Category Archives: articles 2015

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out of Social Media

Photo by Alan O’Rourke | CC BY 2.0

While the pool of Facebook accounts suspected of being harvested by Cambridge Analytica continues to grow it’s important to recognize that there’s more to this story than a cabal of shady republican operators. By focusing on Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, SCL, the major news outlets are creating the perception that what’s happening is the work of a few bad apples. When the reality is that the underlying problem is systemic in nature.

It’s not just the GOP. Political influence operations are a bipartisan affair. According to a number cruncherwho worked for the Democrats, the 2012 Obama campaign aggregated almost five times as much Facebook data as Cambridge Analytica. It’s just that in Obama’s case Facebook execs decided to turn a blind eye. As the source explained, “they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”

In the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, Zuckerberg has hired public relations experts and launched an extensive damage control campaign. Note, for example, the tacit assumption baked into the title of Brian Chen’s piecein the New York Times: “How to Protect Yourself (and Your Friends) on Facebook.” Are editors at the Times alleging that users can have their cake and eat it too?

Reading down into the article, Chen acknowledges that truly protecting your data would entail deleting your Facebook account. This frank admission underscores the fact that it’s nearly impossible for social media users to escape data collection. After all that’s how social media companies make their money. Well over a hundred billion dollars per year. Your online activity inside their walled internet gardens as well as your dopamine addiction to “tweets” and “likes” are their income stream.

What? You thought these online services were free? A miracle of the new economy?

Social media’s big data collection directly informs Madison Avenue. All that aggregation begets carefully targeted attempts at manipulation (though marketing execs prefer harmless euphemisms like “educate” and “inform”). And if that wasn’t bad enough, when intelligence services ask to have a gander its dollars to donuts that social media will silently collaborate, chatting away with spy masters on a first name basis. Keep moving folks, nothing to see here.

So there you have it. Social media is a form of mass surveillance and a tool of elite control. Buy product X, vote for candidate Y, support regime change movement Z. Pay no attention to the CEO behind the curtain.

What to do, what to do?

In the spirit of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), journalists like Matt Taibbi have suggested that government regulation is the way forward. The idea is that lawmakers should enact laws that force social media companies to “dial back the use of the data-collection technologies.” Luminaries like Richard Stallman have echoed similar thoughts. And although there’s merit to the idea, it’s unlikely to be immediately feasible in the United States given the tech industry’s lobbying footprint. Companies like Facebookand Googlehave been more than generous with lawmakers. At best, serious legislative reform is a long term approach that’s linked to state capture. At worst it’s wishful thinking.

Thus we return to Brian Chen’s advice: cold turkey. Take personal responsibility for your own social life. Go back to engaging flesh and blood people without tech companies serving as an intermediary. Eschew the narcissistic impulse to broadcast the excruciating minutiae of your life to the world. Refuse to accept the mandate that you must participate in social media in order to participate in society. Reclaim your autonomy.

Having said that, the option of forgoing digital platforms in favor of genuine human interaction is related to another legitimate critique of social media; that it tends towards ideological echo chambers. Where people take refuge in the comfort of messaging that serves only to reinforce their existing beliefs. A novel incarnation of the divide and conquer strategy which the power elite have traditionally wielded to hobble the proles.

Readers should be wary of social media bubbles, safe spaces, and the like. In the absence of billionaire donors like Robert Mercer and Tom Steyer, instituting societal change means reaching out to other folks. Some of whom may have different ways of viewing the world. Resist the temptation to write them off and have the humility to accept the limits of your own understanding.

How Can We Know If a Chemical Weapons Attack Took Place in Syria?

Photo by Gwydion M. Williams | CC BY 2.0

Every atrocity in the Syrian civil war provokes a furious row about whether it happened and, if so, who was responsible for carrying it out. The merciless brutality of all sides combines with partisan reporting and lack of access for independent investigators to make it possible for doubts to be generated about even the most blatant war crime. One good rule is that participants in the war are often accurate about the crimes of their opponents while they invariably lie or are silent about their own.

This rule appears to hold good in the case of the poison gas attack on the city of Douma on 7 April, which killed at least 34 people and possibly twice as many. The Russian military claim that the attack was faked by pro-opposition activists and that samples taken from the site of where the civilians died were not toxic. The Syrian government issues blanket denials when accused of using poison gas.

But there is mounting evidence from neutral observers to confirm that chlorine was used last Saturday. The World Health Organisation says that local health authorities in Douma, with whom it is cooperating, confirm that on the day of the alleged bombing they treated 500 patients with the symptoms of exposure to toxic chemicals. It reports that “there were signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to the central nervous systems of those exposed”.

Other evidence for the gassing of civilians is cumulatively convincing: large gas cylinders, like those used in past chlorine gas attacks, were filmed on the roof of the building where most bodies were found. Local people report that Syrian government helicopters were seen in the area at the time of the attack. Such helicopters have been used in chlorine gas bombings in the past.

The Russian and Syrian government accounts of what happened, varying between saying there were no attacks or that evidence for them has been fabricated, are contradictory. A Russian spokeswoman said on Wednesday that the use of “smart missiles” on Syrian government forces could be an attempt to destroy the evidence.

The allegations of fabrication are generalised and non-specific and amount to a conspiracy theory for which no evidence is ever produced, other than to throw doubt on the partiality of those who say that chlorine was used. It is true that many of the sources cited by the Western media as if they were bipartisan eye-witness accounts are committed supporters of the opposition. But the Russian and Syrian governments have never produced any counter-evidence to give credence to the elaborate plot that would be necessary to fake the use of poison gas or to really use it, but put the blame on Syrian government air power.

The most convincing reason advanced by those who argue that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces did not carry out the attack is that it was entirely against their interests to do so. They have already won militarily in Douma and the second of two convoys carrying thousands of Army of Islam fighters and their families left for Turkish-controlled northern Syria today. And this latest success brings Assad with sight – though it is still a distant one – of a complete victory over his enemies.

For all the furore about the proposed missile strike on Syrian forces– likely to happen in the very near future – it is difficult to see what it will achieve other than as a general sign of international disapproval of the use of chemical weapons. Hawks in the US and Europe may want to use the occasion to reopen the door to armed intervention in the Syrian civil war with the aim of weakening or displacing Assad, but the time for this is long past, if it was ever there.

There is a widely held myth that US air strikes against government forces in 2013, which President Barack Obama is blamed for not having carried out, would have brought the war to a different and happier conclusion. But such air strikes would only have been effective if they had been conducted on a mass scale and on a daily basis in support of ground troops. These would either have been Sunni Arab armed opposition forces, which were already dominated by al-Qaeda-type movements, or the US army in a rerun of the Iraq War of 2003.

What ‘Betrayal’? On War, Trump Has Delivered as Promised

Photo by Billie Grace Ward | CC BY 2.0


The toddler is drunk, tired and angry. It is also stupid. It is a stupid, drunk, tired, angry toddler, and about 49 percent of the adult population wanted to give this diaper-rashed monster a couple thousand nuclear warheads to play with. Donald Trump is the septuagenarian child in this analogy, and while he we can’t say for sure that he will kill us all in a 5:30 am temper tantrum, the latest Trump hire has some of those who dabbled in apologism for his brand of militarism feeling hurt and scared.

“Trump has broken another campaign promise — and it is surely his most dangerous betrayal yet,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, a liberal magazine, wrote in a recent column for The Washington Post. This was in response to the president selecting John Bolton, an advocate of invading ‘bout everywhere, to be his national security advisor. “The candidate who promised to get us out of stupid wars is now loading up for war,” she lamented — “a far cry from the foreign policy Trump claimed to support during the campaign.”

On that campaign trail, Trump did rail against “nation building,” and he claimed (falsely, vanden Heuvel notes) that he was an opponent of the Iraq war. He also regularly talked about his desire to “get along” with the Russian government, which was juxtaposed with the Democrats’ post-hacking drive for a new Cold War.

But if the Iraq war was on some progressives’ minds, what came immediately before it was not: George W. Bush campaigning against what he called nation building. Every Republican does this, “nation building” a term that serves as partisan shorthand for liberals’ alleged tax-and-spend desire to spread gender equality with boots on the ground.

Trump also ran on more frequent and brutal air raids in any country with a terrorist cell. He promised to kill off the families of any extremist he had tortured by a CIA he now wants run by an alleged Bush-era torturer. And Bolton’s was the first name he spewed when asked, back in August 2015, to whom he turns for advice on foreign policy.

“I like Bolton,” the future president said. “I think he’s, you know, a tough cookie.”

So why might anyone feel betrayed? Because what some on the left conflated with a desire for fewer wars — “A jolt of realpolitik from an isolationist Republican would be no bad thing,” wrote The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins in his July 2016 column, “At least President Trump would ground the drones” — was Trump’s stated policy on Russia: to cede it a sphere of imperialism while bombing the hell out of terrorists, together.

The fact that Trump might have the world’s most dangerous mustache brushing up against him, foreign death tolls moistly whispered in his ear, was drowned out by the chorus of pundits who argued that collusion with Russian militarism was suggestive of a preference for diplomacy.

Weeks before the 2016 election, it was braying about Russian electoral interference that led some to argue that the man who would be president had already shown himself to be a statesman, in his own unique way. In an August 2016 column, vanden Huevel chided Democrats for “peddling unsubstantiated claims of collusion,” pointing to a story about the hack of the DNC possibly having been ordered by the Russian government, to which members of the Trump campaign had some curious ties. Democrats, she wrote, were “on the verge of becoming the Cold War party, with Trump, ironically, becoming the candidate of détente.”

“It is simply sober realism,” vanden Heuvel continued, “not pro-Russia or pro-Putin to make the case that the United States has a real stake in working with Russia,” especially on matters such as “the Islamic State and terrorism.”

That Trump promised to “bomb the shit out of” that same Islamic State was not lost on vanden Huevel, but she characterized that as a “ridiculous” pledge “no more credible” than Democrats’ fear-mongering over the next president’s fondness for Vladimir Putin. But both claims were credible — and how else would one expect an avowed militarist to deal with militant extremists? By the summer of 2016, Russia had already shown what it meant by fighting terrorism in Syria, with thousands of civilian dead a testament.

While some were uncomfortable with Trump’s vulgarity, an unreasonably wide consensus, stated with various degrees of comfort, was that bombing the hell out of Syria would be a lesser evil, just as it’s a lesser evil when others do it. The greater evil was Hillary Clinton’s Syria no-fly zone — the likes of which already exists over the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces forces in northern Syria — that threatened to “start an air war with Russia,” in the words of the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

“Under Hillary Clinton, we could slide into nuclear war very quickly from her declared policy in Syria,” argued Stein, whose campaign website had stated that the U.S. should work with Russia and Syrian governments to fight terrorism. “On the issue of war and nuclear weapons, it is actually Hillary’s policies which are much scarier than Donald Trump, who does not want to go to war with Russia. He wants to seek modes of working together.”

That the anti-establishment subversion on display here reflected the then-dominant strain of neoliberal elite thinking was an argument others made, in its defense.

Like Trump, The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald observed in an August 2016 post, Obama sought “to work in cooperation with, not in opposition to, Russia.” Indeed, Obama had even “proposed a partnership to achieve that,” spending his last year in office seeking an agreement with the Russian government that would have seen Washington and Moscow swapping intelligence and jointly striking Sunni jihadists in Syria; this, instead of Hillary’s global conflagration (Obama, according to a former State Department official, would himself “caricature” critics of his Syria policy as desiring “something between World War III and an open-ended, treasury-draining American commitment”).

The inability to think beyond the conventional wisdom, gratingly framed as adversarial truth-telling, is a reflection of the extent to which left thought on foreign policy has been captured by the faux-sophistication of narrowly geopolitical analysis. Instead of a progressive alternative to overlapping imperialisms, some progressives have chosen to answer a bleeding-heart liberal interventionism constructed of straw with a cold-hearted realism that sees other states but not other people, “getting along with Russia” a ghastly euphemism for two governments dropping bombs on mutually agreed upon targets.

The outrage is dialed up, and only momentarily, when Trump seeks to one-up his predecessor with cosmetic strikes on empty runways in response to the Syrian regime killing civilians with the wrong kind of weapon. Nearly four years of U.S. airstrikes on non-regime targets have killed scores, but at least Russia was happy.

Bomb or be nuked — we wish there were other options — was the manipulative argument of those who advocated invading Iraq, so it is as poetic as it is horrific that Trump has betrayed the shallow, stubborn and blind by choosing a leading proponent of that war to be his first line of advise on who to kill next. But as with the tripling of civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, paired with the isolationism of not wanting to rebuild that which was just destroyed, this is what Trump always promised.

Disneyland on Alcohol: a Sober Journey Into the Hospitality-Industrial Complex

Photo by torbakhopper | CC BY 2.0

Lila Weinberger, the cofounder and co-owner of Readers’ Books, noted not long ago that, “If you offer wine and cheese at an event in Sonoma, people will be sure to come.” Indeed, it doesn’t take much. There was no cheese, but there was a bottle of Cabernet and another of Sauvignon Blanc at a recent launch at Readers’. By the end of the evening, the bottles were empty, the books sold and autographed by the author, Jeff Falconer, who told the audience, “Meditation is an internal energy massage.”

In Sonoma, wine is not only at Readers’, but also in bars, bistros, and supermarkets. It’s at bachelor, bachelorette and birthday parties, and at weddings that are often held at winery “event centers.” One can’t drive a mile in any direction from the plaza and not encounter Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines squeezed closely together and cultivated to maximize the weight of the crush and the alcohol level.

From all over the world, tourists come for a taste of what’s called “Wine Country Living” that has been created by the “hospitality-industrial-complex” which includes spas, restaurants, vacation rental and tasting rooms.

Some observers call the complex, “The Juggernaut.” All-too-often, politicians are beholden to it, while public relations employees sing its praises. Sly as a fox and slippery as an eel, the Juggernaut employs thousands of people who work in fields, warehouses, hotels, kitchens, dining rooms and on assembly lines that turn out millions of bottles of red, white, rosé and sparkling wines that bear the name Sonoma and that are exported around the world. Sometimes the wine in the bottles is made from grapes grown in the Central Valley and South America, and sometimes executives in France and China call the shots.

Still, if the valley is known for one thing, it’s wine, and, while some rejoice at the renown, others complain about what they call “Disneyland on Alcohol.” On the whole, the industry fails to live up to the standards it promotes in advertising and publicity.

Most visitors, and many locals, too, have never heard of the “hospitality-industrial-complex” or its cousin, the “restaurant-industrial-complex,” where female workers are often sexually harassed, managers and owners filch tips and the lucky few gain valuable skills and climb the corporate ladder.

The connections between wineries, lodgings and restaurants are largely invisible. No tourist map shows the links, though they’re no less real. Sometimes a restaurant doesn’t advertise its presence, or post a name outside the entrance.

At the Edge

One such place exists across the street from Readers’ Books. On the outside, the building looks like a well-kept Victorian. A sign says “Private.” The building is owned and operated by Stone Edge Farm Vineyards and Winery that produces Bordeaux-style wines. Close your eye, sip an Edge Cabernet and eat the gourmet food prepared by the “culinary director” and cookbook author, John McReynolds, and his crew and you might think you’re in France, though in France wine is viewed as a beverage for everyone, not the elite.

Like most wineries in Sonoma, Stone Edge wants customers to sign up for its wine club, become “collectors” and receive regular shipments of Cabernet. One hundred percent of Stone Edge sales are direct to consumers. The middleman is eliminated. Small wineries are dependent on direct sales and on events at wineries; the big distributors don’t bother with them.

To collect collectors, Stone Edge goes to extremes. No walks-in allowed, though one can phone ahead and make a reservation with the capable maître de, Larry Nadeau, who perfected his craft at Thomas Keller’s world-renowned Napa restaurant, The French Laundry. Like Keller’s Laundry, Stone Edge sells exclusivity, luxury and a sense of entitlement. The cuisine is excellent, the service impeccable and the price beyond the budget of most locals, and even many tourists, though it’s certainly affordable for people who own second homes in the hills and who are helping to make Sonoma the essence of exclusivity.

In addition to Nadeau and McReynolds, the team at Edge includes Frieda Guercio, the director of membership, Philippe Thibault, the gregarious French-born director of hospitality and Dorothe Cicchetti, the savvy director of sales & marketing, who told me “This is not a tasting room; it’s out of the box and a whole experience that illustrates the Stone Edge philosophy that food and wine go together.”

Edge is definitely a world apart from many of the tasting rooms on the Sonoma plaza that tend to look and feel the same.

Elizabeth Slater teaches a Santa Rosa Junior College class on direct sales to consumers. She also visits tasting rooms from California to Virginia. “The experience is the same from place to place,” she told me. “People who start a vineyard and a winery think they’ll be different, but they usually aren’t.” She added, “It’s an industry of passion, not reason. After all, it’s not a necessity to drink wine.”

The daughter of immigrants, Cicchetti grew up in Sonoma, but has been forced to move because there’s very little affordable housing here. Indeed, like many women and men of her generation who work in the Juggernaut, she lives in Napa, where, she says, “you get more bang for the buck and where there’s more going on than in Sonoma, especially if you’re young.”

Cicchetti loves her work. She also admires Leslie and Mac McQuown, who own Stone Edge, and who aim to run their farm and winery sustainably. Still, she says that Sonoma suffers, from “the small town disease.” She adds, “it once was blue collar and not elitist. Now, there are a lot of wealthy transplants.”

Cicchetti doesn’t blame anyone. She also explains that even if you can’t afford to purchase Edge products you can “appreciate the art, the beauty and the craftsmanship” that go into the creation of the vineyard, the winery and the wines.

The Use and Abuse of Water

Still, it’s relatively easy for environmentalists to point a finger at the Juggernaut that has gobbled up huge tracts of land, captured vast watersheds, made hospitality into a skill that’s taught at schools, and, to a large extent, turned Sonoma into a mono-crop valley where agricultural diversity is hard to find.

The issues that relate to land and water—which are at the nub of the Juggernaut—are more pronounced now than ever before. With increased competition for real estate and consumer dollars, the issues are likely to intensify. Still, they’re not new. Like the Roman Empire, imperial Sonoma wasn’t built in a day. There’s a history of conflict about the use and abuse of water that goes back more than a hundred years to the days of Jack London, the best selling American novelist, and one of the fathers of the hospitality-industrial-complex in Sonoma.

At Beauty Ranch, his 1,000-acre-plus-estate and private resort in Glen Ellen, London aimed to create a theme park, a utopian community and a thriving economic engine. Water was a scarce resource in his day, so much so that when he built a dam across a stream that crossed his property—and created a reservoir—his neighbors sued him. They lost. He won.

For the next hundred years, water would play a big role in local politics. The fragility of the hydrological system was revealed by the drought of 2013-2016 that prompted emergency conservation measures in Sonoma and all across California, where wealthy communities gobbled more water than poorer communities, and where some communities had to have bottled water imported by truck.

The heavy rainfall in the winter of 2016-17, and then the fires of October 2018, pushed the water crisis aside, but it’s still here and won’t go away.

James Conaway tells much of the story in his new book, “Napa at Last Light: America’s Eden in an Age of Calamity,” in which he also offers insights into Sonoma. “The wine industry was in cahoots with banks,” Conaway writes. He adds that it was “a great business model: sell wine, wine tastings, food, and events, with ever increasing tourism as the surefire generator of bodies and therefore revenue.”

The four-year drought revealed social and economic fissures as well as threats to the environment. Indeed, the drought generated a boom in the business of well drilling in Sonoma Valley. Landowners with two and three wells on their properties hired companies like Weeks Drilling and Pumps to dig deeper and deeper because wells increased the value of the land.

Preserving the Rural Character

The drought also energized ecological and environmental groups and organizations, including Neighbors to Preserve Rural Sonoma County, and Wine and Water Watch, that educate the public about the wine and tourist industries. The most vocal members have come from western Sonoma County and from Napa, though longtime Kenwood resident Katy Pons has played role at Wine and Water Watch. Moreover, as the president of Valley of the Moon Alliance, founded in 2002, she monitors the growth of wineries, event centers, resorts, restaurants, and traffic along Highway 12 in and around Kenwood.

At last count, there were 19 tasting rooms between Landmark at Adobe Canyon Road to Manzanita Creek 1.6 miles away. There are six more tasting rooms, including Ledson, between Adobe Canyon and Oakmont Drive. Moreover, there are parking and safety issues at Café Citti. Indeed, tipsy pedestrians walk along the highway with wine glasses in hand.

“Wineries receive permits for events and then exceed the number of events that are stipulated,” Pons explained. “There is no enforcement by the county of the rules, no reliable data and no one checks up on the wineries.” Pons and VOMA have battled the construction in Kenwood of a 50-room-hotel, with spa, bar, plus a 125-seat restaurant and a winery. It’s called Sonoma Country Inn and it epitomizes the hospitality-industrial-complex.

Pons is also troubled by Kenwood Winery’s plans to build a new 4,232-square-foot tasting room and increase the number of “agricultural promotional events” from eight to fifty a year and that would bring thousands of additional tourists annually to her neck of the woods. One might say that the whole idea of an “agricultural event” as been perverted.

Padi Selwyn, a former vice president in charge of marketing and PR at the Exchange Bank, is the co-chair of Neighbors to Preserve Rural Sonoma County. She argues that the board of supervisors has dropped the ball when it comes to tasting rooms.

“They end up protecting the wine industry by doing little to address citizen complaints and citizen groups’ proposals for reasonable regulations that deal with cumulative impacts, safety, noise and quality of life issues relating to tasting and food pairings,” she explained. “They have ignored the county’s general plan on food service, road safety, and scenic and open space.”

Selwyn adds that Sonoma County’s general plan “prohibits restaurants in agriculturally-zoned-land,” and yet, as she also notes, “a few years back, St. Francis Winery in Kenwood was voted the #1 restaurant in the U.S. by Open Table.” (That was in 2015).

Equilibrium is Selwyn’s rallying cry. “We believe it’s in everyone’s best interest to balance economic growth with resource protection for the benefit of future generations,” she told me.

Should local residents be optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the Valley? Teri Shore, the North Bay regional director of the Greenbelt Allianceoffers reasons for both hope and despair, or at least anxiety.

Of the 91,563-total-number of acres in Sonoma Valley, only 8,236 are protected, and that’s subject to change; the battle for open space and wild lands goes on. A 2017 report from the Greenbelt Alliance notes that all over the Bay Area, “Skyrocketing housing costs have led to development proposals on open space and farmland.”

Four-hundred-fifty-square-miles, nearly ten times the size of San Francisco, are at risk. What happens in the city by the Bay and in San Rafael and Sacramento affects what happens in Sonoma. The crucial fact is that between 2000 and 2012 farmland in Sonoma County decreased eight percent, while urban land increased by seven percent.

Shore says that one area in Sonoma that’s at risk is located around Eight Street East, near the airport and the cluster of warehouses. “Developers will want to go there,” she said. She added that Greenbelt Alliance supports the idea of affordable housing inside city limits, not expansion.

Creating Space

Despite the crisis, I’m continually surprised by the enthusiasm of young farmers who arrive in Sonoma determined to grow organic crops and practice genuine sustainability. Many don’t survive. Others move to places where land is less expensive. Still others, through ingenuity and persistence, settle here and create networks that enabled them to thrive. The generosity of the community helps them. I’m heartened by the example of a friend who grew grapes and made wine for decades, and who is now growing and selling vegetables and cannabis. He won’t be deterred.

Locals and tourists, too, can conserve water, respect the environment, treat workers with respect and buy fruits and vegetables from Sonoma Valley farmers. After all, shopping and eating can be ethical choices that support agriculture in a place that, alas, looks and feels increasingly like Disneyland on Alcohol.

This article originally appeared in the Sonoma Sun.

When is Hysteria Treason?

For the first time since 1962, world war could be only days or hours away.

That fact is appallingly frightening and profoundly sad, but what is most devastating in assessing what has brought us to this point is the sickening harmonic it sounds with the greatest tragedies in modern history.

Both World Wars were triggered by the blind arrogance of rigid, irrational, egocentric elites captive to wildly distorted visions unhinged from reality who, in their furious self-absorption, cocooned in their power fantasies, allowed themselves to drift casually into horrors of unimagined scale.

It is no secret to the world–though it is to our dull, propagandized people–that we have been ruled for decades by contemptible whores to American Oligarchs in our Presidency and Congress whose only mission is promotion of criminal predatory Capitalism behind the shield of brute military violence.

On Capitalism’s payroll, funded and elected with dirty money, they served the oligarchy exclusively, indifferent to the needs of the American citizenry.

America is now run by an infantile hysteric who dominates the smoking wreckage of a sclerotic bureacracy, and a noxious, putrid cloaca of a Congress, in conjunction with a pompous, dimwitted military generalled by ignorant, insulated automatons, pickled in their own yahoo Jingo dogma.

This authoritarian combination of malevolence and idiocy has brought us to the brink of incomparable catastrophe that the hysteria from the President, and from all official voices, has rendered increasingly likely, if not certain.

Sadly, possibly tragically, there is no significantly powerful and morally persuasive corpus of opposition to the virus of war madness that has infected our entire political apparatus.  The elites are uniformly complicit.

Not that getting support for war has been difficult in America.  It has always been easy for the controlling elite.  Herr Goering had it right:

All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

 Another factor that favored our war enthusiasm since 1812, is that there was never any chance its inevitable destruction would come home.

These two qualifiers are absent now.  We are obviously not being attacked in Syria, though our pet Jihadis are, and it is very possible, if hot war should erupt, that great, even incalculable, damage could be done at home; to us, to our families, our children, to those we love.

During the long, tense, dangerous period of the Cold War, America and the USSR engaged for decades in a duel for advantage in nuclear weaponry and neither prevailed.  If, at certain points, one or the other had a slight tactical edge, the impulse to war was stifled by the recognized validity of the principle aptly abbreviated MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction.  A first strike by one would result in a devastating response from the other.  This awareness created a stasis, a balance, a stability in a time of total enmity.

Operating rationally though bitterly opposed and hostile, the powers worked through many crises with diplomacy.  Never friends, ever enemies, they saved themselves and each other through close engagement.  This sanity prevailed even in the terrifying near-disaster of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Both sides suffered setbacks, defeats, betrayals; both were confronted with costly and embarrassing reversals and losses; they reviled and insulted each other, and damned each other to perdition.  But they behaved with determined restraint and moderation for the most part, never using wild pretensions and absurd, incredible inventions as sufficient causes for war.

All that is gone.  Not that it was wonderful: it was sane, prudent, pragmatic.  What we have now, under our Imperial monsters, hysterics, and psychos, is a regime that, having destroyed weak countries, provokes the strongest; having failed in every single war it forced down our throats, aspires to fight new ones; having vilified and demonized the most powerful national leaders on earth by imbecile accusations spun of fevered imagination and fairy dust, it proposes to punish them for imaginary transgressions.

The question for us is, when does this hysteria become treason?  At what point of our shame is open rebellion the only choice?  If not now, when?

With war, or without it, that question must be confronted and answered.

Do U.S. Oligarchs Exist? Not in Mainstream Media

Photo by Timothy Krause | CC BY 2.0

TV news shows are good at getting viewers riled up. Day and night, I hear the anchors on CNN and MSNBC getting us riled up about the schemes of this or that “Russian oligarch with links to the Kremlin.” I’ve heard that phrase incessantly in recent weeks

And plenty of others have heard the “Russian oligarch” phrase. Merriam-Webster.com reported that “oligarch” was one of its most searched-for words on April 5th “following reports that Robert Mueller had questioned Russian businessmen to whom this descriptor applies.”

But here’s a phrase I haven’t heard from any of the purportedly progressive hosts on MSNBC: “A U.S. oligarch with links to Washington.”

That avoidance is revealing when one considers an indisputable fact: U.S. oligarchs have done far more to undermine U.S. democracy than any Russian.

Take, for example, Brian L. Roberts – who certainly fits the dictionary definition of “oligarch” as “one of a small group of powerful people who control a country or an industry.” As chair and CEO of Comcast, Roberts runs the company his dad founded and has sole voting rights over one-third of the corporation’s stock. His annual compensation last year of $28.6 million was less than what 14 other U.S. oligarchs – I mean, CEOs – “earned.” His net worth is estimated to be over $1.65 billion.

Does this oligarch have “links to Washington”? In one recent year, Comcast devoted nearly $19 million to lobbying, second only to military-industrial firm Northrop Grumman. Last year, it spent more than $15 million. And oligarch Roberts has been a top D.C. power player for decades, having gotten his way with one president after another – from President Clinton’s deregulatory, anti-consumer Telecommunications Act of 1996 to President Trump’s current effort to end Net Neutrality on behalf of Comcast and other giant Internet providers.

Clinton’s pro-conglomeration Telcom Act and Trump’s Net Neutrality assault have both undermined U.S. democracy. No Russian had a hand in it. (You may have heard that the Trump-propagandist Sinclair Broadcast Group will soon own more than 200 local TV stations; until the Telcom Act, a company could legally own no more than 12.)

You’ve got to hand it to U.S. oligarchs; so many of them stay on top no matter which party runs Washington. They sure have greater staying power than Russian oligarchs – who, we’re constantly told, end up dead or in prison if they fall out of favor with President Putin.

Roberts certainly has the lifestyle of an oligarch. He maintains a seasonal dacha – I mean, second home – in Martha’s Vineyard where he keeps his custom-built Sparkman & Stephens sloops, and where he has hosted President Obama, including at an A-list cocktail party thrown for Obama in August 2013. And Roberts reportedly just built a sprawling mansion in North Palm Beach, not far from Trump’s Mar-a-lago.

But his primary residence is in Philadelphia; Obama has been a regular presence at Comcast mansions there as well. In 2013, speaking at a Democratic Party fundraiser in the Philadelphia home of Roberts’ top lobbyist, President Obama commented: “I have been here so much, the only thing I haven’t done in this house is have Seder dinner.”

While Russian oligarchs are often passionate game-hunters, Roberts is an avid golfer, carrying an impressive 8 handicap. Obama has famously golfed with him “on the lush fairways of the Vineyard Golf Club.”

There’s one last factoid I need to add about Roberts. As Comcast’s CEO, he is the ultimate boss of those allegedly progressive hosts on MSNBC. Which may help to explain their silence about U.S. oligarchs, since it would be difficult to bring up the topic without mentioning their boss.

I really shouldn’t single out Roberts. Nor the MSNBC hosts he employs. Because the problem goes way beyond this particular oligarch and that particular corporate news outlet.

Roberts is just one of dozens of powerful U.S. oligarchs. They compose a “U.S. ruling class” and preside over a “corporate state” – a couple more phrases one virtually never hears in mainstream U.S. media. One reason these oligarchs get little critical coverage and no systemic scrutiny is because – as in Russia – oligarchs are owners or major sponsors of mainstream media.

Let me be clear, so as to not overstate things: Fox News hosts are free to tarnish certain oligarchs, Democratic ones like George Soros – and MSNBC hosts gleefully go after Republican oligarchs like the Mercers and the Koch brothers.

But to get a more accurate and complete view of the workings of the U.S. political system (aka “U.S. oligarchy”), I have a suggestion: Disconnect from MSNBC, CNN, Fox and other corporate news sources and turn instead to high-quality, independent progressive media.

If you do, you’ll see that the problems plaguing U.S. democracy and the U.S. economy are definitely the work of oligarchs. But they don’t speak Russian.

 

UN Paralyzed by Chemical Weapons

Photo by DoD News | CC BY 2.0

An alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria has once again ratcheted up tensions in the war ravaged country. It is almost one year ago to the day since the last alleged chemical attack led to the launch of sixty Tomahawk missiles by the U.S.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., stated to the assembled representatives, “The Russian regime whose hands are all covered in blood cannot be shamed by pictures of its victims.” She then went on to say that she could hold up pictures of dead women, dead children and “dead babies in diapers”. She further asserted that Iran shared in this guilt. The Russian Federation ambassador, Vasily Nebenzia, responded that the Russian Federation had its team of chemical and radiological specialists on the ground in the disputed area and found no evidence of any chemical weapons. He further stated that they were unable to find any bodies or anyone seeking treatment at any of the medical centers, and that all of the doctors they had spoken to denied anyone had sought treatment for exposure to chemical weapons.

So here we are again in the Alice and Wonderland world of “Sentence before verdict” and “Believing six impossible things before breakfast.” The dueling quotes used by the Russian and U.K. ambassadors in the alleged nerve agent poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury. There is however on the surface at least one critical difference. This time around Russia cannot be kept out of the loop.

In the now infamous Skripal case the U.K. has refused to allow Russia to cooperate in the investigation, as is Britain’s right under the OPCW convention. They have also refused to answer any of Russia’s request for information and refused any consular visits to the Skripals. Both of these are violations of international agreements to which the British are signatories, but hardly rate when compared to the kind of violations that the permanent members of the security council get up to with fair regularity.

This time there seemed to be no impediments to an immediate deployment of an OPCW team to investigate the alleged attack. But then where would we be in this Cold War redux – 2.0 in the modern parlance – if along with poisoned spies, Harry Potter cloaks, and Rasputin daggers, if we didn’t have a little Kafkaesque bureaucratic intrigue to throw in? Aye as they say in Scotland and Shakespeare, “There’s the rub”. And what do I mean by this persiflage of verbiage? Why competing resolutions of course.

Both the U.S. and Russia presented their own version as to how the investigation should proceed and both were voted on. Nine votes were required for the motion to carry. The U.S. resolution garnered 12 votes for, 2 votes against, and 1 abstention. However as one of the votes against was Russia’s the vote did not carry due to Russia’s veto.  The Russian resolution gained only six votes and so also failed to pass.

This does naturally enough at first glance seem like strong support for the American resolution. Twice as many votes and all that. It is, alas, more complicated than first glances allow. The permanent council is made up of 15 countries. The U.S plus the E.U./NATO countries along with Kuwait gives the U.S. an automatic 7 votes thereby guaranteeing that the Russian resolution at best could get 8 votes in a race to 9. Five countries voted for both resolutions raising the  U.S. total to eleven. The one outlier was Peru which voted for the U.S. resolution and against the Russian resolution.

To add flavor to the proceedings the famed Scandinavian “honest broker” card was also played as they too floated their own proposal. The Russian Federation called for the Swedish resolution to be voted on immediately but the Swedish ambassador demurred asking for a recess “for consultation”. The Russian ambassador declared that he was perplexed as to why there needed to be a break before the vote but “out of respect” agreed to the recess. As a result this is where things were left for yet another classic example of paralysis by analysis at the U.N.

So what’s the difference between the two resolutions? Finally we have something simple to tell you. The Russians are seeking an oversight system for the investigation that they feel can’t be gamed. Whereas the U.S. are seeking a system that they feel can’t be obstructed. At this point I’m sure you are thinking, “Aren’t those two the same thing?” Well….that’s where things get murky again. The U.S. has an oversized influence at the U.N. and pretty much everything that goes on in terms of “cooperative” ventures on an international scale. In order to counter this influence Russia was seeking the right to direct procedural intervention if they see something they feel is amiss during the investigation.  The Americans on the other hand want everything to stay at arms length, what with their arm being so long and all. So a Ruski stalemate it is at least until/if the Swedish proposal is put to a vote.

After the defeat of the two resolutions and the tabling of the third the live feed I was watching immediately turned to CNN and Anderson Cooper interviewing two American Generals. All three immediately turned their discussion not to the proceedings we had just witnessed but to the military options available. They then went to a canned clip of the President, John Bolton sitting at his side, saying “We have a lot of military options.”. also proclaiming his horror at the events “that we all can see.”  This wrapped up with Secretary of Defense John Mattis stating “All options are on the table.”

So there you have it. Chemical weapons paralysis at the U.N. along with the looming threat of U.S. bombs dropping on Syria in defiance of the Russian Federation’s proclamation that “Any attack against Syria is completely unacceptable.” Dire consequences are not difficult to imagine but to my mind we are still at the Kabuki theater stage of things and WWIII is not yet in the offing. As the neocons have always said, “Anyone can go to Baghdad, real men go to Tehran.”

Iraqis’ Diet Fifteen Years After the Invasion

Some Iraqis might assert that today everything is available in their country. That’s true to a degree; if you exclude self-sufficiency. And trust.

Traveling throughout Baghdad and into the south I recognized the same models of vehicles one finds in the US, along with some Chinese-made trucks. We pick up tasty BBQ chicken from street vendors. Fresh vegetables and fruits, shoes and garments and cosmetics of all varieties and qualities are available; furniture and linens and toys for any age are plentiful, as are electronic goods. Communication by FaceBook and Whatsapp are unregulated. YouTube is heavily used.

You have fast food bistros serving salads and french fries. Pizza is popular, and a few upscale family restaurants moored on the banks of the Tigris are well patronized. You can linger at wifi-connected coffee shops, and find bars and discos open until early morning. Fresh baked fish and roasted chicken plates can be delivered to office or home.

To all appearances the Iraqi economy is just fine, if you observe only consumption habits.

A simple, more accurate way to judge economic conditions is to turn from the sparking facades of Chevrolet show rooms and decline a pizza lunch to instead stroll through a local supermarket.

Doing so in Iraq, I am reminded what I found 20 years ago inside a Palestinian food store in Al-Bireh village nearby Ramallah. Two-liter soda bottles stacked outside the shop were not only for American teenagers visiting their grandmothers. Soda had become everyone’s preferred beverage. Those columns of orange and green bottles may add color to the street and signal modern tastes and available surplus cash. At what cost?

Leaning closer to examine the labels, I see they’re in Hebrew. With no attempt to camouflage their origin, Israeli products are exported for Palestinian consumption. Inside the shop I note how canned and packaged foods likewise originate in Israel. Why should I be shocked therefore when I find Al-Bireh’s lebaan, yogurt, labeled in Hebrew? Lebaan, the staple of Arab breakfast enjoyed with olives, sliced cucumber and tomato, and unleavened bread, is (was!) the traditional produce of Arab herders and farmers throughout our history. Olives are the last surviving sign of Palestinian agriculture, and this industry too is in decline.

The fate of Palestine’s olive industry is paralleled by Iraq’s date production. Iraq’s legendary 40 million date palms, provenance of California’s successful date production, once Iraq’s primary and unsurpassed export after crude oil, are wasting away today.

Which brings us back to Iraqis’ diet and my visit a few weeks ago to a Baghdad supermarket. I pause on the residential street in Karrada’s middle class neighborhood where I stay, to slip into a food store. Here too the shop’s entrance is constrained by stacks of bottled soda. Pepsi seem the most abundant brand; others with names I do not recognize are plentiful too. Moving into the entranceway, both sides are piled with boxes and trays displaying generous supplies of chips and cookies (labeled in English and Arabic, or English only).

Inside the store, I saunter along one isle perusing canned and bottled items. Pickled olives and mayonnaise, salad dressings, tang and apple juice, cheeses, olive oil, pasta, canned tuna and tea– almost all of them imported. Not Israel here, but Spain, Turkey, Columbia, China, Thailand, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia supply Iraqis with most of their food. Foreign company names appear on all packaged food items I examine. Moreover, prices here (where 1,300 Iraqi dinar = one dollar) differ little from US supermarket rates. The cost of a ‘Pringles’ package or a can of tuna in Baghdad, for example, is what I pay in the U.S.

When we turn to fresh produce, fruits and vegetables, the situation is even more alarming. Here too most produce is imported. Even oranges (in this land of orange trees). Beets and cabbage are marked ‘Iraqi’, but pomegranate, okra, eggplant, bananas, cucumber and other greens are from Jordan, Turkey and beyond. The nicest looking tomatoes (a staple in Iraqi dishes) are foreign produced.

Why these imports when Iraq is still largely rural? Foreign produce is less expensive than that produced by Iraq’s farmers, I’m told. Why? Because they are priced to undercut Iraqi production. Why? Because import licenses are awarded to foreign suppliers. And why is this? Because ministry personnel who negotiate these contracts receive handsome kickbacks. This, at the same time, when: a) electricity supply in Iraqi is so weak and unreliable that local production is impossible, and b) ministries responsible for agriculture and manufacturing don’t function in the interests of Iraqi producers. Iraq’s once thriving agricultural base is woefully neglected and derelict.

These conditions are a direct result of government policy and a heavily corrupt bureaucracy. In the case of the bankrupt Palestinian economy, declining production and joblessness are to a large degree imposed by the occupier, Israel, implemented through a compliant Palestinian bureaucracy, oversupplied with wage earners whose disposable income supports a consumption economy and reliance on imports.

In Iraq, the US government still wields enormous influence on Iraq’s administration. From the start of its occupation of Iraq, the U.S. has thwarted attempts to rebuild the nation’s electricity grid and build and install machinery essential to a functioning manufacturing base.

(Significantly, some energy is available to ensure communications function, so that Iraqis can access television and their phone apps. Most homes and small businesses augment a patchy, inadequate government electrical supply with batteries and generators, imported of course.)

These conditions, in both Palestine and Iraq, are bald ‘disaster capitalism’. They exhibit what Naomi Klein identifies in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Her influential 2007 study was followed in 2015 by Disaster Capitalism, offering irrefutable evidence of these insidious foreign-directed processes which enrich outside powers while directing responsibility onto incompetent corrupt local governments.

At every level, from reliance on underwear for its soldiers to pharmaceuticals to tangy beverages, Iraq’s decline into a consumer nation is unarguably the policy of outside powers. It works with a compliant merchant class of suppliers, happy to take a narrow slice while its foreign partners enjoy the prime cuts. It’s a process well know to every Iraqi.

BN Aziz recently returned from a two week visit in Iraq. 

Trump’s Corporate Cursing: the Case of Amazon and Jeff Bezos

Photo by thierry ehrmann | CC BY 2.0

When the President of the United States forgets that he is no longer running the set of The Apprentice, with its faux callousness and elevated brutality, he can prove devastating to certain stocks.  Even in the land of the plutocrat and the capitalist, a bad word can signal the plummeting of value.  What is so unnerving about such a phenomenon is that it comes from the White House, a place normally inclined to worship the machinations of the US corporation and the sweet musings of Mammon.

Donald Trump’s verbal bashing of Amazon has been launched on a few fronts.  One was a rather personal target in the form of the company’s overlord Jeff Bezos. Rather idiosyncratically, Trump insisted the United States Postal Service had been fashioned as something of a “Delivery Boy” thereby short changing US customers. Amazon, he proclaimed, would pay.

At the end of March, he claimed that the “US Post Office will lose $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon.  That amounts to billions of dollars.”  On April 5, while making remarks on Air Force One, he explained to reporters how, “The Post Office is not doing well on Amazon, that I can tell you.  But we’re going to see what happens.”

True to form, he combined a range of grievances in one blustering tweet.  “I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the US), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!”

Speculation was not far behind about another connection tying Bezos to Trump’s ire.  Move over the postal link, and focus, instead, on The Washington Post, which was acquired by Bezos in 2013 ending 80 years of control by the Graham family.  The paper has been rather terrier like in pursuing Trump, while Trump has been keen to leave no turn un-stoned on the part of the publication.

On April 8, Trump called the publication “far more fiction than fact. Story after story is made up garbage – more like a poorly written novel than good reporting.  Always quoting sources (not names), many of which don’t exist.”

The paper has been given that most splintered of accolades by the President: “The Fake News Washington Post” and deemed a lobbying extension of the Bezos empire. “Amazon is not just on an even playing field. They have a tremendous lobbying effort, in addition to having the Washington Post, which is, as far as I’m concerned, another lobbyist.”

In of itself, as is the nature of Trumpist insight, it should never be presumed that the wealthy owner of a paper would not use it as an outlet of self-directed opinion and favour.  The injudicious term here – lobbying – may well be something of a stretch, an elastic novelty, but the course of history has been influenced by many an irritatingly influential paper mogul.

William Randolph Hearst has a fairly flavoured notoriety on this point (“You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war”), not to mention a certain Australian-turned US citizen Rupert Murdoch, who has made everybody else’s business his own from hacking phones to influencing the rise and fall of governments.  Such paper and digital empires fuse the politics of the moment with the prejudices of the magnate. Bums, tits and readers duly translate into election victories and wars.

Publisher Frederick Ryan Jr, however, claims that Bezos is no tyrant over the publishing schedule.  “Jeff has never intervened in a story.  He’s never critiqued a story. He’s not directed or proposed editorials or endorsements.”  A man in a hurry, indeed.

Not all of Trump’s blows fail to find their target. On the issue of tax-avoidance, Amazon remains both tarnished and a master.  It has exploited regulatory loopholes with an eagle-eyed professionalism. It courted US states on the subject of establishing a second headquarters, fielding the sorts of offers that would have made any tax officer scream blue murder (or theft).  In 2017, the company paid no US income tax upon $5.6 billion in domestic profits.  This was occasioned by a windfall of $789 million accrued from tax changes.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has been particularly keen in keeping an eye on Amazon’s tax performance, noting that over five previous years, Amazon forked out a humble tax rate of a mere 11.4 percent.  Other retail organisations showed either less accountancy acumen or more principle in paying rates between 35 percent and 40 percent.

A wonder, then, that Trump did not thank Amazon for being such a sterling role model in undermining the US tax system, given his own previous self-congratulatory remarks praising a certain genius in evading the tax man. But if Trump can do it, no one else can, or should.

In current practice, TrumpStore.com has given its own little nod to the practices of Amazon, collecting sales taxes in a mere two states – Louisiana and Florida.  A Trump Organization spokesperson felt obliged to note that, “Trumpstore.com has always, and will always continue to collect, report, and remit sales taxes in jurisdictions where it has an obligation to do so.”

The ongoing result of Trump’s Amazonian lashing has proven costly.  Talking about level playing fields is fine nonsense with a sprinkling of populism – Trump is genetically programmed against equality – but those in finance markets see it with differently tinted glasses.  The moment Twitter-in-Chief started his demonic magic, shares fell by almost 6 percent.  It was a round of devastation costing the company $53 billion.  Few tears, however, were shed.  Even fewer will be shed for Bezos.

Why We Need Beethoven in 2018 More Than Ever

What follows is short chapter for a book I never finished. But in a world of liberal capitalist exploitation and the rise of strongmen in every corner of the planet, I think it may be of some use after all. 

The 9thSymphony
1824, Vienna

In 1824, humanity has been defeated. It has been 30 years now since the French Revolution has been suppressed and betrayed by Napoleon, and nine years since Napoleon himself and his army, the seemingly last vestige of the revolution spreading across Europe by force of arms was defeated on the battlefields of Waterloo.

It has been two years since Denmark Vesey’s magnificent and international plan for a slave revolt to take place on Bastille Day has been broken up and its conspirators executed.  It is 5 years since the  Peterloo Massacre of workers, and two years since Percy Shelley, its poet, has died at sea. “Was not the world a vast prison” Mary Wollstonecraft had asked years before, and indeed to many, to slaves, workers, farmers, their hopes for freedom dashed, and little prospect on the horizon for a renewed struggle for freedom, it must have appeared so.

It will be six years before the July Revolution in France again challenges the Monarchy and seven before Nat Turner raises an army of enslaved African-Americans against slavery, Jamaican enslaved workers carry out a general strike and William Lloyd Garrison founds the Liberator newspaper.

The revolutions of 1848, the first Women’s Rights conference the same year, and the writing of the Communist Manifesto are a long way away. Karl Marx is only six years old. In 1824 none of these future events are even conceived of, and some might not even happen if something, someone, somewhere does not give the people some hope that all is not yet lost, that freedom may still win, humanity still be vindicated, in the end.

One lonely, ill, shabbily-dressed, impoverished and half-forgotten genius provides humanity with what it needs in one of its darkest hours, in the very midnight of reaction and repression. A deaf man writes and performs on the stage of Vienna’s Carinthian Gate Theater the greatest piece of music ever created, to vindicate the revolutionary hopes of democracy and freedom and human happiness.

Beethoven has not appeared on stage in 12 years, and the now-restored ruling classes of Europe are comfortable in listening to the soothing strains of Rossini and other Italian composers whose music dominates the Vienna music halls. His last great work lasts a full hour, much longer than any other symphony ever composed, and involves the largest musical forces ever to play together up to that time. The musicians nearly rebel against the piece, they can’t play what they can’t understand they protest at the unprecedented revolutionary symphony. “You aren’t supposed to understand it” the bedraggled genius replies, “this music is for the future.”  Beethoven conducts himself, gesticulating wildly, hearing only his own orchestra in his own inner ear – Beethoven is deaf now, and his timing varies from that played by the real orchestra in the theater. To witnesses, he seems to be playing every single instrument in the house himself in his conducting, which goes on even after the orchestra has finished playing, a deaf man conducting in silence a masterpiece he hears only in his mind. At the end of the symphony, after storms of revolution break up every tranquil movement and remind us of the crises of capitalism, of the wars, of the impossibility of sitting still or finding security in the world of today, the voices of the people break free and speak for themselves en masse:

“You bow down millions?…Endure courageously millions, endure for the better world!,” goes Schillers “Ode to Joy”, “Give the crowns to those who earn them, defeat for the pack of liars…delivery from tyrants’ chains, generosity also toward the villain” it continues, thinly veiling its call for change and justice with religious language, its revolutionary energy will be put to song by Beethoven and give the final burst of energy to an explosion of sound that will trouble the comfortable sleep of aristocrats and bourgeois. “What custom strictly divided, All men become brothers” Beethoven has added.

The audience breaks out in thunderous applause. The deaf conductor needs to be turned around so he can see the public applaud his work, since he cannot hear them. Five ovations. Five. The custom is that the imperial family is greeted with three ovations, and so five ovations for Beethoven’s 9thsymphony is a mass act of civil disobedience. The police are called in to break up the gathering, in a prefiguring of future police repression of the earliest rock ‘n’ roll concerts.

The song will be used by the European Union as its anthem in our time. It will be played to celebrate another  revolution betrayed, the overthrow of the Berlin Wall and the Communist Party regimes that have oppressed the workers of Eastern Europe until 1989. So the “ode to joy” in its real form as the “ode to freedom” will be sung as Beethoven intended, to celebrate a moment of unity and freedom from tyranny. And it will be expropriated by a smug, liberal ruling class, confident that in expropriating the revolutions of 1989 and using them as a founding event for their own global orgy of wealth concentration, they have finally put Beethoven’s revolutionary threat to rest. But we have not finished using the 9thsymphony. The working people of Europe, and the world, will inherit Beethoven’s 9thSymphony and make it their own, when they retake Europe and the world from the ruling classes.  In 1824 Beethoven reminded an enslaved humanity that they were not alone. Someday soon we will remind him that he never was either.