Current Affairs

The Vacuum

Solutions to the crisis, so far, have been full of more hot air than the Caribbean jet stream in an El Niño year. Pounced on by special interests looking to consolidate power or advance agendas, many so-called climate change movements stop short of addressing the actual problem because doing so threatens the very power structure they belong to.

The environmental movement in the United States resulted from precisely such a challenge to the status quo. Specifically, the booming post-war pesticide industry when Rachel Carson published her seminal book “Silent Spring” and revealed the dangers of DDT. The outcry drove the push to ban the noxious chemical and a new awareness of our habitat’s fragility arose among the general population.

The industrial pesticide camp didn’t just back down, of course. In fact, they came up with far worse ideas like the infamous, cancer-causing Round Up and invested heavily in marketing to hide their horrible effects from us. Many ecologically-minded organizations, like Sierra Club and others sprang up in the same period and have grown into multi-million dollar concerns, which expend as much energy raising money to run their operations as they do fighting the climate crisis. It’s debatable whether, on balance, they are having a net positive effect on the issue at all.

We now have a global environmental advocacy industry, that organizes hundreds of international conferences, rallies and branded awareness campaigns around the world. Much of their work is tied to established political networks and end up serving the interests of the friendliest public servants.

This is Zero Hour – The Movie

Last weekend, a climate change youth conference called “This is Zero Hour” was held in Miami. Dozens of teenage organizers and distinguished panel guests were flown in from around the country to participate in the three-day event held at the Miami Airport Convention Center (MACC).  Any contradictions arising from the choice of venue and the highly publicized position against air travel by the conference’s biggest draw and environmental celebrity, Greta Thunberg, were likely overlooked on account of cost considerations.

Attendance was underwhelming, to say the least. Unsurprising if one considers the general bent of Miami’s politics. Despite facing one of the most immediate threats in sea level rise, many of the city’s residents still consider climate change to be a hoax. That said, the low turn out had more to do with the inexperience of its teenage organizers than with a scarcity of environmental activists in South Florida, which certainly do exist.

Nevertheless, the hand of the grown-ups was conspicuous throughout the proceedings. Specifically, in the multi-person professional camera crew walking around with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of film and sound equipment. At least two documentaries were being produced (excluding my own), and one of those was being commissioned by the office of Nancy Pelosi.

At least one of the speakers, was also representing the Speaker’s office and occasionally used the stage to encourage audience members to participate in the film by volunteering for on-camera interviews. All three crews looked like they worked for the same company. They carried identical camera stabilizing gear and the teams were all configured the same way: a camera operator, sound guy with a boom and a production assistant.

The film crews’ presence was so ubiquitous, it seemed as if the conference itself was organized just for the purposes of making the film. One instance, in particular, convinced me that this was, in fact, the case:

During a session called “Indigenous Stories from the Frontlines”, which featured a panel of 5 Native girls who were supposed to share accounts of their experience as indigenous women in the context of the climate crisis, one of the camera men got up on the stage, pulled up a chair and sat just a few feet away from the panel, while the production assistant directed the operator from below.

This brazen move blocked my camera’s shot of the panel, along with other independent press who had set up on that side of the room. I immediately approached the production assistant to ask if her camera guy intended to stay in that spot for the entire session, to which she responded in the affirmative. Miffed, I promptly moved my tripod-mounted camera to the other side.

Confirmation of who was actually in charge came after the session had already begun. The production assistant, whom I believe was actually directing all the crews, made the panelists stop and move their chairs to accommodate the shot! I was flabbergasted.

As someone with ample experience covering conferences as both outside press and as official videographer for the organizing party, I am thoroughly familiar with the protocol and this level of interference in conference proceedings is unheard of. Even in the capacity of official event videographer, intrusion of this sort is never allowed.

This was bad enough, but a more sinister reality started to become clear to me as the panel session unfolded.

The Real Cultural Appropriation

I don’t share the outrage over so-called cultural appropriation prevalent in some circles, that believe fashion or gastronomy are akin to intellectual property belonging to the cultures in which they emerged. Not only does this promote the terrible notion that is intellectual property, itself, but it is this kind of exchange of styles and ingredients in which cultures are created. But, I digress.

To me, true cultural appropriation is what happened at the “This is Zero Hour” conference with its hijacking of the plight of indigenous people in an attempt to add a veneer of legitimacy to the brand, for lack of a better term.

This became evident in the contrast between the panel comprising the five Native women and the panel immediately preceding it. Perhaps most obvious example was the initiation of each days’ conference itinerary with a take on the indigenous tradition known as “Land Recognition” – an acknowledgement of the territory one is on and expression of gratitude for those who reside in it. Had this been performed by any one of the Native people who were part of the conference, perhaps I’d be less cynical. But, in both cases, the stripped down imitation of indigenous protocol was carried out by teen age white girls, high up on the organizers’ hierarchy.

MIAMI, FL – July 13: Reserved seat signage at the This is Zero Hour Conference in Miami, Florida on July, 13, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2019 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

It really hit home as I witnessed the panel I referred to above, “Indigenous Stories from the Frontlines”. The camera crews paid far more attention to this panel than any other during the whole conference. In addition to the events I described above, multiple cameras were deployed to capture audience reaction, as well. I, myself, had come on this second day just to cover this particular panel, so all the extra buzz seemed to augur a riveting session. Boy, was I wrong.

No, it wasn’t the fault of the panelists. The five girls were clearly ready to share the realities of their experience with the audience. Important stories that go to the very core of what this climate crisis really is. Alas, there was a different agenda in the works. It started off suspiciously enough, with the young male panel moderator going into a profuse and exalted introduction.

A question was then put to all the panelists, which each took turns answering. A good start about indigenous women’s role in the climate fight. The second question took an unnecessary turn into identity politics, probing matters of the panelists’ sexuality. Fine, I thought. A sign of the times, but I was anxious for the conversation to get back to the issue at hand. To my utter shock – and the panelists – that’s where it ended. The moderator blurted out something about the previous panel running too long and that lunch time had arrived.

I couldn’t believe it. What should have been one of the most interesting sessions – certainly the most vital – was inexplicably cut short because of… lunch? The entire panel session lasted less than 20 minutes, if that. Meanwhile, every other panel had covered its allotted time and many had gone well over the hour.

Taken on its own, this was bad enough. A lack of respect, at the very least. But, when you consider what had just transpired minutes earlier on the same stage, the questions start to run into darker territory.

Greta Climate Superstar

She might as well have been taken straight out of a fairytale. Her long double-braided hair, large eyes and button nose would have set her up for a starring role in a live-action Hollywood production of Hansel & Gretel, had other factors not brought her into the spotlight as a poster child for a youth climate change movement, instead.

Greta Thunberg deserves a more in-depth take than I am going to give her in this article and I intend to do so in my documentary, but for now we just need to know that she was the marquee guest, albeit via Skype, of the Zero Hour conference.

She was joined by several other youth climate activists from around the globe through a group Skype call in a panel session called Strikers Webinar, alluding to the school strikes (ostensibly) initiated by the young Swede. The actual start of the session was delayed nearly half an hour, between sorting out the connections and the self-introduction of each panelist.

No matter. The session continued uninterrupted for another hour with the bulk of the speaking opportunities thrown Greta’s way. Audience engagement covered part of the time. Some had questions for Greta, others simply wanted to express their admiration. At another point, one of the organizers declared the 16-year old to be the leader of the entire world’s climate change youth movement, to loud cheers.

For the few kids in the audience, it was an inspirational moment and perhaps a catalyst for further involvement in the issue of climate change and, as such, it had value. But, even more important then, was to follow that up with the reality on the ground, which was what the next panel session of indigenous women was supposed to impart.

They just got the bubble gum-flavored, sparkly, sanitized version of what climate change really means. As did everybody else there.

The Wolves and the Fools

We can be sure that Pelosi’s movie will not show us the full picture of our impending ecological disaster, either. The camera crews got the shots they needed to craft the story she and proponents of the green new deal want you to hear. They will decorate it with Native faces and names to give it a ring of truth.

Youth is the time for idealism. That’s when our passion outweighs our knowledge. At the same time, it is only through that passion that real change takes place.

The teenagers who put in all the hard work to organize this event and those who participated in the panels have no idea what’s really happening behind the scenes, in their sponsors’ offices back in D.C. It is up to the adults in the room to make sure they know.

Sacred Writ

We all remember the droning, repetitive ritual of indoctrination known as the Pledge of Allegiance that our school teachers forced us to recite every morning. This compulsory mantra is used in homerooms across the nation to introduce young, pliable minds to the hallowed compendium of American scripture, which include tracts like the Gettysburg address, the Federalist Papers and, of course, the U.S. Constitution.

All of them are rooted in re-imagined narratives of Calvinist-infused Christianity. Concepts such as ‘Predestination’, – man’s incontrovertible fate as determined by God at the moment of creation – or the ‘Elect’, a select group of people known only to the almighty who are to be spared eternal damnation.

Over time these ideas were re-fashioned to fit America’s political narrative. The “god-fearing” puritan ethos of the first settler communities mingled with Locke’s quasi-theological empiricism and his novel take on private property, which was broadly used to justify the theft of Native lands.

Predestination became “manifest destiny” and “land of the free” worked well as a catchy twist on the idea of “the elect”. Together with other rehashed biblical plot lines, they formed what has been referred to as Covenant ideology; less an organic, cultural construct and more a facile tool for the manipulation of the American public by unscrupulous politicians. More alarming still, is its spread to other parts of the world and a deliberate push to bring “adherents” together as a single global entity.

In the United States, specifically, the contours of this informal state doctrine have taken the shape of a cult. Since the 70’s the inexorable decline of American manufacturing and exponential rise of household debt coupled with stagnant wages has left millions of disaffected citizens ripe for radicalization. A fact no one who witnessed the 2016 U.S. presidential election and its aftermath can deny.

But, most revealing of America’s descent into ideological madness is the continued apathy and even active resistance to address the epidemic of gun violence and mass shooting events in this country.

The priests of America’s state religion preach from their pulpits in the Capitol and other state churches across the country. They quote foundational scripture to their followers who rationalize the gun massacres taking their young men, women and children in workplaces, schools and churches.

In spite of the mind-boggling frequency of mass shootings and persistence of gun-violence in poor minority communities, the gun-control debate rages on. Meanwhile, as the stone-faced deities hewn on a mountain once revered by the native people of this land continue to ask for more blood, “believers” continue to offer it.

Origin Stories

Through the sacrament of marriage and the concomitant prohibition against its dissolution, the Catholic Church had controlled the whole of Christendom for centuries. It was the fulcrum of its power and riches. The Church’s monopoly on the family unit allowed it to dictate the socio-economic dynamics of Europe’s disparate monarchies and, in turn, dictate to the monarchs themselves.

The Reformation was the beginning of the end for this arrangement and, in many ways, for the Catholic Church, as well. The fatal blow was delivered by Henry VIII, who empowered a competing ministry by divorcing five times under the authority of the upstart Anglican Church.

Statue of John Knox at Edinburgh University

What followed was a series of bloody and protracted wars across Europe and the British Isles, in particular, as an emerging class of merchants and landed aristocracies vied for control. Religious doctrine became atomized as the different regions in Europe adopted their own more culturally relevant versions of Christianity.

John Calvin’s unique re-interpretation gained popularity towards the end of the 16th century and attracted adherents from all across the continent. Among the French theologian’s most ardent students and supporters was a Scottish theologian named John Knox, who would go on to form and lead the Protestant Church in Scotland.

Knox’s reactionary and misogynist brand of Christianity would permeate the culture of Lowland Scots who would eventually immigrate across the Atlantic. The hyper-moralist Puritanism of New England’s first settler communities can be traced back to Knox, whose particular take on Calvinism colored the worldview of their direct ancestors who were part of the Plantation of Ulster, a state-executed campaign of dispossession and land theft meted out against the Irish and a virtual dress rehearsal for the colonization of North America.

After the British experiment in Northern Ireland foundered, a great many Ulster Scots chose to test their fortune in the colonies as indentured servants. The Scots-Irish, as they would call themselves, would end up representing a majority of early colonial settlers and their state militias.

Meanwhile, Cromwell’s revolution had set the stage for British preeminence in a post-Catholic Church world. New forms of economic organization were displacing older feudal methods as the seeds of capitalism were being sowed.

Most significantly, it was the eve of the Industrial Revolution; driven not by the cotton gin, but by the evolution in the manufacturing processes of the single most important tool of the imperial model: the gun.

The Force of Lead

By the time war had broken out in New England, a proto-military industrial complex had already begun developing in the mother country. Sprawling colonial enterprises were putting pressure on London gun makers who tried to keep up with demand, while the state sourced its needs both at home and abroad. Gun makers not only had to fulfill ordnance requests from the Royal armory, but also from the chartered merchant companies stretching from subcontinental Asia to the Hudson river. Inevitably, artisanal gun making slowly gave way to more efficient modes of fabrication.

The Seven Years War in the mid-eighteenth century saw the largest conscription of British troops ever to that point, with over 100,000 men deployed throughout Europe. All of them needed guns. The Napoleonic wars further pushed firearm-manufacturing into standardization. The French, themselves, had made large strides in the area of factory-style production, while Britain relied more on a loose network of independent contractors designed to keep the cost of manufacturing low by inciting competition for state contracts.

This incipient arms industry produced innovations in iron smelting, casting and other manufacturing processes, that would prove indispensable for the realization of the Industrial Revolution. By 1776, every British soldier was carrying an identical, mass produced muzzle-loading musket known as the Brown Bess. Over 4 million were made.

As gun manufacturing was perfected, revolvers and other short guns democratized the ability to kill at a distance. By drastically reducing the skill and proximity required to exact lethal force upon others, guns allowed Locke’s theory on private property to fully manifest itself in the world. Defending the “perimeter” would now be an individual prerogative and the very foundation of our present economic paradigm – codified into law by America’s founders – became possible.

Codification

The U.S. Constitution was completed after two weeks of intense, cloistered brainstorming and foisted on a largely unsuspecting public. During the Convention, the issue of an armed citizenry didn’t even come up. The second amendment itself was only later included to address the contentious issue of standing armies, opposed by most states but favored by the Federalists.

Firearm ownership was taken for granted and its relative ubiquity was such, that certain groups, like the Quakers, had found it necessary to claim their “right” to NOT own a gun. For the better part of a century afterwards, courts would rule time and again, that the second amendment applied only to Congress in the context of militias and was irrelevant to the issue of personal gun rights.

The Abolitionist movement, westward expansion and the Union’s push towards the consolidation of a true federal structure all converged to produce a spike in gun violence and its gradual welding with patriotism, politics and religion.

Just before the Civil War, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, an outspoken Abolitionist, organized a gun-drive from his Congregational church in Brooklyn, declaring that there was “more moral power in one [rifle],… than in a hundred bibles”. The guns, destined for free slaves in Kansas, were dubbed “Beecher’s Bibles”.

As the Union claimed victory and inaugurated the nation’s first federally-funded army, the Industrial Revolution began to hit its stride. The quality, accuracy and availability of guns all increased. In the space of less than a hundred years, the gap between the government’s weaponry capabilities and the people’s grew exponentially.

The second amendment languished in irrelevance. As a strictly Congressional matter, it was understood to have no bearing on individual gun rights. Nevertheless, the issue of personal gun rights did come up in the infamous Dred Scot decision of 1857, in which the Supreme Court recorded the young nation’s racist foundations for posterity. The court concluded that black people could never be citizens and, therefore, had no right to carry a gun. While the decision was later overturned, the underlying sentiment that made it possible in the first place would express itself after the Civil War, when so-called “Black Codes”; laws that were widely instituted across the country to disarm returning black Union soldiers.

The defeated Confederacy re-emerged as the Jim Crow South after Reconstruction. It formed the base of the Democratic party for decades, thereafter, until the second half of the 20th century when a reshuffling of political alliances took place as a result of a re-alignment of national priorities following the Allied victory in World War II.

The Big Rebrand

The National Rifle Association makes much of its longevity. But, for most of its history, the NRA was little more than a club for enthusiastic game hunters and largely supported gun-control laws. Its current incarnation as a polarizing influence in American politics began in the late 1970’s, as part of a larger, calculated conservative backlash against liberal policy momentum accrued since FDR’s New Deal.

Racial tensions caused by the Civil Rights movement were motivating millions of Southern White Democrats to abandon their party and join the Republican side of the aisle. Simultaneously, fundamentalist Evangelicals asserted their leadership over the Southern Baptist Church, spurring the rise of televangelists like Jerry Falwell and his so-called “Moral Majority”.

In 1977, a shakeup of the NRA during their annual convention known as the “Revolt in Cincinnati” replaced the group’s leadership with hardline gun-rights advocates, who transformed it into a politically active organization. The second amendment would serve as the lynchpin for the upturning of the prevailing liberal order and the creation of a new voter base, which would bring the Neocons into power years later, via Reagan.

The late Charlton Heston, the former actor and head of the National Rifle Association, addresses gun owners during a “get-out-the-vote” rally in New Hampshire in October 2002.

The romanticizing of gun-culture and its amalgamation with Judeo- Christian belief systems would continue apace when Moses, himself, came down from Hollywood Hills to become president of the NRA in the late 90’s. Outspoken gun advocate, Charlton Heston, would use the platform to lead the national pro-gun conversation, leading the flock into the new millennium with an iconic performance during the contentious election of George W. Bush.

Just after the end of Bush’s second term, and on the heels of the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the United States, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling, conferring Constitutional protection to individual gun-owners, based on a so-called “originalist” reading of the Second Amendment. More than a win for gun-rights advocates, it was an epic victory for the broad coalition of conservative voices, groups and think tanks behind the emergence of a fundamentalist political ideology, which has successfully radicalized millions of Americans.

The rise of the “Tea Party” and other fringe right-wing groups would follow in tow. Explosive events like the siege at Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing and, crucially, the September 11th attacks galvanized these groups, taking them further down the road of biblically-induced madness. Their cause for “freedom” at gunpoint is now a global affair, as they batten down the hatches to engage “evil-doers” and “bad hombres” in a predestined “clash of civilizations”.

Father Time

Today marks the 58th anniversary of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, a date commemorated each year by the surviving members of Brigada 2506, the makeshift contingent of Cuban army defectors and other anti-Castro Cubans who enlisted to be a part of the U.S. government’s secret plot to overthrow the island’s putschist regime.

The famously failed mission kicked off a decades-long enmity between the Cuban Exile Community and the Democratic Party of the United States. GOP operatives like George H.W. Bush pounced on the opportunity to create a loyal voter base, which was fostered through government handouts and preferential immigrant policies. Over the next several years, they formed a hardline Republican block in South Florida.

CORAL GABLES, FL – April 17: Former U.S. Congressman, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, shakes a guest’s hand at the Biltmore Hotel on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs operation in Coral Gables, Florida on April 17, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2019 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Not coincidentally, Cubans would rise to the top of the political pyramid in Miami during the Reagan years, when Bush was Vice President, and play a pivotal role in the hegemonic wars carried out in the name of “anti-communism”. South Florida’s cocaine economy helped funnel cash to fund covert operations around the world, including the Contras in Nicaragua.

Sixty years later, the usefulness of the Cuban exile community to the American political establishment is reaching its natural end. A new generation of exiles is being groomed to replace them as the specter of communism is once again evoked in South America.

Passing of the Torch

This year, the Bay of Pigs commemorative activities were held at the iconic Biltmore Hotel in the swankiest part of Dade-County instead of the usual venue on the equally iconic, but far lower-rent 8th Street, where a permanent flame burns atop the monument dedicated to the fallen members of Brigada 2506.

CORAL GABLES, FL – April 17: City of Miami Mayor, Francis X. Suarez, embraces a member of the Brigada 2506 at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida on April 17, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2019 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

The colorful street murals and fruit stands of Little Havana didn’t quite suit the expectations of the guest list. Miami’s most privileged minority community came decked out in their best Spring attire to the Coral Gables landmark where a string quartet welcomed them to yet another political event headlined by Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton.

Bolton, who was in Miami just last February, chose the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs to announce a new round of sanctions and banking restrictions on the countries of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. In addition, the Trump administration will activate a dormant law, that greenlights legal action against corporations doing business with Cuba. Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, created in 1996, has been ignored by all previous administrations over clear international opposition.

CORAL GABLES, FL – April 17: Members of the Cuban exile community gather at the Biltmore Hotel for the 58th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs operation in Coral Gables, Florida on April 17, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2019 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

The European Union has already stated it will challenge any such law with the WTO, while other countries such as Canada, already have legislation in place blocking enforcement of Helms-Burton against companies based in their nations.

Title IV of the act, which calls for the denial of visas to those involved in “trafficking” properties confiscated by the Cuban government, is also set to come into effect, further pushing America back in time to a bygone era of communist paranoia.

Bolton’s job in Miami is to help recruit the new batch of exiles to underpin America’s re-invigorated hegemonic foreign policies in Latin America. But, the freshmen class of Venezuelan exiles isn’t turning out to be as receptive to his overtures as their Cuban counterparts were back in the 60’s.

Maduro has, so far, been able to keep the vast majority of the Venezuelan military on his side and the Guaidó operation seems to have fallen flat, despite the mainstream media’s efforts to maintain the illusion of his “presidency”.

CORAL GABLES, FL – April 17: Former Mayor of Miami, Tomás Regalado, mingles with the guests at the Biltmore Hotel on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs operation in Coral Gables, Florida on April 17, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2019 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Clearly, a regime-change scenario in Venezuela is a much more complicated proposition than the one half-heartedly attempted in Cuba all those years ago. However, given the political gold mine that South Florida has proven to be for the Republican party, in particular – and precisely as a result of the failure of American policy towards Cuba – one can only question the true motivations behind these largely toothless measures now being enacted against Venezuela and the other two countries which have a large exile community in the region.

Interest or Principle

When a bank issues a loan, the principle is listed as an asset on the bank’s books. If you pay off the principle, that money disappears from the bank’s ledger. If you only pay the interest on the loan, however, the bank not only keeps the asset on its books, but it makes a profit, too.

Similarly, when a government makes a promise it will collect as much interest (votes) as it can before delivering on that promise. Just like a bank, once they deliver on the promise they can’t collect interest anymore.

CORAL GABLES, FL – April 17: TV News anchor, María Elvira Salazar, mingles with the guests at the Biltmore Hotel on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs operation, while behind her, Miami Mayor, Francis X. Suarez, talks on the phone in Coral Gables, Florida on April 17, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2019 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Venezuelan exiles in Miami should ask themselves what the true motives of the United Sates are when it comes to intervening in their country’s affairs. They should take a long, hard look at the fate of the “martyrs” of Brigada 2506 and the community of Cuban exiles who decade after decade continue to support policies, like the embargo, which have only changed things for the worse.

They should ask themselves if they want to take out this loan. They should remember that it will show up as an asset on the political ledger of the United States, but a liability on their account.

Rule 1.04

On Monday, former Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, delivered the keynote address at the 6th annual Safe Streets Summit held right here in Miami, among the top five cities in pedestrian fatalities and the second-ranked city in America for poverty and income inequality.

The Obama-appointee’s remarks revealed how design is at the center of America’s most marginalized communities and how technology is contributing to the reformulation of personal mobility. Foxx, who is now Lyft’s Public Policy Director, nonetheless stressed that “There’s no algorithm that can push us beyond the unavoidable questions of humanity or the existential questions we face in this country now, probably more than [at] any time in my lifetime about how we all live together”.

He began his presentation talking about Major League Baseball’s Rule 1.04, which suggests the most desirable location of home plate on the field, so that batters always hit with the sun at their back. The same kind of deliberate intent informs the building of our roads, bridges and all other parts of our urban landscape. “There’s no infrastructure,” he stated, “that is randomly placed anywhere.”

Home Base

Anthony Foxx’s political career began relatively recently, in Charlotte, North Carolina where he grew up. He became a City Council member in 2005 and Mayor just four years later, at one of the most daunting times for the city. As the second-largest financial services center in the country, Charlotte was especially hard-hit by the 2008 financial crisis. Foxx’s success in turning the city’s fortunes around and his innovative approach to the foundering Blue Line Extension project, earned him nationwide attention and, eventually a nomination to become the 17th Secretary of Transportation in 2013.

MIAMI, FL – February 25: Former Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, delivers keynote address at the Safe Streets Summit in Miami, Florida on February 25, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2019 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Streets are a personal issue for him. He understands how the immediate environment affects communities and how the interstate highway system lies at the root of much of our problems today. “The highway system has been a marvelous economic success. It has accomplished what it was intended to do, but let’s be clear,” Foxx said, “…the impact on urban communities was severe.”

The interstate highway system, ushered in by Eisenhower in 1956, was originally designed to link farmers with market centers. The program, however, continues to this day and has cost nearly $130 billion, so far. As Foxx points out, there has also been a great cost levied on urban spaces. The highways literally cut right through the center of most major cities, bisecting neighborhoods and displacing millions of people.

“When I look at the neighborhood that I grew up in,” Foxx recounts, “it was actually constrained by these very freeways I’m taking about… I-77 and I-85 actually meet just about two blocks away from where I grew up.” He continues, “…when I looked out in front of my grandparents’ house I saw a freeway. When I looked to the right I saw a freeway.”

One of the most telling graphics Foxx presented was a side-by-side map of the city of Charlotte before and after construction of the interstate highways. Marked in blue were the areas populated by the lower-income communities and in red the more affluent ones. The pre-1960’s map showed the affluent neighborhoods concentrated in the city’s urban core and the poorer ones surrounding it, on the periphery. The current map shows a complete reversal, with the affluent areas moved out into the suburbs and the low-income neighborhoods clustered in the center, hugging the freeways.

He cites examples of how highways are also used to effect so-called “slum-clearance” strategies to push low-income communities out of areas identified for redevelopment. “There is an area of Baltimore, where the city is literally bisected by a freeway and actually stops cold.” Foxx tells us. “It’s called the ‘freeway to nowhere’. This was done, in part, as a slum-clearance strategy.”

Marginalized by Hue

Cities and neighborhoods all across America have suffered the same fate over the years. Staten Island, St. Paul, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Seattle, Montgomery and our own Overtown were among the few places Foxx mentioned as he laid out the facts of a story told again and again, which he insists is “the product of design… not the product of benign neglect.”

Pointing out that remuneration was non-existent in the 50’s and 60’s, Foxx highlighted the fact that the compensation given to many of the displaced families for their homes was based on severely depreciated values since their properties were about to be razed to the ground. This is a reality, which affected a disproportionate number of African-American communities, like the one in Brooklyn – a neighborhood in Charlotte, NC that, according to Foxx, had “1,200 or so African-American owned businesses”, and was just one of many neighborhoods, that came under assault when “thousands” of urban development agencies wreaked havoc in communities nationwide.

GOOGLE EARTH – Satellite image of Overtown in the city of Miami showing the bisection of the area by several large arteries and I-95

The impact on lower-income areas is hard to overstate, but Foxx perfectly illustrated the effects that displacement can have on marginalized groups with the story about a neighborhood in St. Louis, “that abutted what’s now the international airport. And that community was… low-income, high African-American population. That community was displaced to create room for the airport. That group of people moved to a place called Ferguson.”

A Matter of Life and Death

The day-to-day reality on the ground for pedestrians in Miami and other major cities around this country is the stuff of nightmares. Lack of sidewalks, dangerous crossing areas, heavy vehicle traffic and all manner of disincentives and obstacles for walking or biking make for a very segregated lifestyle. For people in low-income areas, it can be deadly.

“Let’s say you’re a single mom, you have three children,” Foxx suggests, “You just spent two hours at the grocery store, an hour taking a bus to get from the grocery store to home. You get dropped off at the bus stop and the house that you live in is 90 feet across the street. The nearest crossing area is more than half a mile down the road. How many people would walk half a mile to the crossing area?” Foxx asks. “Well,” he continues, “this mom carried her kids across the street. The youngest child who is about 3 years old, loses his mother’s hand and is struck by a car and killed.”

People with cars would be hard-pressed to even imagine such a scenario. But, this is not just a scenario. This is a tragic true story out of Atlanta, Georgia. But, something like this could have just as easily happened – and certainly has happened – anywhere in South Florida.

“These streets don’t really exist for the people who need to use them on foot.” Says Foxx. Indeed, Miami is among the least walkable cities in the world and our public transit system is an abject failure. Meanwhile, County Mayor Gimenez, floats red-herrings like flying taxis and Chinese concept buses as he tries to push through yet another highway project.

I have a feeling the former Secretary of Transportation is familiar with Gimenez’ absurd propositions. At one point during his presentation, he brought up a picture of Saudi royals surrounding a drone-like, multi-propeller flying car. “I’m just showing you this. This is a flying car or whatever, um… good luck with that.”, he quipped.

“If you look at long term trends,” Foxx went on, “in fact, the city we’re sitting in today – you’re going to see so much more growth, that it’s going to be difficult to keep up with the infrastructure, with the needs of a growing population.”

A Fork in the Road

We have to start making better choices and undoing some of the bad ones, that were made in the past. As technology quickens the pace of change in the world, we have to find ways to ground ourselves and not become the victims of convenience.

MIAMI, FL – February 25: Former Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, delivers keynote address at the Safe Streets Summit in Miami, Florida on February 25, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2019 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

There is a grand illusion surrounding our new digital age, expressed succinctly by an anecdote Foxx shared with the room about his wife and her online Christmas shopping habits. After completing all of it, she proudly turned to her husband to brag about how many “trips” she had “saved” by making all her purchases over the Internet. “And me, 17th Secretary of Transportation,” said Foxx to the amused crowd, “has to say to her: ‘Honey, you just created 25 trips… god knows how many miles of trips you’ve created!’”

The virtual world is dangerous because it makes us even more blind to how the world really is. And, before we become like Stephen King’s Lawnmower Man and fully fuse with our silicon simulacrum, we have to take a step back and take a good, long look at where we are and what we are doing.

Over the last half-century, our cities have become nothing but massive parking lots. There are hardly any trees anywhere and our quality of life is diminishing by the minute. “People are recognizing that the personal automobile has its limitations.” Said Foxx. “We spend the second-highest amount of our wallet, as a country, on transportation. And yet, the cars that we buy are used about 5 to 6 percent of the time.”

The interstate highway system served its purpose, but we are outgrowing it as a society. We also might recognize that the problems it created may turn out to be more harmful than any of the benefits accrued over the time of its use, and that a car-centric view of the universe is a net-negative for the world, in general. “I frankly think there are urban freeways,” Foxx concludes, “that could be torn down and replaced with open space or affordable housing or other assets that would be more valuable.”

Single File

It’s smack in the middle of Winter, but yesterday was as hot as a Summer’s day in Miami and the VIP’s slated to sit in the bleachers behind the President had been standing in the scorching weather, dripping sweat under the suits and makeup for hours. The only respite turned out to be a garden hose, fortuitously attached to a spigot on the wall, which a few of the less self-conscious invitees used to splash their faces and take long, refreshing drinks.

“One line!”, was the repetitive refrain shouted by the Miami-Dade Police contingent assigned to door #3 of the Ocean Bank Convention Center in FIU, as they tried to move the Very Important People backwards to facilitate the seemingly interminable security screening process happening inside the air-conditioned paradise just through the double-doors. Most of the guests pretended not to understand the instructions, feigning a language barrier to avoid losing their spot.

The surprisingly small venue began to fill out by three in the afternoon. Soon thereafter, three people ascended the stage. One led those present in a prayer, another followed with the Pledge of Allegiance and, finally a third delivered a slightly over-the-top rendition of the National Anthem to get the political performance underway.

Setting the Stage

I have never seen former Florida Governor, and now Senator Rick Scott so animated. He almost seemed human, projecting a commanding stage presence and flawlessly executing his messaging behind that podium. There’s no doubt that speech writers and coaches at the federal level are a cut above. Unfortunately, all that good work was somewhat diminished towards the end, when he reverted to his bad habit of addressing Hispanic crowds in his stabbing attempts at Spanish.

MIAMI, FL – February 18: Pro-Venezuelan opposition rally-goers at the Ocean Bank Convention Center of Florida International University in Miami, Florida on February 18, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2019 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Ultimately, though, it was about one thing: Socialism is evil. Maduro is evil, because socialism. Socialists commit evil by simply drawing breath. Evil, thy name is socialism.

This was the premise for every speaker who followed, up to and including the President of the United States. “Little” Marco Rubio whom Trump would call a friend and an expert about Cuba and Socialists, in general, came out to deliver his own variation on the theme of the evils of socialism. He started issuing ultimatums to the Venezuelan military, whom – he said – had until Saturday to decide whether they wanted to cooperate with the Atlanticist’s dictums regarding the delivery of so-called “humanitarian aid” or become fugitives from justice.

Newly elected Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, made an appearance, as well. He also exhorted the Maduro regime to step down and provided his own list of grievances against evil socialists around the world, blaming the ideology for the “starving Venezuelans” and other distorted pictures painted about a country, whose economic woes have been imposed not by Socialist policies, but by direct economic warfare from the Atlanticist block.

MIAMI, FL – February 18: President Donald J. Trump, waves at special guests at the Ocean Bank Convention Center of Florida International University in Miami, Florida on February 18, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2019 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

After these relatively minor political celebrities, National Security Advisor, John Bolton, took to the stage and sealed the anti-socialism narrative with his trademark phrase – designed to create a media-ready soundbite, which can be drilled into the mainstream consciousness. Bolton, who just might be a cloned Mark Twain, pointed his accusative finger to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua – The “Troika of Tyranny”. Catchy. Also the three countries, which happen to be the places of origin of the most prominent exile communities in Miami.

Intermission

Everybody was expecting Bolton to finally introduce the man of the hour, Donald Trump. The hour, however, had originally been 4 o’clock and we were well past by this point. Instead, he pulled what looked to be – at first – a stroke of crowd-pleasing genius when he announced that none other than Juan Guaidó, the self-sworn President of Venezuela was there to speak to them.

The audience’s surprise and excitement was palpable, but soon fizzled when it became apparent that Guaidó wasn’t actually present and that the video of him coming through the big screens wasn’t even a live feed, but a run-of-the-mill, pre-recorded message made in an undisclosed location somewhere in Venezuela.

The Guaidó speech was over quickly and thereafter, the stage sat empty for a good three-quarters of an hour or more. The rally-goers were free to mull over the opening acts and their main takeaways: Socialism is evil; Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are run by evil socialists; and don’t vote for evil socialists in the United States.

MIAMI, FL – February 18: Senator, Marco Rubio, addresses audience at the Ocean Bank Convention Center of Florida International University in Miami, Florida on February 18, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2019 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

The main attraction had to wait until a few local luminaries arrived fashionably late and took their places in the reserved seating area stage left, along with the previous speakers. Among the special guests were the Mayors of the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County, Francis X. Suarez and Carlos A. Gimenez. Mario Diaz-Balart, who had just been in Cúcuta, Colombia with fellow Senator, Marco Rubio, making threats against a foreign military also took his seat.

Finally, The Rolling Stones were muted for the announcer’s voice.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the First Lady of the United States

You know that when Melania deigns to visit, the fashion and political stakes are higher. True to form, the First Lady dazzled in a white dress with a colorful “Latin American-ish” pattern. She was led down the catwalk by Trump and after a few twirls for the crowd, took center stage at the podium to deliver a short, trite speech like a regular beauty pageant contestant.

Her husband, much like a pageant host, followed up with compliments for his wife and egged on the audience to back him up on her physical attributes as she walked back to her spot in the reserved seating area, waving at the people.

MIAMI, FL – February 18: President Donald Trump and First Lady, Melania Trump, stand together on stage at the Ocean Bank Convention Center of Florida International University in Miami, Florida on February 18, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2019 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Donald Trump would now bring it all together. The red hatted crowd held up their iPhones and their multi-colored flags. The evils of socialism had marinated. It was time for the Commander In-Chief to expound on the concept and accentuate the narrative with emotional cameos by for the Venezuelans in the room – the mother of a man killed by Maduro forces and exiled Venezuelan politician David Smolansky.

Red Scare

The Atlanticist-created crisis in Venezuela dovetails with the incumbent’s strategy for 2020 and what happened yesterday at FIU was nothing less than the President’s inaugural campaign speech.

Miami will be a republican stronghold, as always. It is, after all, the refuge of the oligarchs who were thrown out of their own countries when popular uprisings and revolutions reversed their multi-generational fortunes, built on the backs of exploited underclasses.

They are the politically expeditious demographic who are pandered to every election cycle and, now, also serve to advance a foreign policy goal, which has nothing to do with the “freedom” and “democracy” being peddled at these type of events.

“The communists are coming” has been used for decades to win votes and commit crimes against humanity. It’s an old and tired MO. But, it still works here, just blocks away from Calle Ocho where the voting base continues to drink from the same political poison well.

The Uninspired Opposition

By the time the big name speakers were done and gone, the line of cars along 87th Avenue flanking the right southbound lane was still backed up for a quarter of a mile as more Venezuelans continued to arrive – hours late – to a12 o’clock-scheduled rally at Doral Central Park.

The energy of the crowd was decidedly lukewarm and never really numbered more than a thousand people at one time. Jose Antonio Colina, who leads many of these Venezuelan opposition events in Miami, was visibly frustrated with the people’s laissez faire disposition on this mildly hot Saturday afternoon and tried teasing them with jokes, at first. As the proceedings moved on, the attendees’ demeanor was not meeting with the former military man’s expectations. Eventually, Colina resorted to cheerleading at the top of his lungs over already booming speakers hoping, fruitlessly, to elicit a response in kind.

DORAL, FL – February 2: Venezuelan expats gathered behind barricades for a pro-Guaidó rally in Doral Central Park in Doral, Florida on February 2, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2018 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Some on the portable stage, towed there earlier, seemed to credit the weather via indirect remarks for the seeming lack of emotion. But, it was not particularly warm for South Florida standards and definitely far less humid than usual. No. This wasn’t a weather-related dud of a crowd. Perhaps, deep down, they all knew something was wrong.

A Telegraphed Coup

Few were caught off guard when Juan Guaidó swore himself in as president of Venezuela last week. The systematic attacks against the Maduro regime by the Atlanticist axis, led by U.S. economic sanctions, manipulation of oil prices and outright theft of sovereign assets in excess of a billion dollars have had the desired result in the South American country. Buttressed by sabotage from oligarchic factions within the country itself, which (contrary to Western media propaganda) control important business sectors, the nation’s economy has been brought to its knees. Guaidó’s “inauguration” was simply part of the same, ongoing subversive operation.

The usual suspects immediately declared themselves on Twitter, which seems to be the platform of choice for dissemination of Atlanticist discourse. Senator Marco Rubio came out ahead of the rest, throwing his total support behind the CIA-bred usurper and rallying the other pro-coup members of the house and senate. The Tweeter-in-Chief chimed in soon enough and the chorus began to regurgitate the party line around the globe. Brazil, recently fitted with their very own far-right, rich man’s populist was among the first countries to ratify the brazen affront to national sovereignty. A slew of aligned governments around the world followed in tow and the lapdog press has been treating Maduro’s downfall as a fiat accompli.

DORAL, FL – February 2: Retired Venezuelan military officer, Jose Antonio Colina, addresses rally-goers at Doral Central Park in Doral, Florida on February 2, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2018 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

The reality, of course, is much different. Maduro remains in control as the Venezuelan military and a big enough base continues to support him. Washington’s de jure president has been appointing his cabinet while embassy hopping; hiding first in the American and then the Colombian embassy – as has been reported. Meanwhile, Maduro has offered to hold a dialogue with the pretender; a strange move for a so-called “dictator”. Guaidó, predictably declined to entertain the idea as such optics would ruin the pretense.

Speaking of pretense, all of it was dropped when Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, matter-of-factly stated America’s intention of taking Venezuela’s oil as ransom. Such imperialist candor is very 21st century, ushered in as it was by the controlled demolition of two skyscrapers and a CIA vault (building 7) and subsequent declaration of perpetual war. The real estate developer cum reality star Donald has taken it to the next level, of course. The “open conspiracy” is here and Venezuela is quickly becoming a case study on how the world’s only superpower plans on flexing its muscle hereafter.

Guaidó himself issued a formal request for a U.S. invasion of his own country within the first 24 hours of self-appointing himself head of the Venezuelan people, cloaking it as “humanitarian aid”. The news cycle, currently embroiled in another tabloid scandal involving high school yearbooks, has not kept us abreast of the progress of his request. But, we can be sure it is being processed.

Exiles in Arms

Almost from the get-go at Doral Central Park, a distinction was drawn between those who are waiting to return to Venezuela and those residing permanently in Miami; the latter being the largest contingent, by far. Jose Antonio Colina and later, exiled clergyman Jose Palmar, exhorted those present to keep resisting Maduro’s regime from afar.

Palmar fled Venezuela in 2018 via Mexico, after years of criticizing the Bolivarian government of Venezuela on social media and leading anti-government protests. The catholic priest claims he was arrested and tortured by state forces in multiple attacks beginning in 2014. According to Palmar, he became a target after exposing corruption in the state-run oil concern PDVSA back in 2007.

DORAL, FL – February 2: Venezuelan Catholic Priest and political refugee, Jose Palmar, conducts impromptu blessing ceremony on his knees during a pro-Guaidó event at Doral Central Park in Doral, Florida on February 2, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2018 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Given Venezuelans’ ubiquitous religiosity, the father’s emotive delivery managed to generate excitement behind the barricades. It was intended to set the stage for the political luminaries who were about to come on the platform and drive home the message of exile-to-exile solidarity.

First up was Juan Carlos Bermudez, Mayor of the city of Doral. Cuban-born Bermudez would lead off with references to the Cuban exile experience, assuming a paternalistic tone as he urged Venezuelans to follow the path laid down by his anti-Castro brethren. Bermudez showed no trace of topical awareness when he twice joked about assuming power in Miami-Dade County on account of Mayor Gimenez’ absence. Only his fellow grifters waiting under a small tent beside the stage laughed.

Next up came Miami-Dade Commissioner for district 12, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who laboriously made his way onto the stage and continued with parallels between Venezuela and Cuba, though his shockingly unintelligible Spanish likely precluded anyone present from actually understanding anything he was saying. Florida Senator, Jose Javier Rodriguez, and Miami Mayor, Francis X. Suarez followed with similar talking points.

In between, a three-headed hydra of the new, pro-war left came on to deliver short, trite speeches. Recently elected Congresswoman, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, struggled to look up from her lengthy notes, while her congressional colleague, Donna Shalala, had nothing much to say beyond a smattering of embarrassingly jumbled Spanish words. Of the three democratic members of the federal government, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was clearly the most prepared and seasoned speaker. Of the three – and possibly of all those present – she also has he most to gain from the events currently unfolding in Venezuela.

Wasserman-Schultz was just appointed to lead the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. Her District (22) is home to a number of security firms with extensive links to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and she has a long history of taking money from defense industry sources, including General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and BAE Systems.

DORAL, FL – February 2: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz poses with Guaidó supporters at pro-Venezuelan opposition event at Doral Central Park in Doral, Florida on February 2, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2018 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Her demeanor on and off stage betrayed the importance she is giving this particular issue. At one point, she walked along the entire barricaded perimeter with her assistant, collecting photo ops with rally-goers. None of the other politicians did anything close. Just the fact that she used this event to build political capital foreshadows bad tidings, as we are left to wonder how she intends to spend it.

Surely, someone in the building only a few yards away can offer an educated guess.

The Overseers

U.S. Southern Command is the head of the spear in American interventions from the Caribbean to Tierra de Fuego. So, it was more than appropriate for this anti-Maduro rally to take place within earshot of Southcom headquarters in Doral. It’s unlikely that any of the people wearing Venezuelan flag colors that day understood where they actually were. Most Americans, to be frank, don’t know what Southcom is or does, either.

They don’t know, for instance, that when this military agency was headquartered in Panama, it played a vital role in assisting right-wing military dictatorships all over South America murder, torture and repress their citizens. Southcom was the central relaying point for intelligence on left-leaning political and social groups in the hemisphere.

They also don’t know, that a few decades ago it became the single lead agency in the interdiction of drugs both inside and outside of the United States. A much more comprehensive treatment of these facts can be found in my recently completed docu-series “Borderline – The Unhinged Truth About the Drug War”, which is streaming free online.

The so-called drug war, is intimately related to the events happening in Venezuela. As I posit in my series – far from being the failed policy alleged by many – the war on drugs is actually a tool of American hegemony in this hemisphere and beyond.

DORAL, FL – February 2: U.S. Southern Command headquarters visible in the background as attendees to a pro-Guaidó event at Doral Central Park lean against barricades in Doral, Florida on February 2, 2019 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles ©2018 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

Accusations against the Maduro government of engaging in state-sponsored drug trafficking follow the same pattern utilized against any target country in the farcical drug war. More than once during the rally was the Venezuelan government branded as “Narcoterrorista”, an amalgam between narco-trafficking and terrorism emerging from the neo-con, post-911 perpetual war crew in Washington.

If an invasion of Venezuela does take place, it will be Southcom leading the way. Indeed, thanks to the drug war bilateral agreements signed by Venezuela’s closest neighbors, drug-war-trained troops are already lining up along their borders. It will also displace millions of people, creating an avalanche of refugees and placing undue pressure on neighboring states. Southcom has been preparing to manage an exodus of this magnitude since, at least, 2007 when they published “United States Southern Command Command Strategy 2016 – Partnership for the Americas”.

Unless the army has integrated psychics into their ranks, we should take this as a clear sign that there is much more than meets the eye to what is happening in Venezuela.

Ignorance of Treason is No Excuse

It might not be part of their conscious awareness yet, but the men, women and children who came out to support the Atlanticist coup of Venezuela on Saturday in Doral, Florida seemed to have a funny feeling about the whole affair. Their awkward silences and less than enthusiastic reactions when called to cheer Guaidó’s name revealed that, perhaps, in the back of their minds they don’t really believe this is the right course of action.

Regardless of the very real problems facing the Venezuelan people, much of it critically exacerbated by sabotage from without, the unabashed frothy-mouthed war hawks openly declaring their lust for Venezuela’s oil – the cornerstone of the country’s economy – might have given some of them pause.

After all, what will the future generations of Venezuela say of those who lent their support to the military invasion of a country they no longer call home, but still claim as their own and willingly handed over its most important natural resource to the invaders themselves?

Venetian Intentions

Imagine if 16th century Venice, which had a de facto monopoly on Gutenberg’s printing press technology, had managed to keep the world-changing invention to itself and simply cash in on surreptitious “upgrades” to the machine. We would still be in the dark ages.

Fortunately for us, the legal-corporate-intellectual property racket had yet to fully merge or even take shape in the minds of the ruling elites, and a global transformation ensued as book publishing flourished and expanded our consciousness.

That’s not to say Venice didn’t take advantage of the short time movable type was almost exclusively in their hands. In fact, they used this novel ability for mass publishing to literally bring down their mortal enemy, the Catholic Church.

The Reformation Op

Certain parts of history are forever kept from the eyes of the world, no matter how important or relevant to our own times. The story of Venice’s feud with Catholic Europe is one of those.

Venice, itself, is largely ignored in our text books. A tiny maritime republic on the Adriatic with an elected government, which thrived for over a thousand years in the midst of chaotic, monarchic European fiefdoms, was a veritable world power for most of its existence. Only the Western remnants of the Roman Empire, a.k.a. The Holy Roman Empire, was any sort of rival for the well-established and politically savvy Venetians.

For centuries, Venice held its own and the Church comfortably at bay. Their undisputed control of the Adriatic, the most important shipping corridor of the time, provided them both power and riches. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 16th century, that the Catholic Church was able to form a viable military alliance among its subject nations against Venice. Known as the War of the League of Cambrai, Pope Julius II – The Warrior Pope – led an anti-Venetian axis with Spain, Germany and Italian city states in a major European conflict. Although Venice is recorded as the victor, the war forced the majority of the Venetian elites and their fortunes into exile, migrating to the Low Countries and England.

The transition would take several decades, but the Venetian nobility had a long term plan to defeat their nemesis in Rome and establish what would eventually become the British Empire.

A rebel priest in Germany was identified by the Venetian operators; one of many disparate voices within the Catholic territories propounding alternate takes on the religion, more aligned to their own cultural proclivities. Martin Luther and his “disputations” were plucked out from the Teuton forests and given a platform by Venetian printers, spreading his message to virtually every corner of the realm. Without Venice, nobody would have ever heard of Martin Luther nor would have Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon and his four subsequent wives (on the advice of his Venetian counselors), touching off the biggest religious schism in human history.

Marriage, the centerpiece of Catholicism’s social, political and economic power, was successfully subverted by Venice in what was the first case of information warfare, made possible by the latter’s control of the printing press in its early days.

This history is the key to understanding our current socio-political paradigm, as the United States is the direct inheritor and beneficiary of this episode in our not-so-distant past. It’s no accident that divorce plays an integral part of America’s legal system, nor that its foundational mythology revolves around religious “liberty”.

The Means of Information

Silicon Valley can be seen as a latter-day Venetian nobility, using their current monopoly on information technology to further agendas that favor them and their class.

Given the advanced state of corporate organization and its tight-knit relationship with the legal code, their capacity to maintain a monopolistic grip on the “means of information” is much greater now than ever. It’s also vital to their survival.

As I covered in an earlier piece, nothing strikes more fear in the hearts of our ruling classes than the ability of Joe Blowto report anything that comes to his (or her) attention. Hence, the relentless campaign against “fake news” and the concerted effort to get public opinion to support blatant censorship of anti-establishment voices.

In yet another, more recent piece, I delve into what their actual intentions for the Internet and social media platforms are. But, that doesn’t change the fact that we – the people – have an immensely powerful tool at our fingertips. One that rivals, and likely surpasses the power of the printing press.

Everybody on Twitter (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and every other app out there peddling user-generated content) is a journalist.

While this might offend some J-school graduates, assorted press-badge holders and newsroom editors, this is an undeniable reality and one which is at the center of the next transformation in journalism.

There was a time when to write a book, you had to belong to a monastery and take a vow of celibacy. Even then, you could rarely do anything but copy someone else’s work. Maybe years from now we’ll remember when to be a journalist, meant you had to sell your soul to the devil and report what your advertisers told you.

Distance is one of those factors that favors lying. The farther away you are from a person, circumstance or situation, the easier it is to believe completely untrue assertions regarding anything and anyone. Rarely is this fact more obvious than with political propaganda. History is full of mendacious leaders and politicians looking to provoke conflicts by disseminating patently false claims about an enemy.

Often, whole-cloth lies are used to instigate ill will between two factions by a third party who stands to benefit by their mutual destruction; a tactic frequently used by the British Empire in India throughout Victorian times. One such incident led to a deadly escalation between two warring camps, when the Her Majesty’s minions spread parallel rumors, telling one side their enemies greased their gun barrels with pig oil and the other, that cow grease was used by them for the same purpose. Since either side held each particular animal sacred, the results were predictably bad.

When the distance is both spatial and cultural, a lie is almost impossible to expose. Such a great advantage has been enjoyed by the United States for decades. The targets of their Tomahawk missiles and drone strikes have been, generally, very far away from the its shores. The horrific profiles painted in the mainstream press of their chosen antagonists are laughably absurd, yet completely believable to the vast majority of Americans, who are fed a steady diet of Hollywood stereotypes and hero-worship. Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad, Putin, and so many others are the devil incarnate for a gullible, TV-guzzling, social media-crazed public, unimaginable to Howard Beal himself.

The so-called Military Industrial Complex – a fancy term for a crude partnership between government and the arms sector – has ridden this wave of cognitive dissonance to an unprecedented expansion of muscle around the globe. With over 800 military bases erected o virtually every continent, only the most alienated still challenge the fact that the good ole’ US of A is an empire.

But, thanks to the relentless indoctrination afforded by the most sophisticated storytelling machine in the history of humankind, hundreds of millions actually believe in the fairy tale of a benevolent overlord. Like Madeline Albright, they consider the murder of hundreds of thousands of children the price of freedom and democracy.

Americans are either ignorant of the crimes committed in their names in countries they’ve never heard of or they accept the ludicrous premise offered by their leaders: “They’re bad, we’re good”. Holding fast to such a simplistic concept of the world calls sanity into question. At the very least, it points to the stunted development of critical faculties. The increasing frequency of mass shootings and extreme polarization around relatively inconsequential issues is a symptom of a society running out of coping mechanisms.

Now we have Venezuela on the threshold. Another resource grab by the most energy-intensive economy on the planet, cloaked in the reliably effective fable of good and evil. The usual covert activities to vilify and uplift the proper parties has been ongoing for over a decade, but the U.S. public will only hear what has been curated for them.

As the cultural distance grows by leaps and bounds, the physical distance becomes less critical to maintain the lies. Trump’s wall has already shown this to be true and as the border discourse grows louder the distance between us becomes greater. We can expect, in turn, for the lies to get bigger and the false threats to get closer.

Borderline was born from an article in Proceso magazine, one of Mexico’s top publications for investigative journalism, about the incredible conditions inside the CERESO de Piedras Negras where the Zetas cartel had been running operations since the early 2000’s. The piece was based on a report by the Colegio de Mexico, and was also included as a downloadable pdf. More tan intrigued, I immediately printed the 70+ page pdf document. Only a fraction of what I read in there actually made it into part one of Borderline, and if you can read Spanish I recommend reading it in its entirety.

At first, I considered making the series about the Zeta-controlled prison exclusively. There was certainly more than enough material to justify it, but given the current political climate in the United States I was afraid that producing a portrait of such a place without the larger context would prove counterproductive,

As soon as I began my research, I came upon Ginger Thompson’s fantastic investigation for Pro Publica about a bungled DEA operation, that resulted in the death or disappearance of more than 300 people in the region of northern Coahuila as the Zetas exacted revenge after the American law enforcement agency “carelessly” revealed the cartel bosses’ private cell phone numbers to Mexican authorities. As it turned out, it was Thompson’s article which spurred the subsequent investigation by Colegio de Mexico scholars into the prison, where many of the killers unleashed on the hapless residents of Piedras Negras and surrounding areas by the Zetas came from.

I quickly realized that I had the perfect story from which to launch a broader examination about the war on drugs. Here was this horrific incident taking place less than 5 miles from the border between Mexico and the United States after more than four decades of a relentless “drug war”.  How was this possible? More than forty years engaged in a battle against narcotics and not only are the most violent cartels to date doing business steps from the U.S. border, but the illicit drug market in America has ballooned to an all-time high, raking in $150 billion dollars a year?

Clearly, something else is going on. The truth about America’s war on drugs is out there and has been for quite a while, but mainstream sources of information rarely take on these stories and in most cases work to suppress them. The case of Gary Webb is among the most salient, though not the only one. The facts themselves are the best proof that the so-called war on drugs is a cover for hegemonic foreign policy directives originating in Washington.

In Borderline, I try to lay out some of the facts and provide a broad historical perspective for those who may otherwise not know the full story and find themselves being manipulated by dishonest political discourse. It is not an exhaustive presentation, by any means, but I have tried to cover a large enough swath of events – spanning centuries – to give those who seek a better understanding a solid foundation for further research. In that same spirit, I have made all the sources used in Borderline available here.

The series starts and ends with the story that is closest to us, both in time and space. But, in between, the root causes of the humanitarian crisis currently expressing itself at the U.S.-Mexico border are finally given the context that is missing from other accounts about the war on drugs and the fictionalized dramas, like Narcos, which have found so much recent success.

The full series is freely available online on the Deep City Chronicles Vimeo channel.

Trailer

Feeding Trough

There is a beast lurking under the Internet. A leviathan thrashing about in a colossal, silicon cage. An elite group of gate keepers guard against its discovery. The big data Brahmins, with their clickers and turtlenecks, distract us with fancy lingo and shiny toys as they lead us to the slaughter. Stupefied, we line up like cows; vacuum tubes attached to our proverbial udders.

Unaware of its very existence, we give it nourishment day after day. All of our insights, thoughts and attention – the milk of humanity – is usurped to satisfy this monstrosity. Instead of enriching our real lives with our conscious awareness, we forfeit the pleasure of our own company to rub and tap our fingers on a screen for hours on end, producing the binary coded sparks devoured by the grumbling behemoth.

So massively and so quickly does the creature grow, that its abode must be expanded almost daily. Warehouse after warehouse is commandeered to accommodate the arrays of plastic and metal, which make up its gargantuan presence. Its scale has no limits and as long as we continue to provide it sustenance, the enormous obscenity will keep getting bigger and bigger.

They call it Artificial Intelligence, and virtually every social media platform we use is a front for its development. Any ostensible uses Facebook, Twitter or similar websites claim to offer are simply hooks to entice us. They are designed to approximate actual social interaction and fool us into “talking” to the machine. Our “friends” and “followers” may or may not see our posts, but the machine is always listening, always watching and always recording. Even what we catch and delete mid-post is kept in its memory bank.

The quality of your connection to other human beings is of no value to the Big data Brahmins. They aren’t trying to help you talk to your neighbor or achieve meaningful social rapport through their sites. They are just after your social cues and responses, and they will come up with any and every trick to get you to engage with their big data-crunching machines. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, death itself; you name it… Any excuse is good enough to prod you into engaging. ‘Like’ buttons, emoticons, share functions, photo filters; all of these are just peripheral user-experience tools, that allow them to manipulate the instinctively human need to belong, and trick you into feeding the machine.

Snake Oil Transhumanism

Animating the covert motivations of this latter-day Sanhedrin is a quasi-ideology based on a childish notion of existence; one that flagrantly ignores the unfathomable mystery that operates human consciousness.

The idea of “Transhumanism” has been floating in the world’s collective consciousness for a good while, now. With Hollywood, as usual, churning out one cheap plot after another with some variation of a human-robot amalgam over the last half-century. From Star Trek to Ex-Machina, the concept is well-ingrained in popular culture, and buttressed by pseudo-academics like Raymond Kurzweil – the leading transhumanist evangelist – who present ideas such as the “singularity” with the hubristic inflection of a fiat accompli.

The tenor of inevitability many of its evangelizers employ is, frankly, offensive. Just a few months ago, I witnessed as much at a conference for one of the world’s most important financial organizations. The closing plenary speaker introduced herself as a “Cyborg Anthropologist”. Whether this was a cute, made-up title she gave herself to sell more books, or an actual degree issued by Harvard – the institution said speaker graduated from – is not something I’ve yet decided to research. It’s enough, for now, that she used it to identify herself before the representatives of the world’s financial elite.

In her address and subsequent Q & A with the organization’s CEO, the charming young lady framed her comments about the merging of technology into our daily lives with the same casual inevitability of her peers. In this particular case, she was speaking to the fusing of banking and payments into the fabric of our normal, day-to-day routines, so that such “mundane” tasks could be as seamless as possible. To illustrate her point, she told the audience about a smartlight installed in her kitchen, which automatically shifted hue and temperature depending on the time of day. She remarked how comforting it was to wake up in the morning and make her coffee under the warm glow of a time-appropriate light source – which, she emphasized, didn’t require any thought or effort on her part or even the unwelcome intrusion of real weather conditions, which might affect her artificially preordained atmosphere.

Presumably, this would be the goal for a technologically-enhanced life. The elimination of perceived inconveniences or undesirable conditions through algorithmically programed delegation. Like paying those pesky banking fees, for instance.

For decades, film buffs and critics alike, have been trying to figure out the meaning behind the next-to last scene in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, “2001 – A Space Odyssey”, where astronaut, Dave Bowman, appears to spend his last few hours of life in a room featuring 17th century European decor, but with a markedly futuristic feel. All creature comforts seem to be available to the frail man until his death finds him lying in bed, surrounded by what can only be described as a morbid sterility.

When that movie was made, our current state of technological dependence was still decades away. But, perhaps because 1968 was close enough to glean the possibilities, a visionary genius like Kubrick could easily intuit the ultimate consequences of life fatally tethered to technology.

The big data Brahmins believe their programmatically modulated LED lights are an acceptable substitute for the sun, just as they think a silicon circuit board or other substrate moving binary data around is an acceptable substitute for the human brain. Ultimately, these are nothing but the megalomaniacal musings of insane individuals, who have lost touch with reality – or perhaps sold their soul – and should be treated like the good Dave Bowman treated the HAL-9000 super computer.

Shut Down

Have you ever considered the fact that millions of people are working to provide corporations, like Facebook and YouTube with the product they turn around and use to make vast fortunes – for free? Why are we investing our time creating content so that the Zuckerbergs of the world can get filthy rich?

There’s nothing social about our “social media”. At most, it magnifies the worst about us and their ubiquity provides cover to the shameless propagation of our vanity, pettiness and self-pity. Only momentum, falsely-inflated user numbers and the device-consumption cycle has allowed it to persist to this point.

But, what are these shiny, colorful, computerized objects if not just interfaces to get your data into the data aggregators, and data aggregating devices themselves? Every release will have some new bells and whistles to help close the sale. Usually, a marginally better camera to “up” your Instagram game, or some other unnecessary “convenience”.

Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) in the sights of the onboard computer HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” | Warner Bros.

Not everyone will have the wherewithal to understand the implications of what the big data Brahmins want to impose on us. Most, in fact, will readily brush off any concerns as the paranoid thoughts of neo-Luddites. Others may actually want such a world to come to fruition, whether as a result of their own ignorance or because they are somehow invested in its implementation. Only a few of us will comprehend what is really at stake.

Big data has its uses. And fantastic uses they certainly are. From Google Earth to real-time parsing of information for complex systems like agriculture or genetic sequencing, big data is a revolutionary leap forward in technological capability. But society and community, are no place for big data.

In as much as society constitutes an interconnected cohesion among groups of people, big data is a detriment; a peerless tool for pattern analysis and broad scheme implementations, it is, nonetheless, a poor social glue. After all, what does an algorithm know about the enigma of life? Absolutely nothing. We cannot rely on the law of averages or geo-location to determine who we will fall in love with; who our friends or even our enemies will be. These are strictly human endeavors and no amount of so-called social concept-sites will ever replace the journey we undertake as individuals to find ourselves and each other.

Open the pod bay doors, Hal. I’m getting out.

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