Tuesday, March 26, 2019

To Brexit or Not to Brexit?



The main problem with the question of Leave or Remain is that it's not the question most people in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland are really interested in.  It's just a very fraught proxy for the real question.

Every week as I engage in the by-now comfortably familiar process of following global news developments, thinking about what I want to address in this week's missive, recording the podcast version of it, etc., it is a new weekly opportunity when I must once again observe that the world appears to be going to hell just as fast this week as it was last week. Catastrophic flooding on several continents at the same time, with an unknown and possibly vast death toll in Africa, where it appears entire cities may have drowned. Israeli missiles are once again raining down on the besieged outdoor prison known as Gaza. Christchurch is burying its dead. Trump has located the Golan Heights on a map. His Attorney General says he's not working for Putin. And many other developments.

Prominent among them, of course, is the increasingly chaotic state of the farcically-named country known as the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Soon perhaps to be known as the United Kingdom of England and Wales. The political class in the country is in the midst of a real meltdown, and life is uncertain for many millions of people within and outside of the UK right now.

The question of how people and politicians should react to this volatile situation is certainly an important one, and I personally don't pretend to have any useful advice for anyone. For whatever little it may be worth, whether I'm stating the obvious or not, what I do have to offer is this: the main reason the whole question of Brexit is so incredibly fraught is that the question of whether or not to leave the European Union isn't really the question most people were seeking to answer. I'm quite convinced from spending a whole lot of my life playing music with and for the English working class in places like Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham or Leicester that the struggling English working class that is mainly responsible for the success of the Leave campaign is not actually interested in whether they're governed from London or from Brussels.

Most of the people voting for Brexit probably knew that this wasn't the choice they wanted to be voting on. They would much have preferred a vote between socialism and neoliberalism -- in which case socialism would have won. They want a return to pre-Thatcher Britain, when most of the people governing the country at least believed in everyone in the country having the ability to live a dignified life with decent housing, education and health care. Their impression that the lobbyists in Brussels don't have their best interests in mind is correct. They also know most of the politicians in London don't have their best interests in mind either. Which is why the choice is so fraught -- it's the wrong choice.

Many of my leftwing friends in all corners of the United Kingdom voted both for and against Brexit. The campaign to Leave the EU may have been largely led by an assortment of nationalists and xenophobes, but those who voted to Leave are far from a homogeneous group. The notion that more local control might have more potential to lead to more local democracy is a sensible one. Having alliances and agreements with other nations makes sense for any country for so many reasons, but the question always is, what kinds of agreements, and for whose benefit?

Opposition to power shifting from national governments to Brussels has been widespread in many corners of European society, since the beginning of the EU, though listening to just about any of the English-language media these days you would be forgiven for thinking that the idea of local democracy is a racist conspiracy of the far right, funded by the Kremlin.

The first time I traveled around Europe as an adult was in 1995. I spent most of that trip in Ireland, England and Denmark. The trip began in Copenhagen. I knew I wanted to visit England and Ireland, but the fact that the trip included Denmark was an accident of Air Hitch. You could choose five different major European cities where you might end up, and you were only guaranteed that you'd end up in one of them within five days of your desired date of arrival. Copenhagen was where I ended up.

It was the spring of 1995, but it was literally only a matter of hours before I met people who were telling me about what had happened there on the streets of the city almost exactly two years earlier.

In 1993 a bare majority of Danish voters approved the Maastricht Treaty, which gave greater powers within the European Union to Brussels. It had to be passed by all the EU member states at the time, and the year before, Denmark had been the hold-out, rejecting the treaty in a vote in 1992. With barely any changes made, it was again brought to a popular vote the following year.

When it passed the second time, this was mainly because of voters from outside the only major city, Copenhagen. Most people in Copenhagen voted against it. In the diverse, largely leftwing neighborhood of Norrebro, protests turned to riots, with such intensity and mass participation that the vastly outnumbered riot police deployed for the occasion fired live ammunition at the people for the first time since the end of the Second World War, injuring eleven. None of those shot were members of the right.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Why Did This Just Happen Again?



Another heavily-armed, sociopath fascist has carried out a carefully-planned, extremely cold-blooded, videotaped massacre. In terms of the particular form of mass murder that involves targeting people because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other such commonly-held characteristic, by far the most large-scale forms of ethnic cleansing have been carried out by governments. Examples include institutionalized forms of genocide such as the European Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Nazi gas chambers, the Japanese Empire's Rape of Nanking, the smoke-filled caves of Turkey during the First World War, the total devastation wrought from the skies down on entire civilian populations in places like Iraq, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Korea, and Japan by the US Air Force, the price put on each Indian scalp in colonial New England, the many, many massacres of whole villages that took place during the theft of indigenous land or under the banner of "war" throughout the Americas, in Australia and so many other places with similar histories. The names of towns and cities often become representative of the ethnic cleansers of the day, and depending on the time and place, everyone knows what you mean when you use the shorthand of place names such as Alhambra, Guernica, Dachau, Wounded Knee, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, My Lai, Srebrenica, Falluja, Deir Yassin, Sabra, Shatila.

In times and places when such slaughter isn't a daily occurrence, it's more shocking. Particularly when the slaughter is carried out not on orders of a commanding officer in an occupied war zone somewhere far away, but by a freelance sociopath from a generally peaceful country, who obviously wants so much to kill for his beliefs that he's willing to die in order to do so. Then we add place names that have become chilling reminders of this special variety of incomprehensible horror, at least for those who remember -- Hebron, Oak Creek, Orlando, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Utoya, Christchurch -- to name only a few, that adhere strictly to the concept of freelance fascist terror directed at a particular group for the crime of existing. (Which is not to minimize other forms of terror. I'll get to some of them later.)

Many commentators have aptly pointed out that at a time when the leader of the free world is openly racist (along with the leaders of an increasing array of other major countries), this encourages racist hate crimes, which is evidently and not surprisingly true. I would venture to add a couple things to this discussion, not that I make any pretenses to be the first to do so. For one thing, this legacy of genocide, racial and ethnic division didn't start with Trump, or even with Hitler -- it goes back a lot further than that, and this is crucial to understand for making any sense of the world around us. The other thing I'd add is I don't feel at all confident that the leaders of most countries in the western world actually want these massacres to stop, and I say this just from my own personal experiences, which I think are worth sharing in some detail.

There have been competing narratives going on throughout the history of Europe and the European-descended settler-colonial/refugee diaspora that has come to dominate so much of the world in recent centuries. Very broadly, you could say that on the one hand there is the divide and rule narrative of the rich and powerful, and on the other, the narrative of solidarity, uniting all the people against their common enemy, the ruling elite. Depending on the time and place, the adherents of one or the other of these narratives have been in the ascendancy, but for most of the history of Europe and its colonies, the elite has maintained their grip on power through the systematic and often very deadly sowing of divisions within the ranks of the people.

Ethnic cleansing has been a major feature since the beginnings of European Christendom. It would be a terrible mistake, however, to assume that what was happening in Europe was happening everywhere else -- it wasn't. During the many centuries that were characterized in much of Europe by the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the expulsions of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Muslims from places like Spain, Portugal (with smaller mass expulsions from England and other countries), in the Ottoman Empire Jews, Christians and Muslims lived side by side in peace and prosperity, with the sultan taking an active role in promoting coexistence of different religions, languages and traditions within the sprawling, extraordinarily diverse Ottoman lands. In one of the most massive and least well-known events during the long period in Europe often referred to as the Dark Ages, when all the Jews of Spain were given three months to leave the newly Catholic country or be killed, most of them were rescued in a gigantic naval operation by the Ottoman fleet. At the time, any Ottoman, Chinese or Andean city was far more prosperous and high-tech than the most advanced parts of Europe. In fact, the term "Europe" wasn't used to describe the land mass it is currently understood to be referring to, so even writing a history of Europe is a fraught concept to begin with for any historian going back further than the modern period.

Jews, Muslims and the wrong kinds of Christians were systematically and regularly targeted by crusaders and inquisitors, and then in North America by Puritans, who hanged Indians along with Catholics and Quakers, and burned them alive in large numbers in Connecticut. Among those who came to North America and Australia from England, Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, most were refugees of one form or another, and when they got to wherever they were going -- often in chains -- they generally lived short and brutal lives. If they were lucky, after a couple generations of assimilation their lot might improve. Not so much for the Africans brought over in chains that were maintained in place by institutionalized racism no matter how many generations later, or for the Indians whose land was taken, with whole populations and cultures reduced to suggestions of what once had been.

Throughout all of this there was profound resistance -- resistance which has defined reality for those of us alive today to a huge extent, though perhaps not as huge an extent as the oppressive institutions, systems and ways of thinking we've been up against over these centuries of the global struggle between the haves and have-nots. There were Indian nations pitted against each other and others who managed to unite against a common foe. There were race riots and pogroms but there were also slave rebellions, farmer rebellions, and eventually, after many decades of trying and failing, inter-racial unions. The Europe-wide uprisings of 1848, the concurrent Rent Strike movement in the US, and the miner rebellion in Australia soon afterwards all had profound impacts in terms of Europe and these European settler states becoming more democratic and more prosperous.

In the more modern period, divide and rule tactics have been used by most western countries to pit nations against each other in wars over colonial control of other parts of the world, using the working class of one country to slaughter that of another. But at least as significant as those wars between countries has been the systematic use of divide and rule tactics to keep populations under control within a given country. In Europe, the divide between different forms of Christianity and the existence of Jews, Muslims, and later of the supposed threat posed by the Soviet Union and still later once again by the existence of Muslims and specifically Muslim refugees have been some of the main pillars of divide and rule. In the US we've had all of that, plus an extra helping of racial division to add a seemingly infinite degree of complexity to the already great challenges inherent in the class struggle anywhere -- and that is very much true in Australia as well, which for a very long time had a whites-only immigration policy, as did the US and New Zealand.

So why this history refresher? Because, as far as I can tell, nothing much has changed. For all the talk about cracking down on far right terrorism or white nationalism or whatever they're using as the modern term for the inquisitors, crusaders, ethnic cleansers, fascists, genocidal colonizers, Puritans, slave-traders, imperialists, CIA coup-plotters or torturers, the crackdown will never be very thorough, because any thorough crackdown would mean a fairly complete transformation of society. It would mean, in short, socialism. In order to overcome these divisions, which were all intentionally created, we have to intentionally put an end to them. This means, to coin a phrase, the workers of the world uniting. And what then of corporate profits?

Well, that, it seems to me, is the problem. I'm now over half a century old, and I've been involved with what they call activism since I was twelve or so. From my experience, the powers-that-be in these European and European-colonized countries like the US, Australia and New Zealand don't seem to be very concerned with the repeating patterns of far right violence. Regardless of the facts, regardless of the news or of what they say they're going to do, what they seem to do in actuality most of the time is crack down on the left some more. That is, they crack down on the very advocates for the concepts of unity and solidarity that they say they also stand for. It seems to me you can't have it both ways.

And as they are opposing progressive thought and action in most every form at most every turn (until that which is violently opposed is ultimately embraced as self-evident), they are also constantly supporting and embracing and propagating a false narrative of history that suits their ends, and ultimately ends up supporting white nationalism. Either intentionally or because they don't know any better, throughout institutions of society in places like the US, Australia and New Zealand, people are being lied to as they're growing up and throughout their adulthoods, with so many different forms of mythology about the superiority of European civilization. And when the contrast between the wealth in so many of the whiter countries and the poverty of so many of the darker nations is not explained or put into the context of colonialism and imperialism, as it generally isn't, it might make sense to assume there is something to this white nationalism after all. The way Venezuela is currently being covered in the western media and by western politicians is a case in point. No real historical context is given for why Venezuela was so poor to begin with, how Chavez changed that for so many people, or why the people talking about all of the different ways the US and other forces are acting to destroy the country are clearly the ones with the strength of history on their side.

Media coverage and portrayal by politicians of the global justice movement in the late 1990's in which I was an active participant is another case in point, and is the first personal example I'll begin with. You would be forgiven for thinking that intensified and militarized border security and the militarization of police forces in the US was a post-9/11 phenomenon in response to terrorism. For those who were around and involved with the movement, we know differently. The security state flew into high gear in response to the WTO protests near the end of 1999. This is when the total vilification of our movement in the media began.

They consistently painted us as "anti-globalization," a term we never used. The impression they gave was that we were against trade of any kind. They dismissed us as ignorant people who didn't appreciate the greatness of capitalism, and all the good the US, the UK, France, etc. has done in the world by promoting free trade and democracy. Many of them probably believe the lies they spout. Why wouldn't they? They grew up in this mind control experiment called the western world, too, believing all this rubbish. They painted us as universally engaged in violence and property destruction, just the same way they talk about the Yellow Vest movement in France today, although with our movement, as with that one, the rock-throwers were a small minority. Most of the movement was all about nonviolent civil disobedience, which is how many different global trade meetings were disrupted.

And that's what really upset them -- this egalitarian social movement. That's what they couldn't stand. And when we, this global movement, began to influence the mainstream understanding of and conversation around so-called development programs and blood-sucking institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, when people broadly began to question whether free trade was good for the average person, while at the same time the billionaires were unable to hold a public meeting and have it go off smoothly unless they held it in a dictatorship, the global elite in the great democracies of the west were facing something of a legitimacy crisis.

For the ruling elite in the US especially, 9/11 was their opportunity to seize the moral higher ground in the face of the argument around stratification of wealth, free trade, and exploitation of workers, the environment, and the Global South -- an argument they often appeared to be losing. Now, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they finally had found a worthwhile enemy to distract everyone with -- and they finally found a worthwhile enemy to compare us with, as well. I remember the voice of the NPR anchor so well in the days following the attacks on New York, when he said something like, "last week they were protesting the World Trade Organization. Now they're bombing the World Trade Center."

And it is true that the last time I recalled being at the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan prior to 9/11 was on May 1st, 2000, when thousands of riot police had been deployed all over the city to make sure we didn't shut down Wall Street or break windows at Starbucks, McDonald's or at the Twin Towers. Turns out they had more to worry about than window-breaking teenagers, but you wouldn't know they were worried about anything other than the left, when you look at the police budgets in different cities, and how they mushroomed not in preparation for potential terrorist attacks, but to prevent us from messing up their meetings.

Sometime around September 13th, 2001 I was driving with a friend past New York City's smoldering ruins, along i-95 in Connecticut, the stretch of highway that consistently gets the distinction of being voted the ugliest in the United States by the truckers association. No one ever hitch-hikes on i-95, but that day there was a hitch-hiker, and he was Israeli. That was weird. We gave him a ride to New Haven. He said he had been there for a long time. No one would pick him up. He figured it was because he looked Arab.

I don't know who that guy was, but years later I heard from a friend who had been off the radar for a long time. He wasn't a close friend, so it wasn't so strange not to hear from him for a while, but when he resurfaced it turned out that he had been off the radar because he was basically in hiding, afraid he might die at any moment. After not dying for so many years, he ventured to anonymously tell me his story, which he said I could publish on my blog (which I did). To sum up the salient points, my friend knew Mohammed Atta, smoked cigarettes with him at the smoking area outside of a mysterious building in Hollywood, Florida where Atta worked. The building contained companies that had names that seemed to indicate they were moving companies, but they had hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment, and most of their employees were Israelis, at least one of whom clearly didn't get the cue that he was working for a moving company. The janitor went to the wrong floor and died there. All the businesses in the building suddenly closed on September 12th, 2001. I still want to know what the hell that was all about.

I first learned I was on a watch list in 2002, but I had begun having huge problems crossing the Canadian border before then. I was prevented from entering Canada for the G8 protests in 2002 and told I'd be detained if I tried to enter anywhere else in the country. When would I be released? When the protests were over, I was told. Why would I be held in the first place? The document just said to turn me away, but that they should give me a false reason for having done so. (The border agent wasn't supposed to show his orders to me, but he was too freaked out by them not to. Other people have similar stories, including Laura Poitras.)

I mention the watch list because under treaty, the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand share all of that kind of information, since 1948. I learned that in 2013, when I was denied entry to New Zealand.

I had been to Aotearoa -- what the European settlers named New Zealand -- on several occasions before then, playing gigs and getting to know people and places on those lush, green, beautiful islands. I had met people on watch lists, and people who were on trial on charges that involved the word "terrorism" being thrown around frequently. They were all either Maori or non-Maori supporters of Maori sovereignty.

But then to be denied entry in 2013, to find out that government agents from those islands are reading my blog, and telling me about it in detail as they explain that pot-smoking musicians like me are not welcome in their country, was a surprise to me and to the veteran immigration lawyer in Christchurch who tried and failed to help get this decision overturned.

Only weeks later in Australia I got some strange news through the bizarre circumstance of knowing a government worker in Canberra. Down the hall from where she worked, through the open door of the War Crimes Department one of her coworkers clearly heard people inside that department discussing me. Her coworker didn't hover near the door to try to get more information, but he excitedly reported this bit of gossip to my friend, which was as unreal to him as it was to her and to me.

However else you want to decipher this set of facts and the facts that have come to light since the massacre in Christchurch, I was on watch lists in both New Zealand and Australia, and this Australian fascist with a long and active record of hate speech on the internet was able to get a license to own an arsenal of machine guns, and he was not on a watch list in either the country of his birth, Australia, or the country he had moved to, where he bought his guns and killed all those people. Lest anyone be left with the impression that I'm talking about my history with being on multiple international watch lists in order to prove how cool I am, that is not the point. The point is that the authorities are wasting their time and effort on people like me, and however many thousands or millions of other people like me, and they are missing the people they should be watching. (Not that this is a problem that can be solved by better policing in the first place.)

I was in Scotland for the 2005 G8 summit and protests there, which involved lots of nonviolent civil disobedience, delayed meetings, and other festivities. It also involved thousands and thousands of riot cops to make sure the summit would be able to go on. They felt they needed such a large police presence that there weren't enough cops in Scotland for the job, so they imported loads of cops from other places. None of this is unusual, by the way. Many of the cops they imported for the protests were from London. Turns out that in July, 2005 the London cops had other things they might have been looking into aside from nonviolent protesters in Scotland. What they know of in England as 7/7, the terror attacks on the London Underground, occurred at the tail end of the G8 meetings in Scotland, while the London cops were away policing us.

I was in Oslo only a couple weeks after the bombing there and the massacre in Utoya that followed in 2011. The mounds of flowers at the Oslo Cathedral were still fresh. It was the same cathedral where a few years earlier I stood with Afghan refugees who had been on hunger strike for weeks, trying to draw attention to the fact that Norway intended to send them back to a war zone to die. I watched the police destroy their tents one night, and I watched the Red Cross put up new tents the following morning, in a direct challenge to the police.

Like other people following the news in July, 2011, I was hearing stories about the slow police response to the massacre that had been unfolding on the island. One of the things that kept getting mentioned was that the city of Oslo had just one police helicopter.

Only then in the wake of by far the worst massacre in post-World War 2 Scandinavian history did I learn the significance of the experience I had had not long before that time, when Barack Obama was in town to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The tabloid press and the Norwegian authorities were apparently so concerned about Islamists attacking the Nobel proceedings with rocket launchers that they had arrested Norway's one known Islamist before Obama's arrival as a precaution.

On the day when Obama was getting his prize and some few anarchists were protesting in the rain, including a number of my Scandinavian friends, I wasn't feeling well. I was trying to take a nap around midday, when a helicopter showed up directly above me. I was on a bed on the fifth floor of a five-story building, and the helicopter above me was deafeningly loud. It hovered there for around two hours, preventing me from napping.

Being an activist and getting harassed by helicopters is, believe it not, not an unfamiliar experience for me and for many other people who I could introduce you to. But knowing that the helicopter harassing me in this particular case was probably Oslo's one police helicopter, at a time when they were supposedly worried about Islamist violence, less than two years before the country would be devastated by a horrific act of rightwing violence, it felt very much like yet another example of a grievous misallocation of police resources, at the very least.

I could share so many more examples, but my abundant experience indicates that whether we're talking about a more nakedly capitalist country like the US under the leadership of an open bigot or under the leadership of a suave gentleman of color; whether we're talking about Thatcher's England or the pacific social democracies of Scandinavia led by people who apparently really do think free health care and government housing are good things; the mainstream media and the mainstream political leadership of all of these countries are much more concerned with the possibility that progressive movements will upset their status quo than they are concerned with mass murderers.

Given that the historical evidence indicates that the cure for fascist movements is successfully-implemented socialism that allows everyone to live dignified lives with universal housing, health care, education, etc., the tendency of all of these neoliberal European, North American and South Pacific nations to suppress progressive movements wherever they crop up in their own countries or elsewhere in the world, to almost always side with corporate interests against the interests of their own people or other people, will continue to be one of the major factors providing a great breeding ground for the ethnic cleansers in our midst following in the paths of a thousand years of rule by the descendants of the Crusaders.

You want to de-radicalize the fascists among us, hand-wringing western democratic leaders of the world? You can start by taking your corporate boots off of the necks of the progressive social movements that have been trying to oppose these people while you've been pretending you don't have a history as an explicitly racist state with a whites-only immigration policy.

You can hear this column in podcast form by searching for This Week with David Rovics wherever you get your podcasts, or by going to www.davidrovics.com/thisweek.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Blowing the Whistle in 1943



Being a writer of weekly columns and topical songs, these things are supposed to be at least somewhat temporary in nature. But whether it's a podcast from last summer or a song I wrote a decade ago, change one or two words and it could have been written yesterday. To mention a few subjects I have addressed in recent months that refuse to fade into recent history: child separations at the border are once again in the news for a number of reasons, including corruption charges against the biggest for-profit child detention facility in the US; politicians and pundits continue to find supposedly new reasons to refer to Jeremy Corbyn, Ilhan Omar and the Gilets Jaune as anti-Semitic, despite all the accusations being self-evidently baseless; there has been yet another massacre in Gaza carried out by Israeli snipers, who are now as of this week being charged by the UN for war crimes; there has been a further dramatic escalation in the far right's efforts to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Venezuela; the War on Refugees continues in the form of the 2020 Wall Budget Debate; and Chelsea Manning is back in jail, this time for refusing to testify to what is known as a grand jury.

To refresh our memories, what Private Manning was originally imprisoned for blowing the whistle on were things like the US use of torture and the commission of other war crimes such as a massacre of journalists and children by helicopter gunship. For exposing war crimes, Chelsea was not given an award or a promotion, she was called a traitor and many other things and given a very long prison sentence, eventually commuted by the last president just before he left office. Other people have blown the whistle on other crimes committed by our government and other governments, and for their good work they have been similarly rewarded, and some accidentally-released legal documents indicate that Julian Assange is completely justified in fearing that the US government is seeking his extradition and imprisonment, because they are. If not for the quick actions of Wikileaks and the Russian government back in 2013, Edward Snowden would be facing the same. (The hatred of these heroic whistle-blowers among the ranks of the US Congress has been largely bipartisan, it should be noted.)

Hearing about the re-arrest of Chelsea Manning and other developments that continually reinforce the general feeling that we are in the midst of a rapid descent into full-fledged fascism obviously inspires a lot of historical comparisons, especially among people who are apt to make such comparisons with very little provocation. As it happens, the particular village where I'm heading to at the end of this month invites more of the same comparisons.

For the first week of April and for most of July and August I'll be running a very small cafe in Denmark -- most of that time with my wife, Reiko, and our three kids. (Our toddler, Yuta, is already becoming a very good barista, practicing daily on his favorite toy, our home espresso machine.) I don't know how old the building thirty meters from ├śresund is that houses the cafe, but it has a traditional straw roof, and it was built at a time that the average Dane was a lot shorter than today. Standing up inside this cafe is only possible in certain spots if you're an American male of average height (like I am). If this little building could tell stories, it would have a lot to say.

It directly faces the inlet that separates Denmark from Sweden. Cafe Hellebaek is named after the little fairy tale Danish village of Hellebaek in which it lies, on the line -- and the road and bike path -- separating the forested hills from the sea. For centuries, this part of Denmark was the front line in the Danish crown's unceasing efforts to re-take contested parts of Sweden on the other side of the inlet. It was the longest war in recorded history, according to my friend Kristian Svensson, a Swedish songwriter, playwright and historian. (I learned a lot of other interesting random pieces of information from touring with Kristian.)

It's been quite a while since there has been conflict between Sweden and Denmark. But in more relatively recent times, the little coastal village was witness to drama of the global-historic variety, particularly during a week spanning the end of September and beginning of October, 1943. Hellebaek would be one of three main villages that would be the launching points for the thousands of Danish Jews who would be successfully saved from imminent deportation and given asylum in Sweden, which, unlike Denmark, was not then suddenly under direct administration by Nazi occupiers.

These were not a matter of fake accusations of anti-Semitism back then. This was far, far too real. A phenomenon that had little history within the Muslim world prior to the twentieth century, but has been a major aspect characterizing European Christendom for over a millennia, culminating with the mechanized genocide carried out by the Nazis and their collaborators throughout Europe.

There were other forms of official anti-Semitism as well -- for example, in Roosevelt's America.

In 1943 the official policy of the US towards Jewish or other refugees from Germany or eastern Europe was to deny them visas or send them back. Perhaps not for the same reasons, Sweden was also wary of taking in such refugees. The Swedish policy changed on October 2nd, 1943, and this change was announced on the radio publicly, which was a crucial element of the whole operation actually taking place and working.

The overwhelming success of the operation was a testament to many things -- to the bravery and efficiency of the Danish underground resistance movement; to the solidarity of the Danish people with their fellow Danes, whether they be Jewish or communist; to the fact that most of the German military was busy being defeated at Stalingrad; to the fact that ├śresund is very narrow; and in no small part, to the principled actions of a Nazi Party whistle-blower named Georg Duckwitz.

As with Chelsea Manning, Georg Duckwitz was serving a regime that was actively committing crimes against humanity that differed in detail and in scale but in both cases involved things like invading countries based on false pretexts, overthrowing democracies, supporting and imposing dictatorships, immense corporate profiteering, millions of dead, millions of refugees, with entire countries, entire societies, laid to waste.

As with Chelsea Manning, Georg Duckwitz could no longer bear to be a cog in this machine of genocide, regardless of how direct or indirect his involvement was with the worst of the crimes being committed in the name of his blood and soil. Duckwitz's moment to make a difference came when he learned of plans from Berlin to begin rounding up all the Jews they could find in Denmark. Obviously risking his life and liberty, Georg Duckwitz informed the chief rabbi of Denmark and on false pretenses he flew to Stockholm to inform the Swedish crown and to beseech them to accept Jewish refugees.

The chief rabbi informed the Danish resistance movement, and with a clear plan in place due to the public broadcast from Sweden, the fishermen, innkeepers and other regular Danish people did the rest.

No one informed Duckwitz's Nazi colleagues of what he had done. The diplomat returned to his duties, an unnoticed hero, until long after the end of the war. When the role he played in the rescue of the Danish Jews was realized, he received appropriate recognition and a couple of awards -- not prison time, accusations of treason and presidential death threats.

Unfortunately for Chelsea Manning, this is the USA in 2019, not occupied Denmark in 1943. But it's important to recall more optimistic historical moments than the present one.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Venezuela Deception



If you are getting your news from mainstream media, whether it's from supposedly "conservative," "liberal," or "objective" outlets, whether a corporate-owned or so-called "public" network, if you're in the US, the UK, and many other countries, you are being lied to. How much they're lying depends on what they're reporting on. What you can be sure of, though, is if it's something we really, really need to know the truth about right now -- if a light needs to be shone on an urgent issue, like a possibly imminent invasion of a sovereign country by the US military -- you can be sure that that's when they'll lie more, not less. When we need them the most, that's when they'll fail us most spectacularly.

It's also at times like these that we see most starkly the difference between those of us with a solidly anti-imperialist understanding of reality, and so many of our supposedly progressive Congresspeople as well as so many of the ostensible beacons of freedom and democracy in Europe. When these Congresspeople and these European states are most needed to defend principles of national sovereignty, democracy, and international law, that's exactly the moment when they will almost always side with the global, US and/or local corporate elite, and against a socialist movement, no matter how popular or democratic it may be.


So, are all these journalists and all these Congresspeople and their European counterparts evil stooges of US imperialism who hate democracy and socialism? Not necessarily. It's more complicated than that -- that's why so many people believe their lies -- because oftentimes, they believe them themselves.

How can that be the case? Here's the thing. In so many instances, no matter how much you think you know about something that's happening in your neighborhood or in another country, you can use all your senses and you can still miss the most important aspects of what is going on. This is because there are many things that can only be understood so well by mere observation -- there are many instances where we will not know everything about what's happening now until later, sometimes much later. So rather than believing sources that are clearly spouting propaganda because you don't know what else to believe, you can understand any situation far, far better by being intimately familiar with the history of the place, with what has happened before there.

So let's just back up in Venezuela to what we know for sure, to recent history. In the years following the election of Hugo Chavez, millions of people were brought out of poverty, millions of people got medical care who hadn't had it before, schools and hospitals and farmer collectives opened up all over the country, and Venezuela became a beacon for socialism and democracy for many people around the world, including within the United States. Venezuela's Bank of the South liberated many countries from the intentionally destructive strings attached to IMF loans. Millions of people in many other countries benefited from the generosity of the Bolivarian Revolution's internationalist programs, including people struggling to pay their heating bills in cities like Boston and Chicago.

Those are all facts. You won't hear any of them mentioned on NPR or BBC these days, though at some point in the past they have done fairly positive pieces on some of these things -- at times when it didn't seem to matter too much. If you complain that they're acting like arms of the imperialist propaganda machine, if some intern answers your complaint, they'll point to a 3-minute news story on a Saturday during Thanksgiving vacation a decade ago -- see, we said something nice about Hugo Chavez once!

So why is it that they don't talk about the Venezuelan opposition attempting to launch another in a series of other attempted coups? Why don't they talk about the crash in the price of oil that so affected this still largely oil-based economy? Why don't they talk about how free and fair the UN and the Carter Center said all the elections were? Why don't they focus on the massive differences between Venezuela and Cuba, such as the very active rightwing media in Venezuela that the government there allows to exist, in the name of pluralism? Why do they only talk about the similarities between these two countries? Why don't they mention that most of those tens of thousands of Cubans in Venezuela their rightwing guests keep ranting about are doctors and nurses? Why don't they talk about the billions of dollars in assets that have been seized and are being withheld by the US, the UK, and other states? Why do they only go on and on about how Venezuela's problems are supposedly all to do with Maduro's corruption? Why don't they ever interview the many experts from the UN and other organizations who have a completely different version of reality from the one being presented on Newshour or in the pages of the New York Times?

It's not a cut-and-dried, simple answer. But with regards to the many journalists and politicians who are otherwise well-meaning but are currently falling in line behind US imperialism once again and acting like they have lost any capacity for critical thought, it is their ignorance of history that allows them to be used thus.

Because if we're not sure of all the sources of information or of the root causes for everything that is happening in a given instance, if we know how things went before, we have some solid basis for interpreting what is going on now.

For example, in another South American country when another popular socialist was elected in a landslide and started lifting millions of his country's people out of poverty through his extremely popular socialist policies, here's what happened: the US government, through the CIA and other agencies, organized a massive campaign to destabilize Chilean society and destroy the Chilean economy, while cultivating a CIA-trained general within the Chilean military to seize power in a violent coup, which resulted in a military dictatorship that lasted decades and led to untold thousands being tortured and killed by sadistic, US-trained Chilean soldiers and government agents.

And that is only one of so many, many examples. The CIA-led coup in Guatemala in 1954 led to decades of a genocidal, fascist dictatorship and hundreds of thousands tortured and killed, all with active, constant US support. There are 35 countries in the Americas from Canada to Argentina, and the United States has invaded every single one of them, often multiple times. The corruption and poverty in Haiti is a direct consequence of centuries of US and French interventionism, which began immediately after the Haitian Revolution, during which the entire country was destroyed and a third of the population was killed. You cannot find a country in the Americas that doesn't have a history of the US, France, the UK, and other colonial powers siding with dictators against popular movements and the governments that sometimes come to power as a result of such movements in places like Guatemala, Chile, Haiti, Venezuela, and elsewhere.

The journalists and politicians who do not understand that at its essence the United States is and always has been an expansionist empire under the control of a capitalist elite that is driven in so many different ways to get ever bigger, ever richer, ever more powerful will inevitably draw all the wrong conclusions from the same observations of reality that I might make – especially if their underlying, completely baseless, but very widespread assumption is that the US habitually supports democracies and opposes dictatorships.

If you are a politician or a journalist or anyone else trying to understand anything that is happening in the Americas that involves the US government or a large US corporation, and you actually want to understand it and not be a stooge of a centuries-old, globally devastating, capitalist empire run nominally out of Washington, DC, the first and most sensible lens to see reality through is this: the US consistently sides with dictators and against democracies the overwhelming majority of the time, and has done so since the US has been a country. And every time they do it, they come up with elaborate lies, excuses, and subterfuges to explain why they're doing it.

Every time -- without exception up til this point. When the US invaded Iraq they said it was Weapons of Mass Destruction. Turned out they knew they didn't exist, and that Colin Powell lied in a speech 31 times in a row to justify the US invasion, which has now resulted in millions dead and dying. When the US invaded Vietnam, Vietnamese forces had supposedly attacked a US ship off the coast near Vietnam. Turned out this never happened. Throughout the so-called Cold War the US invaded one country after another, overthrew or attempted to overthrow one popular government after another – to back a fascist dictator in Korea the US killed millions of Koreans and half a million Chinese soldiers, and still could only hold on to the southern half of the country, so popular was the communist movement there.

Through slightly less direct methods, also in the name of fighting the Cold War, democracies in Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Grenada, Honduras were all overthrown by some combination of the CIA and local fascists. The Cold War provided, conveniently, the same lie to be used in multiple arenas – popular democracies (known to us as populist regimes when the liberal media doesn't like them) have to be overthrown if they have any remotely friendly relations with the Soviet Union. No other explanation needed, but for good measure, they always came up with other reasons – saving students in Grenada that were in no danger to begin with, or saving people from an oppressive dictator, who actually was a popularly-elected democrat but suddenly became an oppressive dictator because he started nationalizing the land of rich people in order to feed and house his hungry and landless people in Guatemala, or Haiti, or Paraguay. There are so many more examples.

With a proven record of imperialism like that, there is absolutely no reason to believe the current crisis is any different, or that it's anything but manufactured -- and lots of reasons to believe it isn't.

A Tale of Two Narratives

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