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Eve's Review

Maduro's Government and the Left

"Venezuela, the Present As Struggle"

Cira Pascual Marquina and Chris Gilbert

Monthly Review Press, 377 pages

 

 

 

Eve Ottenberg

Nicolas Maduro's government in Venezuela poses a unique dilemma for some on the left. They have criticisms of it, but decided against voicing them too obstreperously now, for the obvious reason that that could aid and comfort a mortal enemy – the most powerful military empire of all time, namely the United States, which appears ready to impose a ruthless, savage, fascist capitalism in its perceived backyard of Latin America. Maduro's government has failings and falls short of the high bar set by his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. But that is irrelevant. Fanatical fascists and radical right-wingers have Maduro in their sights, precisely because he, with his watered-down socialism, is the duly, legitimately elected leader of Venezuela. So leftists see Maduro making mistakes, and they bite their tongues.

 

Take privatization of state-run enterprises. Take campesino protests. Take workers' struggles to control factories. Take police murders of young men from the barrios. On those counts the Maduro government disappoints the left. It compromises. It cedes ground to the right. But it is under siege. And it's better than the only alternative on offer – a gangster opposition headed by a ridiculous pretender, Juan Guaido, crowned in absentia by regime-change maniacs in Washington.

 

Maduro does still pursue a form of socialism. And Venezuela's economic crisis is by no means all his fault. The chief cause was the collapse of the price of oil some years back. Had oil remained at $100 a barrel, as it was in Chavez's day, Venezuela could have avoided recession. But then came barbaric U.S. economic sanctions. The Trump regime's effort to kill the Venezuelan economy, to punish it for its socialism, overthrow its elected leaders, install puppets and rob it of its oil, all intensified the damage done by the oil price plunge.

 

These twin economic catastrophes clobbered average people. Sanctions alone are estimated to have killed tens of thousands of Venezuelans. The Trump regime besieged the country to steal its resources, the biggest oil reserves on the globe and to destroy its example of socialism once and for all – an assault based on creaky, criminal, hubristic, imperial reasoning that famine and destitution will cause Venezuelans to rebel against their leaders. That won't happen. People know who's making their lives miserable: the U.S. empire. And Trump's homicidal sanctions are all the more monstruous, as they come during a pandemic, compelling desperate Venezuelans to scrounge for essential medicines. Biden doesn't look likely to take a more civilized approach, but time will tell. Perhaps the new president will allow humanity to temper policy during the lethal covid plague, and lift Trump's murderous sanctions. Not likely, but one can hope.

 

Amazingly, the 35 revolutionaries interviewed by Cira Pascual Marquina and Chris Gilbert in their new book, "Venezuela, the Present As Struggle," still find cause for optimism. Some seem eager to work with Maduro's government to promote specific aspects of socialism. Those interviewed include communards, feminists, campesino leaders, internationalists, barrio organizers and intellectuals. All share the interviewers' critical perspective, expressed at the outset: dismay at Maduro's accommodations with capital, "leaving two bleak options on the table: imperialist restoration or bureaucratic stagnation…choosing between the quick versus the slow suffocation of the socialist revolution." But despite this dire choice, they don't succumb to pessimism. Their aim is to nudge the government in a more democratic, more truly socialist direction.

 

"Venezuela, the Present As Struggle" presents the commune as "the building block for socialism." The authors also argue that Chavismo corrected "Zapatismo's renunciation of state politics," but clearly they want the state responsive to the communes, which "is where the revolution really begins," and which, they hope, ultimately will abolish the state. But this is a time when Venezuela's colectivos, the book argues, are being rebranded by imperialists as terrorist organizations. Faced with this deviously calibrated reactionary slander, the supposedly socialist state sits on its hands. Or worse.

 

One commune organizer tells the interviewers that government security forces harass the communes, while the government installs "the logic of corruption, bureaucracy and clientelism…doing the work of the Right." Another activist from the Surgentes Collective, a human rights organization, describes a project of 70 farming families who distribute food to over 1200 urban families weekly. It is a great success. It demonstrates how campesino farming benefits the barrios. (It's also worth noting that campesino farming is far more environmentally sustainable than the agro-industry sort.) Other leftists stress the need for economic democracy and decry "the farce of representative democracy." One accuses Maduro's son of trying to criminalize campesino efforts.

 

A leader of the Campesino Struggle Platform, Andres Alayo, discusses the revolutionary Land Law of 2001. Since then, "oligarchic violence has led to the deaths of some 350 to 400 campesinos." He sees life and the democratization of land on the campesino side and a culture of death and terror on the other, big, land-owning side. Describing how from 2006 to 2010 the state ended the 19th century plantation model by seizing tracts of land, Alayo laments the more recent dwindling and dismantling of state agricultural enterprises. This decline has occurred since Chavez's death. Alayo makes the case against turning state enterprises over to private investors – but that is the trend. He also argues that small farmers and communards have proved "that they can produce and deliver," so why does the state now privilege large capital? Why indeed.

 

On different topics from varying walks of life, each of these 35 people interviewed warn of capitalism's inroads, encouraged by the government. They all criticize, some less cautiously than others, Maduro's tilt toward capitalism as an exit from the economic crisis. Because the bitter truth is that this inclination is gratuitous. Socialist farming has worked in Venezuela. Socialist factory production has worked in Venezuela. The colectivos have worked. All simply need to be done on a larger scale. There need to be more of them. Privatizing state assets is a failed course of action. And it sabotages socialist gains. Everyone interviewed in this book proposes alternatives to the rush toward capitalist investment.

 

But all 35 appear to agree, some only implicitly, that with the right-wing resurgent, it is time to close ranks. Half a loaf is better than none. These leaders and intellectuals are willing to sacrifice and support Maduro's government against a rapacious imperial aggressor from abroad, who seeks to foment fascism at home. The government would do well to respond constructively to their concerns. Instead it appears to take such supporters for granted, or, worse, to undermine them.

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Industrial Food Production and the Pandemic

"Dead Epidemiologists, On the Origins of COVID-19"

Rob Wallace

Monthly Review Press, 265 pages

$17

 

 

Eve Ottenberg

Covid-19 comes from the primary forest, from bat caves. In a world without industrial agriculture encroaching on that forest, in a world without the corporatization of a wild-food industry, Covid-19 would probably never have left those caves. The pandemic was not caused by small-holder agriculture, and the virus probably did not escape from a lab. As it becomes endemic, it may become unstoppable. But not so the next pestilence. If we revamp our food production system now, maybe the pathogens lurking in primeval forest viral reservoirs will stay there, instead of hopping onto planes to London, New York, Beijing, Moscow and other metropolises.

 

A new book by Rob Wallace, "Dead Epidemiologists," argues just that. According to Wallace, industrial agriculture pushes "capitalized wild foods deeper into the last of the primary landscape, dredging out a wider variety of potentially protopandemic pathogens." And that's only half the story. The other half traces the threat of avian and swine flus posed by factory farms and their peculiarly unethical forms of monoculture. Wallace focuses on how those monocultures remove immune firebreaks.

 

This book argues that in addition, factory farms may force "corporatized wild food companies to trawl deeper into the forest," getting new pathogens, "while reducing the kind of environmental complexity with which the forest disrupts transmission chains." So several threats: factory farms themselves; the push into forests for wild foods picks up new pathogens; that push also disrupts a web of life that kept those pathogens in check. And that's before Wallace even touches on the broader topic of industrial crop farming and its planetary destruction.

 

"Dead Epidemiologists" thus links novel viruses to agribusiness and deforestation, which release them, causing them to spill "over into local livestock and human communities." He cites this happening with Ebola, Zika, Makona, the coronaviruses, yellow fever, avian influenzas and African swine fever, for starters. Many of these "previously held in check by long-evolved forest ecologies are being sprung free, threatening the whole world." For agribusiness, however, "a virus that might kill a billion people is treated as a worthy risk," a cost of doing business paid not by that business, but by humanity at large, aka an externality. The food industry is only too happy to socialize this cost onto the rest of us, to infect and kill millions of people, as it rakes in its privatized profits.

 

Wallace's solutions include ending monoculture by introducing livestock and crop varieties, and rewilding, as has been done somewhat with buffalo in the American west. That's long-term. In the shorter term, he denounces herd immunity based on letting covid run rampant as "let's do maximum damage," and describes how the staggering U.S. failures to cope with this plague were "programmed decades ago as the shared commons of public health were simultaneously neglected and monetized." Instead of Malthusian herd immunity, "we need to nationalize hospitals, as the Spanish did. We need to supercharge testing…as Senegal has. We need to socialize pharmaceuticals." And I would add, where there are lockdowns, the government should subsidize idled workers and small businesspeople. All of this, of course, is anathema to the Trump regime.

 

According to Wallace, 40 percent of our planet's ice-free surface is covered with its largest biome, agriculture, while 72 percent of animal biomass is poultry and livestock. He decries the "geologic scale" of industrial agriculture and how it geologically transforms "vast swaths of Earth's surface into solar factories, carbon mines, and manure lagoons, an alien landscape hostile to most life forms outside the interest of capital, save a subset of suddenly opportunistic pathogen and pest stowaways." In short industrial, chemical agriculture takes up too much space, is killing the planet and will ultimately kill us, too.

 

Wallace observes that three Iowa watersheds, "home to 350,000 people…host the waste equivalent of Tokyo, New York City and Mexico City combined." This phenomenal pollution derives from our livestock and poultry cruelly crammed together in filthy, disease-ridden cages to produce protein for human consumption. When this factory farming produces diseases, standard operating procedure is to blame small holders; that's now part of the agriculture "industry's standard outbreak crisis management package." But of course, it's really the big industrial factory farms, with all their horrors of animal torture, that are to blame.

 

In this connection, however, Wallace argues convincingly against the extremes some may rush to – lab-grown meat and advocating global veganism. He cites the massive quantities of carbon burned to produce tiny portions of lab-grown meant, so massive as to outweigh any environmental benefit of vegetarianism based upon it. As for veganism, much of the world, the non-first world, is pastoral. People live with their animals and eat some of them. Imposing veganism on pastoral herders is ridiculous, a kind of colonial stupidity.

 

Instead, this book champions regenerative agriculture based on use value, not food produced as a commodity, and argues that such an approach is incompatible with capitalism. Small farms with variegated livestock and crops, worked by families are what's needed. Wallace advocates the peasant agriculture promoted by the organization, La Via Campesina, and for planning agriculture that self-regulates "in such a way that the deadliest pathogens are far less likely to emerge." He has little use for commercial pesticides and GMO crops. They simply destroy too much of the natural world; besides farming can proceed quite successfully without them.

 

Before covid, such plans were often dismissed as left-wing fantasy. Now they look like our last chance to save ourselves from collapsing ecosystems, novel, deadly plagues and a fatally warming planet. The official U.S. covid body count is over 226,000. Experts say it's closer to 300,000. It will probably go much higher. The disease, some medical scientists believe, will become endemic and may require a yearly vaccine, like the flu. That vaccine may only be 50 percent effective, like the flu vaccine. So people will be wearing masks for a long time. Better to be inoculated and masked and survive, than suffocate to death from a virus released from a remote bat cave by an out-of-control food production system. We can't bottle covid back up in its subterranean den, but we sure can prevent the next disease from escaping.

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How the U.S. Military Deformed Science

 

"The Tragedy of American Science"

Clifford Conner

Haymarket Books, 338 pages

$26.95

 

 

Eve Ottenberg

Any discussion of American science includes, perforce, the military. Physics? Nuclear weapons. Biology? Germ warfare. Chemistry? Poison gas. While the wonders of science extend far beyond these blights, the military and its money have distorted scientific inquiry, to say the least. And where the Pentagon hasn't co-opted any given discipline, capitalism has swooped in.

 

Just compare the U.S. pharmaceutical industry to Cuba's. In the U.S. new drugs are designed solely with an eye to profitability and jacking up the price. The only drug currently approved in the U.S. to treat Covid-19, Remdesivir, costs thousands of dollars. Cuba uses its drugs to treat its covid patients much more cheaply. Similarly with lung cancer – Cuba long ago developed a vaccine, which it sells to foreigners, including desperate U.S. lung cancer victims, for a few hundred dollars. Here in the U.S., pharmaceutical companies won't even develop such a vaccine. They make too much money bankrupting cancer patients with the astronomical costs of chemotherapy. They don't want lung cancer to be easily cured.

 

"The river of the tragedy [of U.S. science] has two headwaters: corporatization and militarization," writes Clifford Conner in his new book, "The Tragedy of American Science." Conner covers the lies of nutrition science, beholden to Big Sugar and Big Food, the failure of the green revolution to alleviate hunger within the lethal framework of capitalist inequality, the dangers of GMOs, the tobacco industry's abuse of science, Big Pharma's murder of multitudes of Americans with opiods, environmental degradation and the climate crisis brought to us by fossil fuel capitalism, the lies of the nuclear power industry and the catastrophe of storing its radioactive waste, the conflicts of interest in the academic-industrial complex, the dreadful propagandistic power of think tanks, the fraudulent science of economics and more. But much of this book is devoted exclusively to the militarization of science, because it is here that the principles of free scientific inquiry in the public interest have been most thoroughly corrupted. Indeed, jettisoned.

 

"We must be thankful that most of the trillions of dollars in American military spending have been wasted," Conner observes. The world, he writes, would be better off if all military R&D funds had been flushed down the toilet. But some of that money achieved its goals. Conner considers the example of new, "small" nuclear weapons.

 

The development of W76-2 nuclear warheads has not made the world a safer place. Though less powerful than their many megaton predecessors, that is the problem. Conner quotes historian James Carroll: This warhead "isn't designed as a deterrent, it's designed to be used." The idea is to use it in regional wars, thus avoiding nuclear holocaust. But Carroll argues that firing off small nuclear weapons "would likely ignite an inevitable chain of nuclear escalation whose end point is barely imaginable." If the military scientists and engineers who birthed the W76-2 warhead claimed they were making the world safer, they lied.

 

Conner also clarifies that so-called "smart bombs" are in fact stupid, as anyone who has followed U.S. "precision" bombing in Iraq and Afghanistan knows. Nothing could be less precise. Those smart bombs have slaughtered countless civilians. Conner also dissects the work of scientists and engineers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). He mentions DARPA's development of prohibitively expensive prosthetics, whose true purpose, despite public relations stunts, is not to improve injured vets' lives, but to create "humanoid limbs for war-fighting robots."

 

Any survey of the military's perversion of science would be incomplete without mention of the infamous Operation Paperclip – the CIA program that imported about 1600 Nazi scientists to the U.S., whitewashed their war criminal pasts and employed them in the military industrial complex. Operation Paperclip's legacy "includes ballistic missiles, sarin gas cluster bombs, and weaponized bubonic plague." The most notorious Operation Paperclip bigwig, of course, was Werner Von Braun, who headed NASA. Von Braun had been a high-ranking SS officer, "deeply complicit in the deaths of the thousands of slave laborers who were killed producing his V-2 rockets at the Dora-Nordhausen concentration camp." Other Nazi scientists illegally brought to the U.S. included Walter Dornberger, in charge of V-2 rocket production at Dora-Nordhausen, who became "America's mouthpiece for the urgent need to weaponize space." There was also Arthur Rudolph, whose office at Dora-Nordhausen "had a window that looked directly out onto the assembly line above which executed laborers were hanged to terrify the workforce." Another Nazi, Kurt Debus, became the first director of the Kennedy Space Center, Conner writes. And there were many execrable others – fascists who should have faced war crimes tribunals, instead of wealth and honors in America.

 

But then, this is the same U.S. government that conducted "at least 239 experiments in at least eight American cities from 1949 to 1969." In Operation Sea Spray, the U.S. navy in 1950 sprayed bacteria "into the air just off the coast of San Francisco, as the wind was blowing ashore." The pathogen Serratia marcescens can "cause a wide range of infectious diseases." A similar bacteriological experiment was carried out in the New York City subways in 1966 with bacillus globigii, later categorized as a pathogen. Conner also covers the "Megadeath Intellectuals," at the RAND corporation.

 

This book concludes with the present-day Trump regime's closure of the pandemic directorate right before the Covid-19 outbreak. Conner compares the nearly nonexistent U.S. public health infrastructure to Cuba's far more robust and successful one. U.S. public health failures are now on glaring display, for all the world to see. The powerful American empire, which has spent trillions on the science of death, cannot protect its own citizens from a microscopic virus. China can. South Korea can. So can New Zealand. But in the U.S., money flooded into diabolical methods of killing, while the public health system was systematically starved and dismantled since the Reagan regime. Conner's outline of this catastrophe for Americans clarifies that if ever there was a case to be made for switching our scientific priorities, Covid-19 is it. If ever there was a time to make this change, that time is now.

 

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Cuban Doctors Deserve Nobel for Their Covid Heroism

 

"Cuban Health Care"

Don Fitz

Monthly Review Press, 303 pages

 

 

Eve Ottenberg

With Covid-19 roaring through the U.S., now is a good time to discuss Cuban health care. It's about as different from the American variety as possible. It is not for profit. It is socialized. It does not first resort to expensive medical technology. Its doctors live among the people, like in Haiti after the earthquake, not in luxury hotels, like American doctors. It does not rely on the thinking that there is a pill for every ailment. It is successful. Cuba has suffered 88 deaths from covid, and the 3408 infected people have not gone bankrupt receiving care. To repeat, that's because Cuban doctors and pharmaceutical entities are not in it for the money. Cuba's astonishingly good health statistics derive from its emphasis on preventive medicine, something not stressed nearly enough in the U. S.

 

Cuba's medical achievements have enabled it, for decades, despite devastating and criminal sanctions from the U.S., to send tens of thousands of physicians and nurses to poor countries across the globe. When covid slammed the world, Cuba was ready. Its medical brigades went to Italy, when that country was hardest hit, and its doctors received a standing ovation when they arrived in the airport. A medicine Cuba developed, interferon alpha 2b, showed so much promise with covid patients in China back in January that 45 countries have since requested it from Cuba. But there is no mention of this covid treatment in the U.S. media. Cuba, a small, relatively poor island country, has shared its medicines and its medical personnel – at great risk to their lives – with countries across the globe throughout the covid pandemic. This has led to a push for Cuban doctors to get the Nobel Prize. They certainly deserve it.

 

An incidental benefit of awarding Cuban doctors the Nobel would be breaking the conspiracy of silence about Cuba's remarkable medical successes. Don Fitz eloquently documents that conspiracy and the feats of heroism that it conceals, in his new book, "Cuban Health Care." "Since 1961, over 124,000 health professionals [from Cuba] have worked in over 154 countries," Fitz writes. "By 2009, in addition to 11 million people in their own country, Cuban doctors were providing medical care for over 70 million people." Like the U.S., Cuba has a 78-year life expectancy, but "spends only four percent per person of U.S. health costs." The Cuban infant mortality rate is lower than the U.S. one and half that of the U.S. black population, Fitz reports.

 

After its 1959 revolution, Cuba "eliminated polio in 1962, malaria in 1967, neonatal tetanus in 1972, diphtheria in 1979, congenital rubella syndrome in 1989, post-mumps meningitis in 1989, measles in 1993, rubella in 1995 and tuberculosis meningitis in 1997." Cuba had only 200 AIDS patients when New York City had 43,000. During crushing U.S. economic sanctions, Cuba achieved all this because of its uniquely rational health care model. Instead of reserving care only for the affluent few, as in the U.S., Cuba provides it to everybody, free. It does so through its family doctor program, begun in 1984.

 

In this program, each doctor and nurse team "included 600-800 [patients] within two to three square blocks in most cities and towns. The teams were required to see every patient at least twice a year…These new family doctors were…very different from the old general practitioners."  The doctor and nurse team lives in its patients' neighborhood, often in apartments above the clinic. They frequently walk to patients' houses or apartments to examine them or treat them at home. Thus they know first-hand critical details about their patients' life-styles and illnesses. There is nothing impersonal about this medical system. And that's just within Cuba. Outside it, "52,000 Cuban medical workers [offer] their services in 92 countries," which is more than either the World Health Organization or "the combined efforts of the G-8 nations."

 

A media blackout hides these feats. And in some countries, hostile medical associations try to drive Cuban doctors out. "The conspiracy of silence surrounding the resounding success of Cuba's health system," Fitz writes "is egregious and it casts a doubt on the good intentions of" international health organizations. Fitz is too kind. This conspiracy reveals active, bad intentions. Those were never so fully on display as during Hurricane Katrina, when Cuba offered to send 1500 doctors to New Orleans. The Bush administration refused, revealing, as Fitz comments, that the U.S. preferred needy Americans to die than to accept help from Cuba and thus concede the superiority of Cuban medicine.

 

The same happened with Covid-19. As the lousy U.S. for profit health care system has led to over 175,000 deaths, Cuban medical personnel have travelled the world, saving lives. Just as they did after Chernobyl, when Cuba took in 25,000 Ukrainian patients and treated them gratis – for years. For many in the Global South, the only doctor they'll ever see is a Cuban doctor. And in these covid-ravaged times, Cuban medical workers risk their lives to save those of patients in other countries. For this alone, Cuban doctors deserve praise and recognition of their heroism. What better way than awarding them the Nobel Prize?

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Climate Change Is Genocide

"The Future Earth"

Eric Holthaus

HarperCollins, 247 pages

$22.99

 

 

Eve Ottenberg

The only good thing to say about covid is that it caused carbon emissions to drop. Not enough to save humanity from catastrophic climate change, but significantly. At the height of the global lockdown, carbon emissions fell 17 percent – when the whole world basically stopped driving and flying. According to Eric Holthaus' new book, "The Future Earth," by 2035 the United States must have a carbon neutral economy or face utter disaster. That, folks, pretty much means the end of capitalism as we know it.

 

Indeed, that's what "The Future Earth" advocates. A planet of vegan eco-socialists – sounds good to me, though I think the ExxonMobil ceo might stand in the way. With such opposition and other, more ordinary lukewarm opponents in mind, Holthaus himself carefully avoids terms like socialism or eco-socialism, but that's what his proposal amounts to. And even that won't save us from the warming we've already locked in.

 

"Reducing emissions to zero is the best way to slow down climate change…what if after already greatly reducing our global emissions, the climate tipping points we previously set in motion are triggered anyway?" So even if we transform our economies, stop burning any fossil fuels, put the brakes on the disaster of animal agriculture (it consumes "half the world's arable land and uses 80 percent of the world's fresh water supply") and so forth, by mid-century parts of the inhabited earth could still occasionally reach 170 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, coastal cities will be submerged, island nations will drown, megastorms and category 6 hurricanes will still tear up our countries, droughts will displace tens of millions of people and wild-fires will empty places like California and much of Australia. That this is our best scenario even when we go all out and totally redo our societies tells you a lot about how much damage we've already inflicted on the planet. And this list of what's coming regardless of our best efforts looks like a walk in the park if we don't cut emissions to zero by mid-century, when the effects of runaway climate change will be unimaginably awful. We don't have time – we must de-carbonize at once.

 

"Climate change is not a war," Holthaus writes. "It' is genocide. It is domination. It is extinction. It is the most recent manifestation of how powerful men throughout history have sought to steal from the less powerful and dismiss them as merely inconvenient." More specifically the problem is growth. Capitalism depends on endless growth. So does cancer. In fact, cancer is an apt metaphor for capitalism. Of course plutocrats, confronted with this comparison, opt for chemotherapy, which is what Holthaus calls techno fixes like geo-engineering. But he argues convincingly that given the very real dangers, those should be a last, not a first, resort. Indeed, if Newt Gingrich supports geo-engineering, and he does, you can be pretty sure it's a bad idea. "We need to become a society with a cultural focus on repair and maintenance," Holthaus writes, "rather than innovation and efficiency." The lunacy of planned obsolescence should be tossed into the insane asylum and left there.

 

"The Future Earth" sketches what must be done between now and 2050. It is a tall order. It includes: "carbon-free electricity generation through a blend of wind, solar, geothermal and hydro-power…phasing out petroleum-powered engines from all cars, trucks, trains, ships and aircraft…finding alternatives to fossil-fuel based chemical fertilizers…and finding new processes for cement production." But all of this is doable – if we don't have leaders like Trump, Bojo and Bolsonaro. Holthaus quotes folksinger Utah Phillips: "The earth is not dying, it's being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses." One address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Along with our so-called leaders, planet killers include fossil fuel corporate executives and investors. So: corporations, banks, Wall Street, political elites, basically the people an older generation of leftists called the ruling class.

 

Holthaus' plan to limit the damage is wonderful; the problem is prizing the oligarchs' fingers off the levers of power. They will not go willingly. They do not care if they render the earth uninhabitable for the next generation. They don't care what happens after they die. They never did and never will. And if the catastrophe comes in their lifetimes, they delude themselves with the notion that they have a plan. They mistakenly believe they can flee climate change to their gated estates in New Zealand (billionaire Peter Thiel) or to a new abode on Mars (billionaire Elon Musk). Disabusing them of these fantasies is probably a waste of time, but still it's worth noting that if climate change goes unchecked, typhoons and wild fires will ravage New Zealand. Even if terraformed, Mars will remain less hospitable to human life than a climate-scorched earth.

 

The only way to change our rulers is to make their current business model unprofitable. That means court cases for millions or billions of dollars in damages. It means legislation that zeros out subsidies for fossil fuel companies. It means the Green New Deal and Holthaus' idea for an environmental global Marshall Plan. In other words, it means a fight, a huge fight against the ruling class, because that class has no intention of yielding power – environmental apocalypse or no. They would rather life on earth perish, with them in charge than survive, with them losing power.

 

"If what you've been doing for hundreds of years has brought you to the brink of extinction, maybe it's time to try something new," Holthaus writes. Most of his readers will agree. It's that sliver, the one percent who hold power, who disagree and see no reason to alter business as usual. Their current attempts to suppress or ignore the truth about climate change condemns hundreds of millions of people to forced migration, homelessness and premature death. But truth will out. And truth can galvanize millions of ordinary people into taking matters into their own hands, ignoring their rulers and stopping more global warming once and for all.

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Re-Organizing Labor

"Tell the Bosses We're Coming"

Shaun Richman

Monthly Review Press, 246 pages

 

 

Eve Ottenberg

  U.S. labor is in bad shape. Unions have long been on the decline, and the Supreme Court rules against them regularly. So do lower courts. Much of the problem, writes Shaun Richman in his newly published "Tell the Bosses We're Coming," is that labor law is rooted in the Commerce Clause. "Tying the NLRA [National Labor Relations Act] to the Commerce Clause was a conscious 'pragmatic' decision of progressive lawyers [in the 1930s] to reject a half-century of a rights-based campaign for labor law…" The tactic was to get the patrician courts out of the labor law process. But, Richman argues, it has not succeeded. Employers love to have their grievances moved to the courts and this happens regularly. So now unions are stuck with decades of lousy court decisions and a playing field sharply tilted against them.

 

  The solution, Richman argues, is to anchor labor rights in fundamental constitutional rights – the first, fifth and thirteenth amendments. His book's appendix lists a labor bill of rights, 10 of them: Free speech; the right to self-defense and mutual aid [solidarity strikes]; the right to strike; freeing labor organizing from unreasonable search and seizure; the right to dues processing; the right not to be locked out for exercising labor rights; the right to your job; freedom from cruel and unusual regulation; the right to make demands and bargain freely; and that powers not exercised by unions are reserved to workers who act in concert.

 

  It all sounds reasonable, but just try getting such labor rights through congress. Unions haven't even managed to repeal the wildly reactionary 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. And they've been trying for decades. As a result, "unorganized workers at non-union firms experience hair-raising abuse on a daily basis." Also, union membership continues to decline, because of simple unfairness: "much of the worst of the restrictions on union activity [are] plainly unconstitutional…It is time for unions to return to rights-based rhetoric and strategy."

 

  Employers have constitutional rights, but unions do not. Take the secondary boycott. Under Taft-Hartley, union members cannot boycott or picket "a company they do not work directly for but which has significant…business dealings with their employer, with whom they do have a contractual dispute." So when Nabisco shut down a unionized plant to move Oreo cookie production abroad, Richman writes, grocery store workers could not engage in the solidarity activity of leaving "unopened boxes of scab cookies," pressuring supermarkets to tell Nabisco of "their intention of no longer buying Oreo cookies as long as they remained the subject of a labor controversy." Such solidarity is illegal. But corporations use secondary boycotts all the time. Cable companies, for instance, "leave television consumers in the dark" when they don't want to pay "a rate increase for the corporate owners of the blacked-out network." Regarding the first amendment, employers have the right to coerce workers to attend anti-union informational meetings, but unions lack such rights to present their opposing views.

 

  Richman also argues that workers lack a right to strike in the U.S. "A true right to strike would include the right to return to the job after the strike is over." A related problem is that intermittent strikes and partial strikes are illegal. What helped "get a union at General Motors in the 1930s is illegal today." Effective picketing is also illegal. To correct these ills, Richman argues for industrial labor boards, first proposed in the 1930s. These would create a non-bargaining dynamic by "carving up the economy into distinct industries" and with rule-making on matters like minimum wages and paid family leave. Richman also approves of the German works council model. Both would help "normalize a system of employee rights across all work places."

 

  To restore the right to strike, Richman says unions should file "a ton of unfair labor practice charges," and should insist that they "have a constitutional right to strike based on the first and thirteenth amendments." This would counter the many difficulties caused by the Supreme Court's "Mackay" Doctrine, which robbed unions of the right to strike. This doctrine   "gave employers the legal right to permanently replace striking workers." In so doing, the Supreme Court ignored NLRA language: "nothing in this Act shall be construed so as either to interfere with or impede or diminish in any way the right to strike." In 1983, Richman writes, the Phelps-Dodge Corporation "weaponized" "Mackay," creating a blueprint for "the de-unionization of American industry…in the Reagan-Bush (and Clinton) era." And speaking of unions' constitutional rights, the Supreme Court's public-union-busting rule in the fairly recent "Janus" decision probably violates them. "How is forcing unions to represent workers they don't want to, that is, to represent workers who don't want to vote for or join a union, not compelled speech?"

 

  This book cites other court decisions against labor, which have piled up so high that today very little of the U.S. workforce is unionized. Clearly the NLRA worked for a while, in the mid-20th century. It doesn't anymore. Richman's call for constitutional rights for workers and their unions is a way around this. Such a long-overdue move will require concentrated, relentless effort against predictably fierce resistance. Much of case law has roots in the idea of unions as criminal conspiracies. Much of the judiciary is virulently biased against labor. So are reactionary Republicans in congress and the white house, including Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, a friend of large corporations if there ever was one. Labor has a big fight ahead of it, but as this book makes clear – now is the time.

 

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Common Preservation Or Extinction?

"Save the Humans?"

Jeremy Brecher

PM Press, 245 pages

$20

 

Eve Ottenberg

Despite Covid-19, the previous twin threats to human existence have not receded. Global warming and the menace of nuclear holocaust have proved more intractable than ever. Arctic temperatures soared to 80 degrees last week, and northern Siberia registered 86 degrees, as climate change fatally deforms humanity's sole home world. But with a president like Trump, tearing up every nuclear treaty he can get his hands on and green-lighting development of new types of nuclear missiles, a future of multiple mushroom clouds can't be ruled out either. Maybe it'll be a twofer, and we'll get both. If people keep electing climate-change-denying warmongers, this is distinctly possible.

 

But elections aren't the only path to power. There are social and political movements, and they, argue Jeremy Brecher in the new edition of "Save the Humans?" should not be underestimated. Such movements can tackle his trio of concerns – climate change, disarmament and economic justice – by aiming at "common preservation," which his book promotes through memoir, political analysis and outright exhortation. One way to achieve common preservation, Brecher argues, is globalization from below. "We learned you have to act globally to succeed locally – you have to go to Brussels to save your farm in Texas."

 

Brecher's book lists guidelines for common preservation with subheadings like "Advocate human preservation wherever you are," and "Don't let the movement give birth to new dominations and disorders." He defines common preservation as "action in concert for human benefit." That may sound vague, but he focuses it on his three aforementioned concerns.  He cites promising early twenty-first century developments: "movements emerged all over the world in locations that were marginal to the dominant power centers. They linked up by means of networks that cut across national borders. They began to develop a sense of solidarity."

 

Though "Save the Humans?" is pre-Covid-19, if anything, the pandemic highlights the importance of its three issues. Lockdowns, for instance, lowered air pollution worldwide by 17 percent. But as soon as China re-opened its economy, it surpassed its previous pollution levels. In the U.S., economic justice during mass unemployment has come to the fore – maybe not for Trump or senate republicans, but average citizens, thrown out of work, or compelled to toil in unsafe, Covid-19-infested environments like slaughterhouses, stare economic inequality in the face. Finally, nuclear war between, say, the U.S. and China has moved to the front burner, with Trump blaming China for the plague to distract from his own failures. Peace could be one of the disease's most tragic casualties.

 

 

 If "Save the Humans?" addressed the pandemic, what would it say? Doubtless that we should listen to scientists and doctors, who warn of a second wave of mass death if things re-open too quickly. There is also the problem of cutting corners to produce a vaccine, which the Trump administration appears to be urging. What happened with an H1N1 vaccine back in 2009 is instructive. One vaccine was rushed to market in the UK, but it caused brain damage, facial palsy and nerve damage to thousands of people. It may also have led to some deaths. If that happens with any of the Covid-19 vaccines, it will confirm a skeptical public's worst fears, giving ammunition to anti-vaxxers – and the plague will spread and kill more people.

 

But for Brecher, doubtless the mass unemployment caused by Covid-19 would be central, because, as he says, the future hinges on the working class. He quotes Marx, "the working class is revolutionary or it is nothing." Today's revolutionaries, however, have more on their plate than any predecessors, including coping with an illness for which there is as yet little prevention and no cure. That disease could upend everything. It has already dumped almost 40 million people in the unemployment lines. Sudden mass dispossession amid plague could usher in the sort of dystopia portrayed in the Jim Crace novel, "The Pesthouse," where society has broken down, de-evolved and never coped successfully with the disease that caused the catastrophe. Indeed as of last week, 24 states opened up despite uncontrolled Covid-19 spread. Without a vaccine, we may never get a handle on this pestilence. Any attempts at common preservation will have to bear this in mind, just as even one win, on the climate, stopping nuclear war or economic justice, will be truly revolutionary.

 

 

 

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As the Earth Dies...

"The Robbery of Nature"

John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark

Monthly Review Press, 384 pages

 

Eve Ottenberg

The earth is dying and capitalism is to blame. Facing this, one can opt for hope, as Marxist ecosocialists do, or one can succumb to pessimism fed by dark thoughts on human nature and the intractable, deadly persistence of our economic system of exploitation. Human nature has a destructive and murderous side, while capitalism, expressing that side with its endless growth, endless greed, blights the planet like cancer. Yet Marxist ecosocialists do not let this drag them down to despair. They talk about fixing what humanity has wrought, about drastically cutting carbon emissions, about mitigating the sixth mass extinction, about decreasing plastics and other environmental toxins and doing so while providing for the necessities of life, including, as John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark write in their newly published "The Robbery of Nature," "love, family, community, meaningful work, education, cultural life, access to the natural environment and the free and equal development of every person."

 

Such ecosocialism differs vastly from the technocratic ecomodernism espoused by, say "Jacobin" magazine. Technocratic approaches to the climate catastrophe are very popular these days, even on the left. To demolish them, Bellamy and Clark cite "Jacobin's" summer 2017 issue, "Earth Wind Fire." They argue that the "socialist" magazine did far worse than miss the boat; it steered it in the wrong direction, by touting technological fixes to global warming and pollution, as well as rapid growth in production, population control and the magic of the global free market. This doesn't sound like any socialism I'm familiar with, and indeed one idiotic "Jacobin" writer opined: "You CAN actually have infinite growth on a finite world." Uninhabitable earth – here we come!

 

This writer also adds, "our skyscrapers are not separate from nature, they ARE nature." As Bellamy and Clark argue, by this logic, "so are nuclear weapons." Another "Jacobin" contributor supports the astonishingly dangerous geoengineering of injecting "sulfur aerosols into the atmosphere to block the sun's rays." Many scientists have warned that this could be a calamity. Bellamy and Clark also critique carbon capture and sequestration plans, advocated by Christian Parenti in this "Jacobin" issue. The problem is one of scale. Bellamy and Clark quote one energy analyst: "In order to sequester just a fifth of current CO2 emissions, we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation-storage industry whose annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry, whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storage took generations to build."

 

Ecosocialists have a more straightforward approach. They start by pinpointing the problem – capitalism. Bellamy and Clark argue Marx's ecological bona fides convincingly, by detailing his concern about a "metabolic rift." They quote Marx that capitalism creates an "irrevocable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism, a metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of life itself." Much of "The Robbery of Nature" debunks leftists who have dismissed Marx's environmentalism; but Marx asserted that capital loots nature as a "free gift." This, the ecosocialists argue, is the problem of capital's relation to the earth: plunder and deadly "externalities," i.e. pollution. According to Bellamy and Clark, Marx "emphasized that capital accumulation, through its rapacious expropriation of nature, inevitably promoted ecological destruction." He also wrote that capital's seizures of common people's property is "written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire."

 

"The Robbery of Nature" also argues that Marx was a proto-feminist and a food theorist. "The unhealthy and even poisonous contents of the Victorian working class diet was thus a key concern of Marx's food analysis." The book also documents Marx's views on alienated speciesism and his horror at capitalist animal abuse; one can only imagine his abhorrence of modern factory farming. But he never lost sight of the human impact of animal abuse: he noted that between 1855 and 1866, "1,032,694 Irishmen [were] displaced by about one million cattle, pigs and sheep."

 

The core of Marx's critique of capitalism is that it undermines "the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the worker." That is as true today as it was in the nineteenth century. Leftists, like the "Jacobin" writers that Bellamy and Clark cite, who do not argue for halting endless capitalist growth, who swoon over the magic of the global free market, are not socialists. Leftists who blame impoverished people for humanity's carbon footprint and advocate population control, instead of targeting the real carbon criminals, namely the affluent West, they are hardly socialists either. We have seen where endless growth leads: a poisoned atmosphere, an overheated planet and billions reduced to destitution. The ecosocialists argue that capitalism is a death cult. They are correct.

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Capitalism Versus Humanity

"Beyond Crisis"

Edited by John Holloway, Katerina Nasioka, Panagiotis Doulos

PM, 246 pages

$21.95

 

Eve Ottenberg

From today's perspective of Covid-19 mass death, the virtues of left-wing policies like Medicare for All are abundantly clear. Especially at the capitalist core, where, in the U.S., a stripped down, for profit, privatized, price-gouging, neoliberal health-care system has been proven wholly inadequate and been quickly swamped. Tens of millions cannot afford health insurance. They fall sick with Covid-19 and have a choice: suffer and spread the disease or go to a hospital, get treated and go bankrupt. M4A would correct that. In fact, every other plank of the Sanders campaign would correct similar abuses. In a sane world, that would lead to a leftish government to implement M4A, student loan forgiveness, progressive taxation and more. But this is not a sane world. And not all recent leftist governments have covered themselves with glory.

 

Take Greece. If ever there was a political party that betrayed its principles upon obtaining power, left-wing Syriza is that party. Elected on a wave of Greek disgust at EU austerity, Syriza held a referendum on whether Greeks should submit to that. The people resoundingly voted no, even at the risk of being booted out of the EU, whereupon Syriza promptly turned around and ignored the referendum. Not surprisingly, last July, a conservative party beat Syriza at the polls.

 

Was this a stunning instance of treachery by Syriza or was it something else? In the recently published essay collection, "Beyond Crisis," one of the authors, John Holloway, argues it was something else, that for the last 30 years governments have adopted neoliberal policies "not because the leaders are traitors, but because that is the world in which governments are forced to operate." An economy based on debt, deployed to ram austerity down the throats of workers and the middle class – that is contemporary, globalized, financialized and seemingly inescapable capitalism. Left-wing states – Greece, Venezuela, Bolivia – "have been unable (or unwilling) to break the dynamic of capitalist development."

 

According to Theodoros Karyotis' essay, in Greece "a sovereign debt crisis has been used as a pretext for a massive operation of wealth transfer from the popular classes to the local and international capitalist class." Sound familiar? It should. It's life as normal in the U.S., where every time the stock market shudders, political leaders become hysterical and demand that the Fed throw billions down the toilet to rescue the rich. Of course, what is also flushed away is social welfare; tax revenues which could decrease college tuition or subsidize medical care go to ceos, rich corporations and their dividends. As Holloway argues, it's capitalism versus humanity.

 

This was already clear in another sphere: the climate crisis. There, capitalism sentences us to an unlivable planet, so that in the short term, fossil fuel corporations can rake in profits. With Covid-19, as with the climate, capitalism reveals its fundamental anti-human nature. "Capitalism has become our destiny," Holloway writes. "And more and more it seems that this destiny is death…Yet we resist…because resistance is the defense of what we understand as our humanity, as our dignity…Capital flees from us…It may flee geographically in search of a more docile or more malleable labor. It also flees into technology, replacing us with machines." He argues that we are in a stalemate "where capitalism is unable to tame us sufficiently," and we haven't created an alternative. This was written before Covid-19. So it does not account for the chance that capitalism may destroy itself. Its refusal to resuscitate the welfare state, its refusal to forgive debt, may undo it.

 

The 2020 financial crisis could become a depression. If so, we are not in uncharted waters. We know what that looks like. We can refer to the 1930s or glance at the carcass of Greek society after the banks bled it dry and tossed it in the dumpster. Misery for almost everyone. Unimaginable luxury for a very few. Now we have the added disaster of Covid-19. A plague that ravages a population which cannot afford health care. Overwhelmed hospitals where bodies pile up in the corridors. You can be sure there will be no shortage of ventilators for plutocrats. Still, that may not save them.

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Police Torture

"The Torture Letters"

Laurence Ralph

The University of Chicago Press, 242 pages

$19

 

Eve Ottenberg

The Chicago police department has a problem. They say it's fixed, but local African American residents can't be blamed for being skeptical. The problem is torture. And of course the Chicago PD is not one bad apple in the nation's police departments, because when it comes to police brutality, the whole barrel is rotten. Chicago is just an extreme case.

 

"Between 1972 and 1991, approximately 125 African American suspects were tortured by police officers in Chicago," Princeton anthropology professor Laurence Ralph writes in his new book "The Torture Letters." More than 400 cases currently await investigation by the Illinois torture inquiry and relief commission, "which also gets three to five new torture claims each week." From 2004 to 2016, Chicago police paid $662 million in police misconduct settlements. Torture has not been unusual in the Chicago PD and elsewhere, nor is the next level of violence – murder of suspects, of people stopped at traffic lights or just walking down the street. Stop and frisk often means stop and kill

 

For decades, Chicago's Area 2, where officer Jon Burge's seven-member "A-Team" took their suspects, was a notorious torture site. An anonymous police department whistleblower named Burge as a perpetrator in 35 torture cases, Ralph reports. "A total of 67 officers were identified by survivors as having direct knowledge of torture." The torments included beatings, being shackled to a hot radiator, mock suffocations and electrocutions from Burge's infamous black box. Once knowledge of this dreadful little machine seeped out and Burge was defending himself in the courts, he "is rumored to actually have thrown his torture device in Lake Michigan from his boat, named 'Vigilante.'"

 

Another torturer was Richard Zuley, a Chicago police officer from 1977 to 2007, with a sabbatical as an interrogator at Guantanamo. Ralph sums up Zuley's worldview: "Zuley said it did not matter to him whether this man was innocent or guilty. It didn't matter because to Zuley, this was a bad guy." And therein lies the problem: the good guy/bad guy mentality, which pervades all American police departments, the military and – to judge from Trump's repetition of the phrase "bad hombres" – the executive branch of the U.S. government. Ralph argues that morally, no one, no matter what they have done, deserves the cruel and unusual punishment of torture. But many who consider the world riddled with bad guys disagree. That includes Trump and many in the former Bush administration. If torture yields a false confession, so what? The victim is a bad guy, and even if he's punished for something he didn't do, the reasoning goes, he was guilty of something. So instead of serve and protect, the Chicago police hunt and torture.

 

The good guy/bad guy dichotomy is the death of morality and the death of thought. It kills morality by eliminating justice based on an individual's innocence or guilt of a specific crime. It kills thought, as "The Torture Letters" demonstrates, by recounting how police ignore leads and clues to the true perpetrator, because they already plan to ensnare one particular bad guy. Careful, patient, rational police-work goes out the window.

 

It's also a quick step from seeing some people as bad guys to generalizing about groups and thence to racist stereotypes. Once the police regard young African American and Latino men as bad guys – the result of Bloomberg's notorious stop and frisk policy – pretty much anything goes, including framing them for murders they didn't commit, because they're "bad guys," who have committed other crimes anyway.

 

This diseased mentality stigmatizes whole communities. "Just because someone killed two police officers," Ralph writes, "doesn't mean that an entire community should be treated as if all members were murderers." But that's what has happened in Chicago. When a crime occurred, the police could pick whomever they wanted from this stigmatized group, regardless of evidence. The crime became an excuse to brutalize someone, anyone from the pool of those considered bad guys. This attitude goes to the top. When confronted with the lack of proof that Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was planning attacks on Americans – the initial stated cause of assassinating him – Trump waved that away, said it didn't matter, because Soleimani was a bad guy. But one person's bad guy is another's heroic soldier. This way of thinking is a highway to hell.

 

Burge's "A-Team epitomized everything wrong with the Chicago police department: it is racist, it is secretive and…believes that the police department has the right to operate above the law," Ralph writes. These are the same police videotaped "gunning Black Chicagoans down on the street," like Harith Augustus in 2018, Paul O'Neal in 2016 and Laquan MacDonald in 2014. There's not much space between  torture and murder; the two go hand in hand. No wonder African American residents are leaving Chicago in droves. Though one has to wonder – is this what the city's powerful wanted all along?

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