Weekend Edition

September 24th, 2021

At 245, America is old enough to be honest about its founding

September 24th, 2021

by JON SCHWARZ

An illustration by Udo Keppler, “The Triumph of the American Battle-ship,” depicts the celebration of the Fourth of July in 1898. ILLUSTRATION/Universal Images Group via Getty

The Declaration of Independence’s clause about “merciless Indian Savages” and its deleted passage on slavery say a lot about us.

Happy Birthday, America! Today, July 4, 2021, we turn 245 years old. You might think we’d have trouble blowing out all the candles on the cake, but fortunately we can use the downdraft from the Sikorsky S-97 Raider, a new prototype attack helicopter with two rotors that spin in opposite directions.

And now that we’re 245, it seems as though we should be old enough to take an honest look at various dumb and awful things about our birth, and stop believing in preposterous myths.

While the American Revolution officially began at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts in April 1775, for some time afterward complete separation from Great Britain was only supported by a fervent minority. However, nothing works as well as killing and being killed to make everyone believe the other side are irredeemable monsters. By June 1776, public sentiment favored a total break.n

The Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, with edits by several others, including John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. It is Filled with The kind Of unpredictable Capitalization that was Common before English Was Standardized, and accuses King George III of attempting to impose both “absolute Despotism” and “absolute Tyranny” on the 13 Colonies. With the benefit of hindsight, many of the complaints make this seem like the kind of excitable language you employ to justify a decision you’ve already made. For instance, King George “called together legislative bodies at places unusual” for “the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance.” Bad, maybe, but not the worst crime in human history. This style of wild rhetorical exaggeration survives today among Americans who proclaim that the phaseout of incandescent lightbulbs is exactly like what Hitler did.

Intercept for more

Who Messed Up Afghanistan?

September 24th, 2021

by PERVEZ HOODBHOY

Women gather to demand their rights under Taliban rule during a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 3. PHOTO/Wali Sabawoon/AP/NPR

In his latest interview to PBS NewsHour, Prime Minister Khan correctly said the US “really messed it up in Afghanistan” and he also rightly questioned America’s motive for invading Afghanistan. In a second interview to Afghan media he denied that Pakistan speaks for the Taliban. This too is technically true. But to keep one’s moral compass straight, one must acknowledge that it wasn’t just America that messed up. Other countries, particularly Pakistan, also helped create the Afghan tragedy.

Let us return to when the Soviet Union was supposedly eyeing the “warm waters of the Persian Gulf”, a ubiquitous phrase of the late 1970s. After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, it was said that Pakistan was next in line. For Ronald Reagan, the Evil Empire and its godless, atheistic communists were on the move; they must be stopped. Agreed, said Gen Ziaul Haq, else Pakistan and Islam would be mortally endangered.

That Pakistan stood in danger was deliberate fabrication. With a failing economy the Soviets had no capacity to move any further, much less another 800 kilometres to the coast. Note also the supreme irony: when a slightly different brand of godless communists did eventually reach the coveted waters, the heavens didn’t fall. In fact, an eager and willing Pakistan rolled out the red carpet upon which the Chinese walked down to Gwadar. Contrary to Gen Zia’s dire pronouncements, Islam remains safe from communists even if Uighur Muslims are not.

Russia and USA are squarely responsible for Afghanistan’s tragedy but Pakistan is certainly not innocent.

Post-invasion, we all know what happened. The US embassy in Islamabad hosted the world’s largest covert operation with trained fighters recruited from around the Muslim world. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, abundantly funded and supplied, helped the CIA organise the world’s very first international jihad. A decade after the invasion, while preening before journalists and twirling his moustache, ISI’s head, Gen Hamid Gul, boasted to the world that he and his men had brought down the Soviet Union.

Let’s speculate what might have happened if Pakistan had spurned America’s enticements to battle its Cold War rival. What if Pakistan had let the Soviet invasion run its course instead of creating, arming, and organising the forces of resistance? The temptation to ask such ‘what if’ questions is irresistible at a time when apocalypse looms upon Afghanistan.

Eacpe for more

The main contradiction of the modern era

September 23rd, 2021

by VLADIMIR POPOV

IMAGE/World Atlas

The main contradiction of the modern era, and indeed of all human history, is not between capitalism and socialism, and not even between authoritarianism and democracy, but between individualism and collectivism, between public and personal interests. Countries that are getting ahead in the economic race allow themselves the luxury of individualism, prioritizing human rights, which ultimately undermines their political and economic power and causes their decline and the rise of more collectivist civilizations. It is literally the story that is as old, as the world itself…

“Asian values”

“Asian values” is the priority of the interests of the community (village, enterprise, nation, world community) over the interests of the individual. As a matter of fact, what is today called “Asian values”, before the 16th century Protestantism, was a universal principle of all mankind — there was no primacy of the interests of the individual over the interests of society before that time.

Collectivist values are often juxtaposed to Western liberal values, which stress the primacy of human rights that cannot be alienated from the individual under any circumstances, even for the sake of achieving the highest public good. John Rawls, political philosopher and an authority on the issue, formulated the principle of precedence of democratic values and human rights: according to him, human rights, including political rights, “are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.” Defenders of “Asian values”, whose roots are often sought in Confucianism, believe that, in principle, the political rights of individuals can be sacrificed for the highest public good, for example, for the sake of achieving sustained high rates of growth and social equality.

Values, of course, is largely a vague and subjective concept. Economists like to operate with something more tangible – objective and measurable categories, but there are those as well. Social harmony is based on low income and wealth inequality, which are perfectly measurable: in China and East Asia today it is lower than in other countries, if only the comparisons are made properly – adjusted for country size and level of development. And “oligarch-intensity” (the ratio of the wealth of billionaires to GDP), which measures inequality at the very top of the property pyramid, is lower in China than in most other countries.

The share of the state in the economy (government consumption as a percentage of GDP, to be precise) is higher than in states with similar characteristics, the number of violations of law and order and criminal penalties (the crime rate, murder rate and incarceration rate) is lower1. There are other measurable objective indicators – lifetime employment and unemployment rate, the ratio of bank credit to the stock market, concentration of control over corporations, etc. There are also differences in subjective preferencesmeasured by the World Value Survey and other polls – the degree of trust in the government, the willingness to defend one’s country, the importance of family ties, and so on2.

Inter Press Service for more

TikTok challenge: Cooking without ingredients… a novel way to spread the word about hunger

September 23rd, 2021

WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME

Madagascar: Underweight and malnourished children wait for treatment at a nutrition centre in Ambovombe district in June. PHOTO/WFP/Shelley Thakral

#Invisiblemeal is putting hunger around the world in focus

Grab your cooking pot to start cooking a delicious meal. You need:

0lb spaghetti 
0 cloves garlic
No cup of olive oil, 
No teaspoon red pepper flakes
0 pinch of salt 
No chopped fresh parsley.

But wait – where are the ingredients themselves, you ask. Well, this is an #InvisibleMeal.

In a world where up to 811 million people go to bed hungry, we all have to remind ourselves and others that hunger is still a reality for many – and to take whatever action we can. 

The #InvisibleMeal TikTok challenge was about shooting a cooking video with no ingredients to spread awareness around world hunger. Videos created through the challenge received 2 billion views worldwide. 

Meet four of our challengers below…

Earthtopia

Earthtopia, based in the UK, is TikTok’s biggest ‘eco community’, providing daily tips and solutions to address the climate crisis.

Earthtopia started its journey at the beginning of 2020 with the aim of creating content about the climate crisis and using the TikTok platform for the good of the planet. Account followers are typically 16- to 24-year-olds who care about the environment and want to learn about how we can protect it. 

Covering hundreds of different topics from recycling to zero waste, the Earthtopia team creates content by focusing on the solutions to climate change. It leans on TikTok and its tools to provide simple tips that followers can take such as how to keep vegetables fresher for longer. The team also produces a weekly roundup of positive eco news. 

“Our aim is to use the virality of TikTok to educate the community about the climate crisis, the solutions to it, and to give young people the tips and tools to live more sustainably,” says Earthtopia.

World Food Programme for more 

The South African model

September 23rd, 2021

by MEHMOOD MAMDANI

South Africa MAP/Duck Duck Go

In the course of the struggle against apartheid, South Africans did something remarkable: they tried, with incomplete success, to destroy the settler and the native by reconfiguring both as survivors. They did so by adopting a response to extreme violence that defied the logic of Nuremberg – the logic of separating perpetrators from victims, punishing the perpetrators, and creating separate spheres in which the two could live without harming each other in an ongoing cycle of violence. By thinking of extreme violence as a political rather than criminal act, South Africans were able to shift focus from individual transgressions of law to the issues that drove the violence and the needs of the people who survived it. Instead of going to court, they sat around the conference table. Rather than turn to a trial to produce truth and punish offenders, they negotiated reforms to make the political system more inclusive, recognising that perpetrators as well had to be brought into the political fold.

Above all, South Africans came to recognise that political identities are not permanent or natural. Activists overcame differences of race imposed on them – differences marked as African, Coloured, Indian, and white – to join in a single cause of breaking down apartheid. Afrikaners, once champions of apartheid, became part of the movement against it. These groups had been formed under colonialism as distinct and often rivalrous, their interests said to be naturally divergent. Because of the racial difference imputed to them, they were subject to different laws and granted different opportunities to participate in the political community, or sometimes no opportunity at all. But in response to apartheid, these people learned to think anew their political relation to each other: not as others or rivals but as equals in law.

In other words, South Africa attempted to decolonise, by breaking down the colonial distinction between settlers and natives and inviting them to participate in the same political community, with settlers reconfigured as immigrants. This attempt was partial. Colonial authorities created, and both colonial and apartheid authorities exploited, two kinds of distinction between settlers and natives: racial distinction and tribal distinction. The struggle against apartheid, and the new South Africa that followed, have made inroads against the politicisation of race. Yet today tribe remains a supposed African tradition. Thus settler and native identities have been dismantled in some respects and retained in others.

Aeon for more

The Modern Tecumseh and the Future of the U.S. Left

September 22nd, 2021

by BILL FLETCHER, Jr.

The following essay is not an academic research paper. Neither is it a biography. It draws from the life of Tecumseh and lessons that I believe are useful for the U.S. left. There are many books about Tecumseh, his brother, and their project. One that was especially powerful in triggering my thoughts about Tecumseh’s ongoing relevance is Allan W. Eckert’s A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh (New York: Bantam Books, 1993). There are many others, plus information one can obtain at the National Museum of the American Indian and several videos. Tecumseh has a special importance for my family because Fletchers are told, almost from the time of our births, that Tecumseh was an ancestor of ours, an assertion that no one seems to be able to prove but remains a source of family pride.

—Bill Fletcher Jr.

Introduction

Movements are frequently motivated by a compelling story. The story or narrative summarizes the condition of the protagonists and suggests a path forward. In the recent past, however, the left—a term we shall use here to designate political forces that oppose capitalism and the various structural oppressions associated with it from an emancipatory standpoint—has lacked a story. Instead, we have had something akin to vignettes, elements of a story, perhaps better thought of as snapshots. Perhaps it has been the provision of facts and figures concerning what is happening to the oppressed and dispossessed to which we have limited ourselves believing, incorrectly, that the facts alone constitute the story. But it is only when facts, vignettes, etc., are compiled in a logical and compelling fashion that they become a story, and one that can resonate.

Monthly Review Online for more

We need to regulate mind-reading tech before it exists

September 22nd, 2021

by ABEL WAJNERMAN PAZ

PHOTO/inda Davidson/The Washington Post/Getty Images

“Neurotechnology” is an umbrella term for any technology that can read and transcribe mental states by decoding and modulating neural activity. This includes technologies like closed-loop deep brain stimulation that can both detect neural activity related to people’s moods and can suppress undesirable symptoms, like depression, through electrical stimulation.

Despite their evident usefulness in education, entertainment, work, and the military, neurotechnologies are largely unregulated. Now, as Chile redrafts its constitution — disassociating it from the Pinochet surveillance regime — legislators are using the opportunity to address the need for closer protection of people’s rights from the unknown threats posed by neurotechnology. 

Although the technology is new, the challenge isn’t. Decades ago, similar international legislation was passed following the development of genetic technologies that made possible the collection and application of genetic data and the manipulation of the human genome. These included the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights in 1997 and the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data in 2003. The difference is that, this time, Chile is a leading light in the drafting of neuro-rights legislation.

In Chile, two bills — a constitutional reform bill, which is awaiting approval by the Chamber of Deputies, and a bill on neuro-protection — will establish neuro-rights for Chileans. These include the rights to personal identity, free will, mental privacy, equal access to cognitive enhancement technologies, and protection against algorithmic bias.

Rest of World for more

What the Israeli Prime Minister Took Away from Meeting with Biden

September 22nd, 2021

by MIRTA PACHECO

PHOTO/Associated Press

The meeting between Biden and Bennet, which took place a day late because of the attacks at the Kabul airport, has given a domestic boost to the Israeli leader. Biden clung to his promise that if diplomacy fails, he will use other means to prevent Iran’s nuclear rearmament. Current disagreements over Palestine were put aside.

President Joe Biden and Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett met at the White House yesterday, August 27. It was the most eagerly awaited meeting for the religious ultra-rightist since he ascended to the office of prime minister in June.

The meeting took place at the moment of greatest weakness for the Biden administration, in the midst of the full-steam evacuation from Afghanistan it is trying to carry out after the Taliban seizure of power and Thursday’s attacks in Kabul (carried out by the Afghan branch of ISIS). This withdrawal, already an indication of the failure of the “war on terror,” is an indelible mark of the crisis of U.S. hegemony — which the attacks deepened and made even more evident.

Bennett, representing a partner of the United States in the Middle East, was acutely aware of the situation. After being informed on Thursday that the scheduled meeting would be postponed, he only said, “We await instructions.”

Topics of Discussion

In concrete terms, not much came of the Friday meeting at the White House. Despite the disagreements that Israel has been raising regarding the U.S government’s plan — stalled at the moment — to move forward with reestablishing the nuclear agreement with Iran, after Trump blew it up, Biden reaffirmed his “diplomacy first” approach but added that he was “ready to turn to other options.”  Afterwards, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that “our first priority is on a diplomatic path forward.” The fact is that with the defeat in Afghanistan and the depth of the crisis, Biden is in no position — at least for the moment — to resort to any other option.

Later, in front of the media, Bennett said what one would expect: “Iran is the world’s number one exporter of terror, instability, and human rights violations.” Referring to Iranian centrifuges spinning, he added, “And we’ve got to stop them.”

Biden also told the Israeli prime minister, “We will discuss ways to promote peace, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians.” This general statement went hand in hand with the reaffirmation that the United States will continue to support Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system, which translates into additional aid totaling $1 billion in cash from the United States.

Last year alone, U.S. imperialism funded Israel to the tune of $3.8 billion, part of the $38 billion 10-year commitment Barack Obama made in 2016. It was a 6-percent increase in aid compared to the previous decade. The Zionist state uses most of that money to purchase U.S.-made military equipment.

Left Voice for more

India must not let US strike Taliban from its soil

September 21st, 2021

by M. K. BHADRAKUMAR

The old town and city park planners in England wouldn’t finalize footpath routes until they could observe for a while the tracks of walkers, then deciding where to lay the pathways for optimal utility. 

The US and Indian governments apparently think they don’t have that luxury when it comes to Afghanistan. That is the troubling signal that came out of the congressional hearing on Monday in Washington with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 

But for a start, Blinken was rather muted in his reaction to Pakistan’s perceived duplicity in taking advantage of the US. Certainly, he would know three things. 

First, such discord in the US-Pakistan relationship is nothing new. Second, while the present is full of hiccups in the relationship over the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan, the future beckons the imperative for Pakistan’s cooperation.

Third, Blinken is well aware that his statement cannot be the last word on the topic. In fact, on Tuesday, Lieutenant-General Scott Berrier, who leads the Defense Intelligence Agency, said at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Maryland that al-Qaeda may be only 12 to 24 months from reconstituting itself in Afghanistan to pose a significant threat to the United States.

How far such a prognosis is warranted remains a matter of conjecture. To my mind, an al-Qaeda reboot in Afghanistan is highly improbable. 

But US intelligence and the Pentagon would sense the urgency to consult Pakistan. William Burns, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, met with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, twice recently.

This is where Blinken’s remarks on India assume great importance. He was frontally asked by a powerful Republican congressman, Mark Green, whether the US has sought to explore the possibility of over-the-horizon capabilities in northwest India for counterterrorism capabilities in Afghanistan: 

Republican congressman Scott Perry also chipped in:“I would say that we should no longer pay Pakistan and we should pay India.”

MENAFN for more