The battle over history and Howard Zinn

October 15th, 2018


Late historian Howard Zinn PHOTO/Slobodandimitrov/CC BY 2.0

It is rare to get an intelligent, well-sourced and coherent discussion of issues today such as the role of history in education, politics and scholarship, but David Detmer of Purdue University Northwest has provided such with his new book, Zinnophobia: The Battle over History in Education, Politics and Scholarship. Detmer has very carefully dismembered much of the right wing’s “intellectual” assault on critical scholarship.

Dr. Detmer, Professor of Philosophy, has used the attack on the historical work of the late Howard Zinn as his entrée to the discussion. And Detmer starts close to home, discussing then-Indiana governor and current President of Purdue University, Mitch Daniels’, efforts to ensure that Zinn’s work not be allowed in any Indiana classroom. In February 2010, while governor, Daniels sent e-mails to several subordinates, “to make sure that a book he did not like, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, would not be ‘in use anywhere in Indiana’” (p. 17). Detmer used e-mails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act by the Associated Press (AP) to examine Daniels’ deplorable behavior.

Daniels’ problem with Zinn? The heart of it, from a Daniels’ e-mail, “It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page” (18).

Once the e-mails were published by the AP, Daniels and members of his administration tried to mitigate the ensuing controversy by trying obfuscation. To divert the attention on his efforts, Daniels referred to “Respected scholars and communicators of all ideologies agree that the work of Howard Zinn was irredeemably slanted, and unsuited for teaching to school children” (19).

Detmer has none of it: he carefully discusses the charges and countercharges and, in this book, also examines the work of his critics, both those Daniels relies on as well as others, to examine the quality of right-wing commentary on Zinn’s thinking and his research.

He starts with Daniels: “Notice, first, that in the initial emails, Daniels offers no evidence, argument or reasoning of any kind in support or his harsh judgment of Zinn’s work. Nor does he engage Zinn’s text—no page numbers or specific claims or analyses are cited.” Obviously, Detmer is not impressed: “we demand much more of our freshman students in the papers they write for our introductory courses” (21).

Daniels will probably not get this, as the current President of Purdue University has no academic qualifications to even be appointed into this position; as Detmer notes, “[Daniels] did not have a Ph.D. or comparable research degree; he had no teaching experience; and he had never published any peer reviewed scholarly research.” However, Daniels had an advantage with those who hired him: “the trustees [of Purdue University] owed their own positions as trustees to him—as governor, he had appointed eight of them to the Board of Trustees, and had re-appointed the other two” (17) But despite whatever he’s learned since becoming Purdue’s president in January 2013, it is difficult to imagine a more damning condemnation from a Faculty member, comparing Daniels’ work unfavorably to that required of freshman students in an introductory course.

Counterpunch for more

From India to Mars: A Swiss shop girl’s many lives

October 15th, 2018


The Martian landscape, as described by Hélène Smith PHOTO/ Wikimedia Commons

In the 1890s, a woman in Geneva described her previous incarnations as a Hindu princess, a French queen, and her travels to Mars. Hélène Smith’s story is narrated in From India to the Planet Mars: A Study of a Case of Somnambulism with Glossolalia, a book published first in French by the Swiss psychologist, Theodore Flournoy (1854-1921) who taught at the University of Geneva.

Translated into English in 1899, by Daniel Vermilye – who was once accused of defrauding banks – Flournoy’s book became widely available to western audiences and received rave reviews. From India to the Planet Mars described the remarkable mediumistic qualities of Catherine-Elise Muller, a young shop girl in Geneva who took on the name of Hélène Smith as a medium.

Flournoy first met Smith in 1893 and became an observer of her journeys into the spirit world for over five years. He did not set out to discredit her but relied on a method of detached observation, recording all data meticulously and non-judgementally, aiming to provide possible rational explanations for all he had witnessed.

Smith’s three distinct spirit stories were narrated in a serial-like form. The story of the princess Simandini began with her committing sati in 1402, following the death of her husband, the prince Sivrouka Nayaka of Chandragiri (or in some versions, Tchandragiri) in “Kanara on India’s west coast”. Simandini, as a later séance episode revealed, had been an Arab maiden who had fallen in love with Sivrouka. Smith cited customs, costumes and even the architecture of the time.

As Simandini, Smith replicated in every sense an “Oriental” princess with “the poses of a priestess”, singing “exotic melodies, played with an imaginary monkey”. She even “stretched on a sofa with the snake like movements of a real princess”. But what appeared extraordinary was the Sanskrit Smith spoke and wrote in – a language she had, as her past showed, little idea of. Her writing also revealed a few Arabic phrases.

Flournoy’s search of Geneva’s libraries turned up a volume on Indian history written in French by an obscure historian called De Marles. The book contained the entire story of Sivourka Nayaka and his ill-fated wife. A later search also revealed a book of elementary Sanskrit grammar in the very room Smith gave her séances in. As Flournoy rationalised, Smith perhaps knew of the story. She had even learnt something of Sanskrit grammar, but all this also appeared to suggest Smith’s amazing powers of memory and imagination.

Herald for more

Weekend Edition

October 12th, 2018

Multi-tasker, energetic, continual, perpetual worker

October 12th, 2018


Donald Trump with Stephanie Gregory Clifford aka Stormy Daniels in 2006 Daily Mail

POTUS is a busy bee
a very very busy person

always writing this or the other tweet

separating children from parents at the Mexican border
cursing Mexicans, Muslims, and colored people

imposing tariffs on countries

making values of Turkish, Indonesian Indian currencies fall
imposing sanctions on Chinese, Russians, and others

going against the world by walking out of the Paris climate treaty

drastically reducing corporate tax from 35% to 21%

sticking to his figure of less than 20 Puerto Rican deaths instead of 3,000

as if he hasn’t screwed up enough people and nations
he spends more than normal hours awake, as he boasts:

“I have a great temperament for success.
… You know, I’m not a big sleeper,
I like three hours, four hours,
I toss, I turn, I beep-de-beep,
I want to find out what’s going on.”

he wants to find …

whom to curse
whom to accuse
whom to blame
whom to fire
whom to sanction

even prior to becoming president, Trump was a multitasker

one example:

in a hotel room TV in 2007 Trump was with Stormy Daniels watching “sharks”
while his own snake with a “huge mushroom head” was out in the open
and Stormy’s figleaf was missing too
due to the nature of their meeting

(Stormy found the Trump snake “smaller than average”
but “not freakishly small” she saw its head as a “toadstool”)

simultaneously Trump was attending a phone call from Hillary Clinton
in the least, it was three way multi-tasking
Sharks, Hilary, Stormy and …??

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

Robots can develop prejudices just like humans

October 12th, 2018


PHOTO/Zhang Peng/LightRocket/Getty Images

In a fascinating study by researchers at Cardiff University and MIT, we learn that robots can develop prejudices when working together. The robots, which ran inside a teamwork simulator, expressed prejudice against other robots not on their team. In short, write the researchers, “groups of autonomous machines could demonstrate prejudice by simply identifying, copying and learning this behavior from one another.”

To test the theory, researchers ran a simple game in a simulator. The game involved donating to parties outside or inside the robot’s personal group based on reputation as well as donation strategy. They were able to measure the level of prejudice against outsiders. As the simulation ran, they saw a rise in prejudice against outsiders over time.

The researchers found the prejudice was easy to grow in the simulator, a fact that should give us pause as we give robots more autonomy.

“Our simulations show that prejudice is a powerful force of nature and through evolution, it can easily become incentivised in virtual populations, to the detriment of wider connectivity with others. Protection from prejudicial groups can inadvertently lead to individuals forming further prejudicial groups, resulting in a fractured population. Such widespread prejudice is hard to reverse,” said Cardiff University Professor Roger Whitaker. “It is feasible that autonomous machines with the ability to identify with discrimination and copy others could in future be susceptible to prejudicial phenomena that we see in the human population.”

Interestingly, prejudice fell when there were “more distinct subpopulations being present within a population,” an important consideration in human prejudice as well.

“With a greater number of subpopulations, alliances of non-prejudicial groups can cooperate without being exploited. This also diminishes their status as a minority, reducing the susceptibility to prejudice taking hold. However, this also requires circumstances where agents have a higher disposition towards interacting outside of their group,” Professor Whitaker said.

Tech Crunch for more

Neil deGrasse Tyson: A celebrity salesman for the military-industrial-complex

October 12th, 2018


Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (left in dark glasses) PHOTO/Tricia McKinney/CC BY 2.0

The idea for this article came from one of those annoying “Recommended for you” thumbnails on YouTube. The title was: “Neil deGrasse Tyson: Trump’s Space Force Is Not a Crazy Idea.” Having written about and researched space weapons for over a decade, I was intrigued as to why a seemingly intelligent man (Tyson) would want to help promote an agenda that will literally imperil us all, namely the weaponization of space: the end-game of which is global domination in the interests of economic neoliberalism. So I clicked. Tyson was talking to host Stephen Colbert about the wonders of space militarization (by the US, of course, not its enemies).

It turns out that Tyson is promoting a new, co-authored book, Accessory to War: the Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military (W.W. Norton, released, tastelessly, on 11 September), which is all about the history of science militarization. The book is a disgraceful attempt to use history as an excuse to justify the continuation and expansion of taxpayer-funded R&D into hi-technology via military budgets. By now, the hi-tech sector dominates the top US corporations: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Much of the innovations used by these companies were initiated in the military.

Tyson is doing the rounds on national media, including Colbert and CBS This Morning, to promote the book and more broadly continued public expenditure on the Pentagon. After a little digging, I found that America’s favourite astrophysicist is a glorified salesman for the military-industrial-complex.

Tyson’s military-science background

Having graduated from the Bronx High School of Science, Tyson went on to earn a PhD in astrophysics from Columbia University in 1991. From 1996, Tyson has been Frederick P. Rose director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.

Pretty soon, the George W. Bush administration was calling on Tyson’s talents for all things space-related. Under President Bill Clinton, the Space Command (later Air Force Space Command) announced plans to dominate the entire world by force, “Full Spectrum Dominance” as the successors continue to call it. In 2001, under Bush, the Rumsfeld Space Commission, sought ways to expand the weaponization of space to reinforce US-led corporate globalization and the architecture — satellites, GPS, the internet, etc. — that supports it. In the same year, Tyson became a formal employee of the Bush administration. One of his biographical webpages states:

“In 2001, Tyson was appointed by President Bush to serve on a 12-member commission that studied the Future of the US Aerospace Industry. The final report was published in 2002 and contained recommendations (for Congress and for the major agencies of the government) that would promote a thriving future of transportation, space exploration, and national security.”

The Final Report of the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry, on which Tyson worked, makes for an interesting read. It starts from an elite-nationalistic viewpoint, namely that of maintaining US supremacy in innovation before, discussing in Appendix G: “Astronautical research and development, including resources, personnel, equipment, and facilities; Outer space exploration and control.” “Control,” no less. Controlling space is a core part of “Full Spectrum Dominance.”

Counterpunch for more

Washington’s silent weapon for not-so-quiet wars. “A world full of dollars”, A 2019 global economic crisis

October 11th, 2018


Today by far the deadliest weapon of mass destruction in Washington’s arsenal lies not with the Pentagon or its traditional killing machines. It’s de facto a silent weapon: the ability of Washington to control the global supply of money, of dollars, through actions of the privately-owned Federal Reserve in coordination with the US Treasury and select Wall Street financial groups. Developed over a period of decades since the decoupling of the dollar from gold by Nixon in August, 1971, today control of the dollar is a financial weapon that few if any rival nations are prepared to withstand, at least not yet.

Ten years ago, in September, 2008, US Treasury Secretary, former Wall Street banker Henry Paulson, deliberately pulled the plug on the global dollar system by allowing the mid-sized Wall Street investment bank, Lehman Bros go under. At that point, with aid of the infinite money-creating resources of the Fed known as Quantitative Easing, the half-dozen top banks of Wall Street, including Paulson’s own Goldman Sachs, were rescued from a debacle their exotic securitized finance created. The Fed also acted to give unprecedented hundreds of billions of US dollar credit lines to EU central banks to avert a dollar shortage that would clearly have brought the entire global financial architecture crashing down. At the time six Eurozone banks had dollar liabilities in excess of 100% of their country GDP.

A World Full of Dollars

Since that time a decade ago, the supply of cheap dollars to the global financial system has risen to unprecedented levels. The Institute for International Finance in Washington estimates the debt of households, governments, corporations and the financial sector in the 30 largest emerging markets rose to 211% of gross domestic product at the start of this year. It was 143% at the end of 2008.

Further data from the Washington IIF indicate the scale of a debt trap that is only in early stages of detonating across the less-advanced economies from Latin America to Turkey to Asia. Excluding China, emerging market total debt, in all currencies including domestic, has nearly doubled from 15 trillion dollars in 2007 to 27 trillion dollars at end of 2017. China debt in the same time went from 6 trillion dollars to 36 trillion dollars according to IIF. For the group of Emerging Market countries, their debts denominated in US dollars has grown to some 6.4 trillion dollars from 2.8 trillion dollars in 2007. Turkish companies now owe almost 300 billion dollars in foreign-denominated debt, over half its GDP, most in dollars. Emerging markets preferred the dollar for many reasons.

As long as those emerging economies were growing, earning export dollars at a rising rate, the debt was manageable. Now all that’s beginning to change. The agent of that change is the world’s most political central bank, the US Federal Reserve, whose new chairman, Jerome Powell, is a former partner of the spooky Carlyle Group. Arguing that the domestic US economy is strong enough that they can return US dollar interest rates to “normal,” the Fed has begun a titanic shift in dollar liquidity to the world economy. Powell and the Fed know very well what they are doing. They are ratcheting up the dollar screws to precipitate a major new economic crisis across the emerging world, most especially from key Eurasian economies such as Iran, Turkey, Russia and China.

Global Research for more

India’s biometric database is creating a perfect surveillance state — and U.S. tech companies are on board

October 11th, 2018


A woman is screened for an Aadhaar card on April 12, 2013, in New Delhi, India. PHOTO/Mint via Getty Images

The Aadhaar program offers a glimpse of the tech world’s latest quest to control our lives, where dystopias are created in the name of helping the impoverished.

Big U.S. technology companies are involved in the construction of one of the most intrusive citizen surveillance programs in history.

For the past nine years, India has been building the world’s biggest biometric database by collecting the fingerprints, iris scans and photos of nearly 1.3 billion people. For U.S. tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, the project, called Aadhaar (which means “proof” or “basis” in Hindi), could be a gold mine.

The CEO of Microsoft has repeatedly praised the project, and local media have carried frequent reports on consultations between the Indian government and senior executives from companies like Apple and Google (in addition to South Korean-based Samsung) on how to make tech products Aadhaar-enabled. But when reporters of HuffPost and HuffPost India asked these companies in the past weeks to confirm they were integrating Aadhaar into their products, only one company ? Google ? gave a definitive response.

That’s because Aadhaar has become deeply controversial, and the subject of a major Supreme Court of India case that will decide the future of the program as early as this month. Launched nine years ago as a simple and revolutionary way to streamline access to welfare programs for India’s poor, the database has become Indians’ gateway to nearly any type of service ? from food stamps to a passport or a cell phone connection. Practical errors in the system have caused millions of poor Indians to lose out on aid. And the exponential growth of the project has sparked concerns among security researchers and academics that India is the first step toward setting up a surveillance society to rival China.

A Scheme Born In The U.S.

Tapping into Aadhaar would help big tech companies access the data and transactions of millions of users in the second most populous country on earth, explained Usha Ramanathan, a Delhi-based lawyer, legal researcher and one of Aadhaar’s most vocal critics.

The idea for India’s national biometric identification team wasn’t unprecedented, and in fact, it has strong parallels with a system proposed for the United States. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the CEO of Oracle, Larry Ellison, offered to build the U.S. government software for a national identification system that would include a centralized computer database of all U.S. citizens. The program never got off the ground amid objections from privacy and civil liberties advocates, but India’s own Ellison figure, Nandan Nilekani, had a similar idea. The billionaire founder of IT consulting giant Infosys, Nilekani conceptualized Aadhaar as a way to eliminate waste and corruption in India’s social welfare programs. He lobbied the government to bring in Aadhaar, and went on to run the project under the administration of Manmohan Singh. Nilekani gained even more influence under current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who moved to make Aadhaar necessary for almost any kind of business in India.

Huffington Post for more

Marcus Garvey and the Afrikan Revolution in the 21st century

October 11th, 2018


PHOTO/Getty Images

This paper deals with the meaning of Mwalimu Marcus Garvey and the Afrikan Revolution in the 21st century. Mwalimu Garvey is without doubt one of the most important figures of the Afrikan Revolution in the last 50 years and today, more than 70 years after his passing, his mission of total and unapologetic independence for the Black race, remains unfinished.

In order to argue this conclusion, we will reflect on critical moments in Black radical resistance that occurred during the month of August, provide a biographical sketch of who Garvey was, what his contribution was to the upliftment of the Black race, reflect on the challenges he encountered, what is his legacy and what are the implications of his work for the advancement of the Afrikan Revolution today.

1. Opening remarks

Egameni ledelakufa, Inkosi uMpolekeng Jantjie. Camagu!

Egameni ledelakufa, Inkosi uGalemidiwe Galeshewe. Camagu!

Egameni ledelakufa, Inkosi uToto Mokgolowe. Camagu!

Egameni ledeluka, uPhakamile Mabija. Camagu!

Egameni ledekafuka, uMmereki Morebudi. Camagu!

Egameni ledelakufa, uHutse Segolodi. Camagu!

Egameni ledelakufa, uAndries Tatane. Camagu!

Egameni ledelakufa, uNqobile Nzuza. Camagu!

Egameni lomfowethu, uJan Rivombo. Camagu!

Egameni ledelakufa,uSikhosiphi Rhadebe. Camagu!

Egameni likadedawethu, uAlem Dechasa. Camagu!

Egameni ledelakufa, uMgcineni Noki. Camagu!

Egameni lomfowethu, uMatlhomola Mosweu. Camagu!

Emagameni abodadebethu nabafowethu abashona eLife Esidemini. Camagu!

Egameni likaKumkanikazi uMam’uZondeni Sobukwe. Camagu!

Camagwini maAfrika!

We invoke these sacred names for a number of reasons. One, to remind us that, as Black people, we have a unique, complex, profoundly traumatic and continuing history that is not comparable to the histories of other races. Two, to remind us not to forget about the gratuitous and unprovoked violence that continues to be unleashed upon our Black bodies (even by our own kind).

And three, to never forget that we live in an era wherein there are some, (both within and outside our race), who would prefer that we be docile, apologetic, acquiesce, equivocate and even be untruthful, in how we reflect on our history and the place we now occupy in the world today, as Black people.

In what is regarded as mainstream public discourse, the general inclination is to try as much as possible to avoid topics or issues that directly affect Black people. And if such discourses do happen, the dominant approach is to use language that is analytically superficial, obfuscates the actual peculiarities that come with having a Black skin or tries as much as possible not to offend the architects and beneficiaries of Black suffering.

For instance, instead of talking about Black people, we seem more comfortable with soporific formulations such as “historically-disadvantaged”, “people from working class backgrounds” or “the poorest of the poor”. Essentially, we tend to prefer language that numbs the consciousness of Black people, instead of awakening it.

But why do we the Black people of today speak with such trepidation? There are a number of reasons for our nervousness. In explaining this form of self-censure, Frank Wilderson, observes that:

“…there is a way in which all Black speech is always coerced speech, in that you’re always in what Saidiya Hartman would call a context of slavery: anything that you say, you always have to think, ‘what are the consequences of me speaking my mind going to be?’”

Bantu Biko situationalises this point when he observes that:

“There is in South Africa an over-riding idea to move towards ‘comfortable’ politics, between leaders. And they hold discussions among themselves about this. Comfortable politics in the sense that we must move at a pace that doesn’t rock the boat. In other words people are shaped by the system even in their consideration of approaches against the system.”

He goes on to say:

“Not shaped in the sense of working out meaningful strategies, but shaped in the sense of working out an approach that won’t lead them into any confrontation with the system. So they tend to accommodate the system, to censure themselves, in a much stronger way than the system would probably censure them.”

Pambazuka for more

Equality and territory: The common struggle of indigenous women in the Andes

October 10th, 2018


Teresita Antazú, a “cornesha” or leader of the Yanesha people, one of the 55 indigenous peoples officially recognised in Peru, who from a young age fought against the patriarchal power and the inequalities faced by indigenous women, takes part in a demonstration in defence of native peoples of the Amazon rainforest. PHOTO/Mariela Jara/IPS

(IPS) – “At the age of 18 I was the first female leader in my organisation, my grandfather who was a male chauvinist demanded that I be beaten because I was sitting among men,” said Teresita Antazú, an indigenous leader of the Yanesha people in Peru’s Amazon region.

Now, almost 57 and after a lifetime dedicated to breaking down barriers, she believes that over the past three decades, indigenous women in her country and throughout the Andean region have achieved visibility, formal recognition of their rights and openness of institutions to their demands.

But they are still victims of violence compounded by the fact that they are both indigenous and women. They also face discrimination and growing threats to their territories, as Antazù – the first female “cornesha” (highest authority) of the Federation of Yanesha Native Communities – told IPS from her home town of Constitución, in the jungle in central Peru.

For Rosa Montalvo, an Ecuadorian documentary filmmaker who has worked for 25 years with indigenous women in the Andean region, the current struggle for territory and equality is a common thread providing continuity with the exploits of Bartolina Sisa, an Aymara resistance leader executed on Sept. 5, 1782 for rebelling against the Spanish conquistadors.

It was in homage to Sisa that the Second Conference of Latin American Organisations and Movements, held in Bolivia in 1983, declared Sept. 5 the International Day of Indigenous Women.

“Like Bartolina Sisa, indigenous women today are struggling to keep their cultures alive in their communities, to continue to exist as peoples and to have the opportunities they deserve, preserving the continuity of the new generations, especially now that there are stronger attacks on their territories,” Montalvo told IPS from Quito.

She was referring, for example, to the case of Colombia, where the National Indigenous Organisation, which groups 102 native peoples, reported that between November 2016 and July 2018, 65 activists were killed by illegal armed groups. This was after a peace deal signed by the government and left-wing guerrillas put an end to half a century of armed conflict.

“Indigenous communities have been left more vulnerable in a serious scenario of territorial disputes, with women being severely affected because they remain in their territories to sustain life and are exposed to violence,” explained Montalvo, who is also a member of the non-governmental International Land Coalition.

Indigenous territories are also under threat, with impacts on the lives of native peoples and women, in countries like Ecuador and Bolivia despite their progressive constitutions, said Montalvo.

“Both countries still have an agro-export economic model, which poses a threat to indigenous territories,” said the Ecuadorian documentary-maker.

Territory is life for indigenous peoples and women, it is their source of livelihood, and the basis for their culture and worldview. If their territory is encroached upon, their very existence is jeopardised.

The Andean States have signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and International Labour Organisation Convention 169, which guarantee prior, informed consultation in order to carry out investment projects in the territories of indigenous communities.

However, these commitments are not enforced and extractive activities are impacting on the livelihoods, cultures and worldviews of native peoples, say experts and indigenous leaders.

“That is why we speak of several types of violence, as violence that occurs against our bodies and in our territories,” Tarcila Rivera, a Peruvian member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, told IPS.

Toward Freedom for more