In their obsession for regime change, Ottawa is backing talk of an invasion of Venezuela. And the NDP is enabling Canada’s interventionist policy.
Last week 11 of the 14 member states of the anti-Venezuelan “Lima Group” backed a statement distancing the alliance from “any type of action or declaration that implies military intervention” after Organization of American States chief Luis Almagro stated: “As for military intervention to overthrow the Nicolas Maduro regime, I think we should not rule out any option … diplomacy remains the first option but we can’t exclude any action.” Canada, Guyana and Colombia refused to criticize the head of the OAS’ musings about an invasion of Venezuela.
Last summer Donald Trump threatened to invade Venezuela. “We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” the US President said.
Talk of an invasion encourages those seeking regime change. At the start of August drones armed with explosives flew toward Maduro during a military parade in what was probably an attempt to assassinate the Venezuelan president. Two weeks ago the New York Times reported that US officials recently met members of Venezuela’s military planning to oust Maduro. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the military to oust Maduro in February and other leading Republican Party officials have made similar statements.
Alongside these aggressive measures, Canada has sought to weaken the Venezuelan government. Since last September Ottawa has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Venezuelan officials. In March the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the economic sanctions the US, Canada and EU have adopted against Venezuela while Caracas called Canada’s move a “blatant violation of the most fundamental rules of International Law.”
Over the past year and a half Canadian officials have campaigned aggressively against the Venezuelan government. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has prodded Caribbean countries to join the Lima Group’s anti-Venezuela efforts and made frequent statements critical of Caracas’ democratic legitimacy and human rights record. In June Freeland told the OAS General Assembly, “we must act immediately on the situation in Venezuela to force the exit of the dictatorship.”
Ottawa has encouraged its diplomats to play up human rights violations and supported opposition groups inside Venezuela. A 27-page Global Affairs report uncovered by the Globe and Mail noted, “Canada should maintain the embassy’s prominent position as a champion of human-rights defenders.” Alluding to the hostility engendered by its interference in that country’s affairs, the partially redacted 2017 report recommended that Canadian officials also “develop and implement strategies to minimize the impact of attacks by the government in response to Canada’s human rights statements and activities.”
As part of its campaign against the elected government, Ottawa has amplified oppositional voices inside Venezuela. Over the past decade, for instance, the embassy has co-sponsored an annual Human Rights Award with the Centro para la Paz y los Derechos Humanos whose director, Raúl Herrera, has repeatedly denounced the Venezuelan government. In July the recipient of the 2018 prize, Francisco Valencia, spoke in Ottawa and was profiled by the Globe and Mail. “Canada actually is, in my view, the country that denounced the most the violation of human rights in Venezuela … and was the most helpful with financing towards humanitarian issues,” explained Valencia, who also told that paper he was “the target of threats from the government.”
In another example of anti-government figures invited to Ottawa, the former mayor of metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, called for “humanitarian intervention” before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development last week. He said:
If the international community does not urgently activate the principle of humanitarian intervention for Venezuela — which developed the concept of the responsibility to protect — they will have to settle for sending Venezuelans a resolution of condolence with which we will not revive the thousands of human beings who will lose their lives in the middle of this genocide sponsored by Maduro.
In November Ledezma escaped house arrest and fled the country.
The NDP’s foreign critic has stayed quiet regarding the US/Canadian campaign against Venezuela’s elected government. I found no criticism by Hélène Laverdière of US/OAS leaders’ musing about invading or the August assassination attempt on Maduro. Nor did I find any disapproval from the NDP’s foreign critic of Canadian sanctions or Ottawa’s role in the Lima Group of anti-Venezuelan foreign ministers. Laverdière has also failed to challenge Canada’s expulsion of Venezuelan diplomats and role in directly financing an often-unsavoury Venezuelan opposition.
Worse still, Laverdière has openly supported asphyxiating the left-wing government through other means. The 15-year Foreign Affairs diplomat has repeatedly found cause to criticize Venezuela and has called on Ottawa to do more to undermine Maduro’s government.
Is Canadian political culture so deformed that no party represented in the House of Commons will oppose talk of invading Venezuela? If so, it’s not another country’s democracy that we should be concerned about.
The US military industrial complex reigns like a ravenous ruler in search of new funding prospects. It has done well this year, with the Trump administration pushing the sale that the imperium needs more ruddy cash and indulgent expenditure to cope with all manner of evils. Empire must be without equal.
The dissenters to this program have been pitiably small, concentrated amongst such outliers as Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Those on the GOP side of the aisle have barely squeaked but relative to the Democrats, their sounds have been spectacularly noisy. There is, in fact, something to be said that, in the boisterous era of Donald Trump, the Democrats have shown very little by way of bucking any trend whatever in the continuingly expansive program that is US military spending.
As Peter Beinart observed in February this year, the Democrats might be moving to the left on the domestic front (a murmuring more than a lurch, it must be said); in terms of a foreign or defence policy, nothing of note comes to mind. Terrified of being left behind in the rat race of reaction, the Democrats have, for instance, done their bit to promise funding for the border wall with Mexico, albeit offering a lesser $1.6 billion in 2019 to the $5 billion demanded by Trump.
Beinart took note of the remarks of Nancy Pelosi, chipper in the run-up to the budget deal that dramatically increased US defence spending. “In our negotiations,” she enthused to fellow House Democrats in an email, “Congressional Democrats have been fighting for increases in funding for defence.”
Defence, notably when aligned with imperial cravings, supplies its own logic. The military industrial complex is an economy within, given the armouring rationales that make a reduction of spending heretical. Firms and employees need to be supported; infrastructure maintained. Forget those other menial things: roads, public transport, train tracks, bridges and airports can be left to one side. To reduce the amount would be tantamount to being treasonous, an anti-patriotic gesture.
“It’s not just a matter of buying fewer bombs,” suggests Brian Riedl of the conservatively inclined Manhattan Institute. “The United States spends $100,000 per troop on compensation – such as salaries, housing, health care – which also contributes to our defence budget exceeding that of countries like China.” As with such empires as Rome, the entire complex entails compensation, remuneration and nourishment for the industry of death and protection.
It became clear this month that, even with short-term spending bills, this rationale would repeat itself. Last week, the Senate considered such a bill that further supplemented the earlier budget package that would not only fund the Labor, Education and Health and Human Services departments; it would also add further largesse to the Pentagon. By a margin of 93-7, the package was passed and the Democrats found wanting, refusing to stage any protest that might result in an expiration of government funding come September 30.
Trump, in his amoral calculations, is all for such a disruptive measure, having expressed a desire both for and against a shutting down of the government in an effort to push funding towards his pet border security projects. “Finish the Wall!” he has intoned between sessions of hectoring, directed both at the Democrats and the GOP.
The Democrats have been weak in conviction. “This is necessary,” explained an unconvincing Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) of the Senate Appropriations Committee, “to ensure that we do not face a government shutdown in the event that we do not finish our work on other remaining bills.”
This supposedly necessitous state of affairs sees the Pentagon budget for 2019 receiving an outlay of $606.5 billion, an increase of $17 billion from 2018. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky)’s words were those of the patriot turned fetishist. “After subjecting America’s all-voluntary armed forces to years of belt tightening, this legislation will build on our recent progress in rebuilding the readiness of our military and investing more in the men and women who wear the uniform.”
As for what the appropriations will fund, 13 new Navy ships will be added to the inventory, including three DDG-51 guided missile destroyers and two Virginia-class submarines. The air arm can look forward to 93 of the previously mocked (by no less or more a person than Trump) F-35 aircraft, 58 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, 66 AH-64 Apache helicopters, 13 V-22 aircraft. A further $1.5 billion will be set aside for upgrading 135 Abrams tanks.
In the tactics that ultimately saw a grand capitulation on the part of the Democrats, a policy obscenity manifested itself: to avoid squabbling over non-defence spending bills, the Senate agreed to pack the military budget bill along with that of full-year funding for the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education. In wrapping these bills in the same ribbon, an abysmal reality surfaced: the military industrial complex finds a home in any legislative orientation, and will not be denied.
They’re out there. Trump-loving, Assad-apologist, Putin-Nazi sleeper agents, posing as regular normal Americans. They could be anyone. They could be your neighbors, the guys in the copy room, your Uber drivers, even some of your Twitter followers. They’re sitting there, right now, glued to their televisions, waiting for Jewish Nazi law clerks to perform a series of secret hand signs, blinks, hiccups, sneezes, coughs, and almost undetectable, low-frequency flatulence that will signal the launch of the “Attack on America.” It could come at any moment now.
Zina Bash is definitely one of them. Don’t let her Mexican-Jewish ancestry, or the fact that her grandparents were Holocaust survivors, fool you into thinking otherwise. She made that “OK” sign at the Kavanaugh hearings, which, all right, apparently wasn’t the cue for the millions of American Putin-Nazis to rip off their rubbery masks of normality and storm into the streets in their polo shirts singing Tomorrow Belongs to Me … but it was some kind of secret Nazi code.
Certainly, Alex Jones is one of them. Why else would patriotic global corporations like Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube suddenly ban him from all their platforms after allowing him to spew his bile there for years? It’s probably only a matter of time until Google’s “algorithms” unperson him entirely (at which point I’ll receive instructions to delete any reference to him in this essay, or risk being further deranked myself. I will, of course, comply immediately, as no one despises Alex Jones more than I, even though, oddly, I’ve never watched him. Thank God for that, as who knows how my mind could have been permanently warped by whatever Nazi content he’s been forcing less fortunate Americans to consume!)
And then, God help us, there’s Jeremy Corbyn and his genocidal communist Nazi Death Cult! If he isn’t one of them, no one is. If you haven’t been following the British media, the story is, basically, that Jeremy Corbyn is a terrorist-loving, anti-Semitic, conspiracy theorizing, racist traitor to everything the British ruling classes stand for, and has transformed the UK Labour Party into a homicidal mob of Jew-hating brownshirts. Gangs of slavering Corbyn-Nazis are roving the lanes of Kensington and Knightsbridge accusing Jews of lacking irony and saying mean things about the State of Israel. British Jews have been advised to flee the country or to shelter in place until the tabloids, The Guardian, the ruling classes, and Tony Blair can hound this Hitlerian devil out of office, which, the way things are going, should be any day now.
Meanwhile, the British soldier on under the imminent threat of Putin-Nazi Novichok perfume assassin hit squads, which Putin could send at any moment directly from Moscow to Gatwick Airport to incompetently attempt to murder their targets by spraying the deadliest nerve agent in existence onto the doorknobs of their suburban homes and then stroll around getting filmed by every CCTV camera in Britain. As far as I know, the British tabloids haven’t yet published surveillance photos of Corbyn welcoming the Skripal assassins at Gatwick with a wreath, or a bottle of Stolichnaya (and wearing his Russian-stooge hat, of course), but I won’t be terribly shocked when they do.
And the Putin-Nazis are not just on the march in the United States and Great Britain. They’re coming out of the woodwork in Europe! As I’m sure you’re aware, here in Germany, in a city called Chemnitz in the Free State of Saxony, which has never had any kind of Nazi problems (except for the fact that the entire region has been infested with neo-Nazis for decades and is generally known here as Neo-Nazi Central), thousands of just regular foreigner-hating “Volk” joined a few hundred neo-Nazis in marching around with German flags, barking xenophobic slogans, heiling Hitler, harassing assorted “non-German-looking” human beings, and various other forms of “protest.” Such unprecedented eruptions of Nazism occur on a regular basis in Saxony, albeit on a smaller scale, so it was rather awkward for the corporate media to link the events in Chemnitz to Trump, but nevertheless they managed to sneak a few references to his “emboldenment” in. The best they could do to tie in to Putin was to publish a lot of photos of skinheads hanging around that humongous statue of Marx in the center of Chemnitz’s central square, because, you know, Putin, Trump, Marx, Stalin, Assad, Saddam, Gaddafi … whoever, they’re all just different brands of Hitler!
Seriously, though, all comedy aside … I have to hand it to David Brock, or Jennifer Palmieri, or whoever it was that came up with the Putin-Nazi narrative. OK, granted, the Putin part hasn’t quite worked, except on die-hard Obama disciples, Hillary-worshippers, and other bull-goose loonies, but the Nazi stuff is going gangbusters … and not just with the liberal public (because that has always been an easy sell), but also with the more leftist left. It has taken a while, but we’ve arrived at the stage where even “hardcore anti-capitalist leftists” are dedicating most of their time and energy to calling Donald Trump a fascist, and likening him to Hitler, and so on, over and over, and over again, in increasingly exasperated tones. Why, in Marx’s name, these leftists want to know, won’t other leftists join the chorus of voices screaming, “TRUMP IS A FASCIST!” in all caps on a daily basis? How could these other leftists not see that this is not the time to attack the corporate media, the “intelligence community,” global corporations, or anyone other than DONALD TRUMP, who is LITERALLY ADOLF FUCKING HITLER?
Anthony DiMaggio’s recent essay in CounterPunch is a prime example of the effect the Putin-Nazi paranoia is having on leftists. According to DiMaggio, Donald Trump, by tweeting mean things about Attorney General Sessions and bombastically threatening The New York Times, is no longer just a normal fascist. He is now officially a “full-on fascist,” or a “real world fascist,” or a super duper fascist! DiMaggio doesn’t have any qualms about the deep state, or rather, the steady state, sabotaging an elected president (or at least pretending to be doing do so in print), because, well, you know, “the stakes are far higher” than mere democracy, what with Hitler in the White House. William Kristol would agree wholeheartedly.
But calling Trump a fascist again is just an overture for DiMaggio’s main theme, which is that it’s time to unite the left against the growing Putin-Nazi threat. See, the problem is not just the Putin-Nazis. It is also the fellow Putin-Nazi travellers, and the Assadists, and the Red-Brown infiltrators! Yes, you know who we are, do you not? Glenn Greenwald is our leader, naturally, but Caitlin Johnstone is second-in-command. We refer to her in our secret meetings as “Caity, Queen of the Putin-Nazis.” DiMaggio links to a helpful list of other traitorous Strasserist spies compiled by the crackpot Louis Proyect, folks like Norman Finkelstein, Mike Whitney, Diana Johnstone, Patrick Cockburn, Tom Engelhardt, and Michael Hudson, whose essays have been published in The Unz Review, which also publishes a lot of “alt-right,” racist, and anti-Semitic essays. (Full disclosure: Proyect contacted me, demanding to know how I can allow my work to appear on a Nazi website like Unz, but I ignored him, as I assumed he was just trolling me, again, but it appears he was fishing for incriminating comments for his groundbreaking piece of investigative journalism. In any event, I seem to have escaped inclusion on his Red-Brown blacklist. For the record, I’m with Norman Finkelstein. I don’t stop anyone from reposting my essays, no matter what I think of their other contributors. I wouldn’t even stop The New York Times from publishing my stuff, though, of course, they never would, and they publish actual mass murdering war criminals.)
Anyway, according to Anthony DiMaggio, “leftists who focus on the propagandistic nature of the corporate media, while shilling for the far right and failing to condemn right-wing fascism, provide comfort to the reactionary right’s efforts to suppress journalistic freedom.” Well, Jesus, I wouldn’t want to do anything like that. I hope DiMaggio will follow up with a breakdown of exactly how many times I need to call Donald Trump a fascist before I am allowed to criticize the propagandistic nature of the corporate media, or the global capitalist ruling classes, or any type of “full-on fascism” that doesn’t neatly fit into his simplistic category … like the type that seeks to impose a regime of anus-puckering ideological conformity on those it determines are members of its camp, and that gets off punishing deviations from its norms.
Look, the truth is, I don’t like Donald Trump. I haven’t liked him for about thirty years. I have no problem whatsoever with leftists like DiMaggio calling him names until they’re blue in the face if that makes them happy. What I do find troubling is the growing atmosphere of neo-McCarthyite paranoia which has been gradually spreading into leftist quarters, and the witch-hunting, and the Putin-Nazi-baiting, and the compiling and distributing of pseudo-blacklists, and the cheering on of global corporations as they ideologically sterilize the Internet. We get enough of that from the corporate media. So how about we lighten up on the paranoia, let the global capitalist ruling classes finish destroying Donald Trump, and maybe think about what the left has to offer as an alternative to the global-corporate, post-“fascist,” neo-feudal future. While it might not feel like it at the moment, it’s coming … we’ll be there before you know it.
During the past several years, there has been increased pressure coming from some in the federal government aided and abetted powerful advocacy groups in the private sector to police social and alternative media. It is a multi-pronged attack on the First Amendment which has already limited the types of information that Americans have access to, thereby narrowing policy options to suit those in power
The process has been ostensibly driven by concerns over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, but it is really about who controls and limits the public’s right to know what is going on out of sight in Washington and New York City, where politics and money come together. If one is interested in the free flow of information and viewpoints that comes with the alternative media, it certainly does not look that way. Robert Parry described it as a deliberate process of “demonizing and silencing dissent that questions mainstream narratives.”
Last October top executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter were summoned to Capitol Hill for a discussion of their role in what is alleged to be Russia’s influence on the presidential campaign and went back home contrite and promising to improve. They have indeed improved by punishing members whose views have been found to be unacceptable, blocking them and suspending their access to the sites. Meanwhile, the federal government for its part has attempted to silence independent non-US based voices by declaring Russian media outlets RT America and Sputnik to be “foreign agents,” requiring them to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA). It is an unprecedented action against a news agency and invites quid-pro-quo for US media operating overseas, leaving the American public more ignorant of world affairs than it already is.
Qatar based Al-Jazeera, which has been particularly targeted by Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as “a major exporter of hate against the Jewish people,” will also be required to register with FARA to comply with the new National Defense Authorization Act. Al-Jazeera, it should be noted, has employed undercover investigative journalism to expose the corruption of Britain’s government by Israeli supported Jewish groups. It’s similar series on the activity of Zionist lobbyists in America is on hold due to threats from Jewish organizations to severely punish the network if the documentary should ever be aired.
More recently Facebook has been active in removing accounts and advertising, much of it pro-Palestinian or otherwise critical of Israel, but also to include highly respectable Telesur’s “The Empire Files,” which looked at the consequences of US sanctions on Venezuela. Anything that criticizes the corporate worldview is fair game for censorship. American Herald Tribune, which is critical of US foreign policy in many areas, has recently had its Gmail shut down while Google also stopped servicing ads on its website. Its Facebook page was also closed, all done without any warning or explanation.
One of the organizations most interested in limiting conversations about what is going on in the world is the ADL which claims that it is “the world’s leading organization combating anti-Semitism and hate of all kinds,” though it clearly excludes incitement or even physical harm directed against Palestinian Arabs resentful of the Israeli occupation of their country. Its definition of “hatred” is really quite selective and is focused on anyone criticizing Israel or Jewish related issues. Its goal is to have any such speech or writing categorized as anti-Semitism and, eventually, to have “hate crime” legislation that criminalizes such expressions.
It is particularly ironic that Israel, which has now declared that it is in no way subject to international law, has itself proposed across the board censorship of the most prominent social media platforms on a global scale by creating an “international coalition that would make limiting criticism of Israel its primary objective.” It would operate through a “loose coalition…[that] would keep an eye on content and where it is being posted, and members of the coalition would work to demand that the platforms remove the content…in any of their countries at the request of members.”
More recently, Israel has been exposed by Wikileaks as hosting a conference describing how it now has a Command Center that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to scan the internet worldwide looking for “anti-Semitic” content. For Israel, anti-Semitic content means any criticism of its government or its behavior towards the Arabs. It reportedly pulls 200,000 posts a day and then reviews them using AI for content considered to be unacceptable. The roughly 10,000 posts determined to be anti-Semitic are then passed on to “intelligence and law enforcement agencies” in countries that have hate speech legislation for further action. The Israeli government also complains directly to the social media source to have the material taken down and works through Jewish organizations in cities and countries where there is considerable “anti-Semitic” activity to pressure governments to act even if there is no legal basis.
As most genuine independent journalism is currently limited to the alternative media, and that media lives on the internet, the ADL and those who are acting in collusion with the Israeli government are focusing on “cyberhate” as the problem and are working with major internet providers to voluntarily censor their product. On October 10th, 2017 the ADL issued a press release out of its New York City offices to explain just how far the censorship process has gone. The organization boasted of the fact that it was working with Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter “to engineer new solutions to stop cyberhate.” Apple is not identified by name in the press release but one should presume that it is also involved, as well as YouTube, which is owned by Google. When you consider that the associates in this venture with ADL are vast corporations that control huge slices of the communications industry, the consequences of some kind of corporate decision on what constitutes “hate” become clear. Combatting “cyberhate” will inevitably become across-the-board censorship for viewpoints that are considered to be unacceptable, including any criticism of Israel.
ADL will be the “convener” for the group, providing “insight on how hate and extremist content manifests – and constantly evolves-online.” Which means it will define the problem, which it calls the “spew[ing] of hateful ideologies” so the corporate world can take steps to block such material. And “the initiative will be managed by ADL’s Center for Technology and Society in Silicon Valley.”
Facebook already employs thousands of censors and there is literally no limit to how far those who want to restrict material that they consider offensive will go. To be sure, most groups who want to limit the flow of information do not have the clout or resources of ADL with its $64 million annual operating budget so its “cyberhate” campaign will no doubt serve as a model that others will then follow. For ADL, reducing criticism of Israel is a much-sought-after goal. For the rest of us, it is a trip into darkness.
Reprinted with permission from American Herald Tribune.
There is much good news in this world. But the U.S. mass media barely reports it.
Have you noticed? Syria is on the brink of defeating the U.S.-backed opposition forces now corralled into Idlib Province. The successes of the Syrian Arab Army and its allies have decisively stymied Washington’s 17-year-long year effort to dominate the Middle East through aggressive, illegal regime change operations justified by lies.
Meanwhile the Sadrists in Iraq in alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party are steering an independent national path that includes cordial ties and security cooperation with Iran, Syria and Russia. The Bush/Cheney dream (of securing Iraq as a U.S. and Israel ally) hasn’t materialized.
The Europeans, Chinese, Indians and Russians persist in expanding trade with Iran in defiance of arrogant U.S. threats. This too is good; an affirmation of international law in the face of U.S. violations. The very departure of the U.S. from the Iran deal, to say nothing of efforts to sabotage it through secondary sanctions, is illegal.
This too–have you noticed? A remarkable warming of relations between North and South Korea is underway! The North and South Korean heads of state have met three times in rapid succession and signed a host of significant agreements. This is an unqualified good, but the U.S. media pooh-poohs it, questioning whether any progress has really been made on denuclearization, wondering whether Trump sold out the store in Singapore. The desire to attack Trump trumps any natural inclination to share the joy of the Korean people at this dramatic relaxation of tensions. Instead of smiling about it, they glare, and express alarm that Trump might actually pull U.S. troops out of South Korea. Like that would be an irresponsible thing.
More good news: Sino-Russian relations are at an all-time high as reflected in the recent massive joint military operations in East Siberia and numerous trade agreements. Cooperation between the two nations through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Eurasian infrastructure projects bodes well for the global economy. (Chinese purchases of Russian jets and missiles has resulted in U.S. sanctions, in the context of the ongoing trade war. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov notes that this will simply lead to closer military cooperation between Russia and China, and further decline in the status of the dollar as default global currency.)
In July—surely you heard?—Japan suddenly signed with the European Union an economic partnership agreement establishing the largest trading bloc in the world. In effect, Japan has become the EU’s 29th member. This was after Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and initiated trade wars with practically everybody, including the Europeans and Japanese. Trump drove Japan into the arms of the Europeans; arguably a fine thing.
These are real news stories, perhaps deserving some attention.
But no. Our news anchors report on the Kavanaugh hearings, Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation, the Mueller probe, Stormy Daniels’ book describing Trump’s prepuce, Bob Woodward’s book describing White House chaos and Trump’s closest advisors’ contempt for him, Trump’s tweets versus his attorney general Jeff Sessions, Trump’s (scandalous!) declassification of Russia investigation documents, Trump’s trade wars, the U.S. mid-term elections, and new data about the Puerto Rico disaster (challenging Trump’s assessment). Hurricane Florence is covered extensively, with attention to Trump’s reaction; and “active shootings” are reported excitedly as they occur. Police murders and issues of sexual abuse are, of course, covered as breaking news.
Joe and Mika and Chris Cuomo spend much time interviewing the authors of newspaper articles or editorials and books critical of Trump (or promoting their own books). They devote extensive attention to historical analogies, citing the Anita Hill episode of 1991, comparing her to Ford and noting how Sen. Orrin Hatch who dismissed Hill’s claims now similarly rejects Ford’s. Shame!
The CNN and MSNBC anchors promote a sense of impending, inevitable doom for the administration. “The walls are closing in on the White House,” they say. Yes, the economy is doing well. (This is almost grudgingly conceded, and the fragility of the recovery stressed). But Trump’s supposed Russia ties (and possible vulnerability to blackmail); his confrontational attitude to U.S. allies; his ostensible instinctive sympathy for autocrats; his erratic statements and behavior; his irrational trade policies; his history of abusing women and supporting other men who’ve done so—all are supposed to lead to some proper closure to this sad administration.
And the Democrats will win the November elections. And then there will likely be impeachment proceedings. The tone is boldly contemptuous. The mainstream media aside from Fox has become a set of organs for Trump ridicule. “Senior correspondents” and miscellaneous talking heads sneer at Trump, laugh at him, roll their eyes. They daily call him a liar and list the latest official number of lies (as tabulated by the New York Times). It is a highly unusual situation. The world knows the U.S. media and the majority of the people truly despise Donald Trump and see him as a national embarrassment.
But in projecting that national shame the media downplays almost everything else. A few minutes are spent from time to time on Yemen, and how awful it is for the Saudis to bomb all those kids. But the Israeli attack on Syria the other day, that caused the Syrians to mistakenly shoot down a Russian jet killing 15, was ignored. European politics are generally ignored. The priorities of the CNN news editor are very different than those of their BBC or RT counterpart.
The big vast world out there is largely ignored, referenced when necessary to trash Trump but not validated as a thing-in-itself. If Trump is solipsistic, the U.S. news directorate is equally so. The American Exceptionalism which Barack Obama like presidents before him openly averred is the media’s unofficial ideology.
Top of the hour news, CNN, 11:00 a.m. EST, Sept. 20. Kate Bolduan starts with the Kavanaugh issue. Then the breaking Maryland mass shooting. Finally something on Korea!
But hm… The pundit Max Boot (Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations) dismisses yesterday’s summit between Moon and Kim in Pyongyang while clueless Kate nods in agreement that a peace agreement between the U.S. and North Korea would be “dangerous” because it would mean U.S. military withdrawal of the peninsula. They chuckle together, “Oh Max,” she laughs. “You’ve been critical of Trump’s approach to North Korea. Do you see the point in another summit [between Kim and Trump]?” No, of course. Segment over.
Back to the active shooting in Maryland, after a commercial break, very briefly. Then more Kavanaugh. Then back to Baltimore. Three people dead. We’ll be right back. More on Puerto Rico now, emphasizing how Trump downplayed the death toll. An interview with the scholar who compiled the report. (Is this more urgent than covering today’s news from Yemen?) Trump all the time, all day long.
U.S. imperialism and its consequences? Why bother? The sponsors are tired of foreign wars, and it’s depressing to see reports that they’ve killed so many innocent people and created so many refugee crises and produced so many new terrorist groups and generated so much hatred and contempt for the U.S. in Europe and everywhere.
Better to spare the viewers exposure to all of that and instead focus on bringing down Trump and restoring normalcy to U.S. foreign policy. That at least seems to be the thinking.
During a recent tour in Brazil, I visited the Rocinha Favela in Rio de Janeiro. Rocinha is the largest favela in Brazil and runs up a very steep hill near the centre of Rio. It is believed at least 70,000 people live in Rocinha (some estimates suggest more than double that number), living in houses made from concrete and brick. It is officially described as a neighbourhood and has very basic sanitation, plumbing and electricity. Rocinha also has shops, hairdressers, banks, art galleries and many other businesses. The word favela itself is derived from a skin-irritating plant of the spurge family: removing these plants to live in these areas was not easy so the people called the hills after the plant.
The favelas go back to the late 1800s when soldiers, brought in for a local war, had no place to live and so settled in the hills. After the end of slavery and the growth of city life many people moved to the cities and the favelas spread. A later industrialisation drive in the 1940s brought many more people to the cities and the favelas expanded dramatically. In the 1970s there were public housing projects but these too disintegrated into new favelas. As the drugs trade increased in the 1980s so too did the growth of gangs and gang warfare. In Rocinha, like many slums, it also has an ongoing conflict between police and drug dealers.
UPP and BOPE
The state began a war on the drug gangs in 2008 with the Pacifying Police Units (UPP) moving in, usually after an initial operation by BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) who scour the area for heavy weapons and drug caches. The main purpose of the UPP is to stop armed men from ruling the streets and end drug trafficking. However, there seems to be an uneasy peace between the UPP and the drug gangs. While walking through the narrow ‘streets’ of Rocinha, a man with a revolver pointed in the air walked through our group and twice we were asked to refrain from taking photographs as we walked past armed groups of men.
If you look at any listicle of Brazil’s best films you will probably see two films, Elite Squad (2007) and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010) contained within. These films follow the actions of a BOPE squad in a favelas and does so without pulling any punches. Different, conflicting elements of society are portrayed in both Elite Squad films. The BOPE and police are shown to have corrupt elements, ultimately manipulated by political figures. The middle class are shown in the discussions about the nature of power in university lectures (with particular emphasis on Michel Foucault) and the students are shown working in charitable organisations in the favelas with the nod from drug gang leaders. The main narrative of the films is the idea of corrupt police making financial deals with the drugs gangs – Elite Squad (2007), and changing to corrupt politicians making money by taxing the whole community after the drug gangs have been pushed out – Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010).
The global success of these two films has probably been one of the factors in encouraging tourism in the favelas While the drug gangs generally do not appear to target tourists there have been incidents where tourists have been injured or killed by both the police and the drug gangs usually as the result of some accident or misunderstanding. In general, tourism, like in many other places, is a quick-fix solution for local businesses but does little in the way of any real social or economic development of the favela neighbourhoods.
Whither the favelas?
While slums became common in Europe and the USA in the 19th and 20th centuries they are predominantly found in developing countries today. The Little Ireland slum in Manchester, for example, became a source for social scientist Friedrich Engels’ book titled The Condition of the Working Class in England published in Germany in 1845. According to the UN World Cities Report 2016: Urbanization and Development – Emerging Futures:
The percentage of slum dwellers in urban areas across all developing regions has reduced considerably since 1990, but the numbers have increased gradually since 2000 except for a steep rise of 72 million new slum dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa.
Also, according to one article on the world’s five biggest slums:
Around a quarter of the world’s urban population lives in slums. And this figure is rising fast. The number of slum dwellers in developing countries increased from 689 million in 1990 to 880 million in 2014, according to the United Nations World Cities Report 2016.
The biggest slums in the world today are: Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa (Population: 400,000); Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya (Population: 700,000); Dharavi, Mumbai, India (Population: 1 million); Ciudad Neza, Mexico City, Mexico (Population: 12 million); and Orangi Town, Karachi, Pakistan (Population: 2.4 million).
Urbanisation and the flight from the land
The development of industrialised farming has been one of the major reasons for the the flight from the land. There is also the perceived view that economic opportunities are greater in the cities. Governments invest less in rural communities because of lower population densities and this creates a vicious cycle. In Ireland today, for example, friends of mine in rural areas still can’t get broadband speeds fast enough to play video clips on their computers and in August the government announced the closure of over 160 post offices nationwide. Meanwhile the urbanisation of Dublin has extended into neighbouring counties while pubs and shops in the rural areas close due to a lack of footfall. While the pressure on Dublin has not produced slums it has created huge increases in rents and a growing homelessness problem.
So what can be done about slums? There appears to be three main approaches to the question of the future of slums around the world today: (1) Renovation: top-down and bottom-up approaches, (2) Demolition for rehousing and rebuilding, and (3) Demolition for parkland.
Renovation: top-down and bottom-up approaches
Around the world slum upgrading has consisted of concrete paths, sanitation, safe drinking water, water drainage systems and public transport. The Brazilian state has done some top-down upgrading in the favelas, putting in basic sanitation and social services but much more needs to be done with masses of wires on telegraph poles and cabling bundled along the side of the paths. However, with the global neo-liberal move towards privatisation of public housing there doesn’t seem to be much hope for governments doing serious renovation of slums in the near future. More importantly, in my opinion, has been the bottom-up slum upgrading, for example, in Orangi Town, Karachi in Pakistan where the residents installed sewers in 90% of 8,000 streets and lanes, digging them by hand themselves. This kind of community spirit builds solidarity which is more important for the residents in the long run in their struggle against uncaring states:
In 1980, the development expert and entrepreneur, Akhtar Hameed Khan, observed how many communities were self-organising to fill the gap in services – from building homes and schools to water delivery – and launched the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP). Now globally renowned, the project has not only led the DIY sewerage projects which continue to expand to this day, but has built a network to manage a plethora of programmes that range from micro credit to water supply, to women’s savings schemes. OPP’s director Saleem Aleemuddin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that when activists began working in the area in 1980, the lack of sanitation was the most “obvious” and “problematic” area for residents. While it took the OPP around six months to convince local residents to invest and pay for the installation of the first sewerage line on their street, it was not long before people were taking their lead and organising themselves. “Since the government gets almost nothing in revenue from the slum, it therefore pays the least interest to its [slum] developments too,” Aleemuddin said. “In fact, people in the town now consider the streets as part of their homes because they have invested in them and that’s why they maintain and clean the sewers too.”
Others argue that the slums should be seen as similar to the medieval towns and parts of cities preserved all over Europe:
The tight-knit structure of settlements built in the Middle Ages serves as an important lesson on making modern developments compact and keeping key services easily accessible to the people using them.
Thus, they argue, slums could be converted into a form of green, eco-friendly living areas such as Cambridge where people walk everywhere now instead of driving. However, it is more likely to become a form of gentrification as usually it is wealthier people who can afford to do the extensive and detailed building and repairs (not to mention the demands of state preservation policies in the case of medieval buildings).
Demolition for rehousing and rebuilding
The demolition of slums for rehousing projects does not have a great history. It tended to shift the social problems of the slums to other parts of the city. In Ireland in the 1960s, Dublin’s slums had reached a breaking point as urbanisation and the collapse of slum houses put pressure on the government to move people out to suburban Ballymun into high-rise 15-storey flat complexes. However, by the 1980s Ballymun was seen as a social sink and had to be regenerated itself in the 2000s and the blocks demolished. Also, this strategy can be a cynical ploy as the flats built on the sites of the former slums are sold as properties on high-value city-centre land
Demolition for parkland
A prime example of a slum demolition is the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong which eventually became the Kowloon Walled City Park. What started off as a Chinese military fort in the 1800s became one of the most densely populated slums in the world. It was extended upwards in the 1960s to become a city of over 30,000 people in 300 buildings occupying little more than 7 acres (2.8 ha). The residents were compensated (with some being forcibly evicted) and demolition was concluded in 1994. Today it is a 31,000 m2 (330,000 sq ft) park which was completed in August 1995.
In Brazil, this is always a possible future for the favelas in Rio. Not many realise that the sculpture of Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado mountain is in the middle of the Tijuca Forest – a massive reclamation project of land which had suffered from erosion and deforestation caused by intensive farming of sugar and coffee in the nineteenth century. The whole area was replanted with plants and trees of the rainforest and is one of the biggest urban forests in the world today.
Climate change and the future of urbanism
The future of slums around the world seems tied to a kind of trendy belief in the necessity of planning for an urban future. However, there are those that believe that an alternative to the constant growing urbanisation is to create a model that would attract a part of the urban population back to the rural environment. The potential for creating jobs in the agricultural sector in the future must be seen in the context of sustainable soil management and the difficulties that will be facing food production in future projected changes in temperature, ultraviolet radiation, soil moisture and pests which are expected to decrease food production.
Governments would be better off to develop projects to modernise the rural areas with the type of facilities and services that can be obtained in the cities to attract people back to the land. Collapses in various crops or crop destruction around the world due to unexpected frosts, drought, hurricanes, floods, etc can only be expected to increase, leading to food insecurity and the potential for global food price increases and food riots.
The very existence of a slum shows a government’s inability or reluctance to deal with mass population shifts. It reveals a fundamental structural problem in democratic processes and redistribution of tax wealth. For a government to allow a section its own citizens to live a Hobbesian existence exposes the rhetoric of a government for all. How can this be changed and slum issues be resolved? As the Orangi Town example above shows, solidarity and activism can solve practical problems efficiently even if it is letting the government off the hook of responsibility. As has been seen in the past, the social contract only operates when both government and people keep their sides of the bargain. When, or if, it breaks down the anger constantly bubbling underneath can spill over. While revolutionary changes around the world in the past, in general, are often attributed to their great leaders, the fact is that it is usually down to the most expropriated and alienated people in society to get the great social change juggernaut moving in the first place.
• All images in this article are from the author.
This week the House of Representatives will vote on a package of bills making the temporary tax cuts contained in last year’s tax reform bill permanent and making additional tax law changes. The bills will likely pass in the House, but will almost certainly be filibustered in the Senate if the Senate leadership tries to bring them to the floor.
The GOP tax plan does offset some of the damage caused by federal control of education by making it easier for parents to escape failing government schools or “edexit.” It accomplishes this by allowing money saved in a tax-free 529 education savings account to be used for homeschooling expenses.
This provision will help homeschooling families and inspire more families to consider homeschooling. Homeschooling parents must not only pay for all their children’s education expenses, they also must subsidize government schools via property taxes and other taxes. A commitment to homeschooling may also require a parent to limit or even forgo outside employment.
Despite the financial costs, more families are choosing to homeschool. This is due to increasing dissatisfaction with government schools, greater public acceptance of homeschooling, and the availability of quality online homeschooling curricula, such as my Ron Paul Curriculum.
My curriculum provides students with a well-rounded education including rigorous programs in history, mathematics, and the physical and natural sciences. The curriculum also provides instruction in personal finance. Students can develop superior oral and verbal communication skills via intensive writing and public speaking courses. Students also get the opportunity to create and run their own internet businesses.
The government and history sections emphasize Austrian economics, libertarian political theory, and the history of liberty. However, unlike government schools, my curriculum never puts ideological indoctrination ahead of education.
Unlike government schools, and even many private schools, my curriculum addresses the crucial role religion played in the development of Western civilization. However, the materials are drafted in such a way that parents of any or no religious belief can feel comfortable using the curriculum.
Interactive forums allow students to engage with and learn from each other. The forums ensure students are actively engaged in their education as well as give them an opportunity to interact with their peers outside of a formal setting.
The latest Republican tax plan has laudable features, such as allowing the use of tax-free education savings accounts for homeschooling. However, as long as Congress refuses to offset tax cuts with spending cuts, the benefits of tax cuts will be limited and short-lived. Therefore, while all lovers of liberty should support any and all tax cuts, we must work to pressure Congress to cut spending. Bringing the troops home and shutting down the Department of Education are two good places to start.
Parents interested in my homeschooling curriculum can find out more about it at ronpaulcurriculum.com.
Professor Noam Chomsky’s lecture at St. Olaf College on 4 May 2018. This lecture continued with lots of questions and answers, and is available on Youtube, in case anyone wants to continue the transcription. It’s a very detailed but depressing summary of where he thinks we are with respect to the threat of nuclear war and the collapse of the environment. What 20-year-old students thought of this monotone and pessimistic soon-to-be 90-year-old professor talking about “two minutes to midnight” I have no idea! How much doom and gloom can a young person absorb and still want to continue with life and struggle?
Transcribed by Felton Davis, c/o Catholic Worker
Quite a number of interesting and important topics were raised by the students who invited me here, and I wish that there were time to talk about all of them. I hope you will feel free to bring them up in discussion, but I thought what I would try to do rather than trying to review those briefly is to focus on just one question, the most important question that’s ever been asked in human history, a question that should be uppermost in everyone’s mind. It’s been hanging over our heads like a “sword of Damocles” for many years, becoming more urgent every year, and it has now reached the point where the question will be answered in this generation.
It’s your challenge to answer it, it can’t be delayed. The question is whether organized human life will indeed survive, and not in the distant future. The question was raised clearly to everyone with eyes open on August 6, 1945. I was then roughly your age. I happened to be at a summer camp, where I was a counselor. In the morning an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying that the United States had obliterated the city of Hiroshima with a single bomb, the atom bomb. People listened, a few expressions of relief, and then everyone went on to their next activity: a baseball game, swimming, whatever it might be.
I was horrified, both by the news, and also by the casual reaction. I was so utterly horrified that I just took off and went off into the woods for a couple of hours to think about it. It was perfectly obvious if you thought about it for a second, not only about the horror of the event, but that humans in their glory had achieved the capacity to destroy everything. Not quite at that time, but it was clear that once the technology was established it would only develop further and escalate and reach the point of becoming what Dan Ellsberg in his recent book — central reading incidentally — calls “the doomsday machine,” an automatic system set up so that everything becomes annihilated, and as he points out, we have indeed constructed such a machine and we’re living with it.
Coming forward until today, leading specialists in these topics echo much the same double concern, but now in more stark and urgent terms than 1945. One of the leading nuclear specialists, former defense secretary William Perry, has been touring the country recently, with the message that he is, as he puts it, doubly terrified, terrified by the severe and mounting threat of nuclear war, and even more so by the lack of concern about the possible termination of organized human life.
And he’s not alone. Among others, General Lee Butler — formerly head of the US Strategic Command, which controls nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons policy — he recently reflected with deep remorse on his many years of service, in implementing plans for what is sometimes called “omnicide,” a crime far surpassing genocide, the crime of wiping out every living organism. He writes that “We have so far survived the nuclear age by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”
And he adds a haunting question, “By what authority do succeeding generations of leaders in the nuclear weapons states usurp the power to dictate the odds of continued life on our planet? And most urgently, why does such breathtaking audacity persist at a moment when we should stand trembling in the face of our folly, and united in our commitment to abolish its most deadly manifestations?”
And again, Ellsberg in his most recent book — and I urge that you read it, if you haven’t already — describes the record that he reviews, mostly from inside the government at the highest planning level for many years, he describes it as a chronicle of human madness, and that’s accurate enough. Repeatedly, we have come very close, ominously close, to terminal disaster. The record should really be studied carefully, it’s shocking. Sometimes it is due to the reckless acts of leaders, sometimes our leaders, very often through sheer accident. I’ll give you a couple of examples, there are actually hundreds, literally.
Take one in 1960, when it was discovered that the Russians might soon have missiles, the first early warning system was set up to detect a missile attack. The first day it went into operation it provided to high leaders the information that the Russians had launched a missile attack, with 99.9 percent certainty. Fortunately, people did not react the way they were instructed to react, and it turned out that there had been some miscalculations, and the radar had hit the Moon and bounced back, when it wasn’t expected to bounce back. That’s one case.
A couple of years later, in 1962, during what’s been called rightly the most dangerous moment in history — the Cuban Missile Crisis — the background is worth studying. I won’t have time to go into it, but it is reckless acts of leaders, including our own leaders. At the peak moment of threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis — which came extremely close to terminal disaster — at that moment there were Russian submarines outside the quarantine area that [President] Kennedy had established, and they were under attack by US destroyers that were dropping depth bombs on them. The conditions in the submarines were such that the crew could not really survive much longer, [because] they were not designed for service in the Caribbean , they were designed for the far north. The US did not know it at the time, but they had missiles with nuclear warheads, and the crew at some point decided, “Look, since they’re dropping bombs on us…” — they had no contact with anyone else, and thought there must be a nuclear war — “we might as well send off the ultimate weapon.” That would have been the end. There would have been a retaliation, and then we’re finished. To send off the missiles required the agreement of three submarine commanders. Two agreed, and one refused — Vasili Arkhipov — one of the reasons why we’re still here.
Many other cases. In 1979, the national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was literally on the phone ready to call President Carter, saying that there was definite information of a massive Russian missile attack, when he got a call saying there was an error. So he didn’t call him.
A year later, [President] Ronald Reagan came into office, and one of his first acts was to start a program to probe Russian defenses. The objective was to determine what kind of defenses the Russians had against our attack, if we had one. The official wording was “to practice command and staff procedures with particular emphasis on the transition from conventional to non-conventional operations, use of nuclear weapons.” The idea was to simulate air and naval attacks on Russia , with all of this made as public as possible to the Russians, because they wanted to see how they would react, including simulated nuclear attacks.
At the time it was thought that the Russians would probably figure out that it was simulated and would not react. Now that the Russian archives came out, it turns out that they took it pretty seriously, just as we would certainly have done. In fact one of the leading US intelligence analyses that recently appeared concludes from the record — it’s title is “The War Scare Was For Real” — that they took it extremely seriously. Right in the midst of this — the Russian detection systems which were far more primitive than ours — they did detect an ongoing US missile attack. The protocol is for the human being who receives it — his name happened to be [Stanislav] Petrov — he’s supposed to take that information and send it up to the Russian high command, and then they decide whether to release a totally destructive missile attack on us. He just decided not to do it. He decided it was probably wasn’t serious — another reason why we’re alive. You can add him to the roll of honor.
This goes on time after time. There have been literally hundreds of cases that came very close. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, as you probably know, established what they call “the doomsday clock” shortly after the atomic bombing. What they do is that every year a group of physicists, nuclear specialists, political and strategic analysts, get together and try to assess the state of the world and threats to the world, and set the minute hand of the doomsday clock a certain number of minutes before midnight. “Midnight” means say goodbye, we’re finished. The first setting, in 1947, was seven minutes to midnight. It reached the most frightening setting, just two minutes to midnight, in 1953, when what was easy to anticipate in 1945, had happened. First the United States, and then the Soviet Union, carried out tests of hydrogen bombs, vastly more destructive than atom bombs. In fact, an atom bomb is just used as a trigger to set it off, with huge destructive capacity.
That meant that human intelligence had reached the point where we could easily destroy all life, no problem. And the minute hand reached two minutes then. Since then it has oscillated, but in recent years it’s been approaching midnight again. In January 2017, right after President Trump’s inauguration, the minute hand was advanced to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. Last January , after a year of Trump in office, it was advanced another half minute, to two minutes to midnight. That’s a sign that we have now matched the closest point to terminal disaster in the nuclear age, ominously close. That was January. A couple months later, President Trump’s nuclear posture review was released, and raises the dangers further. I presume that if the clock were set now, it might be moved another half minute to midnight.
I will return to current crises, which are very real, how they are being handled, and what we might do about them, to avoid disaster. But first something else. Since 1945, we have been somehow surviving the nuclear age, actually miraculously, and we can’t count on miracles going on forever. What we didn’t know in 1945 was that humans were entering into another epoch, a new one, which is no less ominous. It’s what geologists call the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch in which human activity is destroying the environment.
There have been debates among scientists about when to date the onset of the Anthropocene [epoch]. But last year the World Geological Society determined that a proper time to set it is right after World War II, the same time as the nuclear age. The reason is because of the sharp escalation at that point in human activities which were significantly damaging and will soon destroy the environment for organized life. We might add that the Anthropocene carries with it automatically a third major epoch which is called “the sixth extinction.” If you look through millions of year of history there have been periods in which some event caused a mass extinction of animal life. The last one was [65 million] years ago, when an asteroid hit the Earth, and destroyed about 75 percent of animal life, ending the age of the dinosaurs, and actually opened the way for small mammals to survive. They ultimately became us, and we are determined to become another asteroid, intent on destroying all or most animal life on Earth, and we’re well advanced in that process.
So there are three major epochs that we’ve been living with: the nuclear age, the Anthropocene, and the sixth extinction, all accelerating. So let’s just ask how dangerous is the Anthropocene? I’ll give you a couple of illustrations from some of the leading scientific journals, and recent articles, starting with Nature, a British journal, the leading scientific article. The title of the article is “Global Warming’s Worst Case Projections Look Increasingly Likely.”
[Reading from the article]: “A new study based on satellite observations finds that temperatures could rise nearly five degrees centigrade by the end of this century. The odds that temperatures could increase more than four degrees by 2010, in the current scenario, increased from 62 percent to 93 percent.”
In other words, pretty near certain. If you go back to the Paris negotiations of December 2015, the hope was in the international negotiations that the temperature rise could be kept to 1.5 degrees centigrade rise, and they considered that maybe 2 percent would be tolerable. Instead we’re heading to 4 or 5 percent, with very high confidence.
Here’s one from a recent World Meteorological Organization: “Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surged at a record-breaking speed in 2016” — the last figures they have — “to the highest level in 800,000 years. The abrupt changes in atmosphere witnessed in the past 70 years” — the Anthropocene — “are without precedent in the geological record. Globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached over [410?] parts per million, up from just 400 parts per million in 2015,” which has been considered the upper tolerable limit, so we’re now beyond it.
“The concentrations of CO2 are now 150 percent above the pre-industrial level. Rapidly increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases have the potential to initiate unprecedented changes in climate systems, leading to severe ecological and economic destruction.”
The last time the Earth experience a comparable concentration of CO2 was somewhere around 3 to 5 million years ago. At that point the temperature was 2 to 3 degrees centigrade above now, and the sea level was 30 to 60 feet higher than it is now. That’s what we’re moving to in the near future. In fact we’re going beyond because the prediction is 4 to 5 degrees centigrade. Well, I’ll leave the effects to your imagination.
Here’s a final example, from Science, one of the leading American science journals: “Even slightly warmer temperatures, less than anticipated, in coming years, can start melting permafrost, which in turn threatens to trigger the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in ice. There’s twice as much carbon in permafrost as in the atmosphere. This will release huge amounts of methane which is actually far more lethal than CO2, although of shorter persistence. And that accelerates other processes that are already underway, like the rapid melting of polar ice. Polar ice, as it melts, reduces the reflective surface for the Sun’s rays, and creates more absorbent surfaces than dark seas. So that accelerates warming, and could lead to a non-linear process in which everything blows up. It’s leading among other things to the breaking up and melting of huge Antarctic ice caps. One of them, West Antarctica , contains enough ice to raise sea level more than 10 feet.
Pretty easy to continue… In brief the prospects are extremely serious, in fact they’re really awesome, which raises an obvious question: what are we going about it, how are we reacting? Well, the world is actually taking some steps, inadequate, but at least something, there’s a commitment. And states and localities in the United States are also taking steps, which is quite important. But what is of prime importance, of course, is the federal government, the most powerful institution in human history.
So what is it doing? It’s withdrawing from the international efforts, but beyond that, it’s committed to increasing the use of the most destructive fossil fuels. So our federal government, for which we are responsible, is dramatically leading our race to destruction, while we sit and watch. That’s pretty astounding. That ought to be the screaming headline in every day’s newspaper, ought to be the main topic you study in every class. There’s never been anything like it. And it is astounding, as is the lack of attention, another doubly terrifying phenomenon. We should be asking, among other things, what this tells us about our society, and about our culture, what we are immersed in. And remember, all of this is imminent, we’re approaching this rapidly, this century, your task is to do something about it, and we’re ignoring it. We’re racing towards it, and we’re ignoring it.
Meanwhile our chief competitor in destroying the planet, the Saudi Arabian dictatorship, has just announced plans to spend 7 billion dollars this year, for 7 new solar plants, and a big wind farm. That’s part of an effort on its part to move from oil, which destroys everything, to solar, renewable energy. This is Saudi Arabia. And that highlights how lonely we are in our race to destruction. Even the extreme reactionary dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, which lives on oil, refuses to join us in our unique insanity, which is dedicated to destroying organized human life.
And it’s not just the current administration. The entire Republican Party leadership agrees. If you go back to the 2016 primaries, every single candidate denied that what was happening is happening, with the exception of those who were called “sensible moderates.” Jeb Bush, who said it’s all kind of uncertain, but we don’t have to do anything about it, because we’re producing more natural gas, thanks to fracking, in other words making it worse. The other sensible moderate, an adult in the womb as he was called, was John Kasich, the Governor of Ohio, he’s the one person who agreed that anthropogenic global warming is taking place, but he added, “We’re going to burn coal in Ohio , and we’re not going to apologize for it.” On ethical grounds, that’s the worst of all, when you think about it.
Well, what about the media? They totally ignored this spectacle. Every crazy thing you can imagine was discussed extensively in the massive coverage of the primaries, but not the fact that the entire leadership of the party was saying, “Let’s quickly destroy ourselves.” Nothing — go back and check. Almost no comment about it. The denialism of the leadership is having an effect on public opinion.
So Republican voters have been climate change skeptics for a long time, way beyond anything in the world, but it’s gotten far more extreme since Trump took office. And the numbers are pretty shocking. So by now, half of Republican voters deny that global warming is taking place at all. And only 30 percent think humans may be contributing to global warming. I don’t think you can find anything like that among any significant part of the population, anywhere in the world. And it should tell us something. One thing it should tell us is that there’s a lot to do for those who hope that maybe organized human life will survive. We’re not talking about a remote future. Just think about the numbers I gave you before. We’re talking about something imminent.
Well let’s put [climate crisis] aside for a moment and go back to the growing threat of nuclear war. Are these ominous developments inexorable? So should we just throw up our hands in despair, and say okay, we’re finished, have a nice time, good-bye? That’s not at all true. There are very plausible answers in every single case that exists: diplomatic options are always open, and there are straightforward general principles that can be quite effective.
One principle is quite simple: obey the law. Not a particularly radical idea. Almost unheard of, but it could have some consequences. So what is the law? Well there is something called the US Constitution which people are supposed to honor and revere. The Constitution has parts, Article Six for example. Article Six of the Constitution says that valid treaties are the supreme law of the land, and every elected official is required to observe them.
What’s the most important treaty of the modern period? Unquestionably it’s the United Nations Charter. Article One of the Charter requires us to keep to peaceful means to resolve international tensions and disputes, and to refrain from the threat or use of force in international affairs. And I stress “threat” because that is violated all the time by every president and every high political leader. Every time you hear the phrase “all options are open,” that’s violating the supreme law of the land, if anyone cares.
Let’s take a couple of examples. Let’s take Iran, an important example. A good deal of the talk about the possibility that Iran may be violating the joint comprehensive agreement — the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], the “Iran deal” — there’s absolutely no evidence for that. US intelligence says they’re observing it, the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] that carries out repeated inspections says they’re observing it completely.
There’s a lot of discussion about it, but there’s no talk about something else: is the US violating the agreement? Try to check to see if anybody’s talked about that. The answer to that is pretty simple: the US is radically violating the agreement and has been all along. The agreement states that all participants — meaning us — are not permitted to impede in any way Iran’s re-integration into the global economy, particularly the global financial system, which we pretty much control, since everything works through New York. We are not permitted to interfere in any way with the normalization — I’m quoting it — the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran. We’re doing that all the time, and in fact are proud of it. All violations of the agreement. But it’s ignored on a principle that’s kind of interesting, the prevailing tacit assumption that the United States just stands above the law, including its own laws. So we don’t have to observe our laws, or any other laws, because we’re just unique, we do what we like.
See if you can find an exception to that in the discourse on this topic. Well, in a couple of days as you know President Trump will probably withdraw from the treaty, possibly. That’s a gift to the hard-liners in Iran , it tells them that maybe they should return to nuclear programs. That’s an opening for the new national security advisor John Bolton, or Binyamin Netanyahu, both of whom have called for bombing Iran right away, even while they fully respect the terms of the agreement that we’ve already violated quite publicly, there’s no secret about it. And the consequences could be horrendous. But there happens to be a way of blocking those consequences, namely, by the very simple device of respecting our own law, in fact the supreme law of the land. Again, see if you can find the suggestion to that effect.
Are there peaceful options? Pretty obviously, in this case, we could join the rest of the world, and permit the agreement to continue to function. Or better, we might turn to improvement of the agreement. That’s one thing that Trump has vociferously demanded. And there’s good ways to do that. One obvious proposal for improving the agreement, which is ignored entirely, is to move towards establishing a nuclear weapons free zone in the region. There are such agreements in various parts of the world, in Latin America, for example, and it’s a step towards mitigating the threat of disaster.
So what about a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East? If that were established, it would end any conceivable Iranian threat that you could imagine. So is there a problem of establishing it? Actually there is one problem, but it’s not the one that comes to mind. There’s certainly no problem convincing Iran because they have been calling for this for years, vociferously. Certainly not any problem with the Arab world, they’re the ones who initiated the proposal 25 years ago. And the rest of the world agrees as well. There’s one exception: the United States refuses to allow this, and it comes up every couple of years in the annual review meetings of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, countries in which it’s continually brought up, and continually vetoed by the United States , most recently by President Obama in 2015.
And the reasons are perfectly clear to everyone. The US will not permit Israeli nuclear weapons even to be examined by the International Agency [IAEA], let alone be dismantled. So therefore we can’t proceed with this very simple way of eliminating any nuclear threat from Iran or anyone else in the region.
And also not discussed is that the United States and Britain have a special obligation, a unique obligation to pursue a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. The reason is United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 — you can look it up on the internet — which was initiated by the US. This was the resolution that was initiated when the US and Britain, back in 1991, a resolution which called on Iraq to terminate any nuclear weapons programs. The US and Britain relied on this resolution in 2003 when they were trying to concoct some pretext for their planned invasion of Iraq. So they appealed to this resolution and said, we think Iraq is violating it, which in fact they weren’t, and they knew they weren’t.
But if you read that resolution and go to Article Fourteen, it commits the signers to work for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. So the US and Britain are uniquely committed to working for this by the Security Council resolution that they initiated. Again, check to see if it ever discussed.
So in short, US willingness to observe US law could bring this crisis to a very quick end, and could even move on to a better solution. For example, if we were willing to observe Security Council resolutions that we ourselves have instituted to end the illegal threats of force by every recent president and other high officials, and to end our constant violations of the Iran nuclear agreement.
So there’s an easy answer to this crisis, really simple: obey the law. Okay? That would end the crisis. Again, I would advise you to search to see how often this is discussed, and what that implies about our educational system, our culture, our media, our universities, and so on.
Well, let’s turn to the other major threat, North Korea. There has been a proposal on the table for some years about how to reduce the threat in northeast Asia. It’s called a double-freeze. It was initiated by China, supported by North Korea, supported by Russia, general support throughout the world. The idea is that North Korea should freeze its weapons and nuclear programs, and in return the United States should call off the threatening military maneuvers that the US constantly carries out on North Korea’s border, including flights on the border by our most advanced nuclear-capable bombers, warning of the threat of total obliteration of North Korea, constantly happening.
It’s no joke for the North Koreans — they have a little memory that we may want to forget, but at the end of the Korean War when it was more or less settled, US bombing was so intensive that there was nothing left to bomb, literally. So the Air Force General MacArthur started destroying dams, major dams, and if you read the Air Force history they exult about this. It happens to be a crime for which people were hanged at Nuremberg, but again, we’re above the law. But the North Koreans can remember, and when these advanced nuclear-capable bombers are flying they evoke some memory.
So double-freeze is one possibility. Double-freeze could easily open the way to further negotiations, and at this point, the record becomes important, and you can find it, in the scholarly record, not in the press, but in the scholarly record. There have been successes in negotiations. The major one was in 2005. The Bush administration was pressured by international pressure to return to negotiations, and the negotiations were extremely successful. North Korea agreed — I’m quoting the final document — agreed to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing weapons programs, and to allow international inspections. In return for that the US agreed to establish a consortium that would provide North Korea with a light-water reactor for medical use. The US would also issue a non-aggression pledge and an agreement that the two sides would respect each others’ sovereignty, exist peacefully together, and take steps to normalize relations.
Instantly, the Bush administration renewed the threat of force, froze North Korean funds that were in foreign banks, and disbanded the consortium that was to provide North Korea with a light-water reactor. The leading US Korea scholar, Bruce Cummings, writes that the sanctions were specifically designed to destroy the September pledges, and to head off an accommodation between Washington and Pyongyang. That was 2005, and I’ve been searching the press for some time to see if these facts could even be reported, breaking the constant refrain that North Korea has broken all agreements and so can’t be trusted. We can’t review it now, but I urge you to try, you’ll learn a lot.
That path could be pursued again, but as we know, there are even better options, and it’s worth taking a close look at them. On April 27 , North and South Korea signed a remarkable historic document — the Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity, Unification of the Korean Peninsula — and it’s worth reading carefully. I urge you to do that. Not the commentary, the actual words. In this declaration, the two Koreas “affirm the principle of determining the destiny of the Korean nation on their own accord.” On their own accord. Continuing, “to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, to actively cooperate to establish a permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, to carry out disarmament on a phased level manner, to achieve the common goal of realizing through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, to strengthen the positive momentum towards continuous advancement of inter-Korean relations, as well as peace, prosperity and unification of the Korean Peninsula.” And they further agreed “to actively seek the support and cooperation of the international community,” which means the United States, “for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
It’s important to read those words, their import is very clear. What they’re saying is, the US should back off and allow the two Koreas to achieve peace, disarmament, unification and complete denuclearization on their own, “on their own accord,” in the words of the declaration. So we, the United States, should accept the call for support and cooperation in this endeavor by the two parts of the Korean nation to determine their destiny “on their own accord.” To put it more simply, the declaration is a polite letter saying, “Dear Mr. Trump, declare victory if you want to prance around in public, but please go away and let us move towards peace, disarmament, and unification without disrupting the process.”
That plea could hardly be more clear, and the general interpretation here is quite revealing. The general interpretation is that this complicates Washington ‘s strategy. As the New York Times explains, “Mr. Trump will find it hard to threaten military action against a country that is extending an olive branch.” Okay? That’s the liberal side. It’s entirely true that threatening military action, which happens to be a criminal act, us hard when the target is extending an olive branch, so we have some problems.
Well, case after case — and I won’t go through other cases — we find that there are peaceful diplomatic options. We can’t ever be certain that they will work, but they should always be prioritized, in accordance with our international obligations, in fact, in accord with the supreme law of the land. Is this hopeless? No, far from it, we have plenty of evidence for that.
So let’s go back to that very important date in modern history, November 8, . Huge coverage of that date, and several events happened that are significant. The least significant of those was the one that gets most of the coverage, the election of Donald Trump. It’s a little bit unusual, but not that far out of the norm, that a billionaire with a huge amount of campaign spending and huge media support wins the presidency. That’s kind of within the norm. But something really surprising did happen, the Sanders campaign broke with nearly all of American political history. For well over a century, American elections have been mainly bought, literally. You can predict the outcome of an election with almost complete certainty by just looking at campaign funding — there’s extensive, detailed, academic study of this, both for president and congress. What happened in November 2016 was different. For the first time, a candidate came very close to winning the nomination, and would have won the nomination, probably, if the Democratic Party managers hadn’t manipulated affairs to keep him out and he did it without any campaign funding from any of the major sources. No corporate funding, no wealth, no media support — he was either ignored, or denigrated in the media. That’s a real breakthrough. What’s more he ended up by becoming by far the most popular political candidate in the country. Take a look at the polls. You can see it on Fox News in fact, well above any other figure in popularity.
In a democratic society the most popular political figure in the country just carried off a remarkable break in well over a century of political history, you’d hear him once in a while. Okay, I urge to you to take a look and make your own decisions. That’s a more important event that took place on November 8, 2016 .
There’s another one that doesn’t get covered, but should. At that time the world was carrying out the successor negotiations to the Paris negotiations on climate change of December 2015, aimed at a verifiable treaty to do something about this ominous threat. They couldn’t reach a treaty, for one reason, the Republican Party would not permit it. So they couldn’t have a treaty, it was a voluntary agreement. The following year, 2016, they were meeting again to try to put some teeth into the treaty. On November 8th, the day of the American elections, the World Meteorological Organization — this was taking place in Marrakesh, Morocco — where the World Meteorological Organization released a study on the very dire state of the climate, the kind of thing that I gave a couple of samples of before. Then the election results came in, and the meeting basically stopped. The question before the international world is: can the world survive when the most powerful county in history is taken over by a political party that not only denies that what is happening is happening, but is committed to accelerate the race to destruction?
And they kind of hoped that maybe China would save the world from disaster. Just think about that for a moment: maybe China will save the world from the disaster that the Republican Party is bringing to the world. I’ll let you think about that. But the fact is that there are plenty of things that can be done, and the success of the Sanders campaign and particularly in the aftermath, lots of things are going on that fed from it that could make a difference. But it doesn’t happen on its own — it takes serious engagement.
Well, to go back to the beginning, your generation — that’s you — is facing the most awesome question that has ever arisen in human history. The question is: will organized human life survive? And we’re talking about the near future, can’t escape it. There are plenty of opportunities, but like it or not, it’s up to you to determine the fate of the human species. It’s an awesome responsibility, one that cannot be evaded. Thanks.