US Backs Xenophobia & Mob Violence in Hong Kong

The ferociously anti-Chinese network behind the demonstrations has been cultivated with the help of U.S. funding and a Washington-linked local media tycoon, reports Ben Norton.

  By Dan Cohen 
  The Grayzone

President Donald Trump tweeted on August 13 that he “can’t imagine why” the United States has been blamed for the chaotic protests that have gripped Hong Kong. 

Trump’s befuddlement might be understandable considering the carefully managed narrative of the U.S. government and its unofficial media apparatus, which have portrayed the protests as an organic “pro-democracy” expression of grassroots youth. However, a look beneath the surface of this oversimplified, made-for-television script reveals that the ferociously anti-Chinese network behind the demonstrations has been cultivated with the help of millions of dollars from the U.S. government, as well as a Washington-linked local media tycoon. 

Since March, raucous protests have gripped Hong Kong. In July and August, these demonstrations transformed into ugly displays of xenophobia and mob violence. 

The protests ostensibly began in opposition to a proposed amendment to the extradition law between Hong Kong, Taiwan, mainland China, and Macau, which would have allowed Taiwanese authorities to prosecute a Hong Kong man for murdering his pregnant girlfriend and dumping her body in the bushes during a vacation to Taiwan. 

Highly organized networks of anti-China protesters quickly mobilized against the law, compelling Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to withdraw the bill. 

But the protests continued even after the extradition law was taken off the table — and these demonstrations degenerated into disturbing scenes. In recent days, hundreds of masked rioters have occupied the Hong Kong airport, forcing the cancellation of inbound flights while harassing travelers and viciously assaulting journalists and police.

The protesters’ stated goals remain vague. Joshua Wong, one of the most well known figures in the movement, has put forward a call for the Chinese government to “retract the proclamation that the protests were riots,” and restated the consensus demand for universal suffrage.

Wong is a bespectacled 22-year-old who has been trumpeted in Western media as a “freedom campaigner,” promoted to the English-speaking world through his own Netflix documentary, and rewarded with the backing of the U.S. government. 

But behind telegenic spokespeople like Wong are more extreme elements such as the Hong Kong National Party, whose members have appeared at protests waving the Stars and Stripes and belting out cacophonous renditions of the Star-Spangled Banner. The leadership of this officially banned party helped popularize the call for the full independence of Hong Kong, a radical goal that is music to the ears of hardliners in Washington.

Xenophobic resentment has defined the sensibility of the protesters, who vow to “retake Hong Kong” from Chinese mainlanders they depict as a horde of locusts. The demonstrators have even adopted one of the most widely recognized symbols of the alt-right, emblazoning images of Pepe the Frog on their protest literature. While it’s unclear that Hong Kong residents see Pepe the same way American white nationalists do, members of the U.S. far-right have embraced the protest movement as their own, and even personally joined their ranks.

Among the most central influencers of the demonstrations is a local tycoon named Jimmy Lai. The self-described “head of opposition media,” Lai is widely described as the Rupert Murdoch of Asia. For the masses of protesters, Lai is a transcendent figure. They clamor for photos with him and applaud the oligarch wildly when he walks by their encampments. 

Lai established his credentials by pouring millions of dollars into the 2014 Occupy Central protest, which is known popularly as the Umbrella Movement. He has since used his massive fortune to fund local anti-China political movers and shakers while injecting the protests with a virulent brand of Sinophobia through his media empire. 

Though Western media has depicted the Hong Kong protesters as the voice of an entire people yearning for freedom, the island is deeply divided. This August, a group of protesters mobilized outside Jimmy Lai’s house, denouncing him as a “running dog” of Washington and accusing him of national betrayal by unleashing chaos on the island. 

Days earlier, Lai was in Washington, coordinating with hardline members of Trump’s national security team, including John Bolton. His ties to Washington run deep — and so do those of the front-line protest leaders. 

Millions of dollars have flowed from U.S.  regime-change outfits like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) into civil society and political organizations that form the backbone of the anti-China mobilization. And Lai has supplemented it with his own fortune while instructing protesters on tactics through his various media organs.

With Donald Trump in the White House, Lai is convinced that his moment may be on the horizon. Trump “understands the Chinese like no president understood,” the tycoon told The Wall Street Journal. “I think he’s very good at dealing with gangsters.” 

 Born to Wealthy Mainland Parents 

Born in the mainland in 1948 to wealthy parents, whose fortune was expropriated by the Communist Party during the revolution the following year, Jimmy Lai began working at 9 years old, carrying bags for train travelers during the hard years of the Great Chinese Famine.

Inspired by the taste of a piece of chocolate gifted to him by a wealthy man, he decided to smuggle himself to Hong Kong to discover a future of wealth and luxury. There, Lai worked his way up the ranks of the garment industry, growing enamored with the libertarian theories of economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, the latter of whom became his close friend. 

Friedman is famous for developing the neoliberal shock therapy doctrine that the U.S. has imposed on numerous countries, resulting in the excess deaths of millions. For his part, Hayek is the godfather of the Austrian economic school that forms the foundation of libertarian political movements across the West.

Lai built his business empire on Giordano, a garment label that became one of Asia’s most recognizable brands. In 1989, he threw his weight behind the Tiananmen Square protests, hawking t-shirts on the streets of Beijing calling for Deng Xiaoping to “step down.” 

Lai’s actions provoked the Chinese government to ban his company from operating on the mainland. A year later, he founded Next Weekly magazine, initiating a process that would revolutionize the mediascape in Hong Kong with a blend of smutty tabloid-style journalism, celebrity gossip and a heavy dose of anti-China spin.

The vociferously anti-communist baron soon became Hong Kong’s media kingpin, worth a whopping $660 million in 2009. 

Today, Lai is the founder and majority stakeholder of Next Digital, the largest listed media company in Hong Kong, which he uses to agitate for the end of what he calls the Chinese “dictatorship.” 

His flagship outlet is the popular tabloid Apple Daily, employing the trademark mix of raunchy material with a heavy dose of xenophobic, nativist propaganda.

In 2012, Apple Daily carried a full page advertisement depicting mainland Chinese citizens as invading locusts draining Hong Kong’s resources. The advertisement called for a stop to the “unlimited invasion of mainland pregnant women in Hong Kong.” (This was a crude reference to the Chinese citizens who had flocked to the island while pregnant to ensure that their children could earn Hong Kong residency, and resembled the resentment among the U.S. right-wing of immigrant “anchor babies.”)  

The transformation of Hong Kong’s economy has provided fertile soil for Lai’s brand of demagoguery. As the country’s manufacturing base moved to mainland China after the golden years of the 1980s and ‘90s, the economy was rapidly financialized, enriching oligarchs like Lai. Left with rising debt and dimming career prospects, Hong Kong’s youth became easy prey to the demagogic politics of nativism

Many protesters have been seen waving British Union Jacks in recent weeks, expressing a yearning for an imaginary past under colonial control which they never personally experienced. 

In July, protesters vandalized the Hong Kong Liaison Office, spray-painting the word, “Shina” on its facade. This term is a xenophobic slur some in Hong Kong and Taiwan use to refer to mainland China. The anti-Chinese phenomenon was visible during the 2014 Umbrella movement protests as well, with signs plastered around the city reading, “Hong Kong for Hong Kongers.”

This month, protesters turned their fury on the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, spray-painting “rioters” on its office. The attack represented resentment of the left-wing group’s role in a violent 1967 uprising against the British colonial authorities, who are now seen as heroes among many of the anti-Chinese demonstrators.

Besides Lai, a large part of the credit for mobilizing latent xenophobia goes to the right-wing Hong Kong Indigenous party leader Edward Leung. Under the direction of the 28-year-old Leung, his pro-independence party has brandished British colonial flags and publicly harassed Chinese mainland tourists. In 2016, Leung was exposed for meeting with U.S. diplomatic officials at a local restaurant.

Though he is currently in jail for leading a 2016 riot where police were bombarded with bricks and pavement – and where he admitted to attacking an officer – Leung’s rightist politics and his slogan, “Retake Hong Kong,” have helped define the ongoing protests. 

A local legislator and protest leader described Leung to The New York Times as “the Che Guevara of Hong Kong’s revolution,” referring without a hint of irony to the Latin American communist revolutionary killed in a CIA-backed operation. According to the Times, Leung is “the closest thing Hong Kong’s tumultuous and leaderless protest movement has to a guiding light.”

The xenophobic sensibility of the protesters has provided fertile soil for Hong Kong National Party to recruit. Founded by the pro-independence activist Andy Chan, the officially banned party combines anti-Chinese resentment with calls for the U.S.  to intervene. Images and videos have surfaced of HKNP members waving the flags of the U.S. and U.K., singing the Star Spangled Banner, and carrying flags emblazoned with images of Pepe the Frog, the most recognizable symbol of the U.S.  alt-right. 

While the party lacks a wide base of popular support, it is perhaps the most outspoken within the protest ranks, and has attracted disproportionate international attention as a result. Chan has called for Trump to escalate the trade war and accused China of carrying out a “national cleansing” against Hong Kong. “We were once colonized by the Brits, and now we are by the Chinese,” he declared.

Displays of pro-American jingoism in the streets of Hong Kong have been like catnip for the international far-right.

Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson recently appeared at an anti-extradition protest in Hong Kong, livestreaming the event to his tens of thousands of followers. A month earlier, Gibson was seen roughing up antifa activists alongside ranks of club wielding fascists. In Hong Kong, the alt-right organizer marveled at the crowds. 

“They love our flag here more than they do in America!” Gibson exclaimed as marchers passed by, flashing him a thumbs up sign while he waved the Stars and Stripes.

 Xenophobic Propaganda 

 Such xenophobic propaganda is consistent with the clash of civilizations theory that Jimmy Lai has    promulgated through his media empire.

“You have to understand the Hong Kong people – a very tiny 7 million or 0.5 percent of the Chinese population – are very different from the rest of Chinese in China, because we grow up in the Western values, which was the legacy of the British colonial past, which gave us the instinct to revolt once this extradition law was threatening our freedom,” Lai told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo. “Even America has to look at the world 20 years from now, whether you want the Chinese dictatorial values to dominate this world, or you want the values that you treasure [to] continue.”

During a panel discussion at the neoconservative Washington-based think tank, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Lai told the pro-Israel lobbyist Jonathan Schanzer,

“We need to know that America is behind us. By backing us, America is also sowing to the will of their moral authority because we are the only place in China, a tiny island in China, which is sharing your values, which is fighting the same war you have with China.”

While Lai makes no attempt to conceal his political agenda, his bankrolling of central figures in the 2014 Occupy Central, or Umbrella movement protests, was not always public. 

Leaked emails revealed that Lai poured more than $1.2 million to anti-China political parties including  $637,000 to the Democratic Party and $382,000 to the Civic Party. Lai also gave $115,000 to the Hong Kong Civic Education Foundation and Hong Kong Democratic Development Network, both of which were co-founded by Reverend Chu Yiu-ming. Lai also spent $446,000 on Occupy Central’s 2014 unofficial referendum.

Lai’s U.S.  consigliere is a former Navy intelligence analyst who interned with the CIA and leveraged his intelligence connections to build his boss’s business empire. Named Mark Simon, the veteran spook arranged for former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin to meet with a group in the anti-China camp during a 2009 visit to Hong Kong. Five years later, Lai paid $75,000 to neoconservative Iraq war author and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to organize a meeting with top military figures in Myanmar.

This July, as the Hong Kong protests gathered steam, Lai was junketed to Washington, D.C., for meetings with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Cory Gardner, and Rick Scott. Bloomberg News correspondent Nicholas Wadhams remarked on Lai’s visit, “Very unusual for a [non-government] visitor to get that kind of access.”

One of Lai’s closest allies, Martin Lee, was also granted an audience with Pompeo, and has held court with U.S. leaders including Rep. Nancy Pelosi and former Vice President Joseph Biden.

Among the most prominent figures in Hong Kong’s pro-U.S. political parties, Lee began collaborating with Lai during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. A recipient of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy’s “Democracy Award” in 1997, Lee is the founding chairman of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, now considered part of the pro-U.S.  camp’s old guard. 

While Martin Lee has long been highly visible on the pro-western Hong Kong scene, a younger generation of activists emerged during the 2014 Occupy Central protests with a new brand of localized politics.

Joshua Wong was just 17 years old when the Umbrella Movement took form in 2014. After emerging in the protest ranks as one of the more charismatic voices, he was steadily groomed as the pro-West camp’s teenage poster child. Wong received lavish praised in Time magazine, Fortune, and Foreign Policy as a “freedom campaigner,” and became the subject of an award-winning Netflix documentary called “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower.”

 

Unsurprisingly, these puff pieces have overlooked Wong’s ties to the U.S. regime-change apparatus. For instance, National Endowment for Democracy’s National Democratic Institute (NDI) maintains a close relationship with Demosisto, the political party Wong founded in 2016 with fellow Umbrella movement alumnus Nathan Law. 

In August, a candid photo surfaced of Wong and Law meeting with Julie Eadeh, the political counselor at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong, raising questions about the content of the meeting and setting off a diplomatic showdown between Washington and Beijing.

The Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong submitted a formal complaint with the U.S. consulate general, calling on the U.S. “to immediately make a clean break from anti-China forces who stir up trouble in Hong Kong, stop sending out wrong signals to violent offenders, refrain from meddling with Hong Kong affairs and avoid going further down the wrong path.”

The pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao published personal details about Eadeh, including the names of her children and her address. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus lashed out, accusing the Chinese government of being behind the leak but offering no evidence. “I don’t think that leaking an American diplomat’s private information, pictures, names of their children, I don’t think that is a formal protest, that is what a thuggish regime would do,” she said at a State Department briefing. 

But the photo underscored the close relationship between Hong Kong’s pro-West movement and the U.S. government. Since the 2014 Occupy Central protests that vaulted Wong into prominence, he and his peers have been assiduously cultivated by the elite Washington institutions to act as the faces and voices of Hong Kong’s burgeoning anti-China movement.

In September 2015, Wong, Martin Lee, and University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Lee were honored by Freedom House, a right-wing soft-power organization that is heavily funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and other arms of the U.S. government.  

Just days after Trump’s election as president in November 2016, Wong was back in Washington to appeal for more U.S. support. “Being a businessman, I hope Donald Trump could know the dynamics in Hong Kong and know that to maintain the business sector benefits in Hong Kong, it’s necessary to fully support human rights in Hong Kong to maintain the judicial independence and the rule of law,” he said.

Wong’s visit provided occasion for the Senate’s two most aggressively neoconservative members, Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, to introduce the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act,” which would “identify those responsible for abduction, surveillance, detention and forced confessions, and the perpetrators will have their U.S. assets, if any… frozen and their entry to the country denied.”

Wong was then taken on a junket of elite U.S. institutions including the right-wing Heritage Foundation think tank and the newsrooms of The New York Times and Financial Times. He then held court with Rubio, Cotton, Pelosi, and Sen. Ben Sasse

In September 2017, Rubio, Ben Cardin, Tom Cotton, Sherrod Brown, and Cory Gardner signed off on a letter to Wong, Law and fellow anti-China activist Alex Chow, praising them for their “efforts to build a genuinely autonomous Hong Kong.” The bipartisan cast of senators proclaimed that “the United States cannot stand idly by.”

A year later, Rubio and his colleagues nominated the trio of Wong, Law, and Chow for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. 

Washington’s support for the designated spokesmen of the “retake Hong Kong movement” was supplemented with untold sums of money from U.S. regime-change outfits like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and subsidiaries like the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to civil society, media and political groups. 

As journalist Alex Rubinstein reported, the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, a key member of the coalition that organized against the now-defunct extradition law, has received more than $2 million in NED funds since 1995. And other groups in the coalition reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars from the NED and NDI last year alone.

While U.S. lawmakers nominate Hong Kong protest leaders for peace prizes and pump their organizations with money to “promote democracy,” the demonstrations have begun to spiral out of control. 

Protests Become More Aggressive

After the extradition law was scrapped, the protests moved into a more aggressive phase, launching “hit and run attacks” against government targets, erecting roadblocks, besieging police stations, and generally embracing the extreme modalities put on display during U.S.-backed regime-change operations from Ukraine to Venezuela to Nicaragua. 

The techniques clearly reflected the training many activists have received from Western soft-power outfits. But they also bore the mark of Jimmy Lai’s media operation. 

In addition to the vast sums Lai spent on political parties directly involved in the protests, his media group created an animated video “showing how to resist police in case force was used to disperse people in a mass protest.” 

While dumping money into the Hong Kong’s pro-U.S. political camp in 2013, Lai traveled to Taiwan for a secret roundtable consultation with Shih Ming-teh, a key figure in Taiwan’s social movement that forced then-president Chen Shui-bian to resign in 2008. Shih reportedly instructed Lai on non-violent tactics to bring the government to heel, emphasizing the importance of a commitment to go to jail. 

According to journalist Peter Lee, “Shih supposedly gave Lai advice on putting students, young girls, and mothers with children in the vanguard of the street protests, in order to attract the support of the international community and press, and to sustain the movement with continual activities to keep it dynamic and fresh.” Lai reportedly turned off his recording device during multiple sections of Shih’s tutorial.

One protester explained to The New York Times how the movement attempted to embrace a strategy called, “Marginal Violence Theory:” By using “mild force” to provoke security services into attacking the protesters, the protesters aimed to shift international sympathy away from the state. 

But as the protest movement intensifies, its rank-and-file are doing away with tactical restraint and lashing out at their targets with full fury. They have thrown molotov cocktails into intersections to block traffic; attacked vehicles and their drivers for attempting to break through roadblocks; beaten opponents with truncheons; attacked a wounded man with a U.S. flag; menaced a reporter into deleting her photos; kidnapped and beat a journalist senseless; beat a mainland traveler unconscious and prevented paramedics from reaching the victim; and hurled petrol bombs at police officers.

The charged atmosphere has provided a shot in the arm to Lai’s media empire, which had been suffering heavy losses since the last round of national protests in 2014. After the mass marches against the extradition bill on June 9, which Lai’s Apple Daily aggressively promoted, his Next Digital doubled in value, according to Eji Insight. 

Meanwhile, the protest leaders show no sign of backing down. Nathan Law, the youth activist celebrated in Washington and photographed meeting with U.S.  officials in Hong Kong, took to Twitter to urge his peers to soldier on: “We have to persist and keep the faith no matter how devastated the reality seems to be,” he wrote. 

Law was tweeting from New Haven, Connecticut, where he was enrolled with a full scholarship at Yale University. While the young activist basked in the adulation of his U.S. patrons thousands of miles from the chaos he helped spark, a movement that defined itself as a “leaderless resistance” forged ahead back home.

Dan Cohen is a journalist and co-producer of the award-winning documentary, “Killing Gaza.” He has produced widely distributed video reports and print dispatches from across Israel-Palestine, Latin America, the U.S.-Mexico border and Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @DanCohen3000.

This article is from The Grayzone.

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Hong Kong in Crosshairs of Global Power Struggle

The U.S. and other Western powers are working to preserve a capitalist dystopia and manufacture consensus for long-term conflict with China, write Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers.

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers 
PopularResistance.org

Hong Kong is one of the most extreme examples of big finance, neoliberal capitalism in the world. As a result, many people in Hong Kong are suffering from great economic insecurity in a city with 93 billionaires, second-most of any city.

Hong Kong is suffering the effects of being colonized by Britain for more than 150 years following the Opium Wars. The British put in place a capitalist economic system and Hong Kong has had no history of self-rule. When Britain left, it negotiated an agreement that prevents China from changing Hong Kong’s political and economic systems for 50 years by making Hong Kong a Special Administrative Region (SAR).

China cannot solve the suffering of the people of Hong Kong. This “One Country, Two Systems” approach means the extreme capitalism of Hong Kong exists alongside, but separate from, China’s socialized system. Hong Kong has an unusual political system. For example, half the seats in the legislature are required to represent business interests meaning corporate interests vote on legislation.

Hong Kong is a center for big finance and also a center of financial crimes. Between 2013 and 2017, the number of suspicious transactions reported to law enforcement agencies rocketed from 32,907 to 92,115. There has been a small number of prosecutions, which dropped from a high of 167 in 2014 to 103 in 2017. Convictions dropped to only one person sentenced to more than six years behind bars in 2017.

The problem is neither the extradition bill that was used to ignite protests nor China, the problems are Hong Kong’s economy and governance.

The Extradition Bill

The stated cause of the recent protests is an extradition bill proposed because there is no legal way to prevent criminals from escaping charges when they flee to Hong Kong. The bill was proposed by the Hong Kong government in February 2019 to establish a mechanism to transfer fugitives in Hong Kong to Taiwan, Macau or Mainland China. 

Extradition laws are a legal norm between countries and within countries (e.g. between states), and since Hong Kong is part of China, it is pretty basic. In fact, in 1998, a pro-democracy legislator, Martin Lee, proposed a law similar to the one he now opposes to ensure a person is prosecuted and tried at the place of the offense.

The push for the bill came in 2018 when a Hong Kong resident Chan Tong-kai allegedly killed his pregnant girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing, in Taiwan, then returned to Hong Kong. Chan admitted he killed Poon to Hong Kong police, but the police were unable to charge him for murder or extradite him to Taiwan because no agreement was in place.

The proposed law covered  46 types of crimes that are recognized as serious offenses across the globe. These include murder, rape, and sexual offenses, assaults, kidnapping, immigration violations, and drug offenses as well as property offenses like robbery, burglary and arson and other traditional criminal offenses. It also included business and financial crimes.

Months before the street protests, the business community expressed opposition to the law. Hong Kong’s two pro-business parties urged the government to exempt white-collar crimes from the list of offenses covered by any future extradition agreement. There was escalating pressure from the city’s business heavyweights.  The American Chamber of Commerce, AmCham, a 50-year-old organization that represents over 1,200 U.S. companies doing business in Hong Kong, opposed the proposal.

AmCham said it would damage the city’s reputation: “Any change in extradition arrangements that substantially expands the possibility of arrest and rendition … of international business executives residing in or transiting through Hong Kong as a result of allegations of economic crime made by the mainland government … would undermine perceptions of Hong Kong as a safe and secure haven for international business operations.”

Kurt Tong, the top U.S. diplomat in Hong Kong, said in March that the proposal could complicate relations between Washington and Hong Kong. Indeed, the Center for International Private Enterprise, an arm of the National Endowment for Democracy, said the proposed law would undermine economic freedom, cause capital flight and threaten Hong Kong’s status as a hub for global commerce. They pointed to a bipartisan letter signed by eight members of Congress, including Senators Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, and Steve Daines and Members of the House of Representatives, Jim McGovern, Ben McAdams, Chris Smith, Tom Suozzi, and Brian Mast opposing the bill.

Proponents of the bill responded by exempting nine of the economic crimes and made extradition only for crimes punishable by at least seven years in prison. These changes did not satisfy big business advocates.

The Mass Protests and U.S. Role 

From this attention to the law, opposition grew with the formation of a coalition to organize protests. As Alexander Rubinstein reports, “the coalition cited by Hong Kong media, including the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Free Press, as organizers of the anti-extradition law demonstrations is called the Civil Human Rights Front. That organization’s website lists the NED-funded HKHRM [Human Rights Monitor], Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the Civic Party, the Labour Party, and the Democratic Party as members of the coalition.” HKHRM alone received more than $1.9 million in funds from the NED between 1995 and 2013. Major protests began in June.

Building the anti-China movement in Hong Kong has been a long-term, NED project since 1996. In 2012, NED invested $460,000 through its National Democratic Institute, to build the anti-China movement (aka pro-democracy movement), particularly among university students. Two years later, the mass protests of Occupy Central occurred. In a 2016 Open Letter to Kurt Tong, these NED grants and others were pointed out and Tong was asked if the U.S. was funding a Hong Kong independence movement.

During the current protests, organizers were photographed meeting with Julie Eadeh, the political unit chief of U.S. Consulate General, in a Hong Kong hotel. They also met with China Hawks in Washington, D.C., including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Larry Diamond, a co-editor of the NED’s publication and a co-chair of research, has been openly encouraging the protesters. He delivered a video message of support during their rally this weekend.

Protests have included many elements of U.S. color revolutions with tactics such as violence — attacks on bystanders, media, police and emergency personnel. Similar tactics were used in UkraineNicaragua, and Venezuela, e.g. violent street barricades. U.S.  officials and media criticized the government’s response to the violent protests, even though they have been silent on the extreme police violence against the Yellow Vests in France. Demonstrators also use swarming techniques and sophisticated social media messaging targeting people in the U.S..

Mass protests have continued. On July 9, Chief Executive Carrie Lam pronounced the bill dead and suspended it. Protesters are now calling for the bill to be withdrawn, Lam to resign and police to be investigated. For more on the protests and U.S. involvement, listen to our interview with K. J. Noh on Clearing the FOG.

What Is Driving Discontent in Hong Kong?

The source of unrest in Hong Kong is the economic insecurity stemming from capitalism. In 1997, Britain and China agreed to leave “the previous capitalist system” in place for 50 years.

Hong Kong has been ranked as the world’s freest economy in the Heritage’s Index of Economic Freedom since 1995 when the index began. In 1990, Milton Friedman described Hong Kong as the best example of a free-market economy. Its ranking is based on low taxes, light regulations, strong property rights, business freedom, and openness to global commerce.

Graeme Maxton writes in the South China Morning Post:

“The only way to restore order is through a radical change in Hong Kong’s economic policies. After decades of doing almost nothing, and letting the free market rule, it is time for the Hong Kong government to do what it is there for; to govern in the interests of the majority.

The issue is not the extradition proposal, Carrie Lam or China. What we are witnessing is an unrestricted neo-liberal economy, described as a free market on steroids. Hong Kong’s economy relative to China’s gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen from a peak of 27 percent in 1993 to less than 3 percent in 2017. During this time, China has had tremendous growth, including in nearby market-friendly Shenzen, while Hong Kong has not.

As Sara Flounders writes, “For the last 10 years wages have been stagnant in Hong Kong while rents have increased 300 percent; it is the most expensive city in the world. In Shenzhen, wages have increased 8 percent every year, and more than 1 million new, public, green housing units at low rates are nearing completion.”

Hong Kong has the world’s highest rents, a widening wealth gap and a poverty rate of 20 percent. In China, the poverty rate fell from 88 percent in 1981 to 0.7 percent in 2015, according to the World Bank.

Hong Kong in Chinese Context

Ellen Brown writes in Neoliberalism Has Met Its Match in China,” that the Chinese government owns 80 percent of banks, which make favorable loans to businesses, and subsidizes worker costs. The U.S.  views China subsidizing its economy as an unfair trade advantage, while China sees long-term, planned growth as smarter than short-term profits for shareholders.

The Chinese model of state-controlled capitalism (some call it a form of socialism) has lifted 800 million people out of poverty and built a middle class of over 420 million people, growing from four percent in 2002, to 31 percent. The top 12 Chinese companies on the Fortune 500 are all state-owned and state-subsidized including oil, solar energy, telecommunications, engineering, construction companies, banks, and the auto industry. China has the second-largest GDP, and the largest economy based on Purchasing Power Parity GDP, according to the CIAIMF and World Bank.

China does have significant problems. There are thousands of documented demonstrations, strikes and labor actions in China annually, serious environmental challenges, inequality and social control through the use of surveillance technology. How China responds to these challenges is a test for their governance.

China describes itself as having an intraparty democracy. The eight other legal “democratic parties” that are allowed to participate in the political system cooperate with but do not compete with the Communist Party. There are also local elections for candidates focused on grassroots issues. China views Western democracy and economics as flawed and does not try to emulate them but is creating its own system.

China is led by engineers and scientists, not by lawyers and business people. It approaches policy decisions through research and experimentation. Every city and every district is involved in some sort of experimentation including free trade zones, poverty reduction and education reform. “There are pilot schools, pilot cities, pilot hospitals, pilot markets, pilot everything under the sun, the whole China is basically a giant portfolio of experiments, with mayors and provincial governors as Primary Investigators.” In this system, Hong Kong could be viewed as an experiment in neoliberal capitalism.

The Communist Party knows that to keep its hold on power, it must combat inequalities and shift the economy towards a more efficient and more ecological model. Beijing has set a date of 2050 to become a “socialist society” and to achieve that, it seeks improvements in sociallabor and environmental fields.

Where does Hong Kong fit into these long-term plans? With 2047 as the year for the end of the agreement with the U.K., U.S. and Western powers are working toward preserving their capitalist dystopia of Hong Kong and manufacturing consensus for long-term conflict with China.

How this conflict of economic and political systems turns out depends on whether China can confront its contradictions, whether Hong Kongers can address the source of their problems and whether US empire can continue its dollar, political and military dominance. Today’s conflicts in Hong Kong are rooted in all of these realities.

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers co-direct Popular Resistance.

A version of this article first appeared in PopularResistance.org.

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Trump’s Persian-Gulf Car Crash

Trump has taken an insane U.S. policy towards Iran and make it even crazier, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

Traffic accidents normally take just a second or two.  But the coming collision in the Persian Gulf, the equivalent of a hundred-vehicle pile-up on a fog-bound interstate, has been in the works for years.  Much of it is President Donald Trump’s fault, but not all.  His contribution has been to take an insane policy and make it even crazier.

The situation is explosive for two reasons. First, the Iranian economy is in a free fall with oil exports down as much as 90 percent from mid-2018 levels.  As far as Iran is concerned, this means that it’s already at war with the United States and has less and less to lose the longer the U.S. embargo goes on. 

Second, after Trump denounced the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord from the moment he began his presidential run, it’s all but impossible at this point for him to back down.  The result is a classic collision between the immovable and the unstoppable with no apparent way out.

How did the world bring itself to the brink of war?  The answer, ironically, is by bidding for peace.

The process began in early 2015 just as the nuclear talks were entering their final stages.  Despite last-minute hand-wringing, it was clear that success was in sight simply because the participants – China, France, Russia, Germany, Britain, the European Union, Iran and the U.S. – all wanted it. 

Saudi Proxy War

But other regional players felt differently, Saudi Arabia first and foremost.  The kingdom’s survival strategy depends on its special relationship with America, its patron since the 1940s.  Hence, it was panic-stricken by anything smacking of a U.S. rapprochement with its long-standing arch-enemy Iran.  The upshot was a proxy war in which the Saudis set out to roll back Iranian power by striking out at pro-Iranian forces.

The offensive began after a new Saudi monarch ascended the throne in January 2015.  King Salman, a doddering 79-year-old reportedly suffering from Alzheimer’s, immediately handed over the reins to his favorite son, 29-year-old Muhammad bin Salman, whom he named deputy crown prince and minister of defense.  MBS, as he’s known, celebrated by launching an air war in neighboring Yemen two months later – and then disappearing on a week-long vacation in the Maldives – and by funneling hundreds of U.S.-made TOWs (anti-tank guided missiles) to Syrian rebels under the command of Al-Nusra, the local Al-Qaeda affiliate, for use in an offensive in that country’s northwest province of Idlib. 

For the Saudis, it was a neo-medieval crusade whose goal was to topple two religio-political allies of Iran, the Alawite-dominated government in Damascus and Yemen’s Houthis, who adhere to a non-Iranian form of Shi’ism that is no less anathema to the Sunni Wahhabist theocracy in Riyadh.

President Barack Obama went along.  With regard to Syria, an unidentified “senior administration official” told The Washington Post that while the White House was “concerned that Nusra has taken the lead,” all he would say in response to U.S.-made missiles winding up in Al-Qaeda hands was that it was “not something we would refrain from raising with our partners.”  (See Climbing into Bed with Al-Qaeda,” May 2, 2015.) 

Just two days after the start of the Saudi air assault in Yemen, Obama meanwhile telephoned Salman to assure him of U.S. support.  When asked why America would back a war by one of the Middle East’s richest countries against the very poorest, another anonymous U.S. official told The New York Times (April 2, 2015):

 “If you ask why we’re backing this, beyond the fact that the Saudis are allies and have been allies for a long time, the answer you’re going to get from most people – if they were being honest – is that we weren’t going to be able to stop it.” But plainly the nuclear negotations were key.  The Obama administration was so anxious to smooth ruffled Saudi feathers and tone down criticism of the impending Iranian accord that it felt it had no choice but say yes to Saudi aggression.  

The upshot has been Saudi wars claiming hundreds of thousands of lives in Syria and another 100,000 or so in Yemen while triggering a surge of international terrorism and the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. While reducing tensions in some respects, Obama’s efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, paradoxically, caused them to explode in others.

Over-Extended Empire 

The American empire was possibly so over-extended that it was at the mercy of its ostensible clients.  Even while making peace with Iran, Obama thus green-lit Saudi wars that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in Syria and another 100,000 or so in Yemen while triggering a surge of international terrorism and the greatest refugee crisis since World War II.  While reducing tensions in some respects, the 2015 nuclear negotiations, paradoxically, caused them to explode in others.

The results were so devastating in a region torn by war, sectarianism, and economic collapse that Trump could not possibly make them any worse – except that he did. 

Announcing his presidential bid in June 2015, he launched into a typical Trumpian rant against China, Japan, Mexico – and Obama’s nuclear talks.  “Take a look at the deal he’s making with Iran,” he said.  “He makes that deal, Israel maybe won’t exist very long.”  A month later, he tweeted that the agreement, just inked in Vienna, “poses a direct national security threat.”  Two months after that, he told a Tea Party rally in Washington:

“Never, ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran….  They rip us off, they take our money, they make us look like fools, and now they’re back to being who they really are.  They don’t want Israel to survive, they will not let Israel survive, [and] with incompetent leadership like we have right now, Israel will not survive.”

Iran’s Landmark Concession

It was all nonsense.  Rather than threatening the Jewish state, the treaty represented a landmark concession on Iran’s part, since Israel, with an estimated 80 to 90 nuclear warheads in its arsenal and enough fissile material for a hundred more, would maintain its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East indefinitely.  As for “our money,” the $150 billion in various foreign accounts were actually Iranian assets that had been frozen for years – a sum, moreover, that was closer to $56 billion once Iran settled its foreign debts.  Once sanctions were lifted, it was hardly unreasonable that such assets be restored.

Still there was hope.  While railing against Iran, Trump also taunted the Saudis for their role in 9/11: “Who blew up the World Trade Center?” he told Fox & Friends.  “It wasn’t the Iraqis, it was Saudi [Arabia].”  He repeatedly assailed the 2003 invasion of Iraq – even if he exaggerated his own role in opposing it – and criticized Obama for supporting Saudi-backed jihadis seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

 “Assad is bad,” he said in an October 2015 interview.  “Maybe these people could be worse.”

Trumpian isolationism was fleeting, if it ever existed at all.  Under intense pressure from neoconservatives, the Zionist lobby, and pro-Israel Democrats such as Russiagate attack dog Rep. Adam Schiff demanding stepped-up opposition with Iran, Trump did an about-face.  In May 2017, he flew to Riyadh, announced an unprecedented $110-billion arms deal, and proclaimed himself the kingdom’s newest BFF – best friend forever. 

He echoed the Saudis by accusing Iran of funding “terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region” and backed a Saudi blockade of neighboring Qatar.  When ISIS launched a bloody assault on central Tehran in early June that killed 12 people and injured 42, the only White House response was to declare that “states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.” 

But back in September 2003, some 60,000 Iranian soccer fans had observed a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the World Trade Center while then-President Mohammad Khatami declared on nationwide TV:

 “My deep sympathy goes out to the American nation, particularly those who have suffered from the attacks and also the families of the victims.  Terrorism is doomed, and the international community should stem it and take effective measures in a bid to eradicate it.”

Yet all the Trump administration could say was that Iran had it coming. 

It was Democrats who, in a typical attempt to outflank Trump on the right, introduced legislation in June 2017 by forcing him to impose penalties on Russia, North Korea, and Iran as well.  But after repudiating the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran nuclear deal) in May 2018, Trump upped sanctions even more in November – not only against the Iranian government but against some 700 individuals, entities, aircraft, and vessels.  After Iran shot down a $130-million U.S. surveillance drone last month, Trump imposed sanctions on “supreme leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his office, and his closest associates.  Two weeks ago, he imposed penalties on Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s U.S.-educated foreign minister.

It was a gesture of contempt for the very idea of diplomacy.  So what happens next?  The problem is that re-starting negotiations would not be enough.  Instead, Iran has demanded that the U.S. remove all sanctions and apologize before agreeing to a new round of talks.  Since this would be tantamount to re-authorizing the JCPOA, it’s unlikely in the extreme.  While Trump is known for changing his mind in a flash, a course correction of this magnitude is hard to imagine. 

Thus, the confrontation is set to continue.  Iran may respond by seizing more oil tankers or downing more drones, but the problem is that the U.S. will undoubtedly engage in tit-for-tat escalation in response until, eventually, some kind of line is crossed.

If so, the consequences are unpredictable.  U.S. firepower is overwhelming, but Iran is not without resources of its own, among them anti-ship ballistic missiles, mobile short-range rockets that can hit naval targets, plus heavily-armed high-speed boats, mini-subs, and even ekranoplans,” floating planes designed to skim the waves at 115 miles per hour.  Such weaponry could prove highly effective in the 35-mile-wide Strait of Hormuz.  Iran also has allies such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has an estimated 130,000 missiles and rockets in its own arsenal, Assad’s battle-hardened military in Syria, Yemen’s Houthis, and pro-Iranian forces in Shi’ite-majority Iraq.

The upshot could be a war drawing in half a dozen countries or more.  A confrontation on that scale may seem inconceivable.  But, then, war seemed inconceivable in the wake of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in June 1914.

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nationto Le Monde Diplomatiqueand blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.

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THE ANGRY ARAB: Armies & Politics in the Middle East

As`ad AbuKhalil reviews Middle East rulers’ reasons for distrusting their own militaries.   

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

A close association between armies and politics has pertained in the Middle East for a long while. Army leaders have led many Arab countries in contemporary times. In Israel, prime ministers are often drawn from the ranks of former generals or commanders. Shimon Peres, for instance, was a director-general of the Israeli Defense Ministry and he played a key role in Israeli acquisition of nuclear weapons through devious and deceptive means that violated international laws and the laws of many countries, including the U.S.

In Israel, the military has been romanticized and glorified and Israeli chiefs-of-staff are often expected to run for high office as soon as they retire from the military.  The public in Israel has always sought leaders who can promise — and deliver — mass violence on the Arab population and the ability to impose Israeli will by force.  Israeli top generals exemplified the doctrine of mass violence which served as one of the founding elements of state Zionism.  

The Israeli war crimes against the native Palestinian population have created a special place for Israeli military commanders, and has in fact militarized the entire Israeli society.  This militarization is seen as heroic here in the U.S. (even liberals swoon when Amos Oz would talk about his role in various Israeli wars), and for Arabs it has made it unfortunately difficult to distinguish between military and civilian targets in Israel, where all adults are expected to serve in the army (non-Druze Arabs are not permitted except in some cases while students of Jewish religious seminaries are exempted from service). 

The entry of Arab armies into Arab politics began in earnest after the occupation of Palestine in 1948.  Armies launched coups in Egypt, Syria and Iraq (three in Syria in one year alone in 1949, two of which were probably engineered by U.S. intelligence) and often in the name of helping the Palestinians return to their homeland.  [For more on this, see Patrick Seale’s “The Struggle for Syria,” and Hugh Wilford’s “America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Making of the Modern Middle East.”]

‘Palestine’ in Coup Lingo

Coups in Sudan, Libya, and Yemen also invoked the name of Palestine, as did coups that failed, as the Al-Watha’iq Al-Arabiyyah documentary anthology for 1969 and 1970 details. “Palestine” became a word used for political rationalization and legitimization by seekers of political power. All new regimes had to offer a promise or a vague plan for the liberation of Palestine. Syrian President Amin Hafiz, in office during the 1960s, even announced that he was willing to liberate Palestine in a matter of hours. 

In the 1950s and 1960s (up until the devastating 1967 defeat), Arabs were made to expect that a battle could erupt any minute now and that it will be the final blow which will bring the Zionist state down. But the 1967 defeat dashed the hopes of the people, and it erased the prestige that Arab people have bestowed —rather unfairly — on Arab armies.  Military expenditure was justified in the name of liberating Palestine but the abysmal performances on the battle field exposed the militaries as either tools of corrupt regimes or as instruments of local repression, or often vehicles of Western political machinations and intrigue. 

The military has been tainted in Arab politics and rulers don’t trust the military anymore.  In the Gulf, the military is an important element of political power but the regimes don’t trust them in the hands of strangers, i.e. commoners.  Relatives (usually brothers or half-brothers) of the rulers run the military and intelligence apparatuses. Rulers’ utmost care towards the military apparatus has led them to attain military degrees to project an image of military expertise.  This started with King Husayn of Jordan, who attended the U.K.’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. After him, most Gulf regimes sent sons and nephews of the rulers to Sandhurst. (Arab royals don’t undergo the regular military degree-issuing program, but special training is arranged for them and presumably for large sums of royal donations). 

In Arab republican regimes such as Iraq and Syria, the rulers have also assigned members of the family to key military and intelligence assignments. This was the case under Saddam in Iraq and also under Hafidh Al-Asad, the former president of Syria. It may have been reduced under Bashar, Syria’s current ruler,  but only due to the death of his brother-in-law. And Bashar’s brother, Maher, still commands The Fourth Armored Division.

Egypt’s Road to Revolt

Hazem Qandil, in his excellent recent book, “Soldiers, Spies, and Statesmen: Egypt’s Road to Revolt,” sheds new light on the nature of the relationship between the ruler and the military.  He maintains that Gamal Abdel Nasser lost all his control over the Egyptian army as soon as `Abdul-Hakim `Amer was put in charge after the 1952 revolution. Amer would continue to exercise supreme control over the armed forces until the devastating 1967 defeat, which was largely of his own making.  Nasser took control of the army in 1967 until his death in 1970.  During that time, Nasser restructured the army, professionalized it and distanced it from political affairs by drastically reducing the number of former military people in the Egyptian cabinet.

After Nasser’s death, Anwar Sadat isolated the army and assigned the police and the Ministry of Interior key roles in government and in imposing internal repression.  Sadat feared that the army would become too powerful and would rival his authority, as it had done under Nasser.  Ever since, the Egyptian army has become weak politically (until recently) and entirely subservient to the political leadership.  During and after the 1973 war Sadat made sure to taint the reputation of every war hero out of fear of political competition.  Sadat turned the defeat of 1973 into a victory (as did the Syrian regime) and took full credit for the ostensible victory. 

Husni Mubarak followed in the footsteps of Sadat, and both relied on the U.S. to provide all the instruments and equipment of repression, while the Egyptian army was permitted to obtain only those weapons that are licensed by the Israeli lobby in D.C.  [See Edward Tivnan here on AIPAC approving and disapproving of sales.]  Only once did Mubarak feel threatened by an Egyptian commander-in-chief (and defense minister), `Abdul-Halim Abu Ghazalah, who was dismissed from his post in 1989 when his aura started to eclipse that of the Egyptian president.

But the Arab armies may, in some cases, be independent in their interests from those of the rulers.  The recent uprisings in Algeria and Sudan demonstrated that the army may act against a ruler if it feels that his preservation in power is posing a threat to the interests of the military-intelligence apparatus. 

Let us also remember that the military-intelligence apparatus in the region is almost entirely beholden to the U.S., which funds, trains and equips almost all Middle East militaries (except Syria and Iran) in the name of fighting “terrorism” but also for purposes of internal repression, which suits U.S. interests.  When Egyptian masses stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo in 2011 after the eruption of the popular uprising, Israeli Mossad agents (referred to as “security staff” by some  press) were stuck inside the building. Under U.S. and Israeli pressure, Egyptian troops at the embassy were deployed to save them. The U.S. invests in regimes and not in individuals — notwithstanding the high praise U.S. officials often give to Middle East despots.

Armies in the Middle East continue to wield great influence and political power because the U.S. regional hegemony schemes require the utilization of loyal local troops who can assist the U.S. in its various wars and military interventions.  The militaries were the place from which Arab leaders emerged, and now they are mere tools in the hands of the leaders in the Gulf, and they are sometimes more powerful than the leader in republican regimes. This gave Mohammad Morsi’s presidential election its pyrrhic quality. Had he moved quickly to purge the top ranks of the Egyptian military, the U.S. would have stopped him. But doing so was the only way he might still have been president today.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil

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Mass Shootings in the White Noise of Anywhere USA

Phil Rockstroh muses on how the impulse to possess an unlimited number of firearms fits into the late-imperium scheme of things. 

By Phil Rockstroh 
The U.S.  is less of a nation than a collective, psychotic episode.
Within day-to-day life in the nation, a cultural aura exists that shifts, mingles and merges between a sense of nervous agitation and displaced rage, in combination with a sense of weightlessness. The fragmented quality of daily life imparts an insubstantial, unreal quality wherein the citizenry of the capitalist/consumer empire of hungry ghosts drift through a nadascape comprised of ad hoc, fast-buck-driven, suburban/exburban architecture and the ersatz eros of constant, consumer come-ons. 
Yet beneath the nebulous dread and nettling angst of it all, there exists the primal human imperative for connection and social communion i.e., authentic eros. The most lost among the lost in the ghostsphere of the collective mind attempt to animate the realm of shades with libations of blood. The gods of the capitalist death cult demand no less. 

Where does an impulse to possess an unlimited number of firearms fit into the scheme of things?  A firearm’s heft, for one. The weapon’s substantial feel, when held and hoisted, serves, provisionally, to mitigate a psychical sense of weightlessness. The act of engagement eases nervous agitation.  Gun reality offsets the weightless content of media reality. Focus is achieved when one aims the weapon on a target. Nebulous dread transforms into adamantine purpose. The presence of an Angel of Death will focus the mind. The ground, for the moment, feels solid beneath one’s feet. Hence, there arrives a craving, in the sense of addiction, to hoard the object that provides relief; in addition, massive quantities of ammunition must be stored as emotional ballast.

The mystifying, rankling, uncontrollable criteria of this weightless Age and the white noise of uncertainty seem to yield to the clear and decisive crack of a rifle shot. Relief is imagined in the concomitant carnage. The late British author Rebecca West captures the phenomenon in her book, “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon:” 

“Only part of us is sane: only part of us loves pleasure and the longer day of happiness, wants to live to our nineties and die in peace, in a house that we built, that shall shelter those who come after us. The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable, loves pain and its darker night despair, and wants to die in a catastrophe that will set back life to its beginnings and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations.”

Feedback Loop of Carnage

Because we, on a personal level, in most cases, choose the primary option, our hidden, shadow half will live out the latter on a collective basis. During the blood lust on display at President Donald Trump’s rallies, the mob finds a collective comfort zone in catastrophic longings. The domestic landscape of paranoia works on behalf of the profiteers of perpetual war, perpetrators of the U.S.-created deathscapes overseas, and vice versa, in a self-resonating feedback loop of carnage.

In our era, in which, the U.S. empire is in decline and the white supremacist order is giving way, Trump’s frightened legions feel as if their identity is under siege. Seal off the nation’s borders. Construct an unscalable wall. Create a cordon sanitaire to protect and preserve racial purity. A strong authority figure is craved to set the world back in order. The phenomenon could be termed, Authoritarian Simpatico Syndrome (ASS) — a pathology manifested in personality types who have been traumatized by the authoritarianism of the U.S. socio-political milieu but who seek to assuage their hurt and humiliation by identification with the very forces responsible for their torment. It’s the stuff of a cultural nervous breakdown. 

To that end, according to its own laws, the nation’s citizenry, sufferers of mental distress, should be restricted from purchasing a gun. Yet without a doubt, the most disturbed of all are the nation’s political class, those responsible for gun legislation. There is compelling evidence that they present a clear and present danger to themselves and others. The political class is a menace to society; they make decisions, more often than not, based on delusional thinking, that are responsible for harm on a massive scale. They should be subject to institutional-style restraint, within the confines of the most heavily secure, lockdown ward in an asylum for the criminally insane. 

Although the so-called mentally ill, as a rule, are not any more inclined to commit violent crimes than are the general population of capitalist dystopias. The U.S. was founded in genocidal violence and the fortunes of its ruling class’ are protected by the state sanctioned violence of the police and are bloated by the violence inherent to imperialist shakedown operations.

It comes down to this: In our emotionally brutal era, those deemed mentally ill are suffering from capitalism. The pummeling stress and boot-in-the-face, hierarchy-inflicted humiliations inherent to the system inflict trauma on large swathes of the citizenry.

Epidemic levels of middle-aged U.S. citizens are dying with needles in their arms. The inherent and internalized white supremacy of the societal order has been exacerbated by Trump’s self-serving, reckless agitprop and acts in a drug-like manner causing dopamine levels to rise in those experiencing emotional torment due to humiliation-caused despair. Demagogues such as Trump are aware and exploit the manner in which despair can be mitigated by the emotional displacement of rage.

Fascist insignias rise when the hopes and aspirations of the working class lie shattered across a capitalist economic wasteland. Hoisted torches provide the illusion that dark despair has been banished. The fascist mob becomes possessed by a belief that they, en masse, can ascend into the precincts of heaven by scaling a mountain of corpses comprised of outsider groups.

Fascism as Psychoactive Drug

Fascism acts as an anesthetic to the wounds delivered by capitalism. It is also a psychoactive drug; its incantatory rhetoric and imagist psychical material provides an intoxicating, crude allure.

Capitalism is borne on manic wings. The economic elite move from corporate skyscrapers and high-rise rooftops in order to travel by helicopter, where upon landing, they board private, luxury jets, then, whereupon landing again, they are transported by helicopter to corporate skyscrapers and high-rise rooftops. Touching the Earth is a fleeting experience. The ruling class have lost touch with ground-level verities. In a classical sense, such displays of hubris were understood as the progenitor of madness. The gods first elevate those they drive mad.

And, yes, race-based fears and animus are in play.  Racism engendered mass murder has been coming to pass since armed Europeans trudged ashore in the Americas, with their blood-sodden religion and their murderous craving for gold and land. Of course, the racist demagoguery of the Bloated Orange Tub of Nazi Goo oozing into and agitating the limbic systems of violent cretins during homegrown Nuremberg Rallies and his compulsion to blitzkrieg the pixel-sphere with Der Stürmer tweets is fomenting racist mayhem that includes bacchanals of blood. U.S. mythos is rancid with the reek of the corpses of the innocent slaughtered by white men brandishing firearms. Mass murderers have been and continue to be enshrined as heroes, from Wounded Knee to Afghanistan. 

The nation was established by gun-enabled genocide and the intimidation of African slaves held at gunpoint on capitalist plantations. The truth has never been faced e.g., the suppression of the Nixon tape in which Ronald Reagan displayed his racist mindset. 

The U.S. citizenry thanks the soldiers of its racist wars of aggression for their “service.” The origins of perpetual shooting sprees can be traced to the heart of darkness of the nation and its concomitant white supremacist creed. The killings happened long before the rise and election of the Tangerine Tweet Führer. Of course, the racist shit-heel Trump has exacerbated the situation. He deserves all scorn cast his way. It is obvious his capacity for malice does not possess a governor’s switch.

Trump is a two-legged emblem of the hypertrophy at play in late U.S. imperium. Gun-inflicted violence is steeped into the blood-stained fabric of the U.S. (sham) republic. Withal, Trump is not an anomaly; he is an emblem. Gun-strokers are no more going to shed their mythos than liberals and progressives are going to shed theirs that the U.S. is a democratic republic, governed by the rule of law, and progressive reforms will be implemented by its High Dollar owned and controlled political class that will serve to turn around the trajectory of the blood-built and maintained U.S. empire. 

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living, now, in Munich. He may be contacted: philrockstroh.scribe@gmail.com and at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/phil.rockstroh

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JOHN KIRIAKOU: How a Suicide Watch Really Works

If Jeffrey Epstein’s death turns out to have been self-inflicted, it would represent a complete breakdown in the system that was supposed to protect him.

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

A cottage industry has been spawned over the past week for the chattering classes on every network to comment on the apparent suicide of Jeffrey Epstein, the millionaire financier charged with sex-trafficking of underage girls. 

The talking heads have also babbled on about the inner workings of federal prisons.  Nearly every word I’ve heard is either factually incorrect, out of context, or fantastical.  I spent 23 months in a federal penitentiary and served on  suicide watch over a fellow inmate.  So I can set the record straight about how suicide watches work in federal prisons, and about the conditions that led Epstein, apparently, to take his own life.  If Epstein’s death turns out to have been an actual suicide, it would be the result of a complete breakdown in the system that was supposed to protect him.

First, suicide watch in the federal prison system is a big deal.  When a prisoner is suicidal, or has attempted suicide, he is placed in a designated “suicide watch room.”  It is a physical room in the medical unit where one wall is a window.  The prisoner is stripped naked and given a paper smock to wear.  There are no sheets or pillowcases on the bed. So the prisoner doesn’t harm himself, there is nothing else inside the room other than a sink and a toilet. Outside that window wall, a rotating shift of prisoner volunteers sits 24 hours a day to watch the prisoner to make sure he doesn’t attempt suicide again.  There are also video cameras inside the room to ensure the prisoner does not try to harm himself.  Uniformed guards check on the prisoner every 30 minutes, and a nurse, physician’s assistant, or psychologist visits the prisoner at least once a day.

When the prisoner is released from suicide watch, which usually takes a week or two, one of two things happen:  Either the prisoner is returned to his cell, where he normally has between one and five cellmates, or he is sent to solitary confinement, where he can be watched more closely than he could be watched in the general population.  In most prisons, solitary confinement is not at all solitary.  Solitary confinement is usually grossly overcrowded with two or even three prisoners in each cell built for one.  One prisoner is in a bunk and the other one or two sleep on mats on the floor.  Depending on the prison, guards patrol the unit every 15 or 30 minutes to make sure than nothing untoward is taking place.  And don’t forget that there are security cameras that cover literally every inch of a prison every minute of every day.  At least, there are supposed to be.

Many Mistakes

So how did Epstein kill himself, if that’s what happened?  Every safeguard at every turn had to fail.  First, we know that Epstein was not on suicide watch.  He had been removed, despite the fact that he had only recently attempted suicide. That was a mistake. 

We know also that Epstein was returned to a two-man cell and that his cellmate had been transferred to another prison, leaving him alone there.  That was a mistake. 

We know that two of the three guards who were responsible for watching Epstein were not trained corrections officers. The prison was short staffed — most are — and two of the three guards were actually supposed to be assigned elsewhere in the prison.  (Secretaries, nurses, even the dentist and the chaplain sometimes pitch in when there aren’t enough guards.)  That was a mistake.

Two of the three guards also were exhausted. One had worked overtime five days in a row and another was working mandatory overtime.  That was a mistake.  The guards were supposed to make rounds every 30 minutes to make sure that everything was in order and no prisoners were in danger.  They didn’t do that.  That was yet another mistake.

None of these observations answers the question of whether Epstein actually committed suicide.  It appears that he did.  But, let’s not forget that in any prison in America, sex offenders — and especially those who sexually assault children — are the lowest of the low. Their lives are always in danger. I can tell you a hundred stories of assaults on pedophiles that I observed from my time at the Federal Correctional Institution at Loretto, Pennsylvania. 

One of the reasons that almost all pedophiles are kept in low-security prisons is that they’re so much more likely to be assaulted or even murdered in higher-security facilities and they’re not eligible to be placed in minimum-security work camps because of the gravity of their crimes.  The Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, however, where Epstein was awaiting trial, is a maximum-security facility because it’s a transportation center. Almost every prisoner there is awaiting trial and will eventually be sent somewhere else.  Epstein was likely a marked man from the minute he walked through the door.

I don’t know if Epstein committed suicide. When we have to choose between incompetence and conspiracy, I usually go with incompetence, though there are many powerful people who were in Epstein’s circle who would not have wanted facts to emerge at his trial. One cannot rule out that all these mistakes made could have been intentional to create the conditions for him to attempt suicide again—this time successfully.

One of my attorneys gave me some advice before I left for prison. “Don’t make anybody angry,” he said. “Most prisoners are attached to one gang or another — the Italians, the Aryans, the Crips and the Bloods, MS-13, the Mexican drug gangs. Every one of them has a long arm and they can reach into any prison in the country.”

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act — a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

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Epstein’s Death & the Investigation of Powerful Networks

Craig Murray delves into allegations against Jeffrey Epstein and another suspicious death that the case recalls.  

By Craig Murray
CraigMurray.org.uk

There are a number of royal palaces and grand residences of former presidents and prime ministers where the inhabitants have a little bit more spring in their step following the death of Jeffrey Epstein. The media is rushing to attach the label “conspiracy theory” to any thought that his death might not have been suicide. In my view, given that so many very powerful people will be relieved he is no longer in a position to sing, and given that he was in a maximum-security jail following another alleged “suicide attempt” a week ago, it would be a very credulous person who did not view the question of who killed him an open one.

There has been a huge amount of obfuscation and misdirection on the activities of Epstein and his set. To my mind, the article which remains the best starting point for those new to the scandal is this one from Gawker. 

A few days ago a federal court unsealed 2,000 pages of documents related to the allegations against Epstein. Of these the most important appears to be a witness statement from Virginia Giuffre alleging that while a minor she had sex at Epstein’s direction with then Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, plus a variety of senior foreign politicians.

Epstein’s sexual activities and partying with young girls were carried out in full view of key friends, his domestic and office staff, his pilots and of course the participants. There is no shortage of potential witnesses. Several of these really ought to be taking great care – though if I were them I would certainly eschew any protection involving U.S. security services or law enforcement. Ghislaine Maxwell might take heed of her father’s fate and avoid swimming for a few years.

(I am probably not the only one old enough to compare the many similarities between Robert Maxwell’s asset stripping career and that of Philip Green. The progress of society after 30 years of Thatcher, New Labour and returned Tories meaning that Green by contrast got no criminal charges and much bigger yachts.)

Evidence Concerning Prince Andrew

In the U.K., Giuffre’s alleged relationship with Prince Andrew has been mentioned in the media. In fact the evidence that she had a relationship with Prince Andrew of some sort is overwhelming. Here is some of the actual evidence from the court documents.

The age of heterosexual consent in England is 16 and there is no indication that Prince Andrew is doing anything illegal in this photograph in which Giuffre is 17. Nor is the photo in itself evidence of sex, though it certainly is intimate. The notion however that Giuffre was “lent out” to Andrew may have legal implications as she was flown into the country, allegedly for the purpose.

No satisfactory alternative explanation has been offered as to what might have been happening here, as Giuffre’s lawyers noted.

No further details appear in the documents to amplify Giuffre’s claim that she was forced to have sex with a “well known prime minister,” other than to repeat the claim. But what is plain is that her tale is not entirely invention. Just how much more did Epstein know, and who might he have taken down with him?

Bill Clinton’s Epstein Connection 

The truth is that sexual abuse by the rich and famous transcends all political boundaries. Bill Clinton was very frequently on Epstein’s plane and Epstein joins the very long list of those connected to the Clintons who died in dubious circumstances.

Two coincidences – the first being the bruise marks on the neck sustained in Epstein’s first “suicide attempt” in jail – remind me of the case of John Ashe, the senior official very close to the Clintons who died with bruise marks on his neck, when he accidentally dropped his barbell on his throat while bench-pressing alone at home.

Ashe was charged and awaiting trial for receiving corrupt funds from businessman Ng Lap Seng while Ashe was serving in the USA’s turn as president of the UN General Assembly. Ng Lap Seng, a six-time visitor to the Clinton White House, had previously been accused of making very large illegal donations to Clinton campaign funds, and was subsequently arrested while entering the USA with over $4 million in cash. Unlike the Clintons, Ashe was charged with taking Seng’s money and rather like Epstein may have had an interesting song to sing while going down, had he not conveniently dropped the barbell on his throat.

I said that the first thing that jogged me to link the Epstein/Clinton and the Ashe/Clinton cases was the bruise marks on the throat. The second is that both stories have been debunked by self-proclaimed “conspiracy-busting” website Snopes – in a manner which shows that Snopes has no regard for the truth whatsoever.

In the case of John Ashe, Snopes wrote an utterly tendentious piece of “myth-busting” which stated that it was a myth that Ashe’s death occurred shortly before his trial and that he was not due to testify against the Clintons. Snopes failed to mention that Ashe, a very senior Clinton appointee, was charged with taking corrupt money from precisely the same man who had been very widely accused of giving corrupt money to the Clintons. And while it was true his trial was not imminent, his pre-trial deposition was. 

In the Epstein/Clinton case Snopes wrote a piece debunking the notion that this is a photograph of Bill Clinton on Epstein’s private jet.

Snopes sets out to prove that this is not Epstein’s private jet but that of another billionaire, and that the girl is not Rachel Chandler. For the sake of argument I am prepared to accept what they say on both counts. But is the sensible reaction to that photo to say “Oh that’s OK it’s another billionaire’s jet” or to say “Why is Bill Clinton on a billionaire’s private jet in an intimate pose with a worryingly young female?” As with the Prince Andrew photo, although it has been circulating for years, no alternative innocent explanation is on offer.

Passion for Sexual Exploitation

And the fact that this is another billionaire’s plane should open again the much wider question of networks of the rich and the powerful indulging each other’s passion for sexual exploitation of the young. It is a great shame that in the U.K., the Establishment has been able to characterize the falsifications of Carl Beech as discrediting the entire notion of historical child sexual abuse. It is as though one person making up stories about a bishop would mean there was never child exploitation in the Catholic Church.

The deeper question is why such a significant proportion of the rich and powerful have a propensity to want to assuage their sexual desires on the most vulnerable and powerless in society, as opposed to forming relationships among their peers. I suspect it is connected to the kind of sociopathy that leads somebody to seek or hoard power or wealth in the first place. 

It is not necessary to develop that idea further, to understand that the Epstein case had given us a glimpse of criminal sexual behavior which, beyond doubt, involves many powerful people. It is essential that the threads that can be grasped are now worked on assiduously to uncover the entire network. 

I am afraid to say I suspect the chances of that actually happening are very slim indeed.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.

This article is from CraigMurray.org.uk.

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The Epstein Case: Everyone’s a Conspiracy Theorist

The only problem with the term is the meaningless use of it as a pejorative, writes Caitlin Johnstone.

By Caitlin Johnstone
CaitlinJohnstone.com

Plutocratic propaganda outlet MSNBC has run a spin segment about the medical examiner’s determination of the cause of Jeffrey Epstein’s death “pending further information.”

“Our sources are still saying that it looks like suicide, and this is going to set conspiracy theorists abuzz I fear,” said NBC correspondent Ken Dilanian. “NBC News has been hearing all day long that there are no indications of foul play, and that this looks like a suicide and that he hung himself in his cell.”

Dilanian, who stumbled over the phrase “conspiracy theorists” in his haste to get it in the first soundbite, is a known asset of the Central Intelligence Agency. This is not a conspiracy theory, this is a well-documented fact. A 2014 article in The Intercept titled “The CIA’s Mop-Up Man” reveals email exchanges obtained via Freedom of Information Act request between Dilanian and CIA public affairs officers which “show that Dilanian enjoyed a closely collaborative relationship with the agency, explicitly promising positive news coverage and sometimes sending the press office entire story drafts for review prior to publication.” There is no reason to give Dilanian the benefit of the doubt that this cozy relationship has ended, so anything he puts forward can safely be dismissed as CIA public relations.

When I mentioned Dilanian’s CIA ties on MSNBC’s Twitter video, MSNBC deleted its tweet and then re-shared it without mentioning Dilanian’s name. Here is a screenshot of the first tweet followed by an embedded link to the current one (which I’ve archived, just in case):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up until the news broke that Epstein’s autopsy has been unable to readily confirm suicide, mass media headlines everywhere have been unquestioningly blaring that that was known to have been the cause of the accused sex trafficker’s death. This despite the fact that the FBI’s investigation has been explicitly labeling it an “apparent suicide,” and despite the fact that Epstein is credibly believed to have been involved in an intelligence-tied sexual blackmail operation involving many powerful people, any number of whom stood to gain plenty from his death.

Berating by Mass Media Narrative Managers

So, things are moving in a very weird way, and people are understandably weirded out. The response to this from mass media narrative managers has, of course, been to berate everyone as “conspiracy theorists.”

Jeffrey Epstein: How conspiracy theories spread after financier’s death,” reads a BBC headline. Epstein Suicide Conspiracies Show How Our Information System Is Poisoned,” reads one from The New York Times. Conspiracy Theories Fly Online in Wake of Epstein Death,” warns The Wall Street JournalFinancier Epstein’s Death Disappoints Victims, Launches Conspiracy Theories,” reads the headline from U.S.- funded Voice of America.

These outlets generally match Dilanian’s tone in branding anyone who questions the official story about Epstein’s death as a raving lunatic. Meanwhile, normal human beings all across the political spectrum are expressing skepticism on social media about the “suicide” narrative we’re all being force-fed by the establishment narrative managers, many of them prefacing their skepticism with some variation on the phrase “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but…”

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist but there are an awful lot of very powerful people who would like to see this Epstein thing go away. Is anyone investigating the guard on duty?” tweeted actor Patricia Heaton.

“I am not into conspiracy theories. But Epstein had destructive information on an extraordinary number of extraordinarily powerful people. It is not easy to commit suicide in prison. Especially after being placed on suicide watch. Especially after already allegedly trying,” tweeted public defender Scott Hechinger.

Journalist Abi Wilkinson summed up the silliness of this widespread preface very nicely, tweeting, “ ‘I’m not a conspiracy theorist’ is such a weird assertion when you think about it, the idea there’s a binary between believing all conspiracies and flat out rejecting the very concept of conspiracy in all circumstances.”

Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that we are all conspiracy theorists if we’re really honest with ourselves. Not everyone believes that the official stories about 9/11 and the JFK assassination are riddled with plot holes or what have you, but I doubt that anyone who really sat down and sincerely grappled with the question “Do powerful people conspire?” would honestly deny it. Some are just more self-aware than others about the self-evident reality that powerful people conspire all the time, and it’s only a question of how and with whom and to what extent.

Dictionary Definition

The word “conspire” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement.” No sane person would deny that this is a thing that happens, nor that this is likely a thing that happens to some extent among the powerful in their own nation. This by itself is a theory about conspiracy per definition, and it accurately applies to pretty much everyone. Since it applies to pretty much everyone, the label is essentially meaningless, either as a pejorative or as anything else.

The meaningless of the term has been clearly illustrated by Russiagate, whose adherents react with sputtering outrage whenever anyone points out that they’re engaged in a conspiracy theory, despite the self-evident fact that that’s exactly what it is: a theory about a band of powerful Russian conspirators conspiring with the highest levels of the U.S. government. Their objection is not due to a belief that they’re not theorizing about a conspiracy, their objection is due to the fact that a highly stigmatized label that they’re accustomed to applying to other people has been applied to them. The label is rejected because its actual definition is ignored to the point of meaninglessness.

The problem has never been with the actual term “conspiracy theory;” the problem has been with its deliberate and completely meaningless use as a pejorative. The best way to address this would be a populist move to de-stigmatize the label by taking ownership of it. Last month Cornell University professor Dave Callum tweeted, “I am a ‘conspiracy theorist’. I believe men and women of wealth and power conspire. If you don’t think so, then you are what is called ‘an idiot’. If you believe stuff but fear the label, you are what is called ‘a coward’.”

This is what we all must do. The debate must be forcibly moved from the absurd question of whether or not conspiracies are a thing to the important question of which conspiracy theories are valid and to what degree.

And we should probably hurry. Yahoo News reported earlier this month that the FBI recently published an intelligence bulletin describing “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” as a growing threat, and this was before the recent spate of U.S. shootings got establishment narrative-makers pushing for new domestic terrorism laws. This combined with the fact that we can’t even ask questions about extremely suspicious events like Jeffrey Epstein’s death without being tarred with this meaningless pejorative by the mass media thought police means we’re at extreme risk of being shoved into something far more Orwellian in the near future.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on FacebookTwitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a  book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.” 

This article was re-published with permission.

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US Agriculture Needs 21st-Century New Deal

Three scholars look at what can be done for U.S. farms, where bankruptcies were already at a 10-year high before the floods this past spring. 

Jeff Jorgenson looks over a partially flooded field he farms near Shenandoah, Iowa, May 29, 2019. (AP/Nati Harnik)

By Maywa Montenegro, University of California, Davis; Annie Shattuck, University of California, Berkeley, and Joshua Sbicca, Colorado State University

The Conversation 

These are difficult times in farm country. Historic spring rains – 600 percent above average in some places – inundated fields and homes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that this year’s corn and soybean crops will be the smallest in four years, due partly to delayed planting.

Even before the floods, farm bankruptcies were already at a 10-year high. In 2018 less than half of U.S. growers made any income from their farms, and median farm income dipped to negative $1,553 – that is, a net loss.

At the same time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that about 12 years remain to rein in global greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Beyond this point, scientists predict significantly higher risks of drought, floods and extreme heat.

And a landmark UN report released in May warns that roughly 1 million species are now threatened with extinction. This includes pollinators that provide $235 billion to $577 billion in annual global crop value.

As scholars who study agroecology, agrarian change and food politics, we believe U.S. agriculture needs to make a systemwide shift that cuts carbon emissions, reduces vulnerability to climate chaos and prioritizes economic justice. We call this process a just transition – an idea often invoked to describe moving workers from shrinking industries like coal mining into more viable fields.

But it also applies to modern agriculture, an industry which in our view is dying – not because it isn’t producing enough, but because it is contributing to climate change and exacerbating rural problems, from income inequality to the opioid crisis.

Reconstructing rural America and dealing with climate change are both part of this process. Two elements are essential: agriculture based in principles of ecology, and economic policies that end overproduction of cheap food and reestablish fair prices for farmers.

Since the mid-1930s, the number of U.S. farms has declined sharply and average farm size has increased.

Climate Solutions on the Farm

Agriculture generates about 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from sources that include synthetic fertilizers and intensive livestock operations. These emissions can be significantly curbed through adopting methods of agroecology, a science that applies principles of ecology to designing sustainable food systems.

Agroecological practices include replacing fossil-fuel-based inputs like fertilizer with a range of diverse plants, animals, fungi, insects and soil organisms. By mimicking ecological interactions, biodiversity produces both food and renewable ecosystem services, such as soil nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration.

Cover crops are a good example. Farmers grow cover crops like legumes, rye and alfalfa to reduce soil erosion, improve water retention and add nitrogen to the soil, thereby curbing fertilizer use. When these crops decay, they store carbon – typically about 1 to 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide per 2.47 acres per year.

Cover crop acreage has surged in recent years, from 10.3 million acres in 2012 to 15.4 million acres in 2017. But this is a tiny fraction of the roughly 900 million acres of farmed land in the U.S.

Another strategy is switching from row crops to agroforestry, which combines trees, livestock and crops in a single field. This approach can increase soil carbon storage by up to 34 percent. And moving animals from large-scale livestock farms back onto crop farms can turn waste into nutrient inputs.

Advocates say sustainable farming methods are less vulnerable to impacts      of climate change than conventional large-scale farming.

Unfortunately, many U.S. farmers are stuck in industrial production. A 2016 study by an international expert panel identified eight key “lock-ins,” or mechanisms, that reinforce the large-scale model. They include consumer expectations of cheap food, export-oriented trade, and most importantly, concentration of power in the global food and agricultural sector.

Because these lock-ins create a deeply entrenched system, revitalizing rural America and decarbonizing agriculture require addressing systemwide issues of politics and power. We believe a strong starting point is connecting ecological practices to economic policy, especially price parity – the principle that farmers ought to be fairly compensated, in line with their production costs.

Economic Justice on the Farm

If the concept of parity sounds quaint, that’s because it is. Farmers first achieved something like parity in 1910-1914, just before America entered World War I. During the war U.S. agriculture prospered, financing flowed and land speculation was rampant.

Those bubbles burst with the end of the war. As crop prices fell below the cost of production, farmers began going broke in a prelude to the Great Depression. Unsurprisingly, they tried to produce more food to get out of debt, even as prices collapsed.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal included programs that directed public investments to rural communities and restored “parity.” The federal government established price floors, bought up surplus commodities and stored them in reserve. It also paid farmers to reduce production of basic crops, and established programs to prevent destructive farming practices that had contributed to the Dust Bowl.

An Agricultural Adjustment Administration representative in his office, Taos County, New Mexico, December 1941. The agency was created under the New Deal to reduce farm surpluses and manage production. (Irving Rusinow)

These policies provided much-needed relief for indebted farmers. In the “parity years,” from 1941 to 1953, the floor price was set at 90 percent of parity, and the prices farmers received averaged 100 percent of parity. As a result, purchasers of commodities paid the actual production costs.

But after World War II, agribusiness interests systematically dismantled the supply management system. They included global grain trading companies Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill and the American Farm Bureau Federation, which serves primarily large-scale farmers.

These organizations found support from federal officials, particularly Earl Butz, who served as secretary of agriculture from 1971 to 1976. Butz believed strongly in free markets and viewed federal policy as a lever to maximize output instead of constraining it. Under his watch, prices were allowed to fall – benefiting corporate purchasers – and parity was replaced by federal payments to supplement farmers’ incomes.

The resulting lock-in to this economic model progressively strengthened in the following decades, creating what many scientific assessments now recognize as a global food system that is unsustainable for farmers, eaters and the planet.

A New ‘New Deal’ for Agriculture

Today the idea of restoring parity and reducing corporate power in agriculture is resurging. Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have included it in their agriculture positions and legislation. Think tanks are proposing to empower family farms. Dairy delegates to the regulation-averse Wisconsin Farm Bureau Foundation voted in December 2018 to discuss supply management.

Along with other scholars, we have urged Congress to use the proposed Green New Deal to promote a just transition in agriculture. We see this as an opportunity to restore wealth to rural America in all of its diversity – particularly to communities of color who have been systematically excluded for decades from benefits available to white farmers.

This year’s biblical floods in the Midwest make any kind of farming look daunting. However, we believe that if policymakers can envision a contemporary version of ideas in the original New Deal, a climate-friendly and socially just American agriculture is within reach.

Maywa Montenegro, UC President’s postdoctoral fellow, University of California, Davis; Annie Shattuck, Ph.D candidate, University of California, Berkeley, and Joshua Sbicca, assistant professor of sociology, Colorado State University. All three  authors belong to the American Association of Geographers, a funding partner of The Conversation.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The 9% Lie: Industrial Food & Climate Change

Ronnie Cummins challenges the widely used official estimate of greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. agriculture.

By Ronnie Cummins
Independent Science News for Food and Agriculture

The Climate Emergency is finally getting the attention of the media and the U.S. (and world) body politic, as well as a growing number of politicians, activists and even U.S. farmers.
This great awakening has arrived just in time, given the record-breaking temperatures, violent weather, crop failures and massive waves of forced migration that are quickly becoming the norm. Global scientists have dropped their customary caution. They now warn us that we have to drastically reduce global emissions – by at least 45 percent – over the next decade. Otherwise, we’ll pass the point of no return – defined as reaching 450 ppm or more of CO2 in the atmosphere sometime between 2030 and 2050 – when our climate crisis will morph into a climate catastrophe. That’s when the melting polar ice and Arctic permafrost will trigger catastrophic sea rise, fueling deadly forest fires, climate chaos, crop failures, famine and the widespread disintegration of society as we know it.
Most people now understand that we must quickly move to renewable forms of energy, such as wind and solar, and reduce our fossil fuel emissions as much as possible. But it’s far less widely understood that energy conservation and renewables can’t do the job alone.

Ending Massive Emissions

Alongside the massive political and economic campaign to move to 100 percent (or nearly 100 percent) renewable energy as soon as possible, we must put an end to the massive emissions of our corporate-dominated food and farming system and start drawing down and sequestering in our soils and forests billions of tons of “legacy” CO2 from the atmosphere, utilizing the enhanced photosynthesis of regenerative farming, reforestation and land restoration.

Regenerative agriculture refers to farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity. This results in both carbon drawdown and improved water infiltration and storage in soils. Regenerative practices include:

  • Reduction/elimination of tillage and use of synthetic chemicals.
  • The use of cover crops, crop rotations, compost, and animal manures.
  • Integrating animals with perennial and annual plants to create a biologically diverse ecosystem on the farm.
  • Grazing and pasturing animals on grass, and more specifically using a planned multi-paddock rotation system.
  • Raising animals in conditions that mimic their natural habitat.

If regenerative food, farming and land use – which is essentially moving to the next stage of organic farming, free-range livestock grazing and eco-system restoration – are just as essential to our survival as moving beyond fossil fuels, why aren’t more people talking about this? Why is it that moving beyond industrial agriculture, factory farms, agro-exports and highly-processed junk food to regenerating soils and forests and drawing down enough excess carbon from the atmosphere to re-stabilize our climate is getting so little attention from the media, politicians and the general public?
New Poll Data

The International Food Information Council Foundation released a poll on May 22, 2019, that found that “22 percent [of Americans] had heard of regenerative agriculture and 55 percent said they had not heard of it but were interested in learning more.”

Why don’t more people know about the incredible potential of regenerative agriculture, or more precisely regenerative food, farming and land-use practices, to fix our climate, restore the environment, improve the livelihoods of farmers and rural communities and produce more nutritious food? Why is it that the U.S. and global climate movement until recently has focused almost exclusively on reducing emissions through renewable energy?
Our collective ignorance on this crucial topic may have something to do with the fact that we never learned about these things in school, or even college, and until recently there was very little discussion of regeneration in the mass media, or even the alternative media.
But there’s another reason regeneration as a climate solution doesn’t get its due in Congress or in the media: powerful corporations in the food, farming and forestry sector, along with their indentured politicians, don’t want to admit that their current degenerate, climate-destabilizing, “profit-at-any-cost” production practices and business priorities are threatening our very survival.

And government agencies are right there, helping corporate agribusiness and Big Food bury the evidence that these industries’ energy-intensive, chemical-intensive industrial agricultural and food production practices contribute more to global warming than the fossil fuel industry.

The 9 Percent Claim

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) repeatedly claim that industrial agriculture is responsible for a mere 9 percent of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. As the EPA explains, GHG “emissions from agriculture come from livestock such as cows, agricultural soils and rice production.”

After hearing this 9-percent figure regurgitated over and over again in the media, most people draw the conclusion that food and farming aren’t that important of a factor in global warming, especially when compared with transportation, electricity generation, manufacturing and heating and cooling our buildings.

What the EPA, USDA, Big Ag, chemical, and food corporations are conveniently hiding from the public is that there’s no way to separate “U.S. agriculture” from our “food system” as a whole. Their faulty math (i.e. concealing food and farming emissions under the categories of transportation, manufacturing, etc.) is nothing but a smokescreen to hide the massive fossil fuel use and emissions currently belched out by our enormously wasteful, environmentally destructive, climate-destabilizing (and globalized) food system.
USDA and EPA’s 9-percent figure is ridiculous. What about the massive use of petroleum products and fossil fuels to power U.S. tractors and farm equipment, and to manufacture the billions of pounds of pesticides and chemical fertilizers that are dumped and sprayed on farmlands?
What about the ethanol industry that eats up 40 percent of our chemical- and energy-intensive GMO corn production? Among other environmental crimes, the ethanol industry incentivizes farmers to drain wetlands and damage fragile lands. Taking the entire process into account, corn production for ethanol produces more emissions than it supposedly saves when burned in our cars and trucks.

What about the massive release of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide from factory farms and the GMO, monocrop industrial grain farms that supply these feedlots and CAFOs with animal feed?
What about the methane emissions from the fracking wells that produce the natural gas that is used in prodigious amounts to manufacture the nitrogen fertilizer dumped on farmlands – fertilizer that then pollutes our waterways and creates oceanic dead zones as well as releasing massive amounts of nitrous oxide (300 percent more damaging than even CO2) into our already oversaturated atmosphere?
What about the 15-20 percent of global fossil fuel emissions that come from processing, packaging (most often non-recycled plastic), refrigerating and transporting our highly processed (mainly junk) food and agricultural commodities on the average 1,500 miles before they reach the consumer?
What about the enormous amounts of GHG emissions, deforestation and ecosystem destruction in the international supply chain enabling Big Box stores, supermarket chains and junk food purveyors to sell imported cheap food, in many cases “food-like substances” from China and overseas to undernourished and supersized U.S. consumers?
What about the enormous emissions from U.S. landfills where wasted food (30-50 percent of our entire production) rots and releases methane, when it could be used to produce compost to replace synthetic fertilizers?
A more accurate estimate of GHG emissions from U.S. and international food, farming and land use is 44-57 percent, not the 9 percent, as the EPA and USDA suggest.
We’re never going to reach net zero emissions in the U.S. by 2030, as the Green New Deal calls for, without a profound change, in fact a revolution, in our food, farming, and land use practices.

This essay is part of The Organic Consumers Association’s Regenerative Agriculture campaign. To sign their petition in support of a Green New Deal that puts regenerative food, farming, and land use front and center, sign here if you’re a farmer, and here if you’re an activist or a green consumer.

Ronnie Cummins is the co-founder and international director of the Organic Consumers Association. He is also the founder of Via Orgánica, a network of organic consumers and farmers based in Mexico.

This article is from Independent Science News for Food and Agriculture.

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