Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sarah Palin Advocates for Terror

Over the week-end, sometime GOP vice-presidential candidate and perennial commentator Sarah Palin proclaimed that in her world, “they would know, waterboarding is how we baptise terrorists”. 

I hope I’m not alone in being shocked that a public figure who is taken seriously by many people in our country (something shocking in and of itself given Palin’s fulsome embrace of the “know-nothing” attitude that is crippling our country and our communities) could say such a thing.

The OED provides a workmanlike definition of ‘terrorism’: “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims; such practices used by a government or ruling group in order to maintain its control over a population; such practices used by a clandestine or expatriate organization as a means of furthering its aims”.

What Palin was doing when she suggested that people should be tortured in violation of U.S. and international law, was advocating for terrorism.  For years U.S. agencies openly met terror with terror, kidnapping, torturing, murdering, disappearing, and rendering people who it believed to be threats without following legal procedures to ensure that they had the right person or had a case which did not violate the law.

Today, such things continue to occur, whether in the form of CIA black-sites, the prison at Guantanamo Bay, or drone strikes.  In some cases, the government will not admit to its behaviour, while in others it works had to preserve a fictive veneer of legality.  At other times it works to suppress the disclosure of such methods, as when the CIA is permitted to redact information from a report which details the crimes and brutality of the agency, an action tantamount to allowing a murder to sort through and dispose of evidence before a trial.

To me, these things are terrorism.  They are terrorism because they are unofficial and unauthorised, and usually illegal.  They are instances of grotesque violence and intimidation.  And they are used by clandestine groups like the CIA which too often operate outside of the law with impunity.

So I am shocked by Palin’s open advocacy of things that are not only illegal, but also sickening to contemplate and which have a corrosive effect on the health of our society and our democracy and the rule of law which we think governs our interactions with our fellow U.S. and global citizens. 

I am sickened by demented advocates of violence everywhere, whether that is Al Qaeda who killed thousands in their attack on the U.S. in 2001; the neoconservatives who killed hundreds of thousands in their illegal war of aggression against Iraq; or small-minded, nasty people like Palin who casually advocate methods of terror as though they are somehow in keeping with the values of decent people. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Rainy Days in California

It is to the great shame of the California Democratic Party that Jerry Brown does not have to campaign for re-election during the primary season.  Our governor instead coasts to re-election against unviable Republican candidates, and is therefore never held to account by progressives who face a choice between Brown’s conservatism and that of a GOP candidate who is even worse.

But although he might not begin campaigning until the end of the summer, Jerry Brown seems to have found his theme and his cause for his re-election bid.  From the day he entered the gubernatorial race in 2010, his mantra has been “fiscal responsibility” at whatever cost, and that shows no sign of changing.

That mantra explains the devastating cuts he made to all levels of the education sector.  It explains his efforts to bend the noble ideal of an education to the grubby demands of an immoral market.  It explains his victimisation of the poor, the weak, the young, and the elderly when he made harsh cuts to the social welfare net in the middle of a recession which already had many Californians on their knees.  And it explains his efforts to shutter public spaces, whether libraries or parks. 

It also explains Brown’s willingness to roll back the regulations that protect communities from the potentially-terrible impacts of practises like fracking (enforcing regulations costs money).  And it explains his refusal to back Democrats’ efforts to restore funding to the public sphere during those fleeting months when they held supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate.  The one thing Brown’s mantra does not explain is his categorical refusal to shoulder responsibility and tackle the underlying democratic deficit which makes raising revenue to reinvest in our society virtually impossible.  That can only be explained by laziness or political cowardice.

But what his mantra does explain is why Jerry Brown is doing the rounds of the television and radio stations defending his record on addressing economic inequality, explaining, “We’re taking many steps.  I’m sure there’ll be many more”.  Some of those “steps” including granting a pittance back to schools and universities after decades of divestment, not something exactly guaranteed to change the fact that after those decades of divestment from schools and social welfare one quarter of California’s children live in poverty.  I could not fathom a more devastating indictment of a society’s priorities.

But Brown’s response to his critics is emblematic of his consistent refusal to address simmering problems: he passed the buck by arguing that because there are global factors in play he can’t do much about it; and he used his signature cynicism to suggest that Californians might need to accept inequality, breezily saying, “You don’t get the good without some of the bad”.

To bolster his reputation for “fiscal responsibility” during election season, Brown will be campaigning for a rainy-day fund for the state.  And in a sign that he hasn’t learned anything about the process that makes California ungovernable absent one-party rule (and that’s assuming there’s consensus within the party that has the ability to override the undemocratic supermajorities in place), Brown wants the rainy day fund written into the state’s constitution, elongating what is already amongst the world’s longest and most unwieldy constitutional document and which introduces a paralysing degree of inflexibility into our politics.

The principle behind a rainy-day fund makes sense.  In good times you save for the bad times.  But because California can’t support its public sphere in good times, let alone bad, the creation of a rainy day would wind up leading to some out-of-touch priorities.  Until we actively invest in the present, there will not be any good times for the state—or at least for most Californians who do not benefit from the “recovery” that has bolstered the fortunes of the wealthy while leaving the poor and middle class behind.  Under Brown’s plan, this year California surpasses the threshold which would require the state to make a contribution to a rainy-day fund.

But the idea that a polity in our impoverished state—straining schools, underfunded universities, slashed social services, weakened welfare, and pulverised public institutions—should be taking funds desperately needed today and setting them aside for the future instead of reinvesting for the present is mind-bogglingly irresponsible.  One sign of its irresponsibility is the backing it has received from GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, whose economic fundamentalism was responsible for the warped bank bailouts and golden parachutes at the height of the recession.

If the Governor is serious about combating economic inequality, instead of de-funding the public sphere and then putting money aside in the middle of an economic thunderstorm which has yet to abate for many Californians, he should be harnessing the spectacular—and spectacularly poorly distributed—wealth of the state to invest in its citizens. 

Representatives of two progressive groups made this point very well in a recent op-ed to the San Francisco Chronicle, a paper in the city representative of the state’s new, tuned-out elite who are increasingly abandoning the city’s fabled progressivism for a cold, cynical, self-interested libertarianism (not that there’s any other kind). 

“With state revenues on the rise and Gov. Jerry Brown cruising to re-election”, the advocates wrote, “you would think that his call for a special session this week would be to reverse billions in draconian cuts made during our decade of disinvestment”.

“Instead”, they argue, rightly, that “Gov. Brown has only created a platform to amplify his out-of-touch, ‘live-within-your-means’ scolding of California’s working poor, seniors, and children.  Instead of prioritizing a path to raise permanent revenue that could restore $20 billion in cuts to K-12 education and community colleges, $3.7 billion to Medi-Cal, $4.6 billion to Social Security assistance and $1.6 billion in child care program cuts since 2008, he has decided to focus on the next rainy day.  We’ve got news for the governor: It’s still raining!”

Brown’s emphasis on fiscal probity rather than the moral responsibility that we have as Californians to each other in times of hardship as well as of plenty is sad, not only because it represents his inability to understand the gravity of the challenges our state faces.  But also because, as he cruises to re-election, unchallenged except by yapping fundamentalists, his misplaced priorities will continue to punish Californians, diminish our civic sphere, and reduce our capacity to create a good, fair, and equal society. 

The Governor is fond of classical illusions, but seems unaware that he resembles less some classical sage in the agora of his “new California” than an addled Nero, fiddling to some orchestra only he can hear atop a social and economic tinderbox.  The story the Governor is writing for California has all the makings of a tragedy, and Californians should demand better. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

News for the Week

Just some of the interesting or important stories I ran across this week.

Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda preparing to make a broadcast in the early 1960s.  British National Archives

There was a heartening report in the Fresno Bee that increasing numbers of Californians recognise the value of pre-school, and at least at the polls say that they are willing to fund the level of education which has been shown to be the best predictor of children’s success in life.  The integration of early childhood education into the public school system is long overdue given the importance of the early years of children’s lives and the short shrift currently given to the welfare of young children.

I just hope that Californians are willing to put their money where their mouths are.


South Africa is preparing for elections in less than two weeks’ time.  Much is being made that this is the first election in which those born after 1994—the year of the country’s first democratic election—will be going to the polls.  While the ANC, the party which led the struggle against apartheid, is likely to win the election, its brand is increasingly tarnished by its inability or unwillingness to combat the grotesque inequality in the country, which is reminiscent of the material conditions under which people lived when the racist National Party ran the country at the barrel of the gun.

The traditional challenge to the ANC had come from the Democratic Alliance, a liberal party based around Cape Town.  The DA was never going to have a breakthrough with the public when it embraced policies well to the right of the ANC, when the electorate was clamouring for the redistribution of wealth.  And so now the challenge is coming from a breakaway, populist ANC faction run by the confrontational Julius Malema, who has embraced, along with economic populism, the language of a new liberation war, using the language of violence against the state, with sadly racialised tones, in much the same way that right-wingers in the U.S. do. 


This, of course, is reminiscent of Cliven Bundy, the rancher in Nevada who rides around waving the American flag, and yet declines to respect the law, claims that he does not recognise the U.S. government.  This “patriot” assembled a militia rabble to back him up as he articulates a worldview which ranges from treacherous subversion to out-and-out racism.  Imagine what the world would be like if everyone who had a problem with a law—in this case one related to grazing fees—picked up a gun and threatened violence.


In a few days, former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda will be turning 90.  Kaunda is one of the last of a generation, and with Robert Mugabe is a reminder of the liberation struggles that took place in Southern Africa as countries in the region sought to rid themselves of colonial rule.  Kaunda, embracing “Zambian humanism”, instituted one-party rule until he was forced to allow an election in the early 1990s in which he was ousted.

Now he is regarded as an elder statesman in a very different light from Robert Mugabe, and is remembered fondly across Southern Africa because under his watch, Zambia offered support and sanctuary to liberation groups from across the region.  His support for these anti-colonial movements came at some economic cost as the apartheid government in South Africa sought to cripple its neighbours.


There is little cause for celebration in the eastern region of Ukraine, where now even international observers have been seized by thugs who most people seem to believe are operating at the behest of the Russian government in its cynical efforts to destabilise the region and use the excuse of protecting Russians abroad to expand its ugly reach.


International justice exists more often in theory than in practise, but the Marshall Islands is seeking to use the legal mechanisms associated with the International Court of Justice to sue nuclear powers for their abuses of human rights.  The small nation exists in the heart of the Pacific, where many of the great powers—the United States and France in particular—tested many of their weapons of terror and mass destruction with precious regard for the human consequences. 

The case regards the failure of states with weapons of nuclear terror to live up to their treaty obligations, pointing out that “the weapons states are currently in the process of modernising their nuclear weapons, which it portrays as a clear violation of the [Non Proliferation Treaty]”.  Of course, Israel, North Korea, India and Pakistan have not even signed the treaty, adding a layer of complexity to address the potential of these weapons to unleash terror on the world.

This is a particularly poignant story for me, because my first college research paper was written for Professor James Egan’s Peoples of the Pacific anthropology class at UC Irvine on nuclear testing on the Pacific.  Research for that paper involved reading the accounts of many people from islands across the Pacific Ocean whose lives were upended by the games of the nuclear powers.


As evidence that we have perhaps begun to move beyond the days when deadly weapons were tested without regard for the environmental or social consequences, the Los Angeles Times reported that the California EPA is developing the means to take a far more targeted approach to combating pollution in the state. 

The agency charged with ensuring the safety and health of the public in the face of threats to our air and water supplies is better able to map the location of the worst pollution, which perhaps unsurprisingly corresponds with the presence of some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our state community, those lacking the means to stick up for themselves. 


But there is bad news for the quest to cut costly consumption and ease pollution, in that the Koch Empire is launching an assault on efforts to build up solar energy as an alternative to fossil fuel consumption.  The poor little Koch Brothers apparently feel like consumers should compensate them for choosing more efficient and ethical energy sources, and so are lobbying for taxes on homeowners who use solar power or wind turbines. 

The psychopathic hypocrites who are trying to buy elections, re-write science with their hired guns, crush the ability of workers to organise themselves, are now trying to roll back regulations and subsidies which ask states to diversify the source of their power and provide incentives to households and consumers to do so.  It is a sad statement of how our democracy and our energy policy can be driven by the money of a few vested interests, rather than any sense of the public good.


Finally, citizens in the world’s largest democracy—India—are voting.  The Congress Party, which has dominated the nation’s politics since independence, and which has largely respected the secular nature of the country which contains large populations of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, looks likely to lose.

While a populist party based around Delhi is likely to be one beneficiary, the consensus seems to be that big winner will be the Hindu nationalist BJP, which manages to combine rank populism with corporate pandering while being led by a man accused of fostering or else permitting communal violence under his watch in his home state.

Allowing for the massive numbers, huge spaces, and trying logistics, the election takes place over a lengthy period of time, during which the polls are under the watch of the generally well-regarded Election Commission.  While in some countries a disputed election is decided by nine political appointees, other countries like India have credible, independent institutions charged with monitoring elections. 

This was a timely election inasmuch as it coincided with my students reading of Khushwant Singh’s classic novel about partition in India, Train to Pakistan.  The novel tells the story of a village of many faiths, the inhabitants of which lived amicably together until the arbitrary lines drawn by British surveyors at independence, and the obsession with the emerging nations to homogenise their populations led to a catastrophic blood-letting. 

It is a tragic story, but one which in many ways was the story of the twentieth century and could, if we do not take care, continue to define the twenty-first. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Diplomacy and Terror

Last week, the BBC reported that “President Barack Obama has signed into law a measure that would bear entry to any UN ambassador whom the US says has engaged in ‘terrorist activity’”.  The law is aimed at Iran’s UN ambassador who played a role in the 1979 embassy hostage crisis. 

The Iranian ambassador argued that “he acted merely as a translator on a couple of occasions for the hostage-takers, an account corroborated by some of the activists”.  In signing the law, President Obama recognised the dangerous subjectivity it introduces, and its capacity to substitute fear mongering for diplomacy.  In his signing statement the President suggested that he was responding to hysteria in Congress and would consider the law on an “advisory” basis.

On the one hand, I agree that those who have committed crimes should probably not be diplomats.  On the other, there are avenues for the prosecution of international crimes if the U.S. was interested, avenues from which we notoriously shy away in its refusal to ratify the International Criminal Court.  “Terrorist activity”, moreover, is a dangerously subjective category, one which would have barred Nelson Mandela and the virtually any leader of an anti-colonial movement from taking part in international forums depending on who was calling the shots.

There is a danger that politically-motivated claims of this kind, levelled by the United States, could be used to shut down diplomatic efforts from countries which fall afoul of our notoriously narrow worldview.  Such action could foreclose potential for negotiation and discussion in a world where many leaders are prone to resort to violence without exhausting other alternatives which stand to benefit their publics.

But one thing is very clear from the spirit of the U.S. ruling, which probably violates international law.  Neither the current President nor his predecessor, nor any of the top officials of the Bush Administration should be allowed anywhere near the United Nations.  Because all of these people have liberally adopted “terrorist activity” to pursue their foreign policy aims.

President Bush committed crimes against peace and launched an illegal war of aggression.  His administration authorised and practised torture, rendition, disappearance, and murder.  His punitive military attacks on Iraqi cities killed massive numbers of people, and destroyed the country’s infrastructure and institutions.  His unleashing of mercenary forces on Iraqis, and the cover-ups which protected some of those mercenaries and many officials and military figures in the United States are surely the actions of a terrorist government.

President Obama escalated the War of Terror, and his primary weapon has been the drones, the use of which has allowed him to substitute murder accompanied by pedagogical collateral damage for the incarceration and torture preferred by the Bush administration.  The President has promoted proponents of murder—who defend their lawless killing by referring to “disposition matrices”—and granted impunity to officials from the Bush Administration.

Obama’s drones—the programme was introduced by Bush but expanded in scope by the current administration—are also designed to literally strike terror into their victims and the populations over which they soar, out of sight and out of legal reach.  A U.S. journalist described them as “terrifying”, writing that “from the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what the are tracking as they circle overhead.  The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death”. 

The U.S. investigation into Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq found that U.S. forces had committed “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuse”.  And it was only natural that this abuse, which in another setting would have been called “enhanced interrogation” by the Bush Administration, would flourish in the context of a war designed to fight terror with terror, using the weapons, administrative apparatus, and ideological premises of all imperial wars.

Critics of U.S. terror are often asked why they don’t move on and forget about the war in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the broader war of terror waged by the United States. 

My own answer is that no one would ask a society to forget about a serial killer or violent criminal in its midst.  The reason that we meet crimes with punishments is to protect our citizenry and make it clear that there are consequences for violating the social contract and taking or abusing human life.  If we did not take these actions to apprehend criminals and protect people, those criminals could act with impunity and others would see that they too could act unpunished.

If we take action against people who have killed a few of our fellow citizens so seriously, surely we should be concerned about the engineers of mass killings in which the victims number in the hundreds of thousands.  If we prosecute the murderers of individuals in order to protect our community, we should surely prosecute people who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity.

After all, if the neoconservatives see that they can wage illegal war and unleash terror with impunity, they will do it again and again, so long as they are persuaded that it will advance their twisted cause, so out of step with the needs and values of our country and our society.  This, for me, is the reason why it is important that people who break the law and take human life on such a massive scale, or who violate it through the use of torture and rendition, should be held to account.  Until they are, our politics will remain unfocussed and misguided, and our world will not be safe. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

From the Ruins of Empire: Book Review

Understanding the perspectives of other people is not something the United States and its citizens do terribly well.  We have a tremendously self-important sense of how we as a people and a culture are shaped by our own history, even if our sense of what that history is might be a few degrees removed from reality. 

We expect the world to know and to appreciate this history, as well as our “exceptional” nature, which in U.S. parlance means “superior” rather than unique.  But when it comes to analysing the motives of others, we fall short.  We fall back on jingoistic formulas—“They hate us for our freedoms!”—or on comforting cultural reductionism. 

So it’s perhaps understandable that in the age of our nearly forgotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq one of the most popular works of history was Niall Ferguson’s Empire, which offered simplistic and unsubstantiated narratives about the good that the British Empire supposedly brought to the people they colonised, and about the example that the British set for the United States, which Ferguson hoped would take its place as a superpower unafraid of ruling the world with a mailed fist.

The problems with Ferguson’s rose-tinted view of Empire, one shared by the neoconservatives, are legion.  But two stand out.  One is the shocking violence that accompanied not only colonial conquests, but the subsequent “pacificiation” campaigns to put down resistance, and the raw brutality with which the British and other imperial powers met nationalists in later decades. 

The second is that in his crude balance table of what the British “gave” to the people whose societies they conquered, economies they plundered, and cultures they subdued, there are no voices to be heard from the tens of millions of people who the British ruled.

Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire: the Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia (New York: Picador, 2012) is a wonderful antidote to Ferguson’s ahistorical propaganda, with its silent million and refusal to contemplate the British Empire’s record. 

Mishra looks at what was common in the experience of Empire amongst Asian states which had highly-developed senses of their own historical roles, cultural prestige, and place in the world.  Mishra tells this story through key characters, scholars and revolutionaries whose likely-unfamiliar names mask sympathetic stories and a series of encounters across Asia whereby those experiencing the short end of the imperial stick debated how to respond to European and American terrorism and occasionally sought to present a united front, something never realised thanks to different historical trajectories and different state models.

There is the Ottomans’ ecumenical empire, with its sophisticated administrative structures designed to absorb and accommodate an incredible range of ethnicities, languages, and traditions, something no other European power sought to emulate.

And then there was the Japanese state, which in a debate that echoes in parts of Asia and Africa today, decided that to counter the west it needed not only rapid development driven by an authoritarian state shorn of representative niceties, but also an empire of its own. 

There was also the erstwhile superpower, China, which in a conceit that might sound familiar to Americans today, thought itself the centre of the world, a “Middle Kingdom” contemptuous of the notion that it could learn anything from the world’s other peoples.  The insularity was not just technological and cultural.  It was historical, inasmuch as the Chinese government, like its American counterpart today, proved incapable of understanding the motives and reacting to the blandishments of the depraved thugs who came pushing opium at the point of a gun. 

When China rejected the advances of British merchants, the British Empire brought its navy and troops from India to bear, unleashing terror on cities near the sea and rivers, burning the Summer Palace, and humiliating the country’s leadership, imposing a financially crippling indemnity and a series of devastating legal and commercial requirements which undermined the ability of the state to defend the interests of its people.

Mishra’s characters are cosmopolitans.  In their quest to revive their respective civilisations they travelled.  Their journeys took them around an Islamic world which rivalled the “West” as an idea in search of a fixed geography.  Their travels took them to Japan, seat of an expanding Asian Empire which defeated the Russian navy in 1905 and offered hope to people across the Asian landmass.  And they found themselves in the lands of their oppressors, from which they drew lessons about the sources of the West’s power as well as the extent of the violence and depravity associated with the construction of wildly unstable and unequal societies.

Mishra’s narrative allows us to understand the moral and intellectual feebleness of modern-day imperialists’ conception of Empire, but it also allows us to see the perspective of revolutionaries, thinkers, writers, freedom-fighters, and would-be nation-builders who were the victims of Western expansion, enrichment, and duplicity.  If we would like to understand why people look askance at us and question our motives today, it would be helpful to understand how not long ago we gave them very good reason to do so.

Mishra’s writing is beautiful, his characters tragic, and his story one which badly needs to be heard today thanks not only for its contribution to an historical record and his resuscitation of some extraordinary figures, but for what it offers to an impoverished discourse today in which the West lacks the language and understanding to engage with rising powers and societies which will increasingly not settle for contemptuous dismissal.  Just as Commodore Perry’s gunships disrupted Japan’s sense of place 160 years ago, there are economic and political developments afoot today which demand that analysis be accompanied by empathy and understanding, part of which should be of an historical character.  Mishra makes a fine contribution in his demand that the experiences of Asia and the perspective of Asians during the era of colonialism and internationalism be taken seriously.

Friday, April 18, 2014

News for the Week

I just thought I’d share a round-up of some of the stories that have caught my attention in the last week.

A map of the new Lake Kariba from the British National Archives

For reporting on the tremendous overreach of the national security state, the Guardian and the Washington Post received the Pulitzer prize, the most prestigious journalism award in the United States and beyond.  Without the reporting of these papers and, it should be said, the whistleblowing of Edward Snowden, we would never have known of the extraordinary overreach of the NSA and other arms of the security state.  We would never have known that members of the rogue intelligence agencies have lied in Congress and broken the law.

There are some Republicans and right-wing Democrats in Congress who think that Snowden and anyone who reports on him are traitors.  If they are defending serial lawbreakers who have violated the public trust, they need to take a long, hard look in the mirror, particularly given revelations that wittingly or otherwise, the NSA’s preoccupations with spying on citizens to perpetuate U.S. terror abroad prevented them from stopping the Heartbleed bug, something which is a real threat to the public.


One of the most dramatic, harrowing, and touching stories I’ve run across in my research—well-documented by other historians—was the construction in the late-1950s of the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River, at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.  Then the largest man-made lake in the world, Kariba required the displacement of tens of thousands of people, whose departure from the Valley which was to be flooded was tragic and unwilling. 

Today, studies of that dam suggest that its structure, and contingency planning around its breach by the powerful Zambezi River in the context of a partial or full collapse, need revisiting.  I’ve never visited this part of either Zambia or Zimbabwe, but hope to get to Kariba one of these days, in part because I’ve read so much about the construction of the dam and the social costs associated with it.


On a not dissimilar note, PBS is premiering A Fierce Green Fire, a film about the environmental movement.  It will be shown on Tuesday, Earth Day, and looks to be a powerful telling of the story of the emergence of this mass movement in the twentieth century.  It’s hard to imagine that not so many years ago “the environment”, “ecology”, and the health of our planet were not terms, ideas, or concerns in common currency. 

Concerns for the protection of species, the regulation of pollutants, the preservation of “natural wonders”, and the relationship between “natural” and “human” ecosystems and habitats were pushed by grassroots movements which harnessed new sciences.  Our world would be a very different place without the environmental movement, although our growth-oriented economy and inability to come to grips with the threat posed by climate change suggest that we have a long way to go.


In another environmentally-related story, San hunters in Botswana are attempting to reclaim both their dignity and hunting rights which the government is seeking to deny them.  People for whom hunting serves both a cultural and economic purpose resent the fact that wealthy foreign visitors are permitted to hunt while people with a stake in the land and its resources are not. 

Countries in Southern Africa generally have more liberal hunting laws than their East African counterparts, where the illegal ivory trade is brisker and enforcement more difficult.  But global efforts to crack down on the hunting of animals like elephants have likely had an impact on the Botswana government’s policy, demonstrating the power of international conservation groups, which often pay little attention to events on the ground, or the human presence in many of the lands they regard as “wilderness”. 


Perhaps afraid that President Obama’s embrace of the Bush administrations War of Terror will make the GOP look like a bunch of peacniks, Republican Senator Bob Corker is trying to start a war with his idiotic demand that the U.S. escalate tensions in Ukraine by shipping weapons to the region.

It was one hundred years ago this summer that the First World War exploded in Europe, driven by secretive alliance systems, the power of arms industries, mindless patriotism, and a diplomacy based on brinkmanship.  That senseless war cost the lives of millions. 

Corker is a mulish defender of the illegal war of aggression in Iraq which killed hundreds of thousands of people, so he appears to be someone who doesn’t understand or care about the consequences of his actions when they claim the lives of other people.  Hopefully his colleagues and the administration have better sense.


Princeton researchers came out with a timely study which defines the U.S. as an oligarchy rather than a democracy, a characterisation that fits well with the massive redistribution of wealth to the upper classes at the expense of the working classes, who are also being stripped of their rights to organise and defend their economic interests by the wealthy and their representatives in Congress.

Political power in the United States is increasingly associated with great wealth, meaning that the middle and working classes, defended by people like Elizabeth Warren, are being written out of the political process.


One smaller result of the monetisation of politics is the ever greater importance of hired guns.  Campaigns are increasingly about fundraising and targeting, and so “political experts” play a tremendous role in these campaigns, combining efforts to control the process with an utter lack of principles.

This week, the British Labour Party hired David Axlerod, one of President Obama’s advisors, to help them fight the 2015 election and regain power against a Conservative government which has implemented a harsh austerity regime on the country over the past several years. 

That in turn reminded me of the fact that Jim Messina, another Obama campaign officer, had last year joined the Conservative Party offering his services, and throwing any progressive principles he ever pretended to have out the window.  The fact that political campaigns are in the hands of these opportunistic thugs might explain why even in an ostensibly progressive party like the Democratic Party, there are so few conversations about the economic and social welfare of the public.