2020 social reproduction check-in

The entirety of the US project is deeply rooted in biopower. The genocide of the  indigenous nations, the breeding of enslaved Africans. The creation of something called “the white race”: a twisted amalgamation made up of dozens of nationalities, the borders fluid, surnames whitewashed, languages forgotten, cultures and histories and identities melted down and forged into a whole new subsection of humanity to protect and serve the white supremacist, settler project of US capitalism.

When I was in Venezuela in 2018, I remember the people there being very concerned with the state of US education. They were especially fascinated by the wildcat teachers strike taking place in Appalachia. It was shamefully not something I’d stopped to deeply consider before. In an age of uprisings focused on the real US history, the curriculum is no doubt key, but the approach equally so. The Venezuelans seemed convinced that the state of education was key to what was wrong with the United States. Now I understand.

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I am concerned. I am concerned about the teachers in this country who have long understood that they would not get veterans benefits if a human tragedy came to their classroom and killed their students and themselves with military grade weapons. They are forced to work for less than they are worth. They comfort their students over the phone or teleconference when their parents die from coronavirus and nobody has come to collect the bodies yet. And now, like some great offering to Moloch they are told to go back to school and teach students in the middle of a pandemic, with no real testing, no real support, and no  public health strategy. They were told to accept mass shooter bullets into their bodies; now they are told to take them home and spread them to the bodies of their own families, their communities.

This human sacrifice, including child sacrifice, is necessary. The piles of dead grandmothers, aunts, mentors and elders are no longer sufficient. Because now everyone is being kicked off their supplemental unemployment income, and they will need to go back to work, lest they be evicted or starve. The wage relation at its most honest. They need to send their children to school because no one can take care of them while they are working. These teachers have advanced degrees and have chosen to be educators despite the risk and despite the pay, but now find themselves affirmed by those in power as glorified babysitters.

I laugh when people use the 🐑 emoji to describe someone who is anxious about the coronavirus. The fact that they use the term “muzzle” to describe masks is revealing. But these are not fierce wolves and eagles or whatever they think themselves. They are pink pigs who have never seen the light of day and find themselves shoulder to shoulder on their way to slaughter. Their children ripped away from them at birth. The meta is unknown; they only understand the dynamics of slaughterhouse. Their only drive is to fatten up before they find their purpose. You don’t send a factory farmed pig to school; it’s a waste of money. If the pig is meant for one purpose – to go into massive amounts of debt buying up third world labor as a kind of elaborate money-laundering scheme for the rich – then you just give them the means to do that and nothing more, because civics classes just aren’t profitable. If there are too many of them all of the sudden, as there were at the beginning of the outbreak, or if they cause any kind of trouble, just cull them. Take the loss, find the bright side (read: a way to make lemonade from lemons), and move on. Capital fully intends to do just that.

 

It would not be enough to assert that the United States has the capacity to stop this. For a country that allegedly landed on the moon to be unable to control a deadly virus while caring for its population boggles the mind. It is a government that passed a bill that gifts $740.5 billion to the war machine next year, passed in a month where at least 25,000 people in the US died from coronavirus — that’s about two 9/11’s per week.

What boggles the mind is that a good number of people in the US have been trained to not seriously take issue with all this, to even doubt the very reality of what is happening. The freedom of religion also seems to enshrine the freedom to disregard material reality. Click out. Block them. Shelter in place with your algorithm-chosen pool of folks on social media. Feedback loop. Fake news. No wonder the Venezuelans were so worried about the state of US education.

The suburbs laughed off the coronavirus because they figured the density of humanity in major cities like New York was what damned us. The virus could not penetrate the carefully crafted bubbles of their racially segregated realities any more than Trayvon Martin could. It would be stopped in its tracks by a population that insists it can believe what it wants, shoot down and lynch and settle and not be held accountable. Ironically, the lack of density meant that their ears are not filled with the endless wail of sirens for weeks on end. They growled when they heard others were getting $600 a week for not working, even though Donald Trump said it was China’s fault. A pig mad at another pig for being six spots ahead in the queue on the way to the trucks.

 

 

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The pigs-to-slaughter say that the masks are tests. The government, they argue with me as we trot up the ramp together, is trying to see what they can get away with. The wreckage of capitalism piles up and yet (perhaps it’s some trauma response) these beady, sad piggy eyes cannot see it. They are locked to screens, wallowing in atomization and Netflix binge sessions. The machine learns what I want so I don’t need to want anything for myself anymore. I don’t want to live in a world where I’m the dupe, where we’re lacking, where our future doesn’t exist, where my mommy dies alone with a plastic tube down her throat. I’d rather talk about cancel culture, 6ix9ine, Ghislane Maxwell, JFK Jr, looters, whatever. If my eyes glance towards the actual exit, towards unemployment councils, solidarity, direct action, towards building revolution, then I am gently and effortlessly guided from that by another stupid conspiracy, one that my brain has already been hardwired by 21st century biopower to accept. Seems easier.

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America is the biggest grift ever concocted. Lie, cheat, enslave and steal your way to success. And yet, Trump eats his steak well done. Zimmerman lives on the run. The top of the food chain exists in a perpetual state of fear and paranoia, without the ability to enjoy sex or really love someone. No one knows inner peace on their way to the slaughterhouse, and anyone who tries to sell you that is just trying to forget that they’re on their way themselves. Florida claims 487,000 active cases of Covid-19 and stares down the first storm of what is said to be a particularly active hurricane season. The rich will run for a while — to the Hamptons, to the mountains, to Wyoming. But they cannot run forever.

Some could say the deux ex machina of 2020 was the virus, but I think the mass, enthusiastic acceptance and embrace of death as an imperialist culture that has always been about ignoring death is what really caught me off guard. The collective shrugging of shoulders about how absolutely fucked everything is. This is not to erase the millions who went to the streets to object. Some of us will always object. The question is what systems were produced and reproduces to make us the minority? What conscious decisions were made fifty years ago to turn us into what we are now? What is keeping us from liberation?

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As a child, I went to Disney World with a professor who pointed out how nothing here was supposed to remind me of death. Workers would pop out of secret tunnels to pull wilted flowers off bushes. The Haunted Mansion was lovable, only a little scary. The ill and wounded were carried off property to die. It makes sense, in one regard, that if so many Americans could ignore or justify millions dead in Iraq, they could ignore and justify them in their own communities as well. I suspect that the fury and anger as people bash workers that ask them to please, just wear a mask stems from being told that they can no longer ignore it. It’s got the same mouthfeel as the rancor thrown at protesters, except now the death and destruction is accompanied by an economic collapse of unprecedented magnitude.

Capitalism grinds to a halt and the slaughterhouse is burning down. The rich retreat into their spaceship communities and surround themselves with (at least) millions of crackers ready to take up arms and blow their own brains out if necessary to protect their power, because it is in the fervent belief of Kim Kardashian, Elon Musk, and Donald Trump that these unfortunates find their identity. Better dead than a loser.

Please, just wear a mask and keep your eyes on the exit.

nobody politics pt. ii

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nobody politics: anonymity, privacy, hiding, safety, good for surviving fascism, escape, repose, contemplation, patience, timeless, ageless, humility, subterfuge, insurgency, solidarity, spying, breaking and entering, slipping away, inside jokes, the party, barter system, rolling eyes, obscurity, dignity, mass graves, plowing, consideration, motherhood, easily forgotten, martyrdom, cremation, holding hands, the hanged man, jesus christ, plague, in prison, mask up, crushes, sidewalk cracks, scholarship, aspirations, hope, growth, future, peace, quiet.

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somebody politics: hustling, competitive, on display, for consumption, isolated, critical, judgmental, plastic surgery, market relations, withering, naked, hungry, celebrity, hungry, fascism, permanent record, distraction, shop-aroundism, fronting, youtube, lack of commitment, sociopath, cutthroat, 24 hour news cycle, decay, here today gone tomorrow, sciolism, betrayal, capital, exploitation, BOGO, mask off, domination, relic, megachurch and prosperity gospel, narcissism, emptiness, taxidermy, manipulation, rotting, taking advantage of others or being taken advantage of.

smash white anxiety: on woke politics and cancel culture

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Do your friends sound like this nowadays? Please, read on.

In the 21st century, I venture to say that the vast, overwhelming majority of people in the United States have now witnessed racist violence done against people of color, particularly against Black people, whether in-person or online. This is why so many have been spurred in recent months to some sort of progressive action – but not all are so spurred. We are also seeing a more intense rise, proliferation and encouragement of white anxiety.

What is white anxiety? White anxiety is fear, discomfort, and hesitation. It is a position taken to justify not doing anything to address racism. They rationalize. So and so is connected to a non-profit. Oh, see, Coca Cola is saying that Black Lives Matter! The New York Times is cynically running the 1619 project. Nancy Pelosi is wearing kente cloth. I get it. That’s all very interesting, but still doesn’t explain why white people are wrapping themselves up in anxiety rather than getting off the internet and into the movement to do what they can to change the material conditions on the ground. Instead, there’s a certain sector hyping each other up to criticize “wokeness” – a dog whistle for being vocally against racism and other forms of oppression. Its propagators say it’s a screen for sincerity — but who decides? If this describes your current approach, if you are uncertain of the way forward in these troubled times, then this message is for you. It’s my sincere hope that you cut the shit and get involved instead of continuing to cower under your bed, hiding from the specter of a Black woman rolling her eyes and you not being able to fire her for it.

So, in an attempt to meet people where they’re at, I listened to my first (and hopefully last) episode of Chapo Trap House. Even as people say the episode I listened to was especially bad, it goes to my point of how necessary it is to address a present rightward shift in discourse. The show featured Matt Taibbi, Amber Frost and Will Menaker speaking about how the media’s unwillingness to cover certain aspects of the revitalized Black Lives Matter movement – property destruction? I saw a lot of that covered; the president himself won’t shut up about it – revealed a fear of this so-called cancel culture. Taibbi called it “extremely Soviet” and all three commentators saw a mounting challenge to free speech emerging, even going so far as to infer this wokeness and cancel culture as existential threats to concepts like a Sanders presidency and Medicare for All.

As someone who has actually been deprived of employment and publicly shamed for my political views, I feel for the people who worry about that sort of thing happening to them someday. It’s a really nasty experience. When it happened to me, it went completely unreported. No open letters were published in Harper’s, no podcasts were dedicated to my plight. I had a small community of people around me who stepped up to soften the blow by providing me with what support they could, but even that petered away eventually, and I am still left with the likely permanent scars of being professionally outed as a Communist. I’m not bitter because this is not new. When I was going through the worst of it, it put me in deeper connection with my immigrant ancestors who were blacklisted, tortured and incarcerated for organizing against capitalism in the company towns of Montana. Looking at what they went through, what heroes endured under redbaiting and COINTELPRO puts my own situation in perspective, and I certainly don’t have it so bad.

So, to now see millionaires, billionaires, pundits, podcasters, landlords and gentrifiers wringing their hands over cancel culture makes me take pause. To see people who might not have lifted a finger to defend other forces of repression suddenly pulling their hair out over this alleged challenge to free speech seems strange. Their networks are solid, their wealth untouched. Without deep systemic change, they will be politically rehabilitated like Mel Gibson or your favorite pundit/politician with a messy history. Dalton Trumbo did time in prison for his politics; JK Rowling and her like will not.

CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS FOUNDATION ANNUAL LEGISLATIVE CON

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 11: CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS FOUNDATION ANNUAL LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE–Gary Webb, the reporter with the San Jose Mercury News who broke the story of the CIA supplying drugs to the Contras to sell in Southern California, at an issue forum called, “Connections, Coverage, and Casualties: The Continuing Story of the CIA and Drugs.” (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

Are they gaslighting us or are they really so delusional to compare themselves to people like Gary Webb, Julian Assange or Chelsea Manning, people who have been actually and irreparably cancelled for their political views and speech? Is a public wrap on the knuckles via our ever-changing and cascading social media feeds really a challenge to free speech, or is the very outcry against cancel culture a powerful rightwing counter-reaction rooted in, among other things, white anxiety? My suspicion is that this is just right-wing backlash to recent gains made, or a self-appointed “left” arguing why they’re right-wing enough to not be suddenly cancelled by their bourgeois donors. Either way, let’s address these pundits and their surface concerns.

First: free speech is practically a joke in a country where six corporations control around 90% of US media. Various cases studies produced under the bloody war on terror – Anwar Al-Awlaki’s top-secret execution comes to mind – prove that yes, just speaking the wrong kind political opinions can be a capital offense. But nobody is running Angela Nagle or Aimee Terese off to Yemen – in fact, their credibility and audiences are getting larger. Whether or not you are fired (or blown up by a tomahawk missile) for what you think or say depends entirely on the political environment in which you’re communicating political speech. On Chapo, the hosts openly muse whether or not the New York Times 1619 project would have been launched under a Hillary Clinton presidency. This is useless speculation; not only because she did not win in 2016 but because the very material conditions that produced Donald Trump also resulted in the 1619 project, and that these conditions were themselves produced mainly by an economic system that allows six corporations to control 90% of the media and foster an environment for the anti-woke brigade to flourish and thrive. To extrapolate, would the Chapo Trap House brand enjoy its range of support if its positions hadn’t been ultimately validated by Trump’s victory?

L: Chapo’s monthly earnings; R: Julian Assange, canceled journalist

Corporations latching onto a movement does not invalidate the aims or concerns of said movement; on the contrary, the more likely these corporations are to latch on or appropriate slogans actually validates a movement’s aims and concerns. It shows what is a real threat to power. The anodyne and tokenistic adaptation of a slogan by a megacorporation – without an affirmation of its underlying principles – is not comparable to adapting a public policy position that meaningfully slashes its profit margins and hold on power. There was no special section of the New York Times suddenly dedicated to appropriating the Bernie Sanders campaign – quite the opposite. They felt quite comfortable dragging Sanders into his second loss for president. In part, that’s probably because no mass movements burned down buildings or smashed windows on Fifth Avenue for free universal healthcare. Nobody torched a cop car because the DNC thwarted yet another presidential primary. The fact that cities all over the country are taking down confederate statues themselves is deeply impressive. Not because taking down statues will in and of itself accomplish anything – though it does – but mainly because the existing power structure of the United States is deeply threatened by a multiracial, multinational movement against white supremacy and will do whatever it can to assuage its wrath by appearing to concede, while at the same time  — and this is important — drawing a line between acceptable and unacceptable forms of protest. According to a growing list of left-minders, cancel culture now ranks up there with looting and burning down cities in the possible harm it could do to the movement for socialism and liberation.

On Chapo Trap House, Amber Frost speaks of police and prison abolitionists being unable to define what abolition would actually look like – but did not appear to have read anything besides a New York Times op-ed (!) to find out more. It seems the easiest way to avoid cancellation is to avoid voicing actual questions and concerns and not inviting actual prison abolitionists on your show. Frost claims that “nobody offline knows” what prison abolition is. Regardless of whether or not she’s heard of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who has neither a twitter account nor podcast, does she consider the millions who are in prison today to be “offline”? Or, is she just doing what people with white anxiety do: avoiding conversations to squirm away from actually confronting their own beliefs and actions?

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Aimee Terese and her readership locating the primary enemy of universal healthcare…. Black trans women?

I would argue this anxiety is more damaging to our collective liberation than corporate sloganeering or the cynical weaponization of anti-racism. This anxiety is a large part of what’s driving a wedge between those of us fighting for Black lives and those of us fighting for universal healthcare. For the record, I’ve never met or even heard of a police/prison abolitionist who is against universal healthcare. I’ve also never heard of anyone opposing defunding the police and redistributing the bloated budgets into social programs or universal basic income as opposing it because – and I really can’t believe this honker of a strawman they dragged in at 43 minutes – racists would also receive universal benefits. For those who reliably fight for both, seeing the struggle for Black liberation and the struggle for political and economic equity as one and the same, the two completely and utterly dependent on the synchronicity between them, this white anxiety of pitting one against the other sounds schizophrenic at best, and racist at worst.

Other sleights of hand litter the podcast, as Amber Frost mentions that abolishing the police and prisons would fail victims of rape and murder, yet does not disclose that most murders and the overwhelming majority of rapes are not successfully solved/prosecuted, and that a staggering number of police officers are also rapists and murderers. Taibbi mentions that for Black and Brown people, becoming a police officer or a US soldier is a path to the ever vague “middle-class lifestyle”. He fails to mention why this is, or offer a critique of the system that makes it so. In the grand tradition of Thomas Friedman, he mentions overhearing arguments “on the corner” and “in those neighborhoods” between drug dealers about whether or not more NYPD are needed. He refers to “the whole race problem” and I wonder if it’s white anxiety that keeps him from just using the actual word racism. They speak broadly and selectively of what “most people” think without addressing why “most people” think the way they do, and how that might change. Taibbi even claims that the current movement against racism and white supremacy has no humor or culture or music, effectively telling on his 50-year-old self as someone who is deeply out of touch.

Frost, Taibbi and Meneker fall into the greatest and most dangerous trap when they present their aims as being siloed and blame what Frost calls “minoritarian” ideologies for a Sanders loss. If they’d been in the streets, they might have heard the popular chant of “all lives will matter when Black lives matter”. Raising awareness about how racism and other forms of division are primarily utilized as a weapon against labor is precisely the first step towards recognizing that Black liberation is liberation for everyone. And that is because a capitalist system that depends on keeping people in cages and redlined neighborhoods cannot adequately and permanently address those issues without also addressing its own systemic nature. Every abolitionist I know will readily admit police and prison abolition cannot take place under capitalism. Why are people so eager to sidestep this conversation in favor of whining about cancel culture and virtue signaling?

Taibbi waxes nostalgic for a type of journalism that reported the facts instead of putting a “thumb on the scale”, which is risible coming from a person who would call themselves a journalist and whose Wikipedia page compares his work to that of Hunter S. Thompson, the father of Gonzo journalism. I am a materialist; I see thumbs on the scales everywhere in journalism, especially in the journalism of bygone times. Editors have long made decisions about what stories to run – it’s their job. Journalists have (and still are) thrown in jail for reporting the truth. Perhaps there was a time where the public discourse seemed fairer for people like Chapo Trap House and its staggeringly white audience. But it wasn’t fair to the rest of us and it still isn’t.

If these people find themselves suddenly on the wrong end of the social justice movement, if they’re feeling anxious about being cancelled, it is not incumbent on  survivors to find their way to dirtbag left politics. It’s not Angela Davis’s job to listen and deeply consider where the Chapo Brooklyn literati and their white audience are coming from. Theirs is, after all, the dominant ideology buttressed by current power relations. They are anti-democratic establishment while themselves functioning as a part of it. They are the progeny of whites who thought the system had shown its possibility and readiness for reform once Barack Obama became president. They are the ones who quite frankly need you to believe that a monthly subscription to their Patreon is more effective towards building socialism and liberation than burning down a precinct. They know the anxiety intimately, and they play it up, soothe the audience back into whiteness-as-defensive-posturing, not as a relation of power to be abolished.

To me, white anxiety manifests itself in two ways. On one hand, we have the dynamic encountered in all-white antiracist spaces, which seem focused on building a (inherently racist) white community of healing and reflection. It holds the assertion that racism is genetic and essentialist. White people are racist because they are born that way. This is, of course, racist, and can and often does lead to the simultaneous tokenization and exclusion of people of color, and results in an attempt to “reformulate” whiteness as opposed to abolishing it. There is a defensiveness to the anxiety, a sort of passive-aggressive martyrdom that overrides attempts to actually engage with and challenge whiteness as a power relation. Some might call this white fragility, and while the two might be similar, I believe there is a difference in that anxiety is an inhibitor to action, a kind of institutional defensiveness, whereas fragility seems primarily a way to deflect accountability and responsibility, an individual defensiveness.

The other way that white anxiety seems to manifest itself nowadays is through a sort of laughing, side-hug embrace of racism and other forms of oppression. Here is where we locate the debate regarding cancel culture. It echoes a lot of the verbiage about “political correctness” from the nineties and early aughts. To speak about political correctness never meant a defense of oppressed communities. It was a sneering eye-roll. The term “woke” seems to have supplanted the term politically correct in the recent era, with “virtue signaling” taking on a similar veneer.

What are they getting at? If they’re not defending whiteness, then they are at least revealing a deep contempt for the masses, of whom Angela Nagle thinks will forget about “skyrocketing homelessness, rents and outward youth migration” because a larger group of people now believe anti-Black violence is not just a US issue, but an international one. As if these problems and lived experiences just melt away for everyone when the media changes its focus, as if Bernie Sanders didn’t enjoy the greatest grassroot support for a running candidate in my lifetime. As if these problems and lived experiences didn’t shape the moment we’re all in currently. This thinking veers dangerously close to blaming the working class for its own dismal situation. But there is nothing new about this sneering. You’re just as unlikely to see Angela Nagle at a Black Lives Matter rally as you are to see her at a union meeting.

As many of my mentors have told me, in our collective struggle towards liberation, class is always primary – but race is never secondary. They cannot be separated. A commentator on the podcast episode mentioned that “if we want to overthrow capitalism we’re gonna need a lot of whiteys.” This is true, and I believe it. That’s why it’s so important to overcome this white anxiety, both negative and positive, otherwise we’re never getting universal healthcare, much less the end of capitalism. Again, it is not incumbent on the people who are disproportionately targeted, tortured and killed by white supremacy to start seeing their oppression through a “color-blind” lens. It is incumbent on all those whiteys to actually start listening to non-white people and taking them seriously. It’s incumbent on all those whiteys to enter into the conversation with sincerity, a healthy dose of humility, and a deep understanding that our liberation really does depend on building towards a society where all Black lives matter. But to a lot of people, even admitting this is true seems to provoke the kind of white anxiety I’ve been describing. After all, there is little mention of “what is to be done” about racism in this contemporary criticism of “cancel culture”. At the end of the day, it’s easier for white people to focus on this existential dread rather than the challenges of evictions, unemployment, police brutality, and, of course, racism and other forms of oppression.

the end of the world is coming

But, as my partner assures me, this has happened many times before.

It seemed an afterthought, this 1.5 trillion bailout to Wall Street. Whereas before, Mammon expected us to bow before his majesty because he simply demanded it like the droit du seigneur, he might reckon that the generation who got fucked in 2008 won’t just take that for a reason. Not this time. This time, something more drastic was needed to leverage.

Today, a sagging profit trajectory has found its perfect mate in a virus. The markets were sagging, a fetid boil that needed to be lanced. All its priests tip-toed around, praying to Mammon that if they were quiet enough, the boil might just continue to grow indefinitely. You could hear the collective groan of a million capitalists as the virus came around and did what no one else was willing to do. It was brave enough, and powerful enough, to say that the emperor really was buck-ass naked.

Cut interest rates? – Won’t get factories back online in China.
Payroll tax? – Won’t pay unemployment insurance for billions – and to buy what, anyway?
An bailout initial bailout twice the size of 2008? – Well this, at least, will solidify the hold the ruling class has on its gentrifying estate.

And yet, watch capitalism keep slumping, demanding yet more blood to justify its continued existence.

If the virus really is some slap from God, then the way that those in power in the US have reacted is simply to use it as an opportunity to shore up power. The death of social democracy is now A-12 news.

I prefer to read the funny pages: so many of the oldheads slated to die first are voting against universal healthcare. All the unions so weak so as to not be able to grieve if it’s not safe to go to work. The gig economy, responsible for much of the economic growth in the last 5 years, now knee-capped, infected, sick and forced to work anyway. All the movements suddenly sidelined by quarantine, a sense of social responsibility, while the foxes have their way with the chicken coop.

But don’t panic. That’s the market’s job. Just sit back, relax, strap in, and make sure to keep tuning in for the latest incompetence, closures and freak-outs. While ICE is dragging the sick from their hospital beds, take solace that at least Cuba will survive. The contradictions are heightening. Hope to see you on the other end, once we figure all this out.

the quieter war

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One notable memory from Iraq: it was bad enough being there, but being told that the Katyushas falling, the gun-battles raging and the planes in flames at the airport were all figments of your imagination was really quite awful. I’m not making any of this up. It’s bad enough there, what with the naked profiteering off human misery, that you feel like you’re crazy all the time, but this is the added little push towards mental insecurity that can find a person like myself packing my bags or some psychopath choosing to pursue a lifetime career.

There’s nothing nice about war. Not one thing. Heroism is nice, but it’s rarely encountered without complications. You don’t see that bit in the movies. My mom took me to see “Saving Private Ryan” when I was a kid for some reason, and I remember shaking like a leaf in the chair while people had their guts spilled and brains blown out. War is really terrible, I thought – but you really don’t know the half of it until you see it up close for yourself, until you live it. Even then, when you do, there are always people to tell you that you’re making a big deal of it, you’re exaggerating, making it up, just crazy.

Another maddening question is that nobody knows how many U.S. soldiers are in Iraq. The Pentagon says one thing (I guess nearly 10,000 deployed now?), but they lie all the time. In Erbil, where I was stationed with a UN-adjacent agency as a photographer/graphic designer, I was shocked when I heard that Obama justified airstrikes and a scaling-up of (unknown) numbers of soldiers and mercenaries by saying there were at least “thousands” of U.S. citizens living there. I never saw more than a handful of them.

The Green Zone in Baghdad is 4 miles square in size. I never went myself but I heard from others that there were tens of thousands of Americans living there. Indeed, there’s no coverage from the New York Times between 2012 and about a week ago that mentions the Embassy, which is – again – nearly as large as Vatican City.
This all speaks to the quieter war that has been wrought on Iraq since the invasion in 2003. ISIS was wrought on Iraq. The deformed babies born across the country were conceived by the Pentagon. The Kurds would tell me the US were arming ISIS while listening to the Israeli diplomatic corps broadcasting in Zionist propaganda that compared the Kurds to Jews.
There’s not much to say about this level of mindfuck except that I hope you understand why I haven’t been able to write about it for years since then. It made me a little bit crazy, as anyone who knew me at the time will attest. I left and came back to the US and drove across the whole of the belly of the beast, joined a political organization, shed blood, tended wounds, watched people die and go to jail, and now, after all that time and all those explosions of history, we’re back where we started with the quieter war coming back to haunt us.
It’s been almost ten years since I started this blog. I’ve been through a lot during that time, an unbelievable amount if you ask me. And I want to get out. I want to leave the country – but I can’t go anywhere right now.
The one good thing about social media ended up being that you actually can hear from Iraqis and Iranians on what they think on the prospect of total annihilation. It’s really obvious who the plants are, and who is earnest. Because the record is pretty clear at this point – millions of dead Iraqis, millions injured and mangled by chemical weapons, little girls raped – and Donald Trump, who is a real nasty man.
While in Iraq I saw the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom dancing with some girls in a club. He’d just finished drumming up British Weapons sales to the Kurdish Government of Iraq. When my colleague asked him for a selfie, his bodyguards whisked him out of the bar. He is now the Prime Minister of a country which is exiting the European Union and may also be exiting its human rights agreements.
So, things are pretty tough, but now the truth has really made itself known. Yes, it’s gauche to see Americans making memes about the draft when children are dying, but my friends who did time for dodging it during Vietnam would have kissed the earth to see that happen back then.


Yes, Bernie Sanders is an imperialist. I’m not campaigning for him, but it is impressive that he was completely censored by the media and still managed to secure 5 million donations. It’s what left of the American desire not-to-die, which is an important quality for the aggressor to have in any battle where the side of humanity might win.

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War and corpses – the last hope of the rich!
John Heartfield (born Helmut Herzfeld; 19 June 1891 – 26 April 1968)

So much of Australia is on fire. Half a billion animals may be dead. And yet, also today there is a story of a group of New Zealanders kicking a Great White Shark to death. One would think, with the fires so close by, that a respect or regard for nature might be more appropriate here. The war against the earth – the other quieter war. Make no doubt – the Pentagon was meeting with advisors and scientists about this since the 80’s. And yet… one might think the laws of physics could stay the bloody hand of imperialism and settlerism. But capital never thinks like this.

The next obvious step for capital to take is total war. There are the books, which say that destruction of fixed capital and needy labor is increasingly necessary. The slow burn, the quieter wars, are no longer sufficient to support the compound growth of profit. What goes up, must come down. Nothing at all is “too big to fail” – not when the accumulated firepower of the world’s armies (of course, mainly the U.S.) could level the earth many times over.

I would like to leave right now. I would like to leave to the mountains, like to leave the country, to go to Mexico, or to Canada, or to some island out in the Pacific, to Antarctica, hiding out in Asia, Europe or the Middle East. But I cannot do that right now. Maybe in a few months, but not now, not with so much on the line. Not with two dead (suicide) in the last six weeks, and one in jail.

It’s no longer the quaint (but appropriate and correct) adage of “socialism or barbarism”, rather the more appropriate and correct slogan of “socialism or death.”

War and corpses are the last hope of the rich. A certain number have always known it. A far larger number have become more aware. The quieter war is raising its voice again under different conditions than before. In this, perhaps, hope.

The Upshot? or, Gaslighting U.S.A.

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“It feels churlish to complain when the big-picture numbers are so good,” says the New York Times, as if it’s my mother standing over me with her hands on her hips when I tell her I’m too depressed to get out of bed. This is how things are. I’m old enough; I should know better.

Usually I can ignore such a voice. After all, what’s the harm in yelling about how good the economy is when everyone I know knows that it isn’t? Nobody I know is getting rich. We’re gritting our teeth on the subway platform while a cop hassles an old lady on the platform because she’s got one too many bags full of stuff that wasn’t just purchased on 5th avenue. We’re working three jobs and watching the rent keep rising.

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But now the objections to reality take a sinister turn. After brutally arresting 58 protesters, flinging blood all across 5th avenue, a professor snaps a photo of a “Thin Blue Line” flag hanging outside of a Harlem police station and along Flatbush Avenue at another station. Bill De Blasio is gaslighting me and 8.55 million other New Yorkers when he says that it could have been photoshopped. He is gaslighting me and 8.55 million other New Yorkers when he says that just because a teenager hanged himself in front of cameras at Rikers because he went shopping with his mother in New Jersey (technical parole violation) doesn’t mean that anyone actually saw it happen. Don’t you know that Jeffery Epstein killed himself in prison and nobody saw that happen, too?

We know it’s not true – and how dare them! Gaslighting, after all, is nothing if not dripping with contempt. When you were young, your parents and your teachers told you about the Soviet Union, and its propaganda, it’s Pravda, it’s lies piled on top of lies. Then you get older and realize that the truth is only as good as what gets reported on. Yes, the employment numbers are up. Yes, the stock market is soaring. That’s all true. But why is the stock market soaring? What sorts of jobs are people engaged with? If inflation is in check, the Phillips Curve smashed – what does that mean for our everyday lives?

It might strike some as being quaint to look back over old Marx, the Grundrisse having been written over 160 years ago. Yet there is more truth to these ancient books of physics than all the truth published about how well the economy is doing, all the speculations on how Mammon is feeling given Trump’s latest tweets. There is more truth in the rising up of Hudson Yards while the 7 train sheds bolts on Queens residents than in all the glossy investment brochures piled up in the sales office.

A major struggle of the new millennium is determining a reality we can all work with. Whether it’s social media, #fakenews, propaganda, shoddy employment statistics, polling results, etc, we’re all seeking something to root ourselves in, something to get context from. Analysis that isn’t a clapback or a witty quip that floods our brains with dopamine as it gets engagement, or makes us feel depressed when it garners none, both outcomes perhaps no fault of our own.

That’s why I’m running back to the blog, perhaps one of the last long-form formats we used before dissolving into out-of-context 140 character (now 280) tweets, algorithmically determined Facebook posts, instagram likes, whatever.  Even if we’ve forgotten how to write like this. Even if we’re unsure. As the reality becomes more and more clear (and yet somehow less articulate) to so many of us, we increasingly lack the mediums over which we can honestly and clearly communicate. We want so badly to see seen while we’re being heard less and less.

So, in 2020, if we aren’t in the streets for one reason or another, let’s find new places to meet that aren’t subject to being fucked with by sociopathic billionaires. Let’s find each other again, and speak about the future in a way that doesn’t make us feel so atomized and helpless. It’s not helpful.

The hemisphere is on fire

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Forty-nine years ago this week, Salvador Allende took office as president of the Republic of Chile, setting Empire into motion with a series of diabolical plans. While wages went up and prices went down in Chile, economists in Chicago were salivating at the possibility of instituting a new form of governance called neoliberalism, a nightmare born into the world with the blood-soaked hands of a fascist dictatorship backed by the CIA, the Pentagon, and, of course, Wall Street.

While the forces of life were set in motion – gathered in the streets, the workplace, into assemblies – the forces of death were grasping at all bureaucratic straws to try and roll back the progress of real democracy. The lawyers were maneuvering in the courts and cruel politicians were maneuvering in congress, but it took a brutal military coup led by a US-trained reptile to push humanity back for the next 50 years.

The bodies piled up in stadiums and mass graves. So many that it became difficult, as it often is in any war, to put faces and stories to the dizzying number of martyrs. Yet one victim loomed larger than any. Democracy was the first victim on September 11th, 1973. No matter the will of the masses; under neoliberalism they would all become slaves.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a flurry of financial crises, and the complete shifting of hegemonic power, democracy became a macabre corpse put on display, on flags and on newspaper headlines. Her broken body was used to justify endless imperial wars, sanctions, coups and regime change. The very surface of the planet itself began to rot under this regime. It became a hothouse for fascism and disenfranchisement, for sad and lonely people.

Forty-nine years later, and the hemisphere is literally on fire. The Amazon is burning, California is burning, and the ice caps are melting. Fires from molotovs are lighting up cops in Santiago. Barricades are aflame in Bolivia. Argentina shivers from the fires lit by indigenous torches held high in the streets of Ecuador. This winter, the houseless in New York will hold their hands towards this flame to warm themselves with the promise of change.

The ghost of democracy has been haunting the western hemisphere, but terrific spells have been cast and she is stirring into existence again. The altar was set by millions taking to the streets in support of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela – not just in Venezuela but across the world. The resurrection began with hundreds of youth in Chile leaping over turnstiles to protest fare hikes, a spell so powerful that it reverberated 5,000 miles to Brooklyn, where hundreds of youth did the same to protest a crumbling infrastructure felt most keenly by the fists of cops landing on Black and brown children.

The spell is convoked by thousands of voices singing Victor Jara.

The spell is convoked by thousands of voices chanting: se siente, se siente, Allende esta presente.

It is a promise articulated by a woman in the streets with a weary face, holding a sign that says: Neoliberalism was born in Chile and will die in Chile.

As we go into the year 2020, a scary year, it is necessary for us to hold hands and keep chanting, for us to join hands with our family elsewhere in the world and put our hearts and bodies to the task of resurrecting democracy. It will be the most difficult here, in the belly of the beast, where democracy never took root in a country where 30% of the labor force was once enslaved, where certain human beings were only counted as three-fifths of their white counterparts. Empire has no interest in its denizens meeting each other to pursue justice, equity and liberation. Yet, it is in the whole world’s best interest that we learn how to do this thing, and that we learn to do it well. The process will not be easy, but it is urgently needed.

Here’s to fires burning in all the right places.

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Who was no platformed at Left Forum?

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“Those who attacked Žižek, those who sought to keep him from speaking, didn’t have a positive politics or even a critique. All they had was a posture. For these leftists the act of calling someone out, the denunciation, is an end in itself. Those who heckled Žižek, those who demanded to know why the Left Forum had allowed him to speak, they weren’t attempting to change anything. They were instead only seeking to exercise their collective power in this one instance.”

Douglas Lain writes, while describing a recent protest against Žižek speaking at Left Forum this year as an “illness on the Left“, that details of the protest were not important. Rather, it is “the character of the critique, the reasons Žižek’s new detractors gave for heckling him, and finally what is behind the call to no platform him” that matter. Unfortunately for all of us, Lain does not illuminate us further on those issues in his defense of Žižek, or perhaps more accurately, Žižek’s right to be warmly welcomed and accepted at Left Forum.

Instead, Lain snarks about Amy Goodman’s speech before Žižek’s performance as being “insufferably pious” before launching into defending a man who defends Roma pogroms in his native Slovenia. It’s not hard to understand why Lain was rankled by Goodman and could not wait to hear Žižek speak. While Amy Goodman paid tribute to Bree Newsome, who courageously scaled the flagpole in South Carolina to tear down what crackers call “the Stars and Bars”, Žižek told his front-row acolytes, via anonymous friend, that Native Americans, victims of the largest genocide in human history, cut down more trees and killed more buffalo than the slave-owning colonists who invaded the Western Hemisphere ever did. While Goodman warned the audience against the resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan, a murderous organization created to lynch those brought to this country in chains, Žižek insisted that we should – like the Klan does – seek to build our identity in relation to people of color by calling them the N-word.

I don’t know where Douglas Lain comes from. I don’t know what his class background is. And I certainly don’t know what he means by criticising the “character” of our critique of Žižek as being without substance or purpose.

After all, did Lain feel uncomfortable when he heard the words that came out of Žižek’s own mouth read back to him? Did he feel as though he was suddenly singled out in his enjoyment of Žižek’s rantings that – “of course” – terrorists and rapists were among the refugees in Europe? He insists that “supposedly racist or sexist quotes taken from [Žižek’s] lectures or essays“, were “either stripped of context or misinterpreted” – but was either Žižek or Lain too traumatized by our minuscule protest to say exactly how using the N-word is acceptable in any context?

Was he, like a young man who emailed me earlier today to call me “ugly” and “disgusting”, rather “embarrassed” by the presence of a handful of women and people of color heckling Žižek and insisting that he could not use the N-word on a stage once occupied by Cornell West and Harry Belafonte? At a forum where the “Left” – traditionally people who are in favor of smashing racism instead of welcoming it as “moderately progressive” discourse – did it seem embarrassing for Lain and others like him to find people who cared so deeply about these things?

Did Lain and his companions suddenly feel out of place as the vast majority of the audience — including Ms. Goodman, who was slated to appear on stage with Žižek but left as he began his tirade – walked out on such a performance?

Good! That’s what it feels like to be on the wrong side of a picket line.

It was never my intention to no platform Slavoj Žižek at Left Forum. It was my intention, as I stated at the Q&A section of his plenary, to find out how much money the organizers spent to bring a man who was known to propagate such racist, misogynist, and xenophobic ideas to the Left. I’m still waiting for my answer.

Days after I had a white man in Žižek audience jab his finger at me and insist it was “just fine” for him to call his black friends n—-rs, someone with access to the Left Forum twitter account suddenly revolted.

Our anonymous comrade stated the following:

“The Old guard is threatened by a decentralized movement being led by [people of color]. They cringe at the thought of being useless. They validate their existence by pontificating, criticizing and theorizing. Xenophobia, racism and Euro-centrism hides behind marxist language. The reluctance to rescind Zizek’s invite after deplorable comments on Syrian refugees speaks volumes about the old guard overseeing the [Left Forum]. He was kept on to back the old left (van)guard against what they see as the threat of “identity politics.” Over the last couple years there has been an internal struggle to broaden the content and demographic of the Left Forum. This will undoubtably come at the expense of the older, white traditional marxist left.”

A little more than an hour later, these tweets were wiped from the Left Forum’s twitter account. They followed comments that were critical of Žižek’s appearance also wiped from the Left Forum’s Facebook group. This action followed Kristin Lawler trying to grab the microphone away from me as I stood to read Žižek’s statements back to the audience assembled. And these actions all followed from the live feed covering the event being cut as soon as I opened my mouth to protest in front of people like Douglas Lain.

Who then, is being “no platformed” at Left Forum? Is it someone like Žižek, who the organizers immediately sought to defend and shield from critique? Is it the organizers, who viciously ignored and censored any dissent of their decisions? Is it someone like Lain, a left book publisher who uses his position to mediate left discourse?

No, I think not. Based on what happened, I’d say the people of color, women and our allies who Žižek insists encapsulate “white liberalism” in our refusal to accept racism and misogyny into our discourse at Left Forum were those who were no platformed. And we are the ones who will keep struggling while folks like Lain wring their hands and wonder where their legitimacy has run off to.

You can voice your concerns to Left Forum via their twitter @LeftForum, their Facebook group, or via email: panels [at] leftforum.org

NO PLATFORM

 

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NO PLATFORM is a project by (me) Taryn Fivek to explore the modern economic and political contradictions across the United States. It is a collaborative multimedia project that aims to explore a side of the US not covered in our 24-hour news cycle. In the tradition of Studs Terkel, Barbara Ehrenreich, and the WPA writer corps, I want to capture a snapshot of what life looks like in the United States in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential Elections.

45 million Americans live below the poverty line, with tens of millions just one paycheck away from homelessness. Tens of millions are without gainful employment. Not a day goes by that we don’t read about more police brutality against people of color. Guantanamo Bay is still open for business, and unprecedented wars rage across the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands are poisoned not only in Flint, but across the country.

The United States runs on billion dollar advertising campaigns. Some of the biggest and most popular of these campaigns are the Presidential elections that arrive every 4 years, more glitzed-up and overwhelming with each cycle. It’s hard to avoid the talking heads when they’re playing on every gas station television and filling up your spam folder. Dinners and church sermons become political arguments driven by the media’s agenda on how we relate to government in this country. We are told over and over that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.

But the majority of people who are of voting age in this country don’t vote. 11.5 million are working here without legal paperwork, 2.3 million are in prison, more than 40 million aren’t naturalized citizens, and tens of millions more have just given up on the system. These are people who have no platform to speak and no platform to vote for.

Many of the largest structural issues – racism, inequality, and unemployment – are given lip service across the news media. History deserves a better record of what life is like in 2016 – 15 years after the declaration of the War on Terror, a decade after Hurricane Katrina, and eight years since the start of the Great Recession.

Please join me as I travel across the United States, speaking with the working class and people living on the margins about what challenges and struggles they face living in the US.

What follows will be a collection of photos, interviews, audio, video and essays that will contribute to a book about the challenges facing people who live in the US during one of the most controversial election cycles of the century.

I’m currently crowdfunding my 90-day field work across the country via Kickstarter.

You can see the rest of the pitch there. I’d appreciate your support – even $1. More than anything else, this is about building an audience to collaborate on this project. Please share widely with comrades, friends and family if possible. Thanks for your encouragement, and see you (for the summer, at least!) over at noplatform.org.

Stranger than fiction: How to keep an antiwar movement down

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Imagine, if you will, the year 2016. It is a year of war. Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ukraine, Turkey – just a handful in a long list – are under attack. Covert operations angling at “regime change” take place in the Caribbean, Central and South America. The African continent is engulfed in conflict, the threat of “regime change” knocking against even South Africa’s door. The BRICs are threatened, destabilizing. Thousands drown every year in the Mediterranean while millions more flood Europe, desperate for refuge from the violence and poverty that plagues their homelands. The right is on the rise across Europe, the US, Canada and Australia. The global economy is sagging under the weight of its own contradictions.

The United States government, that acts as the hired guns of a global class of jet-setting billionaires, imprisons 2.3 million of its own people. 3.2 per cent of its citizens are under correctional control. The descendants of those once kidnapped and enslaved are particularly tormented – one in three black males in the USA will spend some time in prison. 12,000 children in Flint, Michigan are poisoned by lead in the water. 60,000 people in New York City are homeless. Nearly 1,000 people were killed by the police in the United States last year. Thousands more are tortured – even boiled alive – in US prisons. In the state of Louisiana, black men in chains pick cotton for slave wages while overseers toting shotguns monitor them from horseback. The electoral system is rigged, disenfranchises millions, and offers the same solution, year after year: submit or be crushed.

Imagine, if you will, the year 2016 without a revolutionary movement against such conditions.

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The Black Panther Party was possibly the highwater mark for American revolution in the 20th century because it existed in concert with, and gave guidance to, a broad-based antiwar movement. While the labor struggles of the working class at the turn of the century were integral in improving the lives of millions of Americans and providing a platform for revolutionary socialism, it wasn’t until the radical labor movement started to speak out against the First World War that they were persecuted in full by the government, lynched, deported and imprisoned. Likewise, the Black Panthers were most heavily targeted when they developed a line that connected the suffering of the American people to the suffering inflicted on others by the United States abroad. In both instances, the culprit was imperialism, capitalism made flesh in the form of guns and planes that could stamp out challenges to its hegemony.

That the Black Panther Party even existed should one of the greatest points of pride among radicals in the United States. Indeed, Black Panthers are still on the run from the FBI or languishing in prisons, sometimes for decades under solitary confinement. They were able to serve the people while educating them about the world we lived in. To the Black Panthers, to anyone who would call themselves a dialectical materialist, the idea that the United States Government is an institution that can be reformed is simply absurd. The United States Government, to Marxists, does not exist as a faulty waiter failing to bring free health care and universal housing with the check, but rather, to mediate class conflict in favor of the bourgeoisie – not just in the United States, but worldwide. The Black Panthers saw this, and declared themselves in solidarity with the victims of imperialism. They toured the world, meeting with revolutionaries from North Korea to Vietnam. And this, along with organizing among poor black communities in the United States, is what brought down the wrath of the state on their heads.

It is possible to say that a revolutionary movement in the United States can only exist when there is praxis that recognizes the relationship between oppression in the US and imperialism. I would further venture to say that there can be no praxis without the two elements being present concurrently, and that no honest effort at building a revolutionary movement in the US can be made without recognizing that there must be an antiwar movement to join, and that this antiwar movement must be anti-imperialist.

After all, the wars of today differ greatly from the wars of the early 20th century, the wars that threw Emma Goldman and Big Bill Haywood in jail. We no longer have the draft – the popular rage over Vietnam saw an end to that – and the US spends more time launching air strikes from unmanned drones than digging trenches or preparing for bayonet combat. Likewise, imperialism doesn’t always take place at the end of a gun. The IMF and World Bank, created at the end of World War II, helped to exert influence over economies and governments where a heavier, more direct hand was once required. The creation of NATO and the Cold War made imperialism seem a war of ideologies, rather than the ham-fisted grab at resources that it was. Now, it seems that while American bombs and bullets murder so many worldwide, we are encouraged to side with imperialism as socialists. We are expected to take on the reasoning of George W. Bush and Samantha Power so long as it is dressed up and marketed in a way that pleases us, even if we consider ourselves “Left” leaning politically. Like soda and smartphones, we are exhorted to find identity in our positions, to represent ourselves by our consumer choices.

An alarming trend is on the rise in the United States and in the English-speaking world more generally: the ubiquitous Op-Ed. What was once relegated to just one page of the newspaper (the term Op-Ed meaning something that ran on the page opposite to Editorial) now makes up large sections of online news media. I imagine it is cheaper to pay a freelancer $250 (optimistic!) for their opinion than finance a foreign bureau. Whole TV networks run on an audio-visual version of the Op-Ed. It is a form of news that directly tells its reader how to think about the current events. Many gain their information on a topic simply from reading Op-eds. Today’s columnist and pundit is a TV show, someone that we can tune into on a regular basis for entertainment and flattery. If one show is boring, if you don’t like what they’re saying – simply switch the channel. It doesn’t matter, as all are trying to sell you a ruling class agenda. And, above all else, in our 24 hour news cycle, we are never allowed to present news in a boring way. The VICE lifestyle brand turned global news channel, with its correspondents pulled from content marketing’s central casting, is a prime example of the desire to “sex-up” news by letting opinions lead coverage. It is a way to engage the youth, as it boasts openly, to not only consume brands, but also official narratives, with enthusiasm.

A narrative example from the Op-ed world of news could be as follows: In Syria, democratic protesters are fighting against a brutal regime that slaughters them with impunity. These democratic protesters, now called rebels, are always at risk of being annihilated by state violence and torture because the Western Left has “failed” them. We must all support these rebels and pressure our government to do the right thing, whatever that might be.

Some articles might be run in conjunction, many that might contradict this narrative. We might learn from respected journalists with years of experience and lauded professional histories that things aren’t so simple. We might learn from State Department press transcripts that these brave rebels take quite a lot of money from the US Government. But it doesn’t matter if half of the paper contradicts the other half. When we are told how to read the news, through the eyes of these pundits, we are happily oblivious of whatever facts might contradict our chosen authority. After all, Thomas Friedman is far more influential and famous than some no-name stringer for The Times. Anyone who might disagree with the official narrative, even if they are respected journalists, scholars or activists, are now called conspiracy theorists, “hacks” or worse.

But while journalists are still nominally held to professional standards, the pundit owes no such thing to her audience. After all, this is just her opinion, and she is not expected to have thoroughly researched differing narratives – nor is she obligated to present opposing views, or to present anything evenly – when publishing her Op-ed. This is not unexpected, nor is it dishonest to the job description of a “pundit”. It’s up to the publication to decide how much of its material is news, and how much of it is entertainment packaged as Op-eds.

Yet, there is danger when a pundit or entertainer decides to call herself a journalist without having been subjected to the same standards we would expect from the NYT stringer. Facts are not checked and sources are not vetted. So-called journalists, such as Michael Weiss or Molly Crabapple, rely heavily on anonymous sources who slip them scintillating information or photographs. And yet, I am unsure who these sources are, who has vetted them, and how they did so. Indeed, as this new generation straddles the line between journalist and pundit, the means by which they communicate are themselves in question. My own WhatsApp number is from Iraq, though I have not lived there since October 2015. So, I think it’s natural to ask how these sources are processed, especially if the Op-ed writers posing as journalists are writing whole books based on their testimony, appearing on talk shows as experts, and building careers off promoting wars. While the content may be biased and one-sided, laden with marketing copy and convenient omissions, we should be incredibly wary on how we define, protect, but also how we verify the “source”. Indeed, I would ask how these pundits find, vet and receive information, but as many already tried to have me fired from my last job for asking such questions, it’s pointless to attempt from my position – though I welcome corrections and inputs from editorial.

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As it stands, The Guardian admitted last week that it had been fed stories on Syria by the UK Home Office operating from behind a PR firm that was operating a Syrian advocacy campaign. Breakthrough Media joins its American agency Purpose (via The Syria Campaign) in pushing advocacy for pro-intervention narratives on the Syria conflict. What is left out of the discussion of whether or not public funds are being used to propagandize war to the tax-paying public is the disclosure of who the freelance “journalists” are that are being paid or otherwise lobbied to write on Syria. We would expect that journalists taking money or in kind contributions from campaign staff disclose such information when writing on the election – why not the same expectation from those who write on foreign policy matters? Perhaps it is because, in the long run, such issues are far weightier than whatever new jab a candidate throws on social media or a cable news talk show. One of the more chilling revelations from The Guardian, one seemingly lifted straight from my book, is that some of the journalists reported they were unaware that they were being utilized in this way.

If we knew that Fred Hampton or Emma Goldman were taking money from public relations firms (who may or may not have been receiving marching orders from governments) when speaking or writing on the wars they opposed, wouldn’t that change the way we see their positions? And certainly, if we were to discover that some of our favorite, cherished personalities who regularly tell us how to read the news were taking money from PR firms, to confuse, mislead, attack or threaten activists who might otherwise try and build a case against the US government’s wars abroad and at home, wouldn’t that be a scandal?

There may be no antiwar movement today because we live in a media environment that seeks to destroy it in its nascence. Andrew Bacevich, in his recent instructive essay for Harper’s called “American Imperium”, makes the case that:

The trivializing din of what passes for news drowns out the antiwar critique. One consequence of remaining perpetually at war is that the political landscape in America does not include a peace party.

Indeed, before there can be a peace party, there must be an antiwar critique. And the “trivializing din” that Bacevich speaks of is not simply drowning out antiwar critique, it is merciless in seeking to destroy and discredit ideas such as the fact that the United States enjoys unprecedented military, economic, ideological and strategic domination over the entire world. Such ideas, when voiced publicly, are met with derision and laughter. As if, with dozens of bases and tens of thousands of soldiers surrounding Russia, one could seriously argue that Russia is imperialist, or an equal threat to world peace as the US. There are no Russian bases and no Russian soldiers garrisoned on our borders. We cannot even know, as the numbers are not publicly available, how many US soldiers and bases are currently in the Middle East – indeed, how many are currently in Iraq and Syria, where much conflict is currently taking place. Whereas before, reliable journalists and their supportive editors might have been successful in discovering such figures, they are now too focused on revenue and survival. This opens wide the door for propagandists who wish to deride and discredit any remaining “Left” antiwar sentiment in the US. Until this is resolved, building an anti-imperialist antiwar movement will remain an uphill battle, even among smaller groups, as subjectivity and sophistry continues to be taught and promoted over objectivity, materialism, serious study and clear thinking.