AN AMERICAN IN CUBA

Sometimes it indeed feels like we are all Don Quixote, tilting at windmills that never seem to change. And yet, the Cuban revolution has, since 1959, offered a beacon into the darkness …. a hope (hoping against hope) that there can be a place where something of our ideals will not only survive but flourish.

Eight years ago, Monthly Review Press published Nancy Stout’s terrific biography of Cuban Revolutionary hero Celia Sánchez. (One Day in December: Celia Sánchez and the Cuban Revolution, Monthly Review Press, 2013, introduction by Alice Walker). Reading about Celia Sánchez gave me the opportunity to revisit an essay I wrote 30 years ago about the Cuban revolution. With all the misrepresentations and lies by the U.S. government regarding Cuba, I thought it would be worth taking a look at what it feels like on the ground in Cuba, with the 1959 Cuban Revolution struggling to fend off the restoration of capitalism.

IN THE SUMMER OF 1992, I visited Cuba as part of a delegation to the Fourth Conference of Cuban and North Am­er­i­can Philosophers, organized by the U.S.-based Radical Phi­lo­sophy Association. The trip occurred during what Cu­bans call the “Special Period” following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s most important trade partner and benefactor.

I had occasion to travel quite a bit around Havana, and others in the delegation ventured all over the country. People living there were not shy about voicing their opinions about the many problems they faced, and appeared quite free to do so. Despite the tremendous hardships in Cuba, medical care, education and basic foods remain free of charge for all, transportation is very inexpensive, and health professionals volunteer to assist other countries (like Haiti) with no strings attached. When it comes to basic necessities it seems to me, having grown up working class and poor in Brooklyn, that despite all the difficulties Cuba has a much healthier approach towards providing for the needs of its citizens, and life “on the ground” in Cuba simply felt more joyous than the way it’s represented from afar. Indeed, it is much more difficult to be poor in New York than it is in Cuba.

When a family of Cuban “dis­sidents” were brought to Spain by the Spanish government a few years ago, they found themselves evicted from their home in Alicante by the police because they couldn’t afford to pay the 400 Euros per month rent, nor electricity or water. Now they say they want to go back to Cuba, where the revolution had abolished evictions as one of its first acts when it came to power in 1959! “If I had been told in Cuba what was going on in Spain, I would have stayed [in Cuba],” said Gilberto Martinez. “I am only asking to be sent back to Cuba.” There are a few hundred Cuban exiles in Spain in the same boat.

“If I had been told in Cuba what was going on in Spain, I would have stayed in Cuba

 A recent vote in the UN General Assembly had this to say about the U.S. embargo and blockade of Cuba, an island of 11 million people:

UN Votes to denounce the U.S. government’s blockade of Cuba, 2021.

In assessing Cuban socialism many leftists in the U.S. — to say nothing of the corporate media — simply miss the point. One should not evaluate a small country like Cuba and the things it must do to stay afloat in the same terms as much larger former socialist countries like the Soviet Union or East Germany, especially as the Dracula to the North probes for Cuba’s jugular. Unlike pre-unification Germany, where the authoritarian socialist bureaucracy in the East was im­posed from the outside, it is the ongoing involvement of the mass of Cuban people and not the structure of the government, which is the defining feature of the Cuban revolution.

Regardless of how one assesses Cuba, those of us living in the U.S. would better serve our movements here by paying more attention to the dynamic revolutionary culture, philosophy, morality and vision of the Cuban people. I hope that this personal account of my experiences in Cuba will contribute to restoring context and human scale to the current polemics.

Back to the Future

Old cars from 50s and 60s at Veradero beach.

HAVANA, CUBA, JUNE 1992 — HAVANA IS A CITY OF VINTAGE AMERICAN CARS from the 1940s and ’50s and single-geared Chinese bicycles from the ’90s. The old Spanish architecture, which predates the 1959 revolution by centur­ies, is stunning, although ev­ery­where in need of painting. (Due to the U.S. embargo, paint is scarce). Brilliant red-flowered flamboyante trees line the major avenues and parks — the breathtaking Cuban equivalent of New England’s maples in autumn.

My dorm room is in a beautiful house in the Miramar section. The June weather is sweltering. My roommates and I are tempted to use the air conditioners provided by the university, but we refrain. We appreciate the sacrifices the Cubans are making to meet the “bourgeois” needs of U.S. visi­tors, but we don’t want to compound their dire economic situation by squan­dering precious elec­tricity. The Cubans think we’re ungrateful and crazy; it’s super hot out, they’d die to have an air condi­tioner.

I am overwhelmed by the unanticipated generosity and gentleness in Havana. Humor pervades most interactions despite the shortages; there is a vibrancy that is tangible, sexual, a twinkling of the eyes that is hard to describe and even more difficult to get used to.

I walk and bike all over the city; contrary to stories we heard in Miami before boarding the plane — our group appears to have been targeted for propaganda purposes by right-wing Cuban exiles ̶— there are no commissars breathing down our necks or hiding under our beds. I talk with the several panhand­lers as well as the occasional prostitute, whose existence the Cuban government officially denies. Except for tourist hotels where Cuban citi­zens are no longer allowed — a double standard provoking dissension (denied by our translators, strangely) — Cubans and tourists alike are free to go anywhere and talk to whomever they please.

I stop everywhere to talk with people, take pictures, read, interview officials and environmental activists, hunt for hard-to-find avenues, gay venues, tea rooms and alternative medi­cine practitioners. Where are the billboards trying to sell me something? There are none. Where are the taxi-drivers yelling out to me? None. Everywhere the general absence of the interpersonal aggression and street violence we take for granted and rarely recognize in New York is, to this Brooklynite, wonderful, liberating … and disorienting.

Is this a giant robot from War of the Worlds dominating the Miramar section of Havana? Actually, the huge edifice complex is the former Soviet Embassy!

Cuban machismo is always evident, but it takes a different form than what I’m used to in the United States. It rarely translates into physical violence on the street. And yet, everything is relative, I suppose. Aurora Hidalgo, a young lawyer at the Ecology Ministry, tells me she now carries a knife because a woman who lives in her building was raped a year ago – the only rape in her neighborhood near downtown Havana in the last two years. Still, when we visit the art museum, which is free and virtually empty, the guards stalk us, preparing to leap to keep us from running up and drawing moustaches on the sculptures and paintings.

I find myself think­ing about the ways capitalism distorts us – not only “oth­ers,” but what it has done to me, twisted me. Now it has shaped my interactions, relationships, love life, expectations, desires and sense of self, without my even knowing it! Here, in Cuba, my cells are in revolt. My mitochondria are conjuring energies that are more fully me than I’ve ever before experienced. I am coming alive, and I never even knew I was dead.

Portrait of the Author in Havana, 1992

I didn’t expect Cuba to be so “personal” a revelation. Like most North American urbanites, I have taken for granted “who I am” all my adult life. Can my friends in New York appreciate this feeling, the way in which violence has so shaped our interactions, relationships and sense of self that we don’t even see it? If, as Ferlinghetti met­a­phored, there is a “Coney Island of the mind,” then there is also some­thing of a “Havana of the heart”. I don’t want to go back home.Three Marxist Musketeers: Bill Livant (RIP), Paule Ollman and Bertell Ollman, outside police headquarters in Miramar, after investigating police ticketing teenagers for biking the wrong way down the street. (1992)

Three Marxist Musketeers: Bill Livant (RIP), Paule Ollman and Bertell Ollman, outside police headquarters in Miramar, after investigating police ticketing teenagers for biking the wrong way down the street. (1992)

 

“Rectification” & Housing

What glorious (and funny!) sights I see biking through Havana! The ironies abound — the beautiful marble and granite pillars in front of haciendas, embassies and gov­ernment houses of Miramar are inlaid with gold. Imagine Beverly Hills – except that pinned on ropes from veranda to veranda are colorful towels, underwear and garments of the working class flapping indelicately like revolu­tionary banners, slapping the faces of these former dwel­lings of the elite. I think back to the clotheslines that were drawn on pulleys across the punchball alleyways growing up in Brighton Beach, where I lived til I was eight years old.

I join a group of teenagers who have fastened a makeshift backboard and basketball hoop to a tree in front of a marble pillar guarding one en­trance. I’m afraid I didn’t serve my country well in the game, being just a tad out of shape (ahem!), though fash­ionably dressed in my Malcolm X t-shirt and borrowed Brooklyn baseball cap. One player is bare­foot, but the others sport the latest sneakers — gifts, they tell me, from relatives in the U.S. whose sports teams they avidly follow.

Playing Basketball in Havana

In the early 1990s Cuba began a policy of “rectification,” based largely on a return to principles laid out by Che Guevara, the Argentinian medical doctor and revolutionary who was a commandante in the Cuban revolution and who in 1959 became the new government’s Minister of Finance. A recent regulation rekindles Che’s approach to financing working class projects: It allows renters to apply their monthly rent towards the purchase of their dwellings, interest-free. To avoid class stratification, the law prohibits a family from owning more than two houses; it also forbids subletting.

This measure is very popular throughout Cuba. Contrary to some of the “principles” of free-marketeers in the U.S., no one I speak to feels that the limits placed on private ownership and subletting is an unfair government infringement of their freedom. No one in Cuba complains about “centralized government control” when it is used to keep rents low. Unlike the U.S., where the “free market” means that most residents spend more than half their income on rent and food, in Cuba rent is limited by law to a maximum of ten percent of income, and food staples are guaranteed.

Nor have working class families in Cuba exhibited the slightest qualm over the government’s confiscation of hun­dreds of beautiful old Spanish houses in the Miramar section from the wealthy aristocrats and businessmen who fled Cuba following the 1959 revolution. Many of those houses have been turned over to working class people, who now lay claim to ownership.

For many Cubans in Havana, the revolution has meant decent homes for the first time in their lives. For those who never had homes before, this, then, is democracy. The former elite living in Miami and New Jersey are in for a rude awakening if they think they’ll be able to waltz in and reclaim the prop­erty they’d abandoned, and not meet mass armed opposition.

Wherever we go we find that Cubans, even those who have strong criticisms of the government, view it as their revo­lution. Despite hardships and severe shortages, and maybe be­cause they have found ways to overcome them, the Cuban peo­ple are very proud of what they have been able to ac­complish.

Traditional Botanical Med­i­cines & Alternative Energy

AT A WOMEN’S PRISON IN WESTERN HAVANA, most of the prisoners are guilty of having committed economic crimes: trading in the black market, pros­ti­tution, pickpocketing and burglaries that didn’t involve wea­pons. Some of the prisoners, though, tell me that they’d mur­dered their husbands, mostly in fits of jealousy over their in­fi­delity. These are termed “crimes of jealousy or passion.” I ask the prison director why these women should be imprisoned for such long sentences, what good does that do? Her answers make no sense to me; they probably don’t make sense to her, either.

The inmates show me how they make cough-sup­pressant syrups and other cold remedies from oregano. (The clinic doctor gives me a sample to take home.) For asthma, honey and propolis extracts are prepared. For sore throat, rose­mary leaves. For parasites, pumpkin seeds. Instead of destroying the revolutionary spirit, the U.S. blockade has unexpectedly forced Cubans to find alternative and much healthier methods of deal­ing with the hardships and shortages. All over the island, her­bal and botanical medicines made from in­digenous plants are being rediscovered, which of itself is spurring a form of nationalism: Our plants, our country. Herbal concoctions are dis­tributed free of charge to anyone in need.

Many of the herbs are collected and dried at a Solar Energy Institute, established in 1987 in San­tiago, in the southeastern corner of Cuba. As the U.S. embargo and the fall of the Soviet Union cut off Cuba’s oil imports, the devel­opment of solar energy resources is becoming increasingly important.i Alternative renewable energy sources are expected to meet a growing percentage of Cuba’s energy needs, and the government is putting a good deal of scarce funds into developing these resources. There are, in ad­dition to the institute in Santiago, five other research locales, employing approx­imately 200 workers. The new solar energy manufacturing industry promises to become the cutting edge in Cuba’s trade, especially for countries now dependent on expensive foreign oil.

Most farm machinery is driven by bio-gas derived from wastes of sugar and other vegetation. According to soft-spoken Dr. Luis Bérriz Pérez, the vice-president of the Solar Energy Institute, Cuba is attempting to apply new breakthroughs in solar and hydrogen technology to refrigeration, so that that process would no longer be based on compression of ozone-destroying fluorocarbons but on ad­sorption and absorption of gases generated from agricultural by-products and wastes.

Dr. Bérriz explains that while it has been possible to get these gases to freeze, alternative re­frigeration is still far too costly for mass application, and has to be installed piecemeal. For the time being, solar energy is used passively — in heating li­quids (for agriculture), in slow drying of organic herbs (for alternative medicines), and in the desalinization of water. Some recent achievements: bio-conversion is used in intensive production of micro algae, which are used as food for animals, mainly pigs and fish; thermal conversion is used principally in water heaters and solar dryers for botanicals.

Photovoltaic conversion of sunlight to electricity remains expensive and still beyond reach, so Cuba had begun building a nuclear power plant to meet energy needs.ii But Cuba was forced to sus­pend construction on the plant due to the embargo and lack of financing.iii As a long-time opponent of nuclear pow­er, I could not contain my glee that this plant’s construction had to be suspended. There are far too many dangers to health and en­vironment, let alone hidden financial costs, that come with nuclear power. But those of us who oppose nuclear power plants need to propose realistic alterna­tives for generating energy, especially for countries much poorer economically than the United States. I spend a good portion of my time in Cuba involved in discussions with Cuban researchers on how to do this.iv

Dr. Bérriz explains that the Cuban government is prioritizing solar energy to power rural day­care centers and clinics in areas far away from electric grid networks. He proudly explains that even expensive photovoltaic cells, obtained mostly from Spain, are being purchased for those poor rural areas first — a consequence of central and regional planning and allocation of scarce resources that, under other socio-economic systems based on profit and ruled by cost/benefit analyses, would never be allocated.

Oldsters queuing up for newspapers. There had been nobody on the street a minute earlier, yet, as if by magic, hundreds of people came out of nowhere to get the morning edition of Granma.

In a country where paper is hard to come by — ̶ shortages of toilet paper are due to lack of cardboard for manufacturing the tubes! — significant (but not yet sufficient) resources have also been allocated to publish literature such as Plantas Silvestres Co­mestibles, an easy-to-read catalogue of Cuba’s edible (and sometimes medicinal) plants, designed as a joint effort between the ministry of ecology and the military. Other books, such as Plantas Medicinales, Aromaticas o Venenosas de Cuba, include how to use the plants to treat specific ailments as well as recipes for making one’s own medications. These efforts, funded by the government, are seen as a way of decen­tralizing information. The government wants people to become knowledgable about which plants they can safely eat and how to prepare medicines from natural plants. Individual survival techniques are part of the emergency planning for U.S. invasion.

ONE MORNING I FIND MYSELF STANDING ON LINE in an obscure part of Havana. Out of nowhere, 100 people materialize as if by magic just as the daily newspapers arrive. Cuba is the most politically aware place I’ve ever been; people are hungry … for news. But the offi­cial government newspapers are forced to print far fewer copies than needed due to the paper shortage; people are asked to share their newspapers. I can’t help but compare that to New York where surburban rail­road commuters are directed to throw their papers away into locked, specially-marked containers un­der the guise that they will be “recycled,” but not “re-used”.

Aurora Hildalgo presents a paper at the Conference of Cuban and North American Philosophers, explaining that some of Cuba’s paper (cachaza) is made from byproducts of sugar cane left over from the production of molasses; this is also used for rope and “wood” for fuel (bagazo) — a kind of “recycling” that I’d always thought that word should institute in the U.S.

Through the practice of growing hemp much of Cuba’s newsprint needs — as well as clothing, oil and energy — could be eased, if not completely solved. Climate per­mitting — and I’m not sure how suitable Cuba’s climate or soil is for growing hemp — hemp is more efficient than cane; it generates much more fiber per acre while depleting the soil far less. Still, al­though not as efficient as hemp, the use of cane for various products and energy represents a victory for environmentalists, and Cuba’s scientists hold it up proudly as an example of Cuban re­sourcefulness in circum­venting the embargo. It also shows the benefits of a planned economy, when it is working well.

For Cuban scientists, my suggestions concerning hemp are anathema; official Cuban policy is “psychedelia-phobic” and they view hemp as equivalent to marijuana, even though the hemp plant contains very low levels of THC and so it is not psychoactive. I present these facts, but when I make a side-comment that Cuba’s entire money difficulties could be ameliorated by growing marijuana and selling it ab­road, everyone gasps. Mind-expanding drugs are treated as verböten by the government and consequently by the intelligentsia (at least in public), just as they are in the U.S. “Nobody uses marijuana in Cuba,” I’m told repeatedly. As a result of my gaffe, nobody wants to touch the main argument I am trying to make con­cerning hemp. I learn that I’d better stick to the main point I’m trying to make if I want to get anything done.

I don’t tell them that many people on the street offer to sell me pot … and at an excellent price!

Environment attorney Aurora Hidalgo with visiting luminaries

Aurora Hidalgo, on the other hand, represents a youthful if small ecology movement. She contrasts vibrantly to the other scientists at the conference. She is also hungry for information on alternative and holistic treatments for AIDS in the U.S., and we burn out our translator who is not successful in suppressing his skepticism while translating the sometimes complicated and controversial ideas and alternative health concepts Aurora and I are racing through. He’s clearly exhausted and grateful for the end of our 90-minute non-stop express train speed discussions.

Environmental Attorney Aurora Hidalgo Leon

Aurora arranges for me to deliver a talk in a few days on “A Call to Develop a Revolutionary Science.” In the meantime, she sets up a visit to the Alternative Medicine clinic at the Salvador Allende Hospital in southern Havana, where we visit a holistic doctor who has been making waves with his unusual treatments for “untreatable” patients.

Dr. Lino’s free, government-funded clinic for Alternative Medicine in Havana.

Thirty-year-old Dr. Lino Toma­sen Vera, the clinic’s director and sole practitioner, rides up on his bicycle at 7:30 in the morning to meet us at the entrance and opens his alternative health clinic. Dr. Lino once specialized in internal medicine. Since 1987, he has attended to 200,000 cases, he says. Forty or fifty people have already queued up by the time Dr. Lino arrives.

Dr. Lino and his patients permit Robert Gold and Gloria Pasin to videotape his unorthodox treatment, which consists of various combinations of chiropracty, acupressure, meditation, yoga, nutrition, Tai-chi, homeopathy and botanical medicine. The conditions of most of his patients, many of them children, have been deemed “hopeless” by the standard medical practitioners at the hospital, and so the hospital sends them to Dr. Lino. Orthodox doctors who work at the hospital confirm that Dr. Lino has an overall 85 percent improvement rate! These include many dramatic cures, especially with patients suffering from what had been diagnosed at the hospital as “terminal” cancers. He doesn’t “cure” those patients, but he improves their condition and extends their lives.

We watch Dr. Lino run his fingers quickly over a young boy’s body, manipulating acupressure points. “My boy has cer­ebral palsy,” the mother explains. He was diagnosed by the excellent hospital, which was unable to treat him effectively. “After seven visits to Dr. Lino, he is able to walk again,” she says.

Other parents have similar stories. Dr. Lino explains his work: “People need to want to get better, to believe in themselves. That is the first part of healing.” I find it remarkable that a doctor trained in western medicine would also practice tai-chi and yoga daily, and believe in a living spirit. “Do you believe in God,” I ask him during a short break between patients, “or maybe you think you are God?”

“I’ve transcended God,” Dr. Lino smiles impishly, enjoying our confusion in trying to figure out if we’d translated correctly and whether he’s for real.

Dr. Lino Tomasen Vera, Havana, 1992.

Dr. Lino says he learned a great deal from Asian healers who ended up in Cuba during the Vietnam war and who stayed on. “The Vietnamese, Koreans and the Chinese use different forms of acupuncture, mainly to treat addictions without pharmaceuticals,” he tells us. “There is a sort of competition between them.” Partly because sterile acupuncture need­les are not readily available, Dr. Lino, though skilled in acu­puncture, prefers acupressure, chiropracty and massage.

Dr. Lino treating young patient with acupressure.

The widespread practice of traditional healing methods elicits pride in Cuba’s rich heritage of using indigenous plants as botanical medicines, as well as midwifery, efforts in solar energy development and alternative agriculture, and the rediscovery of the joys of bicycling for transportation. Radical ecologists in Cuba are beginning to gain ground in their critique of western society, which includes Russian socialism as well as American capitalism ̶— both dependent, they say, on an industrial assembly-line model of production. After two years of uncertainty bordering on despair, there is a now in 1992 just beginning to emerge a sense of tough creativity, that, as several Cubans tell me, “whatever they throw at us, we’ll find an alternative, a revolutionary way out.”

Sciences & Development

Biotechnology is another matter. Cuba has allocated enormous resources to developing a top-flight hi-tech genetic-engineering complex with state of the art equipment, mostly from Japan. At the conference, scientists tout the economic virtues of biotechnology; they present it as a way for Cuba to meet its balance of payments debts while providing an alternative so that Latin America can avoid having to depend on expensive drugs from the U.S. and Europe.

In Cuba, there is strong governmental regulation of all industries, including biotechnology. As a result Cuba has a far better track record than the U.S. and other capitalist countries when it comes to safety and the precautionary principle. Bio­technology is being used in industrial production of medicines ̶ primarily in the development of alpha-Interferon and other treatments for diseases such as Hepatitis, which it sells very cheaply to other countries in Latin America. [By 2005 Cuba was using biotechnology in production of virus-free seedlings; still, no genetically engineered plant varieties had been allowed to be released – they remain “under study.” These safeguards, I fear, may be the first things sacrificed as Cuba strives to compete in the Latin American market with the U.S., European and Japanese pharmaceutical companies. – MC]

I mention these concerns to the scientists at the biotech research facility that our small group visits. The scientists trumpet the alleged benefits of genetic engi­neering; they seem blithely unaware of G.E.’s many serious dan­gers and of the raging debate over this whole topic in the U.S. and Europe. Nor do any of the scientists see biotechnology as contradictory to the efforts underway to “green” Cuba and promote botanical and herbal medicines and organic agriculture. When it comes to Big Science, Cuban intellectuals share the same dangerous assumptions as their counter­parts in biotech labs in the U.S. and Europe.

Cuban educator P.M. Pruna, of the Study Center for the History and Organization of Science, addresses this theme at the 1992 conference. He delivers a paper on the debate between philosophers and sociologists regarding science and its history and cautions against the compartmentalization of disciplines. “I would like to examine the present situation,” he says, “in the following terms: Is the study of science to be reduced to the sociological analysis of power groups within the scientific com­munity, disregarding the traditional ‘search for truth’ as a primary objective of science? Or will it be transformed into an analysis of the logical procedures used by science, also ignoring the ‘truth con­tents’ of science, instead of the concepts and ideas developed by scientists?”

Scientists, [Pruna continues], are normally working within a certain paradigm, they are rein­for­cing it. However, there are certain moments in which exceptional individuals call such para­digms into doubt and finally propose a new paradigm, which gradually gains consensus and the story starts all over again. This, of course, is an oversimplified version of what [Thomas] Kuhn actually said. Kuhn has been severely criticized for his conceptions that transition from one style of thought to a new one takes place through a sort of intuitive perception by a single scientist. This scientist seems to be the only channel connecting the old and the new paradigm. This, of course, was Kuhn’s way of escaping from the cumulative view of scientific develop­ment maintained by logical positivism.

Why all this talk on shifting paradigms and on Thomas Kuhn? With each presentation by the Cuban scientists I become more and more antsy. Dr. Pruna, like others before him, seems to be beating around the bush, making obligatory attacks on “safe” subjects. Is his critique of those critiquing Kuhn — which distort what Kuhn actually wrote, as Pruna undoubtedly knows — an oblique reference to what’s going on in Cuba? His talk reminds me of the debates in China during the cultural revolution in which criticisms of various factions in the government were couched in references to Confucius and Chinese history, with no direct mention of current con­cerns.

Sure enough, privately, some of the presenters confirm my suspicions: Unlike the working class people that I’d interviewed on the street, the intellectuals are afraid to directly challenge the approach set down by the University administration, which instructed them to use their presentations to serve the desperate economic situation no matter how much of a stretch it may be. Their talks were screened by the university officials (not by the government) ahead of time; the professors feel con­strained to tread and retread the same turf, over and over again, and it is only through the visitors’ presentations and challenges that real intellectual discussion takes place. Could Dr. Pruna’s long overview of the history of debate over shifting paradigms seems to be his way, convoluted for sure, of referencing — even critiquing – the current situation in Cuba while keeping favor with University officials?

The more interesting presentations, Pruna’s among them, are about more than they seem on their face. I find that I have to concentrate intensely to read between the lines, and I’m exhausted at the end of every presentation. Dr. Pruna gives me a boxed set of Fidel’s speeches on Science and Technology, which he says are far more intriguing than what many are presenting at the conference and would cause Fidel, if he were a professor, to be “in trouble” at the University. And so when he ventures into any criticism he does so very cautiously, taking pains to go over familiar ground in carefully setting up the philo­sophical problems he really wants to get at. For me, this sort of academic speech-making offers a roundabout and interminable tour through the obvious. And yet, Pruna’s talk is very important. Here, he continues his theme about “para­digm shifts”:

[Kuhn’s] conception of ‘normal science’ excluded all possibility of extracting elements of the new paradigm from the results obtained by scientists working under the old paradigm. If so-called ‘normal science’ is understood as a period when paradigms are being constantly mended by their supporters, one should also ask why this mending or reinforcement seems nec­essary. Surely these are periods of perhaps only mild criticism of established truths, but criti­cism none the less, not gullible complacency.

Where did these doubts and critical remarks stem from? They must have arisen from ob­servation and experiment, coupled with antithetical reasoning. The latter was quite common, one must say, even in medieval times, although authority then prevailed over opinions oppos­ing established truth. Methodical doubting was certainly not invented by Descartes.

One may concede, furthermore, that experiments as well as theories are under the influ­ence not only of previous scientific tradition and of prevailing views, but may also reflect mate­rial and spiritual peculiarities of a certain period.

It would be acceptable but not too imaginative to substitute the words “capitalism” for the old paradigm and “socialism” for the new. But that is not what Pruna is doing ̶– though he might fall back on that explanation if he were to come under attack in the University. His construct is more complex, with the “new” period of rectification in Cuba becoming the specific “new paradigm” within the labor pains of a socialism kicking to be born.

What emerges from such a reinterpretation of Kuhn’s model is an active scientific com­munity surrounded by a complex social and technological context, which includes also phi­lo­sophical and other theoretical outlooks. There is a dynamic interaction between scientific work as such and this context. Through analogical construction — or the building of metaphors, if you prefer — elements of this context may be introduced into scientific reasoning as new ways of reading ‘nature’s book.’

Meanwhile, the mending of prevailing scientific theories brings about certain changes in them. A theory may become noticeably overloaded with such reinforcements and may resemble a primitive gothic cathedral. A better architect will sense a better solution; he will look for better tools and materials and lighter designs. He will build a new cathedral. And all of us will go and pray in it. … The list of scientific discoveries and technological developments implying serious risks for humanity has regrettably grown in length and diversity during the 20th century, much more than in any other period of history. Nuclear disarmament, we must recall, is far from be­ing a world-wide reality. Research on biological or combined biological and chemical warfare may still be in the agenda of the armed forces of some countries. Many technologies give rise to high environmental risks, and some authors believe industrialization as such to be a generator of entropy within our planet. Hastily tested drugs, which are widely sold in different countries, are permanent health hazards. These are only some examples, but scientists are usually in­volved in all these proceedings, and seem to go through them with an untroubled conscience. …

The value of scientific research is tightly bound with the behavior of scientists, and this becomes quite evident when studying the history of science.

Whew! Dr. Pruna, being the very careful historian of science, never says what he thinks. In fact, Pruna is carefully critiquing in this convoluted way the submissive “behavior of scientists” — including himself! — and calls on us to judge “the value of [their] scien­tific research” by understanding the official pressures on their work and their willingness to succumb to it! I note that he does not leave out his own work from this critique, but calls on us to read between the lines — even as he strongly supports the government and initiatives of Fidel.

Dr. Pruna raises questions about the dangers of industrial tech­nologies from afar, but which apply to at least some Cuban “authors” as well. Pruna, and oth­ers, clearly feel — at least it’s clear to me, based on private discussions with them — that Cuba has in some ways bought into what I call the “Big Science paradigm,” and that challenges to both frameworks — (a) Technology itself, and, (b) the way in which that discussion is being conducted about tech­nology — must be allowed to be addressed freely if Cuba is going to sustain its revolution into the next century. His round-about historical discussion of science seems to be code, of sorts, for issuing such a call for free scientific discussion.

The Economic Crisis

At the zoo, the signs had always said, “Please don’t feed the animals.” As the economic crisis deepened, the signs were changed to “Please feed the animals,” since there wasn’t enough money for the zoo to feed them. Today the signs have been changed again. They now read: ‘Please don’t eat the animals. – Cuban joke, summer of 1992

The U.S. government’s illegal embargo and blockade would create serious problems in any country. But especially in a small, isolated and progressive one like Cuba, where health care is free and every effort is made to develop the finest in medical technology to attack diseases regardless of cost, the embargo of medicine to Cuba and technology from abroad has been devastating. Still, Cuba’s heart sur­gery techniques, its development of the drug PPG (which reportedly reduces cholesterol and plaque in blood vessels), its pioneering application of bio-engineering in production of drugs to fight AIDS and cancer (over which the only debate seems to be the one that I offered during my presentations at the conference and at visits to the laboratories themselves), and its state of the art health delivery systems, are far superior to others in Latin America and rival those in the U.S. Cuba’s Green medi­cine, solar energy and alternative agriculture proj­ects all receive government fun­ding and popular support.

Vermont professor Will Miller (RIP, Will) and James Mc­Cabe. With the Soviet Embassy mon­o­lith in the background, Will’s t-shirt reads, in Russian, “Capitalism Sucks”.

But, as one friend puts it, “Havana may be good for the heart but it is terrible for the stomach.” Since the virtual shutdown of Cuba’s trading partners three years ago and an intensification of the embargo by the U.S. government, there is a growing scarcity of food for Havana’s two million inhabitants. In a popular measure, the government has begun to distribute egg-laying chickens and occasional roosters to the urban population to compensate for the rationing of an ever-diminishing allotment of eggs. Every morning we’re awakened by the new urban roosters greeting the dawn.

Since the devolution of the so-called socialist bloc in Eastern Europe — which, combined with an intensification of the U.S. embargo, has led to a cut-off of some 85 percent of Cuba’s trade — Cuba has been in the throes of what is officially known as “a Special Period.” In 1991, the Soviet Union cut the price paid for Cuban sugar from 40 to 25 cents per pound, dramatically decreasing Cuba’s ability to import food and energy. The former Soviet Union reneged on promised goods as well. Imported rice, grains, milk, butter all are now endangered species; a shortage of items like caustic soda, necessary in the production of soap, has made soap hard to come by. (“That’s all right,” goes another Cuban joke, “there’s no water to wash with anyway.”) Soviet exports to Cuba dropped from $5.5 billion in 1989 to $1.7 billion in 1991. Oil imports have been cut in half, from almost 13 million tons in 1989 to under 7 million in 1991 and much less the past two years. In lieu of cash, Mexico had offered to provide oil in exchange for precious oil “paintings”, but the U.S. cracked the whip of the International Monetary Fund over Mexico’s back, as it did over similar offers from Venezuela.

Consequently, the entire country is suffering from a disastrous oil shortage. That means few cars are on the streets, transportation of food, necessary goods, ambulances and buses come at enormous social cost, electric power failures are common and most industries are being dramatically scaled down. As an interim measure: Cuba has imported one million bicycles from China.

Bicycling Towards Energy Independence

Bicycles are everywhere. Workers who never had access to bikes before are all-too-happy to ride them for three, four, five miles at a clip (especially since the alternative is the awful and now almost extinct buses; more on them in a minute).

In Miami, right-wing Cuban emigrés claimed that “That’s a lie. There are no bicycles in Cuba.” When I challenged one such liar by citing what I’d seen with my own eyes, he abruptly retreated to his just as onerous fallback position, without missing a beat: “Bicycles,” he said, “are a step backward for Cuba, a sign of socialism’s disintegration.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. What began as an emergency measure — calling on people to “sacrifice” travelling in automobiles by riding bicycles — is turning out to be a godsend. It has already reduced dependency on the multinational oil cartel, freeing the mind from the limited technological approach to what constitutes “the good life,” and improving the overall health of the population.v

Bicycling “is” perhaps a step backward — but taking a step back is not always a bad thing. It depends on the extent to which one’s notion of progress relies upon expanding dependence on petroleum-based mass-technology — a trap which apparently plagues avowed socialists as much as it does capitalists.

However one views it, the absolute swarm of bicycles each morning in Havana is as visually impressive as it is healthy. And for that, Cubans “thank” the U.S. embargo. Consequently, the air, which had been seriously polluted a few years ago, is now much cleaner than in most cities in the U.S., and people are in far better shape than before, despite the food shortages. Indeed, in a city where making a virtue of necessity has become something of a fine art, and where calls to “rectification” — to return to Che Guevara’s concepts of the creation of a new socialist human being — have sometimes been used rhe­torically to exhort people to greater sacrifice while desperately back-pedalling to repair the shortcomings of prior government decisions, the sort of virtues generated by bike riding have stirred sincere feelings of ecological and national pride in measures that had been originally seen as embarrassing necessities.

Obtaining hundreds of thousands of bicycles from China and making them affordable to everyone has turned out to have been one of the most popular of the recent measures enacted by the government in this special period. The extremely positive psychological and communally empowering effects of bicycling en masse are too often overlooked by dry economists (in Cuba as well as in the States) who remain caught up in the dominant dystopic vision of progress being tied to industrial development at any price. The government sells the bikes at low monthly rates; students and workers in certain professions get enormous discounts and buy them on the installment plan at no interest for just a few pesos a month. There are now separate “bicycle only” lanes on the main avenues, road signs warn drivers to be careful of bicyclists, and guards carefully number and keep an eye on newly installed indoor bicycle racks at Havana University.

Indeed, Havana is now perhaps the most bicycle-friendly city this side of Beijing. One afternoon, I note a large group of people gesturing to me from under canopies and trees. I don’t understand why they are doing this, and I continue pedaling up the hill, huffing a puffing as I near the top.

Suddenly, the heavens open up – where did this huge storm come from? The skies were clear just a few minutes earlier! I am soaked to the gills, shivering. Everyone under the trees finds this extremely amusing, and a group beckons me to join them beneath the marqué of a local movie theater. Currently playing: “El Terminator,” Schwartznegger’s pre-gubernatorial physique propped imperially against the entrance. A couple of people offer me cloths to dry my head and eyeglasses, laughing at me the whole time. I laugh along with them. And I spy Dr. Pruna standing next to his bike under an awn­ing a dozen yards away. I wave, he waves back, the rain stops as suddenly as it had begun and the streets again fill with commuters on their bicycles. An occasional bus huffs by, belching black smoke.

Photo by Cindy Arlinsky, Transportation Alternatives Havana street scene, Feb., 1992. Petroleum curtailments have forced a shift to human power, making cycling the means of transport for man Cubans. Ample cycle lanes, bike parking lots, car speed limits and “yield to cyclist” billboards have sprouted throughout Havana and other Cuban cities, and new factories are cranking out bikes.

No-Fare Zones

In Havana, those not on bicycle ride the old rickety Hungarian buses, which get four miles to the gallon and are falling apart. Although the fare is only ten cents, to say that the buses are “overcrowded” is like saying there is but a slight tear in the ozone layer. Adults as well as kids, doctors, professors, construction workers, orange juice squeezers, seamstresses, clerks and municipal officials race after the buses and jump onto whatever toehold they could find, arms wrapped around the window posts, clinging like ants to the sugar cube as it hurtles down the streets.

Most buses have three, sometimes four sets of exit doors through which the sea of humanity attempts to board. Often the drivers won’t even bring their buses to a halt in the general vi­cin­ity of the bus stop. People sprint after them as they slow down and leap, hoping to grab hold. (The best analogy I can think of would be diving headfirst off the stage in New York City at a punk rock concert, expecting all the screaming maniacs below will catch you.) Those able to enter through the bus’ back doors voluntarily pass their ten cents forward — sort of an honor system; no one even thinks of pocketing another’s money, even though everyone needs it.

I had a similar experience in Nicaragua during the optimistic height of the Sandinistas nine years before, and in Harlem when Nelson Mandela first visited the U.S. upon his release from South Africa’s dungeons after 28 years. There, I was at first astounded by and then swept up in the mass enthusiasm as the huge number of people on 125th Street emptied their pockets and passed tens of thousands of dollars over their heads to the stage, the entire crowd laughing, trusting, and cheering one another the whole time. What a transcendental “we’re all in this together” heady moment!

Revolutionary success can be measured not only in government policies but in creating conditions through which the morality and radical social consciousness of the community are able to emerge. (“When the prison gates are open / the real dragon will fly out.”vi)

But why were the buses in Cuba so awful? Was it only due to the U.S. embargo? In 1990, Fidel Castro blasted the shoddy Eastern European machinery, including the buses:

Let’s speak clearly once and for all … We Cubans don’t export garbage. But often what we get back in trade [from the East] is junk! No one else in the world buys Bulgarian forklifts. They are such garbage, only we bought them! How many hundreds, thousands of them stand idle today in our warehouses? The Hungarian buses … pollute the city with fumes and poison everyone around. Who knows how many people have died from the fumes of those buses just because they put in a defective fuel pump? On top of it all, those buses have a two-speed Czech transmission that alone wastes 30 percent of the fuel! Oh, how happy I am to speak with such openness! It’s been difficult to talk about these things in the past, but thanks to these new circumstances, [the “new cir­cum­stan­ces” being the collapse of the Eastern European socialist bloc. – MC] we have been relieved of our previous compromises.vii

Among other stop-gap measures taken to ease the transportation crisis, all government vehicles, which are demarcated by red license plates, are required to carry people wherever they are going along the way. It is not unusual to find 5 or 6 people surrounding a government Toyota and somehow squeezing into it.

As is the case in most countries in hard times, during the Special Period in Cuba, people are forced to make due with what they have. However, unlike other countries the Cuban people’s extremely high degree of social consciousness enables them to take a different approach to the problems their society is facing. To what degree will the various creative and environmentally friendly policies – which are, let’s face it, predominantly making a virtue out of necessity – carry over into the development of an environmental consciousness and continue after this special period ends? The situation is fraught with contradictions but at least for a moment Cuba offers a different vision of “Progress” and what might constitute “The Good Life” despite material privation, at least as judged from the top of the mountain of material (and environmentally destructive) stuff available in the United States.

Problems in Eden

But there “is” growing discontent, particularly over the favored treatment given to tourists, an “industry” the government is heavily promoting and which is rife with contradictions. Because of Cuba’s need to extract hard currency to pay for goods at world market prices, tourists are whisked to the front of long lines, shop in dollar-only stores, and stay in hotels that are off-limits to Cubans, who, until the law was changed in August, 1993, were not allowed to have dollars or engage in dollar exchanges. (Another major change, which went into effect in September 1993, allows people trained in around 100 occupations (like carpentry) to open up their own shops, so long as they don’t hire anyone else’s labor.)

“Socialism or Death? Viva Fidel” is a common sentiment on the fences of construction sites like this one around a hotel being built in Veradero, but the tour­ism policy raises many questions about what socialism actually is or should be about.

Prioritizing tourism has led to an increase in corruption among government officials who, until recently, had sole access to dollars. Unlike in the U.S., where most people shrug off the corruption as impossible to do anything about, in Cuba people take their democracy seriously. The corruption pisses them off. It has even touched off several demonstrations. Even the strongest proponents of the tourism industry view it as a necessary evil.

The tourism trade, combined with the tumbling economy, has also led to an upsurge in prostitution, requiring, in turn, an increase in police activities and claims of harrassment, often along racial lines. Though clearly not the official policy of the state, Black members of our delegation are harassed by police — until they prove they are U.S. citizens — in street sweeps of illegal sellers. Over and over again, we observe Black Cubans stopped by police and asked to show their ID cards, while whites are not, even when they are walking together.

Members of our delegation meet with the former U.S. political prisoner Assata Shakur, now living in exile in Cuba, in a sprawling afternon-long discussion on the world and our social and political movements. From left, front: Pat Pratali (Virginia) and Joy James (Am­herst, MA); back row: John Brentlinger (Amherst, MA. RIP, John), Assata Shakur, Ann Furguson (Am­herst, MA), Peter Bohmer (Evergreen College), Kim Holder (Monmouth College, NJ). Photo by Mitchel Cohen

One Afro-Cuban professor challenged the basically liberal statements of the non-Africans at the conference on the subject of racism. “The objective condition of Blacks in Cuba,” she said, “are still worse than those of European heritage, though not as bad as the situation before the revolution (and nowhere near as bad as the conditions in the United States). The Cuban progressive bourgeoisie “feared” the Blacks,” she continued. “Black Cuban heroes like Antonio Maceo, are portrayed as great military heroes, but their intellectual and political achieve­ments are intentionally overlooked.” Originally, the nationalist revolutionary movement left out the Black population; Batista tried to rally Cubans against the guerrillas by appealing to the population to resist what he termed the European neo-colonial­ists. But the revolution didn’t succeed in fully translating José Marti’s special attention to integration into society-wide anti-racist reforms.

It is important, however, to keep all this in perspective. At least in Cuba no one is homeless, despite an intense housing shortage. During the food shortages, food is rationed — including among government officials — so the hard times are shared equally. While middle class Americans look upon the lack of stores in Cuba with pity, in Cuba freedom, democracy, the good life is defined differently: there is, for instance, no advertising bombarding you wherever you turn, little waste production or packaging which end up polluting the earth and necessitating expensive disposal and sanitation mechanisms, and no compulsion to shop as a substitute for living! Cuban society calls into question what it means for a society to be “healthy”. While people in the U.S. certainly have access to a much wider range of goods than their Cuban counterparts, it is far harder to be poor in the U.S. than in Cuba, where all shortages of food, oil, clothing are shared equally, creating a sense of non-stratified community in the face of common hardship.

Cuba simply does not have the goods that are available in the U.S. (nor the commercialism, advertisements, packaging, or the waste). In comparing Cuba to a utopian ideal of socialism, which is one of the left’s favorite pastimes, its government falls short. Homophobia, for instance, remains rampant in Havana, and gays and lesbians, having been purged from the Cuban Communist Party in 1981 along with Christians, are ironically still banned from Party membership while Christians began being let back in two years ago. Still, for all the complaints I heard from gay people in Cuba, no one reported incidents of drunken (or sober) gay-bashing. And, unlike the situation in the new “democratic” Nicaragua, where individuals convicted under the new anti-gay law (a law opposed by the Sandinista bloc in the National Assembly) face years in jail; or in El Salvador, where government forces cut off the penises of male homosexuals and stuff them in their mouths, in Cuba there are no laws against homosexuality — although discrimination and harassment of gays, lesbians and bi-sexuals does exist. Compared to the nearby countries in Latin America, Cuba is an idyllic paradise where infant mortality has been greatly diminished, literacy is virtually universal, and health care is free and top quality. Over and over again I think of Phil Ochs’ words: “In such a time of ugliness the true protest is beauty.” [Note: I revisited Cuba in 2013 — 20 years later — and found a thriving and very visible gay culture. So something was done right! – MC]

Many socialists judge Cuba from afar through abstract categories and government decisions, instead of the way those decisions are reached, bubbling up through the self-activity of the people — a self-activity that is not only allowed but encouraged to blossom. For many in the U.S., when the Cuban reality doesn’t oblige their abstract categories, they slash away at what they call “Stalinism” there, transposing categories apropos to industrialized Eastern Europe to Cuba’s vastly different experience and history. And all I can answer is, I feel, yes, “freer” in many ways in Cuba than I do in the U.S.

Too many leftists in the U.S. fetishize the structures of so-called “democracy” and call on Cuba to increase the number of political parties there. But the Cubans have good arguments for not adorning themselves with the trappings of democracy U.S.-style. They are far more concerned with expanding working class democracy within existing parties and institutions.

Socialism is a process, not an end result. It involves self-determination, even when you may disagree with what people decide for themselves through those determinations. Regardless of people’s exasperation with their current situation, and frustrations with government policies, workers with whom I spoke certainly feel unconstrained enough to express their complaints openly — to me, to domestic media, and to Cuban officials to their face, who travel around the country attending village meetings. In Cuba, the revolutionary process is still going on. It takes new and unanticipated turns while having to shake off the stale and pestilential breath of capital, as it breathes down its neck from just 90 miles away. The revolution was nationalist and anti-imperialist as well as socialist. In Cuba, the people I spoke with feel that the revolution, for all its shortcomings, is their own.

The 1992 Radical Philosophy Association group meeting in Havana considers a number of contentious issues.

And in such areas as solar energy, green medicine, literacy and, yes!, armed self-determination, the Cuban people are, in spite of enormous hardships and sometimes frustrating policies, showing the way forward, the arenas in which socialism can really make a difference in people’s lives. The ever shifting conditions continuously offer new opportunities that remove socialism from the dusty museum of antiquity and re-energize what had become static; as anyone who has been to Cuba will say, despite many problems, the dynamic culture of the Cuban people and their refusal to buckle-under to the U.S. redefines our vision, in the U.S., of what socialism, and freedom, could really mean.

NOTES

1. Since this was written, Cuba had negotiated arrangements with Mexico and especially Venezuela, for oil, which was one of the reasons the U.S. government attempted to overthrow the Chavez government in Venezuela. With Chavez’s death Cuba has lost its closest ally.

2. A dramatic technological breakthrough in producing portable solar energy cells has been developed in Canada in 2005, and may prove to be just what Cuba has been looking for. We can expect the U.S. government to put added pressure on Canada to cease its trade with Cuba; but as many Canadian businesses are already invested in the island in other projects, this pressure may not be easy for the U.S. to accomplish.

3. In 2005, one of the transformers from the half-built Juragua nuclear power plant was removed to replace the failed transformer at the Guiteras thermo-electric plant. Could this be the end (hopefully) of Cuba’s nuclear experiment?

4. Nuclear engineers are now being retrained in alternative energy.

5. See Bill Livant, “Ride the Red Bicycle.”

6. This is a famous line from a poem by Ho Chi Minh, leader of the victorious resistance movement in Vietnam against U.S. imperialism.

7. Village Voice, May 1, 1990  

RIDE THE RED BICYCLE

by Bill Livant

This is the dawning of the bicycle era in Cuba. … Expanding the use of the bicycle is an indicator of cultural advancement and a gesture of respect towards nature. The bicycle will humanize our habits, make better use of our time and improve the quality of life in our country. Fidel Castro, quoted in the U.S. Bicycle Guide; March 1992.

Dawning of an era? Does Castro really mean that this little tool for getting around, which capitalist history put aside for the automobile, this little tool which kids put aside when they grow up, this little tool which Cuba has been forced by economic necessity to go back to … that this is a dawning part of Cuba’s future? That bicycles are for grownups too? Many of us from North America have been in educational struggles where reactionary forces always raise the slogan: “Back to the Basics!” For them the basics are finished, nailed down and locked up. So are the students.

Not for us. For us, the basics are always there but never finished. They are the objectively possible necessities which the philosopher Ernst Bloch called “Not Yet”; that which brings forward from the past a “living yesterday” into the future. The basics are always being rediscovered, re uncovered in the process of re inventing socialism (the title of this conference). Hence our slogan: Forward to the Basics!

I think this is the claim that Castro makes for the bicycle, that it is one of the basics; a living yesterday whose time has now come. It is not backward, behind the times, but ahead of them. And not only for our health, our use of time, and our respect for nature. Perhaps for our philosophy too.

2: There are some nice philosophical questions hidden in the bicycle. I want to raise a few of them here, using only facts we all can see. We shouldn’t be surprised that riding a bicycle can be philosophically interesting. Einstein seemed to think so.

It should be interesting especially to Marxists. For, what is the starting point of a Marxist philosophy? It is matter in motion. And what else is riding a bicycle if not matter in motion?

It’s a very interesting motion too. It is dialectical. On a bike, to be stable you have to move. If you don’t move, you are unbalanced, you fall off. The bicycle shows us that it is motion which is the necessary condition for stability. So let me ask a few questions in socialist bicycle philosophy.

Question #1 : What kind of matter is a bicycle good at moving? Answer: Me. You. A human body. The human body, as contrasted with all other kinds of physical material. Of course, a bicycle can move other materials, but it’s very limited. A human body is what a bicycle is best at moving.

And it is the whole human body that moves. Not parts. Not bits. The whole thing. This is good to remember, in the “Age of Information”. For it suggests to us that all concrete information is embodied. Some philosophers have suggested that so called “Artificial Intelligence” is no such thing, precisely because these artifacts do not have bodies. I agree; here I use the bicycle to make the same point.

Question #2: How does the bicycle move human bodies? Answer: By means of the bicycle, these bodies move themselves. The bicycle shows us that the powers of movement lie within the people; the people themselves are active. We are not simply material which can be moved. We are human agents. We do not need a Prime Mover, on heaven or earth, to move us. We can move ourselves. Question #3: How do we move ourselves in riding a bicycle? Answer: The function of our walking legs and our handling hands are combined. The bicycle is the only form of transportation in which this is so. (Skiing too, but not in Cuba!)

I need to say a word here about walking. Walking shares the same philosophical properties we have already seen: we are active human agents moving our whole bodies. Even the form of motion is the same: when we stand, we are unstable; only in walking is the body in equilibrium. This is why continued walking can be a pleasure but continued standing is always a pain. And as walkers we relate to other modes of transportation as the bicycle does.

Recall, walking marks us as human. The human is the unique animal who walks and handles together. Marxist thinking about the historical development of the human mind has paid attention to the powers of our arms and hands, to our manipulation of the world. Properly so. But it has paid little attention to the powers of our legs, our feet. Or to what it means for the hands and feet to work together.

Too bad. For Rousseau, walking was necessary for him to think at all: “I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs …. There is something about walking which stimulates and enlivens my thoughts. When I stay in one place, I can hardly think at all; my body has to be on the move to set my mind going … [it] serves to free my spirit, to lend a greater boldness to my thinking, to throw me, so to speak, into the vastness of things, so that I can combine them, select them, and make them mine as I will, without fear or restraint.”

I think that riding the bicycle shows us a little philosophical model of the physical conditions for human thinking.

Question #4: How many people can a bicycle move? Answer: It’s best at moving a single individual. People on bicycles are not going to forget easily that they are individual persons. But the useful philosophical point is not to be found in the persons one by one. Rather, it lies in the relation between different forms of moving people. Let us follow one of these relations a bit.

Bicycles complement mass transit. People on bicycles connect well with busses and trains. Like walkers, they connect easily to mass transit vehicles if these vehicles simply attach bike racks. This is not an original suggestion. I’m sure some in Cuba have already suggested it.

This relation of the bicycle to mass transit has a particular philosophical importance. Just because the bicycle is such an individual vehicle, it highlights the relation of the single human to the totality of people; the relation of each person to all the people, the relation of the part to the whole.

This relation is not without contradictions. Cuba, in its present economic difficulties, resorted to bicycles partly as a substitute for mass transit. And that works, under most conditions, for distances of a few kilometers. But when we consider human transport as a whole, they are not substitutes, they are com­plements. Together, they are substitutes for the automobile.

No doubt this will increase the need to develop non petroleum bases of stored energy for mass transit. But these exist; in the water, the sun. And we all know that for the “dawning of a new era” in energy, the sun must rise.

3: In sum, riding a bicycle puts the self acting human body, the parts of that body, and the relation of each body to all, at the center of philosophy. And this gives us a standpoint from which to evaluate socialist technology. It must be “user friendly”; it must develop the potentials of human bodies. The user friendliness of the bicycle stands as a critique of capitalist technology, which cannot be user friendly. The requirements of capital accumulation always work to eliminate the user; to make the user disappear. Consequently, capitalism cannot give us, overall, a dialectical concept of technology, a concept of subject and object, for it always erases the human subject.

A socialist technology, in all its manifestations, is not something that leaves human bodies behind. It must always return to bodies. And that is why the bicycle is not just for kids; it’s not something we grow out of; it is something we grow in to. Good thing too.

This is the revolutionary meaning of the bicycle. It is a living yesterday turning into tomorrow. Cuba’s crisis is an opportunity for us all. Forward to the bicycle!

THE UNREPENTANT BATHER (90 MILES OUT)

My love swims alone
in an ocean of sharks
circling to starboard
circling to bow
waiting their moment
off guard, stroke falters
gnashing their teeth
flexing their jaws
wearing the defenses down

 

Swim for your life, sweetheart,
Swim for your life!
Don’t give up an inch,
Don’t fall for the trap!
The sharks are all circling
‘Round History’s bones
You swim there alone
Under attack

 

My love swims alone
paradoxically dreams
of lush old-growth forests
& crystalline streams
but industry dangles
“development’s” lures
gnashing their teeth
flexing their jaws
baiting the bloodlash
of “Progress”

 

Swim for your life, Cuba,
Swim for your life!
Don’t give up an inch,
Don’t fall for the trap!
The sharks are all circling
‘Round History’s bones
You swim there alone
Under attack
swim faster
keep swimming
keep swimming

 

Mitchel Cohen
from “The Permanent Carnival” selected poems

 

ISRAEL’S BIG LIE: THIS ISN’T SELF-DEFENSE — IT’S A WAR CRIME AIDED AND ABETTED BY THE U.S.

Mitchel Cohen’s report from the “Palestine Lives!” march in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, on May 15, 2021, for WBAI radio.

Almost everything said in the U.S. about Israel’s assault on the Palestinians is a lie — because we are implicated

Guest post by Chris Hedges
Published May 15, 2021 in ScheerPost.

main article image Smoke billows after an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City targeted the Ansar compound, linked to the Hamas movement, in the Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021. – Israel pounded Gaza and deployed extra troops to the border as Palestinians fired barrages of rockets back, with the death toll in the enclave on the fourth day of conflict climbing to over 100. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)

Nearly all the words and phrases used by the Democrats, Republicans and the talking heads on the media to describe the unrest inside Israel and the heaviest Israeli assault against the Palestinians since the 2014 attacks on Gaza, which lasted 51 days and killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, are a lie. Israel, by employing its military machine against an occupied population that does not have mechanized units, an air force, navy, missiles, heavy artillery and command-and-control, not to mention a U.S. commitment to provide a $38 billion defense aid package for Israel over the next decade, is not exercising “the right to defend itself.” It is carrying out mass murder. It is a war crime. 

Israel has made clear it is ready to destroy and kill as wantonly now as it was in 2014. Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz, who was the chief of staff during the murderous assault on Gaza in 2014, has vowed that if Hamas “does not stop the violence, the strike of 2021 will be harder and more painful than that of 2014.” The current attacks have already targeted several residential high-rises including buildings that housed more than a dozen local and international press agencies, government buildings, roads, public facilities, agricultural lands, two schools and a mosque.

I spent seven years in the Middle East as a correspondent, four of them as The New York Times Middle East bureau chief. I am an Arabic speaker. I lived for weeks at a time in Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison, where more than 2 million Palestinians exist on the edge of starvation, struggle to find clean water and endure constant Israeli terror. I have been in Gaza when it was pounded with Israeli artillery and air strikes. I have watched mothers and fathers, wailing in grief, cradling the bloodied bodies of their sons and daughters. I know the crimes of the occupation — the food shortages caused by the Israeli blockade, the stifling overcrowding, the contaminated water, the lack of health services, the near-constant electrical outages due to the Israeli targeting of power plants, the crippling poverty, the endemic unemployment, the fear and the despair. I have witnessed the carnage. 

I also have listened from Gaza to the lies emanating from Jerusalem and Washington. Israel’s indiscriminate use of modern, industrial weapons to kill thousands of innocents, wound thousands more and make tens of thousands of families homeless is not a war: It is state-sponsored terror. And while I oppose the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinians into Israel, as I oppose suicide bombings, seeing them also as war crimes, I am acutely aware of a huge disparity between the industrial violence carried out by Israel against innocent Palestinians and the minimal acts of violence capable of being waged by groups such as Hamas.

The false equivalency between Israeli and Palestinian violence was echoed during the war I covered in Bosnia. Those of us in the besieged city of Sarajevo were pounded daily with hundreds of heavy shells and rockets from the surrounding Serbs. We were targeted by sniper fire. The city suffered a few dozen dead and wounded each day. The government forces inside the city fired back with light mortars and small arms fire. Supporters of the Serbs seized on any casualties caused by Bosnian government forces to play the same dirty game, although well over 90 percent of the killings in Bosnia were the fault of the Serbs, as is also true regarding Israel. [Note by Mitchel Cohen: I do not agree with Chris Hedges’ perspective on what transpired in Yugoslavia nor his equating of Serbia with the Israeli state. See Mitchel’s NOT ON THE NEWS: AGAINST NATO’S WAR ON YUGOSLAVIA and also BOMBING THE BRIDGE TO THE 21ST CENTURY: Behind NATO’s Bombardment of Yugoslavia.]

The second and perhaps most important parallel is that the Serbs, like the Israelis, were the principal violators of international law. Israel is in breach of more than 30 UN Security Council resolutions. It is in breach of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that defines collective punishment of a civilian population as a war crime. It is in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention for settling over half a million Jewish Israelis on occupied Palestinian land and for the ethnic cleansing of at least 750,000 Palestinians when the Israeli state was founded and another 300,000 after Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank were occupied following the 1967 war. Its annexation of East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights violates international law, as does its building of a security barrier in the West Bank that annexes Palestinian land into Israel. It is in violation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which states that Palestinian “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” 

This is the truth. Any other starting point for the discussion of what is taking place between Israel and the Palestinians is a lie.

Israel’s once-vibrant peace movement and political left, which condemned and protested against the Israeli occupation when I lived in Jerusalem, is moribund. The right-wing Netanyahu government, despite its rhetoric about fighting terrorism, has built an alliance with the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, which also views Iran as an enemy. Saudi Arabia, a country that  produced 15 of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks, is reputed to be the most prolific sponsor of international Islamist terrorism, allegedly supporting Salafist jihadism, the basis of al-Qaida, and groups such as the Afghanistan TalibanLashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Al-Nusra Front.  Advertisement:

Saudi Arabia and Israel worked closely together to back the 2013 military coup in Egypt, led by General Abdul Fattah el Sisi. Sisi overthrew a democratically elected government. He has imprisoned tens of thousands of government critics, including journalists and human rights defenders, on politically motivated charges. The Sisi regime collaborates with Israel by keeping its common border with Gaza closed to Palestinians, trapping them in the Gaza strip, one of the most densely populated places on earth. Israel’s cynicism and hypocrisy, especially when it wraps itself in the mantle of protecting democracy and fighting terrorism, is of epic proportions. 

Those who are not Jewish in Israel are either second-class citizens or live under brutal military occupation. Israel is not, and never has been, the exclusive homeland of the Jewish people. From the 7th century until 1948, when Jewish colonial settlers used violence and ethnic cleansing to create the state of Israel, Palestine was overwhelmingly Muslim. It was never empty land. The Jews in Palestine were traditionally a tiny minority. The United States is not an honest broker for peace but has funded, enabled and defended Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. Israel is not defending the rule of law. Israel is not a democracy. It is an apartheid state.

That the lie of Israel continues to be embraced by the ruling elites — there is no daylight between statements in defense of Israeli war crimes by Nancy Pelosi and Ted Cruz — and used as a foundation for any discussion of Israel is a testament to the corrupting power of money, in this case that of the Israel lobby, and the bankruptcy of a political system of legalized bribery that has surrendered its autonomy and its principles to its major donors. It is also a stunning example of how colonial settler projects — and this is also true in the United States — always carry out cultural genocide so they can exist in a suspended state of myth and historical amnesia to legitimize themselves. 

The Israel lobby has shamelessly used its immense political clout to demand that Americans take de facto loyalty oaths to Israel. The passage by 35 state legislatures of Israel lobby-backed legislation requiring their workers and contractors, under threat of dismissal, to sign a pro-Israel oath and promise not to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a mockery of our constitutional right of free speech. Israel has lobbied the U.S. State Department to redefine antisemitism under a three-point test known as the Three Ds: the making of statements that “demonize” Israel; statements that apply “double standards” for Israel; statements that “delegitimize” the state of Israel. This definition of antisemitism is being pushed by the Israel lobby in state legislatures and on college campuses.

The Israel lobby spies in the United States, often at the direction of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, on those who speak up for the rights of Palestinians. It wages public smear campaigns and blacklists defenders of Palestinian rights — including the Jewish historian Norman Finkelstein; UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Territories Richard Falk, also Jewish; and university students, many of them Jewish, in organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine.

The Israel lobby has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to manipulate U.S. elections, far beyond anything alleged to have been carried out by Russia, China or any other country. The heavy-handed interference by Israel in the American political system, which includes operatives and donors bundling together hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in every U.S. congressional district to bankroll compliant candidates, is documented in the Al-Jazeera four-part series “The Lobby.” Israel managed to block “The Lobby” from being broadcast. In the film, a pirated copy of which is available on the website Electronic Intifada, the leaders of the Israel lobby are repeatedly captured on a reporter’s hidden camera explaining how they, backed by the intelligence services within Israel, attack and silence American critics and use massive cash donations to buy politicians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured an unconstitutional invitation from then-House Speaker John Boehner to address Congress in 2015 to denounce President Barack Obama’s Iranian nuclear agreement. Netanyahu’s open defiance of Obama and alliance with the Republican Party, however, did not stop Obama in 2014 from authorizing a 10-year, $38 billion military aid package to Israel, a sad commentary on how captive American politics is to Israeli interests.

The investment by Israel and is backers is worth it, especially when you consider that the U.S. has also spent more than $6 trillion during the last 20 years fighting futile wars that Israel and its lobby pushed for in the Middle East. These wars are the greatest strategic debacle in American history, accelerating the decline of the American empire, bankrupting the nation at a time of economic stagnation and mounting poverty, and turning huge parts of the globe against us. They serve Israel’s interests, not ours.

The longer the mendacious Israeli narrative is embraced, the more empowered become the racists, bigots, conspiracy theorists and far-right hate groups inside and outside Israel. This steady shift to the far right in Israel has fostered an alliance between Israel and the Christian right, many of whom are antisemites. The more Israel and the Israel lobby level the charge of antisemitism against those who speak up for Palestinian rights, as they did against former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the more they embolden the real antisemites. 

Racism, including antisemitism, is dangerous. It is not only bad for the Jews. It is bad for everyone. It empowers the dark forces of ethnic and religious hatred on the extremes. Netanyahu’s racist government has built alliances with far-right leaders in Hungary, India and Brazil, and was closely allied with Donald Trump. Racists and ethnic chauvinists, as I saw in the wars in the former Yugoslavia, feed off each other. They divide societies into polarized, antagonistic camps that only speak in the language of violence. The radical jihadists need Israel to justify their violence, just as Israel needs the radical jihadists to justify its violence. These extremists are ideological twins.  

This polarization fosters a fearful, militarized society. It permits the ruling elites in Israel, as in the United States, to dismantle civil liberties in the name of national security. Israel runs training programs for militarized police, including from the United States. It is a global player in the multibillion-dollar drone industry, competing against China and the United States.

It oversees hundreds of cyber-surveillance startups whose espionage innovations, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, have been utilized abroad “to locate and detain human rights activists, persecute members of the LGBT community, silence citizens critical of their governments, and even fabricate cases of blasphemy against Islam in Muslim countries that don’t maintain formal relations with Israel.”

Israel, like the United States, has been poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war. One million Israelis, many of them among the most enlightened and educated, have left the country. Its most courageous human rights campaigners, intellectuals and journalists — Israeli and Palestinian — endure constant government surveillance, arbitrary arrests and vicious government-run smear campaigns. Mobs and vigilantes, including thugs from right-wing youth groups such as Im Tirtzu, physically assault dissidents, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and African immigrants in the slums of Tel Aviv. These Jewish extremists have targeted Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, demanding their expulsion. They are supported by an array of anti-Arab groups including the Otzma Yehudit Party, the ideological descendant of the outlawed Kach party, the Lehava movement, which calls for all Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories to be expelled to surrounding Arab states, and La Familia, far-right soccer hooligans. Lehava in Hebrew means “flame” and is the acronym for “Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land.” Mobs of these Jewish fanatics parade through Palestinian neighborhoods, including in occupied East Jerusalem, protected by Israeli police, shouting to the Palestinians who live there “Death to the Arabs,” which is also a popular chant at Israeli soccer matches.

Israel has pushed through a series of discriminatory laws against non-Jews that echo the racist Nuremberg Laws that disenfranchised Jews in Nazi Germany. The Communities Acceptance Law, for example, permits “small, exclusively Jewish towns planted across Israel’s Galilee region to formally reject applicants for residency on the grounds of ‘suitability to the community’s fundamental outlook.'” Israel’s educational system, starting in primary school, uses the Holocaust to portray Jews as eternal victims. This victimhood is an indoctrination machine used to justify racism, Islamophobia, religious chauvinism and the deification of the Israeli military. 

There are many parallels between the deformities that grip Israel and the deformities that grip the United States. The two countries are moving at warp speed towards a 21st-century fascism, cloaked in religious language, which will revoke what remains of our civil liberties and snuff out our anemic democracies. The failure of the United States to stand up for the rule of law, to demand that the Palestinians, powerless and friendless, even in the Arab world, be granted basic human rights mirrors the abandonment of the vulnerable within our own society. We are headed, I fear, down the road Israel is heading down. It will be devastating for the Palestinians. It will be devastating for us. And all resistance, as the Palestinians courageously show us, will only come from the street.    

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges is the former Middle East bureau chief of the New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and a columnist at Scheerpost. He is the author of several books, including “America: The Farewell Tour,” “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” and “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.”

Could an accident have caused COVID-19? Why the Wuhan lab-leak theory shouldn’t be dismissed

Alison Young provides a nerve-wracking account of failures and releases of dangerous pathogens from biolabs around the world. Still, I am surprised that she doesn’t mention the shutting down of the USAMRID biowar facility at Fort Detrick, MD, in 2019, shortly before the first cases of Covid-19 were observed, along with Fort Detrick’s close association with the lab in Wuhan, experimenting on the same viruses.

https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/opinion/2021/03/22/why-covid-lab-leak-theory-wuhan-shouldnt-dismissed-column/4765985001/

I have reported on safety lapses at elite U.S. labs. There is no reason to believe they aren’t happening at labs in other countries as well.

Alison Young, Opinion Contributor

Published 4:00 AM EDT Mar. 22, 2021 Updated 9:05 AM EDT Mar. 22, 2021

Clink. Clink. Clink.

On a warm summer evening in July 2014, a laboratory worker on the National Institutes of Health’s sprawling campus just north of Washington, D.C., exited Building 29A toting a cardboard box. Its contents rattled inside – an assortment of fragile glass vials labeled with faded typewriter script: Q fever, rickettsia, and worst of all, four strains of variola – the dreaded virus that causes smallpox.

Highly contagious, variola is one of the deadliest viruses the world has ever known. It could rip through most of the U.S. population and cause a global health disaster if released. It killed as many as three out of every 10 people infected before it was declared eradicated from the planet in 1980.

Clink. Clink.

Nobody has been routinely vaccinated against smallpox in decades, leaving most people in the U.S. and around the world vulnerable to infection. Yet after forgotten specimen vials dating to the 1940s and 1950s were discovered at the NIH in an unlocked cold storage room, nothing was done to ensure their safe transportation. They were allowed to bump around in a cardboard box with dozens of other old biological specimens as a lone laboratory worker walked them to another building about two blocks away, federal records show.

One vial had already shattered.

The world got lucky that day, as it often has when safety breaches occur at biological laboratories in the United States and around the world.

A deadly epidemic wasn’t unleashed. It was only a tissue specimen that broke and nobody got sick.

Had any of the six glass vials containing the Variola virus been breached, there would have been nothing to contain the agent and prevent its release to the surrounding environment,” according to a joint investigation report by the FBI and federal lab regulators.

I want to clarify that all hypotheses remain open and require further study,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.Christopher Black, World Health Organization via AFP

As members of a World Health Organization expert team have made international headlines recently dismissing as “extremely unlikely” the possibility that a laboratory accident in Wuhan, China could have sparked the COVID-19 pandemic, I can’t stop thinking of the hundreds of lab accidents that are secretly occurring just in the United States.

As an investigative reporter, I have spent more than a decade revealing shocking safety breaches that officials at laboratories in our own country don’t want the public to know about.

I have uncovered exotic and deadly bacteria that have hitched rides out of high-security labs on workers’ dirty clothing, silently spreading contagion for weeks. I have revealed how spacesuit-like protective gear and tubes carrying safe oxygen to scientists have torn or broken – repeatedly – and high-tech safety systems have failed dramatically. Vials of viruses and bacteria have gone missing. Researchers bitten by infected lab animals have been allowed to move about in public – rather than being quarantined – while waiting for signs of infection to appear.

These and similar safety lapses are happening with disturbing regularity at elite U.S. labs operated by government agencies, the military, universities and private firms. There is no reason to believe they aren’t happening at labs in other countries as well.

The notion that more than 2.7 million deaths worldwide – so far – could be the result of a lab accident has been met with skepticism and derision by many journalists and scientists who often portray it as a crackpot conspiracy theory fueled by former President Donald Trump’s China-bashing rhetoric. Without question, the lab-leak theory has been politically and racially weaponized in ugly ways. But that rhetoric needs to be separated from legitimate questions about lab safety that are deserving of investigation.

Science, like journalism, is supposed to be about facts and about getting to the truth. But those who dare seek answers to reasonable questions about any lab accidents in Wuhan are accused of peddling conspiracies.

Let me be clear: Labs in Wuhan may not have played any role in the origin of the pandemic. But a year later, no source has been found, and the world deserves a thorough, unbiased investigation of all plausible theories that is conducted without fear or favor.

These and similar safety lapses are happening with disturbing regularity at elite U.S. labs operated by government agencies, the military, universities and private firms.

No matter what, this is a moment for the U.S. and the world to take a hard look at the safety of biological research labs and the risks they can pose – because problems at these facilities are real. 

The WHO scientific team, which is looking for the pandemic’s origin, is expected to release its final report this week detailing findings from their January trip to Wuhan, the city where the first cases of COVID-19 were identified.

Before leaving China last month, Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO scientist leading the team, said the group’s findings suggest it is “extremely unlikely” the pandemic was caused by a laboratory accident at one of Wuhan’s high-containment biological research facilities. Those facilities include the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which specializes in coronavirus research, collecting specimens from wild bats in search of new viruses and conducting experiments.

It was very unlikely that anything could escape from such a place,” Ben Embarek said during the Feb. 9 WHO press conference, citing the team’s discussions with Wuhan lab officials about their safety protocols and audits. “If you look at the history of lab accidents, these are extremely rare events.”

Yet lab accidents aren’t rare.

What’s rare are accidents causing documented outbreaks. But those have happened, including in 2004 when two researchers at a lab in Beijing unknowingly became infected with another type of SARS coronavirus, sparking a small outbreak that killed one person.

The risk that a laboratory released virus – carried into the community by a worker who didn’t know they were infected or through the leak of infectious waste – could cause a deadly outbreak has been a growing concern for many years.

In the U.S., scientists and members of Congress – both Democrats and Republicans – and the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office have expressed concerns for years. In reports and hearings, they’ve worried that the proliferation of laboratories working with high-risk pathogens is increasing the aggregate threat of a deliberate or accidental lab release causing a catastrophic outbreak.

“The public is concerned about these laboratories because exposing workers and the public to dangerous pathogens, whether deliberate or accidental, can have disastrous consequences,” the GAO’s Nancy Kingsbury told Congress at a hearing in 2014.

If the COVID-19 pandemic were found to have been caused by a lab accident, it would have far-reaching implications for the fragmented and secretive oversight of biological research in the U.S. and worldwide that currently relies heavily on the scientific community to police itself.

The prevailing theory among the WHO expert team and scientists worldwide is that the virus probably evolved in bats – because they are common hosts for many types of coronaviruses – then it spread to another type of animal before jumping to humans. This kind of “spillover” from animals to humans is a common source of new diseases. So far, however, no evidence has been found that directly ties the pandemic virus to an animal source.

Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus arrive by car at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on Feb. 3, 2021.HECTOR RETAMAL, AFP via Getty Images

The WHO team also announced that it supported continued investigation of another possibly related theory, one promoted by China, that the virus might have arrived in Wuhan through imported frozen food. The only theory the team said was so unlikely it didn’t merit further investigation was the so-called lab-leak theory.

Within days and with far less fanfare and news coverage, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appeared to walk back the team’s dismissal of the lab accident theory, saying: “I want to clarify that all hypotheses remain open and require further study.” 

Duct tape, equipment failures and sloppy lab work

Like most people, I hadn’t ever given much thought to the safety of biological research facilities. I just assumed they were impenetrable sterile fortresses, heavily regulated and guarded, equipped with layers of cutting-edge technology and staffed by workers who zealously adhered to safety protocols. 

Then in 2007, I started getting the first of many tips about problems inside the labs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has an international reputation for operating the world’s premier public health laboratories on its secure headquarters campus in Atlanta. At the time, I was the CDC beat reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

With the help of a tipster, I revealed that the CDC’s then-new $214 million infectious disease lab building – a crown jewel in the nation’s race to defend against the threat of bioterrorism – suffered an hour-long power outage from a lightning strike and the failure of its emergency backup generators. The outage shut down key safety systems in the 368,000-square-foot concrete and glass research tower, known at the agency as Building 18, including specialized air pressure systems that help ensure lethal viruses remain inside individual labs.

CDC’s Building 18 houses numerous labs, including a suite of biosafety level 4 labs. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal a dramatic… Kimberly Smith, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

What’s worse, I later obtained internal documents and emails showing the CDC dismissed warnings from the agency’s own engineering staff, years before the lab opened, that the backup power system’s design “gives us no protection whatsoever from many types of failures.”

Following up on another tip, I revealed that scientists in this same troubled building were conducting experiments on a type of dangerous bacteria in a biosafety level 3 lab – the second-highest security level – where the containment door was sealed with duct tape.

The tape was applied around the edges of the door a year earlier, after it was discovered that a malfunctioning ventilation system was pulling potentially contaminated air out of the lab into a “clean” hallway, where others in the building walk around in street clothes and lack any gear to protect against infection. Nine workers who had been in the fallout zone were tested for potential exposure to the highly infectious bacterium that causes Q fever, which is classified as a potential bioterror agent and can cause mild to severe symptoms, including potentially fatal heart problems. No one was infected.

As I stood in front of the duct-taped door on a summer day in 2008, escorted by five CDC officials, the head of the agency’s occupational safety program downplayed the significance of the duct tape. The public was never at any risk, he said, the lab was perfectly safe, and the ventilation system had worked properly in the time since the incident happened a year earlier.

Then why is the door still sealed with duct tape?” I asked.

It’s an enhancement,” replied Patrick Stockton, who at the time was the CDC’s safety and occupational health manager. “We could take it off.”

Then why weren’t they removing it?

Think about that: This was a new $214 million federal building that the CDC had touted back then as the world’s most advanced laboratory. And yet the CDC was relying on duct tape to help safeguard against the release of dangerous bioterror bacteria.

In many ways it was emblematic of what my reporting has found over the years about how labs and regulators approach safety.

In the decade that followed, as a member of USA TODAY’s national investigative team, I reported on more incidents at the CDC and scores of other U.S. labs operated by the federal government, universities and private organizations across the country.

  • At the Tulane National Primate Research Center near New Orleans, a type of deadly bacteria not found in the United States, called Burkholderia pseudomallei, escaped one of the facility’s high-security biosafety level 3 labs in 2014, infecting monkeys that lived in outdoor cages and had not been used in experiments. Federal regulators concluded the bacteria likely was carried out of the lab on workers’ contaminated clothing. The bacteria, which can cause serious illness in people and animals, can colonize soil and water in climates like Louisiana, though testing did not find evidence it had spread into the environment.
  • At the University of Iowa, records showed that officials in 2014 discovered that a scientist had been conducting experiments with a genetically engineered strain of the MERS virus – which causes a deadly and contagious respiratory disease in humans – without getting approval from the university’s biosafety committee.
  • Louisiana State University’s AgCenter in Baton Rouge was secretly cited by federal regulators in 2008 for serious biosafety lapses while researching Brucella bacteria, which poses a health and economic threat to livestock. Safety failures resulted in a cow in a nearby pasture – that was not involved in the experiments – becoming infected, federal records showed. LSU also was cited for sending infected cattle to a slaughterhouse where the meat was sold for people to eat.

A particularly alarming string of incidents in 2014 included the CDC potentially exposing dozens of its workers to live anthrax and also having dangerous mix-ups with specimens of Ebola virus and a deadly strain of avian influenza.

Meanwhile, in 2015 it was discovered that biological labs operated at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground near Salt Lake City had been mistakenly shipping live anthrax spores to labs around the world for a decade, the result of faulty assumptions that the research specimens they were sharing had been effectively killed – when they could actually still grow and kill.

A truck approaches the main gate at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in the middle of Rush Valley in Utah December 17, 2001.GEORGE FREY, AFP/Getty Images

In an award-winning 2015 USA TODAY investigation called “Biolabs in Your Backyard,” our team revealed that more than 100 U.S. labs working with potential bioterror pathogens had faced secret federal sanctions for safety violations, and that regulators had allowed them to keep conducting experiments while failing inspections, sometimes for years. Among the labs with some of the worst regulatory records, we found, were labs operated by some of the same federal agencies that are charged with regulating laboratory safety.

Laboratory accidents continue to happen across the United States. But the public rarely hears about them because pervasive secrecy obscures failings by labs and also by regulators.

There is no universal, mandatory requirement for reporting lab accidents or lab-associated infections with dangerous pathogens, our USA TODAY investigation found. And even when labs lose their permits to work with dangerous pathogens because of serious safety violations, the government keeps the labs’ names secret, citing security concerns and a federal bioterrorism law.

According to documents I obtained recently using the federal Freedom of Information Act, U.S. laboratories reported more than 450 accidents during 2015 through 2019 while experimenting with some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens – those subject to federal regulation because they “pose a severe threat” to health and also have the potential to be turned into bioweapons. These pathogens, which the U.S. government calls “select agents,” include anthrax, Ebola, plague, deadly strains of avian influenza and types of SARS coronaviruses.

The safety breaches reported to the U.S. Federal Select Agent Program – which is a jointly run by the CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – ranged from animal bites and needle sticks to failures of safety equipment and mistakes that resulted in infectious particles becoming airborne inside labs.

In nearly all reported cases, regulators deemed the breaches serious enough to put workers at risk of becoming infected, the program’s annual reports to Congress show. As a result, more than 660 U.S. scientists and other lab workers involved in the incidents underwent medical assessment or treatment with preventative medications.

The good news is that almost none of these lab workers got sick, according to the reports, which provide only statistics and no personalized details. But a few – without realizing it – became infected, going about their lives at home and in public for months. Their exposures were identified only because their lab happened to conduct annual blood tests, checking for antibodies to research pathogens, something that federal regulators don’t require. Fortunately, the organisms they were working with were types of bacteria that, while dangerous, don’t spread easily from person to person. 

But what if a lab worker were unknowingly exposed to something far more contagious, a virus that can infect others before any symptoms appear?

How viruses can escape

There are several ways a pathogen can “escape” a laboratory and cause a public outbreak.

A lab worker can become infected because of a failure in safety equipment or procedures. Sometimes these infections, such as those involving pathogens that spread through contaminated air or through invisible aerosolized droplets, occur without the worker even realizing a safety breach has occurred.

Viruses and bacteria also have the potential to be carried out of labs on contaminated clothing and equipment, or through a mishap in the sterilization of the lab’s solid or liquid waste.

While rare, lab accidents causing documented outbreaks that spread to people or animals have happened.

An influenza epidemic in 1977 that spread throughout the world was found to have been caused by a strain of the virus that appeared to be nearly identical to one that hadn’t circulated since the 1950s. Many scientists believe it was not a naturally occurring outbreak, and that it likely was the result of a stored virus specimen that was released through a laboratory accident or possibly a vaccine development project.

In 2007, herds of cattle in Surrey, U.K., began developing painful blisters on their tongues, lips and feet – and were quickly diagnosed with highly infectious Foot-and-Mouth Disease, one of the most dreaded and economically devastating diseases for livestock owners because it weakens animals’ ability to be used for milk and meat production.

The cattle were sickened by a strain of FMD Virus from a 1967 epidemic – a strain that was being used at a laboratory and vaccine manufacturing complex in Pirbright, not far from where the cattle fell ill. British safety regulators concluded that the outbreak was likely caused by leaking wastewater from the Pirbright facility’s drain pipes, which contaminated nearby soil with live virus and then was picked up on vehicle tires and carried to the herds.

Coronaviruses similar to the one causing the current COVID-19 pandemic have repeatedly escaped labs.

In 2003 and 2004 – in the months after intense international efforts managed to contain the spread of what was then the first type of deadly SARS coronavirus to infect people around the globe – a series of laboratory accidents threatened to reignite the epidemic that had sickened about 8,000 people in 29 countries, killing nearly 800 of them. This coronavirus virus, which emerged in 2002, causes a disease called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, that killed at a higher rate than the similarly named SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

First, a 27-year-old researcher in Singapore working with specimens of West Nile Virus became infected with the SARS virus in a shared laboratory that used “inappropriate” lab safety practices. Investigators concluded the infection was caused by accidental contamination of the researcher’s West Nile Virus specimens with the SARS virus. Both viruses were discovered in a research specimen the scientist had used before becoming ill. Nobody else was sickened.  

Then, three months later at a laboratory in Taiwan, a 44-year-old researcher became infected with SARS, likely by cleaning up spilled liquid waste in December 2003. He flew to attend a meeting in Singapore and didn’t show signs of illness until he returned home, developed a fever and was hospitalized. More than 70 people who had contact with him were quarantined.

In the post-epidemic period the greatest risk from SARS may be through exposure in laboratories where the virus is used or stored,” the WHO said in an update about the Taiwan lab incident in December 2003.

Despite the WHO’s warnings, in April 2004 an outbreak in China began after two researchers working at a virology lab in Beijing became infected by the SARS virus. Before the outbreak was contained, nine people were infected. The mother of one of the researchers died.

It was unclear how the two researchers were exposed. “Neither of the researchers is known to have directly conducted experiments using live SARS coronavirus. However, investigators have serious concerns about biosafety procedures at the Institute – including how and where procedures using SARS coronavirus were carried out, and how and where SARS coronavirus samples were stored,” the WHO said in a May 2004 update after the outbreak had been contained.

No specific accident was identified at the laboratory, the WHO said, “and it is conceivable that an exact answer may never be determined.”

Wuhan lab scientist worried about leak

Against this backdrop, it’s surprising that questions about any lab accidents in Wuhan continue to be dismissed as promoting a conspiracy theory.  

When the pandemic first emerged in Wuhan, a lab accident seemed a very real and horrifying possibility to China’s leading coronavirus researcher.

Shi Zhengli, a renowned scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, has spent years collecting virus samples from bats and experimenting with SARS-like viruses to determine which might pose the greatest risk to humans.

In an interview with Scientific American, Shi described a frantic review of her lab’s records during the early days of the outbreak to see if there had been any incidents, especially related to the disposal of materials used in experiments. Shi said she was relieved when her lab learned the genetic sequence of the virus sickening people in Wuhan didn’t match any of the viruses her team had collected.

That really took a load off my mind,” she told the magazine for an article published last year. “I had not slept a wink for days.”

Shi has expressed outrage at public speculation since last spring by then-President Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that a lab in Wuhan may be responsible for the pandemic.

Diplomatic cables, first reported by The Washington Post, showed that the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in 2018 raised concerns about safety practices inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where China’s first biosafety level 4 laboratory had recently become operational, enabling the facility to do far more dangerous experiments.

During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” said one of the cables from January 2018.

In the final days of the Trump administration, Pompeo’s State Department posted on its website a fact sheet titled “Activity at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” The document makes clear that the U.S. government doesn’t know where, when or how the COVID-19 virus was initially transmitted to humans.

But it called for greater scrutiny of information it said the U.S. government has learned about the facility, including that the virology institute has been doing classified research with China’s military since 2017 and that several researchers at the institute became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak. But no details were provided in the fact sheet.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan

We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology was among the locations visited recently by the joint China-WHO scientific team looking for the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of the WHO team said they were assured, during conversations with staff at the institute and at other biological labs in Wuhan, that a laboratory accident was extremely unlikely to be the pandemic’s source.

In the weeks since leaving Wuhan, the WHO’s team has been questioned about its independence and depth, including by the Biden administration, amid media reports that China denied the team access to raw data on possible COVID-19 cases that were identified during the earliest part of the outbreak.

We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement last month. “It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government.”

An international group of scientists and researchers has issued an open letter calling for an independent investigation, separate from the WHO effort, which they say has lacked the independence, expertise and access needed to adequately investigate source of the pandemic, including the potential for a lab accident. “Efforts to date do not constitute a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation,” the letter, published by The Wall Street Journal, said.

We may never know whether the COVID-19 pandemic started in one of Wuhan’s laboratories.

But what is known is that as the number of these kinds of high-security labs grows worldwide and more researchers are storing and experimenting with dangerous pathogens, so too does the risk of laboratory accidents causing outbreaks.

That’s why all of us have a stake in knowing what is happening in these labs here in the United States and around the world.

Alison Young is an investigative reporter in Washington, D.C. During 2009-2019, she was a reporter and member of USA TODAY’s national investigative team. Follow her on Twitter: @alisonannyoung

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

Published 4:00 AM EDT Mar. 22, 2021 Updated 9:05 AM EDT Mar. 22, 2021

Urgent Open Letter from Doctors and Scientists to the European Medicines Agency regarding COVID-19 Vaccine Safety Concerns

This appears to be a very formidable letter to the European Medicines Agency vis a vis the mRNA vaccines, because scientists here focus on 7 questions/concerns specific to how the testing was done so as to rule out disastrous implications of those vaccines. They ask whether specific tests were performed by the corporate Vaccine developers to rule out several possibilities in animal studies, and they stick to those technical developmental issues.

I don’t know how the European Medicines Agency responded, nor do I personally have the experience or medical training to analyze the letter’s claims. But because it raises explicit procedural issues in vaccine development and doesn’t veer off into political or rhetorical diatribe, this letter can and should be addressed by medical authorities everywhere.

Gary Null read this letter aloud on his show Friday on WBAI, and it is powerful. I thank Gary Null for calling attention to this.

Mitchel Cohen

Urgent Open Letter from Doctors and Scientists to the European Medicines Agency regarding COVID-19 Vaccine Safety Concerns

From: Doctors for Covid Ethics
To: Emer Cooke, Executive Director, European Medicines Agency, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

28 February 2021

Dear Sirs/Mesdames,

FOR THE URGENT PERSONAL ATTENTION OF: EMER COOKE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE EUROPEAN MEDICINES AGENCY

As physicians and scientists, we are supportive in principle of the use of new medical interventions which are appropriately developed and deployed, having obtained informed consent from the patient. This stance encompasses vaccines in the same way as therapeutics.

We note that a wide range of side effects is being reported following vaccination of previously healthy younger individuals with the gene-based COVID-19 vaccines. Moreover, there have been numerous media reports from around the world of care homes being struck by COVID-19 within days of vaccination of residents. While we recognise that these occurrences might, every one of them, have been unfortunate coincidences, we are concerned that there has been and there continues to be inadequate scrutiny of the possible causes of illness or death under these circumstances, and especially so in the absence of post-mortems examinations.

In particular, we question whether cardinal issues regarding the safety of the vaccines were adequately addressed prior to their approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

As a matter of great urgency, we herewith request that the EMA provide us with responses to the following issues:

1. Following intramuscular injection, it must be expected that the gene-based vaccines will reach the bloodstream and disseminate throughout the body [1]. We request evidence that this possibility was excluded in pre-clinical animal models with all three vaccines prior to their approval for use in humans by the EMA.

2. If such evidence is not available, it must be expected that the vaccines will remain entrapped in the circulation and be taken up by endothelial cells. There is reason to assume that this will happen particularly at sites of slow blood flow, i.e. in small vessels and capillaries [2]. We request evidence that this probability was excluded in pre-clinical animal models with all three vaccines prior to their approval for use in humans by the EMA.

3. If such evidence is not available, it must be expected that during expression of the vaccines� nucleic acids, peptides derived from the spike protein will be presented via the MHC I � pathway at the luminal surface of the cells. Many healthy individuals have CD8-lymphocytes that recognize such peptides, which may be due to prior COVID infection, but also to cross-reactions with other types of Coronavirus [3; 4] [5]. We must assume that these lymphocytes will mount an attack on the respective cells. We request evidence that this probability was excluded in pre-clinical animal models with all three vaccines prior to their approval for use in humans by the EMA.

4. If such evidence is not available, it must be expected that endothelial damage with subsequent triggering of blood coagulation via platelet activation will ensue at countless sites throughout the body. We request evidence that this probability was excluded in pre-clinical animal models with all three vaccines prior to their approval for use in humans by the EMA.

5. If such evidence is not available, it must be expected that this will lead to a drop in platelet counts, appearance of D-dimers in the blood, and to myriad ischaemic lesions throughout the body including in the brain, spinal cord and heart. Bleeding disorders might occur in the wake of this novel type of DIC-syndrome including, amongst other possibilities, profuse bleedings and haemorrhagic stroke. We request evidence that all these possibilities were excluded in pre-clinical animal models with all three vaccines prior to their approval for use in humans by the EMA.

6. The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein binds to the ACE2 receptor on platelets, which results in their activation [6]. Thrombocytopenia has been reported in severe cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection [7]. Thrombocytopenia has also been reported in vaccinated individuals [8]. We request evidence that the potential danger of platelet activation that would also lead to disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) was excluded with all three vaccines prior to their approval for use in humans by the EMA.

7. The sweeping across the globe of SARS-CoV-2 created a pandemic of illness associated with many deaths. However, by the time of consideration for approval of the vaccines, the health systems of most countries were no longer under imminent threat of being overwhelmed because a growing proportion of the world had already been infected and the worst of the pandemic had already abated. Consequently, we demand conclusive evidence that an actual emergency existed at the time of the EMA granting Conditional Marketing Authorisation to the manufacturers of all three vaccines, to justify their approval for use in humans by the EMA, purportedly because of such an emergency.

Should all such evidence not be available, we demand that approval for use of the gene-based vaccines be withdrawn until all the above issues have been properly addressed by the exercise of due diligence by the EMA.

There are serious concerns, including but not confined to those outlined above, that the approval of the COVID-19 vaccines by the EMA was premature and reckless, and that the administration of the vaccines constituted and still does constitute �human experimentation�, which was and still is in violation of the Nuremberg Code.

In view of the urgency of the situation, we request that you reply to this email within seven days and address all our concerns substantively. Should you choose not to comply with this reasonable request, we will make this letter public.

This email is copied to:

Charles Michel, President of the Council of Europe

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.

 

Doctors and scientists can sign the open letter by emailing their name, qualifications, areas of expertise, country and any affiliations they would like to cite, to Doctors4CovidEthics@protonmail.com

� References

[1] Hassett, K. J.; Benenato, K. E.; Jacquinet, E.; Lee, A.; Woods, A.; Yuzhakov, O.; Himansu, S.; Deterling, J.; Geilich, B. M.; Ketova, T.; Mihai, C.; Lynn, A.; McFadyen, I.; Moore, M. J.; Senn, J. J.; Stanton, M. G.; Almarsson, �.; Ciaramella, G. and Brito, L. A.(2019).Optimization of Lipid Nanoparticles for Intramuscular Administration of mRNA Vaccines, Molecular therapy. Nucleic acids 15 : 1�11.

[2] Chen, Y. Y.; Syed, A. M.; MacMillan, P.; Rocheleau, J. V. and Chan, W. C. W.(2020). Flow Rate Affects Nanoparticle Uptake into Endothelial Cells, Advanced materials 32 : 1906274.

[3] Grifoni, A.; Weiskopf, D.; Ramirez, S. I.; Mateus, J.; Dan, J. M.; Moderbacher, C. R.; Rawlings, S. A.; Sutherland, A.; Premkumar, L.; Jadi, R. S. and et al.(2020). Targets of T Cell Responses to SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus in Humans with COVID-19 Disease and Unexposed Individuals, Cell 181 : 1489�1501.e15.

[4] Nelde, A.; Bilich, T.; Heitmann, J. S.; Maringer, Y.; Salih, H. R.; Roerden, M.; L�bke, M.; Bauer, J.; Rieth, J.; Wacker, M.; Peter, A.; H�rber, S.; Traenkle, B.; Kaiser, P. D.; Rothbauer, U.; Becker, M.; Junker, D.; Krause, G.; Strengert, M.; Schneiderhan-Marra, N.; Templin, M. F.; Joos, T. O.; Kowalewski, D. J.; Stos-Zweifel, V.; Fehr, M.; Rabsteyn, A.; Mirakaj, V.; Karbach, J.; J�ger, E.; Graf, M.; Gruber, L.-C.; Rachfalski, D.; Preu�, B.; Hagelstein, I.; M�rklin, M.; Bakchoul, T.; Gouttefangeas, C.; Kohlbacher, O.; Klein, R.; Stevanovi , S.; Rammensee, H.-G. and Walz, J. S.(2020). SARS-CoV-2-derived peptides define heterologous and COVID-19-induced T cell recognition, Nature immunology.

[5] Sekine, T.; Perez-Potti, A.; Rivera-Ballesteros, O.; Str�lin, K.; Gorin, J.-B.; Olsson, A.; Llewellyn-Lacey, S.; Kamal, H.; Bogdanovic, G.; Muschiol, S. and et al.(2020). Robust T Cell Immunity in Convalescent Individuals with Asymptomatic or Mild COVID-19, Cell 183 : 158�168.e14.

[6] Zhang, S.; Liu, Y.; Wang, X.; Yang, L.; Li, H.; Wang, Y.; Liu, M.; Zhao, X.; Xie, Y.; Yang, Y.; Zhang, S.; Fan, Z.; Dong, J.; Yuan, Z.; Ding, Z.; Zhang, Y. and Hu, L.(2020). SARS-CoV-2 binds platelet ACE2 to enhance thrombosis in COVID-19, Journal of hematology & oncology 13 : 120.

[7] Lippi, G.; Plebani, M. and Henry, B. M.(2020).Thrombocytopenia is associated with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections: A meta-analysis, Clin. Chim. Acta 506 : 145�148.

[8] Grady, D. (2021). A Few Covid Vaccine Recipients Developed a Rare Blood Disorder, The New York Times, Feb. 8, 2021.

Yours faithfully,

Professsor Sucharit Bhakdi MD, Professor Emeritus of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, Former Chair, Institute of Medical Microbiology and Hygiene, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz (Medical Doctor and Scientist) (Germany and Thailand)

Dr Marco Chiesa MD FRCPsych, Consultant Psychiatrist and Visiting Professor, University College London (Medical Doctor) (United Kingdom and Italy)

Dr C Stephen Frost BSc MBChB Specialist in Diagnostic Radiology, Stockholm, Sweden (Medical Doctor) (United Kingdom and Sweden)

Dr Margareta Griesz-Brisson MD PhD, Consultant Neurologist and Neurophysiologist (studied Medicine in Freiburg, Germany, speciality training for Neurology at New York University, Fellowship in Neurophysiology at Mount Sinai Medical Centre, New York City; PhD in Pharmacology with special interest in chronic low level neurotoxicology and effects of environmental factors on brain health), Medical Director, The London Neurology and Pain Clinic (Medical Doctor and Scientist) (Germany and United Kingdom)

Professor Martin Haditsch MD PhD, Specialist (Austria) in Hygiene and Microbiology, Specialist (Germany) in Microbiology, Virology, Epidemiology/Infectious Diseases, Specialist (Austria) in Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine, Medical Director, TravelMedCenter, Leonding, Austria, Medical Director, Labor Hannover MVZ GmbH (Medical Doctor and Scientist) (Austria and Germany)

Professor Stefan Hockertz, Professor of Toxicology and Pharmacologym, European registered Toxicologist, Specialist in Immunology and Immunotoxicology, CEO tpi consult GmbH. (Scientist) (Germany)

Dr Lissa Johnson, BSc BA(Media) MPsych(Clin) PhD, Clinical Psychologist and Behavioural Psychologist, Expertise in the social psychology of torture, atrocity, collective violence and fear propaganda, Former member Australian Psychological Society Public Interest Advisory Group (Clinical Psychologist and Behavioural Scientist) (Australia)

Professor Ulrike K�mmerer PhD, Associate Professor of Experimental Reproductive Immunology and Tumor Biology at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University Hospital of W�rzburg, Germany, Trained molecular virologist (Diploma, PhD-Thesis) and Immunologist (Habilitation), Remains engaged in active laboratory research (Molecular Biology, Cell Biology (Scientist) (Germany)

Associate Professor Michael Palmer MD, Department of Chemistry (studied Medicine and Medical Microbiology in Germany, has taught Biochemistry since 2001 in present university in Canada; focus on Pharmacology, metabolism, biological membranes, computer programming; experimental research focus on bacterial toxins and antibiotics (Daptomycin); has written a textbook on Biochemical Pharmacology, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada (Medical Doctor and Scientist) (Canada and Germany)

Professor Karina Reiss PhD, Professor of Biochemistry, Christian Albrecht University of Kiel, Expertise in Cell Biology, Biochemistry (Scientist) (Germany)

Professor Andreas S�nnichsen MD, Professor of General Practice and Family Medicine, Department of General Practice and Family Medicine, Center of Public Health, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna (Medical Doctor) (Austria)

Dr Michael Yeadon BSc (Joint Honours in Biochemistry and Toxicology) PhD (Pharmacology), Formerly Vice President & Chief Scientific Officer Allergy & Respiratory, Pfizer Global R&D; Co-founder & CEO, Ziarco Pharma Ltd.; Independent Consultant (Scientist) (United Kingdom)

ENCOUNTER WITH CHUCK SCHUMER: WHY I AM A GREEN AND NOT A DEMOCRAT

I wrote this 12 years ago, and it was published in a number of places, including Juan Cole’s blog, https://www.juancole.com/2009/02/cohen-why-i-am-green-not-democrat.html

I think it’s quite relevant today, so ….

Feb 11, 2009

All it takes is dragging myself to one local Democratic Party meeting, even one hosted by a progressive and Green-friendly State Assembly member like Bill Colton (47 A.D. – Bensonhurst), to make me again realize two things:
1) How important regular local meetings are for congealing a “force” to accomplish *anything* ; and,
2) Why, despite all of our problems, I am a Green and not a Democrat.
I’ve just returned from a “breakfast” at my NY State Assembly representative Bill Colton’s clubhouse. There were around 120 people there, crammed into a bagel-and-cream-cheese fluorescent brunch at $25 a pop.

Also present, every NY Democratic Party politician and his …. I was going to say “mother”, but the 12 on the stage were all men, and all White men until City Council member John Liu joined the dais.

The ostensible purpose was to hear NY State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli speak. THIS, I thought I’d be interested in. I have some very pointed questions about the way NY under Governor Patterson and Mayor Bloomberg is smashing working class people in order to pay off the interest on the debt to the banks.

But no questions were allowed — at least not while I was there.

I left, needing to throw up after Senator Schumer spoke. Didn’t hear our new Congressional rep McCann, nor Boro President Marty Markowitz, nor any of the other bevy of liars and thieves.

'How crazy is this?!' Matt Whitlock BURIES Chuck Schumer ...

It was only out of respect for Bill Colton and the fine work he is doing on the environmental level for our community that I didn’t shout out my questions or comments.

But one fellow did. He was in his 90s, stood up and interrupted Schumer’s speech. Schumer is a consummate schmoozer — man, is he good at it! You’d never know from his talk about his parents in Florida, his youth in East New York where his father was an exterminator (!), how billionaire-banker-friendly his actual voting record is.

As Schumer was peacocking around the stage bragging about how they’d convinced three moderate Republican Senators (2 from Maine, and 1 from Pennsylvania) to join the Democrats in passing the so-called “stimulus” package, otherwise known as “bail out the billionaires”, a 90-year-old grizzled Brooklynite got to his feet and shouted out, “Kill all the Republicans.”

Schumer tried to regain the floor by saying, “Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” but the elder man said, “I was a kid in 1929 at the Great Depression, and the Republicans did then what the are doing now. I say ‘kill them all’.”

Schumer regained the floor with some witty remark, and went on. I was tempted to shout out, a few minutes later, “Kill the Democrats,” but thought better of it, berated myself for copping out, and left as State Sen. Carl Krueger was about to begin.

Had we been allowed to ask questions, I would have asked:

1) What are you doing about CitiBank’s unilaterally raising its Credit Card rates to 21 percent last week? Here they’re getting billions of working class funds in the bailout pushed by the Democrats, and they accelerate their soaking of working people and those on fixed income and making it HARDER to get credit — exactly the opposite of what the Stimulus package is supposedly designed to do.

2) The transit fare is slated to go up to $3 a ride, to raise $1.2 billion claimed by the MTA as its deficit. Meanwhile, the interest on the MTA’s capital expenditures (NOT operations) — that is, the building of the 2nd Ave. subway, etc. — is $1.5 billion for this year. So the transit fare is being increased to pay the INTEREST to the banks on loans the MTA had taken. At the same time, we’re giving the same banks tens of billions of dollars. Why haven’t the Democrats earmarked the funds they’re paying for bailing out the billionaire shareholders to paying off the bank loans, so that no fare increases and no layoffs would be needed?

3) Why doesn’t the City impose a 5 cents transfer tax on every stock transaction? There are tens of billions of shares traded every day. A puny 5 cent tax would pay off the entire City debt in a month, and add tens of billions of dollars to the City’s coffers, which could be used to make mass transit FREE, AND hire more teachers to reduce class size, AND clean up the environment, AND hire more Parks Dept. workers to remove the artificial turf and restore and maintain natural grass to the City’s parks.

Those are what I was prepared to ask.

I would have also asked something about where NY State invests its pension funds under DiNapoli’s control, but it was just too last minute and it would have been too convoluted.

Feel free to add more to this list, it would help us out the next go ’round.

I’m glad things went so well for Bill Colton and for local Democratic Party chair Mark Treyger (who was my mom’s student years ago in second grade). Maybe they can serve some organic vegetables, fruit and free-trade coffee the next time, and invite local activists like me — and hopefully some women — onto the panels in the future.

Whew, what a welcome moment it was to rush out into the 60 degrees sunlight, breathe deep the glorious Brooklyn air, and remember why I’m a Green and not a Democrat!

From Bensonhurst,
Mitchel Cohen

————————————–

Mitchel Cohen is a member of the Brooklyn Greens / Green Party of NY, coordinates the No Spray Coalition (fighting against pesticides), and currently Chairs the WBAI (99.5 FM) Local Station Board. See also his transgressive pamphlet, “Why I Hate Thanksgiving,” on counterpunch.org. You can email him directly at mitchelcohen@mindspring.com.

 

Rainbow over Bensonhurst

item image #1

Looking east down Bay Parkway from 86 St. in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, February 22, 2021.

Photo by Mitchel Cohen

 

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poet and Founder of City Lights Bookshop, Dies Aged 101

Poet and countercultural pioneer put on trial for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl went on to become a beloved icon of San Francisco

https://portside.org/sites/default/files/styles/large/public/field/image/Ferlinghettidies.jpg

Lawrence Ferlinghetti outside his San Francisco store in 1998. Reuters

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet, publisher, painter and political activist who co-founded the famous City Lights bookshop in San Francisco and became an icon of the city himself, has died aged 101.

Ferlinghetti died at home on Monday night. His son Lorenzo said that the cause was interstitial lung disease.

Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers, New York in 1919. His father died before he was born and his mother was committed to a mental hospital, leaving him to be raised by his aunt. When he was seven, his aunt, then working as a governess for a wealthy family in Bronxville, abruptly ran off, leaving Ferlinghetti in the care of her employers. After attending university in North Carolina, he became a journalist in 1941, then joined the US navy during the second world war. While studying for his doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris on the GI Bill, he began to write poetry.

Returning to the US in 1951, he was drawn to California as a place to start afresh. “San Francisco had a Mediterranean feeling about it,” he told the New York Times. “I felt it was a little like Dublin when Joyce was there. You could walk down Sackville Street and see everyone of any importance in one walk.”

In 1953, he co-founded the City Lights bookshop and publishing company with friend Peter Dean Martin, who left soon after, with the mission to democratise literature and make it accessible to all. “We were young and foolish,” he told the Guardian in 2019. “And we had no money.”

While most bookshops across the US closed early and on weekends at the time, City Lights stayed open seven days a week and late into the night, fostering a countercultural community that attracted the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. City Lights initially focused on selling paperbacks, which were cheaper but looked down on by the literary establishment, and publishing poetry, offbeat and radical books by the likes of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Paul Bowles, Gary Snyder and Gregory Corso.

In 1955, Ferlinghetti heard Ginsberg’s seminal poem Howl read for the first time at the Six Gallery in North Beach. The next day, he sent a telegram to Ginsberg: “I GREET YOU AT THE BEGINNING OF A GREAT CAREER. STOP. WHEN DO I GET MANUSCRIPT OF HOWL?” The epic poem was printed in Britain and shipped to San Francisco, where the copies were seized. Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg were arrested on obscenity charges in 1957.

“I wasn’t worried. I was young and foolish. I figured I’d get a lot of reading done in jail and they wouldn’t keep me in there for ever. And, anyway, it really put the book on the map,” Ferlinghetti told the Guardian. Having already sent the poem to the American Civil Liberties Union, “to see if they would defend us if we were busted”, the ACLU successfully defended the poem at a trial that lasted months. The verdict set an important precedent for reducing censorship, and heralded a new freedom for books around the world, while also making both men internationally famous.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (left) and Allen Ginsberg in London in 1965.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (left) and Allen Ginsberg in London in 1965. Photograph: Stroud/Getty Images

He self-identified as a philosophical anarchist, hosting many sit-ins and protests against war at City Lights. He regarded poetry as a powerful social force and not one reserved for the intellectual elite, saying, “We have to raise the consciousness; the only way poets can change the world is to raise the consciousness of the general populace.”

In later decades, Ferlinghetti became an icon of his city. In 1978, when San Francisco was rocked by the double assassination of the city’s mayor, George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk, Ferlinghetti wrote a poem that ran two days later in the San Francisco Examiner. It was titled An Elegy to Dispel Gloom, and he was personally thanked by the city for helping maintain calm. In 1994 a street was named after him, and four years later he was named San Francisco’s first poet laureate.

He remained active in City Lights until the late 2000s, chatting with fans and tourists who popped in just to meet the legend. “When he was still here every day, fixing a lightbulb or some other little thing, he never refused somebody who wanted to talk to him,” Elaine Katzenberger, the current manager of the shop, said. “He usually looked for some commonality to have a little conversation with them.”

Though mostly bed-bound and nearly blind in his later years, he remained busy, publishing his final book, Little Boy, on his 100th birthday. A loosely autobiographical novel, Ferlinghetti refused to describe it as memoir: “I object to using that description. Because a memoir denotes a very genteel type of writing.”

In 2019, San Francisco named 24 March, his birthday, Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day to mark his centennial, with celebrations lasting all month. In an interview from his bed to mark the occasion, he told the Guardian that he was still hoping for a political revolution, even though “the United States isn’t ready for a revolution … It would take a whole new generation not devoted to the glorification of the capitalist system … a generation not trapped in the me, me, me.”

When asked whether he was proud of his achievements, Ferlinghetti said: “I don’t know, that word, ‘proud’, is just too egotistic. Happy would be better. Except when you get down to try and define the word happy, then you’re really in trouble.”

In 1958, Ferlinghetti published his own first collection, A Coney Island of the Mind, which sold more than 1m copies. He went on to write more than 50 volumes of poetry, novels and travel journals. As a publisher, he maintained a lifelong focus on poetry and books ignored by the mainstream, even as it became harder in the face of behemoth, profit-driven presses.

 

HE HAD A HAMMER: HENRY AARON, PRESENTE!

Hank Aaron passed Babe Ruth - and he cried - Sports Box Now

Henry Aaron passes Babe Ruth’s 714 lifetime home runs in 1974.

Guest post by DAVE ZIRIN

When you write for a living, you invariably pen obituaries in advance so they are ready to be published as soon as the death knell of the famous is sounded. I could never do that with Henry “Hank” Aaron. Even at 86, he seemed so precious that I was in no position to even imagine a world without him. He seemed too important to die, like a monument that people would form a human chain to protect against the hordes determined to tear him down. Aaron was living testimony not only to greatness with a bat but to this country’s racism. His willingness to testify to this reality made him the foe of the darkest corners of this country, from chat rooms to the White House.

What we have lost in Aaron is more than just an all-time baseball player (he is among the best to ever take the field, with a record 25 All-Star selections, more RBIs than any player who ever lived, and a decades-long reign as Home Run King with 755 dingers, even though he never hit more than 47 in a season). We have lost one of our last living links to the Negro Leagues, where Aaron played for several months with the Indianapolis Clowns. We have lost someone who, even though he played much of his career in Atlanta, was a fierce foe of Jim Crow­and then the New Jim Crow, with its savage inequities in the criminal justice system. As he once said, with his deep and sincere humility, “Am I a hero? I suppose I am, to some people. If I am, I hope it’s not only for my home runs.… I hope it’s also for my beliefs, my stands, my opinions. Still, I’m not at ease being a hero.”

We also lost someone who could attest like no one else to the racism that runs deep in the marrow of this country and the limits of sports heroism as a vehicle to transcend that racism for the Black athlete. It was Aaron who was mercilessly threatened with murder as he chased down Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs in 1973. Aaron came up just shy, breaking the record in April of 1974. But that meant he received a tonnage of letters that winter­the most anyone in the United States not named Richard Nixon had ever received­that alternately pledged support or promised death for him and his family. The latter were the letters Aaron never threw away. These threats were so vicious that Aaron and his family needed bodyguards­even his daughter, who was away from home at the time. The threats were so vicious that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution pre-wrote an obituary to have on file in case of his assassination. Remember, this was just five years after the killings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, so the idea that greatness could be snuffed out at a moment’s notice was not far from the American imagination.

When Aaron was making his iconic home run trot in 1974 after hitting number 715 off of Al Downing, two young white hippies ran out of the stands to shake his hand, smiles on their faces. They had no idea that Aaron’s bodyguard, Calvin Wardlaw, had his hand on his gun ready to end their lives if the situation went sideways. This should have been his singular moment of unvarnished joy­instead, it was nearly a crime scene. As Aaron said, “It really made me see for the first time a clear picture of what this country is about. My kids had to live like they were in prison because of kidnap threats, and I had to live like a pig in a slaughter camp. I had to duck. I had to go out the back door of the ball parks. I had to have a police escort with me all the time. I was getting threatening letters every single day. All of these things have put a bad taste in my mouth, and it won’t go away. They carved a piece of my heart away.”

Later in life, Aaron was able to heal, but he was never shy about showing his scars. He was a superstar of uncommon decency who had lived through segregation and Jim Crow only to come out on the other side ready to lend his name and fame to keep the struggle alive. In 2018, he was asked whether he would visit Donald Trump’s White House and he answered simply, “There is no one there that I want to see.” This was a special man, and it is an indelible mark of shame on this country that he wasn’t treasured through every phase of his life. The most we can hope for now is to hold his memory high and stand on his shoulders for the battles to come. As Aaron said, “My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.” Damn right.

WHAT IF? DID COVID-19 LEAK FROM A BIOLAB?

This is perhaps the first detailed query in the mainstream corporate press into the possible laboratory origins of Covid-19, emerging from so-called “gain-of-function” experiments done in biological labs. There are several serious omissions pertaining to the transfer of materiel from the U.S.’s biowarfare lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland, to Wuhan and elsewhere in the Summer and Fall of 2019. We need to demand independent investigations, some by the U.S. Congress, into the laboratory origins of Covid-19 and their cover-up.

Mitchel Cohen

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/coronavirus-lab-escape-theory.html

The Lab-Leak Hypothesis
For decades, scientists have been hot-wiring viruses in hopes of preventing a pandemic, not causing one. But what if …?

By Nicholson Baker

I.
Flask Monsters

What happened was fairly simple, I’ve come to believe. It was an accident. A virus spent some time in a laboratory, and eventually it got out. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, began its existence inside a bat, then it learned how to infect people in a claustrophobic mine shaft, and then it was made more infectious in one or more laboratories, perhaps as part of a scientist’s well-intentioned but risky effort to create a broad-spectrum vaccine. SARS-2 was not designed as a biological weapon. But it was, I think, designed. Many thoughtful people dismiss this notion, and they may be right. They sincerely believe that the coronavirus arose naturally, “zoonotically,” from animals, without having been previously studied, or hybridized, or sluiced through cell cultures, or otherwise worked on by trained professionals. They hold that a bat, carrying a coronavirus, infected some other creature, perhaps a pangolin, and that the pangolin may have already been sick with a different coronavirus disease, and out of the conjunction and commingling of those two diseases within the pangolin, a new disease, highly infectious to humans, evolved. Or they hypothesize that two coronaviruses recombined in a bat, and this new virus spread to other bats, and then the bats infected a person directly — in a rural setting, perhaps — and that this person caused a simmering undetected outbreak of respiratory disease, which over a period of months or years evolved to become virulent and highly transmissible but was not noticed until it appeared in Wuhan.

There is no direct evidence for these zoonotic possibilities, just as there is no direct evidence for an experimental mishap — no written confession, no incriminating notebook, no official accident report. Certainty craves detail, and detail requires an investigation. It has been a full year, 80 million people have been infected, and, surprisingly, no public investigation has taken place. We still know very little about the origins of this disease.

Nevertheless, I think it’s worth offering some historical context for our yearlong medical nightmare. We need to hear from the people who for years have contended that certain types of virus experimentation might lead to a disastrous pandemic like this one. And we need to stop hunting for new exotic diseases in the wild, shipping them back to laboratories, and hot-wiring their genomes to prove how dangerous to human life they might become.

Over the past few decades, scientists have developed ingenious methods of evolutionary acceleration and recombination, and they’ve learned how to trick viruses, coronaviruses in particular, those spiky hairballs of protein we now know so well, into moving quickly from one species of animal to another or from one type of cell culture to another. They’ve made machines that mix and mingle the viral code for bat diseases with the code for human diseases — diseases like SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, for example, which arose in China in 2003, and MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome, which broke out a decade later and has to do with bats and camels. Some of the experiments — “gain of function” experiments — aimed to create new, more virulent, or more infectious strains of diseases in an effort to predict and therefore defend against threats that might conceivably arise in nature. The term gain of function is itself a euphemism; the Obama White House more accurately described this work as “experiments that may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route.” The virologists who carried out these experiments have accomplished amazing feats of genetic transmutation, no question, and there have been very few publicized accidents over the years. But there have been some.

And we were warned, repeatedly. The intentional creation of new microbes that combine virulence with heightened transmissibility “poses extraordinary risks to the public,” wrote infectious-disease experts Marc Lipsitch and Thomas Inglesby in 2014. “A rigorous and transparent risk-assessment process for this work has not yet been established.” That’s still true today. In 2012, in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Lynn Klotz warned that there was an 80 percent chance, given how many laboratories were then handling virulent viro-varietals, that a leak of a potential pandemic pathogen would occur sometime in the next 12 years.

A lab accident — a dropped flask, a needle prick, a mouse bite, an illegibly labeled bottle — is apolitical. Proposing that something unfortunate happened during a scientific experiment in Wuhan — where COVID-19 was first diagnosed and where there are three high-security virology labs, one of which held in its freezers the most comprehensive inventory of sampled bat viruses in the world — isn’t a conspiracy theory. It’s just a theory. It merits attention, I believe, alongside other reasoned attempts to explain the source of our current catastrophe. Continue reading »

FREE JULIAN ASSANGE, Report from NYC DEMO JAN. 3, 2021

Around 65 people turned out in the freezing cold rainy Sunday morning, January 3, 2021 at the British Consulate in NYC to demand that Britain refuse to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that Trump pardon him. A judge in Great Britain will be deciding whether to accede to the U.S. government’s persecution of Assange Monday.

All the speeches were very sharp, powerful and radical. Protesters also called for Freedom for Leonard Perrier and Mumia abu-Jamal, and all political prisoners. WBAI’s Mimi Rosenberg recorded the speeches by Randy Credico, Kim Ives, Patricia Dahl, Chuck Zlatkin, Marty Goodman, the Raging Grannies, and more ….

Very proud of those who braved the cold and the covid to stand for Julian Assange, freedom of the press, and against fascism and government repression.

PATRICIA DAHL, NYCFreeAssange.org

KIM IVES, Haiti Liberte

RANDY CREDICO

MARCY GORDON, singer-songwriter

MIMI ROSENBERG records speakers for WBAI radio.

MARTY GOODMAN, Socialist Action

MARILYN VOGT-DOWNEY, WBAI radio Local Station Board

CHUCK ZLATKIN

WHY DID THE DEMOCRATS HAVE A BAD ELECTION DAY?

Guest Column by RALPH NADER

Apart from barely squeezing through the swing states to defeat corrupt, incompetent, lying, corporatist Donald Trump, the Democratic Party had a bad election.

Loaded with nearly twice as much money as the Republican Party, the Democratic Party showed that weak candidates with no robust agendas for people where they live, work, and raise their families, is a losing formula. And lose they did against the worst, cruelest, ignorant, lawbreaking, reality-denying GOP in its 166-year history.

The Democrats failed to win the Senate, despite nearly having twice the number of Senators up for re-election than the Republicans. In addition, the Democratic Party lost seats in the House of Representatives. The Democrats did not flip a single Republican state legislature, leaving the GOP to again gerrymander Congressional and state legislative districts for the next decade!

Will all this lead to serious introspection by the Democratic Party? Don’t bet on it. The GOP tried to learn from their losses in 2012, which led to their big rebound. Already, the Democratic Party is looking for scapegoats, like third party candidates.

Will the leaders of these inexcusable defeats — Senator Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — explain how this happened? Will they take some responsibilitty and tell the American people why they let their profiteering media consultants spend so much money on tepid, low-impact TV ads at the expense of a massive ground game to give voters personal reasons to get themselves out to vote, beyond Trump? A third of all eligible voters stayed home. Could part of the problem be the 15% commission the consultants receive from TV ad revenues as compared to zero commissions from ground game expenditures?

Can the corporate Democratic leaders respond to inquiries by progressives and the sidelined primary voters of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren? Can they respond to why the living wage, the corporate crime wave, and the GOP-blocked stimulus/relief package, which was passed by the Democrats in May (including a $600 a week extension for tens of millions of desperate workers and critical aid to local agencies overwhelmed by the Covid-19 pandemic), were not prominently front and center? Also, why did the Democrats refuse to campaign for full Medicare for All, supported by 70 percent of the American people? The Democrats, as pointed out by political media specialist Bill Hillsman, did not speak directly to white, blue-collar workers who deserted Hillary Clinton for Donald Trump in 2016.

Moreover, the Democratic Party has a long-standing problem with authenticity. Rhetoric for a large infrastructure jobs program paid for by repealing corporate tax cuts and loopholes is seen as a throwaway line by many voters. Democrats should have explained, at the local level, how determination and integrity could shape the upgrading of our schools, clinics, roads, mass transit systems, waterworks, and other public services, with good-paying jobs.

Meanwhile, the Trumpsters showed their ferocious energy for wannabe, ego-obsessed, dictatorial Donald with more rallies, signs, and door-to-door contacts. The Democrats misread the faulty polls again thinking that the projected huge turnouts were primarily their voters and not also the Trump voters who turned out in greater numbers as well.

Too many Democratic operatives treat Trump with derision and mockery, instead of stressing how his daily lawlessness and serial violations of the Constitution have dismantled the protections for the people and turned the government over to big business to do and grab whatever they want.

Trump’s daily lawlessness and serial violations of the Constitution have dismantled the protections for the people and turned the government over to big business to do and grab whatever they want.

Trump openly commits federal crimes (e.g. The Hatch Act, the Anti-Deficiency Act) using federal property, including the White House, for his campaign, spending money illegally, while brazenly defying over a hundred investigative subpoenas from the House of Representatives.

Yet, neither Biden and Obama nor the Democratic Party made these corrupt forms of obstruction of justice, front and center issues. They even ignored Trump’s past criminal assaults of women, whom he has repeatedly degraded.

These many missed, obvious opportunities have consequences. Don’t Trump voters and their families also suffer from frozen minimum wages, from the absence of adequate or any health insurance, from those sky-high drug prices that Trump failed to reduce? He put more toxins in the air and water and allowed more dangerous workplaces. Trump calls endangering people and the planet deregulationbut what he was really doing is rewarding his corporate paymasters.

Trump calls endangering people and the planet “deregulation” but what he was really doing is rewarding his corporate paymasters.

Of course, the Democrats would never argue that the American people, not corporations, should CONTROL what they already OWN such as the public lands, the public airwaves, and the shareholding mutual and pension funds investing their money. The Democrats never even think to demand that U.S. taxpayers get a direct return for trillions of dollars of government research and development that have subsidized the growth of modern industries (from aerospace to computers to agribusiness, biotech, pharma, and more).

While Trump incites street violence and then cries loudly for “law and order,” the Democrats don’t throwback “law and order” for violent, polluting corporate crooks who cheat and harm children, consumers, workers, and communities, as well as rip off government programs like Medicare. Trump has gotten away with defunding the federal corporate crime police big time. Never will the Democrats go after Trump for the bloated, runaway, unaudited military budget and its Empire that are devouring necessities here at home.

The House Democrats refused to keep multiple impeachment pressure (apart from the Ukraine matter) on the Republicans. A national TV audience of the Senate dealing with a dozen of Trump’s impeachable offenses would give even the most ardent Trump supporters pause. (See December 18, 2019, Congressional Record, H-12197).

The Democrats let Trump and his lawless Attorney General William Barr get away with all his corrupt, criminal, and unconstitutional actions, which have turned the White House into an ongoing crime scene. And, despite this “rap sheet” Trump came close to winning the Electoral College for a second term!

Next time, the rulers of the Democratic Party should listen to civic groups and advocates and not be so smug and incommunicado. As an example, I’ll refer you to my Eleven Suggestions for turning out the vote, with popular mandates, available to everyone in whole and in part for weeks (See also my latest op-ed in the Louisville Courier-Journal, October 27, 2020).

Now let’s see how many rollbacks and repeals Biden will quickly institute to stop Trump’s devastations and usher in a truly progressive, majoritarian set of long-overdue policies.

————————————–
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, and author of many public policy books, including the just published, Wrecking America: How Trumps Lawbreaking and Lies Betray All.

ELECTIONS 2020

New York City, November 4, 2020.

The issue now in the U.S. is to fight for every vote to be counted — that is, the fight for at least the IDEA of democracy, even if it never actually existed and even though both candidates represent the interests of Wall Street and the 1 percent.

In some ways it’s like voting for either syphillis or ebola.

Despite that, I am a proponent within the Green Party (25 years a member) of trying to get the party to publicly advocate support for Biden in swing states. Why?

Because one party’s candidate openly calls for bolstering white supremacist lynch mobs (Trump), while the other at least mouths the words upholding “equality” and the ideal of an anti-racist society. I think that ideal is important to uphold. Even though it’s only rhetoric. Marx wisely observed that at some point ideas can and do become a material force.

We are in the position of having to choose from the evil of two lessers because neither the Green Party nor the rest of the Left have built ANY direct action mass-organizations for the last 12 years, and now try to substitute electoral campaigns for their lack of mass-based organizational work.

That desperately needed work stands to be more survivable under a Biden presidency than under Trump — who is just as imperialist and warmongering as his opponent. Some here don’t recognize that, and they portray Trump as a lesser-imperialist, but that’s simply not the case.

My recommendation to the Green Party (which the party officials have not accepted, and thus the need to fight for democracy within the Green Party too) do NOT ignore the horrors the Democratic Party has wreaked on the world; but Trump’s outright white supremacist organizing, including the militarization of the nation’s police forces, its attacks on women’s reproductive rights and control over their own bodies, and its fomenting of neo-Nazi death squads, are not trivial concerns.

The fight for democracy, as Marx and Engels wrote, is the first battle in any revolutionary socialist movement. That is where we’re at now: The fight for democracy.

I am asked by some fellow Greens why I am “parsing words” given that Biden is the apparent choice of the main imperialist sectors of U.S. capitalism. I respond thusly:

I don’t think opposing the candidate who publicly endorses and promotes and funds white supremacist lynch mobs is simply a “parsing” of words.

I don’t think opposing the candidate who publicly opposes a woman’s right to choose is simply a “parsing” of words.

I don’t think opposing the candidate who refused to provide necessary medical equipment to the states to fight a pandemic is a parsing of words.

I don’t think opposing a candidate who think it’s great to espouse grabbing women by “the pussy” at his discretion is a mere parsing of words.

I don’t think opposing a candidate who supports police murder of Black people is a parsing of words.

I don’t think opposing a candidate who refuses to recognize the validity of human-induced climate chaos and who opens the Arctic to oil drilling at the behest of his capitalist masters is a parsing of words.

Biden and Trump are equal in their imperialist service to their masters. So long as that remains fairly equivalent, and so long as there is no viable alternative at this critical moment (wishing the situation would be different won’t cut it when so many lives are on the line), it is inumbant on those who supported the Green’s electoral strategy to reassess their positions.

I pretty much think the Green party — and its banrupt and utterly stupid, narcissistic, and self-indulgent strategy at this time — has lost its soul, if not its mind.

Whom to vote for is NEVER a principle. It is a tactical decision based on an analysis of the conjuncture of forces and the historical moment.

To quote Dan Quayle (remember him?) “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.” (Addressing the United Negro College Fund, whose slogan is “a mind is a terrible thing to waste”)

Mitchel Cohen
Brooklyn Greens / Green Party

REMEMBERING DAY STAR CHOU

 

Day Star Chou

The shattered universe never ceases to slash us with shards of memory, and also makes us laugh over the pieces. Daystar’s dying is a horror, and I know we’ll all think back over our lives together and not only feel the immense pain, but also — more and more — the beauty that Daystar brought into our lives. I am of course so sad that she’s flown off. Let me share some moments …..

Daystar, Evergreen, and Little Horse – Founders of the Flushing Greens/Green Party of NY.

   When I was in the middle of a heart attack in January of 2001 at a statewide meeting of the NY Greens / Green Party, Day Star Chou and her sister Tanzania, drawing on their Cherokee heritage, put a small team together to physically push the blood through my body while we waited for an ambulance, and saved my life. It was quite miraculous, and yet it’s not in any of the modern medical books or protocols.

Day Star and Evergreen in Montauk Point

   Joel Kovel told Robert Gold to call an ambulance, and Jennifer Jager and Joel hopped into it with me. We arrived at St. Luke’s hospital. In a scene right out of Hollywood Jennifer, seeing that they had me on a long intake line and refusing to treat me or even move me up in the line — during a heart attack! — decided that the only thing she could do to get them to examine me right away was to race my gurney through the emergency room shouting, “he’s dying, he’s dying!” Joel Kovel said, “Sshh, don’t say that!”. I looked up and thought “I am?” Suddenly everyone clicked into gear. I was whisked through the emergency room, and my good friends and audacious fellow Greens saved my life for a second time that day.

   That scene has nothing directly to do with Day Star, but the different pieces are indelibly connected and jumbled together in my mind; what began with Day Star saving me was bookended by Jennifer saving me again.

Day Star and Evergreen in Montauk Point after NY State Green Party meeting.

   Day Star is always in my thoughts. She was the first to sign up with the No Spray Coalition against pesticides, representing the Flushing Greens on its Coordinating Committee.

   We’d met 5 or 6 years earlier. She supported the old Green Party USA (as did the rest of the NY Greens’ assembly of locals) and the two of us co-edited the NY Greens’ newspaper, which the prior editor, Pete Dolack (then a member of the Brooklyn Greens and No Spray Coalition coordinating committee), christened as “G”. We sat through lengthy meetings of the NY State Greens coordinating committee, which met one Sunday per month, frequently in the Flushing Greens’ office, where Day Star and I alternated as secretary, Evergreen served as Treasurer, and included Robert Gold, Maria Kuriloff, Paul Gilman, Elizabeth Shanklin, Nina Scalora, Marc Jacobs and 7 or 8 others.

Day Star and Evergreen. Evergreen and Day Star. The two of them, inseparable, were raising their nephew Little Horse, and we all watched him grow up into a tall and strong man. Day Star confided her fears of allowing Little Horse, as he got older, to venture off on his own; they were especially worried of how the NYPD would respond to Little Horse, and tried to teach him to be alert and avoid unnecessary confrontation with them.

Cathryn Swan, Little Horse, Day Star, Olivier (comrade from France), Mitchel, Cendra (also from France).

They supported freedom for Leonard Peltier and Mumia abu-Jamal, and helped steer those as policies of the NY Greens. They also opposed — unusual for Greens — the use of marijuana, although they were clear to separate that view from their denunciation of the Rockefeller Drug laws and the use of the drug war to throw Black people into jail.

  Day Star pushed Evergreen to run for local office on the Green Party line, and of course we endorsed his campaign,

Flushing Greens, Daystar and Evergreen’s home local of the Greens/Green Party of NY.

conducted in several languages among the large Chinese population. I tried to encourage Day Star to run as well, but she felt that Evergreen would better represent the largely Chinese-immigrant district.

   Day Star was (was? is?) someone just so special, so powerful and righteous, and engaged. A Green through and through. And the photo Paul Gilman found (at the top of this remembrance) is sooooo amazing. Wow.

Committee to Free David Wong

Missing Day Star’s presence on this planet ….

 

Day Star is unseen here, sitting next to the file cabinets in the rear. Notable for me because my daughter Malika is sitting next to me at a NY Greens coordinating committee meeting in the Flushing Greens’ office.

THE VICE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

HEROIC FLY ATTACKS V.P. PENCE FOR HIS LIES AND FASCISM DURING VICE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Caught in
his web
of lies,
VP Pence
ensnared

click
photo
for more

“HELP ME”
PENCE PLEADS

 

 

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to reTweet it.­

“The first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle for democracy … one of the first and most important tasks of the militant proletariat.”

Karl Marx & Frederick Engels
The Communist Manifesto

My aim is to reinvent the wheel. My goal is to impeach or remove the Trump regime and, yes, to preach to the choir.

Resistance to fascism can and will take many forms. I write in the autumn of 2020. It is still possible to prevent the fascist juggernaut from sweeping away every gain won by workers in the United States since the 1880s, but well have to move quickly and back up our votes with militant direct action.

Public education, clean running water and sanitation, public libraries, the nations food supply, the last remaining forests, womens, Black, gay liberation and in fact everyone’s civil liberties as well, reproductive rights and personal privacy, are all under attack as never before. Corporate pollution threatens the most out-of-the-way corners of the planet. A novel pandemic is upon us, a wave to what to expect in the future (if there is to be a future)? There is no let-up, and climate chaos is already coming faster than we can deal with. Whole island nations are now submerged under water; the Arctic ice caps are melting; and mass applications of pesticides and genetically engineered crops are destroying our food supplies and sacred places, and taking over the world’s agricultural lands.

Neither liberalism nor conservatism, which dance around us as in the guises of Democrats and Republicans, present real solutions, but thats all were offered. We trap ourselves in a fundamentally immoral liberal imperialism, on the one hand, and the neo-conservative’s transfer of trillions of dollars in wealth from pretty much all of us to the wealthy, on the other. Liberals and Conservatives (both mislabeled as Democrats and Republicans) are equally deadly and equally bringing us to the brink of nuclear war, although via separate paths. They are twin horses of Apocalypse, the one thundering alongside the other in pretend battles like jousting knights of olde. Ecological collapse due to global climate chaos threatens to end complex life on this planet unless we the people rise up coherently — the poor, the once-upon-a-time workers who are being primed to slit each othersthroats in competition for the increasingly scarce and privatized water, hospital beds, individual dwellings, jobs and needed services. Who among us will be our Harriet Tubman, leading us to freedom?

The candidacy of Bernie Sanders for U.S. President in the Democratic Party had raised the concept of socialism in the mainstream corporate media for the first time in a century as a cure for the parasites of capitalism – the Capitalist Infesto. The corporate-controlled Democratic Party leadership smashed him down. Bernie was not allowed to go deep enough; he wasnt allowed to continue. Should he have stuck to his guns (so to speak) and seen it through? Perhaps. But is that the issue we want to fight out today? The immediate issue: Can new and overtly socialist ecological movements arise, obstruct, and reverse the current transformation of U.S. society into overt fascism, which is prelude to creating the new society we really want to live in?

I write not to explain the ins and outs of the terrible tragedies were facing but for the new generations to seize hold of the lessons from the new left the 60s generation — which have been stolen, co-opted, perverted and sold back to us as our false “paths to freedom”.

Black Lives matter! Reproductive Rights matter! Workers’ rights matter! The fights against industrial pollution and global climate chaos matter! Can we understand the meanings of our own movements and allow the lessons embedded in them to blossom, a gift from one generation to the next? That requires new ways of thinking and putting those thoughts into practice.

So, let us vote for the evil of two lessers, of course, to stay the blade of fascism and white supremacy … but in doing so let us also keep in mind that even the lesser evil is still evil, still imperialist. So let us use this moment to also begin to build the kind of revolutionary mass-movements necessary to transform this society!

SHOULD THE GREEN PARTY RUN ITS OWN CANDIDATES FOR PRESIDENT AND VICE PRESIDENT IN 2020?

by MITCHEL COHEN

Green Party 2020 candidates Howie Hawkins (President) and Angela Walker (Vice President)

As one of those who is trying to get the Green Party to switch its tactics and electoral strategy, I would appreciate it if Ajamu Baraka and others would at least address the arguments I and others are making …

… which has nothing to do with any expectations of Biden and the neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

My ONLY points in recommending that Greens (and everyone else) vote for Biden in swing states are:

Trump is bolstering right-wing white supremacists (are there any other kind?), firing them up, egging them on to be his stormtroopers and death squads, and has appointed a US Attorney General that defends them and attacks antifascists instead.

Regardless of everything else about the Democrats, I do not think that Biden would do the same — do you? — and it makes a world of difference as to whether we are trying to organize under those conditions in a Trump regime vs. a Biden one.

The rhetoric alone makes a huge difference, but it’s not only about rhetoric.

In terms of domestic policy it ALSO makes a difference if you are a woman (reproductive rights), are gay-trans-bi-queer, are senior (a further raid on social security), and of course if you are Black.

Those are not insignificant differences, and to minimize them or not refer to them is dissembling. It means we cannot even discuss strategy for the Green Party until the above is recognized and acknowledged.

Note again: I think Biden will be terrible on foreign policy, although strangely he might support Cuba, as opening to Cuba was part of the Obama/Biden legacy. But when it comes to everywhere else, look out! …. Same as with Trump, despite what Baraka argues in Trump’s defense that Trump is serious about ending the “endless wars”. He gives a single example of a “peace process” towards Afghanistan, which is still yet to occur after 3 years. As of 16 months ago, Trump’s drone attacks, which Baraka ignores, far exceeded even Obama’s in 4 years:

According to a 2018 report in The Daily Beast, Obama launched 186 drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan during his first two years in office. In Trump’s first two years, he launched 238.
The Trump administration has carried out 176 strikes in Yemen in just two years, compared with 154 there during all eight years of Obama’s tenure, according to a count by The Associated Press and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Experts also say drone strikes under President Trump have surged in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
And, as was the case during Obama’s presidency, these strikes have resulted in untold numbers of civilian casualties. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan killed more than 150 civilians in the first nine months of 2018.
Amnesty International reports drones have killed at least 14 civilians in Somalia since 2017.
As of January of this year, U.S. drone strikes fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria have killed at least 1,257 civilians, according to the Pentagon, and a monitoring group, Airwars, estimates the number to be as great as 7,500.
That you might not be aware of what should be a startling and deeply troubling escalation in unaccountable remote-control warfare by the U.S. is both by design and default.
For one, the Obama administration paved the way for popularizing and normalizing drone wars, which also included the extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizens, first by hiding it, then by begrudgingly acknowledging it, and then by pretending to meaningfully constrain it.
Obama eventually put in place arcane requirements to issue public reports on civilian death tolls (but just in certain military theaters), to limit targets to high-level militants (again, in certain battlefields), and require interagency approval (also only for certain targets).
Trump has peeled back all of those requirements because, well, he can. We now know more than we did about U.S. drone wars when Obama first took office, but less than when he left.
        – S. E. Cupp Chicago Sun-Times  May 8, 2019

So if we are going to discuss Green Party strategy, at least understand what I and others are saying, acknowledge you hear it, and repeat it back accurately.

Stopping fascists from having their hands on executive power is the most important point in this election.

And, yes, of course we’ll have to do a lot more afterwards regardless of who wins. Frankly, the Green Party should be doing it now, but as a Party it is invisible.

Kevin Zeese: A Warrior for Peace and Justice Passes

Published originally in https://www.laprogressive.com/kevin-zeese-2/

The human rights community mourns veteran activist Kevin Zeese, my friend and comrade.

“For the Anniversary of My Death”

by W.S. Merwin  

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

Having met Kevin Zeese during the Occupy movement in September of 2011, by Merwin’s metric we passed unknowing the day that had finally come for Kevin nine times. Nine times we, (Kevin, Margaret Flowers -his loving partner, and I) were engaged in the struggle in one way or another.  Occupy DC, Occupy the EPA, Hands Up Don’t Shoot, Justice Mondays at the Department of Justice to name a few and lastly only hours before his transition — the fight to stop the desecration of Moses African Cemetery in Bethesda, Maryland.

He stood his ground and left an indelible mark in our memory and the landscape of the fight for human decency and liberation of the human spirit.

And there, always present, always willing, always gentle in his manner and generous with his wisdom, his strength, his courage—was Kevin. Passionate. Articulate. Good-natured.

I remember the first time I saw his T-shirt, emblazoned with his campaign slogan during his run for the US Senate: Zeese and Resist! That was Kevin. And the courtroom artist’s rendering of him when he argued before the Supreme Court, displayed among the many mementos that one with his penchant for advocacy acquires in the years, in the decades, in the long pull of history.

After this shock and all of the pain, what I will remember is Kevin’s voice last Friday, his patience, and the calm demeanor he carried with him in the heat of our struggle to save Moses African Cemetery, in the heat of the road in Bethesda on a hot September day when he stood and reasoned with the police who had arrayed themselves again against our non-violent protests as though we were the ones threatening violence, as though we were the ones hurling invective, curses, and threats. There, at the side of River Road, stood Kevin Zeese, nodding, listening, offering alternatives, presenting our case that resulted in no-arrests.

The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition (BACC) “Save Moses African Cemetery” protests last Thursday and Friday would be his last stand as an activist, a warrior for liberation of the human family, while securing a promise from the police that they would not be arresting any of the hundred-plus activists that had come to stand with us on what we would all learn with sadness was Kevin’s last day as an activist.

The youth of BACC, in particular worked closely with Kevin, as he provided instruction on Thursday Night in techniques of non-violent resistance that they might need during the Friday action.

Over the years, I’ve worked with Kevin and Margaret on a number of political actions.  We worked closely together on a project called: “Justice Monday” in the aftermath of the murder of Trayvon Martin. We organized demonstrations in front of the Department of Justice (DOJ) every Monday afternoon. The goal of “Justice Monday” was to force DOJ to release the Report of Investigation (ROI) that we were certain would exonerate George Zimmerman for violating the civil rights of Trayvon Martin. We instinctively knew that the Obama Administration’s Attorney General Eric Holder was going to exonerate Zimmerman but wanted to soft pedal their decision.  Through protests and demonstrations, Justice Monday succeeded in forcing the DOJ to release the ROI, that in fact, exonerated Zimmerman.

Our Friend, a Fighter for the People

Years later, Kevin and Margaret were among the first to answer the call to battle against developers and their enablers in the Montgomery County Maryland Planning Board and our local government.  Their experience and moral support enabled the fledgling organization to grow and make “good trouble.”  Kevin and Margaret gifted BACC with its very first banner.  Kevin and Margaret have not spared time and energy in driving more than two hours time after time to support and help with our struggle.  His inner strength is reflected in humility and gentleness, ever so kind and patient.

On a personal level, I came to deeply trust Kevin’s advice and keen ability to deconstruct the pitfalls of fighting injustice.

Kevin was a devoted supporter of Black Agenda Report. Kevin and Margaret would attend the yearly fundraiser and provide articles to BAR. In addition, they both supported the Left Forum, a yearly gathering of progressives from around the world that meet in New York.

Kevin died the way he lived, in the midst of struggle for racial justice and the dismantling of the architecture of white supremacy. The Friday before his transition, he stood his ground and left an indelible mark in our memory and the landscape of the fight for human decency and liberation of the human spirit.

He is missed and he left a light to guide us through the challenges that lay ahead.  Valiant warrior Rest in Power- our Ancestor!

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
Black Agenda Report

There will be an online tribute to Kevin on Saturday, September 19 at 3:00 pm Eastern/12:00 pm Pacific on Zoom. Click here to register . This event will also be livestreamed atFacebook.com/PopularResistanceOrg  andYouTube.com/PopularResistanceOrg .

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About Marsha Coleman-Adebayo

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated: No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA . She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha’s successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). Marsha was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, March 2017. Currently, she is working to stop the Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) and the Bethesda Self-Storage Company/1784 Holdings from its continue desecration of Moses African Cemetery in Bethesda, Maryland.

WHAT DOES “DEFUND THE POLICE” MEAN?

Herewith an aggregation of thoughts about policing, pointing towards various approaches to alternatives. Emphasis on getting to the root of the problems, rather than asking institutions of suppression to reform themselves. All complaints and queries may be directed to me, Dave Lippman.

First off, a bit of perspective about defunding: Society has been defunding education, affordable housing, mental health, and social services generally for decades, moving the money to the agents of armed social repression. So moving it back might be appropriate. But in a society that likes its solutions short term, we get repression, not progression.

Second, we have to consider what the police are: they are the agency that preserves order, and the order is unjust. It appears to be peacekeeping, but it actually maintains a permanent system of injustice, inequality, and poverty based on housing loan denials, localized inferior education, and pervasive discrimination. Not to mention its roots in Jim Crow and slavery.

A couple of basic sources:

https://m4bl.org/policy-platforms/ :
Here you can find short statements and demands from the Movement for Black Lives on topics like the war on black communities, demilitarization of police, surveillance, prisons, etc.

https://www.joincampaignzero.org/#vision :
A set of specific proposals to deal with a variety of problems and solutions in policing, including use of force, community oversight, for-profit policing (ticket and arrest quotas, etc.), power of police unions, etc.

Now then, What do people mean by defunding the police?

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DEFUNDING THE PENTAGON?

324 Congress Members Who Should Permanently Quarantine … Another futile exercise in capitalist “democracy”

A guest post by David Swanson

324 Congress Members Who Should Permanently Quarantine, by David Swanson

July 22, 2020

The U.S. House of Misrepresentatives on Tuesday voted 324 to 93 (with 13 not voting) to defeat a proposal to move a mere 10% of military spending to human, environmental, and health needs.

The 324 Congressional “representatives” who voted the wrong way on this really should never show their faces in public again. Our society ought to shame them so deeply that they pick up and move to a country with healthcare and retirement and clean energy and a decent education system where they can discover what they’ve been depriving the United States of, as well as discover what they’ve been inflicting on the world.

Certainly, nobody should ever vote to elect any of them again.

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MASKS: AN OPEN LETTER TO ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.’S CHILDREN’S HEALTH DEFENSE

Mitchel Cohen says: Wear your damn mask, while opposing mandatory vaccination for Covid-19! Commenting on: “The Risks vs. Benefits of Face Masks – Is There an Agenda?” by Dr. Alan Palmer, that was featured on Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense website

https://childrenshealthdefense.org/wp-content/uploads/05-26-20-

I have no faith in the purity of products like vaccines, cutting corners and developed for profit under American capitalism. Thus, I join with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in opposing mandatory vaccinations.

Manufacturing, marketing and sale of all synthesized chemicals in the U.S. occurs without utilization of the precautionary principle, which would require manufacturers to prove that their product is safe for human and other animal use before it is introduced into the environment — be it in agriculture, waterways, or the human blood stream. The stated purpose of all vaccines is to provoke an immune system response, inducing the body to generate antibodies to the specific disease. But without sufficient and profit-free regulation and testing, aluminum-based adjuvants, impurities and other toxicants are knowingly allowed to be injected directly into children’s bloodstream. Vaccines — like GMOs, pesticides, and many other lab-created products — are thus anything but “safe”.

Food and Drug Administration regulators are hardly independent protectors of public health. They come from the same profit-driven corporations they’re supposed to be regulating, and they return to those same corporations when their time in “government service” has ended. That revolving door between Big Pharma and U.S. regulatory agencies is, to put it mildly, hardly inspiring of trust.

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Guest Post by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Flu Misinformation and Coronavirus Fears: My Letter to Dr. Sanjay Gupta

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April 16, 2020

By Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Chairman, Children’s Health Defense

The flu shot INCREASES the risks for common colds by 36%.
– Pentagon study (see below, in green)

Robert Kennedy, Jr. is speaking throughout about studies pertaining to the CoronaVirus, the cause for 20 percent of cases of the common cold, and not the current Covid-19 SARS2 virus.

Dear Sanjay,

Last week, your CNN producer, Matthew Reynard, notified me that CNN is featuring me in a documentary about “vaccine misinformation”. As usual, Mr. Reynard did not point out a single factual assertion by me that was incorrect (I carefully source all of my statements about vaccines to government databases or peer-reviewed publications). CNN uses the term “vaccine misinformation” as a euphemism for any statement that departs from the Government / Pharma orthodoxy that all vaccines are safe, necessary, and effective for all people.

I respectfully point out that CNN and particularly you, Sanjay, are today among the most prolific broadcasters of ‘vaccine misinformation.’

I have always admired you, Sanjay. Your obvious talents aside, you seem to be genuinely compassionate and to value integrity. Earlier in your career, you showed a courageous willingness to challenge Big Pharma’s vaccine orthodoxies. However, I respectfully point out that CNN and particularly you, Sanjay, are today among the most prolific broadcasters of “vaccine misinformation”. Over the last several years, I cannot recall seeing a single substantial CNN segment on vaccines that did not include easily verified factual misstatements. CNN’s recent special, “Pandemic”, was a showcase of erroneous assertions about the flu vaccine. Since I don’t like to think that you deliberately mislead the public — ­particularly about critical public health choices, I have taken the time to point out some of your most frequent errors.

I hope you will take time to read this. This critique has special relevance during the current coronavirus crisis, not to mention its important implications for the roles of government and press in a democracy. CNN and other media outlets treat CDC, NIH, and WHO pronouncements as infallible truths. In fact, regulatory capture has made these agencies subsidiaries of Big Pharma, and the lies that CDC has been telling us about flu are now muddying the debate over coronavirus.

Furthermore, of the mere 257 cases that could reasonably be blamed on the flu in CDC’s mortality data, only 7 percent were laboratory confirmed cases of influenza.

1. CNN assertion: In your annual flu shot promotions, you routinely parrot CDC’s estimates of overall flu deaths which have ranged in recent years from 36,000 for the 1990-1991 flu season to 80,000 for the 2017-2018 flu season.

Fact: The HHS’s mortality and morbidity data — available on the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) website — show that CDC’s (and CNN’s) annual estimates are off by orders of magnitude.

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