Archive | April 22nd, 2020

The Self-Centered Rich Country Response to Pandemics and Crises is Wrecking Poor Countries


I’m squatting on a round piece of concrete, and a 72-year-old man is sitting in the gutter, his walking stick beside him. He tells me that after being deported from the United States, he has been hiking the streets of Mexico City trying to find somewhere to stay. But all the refuges are closed due to the pandemic, including the one we’re sitting outside of, where I volunteer. He has run out of insulin for his diabetes and says he can’t walk any more.

I’m aware that he may not survive much longer. He’s the fifth person that day that I have to turn away and I can’t stand it.

Back in the migrant refuge, we organize working groups and events to add structure to the empty days and try to prevent tension building up. It’s bad enough that many of the refugees here have fled violence, only to wait months for their visas, to now be stuck inside because of the quarantine, unable to work, even informally.

Over a period of less than two weeks, some 7,000 migrants have been deported from the US, with the virus as the excuse. And here too, Mexico is deporting refugees and migrants to the Guatemalan border, even though it is closed and there’s no interstate transport operating there. Hondurans and others are stranded, with nowhere to stay and no way to return to their country. Many may be killed if they do return. So far, the contingency measures seem to be doing more harm than good.

Here, we watch the videos of people cheering for health workers in London, and they are inspiring, but they don’t really connect. We know our health system won’t be able to handle much. We also know that with 65% of the workforce being informal and with no such thing as unemployment benefits, the economic impact of quarantining will be devastating to us. Already, in my city of Puebla, half the population has no access to water, or not enough. Soon, people will get kicked out of homes, and hunger – already on their minds – will likely become common.

The national government has declared that only essential shops and services can stay open. Those who can, are taking the quarantine seriously. But so many people aren’t able to stay at home that it is a bit futile. The woman with the mole stall outside the Oxxo shop near my house is still serving food, the street stalls selling phone cases and gadgets on 8th street are still there, the indigenous woman who sits on the ground selling beautiful Mexican “rag” dolls, is still there. I estimate that around 60% of shops and stalls are still going.

In Central America and Mexico, only 20% of old people have a pension. Many are still working, in close to slave-like conditions. And in South Africa, distancing is impossible when settlements can have just 380 toilets for 20,000 people. Risk, fear, and violence, are part of life for many in poor countries. Poverty is a never-ending war, and being defenseless and unsafe – health wise and economically, means life is up for grabs all the time. It’s understandable then that people react with some self-preserving indifference to the quarantine. And that’s why it isn’t reasonable to take the Chinese and European models for responding to the pandemic and transplant them on to poorer countries.

When I see tweets about “these sad times” I feel frustrated. Yes, these are tough times, but things have been horrific for a long time now for the majority of the world – for poorer people and for brown people. But the mainstream media, history books, and movies, teach us to see the world through the eyes of the white first world. That’s where the heroes come from, where news matters.

It has never been considered urgent to update the world on the daily deaths from starvation (24,600) or on the numbers of people working in forced labor or marriage (40.3 million). Awareness of the savage impact of the US’s war on Afghanistan is low. In 2018, there were an estimated 228 million cases of malaria, globally, and 405,000 deaths from it – mostly children. But the people dying are the poorest of the poor, in African countries and in India. Malaria, starvation, exploitation, femicides, slum cities and more are crises that the world won’t stop for.

The so-called “third” world is the dispensable world. The year 2008 was a “financial crisis,” but the ongoing global inequality that leaves over half the world living in undignified conditions is not a crisis, it is acceptable.

Meanwhile, the economic and social consequences of the pandemic contingency measures will be much more severe in poorer countries and poorer communities. Already, some 2,500 people are murdered each month in Mexico, and violent crime is only likely to increase as more and more people lose their incomes. Sexual assault rates are also likely increasing.

Add to this the huge global resource inequality which means that most poorer countries can not respond to the virus in the same way as Europe and parts of Asia, even if they want to. The Central African Republic, for example, has just three ventilators for its population of 5 million people. While the US has around 160,000 ventilators – and that isn’t enough, Mexico has just a few hundred.

The US and Europe are hogging access to medical equipment, masks, and testing materials. The New York Times reported that African and Latin American countries have been told by manufacturers that orders for testing kits won’t be filled for months, because almost everything they produce is going to the US and Europe. Prices on these goods have also skyrocketed, making it harder for poorer regions to acquire them. So far, the numbers of confirmed cases in poorer countries are lower, but analysis of those numbers should bare in mind that such countries don’t have access to the reagents used for testing and are stuck doing nothing, unable to test even health care workers.

While the #StayAtHome movement is an incredible display of human solidarity and of our ability to actually work together for the common good, it also puts the onus of the solution to the pandemic on individual people. And indeed, we are part of the solution. But governments and corporations should be held accountable for the inequalities they have perpetuated and that are decisive in who lives or dies, and how many.

In this world, where suits and window dressings and hotel lobbies are designed with the utmost care, but health and poverty prevention plans are not, it is pointless to talk about beating this virus without addressing the context it is flourishing in. Along with measures like rent freezes and guaranteeing workers’ rights, really addressing a global pandemic involves public health planning that cross borders and confronting global inequality and the climate crisis.

Posted in USA, Health, Human Rights, PoliticsComments Off on The Self-Centered Rich Country Response to Pandemics and Crises is Wrecking Poor Countries

Never Let a Good Waste Go to Crisis


Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

It has been an article of faith during recent crises that temporary measures must be taken to bring about a return to normalcy, at which point a longer view can prevail. Following 9/11, the national security state that had been waning with the end of the Cold War was revived and given new prominence. Later, the Obama administration ‘held its nose’ as it bailed out the large banks, with the result being that the institutions that caused the crisis were fully restored and the balance of power and nature of ‘the economy’ were permanently altered.

In the absence of real crises, there have been contrived emergencies like Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction and ‘foreign interference’ in U.S. elections that served more targeted purposes and constituencies. The George W. Bush administration’s WMD fraud served the neocon’s political purposes by generating the fear and loathing needed to launch an elective war. And the Democrat’s Russiagate fraud redirected political energy toward restoration of the neocon and national security state political order. The latter represents where the national Democrats are politically today.

As might have been expected, these contrived crises have made resolving real crises that much more difficult. The UN environmental committee reports that were issued in 2018 and 2019 have fallen from the headlines, but the crises they detail haven’t been resolved. Taken together, they call for quick and far-reaching action to end dirty capitalist production and to radically reimagine how eight billion human beings can exist without destroying ourselves. By happenstance, the coronavirus pandemic demonstrated just how quickly adverse circumstances can impact human endeavors.

The ‘lesson’ from the pandemic is that life is fragile. And this fragility needs to be respected. Reorganizing the planet along narrow notions of human interests, as capitalism does, assumes knowledge that the pandemic and looming environmental crises demonstrate doesn’t exist. Ontologically speaking, the balance of what is known to what isn’t known must itself be known or acting in the world is indeterminate. Partial understanding is worse than no understanding when it motivates reckless actions.

In practical terms, agricultural self-sufficiency was long considered sacrosanct in international trade negotiations because any fool knows that whoever controls the flow of food controls the nation. In other words, there was a basis in human needs that guided the development of ‘supply chains’ before the Americans took the lead in the post-war period. It has been argued that food security facilitated the American posture that all trade is fungible. However, the inability to produce basic supplies in the current pandemic proves otherwise.

This is to make the point that the failures of the present were a long time in the making. And recognizing this has political implications right now. Lost down the memory hole is that it was the Clintonites— liberal Democrats from the PMC (professional managerial class), who have been the most ideologically committed to maintaining the capitalist order. This is to argue that the very worst that can be said about the Republicans can be true without elevating establishment Democrats. And it virtually guarantees that no matter who is elected in 2020, the political economy that will emerge from the other side will be more degraded than it was going into the pandemic.

True to crisis form, current political framing places short term measures to stabilize ‘the economy’ against its eventual restoration. Reforms, if there are to be any, are a luxury that ‘we’ can’t afford until after restoration has been completed. And once restoration has been completed, why take a risk on changes that ‘we’ can’t afford? For instance, here is Joe Biden— Barack Obama’s Vice-President during the multi-trillion dollar bailouts of Wall Street, explaining why capitalist healthcare is here to stay.

Here is a list of the New Deal programs developed to address many of the same economic problems that have been identified in the present. Were it not for the wholesale capture of the American political establishment by capitalist interests, these programs could provide a template to demonstrate how misplaced and inefficient capitalist employment is. However, at this point in history, Democrats are less likely to implement such a program than Republicans are.

The larger problem is that 2020 isn’t 1932. Resolving climate change, species extinction and depleted oceans requires fundamentally different forms of economic organization than capitalism can accommodate. This makes the guardians of the status quo, the restorationists of the neoliberal order, the real radicals of this age. What they seek to restore wasn’t working before the pandemic struck. Democrats are mirroring Donald Trump’s environmental arson by insisting that environmental programs are too expensive.

What the New Deal demonstrated is that government can be a tool for solving social problems. The obvious answer to the insistence that we can’t afford to address them is that the larger ‘we’ can’t afford not to. Solving economic problems can solve political problems by distributing economic power away from those who use it to control political outcomes. Here is economist Stephanie Kelton explaining how government funding actually works.

Bill Clinton was more effective at destroying the logic and institutions of the New Deal than Ronald Reagan. In key respects, Reagan was the Donald Trump of his age— a doddering, retrograde, old white Republican who was less formally ideological than he was a servant of his constituency. Bill Clinton’s triangulation was seen by Democrats as a tactical end run around Reaganism to win election. But Mr. Clinton and the New Democrats meant to bury the New Deal, and they did.

As political scientist Thomas Ferguson argued at the time, there was a pecuniary explanation for Bill Clinton’s miraculous conversion from JFK Democrat to Wall Street Republican. Political campaigns cost money, Wall Street has the money, ergo Wall Street became the New Democrats’ constituency. While the New Democrat’s are still viewed as a benevolent force by Democrats, Bill Clinton’s Wall Street friendly state-corporatism has been causally related to every crisis that followed.

Joe Biden came to be the Democrats’ presidential choice in 2020 through the political groundwork laid with Russiagate. Russiagate was a politically motivated fraud from charges of collusion to assertions of Russian state interference in U.S. elections. Democrats needed cover for their service to capital in the wake of their 2016 loss to Donald Trump. It was through restoking ancient (Cold War) fears that they have been able to place ‘defeating Trump’ ahead of policy priorities.

Not long after Mr. Trump entered office, actor Morgan Freeman made a widely distributed video at the behest of a veritable who’s who of national security state officials claiming that the United States was under attack from Russia. While a few rank-and-file Democrats appear to know that the central charges of Russiagate fell apart upon examination, fewer still appear to understand the broader political implications of their leadership’s exercise in agitprop.

Given how, and by whom, the Russiagate charges were made, a number of red flags should have been raised that weren’t. The first is that national security state officials have no legitimate role meddling in electoral politics. In theory, they serve elected officials— they don’t participate in choosing them. Second, why would they align with the Clintonite wing of the Democratic Party in any case? And third, what was the political logic behind making Morgan Freeman their public face?

For those of us from before the time of iGadgets, Mr. Freeman’s clumsy effort at Cold War fearmongering was / is amateur hour. The genre was standard fair in American high schools in the 1970s when teachers were too hung over or disinterested to ‘teach.’ However, it worked as intended amongst the professional managerial class who have their psychologies and class interests tied to maintaining the status quo.

As irony and the broad distribution of agitprop under the guise of news have it, the distance between working class Democrats in South Carolina and the executive offices of The New Yorker, NPR and the New York Times runs from service to, to deference to, power. It is hardly incidental that the establishment press 1) was all-in on Russiagate and 2) no one lost their job when it all fell apart.

This isn’t to overstate the case. The Democrat’s base in the South was built before Russiagate was conceived. What Russiagate accomplished was to tie official power— the same power used to launch gratuitous wars, militarize the police and build the carceral state, to popular understanding of the Democrats as a moderating force. This ultimately worked to draw Southern Democrats to the known quantity of Joe Biden, despite his three plus decades of working against their interests.

The added benefit of the red-menace storyline is the image of red hoards storming the New York Stock Exchange demanding Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. By associating expenditures in the public interest with a pinkish demeanor, the fact that capitalist versions of these programs are unworkable frauds that cost twice as much and don’t work is hidden. As with capitalist healthcare, the point is to appeal to prejudice, not to rebut these programs on their merits.

Theories are emerging that the pandemic will make people nostalgic for normalcy instead of radicalized. But normalcy isn’t on the menu. Environmental crises will soon be as insistent as the pandemic if they aren’t addressed. Infrastructure spending and building high-speed rail— the Democrat’s perpetual fallback plan, won’t create many jobs and will be as environmentally destructive as Donald Trump’s deregulation. ‘Green capitalism’ is farcical, as intended.

The political path forward is, as always, to pick up the pieces as power and internal contradictions lay waste to the established order. The American fantasy of attack from without or within— against which dominant institutions were conceived and built, was always the wrong target. A tiny virus demonstrated how capitalist efficiency creates engineered helplessness. Environmental problems are about to make the same point in ways that won’t be nearly so easy to manage.

The problem with Joe Biden is the same as with Donald Trump. The collective we who depend on functioning societies in a livable world don’t have four or eight more years to waste on neocon wars and capitalist economic dysfunction. Having either person as president has different meaning now than it would have four or eight years ago. The pandemic has demonstrated our fragility. If the choice looks like more than end-of-empire rot to you, vote your conscience. I just don’t see it.

Posted in USAComments Off on Never Let a Good Waste Go to Crisis

Sanders and Palestine: a Post Mortem


Photograph Source: shimriz – CC BY 2.0

Let me start with a story about the Democratic primary.  Now, I’m no operative, so this story has nothing to do with voting choices or electability.  It’s about how Palestine disappears in US electoral discourses, even when people who identify as Palestinian purport to make it visible.

Sometime ago, I was added to an online group of Palestinian Americans organizing for Bernie Sanders’ campaign.  The specific identity of the group is immaterial.  Many such groups existed and as far as I can see the outcome of their work fit a standard template:  we’re Palestinian (and thus purport to speak for all Palestinians from within the United States); Bernie’s not perfect (but he really is kinda perfect); Bernie’s by far the best on Palestine (trust us); this isn’t merely about Palestine (Palestine is merely the pretext); we’ll be sure to hold him accountable (even though we just finished giving him unqualified support).  I don’t want to put Palestinians on the spot; all statements supporting presidential candidates look more or less the same.  Let’s call it a limitation of the genre and leave it at that.

So, members of this group were working on a statement explaining why Palestinians should support Sanders.  Somebody put up a shared document with various points exaggerating Sanders’ record as an advocate for Palestinian rights and some fantasizing about Palestine’s future under a Sanders presidency.  Again, pretty typical stuff, which is to say a whole lot of bullshit.

In the margin of the document, a user asked, “Is Sanders a Zionist?,” to which another person replied, “Yes he is.”  No discussion ensued.  The question and answer hung in silence until the document went public, at which point any consideration of Sanders’ Zionism had been scrubbed.

I’m less interested in the question of Sanders’ Zionism than I am in the reasons for scrubbing Zionism from the conversation about Sanders.  Sanders doesn’t call himself a Zionist, and the label can flatten a pretty wide range of thought, but if we examine Sanders’ positions against what the Palestine solidarity movement understands to be Zionism, then Sanders unambiguously fits the description.  He constantly affirms Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.  He opposes right of return.  He treats Netanyahu as the aberration from a humanistic norm.  Yeah, he’s a Zionist.  This fact wasn’t lost on his Palestinian American champions.  It just didn’t seem to bother them very much.

But let’s leave the question of Sanders’ Zionism to the side, for it has proved effective at putting colleagues at loggerheads.  Whatever Sanders or any other politician thinks about Palestine should have no influence on how Palestinians think about Palestine.  In fact, according to the mythography of electoralism, it’s the community’s duty to educate the politician.  In order to accomplish that goal, the community needs to convey principles it considers nonnegotiable.  For Palestinians, those principles would include right of return and full equality in all of historic Palestine.

That’s not what happened in the various statements of support.  Instead, their authors instrumentalized Palestine as an abstract commitment—an idea mobilized through performances of ethnic verisimilitude—in order to boost a campaign extraneous to the actual work of decolonization.  Rather than pressuring the politician, they made demands of the audience and assured people opposed to Zionism that voting for someone pledging to uphold Israel’s “Jewish character” wasn’t a pragmatic concession, but an act of virtue, a feat of devotion to Palestine.

What does it mean that groups visibly and proudly identifying as Palestinian felt it necessary to scrub Zionism in order to boost a politician jockeying to supervise US Empire?  By what moral calculus did those groups take vital demands off the table?  Did they have the consent of refugees for whom right of return is sacrosanct?  Of the Palestinian working class in the United States?  Or was it an exercise in unilateral leadership by the diasporic professional class?

I know what the response is:  we didn’t mythologize anyone; we regularly pointed out his weaknesses.  Well, not really.  (I didn’t see you pointing out that Sanders is a Zionist, for example.)  Exerting tremendous energy to conceptualize Sanders as a benevolent uncle figure and then occasionally saying “he needs more work on this issue” or “we need to keep pushing him” was a cardinal feature of mythologization, as was running interference with points of view more palatable to the mainstream when fellow anti-Zionists dissented from the consensus.  Saying “he’s the best on Palestine even though he’s not perfect” was the rankest kind of mythmaking.  It confused “being better than a terrible field” with “being good.”

I saw in these statements a yearning to matter, a desire to at long last be taken seriously after decades of abuse and disregard.  It’s a normal response to subordination, to the pain of continuous betrayal, but no amount of high-minded talk about an electoral revolution will compel sites of power to care about Palestinian Americans.  They shouldn’t be our audience, anyway.  Palestinians are admired by people around the world who value justice and resilience and dignity.  Let’s not forgot our place, which isn’t among consultants and technocrats, but with the ignominious, the surplus, the unbeloved.

During the primary, and during the 2016 election cycle, whenever I expressed skepticism about deploying Palestine in service of a presidential campaign, other Palestinian Americans quickly intervened:  “Well, I mean Steve’s making an, ahem, important point, but, here, let me butt in and do it, you know, more responsibly.”  I found it to be a pathetic move.  The idea was to keep radicalism in check, or to snuff it out.  Decolonization, however, is inherently radical in the metropole.  The interventions were thus a form of ostracism:  we don’t want disreputable elements of our community running a bus over this good foot we’re trying to put forward.  The limits of US electoralism came to define the parameters of Palestinian liberation.

Electioneering requires compromise, but compromise isn’t a neutral practice.  The people are made to sacrifice for the affluent.  That’s how compromise works under capitalism.  Every time, every single time, it’s some aspect of Palestinian freedom that must be compromised.  Never the candidate’s position.  Never the system’s inherent conservatism.  Never the ongoing march of settler colonization.  We’re volunteering to be captured by the settler’s notion of common sense.

And what would have happened if your guy won?  You already gave up right of return.  A one-state solution.  Anti-imperialism. Nobody was talking about general strikes until the pandemic. And nobody ever talks about armed struggle.  How did you plan to get these things back on the table after having surrendered them to a person whose first, second, and third priority is appeasing power?  You gave up something Palestinians have struggled and died for over the course of decades, and for what?  Just to make the apocryphal and frankly useless point that this politician is a more tolerable Zionist than the other ones?

And when your guy loses?  This is the question of the moment, isn’t it?  You gave up all that leverage for nothing (except for individual benefits).  What happens next?  God knows I can’t answer that question.  I’m not saying don’t participate, don’t vote, don’t be interested in a candidate.  That’s not the point.  I dislike coercive forms of persuasion.   I’m simply trying to convince you not to give up the idea of freedom as it’s articulated by the downtrodden.  Not for any reason.  Certainly not for a goddamn politician.

There’s a question you ought to ask as necessary (which is to say constantly):  what happens to Palestine?  When we humor a system calibrated to exclude us, when we pretend that liberation is possible on the margins of a hostile polity, when we imagine liberal Zionism as a prelude to freedom, then what happens to Palestine?

Raising this kind of skepticism is a good way to get branded a hater.  (Treating the recalcitrant as irrational is a central feature of electoral discipline.)  I hate this sensibility precisely because I’m not a hater, because I recognize that defiance is a priceless asset in conditions of loss and dispossession.  Let’s please abandon this smug idea that skepticism ruins the party for sensible people.  It’s an ugly form of internal colonization.  Recalcitrance can be a deep, abiding act of love, in this case a devotion to life realized in the form of a simple question:  what happens to Palestine?

The system you deign to reform ranks nothing above ruling class accumulation—the system, in other words, is designed to betray, and performs its mandate with brutal efficiency.  And so the answer to that timeless question never changes:  Palestine goes away.  Any group that doesn’t facilitate a flow of capital into the imperial core is fit for disappearance.  Our mandate, in turn, isn’t to seek the approval of our oppressor, but to earn his contempt.

Instrumentalizing the persecuted is a critical feature of electoralism.  Promoting a Zionist presidential candidate and remaining faithful to the core tenets of anti-Zionism?  Forget it.  It’s not happening.  It can’t happen.  Electoralism is salted against insurgency.  It’s not a space for ideas, for creativity, for the simple decency of not asking the least powerful among us to defer their freedom; it’s hostile to anything that impedes the reproduction of orthodoxy.  Liberation has always required tremendous imagination.  That’s not on offer when the talking points are being written by David Sirota.

You have no cause to be angry with Sanders.  Not now.  He hasn’t broken a single pledge.  He never hid his intentions.  There was plenty of reason for concern when he kept repeating liberal Zionist platitudes.  It was you, not Sanders, who folded Palestine into a campaign that always promised to maintain the status quo.  The outcome was easy to predict because it has many decades of precedent.  Palestinians, victim of a million betrayals, should know this better than anyone.  We also know that struggle has no easy trajectory.  Mass movements predicated on voting make for attractive sources of relief.  Then they go up in smoke and you’re left to find the next shiny figure to exploit, the next fount of excitement and pageantry and social capital.  This isn’t a serious politics.  It’s terminal naivete, or industrial self-promotion.

And now what?  You disposed of the most radical members of our community, systematically excluding so many brethren from the life-sustaining pleasure of shared resistance, in order to assuage a bunch of faceless assholes waiting for the first opportunity to dispose of you, all that love sacrificed for no reward beyond some retweets and an evanescent sense of importance, your moment of being accepted by the polity now replaced by angry regret for having again succumbed to the gravitational pull of authority, of the state and its functionaries, of the very institutions that maintain our dispossession.  But our nation, Palestine, is neither temporary nor ephemeral.  Our politics should match the condition.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZIComments Off on Sanders and Palestine: a Post Mortem

Coronavirus stats are air-brushing the elderly

Thousands of Covid-19 infections and deaths in Britain’s care homes have simply not been tracked or counted.

Proletarian writers

It is becoming clearer every day that, despite the lockdown, the government’s ‘herd immunity’ strategy is being allowed to play out in Britain’s care homes, many of which are now awash with the coronavirus.

Just a day after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced that a total of 217 elderly people living in care homes in England and Wales had died from Covid-19 in the period up to 3 April, the CEO of industry group Care England, Professor Martin Green, claimed that in fact the real figure is in excess of 1,400.

And then on 13 April the chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, revealed that 13.5 percent of all care homes in the UK had at least one resident with a confirmed case of the disease, up from 9 percent the previous week, and a total of 92 care homes had reported cases of infection in one 24-hour period.

The massive underreporting of Covid-19 related care home deaths appears to have for its immediate cause the following:

(a) the failure of the management of the rack-renting, privately run care home industry to give adequate training to its underpaid and overworked staff in such an important and sensitive area as the accurate recording of the cause of someone’s death; and

(b) the failure until April of the industry watchdog, the laughably-named Care Quality Commission (CQC), to even bother to ask care homes to clarify which deaths were caused by the virus.

According to the Guardian: “Care home inspectors only started asking if residents were dying from Covid-19 last Thursday [9 April], two and half weeks after the UK went into lockdown and a month after the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic.”

Further: “By law, care homes must promptly report deaths to the CQC, but until last week were not asked whether it was Covid-19 related. A tick-box for confirmed or suspected coronavirus was only added the day before the Easter break, by which time more than 6,000 people had died from the virus in NHS hospitals and hundreds more in care homes.” (UK care home inspectors did not ask about Covid-19 deaths until April by Robert Booth, The Guardian, 15 April 2020)

Meanwhile, as the promised increase in testing fails to materialise, news comes in from a local Somerset newspaper that care homes in the southwestern county are refusing to readmit residents after hospital stays (for whatever reason) unless they have tested negative for Covid-19. (North Somerset care homes refuse to readmit hospital patients unless they get Covid-19 test by Stephen Sumner, Somerset Live, 17 April 2020)

Peter Allen, owner of three homes in north Somerset, told a reporter: “We had a gent who stayed with us for a while who needed regular hospital visits. He was in hospital for a couple of weeks and they asked us to take him back.

“We said he needed to be tested. A few days later he tested positive, and unfortunately, he died over the weekend.

“We couldn’t take the risk of bringing him in. It was a horrendous decision to make.”

Since family visits to care homes have been stopped, the two potential sources of infection are staff members and residents returning from hospital. And given the fact that our hospitals have no ability (lacking both the staff and the equipment needed) to put in place the kind of serious protocols needed to stop a virus from spreading, any care home that is serious about protecting its residents is going to have to do the same.

Whilst the government and the care home industry can be left to pass the buck to each other over who is most responsible for the chaos, what stands starkly revealed is the unspoken (and hotly denied) reality that for capitalism in crisis, the elderly and infirm are a disposable drag on profit-taking, and as such are a worrisome nuisance that are best ignored and forgotten about.

Age UK’s Caroline Abrahams, drawing attention to the fact that the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing had allowed the virus to “run wild” in care homes, spoke the truth when she said: “The current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter.” (Coronavirus: Around half of Covid-19 deaths are in care homes, Sky News, 14 April 2020)

Posted in Health, UKComments Off on Coronavirus stats are air-brushing the elderly

Danger Clown and the Return to American Normalcy


Photograph Source: AudreyLynneShares – CC BY 2.0

Recently in an online urban studies discussion, a young white man expressed his desire for his fellow Chicagoans and Americans more generally to get over all this COVID-19 trauma and “return to normal life in my great city and country.”

I was a little surprised and disappointed he didn’t use Warren Harding’s made-up word “normalcy.”

I was curious to know what he wanted most to return to – to:

+ A nation so unequal that three absurdly rich people (Bezos, Buffett, and Gates) possessed as much net worth between them as the bottom half of the country and that the top tenth of the upper 1% has more wealth than the bottom 90%?

+ A city where numerous predominantly white North Side neighborhoods are unaffordable to anyone not in the top ten percent and where a large number of hyper-segregated South and West Side communities house tens of thousands of deeply poor Black children in census tracts of misery? (That’s Chicago)

+ A city (speaking of Chicago) whose police force was so savagely brutal towards its majority nonwhite citizens that it had to be place under a federal consent decree in order to limit its torture, maiming, terrorization and murder of Black and brown people?

+ A city and nation whose streets were full of beggars and homeless people even during an “economic boom”?

+ A nation savagely tilted to the super-rich while most Americans lived just one paycheck away from not being able to meet basic living expenses?

+ A nation in which millions with full-time jobs had to rely on food banks and other forms of charity to get by? Where millions could not afford health insurance? Where millions more with insurance could barely afford to meet their premiums and routinely avoided care for fear of incurring absurdly high medical costs?

+ A nation in which the jobs most working-age adults must secure and keep in order to obtain basic goods and services (with the money derived from wages and salaries) are contingent on their employment being considered profitable to their parasitic bosses?

+ A nation that lacks a universal basic income guarantee even as it regularly menaces employees with job- and thus income- (and often health insurance) loss?

+ A nation that makes many millions of senior citizens’ retirement savings and incomes contingent om the volatile ebbs and flows of the poorly regulated capitalist stock market?

+ An economy so dependent on constant eco-cidal and parasitic growth that it can’t take a 2-3 pause required for public health without requiring another gigantic taxpayer bailout for the obscenely wealthy Few while granting a pittance to the working-class majority?

+ An economy that can’t slow down its rate of environmental destruction without throwing tens of millions of people out of work and therefore out of income and in many cases out of health insurance (a really bad thing to lose in the middle of a pandemic)?

+ An aggregately wealthy nation (“the richest nation in the world”) whose capitalist masters refuse to join the rest of the civilized industrialized world in making health care a human right?

+ A nation that ranks highest among rich nations in the cost of its health care system and at the bottom in health outcomes?

+ A nation whose top “leaders” refused to take seriously scientific warnings of a likely new pandemic even as the growth-addicted global profits system they uphold works constantly to dig up and spread new viruses around the world?

+ A nation whose controlling financial institutions can be counted on the fingers of one hand?

+ A nation where a handful of giant corporations control more than half of print and electronic media? Where just three Internet giants – Amazon, Google, and Facebook – own the ever more ubiquitous and relentlessly data-mined and surveilled online world?

+ A nation where domestic policing has become dangerously militarized?

+ A nation that gives more than half its government’s discretionary spending to a military-industrial complex that accounts for more than a third of all global military spending?

+ A nation that led the charge towards climate catastrophe with the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world – and that that is headed by a regime dedicated to turning the planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber as fast as humanly possible?

+ A U.S.-led world that continues to blow past existential environmental tipping points – and that recently put the species at grave risk by pushing atmospheric carbon saturation to the insane level of 415 parts per million?

+ A nation that leads the world in mass incarceration and saddles 1 in 3 of its Black adult males with the crippling lifelong stigma of a felony record?

+ A nation that locks up tens of thousands of Mexican and Central Americans for seeking refuge, relief, and asylum from terrifying and wretched conditions that can be traced largely to that nation’s foreign policy?

+ A nation that slaughters tens of thousands of its own people with guns, including assault weapons?

+ A nation that has murdered millions abroad with impunity and in the names of democracy, freedom, and human rights?

+ A nation where the concentration of wealth and power is so daunting that majority progressive public opinion on numerous key issues – climate, guns, consumer safety, bankruptcy, college tuition, student debt, union organizing rights, campaign finance, financial regulation, the Pentagon budget, the distribution of wealth and much more – is essentially irrelevant when it comes to determining policy?

+ A nation so racially unequal that median household Black net worth is 7 cents on the median white household dollar?

+ A nation whose two dominant political parties function (for all the deadly partisan polarization that has helped catapult neofascists into political power here) much as Upton Sinclair described them in 1904: “two wings of the same bird of [corporate and imperial] prey”?

+ A nation whose cynical ruling class put a demented fascistic oligarch – a venal Orwellian monstrosity who can’t successfully read aloud two sentences from the U.S. Constitution – into the world’s most powerful office, the U.S. presidency?

+ A nation whose un-elected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire leave the dangerous and indecent beast Donald Trump (accurately described by Noam Chomsky as “the most dangerous criminal in human history”) in power?

My favorite online image of Donald Trump shows a split image. One side of a mock headshot (available on Google Images last year) shows the right-side of Trump’s raging visage, torn in hatred. The other side shows the left side of the face of Bozo the Clown.

Like Buzz Windrip, the fictional fascist president in Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here, Trump’s underlying fascistic essence is cloaked to some degree by his blustering buffoonery, his strange theatrical clownishness. Even more than three years into his supremely lethal, racist, sexist, eco-cidal and arch-authoritarian white-nationalist presidency, many Americans continue to laugh him off as little more than a fool and comedian.

But there’s nothing funny about the Trump presidency. It’s been as seriously awful as a national and global heart attack and anyone who still finds it funny needs a check-up from the neck-up.

Donald the Danger Clown has been doubling down on authoritarian rule under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis that he helped fan across the land. I went through a number of ways in which his far-right administration has been doing this in my last Weekend Counterpunch essay: an attack on habeas corpus; the denial of public oversight over his giant corporate COVID slush fund; an attack on union rights; an escalated purging of insufficiently loyal administration officials; the holding of regular COVID press-briefings that amount to long authoritarian harangues; an insane suspension of remaining environmental regulations, for example.

Here are some Danger Clown highlights from this week:

+ The absurd insistence that his signature be affixed to the paltry stimulus checks ($1200) he is sending out to the American people.

+ The chilling claim that “When somebody is president of the United States, your authority is total.”

+ The decision to suspend U.S. funding of the World Health Organization in the middle of a global pandemic because its leaders have been excessively critical of Him (in His opinion).

+ The holding of a Kim Jong-Un-style briefing in which Trump made the nation’s top official infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci grovel before the Dear Leader and in which the Chosen One insisted that “we [the White House] did everything right” in response to the coronavirus outbreak (when in fact Trump and his administration did most things wrong and far too late, as was exhaustively documented in last Sunday’s New York Times).

+ Threatening now to make a number of executive-branch “recess appointments” without normally required Congressional approval, in order to make his incompetent and corrupt administration yet more obedient to Orange King Covid.

+ Assembling a team of fellow rich and authoritarians numbskulls (including World Wrestling Federation chief Vince McMahon) to plan the plan the dangerously premature “re-opening of America.”

There’s more but it’s too depressing to go on and time is short in these chaotic times (I have an online class that is sucking the brains out of my head). In the meantime, here are some numbers for the America First crowd:

COVID-19 Cases/Deaths:

USA: 674,829/34,475

Spain: 182,816/19,130

Italy: 168,941/22,170

France: 165,207/17,920

Germany: 136,569/3,943

UK: 103,093/13,729

China: 82,341/3,342

God help us if Danger Clown and his backers and allies are the New Normalcy.

Posted in USAComments Off on Danger Clown and the Return to American Normalcy

Critique of the linguistic theory of Noam Chomsky

bY: Ella Rule

Discovery of the Pirahã language disproved Chomsky’s theory of an ‘innate’ grammar existing in the human brain, providing proof positive that grammar, like every other aspect of human life, has evolved over time from less to more complex forms.

Noam Chomsky, the American professor of linguistics, is well known in progressive circles for the courageous stand he took against US imperialism on the question of the Vietnam war, and which he continues to take on the question of peace in the middle east.

Because he sets a fine example of courage and principle on these issues, it might be thought that he was also progressive as regards his philosophic thought. This, unfortunately, is not at all the case. Even on other political issues, such as, for example, his analysis of the Spanish civil war, which takes the same anti-working class, anticommunist, line as the MI5 informer George Orwell, his understanding is unreliable.

And when we look at his philosophical views, we can see why he is prone to make political mistakes, notwithstanding the finer points of his character.

For Chomsky’s philosophical views are influenced by assumptions taken from the positivist, empirio-criticist stable, thoroughly criticised and denounced by Lenin in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, a book Lenin felt constrained to write because he found that comrades who could not properly distinguish between positivism and materialism, besides getting hopelessly muddled, were in danger of losing their way and ending up in the enemy camp, siding with the reactionary classes rather than the revolutionary proletariat. (1908)

Before embarking on explaining just how Chomsky’s philosophical views are wrong, and demonstrating their relationship to positivism, let us briefly recap the essence of materialist philosophy, to which positivism is opposed.


According to materialism, which Marxism embraces, all our ideas have but one source – the material world. If there were no material world, we would have no ideas.

If, on the other hand, humans were not around with their ideas, this would not affect the existence of the material world one jot. This is what is meant when materialists say that matter is primary and ideas are secondary.

In this, materialism is opposed by idealism, which considers that, on the contrary, what we think of as the natural, material world is but a creation of our own ideas. Standing ‘between’ materialism and idealism (or rather wavering between materialism and idealism and not knowing which to accept) are various philosophers who have tried to ‘reconcile’ these two opposite conceptions by suggesting that knowledge (truth) is made up partly of ideas and partly of the material world – that it is a fusion of both.

Lenin’s above-mentioned pamphlet shows that these would-be compromisers, who think they have bridged the unbridgeable gap between materialism and idealism, end up logically 100 percent in the idealist camp, since they are forced to concede that until humanity came on the scene, the world could not have existed, because humanity was not there to contribute its ideas to that part of ‘reality’ which necessitated, according to their theories, the human touch.

Idealists object to materialism by pointing out that people are well able to have ideas that have no equivalent in nature. For instance, we can imagine a purple sun, although we have never seen any such thing. We also have ideas we believe to be correct, but in fact turn out to be wrong – which obviously do not reflect the material world.

If ideas were merely a faithful reproduction in the human mind of what is happening in the material world, then everybody’s ideas would be the same, and none of them would ever be wrong.

But materialists would never claim that people’s ideas represent at any given time a fully accurate, fully detailed model of the material world that has given rise to them. They claim that the human organism strives (automatically and unconsciously) to reproduce within the brain models (which it does by the million) of the phenomena it encounters in the material world.

These models are our ‘ideas’, our ‘conceptions’ of the world. They are quite like computer programs, except that they are self-loading. For instance, when I find myself wanting to tie my shoelaces, my shoelace-tying model automatically makes itself available, enabling me to tie my laces without even consciously thinking about it, and then makes way for other programs as soon as the job is over.

If I have not used a program for a long time – for instance, my how-to-drive-a-car-with-an-automatic-gearbox program – it may be harder to retrieve, and may not click automatically, leaving me sitting at the driver’s wheel wondering what to do next. But gradually, as I touch the controls, or with a few words of reminder from somebody, it ‘all comes back’.

In putting together these models, there is plenty of scope for error. In the first place, the information we obtain about the phenomenon we are unconsciously building a model of may be very scanty, because of the limitations of our data-input system – ie, our five senses. We put together the model as best we can from the limited data available to us, filling the gaps (still unconsciously and automatically) from what we know about other things.

For instance, if I encounter a new species of animal that I have never heard of before and see this animal standing in front of me, not knowing what it is, in the mental model I automatically construct of it, the animal’s blood will be red – not because I have seen its blood but because the blood of similar animals is red.

A model may also be deficient because, although I have perceived a particular characteristic of a phenomenon through my sense data, I have not incorporated it in my model because it did not strike me as important. The building brick was there, but it was discarded.

And finally a model may be fantastic, in the sense that it is put together from bits and pieces of other models but has no counterpart in the material world. When we imagine a purple sun, which we have never actually seen, we are making use of our working memory to pick out characteristics of things that exist in nature and fitting them together in different combinations.

It is a process rather like cutting up pictures of different animals and then reassembling pictures that have different heads on all the bodies than those that belong to them. To be able to imagine a purple sun, however, we do have to have obtained from the material world the idea of purple and the idea of sun. Otherwise, we could not conjure up the idea of a purple sun.

Since it is not an idea that is of any particular use to us, it will be nothing more than a passing fancy, forgotten almost as soon as it is conjured up.

Still, humans’ ability to contemplate combinations of data other than those presented to them in nature is the basis for human beings being able to intervene physically in the material world to cause these new imaginary combinations to come about in reality – if they believe there may be some advantage to be gained from doing so.

For instance, a group of people seeking shelter could be presented with a forest full of trees. They can imagine if the trees were arranged differently, they would provide shelter. They can then intervene to change the arrangement of the trees to accord with the imagined possibility – cut them down and bunch them together, laying them horizontally instead of vertically, to provide the necessary shelter.

Characteristics of the mind

From the scanty data we have about the way the human mind works, what kind of model of the mind are we able to piece together – assuming that we are consistently materialist and do not wish to ascribe to any theory that attributes ideas to divine intervention?

Some of the important characteristics of a working model of the human mind would be as follows:

1. The ability to recognise patterns of sense stimulation arising from a human being’s contact with nature. For instance, I recognise places and people I know because they ‘match’ the mental models I have built up through regular contact.

2. The ability automatically to incorporate data from other mental models into new mental models that are being constructed, if those data appear to be useful in getting the model to work.

3. The ability consciously to incorporate into mental models both old and new information gained from other people who can help me build better models:

(i) by drawing my attention to typical errors I should avoid (that other people have discovered by experimentation when they made the same erroneous assumptions I had been making – eg, an assumption that light things fall more slowly than heavy things); (ii) by drawing my attention to significant items that I would have been inclined to overlook; (iii) by providing me with information about what other people have been able to prove exists but is beyond the scope of my sense perceptions (eg, infra-red or ultra-violet).

4. The best mental models are multidimensional, built up as a result of the person in question actively interacting with the material world, which gradually whittles away errors and misconceptions. Hence a person who has little understanding of a particular process will gain understanding if he involves himself in it.

This is why it is often useful to get into a problem armed only with formulas or routine procedures that one does not fully understand. As one is involved, nature gradually shapes our mind so that it acquires a reasonably accurate mental model of the process we are involved in and we thus learn to understand it better.*

5. The models in use discard unnecessary detail. My arithmetical model, which tells me that 5+5=10, may be based on five fingers plus five fingers being equal to ten fingers, and five wooden blocks plus five wooden blocks also being equal to ten wooden blocks, and five steps plus five steps also being equal to 10 steps. But since 5+5=10 every time, there is no need to incorporate in my arithmetical model the steps, the fingers, the blocks or anything else.

6. This process of pattern recognition is quite automatic (although it can be made even more efficient by conscious procedures). Chomsky cites the example of a slave boy whom Socrates discovered ‘knew’ principles of geometry: he knew what a triangle was and some of its characteristics; he knew about straight lines, squares, circles and some of their characteristics, despite never having been to school. Plato thought this fact ‘proved’ the transmigration of souls (the slave boy must have received his education in an earlier life), and Chomsky thinks it ‘proves’ that some knowledge is genetically acquired.

What both fail to appreciate is that although the slave boy has not been to school to receive support for the conscious improvement of his mental models, nature has been forming models in his mind since he was born.

The concept of a triangle is in his mind because in his life he is constantly encountering triangles and his mind has picked out the pattern ‘triangle’ from a million different concrete manifestations in nature of triangles. Besides seeing triangles, he will have handled triangular objects, and thus learnt a great deal about triangles, unbeknownst to himself, to Plato or to Chomsky.

An example of the sheer power of human beings’ pattern recognition faculties is provided by language acquisition.

Language is primarily an association of different sounds with the different phenomena of the material world. The human larynx is physically able to produce an infinite range of different sounds, which is what renders language possible.

But the material world is not just made up of concrete objects. The objects have distinguishing features even among objects of the same kind. Furthermore, everything in the universe is in a state of perpetual motion, with everything reacting and responding to everything around it.

Hence human languages over the millennia developed words to stand in not only for concrete things, but also for their characteristics and for their actions, and the characteristics of those actions. Concrete things are represented by nouns (cat, tree, sky, universe), distinguishing characteristics of concrete things by adjectives (green, smelly, extraordinary), action words by verbs (run, speak, sit, sleep) and distinguishing features of actions by adverbs (quietly, fast, roughly).

Since everything in nature exists in time and space, there have also developed words to express the location of things and activities in time and space and in relation to one other. All developed languages have these features, because all languages have as their purpose to enable one human being to communicate to another the ideas in his mind, which in turn are all models (more or less accurate, as we have seen) of the material world.

Humanity has developed languages over the millennia on the principle that when humanity perceives that some thing, process or relationship exists in the material world, it devises a word for it in order to be able to communicate about that thing, process or relationship, as the case may be.

Modern philosophers of language are prone to suggest that things can only exist if we have a word to describe them. Once our language fails us there is nothing we can say.

Yet somehow we do manage to find the words, or adapt existing words, to include the new phenomenon we need to describe: eg, the computer ‘mouse’. New words flood the market.

The development and use of language involves, as has been said, the use of humanity’s subconscious recognition of repeated patterns and an ability to extract those patterns for generalised use.

For instance, the existence and use of the word ‘house’ covers a huge range of concrete manifestations of house. All language involves a subconscious process of abstraction of this kind.

In addition, all languages have grammatical patterns applying different patterns of construction to nouns, adjectives, verbs and other parts of speech. And it is here where some of the most striking features of human pattern recognition ability can be demonstrated.

For without anybody teaching a child the rules of grammar, the child is able to apply them automatically without even realising that she is doing so. It becomes apparent that a child is applying these grammatical rules which she has subconsciously identified and incorporated in a mental model of her native language when she makes mistakes such as: “When I went to Granny’s I seed her friend.”

So efficient is the child’s pattern recognition ability that in learning language she only needs conscious instruction on specific items that do not fit the usual patterns.

Incidentally, it was apparently experimentally established many years ago that a baby only a few days old is able to distinguish his mother’s language from other languages. This can only go to show that the processing of sound patterns begins while the child is still in the womb and is astonishingly efficient.

It has, incidentally, also been shown that babies only a few days old whose mothers watch the television regularly are able to recognise TV advertising jingles. One assumes that this must be a manifestation of the same pattern recognition ability, rather than any genes bearing Pepsodent advertisements.

Chomsky’s theory of ‘universal grammar’

And so to Chomsky and his theory of universal grammar.

Noam Chomsky asserts that language structure (nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc) must be innate, that is, that it must be genetically encoded.

His main argument in favour of this hypothesis is that when you dissect the brain you find that those areas where language processing activities are carried out are in man more complex and developed than is the case in the corresponding areas in the brains of animals. He concludes that this must mean that those areas of the brain contain an innate grammatical structure.

This conclusion does not at all follow, however, from the anatomical observations (the accuracy of which we would not question). These observations are every bit as consistent with the fact that human beings have a huge capacity to associate sounds with the millions of phenomena of the material world, using a different sound for lots of different things.

The English language contains about 20,000 words, all of which have several different meanings, dependent on context. These words have patterns of use reflecting phenomena of nature. To store all that information does require a well-developed area of the mind.

Chomsky would admit that in a dog the parts of the brain where the sense of smell is located are more developed than they are in humans. Because of this, a dog can smell a huge range of things that a human being cannot.

The dog gives evidence of this ability in practice by being able to find things by following scent in a way that no human being could. This does not mean that the source of the smell is in the dog’s brain; that the dog’s brain has some innate grammar of smells enabling it to categorise minute quantities of molecules passing up its nostrils.

All it means is to say it has more receptive sensors to smell than humans have and can smell things that human beings can’t; just as humans can say things that dogs cannot, since, apart from all else, barks, whines and yelps do not lend themselves to very sophisticated communication, although they do produce a limited language, which can and is used to enable the dog to communicate to a very limited extent.

Relationship of Chomsky’s theory to positivism

It is obvious from what has been said that Chomsky belongs to that school of thought which will not accept that the source of all our ideas is the material world. He seeks to promote the theory that some of our ideas are inborn, in the form of language structures in the mind.

This is all in the positivist tradition, although it has to be said there is no precise definition of positivism. Almost every person whom a Marxist would consider to be following an essentially positivist approach would vehemently deny being a positivist – mainly because of differences of detail with other positivist philosophers.

In fact, many of them would claim to have spent their whole lives proving the falsity of positivism! From a materialist point of view, however, they have merely spent their whole lives trying to rescue positivism from the absurdities into which it drives those who embrace it.

The essence of positivism is that it denies that the material world is the sole source of knowledge and claims that the human mind contributes Something to the equation. The differences between positivists centre round what that Something is.

The problem positivists especially sought to solve was that of scientific truth. How can one distinguish between what is true and what is false?

A materialist answers this question by reference to the material world. Does your idea work when you put it into practice? If it does it must be true (up to a point at least): your model of reality is serviceable. If the idea does not work when you put it into practice, there must be something wrong with it.

It may be a question of detail, or the model may be totally misconceived. But there is an error somewhere. Practice (ie, the material world) is the sole criterion of truth, since it is the only source of knowledge.

But if you are a positivist, you do not accept this. You are at best agnostic (undecided) about whether your senses convey to you information about the way the material world really is.

Yet you can hardly deny that all humanity has concepts of true and false, and that these concepts are absolutely central to the work of scientists. Scientists’ whole existence is devoted to the pursuit of truth. (It is a pity that philosophers do not all follow their example!) But if the criterion of truth is not practice, material reality, then how do you distinguish truth from falsehood?

The positivists’ answers to this question are many and varied. The philosophers most associated with positivism today, the logical positivists (Ayer, Russell, the Vienna circle) say that a statement is true if logically consistent, the assumption being that logic is some kind of genetically-inbuilt litmus test, rather than a set of patterns actually occurring very regularly in the material world, obscured by a mass of detail, but detected by philosophical geniuses, especially Aristotle.

Once Aristotle had abstracted the principles of logic from the mass of detail in which they concretely manifest themselves, he provided humanity with a powerful tool for understanding the material world, and all kinds of happenings which had previously been mysterious become ‘only logical’, and therefore predictable.

However, logic can only be a useful tool for predicting outcomes to the extent that it is based on premises (assumptions) that correctly reflect material reality.

Indirectly, under the guise of ‘logic’ (because ‘logic’ is derived from matter), the positivists were to some extent capable of conducting a struggle against theologians trying to defend a divine order that was in fact merely a reflection of the ‘logic’ of feudal relationships.

But as humanity advances the scope of its investigations from the terrestrial sphere into outer space (where the ‘logic’ of Newtonian mathematics no longer prevails), and as it is faced with the pressing necessity of terminating the exploitation of man by man, which has lain at the basis of society for thousands of years shaping people’s ideas of what was ‘logical’, the old ‘logic’ is time after time shown no longer to be universally valid, leaving logical positivism rather obviously high and dry.

And leaving the philosophers who still stubbornly refuse to accept materialism dashing around everywhere trying to find a substitute for logic as their criterion of truth.

One strain of bourgeois philosophy has decided that there is no such thing as truth, it is just something we are linguistically programmed to talk about and therefore believe in.

With the downfall of ‘logic’ as the criterion of truth (a downfall brought about by the material world itself refusing to behave as insufficient human ideology believes it should), many bourgeois philosophers have turned to ‘language’ to play the role in an essentially positivist approach that previously was played by ‘logic’.

Hence Chomsky’s thesis that language is to some extent genetically programmed, and the frantic attempts by philosophers to discover exactly to what extent language is programmed in our minds, which now take the place of the frantic endeavours of early 20th century philosophers to find out exactly what logical rules were genetically programmed in our minds, and even to what extent those genetic programs can be relied upon!

To the extent that all ideas ultimately reflect matter, the fact that positivist philosophy is seeking in its way to explain the world – even though it is denying that this is something that can be done – does produce valuable observations.

By focussing on language and linguistics, even if for the wrong reasons, important discoveries have been made and lessons learnt on these subjects. But we should not be tempted, as a result, to imagine that we have to accept the positivists’ basic premise that we can know only our own ideas and not the world itself.

If we do not accept material reality as the ultimate arbiter of the correctness of our ideas, we have no yardstick by which to judge the validity of our ideas and no means to correct mistakes, leaving us helplessly entangled in those mistakes.


Surprising evidence recently emerged that completely discredits the theory of universal grammar, although this has not been as widely publicised as it deserves.

A tribe, the Pirahã was discovered in Brazil, living deep in the jungle, completely cut off from other human beings, knowing neither herding of animals nor agriculture, and which had not therefore advanced to class society or civilisation.

Their language is truly prehistoric and was found not to follow the alleged rules of ‘inborn’ grammatical structures identified by Chomsky at all. It has, for example, no past or future tenses, does not distinguish male and female, has no number system, etc, etc.

This language reflects a society that has not yet developed a need to express these concepts in practice and whose language has, therefore, not evolved to enable people to do so.

The missionary who learned the Pirahã’s language had formerly been a disciple of the Chomsky linguistic school, but was forced through his own experience to repudiate the theory. He also came to repudiate the christian missionary work he had been sent to carry out (translating the Bible into Pirahã), realising that the Pirahã would be better off without it! (Daniel Everett, Don’t Sleep. There are Snakes, 2008)


* When ideas are expressed through language [originally done for the purpose of communication], it also makes it easier to use language for adjusting those ideas. This is the process of taking an idea that has previously existed only in the subconscious [eg, the rules of grammar in a small child using its mother tongue] and forcing it into the conscious mind.

This process requires language; it can’t be done otherwise. Once in the conscious part of the mind, if the idea is a wrong one, it is easier to identify what’s wrong and adjust it, or to consider possible alternatives.

And, of course, language is susceptible to being written down – which hugely expands the possibility of being able to critique ideas with a view to adjustment. In other words, language is a fantastic tool for problem solving.

In the sense the word ‘idea’ is being used in this article, it can exist without language. If an idea is a reflection of the material world then the reflection can be picked up in the mind without the intervention of language. To say otherwise necessarily would make a huge concession to Chomsky-type positivism.

However, theories [ideas we have of which we are conscious] can only exist linguistically. [There may be an exception here in the case of problem-solving among animals, but animals’ ability to solve problems is so very poor that if there is an exception, it is but one that proves the rule].

Language reflects ideas. What is certainly true is that very early on in life, our ideas become associated with words, so that it becomes difficult for us to evoke an idea without at the same time evoking the word associated with that idea in our minds.

But we do tie shoelaces, for example, in accordance with our well-established ‘idea’ of how this process works, without consciously thinking “right over left” every time we do so. The only time we would resort to language would be if we set about the process in the usual ‘mindless’ way and much to our amazement things didn’t work out as per expectation predicated by our mental model. Then language would come into the process of working out what went wrong and how to put it right – in addition, of course, to expressing our frustration!

Posted in PoliticsComments Off on Critique of the linguistic theory of Noam Chomsky

Will the Pandemic Finish Trump or Give his Régime an Escape?


Photograph Source: Simon Bowie – CC BY 2.0

Amidst all the talk about if the global Covid-19 pandemic will lead to an opening for socialism, or at least a reduction in the grip of neoliberalism, in the wake of capitalism’s failures, a more immediate question is if there is to be a reversal of the march of the Right in electoral politics.

Elections in New Zealand and several Australian states are scheduled for later this year, as are Brazilian municipal, Venezuelan parliamentary and French senatorial elections. The results in Brazil will be of particular interest, given the disastrous administration of Jair Bolsonaro, the extreme right president who lusts for dictatorship and continues to deny the effects of the virus despite the vast numbers of people who are dying. Will Brazilians turn local elections into a referendum on their neofascist president?

To the north, the U.S. elections in November will unavoidably be a referendum on the disastrous régime of Donald Trump, who has mishandled the pandemic from the beginning. But to be counter-intuitive: Will the economic collapse triggered by the pandemic serve to save him?

Bear with me here. By any logical standard, the performance of President Trump (I still can’t believe I have to put those two words together) even before the pandemic struck should have been sufficient to ensure the biggest electoral loss in history. But if logic was operative, he wouldn’t have been elected in the first place, and his fanatical base is completely impervious to facts, reason or reality. Nonetheless, his base is too small on its own for him to be re-elected. Thus President Trump has consistently staked his presidency on the state of the economy, falsely claiming that the economy has been just wonderful.

For his billionaire buddies, the economy has been wonderful. Not so much for working people. The official low unemployment rate is not a realistic measure. Only working people who are receiving unemployment benefits are counted as “unemployed” in official statistics issued by countries around the world. Thus actual unemployment rates around the world are much higher than the “official” rates, generally about twice as high. A better measurement is the “civilian labor force participation rate” — all people age 16 or older who are not in prison or a mental institution. By this measure, the percentage of people holding jobs in the U.S. remains significantly below its May 2000 peak.

And if what jobs there are don’t pay enough to survive on, what good is that? As a meme recently making the rounds of the internet featured a store clerk saying “Sure the Trump administration has created jobs. I have three of them!”

Overdue for the next recession

The long “recovery” from the 2008 crash could not have lasted much longer. Entering 2020, the world’s capitalist economies were overdue for a recession. The question is always what the proximate cause will be. A downward slide in the U.S. economy would have wiped out the single reason the Trump gang could point to for a reason to vote for the incumbent. In normal circumstances, that would almost certainly have ensured his deserved defeat.

An economic downturn has arrived, with astonishing force. The wildcard is that the downturn’s proximate cause is the pandemic. Will this provide the Trump gang with the excuse that enables them to evade their responsibility? It is no stretch to imagine the talking points once the 2020 presidential campaign resumes: “We had nothing to do with it; it was the virus; nobody could have foreseen it.” President Trump’s base will of course lap up such nonsense and it’ll be endlessly repeated on Fox News. The rest of the corporate media isn’t likely to be a big help here; it is easy to foresee endless hand-wringing pablum asking if the downturn could have been avoided and if the administration is responsible.

In such circumstances, it is possible that the Trump gang will be able to avoid their responsibility and escape blame for an economic downturn that is likely to last for some time, particularly if a significant fraction of the vast numbers of small businesses forced to close under government orders are unable to survive. That seems likely, given that small businesses are expected to keep paying rents to landlords despite having no income and a federal small business loan program that swiftly proved inadequate. Why is it that everybody is expected to sacrifice, except landlords? And except Wall Street, of course.

If, despite the foregoing, the 2020 U.S. election turns on the economy without allowing for excuses, then the Trump gang will be finished. But if instead the state of the economy is knocked out as an issue because the Trump gang successfully portrays the economic crash as a deus ex machina for which they have no responsibility (which would require some corporate media collaboration), then the election will hinge on the ability of both corporate parties to bring out their base on election day, and the degree to which voters loathe the candidates.

The Democratic Party has few peers in its ability to blow elections as was amply demonstrated in 2016. Having done all it could to hand its nomination to its least popular candidate and thus run a Wall Street corporate centrist in an election in which voters were clamoring for a change, the Democratic Party national leadership decided to once again elevate a Wall Street corporate centrist.

The failure of the political process

Joe Biden is not as unpopular as Hillary Clinton, but nonetheless he is emblematic of a party that is incapable of learning lessons or imagining a world not under the thumb of the financial industry. One can imagine the panic that must have set in when a few financiers casually made it known publicly that they would back President Trump if Bernie Sanders were the nominee. Senator Sanders, with his formal endorsement of Vice President Biden on April 13, has formalized the end of his campaign. Attacks on Senator Sanders for being a “sheepdog” or any other such useless epithet, clarify nothing. He won’t have any ability to be an influence on a Biden administration, and retain any ability to shift the Democratic Party at least a little bit leftward, if doesn’t act as a good political soldier and work to elect Vice President Biden. That is hard political reality, however much either Sanders supporters or those to the left of the Vermont senator find it distasteful.

It’s once again a “lesser evil” vote for United Statesians. A bitter pill to swallow. Given the unprecedented danger of the Trump gang, it is perfectly understandable that millions who would have preferred a better choice will vote for the Democratic nominee. If popular opinion puts all due blame for the horrific death toll from the virus on the Trump régime, the Orange Tantrum-Thrower will lose, but that is nothing to count on given that the wanna-be fascist dictator has gone all his life avoiding responsibility for his actions. As already speculated above, it is conceivable that the pandemic will provide an escape card from responsibility. How much will the corporate media enable that escape and how willing will voters be to swallow it?

All the above is short-term politics. (I am assuming the November vote will be held as usual; the voting schedule is specified in the constitution.) The larger question emanates from the spectacular inability of capitalism, and especially of institutions hollowed out by neoliberalism, to cope with the Covid-19 crisis. The failure of neoliberal ideology is clearly seen by large numbers of people as never before, and, to a lesser extent, the failure of capitalism itself, not simply its most recent permutation. But observation and organized action in response are not the same.

Neoliberalism was already breaking down and seen as an ideology needing to be sent to the dustbin of history by ever larger numbers of people. Should neoliberalism be replaced by a somewhat reformed brand of capitalism, a reform that would prove short-lived, or should we properly target the real problem — capitalism itself. Reform the unreformable, or a better world based on human need and environmental stability rather than a mad scramble for private profits and ever widening inequality?

That is a question beyond any election and a question to be answered by all the world’s peoples.

Posted in USA, Health, PoliticsComments Off on Will the Pandemic Finish Trump or Give his Régime an Escape?

Burying bad news: corona-filled papers ignore Britain’s Yemen invasion

Unreported in British media, British troops have landed in Aden. All that awaits them is the graveyard of imperialist ambitions.

Proletarian writers

Another air strike in Sanaa on 30 March 2020. Officially by the Saudis, but many have been British bombs, dropped by British planes that are flown by British-trained pilots and maintained in Saudi Arabia by thousands of British contractors.

Five years into Riyadh’s imperialist-sponsored war against the Yemeni people, a war conducted with the maximum savagery and cowardice, the corrupt feudal sheikhdom of Saudi Arabia is further than ever from achieving any of its goals – or any of the war aims of its imperialist sponsors in the USA and Britain.

The much-loathed and deservedly ousted former president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, continues to cool his heels in Riyadh, waiting in vain for his hosts to succeed in bludgeoning his fellow countrymen into having him back.

Meanwhile, the national resistance forces continue to hold their own, whilst the Saudi alliance is increasingly weak and divided – its mercenary forces being consistently hammered in the ground war, and only able to function at all thanks to the brutal air war conducted against the civilian population.

If the war could have been won simply by piling misery upon misery on the long-suffering Yemeni people, Hadi and his sponsors would long ago have prevailed.

It is impossible to overstate the horrors to which millions of Yemenis have been exposed through blockade, blitzkrieg, hunger and disease. The United Nations estimates that over 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of aid, 10 million of whom are suffering from extreme levels of hunger.

The Yemen Data Project calculates that the Saudi gang has carried out nearly 20,500 air raids, meaning that the spread of cholera and other diseases has been facilitated by the systematic destruction of hospitals, schools, bridges, roads and all manner of vital infrastructure, not least the specially targeted water purification plants. (Saudi-led coalition launches air raids in Yemen’s Hudaydah, PressTV, 8 March 2020)

As well as infrastructural destruction, they make a speciality of targeting weddings, funerals and refugee camps.

British imperialist war crimes

Britain’s role in this criminal enterprise has been substantial throughout. A Guardian article published last June demonstrated conclusively that British imperialism is up to its elbows in blood.

It reported: “Every day Yemen is hit by British bombs – dropped by British planes that are flown by British-trained pilots and maintained and prepared inside Saudi Arabia by thousands of British contractors.” The bombs are manufactured in Glenrothes, Stevenage and Harlow. (The Saudis couldn’t do it without us’: the UK’s true role in Yemen’s deadly war by Arron Merat, Guardian, 18 June 2019)

RAF engineers are sent to train Saudi pilots and targetters, whilst BAE Systems personnel work in the field, providing weapons, maintenance and engineers. One BAE worker told Channel 4’s Dispatches: “If we weren’t there, in seven to 14 days there wouldn’t be a jet in the sky.”

The Guardian article explained how BAE is contracted by the government to provide “in-country” services, with around 6,300 contractors “stationed at forward operating bases in Saudi Arabia. There, they train Saudi pilots and conduct essential maintenance night and day on planes worn out from flying thousands of miles across the Saudi desert to their targets in Yemen.

“They also supervise Saudi soldiers to load bombs on to planes and set their fuses for their intended targets.”

The RAF provides liaison officers to work inside the Saudi command-and-control centre, which decides who is to get targeted. Meanwhile, inside “Saudi forward operating bases, there are thousands of British contractors working to keep the war machine moving.

“British contractors coordinate the distribution of bombs and aircraft parts. They manage climate-controlled armouries and work in shifts to ensure bombs are dispatched in a timely manner for fresh raids.”

In short, in an impeccable public/private partnership, the RAF and BAE between them do everything short of pulling the trigger.

However, even that last caveat is of dubious validity. As the Guardian article also noted: “In May 2018, an unknown number of British troops were sent to Yemen to assist Saudi ground forces. Since then, multiple newspapers have published reports of British special forces wounded in gun battles inside Houthi-controlled territory.”

Three thousand British and US troops heading for Yemen?

And now, on 12 March, the Iranian news agency Press TV has reported a claim by the so-called Southern Transitional Council (STC, a breakaway separatist faction within the Saudi coalition that is sponsored by the UAE) that hundreds of US and British soldiers “have arrived in the port city of Aden as the first batch of a large military force that Washington and London seek to deploy to the Arab country’s resource-rich areas under the guise of fighting terrorism”. (US, British troops in Aden, more to arrive in Yemen strategic areas, PressTV, 12 March 2020)

According to Fadi al-Murshidi, media official of the STC, some 450 US and British soldiers had already arrived in Aden, the first batch of a planned 3,000-strong contingent which is aimed to directly occupy Aden, al-Anad base in Lahj province, Socotra Island in the Arabian Sea, Hadhramaut, Mahrah and Shabwah provinces.

In the same Press TV report, unspecified “southern local media” are said to have reported that a US force of 110 soldiers reinforced by ten Black Hawk aircraft, 30 Harvey armoured vehicles, four Patriot air defence systems and an integrated field operations room had reached the coast of Balhaf in the oil-producing Shabwa province, where are also docked two US warships.

Balhaf happens to be the main port for the export of Yemen’s liquified natural gas (LNG).

The significance of this report, so far uncorroborated by any other source seen by this writer, is not immediately clear. As is plain from the Guardian piece cited above, Saudi Arabia is already teeming with British contractors, engineers, special forces and RAF advisers. A few thousand more troops need not of itself necessarily radically alter the facts on the ground. An imperialist mercenary smells the same in or out of uniform.

However, if this development signals a qualitative shift in strategy, abandoning reliance on proxies to deliver the imperialist agenda in favour of a more blatant direct intervention by the puppet-masters themselves, then this suggests just how little confidence imperialism on either side of the pond has in the ability of Saudi Arabia and its partners-in-crime in the UAE to bring home the bacon.

The concentration of US and British forces in the oil-producing Shabwa province, complete with two US warships docked at the main LNG-exporting port, looks more like a clumsy smash-and-grab of the nation’s mineral wealth than a confident assertion of imperialist dominance – much like America’s blatant theft of Syria’s oil wealth.

In both cases, it looks more like a shoplifter stuffing his pockets whilst heading for the exit than a serious plan of settled domination.

Thieves fall out

The Southern Transitional Council (STC), from whose spokesman the Press TV story originates, is sponsored by the UAE, a key ally in the war against Yemen. The STC has previously been instrumental in the attempt to restore Hadi, which was in line with the imperialist attempt to force the Yemeni people to submit to being ruled by a Saudi stooge.

However, last year the STC turned against Hadi and seized Aden, the nominal ‘capital’ of Hadi’s shadow government, with the involvement of the UAE’s military. Faced with the prospect of a squabble amongst rival militias undermining the war effort and driving a wedge between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, a peace deal was brokered under which Saudi forces took control of most of south Yemen and UAE forces withdrew.

But the deal is not holding, tensions are escalating between Saudi-backed militias and STC fighters, and now the Saudi coalition is preventing STC leaders returning to Aden. It seems probable that the intention of sending in the imperialist soldiery is in part to shore up the Saudi-led fighters and refocus minds on the imperialist agenda.

These quarrels erupting within the ranks of the Saudi coalition, with even a danger that Saudi Arabia and the UAE could find themselves drawn into open collision, are clearly weakening and dividing the forces of oppression.

They are also making it harder for ‘allies’ to maintain a united propaganda front – as illustrated by the STC apparently letting the cat out of the bag about the influx of imperialist troops.

The struggle continues

And through it all, the forces of national liberation led by the Ansarullah movement (or ‘Houthi rebels’ as the imperialist media like to dismiss them) not only remain unbroken but have since last summer been making substantial military gains against the oppressor.

These are putting maximum pressure on Riyadh to put an end to the humanitarian disaster prolonged by its unwinnable war and come to the negotiating table. As Ansarullah leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi pointed out in a recent televised address, the US is humiliating Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to pursue its own agenda.

Al-Houthi noted: “Evaluation and studies confirm that economic losses inflicted on the Saudi regime have been huge and its ambitions have not been realised. The Saudi and UAE economies are suffering from economic crises, and continue to decline.” (US only humiliating, blackmailing Saudi Arabia, UAE: Ansarullah leader, Press TV, 26 March 2020)

Militarily, the reality is that Riyadh has never got over the massive humiliation of seeing 50 percent of its oil production shut down by drone attacks last September. Taken together with the pro-Hadi fighters’ dismal showing in the ongoing ground war, this has left the mercenaries demoralised and on the back foot.

In January, the Yemeni liberation forces recaptured key positions in the Nehm district of Sana’a province and also advanced into Serwah district, 40km west of Ma’arib city.

Then at the beginning of March it was reported that liberation forces had captured al-Hazm, capital of al-Jawf province, as Saudi-led mercenaries retreated into neighbouring Ma’arib province. The mercenaries lost at least 30 of their number over two days, including some high-ranking pro-Hadi officers.

Commenting on this development, Maged al-Madhaji, executive director of the Sana’a Center, a Yemeni think-tank, said: “Control of the capital of al-Jawf could totally change the course of the war. Houthis have made an exceptional advance and are changing the balance,” adding that the advance would enable the Ansarullah-backed forces to surround neighbouring oil-rich Ma’rib province, the most significant territory in the hands of the pro-Saudi mercenaries.

By taking al-Hazm, he suggested, “Houthi forces have cleared away the last obstacle in front of the vast, largely empty desert areas across the north of Marib. The Houthi movement, therefore, gains an easy military path to the vein of Marib’s wealth – its oil wells and a refinery – without having to capture Marib city, the governorate’s well-fortif

“The new achievement by Yemeni forces and the Houthi fighters also secures supply lines between Sana’a and the Houthi northern stronghold of Saada.” (Yemenis seize capital of strategic al-Jawf as Saudi-led mercenaries retreat, 1 March 2020)

The Saudi gang responded with the usual cowardly air strikes a week later, this time against the western province of Hudaydah. War planes raided the Salif area and targets in the Bab al-Mandeb strait.

Fierce fighting continued in Ma’arib province, and then at the end of March came news of the first strikes against targets in Saudi Arabia itself since last September. This latest bold attack mobilised a mix of home-made drones and ballistic missiles, demonstrating that Yemen is fully capable of bringing the war back home to Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia is in no fit condition to be acting as imperialist catspaw in the middle east; and if it is really the intention to send in thousands of US and British troops to do the job instead, all that awaits them is the graveyard of imperialist ambitions.

Posted in UK, YemenComments Off on Burying bad news: corona-filled papers ignore Britain’s Yemen invasion

Time to Declare an Outbreak of Peace


The Secretary General of the United Nations issued a plea to the countries of the world to declare an immediate ceasefire. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said. “Let us dedicate ourselves to the real fight, which is not with each other, but is to protect our health and the health of our planet.” Can we heed his plea, acknowledge more fully than ever our profound and indisputable interdependence, and seize this perilous moment as an opportunity for broad and deep societal change? How much more evidence do we need? Borders and boundaries do not protect us. Position and privilege may not keep us from harm. No country or village is too far away. We are all vulnerable to this virus.

Life offers each of us more than enough suffering without armed conflict. Let us require our governments to respond to the Secretary General of the UN with their national commitments to end armed conflict. We can put our trust in the tools of diplomacy and band together across nations to alleviate the anguish of wars. Seeing through the delusions of separateness so clearly helps us mobilize for the transformation to a human race at peace with itself and the planet we share. An aware and empowered populace will hasten this change.

The current reduction of human activity forced by this coronavirus enables the earth, scarred with pollution and toxins, to begin to purify and renew itself so that in the future rivers will sparkle and stars glitter. Just as the soil, water, and air around us recovers from some of its poisons when we cease our frantic consumption, perhaps we humans, especially those with the privilege of slowing down, will accept the challenge to renew and liberate ourselves as well. This juncture provides an opening to rethink our values and behaviors, to recreate societies that reflect altruism and peace. Many whose lives are comfortable are now discovering how to live with a lot less, and as we diminish our greed, we reduce one of the major causes of war.

Might we now give up on the illusion that we are rugged individuals and proclaim our interconnectedness? We all crave contact, which we currently attain in dystopian fashion on Zoom. In being present for each other, even electronically, we strengthen our common humanity and social solidarity. We find ways to nurture and weave our precious human web, to remember that our human needs are universal, and that our generosity is a gift that ripples out and reproduces itself. As we engage locally, we extend our concern to those millions of us who are vulnerable, perhaps experiencing increased economic hardship, political repression, the scourge of racism, the pain of exclusion, or health difficulties.

The climate crisis, appalling inequality, the destruction of our earthly home and its flora and fauna, are all powerful evidence that our ways of organizing society are dangerously outmoded. Social change emerges slowly and invisibly, yet the new is always fermenting within the old. Eventually the old ways fracture, and new realities will burst forth. Our minds, burdened by the fear and endless battles of our politics, can take us to negative images of increased authoritarianism, militarism, xenophobia, and injustice. Many will be pushing for that kind of social order, and we have to organize mightily against their demands, beginning now. But we do not serve ourselves or our society by focusing on our fears. Focus instead on what your awakened and discerning self can see and do. This planet-wide virus, tragic as it is, has the potential to galvanize multitudes. Once awake, there is no returning to delusions like walls, borders, hatreds, or an us-them mentality. Once conscious, we are all “us.”

We are each citizens of the community of life and everything we do matters in the universe. Our visions and actions are the building blocks of the community and the world we deeply wish for. We prepare for its arrival as we make the most of this potentially transformative moment.

Posted in USAComments Off on Time to Declare an Outbreak of Peace



How ventilators work and why they are so important in saving ...


Dr Cameron Kyle-Sidell, trained in emergency medicine and critical care, was removed from his job as a supervising physician in an ICU in a Brooklyn hospital.

What his crime?

He opened his eyes and saw that the CDC protocol – ventilators – not only doesn’t work, it may actually be killing many if not most of the serious CoVid-19 patients.

Bottom line: It’s not a pneumonia-like disease as we’ve been told. It acts more like high altitude sickness and is best treated with oxygen.

The Koreans know this. The Italians know this, but the US is actively ignoring the direct observations of the doctors who are actually treating patients.


Shoah’s pages