Trump and Le Pen: Symptoms of the empire’s collapse

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What is the appeal of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen? Why have they able to get so many votes?

A superficial response is easy: Voters are angry and fed up with the present political system and they will vote for whoever best shares their anger and damns the present political system. The more the media attacks Trump, the more his US supporters are confirmed that he represents their own rejection of the system. And the more the other political parties and political elite attack Le Pen, the more the French voters are confirmed that she is allied with them against the present political system.

But a more profound response requires that we analyze why voters are angry and fed up. One cause is their economic hardships. The average wages of a worker continue to decrease year after year. More and more families are forced to work two or three jobs just to survive. And they understand, to some extent, that the problem is due to government policies that support capitalist exploitation, enabling the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. On the other hand, many are confused, misled by populists like Trump and Le Pen, who tell them that the problem is caused by imigrants who take their jobs and receive government welfare.

There is a classic term to describe the anger and frustration related to economic hardship that is blamed on the government and other institutions of the society. It is called “alienation.” The young Karl Marx devoted his doctoral thesis to this topic, describing how industrial workers, unlike handicraft workers in previous centuries, no longer had control over the products that they created. Instead, the capitlalist controlled production and took the profits from it. The more the worker toiled, the more the capitalist got richer and could exploit him even more.

Ironically, when I worked in the 70’s and 80’s in the old Soviet Union, I found that my so-called communist friends had never heard the Russian word for alienation (отчуждение), even though their economic conditions were deteriorating as their country’s economy declined under the burden of the arms race. However, they knew that the government was lying to them about the economic situation. They would say “You can find the truth anywhere except in Pravda and the news anywhere except in Izvestia.” These were the two leading state-run news media in the Soviet Union and their names are the Russian words for Truth and News.

Nowadays, Trump and Le Pen make short-term gains by criticiizing the news media. In the short-term, they gain support of many voters who have come to mistrust pronouncements by the government and the capitalist class that are repeated by the media. The voters think that Trump and Le Pen are “on their side.”

But in the long run, they are playing with fire.

In fact, it is true that the media are lying and that the government is directly or indirectly responsible for the lies. If you read Rolling Stone magazine back in the 1970’s, you would have know from Carl Bernstein’s article that all the major media were infiltrated by the CIA during the Vietnam War in order to ensure support by the American people for the war. Although the Bernstein article was simply the account of the US Senate hearings, headed by Senator Frank Church, he could not publish it anywhere except in Rolling Stone. Why? Of course, because the other media were controlled by the CIA!

The Bernstein story is not an exception. It is more and more the rule. In fact, as I conclude in The History of the Culture of War, the control of the media through secrets and lies has become the most important weapon of the culture of war.

We all know now about the big lie of weapons of mass destruction used to justify the war in Iraq. How many remember the falsified Gulf of Tonkin incident that was used to justify the war in Vietnam? Few know the reason for the war against Ghadafi in Libya: it was because he was using Libya’s oil money to strengthen the African Union to the point that the Africans began to resist exploitation by the Americans and Europeans. And unless you dig deep in the foreign media you will not know that the media reports of a poison gas attack by the Syrian government used to justify American intervention, was based on what appears to be faked videos by the White Helmets, an organization established and funded by the US and UK governments as part of their campaign in the Syrian war.

In fact, control of the media, including secrets and lies, is necessary to the culture of war if is to survive. This is due to two other general historical trends: the increase in democracy throughout the world, and the increasing anti-war sentiment throughout the world. People don’t want their country to make war. A few years ago, a political scientist at Yale got a lot of press by arguing that democracies do not make war against other democracies. When I looked at his data, I came to a different intepretation: in order to conduct a war, a democracy has to convince its people that the enemy is not a democracy or else they have to make war secretly, because otherwise the people will not support it. For example, the American wars against Cuba and Nicaragua, as well as the Cold War against Russia, were possible because they could convince the American voter that these were totalitarian countries rather than democracies. And in order to make war against Chile they had to conduct it secretly. The same process is evident today as the government (and the media) condemn Libya and Syria as totalitarian, while supporting even more authoritatian allies, especially Saudi Arabia. The new form of American warfare, the drone attacks that were greatly increased by Obama, enable the US to engage in secret wars throughout the world.

But in the end, the political and economic system of the American empire will pay a heavy price for the manipulation of the news. As it becomes more blatant and more universal and more evident, it increases the alienation of the people from their government and their media. In the short run, it opens the door to demagogues like Trump and Le Pen and perhaps even worse yet to come.

But the heaviest price will come when the economic system collapses. The people of America and Euorope may do what the Soviet people did when their economic system collapsed. The Soviets stayed in their homes and the troops stayed in their barracks, saying “good riddance!” to the Gorbachev government and the Communist Party in Russia. The system collapsed with a whimper rather than a bang!

It’s a vicious cycle. The alienation of voters makes possible the electoral victories of demagogues and fascists. In turn, these demagogues and facists increase government priorities for military spending which, eventually, will push the American empire over the same cliff as the Russian empire before it, unless of course they stumble into a world war which would be and even worse outcome.

Fortunately, since our species is resilient and our history is dialectical, there are positive reactions against the election of demagogues. As we continue to cover in CPNN, there is a strong positive fightback against the Trump administration which this month concentrated on saving the planet from his disastrous denial of climate change.

And there is also a positive fightback against the secrets and lies of the government and the mass media in the form of independent media. Thanks to modern technology, internet news systems like CPNN globally as well as many local independent news websites and low-cost local radio stations have been made possible by technological progress. And more and more people are relying on the independent media for their news.

I got a taste of this last month when I was invited to participate in a panel discussion in Oregon with other independent media operators on the topic “Cultivating a Culture of Peace in an Era of Trump: What’s the Media’s Role?” It was good to see that CPNN is not the only independent media out there, but there are many good local media in Oregon as well. And thanks to modern technology I was able to take part in the discussion by means of Skype.

To quote the National Coordinator for the Peoples Climate Movement, “Today’s actions are not for one day or one week or one year. We are a movement that is getting stronger everyday for our families, our communities and our planet. To change everything, we need everyone.”

What happens after peace accords are signed

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Now that there is a ceasefire in Colombia, as described in this month’s bulletin of CPNN, the question arises whether a culture of peace can be maintained afterwards.

When I was working on the culture of peace in UNESCO, I experienced a similar situation in two countries, El Salvador and Mozambique. Both of them emerged with peace accords in the early 1990’s after civil wars comparable to that in Colombia. In both we established national culture of peace programs to maintain the peace afterwards. They were major efforts, as I will describe, but ultimately they failed. Now, twenty five years later, both El Salvador and Mozambique are once again descending into violence, verging once again on civil war.

Why did they fail?

First, consider the efforts. The program in El Salvador is described in a journal article, available on the Internet, written by the three of us who managed the program. To quote from its conclusion: the program transformed “conflict into cooperation by engaging those previously in violent conflict in the joint planning and implementation of human development projects of benefit to all. . .. [it] developed both a set of guidelines accepted by all parties to the previous violent conflict, and institutionalized these guidelines in a National Coordination Council and its Executive Committee which ensure that they are put into practice. In particular, the guidelines are being followed in the implementation of project 507/ELS/01, the production of daily radio broadcasts and non-formal education campaigns for the most needy and neglected women in the country. In the course of the working out of this project, during the period from the summer of 1994 to the present (spring of 1996) the participants, representing the government, community radio stations and nongovernmental organizations including those associated with the FMLN, have internalized the basic principles and guidelines of a culture of peace. While at first they distrusted each other to the point that UNESCO had to play the role of arbitrator and mediator, they have since learned to negotiate and arrived at the point of regular concerted decision-making. Daily radio broadcasts are now being produced which reflect the fruits of this process of dialogue, participation and concertation and which up until now have been well-produced and well-received despite time pressures and the demanding schedules of radio broadcasting. These broadcasts are carried by 24 radio stations around the country, as well as in marketplaces, and they are accompanied by the work of 64 correspondents in the various communities who monitor the broadcasts and provide information from their communities to the technical team that creates the programmes.

The radio project was only one of 20 human development projects in El Salvador that were developed by the method of concertation described above.

In Mozambique, a similar process of concertation between ex-enemies resulted in the elaboration of ten human development projects with rural women, demobilized soldiers, schools, youth, mass media, community leaders, etc.

The process worked. Hoping to develop their country, the ex-enemies could be brought together and could work together.

But the programmes did not work. The Member States of UNESCO refused to fund the projects, preferring to put their development funds into projects that they could manage themselves for political advantage (including, in some cases, corruption and exploitation).

Alvaro de Soto, who had mediated the El Salvador peace accords, warned us at the time that it could not work. As part of the accords, the US and Europe had promised to fund land reform and judicial reform in El Salvador, but afterwards they reneged and never provided the funds they had promised. By the way, the same thing happened with the peace accords that established Zimbabwe. The UK never came through with the money they promised as part of the accords, to buy land from the white farmers and distribute to the African farmers. Eventually, President Mugabe got tired of waiting and seized the land and Zimbabwe was punished by international sanctions.

In general, we came to realize that the powerful Member States of the UN do not want peace. They want to exploit the poor countries of the world and that requires the old method of the culture of war: “Divide and conquer.”

Hopefully, Colombia can learn from the failures of the past and achieve a sustainable peace. As I have suggested in my previous blog, “Advice to Colombia,” they need to develop a network of local peace committees and keep them strong and independent so that they do not have to depend solely on the national government or United Nations support. Those of us in other countries can help with direct people-to people support; as Amada Benavides says, “Peacebuilding moment starts just now. Today we need more support than ever.”

Importance of Truth Commissions

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First, Truth Commissions are important because they break the secrecy of the state which is one of the key defenses of the culture of war.

This month, as described in the CPNN bulletin, there are several examples of this.  The US government, and in particular its CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) has kept secret the details of its torture of prisoners in Guantanamo and elsewhere in recent years, as well as its invasion of Panama in 1989.   Despite opposition by the CIA, the torture report by the US Senate has revealed details of the torture, while the upcoming Truth Commission in Panama promises to reveal details of the invasion.   Similarly, despite a law by the Israeli authorities that forbids discussion of the Nakba, the NGO Zochrot has launched a Truth Commission to discuss it.  Other Truth Commissions in Canada, Brazil and Burundi  are revealing atrocities previously previously shrouded in secrecy by their states.

Second, they promote such key aspects of  a culture of peace as human rights and democracy, by revealing and condemning their violations.

And third, Truth Commissions are designed to launch the process of reconciliation, a process that will be necessary for the transition from the culture of war to a culture of peace. The classic example is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa in the transition from Apartheid to democracy under the leadership of Bishop Desmond Tutu and the presidency of Nelson Mandela.  Since then, according to Amnesty International, there have been truth commission in more than 25 countries (as of 2007), most of them dedicated to reconciliation as well as truth.  The commissions mentioned here continue this important historical trend.

Other than Canada, today’s commissions are still far from the stage of reconciliation.  Those in Burundi and Panama are just getting underway.  The Truth Commission in Brazil is still far from the stage of reconciliation, and there is so much opposition that one doubts that the U.S. Senate will be able to go beyond its initial stage and achieve any reconciliation.

It is not surprising that the cases of Israel and the United States are the furthest from reconciliation.  Israel is supported by the U.S. and the American empire is the center of the culture of war in the 21st Century, having organized torture not only in Guantanamo, but also in countries around the world, especially in Latin America.  See a similar analysis by the dean of peace researchers, Johan Galtung.  The strong defense of state secrecy by the U.S. and Israel  is revealed by the continued house arrest of Mordecai Vanunu in Israel for having revealed its nuclear arsenal and the continuing attempts by the U.S. to capture and punish Julian Assange and Edward Snowden for having divulged its secrets.

In my utopian novel about how we arrive at a culture of peace, I imagine that one of the key moments is when Jerusalem, after a process like that of South Africa (with the involvement of Bishop Tutu), becomes an international city of peace where people of all religions are able to coexist with mutual respect.  As for the United States, I can only that its empire will crash like that of the Soviet Union, giving us the chance to establish a radically new economic and political system in the world.

 

 

Two media – two realities – is the world in transition?

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The CPNN bulletin this month is in great contrast to the headlines of the commercial mass media.

CPNN tells us of progress in participatory democracy in the cities of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal and the United States.  Ordinary citizens are deciding directly what should be the priorities for the budget in their neighborhoods.  And the results are to the benefit of all the citizens of their neighborhoods; not only the rich or a privileged ethnic group, not to the detriment of other neighborhoods or other cities.  The culture of peace is advancing and it is not surprising that this began and continues to develop in Latin America, which as we have seen in the blogs of March 2014 and February 2013, is at the leading edge of progress.

The commercial media feed us a starkly different picture of war in Israel/Palestine and in the Ukraine, not to mention plenty of plane crashes to make us afraid to venture outside our doors.

‘The news of participatory budgeting is carried by the local media, since citizens need to be informed about when and where they should go to vote and what are the choices that they can make.  But the major commercial media like Fox News, the New York Times and CNN do not include this on their front pages.  In the words on top of the front page of the New York Times, this news is not “fit to print.”  Instead, they consider that war and plane crashes are fit to print on the front page.

In fact, all of this is true.  There are wars and plane crashes, and there is progress in culture of peace at the local level.  But there are two kinds of media, one for the culture of war and another for the culture of peace, and so it seems like there are two realities.

There are two realities as it would seem that the world is in transition from one culture to another.

The major commercial media continue to serve the culture of war.  As I have shown in the History of the Culture of War, over the course of the past few centuries the media have become its most important tool.  Its coverage of war is designed to convince people that a culture of war is inevitable and/or necessary and that it should be supported by them.  Its coverage of disastrous events like plane crashes is designed to convince people that they are helpless in the face of superior forces and there is no way for them to change the course of history.

Media like CPNN, on the other hand, can be a major tool for the culture of peace, letting people know that a culture of peace is possible, and how they can support it.  It can give people confidence that they are the creators of history.  As we said in the slogan for the UN International Year for the Culture of Peace, “Peace is in our hands.”

At the present time, there are not enough media sources like CPNN.  I have seen a few new internet sites that provide news on a regular basis about the culture of peace, such as the Good News Agency (in English and Italian) and the People’s World Peace Project (English only).  I have not found culture of peace news sites in other languages, although CPNN carries some articles in French, Spanish and Portuguese.  We need sites in Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Swahili, Urdu, Hindi, etc., as well as in local languages.  And we need many more readers and reporters!

As the number of culture of peace news sites increases, and our readership increases, the commercial media will be forced to cover more culture of peace news in order to avoid losing their readership.  If and when that time comes, we will be able to say that the tide is turning towards a culture of peace!

The Past and Future of CPNN

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The bulletin this month marks a milestone in the evolution of CPNN, as its coverage begins to depend on the extensive involvement of reporters from around the world.

Looking back over the 15 years of CPNN since it began at UNESCO in 1998, I recognize this as the most recent of several milestones.

At first it was hoped that there would be many different CPNN sites in various languages, and I ran CPNN only for the United States, but by 2007, seeing that sites were not materializing in other languages and continents, I expanded it to a global level.

2010 was a watershed year for CPNN. The Culture of Peace Decade of the United Nations had ended, and we had submitted the final report from over 1,000 civil society organizations around the world. In order to continue the information exchange among these organizations, it was necessary to expand the service of CPNN, which had almost ceased to function in the previous year. We established the Culture of Peace Corporation in order to involve young people in the management of the site, including those who had worked on the UN Decade report. With their assistance, the site was revamped to be more attractive using many images.

In the years since 2010, the coverage of CPNN has greatly expanded. There were 205 articles in 2011, 413 in 2012, and already 181 in the first half of 2013. Most of these depended upon me to write or seek out the articles, but as of this month, there is more of a contribution by reporters.

As stated in the conclusion of this month’s bulletin, CPNN aspires to fulfill the challenge in the UN Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, to serve the development of the Global Movement for a Culture of Peace by exchanging information among its actors. As I have written at the end of an article about CPNN to appear in the next issue of the Journal of Peace Education, the future of CPNN is intimately tied to the future of the Global Movement. On the one hand, CPNN can only develop its full potential in the context of a growing Movement, and on the other hand, in order to grow, the Movement needs the extensive exchange of information among its actors.

At this moment of history, it is critical that the Movement should grow. The present global culture of war, headed by the American empire, is reaching the end of its power, similar to the situation of the Soviet empire in the 1980’s. When it crashes, if we are not ready to replace it with the culture of peace, we risk to fall back on the extreme culture of war called fascism, as happened in the 1930’s when the previous system crashed.

But is the Movement growing? And will it be able grow enough to replace the present culture of war when it crashes? This will be the theme of next month’s blog.

 

Internet Freedom and the Culture of Peace

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There is good reason why the free flow of information is one of the eight key areas of the culture of peace, as defined by the UN Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.  On the one hand, it is essential for the consciousness-raising and networking that can make the transition possible from the culture of war to a culture of peace, especially in the hands of the young generation.  On the other hand, its opposite, the control of information by the state and its commercial allies, has become the chief weapon of the culture of war.

As described in this month’s CPNN bulletin, the struggle for internet freedom has been especially sharp in recent weeks.  Media coverage of the World Conference on International Telecommunication was heavily biased toward support of information control by the American empire, of which the commercial mass media is an essential part.  As the CPNN article by Professor Milton Mueller points out, their unrestrained criticism of the International Telecommunications Union diverts attention from the control of the Internet exercised by little-known institutions associated with the culture of war such as: “ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, the US CyberCommand, Israeli cyberweapons, the British Cleanfeed system, data retention and graduated response in the European Union, the Wikileaks financial boycott”, etc.

Within this struggle, the figure of Julian Assange has emerged as something of a hero for the new generation, because he has the courage to confront these and other institutions used to control information.  As he says in his Christmas message reprinted in part in CPNN: “True democracy is the resistance of people, armed with the truth, against lies, from Tahrir to right here in London. Every day, ordinary people teach us that democracy is free speech and dissent.”

Let us agree with Professor Mueller’s conclusion and work together for its implementation: “Internet freedom requires the construction of effective new, open transnational governance institutions and globally applicable legal principles that regulate and limit the power of states and private sector actors to abuse users. It requires liberalized communication industries and free trade in information services; multinational, multistakeholder pressure against censorship and surveillance.”

Meanwhile, there are media institutions that are escaping from control by the culture of war.  CPNN is one of a growing number of Internet information sources for a culture of peace.  And described in CPNN this month, journalists in Africa are setting a good precedent by giving increasing priority to culture of peace news.  We should push that their example is followed by journalists and commercial media in the rest of the world.