Farmers win on many fronts, media fails on all

December 1st, 2021



The repeal of the three farm laws came about not because the PM failed to ‘persuade’ some farmers, but because many farmers stood resolute, even as a craven media devalued their struggle and strength

What the media can never openly admit is that the largest peaceful democratic protest the world has seen in years – certainly the greatest organised at the height of the pandemic – has won a mighty victory.

A victory that carries forward a legacy. Farmers of all kinds, men and women – including from Adivasi and Dalit communities – played a crucial role in this country’s struggle for freedom. And in the 75th year of our Independence, the farmers at Delhi’s gates reiterated the spirit of that great struggle.

Prime Minister Modi has announced he is backing off and repealing the farm laws in the upcoming winter session of Parliament starting on the 29th of this month. He says he is doing so after failing to persuade ‘a section of farmers despite best efforts’.  Just a section, mind you, that he could not convince to accept that the three discredited farm laws were really good for them. Not a word on, or for, the over 600 farmers who have died in the course of this historic struggle. His failure, he makes it clear, is only in his skills of persuasion, in not getting that ‘section of farmers’ to see the light. No failure attaches to the laws themselves or to how his government rammed them through right in the middle of a pandemic.

Well, the Khalistanis, anti-nationals, bogus activists masquerading as farmers, have graduated to being ‘a section of farmers’ who declined to be persuaded by Mr. Modi’s chilling charms. Refused to be persuaded? What was the manner and method of persuasion? By denying them entry to the capital city to explain their grievances? By blocking them with trenches and barbed wire? By hitting them with water cannons? By converting their camps into little gulags? By having crony media vilify the farmers every day? By running them over with vehicles – allegedly owned by a union minister or his son? That’s this government’s idea of persuasion? If those were its ‘best efforts’ we’d hate to see its worst ones.

The Prime Minister made at least seven visits overseas this year alone (like the latest one for CoP26). But never once found the time to just drive down a few kilometres from his residence to visit tens of thousands of farmers at Delhi’s gates, whose agony touched so many people everywhere in the country. Would that not have been a genuine effort at persuasion?

From the first month of the present protests, I was barraged with questions from media and others about how long could they possibly hold out ? The farmers have answered that question. But they also know that this fantastic victory of theirs is a first step. That the repeal means getting the corporate foot off the cultivator’s neck for now – but a raft of other problems from MSP and procurement, to much larger issues of economic policies, still demand resolution.

The anchors on television tell us – as if it is a stunning revelation – that this backing off by the government must have something to do with the upcoming Assembly elections in five states next February.

The same media failed to tell you anything about the significance of the bypoll results in 29 Assembly and 3 Parliamentary constituencies announced on November 3. Read the editorials around that time – see what passed for analysis on television. They spoke of ruling parties usually winning bypolls, of some anger locally – and not just with the BJP and more such blah. Few editorials had a word to say about two factors influencing those poll results – the farmers’ protests and Covid-19 mismanagement.

People’s Archive of Rural India for more

A radical idea for forcing vaccine companies to share knowledge with the world

December 1st, 2021


ILLUSTRATION/Mother Jones/Dean Baker

Biden’s patent waiver plan could unleash vaccines globally, says economist Dean Baker. If companies don’t comply, there’s another option.

As the world grapples with the devastation of the coronavirus, one thing is clear: The United States simply wasn’t prepared. Despite repeated warnings from infectious disease experts over the years, we lacked essential beds, equipment, and medication; public health advice was confusing; and our leadership offered no clear direction while sidelining credible health professionals and institutions. Infectious disease experts agree that it’s only a matter of time before the next pandemic hits, and that one could be even more deadly. So how do we fix what COVID-19 has shown was broken? In this Mother Jones series, we’re asking experts from a wide range of disciplines one question: What are the most important steps we can take to make sure we’re better prepared next time around?

As the coronavirus continues to rage around the world, COVID-19 vaccine patents have become a life-or-death issue. On May 5, the Biden administration announced that it will support a World Trade Organization resolution to lift pharmaceutical companies’ patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines. It’s part of a broader shift away from Trump’s “America First” vaccine strategy, which prioritized inoculating Americans first by stockpiling doses in the US rather than exporting a surplus to other countries. If other powerful trading blocs follow suit, global sharing of vaccine production know-how could speed up the global vaccination effort and, ultimately, bring the pandemic to an end.

Even so, current forecasts predict that, based on current rates, it could be years before populations around the world are vaccinated. In India, which has seen a deadly recent surge, only around 2.6 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. In Brazil, another hard-hit country, around seven percent of the population has been fully vaccinated. On the African continent, that figure is less than one percent. In the United States, by contrast, 35 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated. 

Mother Jones for more

Chinese fossil fuel investments in Africa

December 1st, 2021


Toxic mud from bauxite mining in Guinea PHOTO/Shutterstock

African countries need investments, China needs raw materials, and African activists are fed up with the resulting corruption and environmental damage.

China’s relationship with Africa is multifaceted. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) shares ideological bonds with many African countries because of early ties to anti-colonial struggles and through the Non-Aligned Movement. Every African country recognizes the PRC with the exception of eSwatini (Swaziland), which has diplomatic relations with Taiwan). Many African countries preserved trade relations with Beijing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, and those commercial links have only grown stronger. China has been Africa’s leading trading partner since surpassing the United States in 2009.

Many African governments seek Chinese assistance through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to bridge the continent’s infrastructure gap, while China in turn seeks access to a number of key strategic resources, including fossil fuels, minerals, and also access largely untapped markets. In addition to being rich in natural resources, some African countries attract Chinese interest because of relatively cheap labor, poor governance, and lax environmental standards. In 2017, McKinsey reported that more than 10,000 Chinese companies are likely operating throughout Africa.

The amount of money involved is staggering. According to a 2021 report from the Shanghai University of International Business and Economics, China has since 2000 invested a total of $47 billion throughout Africa (in 52 out of 54 countries), with new investments adding up to $2.96 billion in 2020 (an increase of over $200 million from the previous year). The vast majority of Chinese investment—87 percent—has been concentrated in four sectors: energy, transport, metals, and real estate. China’s Export-Import Bank provides much of the financing for infrastructure projects in Africa, but a number of commercial banks have also established branches throughout the continent.

Yet, despite these numbers, Africa attracted only 2 percent of Chinese foreign investment in 2019.

The impact of Chinese economic interactions with Africa can also be measured at an individual level. “There are no individuals in Nigeria who don’t have Chinese goods,” reports Tijani Abdulkareem, the executive director of the Socio-Economic Research and Development Centre in Abuja. “It’s the food that they eat, the wristwatches they own, the clothes that they wear.”

China’s footprint in Africa, however, has caused considerable anger, resentment, and pushback from communities in and around the projects that China has financed, constructed, or promoted, particularly those involving extraction industries. Criticisms have focused on adverse environmental impacts, violations of labor laws and human rights, and corrupt practices.

In a webinar entitled Voices from Africa: Activist Perspectives on Chinese Investments, sponsored by the Africa Climate Justice Group, six representatives from civil society organizations around Africa provided their on-the-ground perspective on Chinese activities in mining and extraction in their community followed by commentary from an expert on Chinese investments in Africa. The following report is a synthesis of their presentations.

Infrastructure Projects

China has invested in a number of high-profile infrastructure projects throughout the continent, including a $7 billion oil pipeline in Niger, a $1.3 billion port project in Cameroon, and a $3.6 billion investment into the aluminum sector in Guinea. Many of these projects are designed to facilitate access to raw materials and speed their export via roads, rail, or port.

Foreign Policy In Focus for more

Whistleblower alleges RSS promotes fear, anti-Muslim narratives on Facebook

November 30th, 2021


Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has kicked up a storm in the US with her leaks highlighting how Facebook’s internal decisions are detrimental to individual well-being and society at large. Fresh reports indicate her complaints to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reference alleged fear-mongering and dehumanizing content promoted by Facebook accounts purportedly run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Here are more details. In this article

  • Haugen leaked vast amounts of confidential Facebook research, data
  • What exactly are the allegations against RSS?
  • India one of Facebook’s ‘top three political priorities’ in 2020
  • Facebook maintains it actively combats hate speech in Indian dialects
  • Internal records suggest Facebook cannot flag Hindi, Bengali hate speech
  • Facebook classifies India in ‘Tier zero’ alongside US for elections
  • Complaint notes Facebook didn’t act on complaint against Bajrang Dal
  • Allegations strengthen case against Facebook allowing amplification of political messaging

Frances who? Haugen leaked vast amounts of confidential Facebook research, data

Haugen submitted around eight complaints to the SEC to prompt regulation of her former employer, Facebook. She also leaked thousands of pages of internal research and documentation to the Wall Street Journal for The Facebook Files. Haugen’s revelations forced Facebook to halt the development of Instagram Kids , perhaps shaved around $6 billion off CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s value , and triggered Congressional and Senate Committee hearings . Ideology issues What exactly are the allegations against RSS?

According to Hindustan Times , the complaint filed with the SEC reads, “RSS (Indian nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ) Users, Groups, and Pages promote fear-mongering, anti-Muslim narratives targeted pro-Hindu populations with V&I (violence and inciting) intent.” The RSS is widely regarded as the originator of ideologies for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Outline India one of Facebook’s ‘top three political priorities’ in 2020

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What can Russia do about NATO hostility?

November 30th, 2021


The United States and its NATO allies are ratcheting up hostility towards Russia with unscheduled military drills in the Black Sea. Absurd accusations about Russia planning to invade Ukraine are also part of the provocations winding up dangerous tensions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has condemned aggressive conduct as a threat to national and international security. He warned that as a result of the hostility, the Russian Federation may take “asymmetrical responses”. “We will act in a reciprocal manner, and if necessary, also asymmetrically,” said Lavrov in regard to a surge in NATO drills near Russia’s borders.

First of all, it should be said that the conduct of the US and its NATO is totally out of order. The unprecedented increase in warships and surveillance planes near Russia’s borders is tantamount to aggression. Under international law that is criminal conduct.

More sinisterly, the unscheduled NATO drills point to the probing of Russian defense systems that are coupled to the threat of offensive operations by the Kiev regime against the Russian people of Southeast Ukraine and against Russia’s territory. The NATO buildup is emboldening the risk of all-out conflict.

Therefore, in these circumstances, Russia has a right to respond on the basis of self-defense from an extant threat to its national security. A reciprocal response would be firing warning shots at NATO aircraft or vessels in a similar way to when a British destroyer HMS Defender approached Russian territorial waters in June.

Another reciprocal measure could be Russia conducting naval and air drills off the US coast. The predictable apoplectic reflex by the Americans in that scenario would go to illustrate the rank hypocrisy and double-think of what they are doing presently in the Black Sea on Russia’s doorstep.

But what about more subtle asymmetrical responses? These could be far more effective in hitting the US and NATO bullying behavior where it hurts. And being more oblique, such retaliation would be harder to politicize by Washington.

Note, we are not talking here about the fallacious Western hype about imagined Russian “hybrid warfare”. Such as alleged Russian interference in Western elections and domestic politics, or alleged Russian cyberattacks, or orchestrating the flow of migrants into the European Union. All those purported malign activities attributed to Russia are in the realm of hoax and the West’s anti-Russian propaganda. In any case, Moscow has rejected all allegations of this kind of hybrid warfare.

Instead, what we are talking about are legitimate, asymmetric responses to exact a sobering cost on the reckless policy of Western states for threatening Russia. And, indeed, threatening international peace.

US-based political analyst Randy Martin says that Russia has quite a few aces up its sleeve.

He points to Russia’s strong position as a supplier of space technology to the United States. This coveted renewed frontier of superpower status could be hampered embarrassingly for the United States if Russia withheld exports of space technology.

Another vital domain is Russia’s outsized role in the export of oil, gas and cereals, says Martin. We are not talking about a vulgar “weaponization” of trade. But it is Russia’s prerogative as a supplier to modulate the price and supply of its natural resources. “The West is choking on petrol and gas costs and cereal production. Inflation is about to blow up in Western economies,” comments Martin. “Russia could make the supply chain crisis afflicting the West a lot more problematic.”

If Russia were to tweak these global markets in its favor, as it has a right to do, then the repercussions for faltering Western economies would be severe. Already, the rocketing consumer price inflation in the US and Europe is stoking social and political discontent. If prices at the pumps or household energy bills go up any further, Western governments will have a lot more to worry about from their own restive populations than flying recon airplanes over Ukraine and the Black Sea.

The Alt World for more

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow review – have we got our ancestors wrong?

November 30th, 2021


Prehistory was a time of diverse social experimentation’: a 4,000-year-old cave drawing. PHOTO/Getty Images/iStockphoto

This imaginative attempt to reconfigure humanity’s roots contends that early people were free to shape their own lives

In the wake of bestselling blockbusters such as Jared Diamond’s Collapse and Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, that backwater of history – prehistory – has been infused by a surge of popular interest. It’s also proved an area of fertile promise for those who find the established narratives of modernity either constricting or based on false premises or both.

The last point is particularly relevant for the egalitarian-minded. After the catastrophic failure of the Soviet experiment, there were few places left to turn in support of the belief that humanity is at heart cooperative rather than competitive. The notable exception was the pre-agricultural era, those tens of thousands of years in which humans were thought to live in a state of… well, what exactly?

Since the Enlightenment, there have been two conflicting visions of humanity stripped of its civilised trappings. On the one hand, there is Hobbes’s notion of us as predisposed to violence – waging war against each other in a “nasty, brutish and short” existence. On the other, Rousseau’s idyll of prelapsarian innocence, in which humanity led a life of Edenic bliss before being destroyed by the corruptions of society.

Both these understandings of humanity’s roots are manifestly wrong, contend the late anthropologist David Graeber and his co-author, the archaeologist David Wengrow in their new and richly provocative book, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. As the title suggests, this is a boldly ambitious work that seems intent to attack received wisdoms and myths on almost every one of its nearly 700 absorbing pages.

Of course, few modern scholars accept either Hobbes’s bleak caricature or Rousseau’s romantic musings. Nonetheless, Graeber and Wengrow argue, these antithetical conceptions of human nature feed into the consensus that has been popularised by figures such as Diamond and Harari.

That is to say that for most of human history our ancestors lived an egalitarian and leisure-filled life in small bands of hunter-gatherers. Then, as Diamond put it, we made the “worst mistake in human history”, which was to increase population numbers through agricultural production. This, so the story goes, led to hierarchies, subordination, wars, disease, famines and just about every other social ill – thus did we plunge from Rousseau’s heaven into Hobbes’s hell.

According to Graeber and Wengrow’s reading of up-to-date archeological and anthropological research, that story, too, is nonsense. Humanity was not restricted to small bands of hunter-gatherers, agriculture did not lead inexorably to hierarchies and conflicts and there was not one mode of social organisation that prevailed, at least until thousands of years after the introduction of agriculture.

On the contrary, they maintain, prehistory was a time of diverse social experimentation, in which people lived in a variety of settings, from small travelling bands to large (perhaps seasonally occupied) cities and were wont to change their social identities depending on the time of year.

The strength of the book is the manner in which it asks us to rethink our assumptions

The author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years and Bullshit Jobs, Graeber, it’s worth bearing in mind, was a committed anarchist who was instrumental in setting up the Occupy Wall Street protest. Another factor that bears consideration is that both archaeology and anthropology are disciplines that are notoriously vulnerable to subjective interpretation.

Such “distant times can become a vast canvas for the working out of our collective fantasies”, the authors caution, but then do not entirely heed their own warning. While readily acknowledging the limitations of verifiable evidence, they nonetheless engage in creative speculation, albeit with a host of covering “most likelys”.

The Guardian for more

Caribbean Honeymoon No.1 (1960)

November 29th, 2021

“My People!” Edric Connor returns to his birthplace of Mayaro, on Trinidad, to celebrate his homeland’s natural beauty and manufacturing, capturing the Caribbean islands in all their glorious warmth. Pioneering West Indian filmmaker Edric Connor tours the Caribbean and Nigeria on the cusp of independence in these beautiful short films. In 1959 he returned to the Caribbean, producing seven films in quick succession. A proud West Indian nationalist, Connor documents nation-building, focusing on flourishing commerce, reverently capturing the people and terrain.

VIDEO/British Film Institute & Youtube

The truth about money

November 29th, 2021


The explosion of quantitative easing, the epic monetisation of debt and the rise of cryptocurrencies, frothy stock markets and furlough schemes, all seemed to imply we have an endless supply of money. But it also means that we now see money very differently.

But has this got us any closer to understanding what money really is? Or does it now simply mean that we know the price of everything but the value of nothing?

Host, Ross Ashcroft, met up with Economist and Associate Professor at International Institute of Social Studies, Howard Nicholas, to discuss.

Apocalyptic euphoria

When we think of the term apocalypse, what often comes to mind is a set of events that lead to a catastrophe. But in reality, if you go back to the Greek, the term actually relates to the discovery of new knowledge.

As an economist who has studied the theory of money for many years, Howard Nicholas, is recently said to have experienced a ‘eureka’ moment of apocalyptic euphoria. Indeed, it could be argued that Nicholas has created a new paradigm about our understanding of how money is created and what its function is.

The one thing that Nicholas posits is missing from books about the theory of money, is its primary function. The starting point for Nicholas is his rejection of the notion taught in economics that price is determined by supply and demand.

What’s been missing in most studies is the fact that we use money to set prices, thereby assigning it a value that reflects the real values of goods and services produced. Nicholas says that it’s therefore “utterly nonsensical” when people say we can create value by printing money.

Renegade Inc for more

Technofeudalism: Explaining to Slavoj Zizek why I think capitalism has evolved into something worse

November 29th, 2021

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Weekend Edition

November 26th, 2021