Twenty-three-month-old Alfie Evans, passed away in a British hospital on Saturday. While the official cause of death was a degenerative brain disease, Alfie may have been murdered by the British health system and the British high court. Doctors at the hospital treating Alfie decided to remove his life support, against the wishes of Alfie’s parents. The high court not only upheld the doctors’ authority to override the parents’ wishes, it refused to allow the parents to take Alfie abroad for treatment.
In upholding the government’s authority to substitute its judgment for that of Alfie’s parents, the high court is following in the footsteps of authoritarians throughout history. Ever since Plato, supporters of big government have sought to put government in charge of raising children. The authoritarianism of a system where “experts” can override parents is underscored by a police warning that they were “monitoring” social media posts regarding Alfie.
Alfie’s case is not just an example of the dangers of allowing government to usurp parental authority or the failures of socialized medicine. It shows the logical result of the widespread acceptance of the idea that rights are mere privileges bestowed by government. It follows from this idea that rights can be taken away whenever demanded by government officials or the popular will.
Of course, most western politicians deny they believe rights come from government. They instead claim that government must place “reasonable” limits on rights to advance important policy goals, such as limiting the right to free speech to protect certain groups from hate speech, or limiting property rights to promote economic equality. But, a right by its very nature cannot be limited or abolished and still be a right.
This disdain for a true understanding of rights is found among both liberals and conservatives. Both support a welfare-warfare state funded via the theft of income taxes and the indirect theft of inflation. Both support jailing people for nonviolent actions like drinking raw milk. Many politicians, regardless of ideology, support restrictions on parental rights such as mandatory vaccination laws.
While claiming to support the right to life, most modern liberals not only support legalized abortion, they want to force pro-lifers to fund abortion providers. Both the right-wing neocons and left-wing humanitarian interventionists dismiss the innocents killed in US military actions as inconsequential “collateral damage.”
America’s Founding Fathers rejected the idea that rights come from government. They instead embraced the view that rights are either granted by the creator or are a basic attribute of humanity.
Since rights do not come from government, government has no more legitimate authority to violate our rights than does a private individual. Thus, if an individual cannot use force to make you help others, neither can the government. If an individual cannot use force to stop you from gambling online or telling un-PC jokes, neither can the government. If an individual cannot use force to stop parents from seeking medical treatment for their child, neither can the government.
Widespread acceptance of natural rights and the principle of nonaggression that flows from natural rights is key to obtaining and maintaining a free society. Thus, educating people in the benefits of free markets, individual liberty, and a foreign policy of peace and free trade is key to protecting future Alfie Evanses, and other victims of the welfare-warfare state, as well as to restoring respect for the moral principles of liberty among a critical mass of the people.
The Popular Resistance School will begin on May 1 and will be an eight-week course on how movements grow, build power and succeed as well as examine the role you can play in the movement. Sign up to be part of this school so you can participate in small group discussions about how to build a powerful, transformational movement. REGISTRATION CLOSES MIDNIGHT APRIL 30.
Seventy years of attacks on the right to unionize have left the union movement representing only 10 percent of workers. The investor class has concentrated its power and uses its power in an abusive way, not only against unions but also to create economic insecurity for workers.
At the same time, workers, both union and nonunion, are mobilizing more aggressively and protesting a wide range of economic, racial and environmental issues.
On this May Day, we reflect on the history of worker power and present lessons from our past to build power for the future.
In most of the world, May Day is a day for workers to unite, but May Day is not recognized in the United States even though it originated here. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the US walked off their jobs for the first May Day in history. It began in 1884, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions proclaimed at their convention that workers themselves would institute the 8-hour day on May 1, 1886. In 1885 they called for protests and strikes to create the 8-hour work day. May Day was part of a revolt against abusive working conditions that caused deaths of workers, poverty wages, poor working conditions and long hours.
May Day gained permanence because of the Haymarket rally which followed. On May 3, Chicago police and workers clashed at the McCormick Reaper Works during a strike where locked-out steelworkers were beaten as they picketed and two unarmed workers were killed. The next day a rally was held at Haymarket Square to protest the killing and wounding of workers by police. The rally was peaceful, attended by families with children and the mayor himself. As the crowd dispersed, police attacked. A bomb was thrown—no one to this day knows who threw it—and police fired indiscriminately into the crowd, killing several civilians and wounding forty. One officer was killed by the bomb and several more died from their own gunfire. A corrupt trial followed in August concluding with a biased jury convicting eight men, though only three of them were present at Haymarket and those three were in full view of all when the bombing occurred. Seven received a death sentence, the eighth was sentenced to 15 years, and in the end, four were hanged, one committed suicide and the remaining three were pardoned six years later. The trial shocked workers of the world and led to annual protests on May Day.
The unity of workers on May Day was feared by big business and government. That unity is shown by one of the founders of May Day, Lucy Parsons, who was of Mexican American, African American, and Native American Descent. Parsons, who was born into slavery, never ceased her work for racial, gender, and labor justice. Her partner was Albert Parsons, one of those convicted for Haymarket and hanged.
Solidarity across races and issues frightens the power structure. In 1894 President Grover Cleveland severed May Day from its roots by establishing Labor Day on the first Monday in September, after pressure to create a holiday for workers following the Pullman strike. Labor Day was recognized by unions before May Day. The US tried to further wipe May Day from the public’s memory by President Dwight Eisenhower proclaiming “Law and Order Day” on May 1, 1958.
Escalation of Worker Protests Continues to Grow
Today, workers are in revolt, unions are under attack and the connections between workers’ rights and other issues are evident once again. Nicole Colson reports that activists on a range of issues, including racial and economic justice, immigrant rights, women’s rights, a new economy of worker-owners, transitioning to a clean energy economy with environmental and climate justice, and a world without war, are linking their struggles on May Day.
There has been a rising tide of worker militancy for years. The ongoing Fight for $15 protests helped raise the wages of 20 million workers and promoted their fight for a union. There are 64 million people working for less than $15 an hour. Last year there was also a massive 36-state strike involving 21,000 mobility workers.
Worker strikes continued into 2018 with teacher strikes over salaries, healthcare, pensions and school funding. Teachers rejected a union order to return to work. Even though it included a 5 percent raise, it was not until the cost of healthcare was dealt with that the teachers declared success. Teachers showed they could fight and win and taught others some lessons on striking against a hostile government. The West Virginia strike inspired others, and is followed by strikes in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona. These strikes may expand to other states, evidence of unrest has been seen in states including New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as Puerto Rico because courage is contagious.
Graduate students have gone on strike, as have transit and UPS workers and low-wage workers. The causes include stagnant wages, spiraling healthcare costs, and inadequate pensions. They are engaged in a fight for basic necessities. In 2016, there wasn’t a single county or state in which someone earning the federal minimum wage could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment at market rate.
Workers are also highlighting that women’s rights are worker’s rights. Even before the #MeToo movement took off, workers protested sexual harassment in the workplace. Workers in thirty states walked off the job at McDonald’s to protest, holding signs that said “McDonald’s Hands off my Buns” and “Put Some Respect in My Check.”
Last year on May Day, a mass mobilization of more than 100,000 immigrant workers walked off their jobs. This followed a February mobilization, a Day Without Immigrants. The Cosecha Movement has a long-term plan to build toward larger strikes and boycotts. There will be many worker revolts leading up to that day.
The Poor People’s Campaign has taken on the issues of the movement for economic, racial, environmental justice and peace. Among their demands are federal and state living wage laws, a guaranteed annual income for all people, full employment, and the right to unionize. It will launch 40 days of actions beginning on Mother’s Day. Workers announced a massive wave of civil disobedience actions this spring on the 50th anniversary of the sanitation strike in Memphis, at a protest where they teamed up with the Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for Black Lives. Thousands of workers walked off their jobs in cities across the country.
The contradictions in the US economy have become severe. The wealth divide is extreme, three people have the wealth of half the population and one in five people have zero wealth or are in debt. The U.S. is ranked 35th out of 37 developed nations in poverty and inequality. According to a UN report, 19 million people live in deep poverty including one-quarter of all youth. Thirty years of economic growth have been stagnant for most people in the US. A racial prism shows the last 50 years have made racial inequality even wider, with current policies worsening the situation.
May 5 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of economic philosopher, Karl Marx, the failure of US capitalism has become evident. Over the last fifty years, in order for the few to exploit the many, labor laws have been put in place to weaken workers’ rights and unions. Andrew Stewart summarizes some of the key points:
First, the National Labor Relations Act, signed by FDR, that legalized unionization. Or more precisely, it domesticated unions. When combined with the Taft-Hartley Act, the Railway Labor Act, and Norris-La Guardia Act, the union movements of America were forced into a set of confines that reduced its arsenal of tactics so significantly that they became a shell of their pre-NLRA days. And this, of course, leaves to the side the impact of the McCarthy witch hunts on the ranks of good organizers.
In addition, 28 states have passed so-called “right to work” laws that undermine the ability of workers to organize. And, the Supreme Court in the Janus case, which is likely to be ruled on this June, is likely to undermine public unions. On top of domestic laws, capitalist globalization led by US transnational corporations has undermined workers, caused de-industrialization and destroyed the environment. Trade must be remade to serve the people and planet, not profits of the few.
While this attack is happening, so is an increase in mobilizations, protests, and strikes. The total number of union members grew by 262,000 in 2017 and three-fourths of those were among workers aged 35 and under and 23% of new jobs for workers under 35 are unionized. With only 10 percent of workers in a union, there is massive room for growth at this time of economic insecurity.
Chris Hedges describes the new gig economy as the new serfdom. Uber drivers make $13.77 an hour, and in Detroit that drops to $8.77. He reports on drivers committing suicide. One man, who drove over 100 hours a week, wrote, “I will not be a slave working for chump change. I would rather be dead.” This while the former CEO of Uber, one of the founders, Travis Kalanick, has a net worth of $4.8 billion. The US has returned to pre-20th Century non-union working conditions. Hedges writes that workers now must “regain the militancy and rebuild the popular organizations that seized power from the capitalists.”
Solidarity across racial and economic divides is growing as all workers suffer from abuses of the all-powerful capitalist class. As those in power abuse their privilege, people are becoming more militant. We are seeing the blueprint for a new worker movement in the teacher strikes and Fight for $15. A movement of movements including labor, environmentalist, anti-corporate advocates, food reformers, healthcare advocates and more stopped the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This shows the potential of unified power.
In recent strikes, workers have rejected proposals urged by their union and have pushed for more. Told to go back to work, they continued to strike. The future is not unions who serve to calm labor disputes, but unions who escalate a conflict.
The future is more than re-legalizing unions and raising wages and benefits, it is building wealth in the population and creating structural changes to the economy. This requires a new economy where workers are owners, in worker cooperatives, so their labor builds power and wealth. Economic justice also requires a rewoven safety net that ensures the essentials of healthcare and housing, as well as non-corporatized public education, free college education, a federal job guarantee and a basic income for all.
The escalation of militancy should not demand the solutions of the past but demand the new economy of the future. By building community wealth through democratized institutions, we will reduce the wealth divide and the influence of economic inequality over our lives.
It seems, and certainly feels, like a distant number of months since a panel of experts noshed and chatted over how best to overcome the nuclear impasse that pitted North Korea against its southern neighbour and allies. Held in Seoul last December, the project of attendees hosted by the Korean National Diplomatic Academy was ambitious and lofty: the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
The US angle was one of continued military presence on the peninsula while acknowledging that Pyongyang would not relinquish their top option for empty guarantees. Parties from Thailand and China felt that area should not become a security buffer zone favourable to the United States and its allies. Good will entailed true neutrality. The Russian and Chinese angle was an immediate push to calm the nerves: insist on a “freeze-for-freeze” (a halt to military drills and missile testing), a cold storage metaphor suggesting a seizing up on the road before catastrophe.
Across the parties was a general admission that nothing could be done, or advanced, without genuine measures to seek a state of affairs that would entrench peace even as measures to remove North Korea’s nuclear capability gathered pace. A peace treaty, in other words, festooned with various security guarantees, would be indispensable.
Now, at the end of April, we have the leaders of Pyongyang and Seoul embracing and emitting tones of rosy confidence, promising steps of reconciliation that would have seemed as eye popping as any Trump tweet. For the first time since 1953, one of the Kim dynasty found himself on the southern side of the demilitarised zone, chatting at the truce village of Panmunjom.
On Saturday, happy snaps were released of the previous day’s meeting between the DPRK’s Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in. Such gestures were bound to tease the driest tear ducts, causing a necessary trickle. Summaries on the summit points were cobbled together for press circulation. The Seoul Shinmun was not holding back: “No war on Korean Peninsula, complete denuclearisation, formal end to Korean War this year.”
The agreement, known as the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula itself promises the machinery for “a permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” The “current unnatural state of armistice” was to be ended. “Blood relations” between the states would be reconnected; “practical steps towards the connection and modernisation of the railways and roads on the eastern transportation corridor” would be adopted.
The occasion conjures up, in terms of historical pressings, the initial stages of Ostpolitik, when East and West Germany began a warming process that eventually culminated in re-unification, even if the last stages were induced by the shock of the Iron Curtain’s retreat. “We are living next door to each other,” claimed Kim, “there is no reason we should fight each other.”
It was impossible to expect certain big mouths to stay silent. “Please do not forget,” came President Donald Trump, “the great help that my good friend, President Xi of China, has given to the United States, particularly at the Border of North Korea. Without him it would have been a much longer, tougher process!” All charming, given the berating the man in the White House was giving Beijing’s leadership over previous mouths for not doing enough.
Such events are bound to leave certain parties unmoved. The minstrel’s song will be falling on deaf ears, notably those hardened by decades of realpolitik cynicism. Political boffins, notably in the West, continue to obsess with the utterance of the terms “complete denuclearisation”, and wonder whether this will, in fact, happen.
Former US national security advisor H. R. McMaster ran with the line that the DPRK was using its nuclear weapons capability “for nuclear blackmail, and then, to quote, ‘reunify’ the peninsula under the red banner.” It never occurred to McMaster that pure survival is as good a reason as any, and nuclear weapons supply comforting insurance rather than offensive means.
The Washington Post was ready to throw some cold water on the cosy gathering, reminding readers of 1992, when Pyongyang signed a denuclearisation agreement with Seoul, then 1994, when the DPRK concluded one with the United States. In April 2005, the gesture was repeated with North Korea’s four neighbours and Washington. In 2012 came another agreement between Pyongyang and Washington.
Rather than considering the totality of these agreements, and the deeper reasons for their failures, the paper suggested one, inglorious culprit: “North Korea has never stuck to any of its agreements.” Conservative figures such as the Liberty Korea Party’s head, Hong Joon-pyo, find little room to trust, seeing a manipulative dictator highly skilled in stage management. “The inter-Korean summit was a show of fake peace,” he fumed on Facebook.
Still others, such as Michael E. O’Hanlon, are claiming that the recent moves have little to do with the wily Kim or accommodating Moon, but the brutal sanctions regime that brought suitable pressure to bear on the northern regime. Kim’s moves suggested “that the world’s collective economic sanctions against his regime are starting to bite”.
Again, these old fictions circulate like counterfeit currency, suggesting that the DPRK’s nuclear regime – the supposed object of such measures – would be impaired. As with all sanctions regimes, citizens tend to head the queue of punishment. Those in power are rarely scarred.
The Korean peninsula has rarely been entitled to prosper and develop on its own accord, ever at the mercy of ruthless powers and case jottings about security and self-interest. An arbitrary border, drawn at the 38th parallel by two US colonels, one of them the future Secretary of State Dean Rusk, brought Washington and Moscow into potential conflict.
This random division of political mismanagement precipitated a neurosis between Pyongyang and Seoul, as much a product of inward enmity as it was an external inspiration, poked and prodded by those too afraid to let go. Perhaps that time is now.
Our society is besieged by a series of interconnected crises. Millions of people around the world know this and are crying out for change, for a different way of living, for justice, peace and freedom.
Political leaders, Prime Ministers, Presidents and the like, are apparently incapable of responding to these demands; they do not understand the depth of the anguish or the complex interconnected nature of the problems. Instead of presenting new possibilities and working for peace and social harmony, they do all they can to maintain the divisive status quo and act in accordance with the past. But life is not static, it cannot be contained within any ideology – religious, political/economic or social – all must change to accommodate the new. And ‘the new’ is now flooding our world, stimulating change, demanding response and accommodation.
The world and the individual are one; for substantive change to occur this basic fact must be acknowledged; responsibility for the world rests firmly with each and every one of us. If we are to heal the planet and create harmony in the world change is imperative, but it must first of all take place within the individual. Over the last 40 years or so a gentle, yet profound shift in attitudes has indeed been taking place within large numbers of people; the increased level of social-political participation and in many nations revolt against historical injustice and suppression testify to this development. Whilst this is extremely positive, urgent and fundamental change is required if the many issues facing humanity are to be overcome and a new way of living set in motion.
What are the crises facing humanity: The environmental catastrophe and war – conventional and nuclear – global poverty, inequality, terrorism, the displacement of people, and, festering beneath all of these, the socio-economic systems under which we all live. These issues, and they are but the most pressing, are the effects of certain ideals and conditioned ways of thinking; they are the results of the underlying crisis, what we might term the Crisis in Consciousness, or the Crisis of Love. Not sentimental, emotional love, but love as a unifying force for liberation and change. Love as the Sword of Cleavage, as the exposer of all that is false, unjust and corrupt in our world.
‘Society’, large or small, is a reflection of the consciousness of those who constitute that society; it is formed by the values, relationships and behaviour consistently and predominantly expressed by the people within it. Such expressions are to a large degree the result of socio-psychological conditioning, poured into the minds of everyone from birth by parents and peers, friends and educators, the media and political propaganda. This conditioning pollutes the mind, distorts behaviour and creates a false sense of self. It colours every relationship and forms the corrupt foundations upon which our lives are set. From this polluted centre, filled as it is with selfishness, competition, nationalism and religious ideologies, action proceeds and the divisive pollution of the mind is externalized. Where there is division conflict follows, violent conflict or psychological conflict, community antagonism or regional disputes.
For lasting change to take place, for peace and justice to flower, we must do all we can to break free of this inhibiting conditioning and in so doing cease to add to the collective pollution. The instrument of release in this battle is awareness: Observation and awareness are synonymous. In choiceless observation there is awareness – awareness of the values, motives and ideals conditioning behaviour. In the light of such awareness, unconscious patterns are revealed, and through a process of non-engagement can, over time, be negated and allowed to fall away.
Through competition, fear and ‘ism’s of all kinds we have divided life up; separated ourselves from the natural environment and from one another. The prevailing economic system encourages such divisions; individuals are forced to compete with one another, as are cities, regions and nations. Competition feeds notions of separation and nationalism, ‘America First’ and Brexit being two loud examples of countries, or certain factions within these countries, following a policy which they mistakenly believe to be in their nation’s interest, meaning their economic interest. Such divisions work against the natural order of things by strengthening the illusion of separation.
The natural environment is an integrated whole, humanity is One and an essential part of that whole; the realization of unity in human affairs, however, is dependent upon social justice, and this is impossible within the constraints of the current economic model, which is inherently unjust. Neo-Liberalism is a major source of the psychological and sociological conditioning which is polluting the mind and society; creative alternatives that challenge the orthodoxy, which proclaims ‘there is no alternative’, must be cultivated and explored.
New criteria need to be established for any alternative economic model; the acknowledgment that human need is universal and should be universally met, and that nobody ‘deserves’ to live a life of suffering and hardship simply because of their place and family of birth. Sharing is a key principle of the time; it must be placed at the heart of our lives and of any new socio-economic structures. Not just sharing of the natural ‘God-given’ resources of the world, but of space, ideas, knowledge and skills, all should be distributed based on need, not bought and sold based on wealth and power. The recognition that humanity is one is crucial in bringing about the needed transformation in consciousness; sharing flows quite naturally from the acknowledgment of this fact and by its expression encourages a shift in attitudes away from the individual towards the group, thus strengthening social cohesion and unity.
Sharing, justice and freedom are vibrant expressions of Love and the Crisis in Consciousness is itself the consequence of a Lack of Love. Like virtually every aspect of life, love has been perverted, distorted and trivialized. Love is not desire, it is not dependent on anything or anyone for its being: Love is the nature of life itself. Remove the psychological clutter and Love will shine forth, bringing clarity and lasting change, within the individual and by extension society.
The response from the US, UK and France to a briefing on Thursday at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Hague was perverse, to say the least. Russia had brought 17 witnesses from Douma who stated that there had been no chemical weapons attack there earlier this month – the pretext for an illegal air strike on Syria by the three western states.
The witnesses, a mix of victims and the doctors who treated them, told accounts that confirmed a report provided last week from Douma by British reporter Robert Fisk – a report, it should be noted, that has been almost entirely blanked by the western media. According to the testimony provided at the OPCW, the victims shown in a video from the site of the alleged attack were actually suffering from the effects of inhaling dust after a bombing raid, not gas.
The first strange thing to note is that the US, UK and France boycotted the meeting, denouncing Russia for producing the witnesses and calling the event an “obscene masquerade” and “theatre”. It suggests that this trio, behaving like the proverbial three monkeys, think the testimony will disappear if they simply ignore it. They have no interest in hearing from witnesses unless they confirm the western narrative used to justify the air strikes on Syria.
Testimony from witnesses is surely a crucial part of determining what actually happened. The US, UK and France are surely obligated to listen to the witnesses first, and then seek to discredit the testimony afterwards if they think it implausible or coerced. The evidence cannot be tested and rebutted if it is not even considered.
The second is that the media are echoing this misplaced scorn for evidence. They too seem to have prejudged whether the witnesses are credible before listening to what they have to say (similar to their treatment of Fisk). Tellingly, the Guardian described these witnesses as “supposed witnesses”, not a formulation that suggests any degree of impartiality in its coverage.
Notice that when the Guardian refers to witnesses who support the UK-UK-French line, often those living under the rule of violent jihadist groups, the paper does not designate them “supposed witnesses” or assume their testimony is coerced. Why for the Guardian are some witnesses only professing to be witnesses, while others really are witnesses. The answer appears to depend on whether the testimony accords with the official western narrative. There is a word for that, and it is not “journalism”.
The third and biggest problem, however, is that neither the trio of western states nor the western media are actually contesting the claim that these “supposed witnesses” were present in Douma, and that some of them were shown in the video. Rather, the line taken by the Guardian and others is that: “The veracity [of] the statements by the Russian-selected witnesses at The Hague will be challenged, since their ability to speak truthfully is limited.”
So the question is not whether they were there, but whether they are being coerced into telling a story that undermines the official western narrative, as well as the dubious rationale for attacking Syria.
But that leaves us with another difficulty. No one, for example, appears to be doubting that Hassan Diab, a boy who testified at the hearing, is also the boy shown in the video who was supposedly gassed with a nerve agent three weeks ago. How then do we explain that he is now looking a picture of health? It is not as though the US, UK and French governments and the western media have had no time to investigate his case. He and his father have been saying for at least a week on Russian TV that there was no chemical attack.
Instead, we are getting yet more revisions to a story that was originally presented as so cut-and-dried that it justified an act of military aggression by the US, UK and France against Syria, without authorisation from the UN Security Council – in short, a war crime of the highest order.
It is worth noting the BBC’s brief account. It has suggested that Diab was there, and that he is the boy shown in the video, but that he was not a victim of a gas attack. It implies that there were two kinds of victims shown in the video taken in Douma: those who were victims of a chemical attack, and those next to them who were victims of dust inhalation.
That requires a great deal of back-peddling on the original narrative.
It is conceivable, I suppose, that there was a chemical attack on that neighbourhood of Douma, in which people like Diab assumed they had been gassed when, in fact, that they had not been, and that others close by were actually gassed. It is also conceivable that the effects of dust inhalation and gassing were so similar that the White Helmets staff mistakenly filmed the “wrong victims”, highlighting those like Diab who had not been gassed. And it is also conceivable, I guess, that Diab and his family now feel the need to lie under Russian pressure about there not being a gas attack, even though their account would, according to this revised narrative, actually accord with their experience of what happened.
But even if each of these scenarios is conceivable on its own, how plausible are they when taken together. Those of us who have preferred to avoid a rush to judgment until there was actual evidence of a chemical weapons attack have been invariably dismissed as “conspiracy theorists”. But who is really proposing the more fanciful conspiracy here: those wanting evidence, or those creating an elaborate series of revisions to maintain the credibility of their original story?
If there is one thing certain in all of this, it is that the video produced as cast-iron evidence of a chemical weapons attack has turned out to be nothing of the sort.
This article is an adaptation of one of my book reviews. I am adapting it for this venue because I want to share far and wide with readers what corporate citizenship and social responsibility are not versus what the corpocracy and its allies would have you think they are.
The book is about how responsible corporate citizenship can achieve peace through commercializing it (readers in the know may be scoffing or laughing already).1 The author at the time was on the faculty of the business school at the University of Notre Dame, Director of the Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business, an ordained Catholic priest, and an editor or author of fourteen books on business ethics. Sorry, but those credentials really don’t impress me.
When I review books if I am at the least skeptical about them at the outset, I do my own exhaustive literature research to check on questionable findings or claims, and never more so than with this book. You will see why as we go along.
The book’s thesis is that the road to peace is through global commerce and adherence to a global code of ethics as codified in the UN’s Global Compact, described by the UN as both a policy platform and a practical framework for companies that are committed to sustainability and responsible business practices.2 That being so either the UN or the book ought to define peace, preferably operationally, so that we know if and when the Compact has achieved its intent. Neither do. The author does define the process of peace building as “the intentional confluence of improbable processes and people to sustain constructive change that reduces violence and increases the potential and practice of justice in human relationships.”3 I suppose I could translate this verbosity into some criteria for progress toward final peace, but why should I even try? I didn’t write the book.
This compact, as many critics including me see it, is nothing but a paper code of ethics that provides an opportunity for multi-national corporations (MNCs) to “blue-wash” (the U.N.’s flag is white/blue, and so is part of the book’s cover) their dirty business-as-usual.4 The compact is a voluntary initiative. There is no monitoring by the UN to see if the compact is being honored in practice and there are no penalties if it isn’t.
Much of the book consists of discussions about corporate social responsibility (CSR), related ideas such as corporate philanthropy and corporate citizenship, and corporate partnerships with non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, in negotiating and working with foreign governments and the populace. The book barely alludes to the fact that having and touting a CSR office and program is a way for the corporation to polish its tarnished image and defend its actions.5 Moreover, CSR is a superfluous concept. Sometimes CSR is referred to as the corporation’s third bottom line, but there are only two bottom lines that matter, the bottom line of results and the bottom line of ethics. If a corporation conducts its business ethically, it is ipso facto being socially responsible. I don’t know of any corporation that is truly social responsible in all its ramifications.
The book contains case studies written by contributors purporting to demonstrate the commercialization of peace. If commerce does indeed yield peace, the evidence should be laid out in the book. Let’s sample some of the case studies and compare them outside the book with reality. I will tell you when a case contributor’s corporate affiliation may have compromised that person’s objectivity.
The Chevron case is written by a coordinator for the UN, Chevron, and the country involved, Angola. It is loaded with mineral resources, mainly oil and diamonds, and Chevron is Angola’s largest crude oil producer.6 Other than giving a miniscule $3 million to a project to help alleviate poverty, a project where some headway is claimed while admitting that much work remains to be done, and in a country no less where social unrest, crime and public protests were rising, nothing else in this chapter told me what else Chevron did.7 Its operations outside Angola get no attention in this book, operations that “are mired in human rights, environmental, and social damages and harm.”8
The Ford Motor Company case is basically a public relations piece on how the company is becoming environmentally responsible. Two of the contributors are Ford executives and the other two are academics. A few years before this book was written, Ford was heavily criticized by activists, with one claiming that “If Ford were a country, it would be the 10th largest global warming polluter worldwide.’’ 9 The contributors do acknowledge criticisms of Ford from environmentalists and respond that the company is committed to improving its environmental performance. I would guess that Ford has improved it in the last few years. But what does that have to do with peace through commerce? Ford, incidentally, is one of the U.S. corporations that reportedly “made significant contributions to Germany’s war efforts.”10 I would call that the normal “commercializing war.”
The third case is about the Swiss-based, corporation Nestles and what it is doing in developing nations. The contributors, an academic and a public affairs manager for the company, describe how Nestles, in partnership with NGOs and governments, has helped refurbish schools, build housing for the poor, provided earthquake damage relief, helped farmers who are suppliers to the company’s milk product operations, introduced sustainable farming methods, and has become a major food distributor. The contributors highlight a project that paired Nestles with an NGO to make two video series for conflict-torn Nigeria on conflict resolution techniques. The contributors concede that it will be years before they know if the project brings peace. What does Nestles look like outside the book? I found 13 corporate crimes (e.g., “unethical marketing of artificial baby milk,” “exploiting farmers,” “illegal extraction of groundwater”) reportedly committed by Nestles.11
The fourth case is about GE improving the health of the poor in Africa. One contributor is a new university graduate; the other is the VP of GE’s Corporate Citizenship and President of the GE Foundation. GE funded a $20 million initiative to improve the health care and infrastructure of hospitals in Africa. The contributors make the unsubstantiated claim that GE has seen immediate successes. Outside the book GE has been called “one of the most destructive corporations on the planet [because of its] global weapons manufacture and trade, with international criminal convictions for weapons trading fraud and money laundering,” and a “recidivist” corporate criminal “not merely [for its] number of crimes committed — or the dollar amount of the crimes — but a consistent pattern of violating criminal and civil laws over many years.”12
In the next case, a former government affairs analyst of Occidental Petroleum comments on the preliminary findings from the implementation of a “corporate code of conduct” in Columbia. I couldn’t find in the chapter what the findings are and can’t imagine they would amount to anything in any case as you will appreciate in a moment. The company reportedly had authorized several years earlier an air raid during an anti-guerilla operation at a village where one of its pipelines is located in Columbia that mistakenly led to the killing of 18 civilians, including nine children who, survivors said, “ran out of their homes to a nearby road with their hands in the air.”13 The chapter’s contributor says nothing about the air strike. He does mention native unrest and threats of mass suicides over oil explorations, militarization of the zone, and guerrilla sympathizers. He also notes how that history combined with the company’s relocating people and cutting illegal gas and water services near a new company oil well project would “inevitably complicate relations with local communities.” What an understatement! I doubt if the company’s new corporate code of conduct could have helped the company placate the natives.
In the last case I’ll highlight, the VP of international policy and government affairs and deputy general counsel for Bristol-Meyers Squibb (BMS) writes a very short chapter about his company’s $150 million commitment to a program for battling HIV/AIDS in several African countries. While the company has had skirmishes with the law, its program in Africa is certainly a worthy one and I suppose could be considered to represent a very early stage in the peace building process.14 A quick scanning of the Internet while writing this article shows BMS’s continuous record of various criminal activities. It’s par for the course among pharmaceutical corporations.15
I’m no less skeptical and even more cynical about peace through commerce by MNCs after reading this book, especially its case studies. The book risks being an insult to people who know the real story about the UN and MNCs. Were the academic contributors in some instances bamboozled or corporatized? I don’t know. Maybe they are just very idealistic. I personally know a thing or two about idealism, and I am often called idealistic.
It’s incredibly idealistic and unrealistic to believe that the commerce of MNCs can put an end to all the warring and misery around the world today. It’s not at all inconceivable that corporatizing the world could eventually end life on the planet. The corporate balance sheet, after all, is remarkably insensitive to what matters most in life, life itself.
- Williams, O. Peace through Commerce: Responsible Corporate Citizenship and the Ideals of the United Nations Global Compact. 2008. Reviewed in the Book Section of the Personnel Psychology. Summer Issue, 2011, 540-545.
- United Nations Global Compact Office. UN. Corporate citizenship in the World Economy: United Nations Global Compact, October 2008.
- Williams, Ibid. pp. 98-99.
- See Brumback, GB. Toward Becoming a Great Corporation: Part One. The CEO Refresher Online, November 2009; Bruno, K & Karliner, J. Tangled up in Blue: Corporate Partnerships at the United Nations, Corporatewatch.org, September 1, 2000; and Knight, G & Smith, J. “The Global Compact and its Critics: Activism, Power Relations, and Corporate Social Responsibility”, In Leatherman, J. (Ed.). Discipline and Punishment in Global Politics: Illusions of Control, 2008, pp. 191-214.
- Brumback, GB. The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch, 2007, pp. 144-145; Brumback, GB. “Corporate Charades. Part 2. Social Responsibility Programs”, OpEdNews, August 28, 2013; Dissident Voice, August 28, 2013; Uncommon Thought Journal, August 28, 2013; Cyrano’s Journal, August 31, 2013; Mitchell, N. The Generous Corporation: A Political Analysis of Economic Power.
- APS. Angola – Chevron Operations. APS Review Downstream Trends Newsletter Online, March 9, 2009.
- Monitor Staff. Angola. Business Monitor Online, September 16, 2009.
- Baker, DR. “Critics’ Annual Report Blasts Chevron”, San Francisco Chronicle Online, May 20, 2010.
- Buffa, A. “Activists Respond to Ford Motor Company’s Sustainability Report”, Global Exchange Online, October 19, 2005.
- Matthews, RA. Ordinary Business in Nazi Germany. In R.J. Michalowski and RC Kramer, State-Corporate Crime: Wrongdoing at the Intersection of Business and Government, Rutgers University Press, 2006, p. 118.
- Corporate Watch, Nestle SA. Corporate Crimes, June 2005.
- Corporate Watch. US: The Case Against General Electric, August 1, 2001.
- Montero, D. & Whalen, K. Columbia: “The Pipeline War”, PBS, November 2002.
- Reisinger, S, “Bristol-Myers Takes its Medicine: Pharmaceutical Giant is the First Company to Sign a Deferred Prosecution Agreement and then Violate It”, Law.Com, September 20, 2007.
- Brumback, GB. “Inside the Corpocracy: Big Pharma and Servile Government”, Cyrano’s Journal, June 18, 2013; Dissident Voice, June 18, 2013; OpEdNews.com, June 21, 2013.
Killing a man who says ‘No!’ is a risky business,” the priest replied, “because even a corpse can go on whispering ‘No! No! No! with a persistence and obstinacy that only certain corpses are capable of. And how can you silence a corpse?”
— Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine, 1936
Fifty years have elapsed since Thomas Merton died under mysterious circumstances in a cottage at a Red Cross Conference Center outside Bangkok, Thailand where he was attending an international inter-faith monastic conference. The truth behind his death has been concealed until now through the lies and deceptions of a cast of characters, religious, secular, and U.S. governmental, whose actions chill one to the bone. But he has finally found his voice through Hugh Turley and David Martin, who tell the suppressed truth of Merton’s last minutes on earth on December 10, 1968.
This is an extraordinary book in so many ways. First, because the authors prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Trappist monk and anti-war writer Thomas Merton was assassinated and did not die in a fabricated accident, as has been claimed for all these years.
Second, because it is so meticulously researched, sourced, documented, and logically argued that it puts to shame and the lie to so many works, including academic ones, that purport to be profound but fall apart once carefully inspected, especially all those that have been written about Merton and his alleged accidental death. These false accounts of his death, obviously presented purposely by the key players – that he was electrocuted by a fan while wet from a shower – have been repeated ad nauseam over fifty years as if curiosity were reserved for cats and a writer’s job were to repeat commonplace absurdities. And, of course, the mainstream media, the prime organs of propaganda dissemination, have carried out their function by repeating these lies at every turn. The transparency of Turley and Martin’s presentation is greatly enhanced by the presence of footnotes, not endnotes, which allow readers to easily check sources as they read. Most footnotes refer to primary documents – letters, police reports, etc. – that are reproduced in an appendix that is, however, in need of enlargement, but whose contents have, for some odd or not so odd reasons, escaped the thousands of writers who’ve penned words about Merton.
Third, because it greatly expands our understanding of that fateful year – 1968 – by adding the prophetic Merton’s name to the list of well-known anti-war leaders – MLK and RFK – who were slain that year by U.S. government operatives intent on crushing the growing opposition to their genocidal war waged on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The links between these assassinations are made manifest as one follows the authors’ brilliant analysis that allows an informed reader to see the template common to them all and one that clearly leads to intelligence agencies practiced in the arts of murder and cover-up.
Fourth, because it proves that in the long run the pen is mightier than the sword, and the spiritually powerful poetic words of a God-entranced man living in seclusion can rattle the cages of men who embrace the void of violence while rejecting the spiritual essence of all religions – that non-violence and love are the laws of existence. Merton may be dead for his killers, but not for those who hear his voice whispering on every page: “The very thoughts of a person like me are crimes against the state. All I have to do is think: and immediately I become guilty,” Merton wrote in “A Signed Confession of Crimes Against the State.”
Lastly, because The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton markedly forces the reader to face its harsh truths and examine one’s soul and complicity in evil as one learns of the perfidy and betrayal of Merton by friends, associates, and biographers whom a naïve person might assume are beyond reproach, until, that is, one reads this book. It is a very hard lesson to accept and understand. But Hugh Turley and David Martin sequentially force the reader to contemplate such matters; to conjecture why some have conspired and abetted in Merton’s murder and especially its fifty year cover-up.
Thomas Merton (Fr. Lewis) was a Catholic monk, poet, writer and theologian who became very well-known in 1948 with the publication of his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, which became a bestseller. Over the next dozen or so years, he published many books on religious themes, mainly avoiding social or political subjects. But although he lived in a monastery, and eventually by himself in a hermitage nearby, he corresponded widely and was tuned in to worldly events. He became a friend and mentor to religious/political activists such as Martin Luther King, Fathers Philip and Daniel Berrigan, James Douglass, among many others. He was a friend of Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker. He corresponded with Boris Pasternak and Ethel Kennedy; wrote about Albert Camus and Eugene Ionesco. During the 1960s his writing turned more overtly political while remaining rooted in a deep mystical and contemplative spirituality. He became a major inspiration for radical activists who opposed nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War, and the materialist way of life fostered by capitalism that relied on the spread of the American empire through world-wide violence. Although living far away from the din and drama of day-to-day politics, his writing, encouragement, and influence were profound, and he became a major impediment to the propaganda and policies of the military-industrial-political-intelligence complex. He was an inspiration whose spirit disturbed church and state in the most radical way. Turley and Martin say of him:
Merton saw clearly that devotion to truth could not help but bring a person into conflict with sinister special interests. The effectiveness of the truth-seeker would, of course, be greater to the extent he could rally others to his cause, but ultimately, he said, the truth seeker’s strength lay in trust in God.
Merton died on the afternoon of December 10, 1968 when those sinister special interests snuck up on him. He had just given a talk, had lunch, and returned to his cottage shortly before 2 P.M., accompanied by Fr. Francois de Grunne, O.S.B. (Order of Saint Benedict) from Belgium, who shared the cottage with Merton and two others, Fr. Celestine Say, O.S.B. from the Philippines, whose room was across from Merton’s on the first floor, and John Moffit, a journalist editor whose room was directly over Merton’s on the second floor adjacent to de Grunne’s. The walk from the dining hall to the cottage took 10-15 minutes. Say and Moffit were walking a good distance behind Merton and de Grunne and arrived at the cottage about 5-7 minutes after them. When they entered the unlocked building, they did not see Merton and de Grunne and presumed they had gone to their respective rooms.
Shortly after de Grunne and Merton entered the cottage, Merton was killed. The actions of de Grunne, a mysterious figure who, according to the authors, “seems to have fallen off the face of the earth” and whose “abbey will not even respond to our questions about him,” clearly make him a prime suspect in the crime. His actions and story are not believable and are contradicted by the most reliable witness, Fr. Say, whose statements have been absolutely consistent.
Beyond speculation, however, are the facts gathered by the authors that clearly prove that from the start there was a concerted effort to make a crime look like an accident. These efforts were initiated by de Grunne, who was the first to call it an “accident,” but ably assisted by many others, including the Thai police or their surrogates, whose police report was released by the U.S. Embassy seven months after Merton’s death and has no title, author, date, photographs, laboratory reports, or investigators’ memos, and omits the testimony of the first two witnesses on the scene, Fr. Say and Fr. Egbert Donovan, who viewed Merton lying in a position and dressed in shorts totally inconsistent with the accidental death scenario. Most importantly, this “report” omits an autopsy report since no autopsy was conducted, a dead giveaway that a cover-up was underway. When a person is found dead, the first assumption of a competent investigation is that a crime may have been committed, and when the victim is found with a sever gash on the back of his head, is lying in a position inconsistent with an accident, an autopsy becomes essential. But none was performed in Thailand or when Merton’s body arrived back at the Abbey of Gethsemani. That the United States Embassy, at the request of Most Reverend Dom Rembert Weakland, O.S.B., who was presiding over the conference, had the U.S Army take possession of Merton’s body shortly thereafter, embalm it, and five days later fly it back to the U.S. aboard a military plane together with the corpses of American casualties of the Vietnam War is not only supremely ironic but downright suspicious.
The first public report of Merton’s death was delivered on December 11, as Turley and Martin report:
On December 11, 1968, the Associated Press reported that Merton had been electrocuted when he touched a short in a cord while moving an electrical fan, according to anonymous [my emphasis] Catholic sources. The initial news reports did not include any important details such as who found Merton, the names of any witnesses or officials at the scene, or who determined it was an accident. The Thai doctor’s cause-of-death certificate and the official death certificate said Merton died of sudden cardiac failure, but failed to mention the bleeding rear head wound seen by witnesses.
Most importantly, when Say and Donovan first saw Merton lying on the floor on his back, his legs straight, and his arms straight down by his side with palms to the floor as if placed in a coffin, with a floor fan lying across a thigh to the opposite lower waist, Donovan urged Say to take photographs of Merton before the crime scene was subsequently disturbed. They were very suspicious. Through great detective work, Turley and Martin have acquired a copy of these two photos, but they have been prohibited by the current abbot of Gethsemani from publishing them or even an artist’s rendering of them. The authors say:
The photographs taken by Say are the best available evidence of the actual scene of Merton’s death… The reason the monks took the photographs, as we have emphasized, was to document exactly how they found the body. As we have seen, people whom they would hardly have ever suspected, have consistently done their best to suppress those images. The photographs are an essential resource to anyone interested in knowing the truth about how Merton was killed.
But it is clear that many people would like to suppress that truth and have been hard at work doing so for half a century. But since this is intentionally a quasi-review because one must read this book from beginning to end to grasp the intricacies of this murder mystery and the cast of characters that comprise it (no review can do justice to such a detailed and brilliant investigation, and, even so, attempting one would spoil the book), I will end with the authors’ words:
Contrary to the common view, there is really no mystery about how Merton died. The best evidence indicates beyond any serious doubt that Merton was murdered. It’s a simple fact that the average person is far more likely to be murdered than to be killed by an electric fan, and Merton was no average person. The story that a fan killed Merton is so preposterous that a series of fantastic stories have had to be invented to make it believable….Who did it and why? The CIA had the motive and the means.
1968: It was a very dark year: MLK, RFK, and Thomas Merton – martyrs all.
If we want to see clearly and revive hope, the time has come to face the faces of the ghastly gallery of liars and deceivers guilty of these crimes. Only then can we live the truths their victims suffered and died for.
Then we too can confess with Merton that we have thought “Crimes Against the State.”