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In a uncanny sort of way the slow motion failure of the US war effort in Afghanistan is a testament to the fiercely stubborn nature of our species. The US has total control of the air, real-time satellite imagery, and soldiers equipped with the best (and most expensive) military equipment known to our species. And yet, they continue to fail. The war in Afghanistan is almost two decades old now, and an favourable end for the West is unlikely.

The US, despite its world leadership, seems to learn little from it mistakes.  Vietnam remains a powerful lesson and reminder that ‘big guns, best tech’ military option is not a guarantee of victory.  The cost of resisting the US war machine is appalling, some two million(plus) dead, but Vietnam illustrated it is possible to resist.  Afghanistan is on a similar course.

This is what happens when a country decides to wage an unpopular war.  A disconnect grows between the citizens of the country and the political class that is waging the war.  A professional military bears the causalities with little coverage at home, so the war in question can fade out of the public consciousness.  Coupled with a lapdog media that should be exposing the tragedy of errors that is the Afghan war, little is said, and the boondoggle can continue.

Alfred McCoy reviews a small slice of the American failure in Afghanistan, focusing on the drug trade, that happens to fuel the Taliban and provide roughly 85% of the world’s heroin.  You’d think the biggest guns and the brightest minds could plot victory over a dirt poor nation and peasant farmers…

 

“Not only did this problematic drug war fail to curtail the traffic, but it also alienated the rural residents the government so desperately needed to win over. Worse yet, in the end it actually encouraged illicit opium production — a frequent outcome in Washington’s worldwide drug war that I once called “the stimulus of prohibition.”

Using sophisticated satellite imagery, Sopko’s team, for example, found a troubling disconnect between areas that received development aid from Washington or its allies and those that were subjected to opium eradication programs. In strategic Helmand and Nangarhar provinces, for instance, satellite photographs clearly reveal that the various drug eradication projects ripped through remote areas where “the population was highly dependent on opium poppy for its livelihoods,” rendering poor farmers destitute. The development aid was, however, lavished on more accessible, largely drug-free districts near major cities elsewhere in Afghanistan, leaving countless thousands of farmers in critical rural areas angry at the government and susceptible to Taliban recruitment.

Even liberal development alternatives to those rip-up-the-poppies programs, claims Sopko, only served to stimulate opium production in surprising ways. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), for instance, spent $36 million on irrigation for a showcase Food Zone project, meant to promote the growing of legal crops in southern Kandahar Province. As it happened, though, this important infrastructure program actually turned out to contribute “to rising levels of opium poppy cultivation” — an unintended outcome that could be seen in similar “irrigation projects in provinces like Nangarhar, Badakhshan, and Kunar.”

Next door to Kandahar in central Helmand Province, another Food Zone program initially helped reduce the opium crop by 60%. But as British agronomist David Mansfield reports, by the spring of 2017 an “unprecedented” proliferation of poppies covered up to 40% of the farmland targeted by that project; guerrillas were back in force; and farmers felt, as one put it, that “the Taliban is better than the government; they don’t ban poppy, they just ask for tax.” By now, of course, given all the years of bungled anti-drug programs, Mansfield concludes that the Kabul government has little hope of wresting “back control of central Helmand.”

USAID programs that emphasized increased wheat production proved similarly counterproductive. “With higher-yielding varieties and improved agricultural technologies,” writes Sopko, “households in the well-irrigated central valleys of rural Afghanistan would be able to meet their family wheat requirements with a smaller part of their land,” allowing “a larger area… to be allocated to [the] high-value… opium poppy.”

An Uncertain Future

Corroborating Sopko’s pessimism, a recent report by Mujib Mashal of the New York Times depicted the worsening Afghan drug situation as the product, in part, of Washington’s failed policies. Fueled by a booming opium harvest, the Taliban has recently expanded from poppy growing into large-scale heroin production with an estimated 500 labs refining the drug inside Afghanistan — part of a strategy aimed at capturing a greater share of the $60 billion generated globally by the country’s drug exports.

Out of the whole opium eradication project, the National Interdiction Unit, an Afghan outfit trained by U.S. Special Forces, is more or less what’s left when it comes to hopes for reducing the traffic in drugs. Yet their nighttime helicopter interdiction raids on mobile, readily reconstructed heroin labs are proving futile and their chief, reports Mashal, was recently sacked for “probably leaking information to hostile forces.” U.S. military commanders now realize that local Taliban bosses, enriched by the heroin boom, have nothing to gain from further peace negotiations, which remain the only way of ending this endless war.

Meanwhile, the whole question of opium eradication has, according to Mashal, gotten surprisingly “little attention in the Trump administration’s new strategy for the Afghan war.” It seems that U.S. counter-narcotics officials have come to accept a new reality “with a sense of helplessness” — that the country now supplies 85% of the world’s heroin and there’s no end to this in sight.

So why has America’s ambitious $9 billion counter-narcotics program fallen into failure again and again? When such illegality corrupts a society as thoroughly as opium has Afghanistan, then drug trafficking comes to distort everything — giving even good programs bad outcomes and undoubtedly twisting Trump’s headstrong plans for victory into certain defeat.

Think of the never-ending war in Afghanistan as Washington’s drug of choice of these last 16 years.”

   How quickly we slip in barbarity.  From Normalizing Atrocity, Ken Orphan writes on Counterpunch:

“Thousands of socialists and leftists were marched into stadiums in Chile in the 1970s and gunned down, tortured, or disappeared in a country with a much smaller military than the US. Between 1965 and 1966, at least a million communists, or those believed to be communists, were hunted down and brutally murdered in Indonesia by rightwing death squads and the police. And millions of Jews, Roma, communists, homosexuals and the disabled were persecuted, rounded up and sent to concentration camps in the 1930s and 40s in Germany and Nazi occupied countries, where most perished at a time when many ordinary people thought “the logistics” of doing something like that were too “enormous” to fathomed, much less carried out. And each atrocity was preceded by the rise of a pernicious fascism and the language of dehumanization by leaders.

The notion that atrocity “can’t happen here” is soundly refuted by the fact that it has happened here. And countless times. The US, a nation founded upon organized ethnic cleansing and genocide of the native population, and the brutal enslavement of millions of Africans, has also been home to more recent mass atrocities. Thousands of black and brown men and some women were lynched over the early part of the 20th century. Events organized and sanctioned by authorities, police and politicians, where popcorn, postcards and body parts were sold as souvenirs to the ghoulish onlookers. Thousands of Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in internment camps in the desert during WW2 for the sake of “national security.”

The US has many a precedent to follow with regards to mass detainment and slaughter.

And even a short historical account of the American ruling establishment and its institutions reveals that it has the capacity to participate and administer the most heinous crimes against humanity that have ever been conceived. ICE is more than happy to follow his dictates, and establishment Democrats, the so-called “resistance,” have indicated time and time again that they will unite with Republicans in defending the most odious of American policies.

One thing history has proven is that mass atrocity can be committed with few people, with great efficiency at a moment’s notice, little technology, and with shocking approval or the complacence of the majority of ordinary people. But it must first be normalized. To be sure, if a people can tolerate dehumanizing language of entire groups by its leader, and the utterly sadistic policy of ripping children from the arms of their parents and putting them in cages, or pregnant women being shackled to beds, or the torture of non-violent LGBTQ and mentally ill migrants via solitary confinement for days, or militias working in tandem with government agencies to round up unarmed migrants, or a government prosecuting those who provide water and shelter to other human beings in desperate need, it is certainly capable of tolerating, or even applauding, even worse monstrous depravity. And without a doubt, we are only one absurd tweet away from that potential nightmare.

Election time in 2020. War abroad and societal repression on the homefront perfect for reelecting an populist incumbent president.

 

“New Delhi — Millions of people in the South Indian city of Chennai, the country’s sixth largest metropolis, are facing an acute water shortage as the main reservoirs have dried up after a poor monsoon season. Some schools in the city have cut working hours and dozens of hotels and some restaurants have reportedly shut down due to the shortage. 

The city of more than 4.5 million has been left to rely on wells and water brought in by truck. Thousands of wells dug across the city are leading to a rapid drop in the ground water level, and raising even further the concerns of environmentalists.

New wells are being dug as deep as 1,000 feet. Much of the water they produce isn’t even fit to drink.”

I cannot even imagine what it would be like  not having water on demand in my home.  What is happening in India seems quite alien to me, having never been through a drought or even a severe period of water rationing.  Living in Canada I have access to what will become one of the most sought after resources in the late 21st century, potable water.   Oil and gas are soooooo… 20th century.

I imagine my insular situation is being replicated in segments of Indian society as those who have the political and economic power are not feeling the water stress that the poor in Chennai are experiencing.  Given some of human nature, I would not be surprised if certain enterprising individuals were making a profit off of the shortage of water, selling a life sustaining resource to their fellow citizens…

“But the government trucks are only able to meet part of the demand, leaving the rest of the population at the mercy of private vendors, who appear to be making a killing off the crisis. A private truck carrying about 3,200 gallons of water would have cost around 1,500 Rupees (about $22) in April. Now such a delivery is going for about $85. 

Man uses a hand-pump to fill up a container with drinking water as others wait in a queue on a street in Chennai
A man uses a hand-pump to fill up a container with drinking water as others wait in a queue on a street in Chennai, India, June 17, 2019. REUTERS

Reghu Ram, a filmmaker who has lived in the city for eight years, told CBS News the cost of such a private water supply “would mean about 50% of the monthly income of a significant part of the population.”

Ah, my faith in capitalism remains unshaken.  God bless (and may they go well) those pioneering water entrepreneurs for helping fulfilling a basic need of Chennai’s citizenry (and procuring an earnest profit of course).

One can expect reckless profiteering and exploitation of the poorest members of society during any crisis.  Heady libertarians and advocates for a denuded state take note, this is endgame that you seem to be constantly striving toward.  It is neither just, nor humane.

“Water needs to be treated as a highly limited resource,” Vencatesan said. “There is a gap between government policy and the implementation.” 

An alarming report last year by the Indian government’s own research institute, NITI Aayog, warned that 21 Indian cities, including New Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad, would run out of groundwater by 2020.

The report also said 40% of India’s 1.34 billion people would have no access to drinking water by 2030. More than 600 million Indians are facing “acute water shortage” already, according to the report. 

And there it is folks.  First sentence.  “There is a gap between [(water conservation/management)] government policy and implementation.”  The Indian state has been ineffective in managing the water situation.  Lax regulations, corruption, and general malaise from the leadership within have allowed this crisis to boil over.

The simple point is this:  Those at the top of the hierarchy are not in jeopardy.  The water crisis situation has not been realized for them, and like me in Canada, they cannot really fathom the problem, and thus, even less the solution to the water crisis.  Therefore the machinery of state is not being effectively mobilized because those in charge do not feel the dire threat to their existence unlike those of the lower classes of society.  This is the disconnect that is being played out the world over, our hierarchies are unresponsive to the latent threats climate change brings.  This makes effective, coordinated responses difficult if not impossible to orchestrate.

Hierarchies activate when the threat level becomes serious enough that the perceived social and economic insularity suddenly falls away.  The elite’s inevitable “oh shit” moment though comes entirely too late to remedy the situation.  Then, of course, people die.

Let’s hope our elites here in North America are watching the situation closely in India, as their crisis will soon be our crisis.

So the UCP just passed Bill 9, better known as the we’re too scared to negotiate so we’re going to legislate new wages for our public sector employees. This, of course, is a clear violation of charter rights to collective bargaining and flies in the very face of good faith bargaining. One union has already stated that they will be challenging this bill in court and I’m sure it will be challenged by everyone it tries to get used upon. This mean that the so called fiscal conservatives will be wasting public money defending their illegal legislation in an effort to crush the working people of Alberta.

In a brazen act of doublethink the UCP is branding this as no big deal, as a simple delay to bargaining. Kenney state, “No one’s taking anybody’s rights away,” while his finance minister goes on record that they need this time to negotiate in good faith, which is right on point with their Orwellian messaging. Delaying contract arbitrations that were scheduled and signed in good faith is the literal definition of taking peoples rights away and negotiating in bad faith. But hey it’s a brave new world. With the new wave of doublethink we can say all sorts of new things like we’ve brought 6465 days of peace to Afghanistan, bringing freedom to its people, and strength to its children.

And this brings us to you, dear UCP voter. You have done this. Each and every one of you. None of this is a surprise. Not one iota. There was every indication that the UCP was going to do this before the election. Thanks to you dear UCP voter we now have a government that doesn’t care about the charter or the rule of law and will waste our tax monies in fighting for their ideological war on working people. So thank you UCP voters. And by thank you I mean fuck you. I hope all the teachers, nurses, and public servants that voted UCP are the ones that will lose their jobs in the coming months.

Mainstream 101: Supporting Imperialism, Suppressing Socialism

 

“Yet the corporate use of the word democracy has no relation to the word’s philosophical definition. It is merely a portmanteau for all manner of plunder, the techniques of which include first evicting the wayward socialist in power, by sanction or sabotage or shotgun, then implanting a pliable stooge in power, implementing economic austerity, and selling off state-owned assets (held in the name of the people) to U.S. multinationals. Meanwhile the population stews in a cauldron of social and economic chaos. The pundits then clamor to administer more of the same, calling it a cure, but knowing it isn’t.

The wreckage entrained by this turn of events is nearly wholly hidden by the corporate press. But the events occur nonetheless. The ‘pliable stooges’ are referred to in Communist lore as ‘comprador elite’. Effectively, Washington buys off an elitist in the target country–there are always plenty, most of them educated in some American re-education camp disguised as an Ivy League Elysium–and supplies him or her with a prefabricated policy playbook drawn up inside the beltway by congeries of Chicago School fantasists. Then our obtuse organs of capitalist oligarchy will provide military aid in the form of weapons and training that will almost certainly be necessary to put down the social unrest caused by the austerity policies. Austerity means slashing social spending, which depletes economic demand, which shrinks the economy, which causes international lenders (read Washington-directed banks) to step in, wringing their hands in brotherly concern for their Latin lessers, and hold out a dollar-based loan package stippled with conditionalities.

These conditions include budget caps, the violation of which will trigger punitive measures, and the dropping of tariff regimes that protect domestic industry in favor of “FDI” or Foreign Direct Investment, a pseudo-economic term for a firesale of national resources at deep discounts to foreign corporations. This is also referred to as ‘privatization’ which is said to be necessary in order to raise funds for the government to pay back the onerous loan, which was naturally signed off on by the comprador elite in charge, a traitor who betrays his own population, impoverishes them, and fences their own wealth for what amounts to a transaction fee, which he then pockets before absconding to foreign climes. (Think of the Shah of Iran being granted admission to the United States for medical treatment after being chased from the country by the revolution). This makes the loan odious as well as onerous, but this is disregarded by the debt collectors.

Additional costs come in the form of ‘externalities’, the second best trick of capitalist exploitation. The first is when capital captures the surplus value from labor (which means you will never be paid your true worth in a capitalist system). The second is when capital socializes the steep costs of production. Here the costs often materialize in the form of ecological depredations, as when corporations strip mine mountaintops (see West Virginia or Jharkhand, India, where slag and sulfur wreck native habitats). These actions often proceed protected by the infamous ‘MOU’ or Memorandum of Understanding that permits domestic and foreign corporations to mine under the aegis of the federal state. Yet how much of this is shared in the tepid correspondence between the monolithic institutions of corporate media and their million minor outlets?”

We’re the good guys, right?

 

It is a wonderful time to be alive.  Our social sphere is a dividedly partisan uncharitable hot mess.  Nothing gets done because the status quo recognizes that people working together have the capacity to radically alter society.  Internecine conflict and partisan yelling matches are not an accident.  They conveniently combust all the oxygen in the public sphere, keeping threatening systemic change far at bay.

Consider, we fecklessly embrace capitalism and the ruthless exploitation and environmental destruction that goes along with it.  Yet, at the same time we have our scientific classes raising the alarm that we are rapidly making our planet uninhabitable.  A few eyebrows are raised, but in general, the system continues to chug along.  Here is one foundational parts of our capitalism system, the ever present race for the bottom and thus maximum profitability (at all costs).

It’s gonna suck when the earth strikes back and decides our defining passion for hoarding slips of paper is not a desirable evolutionary trait.  Pete Dolack writes for CounterPunch:

 

“And as the race to the bottom continues —  as relentless competition induces a never-ending search to find locations with ever lower wages and ever lower health, safety, labor and environmental standards — what regulations remain are targets to be eliminated. Thus we have the specter of “free trade” agreements that have little to do with trade and much to do with eliminating the ability of governments to regulate. And as the whip of financial markets demand ever bigger profits at any cost, no corporation, not even Wal-Mart, can go far enough.

Despite being a leader in cutting wages, ruthless behavior toward its employees and massive profitability, when Wal-Mart bowed to public pressure in 2015 and announced it would raise its minimum pay to $9 an hour, Wall Street financiers angrily drove down the stock price by a third. Wal-Mart reported net income of $61 billion over the past five years, so it does appear the retailer will remain a going concern. Apple reported net income of $246 billion over the past five years, so outsourcing production to China seems to have worked out for it as well.

The Trump administration’s trade wars are so much huffing and puffing. Empty public rhetoric aside, Trump administration policy on trade, consistent with its all-out war on working people, is to elevate corporate power. Nationalism is a convenient cover to obscure the most extreme anti-worker U.S. administration yet seen. Class war rages on, in the usual one-sided manner.”

   Why would people vote against their own interests?  Why do so many people choose not to vote at all?  Some of the answers lie with the very structure of the American political system and the ideological rules that are currently being followed.

Noam Chomsky has always said that the US has two business class parties.  Ostensibly, they agree on a core of values and only differ on a few social and economic ones, just enough to differentiate themselves (modestly from the other).

” -In the US, there is basically one party – the business party. It has two factions, called Democrats and Republicans, which are somewhat different but carry out variations on the same policies. By and large, I am opposed to those policies. As is most of the population.”

-Noam Chomsky

So, it is a terrible system for most, except for the people in power.  Rob Urie explains:

 

“Tacticians for the political establishment(s) understand that electoral politics is antithetical to democracy, which is why they use strategies of exclusion to maintain their lock on power. This unity through exclusion is what makes the pretense that they— Democrats versus Republicans, are ideological combatants so self-serving and implausible. Either Party could expand the electorate by bringing in unaffiliated and disaffected voters, and in-so-doing dominate American politics. But to do so, they would have to offer a political program that voters want.

The U.S. has a very low electoral turnout rate compared with other so-called democracies. The question then is why Democrats would focus their efforts on luring a small number of suburban Republicans to vote for Democrats rather than on the large number of eligible voters from urban, suburban and rural working class and poor neighborhoods? The answer is class. The oligarchs + the richest 9.9% won’t support policies that benefit poor and working-class voters. They might oppose racism, but not poverty.

One easy way to expand the electorate is to stop excluding it. Old news here— voter suppression is rampant in the U.S. While this is a favorite tactic of Republicans, Democrats have passed up every opportunity to 1) force Republicans to stop doing it and 2) enact universal suffrage. Here’s the rub— even if Democrats accepted 20% voter suppression as a background level, they could still craft policies that support the poor and working class and bring in tens of millions of voters by doing so. But they apparently don’t want ‘those people’ voting.

In 2018 in my poor and working class, 98% Democrat, neighborhood, the Democrats left door tags with two messages: property tax ‘relief’ that has little appeal in a 90%+ renter neighborhood and ‘stopping Trump.’ This neighborhood suffered horribly in the Bush / Obama years from the twin catastrophes of de-industrialization and financialization. De-industrialization took away the jobs and then financialization made housing unaffordable while growing a below living-wage chain-store economy that bankrupted local businesses.”

Breaking out of the two party system is the first requirement for any sort of authentic change not only in American society, but also in Canada as well.  The two ‘preferred choices’ both serve a narrow slice of the population while essentially disenfranchising the rest.

If we wish to see real change, we will need to address the systemic electoral obstacles first.

 

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