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General Colin Powell: A Decent Man in Indecent Society

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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.

Director ASARPI: The Institute for Advanced Study of African Renaissance Policies Ideas Mauritius and South Africa former University of Mauritius SSR Chair of African Studies

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The Silicon Valley’s ‘Code Peasants’ and ‘Code Overlords’

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The most numerous tech workers in Silicon Valley would be programmers. Their stereotypical image was keeping their heads down, busy in their coding and programming, and even spending their whole life doing so. At times they were touted as “code peasants”. Yet this is not necessarily static and unchangeable. Some of these “code peasants” took advantage of the loose corporate culture of Silicon Valley companies, and evolved to become “code overlords”, i.e., those who prioritize their side jobs over their main jobs. This has eventually become a culture that these “code overlords” hold tight to, and refuse to let go.

About half a year ago, someone went to Cancún in Mexico, during the time that was not the peak tourist season, yet he found out the hotels there were almost fully booked. A local friend of this person who was “working remotely” told him that such was already a case since a year ago. Most of the people staying in the hotels were employees of American tech companies, and they were there for the so-called “remote working”.

Although the American government announced that the country is now fully open and that companies require employees to return to the offices, for these “code peasants” in the past and “code overlords” now, they are reluctant to get back to work. Hence, hotels at the seaside of Cancún are still overcrowded. Why are they willing to spend their time there, even if that means they could possibly lose their job? This requires looking at the problem from a new perspective.

In Cancún, an invisible supply chain of American tech companies has actually been formed. To put it simply, it is because “remote working” is not efficient at all, as it is based entirely on personal ethics. Even if things can be maintained, no major work can be done through such means. The result of this is that many businesses of American tech companies have to adopt outsourcing. Thus, everyone in Cancún becomes each other’s outsourcer. While receiving the company’s salary and benefits, those who work remotely here are helping other companies in outsourcing business. At the same time, they can also enjoy Mexico’s tax relief policy. Their daily consumption is only one-third of that of the United States. Surely these people have a good life there.

For these people, forcing them to return to their companies and stick to a 9 to 5 job, that would mean zeroing-out their side income, and this is tantamount to a crime against humanity.

For such a loose corporate culture failing to deliver proper work, is it an accidental phenomenon, or has it become a common practice?

While we cannot say that everyone in the so-called Silicon Valley culture is like what is described above, there is no doubt that many of them are. Some say that the high-tech “code peasants” working in Silicon Valley companies are not much better. One such worker revealed that he joined an underground work group in the company, which was actually a discreet carpenter organization. When the riots in Portland were the most intense, they went around making wooden fences for shops. They covered each other, divided the workload, and always ensured that two people could work outside every day. This persisted for more than a year, and the company’s administration had no clue about it.

Maybe we can also cite an even more impressive case. There is one employee who appeared to go to the office daily to work, yet he spent a year writing a long science fiction novel in the company’s café. Many scenes in the novel are completely based on his company, even with some names of the characters unchanged. It is only after this is known that his “side job” was discovered.

There is another tech company in Silicon Valley that specializes in intelligent manipulators, and it too adhered to the so-called “Silicon Valley culture”. It is said that because long-distance driving became popular during the pandemic, as a result, 30% of the electrification of RVs in California at that time was completed by employees of this company in their “spare time”, and all these businesses had nothing to do with the actual company.

When personal spare time is mixed with working time, the efficiency certainly will not be high. Hence, all working time may become spare time, not the other way around. Elon Musk, who wants to do something now, made a drastic reorganization of Twitter, with the intention of dismantling the Silicon Valley culture. Those who are not willing to work under him would have to move on, to be replaced by others. It is definitely not that Musk does not understand Silicon Valley companies and their culture. On the contrary, it is precisely because he understands too well of the flexible work and the so-called Silicon Valley culture that is so hyped up by schools of business and management.

Now Musk is fighting this war against the work culture of Silicon Valley, against these “code overlords” alone. As a technology capitalist, he is the Don Quixote in this circle.

Final analysis conclusion:

The legendary “Silicon Valley culture” has mutated. For those who advocate flexible and remote work, “working time” has become “spare time”, and the “code peasants” have evolved to become “code overlords”. Elon Musk’s current massive layoff of the Twitter team is actually a challenge against such “code overlords”.

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U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie

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Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel

Last time, it was a U.S. president, George W. Bush, who dishonestly took America into a conflict, but that at least was against a weak Third World nation. The consequences were still disastrous: thousands dead and tens of thousands of wounded Americans and hundreds of thousands dead Iraqi civilians, trillions of dollars wasted, and a Middle East in flames.

But what Zelensky would do is much more serious, writes “The American Conservative”. He called the Poland strike “a really significant escalation” requiring a response, even though the issue would have nothing to do with Ukraine had the missile been launched by Russia.

In this case, entry into the war could trigger a major conventional conflict highlighted by use of tactical nuclear weapons, or even the use of strategic nuclear strikes around the globe, from Russia to Europe to the U.S. That would be a catastrophic result for all concerned, including Ukraine.

But the missile was not from Russia, and the U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie. Upbraiding Zelensky, as Biden apparently did, isn’t enough.

This isn’t the first unsettling surprise by Ukraine for Washington. While the attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge was legitimate, it could escalate the conflict in dangerous ways for the U.S. So too could strikes in border Russian regions near Belgorod, and the assassination of Daria Dugina, a Russian propagandist, not combatant.

If Ukraine were operating entirely on its own, such actions would be its business. However, it has succeeded beyond any expectation only because of allied, and especially U.S., support for the Ukrainian military.

Washington also should further open diplomatic channels with Moscow, as appears to be happening, at least to some degree, given reports of CIA Director Bill Burns meeting with his Russian counterpart last week. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have also engaged with Russia, but such conversations need to be broadened to discuss possible political accommodations.

The U.S. also needs to address the Europeans, especially its most fervent hawks, who tend to be among the most lightly armed.

For instance, the Baltic states — small nations with minimal armed forces and niggardly defense efforts for governments claiming to be under imminent threat of conquest — are regarded as the most likely to engage in “freelancing,” as when Lithuania sought to block traffic between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia. Everyone knew who would be ultimately stuck fighting the war that might result if Moscow’s forces had decided to shoot their way through, and it wasn’t Vilnius.

It is easy to sacrifice someone else’s lives and money, which is essentially what most U.S. “allies” believe is their role in both bilateral and multilateral security partnerships. Washington submissively agrees to defend them, as is its duty; they generously agree to be defended, as is their right. That relationship is no longer sustainable.

America’s foreign aid should be tailored to American interests, and Washington should rethink what has become an increasingly dangerous almost “all-in” proxy war against Russia.

The U.S. should scale back military aid to Kiev, and especially Europe.

Operating as Europe’s patsy is a serious problem, even in peace.

The time for the Europeans to take their defense seriously is long overdue. But that will happen only when Washington stops doing everything for them. America’s military remain busy around the world. The Europeans should secure their own continent, relieving the U.S. of at least one needless military responsibility.

Zelensky’s misleading missile gambit reinforces the necessity of a change in course for Washington.

International Affairs

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Thanksgiving, The World Cup and Sports Celebrities

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Forty-six million turkeys surrender their lives so Americans can celebrate Thanksgiving.  It is an occasion where traditionally families gather together for a scrumptious meal of turkey and trimmings, numerous side dishes and pumpkin pie, followed by … college football on TV — that is American football, a game somewhat similar to rugby. 

The holiday is meant to commemorate the first Thanksgiving when the pilgrims who ventured to America gave thanks for a good harvest.  It was a time when a poor harvest could have meant famine in winter.  Never now in our sophisticated world where we import grapes from the southern hemisphere (Chile) for consumption in winter and many fruits are available year round.

This year there is the added entertainment of the soccer World Cup in Qatar, being played out in eight  purpose-built stadiums, seven new and one refurbished.  Most will be converted for other uses after the event, a change from the past.  

The US now has a team that held England, where the game was invented, to a draw.  The favorites remain  the Latin American powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina but the Europeans can on occasion pull off a surprise.

Why certain games are popular in one country and not another is difficult to explain.  India and China, the world’s most populous countries, are absent at the World Cup.  On the other hand, India is a powerhouse in another British game: cricket.  And China remains a top performer at the Olympics.

The crowd turning out for cricket matches, particularly between arch rivals India and Pakistan remain unmatched by other sports played there, even field hockey where the two countries have also been fairly successful. 

Leveraging sports celebrity into a political career is also possible but success on the cricket pitch may not always be transferred to administrative competence.  Imran Khan’s innings as prime minister led to members of his own party defecting, and ended when he lost his parliamentary majority.

Still attracting large crowds of supporters who are entertained at his rallies before he himself appears, he is asking his supporters to march to the capital — echoes of another leader this time in the US, Donald Trump, who has just announced a bid for re-election.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan has been secretly recorded planning illegal tactics and barred from holding political office by the courts in Pakistan.  Exactly how he plans to rule if his party or coalition were to win is not clear — by proxy perhaps.

If all this is not enough, he has become notorious for doing U-turns on policy leaving his party members and supporters scrambling in his wake — a reminder if ever there was of the old Chinese curse:  “May you live in interesting times.”

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