Tuesday, February 20, 2024

cell913blog.com #27

In an historic speech  to more than 20,000 Londoners in Trafalger Square, Nelson Mandela uttered these words:

Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings!...

And also:

As long as poverty injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest. (both quotes from freetheslaves.net)

In celebrating Nelson Mandela Day, 18, July 2020, in a piece on UN Chronical, Njabulo S. Ndebele, chairman of the Nelson Mandela Foundations, writes on July 17, 2020:

When Nelson Mandela was on trial in 1962 for leaving the country illegally and for inciting a workers’ strike, he donned the traditional dress of Thembu polities, declined legal representation and argued that he was a black man in a white man’s court. Insisting on the illegitimacy of the process, he used the platform to amplify the voice of a movement rather than to defend himself. He was clear that white supremacy was a system and that his struggle was all about dismantling it. Fifteen years later, Mandela wrote from prison a long reflection on the Black Consciousness Movement, in the course of which he said, ‘Those who help to perpetuate white supremacy are the enemies of the people irrespective of their colour. In 1997, while serving as President of a newly democratic South Africa and confronting the resilience of apartheid and colonial patterning, Mandela said, ‘We have not fallen from heaven into this new South Africa; we all come crawling from the mud of a deeply racially divided past. And as we go towards that brighter future and stumble on the way, it is incumbent upon each of us to pick the other up and mutually cleanse ourselves.’ He was signalling that oppressive systems are not manifested exclusively in the formal instruments of power, and warning that oppressive pasts will live on unless they are reckoned with tirelessly and consciously. Slavery lives on in the United States in the form of racialized predictive policing, the mass incarceration of African American men, the killing of George Floyd and many others by law enforcement officers over the years, the disproportionate vulnerability of African American communities to COVID-19, and so on. White supremacy is alive and well in the United States. It is also alive and well in South Africa. Apartheid lives on in the form of black lives not mattering to representatives and structures of the State, deepening inequality, the killing of Collins Kloza and others by law enforcement officers, the tolerance of a reality in which one in four black six-year-olds suffer from malnutrition and stunting, and so on. Racism is that apparatus of power which excludes and in other ways oppressed black people and people of colour. It is an apparatus that takes many forms; it is fluid and adaptive; it is everywhere and nowhere; it can be wielded consciously or unconsciously; and as Mandela argued, it can also be perpetuated by black people. Is so many ways, South African society8 is still crawling in the mud. The fact that the Black Lives Matter movement has found power resonances in many parts of the world in the wake of George Floyd’s killing indicates that we are not alone. The mud is ubiquitous. White supremacy is a global phenomenon and is to be found at work in every human society. The task at hand is to recognize it and find more effective ways of dismantling it, all the while, to paraphrase Mandela, picking each other up and cleansing one another.


Racism and poverty are so intertwined, that it is not only feasible, but almost imperceptible to many, that to concentrate on the distribution of wealth is and can forever be separated from racism. Those who make tax policies, or land use policies, or health care policies, or even education policies, can and do bury racist attitudes, beliefs and bigotry under their ‘euphemistic’ and highly ‘intellectual’ strategies and tactics. Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out that many Americans claimed to be free of racist attitudes, following their casting a vote for Barack Obama, when, in fact, such a single act merely ‘masked’ and denied a deep and profound racism that has been a hallmark (original sin) of America from the inception of the nation. Canada, for its part, is certainly neither oblivious to nor innocent of deep and profound racism at all levels of government and the prevailing culture, including its faith institutions.

Today, in his Substack essay, entitled, ‘The poster child for the perils of dynastic wealth,’ Robert Reich, former Labour Secretary in the Clinton Administration connects the dots in the theme of the relation between trump’s potential victory in November and the richest Americans alive in 1920.

Reich’s words:

I am talking about the Pittsburgh banker and industrialist Andrew Mellon, who as treasury secretary for Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, changed the U.S. tax code in ways that allowed—more than a century later—part of her personal fortune to bankroll Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. Andrew’s grandson, Timothy has so far contributed $20 million to Trump’s MAGA Inc. super PAC. Since 2018, Timothy Mellon has also donated $30 million to the House Republicans’ super PAC for electing Republicans to the House. In 2020, he gave $30 million to the Senate Republicans’ super PAC. Timothy has so far donated $15 million to Robert F. Kennedy Junior’s super PAC—showing just how important RFK Junior’s candidacy is to Trump’s strategy6 of siphoning votes from Biden. Timothy is also responsible for nearly all the donations to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s $54 million border wall fund. Forbes estimated Timothy Mellon to be worth almost $1 billion in 2014, and in 2024, the magazine estimated the Mellon family was worth $14.1 billion. But Timothy didn’t earn his money. He inherited it. The money trail spans four generations. IT began with Thomas Mellon, who started his own bank in Pittsburgh in 1869. Thomas’ bank attracted the deposits of robber barons like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Frick, and within a relatively short time it became the largest private bank between New York and Chicago. Steeped in social Darwinism, Thomas Mellon promoted suicide as decency: If criminals were sufficiently public-spirited, he argued, they would ‘manfully rid the world of their presence, and society of the expense and trouble of their trial and punishment.’ Thomas viewed the acquisition of wealth as a mark of merit and poverty as a failure of character. Thomas wrote in his autobiography that voting rights were responsible for many of society’s ills, driving higher spending, borrowing and taxes. After the Civil War, Thoman toured the South, where he was disgusted to see Louisiana’s Legislature captured by what he called ‘stolid, stupid, rude and awkward field negroes, lolling on the seats or crunching peanuts.’ He wrote that these representatives were puppets of white Northerners who were using ‘corrupt schemes to rob the property owners and taxpayers.’…Andrew knew how to use his wealth for political advantage. He supplied such a large portion of the campaign dollars that helped Warren G. Harding become president in 1920 that Harding made Andrew secretary of the treasury. Andrew held the position for the next 11 years, from 1921 to 1932—longer than anyone in the history of the country (or as Nebraska Senator George Norris once acidly put it, ‘three presidents served under Mellon.’) Andrew was intent on cutting taxes. He was an early prophet of ‘trickle-down’ economics, arguing that lowering taxes on companies and the wealthiest would spur investment that would lead to prosperity for the nation. ‘Taxex which area inherently excessive are not paid,’ Andrew wrote in a book on taxation published which he was treasury secretary. Andrew especially hated the estate tax. ‘The social necessity for breaking up large fortunes in this country does not exist,’ he wrote. Andrew ended up cutting the estate tax by half. He also whittled down the top income tax rate from 73 percent to 25 percent and eliminated the gift tax. These changes enabled Andrew to shift much of his personal fortune—estimated to be $600 million, or about $9 billion today—tax-free to his heirs…..Timothy Mellon, the fourth generation….like his forebears (and like Donald Trump)Timothy Mellon rages against only handouts that go to those born without silver spoons. In his self-published autobiography, Timothy argues that expanded social programs have only made Black people ‘ever more belligerent’. ‘For delivering their votes in the Federal Elections, they are awarded with yet more and more freebies; food stamps, cell phones, WIC payments, Obamacare, and on, and on, and on. The largess is funded by hardworking folks, fewer and fewer in number, who are too honest or too proud to allow themselves to sink more into this morass.’

Whatever the dynastic, white, rich, supremacist ‘system’ and structure are called; whether it is Social Darwinism, or trickle-down economics, or apartheid, or ‘the reservation treaty system’ or the ‘indigenous school system, or the land-grab, or…or…or…economic dispossession…the effect is still racism, inequality, inequity, bigotry and the abuse of power. And these conditions, while inherent to apartheid in South Africa, as well as to the slavery and ensuing racism, (policies, laws, practices, attitudes and segregations) in the United States, as well as Canada, continue to pervade, infest, infect and inhibit the evolution of societies and cultures that not merely tolerate difference, but actually promote welcome.

The narratives underlying both the policies and the names of the actors in each jurisdiction may be different; yet the impact, whether it is on Jews, Palestinians, Ukrainians, Indigenous, Blacks, Asians, (name your victim, and claim your perpetrator, by looking in the mirror!). The abuse of power, seemingly inherent to the human psyche, needs others to be ‘less than’ especially in a time when ‘less than’ is so easily recognized, (and growing in clear view on our streets, and in our families without access to medical care, or in those whose access to education, clean water, safety and security from law enforcement has either vanished or never appeared).  

We simply cannot afford, or even tolerate, the many ruses, euphemisms, sophistications, rationalizations, and excuses, mostly designed and imposed by majorities, or representatives of majorities, in their (our) shared pursuit of our own personal, family, corporate or national ‘security’….We are not only living in an ethos in which denial, avoidance, sugar-coating, and deception for the purpose of dominance and control, are engineered and then fostered and encouraged by parents, schools and teachers, churches and clergy, and eminently and highly successfully by both political class and media, for their own narcissistic purposes we are also aiding and abetting through both conscious and unconscious complicity. The conflict(s) among ourselves and between “us” and our “enemies” are both fashioned and founded on premises that are potentially impermanent and changeable.

To think and to believe that the foundational principles of capitalism, white supremacy, the ‘superior’ race, religion, language, culture, are ‘baked into the cake’ is to willfully put on a thick blinder both to the illusion of the immutability of those principles, and to the illusion that ‘as a single man or woman, I cannot really accomplish any meaningful change’…We are complicit in thinking, believing and especially in acting as if the “powers that be” are there because ‘they know best’ or because ‘they have all the money, the connections and the pathways to securing power’….

Apartheid, while formally extinguished, nevertheless, remains in the dark corners of South African society. Similarly, racial segregation and slavery have officially been removed from the law books and the official persona of the United States. The national official positions, however, cannot and will not provide adequate camouflage to offer intellectual, ethical, moral or even pragmatic ‘cover’ for the white supremacists, (whether they are in Budapest, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Pyongyang, Bejing, Washington, Ottawa, London, Paris, Berlin or Rome).

Clean air, free of both chemical toxins as well as military missiles, drones and bombs, as well as access to health care, clean water, education and personal safety and security, as well as a legitimate roof over the head, and sanitary facilities…these are not only reasonable minimal expectations of each human being on the planet….and although both reasonable and justifiable, and aspirationally attainable and beneficial to all individuals as well as all governments irrespective of the political ideology, will for the foreseeable future require the kind of political courage, conviction and community that birthed, nurtured and supported the work of Nelson Mandela for the people of his country.

We are all part of a human community, and our differences, while notable and worthy of respect, cannot and must not prevent our collaboration, co-operation and defiance of the power structures and the persons desperately clinging to those power levers. If took defiance, defiance, and the refusal to deny the oppression of his people to both motivate Mandela and to commit him and his colleagues to their shared objectives.

The removal of all of the chicaneries, deceptions, denials and avoidances that block the urgent work of dismantling the people and the structures of oppression (under any ruse) is a task that beset the whole human species. And it will take the whole human species to come together to remove the names, the systems and the phoney rationales that hold the abusive power structures in place.

Zaporizhzhya NPP, the nuclear plant in Ukraine, formerly operated by 1100 Ukrainian technicians, is now under Russian control, with only 400 personnel to operate it. The electric power needed to cool the reactors, formerly from four sources, now has only one source, and it is hanging on by a thread. The chair of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) says that Zporizhzhya is the single most dangerous ‘red flag’ on his watch. Should the plant suffer a melt-down, millions of people, as far as Istanbul, will be impacted for at least one hundred years.

Is it a pipe-dream to envision Zaporizhzhya as the most urgent canary in our shared coal-mine, in order to bring about the needed end of the war in Ukraine, and the beginning of further negotiations on Gaza, and the urgent global need to confront our shared ‘spectre’ of the equivalent of intubation, should we succumb to the convergence of environmental, political and ethical/moral somnambulance and the insouciance that enables it? 


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