Thoreau at 200: Don’t let Bill Gates ban the hoe

July 18th, 2017


PHOTO/Claudio Toledo/CC BY 2.0

A mischievous campaign afoot in rural Africa presents a cautionary tale which bears being spoken of this July 12, 2017, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Henry David Thoreau.

African women in remote villages are being told to put down their hand-held hoes.

Working the soil by hand, nurturing nature to feed their families, as did their ancestors from time immemorial, is “a technology long obsolete.”

So they are being told by a Bill Gates-led NGO, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (“AGRA”)(

The call is being taken up by elite Africans, who want to banish the hand-held hoes to the museum.

Women’s lives preparing the soil, planting tribal heirloom seeds, nurturing seedlings to harvest is nothing but a meaningless “solitary struggle” that rapid mechanization and industrialization can cure.

“Low rates of mechanization . . . reduce the welfare and quality of life for farmers,” says AGRA. Leasing a gas-guzzling Western-made tractor “can free up more time [for women to be] with their family, or doing additional off-farm work.”

But has AGRA bothered to ask the rural women of Africa if they wish to give up their hand-held hoes?

I do not pretend to speak for the rural women of Africa but I have witnessed a good many of them in their fields working their hoes. I have seen great geometric terraces created by a dozen women working their hand-held hoes together in communal activity.

Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel Nervous Conditions, published to acclaim in 1988, imparts a timeless wisdom.

“My grandmother . . . had been an inexorable cultivator of land, sower of seeds and reaper of rich harvests until, literally until, her very last moment,” says Dangarembga’s protagonist.

“When I was too small to be anything more than a hindrance in the family fields, I used to spend many productive hours working with my grandmother on the plot of land she called her garden.

“We hoed side by side strips of land defined by the row of maize plants each carried, I obstinately insisting I could keep pace with her, she weeding three strips to my one so that I could.

“Praising my predisposition towards working, she consolidated it in me as a desirable habit.”

Working together with their hand-held hoes provided opportunities for forging family bonds and cultivating the impressionable mind of a young girl.

“She gave me history lessons as well,” the narrator recalls. History that could not be found in the textbooks, a stint in the field and a rest, the beginning of the story, a pause.

“’What happened after, Mbuya, what happened?’ ‘More work, my child, before you hear more story.’

“Slowly, methodically, throughout the day the field would be cultivated, the episodes of my grandmother’s own portion of history strung together from beginning to end.”

Has Bill Gates spent a planting season kneeling in the soil next to his grandmother, absorbing her stories of the past as they hand-hoed in synchronicity?

Has he had the pleasure of harvesting food for his family through his toil with a hand-held hoe?

Counter Punch for more

The rise of the thought leader

July 18th, 2017



How the superrich have funded a new class of intellectual.

Writing in one of Mussolini’s prisons in the 1930s, the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci jotted down the fragments that would become his theory of intellectuals. New classes, like the European bourgeoisie after the Industrial Revolution, he proposed, brought with them their own set of thinkers, which he called “organic intellectuals”—theorists, technicians, and administrators, who became their “functionaries” in a new society. Unlike “traditional intellectuals” who held positions in the old class structure, organic intellectuals helped the bourgeoisie establish its ideas as the invisible, unquestioned conventional wisdom circulating in social institutions.

Today, Gramsci’s theory has been largely overlooked in the ongoing debate over the supposed decline of the “public intellectual” in America. Great minds, we are told, no longer captivate the public as they once did, because the university is too insular and academic thinking is too narrow. Such laments frequently cite Russell Jacoby’s The Last Intellectuals (1987), which complained about the post-1960s professionalization of academia and waxed nostalgic for the bohemian, “independent” intellectuals of the earlier twentieth century. Writers like the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof attribute this sorry state of affairs to the culture of Ph.D. programs, which, Kristof claims, have glorified “arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.” If academics cannot bring their ideas to a wider readership, these familiar critiques imply, it is because of the academic mindset itself.

In his book The Ideas Industry, the political scientist and foreign policy blogger Daniel W. Drezner broadens the focus to include the conditions in which ideas are formed, funded, and expressed. Describing the public sphere in the language of markets, he argues that three major factors have altered the fortunes of today’s intellectuals: the evaporation of public trust in institutions, the polarization of American society, and growing economic inequality. He correctly identifies the last of these as the most important: the extraordinary rise of the American superrich, a class interested in supporting a particular genre of “ideas.”

New Republic for more

Competitive advantage not God-given – as US and Japan know

July 18th, 2017


Sony employee Suzuyo Suzuki displays the MD Walkman MZ-E55 (left) and a mini-disc at the company’s headquaters in Tokyo, on September 7, 1998 PHOTO/AFP/Toru Yamanaka

I spent the first 20 years of my career in the research and development laboratories of the RCA Corporation, then one of the leading electronics companies in the world and led, for many years, by a great visionary in David Sarnoff.

In addition to developing color television, RCA Laboratories’ inventions included flat panel displays, lasers of all kinds, solid state imaging devices, CMOS chip technology and communications systems including microwave and optical systems. These innovations helped build industries with close to a trillion dollars of current annual revenues that are the foundations of the digital world.

But few of these electronic infrastructure products are now made in the United States and in none has the US maintained world leadership. For example, the flat panel industry that serves practically all electronic products yields over US$100 billion of annual revenues – from factories in Asia. And 73% of all color television sets are now produced in China. In chips, two world leaders are now in Taiwan and South Korea, respectively, with China rapidly developing its own industry.

There is a sobering lesson here: Industrial competitive advantage is a fragile thing. The US used to lead these industries because they were invented in the US, supported by major corporate resources focused on innovation and also indirectly supported through Federal research and development funding of universities and major corporate laboratories.

In an ideal world, each country leverages its competitive advantage by producing and exporting what it competes best at, in terms of cost and quality, in an open interchange of goods and services. In this ideal world, consumers benefit and businesses can prosper because they operate on a large world market. But this is all happy classroom theory. We are not living in an ideal world of free trade because country leaders game the system through industrial subsidies and legal restrictions that bolster favored industries by limiting competitive imports and promoting their own exports.

Sure, some competitive advantages are based on geography and result in low-cost agricultural or mineral products. But when it comes to electronic products, competitive advantage is totally man-made.

At RCA, the first serious challenge to its leadership was from Japanese electronics companies that began, in the 1970s, a focused campaign to capture the consumer electronics market – then primarily color television receivers. The technology was licensed from RCA, which had a policy of open licensing. Japan had no competitive advantage on entering consumer electronics — except government support, which included blocking television imports and hence kept domestic prices much higher than in the US. In the 1970s, a Japanese television set sold for US$300 in the US and the equivalent of US$500 in Tokyo. In effect, Japanese consumers, by paying high prices, were subsidizing products exported to capture the world market and in particular the US, where no restrictions were placed on imports and distribution channels were readily available.

Asia Times for more

Palestine is still the issue

July 17th, 2017



When I first went to Palestine as a young reporter in the 1960s, I stayed on a kibbutz. The people I met were hard-working, spirited and called themselves socialists. I liked them. One evening at dinner, I asked about the silhouettes of people in the far distance, beyond our perimeter.

“Arabs”, they said, “nomads”. The words were almost spat out. Israel, they said, meaning Palestine, had been mostly wasteland and one of the great feats of the Zionist enterprise was to turn the desert green.

They gave as an example their crop of Jaffa oranges, which was exported to the rest of the world. What a triumph against the odds of nature and humanity’s neglect.

It was the first lie. Most of the orange groves and vineyards belonged to Palestinians who had been tilling the soil and exporting oranges and grapes to Europe since the eighteenth century. The former Palestinian town of Jaffa was known by its previous inhabitants as “the place of sad oranges”.

On the kibbutz, the word “Palestinian” was never used. Why, I asked. The answer was a troubled silence.

All over the colonised world, the true sovereignty of indigenous people is feared by those who can never quite cover the fact, and the crime, that they live on stolen land.

Denying people’s humanity is the next step – as the Jewish people know only too well. Defiling people’s dignity and culture and pride follows as logically as violence.

In Ramallah, following an invasion of the West Bank by the late Ariel Sharon in 2002, I walked through streets of crushed cars and demolished houses, to the Palestinian Cultural Centre. Until that morning, Israeli soldiers had camped there. I was met by the centre’s director, the novelist, Liana Badr, whose original manuscripts lay scattered and torn across the floor. The hard-drive containing her fiction, and a library of plays and poetry had been taken by Israeli soldiers. Almost everything was smashed, and defiled.

John Pilger for more

Here’s why Washington hawks love this cultish Iranian exile group

July 17th, 2017


Mariam Rajavi speaks at the annual meeting of the Mojahedin-e Khalq at the Villepinte exhibition center near Paris on July 1, 2017. International political leaders also made speeches to support her.

What were a Saudi prince, a former Republican House Speaker and a former Democratic vice-presidential candidate doing together in a suburb of Paris last weekend?

Would you be surprised to discover that Prince Turki Bin Faisal, Newt Gingrich and Joe Lieberman were speaking on behalf of a group of Iranian exiles that was officially designated a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” by the United States government between 1997 and 2012?

Iran hawks long ago fell head over heels for the Mojahedin-e Khalq, known as the MEK, and loudly and successfully lobbied for it to be removed from the State Department list of banned terror groups in 2012. Formed in Iran in the 1960s, the MEK, whose name translates to “Holy Warriors of the People,” was once an avowedly anti-American, semi-Marxist, semi-Islamist group, pledged to toppling the U.S.-backed Shah by force and willing to launch attacks on U.S. targets. The MEK even stands accused of helping with the seizure of hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran; the group condemned the hostages’ release as a “surrender” to the United States. But after the Iran’s clerical rulers turned on the group in the early 1980s, its leaders fled the country and unleashed a series of bombings across Iran.

These days, the organization — run by husband and wife Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, though the former’s whereabouts are unknown and he is rumored to be dead — claims to have renounced violence and sells itself to its new American friends as a 100 percent secular and democratic Iranian opposition group. The biggest problem with the MEK, however, is not that it is a former terrorist organization. Plenty of violent groups that were once seen as “terrorists” later abandoned their armed struggles and entered the corridors of power — think of the Irish Republican Army or Mandela’s African National Congress.

Nor is it that the MEK lacks support inside of the Islamic Republic, where it has been disowned by the opposition Green Movement and is loathed by ordinary Iranians for having fought on Saddam Hussein’s side during the Iran-Iraq war.

Rather, the biggest problem with U.S. politicians backing the MEK is that the group has all the trappings of a totalitarian cult. Don’t take my word for it: A 1994 State Department report documented how Massoud Rajavi “fostered a cult of personality around himself” which had “alienated most Iranian expatriates, who assert they do not want to replace one objectionable regime for another.”

You think only people inside of dictatorships are brainwashed? A 2009 report by the RAND Corporation noted how MEK rank-and-file had to swear “an oath of devotion to the Rajavis on the Koran” and highlighted the MEK’s “authoritarian, cultic practices” including ‘mandatory divorce and celibacy” for the group’s members (the Rajavis excepted, of course). “Love for the Rajavis was to replace love for spouses and family,” explained the RAND report.

Intercept for more

Modi was ill-advised to visit Israel. Worse, to make it a love fest

July 17th, 2017


Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu PHOTO/Benjamin Netanyahu

While the prime minister’s visit to Israel is not objectionable, what is shocking is that it took place as if Palestine is a myth and that the only reality of the Holy Land is Israel, Israel and more Israel.

Ever since ‘the Palestine question’ was brought before the United Nations by the British in 1947, India has shown a balance, a sense of perspective and of history in its response to Israel. It has wanted to be and has been singularly fair to the two principal communities involved: the world’s war-ravaged Jews who settled in the new country with British help, and the doughty Arabs whose lands were alienated. India’s position has been appreciated, respected by all for its honesty and integrity.

When Israel was formed, under international aegis, India recognised the new state. When Israel attacked and occupied more land in Palestine, turning hundreds of thousands of Arabs into refugees, India said that was wholly wrong, outrageous. And since the occupation continued, with Israel becoming more and more bellicose, India held back diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv and upwardly calibrated its ties with Palestinian leaders, notably Yasser Arafat.

No Indian Prime Minister, from Jawaharlal Nehru who first recognised Israel, to Narasimha Rao who initiated diplomatic ties, to A.B. Vajpayee who received a visit from the then Israeli Prime Minister, right up to Manmohan Singh, ever visited Israel. It was important to make the statement, to Israel, to the Arab world, to the world at large that so long as Israel was expansionist, and sought to dominate or conquer even the rest of Palestine, violating numerous resolutions of the UN, Israel was an offender. Justice to the world’s Jews is one thing, Zionism quite another.

India did not exculpate Arab counter-violence either. It knew that justice for the Arabs is one thing, Hamas’s violent acts of terror quite another.

But at the core, India saw that the problem was the ground reality of Israel’s holding on to Arab’s greatly prized lands, which Israel had seized by force, in the face of international objections and UN resolutions in the passing of which India was always vocal, even vociferous.

Until that ground reality of occupation remained unchanged, India’s fair and just and humane policy needed no change.

And now, it has changed.

I believe Prime Minister Narendra Modi was ill-advised to make his just-concluded trip. Worse, to make it a love fest.

Before going into the implications of the visit, a review of the history of that problem is essential.

As long as one hundred years ago, on August 23, 1917, the House of Commons discussed the subject of ‘Palestine for the Jews’ in what has become famous as the Balfour Declaration, so named after the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour. As the only Jew in the British cabinet at the time, Edward Samuel Montagu, who was later to be a Secretary of State for India, could have been expected to support the idea of Palestine for the Jews. But Montagu being a fair minded man, he did the opposite. He passionately opposed the motion and submitted a memorandum to the cabinet in which he said: “ Zionism has always seemed to me to be a mischievous political creed, untenable by any patriotic citizen… I assert that there is not a Jewish nation… When the Jews are told that Palestine is their national home, every country will immediately desire to get rid of its Jewish citizens, and you will find a population in Palestine driving out its present inhabitants, taking all the best in the country…It is quite true that Palestine plays a large part in Jewish history, but so it does in modern Mohammedan history… I would say… that the Government will be prepared to do everything in their power to obtain for Jews in Palestine complete liberty of settlement and life on an equality with the inhabitants of that country who profess other religious beliefs. I would ask that the Government should go no further.”

Montagu was heeded by Balfour in part, but not in the main. The declaration of November 2, 1917, stated “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

A separate state of Palestine thus got “mandated”, mandated by Britain.

India’s long history of balanced engagement

In 1937, Nehru wrote to Krishna Menon about the Indian National Congress’ stand: “Our position is that Palestine must be essentially an Arab country and independent. Further, that the Arabs and Jews must meet together and compose their differences on the basis of Palestinian independence”.

Wire for more

Weekend Edition

July 14th, 2017

Let’s wash our …

July 14th, 2017


PHOTO/Kobi Gideon/courtesy of Government Press Office/GPO/Handout via Reuters/Newseek

“‘my friend,’ so good to see you”
“feeling is mutual”
“we both are powerful
but are treated like pariahs”
“I am no more a pariah
since February 2014,”
“my mistake, you’re right
since we stole this house in 1948
you’re the first one from your house to visit us
we’re so so happy”
“now I’ll be coming regularly
you know, I’ve visited the Big Brother 4 times
those hugs I give it to the Big Brother
they supply special solace and a solid sense of security”
“I love the current Big Brother
but the previous one, I didn’t give a damn
“my friend, we’re on the beach
so we might as well wash our hands
which have blood stains, so many of them”
“you right
also, we’ve to come clean in front of the press and the world”

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

How China Lobby shaped America

July 14th, 2017


Consortium News: A prototype of the modern foreign lobby in Washington was the China Lobby, bribing and bending U.S. politicians to serve the will of the Nationalists who fled to Taiwan and helped fuel McCarthyism, reports Jonathan Marshall.

One of the first big foreign lobbies to blossom after passage of the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act was the infamous China Lobby, defined by William Safire in his political dictionary as an “attack phrase used against those urging support of Chiang Kai-shek against Mao Zedong, and later pressing for aid to Chiang on Taiwan.”

Testifying to the China Lobby’s seminal importance – actually what would more accurately be called the Taiwan Lobby – Safire credited it with inspiring the term “Israel lobby” to describe the equally formidable support network for another equally tiny country.

The China Lobby demanded — and won — billions of dollars in military and economic aid for Chiang’s dictatorship, first on mainland China and then on Taiwan. Exploiting the wave of anti-Communism during the McCarthy era, it also ruthlessly suppressed any criticism of Nationalist China’s shortcomings or any moves toward diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China.

Some of its American operatives were opportunistic lawyer-lobbyists like Thomas Corcoran, a former New Dealer who turned his talents to money-making intrigues. Some were anti-communist militants like Gen. Claire Chennault of Flying Tigers fame, who founded a CIA-controlled airline (Civil Air Transport) with Corcoran’s help to support Chiang’s armies and run covert operations in the Far East.

Many were partisan Republicans who rejected criticism of Chiang’s corrupt regime and attacked the Truman administration for not sending enough financial and military aid to prevent the “fall of China.”

In 1949, two members of Congress called for an investigation of the lobby’s “brazen power.” Rep. Mike Mansfield, a Montana Democrat who would later become Senate majority leader, accused Nationalist Chinese officials — who had fled the mainland for Taiwan that year in the wake of the communist revolution — of diverting U.S. aid to fund political propaganda in the United States.

Ironically, a timely dispensation of $800,000 from Nationalist Chinese officials in Taiwan to their New York office financed a successful campaign to squelch that proposed investigation.

A few intrepid reporters worked hard to fill the information gap. In April 1952, Reporter magazine ran two successive issues devoted to exposing the China Lobby.

L’Humanite for more

Exclusive: Seymour Hersh dishes on new exposé upending the official story about Trump and Syrian chemical attacks

July 14th, 2017


Seymour Hersh at the 2004 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award PHOTO/ Wikimedia Commons/Institute for Policy Studies

The veteran investigative reporter is turning the narrative upside down with his latest investigation.

Ken Klippenstein: Why is the deconfliction process by which forces in Syria notify each other of air operations to avoid accidents so important?

Seymour Hersh: More air force is involved than people think. It’s not only Russian… Syria’s flying, Russia’s flying, America’s flying… The Brits fly, the Canadians fly, the Aussies fly. It’s sort of like air [traffic] control at an airport… We have something called AWACS. It’s a big plane that monitors everything and the Russians and the Syrians will communicate their routes and their packets and where they’re going and what they’re delivering in English to these aircraft, AWACS, which monitor large parts of Syria. So there’s a lot of coordination. That’s what deconfliction is.

KK: Can you take us through the extraordinary events you reported on in rebel-held Syria and how they unfolded?

SH: So the story I wrote is simply about the fact there was a very special mission. It was a secret mission, it was a mission to bomb a meeting of the jihadist headquarters in this town Khan Shaykhun. It was a major town of about 48,000 (before the war began anyway) and the Russians told us about a serious meeting of the leadership there on the fourth and we had it early. It was a command-and-control for the region. One way they control the areas is by controlling food, medicines.

Russia and Syria do a lot of bombing in that area. It has propane gas tanks, it has plastic canisters of cooking oil, it has fertilizer, it has insecticides—it’s a big farming area. We also assumed some weapons were stored there because it’s a big operational base for al-Nusra [Syria’s Al Qaeda affiliate], so they expected some secondary explosion; they weren’t surprised to see a cloud arise.

It was a laser-guided bomb that the Russians supplied to Syria. We had the intelligence of a meeting and we planned for it, we planned for it days in advance. It was coordinated very carefully. Everybody: us, the UK, the NSA, the CIA—everybody knew there was going to be a meeting there. In fact Russia even contacted our intelligence people, our CIA through a liaison I guess (I don’t know how), that there was going to be a secret meeting and if we had an asset there, if there was somebody we owned at that meeting, get him out of there because it’s going to be hit.

So all of this was pre-planned, the Russians supplied a laser-guided missile, no chemicals involved at all. If you’re dealing with sarin—are you kidding? Military-grade sarin? My god, you’d have to have huge facilities for storing sarin, for protecting anybody who gets near it. Just a drop will kill. You can’t smell it; it’s odorless, sightless. It doesn’t [cause] smoke.

The idea of sarin was on nobody’s table. It was not sarin. Whatever happened, and I don’t know—the opposition may have had sarin on the premise that got blown up and I don’t know. But I do know that Trump ignored the intelligence about it. He saw pictures of what were said to be children wounded or killed by sarin. Ambassador [Nikki] Haley [showed] some [photographs] and he saw it and he said, from that point on, he was going to bomb. It didn’t matter what the intelligence was.

KK: Why didn’t Trump listen to the intelligence?

SH: I quote somebody as saying, when he makes up his mind he makes up his mind; it didn’t matter what the intelligence was. In this case what we know is that he was told the day before that there’s no reason to think the Syrians dropped a sarin bomb. We know that Doctors Without Borders were at a clinic about 60 miles away, still in Syria, and they said that there were people there who definitely came in [having been] gassed by chlorine, which can also cause fatalities.

Alternet for more