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Italy Joins China’s Silk Road

Italy has become the first developed economy to officially join China’s New Silk Road following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rome over the weekend.

The initial agreement, signed by Xi and Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s Prime Minister, saw 29 deals worth approximately US$2.8 billion for a variety of industries agreed and means Italy will become the first EU country to fully endorse the New Silk Road.

The Chinese investment, which will rise to as much as $22.61 billion, according to Italian media, will initially concentrate on the key ports of Genoa and Trieste.

The plan is Beijing’s centerpiece foreign policy and is the biggest and most ambitious infrastructure project in world history.

It has so far seen China invest billion in ports and railways across Asia and Africa, including the tiny state of Djibouti, as it looks to boost free trade and revitalize economies that have been largely underdeveloped for decades.

Italy’s participation has been seen by some observers as a way of reviving its struggling economy, but the agreement with China has caused a rift with its closest allies.

On March 24, 2019, shortly after the announcement, Gunther Oettinger, the EU’s budget commissioner, expressed concern that key European infrastructure will now be in Chinese, rather than European hands.

However, Xi rejected the idea that China is looking to take over European infrastructure and said the country wants “commercial exchanges to go both ways and for investment to flow in both directions.”

China sets agenda for year ahead

The backdrop to the plenary sessions, popularly called “Lianghui”, or “Big Two”, is the spreading dissatisfaction in China with Xi Jinping and his policies. 

by Jayadeva Ranade

Does Doklam still rankle?

China has just concluded plenary meetings of the Party’s top two bodies, which set the agenda for the year ahead. 2,158 delegates of China’s political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and 2,948 Deputies of China’s version of a parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), gathered in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing from 9-11 March, and 5-15 March 2019, respectively. The plenary sessions are intended to formalise approval of the 89 million-strong Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to the policies, programmes and budget of China’s leadership for the coming year.

Highlights of this NPC session included the lowered GDP growth rate of 6%-6.5% for 2019; commitment to provide 11 million new jobs and reduce rural poverty by 10 million; increase the national defence budget by 7.5% to approximately US$177.6 billion and approving a 5% increase in national security expenditure. Unprecedentedly, the Premier’s report admitted that “China faced a complicated and challenging domestic and international environment of a kind rarely seen in many years, and its economy came under new downward pressure”. In an obvious attempt to ease US pressure, his report omitted all reference to the hi-technology “Made in China 2025”. Similarly, mention of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was buried in a single line in a sub-paragraph on domestic connectivity.

The backdrop to the plenary sessions, popularly called “Lianghui”, or “Big Two”, is the spreading dissatisfaction in China with Xi Jinping and his policies. Since the latter half of last year senior Party cadres and reputed Chinese academics have publicly articulated their discontent including against the abolition of age and term-limits for the posts of Chinese President, Vice President and the CCP Politburo. They specifically warned against any return after 30 years to the “one-man” rule of Mao Zedong. Worker discontent rose with strikes in every province of China except the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Protests by veteran and demobilised soldiers added to the CCP leadership’s anxieties. Economists and owners of private enterprises too criticised government policies and failure to reform the State owned Enterprises (SoEs) who, they said, had entered every area of economic activity.

To prevent disruptive incidents and avoid embarrassment to China’s leadership, elevated levels of security were enforced. Beijing, Tianjin and other cities initiated “stability-maintenance” measures and Chinese State Councillor and Minister of Public Security, Zhao Kezhi was in Tianjin from 22 to 23 February to check safety measures. Li Chunsheng, head of the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department, told public security officials in Guangzhou that there were sensitive anniversaries this year and warned that “hostile forces inside China have long marked this year as an important time to implement their plan—which is a vain attempt—to overthrow our system.”

Enhanced security measures were evident in Tibet because of the 60th anniversary this year of the abortive 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet and the XIVth Dalai Lama’s flight to India. Tibet was declared off-limits to journalists and foreigners for an extended period till 30 April and TAR leaders inspected Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and convened a series of conferences of security cadres to “uncover” and “eliminate” the “double-faced cadres” owing loyalty to the Dalai Lama. Chinese armed police personnel and armoured police cars staged a show of force through Lhasa on 7 March.

Despite these signs of discontent, the reports presented to the plenary sessions by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and CPPCC Chairman Wang Yang bore the firm imprimatur of Chinese President Xi Jinping and affirmed his authority. Li Keqiang and Wang Yang opened their reports with acknowledgments to Xi Jinping’s position as the “core of the Party”. Li Keqiang’s report contained 15 references to Xi Jinping and not one to Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping or his predecessors. Only Xi Jinping’s political ideology found mention in the reports. Of the 15 and 19 tasks mentioned in the reports to the NPC and CPPCC plenary sessions respectively, the first two listed following “the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core” and “Xi Jinping Thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the New Era”.

There were some interesting, though mainly tangential, references to the India-China relationship. On the side-lines of the NPC on 8 March, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi claimed Beijing had played a “constructive role” in defusing tensions between India and Pakistan over Pulwama and, referring to the “historic” Wuhan meeting asserted that “the strategic understandings of our leaders trickle down to our people and become a common view”.

Nevertheless, the stand-off at Doklam seems to still rankle the Chinese. Discussing China’s military modernisation with two Chinese military experts on the state-owned CGTN, well known Chinese TV anchor Yang Rui referred to Doklam during his programme on 16 March. Earlier on 15 February, the state-owned PLA Daily reported that 37 NPC Deputies had proposed amendments to China’s Criminal Law to curb military-related rumours online to protect the image of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Jiang Yong, one of the Deputies and Political Commissar of the PLA Beijing Garrison Command, specifically cited “China offering soft loans of 20 billion yuan ($2.95 billion) to India in exchange for their retreat” as a “major false rumour”. This rumour, which spread rapidly across China had caused serious concern to China’s leadership. It was, very unusually, denied then by China’s Ministry of National Defence, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the CCP’s official mouthpiece, People’s Daily.

Jayadeva Ranade is a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India and is presently President of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.

Bhagat Singh Puram in Nuwara Eliya inaugurates

In a special event held on March 24, 2019, at Helboda Estate in Nuwara Eliya, 98 houses built under the Indian Housing Project were handed over to the beneficiaries jointly by High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka Taranjit Singh Sandhu and Minister of Finance of Sri Lanka Mangala Samaraweera in the presence of Palani Digambaram, Minister for Hill country New Villages, Infrastructure and Community Development, Gayantha Karunathilake, Minister of Lands and Parliamentary Reforms, and Radhakrishnan, Minister of Special Area Development.

Several Members of Parliament and Central Provincial Council, senior officials from Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT), Implementing Agency – Habitat for Humanity, Sri Lanka, Pusellewa Regional Plantation Company and a large number of people from the region attended the function. The village was named after Bhagat Singh, a famous Indian freedom fighter and youth icon, whose martyrdom day falls on 23 March.

Mangala Samaraweera described India as a true friend, always ready to assist Sri Lanka during emergencies and crisis situations.

High Commissioner in his remarks on the occasion, congratulated the proud owners of the newly built independent houses. He underscored that the Indian Housing Project in Sri Lanka with a grant of over US$ 350 million (close to 50 billion LKR), was the largest Indian grant assistance project in any country abroad. He also recalled that out of the total commitment of 63,000 houses, 47,000 houses had already been built.

Expressing India’s support for realization of Sri Lanka’s developmental priorities, he reiterated Government and people of India’s commitment to participate with the people of Sri Lanka in their journey towards prosperity and development. India has undertaken more than 70 people-oriented development projects in various fields including health, education, housing, skill development, infrastructure, vocational training among others, all across the country. About, 20 such projects are currently under progress. The overall development portfolio of Government of India in Sri Lanka is close to US$ 3 billion out of which US$ 560 million are in grants.

Henry A. Giroux: The Nightmare of Neoliberal Fascism

History unexpurgated provides us with a vital resource that helps inform the ethical ground for resistance, an antidote to Trump’s politics of disinformation, division, diversion and fragmentation. 

by Mark Karlin

Is there a chance to defeat the forces of neoliberal fascism? Henry A. Giroux explains why we must understand the historical and contemporary context of fascism to understand what we are up against.

Mark Karlin: Why is it important to have an historical understanding of fascism to shed light on the age of Trump?

Henry A. Giroux: The conditions leading to fascism do not exist in some ethereal space outside of history. Nor are they fixed in a static moment in the past. As Hannah Arendt reminds us, the protean elements of fascism always run the risk of crystallizing into new forms. Historical memory is a prerequisite to the political and moral witnessing necessary to successfully counter growing fascism in the United States today. As Richard Evans, the renowned historian of modern Germany, observes, the Trump administration may not replicate all the features of Germany and Italy in the 1930s, but the legacy of fascism is important because it echoes a “warning from history” that cannot be dismissed. What historians such as Evans, Timothy Snyder and others have suggested is that it is crucial to examine history in order to understand what tyranny and authoritarianism look like and how we can use the past to fight against such forces. While the United States under Trump may not be an exact replica of Hitler’s Germany, the mobilizing ideas, policies, passions and ruthless social practices of fascism, wrapped in the flag and discourses of racial purity, ultra-nationalism and militarism, are at the center of power in the Trump administration. When selected elements of history are suppressed and historical consciousness and memory no longer provide insights into the workings of repression, exploitation and resistance, people are easily trapped in forms of historical and social amnesia that limit their sense of perspective, their understanding of how power works and the ways in which the elements of fascism sustain themselves in different practices. Fascism is not unvarying and expresses its most fundamental attacks on democracy in different arrangements, which is all the more reason for people to develop what Timothy Snyder calls “an active relationship to history” in order to prevent a normalizing relationship to authoritarian regimes such as the United States under Trump’s rule. Surely, a critical understanding of history would go a long way in enabling the American people to recognize the elements of a fascist discourse in much of Trump’s racist tweets, speeches and policies.

History unexpurgated provides us with a vital resource that helps inform the ethical ground for resistance, an antidote to Trump’s politics of disinformation, division, diversion and fragmentation. Moreover, history reminds us that in the face of emerging forms of authoritarianism, solidarity is essential. If there is one thing that the important lessons of history in the work of writers such as George Orwell have taught us, it is that we must refuse to be complicit in the mockery of truth. This is especially crucial in the current historical moment, given the way the Trump administration — along with far-right media giants, such as Infowars, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Fox News and Breitbart News Network — work to aggressively propagate a vast disimagination machine. With the death of historical memory comes the nightmare we had thought was no longer possible to witness again. The lessons of history are crucial because they can readily be put to use in identifying present-day abuses of power and corruption. History not only grounds us in the past by showing how democratic institutions rise and fall, it is also replete with memories and narratives of resistance that pose a dangerous threat for any fascist and authoritarian system. This is particularly true today, given the ideological features and legacies of fascism that are deeply woven into Trump’s rhetoric of retribution, intolerance and demonization; its mix of shlock pageantry, coercion, violence and impunity; and the constant stoking of ultra-nationalism and racial agitation. Memory as a form of historical consciousness is essential in repaying our burden to the dead and the current victims by holding accountable those who … retreat from any sense of moral responsibility in the face of their reprehensible actions, if not crimes. Given the danger of right-wing populism and the incendiary rise of fascism in our time, Hannah Arendt is useful in reminding us that thinking and judging must be connected to our actions. Moreover, such thinking must grasp the underlying causes of the economic and political crisis at hand while acting collectively to fight neoliberal fascism and its embrace of white supremacy, social and economic inequality, and its hatred of democracy. That is why historical memory as a register of critical thinking is so dangerous to Trump and his acolytes.

How are state violence and white nationalism related?

Under the Trump regime, state violence and white nationalism are two sides of the same register of white supremacy and domestic terrorism. Trump’s call to “Make America Great Again,” his slogan “America First” and his emphatic call for a “law and order” regime are shorthand for legitimating state violence against Black people, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, and those “others” who do not fit into his racist notion of ultra-nationalism and his attempts to resuscitate a white public sphere as emblematic of American white supremacy. Ta-Nehisi Coates is right in stating that, “Trump’s ideology is white supremacy.” The merging of state sanctioned racism and state violence is the ideological signpost that informs Trump’s notion of white Christian nationalism, which allows him to assemble a broad coalition of bigots, white supremacists, super-patriots, apocalyptic populists and militarists. Under Trump, identity politics has surfaced with a revenge as the Republican Party unabashedly embraces itself as the white people’s party. Under such circumstances, Trump’s supportive response to incidents of violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, should surprise no one, given the history of racism in the United States in general, and in the Republican Party (and Democratic Party as well) in particular. This is a racist legacy that extends from Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” and George W. Bush’s treatment of the Black victims of Hurricane Katrina, to Clinton’s welfare and “law and order” policies to current Republican efforts at expanding the carceral state and suppressing the voting rights of Black Americans.

Trump not only embraces white supremacy, he elevates it. How else to explain his administration’s announcement that it would no longer “investigate white nationalists, who have been responsible for a large share of violent hate crimes in the United States?” How else to explain his willingness to lift restrictions imposed by the Obama administration on local police departments’ acquisition of military surplus equipment, such as armed vehicles, bulletproof vests and grenade launchers? How do we explain the endless tsunami of racist tweets and comments that he produces relentlessly with gleeful relish? Clearly, such actions deliver on Trump’s Jacksonian approach to “law and order,” escalate racial tensions in cities that are often treated like combat zones, and reinforce a war culture and notions of militarism over community-building among police officers.

Such behaviors do more than reinforce Trump’s endorsement of white nationalism; they send a clear message of support for a system of violence, amounting to acts of domestic terrorism. Moreover, they indicate a resounding contempt for the rule of law, and an endorsement not just of racist ideology, but also of institutional racism and the primacy of the racially-based incarceration state. Trump’s “law-and-order” regime represents a form of domestic terrorism because it is a policy of state violence designed to intimidate, threaten, harm and instill fear in particular communities. His relentless rhetoric of bigotry, racism and demonization of selected groups not only plays to his white nationalist base, it also normalizes support for state violence and signals an official position regarding racialized assaults against immigrants, especially Latin Americans. In addition, Trump’s conduct emboldens right-wing extremists, giving them the green light to support profoundly intolerant legislation and ideologies, and in some cases, engage in acts of violence against those who oppose their racist views. Trump’s overt racism and militant views have also inspired a number of overt white supremacists and neo-Nazis to run for public office. Trump’s overt nod to right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis is evident in his deportation policies, his cruel “law and order” policies that separate children from their immigrant parents, his renewed call for racial profiling, his silence in the face of voter suppression in a number of states, and his endorsement of white nationalists and overt racists running for public office.

How have we devolved into a nation of civic illiteracy?

Henry A. Giroux
Donald Trump’s ascendancy in American politics has made visible a plague of deep-seated civic illiteracy, a corrupt political system and a contempt for reason that has been decades in the making. It also points to the withering of civic attachments, the undoing of civic culture, the decline of public life and the erosion of any sense of shared citizenship. As market mentalities and moralities tighten their grip on all aspects of society, democratic institutions and public spheres are being downsized, if not altogether disappearing. As these institutions vanish — from public schools and alternative media to health care centers — there is also a serious erosion of the discourse of community, justice, equality, public values and the common good. At the same time, reason and truth are not simply contested or the subject of informed arguments as they should be, but wrongly vilified — banished to Trump’s poisonous world of “fake news.” Under the Trump administration, language has been pillaged, truth and reason disparaged, and words and phrases emptied of any substance or turned into their opposite, all via the endless production of Trump’s Twitter storms and the ongoing clown spectacle of Fox News. This grim reality points to a failure in the power of the civic imagination, political will and open democracy. It is also part of a politics that strips the social of any democratic ideals and undermines any understanding of education as a public good. What we are witnessing is not simply a political project to consolidate power in the hands of the corporate and financial elite, but also a reworking of the very meaning of literacy and education as crucial to what it means to create an informed citizenry and democratic society. In an age when literacy and thinking become dangerous to the anti-democratic forces governing all the commanding economic and cultural institutions of the United States, truth is viewed as a liability, ignorance becomes a virtue, and informed judgments and critical thinking are demeaned and turned into rubble and ashes. Under the reign of this normalized architecture of alleged common sense, literacy is regarded with disdain, words are reduced to data and science is confused with pseudo-science. Traces of critical thought appear more and more at the margins of the culture as ignorance becomes the primary organizing principle of American society.

Under the 40-year reign of neoliberalism, civic culture has been commodified, shared citizenship eroded, self-interest and a survival-of-the-fittest ethos elevated to a national ideal. In addition, language has been militarized, handed over to advertisers, and a political and culturally embarrassing anti-intellectualism sanctioned by the White House. Couple this with a celebrity culture that produces an ecosystem of babble, shock and tawdry entertainment. Add on the cruel and clownish anti-public intellectuals such as Jordan Peterson who defend inequality and infantile forms of masculinity, and define ignorance and a warrior mentality as part of the natural order, all the while dethroning any viable sense of agency and the political.

The culture of manufactured illiteracy is also reproduced through a media apparatus that trades in illusions and the spectacle of violence. Under these circumstances, illiteracy becomes the norm and education becomes central to a version of neoliberal zombie politics that functions largely to remove democratic values, social relations and compassion from the ideology, policies and commanding institutions that now control American society. In the age of manufactured illiteracy, there is more at work than simply an absence of learning, ideas or knowledge. Nor can the reign of manufactured illiteracy be solely attributed to the rise of the new social media, a culture of immediacy and a society that thrives on instant gratification. On the contrary, manufactured illiteracy is a political and educational project central to a right-wing corporatist ideology and set of policies that work aggressively to depoliticize people and make them complicitous with the neoliberal and racist political and economic forces that impose misery and suffering upon their lives…. There is also the workings of a deeply malicious form of 21st century fascism and a culture of cruelty in which language is forced into the service of violence while waging a relentless attack on the ethical imagination and the notion of the common good. In the current historical moment, illiteracy and ignorance offer the pretense of a community in the form of a right-wing populism, which provides a gift to the cloud of fascism that has descended upon the United States.

How does capitalism suppress an educational system that nurtures a robust democracy?

Increasingly, neoliberal regimes across Europe and North America have waged a major assault on higher education and those faculty and students who view it as crucial to producing the modes of learning and formative cultures necessary in the struggle for a strong and healthy democracy. For instance, in the United States, higher education is being defunded, devalued and privatized while also restricting access to working- and lower-middle-class students. Those underprivileged students who do have access to some form of post-secondary education are too frequently burdened with financial debts. Increasingly, universities are being turned into accountability factories designed to mimic the values of casino capitalism. Disciplines and courses that are not organized around market principles are either being underfunded, cut or refigured to serve market values. Disciplines, such as Women’s Studies, Afro-American Studies, Labor Studies and Latino Studies have lost much of their funding, have been closed or marginalized, while at the same time, the humanities and liberal arts increasingly disappear or are marginalized. The attack on higher education has a long history. Since the 1980s, the democratic principles of the university have been under assault by right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers, a select financial elite and big corporations, “leading to a blurring of the lines between the university and the corporate world.” Increasingly, the object of higher education is the individual consumer rather than the public good.

Under such circumstances, power is concentrated in the hands of a managerial class that too often views education simply through the lens of a market-driven culture that harnesses matters of governance, teaching and learning to the instrumental needs of the economy. Evidence of the corporate takeover of higher education is manifest in the emergence of governing structures that mimic the culture of business and modes of leadership defined almost entirely in entrepreneurial terms. Not only are these structures hierarchical and disempowering for faculty and students, but they produce massive levels of inequality among different faculty, staff and students in regards to salaries, resources and choices. Everything about education that matters appears to be absorbed into the discourse of business, metrics and a reductionist notion of efficiency. Research is increasingly shaped, valued and rewarded to the degree that it reflects corporate interests and is defined in measurable terms. Academic rewards, promotions and access to power are now tied to getting grants or outside corporate funding. Numerical signifiers and commercial values shape policies and practices at almost all levels of university life. For instance, university services are increasingly outsourced, students are defined as entrepreneurs and the culture of education morphs into the culture of business. In this instance, the distinction between knowledge and information, ideas and data diminish under the economic imperative to value knowledge in instrumental terms and to devalue ideas that serve the common good.

In addition, faculty in public universities have lost much of their power and autonomy and have been relegated to the role of part-time laborers, defined largely by the same type of workplace logic that characterizes Walmart and other service industries. The latter is designed — as Noam Chomsky points out — “to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility.” This casualization of faculty also functions to undercut academic freedom and free expression, as many part-time and adjunct faculty are rightly afraid to speak out and address important social issues in and out of their classrooms for fear of being fired. Judith Butler is right in stating that faculty have increasingly lost the “financial and institutional support” along with “the guarantee and the conditions upon which freedom — both academic freedom and freedom of political expression — relies.” Many adjunct faculty not only have few job protections in such a precarious environment, they are also reduced to wages that in some cases force them to seek welfare and food assistance. As the university succumbs to an audit culture, it increasingly weds itself to a market-driven notion of customer satisfaction, metrics and performance measures that represses a genuine critical education, not to mention any viable notion of dissent. As critical education is subordinated to the task of reproducing and benefiting the corporate order, education collapses into training and the role of faculty is instrumentalized and devoid of any democratic vision. The attack on higher education as a democratic public good and faculty as public and engaged intellectuals has a long history in the United States.

Under this market-driven notion of governance, faculty both lose their power and autonomy. Under the reign of neoliberalism, students are often saddled with high tuition rates and a future predicated on ongoing uncertainty, economic instability and ecological peril. In addition, as democratic visions are removed from higher education, they are replaced by an obsession with a narrow notion of job-readiness and a cost accounting instrumental rationality. This bespeaks to the rise of what theorists such as the late Stuart Hall called an “audit” or “corporate” culture, which serves to demoralize and depoliticize both faculty and students, often relieving them of any larger values other than those that reinforce their own self-interest and retreat from any sense of moral and social responsibility. More specifically, as higher education both denies and actively abandons its role as a democratic public sphere, it tends to provide an education in which the citizen is transformed into a consumer, laying the foundation for the development of self-seeking agents who inhabit orbits of privatization and are indifferent to the growth of despotic power around them. Under such circumstances, education collapses into training, and the only learning that is valued is reduced to that which is measurable.

One of the challenges facing the current generation of educators, students and others is the need to address the question of what is the role and mission of education in a time of tyranny. What should it attempt to accomplish in a society at a historical moment when society is slipping over into an abyss of fascism? Central to such a challenge is the question of what education should accomplish in a democracy. What will it take for higher education not to abandon its role as a democratic public sphere? What work do educators have to do to create the economic, political and ethical conditions necessary to endow young people and the general public with the capacities to think, question, doubt, imagine the unimaginable, and defend education as essential for inspiring and energizing the citizens necessary for the existence of a robust democracy? What kind of language is necessary for higher education to redefine its mission, one that enables faculty and students to work toward a different future than one that echoes the present, to confront the unspeakable, to recognize themselves as agents, not victims, and to muster up the courage to act in the service of a substantive and inclusive democracy? In a world in which there is an increasing abandonment of egalitarian and democratic values and impulses, what will it take to educate young people and the broader polity to challenge authority and hold power accountable?

What is the “culture of cruelty in Trump’s America” and why is it important to analyze?

The United States has a long history in which the culture of cruelty has both undermined and challenged its professed claims to the democratic principles of equality, freedom, compassion and justice. The hardening of the culture and the emergence of a social order driven by a collapse of ethics, an unchecked celebration of self-interest, and a Hobbesian war-of-all-against-all have been increasingly nurtured in the last 40 years under the rise of a neoliberal form of gangster capitalism, more aptly called neoliberal fascism. Yet, this history of cruelty is not unique to the Trump administration. The attack on the welfare state, a numbing social atomization, the rise of a survivalist ethic and a growing indifference to human suffering have long been supported by both major political parties. Before Trump’s election, [the US’s] culture of cruelty resided rhetorically on the margins of power, hidden under the false rhetoric of liberal and conservative politicians who benefited from exploiting the vulnerable in order to further advance the interests of the rich and their own power.

But such attacks have taken on a more aggressive and organizing role under the Trump presidency. This is evident as Trump devotes an inordinate amount of tyrannical energy to the notion that the market and state violence are the primary solution to all social problems and constitute the only legitimate pillars of governance. This descent into the practice of cruel power, cruelty and barbarism no longer hides in the shadows and is employed without apology in most of Trump’s activities since he was elected. Trump revels in the discourse of bullies. He calls his critics “losers,” insults world leaders with belittling language and tacitly supports the violent actions of white supremacists. He endorses state torture, has remilitarized the police, relishes representations of violence and in one instance, tweeted an edited video showing him body-slamming and punching a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his head during a wrestling match. He has executed policies that bear the weight of domestic terrorism, which partly include breaking up immigrant families and separating young children from their parents while expanding the racially charged reach of the carceral state under his call for “law and order.” He has called Latinos “animals,” Mexicans “rapists” and “drug dealers,” and a number of African nations “shithole countries,” all of which echoes the dangerous, racially charged rhetoric of the Nazis in the 1930s.

Trump’s embrace of the culture of cruelty also drives policies rooted in an ongoing process of dehumanization, rancor and a racially-inspired hatred — one that views with disdain basic human emotions, such as compassion, empathy and care for the other. How else to explain his $1.3 trillion tax cut for the ultra-rich and big corporations along with a massive increase in military spending? This dreadful and harmful legislation accompanies policies that produce unprecedented cuts in low-income housing, impose punitive work requirements for those on welfare, eliminate job training programs, slash food assistance programs for the poor, decrease quality health care for the poorest populations, cut nutrition programs for new mothers and their infants, and remove billions from desperately needed programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). All of these policies serve to redistribute wealth upward while an alarming 43 percent of American families cannot afford basic needs, such as housing, child care, food or even a cell phone, and millions of the most vulnerable Medicaid recipients risk losing their health care. Philip Alston, the United Nations monitor on poverty, in an interview with the Guardian, has warned that Trump is not only producing policies that reward the ultra-rich, he is also punishing the poor and most vulnerable as a result of “a systematic attack on America’s welfare program that is undermining the social safety net.” And states that by removing “any sense of government commitment, you quickly move into cruelty.”

It gets worse. A new level of hatred, exhibition of ferocity and state-sanctioned cruelty are on full display in Trump’s willingness to end the Dreamers program, risking the expulsion of over 700,000 immigrants brought to the country as children. Moreover, Trump has put in play executive orders that end temporary protected status for more than 425,000 immigrants, including 86,000 Hondurans and 200,000 people from El Salvador, many of whom have lived in the US for decades. There is a genocidal mentality at work here, amplified by a hatred that suggests a disgust for those who do not fit into Trump’s embrace of racial purity, white nationalism and a “cleansed” public space.

This culture of cruelty has a long history in the United States and has to be connected with the intensifying and accelerating practices of a neoliberal fascism, which is more than willing to exercise cruel power in the interest of accumulating capital and profits without any consideration of social costs to humanity or the planet itself. The culture of cruelty is not simply about character…. On the contrary, it has to be connected to structural and ideological forces in the service of a financial elite. Rather than simply produce moral outrage, the culture of cruelty should point to a convergence of power, politics and newly emerging structures of domination that are as unjust as they are cruel. Gangster capitalism is the root cause of such cruelty because of its concentration of power, ongoing destruction of democratic values and ongoing production of a machinery of terminal exclusion, disposability, social abandonment and social death.

Neoliberalism fascism, as a form of extreme capitalism, views democracy as the enemy, the market as the exclusive arbiter of freedom, and the ethical imagination as an object of disdain. It is a form of zombie politics that produces a ruling elite that represents a 21st century version of the walking dead. To paraphrase New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, these zombie politicians and power-brokers serve as a dystopian “reminder of not only our fears but [also] what we have become.” The coarsening of American culture and society has solidified into a state-sanctioned language in which the tyranny of authoritarian zombies has become domesticated, if not normalized. What we are now witnessing is the death of compassion, a repudiation of our obligations to the most vulnerable, the death of the social and a dishonorable discharge from the obligations of a democracy. Under neoliberalism’s form of gangster capitalism, the United States has lost its sense of decency and collapsed into a society of lawlessness and moral indifference. Trump is the endpoint of a country that has become a criminogenic society, one which, as Pankaj Mishra has written, promotes “a widely sanctioned ruthlessness … that does not make for an understanding of the tangled roots of human suffering.” The current culture of cruelty is both a symptom of the war on democracy and a mirror that reveals the collapse of the United States into the abyss of fascism.

In your new book, American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism, you argue that there is a connection between neoliberalism and fascism. Can you speak to that connection?

Actually, I bring the two terms together in the phrase “neoliberal fascism,” which I define as both a project and a movement. Neoliberalism is an enabling force that weakens, if not destroys the commanding institutions of a democracy while undermining its most valuable principles. It is part of what Sheldon Wolin called a totalitarian imaginary that constitutes a revolutionary break from democracy. This is a form of fascism in which state rule is replaced by corporate sovereignty and a culture of fear, insecurity and precarity reinvigorates executive power and the rise of the punishing state. Consequently, neoliberalism as a form of gangster capitalism provides a fertile ground for the unleashing of the ideological architecture, poisonous values, and racist social relations sanctioned and produced under fascism. Neoliberalism and fascism conjoin and advance in a comfortable and mutually compatible project and movement that connects the worst excesses of capitalism with fascist ideals: the veneration of war and a hatred of reason and truth; a populist celebration of ultra-nationalism and racial purity; the suppression of freedom and dissent; a culture which promotes lies, spectacles of disparagement and a demonization of the other; a discourse of decline, brutal exploitation and ultimately, state violence in heterogeneous forms. All vestiges of the social are replaced by an idealization of individualism and all forms of responsibility are reduced to individual agents. Neoliberalism creates a failed democracy, and in doing so, opens up the fascists’ use of fear and terror to transform a state of exception into a state of emergency. As a project, it destroys all the commanding institutions of democracy and consolidates power in the hands of a financial elite. As a movement, it produces and legitimates massive economic inequality and suffering, privatizes public goods, dismantles essential government agencies and individualizes all social problems. In addition, it transforms the political state into the corporate state, and uses the tools of surveillance, militarization and “law and order” to discredit the critical press and media, and undermine civil liberties, while ridiculing and censoring critics. Moreover, what is quite distinctive about neoliberal fascism is its aggressive war on youth, especially Black youth, its war on women, and its despoiling of the planet.

In addition, corporate control of the cultural apparatuses provides the public with endless spectacles of violence, toxic and banal illusions, the celebration of market-driven values, and an empty obsession and worship of celebrity culture. With the collapse of the social state, the punishing neoliberal fascist state emerges in full force, criminalizing a range of behaviors that are in fact expressions of social problems such as homelessness and poverty. The model of the prison and the state-sanctioned embrace of violence and lawlessness are now unleashed with impunity on youth, people of color, undocumented immigrants and all those others considered disposable. Massive inequality horribly accentuated by neoliberal policies that destroy basic social services, needed infrastructures and essential public goods provide a fertile ground for advancing a sinister turn toward a collective anger and resentment open to a newly charged populism willing to embrace white supremacist ideology, state violence and authoritarian beliefs. Neoliberalism is the face of a new fascism. After decades of the neoliberal nightmare both in the United States and abroad, the mobilizing passions of fascism have been unleashed unlike anything we have seen since the 1930s and 1940s. Extreme capitalism has destroyed any vestige of a substantive democracy, produced massive economic suffering, tapped into a combination of fear and a cathartic cruelty, and emboldened a brutal lawlessness aimed at those considered “disposable.” It is time to repudiate the notion that capitalism and democracy are the same thing, renew faith in the promises of a democratic socialism, create new political formations around an alliance of diverse social movements and take seriously the need to make education central to politics itself. As Walter Benjamin reminds us, fascism is the product often of failed democracies, and under the reign of neoliberalism, we are in the midst of not simply a dysfunctional democracy, but in the grip of an extreme form of gangster capitalism wedded to unbridled forms of corporate power that produce massive inequalities in wealth and power, and aggressively wage war on everything crucial to a vibrant democratic society.

Mark Karlin is the editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout, where this piece originally appeared.

The role of Ranil Wickremesinghe in Sri Lankan politics

The Colombo-centered urban elite family background, the Royal College education and the law degree obtained from the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo are some of the extra advantages that influenced Ranil Wickremesinghe’s political career.

by Indi Akurugoda

Policy-oriented politics and tactical political diplomacy are still distant concepts in the Sri Lankan political arena. Yet the Sri Lankan politics is full of fake promises, ethno-chauvinist influences and religious extremism. These have resulted in misguiding the public opinion towards obtaining short-term popularity and fulfilling opportunistic political aims. Against a context of several selfish, opportunistic and anarchist political leaders, a significant number of people in Sri Lanka expect Ranil Wickremesinghe to follow a path of cheap popularity and political opportunism. Fortunately, he has never followed such path to mislead people during his 41 years long-term political career. He has never tried to be in power against the public opinion. However, he is yet a world recognized diplomat; a patient, mature and outstanding political leader in Sri Lanka.

The current Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, celebrates his 70th birthday on March 24, 2019. There is no other political leader who faced difficulties, blames and challenges like him. Not only of his opponents, but also, he has confronted severe blames and unbearable criticisms of his own party members. Finally, at the end of all political storms and disasters, all had to say that “Ranil is right”. This article is not to exaggerate Ranil’s character, but to analyze his significant political role in Sri Lankan politics.

The Colombo-centered urban elite family background, the Royal College education and the law degree obtained from the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo are some of the extra advantages that influenced Ranil Wickremesinghe’s political career. The new moves to distract from the traditional governing structures, promote the liberal high technological trends, establish a multi-cultural society, encourage social reconciliation, good governance and democratic principles, and to drive the youth towards vocational training and international level future career development led Ranil to become a special political character in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, most of the people in the Sri Lankan society are still unable to understand the complex mixture of Ranil’s specialties.

Ranil used Buddhist ideology to answer his opponents logically and non-violently. When the President ousted Ranil Wickremesinghe, and appointed a new Prime Minister on October 26, 2018, Ranil’s choice was to fight democratically using his patience and Buddhist philosophical answers to avoid unnecessary conflicts. During the 51-day political crisis, the strong, steady and unshaken characteristics of Ranil Wickremesinghe fueled the democratic struggle in front of every disaster and undemocratic decisive action of the President and his supporters.

When the President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated on May 1, 1993, the occurred instability of the country had been handled smoothly by Ranil Wickremesinghe. The United National Party (UNP) was divided at the moment into two factions based on the impeachment against the President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Ranil Wickremesinghe protected the leader and the UNP during such impeachment. In 1994, when Chandrika Bandaranaike became the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe left Temple Trees immediately, even though many UNP MPs wanted him to remain in power to form a minority government. In 1999, Gamini Dissanayake re-joined the UNP and faced an intra-party election with Ranil Wickremesinghe to obtain the opposition leadership and the UNP Presidential candidacy. Although Ranil defeated from the intra-party election, he supported Gamini without complaining. However, even the UNP members saw these trends as weaknesses of Ranil.

In 2001, Ranil became the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka while the President was Chandrika Bandaranaike. This resulted in a confusing situation where the President and the Prime Minister were from two opposite parties. However, Ranil led the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE requesting the assistance of the international community. This was the most successful long-term ceasefire that the LTTE was unable to avoid or get rid of. In conflict resolution and peace studies this example is being used as a successful move by a government to resolve a long-lasting armed conflict. Even the LTTE leader Prabhakaran stated that they have trapped in an international snare of a “cunning fox,” Ranil. Consequently, the severe internal factions of the LTTE, which led to the defeat of the war, emerged during such long-term ceasefire. It seems that this point is being intentionally ignored by political analysts.

In the 2005 Presidential election, Ranil defeated by a narrow margin. The whole blame of the UNP’s defeat had placed on Ranil but he remained in silence. He gave up the opportunity of the UNP Presidential candidacy twice to provide opportunities for common candidates. When some of these common candidates criticized him, he remained silent. This tolerance never could be maintained by an immature and inexperienced politician. The people who criticize Ranil will never be able to understand him. His work is based on the mind and not on the body. The lack of knowledge about Ranil Wickremesinghe is not an excuse to reject him. He still plays a prominent and a strong role in Sri Lankan politics.

Dr Indi Akurugoda, Senior Lecturer, Department of Public Policy, University of Ruhuna

Do Humans Have Free Will?

We can do the little things that we can do to stop being controlled by our gadgets. Make a conscious effort to not click on the next "recommended video" or "you might also like" article. Turn off notifications. Disable location services.

by James Corbett

Do humans have free will?

That question has puzzled philosophers for millennia and has generated fierce debates. Perhaps the only thing more contentious than the question are the implications of its answer. If man has no free will, then how can there be moral responsibility?

But don't worry, dear frazzled philosophers! You can now rest your weary heads because the question is about to be answered once and for all by the wizards of Silicon Valley.

What on earth am I talking about? To answer that question, let's turn to Declare Your Independence, the radio show of Ernie Hancock of Recently, Ernie had a fascinating conversation with Paul Rosenberg of What's fascinating about their discussion is how quickly the conversation turns from a dialogue about online censorship in the wake of the Christchurch shooting to Rosenberg ranting about the most important issue of our time:

"You need to protect your data to protect your own free will. I'm sorry if that sounds dramatic. I'm sorry if that sounds like I'm trying to be scary and all that, but that's just the truth and somebody should say it!"

So how do we get from online censorship to the end of free will (assuming we ever really had it)? By way of Google's selfish ledger, of course.

For those who may have missed it, "The Selfish Ledger" is an internal Google video that was leaked to The Verge last year, and it's just about the creepiest thing imaginable. If you haven't seen it yet, take a moment to watch it now.

Google sees you as a “transient carrier.” That is, the data you produce is the essential being, and you’re a mere “container.”

You shouldn’t really own your ledger (your most essential self), and they should insert information into your life.

Google will choose what you should want and will modify your behavior accordingly. How? By offering you new options or even designing custom devices that you won’t be able to resist. They will make sure “your behavior” is “modified.”

If this seems creepy to you, don’t worry; you’ll warm up to it over time.

Google will guide you to what’s best for you. You can trust them; they love us and know what’s best for us all.

This is not an exaggeration. This is literally the message of the video.

Whether or not you believe yourself to be a mere "container" acting as a "transient carrier" of data or, you know, a pesky ontological object like a free human being with a soul, the video provides some serious food for thought. It is obviously the case that we are shaped by our experiences, and our past experiences (the data that Google tracks) help to determine our responses to future challenges.

Over time, and given enough analytical horsepower, someone tracking the data trail you leave behind (the places you go, the people you meet, the things you buy, the conversations you have, the questions you ask, the choices you make) can not only predict how you will act in the future; they can determine why you will act that way. And if they have that insight—the knowledge of what makes you tick, as it were—then it's not difficult to start using that knowledge to prompt us in one direction or another. And, over time, if we can be prompted to make choices along a certain path we can end up at a predetermined destination, one that we ourselves never set out to reach.

In short, if we are nothing but biological robots reacting to stimuli along predictable paths, then we can have our software re-programmed by an outside agent that is custom-tailoring those stimuli for us. And, as this video announces, Google would like to be that agent.

Now this "Selfish Ledger" is Google's video, so the idea seems like it's Google's alone, but of course this is not the case. All of the major tech companies are operating from similar principles.

This is why Facebook conducted its infamous "mood experiment" to see how tinkering with a person's news feed could alter their feelings. It's why Instagram is blocking "anti-vaccine" hashtags. It's why Twitter and Facebook (and everyone else) is collecting data on everyone, even non-users, at all times. Heck, it's why I now listen to Radiohead.

We are being shaped, our experiences directed, our choices made for us each and every day. And whether or not you ever believed in free will, there can be no doubt that as the cell doors close on our technological prison we have less and less say over our own decisions.

There are things we can do to help mitigate this, of course.

We can take online privacy seriously and really commit to not giving these companies any identifiable data that can be associated with us individually. But after seeing what it takes to really accomplish this, most will decide that it's not worth the hassle.

We can try disconnecting from technology. Leaving our smartphones at home instead of taking it everywhere we go. Deleting our social media accounts. Going back to phone calls and in-person chats over texting and email. But more and more, our jobs (not to mention our social lives) depend on being online and accessible through the very types of social media services we are seeking to avoid.

We can do the little things that we can do to stop being controlled by our gadgets. Make a conscious effort to not click on the next "recommended video" or "you might also like" article. Turn off notifications. Disable location services. Stop Googling every question we have and stop plugging our ears with earphones at all times. But do these little actions make a difference in the long run?

And in the end, perhaps it's not even our choice anymore (if it ever was). As a recent MIT study demonstrated, you only need the DNA of a small percentage of the public in order to trace the relationships between the entire population. Similarly, you don't have to be on Facebook yourself in order for Zuckerberg and his minions to know all about you; as long as all your friends (or some percentage) are on there, chances are you're in the Facebook database as a "shadow profile."

So, unless you're the Unabomber living on bugs and rainwater in some cabin in the woods, you're in the matrix one way or another. And unless we as a society start asking and answering the hard questions about autonomy and free will in the age of total surveillance, there's a good chance our children (or their children) will be nothing more than "transient carriers" for data that is being fed to you by the Big Tech monopolies.

After all, what choice do we have?