Animal cruelty & the Great Chain of Being

Muhammed Muheisen, the photojournalist who does such powerful photos especially of Afghan refugee children in Pakistan, has done a poignant series on performing monkeys in Pakistan. The monkeys are captured as babies & trained (often using violence) to dance, salute, shake hands, & perform other tricks. This is not a criticism of Pakistanis or even the impoverished owners who reportedly only make about about 500 rupees (US $5.00) a day for the work. You can see the same kind of abuse in any US city with a zoo or where the circus is playing & they have elephants pirouetting on one foot.

This kind of crap is a vestige of such Platonic notions as the Great Chain of Being where life & matter are ranked in a hierarchy from God & angelic beings to royalty, lower to plebeians, then animals, & down to rocks. You can see how comfortably class stratification, white & male supremacy, abuse of animals fit in to such a repugnant schema–& how animals become objects only for labor & amusement.

Those who defend performing monkeys by claiming owners have a strong bond with the monkeys & love them as their own children have to explain why that loving relationship has to be maintained by a rope around the neck so the monkey won’t run off. Such barbaric practices will not stop from outpourings of moral outrage but from eliminating inequity & poverty because on the other end of that rope is the owner’s neck, trapped in social inequality. If the owner has to choose between respect for animals & feeding a family, the unhappy animals draw the short stick.

Just another compelling reason to change the world.

(Photo by Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

Ukrainian working people caught between oligarchs & fascists

It is a daunting, near futile, task to get an understanding of the Ukrainian protests from media accounts–& not just mainstream, but liberal & radical media. You’re more likely to find that needle in a haystack.

There are several conflicting narratives–depending on your politics. The narrative in the Russian media is echoed by liberal & many radical commentators: fascists have taken over the streets of Ukraine & threaten an escalation to civil war. The capitalist media manages to denounce government repression of protestors without providing a clue as to why they are out in the streets–&, of course, echo the US & European regimes.

Sorting through the cacophony is no easy matter but these protests are of such consequence that all explanations must be scrutinized with a fine tooth comb. Schemas & doctrinaire glibness pawned off as analysis should not be accepted; you cannot just hurl epithets (like “fascist”) & call it analysis.

One cannot understand the conflict in Ukraine without reference to the collapse of the Soviet Union & the reentry of its component countries into the capitalist world economy. The character of the Soviet Union was such a divisive question within the socialist movement that when it collapsed many hoped old animosities could now be abandoned & a phony harmony established. But nobody can walk away from that carnage scot-free without an explanation for what happened. Why did the USSR, which seemed so impregnable, collapse like a deck of cards? If we don’t understand what happened, if no accounting is made, socialist theoretics become completely irrelevant to making this world suitable for human beings to live in.

The former countries within the USSR reentered the international capitalist system after the phase of neoliberal barbarism had already begun. In a process unlike the transition from feudalism to capitalism, a capitalist class & economy had to be constructed in each country from the debris of a state-managed economy run into the ground by tyranny. In the era of neoliberalism, that meant using gangsters & their methods for the massive theft & privatization of public assets. Capitalism now more resembled a mafia-like criminal enterprise–which did not go unobserved in those countries but could be analyzed every step of the way.

The Orange Revolution (2004-2005) & protests today in Ukraine reflect conflicts in the formation & stabilization of an oligarchy where the nation-state has become primarily a vehicle to amass private wealth. That’s the nature of neoliberalism: monopoly capitalism is at odds with the nation-state, defying sovereignty in the pursuit of plunder & cheap labor, & going global in the interests of private acquisition.

Many commentators on events in Ukraine refer to a new Cold War, as if Russia remains a socialist country being menaced by capitalists in league with home-grown fascists. Doctrinaire schemas & the cement heads that promote them as explanations cannot be reasoned with. In the Russian regime there isn’t a shred of socialism remaining. Putin is a former secret service agent, a spy, & just the kind of guy the new oligarchy needs to operate its criminal enterprise. If you think you’re defending socialism by defending Putin you may be more comfortable in the Democratic Party (where you can think anything & get away with it) or in the Libertarian Party (where you can talk rubbish & be taken as an oracle).

Certainly one of the reasons the USSR collapsed was its complete lack of democracy. But while Russia & most former soviet states have adopted capitalism, they have not abandoned tyranny because in the barbaric phase of capitalism democracy might put restraints on plunder. So the old tyrannies were maintained & undercover police agents like Putin came to the fore in politics. It is no accident that under neoliberalism the gulag remains in place & riot cops are an essential feature of rule.

The narrative of Russian, Ukrainian, liberal, & much radical media is simple–& even more so, simple-minded: fascist thugs have taken control of the streets across Ukraine demanding economic & political alliance with the European Union. The thrust & composition of these protests is completely reactionary & must be opposed.

There is no question the extreme right-wing & fascists played a key role in initiating these protests starting in November 2013 to protest Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of an economic deal with the European Union (EU) in favor of a trade deal with Russia & its economic partners. But when the regime (Yanukovych is a central figure in the Ukraine oligarchy) violently attacked the protestors thousands of Ukrainians entered the fray in opposition to attacks on democratic rights & in opposition to the austerity imposed by IMF & regime policies. What is the relative balance of forces now in the protests between the right-wing & democracy activists? With the information we have now, that is not possible to calculate. And we don’t have to in order to understand what to do.

It isn’t often in history–in fact, never–that fascists align with progressive regimes. It is just as infrequent they attack reactionary regimes. In fact, they align with reactionary regimes. So it’s a mighty curious phenomenon in Ukraine that fascists are confronting the Yanukovych regime over joining the EU trade bloc. The EU agreement is designed to bring austerity to Ukraine just as it has to Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, & elsewhere. These fascists aren’t dummies; they represent a section of the Ukraine oligarchy that sees its fortunes in alignment with Europe & NATO. And they are counterposed to those oligarchs who see their fortunes more aligned with Russian capitalism. This is no tug-of-war between socialism & capitalism but between competing spheres of plunder–because plunder was the nature of capitalism even before it entered its barbaric phase.

Ukrainian oligarchs are having differences over which trade bloc will give them the most bang & buck for the betrayal of Ukrainian working people. Joining the Russian trade bloc isn’t the equivalent of forming a socialist enterprise; the Russian trade bloc is a capitalist project for accruing private wealth to a handful of oligarchs in both Russia & Ukraine. From the point of view of Ukrainian workers, who gives a rat’s ass which enterprise you belong to because both will bleed you dry? Those who think Russian capitalism will find a kinder, gentler way of economic evisceration need to study the holodomor in Ukraine history. Or they could just look at the conditions for Russian workers today.

Our demands must be to end the violence against protestors; & we don’t give a rat’s ass that some of those protestors are fascists because defending the right of protest is defending the possibilities for political action in Ukraine & backing the oligarchic regime in its violence only facilitates the development of fascism. If our demand appears to be in synch with the US regime, that is only in appearance. The US regime is a rattlesnake; we do not accept them as allies any more than we look to the Ukrainian regime as allies against fascism. We do not look to the US-NATO to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. We demand US-NATO hands off Ukraine!

The situation is comparable to Egypt when the military junta took after the Muslim Brotherhood with extreme violent repression. We don’t have to have an ounce of affinity with the religious or political views of the MB to defend them against violent assaults. We don’t look to reactionary regimes to settle our differences with bloodshed.

Stephen F. Cohen, a long-time US liberal commentator on the USSR, is making media rounds denouncing the “western” media vilification of Putin as a thug. He claims the Ukraine streets are controlled by right-wing extremists “trying to kill cops.” This liberal historian of the Russian Revolution says a “coup d’etat from the streets” is not democratic & denounces the US for defending protestors against the police violence. Well we have news for comrade Cohen: Putin is a thug & “coup d’etats from the street” are more often referred to as uprisings or revolutions. As for “trying to kill cops?” Is that what he calls self-defense when they’re coming at you & sniping at you from rooftops with live ammunition?

The politics of the thousands protesting have not been parsed accurately but we can be certain that thousands of protestors are there to defend their right to protest without being assaulted with an arsenal of deadly weapons. This is not a question of idealizing masses of working people or of minimizing the influence of extreme right-wing political forces. People (scholars) who have never participated in social movements often view them as ideologically homogeneous when that has never been the case in a single social movement in human history.

Today the term fascist is used broadly to describe anyone with right-wing views. When the term is so recklessly thrown around, it becomes useless politically. But understanding scientifically what a fascist is (how they think, how they operate, who they align with) is of the greatest consequence as neoliberal capitalism resorts more & more to fascism, which is the last refuge of tyranny.

In Ukraine, working people are caught between oligarchs & fascists & until Ukrainians sort that matter out, our political response can only be “US-NATO, hands off Ukraine!” Because they operate secretly, we have no hard evidence yet of the machinations of German, EU & US machinations & intrigues in Ukraine–but we know they’re there because the nature of capitalism is ruthless competition & thus the question of which capitalist trade bloc Ukraine joins is a matter of great importance.

Once again, our political response must be “US-NATO hands off Ukraine!”

(Photo of Ukrainian protestors from BBC)

Pogroms against LGBTI people to be legalized in Uganda

Ugandan president & dictator Yoweri Museveni has announced his intention to sign the “Kill the Gays” bill. The bill was passed by the Ugandan parliament on December 20, 2013 but the president has until February 23rd to veto or amend the bill to stop it from becoming law. Since the bill was passed, Ugandan human rights groups have documented at least seven arrests & increasing public harassment of LGBTI people. Two of those arrested were required to undergo anal examinations to prove they engaged in homosexual activity & these are expected to become routine procedures for men arrested on suspicion of homosexuality.

Museveni’s decision to support the anti-homosexuality bill legitimizing pogroms against LGBTI people in Uganda was a foregone conclusion. He’s been playing cutesy for the media & human rights groups by feigning misgivings about the bill & saying he wanted to base his policy on science. So while he refuses to meet with LGBTI activists, he assembled a dozen scientists from Uganda’s Health Ministry to determine if homosexuality is genetic or a social behavior–as if the latter made it criminal. Since you can always find scientists to sing for their supper–especially if you put a gun to their heads (because only a fool or a martyr in Uganda would defend homosexuality when the regime is conducting pogroms), Museveni had no problem getting the scientific judgement he wanted.

Obama was golfing in Southern California when he heard the news of Museveni’s decision. He stopped putting long enough to issue a denunciation saying the bill “will be more than an affront & a danger to the gay community in Uganda. It will be a step backward for all Ugandans & reflect poorly on Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people.” Boy, you can’t get more excoriating than that! Is that the best Obama can do when a genocide is in the offing!?

US national security adviser, Susan Rice, was just as indignant & tweeted her reproach to Museveni, which dittoed Obama in sentiment & insipidity. There’s nothing like a good tweet to bring genocide to its knees.

An unidentified “senior Obama administration official” said if the bill is enacted, the US will review US relations with Uganda since, at $400 million a year, the US is one of the largest donors of “foreign aid” to Uganda. The US has a military buildup in the area & is targeting that entire region of Africa for neocolonial plunder so Museveni can rest assured US protests over genocide against LGBTI people will never rise above the level of an angry tweet urging Ugandans to love one another–in the right way of course.

What is needed is ongoing actions & rallies around the world (like were held yesterday) at Ugandan & US missions demanding the Kill the Gays bill be trashed, that the rights of LGBTI people be respected, that the pogroms against them end, & that the US stop its collusion with the Museveni regime.

(Photo from Advocate of solidarity rally opposing Kill the Gays bill; photographer & location unidentified but rallies were held around the world.)

Afghan president Karzai refuses to buckle to US Pentagon

Media & diplomats are calling Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) to maintain US military occupation in Afghanistan “The last stand of Hamid Karzai;” they liken it to a poker game, deplore he is “thumbing his nose” at the US & demonizing US troops & diplomats, accuse Karzai of mental health problems & ask if he is off his meds–all because he demands a minimal semblance of Afghan sovereignty, including accountability in Afghan courts for US soldiers who commit crimes & cessation of barbaric attacks on civilians.

Karzai is no prize package politically; he is a long-time collaborator with the US-NATO occupation & came to prominence only as a result of his corruption & collusion with the US. He will be leaving office after the April elections so his new independence may reflect some opposition within the Afghan elite to continued US occupation. It takes a certain amount of courage for Karzai to defy the US because if they thought they could get away with it the Pentagon would not hesitate to take him out.

By far, the most pernicious attacks on Karzai came from the Washington Post under the headline ”Karzai suspects US is behind insurgent-style attacks.” Citing unidentified officials in the Karzai regime & describing them as “palace officials,” the Post claims Karzai suspects many “shadowy insurgent-style attacks” in Afghanistan involved operatives of the US government. On hearing the claims, US officials swooned like actors in a Victorian melodrama; according to the Post, they “reacted with incredulity & anger to the idea that they are trying to debilitate Afghanistan’s government, which they have supported with hundreds of billions of dollars.”

The appropriately named US ambassador Cunningham (since he is both sneaky & a ham actor) said “It flies in the face of logic & morality to think that we would aid the enemy we’re trying to defeat,” & he accused Karzai of “deeply conspiratorial” thinking. Not really ambassador CunningHam. Karzai doesn’t have to go all libertarian; he only has to look at Iraq & Pakistan to see the future of Afghanistan.

As for those “hundreds of billions of dollars,” they were either bucks for bribery or for war & not reconstruction. There are some new showpiece high-rises in Kabul but the rest of the country is a shambles from bombing raids & house demolitions. Several agencies of the UN have issued reports on poverty, homelessness, & the increase in civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The UN reports blame it all on the corrupt Karzai regime, on the Taliban, on bad karma & not the US-NATO war because they support the war. One UN official in Afghanistan told reporters, “Poverty actually kills more Afghans than those who die as a direct result of the armed conflict.”

Poverty statistics in Afghanistan are quite staggering: according to one of the endless UN reports, nine million Afghans or 36% of the population live in “absolute poverty” while another 37% live barely above the poverty line. The streets are lined with homeless widows & their children begging. The poverty line established as $1.25 a day by the World Bank wouldn’t feed a mouse, let alone a child, so the distinction between absolute poverty & those barely above the poverty line is only one a sociopathic bureaucrat would make. But most importantly, can the UN tell us how those women were made widows & their children homeless? Has the bubonic plague hit Afghanistan & carted off all the men? Or might the US-NATO war be implicated in the massive poverty?

All out for the spring protests demanding “US out of Afghanistan!” “US out of Iraq!”

{Photo of Afghanistan from Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)}