Monday, October 26, 2020

Thursday, October 22, 2020

‘Real Americans’ have always been rebels:
A guide for progressive patriotism

from The Guardian :

Former Occupy Wall Street leader Micah White explores patriotism’s roots in resistance, back when loving one’s country meant fighting against oppressors

After the collapse of Occupy Wall Street, my wife and I fled the progressive groupthink of Berkeley, California and resettled out here in Nehalem, in rural Oregon, close to unpoliced forests and far from the nearest university, airport or anarchist infoshop.

All was reasonably well until I ran for mayor of my tiny town, provoking a backlash. When I received a racist death threat shortly after Donald Trump was elected president, I was forced to see my rural community and my diverse country in a newly sinister light.

The ugly truth is that many, if not most, of my neighbors voted for Trump’s authoritarian bigotry. And then – like the Brits upset by Brexit, the French disturbed by Marine Le Pen, and Filipinos furious about Rodrigo Duterte – I found myself torn by a civil war fought between the side of me that hates what my country has become, and the patriotic part of my spirit that loves what my country could be.

After weeks of inner struggle, the patriotic side has won and I glimpse the path upward: we must seize patriotism from those who are destroying our democracies. We must reclaim patriotism

Oftentimes, progressives are all too quick to abandon patriotism when their country strays dangerously from its ideals. The tenor of this anti-patriotism was most eloquently captured by Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who Donald Trump recently praised for doing an “amazing job”.

Shortly before the Europe-wide revolution of 1848 that violently dethroned France’s King Louis Philippe, Douglass returned to the US from Britain where he had fled to escape the slave-catchers sent by his former master. In a powerful speech delivered in New York, Douglass called for a revolution, declaring:

I have no love for America, as such; I have no patriotism … I desire to see [America] overthrown as speedily as possible and its Constitution shivered in a thousand fragments, rather than that this foul curse should continue to remain as now.

His words presaged the coming American civil war, a notoriously bloody conflict that revised the constitution to include the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to overturn slavery.

Douglass rejected patriotism – narrowly defined as love of one’s country – in favor of a greater, universalist sentiment. “I love Humanity all over the globe. I am anxious to see Righteousness prevail in all directions,” he said in the same speech.

While noble, this now common conceptual move of pitting love of country against love of humanity is a strategic revolutionary blunder. If the people wish to attain sovereignty, we must merge the particular love of our country with the universal love of humanity. This means celebrating what is best and eradicating what is worst in each nation until all people are free.

It is not difficult to understand Douglass’s deep antipathy for America: a white supremacist nation where slavery was legal and socially acceptable while he was considered to be both chattel and a traitor. Similarly, it is perfectly understandable why cosmopolitan Americans today might see Trump’s travel ban against six Muslim countries, and the populace who support it, as justification for openly hating their American homeland.

But in these dark times, when the ideals of democracy are being tested globally like never before, let us remember that the true patriots throughout history have traditionally been the rebels, insurrectionaries and revolutionaries who forcefully overturned the status quo in favor of a higher vision.

Are you a loyalist or a patriot?

There is perhaps no better example of this fact than the 18th century American revolution – the successful armed rebellion against the British monarchy and Parliament that led to the founding of the United States of America.

During this people’s struggle for sovereignty, a very large number of Americans favored keeping the government the same. They loved their colony as it was and actively fought against change. These reactionary Americans were known as loyalists and they reasonably believed, as historian Sheila Skemp puts it: “King and Parliament had made some mistakes but that surely it was possible to work things out, to reach an amicable compromise.”

A little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical It sounds a lot like how many Republican and Democratic Americans, masquerading as patriots, say to appease Trump today.

Loyalists were fiercely opposed by revolutionary Americans known as patriots. These patriotic rebels dreamed of a fundamental reorientation of political power in America. They demanded sovereignty and were adherents to an as-yet unrealized ideal of democracy – not the colony as-it-was.

It is easy to assume that your friends and neighbors today would have been patriots during the American revolution, but the truth is far more nuanced. Instead, the conflict between patriots and loyalists was a civil war that divided families, friends and communities. For example, Benjamin Franklin, a founding father and leading patriot, never forgave his son, William Franklin, for being a loyalist.

Again I’m reminded of the way Trump’s election has divided fathers against daughters and neighbor against neighbor.

Here we begin to see the paradox at the heart of authentic patriotism: true patriots are the people who reboot their country’s operating system in order to upgrade to a better, more democratic, version. Today’s jingoistic nationalists are truly false patriots: loyalists hiding behind patriotic rhetoric.

‘A little rebellion now and then is a good thing’

Despite the contemporary misconception that patriotism is inherently reactionary, the essential connection between patriotism and revolutionism has been vocally celebrated by American presidents since the founding of our democracy.

Thomas Jefferson, an author of the Declaration of Independence, once wrote in a letter to James Madison, architect of the US constitution and bill of rights, that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical”.

Jefferson also advocated only mild punishment for rebellions so as to avoid discouraging them too much. And, in a wakeup call to today’s Americans, Jefferson famously advocated revolutions every two decades, writing in 1787: “God forbid we should be 20 years without a rebellion … What country can preserve its liberties if the rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?”

Abraham Lincoln echoed Jefferson during his inaugural address in 1861 when he said: “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember, or overthrow it.”

And so too did Ulysses S Grant in 1885 when he declared: “The right of revolution is an inherent one. When people are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right they enjoy to relieve themselves of the oppression if they are strong enough, either by withdrawing from it, or by overthrowing it and substituting a government more acceptable.”

The path upwards

Concretely speaking, rebellious social movements are created from a contagious mood, a new tactic and a willing historical moment. The first two ingredients are within the control of social activists while the third, the right time for a spark to catch flame, is impossible to know for certain.

The most effective patriotic mood has repeatedly proven to a contagious loss of fear: a sudden spirit of fearlessness that sweeps the people into a wave. People rush to join a social movement because of how it makes them feel to participate. The job of the social activist is to catalyze a fearless mood, combined with the communal faith that this time around the people’s protest will succeed.

New tactics embolden the people and give them faith. The new tactic can be a novel gesture or collective behavior, such as Occupy’s consensus-based encampments, the anti-coup Rabia sign or the three-finger salute from The Hunger Games that was banned in Thailand; an in-group color, such as blaze pink; or a unique garment, like pussy hats or the Phrygian cap. Ultimately, all that matters is that the participants believe the tactic will bring about social change. That is enough for it to be perceived as a form of protest and become a challenge to the regime.

Nowadays, the right of revolution is as inalienable as ever, yet it is rarely acknowledged by those in power. Unlike presidents Jefferson, Lincoln and Grant today’s leaders are loathe to concede that if their government is oppressive, then the people have a duty to revolt. Notice how Barack Obama is fond of praising protesters’s right of assembly but stops far short of celebrating the right of revolution.

All this leads to the final epiphany that we, the people, have a patriotic duty to defend our country whenever our governments conflicts with a higher, democratic ideal.

(go to the original article for links to specific points and attribution)

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Noam Chomsky: "If you don't push the lever
for the Democrats, you are assisting Trump"

from Salon:

Salon talks to the venerable author about the climate crisis, the Global Green New Deal and "lesser-evil voting"

Noam Chomsky, one of the world's foremost public intellectuals, has provided the international left with wisdom, guidance and inspiration for nearly 60 years. Proving that he operates at the locus where argumentation and activism meet, he demonstrates indispensable intellectual leadership on issues of foreign policy, democratic socialism and rejection of corporate media bromides.

One of the founders of linguistics, he is also an American dissident who has wrestled with systems of power on matters no less important than genocide, war and poverty, creating a corpus of classics, ranging from his manifesto against the Vietnam War, "American Power and the New Mandarins," to his amplification of reason against a jingoistic cacophony following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, "9-11." "Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media," which he co-authored with Edward S. Herman, is essential reading for anyone interested in the real biases against democracy in the commercial press. His more recent book "What Kind of Creatures Are We?" provides a deft and provocative exploration of human purpose and the common good.

At 91, he is still committed to seeking and sharing the truth, and showing little patience for the foolishness and selfishness of the powerful.

With dozens of books, and countless lectures and articles, Chomsky has addressed nearly every major topic of politics and economics with an orientation toward democracy, peace, and justice, but his new book is possibly his most urgent. "Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal," co-authored with progressive economist Robert Pollin, measures the stakes of climate change as threatening the survival of the human species, and offers a bold and ambitious solution that can not only stave off disaster, but create a more beautiful, hospitable and just world.

I recently interviewed Chomsky over the phone about climate change, the Green New Deal, and the 2020 presidential election.

We can, perhaps, begin by spotlighting Amy Coney Barrett's remarks at her nomination hearings calling climate change a "controversial and contentious issue." One of the realities you and your co-author, Robert Pollin, identify in this book, which seems to elude most other analysts, is that while our mainstream discourse often presents a "debate" surrounding climate change, there is no debate at all – not just among scientists, but among the institutions that are actively making the problem worse. They know they are courting catastrophe.

Not just "courting," but causing catastrophe. She not only said that it is "contentious." She said, "I'm not a scientist. I don't really know about it." Unless she is a hermit living in Montana without any contact with the outside world, it is inconceivable that anyone could even be considered for a Supreme Court position who doesn't know about the most significant environmental issue.

In the case of the major institutions, let's start with the Pentagon. They are open about it. They acknowledge that climate change is a serious threat. They've argued we should prepare for it. They've published documents about it. Certainly, they know about it.

In the case of ExxonMobil, their scientists were among the first to discover the nature of the problem back in the 1970s. We have the full record, and it's quite extensive. Their scientists provided detailed reports on the threat of global warming – on the threat it will have on the business of fossil fuels. They knew and know about everything. What actually happened with ExxonMobil is – when James Hansen made a speech about global warming in 1988, which received a lot of publicity, at that point management moved to a new position. It wasn't outright detail, because that would have been too easy to expose. They said, "Well, it's uncertain." This was a strategy to shed doubt. In other words, "we really don't know yet. So, we better not do anything precipitous." That was an effective strategy, and that's the Barret strategy: "It's contentious." Meanwhile, the scientific evidence is accumulating beyond any question. ExxonMobil knows all of this, and they've said straight out that, unlike other companies, they won't put aside funds to develop sustainable energy. They've committed to keeping to their business model of doing what is most profitable, and that is developing as many fossil fuels as possible.

Then, there is JPMorgan Chase. They know, and they've conceded. They were one of the world's leading financiers of fossil fuels. Recently, their CEO, Jamie Dimon, announced [they] have to do something about fossil fuels, because of the reputational risks. "Reputational risks" translates into "it is harming our business, because consumers are upset." In fact, an interesting memo leaked from JPMorgan Chase that said [the company is] pursuing policies that place the survival of humanity at risk, and [the company has] to be careful about [its] reputational risks. The "survival of humanity."

There is an interesting question about people like Jamie Dimon. They know exactly what is happening, but they are willing to proceed knowing that it is going to cause a cataclysm — a total disaster that will be irreversible. What is in the mind of somebody like that? Maybe we can say that Mike Pence listens to his preacher, and actually believes there is no need to worry, because God will take care of it. But not the executives of ExxonMobil or JPMorgan Chase.

JPMorgan Chase used the phrase, "survival of humanity," and you are quoting it. All of your books deal with serious issues, to put it mildly. It seems, though, that the new book is the most urgent. Is that a fair characterization?

Let's take seriously the publication of the Department of Transportation — their document on climate change and emission standards. It was an astonishing document, and it is shocking that it didn't get more coverage.

It is a careful environmental assessment from the Trump administration. It concluded that on our present course we will reach four degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. What is that? Total cataclysm. No one can even estimate the effects. Organized human life as we know it will be over. Of course, it will build up over the years, getting worse and worse with sea levels rising, extreme weather events, and so on. So, after describing this, they offer a prescription, and here it is: Let's reduce emission regulations on cars and trucks.

This is the most extraordinary document in human history. I can't think of anything like this. The thing that comes closest is the Nazi Wannsee declaration in 1942, which was the formal decision of the Nazi party to wipe out all the Jews of Europe. Not even that said, "Let's race ahead to make some money while destroying the prospects of all human life on Earth." Why isn't this the headline everywhere?

You've asked two questions, I assume rhetorically, but I'm curious if you can offer an answer to either. First, what kind of people have an awareness that they are threatening all livable ecology and proceed along the same course? Second, why isn't this the headline everywhere?

I have no independent evidence about what is inside people's minds. In the case of the Trump administration, I simply think that they don't care. They are sociopaths. We see this constantly with the president, from the pandemic to hurting the World Health Organization, because it improves his election prospects. If that means kill people in Africa and Yemen who depend upon the WHO for survival, that's fine. The Palestinians didn't treat him nicely? Good. Cut off money for their hospitals. I think it is the mentality that all of us have when we walk down the street and realize that we might crush a lot of ants. We don't think, "I'll take all kinds of precautions to avoid crushing ants." That is the Trump administration's attitude toward the human species. I'm sure it isn't everybody, but it is the mentality that comes from the top down.

There is also the idea, "We have force. Therefore, we can compel anyone else to surrender to it." We see that constantly in the most remarkable ways. A couple of weeks ago the administration approached the United Nations Security Council, requesting that they reinstitute the sanctions against Iran, which were torturing and killing Iranians. The Security Council flatly rejected it. Well, they didn't say no. They abstained, because you don't want to irritate the master too much. So what did the U.S. do? Mike Pompeo returned to the Security Council, and said, sorry children, we're reinstituting the sanctions, because we say so. Has that ever happened in the history of the Security Council? I don't know everything, but I don't think so. What country acts that way? This one does.

There's a major biodiversity conference going on right now at the UN. It is of crucial significance not only for the many species that are being crushed, but for human survival. For example, one of the issues they are addressing is how to prepare for the next pandemic. There is one major country that is not attending. The usual one. The United States. Take a look for coverage. I did, and all I could find was approximately two minutes on NPR.

The New York Times: Great newspaper, right? A couple of days ago, they ran an article on Chevron buying Noble, which gives them entry into the Eastern Mediterranean – huge natural gas fields. Good article on how it will expand production. It will be very good for Israel and Egypt. It didn't say one word about how this is another stab in the heart of the possibility of human survival. It isn't something they really think about. They don't see it as their task to think about it. They write about gas markets, very little about climate change, because it is good for Israel-Egypt relations. There is a biodiversity conference happening, but the U.S. isn't attending. So, who cares?

Now, what about the banks? They know what is happening, and this is my best guess. Let's see if it is plausible. I put myself in the position of Jamie Dimon. I'm sure he knows all about global warming. He cares about it. He probably contributes to the Sierra Club is his spare time. He has two choices. He can say, "What we are doing is horrible. I refuse to participate." He does that, and the board of directors throws him out. They bring someone else in who will do it. So, then he says to himself, "I'm as humane as that next guy they would bring in to destroy the planet. So, I might as well be the one to do it."

ExxonMobil has shareholders. They do what is best for them. The only other way to explain it is sociopathy, but I don't think they are all sociopaths. I think they are the same as people like us.

If the profit at the center of the system incentives sociopathy, is it possible to proceed with something like the Global Green New Deal, on the level that is necessary, without addressing the profit motive?

That's a question that Robert Pollin and I discuss. First of all, there is the simple question of timescale. The timescale needed to deal with this urgent problem is a decade or two. Major institutional changes, which I think are very much in order, have a totally different timescale. It is a much longer process. The fact of the matter is that in order to survive we have to deal with the problem within the framework of the existing institutions. Then, comes the question, can it be done?

We think so. Without radical modification of the existing institutions, which on the side, we can continue to pursue – it is a parallel project – but without that happening, there are adjustments possible. This is mainly Pollin's work – looking at how we can proceed within the timescale and within the existing institutions.

Take fossil fuels. One thing that could be done is simply to take them over – socialize them. It isn't even that expensive. With the oil prices, they aren't worth that much right now. Then, we can put the institutions in the hands of the workforce and the community, and have them do what has to be done. What has to be done? Cut back annually – say 5 percent – on the use of fossil fuels. That would be enough to bring us to net zero emissions by the midcentury. Set the workforce to do things that they know how to do. Let's have them work on developing sustainable energy. They know how to do it. Outside of ExxonMobil, every major company has a division on this.

We might recall that one of the leading early environmentalists was Tony Mazzocchi, the head of the Oil, Chemical, Atomic International Workers Union. Those are the guys on the front line. They're the ones being poisoned. Mazzocchi and his union pushed for safety regulations, and the reduction of fossil fuels. That can be picked up. That's within the framework of institutions.

Take the carbon tax. In itself, it is destructive. It leads to what happened in France. You're telling poor, working people, "You will have to pay more to get to work, because I care about the environment." The way that a carbon tax ought to work is redistribution of the income. Tax the fossil fuels, but then redistribute the profits to the people who need it. The rich guys aren't going to like that, but there's a lot of things that they don't like. They don't like Social Security, but we ram it down their throats through popular pressure.

All of this is within a range of expenses that is not very high. We have Robert Pollin's model. We have a different model from Jeffery Sachs, which reaches pretty much the same conclusion. It can probably all be done within 2-3% of GDP. It is important to note that this doesn't only end fossil fuel production. It creates a better world.

The small number of workers in the fossil fuel industry can get a much better job doing something else. If they need help during the transition period, we can do it for peanuts. Pollin points out that the amount that is needed annually is a fraction of what the Treasury recently poured out to save Wall Street. These things are not out of sight.

Now, there are plenty of barriers. Plenty of fighting back. Amy Coney Barrett saying, "I don't know what's happening. I'm too remote from all of this." The people behind her, getting her to say it, they are going to try to block it.

But there are popular forces who pressing for this, because they know it has to happen quickly. Most of them are young. Greta Thunberg, for example, saying eloquently, "You betrayed us." We should listen to her. Yes, we've betrayed them. Now, we have to change course.

Too often the issue is presented as dichotomous, meaning working class economics versus environmentalism. Why is that wrong?

There will be better jobs and more jobs for working people with a Green New Deal. Jobs ranging from construction to retrofitting houses to mass transportation to installing solar panels and wind turbines to research and development. That whole range presents many more opportunities than there are in fossil fuels, and it makes for a better world.

I don't know where you live. I live in Arizona right now, but I lived outside Boston most of my life. It isn't much fun sitting in a traffic jam for over an hour to get to work.

I live near Chicago. I can relate.

Same thing. It would be much nicer to have a highly efficient mass transit system. You step inside, read a newspaper, enjoy a cup of coffee, and get to where you need to go in no time. It is a better world. In Arizona, I know people who pay $1,000 over the summer for air conditioning. I pay $10 a month, because we've installed solar panels on the roof. It is a better life. Furthermore, I don't have to feel guilty about using so much electricity. The sun is up there, and it is just giving it to me. Insulate your home. You are more comfortable, you are saving money, and you are saving the environment.

It isn't 100 percent. The coal miners, for example. It is a rotten job, but it does pay well. They are on their way out anyway, though. So, we better begin to think about how we can ease the transition. They can do constructive things. In Germany, they are phasing out coal mines, and turning them into ways to produce sustainable energy. These are good jobs, cleaner jobs, and less dangerous. Where there are people who are going to be harmed, we can help them ease the transition.

And again, let's remember that the fossil fuel workers are the ones suffering directly. They experience the worst health consequences – the workers and the people who live near the plants. So, it is in their interest more than anyone. It isn't a hard sell if you break through the propaganda.

You are using the simple, but profound phrase, "It's a better life." It seems that the Global Green New Deal presents the left with a great opportunity to offer to people a large-scale, ambitious project for reimagining human life and society that leads to dramatic improvements.

Absolutely. These two questions that you presented earlier — environmentalism or changing the institutions. This is where they coincide.

Let's take the auto industry. It is a huge industry; the core of American production. In 2009, after the financial collapse, the auto industry was nationalized. There were choices at the time, and if the left had been up to it, we could have made a better choice. The first choice, which is what the Obama administration did, was to pay off the executives and the shareholders, and then return the industry to its original owners, and have them go back to what they were doing — make traffic jams in Chicago and Boston.

Another possibility was to take the industry that we owned, and hand it over to the workforce and the community, and ask them to alter it in ways that were more beneficial. They might have developed an efficient mass transit system. If we start doing that, we undercut the institutions that work for profit, and transform them into democratic institutions that work for public needs. This isn't nationalization, putting it into the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats. It is giving it to workers and community members who can use it for their own needs. That is radically undermining capitalist institutions.

I'm sure you know the Next System Project. One of their proposals that makes great sense is to expand the postal service into general services for people, like banking. It is a perfect way to do banking — not commercial banking, JPMorgan Chase giving someone $2 billion — but the kind of banking we all do. It would be easy to do it through the post office. There are post offices everywhere, the staff is already there, the infrastructure is there. Much of what we do can happen through socialized institutions, which people are surprisingly favorable to. And it would improve our lives. It is a good part of life to have a postal carrier who you get to know. You trust him. You can ask him to feed your dog when you are away. It makes life better.

This is one of the reasons why the rich and powerful want to destroy public institutions, like the Post Office. Public institutions show people that there is an alternative to individualism and consumerism that is possible.

There is so much that it is possible if we only escape the rigid doctrinal assumptions that say, to quote Ronald Reagan, "government is the problem." It is a problem for the rich. It isn't a problem for the rest of us.

Forgive me for closing with what is by now an obligatory and predictable question, but I think I am forever banished from journalism if I don't ask. How do you respond to the irresponsible leftist purity that discourages voting for Biden because of his limitations as a candidate, and the troubling aspects of his record?

My position is to vote against Trump. In our two-party system, there is a technical fact that if you want to vote against Trump, you have to push the lever for the Democrats. If you don't push the lever for the Democrats, you are assisting Trump. We can argue about a lot of things, but not arithmetic. You have a choice on Nov. 3. Do I vote against Trump or help Trump?

It is a simple choice. He's the worst malignancy ever to appear in our political system. He is extremely dangerous.

All of this for the left shouldn't even be discussed. It takes a few minutes. Politics means constant activism. An election comes along every once in awhile, and you have to decide if it is worth participating. Sometimes not — there were cases when I didn't even bother voting. There were cases when I voted Republican, because the Republican congressional candidate in my district was slightly better. It should take roughly a few minutes to decide, then you go back to activism, which is real politics.

There is a new phenomenon on the left. I had never even heard of it before 2016, which is to focus, laser-like, on elections. That's where you get these crazy ideas like condemnation of "lesser-evil voting." Of course, you vote against someone dangerous if it is necessary, but that is not serious political activity. Serious political activity comes out of commitment to educational and organizational work.

Somehow parts of the left within the past few years have unconsciously accepted establishment propaganda. The establishment view of politics is that the public are spectators, not participants in action. Your function is to show up every few years, push a lever, go back home, leave the rest to us. You shouldn't have "democratic dogmatisms about people judging what's in their best interest" — I'm quoting Harold Lasswell, one of the founders of political science. The establishment view is that we have to provide people with, to quote Reinhold Niebuhr, "necessary illusions" and "emotionally potent simplifications." We'll handle the real work.

To see the left buy into this is astonishing. If you don't buy into the establishment picture, you don't talk about "lesser-evil voting." You talk about activism and strategy. Every once in awhile, you decide whether or not it is worth the effort to push a lever. Sometimes it is so obvious, as it is now, that it shouldn't take two minutes to decide.

photo above © glen E. friedman
(did not appear in original article)

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Noam Chomsky: There’s Reason for Hope

from  JstorDaily:

The celebrated linguist and scholar on his new book on global climate change, the mediated reality of Fox News, and the economics of the Green New Deal.

As the world faces an existential crisis–climate change, not the global coronavirus pandemic–it is fitting that Noam Chomsky, arguably the most influential public intellectual of the last half-century, is fixing his attention on a solution. Chomsky, perhaps best known as the father of modern linguistics, has spent decades speaking truth to power as a vocal anti-war activist, from the Vietnam War to the drone strikes under Barack Obama. And while he is associated with the American Left, he prefers to align with the “libertarian socialist” camp and has been deeply critical of both major U.S. parties.
In his new book, Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal, Chomsky and renowned economist Robert Pollin answer questions posed by C.J. Polychroniou on the global climate catastrophe, spelling out what, exactly, could happen if we do not take immediate action to stop carbon emissions. In the book, Chomsky tackles the economic arguments related to the Green New Deal: how neoliberal economic policies since Ronald Reagan got us into the current mess, and why the new proposal actually will be good for American workers.

Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal

I spoke with him over Zoom from his home office in Arizona, and our conversation touched on how climate change will create new jobs, the biggest myths about the Green New Deal, and why the Republicans in Congress are worse than the Nazis.

Here is our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Hope Reese: One of the things you’ve written is that people are going to have to be convinced of the urgency of the threats we face. How can that happen?
Noam Chomsky: If you look at the coverage of the conventions, there’s not one word about it, not a word. People are incapable of imagining what is not immediately in front of their eyes. So, if they see a storm, they might think about it. But when they see that the Greenland ice sheet has reached the point of irreversible melting, it sort of shoots off into the back of their minds. It’s going to destroy the species unless we overcome this.
You argue that we need to revive the labor movement. Can you talk about the importance of the labor movement in connection to the climate crisis?
Well, look over modern history. The labor movement has been in the forefront of just about every significant action for social change, reform, and so on. The U.S. labor history happens to be unusually harsh and brutal. Well, the labor movement has been very vibrant, but it’s repeatedly been crushed by force. And that was true in the 1920s: it had virtually disappeared. The Depression hit in 1929, and it took about five years for the labor movement to start to revive. And then it led the thrust toward the New Deal, which we’ve been living with since.
When Reagan and Thatcher came in, they understood this very well. Their first actions were to destroy the labor movement––illegal strike-breaking under Reagan, which was pretty effective. But nowadays the labor movement is quite weak. It could reconstitute. And if it does, it should be in the forefront of this, so these are issues that immediately affect working people.

One example: Even before the pandemic, the oil and gas prices were sharply declining. Companies were going out of business, wells were not being closed, which is very dangerous because they leak methane and so on. There are about 100,000 workers involved in this. They can be put to work immediately and constructively just to close the wells. Okay? Make sure that the wells are closed and not leaking huge quantities of methane. Not a huge sum of money, but it requires some concern for working people and that’s lacking.
The Democrats gave up on the working class 50 years ago. The Republicans are violently opposed to working people. They pretend otherwise, but it’s clear from what they do, so nobody’s pushing it. Actually, you can read it in the business press, Bloomberg Businessweek proposes it, another picks it up. Then, there’s the Green New Deal, which is essential for survival. One strong component of it is engaging working people.
How does that happen under the Green New Deal?
There’s a huge amount of work to be done simply in retrofitting homes, construction development, and mass transportation. All of these activities engage a huge part of the labor force, installing solar heaters, solar panels, and so on. Well, that should be a large part of the Green New Deal. But of course, it takes legislation, initiative, popular movements to press it. These things are happening, but not on a sufficient scale to make it work.
I mean, the Republican Party programs, of course, are just asking for total disaster and calamity. And the Democrats have a somewhat better program. In fact, the best on paper, the best program that’s ever been produced. But meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee’s cutting back on it. So, for example, both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris proposed cutting subsidies on the fossil fuel industries, which is insane. The democratic establishment cut it out of the program—over the objections of both the presidential candidate and the vice presidential candidate.
This is the kind of thing that takes lots of public activism to overcome. The Clintonite Democrats are basically moderate Republicans. They don’t want to see anything happen, and they control the “Party of Radicals,” which means that there has to be a lot of effort to get the chance to get a serious change.
In the book, you say that dismantling capitalism might be ideal, but there’s a problem with doing that now. How so?
It’s just out of the question. In order to overturn capitalism, you have to have huge masses of the population committed to overturning all of the basic institutions of society and creating new ones. Do you see any sign of that anywhere?
I believe you wrote that we just don’t have the time for it, in the face of this immediate crisis…
We have to work on it, but you have to create the situation. You can’t do it by snapping your fingers. Talking about getting rid of capitalism is like saying, “why don’t we have total peace on earth with everyone loving each other?” It’d be nice.
What role does the media play in the public’s perception of the climate crisis? In light of fake news and a fractured media landscape, can we come to an agreement about what’s going on?
Well, it’s not entirely a fractured landscape. There’ve been good studies of media outreach by the business press and peer research and so on, and the results are pretty interesting. So one major study took about 30 media, print, TV, radio, the full range, and asked people which ones they go to, and they divided into Republicans and Democrats. Among the Democrats, it was a pretty broad spectrum, most of them. Among Republicans, it was very narrow, focused on Fox News, Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh. That’s what they hear. Now, what they hear is what you just said: fake news. Everything’s invented, Rush Limbaugh, four corners of deceit, science, academia, government, and media. They thrive on the deceit. Well, if half the population has that drummed into their heads every day, every year, you’re going to get stranger attitudes.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Misinformation Is ‘Its Own Pandemic’ Among Parents Here’s how to push back on social media and in person.

from the New York Times:

In January 2019, Scott Wiener, a California State Senator, introduced what he thought was an L.G.B.T.Q. Civil Rights Bill. At the time, California law gave judges discretion on whether to put a 19-year-old man on a sex offender registry if he had vaginal sex with a 16-year-old girl, but if that 19-year-old man had anal or oral sex with a 16-year-old boy, he would automatically be registered as a sex offender. Wiener ’s bill sought to fix that discrepancy by giving the same discretion to judges over oral or anal sex offenses. Sex with any minor would be a crime in the state of California if this bill passed.

According to Wiener’s communications director, Catie Stewart, the bill was moving through the legislature with little fanfare or opposition until this summer, when a mom with tens of thousands of followers on Instagram got wind of a politically motivated misrepresentation from earlier in the year — one with the headline “California lawmakers introduce bill to protect pedophiles who sexually abuse innocent kids.” She then posted about it, and encouraged her followers to contact Wiener’s office to complain.
This mom is anti-mask, against vaccines and promotes QAnon-based conspiracy theories about pedophilia — specifically that Democratic elites are running secret pedophile rings. When her anti-bill Instagram post went viral, it reached many parents who were not her direct followers and who were not affiliated with QAnon.

“They’d share it on their grids, and they’d share on their stories. They were fully unaware it was false information,” she said. “They weren’t really hard-core QAnon people — I don’t know if they’d know what QAnon was.” They just saw that there was a bill appearing to protect pedophiles and were understandably horrified. Wiener’s official Instagram was bombarded with thousands of comments and D.M.s, ranging from upset to violent. “#SaveTheChildren seemed to be the way in for many people,” Stewart said.

Since the bill passed on Sept. 2, the torrent of comments and D.M.s have become “a monsoon.”

As my colleague Kevin Roose pointed out in August, the SaveTheChildren hashtag began as “a legitimate fund-raising campaign for the Save the Children charity,” a 100-year old nonprofit dedicated to improving the health of children around the world. But since the pandemic began, that hashtag has been hijacked by QAnon followers spreading conspiracy theories about rampant pedophilia.

In the motherhood and wellness online space, #SaveTheChildren has been successfully distanced from the more extreme elements of QAnon, said Kathryn Jezer-Morton, a doctoral researcher in online motherhood at Concordia University in Montreal. Mom-fluencers pushing essential oils and nontoxic cleaning products aren’t, say, posting about how pedophiles are murdering children and harvesting their blood to stay forever young — they’re merely posting photos of themselves at rallies against child-trafficking.
“No one wants to take a public stance for child trafficking,” Jezer-Morton said, especially on Instagram, where “posi-vibes” are encouraged, so these posts go unchallenged, and can spread quickly. It matters because people can follow these hashtags down the rabbit hole of QAnon and become radicalized. And at this moment, parents may be particularly vulnerable. “It’s a really hard time in our country,” said Stewart. “People are suffering, there’s massive unemployment,” and becoming an activist against something as disgusting as child trafficking may be a way to make sense of the chaos.

“What most of us don’t realize is how entrenched people can get in these beliefs very quickly,” said Joan Donovan, the Research Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy who studies online extremism and disinformation campaigns. In the worst-case scenarios, these beliefs can lead adherents to potentially harm people, as Annie Kelly explained in an op-ed about moms for QAnon, and the F.B.I. labeled conspiracy theories including QAnon a new domestic terrorism threat in 2019.

Since July, at least three reality-TV-star moms with over four million Instagram followers collectively have posted about #SaveTheChildren, including incorrect information like the statistic that “300,000 American children a year will be lured into the sex trade,” a figure that has been thoroughly debunked.

If you’re active on social media, you may have seen a fellow parent share some of this information. So how do you go about pushing back against the falsehoods? I asked three experts to weigh in.

If it’s someone you know, talk to them privately. Start by asking broad questions about their posts, like, “What is this about? Can you explain it to me?” said Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory researcher and the author of “The World’s Worst Conspiracies.” You’re trying to gather knowledge about their beliefs in a non-adversarial way. “You don’t want to try to debate or debunk, it makes them think they’re right,” he said. Just ask questions and get them to explain it to you. “Get them to do the thinking,” said Rothschild. “You can’t reason someone out of a fringe belief,” but you may be able to get them to see their logic isn’t holding up.

Approach the subject with kindness and empathy. Paul Offit, M.D., the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who talks to parents who have encountered vaccine conspiracy theories, said that “I am sympathetic to the fact that it’s hard to see your kids injected with a biological fluid,” he said. “I can see when people would be worried about that.” So try to engage with what your friend is really afraid of if they are posting a lot about child trafficking. Are they scared of their child getting kidnapped? If so, why?

You have to be willing to meet them where they are without calling them “crazy” or dismissing them out of hand. “Even feigning interest in the conspiracy in order to find out what their real pain point or fear is that they’re trying to address in their lives, may give you info on how to reach them as they’re getting more and more involved in this,” Donovan explained.

Acknowledge when someone is not open to a discussion. If your friend is so deeply into the QAnon world that they cannot have a civil discussion about their beliefs, “Let them know you love them, that you’re here for them,” but then drop it, said Rothschild — you can’t “talk somebody out of a belief that they want to have.”

If it’s someone you don’t know personally, respond with facts. If someone is repeating misinformation, say, in a Facebook mom group, you can gently push back with a link to correct data, said Donovan. It’s appropriate to respond, “‘I don’t think this discussion has a place here,’ and potentially link to some of the reporting going on,” she said. If that misinformation is anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim, as many of QAnon-related conspiracies tend to be, you should report those posts to either the moderator or the social media company, Donovan said. “It’s important to use the tools available on the platform to get these posts removed.”

Catie Stewart ignored all the Instagram messages that were abusive or contained threats of violence toward her or Sen. Wiener, but she said she had a decent success rate responding to constituents who were just misinformed. “You helped pass a law in California for pedophiles, basically,” one parent initially wrote to Wiener’s account over Instagram D.M., which Stewart shared with me. “As a mother, I need a clear understanding of what the laws that are being passed actually mean.”

Stewart wrote back to this woman with a link to a USA Today story that fact-checkedconspiracies about the bill, and made it clear California was not legalizing pedophilia. “OK, thank you for clearing that up. My heart literally dropped thinking that this would be something California would do,” the mom replied.
“It’s really important that if you see someone in your life spreading this, you explain to them the truth in a really kind way,” Stewart said. “Sometimes it’s not going to work, but whoever you can get to, it’s one more person who is not going to spread this.” Misinformation is “its own pandemic.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2020


from Dangerous Minds:
I [Richard Metzger] was on my old friend Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human podcast. We taped this just before news of George Floyd’s murder became widely known, and talked for over four hours over the course of two long calls. The edited version is just under an hour. It’s always fun to have a conversation with him.
Playing for Team Human today, counterculture icon and Editor of Dangerous Minds, Richard Metzger. Metzger envisions what life might look like on the dole and what that means for the future of the counterculture.

Rushkoff and Metzger consider whether the ideals of yesterday’s counterculture were so successful that they’ve become the new over culture? And if so, who really are the new revolutionaries? They also consider the effect Covid-19 will have on a new generation’s financial prospects, and whether the underlying flaws in capitalism will finally be laid bare.

In his monologue, Rushkoff looks at the way our policing problems can only be solved if we fund and utilize other kinds of civil servants instead of just ones with weapons.

Read “Good Cops Don’t Need Grenade Launchers” by Douglas Rushkoff from Medium’s GEN.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Saturday, May 30, 2020


from emptywheel

While many would point to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial  in August 1963 as his most powerful, the words from King that most move me come from a letter written four months earlier, as he sat in the Birmingham jail. It was a letter written to local pastors, who expressed support for his cause but concern for the manner in which he came to Birmingham to protest. When looking back at historical letters, there are some that are products of their time that illuminate the events of that day, but which need footnotes and commentary to explain to contemporary readers.
King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is *not* one of those letters. I wish it was, but it isn’t. It’s all too clear, and speaks all too clearly even now.
In that letter, King identified “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom” not as the hoodwearing Klanners or the politically powerful White Citizens Council folks, but the white moderate. These are folks who
  • are more devoted to order than justice
  • prefer a negative peace – the absence of tension – to a positive peace – the presence of justice
  • constantly say they agree with your goals but not your direct methods for achieving them
  • feel no problem in setting a timetable for someone else’s freedom
  • live by the myth of time, constantly urging patience until things are more convenient
Anyone who has watched the news at any time over the last three years knows that this great stumbling block to freedom and justice, the Moderate, is an all-too-familiar presence, appearing in various guises. For example . . .
  • police officers who, as one African-American after another is beaten, abused, and killed by one of their colleagues, silently watch the attack as it unfolds, who refuse to intervene, who write up reports to cover for this conduct, and who by their silence and their words defend and justify assault and murder done under the color of law;
  • staffers at ICE facilities who, as children are separated from their parents, as people are crammed into unlivable facilities, as basic necessities like toothbrushes and soap are withheld, clock in and clock out without saying a word;
  • personal assistants, co-workers, and superiors who watch as victim after victim were abused by powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Jeffrey Epstein, and untold others, and who said nothing;
  • Susan Collins, hand-wringer extraordinaire, who expresses her deep concerns about this rightwing nominee or that destructive proposed policy, and nevertheless puts her concerns aside time and time and time again to confirm the nominee or enact the proposal into law;
  • media figures who practice “he said/she said journalism,” who twist themselves into pretzels in order to maintain their “access” to inside sources, and who refuse to call a lie a lie in the name of “balance”;
  • corporate bean counters, who place such things as quarterly profits and shareholder value ahead of worker safety and well-being, ahead of environmental concerns, or ahead of community partnership, saying “we can’t afford to . . .” when what they really mean is “we choose not to spend in order to . . .”;
  • lawyers who provide legal cover to those who abuse, torture, and terrorize, and the second group of lawyers who “let bygones be bygones” in order to not have to deal with the actions of the first group;
  • bishops and religious leaders who privately chastise abusive priests and pastors, but who fail to hold them publicly accountable and seek justice, out of a concern to not cause a scandal that would bring the religious organization into disrepute; and
  • leaders of sports programs who value winning so much that they are willing to look the other way when coaches, trainers, and doctors abuse athletes.
The tools of the Moderate are things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, loyalty to The Team, and the explicit and implicit power of the hierarchy. The Moderate may not be at the top of the pyramid, but as long as the Moderate can kiss up and kick down, they think they will be OK. They’ll keep their powder dry, waiting for a better time to act. But all too often, the Moderate refuses to use what they’ve been saving for that rainy day, even when they are in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane.
But there are signs of hope, and we’ve seen some of them as well over the last three years:
  • career government professionals – at the State Department like Marie Yovanovitch, at the Department of Defense like Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, at the Department of Health and Human Services like Dr. Richard Bright, at the Department of Justice like Brandon Van Graak, and others like them – who refused to worry about personal consequences to themselves and fudge the data, ignore the facts, shade the advice,  or stand silently by while others do so;
  • passers-by to acts of injustice, who not only document what is being done but who take action to hold perpetrators to account (NY dog walkers, represent!);
  • young voices like Greta Thunberg who refuse to go along to get along, who ask the tough questions of those in power, and who question the answers that mock the truth, and old voices like Elizabeth Warren who do the same; and
  • voices of political relative newcomers like Katie Porter, AOC, Stacy Abrams, who do not let their low spot on the political totem pole (or lack of a spot at all) keep them from speaking out for justice.
This past week, longtime AIDS activist Larry Kramer passed away. He founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis to care for gays stricken with AIDS, while the government turned its eyes away from the problem. Later on, he founded ACT-UP, when he saw GMHC had become too domesticated and unwilling to rock the boat when the boat desperately needed rocking. He called out the gay community and he called out government officials, even those who were trying to help like Anthony Fauci, for not doing anywhere close to what was needed.
And in many respects, it worked. Maybe not as fast as it should have, or as well as Kramer would have liked, but it made a difference. From Kramer’s NY Times obituary:
The infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was one who got the message — after Mr. Kramer wrote an open letter published in The San Francisco Examiner in 1988 calling him a killer and “an incompetent idiot.”
“Once you got past the rhetoric,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview for this obituary, “you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold.”
Mr. Kramer, he said, had helped him to see how the federal bureaucracy was indeed slowing the search for effective treatments. He credited Mr. Kramer with playing an “essential” role in the development of elaborate drug regimens that could prolong the lives of those infected with H.I.V., and in prompting the Food and Drug Administration to streamline its assessment and approval of certain new drugs.
In recent years Mr. Kramer developed a grudging friendship with Dr. Fauci, particularly after Mr. Kramer developed liver disease and underwent the transplant in 2001; Dr. Fauci helped get him into a lifesaving experimental drug trial afterward.
Their bond grew stronger this year, when Dr. Fauci became the public face of the White House task force on the coronavirus epidemic, opening him to criticism in some quarters.“We are friends again,” Mr. Kramer said in an email to the reporter John Leland of The New York Times for an article published at the end of March. “I’m feeling sorry for how he’s being treated. I emailed him this, but his one line answer was, ‘Hunker down.’”
Which brings me back to King’s letter and the title of this post:
. . . though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
We’ve got plenty of extremists like Stephen Miller and the cop who knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died. We’re in dire need of more creative extremists.
Which leaves me with one question: how will you be a creative extremist today?