Authors: Ash Narain Roy and Shimone Jaini*
Every utopia sooner or later turns into a dystopia. Why, then, do Latin Americans fancy themselves constructing alternative utopias? What good is utopia? Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano seems to have the answer, “it is good for walk.” Latin America hasn’t stopped imagining and dreaming. It may not have captured the imagination of global policy-makers and the chattering classes. But the region has indeed changed, mostly for the better. However, it would be premature to proclaim that Latin America has turned the corner.
Why has Latin America acquired the reputation for its pursuit of endless revolutions or what Marina Sitrin calls ‘Everyday Revolutions’? Peruvian novelist Santiago Roncagliolo provides some insights about such revolutions in his novel, Red April, “there is a feeling in Latin America that good ones were not so good and the bad ones were not so bad.”
Latin America has long been a laboratory of political and social experiments. Sebastian Edwards, author of Left Behind: Latin America and the False Promise of Populism, says that the political and economic history of Latin America has been “marked by great hopes and even greater disappointments”. And yet, some of the political and social experiments continue to catapult the region into the global consciousness and resonate with people across the globe.
Latin America suffers from many frailties. But it refuses to put an end to imaginations. It continues to dream how to construct a world where many worlds could live. Thanks to their endless dreams and imaginations, the region glimpses possibilities of other worlds. There is a lot to learn from Latin America both from its best practices and worst failures.
Deepening democracy and political participation
With the entrenchment of democracy, new paradigms of governance have emerged in Latin America. In recent decades the region has shown a trend to reject traditional political parties and vote for new formations to power. The dominance of the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats is long over. But Political institutions are still quite weak. Rewriting constitutions comes easy to Latin Americans. Dominican Republic is having its 32nd constitution. Venezuela, Haiti and Ecuador have had 32nd, 26th and 20th constitutions respectively. Now Chilean President has agreed to change the 1980 Pinochet constitution.
Does it show Latin America’s growing impatience with the non-performing models? Or are Latin Americans undermining democratic principles in the name of pursuing more radical agendas?
The institutional architecture for democracy has been very diverse in Latin America. For instance, in some countries, the party system has collapsed (e.g., Peru and Venezuela); in other countries, parties have become increasingly detached from civil society (e.g., Chile and Mexico), and, in others, social movements have replaced traditional parties (e.g., Bolivia).
The region has also shown deep contempt for modern democratic politics. It means a different kind of politics, not necessarily the denial or rejection of politics. Maybe what the region is hankering after is not just a politics which delivers but also which uses a new language of politics. It is, in a way, what Andreas Schedlar calls ‘end of politics.’
The same voters who were captivated by new, mostly leftist movements, promising to redistribute wealth, punishing traditional parties and turning political systems on their heads have now begun rejecting them. Across the continent traditional parties have disintegrated though the trend is more pronounced in the Andean region.
It all began with the emergence of a ‘vote of rage’ towards the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the present century. Several governments lost power and the voters made a demand like ‘que se vayantodos’ (they all should go). Elections in Mexico in 2000 ended 70 years of PRI’s domination. In 1999, elections in Venezuela brought an end to 40 years of bipartisan politics. Something similar happened in Uruguay in 2000 when the domination of the Colorados and the Blancos came to an end. Popular movements toppled several governments in Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Ivan Hinojosa of Catholic University in Lima says that “some parties recuperate but many don’t, and in their place you have all new and unpredictable movements”.
The institutions that promised better outcomes have delivered at best modest results. Much of the frustrations and anger that have given rise to mass protests and democratic discontent across the region are centred on the weaknesses of these institutions.1 Governments have changed, new parties and political formations have captured power and even the rhetoric has changed but meaningful institutional innovations are still a work in progress.
Constitutional changes and innovative schemes have empowered the various indigenous groups. Social policies and constitutional recognition of new citizenship rights have given these groups a new sense of belonging. However, the durability of these measures remains a moot question at a time when Latin America is witnessing end of the commodity boom and electoral setback to left-wing regimes.
New tools to boost political participation
In the areas of women’s empowerment and advancement of gender rights, the region has made notable advance. A study conducted by International IDEA in 18 Latin American countries demonstrates how important it is to have both men and women leaders to promote better participation from women, if the parties want to be democratic and inclusive institutions.
Efforts made by such parties in 11 “institutional spaces” include Statutes and Declarations of Principles, Internal Organization, Financing, Training, Recruiting, Media, etc. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) have been ratified by every Latin American country. Most countries have approved laws promoting gender equality. Moreover, a small yet significant step of using gender-sensitive language to acknowledge women has proven monumental in reversing the predominantly male concepts in political language.
Despite the continued presence of a series of obstacles limiting the political participation of women in the region, such political parties have undertaken innovative and effective initiatives that can be considered “best practices”.
Multiple global crises have led to an increased interest in Latin America in the social and solidarity economy (SSE). In Latin America, the social and solidarity discourse, deployed with increasing intensity since the 1990s, refers to a model of political and economic development based on principles of solidarity, participation, cooperation and reciprocity. The same has also been articulated as ‘social knowledge economy’.
Hotbed of political innovation
A wave of political innovation is sweeping across Latin America as it is creating more participatory and inclusive democratic governments, breaking its shackles from the deep-rooted authoritarianism. It has also become an inspiration for many on how path to democracy is mapped out and advanced.
The Instituto Update, which studies political innovation in Latin America, found in its study that more than 600 initiatives have been put in place which are trying to reduce the gap between citizens and their governments by increasing political participation, improving transparency and accountability, encouraging innovation in government, and doing more to develop independent media.
The study identifies 5 main approaches in Latin America towards creating, developing and practicing new methods and instruments to foster political participation and trust in government. Firstly, citizens themselves are working for social change. The Secundarista movement that spread all over Brazil was led by students protesting for better education reforms in Saõ Paulo’s public high schools.
Another movement in México known as #Yo soy 132 was spearheaded by students who were protesting against political corruption during the 2012 presidential elections. This shows that people are creating new innovative ways to mobilize resources and to persuade elected officials and bureaucrats to pursue public policy changes.
Secondly, there are many feminist movements taking place all over Latin America like-#PrimaveraFeminista, #NiUnaMenos, #Pimp My Carroça, demanding reproductive rights and bringing attention to the issue of domestic abuse. Activists and organisations are also using social media and humor like GregNews, a comedy news show to make citizens aware and interested in public interest issues.
Thirdly, elected officials are trying to make institutions more participatory and inclusive. Measures like DemocracyOS (Argentina) and LinQ (Ecuador) to Brazil’s Internet Bill of Rights have made great progress in giving voice to the people in the policymaking process.
Moreover, to monitor and hold politicians and corporations accountable, civil society organizations are using technology and open data. Groups like Paraguay’s A Quienes Elegimos, Argentina’s Chequeado, and Chile’s Del Dicho al Hecho are using online tools and organising public protests to insist on transparency from the government.
And finally, there’s a recognition that politics across Latin America needs new voices and new people to get involved. Today, movements such as Mexico’s WikiPolítica and Brazil’s Bancada Ativista, as well as new political parties like Chile’s Revolución Democrática and Argentina’s Partido de la Red, are aiming to make politics accessible, cool, and honorable to a new generation of activists.
How protest movements are novel
Culture has long been a tool of propaganda. But culture in Latin America is also a tool of protests. Protesters dancing to the rhythms of cumbia and salsa music and citizens pot-banging from their balconies have grabbed global eyeballs. Brazilians have resorted to ‘panelacos’ (protesting with pots and pans) against President Bolsonaro for denying science on Coronavirus.
Chileans have resorted to social media with their different artistic modes of expression to warrant their movement against the government which decided to privatize public services and raise the price of public transportation. Victor Jara’s 1971 song “Derecho a la paz”(Right to peace) has become a resistance anthem for students and working-class protestors. The song, originally composed during Pinochet’s dictatorship, has now become an inspiration for the demonstrators to take to the streets despite the violent oppression by the police and military national forces.
New slogans, new symbols of power, new empowerment
For hundreds of years the indigenous people remained invisible in a culture dominated by the language and traditions of Europe. They also became victims ofwhat sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls ‘Racism without Racists’. Hence, recent gains by the indigenous are credible. Today, they have begun to dream. After all, dreams give vision and vision leads to action. Today, the various indigenous communities refuse to return to the dark valley; they have realized that forgetting could be a key part of learning.
Empowerment is an enabling exercise. It begins with the marginal, the forgotten. The indigenous groups in particular have worked to address the incompleteness of citizenship. In their efforts to rework politics, they have pointed out how for many, citizenship has remained an unfulfilled promise; citizenship is not mere entitlement.
For the indigenous, the body is the site for politics, very much the way it was for Gandhi. It is also a site for struggle. As Shiv Viswanathan argues, “the body prevents politics from straying into the abstractions of ideology or policy. It is a statement of presence, of sensing politics and suffering as part of a sensorium of sounds, smells, touch, taste and memory.” No less importantly, the rise of the indigenous has gone a long way to liberate politics from its behavioral and ideological pomposity.
By making way for leaders of their choice to gain power and overthrowing several presidents in Bolivia and Ecuador, the newly empowered indigenous groups want to ensure that no despot ascends the throne but a doer, one who heals their wounds, not turn the knife in them. In several countries and more specifically in Bolivia and Ecuador, the traditionally occupied indigenous territories have been recognized and protected and the sustainable development of natural resources located in their land has been guaranteed. Some of the issues like land as an economic base, a space of social reproduction and a condition for survival, recognition of their collective rights, have gained recognition in international forums.
Indigenous and peasant groups have not stopped at mere protests. They have adopted another strategy: protesta con propuesta, whereby positive alternatives have been suggested. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), for example, has formulated its own water reform proposal. Without denying their economic importance, the proposals emphasize the community-based, social, and ecological aspects of water. Also in Peru and Bolivia, platforms of popular alliances and peasant and indigenous organizations have formulated constructive counter-proposals that complement their claims and protests.
The following section analyses some of the institutional innovations and best practices in Latin America that have found acceptance and admiration outside the region.
Mexico’s Oportunidades and Brazil’s Zero Hunger
Progresa, Mexico’s Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program,(later known as Oportunidades and now as Prospera), is known for increasing school enrolments and attendance in its initial 18-month randomized evaluation (Parker and Todd 2017). In this program, money is directly given to families if they send children to school, meet nutrition standards and receive regular health check-ups. This has had significant long-term benefits that could reduce intergenerational poverty according to a study published in National Bureau of Economic Research.
A similar CCT program was adopted by Colombia in 2000 known as Familasenaccion which provides money to poor households with children under 18 years old. It targets population that comprises of poor families that have either been displaced by the conflict or are from indigenous communities. Though it is no longer regarded as an emergency response to a short-term crisis, but it has proven efficient as an answer to more structural poverty problems.
Another commendable example towards ensuring food security for everyone was taken up by Brazil in the form of ‘Fome Zero’ or Zero Hunger program. The program launched in 2003 with the goal that all people be able to access enough and the right kinds of foods, to meet basic nutritional needs and support health. Fome Zero is based on a multi-sectoral approach at the public policy level, involving policies and programs around social protection and safety nets, education, food production, health services, drinking water, and sanitation. This can serve as a role model for national commitment to making better nutrition a top priority.
Another best practice, Participatory budgeting (PB), has been the most serious effort to take democracy to the doorsteps of the citizens. The Workers Party and a coalition of civil society organizations of Brazil introduced PB in Porto Alegre in 1989. It soon spread to more than 250 municipalities. Several countries followed suit. PB is a process of democratic decision-making. It is a type of participatory democracy, in which ordinary people decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. It allows citizens to identify, discuss and prioritize public spending projects and gives them the power to make real decisions about how money is spent. The Porto Alegre model is no longer used in the same way in Porto Alegre itself. It has lost its sheen elsewhere in Latin America.
Consulta previa (prior consultation) is another significant legal framework that some countries in Latin America have institutionalized to deepen democracy. It is the right of the indigenous and ethnic groups to be consulted on matters affecting their culture and heritage as established by ILO Convention 169. Its implementation has at best been patchy. While it has been successfully implemented by Peru’s Amazonian communities, progress is much slower as far as the Andean communities are concerned. Much of the natural resources are located in the region inhabited by the indigenous communities, consulta previa has given the people a say in the extraction of raw materials. However, many left-leaning governments have resorted to the so-called “progressive neo-extractism” to ‘fight poverty’. The indigenous groups have sharpened attacks on the Left arguing such model of development, which relies on the rapacious extraction of natural resources, entails environmental destruction and the fragmentation of indigenous territory.
Cuba’s medical internationalism
For nearly 60 years, Cuba has been sending healthcare professionals all over the globe. This is done partly to support those in need but also as a part of concerted campaign of its medical diplomacy and to make some money to help the country survive an ongoing US embargo. Since then, Cuba has established permanent medical missions in a number of countries. Over the last five decades, it has sent between 135,000 to 400,000 doctors abroad.
The tradition of medical internationalism in Cuba goes back to the first years of the Cuban Revolution. The country has dispatched 593 workers to 14 countries in the battle against Covid-19. According to the Cuban health ministry, 179 doctors, 399 nurses and 15 health technologists have been dispatched as part of Henry Reeve initiative. According to Helen Yaffe, free healthcare as a universal human right has been a key tenet now and in the 1959 Cuban Revolution which laid the foundation of medical internationalism thereby enforcing the idea and practice of sending medical teams abroad.
Even though the Cuban medical support has been helpful and hopeful to all those in desperate need, it also hasn’t been able to keep away from criticism. Some rights groups have accused Havana of exploiting its medical workers who are forced to work in unsafe environments. Others have criticized by calling the program “selectively humanitarian” which makes lower numbers of doctors available to the Cuban population. Many countries have been wary of accepting Cuba’s help due to its poor human rights record. While everyone may not find Cuba’s help genuine, this is perhaps the time to put ideological differences aside and focus on the joint effort against the global war of Coronavirus.
Zapatistas’ enduring legacy
The Zapatista movement was the first post-modern movement and it is still defiant in mountain strongholds. It rose up not just to fight indigenous repression, but also the globalization from above. It was a genuine popular movement striving for justice and for changing the status quo. Scholarly interest in the various indigenous movements in Latin America was shown only after the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Chiapas.The images of the Zapatistas were too striking to be missed—indigenous peasants with wooden rifles declaring war on the Mexican government. With their faces covered by black ski masks or red bandanas, the Zapatistas symbolically became the face of the faceless, the voice of the voiceless.
The Zapatista National Liberation Army had one-third women, some in bare feet. They became instant heroes of the left and an inspiration to indigenous groups and political romantics. There are still areas under their control where they have their own system of education, health, justice and security. They train their own teachers and doctors and some have their own currency. Their slogans have been equally instructive such as “cuando una mujeravanza, no hay hombre que retrocede (when a woman advances, no man is left behind) and “here you can buy or sell anything except indigenous dignity”. The Zapatistas spelt out their key priorities like revitalizing indigenous worldviews, building autonomous, locally focused food system and food sovereignty and gender equity. Mexican sociologist Gonzalez Casanova says that the Zapatistas represent a new way of approaching problems and alternatives beyond the old dilemmas of the left, defending life, water, land and forest. The Zapatista movement offered alternative ways to organize societies, economies and the food systems.
In 1990s, Colombia’s indigenous groups formed the Indigenous Social Alliance. It won a few seats in national parliament a few years later. Nationally visible indigenous parties came up in mid-1990s in Bolivia and Ecuador. In Bolivia, groups like the Assembly for the Sovereignty of the Peoples, Movement towards Socialism and Pachakutic Movement of Plurinational Unity gained traction. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE) in Ecuador has tasted electoral success and acquired considerable clout. It initially supported the left but later broke from its tutelage. The indigenous movements have helped in the democratization process. The group has combined indigenous culture and state institutions in innovative ways.
Limits of caudillismo
Latin Americans are masters at creating leaders, prophets and gods. The bane of Latin America is the system of caudillos (strongmen). Hence some are seeking leaderless revolutions. They contend, we don’t need leaders, certainly not big leaders. As Emile Zapata says, “strong leaders make a weak people.”
Populism the bane
Populism continues to be the bane of Latin American polity. Power and authority are still configured in relation to caudillos, not institutions. Parliaments, judiciary, party system and civil society provide little institutional counterweights to political abuses by the political class. The caudillos promise magical solutions and people still fall for them. Ironically, to remain in power, the maximum leader exerts and abuses state force but also propagate the myth that he/she is there by the popular will. The growing polarization has not allowed institutions like the judiciary and the police to become autonomous and independent. Populism has acquired a “new dimension” with decisive leaders pushing nationalism, demonizing opposition and stirring up issues that divide society. Populismhas marginalized the centrist forces and removed their bonding powers resulting in gridlock in parliament and diluting public trust in its efficacy.
Bertrand Russell says that the game of politics is the process by which people choose the man who will get the blame. Latin America has witnessed the masterful play of such blame game. Populist leaders thrive on confrontation and chaos. Bolsonaro is using the pandemic to stir up his base. He has dismissed Coronavirus as “just a little flu”, “we will all die one day”.
Some of the best practices in Latin America have caught the attention of the world. Whether these are replicable or not requires further research and study.The region has been long experimenting with novel political, social and economic initiatives and practices which resonate with people across the globe. Some consider the region to be a land of endless revolutions, but it has launched not only slogans but sustainable alternatives as well. It has maintained the ideal of ‘Protesta con propuesta’(Protest with purpose). However, many have questioned the robustness of these measures when Latin America is witnessing the end of the commodity boom and the defeat of left-wing governments. The historical conflicts, the silhouettes of authoritarianism and past of caudillismo still weigh heavily on the Latin American present.
Will the region be able to overcome its non-democratic past and advance with its revitalized worldview? Or will it succumb to the ghosts of the old despotic regimes? There are no easy answers. It has to do with Latin American psychology, “the rejection of what is real and possible.” Latin America also fits in Hannah Arendt’s description how the most radical revolutionary becomes “conservative the day after the revolution”. That of course doesn’t deter Latin Americans from constructing alternative utopias.
*Shimone Jaini is doing Masters from Centre of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian andLatin American Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
General Colin Powell: A Decent Man in Indecent Society
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s (1892-1932) famous treatise Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932) needs significant revisitation through a personal case: former Jamaican-American Secretary of State and Chair of Joint Chief of Staff General Colin Powell who, at age 84, died on October 18, a few days ago, from the effects of COVID-19 while fully vaccinated as he struggled against cancer. Our present still early 21st Century era, remains very much like the interworld war time context of Niebur penning his classic .Namely “now” continues to be a time in America in which truth telling is, in too many respects,much more myth making rituals than the presentation of reliable and valid knowledge based evidence .This is especially the case when it comes to matters of racial justice and the justice problems of other historically marginalized and oppressed populations such as girls and women, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the poor at large; particularly those who are Non-White.
Plus through the generations, there have been American power elites using disproportionately the bloodshedded lives of the poor and otherwise marginal on their conceived battlefields , who choose to make wars be it during their internal theft of land from indigenous peoples or other peoples such as the Mexicans of the West and South West ;the World War II internment of the too competive Californian Japanese American farm owners, and Polynesians in late 19th century Hawaii or the grabbing of land from the crumbling Spanish and French empires such as the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Hati or aiding European colonial rulers engagements in their thirst for controlling Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans in their more or less conquered societies.
As the contemporary American right is making much to do over critical race theory, whatever that really is, wanting the continued White Supremacy coverups about the historical inequalities and deep insidious prejudices which cripple the well being of all Americans and brings injury to efforts to be a role model of justice to a world which knows what the deal of hypocrisy really is, we reside in a society in which the emperor declaring decency no more has clothes, as scanty as they have been. Even much weaker nations let alone our mortal superpower rivals are no longer afraid when it comes to casting stones at the blatant moral decency lies, we Americans have been taught to live by and have encouraged or forced others to live by over the generations.
It is difficult to get over to people like the American far right and their foes neoliberal progressives, ironically enough, and those elsewhere in the world with glitters in their eyes when the name America is conjured up ,to realize how much truth has been tainted in America since its slave holding and indigenous people’s extermination colonial origins. The compromise of truth about the dehumanizations which pathologically marks the lives of all Americans in the effort to paint America as the land of freedom and milk and honey for all has come to propagate generations of injustices which have sources and manifestations of massive amnesia or placed in siloed boxes of marginality or exclusion such as the authentic history telling of too usual abysmal Non-Whites experiences in America.
But as untruthfulness has been so much a norm in the telling the truth about America, we have in recent times fallen into the deepest gutter of indecency as a society. We began to slip and slide into being an indecent society with the questionable if not unsolved Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcom X assassinations of the 1960s and Viet Nam and Watergate ending in disgrace in the 1970s.
It was also a time when Colin Powell began to make his climb in the military and in public service. It was when there remained the Jim Crow norms, still very much here, which dictated that if you were Black and wanted to climb in a society opening you had to have a clean nose and a willingness to conform to racist standards which required you to be a gentle soul with a charming, good sense of humor. He was a symbol of success in the 1970s and 1980s era to the extent to which in the 1990s his name was touted as a possible candidate for the Presidency as he was so popular.
But what made Powell so popular was getting himself involved in leading militarily an unjust war which even he later regretted. A war began by the first Bush I which he would be unjustly rewarded by Bush II who fired him after he did public dirty work which as he would note, tarnished his sterling career for good. But it was the beginning of the rotten eggs era where Presidents from Nixon through Trump and now Biden would find themselves being entangled in webs of indecency if not weaving themselves. Preferring to look the other way and pretend that which was indecent was righteous patriotic duty.
It came to the point that Powell as the decent man he was became a rarefied symbol of pioneering racial change in an integrating society which was becoming increasingly indecent by the day where morality became associated more with right wing ideologies than the basic meaning of morality meaning decency. In fact, much later even right-wing evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell, Jr. and his wife like Jim Baker in the 1980s would become illustrations of how much morality became empty in true meaning as they became engulfed in public indecent charges while waddling in their private jets and mansions.
So, when Trump came along in 2016 with his indecent immorality charges and his love for constantly lying, it was the result of the normalization of indecent politics where lobbyists hold elected officials in their deep monied pockets coaxing them to stand up against measures to promote taking care of the human rights of their constituencies. Where nothing is done about gun violence due to the lobby power of the National Rifle Association and where fossil fuel companies hold efforts to clean the air up through dipping money into the bank accounts of Congress men and women. Where drug companies and medical insurance companies keep the quality of medical care low while Americans pay health costs through our noses. Trump did not create indecency in American mainstream politics, it has been emerging for years and now is well here. He just made indecency fashionable as seen in his post-election fan club fawning over his lying claims of really winning the 2020 Presidential election.
It is here in the emerging indecent society, where we see Powell feeling compelled to support policies which he was morally against only to regret the consequences. He was in the second Bush administration the failed stopping gate of Bush II, Cheney, and Rumsfeld who shoved the United States into an unconstitutional pro-active war with Iraq and fake nation building claims for invading Afghanistan all for the oil, opium, race against the Russians and the Chinese, and to make arms selling profits. As said earlier in a slightly different way, after Powell’s Weapons of Mass Destruction UN speech, a grotesque gesture of public political indecency, with a tarnished reputation for the rest of his life, Bush II in the beginning of his second term fired him.Powell did not see it coming from the jovial Bush II who once told him jokingly in front of Biden then Chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to make sure he packed clean underwear as he prepared for a trip to Europe.
Powell’s support of Democratic candidates and Presidents in the aftermath of his push out from the Bush administration made it clear there was no more place for him in a Republican Party veering to the right eating its own decent luminaries such as John McCain ,Lyn Cheney, and Mitt Romney in the process.
His support for Democrats did not mean he became one and in fact described himself as being party less. That is a long way from the mentoring he received from Nixon, Regan, and Bush I Republicans in their patronizing way felt that Powell was a deserving symbol of racial integration in an opening desegregating key sector in American society to admire while of course they tied his hands since though it is a tad bit better now, it has always been the case if you are Black and wish to climb to the top of some system you have to be what one Black Chair of a University search committee told me in the late 1980s, you got to be a good boy or girl though of course in an adult body. You must be decent even though decency may not be the norm environment. Certainly not a standard requirement for status climbing ill-tempered White men and even increasingly White women who are given a pass due to their intellectual gifts or
/and high technical skills,even though they are cold, humorless, ego maniacs allowed to climb and climb to the highest berths of politics and other key systems such as corporate business, law, medicine, and higher education.
I remember vividly living in London in 1990 when Bush I was gearing up to invade Iraq. The British press was in a feeding frenzy not only about the coming war with Maggie Thatcher in full support swing but most importantly in fascination with the Black man Colin Powell being the Chair of the Joint Chief of Staff. Journalists were more interested in conveying how nice and charming Powell was forgetting he was the most authoritative American military man not a pastor. And that has remained the public relations image of Powell while being characterized as being more of a technician or as he would put it, a pragmatist, rather than as a big picture visionary guy, which is usually an image reserved for White male military leaders in contemporary America such as General John Mattis and David Petraeus. Meanwhile, from the 1990s through the day he died, Powell, who insisted that race made no difference in his career climb though he was always characterized in the media as the first Black this and that, so it was always a factor in the equation of his promotion and climb, became increasingly a marginalizing icon of decency in a society in which indecency has become the driving norm. Joining Bush II’s administration after he got over through such indecent means engineered through Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court should have been enough for him to realize it was a bad omen for things to come, which did. But he felt his decency, his love for country, his love for American in military garb and civilian dress would be enough to be a moral counterweight in an indecent administration. Instead, he would lose battles to keep us out of un-necessary wars; ignored and then fired.
General Colin Powell then is a tragic symbol and indicator of how indecent public life has become in American society over the course of the last 50 years. And then we wonder why. We wonder why there is so much avoidance of public service by young people who are decent people, our future but who refuse to become involved in what has become a rotten society. We see what is happening to decent Joe Biden, going down the tubes quickly since he came into office only to find decency, trying to do the right thing is not on the mind of those who hold the purse strings in politics. They don’t care about climate control, they don’t care about providing provisions to help the poor, the unemployed, and the sick. They don’t care about voting rights or the rights of women, older persons, or the disabled. Any effort to help is called socialism unless it is to help the wealthy and otherwise privileged.
Religion has become a plaything for entertainment and to generate revenue than caring for the souls of people and being a voice for decency in a society becoming increasingly indecent regarding public norms and expectations. It is no wonder why religious leaders are the last to be thought about when it comes to public policy consultation or comforting protestors advocating their human rights, or boldly standing up for what is right in their own congregations, in society, and in the world. Religious leaders are more concerned about remaining employed by their congregations and supervisors and moving up the career ladders of their organized faiths than telling them the truth and urging them to tell the truth about the need for decency in an indecent society.
God in an indecent society becomes a trinket worn around our necks for show and tell and nothing else except perhaps a circus clown or an ATM machine. We don’t need God any more in an indecent society since we have all the brains and all the answers. We live prosperous lives and when that is indeed the case, we have the benefits to cover our health care, home mortgages, and educating our kids. We don’t need God anymore to bless us and deliver us since we become gods. All we need to do, to paraphrase Powell on the eve of invading Iraq, is, when need arises, to get the enemy in our crosshairs and kill them because we have the arms which can do so and who cares. And then when it is all over, when we too have been crumbled up and tossed away like a soiled paper bag, we still don’t get it since God does not live in an indecent society or at best if so, God is in some small corner some whereas an exotic old man with a beard who has nothing to do with the rest of us.
So, what is to come of us, those who are still walking on earth still breathing as we grieve the death of this decent man who tried his best to maneuver in a society which lost the little it had like the sort of decency which his hard-working immigrant parents had only to be outstripped and replaced with expectations of indecency in public life as he began to climb up. What is our calling, what is our task? Is it to continue to go with the flow of public indecency thinking and practices we will get to kiss a golden ring one day of ultimate success only to find that rot begats rot? And the begatted rot gets worst and worst and never leads anywhere except the worst dying with tarnished legacies of lives which meant well but got caught up in what becomes normal in an indecent society which abuses its young and those trying to do decent things in need of some bodies and minds for justice finding their backbones and standing and speaking out for what is right and telling what is wrong. If not a person of faith, that is at least what a patriotic person does in the interest of the citizens of their nation. We are living in an America in which more of us need to quit and speak up about why like Biden’s envoy to Haiti in protest of the treatment of Haitians attempting to be refugees rather than going along for the ride to get career perks.
Or Colin Powell quitting rather than putting up a public front in supporting a war he knew was wrong. And now there will always be a ” but” or a question mark after remarks about him while preserving the least important in terms of his racial break through symbolism and his charm. He deserves to be remembered for much more than that and could have if he had just quit and told the American public why since what was going on was indecent in how the structure of the web, he was entangled in was and no one person can fight against structural rot.
So, when you are there and have stature, have the backbone to quit before they toss you away anyways. My prayers and condolences to the Powell family. God bless this decent man in such an indecent society who did the best he could but could not but could.
Global Warming And COP26: Issues And Politics
The president’s massive social services and infrastructure package is under consideration by Congress. The problem is Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia.
Not only is West Virginia a coal-producing state but Mr. Manchin owns two coal companies. Although in a blind trust operated by his son, it is clear that coal companies make money when they sell coal.
But coal is a serious polluter, possibly the worst among fossil fuels. Any serious attempt to reduce the impact of climate change will replace coal with at least natural gas — available in abundance and emitting almost 50 percent less CO2 according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Republicans — many of whom deny global warming following Trump’s lead — adamantly oppose the plan en bloc, so Senator Manchin’s vote is crucial. For the moment then, the fate of the planet lies in the hands of one man because, quite simply, if the US backs off, China will be relieved of pressure — also Russia which has an abundance of fossil fuels.
Hence the importance of the COP26 climate summit scheduled for October 31 – November 2 in Glasgow. Originally planned for 2020, the meeting was postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic. The town is preparing for an influx of 25,000 people as lobbyists, conference attendees and demonstrators arrive.
It is an interesting meeting, liked by some to a teacher requiring a class to prepare and bring term papers. The 200 countries represented will be bringing their plans to meet the goals of the Paris accords. These require the signatories to commit to enhance ambitions every five years — thus 2020 postponed to 2021 — under the so-called ‘ratchet mechanism’. The Paris Accords aimed to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius and to aim for 1.5 degrees Celsius.
As often, people leak documents to help their agenda. This time a huge leak shows how important fossil fuel using and producing countries are attempting to modify a crucial scientific report. Oil producer Saudi Arabia, coal producer Australia and heavy user Japan are among those questioning a rapid change from fossil fuels. Saudi Arabia for one also lobbied previously in 2015 with some success.
This time the lobbying effort consists of more than 32,000 submissions (by governments, corporations and other interested parties) to the team of scientists preparing scientific reports designed to coalesce the best science on tackling global warming. One can imagine the headache for the scientists, who for the most part have a regular job, often as professors. Produced as “assessment reports” by IPCC (the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) these represent a consensus of the views of different governments, and are used by them to decide what action will be needed.
The many bodies involved, the complicated murky politics and the enormous pressure from different parties all point to the crucial fact that billions of dollars are involved now in today’s dollars versus promises of a better and distant future. We can only hope we have decision makers with foresight, and leaders without Trumpian climate change ignorance and excess.
America’s Two-Tiered Justice System
The Constitution states only one command twice. The Fifth Amendment says to the federal government that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, uses the same eleven words, called the Due Process Clause, to describe a legal obligation of all states. These words have as their central promise an assurance that all levels of government must operate within the law and provide fair procedures to all its citizens.
In this politically divisive climate, the central promise has been broken with little to no assurance that one can trust the American democratic system where some courts have disavowed their responsibility to uphold the Constitution’s meaning of the laws passed by Congress. For instance, the Bill of Rights was passed because of concepts such as freedom of religion, speech, equal treatment, and due process of law were all deemed so fundamental to protect every legal resident in the nation; yet we are now witnessing politically charged judicial appointments eradicating these principles under which all persons and entities are accountable to equally enforce and independently adjudicate, as well as being consistent with international human rights.
On the heels of the Chinese coronavirus, there is an escalating epidemic of unequal justice and character assault where much of the news media is politically aligned with the rulers in turning a blind eye or complicit in the coverup; and in some cases, ravenously endorses the demise of what has essentially now become political dissidents falsely accused, intimidated, and jailed. While many Americans are attempting to scrape by in difficult times, they remain astute to the moral failure of the elites in power as well as the tacit elected opposition’s assiduous silence in whitewashing the legal duplicity. Historical trends over centuries of betraying the peasants eventually succumbs to a reckoning where the privileged corrupt politician and their corporate fascists will be exposed and held accountable in some fashion.
Americans are confounded by the coronavirus decrees requiring masks to be worn for thee and not for me double standards. The politicians hammer away at enforcing mask mandates on the common folk, yet they do not adhere to their own edicts while attending fine dining with their elite backers. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Californian Governor Gavin Newsome, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot all violated their own mask mandates in public venues while the masked servants waited on them.
President Biden was caught on video walking maskless through a swanky Washington restaurant in violation of the District’s laws on facial coverings, yet regular citizens are subject to civil penalties which result in fines of $1000.00 or revocation of licenses during the COVID-19 emergency. In defending the emperor, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said we should ‘not overly focus on moments in time that don’t reflect overarching policy.’ These double standard by the progressives are a far cry from Americans being punished and ostracized all over the country for not wearing a mask.
Identity politics has resulted in two systems of justice – one where BLM rioting and looting is described by the media as peaceful demonstrations and where assaulting police has no criminal consequences; yet the January 6th actions at the Capital has resulted in the largest round up of protesters ever seen in America. It is estimated that the Federal Government has upwards to 70 rioters/trespassers in solitary confinement and they are only let out in a larger area for one hour at 2 am due to COVID. Some of those being held in detention have been charged with trespassing on restricted grounds, others with assault and obstruction, and some haven’t been charged with anything. There are no bail hearings for these political activists yet BLM and Antifa rioters typically spend one night in the brig and let out the next day to rejoin the frontlines of carnage.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vocally pushed for the January 6th ‘insurrectionists’ to be added to the TSA no-fly list. Civil liberties are being trampled by exploiting insurrection fears with people in attendance no longer permitted to take a flight in their own country and they have not been convicted of a crime. This action by the government had previously only happened to suspect foreign terrorists, and now it is happening to Americans under suspicion. We see no similar actions taken against the militant Antifa anarchists who attacked and torched federal buildings in Portland.
Washington DC has essentially been abusing these inmates in captivity. There have been complaints on the nourishment of their fellow Americans where they are served white bread and a packet of tartar sauce. This is ultimately a violation of the 8th Amendment that prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, nor cruel and unusual punishments, and from inflicting unduly harsh penalties. Some judges are expressing concern at the length of these pretrial incarcerations, however they’ve largely deferred to the Justice Department. Meanwhile anarchists who burn down buildings and shoot projectiles at police officers and federal buildings have charges dismissed. Justice is not equal.
One female trespasser was shot dead by police during the Capital unrest and there was no outcry or charges against the officer. She was white and a Trump supporter. Federal prosecutors are not seeking criminal charges against the police lieutenant whose single shot killed Ashli Babbit, the 14-year veteran who served four tours with the US Airforce. If the unarmed Babbit committed any crime, it would have been for trespassing, a misdemeanor that should have seen her arrested and not slain. The lieutenant’s life was not at risk nor was he saving the lives of others as he stood with numerous police officers in riot gear and strapped with submachine guns. If a member of BLM was shot dead by police during an unlawful riot, there would have been an immediate racial outcry from political elites and from across the news media for justice followed by looting local retailers and ransacking a police precinct. The action by BLM is considered righteous violence whereas the slain Babbit had it coming to her.
On a very disturbing and new level of injustice is the threatening actions being taken against parents of schoolchildren by the Department of Justice. Most Americans are familiar with the Patriot Act following 9-11 where the National Security Division conducts counterterrorism operations against foreign adversaries planning suicide bombings and stealing nuclear secrets. Now the Biden Administration, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, has turned the NSD’s crosshairs against everyday Americans conducting their civil duties and free speech as school board meetings.
Garland’s actions followed the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) claim that American public schools and its education leaders are under immediate threats and intimidation as parents grow frustrated over the divisive neo-Marxist Critical Race Theory being injected into their children’s curricula. This is clearly an injustice to weaponize the DOJ and FBI investigators to intimidate and arrest parents under the same counterespionage to that of Al Qaeda and ISIS. Parents may be angry, but they are certainly not domestic terrorists in taking on the powerfully partisan school unions who somehow believe they are justified to influence civilization by indoctrinating their children.
Garland’s poster boy for his hideous partisan support of the NSBA is a Virginia father who was arrested at a school board meeting when he attempted to raise the alarm over his young daughter being raped in the school washroom. The father became the symbol of angry parents confronting school officials when he was taken down by several police officers and apprehended for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He became vocally upset when school officials denied the attack on his daughter, but he was not physically confrontational.
The father said it is scary that our government will weaponize themselves against parents and they’re using my video across the nation to spread fear; while the school officials did not seem to want to listen to him regarding his daughter being assaulted by a boy wearing a skirt who took advantage of transgender rules to access the girl’s washroom. The boy has now been charged with two counts of forcible sodomy, one count of anal sodomy, and one count of forcible fellatio related to the incident at that school. At a later date, the same boy was charged for a similar attack at neighboring school where he allegedly forced a victim into an empty classroom where he held her against her will and inappropriately touched her. Regardless of the raped daughter, Garland and the NSBA still have their video of the father being wrestled down to support the use of the FBI against parents and send a chilling effect on harmless dissent.
The Russian collusion narrative against then President Donald Trump may seem dated, however it can never be swept aside or forgotten in what may well have been the biggest political scandal and injustice to a man in American history. The country endured four years investigating Russian collusion into the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 presidential win with senate and congressional impeachment hearings over a Clinton-paid-for fake dossier, the biased Obama hatchet men overseeing the FBI and CIA shirking the law, a frenzied media that never let up on Trump’s guilt, and a special counsel comprised of Clinton partisans that turned over every leaf that eventually found the nearly crucified Trump to be innocent of the false charges. The former president had to withstand an incessant blitzkrieg of injustice through his entire presidency while leading the most powerful country in the world.
On the hand, there is compelling evidence that President Joe Biden spent years while in government enriching himself through family ties, specifically his son Hunter, to the tune of millions of dollars in foreign money from China, Russia, and Ukraine. The foreign players simply used the unqualified son to leverage access to Biden while satisfying Hunter’s greed and questionable lifestyle. Biden has little to no ability to stand up to China or Russia knowing they are holding damaging transactions over his head. There have been no investigations into Biden’s quid-pro-quo against Ukraine or the transfer of tens of millions of dollars to Biden family members, no impeachments, and the news media buried these stories; including damaging information found on Hunter’s laptop during the 2020 presidential election. Had Trump and his sons engaged in these activities, there would have been a very different level of justice.
What of this injustice that is making its mark on history? If we take a moment to think through the confusion of the moment and see the morale issue involved, then one may refuse to have this sense of justice distorted to grip power rather than for the good of the country. Those who have sown this unjust wind may eventually reap a whirlwind that provokes reform by convulsion of the people instead of a natural order of business. We must all remember that democracy lies with the people of this land and whether the nation will be stirred to stand for justice and freedom in this hour of distress and go on to finish in a way worthy of its beginning.
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