Fanciful Terrors: Bomb Plots and Australian Airport Security

In the classroom of international security, Australia remains an infant wanting attention before the older hands.  During the Paris Peace talks, Prime Minister William Morris (“Billy”) Hughes screamed and hollered Australia’s wishes to gain greater concessions after its losses during the Great War, urging, among other things, a more punitive settlement for Germany.

In the post-September 2001 age, recognition comes in different forms, notably in the field of terrorism.  Australian authorities want recognition from their international partners; Australian security services demand attention from their peers.  The premise of this call is simple if masochistic: Australia is worth torching, bombing and assailing, its values, however obscure, vulnerable before a massive, inchoate threat shrouded in obscurantism.

Over the weekend, the security services again displayed why adding fuel to the fire of recognition remains a burning lust for the Australian security complex.  The inner-city suburb of Surry Hills in Sydney, and the south-western suburbs of Lakemba, Wiley and Punchbowl, witnessed raids and seizures of material that could be used to make an improvised explosive device.

What was notable here was the domesticity behind the alleged plot. Focus was specific to Surry Hills in what was supposedly an attempt to create an IED involving a domestic grinder and box containing a multi-mincer.  At stages, those with a culinary inclination might have been confused: were Australia’s best and brightest in the front line of security getting excited about the ill-use kitchen appliances might be put to?

The arrest provided yet another occasion Australian audiences are becoming familiar with: individuals arrested and detained, usually with no prior convictions let alone brush with the law, while the celebratory stuffing is sought to file charges under anti-terrorism laws.

But this was not a time for ironic reflection.  Australians needed to be frightened and reassured, a necessary dialectic that governments in trouble tend to encourage.  First, comes the fear of death, launched by a sinister fundamentalist force; then comes the paternal reassurance of the patria: those in blue, green and grey will protect you.

Without even questioning the likelihood of success in any of these ventures (would this supposed device have ever gotten onto a plane?), such networks as Channel Nine news would insist that this could be the “13th significant conspiracy to be foiled by Australian authorities since the country’s terror threat level was raised to ‘probable’ in 2014.”

The Herald Sun was already dubbing this a Jihadi “meat mincer bomb plot”, happy to ignore the obvious point that details were horrendously sketchy.  The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, deemed the conspiracy “elaborate”. (The foe must always be elevated to make the effort both worthwhile and free of folly.)  The AFP Commissioner, Andrew Colvin, was convinced that this was “Islamic-inspired terrorism.  Exactly what is behind this is something we will need to investigate fully.”

Depending on what you scoured, reports suggested that this was a “non-traditional” device which was set to be used for an “Islamist inspired” cause.  The usual cadre of experts were consulted to simply affirm trends they could neither prove nor verify, with the “lone wolf” theme galloping out in front.

John Coyne of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Border Security Program, for instance, plotted a kindergarten evolution for his audience: planes were used in September 2001; then came regionally focused incidents such as the Bali bombings, and now, in classic fatuity, “a new chapter arising or a return chapter almost”.  “This is much more panned and deliberate, if the allegations are correct.”

Rita Panahi, whose writings prefer opinion to the inconvenience incurred by looking at evidence, cheered the weekend efforts and issued a reminder: “Remember the weekend’s terror raids next time you have to surrender a tube of sunscreen as you pass through airport security a second time, this time barefooted and beltless, and fearful you might miss your flight.”

For Panahi, this was a case that was done and dusted. These were “wannabe jihadis” (dead cert); they had plotted to inflict “mayhem and destruction on Australian soil” (naturally) and Australians needed to understand that an ungainly super structure of intrusive security measures were indispensable to security. Thank the counter-terrorism forces, luck and distance.

Such occasions also provide chicken feed for pecking journalists, many of whom have ceased the task of even procuring their beaks for the next expose.  Indeed, some were crowing, including one on ABC 24, that the “disruption” of an “imminent” attack had taken place at speed; that this “cell” had little chance of ever bringing their device to an aircraft.  Evidence and scrutiny are ill-considered, and the political classes are permitted to behave accordingly.

The Border Protection Minister, Peter Dutton, never happy to part with anything valuable on the subject of security, refused to confirm whether there had been an international dimension, a tip-off from intelligence agencies, or assistance.

“There will be lots of speculation around what the intent was,” claimed Dutton, “but obviously all of us have been working hard over recent days and we rely upon the expertise of the Federal Police and ASIO and other agencies.” He observed that there was “a lot of speculation around” which he did not wish to add to.

He need not have bothered, given that the opinion makers have formed a coalition of denial and embellishment so vast and enthusiastic so as to make Australia matter in the supposed global jihadi effort. It would come as a crushing disappointment to the infant in that room of international relations to realise otherwise.

To Deport or Not to Deport

Photo by Fibonacci Blue | CC BY 2.0

Twenty-four years ago, in order to escape poverty and violence, Nury Chavarria left Guatemala and crossed the border into the United States without a visa.[1] Since then she has lived and worked and raised four children in Norwalk, Connecticut.

But on July 19, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) ordered her deported back to Guatemala.[2]  Why?  Because she is an undocumented immigrant and President Trump maintains undocumented immigrants are responsible for an increase in the murder rate and violent crimes and a decrease in the material standard of living of middle and lower-class citizens.

However, it is not true that the murder rate has increased [3]

“innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime. This holds true for both legal immigrants and the unauthorized, regardless of their country of origin or level of education. In other words, the overwhelming majority of immigrants are not “criminals” by any commonly accepted definition of the term.” [4]

Furthermore, as we shall see below, undocumented immigrants are not responsible for the fact that middle and lower-class individuals and families have suffered a decrease in their material standard of living. But first let’s deal with the argument that undocumented immigrants should be deported because they are here illegally.

Clearly when Ms. Chavarria and other migrants crossed into our country without visas they became “illegal” immigrants.  But before you condemn them for their actions you might think about what you would have done if you were in their shoes.[5]

Then, too, you might consider just how difficult it is for poor, working class individuals fleeing violence and poverty to obtain green cards that allow them to enter and stay in the United States as permanent residents.[6]  And consider also that, as Anatole France put it: “The law in its majestic equality forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.” Or recall that Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus in 1955.

Or following the lead of John Rawls, you might reflect on the rules and enforcement mechanisms you would want to govern your world if when you woke up you weren’t sure whether you were an undocumented immigrant or a citizen.[7]  Or consider the ethical arguments for open borders in the article on immigration in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.[8]  Or view Harvard Philosopher Michael Sandel’s discussion of the topic.[9]  Or read Seyla Benhabib’s, the Eugene Meyer professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Yale University’s, essay on The Morality of Migration.[10]

The point is: we want our laws and the mechanisms we use to enforce them to reflect the enlightenment values embodied in our founding documents.[11]  So, ask yourselves if law enforcement officials who would force Nury Chavarria to return to Guatemala reflect those values.[12]

Now let’s consider issues related to the economics of illegal immigration.  Economics at its heart is about cost/benefit analysis.  So, economists ask whether the cost of illegal immigrants in the U.S. outweighs the benefit they provide from the point of view of the country as a whole or low skilled workers or highly skilled workers or business women and men or the country the immigrants left or the world.   And their answers are: the benefit of illegal immigration far outweighs the cost for: the country as a whole, highly skilled workers, business owners and the world. But for a few low skilled workers and some municipalities the cost slightly outweighs the benefit.[13]

In summary, “illegal” immigration is not the problem it is trumped up to be (pun intended).[14]  And, for President Trump to suggest illegal immigrants are in any way responsible for an increase in violent crime or a decrease in our collective welfare is worse than nonsense.  It is reprehensible scapegoating.

Notes.

[1] Decades of violence and poverty characterized Guatemala after the U.S. engineered a coup d’état that overthrew Jacobo Arbenz, its democratically elected president, in 1954. Had Arbenz remained in power and his reforms implemented they would have eliminated “the conditions that produced the violence of the 1960s and 1970s….” and the military repression and “downward-turning economy” of the1980s according to one student of those events, Jerry L. Weaver, in Latin American Politics and Development, edited by Howard J. Wiarda and Harvey F. Kline, Westview Press, 1985.

[2] On July 26 Ms. Chavarria was granted permission to stay in the country while her lawyers continue to fight for her right to remain here permanently.

[3] As Trump put it when he was running for President, for instance, undocumented immigrants are “bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists.”  And in his January 25 executive order on immigration enforcement he claimed illegal immigrants “present a significant threat to national security and public safety.”  Then on February 7 he told law enforcement officials he had invited to the White House that “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.”  But those are “alternative facts.”  The truth is that the number of murders and the number of violent crimes committed per 100,000 people has decreased dramatically since the 1990s.  So, insinuating that undocumented immigrants are responsible for an increase in violent crimes amounts to scapegoating them for a problem that does not exist.   And as a result of the scapegoating of undocumented immigrants and others by President Trump and his administration the there has been, as the Southern Poverty Law Center noted, “a dramatic jump in hate violence and incidents of harassment and intimidation around the country” while “at the same time, a wave of incidents of bullying and other kinds of harassment” has “washed over the nation’s K-12 schools.”  In Norwalk and neighboring communities, for example, “Make America White Again” fliers were distributed to residents.

[4] https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/topics/immigration-and-crime.

[5]  Go here  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmkNCpfgQzI listen to Elvis Pressley sing Walk A Mile in My Shoes.

[6]  “There is often a long lag between applying for a green card and receipt of a visa, with delays in excess of five years common.”  Gordon H. Hanson, The Economic Logic of Illegal Immigration, Council Special Report (CRS NO. 26), Council of Foreign Relations, April 2007.

[7]  “The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.”  John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press,  1971, p. 12.

[8] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/immigration/

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJgEnHbLN-I

[10] https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/stone-immigration/?_r=0.

[11]   “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  Emma Lazarus.  “I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.” George Washington.  Also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBy8t_O592k

[12]    If you think they do another song you should listen too is Deportee by Woody Guthrie as sung by Joan Baez or (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jWFPLjYEaw) or Woody’s son, Arlo (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2eO65BqxBE).

[13] As University of California Economics Professor, Gordon H. Hanson, put it in an article available on the web entitled The Economic Logic of Illegal Immigration: “ [T]here is little evidence that legal immigration is economically preferable to illegal immigration. In fact, illegal immigration responds to market forces in ways that legal immigration does not.”  Or as Alan Greenspan, put it to a Senate subcommittee:  “[T]here is little doubt that unauthorized, that is, illegal, immigration has made a significant contribution to the growth of our economy…Some evidence suggests that unskilled illegal immigrants (almost all from Latin America) marginally suppress wage levels of native-born Americans without a high school diploma, and impose significant costs on some state and local governments. However, the estimated wage suppression and fiscal costs are relatively small, and economists generally view the overall economic benefits of this workforce as significantly outweighing the costs.” And as The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine noted: “When measured over a period of 10 years or more, the impact of immigration on the wages of native-born workers overall is very small.” And as University of California Economics Professor Giovanni Peri was quoted in a New York Times Magazine article entitled “Do Illegal Immigrants Actually Hurt the U.S. Economy?”:  “In states with more undocumented immigrants, skilled workers made more money and worked more hours; the economy’s productivity grew.” And as the Congressional Budget Office indicated in a 2007 report on The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of State and Local Governments, “Over the past two decades, most efforts to estimate the fiscal impact of immigration in the United States have concluded that, in aggregate and over the long term, tax revenues of all types generated by immigrants—both legal and unauthorized—exceed the cost of the services they use.”

[14] Still the issue of what our laws governing immigration and undocumented immigrants should  needs to be addressed.  But it should be addressed with reason and compassion  in order to ensure the rules we adopt reflect the humanitarian values we want to govern our country and the world.  And with that in mind it is worth recalling that as President Ronald Reagan pointed: “Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status.” Today, there are about 11.1 million illegal immigrants in the country.  And, like Nury Chavarria, the majority of them have lived and worked here for more than ten years.  Nevertheless, ICE on the orders of President Trump plans to deport all of them at a cost that is astronomical and cannot be measured in dollars and cents alone.

Consumerism and Equality

Photo by Daniel Oines | CC BY 2.0

The consumerism generated by capitalism throughout the developed or ‘Northern’ world prevents the tackling of climate change, the greatest problem facing humanity needing immediate action.

But luckily our global capitalism has always struggled to maintain itself,  because a crucial weakness of capitalism (not sufficiently noted by the left) is that by relentlessly pushing its “free” market into every corner of life to seek profit, it puts a cash-price on everything, and it thereby becomes a great social leveller: kings, lords and all upper-class birthrights, race and gender privileges etc. decline as possession of money, which by luck or cunning can be acquired by anyone regardless of their birth or origin, comes to measure social success. As a result, other than those inequalities of money, we now live in a society with a level of nominal equality that was totally unimaginable throughout human history to even just 40 years ago for birth, gender, race, single mothers, LBGT, etc.

Crucially this promotion of nominal equality also causes constantly growing agitation by workers for a just and equal share of their social production, because as noted capitalism encourages them to now see themselves as human beings equal to their bosses. This causes desperate problems for capitalists because their system lacks that acceptance of inequality which earlier civilizations had, civilizations that could last even a thousand years with little change in spite of vast inequality in class divisions, emperors, racism, slavery, gender discrimination, etc.  Only quantity of money matters now, though its effects can be quite subtle.

England’s history demonstrates this capitalist dilemma. In response to a  growing agitation for equality, the capitalist class must react, like any ruling class or Mafia, in two ways: one section of the exploited is violently repressed, another is bribed to keep them usefully loyal insiders.  Violence was used by the state in the 1819 Peterloo massacre of demonstrating English workers.  In the 1840s famine was starving a million people in Ireland while massive amounts of food were being exported to Liverpool under British army guard. Towards 1850 when Chartist agitation for equality grew, this time instead of violence the Corn Laws were ended to allow imports of cheap food as the ‘bribe’ to quieten that agitation. Colonies were constantly plundered by England’s Imperialism to deliver bribes to English workers (noted by Engels in a  letter 1882 to Kautsky: “English workers gaily share the feast of England’s colonies.”)   The English working class was kept comfortable enough to forgo dangerous agitation against capitalism, even volunteering as soldiers in the Imperial army and moving towards electoral equality. But after 2 diverting world wars, caused essentially by imperial rivalry, there again arose agitation against capitalism’s economic inequality by English workers (e.g. the 1974 and 1985 Miners’ Strikes) and strong often violent agitation by colonies such as Viet Nam for their own liberty.  This agitation, sharing a general affirmation that all nations and peoples must be equal, was a new and dangerous crisis for capitalism, and as there were no further colonies to invade, a new source of wealth to quieten this agitation had to be found.

Thatcher’s capitalism achieved this: up to the 1970s colonies were generally not allowed to manufacture, this was reserved for the ‘North’ so that for example India was forced to send its raw cotton to England then buy back the spun and woven goods. The new policy was that  the ex-colonies and 3rd world, the ’South,’ must get the national liberation they increasingly demanded and would become sites for industry with their low wages to export, along with the usual basic resources such as cotton and oil, a new ‘bribe’ of cheap manufactured goods back to England. Reagan and the North in general did the same. This worked well and is the current situation: along with  brutal extraction of cheap food and raw materials  there is now a new bribe of cheap manufactures from the Southern nations, often produced by children working in horrible conditions, while the North with diminishing manufacturing drifts toward a financial economy where billionaires speculate to produce damaging bubbles and get bailed-out when a bubble bursts.  As T. Picketty notes in “Capital in the 21st Century”  since the 1970s the trend of incomes becoming more equal has reversed as the wealth of the 1% gallops.

The ‘bribes’ mentioned are not just cash devices, there is a subjective element.   To take the example of China and the U.S.: consumerism arises when a worker in the US receives $15/hr. while the worker in China producing equally-sophisticated manufactured goods is only paid $2.  So even after capitalist profit-taking the worker in the U.S. when shopping can trade 1 hour’s labor for several hours of  equal-quality Chinese labor.   This is the winning gambler cashing in the chips: you go shopping and spend 1 hour’s labor value and take home 3!  The more you shop the more your profit grows as you indirectly exploit foreign workers. This ‘profit’ is the economic cause of the psychological “buzz” element of our Consumerist consciousness.

It is the instinctive grasp of this situation by the US worker who then votes for capitalism that matters.  a US worker exchanges one hour’s labor at a minimum-wage retail job for the price of a pair of imported jeans. The cotton must be: planted-grown-harvested-spun-woven-dyed-cut-sewn, then zips-pockets-hems-buttons-belt loops-rivets-labels-packaging-transport. This is why the US worker when shopping instinctively knows they are gaining a surplus of labor. The same is true, though less obvious, if both workers are on car-assembly lines each in their own countries. The consumerist ‘buzz’ thus arises from a worker-over-worker relationship in contrast to the previous worker-under-capitalist.   Consumerism thereby contains a status element and, though based on material consumption is not essentially ‘materialistic.’

In striking contrast shopping for manufactured goods before Consumerism  was an experience of being exploited by capitalists because the wages earned exchanged for a less than equal amount of labor so that when a worker shopped, those workers who produced the purchases were in the same economic area and therefore were paid the same wages (the missing labor value of course taken as capitalist profit).  This is why shopping for the working class didn’t have that exciting “profit-buzz” it has gained since our 1980s Consumerism arrived.  This economic profit by Northern workers from global exploitation compensates for the exploitation by our own ruling class, and is the fundamental reason we in the North still vote for capitalism.

[A money trail: China’s trade with the U.S. is in surplus by $300 billion, about $4,000 per US family. US worker at $15/hour can buy that product for about 250 hrs. labor. Chinese labor content of $4000 is (at $2/hr wages but perhaps sold at $6/hr including  profit, duty, tax, etc.) 650 hours. So theoretical max. “profit”  is approx. 400 hours labor value, which is (@ $15/hr) perceived by US worker (and family)  as $6,000 gain or ‘profit’ annually, a substantial 20% on top of that US worker’s wages. That’s just China, then there’s U.S. trade with Mexico, Bangladesh (wages $2/day!) etc.1]

This system is also reflected in how Northern workers increasingly now define themselves as “Middle Class.“2.  This economic term originally described a working shop-owner, farmer, blacksmith etc. who though working was at the same time profiting from having a few employees, so was in the working-class and capitalist-class at once, in the “middle.“ As described above this is replicated in how Northern workers do a full day’s work but when consuming are profiting from Southern workers, so they instinctively – and correctly – term themselves “Middle Class.”  Also reflecting this is the diminishing of campaigns for shorter working hours and strikes,  both common in the 1970’s,  because such actions reduce the immediate money income to swap for that consumerist profit (U.S.: in 1970 -381 strikes, in 2012 -11 strikes 3).   Many of the Northern working class have joined the middle-class, a class which consumes more than it produces.

But as noted the capitalist-generated demand for equality  is always increasing, leading to growing insistence on democracy and equality both personal and national by workers in the Imperialist-dominated ex-colonies and Southern world in general,  repeating the struggle for what was historically won by Northern working classes up to 1970 within their own countries, and again putting massive pressure on capitalism.      But this time there are no new colonies to plunder to answer this demand, so the only solution for the Imperialist ruling class is to claw back some of the gains of their own workers.  This is happening in our spreading austerity “crisis” as Northern workers increasingly get kicked out of their middle-class consumerist lifestyle to face the hard reality of capitalism: pay cuts, mortgage debts, zero-hours contracts, in Greece under strict austerity, in the US in tent cities on charity food and medicine, desperately clutching at varied alternatives such as Trump, Brexit, Sanders, Corbyn.  And the present generation will now be poorer than their parents. There is also a great danger of Fascism arising, as it did with Hitler when Germany was deprived access to lower-waged colonies after WW1.

Cuba is forcibly detached from imperialism and though Cuban infant mortality is better than the U.S., that Cuba led the victory over ebola, that medicine and education are free and Cuba has a planetary footprint of 1, these aren’t always strong enough for the youth aspiring to our polluting consumerist culture, who don’t always realize that the middle-class  lifestyle shown in world media is experienced by only a few, that if they link up with Imperialism they are likely to wind up with Mexican wages and conditions rather than with the new car and latest fashion.  Working class aspiration to join the exploitative global middle-class is an ongoing problem for socialism.

While wages remain low in the South our self-centred competitive consumerism will continue to divert many in the North.  It will therefore remain difficult to build that society which champions the unity and caring which is the prerequisite for a deep enough understanding of the sacrifices needed to stop climate change.  This is not totally unrealistic, we can note the material sacrifices people willingly accepted in England during WW2, and afterwards there was considerable nostalgia for that community focussed on a moral cause and thereby socially unified in spite of the frugal amount of rationed consumer goods.

But without an inspiring cause, would we in the North consuming at the rate of 4 planets accept our equal global share to halt climate change: one family car for only two days per week, meat twice, fish once, two eggs, one airplane trip every 5 years (though plenty of bicycles and vegetables)?  I don’t, and certainly most of Northern society as it behaves at present would not, though countries like Cuba manage it. So we in the North, as the saying goes, “vote with our feet” to consume 4 planets:  no surprise then that we also vote for Consumer-capitalism with our ballots.

Because Consumerism arises from an unequal worker-to-worker relationship, it will end as  workers in the South do the maths to demand equality and justice to push their wages up to follow their production, replicating what Northern workers won historically within their own countries. When these wages reach even one-third of our Northern wages there will be little margin left to fund our addictive  consumerism and finally capitalism’s austerity, inequality and injustice will be fully experienced by Northern workers. Our middle-class consumerism will collapse, the brutal reality of capitalism will be exposed, and action on the climate can emerge. We can help by reducing our own consumption while supporting Southern workers in uniting to demand that global equality to end our Consumerism. If this fails there seems little hope of avoiding climate disaster.

Notes.

1 — Trade: US Census Bureau.       Wages: Monthly Review, Feb.2013 p.29

2 — U.S.: over 50%:  Pew Research.  England: 36%: Ipsos Mori Poll.

3 — US Census Bureau

Jaime Dixon lives in Ireland.

Authoritarianism Already Smothers Freedom: It is Not the Issue in Venezuela

Photo by Eneas De Troya | CC BY 2.0

Some say Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro is authoritarian.  Yet an unrecognized authoritarianism is more serious. The way the world divides up – that is, its economic and political structures – makes certain ideas unthinkable. It even makes it unthinkable that they are unthinkable.

This point is well-known, academically. It was known in Latin America, politically, centuries before North American academics made the topic trendy.[i] Latin American philosophers – Bolívar, Mariátequi, Martí – knew thinking freely about freedom requires, above all, resisting colonialism and imperialism.

These make sense if the people whose lives are destroyed don’t exist. Simón Bolívar knew this. He admired Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau his entire life. But these promoters of freedom didn’t know what it meant to be “even lower than servitude, lost, or worse absent from the universe”.

Some believe the opposition in Venezuela wants democracy. True, some facts are hidden, such as that Marco Rubio expects regime change there to restart his presidential bid in the US, financed by people like Jorge Mas Santos, author of a failed attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro in Panama in 2000.[ii]

But significant facts are well-known, such as that Venezuela has oil, lots of it, and Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution, which Maduro defends, uplifts the poor multitudes. [iii] To suppose the mostly wealthy opposition cares about democracy is, as many have argued, to ignore history.

It is easy to do so, and one reason is precisely the authoritarianism of public debate, the fact that certain ideas are taken for granted, without defense, and others are never discussed.

US political philosophers talk about ideology. They identify ideologies like white supremacy and ableism. They don’t mention liberal ideology about freedom telling us (roughly) we are free when we can do what we want. Its influence is pervasive, including support for ableism.

In Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Settembrini, the sunny liberal optimist, despises “the tie that binds [us] … to disease and death”. Yet Settembrini is dying. Praising science, while denying his own condition, he’s like “ancient Gauls who shot their arrows against Heaven”.

Part of Mann’s point to post-war Europe was that human beings are subject to laws of nature, like everything else in the universe. The liberal slogan, and it is a slogan, is that individuals have power to seize our destiny. Settembrini couldn’t seize his. More significant, he didn’t know it.

Smart, sensitive thinkers say the art of dying and the art of living are the same. The reason is simple: All life, including human life, involves decay. Every moment involves change, which is loss. We live better, with less fear, if we see things as they are. Illusions create false expectations, undermining freedom.

We don’t teach such thinkers. This is the “eurocentrism” decried by progressive academics rediscovering ideology. Yet those same progressives will turn out for a “younger, stronger, faster” seminar, or at least they did at my university. It was even hosted by a women’s centre.

An ideology about “powering through”, realizing “dreams”, is taken for granted. Ivan Illich, widely popular in the 70s as a radical social thinker, gave a talk in the 80s proclaiming “to hell with life”.  He argued that life has become a fetish, an idol. Death has been banished. Reality has been banished. [iv]

He wasn’t understood. There was no uptake. Yet the idea that a life, lived fully, includes death, day by day, has been around for ages – in early Christianity, early Buddhism. Human beings are part of nature, subject to the same laws, in mind and body. It’s how Marx saw it, and Martí. They were naturalists and realists.

But they’re not talked about – unimaginable, or at least their visions are unimaginable. Illich’s point was that such ignorance – of the nature of reality – limits freedom because it limits understanding.  It distorts understanding of how to know the world, and others, through connection.

It is why Martí warned Latin Americans not to be “slaves of Liberty!” It was a matter, he said, of “plain and practical scientific knowledge”. He meant that the error of liberalism, urging to us to find freedom “from the inside”, realizing desires, was “plain and practical”. It doesn’t work. It’s against nature.

Some know the truth and also understand it. Ana Belén Montes is one.[v] She’s in jail, not much talked about. She hurt no one. (Please sign petition here. https://www.change.org/p/1000-women-say-free-ana-belen-montes). Indeed, she saved lives – of people also not talked about, the ones Madeleine Albright says are “worth the price …  if it furthers U.S. foreign policy objectives.”

Ana Belén Montes said she did what she did because the Cuban Revolution must exist. The Venezuelan Revolution must also exist. To say the issue in Venezuela is authoritarianism is “shooting arrows at Heaven”, denying reality. Or at least, it is so if questions are not also raised about how options are closed off, made unimaginable, by a more savage authoritarianism.

It’s a dehumanizing ideology erroneously called freedom. Bolívar said the US exports misery in the name of freedom. Alternatives are almost unthinkable but not quite, by those who care. In any case, the existence of the unthinkable could at least be a question.

Plain and practical scientific knowledge, as Martí suggests, may in fact be at stake.

Notes.

[i] Handbook on Epistemic Injustice (Routledge 2017)

[ii] “Las manos de Marco Rubio en Venezuela”, 24 July 2017, Cubadebate

[iii] E.g. David W. Pear “Venezuela Under Siege by U.S. Empire”, Counterpunch 21 July 2017

[iv] See David Cayley, “Life as Idol” (forthcoming); “Introduction” Rivers North of the Future (Anansi)

[v] E.g. http://www.prolibertad.org/ana-belen-montes

We Want the World and We Want it Now!


One of the multitude of jobs I had in the 1970s was at a Maryland brick factory. My job involved standing next to a conveyor belt for eight hours every day watching freshly baked bricks come down the line. If I saw a brick that was malformed, broken or chipped I was supposed to use a stick and knock it off the belt into a bin that ran along the side of the belt. At the end of the day I was supposed to take the rejected bricks, load them in a wheelbarrow and bring them to a dumping ground. Eventually, they would be ground up and turned into bricks again. I lasted about three weeks before I walked away one afternoon after lunch.

A couple friends of mine who had started the same day as I did got a raise after I quit, but that wasn’t enough to keep them there much longer. Indeed, most people I knew who worked at the brick factory rarely lasted more than a couple months. The machinations of the boss men—offering pay raises and promotions, playing workers against each other—were not enough to keep many of the workers working there. The job was incredibly unrewarding and boring. There was no union in the shop and none seemed forthcoming. The only reason most young people worked there was to get a paycheck. Some of the older men on the line, who were mostly African-American, had worked there for a couple decades. It wasn’t that they were loyal to the company, just resigned.

This is the situation similar to that described by the protagonist in Nanni Ballestrini’s novel We Want Everything. Located primarily in a Fiat factory in Milan, Italy, the novel is a tale of a young worker from Italy’s rural south who is enticed into moving to Italy’s rapidly industrializing north in 1969. Tantalized by advertising and a desire to be “modern,” the narrator of the novel wishes to break free of the rural, dead-end life of his parents and the generations before them. Like many of his fellows, he implicitly understands that not only is that way of life dying; there is also much better money to be made in the industrial cities of the north.

After working a bit here and there, with periods of hanging out in between, the novel’s main character lands a job at the mammoth Fiat factory in Milan. This compound employed around twenty thousand workers and paid the unskilled laborer better than most other postings in the region. It was a coveted job. Most of the labor was repetitive, intense, and demanding. In addition, speedups of the assembly line were regular occurrences. Consequently, workers were often stressed and rarely happy, although most were compliant if for no other reason than that they needed the money. Ballestrini’s protagonist begins to attend meetings called by New Left student groups. These meetings awaken a political understanding that speaks directly to this character’s frustration, anger and overall feeling that there has to be something more to life than working forty or more hours a week at a job that sucks the life out of one. Ultimately, the factory goes on strike, demanding not only better working conditions, but challenging the entire concept of working to make a few men extremely wealthy.

With their demands going beyond asking for a mere pay raise, the plant workers are not only challenging the plant management and ownership, they are also challenging the complacent unions and the “Communist” party that dominates that union. In other words, these workers are not just interested in getting a bigger piece of the pie; they want to get rid of the pie itself. Getting rid of the profit motive, making goods that people need and paying everyone the same decent wage tops their agenda.

Ultimately, the strike fails, but before it does, much of the city is in rebellion and the forces of law and order have imposed martial law. The loyalty of the workers to their cause and each other is challenged and mostly strengthened. Many of the townspeople align themselves with the workers, knowing that their lot is not with the factory owners and the police they have ordered to protect them. In Ballestrini’s rapid fire telling of this tale—a tale based on actual historical events which are known as the “hot summer of 1969”—the spirit of the time comes through. There is the anger at a bill of goods whose primary beneficiaries are those who already seem to have everything; the jail-like restrictions of factory work where every move is defined by the boss and any actions taken outside those restrictions is punished; the generally stultifying nature of work that dulls the mind and the rejuvenating power of resistance and rebellion.

We Want Everything dramatically and ecstatically captures a historical moment. It is an exciting tale resplendent in emotion about a movement that engulfed the factories of Italy in the late 1960s and was part of a greater political and cultural challenge to the überlords of the world’s capitalist class. Ballestrini makes the experience of his protagonist the experience of a generation and, by doing so, provides the reader with a script for revolutionary organizing. Ultimately, the workers movement fictionalized in this novel would be the inspiration for subsequent worker/student movements in Italy and throughout Europe that came about in the 1970s and 1980s. Beyond Stalinism, beyond bureaucracy and extremely hostile to capitalism, this movement would be known by different names: among them are operaismo, autonomia, autonomen. Virtually all of these can be translated as autonomism, a concept loosely defined as a radical type of Marxism where class struggle rather than structure is placed at the center of one’s analysis and the proletariat is considered to be the driving force in history. Autonomists insist on the importance of class autonomy and utilize strategies of resistance which undermine the incorporation of the working class and hope to create new configurations of forces.

(Definition derived from Urban Dictionary.)

Going Soft on Corporate Crime a Bipartisan Affair

Photo by Chris Potter | CC BY 2.0

Donald Trump is not a fan of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the law that says it’s illegal for any person — corporate or human — to bribe overseas.

Trump has called the FCPA “a horrible law” and has said that the law “puts us at a huge disadvantage.”

And you could argue that the Trump Justice Department’s first two FCPA enforcement cases reflect Trump’s point of view.

Both were declinations — despite the fact that the companies disclosed illegal overseas payments and agreed to disgorge illegally gained proceeds.

Some are using the cases to ask the question — is Trump soft on corporate crime?

As the lawyers say, let’s stipulate for the record that he is.

But let’s also remember that going soft on corporate crime was perfected by the Democrats.

The Obama Justice Department, for example, regularly used declinations — five in Obama’s last year in office — and non prosecution agreements — 22 over the eight years of his administration — to settle corporate FCPA matters.

And since September 2015, when the Obama administration put out the Yates memo calling for more prosecutions of individual executives, there have been 20 FCPA corporate prosecution agreements — yet not one individual has been charged in connection with those cases.

There are those in the get tough on corporate crime camp — like David Uhlmann, former head of the Environmental Crimes Section at the Justice Department and now a University of Michigan Law professor — who argue that if a corporation commits a serious crime, then a corporation should be convicted.

We’re talking guilt — as in guilty pleas.

For environmental crimes, that has been the practice.

Over the past fifteen years, 93 percent of major corporate criminal environmental cases ended with public companies pleading guilty to their crimes.

Same for antitrust corporate crimes.

Over the past fifteen years, 74 percent of major corporate criminal antitrust cases ended with public companies pleading guilty to their crimes.

But only 29 percent of corporate criminal FCPA cases were settled with guilty pleas.

And only 8 percent of securities fraud cases have been settled with guilty pleas.

Why?

You might ask — maybe these corporations weren’t guilty?

Not likely, because in almost every one of these cases — no matter the type of soft settlement — deferred prosecution, non prosecution, declination — the company admits to illegal wrongdoing.

The companies admit to their criminal wrongdoing in documents that are now publically available on a new web site — the Corporate Prosecution Registry — created by University of Virginia Law School Professor Brandon Garrett.

And what do we learn from this comprehensive corporate crime database?

That there is a two tier system of corporate criminal justice — one for the smaller, politically less well connected companies — which generally are forced to plead guilty to their crimes — and one for large, politically well connected public companies — which generally enter into softer alternative resolutions — declinations, non prosecution agreements and deferred prosecution agreements.

Or if they are forced to plead guilty, it’s not the parent forced to plead guilty but some unit that won’t be adversely affected by any debarment or other collateral sanction that might follow.

The dominant corporate narrative —  driven by the corporate crime defense law firms — is that big public companies — especially banks and financial institutions — even if they commit the crimes, can’t withstand the brunt force trauma of a guilty plea.

They say — the company will be driven out of business. Innocent shareholders will lose money and innocent workers lose their jobs. A corporate guilty plea is the equivalent of the corporate death penalty.

Not true.

Top corporate crime prosecutors and defense attorneys — they’re interchangeable and regularly swap places via the revolving door — are expert at crafting guilty pleas that avoid these consequences.

That’s why when prosecutors want to, they can get guilty pleas — even for big banks — who for years dodged any personal or corporate criminal liability for causing the 2008 financial collapse.

Burned by that public criticism, the Obama Justice Department in May 2015, thought it was necessary to throw the public a bone.

And they did just that by forcing Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, The Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS and Barclays to plead guilty to felonies in connection with a conspiracy to fix foreign exchange markets.

Why doesn’t the Justice Department demand felony guilty pleas from parents in more big corporate crime cases?

Power and money. The big companies don’t want to plead guilty even when they are guilty. They have corporate reputations to protect. And they have the power and money to hire the best corporate criminal defense law firms to get the job done.

The lawyers’ marching orders?

For the corporate parent, anything but a guilty plea.

Move down the corporate crime ladder from guilty plea to deferred prosecution to non prosecution to declination.

In the parallel Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) case, move down the ladder from admission to no admission with a neither admit nor deny consent decree.

In a World Bank proceeding, move down the ladder from a debarment to a reprimand or a conditional non-debarment agreement.

Some say that it was Obama’s slippery slide down the corporate crime ladder — he hit bottom with not one executive or bank criminally charged for the 2008 financial meltdown — that fueled the populist revolt that helped Trump take the White House.

We don’t want to become Brazil, a country battered by wave after wave of corporate crime and corruption.

It’s time to restore a modicum of corporate criminal justice that will deliver tangible deterrence.

Let’s start by moving back up the ladder of corporate justice.

If a company commits a felony, it should plead guilty to a felony.

No more deferrals, non prosecutions and declinations in major corporate crime cases.

The Vision Thing

Photo by Allie_Caulfield | CC BY 2.0

Planning documents describe how our world will be shaped and how it will be destroyed.

The Spanish arrived in California in 1769 with such a plan: it was to protect the lands along the west coast north of their colonial holdings in Mexico and the Southwest from the threatened incursions of the Russians, by establishing a series of Missions, each a day’s ride from the other, and along this royal road would journey the holy fathers and their accompanying military support. Their endeavors were planned to be economically supported by the establishment of agricultural estates surrounding the Missions which would be worked by the indigenous peoples of the area acting as serfs in an essentially medieval agricultural system. The surplus wealth of these estates would flow back first to Mexico City and thence to the Spanish crown. In the event, there was no surplus and the lands became killing fields as the Indians succumbed to European diseases, mistreatment, hunger and the overwhelming grief of lands and cultures lost.

Between 1834 and 1836, some years after the Mexican War of Independence, the Missions were secularized and their lands distributed by the Mexican government to political favorites and victorious military commanders as spoils of war (after initially agreeing to redistribute the lands to the local Indians) who created vast ranchos where remnant populations of the indigenous peoples became peons or vaqueros. The Mexican-American War, the discovery of gold in 1848, and the coming of the railroads led to the Wild West – where privately held land became foundational to fortunes made in farming, minerals, oil, real estate and commerce. Not much has changed since, although beginning in the late nineteenth century, municipal planning codes now delineate how these stolen lands may be developed.

The County of Ventura in Southern California, covering territory that was ground zero in the Anglo-Spanish destruction of the most populous and technologically advanced indigenous communities in North America, is now working on a comprehensive update to its General Plan for the first time since 1988. In a recent meeting of the Municipal Area Council (MAC) that serves the unincorporated area in which I live, local residents gathered to review the opportunities for helping shape the plan. The meeting was held in Oak View, some dozen miles from the coast and on the way, if not to nowhere, to nowhere very significant – it is one of a gaggle of small communities that dot the road through the Ojai Valley, between the foothills of the transverse Santa Ynez mountain range and the Sulphur Mountain ridge, towards the valley’s eponymous city.

My reasons for spending time in Oak View are limited to attending MAC meetings and getting my car’s tires rotated at Fred’s Tireman. Enough time, however, to wonder at the works of entrepreneurial humankind; to wonder at the survival of an odd selection of stores that eke out a living for their owners in the harsh economic climate of this beleaguered township. Right in the middle of the commercial strip, exactly in a row, as in some sort of ecological climax community of the tawdry are Donuts and More; Nails Forever; Herbs of Hope; 805 Vapes Vapor Lounge; His ‘n’ Hairs; Gold ‘n’ Essence Tanning Salon; and anchoring the eastern end of this block, the newly opened Coffee Connection (which is attempting an injection of hipsterism into what is an avowedly working-class enterprise zone). Across the street is the newly opened Jack’s Dollar Plus. Then – in the next block – it’s Ojai Valley Muffler; Rte. 33 Laundry; and Ojai Valley MAMA (Modern American Martial Arts) before the stand-alone, red-trimmed Ojai Valley Glass which sits next to Fred’s.

On this stretch of State Highway 33, which runs east from the 101 Coast Highway, and winds through Casitas Springs (Bait and Liquor), Oak View and Mira Monte, the commercial presence must be considered woeful to those of bourgeois tastes and twenty-first century proclivities (pilgrimaging, perhaps, towards their Mecca) but the very persistence of its stores and services and the unfailing optimism of the owners of the new ones that replace the failed – gambling against the economic odds – possesses a kind of grandeur. Their openings and closings represent the ongoing process of transformation, in which all things arise and pass away, a concept that is at the very heart of the Taoist understanding of the cosmos which lightly graces the consciousness of the Venice and Silverlake (Los Angeles) diasporas that will crowd the markets, yoga gyms, vegan restaurants and coffee shops that await them a few miles on.

All of which is to say that Ventura County serves a very heterogenous population. From the Oaxacan Indian, non-Spanish speaking Mixtec farm laborers and fruit pickers on the fertile plains of Oxnard, the upper-middle class bohemians of Ojai, Latinos everywhere, Asians, African Americans, wealthy white conservatives and the red-necked, blue-collared legions between, the County runs the ethnic and socio-economic gamut. Those attending the MAC meeting were mostly aging, liberal whites – a societal spectrum much involved in officially sanctioned politics. One outlier was the young, local representative of S.U.R.J. (Showing Up for Racial Justice, a multi-racial movement dedicated to undermining white support for white supremacy) who semi-officially tagged the number of non-whites in the crowd of fifty plus, at two, an Asian and a Latina. The muti-racialist was a ginger-haired Anglo. So it is that input into the County’s visioning process is chromatically challenged, at least based on this showing. But there are even more serious limitations to its attempts to incorporate the will of the people.

Despite a member of the County’s planning department avowal that they had conducted an exhaustive sweep of public opinion in order to shape their General Plan they had, after a dozen community workshops across the county, a booth at the County Fair and an on-line questionnaire, garnered a mere thirty-two participants from the Ojai Valley, which has a population approaching 30,000. Results were similarly sparse elsewhere in the County. Out of this statistically irrelevant sample the County and its consultant had fashioned a crude matrix that featured the top five responses to ‘What I love most about Ventura County’; ‘Our biggest challenges’ and ‘What could make our community better’. Stock responses such as ‘Agriculture and Farms’, ‘Beaches’, ‘Water’, ‘Roads and Transportation’ and ‘Open Spaces and Greenbelts’ were distributed meaninglessly across the matrix. Residents of the Ojai Valley were given a scant one-week notice of the MAC meeting addressing these results.

Since I believe I have been defrauded of my rights to legitimately provide input to the process by a patently specious outreach program conducted as window dressing to the machinations (and low-grade word-smithing) conducted in the vape-filled rooms of the County Planning Commission on a document initially drafted by a planning consultant, I feel empowered to propose a draft of my own five-point Guiding Principles for The People’s Paradise (F.K.A. County) of Ventura.

1) Residents’ inalienable human-rights (at a minimum nourishment, shelter, security, and access to health care, education and wild spaces) shall be privileged over property rights.

2) Native flora and fauna, as the visible expressions of underlying native ecosystems, are to be privileged over all exogenous plantings (except for food production) and exogenous fauna (except for food production and licensed recreational and therapeutic purposes). Native fauna shall have priority access in wild-land corridors between their remaining and future habitats.

3) All the developed lands of Ventura County are to be regarded as a safe space – a sanctuary for all, regardless of Federal immigration status.

4) The County’s beaches and coastal waters are to be freely accessible but otherwise sacrosanct (for they are wild places) – there shall be no commercial fishing or oil drilling in its waters nor new development within the traditional areas of wetland and sand-dune succession. Restoration of this liminal zone shall be a priority.

5) Reduction of energy use (along with the on-going replacement of fossil fuels with renewables) will be the first principle in assessing the viability of future development and applied with equal primacy, in the re-shaping of existing infrastructures.

That’s right! I am so up for a re-visioning that adumbrates the Proudhonian concept that privately owned property is essentially theft from the common wealth and Thoreau’s epiphany that in wilderness is the preservation of the world – fiercely focused on a local level, on the grass roots, on (or in) the trenches, even on the entirely powerless but menacingly named Municipal Area Council; and actively targets the hide-bound, reactionary County bureaucracy. The alternative is to quietly accede to the milquetoast, verdant radicalism of our local Green Council and the estimable C.F.R.O.G. (Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas) who have taken for their alternative model the vision statement and planning guidelines of the uber-liberal Marin County, north of San Francisco. Neither injections of realism into the continuing, but ultimately entirely unsustainable status quo so fiercely protected by the County and its political supporters is likely to pierce, at the present time, the heavily armored skin of this institutional dinosaur.

The day awaits when County leadership acknowledges the illegitimacy of private land ownership in Ventura County entwined as it is with the Native American holocaust unleashed (not altogether deliberately) by the Spanish, the sham of Mexican land grants and the subsequent depredations of the majority Anglo hordes who invaded the State in the second half of the nineteenth century. Left, are picturesque Spanish colonial Mission buildings, built by native labor – essentially the architecture of the holocaust – that are again centers of the Roman Catholic faith, now significant tourist attractions and icons in the mythology of California, surrounded by the massive infrastructures of a militarized global capitalism – forever impinging on the remaining wild-lands of California.

Indian Independence: Forged in Washington?

Photo by GoDesi.com | CC BY 2.0

India commemorates the end of British rule 70 years ago on 15 August. Now might be an apt moment to consider where India might be heading, especially given recent developments. If one policy stands out over the past 12 months, it would have to be demonetisation.

Removing all 500- and 1000-rupee notes from circulation overnight was in part a bail out for the banks. It injected much needed liquidity into the banking system that had been bled dry by the outflow of cheap money (and loan waivers) to large corporations which had been milking the well dry. You can read about this here and here. However, the other aspect of demonetisation which will be focused on in this article, is that it also formed part of a push for a cashless society and the wider global ‘war on cash’.

Demonetisation was a massive, ill-thought-out experiment that was destined in a place like India to cause immense hardship for most of the population who rely on cash transactions. Economist Norbert Haring provides insight into the wider policy machinations of a Washington-based elite that fuelled demonetisation and which went over the heads of the hundreds of millions who would be affected.

Based on what took place, it is not too far off the mark to suggest that, courtesy of a handful of strategically placed figures within India, the Indian state is being co-opted into a CIA-Pentagon-Wall Street nexus of global domination by surrendering financial sovereignty and curtailing the individual freedoms of Indian citizens.

Demonetisation and international capital

The shift from cash towards digital transactions is being spearheaded by Bill Gates and US financial corporations who will profit from the mark up on digital payments. Modi is seemingly a willing partner in this. His brand of nationalism is a cheap diversionary con-trick to make India a fully paid up client state of the US. Control food you control people. Control digital payments (and remove cash), you can control and monitor everything a country and its citizens do and pay for.

The Gates Foundation is a prominent proponent of the global ‘war on cash’, and Bill Gates has the backing of some heavy hitters: the big banks and likes of PayPal, Citi, Visa and Mastercard all smell huge profits in this.

Haring notes that the cooperation of the Gates foundation and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is a very tight one. For example, Nachiket Mor, a ‘Yale World Fellow’, is head of the Gates Foundation India. He is also a board member of the RBI with responsibility for financial supervision.

Apart from More and Modi, there are also other key individuals with their hands on the relevant levers of power in India to do Washington’s bidding. For instance, there is Avrind Subramanian, the chief economic advisor to the government, and Raghuram Rajan, who was until recently Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. He was chief economist at the International Monetary Fund from 2003 to 2007 and was a Distinguished Service Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business from 1991 to 2013. He is now back at the University of Chicago.

Aside from Rajan acting as a mouthpiece for Washington’s strategy to recast agriculture in a corporate image and get people out of farming in India, Haring implicates Rajan in the demonestisation policy. He indicates that the policy was carried out on behalf of USAID, MasterCard, Visa and the people behind eBay and Citi, among others, with support from the Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Haring calls Rajan the Reserve Bank of India’s “IMF-Chicago boy” and based on his employment record, memberships (not least of the elite Group of Thirty which includes heads of central, investment and commercial banks) and links, place him squarely at the centre of Washington’s financial cabal.

Securing payments that accrue from each digital transaction would of course be very financially lucrative for the financial institutions pushing for a cashless world. However, for a low income country such as India, which runs on cash, the outcomes so far have been catastrophic for hundreds of millions of people, especially those who don’t have a bank account (almost half the population) or do not even have easy access to a bank.

Regardless of the effects on ordinary people, demonetisation used the Indian population as a collective guinea pig to see how far the interests of international finance capital could be secured. The ultimate aim seems to be to displace the informal (i.e. cash-bashed and self-organised) economy with Western corporations and with supply chains controlled by them.

Co-opting the development paradigm

Development used to be about breaking with colonial exploitation and radically redefining power structures. Now we have dogma masquerading as economic theory that compels developing countries to adopt neo-liberal policies. The notion of ‘development’ has become hijacked by rich corporations and the concept of poverty depoliticised and separated from structurally embedded power relations.

Whereas some want to bring about a fairer, more equitable system of production and distribution to improve people’s quality of lives (particularly pertinent in India with its unimaginable inequalities  which have spiralled since India adopted neoliberal policies), Washington and its unelected oligarchs like Bill Gates regard ‘development’ as a way to further US interests globally. Whether it involves aid, investment, trade deals (not least the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture) or other partnerships, development and economic and strategic US self-interests are one and the same.

Haring notes that it is US policy to:

“… promote and elevate development as a core pillar of American power and chart a course for development, diplomacy, and defense to reinforce and complement one another. As stated in the 2010 National Security Strategy and the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, the successful pursuit of development is essential to advancing our national security objectives.”

He adds that the start of the direct cooperation of the Gates Foundation with the Reserve Bank of India on digital payments coincides with the work of the Gates foundation in the President’s Global Development Council, which was to promote cooperation with foreign governments and the private sector with a view to US defence and commercial interests.

Haring says:

“Bill Gates gave an example of the link between worldwide digitalization of payments (via the large US payment companies) and US security interests in his speech in 2015. Talking about the problem that overly strict rules for payment providers might do the opposite of the intended: “If financial flows go into a digital system that the US is not connected to, it becomes much harder to find those transactions that you want to be aware of or you want to block”.”

In a recent report on the digitalization of the Indian payment system, Haring notes that Boston Consulting Group and Google urged payment providers to “Mine customer data to build additional revenue streams.” They promise that mining customer data will help them to manipulate consumers into buying more. “Payments will drive consumption – and not the other way around.”

On the steering board of the study were Visa and Vodafone (M-Pesa). These days, the government of Kenya, Bill Gates’ poster-child for financial inclusion, is trying to force mobile phone providers to give them the opportunity to monitor all phone calls and mobile payments. They are telling the phone companies to let a contracted (private) company hook up to all routers.

So, apart from increasing the (unconstitutional) surveillance capabilities of the Indian state (and Washington), what we are seeing is a push for a consumer-based model of development driven by some of the world’s largest corporate players: a model of capitalist development that is corrupt and unsustainable and by its very nature leads to environment catastrophe:

“… our economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption. Our politicians tell us that we need to keep the global economy growing at more than 3% each year – the minimum necessary for large firms to make aggregate profits. That means every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy – double the cars, double the fishing, double the mining, double the McFlurries and double the iPads. And then double them again over the next 20 years from their already doubled state.” – Jason Hickel, writing in The Guardian.

Capitalism and environmental catastrophe joined at the hip

Whether it is the war on cash, massive loan waivers and hand-outs for corporates, demonetisation, mining data, creating revenue streams or the fixation on consumption and endless growth, the prevailing paradigm is blind faith in a failed neoliberal globalisation and a ‘free’ market that exists only in the warped delusions of its supporters.

And for what is still an agrarian society, the plan for India’s countryside follows the same path. There is a plan to displace the majority of India’s rural population in the coming years. Hundreds of millions which will be shifted to the cities. A 2016 UN report said that by 2030, Delhi’s population will be 37 million. Quoted in The Guardian, the report’s principal authors, Felix Creutzig, says:

“The emerging mega-cities will rely increasingly on industrial-scale agricultural and supermarket chains, crowding out local food chains.”

In India, the push to drive at least 400 million from the land and into cities is already underway at the behest of the World Bank which India is heavily indebted to: a World Bank that is, under the guise of ‘enabling the business of agriculture’, committed to opening up economies to corporate seeds and agrochemicals and securing global supply chains for transnational agribusiness from field to plate. The drive is to entrench industrial farming, commercialise the countryside and to replace small-scale farming, the backbone of food production in India (and globally).

If current policies continue, it could mean hundreds of millions of former rural dwellers without any work. Moreover, given the trajectory the country seems to be on, it does not take much to imagine vast swathes of chemically-drenched monocrop fields containing genetically modified plants or soils rapidly turning into a chemical cocktail of proprietary biocides, dirt and dust.

Thanks to the model of agriculture being supported and advocated by neoliberal ideologues (again, with Bill Gates and his ‘corporate America’ entourage to the fore) under the banner of ‘growth’, it also does not take much to imagine a state of near-permanent droughtspiralling rates of illness throughout the population due to bad diets, denutrified food and agrochemical poisoning. Industrial agriculture will be the norm (with all the social, environmental and health devastation and externalised costs that the model brings with it).

Look no further than the current situation in South India and the drying up of the Cauvery river in places to see the impact that chemical-intensive farming has already had. What is happening there is a farming and ecological crisis partly fuelled by environmental devastation due to mining, deforestation and unsustainable agriculture based on big dams, water-intensive crops and Green Revolution ideology imported from the West. Wrong-headed policies have resulted in drought, population displacement and degraded soils. The rivers are dying, farmers are dying (and killing themselves due to them being “at the mercy of global economics“) and the cities cannot be sustained. The solutions (also see this about Bhaskar Save) are there for all to see, but still they are not being taken seriously. It’s a catastrophe that’s rapidly unfolding.

Since the 1990s, India seems to have decided to hitch a ride to the future by tying itself to a US-led system of neoliberal globalisation, an unsustainablecrisis- and conflict-ridden system that fuels national debt and relies on hand-outs for banks and corporations.

It’s a system based on a credit/debt-based consumer economy, financial speculation, derivatives and bubbles, with nations no longer able to carry out their own policies, tied down by undemocratic trade deals, beholden to rigged World Trade Organization rules and following a path prescribed by the World Bank.

India is under siege from international capital. It is not only on course to become an even weaker and more hobbled state permanently beholden to US state-corporate interests, but it is heading towards environmental catastrophe much faster than many may think. You do not have to imagine the eventual outcome; visit the Cauvery, the reality has already taken hold.

“Please, Let’s Not Do It Again:” On NAFTA and Why Mexico’s Poor are Not to Blame

Photo by Jim Winstead | CC BY 2.0

I am a Mexican author born and raised in Mexico. Contrary to Mr. President Trump’s opinion, I am not a rapist or a drug dealer. I am part of a vibrant Mexican community in New York City of well-informed activists and hard-working people, and I was part of a movement in Mexico against the signature of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) without the consensus of the people.

They called us “medieval.” They said “we didn’t want to have trade.” How could we not want to have trade? What we wanted was not to have deals without the consensus of the people. NAFTA should be re-negotiated taking into consideration the peoples of all three countries, workers, unions, and the environment.

Even though we were protesting and warning against this trade deal for five years, the deal was signed. It not only eliminated good jobs in the United States but increased Mexican migration by more than double. This means those U.S. jobs that were sent to Mexico weren’t so good after all, no matter what Donald Trump says.

Before 1994, the year NAFTA went into effect, Mexico was a country that produced and exported corn. It did not buy it. Corn had been the basic grain of the Indigenous food across Mesoamerica since before the Spanish Conquest.

Since NAFTA, Mexico has become a country that relies on foreign corn and foreign food. Since growing corn was the basis of the economy, almost all Mexican peasants (except the Indigenous autonomous communities ) are now completely relying on foreign food. They cannot produce their own – it is too expensive. Why? Because this agreement was signed in spite of the opposition of the people. And when this opposition grew too large to be stopped, the U.S. and Mexican governments invented a scheme named “Fast Track.”

According to the Mexican experience, “Fast Track” means “in secret,” “behind the backs of the people, without protections for the workers of any of the signing countries and the environment in any of the signing countries.” That’s what the Republicans seem to be doing right now by not holding hearings with any of us.  They seem to be renegotiating NAFTA now with no protections for the workers and the environment, with a Mexican administration widely repudiated, widely unpopular, representing only oligarchs and drug lords, not the Mexican people.

NAFTA only increased immigration to the United States, activating the U.S. economy with cheap, almost slave labor. If you get deported and go back to your country, your prices as a small agricultural producer cannot possibly compete with the imported prices and the big corporation prices — courtesy of NAFTA. So there is no future for you.

Those are the things that secret deals try to have you ignore until you suffer from them and have no way to protect yourself and your community against them.

I published a collective book, Salinato Versión 2.0, about the propaganda machinery that defeated us in Mexico. It covers the investment in propaganda, the bribes to all the journalists and intellectuals who supported NAFTA, and the backing of President Carlos Salinas, who signed NAFTA. I invited some of the best Mexican journalists, both in Mexico and in the United States, specialists in Mexican media, arts, and culture, to talk about the effects of NAFTA. It portrays the real face of NAFTA, the human face. It is not a pretty face, let me tell you.

Marco Vinicio Gonzalez interviewed a woman named Esperanza from Las Palomas, Puebla, in a section named “How NAFTA ruined my life.” I quote from Esperanza:

“When I left my house, my mother and my grandmother gave me their blessing at the patio. We cried all three together. I still remember it and get a lump in my stomach. I was determined to cross to the other side. My son stayed there with my mom and grandma, because my husband crossed (the border) and went to work on the other side. [After NAFTA] things started to get ugly. All my brothers and cousins had to leave the rancho. I tried to get a job and work at a garment factory in Puebla but I had to pay transportation and food because it was not too close to home. I had to leave home every day at 4 am to get to work in time [at one of these maquiladoras which took union jobs from the United States]. I persuaded my mother and my grandmother that they should allow me to try my luck. I promised them I would send them money so that they could live and take care of my son Julian who was two years old at that time  . . . [she cries].

“When I got to Tijuana I was terribly scared. I did not know anyone. It took me several days to find the smuggler I was referred to. We spent several days trying to cross. When I finally crossed, the helicopters dropped their lights and everybody ran everywhere they could . . . I was caught by one agent who got me in one van with others. Then he sent all the others to another van except me . . . He was very nice with me in the beginning. He brought me to a motel in Chula Vista and made me stay there. He said he was going to help me, but one night he got drunk and raped me. When he left, he locked the door. I felt dirty and ashamed. I wanted to kill myself and did not know why.”

While this woman suffered, Mexico was able to produce the richest man in the world, according to Forbes magazine. For several consecutive years, an oligarch, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, was the richest man in the world.

Now how is that possible? When you see the story of this woman the last thing you can imagine is that she comes from the same country as Carlos Slim, even near the city where the richest man in the world made his fortune as soon as NAFTA went into effect in 1994. The truth is, Carlos Slim made his fortune not out of anything he produced but by destroying unions and privatizing public services. That is the face of NAFTA without the consensus of the people. It’s the face of injustice. Please let’s not allow that again.

Trump’s insults against the Mexican people helped him become president of the United States because hatred is always easier than understanding. He successfully planted the seed of intolerance because it always requires less thinking and less effort just to blame other communities, immigrants, other religions, other colors, otherness in general.

The main reason for the immigration is not lack of control at the borders and lack of walls but these bad trade deals like NAFTA negotiated in secret, with undemocratic governments. Please, let’s not do it again.

Malú Huacuja del Toro is a Mexican author, playwright and screenwriter based in New York City. Her recent plays include the monologue “Quixota in the Times of Trump – How to be a Mexican Feminist in 15 Minutes” about Mexican contemporary history and NAFTA. This is the testimony she delivered on July 24, 2017 at a NAFTA field hearing in Brooklyn, New York, organized by Representative Nydia Velázquez. She can be found in otroslibros@otroslibros.com

Hydropolitics Down Under: The Failure of the Murray Darling Basin Plan

Water is gold to survival, the indispensable, the vast feeder for human civilization. Its absence entails certain death; its decline brings out the prospect that a civilisation might well collapse. When a water crisis is announced, panic sets in. Officials ready for war; armies ready for the march. “When water goes bad, so do political relations.”

Historically, poisoned or affected water supplies have caused the outbreak of disease and panic. In 1892, a year which saw the staging of the Chicago World Fair and the outbreak of typhoid, the threat of water scarcity to the 27 million guests attending the city’s events propelled the construction of plumbing stretching four miles into Lake Michigan. Additional supplies were also obtained from Waukesha and Wisconsin.

The same, it can be said, for water that flows off, water that is pinched, or water that is denied. The entire basis of Jean de Florette, Marcel Pagnol’s novel set in La Bastide in a provincial France teeming with avarice, is that of a water tragedy.

A hunchbacked tax collector goes to the country to make good his inheritance, but faces the cruelties of a drought. He needs water, and the only way to obtain it from a neighbouring well is with a mule owned by his rivals who entertain his demise.

A contemporary tale of water tragedy is that of the Murray-Darling Basin, which has suffered from illegal pumping in the Barwon and Darling Rivers that could, if proven, “represent,” according to Ross M. Thompson, “one of the largest thefts in Australian history.” Such instances of theft were uncovered by the Australian investigatory news program, Four Corners, in its Monday airing.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who also doubles up as the federal minister for water issues, pushed a different narrative to his pub audience in Shepparton, Victoria, suggesting that the Four Corners program had done the farmers wrong.

“A calamity for you which the solution is trying to take more water off you, shut more of your towns down.” Water was taken, he explained, and “put back into agriculture, so we can look after you and make sure we don’t have the greenies running the show.” Few voices were on hand to speak for the environment that day.

South Australia’s Water Minister, Ian Hunter, was that incensed to call for an independent review of the handling by the New South Wales government. As with so many matters of national significance, the solution will entail more squabbling skirmishes.

The NSW government was never too thrilled with the agreement. Known as the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, it had begun as a Commonwealth and State arrangement to balance water consumption and the environmental health of a dying basin. A water market was also created under the plan to enable water to be purchased with an environmental perspective in mind, and allow irrigators to trade water permits focused on need. Rather optimistically, all of this was meant to take place transparently and with a degree of prudence.

But irrigators were bound to buck moves to control water usage, and colluders abounded within the emerging water bureaucracy. In 2016, discussions between a particular NSW water bureaucrat, a certain Gavin Hanlon, were held with irrigators on the possibility of abandoning the Basin Plan with minimal legal consequence.

When evidence came to light to the Deputy Director General of the NSW Department of Primary Industries on misuse by irrigators in the northern part of the state, heads turned the other way. The appetite for compliance, according to Jamie Morgan of the strategic investigations unit, had run its course.

Ambushed by the Four Corners expose, officials in the NSW Government have promised an investigation, with the state’s primary industries minister, Niall Blair, clear that some form of punishment will issue. “Referral of any potentially illegal or corrupt activities will be made to relevant authorities.”

South Australian premier, Jay Weatherill is not so sure, insisting that this is a matter concerning all states including the Commonwealth. “We’ve long held suspicions about the level of commitment by New South Wales to comply with the plan.” He is pitching for a judicial inquiry that is beyond the tampering of political interests.

The irrigation pinch has resulted in the appropriation of billions of litres. The Murray Darling Basin plan has been shown up, a costly sham further exacerbated by increasingly voracious irrigation capture by farmers spurred by government subsidies.

The Murray Darling Basin Authority board has also been compromised, a state of affairs that risks being hastened by the appointment of another irrigation lobbyist, Perin Davey. Much to the consternation of the Australian Conservation Foundation, the MDBA board is now packed with the Daveys and the Hanlons, Trojan horses tearing down the entity from within.

One Australian politician, South Australian senator Nick Xenophon, suggests splitting the environment portfolio from agriculture. Whatever cosmetic stitching takes place, going balmy over water and its use will persist, leaving the environment to wither before the needs of humankind.