American Muslims and their progeny, even if persecuted, will continue to contribute to the economic, social, moral, and intellectual good of America as they have in Malaysia and Indonesia, nations as far away from the Middle East as are the United States.

May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike

On Monday, March 13, the Seattle Educators Association (SEA) took a big step toward May 1 strike action in voting by an overwhelming majority in favor of a one-day strike at their Representative Assembly. The resolution will now require approval by the union’s full membership.

The vote was a response to more than a decade of unconstitutional underfunding of public education in Washington State. But it was also a part of a series of recent moves by Seattle unions preparing to take action on May Day against the vicious right-wing agenda of Donald Trump. In February, WFSE Local 304, representing workers at Seattle community colleges, passed a resolution supporting strike and protest action on May 1. The elected leadership of UAW 4121, representing graduate student workers at the University of Washington (UW), recently voted to hold a May 1 strike vote of its membership. The Martin Luther King County Labor Council passed a county-wide May Day resolution this week at its monthly delegate meeting at the Seattle Labor Temple.

Socialist Seattle City Councilmember, Kshama Sawant, who called for “100 Days of Resistance” from Trump’s inauguration leading up to May Day, is now calling for the city’s mayor, Ed Murray, to allow all city workers to take May 1 off without retaliation (Washington State law already allows all public employees to take 2 days off each year for reasons of conscience or religion).

All the developments around May 1 action in Seattle are important. But if the SEA membership approves the strike action, it will take things to another level. Because it would represent more than a symbolic resolution or call to action. It would mean 5,000 educators actually going on strike in a powerful defense of public education, and shutting down the Seattle school system for a day.

Educator Kit McCormick spoke about the mood at the SEA Representative Assembly: “What stood out to me is that people want to do something that will change the status quo. We have tried the same thing for years. We’ve been writing our legislators and we’ve been going to Olympia and it’s time to take a bigger step. People are excited about getting out there with a larger group and saying, ‘This will not stand!’”

The Washington State Supreme Court has repeatedly taken action against the State Legislature in Olympia for underfunding education in violation of the state constitution. In the Fall of 2015, Seattle educators went on strike during contract negotiations, demanding full funding for schools, racial equity teams, and cost of living wage increases. While the strike led to SEA winning a number of their demands and electrified working people across the city, public education remains grossly underfunded statewide. And now federally, education is under attack from the Trump administration.

“An injury to one is an injury to all,” said SEA teacher and Socialist Alternative member Justin Vinson. “We’re fed up. For years educators have been fighting to defend our schools and our students against illegal underfunding by the legislature, and now we have the Trump administration and Betsy DeVos setting their sights on major education cuts. But there is a larger principle at stake here as well, with Trump going after our immigrant sisters and brothers, women, Muslims and LGBTQ people. May 1st can be an important turning point by demonstrating that we can use our power as workers to shut down ‘business as usual’ and step up the resistance to Trump.”

May 1, or “May Day,” is historically a day of mass working class action and immigrant rights protests. With immigrants facing the worst brunt of Trump’s attacks and anti-union legislation coming down the pike, the need to return to May Day’s roots as a day of mass strike action has never been more relevant.

But there is nothing automatic about the upcoming vote by the full SEA membership. While the resolution passed with overwhelming approval, it did so in spite of the opposition of the union’s president and Executive Board. Executive Board members also increased the requirement for strike approval from the usual 50% threshold to a much higher 75%.

Winning the vote will require organizing. Members of Seattle Equality Educators, a left caucus within the union who led the way on the resolution, will help make the case within their schools for taking a stand on May 1. Parents, students and community members should weigh in as well, as all of us have a stake in taking action on these critical issues. Flyering and petitions in support of the educators could help move things in the direction of a successful vote.

SEA educators can take inspiration from what’s happening in California, where a coalition of SEIU United Service Workers West and workers center members (nearly 350,000 workers altogether!) are preparing to go on strike on May 1.

In Seattle, UAW’s resolution will also be going to a vote of its full membership in the coming weeks. If approved, the union’s 6,000 teaching and research assistants at the University of Washington will go on strike on May Day as well. Discussions have already begun, with UAW leading the way, about a campus-wide shutdown at this biggest university in the Northwest.

In Seattle and across the country, the mood is growing to fight back against Trump and big business, to defend education, other vital public services, and all those under attack. But it will require more than symbolic protest. We will need to stand together in solidarity and to take our power as working people into our own hands.

And that’s why what Seattle educators are doing is so important.

Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump

The last time a U.S. president faced a strong movement for impeachment for actual impeachable offenses, one of the major road blocks was fear that an unpopular vice president would take his place, and this road block was removed when Spiro Agnew resigned in the face of criminal charges of cheating on his taxes.

As every American is aware, including even those who have never heard of impeachment, the primary problem with impeaching Trump is the horror of a president Pence. For a long time I tried to explain to people that this was stupid. Pence is already running the show. Impeachment is about placing the executive branch under the rule of law, not about the trivial matter of what individual holds what office for a few years. A President Pence with a Congress that impeaches people would be better than King Donald with Congress acting as court jesters. Impeachment and removal from office are two different things. Et cetera. It doesn’t matter how many reasons you provide, the U.S. public mayl never support impeachment of Trump as long as Pence is vice president.

I recommend reading a book by Jimmy Breslin about the impeachment of Richard Nixon called How the Good Guys Finally Won. The book is a hagiographic account of then Majority Leader Tip O’Neill’s role in pushing the impeachment of Nixon through the Congress. O’Neill does deserve great praise, in fact. It’s impossible to imagine any member of Congress fulfilling their oath of office to the same extent today. While we all know that the impeachment of Bill Clinton was rammed through Congress against the will of the people by the House Republican leadership, it’s perhaps less known how the House Democratic leadership pushed for the impeachment of Nixon. Members of Congress who moved to impeach Nixon, including the leadership, moved in response to public pressure.

Breslin’s book removes activism from the picture and falsely claims that there were no activist rallies or demonstrations demanding Nixon’s impeachment. (There were demonstrations in front of the Capitol with something we seem to have lost along the way: nude streakers.) Breslin sees history as shaped by a few great men. But his book provides some tips and warnings to us, despite its author’s views. When Congressman Robert Drinan first introduced articles of impeachment against Nixon, his party leadership was against it. In Breslin’s account, they wanted to wait until momentum had built, in order to avoid badly losing a vote on the House floor, which they thought would set impeachment back. So, rather comically, the Speaker, the Majority Leader, and the Whip took turns guarding the House floor at all times in order to be ready to table Drinan’s bill should the Republicans call for a vote on it. They did this up until O’Neill asked Minority Leader Jerry Ford if the Republicans planed to ask for a vote, and Ford replied of course not. The Republicans wanted silence on impeachment, not votes on it. And Drinan’s effort helped move the issue forward.

Another thing that helped move impeachment forward against Nixon was the ACLU asking the House to proceed. Of course, today’s ACLU is not the same organization. Today the ACLU favors banning torture again and again and again, each time pretending that it wasn’t already a felony. But the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, and a popular movement have called for impeachment, and who can say the ACLU won’t come around once impeachment appears likely?

It also helped that Judiciary Chair Peter Rodino issued a 718-page report on impeachment. Nixon’s goons went after Rodino and tried to tie him to the mafia. An early vote by Rodino’s Judiciary Committee authorized him to subpoena any agent of the government and that person’s papers, public or private. That’d quickly replace all the chatter about Trump’s tax returns with either Trump’s tax returns or a new impeachable offense. When Rodino was given that authority, almost all of Congress and even the public considered impeachment unlikely if not impossible.

Rodino hired John Doar as special counsel to work on the impeachment, intentionally choosing a well known and respected Republican. Then the House voted to give the Judiciary Committee a million dollars to spend on an investigation. The vote was 367-51. There were Republicans who saw no harm in an investigation, who thought impeachment wouldn’t get anywhere, who thought Nixon was innocent, but who thought Congress had a role to play in our system of government and a responsibility to fill out that role. They also were feeling pressure from their constituents to do their jobs in this matter.

Today the public pressure is there as well. But Trump’s guilt regarding emoluments is public knowledge (and unsubstantiated fantasies regarding Russia are supposed by Democrats to be public knowledge). But it would be helpful for the House to vote a fund for an “investigation,” because it would be part of the proper narrative. As Breslin stresses, facts and laws matter less than appearances.

It would also make sense to hire a special counsel. Doar found that when he looked closely at the information available on Nixon, nothing more was needed to prove his guilt. With regard to Trump, we already knows this. But who knows what an intense examination of the facts could turn up in the way of superfluous evidence? And the evidence isn’t the point. The point is political plausibility.

As soon as impeachment appeared at all plausible against Nixon, public pressure for impeachment – even in Breslin’s account – became intense, and Congress reacted to it. What helped tremendously was polling. The trick today is persuading the polling companies to do the polls, even for money. The few that have been done show the public about evenly spit on impeaching Trump, numbers almost certain to move in favor of impeaching Trump should members of Congress begin pursuing it.

Congress took Nixon to court for refusing to hand over audio tapes. In that case, a Supreme Court that could have been expected to back Nixon instead obeyed pressure from the public and the Congress. In Breslin’s account, however, Nixon would have been impeached whatever way the court ruled. The important thing was that the case was in court.

When the Republicans tried to censure Nixon instead of impeaching him, the Democrats said no. They knew that voters would not be satisfied with anything less than impeachment. That is true again already. Our job is to make Congress aware of it. As of now, unless a Trump offense can somehow be tied to Russia and to a claim that Hillary Clinton “really won,” Democrats in Washington will have no interest in it. Trump could in fact shoot someone on Fifth Avenue. It doesn’t matter. He will not be impeached.

Never mind the whole question of whether future presidents and vice presidents will be expected to obey any laws. It’s all about elections. The Democrats played this same game when Reagan was investigated in the Iran Contra scandal. The Democrats exercised restraint. In the end, they restrained themselves right into a defeat and created the Bush dynasty.

But things were handled differently in 1973. The Democrats made impeachment an issue. In fact, they made it THE issue. And the polls spoke loudly and clearly to Congress members of both parties. Some Democrats, such as Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, started out adamantly opposed to impeachment. But they were pretty easily brought around. The Majority Leader was a Democrat who saw being a Democrat as something noticeably different from being a Republican. Tip O’Neill’s role in the impeachment of Nixon is highlighted in Breslin’s book:

[O’Neill] came into this room in June with a new weapon, another mirror, a forty-page notebook put together by William Hamilton and Staff, pollsters, for William Welsh of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The topic sentence of the report said, “In April our study shows 43 per cent will vote for a Congressman who is inclined to vote for impeachment; 29 per cent would vote for a Congressman who would not be so inclined and 28 per cent feel the Congressman’s stand on impeachment would make no difference at this time.”

A further interpretation of the figures showed that “50 per cent of Republican voters will vote against a Congressman who is inclined not to vote for impeachment, while only 7 per cent of Democrats will vote for a Congressman who is inclined to vote against impeachment.”

… O’Neill went right up to Rostenkowski, because Rostenkowski is Mayor Daley’s play caller with the Illinois Democrats in Congress. A word from Danny is a word from the Hall. Deviation? Try Russia, not Cook County.

“Danny, ol pal, did you see this poll yet?” Tip O’Neill said.

“What poll?” Rostenkowski grumbled. He despises polls, but he had to ask about a poll because he is in politics and he is supposed to ask about a poll.

“It shows here that we could pick up as many as eighty seats the way it’s going now,” O’Neill said.

“Whew.”

“And it shows here that there is no way for a Congressman in an urban district to win an election against anybody if he doesn’t vote for impeachment.”

“Where does it show that?”

“Here, look. Only seven percent of the Democrats will vote for a Congressman who is against impeachment. That means a Republican could beat a Democrat in a city if the Republican is for impeachment and the Democrat is against it. Can you imagine that? Say, that’s right. You represent a city, don’t you, Danny?”

O’Neill began to show the poll around. He told Thaddeus Dulski, who comes from upstate Erie County in New York, that the poll showed all rural votes being lost to a Congressman who is against impeachment. “But you don’t have any farms in your district,” he told Dulski. Dulski grumbled. He had a religious belief in the presidency. He also had a lot of farmers in his district. Out on the House floor, when O’Neill saw Angelo Roncallo, a Long Island Republican, he said, “Hey, Angie, old pal. Geez, but you really love it down here, don’t you? Angie, I want you to know something. My door is always open to you, as you know. And to show you how much I think of you, Angie, my door is still going to be open to you next year when you’re not going to be in Congress because of this impeachment.” O’Neill gave a great, fun laugh. Roncallo laughed with him but not as much.

Here’s the part where your history teacher says: Compare and Contrast.

The first thing you’ll notice is that it was all about the damn elections back then, just the same as it is now. But somehow the Democrats saw winning the elections as dependent on doing their jobs, and in fact they won the biggest victories in many years and have never done as well since.

The second thing you’ll notice is that just about everything else was completely different. Elections were losable for incumbents. The Democrats had started impeachment proceedings and made it an issue before the polls compelled them to. The media covered the story. The polling companies did the polls and published them. A labor union was pushing impeachment. And a Congressional leader was lobbying his colleagues in the direction of impeachment. Those six facts appear today to have come from some bizarre parallel universe.

Yet, if we are dedicated to saving this republic, we will endeavor to find a way to substitute for them. We will recruit pro-impeachment challengers to incumbents. We will use civil disobedience, media activism, and legal bribery to lobby Congress as hard as possible to take up impeachment. We will organize in swing districts and commission polls in them. We will report the results on progressive radio and the internet. If we lose now, the good guys won’t have won much forty years ago.

There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin

There only was and only will be one Jimmy Breslin, and after his death last Sunday at 88, he is no more.

Funny, cranky and sometimes boorish, Breslin was a working class journalist who cared about the working class and the under and un-employed class and who, despite achieving wealth and pinnacles of journalistic success, from a Pulitzer and a Polk award to movie options and best-selling novels, never forgot his roots.

How many journalists have your read in a major newspaper or magazine, or heard bloviating on the air, young or old, who’ve had the courage and fortitude to do as Breslin did in his old age: finding a refrigerator box and setting himself up in the dead of winter on a heating grate on a New York City sidewalk alongside a bunch of other homeless people so he could write with real understanding about how they live? That was some column, and provided a jolting wake-up to New Yorkers who walk by those boxes every day, usually without a thought to who’s huddled inside them.

How many have had the courage to call out the likes of Hillary Clinton when she was a carpetbagger running for Senate from New York State, for having “blood on her hands” as she waved to the crowds?

How many have shared his outrage at learning how much money the Standard Oil Company paid to have a marketing company develop a new name and logo for the company, changing Esso to Exxon (that was one of the funniest of his columns I ever read, full of extraneous Xs whose value he placed at something like a million dollars per keystroke after learning what Exxon had paid a naming firm for its new corporate logo).

I’m pretty sure the answer to all these questions is the same: none.

Breslin did all that and much, much more.

But the problem isn’t, as most obit writers have been saying, that there aren’t journalists out there who have Breslin’s sensibility and sensitivity to wrongdoing, if not perhaps his unique gift for getting close to people who don’t normally open up to a reporter. There are. It isn’t that there aren’t journalists out there who are actually writing the kinds of incisive and eye-opening pieces that Breslin spent his life writing. There are. It isn’t even that there aren’t journalists with a similar literary talent. There are.

The problem is that there are no longer any newspapers whose publishers and senior editors are willing to run such gritty Establishment-demolishing and icon-attacking pieces in their columns and on their opinion pages.

Years ago, newspapers ran columns by the likes of Breslin, Anthony Lewis, Pete Hamill, Mike Royko, Molly Ivens and Joe Bageant — columns that could leave the reader fuming, racing for pen and paper or typewriter to knock off an angry letter to the paper or to a Congressperson, columns that would have you running to a friend or a spouse to read it aloud to them, columns that simply made you think about something or some people you hadn’t though of before. No more. It’s the rare column in a mainstream news outlet these days that can elicit outrage, make the blood boil, or even bring a tear to the eye.

Jimmy Breslin wrote those kinds of columns because he felt them, chased them down, and was able to write them, day in and day out, right through 2004, and even later, after a brief hiatus, into 2011/12, and he was able to do it because there were papers like the New York Post, the Daily News and Newsday, that let him do it.

Now newspapers are dumbed down, homogenized and busy seeking a higher-income, perhaps in the publishers’ minds more easily offended, or jaded, demographic, so they don’t want the old-style rabble-rousing columnists ruffling feathers and playing Charles Dickens.

Of course you can find those writers. They’re all over the internet. You’ll find them here at ThisCantBeHappening, at sites like Consortium News, Z Magazine, Counterpunch, and other sites. The problem is you have to go looking for them. The beauty of the old newspapers with their columnists like Jimmy Breslin was that everyone was confronted by a Breslin or a Royko or an Ivens when they opened their daily paper. There columnists were in you face. You couldn’t avoid them. And it made a difference. Breslin busted up a corrupt Democratic Party machine with his column. Most newspapers required an investigative team and a series of page one articles to accomplish something like that.. My late friend John Hess did the same kind of thing at the New York Times and later as a columnist for a local TV station and on Democracy Now! to the New York State nursing home industry.

It’s harder to do that type of writing when newspapers want to be safe, bland and “objective” on their opinion pages as well as their news pages, but that’s one of the prices of the consolidation of the news media.

I remember the day I got the explanation from the managing editor at the Daily News in Los Angeles, where I headed the bureau covering Los Angeles County government for why an investigative story I had done hadn’t run. I had put together a piece showing how the Los Angeles County employee pension fund was invested in all of the same companies that at the time students were the reason students were occupying state university administration buildings up and down the state. They were demanding that their universities’ endowment funds divest from the list of US companies being boycotted for supporting apartheid in South Africa. It was a powerful story because so many of the county’s employees were African American and supported that boycott, but didn’t know their own pension fund was violating it

I had initially been led to believe that my piece would be the front page banner story the next morning, but found it wasn’t even in the paper at all. This led to a series of efforts by the editor to change the tone of the piece, first of all from an enterprise report to one that attributed the story (falsely) to a county supervisor representing the largely black Watts area and South Los Angeles. When I complained about this, I was told that my articles were too “anti-business.”

I quit what became my last newspaper job, and began doing investigative pieces for a news program at KCET-TV, the local PBS affiliate.

For the last 20 years I’ve been living and working in the Philadelphia area. Over that time, I’ve submitted dozens of opinion pieces to the local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer. If I remember right, two have been published over that period. I wouldn’t claim to be a Jimmy Breslin, but I know I write and report well. I also know that my submissions have been simply too much “out there” for the obsessively middle-of-the-road Inquirer to handle. Examples: A piece decrying the Pennsylvania Corrections Department’s ongoing and unconscionable refusal to provide proven treatments for a deadly Hep-C epidemic raging among the state’s incarcerated population, an article denouncing as a return to McCarthyism a list published initially in the Washington Post and then as a page-one story in the Inquirer labeling some 200 online US news sites as “purveyors of pro-Russian propaganda,” and an article saying that the establishment of a Pentagon drone-piloting station in suburban Horsham, outside Philadelphia, was, under the international laws of war, turning that community into a front-line war-zone and a legitimate target of those being targeted by drones.

I like to think these are the types of columns that Jimmy Breslin would have written had he been living down in Philadelphia, instead of in New York.

And I did get them published, but not in a mainstream newspaper. They ran on this site, ThisCantBeHappening!, and were picked up by many other online sites (some of them on that Washington Post/Inquirer hit list!).

I’m not sure what the answer is to the death of hard-hitting columnists like Breslin in the mainstream media. But let’s not attribute their absence the dying off of such impassioned and dedicated journalists. It’s the smarmy publishers and senior editors of the putrified and increasingly irrelevant corporate media who are at fault for their obsessive focus on ratings and “hits” and eyeballs, and their loss of any commitment to hiring the best journalists and letting them go at it.

Jimmy Breslin was a force of nature. I’m not sure an editor could have stopped him from doing anything. They could suspend him, as Newsday did when he unleashed a racist and sexist tirade against a Korean-American colleague when she criticized something he’d written, but they couldn’t really fire him. He had too big a following in his native city. But I suspect if he were a young journalist today trying to get himself a column, Breslin would fare no better than the rest of us.

RIP Jimmy Breslin…and the US mainstream media.

The Meaning of Life

Many people date the DNA revolution to the discovery of its structure by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. But really it began thirty years before, conceived by the mind of John D Rockefeller, Sr. Thus it is fitting that DNA is named after him. DNA stands for DeoxyriboNucleic Acid and ribo stands for Rockefeller Institute of Biochemistry (now Rockefeller University) where the chemical composition of DNA was first discovered in the 1920s. The Rockefeller Foundation had become interested in DNA because its trustees feared a Bolshevik-style revolution. Intense public resentment had already compelled the break-up of their Standard oil Company in 1911; so the Foundation sought ways, said trustee Harry Pratt Judson in 1913, to “reinforce the police power of the state”. They intended to find the ultimate key to human behaviour which would allow the resentful and envious mobs to be effectively managed.

The Foundation had two strategies for management that were distinct but complementary: to control human behaviour at the level of social structures: family, work and emotions, which the Foundation referred to by names such as “psychobiology”; and to control human behaviour at the level of molecules.

The “science of man”

 

To develop methods of control at the societal level, the Foundation more-or-less founded the discipline of social science in the early 1900s.

Max Mason, appointed as the Foundation’s director in 1929, described this double focus as their “science of man” project:

“[It i]s directed to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding. The social sciences, for example, will concern themselves with the rationalization of social control; the medical and natural sciences propose a closely coordinated study of the sciences which underlie personal understanding and personal control” (quote from Lily Kay, The Molecular Vision of Life, 1993).

For the social science arm the Foundation sought to inculcate within the social science research community specific mechanistic habits of mind and an ethos conducive to this goal of control: “the validation of the findings of social science [must be] through effective social control,” wrote the Foundation’s head of Social Science, Edmund E. Day. According to Warren Weaver, then director of the Foundation, this meant the “recasting of prevailing ideas of human nature and conduct” in line with the “managerial needs” of industrialisation for characters such as timeliness and obedience.

The “restructuring of human relations in congruence with industrial capitalism” as Lily Kay, biographer of the Foundation described it, was an agenda that was quite widely understood in the 1930s—and widely disapproved of. One contemporary critic called the Foundation’s work “a thinly disguised capitalistic manipulation of the social order” (Kay, 1993).

The Rockefellers construct the gene

The second arm to the “science of man” strategy was seen as purely based on scientific rationality.

To the Rockefeller Foundation trustees, however, rationality meant eugenics. Eugenic theory, by definition, implies that humans contain hidden determinants for traits like civility, intelligence, and obedience. Logically, such determinants ought to be discoverable, reasoned the Foundation’s trustees. If science were able to peer deep enough it would discover those mechanisms and molecules that effected this ‘upward causation’ of behaviour. Once identified, such controlling elements—which were initially presumed to be proteins—could be understood and made use of.

However, to make such discoveries required a new science and a new concept: ‘molecular biology’. Molecular biology was a term the foundation invented for a reductionist “science of the very small” that was focused on discovering the nature of the gene.

The Foundation nevertheless did try out other—even nonreductionist—approaches to biology. It briefly supported the mathematical biologist Nicolas Rashevsky before finally dropping him (Abraham, 2004). Presumably, as a descriptive science, mathematical biology did not meet the Foundation’s desire to discover deterministic and controlling forces.

By testing out and sifting through distinct approaches, individuals, and institutions, the Foundation eventually developed a strategy to reinvent the science of biology that, by 1933, was fully elaborated. It concentrated on funding scientific cliques at a relatively small number of elite institutions (such as Caltech and the University of Chicago). These cliques trained up hundreds of scientists whose job was to find the molecules responsible for that upward causation; that is, to find the specific molecules and the specific mechanisms that determined the form and function of organisms. They would thus validate the Rockefeller eugenic thesis.

Institutionally, these efforts were extremely successful. After the search for these ‘master molecules’ had eventually narrowed to DNA, George Beadle, Nobel Laureate in physiology and Rockefeller insider, noted that all but one of the 18 Nobel prizes awarded for genetic science after 1953 had been awarded to current or former Rockefeller-funded scientists (Kay, 1993). By Beadle’s death in 1989, largely thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, molecular biology had become the dominant approach to all of biology. That is, medicine, developmental biology, neurobiology, and agriculture.

Almost the whole world nowadays assumes the overwhelming emphasis of biological science on genetics and reductionism to be a logical and inevitable scientific one. But what the history of the Rockefeller Foundation shows is that the virtual wiping out of whole organism biology and the sidelining of diverse other approaches such as Rashevsky’s; of nutritional biology; and of environmental determinism, was a carefully planned coup d’état. It was an overt seizure of the scientific estate intended to substitute genetic determinism for competing ideas about causation in biology.

Genetic determinism is the idea that genes have a privileged level of causation and thus a special status in biology. As shown in the companion article Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life, the idea is clearly false. Causation in biology can take many forms and genetics is just one of them, but the robber barons who bought biology did so specifically in order to impose a genetic determinist paradigm.

A further consequence of their efforts was that they simultaneously seized and impoverished our idea of life. Thus, when Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA in 1953 they considered they had discovered “the secret of life“. The triumph of the Rockefeller Foundation was that no one contradicted them.

The origins of genetic determinism: Huxley and the Victorians

The fear of unruly mobs was not unique to leaders of the Rockefeller Foundation. Victorian reviewers of the books of Charles Darwin, fifty years earlier, also lived in a tumultuous age. The advent of new technologies like trains and telephones, the growth of cities, and the rise of a mercantile class that threatened to displace the nobility, were destabilising their world.

To add Darwinism to this ferment, feared those reviewers, would “shake society to its very foundations” (Desmond, 1998). These mid-Victorians feared Darwinism primarily because it provided a set of powerful ideas that profoundly undermined God and the Church, the two rocks on which their world was largely built.

More than that, evolution specifically threatened to destroy the ancient and sacred concepts of inherited wealth and inherited merit. To Victorians, these were virtually synonymous with the benefits of order and hierarchy.

Evolution even threatened to unleash social upheaval directly: to free the slaves, to liberate the workers, and emancipate the female population; and Thomas Huxley, the leading advocate of Darwinism, calculated he would widen popular support for science by promising as much. He told enthusiastic Victorian workers that the ascent of species showed the inevitability of social improvement.

Huxley, however, couldn’t go too far. Unlike all of his wealthy colleagues, he needed to make a living from science. But as Darwin’s de facto spokesperson, he was nevertheless in a unique position to shape the perception and interpretation of Darwinism.

Thus, in the presence of the dispossessed he emphasised science’s revolutionary qualities; but with the new industrialists he presented science as the driver of a new industrial era; and, for the stolid British establishment he emphasised that “Nature’s old salique law will not be repealed, and no change of dynasty will be effected”. Salique law was the ancient Frankish law ensuring inheritance only through the male line.

Huxley and his fellow scientists became adepts at such political manouevring. The key example, at least for genetics, was the taking of prescientific theories of inheritance, that were familiar to the establishment, such as salique law, and melding them with Darwinism. No evidence was available to anyone that the character traits prized by the establishment, such as intellect and social refinement, could be biologically inherited; and even if they could, it was surely unlikely to be only through the male line. Yet Huxley and his scientific fellows glossed over such inconsistencies so as to present evolution as minimally disturbing to the beliefs and values of the status quo. This required the nature of inherited traits to be essentially deterministic in nature. People did not acquire good characters, they were born with them.

Such interpretations meant that science thrived, but it was at the expense of undercutting Huxley’s earlier promises of greater freedom for the underclasses. Thus it was that the scientists used their positions as experts to bend the science and to knowingly take the side of the establishment in the struggle for social power that surrounded Victorian science (Desmond, 1998).

These interpretations were crucial to the future of biology. Inherited deterministic factors were based on what Huxley called “protoplasm” and protoplasm was a controller of human behaviour. Protoplasm is now accepted by many historians as the intellectual father of eugenic theory. It became the intellectual justification for the subsequent Rockefeller search for molecules of social control; but, as a theory constructed more for political than scientific reasons, it had feet of clay.

The entry of big tobacco

The railroading of biology away from the study of whole organisms by the Rockefeller Foundation (joined also by the Carnegie Foundation) proved relatively easy. Turning that understanding into social control was less so. The next stage required new impetus and even more money.

Starting in the 1950s the tobacco industry distributed $370 million among approximately 1,000 scientists in the US and British medical establishments. The long term plan was to construct another novel molecular science, that of human genetic variation (Wallace, 2009). The immediate goal was to attribute the diseases of smoking to genetic origins. The tobacco industry was determined to find “gene defects” that might lead to lung cancer and addiction. Tobacco executives thought—correctly—that finding even limited evidence would keep blame from being placed entirely on their products. Genetic determinism thus could be used to neutralise negative public, professional, and even legal, opinion (Gundle et al., 2010).

Tobacco funding never uncovered any compelling genetic determinants of cancer or addiction. But the strategy did shift public opinion. Genetic researchers were therefore encouraged by industries and governments to apply their methods to other physical illnesses (such as diabetes), and for the same reasons (Vrecko, 2008).

So although eugenics practitioners, such as Adolf Hitler, had made the word eugenics abhorrent to most people by the 1920s and 1930s, the genome sequencing bandwagon eventually convinced the public that DNA was a master molecule, a governor of health and behaviour, even down to one’s daily activities and decisions. The study of genes and genomes achieved acceptance of the eugenic premise through, as it were, the back door. The public was convinced to blame numerous illnesses and conditions, and not just lung cancer, on their own genetic ‘weaknesses’. Thus genetics was established as the presumptive primary cause of most human variation, chronic disease was normalised, and DNA was crowned “the King of molecules” by a Nobel Laureate (Mullis, 1997).

The ever-expanding domain of science

Thomas Huxley once declared, in an editorial of 1865, that science had no intention “of being content with anything short of absolute victory [over the Church] and uncontrolled domination over the whole realm of the intellect” (cited in Desmond, 1998). So while Charles Darwin initially refrained from publicly pursuing what he supposed to be the intellectual implications of his ideas, from fear that doing so would prevent them being accepted, his apostles rarely showed such restraint.

From Huxley and Herbert Spencer, via EO Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, and many others, the presumed properties of DNA have formed the basis of great edifices of implication. EO Wilson’s Sociobiology: The new synthesis (1975) and Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype (1982) extrapolated biology far beyond previously accepted domains of the physical body, to encompass human desires, human ‘misbehaviour’, human ethics, and human social structures. Relying on faint statistical associations between DNA genome markers and human traits, geneticists have claimed that hundreds of human attributes have genetic explanations, at least in significant part, including: sexual and religious orientation, voting preferences, sleepwalking, entrepreneurial behaviour, sexism, violence, and many others (e.g. Kales et al., 1980). These claims have provided a steady supply of juicy headlines to pronounce that genes play powerful deterministic roles in behaviour.

The failure of “master molecules” to explain life

In 2016, Gary Greenberg, Professor Emeritus at Wichita State University, Kansas, reviewed a book that he plainly considered to be unnecessary. The reviewed was titled How many nails does it take to seal the coffin? The coffin in question is the science of behavior genetics. He cited fellow gravedigger Richard Lerner of Tufts University describing the “counterfactual conceptualizations of the role of genes in behavior and development” (Lerner, 2007) and genetic mortician Douglas Wahlsten (2012) that “all hope has been lost” in the search for genetic effects on normal human behaviour (Greenberg, 2016).

The basic issue identified by Greenberg, Lerner, et al., is that, if several hundred billion dollars of searching finds no evidence for genetic influences (except for rare traits like Down syndrome), then the only reasonable conclusion is that genetic influences on those traits are absent or minutely small. Yet the genetic zombie, to their exasperation, lives on, and for the simple reason that it is lavishly funded.

It is not just the study of human behaviours for which the long-sought genetic evidence is chronically missing. In 2013, the head of the Broad Institute at MIT, which is the most prominent global institution in the study of human genetics, called genetic influence on human disease a “phantom” (Zuk et al., 2013). This U-turn followed a succession of compelling critiques that focused on 1) the lack of replicability of putative genetic predispositions in humans (Ioannidis, 2007); 2) lack of evidence of broad effects on health (Manolio et al., 2009; Dermitzakis and Clark, 2009); 3) lack of effect size of all except a very few individual genetic predispositions (Ioannidis and Panagiotou, 2011); and 4) a general lack of experimental rigour of genetic methods and hypotheses (Buchanan et al. 2006; Wallace, 2006; Charney and English, 2012).

The media (including the science media) has barely reported these critiques, but they have left the discipline of human genetics in turmoil. Interesting as it is to watch billions of dollars of medical research funding generate nothing but negative results, (see Manolio et al., 2009), the really big question is the one now hanging over the underlying master molecule idea, since genetic determinism has become the central paradigm of all biology.

The fundamental defects of this master molecule concept were summed up perhaps most succinctly by Richard C Strohman of UC Berkeley; in a 1997 article “The coming Kuhnian revolution in biology“:

“[W]e have taken a successful and extremely useful theory and paradigm of the gene and have illegitimately extended it as a paradigm of life”. But, Strohman wrote, the broader paradigm “has little power and must eventually fail”.

Interestingly, the same logical flaw was identified by Lily Kay in her Rockefeller Foundation biography of 1993. In concluding, she noted the self-limiting nature of its reductionist method. “By narrowing its epistemic domain, the new biology has bracketed out important animate phenomena from its discourse on life”.

That failure is now fully visible. Thanks to emerging research findings such as those described in Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life, it is now hard to overlook that genetic reductionism has failed to explain “important animate phenomena” like: growth, self-organisation, evolution, consciousness, learning, health, and disease. These are the key elements of life that a successful paradigm ought to explain but somehow genetic determinism never has.

Its emerging replacement is a vastly different paradigm of life, one that conceives living systems as cooperatives and not dictatorships. To be clear, some facts about DNA are not in dispute. DNA exists. The mutation or addition of genes can have profound effects on the properties of organisms; but this doesn’t make DNA special. The removal or addition (where possible) of most other components of organisms, such as RNA, or proteins, even water, has the same effect. Thus even the use of GMO crops, which might look like clear examples of upward causation, are consistent with the new paradigm because introduced transgenes are carefully designed to act as isolated modules, traits that operate independently of all the system level controls that organisms typically use to manage and integrate gene activity and biochemical function.

But what ultimately motivates this new paradigm is the lack of conceptual necessity for DNA to animate organisms. Molecular biologists routinely propose that DNA has properties of “expression”, of “control”, and of cellular governance, in some sense that other molecules do not. These are the properties that a master molecule paradigm requires, but asserting them does not rescue genetic determinism, it is merely prescientific vitalism.

What science is telling us, therefore, is that, in living systems, everything depends on everything else, and life bootstrapped itself out of the ooze. DNA did not lead the way.

The societal consequences of genetic determinism

Whether true or not, all belief systems have consequences. When news of Darwin’s evolutionary theory reached Germany in the 1860s, Ernst Haeckel, German prodigy biologist, constructed the first trees of life, with humans (for no scientific reason) at the apex of creation. Much like Huxley, Haeckel also stretched the implications of Darwinismus into a genetic determinist struggle, in this case one that drove “peoples irresistibly onward”. Darwinismus foretold, he said, a new Teutonic destiny.

As early as the death of Charles Darwin (1882) it was said that his thought (which for the most part meant Huxley’s interpretations) could be found “under a hundred disguises in works on law and history, in political speeches and religious discourses…if we try to think ourselves away from it we must think ourselves entirely away from our age” (John Morley, 1882, cited in Desmond 1998)

Thus the belief system that humans are controlled by an internal master molecule has become woven into myriad areas of social thought. It is far beyond the scope of this article to describe the consequences of genetic determinism at either the personal or the societal level (see instead The DNA Mystique), but the two world wars, the holocaust, racism, colonialism, eugenics, inequity, are each stronger as a consequence of, or might never have happened without, the idea of genetic determinism. The reason is that genetic determinism moulded “higher” and “lower”, “normal” and “abnormal”, into intrinsic and unmodifiable scientific properties of biological organisms and groups, rather than being what they were previously: questionable prejudices and dubious conceits.

Genetic determinism thus became the defining idea of the twentieth century. Nothing was unmoved by it. It drove biology, it even drove science itself.

It began with the ability of outside institutions to impose long-term and overarching agendas on science. This alone is a breathtaking observation, both disturbing and profound, that wholly contradicts our normal presumption that science is driven by brilliant individuals, technical innovations, and collective intellectual rigour. Instead, to understand what occurred to DNA is as simple as following the money.

Science, and therefore all of society, was lured into a very specific DNA-centric interpretation of life that was predicated on magical thinking about the properties of genes. Once the initial conditions were set up, however, a key observation is that biological research fostered genetic determinist social thought and genetic determinist thought in turn made genetically determinist science seem more valid and desirable. A self-sustaining feedback loop was thus created.

One example of how genetic determinism participated in that loop was laid out in a 1975 letter from prominent geneticists to the NY Review of Books. They were replying to an uncritical review of EO Wilson’s Sociobiology: a New Synthesis. The geneticists’ letter lays out a rationale for why a political establishment might fund sociobiology and genomics: to furnish interpretations of human activity that create and therefore determine behavioural and social norms. As the authors wrote: “for Wilson, what exists is adaptive, what is adaptive is good, therefore what exists is good.” The authors were pointing out, well before the tobacco industry strategy had been unmasked, that any scientific assertion that a societal aberration such as “war”, or an individual misbehaviour such as “violence”, has genetic roots makes it seem natural or normal. Thus, what appears to be a simple and apolitical scientific “finding”, say of a genetic predisposition to obesity, generates inferences that are highly valued by institutions (such as the food industry) that cause obesity but wish to resist pressure on them for social change.

It is scant wonder then that the publication of Sociobiology was followed by a funding boom in genetic research, in both the social and medical sciences. This boom happened even though human genetic research is rarely of value in the search for cures or the treatment of disease (Chaufan and Joseph, 2013). The bottom line is, even if genetic predispositions for obesity were to exist, everyone should exercise and not overeat.

Thus biological explanations have vastly expanded science’s intellectual realm, into the arenas of social affairs, economics, politics, religion, even philosophy and ethics. Bearing out the prediction of the NYRB letter, sociobiology has virtually driven out traditional academic interpretations of human activity, such as Marxism or Deconstructionism, that made life uncomfortable for the powers that be.

As Dorothy Nelkin and Susan Lindee observed for academia:

“In the last few decades many universities have ceased to offer the grand survey courses in Western civilization that once seemed to explain so much about human culture and the human past. Postcolonialism, postmodernism, literary theory, and other trends in academic life called into question the legitimacy of the grand narratives that were built into the notion of “Western civilization”. Many college students will never take such a course. But most will take introductory biology……introductory biology has become the cultural equivalent of the old Western civilization curriculum: explaining human culture and the human past, biological knowledge is seen as deeply relevant to social concerns, economic development, international relations, and ethical debates. Introductory biology is presented as a valid, truth-seeking endeavour, untainted by religious, political, or philosophical commitments. It places human beings in a meaningful universe, providing ways of understanding relationships between ethnic and racial groups and between identity and the body” (Preface to the second edition, The DNA Mystique: The gene as a cultural icon, 2004).

Anyone not knowing the strategies of the Rockefeller Foundation and the tobacco industry might well imagine sociobiology to be “valid” and “untainted”. Plainly though, given their history, and the new scientific revelations, genetic explanations are just ones whose political commitments are better concealed, and it becomes highly relevant that genetic explanations are being made in academia, in policy circles, and in the public arena by scientists whose funders (whether governments or corporations) benefit from this neutering of public discourse.

The end result of Huxley’s proposed intellectual expansion of biology is arguably already here. Students unversed in the history of thought and stewed in unsupported or unverifiable genetic explanations have become the intellectual core of a miseducated and compliant society. One that creatively participates in its own delusion by self-describing illnesses as “genetic”, even in cases where the only clear evidence of causation is environmental. A genetically determinist society is therefore one not capable of understanding itself as directly at risk from irresponsible corporate activities and government indifference. It is fundamentally defenceless against polluters, junk food marketers, community dislocation, and other threats to human integrity.

In a wider political frame, the history of the 20th Century shows that a genetic determinist society is also vulnerable to fascists, racists, dictators, and warmongers. All this too is the product of a century and a half of the manipulation of biological science.

Is it too strong to argue this? I do not think so. Consider, as a case study, Adolf Eichmann and the transportation of the Jews to the death camps during the second world war. The world mostly blamed Eichmann personally and Israel executed him. Hannah Arendt, however, famously attributed his crimes to a mystical “banality of evil”.

They were all wrong. Adolf Eichmann and his superiors were following the dictates, as they saw them, of science and genetics. Jews were, to them, a genetic problem of racial purity and the only solution to a genetic problem is extermination and the prevention of reproduction (see especially The War Against the Jews: 1933-194). Given the premises, the final solution was perfectly logical.

But the perfectly logical question for us (and the subject of The Meaning of Life Part II) is, why does hardly anyone see this? Why is it so hard to critique or challenge genetics? Not only do we attribute to genes a wholly unwarranted privileged level of causation in biology, we also give them a privileged level of discourse in society. The dominance of genetics is thus a phenomenon that does not originate in science.

In the last essay of this series I will elaborate on this by proposing a novel theory to explain the fascination of our society for genetic determinism and master molecules. This theory explains the iconic status and scientific attraction of DNA in terms of its metaphysical role as a representative of the universe. Like that other representative of the universe, the Judaeo-Christian God, DNA confers the properties of leadership and authority on disorderly nature. DNA, as the true meaning of life, thus legitimates authority in our scientific society. Therefore, the historical actors, such as the Rockefeller Foundation, who helped create this role for DNA, were, just like everyone else, in thrall to forces they didn’t fully understand.

This theory has quite a few important implications. It suggests that ever since genetic determinism became established in the public mind, that Western societies have become locked into a downward spiral of authoritarian politics and genetic determinist thought. This spiral is already imperilling the functioning of democracy. Unhalted, it may extinguish democratic values entirely. More optimistically, the theory offers a conceptually simple way to reverse the spiral. That way rests on pointing out that all organisms are systems and not dictatorships. It becomes necessary, for the very survival of democratic society, to confront these habits of genetic determinist thinking which, after all, have no basis in reality.

References

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Buchanan, AV, KM Weiss, and SM Fullerton. Dissecting Complex Disease: The Quest For the Philosopher’s Stone? International Journal of Epidemiology 35.3 (2006): 562-571.

Charney E, and English W (2012) Candidate Genes and Political Behavior. American Political Science Review 106: 1-34.

Chaufan C, and Joseph J (2013) The ‘Missing Heritability’ of Common Disorders: Should Health Researchers Care? International Journal of Health Services 43: 281–303.Lucy S. Dawidowicz (1975) The War Against the Jews: 1933-194 New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston

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Dermitzakis E.T. and Clark A.G. (2009) Life after GWA studies. Science 326: 239-240.

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Greenberg, G (2016) How many nails does it take to seal the coffin? Developmental Psychobiology 9999: 1-2.

Gundle KR. Dingel, M and Barbara A. Koenig (2010) “To Prove This is the Industry’s Best Hope”: Big Tobacco’s Support of Research on the Genetics of Nicotine. Addiction. 105: 974–983. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.02940.x

Ioannidis, J.P., (2007) Non-replication and inconsistency in the genome-wide association setting. Hum Hered. 64: 203-13.

Ioannidis JP and Panagiotou O (2011) Comparison of Effect Sizes Associated With Biomarkers Reported in Highly Cited Individual Articles and in Subsequent Meta-analyses. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 305: 2200-2210.

Kales, A, CR Soldatos, EO Bixler, RL Ladda, DS Charney, G Weber and PK Schweitzer (1980) Hereditary factors in sleepwalking and night terrors. The British Journal of Psychiatry 137: 111-118. 10.1192/bjp.137.2.111

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This essay originally appeared on Independent Science News.

Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman

Martin McGuinness followed along the familiar trail of so many enemies of Britain’s weary colonial history. A “super-terrorist” becomes a super-statesman. Jomo Kenyatta comes to mind. And Archbishop Makarios. And of course, Menachem Begin. With blood on their hands, they pass through that mist of nobility bestowed by colonial power and former rulers – and re-emerge as statesmen of compromise, eloquence, even humour.

I’ve never been sure they really changed that much. Begin blew up the King David Hotel, murdered two British army sergeants because the Brits were executing Irgun fighters, and became Prime Minister of Israel. He signed a peace agreement with Egypt, met Margaret Thatcher – then invaded Lebanon in 1982: 17,000 died.

In fact, most of these folk recalled their past with a certain amount of caution. “Father of the Nation”, they liked to be called – although that hardly applied to McGuinness. Michael Collins went through a similar transmogrification. There he was, killing Churchill’s Cairo Gang intelligence men in Dublin and then sitting in Downing Street with Lloyd George and Churchill himself, who told of meeting Collins whose hands had “touched directly the springs of terrible deeds”. Doubtless, he would have said the same of McGuinness.

In 1972 I saw him first, standing beside a table on the Creggan – already no-go Derry after Bloody Sunday – for a frantic press conference. They said he was the IRA commander in Derry (he was actually number two), but he was a rather frightening young man, 22 at the time, high cheekbones, fluffy, curly hair, red-faced, sharp, narrow eyes, unsmiling. A very dangerous man, I thought at the time – to his enemies, at least. There was a rifle in the room, though I don’t think he touched it. People later said it was a Kalashnikov, but there weren’t many AKs around at the time and I rather think it was an old American Garand.

The British were claiming at the time that McGuinness was the most wanted man in Derry or Northern Ireland or all of Ireland – but they did that on a regular basis to all their most tenacious enemies. That’s what they once called Begin. That’s what they said about Collins in the early 1920s, who passed through that infamous mist of nobility when he signed the grim Treaty which the Brits had prepared for him, Griffith and the others. It cost him his life, of course, so he never travelled to Buckingham Palace to meet the King. But Collins did meet James Craig, one of Northern Ireland’s most sectarian Protestant prime ministers, before he was killed by his own people. Avoiding assassination, McGuinness was to sit down with Ian Paisley and his cronies and become deputy minister of the state he tried so hard to destroy. That alone was worth a handshake from the British monarch.

 

But we should not be too romantic about violent men who pass through the archway of British political acceptance. Sadat was a German spy in Cairo in the Second World War. Then he became the beloved peace-maker. Nasser was at first greeted by Eden, who only later called him the Mussolini of the Nile, although Nasser did for the British Empire at Suez. Yasser Arafat was a “super-terrorist” when I first met him in Beirut in the 1980s, blathering on about the “Zionist military junta”; then he signed the Oslo agreement and became a “super-statesman” and shook hands with Bill Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin. Yet under the brutal Sharon, he reverted to “super-terrorist” status, up to and including his moment of death. What moral transformartions! His body must have been “spinning” even before it was put in the grave.

It’s a heady, giddy business to undergo these constant conversions. Saddam was our man when he sent his Iraqi legions into revolutionary Iran in 1980 but then became the Hitler of the Tigris when he invaded the wrong country (Kuwait) 10 years later and got bombed for it, and was then invaded in 2003 for the one crime he didn’t commit (9/11). Off with his head, we cried, and the noose surely strangled him. Then take Muammar Gaddafi, whose Libyan coup was at first welcomed by the Foreign Office. But then he went a bit mad, issuing Trump-like statements of mind-numbing inanity, and then tried to fix up McGuinness and his mates with explosives and organised a bomb in a Berlin nightclub where it killed an American serviceman – and then got bombed by Ronald Reagan who dubbed him the “Mad Dog of the Middle East”.

But the “Mad Dog” outlived Saddam and got slobbered over by the Brits for deconstructing nuclear weapons he never had, and Saint Tony bestowed a kiss upon him and all was well until the Libyans decided they’d had enough and the much-kissed Muammar was butchered by a mob. No wonder he had a strange, puzzled look in his eyes at the time. Then there was Bashar al-Assad, son of the ferocious Hafez, invited to Bastille Day but then – post-Arab Awakening – loathed by the French, whose foreign minister declared that he did not deserve to live “on this earth”. The Quai d’Orsay did not suggest which particular planet he should fly to. But reader alert: with the Europeans back-peddling on their demands for his overthrow and Putin welcoming him to the Kremlin, we may yet see Bashar back in the halls of western Europe.

McGuinness, of course, maintained his statesmanship to the end, seeing off the grousing old Paisley, watching Peter Robinson slip in the Unionist mire and then observing the Democratic Unionists swamped in financial scandal. A good time to go, you might say, and join all the other “most wanted men” in the sky. But one of them, we would do well to remember, had a wanted poster all his own more than 100 years ago, way back in the Boar War: his name was Winston Churchill. And much to talk about they’ll have, I’m sure.