JI Newsletter 2021-07-01
Welcome to the July issue of the Justice Internationale newsletter. Happy Canada day!
In this issue of the newsletter, yogthos critiques media coverage of the ‘lab leak hypothesis’, loljapes covers the discovery of hundreds of unmarked First Nations graves around Canada and Sameer Gupta writes about the possibility of an emerging multi-polar world order.
The news cycle has recently refocused on the theory that the COVID-19 pandemic is the result of a lab leak in Wuhan. The coverage ranges from suggestions that the lab was merely studying the virus to more sinister insinuations that it was intentionally designed as some sort of a bioweapon.
Yet, there is no actual evidence to suggest that the virus came from a lab, and practically all serious experts on the subject reject this idea as incredibly unlikely. A few mainstream sources such as NPR and Nature manage to provide unbiased coverage and show why this theory is a highly unlikely scenario. Meanwhile, an Australian scientist who was the only foreigner at the Wuhan virus lab says she never got COVID-19 and doesn’t believe the centre leaked it.
Of course, it is important to study all possibilities to understand how such pandemics start, and to rule out these unlikely scenarios. However, most media coverage has been sensational to the point of misinformation. What’s worse is that this type of reporting does not lead to any productive results. Even in the unlikely event that the pandemic started in a lab in Wuhan, no amount of Western media outrage will affect how China deals with such problems going forward. If anything, such reporting makes it less likely that China will be cooperative since they would rightly assume that any information that’s released will be used to smear their country.
Ultimately, figuring out whether the virus came from the wild or a lab is not nearly as important as figuring out how to handle such pandemics once they start. The reality we have to accept is that pandemics will continue to happen in the future regardless of how many preventive measures are taken.
The focus should not be on finding a country to point fingers at, but on what went wrong once the pandemic started and why so many countries failed to contain it. This is the painful discussion we need to have going forward. Most Western governments took a cynical decision to prioritize the economy over the lives of their citizens. In the end, this approach resulted in utter failure since public health is a prerequisite for having a robust economy. In fact, a study analyzing 45 countries conclusively shows that the choice between public health and the economy was a false dichotomy all along.
Focusing on the origins of the virus is a convenient distraction from systemic policy failures that allowed this pandemic to turn into a global disaster. One concerning outcome is that economic fallout did not affect everyone equally. While many economies suffered, and regular people lost their savings, a certain percentage of the population actually benefited from this disaster. Canadian billionaires saw significant increases in their wealth, and many corporations received generous bailouts that turned into dividends for their shareholders.
There is an obvious problem with the fact that the people who have the biggest influence over politics in our country also happen to be the demographic that benefits from disasters such as this pandemic. Decision makers being in position to profit at the expense of working class people leads to decisions that negatively impact lives of the majority. This is the story that mainstream news coverage should be focusing on instead of chasing dubious lab leak conspiracies. Disastrous pandemic handling wasn’t the result of an accident or incompetence. It was a rational decision to sacrifice the lives of regular people in order to create wealth for the capital-owning minority that rules this country.
Over the past month Canadians have suddenly become experts in the various types of gravesites associated with Indian residential schools. This began with the rediscovery of a grave site at Kamloops, B.C., containing 215 bodies. The discovery was made using ground-penetrating radar and subsequent scans in other places have turned up 751 unmarked graves in Marieval, Saskatchewan, and 182 unmarked graves in Cranbrook, B.C..
The discovery of 1,000 graves has played weirdly in the Canadian political scene. Trudeau’s first instinct was to try and place blame on the Catholic church, who he claims are withholding paperwork on residential school burials. This backfired almost immediately when people started to burn down Catholic churches and Trudeau was forced to defend the institution he had just accused of covering up child deaths. The Conservatives issued a boilerplate statement of regret but then instantly took issue with anyone trying to ‘cancel’ Canada day over the matter, a clear sign that their main goal in all this is to avoid getting shouted at. It seems as though both main parties regard this as a political curve ball, and with an election looming this fall, neither side is confident in its ability to use the issue as a vote winner.
All the graves discovered so far are associated with residential schools, although the exact provenance varies from site-to-site. It is thought that the graves in Marieval and Cranbrook were marked when they were first dug, but the markers have been removed at some point in time (possibly in the 60s in the case of Marieval). The graves at Kamloops are possibly more sinister, Rosanne Casimir, the head of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, has said that she believes the graves discovered there are “undocumented deaths".
A confusing element of this series of discoveries is why there remain graves to be discovered at all. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada concluded its investigation into the residential school system and published its findings and recommendations. Part of the point of a truth and reconciliation process is that it should establish a historical ‘ground truth’ around which healing actions can be formulated. Counting the dead and locating final resting places obviously falls within this remit so why are we only finding out about these graves now?
Shockingly, the reason appears to be funding. The TRC report on residential school graves is available online. The researchers have obviously made an admirable effort to catalogue each residential school that existed in Canada and try to find the burial sites associated with each site. However, for schools that didn’t have a well-documented grave site location, the only tool used to try and find lost grave sites was examination of satellite imagery of residential school locations. The report is clear that for many of the locations they investigated they were unable to send a person to examine the site from the ground. This makes reading the report with hindsight somewhat chilling. For example, when talking about Kamloops the report summarizes; “In the case of Kamloops IRS, the facility was transformed into a cultural centre (Figure 29). Online research has not yet revealed the cemetery at the latter school”.
There are transformative discussions to be had about the legacy of residential schools, and what Canada owes to the First Nations people it brutalized. That discussion is the reconciliation part of truth and reconciliation. However, to even have a meaningful discussion about justice requires the government acknowledge the full extent of what was done. It will not be easy, as the discoveries in Kamloops and elsewhere have shown, once again, how difficult Canada finds it to tell the whole truth.
What does the future look like for the ‘Empire of Chaos’? The recent flurry of meetings among the transatlantic powers in Europe will likely prove to be a pivotal moment in answering that question. As the world’s leading imperial powers came together to articulate what the path forward would be for the besieged ‘rules based order’, the frequently deployed slogan of Build Back Better serves to highlight the bruised egos of a transatlantic bureaucracy smarting from the twin traumas of Donald Trump and Brexit, their countries enveloped by simmering social crisis at the hands of a financialized economy whose depredations continue to linger more than a decade on from the 2008 crash.
And while the US liberal commentariat’s eager, habitual indulgence in crude Russophobia meant that the US-Russia summit served as a domestic backdrop of sorts for Joe Biden’s widely anticipated European tour, the President’s agenda (two days before heading to Geneva for his meeting with Putin, Biden held court with NATO allies in Brussels) made it clear that this extended visit was aimed at reasserting American control over a disoriented transatlantic alliance.
After all, it was during his first State of the Union address back in April that Biden outlined his vision for restored American leadership at home and on the world stage, predicated upon a commitment to principles of justice, fairness and human rights within the framework of a more compassionate capitalism, the means through which the United States would “win the 21st century.”
That this decidedly unimaginative rhetoric was nonetheless enough for the usual coastal media sycophants to dub Joe “nothing will fundamentally change” Biden a worthy successor to FDR speaks to the cynical calculus of those backing what journalist Pepe Escobar refers to as Obama-Biden 3.0, a hollow vessel for elite interests and a beacon to any opportunist who wishes to eke out a career for themselves in the Social-Industrial complex. At best, what Biden has offered the American people and the western world at large is further enlargement of what can be best described as the wages of war. After all, there is a reason why many have called the military, an instrument of imperial domination, the most socialistic organization in America.
But what of Biden’s long-heralded shift left, toward policies which could at least be considered social democratic in nature? Those who still held out in the hope that the tireless campaigning on behalf of the Democrats by ordinary people across the country would be rewarded with a bona fide redistributive agenda for the working class didn’t have to wait long for their hopes to be dashed. The $15 minimum wage increase? Sorry, not possible. Debt relief of any kind? Non-starter. Social spending? Coming later now, maybe. Border camps meanwhile have merely been rebranded, continuing to hold thousands in squalid conditions. And despite Democratic majorities in Congress and the support of a significant majority of Americans, there remains no momentum in Washington for any form of universal healthcare coverage.
And while structural reforms of political economy were never really on the table, the speed at which the nascent Biden administration has moved to strengthen the grip of oligarchs on all aspects of American life should alarm progressives. The election hadn’t even happened yet when a fracking ban was taken off the table by the Biden-Harris ticket, and yet now in the midst of a historic heat wave that has suddenly made the costs of inaction on climate change frighteningly real for millions, they sound the alarm in a cynical bid to greenwash the efforts of America’s biggest corporations and hedge funds to cash in on an unfurling climate disaster that is already proving to be a catastrophe for the working class at home and abroad.
But it is Biden’s signature “progressive” proposals concerning tax reform that most clearly illustrate what any observers concerned with fairness and social justice can expect from American leadership of the world system. Central to Biden’s plan is the negotiation with OECD countries of an agreement to implement global tax rules which include a proposed 15% global corporate income tax, as well as other regulations meant to curb tax evasion. And yet, a complete exemption has already been carved out for financial services, at the behest of a sector which has facilitated the flow into overseas tax shelters of enormous sums of wealth totaling an estimated $5.6 trillion— equivalent to about 10% of global GDP. And domestically, it should be said that his much-celebrated “rolling back” of the Trump tax cuts (a giveaway to the rich of historic proportions) only brings the corporate tax rate to 28%, well short of the 35% pre-Trump rate. Of course all of this does little to address the long-running reality that few profitable multinationals pay anything close to the nominal income tax rate.
Rather than seeking “a fair deal” for the working class, the Biden administration’s agenda should be understood by progressives as the American plutocracy closing ranks against the threat posed to their rule by a coalescent populist left as well as the ascendant quasi-fascism represented by Donald Trump.
It is no secret that Biden’s administration, chock-full of K Street veterans, Clintonite war hawks and officials with cozy ties to Silicon Valley, came to power with the backing of much of the capitalist class. They have pitched themselves as staid imperial managers who, much like Obama once did, seek to cloak the United States’ nakedly exploitative “rules based order” with a veneer of humanitarianism and sustainability. And what project for humanity is this order ordained to protect? Confronted with a declining rate of profit, for the past five decades the oligarchy has sought to tighten its grip on property of all kinds in order to further destabilize the power of labour. As convergent crises of capitalism push the ruling class further toward what French philosopher Cédric Durand called ‘techno-feudalism’, for ordinary people the necessity of radical politics grows only more acute.
It is primarily this neofeudal drive to be the ‘absentee landlord of the world’ that fuels the imperial ambitions of the G7. And it is what makes the emerging multipolar order the most important development of the previous decade. While never to be underestimated, the unipolar world system has been dealt important setbacks in a few areas of strategic importance.
Despite aggressive US coercion in Latin America, the leftist axis of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua has been joined by anti-imperialist governments in Bolivia, Peru and Mexico. Meanwhile intense popular uprisings against client oligarchies in Haiti, Colombia, and Brazil suggest new limits on the west’s ability to project power in the region as alternatives to Washington Consensus politics emerge. In the Pacific, the world’s largest free trade deal was signed without US participation, a pact including China and traditional US proxies like Japan and Australia. The EU-US united front on Russia seems to be cracking, with Germany and France publicly chafing at the self-defeating policy of isolating the country. In Africa, the enduring memory of Libya as but a recent chapter in the sordid history of relations with the West ensures that NATO militarism will continue to face stiff resistance from people’s movements on the continent.
The begrudging concession of the US on the question of vaccine patent waivers (while continuing to insist on a plodding, bureaucratic negotiation at the WTO) is an acknowledgement of this emergent desire for a multipolar system of global governance, with the vaccine solidarity of countries like China, Cuba, Russia and now even Iran having quickly taken the lead from the COVAX system pushed by Western countries in ensuring the Global South can access vaccines, with a willingness to license technologies and invest in production capacity overseas. Words divide, actions unite - and the refusal of governments to simply wait for Western leadership during this pandemic have concretely demonstrated before the world that a future beyond the rules-based order is possible, if only when we have societies where the public is capable and ready to be mobilized in defence of humanity and not simply profit.
This budding South-South consciousness reflects the growing capacity of the would-be victims of capitalism to resist domination, a fearful prospect for managers of empire like Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken. And so even as the West becomes more transparently authoritarian in some respects (who is surprised that the architect of the draconian 1994 crime bill is once more pushing funds to a violent force which has killed more than 32,000 people since 2000?), our movements here in the imperial core must seize on the space created by this emerging axis of resistance in the global south. And in order to help those fighting subjugation at the hands of Western imperialism, it is imperative that we recognize our struggles are ultimately against a common foe. And so western imperialism must remain the principle contradiction, accelerating ongoing efforts to organize mass movements capable of demonstrating resilient leadership of large-scale working class mobilizations in response to ongoing and emergent crises which will only be resolved through a dialectical apprehension of entangled local and international dimensions.
As an upsurge of youth movements now clamour for leadership of a Western left that for 30 years embraced defeat, the multipolar world and its attendant possibilities await. Whether our movements will be ready to meet it, remains to be seen.
- Conspiracy Theories in Mainstream Media - yogthos
- How many more graves are there? - loljapes
- The Multipolar Moment Has Arrived, and Not a Moment Too Soon - Sameer Gupta
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