Archive for the 'Books' Category

Tech can regenerate Rural Heartland America’s Economy

Friday, April 22nd, 2022

Dignity in a Digital Age; Making Tech Work for all of Us, Ro Khanna, 2022

(Frederick) Douglass’s vision informs this book, which, at its heart is an attempt to imagine how technology can advance democratic patriotism, which is predicated on respecting the dignity of every American. The book shares Douglass’s faith that we can be a composite nation– that we can embrace a holistic, resplendent American identity that is more than just a formal contract among citizens. It offers a blueprint for structuring the technology revolution to empower left-behind Americans, regardless of their background, so they have a stronger voice in our economic and political life, building thriving communities, and are on more equal footing to participate in the dynamic process of developing our national culture.

We have looked thus far at how to respect dignity in a digital age domestically by focusing on distributing jobs, empowering workers, cultivating our freedoms, protecting online rights, creating deliberative forums, and including a multiplicity of voices in science policy.

This era calls for an Essential Workers Bill of Rights…The framework would promise livable wages, benefits, and bargaining rights for workers. It envisions giving employees a voice in shaping automation and pushing back against intrusive surveillance and abusive supervisors–a particular challenge in a remote and distributed workplace, which makes organizing difficult. Until all workers reap the benefits of their hard word and are treated with dignity, the promise of the digital age remains unfulfilled.

but nearly 80 percent of venture capital funding goes to only three states, California, New York, and Massachusetts. While California had nearly 4,000 VC deals and New York 1,400 in 2019, the state of West Virginia had only one.

A policy of creating new tech hubs should begin with the most promising locations and then gradually expand…Each hub would specialize in a few technologies based on their regional assets and expertise. The cutting edge fields would include quantum computing, data science, clean energy, cybersecurity, robotics, electronics manufacturing, and synthetic biology.

According to a Harlem Capital report, as of 2019, three are only two hundred startups led by Black or Brown founders that received more than $1 million in funding, and the total investment in these Black or Brown led start-ups is just $6 billions over nearly a decade. (Total VC funds deployed are $130 billion annually) The capital wealth gap is not just based on legacy assets but on a current, ongoing racial wealth generation gap.

The moral case for prioritizing workers is that they’ve been denied the gains they’ve helped create, and dignity that they’ve deserved, for multiple decades now. But the dollars and cents economic rationale is straightforward as well. While paying workers more may not maximize short-term shareholder value, in the way that stock buybacks or dividend payments do, it will lead to more consumer spending.

What they (Silicon Valley techies) may see as mundane and easily automated tasks actually are skilled ones, requiring dexterity, balance, judgment, practice, patience, precision, mapping, and a specific attention to detail.

Joel Rogers, a law professor at University of Wisconsin famously laid out the “high road” strategy, arguing that firms that foster worker participation and develop worker talent will generate more wealth compared to firms that use a top-down, command model to get the most out of their workers at the cheapest wage. Rogers argued that “shared prosperity”, “environmental sustainability”, and workplace democracy were “necessary complements, not tragic tradeoffs”, in maximizing revenue growth.

He (Gary Backer) said that the fuel for modern economic growth are investments in on-the-job training, health, information, and research and development. In fact, Becker argued that human capital, which is the “knowledge, information, ideas, skills, and health of individuals”, is “over 70 percent of the total capital in the United States.”

The ultimate design of Apple and Google’s Covid app is consistent with many of my Internet Bill of Rights principles, and it is an example of technology designed to meet these standards. The app requires a use to consent before any data is collected, and it offers an easy-to-understand explanation of how the data will be used. There is no centralized database, negating the major risk of data theft in a breach or the need for deletion. If someone is Covid positive, then they receive a digital code from their local health department to enter into their phone, which sends an anonymous exposure alert to every user in contact with them while they are infectious. Apple and Google both prioritized the need for interoperability so the app can work across platforms on any smartphone in the world. They made a concerted effort to minimize the data collected and committed not to have access to the data.

If tech companies are serious about promoting constructive dialogue, they should work with behavioral scientists, political theorists, psychologists, and mental health professionals to experiment with new designs. Software engineers should not only optimize for attention with like and share buttons, but to also prioritize for engagement with a wide range of perspectives. They could construct platforms for instance, that incentive users to participate in diverse online communities. Pushing opposing material to users can motivate them to become even stronger proponents of their ideologies…The key is to foster open-communications, and not simply self-affirmation.

The best we may be able to hope for in an imperfect democracy is a plurality of online forums for political conversations that (a) demonstrate a threshold respect for our agency as participants by not engaging in data extraction, (b) are transparent in terms of both their speech standards and the priorities of their algorithms, and (c) comply with legitimate restrictions on unlawful speech consistent with our First Amendment jurisprudence.

An Indiana University study that analyzed millions of tweets during the 2016 presidential election concluded that bots are a large contribute to the spread of misinformation and conspiracies. They share fabricated stories, make salacious content trend, and overwhelm investigatory teams with volume that makes it hard to find the offending postes. Most shockingly, the presence of fake accounts helps explains why “over 86% of shares and 75% of comments on German political Facebook from October 2018 to May 2019 were Alterative fur Deutschland content” even though the far-right party never “exceeded 15% of public support in polls during this time period”.

Defund the Pentagon – From War to Defense to National Security to Irrelevance

Thursday, April 7th, 2022

After the Apocalypse; America’s Role in a World Transformed, Andrew Bacevich, 2021

Created near the end of the Vietnam War, the All-Volunteer Force has since entrenched itself as a permanent feature of American life…it belongs to the category of arrangements that citizens and elected officials alike tacitly treat as sacrosanct. Yet as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrated, the All-Volunteer Force is out of sync with U.S. global ambitions. Even so, as if enshrined in the Constitution, the post-Vietnam military system remains fixed in place. As a consequence, the problem of too much war and too few soldiers eludes serious scrutiny. Expectations of technology bridging that gap provide an excuse to avoid asking the fundamental question: Does the United States possess the military wherewithal to oblige adversaries to endorse its claim of being history’s indispensable nation? And if the answer is no. as the post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq suggest, wouldn’t it make sense for Washington to temper its ambitions accordingly?

As national security supplanted national defense, protecting the American people was demoted to the status of a lessor concern. When it came to designing and deploying U.S. forces, other priorities took precedence. The perceived imperatives of national security during the Cold War provided a rational for raising up immense nuclear forces, permanently garrisoning Western Europe with large troop contingents, and fighting costly wars in Korea and Vietnam. Mere national defense would never have sufficed to justify the many billions expended on each of these undertakings. Each was sold as contribution to a broader purpose.

“Forward Presence” and “Crisis Response” comprised the cornerstones of this new (post Cold War) strategy. Keeping U.S. forces “deployed throughout the world” would demonstrate “commitment, lend credibility to our alliances, enhance regional stability, and provide a crisis response capability.” Forward presence and crisis response went hand in glove. Taken together, they would enable the United States to deal with any problems that might crop up anywhere on the planet, keeping Americans safe and enabling them to enjoy freedom. While the disappearance of the Soviet Empire made it difficult to identify those threats with any specificity, the NMS (National Military Strategy) pointed to “the intensification of intractable conflicts between historic enemies” as a concern, along with nuclear proliferation, drug trafficking, and the “continuing struggle to improve the human conditions throughout the world”. “The real threat we now face is the threat of the unknown, the uncertain.” In sum, as it ventured into that uncertain future, the U.S. military would surely have plenty of work to do.
The 1992 NMS did not mention the possibility of nature itself posing a problem. In the Pentagon, Dr. Hansen’s warning went unheeded, as it did again in the 1995 NMS, that document made passing mention of disease, but without proposing a plan of action. Climate per se went unmentioned, as it would in the subsequent editions of the National Military Strategy published in 1997, 2004, and 2015.

On occasion,the United States has found itself face-to-face with threats that did not conform to the profile of Pentagon-preferred adversaries. On each such occasion, with the American people gripped with fear, the existing national security paradigm was found wanting.
The first occasion was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the second 9/11, and the third the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Seemingly unrelated, these three episodes lay bare the inadequacies of the prevailing national security paradigm.


Coronavirus Puts the USS Theodore Roosevelt out of action

It remained for COVID-19 once and for all to truly drive home the shortcomings of the existing national security paradigm. In 2020, pursuant to that paradigm, the United States was spending approximately a trillion dollars per year. As the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the nation, that lavish expenditure of resources was all but irrelevant to the problem at hand.

The Federal Reserve – An Unaccountable Central Bank for Wealthy Risktakers Only – Waiting for the Global Meltdown

Wednesday, March 30th, 2022

The Lords of Easy Money; How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy Christopher Leonard, 2022


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Life at the zero bound pushes banks way down the yield curve. What does a bank have to lose? A risky bet beats nothing. And this is not just a side effect of keeping rates at zero, “That’s the whole point.” Hoenig (Tom Hoenig was the long time president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City) explained many years later. “The point was to get people willing to take greater risk, to get the economy started. But it also allocated resources. It allocates where that money goes.”…When cash is pushed out onto the yield curve, it leads to the second big problem that Hoenig warned about in 2010: something called an asset bubble. The housing market that collapsed in 2008 was an asset bubble. The dot-com stock market crash of 2000 was the bursting of an asset bubble.

One of his (Ben Bernanke) central ideas was that the Fed hadn’t acted boldly enough back in the 1930’s. The central bank had actually worsened the Depression by tightening the money supply, The solution, Bernanke believed, was to to be as aggressive as possible after a crash. He had spent many years thinking up new ways that the Fed could boost economic growth even after pushing interest rates to zero. He didn’t see the zero bound as an inviolable limit, but just another data point.

To execute quantitative easing, a trader at the New York Fed would call up one of the primary dealers, like JP Morgan Chase, and offer the buy $8 billion worth of Treasury bonds from the bank. JP Morgan would sell the Treasury bonds to the Fed trader. Then the Fed trader would hit a few keys and tell the Morgan banker to look inside their reserve account. Voila, the Fed had instantly created $8 billion out of thin air, in the reserve account, to complete the purchase. Morgan could, in turn, use this money to buy assets in the wider marketplace.

Starting in November (2010), the Fed traders did this transaction over and over again until they had created several hundred billion dollars inside the Wall Street reserve accounts…The primary dealers were not just selling the Treasury bills and mortgage bonds that they happened to have on hand…Instead the Fed set up a conveyor belt of sorts, which used the primary dealers as middlemen. The conveyor belt began outside the Fed, with hedge funds that were not primary dealers. These hedge funds could borrow money from a big bank, buy a Treasury bill, and then have a primary dealer sell that Treasury bill to the Fed for a profit. Once the conveyor belt was up and running, it began magically transforming bonds into cash. The cash didn’t stay safe and sound inside the reserve accounts of primary dealers. It started flowing out into the banking system, looking for a place to live.

He (Hoenig at the FOMC meeting in Sept. 2010) pointed out that the deep malaise in American economic life wasn’t caused by a a lack of lending from banks. The banks already had plenty of money to lend. The real problem lay outside the banking system, in the real economy where the deep problems were festering, problems that the Fed had no power to fix. Keeping interest rates at zero, and then pumping $600 billion of new money into the banking system–money that had nowhere to go but out into risky loans or financial speculation–wasn’t going to help solve the fundamental dysfunction of the American Economy.

During the 1980’s, Hoenig and his colleagues in Kansas City were left to sort out the long-term problems the Fed’s short-term thinking created during the 1970s. The biggest mess they cleaned up was the failure of Penn Square, a bank in Oklahoma that had extended a chain of risky energy loans during the 1970s. When Penn Square failed, it almost took down the entire U.S. banking system with it. It also illuminated a second important pattern that would harden in the coming years. The Fed didn’t just stoke asset bubbles. It found itself on the hook to bail out the very lenders who profited most off a bubble as it rose. Some banks, the Fed was about to discover, had grown too large and too interconnected to fail.

Around 2014 or 2015, (Vicki) Bryan (corporate analyst) noticed that she could bring new revelations (about corporate misbehavior) to the market, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore. “It’s been a result of what the Fed stated to do in 2010, and continued to do later,” she said. “You’ve got an artificial bottom, and the higher part of that bottom is set by the Fed. So you can’t lose in this market. And if you can’t lose, it’s not really a market,” Bryan said.

In 2008, the market imploded thanks to an exotic debt product called the collateralized debt obligation, or CDO. The CDO was a package of home loans (or derivatives contracts based on home loans) stacked together and sold to investors. The CDO made the housing crash possible by creating a seamless assembly line that allowed mortgage brokers to create risky subprime home loans that were quickly packaged and sold to investors, which in turn allowed the mortgage brokers to extend yet more new loans. At that time, the lowly CLO (collateralized loan obligation) was the undernoticed stepchild of the debt markets. There were only about $300 billion worth of CLOs during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, while in 2006 alone about $1.1 trillion of new CDOs were issued. But the important thing about CLOs was that they didn’t suffer nearly the losses that CDOs suffered.

The pension funds had been settling on a low return from safe corporate bonds, because those bonds were standardized…The bonds were regulated by the SEC and traded on exchanges…The CLO solved this problem. It would standardize leverage loans in ways that make the pension funds feel safe…This meant that a pension could order CLO chunks,…picking between the AAA, mezzanine, and equity slices of the package.

Financial engineering was key to Rexnord’s strategy. Rexnord, like any corporation, responded to the environment in which it operated. And that environment, starting in 2012, was dominated by the influence of ZIRP (zero-interest-rate-policy)…The management team’s biggest maneuvers had to do with leveraged loans and rising stock prices rather than conveyor belts or ball bearings…He (Rexnord employee John Feltner) believed,…that a job at Rexnord might provide him a narrow pathway to a stable middle-class life. All the financial engineering encourage by ZIRP was supposed to make that belief come true. The company owed $1.9 billion and it paid $88 million on interest costs in 2015, which was more than the $84 million it earned in profits…in 2015 Rexnord’s board of directors authorized Adams and his team to buy back $200 million in stock. In 2016, the company bought back $40 million of its own stock. In 2020, the company …bought back another $81 million…In 2016, he (Adams) was paid $1.5 million but the following year he was paid $12 million, mostly in stock awards, and in 2018 he would earn $6 million.

But Rexnord’s stock buybacks were seen by the Fed, as a means to an end. It was OK if CEOs used debt to help engineer multimillion-dollar paydays, as long as the prosperity was eventually dispersed through the “wealth effect” (Cosmic Lie) to neighborhoods like the Feltners’…Rexnord had decided to close the ball-bearing factory and move its production to Monterrey, Mexico. (Feltner lost his job.)

By the end of 2018, the U.S. market for CLOs was about $600 billion double the level a decade earlier…The value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 77 percent between 2010 and 2016. One hedge-fund trader…described the frothy stock market of 2016 as being like the crowded deck of the the Titanic as it sank…It was getting crowded because people had nowhere better to go.

This money flowed out into the system, and it pushed all the major financial institutions to search for yield. Many wall street traders saw clearly what was happening, and they developed a nickname for it: “the everything bubble.”

By 2016, they (negative interest bonds) accounted for 29 percent of all global debt. About $7 trillion worth of bonds carried negative rates…Bond investors were so desperate to find a safe haven for their cash that they willing to pay a fee to governments like those of German and Denmark to safeguard it.

Hoenig said “You had seven years of basically zero-interest rates. Now what happens in an economic system over seven years. The entire market system develops a new equilibrium–around a zero rate. An entire economic system. Around a zero rate. Not only in the U.S. but globally. It’s massive. Now think of the adjustment process to a new equilibrium at a higher rate. Do you think it’s costless? Do you think no one will suffer? Do you think there won’t be winners and losers?”

Excess bank reserves were about 135,000 percent higher than they had been in 2008. The Fed’s balance sheet was about $4.5 trillion, about five times its level in 2007. Interest rates had been pinned at zero for nearly seven years.

In response to the 2020 Covid epidemic, congress passed the CARES act worth $2 trillion in relief funds:

People who owned businesses were given tax breaks worth $135 billion, meaning that about 43,000 people who earned more than $1 million a year each got a benefit worth $1.6 million. By and large, these billions of dollars were quietly absorbed into corporate treasuries and personal bank accounts around the county. The wildly unequal distribution of money was not made public until months later, after The Washington Post won an open-records lawsuit that made the information public.

The market hit its low point in mid-March, when the Treasury market collapsed. But between that day and middle of June–in just three months–the market’s value surged by 35 percent. By then, stocks were trading at the same value they had when restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, and cruise ships were operating at full capacity. The average monthly returns on leveraged loans were restored as early as April. By August, so many new investment-grade bonds were issued that the previous record, set in 2017, was broken.

The bailout of 2020–the largest expenditure of American public resources since WWII–solidified and entrenched an economic regime that had been quietly and steadily constructed, largely by the Federal Reserve, during the previous decade. The resources from this bailout went largely to the entities that were strengthened by the policies of ZIRP and QE. It went to large corporations that used borrowed money to buy out their competitors. It went to the very richest of Americans who owned the vast majority of assets; it went to the riskiest of financial speculators on Wall Street, who used borrowed money to build fragile positions in global markets; and it went to the very largest U.S. banks, whose bigness and inability to fail was now an article of faith.

And all of this happened at a moment when Americans were more distracted, more beleaguered, and more financially distressed than at any moment in modern history. It was difficult to even comprehend the impact of what had happened. But the impact would make itself visible in the months, years, and likely decades to come.

By the end of 2020, companies issued more than $1.9 trillion in new corporate debt, beating the previous record that was set in 2017…A zombie company was a firm that carried so much debt that its profits weren’t enough to cover its loan costs. The only thing that kept zombie companies out of bankruptcy was the ability to roll their debt perpetually. During 2020, nearly two hundred major publicly traded companies entered the ranks of the zombie army…These weren’t just marginal or risky firms, but included well-known firms like Boeing, ExxonMobil, Macy’s, and Delta Airlines.

In many important ways, the financial crash of 2008 had never ended. It was a long crash that crippled the economy for years. The problems that caused it went almost entirely unsolved. And this financial crash was compounded by a long crash in the strength of America’s democratic institutions. When America relied on the Federal Reserve to address its economic problems, it relied on a deeply flawed tool. All the Fed’s money only widened the distance between America’s winners and losers and laid the foundation for more instability. This fragile financial system was wrecked by the pandemic and in response the Fed created yet more new money, amplifying earlier distortions. The long crash of 2008 had evolved into the long crash of 2020. The bills had yet to be paid.

Christopher Leonard is also the author of Kochland

Davos – Billionaire Bubble and how to whitewash deadly greed

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022

Davos Man; How the Billionaires Devoured the World, Peter S. Goodman, 2022


The Robber Barons of the late nineteenth century — industrialists like Andrew Carnegie, and financiers like J.P, Morgan — were by and large satisfied with their wealth as an end in itself. Davos Man’s appetite for affirmation operates on a different level. He is not content with owning homes the way that most people own socks. He pretends that his interests are the same as everyone else’s. He seeks gratitude for his exploits, validation as the product of a just system in which he is a guardian of the public interest, even as he devours all the sources of sustenance. He argues that his own prosperity is a precondition for broader progress, the key to vibrancy and innovation.

We will track five key specimens — Bezos, Dimon, Benioff, Schwarzman, and Fink…

They had benefited from public goods financed by taxpayers — the schools that educated their employees, the internet, developed by publicly funded research; the roads, the bridges, and the rest of modern infrastructure, which enabled commerce — and then deployed their lobbyists, accountants, and lawyers to master legal forms of tax evasion that starved the system.
They had transferred wealth from the public to themselves by rewriting the tax code in their favor, leaving government too weak to protect the population from the pandemic. And now they were deploying their resulting resources in the service of charity while demanding adulation.

In 2014, its first year on the market, Sovaldi racked up sales of $10.3 billion. But its price was so high that state governments — which covered much of the bill for Medicaid patients — were prescribing it only for the most serious cases. Roughly seven hundred thousand Medicaid patients suffered from hepatitis C, but less than 3 percent were able to obtain the drug.
The next year, Gilead sold nearly $14 billion worth of another hepatitis C drug, Harvoni, which had a price tag of $94,500, for a twelve week course.
These two blockbusters largely explained how Gilead was able to direct more than $26 billion into buying back its own shares between 2014 and 2016, just as needy patients were being priced out of affording its medicines. Gilead was exploiting tax loopholes to stash its lucre overseas, neatly avoiding taxes on nearly $10 billion in profits.
In January 2017, Gilead’s then CEO, John Milligan flew to Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, where he participated in a panel discussion entitled “Rebuilding Trust in the Healthcare Industry”…This setup adhered to the central Davos masquerade, in which each participant gets to pose as a concerned citizen. Rather than critically questioning people who have profited from a system that treated patients like suckers, Eisen invited her panel of pharmaceutical executives to offer counsel as those dedicated to improving the State of the World.
Mulligan, whose compensation that year exceeded $15 million, was asked about controversy over Gilead’s pricing of hepatitis drugs. He acknowledged trouble, but cast it as a messaging problem — not the result of an exploitative business model. “We didn’t deal with it well, he said. “We didn’t talk about it enough.”
This was a classic Davos Man maneuver, minimizing his role in human suffering by confessing to communications mishaps, or a misunderstanding…accepting blame for the lessor crime of poor word choices, while diverting attention from the far more serious issues of patients dying for a lack of affordable medicines.

Between 2006 and 2015, eighteen large American pharmaceutical companies distributed 99 percent of their profits to shareholders via dividends and purchases of their own shares. The $516 billion they collectively lavished on shareholders exceeded the $465 billion they dedicated to research and development.

Same as ever, Davos man was dictating the course of policy in the service of Davos Man. The result was a humanitarian tragedy in poor countries — a wave of unremitting death — along with the potential prolonging of the pandemic everywhere. So long as some countries lacked vaccines, the coronavirus was supplied a chance to yield variants that would require additional immunization. The protection of Davos Man’s profits took precedence over the saving of lives.

Reagan had begun the push to dismantle government and distribute the savings via tax cuts, turning trickle-down into the central principle of economic policy. Successive administrations representing both parties had denigrated social welfare spending and catered to the shareholder class while tolerating inequality as a by-product of prosperity. Clinton had celebrated the restorative powers of cutting budget deficits, while affirming the logic that innovation required unlimited rewards.He and Obama had centered their economic designs on finance and technology, allowing Davos Man to add zeros to his net worth. They had relegated antitrust law to the history books. George W. Bush had sacrificed government on the altar of the tax-cutting gods, further gutting social programs.
Davos man had not been some accidental beneficiary of this ideological shift. He was the driver, financing campaigns, deploying lobbyists and lawyers who promoted the Cosmic Lie (trickle-down), while demonstrating his supposed benevolence via philanthropy and pledges for stakeholder capitalism.
Trump had simply gone further than his predecessors, distributing an even larger bonanza of tax cuts that favored the billionaire class, while placing the state itself in the control of corporate interests…In words and deeds, Biden signaled that he was no threat to Davos Man, and his dominant hold on American governance.

And when the resulting anger built to cataclysmic proportions, threatening the liberal democratic order and globalization — the underpinnings of their affluence — they had conjured up novel ways to pretend to make amends, to placate the aggrieved without sacrificing anything of great value. They had erected philanthropic foundations to broadcast their benevolence. They had concocted stakeholder capitalism to display their empathy. They had adopted the language of change without yielding power to labor movements, regulators, activist shareholders, or other groups that actually had a stake in what transpired.

Davos Man would have us believe in the false binary choice at the heart of his grift — that we either accept globalization as we have known it for decades, or we throw in our lot with the Luddites operating in the thrall of backward ideas. This frame is not only false but dangerous. It invites those who have not shared in the benefits of globalization to demand its opposite — nationalism, nativism, parochialism, and ignorance. If globalization run by Davos Man gives way to the destruction of globalization, and the pursuit of tribal interests, the world will be poorer, more violent, and less able to summon the cooperation needed to solve the most complex problems, from pandemics to climate change.

The Living Planet Earth – Gaia and Solaris

Friday, February 18th, 2022

The Nutmeg’s Curse; Parables for a Planet in Crisis, Amitav Ghosh, 2021

Out of these processes of subduing and muting was born the idea of “nature” as an inert entity,a conception that would in time become a basic tenet of what might be called “official modernity”. This metaphysic, fundamentally an ideology of conquest, would eventually become hegemonic in the West, and it it now shared by the entire global elite: within its parameters the idea that a volcano can produce meaning; or that a nutmeg can be a protagonist in history, can never be anything other than a delusion or a “primitive superstition”. To envision the world in this way was a crucial step toward making an inert Nature a reality. As Ben Ehrenreich observes; “Only once we imagined the world as dead could we dedicate ourselves to making it so.”


Standing Rock Protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline – Camp became a prayer camp because its lands are a site of ancestral knowledge

Now, as humanity faces the possibility of a future in which living will indeed have turned into a battle for survival, it is becoming increasingly clear that Indigenous understandings of terraforming were, in fact, far more sophisticated than those of today’s techno-futurists.

Exhaustion is a metaphor that occurs often in science fiction stories about terraforming. Swarms of aliens go off to conquer another planet because their own is “exhausted”. It is the same presumption that impels billionaires to plan the conquest of Mars, now that the Earth is “exhausted”…what the Earth is really exhausted of is not its resources, what it has lost is meaning.

He (Tennyson) sees the ascent of his “crowning race” as coming about by the severing of every kind of earthly tie, through the overcoming of everything that links humanity to other creatures and animals. He even proposes what we might call an “end of history” or an “end of the world”…This is man’s final ascent, when all creation ends and he is united with God.

As we watch the environmental and biological disasters that are now unfolding across the Earth, it is becoming ever harder to hold onto the belief that the planet is an inert body that exists merely to provide humans with resources. Instead, the Earth’s responses are increasingly reminiscent of the imaginary planet after which the Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem named his brilliant novel, Solaris: when provoked by humans, Solaris begins to strike back in utterly unexpected and uncanny ways.

James Lovelock; “Long ago the Greeks…gave to the Earth the name Gaia or, for short, Ge. In those days science and technology were one and science although less precise, had soul. As time passed this warm relationship faded and was replaced by the frigidity of schoolmen. The life sciences, no longer concerned with life, fell to classifying dead things and even to vivisection…Now at least there are signs of a change. Science becomes holistic again and rediscovers soul, and theology, moved by ecumenical forces, begins to realize that Gaia is not to be subdivided for academic convenience and that Ge is much more than a prefix.”

Other-than-human beings, forces, and entities, both manmade and earthly, could be pursuing their own ends, of which humans know nothing. Gaia, at once bountiful and monstrous, has now assumed a new avatar: Solaris.

It is this compressed time frame (the last 30 years) that has made sure that non humans too are no longer as mute as they once were. Other beings and forces–bacteria, viruses, glaciers, forests, the jet stream– have also unmuted themselves and are now thrusting themselves so urgently on our attention that they can no longer be ignored or treated as elements of an inert Earth.

So the true question then is not whether non humans can communicate and make meaning; rather we must ask: When and how did a small group of humans come to believe that other beings, including the majority of their own species, were incapable of articulation and agency? How were they able to establish the idea that non humans are mute, and without minds, as the dominant wisdom of the time?

The reason why coal powered mills began to edge out their water-powered competitors in the early nineteenth-century was not that coal was cheaper or more efficient. Water powered mills were just as productive, and far cheaper to operate than coal-fired mills. It was for social rather than technical reasons that steam-powered machines prevailed: because, for example, coal-mills allowed mill owners to locate their factories in densely crowded cities, where cheap labor was easily available. “The steam engine” writes Malm,”was a superior medium for extracting surplus wealth from the working class, because, unlike the waterwheel, it could be put virtually anywhere”…In short, steam, and thus coal won out over water precisely because it empowered the dominant classes and was better suited to their favored regime of property.

The role that fossil fuels play in war making is another, monstrously vital, aspect of their enmeshment with structures of power and forms of violence…Today the Pentagon is the single largest consumer of energy in the United States–and probably in the world…A single non-nuclear aircraft carrier consumes 5,621 gallons of fuel per hour; in other words, these vessels burn up as much fuel in one day as a small midwestern town might use in a year…In the 1990s the three branches of the US military consumed approximately 25 billion tons of fuel per year. This was more than a fifth of the country’s total consumption, and “more than the total commercial energy consumption of nearly two thirds of the world’s countries.”…Indeed, the predicament of the US Department of Defense is a refraction of the quandary that now confronts the world’s status quo powers: how do you reduce your dependence on the very “resources” on which your geopolitical power is founded?

Viewed from this perspective, climate change is but one aspect of a much broader planetary crisis: it is not the prime, cause of dislocation, but rather a cognate phenomenon. In this sense climate change, mass dislocations, pollution, environmental degradation, political breakdown, and the Covid-19 pandemic are all cognate effects of the ever increasing acceleration of the last three decades. Not only are all these crises interlinked–they are all deeply routed in history, and they are all ultimately driven by the dynamics of global power.

Just as the Lakota, repeatedly displaced by wars and the rising of dammed waters, were herded into ever shrinking reservations, so too are the refugees of today’s geopolitical wars being forced into zones of containment in North Africa, the Sahara, Mexico, Central America, and islands like Nauru. They too are casualties in a conflict that is not recognizable as war, in the sense defined by Western legal theorists. Yet the parallels with the biopolitical wars of the past are perfectly clear to many indigenous peoples–thus the title of Nick Este’s powerful account of the environmental struggles of the Lakota and their kin Our History is the Future.

Since the adoption in 1989 of the Washington Consensus, the ideologies and practices of settler colonialism have been actively promoted, in their neoliberal guise, by the world’s most powerful countries, and have come to be almost universally adopted by national and global elites. It is those settler-colonial practices that are now being implemented by China, in Xinjiang; by Indonesia in Papua; and by India,in Kashmir and in many of its foreign regions.

And surely it is no accident that today there exists a technology of last resort that many believe will ultimately work in favor of the neo-Europes: geo-engineering. As novel as it may seem, geoengineering is nothing other than terraforming carried literally into the stratosphere; it should by rights be called “strato-forming”. Today some of the richest and most powerful people, and institutions, in the West are openly promoting geo-engineering. Their enthusiasm makes it impossible to forget that “from the mid-eighteenth century onward, modern science explicitly supported empire, defining strategies for colonization.”

This is the great burden that now rests upon the writers, artists, filmmakers, and everyone else who is involved in the telling of stories: to us falls the task of imaginatively restoring agency and voice to non humans. As with all the most important artistic endeavors in human history, this is a task that is at once aesthetic and political–and because of the magnitude of the crisis that besets the planet, it is now freighted with the most pressing moral urgency.

Pope Francis; “A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach, it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Shattering the Mythical basis of Anthropology and Archeology – Imagining Alternate Futures and Recovering our Freedom

Tuesday, February 8th, 2022

The Dawn of Everything; A New History of Humanity, David Graeber & David Wengrow, 2021

Father Lallemant:”From the beginning of the world to the coming of the French, the Savages have never known what it was so solemnly to forbid anything to their people, under any penalty, however slight. They are free people, each of whom considers himself of as much consequence as the others; and they submit to their chiefs only in as far as it pleases them.”

The democratic governance of the Wendat and Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee, which so impressed later European readers, was an expression of the same principal; if no compulsion was allowed, then obviously such social coherence as did exist had to be created through reasoned debate, persuasive arguments, and the establishment of social consensus.

An impoverished French aristocrat known as Lahonstan recorded his conversions with a Wendat statesman named Kandiaronk; “In short, they neither quarrel, nor fight, nor slander one another…They brand us for slaves, and call us miserable souls, whose life is not worth having, alleging that we degrade ourselves in subjecting ourselves to one man [the king] who possesses all the power, and is bound by no law but his own will.”

If human beings, through most of our history, have moved back and forth fluidly between different social arrangements, assembling and dismantling hierarchies on a regular basis, maybe the real question should be ‘how did we get stuck?’. How did we end up on one single mode? How did we lose that political self-consciousness, once so typical of our species? How did we come to treat eminence and subservience not as temporary expedients, or even the pomp and circumstance of some kind of grand seasonal theatre, but as inescapable elements of the human condition? If we started out just playing games, at what point did we forget that we were playing?

As indigenous legal scholars have been pointing out for years, the ‘Agriculture Argument’ makes no sense, even on its own terms. There are many ways, other than European style farming, in which to care for and improve the productivity of land. What to a settler’s eye seemed savage, untouched wilderness usually turns out to be landscapes actively managed by indigenous populations for thousands of years through controlled burning, weeding, coppicing, fertilizing and pruning, terracing estuarine plots to extend the habitat of particular wild flora, building clam gardens in intertidal zones to enhance the reproduction of shellfish, creating weirs to catch salmon, bass, and sturgeon, and so on. Such procedures were often labour intensive, and regulated by indigenous laws governing who could access groves, swamps, root beds, grasslands and fishing grounds, and who was entitled to exploit what species at any given time of year.

In fact land ownership illustrates perfectly what Rudolf von Ihering called the state’s monopoly of violence within a territory — just within a much smaller territory than a nation state.

Just as access to violence, information, and charisma defines the very possibilities of social domination, so the modern state is defined as a combination of sovereignty, bureaucracy and a competitive political field.

…in all parts of the world small communities formed civilizations in that true sense of extended moral communities. Without permanent kings, bureaucrats or standing armies they fostered the growth of mathematical and calendrical knowledge. In some regions they pioneered metallurgy, the cultivation of olives, vines and date palms, or the invention of leavened bread and wheat beer; in others they domesticated maize and learned to extract poisons, medicines and mind-altering substances from plants. Civilization, in this true sense, developed the major textile technologies applied to fabrics and basketry, the potter’s wheel, stone industries and beadwork, the sail and maritime navigation, and so on. A moments reflection shows that women, their work, their concerns and innovations are at the core of this more accurate understanding of civilization.

It was precisely this combination of such conflicting ideological possibilities — and of course, the Iroquoian penchant for prolonged political argument — that lay behind what we have called the indigenous critique of European society. It would be impossible to understand the origins of its particular emphasis on individual liberty, for instance, outside that context. Those ideas about liberty had a profound impact on the world. In other words, not only did indigenous North Americans manage almost entirely to sidestep the evolutionary trap that we assume must always lead, eventually, from agriculture to the rise of some all-powerful state or empire; but in doing so they developed political sensibilities that were ultimately to have a deep influence on Enlightenment thinkers and, through them, are still with us today.

We started out by observing that to inquire after the origins of inequality necessarily means creating a myth, a fall from grace, a technological transposition of the first chapters of the Book of Genesis — which, in most contemporary versions, takes the form of a mythical narrative stripped of any prospect of redemption. In these accounts, the best we humans can hope for is some modest tinkering with our inherently squalid condition — and hopefully, dramatic action to prevent any looming, absolute disaster. The only other theory on offer to date has been to assume that there were no origins of inequality, because humans are naturally somewhat thuggish creatures and our beginnings were a miserable, violent affair; in which case ‘progress’ or ‘civilization’ — driven forward largely, by our own selfish and competitive nature — was itself redemptive. This view is extremely popular among billionaires but holds little appeal to any else, including scientists, who are keenly aware that it isn’t in accord with the facts…The more rosy, optimistic narrative — whereby the progress of Western civilization inevitably makes everyone happier, wealthier and more secure — has at least one obvious disadvantage. It fails to explain why that civilization did not simply spread of its own accord; that is, why European powers should have been obliged to spend the last 500 or so years aiming guns at people’s heads in order to force them to adopt it.

…innovation in Neolithic societies was based on a collective body of knowledge accumulated over centuries, largely by women, in an endless series of apparently humble but in fact enormously significant discoveries. Many of those Neolithic discoveries had the cumulative effect of reshaping everyday life every bit as profoundly as the automatic loom or lightbulb.

Over the course of these chapters we have instead talked about the basic forms of social liberty which one might actually put into practice; (1) the freedom to move away or relocate from one’s surroundings; (2) the freedom to ignore or disobey commands issued by others; and (3) the freedom to shape entirely new social realities, or shift back and forth between different ones…It is clear that something about human societies really has changed here, and quite profoundly. These three basic freedoms have gradually receded, to the point where a majority of people living today can hardly comprehend what it might be like to live in a social order based on them.

There is nothing particularly primordial about such arrangements (murder of entire populations); certainly there is no reason to believe they are in any sense hardwired into the human psyche. On the contrary, it’s almost invariably necessary to employ some combination of ritual, drugs and psychological techniques to convince people, even adolescent males, to kill and injure each other in such systematic yet indiscriminate ways.

Time and again we found ourselves confronted with writing which simply assumes that the larger and more densely populated the social group, the more complex the system needed to keep it organized. Complexity in turn, is still often used as a euphemism for chains of command, which means that as soon as large numbers of people decided to live in one place or join a common project they must necessarily abandon the second freedom — to refuse orders–and replace it with legal mechanisms for, say, beating or locking up those who don’t do as they’re told. As we’ve seen, none of these assumptions are theoretically essential, and history tends not to bear them out…complex systems don’t have to be organized top-down, either in the natural world or in the social world.

What is the purpose of all this new knowledge, if not to reshape our conceptions of who we are and what we might become? if not, in other words, to rediscover the meaning of our third basic freedom: the freedom to create new and different forms of social reality?…We know, now, that we are in the presence of myths.

Pax Britannica, Pax Americana, Pax Zhōngguó, The Last World Empire?

Friday, January 28th, 2022

To Govern the Globe, World Orders & Catastrophic Change, Alfred W. McCoy, 2021

Indeed, the Iberian (Spain and Portugal) vision of expansive sovereignty — acquisition of terrain by conquest and oceans by exploration — would continue under Dutch and British hegemony, illustrating the capacity of these global systems to survive the empires that created them…Thanks to the British and Dutch decisions to strip their colonial subjects of civil liberties and carry the transatlantic slave trade to new heights, the Iberian hierarchy of human inequality would, in all its cruelty and tragedy continue.

In the years following the (Dutch) East India Company’s founding in 1602, the city’s (Amsterdam) dynamism led to a host of financial innovations that soon made it… “the clearinghouse of world trade”. The new Bank of Amsterdam took deposits, transferred funds trans nationally and later stored vast quantities of precious metals in its vaults, helping make the city “Europe’s reservoir of gold and silver coin.” The Chamber of Maritime Insurance offered coverage for dozens of dangerous destinations, while the newspaper Amterdamsche Courant gave the city’s merchants critical information about the prices of goods arriving from those distant shores. Amsterdam also built the world’s first stock exchange, where up to five thousand met to trade more than four hundred commodities around a central courtyard that became “the nerve center of the entire international economy.”

William III Mary II

William’s (of Orange) reign also witnessed a modernization of the British economy along Dutch lines, exemplified by the founding of the Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange, and a profusion of private banks, insurance companies, and joint stock firms.

Coal was the catalyst for an industrial revolution that fused steam technology with steel production to make Britain master of the world’s oceans

Each step in slavery’s eradication was foreshadowed by a new stage in Britain’s use of coal-fired energy–including the introduction of steam power in mills and mines by the time Parliament banned the slave trade in 1807; the development of mobile steam engines for land and sea transport prior to the Later, abolition of West Indies slavery in 1833; and the adoption of coal powered steam power in almost all British industries by the 1850’s, when the Royal Navy’s anti-slavery patrols reached their coercive climax. Later, new forms of fossil energy — electricity and internal combustion engines — would render even the coerced labor of the imperial age redundant.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius would publish the first report on the capacity of industrial emission to cause global warming. By countless hours of painstaking manual calculations, he predicted with uncanny prescience and considerable precision “the temperature in the arctic regions would rise about 8 degrees to 9 degrees C., if the [carbon dioxide] increased 2.5 or 3 times its present value.”

Britain was the world’s preeminent power for more than a century, but its dominance nevertheless evolved through two distinct phases. From 1815 to 1880 it largely oversaw an “informal empire” with a loose hegemony over client states worldwide. In the period of “high imperialism” from 1880 to 1940, however the empire combined informal controls in countries like China, Egypt, and Iran with direct rule over colonies in Africa and Asia to encompass a full half of all humanity.

Parliament rescinded mercantilist laws that had protected British commerce for centuries, starting with the abolition of the (British) East India Company’s monopolies on Asian trade.

British engineers built the world’s first major central power plant at Deptford, London in 1888, capable of lighting two million electric bulbs. As electrical plants spread quickly, their generators were powered by the first coal-fired steam turbines…tying a knot between coal and electricity that persists to this day.

By century’s end (19th), discoveries (Iran, Indonesia, Burma) had created a sufficient supply of oil to enable a shift from steam to internal combustion engines in ships, trains, automobiles, and ultimately, aircraft.

Eleanor Roosevelt Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In fulfilling this commitment to human rights (The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948), the United States would face some exceptional challenges. Unlike earlier imperial powers, it was, after all, a former colony with a long history of slavery and a succeeding system of racial segregation that would compromise its commitment to those principle at home. As its global power grew during these postwar decades, Washington would cultivate anti-Communist allies among authoritarian leaders in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, tacitly endorsing torture and repression in their lands. Even as the US practiced racial segregation at home and backed ruthless dictators abroad, civil society groups worldwide would continue to fight for human rights, just as African Americans would struggle for their civil rights at home, making this universal principal a defining attribute of Washington’s world order, almost in spite of itself.

By the time Washington’s world order was fully formed in the late 1950’s, the unequal power of its nuclear-armed bombers, its countless overseas military bases, and its covert interventions in the affairs of countless nations coexisted tensely with a new world order, epitomized by the UN, that was meant to protect the sovereignty of even small states and promote universal human rights. This underlying duality of Washington’s version of world power would manifest itself in numerous contradictions during its 70 years of global hegemony.

Washington’s visionary world order took form at two major conferences — at Breton Woods, New Hampshire, 1944 where 44 Allied nations forged an international financial system exemplified by the World Bank, and at San Francisco in 1945, where they drafted a charter for the UN that created a community of nations. The old order of competing empires, closed imperial trade blocs, and secret alliances would soon give way to an international community of emancipated colonies, sovereign nations, free trade, and peace through law. In essence, the UN charter’s many clauses rested on just two foundational principles that would soon become synonymous with Washington’s world order; inviolable national sovereignty and universal human rights.

Between 1945 and 2000, the US intervened in 81 consequential elections worldwide, including eight times in Italy, five in Japan, and many more in Latin America. Between 1958 and 1975, military coups, many of them American sponsored, changed governments in three dozen nations — a quarter of the world’s sovereign states — fostering a distinct “reverse wave” in the global trend toward democracy.

George Kennan supported covert operations

George Kennan, State Department official later called the creation of the CIA with authorization to conduct covert operations “The greatest mistake [he] ever made.

President Truman tried to limit the newly created CIA to intelligence gathering only with no authorization for covert activities. Allen Dulles maneuvered Frank Wisner into position as OPC Chief and by 1952 OPC was operating 47 overseas stations and employed 3000 people. It specialized in the black arts of espionage sabotage, subversion, and assassination. When Eisenhower became president in 1953, Kermit Roosevelt led the overthrow of the elected President of Iran and installation of the Shaw.

Throughout its rise to world power from 1820 to 1870, Britain increase its share of gross world product by just 1 percent per decade, while America’s rose by 2 percent during its accent from 1900 to 1950. By contrast, China was increasing its slice of the world pie at an extraordinary pace of 5 percent from 2000 to 2020.

…the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers calculated that China’s economic output had already surpassed America’s in 2014 and was on a trajectory to become 40 percent larger by 2030.

Across Europe, hypernationalist parties like the French National Front, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Alternative for Germany, and the British Independence Party won voters by cultivating nativist reactions to just such trends, often attacking the economic globalization that had become a hallmark of Washington’s world order. Simultaneously, a generation of populist demagogues won power in nominally democratic nations around the world — notably Viktor Orban in Hungary, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Narendra Modi in India, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and of course, Donald Trump in the United States.

While a weakening of Washington’s global reach seems likely, the future of its world order is still unclear. At present, China is the sole state to have most (but not all) of the requisites to become a new global hegemon. Its economic rise coupled with its expanding military and growing technological prowess under the “Made in China 2025” program, has given it many of the elements fundamental to superpower status…Yet, as the 2020s began, no state seemed to have both the full panoply of power to supplant Washington’s world order and the skill to establish global hegemony. Indeed, apart from its rising economic and military clout, China has a self referential culture, recondite non roman script (requiring 4000 characters instead of 26 letters), nondemocratic political structures, and a subordinate legal system that will deny it some of the chief instruments for global leadership.

Successful imperial transitions driven by the hard power of guns and money also require the soft power salve of cultural suasion if they are to achieve sustained and successful global domination. During its near century of hegemony from 1850 to 1940, Britain was the exemplar par excellence of soft power, espousing an enticing political culture of fair play and free markets that it propagated through the Anglican church, the English language and its literature, mass media such as the British Broadcasting Corporation, and it virtual creation of modern athletics (including cricket, soccer, tennis, rugby, and rowing). Similarly, US military and economic domination after 1945 was made more palatable by the appeal of Hollywood films, civic organizations like Rotary international, and popular sports like basketball and baseball. On the higher plane of principle, Britain’s anti-slavery campaign invested its global hegemony with moral authority, just as Washington’s advocacy of human rights lent legitimacy to its world order…China still has nothing comparable. Both its communist ideology and its popular culture are avowedly particularistic.

China has been a command economy state for much of the past century, and as such has developed neither the legal culture of an independent judiciary nor an autonomous rules-based order complementary with the web of law that undergirds the modern international system.

Xi Jiping – Zhōngguó (China) is translated as Middle Kingdom

If, however, Bejing’s potentially immense infrastructure investments, history’s largest by far, succeed in unifying the commerce of three continents, then the currents of financial power and global leadership may indeed flow, as if by natural law, toward Beijing. But if that bold project falters or ultimately fails, then for the first time in five centuries, the world could face an imperial transition without a clear successor as global hegemon.

From scientific evidence, it seems clear that, for the first time in seven hundred years, humanity is facing another cumulative, century long catastrophe akin to the Black Death of 1350 to 1450 that could once again rupture a global order and set the world in motion…If the “Chinese century” does indeed start around 2030, it is unlikely to last long, ending perhaps sometime around 2050 when the impact of global warning becomes unmanageable. With its main financial center at Shanghai flooded and its agricultural heartland baking in insufferable heat, China’s days as a global power will be numbered.

Given that Washington’s world system and Beijing’s emerging alternative are largely failing to limit carbon emissions, the international community will likely need a new form of collaboration to contain the damage. In the years following the Paris climate accord, the current world system — characterized by strong nation-states and weak global governance at the UN — has proven inadequate to the challenge of climate change. The 2019 Madrid climate summit failed to forge a collective agreement for emission reduction sufficient to cap global warming to 1.5C, largely due to the obstruction of major emitters like Australia, Brazil, China, India, and the United States. Any world order, whether Washington’s or Beijing’s that is based on primacy of the nation-state will probably prove incapable of coping with the political and economic crisis likely to arise from the appearance of some 275 million climate refuges by 2060 or 2070.

The American Empire’s 20 Year War On Terror

Saturday, January 8th, 2022

Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire; 20 Years After 9/11 Deepa Kumar, 2021

Twenty years since the launch of the global war on terror, the human toll has been nothing short of devastating. The Cost of War project at Brown University estimated in 2020 that between 37 and 39 million people were displaced as a result of US wars in eight countries and that about 800,000 have been killed due to direct war violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Those advancing the proposition that the United States should “bring democracy” were committed activists who didn’t understand that they were using colonial and Eurocentric (or US-centric) frameworks, which work by naturalizing power dynamics and concealing imperial prerogatives.

When racism is formed in terms of “free speech” and democratic rights it becomes a covert liberal form of racism, which erases the humanity of those being subjected to what is in reality hate speech.

The attacks of 9/11 produced a convergence (of conservative and liberal political classes) and a commitment to take a confrontational approach, launching the war on terror as an endless and boundless project of war making and race making. US imperialism was greatly strengthened after 2001.

Economist Samir Amin “Enlightenment (eighteenth century) thought offer[ed] us a concept of reason that is inextricably associated with that of emancipation. Yet the emancipation in question is defined and limited by what capitalism requires and allows.”

Ella Shohat and Robert Stam “Racism is above all a social relation…anchored in material structures and embedded in historical configurations of power.”

The dominant definers of the “problem of Islam” after 9/11 created a framework. “These frames are not new but often have a longer history rooted in Orientalist world views even if they are repackaged in new ways.” Kumar lists the dominant narratives and ideological frames employed to represent Arabs, Iranians, South Asians, and the Muslim world:
1. Islam is a monolithic religion.
2. Islam is uniquely sexist and Muslim women need to be liberated by the West.
3. Islam is anti-modern and does not separate religion and politics.
4. The “Muslim mind” is incapable of rationality and science.
5. Islam is inherently violent.
6. The West spreads democracy because Muslims are incapable of democratic self-rule.

Kumar debunks each frame.

Former President Bill Clinton stands with former U.S. President George H.W. Bush during the opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) September 24, 2008 in New York City. President Clinton is hosting the fourth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), a gathering of politicians celebrities, philanthropists and business leaders grouped together to discuss pressing global issues.

In the 1990s, the central goal shared by the (first) Bush and Clinton administrations was to expand US power and prevent the rise of any potential rival. Like their Cold War counterparts, these leaders sought to integrate the world into a capitalist order under their control. This time, instead of modernization, the model was neoliberalism with an emphasis on privatization, deregulation, a move away from public and social welfare policies, and the adoption of other free market principals. To realize what Bush described as the “New World Order”, the United States militated against “rogue regimes” that refused to play by American rules and attempted to control regions whose instability could undo the smooth functions of the capitalist system. Non-state actors outside the US control had to be contained or removed.

Arun Kundnani agues the “War on terror paradigm…makes ideology the root cause of political violence [and] derives from the cold war theory of totalitarianism, which presumed a similar direct causal connection between ideology and the repressive practices of political control.”

Counterterrorism policy and practices of surveillance, indefinite detention, and arbitrary deportation flow from this logic.

The Laws of War: Nuremberg Trials, Vietnam, 9/11, Obama

Saturday, November 27th, 2021

Humane; How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War, Samuel Moyn, 2021


<> <> <> Quincy Wright in 1933 and 1941:

“The pax Britannia had given Europe the best two centuries it has had — at least since the pax Romana a millennium and a half earlier.” It was a long established fact: empires brought peace, too. “The excessively brutal civil and imperial wars which characterized the last century of the Roman Republic were followed by such a will to peace that most of the western world submitted to the Pax Romana of Augustus and his successors for two centuries.” (Quincy) Wright mused. Could the twentieth century offer something similar, he wondered, without requiring the humiliating subjugation of vassals and ceaseless violence at the savage frontiers of empire? Could a world organization under international law keep aggressors from bringing ruin to liberal democracies at peace? Would peace come,if it did, under the auspices of another empire or in some unprecedented guise?

One of Wright’s first publications explained how it ought to be plausible under international law to hold (Kaiser) Wilhelm II accountable for his biggest crime, which was starting a war, with all the catastrophes to which that decision led…Most of the early public uses of the phrase “crimes against humanity”, now associated with grave atrocities during war, allocated responsibility for war itself…It became popular in 1918-1919 to call war itself, rather than its attendant cruelties, a “crime against humanity”. (The Kaiser fled to the Netherlands, which refused to extradite the queen’s “Uncle Willie”.)

Home from Nuremberg, Wright definitely agreed it had been a good thing to rank aggression the premier evil. In effect, it was an auspicious sign for a federation to come that there was so much agreement to try individuals for war after the fact — as the Allies did in Tokyo for Japanese perpetrator, too. “Sanctions, to be effective must operate on individuals rather than states,” Wright explained. “International law cannot survive in the shrinking world, threatened by military instruments of increasing destructiveness, if sanctioned only by the good faith and self-help of governments.”

But at Nuremberg and Tokyo, the charge (“crimes against humanity”) was only allowed in connection the the primary infraction of aggressive war, which Americans were sure they did not fight (despite Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki). As for aerial bombardment , all powers conducted it, and no one was punished.

…It was the Nuremberg Trial veteran Telford Taylor ( Counsel for the Prosecution) who went where Falk did not, and he framed the case against the Vietnam War exclusively in terms of war crimes…If one had to choose a single cultural document that marked the beginning of the coming of humane war in our time, Taylor’s bestselling and widely reviewed Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy, which appeared in late 1970, is undoubtedly it. At the same time, Taylor epitomized how, after My Lai, atrocities became the index of consensus–belatedly mainstream–that the war had to end.

…after receiving the pentagon Papers from the dissident defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg, (Neil) Sheehan was preparing to publish them. His grave and wide-ranging New York Times Book Review essay on whether to hold war crimes tribunals for Americans normalized talk of national guilt. “Do you have to be a Hitlerian to be a war criminal?” Sheehan asked. “Or can you qualify as a well-intensioned President of the United States?”


Dick Cavett Show 1971

…(Telford) Taylor stated clearly on The Dick Cavett Show (Jan 8, 1971) that (General William) Westmoreland was liable for war crimes, and then he went further adding that, while he reserved judgement on such a tricky question, (President Lyndon) Johnson might be, too.

From the ashes of Hanoi and the darkness of My Lai, the possibility of humane war would come into view.

Forget talk of war crimes prosecution. Let’s just strive to make war more humane. The leaders and decision makers of Pax Americana cannot be held legally responsible for their past actions. Then came the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the lessons of Vietnam were lost to history. After George W Bush started wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, revelations of torture and abuse threatened a serious return of antiwar movements. Interestingly Seymour Hersh broke both the Mai Lai massacre story and the Abu Ghraib prison abuse story.


<> <> <> <> <> <> Benjamin confronts Obama

After Obama’s election support for antiwar politics cratered. (Medea) Benjamin promptly put her energies into finding new support for the cause of peace by attacking Obama’s drone empire. “Unless we shine a light on it,” she told one reporter of his done mania, “we’re going to turn around a say, “How’s we get involved in all these wars without knowing about it?”.

Within two days of his inauguration, Obama signed executive orders to ban torture and rescind all Bush-era legal directives governing the treatment of prisoners…Few noticed Obama’s own first done strike, which took place that same third day of his administration…But the deepest and enduring reality of Obama’s first phase in office was that by making other moves, he was engineering an unprecedented new era of global engagement that would blur the lines between war and policing. What had once been brutal, albeit with beginnings and conclusions, was becoming humane — but never ending.

Obama turned to armed drones more times in his first year alone than Bush had in the entirety of his presidency. Almost from the start, Obama’s policy called for engaging in targeted killing with gusto, not only by drone but also with the Special Forces or standoff missiles sent from long distances. And as Obama re-created a war less bounded in space and let it bleed in time, his lawyers formalized the system…target killings transformed the war on terror so that it stretched across a widening arc of the earth. Soon it was to be advertised as a humane enterprise, conducted with concern for the innocent in harm’s way.

By the end of Obama’s time in office, no-footprint drones had struck almost ten times more than under his predecessor’s watch, with many thousands dead. The air force now trained more drone operators than aircraft pilots, and the architecture of drone activity had been extended deep into the African continent, not merely across the Middle East and South Asia. The same trend line followed the deployment of the light-footprint Special Forces, which operated in or moved through 138 nations…Actual fighting took place in at least thirteen, and targeted killing in some of those…If no one was captured, no one could be mistreated…As the Obama administration continued, the abuses to the laws prohibiting force accumulated almost without counterexample.

“The United States takes the legal position that–in accordance with international law–we have the authority to take action against al-Quaeda and its associated forces without doing a separate self-defense analysis each time”, (John) Brennan remarked in his 2011 speech, flashing an astonishing license to kill. In the spirit of the March 2009 brief, what began as a rationale for detention off hot battlefields became a justification for killing. Many of the individuals and groups in question had never struck at the United States, and the threat they posed was debatable. They died anyway.

For another take on Drones see High Tech Assassins

For the year starting in the Summer of 2011, the drone program began to receive more intense scrutiny in the press. The Obama administration would lift secrecy partially and strategically over the period that followed. By doing so, it normalized targeted killing–not hard to do given the enthusiasm for the death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, in a dramatic commando raid. At the same time it set out to demonstratively minimize collateral harm.

Seymour Hersh reported on the actual events surrounding the killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2016.

Obama offered something part way down a continuum between war and policing. Why not go all the way, these critics (Philip Alston) reasoned? If war was going to occur off battlefields and without time limit, so the impulse went, it really ought to resemble the permanent institution of policing with its far more stringent rules on killing, only on a global scale.

(Medea) Benjamin intuited that drones without footprints were a sequel to the heavy-footprint wars of the Bush years. The technology was chosen for its difficulty to monitor but also its allegedly more humane precision. But she insisted that diplomacy was a better alternative to all forms of war: “I think it’s time to really reflect on the paths not chosen and those paths not chosen include policing instead of military focus…And focusing on the muscle that has been so deteriorated in the last ten years and that’s diplomacy.”

Trump was to continue the Obama assassination program and dangerously escalate it when on Jan 3, 2020 he ordered the drone killing of popular active Iranian general Quassim Soleimani as his motorcade traveled to Baghdad, Iraq.


Leo Tolstoy and Gandhi

In his concern that advocates for more humane war could help make it endless for a public that tolerates it, Leo Tolstoy fixated on corporal wrongs and physical violence. Advocacy aimed at humane war, he contended, was no more ethically plausible than agitation for humane slavery, with daily episodes of torture replaced by everlasting–but kind and gentle–direction of labor and service. Audiences who accept endless war out of the belief that its humanity excuses them, the truculent moralist inveighed, were fooling themselves. They were no better than those who rest content with more humane techniques of animal slaughter, leaving them to carve their steaks and fricassee their chickens with eager gusto in good conscience.

From The Nuremberg Trials to State Sponsored Extrajudicial Assassination

Tuesday, November 9th, 2021

Kill Chain; The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, Andrew Cockburn, 2015

Daniel Reisner, former head of the IDF’s Legal Department:

“If you do something for long enough the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries…International law progresses through violations. We invented the targeted assassinations thesis and we had to push it. [Now] it is the center of the bounds of legality.”

A former senior White House counterterrorism official:

“The idea had its origins in the drug war. So that the precedent was already in the system as a shaper of our thinking…In addition, the success of the Israeli targeted-killing strategy was a major influence on us, particularly in the Agency (CIA) and in Special Ops. We had a high degree of confidence in the utility of targeted killing. There was a strong sense that this was a tool to be used.”

The Predator drone was only made feasible after the Internet and the 24 GPS satellites were available in 1993. The Predator was first fitted with a Hellfire missile in 1994. “Given that 168 support staffers were required to keep one predator 24-hour Combat Air Patrol in the air, this was clearly an expensive undertaking.” The drone program allowed live video connections to the entire military chain of command up to and including the President. Each could be directly involved in the remote action of an attack for the first time in history. They could make real time remote kill decisions based on dubious quality video images.

President Obama as Assassin

Two years into the (Obama) administration, everyone in the Ritz_carton ballroom knew that the bulky Irishman (John Brennan) was the most powerful man in U.S. intelligence as the custodian of the president’s kill list, on which the chief executive and former constitutional law professor insisted on reserving the last word, making his final selections for execution at regularly scheduled Tuesday afternoon meetings. “You know our president has his brutal side” a CIA source cognizant of Obama’s involvement observed at the time.

The 542 drone strikes that Obama authorized killed an estimated 3,797 people, including 324 civilians. As he reportedly told senior aides in 2011: “Turns out I’m really good at killing people. Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.”

On May 2, 2011 a team of navy SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden upon the orders of Obama. President Obama, breaking his agreement with Pakistan, immediately announced the assassination in support of his reelection campaign.


<> <> <> Daniel Hale

The NSA features heavily in this book and whistleblower Edward Snowden is included but whistleblower Daniel Hale whose leaked documents paint a far bleaker picture of the number of innocent casualties from drone strikes is not. Daniel Hale is serving a 45 month sentence for his trouble. See Snowden, Cell Phone Privacy, and Targeted Assassinations.

As originally written, President Dwight Eisenhower’s epochal-1961 farewell address had warned of the “military-industrial-congressional complex” and its “economic, political, and even spiritual” influence at every level of government.

Much of this book deals with the ever rising defense budget that even the fall of the Soviet Union couldn’t stop. The book deals with inter-service rivalries continuing to today, the competition for funding, the crazy high tech ideas that will never work, the total lack of accountability for failure, the failure to even admit failure, the corruption, the waste, the undermining of democracy, the use of classification to bury unwanted information, etc. Pretty bleak reading.