Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Trumpism and the Working Class

Thomas Riggins

Trumpism is not a uniquely American phenomena. It is the local variant of an ultra-right anti-establishment ideology that has a worldwide manifestation. In Europe there are right-wing anti-EU parties growing in many of the member states in the EU based on anti-immigrant policies and appeals to nationalism and economic protectionism to preserve jobs for native born citizens, as well anti-Islam propaganda , and paranoia over terrorism. The term neofascism has been used to
describe these movements and to differentiate them from traditional conservative and liberal, including social democratic parties. 

There are also left-wing objections to the EU as an antidemocratic neoliberal institution for the concentration of capital and the more efficient exploitation of the working class for the benefit of monopoly capitalism. This allows the right to pirate legitimate concerns and demands of the workers to build their own faux populist base. This explains the appeal, in the US, of Trump’s denunciations of Wall Street bankers on the one hand to gain popular support, and on the other to appoint these same bankers to positions in his administration to allay suspicions within the ruling class that he might be a real threat to the capitalist system.

Unique circumstances  in the US allow us to understand the differences between Trumpism and European neofascism. After WW2 Communist states ruled in Eastern Europe allied with the Soviet Union. Western European states were reconstructed on a social democratic model with many social benefits to placate the workers and the middle class so as diminish the lure of Communism which promised full employment and universal medical care,  subsidized education, affordable housing and other social "safety net" features. 

With the collapse of Communism the Western European ruling elites no longer saw the need to maintain social benefits at the pre-collapse level  and with the economic crisis beginning in the US in 2008, and quickly spreading world wide, austerity programs began to be instituted that negatively impacted the general population. These programs were instituted by the traditional ruling parties, conservative or liberal, and have resulted in a backlash against establishment rule, immigration, and the European Union which is the transnational governing political entity the European ruling class has constructed to better solidify and institutionalize its dominance. 

Neofascism is a throwback to the nationalistic authoritarian populist political movements of the pre WWII era which had developed as a result of the economic failures gripping Europe as a consequence of the destruction caused by WWI. Left populist socialist and Communist movements are also being energized in the wake of the fightback against austerity instituted by the social democratic as well more traditional pro capitalist parties as the ruling class eliminates the post WWII gains made by the working class in the wake of the Soviet victory over fascism in 1945.

Trumpism has a different origin. It is based on the historical development of US capitalism and the slave system and the virtual genocide of the native cultures and societies found within the territories settled and conquered by Western Europeans who founded and expanded the US. Defeat in war and the growth of Communist political power within its borders were not the causative agents of its appeals. Its base is rooted in the endemic institutional racism of American society and the demagogic appeal to the ignorance of masses of deliberately under educated people whose jobs and incomes are threatened by the continuing crisis of the collapse of the neoliberal economic policies instituted by the two major political parties, Republican and Democratic, of monopoly capitalism. 

These policies  enrich the 1% at the expense of the mass of working people and are maintained by fostering ignorance of the true causes of the economic crisis through ruling class control of the media, education system, and circuses (without the bread) provided by the entertainment and sports complex created to induce intellectual narcolepsy in the population at large. These policies seek to cast the blame for the economic woes facing the working people on minorities, immigrants, radical movements demanding unrealistic labor changes (higher wages, more unionization at the cost of jobs), Islamic terrorism, illegal voting fraud, climate change hoaxes, fake news, gay rights, and repression of religious freedom. 

These are the issues both Democrats and Republican focus on taking either liberal or conservative sides but neither party questions the fundamental basis of the capitalist society based on the private appropriation, by a small minority, of the socially created wealth sweated out of the vast majority of the American working people who stand outside and starving without decent housing or medical care  or education midst the wonders they have made.

Trumpism, the subspecies of neofascism peculiar to the US, has come to power prematurely. It, along with the Tea Party were nurtured for a future contingency of a breakdown of the establishment parties and their ability to rule in their accustomed manner. The Sanders movement and distrust of HRC, however, panicked elements of the ruling class into to supporting Trump (some now have buyers remorse) and the freakish Electoral College system of determining the presidency  allowed the executive branch to fall into Trump’s hands while the Republican Party also captured both houses of Congress.

Updating Georgi Dimitrov’s explanation of the victory of Fascism in Germany and Italy in the 1930s (Main Report: Seventh World Congress of the Communist International, 1935) we can cast some light on the nature of Trumpism today. Here are the relevant quotes from the opening of his report. Keep in mind they have reference to the economic crisis of capitalism in the 1930s and the need to keep the masses of working people in a repressed state so they would not be attracted to radical movements questioning the capitalist system and the right of the ruing bourgeoisie to plunder not only the domestic population but to engage in military adventures and wars abroad.

It is also important to note that these quotes describe full blown fascist governments set up by the ruling class to replace constitutional democratic governments which could not the solve the economic crisis of capitalism by normal parliamentary methods and needed Draconian measures to maintain control of the population. This is the situation that the US was headed for but had not yet matured to the extent that a fascist government was called for and a Clintonist corporate center right alliance  masquerading as a progressive coalition was the perfect solution for the contemporary problems facing US monopoly capital. The unexpected appointment of Trump as president by the Electoral College disregarding the popular vote was thus a premature assumption of power of a crypto-fascist movement whose role was not to win the election but to prepare the way for a more stringent and intelligently structured future fascist government should the Clinton alliance fail to reestablish the uncontested sway of US imperialism.

Dimitrov maintained that fascism was needed because: "The imperialist circles are trying to shift the whole burden of the crisis onto the shoulders of the working people." So far the ruling political establishments of the "free world" have been able to do this without fascism but ultra-right and neofascist political movements have been growing in the expectation of achieving future political power.

"They are trying to solve the problem of markets by enslaving the weak nations, by intensifying colonial oppression and repartitioning the world anew by means of war. That is why they need fascism."  The beginning of this stage is well underway with the US involvement in trying to realign the entire Middle East to its interests and thus being forced to confront Russia's interests (thus the trumped up charges against Putin "hacking" our elections to fuel a new Cold War). We are also challenging Chinese regional interests in the South China Sea (not  a US Mare Nostrum). We are likewise building up NATO forces along the Russian border in retaliation to Russia's push back against a US sponsored ultra right coup in Ukraine. 

Finally, the Trump victory is a modern day  exemplification of the weakness of both the working class and the ruling establishment in the face of deteriorating conditions of world capitalism which can only maintain its profitability through military spending and environmentally destructive industrial practices that threaten the continuing existence of civilization as we know it. When capitalism is squeezed fascism and human destruction drip out as naturally as orange juice from an orange.


The growth of fascism is related to the disruption and disorganized behavior of the working class due to "a policy of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie"(the result of poor leadership) as well as "the weakness of the bourgeoisie itself, afraid of a united struggle of the working class" and afraid of its loss of power (Sanders political revolution?) it finds itself "no longer in a position to maintain its dictatorship over the masses by the old methods of bourgeois democracy and parliamentarism." Well, these old methods worked for the Republicans in this last election for the Congress and on the state level, but the premature and unexpected Trump victory has put the working  and progressive people of America on notice of what the future portends. We have two years to organize and fight back to regain the Congress and many of the states in the 2018 bi-elections: la lucha continua!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Revolutionary Times?

Revolution comes when the productive forces come into conflict with the relations of production -- well -- that is what the vast majority of the wealth going to the 1% while millions are living in poverty means -- the productive forces are capable of taking care of all of us but the regime of global inequality has highjacked the relations of production to benefit a few. The revolutionary situation is here but the Marxists have not recognized it and are not directing it; instead Trump and the ultra-right are trying to ride to power on the general discontent being bred by the inequity regime while we have been misled into supporting HRC a major representative of that regime -- we should have tried to magnify and grow the Bernie or Bust (even without Bernie) movement into a Third party challenge and wrecked the Democratic Party as Trump has wrecked the Republican -- out of the general ruin resulting from the smash up of the two party system we could have rallied the masses to a new party that would fight inequality, isolate the Trump discontents, and win over the working people and the unions to the new dispensation. But it looks like our actual course has been to strengthen the forces of reaction and inequality a la the HRC controlled Democratic Party while day dreaming about a Bernie faction within the DP coming to power, or worse to have paved the way for a Trump victory by not breaking with the DP and putting forth an independent Bernie based political coalition. We have a revolutionary situation, the productive forces and the relations of production are in a screaming contradiction we can all hear -- not only politically but Nature itself is being pulled apart and destroyed by this contradiction -- let's not muddle along with the lesser of two evils two party system and allow Fascism to seize the day, our day if we would only open our eyes and see the Sun.  Maybe this is just an ultra-left mental breakdown: I'll take two shots of Stolichnaya and see what's up with Trump today -- maybe BHO and HRC are responsible for Zika.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Inverted World of Niall Ferguson: On the Real Obama Doctrine


The Inverted World of Niall Ferguson: On the Real Obama Doctrine
Thomas Riggins

Niall Ferguson teaches history at Harvard. He has a very conservative world outlook which, when applied to the analysis of current social reality, has a tendency to so warp his perceptions that the situation he writes about becomes an imaginary inverted world where truth becomes falsity and falsity truth. But don't take my word for it. Just look at his article in the Wall Street Journal for 10/10-11/2015: "The Real Obama Doctrine." Ferguson's take on Obama can only be the result of a profound ignorance of the historical reality he professes to understand.

He opens his article by referring to ideas expressed by the revered, but morally reprehensible, Henry Kissinger in 1968.  Kissinger expressed the opinion America didn't really have a foreign policy. He might have noted the U.S. was too busy butchering Vietnamese peasants to pay attention to much else.

Be that as it may, there was no real coherent strategic thinking going on and this for two reasons according to Kissinger. First, the president was not selected for his strategic thinking but his "will" to get elected, and second, there are just too many lawyers working for the government. Now lawyers are clever but they don't know enough about history and this deficiency has led to the adoption of a "minimum risk" attitude when it comes to policy. Well, Ferguson teaches history at Harvard; what better guide could we have to lead us to understand Obama's plans for the U.S. of A.

Seeing that Obama was elected due to his will to win, has a passel  of lawyers at work in his administration, and doesn't support a "maximum risk" policy, he seems to exemplify just what Henry K was complaining about to a tee. Ferguson tells us, in fact, that he himself has "spent much of the last seven years trying to work out" just what strategy Obama was following. Here is what he found out.

He read Obama’s 2009 Cairo Speech but wasn’t clear on how it would result in practical actions. The speech was full of good intentions and was met positively by those friendly to the U.S. and either negatively or skeptically by those hostile to it. The criticisms basically were that actions speak louder than words and that upbeat speeches were no substitute for a change in policies. Ferguson doesn’t go into much detail on the speech, but needless to say he should have known that Obama would not be able to quickly reverse fifty years of cold war policies and the fact that the Bush administration had left the entire Middle East entirely in flames or on the verge irrupting into chaos.

Obama’s attempt to disengage U.S. ground forces in Iraq and strengthen Iraqi security forces is called by Ferguson “precipitate withdrawal.” The fact is that the damage done to Iraq by the Bush policies are almost irreversible and the sectarian Shia government the U.S. created is both corrupt and unwilling, or unable, to reconcile with the Sunni minority. Obama must either try to wind down American involvement or hunker down and prepare for an open ended American occupation. The American people definitely want to get out of Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, and they don’t want to get involved in Syria either. Obama cannot, no president could, put the Middle East back together again after the Bush folks so thoroughly smashed it up. The best he can do is respond to the will of the American people and try and limit the damage caused by the Bush gang.

Besides not having a clue to the complexities in Afghanistan, Ferguson thinks Obama has become “indifferent” to Europe as a result of the attempted “reset” with Russia. It’s true the reset failed but only because it was predicated on Russia following American dictates against its own interests and there is no evidence that Obama has become indifferent to Europe.

But Ferguson also discovered something more troubling than Obama’s failure to clean up the mess left behind by Bush. It is one thing to reject Bush’s policies, but the 2012 debate with Mitt Romney revealed, horror of horrors, that Obama was also “turning away from Ronald Reagan.” Romney held that enemy numero uno to our world wide hegemony was Russia and Obama dismissed this. And what happened? In March 2014 [as a result of U.S. and E.U. intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine] Russia annexed Crimea returning it to Russian administration after it had been assigned by the Soviet Union to Ukraine in the 1950s. Historian that he is, Ferguson thinks Romney “prescient” in spotting that, in his words, Russia is “our number one geopolitical foe.” We had better move the Seventh Fleet to the Bering Strait in case Putin decides to reverse the Alaska Purchase.

Ferguson also discovered, by reading articles and interviews given by Obama in the popular press, that it was his intention to “create a new balance of power in the Middle East.”  Obama said that he wanted to end the conflicts between the Shia and Sunni by trying to get Iran to abandon its (in his opinion) negative polices and to work with the mostly Sunni Gulf states in a common effort to build a positive future in the region.

Obama hopes an international coalition, which could include Iran, might work together to solve the problems of Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya. Unmentioned is the fact that the crisises in all these countries are the results of Saudi and American actions and interference. It would be the U.S. and not Iran that would have to abandon its negative policies. It is unlikely to do since it profits from arms sales to the region.

Ferguson, however, has other reasons for objecting to Obama’s Middle East policies which he says are based on the president’s “fuzzy thinking.” In his recent U.N. speech Obama indicated he was willing to work  with other nations “under the mantle of international norms and principles” and with both Russia and Iran (as long they agreed to eventually dump Assad) in solving the Syrian problem. Obama is “fuzzy” because, Ferguson says, neither Russia nor Iran are “famed” for operating under the “mantle of international norms and principles.”

 One would expect a Harvard history professor to be aware of the fact that the U.S. is also not “famed” for operating under this mantle. In fact, even a slight acquaintance with modern history would show U.S. behavior is more egregious in this respect than that of either Russia or Iran. In fact, almost every crisis in world diplomacy since (and most of them before) the collapse of the Soviet Union has been the result of the U.S. flouting international norms. To blame Obama for trying improve this dismal record doesn’t say much in favor of Ferguson’s bona fides.

Ferguson thinks Obama's policies are failing because, since 2010, terrorism and violence in the Middle East from North Africa (Libya) to Pakistan and Afghanistan have dramatically increased and we can expect even more violence to come “as the Sunni powers of the region seek to prevent Iran from establishing itself as the post American hegemon.”

It’s true that American policies are not working out if peace is the goal. If, however, the goal is to sell billions of dollars worth of new weapons systems to the governments in the area as well as to ramp up military spending at home, these policies at least make some sense.

After Bush/Cheney destroyed Iraq in the  east and the Obama/ U.S. supported NATO intervention in Libya (pushed by Secretary of State Clinton) effectively destroyed that country in the west the growth of terrorism was bound to increase as outside governments and their proxies moved in to take advantage of the chaos the U.S. created.

It was the Sunni governments that moved to take advantage of the situation. The U.S. destroyed two major secular governments and both the Saudi Arabians, and Gulf Sunni states, representing the most backward “Islamic” radical ideology, funded Sunni terrorist groups, as well as Pakistan’s covert support of the Taliban, that has led to the impotence of U.S. policy on the ground. The U.S. still sends billions of dollars in military aid (much of it actually spent at home to support the military industrial complex behind our domestic deep state) to countries who pass some of it along to the very terrorist groups the U.S. is fighting.

The truth is that Iran is not trying to become a hegemon. It was the Shah, installed as a result of a CIA coup against a democratically elected government and backed by the U.S., who was moving to both develop nuclear weapons and establish hegemony, as a U.S. client state, in the region until he was overthrown in 1979. The U.S. has been trying to get rid of the new Iranian government ever since.

Iran’s actions have been purely defensive in nature. It supports its Shia allies in Iraq against the Sunni Islamic State, it supports its ally Assad in Syria against the Islamic state and the Sunni jihadists supported by the Saudis and indirectly by the U.S. under the covering myth of supporting “moderates.” All this puts the lie to Ferguson’s pseudo-historical analysis of “Obama’s failures.” Obama’s problem, such as it is, has been his inability to reverse the movement of Middle Eastern disintegration initiated by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. But he has succeeded in preventing the implosion of half the Mediterranean world  by keeping boots off the ground in Libya and Syria, and thus not compounding the Bush/Chenny Iraq folly. Nevertheless his interventionist actions in these two countries threaten to create a wider area of war and destabilization which the next president will have to defuse unless he takes actions towards withdrawal and cooperation with the Iranians and Russians to limit Saudi and Pakistani sponsored jihadists.

Finally, Ferguson concludes there are three major problems facing U.S. foreign policy; the Middle East, Russia’s meddling, and China’s ambitions. Obama, he says, is failing to properly address these problems. The reason for this failure is that he does not have advisors of the caliber  of Zbigniew Brzezinski (whose Afghan policies gave us  both Osama ben Laden and  the Taliban) and Henry Kissinger (whose war crimes against humanity gave us fascism in Chile and Pol Pot in Cambodia, among achievements of similar note). Both of these stalwarts, Furgeson says, have made intellectual contributions to strategic doctrine far greater than the advisors surrounding Obama. Perhaps, but more people around the world have died meaningless deaths and suffered injuries and loss of loved ones due to the strategic doctrines of Brzezinski and Kissinger than due to the policies of Obama (but he is running a close second with his Syrian policies).

U.S. policy does have problems. In the Middle East it supports dictators and tyrants and its blanket support of Israel and Israel’s truly barbaric treatment of the Palestinians prevents it from having a policy that the majority of Middle Eastern people can live with. We create the very terrorists we seek to fight. Russian meddling is nothing more that its advancing policies that protect its interests and are usually just reactions to overt or covert U.S. provocations. There will be no reset of relations with Russia as long as the U.S. acts in bad faith. China’s ambitions are perfectly normal. They want to play a role in their part of the world commensurate with their growing economic and political strength. As long as the U.S. seeks to challenge them in this respect (such as U.S. air and naval provocations in the South China Sea) there will be no real cooperation possible nor any incentive for Chinese to trust the U.S.

The above comments are just a reflection of the current Zeitgeist and it appears that the role of the U.S. is contrary to the movement that spirit is taking — a movement that is pointing us towards a world of better cooperation and understanding and is not subject to the negative destructive will of one rogue superpower. This, and not the views of Henry Kissinger, is what the next president must keep in mind.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Poverty and Child Brain Damage

Poverty and Child Brain Damage
Thomas Riggins

Politicians love to tell us that we live in the richest and greatest country in the world despite the fact that our actual ranking when it comes to overall living standards and democratic rights is far from numero uno. We rank 23rd on the "Satisfaction with Life Index" (Cf. Wikipedia). But no one will get elected telling us we are the 23rd best über alles in the world. 

More to the point, when it comes to how we treat children, it's telling to find out that UNICEF ranks the U.S. at 34 out of 35 industrialized countries (we beat out Romania but eight other former east European socialist countries take better care of their children than we do)-- Washington Post 4-15- 2013.

It just so happens that 22% of children in the United States live in poverty and are apt to remain there as long as the Republicans and the right use their political power to cut welfare, food stamps, day care, education, feeding programs in schools, tax breaks for low income families, elimination of the sales tax for the poor, decent wages for working people, unemployment insurance, immigration reform, and continue to obstruct the right to vote and union organization with respect to minorities and working people.

What is particularly vile about the these right-wing anti-children policies is that scientists have shown that living in poverty has horrible consequences for the normal development of children's brains, damages their emotional health, and results in under achievement academically.

Scientists have shown, according  to Science Daily 7-22-15, (“Poverty’s most insidious damage is to a child’s brain”) that low income children living in poverty have mental lags and  abnormal development in their frontal and temporal lobes resulting in test scores 20 per cent lower than the norm for children not living in poverty. 

We should also note that the brain has not fully developed into a mature organ in humans until the mid 20s. The result of temporal lobe damage will impair normal comprehension and understanding of speech and frontal lobe impairment  will effect normal thinking, planning,  and decision making ability, personality development and moral and ethical comprehension and behavior  among other higher mental functions.

The information in this article from SD is based on the research reported by Dr. Seth Pollak et. al., in “Poverty’s most insidious damage: The developing brain” published in JAMA Pediatrics, July 2015.  Besides this article there is an editorial  by Dr. Joan A. Luby  of the Washington University School of Medicine, who says “early childhood interventions to support a nurturing environment for these children must now become our top public health priority for the good of all.” Dr Luby’s own research has also shown that the brains of children living in poverty can be damaged causing problems for the the rest of their lives.

What can be done to help these children? Should the government guarantee a minimum income to families with children to keep them above the poverty line? Should pressure be applied to the Republicans and other rightist politicians to drop their opposition to food stamps, free meals, and other programs designed to help the poor? Should these programs get more funding so that no child is left behind in poverty? 

It seems it is the job of the parents of the children in poverty to solve this problem (providing of course they didn’t grow up in poverty themselves and suffer some of the problems discussed in this article). Dr. Luby’s studies have shown that properly nurturing parents “can offset some of the negative effects” inflicted on the brains of poor children.

“Our research has shown,” Dr.Luby writes, “that the effects of poverty on the developing brain, particularly in the hippocampus [part of the temporal lobe] are strongly influenced by parenting and life stresses experienced by the children.”

This suggests that if  we teach nurturing skills to parents, especially poor parents,  then maybe the children will benefit.  This is something the fiscally responsible Republican Congress might be inclined to support. We really don’t have to make any radical social changes in the way the richest and greatest  country (or at least the 23rd such country) runs its social programs (or lack thereof) , we only have to encourage and teach better nurturing techniques to parents— this shouldn’t cost too much.

“In developmental science and medicine,” Dr. Luby wrote, “it is not often that the cause [poverty] and solution [better parenting] of a public health problem become so clearly elucidated. It is even less common that feasible and cost effective solutions [teach parents how to nurture] to such problems are discovered [maybe] and are within reach.” So cost effective that the 1% won’t even have to face a tax increase or the military a budget cut.

In closing we should consider what is happening to children all around the world. If the Numero Uno country has over 20% of its children facing permanent brain damage and life long mental disabilities as a result of childhood impoverishment  what is happening to the billions of children in the third world living in areas of armed conflict, as refugees, in countries with undeveloped and ruined economic conditions? How will future Greek children compete with their German counterparts
twenty years from now if the EU is still around?

One thing is certain. The current  dominant economic system in the world will not solve the problems of these children, and the problems of child poverty will not be cured by blaming them on poor parenting as the most loving and nurturing parents in the world cannot feed and nuture their children on words alone.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Decline of Earth's Plant Life Threatens Human Life As We Know IT

"Decline of Earth's plant life threatens human life as we know it."
Thomas Riggins

A recent scientific study comparing the role of plants in the sustainability of life on Earth and the current rapid destruction of such life has convinced many scientists that human civilization and well-being will be placed in jeopardy. Rain forests and grass lands around the world are being destroyed at an alarming rate to make room for palm oil plantations, commercial crops of no intrinsic value (tobacco), and the practices of illegal logging for the furniture and lumber trades, and industrialized agriculture.

This  has led to a massive destruction of the total biomass of the planet  all of which is fueled by the immense profits available under capitalism for the private exploitation of natural resources at the expense of sustainable use and of preservation in the interests of environmental conservation for the common good of humanity. The drive for profits is led by major private and state owned capitalist enterprises which, in addition to using the political systems they encounter in many countries to get control of the resources they intend to plunder, also resort to bribery, corruption and other illegal operations in order to attain their ends.

  Dr. John Schramski, of the University of Georgia, has recently completed (as lead author) a study of the effects of the over exploitation of Earth’s plant biomass (Science Daily 7/15/15 “Continued destruction of Earth’s plant life places humans in jeopardy”). The rich and diverse animal and plant life of today is the result of several hundred million years of evolution that began when simple one celled organisms developed  which were able to chemically change the sunlight they received into useful energy which they could metabolize.

The fact that  plants can create their own “food” from sunlight allowed animals to evolve using plants as their source of food: indirectly feeding off of the sun. Dr. Schramski used the laws of thermodynamics (the physics of heat in relation to mechanical energy) to calculate the amount of chemical energy the plant world produces and the amount that humanity is at present consuming or destroying via the reduction of forests and other plant  environments.

“You can think of the Earth like a battery that has been charged very slowly over billions of years,” he said. “ The sun’s energy is stored in plants and fossil fuels, but humans are draining energy much faster than it can be replenished.”

In the last 2000 years human activity has reduced half of the battery charge (i.e., the biomass accumulated from living carbon over the last several million years). In just the last one hundred years about ten percent of that biomass was wiped out according to the article.  This destruction means the Earth has less and less energy  to keep the food webs and “biochemical balances” going upon which we all depend.

Dr. Schramski pointed out that, “As the planet becomes less hospitable and more people depend on fewer available energy options, their standard of living and very survival will become increasingly vulnerable to fluctions, such as droughts, disease epidemics and social unrest.”

If humans survive this accelerated loss of biomass Dr. Schramski, and his co-authors (James H. Brown and David Gattie) predict that our species will have to abandon our current civilization and return to hunting and gathering or simple gardening (i.e., a pre-neolithic life style), as populations will crash and large-scale industrial agriculture will be impossible. [Perhaps the world population, after the die off, will be about what it was in 10,000 B.C. or so (1 to 10 million people).]

Dr. Schramski says,” I’m not an ardent environmentalist; my training and my scientific work are rooted in thermodynamics. These laws are absolute and incontrovertible; we have a limited amount of biomass energy available on the planet, and once it’s exhausted, there is absolutely nothing to replace it.”

The scientists are hopeful that we can take the drastic measures needed to halt this downward spiral to the paleolithic or extinction. “I call myself a realistic optimist. I’ve gone through these numbers countless times looking for some kind of mitigating factor that suggests we’re wrong,” Dr. Schramski said,” but I haven’t found it.”

One glance at the US Congress should give us an idea where we are headed.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reflections on China's South Sea Trouble

Reflections on China’s South Sea Trouble
Thomas Riggins

Lying in the South China Sea between Indochina and the Philippines is a collection of 700 or so small islands, reefs, atolls, shoals, and rocks which are all very scattered about and collectively known as the Spratly Islands (named after the British sea captain Richard Spratly, 1802-1870, who "discovered" them in the early 19th century).

The Europeans were, of course, not the first to come across this collection of rocks and mini-islands in the ocean. Though uninhabited they had been explored by and integrated into the Chinese Empire for centuries. Many centuries before there was even an England, let alone the United States, ancient Chinese maps had depicted these islands.

The Chinese were there on fishing expeditions during the Han Dynasty (Third Century B.C.). They appear on Qing (Manchu) Dynasty maps of the Empire dating from the early 17th Century but they were being regularly visited and mentioned in the literature of the Song, Yuan (Mongol) and Ming dynasties as well.

In the 19th Century China, Indochina, the Philippines, and the areas around the South China Sea were under European control. China was in no position to exert its claims in the islands. At this time the French claimed parts of them (from which the Vietnamese claim ultimately derives) due to French Indochina.

Nobody, other than the Chinese, seemed to care about these islands for many centuries but interest in them began to pick up in the second half of the last century. This interest is due to the prospects that undersea oil and gas deposits could be the source of wealth and energy and thus claims on the islands— or at least some of them — would allow the possessor to claim the territorial waters associated with the land.  So there are now five countries besides China (PRC) who have claims in the Spratly Islands.

It should be noted all the fuss over the Spratly islands involves pumping up hydrocarbons that should remain just where they are as our scientists tell us global warming is out of hand and this additional  supply should remain untapped and alternative sources of energy developed. This also applies to the arctic and all major undeveloped areas on both land and in the seas. Nevertheless, short sighted political entities will probably continue to develop these regions without any concern for the future consequences.

Who are the other five claimants to the Spratly islands in whole or in part? They are Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.  I maintain that China, having the oldest connection with these islands (going back to the times of the Roman Empire in European terms) has the most justified claims and that if it decides to grant rights to others it should favor the claims of the Vietnamese first and foremost. 

I will deal with the Vietnamese claims last. First let’s deal with Taiwan. Taiwan claims the islands for the same reasons the PRC claims them since Taiwan, as the Republic of China (ROC), considers itself the successor state to the Chinese Empire. The PRC claims Taiwan is a province of China that will eventually be reunified with the mainland. The PRC claims simply absorb those of Taiwan and we don’t have to further consider them. 

Brunei has a partially submerged reef within its 200 mile limit (exclusive economic zone [EEZ]). Whether this reef is recognized as an ocean “rock” or an “island” will determine if Brunei gets to extend its sovereignty over additional areas of the South China Sea.  I think the Chinese could easily grant fishing rights to Brunei in areas beyond the 200 mile limit which it claims without having to acknowledge that this reef is an island. Since drilling for oil or gas is detrimental to the entire earth  Brunei’s  claim should be rejected if that is its intention. I will explain later why  it is more likely that China can be convinced not to drill in the Spratly’s than other claimants (excepting the Vietnamese).

The Philippines claims began in 1978 when the corrupt dictator Ferdinand Marcos issued a decree that parts of the Spratly islands  within his EEZ belonged to the Philippines. He then occupied some islands. If the Chinese claim has historical 
priority, however, the Philippine action would be invalidated. This claim should be decided in talks between the PRC and the current Philippine government.

Malaysia’s claim is based both on the position of  some of the islands are in its EEZ and the fact that they were unoccupied after World War II when the Japanese abandoned the Spratly Islands after their defeat. The PRC’s claim, of course, predates World War II and the fact that wars, colonialism, civil wars, the presence of hostile Western forces (the US Seventh Fleet) prevented the PRC from exercising its sovereignty  until recently does not automatically give other nations the right to claim these islands as abandoned or unowned. Malaysia and the PRC should engage in bilateral discussions to resolve this dispute.

Vietnam (SRV, Socialist Republic of Vietnam) which occupies Spratly Island itself among others, bases its claims on having taken over some islands after the French left Indochina and that the puppet government (US installed Republic of Vietnam) had put boundary markers on some islands, and that the Vietnamese Empire had claimed them as far back as the 1600s. Vietnam also says that the ancient claims made by China actually refer to those made by non-Chinese people who lived in what is today Northern Vietnam (yet this area was a province of China in ancient times.)

The SRV and the PRC have special responsibilities is resolving their disputes regarding the Spratly Islands; responsibilities that go far beyond legalistic arguments and interpretations of an international law system basically drawn up by colonial and imperialist powers to serve their interests. 

In the first place they both claim to be socialist countries and products of the Marxist- Leninist tradition, resulting from the Russian Revolution, regardless of the unique characteristics which the special historical and cultural developments of each nation has contributed to its form of socialist expression.

International working class solidarity is a basic element of their common socialist heritage and the interests of the Chinese and Vietnamese workers  should not appear to result  in antagonistic contradictions between  their governments. Such contradictions are indicative of leaders who are deviating from socialist principles. We have seen the damage such deviations have caused to the international socialist movement in the last century. It behooves the leaders of the PRC and SRV to resolve their contradictions in the spirit of working class solidarity and unity against the machinations of imperialism, especially U.S. imperialism, in the region.

The U.S. involvement is adventuristic and provocative with regard to the PRC’s activities in the island chain and on the same level with its provocations against Russia over NATO expansion in Eastern Europe and its attempt, along with the EU, to assert its interests in the Ukraine at the expense of Russian interests and those of millions of Ukrainians who wish to maintain friendly relations with both Russia and the EU. Here the U.S. seeks to drive a wedge between the PRC and its neighbors.

Since neither the PRC nor the SRV, in the interests of planetary survival, should be planning to extract hydrocarbons from the South China Sea, and both need to cooperate in finding alternative sources of energy, they should bilaterally resolve their rival claims in this region in the true spirit of working class internationalism by proportionally sharing in the economic development of the region and having a united policy on resolving their problems with the non socialist governments making claims in this area. They should be united in rejecting U.S. interference and saber rattling in the South China Sea as U.S. imperialism has a record of destabilizing areas (such as the Middle East and Ukraine) in order to justify military
spending at home and a divide and conquer foreign policy abroad.

These reflections have, no doubt, overlooked some significant issues involved in the current problems in the South China Sea but I think those problems could be subsumed within the framework of discussion suggested above. In any event, I think these reflections, or something very much like them, will be foundational
to understanding what is happening in this region.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sin, Socialism, and Sacrilege

Sin, Socialism and Sacrilege
Thomas Riggins

In some ultraconservative circles as well as groups of  “Christians"  and other misguided religious zealots the issue of gay marriage has become the cause célèbre  du jour. [I use the term ‘misguided’ to refer to bigoted and backward thinking not in tune, in my view, with modern religious and philosophical opinions.]  I propose to discuss a typical article from the right casting aspersions upon the concept of gay marriage as a constitutional right that must be respected under the law and protected from bigoted attacks disguised as authentic religious beliefs claiming also to be constitutionally protected. I will attempt to demonstrate that gay marriages should be constitutionally protected and that no religious objections to it are worthy of respect on legal, ethical, or moral grounds.

The article in question is by an ultra-right political "journalist" Charlotte Allen and was published on May 1 on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal: "Modern Sin: Holding On to Your Belief." What is the belief at issue? Socialists and other progressives don't usually think in terms of "sin." The term "politically incorrect" is the one that we prefer. To hold on to, and act upon, discredited beliefs such as racism, sexism, fascism, xenophobic nationalism, chauvinisms of all kinds including religious chauvinisms, and certain kinds of behaviors that are dishonest, socially destructive of people's well being, and many more too numerous to list here are considered not to be politically correct [PC]. 

So the question to be addressed by the WSJ article should really be what beliefs are people holding on to, and acting upon, that are not PC and, in religious jargon, are "sins" against other human beings  and hurtful to them. If your notion of the deity includes the idea that It wants you to act in a hurtful way to other human beings, attacking their rights and happiness in order to make you feel better about your own, my article will hopefully convince you that you are wrong and have a false notion of what "sin" is all about. 

Ms. Allen’s article is a sympathetic account of the trials and tribulations of small business owners whose bigoted interpretation of religion has led them to discriminate against gay couples who wish to marry. Their arguments are not unlike those given a few generations  ago by those who also discriminated against interracial couples on religious grounds.

There are, Ms. Allen points out, a small group of [ misguided Christian] “bakers, florists, and photographers’’ who maintain that “their Christian beliefs in man-woman marriages preclude their providing services to same-sex marriages.” Well, “Christian beliefs” are also opposed to pagan ceremonies and polytheistic worship but they don’t seem to preclude people from baking, taking pictures or providing flowers for Hindu wedding ceremonies. There are “Christian beliefs” against divorce but are divorced people getting married again refused these services?

Businesses open to the public must serve the public in a non discriminatory way.
A misguided Christian restaurant owner is not entitled to tell a couple of same sex individuals they will not be served if he overhears that their meal is a wedding brunch. Or is he? This is the issue. Does freedom of religion include the freedom to discriminate and impose your beliefs on others in the public arena?

It seems that these “Christian” business people are committing acts of common bigotry under the guise of “acts of [selective] conscience.” Ms Allen supports the business people involved. She presents the case of a Southern Baptist florist who was fined for refusing to serve a gay wedding because she claimed to have a personal relationship with [an imaginary friend called] “Jesus” who, it appears, is anti-gay marriage. This defense against anti-discrimination laws did not impress the lower courts in Washington State and is now on appeal. Her case would be strengthened if she could present her friend as a witness. But I doubt “Jesus” will appear since his constituency includes both gay and non gay people which makes this not a question of “Christian” belief so much as one of personal interpretation.

Ms Allen thinks holding misguided “Christians” responsible for their bigoted actions (no one  should object to their  private or public beliefs only their public activities if they impinge upon the rights of others under the law) goes against former California Supreme Court Justice Ronald M.George’s statement that: “Affording same-sex couples the same opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage will not impinge upon the religious freedom of any religious organization, official or any other person.” Ms. Allen is, of course, wrong and the Judge is right.

“Religious freedom” is not absolute in the U.S. It is freedom to practice your religion under the law. For instance, American Muslims don’t have the freedom to marry four wives, people can’t practice human sacrifice, people of one sect are not free to behead those of a different sect, and Amish elders don’t have the right to debeard their opponents, and people considered to be heretics, sacrilegious, or blasphemous cannot be burned at the stake or otherwise dispatched.

 All of these practices are, be it noted, sincerely held religious beliefs, some of them by Christians, and to the list should be added discriminatory practices and hateful deeds directed against gay people or any other subsections of society which lawfully seek to enjoy life and peacefully practice their beliefs and life styles in ways not detrimental to the legally protected rights of others.

 Businesses serving the public whether they be caterers, bakeries, florist shops, photo stores and studios, wedding planners or any business permitted to engage in services by the state should not, and generally cannot, discriminate against people based on their race, religion (or lack of religion), sex, gender preferences, ethnic origins, looks or age, etc. This means that individuals or groups, including institutionalized religious organizations cannot engage in discriminatory practices against others based on their own shared and practiced beliefs and feelings. They can do as they please as long as it is legally permitted and does not infringe upon the legal rights of others. If there are existing laws permitting such discriminatory actions they must be repealed.

If you have a sincerely held religious belief that same sex marriage is immoral and against the will of God (although God is quite capable I should think to see to it that his will is not violated without any help from humans)  then no one can force you to marry someone of the same sex. It is wrong, however, for you to seek to prevent others from engaging in same sex marriage or refuse to serve them if you have a business open to the public.

Ms. Allen fears that if the Supreme Court finds that gay marriage is a constitutional right  then a “persecution of Christians” will follow. All that will follow is that Christians, and others, who have a long history of persecutions against others themselves will find it more difficult, if not impossible, to engage in the hate crimes and discriminatory behavior against gay people that they believe their Imaginary deity requires of them. I say “imaginary” because no purportedly perfect and good deity would countenance such behavior and truly religious persons should consider it a sacrilege to believe otherwise.