Demand that the UN command stop infringing on Korea’s sovereignty

December 3rd, 2020


VIDEO/Korea Now/Youtube

In an emergency press conference on November 10, 2020, Gyeonggi Vice Governor for Peace Lee Jae-gang protested against the UNC Command’s rejection of his request to set up a peace office in a 6-person tent in front of Dora Observatory, which overlooks the Kaesong Industrial Complex from South Korea:

“It is a terrible thing when we cannot install simple furnishings on South Korean land — something that does not involve any military purpose or any exchange of items with North Korea — without the permission of the UN Command (UNC).  We can’t even enter our own land freely: we have to receive permission from the UNC merely to enter Panmunjeom. Even if we do receive permission to enter, we are forced to switch from our vehicle to UNC transportation, and be led by an English-speaking American officer working through a Korean translator. This ridiculous practice has continued for more than 67 years.”

The UNC, the US-led unified command of multinational forces that fought in the Korean War, was ushered into existence by UN Security Council Resolution 84 on July 7, 1950 which recommended that all member states providing military or other assistance in the Korean War be under US command. Today, only US troops remain stationed in South Korea, and the commander of the UNC is both the commander of the US. Forces in Korea (USFK) and the US-ROK Combined Forces command. This arrangement not only provides the US with an overwhelming level of power over Korean military affairs, but also enables it to impede or outright block the course of the inter-Korean peace process.

It is outrageous that while South Korea was obliged to cover over 90% of $11 billion cost of building Camp Humphrey, which is built on 3,500 acres of arable land forcibly seized from farming families who had worked its soil for generations, it cannot erect a simple liaison office in a tent on its own land without US permission. The largest overseas American military base in the world, Camp Humphrey replaces some of the most highly-prized farmland in geographically restricted South Korea with an Olympic gym, an 18-hole golf course, a movie theater, a 200-room hotel, and a 300,000 square foot shopping center, all for the exclusive use of more than 45,000 American military personnel and their families.

Counterpunch for more

Chevron capitalizes on militarized climate chaos in the Mediterranean

December 3rd, 2020


Chevron announces its plans for offshore drilling in the hotly contested Mediterranean Sea, creating military tension between competing regional powers. Discussions over climate change and ecological impacts are getting lost in the shuffle.

Real News Network for more

A Halloween uprising and Poland’s general strike over abortion

December 3rd, 2020


PHOTO/Jakub.zabinski via Wikimedia Commons

A new generation of women rises up against an unholy – and sexist – alliance of church and state

Poland’s Halloween has always been a solemn national holiday with pagan roots called All Souls Day, known long ago as Forefathers’ Eve, and immediately followed on November 1 by All Saints Day.

Normally, it’s a contemplative period of reconnecting with those who are not with us anymore, whether grandparents, veterans, or national heroes of science and the arts. It’s a time when the cemeteries, illuminated by thousands of candles, look brighter from above than cities, and amongst the ornate headstones one breathes in the bittersweet aroma of chrysanthemums, candle wax, and evergreen wreaths.

But this year is different. During a full-blown COVID-19 surge, the cemeteries are locked. At the same time, a revolt began ten days ago against a state power that by decree of the Constitutional Court has virtually eliminated the right to abortion.

Protests spearheaded by women quickly spread from Poland’s largest cities, and on Halloween a general strike took place in hundreds of mid-size cities and towns. Seeing the faces painted with the omnipresent red lightning bolts that have marked this popular revolt, hearing the earthy language of the enraged crowds, one understands the vehemence of many banners. “This is war,” proclaims one; “Abort the Government,” suggests another.

These protesters are declaring war not only against the ultra-conservative government, but also—for the first time—against a previously untouchable center of power in Polish culture: the Catholic Church.

It is striking that the women who have been launching protests for a long time have now been joined by younger people of a generation that till now had appeared to be less alarmed by the dismantling of democracy in a relatively prosperous Poland. It is also interesting that some of us can’t help but recall that in 1968 when the Communist Party cancelled performances of Forefathers’ Eve, a classic romantic drama of the 19th century by Poland’s greatest poet Adam Mickiewicz (once a rebel and young political prisoner himself), the cancellation provoked historic student protests in Poland in support of free speech.

Public Seminar for more

Grand illusions

December 2nd, 2020


IMAGE/Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg and London/© Yinka Shonibare CBE, All Rights Reserved, DACS/ARS, NY 2020/ Yinka Shonibare: Clementia, 2018

It’s time to abandon the intellectual narcissism of cold war Western liberalism.

In Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (2006), Jonathan Lear writes of the intellectual trauma of the Crow Indians. Forced to move in the mid-nineteenth century from a nomadic to a settled existence, they catastrophically lost not only their immemorial world but also “the conceptual resources” to understand their past and present. The problem for a Crow Indian, Lear writes, wasn’t just that “my way of life has come to an end.” It was that “I no longer have the concepts with which to understand myself or the world…. I have no idea what is going on.”

It is no exaggeration to say that many in the Anglo-American intelligentsia today resemble the Crow Indians, after being successively blindsided by far-right insurgencies, an uncontainable pandemic, and political revolts by disenfranchised minorities. For nearly three decades after the end of the cold war, mainstream politicians, journalists, and businesspeople in Britain and the US repeatedly broadcast their conviction that the world was being knit together peaceably by their guidelines for capitalism, democracy, and technology. The United States itself appeared to have entered, with Barack Obama’s election, a “post-racial age,” and Americans seemed set, as President Obama wrote in Wired a month before Donald Trump’s election, to “race for new frontiers” and “inspire the world.”

This narrative of a US-led global journey to the promised land was always implausible. Four years of Trump have finally clarified that between 2001 and 2020—and through such events as the terrorist attacks of September 11, intensified globalization, the rise of China concurrent with the failed war on terror, and the financial crisis—the world was moving into an entirely new historical period. Moreover, in this phase, many ideas and assumptions dominant for decades were rapidly becoming obsolete.

Today, those who insisted that there was no practical alternative to Western-style liberal democracy and capitalism have no concepts with which to explain how China, a Communist-ruled country, became central to global networks of trade and finance; how India, ostensibly the “world’s largest democracy” and fastest-growing economy, as well as a counterweight to China, came to be ruled by Hindu supremacists inspired by European fascist movements of the 1920s; and how electorates angered by dysfunctional democracy and capitalism at home empowered far-right demagogues. An intelligentsia shocked and traumatized by Brexit and Trump has seemed largely bemused, too, by the biggest protests in the United States since the civil rights movement—mass uprisings led by young people and fueled by the stunningly swift spread of a new historical awareness of how slavery and racial capitalism underpinned the wealth and power of the United States and Britain.

As members of what Lear calls a “literate culture,” we may seem to be better placed than the Crow Indians to grasp our altered reality. But the upheavals of our times have devastatingly exposed our own deficit of conceptual resources, and it won’t be addressed by anything that happens in the US elections in November.

Guilty of calamitously mismanaging their response to the pandemic, Trump and his fellow travelers in Britain have plainly staked their future on victory in the “culture wars”: stories of past greatness, of America and Winston Churchill, and the villainy of “cultural Marxists” are their talking points. But rational illumination has not been forthcoming from their critics, who lurch from shock and despair over outbreaks of Trumpism to absurd hopes that Joe Biden’s election will restore the “liberal order.” Whether in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and The Times of Londonor in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Economist, and the Financial Times, the laments and exhortations of a still largely white, male, and middle-aged commentariat bring to mind James Baldwin’s verdict that “the white man’s world, intellectually, morally, and spiritually, has the meaningless ring of a hollow drum and the odor of slow death.”

A new way to understand the forces at play is urgently needed. But it will come about only if we make a conscious attempt to interrogate and discard the formative influences of many writers over the age of forty.

The New York Review of Books for more

Neither nasty nor brutish

December 2nd, 2020


Members of the Ik (Uganda) mime a ritual raid-and-escape dance, an element of which is to teach the importance of tending to the injured and vulnerable.

The Ik – among the poorest people on Earth – have been cast as exemplars of human selfishness. The truth is much more startling

Slabs of sunlight break through the mist, illuminating the bright pastel ripples of Oribo Valley, the valley I’m named after. I’ve been given this name by the Ik people I’m living with, in the remote highlands dividing Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan. The Ik woman I’m interviewing, Nangole (a pseudonym to protect her identity), rubs her baby’s arms and legs to soothe the scabies rash that covers the infant’s skin. She tells me how she came to live here, in a little mud hut with a vista of the valley.

Nangole was born a Turkana, an ethnic group of herders whom the Ik greatly fear. But as a little girl living in Kenya, her village was attacked by roaming Toposa warriors from South Sudan; her father and many others were killed. Starvation and an epidemic afflicted the survivors, so Nangole’s mother and aunt took flight into the mountains of Uganda, with Nangole trailing their heels. High above the plains, mother and daughter found safety in an Ik village. The small community took them in. Nangole grew up in the village and eventually married an Ik man. Today, they have eight children. Her life is a story of refuge – from disease, from hunger, from the cattle-raiding warriors who live on the plains below – and of generosity. The Ik gave her a home.

In the 1970s, The New York Times described the Ik as ‘a haunting flower of evil’ in ‘its corner of civilisation’s garden’. The vilification didn’t start or end there. The physician and science journalist Lewis Thomas in 1973 argued that the ‘unremitting, compulsive repellence’ of these ‘unattached, brutish creatures’ was the result of an ‘exploded culture’ in which each Ik was a ‘one-man tribe’. It was widely argued that the Ik revealed how humans are essentially malicious when stripped of the constraining effects of decent civilisation. They exemplified ‘how little natural goodness lies at the bottom of the human heart’, as the author of that New York Times article, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, put it: a cautionary tale to the civilised world about the fragility of human kindness.

Aeon for more

The United States’ miscalculation in South Asia

December 2nd, 2020


US President Donald Trump (left) greeting India’s Prime Minister NarendraModi

It was foolish of Washington to put all its eggs in the India basket to counter China’s influence in the region

The United States’ miscalculation in South Asia “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu, Chinese military general and strategist, 5th century BC

On September 11, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper spoke with Bangladeshi Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Sheikh Hasina over the phone. It is reported that during the call, Esper commended Sheikh Hasina on the manner in which she has handled the Covid-19 crisis. They also discussed, according to the US Embassy in Bangladesh, “their shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific that ensures the sovereignty of all nations.” This commitment includes maritime and regional security, modernizing the Bangladesh military and global peacekeeping.

The embassy also said that “both leaders expressed their commitment to continue building closer bilateral defense relations in support of shared values and interests.” The timing of the decision of the US Department of Defense to call Sheikh Hasina is interesting. The backdrop of the story lies in the US foreign policy, or its absence, toward Bangladesh in recent years.

The US has spent the last couple of decades entirely basing its foreign policy and strategies on wars in the Middle East, fortifying Israel. In the process, it has implemented policies in South Asia that have been, it is safe to say, failures. Former president Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” or “Asia-Pacific rebalancing,” did not work. Neither did it fortify ties with China, nor did it help the Middle East. It was, for the most part, mostly political rhetoric and little to no substance.

The Quad: Then came President Donald Trump’s Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, more commonly known as the Quad. This is an alliance of four nations, the United States, Australia, Japan and India. The essential philosophy behind the Quad is establishing a  tangible counterbalance to China’s remarkable growth and dynamism.

The Trump administration, for obvious reasons, did not like the idea of an Asia dominated by an ambitious China, pushing forward with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and with its constructed South Asia islands. The US felt that trade with China was fine but there was always the looming threat that China’s ever growing presence would lead to domination of the region. Thus a secure and safe Asia needed to have a counterbalance to China. Therefore, the Quad coordinated a security strategy, particularly in the maritime sphere.

This led to the US thinking that India, with the world’s fifth-largest industrial power, must be befriended and supported heavily. The Trump administration’s logic was that to prop up India as a counterbalancing act to China will lead to the Indian domination over the smaller South Asian nations.

The significance of Bangladesh: This is where Bangladesh comes into play. It is undeniable that India and Bangladesh have cultural ties. Furthermore, India helped Bangladesh in its Liberation War against Pakistan in 1971, a victory for which in realistic terms, Bangladesh has paid its due many times over. The last 12 years, since the beginning of the Awami League government’s tenure led by Sheikh Hasina, India has become for its smaller neighbour an intrusive, hegemonic and opportunistic force, leading to a vastly unequal trade imbalance, water sharing, border killings of innocent Bangladeshis, and false-flag terrorist operations.

To add to this, Indian dominance and hegemony are hardly assets for Bangladesh. To the vast majority of Bangladeshis, the relationship with India is predominantly is a one-way street, with India taking much more than it gives, despite reserving the right to intervene and meddle in each and every policy decision in Bangladeshi governance.

China’s role: China’s investment plans for Bangladesh, which were announced in October 2016, were a game changer. China and Bangladesh signed 27 memoranda of understanding, valued at US$24 billion in investments for Bangladesh. Additionally, Chinese and Bangladeshi companies formed 13 joint ventures, valued at $13.6 billion.

The Daily Observer for more

From Ghana to Nigeria: Little pieces of home

December 1st, 2020


Thirteen-year-old Koffi left Ghana for the first time when he came to Nigeria to work as a farm hand PHOTO/Femi Amogunla/Al Jazeera

Young Ghanaians who travelled to Nigeria to work as farm hands show the most precious possession they took with them.

The young Ghanaian men and boys who come to this farm in Osun state, Nigeria, each year to find work mostly say they do it in order to improve their lives once they return home.

They have been brought in to the country in groups by a “master” – usually an older Ghanaian who has lived for several years in Nigeria. At the end of nearly a year of hard work hoeing ridges, weeding and planting in often difficult conditions, they will return to their homes with a motorbike as the prize for their labour.

Some motorbikes will be sold to help support families, others will be put to use – often as motorbike taxis to provide an income. Aside from this, farm workers do not earn any money – they are only provided with food and basic accommodation.

During these months away from home, many find some comfort in the personal possessions they brought with them. Through these precious items – an old wristwatch, a bag, clothes, a chain and pendant – they carry a part of their country, their memories of home and family, and their dreams for the future.

Lewin: The thing around your neck

Every morning before Lewin, 15, heads out to work on the farm, he carefully removes and stores two interwoven necklaces inside his travelling bag.

“The work is always too much. I don’t want to make the thing spoil quick,” he says. He is worried the necklaces will be damaged if he works while wearing them. Once he takes his bath after returning from the farm, he puts them back on.

The words – “The Methodist Church, Ghana” – are imprinted on the pendant of one of the necklaces.

“That is my church in Ghana,” he says. “This was my grandmother’s gift to me while growing up.”

Lewin says he remembers his late grandmother whenever he looks at it.

Al Jazeera for more

73 Million Trump party apparatchiks guarantee turmoil over the coming years

December 1st, 2020


US Democracy?

It is happening here. 

The soul of America is like the character Two Face in the Batman movie series.

One defeat of the Party of Trump and its 73 million apparatchiks is not enough. In Trump, the United States has bred its own dictator in waiting and he’s got an army of servile apostles willing to fight and die for him. Vigilance by his opponents has never been more important. 

“This Fuhrer dictatorship could produce only lackeys and profiteers of the most reactionary and aggressive part of German imperialist reaction. Its Germanic democracy reared the repulsive type of a human breed that was boundlessly servile to men of higher rank and just as boundlessly cruelly tyrannical towards men below it.” The Destruction of Reason, Georg Lukacs

Incumbent President Donald Trump now owns the Republican Party, lock, stock and barrel. With 73 million restless apparatchiks clearly beholden to the cult of Trump, will it be long before the Republican Party gets rebranded as the Trump National Party; or, perhaps, the MAGA Party (Make America Great Again)? Maybe Trump sells-off his faltering real estate empire and creates a media conglomerate—consisting of television, radio,and the Internet/WWW—that spews out divisive, fascist, ultraconservative fare 24 hours a day, 7 days  week. Trump Media would absorb the National Review, New York Post and similar conservative publications/websites.

Sky’s the limit for Trump: His 73 million followers include an increasing number of Blacks and Latinos who appear to revere him for his apparent strength, tough talk and sense of honor.

According to Fortune Magazine, “As Trump once put it: ‘Real power is fear. It’s all about strength. Never show weakness. You’ve always got to be strong. Don’t be bullied. There is no choice.’”

Adolf Hitler Said That Too

“Brutality is respected. The ordinary man in the street only respects brute force and ruthlessness. The people need to be kept in a salutary state of fear. They want to fear something. Why make a fuss over brutality and wax indignant over tortures? The masses want ti. They want something that will give them shudders of terror. Moralistic platitudes are essential for the masses. There could be no greater mistake for a politician than to be seen posing as the immoral superman. Of course I shall not make it a matter of principle whether or not to act immorally in the conventional sense. I do not abide, you see, by any principles whatever.” (Adolf Hitler quoted in The Destruction of Reason by Georg Lukacs)

We are all familiar with these wicked sentiments expressed by Trump and Hitler and assorted cult leaders, or should be. The history books are replete with tales of dastardly kings, princes and dictators who said nearly the same things and lived and ruled by such dictates. Democracy has been the aberration in politics, not dictatorship or kingship.

The Path to an American Hitler

The Destruction of Reason by Lukacs traces the development of irrationalism and fascism in Germany; specifically, the intellectual fertilizer that led to Hitler’s rise to power and National Socialism. His analysis reaches back to 1789 and includes commentary on Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche, Marx, Engels, and scores of other philosophical heavyweights. 

Sri Lanka Guardian for more

Noam Chomsky

December 1st, 2020

Noam Chomsky Lecture, May 2018 Noam Chomsky talks about the major threats to the human race and other important issues of today. Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic and political activist. Sometimes described as “the father of modern linguistics”, Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science. He holds a joint appointment as Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and laureate professor at the University of Arizona, and is the author of over 100 books on topics such as linguistics, war, politics, and mass media. Ideologically, he aligns with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism.

Youtube for more

Why Trump may still wage war with Iran

November 30th, 2020


Fears are rising US President Donald Trump could start a conflict with Iran to retain power as a ‘wartime’ president. PHOTO/Facebook

Outgoing US president could yet orchestrate a conflict with the aim of retaining power after losing at the polls

US President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to fire his Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and replace him with hawkish yes-man Christopher Miller, who headed the National Counterterrorism Office and before that the Pentagon’s “special operations” program, has sparked fear in the US media as well as in Iran that Trump might be plotting to trigger a war with Iran before his scheduled departure from the White House on January 20.

Various US media outlets including the New York Times published headlines like “Trump fires Esper, the Defense Secretary Who Opposed the Use of Troops in the Streets.”

That’s true, but given the distinct possibility that Trump’s real motive was oriented more against foreign adversaries like Iran, such accent on Esper’s difference with the president on domestic matters may turn out to be journalistic myopia. Perhaps a more fitting headline would be: “Trump fires Esper, who opposed war with Iran.”

“The United States is not seeking a war with Iran…We are seeking a diplomatic solution,” Esper told the media in early January 2020. One step further, he even openly contradicted Trump’s claim that US-assassinated Iranian General Ghasem Soleimani was plotting attacks on four US embassies around the world. 

Esper also stood up to Trump, who threatened to wipe out Iran’s cultural centers, by flatly stating that the Pentagon had no such bombing plans.  

AsiaTimes for more