Most of the time, most people seem to be able to ignore most of what’s happening in the world, and focus on certain parts, most relevant to themselves and their immediate circles of friends, family, and neighbors. At times like these — that is, times of deep crisis — a lot more people feel compelled to follow and understand events not just in their city, but around the world, or at least in a variety of hotspots. But even for folks who have been keeping track of significant global developments for a long time now in a big way, it requires inordinate amounts of time and effort to make sense of everything happening in the world today. For folks with less of a background in making sense of politics and history, it must be really overwhelming.
So I thought here still in the first month of 2022, I’d give a stab at making sense of some of the major news stories, providing just a little bit of relevant background information, of the sort that is so often not a part of even the more long-form reportage that’s out there in most of the western world’s press. My purpose here is not to present any groundbreaking insights into geopolitics, but to bring people up to speed a little bit who may not have the time to keep abreast themselves,.
Donald Trump won the 2016 election (despite losing the popular vote), to a large extent because he talked about the plight of the American working class in his campaign speeches every day. Like so many other politicians over the past couple decades, he’s also fond of blaming China for the sad state of affairs for the American working class. For Biden, and for the president he served for eight years before Trump, it’s all about the “pivot to Asia,” and confronting the growing might of the most populous and fastest-developing country in the world. When posing as a bleeding-heart liberal, Biden has emphasized the plight of the Uighurs and other human rights abuses in China, as a reason why China has to be “contained” and confronted.
While anyone who has been living in the US for the past couple years might see something hypocritical in criticism related to human rights coming from a country that practices mass incarceration and solitary confinement and that has millions of people living in tents along the sidewalks of its cities, if you know a little more of the backstory, you’ll realize that that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The reality here is the process of China becoming the workshop of the world has been one that the corporate elite in the US has very actively participated in, and profited from immensely. US corporations received subsidies from our corrupt government to move their operations overseas. Unlike in many countries, where the government helps their country develop in various ways, in the US and other heavily corrupted states, the opposite phenomenon plays out.
There was more money to be made by the American corporations if they moved to China and exploited lower-paid workers and less stringent environmental standards over there, so they moved, and they successfully lobbied the US government to use tax money to help them do so. Once so many of the companies had moved their operations that they had left much of the US in a state of impoverished despair, the same corporations that moved their operations to China pour money into the political campaigns of politicians who blame China for the fact that most everything is made in China now.
In terms of human rights abuses, the politicians and corporate media in the west tend only to be concerned about the human rights of people in places like China and Russia, not in countries they call allies or friendly nations, like Saudi Arabia or India. It’s extremely selective. Discrimination and disenfranchisement among the peoples of western China by the more dominant groups in Chinese society goes back 600 years, and seems very much to be continuing in various forms today, but we can all be absolutely certain — beyond any doubt whatsoever — that the CIA has been actively fomenting dissent and rebellion in western China for decades. Doing so destabilizes Chinese society, they hope, and it also gives them human rights abuses they can highlight.
Encouraging dissension in societies the CIA wants to disrupt is a longstanding practice, so this is always an important lens through which to look whatever is happening in a given country with concern to separatist or independence movements. As in the United States, movements based around the concerns of certain social groups, ethnicities, races, etc., are often rooted in very real human rights abuses, systematic discrimination, etc., which is why such movements are often so easily used to further the cause of those who seek to divide and conquer a country (or a social movement within a country).
While these practices by western intelligence agencies and other state and corporate actors to disrupt other societies as well as social movements within their own countries are well-known, well-documented, and go back centuries in various forms, they will never be mentioned on the news — it’s as if these things never happened. While these things won’t be mentioned, every detail that can be gleaned about the detention camps in western China will be reported on, giving us a very skewed idea of what’s happening in the world. One could be forgiven for getting the impression that China and Russia are the main places in the world where human rights abuses are occurring.
The purpose of the media and the politicians in the US highlighting the human rights abuses in western China is not to make them stop. If they wanted them to stop, they wouldn’t have been fomenting ethnic and religious dissent there for so long. They want them to continue, so they can use them as a way to distract people from human rights abuses in the US, and so they have an excuse to continue to vilify China, because they need a bogeyman to distract the people from their total failure to maintain a society where most people have enough of the basic things in life they need to prosper. Unlike in many other countries, our lifespan in the US is decreasing year by year.
Russia and Ukraine
A corrupt billionaire with friendly relations to Russia was deposed in 2014 in Kiev, by means of a combination of parliamentary procedures and a popular uprising. As with so many popular movements, however, this one was not unanimous, and while government corruption was unpopular, embracing NATO and the free market wasn’t everyone’s solution to the problems of Ukraine. Combine the internal divisions in Ukrainian society with lots of input from various actors on different sides of the equation, such as Russia and the United States, and you have a conflict over the course of years that has claimed many lives.
Contrary to almost everything you’ll hear in the western media, the US government, with its massive military, and NATO, a US-led military alliance with much of Europe and Turkey, is not just defensive in nature, as demonstrated by the invasions of Serbia and, most sensible people would argue, Afghanistan as well. (The government of Afghanistan did not hijack planes in the US, so the defensive justification for the invasion in 2001 was a very weak one — even if Al-Qaeda hadn’t been largely a creation of the CIA’s war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980’s in the first place.)
When the US was insisting on positioning land-based nuclear missile silos in Turkey, just over the border from Russia, the Soviets brought almost a hundred missiles to Cuba. The US agreed to withdraw the missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets withdrawing their missiles from Cuba. This was a secret agreement at the time, so it didn’t become known until later, but that’s what happened.
Currently, with NATO’s constant expansion seeking to include Ukraine, the Russian state is looking for a similar deal as was made in 1962 during what was known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. If Russia does militarily occupy Kiev, it will be because NATO will fail to abide by previous promises made about eastward expansion. If Russia does move troops into Ukraine, my guess is it will not be the protracted, “biggest conflict in Europe since World War 2” that is being talked about by the pundits. It will be more along the lines of the collapse of the Afghan military when NATO pulled out.
Whatever the relevance of the timing of the events now taking place in and around Ukraine, it’s well worth noting that there is a relationship between the Biden family and the Ukrainian government. As has been well-publicized in the rightwing media and very occasionally mentioned in the liberal media, President Biden’s son, Hunter, had an extremely well-paid job on the board of a Ukrainian energy company for years, for doing approximately nothing except being Joe Biden’s son.
In the US they talk about the polarization of society, and lately there have been polls quoted frequently about the significant percentage of society on both left and right who think political violence is justified, and who don’t really look at their political opponents as being fully human. It’s like that in other places as well, for lots of the same reasons, like the manipulation of our minds by the powers-that-be.
In the case of the settler-colonial state of Israel, a significant element of the Jewish population there has been mobilized to commit constant, daily human rights abuses against Palestinian individuals and communities, in their various roles as part of the Israeli military, as state-subsidized settlers, or as “volunteers” in towns and cities across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, burning down fields and destroying people’s homes.
You’ll almost never hear the word used in the US corporate or “public” media, but East Jerusalem, like the West Bank and Gaza, are illegally occupied territories, not recognized by the UN as part of Israel, but as places occupied illegally by the Israeli military, and besieged. The home that was destroyed the other day in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem was done so illegally, by an illegal, occupying power called Israel.
Similar actions carried out by Israeli authorities have very recently led to uprisings of Palestinians throughout the region. At the same time as this home demolition, the UN agency that is tasked with looking after the welfare of the Palestinian refugees has drastically cut their funding for those refugees, in response to their own budget being drastically cut. The suffering of the Palestinians in the camps, already unbearable, appears set to get much, much worse. Combine that with the ongoing Israeli atrocities against Palestinians, and we can be sure there will plenty more news of major unrest coming out of Palestine in 2022.
As with so much of the modern world, Lebanon’s borders were created by colonial powers intent on making sure the country was easy to divide and conquer. This situation, along with lots of involvement by lots of different foreign powers, made sure the Lebanese civil war would go on for a very long time, and be horrifically destructive. It only ended because of Syrian military intervention, and the Syrian military kept the peace there for a long time, before their eventual withdrawal.
Since August, 2020, Lebanon has been in the news because the capital was mostly destroyed by a chemical explosion resulting from a government that was unable to look after its own ports without corruption getting in the way of the most fundamental safety protocols. It’s also been in the news because of its population just about doubling as a result of taking in Syrian refugees, who are living in horrendous conditions throughout Lebanon these days. And then more recently it’s in the news because the currency has collapsed and most people are not getting enough to eat.
If things continue apace in Lebanon, 2022 may be something like 2015 was for Syrian refugees, with people fleeing Lebanon by land and by sea, as they have long been doing by air. In the past they were seeking safety from civil war, now they’re looking for a situation where they might be able to afford to eat.
Syria and Iraq
Despite all odds, the autonomous Kurdish region of Syria known as Rojava was accomplishing great things for the local people there for years. The presence of US troops there kept the Turkish military out, but then the US troops pulled out and the Turkish military invaded. This all bears very directly on the news coming out of there lately, a raging battle outside a detention center for Islamic State fighters and family members.
Whatever happens with that battle, even if all of Syria is under the control of either the Syrian or Turkish governments, especially the latter, 2022 seems set to see the rise of Islamic State in the region once again. If IS manages to take over any new towns or cities to administer themselves again, my guess is this will be in western Iraq.
What the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian disaster (I think that was before the US pulled out of Afghanistan) is set to get worse. As with so many other war-torn parts of the world, the chronic lack of water that they call drought, which is caused increasingly by climate change, along with other factors, just makes the whole picture dramatically more bleak.
Add to that a constant bombardment by Saudi and UAE planes on mostly civilian targets — planes and bombs made in the USA — and you get an even more dramatically bleak situation. People are already starving there, and the fact that there isn’t the kind of flow of refugees from Yemen that we see coming from other war-devastated countries is purely a function of geography. They can flee towards the water, or they can flee towards the country that is bombing them.
As with so much of the world, the poverty in Central America is endemic and structural. Regardless of what is said and done by any of the actors, foreign or domestic, a cabal of wealthy families own and run countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for their own benefit, generally with the support of the US. Occasionally there are exceptions to the rule elected, such as the new leader of Honduras, whose competence is already being questioned by the press. As with Presidents Zelaya before her, or Arbenz in Guatemala, if she tries to implement meaningful reforms, she’ll be deposed by the military, and Biden will be the first foreign leader to recognize the new coup government, just as Obama was before him, after the coup there in 2009.
Given that poverty, terrible work conditions, control of the land by a few families, militarism, gang violence, etc., looks set to continue ad nauseum in much of Central America, the migrant caravans of such concern to US politicians will surely continue in 2022. People need to find somewhere they can survive, and it’s safer to travel in groups.
Afghanistan, Madagascar, Ethiopia
These are only some of the places that will be in the news in 2022 because of outflows of refugees, and people dying of starvation. This is sadly not conjecture at all, since it’s already happening, and looks very much set to continue.
In Madagascar, years of no rain have left most of the island destitute, without the tsunami of foreign aid that would be necessary to prevent a national cataclysm. In Ethiopia, the civil war continues. In Afghanistan, the western powers show no sign of allowing the country to have functional banks, and the Afghan people are thus being starved to death in this way, while the Taleban gets blamed for it.
Even if massive aid pours in to these places — not happening in Afghanistan or Madagascar, and difficult to accomplish in war-torn Ethiopia even if anyone were trying — the damage done by the widespread hunger and malnutrition on the young bodies it has affected already is permanent.
It’s a time once again of the pink tide as they say, with democracy being restored by the socialists in Bolivia, and left candidates elected in Chile and Peru. Lula looks set to become the next president of Brazil once again, if Bolsonaro doesn’t steal the election. Brazil will be in the headlines in 2022 for one of those reasons or the other.
The USA: Covid-19, Climate Chaos, Imperialism, Economic Stratification, Social Polarization, and Failing Democracy
These are, I suppose, the basic fissure points in the powder keg that is the United States of America, with much of it applying to lots of other countries as well.
New variants, insufficient vaccine uptake, very understandable distrust of authorities, media, and pharmaceutical corporations, along with all kinds of combinations of hippies, libertarians, rightwingers, and others that are often described as “skeptics,” ensure that Covid-19 will be a problem in this society for a good while. More importantly, the failure of the supposed leader of the free world to step up to the plate and head up a vaccine distribution program that would actually cover the globe — as all the epidemiologists continually explain is necessary to beat any global pandemic — ensures the next variant.
It is not noted enough that in the US system of alleged democracy, the Senate is the least democratic of the two federal legislative bodies, which is why the more progressive legislation tends to die there first. Whereas the passage of the full Build Back Better bill might have put the US on some kind of footing to begin to slow down our descent into climate catastrophe, the failure of the bill to pass ensures there will be no leadership coming from Washington, DC to move the country in the direction of no longer competing with China to be the world’s #1 polluter. And of course, even if Build Back Better had passed, the next round of what they still call Thousand-Year Floods, unprecedented heat waves, droughts, and fires is guaranteed, in 2022.
While the Congress is gridlocked when it comes to doing anything about climate chaos or child poverty, there is no gridlock when it comes to military spending, and yet another of the world’s biggest military budgets was just passed weeks ago. A routine expenditure that far outstrips the allegedly massive Build Back Better initiative, spending another annual $800 billion on what they erroneously call “defense” barely makes the news. The fact that there is unanimity among the vast majority of Congresspeople to vote in favor of this bill, that no one seems to even want to think about trying to hold it up in order to get other things passed, as they so often do with other spending programs, isn’t newsworthy either, of course.
The poor countries of the world are deeper in debt now than at any time since 2001, and this is also true of so many people in the US, drowning in debt, and now cut off from the aid many were receiving during the pandemic. The cost of housing has skyrocketed in the past year, and the numbers of people living on the streets has mushroomed. I see no reason to believe these trends won’t continue in 2022, given that there are no initiatives coming out of Washington that might do anything to change them. The growth of service sector labor union activity notwithstanding, 2022 looks set to be another dismal year for the American working class.
But along with economic stratification, social polarization also looks set to continue. As the working class continues its descent into deeper poverty and uncertainty, the liberal media and the liberal politicians will ignore this broad state of affairs, and focus primarily on how certain marginalized sectors of society are being affected, inadvertently (or intentionally?) driving so many others into the welcoming arms of the right.
For their part, the right will blame the sorry state of affairs for the American working class on those very marginalized groups that the liberals are always talking about, thus ensuring that their supporters continue to believe their cause is just — a vicious feedback loop amplified immeasurably by social media algorithms and other actors, human or not, bent on causing division and discord. (Yes, including Russians. Why would they not engage in the same kinds of efforts to sow division and rebellion in other societies, the way the CIA has done for so long, in Russia, in China, in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and everywhere else?)
The failure of the Voting Rights Act will presumably mean an already undemocratic, corrupted, money-driven, militarized democracy will become more undemocratic as we go. With the changes going on in various state governments around how they do elections, the possibility for an end to the American experiment with representative democracy may come to an end altogether soon enough.
In conclusion, the near future looks bleak (though not nearly as bleak as the more distant future). On the other hand, history shows that massive, ecumenical, militant, highly-motivated, well-organized social movements can accomplish just about anything. Now would be a good time for such a movement to get off the ground quickly.