For those not familiar with the vicissitudes of Northern Ireland, Kenneth Branagh’s 2021 film Belfast may not give one a full idea of the terrible things that happened there over a period of three decades- euphemistically known as ‘the Troubles’. Many died in a war of colonial origins involving Irish nationalists, Protestant loyalists and unionists, and the direct involvement of the British Army and Government.
However, that was then and this is now. A quieter, slowly changing, more peaceful air hangs over Northern Ireland since 2005 when the IRA announced the end of its armed campaign.
Despite some flare-ups, the peace is holding and hopefully creating the conditions for a more tempered mutual understanding of two communities that underwent so much division for so long. Branagh’s film sits neatly into that crevice arguing for a basic human understanding and empathy, to encourage unity and mutual acceptance.
Brannagh’s Oscar-winning screenplay (seven nominations at the 94th Academy Awards, winning for Best Original Screenplay) tells the story of nine-year-old Buddy from a working-class Ulster Protestant family. He lives on a terraced street of mixed Protestant and Catholic families who all know each other well and get on with each other well. A group of Protestant loyalists attack the homes and businesses of the Catholics, as well as putting pressure on Buddy’s father to participate in the violent sectarianism which he refuses to do. Buddy becomes very attracted to a fellow high-achieving Catholic classmate, Catherine, and they become friends. Buddy’s father works in England and comes home as regularly as he can while his wife struggles with their accrued debts.
Brannagh’s story avoids sectarian rhetoric and shows us that the Catholics and Protestants had much in common: their working class struggles with poverty and emigration.
Apart from historical differences of origin, and Unionist politics notwithstanding, the people had much in common culturally to unite them. Throughout Irish history since the 18th century Protestants have been leaders of movements that emphasised British heritage, as well as movements that asserted Irish identity.
These similarities have created confusion even amongst the people themselves as the visual differences between Catholic and Protestant are not obvious in Ireland.
Thus, Buddy tries to figure out the differences, through tutelage, about the sorts of names and spellings Catholics use as distinct from Protestants. One example of naming traditions stands out from recent history – the TV debate between Mr Ken Maginnis (the Ulster Unionist security spokesman) and Mr Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein’s senior negotiator), as reported in the Irish Times in 1997.
The debate highlighted the similarities as much as the differences between two politicians who used different spelling versions of the same name (Mac Aonghusa). (The name, Aonghus (One Strength), resulted in not one, but two famous drinks, the other being Hennessy’s brandy (the O’hAonghusas). Both Maginnis and McGuinness are formed from the colonial phonetics of a coloniser who could not speak Gaelic, confronted with the colonised who could not read or write. They simply wrote down what they heard, often accurately recording the local accents. Over time the names became shibboleths for different sets of ideas, both names being determined by the coloniser.
Although descendants of colonists who arrived from Britain in the early 17th century, by the 18th century many Protestants had, in the words of Albert Memmi’s famous theory of the ‘coloniser who refuses’, formed the Irish Volunteers (local militias) in Ireland in 1778. The Volunteers were made up of Anglican Protestants, Presbyterians and a limited number of Catholics. Taking advantage of the British preoccupation with the American Revolutionary War, the Volunteers paraded fully armed and demanded an end to the tariffs that Irish goods had been subject to upon entering Britain (unlike British goods which could be imported freely into Ireland). Many of the Volunteers were concerned with “securing Irish free trade and opposing English governmental interference in Ireland. This resulted in them pledging support for resolutions advocating legislative independence for Ireland whilst proclaiming their loyalty to the British Crown.”
Orangemen marching in Bangor on the Twelfth of July 2010
In the pre-partioned Ireland of the 19th century many Protestants were nationalists. For example, Thomas Davis, the Irish nationalist, was well known for a doctrine of nationality that he propagated through the newspaper, The Nation, of which he was one of the founders. He described his tenets as “a nationality that would embrace all creeds, races and classes within the island […] which would establish internal union and external independence”. As a Protestant of mixed English and Anglo-Irish parentage, his nationalist views and writings put him into conflict with the colonial strategies of the empire. By proclaiming the slogan “gan teanga, gan tír” (no language, no nation) he tried to redress some of the worst effects of colonial policies.
Indeed, the six counties of Northern Ireland had communities of Irish speakers. The census figures of 1851 and 1891 demonstrated the presence of Irish-speakers respectively as follows: Antrim 3,033 (1.2%) and 885 (0.4%); Armagh 13,736 (7.0%) and 3,486 (2.4%); Derry 5,406 (2.8%) and 2,723 (1,8%); Down 1,153 (0.4%) and 590 (0.3%); Fermanagh 2,704 (2.3%) and 561 (0.8%) and Tyrone 12,892 (5.0%) 6,687 (3.9%). There were minor Gaeltachtaí (Irish-language communities) in Tyrone, the Sperrins (Derry), the Antrim Glens and Rathlin Island that had all but died out by the 1940s.
In the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising many of the revolutionaries were interned in a camp at Frongoch in Merionethshire, Wales. There were some Protestant internees, such as Arthur Shields, Harry Nichols and Ellett Elmes (Dublin); Sam Ruttle (Tralee and Kildare) and Alf Cotton (Tralee and Belfast) whose background in the Volunteers, Citizen Army and Conradh na Gaeilge demonstrated the non-sectarian outlook of the revolutionary movement.
The first president of Ireland, Douglas Hyde (1863-1949), was the son of a Church of Ireland (Anglican) minister and had been influenced by nationalist circles while studying for a Doctorate of Laws in Trinity College. However, it was his speech “The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland” in 1892 that heralded a qualitative change in the struggle to maintain and develop the popular basis of support for the Irish language. Hyde elaborated on his call for de-Anglicisation, which he emphasised, was not conceived out of Anglophobia:
When we speak of ‘The Necessity for De-Anglicising the Irish Nation’ we mean it, not as a protest against imitating what is best in the English people, for that would be absurd, but rather to show the folly of neglecting what is Irish, and hastening to adopt, pell-mell, and indiscriminately, everything that is English, simply because it is English.
Maybe because of his Church of Ireland background, Douglas Hyde stayed away from direct involvement in politics but had he been alive he would have most likely supported the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), signed on 10 April 1998 which established in law basic principles such as:
The British government would uphold the right of the people of Northern Ireland to decide between the Union with Great Britain or a united Ireland. The people of the island of Ireland, North and South, had the exclusive right to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent. The Irish government would try to address unionist fears of a united Ireland by amending the Irish Constitution according to the principle of consent.
In other words, there would be no change to the status of Northern Ireland without the express consent of the people.
On 28 July 2005, the IRA announced the end of its campaign, and promised complete decommissioning of all its weapons, to be witnessed by clergymen from Catholic and Protestant churches.
A republican mural in Beechfield Street, Short Strand, Belfast, during the mid-1990s, with the Gaelic text Slan Abhaile “safe home” to British troops. Security normalisation was one of the key points of the Good Friday Agreement. (Photo credit: Jimmy Harris, taken 1995, Flickr)
In 2007, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) agreed to share power with republican party Sinn Fein, and Paisley and McGuinness became First Minister and Deputy First Minister. McGuinness said after Paisley’s death:
Our relationship confounded many. Of course, our political differences continued; his allegiance was to Britain and mine to Ireland. But we were able to work effectively together in the interests of all our people.
More recently Linda Ervine (whose brother-in-law is the former UVF commander and politician David Ervine) started the Turas Irish Language Project in east Belfast 10 years ago. She noted that the programme has gone from strength to strength as Protestant, loyalists and unionists in Belfast are learning the Irish language in increasing numbers.
Whatever the decisions the Protestant people make about their future in the UK or a united Ireland the cultural similarities born of sharing the same place will remain of utmost importance. Ervine notes:
I think what was interesting at the time – now this was 11 years ago – the Protestant women were really intrigued, because we’d never had the opportunity, and the Catholic women were much more interested in the royal wedding that was coming up and what Kate’s dress was going to look like.
Branagh’s film Belfast is an important reminder that all our futures are dependent on what unites us rather than what divides us.
Since I arrived with my family in the UK last summer, I have been repeatedly asked: “Why choose Bristol as your new home?”
Well, it certainly wasn’t for the weather. Now more than ever I miss Nazareth’s warmth and sunshine.
It wasn’t for the food either.
My family do have a minor connection to Bristol. My great-grandparents on my mother’s side (one from Cornwall, the other from South Wales) apparently met in Bristol – a coincidental stopping point on their separate journeys to London. They married and started a family whose line led to me.
But that distant link wasn’t the reason for coming to Bristol either.
In fact, it was only in Nazareth that Bristol began occupying a more prominent place in my family’s life.
When I was not doing journalism, I spent many years leading political tours of the Galilee, while my wife, Sally, hosted and fed many of the participants in her cultural café in Nazareth, called Liwan.
It was soon clear that a disproportionate number of our guests hailed from Bristol and the south-west. Some of you here tonight may have been among them.
But my world – like everyone else’s – started to shrink as the pandemic took hold in early 2020. As we lost visitors and the chance to directly engage with them about Palestine, Bristol began to reach out to me.
It did so just as Sally and I were beginning discussions about whether it was time to leave Nazareth – 20 years after I had arrived – and head to the UK.
Even from thousands of miles away, a momentous event – the sound of Edward Colston’s statue being toppled – reverberated loudly with me.
Ordinary people had decided they were no longer willing to be forced to venerate a slave trader, one of the most conspicious criminals of Britain’s colonial past. Even if briefly, the people of Bristol took back control of their city’s public space for themselves, and for humanity.
In doing so, they firmly thrust Britain’s sordid past – the unexamined background to most of our lives – into the light of day. It is because of their defiance that buildings and institutions that for centuries bore Colston’s name as a badge of honour are finally being forced to confront that past and make amends.
Bath, of course, was built no less on the profits of the slave trade. When visitors come to Bath simply to admire its grand Georgian architecture, its Royal Crescent, we assent – if only through ignorance – to the crimes that paid for all that splendour.
Weeks after the Colston statue was toppled, Bristol made headlines again. Crowds protested efforts to transfer yet more powers to the police to curb our already savagely diminished right to protest – the most fundamental of all democratic rights. Bristol made more noise against that bill than possibly anywhere else in the UK.
I ended up writing about both events from Nazareth.
My latest: Politicians and the police must not be left to define which protests are justified, which safe, which responsible. Because otherwise, they will define any protest against their corruption and incompetence as a threat to public health https://t.co/1fzpsOyGY8
Since my arrival, old and new friends alike have started to educate me about Bristol. Early on I attended a slavery tour in the city centre – one that connected those historic crimes with the current troubles faced by asylum seekers in Bristol, even as Bristol lays claim to the title of “city of sanctuary”.
For once I was being guided rather than the guide, the pupil rather than the teacher – so long my role on those tours in and around Nazareth. And I could not but help notice, as we wandered through Bristol’s streets, echoes of my own tours.
Over the years I have taken many hundreds of groups around the ruins of Saffuriya, one of the largest of the Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel in its ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948, the Nakba or Catastrophe.
What disturbed me most in Saffuriya was how blind its new inhabitants were to the very recent history of the place they call home.
New Jewish immigrants were moved on to the lands of Saffuriya weeks after the Israeli army destroyed the village and chased out the native Palestinian population at gunpoint. A new community built in its place was given a similar Hebrew name, Tzipori. These events were repeated across historic Palestine. Hundreds of villages were razed, and 80 per cent of the Palestinian population were expelled from what became the new state of Israel.
Even today, evidence of the crimes committed in the name of these newcomers is visible everywhere. The hillsides are littered with the rubble of the hundreds of Palestinian homes that were levelled by the new Israeli army to stop their residents from returning. And there are neglected grave-stones all around – pointers to the community that was disappeared.
And yet almost no one in Jewish Tzipori asks questions about the remnants of Palestinian Saffuriya, about these clues to a troubling past. Brainwashed by reassuring state narratives, they have averted their gaze for fear of what might become visible if they looked any closer.
Tzipori’s residents never ask why there are only Jews like themselves allowed in their community, when half of the population in the surrounding area of the Galilee are Palestinian by heritage.
Instead, the people of Tzipori misleadingly refer to their Palestinian neighbours – forced to live apart from them as second and third-class citizens of a self-declared Jewish state – as “Israeli Arabs”. The purpose is to obscure, both to themselves and the outside world, the connection of these so-called Arabs to the Palestinian people.
To acknowledge the crimes Tzipori has inflicted on Saffuriya would also be to acknowledge a bigger story: of the crimes inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian people as a whole.
In young Israel, Jews still venerate the criminals of their recent past because they and their loved ones are so intimately and freshly implicated in the crimes.
In Britain, with its much longer colonial past, the same result is often achieved not, as in Israel, through open cheerleading and glorification – though there is some of that too – but chiefly through a complicit silence. Colston surveyed his city from up on his plinth. He stood above us, superior, paternal, authoritative. His crimes did not need denying because they had been effectively shrouded in silence.
Until Colston was toppled, slavery for most Britons was entirely absent from the narrative of Britain’s past – it was something to do with racist plantation owners in the United States’ Deep South more than a century ago. It was an issue we thought about only when Hollywood raised it.
After the Colston statue came down, he became an exhibit – flat on his back – in Bristol’s harbourside museum, the M Shed. His black robes had been smeared with red paint, and scuffed and grazed from being dragged through the streets. He became a relic of the past, and one denied his grandeur. We were able to observe him variously with curiousity, contempt or amusement.
Those are far better responses than reverence or silence. But they are not enough. Because Colston isn’t just a relic. He is a living, breathing reminder that we are still complicit in colonial crimes, even if now they are invariably better disguised.
Nowadays, we usually interfere in the name of fiscal responsibility or humanitarianism, rather than the white man’s burden.
We return to the countries we formerly colonised and asset-stripped, and drive them back into permanent debt slavery through western-controlled monetary agencies like the IMF.
Or in the case of those that refuse to submit, we more often than not invade or subvert them – countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Iran – tearing apart the colonial fabric we imposed on them, wrecking their societies in ways that invariably lead to mass death and the dispersion of the population.
We have supplied the bombs and planes to Saudi Arabia that are killing untold numbers of civilians in Yemen. We funded and trained the Islamic extremists who terrorise and behead civilians in Syria. The list is too long for me to recount here.
Right now, we see the consequences of the west’s neo-colonialism – and a predictable countervailing reaction, in the resurgence of a Russian nationalism that President Putin has harnessed to his own ends – in NATO’s relentless, decades-long expansion towards Russia’s borders.
And of course, we are still deeply invested in the settler colonial project of Israel, and the crimes it systematically inflicts on the Palestinian people.
Through the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Britain gave licence for the creation of a militarised ethnic, Jewish state in the Middle East. Later, we helped supply it with atomic material in the full knowledge that Israel would build nuclear bombs. We gave Israel diplomatic cover so that it could evade its obligations under the international treaty to stop nuclear proliferation and become the only nuclear power in the region. We have had Israel’s back through more than five decades of occupation and illegal settlement building.
And significantly, we have endlessly indulged Zionism as it has evolved from its sordid origins nearly two centuries ago, as an antisemitic movement among fundamentalist Christians. Those Christian Zonists – who at the time served as the power brokers in European governments like Britain’s – viewed Jews as mere instruments in a divine plan.
According to this plan, Jews were to be denied the chance to properly integrate into the countries to which they assumed they belonged.
Instead the Christian Zionists wanted to herd Jews into an imagined ancient, Biblical land of Israel, to speed up the arrival of the end times, when mankind would be judged and only good Christians would rise up to be with God.
My latest: Evangelical Christians, driven by apocalyptic readings of the Bible, are interfering ever more explicitly in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories – and in ways that directly aid the policies of Israel’s far-right government https://t.co/jvdHmeDA6p
Until Hitler took this western antisemitism to another level, few Jews subscribed to the idea that they were doomed forever to be a people apart, that their fate was inextricably tied to a small piece of territory in a far-off region they had never visited, and that their political allies should be millenarian racists.
But after the Holocaust, things changed. Christian Zionists looked like much kinder antisemites than the exterminationist Nazis. Christian Zionism won by default and was reborn as Jewish Zionism, claiming to be a national liberation movement rather than the dregs of a white European nationalism Hitler had intensified.
Today, we are presented with polls showing that most British Jews subscribe to the ugly ideas of Zionism – ideas their great-great-grandparents abhorred. Jews who dissent, who believe that we are all the same, that we all share a common fate as humans not as tribes, are ignored or dismissed as self-haters. In an inversion of reality these humanist Jews, rather than Jewish Zionists, are seen as the pawns of the antisemites.
Zionism as a political movement is so pampered, so embedded within European and American political establishments that those Jews who rally behind this ethnic nationalism no longer consider their beliefs to be abnormal or abhorrent – as their views would have been judged by most Jews only a few generations ago.
No, today Jewish Zionists think of their views as so self-evident, so vitally important to Jewish self-preservation that anyone who opposes them must be either a self-hating Jew or an antisemite.
And because non-Jews so little understand their own culpability in fomenting this perverse ideology of Jewish Zionism, we join in the ritual defaming of those brave Jews who point out how far we have stepped through the looking glass.
As a result, we unthinkingly give our backing to the Zionists as they weaponise antisemitism against those – Jews and non-Jews alike – who stand in solidarity with the native Palestinian people so long oppressed by western colonialism.
Thoughtlessly, too many of us have drifted once again into a sympathy for the oppressor – this time, Zonism’s barely veiled anti-Palestinian racism.
Nonetheless, our attitudes towards modern Israel, given British history, can be complex. On the one hand, there are good reasons to avert our gaze. Israel’s crimes today are an echo and reminder of our own crimes yesterday. Western governments subsidise Israel’s crimes through trade agreements, they provide the weapons for Israel to commit those crimes, and they profit from the new arms and cyber-weapons Israel has developed by testing them out on Palestinians. Like the now-defunct apartheid South Africa, Israel is a central ally in the west’s neo-colonialism.
Jeff Halper talks to me about his new book: Israel's role in the global arms industry is making us all Palestinians https://t.co/vAJLep5STc
So, yes, Israel is tied to us by an umbilical cord. We are its parent. But at the same time it is also not exactly like us either – more a bastard progeny. And that difference, that distance can help us gain a little perspective on ourselves. It can make Israel a teaching aid. An eye-opener. A place that can bring clarity, elucidate not only what Israel is doing but what countries like Britain have done and are still doing to this day.
Trade in bodies
The difference between Britain and Israel is to be found in the distinction between a colonial and a settler-colonial state.
Britain is a classic example of the former. It sent the entitled sons of its elite private schools, men like Colston, to parts of the globe rich in resources in order to steal those resources and bring the wealth back to the motherland to further enrich the establishment. That was the purpose of the tea and sugar plantations.
But it was not just a trade in inanimate objects. Britain also traded in bodies – mostly black bodies. Labour and muscle were a resource as vital to the British empire as silk and saffron.
The trafficking in goods and people lasted more than four centuries until liberation movements among the native populations began to throw off – at least partially – the yoke of British and European colonialism. The story since the Second World War has been one of Europe and the United States’ efforts to reinvent colonialism, conducting their rape and pillage at a distance, through the hands of others.
This is the dissembling, modern brand of colonialism: a “humanitarian” neocolonialism we should by now be familiar with. Global corporations, monetary
agencies like the IMF and the military alliance of NATO have each played a key role in the reinvention of colonialism – as has Israel.
Israel inherited Britain’s colonial tradition, and permanently adopted many of its emergency orders for use against the Palestinians. Like traditional colonialism, settler colonialism is determined to appropriate the resources of the natives. But it does so in an even more conspicuous, uncompromising way. It does not just exploit the natives. It seeks to replace or eliminate them. That way, they can never be in a position to liberate themselves and their homeland.
There is nothing new about this approach. It was adopted by European colonists across much of the globe: in North America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as belatedly in the Middle East.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the settler colonial strategy, as Israel illustrates only too clearly. In their struggle to replace the natives, Israel’s settlers had to craft a narrative – a rationalisation – that they were the victims rather than the victimisers. They were, of course, fleeing persecution in Europe, but only to become persecutors themselves outside Europe. They were supposedly in a battle for survival against those they came to replace, the Palestinians. The natives were cast as irredeemably, and irrationally, hostile. God was invoked, more or less explicitly.
In the Zionist story, the ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinians – the Nakba – becomes a War of Independence, celebrated to this day. The Zionist colonisers thereby transformed themselves into another national liberation movement, like the ones in Africa that were fighting after the Second World War for independence. Israel claimed to be fighting oppressive British rule, as Africans were, rather than inheriting the colonisers’ mantle.
But there is a disadvantage for settler colonial projects too, especially in an era of better communications. In a time of more democratic media, as we are currently enjoying – even if briefly – the colonisers’ elimination strategies are much harder to veil or airbrush. The ugliness is on show. The reality of the oppression is more visceral, more obviously offensive.
The settlers’ elimination strategies are limited in number, and difficult to conceal whichever is adopted. In the United States, elimination took the form of genocide – the simplest and neatest of settler-colonialism’s solutions.
In the post-war era of human rights, however, Israel was denied that route. It adopted settler colonialism’s fall-back position: mass expulsion, or ethnic cleansing. Some 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and outside the new borders of Israel in 1948.
But genocide and ethnic cleansing are invariably projects that cannot be completed. Some 90 per cent of Native Americans died from the violence and diseases brought by European incomers, but a small proportion survived. In South Africa, the white immigrants lacked the numbers and capacity either to eradicate the native population or to exploit such a vast territory.
Israel managed to expel only 80 per cent of the Palestinians living inside its new borders before the international community called time. And then Israel sabotaged its initial success in 1948 by seizing yet more Palestinian territory – and more Palestinians – in 1967.
When settler populations cannot eradicate the native population completely, they must impose harsh, visible segregation policies against those that remain.
Resources and rights are differentiated on the basis of race or ethnicity. Such regimes institute apartheid – or as Israel calls its version “hafrada” – to maintain the privileges of their own, superior or chosen population.
Many decades on, human rights groups have finally named Israel’s apartheid. Amnesty International got round to it only this month – 74 years after the Nakba and 55 years after the occupation began.
It has taken so long because even our understanding of human rights continues to be shaped by a European colonial mentality. Human rights groups have documented Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians – the “what” of their oppression – but refused to understand the “why” of that oppression. These watchdogs did not truly listen to Palestinians. They listened to, they excused, Israel even as they were criticising it. They indulged its endless security rationales for its crimes against Palestinians.
My latest: Amnesty and the wider human rights community are holding back from clarifying the full implications of Israel’s apartheid character – because they still fear being accused of antisemitism https://t.co/XmMpeqfRp0
The reluctance to name Israeli apartheid derives in large part from a reluctance to face our part in its creation. To identify Israel’s apartheid is to recognise both our role in sustaining it, and Israel’s crucial place in the west’s reinvented neocolonialism.
The difficulty of facing up to what Israel is and what it represents is, of course, particularly stark for many Jews – not only in Israel but in countries like Britain. Through no choice of their own, Jews are more deeply implicated in Israel’s crimes because those crimes are carried out in the name of all Jews. As a result, for Zionist Jews, protecting the settler colonial project of Israel is identical to protecting their own sense of virtue.
In the zero-sum imaginings of the Zionist movement, the stakes are too high to doubt or to equivocate. As Zionists, their duty is to support, dissemble and propagandise on Israel’s behalf at all costs.
Nowadays Zionism has become such a normalised part of our western culture that those who call themselves Zionists are appalled at the idea anyone could dare to point out that their ideology is rooted in an ugly ethnic nationalism and in apartheid. Those who make them feel uncomfortable by highlighting the reality of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians – and their blindness to it – are accused of being “offensive”.
That supposed offensiveness is now conflated with antisemitism, as the treatment of Ken Loach, the respected film-maker of this parish, attests. Disgust at Israel’s racism towards Palestinians is malevolently confused with racism towards Jews. The truth is inverted.
My latest: The smearing of Ken Loach and Jeremy Corbyn as antisemites is the final purge by the west's political and media establishments of a left that favours class solidarity over a toxic and divisive identity politics https://t.co/jlafNhsF2O
This confusion has also become the basis for a new definition of antisemitism – one aggressively advanced by Israel and its apologists – designed to mislead casual onlookers. The more we, as anti-racists and opponents of colonialism, try to focus attention and opprobrium on Israel’s crimes, the more we are accused of covertly attacking Jews.
Into the fire
Arriving in the UK from Nazareth at this very moment is like stepping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Here the battle over Zionism – defining it, understanding it, confronting it, refusing to be silenced by it – is in full flood. The Labour party, under Jeremy Corbyn, was politically eviscerated by a redefined antisemitism. Now the party’s ranks are being purged by his successor, Sir Keir Starmer, on the same phony grounds.
Professors are being threatened and losing their jobs, as happened to David Miller at Bristol university, with the goal of intensifying pressure on the academy to keep silent about Israel and its lobbyists. Exhibitions are taken down, speakers cancelled.
My latest: A British university dismissed David Miller after he exposed networks of influence promoting Islamophobia in the UK that included the very pro-Israel lobby groups that had worked so strenuously to get him fired https://t.co/h2v5QB1gHq
And all the while, the current western obsession with redefining antisemitism – the latest cover story for apartheid Israel – moves us ever further from sensitivity to real racism, whether it be genuine prejudice against Jews or rampant Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism.
The fight for justice for Palestinians resonates with so many of us precisely because it is not simply a struggle to help Palestinians. It is a fight to end colonialism in all its forms, to end our inhumanity towards those we live alongside, to remember that we are all equally human and all equally entitled to respect and dignity.
The story of Palestine is a loud echo from our past. Maybe the loudest. If we cannot hear it, then we cannot learn – and we cannot take the first steps on the path towards real change.
I could write a book on why I believe poetry can heal, engage our inner soul and give young and old a voice from which to sing ourselves into being. Even out here on the coast, we have poets gathering at dawn after a long day and night catching fish.
It’s not just another month. National Poetry Month (first organized in 1996) celebrates poetry to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry.
It’s not just a Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman or Maya Angelou time of remembrance of past laureates. Poetry is for the masses, and written by the working class.
For example, since 2013 Astoria has organized the FisherPoets gathering celebrating poetry, stories, song and art of fishermen and fisherwomen.
There’s even an anthology titled, Anchored in Deep Water.
One of my students in the memoir class I teach reminded me of his own walkabout on earth as a man, a father, husband and someone who has survived many a travail. “We all can’t live large and do great important things, but . . . .” He then quoted Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver:
May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream. May I look down upon the windflower and the bull thistle and the coreopsis with the greatest respect.
A great illustration of this simplicity of observation and self reflection is seen in Patrick Dixon’s poem, “Boat Puller.” Again, a tiny nail in the universe, but he’s harvesting wisdom as he’s taught by a Norwegian how to fish in Alaska:
While I was picking fish with you,
stunned at the sight of the sea so near
and the mountains filling the western sky,
I thought of dry midwestern cornfields,
and of lost, empty days filled with a wish to leave
…..but nowhere to go.
You bent over a red to show me how to use a fish pick,
never realizing what was happening to me,
how you were stripping away the web of my past life,
pulling me through to solid ground.
I walked aged stones over a bridge made famous by an 18th Century poet.
One side of my family came from Ayr, where Robert Burns was born. Scotland’s National Poet immortalized the bridge in his poem “Tam O’Shanter“. Tam and Meg (his horse) escape the clutches of the witch Nannie by galloping over the Brig O’Doon. This escapade left Nannie with nothing more than Meg’s tail.
I was a kid then, crossing the river Doon many times, and I am so old I saw plenty of salmon run the currents. I have since graduated into a panoply of world poets. One big thing for me as a poet was running my gift of gab in front of a crowd at a Poetry Slam in El Paso.
Purely fun, as we were lubricated with tequila and mescal, the poets went head to head to claim the loudest crowd applause. It’s a literary ruckus; in the parlance of my literary world, those folk are called performance artists.
One of my favorite poets, Li-Young Lee, was born in Djakarta, Indonesia, in 1957 to Chinese political exiles. I’ve heard him read twice live. Here, a slice of his poem, “Immigrant Blues”:
People have been trying to kill me since I was born,
a man tells his son, trying to explain
the wisdom of learning a second tongue.
It’s an old story from the previous century
about my father and me.
The same old story from yesterday morning
about me and my son.
It’s called “Survival Strategies
and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation.”
It’s called “Psychological Paradigms of Displaced Persons,”
called “The Child Who’d Rather Play than Study.”
Practice until you feel
the language inside you, says the man.
For Lee, his work is acclaimed for its use of silence and “near mysticism” which is nonetheless “fully engaged in life and memory while building and shaping the self from words.”
That is the universality of poetry, really, to become tied to life and construct oneself through words, as if the power of poetry is an electrical cord of life pulsating through the artist to be read and celebrated by an audience. We should always find a universal connection to a poet’s lamentations.
Teaching poetry in El Paso and in Spokane, I’ve found even the most hardened souls can lift light or soft shadow from scabbed-over souls and hardscrabble lives.
One of my teachers, Tucson poet Richard Shelton, took us undergraduate and graduate students to the Arizona State prison to help facilitate writing workshops with men behind bars. He ended up doing it for 30 years, and wrote the book, Crossing the Yard.
I’ve taught poetry and photography to gang-influenced youth in El Paso. We’re talking about some students who were huffers, that is, they sniffed gas and glue to get high. The summer session pulled from these young men and women the stories of their neighborhood, El Segundo Barrio. The old people and merchants were captured in film, essays and poems.
We held a huge event with youth showing snapshots and others reading poems. Eighty-year-old grannies (abuelas) were bawling their eyes out. Some told me, Nadie piensa que vale nada, pero escúchalo ahora.
The hardened youth gave luminescence to their families. Translated above: “No one thinks he is worth anything but look at him now.”
Heck, we see my favorite poet, Chilean Pablo Neruda, depicted in the 1994 film, l Postino (The Postman). Even recently, Adam Driver played a bus driver-poet in Jim Jarmusch’s film, Patterson, inspired in part by William Carlos Williams.
Teaching poetry and encouraging anyone to learn to listen to their own songs, I believe a great healing could take place if we all stopped our social media-fueled lives and lend pause to our inner voices. And to harvest life and nature around us: the simple things, which in poetry are that tiny nail we all should pound into our collective creative home. William Carlos Williams:
4th of July
The ship moves
but its smoke
moves with the wind
faster than the ship
— thick coils of it
through leafy trees
upon the river
The heat makes
this place of the woods
in which two robins pain
over the plight of
their unhappy young
During the explosions
at dawn, the celebrations
I could hear
a native cuckoo
in the distance
as at dusk, before
a night hawk calling
Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours…. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.
—Professor Neil Postman
Once again, the programming has changed.
Like clockwork, the wall-to-wall news coverage of the latest crisis has shifted gears.
Much like the fabricated universe in Peter Weir’s 1998 film The Truman Show, in which a man’s life is the basis for an elaborately staged television show aimed at selling products and procuring ratings, the political scene in the United States has devolved over the years into a carefully calibrated exercise in how to manipulate, polarize, propagandize and control a population.
This is the magic of the reality TV programming that passes for politics today: as long as we are distracted, entertained, occasionally outraged, always polarized but largely uninvolved and content to remain in the viewer’s seat, we’ll never manage to present a unified front against tyranny (or government corruption and ineptitude) in any form.
The more that is beamed at us, the more inclined we are to settle back in our comfy recliners and become passive viewers rather than active participants as unsettling, frightening events unfold.
We don’t even have to change the channel when the subject matter becomes too monotonous. That’s taken care of for us by the programmers (the corporate media).
“Living is easy with eyes closed,” observed John Lennon, and that’s exactly what reality TV that masquerades as American politics programs the citizenry to do: navigate the world with their eyes shut.
As long as we’re viewers, we’ll never be doers.
Studies suggest that the more reality TV people watch—and I would posit that it’s all reality TV, entertainment news included—the more difficult it becomes to distinguish between what is real and what is carefully crafted farce.
This doesn’t bode well for a citizenry able to sift through masterfully-produced propaganda in order to think critically about the issues of the day, whether it’s fake news peddled by government agencies or foreign entities.
The ramifications for the future of civic engagement, political discourse and self-government are incredibly depressing and demoralizing.
This explains how we keep getting saddled with leaders in government who are clueless about the Constitution and out-of-touch with the needs of the people they were appointed to represent.
This is also what happens when an entire nation—bombarded by reality TV programming, government propaganda and entertainment news—becomes systematically desensitized and acclimated to the trappings of a government that operates by fiat and speaks in a language of force.
Ultimately, the reality shows, the entertainment news, the surveillance society, the militarized police, and the political spectacles have one common objective: to keep us divided, distracted, imprisoned, and incapable of taking an active role in the business of self-government.
Look behind the political spectacles, the reality TV theatrics, the sleight-of-hand distractions and diversions, and the stomach-churning, nail-biting drama, and you will find there is a method to the madness.
We have become guinea pigs in a ruthlessly calculated, carefully orchestrated, chillingly cold-blooded experiment in how to control a population and advance a political agenda without much opposition from the citizenry.
This is mind-control in its most sinister form.
How do you change the way people think? You start by changing the words they use.
In totalitarian regimes where conformity and compliance are enforced at the end of a loaded gun, the government dictates what words can and cannot be used.
In countries where tyranny hides behind a benevolent mask and disguises itself as tolerance, the citizens censor themselves, policing their words and thoughts to conform to the dictates of the mass mind.
Even when the motives behind this rigidly calibrated reorientation of societal language appear well-intentioned—discouraging racism, condemning violence, denouncing discrimination and hatred—inevitably, the end result is the same: intolerance, indoctrination, infantilism, the chilling of free speech and the demonizing of viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite.
As George Orwell recognized, “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
Orwell understood only too well the power of language to manipulate the masses.
In Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother does away with all undesirable and unnecessary words and meanings, even going so far as to routinely rewrite history and punish “thoughtcrimes.” In this dystopian vision of the future, the Thought Police serve as the eyes and ears of Big Brother, while the Ministry of Peace deals with war and defense, the Ministry of Plenty deals with economic affairs (rationing and starvation), the Ministry of Love deals with law and order (torture and brainwashing), and the Ministry of Truth deals with news, entertainment, education and art (propaganda). The mottos of Oceania: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
Orwell’s Big Brother relied on Newspeak to eliminate undesirable words, strip such words as remained of unorthodox meanings and make independent, non-government-approved thought altogether unnecessary.
Where we stand now is at the juncture of Oldspeak (where words have meanings, and ideas can be dangerous) and Newspeak (where only that which is “safe” and “accepted” by the majority is permitted).
Truth is often lost when we fail to distinguish between opinion and fact, and that is the danger we now face as a society. Anyone who relies exclusively on television/cable news hosts and political commentators for actual knowledge of the world is making a serious mistake.
Unfortunately, since Americans have by and large become non-readers, television has become their prime source of so-called “news.” This reliance on TV news has given rise to such popular news personalities who draw in vast audiences that virtually hang on their every word.
In our media age, these are the new powers-that-be.
Yet while these personalities often dispense the news like preachers used to dispense religion, with power and certainty, they are little more than conduits for propaganda and advertisements delivered in the guise of entertainment and news.
Given the preponderance of news-as-entertainment programming, it’s no wonder that viewers have largely lost the ability to think critically and analytically and differentiate between truth and propaganda, especially when delivered by way of fake news criers and politicians.
While television news cannot—and should not—be completely avoided, the following suggestions will help you better understand the nature of TV news.
1. TV news is not what happened. Rather, it is what someone thinks is worth reporting. Although there are still some good TV journalists, the old art of investigative reporting has largely been lost. While viewers are often inclined to take what is reported by television “news” hosts at face value, it is your responsibility to judge and analyze what is reported.
2. TV news is entertainment. There is a reason why the programs you watch are called news “shows.” It’s a signal that the so-called news is being delivered as a form of entertainment. “In the case of most news shows,” write Neil Postman and Steve Powers in their insightful book, How to Watch TV News (1992), “the package includes attractive anchors, an exciting musical theme, comic relief, stories placed to hold the audience, the creation of the illusion of intimacy, and so on.”
Of course, the point of all this glitz and glamour is to keep you glued to the set so that a product can be sold to you. (Even the TV news hosts get in on the action by peddling their own products, everything from their latest books to mugs and bathrobes.) Although the news items spoon-fed to you may have some value, they are primarily a commodity to gather an audience, which will in turn be sold to advertisers.
3. Never underestimate the power of commercials, especially to news audiences. In an average household, the television set is on over seven hours a day. Most people, believing themselves to be in control of their media consumption, are not really bothered by this. But TV is a two-way attack: it not only delivers programming to your home, it also delivers you (the consumer) to a sponsor.
People who watch the news tend to be more attentive, educated and have more money to spend. They are, thus, a prime market for advertisers. And sponsors spend millions on well-produced commercials. Such commercials are often longer in length than most news stories and cost more to produce than the news stories themselves. Moreover, the content of many commercials, which often contradicts the messages of the news stories, cannot be ignored. Most commercials are aimed at prurient interests in advocating sex, overindulgence, drugs, etc., which has a demoralizing effect on viewers, especially children.
4. It is vitally important to learn about the economic and political interests of those who own the “corporate” media. There are few independent news sources anymore. The major news outlets are owned by corporate empires.
5. Pay special attention to the language of newscasts. Because film footage and other visual imagery are so engaging on TV news shows, viewers are apt to allow language—what the reporter is saying about the images—to go unexamined. A TV news host’s language frames the pictures, and, therefore, the meaning we derive from the picture is often determined by the host’s commentary. TV by its very nature manipulates viewers. One must never forget that every television minute has been edited. The viewer does not see the actual event but the edited form of the event. For example, presenting a one- to two-minute segment from a two-hour political speech and having a TV talk show host critique may be disingenuous, but such edited footage is a regular staple on news shows. Add to that the fact that the reporters editing the film have a subjective view—sometimes determined by their corporate bosses—that enters in.
6. Reduce by at least one-half the amount of TV news you watch. TV news generally consists of “bad” news—wars, torture, murders, scandals and so forth. It cannot possibly do you any harm to excuse yourself each week from much of the mayhem projected at you on the news. Do not form your concept of reality based on television. TV news, it must be remembered, does not reflect normal everyday life. Studies indicate that a heavy viewing of TV news makes people think the world is much more dangerous than it actually is.
7. One of the reasons many people are addicted to watching TV news is that they feel they must have an opinion on almost everything, which gives the illusion of participation in American life. But an “opinion” is all that we can gain from TV news because it only presents the most rudimentary and fragmented information on anything. Thus, on most issues we don’t really know much about what is actually going on. And, of course, we are expected to take what the TV news host says on an issue as gospel truth. But isn’t it better to think for yourself? Add to this that we need to realize that we often don’t have enough information from the “news” source to form a true opinion. How can that be done? Study a broad variety of sources, carefully analyze issues in order to be better informed, and question everything.
The bottom line is simply this: Americans should beware of letting others—whether they be television news hosts, political commentators or media corporations—do their thinking for them.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, a populace that cannot think for themselves is a populace with its backs to the walls: mute in the face of elected officials who refuse to represent us, helpless in the face of police brutality, powerless in the face of militarized tactics and technology that treat us like enemy combatants on a battlefield, and naked in the face of government surveillance that sees and hears all.
It’s time to change the channel, tune out the reality TV show, and push back against the real menace of the police state.
If not, if we continue to sit back and lose ourselves in political programming, we will remain a captive audience to a farce that grows more absurd by the minute.
The incredible market for human slaughter called war existed thousands of years ago but it was a corner grocery store compared to the multi-trillion dollar moral sewer that represents modern mass murder. Part of what enables imperial and even lesser powers to slaughter at will is a rule book drawn up long ago when there might have been a possibility to just have military personnel chopping one another to bits while leaving the general populace out of the bloodletting. That certainly ended before the 20th century but what has transpired since then and up to the present is, to cite a couple of over-used therefore recognizable labels, a genocidal holocaust that has burned, bombed, shot, stabbed, smothered and shattered bodies, reducing humans to unrecognizable bloody pulp by the hundreds of millions.
The hideous reality of war and its public relations and adverting departments that allegedly inform us about it has people accepting its horror as some sort of natural occurrence like sunset, tides, weather, rather than seeing it as caused by ruling powers battling over their wealth struggles which reduce humanity to commit mass murder under the pretense of it being the natural order of things. Further, rules have been drawn by upper class educated folks with doctoral degrees legalizing mass murder who teach us just what is the proper way to bash in skulls, burn people to death and rape and murder in a supposedly civilized way.
The alleged morality of humans accepting one form of insanely hysterical murder as long as it adheres to a guidebook on the proper form of slaughter should make us all grateful there is no judgmental, vindictive old testament deity or we’d all have been destroyed after the second world war let alone after our profitable feasts of death since then when we’ve murdered even more.
This closely guarded secret that humanity suffers in wars but only when rationalizations of bloody filth called “war crimes” are committed is currently being used and abused in a form of language, thought and moral degeneracy that may finally end when human consciousness, especially American, rejects the degenerate advertising and public relations blitz posing as reporting to blame Russians for what is called by language perverts their “war crime” against the Ukrainian government. Said government is a product of a U.S. financed insurrection that dumped an elected president who favored Russia for a western political pimp favoring market forces, which include some modern Nazis.
While he has become a celebrity among morals free political employees of ruling power by informing everyone to send him weapons so that there can be more bloodshed of the loving, violence free western kind, the western world has increased military spending to record breaking figures. Our rulers, media employee shepherds, see to it that our population is reduced to sheep as much of the world is angrier than ever at the machinations of the warfare business though you’d never know it if all you had was the western media called a free press. They create mentally brutalized souls into paying hundreds of dollars for taco-pizza-burgers and calling it free food.
While Ukrainians have been dying by the thousands for the past eight years, subject to a US/NATO financed and controlled assault, Americans and the west have known absolutely nothing of what was going on and not until Russian retaliation have we heard repeated use of words like brutal, savage, slaughter and worse, to condemn what under normal American circumstances would be called a form of legal police action to purify the world and see to it that peace, love and tranquility would prevail as we slaughtered. Maybe after everyone was dead?
A nation that leads all others in conducting wars against weaker countries and murdering hundreds of thousands, at the least, and millions, at the worst, is not only bellowing murderous nonsense but manipulating good, well meaning people into swallowing editorial garbage that has some decent folks almost ready to pawn their pets to send money to suffering Ukrainians. Even worse, some perverted by venomous outpourings of what would be called vicious hate speech if conducted by anyone else, are ready to accept the potential of nuclear war in order to stop the horrible slaughter which mostly exists between the ears and comes out of the mouths of our thought police working overtime for our ruling powers.
A recent story headlined a murderous, bloody, brutal assault by Russians, which had killed two people at the time the story was filed. Sadly but horrendously over-stated in a nation which kills 4-5 Americans every hour in our private transport system of undeclared road wars to get us to work, shop, school, and conduct other freedom loving democratic economic action. This while the sanctions against Russia are causing serious economic pain the world over, including to Americans, while military spending and the mass murder business that is the backbone of our incredibly gross national product is growing faster and more dangerously and fossil fuel interests profit more than ever as environmental destruction proceeds at a more menacing pace.
This assault on reason, combined with the rape of language and the reduction of public consciousness to the level of a nation of insects, is really only an update of what has been going on for more than 100 years concerning Russia. The assault on that nation began in 1917 when the Russian revolution threatened capitalism, its global center then as now in the United States. America immediately invaded along with a group of its future lapdogs which eventually became NATO after the Second World War. The idea of a return to humanity’s roots by building a society based on communal cooperation rather than competitive actions which created wonderful benefits for some but only by reducing others to dreadful lives was too much for fanatics of the fundamentalist church of capital.
Our primitive communistic survival in the days before we destroyed hunter-gatherer people meant that when the hunt was successful, everyone ate meat and when it wasn’t, everyone ate what was gathered. This was thousands of years before vegan diets and anti-meat worship among good people who comfortably house 136 million pets in a nation where more than 500,000 humans are without shelter. The pet business was good for more than 104 billion in 2020, a mass of economic clout but still chump change compared to the 778 billion for war, which involves 750 American bases in 80 foreign countries for something calling itself “defense”. This protected folks like George Floyd from the brutal, savage, bloodthirsty fiend Putin, but was totally helpless to defend him from a few Americans with badges.
A communist ideal which held that a thousand people and a thousand loaves of bread should mean a loaf of bread for everyone sickened rich capitalists who insisted that some should get ten loaves each and the rest be damned, which is the gross foundation dressed in economic jargon that would make a house of prostitution a citadel of love. Capital said that just as sex workers made a decent living by using their private parts to make private profits for their pimps, workers of all kinds could live comfortably if they just did their jobs and didn’t ask any questions. Their media saw to it that unquestioners became everyday people.
The social seeds planted by people like Marx and Engels in the 19th century came to fruition early in the 20th in Russia, and the vicious assault on that nation began, then as now, from its headquarters in America. After 70 years of continuous physical and mental assault finally helped cause a breakdown of the Soviet Union and a return to capitalism, that was still not enough and the U.S. and its imperial lackeys kept up the war and its present experience which threatens the worst outcome for humanity. This will hopefully not only bring China and Russia closer but the people of the USA and global humanity together to transcend the danger by helping to end the degeneracy of warfare and create peace via the end of an imperial crusade to further enrich billionaires and their upper class servants while increasing mass poverty and the environmental threat to us all.
With daily by the minute assaults on consciousness reducing other wise good people to hateful idiocy demanding death for the savage Putin and evil Russians, there is glee among the perverted political economic leadership of the war business. They number a tiny group with power supposedly democratic while they brainwash people into believing autocracy – a term most hardly understand – is in charge everywhere but where it exists; in what we have been taught to believe is the free world. Benign (?) America billionaires become malevolently evil (ominous background music) Russian oligarchs, according to our mind shapers who neglect to point out they keep their wealth in the same banks – mostly American or at least using American dollars – to perform as charming space travelers or deranged killers, depending on national origin.
This perverse market freedom continues to mean imperial abuse by one nation, ours, while taxpayers absorb a debt of 30 trillion dollars paying for the empire which is bringing us all closer to a point at which we will have little time left as a human race. We need to begin acting like one very soon. That means far more than waving a Ukrainian flag and sending paychecks to the pimps of war, but no longer accepting their crimes against nature and beginning to act like what we are: a human race badly in need of global democracy to stop all wars, not just those we are told are the wrong way to butcher humans, and begin life. That calls for the end of the post World War II domination of the American empire and this present horror is hopefully a sign that it will be so. We need to turn off the anti-social media that insure further private profit and ultimate public loss and turn on humanity’s original instinct for cooperation. And hurry.
Following here is an assignment: Find some object you hold near and dear. Something that can leap you into a backward narrative. Something to hold you as a memoir writer, going back, reflecting back. That thing, you can hold or touch. You find meaning in it. And, that object holds stories. Try and do this under ten pages.
I plugged the community/continuing education class I designed for the local community college, Oregon Coast, CC, here, at the local twice-a-week rag: “The art of remaking-retelling a story” (Newport News Times)
I’m big on writing narratives. Almost every person I have met and spent time with has told me their story. That story is sometimes a series of disconnected events. Many times people open up, and tell me about significant emotional events (SEE’s) that changed their lives, one way or another.
And, it’s never that simple, no, the death of a child or a newfound love. Change occurs over time, and that event changes through the sieve that is memory. How I was when confronted by federalies in Chiapas 40 years ago is a different story and memory landscape now compared to then, when I was telling all my buddies/compas about that event at Palenque.
So, below, I took the assignment I gave the 7 students to heart. Except, I was angry, I was riffing off of something completely unrelated to the assignment at first: I was asked to review a new novel, in manuscript form, from a fellow who is getting it published. And, man, after reading 200 manuscript pages of the 350 total, I was ready to punch out the world.
Without giving away the author and the press, here is that email to one of my editor friends:
Howdy — I really do hope you didn’t tell the author I was a “for sure thing” to review his novel. I’m sorry to say that what I’ve been reading thus far (200 pages) I can’t really do any good as a positive reviewer. I know we crossed this bridge before, me having major hiccups with the work of another book (that other novel, remember) . . . and I know you all have this book in the line-up.
But, shit, guys, I just can’t get into the book at all. I am not going to give you a big rush of negative comments about the bad dialogue, the incongruent characterization, the cut-out characters, and the dead-end plot, and the absolutely wrong way to start a book, and all the dialogue to move along a story, and the lack of verisimilitude. Look, I know I am just a flunky out here in Oregon, but I have been in the fiction game, even with all the rejections over the years, for a very long time. I’ve taught fiction, too. And, I am a deep reader of fiction. I was not expecting Ivan Doig or Jim Crumley or Tom McGuane or Robert Stone, you know, but, seriously, I can’t find anything literary about the book, and I can’t find much to say that would make a review helpful for him or as a way to highlight your new Press’ addition. You know I want to help you all, but there isn’t a decent poetic or literary hook in it, nor is there a hellava plot, nor is there a helluva cast of characters. There is no electrical charge in the writing.
I hate to do this to you since you both have been good at going with my stuff, and publishing my work in the past. I just wouldn’t be able to pull this one off, without it being just a marketing promo, and I know you do not want that from me. I am sure Mr. S has a following and a slew of people ready to read this book. That bodes well for potential sales, for sure.
I want to be honest and upfront, since I respect you both. I am not your man in Havana for this project. While I have reviewed a hundred books for the El Paso Times years ago, I remember Leslie Ulman giving me a Pam Houston book to review, since she was a guest at UTEP, that is, a visiting author. A friend of hers, as well. I know my clear look at and pugnacious reviewer’s response to that book, once it hit the newspaper (and was syndicated out further afield), caused some rumbling and grumbling with Leslie and Pam, but shit, I didn’t do a hatchet job on it — just some cogent and pithy writing myself as reviewer to point out some of the westerny sort of overkill.
Mr. S’s book is what it is — you all have him on contract and you all have it planned for publication. I just do not want to do a heavy heavy heave ho of my own principles as well as disregarding my own history as a writer and reviewer by attempting something positive. I could have a hell of a fistfight with the book, but that’s not what you all are after.
I see K is on the jacket with kudos. He seems to be your man, really, for this assignment.
I’m not being snarky or elitist or any of that, as you well know me.
It’s not a good book, guys. Not well written. It’s canned dialogue. Cliche. Off the mark. Boring. Not going anywhere. And, yes, he was a journalist, but I can tell you these folk in the book are not real, and as you know, fiction has to be more than pedestrian recording of events. One of the rules is to not move the plot and story and tension with dialogue. That’s most of the book. So much is bad in the book.
Yet, there is that adage that one person’s cup of tequila is another person’s buttermilk. I gotta stick with tequila. Others love the heavy tasteless milk.
Thanks for thinking of me.
Good luck with it and to him.
It’s not just a slam dunk me writing that criticism above. Really. I’ve been hawking my long form, that is, novels, short story collections, essay collections, for a very long time. New York agent named Jack Ryan, and he went to bat for, and he was also waylaid by many a female editor who thought my stuff was too male, too regional, too dark. The list goes on. Cancel culture 1986-2010.
So, really, putting out a review of this book was not possible for me without really eviscerating the words, the plot, the entire book, which for me would be a public spiritual homicide. That’s not in my inner core, though I can be super critical and pugnacious when it comes to, well, beautiful people, or those who have made it and are resting on their laurels.
Here, a quick note from the editor in response to my decline —
This is the most magnificent decline I have ever read! So glad you are here to keep us honest.
Others had troubles with the book too.
For some reason, I just liked the narrator, but overall that’s probably not enough.
So it goes. This world we live in, the one we always have lived in. Lives interrupted, derailed, denuded, and of course, enhanced by surviving.
Funny how my students are opening up after just three sessions, sharing all manner of things that they want to add to their larger memoir. Here, a bit of Memoir 101:
Memoir vs Autobiography Basics
1. Autobiography usually covers the author’s life — the entire life up to the point of the writing, while memoir focuses only on a part of the author’s life.
There are going to be exceptions to every point on this list, but generally speaking, autobiography aims to be comprehensive, while memoir does not. Autobiographers set out to tell the story of their life, and while some parts will get more detail than others, they usually cover most or all of it.
I do use Mary Karr’s work, the Art of Memoir, in the class. And, Tritine Rainer’s Your Life as Story.
Here, just one slice of the definition and connotation:
Okay, so here we go with my two-hour entranced writing which fit my class’s assignment. I had to write about Montana (where the guy’s book was set), to get it — that bad manuscript read — off of my chest or at least partly out of my system. And I sent it to the editor, and he came back with this:
Loved the essay.
Reminds me of the time my girlfriend Lois and I drove from Tucson to the coast in a lark. We picked up a hitchhiker in Big Sur. We dropped him off at a compound of Hobbit cabins in the hills above the surf where his father – Stephen Stills’ dope supplier – gifted us the most potent weed I’d ever smoked. One puff and I fell down on the ground paralized. He said he wanted to give me a couple bags in thanks for bringing his son home, but I was paranoid with the paralysis. Lois helped me walk to his cabin where we would get our “reward.” He opened a wooden trunk that I was sure held a shotgun that would start a Manson-like killing spree beginning with Lois and me. Instead we got three or four bags of this wild dope that later in our circle in Tucson was called “killer weed”and taken out and smoked on only the most sacred occasions.
Okay, then, you the reader now have me the writer in your sights. Enjoy the flow of memoir, in this “literary” essay. God help us all!
Grizzly Country, a .44 magnum, a Thrown- Away Suitcase, a Cleveland Woman’s Life Scattered
When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.
— opening line, The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley
“Did you hear? Catina is going to Mexico with some guy with long hair and earrings in both ears in his old pick-up truck. Can you believe that?”
Not the best opening line for a book but I couldn’t get it out of my head all the way up to that Last Good Kiss bar in Missoula where James Crumley had invited us to sip Patron.
My girlfriend’s North Dakota cousin’s words couldn’t top this: An orange Samsonite suitcase was the gaping open evidence of some meth-ed out former boyfriend who snatched the dark-haired woman in a Montana town and found a lonely path frequented by bruins in order to dump her body along with all her earthly belongings somewhere in that dark dripping night in Big Sky country.
Okay, not Jim Crumley prose, but I wasn’t writing it, just thinking it after we found the two high school yearbooks wet from the afternoon drizzle. The mud that led to our dry campsite held a couple of dozen color snapshots spread around like flattened lives. There was a cool leather fringed leather jack, two pairs of jeans laid out like a running ghost. The lacey underwear I saw first. Half was left in the suitcase, the other half flung around where the case spilled open.
We were twenty miles from Missoula, after heavy tequila toasts with Crumley, and we were in THAT pre-Mexico pick-up truck with the small camper snuggly attached holding all our gear. We wanted to have a campfire, hot coffee and flapjacks in the morning.
It was getting dark, and bear prints were around this mess of scattered things in a woman’s life. Two pink bras, a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, a bunch of personal letters in envelopes bound by hair bands. This was 1985. There were no cell phones. We were out in the boondocks. It was just me and my girlfriend. We both were friends of Crumley since he was both a professor and my thesis advisor at UT-El Paso of all places.
We had been in his classes, and we taught alongside him as graduate students. He wanted the thrill of Juarez and the West Texas mountains. He was a heavy drinker, liked coke and he dated students. I was able and ready to get him the white stuff. He liked my wild man freedom. He was especially curious about my work in a refugee center helping Central Americans – mostly Guatemalans – get political asylum.
The word was he got sacked (not rehired for his year-to-year visiting writer contractor) because some students complained old Dancing Bear Jim came to the workshops three sheets to the wind. That was 1984, before #metoo. There were accusations of dating graduate students, not a no-no, but at UTEP, with a prude of a president, these rumors were enough to get the writer fired.
My girlfriend, Catina, wasn’t really freaking out at the sight of the splayed suitcase. She had a few theories about why this woman’s personal belongings were about. There was a domestic violence sort of vibe I could feel, the light was diminishing in May, and large snowflakes floated down from the purple sky. I was more paranoid than Catina. I knew I had to be the asshole that might have to pull out both guns and get our asses out of some fucking Gary Gilmore situation. Back then, in my 20s and 30s, I courted such things, literally and in my mind.
“You know, it looks like this girl just tossed this suitcase out as if she was jettisoning part of her life. You know, high school years, busted friendships. Fuck, high school can be like a mind fuck. The shitty girls and the rape-minded motherfucking football players. I guarantee, this girl did not just have the one suitcase. But this one, with photos and journals and letters, that’s my theory. One life gone, a new life in Montana. Maybe Canada. There’s no foul play.”
I liked the way Catina plotted out a story from her personal point of view. I would have never thought of a scenario so close to the female perspective.
We came to Crumley, to get my thesis approved, and now, here, after drinks and buffalo burgers, to see bears. Hell, wasn’t that the irony, Dancing Bear and all, his novel? Make no bones about it, we saw two brown bears when we approached the muddy road down into this killer of an empty campground. Grizzly Campground was the name. It was part of Rock Creek, located in the Ranch Creek drainage. Several campsites bordered the creek, and we picked this one. We had it all to ourselves, and we were high and drunk, and we wanted to pitch a tent, and then this scene unfolded like ball lightning in our veins, right there where we were about to pitch our tent.
I still had a revolver and lever action pair of weapons on my mind. The four-inch buck knife on my leg, well, just for cutting apples and cheese.
We barely touched some of this girl’s things, and we agreed to not rifle through the personal notes and journals. Not just yet. As I said, I had two guns in the camper, and Catina had camped with her Colorado family all over the west her whole life. We were not afraid of wild things. Just men with uppers, booze and sinister thoughts in their blood.
We were in awe of the ferns, the boggy smell reminded me of my mom’s birthplace in British Columbia. Then there was that amazingly metallic and citrus odor in the air, fresh conifer growth. And the water heartbeats of a nice clear creek hitting boulders. We could see the quicksilver flow draping rocks, granite heavy with moss and lichen.
“Hell, I guess we have to let the cops know about this when we head out. But for now, it’s fire, tent, booze.”
Catina took a few Missoulians and spread them out over the scene of some crime. It was a crime in anyone’s books – to chuck personal correspondence and two high school yearbooks into the mud.
Making camp was a quiet time for us, a rarity. Catina was in her thoughts. Her own family demons. I was just stunned with the possibility of having to do some sort of bullshit thing if anyone returned to the scene of the scattering. A crime? My theory was the opposite of Catina’s.
I got the half full bottle of Juarez tequila from the back, tucked in a nice colorful serape from Juarez we were going to gift to Crumley. I took swigs from the bottle. Warm, dry earthy draws back to hot desert. Being up here — with Crumley, and thinking about my own prodigious dance with booze, drugs, adventure and recklessness never seemingly coming to a bad end, even when I got in a few pickles out in the wilderness with no gas and a hot motorcycle I had to push to find some place to put down a bedroll — I was invincible with my girlfriend and my guns.
Man, the time I was 18 with my scuba buddy Brian, in the Sea of Cortez, and we had just run out of gas after hours of diving and snorkeling (he continued to say, I told you so . . . we shoulda bought another gas tank). Shit, I told him to stay put, and I went madly swimming toward a marlin fisherman who also happened to be out in the middle of the Sea of Cortez near Tiburon Island. I swam and swam with rocket fins and snorkel-mask. I got there in 30 minutes.
Typical for me: Bad situation turned into a free tow, a party at their condo and still my buddy complained, as he stayed in the one room hotel and pouted. Tequila, steaks, amazing stories, and even getting laid. That’s what running out of fuel in a 16 foot barely-sea worthy boat will get you.
Or get me.
I had promised Catina’s parents back in El Paso that no harm would come to her on this camping trip. The clearly anxious and chaotic nature of the Samsonite toss and the large area of disarray felt like a foreboding.
Yeah, my own 23-yea- old sister came to mind when the fire was roaring with the agave spirit burning my esophagus. Barely dead a few years.
Roberta was wild, adventurous and killed driving her Harley out of Kamloops south to see me, our sister, mother and father in Arizona. Call us the half brother and half sister. The Army stepdad was on his way out of the country to Saudi Arabia. Robbie insisted on coming down by road, to Tucson, with two male buddies on their rides.
That was 1978 when we got the call that she had hit the pavement after some fucker passed out at the wheel and crossed the lane into her bike.
Another set of adventures, a burial, a wake, after a crazy sea plane into Hyder, Alaska. My mother was there, with her fragile lungs, coming into Alaska on a cold night, which was bright in June. I was her escort, the only other family there. I met her biological dad Rod there, a guy I had met years earlier in Vancouver, when my sister sent me a bus ticket to visit her.
As I write this (and almost everything), her squash blossom turquoise bracelet is by me, sort of a talisman, a reminder, or some ethereal message bugging me to keep plugging away. Here I am sixty-five, writing about a forest haunting when I was 28.
Those years, man, 28, Crumley had my book, something I thought would sell: the great American novel set in Mexico. That was what centered in my head then, and even now, almost 40 years later, it’s like a rheumatoid disease, a stupor at times, enchanting me into believing I have the impetus still, now, to push through all the bloody hurdles and walls to get something big published.
That disease lasted for 30 years since that week with Crumley. It’s untreatable. It’s terminal for some. I am one of the unlucky suckers still believing in some fucking New York publishing miracle.
We got the tent set up, as snow slowly powdered the ground. The campground was amazing, the greenest, most jungle like since we had been camping in deserts, along the north rim of the Grand Canyon. In Utah. In New Mexico. Coming from El Paso, we decided to hit the Colorado route.
But this, Grizzly Campground we claimed to ourselves. Hours with Crumley and then my interview at the Missoulian (I never got the job – a dozen out of work PhDs in Missoula looking for writing work, even newspaper work, way ahead of me on the prospect list). We were heading to Livingston, to Chico Hot Springs, to hang out with Crumley and the director of some film Jim was helping script-fix.
The guy – director of Black Beauty, I think — had an option on Dancing Bear and The Last Good Kiss. Time magazine had just done a piece on the up and coming noir writers, and Crumley was one on that list as a killer detective fiction guru. He was from Texas, did shit in the Army, got an MFA from the Iowa writers workshop, and learned from Richard Hugo to study Raymond Chandler in order to become fluent and real and poetic as a novelist.
At 28 with my own suitcase full of real life, adventures, travels, I was an admirer but not a fan boy, really, of the complete Crumley, though he did resist paying taxes as a protest against the Vietnam War. I was all life, fiction, journalism, politics and considered myself left of Che.
That suitcase, the fire Catina had stoked well, the waning light, the creepy icy white on all the ferns and low limbs of amazing conifers made for a Crumley noir setting. Then, juxtaposed with our own plans to take this Datsun pick-up all the way to Guatemala loaded with scuba gear and typewriters. Then, we’d be heading to the Yucatan after hitting every Mexican state. Stories for the two dailies in El Paso. Rolls of film sent to the editors.
There is something about the personal belongings of someone – a woman’s make-up accouterments, the undergarments, the letters, hair brush and berets – spread out all over the place in the open. No tire tracks to speak of, except ours. And, to be sure, I did make a head-lamp and hand-held flashlight recon of the area within a mile of the camp.
The idea Catina had was she just lost it. Threw the shit away in a rage. Something about the past, all those journals and yearbooks. Mind you, we had not rifled through anything yet, and we did not pull things out of the suitcase. We did, however, bring the scattered remains of the orange travel case back to the center of the dirt road.
The newspapers were getting covered in snow. We were shivering. The tent was perfect near the fire. I drank Juarez tequila and Catina sipped a bottle of merlot. Granola and gouda we consumed while we were deep in our literary and gumshoe thoughts.
The pile of belongings I kept pointing the strong flashlight at (actually, a diving light, with a huge veronica of bright beams) — the covered-up life of this woman. And, I saw eyes, in the distance. Bear whiskers. We had the food in the camper sealed up. We tried to keep crumbs away from everything. Nothing in the tent would attract a bear. I even had a big can of bear spray. And the fucking .44 magnum and 30.30 Marlin.
There were bears out there. That’s what we came for, but we didn’t count on the broken suitcase and a life strewn all over the place.
There was some essence of Cherri Halister the next morning. That’s what her name was. We looked hard and long in the yearbooks. She was there, circled, with “The best one at the party. . . . three-fisted drinker . . . why do we have to graduate now, now that we are just becoming friends?” Other tributes and benedictions from her graduating friends. She looked like Barbara Hershey – Remember her, in The Last Summer, Boxcar Bertha, The Baby Maker? Catina knew Barbara, and, of course, later, she did Hannah and Her Sisters, and played Mary Magdalena in The Last Temptation of Christ.
Hell, my younger sister Heidi was an extra in a movie with Charlton Heston, The Last Hard Men. Barbara Hershey took a liking to my kid sister. Heidi was nine years old; it was shot at Old Tucson, the movie lot that burned down. I took her to the set many times. I watched Heston and Hershey plod along in some of the scenes that needed the old western cutout town. I told Catina that, and she laughed, telling me that I would be famous one day for being just this far on the edge of fame – she put both her hands out and sized up that fame around 18 inches.
She was right.
This is a place I never heard of, Mayfield High School, in Cleveland. The Wildcats. The year books were for 1968 and 1969. If she was 18 upon graduation, this Cherri Halister would be 34 when we found her stuff all over the forest.
We were entranced by the pile of belongings, but I had pangs of paranoia that something bad really did happen to her . . . or some fuckers might be coming back. I had the Ruger holstered on my hip and the Marlin fully loaded and on the front seat of the Datsun.
I sort of knew those two firearms would be added props for the story I was going to tell Crumley, and all the friends I had back in El Paso, in Tucson, and doctor family back east. Guns, long-haired guy with earrings in both ears, a blue Datsun king cab pickup, a girlfriend who knows how to get a campfire going in sleet and rain, and some flagging belief that a guy like Crumley would actually help me get a novel published.
Sure, a few hours with Peter Fonda and some other notables at Chico Springs was filed away in my Irish storytelling satchel. Crumley introduced me to him. Then the lore of, well, Richard Brautigan who, after meeting Thomas McGuane (another Montana writer), he would eventually visit Montana’s Paradise Valley and buy a 40-acre ranch in Pine Creek, near Livingston. All that lore, man, and yet, the trip, the entire trip we made was punctuated by Cherri’s disappearance.
We did stop at Deer Lodge and call the Sheriff about what we found. I did rip-off a photo of her: a nice color photo of Cherri Halister, at a pool, in a blue bikini. She must have been around age 16 or 17. Nothing creepy. Just a captured moment in time, when she looked like a really young and budding Barbara Hershey.
When that suitcase was still in her family’s garage. When the light of life was just seeping a bit out of her young life. Barbara Hershey would have been jealous of Cherri. She looked like a star.
Potential hotspots between Russia and Ukraine, 2021. Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Vector
There is an adage that the first casualty in a war is the truth. The US and NATO allege that Putin’s Russia is a malevolent aggressor against neighboring Ukraine. They assert that the US and NATO are simply defending the rights of an oppressed nation. Meanwhile, what the sycophantic legacy news media convey to the public is a gross distortion of the reality in this current Ukraine crisis. Some relevant facts which Western government spokespersons and the media almost invariably falsify or omit altogether.
1. NATO. In exchange for needed Soviet consent to the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, the US and NATO promised that NATO would not expand into former Warsaw Pact countries in central Europe. Said promise proved worthless as every US President, beginning with Bill Clinton in 1999, has violated that commitment even to the point that NATO now includes three former Soviet Republics and has plans to bring in two more (Ukraine and Georgia). Background:
NATO was formed (in 1949) at the behest of the US and Britain as an anti-Soviet military alliance to fight Communism in postwar Europe, both: to prevent its spread to capitalist countries where Communist Parties were winning some elections, and (it was hoped) to undermine and rollback Communism in countries where Communist Parties held state power. Assertions that NATO was a defensive alliance against the threat of a Soviet invasion of western Europe is pure fantasy; the USSR had been devastated by the War and very much wanted peaceful coexistence with the capitalist West. In fact, Stalin and his successors always prioritized Soviet security over the spread of Communism. With the disintegration of the USSR (in 1991) and the embrace of capitalism by Russia and all other former Warsaw-Pact member countries, NATO’s principal raison d’être ceased.
With crony-capitalist President Boris Yeltsin in control of the dysfunctional corruption-ridden Russian state following the collapse of the USSR, both Yeltsin and the US wanted to align Russia with the capitalist West. However, the US could not resist the temptation to expand the military component of its Western Empire so as to increase US hegemony over Europe as well as create new profit opportunities for US and west European transnational capital (including military contractors) In so doing, the West disrespected and alienated Russia.
As an increasingly antagonized Russia refused to comply with US and NATO dictates, the US placed intermediate-range missile batteries (planned from 2008, deployed in 2018) in new-NATO-member countries (Poland and Romania). Thus, the US increased the threat to Russian national security, apparently hoping to intimidate a weakened Russia into being more submissive. Said deployment also violated the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces [INF] Treaty.
More recently, the US and NATO have conducted offensive military exercises in new-NATO-member states along Russia’s border, simulating preparations for an attack on Russia. Russian military exercises and deployments, as well as its diplomatic demands, are very much in response to threatening NATO actions.
The US, NATO, and the legacy news media portray NATO as an instrument for maintaining peace and democracy in Europe. However, while NATO seeks to expand to the very borders of Russia, Russia is explicitly excluded from admission to membership. In fact, NATO is (as always) a key military force for Western imperialism; and that now includes actions to confine Russia so as to prevent it from having influence anywhere beyond its own borders.
2. New NATO members. Most countries in central and eastern Europe have historically been antagonistic toward Russia. During much of the interwar period; Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states were ruled by usually-autocratic right-wing regimes which permitted their territories to serve as bases for infiltration (by France, Britain, and other anti-Soviet states) of assassins, saboteurs, spies, and other covert wrecking operatives into the Soviet Union. Moreover, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Baltic-state governments joined Nazi Germany in the War against the USSR. Further, former Warsaw-Pact countries are poor by comparison with western Europe. By joining the EU and NATO while claiming a need for protection against a purported Russian threat, they have been able to obtain considerable economic aid and benefits. As for the alleged Russian threat, it should be noted that the USSR consistently respected the postwar independence and territorial integrity of bordering capitalist Finland (which remained neutral in the Cold War). Moreover, despite the post-Soviet Baltic states often mistreating their ethnic Russian minorities, Russia has consistently respected their independence and territorial integrity.
3. Russia. Most US and NATO-ally political leaders (including nearly every member of Congress from both parties) “justify” their hostility toward Putin’s Russia by claiming that it is an autocratic regime seeking to recreate the Russian Empire. In fact, the Russian government, like its US and other NATO counterparts, is a multi-party electoral regime. Is there repression? There is; but there is also repression and political prisoners in the US (Leonard Peltier, Ricardo Palmera, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Edward Poindexter, Veronza Bowers, and several others). Is there some election rigging? There is; but that is true also of the US (electoral college, partisan gerrymanders, felon disfranchisement and other voter suppression practices directed especially at racial minority voters). Is the Putin regime semi-autocratic? It is; but so are NATO allies Poland and Hungary, while NATO ally Turkey is much worse. Moreover, however deficient Russia is as a liberal democracy, Ukraine is far worse. Further, the US has no hesitation in supporting absolutely autocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia. Do capitalist oligarchs exploit workers and national resources in Russia? They do, but that is so also in the US and its NATO allies. Self-righteous US and NATO disparagement of Russia as an “anti-democratic” outlier is the height of hypocrisy. Does Russia seek to maintain a sphere of influence (in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and a few other allies)? It does; but Russia’s foreign policy is primarily defensive, and its imperialism pales to insignificance in comparison with that of the US-led West. We do not have to approve of the Putin regime in Russia; but those who brand Russia as the aggressor, based upon nothing more than its commonplace deficiencies as a liberal “democracy”, are making a pretext to “justify” their stance as apologists for Western imperialism.
4. Ukraine’s government. The US (thru NED and CIA) has funded (since the 1990s) pro-Western anti-Russian groups in Ukraine (and also in Belarus) in hopes of bringing it into the EU and NATO. This has emboldened chauvinistic ethnic-Ukrainian nationalists and fueled intense ethnic and partisan conflict within the ethnically diverse Ukrainian populace. Further, the US incited and supported the illegal 2014 overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically-elected President Viktor Yanukovych (in response to his decision to reject an EU economic proposal which would have aligned Ukraine with the West rather than maintain a more beneficial neutrality between Russia and the West). In fact, US State Department Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland and other US government leaders (including Senator John McCain) attended anti-Yanukovych rallies in Kyiv and urged them to overthrow their elected government. Ukrainian factions which spearheaded the violence in this coup d’etat consisted of anti-Russia neo-Nazi factions including the Right Sector paramilitary organization and the Svoboda Party . Moreover, while the current regime outlaws the Communist Party and even criminalizes the use of Communist symbols, it embraces and erects monuments to wartime Nazi collaborators including Stepan Bandera whose OUN [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists] participated in the mass murder of Ukrainian Jews. The coup regime subsequently incorporated neo-Nazi paramilitaries into its national armed forces (Azov Battalion) for use against rebel forces in the Donbas. The US and NATO now have a repressive racist client regime in Kyiv which is a pawn in their new cold war against Russia.
Note regarding the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). NED was created by Congress in 1983 and receives virtually all of its funding from the US government. While NED’s purported mission is the promotion of “democracy”, this is construed to mean: (1) support for opposition groups (media and civil society organizations) in countries with governments (including popularly elected governments) which oppose US foreign policy and the abuses perpetrated by transnational capital, and (2) provision of its funding and other assistance only to organizations which are pro-Western and supportive of private-enterprise capitalism. NED, which like the CIA operates throughout the world, has funded partisan media and “civil society” organizations in scores of countries (Ukraine, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Syria among them). It does not engage in democratic advocacy in autocratic US allies (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar). Meanwhile, the US government offers no more than lip-service concern for the victims of repression by Western-backed client regimes.
5. New cold war. With the need for a unified international response to: impending climate catastrophe, the Covid-19 pandemic, the new nuclear arms race, and other existential issues; one would hope that the US would work cooperatively with other countries (including: Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, DPRK, and so forth) to deal effectively with these threats. Why then this US determination to treat these other countries as enemies rather than as partners? Said new cold war (along with another against China) provides “justification” for hugely excessive US military expenditures (providing huge profits to capitalist military contractors as well as to fossil fuel companies which provide huge amounts of product for US military operations). Moreover, any country which refuses to comply with Western imperial dictates sets an unpalatable example which undermines US world-domination and the neoliberal world order (which enables transnational capital to reap most of its profits). New cold wars (and false-pretense regime-change wars against vulnerable countries [e.g. Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011] which refuse to submit to Western imperial dictates) also provide opportunities for careerist foreign policy officials (in the State and Defense Departments, CIA, NSA, et cetera) and for major-party politicians (funded by capitalist interest groups) to bolster their credentials as hawkish champions of purported US “national security interests” (which are defined to include preserving the US position as the dominant superpower).
6. Strife within Ukraine. Upon seizing state power, the US-backed coup regime in Ukraine acted to suppress language rights for the 29% of the population for whom Russian was their native language. The ousted President Yanukovych had been a proponent of making Russian the second state language of Ukraine (as it had been prior to the breakup of the USSR). Immediately after the coup, the new regime acted to repeal a 2012 Yanukovych-era law which gave language rights to all locally-sizable minorities (not only Russian-speakers) in regions with such minority populations. That repeal action provoked popular protests in southern and eastern Ukraine. The US-backed regime has subsequently enacted new legislation: substantially reducing the language rights of minorities, and also suppressing the use of Russian in education and the media. In 2016, the regime even imposed restrictions on the importation of Russian-language books (which, until then, had constituted 60% of such imports). Consequences of the anti-Russian and anti-minority policies: the 2014 secession of the (officially autonomist) Crimea region which soon after sought and obtained reintegration into Russia, and the current Ukrainian civil war between the central government and the breakaway Donbas regions. The US fuels this civil conflict: by denouncing Russia and the Donbas rebels, and by arming the central government as it seeks to crush said Donbas rebellion thru brute force. The US portrays the Donbas rebels as separatist pawns of Russia; but, in fact, although the hostility of the anti-Russian regime in Kyiv has undoubtedly produced much separatist sentiment in the Donbas breakaway regions; their longstanding demand, consistently endorsed by Russia (until losing patience in 2022), was for autonomy within a unified Ukraine. Moreover, the Kyiv regime agreed to such autonomy in the 2014 and 2015 Minsk accords (which the US supported in a unanimous UN Security Council vote in 2015); but, yielding to pressure from anti-Russian chauvinists, Kyiv (with US acquiescence) has persistently refused to implement it.
7. Crimea. The US and NATO use a double standard to justify their hostility toward Russia by branding the secession of Crimea from Ukraine and its subsequent re-unification with Russia, in defiance of the will of the US-supported client-regime, as a Russian aggression in violation of international law. However, the US exhibited a complete disregard for such purported international law when it intervened (1999) in Serbia with armed force to separate Kosovo (with the approval of its ethnic Albanian majority) from Serbia in defiance of the will of the Serbian government. Hence, a hypocritical double standard. The West also evades the relevant fact that Crimea had a long history as part of Russia. In fact, sovereignty over Crimea had been transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 by a decision (of disputed legality) by Soviet leader Khrushchev without the consent, and contrary to the wishes, of Crimea’s predominantly ethnic Russian population; and most of the Crimean population welcomed their 2014 reunification with Russia.
Ω. Conclusion. If the US and NATO had really cared about what was best for the people of Ukraine, they would have urged its government to make peace with Russia, Crimea, and the Donbas rebels: by accepting the secessionist will of the Crimeans, by implementing the promised autonomy for the breakaway Donbas regions, by committing to respect the language and other human rights of its minorities, by suppressing its neo-Nazi and allied hate groups, and by rejecting NATO membership and other anti-Russian policies. In fact, the Western powers have cynically used Ukraine as a pawn in their new cold war against Russia. In their arrogance they have pushed nuclear-armed Russia to the point that it has concluded that it must respond with military force. The West’s new cold wars may be a boon for powerful sectors of transnational capital (especially military contractors and fossil fuel producers); but it is detrimental for the peoples of Ukraine, Russia, and much of the EU.
In October 2021, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) held a seminar on the pandemic and education systems. Strikingly, 99% of the students in the region spent an entire academic year with total or partial interruption of face-to-face classes, while more than 600,000 children struggled with the loss of their caregivers due to the pandemic. It is further estimated that the crisis could force 3.1 million children and youth to drop out of school and force over 300,000 to go to work. At the seminar, Alicia Bárcena, the executive secretary of ECLAC, said that the combination of the pandemic, economic turbulence in the region, and the setbacks in education have caused ‘a silent crisis’.
The situation around the world is equally dire, with the phrase ‘silent crisis’ perhaps in need of a more global application. The United Nations notes that ‘more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic’; at least 1 billion school children are at risk of falling behind in their studies. ‘[T]hose in poorer households’, the UN said, ‘do not have internet access, personal computers, TVs or even radios at home, amplifying the effects of existing learning inequalities’. Close to one third of all children – at least 463 million – do not have any access to technologies for remote education; three out of four of these children come from rural areas, most of them from the very poorest households. Because of the school closures during the lockdowns and the lack of infrastructure for online learning, many children ‘face the risk of never returning to school, undoing years of progress made in education around the world’.
Mao Xuhui (China), I Leave the Trace of Wings in the Air, 2014–2017.
In 2015, the 193 member states of the United Nations agreed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, setting seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be met within fifteen years. The entire SDG process, which began as the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty in 2000, had widespread consensus. The fourth SDG is to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. As part of the process to advance this goal, the UN and World Bank jointly developed a concept called ‘learning poverty’, defined as ‘being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10’. The ‘learning poverty’ measure applies to 53% of children in low and middle-income countries and up to 80% of children in poor countries. Before the pandemic, it was clear that by 2030 the SDG aspirations would not have been met for 43% of the world’s children. The United Nations now reports that in 2020 an additional 101 million or 9% of children in classes 1 to 8 ‘fell below minimum reading proficiency levels’ and that the pandemic has ‘wiped out the education gains achieved over the past 20 years’. It is now universally recognised that the fourth SDG will be unrealisable for a very long time.
Said Aniff Hossanee (Mauritius), The Thinker, 2020.
The UN and World Bank have sounded the alarm that this ‘silent crisis’ will have a devastating impact on the economic future of students. They estimate that ‘this generation of children now risks losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value, or about 14% of today’s global GDP, because of COVID-19 related school closures and economic shocks’. Not only are the students going to lose trillions of dollars in lifetime earnings, but they are also going to be deprived of social, cultural, and intellectual wisdom and skills vital to the advancement of humanity.
Already, education institutions from the early years into college emphasise the commercialisation of education. The decline of basic training in the humanities has become a global problem, depriving the world’s population of a grounding in history, sociology, literature, and the arts, which create a richer understanding of what it means to live in a society and to be a citizen of the world. This kind of education is an antidote to the toxic forms of jingoism and xenophobia that have us goose-stepping our way to annihilation and extinction.
Cultural institutions are in the deepest of trouble in the ‘silent crisis’. A UNESCO study on the impact of the pandemic on 104,000 museums around the world found that almost half of these institutions experienced a significant reduction in public funding in 2020, with limited gains the following year. Partly due to lockdowns and partly due to the funding problems, attendance at the world’s most popular art museums declined by 77% in 2020. In addition to the pandemic, the rise of platform capitalism – economic activity that is rooted in Internet-based platforms – has accelerated the privatisation of cultural consumption, with public forms of cultural exposure through public education, public museums and galleries, and public concerts unable to keep pace with Netflix and Spotify. That only 29% of the people in sub-Saharan Africa have internet access makes the inequities of cultural life an even more pressing concern.
The way teachers have been treated during the pandemic illustrates the low level of importance given to this crucial job and education more broadly in our global society. Only in 19 countries were teachers placed in the first priority group with frontline workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Over the course of the past few weeks, this newsletter has highlighted A Plan to Save the Planet, which we developed alongside 26 research institutes from around the world under the leadership of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – People’s Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP). We will continue to point to that text because it significantly challenges the status quo view of how we need to proceed in our shared global struggles. When it comes to education, for instance, we are building our framework for the planet based on the needs of teachers and students and not centrally on the GDP or the value of money. On education, we have a list of eleven demands – not comprehensive, but suggestive. You can read them here.
Please read the plan carefully. We look forward to your interventions, which we hope you will send to us at gro.latnenitnocirtehtnull@nalp. If you find these ideas useful, please circulate them widely. If you wonder about how we propose to finance these ideas, please have a look at the full plan (there is, by the way, at least $37 trillion currently sitting in illicit tax havens).
In Honduras, steps are being taken in this direction. On 27 January, President Xiomara Castro took the reins, becoming the first female head of government in the country’s history. She immediately pledged to give free electricity to more than one million of the nearly ten million people in Honduras. This will enhance the ability of the poorest Hondurans to expand their cultural horizons and increase the chances of children being able to participate in online learning during the pandemic. On the day of President Castro’s inauguration, I read the beautiful words of the Nicaraguan-Salvadorean poet Claribel Alegría, whose commitment to the advancement of the people of Central America comes across in her brilliant poems. In 1978, just before the Nicaraguan Revolution, Alegría won the Casa de las Américas Prize for her collection Sobrevivo (‘I Survive’). With D. J. Flakoll, she wrote the definitive history of the Sandinista Revolution, Nicaragua, la revolución sandinista: una crónica política 1855-1979 (‘The Sandinista Revolution – a Political Chronicle, 1855–1979’), published in 1982. The fragment of her poem Contabilizando (‘Accounting’) in her book Fugues (1993) teaches us of the importance of poetry and epiphany and of the importance that dreaming and hope hold for human advancement:
I don’t know how many years
dreaming of my people’s liberation
certain immortal deaths
the eyes of that starving child
your eyes bathing me with love
one forget-me-not afternoon
and in this sultry hour
the urge to mould myself
into a verse
a fleck of foam.
My dream is to invite a reader into a room and pour a nice cup of tea . . . and then nail the door shut.
— author Charles Bowden, 2010 NPR interview
There is so much daily that expresses so much about the slippery slopes we are in globally because of predatory-penury-parasitic-pugilistic capitalism.
In the USA, on this continent, north, and south of those colonial and Manifest Destiny “borders,” the amount of both absurdity and abomination is magnified in a world of protracted panic.
It’s there, truly, the panic. Young people are offing themselves with Narcan and with opiates. There are more dreams not only deferred, but dreams turned into nightmares by a thousand cuts.
We have a world where getting into uniform, with a rifle, with a joystick for murder incorporated, is the new abnormal. Hitch up in the killing machine US Army for $50K.
If this isn’t blasphemy, then, you know we have lathered ourselves on that slippery slope of the multi-pronged Faustian Bargain.
Then, more mercenaries recruited for big bonuses: Make that the disgusting US Army,
You know how messed up the USA is, from A to Z, and the news continues to illustrate the dying empire. Paying punks to enlist in the killing machine!
FORT CAMPBELL, KY — The U.S. Army is offering its largest bonus ever for new recruits with up to $50,000 available to qualified individuals who sign on for a six-year active-duty enlistment.
The total incentive package for a new recruit is based on a combination of incentives offered for the selected career field, individual qualifications, length of the enlistment contract, and the ship date for training.
In the past, enlistment incentives for full-time soldiers could not exceed $40,000.
The Army is competing for the same talent as the other services as well as the private sector and must have the ability to generate interest in the current employment environment, according to Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, who leads U.S. Army Recruiting Command in its mission to fill full-time and part-time vacancies in about 150 career fields in the regular Army and the Army Reserve.
“This is an opportunity to entice folks to consider the Army,” said Brig. Gen. John Cushing, who serves as the deputy commanding general for operations under Vereen at USAREC. “We’ve taken a look at the critical (military occupational specialties) we need to fill in order to maintain the training bases, and that is where we place a lot of our emphasis.”
Now run that up against The Man who coined the term Military Industrial Complex, and a new book written by, well, shall we call that person part of the elite, part of the chosen people from Ivy League and East Coast silver spoon roots. And, in the magazine that for many is a sell-out, for sure, Jacobin: Here, the article reviewing the man and the book.
Crisscrossing the country, Butler denounced US warmaking abroad and ruling-class violence at home as two sides of the same bloody coin, telling audiences from Racine to Roanoke that America was divided into “two classes”:
On one side, a class of citizens who were raised to believe that the whole of this country was created for their sole benefit, and on the other side, the other 99 percent of us, the soldier class, the class from which all of you soldiers came.
Butler published a short book, War Is a Racket, collecting the key themes of his orations in 1935. Later, in an essay in the socialist magazine Common Sense, Butler confessed to having been a “racketeer for capitalism,” elaborating that, as “a member of our country’s most agile military force,” he had served as “a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers.” In 1936, Marine Corps informants sent to spy on the ex-general observed him speaking on a panel alongside self-identified Communists and reported that “the General appeared to us to be either insane or an out and out traitor.”
[Major General John A. Lejeune, head of the Marine Corps, calls on General Smedley Butler in camp at Frederick, Maryland in 1922. (Bettmann / Getty Images)]
And, as an aside, but a big ASIDE, we are in a time of collective cholera of the conscious, in this remote work, remote being, remote news world. Just watching the fake left, Amy Goodman, daily (M-F) with an absolute stiff arm to authority, as the Democracy Now newsroom in New York is with Goodman, solo, while her correspondents, including Juan Gonzalez, are stuck in their homes with their laptops and tiny cameras and mic delivering their fear porn.
Imagine this happening today, 2022 — Verboten, again, in the Zoom Doom of Dead Consciousness. Mask up, sit on your toilet, tune into Zoom, if you are lucky:
[Students at the University of California at Berkeley filing in to listen to Smedley Butler’s Peace Day address in 1939. (Library of Congress)]
I analyzed Juan’s book, News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, a while back. Remember, Juan was once in the radical group, the Young Lords.
Luís Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil’s Highway, said “…in Murder CityCharles Bowden plunges in head-first, without a parachute. There are moments when the book threatens to burst into flames and burn your hands.”
We are in a time of cholera of the consciousness, of infantalized masses following the dictates of a few chosen people, men and women of those classes, those groupings, the vetted and vaunted few, the ones who have been knighted by the lords of finance insurance real estate, and, more than FIRE, but the complex: Butler, War is a Racket.
Of course, it isn’t put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and “we must all put our shoulders to the wheel,” but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket — and are safely pocketed. Let’s just take a few examples:
Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people — didn’t one of them testify before a Senate committee recently that their powder won the war? Or saved the world for democracy? Or something? How did they do in the war? They were a patriotic corporation. Well, the average earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 were $6,000,000 a year. It wasn’t much, but the du Ponts managed to get along on it. Now let’s look at their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. Fifty-eight million dollars a year profit we find! Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent.
Take one of our little steel companies that patriotically shunted aside the making of rails and girders and bridges to manufacture war materials. Well, their 1910-1914 yearly earnings averaged $6,000,000. Then came the war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to munitions making. Did their profits jump — or did they let Uncle Sam in for a bargain? Well, their 1914-1918 average was $49,000,000 a year!
Or, let’s take United States Steel. The normal earnings during the five-year period prior to the war were $105,000,000 a year. Not bad. Then along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for the period 1914-1918 was $240,000,000. Not bad.
There you have some of the steel and powder earnings. Let’s look at something else. A little copper, perhaps. That always does well in war times.
Anaconda, for instance. Average yearly earnings during the pre-war years 1910-1914 of $10,000,000. During the war years 1914-1918 profits leaped to $34,000,000 per year.
Or Utah Copper. Average of $5,000,000 per year during the 1910-1914 period. Jumped to an average of $21,000,000 yearly profits for the war period.
Let’s group these five, with three smaller companies. The total yearly average profits of the pre-war period 1910-1914 were $137,480,000. Then along came the war. The average yearly profits for this group skyrocketed to $408,300,000.
A little increase in profits of approximately 200 per cent.
Read the short book, then scale it up to today! Trillions stolen from US taxpayers, and all the apps, all the services of the private money hecklers who have gotten sweetheart contracts with every branch of the government you and I supposedly fought for. All those trillions in bribes and bailouts. Imagine that, a Trump LLC and then a CitiBank Biden BBB. And before these two scoundrels? Do the history, look at the administrations, and figure it out. Here, just one short diatribe featuring one hell of a Satan, Kissinger. Beware of the verbiage I deploy to singe this fellow and those presidents who have utilized this war criminal. I have already gotten emails threatening me for the Blog Post. And notice all those cozy photos of Henry Kissinger with all the tribes of descrutive capitalism, a la war. War on us, war on societies, war on nations, war on children, war on ecology, war on thought, war on agency, war on the human body, war on thought. “Tribalism Rules.”
So here we are, now, the kernel of this diatribe today — our faces. Oh, how we give up more and more each day, until the chip is in the back of the neck, and those bots are gathered in our organs with graphene building blocks to our souls.
Again, I harp on this one blasphemey, IRS demanding facial recognition — and that agency is for us, right? A truly representative form of democracy demands we the people have a huge say in what happens to us, and that’s not just idiotic voting, but again, “War is a Racket” is now “Banking-AI-Pharma-Med-Entertainment-Science-Education-Prisons-Law-Congress-Energy-Transportation-Chemicals-Engineering-Space-Data” ARE the Racket.” This is yet another single story that comes to us via the Net which is yet another chink in the armor of humanity plucked from our souls:
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the US will require people to submit a facial scan through a third party provider to make payments or file taxes online. The system raises obvious privacy concerns.
Currently, users only require a username and password to log into their IRS accounts. But starting the summer of 2022, users will need to verify their identity through a third-party identity verification company called ID.me. The change was first noticed by Krebs on Security.
So you dig a bit, and find out who these millionaires and hedge funders and social impact investors are behind this “third party” (gouging, sick profiteers) outfit, ID Me!
Nader’s good, but he can only go so far. Yesterrday, 1/20, on Democracy Now, a rare media visit for Ralph Nader, who has been locked out of board rooms, out of newsrooms, locked out of so much for decades, when his memory, his insight, his analyses are vital to institutional memory and his own sort of harping against the profiteers.
He has to beat those dead horses, multiple times, year after year . . . dead horses tied to the fact there are no real journalists in the legacy media, and that there are no cops working the FTC or DoJ or EPA or FDA. He is spot on, but he never gets on NPR or PBS or Fox or CBS. Nader is spot on about Republicans being fascistic and messianic. They are, of course, worse:
And the reporters didn’t take him to task there. The reporters, either they’re not doing their homework or they’re full of taboos. I mean, they never raise the corporate supremacy over our country. There isn’t a single agency in the federal government that isn’t influenced maximally by corporate lobbies. And Congress is swarmed by corporate lobbies. You have 500 drug company lobbyists full-time assigned to Congress, and there are 535 members of Congress. And these corporations are strategically commercializing every aspect of our society, commercializing childhood, strategically planning the tax system, the food system, the health system, fighting global warming remedies, the fossil fuel industry, ExxonMobil. They’re planning our genetic inheritance. Commercializing childhood should be a left-right issue, conservative issue. The press never asks about it. The self-censorship of the press is overwhelming. That’s why we have to have a more independent media.
We have to have — I mean, look at the coverage of Ukraine. As Katrina pointed out, if our country was invaded in a span of 40 years from the north, with 50 million casualties, what do you think we would do? Do you think we would just station troops on the northern border? We would have taken over the northern country and annexed it. And that’s why dictator Putin can get away with what he’s doing now, in terms of public opinion of the impoverished Russian people, is because they remember. They have their casualties in their families from the western frontiers, started with Napoleon.
And here we are, expanding a military alliance for arms sales for the military-industrial complex, because, as was pointed out, a condition of joining NATO is to buy the F-16 and other weapons in Eastern European countries. NATO is a military alliance organized against the Soviet Union. And now they’re expanding it in Eastern Europe and putting troops there. It’s, here we go again, a completely preventable conflict. What Putin really wants is Ukraine never to join NATO, no strategic offensive weapons in the Ukraine. He’s asking for ending strategic weapons in Europe — that is not going to happen.
But the press asks war-inciting questions. NPR asked it. David Sanger asked it. They asked war-inciting questions. It’s like Vietnam all over again. It’s like Iraq all over again. They don’t ask peace-inciting questions about diplomacy. And this is a dangerous situation, and the press just isn’t doing its job. It isn’t just Biden.
He can’t communicate how the GOP is opposed to everything that’s defined as human. You don’t make moral appeals to the GOP, like Senator Warnock just did. You show that they are opposed to sending $250 and $300 monthly checks to 65 million children, which has stopped now, and the GOP will not expand it. I mean, that’s a good political item to communicate to the American people. Those 65 million children come from conservative and liberal families who are both deprived. He doesn’t know how to communicate. The GOP knows what it wants. It’s messianic. It’s fascistic. It’s driven. And the communication from the Democrats, from the DNC to the White House, is weak. It’s anemic. And the public senses that. (source)
Finally, a story NOT covered in legacy media or left wing media. Ralph doesn’t get it yet. He still believes in his book title, how billionaires will save the world.
He’s dead wrong about the above statement/title of one of his books. And, here it is, again, social impact investing, and the soul of humanity, especially youth, being sucked up by the ultra rich and investment teams for their data and their compliance — The Internet of Bodies and Human Capital Futures Bets In Brazil
In the coming years, global financiers, will attempt to meld dynamic pricing and mobile payments with biometric digital identity, Internet of Body sensors, and blockchain smart contracts and then weave it all into an expansive spatial web meant to control our social and economic relations in both the material world and, through digital assets, rights and privileges, in the Metaverse, as well. Click here to listen to an interview I did with Bonnie Faulkner of Guns and Butter that goes into more detail about how impact investing connects to digital twins, and mixed reality.
Surely it is twisted to view communities as resource deposits of untapped data, but that is the logic of end-stage capitalism. The infrastructure needed to scale human capital finance profit are ICT (Individual Communication Technology) devices including phones, tablets, and inexpensive computers like chrome books; wearable technologies and biosensors; and 5-6G used in combination with data-dashboards that verify impact data against predictions and success metrics laid out in the terms of the deals. These are all things one finds in recreation centers in the United States now, and given inroads made by the Aspen Institute, Stanford, Harvard and the like, they will very likely become standard issue in the favelas, too. Not because any of it is good for children, but because the children’s data has value, and their compliance has value.
The Metaverse will be populated by compliant avatars. Beyond social impact, the conditioning of the young to cyborg life is going full throttle. Meanwhile for portfolio managers, children’s futures are just tranches of investment – data commodities. It’s only business. — Alison McDowell, Wrench in the Gears (dot) com!
Most people I talk with do not have the bandwidth or wherewithal to understand this next stage, end stage, capitalism into our very souls, which is fascism, inverted totalitarianism, all bunched up in a world of chaos, all drawn and quartered on the backs of us, vis-a-vis all these scams of Build Back Better variety, or UN’s sustainability goals and Universal Basic Income propaganda, and the 4IR and WEF — the fourth industrial revolution is part and parcel of the Great Reset.
This sort of stuff Alison writes about does get under many of our skins, but for the most part, I know so many people who have given up, who think that we all are data mined anyways, that we have all our info in the banking-IRS-DMV-insurance-medical-education superhighway of giving up all agency, anyway, so what’s the big deal we are being tracked, and what’s the big deal that our kids are being watched and what’s wrong with our ovaries and prostates and such being monitored by the Internet of Bodies and Nano-Things when we just have to lean back and enjoy this new world?
And I have harped for 17 years here at Dissident Voice, and decades before, in newsrooms, in classrooms, in homeless shelters, in programs for the disenfranchised, on stage, at conferences for sustainability, on my radio show, elsewhere. I have harped and harped about the false flags, about the overlords drilling into our very being, about more and more of our agency stripped from us daily, not as part of a huge democratically controlled system of community building, power to the people organizing, or we are the 80 Percent movements, but to mine our souls so we are ghosts in their machines.
The agency we have given up was with that passport, all those sick people who pressed my ass at various border control passings. Strip searched and body cavity groped twice. Then, all the shot records needed to go here and go there. All the proof of life in school (Iowa IQ tests), the SAT, the LSAT, all the tests (run by the chose people, millionaires) and all the records of accomplishment, of criminal involvement, all the credit scores and all the car blunders, all of that kept for THEM, the Complext, the Insurance, Real Estate, Finance, FIRE, millionaires who get legislation in THEIR favor passed through the tricks of pimping and prostituting and arm twisting and outright bribery.
Imagine, protests and cops rounding us up, and then court cases, appearances, the hassles, the humiliations. Try it out for size.
How many arguments have I had with MD’s who know squat about nutrition and each time challenged me and my vegetarianism? Me, running 6 miles a day, biking 30 and scrambling underwater and up hills?
How man dirty arguments about “that” history, versus a new and improved revisionist history vital to a population from which to rise up and take on the paymasters, the body snatchers, the mind thieves?
Until we are here, 2022, in a chamber of stupidity, all the dumb and worthless stuff out there, all the racists and white-priviledged perspectives out there pounding it in the heads of unsuspecting youth, K12, TikTok, YouTube, all of the Net and WWW. All the Ivy League and Oxford-trained scum who determine not only our futures, but write our histories, and what they write is almost always semi-dead wrong. Because without the voices of the oppressed, those on the streets, in homeless camps, those suffering poverty and the inflammatory disease of capitalism; i.e., fines-tolls-fees-surcharges-service fees-handling charges-tickets-code violations-late fees-taxes-triple taxations-levies-processing fees-mortgages-ball on payments-PayDay loan rigged systems — without their voices at the forefront, and in the newsrooms, inside schools, and in the publishing houses and the actual process of writing their own stories, then we have the tin ear writers and prognosticators and anthropologists and psychologists, the elite, the highly connected, the bias of the white man and white woman writing about us.
They get it wrong 90 percent of the time!
Now, if this graphic doesn’t run chills up and down your spine, then, you are not following the overlords’ script. Catch up please!
Dig down and listen, watch, read: And it’s not pretty, and it’s not slick, and it’s not all east coast, Ivy League, London Bridges Falling Down stuff.
The piece was written and published December 2021, even though Chuck died in 2014.
Here, a gravel-voiced Chuck talking to the California Commonwealth Club. Mostly about the lies around the war on drugs. I talked with Chuck years ago, in the 199os, in Juarez and El Paso. I was working on things for the two newspapers, and he was working the narcotraficante stories. That’s a whole other story, of my life maybe some autofiction is due, but for now, here, from the young writer who wanted to interview Chuck in Tucson, but never got the chance since Chuck died at 69 in his sleep. His piece is from the heart, and good.
It was 2011 and I was scraping by in San Francisco, spending hours at the public library, tinkering with writing projects, browsing the stacks during breaks. The name on the book’s spine—Charles Bowden—was familiar yet unfamiliar; essayist Rebecca Solnit, a neighbor with whom I’d recently taken a long walk, had referenced Bowden, telling me that “he could make your skin crawl by describing a Q-tips factory.” Uncertain what that meant, but eager to learn, I slipped Murder City from the shelf, intending to start it when I got home, sip some vodka, have myself a relaxed Friday evening.
Little did I know that Bowden, a veteran investigative reporter from the South-west, author of twenty-five-plus books about polluted rivers, crooks in silk suits, flies swarming over pooled blood, collapsing communities, contract killers, rattlesnakes, and desire, had a slightly different plan. In a 2010 NPR interview, he summarized his approach to crafting stories on the page: “My dream is to invite a reader into a room and pour a nice cup of tea . . . and then nail the door shut.”
So, I end with a dead man, his words not dead, the voice alive on YouTube, and what an interesting conversation it would be with him now, as it would be with Andre Vltchek, with Kevin Zeese, with David Graeber. So many others, long gone, or just gone. Even Gonzo Thompson.
I have been coming to this city [Ciudad Juárez] for thirteen years, and naturally, I have, like everyone here, an investment in the dead. And the living. Here is a story, and like all stories here, like Miss Sinaloa, it tantalizes and floats in the air, and then vanishes. — From Murder City
Charles Bowden (1945-2014) was the author of scores of books including A Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug Warrior; Down By the River: Drugs, Money, Murder and Family; Juárez: The Laboratory of our Future; and Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America. In Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, he presented a devastating chronicle of a city in collapse where not just the police and drug cartel members die as violence infects every level of society. Luís Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil’s Highway, said “…in Murder City Bowden plunges in head-first, without a parachute. There are moments when the book threatens to burst into flames and burn your hands.” Bowden was a contributing editor for GQ and Mother Jones, and also wrote for Harper’s, The New York Times Book Review, and Aperture. Winner of a 1996 Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction, he lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Post Script — One story is worth a thousand points of stabbing (not lights). Two here to end this missive. If you haven’t figured out how ugly the overlords and then the Eichmann’s are, then, gain, read, live, walk the streets:
The queen and her minimum wage payout, oh those billionaires! The pay for the 20-hour-per-week job is £9.50, or the equivalent of $12.96 an hour. That reflects the U.K.’s new minimum wage, which will rise from £8.91 an hour now to £9.50 an hour in April.
The statement was dated Tuesday, days after she ordered Burhan Chowdhury to pay $100 for failing to get rid of weeds and other vegetation at the rear of his property. The judge’s apology followed a TV report about the case and criticism about how she treated the man.
“Shameful! The neighbors should not have to look at that. You should be ashamed of yourself,” Krot said during the online hearing. “If I could give you jail time on this, I would.”
Chowdhury, a native of Bangladesh, explained that he was weak with cancer. A son, Shibbir Chowdhury, said he helps his father with the yard but was out of the country at the time last year.
Cancel culture—political correctness amped up on steroids, the self-righteousness of a narcissistic age, and a mass-marketed pseudo-morality that is little more than fascism disguised as tolerance—has shifted us into an Age of Intolerance, policed by techno-censors, social media bullies, and government watchdogs.
Everything is now fair game for censorship if it can be construed as hateful, hurtful, bigoted or offensive provided that it runs counter to the established viewpoint.
In this way, the most controversial issues of our day—race, religion, sex, sexuality, politics, science, health, government corruption, police brutality, etc.—have become battlegrounds for those who claim to believe in freedom of speech but only when it favors the views and positions they support.
This tendency to censor, silence, delete, label as “hateful,” and demonize viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite is being embraced with a near-fanatical zealotry by a cult-like establishment that values conformity and group-think over individuality.
For instance, are you skeptical about the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines? Do you have concerns about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election? Do you subscribe to religious beliefs that shape your views on sexuality, marriage and gender? Do you, deliberately or inadvertently, engage in misgendering (identifying a person’s gender incorrectly) or deadnaming (using the wrong pronouns or birth name for a transgender person)?
Say yes to any of those questions and then dare to voice those views in anything louder than a whisper and you might find yourself suspended on Twitter, shut out of Facebook, and banned across various social media platforms.
This authoritarian intolerance masquerading as tolerance, civility and love (what comedian George Carlin referred to as “fascism pretending to be manners”) is the end result of a politically correct culture that has become radicalized, institutionalized and tyrannical.
In the past few years, for example, have been censored, silenced and made to disappear from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram for voicing ideas that were deemed politically incorrect, hateful, dangerous or conspiratorial.
J.K. Rowling, author of the popular Harry Potter series, has found herself denounced as transphobic and widely shunned for daring to criticize efforts by transgender activists to erode the legal definition of sex and replace it with gender. Rowling’s essay explaining her views is a powerful, articulate, well-researched piece that not only stresses the importance of free speech and women’s rights while denouncing efforts by trans activists to demonize those who subscribe to “wrongthink,” but also recognizes that while the struggle over gender dysmorphia is real, concerns about safeguarding natal women and girls from abuse are also legitimate.
Ironically enough, Rowling’s shunning included literal book burning. Yet as Ray Bradbury once warned, “There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”
Indeed, the First Amendment is going up in flames before our eyes, but those first sparks were lit long ago and have been fed by intolerance all along the political spectrum.
Consider some of the kinds of speech being targeted for censorship or outright elimination.
Offensive, politically incorrect and “unsafe” speech: Political correctness has resulted in the chilling of free speech and a growing hostility to those who exercise their rights to speak freely. Where this has become painfully evident is on college campuses, which have become hotbeds of student-led censorship, trigger warnings, microaggressions, and “red light” speech policies targeting anything that might cause someone to feel uncomfortable, unsafe or offended.
Bullying, intimidating speech: Warning that “school bullies become tomorrow’s hate crimes defendants,” the Justice Department has led the way in urging schools to curtail bullying, going so far as to classify “teasing” as a form of “bullying,” and “rude” or “hurtful” “text messages” as “cyberbullying.”
Dangerous, anti-government speech: As part of its ongoing war on “extremism,” the government has partnered with the tech industry to counter online “propaganda” by terrorists hoping to recruit support or plan attacks. In this way, anyone who criticizes the government online can be considered an extremist and will have their content reported to government agencies for further investigation or deleted. In fact, the Justice Department is planning to form a new domestic terrorism unit to ferret out individuals “who seek to commit violent criminal acts in furtherance of domestic social or political goals.” What this will mean is more surveillance, more pre-crime programs, and more targeting of individuals whose speech may qualify as “dangerous.”
The upshot of all of this editing, parsing, banning and silencing is the emergence of a new language, what George Orwell referred to as Newspeak, which places the power to control language in the hands of the totalitarian state.
Under such a system, language becomes a weapon to change the way people think by changing the words they use.
The end result is mind control and a sleepwalking populace.
In totalitarian regimes—a.k.a. police states—where conformity and compliance are enforced at the end of a loaded gun, the government dictates what words can and cannot be used.
In countries where the police state hides behind a benevolent mask and disguises itself as tolerance, the citizens censor themselves, policing their words and thoughts to conform to the dictates of the mass mind lest they find themselves ostracized or placed under surveillance.
Even when the motives behind this rigidly calibrated reorientation of societal language appear well-intentioned—discouraging racism, condemning violence, denouncing discrimination and hatred—inevitably, the end result is the same: intolerance, indoctrination and infantilism.
The social shunning favored by activists and corporations borrows heavily from the mind control tactics used by authoritarian cults as a means of controlling its members. As Dr. Steven Hassan writes in Psychology Today: “By ordering members to be cut off, they can no longer participate. Information and sharing of thoughts, feelings, and experiences are stifled. Thought-stopping and use of loaded terms keep a person constrained into a black-and-white, all-or-nothing world. This controls members through fear and guilt.”
This mind control can take many forms, but the end result is an enslaved, compliant populace incapable of challenging tyranny.
As Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, once observed, “We’re developing a new citizenry, one that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won’t be able to think.”
The problem as I see it is that we’ve allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we need someone else to think and speak for us. And we’ve bought into the idea that we need the government and its corporate partners to shield us from that which is ugly or upsetting or mean. The result is a society in which we’ve stopped debating among ourselves, stopped thinking for ourselves, and stopped believing that we can fix our own problems and resolve our own differences.
In short, we have reduced ourselves to a largely silent, passive, polarized populace incapable of working through our own problems and reliant on the government to protect us from our fears.
As Nat Hentoff, that inveterate champion of the First Amendment, once observed, “The quintessential difference between a free nation, as we profess to be, and a totalitarian state, is that here everyone, including a foe of democracy, has the right to speak his mind.”
What this means is opening the door to more speech not less, even if that speech is offensive to some.
Understanding that freedom for those in the unpopular minority constitutes the ultimate tolerance in a free society, James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, fought for a First Amendment that protected the “minority” against the majority, ensuring that even in the face of overwhelming pressure, a minority of one—even one who espouses distasteful viewpoints—would still have the right to speak freely, pray freely, assemble freely, challenge the government freely, and broadcast his views in the press freely.
We haven’t done ourselves—or the nation—any favors by becoming so fearfully polite, careful to avoid offense, and largely unwilling to be labeled intolerant, hateful or closed-minded that we’ve eliminated words, phrases and symbols from public discourse.
We have allowed our fears—fear for our safety, fear of each other, fear of being labeled racist or hateful or prejudiced, etc.—to trump our freedom of speech and muzzle us far more effectively than any government edict could.
Ultimately the war on free speech—and that’s exactly what it is: a war being waged by Americans against other Americans—is a war that is driven by fear.
By bottling up dissent, we have created a pressure cooker of stifled misery and discontent that is now bubbling over and fomenting even more hate, distrust and paranoia among portions of the populace.
By muzzling free speech, we are contributing to a growing underclass of Americans who are being told that they can’t take part in American public life unless they “fit in.”
The First Amendment is a steam valve. It allows people to speak their minds, air their grievances and contribute to a larger dialogue that hopefully results in a more just world. When there is no steam valve to release the pressure, frustration builds, anger grows, and people become more volatile and desperate to force a conversation.
Be warned: whatever we tolerate now—whatever we turn a blind eye to—whatever we rationalize when it is inflicted on others will eventually come back to imprison us, one and all.
Eventually, “we the people” will be the ones in the crosshairs.
At some point or another, depending on how the government and its corporate allies define what constitutes “hate” or “extremism, “we the people” might all be considered guilty of some thought crime or other.
When that time comes, there may be no one left to speak out or speak up in our defense.
After all, it’s a slippery slope from censoring so-called illegitimate ideas to silencing truth. Eventually, as George Orwell predicted, telling the truth will become a revolutionary act.
We are on a fast-moving trajectory.
In other words, whatever powers you allow the government and its corporate operatives to claim now, for the sake of the greater good or because you like or trust those in charge, will eventually be abused and used against you by tyrants of your own making.
This is the tyranny of the majority against the minority marching in lockstep with technofascism.
If Americans don’t vociferously defend the right of a minority of one to subscribe to, let alone voice, ideas and opinions that may be offensive, hateful, intolerant or merely different, then we’re going to soon find that we have no rights whatsoever (to speak, assemble, agree, disagree, protest, opt in, opt out, or forge our own paths as individuals).
No matter what our numbers might be, no matter what our views might be, no matter what party we might belong to, it will not be long before “we the people” constitute a powerless minority in the eyes of a power-fueled fascist state driven to maintain its power at all costs.
We are almost at that point now.
Free speech is no longer free.
On paper—at least according to the U.S. Constitution—we are technically free to speak.
In reality, however, we are only as free to speak as a government official—or corporate entities such as Facebook, Google or YouTube—may allow.
The steady, pervasive censorship creep that is being inflicted on us by corporate tech giants with the blessing of the powers-that-be threatens to bring about a restructuring of reality straight out of Orwell’s 1984, where the Ministry of Truth polices speech and ensures that facts conform to whatever version of reality the government propagandists embrace.